Despatches from the Front Line 9

I’m just back from a run.  I had music going, but I spent most of the time brooding on loneliness.  I think I’m angsting about being lonely to avoid angsting about Pesach (Passover), which is one week away and I still have some big questions that I can’t get hold of a rabbi to ask.

I have a post about loneliness out on Hevria.com tomorrow, so I don’t want to go into this too much (anyway, someone told me this week that I write too much about how depressed I am…).  I don’t want to fall into the trap of saying, “If I have X, I will be happy” because usually if you aren’t happy without X, you won’t be happy with it.  You need to be happy in yourself and I am very much not happy in myself.  Still, IF I ever manage to be happy in  myself, I think I would still want the following to live a happy and fulfilled life:

one wife who loves me and who is willing to let me love her;

two good friends who I can talk to about my geeky and cultural interests and about Jewish things (probably some overlap here with my wife, who I would want to be my best friend, but I’m assuming that, given that the number of single frum geeky women (worldwide, let alone in the UK) is vanishingly small, it’s best not to assume my wife will share many or even any of my outside interests);

three happy, healthy children.

Add in my parents and  my sister and I think I only need a total of nine people close to me in my life, which is not very many.  I’ve largely given up on being accepted into a wider community, religious or geeky.  Throw in a reasonably engaging job that earns me enough money to support the wife and kids with a small amount over for occasional luxuries and also some joy and meaning in my religious life, which lately (lately?  For years) has been lacking both and that’s basically all I want out of life.  It doesn’t seem much to ask, but so far it is proved completely beyond my reach.  The problem is, I do not have a clue how to set realistic targets to reach it.  I have poor social skills (the borderline Asperger’s and borderline social anxiety cause problems here) and am very bad at talking to people, particularly to strangers.  I don’t know how to make friends at all, let alone to find a wife.

Despatches from the Front Line 8 (Too Niche)

I broke up with my date, if “broke up” is the right term to use after only two dates.  It was understandable, as we had very little in common in terms of interests, although our personalities seemed quite similar.  I was probably blinded by the excitement of dating for the first time in four years and didn’t really see the problem looming.

I think that after Pesach, when I’m settled in my new job, I will go to a shadchan (professional matchmaker).  I feel embarrassed about this, although it is the normal way of dating in the frum (Orthodox Jewish religious) world.  I do worry that I won’t be able to find someone, partly because of my mental health issues, but mostly because of my weird interests.  As my sister said to me yesterday, “You are quite niche.”  My interests are fairly unusual in general, doubly so for a frum person.  There are maybe 1-2 million frum Orthodox Jews in the world, mostly living in Israel and the USA.  I don’t know how many geeks there are in the world, but it is also a fairly small community and the overlap between the two communities seems to be very small (even before you start subdividing between people who have different frum outlooks and people who like different geeky things – I have no interest in video games, for example).

To be honest, I would be tempted to give up, the whole dating thing as too much pain and too little chance of happiness, were it not that the thought of maybe possibly meeting someone who is right for me one day seems too satisfying to throw it away now.  Maybe in another five or ten years.  Although I don’t really know what being married is like, I’ve only had one, relatively short-lived relationship, and that was good at first but turned bad.  Maybe marriage wouldn’t be so good after all, especially as I don’t really trust myself to make the right choice, given my loneliness and nervousness prompts me to make bad decisions (like telling someone I “really like you” on a second date) and I have had crushes on wildly inappropriate people before.

The frustrating thing is I feel I have a lot of love to give someone, and I come with a few plus points (gentle, caring, intelligent, honest, loyal, in touch with my emotions (too much so…), good listener (according to my Mum anyway; I’m not so sure), good with children (ditto), willing and able to cook, clean and launder…), it’s just frustrating that I can’t find anyone willing to receive that love.

Despatches from the Front Line 7

Spring is a time of change and renewal and this year there are multiple changes, not all of which I am ready to share here yet.  Pesach (Passover) preparation is underway and the OCD is already trying to make me feel anxious about it.  I am just about holding on, with exactly two weeks to go.  I hope I feel like this in three weeks’ time.

I start my new job immediately after Pesach.  That’s just a huge, scary unknown at the moment, with nothing of substance to write about here.  I’m hoping it will be good.  I’m a bit anxious about a lot of things connected with it of varying degrees of likelihood, from my ability to do the job, to the fear that I will encounter antisemitism in the workplace or the trip in to work.

There’s another potentially big change on the way that I am reluctant to write about here, but it is very much up in the air at the moment anyway.

Then there is dating.  I have had two dates now and don’t know how things are going.  I am not good at social interactions at the best of times and think I accidentally came on stronger than I intended at the second date, trying to be light-hearted, but sounding flirtatious and making the Freudian slip of saying “I really like you” when I did not mean to put it so strongly.   Because of this I thought I would give my date space for a few days before calling her again, but it’s hard.  I feel there’s a spark there – nothing more definite at the moment, but the potential of something positive in the future, but I don’t know how my date feels about me.  I opened up a bit about  my mental health and she was understanding, so that at least is good.

Looking back at my last post, I see I have mostly covered the same ground.  Perhaps things are not changing quite as fast as I thought/feared.  Or maybe it just shows the same thoughts and anxieties going round and round in my head.

Despatches from the Front Line 6

I haven’t written much this last week.  This is not because nothing is happening; on the contrary, my life seems to have sped up enormously over the last month and is set to continue to do so.  I’m in the last few weeks at my current job, preparing to start my new job soon, Pesach (Passover) is now well and truly on the way and – well, I’ve started dating someone new.  I have not dated many women and I hadn’t been on a date for four years, so that was quite exciting and, frankly, a bit terrifying.  Our first two dates went well, but I’m still terrified that something will go wrong, not least because I felt I said the wrong thing today (I tried to say something reassuring and think it came out like flirting, which wasn’t my intention).

Oh dear, I didn’t mean to write about my dates and somehow it has come out anyway!  It’s really on my mind at the moment – I just wish I could look into a crystal ball and know what will happen.  But life doesn’t work like that: I don’t believe in fortune tellers and I don’t believe it’s healthy to want to know the future like that.  But it is tempting!

The point I was trying to make is that my blog might be on hold for a while as I deal with some of these other things.  I think the “Despatches from the Front Line” posts will probably continue, as they are relatively quick and easy ot write and help me to vent my difficult feelings a bit (hence writing about dating anxieties).  Judging by the number of likes, they seem to be the most popular part of the blog anyway, so maybe that’s not a bad thing.  I’ll see in a month or so how things will work out, once Pesach is out of the way, I have started my new job and perhaps I have a clearer idea of how some other things in my life are going.

Despatches from the Front Line 4 (Purim Day)

Continued from the last post.

I could not sleep last night.  I got to bed late anyway, after 1am, but my mind was full of thoughts about yesterday evening and anxieties about today and my date next week.  Eventually I realized I was not going to sleep and got up and Doctor Who-ed to calm my mind down, finally falling asleep some time around 2.20am.

I could not sleep in this morning, though, as I wanted to get to an early Shacharit (morning  service) and Megillah (Book of Esther) reading.  I managed to do this, getting up at 6.50am (on a Sunday!).  It mostly went well, but I had a bit of an OCD panic.  One is supposed to hear every single word of the Megillah and while I had heard every word, my mind drifted at one point and one word didn’t register properly – I heard it, but I didn’t register what it was until my reading caught up a second later.  I initially thought this was OK, but by the time I got home afterwards I was caught in the spiral of OCD doubt and was ready to find a later reading to hear it all again.  Fortunately, I decided to phone my rabbi first to check if this repetition was necessary and he assured me that everyone’s mind drifts during the reading and it is enough to have been there and heard every word.  Even so, part of me felt, “Maybe I didn’t ask the question properly.  Maybe I should go to another reading to be sure”, but I have been playing the OCD game long enough to know that there is no escape that way.  If I went to another reading, I would surely find another problem to make me think that I had not fulfilled the mitzvah (commandment).  This is the tricky thing about OCD, the way it tells you that you are doing the right thing, that you can never be too careful.  Give in just once and you are laying yourself open to an endless cycle of doubt and checking.  I have been trying very hard lately not to ask a rabbi a question unless I am quite sure that there is a legitimate doubt about what I should do and certainly only to ask the question once, not repeating the question because I think I have not explained myself properly or that I have not been understood.  I tell myself that asking a rabbi creates a halakhic (legal) reality; my job is to follow the ruling I have been given, not to second-guess the rabbi who gave it.  This is hard, but it is the only way to beat the OCD cycle.

There was then a sombre interval, when we found out that my great-aunt had died.  I did not know her particularly well, but my Dad was close to her and especially to my great-uncle (who died about a year ago).  This cast a shadow over the day.

I then managed to go to a Purim seudah (meal/party) with my sister, her boyfriend, her flatmate and various other people.  I had been at Oxford with a couple of people there and as I have mentioned in previous posts, I was worried that they would remember me negatively as aloof and standoffish (although I was actually desperately shy and depressed).  At any rate, they either did not remember me or did not think negatively of me.  I surprised myself by joining in the conversation a lot, even cracking a couple of well-received jokes and my jester’s hat proved a great hit (fancy dress being a Purim tradition dating from the Middle Ages).  It was an extremely positive experience, setting me up well for my blind date next week by making me feel that I can talk to strangers.

Now I’m slowly coming down, hoping that I won’t crash, either tonight or tomorrow morning, which is possible (what I call a mental hangover, when socializing or other activity one day leads to a worsening of the depression and lethargy the next).  Hopefully this is a sign of improvements in my mental health and ability to socialize that I will be able to build on in the future.

Despatches from the Front Line 3 (Purim Evening)

“In the party of the universe, the Doctor was the sad one on the stairs.” Doctor Who: The New Adventures – The Death of Art Simon Bucher Jones (quoted from memory as I don’t have time to look it up!)

Having got my anxiety and despair in early (on this blog and last night), Purim tonight was surprisingly good.  Not amazing, but better than expected.

I heard the Megillah (Book of Esther) and only right at the very end did I have some OCD anxiety about whether I had fulfilled my obligation by listening to every single word, as halakhah (Jewish law) requires.  On Friday evening, the person I know best at the shul (synagogue) encouraged me to stay for the party afterwards.  I refused initially, but he asked again tonight and I decided to stay when he said that they would like me to and that I could pay later (I think I mentioned last week that I wanted to go to the party, but I procrastinated over it and it sold out before I had bought ticket).

I stayed at the party for an hour or so.  There were circus performers doing tricks, which was entertaining.  Then there was food and the opportunity to learn basic circus tricks (juggling, stilt walking etc.).  I was too shy to do this, but I ate a lot of junk food.  No one really spoke to me and I was too shy to speak to anyone, but I was OK with the crowd (I am often bad with crowds, a mixture of borderline Asperger’s and borderline social anxiety) and watched the children learning to juggle and spin plates for a while.  After three quarters of an hour or so I started to feel lonely and to feel left out, especially as I was one of the few (possibly the only) adult there without either spouse or children.  It might not have been so bad if people had spoken to me, or if I was confident enough to speak to them.  I stayed another quarter of an hour to get my money’s worth and to avoid seeming rude and then I came home (and promptly had to go back when I was halfway home as I’d left my Megillah behind!).  It was OK and I didn’t feel too lonely, but sometimes it is hard to be single in a community where almost everyone marries very young.  There was someone I was at school with there, now a rabbi, who was with his five or six year old daughter, so he’s obviously been married seven or eight years.  It is hard to avoid feeling inferior sometimes (about the fact that he’s a rabbi as well as the fact that he’s married with children).

The letter from the psychiatrist after my review last week arrived today, so hopefully tonight I can increase the dose of my clomipramine, which will hopefully help the depression and OCD.  Tomorrow is the second Megillah reading if I can get up in time, as well as  a Purim seudah (meal/party) in the afternoon; I got my sister to get me an invitation to the seudah that her friends are co-hosting, which I feel a bit bad about, especially as a lot of the people there will be people who I was at Oxford with and I am afraid that they think I was rude for not talking to them when I was there, although in reality I wanted to talk to them, I was just depressed and shy.

Despatches from the Front Line 2

I think I’ve alluded to the fact that one of my bad habits is writing attention-seeking, drama queening comments on Hevria.com.  I don’t know why, probably a combination of the fact that they turned me down when I wanted to be one of their regular writers and the fact that I like the people there a lot and would love to be their friend (I sort of am internet friends with some of them), and I don’t have a clue how to communicate with people I like (see: borderline Asperger’s again), particularly when we have differences as well as similarities and particularly when I admire them to the point of envy (please God don’t let them read this.  Or maybe they should, what do I know?).  Anyway, this is what I want to write right now.  I haven’t written it there, so maybe I’m getting better, but I’ve written it here, so maybe not:

I’m sorry that I wrote these comments.  I really want to hurt myself right now.  REALLY hurt myself.  With blood and pain and screaming.  Because I deserve it.  Because I want to feel that I’m alive.  Because I hate myself.  Because I want to stop the self-hating voices in my head and only physical pain stops emotional pain.  I love all of you and I’m very sorry.  Really I am.  I’m sorry I’ve ruined your lovely site.

I write this as a sort of time capsule or snapshot of my mind.  Maybe one day I will look back on things like this and they won’t seem a part of me any more.  Maybe one day I will have real-life friends and relationships instead of one-sided online “friendships”.

Also, I can see that the italicized words in this post are more emotional than the other paragraphs.  Stylistically, they are different.  The other paragraphs are more objective than the italicized ones.  Sometimes I can step outside myself and look back at what is going on in my head and diagnose it and see the childhood and adolescent experiences it is rooted in and understand what I have to do to move on.  But it doesn’t stop the pain.  It never stops the pain.