Celestial Intervention

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

***

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

***

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

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

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

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I Have No Idea What to Call This Post And Don’t Have Time to Think About It (1.5 Hours to Shabbat)

I’ve had feedback from both the friends I wrote to about writing.  What they wrote seems really useful, but also daunting.  I suppose if it was easy, they wouldn’t have to pay people to do it.  I fee like I’m drowning in self-disbelief (is that a word?  The opposite of self-belief).  I struggle to see myself writing professionally.  Yet I want to write.  Writing feels like it’s the only thing I’m any good at.  (Despite having ended that last sentence with a preposition.)  And it’s restoring for me rather than draining, which is unlike most things.  I think I need to find a way to start small and build confidence.  The actual writing is less of a problem than finding the right market and submitting ideas and articles and coping with rejection, not to mention the social anxiety that stops me from making contact with publishers for fear of saying or doing the wrong thing.  I did try to pitch an idea to a geeky website once and didn’t even get a response.  I don’t know if the idea was bad or I just pitched it badly.

I do feel a certain excitement about the thought of writing professionally that I haven’t felt with librarianship for a while.  The other thing I take from the experience of writing these emails is that two people who have never met me in person and just know me from my writing took a lot of time to respond to my emails which indicates (a) that they think my writing is fairly good and (b) I must, on some level, be a likeable person.

I keep positive emails from friends and blog comments in an email folder.  Periodically I print them out, so I can see them at times when my computer is off.  I printed some out today as I wanted to see them over Yom Tov earlier in the week and thought I might want them over Shabbat (I don’t use my computer on Shabbat and Yom Tov).  That does help to boost my confidence a little, at least when I remember to read them.  In the past I’ve had them blue tacked to my wardrobe doors, but after a while I stopped noticing them.

I went for a haircut.  I shook.  I feel a bit upset about that, even though it’s not my fault.  The shaking is a medication side-effect, but it was worst when the barber moved my head about rather roughly, which suggests that it is related to social anxiety and autistic problems with being touched.

On a purely materialistic level, a new graphic novel I pre-ordered ages ago and the publication of which was then much delayed finally arrived today (The Clockwise War, the latest Doctor Who Magazine comic collection).  Doctor Who Magazine comics tend to read better in one or two sittings than a handful of pages a month, particularly when they have long and complicated story arcs like this one, so I’ve been looking forward to this.

Merely Existing

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

***

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

***

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

Speaking a Dead Language

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

Victimhood

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

***

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

***

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

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

***

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

***

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

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

***

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

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

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

Tired of Life, But Afraid of Trying

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

***

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

***

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

***

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

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

***

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

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

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

Mental Health Day

I’m feeling quite depressed and overwhelmed today.  I have the feeling that I get when very depressed, that my brain has been removed and replaced with cotton wool.  I’m not sure how else to describe it.

I feel a bit anxious and catastrophising about dating, but more confused than anything.  But I’m reluctant to talk too much about that here either.  I don’t mind talking about my feelings about dating and relationships when I’m not seeing anyone, but somehow it seems wrong to do it when I’m actually dating.

I found another job to apply for, but I’m just feeling too depressed right now to tackle the application, especially as I’m not sure that I really have the skills they want.  I’m also feeling overwhelmed by things at home, both the long list of chores and other things that need doing as well as by the piles of unread books and graphic novels I want to get through.  I’m not reading a lot at the moment, thanks to a mixture of depressive poor concentration and motivation.  Unemployment also plays a part, as I read most while commuting, although in the last few months depression has reduced that too and sometimes I sit listening to music or just staring into space feeling anxious, depressed and/or exhausted.

I didn’t want to waste the day, so I worked on my Doctor Who book, passing up watching Blake’s 7 in favour of redrafting/editing the longest chapter and trimming about a thousand words.  I still worry that the book is over-length and doesn’t say enough new things.  I would like to send out copies of some chapters to friends to see what they think, but of the friends who I might send it to, two are thoroughly over-worked at the moment and another two are in the midst of a major family trauma, so I don’t like to ask any of them.  Another one is probably overworked, but I haven’t seen him for a number of years (although we have emailed a little) so asking for help out of the blue seems a bit much.  He’s a rabbi, so he’s probably over-worked too.  Pretty much all congregational rabbis are.

Of course, then I feel the pressure of having to watch Jodie Whittaker’s episodes again and write an analysis of them.  I know I will enjoy doing that, but I had been planning to spend a few weeks watching Blake’s 7 so it feels like something external disrupting my schedule.  I suppose there isn’t really a hurry, as the third draft is going much faster than I predicted, it’s just that the autistic part of me hates my plans being disrupted.  Still, it’s pretty obvious from this (by “this” I mean from not being able to job hunt or really feel like doing anything, but still being able to redraft and enjoy it on some level and even to pass up vegetating in front of the TV to do it) that I should be trying to find more ways to get paid for my writing as it’s the only thing in my life that I feel even vaguely good about.

Things Done Today

Things done today:

  1. Tried, for the third day running, to apply for a job at a particular institution, struggled to describe how I meet the criteria, procrastinated, decided the job is at too high a level for my experience and gave up both disappointed and relieved;
  2. Spoke to my rabbi mentor, a conversation in which I felt I did not really express myself clearly or describe my anxieties;
  3. Wrote a blog post that somehow got out of hand and turned much more political than I usually feel comfortable posting here;
  4. Did about thirty minutes of Torah study;
  5. Went for a fairly brisk thirty-five minute (or so) walk;
  6. Redrafted another chapter of my Doctor Who book, the first chapter in this draft about which I haven’t had a vague sense of unease.

I feel that today was frustrating, although I can see I did some good things, especially points four to six.  I just feel that I should be able to do more, the background level of mild depression notwithstanding.  There are so many little (and big) chores that I need to do that just get pushed away constantly, so many religious and family obligations that I feel I’m not meeting and I wish I had more time to spend on my writing.  Or maybe it’s that I wish I could give myself permission to spend more time on my writing.  I’m not sure that “redrafting” is quite the right word for what I’m doing with the text of my book either; I’m deleting material and making slight changes, but, so far, nothing very significant.  That’s probably a sign I’m either doing very well or missing something very wrong.

The DVD of the latest series of Doctor Who arrived, which I wanted anyway, but bought more urgently when I realised I probably should write a chapter on it for my book.  I think that it’s too early to really judge this new era, but I suspect a publisher would want me to make the book as up-to-date as possible and any new fans attracted to the programme by Jodie Whittaker will want something on her Doctor.  Plus, omitting it leaves me open to the accusation that I don’t see the female Doctor as ‘real’ Doctor Who, which is not the case.  I am still on the lookout for a cheap copy of Resolution to bring my collection of TV Who up to date, although I suspect I will have to fork out the full price if I want it in the next month or two.  £13.99 for an hour of so-so TV seems a bit much.  I think it’s still on iPlayer, but I’m a completist (arguably I get what I deserve if that’s the case, but that’s an argument for another time).

Careers, Autistic Organisation, Yom HaShoah and the Half-Life of a Blog

A rather long and varied post today, as it’s been a long day.  Here goes…

I had a phone interview with someone from a recruitment agency that specialises in library and information roles.  It seemed to go OK, apart from her suggesting I change something on my CV that she found inadvertently misleading, which made me feel foolish.  I don’t know why I feel such an idiot when people point out my mistakes, especially as in this case I don’t think what I wrote really was misleading.  I always feel inadequate when talking about my work experience and I fear that people will ask about the gaps on my CV or somehow intuit that I’m wondering if I’m in the right career.  And of course any personal interaction brings fears that because of my autism I’m saying too much or too little or saying the wrong thing, things that neurotypical people would manage more intuitively than I can do.  To my relief she was actually positive when I said I was ideally looking for part-time work for health reasons, as she said that those roles can be hard to fill, as most people are looking for full-time work.  The jobs she wants to put me up for now are full-time, though.

The woman who interviewed me was nice, but I always find interviews stressful and I couldn’t do any real work immediately afterwards, just processed some emails and went for lunch to recover.  Even after lunch I was procrastinating and found it hard to get down to job hunting.  It doesn’t help that looking at job specs for corporate law librarian work doesn’t fill me with enthusiasm.  I’m really just applying for these on the off chance, without relevant experience or much interest.  I just want to feel like I’m doing something, and if I waited only for jobs that I was enthusiastic about, I feel I would be waiting a long time.

Filling in job applications is almost impossible.  I did fill in a couple of simple forms, but I should have done more.  (I know people say I use ‘should’ too much and should (ha ha) be more compassionate on my self, but it’s hard when I achieve so little.)  I wasn’t feeling so depressed today, but something about these applications makes me feel depressed and I procrastinate or feel like crying.  It doesn’t help that the application I’m currently filling in (for a job at the library of a major public sector organisation) is, realistically, for a job that is far above me (the salary is about £10,000 more than I’ve been earning), so I don’t have the experience and skills they are asking for, but having told myself to fill it in, it seems wrong to back out, so I stick with it, trying to find examples of my relevant professional skills.  (It doesn’t help that I don’t always have great recall for things that don’t interest me, like work.  If ever there’s a job application that requires knowing a lot of trivia about Doctor Who, I’ll cope much better.)  But I keep getting distracted by aimless internet browsing or reading Alex or Cul de Sac comics.  Maybe I should just accept that this isn’t the job for me and give up?  But I hate giving up on things.

***

I stopped working on my Doctor Who book for a couple of weeks because of Pesach, but I’ve returned to it now.  I redrafted two chapters this week.  It’s frustrating that somehow the prose doesn’t flow as I would like, although I’ve never liked reading my own writing.  I’m always surprised that so many people have said they like my writing.  Of course, it isn’t the kind of book one would buy for the style.

I worry that it’s overlong too.  I’ve cut it down, but it’s still slightly too long, at least according to this site (which admittedly is about novels, not this particularly niche brand of non-fiction).  I’m about halfway through the third draft and ideally I would like to send out chapters to a couple of friends to look at before I try the fourth draft (somehow I’ve got the idea in my head that four drafts is about right.  I think Terry Pratchett and Steven Moffat have both said something about doing four drafts).  However, I’m wary of asking people.  Partly it’s that I don’t always take criticism well (I tend to catastrophise and assume that my work is unbearably rubbish if someone makes even a constructive suggestion), but mostly it’s that I know everyone is busy and doesn’t have time to do unpaid consultancy work, especially as the friends who I think would be most willing to help have serious real-world concerns at the moment and I don’t want to bother them with this.  So I’m not sure what to do about that.

Nevertheless, I am generally pleased at how well it’s going and that I think I’ve managed to say some new things about classic Doctor Who, which is not easy given its age and the sheer volume of stuff that has been written about it over the years.

***

As well as procrastinating, I find it harder and harder to be organised.  At school I always had the right books, did my homework on time, went to the right lessons and so on, but since leaving the more rigid environment of school and having more control over my schedule and planning it, things have gradually got harder.  I think I’ve mentioned before that my Dad says I’m a terrible planner: I draw up detailed plans, but find it impossible to stick to them.  Similarly, I keep my desk and floor tidy, but I suspect this is often at a cost of just piling things in drawers or shoving papers in folders without necessarily knowing exactly where things are going; financial papers in particular are a struggle for me to organise and I’m often vague and uninterested about my finances and need advice and help from my father to deal with them.

I used to think there was nothing wrong with my planning ability per se, I just got distracted and procrastinated because of depression while depressive exhaustion made everything take longer than I expected, but I increasingly wonder if it’s an autistic executive function issue, that I just lack something in my brain that would help me stick to my plans or fully understand my finances.  Again, it would probably help if my day was spent largely on something I enjoyed or found meaningful, instead of applying for jobs I feel equivocal about.  I wonder if autistic rigid thinking and difficulty thinking laterally or creatively about problems is a factor too, if there might be a better way of organising my time/room that I can’t see because I’m too stuck in “This is how I’ve always done it, this is how I always have to do it.”

***

What is the half-life of a blog?  This is something I’ve been wondering lately.  I used to read a lot of Jewish blogs.  I think they had a positive role in teaching me Jewish social norms and frum (religious) language, something that, as someone with autism, I struggle to learn through observation and imitation as done by most children or ba’alei teshuva (people who are ethnically Jewish, but raised non-religious and who become frum in adulthood).  Nowadays I seem to come across fewer of them and many I used to follow are updated rarely or not at all.  I thought this blog would attract mainly Jewish readers and even used Jewish terms as metadata (‘tags’ to non-librarians) to try to attract them, but most of my readers, so far as I can tell, are not Jewish.  Have all the Jews left what used to be called the J-blogosphere (the Jewish blogosphere)?

I did an experiment and went to a blog I used to follow.  It’s long defunct, but had a very long and comprehensive blogroll (remember those?) of other Jewish blogs.  I picked a dozen or so at random and clicked the links.  Only two or three have been updated in the last five years or so and many were not accessible at all, although it’s not clear for how long they have been inaccessible.  A different blogroll shows more active blogs, but often specifically Jewish food blogs (although that may simply reflect the interests of the blogroll compiler).  I know E. is very involved in Jewish food blogging, so that’s obviously still an active area.

Has everyone else migrated to Facebook and Twitter?  There seem to still be lots of general blogs out there, so where did all the Jewish blogs go?  I know some forms of social media are more popular in some communities than others (e.g. I believe Twitter took off in the UK long before it reached the USA), so maybe that applies here too and people have just left Blogger (which was where most Jewish blogs were hosted) for Facebook or Twitter.  It’s a shame as I don’t like Twitter and Facebook and feel out of the loop.  There is a similar issue with online Doctor Who fandom being increasingly based on Facebook and Twitter, but I do at least still follow a couple of Doctor Who blogs and there are more out there that I know about that I don’t like/follow for one reason or another.

***

Most Jewish festivals and fasts are very old, but at this time of year, there are four days that have been created within living memory and which are therefore somewhat controversial, with many Charedi (ultra-Orthodox) Jews not observing and other Jews debating the best way of observing them.  These are Yom HaShoah, Yom HaZikaron, Yom Ha’Atzmaut and Yom Yerushalayim (Holocaust Day, Memorial Day, commemorating those who died as a result of war and terrorism in Israel, Israeli Independence Day and Jerusalem Day, celebrating the reunification of the city of Jerusalem).  My personal involvement in these days has varied over time.  My shul (synagogue) does not observe any of these days, but sometimes I go to events at my parents’ shul, which does observe them.

Tonight was the start of Yom HaShoah (Holocaust Day – distinct from International Holocaust Memorial Day in January, which is not a Jewish creation).  I went to my parents’ shul.  I was apprehensive about how I would cope, worried about being around a lot of people and having to listen to speakers for a prolonged period as much as with the subject matter, but I was mostly OK.  I did cry, but I stayed for the whole thing.  I did notice that I disassociated a bit inasmuch as I would sort of switch off from engaging directly with the speakers and start viewing the event as a historian or sociologist, thinking about how the Holocaust has been commemorated in different times and places and where the emphasis is placed or thinking about theological responses to the Holocaust and things like that.  I think I do that sometimes, particularly with large events like this where I feel uncomfortable.

Part of the event was a short talk about the Holocaust in Libya by a man who was there (albeit as a baby).  Libya was controlled by the Germans’ ally, Italy, during the early part of the war.  I’d always been led to believe that Italy’s involvement in the Holocaust was muted and half-hearted until the Nazis took control of the north of the country in about 1943, but I learnt there was a concentration camp in the Sahara desert for some Libyan Jews and others were sent to European death camps.  This was all news to me and I found it interesting.

On Being Liked

Last night I was still thinking about the Doctor Who Society anniversary party after I posted about it.  One thing that came to mind, which has also come to mind a bit with some people from shul (synagogue) lately, is that some people seemed to actually like me.  This is a big thing for me to get my head around.  At school I thought only a handful of geeky kids liked me.  At university I was quite reluctant to describe anyone as my friend, as I only saw them at society events (Doctor Who Society or Jewish Society) and thought that they didn’t want to see me outside that.  Then for a long time when my depression was bad I thought, on some level at least, that people were only really my friend out of pity, because they were sorry for the state I was in.  So it’s been quite a shock recently (I mean over the last few months) to realise that some people seem to actually like me for who I am, even if they are aware of my mental health issues and the way I feel I don’t always quite fit in the communities I would like to belong to (Jewish community, Doctor Who fan community).  I’m still not quite sure how to process this.

***

Another thing I’m trying to process is my date with L.  I don’t really want to say too much about it as I don’t feel it’s appropriate to talk too much about dating while I’m actually going out with someone.  I don’t really know what to think, but that’s quite normal for me after a first date, particularly if it’s a blind date.  I guess L. in many ways is not the type of woman I have dated before or assumed I would marry, which may be a good thing, but I need time to process it.  We decided to go on another date, though (L. brought the subject up as I was going to wait, having been told in the past that I’m too quick to ask for another date).

Rabbi Lord Sacks has produced a calendar of thoughts, one per day for the omer (the period when we count the days between Pesach and Shavuot (Passover and Pentecost)).  I suppose it’s a kind of advent calendar, but with inspirational thoughts instead of chocolates.  One recent one stated that “Next time you meet someone radically unlike you, try seeing difference not as a threat but as an enlarging, possibility-creating gift.”  So I’m trying to see possibilities rather than worries.  But I am of course worrying and over-thinking everything, as usual.

Doc Soc-ing Again

I’m not quite sure how coherent this is going to be, so bear with me.  Perhaps I will come back tomorrow and add more.  I’m feeling exhausted from a massively draining day; it would have been draining for anyone, but even more so with autism and depression.  But I need to set things down so that I can sleep; as usual, I’m writing for myself as much as anyone else.

I struggled to sleep last night after helping with post-Pesach (Passover) tidying.  I think I fell asleep around 4.00am.  After five hours of sleep, I was up again to go to Oxford for the thirtieth anniversary party for the Doctor Who Society.  When I was there it was the Oxford University Doctor Who Society, but I think it lost the university bit a few years ago when the proportion of students in the society dropped below the critical threshold.  A lot of what happened to me at Oxford was fairly miserable and a previous trip back to the city a number of years ago left me upset, but the Doc Soc (as we called it then) was one of the few places I felt comfortable and accepted, so I wanted to make the effort to go and show my support.  Plus I am a former president.  I know I only did a term, but I still count!

When I arrived in Oxford I spiralled down quite quickly into depression.  It doesn’t help that the bus station is right by my old college.  My college was not the site of good times.  I actually spent much of the day trying to avoid being anywhere I could see it and only consented to have it in my sight (from a distance) at the end of the day when I was feeling better.  Wandering around the town, killing time before the party, I was just feeling that I didn’t belong in Oxford, that I messed up my time there, that the city was full of undergraduates having fun and I was lonely and miserable the whole time I was a student.  I think I even wondered vaguely if should just turn around and go home.

I killed time for a bit until 2pm, when the party was due to start and eventually found the confidence to go in.  The room was packed with people and, again, I started to wonder if I had made the right decision, immediately feeling rather overwhelmed and anxious.

I won’t give a blow by blow account of what happened, mainly because I can’t.  Everything blurs together.  I know I must have stayed feeling awkward and depressed for a bit, but gradually I loosened up and was able to speak to some friends from my Oxford days.  After a while, I was able to get the confidence to speak to one or two people who I recognised from blogs I follow, which led on to being introduced to people who I knew from commenting on those blogs, even though I didn’t know that they were Oxford people too.  I’m not quite sure how I managed to do that, but somehow I did.  I actually managed to speak to quite a few people over the afternoon and mostly didn’t shake, although I was careful when pouring drinks.  It helped that I was aware that this was an environment where people who are neurodivergent, eccentric or just plain different were more likely to be present and accepted than in other environments that I find myself in (work, shul (synagogue), dates).  Someone said she saw me in the street on the way there and thought that I looked that I might be the type of person who would be going to the Doctor Who Society which amused me.  I obviously look geeky even when not wearing my Doctor Who scarf (I decided that the ‘smart casual’ clothing instructions precluded both cosplay and Doctor Who t-shirts, although few other people felt the same way).

There were various events during the afternoon, including a talk on the history of the society by my friend M., a quiz (which my team did reasonably well at although I was inexplicably stricken by social anxiety when the time came to call out results and stayed silent) and various visual presentations that I should probably not go into too much detail about here.

It was a very enjoyable afternoon, but I was thoroughly exhausted by the end, especially as I stood for four hours as there weren’t enough chairs for the number of people.  I managed to get back to London where my Dad picked me up from the station, but I found the journey home painful, as he was making small talk, which I find challenging at the best of times, but I was too ‘peopled out’ to really deal with it.  I read the blog of a carer for a child with more severe autism than I have, and he (the child) apparently tries to stop people talking to him on the way home from school; I could see his point.  I don’t have extreme sensory sensitivities, but sometimes light or noise can be really irritating, and when I need to crash and have ‘alone time’ it is painful to be dragged into conversation, especially small talk.

Then, when I got home, there was some post-Pesach religious OCD anxiety.  I won’t go into details, but I still don’t know if I did the right thing about that.  I was caught (as I usually am with these things) between what I felt was right in the abstract and what I felt I should do to avoid upsetting my parents.  It does underline to me that even though my relationship with my parents is reasonably good at the moment (although it could/should be better and that it is at least partly my fault), there are just gulfs of understanding between us, usually neurotypical brain vs. autistic brain or mentally healthier brain vs. more mentally ill brain, but also sometimes religious gulfs.  My parents are fairly religious, but sometimes there are just gaps in understanding or attitude to Judaism and halakhah (Jewish law).  I don’t want to give examples and probably I shouldn’t really say any more.  I suppose most people are not clones of their parents, even if they have a lot in common.  It’s just hard to bridge the gaps sometimes.

So that was the most social day I’ve had in a very long time.  People are probably expecting me to say I came home and crashed in front of Doctor Who, but I actually watched Blake’s 7 (Blake’s 7, I should probably say for those who don’t know, was Doctor Who‘s unofficial sister show in the late 70s and early 80s.  There were no direct crossovers, but they shared a lot of actors, writers, directors, props, costumes etc.).

Tomorrow is my date with L. (arranged via the values-based dating agency), so I ought to go to bed and get some rest.

Night Before Oxford Nerves

This is an insomnia post, a rather rambling post written to try to empty my mind of thoughts and to tire myself out.  Apologies if it’s less focused that normal.  I don’t feel in the least bit tired, but I have to be up reasonably early tomorrow to go to Oxford for The Doctor Who Society’s thirtieth anniversary.  To be honest, I’m rather scared about going back to Oxford.  I’ve only been to Oxford once since graduating and that ended with me feeling rather depressed about my time there, thinking of all the times I was lonely and suicidal in the city of dreaming spires and lost causes.  And that’s just the city; I’m more nervous about seeing people I haven’t seen for over a decade (will they remember me?  Will I seem like a failure?) and being in a room of people I don’t know.  Plus, there will be one or two people there who are aware of my online persona, but who I have never met, so it’s scary to think of meeting them (I’ll be the guy in the skullcap).  I worry about being a disappointment if we meet in person or discovering that they aren’t actually following me any more.  But I have a fund of goodwill towards the Doc Soc (as we called it in my day; I think the current crop of undergrads call it Who Soc).  A vastly disproportionate amount of the good times I had at Oxford (there were some) were spent there.  I’m not sure I would go back for a JSoc (Jewish Society) event and I certainly don’t bother going back for college events.

It’s weird to think that my matriculation into Oxford was nearly eighteen years ago, half my lifetime.  I hope I’ve changed and grown since then, at least in a positive way.  It’s hard to tell.  I know myself better, and I think I can deal with my emotional issues better.  During my time at Oxford I was very depressed and almost certainly autistic, but I didn’t know how to cope with depression and I didn’t even think that I might be autistic.  Now I do have the awareness to understand and cope with those things better, although there is still a lot of room for improvement.  I do wish I had a clearer idea of where I’m going with my career and relationships, though.  I think I really do want to try to build a career as a writer, but it’s hard to take the plunge and I don’t think it would help that I want to write about very varied topics (Doctor Who, Judaism, mental health, autism).  As for relationships, I have a date with L. on Monday, but I’m trying not to think about it, as when I do I feel pessimistic.  Blind dates are scary anyway and with this one we have the added complexity of knowing each other when we were younger and trying to look past that at where we are now.

Backtracking somewhat, the last two days of Pesach (Passover) were OK.  No significant OCD, which was good, but I was quite depressed at times.  I went to shul (synagogue) in the evenings and also Friday morning, but not Saturday morning.  I wish I could get to shul more in the mornings, at least on Shabbat (the Sabbath) and Yom Yov (festivals), but I’m trying not to beat myself up for not going.  Goodness knows what everyone else makes of my sporadic attendance.  I suppose they think I’m not very frum (religious) or that I daven (pray) elsewhere.  I know I shouldn’t care what other people think of me, but I do.  Still, I got through a whole Pesach without a major OCD anxiety incident or an argument with my parents, so maybe things are looking up after all.  Otherwise Yom Tov was the usual: davening, eating, sleeping, Torah study and reading a bit.

Yom Tov was overshadowed by scary events either side of it: the abduction and rape of a woman from my local area beforehand (she is Jewish, although not so far as I’m aware anyone I know or have a connection with although I may discover otherwise in the coming days – the Jewish community is small and interlinked) and then the shooting at a shul in California, which is scary and disturbing.

Well, I should probably have another go at sleeping, given that I need to be up in six and a half hours.

“Spray Painting Daleks” is probably a more interesting title than “Another Interview” or “Have I Just Lost Another Date?”

I had a job interview today, for a position in a higher education library.  I think I did OK, but not great.  I did manage to answer all of the questions, but I struggled to think of specific examples of the things they were asking for.  My autistic mind tends to go blank when confronted with a sudden request to “Tell me about a time when you dealt with a difficult situation” or whatever.  The first question, just to make it harder, was to tell them about a time I received good customer service, which seemed a strange thing to ask.

So, I didn’t answer the questions that well, but they let slip that my CV looks good to them.  Which should be positive, but while they were describing the role, I was thinking that this position sounds a lot like my role in further education, just with slightly older students.  I did OKish there, but my boss was unhappy with my work and I often felt overwhelmed by the interactions I was supposed to have with staff and especially with students.  When someone would come to me with a problem, I would freeze before my brain moved into gear to work out how to deal with it, which is an autistic multitasking/task changing issue, but it suggests this type of environment isn’t right for me.

Plus, this job is full-time (unlike the further education one, which was three and then four days a week, term-time only) with occasional evening and weekend work, which I doubt I could manage right now with my mental health, even without the problem of Shabbat and Yom Tov (Sabbath and Jewish festivals).  Plus sudden evening work is not good for my autistic need for predictability.

I got shown the library.  I’m sure someone who temped in the further education library I worked at when we were short-staffed was working there, although I didn’t say anything as (a) I’m too shy and (b) I can’t remember what her name is.  I guess librarianship, like the Jewish community and Doctor Who fandom, is a small world.  (Don’t ask why I seem to gravitate to small worlds.)

***

I’m not sure what to do now.  I’m exhausted after this, and after days of rushing around doing Pesach stuff (preparation, then shul and seders and ‘peopleing’) and then a day lost to extreme depression.  I’m not as depressed as I was yesterday, but I am worn out.  I just spray painted some new Doctor Who miniatures I bought with white undercoat, but that didn’t take long and I won’t be able to move on with them until the paint is dry.  I might assemble the as-yet unassembled Daleks once they’re dry, but I don’t think I’ll get much further than that today (frustratingly I also ran out of paint before I could paint the TARDIS).

I don’t want to work on my books on Chol HaMoed (the intermediate, semi-festive, days of Pesach).  I might watch a film if I can decide whether to watch Ghostbusters II for the umpteenth time as ‘comfort food’ viewing or The King’s Speech, which I’ve never seen, but have been told is very good.

I also feel vaguely ill: dry itchy eyes, slightly sore throat, a bit hot and bothered and achey, as if I’m coming down with a cold.

***

L., who I was set up with via the values-based dating service and who I’ve been texting lately as we can’t meet until after Pesach, asked what I’m doing today after my interview.  I’m not sure how much to open up about myself and my hobbies (mental health blogging, Doctor Who, miniature painting), all of which could describe what I’m doing/about to do today.  I worry about seeming weird.  I have a weird intuition that she would be understanding about mental health stuff, but I don’t want to bring it up this early in the relationship, when we haven’t even been on a date yet.  So Doctor Who and painting it is.  She hasn’t texted back yet, so I don’t know if she thinks I’m a weird freak…  I wish there were some things in my life that I could talk about on dates or to people at shul (synagogue) without sounding weird or messed up.

Politics and Despair

I went to bed far, far too late even without losing an hour from putting the clocks forward.  It was mostly down to posting late at night and then procrastinating.  I’ve mentioned before that I idly browse online when I feel lonely.  This is not terribly helpful, because I can’t get the kind of contact I want/need, plus lately I’ve blocked a lot of sites for being too triggering, so there aren’t many places I can actually go (unless I switch the block off.  Which I just did out of boredom/curiosity.  Not good).  Anyway, I spend ages flitting around the internet, not knowing where to go, often until I hit on something that upsets me (usually the news).

The upshot of this was that I overslept, and then was too depressed to get up.  I did eventually get up and somehow got out the house and to my volunteering at the asylum seekers’ drop-in centre, albeit without davening (praying) first.   I was very late for volunteering, but they were understaffed, so they were just grateful I was there.  I spent the afternoon looking after the children in the play area, struggling to watch all of them at once because of a lack of other volunteers and trying to get the children to play together nicely.  It’s hard to discipline other people’s children, especially when they don’t say anything and you can’t work out if they’re pre-verbal or just don’t speak English.  I survived, but have come home completely exhausted.  I somehow did a few minutes of Torah study on the bus home; I’m not sure that I will manage much more.

***

Just now I skipped over what happened at home between crawling out of bed this morning and getting to volunteering.  I had lots of very self-critical thoughts.  I felt tired of being the person no one can rely on at work, in my family, in my religious community or at volunteering.  I wanted to burrow into the earth and get away.  I actually crawled under my desk (I’m not entirely sure why; it seemed like a good idea at the time).  I tried to cry but I had no tears, I just made sobbing noises.  I told myself a lot of very harsh, self-critical things: “I’m a ******* waste of space.  No one could love you, you’re ******* incompetent.  You’re a ****** retard.”  (Don’t ask why my inner monologue flips between the first and second person.)

I’m not sure what I can do when I feel like that.  I think I only stopped because I went out to volunteering.

***

Pretty much anything in the news is triggering.  I no longer know what to think about Brexit.  I have a kind of mental tutorial essay on the history of Britain’s post-war involvement with Europe that gets triggered when anyone starts talking about Brexit, a commentary running from Churchill’s belief in European unity without Britain and Attlee’s negativity to de Gaulle’s “Non!” to Heath speaking bad French and Wilson’s referendum to Thatcher’s downfall, Major’s paralysis and now this.  I think whether we had never gone in to the EU, or whether we had voted to Remain, the tensions would still be there, because they come from the fact that Britain is on Europe’s doorstep, but has a very different political system and history to most of Europe, which produces centrifugal and centripetal forces pulling the country in and out simultaneously.  Whatever happens, the forces are still there; in or out, Europe is going to be a major issue in British politics for the foreseeable future.

I want to vent about Jew-hatred too, but I’m too scared.  I just wrote a paragraph on this, but I deleted it.  I’m too scared of being attacked.  I hate being attacked by antisemites, because I know they’re wrong, but their hatred of me fits with my self-hatred, so the attacks don’t bounce off as they should. Then I spend hours/days obsessing over their hatred, even though the fault is with them not us; it is in fact antisemitic to suggest that Jews “provoke” antisemitism, just as it is misogynistic to say that women in short skirts are “provoking” sexual assault.  I hate that I can’t speak about the hatred that is upsetting me for fear of provoking more of it.  I hate that I still have to deal with this.

I wish I had the mental strength to do something productive to fight antisemitism and anti-Zionism, but I don’t have the mental stamina.  I feel I have let my people down.  I also wish I could turn off the pain and the obsessive, agitated thoughts that seeing this hatred causes me.

***

Happier things: I ordered some more Doctor Who miniatures to paint last night, partly a reward for getting through my job, partly because if I’m going to be unemployed again, it’s probably worthwhile having a non-screen-based hobby (i.e. not watching DVDs, blogging or working on my books).  Just under £45 bought me twelve Daleks, Davros, the TARDIS and the thirteenth Doctor to paint, which should keep me busy for a while.

So Wonderfully Normal

Every day I have to win the battle all over again.  Today was much the same as many days recently: insomnia last night and tired today, anxiety and depression on the way in to work, mainly anxiety and catastrophising about dating.  I felt better after lunch (some people aren’t themselves until they’ve had their morning coffee; I’m not myself until I’ve had lunch, which is more problematic), but worse again in the afternoon, feeling that I’m not coping with life, work or relationships (not just dating, but family too).  Working with my line manager in the afternoon, I felt spectacularly incompetent.  Why do I always make my worst mistakes when my line manager is watching?  Or is it because she’s watching (social anxiety)?

I did feel bad for not eating dinner with Mum and Dad (we don’t usually eat together during the week) and eating in front of the TV instead, but I’m just completely exhausted and unable to ‘people’ (interact) and if I don’t watch TV while eating, I won’t have time and if I don’t watch TV and unwind I will not be in a fit state to work tomorrow.  Maybe it’s just as well that I’m not married as I do worry about how I would cope with a wife and children.  But it’s so lonely being by myself, especially as my parents don’t always understand me.  This is probably an unsolvable dilemma.

***

Speaking of which, everyone (parents, friends, rabbi mentor) are probably right that I shouldn’t let imminent unemployment deter me from dating, but I think the risk of getting hurt is too strong at the moment.  While I don’t automatically think that I should swear off dating until I’m working and have got made some kind of progress with my mental health and autism diagnosis and/or acceptance of myself, I probably don’t need to throw that in there just now, especially with Purim and Pesach approaching, with all the practical and emotional problems that come with them.  I think it’s worth waiting a bit to at least try to set things up in my favour, however lonely I am right now.

I guess this particular instance of dating was different inasmuch as I know that this person (I’ll call her D) is probably more understanding of mental health issues than most and I saw from her JWed profile that we have one or two values in common.  But I still can’t shake the feeling that no ‘normal’ person would date me, that even despite her being someone with an understanding of mental health issues, I would need to find a geeky autistic woman to accept me, even though there aren’t so many of those in the wider community, let alone the narrower and more conformist Orthodox Jewish world.  I guess I’m just worried that D is too “normal” to ever be able to like or understand me, although I’m not quite sure what I’m basing my assumption of “normal” on.  I suppose no one is really “normal”… except that most people are quantifiably less “not normal” than I am.

I guess the bottom line is that I should leave dating for a few weeks.  Whether I ever pursue dating D is probably best shelved until then too.  Although my experience is that very few things in my life are ever resolved in a meaningful way; the can is kicked down the road indefinitely or other worries come and displace one particular worry from my mind.  Maybe I should be negotiating Brexit…  The question, as ever, is how to deal with the loneliness and hopelessness in a vaguely healthy way, the feeling that no one understands me or cares and that no one ever will.  I know that some people do care about me and I know that I don’t have any solid evidence that I will never get married (just a lot of circumstantial evidence), but I still feel lonely and despairing.

***

More realistically, it might be good to see if CILIP, the professional body for librarians, run a cataloguing refresher course, as I feel my cataloguing skills have gone very rusty and that would be an asset in the labour market.  I still struggle to see myself as employed and happy, though, just as I can’t see myself in a real relationship and happy.  I can’t imagine myself happy in any context, really, except perhaps being dead and in the afterlife, which is not reassuring.

***

Reading the digest of Purim laws that the rabbi of my shul (synagogue) sends out to stoke my religious OCD to ensure the community performs the relevant mitzvot (commandments) correctly, I feel anxious again.  I’ve pretty much told myself that I’m just going to try to get through Purim any way I can and if I do some mitzvot in a sub-optimal way or even miss out on some of them… well, I’ve done mitzvot, including Purim ones, in a sub-optimal way before or even missed out on them completely.  There were many years when I was not able to go to hear the Megillah in the morning as well as evening and some years I think I didn’t hear it at all; at the time I told myself it was depression, but in retrospect social anxiety and perhaps autism were bigger factors.  It is a big worry, though.  I want to do the mitzvot and to have a meaningful day, difficult though it is for me to find meaning in any aspects of Judaism at the moment, let alone through the day when we connect to God with extreme joy.  (Something I liked about D’s profile was that she stressed her desire to keep halakhah (Jewish law) while also having wider cultural interests and she wanted a husband who had hobbies.  Except that I wasn’t supposed to talk about this.)

***

I may be able to see my private psychodynamic psychotherapist again, but not until after Pesach and it would depend on whether I could fit it in with any work I might be doing, as she is only free on Mondays.  So now I’m waiting to see two therapists, as I’m still on the waiting list for CBT on the NHS.

***

I’m thinking of making my blog invitation only.  Unfortunately, I think that would mean that only people who read blogs through WordPress could read it, which is a problem as I have real-world friends reading this who don’t use WordPress.  I do worry about how much information I’m putting into the public domain, though, especially if I am trying to pursue a career in writing.  I know this blog is anonymous, but it’s not very anonymous if you really want to find my true identity.  Advice will be gratefully accepted.

***

I should probably explain that the post title is me being sarcastic about myself and my day.  It’s a quote from the first ever episode of Doctor Who, about a teenage girl who is acting strangely; her teachers hope she is meeting a boy, which would be “so wonderfully normal” for her, but she turns out to be an alien who lives with her grandfather in a police box which is a time-space travel machine.  Today I feel about as normal as she is, and about as likely to have a secret assignation with a member of the opposite sex.

Insomniac Thoughts

I couldn’t sleep again last night.  This seems to be happening to me more and more frequently, which may be a sign of worsening depression.  I was very anxious and depressed at work again, blaming myself for mistakes, real and imagined.  I somehow got through the morning.  The afternoon was easier from a mental health point of view; eating really does help my mood and I wonder if I should eat more for breakfast, although that sounds quite crazy.   I eat a bowl of porridge and try to eat a banana mid-morning for a boost.  I’m not quite sure what else I could eat that early and without finding significantly more time.

The afternoon, as I said, was easier from a mental health point of view, but it was still  hard.  I was emailing departmental administrators for various departments in the university and in other local universities and art schools to try to publicise an event we (our part of the library) are running in two weeks time.  I’m not good at this kind of thing.  I was just glad it was emailing and not phoning.  I was exhausted by the end of the day.  I intended to walk home from the station, but I suddenly realised as I got there that I was too tired and I had to phone my Dad for a lift.  I hate doing that – I hate having to give up my independence and I dislike missing the exercise, but I would not have made it home easily.

***

I felt bad about bickering with my Dad again when I got home.  I read a blog written by a career for a child with severe autism.  He often comes out of school grumpy from having had to mask his autism all day.  My autism isn’t so severe, but it is an effort to mask it all day, plus I’m masking depression and social anxiety too.  When I get home, the last thing I need is Dad doing his neurotypical talking act: making small talk and talking about people I don’t know and who don’t interest me; rambling from one topic to another; and using words incorrectly and asking questions he knows the answers to just to keep the conversation going and I become irritable and sarcastic.  By that stage, I just don’t have the energy to feign an interest.  I feel bad about this, but I don’t know what I can do.

***

When I couldn’t sleep last night I had a number of thoughts in my head, although I’m not sure if I couldn’t sleep because of my thoughts, or if I was thinking because I couldn’t sleep.

Thought 1: my Mum forwarded me an email yesterday from a Jewish advertising mailing list.  A magazine (it didn’t say which one) is looking for a part-time writer to cover national and international news with excellent writing and analysis skills as well as clear understanding of the UK Jewish community.  The job is partly based at home, partly in an office.  I’m not entirely sure where this job is heading, but I might as well apply for it, even though I have always insisted (and still do insist, really) that my writing talents don’t really lend themselves to journalism and even though I fear that the office is open-plan and therefore bad for autism.

***

Thought 2: in a moment of weakness yesterday I reactivated my account on a big Jewish dating website.  I only did it for a few minutes.  I just wanted to get some idea of how many Jewish women roughly my age and religious level there were in the UK.  I didn’t actually look at that because the home page shows you people in your area (not sure if that’s London or the whole of the UK – it’s an international site and the Anglo-Jewish community isn’t that large) who have recently joined and I recognised someone as the daughter of friends of my parents.  My Mum tried to set me up with this woman a while back, on the grounds that she was frum (religious) and had had mental health issues.  However, at the time she was dating someone else.  That has obviously now fallen through.

I would still be open to going out with her and I looked at her profile and there are definitely some points of commonality, but I was too terrified to do anything and suspended my account again.  I probably wouldn’t rejoin the site anyway, as it was rather a waste of money, but I might have asked Mum to try and set us up again if I wasn’t so depressed and feeling inadequate for being out of a job in two weeks time.  Just to make it harder to justify trying to meet her, she had put on her profile that she has a professional job and seeks someone else with a career.  On a non-Jewish dating site, I would read that as “no lazy layabouts” but on a frum Jewish site it’s as likely to mean “no frummies who want to spend all their time learning in yeshiva/kollel (rabbinical seminary) and being supported by their wives/in-laws/state benefits.”

I feel vaguely optimistic about this when really I shouldn’t considering I have never spoken to this woman, may never see her again, and have no idea if she would like me or have much in common with me.  I’m not optimistic enough to try to meet her, though, as I would rather beat myself up endlessly for being underemployed and soon to be unemployed.

***

Thought 3: a friend is going through a difficult breakup.  I suddenly realised that I’m going through the same feelings of desire and anger with God.  That’s probably not exactly true, but it sums things up better than that awful phrase “a crisis of faith.”  I don’t have trouble believing God exists, I have trouble believing He doesn’t want to hurt me because of how my life has been for the last twenty years.  And yet I want this relationship to work, somehow.  I want Him to take me back.

On that note, Shiur (religious class) was good today, although I’m not sure whether I can remember what was discussed in enough detail to really reflect on it, let alone internalise it.  Plus there were the usual social grey areas that I struggled with.  For example, the assistant rabbi said that realistically many people need to watch TV to unwind, however one should do it only to refresh oneself and only “appropriate” material.  I wonder how my viewing habits would be seen to fit with this.  Possibly not very much.  I’m trying to psyche myself up to dressing up (cosplaying, if you want) as the fourth Doctor on Purim next week, but I’m not sure that I’ve got the courage to risk comments.  Not even negative comments, just any comments.  (Plus, as cosplaying goes, it’s not very accurate; I’ve got an accurate fourth Doctor scarf a friend knitted, but the rest would Doctorish clothes, a Doctorish silhouette if you like, but not exactly like what Tom Baker actually wore, but I don’t think anyone there will notice that.)

Things Fall Apart

Just feeling awful today, depressed and exhausted, and I’ve got so much to do.  I had anxiety dreams last night about Pesach and, bizarrely, my MA.  I feel exhausted, perhaps from the intense emotions and agitation yesterday.  The books on depression and anxiety don’t tell you just how tiring they can be.  Suicidal thoughts in particular can be utterly draining and I’m guessing that’s why I feel so exhausted today.  I can’t really face job-hunting at the moment, which will make things worse in the long-run.  I’m just glad I’m not working today.  I just wanted to watch TV, but I needed to go out and get a prescription and was supposed speak to someone from The Network (who run the group therapy/courses I did recently) and do various things for family, although the person from the Network never phoned (the public sector is so lousy at this sort of thing).  I’ve got a huge pile of emails too, mostly job alerts for jobs that are of no interest and which I don’t think I can do.  I’d like to work on my Doctor Who book, which is a more achievable task, because I enjoy it more and because at the moment I’m just tidying up the second draft by standardising spelling and layout, which I can do while feeling bad, but I feel bad about doing that when I ‘should’ be job-hunting.  I don’t know whether I will get any of these things done.  I fell asleep for an hour after lunch, which I guess is a sign I was tired, although I slept for nine hours last night.  I couldn’t really afford to lose the time, though.

***

I woke to find an email about the my university’s Doctor Who Society’s anniversary party.  I was hoping to go to this, but I realise now I’m probably not going to be able to do so, as it falls in the Jewish national mourning period after Pesach.  I thought I could justify going if it was just to socialise and watch Doctor Who, but I think it’s more of a party party, which doesn’t seem right for me to go to.  I was already missing the dinner, for kashrut reasons.  I enjoyed going there more than anything else at university, but even then I missed out on social trips to restaurants and location trips that were always on Saturdays for the sake of people who had early lectures on Monday morning.  I know Jewish law is supposed to reduce social and romantic involvements between Jews and non-Jews and even between frum (religious) and non-frum Jews, and up to a point, I accept that, but it’s hard when you have limited social and romantic possibilities, and people within the frum community aren’t always the most friendly or just aren’t on my wavelength.

I try not to perform mitzvot (commandments) in expectation of reward, but sometimes when I look at everything I’ve sacrificed to be frum, and what I may have to sacrifice to stay frum, it’s hard not to feel that I want something in return.  Worse, I feel that deserve something in return, which is very wrong of me.

***

Lately I’ve felt my religious observance slipping a little as I noted in yesterday’s post.  Nothing big, just little things.  Some of it might not even be bad, like beating myself up less for davening (praying) in a less ideal way or not at all and for studying less Torah.  Sometimes it’s hard to care when one feels so depressed.  If I’m thinking about suicide, which is virtually the biggest no-no in Judaism, then nothing else seems that important, doubly so if I don’t think I’ve got any reward coming to me.

At any rate, today it was hard to “learn” Torah (as the Orthodox say) and I didn’t really manage much.  As an Orthodox Jewish man, I’m supposed to think that I exist to “learn,” particularly Gemarah (the main part of the Talmud).  I’m supposed to do it day and night, at every free opportunity.  It’s supposed to give meaning to my life and be more important than all other mitzvot (commandments) and acts of chessed (kindness); as the saying goes, when we pray, we speak to God, but when we “learn,” God speaks to us, which is supposed to be more amazing – thinking God’s thoughts and in some sense joining with Him (this is why it is seen as meaningful even if you don’t understand what you are studying or if it is aspects of Jewish law no longer practised).  This may have been the case for me once.  I used to study for an hour or more a day, even though I was very depressed, but that was when I wasn’t working or was working less, and it gave some kind of meaning to my life, to my illness.  But nowadays I do at most twenty to thirty minutes, sometimes just five minutes, although I feel I should still study as much as I used to on days when I don’t work.  However, it’s hard to care from depressive lack of energy, concentration and motivation and because it doesn’t speak to me any more.  I know the Talmud says that that’s my fault (“If  it is empty, it is from you”).    I don’t like the atmosphere so much at parsha shiur (Torah class) either, too boisterous and masculine, but that’s a slightly different issue.

I’ve always struggled with learning halakhah (Jewish law) and Talmud, but I used to enjoy other aspects of Jewish study, Tanakh (Hebrew Bible) and Jewish philosophy, but lately I don’t (to be honest, “lately” is probably for a year or more).  Some of it is depression making it hard to concentrate, engage with things and enjoy things, but I was “learning” more when I was more depressed than I am now.  Some of it is the feeling of rejection I have from God and from the Orthodox world.  It’s hard to engage with them.  Some of it is doubtless repressed guilt and wanting to isolate myself, not to mention envy of people who spend longer in study and get something out of it (e.g. the semi-retired person at my shiur who studies Talmud for something like four hours a day and loves it).

***

It’s not just hard to be a frum Jew without studying Torah, it’s hard to be a frum Jew without a spouse and children and that might be another reason I’m slipping.  There are push and pull factors with families that keep a person frum.  The push factor is that shuls are centred around families and if you have a family it’s much easier to fit in.  You have something to talk to other people about after shul (school, bar/bat mitzvahs, weddings, grandchildren, great-grandchildren) and you can go to family-centred social events without feeling out of place (I’ve mentioned in the past that I rarely see the few other single people at my shul attend social events).  The pull factor is that if you have a family, it’s harder to stop being religious, because it can lead to conflict with your spouse and because you don’t want to negatively affect your children’s marriage prospects by leaving the community, which would be seen as reflecting badly on them.  I have heard that unscrupulous kiruv professionals try to get new ba’alei teshuva (people who are ethnically Jewish, but raised non-religious) married as soon as possible to ‘lock them in’ to a frum lifestyle.

I heard of frum “older” singles (“older” in inverted commas because it means over the age of about twenty-five in the frum community) get criticised for being “picky” or being patronised or given unwanted advice.  I guess I’m lucky that I’m invisible enough in the frum world to mostly avoid that sort of thing, but that brings the drawback that no one is actually setting me up on dates, when being set up by a third party is the main way of dating in the frum world.  I would be terrified to go to singles events and there aren’t many of them advertised anyway (apparently it’s too dangerous to let large numbers of single men and women talk to each other, even with a view to getting married).  I’ve thought recently of trying internet dating sites again, but no one really responded to me on them, plus I have heard that, like job applications (something else I’m bad at), it’s a numbers game: you need to message hundreds of women to get a handful of responses and one date.  There simply aren’t enough women of anything approaching my particular level of frumkeit (religiosity) in the UK for that to work (even ignoring whether I’m in a strange place between Modern and ultra-Orthodoxy).

***

Sometimes I feel like I just want to be held, but I’m sufficiently self-aware to question that.  My first girlfriend thought I was frigid and I fear she was right.  I could ask my parents for hugs, but I usually don’t, but then again that relationship is difficult at the moment in some ways.  I worry that I wouldn’t cope with a relationship if I actually had one.

The Happiest Days of My Life

Shabbat (Sabbath) dinner alone went OK.  I read more of The Complete Peanuts and was distracted by the craziness of the forthcoming Israeli general election in The Jewish Chronicle, so I didn’t read much of 13 Minutes, which is less of a thriller than I thought from the blurb on the back and more of a teenage school story (I had a similar experience with Turtles All the Way Down a few months ago).  I slept too long and missed shul (synagogue) in the morning again and dozed off as well in the afternoon, which is frustrating.

Now I’m facing a busy and stressful week combined with my parents being away and am wondering how I will cope.  At least the hardest thing, the networking workshop, is over first.

***

On Shabbat in shul (synagogue), I found myself reflecting about the values of my shul against my own values.  We both value prayer and Torah study (in both cases the shul value both much more than I’m able to right now with my mental health issues).  But the shul places value on quarantining oneself from the wider culture, to a greater or lesser extent, while I do not.  I think Jews can learn things from the best of other cultures, if we’re careful, and we can teach things too.  I wouldn’t want to be set up with someone like my shul on a date, which is problematic as someone from shul might try to set me up with someone one day… but as it’s never really happened before now (slightly, once), that’s not really much of a concern.  More pertinent is the fact that I don’t know how to find a shul that fits more of my values.  I would probably have to be earning a lot more money and be more emotionally stable and independent so I could move out of my parents house and to another area and even then I might not find one.

***

I found myself feeling glad that I have Judaism, and books, and Doctor Who and other vintage science fiction/telefantasy to hold onto.  (Are they autistic special interests?  I’m not sure that they all are; I feel uncomfortable with the way some autistic people I know list all their hobbies as ‘special interests’ which I feel devalues the notion.  My interest in literature and even Judaism, important though they are, don’t seem as intense and self-soothing as my interest in Doctor Who and vintage telefantasy)  They give me a refuge and alternative ways of conceptualising the world.  A link to the past, something bigger and older than myself, somewhat bigger and older in the case of Doctor Who, immeasurably bigger and older in the case of literature and Judaism.  I feel sorry for people who have nothing larger than themselves.  I suppose that’s why it’s so important to me to try to find friends/a partner who share all of these interests, because they are so central to my sense of self.

***

I was feeling OK, but I suddenly felt quite depressed.  I don’t know if it’s apprehension about the week ahead, especially the networking workshop and coping without my parents, or if 13 Minutes is bringing up bad memories from school.  I would stop reading it, but I don’t like giving up on books, plus I want to know the reason behind the book’s central mystery, how Natasha Howland ended up drowning in the river in the middle of the night.  So much for trying new things.

My depression and autism make me feel that I won’t enjoying new things and they are sometimes right, but I’m not sure that they don’t sabotage things to prove themselves right.  When I was a child, my parents would push me to do social stuff saying, “Just try it once.”  Then, if I didn’t like it, they would press me to try it again on the grounds that the first time might be atypical.  I actually did more social stuff when I was very young (pre-teen), cubs, scouts, karate, but I’m not sure that I actually enjoyed any of them and I certainly didn’t make friends through them.  Mostly I just pined for my mentor friend and felt unable to talk to other people or feel comfortable without him.  I don’t think I could express or even understand my ambivalent-going-on-negative feelings about these activities.  I just avoided doing things as much as possible.

When I was eleven and twelve I got invited to bar and bat mitzvah parties of people in my class at school.  I hated them, all noise and music and dancing and emergent adolescent sexuality (boys and girls were dancing together (they weren’t frum simchas), which I simply didn’t understand as I didn’t hit puberty for another year).  Although I knew everyone, I had few friends, especially as my mentor friend simply didn’t go on the grounds that he didn’t enjoy discos and his parents didn’t push him to go, whereas mine said that if I was invited, it was rude not to go.  I used to hide in the toilets, which I thought was ruder than not going at all, but my parents disagreed.  I put it down to shyness, as did everyone else, but in retrospect the whole thing is an autistic deathtrap.  The funny thing is that I can’t remember consciously disliking the noise.  Trying to think back to it, I get a strong feeling of get me out of here, but it’s hard to identify the cause and I can see why I and everyone else assumed it was just my shyness at work.  Even my own bar mitzvah was like everyone else’s, because no one told me I had the option of another way.  My parents would have allowed something else, but, I suspect that in the absence of being presented with other options, I couldn’t think of anything.  Or perhaps I had been offered other options, but didn’t really understand them because I hadn’t been to similar parties, or lacked the imagination and self-awareness to predict what I would like.  Anyway, at my own bar mitzvah, I went outside and played in the entrance hall with a friend for most of the evening.  I remember that at my sister’s bat mitzvah my Mum got really angry with me for not standing with the rest of the family at the end of the evening; I think my issues was less noise and sensory overload there and more shyness and not wanting everyone staring at me.  At least these days my parents are more understanding of my mental health and neurodivergence, although I worry that I hide behind these things.  Then again, without them, maybe I wouldn’t want to hide.

***
I’m just struggling to do things today, to go for a walk and cook dinner.  I don’t exercise or cook as much as I used to, even when the depression was worse than it is now and I was still working more days per week.  I don’t know why this is the case.  I’m cooking red bean chilli because I’ve done it loads of times before.  I feel guilty that I’m not using the cookery book I got in the summer for my birthday.   I’ve only used it once, but I’ve hardly cooked anything since then and have mostly relied on known recipes.  I shouldn’t feel guilty about this, but I do.  I feel guilty about lots of things that aren’t my fault, and some that are.  I feel guilty that I burnt the onions again and that I probably damaged my Mum’s pot.  Actually, I probably should feel guilty about that.

***

Feeling like an anxious mess now.  I volunteered to help with something today; it took an hour, but I can’t do very much and that plus shopping plus cooking plus Talmud study has eaten up my whole day, so I probably won’t be able to work on my books as I wanted.  I still plan to do too much each day, or at least each non-work day.  I don’t know how most people manage to live much busier lives than me; I’m barely functional.

I’m so anxious about tomorrow, coping with the networking workshop and getting to the theatre on time in the evening for the Jewish Book Week talk and then getting home in time to get some sleep before work on Tuesday.  I feel, probably somewhat arrogantly, that I ought to be giving talks at Jewish Book Week one day.  I don’t mean that I’m a gifted or insightful writer, merely (yet again) that I feel in some nebulous way that everyone expected me to be a “success”, whatever that means, that I got through school telling myself that once I left and was free of the bullies, once I got to university, I would be a success, and yet I am a miserable failure who can’t even cook dinner.  How can I even think of careers and relationships when I’m such a non-functional mess?  I do feel that if the kids who bullied me at school could see me now they’d die laughing.

“You’ve won it once. Now you’ll have to go out there and win it again.”

I’m very tired after a difficult few days (with more stress to come in the next few days), so I’m just listing a few things from today with one slightly longer reflection.

I had a disturbing dream last night.  I even know what inspired it: an episode of Jonathan Creek, although why my unconscious mind waited a month since I watched the episode before forcing it on me is a mystery.  Perhaps because of this, I woke tired and struggled through the early morning.

***

I had to fight my religious OCD last night and today.  It’s generally under control, but I know that I can easily slip back into it, particularly when tired, stressed, hungry or depressed, so I have to keep on fighting, which can be draining when combined with my other issues.

***

I had some success using CBT techniques to ignore or challenge negative thoughts about myself (thoughts that my colleague hated me and my insistence on precisely following security procedure with the rare books).

***

One of my other colleagues congratulated me on my book choices for yesterday’s exhibition saying they were powerful and she was still thinking about them.

***

I had a migraine by the time I finished work again.  I’m not sure why I keep getting them lately.  It may be because I work so long without breaks.  I worked for three hours without much of a break this morning and four hours after lunch, with one or two toilet breaks, but no food breaks and little or no water because of the fact that I’m not supposed to bring food or drink near the rare books.  This was after deciding that the basement was too hot to work in and taking the books up to the office despite the extra time taken in the hope I wouldn’t get a headache from the heat.  Then again, one of the migraines was not at work, so I could be seeing patterns where there are none.  I felt so bad that when the working day finished I stayed in the staff room for a long time because I was worried that I would throw up on a hot and crowded Tube train.  Eventually I felt well enough to come home, by which time the Tube was less crowded and I got a seat easily, but I had to walk home from the station as my parents had gone out.

***

I listened to/watched three of the four episodes of The Celestial Toymaker today “listened” because 97 episodes of 1960s Doctor Who survive only as off-air audio recordings made by fans in the days before home video.  Listening at least meant that I could do something when I was in the staff room with a migraine.  The Celestial Toymaker is one of my least favourite stories, but I found a nugget of new insight for my book, so it was worth it.

***

The more likely it seems that I’m on the autistic spectrum, the easier it gets to “forgive” myself for not having the lifestyle I “should” have (career, spouse, children) or the religious life I “should” have (career, spouse, children again; plus daven (pray) more often, at greater length, with greater kavannah (mindfulness) and with a minyan (community); study more Torah, especially more Talmud; and improve my character traits more).  I don’t know why depression on its own was not enough to make me forgive myself, but somehow with autism, depression, social anxiety and occasional OCD, I feel I have a “reason” to be where I am.

I do feel a bit like I have to constantly reinvent the wheel every day, though.  Every day I have to learn how to cope and be Jewish with autism and depression.  The fact that I managed it yesterday is no guarantee that I can manage it again today.  The quote that came into my head today, even though I don’t like football, was England manager Alf Ramsey to the team before extra time in the 1966 World Cup final: “You’ve won it once. Now you’ll have to go out there and win it again.”  That’s how it feels, that every day I have to learn how to win, how to be me, how to be depressed and autistic and Jewish and survive, and then the next day I have to do it all over again.

More Peopling

By the time my sister and brother-in-law left last night, I was exhausted from ‘peopling’ with family and at the asylum seekers drop-in centre.  I watched Doctor Who (an old-style, twenty-five minute episode) for a bit.  By 10.30pm I did not feel relaxed and thought I would not sleep, but I went to bed anyway, because I thought I would feel guilty if I stayed up watching TV.  Sure enough, I couldn’t sleep.  An hour later I got up, watched Doctor Who and ate porridge (the only way I can consume warm milk to make me drowsy) which is what I probably should have done in the first place; I fell asleep soon afterwards, but by that time it was gone midnight and I only got six hours sleep.

I got into work feeling that I had walked into The Twilight Zone.  The library was completely empty of both students and staff, at least above the ground floor; the office I work in was also empty.  When I turned on my computer, I discovered that my line manager had food poisoning and her line manager, who shares our office and usually gets in to work at 8.00am, was out in the morning and working from home in the afternoon.

This was a bit problematic, as my line manager was supposed to be helping with the event/exhibition we were running.  Fortunately the other staff members who were helping were around.  I think I managed to do everything that was needed.  Nothing went disastrously wrong, at any rate.  I did end up standing up from about four hours straight, spending about two of those hours talking almost non-stop about rare books and the historical periods they came from.  I hadn’t really had time to revise these things from university or even school, so I hope I didn’t say anything too incorrect.  I think I was mostly coherent, but I have a bad habit of interrupting myself when explaining things to add information I should have mentioned earlier.  I shook a little bit, but not much and I think/hope not visibly to other people.

The event seemed to be popular with the people who came and the numbers were good (according to one of the other staff members, who had an idea of what is normal for these things).  The only negative thing was when one staff member said I was surely overqualified for my job.  She meant it as a compliment, but it just reminded me of what a mess my career is and how years of mental illness has sidetracked me.

I didn’t get to eat lunch until 1.30pm.  I usually have early lunch, because my blood sugar tends to drop by late morning, so you can imagine the state I was in by that stage, especially after all the standing and talking.  Work was difficult in the afternoon as I was exhausted and ready to shutdown.  It involved some rather tedious checking and amending of dates from catalogue records, which I kept messing up, probably because of exhaustion.  I went rather slowly and did much less than I would have liked.

By the time I finished for the day, rather late, I was exhausted and probably had low blood sugar again.  I felt depressed by being in a building full of undergraduates, remembering how miserable and lonely I was when I was an undergraduate and feeling what George Orwell described as the envy of the ghost for the living, although I was thinking more literally of the ghost soldier from Sapphire and Steel and his resentment.  By the time I got to the station I was feeling literally hopeless and making melodramatic comments to myself about wanting to die, but I was aware in some way that this was probably low blood sugar even if I didn’t have the energy or presence of mind to challenge the thoughts with CBT.  I ate an apple on the Tube which helped somewhat, although I had to stand for most of the journey.  I felt exhausted enough to phone my Dad for a lift home from the station, which I hate doing, but do a lot lately because work exhausts me so much.  By the time he arrived, I was virtually in shutdown and unable to say anything to him much more coherent than grunts.

I’m not sure how much this is genuine autistic shutdown or just depressive withdrawal.  I’m not sure whether I have ‘real’ autistic shutdowns, although I usually have things closer to shutdowns than meltdowns when exhausted and overstimulated.  Autism is a spectrum, which means a lot of the behaviours can be exhibited to a greater or lesser degree.  I’m slowly learning to recognise behaviour I exhibit in a lesser degree in myself where I once thought that I did not show this behaviour at all, which contributed to my negative diagnoses.  Of course, one doesn’t have to exhibit every form of autistic behaviour to be diagnosed on the spectrum.

This week I have two consecutive work days for the first time in a couple of months, so I need to somehow not crash tomorrow morning after two busy days.

Realignments

I was quite depressed and very sluggish on waking and I had to go to my mental health class without having shaved, which I don’t like doing.  The class was OK, more CBT stuff really.  I still struggle with CBT, despite wanting to try it again for my low self-esteem.  It always seems so fake to challenge my negative thoughts when there seem to be so many objectively true reasons for me to worry about the state of my life.  One psychiatrist said I was too clever to be fooled by it.  But I took some blank sheets for setting out and challenging negative thoughts in the week ahead and will try to challenge my thoughts.  We did an example in the class, which happened to reflect my job fears, and then I privately tried another example with my dating fears.  To be honest, I was still quite pessimistic afterwards, but perhaps slightly less so than before.

***

Related to this, I phoned to try to find out how long I’m going to have to wait for CBT on the NHS to deal with my low self-esteem.  As with the last time I phoned a week or two ago, there was no answer (typical NHS efficiency and customer service).  This time I left a message, but I doubt anyone will get back to me.

***

While I was in my mental health class, my parents were down the road at a workshop for families of people with autism.  I think they understand me better now they have been to the workshop.  At any rate, they said they felt they could understand me more.  They also wondered if my maternal grandfather was on the spectrum.  I think it is impossible to tell at this distance, but I guess it would explain why, as I grew up (he died when I was nineteen) I felt that he was more on my wavelength than other family members.

***

Despite this, I feel a bit better about the world today.  Maybe it’s the possible political realignment in the air; as someone in the centre, I’ve felt stranded in recent years as the political world has polarised to the extremes of right and left.  On the other hand, the extremes aren’t going to just go away without a fight, and third parties and centrist parties tend to do badly in UK elections because of the way our voting system works, plus, as the BBC news website says, the cross-party nature of the new group could put off as many people as it attracts.

I once heard it said that conservatives believe that people are inherently bad and need laws and traditions to keep them in check, whereas progressives believe that people are inherently good and if they do bad things it’s because they’ve been corrupted by bad laws and traditions or other systemic social issues.  To be honest, I don’t really believe either of these things.  I don’t think people are really inherently good or bad.  They probably are closer to good than bad most of the time, but then there are times when almost anyone is capable of being bad, when they’re tired, hungry, angry or scared.  Maybe this is why I struggle to locate myself politically.  I don’t really feel tribal feelings for any one party and I haven’t for many years.

Anyway, enough politics!!!!

***

I finished another chapter of my Doctor Who book in second draft (or ‘revised second’ draft/draft 2.5).  I only added 400 words, which, considering I spent fourteen and a half hours watching Doctor Who for research seems like a poor return BUT I think the chapter would have definitely read as sub-par, hurried and lacking in detail in places compared with some of the later chapters had I not made the revisions, so I will continue on to draft 2.5 of the third chapter.  After that, and possibly some very slight work to chapter four, it’s a big jump ahead to chapter fourteen, the final one… unless I get forced to write a chapter on last year’s episodes, which I’d rather not do, as I don’t think I have the necessary distance from them or a sense of where the series is going at the moment, but I can see that a publisher might want it.

***

I’m very tired though.  I don’t know why my mental health group leaves me so tired when I get so little out of it, and largely feel too anxious and overwhelmed to participate (unlike the previous course, where I participated a lot).  I think I dozed off for a few minutes in the afternoon.  I did a few minor chores, but didn’t try to do too much and I’m trying not to feel like I wasted the day.  I’m a bit upset I didn’t really feel up to doing any real Torah study, but I was just too tired.

Over-Thinking?

Early afternoon:

The Doctor Who story The Space Museum, most of which I watched last night, has the regular characters trying and apparently failing to change their own futures, only to realise that they have had an effect on the people around them that has saved them.  I find myself wondering if I’ve ever had a substantial positive effect on those around me, as I can’t think of anything I’ve done myself that will change my own future to something even vaguely positive.

***

I woke up in the middle of the night with a headache and spent the next couple of hours alternately trying to sleep and watching Doctor Who again (The Chase now, perhaps Doctor Who‘s least successful attempt at comedy.  Say what you like about The Horns of Nimon, at least it raises a smile).  I did eventually fall back to sleep, but not before a lot of lying in bed feeling depressed and lonely.  I suppose I did at least steal a march on my Doctor Who research viewing.

***

I have a meeting later today with a matchmaker from the values-based matchmaking service.  This feels like a huge mistake.  Every time I’ve tried dating it goes horribly wrong.  Now I’m going to have to list my core values as religious commitment and integrity while covering up that I don’t do a lot of stuff frum (religious Orthodox Jews) Jews should do because of mental health issues and autism.  So much for religious commitment and integrity.

Basically, I’m just too broken for anyone to be able to love me and perhaps for me to really be able to love anyone else.  I think I should wait a couple of weeks and then ask for them not to set me up with anyone for the foreseeable future, ostensibly while I find a permanent job with longer hours, but also until I get ‘better’ (which is never going to happen).

***

Just seen an article stating that people with mild/high functioning autism/Asperger’s Syndrome do no better in life than people with more severe autism, in terms of careers and relationships, even if (like me) they were highly functional as children.  “‘The implication of our findings is that the consequences of having an autism spectrum disorder with profound difficulties in communication skills and social impairment can’t be compensated for by either high intellectual level or normal language function,’ says lead investigator Anne Myhre, associate professor of mental health and addiction at the University of Oslo in Norway.”  Apparently high quality early intervention is the only real way of having a positive outcome, which is bad news for me (I’m thirty-five and still not officially diagnosed, although convinced that I’m on the spectrum).  I don’t think I will qualify for benefits and having been on benefits for depression in the past, I would not to live off them (it’s pretty soul-destroying even if you have no alternative), but I don’t want to be a burden to my parents and I worry what will happen when they are gone.

***

Later…

The meeting with the matchmaker was OK in the end.  Much quicker than I expected; she asked for some personal details, briefly asked about career, hobbies and interests and then values (my own core values and those I am looking for).  I was expecting that she would ask questions to help me articulate and understand my values.  As it happens, I have a fairly good idea of my values from thinking about them with regard to previous relationships and my well-being class, but I felt a bit under pressure to rattle off a list of things I see in myself and want to see in a partner.

I listed my core values as religious commitment (which she didn’t count, apparently because I’d already asked to be matched only with shomer Shabbat women), integrity, and pursuing knowledge.  I think I may have also put personal growth on the list too.  In terms of what I’m looking for, it’s religious commitment and integrity again, but also empathy and trust.  I think the matchmaker may have put empathetic on my list of own values, but on reflection they probably are core values for me too.  I never think of myself as empathetic because I think, “Oh, I’m autistic, I don’t understand people” but (a) autistic people can feel empathy and (b) a lot of people say I’m empathetic, so maybe it’s true.  I certainly try to understand what people feel, even if that’s something I have to do consciously and with difficulty because of the autism rather than doing it intuitively like neurotypical people can do.

I did mention a bit about depression and autism, despite feeling overwhelmed with different advice from different people about whether to do so.  I don’t think they can legally tell anyone something like that anyway and the matchmaker didn’t seem to think it would be a problem, but there’s obviously no telling how a date would react if I told her.  I do still feel pretty pessimistic about dating, partly because of my financial situation, partly because I can’t believe anyone could really care about me with all my issues.

I felt really tense afterwards, as if I had had a very traumatic experience.  This seems to happen to me a lot lately; I suppose I’ve always been somewhat anxious, but nowadays I seem to experience everything remotely stressful as actual trauma.  Or maybe I’m more aware of existing feelings?  A while back my therapist (when I was in therapy) lent me a CD on dealing with trauma and maybe that made me more aware of the symptoms, bearing in mind that I often have a poor understanding of what I’m feeling.

The dating service is free and only matches people if they can find a someone who meets the criteria (i.e. both people’s values match); they don’t just match people for the sake of it the way professional matchmakers do.  So there’s no way of knowing whether I’ll even get a single date out of this, but I guess I feel like I’ve done something.

I am doing OCD second-guessing at the moment, going back over what I said and wondering if I should have said something else.  I feel I fudged it a bit.  I thought of preparing a list of values beforehand, but decided against it because I thought they would ask me questions to help me understand myself in more detail.  When this didn’t happen, I floundered a bit and now I’m worrying if I said the right thing.  I have to say that I think about my core values quite a lot, but the ones lower down the list shift a bit depending on my recent experiences, which values I think I’ve been showing more recently and which I’ve not focused on so much.  So I do worry a bit about whether I chose the right values.

I guess sooner or later I have to just accept that everything is in the hands of HaShem (God) and accept I can only do so much, doubly so with something like marriage.  Unfortunately, while I don’t currently feel that HaShem hates me, I feel He probably does want to put me through a lot of difficult situations, for whatever reason, so it’s hard to be confident and trusting.  I suppose that takes me back to The Space Museum at the start of this post and the feeling that our lives are essentially unpredictable and the patterns we think we see turn out to be illusory, while things we miss turn out to be far more important.

Or I could be over-thinking things again.  I have been told that I do that.

Metaphysics, Loneliness and Doing OK

Today went OK.  I felt that I messed some stuff up at times and that my boss was downplaying how badly I was doing because she’s nice.  I dropped a nineteenth century book on the floor at one point in front of her, picking a pile of books out of a crate and thinking there was one big book at the bottom, when it turned out there were two small ones, and I was only holding one of them.  I also had some anxiety about some other things.  However, I was able to calm myself most of the time with deep breathing and telling myself that sometimes my thoughts are not my friends and in retrospect I can’t remember everything I was anxious about, so this one is probably a win overall.

I do wish I had something better to look forward to at the end of the day than some of the Doctor Who story The Web Planet (Doctor Who fans may appreciate the reference; for the rest of you, imagine experimental, minimalist surrealist avant-garde theatre crossed with plotless primary school kids TV overlaid with a soundtrack of car alarms and broken pipes, only weirder and bizarrely more boring, for two and a half hours).  Perhaps to compensate, the last slice of blueberry pie was consumed, with Haagen Dazs vanilla ice cream.

***

Ashley Leia mentioned in a comment a while back about my thoughts not being my self, which she said is from acceptance and commitment therapy.  I find this a weird thought to hold on to.  If I’m not my thoughts, what am I?  I’m not my body, I believe I have a non-physical soul.  Is my soul not my thoughts?  I have automatically assumed they are the same and have done for years, but theologically it makes sense to assume they aren’t the same, that a soul is an expression of being rather than thinking, particularly if the soul is somehow a part of a God Who is seen as the Source or Essence of existence rather than an old man in the sky.  Certainly a God of Being and a soul of being is more Jewish than Greek philosophical notion of God being pure thought thinking itself.  In Judaism, God’s essential name is etymologically related to the verb ‘to be’ and He says He is “I Will Be What I Will Be” – being not thinking.  But this is too metaphysical for 10pm.

***

A similar thought to the above, but from earlier today:

I think most people, when they think of Heaven (whether they believe in it or not), they think of other people.  Being reunited with departed relatives, lost loves, meeting heroes from a bygone age.  It’s interesting that when I think of the afterlife, it is of being alone, either literally or alone with God.  When I think of Gehennom (Purgatory), I think of being alone with my thoughts of guilt and shame indefinitely; when I think of Heaven, it is of being somehow with God and able to understand my life, why so much of it has been suffering, why so much of everyone’s life is suffering.  But I struggle to imagine a blissful afterlife with other people, even though I loved my late grandparents.  I can’t imagine how disembodied souls could interact.  Maybe this will change as I get older.  I want to say: maybe this will change as I get older and more people I care about begin to die.  But I know that I should not say this, although I suspect it is true.  It is one of those things that is known to be true, but which we should not say.  One of those things that puzzles my autistic head.

***

I feel a bit lonely again tonight.  I’ve been thinking about Sunday, the Doctor Who quiz, and wondering if I can overcome my social anxiety and autism enough to be a bit more involved in fandom and make new friends.  I don’t think online fandom is really going to work for me any more; it’s too hard to make friends and the online world (generally, not just for Doctor Who fandom) is far too explosive and argumentative for me to stay in.  These days I’m trying only to stay on certain quiet corners of the internet, like this one.  But it’s fun to talk about Doctor Who with people who know about it in detail, in person.

But I always feel “too Jewish” when I mix with non-Jews socially, just as I feel “too geeky” and “too modern” with other frum Jews.  My friend M. sent me some photos taken on Sunday and I felt my kippah (skullcap) is weirdly prominent in some of them.  This is probably self-consciousness.  Certainly it’s hard to go to social events when you can’t eat or drink very much, and conventions are often held on Saturdays, at least partially.  I try to compartmentalise my life, but it’s like I’ve got my Jewish life in one closet (that’s probably not the best metaphor in the circumstances, but I can’t think of another) and my geek life in another and people from one aren’t even allowed to know that the other really exists for fear of what they might think of me.  I’m not so much afraid of rejection as total incomprehension.

Conventions are scary from an autistic and social anxiety point of view too: people, noise, but that seems like more of a surmountable challenge, IF I can get the courage to go.  Let’s face it, I’m not going to be the most autistic person (whatever that means) at a Doctor Who convention.

At any rate, I just booked to see Rabbi Rafi Zarum interview literary critic Robert Alter about translating Tanakh (The Hebrew Bible) in Jewish Book Week, so maybe I may make to a convention some day after all.

Adventures in Doctor Who Fandom

I’ve been to bed (very late), but couldn’t sleep and I’m not even that tired any more, so I’ve got up and am trying to do some things so if I sleep in tomorrow, it won’t matter so much.

The reason I went to bed so late and so hyped up was that I went to a Doctor Who pub quiz, the same one I wanted to go to last month (it’s a monthly event).  I arrived just on time, having underestimated how long the journey would take with a Sunday bus timetable.  Our team was comprised of past and present members of the Oxford University Doctor Who Society (actually, technically we were all present members, as membership is life membership).  I knew two people there; my friend M. I knew would be going, but it was a pleasant surprise to see someone I hadn’t seen since I left Oxford in 2005.  There were also a couple of other old Oxford fans in another team.  There were three current Oxford undergraduates too, two of them from my old college.  One asked me about the society when I was president, which made me feel a little old (although M’s connection with it goes back considerably further).

We won the quiz on a tie-breaker.  I answered quite a lot of questions correctly.  It was fun and good to do something social that isn’t either Jewish or related to my issues (depression, autism etc.).  There was a LOT of noise in the pub though.  There were thirteen teams AND other people drinking at the bar AND a gig going on downstairs.  I covered my ears instinctively at a couple of points which was an autistic trait I didn’t think I had.  Obviously I’m more sensitive to noise and sensory overload than I thought I was; I’m just good at avoiding.  One awkward moment came when someone asked how I knew so much Doctor Who trivia and I said “I’m probably autistic and this is my special interest” which in my head sounded light-hearted-yet-meaningful, but in reality sounded stupid and weird.

I travelled part of the way home with my team-mates.  This probably added some time to my journey, as I had to take an indirect route, but I wanted to continue socialising plus I felt safer walking in a crowd in a not so nice part of London at 10.30pm than I would have done travelling alone.

There were some Big Name Fans there.  This weirded me out a little as I’m not used to in-person fan meetings these days, certainly not with people whose picture I recognised from Doctor Who Magazine.  I used to want to be a Big Name Fan years ago, but I don’t think I would want that any more.  Nowadays I just want to have some friends.  My Doctor Who book isn’t intended to make me famous in fandom, but to give something back to the fan community I have enjoyed being part of (to varying extents) over the years, as well as for the intellectual fun of writing it.  The evening did make me wonder what it would be like to go to a Doctor Who convention, but I’m wary of how that would work practically with autism, kashrut and Shabbat (the Jewish dietary and Sabbath laws).  Maybe if there’s a London-based convention on a Sunday I’ll think about going.

(As an aside, I’m thinking about going to see Robert Alter talk about his Tanakh (Hebrew Bible) translation in Jewish Book Week, which would be a big step for me in terms of going to something new and big, but I haven’t worked up the courage yet to book a ticket, largely because I would have work the next day and am worried about having a late night.  It would be good to hear Alter, as I got a lot from his books The Art of Biblical Narrative and The Art of Biblical Poetry.)

I did feel self-consciously Jewish at times.  Whenever I’m in one environment, I obsess about how people view my traits from other aspects of my personality.  With Jews, I worry about seeming fannish or worldly; in non-Jewish environments I wonder how people view my Jewishness.  I know most Orthodox Jews (and many non-Orthodox Jews) avoid socialising with non-Jews, but I can’t do that without cutting off too many aspects of my life (Doctor Who, mental health, autism).  I just try to be a good ambassador.  I might wear one of my Doctor Who kippot (skullcaps) next time.  I might as well embrace being in a ghetto of one (OK, probably not literally one, but not many).  Although there are probably fewer people in fandom who have a problem with Jews than there are frum people who think geek culture should be avoided (I’m remembering the time my shul rabbi went off onto a rant about the dangers of imagination, which still seems a bizarre thing to say, although I have yet to think of an answer to him that he would see as valid).

Anxiety and Progress

I stayed up late last night watching The Dalek Invasion of Earth for research for my Doctor Who book.  Realistically, it was probably too much Doctor Who in one go (two and a half hours), but I just want to get the rest of my research out of the way so I can get to work on redrafting for style rather than content and also so that I can watch something other than 1960s Doctor Who, which I’ve been watching for nearly five months, albeit interrupted for a while by Sherlock and Jonathan Creek.  I worked out that at my current rate I should be able to finish my research within five weeks, just in time for Purim (and, currently, the ending of my contract at work) if all goes well.  We shall see.  It’s become a slog, though, which is sad.  When I started my research for the book in 2016, watching Doctor Who in order from the first episode until I caught up with the ongoing TV series for Twice Upon a Time at the end of 2017, I mostly enjoyed it.  But this is too recent to my last viewing and I’m too impatient to finish the second draft and get on to the third draft.  I did at least finish the second draft of another chapter today; just three more to go.

I’m also trying to cram in a skim reading of Inside the TARDIS by James Chapman (a cultural studies history of Doctor Who).  I read it when it was published many years ago and my memory is that a lot of it is repetition of established fan interpretations, some of which I am challenging or developing in my book, so it probably won’t be that helpful, but it’s worth skimming as I have a copy.

***

I had anxiety dreams last night.  Ever since I became shomer Shabbat (keeping the Sabbath) about twenty years ago I’ve had occasional anxiety dreams about breaking Shabbat.  They’ve never gone away despite my being shomer Shabbat (at least at a basic level – it took me a while to learn all the details) for so long.  Last night’s dream had added shul (synagogue) anxiety too, perhaps a product of my thinking about why I struggle to go to shul on Shabbat mornings.

I was in my parents’ shul for some reason (although it didn’t look like their shul) on Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year) and my Dad was warden (as he was in our old shul years ago before we moved).  For some reason I had my phone with me, even though carrying phones is forbidden on Shabbat and Yom Tov (festivals) and I had some legitimate, life-threatening reason to carry it, but no one else knew that, so I wanted to put it somewhere safe where no one would hear it if it rang which resulted in my literally running out of shul during Kol Nidre (the opening of Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement) prayers even though it was clearly Rosh Hashanah and people were drinking unlike Yom Kippur) and someone saw the phone, I think, and I ran home to hide it… it all got rather confused, and there’s a lot of detail that I’m skipping over as irrelevant, but I suppose underneath it was about feeling that I might have legitimate reasons not to go to shul or participate in the community in certain ways because of depression, autism and social anxiety, but that other people would not understand and maybe that my current shul isn’t 100% right for me, but it’s the best option at the moment.

***

I woke up feeling anxious about work, which was a little surprising – I mean surprising that I was feeling anxious about work and not shul.  There’s one task I have to do at work about which I worry that I did not write down clear enough instructions for myself; I mentioned it to my line manager that I was worried that I was not doing it correctly, and she felt that I probably was doing it OK as it is not a very difficult task, just a time-consuming and boring one.  But I still can’t shake the feeling I’m missing out a step, even though I can’t think what that step could be.  This is probably just anxiety too.  I’m not sure that it would be a good idea to seek further reassurance from my line manager, both from a work point of view and because it would probably further stimulate any anxiety.  I don’t know why I woke up thinking about it after a completely different anxiety dream, unless it’s that all my anxieties are linked somehow, or at least that feeling anxious about one thing can quickly lead to feeling anxious about another.

***

I’m off soon to a monthly Doctor Who pub quiz.  I wanted to go last month, but got a bit overwhelmed by anxiety, depression and the need to get up early the next day for my well-being course.  I hope to actually make it there today, although I’m a bit nervous about being in a pub full of strangers (bar one friend who I know is going).  I don’t think I’ve been in a pub for about fifteen years and wonder what I will make of the noise given my growing awareness of my issues with noise.

Crash

Today I crashed.

I suppose it started yesterday, when I got into a very agitated state in the evening when my parents were out.  I went to bed trying to count the number of people I thought would be upset if I killed myself, which was not an encouraging sign although it was good that I did at least acknowledge that some people would be upset, whereas in the past I might have assumed that no one would really care.

I woke up feeling much the same this morning.  I wanted to try positive self-affirmations again (don’t ask me why, as they haven’t worked in the past), but for every time I can tell myself I’m a good person, I tell myself several hundred times more that I’m a wicked, defective freak.

At work I felt terrible, really despairing and sure I couldn’t do my work properly.  I felt like I was going to fall asleep and had a powerful urge to hurt myself, because I felt so unable to cope.  I struggled to work because I was thinking about death so much, fantasising about overdosing and calling myself a defective freak who can’t do anything right.  I was feeling that I hate myself so much that there are no words for it and that I don’t hate anyone else this much, not even those who made me like this.

I somehow got through the morning, but was not restored very much by lunch.  I’m struggling more than I expected to with a forty-five minute lunch and wonder if I should ask to switch to one hour lunches and leave at 5.15pm instead of 5.00pm.  It didn’t help that there were two people in the staff room watching different programmes on their phones without headphones, which I felt was rude and antisocial.

Things came to a head when I went to prepare some books in the book store and virtually had a panic attack, terrified that I was going to damage one of the rare books.  I got into a complete state and phoned my Mum to ask what she felt I should do as I wasn’t being particularly rational.  She said to come home as I sounded too agitated to do any work.

I obviously needed to tell my line manager that I was not well, but I decided to tell her about the depression in some detail.  She was really supportive and said I should think about whether there are any changes I could make at work that would help me.  She also said that she’s really pleased with my work so far and that I’ve picked up a lot in a very short space of time; also that there isn’t much that I can do disastrously wrong in my job and that I’m very careful with the rare books.  I mentioned going too slowly in previous jobs because of my fear of mistakes and she didn’t think that that would be an issue here.  She was so supportive I went for broke and mentioned the autism as well.  I’m not quite sure why I did that, but it seemed appropriate to mention it as context and it turns out just as well that I did as she said she had already wondered if I’m on the spectrum (it seems that everyone thinks I’m autistic except the psychiatrists making the assessment…).

On the way home I had a telephone appointment with the duty GP at my doctor’s surgery.  It was slightly awkward as I had a couple of ‘autistic misunderstanding’ moments, which I guess is not surprising when I’m agitated and taking a serious private call in the street.  He felt that I should see my regular doctor, but unfortunately the regular doctor is off tomorrow, so I’m booked in for Thursday morning, which will make me late for work.  I did get a bit annoyed that he said that, if I’m suicidal, I should phone the crisis team, not the surgery.  I’ve done this in the past, only for the crisis team to say if I’m not actually about to try to kill myself, I should go to the GP.  Seriously, when I phoned the crisis team to report suicidal thoughts within twenty-four hours, I was told only to phone if I was actually having them at that moment.  As I know the GP will speak to me if I’m in crisis, even if he says I should phone the crisis team, whereas I know the crisis team will not speak to me, it’s a bit of a no-brainer as to which one I phone, regardless of what the proper protocol is supposed to be.  (More NHS fun and games.)

It was awkward telling my parents all this.  I suppose there isn’t an easy way to tell anyone you’re having suicidal thoughts.  My Mum got very emotional when I told her; perhaps because of this, I couldn’t tell my Dad that at all, just saying I was having “difficult” thoughts.  It’s awkward because most people don’t realise that (in my case, at any rate) there are a spectrum of thoughts that I would describe as “suicidal” from suicidal ideation (thinking or fantasising about suicide and dying) to vaguely noting how you could kill yourself to actively working out how you would kill yourself.  I don’t always find it easy to tell the difference between them, to be honest, so maybe I shouldn’t expect others to do so.

Mum burst into tears when I spoke to her.  Dad… I just struggle to talk to Dad at all these days.  We literally don’t speak each other’s language any more and I don’t know why.  His speech has become more garrulous and rambling, full of unnecessary detail, diversions and repetitions as well malapropisms and vague pronoun use (using pronouns without making it clear what objects they refer to) which are not easy for my autistic brain to understand.  He, on the other hand, has always found my vocabulary difficult to understand and I probably do some of the things I complain about him doing, like not sticking to the point or throwing in unnecessary detail.  Things are not helped by the fact that I think that both my parents are beginning to go a bit deaf and I can’t always tell if they’ve not heard something, heard it and are processing it or are just choosing to ignore it.  My Dad and I seem to bicker a lot more than we used to because of this and I’m not sure why it’s happened.  It upsets me, not least because I think it’s at least in part my fault, but I don’t know what I can do about it, especially as I can’t seem to explain to them about autistic thought patterns and how difficult Dad can be for me to understand.  Any suggestions would be welcome.

So that was my day.  I’m still feeling elements of post-trauma shock.  I know it sounds silly to say ‘trauma,’ but I guess that was how I felt telling my line manager about my issues.  I’m still feeling rather shaky and in shock.  I’m about to watch some Doctor Who for distraction and to make progress with the research for my book, which hopefully will make me feel a bit better.

The Seven Beggars

I had a silly Doctor Who dream last night, but for some reason I woke up very anxious about work, really worried that I don’t know what I’m doing and that I’m going to make a terrible mistake.  I’ve been thinking again that I wish I was dead just to be away from these worries and this loneliness.  I can’t see things ever get better in a substantial way.  Things seem so hopeless at the moment, although “at the moment” has really been for most of the last sixteen years, give or take the occasional six months of remission.  I’m trying to stay open to the idea that I might have a full-time job “one day” and manage to get married “one day” but “one day” is probably years if not decades down the line, which means I probably won’t be able to have children.  I worry what will happen to me when my parents are gone, given I rely on them for financial, practical and, to a lesser extent, emotional, support.

On the Mental Health at Home blog, Ashley Leia posted about being “over-educated and under-functioning” and having to revise career goals because of mental illness, all of which seems familiar to me.  I don’t know how to make more feasible goals, though. I still want to have some kind of full-time/nearly full-time job that will make me financially independent, able to have place of my own and a wife and kids, but none of those things seem at all likely to happen any time in the short or medium term and would require some major unexpected changes to happen in the longer term.

***

I went out today for about an hour and a quarter to do some shopping, but came back feeling exhausted and depressed, really just wanting to go back to bed.  I felt strong feelings of self-loathing and a feeling of not wanting to be alive while not being suicidal as such.  I messed around online for a while, which I shouldn’t have done, but then laid in the dark for a while, first listening to music, then silently, which seemed to help a little; I was still depressed and tired, but felt less exhausted and totally drained.  Perhaps I get autistic sensory overload when out shopping; it seems likely even if I’m not always good at recognising the signs because “I’m always like this” or “everyone gets tired.”  I should probably factor in more recovery time in the future, and after work, and do so in quiet and darkness rather than in front of the computer or TV.

***

I have mentioned before that my presumed autism went undetected for a very long time, even through psychiatric assessments, because I’ve learnt a lot of workarounds and algorithms (for want of a better word) for dealing with certain situations, especially social situations.  I suppose I have a different algorithm for interacting with non-depressed people, one for interacting with neurotypical people, one for frum (religious Jewish) people, one for non-frum people…  The reason I like to find people who are a lot like me, I suspect, is that I have to run fewer algorithms to interact with them or more simply, I don’t have to hide as much of myself.  To interact with non-depressed, neurotypical frum people takes up a lot of ‘processing power’ to avoid saying or doing the wrong thing, even before you factor in the fact that for many autistic people, the amount ‘processing power’ needed in a social situation or interaction increases exponentially with the number of people present.  Like running a lot of apps at once, using so many algorithms, so much processing power, is very draining.  So, at a social event, like the Shabbat (Sabbath) meal I’ve been invited to on Friday, I use a lot of energy just being in the room regardless of what I’m actually doing.  And, of course, work also requires a lot of processing power both for autism and depression.  This is why having a more client-facing role or being in a large noisy office was so difficult for me, because they were so draining.  So, I finish work or social situations incredibly drained, which triggers depression, and I can take hours or even days to recover (in which time I may have to go to work or into social situations again).

***

My Mum thinks I was at kindergarten with the person who invited me for Shabbat dinner this week.  The Jewish world is very small.  The flipside of this is that you can’t escape, or at least that it’s very hard to, which I find a bit depressing.  Sometimes I think I want to be forgotten.

***

I wish I could find the key to unlock the potential and joy hidden in my life, assuming such potential and joy could even exist for me, which I doubt.  I certainly can’t imagine anyone finding enough potential in me to date me for long.  I do really want to love someone though, which I guess brings me back to pets as an object of doting again, despite my Mum’s objections.

***

There was another engagement announced from children of members of my shul again.  It was also announced last Friday – engagement and birth announcements seem to be made twice, as soon as the rabbi hears, he posts something on the shul What’sApp group and then later there’s an email from the administrator.  There is a certain logic to this so that no one misses the news, but it feels like rubbing salt in an open wound.  I don’t really want to opt out of communal announcements, but I do feel like someone trapped outside in the cold, looking at a fun party happening indoors through the window.  I do feel bad for getting so upset and envious when this happens, though.  I don’t want other people to be miserable and lonely, I just wish I wasn’t so miserable and lonely.

***

Listening to Queen’s Greatest Hits while cooking dinner (red bean chilli, a familiar recipe because, once again, I feel too depressed to try something new – I’ve only once used the Jewish cookery book my parents bought me for my birthday in the summer), listening to the loud and angry chords for some reflection of my own inner turmoil.  By the time dinner is ready, I’m very agitated and wanting to hurt myself and am not sure if it’s from my thoughts (which have been going on all day), the music or looking out of curiosity on Only Simchas (not a site I usually frequent) and googling old friends and crushes to see what they’re doing.  Some of the men on Only Simchas are… less attractive than I am, or was, before clomipramine made me put on weight, but I guess they don’t have autism or depression and low incomes.  At any rate, not everyone looks younger than me, but the trend is definitely that the frummer-looking people do look younger than me, and the people I know (yes, it’s a small Jewish world) are significantly younger than me (like ten or fifteen years younger).  I shouldn’t look there again…

***

I keep thinking that I could bear my suffering if I knew it had a purpose, to help someone else somehow, but thinking that it’s just so I can reap more reward in the next world, or worse, to punish me for something, is not enough to be able bear it.  There’s a parable in the Talmud (somewhere early on in Brachot, can’t remember the exact page and I’m not going to look it up now) which in context isn’t relevant to me, but out of context sums up how a feel.  A man is in prison (presumably wrongfully… the Talmud was written when people, especially Jews, could be locked up by the monarch without having done anything wrong) and everyone says to him, “Hold on, tomorrow they’re going to release you and give you an expensive treasure to repay you for your experience” and he responds, “I don’t want the treasure, just get me out of here now!”

I feel that I can’t bear this any more, but somehow I have to.  Vicarious suffering is a complicated area in Judaism, but it doesn’t seem likely that my suffering could help anyone else, which is the only thing that I feel could keep me going.  I feel that I would gladly give up my life to help people, but I can’t live like this, so miserable and lonely, indefinitely without knowing why.  Maybe that’s just a reflection of how little I value my life, how little joy or meaning it gives me, that dying would be a release and potentially more invested with meaning than living.  I’m not suicidal, but it’s hard not to think about being hurt or killed right now.

Beethoven’s Birthday

I’m still here.  I feel less suicidal, but still not good.  I’m thinking of phoning the Samaritans helpline, but I don’t know what to say.  I’m also somewhat congested from the cold I have, so I’m not sure I could do much talking anyway.

I went for a walk for twenty-five minutes, as I did the last few days and, as with the last few days, it’s pretty much the only effort I’ve been able to make.  OK, not quite true, as I’ve davened (prayed) a bit every day and done a bit of Torah study (from five to thirty minutes) every day.  And today I cooked plain pasta (badly – I forgot to add salt, then accidentally poured in far too much and nearly let the whole thing boil over.  I feel very incompetent in my life) and did some online shopping, which I hate and which went badly.  But it is hard to do anything and I worry about starting my new job next week.  I wonder if I will have to resign before I even arrive.

After my last two jobs, I worry about doing something so disastrously wrong that I get fired.  I think I could cope even with being fired; it’s getting told off in person and realising how much I have disappointed everyone that upsets me.

I’m also not sure what it says about me that, in thirty-five years, only two people have cared for me romantically, of whom one was on the rebound from a boyfriend she still cares about and the other was essentially… I was going to say “using me” but that would be unfair.  But she expected me to drop everything to run halfway across London when she needed me, but ignored my texts for help when my depression was bad (I thought I was being paranoid in thinking this, but then she admitted that she was doing this deliberately) and kept telling me she needed me to drop out of her life for a couple of weeks while she decided if she actually cared about me at all (something she did to me two or three times) and who repeatedly pressured me into doing stuff physically that I wasn’t ready for (not ready for both religious, and I now realise, autistic/touch-sensitive reasons).  So, I don’t know what you would call that, but I haven’t had an actual “normal” relationship of caring for someone who cares about me and both investing similar amounts of effort and emotional energy in the relationship and the other person not trampling all over my boundaries.

(I don’t want to sound critical of E. because she didn’t make me feel that she was still pining over her ex while we were together, it’s just that as we’re still friends I can see that she still misses her time with him and not her time with me, which makes me wonder about our relationship.  Plus it makes me wonder if the reason she ended the relationship, which other people in my life thought was slightly strange, because she didn’t think we would be able to support ourselves financially together, would have been so important to her if she had cared for me as much as she cared for her ex.)

I read two short articles just now, aimed at parents of autistic children (by implication, high functioning autistic children), telling them to have realistic ambitions for their autistic children and that they (the autistic children) may not want to have successful careers (or will define “successful” differently), have relationships, have children and so on.  To be honest, I don’t really care about my career and, as the articles stated is normal for autistic people, I find it hard to think abstractly about what I want from the future in that way at all, although perhaps I would care more if I could find the right field.  I think I do genuinely want to marry and have children.  How much of that is simply a product of childhood emotional starvation and/or peer pressure in a community where family is the norm and single people between the ages of thirty and sixty are few in number and virtually invisible socially is hard to tell.  The latter (social pressure), perhaps not so much, the former (childhood emotional starvation), probably quite a bit, and I feel that’s a ‘wrong’ reason to want to have a family, but it doesn’t do anything to resolve my need to give and receive love.  Then there is also the religious obligation to marry and have children which isn’t so prominent in my consciousness, but is there.  I guess this is all pushing me back towards having pets as a way of giving love and receiving… gratitude for food, at any rate.

I just feel I’ve really let my parents down just by being me, instead of someone else, someone good.  Someone not defective.  Someone more like my sister.  I should say that my parents don’t say this to me.  But I still feel that it would be better for everyone if I was more ‘normal’ like my sister.

***

I’m reading The Complete Peanuts: 1953 to 1954 and two cartoons I saw today resonated (both on page 237).  In the first, Schroeder can remember Beethoven’s birthday and death anniversary, but can’t remember his own father’s age.  This is me with my knowledge of my special interests (Doctor Who and perhaps also Judaism) versus my knowledge of my family and friends.  In the second, Charlie Brown laments, “Sometimes I think I must be a misfit… I just don’t seem to fit in any place.”  When Schroeder suggests that he joins “a group of misfits”, Charlie Brown remarks that, “I probably wouldn’t even fit in there” which is me with depression, autism and especially social anxiety and my forays into socialising in support groups and the like.

***

I downloaded an app thingy to Google Chrome to block websites, to try to keep me off Twitter.  I may block other things if it works.  To be honest, it may not work, as when I’ve tried this in the past, it fails because I can always turn it off for a bit.  I’m blocking it not from a productivity point of view (which I think is what it’s primarily intend for, and for policing children’s internet use), but because it’s too triggering (I hate that word too), not just, or not even, the content, just the sheer level of anger and vitriol being sprayed in all directions at the slightest provocation.  I wish it were possible to participate in laid back discussions of Doctor Who and the like on Twitter and see whimsical humorous posts, but even these get politicised half the time and even when they don’t it’s hard to filter effectively.  So, total abstinence seems to be the answer.  I may delete my Twitter account, as I only set it up to promote my Doctor Who blog which (a) I’ve been doing very badly and (b) I’m not writing much on my Doctor Who blog at the moment anyway.

***

I came across this poem by the Israeli poet Yehuda Amichai.  It’s not very relevant to the post, but it reminds me of me so I wanted to share it.

Poem Without End

Inside the brand-new museum
there’s an old synagogue.
Inside the synagogue
is me.
Inside me
my heart.
Inside my heart
a museum.
Inside the museum
a synagogue,
inside it
me,
inside me
my heart,
inside my heart
a museum