Difficult Day

Sometimes I try to say something meaningful about depression and autism here, even if it is only my personal, subjective experience of them.  Other days I just off-load.  Today is an off-loading day (sorry).  Actually, it’s more to update the handful of people following this blog regularly, as there isn’t even a lot to off-load, emotionally.

Today was not tangibly better than yesterday.  I still feel exhausted and depressed.  My main achievements were finishing a job application (which was fairly easy once I got down to it) and walking to and from the shops and going shopping.  This took an hour or so, but by the time I got home, I was feeling faint from exhaustion, so tired did it make me.  I didn’t get to shul (synagogue) as I had hoped either.  At times like these, I wonder how I am supposed to function ‘normally’ in the world.  Last time I checked, I do not qualify for disability benefits (although my psychiatrist thought otherwise last week, so I need to check), but I struggle to work even part-time; at the moment, it’s a struggle to apply for some jobs and do some chores.

I did manage half an hour of Talmud study, somehow (it was a surprisingly easy amud (page), fortunately) and ten minutes or more of other Torah study.

I tried to write some emails asking writer friends for advice about starting a paid writing career, but it was hard to engage my brain to ask meaningful, non-trivial questions.  I feel I need help quite desperately if I am to build a completely new career with very little knowledge and no contacts, but I don’t know what questions to ask.  Perhaps it’s the autistic thing of poor executive function: difficulty seeing the big picture rather than the details (I’m focused on what are probably minor points), difficulty coping with a blank sheet of paper (“Ask me anything!”  “Um…”) as well as social anxiety (“Why would they even respond to my questions anyway?”).  I need to find questions to ask, but I just want to scream “HELP!!!”  I was lucky that E. helped me a bit with writing the questions.  I’ve sent one load of questions off and hope to send some more in a day or two.

The good news is that I got positive results from the complaint emails I sent yesterday: a full refund on the DVD with the broken casing and a partial (50%) refund on the book with the damaged spine.

And that was it, really.  I watched two episodes of Blake’s 7, one awful (Moloch) and one okay (Death-Watch).  I’ve realised that from this point on, good Blake’s 7 episodes are going to be a minority.  I have one quite good episode from series three, but most of the fourth and final series was pants, to put it bluntly.  Maybe it was a mistake to decide to watch the whole series again.  I might interrupt it with the BBC Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy/Smiley’s People DVD that arrived the other day (the one with the broken case) and save Blake’s 7 for when I’m too tired or depressed to concentrate on George Smiley.

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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).

Pain

I feel bad today, but I can’t work out what ‘bad’ means.  I guess it means ‘depressed.’  I’m struggling to understand my feelings again.  I did feel close to tears at times.  Earlier I was virtually crying, except that I couldn’t quite manage it.  I should feel anxious, about Pesach and about working late tomorrow (I’m going in at 1pm and working until 9pm to help with a public evening event, which will mean – gulp! – talking to strangers) and I do feel a bit anxious about these things, but I’m not sure that that’s what I am really feeling.  For much of the day I just wanted to curl up in a ball and ignore the world, really.  That’s more depression than anxiety, although, looking at the news, maybe it’s a rational response to the world (cf. Catch-22).  At any rate, it’s hard to do anything today.

I feel guilty, too, because I make myself out to be a better person here than I actually am.  I confess a lot here, but I can’t quite bring myself to confess everything.  So people think I’m better than I actually am.  I feel bad about that.  I suppose I have the idea that if everyone knew all my faults and accepted them, maybe I could accept them myself or forgive myself or something.  Or maybe I just feel bad that that people think I’m a good person when… well, in the past I would have said “when I’m not a good person,” but today I feel more that it should be “when I’m not such a good person,” which I suppose is an improvement of a kind.

***

I did look for extra cataloguing training on the CILIP (Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals) website, but I couldn’t find anything current.  I tried to sign up to some education and research mailing lists on JISCMail, but got panicked by the sheer numbers of lists there and the obscure areas they deal with (A forum on Hoshin Kanri [?]; Huddersfield Consortium College Libraries; Hull Geochemistry and Geobiology; Historians of Women Religious of Britain and Ireland – that’s just some of the Hs).  I signed up to a higher education list in the end and thought I would see how that goes before I decide whether to sign up for any more.  I’m not very good at CPD, or anything connected with my career, really.

***

My self-perception has really altered in the last year.  I used to think that I would be good at a job if I could find the right one, that depression was the main obstacle to my building a career, that one day the right combination of therapy, medication and activity/occupational therapy might – might! – help me deal with my depression, that I was an organised person and so on.  Now I have this huge thing called ‘autism’ looming over me as a potential diagnosis.  In some ways that’s good, because it leaves open the door to hoping that one day I will find the ‘right’ way to work and to live in order to have a career and potentially a family with my mental health issues managed at the root rather than just treating the symptoms, but in the meantime I am struggling to know who I am, what I could/should be doing about my career and relationships (relationships with family and friends as well as romantic relationships), how I can live and what I can expect of myself in my religious life.  I guess it’s no wonder I feel depressed, exhausted and confused so much of the time.

I wish I could have some kind of careers advice session, except not just about my career, but about the whole of my life, that someone would tell me what kind of career would suit me, where I fit in with the Jewish community, what type of woman I should be trying to date and how to meet her, how to cope with everyday life…  A S Mentoring might be able to help with some of that, but I’m not sure how to formulate the questions I need to ask yet, as well as being nervous about asking for help and embarrassed that I seem to need to rely on charities (mental health (JAMI) and autism (A S Mentoring, Mencap)) all the time when I feel I should be able to do things for myself.  Plus, I feel somethings are harder because I have more than one issue.  Autism and depression can interact in different ways and it’s not always clear which is predominating at any given time e.g. when should I try to push through exhaustion on the grounds that it’s just a symptom of depression and when should I accept it as a sign that I’m overstimulated and need quiet and rest.

I did fill in the online form for A S Mentoring, so that’s something positive I’ve done today.

***

Other than that, I didn’t do much today.  I went for a forty minute walk in the sunshine, which was good.  I started to apply for another job, but it was hard to overcome the depression.  This one is listed as a librarian role, but from the qualifications they are looking for, I think it’s another job where a librarian would be over-qualified and that it’s really a glorified library assistant role.  I tried to fill the online form in, but kept lapsing back into despair.  I find this whole process so tedious and I’m terrified that while I have the skills to write job applications and I apparently interview well, I’m actually incapable of holding down a real job.

***

This article is very true.  It would have been pretty much impossible for me to have had support for autism at school, certainly at primary school, as high-functioning autism/Asperger’s Syndrome wasn’t recognised until the year I started secondary school; when I was a child, if you were verbal, you weren’t autistic, end of story.  Even so, I think my parents and teachers were aware that things weren’t right in some way and that I was a target for bullies (but usually different bullies; I wasn’t usually consistently targeted by the same people, which made stopping it hard, especially when it was kids I didn’t know from other years shouting stuff at me in corridors when we passed) and was lacking in confidence, but that wasn’t considered special needs.  My Mum tried to get me to see the school counsellor, but handled it badly and just upset me and my form tutor once told me I needed to… I can’t remember his exact words, but he basically told me I was working too much and needed to develop my life outside of work .  But the general view was that my grades were good, so I was doing well, even if I wasn’t socially integrated, especially as I don’t get meltdowns or stim in a very obvious way or have other external symptoms of autism.

I suppose I was also lucky, going to a Jewish school, that there were voluntary shiurim (religious classes) to go to at lunchtimes, so I didn’t have to spend them in the playground.  On days when there weren’t shiurim I could be quite lonely and miserable if I got separated from my small circle of friends (e.g. they were at music practice or we got split up in the lunch hall crowd), which happened quite frequently.  I do wonder if I would be in the emotional/psychological state I’m in today (depression, social anxiety) if more support had been available when I was growing up, but I guess that way madness lies.

***

I keep having mini revelations about my autism.  I used to think I was a bad writer because I don’t use much metaphorical language, not in my blogs and non-fictional writing, but also not very much when I was writing fiction or poetry.  Now I realise that that could be autism.  I don’t struggle with non-literal language the way some autistic people do, but I don’t use it much and I’m very aware of, and irritated by, clichéd language, which often consists of tired metaphors that are just taken for granted and not even used as metaphors any more.

***

I looked at some articles on Neshamas, which I hadn’t done for ages.  I don’t know why, because I could have guessed it would be upsetting.  I suppose I was lonely and I just wanted to connect with people who feel as awful as I do, even if it’s just by reading what they wrote.  I read stuff written by women who are being abused/raped by their husbands.  It makes me angry and upset that this happens.  But also, it makes me think that I do have something to offer in a relationship, in terms of not actually being abusive.  But then after a moment it somehow seems inadequate.  That those women deserve better than the men who are abusing them, but that they would also deserve better than me.  That I wouldn’t be able to meet anyone’s needs, I just wouldn’t hurt her.  That I’m objectifying women just by wanting to be in a relationship with someone, even though I just want to be able to give to someone.

It’s possible that I’m not thinking straight about something here, but it’s hard to tell what.

Counter-Factuals

Trying to be brief as I took writing time to go to shiur (religious class) and work on my book, plus I need to go to bed as I have a new mental health course starting in the morning…

I was thinking while getting dressed this morning that my life would be so much better if I was not autistic (admittedly this assumes that I am autistic, which is still not certain.  “If I didn’t have autistic symptoms” might be more accurate).  I would be able to interact normally with people, probably wouldn’t be depressed and socially anxious, would have a better chance of a good job and a stable income and of a lasting relationship.  But by the time I had got to the station, I thought that there are just too many counter-factuals in something like that.  Once you start changing things, where do you stop?  If I wasn’t autistic, what would I be?  I think this is progress, of a kind.

***

Work was mostly fine today, except that when I left I was pleased with myself for not OCD checking I’d locked up the rare books store, except that by the time I was halfway down the road I was so anxious about it that I went back.  I need to work harder on exposure therapy.  There was also a nagging feeling throughout the day that I had forgotten something and wasn’t doing my job properly.  I don’t trust myself any more at work.

I also intended to walk home from the station, but by the time I arrived, I was so exhausted I had to phone my Mum for a lift.  Not good in multiple ways (exercise, environment, independence).

***

So far as I can tell, there are only a couple of books on mental health from a Jewish perspective and none at all on autism (high functioning or severe) and Judaism, let alone autism, mental health and Judaism together, so maybe there is room for my misery memoir in a crowded market after all.  I need to find the right tone, though; I’m hoping to use my blog as a basis for the text, but what is right here may not be right there.  I do wonder if there would be any backlash from some of the things I say, but I doubt many (any?) people in my community would read it.  That said, I don’t really want my parents or people from my community, let alone my rabbi, reading my thoughts about being a thirty-five year old virgin in a community that both fears and celebrates sexuality, but only permits it within marriage, which it therefore encourages at a young age… but maybe that fear in itself is reason for writing it.

***

I often wonder what other people really think of me.  I usually assume it’s something bad, or nothing at all.  It’s hard to believe it might be something good, but maybe I’m wrong.  I honestly don’t know what most people, including my friends, think of me.  I don’t know if that’s autism or something else.  (This is inspired by some interactions at work today and trying to work out how successful they were.)

Dot dot dot. Dash dash dash. Dot dot dot.

Just back from a twilight walk (twilight is about 4.00pm here at the moment).  It was only for twenty-five minutes, but it was a real struggle.

I just feel like a mess today, completely drained and depressed and worried about the future.  I also feel run down, like I’m coming down with a cold, which doesn’t help (it could actually be a cold, but depression can make me feel like this too).  I still have a long to do list, having achieved very little over the “holiday” time before my new job starts, which wasn’t really supposed to be a holiday for me.  I spend time when I should be sorting these things feeling too depressed and drained to care about shopping, bank accounts or pensions, which is wrong of me or at least not good of me.

I probably shouldn’t have sent that email to the Aish.com agony aunt.

I probably shouldn’t think the internet can substitute for real personal interactions (real world interactions are much harder, though).

I probably shouldn’t think I can get anything right.

I probably shouldn’t be here at all.

I don’t believe I’ll be happy this year, or any year.

I don’t think I want to die, I just want to be happy, but I don’t know how.  I don’t really know how to die either, but it’s certain to happen at some point, unlike being happy.

I don’t want to die, but why does living have to be so painful?

I hate this blog.  I hate my writing.

What does it say about me that the only things I get praised for (my writing, my rapport with children) are things I don’t believe are true and, in the case of my writing, actively dislike?

I’m feeling a lot of loneliness and self-hatred today.  I wonder why anyone reads the trivial, tedious, negative things I write.  I wonder if I will ever be loved, or happy (the two seem to go together, although maybe they don’t).

My Mum is upset by how I’m feeling today, but I struggle to understand what she is feeling.  I cognitively know she is upset, but it’s hard to feel it.  That could be autism or depression.  I blame myself and feel more guilty.  Why do I always have to ruin things for everyone else?

My sister wants me to come and see her new house mid-renovation on Sunday and I’m already feeling upset about it, partly for understandable (I think) reasons that I won’t go into now, but also because I’ve already seen the house once pre-renovation and will see it when it’s all done and I wonder how many times I have to go and see this house and end up feeling terrible that I’m never going to get married and own a house.  And then I feel guilty for feeling that too.

My parents said that 2018 was a good year for me, but that seems to be based mainly on my solo trip to New York.  They think I made the right decision leaving my job in further education, but I’m not so sure.  They’re optimistic about my finding a permanent new job and getting a firm autism diagnosis, but I’m not sure about that either.

I can’t find the words to fit what I feel right now.  Alexithymia is awful when writing is your only release of emotions.  I wish someone loved me romantically.  But I know I probably couldn’t cope if someone did.  I know people care about me in other ways, but I spend a lot of time avoiding them or inadvertently being rude to them because I can’t cope with it and don’t know how to respond.

I don’t know how much of that last paragraph is true.  I really don’t understand my feelings today.  Alexithymia is, indeed, awful.

I can’t cope with my feelings.  They overwhelm me.

I can’t cope with my guilt.  It overwhelms me.

I feel that I’m such a terrible person, that nothing good will ever happen to me, that nothing good deserves to happen to me.  I wish I could explain more (because I deserve to be publicly shamed), but don’t have the guts

Down Again, Down Again, Jiggity Jig

My parents and my cousin went to football today (Spurs vs. Bournemouth… perhaps inevitably, the family are Spurs fans (they have a reputation for being the most Jewish club).  Spurs won 5-0).  I’m not sure whose idea it was; I think it was my parents’ and then my cousin asked to join them, but I’m not sure.  I don’t like spectator sport, so I stayed at home.

***

I woke up feeling really drained and quite depressed again.  It’s only got worse as the day has gone on.  I wish I could have a good day that wasn’t followed by a bad one as ‘payment’ for it.  I don’t feel up to doing the chores I was supposed to do today.  I forced myself to go for walk and to do ten minutes of Torah study.  I should also try to write back to the author Yaakov Klein, who emailed me about my recent comment about his book on my blog, although I’m procrastinating about that because I feel ashamed that I got annoyed with what he wrote.  But really, I just want to eat and sleep.  My problem with depression used to be fighting the urge to sleep too much.  That’s still an issue (I got up after 11.00am today), but lately it’s become just as much of a struggle to avoid eating.  I’m probably better at fighting the urge to comfort eat than the urge to oversleep, but it’s hard.

I don’t even feel particularly motivated to watch TV, let alone do anything more active.  I’ve got a lot of anhedonia today, although there’s a lot of exhaustion and depression too.  I just wrote the following about anhedonia in a comment on the Mental Health at Home blog:

Anhedonia is hard too. I find that it can be the hardest thing because the people around me will give me more sympathy if I’m visibly exhausted or suicidal, but if everything just seems meh, no one really cares or even knows that I’m sitting there not enjoying things that in the past I would have liked. To make it worse, I suspect I’ve had anhedonia since my early teens (at least) so it’s difficult to remember by this stage that I used to enjoy stuff a lot more.

***

I’m thinking about relationships again.  I don’t know why I’m so desperate to be in one, considering I usually avoid social interactions.  Actually, that’s not really true.  I do know why I want to be in a relationship: because I have a complicated relationship with my parents and sister stemming from a difficult, love-starved childhood (for reasons not in my family’s control) and so I’m desperate to be loved by someone to try to meet that long-felt, rarely-met need for affection and care.  This is not a particularly healthy reason to want to be in a relationship, doubly so when you consider that it’s compounded by a lot of religious repression and guilt about perfectly normal sexual desires, plus the fact that my lack of romantic success in the past makes me feel that I’m destined to be romantically and sexually inadequate forever, even if I do end up getting married.

I just wish someone really understood me and connected with me, I suppose.  I want to love and be loved, which probably isn’t surprising given my personal history (loneliness, bullying), but I worry I want to be loved more than I want to love someone else.  I’m not sure I could express love correctly anyway.  Whatever “correctly” is in the context.  Autism, social anxiety and depression do not make it easy to develop social skills, and I guess that loving is a social skill.

I’ve been told that I’ll meet someone when I least expect it, but that’s not how dating really works in the Orthodox world, where people mostly get set up on blind dates by third parties and it’s often all researched and thought out beforehand.  That said, I did start dating E. out of nowhere (she contacted me through my blog and we emailed for a while platonically before dating), but that didn’t end well and I can’t imagine lightning striking twice with another random emailer.  Actually, thinking about it, I met someone else I briefly dated through my blog, in a slightly different way, so maybe I’m wrong.  Or maybe lighting will strike twice, but not thrice.  Although I find it hard to imagine that anyone could like me even platonically, let alone romantically, having read the embarrassing, self-centred rambles I post here.

I just feel it would feel good if someone loved me, and let me love her, but I would still be depressed, anxious and autistic, so it wouldn’t really change anything.

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.

Tragical-Comical-Historical-Pastoral

I felt down on waking again today.  I really struggle in the heat, which leaves me feeling exhausted.  Welcome to global warming (the winter brings its own challenges, though, with depressing short days and little sunlight.  Spring is probably the best time of year for me).  The last few days I have overslept and procrastinated, then gone to bed very late trying to cram stuff in, without managing everything I wanted to do.  I spend what I see of the morning feeling lethargic and exhausted and wanting to go back to bed.  I am chuffed that yesterday’s post got twelve likes, which I think is a record for me, although I know other people regularly get far more than this.

Once I got going, things were a bit better.  I had to have another blood test.  I need blood tests every three months because I’m on lithium tablets, but when I went a week or two ago, they messed it up somehow and didn’t take enough blood (I don’t know if they missed the vein, although they tried on both arms).  So that got me out of the house and in the sunshine as I walked back from the hospital (about a thirty-five minute walk).

I joined another job site, this time one for part-time work.  It didn’t have ‘librarianship’ as a work category, which isn’t too surprising, but it didn’t have anything like ‘information management’ either.  I had to put myself down as working in ‘education’ and ‘research’ which aren’t quite right.  Not sure how many relevant results I’m going to get here.

I am worried about getting a job.  I would say ‘career’ except I think I just destroyed that (what little I had of it).  There aren’t many librarianship jobs around, those that are around are not at my level of qualification and experience and/or require a lot more interpersonal interactions than I feel comfortable with, or think I can manage (bearing in mind my ex-boss more or less told me outright that I’m not good with that side of things).  All the non-librarian jobs I’m looking at seem to presume experience of working in that area, which I obviously don’t have.  I’m beginning to suspect that writing and editing are jobs you fall into by accident, by knowing people who need someone for a job and think you can do it.  I don’t know anyone.

I just spent the last hour and a half or more setting up a new blog.  I won’t link to it, as it’s not anonymous, but it’s a Doctor Who and science fiction blog, intended to showcase my writing ability.  I decided it was worth paying for a domain name without ‘wordpress’ in it and for a site without adverts, as this is supposed to be a career-advancing site.  I’m quite excited about it.

I bought myself a birthday present.  When I was in my teens, my friends got obsessed with fantasy wargaming and I had to join in just to be able to talk to them (they didn’t talk about much else – it was probably around this time that the depression and certainly the loneliness began to kick in).  I didn’t enjoy playing the game very much, but I was good at painting the miniatures.  I drifted away from it as I got older and drifted away from my friends, but when we moved house three years ago, I found my paints and some unpainted miniatures and got back in to it.  It’s quite good to do while depressed, because it uses a different part of my brain and provides distraction from my thoughts.  Recently, a different company has brought out a Doctor Who wargame.  To be honest, the Doctor Who miniatures they’ve brought out so far don’t look that interesting to paint.  Most Doctor Who monsters are one colour, usually black or green.  But I noticed they had a deal: buy the first, fourth, fifth, tenth, eleventh and twelfth Doctors together and get a free K9.  The Doctor has crazy dress sense, which means that the miniatures are more interesting to paint.  So I treated myself to the set.  It arrived today and I’m looking forward to getting started painting.

I went to The Open Air Theatre in Regents Park with my Mum to see As You Like It.  We try to go to The Open Air Theatre every year as a mother-son thing, although there isn’t always something on we want to see.  I think it’s only been rained off once when we’ve gone.  As You Like It was very funny.  I was glad that I followed it as I hadn’t had time/energy/headspace to read it beforehand.  I was a bit melancholy at all the happy-ever-after marriages at the end (I’m not sure if you can spoiler something four hundred years old, but I don’t think it’s a great spoiler to say that there are weddings at the end of a Shakespearean comedy), thinking about myself and E.  Wishing we could just run off to the country and not have to worry about money and mental health.  I still think I will never find someone who can accept and support me as much as she did (and still does, even though we’re not dating any more).  I suppose there is still the chance that it will work out one day, but I can’t see how.

And now tonight we are going into Tu B’Av, a minor Jewish festival.  It’s not really celebrated now, but in ancient times it was a time when single Jewish women would go into the fields and dance and try to attract a husband, so it’s sort of become the frum (religious) Valentine’s Day in recent years.  So, again, I feel a bit wistful about me and E., but I don’t feel too bad, whereas a week ago I would probably have been inconsolable, so that’s an improvement.  I’m still sceptical about my ability to find a job (and a wife), but I’m feeling less depressed than I was a few days ago, certainly not having suicidal thoughts, so that’s good.  I know it won’t last forever, but I hope it lasts a while.  Through my holiday, at any rate.

Top Priority

You know it’s a bad day, depression-wise, when putting on your shoes is too complex, energetic and difficult an action to manage.

Today was a wasted day.  I was supposed to do job hunting stuff, but all I managed was a few minutes of Torah study and a short walk to the shops, plus a cursory bit of davening (prayer).  I had to force myself to eat dinner and watch Doctor Who, I really just wanted to curl up in bed and withdraw from the world.

I’ve had a few thoughts:

  1. I think I need to go back to my parents’ home.  I’ve paid the rent at my flat for another month as I had to give a month’s notice, but at the moment I’m too lonely in the flat by myself, staying up too late and sleeping too late.  The noise (and sometimes smells) from the builders next door is disruptive too and the flat is uncomfortably hot too much of the time, especially as I can’t open the doors (the main means of ventilation) until I’m dressed, which is late, and I don’t like opening the front door while the builders are around.  Moving back in with my parents won’t solve all of that – and it will bring a load of new problems – but it might help with some of it.
  2. It was brought home to me how useless and self-hating I am at the moment and how off-putting that is to my friends and family, let alone women I might be interested in (not that I am right now).  I need to make recovery my top priority.  I just don’t have a clue how.
  3. I forced myself to walk to the shops to get milk, although I didn’t need any urgently.  It was a struggle.  I feel so unfit.  I need to make exercise my top priority, get back into running.  Being fitter will make me feel better.
  4. And getting a job, I need to make that my top priority too.  That would boost my self-esteem and income, which would be helpful.  It would also make me more attractive if I want to date again.
  5. And Jewish stuff should be my top priority too.  That would help me fit in to my community and make friends.  Making friends is a top priority for recovery.  And religion could give my life meaning, which is important for recovery.  And God said to do it, so it must be important and helpful.  So that should definitely be my top priority.
  6. And volunteering/helping others should be my top priority too.  Anyone who has read vaguely patronising stuff about depression knows that helping others is the best way to get better.

So, actually everything I was already trying and failing to do should be my top priority.  And I can barely get up and put some cereal in a bowl for breakfast.  About the only thing not my top priority is writing, which is about the only thing I enjoy and want to make a career from, although lately I don’t have the headspace for anything other than mental health blogging (I have a growing pile of notes for my book that I haven’t typed up yet).  No wonder I’ve spent the last few days feeling totally overwhelmed and in meltdown.  I honestly don’t know where to start, but I can’t do everything at once.

Also, I should stop reading the news, because it’s either terrifying stuff about geopolitics or banal stuff about untalented ‘celebrities’ who I have never heard of, often in articles using slang terms I don’t understand.  Sometimes it can be both types of article at the same time e.g. when an obscure reality TV star becomes most powerful man in the world.

I just feel wiped out.  I do feel that I won’t recover, find another job, fit in to my community, get married, have children… anything I want really.  This doesn’t seem like depressive catastrophisation, but a realistic assessment of the evidence.  People tell me otherwise, but they seem to be making an unrealistically positive assessment.  The history of the last fifteen or twenty years of my life seems to indicate otherwise to me.

I feel so ashamed of myself.  I feel that after fifteen or twenty years I should have moved on from this.  I feel people only tolerate me and my mental illnesses and my borderline (not even undiagnosed) autism up to a point and beyond that they treat me like I should have more control over my life.  But really I feel that I can’t do very much at all so much of the time. I feel if I can’t always convince my parents of this, how can I convince anyone else.  Sometimes I feel that people with physical illnesses aren’t treated like this, or with more serious mental illnesses.  Sometimes it seems a miracle to me that I can get through a day without even hurting myself, without trying to kill myself.  But it’s hard for other people to understand that.  I ‘only’ have depression, not a ‘real’ illness like cancer, or even a ‘real’ mental illness like bipolar disorder or schizophrenia, one where you’re behaviour is noticeably different.  I was pretty subdued, downbeat and lacking in self-esteem long before I was officially diagnosed with depression, hence my uncertainty as to whether I’ve been depressed for fifteen years or twenty or longer.  I feel so messed up today.  I just burst into tears watching Doctor Who.  Twice.  Admittedly it was The Day of the Doctor, but I have seen it before and knew what was coming.  I still cried a little when all the Doctors turned up and again when Tom Baker walked in.  Managed to laugh and cry then.  I’m such a wreck.

Incoherent Ramblings of a Deranged Madman

I did eventually calm down and go to sleep last night, then slept through the whole morning, waking at 1.00pm, but being too tired to get up before 1.30, despite the noise from next door (I live in a converted garage; apparently the owners of the adjoining garage are converting their side into a flat too).

I feel exhausted and depressed.  I feel as if the immensity of everything, of possibly endless unemployment, the difficulties of self-employment and the loneliness of possibly permanent singledom (while carrying a torch for someone who just wants to be friends) has really hit me.  That said, I don’t feel any specific anxiety.  Yesterday’s agitation has been replaced with total lethargy and I can’t really think at all.

I just got a spammy email from PayPal telling me that a lot can happen in four months.  Indeed.  In four months I moved from single to in a relationship to single again and from employed and fairly sure I would still be employed in a few months if I wanted to unemployed.  Still depressed, though.

I wonder why I left my job, as it seems impossible even to feel non-depressed enough to find and apply for a job, let alone get one, and the thought of writing for a living, even non-creative writing, seems unlikely – I have no confidence in my writing and certainly not in my ability to network, submit on spec or take editorial criticism.   I just feel utterly drained today.  The heat doesn’t help and it’s worse in my poorly-ventilated flat (one advantage of moving back in with my parents, I suppose).

I feel I underestimated how much the events of recent months would affect me, particularly now I’m off work and have time to think about things.  I suppose this is my normal holiday slump magnified by the doubt and uncertainty and the anxiety of job hunting and career shifting.  I suppose I blame myself for leaving my job and maybe for what happened with E. and I certainly can’t see a way ahead with either.  I feel disgusted with myself for acting out yesterday, although I have no idea how I ended up in such an agitated condition (or what I can do to stop it happening again).

Looking at Hevria stuff online just underlines how far I am from the centres of Jewish life (Israel and America/New York), but even if I was there, I doubt I could get involved.  I want to meet some Hevria people when I go to New York in a few weeks, but it’s hard to find anyone willing to meet with me.  And I feel like I don’t fit in with their frum-but-bohemian lifestyles, either the bohemian part or, increasingly, the effortlessly frum part.  Being frum is increasingly a hard struggle and I’ve never really seen God’s hand in my life the way the others seem to.  And I don’t feel creative, although I’ve been told I’m a good writer (I find that hard to believe).

I’m thinking about moving my Doctor Who blog to WordPress, if I want to try to boost its popularity to try to promote my Doctor Who/science fiction writing/criticism.  Livejournal seems to be fairly dead these days, for English language blogs at any rate.  I need to blog there more often, though.  I think the only way I could keep it separate from this blog (which I would have to as this one is anonymous and the Doctor Who one isn’t) is to set up a paid account, although even then I’m not sure if it would let me separate them (as I only have one email address to register with them).  I don’t really mind paying £3 a month though, and it might be worth it for no ads and a blog title without ‘wordpress’ in it.  I ought to learn to use LinkedIn better too.  Correction: I ought to actually use my LinkedIn account.  (It scares me.)

Procrastinating.  I just think, “I’ll just sit here for a few more minutes.  I’ll just look at such and such a website.  I’ll just check my emails again.”  I used to think this was desire for connection, but I’ve been in touch with friends today.  I just feel lazy.  I hate myself today.

My main achievement today has been to clear my email folders.  I’m good about keeping my inbox under control, but lately my outbox and trash folders had become over-full, plus I still had nearly every email E. had ever sent me, which seemed pointlessly romantic and depressing because it reminds me that no one I can’t get a relationship to work even when I manage to find someone who likes me.  It took longer than I hoped, but less time than I feared.

People keep reminding me about things I need to remember to do for my holiday or job search.  I’m not sure whether to be angry that they think I’ll forget or ashamed that they might be right.  I feel like everyone is treating me like a child, but also that they possibly (probably?) need to do so.  I wonder how well I could function by myself if I had to.  This is part of the reason E. broke up with me.  Of course part of the reason I’m inexperienced at these things is simply that I haven’t been well enough to do them.  I’ve never been well enough to go on holiday by myself before, nor have I needed to do a prolonged job search.  For a long time I was too depressed to work.  My first job came from a voluntary position that I talked into a paid position and my second job I just applied for out of the blue and won without any prolonged searching.  So I’ve never had a prolonged period of job searching before.

I’m trying to think of intelligent questions to ask my friends who are writers and researchers about their careers and I’m really struggling.  Sometimes I feel so useless.  It’s hard to tell if it’s depression, autism, learned helplessness or if I am just genuinely useless.

I feel guilty about not having gone for a run yesterday or today, but I walked over to my parents’ house to pick some stuff up today and I was completely exhausted.  It’s only a fifteen minute walk, but I was really slow.  Every movement was an effort. My legs felt like they were lined with lead.  I hate being this depressed.  I ate ice cream, even though I know I’ve put on a ton of weight with my medications.  Two years ago I was reasonably slim; now thanks to clomipramine I’m somewhat overweight despite probably eating more healthily now than previously.

My Dad says it’s a shame that no one from Hevria wants to meet me in New York.  He says the lesson from this is that people say one thing and mean another.  I think the lesson is more that everyone secretly hates me and wants nothing to do with me.  At least E. is going to spend time with me although I’m worried that will be painful for both of us.  I’m still terrified of getting mugged or lost or missing my plane.  It would help if I had direct contact details for more Hevrians rather than having to go through the two people whose details I do have and who I think have forgotten to tell anyone else that I’m coming despite my asking them to do so.

I will be thirty-five in a few days.  It’s easy to say I just want someone to love me, but it’s not that simple.  For someone to love me and be able to live/cope with me, I need a full-time job or at least some kind of job that pays better than my last one.  I also need to have frum (religious) friends who will set me up on dates.  For that to happen, I need to be better integrated into the frum (religious) community.  For that to happen, I need to have less social anxiety and to be coping better with my religious obligations (prayer, Torah study) and for that to happen I need more simcha shel mitzvah (joy from the commandments).  For any of this to happen, I need some kind of medication or therapy regime or set of coping skills that allow me to cope with my depression, social anxiety, low self-esteem and borderline autism a lot better than I currently am, not just for a few months (as occasionally happens), but consistently for a period of years.  This seems incredibly unlikely, given the events of the last twenty years or so.

I have probably been depressed for more of my life than not now.  At any rate, I’ve been depressed for almost all of my adult life.  I sometimes wonder what I would be like as a person and what my life would be like if I was not depressed.  It is very hard to know.

My life seems both pointless and hopeless.  I’m not suicidal, but I do wonder why I’m here.  I can’t see myself doing anything worthwhile in any sense of the word, and God knows (literally) I’ve hardly enjoyed myself for the last twenty years or more, since I was a child.  I don’t think I’ve grown much as a person either.  It’s hard to get the energy to hunt for work, plan my holiday, meet my religious obligations, become a better person or just do the chores needed to keep my flat/life in order (or look for dates, for that matter, not that I’m doing that) when everything seems to turn out so badly for me.  If I’d spent the entire day in bed today, I’m not sure I would have been a lot worse off…

Weekend Post

I haven’t written for a couple of days because I’ve been busy.  On Friday I went for a run without a cap because why would you need a hat in London in April?  I got sunstroke.  Ouch.  Climate change!  It left me feeling so ill that I missed shul (synagogue) in the evening, which I felt bad about.

Yesterday I overslept and missed morning shul again, but I did at least stay awake in the afternoon instead of napping, which gave me time for extra Torah study and a stroll outdoors.  I went to a sheva brachos (marriage celebration) in shul between Mincha and Ma’ariv (the afternoon and evening services) for a couple I didn’t know, but I wanted to be part of the community, who were all invited.  This is a normal type of thing to do in frum (religious Orthodox Jewish) circles.  It was difficult, as I didn’t get to sit with the people I knew best and made awkward small talk with some people I didn’t know so well.  The father of the bride used so much Yiddish in his speech that I couldn’t really understand all he said, which made me feel a bit of a misfit, then the groom’s best friend made a speech that made me feel even more of a misfit, because it was basically about how we should only learn Torah and not have outside interests. This tied in with what one of the people next to me had said, that he used to be a bookworm before he was frum, but now he only reads Torah and Talmud.  It made me wonder if I am in the right community, although I don’t know of another that fits me better, and at least I share some values even if I can’t always live up to them with my mental health issues.  Then I spent the evening writing an email and having serious conversations with my parents and then eating lots when I suddenly got really hungry late at night, so I didn’t get to bed until nearly 3.30am.  Admittedly watching Doctor Who late at night didn’t help (I’ve finished the ninth Doctor’s run now, but have several pages of notes to write up for my book because I haven’t had long enough lunch breaks at work to work on it), but I needed to unwind after the sheva brachos and serious conversations.

I went jogging again today and still did poorly.  I’ve been jogging for about three years now, maybe four (admittedly I barely went out for the last eight or nine months), but I still can’t go more than a couple of minutes without slowing to a walk because of pain and exhaustion.  I can’t work out how other people can push through this.  Am I a wimp?  Do I have a low pain threshold (possible, as I think there is some evidence that depressed people are more sensitive to pain)?  Or do I have some undiagnosed physical health condition (that’s probably hypochondria)?  Certainly at school we had to do a fitness test every term.  I was never amazingly fit, but when I was about thirteen, my fitness suddenly dropped dramatically and never recovered.  No one ever followed it up; the PE teachers were not the best and they ignored me because I was bad at PE; probably there was a government regulation that a fitness test must be given each term, but no regulation that the results should be analysed and followed through, so no one did.  Still, in retrospect, I wonder if that marked the start of my depression.

I found out today that the son of the rabbi of my parents’ shul got engaged.  He must be only a little more than half my age.  I’m trying hard to feel happy for him, and for the couple yesterday (who I’m guessing were also young, although probably not quite so young), but it’s hard.  I don’t want to take away anyone’s happiness, and I tell myself that the world is so painful and upsetting for so many people that more bracha and simcha (blessing and happiness) in it can only be a good thing for everyone, but I feel left out and wonder if I will ever experience real joy or romantic love.

It’s funny, I tell myself that the Orthodox world contains many diverse and varied types of people, with different opinions and interests and if I took my time to get to know more of them better, I would find many interesting and unusual people… yet the ease with which so many frum people manage to pair off and marry at such a young age makes me wonder if 80% of them are basically interchangeable in terms of personality, values and interests (if they have any interests outside of Torah and chesed (acts of kindness) as per that speech yesterday) and can basically marry almost anyone else in the community.  It’s only the 20% of us who are quirky and eccentric (or freakish and weird, if you want to be less charitable) who end up alone.

I’ve mentioned a couple of times that over the last few weeks, I’ve been describing my emotions to myself and trying to accept them for what they are, which seems to help a little with the depression and alexithymia (difficulty feeling and understanding emotions).  I guess it’s a kind of mindfulness technique although, while I’ve tried mindfulness before, I don’t think I saw this technique anywhere in exactly this way.  One thing I’ve noticed since I’ve been doing it is that I have a lot more emotions than I thought I did.  I thought I was mostly feeling depression, loneliness and despair, with a bit of anxiety at times, but actually there are a lot more emotions in there.  Many of them are very difficult to deal with, like loneliness and lust (because I don’t really have an outlet for them) or depression and anxiety (because I don’t really have any practical way of coping with them), but just narrating them to myself does help a bit.  I’m also trying to learn how not to judge myself for feeling things, because emotions are just emotions, although it’s hard when they lead on to actions that are not ideal e.g. when I get depressed and irritable and am sarcastic and short with my parents.

I feel depressed again now, which I hadn’t felt for most of the weekend.  I don’t know if getting tired jogging triggered me or something else.  I could just be hungry.  I know I seem very open about my issues here, but there’s a lot that I don’t share, because it’s too personal, or because it involves other people, or because I don’t understand it well enough to articulate it, or because it’s too shameful.  Quite a few of those lights are flashing now and it’s always frustrating when that happens, as blogging is one of my few ways of at least trying to deal with my feelings.  A lot of it boils down to feeling that I will be alone and unloved forever, and not knowing how I will live with that, and how I can live with my human desire to give and accept love (physically and emotionally) when no one is willing to receive or give to me.  There’s also a fear that just maybe there is someone out there for me,  but because of my social ineptitude or procrastination I will somehow miss her and we will both be alone forever, which somehow seems even worse than there simply not being anyone weird enough to take me.

I started this post saying that I had been busy, but now I feel depressed, I feel I haven’t done much this weekend, between losing a chunk of Friday to sunstroke, oversleeping on Saturday morning (yet again) and oversleeping this morning (yet again).  I went to the sheva brachos yesterday and did some Torah study (at home and in the new Talmud shiur at shul, where I actually understood the topic for a few minutes), wrote an email, went for a not terribly successful run today and cooked dinner.  I guess that’s not nothing, but it’s not everything I wanted to do either: I didn’t book the holiday I want to go on or do any Torah study so far today (I wanted to get a proper look at this week’s page of Talmud in advance of next Shabbat’s shiur).  I guess I should be thankful for small victories, and I try to be, but it’s hard and I never seem to get any credit for trying.  Actually that’s not quite true as my Mum praised me for going to the sheva brachos and trying to talk to people yesterday.  It is hard to be happy with who I am, though.

“Overweight, under-powered museum piece”

And after a couple of somewhat good days, it all comes crashing down again…

I wish I could stop myself shluffing (napping) after Shabbat (Sabbath) lunch.  I don’t think I can cope with such a large meal at that time of day.  I couldn’t sleep last night from having slept too much during the day.  Eventually I got up and did some stuff in my room (I was still at my parents’ house) while watching Doctor Who until I got tired.  I am overweight and out of shape; the title quote (from Doctor Who: The Claws of Axos) is the Master’s view of the Doctor’s TARDIS, but fits how I feel about myself lately.  I try telling myself the C. S. Lewis thing that I’m a soul with a body not a body with a soul, but I’m not enough of a mystic and that’s always seemed fairly un-Jewish to me (I’ve heard frum Jews quote it, but I’m not sure they knew they were quoting on of the twentieth century’s foremost Christian apologists).

This morning I inevitably overslept.  I tried to go for a run, but it was pretty poor.  I stopped after twenty minutes because I was feeling faint and light-headed (possibly because it was gone 3.00pm and I hadn’t had lunch, but I’d only had breakfast at noon, so I’m not sure it was that), having walked a lot instead of actually running.  At least I got home before the rain.  I suppose I got into my jogging stuff and out the door twice in three days, which I hadn’t managed since last August.

I read in a book about depression not to take any serious decisions while in the midst of an episode.  This is probably good, as if I followed every thought coming into my head at the moment I would:

  1. resolve to date only women at least as frum (religious) as me;
  2. resolve to date only women less frum than me;
  3. give up on the idea of dating and marriage and children altogether;
  4. stick with my job;
  5. change job;
  6. change employment sector;
  7. change career completely and become a writer;
  8. write a religious science fiction story;
  9. give up on writing a religious science fiction story;
  10. give up on writing a fictionalised version of my depression/childhood story;
  11. give up writing my Doctor Who book;
  12. give up writing my blog.

Of these only the last two can really be dismissed as passing whims: I get enough out of both to want to stick with them even if the book never gets published and even though the blog just seems like attention-seeking whining most of the time.  At any rate, I’ve made friends through the blog and get positive feedback from people who get something out of it, so it’s obviously fulfilling some sort of purpose, even if I’m not entirely sure what that purpose is.  Of the others, I have given up on writing about my childhood experiences (somewhat to my annoyance) and also on the science fiction story (which is annoying in a different way).  I don’t think I can write poetry or fiction any more, if I ever could.  I’m stuck with non-fiction prose, which means confessional (on the blog) or about Doctor Who and other TV science fiction (on my other blog and book(s)), which I suspect is a saturated market that I don’t quite fit into.

You may have guessed that I’ve been feeling depressed again.  Fortunately, I found out there is a heter (permission) for clinically depressed people to listen to music during the omer, so that’s helped a little bit, although I’m only listening when I feel I need to and not when I’m just bored while walking home.  I’m catastrophising again, though.  I feel nothing can work out well for me hence, I suppose, the comprehensive list of thoughts about what to do, or not to do, with my life, as I try to find an option that looks likely to succeed when nothing seems to look likely to bring anything other than more misery.  I suppose the answer is to wait a few months until I find out if my work contract is being renewed for the next year and wait to see if I can make progress with the social anxiety over the next few months before dating.  That said, I’m not convinced that the social anxiety is the major problem there, I think the depression and not being a good fit for the subculture (the frum (religious/Orthodox Jewish) world) I want to marry into are much bigger issues.  Actually being able to get to shul (synagogue) for Shabbat morning services would be a good start, if I could work out how to do that.

However, while I never thought of myself as impatient person, it turns out I’m really rubbish at just waiting indefinitely for stuff that may never happen.  I want to get on with my life and feel that my life as it is at the moment is both bad for me (it makes me depressed) and bad for the world (I’m not contributing anything worthwhile e.g. doing a worthwhile job well (I do a moderately worthwhile job badly in my paid work), doing something positive Jewishly or raising children).  I suppose I feel that being in my mid-thirties without a ever having had a full-time job, having only had one relatively short-lived serious relationship (five years ago) and having no children, I’m entitled to feel that my life went wrong somewhere and to wonder how I get it back on track.  I know I shouldn’t compare myself to other people and I know everyone has issues, but somehow I feel many other people’s issues aren’t quite as serious or long-lasting as mine.  I don’t know whether that’s true.  No one goes on about their issues as much as I do, but then most people don’t have a blog, and perhaps most people use social media to present an idealised perfect version of themselves rather than stressing the negatives of their life, the way I do.  Perhaps I give as unrealistic a presentation of my life as my peers who (I assume) post pictures of their perfect spouse/children/home on Facebook and Instagram.

I was close to tears again while cooking dinner (spicy bean burgers, the trickiest item in my repertoire) and actually burst out crying when davening Ma’ariv (saying evening prayers).  I only really cooked dinner from necessity and not wanting to be beaten after being defeated by jogging.  Am I lonely?  I don’t know.  I don’t know that I necessarily want someone to talk to anyone, although my sister phoned before and I cheered up a bit while talking to her, if only because I feel I need to put a brave face on around other people, so I don’t bring them down and because they don’t really understand what I’m going through, even my family, who have been around me like this for years and years (I guess I assume that my blog readers either understand or don’t get dragged down by me).  Perhaps I want someone to be around, but I’m not even sure about that.

I don’t know what I want right now, except that this isn’t it.  I don’t feel competent to work or maintain friendships, let alone relationships or being a parent.  I feel sure that HaShem (God) is gearing up to break my heart again, but I don’t know how to stop it.  If He wants to do it, I don’t suppose I can, or should.  I suppose it will make me a better person in fifty years time and when I get to one hundred and twenty and die I’ll reap the rewards – except that I feel I will screw up my response to the tests and end up getting karet again, and never get to know where my life was supposed to be going (although maybe that would be worse: knowing how good things could have been if I hadn’t mucked them up).

I don’t know what I actually feel competent doing or enjoy doing, except for one thing (writing about Doctor Who and science fiction TV), which  I don’t know how to monetise or subsidise from paid work, nor does it feel particularly socially useful.  I don’t think writing yet another book about Doctor Who is going to fix the economy, cure cancer or bring world peace.  I can’t even guarantee that it will bring much in the way of enjoyment to its readers (if anyone will actually buy the thing).

There probably is more to say, but it’s late, I need to get to bed, and I feel too stressed, depressed, agitated and angry to sleep.  I’m not sure what I do now to get to sleep.

Stuck in the Middle with Who?

I finally feel I achieved something this holiday: I went for a run for the first time in nearly eight months.  My trainers were covered in dust from lack of use.  To be honest, I walked quite a bit of it, which was bad even by my standards (I still find it hard to run continuously for twenty minutes or more and I do wonder how much is the depression depleting my stamina), but at least I was out for half an hour when I only expected to manage fifteen or twenty minutes.  I came back exhausted and a bit faint, but also somewhat reinvigorated.  So that’s a positive result.  I’ll try to go for another run on Sunday.  I’d like to build a run every Sunday and Friday through the summer, although the latter might be harder to fit in between therapy and Shabbat (the Sabbath).

I guess I’ve achieved a couple of things this holiday, actually.  I managed to get through Pesach OK, albeit with depression and some religious OCD, but less than the last couple of years except for one bad twenty-four hour hour period.  I did some chores that needed doing and I went out yesterday with my Dad.  I proof-read another two chapters of the second draft of my Doctor Who book today and have been taking notes for revisions on the next chapter.  I realised that writing the book has required me to read the feelings and motivations of various characters implied, but not explicitly stated, by the scripts and body language and intonation of the actors.  I think I’ve done this better than I expected, but it is something I often have to do consciously and struggle with sometimes; I’m not always sure I’ve read them correctly.  I’m not sure where that puts me on the autistic spectrum inasmuch as I find this hard (autistic),but I can do it to some extent (not autistic).  I guess it is a spectrum, with various degrees of severity.

I’m also trying a couple of new techniques for dealing with the depression, using my davening (prayers) as a mindful meditation technique (as per Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan in Jewish Meditation) and trying to accept my difficult thoughts and emotions rather than repressing them or getting anxious or depressed about them or indeed encouraging them, but I’m still trying to learn how to deal this and I wouldn’t like to say if they’re working at this stage.  Maybe I will write more on this when I’m more certain of how I’m managing it.

I suppose that those are all positive achievements, considering I was only off for two weeks and most of that was Pesach.  It’s always hard to accept that I’ve achieved things, though.

The rest of this post might be considered a very long digression, but it’s necessary to shed some light on something I’ve referred to here before more than once.  In fact, there might be a couple of people reading this who know that this is something I’ve been writing about and worrying about for many years, but I’ve seen something that makes me think this isn’t just my paranoid/introverted/depressed/autistic/whatever feelings, but something that others have observed in more objective ways.  If you want the short version, it’s mainly just me saying that a clever academic somewhere else online agrees with me about my being socially isolated in the Jewish community.  As for the long version:

On the Judaism Without Apologies blog Israeli polymath (computer scientist, political scientist and Talmudist) Moshe Koppel has been writing a sort of comparative psycho-sociological study of Orthodox Judaism and the Orthodox community versus the liberalism of non-religious American Jews.  I find it fascinating, even though I would query some of it and need more time to digest more of it (I’m hoping there will be a book version, because I suspect I internalise and evaluate information better in book format than blog format), partly because of the light it has shone on my evolving political views and my uncomfortable position in the Orthodox world.  I’m going to leave my (possibly somewhat unusual) politics out of this post and just look at the sociological side of things.

Koppel has been making his study concrete by looking at a couple of stereotypical fictional characters to represent each world, primarily Shimen, an Orthodox Jew and Holocaust survivor, and Heidi, a fairly secular American Jewish baby-boomer.  His most recent posts have been looking at the fine balance of Shimen’s religious world and the way this world has vanished in the next generation to be replaced by two streams of Orthodoxy going in opposite directions: a religious fundamentalism rejecting Western culture and a somewhat conflicted (or hypocritical), accommodationist attitude in more moderate religious thinkers.  Broadly, the former corresponds to Charedi (Ultra-Orthodox) Judaism, the latter to Modern Orthodoxy (I would question this a bit, as I felt he was taking examples from the extreme of Modern Orthodoxy and Open Orthodoxy and ignoring what is sometimes described as Centrist Orthodoxy, but we can leave such hair-splitting of practice aside for now).  Various posts have used game theory and sociological theory to show how forms of communal identification and ideological progression in both worlds result in a need for ever more extreme virtue signalling and radicalisation in both directions i.e. the fundamentalists become ever more fundamentalist to prove they aren’t liberal, while the liberals become ever more liberal to demonstrate they aren’t conservative.

The reason I bring this up is that the most recent posts explained to me my position in the Jewish world, and it is precarious.  Koppel describes Shimen’s generation as neither Charedi nor Modern Orthodox, preceding the evolution of these viewpoints, taking what it wanted from the wider world (some secular education, some bits of mainstream culture) while quietly ignoring what it deemed problematic.  Likewise, Shimen was able to balance the universal and particular elements of Jewish ethics.  Shimen probably didn’t know many non-Jews, but he probably didn’t really hate them either or think about them much at all, really, as long as they left the Jews alone.  But the next generation, confronted with an increasingly seductive, but increasingly anti-religious (both in the formal, atheist sense, but also in the sense of simply having ethical norms that are very different) wider culture is locked into one of two responses: build a ghetto and shut out Western culture as much as possible by demonising it or bend halakhah (Jewish law) as far as possible, if not further, to accommodate as much of contemporary Western thought and practice/society as possible.  Again, the former is the Charedi way, the latter the Modern Orthodox.

My rabbi mentor once said I have a strong dislike of religious hypocrisy.  It’s one of the most treasured things anyone ever said about me.  As a result, I find both approaches problematic.  I feel uncomfortable bending halakhah to fit ever-changing political and social mores and I have enough of a philosophical problem with postmodernism to be wary of trying to live my life in accordance with postmodern liberal standards.  But I also disagree with entirely shutting out Western civilisation, which has many good points (as a geek, I have to say there is little geek culture in the Charedi world).  Neither approach seems to me to do justice to the entirety and complexity of Jewish thought, the former prioritising liberal values ahead of problematic Jewish ones, the latter downplaying the universalist aspects of Jewish thought and at times adopting a prejudiced attitude to non-Jews and non-religious Jews that I can not share.  Hence the aspects of my life that I am wary of sharing with my fellow shul (synagogue) congregants: my love of Doctor Who and other vintage television science fiction; my deep and treasured friendships with non-Jews and non-religious Jews, some of them female; my reading of non-Orthodox theologians and bible critics; the fact that I used to work for a non-Orthodox rabbinical college and so on.  And, I suppose, the aspects of Judaism I don’t talk about much here, where I have a mostly non-Jewish audience, although this is due to irrelevance to my blog’s main topics as much as controversy.

Koppel’s argument is that Shimen’s middle ground has largely vanished.  I think, for various reasons (smaller community size; older communities; more antisemitism; different attitudes to religious education in state schools; a non-Jewish political culture that is different and where religion and identity politics are less contested) the division isn’t quite as stark in the UK and perhaps other European countries as in the USA (Israel is certainly a whole other kettle of fish which Koppel hasn’t got on to yet).  But it did give me some sociological back up for why I feel so alienated in my religious community, why I have the classic moderate Orthodox dilemma of “The people I pray with, I can’t talk to; the people I talk to, I can’t pray with” and why that makes it difficult for me to achieve the intimacy needed for close friendships and marriage within the community.

I do feel nostalgic for Koppel’s (or Shimen’s) world of “Litvishe gedolim [Lithuanian Talmud scholars] playing chess at the opera” and am saddened that it’s a world that has largely gone for good.  I don’t know what the solution is, either for me or for the wider community.  Koppel has hinted that he sees the possibility of growing a uniquely Jewish culture in Israel, which might be possible if the religious and secular communities don’t tear each other apart and if the Arab-Israeli Conflict doesn’t flare up again, neither of which looks likely to happen for long.  But even if that’s the case, while an idealistic part of me would like to make aliyah (move to Israel), I don’t see it as a realistic idea for me for a whole tranche of reasons, not least my mental health situation and the language barrier.  So I don’t know what I can do about meeting people like myself.

Maybe compartmentalisation, keeping my geeky friends/life and frum (religious) friends/life separate, is the only solution, but it doesn’t feel like a long-term answer.  Unless I can find a wife as unusually positioned as my self, my children are likely to end up significantly more fundamentalist or significantly less religious than I am*.  But I’m not sure how to find such a woman (even aside from all my other issues – mental health, geeky, etc.), but then, I don’t suppose many Charedi or less-frum/fundamentalist women would be particularly interested in me with my traits from the other side of the divide.

* And perhaps not even if I do find such a wife, as school and yeshiva mould character as well as parents and there is a well-known phenomenon of teenagers becoming significantly more or less religious/fundamentalist than their parents due to these influences.

Good and Evil and Other Everyday Questions

I don’t know why davening (praying) makes me cry at the moment, but it does.  Mainly Shacharit (morning prayers) for some reason.  It’s not from intense prayer, as I have zero kavannah (concentration), I just put on tefillin and rush through the two main prayers for ten minutes (out of about thirty) right before the (halakhic) midday deadline.  But I feel like crying by the time I’m finished, if not earlier, and I do.

Lately I’ve been finding myself getting caught up reading political stuff online and ending up depressed and sometimes angry.  I guess a lot of people feel the news makes them depressed and angry at the moment.  When I’m depressed, I always fluctuate between wanting to run away from the news because it’s too depressing and feeling I should at least be informed of what’s happening.  That was even before the huge events of the last year, which make me feel like a snowflake caught in an avalanche.  I feel I should know what’s happening, but I don’t feel able to change anything, particularly events abroad.  I’m not even always sure how I want to change things.  My politics, as I may have mentioned, are slightly unconventional; I don’t really want to go into it, but I’m in a liminal zone between parties.  On some issues I’m more left-wing and on some I’m more right-wing and on some I don’t really fit anywhere.  So I can’t (for instance) join a party or protest movement as some of my friends have done to cope with their feelings of disempowerment because none is a good fit for me.  In any case, I hate the adversarial nature of politics.  My instinct is for dialogue, compromise and cooperation, values currently in short supply on all sides.

I did manage to go for a jog, although I think I walked most of the last half mile.  My pace was very poor, but I was glad to get out.  I was less glad to discover that jogging seems to make me want to cry too, although I didn’t actually cry.  I did shed a tear when eating lunch and reading Daniel Deronda, though, which had nothing to do with the contents of the book.  It just happened.

I have heard from both the rabbis I asked about the OCD worry, and it was indeed OCD.  I feel a bit bad about having given in to the OCD, although I am bolstered slightly by the knowledge that I have other OCD worries that I have recognized as such and not asked about, even though sometimes they concern me.

I tried making a vegetable curry, but worrying about insects in the cauliflower sent me down the path towards OCD anxiety and despair.  Given the difficulty of checking for non-kosher insects, I’m wondering whether I should keep eating cauliflower, or at least buy the expensive pre-checked type.  There is no halakhic standard for checking vegetables for insects.  My rabbi mentor suggested finding a website of guidelines to follow, but unfortunately none of them are comprehensive, which means I can’t follow just one of them, and they do sometimes contradict each other as to the best method of checking.  For example, with cauliflower, at one extreme one site says it is better to avoid it entirely because it is so hard to check and so often infested; at the other extreme, one site says just break off the florets, examine and rinse, with other sites offering suggestions with intermediate levels of difficulty.  The real problem is that Mum cooks broccoli and/or cauliflower as the main vegetables (alongside potatoes) every Shabbat and doesn’t follow even the most lenient option; my rabbi mentor said to just surreptitiously look at the food before eating it to avoid an argument (shalom bayit) on the grounds that these vegetables are usually either fine or completely infested, in which case Mum would have noticed when cooking it, but I worry if that is too lenient.  Or do I just feel I’m not making life difficult enough for myself?  Or am I worried about an avoidable argument with Mum?  It’s very hard to tell when something that should be a straightforward practical/halakhic decision becomes an interpersonal relationship one.  I realized this is why I haven’t made a vegetable curry for months.  I need to find some substitute for the cauliflower.  I guess I could just remove it and increase the amount of potato, carrot and beans (I don’t really want to increase the onion).  At least insects can’t treif up my pots if one gets through, it’s just another big sin for me.  It’s also a bit disgusting.  I guess this must sound quite crazy to my non-Jewish readers, but I did find one definite insect today (it was moving) and a couple of possibles.

There’s an exercise you can do if you have low self-esteem and/or obsessive (OCD) thoughts of being sinful, where you imagine a scale with the most righteous person you can think of at one end and the most wicked at the other and place various people you know in between and then you try to place yourself on there.  You’re supposed to see that you’re an OK person.  Whenever I try this, I start out somewhere in the middle and slowly drift towards the Hitler end of the scale, usually ending up saying, “Well, I would be as evil as Hitler or at least as Jack the Ripper, if I had the same opportunities and experiences that they had.”  I felt like that today, trying to respond to a friend who emailed to say that God loves me.  I don’t feel that God could love someone as bad as me.  I didn’t email back, because it sounded melodramatic, but then again I know she’s reading this, so I guess I’m still being melodramatic.  Maybe I’m not as bad as Hitler, but I still feel I’m pretty bad, within the confines of normal human badness.

There’s a prominent Charedi religious leader (I won’t give him the honorific of ‘rabbi’) who was arrested for sexual assault a few months ago.  He admitted rape both in court and privately to his disciples and said he deserved to be executed for what he had done.  But he also told his followers that he was allowing himself to be framed as a suffering he has taken on himself to help the Jewish people, so a lot of his disciples still insist he is a great, saintly man.  If I think of him, I feel revulsion and disgust, but after a few seconds, I feel maybe I’m nearly that bad.  I would never rape someone (God forbid), but I feel attracted to women who I’m not in a relationship with, which feels nearly as bad (certainly some feminist literature I’ve encountered would say it’s as bad).  And I have never told a lie as big as his claim to be innocent and saintly, but I feel I let people believe I’m a better person than I really am, which is the same kind of thing.  This seems silly written down, but it is how I feel when I think about him, which I have been doing a lot recently, I guess because it upsets me (I mean, I think about it because there’s a part of my mind that wants to upset myself).

My flat is my landlords’ garage converted into a flat and the rear door opens into their garden.  I had it open today, because the flat is poorly ventilated and that’s the best way to ventilate it when it’s hot and especially when I’m cooking.  One of my landlord’s children and his brother or friend discovered me for the first time.  I clearly posed a philosophical problem for the primary school-age mind, inasmuch as he discovered, from asking me, that I’m neither a daddy nor a teenager and I don’t live with my Mummy.  This clearly exhausted all the lifestyle options that he could think of (his family is also frum).  I was actually amused by the incident (maybe my Mum and my aunt are right that I’m good with children.   I certainly find it easier to talk to pre-teen children I don’t know well than to adults I don’t know well), but it did make me feel that I’m in a very anomalous position, being a frum single thirtysomething man living alone.

Oh well, the curry is now cooked, although I need to cook some rice.  I know there are positives to focus on today: jogging, cooking, shopping for a belated engagement present for my sister without getting too depressed and hopefully I will manage a bit of Torah study before bed, but part of me wants to count on the failures: oversleeping, missing most of Shacharit again, missing shul yet again, the OCD worry that my landlords’ son might have got something in my microwave’s air vents when he put something down on it while he was standing in my doorway (for lack of space, the microwave sits on a little table in the doorway, which is not ideal)…  I must try to focus on the positives.