Disappointments

I overslept this morning and was very drained and a bit depressed once I got up.  Those feelings have pursued me all day.  I feel better for a bit, but then they come back.  Still, I’m doing a lot better than I was.

I had a meeting at The Network, the local government (I think) organisation that runs the well-being course I went on.  I arranged to go on another course in February that might help with assertiveness and dealing with difficult thoughts.  It’s at a place that is harder to get to than the last course.  To be honest, I’m not sure if it will help, or how much the other course helped, but I’m wary of turning down free help, both because it’s free and because it shows people I’m still trying to get better.  It will give me less time for writing, though.  I still haven’t really spoken to my parents about not looking too hard for another job so that I can write.

I find myself struggling again this afternoon.  Some of it is probably the tiredness, but some of it is a phone call I just had with a lawyer.  I think I’ve mentioned once before that my Dad was in a road accident years ago with a motorcyclist who is now suing for damages (even though she insisted she was unhurt at the time and turned away the ambulance my Dad called).  I just spoke to the lawyer to tell my side of the story (what I can remember, which isn’t much given (a) that it happened very fast and (b) it happened three years ago), in particular to state that I think that one of the witness statements was wrong.  I feel that I could make my father’s case stronger by lying and saying that I’m certain that my father’s car was stationary when the motorcycle hit and that there is no way the witness could have seen what he says he has seen, but I feel that while the first statement is possibly true and the second is probably true, I can’t honestly swear to either as absolute truth.  My parents say I should just tell the truth as I remember it, but I feel vaguely disloyal.  The reality is that it isn’t my father who will pay damages, but the insurance company, but he may have to pay court fees, although I still have a suspicion that the insurance company will opt settle out of court (which doubtless is how unscrupulous ambulance-chasing lawyers make their money, not that I’m suspecting the motorcyclist’s lawyers of being like that).  Still, the thought of giving evidence in court under oath is scary.

I’ve also discovered that I missed the deadline for my shul’s (synagogue’s) communal Shabbat (Sabbath) dinner.  A What’sApp message went out about it a week or so ago, but there wasn’t an email until late on Monday evening.  The email didn’t say that the online payment would close that evening!  So I’m too late.  That is a bit frustrating, but maybe it’s for the best, as I wasn’t sure if it would leave me feeling more depressed.

I just phoned to try to find out how much longer I’m likely to wait for CBT.  There was no answer – typical NHS.

Then I tried to look over old posts from this blog for paragraphs that can be removed from their original context and expanded or grafted on to other paragraphs (newly written or from other old posts) to form into chapters that I could form into a book on mental health.  This is going to take much longer than I thought, especially as I hate re-reading my old writing, as it just depresses me and makes me feel that I’m a terrible writer, that I have nothing interesting to say and why do I think people would want to read a book of my introverted auto-analysis?  So I feel more depressed than before, but at least I did something.  Although mostly I ended up distracted by reading about the supposed “Shidduch (Orthodox dating) Crisis” online.  I don’t know whether that really exists, but if it does, it ought to have played a lot more to my advantage than is the case.

I was going to register with We Go Together (values-based Jewish matchmaking service), but then thought that maybe I’m lapsing back into depression and shouldn’t be dating and postponed registering.  But thinking about dating leaves me feeling lonely again…

***

Lately I find myself wondering if I’m a kind person.  A few people have said I am.  I struggle to accept it, and not just from low self-esteem.  I acknowledge that I’m a compassionate person who feels other people’s pain, but I find that often I can’t understand how to help other people in practical terms; sometimes I am just too selfish to do help too.  I suppose it’s the divide between emotional empathy, recognising other people’s emotions, and cognitive empathy, taking other people’s perspectives and knowing how to respond.  Autistic people have emotional empathy, but not cognitive empathy.  One psychiatrist told me that I will never understand other people and should stop trying; similarly, a therapist told me (more sympathetically) that I want to help people, but I don’t know how.  So I find it strange that people seem to think I’m kind.

It’s probably been on my mind because I’ve been thinking about dating again and I know I would want someone who is gentle, kind and understanding to deal with all my issues, but I worry that I don’t have anything to offer in return.  I probably come across as kinder online than in real life because I’m better with text than words and actions – it’s easier to take time thinking things through in writing and perhaps I can imagine what I would want someone to say for me more easily than imagining what someone would do for me.

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Still Feeling Like the Most Evil Person in the World

Warning: this is a stream of consciousness-type set of thoughts I had today, even more than usual.  It’s also really long.

I tried to apply for a job again, but I found it hard even to concentrate on reading the job description, let alone apply.  My eyes just glazed over and I couldn’t focus, literally as much as metaphorically.  In the end I sent in applications for two jobs at the same institution (one higher-ranking than the other).  I don’t really think I will get either of them, and I think a job agency has already submitted my CV for one of them.

***

I cooked dinner (I mean a proper meal from fresh ingredients) for the first time in months.  Hungarian ragout from a cookery book I got for my birthday in July and hadn’t yet used.  E. recommended the book.  Dinner tasted really good, but my feeling of triumph was undermined by feeling bad that I didn’t eat with my parents.  I was set to eat by myself and watch Sherlock when they asked if I was going to eat with them and I am autistically bad at last minute changes of plan.  I felt I should be more flexible.

***

The other thing I did today was going for a twenty minute brisk walk in the cold and dark and drizzle because I needed the exercise.  I kept thinking cheery thoughts like, “People like me shouldn’t exist.  There ought to be a law against it” and being glad my sister is married and hoping she has children so that my parents can be grandparents and generally feeling that I have let my parents down and not given them enough naches (reflected pride).

My Mum told me today that someone whose parents used to live down the road from us and who I was at primary school with, has moved to Peru (?!) and had a child.  This person had learning difficulties and, I think, quite serious behavioural problems when we were younger.  She also said that his brother, who was a couple of years below me at Oxford and who has held some high positions in the Israeli civil service service has just got engaged.  So I feel like a real under-achiever and failure again.

***

I did a search for ‘autistic shidduch‘ (blind date) and rapidly came across a post of my own and very little else that was relevant.  The number of resources for people with mental health issues in the Jewish community and in the frum (religious Orthodox Jewish) community is slowly increasing and stigma is slowly reducing.  However, I have not come across anything at all for people with high-functioning autism in the frum community (in the UK or elsewhere), yet there must be such people.  ‘Autism frum community’ didn’t turn up anything relevant, although search engines often read ‘frum‘ as a mis-spelling of ‘from’ and ignore it as a stop word.  (This was on duckduckgo.com which, unlike google, gives you a straightforward list of hits rather than adjusting it according to your previous searches.)

As I’ve said before, I think that you can go far with high-functioning autism in the frum community IF you’re male and IF you can make Talmud study your special interest (although there was some discussion of this idea here).  If  you do that then you will be seen as a great scholar for studying fifteen hours a day and your perhaps poor social and communication skills and lack of interest in money and material goods will be seen as evidence of extra piety.  Even stimming is considered normal if you can do it as shockling (swaying back and forth rhythmically during prayer or religious study).  If  you are recognised as a Talmid chacham (great scholar), you will be provided with a wife and an income and people who will take care of the practical side of your life so you can spend all day studying.  The problem arises if you are female or a man who is not good at Talmud study or any other type of Torah study.  Then it is much harder to find a place in the community.

***

Liora suggested I should write down an objective record of my religious growth, but I don’t know where to start.  I literally can not think of anything that I am doing well at the moment, certainly not where I’ve had growth over the last year or two.  The only thing in my life going better is that the religious OCD is more under control now than it was two years ago, and even that flares up a bit at times (like recently).

***

I wonder why anyone reads this blog.  It’s so boring and repetitive, and badly-written.  I only write it to try to shut up the monologue in my head, but it doesn’t work.  According to WordPress, I have 207 followers at the moment (although I think I have a few more following in other ways), but most of those are spam sites that I don’t weed out.  From my likes and comments I think there are ten or twenty people regularly reading what I write, which is ten or twenty more than I would have expected.  Maybe it’s like people staring at car crashes.

***

I’ve had this crazy idea lately that I should write a book titled Everything You Wanted to Know About Orthodox Jews, But Were Too Scared to Ask.  It was originally to be written for non-Jews, because frum (religious) Jews don’t generally explain themselves to non-Jews because Judaism is a non-missionary religion, but I often (well, sometimes) get random non-Jews coming up to me in the street and asking me stuff about Judaism.  But then I thought that maybe non-religious Jews (who, sadly, often know very little about their own heritage) might want to read something non-kiruv-ey (not trying to make non-religious Jews more religious) that was just factual and accessible and also covered non-religious/not only religious topics like “Where does Jewish humour come from?” and “Why do Jews care so much about Israel?”.  But then my mind starts throwing up all the difficulties, like, “I would have to go back to primary sources, the Talmud and the law codes, and my Hebrew (not to mention my Aramaic) isn’t good enough?” and “How can someone as wicked and flawed as me write a religious book?”  Possibly also, “I would write something not acceptable to my rabbi/community and suffer for it.”  Bear in mind I already worry about that with regard to the Doctor Who book I’m working on.  Just writing a book about a TV programme is problematic and I have little hope of hiding it from the community, as if I get published my parents will tell their friends, which include the assistant rabbi’s father, who will tell his son because I know how these people behave.  Still, at the moment it’s hard to believe it will actually get finished and published.  So then I think it is better that I don’t write the book and just hope that someone else does it.

To be honest, there are several books I’d like to write that I don’t think I’m ever going to write, on Judaism and on Doctor Who.  I just don’t seem to be able to get my act together with things, plus I’m still doing a lot of research for the book I’ve started writing.  Part of me wants to just try writing as my job rather than applying for jobs, but I’m too scared to do so.

***

My Dad is upset as it’s his mother’s yortzeit (death anniversary) today, plus tomorrow is the English date of her death; my sister’s mother in law is also having major surgery tomorrow.  In his mind the link is ominous.  I don’t really notice anniversaries that way and this is going to sound terrible, but I don’t get worried about other people the way the rest of my family do.  I feel a terrible person for saying that.  It may be autism (I rather hope it is, otherwise I’m a terrible person), but I don’t really know how to fix other people in my mind in order to worry about them as much as I worry about myself.  I’ve mentioned that I’m somewhat solipsistic in that the world in my head seems infinitely more real than the world of other people.  I struggle to make connections with people, even friends and family.  I suspect I would worry more if I had a wife or children, but it’s hard to be sure.  When I have a crush on someone, she does loom larger in my mind.

Dad wanted me to go to shul (synagogue) with him for Mincha and Ma’ariv (the Afternoon and Evening Services) when he went to say Kaddish, but he didn’t tell me and I had already davened Mincha because I got up too late to daven Shacharit (say the Morning Service) and so wanted to put my tefillin on at Mincha, which I would not do at shul as it would attract attention.  So I feel bad for not going, but on the other hand he didn’t ask me to come (he dropped a hint to Mum, who told me), so I also feel autistic and unable to read other people’s minds.  I feel like a ‘normal’ person would know he wants me to go, given that he usually does, and plan his day accordingly, but I didn’t, because I’m not good at thinking about other people.  This makes me feel like a bad person who is just using autism as an excuse for selfish behaviour.

However, I do have some empathy.  There was a terrorist shooting in Israel last week (the mainstream UK news typically ignored it).  A lot of people were injured, including a pregnant woman and her husband.  Her baby was born by emergency cesarean, but died after a couple of days.  I think the parents are still in hospital, the mother in a medically-induced coma.  This really upset me and I have been praying for the family, but it’s not something I keep thinking about the way I think about my loneliness and depression.  When I see it on a Jewish website or when it is time to pray for them, I feel upset and somewhat angry (at the terrorists and the mainstream global news media that ignores or downplays violence against Jews), but it’s not something I really focus on.  I don’t know if that also makes me a bad person.

***

I don’t even know if I really am autistic.  I’ve had so many conflicting diagnoses that I don’t think I’ll ever be 100% sure one way or the other.  Even in my screening two weeks ago I worry I said the wrong thing, emphasised the wrong traits, gave the wrong answers in the questionnaire, “wrong” in this context meaning things that don’t really apply to me and which I said to get an autism diagnosis.  I know enough about autism now to be able to distort the results even unconsciously.

***

I want to eat all the time at the moment.  I guess it’s comfort eating from depression or clomipramine-induced carbohydrate craving, another reason to want to change meds.  It’s not something I’ve really struggled with in the past, at least not to this extent.  It’s a real effort not to eat junk.  I was eating a lot of nuts and raisins, but then I thought they’re also fattening, so I’m trying not to do that, but when I’m depressed and anhedonic and not enjoying anything, it’s hard to cut out something I do enjoy.  However, I have ended up overweight lately and it isn’t doing anything for my self-esteem or belief that I might be able to date one day.

***

I followed someone on Twitter even though I’m trying not to use it any more.  And I did it mainly because she follows this blog, and I thought she might want to be nudged in the direction of my Doctor Who blog and couldn’t think how else to flag up its existence without betraying my Secret Identity.

Basically, I don’t understand half the stuff I do and I don’t know whether it’s autism, mental illness or me just being stupid and weird.  Currently, my mind is on me being stupid and weird.

***

I’m trying to do what Yolanda said and write something good about myself, but I can’t think of anything.  I really am a terrible person.

Sukkot and Stress

Today has been stressful and isn’t over yet.  I had to phone someone to make an appointment with a psychiatrist.  I phoned at lunch time and was told the person I needed to speak to (I assumed the psychiatrist) was with a patient; he would phone back later.  I wasn’t brilliantly happy about being phoned at work, but I consented.

I was phoned near the end of the day, when I was rushing to finish the work I was set (I was set more than usual and as my boss was off sick, I wasn’t sure if I was supposed to do all of it or not, so I rushed the last bit to get it done (although I was still late) and I am now worried that I made mistakes; the other temp said she sees it as an ongoing project and doesn’t rush to finish).  Because I was stressed, I was not in a positive state of mind to start with, but it quickly became apparent that the person I was talking to was not a psychiatrist, but some type of administrator (the NHS is full of administrators).  He also clearly had no idea of my case history.  One might think that one advantage of a huge socialised healthcare system is easy sharing of information.  One might think that.  It never happens.  I don’t think there are actually accurate records of all the medication I’ve been on over the last fifteen years, which scares me.

He seemed horrified that I haven’t had CBT (actually I have, I clarified, but fifteen years ago).  I got the impression that he seemed bemused that a quick burst of CBT and some antidepressants hadn’t sorted me out long ago, because obviously no one could have serious depression.  He suggested that I access the IAPT and self-refer to some local group that offers… well, I’m not quite sure what it offers as the guy was not talking clearly and I had half switched-off when I realised that he had no idea of who I was and what my problems are and was trying to fit this very square peg in a round hole.  (The other half switched off when he admitted he was phoning me from his car.)  But I think they offer occupational support and group work, although I’m not sure if that’s proper occupational therapy and group therapy.  I don’t need the former as I’m working at the moment (the guy browbeat me into saying that I could go on my day off as I only work four days a week; I couldn’t be bothered to tell him about Shabbat and early winter Fridays) and I don’t really need a therapy group as I have depression group and autism group.  But I said I would self-refer, because it can’t hurt and because I felt it was the only way I could get my real prize, a referral to a proper psychiatrist and maybe some CBT on the NHS (rather than privately) to work on my self-esteem and social anxiety, which would be a win if I can get it to fit with work and Shabbat.

I feel bad that I was a bit short with this guy, but I was at work and had nowhere private to go (it’s an open plan office) so I was in the toilet, with other people, with the cleaner going in and out, trying to be heard on the phone but not by other people, talking aloud about really private stuff, realising I was talking to someone who had no idea who I am or what my problems are and who is just trying to tick a load of boxes that are either unhelpful or which I ticked over a decade ago without result.  (I actually really hate the NHS and half hope someone will have the guts to privatise it, which is not what long-term NHS users are supposed to say; we’re supposed to be all, “Oooh, Jeremy Corbyn, save the NHS from Evil Tories!”  I don’t think a privately-run system will be any better, but at least it won’t be a political football any more and we might get rid of some pointless bureaucrats.)

Anyway…

The other news is that on my lunch break I finished the complex PTSD book (albeit that I skipped some not so relevant bits).  It was a useful description of trauma and emotional flashbacks and makes me think that there probably is an element of trauma in my history and it might be why I struggle to make progress with traditional depression treatments.  I have, however, already mentioned my fears that the attitude of “Your parents were abusive and you have to stop wanting to please them” isn’t terribly helpful for someone who wasn’t actually abused.  Also, while the book keeps talking about the need for unconditional self-love, it doesn’t always make clear (a) how to do this (although it did make me realise that my catastrophising about being single forever is a form of self-criticism) and (b) how to self-love without becoming a narcissist.  I have fears that if I stop beating myself up, I will inevitably end up like Donald Trump.  Plus, it doesn’t tell me how to love myself when I feel that I have genuinely done terrible things that are not deserving of forgiveness, or at least not until I have improved my ways a lot more than I have managed until now.

But my ordeal was not over.  I came home exhausted and hungry, but my father’s oldest friend was coming over to eat in the sukkah (the temporary hut Jews eat in on Sukkot to remember the Israelites in the wilderness).  I get annoyed at the way that my parents make me say hello to their friends generally, as it always seems awkward (I don’t know what to say or do), but at least I know their local friends.  Their non-local friends are harder to talk to, but this friend is hardest of all.  I have always found him overbearing, both in size (he’s well over six foot tall) and manner.  Frankly, although I can only remember one or two concrete instances, I always think of him as teasing me in a way that feels less friendly for me than he probably thinks.  (And this was before he spent a couple of years in a German prison for drug smuggling – seriously.)  I said hello from a distance, and disappeared.  He made a comment about hearing me from a distance and my parents were annoyed, but these days I have not got patience for difficult people.  Plus, I suppose my father’s oldest friend being here just reminds me how I’ve drifted from my own oldest friend, who I am still vaguely in contact with, but who I haven’t seen for years and who forgets I’m not on Facebook, so I found out about the birth of his children late, through my sister, which upset me, although I suppose it’s not his fault.  My father’s friend is still here and I can here him and my parents through my window, which is depressing me and making me worried that I will still  have to speak to him.

Shiur (religious class) also upset me.  The usual self-critical thoughts about not being holy like everyone else, not having simcha shel mitzvah (joy in the commandments) or simcha at all, not being married… plus everyone else got there early (I’m guessing there was a WhatsApp message I missed because my phone is not working properly) and was seated in the sukkah and eating before I got there, so I missed the social side and I didn’t get a drink because the plastic cups ran out and I was too shy to ask for another one.  I was too shy to answer any questions too, although I knew the answers to a few and could have showed off, although I suppose that’s no great loss.  Someone there was very rude, pressuring people to go to a fund-raising event and to bring whisky to shul on Simchat Torah next week when he doesn’t know people’s time and financial commitments (and some may, like me, avoid things due to social anxiety or some other legitimate reason).  This was the same person who, on finding out that I’m single, responded that it was “time” for me to get married, as if I was overwhelmed with offers of marriage and was foolishly wasting my time in hedonistic pleasure seeking (which is the exact opposite of my depressive anhedonia).  (To be fair, he did also offer to have me over to his house for Shabbat meals while I’m single.)  This shouldn’t have upset me, but obviously it did, because I’m still angry nearly two hours later.  This person is probably very holy (at any rate, all he seems to do is “learn” Torah), but perhaps he is so holy he forgets how ordinary people have to live.  Maybe that’s something I can take from my misery, that at least it has made me marginally more empathic and non-judgemental than I might otherwise have been, although if this is me with empathy and tolerance, I worry what me without them would look like.

More Psychologically-Inspired Thoughts (Empathy, Alexithymia and Asperger’s)

I mentioned the other day that I wonder if I have a proper theory of mind (intuitive understanding that other people think differently to me, thought to be absent in autistic people – I’m going to assume for this post (and in most of my posts) that Asperger’s Syndrome is synonymous with high functioning autism).  Today I was flicking through a book at work, deciding whether to withdraw it, and came across a theory of mind test.  It is hard for me to analyse myself properly using these, as I have seen them before and know the right answer (when I first saw them, I was unaware that I might be autistic and did not use them to test myself), but I was skim reading fast enough that I was not so aware of the context.  I think I failed it (i.e. failed to realise that another person would not know something I knew, indicating that I might be autistic), with the caveat that I was skimming very fast and so (a) am not 100% sure what I answered and (b) am not 100% sure whether I read the question properly.  So the result is rather suspect, but suggests that I might be more autistic than I thought.  I suspect that I have learnt logically how to work out what other people might be thinking to avoid obvious social blunders, which would fit with specifically high functioning autism.

This prompted me to go online to see if I could find a version of the theory of mind test that I hadn’t seen before to get a more objective answer.  I could not find one, but I did find tests of empathy and alexithymia (inability to identify, describe and interpret emotions) and the scores did not surprise me at all with the caveat that these tests done online are not always scientific and even scientific ones can be controversial in what they test, how they test for it and how they interpret the results.  So take this post with a pinch of salt.  I scored somewhat below average for empathy, again indicating Asperger’s/autism.  I do feel some empathy; when the depression is bad, I avoid the news because it is so depressing.  However, I find it hard to know intuitively what other people are thinking.  I think I have learnt how to hypothesise what other people are feeling (from experience observing other people and their actions and from reading novels, which are a way of learning what other people’s inner worlds look like) and to interpret their cues in a very laboured and conscious way, rather than an intuitive way like neurotypical people.  Again, this mixture of problems with empathy and moderately successful workarounds fits with being both autistic and high functioning, as I understand it.

The alexithymia score was even less surprising as my therapist identified that a long time ago, in a context separate from autism without knowing the name, although she was pleased when I told her, as she knows I like labels; she may have been being slightly teasing or ironic (in a friendly way), I’m not sure – another autistic trait.  I scored highly overall for alexithymic traits, which was really not a surprise.  There is a detailed breakdown into different categories: I have high alexithymic traits for identifying, describing and interpreting feelings (definitely all true and what my therapist noticed), as well as for externally-orientated thinking, which apparently is about focusing on external rather than internal events and experiences.  I am not sure about that, as I do think a lot about what I feel, but that could be a product of keeping a daily mood diary for over a decade to assess my progress with the depression.  I certainly do find it hard to say how I feel about external events e.g. my sister’s wedding.  It’s easier for me to say “Everyone else enjoyed it” or “I was not as depressed as I feared I would be” than “It went well for me; I enjoyed it.”  I also scored high for restricted imagination, which is interesting as I did well at school in English, which requires a lot of imagination and I used to write stories and poetry for fun.  However, I do find it hard to find inspiration; I’m not one of those writers who is overflowing with ideas and I am frequently ‘blocked’ and have been for most of the last couple of years, with brief intervals of inspiration.  Certainly my imagination goes round in restricted circles and probably piggybacks on ideas I have seen in books and on TV.  I apparently have some alexithymic traits in sexuality, although I found these questions impossible to answer, as I am still a virgin.  I do have my experience of moderately sexual experiences (hugging, kissing) with my ex-girlfriend, but that was complicated by other emotions and thoughts surrounding it.  I do still worry about being frigid, having scored so highly on most of the other alexithymic traits; I think the moderate score here comes from me answering ‘undecided’ in the absence of a ‘I don’t know, I’m a virgin’ button.  I do apparently have no alexithymic traits regarding problematic interpersonal relationships, but I’m not quite sure what that means.  From the questions, I think it means that my difficulty understanding emotions does not lead to conflict with others; they don’t complain that I don’t meet their emotional needs.  I think that this was more of a problem when I was a child, based on some childhood memories.  I suspect that, as with some of the empathy questionnaire questions, I have learnt rules and workarounds to let me identify what other people are feeling and respond appropriately e.g. when Mum has yortzeit (anniversary of a death), expect her to be upset and possibly irritable; phone and see how she is making sure to listen to her emotions before telling her how I feel.

I suppose that I still don’t know, and probably never will know for sure, whether I have Asperger’s, but it probably does show that I am neurodivergent in various ways.  What I do with the information is another question.  I doubt it will cause me to make allowances for how I feel/think, let alone stop beating myself up about my difficulties interacting with others and taking care of my emotional needs.