I had a headache when I went to bed last night which got worse when I was lying down, as often happens to me, so I ended up getting up and watching Star Trek: Voyager at two in the morning and then sleeping even later than normal, which was not good. At least it was a comedic episode, rather than some heavy emotional drama or political parable. Then I feel asleep in the afternoon today from the heat.
I think the combination of heat, continued lockdown and shielding Mum, and finishing the first draft of my novel have left a bit of a “now what?” feeling. I’m not depressed exactly, just exhausted, but it’s hard to get motivated to do anything. I do think having a short break from writing is a good idea, but I think deep down I really want to get back to it. This is not a bad thing in itself, but I think more of a break would be helpful. I’m still reading books about writing and wondering if they are helpful of counter-productive. It’s hard to tell.
I’m struggling with Torah study from lack of engagement. I’m not studying anything that really excites me at the moment. My Tanakh (Hebrew Bible) study currently is Mishlei (Proverbs), which I’m struggling with. I think it’s the “wisdom literature” outlook that good is always rewarded and evil always punished in this world, which I find simplistic. “Wisdom literature” was a genre in many countries in the Ancient Near East, not just Israel and Judea, associated with the scribes at royal court. It aimed to set out advice for living a good life, based on following the dictates of wisdom rather than other impulses. It tends towards pithy aphorisms which makes Mishlei one of the more quotable books of Tanakh, but also feels like it’s making sweeping statements. I think Kohelet (Ecclesiastes) is something of a critique of this outlook. Kohelet is in many ways structured like wisdom literature, but is very conscious that the righteous are often not rewarded in this world. (I have a whole theory of why some books of the Bible assume that reward and punishment occurs in a very obvious and simplistic sense and others take a different, more complex, view that I can share if anyone’s interested.)
To be honest, I find studying Tanakh challenging at times in general, although I do at times find it very rewarding too. There’s such a weight of expectation on “The Bible” to be life-changing and inspirational that it can be hard to engage with it. I don’t really understand how Protestants in particular seem to be able to “converse” with the Bible in a very personal way, although I used to be able to do that more than I can now. I find the Koren Maggid Tanakh series of books really helpful at explaining the historical background and literary style of the books of Tanakh, but it’s an ongoing series and they haven’t published volumes on all the books of Tanakh yet – plus the Koren books focus on the straightforward contextual meaning of the text, which isn’t always the inspirational side – the sense of “Why did someone find this meaningful enough to canonise it?”
The weight of history on Tanakh can be off-putting too, like watching a classic film like Citizen Kane for the first time and not knowing if you like it or merely think you should like it. Citizen Kane is a good example, as nowadays it doesn’t look so impressive because so many of its startling innovations have become cinematic standards. Similarly, a lot of what Western civilisation took from biblical ethics is so ingrained that we assume that all societies believe the same thing and don’t realise how revolutionary Tanakh was and only notice where the biblical ethic does not match modern standards.
(Sorry, that was a big tangent. I guess that was autistic special interest mode.)
Likewise the Mishnah I’m studying, Seder Zeraim, Masechet Terumot, agricultural laws, is rather dry and separate from my life.
Because of this feeling of disconnection I just ordered Emmanuel Levinas’ Nine Talmudic Readings, both because I want to read more Levinas (observant Jewish Existentialist philosopher) and because I want to study some Talmud without moving on from my weekly Talmud class, which is on hold during lockdown. I also ordered Rav Kook’s Lights of Penitence because I also want to read more Rav Kook and it’s appropriate as we move towards Elul and Tishrei, the time of the year focused on introspection and repentance. Hopefully that will give me more variety in my Torah study and something more inspirational and meaningful to my everyday life. Still, I am conscious that I just spent nearly £50 on books. Buying too many books (more than I can read, at any rate) is not the worst vice, but I do tend to assume that all my problems can be solved by buying more books, which is not necessarily the case here (or elsewhere).
Achievements: I posted on my Doctor Who blog for the first time in a while, which was good (posting something I mostly wrote a few days ago, but hadn’t posted). Also, despite what I wrote above about Torah study, I did manage about fifty minutes of Torah study again today. I also cooked dinner (Hungarian pepper ragout with rice, which I had only cooked once before; this time I topped it with a fried egg, which is not healthy, but tasted good).
I’m not sure what the opposite of “achievements” is, but in terms of negative things, I got a rejection from a job I applied for some time ago and I think I messed up a social interaction online with someone I particularly didn’t want to upset (not that there are people I do want to upset, but you know what I mean). I also wanted to go for a walk at dusk as I did yesterday, but it started raining. By the time I realised it had stopped, I was too tired and it was too late. It looks like thunderstorms are predicted for the rest of the week, which will limit my ability to go out.
When my therapist suggested limiting my internet time, she said not to see it as another “Should,” but just an experiment. She was worried that if I couldn’t stick to it, I would beat myself up. I haven’t completely stuck to it, but I haven’t beaten myself up either. I am pleased to be online less and seem to be happier, although I do worry a bit about not being well-informed of the news. I am procrastinating less, although I’m not sure where the gained time is going. Certainly the whole experiment has made me more mindful of when I go online or check my emails; I don’t do that casually any more, without thinking, but do it consciously and deliberately even if I’m doing it outside the approved times.
A thought I had last night: I need to learn to trust myself and to trust God.
I want to feel that I’ve achieved something with my life, that I’ve fulfilled my mission, or at least that I am on course to fulfil it. I don’t think a person’s mission is necessarily tied up completely with his or her career or family responsibilities, but I do feel that I have achieved very little that is worthwhile in my life. This is why I find it so hard to trust myself or love myself, because I feel unworthy because I am not doing what I was put here to do.
On the other hand, I find it hard to trust God because I want to know that I will have a successful, loving marriage at some point, or at least to know that I can cope with being alone (without my parents, which will happen one day). I find it hard to trust that God will arrange for me to get married, or that He will give me the tools I need to cope with being single forever. Or perhaps I feel that He will give me the tools, but I won’t use them, in which case it’s about trusting myself again.
I’m not sure how I find this trust. I certainly don’t know how to learn to accept being single forever. Sometimes I feel I could explode from loneliness and sexual frustration.
I posted this comment on Ashley’s blog post about self-stigma today and thought I would share here:
I think I have a lot of self-stigma, partly about my depression and social anxiety, but also about autism, paradoxically, often combined with “Maybe I’m not really on the autism spectrum and I’m just a freak” thoughts.
I suppose that, like a lot of people on the spectrum, well-meaning adults socialised me to think that I shouldn’t do the things I wanted to do or think the things I wanted to think. That I shouldn’t stim and I should force myself to talk to people because “it will get easier if I try” among other things. Maybe they were right about some of these things, but I guess the cumulative effect is to make me doubt myself and to feel that there is a “normal type of person” and that my behaviour as a depressed autistic person is abnormal and that this is wrong in itself and responsible for many of my issues, such as unemployment, singledom and loneliness. If only I could stop being a “freak” (one of my favourite terms for myself, you may have noticed) and become “normal,” all my problems would be solved.
Of course, none of the authority figures in my life had any knowledge of high functioning autism when I was a child; the diagnosis of Asperger’s Syndrome (as it was called) didn’t even get into the DSM [psychiatric diagnostic manual] until I was eleven and wasn’t well-known for many years after that.
Even now I make more eye contact than many people on the spectrum even though my natural preference, like many autistic people, is to avoid eye contact. This is because I was told to make eye contact as a child and I internalised that message (not knowing about autism at that age) so I very consciously force myself to make eye contact, and usually quietly freak out in my head about making too much eye contact, or too little, or the wrong type; if I feel I’m not making enough eye contact, or too much, I blame myself rather than accept it.