Trigger warning: suicide
Also, rather long and involved, if that needs a warning
Well, that was an awful, awful day. The stupid thing is that nothing particularly bad even happened. I made some stupid mistakes at work and looked like an idiot in front of my line manager and her line manager, but it wasn’t anything really terrible. But it just sent me over the edge.
I woke up feeling depressed, which was not a good start. Already by the time I was on the way to work I was feeling that “I don’t deserve to live.” I felt I just couldn’t cope and wanted to die. There was a feeling of wanting to attract attention. People look down on people who hurt themselves as a cry for attention, but that seems to ignore the fact that sometimes there just aren’t the words to say how you feel.
At work I went very slowly, not deliberately, but I was just struggling to work and to feel that I could cope. Already by lunchtime I messaged E. to say I was having a lousy day, even though I could see that nothing bad had happened. By mid-afternoon I had embarrassed myself in front of my line manager and was locked in a vicious circle of feeling useless –> making mistakes –> feeling useless –> making mistakes. I felt like an idiot, which, as my brain helpfully reminded me, is from the Greek idios meaning private or on one’s own. I have been on my own for so long that I have turned into an idiot.
Also, my brain now sends me depressive self-hating thoughts in Greek…
Floundering, I felt that I should be doing menial work instead of my actual job, but then felt that I couldn’t actually do that either. I’m not suited for menial labour. I need intellectual work, but narrowly defined and without the need for special qualifications. I don’t think this work exists, unless I can find a way to get paid for my writing.
Feeling that I was unemployable did not cheer me up, unsurprisingly, and I started thinking about hurting myself again and about suicide. I felt that I wanted to die, more than anything. I texted E. to say that I was only holding on for family and friends, but really that was a lie. I was just holding on for my parents. It pains me to say it, but I was so far gone that the thought of my friends or even my sister might not have been enough to keep me going by themselves. Things just seemed so hopeless. It seems so impossible that my career could improve or that anyone could ever love me, especially without a good career (note the way that I see a career as valuable primarily to make me more marryable).
This cycle carried on for the rest of the afternoon. It’s hard now, hours later, now I’ve calmed down, to really describe how I felt. I know I’ve tried to write these thoughts down and blog them in the past, but it’s hard, because at the time there’s a tension and an agitation and my thoughts start racing, but I think not being able to communicate the thoughts makes them worse; once I can start to write them down, I can begin to see logical flaws in them and even the act of writing them down or speaking them through with someone (if I can see a therapist or phone Samaritans) can help to calm me down. But at work I was trying to plough on regardless with my job and that just increased the pressure and the agitation.
Eventually, the day finished and I could come home. Or so I thought. I was halfway to the station when I started having OCD thoughts about not having locked up the rare books store room properly. I tried to stay with the thoughts and go home, but it was too much for me and I went back to check. By that stage I could see that I was in a state. My blood sugar was probably very low and I was thinking all kinds of self-loathing thoughts, thinking that I should stop being frum (religious) if I want to get married. I thought that if I walked back to the station straight away I would end up in a terrible state, so after checking the rare books, I went to the staff room and ate all the food I had with me (an apple and a cereal bar), after which I felt somewhat better and went home.
I was still having difficult thoughts though. I don’t use profanity as a rule, but I’m ashamed to relate some of the things I was thinking. I was still thinking that I just wanted to die, that I would rather die than recover, because recovery seemed so impossible. Because Gehennom (the ‘bad’ afterlife in Judaism, but more like Purgatory than Hell) couldn’t be worse than how I felt. Because Gehennom lasts for only one year, and because at least in Gehennom I wouldn’t be humiliated in front of other people on a regular basis. Feeling really angry with God. Just furious. I can’t even remember everything I thought, it was so terrible and strong.
And the final insult, I returned home to a letter from the taxman (or taxwoman, in this case) informing me that, no, they made a mistake previously, I do really owe them another £60 from the last tax year. I don’t mind paying the money – well, I do, but it’s not the main irritant. It’s having yet another thing to sort out because other people screwed up. It’s not like our public services are doing much for me. Maybe I ought to phone the crisis team and demand my money’s worth.
I usually blog my day when I get in to offload, but I was too worried about what I would write if I went straight into it, so I forced myself to daven Ma’ariv (say the evening prayers), eat dinner and watch TV for a bit to calm down. I felt – I still feel – exhausted and somewhat in shock. I usually avoid caffeine in the evenings, but I drank some tea because I really did feel in shock. I watched some of The Quatermass Experiment (the live 2005 remake of the 1950s science fiction serial). Part of it was set in my place of work; I think they might even have filmed some of the non-live cutaway shots in the street I was walking down two hours earlier when I was having OCD thoughts, which was a bit unnerving.
I still feel exhausted and a bit in shock and my shoulder muscles are really tense, but my mood is better. I have a bit of a ‘coming down’ feel, except I’m coming down from something bad rather than good. Coming up, maybe. At least I’m home and safe in my room with my books and DVDs. I guess for an autistic person quiet, space, familiarity and special interests (books and DVDs) are all important (perhaps even all-important). I bought some chocolate (minstrels, one of my favourites) on the way home because I felt I needed to have some kind of reward for getting through the day in one piece, even if it won’t be help me lose weight.
When I’d calmed down a bit, I recalled the first time I was suicidal, in fact when I nearly took an overdose, when I was in my third year at Oxford. I sat down to take an overdose, but at the last instant changed my mind and phoned someone (a friend who wasn’t talking to me because she couldn’t cope with my being suicidal, but that’s another story). About a week later I casually mentioned this to the university counselling service counsellor I was seeing and she was astonished that I had neglected to mention this suicide attempt and that I didn’t think it was worth telling her. She asked me what my parents would think if I killed myself and I said they would be upset; she said they would be devastated.
I wonder now, over fifteen years on, whether this was autism, not the suicidality, but not thinking it was important enough to mention to my counsellor and only being able to express my parents’ grief in a partial and limited way. It’s like the way I downplayed my sister’s grief and my friends’ grief if I were to kill myself. It’s hard for me to conceptualise it and I don’t know how much is self-loathing (no one cares about me) and how much is autistic ‘mindblindness’ (not being able to imagine how other people feel generally).
This morning, while my thought processes were getting out of control, I thought that knowing that I’m probably autistic, I need to find adaptive solutions to my problems, accepting the reality of autism and probably also of some kind of permanent level of depression, at least in the background, rather than technical ‘tweaks’ of the kind I have been trying to make for years. The tweaks were sometimes successful (the occupational therapist I used to see probably made more positive changes to my life than anyone), but I really need to change the way I live to adapt to the reality of my situation, I just don’t know how. It’s possible – probable, even – that adaptive changes have been suggested by therapists and psychiatrists before now, but that I couldn’t implement them, perhaps partly because I hadn’t been diagnosed as autistic (technically I still haven’t been diagnosed, of course).
I don’t know what changes I could make, though. I’m already more or less accepting not going to shul (synagogue) on Shabbat (Saturday) mornings without trying to guilt-trip myself, which may or may not be a good thing; today I was wondering if I would make it to shul for the morning Megillah reading on Purim next week or if I just feel too overwhelmed to do that too. It seems to be easy to feel that I can’t do things with autism rather than that I can do things. Maybe I should be accepting that I can make it to shul. Should I just accept that I will never have a job I feel comfortable in, that I will never get married? It’s hard to know what is realistic, much too easy to try to do too much or too little.
When the depression was feeling bad earlier I wondered if I would find it easier to get married if I wasn’t frum. I couldn’t give up Shabbat and kashrut, but anything else would seem like fiddling at the margins. Should I be looking for non-frum women who are willing to compromise (as E. was)? I’m afraid of the tensions that might result and what sort of compromise I would have to make in return. But a non-frum woman would not care about my not davening with a minyan (community) or learning (studying Torah/Talmud) enough. I would date a frum woman with ‘issues’ although I would be nervous of how our issues would combine, particularly if she had mental health issues. However, a lot of ‘issues’ in the frum world are not things that I would consider issues at all (ba’alat teshuva or geyoret, parents divorced, siblings stopped being frum etc.) and I would be happy to date such a person.
On the other hand, lately I’ve felt my frumkeit slipping in little ways. Nothing big. I still believe in God (even if I’m angry with Him some of the time), keep kosher, keep Shabbat and so on. But I don’t beat myself up so much for missing davening or shul or Torah study and it’s getting harder and harder to avoid cultural stuff (books, TV, films, music) that feels treif and that I would previously have avoided. I don’t know where this is going though.