In Praise of Idleness

Today I felt tired with poor concentration. It is not surprising; I went to over six hours’ worth of shiurim (religious classes) on Zoom yesterday, so it’s only to be expected that I feel burnt out today. Still, I feel bad for struggling to do things. Beating myself up a bit, although trying not to. I really wanted to work on my novel, or at least read some more of the book I’m reading on characterisation, as well as do some Torah study, but I struggled to do anything. In the end I read a little of the characterisation book (it mostly made me feel like a bad writer), did about fifteen minutes of Torah study, quickly cooked some plain pasta for dinner and went for a walk. That was about all I could manage today. Mum and Dad spent the afternoon at the hospital, so I was lucky to have the house to myself. I felt too burnt out, and Zoomed out, to go to Zoom depression group this evening, so I plan to watch Star Trek Voyager until bedtime; I don’t really feel up to doing anything else.

I wish I could just do more with my life, that intermittent bouts of depression and autistic burnout didn’t regularly derail me, and impede my functioning even on better days. As Ashley said on her post today, “high functioning” is an unhelpful term, as functionality can vary over time or in different environments or with different tasks, not to mention the fact that “high functioning” is essentially an arbitrary term that means different things to different people. I certainly feel that my “high functioning” autism is not always very functional, and the same probably goes for when my depression was more severe, but I was still working. I was present at work, but my work was sub-par and getting through each day was an ordeal.

***

Perhaps because I feel burnt out, I’ve been thinking about idleness this afternoon. Orthodox Judaism is very intense and demanding, not just with work and family, but Torah study, mitzvot (commandments) and chessed (kindness, which covers a multitude of concepts: visiting the sick and cooking for them, visiting mourners and cooking for them; hospitality to guests, including strangers; giving to charity and volunteering; and more). Relaxation is allowed primarily as a way of recharging, or when it coincides with another religious activity (e.g. recharging by spending time with friends is praiseworthy if those friends are invited as guests for a Shabbat meal). It’s not just Jews who feel like this (I just went downstairs for something and an advert came on the TV saying, “Do you wish you felt less tired so that you could do more of the things you love?”) and one could talk about capitalism and the Protestant work ethic and so on, but I feel there are perhaps even more demands on our time in the frum (religious Jewish) community, combined with an ethic that stresses that we’re here on Earth to do things with our lives, to study Torah, help people and connect with God, not to relax.

Yet I feel much more comfortable just pottering. I don’t think I’m lazy, although I’ve called myself lazy often enough in the past. I think with autism and depression I just get overloaded really easily. It’s much more comfortable to do one thing at a time, slowly, with breaks than to try to fit everything in. Doing too much triggers burnout and, if it goes on too long, depression. I need lots of downtime to recuperate from things.

Part of it is being creative. I know I’ve noted here before that when I started writing my novel, I got frustrated by the amount of online procrastination I would do when trying to write; it took me a while to realise that my brain needs this. If I get stuck on something I’m writing, browsing aimlessly online lets my unconscious work on the problem. This is often better than trying to resolve it consciously. But I do genuinely feel I need to live my life at a much slower speed than most people, even though that makes me worry (a) how I will ever earn enough money to support myself and (b) how I will ever find anyone willing to be in a long-term relationship with me. Plus, I suppose, how to justify myself religiously, beyond saying that any other work-life balance seems simply impossible right now.

I drifted into mild depression in the early evening, perhaps because of the thoughts about earning a living and finding a partner. There were other anxieties or somewhat obsessive thoughts during the day which I’m too tired to write about now.

***

I said I would write some more about some of the shiurim I went to yesterday. Rabbi Rafi Zarum spoke about the idea that Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year) is about judging how existence is going and about our own potential and whether we’ve fallen short of our potential. To be honest, that talk didn’t say so much that I didn’t already know, but Rabbi Zarum is a very engaging speaker and always good to listen to. I didn’t take any notes on Chief Rabbi Mirvis’ brief message; he was talking about the idea of God’s House being a portable tent that we can take to our homes in COVID times.

The final shiur I went to was Rabbi Alex Israel talking about the paradox of Rosh Hashanah, that we stress that God is the powerful King, but also that he will pardon us for our sins if we repent. He quoted a Midrash (rabbinic expansion of the biblical story) where Avraham (Abraham), defending the people of Sodom, tells God that if He wants pure justice, He will have to destroy the world (because people are inherently imperfect and sinful); if He wants a world, He will have to suspend justice; He can’t “take the rope by both ends” and have strict justice and a world. A similar Midrash said that God had to allow the creation of the wicked because otherwise it would be impossible to create the righteous too. I thought that was similar to what Gila Fine said in the morning, which I blogged about yesterday, about God wanting our love and suppressing His justice to get it (there was some overlap with Rabbi Zarum too). Rabbi Israel stressed the idea that Rosh Hashanah is a day of love and mercy as well as justice and that God knows we are flawed. I thought this was important for me to hear, given that I get fixated on my flaws, as shown by the “lazy” worries today.

Slightly Down

I had a slightly stressful morning. I woke up from what was probably a bad dream around 4am. I don’t like it when I feel like I’ve had a bad dream, but can’t remember the content. I guess it feels like missing an important message. Then my parents woke me before 7am to say goodbye before Mum went for her surgery. She doesn’t usually wake me when she goes to the hospital, but I guess she wanted to say goodbye; I certainly did. Then I was woken a third time at 8.30am by our former neighbour (from our old house) dropping off some home-grown vegetables from his garden for us (he’s a very nice man). I felt awkward, as I had assumed the ring at the door was the postman, so had jumped out of bed and come downstairs in toothpaste-stained pyjamas. I was more than half-asleep and certainly not prepared for conversation from an autism/social anxiety point of view, so I didn’t say much and I didn’t even bring the food in immediately as I didn’t have slippers on and didn’t want to go onto the porch in bare feet. So, I hope ex-neighbour doesn’t think I was being rude. I didn’t even recognise him for a moment, because I was tired and not expecting to see him, which was extra-awkward.

When I woke up and got up properly, far too late in the morning, I found I had messages from PIMOJ, who is very much a morning person (I’m a night owl even without the depression/autistic burnout/whatever it is that leaves me so drained every morning). I’m pleased that she wants to message me daily, but I worry what she would say if she found out that I’m not usually up at 8.00am if I’m not working (8.00am? I’m often not up by 10.00am!).

***

I don’t know if it was because of what happened this morning, but I’ve felt slightly down for much of the day. Just tired and disinclined to do anything, but painfully forcing myself to do things. I spent part of the afternoon painting my parents’ garden shed, or trying to do so, as parts of it are inaccessible due to fencing and plants growing in front of it. It will need another coat of paint next week. I used to find doing things like this relaxing, but I finished tired and a bit down, so I didn’t go for a run as I had hoped.

I listened to a Doctor Who audio drama while I painted, but mostly found it confusing. I don’t really connect with Doctor Who audio dramas (of which there are now a vast number, produced mostly by the company Big Finish Productions). I’ve never worked out why this is. Is it difficulty following the medium, a dislike for Big Finish’s take on Doctor Who‘s format or something else? Either way, I found this one hard to follow and in general they don’t really engage my attention or linger in my imagination the way TV stories do.

I forced myself to go for a walk afterwards. I originally intended to go for a run, but I did not have enough energy. I didn’t have the time for any work on my novel. I finished and sent my devar Torah (Torah thought), but I’m not hugely enamoured with what I’ve written. It was light on sources and deep thoughts. I guess they can’t be good every week. I want to write something good for next week, which will be Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year), but have been struggling for ideas.

I didn’t do much Torah study today, or this week, which is frustrating; with the Yamim Noraim (High Holy Days) around the corner, I feel I should be increasing my Torah study, not decreasing, but I’ve just been busy. I know: Mum has been ill, I’ve been helping at home and so on. However, I’ve signed up for a day of Zoom shiurim (religious classes) on Sunday at the London School of Jewish Studies, which I hope will be interesting and get me in the appropriate frame of mind.

One thing I did do today was listen to a short shiur (Rethinking Failure) from Rabbi Lord Sacks. He spoke about our deficiencies often being our strengths. I need to think about this in terms of autism and depression.

***

I read a blog post about people on the autism spectrum having to adapt to new rules post-COVID when we weren’t even sure about the old ones. I responded there that, “Very true about having to adapt to the new normal in real time, and having to learn new rules even though we didn’t understand the old ones. Even as lockdown has eased, I’ve avoided social areas because I’m uncertain of how to act in them now. I’m hoping to slowly build up to it. I find wearing a mask uncomfortable, but not impossible, so I’m trying to stick with that, but I haven’t had to wear it for more than half an hour yet and am apprehensive about doing e.g. long Tube journeys into Central London with it.”

***

I may have to do those Tube journeys soon. A job agency offered to put me forward for a job and I accepted. It’s in a library, but a library assistant job rather than a librarian job, so lower pay and status, but perhaps also less stressful. It potentially won’t look so good on my CV, but I’m so desperate for work that I don’t care. It’s afternoons only. There may be a problem with Fridays, as I won’t be able to work on Friday afternoons in the winter because of Shabbat (the Jewish Sabbath) and moving my hours may not work as the library is not always open due to COVID. It is at a library where I worked before, and enjoyed working, although it will probably be in a different place (it’s a big library) and certainly won’t be with the people I was with last time.

Plotting, and a Virtual Funeral

Well, I did it. I got up at 9.30am today. I know that doesn’t sound much, but it’s a big thing to me. Usually I feel depressed in the morning and sleep for hours. I did check emails after breakfast before getting dressed, but I didn’t read blogs. I didn’t really do a huge amount in the morning as I was tired. I sent some emails and sorted out my inbox and sent box, which had got overgrown again. That was it, really

I felt tired again today, and a bit down. I think I’m not always good at differentiating between depression and exhaustion, but today I think I had both. It occurred to me that the reason I always seem to be tired might be from autistic burnout. I know there’s a problem in getting diagnosed in that I didn’t have many very obvious symptoms as a child, including burnout. I did used to like to get up early (6.00am) and play or read when the house was quiet because everyone else was asleep. I do wonder why I wasn’t so burnt out at primary school or the first few years of secondary school. I do worry about this, that I have autism symptoms now, but not obviously as a child. I think I was just good at masking and conforming, but it makes it hard to get a diagnosis now.

***

I spent an hour in the afternoon working on my novel, looking at the plot. I think I know the areas that need work, although one area (the climax) requires quite a bit of thought. The problem is that I know logically what should happen from a storytelling point of view, but I worry that it neuters my female secondary character and makes her dependent on the male primary character to save her, as well as negating her trauma too easily. Of course we expect secondary characters to be saved by primary characters, but it wasn’t what I intended, as I wanted to avoid such a paternalistic conclusion. I wanted two roughly equal characters, but the way I’ve written it isn’t so balanced. Now I’ve got a primary character who doesn’t really have a proper climax to his story and a secondary character who does have a proper climax to her story, but it should connect back to the primary character and it doesn’t. I will have a lot to fix in revisions. That’s not necessarily a problem, except that I don’t trust myself to be able to think up a solution. This is what I hate about writing, the waiting on inspiration, which I guess is a kind of thinking (inspiration doesn’t come out of the blue, but out of thought).

***

I went to a Zoom levoyah (funeral) for the woman who taught my at kindergarten. She also gave me tuition in exam technique when I was somewhat older. She was a family friend, so I used to run in to her periodically or my parents would update me about her. She was an important person in my early life and did a lot to nurture me and ensured I started school already knowing the English and Hebrew alphabets and basic sums, as well as enjoying learning. Whenever my parents saw her, she wanted to know how my sister and I were doing. I’m sure she would be pleased I’m working on a novel.

It was not easy to hear the eulogies or to follow the prayers on Zoom (funeral prayers are not always in regular prayer books), particularly as the service was outside because of COVID. I haven’t been to that many funerals anyway, so I’m not 100% sure of the structure of the service. The whole thing left me feeling much more emotional than I expected, but I had to rush straight to Shabbat preparation afterwards, so I didn’t really have time to process anything.

I guess that’s where I’ve been this afternoon: doing pre-Shabbat chores, thinking about my novel and feeling upset from the funeral. Wishing I had more time to think today, wishing I didn’t feel so overloaded emotionally. I guess Zoom funerals can be draining from an autistic point of view as much as real-world funerals; if I have trouble understanding and processing emotions, it’s not going to magically be easier just because it’s over a screen.

God is in the Details

I got up earlier again today, but not as early as I would have liked (10.20am rather than 9.00am or 9.30am), especially considering that I went to bed very early last night. I suppose it’s a sign of improvement that I’ve got up around then consistently this week, but it feels like I’m only part of the way there. I don’t know why getting up early has consistently been a problem for me for so many years, even when I’m feeling OK in terms of mood (and I’m not feeling consistently OK in terms of mood at the moment, but rather mostly OK with periods of anxiety or depression). Even before I was diagnosed depressed, I struggled to get up at a reasonable time on weekends and holidays when I was a teen, but it seemed normal then (I was a teenager and had to get up very early in the week to travel to school). It’s only in retrospect, when I look back and see other signs of mental illness, or at least strain, that it seems significant.

I did avoid looking at blogs before getting dressed, although I did check my emails. So I guess that is progress of a kind.

I spent about two hours filling in a job application that involved cutting and pasting a lot of stuff line by line from my CV into different boxes on a Word document. I hate this type of application above all others. Filling in the boxes on previous jobs and salary, I struggled to remember all my previous salaries, even the relatively recent ones and remembered that this kind of vagueness about practical, financial and “real” matters was the reason E. broke up with me first time around. I wish I was more able to focus on such things, like my Dad and my sister.

It’s not a problem with detail per se as I can remember detail from things that interest me (like Doctor Who and trivia). It’s more about interest and what seems important to me. I worry that it would put off people other than E. (e.g. PIMOJ) and that I won’t cope if I’m by myself one day. I also worry about my struggles with detail at work in recent years, which may represent a collapse of my confidence in my ability to work and interest in my career. My autism support group is going to talk about detail, and autistic fondness for it, in the next session. Maybe I’ll be confident enough to raise this issue there, my absorption in details in “irrelevant” things, and lack of interest in interest in things that seem unimportant to me, even if they are very important to other people.

I did not originally intend to spend two hours on this today, but in the end I decided I wanted to just get it out of the way, even if it left me without time to work on my novel today (which is what happened).

I was pretty exhausted afterwards. I went for a walk listening to classical music on my iPod, which helped restore me a bit. I realised I say I walk for half an hour most days when I don’t run, but it’s only really just sunk in that those walks are more than two kilometres, which is not insignificant. I guess I should give myself more credit. The walk was not entirely restoring as I had agitated thoughts about antisemitism (triggered by this article) and wondering if I’ll have to flee to Israel one day. That Israel seems to be a safer place for Jews than the UK or the USA is a big shift to how things felt when I was growing up.

The other achievement today was cheshbon nafesh (religious self-assessment for the last year). I felt I’ve had a reasonably positive year, but primarily because it was disrupted by COVID, which saved me from a lot of stress at work (or looking for work) and in shul (synagogue). My goals for the coming Jewish year seemed small, but I’ve been advised to aim low.

Actually, there were other achievements too today: I did some ironing and spent some time working on my devar Torah and doing other Torah study, although as usual I wished I could do more. But I didn’t have time or energy to work on my novel, which was the big disappointment.

Going to Jupiter to Get More Stupider

I was up a bit earlier than usual today, which was good, although I then wasted time doing the Doctor Who Magazine crossword over breakfast and didn’t get much of an early start on the day.

***

I don’t know what the situation is with my depression at the moment. I know I’ve gone back and forth on here lately. I think it probably is mostly reactive to other stresses now rather than an ongoing endogenous (internally caused) illness. But maybe not, or not all the time. In any case, if it’s reacting to autism, is that internal or external? The autism is internal, but the stressors and triggers are external (social overload in particular). I do think that if I could reach some point of peace and understanding with my autism, I would feel a lot better, although that would probably involve getting a diagnosis and coming to terms with it, maybe also getting additional support. I do feel that the autism is the primary thing and the depression the secondary thing now, but I’m not sure what I ‘do’ with that information.

I haven’t told the Person I’m Messaging on JDate (PIMOJ) about the autism yet, and I downplayed the depression somewhat. I’m still very scared of rejection. My gut instinct is that she would be OK with it (she was OK with the depression, although, as I say, I downplayed it a bit and put it primarily in the past). She seems a really kind person. But I’m still scared. I’d like to be able to open up a bit more to her, and for her to feel able to open up to me, but I’m not sure we’re there yet. We’ve only been emailing for a couple of weeks. I just asked if she wanted to have a Skype/Zoom chat at some point. I hope that wasn’t too soon. I find the protocols around things like dating difficult to judge.

***

I worked on the practise data for the job exam again. I struggled to understand why many of my answers are wrong. I feel like I’ve really misunderstood something and I don’t know why or how. I had this in other jobs over the last couple of years and I always put it down to being in a busy, autism-unfriendly, environment. That’s obviously not the case here because I’m working from my room. Have I just become more stupid over time? I do think there are inconsistencies and contradictions in how the system is marking my practise results, so it might not all be my fault.

I went and lay down on my bed partway through, which is usually a sign of being overwhelmed and depressed. In the end I gave up. In the last few days I’d worked on seventeen pieces of practise data, of which I got only two completely correct. I am clearly not going to know this job well enough to pass the exam in the next day and a bit. I do feel bad about giving up, and about my apparent inability to find a job that suits me, as well as what this means for my future (in general and dating).

I spent an hour after that working on my novel, but ended up feeling a bit more anxious about it than I did before too. I know it’s not good enough to be published yet, I just wonder if it ever will be good enough. If I can make it better. All the thoughts of “Am I crazy to think I can write a novel, and a novel of character at that?” I am at least getting an idea in my head of how to go about rewriting, more than just “Read through and change what’s not working.” Rather, a structured plan to adjust plot, change specific points that I’ve identified as weak and then make more general changes to character.

When I think about the novel, I tend to alternate between, “I’m going to win the Booker Prize” and “No agent or editor will touch my work with the proverbial barge-pole.” Today I’m in a barge-pole mood. I feel that I want to talk about depression, autism and abuse in the Orthodox community, topics not widely discussed in the community, but I’m unsure how many people from the community will buy the book, whether it will be assumed to be another Unorthodox-style hatchet job. I think my writing style is OK and the basic plot is OK, but I’m not sure how well-structured I’ve structured it or how realistic my characterisation is. I’ve got books on writing, but I’m worried they’re just going to confuse me and make me second-guess myself. I know that it might take a year or longer to get to stage where I feel comfortable showing what I’ve written to people and that until then I have to just keep going with the rewrites, but it’s hard sometimes.

***

I watched the Star Trek Voyager episode Good Shepherd where Captain Janeway attempts to help three dysfunctional junior crew members. One has health anxiety; one is a (possibly autistic) loner who prefers to pursue his own intellectual interests than join in with the crew, either socially or in terms of career; and one is just incompetent and out of her depth and makes big mistakes on a daily basis. I don’t have health anxiety, but the other two seemed rather close to home. Of course, this is Voyager, so they go on a heartwarming, if icky, mission and get redeemed, even though we’ll never see them again (actually, I just checked and one of them is seen again). I’m not sure what happens in real life. I had a couple of line managers who nurtured me and probably did, on some level, believe in me. But I shouldn’t need that, and I don’t think I can expect it in most work environments.

Odds and Ends

I got up a bit earlier today, at 10.00am. I’m trying to be pleased with myself for doing so, as I was still tired (although I had slept for nine hours) and really wanted to sleep more.

I did a couple of hours on the job application exam practise. I didn’t do very well. I made significant mistakes on every attempt. I don’t know why I’m struggling so much with it. I felt it was a task that should be autism-friendly. Rating websites according to certain criteria seemed the kind of repetitive, structured task people on the spectrum would succeed at. I think the problems are (a) I was not taught well how to apply the criteria; just reading and watching a webinar was not enough. I need more time on the practise data and clearer – ideally interactive – feedback; and (b) a lot of criteria are more subjective than I expected, although I can’t really go into details here. Both these factors mean that it all seems arbitrary to me and not logical. Or am I just making excuses for myself again? It’s hard to tell sometimes. If there was a simple “cheat sheet” or flow diagram for rating the websites it would be easier, but I’m expected to remember everything or to be able to find it easily from a seventy page set of guidelines.

***

I had another message from the Person I’m Messaging On JDate (PIMOJ). She still seems a really nice person, although I feel that I can’t quite get a full sense of who she is from her messages, even though they’re very long, perhaps because English is not her first language. But she passes my rabbi mentor’s dating test, that “everything you learn about her should make you want to learn more.” I’m wondering whether to suggest a Skype date soon or to stick with writing to each other for a while longer. My big worry at this stage is that, with her positivity, she’ll find me too negative, particularly given that my depression has been worse this last week. Or, I guess, I could find her positivity too much for me. I can see that we could balance each other… or we could drive each other crazy. Maybe both (I can think of at least one couple in my family who balance each other on one level and drive each other crazy on another).

Stuff PIMOJ and I have in common (values and goals): both very religious; both very focused on biblical study; both want to ideally build careers as writers (although she is further on with her non-writing career than I am); both want marriage and family and are close to our parents. That said, it’s very easy to think that my depression is going to ruin this. I’m trying not to think like that, but it’s hard.

She messaged me again in the evening, so I think she’s reasonably keen for now.

***

I read an article online about God and suffering. I found the article a little trite in its assumption that God does everything for a reason. I believe that, but the article felt a bit insensitive to genuine suffering. However, in the comments someone took issue with the entire premise of the article, essentially arguing for the viewpoint, “Children suffering can never be rationalised, therefore there is no God.” I was more annoyed with this viewpoint than the article itself, so I guess that shows I do really believe in a benevolent God and that suffering can have meaning, I just struggle to connect with Him emotionally. It is hard to know how to feel more emotional connection, though.

I do wish I knew how I can understand something intellectually and not feel it emotionally. I know my depression (which is still present even if it’s more short-lived and more obviously focused on particular events) steamrollers over positive emotions like love (of God) and spiritual fulfillment. I don’t know how I can move forward with this though.

***

I feel like my main problem areas and the things keeping me from resolving them are:

  • lack of understanding and especially acceptance (by me) of how autism affects me and what adjustments I can make. I am kept from resolving this by waiting to be assessed and hopefully supported afterwards. I’m not sure how much more support is available. I’ve had quite a bit, but still I feel I struggle with knowing and accepting myself and finding things I can realistically do. Further help is largely on hold until I get a proper diagnosis, which is still on hold due to COVID and waiting lists.
  • unemployment. This is held in place by my not feeling able to (or being able to afford to) commit to writing 100% and autistic, depressive and low self-esteem struggles in the workplace (I don’t believe I can work any more). There is also a lack of jobs available at the moment, particularly because of COVID.
  • lack of spirituality and meaning in my life. I struggle to solve this because depression stops me enjoying my religious life and social anxiety and autism (and COVID) making communal involvement difficult.

PIMOJ has a very deep and pure spirituality and love of God, and I hope that some of that might rub off on me (although I don’t know what I could offer her in return). I feel I should be doing something myself too, though.

***

I just watched the film Lincoln with my parents. It was a very good film, although when I watch historical drama, I wonder how much is true. The film is largely about how Abraham Lincoln got the Thirteenth Amendment to the US Constitution, through the House of Representatives, so that slavery would be declared unconstitutional. Otherwise he feared that after the Civil War was over, the courts would declare the wartime emancipation of slaves unconstitutional and re-institute slavery. I’ve been meaning to read up on Lincoln for a long time and still haven’t got around to it, so this was interesting to watch. It was a very well-made film, and feels in some ways more relevant now, given the ongoing racial unrest in the US, than it probably did when it was released in 2012, when there was a black president and race seemed less of an issue.

My parents asked me a lot of questions about US history and the Constitution and government, not all of which I could answer, although I think I answered most of them. My father tends to assume I know everything, particularly about history and Judaism. This is flattering but not true. My Dad was rather astounded that in the nineteenth century the Democrats were the party of slavery and the Republicans the party of abolition. I guess it does seem surprising, I’ve just known about it long enough that I’m used to it. (Liberals in Europe mostly supported the South at the time too.)

Guilt

Shabbat was OK. There was all the usual stuff: praying, eating, sleeping, Torah study and recreational reading (mostly The Islamist and the latest Doctor Who Magazine, my subscription to which I am contemplating cancelling. I have contemplated cancelling it every couple of years since about 2003, but this time I’m really not sure what’s stopping me).

The afternoon was hard. I was reading The Lights of Penitence by Rav Kook (in the volume Abraham Isaac Kook: The Lights of Penitence, The Moral Principles, Lights of Holiness, Essays, Letters, and Poems) and came across a passage that talks about someone who feels pervaded by sin, immoral, uneducated, distant from God, and “stirred by dark and sinister passions that revolt him.” I thought, “This is me.” Unfortunately, the passage goes on to say that penitence will cure this and all healing and acceptance. Nothing about what happens if a person does teshuva (repentance) and feels just as wicked as before.

If I recall correctly, Rav Soloveitchik says something similar about repentance curing self-criticism in Halakhic Man, so that’s the two greatest “Modern Orthodox” rabbis, of very different outlook and temperament, agreeing that teshuva should remove self-hatred and needless guilt. I don’t know how to feel that. No wonder that in recent years Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur (Jewish New Year and the Day of Atonement, the holidays of judgment and repentance) have been hard for me and I struggle to get to shul (synagogue). Of course, this year I have decided not to go for Rosh Hashanah at least because I’m so worried about COVID and passing it on to Mum (who has surgery a week before Rosh Hashanah). I haven’t had to decide what I’m doing about Yom Kippur yet.

The guilt is pervasive and multifaceted. Some of it is feeling disconnected from God, which I’ve felt for a long time. Feeling that I don’t pray well enough, don’t study Torah enough, don’t connect enough. Feeling that I don’t have enough spirituality or meaning in my life. I don’t have much of either. But I also have guilt around my sexuality. Feeling that it’s pretty much impossible to get to the age thirty-seven as an unmarried virgin without having infringed on some at least some of the Jewish sexual laws, but as no one talks about it, I feel that maybe it is just me. Maybe I could do better. Maybe other people do manage to do better.

So, I spent the afternoon somewhat depressed because of this. I was initially upset to have napped for an hour and a half after lunch, but when I started to feel depressed, I was glad to have escaped being trapped in my head for a while. Despite Shabbat finishing nearly two hours earlier than at the height of summer, it’s still hard to get through when depressed.

I worry what PIMOJ (as sarnhyman has suggested I dub the Person I’m Messaging On JDate) would make of this. I’ve told her about my depression, but presented it in the past tense. Well, I thought I was mostly over it and now it was just reactive to things in my life, not an ongoing presence. I should have remembered that whenever I declare my depression over, it returns. PIMOJ works in mental health and I don’t know how that would shape her reaction to me. I want to open up to her about some things, but I’m scared. I want to get to know her better and get to a stage where we can both be more open, but I don’t know how to do that or how to judge when we’ve got there.

It’s not just the persistence of depression, but also the fact that she comes across in her messages as an ebullient person and one with a deep and sincere ahavat Shamayim (love of God). I had hoped some of that would rub off on me, but now I feel it’s more likely that I’ll scare her off. That she wouldn’t want to be with someone so quiet and downbeat, and intermittently (at least) depressed.

***

I just found this quote from Rav Kook, from The Lights of Holiness further on in the same volume:

The greater the person, the more he must seek to discover himself. The deep levels of his soul remain concealed from him so that he needs to be alone frequently, to elevate his imagination, to deepen his thought, to liberate his mind. Finally his soul will reveal itself to him by radiating some of its light upon him.

Practise, Practise, Practise

I got a short “thinking of you”-type message from the person I thought I scared off on JDate with my moment of anxiety/OCD, saying she plans to write at length soon, so I guess I didn’t scare her off. That’s good, although I am, of course, nervous about where this might go and how she will react if my mental health gets worse again.

***

I watched the webinar for my job training. It made more sense to me than reading the guidelines, probably because I could see the system I would be using. I started on the practise data. I’m struggling with it. Part of it is the sheer amount of stuff I’m expected to remember or find easily in the guidelines. I haven’t had to memorise and process this much information in a short period in a long time. The other problem is the format of the practise data. After I send in my ratings, I get an automated response, but I find it hard to tell what I should have done differently and why. I would like to have a human being to talk me through some example data, but it’s all automated.

When I worked on it, I soon started to feel overwhelmed and depressed again, which is not good. This is partly from fear that I will come into contact with political content that I will find upsetting (the second item I was assessing was a political piece that I found somewhat upsetting). I’m trying to avoid politics lately as too upsetting. But I think I could cope with that. A bigger problem is that when my OCD was bad, I had OCD fears that I would come into contact with illegal material online without noticing it and that I would then get arrested. I’ve already been told that I could theoretically come into contact with illegal material doing this job and how to report it, which has made me very anxious about the whole situation even though I’ve been told it’s unlikely that I actually would come into contact with such material and they just have to tell me what to do as a precaution.

My parents think I should let this job go, but I’m still persisting, I suppose partly because I don’t want to admit defeat (AKA I’m stubborn) and also because I feel that, on paper, this should be the ideal job for me, a job that uses information skills, can be done from home, for a couple of days a week, with the rest of the time free for writing. Plus, I suppose, I want to have some kind of a job to sound like I’m working on my issues to the person I’m messaging on JDate (who I really need to give a better pseudonym than “the person I’m messaging on JDate”). It’s also depressing that it’s another job that I can’t do and this one doesn’t even have a clear reason why.

The Perfect Storm

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

***

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

***

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

***

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

Someone, Somewhere, Somehow, Some Time

I went to bed at midnight, which is relatively early for me. I was emotionally exhausted. I wanted to get up between 8.00am and 9.00am in case my work exam came through early, but although my parents woke me up when they went to the hospital at 8.30am, I fell asleep again until they came home just after 10.00am. I guess I was still emotionally exhausted. The good news is that when I finally did manage to get up, I was tired, but not particularly depressed, so hopefully I have avoided a relapse into full-blown clinical depression despite being so upset yesterday. I feel upset about what happened with me and E., yet I can’t see what I could have done differently. It’s sad knowing that we could have stayed together if COVID hadn’t intervened, but it does feel like something from God, something outside of my control. I think, given what happened, I made the right decision, but it’s hard.

I haven’t heard back from either the women I was talking to on JDate today. I’m mostly OK with that as I needed some space today after yesterday. I possibly messed up one conversation due to anxiety at the weekend and scared her off. I guess that’s one of those things. I probably was getting over-excited about those conversations anyway. It’s good to come back to reality a bit. I felt calm about dating this morning, quietly confident that I’ll find someone, somewhere, somehow, some time, even if it takes a long time.

***

The job application exam came through at 3.15pm… except that it isn’t just an exam. There’s a whole thick set of instructions to go through, nearly seventy pages, and a one hour webinar, followed by thirty sets of practise data and only then will I be sent the exam itself. I have to finish all the practice data and the exam by 11.59pm on Tuesday evening. It all looked complicated and daunting. I know, I have two degrees, one of which is from Oxford, but lately I doubt myself all the time and have no confidence in my ability to do anything. For example, I’ve wanted to play Risk with my parents recently, but it’s so long since I’ve played that I can’t remember the rules and I worry I won’t be able to relearn them, that’s how little self-confidence I have right now.

After half an hour reading the guidelines, I was not very far in and was in full “I can’t do this, I’m a screw-up, I’m not going to get the job, the women I’m talking to on JDate are going to stop talking to me because I can’t get a job” self-critical/catastrophising mode. The calm of the morning had gone.

I did regain some calm later. The worst that can happen is I try the test and fail the exam. Then I’ve wasted a few days. The job is not relevant to my career. It uses some librarian skills, but does not specifically require a trained librarian (hence low salary and no requirement for librarians on the job description). I have some reservations about the job, which I won’t go into here, but I won’t really know how justified they are without trying the practise data and exam. And, yes, I realise that I’m essentially being made to train myself quickly and for free, with no certainty of a job at the end of it, rather than being given a job and then being trained by the company, on their time. But I feel like I don’t have better options right now.

I had a chat with my parents about this. They say they’re happy to keep supporting me while I’m unemployed as long as I keep searching for new jobs and pestering the agencies (which I admit I’m not very good at, pestering people does not come easily to me, at least not deliberately). I feel stuck because I’m too advanced for graduate trainee roles, but my employment history and career progression are too inconsistent for higher jobs. A number of difficult jobs (or jobs that were made difficult by autism) and a bad result on some cataloguing tests have eroded my self-confidence in my ability to function as a librarian and especially to catalogue, or to work in any remotely noisy and busy environment. I apply for jobs that I think I can do, but there don’t seem to be that many. I’m not sure if that’s a self-confidence issue or a lack of jobs in the sector or COVID or all of the above.

There is, inevitably, also the feeling of “How will I get a girlfriend/spouse if I can’t get a job?” I don’t really have an answer to that at the moment, particularly as “I can write for money” isn’t working out well at the moment.

***

It’s nearly September and the nights are drawing in, which means the light level will soon start to bring my mood down. It would be a shame if I got over the depression, only to slump back because of autumn, unemployment and single-hood/loneliness and guilt over E.

***

I forgot to mention yesterday that Mum has now been told that the household only needs to shield for three days before her operation, not two weeks, as she was originally told. That will be a lot easier for all of us.

***

I’m reading The Islamist, Ed Husain’s account of his time as an Islamist (Islamic fundamentalist) and how he left the movement. It’s interesting to see the similarities and differences between Jewish fundamentalism and Islamic fundamentalism (the big difference is that Jewish fundamentalists don’t really want to change/convert/conquer the world, they just want to run away from it and build high walls so it can’t get in). I’m about two thirds of the way through; Husain is leaving radical Islam and looking for a more spiritual alternative.

It made me think about the lack of spirituality in my life. The person on JDate who I fear I scared off is very spiritual and more aware of God than pretty much anyone I’ve met before. I hoped maybe if the relationship worked out some of that would rub off on me.

In terms of spiritual thought systems and movements in Judaism, kabbalah (Jewish mysticism) doesn’t do much for me. Practical kabbalah (magic, essentially) is anti-rationalist in a way that does not work for me at all. More theoretical kabbalah just confuses me. I’m not sure how monotheistic it is, but beyond that I just can’t take in the complex systems describing God. I like the ethics of Hasidism, but struggle with the kabbalistic underpinnings, and the constant joy does not work for me with my melancholic personality, even aside from depression. Likewise the loud and performative attitude to davening (prayers) does not work well with autism. I like the teachings of the Kotzker Rebbe (Hasidic leader), but he’s been dead for 160 years and I don’t know how to bring that to the present. I’m interested in Mussar, the Jewish movement for ethical self-development, but I struggled to bring it into my life. For a while I tried reading Mussar texts and doing kabbalot (daily actions to stimulate certain ethical character traits; no relation to kabbalah), but it became just another “Should” for me to beat myself up about, so I stopped.

I just started reading a collection of texts by Rav Kook. The first text in the collection is The Lights of Penitence, so I thought it was appropriate for the run up to Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. Rav Kook was a mystical writer, but not a straightforward kabbalist and not an anti-rationalist at all, an interesting thinker who is not easily put in a box. Universalist as well as particularlist too. I’m hoping this volume will help me, but it’s taken the better part of a week to read the prefaces and introduction. What I’ve read of his writings in the past interests me, but, again, I don’t know where I go with those thoughts on a day to day level. Rav Kook is considered one of the founders of Religious Zionism, but the Religious Zionist movement homed in on just a part of his thought (settling the land of Israel) which doesn’t interest me so much.

***

Achievements: I spent an hour and twenty minutes on my novel, and nearly two more hours on job stuff (including the long chat I had with my parents about it). I went for a half hour walk (sadly no time/energy for a run today). I also spent forty minutes on my devar Torah, although I was really recycling an old devar Torah from years ago, expanding it and improving the use of sources. I spent about half an hour on additional Torah study. That’s not an insignificant amount of achievements, particularly considering my mood was all over the place, but I wanted to do more on the novel, more on the job stuff and more Torah study.

Bad Day (Breaking Up Again)

I had therapy for the first time in a month or so, as my therapist is back from holiday. I told her the things I’ve been writing here, about thinking my depression is mainly reactive now, about the job exam, finishing the first draft of my novel and about dating. She was really pleased with my progress. She gave some suggestions for dealing with anxiety. I think a lot of the anxiety is “normal” for now, just a result of things everyone would find anxiety-provoking.

My therapist spoke about writing down my feelings when I’m anxious. She felt that anxiety is a “headline” emotion, but there are often other, deeper feelings behind it. So, my anxiety about telling E. that I don’t think we can stay friends is about not wanting to hurt her feelings.

I felt very tired after therapy and struggled to do anything. At first I felt that I was just tired, maybe even a little burnt out emotionally, but there was some low mood which snowballed, albeit triggered by specific things today and not ongoing depression. The tiredness tied in with something we spoke about in therapy, about my body seeming to need nine or ten hours of sleep a night, with consequent late rising even if I go to bed early (although by nature I’m a night owl anyway). Some of it may be sleeping so long I start another sleep cycle, as my therapist suggested, but I think people on the spectrum do tire easily, especially when tackling social or emotional activities (e.g. autism group and family dinner yesterday, therapy today).

I feel frustrated that autism makes me feel this way, but I’m trying to come to terms with it. I’ve mentioned before that, writing my novel, I realised that my main character’s main need is to realise that his autism is going to make his life different to other people’s, and that I need to do the same thing. It won’t necessarily be worse than other people’s lives, but different. I don’t know how well I’ve shown that in fiction, but since realising that, I’ve found it a bit easier to accept in my own life.

I had someone else message me on JDate today to start a conversation. I always get a bit panicked when I end up messaging two women at once, not that it’s happened to me often. I know it’s considered normal on dating sites and not unethical, but it always seems vaguely wrong to me, plus I hate comparing people, even unconsciously, which I feel is unfair. I always hope one will be a clearly much better connection or one will have an obvious red line, so that I don’t have to choose between two people, who are probably both really nice and pleasant. I have to trust that God will sort it out so I marry the right person.

Speaking of which… I drafted an email to E. responding to an email she sent me. I said that I’m sorry, but I don’t think we can stay friends, important though she is to me still. However, I couldn’t send it at first. When I managed to send it, I was so upset it felt like it opened the wound up again. Then she responded almost immediately to say that she’d like to get in touch as a friend if she comes to London and I had to spell it out all over again that I didn’t want to do that, which just made it harder.

It just hurts so much. I still care about E. a lot. A lot. In a parallel universe where COVID never happened, I could see us being happily married. But COVID did happen, and I can’t pretend otherwise. I would have liked to stay friends, but I think that our connection is strong that we can’t be friends without becoming involved romantically, and I don’t think romantic involvement is healthy any more. But I hate thinking that this is going to hurt her, and she’ll blame herself for what happened. The thought of never hearing from her again is painful too. I hope things get better for her.

I’m remembering a friend I asked out at Oxford who turned me down and later cut me off completely because she couldn’t cope with my suicidality. It was one of the most painful events in my life. I still think about it (it’s ended up as a key event in my novel). Now I feel like I’m doing the same thing to E.

Mum had an MRI scan today, which I think also brought my mood down further, just making me think about her illness and her surgery. I’ve been upbeat about that, I think we all have in the family, but there is a degree of risk in any medical procedure, particularly one involving general anaesthetic, and with any cancer, even one that is normally highly treatable. So that’s all scary.

I know it’s normal to be upset by break-ups and illness in the family, but I just feel overwhelmed by my emotions today. Overwhelmed by all the pain and suffering in the world. I believe that life is about growth rather than happiness, and that growth is more often spurred by pain and suffering, than by happiness and contentment. Therefore, there is a reason for suffering. Even so, sometimes it just feels overwhelming.

Because of all of this, I really struggled to concentrate or get motivated to do anything this afternoon. I’m “reheating” a devar Torah (Torah thought) I wrote years ago this week, just planning to expand it a bit, as I don’t really feel up to doing much research or writing from scratch this week, feeling exhausted yesterday, exhausted and down today and having a test of some kind tomorrow or possibly Thursday for a job (actually the email I got today implied it might be even later than that. They haven’t been very clear). I wanted to work on that devar Torah today, but in the end I didn’t manage to do anything, I felt too bad. I don’t think I’m going to get much work done on my novel this week either, but that’s OK. I just hope I don’t slump back into a major depression.

In the afternoon, while my parents were out at Mum’s scan, the house felt so empty. In lockdown having the house to myself is precious, but I wasted it wishing they were home. I didn’t really have much to say to them, I just wanted someone around as being alone seemed unbearable. I thought of phoning Samaritans, but talking to a stranger wasn’t what I needed, I really needed a hug or personal contact with a loved one.

I titled this post “Bad Day” because of something my GP at Oxford said when I was first diagnosed with depression, that “a good day is just a good day and a bad day is just a bad day.” The rest of this week will probably be hard, but I’m hoping things will get better, that I won’t drift back into capital-D Clinical Depression. That I can continue to communicate on JDate without being terrified of being hurt again or of hurting someone else. That I can do OK on my work test and get the job. That I can accept that I’m not the most evil man in the world (or the most stupid) for cutting myself off from E.

***

Achievements: not so many, but they were very draining and important, so I think it was a productive day. I had a draining therapy session, wrote to E. finalising our break-up, wrote an email to the second person to email me on JDate, emailed a friend and emailed the email helpdesk about a problem with bouncing emails problem that has returned. I cooked dinner, because I had promised. Mum offered to do it, but I didn’t want her to have to do it after her scan. I didn’t go for a walk, because I felt too drained and the weather looked too bad. I will try to do some Torah study after dinner, but I don’t expect to do more than a few minutes.

***

UK weather is notoriously unpredictable. This year in the spring we had glorious sunny weather while we were all inside on lockdown. Summer has alternated between heatwaves and rain, but over the last week it feels like autumn has set in early, colder, wet, overcast, windy… not nice at all. I think that while my depression is now reactive, it’s worth noting that seasonality seems to be part of that reaction; autumn and winter are my worst months, depression-wise, so it’s upsetting to be heading towards them.

Reactive Depression

I struggled to sleep again last night. I was quite tense and anxious. I’d had an anxiety-provoking experience emailing the person I’m messaging on JDate. It was really a misunderstanding, possibly mixed with “pure O” OCD on my part, although I only realised that today. I’m glad we seem to have got through it OK, but I felt very tense last night, perhaps made worse by exhaustion from going for a late 5K run immediately beforehand.

My body wanted to sleep in again this morning, but I made myself get up early (at least by my standards) to go to an autism peer support group. This is not the informal group I went to a few years ago, but a new, more structured and moderated group through a charity, the same organisation that gave me a positive autism screening some time ago. I was quite shy there, although the advantage of an autism-specific group is that there was no pressure to talk. As it was on Zoom, we were able to send messages in text as well as to speak aloud; I wrote a few times and managed to speak up once. I struggle to work out when it is appropriate to speak on group Zoom meetings.

I was quite tired after this support group meeting. Two hours is quite a long time to be on Zoom, fighting social anxiety and talking about somewhat emotional stuff, although it was helpful to know the other people were going through similar struggles; in fact most people in the meeting communicated through chat text, not speaking aloud. I also had to help this afternoon when Mum was unwell (she felt very sick; she feels better now, but missed a meeting with her surgeon as a result). Then my sister and brother-in-law came over for socially distanced pizza before we go into stricter shielding for Mum before her surgery. There was an end of summer feel. It got darker earlier than when we last did this and it was colder with a little rain. We had a good time though. I didn’t feel so anxious afterwards. However, I didn’t have much time today for novel work.

I did manage to go for a walk and spent about fifty minutes working on my novel. It’s a chapter I’m not hugely satisfied with, about an abusive marriage, drawn from research and imagination rather than personal experience and I worry it’s not realistic, particularly the sex, which I suspect is embarrassing, but I feel is necessary (if it wasn’t necessary, it wouldn’t be there, as I don’t believe in writing gratuitous sex – I wanted to show how abusers can manipulate the boundaries of consent without overt violence). At some point I’m going to have to show someone my work, but I’m not sure who or when. I don’t know who could really advise me about abuse sections. I did think of emailing a women’s charity, but somehow it seemed wasting their time when there are people in need.

I felt somewhat depressed and anxious in the evening. I don’t think this contradicts what I said the other day about my problems largely centring on autism these days. I have a lot of stuff going on at the moment that is anxiety-provoking, and prolonged anxiety can produce depression. I’m currently (1) working on a novel, trying to assess how good it is; (2) about to do an exam to get a job; (3) beginning to “talk” to a potential date online; (4) worrying about how to reply to my ex-girlfriend and work out what level of contact I want with her, if any; (5) and helping to care for my mother, who is unwell and undergoing treatment for cancer. All this against the backdrop of COVID and lockdown, and the interminable wait for my autism assessment. So I guess it isn’t surprising I don’t feel brilliant all the time. But I still feel somehow guilty for being depressed and anxious, as if I should be past that by now. I also feel guilty that I’m certain to hurt E., as I think it would be a bad idea for us to get back together, even if we stay friends (and I’m not sure even that staying friends is a good idea). But I do think my depression is now reactive to these external stresses rather than endogenous (from within and occurring regardless of external stresses). Even when I feel like I did today, I’m not sure I would meet the diagnostic level of low mood most of the day most days for fourteen days any more. However, knowing that doesn’t necessarily make the depressive hours/days easier to bear.

Trying to Live My Life as Well as I can

I had a slight headache when I went to bed last night, too slight to take anything for it, or so I thought.  Once I was lying down, it got considerably worse, as sometimes happens to me, so I ended up taking painkillers and waiting until they kicked in and I could lie down again.  I watched Star Trek: Voyager to pass the time, but the episode, although well-written and acted, turned out to be very dark and bleak, not the best thing to watch with a headache at 1.00am.

Once I did get to sleep, I had a weird dream.  I was at the Biblical Museum of Natural History in Israel, the museum I did a virtual tour of last week.  In reality, they have a few small live animals in small enclosures in the museum, but in the dream they were pretty much a fully-fledged zoo.  They had a large area for primates.  They wanted to introduce an orphan baby orangutan to their orangutan family, but the adults rejected him and they could not keep him in the enclosure for fear they would harm him.

On waking up, I realised that I’m the baby orangutan, or I fear I am.  I’m very fond of orangutans and gorillas; when I was a child, I had a big poster of an orangutan over my bed.  I fear that my “tribe” (the frum (religious Jewish) community) would reject me if they “really” knew me, just like the baby orangutan was rejected.  I’m not sure what prompted this thought right now, as I thought that lately I’d become more accepting of the fact that I’m never going to 100% fit in to frum society, or any other society and that I can still try to make friends there, daven (pray) there and so on.  Maybe I still have a long way to go before I can accept it emotionally.

***

I woke up to find that E. had emailed me.  She apologised for what happened at the end of our relationship and is really sorry for it and takes the blame for it.  She said that she’s trying to fix aspects of her life that I won’t go into here.  She said if I want to get in touch “in any capacity” she is willing too.

I don’t think it’s a good idea for us to get back together romantically, even if I wasn’t already talking to someone on JDate.  We had two attempts at that, and I think a third would be a bad idea.  In theory I’m open to staying friends.  I miss her a lot, as a friend.  I think she was a good friend, and I don’t think she gives herself enough credit for that.  I didn’t really blame her for what happened.  I think it was mostly a product of lockdown and the bad place she was in, literally and metaphorically.  However, I worry that the mutual attraction between us is so strong that we couldn’t stay platonic friends and we would end up in some never-ending on/off relationship, which I do not want, not least because it would stop me moving on.  So, I need to spend some time to think about this and whether I can manage a close platonic friendship that doesn’t “boil over” into something more dangerous and complicated.  To be honest, my gut instinct is that I can’t, which saddens me, but I’m not sure what I can do about it.

***

Just a few weeks ago everything seemed stagnant.  I was feeling a little frustrated, but also aware that a return to movement would be a return to anxiety.  Now, movement has come back: JDate, work (the exam I will hopefully have this week), E., the approaching Jewish festival season…  From this coming Friday my parents and I go back into very strict shielding for the two weeks before Mum’s operation, so that’s another thing approaching.  There is some anxiety at times, particularly late at night.  It’s hard to remember sometimes that it’s a good anxiety (ish), from things moving on.

***

As for today, I felt a bit down initially today, despite saying the other day that my depression is not such an issue and is mainly a reaction to autistic burnout.  I felt little motivation and low energy early on today, as well as somewhat low mood, but nowhere near as bad as it’s been in the past.  I feel today’s depression is probably primarily a response to anxiety, to things that I’m anxious about and to the experience of anxiety in the last few days.  I guess too much anxiety can lead to burnout too.

I tried to fight through the tiredness and lack of motivation to read over more of my novel.  I wrote notes to myself for when I’m redrafting, mostly to add or remove words or expand passages (especially “show don’t tell”), but I found myself writing DO NOT LIKE at one passage I particularly disliked.  I find it hard to judge how well-written the novel is.  I can perhaps tell with individual paragraphs, but assessing the ongoing narrative and character arcs is a lot harder.  This is why I’m re-reading the whole novel before really getting to grips with redrafting, to get an idea of the bigger picture.

Working on the novel helped lift my mood a bit, even if I worry that I won’t be able to get it into good enough shape to find a publisher.  At the moment, it’s a target to focus on.  I am trying to break down rewriting into small, finite, tasks, starting with re-reading the whole novel and listing the major incidents to get a better idea of how the plot is flowing, if it is unfolding evenly or not.

***

I felt anxious again by the early evening, and I wasn’t sure if it was about dating, E.’s email, or worrying that I would get an exercise migraine if I went for a run.  Or maybe something else entirely that I was consciously unaware of.  Sometimes it is hard even for me to read myself.  I had the sudden horrible worry that all I’ve done is swap depression for anxiety.  I guess time will tell.

Some stuff happened in the evening that was very anxiety-provoking, but I don’t feel comfortable sharing it here.  I think I navigated it OK, although perhaps not great.

***

Achievements: an hour or two of working on my novel (I lost track of exactly how long); a 5K run (no exercise migraine, thankfully); about forty-five minutes of Torah study.  It doesn’t look like so much, but I was fighting depression and anxiety at times, so it’s a bigger achievement than it appears.  I guess even if I think my depression and anxiety are now largely driven by external events and autistic burnout, that doesn’t mean they are going to vanish or suddenly become easier to deal with.  It’s a process every day of forcing myself to get up, to get going, to do some productive activities, to make sure I get the food, rest and relaxation that I need to avoid burnout.  Just to keep going, trying to live my life as well as I can.

The King is in the Field

I felt quite calm today, although the last half hour has seen some dating anxiety resurface. My friend Stoic Wannabe recently posted on a her blog a lists of books she wishes someone would write, and I would add to that list How to Find Your Soul-Mate, and Be Completely Sure He/She/They are the Right One, Without Suffering Rejection Along the Way. But I don’t think life works like that.

Today was mostly pre-Shabbat (Sabbath) chores, dusting and working on my novel. Working on the novel was hard to day. I think I wrote last week about the “running out of energy” feelings of Fridays, that the mystics say that the world is rejuvenated every week on Shabbat, and that I can believe that because Friday always seems to be a day when the world is running down and out of energy, as am I. Even if I don’t do much on Fridays, somehow it’s all a bit of a struggle. I did read over another chapter of my novel. There’s a lot of rewriting to do, but somehow it seems a bit funnier than I remembered. It’s a serious book, but there is some observational humour in there.

***

It occurred to me today that perhaps most of my mental health issues now are rooted in autism and the general uncertainty of my life (which is also related to autism and the way it impacts my career and dating, particularly while I’m self-diagnosed rather than by a psychiatrist). I know in the past I had childhood issues to work through, but I think I’ve mostly processed those in therapy now. I can accept that the adults around me did not always do the right thing for me, but that this was because they were imperfect humans like the rest of us and not malicious. OK, I never felt they were malicious as such, but I did feel a lot of blame. Likewise I accept that I was bullied a lot by the other children, but that there isn’t much point still hanging on to that.

My depression tends to flare up now at times of tiredness (particularly first thing in the morning) and at times of stress and exhaustion, especially when I’m around people, which also triggers social anxiety. This could mean that it’s related to autistic burnout as much as anything else. A day of draining activity will leave me burnt out and depressed the next day; prolonged draining activity (such as working in an environment that is stressful for me, as when I had an office job for several months), might trigger a more prolonged burnout. “Draining” in this context means emotionally draining more than physically draining; a day of housework and work on my novel might be significantly less tiring than a few hours in a noisy environment where I have to “mask” my autism, such as a busy shopping centre.

I will try to observe over the coming weeks and see if this hypothesis is correct, but I think it is at least partially correct.

***

Today is the first day of the Jewish month of Elul. This is the introspective month before the Yamim Noraim, the High Holy Days, the most solemn festivals in the Jewish calendar. Elul is a time of personal reflection and soul-searching about how we’ve grown over the last year, but it’s also seen as a time when God is particularly close and accessible to those who seek Him (“The King is in the field” as the mystics say).

I think this time two years ago I was in a bad state, deeply depressed about life and very angry with God. I believed in Him, but I was angry about how much pain He had put me through with depression, loneliness and autism. By 2019, I had more of a sense that I wanted to be a writer, but I was still struggling with getting there. I was also on the waiting list for an autism assessment and I think that just knowing that I probably am on the spectrum helped me to accept myself and my “weird” characteristics more, but of course I’m still waiting for the assessment itself because of COVID halting so much non-urgent NHS treatment.

This year I feel a lot better. It has been a very strange year that no one was expecting, and we’ve had the additional challenge of Mum’s cancer, but I’ve used much of the lockdown time to make progress on my novel, which I think in a curious way has helped work through some of those childhood/adolescent issues that I mentioned above (the novel has a semi-autobiographical thread). I also self-published my non-fiction book about Doctor Who. That has not sold well, but I feel due to marketing issues rather than anything else. I’m not sure how to promote it.

I don’t feel anger towards God any more, but I do feel some apprehension. I’m trying to accept that I’m never going to completely fit into the Orthodox community, and that that’s OK (partly the effect of autism and mental illness, partly that I have a more “modern” outlook for Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) Jews, but am more passionately engaged than most people in United Synagogue shuls (synagogues)). It would be nice to feel more accepted, but I’m not sure what that would feel like. I feel like I have made a couple of friends at shul, but also that I have not managed to build up the close friends that I’ve lost over the last couple of years, now including E.

I didn’t mean this to turn into a formal cheshbon nafesh (self-analysis)! That’s how I feel contemplating Elul this year: a bit more confident and happier than previously. Of course, some of that is knowing that I will probably escape some of the harder parts of the festivals this year, particularly spending so much time in shul, because of lockdown limitations. But I definitely feel more upbeat about the new year and the autumn festival season than I did for the last couple of years.

A Step Closer to Employment?

I slept a lot last night, perhaps unsurprisingly given how little I slept the night before and how much I did during the day.  I woke up feeling drained, depressed and anxious and thought it would be a written off “mental hangover” day (which I guess I should call a “burnout” day, but I prefer my term), but I was pleasantly surprised that after breakfast I managed to stop catastrophising and focus on the present and feel a lot calmer.  That didn’t last the whole day as there was still some anxiety (job hunt and dating) and tiredness, but not so bad.  The anxiety came and went during the day in response to things that happened.

The big thing that happened was that I got an email saying I was through to the next round on a job application.  I had to read some terms and conditions information, fill in a questionnaire to show I’d done that and then put myself forward for a test.  If I pass the test, I will be doing some crowd-testing work on software.  I don’t think I can really go into more details because of nondisclosure of trade secrets.  The pay is low and it’s not a good career-progression job (because only tangentially related to librarianship and not at all to writing), but it would be a job at a time of high unemployment.  It would also be working from home (no exhausting commute or autistically-difficult office environment) and only working 20 hours a week with flexible timing, so I would have time to work on my novel and could potentially work 10am-6pm, which would suit me a lot better than 9am-5pm.

I do feel nervous about work though.  My experiences in the workplace in the last few years has led to a loss of confidence in my ability to work, a loss not repaired by doing good work in my last couple of jobs.  The fact that I know that my difficulties are caused by depression and autism rather than inherent incompetence doesn’t really make me feel that much better.  I know the problem is my issues, not me, but it still means that I am stuck with them for a while at least.  I hope doing relatively easy work in a safe, quiet environment (home) will boost my self-esteem.

There was a lot to read through, so it took most of the afternoon.  I had done a little work on my novel before the job details came through, but will probably have to do that again tomorrow because of the interruption.

It was a busy day and I was exhausted by the early evening and that brought my mood down a bit.  I kept thinking that people on the autism spectrum often end up in jobs they’re over-qualified for (like the one I’m applying for) and that people on the spectrum often struggle to build friendships and relationships.  I know there are some very successful autistic people out there, and some in successful relationships, but statistically the odds are not great for me.  These are thoughts I’ve had many times, and rehearsed here many times, and I’m trying to stay present-focused and not to worry about them (and also to remember that aspiring writers often take low-status jobs to give some income while writing).  Still, it’s difficult.

***

In the evening, I went on a virtual tour (via Zoom, as is everything these days) of The Biblical Museum of Natural History in Israel, via the London School of Jewish Studies.  I’ve wanted to visit it in person for a while, but that looks unlikely to happen any time soon, so this was an alternative.  The Director of the Museum, Rabbi Dr Natan Slifkin has written some interesting (and controversial, in the Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) world) books on Judaism and science, although the Museum, unlike his books and blog, deliberately avoids controversial issues like creationism or the factual accuracy of statements about the natural world in the Talmud so that Haredi schools and families can visit.  It was very interesting, although the picture and sound quality were not always great.

***

I didn’t have much time or energy for Torah study today, only about ten minutes, although some of the Museum tour could be considered Torah study I suppose.

***

I also signed up for an online site from a Jewish mental health charity.  To be honest, I’m not sure what exactly it offers.  I think there’s some articles on the site and also a forum with other people with mental health issues and a chat function with mental health professionals.  I’m not sure how much I will use it, but it might be useful in the future, particularly if more people sign up for it.

***

Writing my devar Torah (Torah thought) yesterday led me to re-read a transcript of a lecture by Rabbi Aharon Lichtenstein, one of the leading Modern Orthodox thinkers until his death a few years ago.  The lecture was on trust in God.  Rabbi Lichtenstein suggested there are two types of trust, “faithful trust”, thinking that God will always make the best option happen, and “loving trust,” thinking that even if the worst happens, I will stay loyal to God and assume that everything has happened for a good reason, even if I don’t understand what that is.  He says both are valid, but laments a focus on the first at the expense of the second in the Orthodox community and educational system.  I find “loving trust” easier, difficult though it sometimes is.  I find it hard to assume that what I think is best will happen, because usually it does not.  I might post the whole devar Torah here later in the week, as I think it might be of interest.

Trying to Trust

I had some anxiety again today, mostly work/job hunt anxiety and dating anxiety.  I’m trying to keep my focus on the present, and trusting that what God plans for me is for the best, but it’s not always easy, particularly when I feel hungry or tired.

The tiredness is because I didn’t sleep very much last night.  I went to bed early (for me), before midnight, but I couldn’t sleep.  Then I woke up at 5.15 and couldn’t get back to sleep.  I didn’t feel tired, so I rested in bed for a while and then got up.  I think I dozed for an hour or so mid-morning, but I’ve been going on about five hours of sleep in total, which probably hasn’t helped my anxiety level.

***

I watched a disturbing documentary on domestic violence in lockdown as research for my novel.  I worked on my novel after this, but it was hard to focus.  I was probably a bit upset from the documentary, then there was a thunder storm and we think the house got hit by lightning, damaging the phone.  I tried to help Mum and Dad a bit with sorting the phone problem, so that took some time.  I felt tense after this and struggled to concentrate and couldn’t work out if it was from the disturbing documentary or the loud thunder that made me jump.

I also stopped working on the novel so I could discuss some things with my parents.  One was a possible job that’s come up at the institution I worked in back in 2019, but with a very different job and a different part of the (very big) library team.  I’m not sure it’s a great job for me, but I’m going to put my name forward to get more information, as I found the information I was sent (via an agency) unclear.

I did manage some work on my novel (aside from the documentary), re-reading the first two chapters to refresh my memory so that I can see how the plot flows.  It’s many months since I looked at the early chapters, and I have not read the whole novel straight through to see how it reads as a whole.  I would have liked to have done more, as ever, but ran out of time and energy.

I wrote most of my devar Torah for the week too, which took over an hour and led me to re-read a transcript of a lecture by Rabbi Aharon Lichtenstein on trust in God, to help with the feelings I mentioned above.  I went on a Zoom call with my family in Israel too, so from a productivity point of view, today was pretty good, although I left the Zoom call a bit early as I was exhausted coming straight to it from a webinar.

***

The webinar was on autism in the workplace.  It was interesting, although I’m not sure how much of it is relevant to me at the moment without an autism diagnosis.  It was interesting to hear that a lot of autistic people end up self-employed because it gives them more control over their workplace and interactions; that’s part of what has pushed me towards writing.  It was reassuring to hear that other people have problems with things like needing extra processing time during job interviews or struggling with informal office procedure like who makes the tea.

***

I’ve been hearing lately about autistic burnout.  This is a newly-discovered concept that researchers have only become aware of in the last few years.  It is when autistic people become exhausted and unable to function.  One website states:

Burnout is often a consequence of camouflaging, or masking, a strategy in which autistic people mimic neurotypical behavior by using scripts for small talk, forcing themselves to make eye contact or suppressing repetitive behaviors. These strategies can help autistic people in their jobs and relationships but require immense effort.

It can also result from sensory overstimulation, such as a noisy bus commute; executive function demands such as having to juggle too many tasks at once; or stress associated with change.

It’s obviously difficult to say what is autistic burnout and what is depressive burnout, but I certainly experience a different type of exhaustion after work outside the home or intensive socialising as opposed to working a lot at home.

This post speaks about a more severe burnout, when masking and over-stimulation continue in the long-term, resulting in a more long-lasting burnout that can lead to, or be mistaken for, clinical depression.  I am beginning to wonder if, while I am genuinely depressed, my major episodes of depression have often been triggered by autistic burnout rather than anything else, particularly the huge episode that lasted from around 2003 to around 2010, during and after my undergraduate degree.  Unfortunately, I am still on the waiting list for assessment, the waiting list having been frozen for months due to COVID.

***

I mentioned yesterday that I realise that lockdown would have been very hard on my parents if I had not been here.  That’s been helpful to me in understanding why I’ve struggled with depression for so long.  I believed that logically, God could make me struggle for any number of justifiable reasons, but I always found it hard to accept emotionally.  Now I feel that I have a reason why I have struggled, I find it easier to accept, and also to accept that maybe I can move on now.

 

Embracing Struggles, or I Possibly Just Wasted £90

I possibly just wasted £90.  I subscribed to full JDate membership.  I fiddled around browsing more.  I’m not entirely sure there are really enough frum (religious Jewish) or “willing to marry someone frum” people on there.  I haven’t messaged anyone yet.  Too scared, plus it’s getting to close to Shabbat (the Sabbath) to spend more time on it today.  I suppose it will be practise at “speaking” to strangers, if anyone responds to my emails, which, from experience, is not a given.

In Kafka’s parable Before the Law (written as part of The Trial, but also published separately), the man seeking admission to the law is refused admittance by the doorkeeper.  He is forced to wait outside for many years, but is never let in.  He tries bribing the doorkeeper, who takes the bribes, but still refuses to let him in, stating, “I am only taking it to keep you from thinking you have omitted anything.”  Eventually the man dies.  With his dying breath, he asks why he has never seen anyone else ask admittance to the law here; the doorkeeper responds that, “No one else could ever be admitted here, since this gate was made only for you.  I am now going to shut it.”

I have thought about that parable a lot over the years, with regard to depression and “recovery” as well as dating.  I feel I try everything, but it never helps; it just stops me thinking I have omitted anything.  Hence, the JDate subscription.  Sigh.  But I suppose it is “my” door (loneliness, depression, social anxiety and autism), and I can’t really go anywhere else, or expect anyone else to understand it as I understand it the way I do.  All I can do is embrace the struggles and the “now.”

Running Out of Petrol

It rained a lot last night.  I stayed up for a while listening to the rain and thunder and watching the lightning.  It’s been raining on and off all day, but without thunder and lightning.  That’s brought the temperature back to the comfortable range (mid-twenties Celsius), although it’s still warm and humid.  The BBC is predicting more thunderstorms for this afternoon and evening.

I woke up late again, somewhat more refreshed than recently from sleeping in the lower temperature, but still depressed and tired.  I feel like I’ve been struggling against the weather the last few days, which distracted me from depression, but now the temperature is lower, the depression is back.

***

Mum was sick last night, probably side-effects from her final dose of chemotherapy, which I guess is a reminder that there’s still a long way to go with regard to her treatment, even if the chemo is over now.  It’s still scary if I think about it.

***

I created a JDate profile.  I hope I’m not making a big mistake.  I sometimes procrastinate about something for ages, then something in me snaps and I seem to do it very suddenly, as if on impulse, if you only saw my external actions and not the inner procrastination beforehand.

I described myself as a librarian and writer, which is true, I’m just not being paid to do either of those things at the moment.  There was a bit where you could pick interests from a list: no reading, but loads of different sports and genres of films.  Hmm.  I put running, cooking, writing and “sci-fi” (even though serious science fiction fans tend to prefer “SF” to “sci-fi”), but I found the lack of options, particularly unusual option, irritating.

They seem to have massively changed the site since I was last on it and I didn’t get time to experiment with searching.  It showed me a few women whose profiles seemed to match with mine, for what that’s worth, including someone I went to school with who I’ve come across on dating sites before – one could say that we are constantly being thrown together by FATE, except that I see zero chemistry or shared interests with her and am pretty sure she feels the same way about me.

I did see someone I might like to email, but am currently too nervous.  Her profile said she was looking in an age range that was somewhat younger than I am (she’s twenty-seven and interested in dating men up to thirty-two; I’m thirty-seven).  I think I look younger than I am, but who knows?  I was nervous even before I saw her preferred age range, just nervous about reaching out to someone even though the worst she can do is ignore me.  I would need to upgrade my access to the site to message her i.e. part with hard cash!  You have very limited access to the site without paying these days, it seems, but I am still nervous about this and not sure it’s a good idea.  I’m having a lot of “No one would want to be with me if she knew I’m depressed/autistic/unemployed/weird” thoughts.

***

It always seems so hard to do anything on a Friday, even in summer, when Shabbat (the Sabbath) starts at a sensible time.  I did my chores (still need to hoover), but I feel exhausted, without having done much else except the JDate profile.  The mystics say that God pumps new energy into the universe via Shabbat and that without it, the universe would run out of energy.  That seems to be empirically testable in my life.  Fridays are definitely a “running out of petrol” day, every week.

Angst In My Pants

I still feel that I’m wilting in the heat.  It was hard to do anything again today.  The weather is predicted to be in the thirties (Celsius) until Wednesday, getting hotter every day until Thursday, then cooler, but with thunderstorms for the rest of the week, so I don’t think I’ll be exercising much this week.  I hope to go for a walk after dinner, if it’s a bit cooler than it is now.

***

I finished the job application I was writing.  I don’t know why the trend seems to be to ask for character references for time spent unemployed.  I could understand asking for character references if you’ve never worked, but I don’t know why they want character references for time between jobs.  I gave my rabbi, but technically he’s only known me for two years.  I feel it just draws attention to the fact that I’ve been out of work so much.

I found myself thinking about things I’ve done wrong at work, and job applications that I felt were not brilliant.  Somehow I feel that I struggle to demonstrate that I’ve got particular skills or had particular experiences even when I have had them.  There may be an autistic issue of looking at things a particular way and struggling to reframe my experiences to meet the demands of the application.  Sometimes talking to my parents helps with this, but I feel bad for needing help with applications.

***

I’m also feeling depressed (not quite the right word, but down and frustrated) that the only women I’ve been able to build a relationship with are women who also have “issues.”  That’s not a problem in itself, but it can create a situation where we both have issues and the relationship doesn’t work because of that.  Although sometimes they can’t cope with my issues, while expecting me to cope with theirs, which is not fair.

I feel that I want to be in a serious relationship, one that could lead to marriage one day, but that isn’t rushing towards it in the short-term.  Not involving sex (I’m not sure what I feel about hugging and hand holding), but close and emotionally connected.  The problem is that in the frum (religious Jewish) world, this type of relationship doesn’t really exist.  The focus is more on going out and deciding in the space of relatively few dates if you are right for each other and then getting married quickly.  I doubt that I could cope with being married at the moment, especially if I would be expected to have children soon after, as I would be in the frum community.  I want to have children some day, but I don’t know if I’ll ever be ready for that responsibility, emotionally or financially.  That’s another reason not to marry, as from a halakhic (Jewish legal) point of view, using birth control indefinitely without having any children is problematic.

I don’t really want to date non-religious women, because, for all my problems with the frum world, I can’t see my life being compatible with someone who doesn’t keep the basics, and I doubt a non-religious woman would want a long-term non-physical relationship.  I suppose in the more Modern Orthodox world I might find someone who wanted a slower-moving relationship, although even there the trend seems to be going towards faster dating, but I suspect by the time they get to my age, most of those women are looking to marry and have children too.  Anyway, I don’t know how to meet such a person.  Maybe on JDate, but online dating hasn’t always worked out well for me.

The idea that “dating is for marriage (and happens very quickly)” is so pervasive in the frum world that I feel guilty for even thinking that I want to date towards marriage, but slower than most.  It feels almost as if I wanted to be promiscuous, which must sound strange to outsiders.  That said, you might be surprised how many frum women I’ve met who are not sure if they want children, or are certain that they don’t.  So clearly there are other people who don’t fit the mould.

Of course, I can’t see many women wanting much to do with a man with poor employment prospects, depression, social anxiety and autism, so maybe all this is a pointless train of thought anyway.

***

The reverse side of this is that the thought of being in a relationship again makes me feel nervous as well as excited.  Being with someone who was right for me, at a time when I was ready for a relationship and children sounds good, but getting there seems impossible with all my issues and baggage, not to mention the whole process of dating different women, being rejected, having misunderstandings and arguments (actually, I haven’t had arguments, but I’m afraid I would), making myself vulnerable and getting hurt again…  The end is good if you can get there, but the journey seems impossible, at least for someone like me, with issues and a fragile sense of self-esteem (a fragile sense of self in general, really).

I have ended up having close platonic friendships with women over the years, often not frum or not Jewish, which I guess was a kind of substitute for a romantic relationship.  Most of those women I would have been open to dating if the situation had been different or if they had been interested.  Those friendships increasingly ended badly, most recently in E. and I becoming boyfriend/girlfriend and then breaking up, so I’m scared to do that any more.  I do worry about being alone forever, about not being able to talk to anyone.  I crave intimacy (I mean emotional intimacy more than physical, although there is an element of that), but it is elusive.

***

I’m not even sure if anything I’ve written in the last two sections makes sense, or if it all cancels itself out somehow.

***

I feel like I’m stuck in a never ending loop: living in lockdown, applying for jobs I don’t get, writing books no one reads, getting crushes that never go anywhere…  I’m aware that that’s not really accurate.  I’ve only written one book, I’m still working on the second.  I do get crushes that don’t go anywhere, but that’s over a much bigger timescale than just lockdown.  Shielding Mum in lockdown is hard, but hopefully that will get a bit easier in a month or so, after her operation, although I think I’ll be nervous about going into shops for a while longer, let alone going to shul (synagogue).

All that said, I wish there was some clearer sign that things can work out well for me, with career, writing and dating, and over a reasonable timescale too.  I don’t want to suddenly build a career and find love in my eighties (although I suppose it would be better than nothing).  I just worry I’ll never find even the small amount of happiness and fulfilment that most people manage to find.

***

Achievements today: not much.  I finished the job application, did about three quarters of an hour of Torah study and read paprt of a book on writing.  I bought books on writing when I had writers’ block a couple of months ago.  I’m torn between thinking that writing can’t be taught and I’m just going to confuse myself and stifle my creativity by reading about it and thinking that writing is a skill like anything else and saying that one shouldn’t formally learn it is like saying Yehudi Menuhin should have just picked up the violin and been perfect without lessons.

***

I’ve been listening to Sparks lately.  Sparks are a band who formed in the sixties and are still going, formed from brothers Ron and Russell Mael.  They aren’t hugely famous.  They are American, but were more popular in the UK than the US.  Their most famous song is This Town Ain’t Big Enough for the Both of Us.  To be honest, they can be a bit hit and miss and are something of an acquired taste, but their best songs are eccentric and quirky, with clever lyrics.  I find a lot of the songs have resonance for me.  Sherlock Holmes is about wanting to be someone you aren’t.  The Existential Threat is about anxiety.  Amateur Hour and When I’m With You are about insecurity in different ways.  Edith Piaf (Said it Better than Me) is about someone who has no regrets, because he has never done anything exciting.  And, to be honest, I suspect other people have thought I Wish You Were Fun about me behind my back.

Heat and Light

Shabbat (Sabbath) was OK, but a bit of a struggle.  It’s just too hot.  I know that in some places it gets hotter and more humid, but bear in mind houses in the UK are built for cold.  They are insulated and sometimes poorly ventilated.  So it’s pretty sweltering.  I couldn’t sleep at all last night.  I stayed up reading.  I eventually fell asleep around 5.00am.

Once I slept a lot again over Shabbat, despite the insomnia.  I slept late once I got to sleep and I napped in the afternoon, so I’m super-awake now, which is not good.

***

Today we ate in the garden, both lunch and seudah shlishit (the third Sabbath meal).  I was apprehensive about this, because I had a vague sense it ought to be religiously prohibited, but I couldn’t think of a reason why, or at least, not a reason I couldn’t argue against.  That said, if I hadn’t seen our super-Hasidic next-door neighbours do it last week, I don’t think I would have done it.  Still, I guess it’s progress in being less religious OCD-defined, and more open to things generally.  There’s probably a good deal of autistic “I don’t want to do anything new” in the “It’s halakhically forbidden (forbidden by Jewish law),” as much as OCD and over-caution.

***

My mood was variable.  I had the weird thought that in terms of dates, I’m doing about as well by just posting stuff on my blog and occasionally meeting people romantically that way (meeting online or in person) than I am being proactive in the real world or even hoping non-internet women would want to date me.  Obviously my online presence is more confident, more charming, more I-don’t-know-what than my in-person presence (unsurprising, as in-person presence is socially crippled by social anxiety and autism).  Who knows whether I’ll meet someone else that way?  Still, I do feel the odds are against my finding anyone soon, or even really being able to manage a relationship soon.  It’s just counter-productive to dwell on those thoughts.

(It’s strange, but despite my shyness and social anxiety, I do quite like meeting people in person who I have “spoken” to online.  I’ve done it quite a lot.)

I realised that somewhere along the line I stopped praying to find my spouse.  I’m not sure why.  I know in the last year or so I’ve cut down a lot of voluntary/spontaneous prayer because of feeling depressed and tired and overwhelmed and far from God.  That was probably a bad idea, making me more distant from God, but it’s hard to know how to get back to it.

I never know what to pray for about dating anyway.  I don’t exactly feel like I could get married at the moment, certainly financially and maybe emotionally.  Maybe I should pray to find some other activity or social network that would take away the loneliness?  But it feels unJewish to be in my late thirties and unmarried and not doing the one proactive thing I can really do about it (prayer).

Plus, how would I pray to feel less sexually frustrated, from a Jewish point of view, without praying to get married?  There isn’t another option.  It’s pretty clear from the Talmud that praying to reduce your libido doesn’t work (“There are no half blessings from Heaven”); marriage is the only option.  But what if, financially and emotionally, that isn’t possible right now, maybe never?  What should I pray for?

***

Those thoughts about finding a spouse by just waiting until she finds my blog (maybe) cheered me up a bit, but others brought me down.  I started crying while I was davening Minchah (saying Afternoon Prayers), I’m not sure why.  I had been thinking about a chiddush (novel Torah thought) I had and I’m not sure if it was connected.

In Bereshit (Genesis) chapter 6, God tells Noach (Noah) to build the ark and that it should have a “tzohar.”  It is not clear what a “tzohar” is.  The Medieval commentator Rashi (based on the Midrash in Bereshit Rabbah) gives us two options: “Some say this is a window and some say this is a precious stone that gave light to them.”

However, contrary to the way a lot of people read it, Midrash isn’t just about finding quirky facts about the Torah.  It is about finding deeper meanings.  What is this teaching us?

In his book Genesis: From Creation to Covenant, Rabbi Zvi Grumet notes that the description of the flood undoes the Creation narrative from chapter 1 of Genesis, with the world being uncreated stage by stage in reverse order as everything is destroyed, back to the point where the waters above and the waters below were divided on day two, leaving only the light created on day one.  The only thing not mentioned are the luminaries, created on day four.  We can assume they were covered by clouds, from the point of view of the ark, but this is not explicitly stated.

We might then argue that the “window” opinion assumes that the luminaries were still visible and all that was needed was a window to let the light of the sun and moon in, whereas the “luminescent stone” opinion assumes that the luminaries were invisible, and some artificial (quasi-supernatural) light source was necessary for the ark’s inhabitants.

Perhaps the deeper symbolism is this.  The “window” option assumes that even at a time of strict justice, when God withdraws his mercy and lets destruction reign on the world, even then there is hope as a natural part of the world.  There are intrinsically positive aspects of creation still around, still shedding their light from a distance.  God’s Presence can always be felt.

The “luminescent stone” approach is darker, in all senses.  It says that sometimes the world is so dark that you can find no natural source of light altogether.  The world outside is absolutely awful with no exceptions.  At a time like this, we have to rely on God to cast light for us directly and miraculously because the outside world is just too dark and horrible for us.  (I feel that this is a post-Holocaust type of perspective.)

I thought about the above, then I immediately went to daven Minchah, as I said, and I suddenly started crying and I didn’t know why.  I strongly suspect it is connected to what I was thinking, but I don’t know if I felt overwhelmed that God was providing light for me after all, or upset and alone that I feel He is not providing light for me.

***

My parents and I didn’t play a game on Shabbat this week, partly as Shabbat is finishing earlier now and partly because our neighbours came to the door for a socially distanced conversation with my parents towards the end of Shabbat, when we’d been playing (we all nap in the afternoon).  I’m trying to persuade my parents to play a longer, more involved game on a Sunday afternoon, as we’re all in at the moment, maybe Trivial Pursuit or Risk (my family don’t like to play Trivial Pursuit with me because I win.  I think at one stage they would only play if I answered the Genius Edition questions and they answered questions from a similar, but easier, quiz game).  I don’t remember the rules to Risk, but I’ve been thinking lately that I want to play it again.

***

I’m trying to listen to a long playlist on Spotify, but someone keeps editing it, so every time I open Spotify to listen to it, the track order has been changed and it’s hard to keep track of what I’ve heard to and what I haven’t.  Very annoying.  It’s one of the Spotify-produced (as opposed to user-produced) playlists too.

Post-Success Depression and Negative Self-Talk

I still feel very depressed.  I don’t know if this is about finishing the first draft of my novel or something else, something I don’t want to talk about here.  If it is about my novel, I had something similar when I was doing my MA: I would struggle against depression to finish an assignment, but when I handed it in, instead of feeling positive, I would feel more depressed and often be unable to start the next assignment for weeks.  It took me nearly three and a half years to finish a course that should have taken one academic year.

***

I was thinking of buying some more music and graphic novels and maybe some war gaming miniatures to paint (I don’t play war games any more, but sometimes I paint the models).  Then I started thinking that this was retail therapy, and I felt more guilty about it, and just started procrastinating, which is a worse problem than retail therapy, at least with the relatively small sums of money I’m thinking of spending.  In the end I bought two graphic novels, but am undecided as to whether to buy the miniatures.  It would be good to do something that doesn’t involve thinking (I guess there’s running), but I feel depressed when comparing miniatures painted by me recently with the much better ones painted in my teens, before I had medication-related tremor, and perhaps when my concentration and will power were better.

***

I finished fiddling around with my iTunes playlists, which was good.  I’ve been meaning to sort them out for a while now.  That was my main achievement for the day, alongside my usual pre-Shabbat chores.  I did a little Torah study, and I’ll probably do a bit more later, but it’s hard to do anything today.  It’s partly depression and exhaustion, but also the heat and humidity, which are both high today and make me uncomfortable.

***

I had another weird dream about conflict with my religious community, where a bunch of thugs mobbed the car I was in when it pulled over (which for some reason was being driven by Hugo Drax, the villain of the James Bond film Moonraker) and then I realised they were frum men, with suits and fedoras, and then I recognised some of them from shul.  That might be part of the reason why I woke up depressed and exhausted again.

I’m not sure why that conflict is on my mind when I haven’t had any real contact with the community for five months or so and am not likely to have any for another couple of months at least.  Maybe that’s it, though.  Maybe I’ve forgotten the good parts and the people I like and am only thinking about the negative.  Certainly there’s a lot of social anxiety over going to shul (synagogue) again, wondering if I can remember what to do and how to behave (I mean behave socially more than religiously, although that too, I guess), as well as autistic anxiety about wearing masks and the changed layout of the shul being different and confusing.  Shul has been reopened for a few weeks now, but I haven’t gone as we’re still shielding Mum as she’s immuno-suppressed and the risk is just too great.

Related to that, I don’t know when going to a shop is going to feel safe again.  I’ve hardly been in any for months.  The only one I really go to is the pharmacist, to collect my anti-depressants, but that’s awkward as not only is it often busy, but the post office is in the same shop, separated by a partition wall and that’s also often busy and people have to queue from the post office section into the pharmacist section.  I’d like to go to the nearby charity shop to browse second-hand books and DVDs as I know that’s something that de-stresses me a bit, but I just don’t dare to.

***

I wrote in yesterday’s post about blaming my teenage/early twenties self for not being more social.  After I turned off my computer, I remembered something I once said in therapy, that if I think of my very young self, say five or six years old or younger, I feel a great deal of love and compassion towards him, but I think of my somewhat older self (eight or ten years old and up) suddenly a whole load of negative feelings and internalised anger/aggression comes out about him (me) being too clever, aloof, irritating, an unintentional show-off, a Doctor Who obsessive to the exclusion of all else (even more than I am now…) and so on.  I’m guessing this is because the difficulties of my childhood started when I was somewhat older and that’s the time that I internalised negative thoughts and feelings about myself.  It is hard to know what to do with these thoughts.

***

I just heard that Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz died today (barukh dayan ha’emet).  He was a great man.  Among his many achievements was translating the Talmud into Modern Hebrew (most of the Talmud is written in Aramaic) and writing explanatory commentary, and then overseeing its translation into English and, I think, Russian.  It’s not the only current English translation, but it is very accessible and while the Artscroll Talmud (its main competitor in English translation) is focused on the detail of halakhic (legal) debate and only uses traditional sources, the Steinsaltz one is more focused on basic comprehensibility and uses modern sources and photos (of plants, ancient artifacts, etc.) to illustrate the social and material context of the Talmud.

He wrote many other books too, including a few I own.  I’m very fond of his book Simple Words and his translation of some of the stories of Rebbe Nachman of Bratzlav, again with commentary.

He was an important figure for me, not just because of the books that I have read, but also his attitude, being in some ways very traditional and Hasidic and in other ways very modern (he was originally a scientist before becoming a rabbi).  I believe his yeshiva (rabbinical seminary) taught Jewish philosophy and creative writing alongside the traditional yeshiva Talmud curriculum.  He once said, “An intellectual is not necessarily a university professor: he can also be a shoemaker.  An intellectual is a person of boundless curiosity, who has the desire and the ability to discuss everything, and the spark that can make something new out of anything.”  We can apply this to Rabbi Steinsaltz himself.

Catastrophising and Fatalism

The Doctor: Where’s your optimism?

Romana: It opted out.

– Doctor Who: The Armageddon Factor by Bob Baker and Dave Martin

I seem to be stuck back in the habit of waking up late and depressed, even if I go to bed a bit earlier.  I think some of the slump is finishing the first draft of my novel and contemplating the next mountain to climb, which is redrafting, which is looming and ominous, but which I can’t even get started on yet, as I want a short break so I can come to it fresh.  Something else happened that I won’t go into here that brought me down too and is on my mind today.  Plus, I had a weird, upsetting dream last night.  I can’t remember the details, but it was about getting in trouble with my religious community for having the wrong religious beliefs/practices.

I looked at the chart I made for dealing with depression and, yes, some of this probably is my critical voice talking and maybe some “shoulds” and, yes, a lot of it is catastrophising.  I don’t know what’s happening with my career or my writing, which is scary, and it’s hard not to catastrophise that.

There’s a lot of catastrophising about relationships too, feeling that I don’t have ways to meet someone.  There are some ways, but I feel they all have drawbacks and most are unlikely to succeed.  I also feel that I would have the best chance of building a relationship with someone who also has “issues,” but there’s no way of trying deliberately to meet such a person, certainly not within the frum (religious Jewish) community.  There are actually shadchanim (matchmakers) in the USA who specialise in “sensitive shidduchim (matches)” where both parties have some kind of issue (not necessarily mental health), but I couldn’t get any to work with me, largely because I’m not in the US, but in one case because I’m too modern, religiously.  Maybe it’s not sensible to think like that anyway; both my exes had issues and that was at least partly responsible for the failure of both relationships.  Maybe I need someone very stable and kind, although what she would see in me is anyone’s guess.

I also worry that I won’t be able to have children, partly because my issues are too ever-present and exhausting to make it a good idea, particularly if I marry someone with similar issues; partly because, as I get older, having children means finding a wife significantly younger than me, which seems unlikely to happen.   Some shadchanim and dating sites seem to divide the dating pool in two, under-forties and over-forties, the former being presumably for people who can have children, the latter for people who are too late, or who are assumed to already have children from a previous relationship and not to want more.

As I said, this is all catastrophising.  My parents still think I’ll get married and have at least one child, which seems wildly optimistic to me.  It’s hard to turn off the catastrophising voice though, particularly when there seems so little evidence against it.  I need to focus on stuff in the present, as I was recently, but it seems hard today when I feel to depressed to concentrate on anything and when my mind just wanders down the path of least resistance, which is the path of catastrophising and wallowing in self-pity.

I try to tell myself that if God wants me to have a career and a wife and children then it will happen and if He doesn’t, it won’t, and there’s not much I can do about that… except that just reinforces the fear that he doesn’t want me to have those things and there’s nothing I can do about it.  Certainly he hasn’t wanted me to have them so far.  I don’t think belief in God is supposed to make me so fatalistic, certainly not Jewish belief, which is supposed to be proactive.  We’re supposed to think that God wants the best for us, and if it doesn’t suit our desires or plans, that’s because we’re limited whereas He’s omniscient and knows what would be good for us better than we do.  I just wish I knew what His plan is and had some idea if I would ever get there.

Do I even know what I want out of life?  I’m not sure.  Part of me suspects I wouldn’t be happy even in a loving relationship, that I’m just too negative and depressed a person to be happy for long.  I don’t know what would make me happy or bring fulfilment to my life.  Maybe I’ve hit on things like love and career as goals because they make other people happy and I assume they would make me happy too, but perhaps they would not.

Being frum, doing mitzvot (commandments) and studying Torah, which, according to rabbis, are what my soul wants to do and which should make me happy do very little for me.  Does that make a bad Jew?  Or are depression and low self-esteem just too corrosive to happiness for a frum life to make a difference?  Nothing really seems to help conquer the sense of insecurity, loneliness and despair.  Would it help if God Himself told me that He thought I was a good person and a good Jew?  I’m not sure that it would at this stage.

I want to be grateful for the good things in my life, and I’ve been stating them each day for years, but somehow often I feel too lonely, anxious and despairing about the future to internalise that.  I just end up feeling guilty for not being happier and more grateful.  Maybe I’m just selfish and ungrateful, but I just feel like my psychological needs are not being met (as per Maslow) and I can’t fully function.

***

My therapist is away, and maybe that’s hard too.  I share a lot of my life here on the blog, but not all of it.  There’s some that seems too trivial, or too personal, or too shameful or perhaps too weird to share here.  I’m not sure how much of that I would share with my therapist either, but some of it.  Lately it’s also been hard to tell my parents when I feel depressed and to talk to them about things and I’m not sure why.  I think on some level I feel I’ve let them down by being depressed for so long.  I could phone Samaritans.  I’m not suicidal, but the service is technically not just for people who are suicidal or even intensely depressed, but somehow I can’t bring myself to phone just to chat, perhaps because I can’t bring myself to open up to a stranger unless in serious need.

***

This week I’ve been writing letters to people who have upset me or aroused strong, difficult emotions in me.  The letters are not intended to be sent, just to work my feelings through.  I decided to write one to the frum community, which was a slightly flippant idea, but I thought I would see what came out, as I’ve been writing these letters in a fairly stream of consciousness way.  I was quite surprised that it really didn’t go the way I expected, so I thought I’d share:

Dear frum community,

I tried so hard to fit in, but I never felt accepted.  That’s my gut feeling.  Is it true?  I  don’t know.  I think people were willing to accept me at youth stuff at shul when I was a teenager, but I was too scared, and maybe a bit arrogant.  Did I think I was better?  Or smarter?  Or did I just think I could not be friendly with someone who was not a geek?  To be fair, I was carrying a lot of hurt, trauma and guilt, and that only got worse at Oxford, where people were also willing to accept, but I was too scared again.

Nowadays I’m terrified I’m too Modern, too “heretical,” too weird, too guilty to fit in, especially being single, childless, depressed and autistic.  Is that your fault or mine?  Neither really, it just is.

It’s true you do stuff that upsets me.  The casual sexism and racism that exists [in the frum community].  The focus on ritual over ethics.  The anti-gentile feeling.  The lack of culture and imagination, the conflicts over science and sex and gender and work and Israel.  But I think ultimately that’s not the point.  The point is that I think I don’t deserve you and that I think you couldn’t cope with me.

Yours sincerely…

Reading back this letter makes me think that if I look back at thirteen year old Bar Mitzvah Me, I see the me who tried going to the shul (synagogue) youth service, but who couldn’t talk to anyone there, and who was scared of being bullied, as some of the kids there went to his school and weren’t always nice to him and he couldn’t always tell if they were bullying him or not.  The me who got fed up with no one talking to him even though he wouldn’t have known what to say if they had.  The me who was being asked (which he understood as “pressured”) to lein (chant from the Torah) in the youth service because he “leined so well at his bar mitzvah,”  but who was suffering from extreme stage fright post-bar mitzvah because he felt overwhelmed by praise that he didn’t think he deserved and who didn’t want to lein ever again.  The me who was going to start feeling increasing guilt over the next few years about his family’s lax standards of Shabbat and kashrut observance, but not know how to change that, and who was soon going to start feeling a lot of guilt around sex, and not know how to change that either.  And I suppose I should say that I want to hug him or tell him not to worry, but I just feel angry and want to shout, “Why couldn’t you just cope with it?  Why couldn’t you just stick it out and make friends and become part of the community?  And then maybe I wouldn’t be depressed and single and childless and lonely.”  That’s not really very self-loving.

I could say the same about Oxford Me, which was probably the last chance I had to really turn things around.  “Just talk to people!  Just go to events, even if they bore you!  Go on the Jewish Society committee, even though you hate the idea of doing so and you think you have no talents to bring to the table, and even though you think your tutorial work leaves you no time for things like this!  Make the time!  Ask girls out, even if you’re not sure they’re 100% compatible!  Just do something!”

But even now I would make the same mistakes again, there just isn’t the social circle to make it in.  Everyone’s got their friendship circle now, and usually their spouses and children (some I guess are on Spouse Number 2 by now).  There aren’t organisations that cater for single frum people approaching forty (nebbukh).  I wouldn’t be able to go anyway, for the same reason I didn’t go then.  Getting angry with Past Mes is just getting angry with Present Me.  I can’t even keep close friendships going any more.  I don’t really have any close friends any more, and the only people I really open up to (aside from my blog) are my therapist and my rabbi mentor.

***

Achievements: some time finishing off my devar Torah (Torah thought) for the week (although I had some negative thoughts about that, about my divrei Torah not being worthwhile).  I did a bit of Torah study.  I read more of Healing from Despair too, which is a Jewish book, but the chapter I read had no religious content and was just about the author’s experience of feeling suicidal, which was probably not the best thing to read.

I did some chores and went for a walk.  I basically did what I normally do, without two hours of writing my novel, so I feel a bit like I underachieved.  The time I would normally spend on the novel was partly spent on procrastination, partly on fiddling around with playlists on iTunes, and writing this mammoth post.

Exciting News

I woke up later this morning than the last few days, feeling really drained and quite depressed, even after breakfast and coffee, which usually helps somewhat.  I hope I haven’t been pushing myself too hard the last few days.  As I’ve said before, it’s frustrating that “pushing myself too hard” for me is not really pushing myself all that hard compared with other people.  I try not to compare myself to others, but I worry what it means for the possibility of having a “normal” life, with a career, marriage, children, friends and community – all those things are very draining!  Whereas the last few days I’ve been quite enthusiastic about greeting the day, today I just wanted to go back to bed and wrap myself in my duvet.  I did eventually get going, but felt sluggish and depressed in the morning and early afternoon.

I made myself work on my novel for half an hour when I didn’t feel much like it.  I proof-read the chapter I was working on yesterday and was reasonably happy with it, which means (drumroll)… I finished the first draft of the novel!  It weighed in at just under 75,000 words, which I think is reasonable, certainly for a first draft.

There’s still a lot to do, a lot I want to change.  I have three pages-worth of things I want to change, including some incidents I want to add in and characters I want to develop or change as well as more general things like adding more humour.  I might pause for a few weeks and come back to it with fresh eyes.  I want to read some books about writing in the meantime to see if they might help with some things.

That cheered me up a little and I managed to work on my devar Torah for an hour and do some additional Torah study as well as a few chores around the house.

I did another 5K run.  It took about forty minutes.  I saw two Jewish wedding parties in houses that I passed.  I’m guessing they were weddings, but lots of frum people going to particular houses in good clothes.  I’ll assume they were all legal and above board.  The reason is that today is Tu B’Av, sometimes referred to as the Jewish Valentine’s Day (although there isn’t much of a resemblance), which was once a happy day when women would dance and try to attract husbands.  It hasn’t really been a festival for about two thousand years, but it has a vestigial presence, part of which is that it’s considered an auspicious day to get married (spoiler alert: it’s not in itself a guarantee of a happy, lasting marriage).  I was mostly OK about it this year, but seeing the wedding parties did make me think of being single forever again.  Fortunately, the thoughts did not last long; ditto for thoughts I had earlier in the run I had been thinking about not fitting in to different social groups I am or have been part of.

I came back with a headache, but fortunately it went very quickly once I took solpadeine.

***

I phoned a hospital about my regular lithium level blood test.  I didn’t phone the one I usually go to, but one my Mum goes to sometimes, because I thought my usual hospital was only dealing with urgent tests at the moment.  I wanted to check I could have my regular lithium monitoring blood test there despite COVID.  My social anxiety makes things like that hard at the best of times and it’s harder than ever now lockdown has atrophied my social skills.

Once I got off the call, I discovered that my local hospital has apparently reopened, so I’m going to try to get the blood test done there as it will be more convenient.  But I did at least push myself a bit with the social anxiety.

***

I finished re-watching this year’s series of Doctor Who last night.  Despite my intentions, I only reviewed the first story on my Doctor Who blog.  I just didn’t have anything interesting to say about it.  I’m not upset that I got the DVD for my birthday, as I enjoyed most of the episodes, on some level.  Some actually improved now I knew where they were going (Fugitive of the Judoon and especially The Haunting of Villa Diodata, which went from nowhere to probably my favourite episode of the year), although one or two went down in my estimation (Praxeus) and I still have no idea what writer/showrunner Chris Chibnall thought he was doing with The Timeless Children (not just the “retcon,” the whole episode).

It does make me feel, not for the first time, that modern Doctor Who isn’t really for me in the way the original series (1963-1989) is, which is why I’m not reviewing the stories on my Doctor Who blog.   I want that blog to be mostly positive, in the hope I can use it as a springboard for professional writing work (it hasn’t worked so far).  I don’t engage with the new series in the same way as the old, even when I enjoy it.  I’m not sure why that is.  I did write some paragraphs probing the reasons for that, as they are somewhat tangentially related to autism and mental health, but I think probably does depart from the focus of this blog, so I got rid of them.

Whatever the reason, at the moment I’m looking forward to the animations of missing episodes from the sixties a lot more than to new episodes – my copy of The Faceless Ones arrived today , and Fury from the Deep is out in a few weeks!

***

Why does Spotify keep playing me adverts for joining the army reserves?  What is their algorithm telling them about me and my interests?

Day of Achievements

I’ve felt a bit better the last few days.  Maybe it’s being past my birthdays, English and Hebrew, and being past Tisha B’Av.  Being able to shave and listen to music again cheers me up in itself.  I’m not sure I’m applying for the right jobs, but it feels appropriate to be looking, and I’m making progress on my novel.  Of course, when things go better for a few days, then I start to worry that they’ll get worse again.  There is a fear that the further I get off the ground, the more painful it’s going to be when I fall down again.  I’m trying to stay positive and remember that I have made progress.  My life has a cycle of depressive episodes and better periods and maybe that will never fully go away, but the depressive episodes, though long and painful, are not as bad as they used to be.  I’m not where I was fifteen years ago, when the thought of having even a part-time job or writing a novel or ever being in a relationship would have seemed absurd.  Nor have I been seriously suicidal in a long time.

***

Achievements: I had my best-ever novel writing day, writing 2,750 words in about two hours!  It was a somewhat exciting bit, which makes me think my narrative flows better when I’m writing action rather than character bits (“action” in the sense of “stuff happening” rather than “fights and chases” although there was a bit of that here as one of my characters fled her abusive husband).  I’m nearly finished the penultimate chapter.  I’m just about OK on the word count.

I had a Skype call with my rabbi mentor.  He offered to speak to me when I was feeling very depressed the other week, but I feel somewhat better now I’m past my birthday and Tisha B’Av so I didn’t have a huge amount to say.  We spoke a bit about my novel and about writing letters you don’t intend to send to voice feelings and get them off your chest (see below).  He sounded stressed about work stuff.  I’m worrying a bit about him now, but am wary of asking for too many details in case I seem pushy.

I went for a run for forty minutes, about three miles or five kilometres.  It wasn’t a great run, probably because I hadn’t been running in the last two weeks and because it was quite hot out.  I also started to get an exercise migraine halfway through, which did not help, although I did stick with it.  Possibly I’m pushing myself too much with this at the moment, as I have a tendency to push through when feeling pain in my feet or getting a migraine.  My foot was mostly OK, but was a bit uncomfortable in the last five minutes or so.  Putting inner soles in my trainers seems to have helped a bit, but I probably do need new trainers.  I’m scared to go out shopping at the moment, though, and I’m not sure if it’s sensible to mail order them.

I managed about an hour of Torah study and brainstormed some ideas for this week’s devar Torah (Torah thought).  Also had some thoughts about the problem of suffering as presented in Kohelet (Ecclesiastes) as compared with Iyov (Job) that I want to mull over some more and maybe share here or elsewhere.

I wrote a letter (NOT to be sent) to our next-door neighbour, saying why I was so upset about the illegal minyanim (prayer meetings) he held in lockdown.  This was to voice and process my feelings.  I might try writing one to E. tomorrow about our breakup.

As this post is short, I spent some time working on another post that I’ve been writing recently, which I hope to post shortly (tonight or tomorrow).

I think I managed to stay reasonably in the present and not spend too much time worrying about the future or recriminating about the past.  I think my kavannah (mindfulness in prayer) has been better the last few days, which I think is related to this.  I think trying to limit my internet use helps.   It breaks me out of the search for instant gratification and dopamine hits that I can get locked into when looking for things to read or the wait for blog comments.  It also stops me feeling the whole time that I want to connect with people, but am unable to do so easily.  I didn’t quite make the target of only looking at emails and blogs twice a day today, but was close, although I have excluded necessary internet use for job applications and research for my novel from that limit.

***

Achievements of another kind: there were two “mazal tov” notices from my shul (synagogue) today: the wife of someone I know slightly had a baby and the daughter of my closest friend in shul got engaged.    I felt genuine happiness for my friend and was pretty good about not having depressed “I’m never going to get married and have kids” thoughts, even though the daughter who got engaged is about twelve years younger than me, which would normally prompt, “I’m on the shelf and there are no women left for me to marry” thoughts.

Like a Lion

I’ve been struggling to get to sleep this week, not hugely, but persistently.  I woke up early (for me) this morning and rose “like a lion,” like I’m supposed to (per Jewish texts).  I managed to get going quite quickly and say the Shema prayer and the Shacharit Amidah (the main Morning Prayer) on time, which I almost never manage these days because of depression, even though I skipped most of the other morning prayers.

My mood was quite good today, except while I was davening (praying) I suddenly had self-critical thoughts about myself, thinking that I must be a disappointment to my parents compared with my sister.  Still, I’m trying not to get sucked into depression and negativity.  I try to tell myself I’m on my own path.  Try to focus on the present.

***

Today is 10 Av, according to the Jewish calendar, and my Hebrew birthday.  The morning is still a sad period from Tisha B’Av and the Three Weeks of mourning, but from the afternoon, the mourning restrictions are lifted and one can listen to music, go on holiday, shave, trim nails etc.  I’ve done or am looking forward to doing all those things, except no holidays this year because of COVID and Mum’s cancer.  I’m not a great traveller anyway.  Maybe it’s good that my Hebrew birthday always starts sad and gets better (except when 9 Av falls on Saturday, then the fast is postponed to 10 Av and the whole day is miserable).

***

I tried to apply for a librarian job at a charity, but the online application system said I have already applied there.  I have actually applied for three different roles there, most recently in February.  I assume they never recruited because of COVID and are looking again.  I emailed them to check that my previous application will still be considered.  I did get called for interview for one of the three jobs, so I think it’s worth applying again.  I’m unsure about applying to a different institution where I also had an interview, but I felt that I wasn’t a good match for the institution’s culture.  I also applied for a job I don’t think I’m qualified for, because it was an easy LinkedIn application that only takes two minutes.  I’m not sure how sensible that was.  My thinking was that if I’m really not qualified, they won’t even call me to interview and that the risk was worth it considering how little time it took to apply.

I’m still concerned that most jobs in my sector are full-time and I don’t think I can cope with more than three days a week (at most) at the moment.  My parents say, “Apply and worry about that when you get the job.”  I’m not sure.  I think I need to think about other jobs in other sectors.  I did go to a careers advisor before COVID, but I felt he didn’t know the library sector and skill set so well.  He suggested being a private tutor, but I feel I need training in how to teach someone (including how to mark work, not something I’ve had to do before) and was not sure how to get it.

***

Achievements: aside from the job stuff and the usual pre-Shabbat chores, I went for a walk and worked on my novel.

***

I’m feeling pensive at the moment because today I’ve been reminded of a number of my friends and friends of my parents who are struggling with major health issues for themselves or their families right now.  It makes saddened and empathetic, and also puts one’s own problems in perspective.  The only way I can really believe in God, given the amount of suffering in the world, is to assume that this world is a “vale of soul-making” as Keats put it or the “ante-chamber” to the “banquet hall” as the Mishnah says and that we are here purely to grow, not to be happy.  Not that there is anything wrong with accepting happiness where we find it, but happiness is the natural state of the Next World; in This World our natural state is to struggle so that we can make our souls (Keats) and prepare ourselves (the Mishnah), which are really two ways of saying the same thing.

I didn’t really want to end on a down note, but I need to go as we’re heading towards Shabbat now, so Shabbat shalom (peaceful Sabbath).

Tisha B’Av in Auschwitz

Today I felt depressed and subdued, but it kind of goes with the territory, as it was Tisha B’Av the saddest day in the Jewish calendar, the day we’re supposed to be sad to mourn the destruction of the Temple as well as subsequent tragedies of Jewish history.  (It might sound surprising, but we’re not supposed to be sad most of the time.)  I read some more of Hasidic Tales of the Holocaust.  I’ve been reading this book for about five or six years, only on Tisha B’Av.  I can’t bear to read it on any other day, it’s too upsetting.  I hope to finish it in a couple of years.  Some of the stories did move me to tears, I admit, although I’m probably more sceptical about the supernatural than some of the people who related the stories.  I also went to some online shiurim (religious classes) via my shul (synagogue).

In the afternoon I went on a virtual tour of Auschwitz organised by a Jewish educational group.  (Thanks to Eliza for pointing me in their direction!)   I’ve never been there in person.  I feel vaguely uncomfortable about going to Holocaust sites, although I can see why it’s important for some people.  I discovered there’s not actually much there at Auschwitz any more, which I think I knew, but it had never really registered.  The Nazis destroyed the gas chambers and the crematoria to hide the evidence of the Holocaust.  I was surprised how big the site it was.

It was quite moving, but sometimes with Holocaust things I feel I’m not feeling what I “should” feel, maybe because most of my family did not directly experience it.  Perhaps it’s also hard in a way for me, being frum (religious).  With some secular Jews, their entire Jewish identity is built around the Holocaust and/or Israel; whereas I have so much more to my Jewish identity than that.  There is definitely a danger of being overly-obsessed with how Jews died rather than how they lived (to paraphrase Rabbi Lord Sacks*), but Tisha B’Av is a day to confront these memories.

I still would like to feel that I’m moving on somewhere as well as just focusing on the past.  It’s easier to focus on the Holocaust rather than the destruction of the Temple, because the former is more relatable.  There hasn’t been Judaism based around the Temple ritual for nearly 2,000 years, so it’s difficult to understand what it was like.  But the Holocaust isn’t much easier to focus on, although it has the human dimension, because it’s just unlike anything else.

(As an aside, it’s depressing doing a virtual Auschwitz tour and then after the fast was over going online to see the latest iterations of the “Jews are all rich, powerful, privileged and racist” stuff that’s been coming out in the last few weeks.)

In this respect the rabbi leading the virtual tour said something similar to what my shul (synagogue) rabbi said yesterday, about trying to find areas to grow.  I’ve already said here that I want to focus more on being present in the present and not obsessing over the past or worrying about the future.  That doesn’t sound a very Jewish or religious thing, but I think it is.  It’s connected with ideas like bitachon (trust in God) and kavannah (mindfulness, particularly in prayer).  But to do that, I need to be able to trust that God has my best interests at heart, even if painful things happen to me.  That’s hard on a day like today, when I confront the many tragedies of Jewish history, including the Holocaust.

It’s just an effort to focus on NOW with gratitude and mindfulness, not what I fear/hope will happen in the future.  I will try it for six or seven weeks until Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year) and see what happens.

***

I already mentioned I believe less in the supernatural than some Orthodox Jews, so I’m taking this with an Everest-sized mountain of salt, but at one of the shiurim today, the guest rabbi presenting told a story about a frum (religious) Jew who was in a coma four days with COVID and had a near-death experience.  He says that his soul was tried in Heaven and he discovered that although keeping all the mitzvot (commandments) are important, the afterlife primarily depends on loving other people and being kind.

As I say, I am sceptical about how true that story is, but it did make me think that while I agree that love and kindness are of the utmost importance (regardless of the afterlife), I struggle to show them the way I should.  I get irritable with my family.  I get annoyed by other people and although I don’t usually show it, I find it hard to love people sometimes (as Linus said in Peanuts, “I love mankind, it’s people I can’t stand!”).  I have a some inchoate anger and resentment towards the frum (Orthodox Jewish) community sometimes because of how I feel I’ve been treated, which I need to work through in a healthier way.  I want to be kind, but so often social anxiety stops me from acting on my kind impulses, or autism means that I can see someone is in need, but don’t know how to respond correctly.  My parents say I’m kind (usually when I say I have no assets to attract a potential spouse), but I guess they would.

I know this is turning into yet another “should” and another “beat myself up” session, so I don’t want to pursue it too far, but it has been on my mind this evening, thinking about how I could be more kind and loving in the future.

 

* What he actually said was that an educationalist complained to him that at Jewish schools, students “Learn about the Greeks and how they lived, and they learn about the Romans and how they lived, and they learn about the Jews and how they died.”  Both Rabbi Sacks and the educationalist felt that with a curriculum like this, it was no wonder so many Jews are just looking to escape from their Jewish identity through assimilation.

Shutdown

I feel quite depressed today, plus I’ve had some anxiety too.  I had a bit yesterday evening, and today it’s worse.  I’m not sure what triggered it exactly.  I’m pretty sure it’s stuff I’ve seen online as it restarted after being online this morning, but I’m not sure what triggered it exactly.  Tablet magazine ran three stories yesterday on antisemitism in left-wing/anti-racist/cancel culture circles, which was a lot even by their standards, so that contributed to it, but it started before then and I don’t know why it restarted this morning.  There’s the usual despair about being alone and unemployed forever too.  I’m not sure whether I should worry about dying alone and unloved or being killed by antisemites.  I suppose they aren’t mutually exclusive.

I feel I have some creeping ‘pure O’ OCD thoughts again lately.  Not the religious OCD so much as scrupulosity “am I a good person?  Maybe I’m secretly sexist/racist/whatever?” thoughts.  Sometimes my thoughts just seem horrible and polluted and I wonder where they even come from.

I want to be more positive, here and in general, but it’s hard.  While my worst fears haven’t fully come true, it would be untrue to say that none of my fears have ever materialised.  The best I can say is that worrying about being lonely in the future is just contributing to loneliness now, not that I think it realistic that I won’t be lonely in the future.  I wonder if I should try to write less here, to be less negative, but I feel I need to be able to vent somewhere and it’s easier in writing.

I tried to write my novel and just started crying without knowing why.  I went back to bed and wrapped myself in my duvet for autistic comfort for a bit, trying not to think about shoulds (“I should get a weighted blanket”) and then went into a bit of a shutdown (I’m not really sure if I experience autistic shutdowns as such, but I don’t know how else to describe what can happen to me when I’m exhausted and depressed).  Eventually I fell asleep, I’m not sure how long for.

I cooked dinner, because I had promised to, as Mum had chemo today so is too tired to cook.  I also worked on my devar Torah (Torah thought), because I really needed to get that more or less finished today.  I’m a bit happier with than yesterday, but not hugely so.  However, overall, this day has largely been a mental health day.  I haven’t been well enough to do much.  I could do some more work on the novel now I feel a bit better, but I’m wary of doing it, because this evening and tomorrow is Tisha B’Av, the Fast of 9th of Av, the saddest day in the Jewish year, when we lament the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem, the exile of the Jews from the Land of Israel and the many tragedies of Jewish history.  Pretty much anything enjoyable is prohibited, including (among other things) eating and drinking and Torah study.  I feel I need to relax a bit beforehand or I won’t get through it.  I won’t watch TV tomorrow and unlike Shabbat and Yom Tov (Sabbath and festivals), I won’t read fiction or graphic novels or anything fun.  So I feel that I should relax beforehand.  I’m a bit torn.

It can be hard to fill the day on Tisha B’Av; unlike Yom Kippur, there is a long afternoon to fill with no shul (synagogue) services.  I will be “attending” Zoom services tonight from my shul and hopefully some shiurim (religious classes) tomorrow, depending how I feel.  I have to eat, because I’m on lithium, but I will try to fast until halakhic midday tomorrow (the evening and morning are considered sadder than the afternoon, so it’s better to wait for then until breaking my fast).  I seem to get psychosomatic headaches on fast days as if I was dehydrated.  I don’t know why that happens.  I haven’t decided whether I will work on my novel.  Work is permitted, but “the righteous” are discouraged from doing it.  In the past, I’ve avoided work, but I can get sucked into a huge pit of dangerous despair that is going beyond what is required of the day.  Sometimes it feels like it’s getting harder each year; that each year of Tisha B’Av with clinical depression feels somehow cumulatively harder, like they carry over from one year to the next.  I don’t know what is causing that feeling.

Looking for Work, Writing and Thinking

I used to think that if I was unemployed, I would take any job available, even if it was stacking shelves in the supermarket.   The reality has been different, as I’ve discovered that (a) there aren’t that many jobs I’m actually qualified to do and (b) there aren’t that many jobs that I would feel comfortable and capable of doing with depression, social anxiety and autism.  I’ve also discovered that employers view people who are over-qualified as being as unsuitable as people who are under-qualified.

To be honest, I increasingly feel anxious about getting another job as I don’t believe I will be able to cope with it with all my issues.  I feel there probably are some jobs I could do, but finding them and getting them is hard.  Part of me is glad to be out of work.  In part this is because I want the time to work on my novel, but also because I am terrified of getting another job that is bad for my mental health and bad for my autism, and because I am even more terrified of getting a job that I can’t do.  I have begun to doubt whether I still have the librarian skills that I used to have.  I have had too many cataloguing tests that I have done badly.

It is hard to tell how much of this is realistic and how much is low self-esteem and anxiety.  It does feel like the job I was happiest at in the last couple of years was the one I was probably a bit over-qualified for, although the happiness was only partly from that and partly from having a supportive manager and pleasant colleagues.  Even then, I had social anxiety at times (even though it was a backroom job) and used to come away exhausted at the end of the day, even though I was only working two days a week.  And I still felt I made some stupid mistakes, albeit usually from social anxiety when I was with my manager.

***

I worry sometimes about whether my thoughts are really my own.  Not in a psychotic sense, I hasten to add.  I just worry I pick things up from news media, social media, adverts, my religious community, everywhere really.  Political views, religious views, cultural views, desires, fantasies.  My image of what a good life would be.  I think everyone does this, but I don’t like the thought of my doing it.

I’m not so worried about religious thoughts, because I think I’m quite good about balancing belief and scepticism there and looking for sources I trust.  However, I worry about picking up political views unthinkingly sometimes.  It’s hard to tell.  I think I’m more trusting of some sources than others.  Much of social media seems to consist of being told that certain things are intolerable, but I’m not sure that they all are intolerable, or even worth mentioning.  George Orwell wrote (Politics vs Literature: An Examination of Gulliver’s Travels) that the highest form of totalitarianism is when there is no secret police and conformity is enforced simply by peer pressure.  I think we’re getting there on Twitter.

Cultural views, desires, wants, fantasies and so on are very hard to see past, particularly all-pervasive advertising, which is about selling an idea of a fantasy life (involving conspicuous consumption) as much as selling individual products.  I don’t think I’m very materialistic, but I can see that I might pick up ideas of what sort of life I should lead.  I can see why Haredi people and other religious fundamentalists try to tune out secular culture, but then that would just leave me with frum (religious) Jewish culture, which I don’t always agree with either (the cultural aspect, more than the religious aspect).

I think I want to have a job, with the caveats mentioned above.  I think I really want to get married and have children.  I think I really want, on some level, to be a “good” Jew, davening (praying) at shul (synagogue) three times a day and doing significant religious study, but lately that feels less achievable and possibly less desirable.  But to what extent are these really my thoughts and desires.  I certainly find aspects of both secular and frum culture hard to deal with.  I think my rabbi mentor said that everyone in the frum community finds aspects of it narrow-minded.  That everyone thinks it can be narrow-minded and prejudiced.  I’m not sure how true that is (I mean, how true that everyone finds aspects hard to deal with).

***

As agreed with my therapist, I’ve been trying to stay offline today, except for one period first thing when I get up and one in the early evening (now).  It’s hard to go without constant checking of email, blog comments and blog reader.  It makes me realise how much I did it mindlessly, out of boredom, desire for distraction and desire for connection with other people.  It’s going to be hard to wean myself off it, but I’m trying.  I did have to use the internet a bit today for novel research, but I tried not to use it for email and blogs except in those two periods.

I think when I get stuck on my writing, my brain goes into ‘idle’ for a few minutes and I read online or check emails and meanwhile my unconscious is looking for a solution to the writing problem.  So maybe I shouldn’t be trying to cut all that “unnecessary” online activity.

***

Achievements: I spent an hour writing.  Then, after a break, I tried to write my devar Torah for the week, but it just was not coming, so I went out to go for a walk and do some shopping.  I did nearly another hour on the novel after that.

I didn’t finish my devar Torah.  I wrote about a third or a half and then I got stuck.  I know what I could say, but I’m not sure I really want to go down that route.  I don’t have many alternatives, though.  I’ve been trying to get it sent on Thursday evening lately, because if I send it on Friday my Israeli readers don’t always get it before Shabbat.  The problem this week is that Thursday is the Fast of Av, the saddest day in the Jewish calendar, and Torah study is forbidden except for the sad bits of Tanakh (the Bible) and Talmud, so I can’t work on it then.  Which means I need to finish it tomorrow afternoon.  (I shouldn’t really work on it then, as the studying restrictions ideally start the afternoon before, but I don’t really have an alternative.)  So, I feel a bit stressed and disappointed about this.  I’m not sure how long I spent on it, but the creative juices just weren’t flowing.

I did about half an hour of straightforward Torah study and later might start re-reading Healing from Despair, a Jewish book about dealing with despair written by a rabbi.  To be honest, I don’t remember it being great first time around, but I’ve been desperate lately for Jewish texts about suffering and despair and even if this book isn’t so good, it might point me towards some useful primary or secondary sources.

***

I felt very depressed and sad on my walk, as I had intermittently at least all day.  It definitely feels like my mood slumps when I have free time at the moment, which I guess argues in favour of finding work, assuming it’s work that keeps me occupied.  I think of ‘sad’ and ‘depressed’ as two different states.  I think a person can be sad without being depressed, and I think I’m often depressed without being particularly sad.  Despairing and exhausted, but not sad.  I think sadness is about losing something, whereas maybe depression and despair are about not having something at all, particularly hope.  Maybe that’s not true.  I don’t know.

I felt sad partly about breaking up with E.  There isn’t a lot of point in going over this again, here or in my head, but it’s hard not to sometimes.

My novel isn’t the most cheerful thing either; currently one of my characters is trying to flee her abusive husband.  I think I need to contact a women’s charity and ask exactly what the process would be if someone asked for help, because it’s not completely clear from the websites I’ve been looking at, but I can see that they might not want to tell me, either because they don’t have time to help a writer or because they don’t tell people much for security reasons, to protect their clients.

I know it’s going to sound pretentious and arrogant, but I really hope writing is something I could make some kind of difference with.  Even with my plans for future novels, which will hopefully not be quite so heavy-going.  In the future I want to write Jewish fantasy/science fiction/historical novels that might encourage Jews to investigate their heritage more and make non-Jews more aware of Jewish history and the issues Jews have faced and still faced in non-Jewish societies.  This novel is heavier and more obviously “worthy” in that I’m trying to write about mental illness, autism and domestic violence in the frum community, where these things are not always discussed.  As the cliché goes, if even one person gets help or understands their situation from my writing, it will be worthwhile.  But first I have to write the thing!  But it does help with motivation, whereas I struggle with motivation for library jobs, even though they are also socially worthwhile, because I feel I’m just not making a difference; if anything, I worry I make things worse through messing stuff up at work.

Online Friends, Doctor Who and Anti-Psychiatry

I woke up late (there’s a story there, but too complicated and trivial to be worth relating) and rather depressed.  I felt a bit better after breakfast, but not great.  I felt depressed enough to listen to music while getting dressed, and intermittently during the day which I have been avoiding recently because of The Three Weeks of Jewish national mourning.  But I listened really quietly, because I’m still avoiding explaining to my parents that my rabbi mentor said it was OK to listen to music when I’m depressed.  I’m not sure why I feel self-conscious like that, because it’s hardly the most problematic thing I do when depressed.  Sleeping through the whole morning is worse, both Jewishly and pragmatically, as is becoming irritable and sniping at my parents.

Incidentally, I came across this post yesterday that shows it’s not just me who struggles at this time of the Jewish year.

***

I tried to work on my novel, but it was hard.  Aside from being upset by more antisemitism reported by The Jewish Chronicle (I probably shouldn’t read it), it was hard to engage with writing.  A new chapter is always hard, I think because I’ve been switching perspective in alternate chapters, so I need to change how I think each time, but this chapter needs to be handled sensitively (a woman fleeing her abusive rapist husband with her baby) and I was so caught up in my own negative feelings that I found it hard to enter into someone else’s and I didn’t want to write something inappropriate, so it was easiest not to write.  All this, plus a strong background level of depression and exhaustion.  Plus, I had therapy in the afternoon, which is normally when I do most of my writing.

Eventually I gave up and did a bit of Torah study for twenty minutes to fill the gap until therapy.  I don’t think I would have been able to do much more even without therapy, as I was feeling so depressed.  My main other achievement, after therapy, was to go for a walk.  It was raining lightly when I left, but I decided I needed the exercise.  Unfortunately it then rained heavily, but by the time I got home, it was easing up.

***

Therapy was good.  I shared that I’m trying not to worry about my parents’ mortality and instead to focus on gratitude that I have a good relationship with them and am able to spend so much time with them.

I also spoke about feeling dependent on online interactions.  A lot of my friends are online, certainly the ones I communicate with most regularly.  I like having online friendships, especially with people who also have struggles, and I think it’s good to have mutual support there, but I was worrying that I’ve become someone who is constantly checking his emails or blog reader for the “hit” of having a comment on my blog or a new post to read on someone else’s blog.  I’m going to try to limit myself to internet use only twice a day, when I get up and in the early evening.  My therapist is away for a few weeks now, so I’m going to be able to have a few weeks to practise that and get back to her about it.

I’m too tired after therapy to do much, so I mostly watched TV, aside from walking and eating dinner with my parents.

***

The Doctor Who bit with some general mental health bits:

I didn’t feel like watching more current Doctor Who after therapy, so watched some of my birthday present to myself, The Macra Terror.  This is a Doctor Who story from 1967 that, like nearly 100 episodes, is missing from the archives.  It was broadcast before commercial video recorders existed, but some fans taped the soundtrack of these episodes (basically put an old reel-to-reel tape recorder by the TV speaker while it was being broadcast) and that’s been used as the basis for an animated version.  There’s some discussion among fans as to whether animation is the best way of experiencing missing episodes, and certainly the animation is not Pixar standard, but at least it gives an idea of what the story was like.  I find watching the animations easier to follow than listening to the narrated soundtrack on CD.

The story has some interesting aspects from a mental health point of view (which is why I’m writing here rather than on my Doctor Who blog).  The toxic positivity and conformity of the futurist Colony came across well, with conformity enforced by peer pressure, brainwashing and hospitalisation for euphemistic “correction” with dissent being conflated with psychosis by the authorities, an effective depiction of the co-option of psychiatry by oppressive regimes.  One could interpret the story as being somewhat anti-psychiatry (in the R. D. Laing sense), in that the dissidents are treated as psychotic, but in fact are genuinely seeing something in society that everyone else has been brainwashed to deny, although given that this is Doctor Who, what they can see are giant crabs, rather than abstract oppression or power structures.

I don’t really agree with the anti-psychiatry movement in general.  I think medication and therapy are often helpful.  I think they may be right that one can suffer mental illness as a result of being aware of negative things in society, although I think there probably is a personal trigger too.  I also think the anti-psychiatry movement was too narrow and ideological in outlook (mostly Marxist, although Thomas Szazz was liberatarian).  I don’t share such a dogmatic outlook.  I’m sure my experience of antisemitism, which I do feel affects the ups and downs of my depression on a day to day basis (see above), even if it’s not a cause as such, would not be accepted as a legitimate society cause of my mental illness by the Marxists in the movement, given that an increasing amount of antisemitism is coming from the hard-left, who are in denial of it (see the latest Twitter incident).

Two Years

Shabbat was good.  The usual mix of praying, studying Torah, eating, sleeping (too much) and reading.  I came last at Scrabble.  I had some rotten letters, far too many vowels.  I’m not very competitive, but I am getting annoyed that I’ve only won one game so far this summer.  There was some discussion as to whether ‘boxy’ (my word) is a word or not.  Our dictionary (Collins) says no, but now Shabbat is out, Merriam-Webster online says yes.  Maybe I’d have been better off with ‘oiled,’ but I couldn’t remember how many ‘L’s were in it.

I finished Sacred Fire: Torah from the Years of Fury, 1939-1942, kept up with weekly page of Talmud and read a bunch of Tehillim (Psalms) in Hebrew.  I didn’t do much recreational reading, just a little bit more of Muck, which is very good.  I didn’t go for a walk, partly because I slept and then wanted to study Torah and read, partly because it looked like rain.

***

Yesterday I realised it is nearly two years since I left my further education job (it’s nearly two years since I stopped working, although I was technically under contract for a couple of weeks in August when I was on holiday).  It feels much longer.  I think leaving may be the worst decision I ever made, and I’ve made some pretty bad ones.

For those of you who don’t remember or weren’t reading then, my initial contract was up.  I was not sure if it would be renewed, as everything in the library world, and the education world, is suffering from lack of funds.

I was offered a permanent contract, but my boss made it quite clear that she didn’t think I was handling the job as well as she expected.  The permanent contract was in many ways a new job, working all the time at the college’s secondary site (instead of once a week there and usually at the main site) where I would be expected to have much more contact with staff, talking to them, getting book recommendations from them and trying to get them to bring students to the library more often.  This terrified me given my social anxiety and the fact that the interpersonal aspects of the job so far had convinced me that I am autistic.  My boss had also made it clear that she felt that this interpersonal interaction side of the job was something I was particularly bad at.  I agreed, and decided to turn the job down, which seemed to astonish her, even though her vocal lack of confidence in my skills was a major factor in my turning it down.

If I’d realised how hard it would be to build a career or even to find a new job that is mostly backroom librarian stuff with minimal interpersonal interactions, maybe I would have taken that job.  Since then I’ve only worked for seven months in total out of twenty-three (not counting that August when I was paid, but not working).

I made a list of everything I’ve done in the last two years to try to work out if they were good or bad.  Aside from only seven months working, I had some interviews and tests and did badly in a lot of them, but not quite all (obviously two I did well in as I got the jobs).

I went on two dates with one person via a matchmaking site (not a success) and was in a long-distance relationship with E. for four or five months that also ended badly.

My mood (depression) has been extremely variable, and although I had some CBT last year for social anxiety, my social anxiety has got worse because of lockdown.  I also think I didn’t push myself hard enough with the CBT, although being restricted to ten sessions on the NHS didn’t help.

On the plus side, I finished my Doctor Who non-fiction book, but failed to get a publisher, or many readers when I self-published.  I have written most of the first draft of a novel.  This is the biggest thing in my life at the moment, aside from helping around the house now Mum has cancer.

My therapist, who I’d been seeing for years (seven?  Something like that) stopped seeing me in late 2018 because she said there was nothing else she could do for me.  That made me feel hopeless (not the first time mental health professionals have basically said that they can’t do anything for me as my issues are too difficult for them).  I started with a new therapist a few weeks ago.  She seems good, but I have seen so many therapists over the years, I see it as being more about letting off steam than being “cured” or one day having a “normal” life.

I still haven’t had an(other) autism assessment, despite being pushed towards it by the further education job and then by the following office job, which nearly drove me insane and made me realise my brain really isn’t wired like most people’s.

I made some new friends, mostly online, but quite a few friends have stopped talking to me, or I’ve stopped talking to them to prevent arguments (or from fear we would drift back into a relationship again in the case of E.).  I feel incredibly bad about this, but don’t know how to stop it happening again.

I think I had begun to fit in slightly better at shul (synagogue) and talk to one or two more people before lockdown.  I led services a couple of times too, but wonder if I should have done that (I had tremor issues again someone said I looked “like you were going to have a coronary”).  I still feel the community is not a perfect fit for me, but it’s the best on offer.  A few people know I have medical issues even if I haven’t told them the details, but I don’t always feel supported, although the rabbi has been messaging to check in regularly during lockdown, which is good.

Reading this back mostly makes me feel despairing, seeing how little has gone right in the last two years.  The plus side, I suppose, is that a lot happened, even if much of it was bad, so perhaps I should be hopeful that the next two years won’t be stagnant, even if I feel the chances of finding a job (let alone a good job), finding a girlfriend/wife or finding a publisher for my book all seem slim.