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.

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.

“If you’re lonely you can talk to me”

I went to bed late, the usual post-Shabbat (Sabbath) in the summer issue of Shabbat finishing late, then davening (praying) and tidying up, off-loading my thoughts onto my blog and needing some time to decompress.  I watched the first episode of the Doctor Who story Warriors of the Deep, a story I used to hate, but now see some virtues in.  I don’t understand why fandom remembers Peter Davison as the “bland and boring” Doctor when he’s actually the energetic and sarcastic one.  OK, enough Doctor Who for now!

I struggled to sleep when I went to bed.  I think I fell asleep around 3.00am.  I woke up (for the second time) about 10.00am after the dreams I wrote about here.  The dreams, and thinking about them after waking, left me in a thoughtful mood, not depressed, but not as happy as when I woke up from the second dream.  It does seem easier to make friends in dreams than in real life.  Mind you, it seems easier to make friends online than in real life too.

My mood did go down again after a while, though, and I felt quite lonely again too.  Then around 12.30pm, I was hit by a sudden tidal wave of loneliness and despair which persisted for much of the day.  It’s not just despair and loneliness, but thinking I’m too weird to ever be in a lasting relationship.  “The most terrible poverty is loneliness and the feeling of being unloved.” (Mother Theresa)  I wonder if I will ever be happy and loved romantically… My parents love me, it’s true, and I know that’s something other people can’t take for granted and I try to be grateful for it.  Still, I feel romantic love is different and not replaceable with parents’ love.  Plus, lately I am struggling to express myself to my parents again.  It seems I go through phases of being close to them and then less close.  Maybe I don’t want to upset them by saying I’m depressed while Mum is ill.  Or maybe I don’t want to admit that sometimes I have begun to worry that I made a mistake breaking up with E.  I feel like I just need to be held.

I feel that I’m spiralling downwards into a pit of loneliness and despair at the moment and I don’t know what I can do about it.  I’m hoping that getting past my birthday, and past Tisha B’Av next week, will help, but who knows?

What I posted the other day (about God so to speak experiencing our suffering) no longer cheers me up as much as it did.  I have found this a lot.  CBT in particular seems to assume that if you can find one thought or affirmation that really raises your mood, that sorts out your depression or anxiety permanently.  You just have to repeat the magic phrase or affirmation.  Whereas I find that after a while, thoughts that raise my mood lose their potency somehow.  Like the Borg in Star Trek, the depression adapts to my shields and weapons (the thoughts or affirmations) and breaks through them.  I suppose I find other things to feel anxious or depressed about.  Or maybe mental health ruminations just aren’t logical and can’t be fought with logic.

***

I forced myself to apply for a job that came up.  Job adverts and related bumf is the most horribly, Orwellian, meaningless mass of jargon, cliché and meaningless phrases.  The public sector (where this job is) is, if anything, even worse than the private sector.  The purpose of the job is “contribute to the delivery of [institution’s] knowledge and library services”.  So the job of the assistant librarian is to deliver library services.  Someone thought that sentence was meaningful and non-obvious enough to be worth writing down.

Anyway, it’s another assistant librarian job that I feel I ought to be able to do, but worry that I can’t.  It’s also full-time, and I don’t think I could cope with that.  But I’m applying anyway, to show willing.  I forced myself to fill in the application, although if it’s so hard for me to fill in the application (and much of it was saved in the system from a previous application to a job at the same institution), I have no idea how I will manage the work.  Writing the application just makes me revisit all the jobs I messed up in the past.  I just feel so useless these days.

***

I went for a run and came back with a painful foot (left ankle and under the left arch) and an exercise headache (verging on migraine).  I think my trainers, which I bought last winter, are possibly not the best or don’t fit properly, as I keep getting minor pains in my feet, although this is the worst I’ve had.  I probably should have stopped halfway through the run when it started hurting, but I am stubborn and I wanted to see whether a slightly different route I was taking took my run over three miles (it did, with reasonable pace, foot notwithstanding.  It was over five kilometres too).  I felt I could cope with it.  This is what I do: I set myself a target, then I push myself to meet it, and when I feel I can’t cope, I still push on because I don’t want to admit failure (to myself as well as to others), and then I crash and hurt myself and can’t do anything for a period of time.  It’s a pattern that has repeated for years, usually with mental health, but sometimes with physical health.

Fortunately, after showering, eating and taking some solpadeine, both foot and head seem to be rather better, although both ache a little still.

I do seem to have lost some weight.  I think I’m now on the borders of being overweight rather than being clearly overweight.  This is pretty good, as clomipramine made me put on a lot of weight, but is a non-negotiable part of my treatment regimen as it’s the only anti-depressant that has ever done much for me long-term.

My mood has been a bit better since my run; still somewhat depressed and lonely, but not so much.

***

I managed some Torah study for an hour or so too, and brainstormed some ideas for this week’s devar Torah (Torah thought).  So I guess it was a fairly productive day even if I feel exhausted and slightly headachey.  I did watch the rest of Warriors of the Deep, and will probably watch an episode of Star Trek Voyager before bed.  That’s quite a lot of TV by my usual standards, but I feel I need to balance out the activity with mindless relaxation for my own mental health.

***

I’ll be thirty-seven in under an hour.  Thirty-seven isn’t such a big event as thirty or forty because humans use a base ten counting system and like round numbers, and thirty-seven isn’t evenly divisible by ten.  Still, it feels like I should have got my life together by now, that I should have a career or at least a job and a network of friends and a place in my religious community and some kind of relationship, maybe even children.  I looked up 37 on Wikipedia, but there weren’t any factoids that I could understand easily without having more maths knowledge than I have, except that it’s a prime number (which I already knew) and also normal body temperature in degrees Celsius and the atomic number of rubidium.  I worked out that the thirty-seventh Doctor Who story was The Tomb of the Cybermen, which I’ve always found over-rated.  I don’t know what this proves, except that I shouldn’t let one day out of 365 in the year (one out of 366 this year) have such power over me.

I’m not going to say that thirty-seven can’t be worse than thirty-six, because clearly it could be.  But I will say I’m going to hope for a better year.  In the immortal words of Delta and the Bannermen (going back to Doctor Who, sorry), “Here’s to the future/Love is the answer.”  (Also, “Can we have space buns and tea?”)

Ghost in the Machine

I thought on waking that, although I still felt quite depressed today, I was not as paralysingly depressed and exhausted as the last couple of days, but soon my mood dipped down again.

The supermarket delivery came an hour early this morning, while Mum and Dad were still at the hospital for Mum’s chemo.  I was still in pyjamas as I wasn’t expecting them yet.  I didn’t even have my dressing gown on.  I know, realistically, I’m not the only person in pyjamas at 11am during lockdown, but it’s still embarrassing, not least because I’m aware it could easily have happened outside lockdown given my disrupted sleep pattern.

I’m still struggling with bank account stuff.  I feel bad for saying it, but it is making feel completely overwhelmed.  I’m not sure if that’s depression or autism or what.  I did start to make progress with it, but then their website crashed and seemed to be not working generally, rather just for me, and I had to give up.

I did manage to go out to post Doctor Who Magazine a review copy of my book.  I would like them to review it, but I’m not so hopeful.  They basically only review official merchandise these days, and there’s so much of that that they only review a fraction of it.  I did at least overcome the autistic anxiety of going to a new place as I hadn’t used this post office before.  I am also hopeful that Doctor Who Magazine might at least mention my book on the merchandise news page.

I did spend an hour putting together a devar Torah (Torah thought) for this week.  I was relieved to get it done, as I was not sure I had anything to say, but I felt I was over-reliant on secondary sources this week, particularly Nehama Leibowitz’s Studies in Bamidbar Numbers and some badly-referenced Midrashim in the Artscroll Stone Edition Chumash.  I guess it can’t be great every week.  It did bring me a bit out of my low mood, which was good.  I wanted to do some more Torah study later on, but didn’t manage more than a few minutes.

As I was having trouble with the building society site, I used the time for working on my novel.  As is often the case when starting a new chapter, I struggled to get into it, but eventually managed an hour or so of work and about 400 words, which was not bad considering how depressed I felt.  The depression may have helped channel my narrator’s frustrations.

I went for a run too.  It wasn’t great, but wasn’t bad considering that I was very depressed and I hurt my foot somehow halfway through.  I think it helped my mood a bit as I felt a bit better afterwards.  I think I have lost some body fat in the last few months, which is good.

***

We’re in the annual Jewish national mourning period known as The Three Weeks, where frum (religious Orthodox Jewish) men don’t shave.  One week in and my beard is itchy, and it’s worse when wearing a mask I discovered today.  I wonder if compulsory masks will end the hipster stylised facial hair that’s become common in the last decade or so?

***

I guess part of what I find so frustrating about not being married is not just the celibacy, but not being able to talk about what I feel about being celibate.  There is, supposedly, a “shidduch crisis” in the frum (religious Orthodox Jewish) world where, for reasons that are debated, there may be a surplus of unmarried frum women over frum men.  There is supposed to be a similar, but somewhat different, “singles crisis” in the wider Jewish community of a surplus of unmarried women (not frum) who want to marry a Jew over Jewish men who want to marry a Jewish woman.  And there is, apparently, a different crisis entirely of single men in the secular world who can’t find partners, again for contested reasons.

What bothers me about all of this (aside from the obvious fact that despite there being a two-fold shortage of Jewish men, I still can’t find a partner, which makes me feel useless beyond all repair), is that no one talks much about what this means emotionally.  There’s a lot of of talk about “fixing the shidduch crisis” in the frum world i.e. making matches, but not about the emotional fall out of being single.  In the wider world the only people talking about it are violent and misogynistic “Incels,” who I wouldn’t want to associate with.  I tried to talk about it a bit in my novel, but perhaps I shied away from the full extent of it.  Or maybe I don’t even have the vocabulary to talk about something that is so hidden and repressed.  Maybe that’s something to fix in the redrafting, if I can find the right words.

Then the Star Trek: Voyager episode I watched today was not helpful.  Ensign Kim fell in love with an alien and was given an official reprimand for breaching protocol.  Almost every iteration of Star Trek has one character who is persistently unlucky in love.  In Voyager, it’s Harry Kim.  After spending the first season or two pining after his fiancée on the other side of the galaxy, he fell in love with a succession of unobtainable women: a hologram, a cyborg, “the wrong twin” (one who didn’t like him, unlike her sister, who he didn’t like) and now an alien from a xenophobic race.  Later, if I recall correctly, he falls in love with a reanimated corpse (um, yeah).  The character feels like a virgin, even though he isn’t.

I feel I have a certain amount in common with him, as I suspect that I too tend to fall for unobtainable women.  Or maybe they’re all unobtainable for me?  The first woman I asked out, insisting that we did not have much in common, said that if I liked myself more, I would like someone who I had more in common with.  The reality is that I’m not sure there is such a person, or what difference it would make.  I suppose E. and I had a lot in common, although we had some big things not in common (particularly religion).  It still wasn’t enough to keep us together.  Maybe in some ways we had too much in common, in terms of needyness and low income.

Ensign Kim’s formal reprimand was unfair, though.  Star Trek characters are always having flings with aliens with no repercussions.  Captain Kirk and Commander Riker slept their way around the Alpha Quadrant without so much as a warning.  As Commander Chakotay said, Captain Janeway was being strict with Harry because he always kept to the rules in the past.  I feel like that a lot – not regarding sex, but generally.  When I was a child, I felt that my observance of the rules was never noticed by authority figures, but I was too scared to break them.  Lately I feel like God is punishing me more than most people because He expects more from me, although it’s hard to tell what He expects me to do differently, or how I should do it.  I do feel at times that my loneliness and single state is somehow a punishment for something, although I know that’s not particularly logical.

***

A different type of loneliness: Rabbi Lord Sacks’ Torah email this week is a eulogy for his teacher, Rabbi Nahum Rabinovitch, who died recently.  He speaks movingly of the idea of the teacher in Judaism.  “In Judaism, study is life itself, and study without a teacher is impossible.  Teachers give us more than knowledge; they give us life.” (Emphasis in original)  When I think about whether I made a mistake in not going to yeshiva (rabbinical seminary) for a gap year, the actual content I would have learnt is only third on my list of regrets.  My bigger regrets are not “learning how to learn” and not having come into contact with great Torah scholars who I would have learnt from, from their personalities as much as their lessons.  There’s a wonderful essay by Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik (in the book Halakhic Morality) where he says that the content of Judaism can be learnt from books, but each person also has to develop their own unique “religious style” which can not be taught, only aroused within them by watching a great teacher.

My rabbi mentor is of course a teacher to me, but only in an ad hoc way.  He has never been in the position of formal teacher to me in any long-term way.  I am lucky that he has set aside so much time for me over the years, but it is not the same as being at a yeshiva with teachers.  I have learnt from teachers in books: Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Kotzk, Rav Soloveitchik, Rav Kook and (lehavdil bein chayim le chayim) Rabbi Sacks himself and Rabbi Steinsaltz (among others).  Still, I feel book learning from dead or distant rabbis is not good enough, just as my Talmudic studies seem too small and low-level and my general Torah studies disconnected and lacking focus.

I do not know what to do about this.

***

Another line in Rabbi Sacks’ essay resonated for different reasons.  “Early on, he said to me, ‘Don’t be surprised if only six people in the world understand what you are trying to do.'”  I feel like that sometimes when contemplating my own writing, what I write now and what I want to write.  Maybe I’m being arrogant.  I would prefer to say that I’m doing what all good writers should do – writing for myself – and I know from experience that I have unusual tastes.

***

I keep coming back to the feeling that everything just seems so difficult and endless.  I was feeling earlier today that I should be glad that I’m hurtling unstoppably towards death because life just seems so painful and meaningless.  Lonely and painful.  I don’t know what I really enjoy or find meaningful any more, except writing, but even then I struggle to get anything published or to get any money from it.  I just feel so pessimistic about my life ever being good.  My childhood had problems, but could have been a lot worse had I not had one really good friend, but from adolescence to adulthood, my life has pretty much never been good.  It’s hard to hold out on a hope that things will go back to how they were when I eight years old.

Blogs and Blogging

Today I felt very drained all day, not just until lunch time like most days.  I’ve been drifting in and out of feelings of depression.  It has been a long week, and I am looking forward to Shabbat.  I’m taking a few days off from my novel today and at the beginning of next week to take care of some admin-type stuff at home, including, hopefully, buying some ads on Amazon to advertise my self-published Doctor Who book.  I do not like Amazon and avoid buying from them, but they have a monopoly on book sales and it’s the easiest way to try to get some interest in my book.  So far, trying to set up a seller account has been difficult, thanks to unclear instructions and faulty links on the website.  It looks like a whole long process that I don’t have the time or headspace to work on today.

On Sunday we will hopefully be going to my sister and brother-in-law’s for socially distanced barbecue in the garden, although that’s looking less likely from a weather point of view.  If that goes ahead, that’s probably another day I will do little/nothing either on the novel or other chores.  I don’t want to pause the novel for more than a few days, though, for fear of losing momentum.  I want to finish a first draft by around Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year, this year starting in the evening of 18 September).  So I need to get those chores done quickly.

***

The depressed feelings today, when they come, are sometimes just what I think of as “depressive hibernation” feelings, the desire to eat lots of carbs and then curl up in bed and sleep for a few months (and, yes, I am aware that this is technically the middle of summer, although you wouldn’t necessarily know that from the weather in the UK recently), partly more coherent thoughts about my not having a “normal” life.  I think everyone’s definition of what a “normal” life is has been modified in the light of the last four or five months, but I’m still worrying that I won’t ever make friends, find a community I feel comfortable in, find a job and build a career, get married, and have children.

I’ve written about these thoughts a lot, so I’ll try not go on about them too much.  I know there’s a lot of catastrophising going on in my head about them, but looking at my adult life, it’s hard not to feel that the catastrophic, or at least the somewhat bad, did often happen.  The way my relationship with E. ended left me thinking that there’s no point even in looking for another relationship until I have some kind of job and a clearer career path (rather than vague aspirations, which is all I have right now), and am less depressed than I seem likely to be any time soon.  I thought someone with similar issues to me would understand me, and accept my issues more easily, but experience suggests that that is not necessarily the case, and that my issues would be off-putting for most women.  I know, I know, I don’t want to marry “most women,” I just want to marry one woman, but experience suggests that finding her will be even more of a needle in a haystack search for me than for most people.

***

I’ve been blogging, on one platform or another, since 2006 – not quite continuously, but for much of the period (I think I had eighteen months or two years off somewhere along the line – I think circa 2015-2017).  I realised yesterday that the way I use blogs, as a reader and a writer, has changed.  When I started, I wanted to use blogs to exchange information.  I wanted to put out information that I thought was interesting and useful and I wanted to read similar information, mostly about Judaism or Doctor Who.  I was also more open about discussing politics then.  I was quite ruthless in avoiding blogs that I thought were not interesting.  I didn’t really get the etiquette of “If someone friends you, you should friend them back” that prevailed on Livejournal at the time, which was probably why I had so few Livejournal friends.

Somewhere along the line, probably when I came back from my hiatus, I shifted, without really realising it.  I do still read many blogs for information, but I blog myself just to offload my thoughts about my life and “issues” (depression, autism, social anxiety, low self-esteem).  It doesn’t matter to me so much whether I have many followers, although I do greatly value comments.  Similarly, I’m more likely to follow people just because they seem like nice people and have similar “issues” and I think we might be able to offer each other moral support online even if I don’t think they are sharing particularly world-shattering information.  Blogging for me is increasingly about mutual support rather than exchanging information.  It probably indicates personal growth in terms of my autistic views of what constitutes meaningful conversation or friendship as well as my social anxiety.  (That said, even early on in my blogging career, I’ve been surprisingly open to meeting other bloggers in the real world.)

The main things holding me back from following people these days are (1) that I still can’t shake the feeling that I should read every post from someone I follow, even if it looks uninteresting, so I worry about being overwhelmed with posts to read and (2) I get put off by people who are very aggressive about their political views, even if it’s not a political blog (actually, especially as it’s not a political blog, as it seems unnecessary).  I don’t mind people who think differently to me and I like being exposed to different ideas, but I get upset when I see people making aggressive generalisations about what others think and feel, or just being aggressive in general.  I also feel uncomfortable if I feel like I’m being told to sign onto a bunch of unrelated ideas about the world just to read a blog.  I left an autism WhatsApp group on the night of the general election last year, because apparently some people on the group couldn’t believe that anyone on the group could have voted a particular way and I really have much time for that any more.

I feel like this is a problem in society, that growing numbers of people are unable to accept that intelligent, thinking people have different worldviews to them.  I think I possibly quoted the statistic that while people in the Western world are much more accepting of inter-racial relationships than a couple of generations ago, they are much less accepting of relationships with people of differing political views than they used to be.  That saddens me.  I follow people with different views to me, but I’m less and less tolerant of people being aggressive and unthinking.

Negativity and Value

Shabbat (the Sabbath) was fairly low-key.  My Dad and I didn’t go to our reopened shuls (synagogues) because we were worried about shielding Mum, who has low immunity.  We were worried that even with social distancing, the risk of bringing home infection was high.  I was upset at missing my Talmud shiur (religious class) and tried to keep up with it at home by guessing how far they were likely to go.  This was the first time I had studied Gemarah (the later, more complex part of the Talmud) since the start of lockdown.  I went for a walk right after lunch, which meant that I didn’t fall into a deep sleep for hours as I’ve been doing recently after Shabbat lunches.  I did still end up in bed at times in the afternoon because I was feeling depressed and wanted to retreat a bit, but I don’t think I slept much, maybe dozed for ten or twenty minutes at most.  Hopefully my sleep won’t be so messed up tonight.

I beat my Dad at Scrabble (Mum didn’t feel well enough to play).  I thought I got a few good words; I was glad to get rid of both a difficult Z (zen) and a Q (quad).  I wasn’t sure if qi is allowed.  I think it is, but we don’t have an official Scrabble dictionary and then Dad used the square that I needed to do it – a shame, as it would have been on a triple word score.

The illegal minyan (prayer quorum) next door disappeared, but returned tonight for Ma’ariv (Evening Prayers) just when I thought it was gone for good.

***

I want to be less negative, but it’s hard to work out how.  Just before Shabbat, I wrote a list of negative attitudes that I have.  I found six, corresponding fairly obviously to a few CBT unhelpful thinking styles.  The problem is working on them.  I have tried CBT a few times for depression and self-esteem and it has never worked very well, perhaps because it generally does not work for people autism spectrum (I think there’s an adapted CBT for autistic people).

I think I do find it easier to reframe things than I did in the past, but I still do find it hard, and it still takes me a while to realise I can reframe thoughts.  Plus, I do feel that I have had an objectively difficult life since adolescence, which does make it hard to think that things will improve.  And “shoulds” are particularly hard to get rid of.  Orthodox Judaism is not about possibilities and values, but obligations, precisely defined obligations at that.  (If I was Reform, it would be a different issue.)  That’s a hard barrier to get around.

***

Somewhat related: when I see people living (apparently) successful and happy lives, it’s easy to get sucked into thinking that life should be joyous and feel inadequate for not having that type of life.  It’s only when I see other people who are suffering that I feel that life is a “vale of soul-making” (as Keats said) and feel that my life is meaningful for enduring mental illness and trying to support others with it.

***

I feel Western culture tends to put too much emphasis on individualism and not accepting help, and also on economic production as a indicator of worth.  It’s hard to feel that I’m worthwhile while unemployed “just” because I try to be kind, supportive and non-judgemental of others.  Even when I map out possible futures, the idea of earning money, as a librarian and/or writer comes up, as does marriage and children.  I want those things, but they may not be realisable for me.  But Western culture says without a job I’m not contributing much, just as Judaism says that without a family, I’m not “really” part of the community.

***

I have a nagging feeling that there were more thoughts that came up over Shabbat, when I couldn’t write them down, but I can’t remember them, and it’s late and I’m getting tired.  Hopefully I will remember them tomorrow, if they really existed.

“I Think It’s Going To Be A Long, Long Time”

I’ve been told in the past that I’m a very negative person, and I know it’s true.  I don’t think I complain as much as I used to, but I do feel very despairing about the future a lot of the time and that comes across when people try to help me or offer advice, particularly here.  I just feel like whenever someone suggests something to me that I could do to change my life, I’ve often done it before and it didn’t work.   I’ve been depressed for twenty years, I feel like I’ve tried most things.  Sometimes you have to keep trying something until it works, but it’s hard when it feels that nothing ever works.  Particularly when I sometimes feel like God is deliberately sabotaging everything I do for some mysterious purpose that I don’t even understand.

I told myself I would try to believe in myself more, but I don’t knowing how to do that.  How do you just start believing in yourself?  I don’t know how some people manage to reshape the world the way they want.

In terms of building a career as a writer, I’ve tried pitching article ideas to Jewish and geeky publications and sites in the past, but I haven’t found any interest so far.  I haven’t tried for some months, because I got disillusioned and then lockdown happened.  I don’t know if I’ve done it wrong or I just need to keep persevering or what.  I also need to send a copy of the book I self-published to Doctor Who Magazine to see if they will review it, or at least acknowledge it.

In terms of pitching articles, there aren’t that many Jewish sites or publications to try out for in the UK.  There are quite a lot of geeky ones, but my interest tends to be narrowly focused on Doctor Who and other classic British telefantasy; I don’t have much interest in gaming, superheroes or horror and even a lot of contemporary science fiction passes me by.  I know Doctor Who Magazine is being aimed at people half my age whose experience of the programme and fandom is very different to my own, so it doesn’t surprise me the editors don’t want me to write for it.  To be honest, I don’t look at much other fan stuff and I only glance at the Jewish papers.  I find them focused on cultural Jewishness more than religious Judaism and are at times hostile to Orthodox observance (we don’t get the Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) papers); I also find the quality of journalism and commentary poor in some of them lacking sometimes.  I’m wary of pitching to the Haredi newspapers because I don’t know them or their world, and I feel deeply uncomfortable writing for newspapers that won’t print pictures of women, which is the policy of most Haredi papers now, I think.

***

Trying to be positive about things, I’m trying hard not to get upset when I feel that my peers have achieved things and I have not, not to be upset when they get married and have children and so on.  I think I’ve improved in that area a little.  I am also trying to acknowledge and accept the Piaseczno Rebbe‘s (Rabbi Kalonymus Kalmish Shapira’s) idea in Sacred Fire that suffering does legitimate reduce our ability to pray and have faith in God and religious joy and not to beat myself up about lacking these things.

***

I couldn’t sleep last night.  I made two sleep hygiene mistakes that I thought I could get away with, but obviously couldn’t get away with one or the other or both.  One was that, after shiur (religious class), I needed “chill out”/decompression time in front of the TV just being passive, but I was wary of watching TV after 11pm in case it stopped me sleep, so I read instead, which was probably too active, intellectually, plus I made a bad choice of reading more of The Siege, which was full of depressing stuff about the Lebanese Civil War and Israel’s involvement in it.  I tried to balance this by eating ice cream as a treat for getting through shiur, but I suspect eating ice cream late at night wakes me up.  Whatever the reason, I was still awake at 2am.  I got up and ate porridge, the only way I can consume warm milk, as that helps me sleep, and watched Star Trek: Voyager.  I think I fell asleep around 3am.

***

I felt so depressed and self-critical after lunch today that I actually went back to bed and curled up in my duvet.  I had music on, but I think I drifted in and out of sleep for an hour or so (not because of not sleeping last night, as once I fell asleep, I slept for nine hours).  I felt very self-critical on getting up again, feeling I shouldn’t have gone back to bed and that I won’t do enough today as result.

I did eventually get up and force myself to do something.  As my weekly devar Torah (thought/essay on the weekly reading from the Five Books of Moses) has a looming deadline (tomorrow afternoon, to get it sent before Shabbat (the Sabbath) starts in Israel), I focused on that.  I was also aware I’d been apprehensive about it this week because I knew it would largely be a chiddush I had that I want to share.  A chiddush is an innovative interpretation of Torah.  This would seem to be paradoxical, as Torah is about revealed truth, not reasoned truth, but the idea is that the Torah is infinite, therefore there are always new interpretations to find.  (Admittedly that some people, mainly in the Haredi community, have an idea that all interpretations, including chiddushim, were revealed by God to Moses.)

However, I have noticed that, sociologically, people are very suspicious of chiddushim, particularly on aggadic (non-legal) passages.  While someone might feel very confident to give on an interpretation of a halakhic (legal) passage of Talmud in a chevruta or a shiur (paired study or class) and not mind if it’s new as long as it is well-reasoned, people rarely try to interpret aggadic passages, perhaps because there isn’t a clear “right” interpretation, unlike halakhic arguments.  I suspect this is related to the idea I have suggested in the past, that Jewish education for men is very “left-brain”/logical and not at all “right-brain”/creative.  Analysing halakhah is logical, but analysing narrative requires creativity and imagination.  This sociological situation is problematic for me as I’m a creative/associative thinker, not a logical one.  But I decided to stick an idea out there and see what happens.  I might even flag it up as a chiddush in my accompanying email and see what feedback I get.

***

I went for a run.  Halfway around it started raining, but I carried on.  My iPod has been telling me recently that my runs have been burning a lot of calories.  I’m not sure if that means I’m running faster or more consistently (not dropping into walking so much) or what.  So far I haven’t had an exercise migraine.  I think my mood did improve afterwards.

I did work on my novel for a bit after dinner and made a little progress, but gave up after a while as it was late and it clearly wasn’t going any further tonight.

***

I also felt upset and angry today that antisemitism seems to be so deeply embedded in parts of the far-left that an upswing of anti-racism protest and awareness actually leads to an increase of antisemitism, and that it’s largely been ignored by the mainstream media as it doesn’t fit their narrative.  But I don’t want to be political here, so I’ll move swiftly on…

***

I’m still worried about E., but convinced I shouldn’t contact her at the moment.  I wish we had a mutual friend so I could check she is OK.

***

Mum spoke to her oncologist.  The oncologist was OK with me going to shul (synagogue) services that are outside, but not inside, while Mum’s immunity is low.  I’m still wary, though.  I think the risk of rain and a move indoors is too high at the moment, plus I’m not convinced that my shul has the space to have thirty people in the small outside area available and still have good social distancing.  I am upset at missing my Talmud shiur though and worried about keeping up with them without knowing how far they got each week.

Masked

I possibly did too much yesterday as I feel really drained today.  Also despairing about the future (career, writing, marriage, family), which I was trying not to give in to.

***

I had to go to the pharmacist to request a repeat prescription.  Perhaps surprisingly, I wore a mask for the first time in the pandemic.  I haven’t gone on public transport since lockdown started, which is the only place masks are compulsory in the UK.  It has become an accepted thing to wear them in shops in recent weeks, but I haven’t been going shopping either.  I was very anxious and apprehensive about it, stupidly so.  Some of it was worrying that it would be uncomfortable or that I would inadvertently spread germs taking it off wrongly or adjusting it.  I guess it also feels wrong not to show the shop assistant my face when we’re talking.  However, I think much of the anxiety was autistic issues about doing something new.  I remember years ago I went to an art gallery in Tel Aviv and there was an art installation there that was made of some kind of dangerous material and you had to wear a mask to go inside the room.  I just completely freaked out about that and refused to go in and I couldn’t work out why, I just felt stupid and useless.  I guess it’s an autism thing, although I’m not sure if the issue was fear of discomfort or of new experiences.

Once I put the mask on, I did feel very uncomfortable, both from the actual touch on my face and from the smell of it.  It made my glasses steam up too.  I cut my walk short partly because I couldn’t cope with it, but also because it was cold out (despite having recently been unbearably hot) and because I was exhausted from therapy.

***

I had a difficult therapy session.  It was difficult because I was speaking about difficult subjects, particularly my feelings of lack of control over future events and fear of never having a job or getting married.  This led to a lot of uncomfortable physical tension in my body while speaking.  We spoke about my tendency to catastrophise being a way of coping with uncertainty by fearing the worst instead of being open to uncertainty, but my therapist said that it’s a form of hurting myself by going to the worst possible outcome, strengthening my inner critical voice.  We also spoke about being more accepting of my physicality/physical nature and she gave me some tips for dealing with feelings of physical tension.

My therapist also spoke about dealing with loneliness by reconnecting with friends.  The problem with that is that I don’t have many friends, not least because I’ve lost so many in the last couple of years.  This is at least partly my fault, which makes me fearful of alienating more people.  I can try to email a couple this week and check in with them and see how their lockdown is going.

***

I spent two hours working on my novel.  I wrote 550 words, finishing a chapter and then proofreading it, but I was very tired while doing some of the proofreading and will probably have another look at it tomorrow.  I’ve written about 53,000 words in total so far.  I’ll need to get to at least 70,000 words, ideally 80,000 to 100,000, for a complete novel.  I have the rest of the chapters planned out, but I worry I haven’t got enough incident to sustain 30,000 more words.

I also somehow did forty minutes of Torah study when I was feeling exhausted.  This was good, but I hope I have not overdone things as I’m absolutely shattered now.  I’m going to chill out with Doctor Who for a bit (Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS)/

More Loneliness, and Writing Progress

I feel lonely again, and I feel “touch hungry” like crazy.  “Touch hunger” was a term I learnt from the sex therapist Talli Rosenbaum on the Intimate Judaism podcast, but I had felt the concept for a long time without knowing that there was a word for it.  It’s the feeling of wanting to be touched and held.  I feel that a lot at the moment.  I want someone to touch me romantically/sexually.  I can hug my parents, but it’s not the same, and I don’t always feel comfortable asking my parents for hugs; I’m not sure why (it’s not because of anything they’re doing).  My first girlfriend was the only person I’ve hugged in anything approaching a sexual way because E. and I had a long-distance relationship.  Even then, with my first girlfriend, it took me a long time to feel able to touch her because I wanted to keep Jewish law about not having physical contact before marriage and there was a lot of guilt in just hugging.  The whole experience was distinctly confusing emotionally, especially in terms of the way that relationship developed and the way it ultimately fell apart.  So there’s a lot of guilt, shame and confusion as well as loneliness, longing and despair around these feelings.

I’m thinking of E. today and wondering how our relationship fell apart so fast.  Was the initial attraction and the way it became very serious very quickly (we were speaking seriously about marriage) just infatuation?  Or would we have been OK if lockdown hadn’t been so difficult for her?  I guess I’ll never know.  Sometimes I wonder if I should have tried to stay with her for longer, until after lockdown, to see if things went back to normal, but I couldn’t cope with the psychological strain of the way she suddenly wanted the relationship to be.  It was as much a trust thing as anything else.  It does make me wonder if anyone could ever really love me, for more than a few months until the infatuation ended.  I don’t blame E. for what happened.  I just want to know if the situation could repeat in future relationships.  I want to know how I can trust anyone else.

***

I feel I haven’t said much that is new here in months.  Every day (except Shabbat/Saturday) I work on my novel, take exercise, do some Torah study or work on my weekly devar Torah (Torah thought), occasionally go to a shiur (religious class) on Zoom, go to therapy via Skype once a week, cook dinner or iron or do other chores a couple of times a week…  To be honest, the repetition doesn’t bother me so much (I guess there are advantages to being autistic after all), but I feel it must be dull to my readers and it’s no wonder I seem to get even fewer ‘likes’ than I did before lockdown.

Today’s repetition: I spent one and three-quarter hours on my novel.  I wrote 1,000 words and also edited a long fragment that I wrote almost exactly a year ago into the main body of the text.  It was the first bit of the novel that I wrote, when I was excited and just needed to get something down on paper even if it wasn’t starting from the beginning.  I reduced it from 4,000 words to 2,500, which makes me worry how much the entire book will shrink in redrafting.  I did cut a lot of unnecessary stuff though.  I slip into pretentious waffle if I’m not careful.

The writing was difficult, as I was challenging difficult thoughts and experiences from my past (particularly my further education job).  I was glad that I got through it without much procrastination, just fairly solid working.

It’s scary writing something so personal and which makes me so vulnerable.  The rest of the chapter is going to make me just as vulnerable and also risky in terms of content, especially from a frum (religious Orthodox Jewish) point of view.  There is certainly a risk with some of my writing in this book that people are going to be surprised that a frum person could write those things, still less apparently have experience of them.  I think some things need to be said, although it’s hard to judge what to say explicitly and what to leave unsaid sometimes.  I think I’m writing about things that lots of people sort-of know go on in the frum community, but prefer not to think about it.  If the book does get published, I could well end up hoping that not many people I know actually read it, or at least that they don’t tell me they’ve read it, otherwise there could be some awkward conversations.

***

By late afternoon, I was feeling depressed again.  I’m not sure if that was from writing or just generally.  I went for a thirty-five minute run, just managing to dodge the showers which helped a little.  I felt depressed and lonely while running, but tried to focus on getting through the day and not worrying about the future, as per my post yesterday.

I didn’t do much Torah study as I got an exercise migraine and had trouble shifting it.  I was OK for an hour or more after running, then I suddenly had a massive headache that stopped me from doing anything.  I ended up watching The Avengers (The Bird Who Knew Too Much) on the grounds that The Avengers is upbeat and requires relatively little concentration (this is the British 1960s espionage/science fiction TV series The Avengers, not the Marvel superhero films of the same name).  I did eventually manage about thirty minutes of Torah study in small bursts.

And now I should go to bed as it’s nearly 1am, but I don’t feel sleepy.  After I have a migraine, I end up feeling too tired to do much, but not actually sleepy and it’s hard to know what to do.

Crushes and Being in the Present

There are things I think about talking about here, drop hints about, but back away from talking about openly.  I’m not sure why I do this.  I know why I’m too nervous to talk about them (a whole bunch of different reasons for different topics), but I’m not sure why I keep wanting to bring them up.  Maybe because they seem important to me, or simply because I often go into confessional mode on my blog and want to offload everything.  Or maybe I’m just trying to provoke people into stopping reading.

One topic I’ve been thinking about for the last few days is crushes.  I’ve had some kind of crush most of the time since I was sixteen when I haven’t been in a relationship, which is most of the time.  As soon as one crush drops out of my life or marries someone else, I find someone else to fixate on.  It’s very adolescent.  I suppose it’s a product of wanting love, but being too afraid to be open and vulnerable with someone, so I just obsess about people from a distance.  It’s worth noting that of my two “proper” relationships, one was not originally a crush at all (she messaged me on JDate), the other was a mild crush at best (we were emailing, originally just as friends, and I felt a bit of attraction, but only acted on it when she said she felt the same way).  So that may be significant, that crushes almost never turn out well.

I can feel the Crush Wraith (I was going to say Crush Monster, but really a crush is ghostly and insubstantial) coming back even though it’s not long since I broke up with E., and even though the circumstances of our break up arguably ought to make me think twice about ever being in a relationship again, or at least not until a whole bunch of other criteria are met (now I’m talking about my love life like an economist…).

It’s not just that.  Part of me wants to get back in touch with E., not to date again, I tell myself, but just to be friends.  She was a good friend, and I don’t have many friends, ergo I should get back in contact, or so the logic goes.  Then comes the guilt: E. doesn’t have many friends either.  Maybe she’s in a worse state than I am.  Maybe it’s an matter of kindness to get back in contact with her.  I’m worried if I do that, we’ll end up with a permanently unresolved on/off relationship that will get in the way of other relationships.  I think the attraction is too strong for us to be friends; not close friends, at any rate.

***

The sermon from Shabbat Shoftim 30 August 1941 in Sacred Fire: Torah from the Years of Fury 1939-1942, the sermons of the Piaseczno Rebbe, Rabbi Kalonymus Kalmish Shapira, resonated with me over Shabbat.

He starts with a verse from the sedra, which the translator (J. Hershy Worsch) translates as, “Be guileless with God your Lord.” (Devarim/Deuteronomy 18.13)  I don’t like that translation very much.  I would prefer something like “Have integrity in your relationship with God your Lord” or “You must be wholehearted with the Lord your God” (which is Sefaria.org’s translation).  Tamim has connotations of integrity and wholeheartedness.

He then quotes the Medieval commentator Rashi (Hebrew acronym for Rabbi Shlomo ben Yitzchak).  I’m going to give a mash-up of Worsch’s translation of Rashi and the translation on Sefaria as I don’t like either of them completely and I’m too tired to translate from scratch (it’s gone midnight here): “Walk before Him wholeheartedly; put your hope in Him and do not attempt to investigate the future.  Simply accept whatever happens to you, and then you will be with God — to be His portion.”  This is my favourite Rashi comment, but I’m bad at living up to it, so it got my attention.

In sermonic style, Rabbi Shapira discuss some other things, moving to the situation of the Jews in the Warsaw Ghetto, and in Europe in the Holocaust in general, saying a Jew would be unable to respond to hope or good news because he has been so “beaten and tortured that he that he is utterly broken and effaced by pain and poverty… there is no longer a person capable of rejoicing.”  This is common in Sacred Fire, the acknowledgement that faith and joy depend on physical and psychological wholeness (another meaning of tamim), which I think is crucially missing from a lot of other attempts to deal with suffering religiously.

He says that if the Jews knew that they would be saved tomorrow, they would find courage.  “The problem is that they cannot see any end to the darkness.”  Then he returns to Rashi’s comment: “Even if you are broken and oppressed, nevertheless be artless and whole. Take strength in God your Lord because you know that God your Lord is with you in your suffering.  Do not attempt to project into the future, saying, “I cannot see an end to the darkness,” but simply accept whatever happens to you, and then you will be with God — to be His portion.” (Emphasis added.)

That seemed very meaningful to me, the idea of being mindfully in the present and not trying to see the future, and to see that was seen as having what I would translate as integrity (being “artless and whole”), which is important to me.  Whether I can do that is another question.  It’s hard when I’m feeling lonely and unlovable and unemployable.

***

Today I slept a lot.  When I was awake, I felt mildly depressed.  I did some Torah study and read more of The Siege.  I played a game of Rummikub with my parents after seudah (dinner), but didn’t want to play a second game and went off to read.

I’m trying to feel grateful for things like being able to spend time with my parents (and getting on well with them) and not being in lockdown by myself, but it can be hard.  I had difficult feelings today, things that were probably vague feelings of anxiety, as well as feelings of sexual frustration that can be triggered by strong negative emotions like anxiety, depression or anger.  It is very hard to know what to do with those feelings.

Trying Not to Wallow

I’m trying not to wallow in loneliness and despair today.  I had some blog comments last night that I saw when I put on my computer this morning that cheered me up.  I’m grateful to everyone who comments – I appreciate comments a lot, even “I-don’t-know-what-to-say-so-hugs”-type comments.  It’s good to know that I’m not alone and that people are reading.  I usually forget to “like” comments, because I focus on replying to them, but it doesn’t mean I don’t value them.  I am trying to remember to “like” them more.

***

Today’s achievements: I finished and sent the job application I started yesterday (that took about fifty minutes).  I don’t think I’ll get the job, and I’m not sure if I want it, because it’s full-time and I don’t think I can cope with that.  It is also potentially at high risk of infection from COVID or other illnesses and I’m not sure that’s a good idea while Mum’s immune system is suppressed.

I spent a while working on my novel, writing 600 words in one hour or so.  I worry that it is possibly turning into the most boring novel ever written.  The part that is based on my own life feels constrained by what happened to me.  I have fictionalised a lot of details, but it still feels lifeless.  The main character is irritating (although this may be my self-loathing speaking, as he’s based on me).  I have a female protagonist who is too passive and boring.  The supporting characters are featureless and barely appear.  The writing lacks zest.  The whole thing is humourless.  I have a lot to fix in future drafts.

I don’t think I’m really cut out for writing “serious” literary fiction, which is what this is trying to be.  I want to pursue my ideas about time-travel and monsters, and historical figures like Shabbatai Tzvi and Jack the Ripper, but I also want to finish one project before I start a new one, so I’m tied to this novel for now, until I finish it or find it totally unworkable.  I also worry whether I could write prolonged fiction without the “scaffolding” of writing about my own experiences to provide some structure for the story.

As well as writing and applying for a job, I also cooked dinner (vegetable curry), which took longer than I would have liked and, for complicated reasons, made me think about E.  I think I made the right decision to break up with her, but I miss her as my friend as well as thinking that I won’t manage to find anyone else willing to see past my issues and baggage.  I might stay friends, after a break, but I’m worried we’ll drift back into dating in a crazy on-off relationship, which would be a very bad idea.

Since I was eighteen or so, I’ve usually had one close female friend, usually platonic and generally an email- or text-based friendship.  Sometimes I’ve wanted that friend to be my girlfriend (and for a few short periods that was the case), but that was usually disastrous.  Things have been better when the friend is safely off-limits, due to not being Jewish or being significantly older than me.  Then she is someone I can turn to for emotional support and practical advice, particularly about interpersonal stuff that I struggle with because of autism.

I guess I have a vacancy at the moment, but I can’t really see myself pursuing even platonic female friendship at the moment (even if I knew someone to befriend), partly because of the risk of it turning into something more, partly because I feel disinclined to open up to anyone at the moment.  Plus, most of those friendships ended badly, often because of me.  So I should resign myself to being alone.  I wish I did have someone to text during the day, though.

After dinner I went for a half-hour walk.  I ended up feeling morose.  I was on edge from watching Ashes to Ashes while eating dinner.  It was a good episode, but violent and bleak and left me feeling on edge and wary of something awful happening to me, even though it was broad daylight and there were still people around.  I thought about Ashley’s post for today, and whether I will ever be happy.  I feel that I probably won’t be happy, and I’m onto worrying about whether I will be comfortable.  I worry about being alone when my parents die.  I wouldn’t want to impose on my sister and brother-in-law by moving in with them.  I worry about dying alone, in pain, without dignity (possibly in my own excrement, like Stalin).  Will I be OK financially?  Will anyone still care about me?  It’s scary.

Even if I did somehow find meaning and happiness, would I just feel guilty?  A kind of survivor syndrome that I turned my life around when so many others can’t?  I already feel vaguely guilty that my childhood was not awful and abusive (even though I was bullied at school, and adolescence was rather lonely and miserable), given how many abuse survivors I’ve come across in the mental health community.

After the walk, I tried to “snap out” of my moroseness (which never works) and do some Torah study, as I had been too busy to do any earlier.  I was tired and depressed and my room is very hot and uncomfortable, so I didn’t get very far.  I spent nearly fifteen minutes on a mishnah which I felt that the Artscroll commentary made more difficult than it needed to be (I feel they do this a lot).  I had a look at ideas for my devar Torah for twenty minutes or more, which was a bit more fruitful, until my brain gave up with heat and fatigue, but I need to do a lot more work on it.  My divrei Torah have not come easily lately, which is frustrating.

The Wild Pomegranite quoted Rebbe Nachman of Breslov:

“Sometimes a person’s goals and desire for holiness are beyond his capabilities. Therefore, he must control himself. He must limit his yearnings and fulfill – simply – whatever service to God he is capable of in that moment. Then he must pray to be led on the proper path for his level by serving God with joy and simplicity.” (Likutei Halakhot, Bet Knesset 5:24)

I feel this describes me.  I want to move to higher levels of holiness in terms of kavannah (mindfulness) in prayer and mitzvot (commandments), more and deeper Torah study, doing some kind of meaningful work (ideally writing), and marrying and having children, but these are beyond my capabilities at the moment, which is frustrating for me.  It is difficult and frustrating to accept being at a much more “basic” level of service, especially as I’m only vaguely aware of what exactly that would entails.  Nevertheless, it is where I am.

It reminded me of this quote also from Rebbe Nachman that I’ve blogged before:

The main thing is this: It is forbidden to despair!  Even a simple man who cannot study at all, or one who finds himself in a place where he is unable to study, or the like, should in his very simplicity be strong in worship and in the fear of God…  Even he who stands on the very bottom rung, God forbid, or in the very depths of hell, may God protect us, should nevertheless not despair.  He should fulfil the Scripture: ‘Out of the belly of the deep I cried’ (Jonah 2:3), and be as strong as he can.  Even he will be able to return and receive the Torah’s sustenance, by means of the zaddiq [saintly person].  The main thing is to strengthen yourself whatever way you can, no matter how far you have fallen.  If you hold on even just the slightest bit, there is yet hope that you will return to God. (quoted in Arthur Green Tormented Master: The Life and Spiritual Quest of Rabbi Nahman of Bratslav  p. 264)

I wrote these paragraphs earlier in the post, above the paragraphs about today.  I cut and pasted them here to end the post on a positive note.  It feels vaguely wrong.  I feel I should try to be positive, but it seems dishonest to end on a positive note that I don’t feel.  The “happiness is a choice” people would say to cut and paste and it will make me happier.  I think happiness is not always a choice, and rearranging things does not always help.  Some people are just in pain, and are going to stay in pain, and there isn’t much they can do about it.  But I also want to acknowledge that even in pain, there can be hope.  Whichever one I finish on – pain or hope – will be stressed more.  Concluding on something is taking a stand in favour of it.  But I see the two, pain and hope, at the same time (like duck/rabbit illusion).  Pain/hope.  Hope/pain.  Pain/hope/pain/hope/pain/hope/pain/hope/pain/hope/pain/hope/pain/hope/pain/hope/pain/hope/pain/hope/pain/hope/pain/hope/pain/hope/pain/hope/pain/hope/pain/hope/pain/hope/pain/hope/pain/hope/pain/hope/pain/hope/pain/hope/pain/hope/pain/hope/pain/hope/pain/hope/pain/hope/pain/hope/pain/hope/pain/hope/pain/hope/pain/hope/pain/hope/pain/hope/pain/hope/pain/hope/pain/hope/pain/hope/pain/hope/pain/hope/pain/hope…

Man We Was Lonely

I had a rather lonely Shabbat (Sabbath).  Meals with my family were good and we played Rummikub after seudah shlishit (the third Sabbath meal) today (I lost), but the rest of the time I was in my room and in my head too much.  I was feeling a lot that I’m never going to be well enough and able to work enough to be financially self-supporting, which will mean that I’m never going to be able to date again.  I ended up wallowing a lot in my despair.  I know it’s not healthy to keep “proving” to myself all the reasons no one would want to marry me, or all the reasons why I wouldn’t even get another date, but it’s hard to stop when I’m in this sort of mood.

I wallowed in these thoughts last night and a bit again this afternoon.  I didn’t go for a walk, partly because I didn’t want to be stuck inside my head when I did that.  I did try a grounding technique I recently heard about that was partially successful, but it’s hard to remember that I can do things like that when I feel depressed or anxious.  Other than that, I read and did some Torah study, not as much as I would have liked of either because I slept for three hours this afternoon (very bad, but one way of shutting my thoughts off).  I did reach (in Hebrew) Tehillim/Psalms 100, two thirds of the way through the book, which was good, although I can’t remember how long it’s taken me to get this far.

Other than that, I didn’t do much apart from try not to get annoyed at the illegal minyan next door, which is showing worrying signs of permanence.  My Mum spoke to her rabbi about it; he has promised to try to speak to our neighbour’s rabbi and see if he can stop them, but I’m not hopeful.  She’s also thinking of putting a note through the door asking them to be quieter because she’s having chemo, but I’m not hopeful about that either; Hasidim are notorious for davening (praying) loudly.

***

A weird thing I noticed while wallowing in loneliness: of my two successful relationships, both started with a written-based relationship.  I met my first girlfriend on JDate.  She wasn’t in London much for the first couple of months that we dated, so our relationship started on email and then moved to text messages with only one physical date.  We wrote a lot of long emails before we even met.  Then my relationship with E. started via email.  She read my blog and emailed via my blog contact page and we emailed as friends for some time before she said she was interested in dating.

I’m a lot more fluent and less anxious in writing than in person and I suspect that helped me present as someone date-able and reasonably “normal.”  That doesn’t seem a positive trait to have, as text-based dating is not a normal way of dating in the frum (religious Orthodox Jewish) world where people are set up by friends or shadchanim (matchmakers) and initially communicate through those people rather than directly.  There are frum dating sites, but my experience on those lately has not been as good as when I met my first girlfriend.  Last time I was on one, I paid a lot in subscriptions without getting many responses to my emails, and no dates at all.

(EDIT: just remembered that a couple of years ago I dated someone that looked quite serious, but never got to “formal” boyfriend/girlfriend relationship stage, but that involved a lot of texting too as she was working in the USA for a chunk of the not-quite-relationship.)

***

A bird flew into the room while we were eating seudah.  I’m rather ashamed to say that my parents chased it out.  I froze.  I’m not exactly phobic of birds, but I don’t like close contact with them either.  I guess it’s a fear of them flying at my face (or defecating on me, which is a slightly different fear).  I feel bad that I fail at so many tasks that young men are supposed to be able to do.  Not that I’m particularly young any more.

“Your love gives me such a thrill/But your love won’t pay my bills/I want money/That’s what I want”

(Please forgive the frivolous title.  I hate thinking up titles every day.  It is vaguely relevant to some of what I’ve written.)

I felt depressed and exhausted on waking again today, and lonely.  In terms of exhaustion and depression, maybe I did too much yesterday.  It seems that even a half-day for an ordinary person wears me out.  Or maybe my break-up just hit me again.  I did feel better in the afternoon.

This is what I have been thinking about in terms of loneliness.  Supposedly the Orthodox world has a “shidduch crisis” or a “dating crisis” of single Orthodox Jews who can’t get married.  There is a lot of discussion on Jewish websites and newspapers about (a) whether the shidduch crisis actually exists and (b) if it does exist, what is responsible for it (generally phrased as, “Whose fault is it?”)?  You can google for more information, if you dare (it’s a rabbit hole you may never return from).

I’m not sure the shidduch crisis actually exists, and I’m not sure that any of the proposed explanations for it hold water, but a lot of people seem to think that there is such a crisis and generally the crux problem is supposed to be, for variously suggested reasons, a surplus of single women over single men.  Supposedly this means that the men get to pick and choose between women, which results in them never committing and always looking for a “better” woman than the one they have currently been set up with.  Meanwhile the women end up being urged to “settle” for sub-standard men because of their ticking biological clocks.

At the time when we were friends rather than dating, E. said that her experience was that frum (religious Orthodox Jewish) single women in their thirties are all desperate to get married and have children and so will “settle” for anyone who can be a father, including me.  See, for example, the woman, who tellingly signs herself “Pretty Desperate”, who is asking here about dating someone with a stable mental illness (the whole letter is a really sign of how narrow-minded the Orthodox world of dating can be, with the writer considering herself on the shelf at age twenty-eight!)  I’m not sure that I really want to be a live-in sperm donor, but it depresses me that no one is even willing to “settle” for me.  I think I would be a good husband, aside from the fact that I’m unlikely to ever earn enough to support a family solo.  I’m honest, kind and gentle and probably a better listener than most men, even if things said to me verbally don’t always stick in my memory because of autistic processing issues.  Nevertheless, I can see that my “issues,” my finances and my general geekiness would put most frum women (and many women generally) off.  It’s sad.

It occurs to me that although the frum community sets marriage as a universal standard, it also writes off whole classes of people and gives them little support in finding a spouse (converts, ba’alei teshuva (people raised non-religious who became religious later in life), people with physical and mental health issues, divorcees and children of divorcees all spring to mind).  I’m not sure how these people find mates, if they somehow attract each other as the more eligible candidates pair off and leave the field or if they remain unmarried.  I think the USA there are some shachanim (matchmakers) who specialise in helping people with “sensitive” issues to find their spouses.  Meaning, if you have issues you will be matched with someone with similar issues, which in some ways is logical, in other ways is crazy and is also basically eugenics (similarly, at the other end of the spectrum, rabbinic families also interbreed, selecting for intelligence).

These thoughts were distracting me today as I tried to write my novel.  The fears, and the loneliness and sexual frustration, won’t go away.  If someone could tell me, “You will get married and have children, but not for another five years,” I could get on with my life in the meantime, but as it is I constantly worry about things, I suppose in the hope that some great idea about how to find and keep a mate will come to me that I haven’t had in the last twenty years or so.

(Have I really been single and lonely for twenty years, with just a couple of little gaps?  No wonder I’m so depressed.)

***

I suppose related to this is the fact that not only is loneliness rarely mentioned in frum society (where it is assumed that most adults are happily married), but sexual frustration (within or outside marriage) is never mentioned, not least because of the understanding that no one should talk about sex.  It is only listening to the Intimate Judaism podcast recently that I’ve realised that other people also struggle with celibacy in a culture where the only legitimate sex is within marriage, and even then only at certain times.  I am at least not having forbidden pre-marital sex as some “older singles” apparently do according to the sex therapist on Intimate Judaism.  Even so, there’s a lot of guilt around sex and sexual thoughts and behaviours for me and I worry about the guilt poisoning my sex life if I ever do manage to get married.  The guilt around sex for me probably doesn’t help me when dating, giving me more reasons to feel inadequate compared to my date, even beyond my general feelings of inadequacies when compared to frum Jews.  I feel too ashamed to think anyone could accept me with my not-always-fully-repressed sexuality, even if they got past all the other issues.

I spoke about this a bit with my therapist this week, about thinking and doing stuff sexually that, as a frum Jew, I shouldn’t.  I can’t remember her exact words, but it was along the lines of accepting my sexuality as natural, having compassion on myself and realising I’m in a difficult situation that Orthodox Judaism was not really designed for.  It’s difficult though.  I wish I could just turn my lust off.

***

Achievements today: I did an hour and a half to two hours of novel writing, about 900 words.  The exact amount is hard to estimate because of procrastination time.  I was pleased to get to 900 words and reached a sensible point to stop, so I did.  It was hard to write with all of those lonely, despairing thoughts, but I try to force myself through those thoughts and feelings and do some writing five or six days a week.  If I want to be a professional or semi-professional writer, I need to be able to work every working day, even if I’m having a lousy time with depression.

I did thirty-five minutes of Torah study.  It’s hard to get up to an hour a day at the moment except over Shabbat.  I’m not sure why.  I wanted to do more, but procrastinated and ran out of time and got too tired.  I should prioritise Torah study more, but I also want to prioritise writing, exercising and helping around the house.  I can’t prioritise everything all at once.  Sigh.

I went for a half hour walk.  I also did some ironing.  I would be a good house husband, I can clean, cook, launder and iron as well as shop for groceries.  However, my sewing is lousy.  Half the time I can’t even thread the needle.

I had a Zoom call with a bunch of friends from my university days.  We meet up once or twice a year to catch up on what we’ve been doing since we last met.  One had had COVID and nearly been hospitalised (she was triaged and judged well enough to cope at home).  I always feel vaguely awkward that they’ve moved on with their lives in a way that I haven’t.  All have good careers and one is married with a baby.  I did impress them by saying I’m working on a novel.  When I set it was partly set in Oxford, I had to reassure them it wasn’t a roman à clef and they don’t have to worry about being in it.  In fact, this isn’t quite true, as part of the novel is based heavily on my experiences with another person, not in this group, although by this stage in the writing process a lot of details have been changed or invented.  The person I’m thinking of would probably see certain resemblances, but I don’t think anyone else will.

I didn’t get the job for which I did a cataloguing test a couple of weeks ago.  I asked for feedback on the test, although I’m nervous of what it might say.

***

I wrote the following about my experience of depression on Kacha’s blog and thought I would copy it to here as it’s a useful summary of how I experience depression now and in the past.  I think depression will always be around for me most days, but I am able to control it more than I used to do.  I find it hard to ever see myself living a “normal” or “full” life though:

I had a period of many years when the depression was a constant daily phenomenon. Then I started to experience periods of remission for some months, mixed with periods of depression. I still feel very depressed for some time every day (usually in the mornings), and still sometimes have to take a mental health day every so often. However, I am able to do quite a few things during the day most days now, even if it is not like working a nine to five job plus having family and social commitments, which is what I think of as a “full” life.

I think activity helps. Once I can start doing things, that can push the depression away, although events during the day (usually things I see or read or hear) can trigger it again.

I would add that I’m glad I’m not at the stage I was at from 2003 to circa 2008 (or possibly later) when I was not able to work at all, or from 2008 to 2017 or so when extreme depression was common on many days even when I was working a fairly full week.  I think clomipramine, which I was put on after a mental health crisis in late 2017 has done a lot for me in that regard, as well as the occupational therapy of work, then job hunting (awful though that is) and, now, trying to write books.

The Problem of Suffering

There are some things going on in my life at the moment which I can’t blog about.  I just feel bad about a lot of things.  Defining “bad” is harder: probably sad, despairing, anxious, frustrated and guilty.  I just feel a lot of difficult feelings and it is hard to tease out what each one is.

***

I’m also still getting upset by the news, different thoughts and feelings, back and forth.  Worried that I’m not thinking the ‘right’ thing, that people would be angry with me if they knew what I thought.  Feeling that I can want to end racism and police brutality without particularly wanting to “end capitalism” (whatever that would even mean).  Wondering why, if Sir Keir Starmer is so opposed to prejudice that he will “take a knee” to oppose racism, that he spent three and a half years on the Labour front bench as the party became a safe haven for antisemites and Holocaust deniers without uttering a word of protest.  Then feeling guilty for “making everything Jewish.”  There’s more, but I don’t want to go there.

I try to tell myself that “It doesn’t matter what other people think.  That’s just their opinion.  I’m allowed to have my own opinions,” but still I feel the need to justify everything, argue everything back and forth in my head.

***

Achievements today: I blogged on my Doctor Who blog for the first time in ages, excluding an advert post for my book.  I spent an hour and a half working on my novel, or trying to, amidst difficult thoughts.  I went for a half-hour walk and cooked dinner.  I guess that’s quite a bit, although it is hard to see it as an achievement.

I went to a half-hour Zoom shiur given by the rabbi of my parents’ shul (synagogue).  It was on love of God and how to love God when things are difficult.  I’m not sure how helpful it was.  The idea was that if we are aware of God’s greatness and His wisdom, that should lead on naturally to love of Him.  I struggle with doing that.  It should also lead on to thinking that anything bad that happens must really be for the good.  I can understand that intellectually, but it’s really hard to internalise when so many things in my life seem so bad, or just so painful.  It’s not so much that I can’t accept that bad things might be good or necessary or that a benevolent God wouldn’t put me through them, it’s more that I feel I have nothing left to give any more.  I’ve used up all my energy coping with the last thirty-seven (nearly) years.  Everything just hurts too much for me to carry on.

Trying to Think My Own Thoughts

I woke up feeling OK: tired, but OK.  But then I looked at some news online and drifted down into depression and despair.  I felt disgruntled with political stuff.  I wrote some stuff here, but deleted it to avoid arguments.  I will say that it certainly is hard, when I’m being told by therapists and psychiatrists not to personalise and not to feel guilty about everything, when the media, politicians and activists tell me that I’m “part of the problem,” and that I’m full of unconscious privilege that makes me an inherently bad person no matter what I do.

I’ve been having difficult religious thoughts too, thinking I will never fit in to frum (religious Orthodox Jewish) society.  I feel like I’m torn by opposed ideas.  This is true in politics and culture, but particularly in religion.

I was thinking today about Rav Kook, one of the most important Orthodox Jewish thinkers of the twentieth century.  He was also a man of opposites: mystical, yet accepting much of modern science and academic scholarship; a Zionist, but also a universalist; a halakhicist and posek (Jewish legal expert/decisor) who was also an accomplished poet and advocate of Jewish cultural revival; a religious Jew who was friends with non-religious Jews; a Litvak who thought like a Hasid…  Somehow Rav Kook took outlooks that feel like opposites in me and integrated them into a flawless whole.  Sadly, his writings are very difficult, and the more controversial aspects were suppressed by his son and his chief student after his death to make him look more conventional.  I do have a couple of recent books that either present his thought with explanations or paraphrase more complex teachings.  But I feel like I need something more personal and more able to reach my core.  I also feel that I don’t need a book, but a teacher I can have prolonged conversations with, maybe even be set tasks.  I can speak to my rabbi mentor sometimes, but generally not for long and I don’t like to do it too often.  I would be asking a lot of anyone to guide me the way I feel I need.

In a previous crisis of faith, about ten or fifteen years ago, I read books and articles by apologists, who tried to prove the existence of God, the veracity of the Torah and the integrity of the biblical record in various ways.  I regard these attempts as mostly flawed if not nonsense now.  These days I prefer what I might call “soft” apologetics, that stress Judaism as a system of meaning and a way of being part of a living three thousand year culture and history (as opposed to what I call “hard” apologetics that try to prove God etc.).  The problem for me currently is that the “meaning and living” approach is tied up with ideas of community and family that I feel distanced from because of my situation (being single, not having a community I completely fit with) and my issues (depression, social anxiety, autism), as well as assuming a degree of joy and meaning in religious performance that I rarely experience because of depressive anhedonia (inability to feel pleasure).  It makes it very hard to keep going.

Online I came across an old debate from over ten years ago.  One of the participants was someone then struggling with Orthodox Judaism who I used to encounter sometimes in various online fora.  He could be very critical of Orthodox Jews, but once said that he felt that I was one of the few he knew who made him think that we aren’t all [rude word].  So now I feel that I’ve somehow let him down, let myself down and let down the Judaism I was modelling by slipping into despair and scepticism.  Possibly this is me making everything about guilt and despair again.

***

It’s hard sometimes to be sure that I’m thinking my own thoughts, and not having someone else think them for me.  I don’t mean in terms of psychosis, but in terms of originality, and resisting propaganda and indoctrination and even the subtle effects of peer pressure and language (not to mention the incongruous and hypocritical virtue signalling of woke multinational corporations… I don’t think Amazon are in a position to lecture anyone about ethics).  This applies regarding culture, religion and politics.  Especially politics at the moment.

***

I tried to do some practice library cataloguing to prepare for my job application test, as I hadn’t catalogued anything for nearly two years.  I made some stupid mistakes initially, but I think I was OK after that, but I don’t have much confidence.  I read the rubric for the test, and I think they are asking for a lot of related stuff I only vaguely remember from my MA course or can’t do easily without resources I don’t have in lockdown, like Library of Congress subject words, which I haven’t used since my MA.  I would have to use the online version when I’m used to the hardcopy version.  I was also taught how to catalogue with the new standard, RDA, but everywhere I have worked used the old standard, AACR2, so I can only vaguely remember RDA.  They did say it was OK to use AACR2 if necessary, but I don’t know whether to try and risk failure or not.  As I’ve said before, I’ve rather lost my confidence in my ability to catalogue and I don’t know how to get it back.  I’m not sure there’s much point in practising any more.  I need to jump in and do it.

I don’t know how long I spent on cataloguing.  Probably not long if I took out the procrastination time involved.  I also spent a bit of time on my novel (just under an hour writing over 600 words) and went for a half-hour walk again.  I feel frustrated that the novel is going slowly, but it is going steadily.  It’s hard to judge how long the first draft will take at this stage.  I discovered today that I’ve been working on it for eleven months so far.  Of course, there was a lengthy interruption when I concentrated on my non-fiction Doctor Who book.  It does seem a long time though.  I’m about half way through, maybe a bit more.

***

I had shiur (religious class) on Zoom again.  It was difficult.  I still struggle with the noise and changing pictures on group Zoom calls, and my usual social anxiety around speaking up is even worse when I need to unmute myself first.  I had an autistic “I think they’re joking, but I’m not sure” moment too.  The worst bit today was when the teacher thought I had answered a question, but it was someone else, but I couldn’t tell who.  I’m not sure that I gave the credit to the right person.  I started stimming (autistic self-soothing touch or movement), stroking my face and pressing my fingers in my desk cupboard door.  I felt self-conscious about this, but also unable to stop.  As autistic people will tell you, it is hard to consciously stop stimming especially if stressed.  I didn’t learn much I didn’t already know from the class either.

On the plus side, the handouts this week included useful lists of Hebrew abbreviations and key words.  These are primarily intended for Rashi’s Torah commentary (the focus of the shiur), but I suspect will be useful for rabbinic literature in general, as key phrases are often abbreviated in all the Medieval commentaries, as well as in the Talmud.  It can be very irritating if you don’t know what the abbreviation stands for.

***

Good things today: Ashes to Ashes series two so far is a lot better than series one, on a par with its predecessor Life on Mars; I don’t think I’ve put on weight during lockdown; and some how-to-write books I was waiting for arrived today, although I’m still waiting for one more.  It is daunting to think of reading the writing books and then applying them to my own writing.

Loneliness and Fitting In

I woke up feeling depressed and lonely again.  E. is concerned about my tendency to turn everything into guilt, that I assume that everything bad in my life is my fault and if I was a good person I could change it.  She thinks that this is not really the case.  She feels in particular that I shouldn’t feel guilty about not being emotionally connected to Judaism.  I guess it’s hard not to when Judaism presents a lot of things (perhaps most things) in moral terms and assumes that good people can change them, at least with the right tools.  It’s assumed that a person who wants a better relationship to God or Judaism can ‘fix’ that; it doesn’t take into account that my brain chemistry might prevent that, or say what I should do instead or how I should cope.

That said, I wonder if this is really guilt or if I’m misunderstanding my emotions again.  I don’t think what I see as guilt is really sadness, but maybe it’s loneliness or disconnection.  I was reading about domestic abuse again (see below) and came across the idea that abusive men express all their emotions as anger; I wonder if I express all my emotions as depression or guilt.  I don’t know if that idea even makes sense.  At the very least, alexithymia (difficulty understanding my own emotions) makes it hard to understand what I feel.

I’m worried about the future too.  I want lockdown to be over, but at the same time, that would shift my worries about career and relationship up a gear as I have to confront things again.  I’m already dreading the cataloguing test I have to do soon for a job application.

***

I’m also struggling with political thoughts that I don’t really want to write about here, worries about the situation across the Atlantic, worries about my participation in racist societies, but also about the much greater coverage of and sensitivity around racism by most people in the West compared with antisemitism.  Jews aren’t more likely than most people to be killed by the police, but they are more likely than many to experience violence.  In the USA, Jews are the victim of well over half religious hate crimes, far more than any other religious group.  I don’t feel this is a particularly appropriate time to talk about antisemitism.  We need to concentrate on racism right now.  The problem is that much of the world has shown that it never thinks the time is right to talk about antisemitism.

Mind you, I can get upset by little things, for instance, a letter in an old Jewish Chronicle criticising Orthodox rabbis unfairly.

I’m not sure how these thoughts would be classified.  They’re kind of on the boundary between depression and anxiety, with some anger, but not what people generally mean when they refer to those feelings in a psychotherapeutic context.

***

I spent an hour or more trying to work on my novel.  I wrote about 450 words, which was not bad, but not great either.  I procrastinated a lot, got upset about irrelevant things (see the paragraph above) then read abuse survivors’ accounts to try to get me back into the mindset of writing about abuse, but that just made me feel more miserable and made it harder to concentrate.

I tried to look at my notes from my librarianship MA on cataloguing in preparation for doing a cataloguing test some time this week or next for a job application.  It was hard to concentrate because I felt so depressed, and because I was aware that I probably know this stuff as well as I ever will.  I feel I probably know the stuff, I just have no confidence in my ability to show it.  I’ve really lost confidence in my ability to do librarian stuff in recent years.  It’s hard to remember that I once thought that I would be a good librarian, even a professional cataloguer.

***

I didn’t do much Torah study (about fifteen minutes).  I  wrote this rather long email to my rabbi mentor instead (slightly edited here):

I’m really struggling religiously lately.  It’s hard to daven and to learn Torah in particular. It also feels like I have no meaningful connection to HaShem [God] and to Torah much of the time. It’s hard to work out why. Or, there are many possible reasons:

– my depression/general mental health (which has got worse the last couple of weeks) – one rabbi once told me that I wouldn’t be able to connect emotionally to God and Torah until I recover, but it increasingly looks like there is no recovery for me, just being able to manage my condition better;

– resentment of simplistic theologies in the frum world that see working at Judaism and especially having bitachon [trust in God] as immediately positive results.  I think these are wrong, but they make part of my brain think, “God must be angry with me, or He would have healed me/got me a job/let me get married by now;

– feelings of despair regarding my life, relationship, career, etc. and feeling that I won’t be able to build anything because HaShem keep testing me by making me suffer and taking away what I’ve achieved;

– generally feeling like a social misfit in the frum world: the United Synagogue doesn’t take Torah and davening [prayer] seriously enough for me, in the Federation I feel like have to hide various beliefs and interests because they’re unacceptable, and the people at the London School of Jewish Studies are mostly a generation older than me. I felt in particular that my local shul has not always supported me well in terms of helping me be part of the community or regarding my mental health (as well as setting me up on shidduch dates [arranged blind dates]), although things had been a bit better at the start of the year and I felt that after four years, I was fitting in a little bit better… and then coronavirus came and disrupted even that.

Lately I wonder if I won’t fit in anywhere, ever. It seems everywhere I go, I feel that I don’t fit in, and I’m beginning to wonder if that’s just in my head, or from my autism. I really feel that I struggle to fit in and to follow the unspoken social codes, which is a classic autistic symptom. On the other hand, I’ve never had the kind of support that the frum world is said to provide to most people in need.

And underneath it all is the feeling of emptiness, loneliness, isolation.  Of feeling that HaShem is so far from me and indifferent to me, or that He will invalidate all my mitzvot on some technicality.  I feel I can’t connect with Him.  Sometimes I feel that I don’t know what it would be like to feel joy at all.  I saw something the other day about the need to have spiritual pleasure, but I’m not even able to have physical pleasure.

Sometimes I worry I’m frum more out of habit than anything else these days, which does not make me feel good. To be honest, the non-Orthodox/non-religious world is just as off-putting to me as the frum world, but I know E. finds aspects of the frum world difficult, especially the lack of appreciation of serious culture, and I find it hard to “sell” her the frum life when I feel so negative about it.

I do still enjoy Shabbat, even though I feel that is partly a relaxation thing as much as a spiritual one.  Occasionally I do see Torah that resonates, but it’s hard to build on it; likewise if I daven well one day.  I do enjoy writing my weekly divrei Torah [Torah thoughts], although I do experience that as a stress sometimes, and a drain on time for Torah study.

This is what I’ve been feeling.  Would it be possible to discuss it, by Skype or email, please?  I don’t know if there is an answer, but I feel I need to try something new.  I mean a new strategy to engage with my religious life.  It’s just so hard to keep going sometimes.

I’m not sure what I expect to get from it.  He can’t wave a magic wand and solve my troubles and we have spoken about this in the past.  I suspect if I was more confident in myself and worried less about what other people think of me, I would fit in to frum society better, and if I fitted in better socially, a lot of my lack of religious connection would go away.  But I’m not sure how to do that.

The Long Dark Night of the Soul

I was hit by a thought today that surprised me.  Since blogging on WordPress, I have come across a lot of Christian mental health blogs.  Sometimes there’s a kind of conversion narrative of a fall from the world into a pit of suffering and despair (this is particularly the case when substance abuse features in the narrative), followed by the turn to religion and the feeling of grace and salvation, which leads to renewed success (if that’s the right word) in the battle with mental illness or addiction.

The surprising thing is that this kind of writing does not really exist in post-Biblical Judaism at all.  I mean very deeply personal introspection of the long, dark night of the soul and the religious journey from suffering to redemption.  Judaism is a non-missionary religion and the vast majority of Jews were born Jewish even if they did not have a religious upbringing, so it’s perhaps not surprising that there are so few literal conversion narrative, but there could be narratives of suffering and despair leading to faith and joy, but by and large there are not.

There are Tehillim and Iyov (Psalms and Job) in Tanakh (the Hebrew Bible).  In post-biblical literature there are some of Rebbe Nachman of Bratzlav’s teachings that deal (directly or indirectly with his suffering).  Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik deals a little with this in The Lonely Man of Faith and parts of Halakhic Man .  There are bits in the Sacred Fire of Rabbi Kalonymus Kalmish Shapira, the Piaseczno Rebbe where he approaches this, but his focus is not so much the personal journey as the communal experience of Nazi persecution.

I am not familiar enough with the Holocaust literature to see how that fits in.  I think you might find something there, but not quite the same as the Christian type, not least because of the presence of clear villain figures in the Nazis, not to mention the fact that many Jews lost their faith in the Holocaust rather than finding it.  I’m not sure that I would class the writings of Elie Wiesel, for example, in this category.  I don’t think it is really that personal, inner type of despair, rather the despair from being dehumanised by an outside force.

I don’t know the Medieval poetry of the paytanim (liturgical poets) to know whether they dealt with these feelings.  Possibly they did (they did right rather erotic love poetry, something airbrushed out of the biographies of some major figures).

I have a few Judaism and depression books which include personal narratives.  The Road to Resilience by Sherri Mendell is a fairly practical book about overcoming loss.  I remember very little of Healing from Despair by Elie Kaplan Spitz, although it probably is the closest to what I’m looking for, in that it deals with the author’s despair in detail (but by a Reform rabbi, not an Orthodox one, tellingly).  It might be worth me re-reading that soon.  Some of the personal stories in the anthology book Calling Out to You edited by Tehilla Edelman fit in this category at least partially, but as I recall the focus is more on the practical story of mental illness and recovery than the spiritual crisis.  Some are definitely what I have in mind e.g. “I had to unravel all of my preconceived notions about Hashem.  I used to think that G-d only loved me if I behaved.  The idea that Hashem loves me like a father didn’t work for me, because with a father like mine [abusive] it didn’t mean much.  I also didn’t understand how Hashem could let abuse happen to children, and I didn’t know if I could ever trust Him…  After much soul-searching, I came to believe that Hashem does care about me and that it doesn’t matter if I can’t call Him Father.” (From My Journey to Hashem through Depression and Addiction: Miriam’s Story in Calling Out to You.)

That’s about all I can think of, in a three thousand year tradition.

It’s worth comparing with the narratives I’ve seen written by people who became Orthodox Jews in adulthood, either non-Jews who converted to Judaism or ba’alei teshuva, non-religious Jews who became Orthodox.  These seem to be largely calm and peaceful narratives that start by laying out the writer’s initial antipathy to and/or ignorance of Orthodox Judaism, the story of how they encountered it close up for the first time, their experience of the beauty of Torah and mitzvot (commandments) and how they overcame a few sticking points (e.g. Torah/science conflict or gender and sexuality issues) to become devout Orthodox Jews.  There is occasionally tension with friends or family members who do not like the religious change, but there is no sense of suffering or trauma here, the dark night of the soul to which religion is the solution.  The truth is that if I was writing my own ba’al teshuva narrative, it would also be largely separate from my mental health journey, which did not really start in earnest until I was some way along my religious journey.

It’s just interesting that we don’t really have the vocabulary to express this kind of narrative.  I am experiencing that first-hand, in the difficulty I have expressing my inner religious life here and, fictionalised, in my novel.  I do not have a model to use.  It’s doubtful how much anyone could model themselves on Tehillim (Psalms) nowadays without falling into self-parody, let alone the difficult, complex poetry of Iyov (Job).  But there are few more recent models to look to.

I wonder if this is another reason why “leaving Orthodoxy” narratives, fictional and non-fictional, are so much more common than “joining Orthodoxy” narratives, as I have discussed here before.  It’s not really a genre that we promote (not that Orthodox Judaism encourages the writing of fiction or memoirs, or creative writing generally).

Doubtless part of the reason is that Christianity is a religion based on the personal salvation of the individual through the personal sacrifice of Jesus and mediated through the introspective writings of Paul in the New Testament.  Whereas Judaism is a communal/national religion based, at the very least, on creating communities based on love and mutual aid, building together to a nation state built, ideally, on love and compassion and eventually an example for a new world order built on love and compassion through monotheism.  There isn’t much room in that narrative for the individual’s long dark night of the soul.  It’s just not relevant.  It took some fairly unique circumstances to produce figures like Rebbe Nachman of Bratzlav or Rav Soloveitchik who can let us peek a little at what a kind of Jewish dark night of the soul literature might look like.

***

As for Yom Tov (the festival), it was OK, but I struggled to connect with the religious ideals of the festival (hence, in part, this post).  I prayed a lot, studied Torah a lot, ate a lot, slept a lot.  I had a lot of aches and pains from my workout on Wednesday.  I think I’ve pulled a lot of muscles in my arms, legs and torso.  I did still go for a couple of walks despite the pain.  I also woke up in the middle night with a migraine yesterday.  My mood was mostly OK, but dipped a bit this afternoon.  That’s about all there is to report, though, aside from continued irritation at the illegal minyan (prayer quorum) next door.  I think I’m getting a better idea of why that annoys me so much (aside from all the obvious reasons), but it’s too late to deal with that now and this is a long enough post already.

Building Characters

I spent the day wrestling with negative feelings of depression and despair. I would feel OK, and then something would set me off again. It has to be said, though, that my mood was mostly reasonably good and optimistic, particularly in the afternoon (mornings are still hard). That said, little things can bring me down.

***

Every year there is a “Forty Under Forty” list in The Jewish News listing the top forty communal leaders in the Jewish community under the age of forty, whether religious, political or cultural leaders. It’s a fairly horrible concept and I try to avoid it, as there are always people I know on the list, and it makes me feel like I’ve wasted my life while other people have built careers and made a difference to the world, particularly as I won’t be “under forty” for much longer. Looking at part of the list today (it’s always published in installments) I saw someone I knew, but I didn’t feel as jealous or despairing as I might have done in the past. Likewise, lately I don’t feel as jealous and lonely when people much younger than me get married or have children. And I don’t carry as much anger and resentment as I used to about my childhood and adolescence. I feel I’ve made a lot of progress in therapy dealing with my issues. And yet I can’t seem to permanently shake the depression, despair, loneliness and other negative feelings. I feel like I’ve done everything I should do to recover, but it still doesn’t help. Somehow it persists.

***

I keep checking my email, blog reader, WhatsApp… I know when I do this it’s a mixture of boredom and loneliness. Just wanting to connect with someone, but usually not finding anyone or, worse, making the wrong kind of connection, usually by seeing something that upsets me, typically by making me feel attacked.

***

I probably shouldn’t relate all my dreams here (the ones I can remember anyway) as other people’s dreams are not usually as interesting as they think they are, but I had a classic anxiety dream about being in my rabbi mentor’s yeshiva (rabbinical seminary) on the day he was taking his rabbinical exams and feeling that everyone was looking down on me for not being religious enough. I wonder what that could be about? Sometimes you don’t need to be Sigmund Freud to work it out. There was also some weirdly OCD stuff about trying to do the ritual hand washing on waking and before eating, but not being able to find a big enough cup.

***

I have a new webcam, which I ordered weeks ago, and which has finally arrived. So that’s good. I had been borrowing my Dad’s laptop for every Zoom or Skype interaction. In other ways I feel like I’m ready for lockdown to be over. I know, everyone else reached this point weeks, if not months, ago. But lockdown seemed to suit me: I didn’t have to meet people, there weren’t jobs to worry about applying for, I didn’t have to go anywhere or do anything, I had time to write. But I feel I probably should be trying to move my life on and get back in the habit of actually doing things other than writing, jogging, cooking and cleaning. Plus, it would be good to move towards moving my relationship with E. on. And seeing other people, actually going to shul (synagogue) and to physical shiurim (religious classes) would probably be good for me, not least because I feel like my social anxiety is getting worse while I avoid people. Online socialising isn’t working so well for me, as it’s just made me more dependent on likes and follows, behaviour which I thought I had grown out of, and, as I’ve said before, I struggle with Zoom calls – too many people, too many things happening at once, too easy to psychologically check out and refuse to interact with other people.

***

I felt blocked in my writing this week, so I emailed a writer friend to ask for advice. She recommended some books and also some exercises to try to clarify (to myself) who my characters are and what they want. I learnt two things from this. The first is that I have a weak idea of what my secondary hero wants or needs, which is probably why she has felt like the biggest weak link in the novel so far, too vaguely written to really cohere or stand out.

The second is… well, this is a slightly edited version of the character profile I created for the hero, who is kind of a fictionalised version of myself (I was going to say “Mary-Sue,” the fan term for a character who is a wish-fulfillment figure for the author, but this character is more an anti-Mary Sue, annoying, self-obsessed and useless).

  • Wants/needs: consciously wants love, acceptance.  Unconsciously needs to accept himself, his autism, his depression
  • Weakness: lack of self-knowledge
  • Obstacles that play to weaknesses/show growth: struggle in environments not designed for autistics; contemplate suicide because can’t cope with self.  Not upset with God or world, just with himself.  Can’t accept his autism/depression means that he needs to live differently to other people.
  • Choice: choose life or death, which is choosing to love himself
  • What he learns to achieve his goal: to choose life because even without God, he recognises his own uniqueness and worth.

I think it’s helped clarify my main character, but it’s certainly helped clarify my own needs. To be honest, “lack of self-knowledge” isn’t really my fault, but that of the character (who is really me some years ago, not me now). I understand myself, I just struggle to put what I’ve learnt in therapy and elsewhere into practice, hence the comment above about having addressed issues, but been unable to move on. Still, it was interesting to realise I still haven’t really accepted my depression and autism (the latter partly because it’s still undiagnosed) and my consequent need to live a different life to other people with different standards of success. For example, for me success might be maintaining reasonably positive mood over time, engaging on some level with my community and friends and getting some kind of job (which probably won’t be high-powered/high-stress) as opposed to having a dynamic career, getting married and having children, having lots of friends and taking some kind of community leadership position.

Hollow, Empty and Dead Inside

I didn’t have to go to the hospital with Mum today after all.  My parents discovered that a hotel near the hospital is renting out car park places, so Dad could park and go in to the appointment with Mum as her extra person.  That’s better for everyone, although I had a weird feeling of disappointment after having psyched myself up for it.

***

I woke up earlyish, but I’m not sure if that was due to thinking I had to be up early to go to the hospital or because our next door neighbour’s son was sitting in the garden listening to a Zoom shiur (religious class) really loudly, then was on a really loud chevruta (paired learning), far above my intellectual level and he’s only in his teens, so that probably brought my mood down early on.  (Why do Jews get so overexcited when “learning” and start shouting?  Or when talking, to be honest?)

Yesterday was burning agitation.  Today is quiet and still, but the stillness of depression and the grave, the stillness of nothing happening inside.  I didn’t do any real Torah study yesterday, because of depression and migraine, but I did spend forty minutes writing my devar Torah (Torah thought) which I hope should count for something.  I didn’t do my hitbodedut meditation/unstructured prayer either, but that has been perfunctory for quite a while.

I’m just feeling awful today, hollow and empty and dead inside.  I feel almost physically ill and struggle to do anything.  I wish E. was here, but part of me is saying that it can’t last (our relationship, I mean) and that I’ll be hurt sooner or later.  Yesterday we (E. and I) agreed to focus on the present and not to worry about the post-COVID world, which is too unpredictable, whether big things like the economy or personal things like our job prospects and our relationship.  But it’s easy to believe that everything will go wrong, same as it always does for me.  I feel I can’t do anything, that my life is not going anywhere.

I tried to work on my novel, but I struggled to write anything, either for the chapter I was working on or when I tried to jump ahead to the next chapter.  I ended up giving up and watching TV (Ashes to Ashes then Doctor Who).  I forced myself to go for a walk, although I didn’t really want to (because of the heat as well as the depression/exhaustion) and while I was walking my internal monologue/internal critic asked me, “Why don’t you just **** off and die?” and I didn’t have a good answer.  Most people with high functioning autism don’t manage to do paid work (despite being defined by the wider world as “high functioning”) and anecdotal evidence (at least) suggests they don’t manage to maintain relationships either, so I don’t know why I think I can buck either trend.

I had my online Zoom shiur (class) this evening.  I still feel I’m not going to learn a lot I don’t already know.  I did manage to speak up though, once.  It’s a shame I’m too socially anxious to share knowledge much that others might benefit from.  Selfish even, if I want to blame myself (I usually do).  I don’t know if it’s because I was on my Dad’s computer (the replacement webcam for my one still hasn’t arrived), but I just felt extra-awkward the whole time.  I just sat through the shiur thinking, “I am such a **** up” and that no one could ever like me and that my life will never get sorted out.  There was some fantasising about self-harm, which I haven’t done for a while.

***

I’m worried about a couple of blog friends who haven’t posted for a while, but I’m also worried that if I send them “Are you OK?” emails that will just put them in the awkward position of having to tell me that they’ve taken me off their friends lists.  I worry I’m too weird and depressing for people to cope with, let alone relate to.

I just discovered that some nasty comments from someone I had to mute on the blog were sitting in my trash folder on WordPress.  They had been there for several months unnoticed.  I had assumed that blocking bounced them back into the ether, but apparently they go into the trash folder and sit there.  I deleted them all, but it upset me even more, and the content of the comments reinforced my feeling of being useless and having no justification for being depressed.  It also makes me worried, as one of these comments was a reblog notification – the person reblogged my post, apparently to criticise and mock it.  It makes me wonder what other negative stuff this person has put out there about me.  Naturally, I assume I deserve it.

***

The Midrash in Sifra on last week’s sedraBehukotai, says there are seven stages of apostasy that lead on one to the other:

  1. Not studying Torah;
  2. Not performing commandments;
  3. Despising those who keep the commandments;
  4. Hating the sages who teach the commandments;
  5. Preventing others from observing the commandments;
  6. Denying that God gave the commandments;
  7. Denying the existence of God.

It’s hard to tell where I am.  I’m not studying much Torah.  I perform some commandments, but not others, some because of depression, some to compromise with E., some because I don’t have the strength any more.  I don’t “despise” anyone, but there’s aspects of the Orthodox world I don’t like, I don’t have much respect for sages who preach full-time yeshiva study and denigration of the wider world.  Sometimes I worry I’m heading for points six and seven.  Is this catastrophising again?  Possibly perfectionism too.  I have kashas (difficulties, questions) on Judaism, but I also have big kashas on the secular world of humanism, Enlightenment and postmodernism too.  Of course, my biggest kasha is on the world: how can I fit into it?

Anhedonia and Resentment

Another struggling morning.  It’s so hard to get going.  I just feel so tired and depressed.  It’s also easier to get sucked into despair and loneliness (missing E. – not exactly the dictionary definition of loneliness, but it’s hard to think what else it is) than at any other point of the day, although I am be glad that nowadays there are times when I’m less likely to be sucked in to them.

I wrote a job application, mostly tidying up my CV and template cover letter.  I decided to leave it before sending it and have another look at it tomorrow, as I was quite depressed today and didn’t think I really concentrated on it well.  I ought to be able to do the job well, but I’ve completely lost confidence in my ability to do the job I was trained for to the extent that I don’t think I can do this job and on some level don’t want to get it.  Nevertheless, I intend to send it tomorrow.

Other stuff done today: therapy (see below), thirty minutes of Torah study, a thirty minute walk, and a Skype call with E.  I had an idea for my devar Torah (Torah thought) for this week, but it needs developing and I’m not sure where to take it.

***

Therapy today was useful.  We spoke a bit about grieving for parts of my life that I lost or never had (e.g. the stereotypical frum (religious Orthodox Jewish life)) rather than internalising them as a critical internal voice (e.g. “I’m useless because I’m not married).  We also spoke about the persecutor-victim-rescuer drama triangle, a relationship model where all three roles are unhealthy (“relationship” in this context means any relationship of people, not necessarily a romantic one).  I think a lot of my friendships/romantic/would-be romantic relationships in the past were victim-rescuer relationships, one way or the other, whereas with E. that’s not the case.  It’s a lot healthier; even though both of us have a lot of issues, we don’t really play the victim or rescuer, we support each other as equals and have good boundaries.

***

One thing I touched on in therapy was the feeling I have of God being critical and punitive, even though that’s not the type of theology I was brought up with or read nowadays.  It’s hard to see where that comes from except my general internal critical voice, which is hyperactive.

Related to that (which I didn’t discuss in therapy), is that I’m still struggling to emotionally connect with God or Judaism.  I was trying to work out earlier how much Jewish stuff I would still do if I knew there was no reward or punishment for it.  I would still keep Shabbat, because I feel that’s very positive for me in a very tangible way.  I would still study Torah, but maybe shift my focus (then again, maybe not).  Keeping kosher doesn’t bother me so I would keep that up.  I might reduce prayer.  It’s hard to tell.

Looking at the last paragraph, I looks like overall I would stick with most of Jewish practice: (Shabbat, Torah, kashrut and davening covers the bulk of daily Jewish practice for a non-married person.  I just wish it brought me more joy.  Is it the lack of connection to God that strips it of joy or is it the depressive anhedonia (inability to experience pleasure)?  Because obviously depending on what the cause is, the solution would be very different.  It’s not like there’s much joy in my life from other sources, so it could well be that I just don’t experience much joy or pleasure.

E. and I have been studying Pirkei Avot, the volume of Talmud that deals with ethics, together.  She keeps saying that while it’s interesting and some of it seems reasonable, it wouldn’t change her life.  I’m not sure if I can think of a single Jewish teaching that changed my life in that way.  I think it’s a cumulative effect of learning lots of things and doing lots of things that made me more religious.  Nevertheless, I am aware that a lot of my religious growth was driven by not wanting to be a hypocrite in picking and choosing elements of Jewish belief and practice, and that other people won’t necessarily feel the same need for consistency.  Indeed, outside of certain parts of the Orthodox Jewish community, pick and choose Judaism is the norm.

I would say that I doubt I could pass my religiosity to others because of that lack of joy and focus on integrity, but somehow I have influenced people around me to become more frum in some ways, even if not as much as me, so obviously I’m doing something right, I just don’t know what.

***

I do struggle with feelings of jealousy connected to anhedonia, feeling resentful and upset that other people can enjoy their lives whereas my enjoyment has been limited for the last twenty years and not that great even before that.  The most resentment and jealousy is over sex and over religion, people who enjoy their religious lives and find meaning and joy in it as well as friendship and community.

I don’t know why these two areas are the big sources of resentment for me.  I have never been a great traveller, but I don’t really resent people who do travel, perhaps because I was taken on a number of holidays in Europe as a child.  But I don’t resent people who have been to Asia or South America or other places I’ve never been to.  I don’t really resent people who can drink alcohol safely (which I’ve always been too scared to do) or who can drive (which I’ve also always been too scared to do).  I suppose I do feel resentful when there’s a party or social community event and I’m too depressed, autistic and socially awkward to attend.  Even so, sex and religion seem to be the big sources of resentment.  Or maybe I’m just confronted with them more often.

***

I was thinking crazy stuff today, at least before therapy.  I don’t know if I can put it in words, but I guess there were elements of catastrophising, self-blame, repressed anger and despair.  I tried to write the job application, but then I get sucked into procrastination online, and that triggered other thoughts and feelings (see the next paragraph).  I’m trying to notice when I’m catastrophising or self-blaming or worrying about stuff that is out of my control, or getting angry with people who I have now cut out of my life, but it can be hard to do that straight away.

***

I saw a comment online earlier that listed “severe depression” as being up there with drink, drugs, diseases, “several” divorces and domestic violence as the only things that would stop “Any eligible Orthodox Jewish man” meeting the proverbial “‘nice’ eligible Orthodox Jewish woman.”  Well, I did find a nice Jewish girl, fortunately, but I guess this is why I had to go outside of the frum community.  Still, “depression is as bad as domestic violence”… talk about stigma.  Reminds me of another article I saw years ago, on a secular website this time, that basically said if you have treatment-resistant depression, you’re never going to find a romantic partner, and that’s not fair, but life’s not fair, so deal with it.  It really was that blunt.

***

Boots has sold out of hair clippers.  I’m going to look like the abominable snowman by the time the barbers re-open.  At least I can shave again tomorrow.

In the Details

I had another late night last night, largely due to spending two hours writing a blog post that got out of hand.  I originally intended just to write vaguely that I had some agitated thoughts about religion, but as I wrote, I felt I kept needing to go into more and more detail.  I’m not even sure it was particularly coherent, or expressed what I wanted to say (if I even understand what I’m feeling well enough to say something coherent).  Maybe I should have a “no blogging after Shabbat in the summer” rule, but sometimes I need to offload thoughts or I fear I won’t sleep.  I struggled to get up and get going again this morning, which has become a repetitive mantra for me, but is true.  As usual, I said only the smallest part of Shacharit (morning prayers), at the last minute and with poor kavannah (concentration/mindfulness).

I felt depressed and exhausted for much of today, which isn’t so unusual.  More troubling was a feeling of uselessness.  My Mum watches a lot of property programmes on TV like Location, Location, Location and A Place in the Sun where people try to buy a dream home, sometimes in a foreign country.  The attraction of the programmes, I assume, is looking at the splendid and luxurious houses under consideration.  I feel that I will never be able to afford a house anything like that.  I worry that E. will have to support us single-handed as I won’t be able to hold down a job and we will never afford anywhere nice to live, or to be able to have children.  I can cope with being a house-husband, but I want to contribute more, but unless I can somehow manage to write a best-selling novel, that seems unlikely.  I think I probably could write a novel, but a best-selling novel is probably beyond me; even getting a book published by a real publisher seems impossibly difficult.  At times like today I wonder if I’ll even be able to finish a novel, or at least if I have more than one novel in me.

In the afternoon we had a family Zoom call with me, my parents, sister and brother-in-law.  It was a poor quality call with very patchy audio and I found it hard to hear and understand what was being said.  As is often the case with family meetings, I struggled to engage with my family’s chosen topics of conversation a lot of the time, although I’m not sure why.  My sister is younger than me, but I feel she has somehow overtaken me and successfully made the transition into adult life that I have only made partially, if that.  I left the call after an hour and a half.  I felt a bit bad for leaving early (albeit that in the end the call only lasted for a few minutes after I left), but then again, I lasted about half an hour longer than I expected.

I struggled to work on my novel, procrastinating endlessly online.  I wanted the interest of finding some new and startling idea or perhaps just to connect with another human being, having failed to connect well to my family.  I did eventually get a bit further into the novel writing, managing to write about 600 words in an hour and a quarter (the exact number is difficult to see as I was doing some redrafting too), which is above my daily 500 word target, so I did snatch some kind of victory from the jaws of defeat there.  I have very mixed feelings about the level of quality.  I certainly realised my writing is not terribly descriptive and lacks details.  In some ways it reads more like a film script than a novel, with dialogue, but limited description.  That’s something to work on in the coming days.  It probably stems from not having a good imagination for descriptive detail; I don’t see details of the story in my head, and when I read descriptive passages in a book, I struggle to focus on more than one or two details.  Although I do sometimes think in images, these are usually borrowed or repurposed from images I’ve seen elsewhere, on TV or in comics, and the images are usually pretty fleeting and lacking in detail; it’s often the emotional impact that stays with me rather than the detail.

I wonder if it’s possible to write a book from the skeleton outwards, like a house, building the infrastructure of plot and dialogue to get an idea of the shape of the story as quickly as possible and then going back in subsequent drafts to add the descriptive details and more complex character traits.  I suppose it’s as good a way of doing things as anything else.

***

I felt a tension inside myself today.  I’m not sure if it was depression, despair, anxiety or something else, but it was uncomfortable and I didn’t know what to do with it.  I’m trying to avoid turning to particular negative coping strategies that I’ve used in the past, such as eating too much, procrastinating endlessly online, watching too much TV or impulse-buying books and DVDs, but I’m not sure what else to do, other than tell myself to sit with negative feels and accept them for what they are rather than repressing or ignoring them.  It’s hard though.  It’s like being told to hold a burning hot object (a literal hot potato, perhaps) and not drop it, but just accept the painful burning sensation.

I went for a thirty-five minute run in the early evening and I felt a bit better while actually running, but my mood plummeted again on coming back home.  After dinner I had a Skype call with E.  We had decided to spend a Skype session studying a Jewish text together.  This was completely E’s idea, as she wanted to take an interest in the things that matter to me.  We decided on Pirkei Avot, the volume of the Mishnah (the oldest stratum of the Talmud) that deals with ethics and interpersonal behaviour.  Unlike the rest of the Mishnah, it is mostly presented as aphorisms or advice that can be studied in isolation rather than inter-related legal arguments (which neither of us are confident in tackling).  We went through several Mishnayot until I started getting a post-exercise migraine.  We just chatted for a bit after that until my head began to hurt so much I had to stop and take something for it.  I enjoyed this Skype call a lot and it did a lot to raise my mood.  I’m just glad I have a girlfriend like E. who is so supportive and interested in my life.

Feedback Loop

Yesterday finished badly.  I went to bed earlier than usual (although still late) because I felt tired and depressed.  I tried to do my hitbodedut meditation/prayer/talking to God, but got overwhelmed with guilt, anxiety and despair halfway through and had to stop.  At least I was feeling something, lately it’s been hard to feel anything while doing it.

Then today started badly.  It was a real struggle to get up.  I woke up around 10am, but fell asleep again.  I eventually got up around 12.30pm, after an indeterminate amount of time lying in bed feeling awful, just depressed and exhausted.  I’ve been having weird dreams recently too.  There was one that involved Hitler’s head (in a They Saved Hitler’s Brain sort of way, but I don’t remember the details), and last night I dreamt about people from shul (synagogue) coming round, but just sitting in the lounge silently studying Talmud.  In the dream, this seemed like a success, as they seemed to think I was on some level capable of Talmud study.  There was also a ten year old boy who I managed to speak to in Hebrew, at least to offer him a drink.  I’m not sure what any of this means.

Events today were mostly trivial, but also somewhat frustrating or upsetting.  I’ve put on weight, about 1kg since I last weighed myself.  It’s not surprising, as I’ve only had time/energy to exercise intermittently and have been eating more junk than usual since the coronavirus lockdown started.

Then the latest Doctor Who Magazine arrived.  They didn’t print the letter I had sent them, which isn’t a surprise as I admitted to not enjoying the most recent series.  They don’t print negative letters any more, even one like mine which basically argued that Doctor Who is large and diverse and if some fans don’t like the current version, they can just focus on what they like and not throw their toys out of the pram on Twitter.

Writing this down, it doesn’t seem like so much, but I felt very overwhelmed and really just wanted to go back to bed and start the day again.

I didn’t have much to do today, in terms of Pesach preparation or anything else, so I wrote my devar Torah (Torah thought) for the week, which ended up being quite a bit shorter than usual, from lack of inspiration as much as depression.  This week’s sedra (Torah portion) has some long legal passages about the sacrificial laws and a description of the inauguration ceremony of the priests, which had been previewed a view weeks ago in Shemot (Exodus), so it can be hard to find something interesting and relevant to a contemporary audience.

I went for a run, but as I was too depressed and exhausted to run for more than a few metres at a time, it was mostly a walk.  I passed a bunch of six teenagers, split up on both sides of the road so I couldn’t safely pass while keeping two metres distant from both groups.  I think this is the first really flagrant lockdown breach I’ve seen.  My uncle says that the Israeli lockdown is stricter, with people limited to a 100m radius area around their residence and police and army enforcement.

I’m struggling with religious OCD, in some ways more so than yesterday, wanting to email my rabbi mentor to chase up the answers to yesterday’s questions.  I did email in the end, and although I turned it into a general venting email, it really was to seek reassurance, which I know is wrong with OCD.  It is hard to do exposure therapy for Pesach OCD when exposure therapy requires repeated exposures over time and Pesach is only one week a year, plus a week or two of preparation beforehand.

Despite being at home with my parents, I felt lonely today.  I don’t always find it easy to communicate with my parents when I feel very depressed (or even when I don’t feel depressed).  I felt alone.  In the evening I actually did some social (or virtual-social) stuff: a massive thirteen person extended family Zoom call (which was basically certain family members shouting a lot and others of us sitting quietly) and a Skype call with E.  I was glad to speak to E., but I just had a knot of anxiety in my stomach the whole time and worried I was going to alienate her somehow, even though I knew this was irrational and that E. cares about me a lot.  I think at times like this my anxiety just transfers from subject to subject depending on what I’m doing at the time so that I always feel anxious.  I did speak a bit to my parents about my anxieties in the end, which was good.  I’m lucky to have them, and to have E.  I don’t know where I would be without them.

***

There was an interesting discussion today over on Ashley Leia’s blog about whether the term “high functioning” is a useful descriptor for mental health.  I would say not, and most if not all commenters there agreed.  Certainly in my case functionality is not static and binary, but fluctuates with time, with different situations and with other factors like tiredness and hunger, as well as the interaction of different aspects of my issues (so today high anxiety/religious OCD anxiety and depression are feeding back into each other and making things worse).  The same goes for my high-functioning autism.

There can also be a judgmental element to functionality, where high functional people are not allowed to have bad days/episodes or are not given adequate support because it’s assumed they are coping and that high functionality equates to mental stability and consistently positive mental health.  I function well inasmuch as I get dressed every day, look after my health and hygiene needs, eat reasonably healthily, exercise, look for work and so on, but whenever I get a job, my stress levels rocket up and I’ve had trouble meeting all my work obligations; I think at least two previous managers thought I was incompetent and probably regretted hiring me.  I don’t know if I’ll ever manage to work full-time.  So it’s hard to see myself as functional, even though I know that I am compared to some people, or even compared with myself as I was from circa 2003 to 2009 or so.

Checking In

Feeling utterly drained and despairing today.  Today everything feels like wading through treacle.  I think “peopling” at depression group was just too much for me yesterday, even with Mum giving me a lift both there and back again (she insisted on the latter, saying that if I caught a cold waiting for the bus home it would be problematic for her starting chemotherapy next week).  This is not good for what is still a winter Friday with fairly early-starting Shabbat (before 5.30pm).  Added to my usual chores, my parents asked me to hoover downstairs and I really needed to hoover my bedroom too.  I wanted to do some Torah study, particularly to prepare for tomorrow’s Talmud class, but my brain just isn’t working, so I’ve ended up watching Star Trek Voyager instead, which might not be sensible, but seems the best chance of getting though the day.

I’m going out for dinner to one of the people I sit with at shul (synagogue), along with the other person who sits with us and his wife.  The dinner should be OK, if I have the energy, as these are the people I feel most comfortable with in the community and two of them (the two men) have some idea of my issues.  Still, it is hard to do anything, let alone “peopling” again when I feel like this.

Not Understanding Myself

I had insomnia last night.  I realised just before going to bed that I’d forgotten to take my evening meds, which was doubtless why I was alert enough to work on my devar Torah (Torah thought) for two hours after dinner.  My meds aren’t sleeping tablets, but they do make me drowsy and I struggle to fall asleep without them.  I think I eventually fell asleep around 4.00am.  So it was even less of a surprise than usual that I woke exhausted and depressed again.

The weekly job email from CILIP (The Chartered Institute of Librarians and Information Professionals) comes out on Thursdays.  I found one job that’s potentially worth applying for, but that was all.  It’s easy to feel disheartened when there seem to be so few jobs that fit my skills, experiences and especially my needs for a safe, calm environment with few people and the ability to work only two or three days a week.

I emailed the therapist I used to see if I could see her again.  She says that she doesn’t think she can help me any more and that if I want more therapy I should look for a new therapist who might offer something new.  On one level, I can see that might be valid (I was with this therapist for something like eight years, which is a long time, particularly when there isn’t much of an improvement), but looking for a new therapist from scratch is scary, particularly given that the family finances are worse off than they were a few years ago, and the old therapist was probably charging less than a new one would charge.  The finance problem is partly because my father now only works part-time (my Mum has worked part-time for years), with the added complication that it looks like my Mum’s paid sick leave is going to be a lot less than we had hoped.

In the past in this situation I would have been very despairing.  That’s not how I feel, but that’s probably because I haven’t been in therapy for a year or so, so I know I’m coping on some level.  I do feel that it’s hard to unpick my emotions at the moment and understand them and that I would like to talk to a therapist, but I’m daunted by the thought of finding one, let alone one in the right and geographical area and price bracket.  At the moment I feel “depressed” and “anxious,” but am struggling to define and understand my emotions in more detail.  As someone who has become perhaps over-reliant on such therapeutic analysis, it is scary and difficult.  I know I’ve focused a lot on the forthcoming Jewish festivals of Purim and Pesach and the stress and mental health triggers around them as a target for worry, but maybe this is another case where what I overtly worry about is a proxy for something more nebulous and undefined, in this case issues about coping as an adult without my parents and the whole concept that my parents will die one day and I will be left alone, which connects with other issues (my autism assessment and benefits troubles; my relationship with E.; my relationships with my other family members).

I struggled a bit at depression group because of that.  I didn’t feel I understand myself well enough at the moment to say much that was meaningful.  Perhaps because of that, I felt that people asked a lot of questions to prompt me and I ended up with my conversation drifting in the direction of the questions.  It’s a criticism of myself rather than anyone else, but not really even of myself.  I simply didn’t know what to say and as nature abhors a vacuum, people guided me to say something.  Maybe I should have just signalled that we could move on.

I worry that some of my responses made me seem uncaring and incompetent, although it was really my autism that was the issue.  People asked how my family are coping and I didn’t really know, because autism means I can’t intuit how people are feeling unless they tell me, and it also means I don’t necessary think to ask people how they are feeling, certainly beyond the “how is your day going?” level.  I did ask my Mum how she was most days when she was first diagnosed, but I fell out of the habit.  I was also asked where my Mum is going to be treated and I couldn’t remember because my autism means I don’t remember a lot of stuff that my brain doesn’t label as important, and it has a different system of ranking importance to most people.  It doesn’t rank the name of the hospital as important, because I’m not going to have to go there myself, let alone go there alone, and I don’t have a special interest in hospitals, so my brain is quite happy just knowing that Mum is going to The Hospital without caring about which hospital it is (actually, it’s several hospitals for several treatments – that much did travel into my brain).

It’s a shame, as I wanted to go to depression group, but I don’t think I really had anything to say about how I’m feeling and I felt tense from being around people a lot of the time.

Shiur (religious class) got cancelled so I didn’t have to tell anyone that I was missing it to go to depression group.  This happened last time I was going to miss shiur for depression group too.  E. wondered if it was a sign that I shouldn’t tell anyone.  I’m not superstitious like that, but I wonder if the maths is against it.  Of the people in the WhatsApp group, three know a little bit about my depression, one knows I have some illness but not what it is and three I don’t think know anything. There are another two people who go who aren’t on WhatsApp so won’t see it.  It’s possible that the small numbers involved make this not worth worrying about.

I can see that if a lot of people at shiur and shul (synagogue) knew about my issues and were understanding that could lead to a big improvement in my life and in my relationship and comfort level with the community.  However, if they were not understanding then the reverse could happen.  Two of the people who know do seem to worry if I’m not in shul or shiur when normally I would be, which may be because they’re aware of the issues.  Other people don’t say anything.  So far no one who knows has said anything negative.  It is a bit of a conundrum.

Bad News, and Shoulds

At lunchtime I had bad news: that my Mum had been called to the hospital to get test results from last week (this is what I have been worried about, but not talking about here lately).

My Mum’s diagnosis was what we’ve been fearing for a couple of weeks, namely breast cancer.  My pessimism prepared me for this, but it still seemed like a shock and a worry.  The doctor said it’s “very treatable” which is good, but still scary.  Living with my parents means I can take on some of the burden of cooking and housework.

I just feel wiped out by all the anxiety I had yesterday and today.  Now I just feel numb and surprisingly shocked (more on general anxiety levels below).  I know that this is “very treatable,” that my parents have lots of friends who have survived cancer, as did my paternal grandfather (in his eighties!) and my sister’s mother-in-law.  Still, it is a worry as there is always the risk of the unexpected and certainly family life will be hugely disrupted for the next six months.

***

I was just about to go for a run when my Dad said my Mum had been called back to the hospital.  I still went, because I didn’t want to give in to anxiety, but my stamina was poor probably because I was worried.  I was glad that I was able to go.  I was also able to clean the microwave for her as she requested while she was out.  I managed half an hour of Torah study too.   So the day was not totally consumed by the test results, but obviously they drowned out the more positive aspects.

I spent over an hour after dinner fiddling with my non-fiction Doctor Who to self-publish it.  I couldn’t work out how to convert a Word document to a pdf (I can’t open the zip files Lulu.com recommends, even looking up how to open zip files without WinZip online) or how to delete the page number on the last page so that it meets distribution requirements.  I tried following these instructions, but all that did was weird things to the formatting of the other pages (so far as I could tell it seemed to be fiddling with the margins of the pages so that more text pages were needed for the same content so that if page 431 was the last page initially, suddenly there would be another ten pages and I was deleting the number on the wrong page; at any rate, if I tried deleting the last page number (441 now), all the page numbers disappeared).

I don’t know why simple stuff just always goes wrong for me.  I’ve had this “knack” of having stuff spontaneously go wrong for me since I was a young child, when my birthday and Chanukah presents would invariably be broken and have to be taken back to the shop.  Sometimes I feel cursed (not that I believe in such things).  It does seem that everything I touch goes wrong sometimes (analogous to the Pauli Effect).

I’m not sure what I’m going to do with the book.  It’s tempting to just abandon it, but I’ve invested goodness knows how many hours in it so that I need to keep trying, but I’m neglecting my novel, which has a chance (albeit not a very big one) of being sold commercially.

***

I decided to pause watching Star Trek Voyager for a day or two to watch Doctor Who as it’s better at cheering me up.  I decided I wanted to watch something no more than four episodes (old-style twenty-five minute episodes) long, more silly than serious and not a favourite (which would feel wasted while mood is low and concentration is poor).  I also decided on something with Jon Pertwee as the Doctor.  I’m not sure why I decided on that as he’s not a particular favourite.  Perhaps he’s a reassuring presence (let’s face it, he’s the Doctor you’d want to be with in a crisis) or perhaps I just wanted to watch something in that weird zone between seriousness and camp which so much Doctor Who sits in, but especially the Doctor Who of his era.  I ended up watching episode one of The Three Doctors, but I don’t know if I will watch the rest of it tonight as I intended.  I’m just drifting downwards into an abyss of depression, anxiety, nihilistic despair and self-loathing and don’t feel able to do much to get myself out of it.  I ate junk food yesterday (ice cream) and will probably do so again today, especially as Mum bought us Cadbury’s Creme Eggs a few days ago and I haven’t eaten mine yet.  Goodbye diet.  I drank Diet Coke today too, which I normally only do on Shabbat and at Thursday shiur when the water runs out.  The caffeine probably wasn’t good with anxiety and needing to sleep soon.

***

I woke up feeling super-anxious again like yesterday.  I felt a lot better after breakfast, but the anxiety restarted once Mum got called to the hospital at midday.  After that there was a mixture of anxiety and numbness, with some despair.  I feel like I’ve messed up my life and, whether it’s my fault or not, everything I touch seems to get ruined beyond repair: writing, career, friendships, relationships, even my religious life, which shouldn’t be susceptible to such entropy without neglect or wilful destruction.

I think anxiety for me can be linked to the “Shoulds” in my life that Ashley Leia commented about yesterday.  I tend to be most anxious when I think I’m in a situation where I have to break Jewish law or do something I see as unethical, particularly where I feel the only alternative is an argument with someone I’m close to, like my parents.  The problem is that I tend to view a lot of problems as fundamentally about morals or halakhah (Jewish law), even if it arguably isn’t the case.  Or perhaps I’m sensitive to aspects of morality that maybe most people are not sensitive to.  Obviously it is the nature of Orthodox Judaism to stress rules and ethics, but other people don’t seem to feel the same tension as I do, which may be because they are more settled within the community and have less issues in conforming to it and/or are less worried about alienating outsiders by practising Judaism.  (Of course, some people are able to compartmentalise their lives and strictly keep ritual law while massively neglecting ethical teachings, as many recent scandals have shown.)

Autistic black-and-white thinking can be an issue for me here too, assuming that my perspective is correct in all particulars when it may be only partially correct or even totally incorrect.  Likewise assuming that if my perspective is correct then my proposed actions must be correct too, which may also be incorrect (cf. Greta Thunberg).

For what it’s worth (and I’m not rating my opinion as being worth very much at the moment), I think I have been slightly less Should-focused lately, in terms of letting myself do various things that I wouldn’t do in the past.  It still is hard to accept that some things do not have to be Shoulds, though.  Incidentally, I write the word with a capital S here to show how important my Shoulds seem, but really they feel like SHOULDS – hugely important and demanding attention.

Sudden Sadnesses

It seems that I forgot to take my medication yesterday, morning and evening.  While I can believe I forgot the evening dose, as I was rushing to go to depression group, I’m a bit surprised I forgot the morning dose.  But it would explain why I was so anxious and despairing yesterday.  I do feel a lot better today.

It’s also worth noting that my parents are really proud of how well I’ve coped with things this week, the things I’ve written about here and the things I don’t think I should share yet, if at all.  They said that I’ve coped a lot better than they expected/feared.

There isn’t a lot left to say.  I was feeling OK today, but suddenly my mood will drop with no obvious trigger.  I feel quite sad at the moment, without really being sure why (possibly empathy for a friend whose family are going through a very tough time right now).  I hope I feel well enough later to get to shul (synagogue) tonight, because that is very important to me, even though I have been struggling with it lately.

Big events are happening in the geopolitical world and part of me would like to write about how that affects me emotionally, but I haven’t really got the time or, if I’m honest, the inclination.  Writing about my emotional response is likely to lead me sooner or later into writing about my political response, which I have no real wish to do.  Politics in general just seems so poisonous these days, although one can probably overstate it; I’m not convinced by arguments that global politics is as broken and dangerous as it was in the 1930s.

Crashing

I struggled with sleep again, mostly insomnia, but also waking a bit earlier than intended.  I got about five and a half hours in the end and dosed myself up on coffee this morning.  I got up extra-early because it was Rosh Chodesh (New Moon) and there was extra davening (prayers) although I only do I tiny amount of Shacharit (Morning Prayers) most days because of depression, excluding the days I’m too depressed to get up in time to daven Shacharit at all.

At work the people from the company who I wanted to speak to about setting up a library management system (LMS)/online catalogue (OPAC) phoned an hour early.  I was going to be super-ready for them, but because they phoned early the cleaner was hoovering in the library and I had to hurriedly find somewhere else to take the call, which probably didn’t seem very professional.  The call was short as they said what I expected: that the LMS/OPAC is really for larger libraries with larger budgets.

After that I made and laminated some signs for the library so that people can locate books now that I’ve moved things around a lot.  I also started looking at alternatives to the LMS and OPAC, using websites intended for individuals or small libraries to catalogue their collections for free or cheaply.  I think this is promising, although I’m not sure if we will be able to link easily to the institution’s website.  A bigger problem is that I doubt that either system can allow cataloguing in Hebrew, but I had a quick look around the library and I estimate the number of Hebrew (rather than bilingual) books is fairly small as a percentage of the whole library, so this may not be a big problem.  (EDIT: as I was writing I heard back that one of the sites does allow non-Latin alphabets, but the search function using them is not as thorough.)

The main issue is whether I have a job after this week.  I spoke to the benefactor who owns the library.  He seemed pleased with what I had done, but didn’t really look around or ask what I had actually been doing.  He said that he will only carry on paying for my salary if the institution as a whole contributes, so I’m currently waiting to hear what will happen.  I’m pessimistic as to whether they have the money or inclination to keep me on.  There isn’t any work to do on this phase of the plan (as opposed to if they keep me on to try to find a cataloguing solution), so at the moment I’m not going in on Wednesday.  The benefactor said to invoice for it anyway, which was nice.  I found the whole meeting awkward.  I was nervous and worried that I was incoherent.  I wasn’t entirely sure what he wanted to hear, and we were having the conversation while there was a shiur (religious class) going on across the room, so it was not under ideal conditions.

I feel pessimistic about the job and shouldn’t.  It is possible that the institution and the benefactor will come to an agreement about paying my salary.  Even if they don’t, I’ve had some good experience in writing proposals, planning, researching and executing a project unsupervised, as well as dealing with stakeholders and “difficult” library users (a classic interview question, so something to remember).

The pessimism has spread.  I feel more downbeat about my relationship with E. today, not the relationship itself, just whether we will ever manage to sort it out.  I still think we probably will, even if it takes years.  It’s hard to wait though and if we want children there’s a time limit (albeit not a very imminent one).  Although whether we could cope with children is yet another issue.

I am unsure whether I should try to go for Chartership (the next stage of librarianship).  I was going to try, but if I don’t have this job as experience, I’m not sure I will be able to complete the necessary amount of work in time and there is a fee just to start so I don’t really want to do that if I’m not going to get anywhere (annoyingly CILIP’s website doesn’t say how much the fee is).

I decided I couldn’t be bothered to return the defective second-hand CD I bought (case completely broken and a track I don’t even like doesn’t play properly, but it did download to iTunes so I can play it there).  Having spent well under £3 for it, including postage, it didn’t seem worth the bother and I could easily end up spending more to buy a replacement copy.  But it just feels like another thing going wrong.

Just to round the day off, I watched yesterday’s Doctor Who episode, which I didn’t watch on transmission because of the family dinner.  I thought it was awful.  A “laughing at” rather than “laughing with” episode.  And it could have been so good!  The ideas were potentially intriguing, if somewhat familiar from previous years.  Bear in mind that I quite like Arachnids in the UK, perhaps the Chibnall episode most like this*.  Meh.  I’m not enjoying this series at all, and I take no satisfaction in saying that, especially as I felt series eleven, while not great, was on the way to being something better and defended it against people who said it was “Too PC” or “boring history lessons.”  But everything that was interesting and innovative about that series seems to have been jettisoned and replaced with tired rehashes of Russell T Davies and Steven Moffat’s greatest hits.  (Although Heaven Sent and Hell Bent seem to have been forgotten as the Doctor is back to mere “thousands” of years old and Gallifrey is destroyed twice rather than three times, four if you count the novels.)

Doctor Who rant over!

***

Just generally speaking, today I feel that the world I live in is uncomfortable and just plain wrong, but as a student of history and a reader of science fiction, I’m not sure I know of any other worlds that are any better.  I feel that I just mess stuff up and that stuff I don’t mess up is messed up for me.

I’m not sure what to do with the evening, what’s left of it.  I’m too tired for extra Torah (I managed half an hour or so on the Tube in to work, but was too tired to do any on the way home) or work on my novel.  I might just watch Star Trek Voyager and hope it’s better than Doctor Who was, disloyal fan though that makes me feel.  I feel too depressed to do anything useful, and despairing about the future (work, E., life in general).  I’m not sure where this has suddenly come from.  I feel like I’m a bad person even though I don’t think I have evidence to substantiate that claim, or not enough to prove it to the extent that I feel.  I feel like I’m not going to keep this job or find a new one.  I feel that E. and I will never get things sorted no matter how hard we try.  I feel that my life never works out.  I have a physical health issue I won’t go into now (not hugely worrying, just irritating).  And I’ve just remembered there’s a super-scary thing happening this week that I’m really worried about that I can’t even write about here.

I just feel in a state suddenly.  I hate it when my mood suddenly plummets.  Somehow it seems my fault.  Like, I was OK (admittedly for a very poor definition of “OK”) a few minutes ago, so why can’t I stay OK like normal people?  OK isn’t even happy, just moderately OK for a bit.

My parents had a dinner party a few weeks ago and bought Ben and Jerry’s ice cream.  There’s been a load left in the freezer ever since and I haven’t eaten any because of my semi-diet.  E. said I had strong will-power.  That may change…

***

One amusing thing today: I read a news article too quickly and for a moment I thought that the Labour leadership frontrunner Sir Keir Starmer was advocating a system of government “built on the principle of feudalism.”  This seemed shocking and unlikely, but after the last five years I wasn’t ruling anything out as impossible.  Perhaps fortunately, on re-reading it turned out that I had misread “federalism.”  This is a shame, as I was hoping for a new career as a knight errant.

 

* Admittedly my favourite bit from that episode only happened in my head.  When the Doctor asks Robertson, “Are all your hotels built on repurposed sites?” he answers, “No, some of them are built on Native American graveyards.”  It’s my headcanon and I’m sticking to it.

Bits and Pieces

The big news today is that the Jewish institution is going to phone tomorrow about my working there.  I’m guessing they want to negotiate something as they haven’t sent a straightforward yes/no email, although I could be wrong.  I asked them not to phone in the morning as I have a workshop then.  Since hearing, I’ve been feeling quite anxious, which is probably understandable, but might also stem from not being able to use my SAD light box for long today.  I’m also feeling somewhat depressed for the same reason, plus also because I’m wondering if E. and I will ever manage to get our lives sorted out enough to date again, let alone whether we’re right for each other.  I guess it’s good to know that she cares about me even if we aren’t technically together.

I had insomnia again, then slept too long and struggled to get up again.  I’m not sure where this insomnia has suddenly come from or, perhaps more accurately, why my antidepressants don’t knock me out the way they used to do.

I seem to have lost about 1kg of weight, which is good.  I just hope I really have lost it, as my weight can fluctuate.  Also, sometimes I don’t remember to weigh myself until after breakfast, which confuses things.  Of course, it’s nearly Chanukah, which is a super-fattening festival (potato latkes and doughnuts).  I don’t think I can forego the festive doughnuts!

The wifi problem has reached rock bottom.  It’s almost impossible for my computer to connect to our router from anywhere except right next to it, even though it can often locate the router of our neighbours two doors down, including when it can’t locate our router.  I have no idea how that works.  I want someone to look at it, but I suspect I’m going to need a new computer sooner rather than later.  My Dad wants to buy a power booster before we call anyone in to look at it.  I am ashamed to say that I argued with him about this, as it seemed obvious to me that that was a waste of time and money (why would only my computer have trouble connecting if it was a general wifi problem?  And why would it suddenly relatively recently rather than when we moved in four years ago?).  Sometimes it’s hard for me to tell the difference between arguing my case and autistic rigid thinking.

I finished the first draft of chapter three of my novel.  It’s not great, but it’s a start.  I’ve now written over 10,500 for the novel, which is good.

Tonight is the last of this series of Tuesday shiurim and then I need to get up early (about 7.30am) to go to an interview skills workshop, which will hopefully be easier than the last one, although doubtless there will be some scary mock-interview stuff to get through.  I spoke up at the shiur almost for the first time.  I had answered one or two questions in the past,  but only small things.  Here I ventured more of an opinion.  The shiur was on the Tower of Babel, looking at interpretations through the millennia from the Targumim (Aramaic translations) through the Midrash (ancient rabbinic expansions of the biblical story) to Medieval and modern commentaries.  This week we looked at the story modern Jewish religious works, but also in modern literature and art, including a short story by one of my favourite authors, Franz Kafka (The City Coat of Arms).  My contribution, after other people had spoken about the despair and futility evoked by the work, was to say that I found it quite funny.  I told the story that Kafka claimed to have read some of The Trial to his family consumed with laughter while they sat in stony-faced incomprehension and said I felt a bit the same here.  I meant it as a joke, but I worry it might not have been interpreted that way.  I did explain that I thought that the humour was the flip-side of the futility; either you laugh at the absurdity of the world or you fall into despair.  I didn’t say that I usually fall on the ‘despair’ side, which may be why I can find Kafka funny.

It would be a good thing if I could participate more in shiurim and classes and things, but I’m still held back a lot by social anxiety.

Life is Hard

I haven’t got time to blog at length today, and I wouldn’t go into more detail about this in public anyway because it’s not my story to tell, but – why is life so hard?  You try to be nice to people and certainly not to hurt anyone, but then life puts you in a situation where someone – a genuinely good person – will get hurt whatever you do and all you can do is try damage limitation.

Life is really tough sometimes.

Anxiety and Martyrdom Complexes

I saw a psychiatrist today for review.  It was a new psychiatrist; I think the last one is off sick.  Whatever the reason, turnover on the NHS is high and I’ve seen loads of psychiatrists.  I did have one who I saw for several years, but she was the exception.  I mentioned to her that my depression has worsened in the last few weeks.  Neither of us felt that changing medication is an appropriate response at the moment as I’m almost on the highest dose of clomipramine (my main antidepressant) and cutting anything (I’m on three different psychiatric medications) just makes things worse.  We spoke a bit about the effect of unemployment on my mental state and she said she could potentially refer me to somewhere that could help, but we’re not doing that for the moment as it seems that there isn’t much they can offer that isn’t being offered by the two organisations I’m already in touch with.  I also spoke a little bit about being on the waiting list for autism diagnosis, but there isn’t much that can be done about that.

To be honest, I have these reviews every quarter or so and the main reason I go is so that if my mood suddenly gets worse (even worse than currently), I’m on the system and can see someone easily, rather than having to be referred again by my GP, which is a lot of hassle and also slow.  I feel somewhat guilty about wasting NHS resources, especially as one of the bloggers I follow was complaining about lack of NHS resources today, but, as I mentioned the other day, I feel that this is the system I’m in and it’s acceptable to make the most of it.  I do believe in public healthcare, but I think the centralised model of the NHS dates from an era of confidence in central planning that is now long past.  If you were building a public health infrastructure from scratch today, you would not build something like the NHS (as is often stated, the NHS is respected worldwide, but almost never imitated).

Plus, I do believe that with the best will in the world, the NHS will always be overstretched.  If something is free, the demand, economically speaking, is potentially infinite.  If someone was giving out free bars of chocolate, you would potentially take as much as you could, limited mainly by the room you have to store it and the expiry date.  People aren’t going to request chemotherapy without needing it, but potentially many treatments could be over-prescribed to people who want help, but don’t urgently need it (similar to the over-prescription issue with antibiotics).  If they had to pay for it directly, they probably would not get it, being deterred by even a nominal price, but they will take any help that is free.  In an egalitarian, free-at-point-of-use system, it is hard (legally as well as practically) to discriminate between people who urgently need help and those who could benefit from some help, but are not in urgent need.  There is some prioritising of the very needy on the NHS (I think at the discretion of the GP referring the patient, which makes it open to abuse or at least inconsistency), but if you do not need help very urgently you just go on the waiting list with a bunch of people who need help significantly, moderately and perhaps only slightly.

Beyond this,  psychiatry and psychotherapy are incredibly labour intensive (one patient per therapist per hour for therapy; three or four patients per psychiatrist per hour) and requires highly-trained (and therefore expensive) psychiatrists therapists.  Mental illness is common and even people with mild mental health issues could potentially benefit from therapy (to be honest, even some people without a diagnosable condition could benefit from therapy, if money was no object) .  The result is that mental healthcare is always going to be overstretched, until we find a way either to significantly improve human psychological resilience or overcome our limited resources.  It is, however, not politically correct to say this.  Everyone (I mean politicians and commentators of all stripes) buys into the idea that, if only there was more money and less wastage, the NHS would be fine.

The appointment was not particularly long, but I finished exhausted, which was perhaps not the best setup for what happened next…

***

I started to fill in the application form for the school teaching assistant position.  The form is ten pages long, and they still want a cover letter on top of that (to be fair, I don’t think the form has any sections not in standard job application forms; I’m just used to filling them in online where the length isn’t immediately obvious).  I got completely overwhelmed by anxiety and despair.  I feel both overqualified and under-qualified.  Overqualified, because they’re really not expecting someone with an MA to apply for this type of job (to be fair, if I did get the job, I would consider using it as a step towards becoming a qualified teacher).  Under-qualified because I have minimal experience with children and am considering this role primarily because other people think I’m good with children, which is not necessarily the best way to be going about things.  I don’t feel that I’m particularly good with children, although when I do have positive interactions with young children I do find that restoring rather than draining.  But I don’t have those types of interactions (or any interactions, really) all that often.  Plus, I’m not at all sure I could cope with a noisy classroom, autism-wise.  From that point of view special needs teaching, which is often one-on-one, might be better, but I don’t know how to get qualified for that or how to tell if I’m at all suited.

I really feel that this is a bad idea, but I don’t know what else to do about it, especially as everyone around me is saying that it is a brilliant idea.  The frustrating thing is that this job is literally around the corner from where I live.  My commute would be a walk of under ten minutes!  And it’s a Jewish school too.  I don’t know what to do.  I’m thinking of writing to the school I’m applying to and asking if I could volunteer as a teaching assistant for a couple of weeks and see how it goes.  My Mum has also suggested speaking to a friend of hers who is a primary school teacher (and who has apparently been saying for years that I would be a good Jewish primary school kodesh (Jewish studies) teacher).

***

Other stuff is going by the wayside to try and work on this application, and a couple of librarian applications.  “Other stuff” being applying for unemployment benefits and working on my novel.  This time of year is always crazy for religious Jews, with so many festivals in such a short space of time leading to cramming too much stuff (work and other essential activities and chores) into the other days, but I had hoped to make some progress with the novel.

***

I’m not sure whether to write this, as it concerns someone else as well as me, but it’s mainly to criticise myself.  I got annoyed with my Dad for something.  When I decided to contact the school to see if I can volunteer as a teaching assistant, he said I should phone them rather than email and I got annoyed with him.  Like many autistic people, I hate using the phone.  It makes me anxious and I get confused about what to say, when to say it and when and how to end the conversation.  My Dad knows I hate phoning, yet he continually tells me to phone people when I say I intend to email them.  I don’t know why he does this.  I know he says you get an immediate response on the phone, which is true, and that some people don’t answer emails, but email leaves you with a paper trail, which is also useful and the bottom line is that phoning panics me enough that I will procrastinate to extremes, whereas writing an email is (somewhat) less procrastination-inducing.

I just feel bad about getting annoyed with Dad and shouting at him as one of my three Jewish new year’s resolutions was to try to shout at my Dad less and get angry with him less often.  I used to get on well with him, but in the last few years, we clash more and more often. I think his personality has changed quite a bit in recent years and I don’t know why.  I have some ideas, but I can’t go into them here.  I also feel more assertive about saying I have issues from autism now that I have done a lot of reading on it and realise that some of my quirks/difficulties are well-known symptoms of autism, whether it is failing to follow implicit instructions or to take initiative, forgetting verbal instructions and being somewhat pedantic and literal (all points of conflict with Dad).

I know he isn’t going to change and that if I want to improve things, I need to change things myself, but I don’t know how, especially as autistic facial expressions and tone of voice have historically been responsible for me getting into arguments with all my family quite unintentionally i.e. people assume I’m angry when I’m not.  My resolution was to pause before responding to him, but it’s hard to remember that in the heat of the moment and obviously I completely failed to do it here.

***

One last thought: at shiur (religious class) today, the shiur rabbi was saying that, at this time of year (Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur/Jewish New Year and Day of Atonement) we should not ask for health, prosperity etc., which we might not use correctly, but rather to be able to serve God in a way without suffering/with health, prosperity etc., but with the emphasis on serving God, not the suffering-free life.  I have a horrid feeling that the reason I can’t deal with my issues is that, on some unconscious level, I don’t want to serve God without suffering, either from self-loathing or a martyrdom complex.