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.

Draining Shabbat

Well, that was a difficult Shabbat (Sabbath).  The main difficult thing was an argument with my Mum.  I won’t go into details.  It’s difficult to use this blog to vent (which I need to do at the moment as I’m not in therapy and my rabbi mentor is unreachable) while also keeping the laws of honouring parents and not gossiping.  I wrote a couple of paragraphs trying to do that, but then felt I still said too much.  I need to ask my rabbi mentor for guidance on what is OK to say on an anonymous or perhaps more accurately, semi-anonymous, blog but he’s really busy with work at the moment and I can’t get hold of him.  A lot would depend on how much this blog can be considered truly anonymous, and safe to remain anonymous indefinitely and I would not like to swear to that as there are half a dozen people reading this who know me away from the internet and who might theoretically meet my parents one day.  Some of those friends have offered to listen to my feelings about family privately, but it’s the same situation about not feeling I can share things.  I could phone Samaritans, but frankly it seems too petty and I’m worried about making such a big thing about it as it would set me off again.

I want to say more and keep trying to do so, but every time I try writing, it drifts into stuff I don’t think I should say.  I’ve wanted to deal with these feelings/thoughts/events in fiction before, but I’ve never really worked out how to do and suspect I don’t have the skill to disguise things particularly well, so the truth would be obvious.

The other thing that happened, which was more positive, was that someone I only vaguely know at shul (synagogue) invited me for Shabbat dinner next week.  He is one of the few people in the shul more or less my own age, so that is positive, both in terms of making friends my own age and in terms of being more accepted in the community (and maybe getting set up on shidduchim (dates) one day).  He is someone I envy somewhat, as he has the things that I can’t manage to get, in terms of family and career, but also someone I admire, inasmuch as he seems to be very frum (religious) and involved with the community as well as having a sharp intellect for Talmudic study and good middot (ethical character traits).  I’m very anxious though, worried that I will do or say the wrong thing somehow or come across as not frum enough.  I came home from shul on Friday night rather anxious because of this.

On the plus side, I did deal in a fairly calm way last night with a situation that a year or two ago would have triggered my kashrut OCD in a big way, although on the down side I did get triggered again and responded less well today.  I suppose life and especially mental health issues and autism are all about growth, but sometimes (often) it seems to be some steps forward and then more backwards; the difficulty comes in the periods where the backwards steps outnumber the forwards ones.  But perhaps unsurprisingly after all this psychological stress, I was exhausted last night and slept for a long time.

I had a strange dream about having a cat who, despite never having been let out the house, was somehow pregnant and apparently had five kittens, but then I realised there were ten and then fifteen.  I’m not sure what this means, except that I’m thinking seriously again about getting a pet (although not a cat) and maybe the dream was a reflection of that.  We did once have a cat give birth behind our garden shed, but that was about thirty years ago and probably not directly on my mind last night.  We thought it was a stray, but it turned out to belong to someone who lived in the area who claimed cat and kittens, much to my disappointment and my parents’ relief.

I’m still struggling with my thoughts for a book on Judaism aimed at non-Jews and non-religious Jews written in an informative rather than apologetic (in the sense of ‘defensive’) manner.  I keep thinking it could only work if it was personal, though, as I don’t have the knowledge to write an academic work, but I can’t work out how to marry the personal with the informative.  I guess I can’t work out what exactly it is that I want to say.  Maybe if I could do that, it would be easier to work out how to say it.  Of course, there is a whole halakhic question in how much I could write about Judaism for a non-Jewish audience; another thing to discuss with my rabbi mentor when he’s free.

Fear and Loathing in the Frum Community

Tonight seems to be the quiet before the storm.  I’m going to try to see my sister’s mid-renovation house tomorrow, even though I’m not entirely happy about it and even though I feel a little grumpy that my parents say I have to “show an interest” in my sister by going to see her house, even though it’s not finished, despite the fact that they still haven’t read the little leaflet I gave them about autism, which to me seems a bigger thing.  I asked my parents if they had read the leaflet, and where it was (as it wasn’t where I left it in the lounge, placed there so they would see it on Shabbat (the Sabbath) when they have time to read without distractions) and was told that they haven’t read it and that it is somewhere on my Mum’s desk, which is a bit like saying that the boat vanished somewhere in the Bermuda Triangle, as stuff on Mum’s desk just disappears in the mess.

Then later in the week, on Monday and Wednesday, I have the first two sessions of my  “Action for Wellbeing” class on coping with depression and on Tuesday and Thursday I’m starting my new job.  Also, on Monday evening I have a phone appointment with my GP about my autism referral and I’m rather nervous about what he will say and whether he will agree to refer me for an assessment.  So, I’m very nervous about all of these things.

Anyway, my parents are at the theatre tonight, so I’m home alone and free to do what I want really for the last time this week.

I had an anxiety dream about work last night, dreaming I was working in a library and feeling that I was enjoying it for once and getting on well with my colleagues, but my contract still didn’t get renewed.  Mixed in with this was more surreal stuff, like spiders laying giant eggs, an episode from Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy about Soviet troops in Czechoslovakia (one of my favourite novels, but an odd thing to turn up in a dream about work) and some kind of student art exhibition.  No idea what the rest of that signifies, but the work fears are pretty obvious.

I spent Shabbat feeling quite angry, partly with my parents (who didn’t take the hint that I wanted them to read the autism leaflet), partly with the Jewish community, particularly the Charedi (ultra-Orthodox) world I seem to have somehow found myself in despite not considering myself fully a member of it.  For the record, I think both the Modern Orthodox and Charedi worlds have problems and each could learn things from the other (I won’t go into detail here as it would take too long and probably not be of interest, but in short the Modern Orthodox world doesn’t take religion seriously enough while the Charedi world doesn’t take the world outside Orthodoxy seriously at all).  While the Modern Orthodox world is somewhat receptive to criticism, the Charedi world sees any criticism from the outside and most criticism from the inside as unjustified and the product of hatred of religion or antisemitism, so things are not likely to change in any good way.  Unfortunately,  the demographics mean that the non-Charedi world (Modern Orthodox and non-Orthodox) is in decline while the Charedi world is growing and will soon dominate Jewish life globally, which is not something I’m looking forward to.

I don’t know what any of this means for me, trying to find a place in a community that will accept me and is reasonably accepting of me, as well as providing friends and a wife and schools that I see as giving a reasonable (i.e. not totally brainwashed fundamentalist) education to my children.

Somewhat related to this fear of not fitting in: at Talmud shiur this afternoon, the assistant rabbi asked if I had a cold as I wasn’t in shul (synagogue) this morning.  I do have a cold, but I was absent because of depression and social anxiety, but I didn’t say that.  I also didn’t say that I’ve been to shul in the morning only once or twice in the last year or more, but only a couple of people really noticed.  I think I was only noticed today because the shamash (the person responsible for the practical running of the service) was asking where I was, I assume because he realised I haven’t had an aliyah to the Torah for a long time as I can’t think why else he would be looking for me.

Part of the issue with having a chronic, but invisible illness like depression is that even people who know about it forget about it (I have told the assistant rabbi a little in the past about my depression).  People don’t generally notice my absence; when they do and ask me about it, I don’t know what to say.  Maybe it’s my social anxiety speaking, but it’s hard to casually drop major depression into the conversation.  Even if I wasn’t afraid of stigma and incomprehension (and I am), it’s just a big thing to casually mention.  Maybe it doesn’t help that my autism means that I’ve had to learn the rules of conversation by rote and by trial and error and I have never learnt a ‘safe’ way to mention my depression easily; I don’t have the social intuition to know what I can say and when I can say it.

On a related note, there is an oneg (Shabbat party/social event thing) next Friday evening.  It’s a cross-shul thing so in theory people from all fifteen or so Orthodox shuls in the area could be there.  Usually I feel like I have to force myself to these things, but then I stand outside crying and overwhelmed with social anxiety or go inside, sit rigidly and anxiously, full of social anxiety, not talking to anyone, eating too many crisps and nuts, refusing alcohol (whisky is a big part of these things), not knowing any of the songs, sometimes having issues with the religious speakers, then making an excuse after an hour or so and leave.  Plus, the person whose house it is being held at is someone I have to confess I feel deeply envious of: about my age, married with a pretty wife and several cute young children and a large house.  I feel I will never have any of these things (yes, I know, he could have some major tragedy or struggle in his life that I don’t know about.  That’s not my point, though).  But not going feels like chickening out, is bound to upset my parents, and will just make me more sure than ever that I will never fit in to the frum (religious Orthodox Jewish) community, never make friends and never be known enough to be set up on dates with women (the main way of meeting someone in the frum world).  I don’t know what to do.

Pressure

I’m struggling at the moment, not so much with my breakup as with the emotions it has released.  The feeling that I will never find someone who can see past my considerable baggage and drawbacks (the religious inadequacies, but also my low income and professional status, lack of a full-time job, still being quite dependent on parents etc.).  I had real stabs of envy recently.  I won’t go into details, but I got hit with strong feelings of envy and even anger about other people’s success and settled family life.  This is completely incongruous, absurd even, as other people’s happiness is not taking away from mine.  I find it hard to deal with powerful destructive emotions like this.  It’s probably taken me years to really admit that I have them.

The good that came out of this is that I was discussing things in the comment section of a blog I read (I’m not going to link, as I didn’t comment anonymously there – I still have some non-anonymous (nonymous?) accounts out there), but I was discussing my religious inadequacies with someone frum (religious) and, in the course of the discussion, I came to realise that a lot of my feelings of envy and anger at frum people and, even more so, my feelings that they will reject and hate me are reflections of my own fears and perceptions of my own religious inadequacies.  I hate myself and I think I’m not meeting my religious obligations, so I think no one in my community could like me and certainly no woman from my community would want to marry me.  It’s hard to know what to do with those feelings, though.

There’s a lot of pent-up emotion inside me at the moment.  This post has only scratched the surface, partly from lack of time and partly because I don’t want to share all my dark thoughts, but also because I don’t really understand everything I feel, which makes me worry that I’m just going to explode dangerously one day, in some way that I can’t predict.

Quod Erat Demonstrandum

This is the worst feeling.  For much of the afternoon I’ve had a mixture of depression, agitation, despair and loneliness and maybe anger, envy and paranoia running through my head.  I feel that God hates me, that my life is awful and will always remain awful until I die, that everyone hates me, that even my friends and parents only talk to me out of pity and that they secretly don’t like me.  I feel that nothing can ever change for the better and that I am powerless over my own life.  I just want to die and fantasise endlessly about hurting or killing myself, without having the guts to do anything about it.  I wrote stuff I shouldn’t write on Hevria again.

I know that no one can ever love me unless I love myself, but I don’t know how to love myself when there is so little about me that is lovable, and the proof of that is that no one loves me, so how can I break out of this circle?  My therapist once said I was “lovable”, but I don’t see anything about myself that seems remotely lovable.  Surely if I was lovable so people would, you know, love me?

I even found a proof-text that God hates me: “[Rabbi Chanina ben Dosa] would also say: One who is pleasing to his fellow men, is pleasing to God. But one who is not pleasing to his fellow men, is not pleasing to God.”  (Pirkei Avot 3.10, translation from Chabad.org because I was too depressed and lazy to look elsewhere or translate it myself.)  I don’t think I’m very pleasing to my fellows, given that I have about three real friends at most (as in people who actually contact me rather than waiting for me to contact them) and I worry they only contact me out of pity or worry that I’m going to hurt myself.  I seem to alienate all my friends sooner or later with my depression (or by falling in love with them, I’ve done that a few times).

Or maybe I alienate people by saying that they don’t really like me, as I did here.  It’s very confusing, when you are not good at reading people, to tell if people really like you, particularly if it’s a long-distance friendship over email, text and blogs, as all of my close friendships are (if that doesn’t stop them not being close friendships.   I mean, I would associate close friendships with actually seeing each other sometimes).  I guess that’s why I see marriage as the ultimate seal of approval, because then someone would have chosen to actually see me every day and not just that but to live with me.  So then she would have to really like me.  Except that I would probably worry that she didn’t love me any more and would probably end up pushing her away with my self-loathing and paranoia.

A blogger I really admire who recently got married at the “ancient” (for frum Jews) age of 32 (younger than me) said frum singles should trust in God because there isn’t much else we can do.  But what do you do if you are convinced that God hates you and is deliberately sabotaging your life to make you miserable for reasons unknown (but probably to do with you being evil and wicked)?  And that He wants you to be alone and miserable forever (because you’re so wicked) unless you repent (which you can’t do because you’re too wicked and also too mentally ill and because He’s really trying to make it as hard as He can, within the bounds of free will, for you to be frum because He hates you)?  There isn’t really a lot you can do if an omnipotent being is out to make your life miserable.

I feel like my reasoning went wrong somewhere in this post, or maybe in several somewheres.  Maybe my friends do like me and I am lovable and God doesn’t hate me.  Maybe.   Maybe, as Philip K. Dick said, I either invented a whole new logic or I’m not playing with a full deck.  Maybe.  Either way, it doesn’t change what I feel and the way I get carried away by my feelings when the depression and agitation are so powerful, like an ocean wave against the tiny wooden canoe of my reason and self-esteem.

(At least I’m a bit better at recognising and distinguishing these emotions than I used to be – alexithymia.)

The Four Horsemen of the Self-Destructive Apocalypse

Tiring day.  I had some bad news this morning (my sister’s future grandmother-in-law died), but it was fairly distant from me (I never met her) and I wasn’t desolated.  I also had some good news, being invited out for dinner on second night Sukkot (this Thursday), going to the people I was supposed to go to on Rosh Hashanah, before I got ill.

But the day was just tiring.  I struggled at work, cataloguing some difficult books and while I managed to offset the difficult ones with some easy ones to get through a reasonable amount, I gave up some of my lunch break because I thought I had been wasting time.  I need to have some familiarity with our stock to help students find books and to know which new ones to buy.  I also need to skim over books to catalogue them.  However, being an avid reader with a wide range of interests, it’s easy to get caught up in a book (fiction or non-fiction) and I tell myself off if I think I’m reading for too long.  As “too long” is entirely subjective, this is another opportunity for self-loathing, blame, shame and guilt, who I suppose are the Four Horsemen of the Self-Destructive Apocalypse (not that that’s a Jewish belief).

On the Tube home I sat opposite a beautiful, heavily pregnant woman (who looked a bit like Freema Agyeman from Doctor Who) and her husband.  I sat there, trying not to stare at them, feeling envious.  This is what I want: spouse, children, love.  Of course, the Four Horsemen ride in immediately.  I said this year would be different.  This year, I would stop envying others their lives.  This year I would accept HaShem’s (God’s) plan for me.  If He says jump, I say, “How high?”  If He says, “You will be lonely forever,” I say, “You know best.”  But I can’t do it.  I just can’t do it.  I want to be happy too much, I want to be loved too much.

Envy

I don’t think of myself as an envious person, but over the last few years I have been increasingly visited by envy.  It probably started a few years ago, when Hevria was launched and I felt strongly that I wanted to write for it, but wasn’t asked.  After about six months I volunteered, only to be turned down; I’m still not entirely sure why.  I got very upset and my writing never really recovered.  I’ve written odd bits and pieces since then, including a couple of guest posts for Hevria and one piece for Den of Geek that I got paid for, but almost no poetry and it took a long time before I turned back to writing regularly when I started this blog and started editing various Doctor Who blog posts into a book.  (In the end I was sort of offered the chance to write regularly for Hevria, but I no longer have the time and I still feel blocked from that kind of writing, although I’m not sure how serious the offer was anyway.  But it felt good to be offered anyway.)

Then last year I managed, somehow, to go out for a Shabbat tisch (community Sabbath party thing) hosted by someone from the shul I’m trying to move to.  He is my age or even younger and as I walked into his house and saw his lovely home and cute children and beautiful wife (I didn’t actually see his wife.  I once saw him talking to a woman who I assumed was his wife, given that he’s very frum and probably doesn’t talk to other women if he can avoid it, but I could be wrong) and felt that he had all the things that I wanted.  I had to force myself not to feel envy and it was hard.  I felt a similar thing when I went to my ex-date for lunch this last Shabbat: her flat is so much larger and more comfortable and attractive than my tiny converted garage.  I told myself more space means more housework, but I’m not sure how convinced I was.

I envy a lot of my peers their lives, their friendships, their relationships and their children, all the things I want and lack, but I also envy their Torah learning and mitzvot (commandments).  I want to be a better Jew and I assume my peers are all doing better at that than I am.  I know we are told that what matters is the effort, not the achievement, and I have to put in a lot of effort just to stay in the same place, let alone to grow and I have no idea how much effort they put in.  But it is hard not to feel inadequate, to feel that I could be better if I was more like them.  I feel I lack the joy and passion others can find in religion; I feel as if I’m doing things out of obligation and saying prayers by rote rather than really connecting with God and Torah.  I still believe, I just don’t feel, I suspect my depression stops me feeling.  It is difficult.

I suppose what it all boils down to is a feeling that life has passed me by, that I will never have the joy or pleasure or love or simple satisfaction in my achievements that other people get to experience.  Funnily enough, it has been suggested to me that other children were envious of me at school and that this was why they bullied me.  I find this hard to believe, but also vaguely unfair, given that I think my academic achievement was the product of hard work rather than natural cleverness; I was intelligent at school, but I had to work hard for my grades.

I try to feel gratitude as the antidote to envy.  I try to thank God for at least five things every day (even if it’s “Thank you that I didn’t hurt myself when I felt so depressed”).  I get on better with my family than I used to do, certainly better than a lot of other people do.  I have a job (two-thirds of a full-time job now), which is worth something in this economy and also given that a few years ago it seemed completely impossible that I would ever be working.  I live by myself without trouble and I have some friends, even if they do largely live inside my computer.  But I feel I need something more.  I have no joy, no romantic/sexual love, no passion, no purpose and it is hard not to envy those who do have these things.

I suspect I need something else in my life.  Sherlock Holmes turned to drugs to stimulate his brain when work dried up; I suspect I too need something to fill my non-work hours, but hopefully something healthier and more socially acceptable.  My work on my book precludes other hobbies, but it offers one possible outlet, but it is going slowly thanks to my having to watch so many old episodes of Doctor Who for research.  I’m not sure my religion can offer me anything more than more frustration at the moment.  I can’t stand any party enough to get involved in politics.  That leaves dating and volunteering.  The former is tempting, but maybe the latter is more sensible (in the sense that I don’t know if I’m ready for dating, but also that I doubt anyone would want me anyway and maybe it’s just easier not to bother looking).  But I haven’t the time or energy for either at the moment; I’ll just have to hope things get easier if and when I have settled into a new work routine.