Merely Existing

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

***

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

***

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

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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.

Speaking a Dead Language

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

More In Heaven and Earth

I was woken far too early by a large bee that was trapped between the blind and the window and was making a lot of noise.  I failed to prod it out the window and decided to stay up, open the main windows (I only had the small ones open) and wait for it to leave of its own accord while I had breakfast.

On waking I noticed something odd.  The photo of my maternal grandparents, which sits on the bookcase opposite my bed, was on my bedside table, on the other side of the room.  I’m sure I didn’t put it there.  I do believe in God, but I don’t believe He randomly moves my stuff around.  I don’t believe in demons, ghosts, reincarnation, astrology, the evil eye, clairvoyance and various other things that some of my coreligionists believe in.  I am sure there is a rational explanation.  I just don’t know what it is.  I suppose the most likely explanation is that I got up and moved it in my sleep, somehow, although I have no history of sleepwalking, even as a child.

I am rather disconcerted by this, but I will endeavour not to tell my parents.  Similar things have happened to my Dad and he reads great significance into them, hinting, although not quite explicitly saying, that he feels them to be messages of some kind from his late father, something which I do not feel comfortable with.  I have no wish to encourage thoughts like these.  Still, it is disconcerting.

***

I submitted the job application I’ve been working on all week, the one where there were a lot of vague open questions that my autistic brain struggled with, and others that indicated that they wanted more experience than I had and a greater commitment to CPD (continuing professional development) than I can manage at the moment.  You know you’re trying to bluff your way through something when you start an answer “I endeavour…”  I think I have zero chance of getting the job and I doubt it even counts as good experience, given how much I struggled with it.  I feel a bit of an idiot.

***

There’s a book I’m reading, one chapter each week on spirituality, based on the weekly parasha (Torah portion read in the synagogue).  I’m struggling with it.  I don’t like to give up on books, but I’m worried it’s having a negative effect on me.  I just can’t work out how to have the kind of dynamic spiritual life the author suggests, full of inspiration and natural highs, enthusiasm, love for God, love for others and more.  I know it’s the depression, but I don’t think there is ever going to not be depression there for me, at least on some level.  I don’t know how I can enjoy my religious life.  This is especially problematic as “going through the motions” religiously, doing stuff by rote is criticised in Judaism, both by this book and by other teachers (e.g. my hero the Kotzker Rebbe said something along the lines of, “Someone who studies Torah and is not moved by it, who sins and forgives himself, who prays today because he prayed yesterday – a completely wicked person is better than him!”).

I wonder if I will ever have the religious life I want.  I want to have religious joy, simcha shel mitzvah (the joy of fulfilling the commandments).  I want to enjoy studying Torah again.  I want to feel part of a community.  I want to build a bayit ne’eman beYisrael (faithful house in Israel, a metaphor for a religious home).  But I worry that I will never manage these things.  For one thing, it seems to be a catch-22: if I don’t have joy, I won’t be able to get motivated to study Torah or to pray enthusiastically and mindfully.  But if I don’t study Torah or pray enthusiastically, I won’t earn the joy of the commandments.  Even at a basic level, if I cut Torah study and prayer to the bare minimum, there’s no room for joy from them.  They’re just chores, quickly dealt with.  Similarly, I can’t become part of a community while I feel myself to be so spiritually impoverished, but I can’t grow spiritually without being part of a community; I suspect I can’t get married without being part of a community either (to get set up on dates), but I suspect if I ever become fully integrated to a community, it would be because of a wife who is able to navigate things better than I can.

***

A related realisation I’ve come to in recent years: probably the biggest argument against the existence of God, or at least the Jewish conception of God, is the existence of suffering.  Why would a benevolent, omnipotent, omniscient God allow so much undeserved suffering?  I think there are really only two possible answers: either there is no God (or at least not a benevolent, omnipotent, omniscient one) or suffering is the point.  Not that we’re made to suffer per se, but that suffering is a key part of what happens to us here, to stimulate character growth and empathy and to give us challenges to overcome.

But it’s hard to believe that all the time.  Some of it is subjective, feeling that I’ve suffered in my life more than other people.  This may be true, but it’s hard to tell as I don’t know everything others have been through or will go through, or what I will go through in the coming years.  But some of it is more objective (although still somewhat subjective), feeling that I can’t go on any more.  I feel tired a lot of the time, and not just depressive exhaustion.  I’m not suicidal, but I often feel I have exhausted everything life has to offer me and that I have no strength to go on any more.  I have no enthusiasm for Jewish life or for life in general.  I don’t really have any hopes or ambitions for the future, and the thought that one day I will be dead is still quite calming – that I won’t have to worry about things any more.  It doesn’t help that these days the world around me (in the news) just confuses and scares me, but even without that, I feel drained and negative.

I don’t know how to get more energy and motivation.  This is, believe it or not, a good day for me.  I don’t feel as depressed and lonely as I did earlier this week, when my parents were away.  I have some energy.  I finished a job application, did nearly an hour of Torah study and worked on my book for an hour or so as well as going for a twenty-five minute walk.  But even so, I feel a lack of enthusiasm, joy and meaning.  Even writing my book, which in the past was restoring, felt like a struggle, although I did manage to write a thousand words or so.

***

An aside: someone who goes to the shiur (religious class) I go to was absent last night.  Today the shul announced that he and his wife had a baby.  He is my age or perhaps slightly older.  I try to feel happy for people, but every time I hear of someone my age marrying or having a child, I seem to feel my life slipping away from me.

Stuckness

I realised I’ve hardly spoken to anyone in forty-eight hours, since my parents have been away.  Aside from a few words at autism group yesterday, and the What’sApp call with my Mum that went badly on Monday evening, that’s about it, unless you count saying “excuse me” as I tried to get past people on the Tube yesterday.  This is what happens when I’m left on my own.  I’m not even sure if I’m lonely, exactly.  Just lost inside my head.

Otherwise, it’s the same as usual: sleeping too much, impossible to get going when I wake up, loneliness, depression…  I tried to work on a job application, but it’s a struggle to deal with their rather precise questions, which seem to indicate that I don’t have the necessary experience.  Maybe I’ll have another go another day, if I feel better.

Given the trajectory of my life over the last five or ten years, I am beginning to believe things might get somewhat better for me and I’ll learn to manage my mental health issues and autism better.  However, I don’t think I’ll ever be totally free of them.  I’m uncertain as to whether I will ever build any kind of meaningful career for myself (as a librarian, writer or anything else) or whether I will manage it in time to save enough to support myself in old age or in case of other depression episodes.  Likewise, while I am trying to stay open to the idea of marrying “one day,” it is very hard to believe I will marry at an age when I will be able to have children.  I suppose it’s an improvement on how I used to be, when I felt I could never get any better, an idea that was supported by my lack of progress.

I suppose I should try to do something productive with my day.  It’s 6.45pm.  I’ve been awake for nearly six hours and I haven’t done anything except eat breakfast and lunch, get dressed, daven Mincha (say Afternoon Prayers) and try and fail to work on my job application (not to mention procrastinating a lot).  I would like to go for a walk, or work on one of my books or do some miniature painting or study Torah for a few minutes.  I don’t feel like I could really do any of them, let alone all of them, but I will try to go for a walk in a minute and see if that helps at all.

The Return of Colonel Runaway

I slept for about twelve hours again.  It’s quite awful, sleeping so long and waking more tired than I went to sleep, too tired to get up, but in many ways the worst of it is not being able to tell people, because it sounds luxurious and lazy.  It’s terrible.  I don’t have refreshing sleep, although as far as I can tell it’s not particularly interrupted (I must wake up enough to turn off my alarm, but I don’t consciously notice it).  I eventually get the strength to get up and eat breakfast, but it takes an hour or more after that to get the energy and motivation to get dressed.

I feel lethargic and depressed, like Sherlock Holmes after solving a difficult case.  Except I haven’t caught a murderer or found a missing treaty.  I haven’t really done anything for about a week and a half, except a bit of work on my Doctor Who book.  Is this still exhaustion from breaking up with L. and having two job interviews in a week?

Today not only did I get up too late to daven Shacharit (say morning prayers), as often happens, I even postponed Mincha (the Afternoon Service) until after lunch because I didn’t have the energy – I actually felt physically faint and weak.  I did try to fill in a job application, but I struggled to get the energy and concentration, plus they asked some quite detailed questions about types of tasks I’ve never done (e.g. designing and delivering information skills workshops) or things that I’ve never really thought about (e.g. the single most pressing issue for higher education).  Not for the first time, I wonder how most people can have full-time jobs and do CPD and have homes and families and have social lives and have hobbies all at the same time.  I can’t manage any of them.

It’s just a struggle to get through the day.  I was determined to get to autism group tonight, as I haven’t been for six months or more.  That’s where all my energy went.  It was a waste of time, though.  It was supposed to start at 6pm, but my experience is that no one gets there then.  I was aiming for 6.15, but because I miscalculated and my train was delayed, I didn’t get there until 6.45.  By this time, everyone was deep in conversation.  I had only seen one person there previously.  None of the people I was hoping to see, people I’ve ‘clicked’ with and been able to talk to in the past were there.  I sat on the fringes of conversations for a bit, trying to get in, but I wasn’t able to do so.  I’m very bad at that sort of thing.  One or two people said hi, but no one really spoke to me.  So far as I could tell, most of the people were talking about computer games.  I don’t play computer games.  And I was spacing out from the noise and struggling to hear properly (I’ve often wondered why a group for autistic people meets in such a busy, noisy place).  After fifteen minutes, I was desperate to leave.  The final straw was when the man and woman to my left who were talking to someone who hadn’t been before mentioned in passing that they were in a relationship and met through the group.  This provoked an inevitable comparison of myself to them, and the way I just can’t meet women who are interested in me.  So, I pretended my phone went off and left.

I am not proud of myself, not least because I wasted the extortionate cost of a Tube fare into London, and really wasted the whole day, because I could have tried harder to fill in the job application if I hadn’t left around 5.10pm.  To be fair, I was practically in tears on the Tube going to the group, so maybe I wasn’t in the best state of mind to start with.

Inevitably, I’m thinking again what a mess my life is and how I have not made anything of it.  Thinking that I’ve never really managed to fit into any community, be it academic, religious or fandom-based.  I didn’t fit in to the Jewish Society in Oxford, nor did I fit in with the other historians in my college (who seemed to be quite drink-and-party orientated, or maybe they just seemed that way in comparison to me, someone who went to bed at 11.00pm and tried to get up early even though he was a humanities student).  I fitted in a bit better to the Doctor Who Society, but had to miss a lot of their events because of Judaism (meals in non-kosher restaurants, location visits on Saturdays).  I don’t fit in to my shul (synagogue).  I despair of ever getting married.  I just can’t see it happening.  No one likes me that much and my lack of income is a serious issue.  I can’t build a career, I can’t live the type of religious life of community, prayer, religious study and mitzvah performance that I want.  I just can’t.  I don’t know how to try any more or who to turn to for help.  No one – I mean friends and family – seems to think things are so hopeless, but they don’t have any constructive suggestions other than to keep applying for jobs I don’t want and to go to shadchanim (matchmakers) to try to get set up with women even though I’m unemployed and not what any frum woman would be looking for.

OK, going to stop now because I’m just making myself feel more depressed.  One last thing: today I got the results of a routine blood test I had a couple of weeks ago: my lithium level is rather low.  The doctor didn’t query it, but I think it’s below the therapeutic range (I’ve long had issues trying to get my lithium level right on lithium tablets).  So maybe that’s why I’m struggling at the moment, if there weren’t enough other reasons.  I will try to mention it to the psychiatrist when I see her next week.

OK, Blake’s 7 and/or Doctor Who now.  I feel too depressed to do anything, but I’m going to force myself to watch something and not sit with my thoughts or aimlessly browse online.

You Can’t Win

My parents are away for a few days, starting this morning, and I have the house to myself.  This is good in some ways, but bad in others.  In particular, my loneliness gets worse when they’re away.  Even though I don’t talk to them that much, I seem to benefit from other people being in the house, which I guess sheds light on my desire to get married.  Of course, when they’re here, I get frustrated with them, particularly if I feel they’re treating me as a child.  It’s difficult being an adult living with my parents, especially as, to some extent, they have good reason for assuming I can’t cope by myself because of my high functioning autism and depression.  More on this below.

***

I felt very depressed again today and lacking in energy, motivation and concentration.  I really wasted the day sleeping as I struggled to sleep last night, then slept through the morning and dozed off again after breakfast.  I kept going back to lie on the bed because I feel so drained.  That was how I dozed off after breakfast.  I just have no energy for anything.  I felt as limp as a rag doll much of the day and didn’t feel able to do anything except type a bit.  I didn’t even feel able to read much, although my mood energy and concentration got a bit better in the late afternoon.  I don’t know why my mood has sunk recently.  It’s possible that the busy week I had two weeks ago, with a break-up and two stressful job interviews and then three job rejections (actually two rejections, plus belated feedback from a third) knocked me out and I have recovered, which feels a bit pathetic.  I feel I should (that word again) be better at recovering, but I can’t make myself better by beating myself up, sadly.

Well, all I managed to do today was go for a half hour walk and buy bananas, as well as ten minutes of Torah study.  I did find a new job to apply for, only to find that it seems I had wanted to apply for it in February, but the advert was taken down before I applied for it.  As I haven’t seen it advertised lately, I’m guessing they didn’t fill the post first time around or possibly they’re advertising for a similar, but non-identical role, so I decided to try again, but I got dismayed by the lengthy online application and request for evidence CPD and the like (with my issues it’s hard just to hold down a part-time job, let alone do CPD).  Other than that, the only productive thing I did was watch an episode of Doctor Who as research for my book.

***

My life seems to be about contingency planning right now.  What career can I build for myself given that I don’t seem to be able to build one in librarianship?  Will I manage to make one as a writer?  This is hard, especially as I don’t know anyone who could advise me and am not convinced that I am a good writer (albeit that my low number of blog followers may be due to my writing in a style that might fit better in a weekly magazine or newspaper column than a daily blog post and not necessarily a sign that I should not write book-length pieces).  What religious community should I go to, given that my current is not perfect, but might be the least-worst option for now, and how can I integrate if I can’t find a perfect fit?  What outlets can I find for my loneliness, my need to give and receive love and my sexuality, given that Jewish law and social anxiety seem to rule most options out?  I guess pets might be an option again, but I’ve gone off the idea a bit.

***

There’s a beautiful piece in the latest Jewish Review of Books that I read today, John J. Clayton reflecting on getting old with Parkinson’s Disease.  It would have caught my attention anyway, for being quite religious, which is unusual (admittedly not quite so unusual in the JRB than in a mainstream newspaper), but I found a lot of it seemed familiar to my situation, even though depression is a very different illness to Parkinson’s (although I do have medication-induced tremor at awkward times).  The sense of trying to stay positive and grateful when you can feel your strength, even your life dripping away.  Wanting to stay positive so other people will be able to praise your inner fortitude and gratitude when you’re gone, but really not feeling up to it.  The sense of life not going according to plan, the feeling of this isn’t supposed to happen.  I can’t shake the jealous feeling that somehow I lost my life, the feeling, as Clayton said, of being a ghost, of watching my peers live the life I wanted to live, that I felt I would/should live.

***

My Mum just called on What’sApp.  It didn’t go well.  I think the line was bad; at any rate either I couldn’t hear her properly or she was hesitating a lot.  I thought she couldn’t hear me and spoke louder, so she said I didn’t need to shout.  We both ended up getting annoyed with each other.  The underlying cause, of course, is that I’m nearly thirty-six and have lived alone before, but because of my “issues,” my parents feel the need to check up on me in a way that they don’t do to my (younger, married) sister.  And knowing that, on some level, I probably do need to be checked up on only makes it feel worse.  It doesn’t help that, because of my autism, I don’t like speaking on the phone generally and I especially don’t like sudden phone calls out of the blue, which disrupt my plans (even if, as tonight, I don’t really have concrete plans, they still make me worry how long the call will take, what I should say and so on) and feel like an invasion of my metaphorical space.  Now I feel angry and guilty, feeling worse for knowing that I don’t have a legitimate reason to get angry.  Plus, of course, the worry that “If some horrible holiday-related disaster happens to my parents, then the last time I spoke to them would be an argument” (rather than it being me grunting goodbye when I was basically asleep this morning).

Now I’m trying to work out if I’ve ever told my family any of the above, or if I’m just autistically assuming that they know it.  This has all come about because I was depressed yesterday and also because when they went away for a week in the winter, they didn’t tell me to phone, so I assumed they didn’t want to hear from me and stayed out of contact all week.  They assumed I would phone, but I didn’t.  I was depressed all week and I think they blamed themselves, although if they had phoned I would almost certainly have lied and said I was fine, because I’m not good at opening up about my emotions in person (as opposed to in writing), particularly with my parents, with whom I don’t always have a straightforward relationship.

I did text them to apologise, but I still feel bad.  I also feel bad (a different type of bad) about not being able to cope with basic social interactions because of my autism.

***

This post seems to be full of my pleading “issues” to explain why I do, or don’t do, the things people expect me to do.  This just makes me feel useless, even if it’s true.  I feel that if things had been even slightly different for me perhaps I could have turned my autistic traits into strengths rather than weaknesses and succeeded in the work sphere at least, even if not in my social/family/romantic life.  Maybe I will be able to turn things around, I just can’t see how.

I’m Gonna Be (Drained)

I woke up today feeling totally wiped out, exhausted and depressed.  In a way these days are a little easier than days when I’m a bit down, but still feel I ought to job hunt or work on my books or study a lot of Torah because it’s easier to accept that I can’t do as much as I would like.

Although I hoped to go to volunteering late, in the end I missed it completely.  I wasn’t well enough.  I felt useless and sinful.

I went for a walk and did literally two minutes of Torah study.  That’s all I managed.  Other than that I just watched TV (Doctor Who, research for my book including the terrible, historically inaccurate and antisemitic The Witchfinders which was only watched because I needed to do so) until it was time to go out with my family for my Mum’s birthday.  The food was good, but they ran out of dessert and we had to pay by cash as their card reader broke.  The restaurant was too noisy for me, with a lot of customer noise plus ‘background’ music at just the right level to annoy me: too quiet to listen to properly, but loud enough to distract me with vaguely-recognisable beats and stop me listening to the conversation as my autistic brain tries to tune in to it properly.  I mostly let the conversation wash over me and didn’t worry too much about joining in.  It seemed the easiest option.  Although I did identify Come On EileenDancing Queen and I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles); also some Beatles, but I forget what.

Because there was no dessert, my sister and brother-in-law came back to our house for hot drinks and cake.  I found that a bit easier because it was quieter, even if the conversation centred on our shared dismay at the political situation.  I do feel bloated after everything I’ve eaten this evening.

While we were out, my Mum mentioned that the woman she wanted to set me up with some time ago (daughter of her friends who had mental health issues) is now engaged.  So that’s another missed opportunity, or a narrow escape from more rejection, depending on how you want to look at it.

I feel lonely.  It’s still hard to believe anyone could ever want me.  I certainly don’t think I could find someone in time to have children, which upsets me, let alone that I could be well enough for dating, marriage and children to be realistic prospects any time in the next few years.  It’s frustrating that there is no religiously legitimate outlet for my sexuality and no practical outlet for my desire to love and be loved romantically.  It’s frustrating that the women I have liked were not interested in me.  It’s also frustrating that I recently found someone who was interested in me, but she wasn’t right for me at all.  Although probably on days like today I’m being selfish anyway.  I want someone to love me, but I don’t have the energy/capability to love anyone else.

I suspect people like me don’t get married or have children or find communities they fit in.  I should be glad I even have a few friends, as I don’t think I deserve/could cope with that.

Standing on the Margins

I’ve been up and down again today.  I slept late again, after insomnia last night, which turned out to be because I’d forgotten to take my meds (I fell asleep around 3am, after taking them).  At times today I’ve been OK, but I tried doing some Torah study earlier and started crying.  I still feel very depressed.  There wasn’t an obvious trigger.

I did manage about half an hour of Torah study in the end.  It feels too little, particularly after what I wrote yesterday about “toiling” in Torah study in order to learn anything, but I just don’t feel able to do any more.  Am I being lazy?  Or beating myself up too much?  I don’t know.  My rational brain says I can force myself to do more, but the emotional side of me feels overloaded and unable to go on.  My self-esteem generally is low and I feel that I’m just not doing enough of anything at the moment: I didn’t job hunt today or do much Torah study or work on my books (except for watching Doctor Who: Demons of the Punjab for research for my book; I did work out why I don’t really like it, but that’s not entirely relevant to either this post or the book, although it was oddly mirrored by Michael Weingrad’s article today on Game of Thrones for the Jewish Review of Books).  All I did, aside from that half-hour of Torah study was a few Shabbat chores and some dusting, plus I’m hoping to go to shul (synagogue) in an hour.

I feel jealous of people who love Torah study, particularly men who love, and are good at, Talmudic study.  It must make being frum (religious Orthodox Jewish) so much easier and more enjoyable, just as it seems easier to be extrovert, and especially neurotypical, in such a community-based religion.  The assistant rabbi was speaking last night of spending hours studying with his chevruta (study partner), tearing just a few lines of Talmudic text to pieces and putting back together again in myriad ways until the understand it, and how disgusted he feels afterwards with the simplified “for dummies” explanations in the Artscroll Talmud edition commentary.  I can’t even understand the Artscroll explanations and I certainly can’t function with a chevruta, which is supposed to be the ideal Jewish way to study.

It’s funny, I tend to assume that I have no share in Olam HaBa (the World to Come i.e. Heaven).  Partly it’s that I can’t imagine anything that good happening to me (everything in my life goes wrong sooner or later, usually sooner), but also our images of Heaven – the Heavenly yeshiva where everyone studies Torah with HaShem (God), the great banquet, the circle dance around HaShem – they are all communal images.  True they are only metaphors, there isn’t a literal yeshiva, feast or dance in Heaven, but whenever I try to imagine myself in the images, it’s just awful.  I can’t study yeshiva-style, I get overloaded by the noise and the people and am too shy to say anything even if I understand the subject matter.  I hate parties and avoid them; when I do I’m left standing by the fringes (which I read the other day is what happens if you earn a not-so-good place in Olam HaBa).  And, as I noted recently, I hate circle dancing (not that I like any other type either); again, I leave early on Simchat Torah to avoid it.  I feel that Olam HaBa, if by some miracle I find myself there, will probably turn out to be like a shul Shabbat (Sabbath) dinner: I’ll feel uninspired and lonely while everyone else is having a great time, connecting with HaShem and bonding with their friends and family.

I feel more than ever that I want a frum wife who could help me grow religiously, but there’s zero chance of anyone frum wanting to go out with me.  The last two women I dated were not frum.  I don’t even know how I would even meet someone frum, and I’m sure she would not be interested in me.  My parents just feed my fantasy that I could only marry someone whose previous relationships were severely dysfunctional or abusive by suggesting that I’ll meet someone who isn’t interested in a ‘typical’ frum guy because of a bad previous experience, but I can’t see why she would not want to meet someone frum and a nice person.  Unless she isn’t interested in being frum at all, in which case I still wouldn’t be suitable.  If I make up extreme examples of reasons why no one would marry me, my parents produce equally bizarre and unlikely examples of women who might be interested in me.  I’m not convinced by them.

I’ve been using dysfunctional coping strategies for dealing with difficult feelings.  Doubtless this will include eating too much junk over Shabbat (the Sabbath).  I feel sinful (not for eating, for other things), but feeling sinful just makes it worse because I’m even more likely to react in a dysfunctional way out of guilt, low self-esteem and self-loathing.

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

***

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

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

***

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

***

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

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

***

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

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

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

Who Would Fardels Bear?

“How weary, stale, flat, and unprofitable
Seem to me all the uses of this world!”

-William Shakespeare, Hamlet

Feeling burnt out, depressed, lonely and stupid today.  I didn’t get the job at the Very Important Organisation.  They give applicants graded feedback; mine was pretty poor, a mixture of threes and fours (out of seven) with a two for effective decision making.  You could put that down to autistic executive function issues, or plain indecisiveness.

I had no energy or enthusiasm for anything, but I forced myself out for an hour or so.  Mostly walking, some shopping and I closed a bank account that had a ridiculously small interest rate.  I bought the lentils I couldn’t get yesterday, but felt too exhausted to go and get a bat mitzvah card for my rabbi mentor’s daughter and so came home.

My mind is visual in some ways and sometimes throws up fantasies or daydreams using imagery from TV or film.  I think I daydream more, or more immaturely, than someone my age should be doing.  It can become quite absorbing, even frighteningly so, particularly when I’m depressed and agitated.  When I was out I had disturbing, agitated mental images of being cornered and outgunned, Blake’s 7-finale style, or chained to a bomb that could explode at any moment.  I’m not sure if the bomb represented the world or my psyche; I’m not convinced that either is in particularly good shape.

I feel that the world might self-destruct under the weight of its iniquities and inequities any time soon; my psyche might collapse under the weight of stress and internal contradictions.  In Politics vs Literature: An Examination of Gulliver’s Travels, George Orwell writes of people like Jonathan Swift who can’t enjoy the world and have no expectations from the next world and that such people end up wanting to stop anyone enjoying anything, “the envy of the ghost for the living” adding that “Swift ultimately blew everything to pieces in the only way that was feasible before the atomic bomb – that is, he went mad”.  I feel that I could join him, one day.  I don’t really want to stop other people being happy, I just want to get some small modicum of happiness for myself, but it doesn’t seem to be possible.

When I got home, I was still too depressed and exhausted to make job applications or to do any Torah study (I managed ten minutes or so in the end), so I worked on redrafting my Doctor Who book.  It says a lot that I was able to spend nearly two hours working on that more or less uninterrupted (or unprocrastinated), which is not something I have managed when working on job applications.  I now have completed third drafts of all fourteen existing chapters, although I’m still re-watching the most recent episodes for research for a fifteenth chapter that will need writing from scratch to cover Jodie Whittaker’s first year in the role.

I’m still not hugely happy with what I’ve written, but it’s hard to see what I should change.  I’m not good at judging my own work at the best of times and having worked on this for six years or more, it could probably do with a fresh pair of eyes, so I need to decide whether to ask my fan friends to read some chapters.  That would probably be more worthwhile than attempting a fourth draft without outside input, but my fan friends all have major life crises at the moment and I’m reluctant to ask any of them.  Plus, I don’t take criticism well and am worried that even constructive criticism could send me further downwards on a “I’m useless” spiral.

I intended to watch another episode of Doctor Who as research tonight, but the next episode is Rosa (about Rosa Parks) I’m too tired for such a heavy-going episode, so tonight will be a Blake’s 7 night (I’m currently mixing Doctor Who series eleven with a Blake’s 7 marathon).

***

It’s hard to tell how much I like to keep my political and religious views to myself and how much I feel I have to from not fitting in.  There’s an old joke about Modern Orthodox Jews that, “The people I can pray with, I can’t talk to; the people I talk to, I can’t pray with” meaning Modern Orthodox Jews are open to modernity and postmodernity and its arguments in academic and culture, but can’t talk about that with Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) Jews; conversely, they can have intellectual discussions with non-religious academics and non-Orthodox Jews, but can’t pray with them as they believe differently or not at all.  I feel that a lot, albeit not as much as I did when I worked in a non-Orthodox religious institution.

In addition to this, lately I have been aware that many of my friends would side differently to me on some major political issues and I wonder what they would think about me if they knew.  I usually keep my views quite even when they post things I find questionable or upsetting on their blogs.  Not using Twitter or Facebook makes this a little easier, but it can be hard.  This happens at depression group too, where one person in particular has strong political views and can be rude and dismissive of people who vote differently.  I’ve never said anything, and I’m sure he thinks I’m too nice to vote for… (or else he just doesn’t care).

Actually, I wonder what people think about me generally.  I sometimes wonder if the non-religious people I encounter at work, in fandom and on the blogosphere think I’m a ‘normal’ person, or at least a normal geek person, except for this weird quirk that I believe in God, and in a very legalistic and old-fashioned God at that, and have taken on lots of bizarre rituals.  They probably don’t really think like that (they’re too polite for one thing).  And, of course, I worry that if the people from my shul (synagogue) found out about my ‘modern’ beliefs and geeky interests, that would also be seen as crossing a line.

I guess it boils down to this: I have friends who have religious and political opinions and lifestyle choices I disagree with (from a Jewish point of view, the whole concept of “lifestyle choices” is fraught with difficulty as it assumes our lives are ours to deal with as we see fit, an idea that Orthodox Judaism would reject, arguing we’re called to a mission regardless of our desires and choices), but I make an effort to stay friends with them, because I don’t think you should ruin a friendship for politics or religion.  I know that makes me unusual, both in the Orthodox community (where people usually socialise with other Orthodox Jews, to avoid these kinds of situations and potential negative religious influences) and in the world at large, where people are mostly friends with people who hold similar views.  We have got used to hearing of families and friendships broken by Brexit or Trump.  So I suppose it’s natural that I wonder what the people I encounter are thinking and whether I really need to hide so much of my life from people.

That said, I feel so disillusioned and disenfranchised with the current political situation that I’m glad to have a reason not to talk politics, even with people who will agree with me.  It seems to me lately that we have a duty to save as much of life as we can from people who drag their angry and aggressive politics into everything.  I appreciate there is a role for political art and literature, but it’s a relief nowadays to find things that are beautiful for purely aesthetic reasons.  I suppose I can’t live in my ivory tower forever, but I can try.

***

If I confound expectation and manage to procreate, my eldest child’s teddy is now likely to be called Fardels Bear.

Existential Angst

I had another job interview today, at a very large law firm for a law librarian-type job.  I left my self lots of time to get there, which was lucky as I struggled to find their offices and wandered around a bit until I found them.  I’m not sure if the fault was Transport for London’s online directions or inadequate signage in central London.  I still got there early, though.  Then on the way home, I accidentally went into Farringdon mainline station instead of Farringdon Underground station, a mistake that seems to have cost me £2.40 just to go through the ticket barriers (which accepted my oyster card (Underground ticket)).  The signage is all done in the same font as the Underground signage, which is confusing.

There was a test before the interview, which was on proofreading and cataloguing, plus a trickier question about how I would respond to a problematic library user.  I was glad that I practised my cataloguing this week.  I was also glad that I prepared more thoroughly than in the past for the interview, as they threw twenty or thirty questions at me for an hour, which is a more intense interview than I’ve had since I applied to Oxford (not that I’ve had many job interviews, but you get the idea).  I had a sense of doing OK, but perhaps not great, but I’m a very bad judge of these things.  I think, like dating, chemistry with the office culture is important, and also how good the other candidates are (maybe also like dating).

I’m not sure if I would take the job.  I’m guessing the salary would be decent and the offices are very swish, as you would expect, but I don’t know that I’m ready, in terms of my psychological health, to work full-time even without the fact that the job description expects overtime, plus there may be a problem with Shabbat i.e. Friday afternoons in the winter, but also from a comment in the interview occasional Saturday work might be required too.  But even beyond that, I think the corporate culture at a place like this might not be right for me.  I find the idea of working somewhere that exists primarily to make money vaguely unsettling.  I’ve only worked somewhere like that once, on a short contract, and I didn’t like it (admittedly a lot of other things were wrong there too).  Even writing a book on Doctor Who seems more socially useful: people would hopefully enjoy the book, whereas spending my time helping lawyers to trace legal precedents to help big companies make deals seems… not quite my kind of thing.  I’m not an anti-capitalist by any means, I am just really uncertain that it’s where I would like to invest my energies, which, after all, are rather limited at the moment.  I feel like a precious snowflake saying that, but I’m not sure I would be happy in a job that was both high-pressured and not socially useful in any obvious kind of way.

I suppose the real trouble is that, deep down, I want to at least try to make a career as a writer of some description, I’m just scared and don’t know how to start.  I picture myself at the school swimming pool, standing on the side in my swimming trunks, trying to get the courage to jump into the freezing water…  Lately I’ve been interviewed for or considered librarianship jobs in academia, law and the civil service, and they all make me feel inadequate.  I know that, in theory, with my BA I should have been able to at least try to get jobs in any of those areas, either as a librarian or as an actual academic/lawyer/civil servant.  And I didn’t, because I was scared and didn’t believe in myself (granted I never wanted to be a lawyer, I just know that some huge proportion of Jews go into law).  And now I’m trying to work out what I do believe in my ability to do.

***

The assistant rabbi in his shiur (religious class) the last couple of weeks has spoken a lot about kedusha (holiness) and the importance of having it in our lives, but also the difficulty of obtaining it.  He says we can keep the whole of Jewish law, but even then we might not obtain kedusha because it is ultimately a gift from God; we have to prepare ourselves for it (do the mitzvot (commandments) and work on our characters), but we might not get it.

I do wonder if I am making any attempt to find kedusha in my life.  So much of the time at the moment I feel like I’m just going through the motions with davening (prayer), Torah study, mitzvot…  I know it’s hard to feel engaged with depression and the resultant poor concentration and motivation and I know feeling engaged can trick you into thinking you’ve got holiness when it’s just pleasure/joy/ego.  Even so, I feel there ought to be more to my religious life, but when I try to learn more/better or daven more/better, I just hit a barrier.  I know the barrier is probably depression or sometimes social anxiety, but I feel I should be able to get through it somehow.

I’m not sure I really know what kedusha is anyway, beyond thinking I don’t have it (I assume I would know it if I felt it, although that may simply not be true).  I haven’t read much Jewish philosophy lately, but a number of years ago I was quite into Jewish religious existentialist philosophy: Rav Soloveitchik, Emmanuel Levinas, Abraham Joshua Heschel, Emil Fackenheim, Franz Rosenzweig (couldn’t understand a word of him), Martin Buber’s Tales of the Hasidim…  A key idea in Jewish existentialism is that kedusha is found in relationships, in our interactions with others as much as ritual.  There is also emphasis on the longing for HaShem (God) and the feeling of distance from him (Rav Soloveitchik’s The Lonely Man of Faith is a key text here; also Arthur Green’s reading of Rabbi Nachman of Breslov and his Tales).  I know the longing, but I feel that I experience it less than I did when the depression was at its worst.  Has recovery (however partial and limited) made me less religious and God-aware?  It’s a scary thought.  My autism and social anxiety make it hard for me to find HaShem in personal interactions, although I try when I volunteer at the asylum seekers drop-in centre.  I try to reach out to people who are struggling online and find some satisfaction in doing that, although I worry about saying the wrong thing and think I have done so in the past.

***

Today has left me feeling exhausted.  I will try to go to shul (synagogue) tonight, but I doubt I will make it for tomorrow morning.  I will try to go to the seudah shlishit (third meal) being held as a farewell for the rabbi, the assistant rabbi and their wives, although with my shiurMincha and Ma’ariv (Afternoon and Evening services) it will last for about three and a half hours, which is a lot of ‘peopling’ particularly if I’m feeling exhausted.  Other than that, I will try to relax after a very stressful week, whilst musing in the background on what to do if I am offered either of the two jobs I was interviewed for this week.

Be Careful What You Wish For

Sometimes it feels that I do actually get almost everything I want, or think I want, if I wait long enough, but then it turns out not to be as good as I hoped.  In fact, it usually turns out to be painful.  That’s what happened with going to Oxford, being in a more frum (religious) community, getting a job with longer hours and more responsibility, dating and being published on a professionally.  It makes me wonder if I should really want anything (career, marriage, children) or is it just going to leave me longing for the days I was so depressed that I did nothing except sleep and watch TV (some people’s dream life, I suppose, although the reality was pretty awful).

Despite feeling that getting the things I want always goes wrong, it’s easy to envy other people, not so much for their money as their lives: the meaningful and sure career, the loving spouse or partner, the beautiful children, the meaningful religious life…  all “apparently” of course, as often the reality is different.  I suppose most people have to deal with suffering in the end, I’m just getting mine out the way first, although I’m worried that I’m just going to get a double serving.  And I’m not sure that everyone gets the same level of suffering.  The reward is proportional to the effort says the Mishnah.  Well, I hope so, although I’m not sure that suffering is the same as effort.  I don’t always feel that I’m putting in enough effort religiously, because I don’t always have the energy, motivation or concentration because of depression and perhaps because of laziness.

***

The job agency I have the interview through tomorrow sent me interview preparation advice.  I was concentrating so much on cataloguing preparation yesterday for the test that I hadn’t really thought about interview preparation.  It’s fair to say that I don’t usually do much of the interview preparation they suggest and am failing in ways I didn’t even recognise.  There’s some an element of autistic, “Why would I care about that?” (e.g. asking the interview panel about the office culture or why they like working there). There’s often a lot of feeling that I haven’t shown the desired competencies or experience and can’t do anything about that (usually accompanied by, “Why are they even calling me to interview?”) and some autistic “Well, I can’t read their minds well enough to guess what they will ask, so why bother?” and the equally autistic “I can’t describe what I would do, I just do it.”  There might also be an element of autistic hyperfocus on things that interest me, but poor concentration (worsened by depression) on things that don’t interest me.  There’s a fair bit of feeling that librarianship isn’t the right sector for me any more although I don’t know how I’d fair with an interview for a writing position.  I think part of the attraction of writing for me is that I can let my work speak for itself.  I suppose there is also the feeling that “Everything goes wrong for me so why am I even trying?”  And I don’t know why I would want tomorrow’s job other than I need the money and something to put on my CV.  Other things being equal (which they aren’t), why would I even want to work in a law library?

I suppose I don’t actually feel capable of getting and doing a job like most people.  There might be a bit of arrogance in there (“I’m above this”), but it’s mostly low self-esteem (“I can’t do this”) and the autistic feeling of, “I’m not like other people, I can’t function the way they can or in the environments they can.”  Not everyone with autism feels like that, obviously, so maybe it’s mostly low self-esteem.  I was supposed to be doing CBT to work on that, but the NHS seems to have forgotten me.  I tried chasing them, but I got fed up sending emails that were not answered and leaving answerphone messages that weren’t returned.

I tried to follow the agency’s preparation instructions, but I froze up.  The anxious/depressive “I can’t do this I can’t do this I can’t do this.”  Trying to describe how I dealt with a difficult situation (a question which, with variations, has come up a lot for me), I can’t think of anything they would think of as difficult that I handled well.  I can think of  things I’ve found difficult that neurotypicals would not find difficult, or that I handled badly, or at least not well from an interview point of view (trying established procedures or asking a colleague or superior for help would not be viewed positively by people looking for initiative and adaptability (not very autistic traits) and the fact that some of my decisions were over-ruled by superiors is not great either).  I don’t think I coped well with a difficult boss either; I don’t know how I would cope with difficult colleagues, as I’ve never had them, but I’m guessing it would be the same.

It’s hard to remember details from other jobs anyway.  I’ve twice been asked in the past about my favourite library management system and failed to give a good answer.  It’s the autistic/Sherlock Holmes “It doesn’t interest me so why should I bother to remember?” issue again.  I could give them a detailed answer comparing my favourite Doctor Who writers.

Looking at the company website terrified me, the sense of this being a massive multinational law firm and I couldn’t cope with such a large and pressured environment as the job spec stated.  When I applied for the job, I didn’t think I’d make it to interview, so I never thought I would really have to deal with this.  I was just trying to reassure the agency that I am genuinely looking for a job and putting myself forward for things.

I feel a bit like Icarus.  Once I was a high-flyer, but then I started falling, further than anyone had fallen before.  It’s very hard to know what to do when your wings have melted.  I suppose Icarus got what he wished for too.

***

Today I was feeling depressed even before the interview preparation email came through.  As usual, I woke late, struggled to get going and prayed a very minimal amount of Shacharit (morning prayers).  I cried a bit while doing so, I think more from frustration and perhaps despair as much as anything else.  I feel OKish now, but the depression and anxiety come and go.  This seems to be the “new normal” at the moment: bad mornings and days that are mostly good, but which have negative blips and low energy.

The Guidebook to Depressed, Autistic Life

I feel rather frustrated today.  Most immediately, while I was davening Shacharit (praying the morning service), admittedly very late, my Dad phoned twice and my Mum phoned once in the space of five or ten minutes.  Although they do tend to phone me a lot when they’re out (Dad was shopping, Mum was at work), three phone calls in ten minutes is a bit excessive, so first I got annoyed, but then I started worrying that something was terribly wrong and they were desperately trying to get hold of me to give me bad news.  I wasn’t very anxious, but I was a little anxious.  It was all fine in the end, but it’s left me feeling a bit on edge.

I also feel frustrated about my work life.  I obviously don’t have a job at the moment and on one level that’s frustrating; on another level, it’s a relief, which is probably an indication that I’m in the wrong job or at least of how anxiety-provoking I find the world of work, I think primarily because of my autism.  I think my mood is better since I’ve been out of work, which is worrying.  I’ve been trying to allocate time to job hunting, working on my book(s) and doing various chores that need doing, either regular chores I’m supposed to help with like cooking or various one-off things that need doing, but I’m finding it hard.  I spend too much time feeling lonely or depressed and/or procrastinating.  I feel very sluggish and depressed for parts of the day (I would say morning, but I tend not to wake up until mid-morning), which takes a chunk of useful time out of my day.  Then I stay up late trying to catch up on things.  Even so, the list of chores is barely touched and I don’t spend as much time on my writing as I would like.  I would like to spend three hours on job hunting a day plus an hour on writing or chores, and time on Torah study, prayer and walking (for exercise) each day, but I’m struggling with that, especially as I get exhausted so easily (not to mention distracted, sadly).  Today I managed to finish a piece of writing and submit a job application, but the actual amount of time spent on those things was rather short.

On the plus side, I think the general trend in my mental health is upwards.  It’s hard to notice because I feel depressed most days, particularly on waking, but I’m definitely not where I was when I was at most worst (2003-ca2010) where I was barely functional, if that.  My functionality is obviously a lot better and I have held down a number of part-time jobs, of varying hours.  I think my mood is generally better than it was, even if it is bad some of the time most days and even if it tends to get worse when I’m working (even with jobs I’ve enjoyed, I find myself anxious and depressed on the way in to work, sometimes to the extent that I can’t read on the train).  I don’t think I will ever not be depressed, though.

I think progress for me now is about managing (rather than curing) my depression, social anxiety and autism, as well as managing my religious obligations and family and social lives.  It’s hard as there isn’t a guidebook.  I have to invent the rules and adapt them as things change.  I’m might never have a full-time job or structured career and I may well never live the ‘normal’ frum (religious) life that is expected in my community of davening with a minyan (community) three times a day, doing extensive Torah study each day and participating actively in the life of the community.  I may never get married and have children.  Sometimes that all seems OK, but sometimes it upsets me.  I don’t want people to think I’m a bad person or a bad Jew for not having a career, not davening with a minyan and so forth.  But I think it’s more that I don’t want myself to feel that I’m a bad person or a bad Jew.

My Song

I feel burnt out again today, which probably isn’t surprising after yesterday.  The good news for today is that I have an job interview next week at a Very Important Organisation.  HR were supposed to send me an email, but didn’t.  The first I heard was when I received an email from someone else in the organisation (I assume a librarian) adding additional information.  I still don’t have the HR invitation, so I hope I’m not missing important instructions.

I tried to write a piece of writing with deliberate grammatical errors that I can correct and put on my proofreading profile page as a portfolio to try to get proofreading work.  It proved harder than it looks.  I could make and correct the mistakes just fine, but I found it impossible to just write ‘something’ without any kind of idea of what to write.  Like platonic soup, platonic writing, writing that isn’t about anything, but which is just writing, turns out not to exist.  I wasted quite a bit of time trying to do that and procrastinating as I realised I wasn’t getting anywhere.  I tried taking a book review I wrote years ago and inserting mistakes, but that didn’t really work either.  So I switched to writing a job application for a law library job I don’t really want and won’t get, but I had zero enthusiasm for that either.

Eventually I gave up and went for a walk and to do some shopping.  By the time I got home from that, I was exhausted.  I hate not having energy, motivation and concentration any more.  The only thing I wanted to do was to write.  Actual writing, not writing pseudo-nonsense to show I can correct grammatical errors.  I feel that the only thing I can really do well is write about my feelings and experiences.  That’s the only thing I do that other people show much of an interest in.  I want to try to find a way to monetise that, but it’s scary.  Apart from the fact it’s a rather niche thing to be good at, with any creative job, there is always the fear (for me at any rate) that one day inspiration and talent will just dry up.  That’s not good for someone on the autism spectrum who doesn’t like uncertainty.  Although my autism means I don’t much like most workplaces, so there are advantages as well as drawbacks.

***

Ashley Leia wrote this post about not using the word “should.”  I have heard this before and always struggled with it, perhaps because of my religious beliefs.  I really think there are things I should and shouldn’t do.  However, a little later I was writing something about autism and I realised that actually a lot of my shoulds come from being autistic and having other people try to adjust my behaviour to neurotypical norms, particularly when I was a child: that I should make eye contact and I should have open body language and I shouldn’t stim and I should socialise even when I don’t want to and I should know how to have a conversation and I shouldn’t have to ask for help with basic everyday tasks. That’s actually quite scary, to see how much I’ve been made into a malfunctional neurotypical rather than a functional autistic person.

Living in a Thomas the Tank Engine Dystopia

I haven’t written for a few days.  You may have heard that there was a flare up of violence in Israel.  700 rockets were fired at Israel from Gaza in 48 hours, with four Israeli civilians killed.  Like many diaspora Jews, I feel a strong connection to Israel, doubly so as I have family there (my cousin spent Sunday running in and out of bomb shelters).  For all the in-fighting in the Jewish community, Jews see each other as family and come together when one is attacked, more so, as far as I can tell, than is done by other religious or ethnic minority communities.  It’s an intuitive thing for us.

I don’t really want to write about the conflict here, because I don’t want to get dragged into a political discussion about the rights and wrongs of the situation, nor do I want antisemitic trolling, which has happened to me in the past.  Yet there is no denying that antisemitism and Jew-hatred, let alone Jew-killing makes my mood plummet, and I felt it would be dishonest not to acknowledge that here on my blog, where I am usually open about my feelings.  It’s frightening that my mental health and well-being as well as my physical safety is under constant threat from outsiders who I have no control over, but that is the daily reality of being Jewish.  So I was stuck feeling that the one thing I had to write about was the one thing I didn’t want to write about.

That is all I want to say about this.

***

I had a one-off therapy session yesterday, my first in some months.  I felt a bit sheepish afterwards because, as my therapist said, there isn’t much that therapy can do for me right now.  She said I have ongoing life-struggles (getting an autism diagnosis; job hunting/wondering if I’m in the right career; dating), but I seem to be coping with them OK.  She said I need a friend to mull things over with rather than a therapist at the moment, which is probably true.  I feel a bit sheepish about this, but perhaps I had to go through a therapy session to realise I don’t really need it at the moment.

***

My sleep is still disrupted.  I’m getting to bed a little earlier than I was, but I still sleep through most of the morning and sometimes, as today, I wake up feeling so exhausted and depressed that I can’t get up for an hour.  Cereal and coffee helps, but I have to get up to eat them, which is the hard part.  I’m fed up of living like this – sleeping too long, at the wrong time, being too exhausted and depressed to do as much as I would like during the day, procrastinating when I should be doing things – but it is hard to change things.  I do just enough to avoid the total collapse that would lead to outside intervention, but I’m only doing the bare essentials; I have a long to do list that isn’t getting attacked.  I actually went back to bed after breakfast today.  I didn’t sleep, but I just felt too drained to do anything, even to get dressed.

***

I eventually managed to send off another job application, but, again, I don’t feel that I really have the necessary skills and I think that was reflected in my answers to the questions on the application, which were waffley and not really reflective of the experience needed.  The second interview for the job I was interviewed for during Pesach is on Thursday and I haven’t been called for that either, so it looks like I haven’t got that, although I suppose they could still call tomorrow.

After the job application (which only took about forty minutes to finish), I went for a walk and to do some shopping for an hour or so, but when I came back I was exhausted.  I did manage to hoover my room, which needed doing, but took longer than I would have liked due to low energy and the hoover not working properly.  I hate that I get tired so easily and manage to do so little.  I wanted to start work on a small writing project I recently agreed to work on for Ashley Leia, but after all this and my struggles complaining to the council (see below), I ran out of time and energy.  I did at least manage about twenty-five minutes of Torah study after dinner.

Looking at this, I did achieve things, and I did perhaps achieve more than I have managed on some days recently.  It’s just hard to let myself feel proud of my achievements instead of attacking myself for not managing more.  I think it is a bad idea to predicate one’s happiness on having more money or power or fame, but I’ve somehow got stuck with the idea that my worth in life is predicated on the amount of things I do.  To some extent this is supported by Judaism, which makes looking at it differently difficult, but Judaism speaks of giving one’s best effort, even if that does not result in much of a practical result, whereas I want to achieve a certain (dangerously undefined) amount without taking into account how hard I try or how difficult it is for me to achieve things because of my ‘issues.’  Perhaps I should call it The Really Useful Engine Fallacy, after the online theory (picked up by various print newspapers on a slow news day) that the Thomas the Tank Engine books are set in a brutal dystopia where one’s value depends on one’s ability to work and be a “really useful engine”*.

* This is going way off the topic, but looking for articles on that theory led me to this page where a commenter said “I think both worlds [Thomas the Tank Engine and Star Trek] are relatable to a certain kind of person because they both depict worlds where your value doesn’t come from navigating social hierarchies, but from simply loving what you are doing.”  Is it too much to say that “a certain kind of person” is “an autistic person”?  Because it fits the rest of the statement.  I did love Thomas as a child and I still do like Star Trek, although I prefer Doctor Who, which is more anarchic, because I’m a rebel (a bit).

***

I did also try to send a complaint to the council about the fact that they have stopped the household food waste recycling service they used to run.  I’ve been meaning to do this for months and had not got around to it.  The decision is bad enough for the environment even without the fact that they did not inform the public that it was happening; I’m sure we aren’t the only household who continued using expensive compostable bin liners for food waste after they had switched to burying it in landfill.

They don’t make it easy to find the relevant address to write to, as they funnel you to specific online reporting forms and if you can’t find one that’s relevant it is hard to find a general address to write to.  I tried to set up an account with them, which they recommend doing to send a complaint, but the website wouldn’t accept a password from me, even though I met the rather stringent criteria given (eight characters, letters, numbers, upper case, lower case, some special characters!).  In the end I had to use a different form to complain without setting up an account.

The form referred to me as a “customer” which annoyed me.  I’m not hugely anti-capitalism (reading about Thomas the Tank Engine as a capitalist dystopia notwithstanding), but I don’t think all our interactions can be reduced to the market, and this is one of them.  I’m a resident (not technically a ratepayer, but my parents are), not a customer.

The whole thing left me feeling as if the machinery of government in this country is in the hands of uninterested technocrats who think they know better than the electorate, but that surely is just my paranoia…

***

I’m still worried about dating.  I feel no one could ever love me or live with me, so I should stop seeing L. for her own good.  But when I reflect on that, it doesn’t seem so logical, though.  “My thoughts are not always my friends.”  I can see that there would be some difficulties if we were in a relationship, but I can also see how we could possibly balance each other out in a positive way, if I don’t panic and inadvertently sabotage the relationship.

I guess I can’t see anything in my life turning out well, though.  Certainly not in the next year or two.  I try to focus on the improvements I’ve made to my life, but they seem equivocal.  I’ve had jobs… but nothing lasting or that I feel I’ve done well.  I’ve dated… but never built a lasting relationship.  My shul (synagogue) attendance and Torah study fluctuate wildly.  It’s hard to see things suddenly turning around.

Still, I’ve just set up a date with L. for Sunday.  We’re going to picnic in a park in central London.  I’m hoping it won’t rain.  The weather forecast is dry, but you can never tell in this country…

Mental Health Day

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

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

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

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

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

Doc Soc-ing Again

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The ‘About Three Quarters of the Way Through Pesach’ Post

Up late again today, despite going to bed a little earlier.  No strong anxiety or OCD, but I’m still in a moderately deep depression with no obvious triggers other than the stress of the time of year, and perhaps too much ‘peopling’ (although that was nearly a week ago now).  Still feeling wiped out today, although the cold symptoms have subsided, and I feel apprehensive about going to Oxford on Sunday for the Doctor Who Society’s thirtieth anniversary get together (there will be lots of people I don’t know!  And probably some who I do know, but haven’t seen for years!) followed by therapy on Monday (a one-off session at the moment via Skype, with my psychodynamic therapist, as I felt the need to talk some issues through) and then my date with L. in the afternoon, which is a lot of anxiety-provoking peopling in rapid succession, particularly if I manage to get to shul (synagogue) quite a bit over Yom Tov (the end of Passover, tonight until Saturday night).

Thinking morose thoughts about the world.  Lots of Jews think that this is ‘the generation of the footsteps of Mashiach (Messiah),’ the final generation before the start of the Messianic Age.  I have no idea if this is true.  The Talmud says that the period before the coming of the Mashiach will be a generation poor in Torah scholarship, arrogant, lacking in true leadership, lacking in respect for the elderly or for parents, impudent and heretical.  This seems true of today, but it seems true of most periods, at least to those who lived through them.  But I hope and pray, and try not to think about it too much; I find the millenarianism of much of the fundamentalist Jewish (and Christian, and Muslim) world disturbing and counter-productive.  One should do teshuva (repentance) and mitzvot (commandments) and study Torah, and leave the rest of HaShem (God).  Although it is probably difficult to avoid it at this time of year – the festival of redemption, in the month of redemption, when the Mashiach will come, according to tradition.  The Hasidim even celebrate the Feast of Mashiach on the last day of Pesach.

I’m not really sure what I’m trying to say in this post.  I really just wanted to check in as I’m going to be out of contact for at least forty-eight hours, maybe much longer.  I suppose I’m feeling lonely and a little apprehensive.  Chag sameach.

Chad Gadya

I still feel that I am coming down with a cold.  I feel hot and bothered and exhausted.  I’m not sure how much is exhaustion and how much is a real virus.  I felt so exhausted and depressed that I got up late and was slow getting ready, so the original plan for the day, to go to The Jewish Museum with my Dad, was abandoned as we wouldn’t get our money’s worth out of the entrance fee.  We went to the British Museum instead, which is free, so we didn’t feel resentful of only going for an hour or two.  I felt a bit better while I was there, physically and emotionally.  It was probably just as well that I missed The Jewish Museum, as I wanted to see the Jews and Money exhibition; spending the afternoon looking at Nazi and Soviet propaganda of Jews as economic parasites might not have been the most enjoyable thing on Chol HaMoed (the intermediate days of Passover).  Instead, at the British Museum, I got to look at relics from ancient civilisations that tried to wipe out the Jews, but have long-since vanished while we’re still here: Egyptians, Assyrians, Greeks, which I think was appropriate for the Festival of Redemption.

***

I have a date with L. on Monday.  This is after therapy at lunch time and spending the previous day peopling in Oxford after two days of Yom Tov, so I hope I will not be burnt out and unable to interact before I even get there (remember to breathe).  I’m trying not to overthink it, but it’s hard.

I’m also trying not to overthink Pesach (Passover) OCD stuff.  The religious OCD has been a lot better this year (three days to go), but it’s hard to let go of some thoughts, silly though they seem.  The biggest fear is that the kosher supermarkets might have accidentally had forbidden chametz (leavened) produce and we bought it, which is really just punishing myself for not having checked the hechshers (rabbinic seals of approval).  Sometimes my OCD means “I don’t think I deserve for this to be OK.”

***

I watched The King’s Speech yesterday.  My Dad insisted on lending me the DVD ages ago, but I hadn’t got around to it as I wasn’t that interested.  I was wrong.  It was really good, but what surprised me was that it’s really about self-esteem and accepting who you are, or rather who God/fate/life wants you to be.  Accepting that you can grow and change.

One exchange resonated with me:

Bertie [the future George VI]: I’m not going to sit here warbling.

Lionel Logue [speech therapist]: You can with me.

Bertie: You’re peculiar.

Logue: I take that as a compliment.

I like being different.  Admittedly this is because I have a low opinion of both the consumerist, hedonist, godless rat-race mainstream Western world and the often narrow-minded, self-righteous, and sometimes also hypocritically consumerist frum (religious Orthodox Jewish) world.  I complain that I don’t fit in either, but deep down, I don’t really want to belong in either.  I like being different.  But it’s lonely and I have a history of being bullied and rejected for being different.  So I hide my eccentricities and interests and compartmentalise my life: Jewish stuff, work stuff, geeky stuff…  My oldest friend is much more open about being a geeky.  When we were at school, he would refer to geeky stuff in class work; now he talks about it in his sermons (he’s a non-Orthodox rabbi).  I wish I could be a little bolder in presenting the real me.

I suppose that’s why writing is so important to me, here and in the books I would like to write/am writing.  I want to get the Doctor Who book finished in a couple of months and send it out to publishers so I can start work in earnest on the Judaism/autism/depression misery memoir that seems potentially more worthwhile, worthwhile because it might help other people and worthwhile because I’ll be able to show the real me.

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

***

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

Not Quite An Argument

I guess I posted my last post too soon.  I just had dinner with my parents and it didn’t go well.  Dad wanted to carry on talking about my job interview and told me that I should have answers to why I want the job and where I see myself in five years time.  I sort of have a stock answer for why I want a librarianship job in higher education, but it seems less and less accurate; I really don’t think I’m cut out to be an academic librarian (but then what am I cut out for?).  The five years question is just impossible.  I don’t know where I see myself in five months.  I don’t know if I even want to be a librarian in five years time.  Dad said that I should say I want to take on more responsibility in the library, which might not be true even if I stay as a librarian (like a lot of autistic people, I have very little personal or professional ambition).  I said that I could say that, but it would be a lie.  Dad got annoyed with me and I ended up saying, rather more loudly than I intended, “I’m sorry I’m depressed, I’m trying hard…” and then breaking off.

I know it’s not easy for my parents having their elder child living at home in his mid-thirties, especially as my younger sister has left home long ago and ticked almost all the adult boxes (career, husband, house, mortgage) and I know it isn’t easy that my mood is often low, that I’m often negative, pessimistic and irritable and that they still are, in some sense, my carers (not to mention my bankers).  But it’s not easy for me being in this situation either, and I’m the one who has to live with my emotions and my autism 24/7.

I insisted on doing at least some of the washing up to apologise, even though I have zero energy.

I feel really guilty right now, not so much for the incident above as for other things that I would sort of like to write about, but feel that I shouldn’t.  I don’t feel that I’m a very good or lovable person.

I don’t feel tired enough to sleep, but I have zero motivation, concentration or energy to do anything, not to read and not even to watch TV.  I’m not quite sure how I’m going to fill the next three hours before bed.

Wasting Time

I’m struggling today, with depression, OCD and irrational guilt.  The depression is probably from exhaustion as much as anything after the last three days.  I just have no energy and low mood without particular depressive thoughts.  Seder has disrupted my sleep pattern again.  I was up until 3.30am or so last night writing my blog, but also because I was not tired from sleeping during the day too much.  I slept until about 12.30pm today and then spent two and a half hours trying to get the energy to eat breakfast and get dressed.

The OCD is about kosher supermarkets, and whether all the food in them is kosher for Pesach if they aren’t rabbinically supervised.  It’s silly really, as I buy food from there during the rest of the year without feeling the need to check the hechshers (rabbinic seals of approval).  I just worry that we might have bought non-kosher for Pesach food by mistake.

The guilt is the silliest thing, because it’s not even primarily for things I have actually done.  I was reading Neshamas.com, a website for people within the frum (religious Orthodox Jewish) community where they can post anonymously about anything non-insulting.  People write really moving stuff on there about abuse, crises of faith, confusion about their sexuality and so on.  I was reading posts about abuse and marital rape and worrying that if I was married, I would be abusive, even though I have no evidence for that, and possibly some evidence against.  It’s silly, really.  I guess that’s low self-esteem, or more likely pure O OCD, which can make people feel guilty for things they haven’t done.  My CBT therapist said that people who have OCD thoughts about abuse are the least likely to actually be abusive.  Then I commented on some posts on Neshamas, but felt that I had said the wrong thing and might have made things worse and felt bad about that.  It’s hard to know what to do sometimes.

I guess I have some other guilt too today.  I’m not sure how justified it is.  Sometimes I just have to cope anyway I can.  So, for example, today I’m making an educated guess that I’m doing the right thing about the non-supervised, but kosher, supermarkets and carrying on eating food from there, assuming that the desire not to is just OCD.  But it’s hard to know that it’s right; it could be that I’m just trying to find an excuse to stop worrying.  Other things I know are wrong, but are hard to avoid e.g. being irritable when I’m depressed (although actually today I’m not particularly irritable, just exhausted).  Also, I feel that I should be preparing for my interview tomorrow or doing Torah study or something semi-productive, but it’s hard, but because I’ve got the interview tomorrow I can’t say I’m taking Chol HaMoed as holiday.

I don’t think I really want the job I’m up for tomorrow.  It’s similar to the job I did in further education, but with higher education students, which should be good, but I just remember how I messed up that job and how my boss thought I couldn’t cope.  There’s a job description the length of my arm and I just think, “How can I do this?”  I don’t know what I’ll say if I get asked why I want the job at the interview.  I don’t know where I see myself in five years either, the other question my Dad says gets asked a lot.  I don’t really feel able to cope with any kind of job that involves interactions with other people at the moment i.e. most of them.  I feel I could be a writer or a lighthouse keeper and that’s about it.  I feel I should take some positive steps towards becoming a writer, but I’m scared and taking on a career with no experience and no sure and steady income just because a few people have said I can write well.  I feel I should earn a lot of money first to subsidise myself for a couple of years while I try to write, but there isn’t much chance of that happening.

I guess I’m feeling lonely too.  I wish I could connect with someone, but it’s really hard.  I just feel awful, all burnt out and depressed, unable to do anything.  I did go for a twenty minute walk, but that’s about all I’ve done today.  I want to do some Torah study, but I don’t have the energy, concentration or really the motivation.  I suppose I could try to listen to a shiur (religious class) online for a bit.

I’m not particularly anxious, because the depression is so strong today that it drowns out the anxiety, but I’m vaguely worried about that OCD anxiety, about my exhausting my parents’ sympathy and patience for me, about my career, about dating L. (I don’t feel that anyone could love someone as messed up as I am) and so on.

I just feel like I want to cry right now.

***

One thing I forgot to talk about yesterday/last night regarding my seder was the idea that we are supposed to imagine that God redeemed us individually from Egypt.  The idea is that if the exodus had not occurred, we would still be slaves 3,000 years later, or at least that we would still have a slave mentality and not be able to live truly free lives.  I find this hard.  I found I could imagine being a slave and I could imagine HaShem (God) being with me in slavery and suffering, but it was very hard to see myself as actually freed.  I think I may have achieved it for a few seconds, but not for long.  I guess it’s good that I think that God is with me in my suffering, which I wouldn’t have thought a little while ago.

Baking

I slept for about eleven hours again.  My Dad woke me about 12.15pm (he sounded rather annoyed that I was still asleep, which didn’t help), but I lay in bed for another hour feeling too tired and depressed to move.  I think I was just burnt out from all the things I did yesterday, the Pesach preparation and the stressful experience I had at shul that I blogged about.  I think I drifted in and out of sleep for a while.

At some point in the night (or morning) I had a weird, disturbing dream that I can only vaguely remember, something about a Jewish (?) youth organisation which was actually secretly being run as some kind of cult or gang and that young people were being brainwashed into murder and other criminal activities.  Aside from maybe picking up on things in the news about radicalisation and “Jihadi brides” in Syria, I guess it reflects the fears I had as a teenager and still do have to a large extent that frum (religious Orthodox Jewish) institutions and communities would want to brainwash me out of my wider interests, particularly Doctor Who, and my friendships with my non-frum and non-Jewish friends.  It is a bit silly that I still have these fears when, by objective standards, I am very frum, although I do still feel painfully on the fringes of the community rather integrated as I should be.  I feel that I have capacity that I’m not using; I feel I should be going to shul (synagogue) more often and not be put off by depression and social anxiety.  Likewise, if I wanted to, I could do more in the community, in terms of leading services and writing divrei Torah (Torah thoughts), but I don’t have the confidence to do it any more because of my feelings of inadequacy compared to other people in the community.  I don’t know where I go from here.

***

I spent much of the afternoon baking biscuits for Pesach.  It proved to be good exposure therapy for the OCD, as I had the choice of washing my hands virtually once a minute or accepting that I can touch things and then touch foodstuffs and crockery without transferring invisible amounts of forbidden chametz (leaven) onto them.  I even coped with a minor kashering issue without panicking.

My rabbi mentor says that these days before Pesach are harder than Pesach itself.  On Pesach, all the chametz is gone, burnt or sold, so the opportunities for mishaps are relatively limited.  It’s the days before when we’re still eating chametz, but getting ready our Pesach stuff, kashering utensils and cooking in advance, when the real risk of problems comes.

I feel exhausted after the baking.  It seems strange, having slept so long last night, but I guess this is an emotionally draining time of year for me.  There’s a lot of stress and anxiety.  I think I’m mostly coping OK, but it is taking its toll.  I still feel a lot of stress and anxiety even if I am ultimately coping with it better than in recent years.  Tomorrow I need to get a haircut, which I always dread in case I start shaking and because I don’t like strangers touching me, and then on Wednesday things shift up a gear in terms of Pesach preparation (again) when I have to kasher the hob.

Tested

I felt quite depressed on waking again.  Although I must have been in bed for about twelve hours (this was at nearly 1pm), I still felt tired.  On the whole I’m probably doing OK, mental health-wise, at the moment, but I get bursts of depression and/or anxiety most days that last for a while and I’m definitely struggling to find my ‘place’ or role in terms of career, family, dating and fitting in to the Jewish community.  I tried telling myself that where I am (moderately depressed and anxious, autistic, unemployed etc.) is where God wants me to be, but it’s hard.  I keep wondering why I have to be like this.  But I don’t think we can know such things, at least not at the time.  Maybe years later, when we see how things turn out.

I just did a civil service initiative and judgement test for a job at a ministerial library that I applied for.  Part of the test was on attitudes to work.  I think the ideal candidate bounds out of bed in the morning and hurries joyfully to work and sets him or herself a number of career goals culminating in becoming the head of a department by the age of forty.  The test is not really set up for someone confused about their career choice and suffering from depressive anhedonia (lack of enjoyment) and lack of motivation.  My concentration during the test was poor too.

Then there was an initiative test which was based largely around management issues.  I’m not ready for a management job (and probably never will be), which suggests that the job is not right for me.  I found the multiple choice framework frustrating, as I frequently wanted to add clarification or a caveat, or felt that none of the answers given were very good, even though I could not think of a better one.  I suspect that I’m not management material.  I got through it rather quickly.  I was told it should take about fifty minutes, but I did it in thirty, which makes me worry I went through it too fast, but I couldn’t really connect the questions to anything that might really have guided me.  I did do some study of management for my librarianship MA, but nothing that really helped here.  Although it is fun to imagine Sir Humphrey Appleby, the Machiavellian civil service chief from Yes Minister being made to sit one of these tests (“Where’s the option ‘brief against your critics to their boss until he fires them’?”).

I did, apparently, pass the test and am still being considered for the job, which is good.

All The Lonely People

I’m a bit torn about staying up late writing this.  I wanted to get to bed early because the clocks go forward, so I’ll lose an hour of sleep, plus I have to be up early tomorrow for volunteering.  However, I slept about twelve hours last night and dozed for another two this afternoon so I’m far too wide awake.  My Mum said I didn’t do much on Friday, so why was I so lethargic today?  I think I’m just burnt out from a busy and emotionally-draining week.  Autism + depression + work stress + social interactions (at work and at depression group) = exhaustion.  I missed shul (synagogue) this morning through being too tired to get up, rather than too socially anxious, which seems like an improvement, weirdly.

I do feel rather lost at the moment.  It feels that my life has… well, I can’t say “unravelled” as it wasn’t very ravelled in the first place.  I just feel I don’t know what I should be doing about my career and I don’t feel at all comfortable with my religious life, feeling I should be more involved in prayer and Torah study and pursuing meaning in ritual and prayer, while at the same time I feel isolated in the frum (religious Orthodox Jewish) community and unable to fit in (more on that in a minute).  I struggle socially and don’t even know what I can do about that or what I even want to do.  I’ve given up on dating in the near future.  Realistically, I fear it could take me years to sort out my career and only then could I think about dating, which could have a knock on effect on whether I can have children, given that I can’t see myself marrying someone ten years younger than me.  I guess the bottom line in all these areas, career, Judaism, social life and dating, is that I don’t even know what I want or even how to find out what I want, let alone how I can get it.

And then on top of all this comes the start of a month of pre-Pesach stress and hoping that Pesach and its extra-strict dietary laws doesn’t set off my religious OCD again.  To be fair, last year I had just one bad twenty-four hour period (split over two calendar days) and whereas for the last few years I’ve spent all year worrying about Pesach and writing long lists of (mostly OCD) questions to ask my rabbi, this year I have not really had any of that, with only a few questions to ask, mostly relatively small points of clarification.  So that’s all good.

***

What I wanted to write about, while I don’t feel tired, is something interesting that happened at work this week.  I was sorting through some piles of “little magazines,” which are magazines, mostly about art, literature and/or politics (especially politics), produced cheaply and somewhat amateurishly for distribution to like-minded individuals, with content usually too iconoclastic and extreme to sell to established journals.  As a Doctor Who fan, it struck me that they were basically fanzines, but directed at artists or political obsessives/revolutionaries.

Looking in one radical feminist magazine, Jewish terms in a poem caught my eye.  It was about the author’s fascination with Hasidic Judaism and her feeling that she, as a woman, lesbian and feminist, could never be accepted by these religious thinkers that she admired.  Reading to the end of the poem, I saw that it was written by a female Reform rabbi I knew of.  I don’t think I ever met her, but in my first job, at a non-Orthodox rabbinical seminary, I spent some considerable time cataloguing part of her library, which she donated to the seminary after her death.  I was always intrigued and intimidated by her, intrigued because of the unusual mixture of radical feminist and traditionalist Orthodox material (or at least material about traditionalist Orthodoxy) in her collection, intimidated because I felt she would have no time for a conservative (in multiple ways), Orthodox person like me and because the general consensus among staff and students in the college (who all adored her) seemed to be that she didn’t suffer fools gladly, and whenever I meet someone like that, I worry that I come across as rather a fool.  (As an aside, I think “doesn’t suffer fools gladly” is a stupid phrase.  Is there anyone who wakes up in the morning thinking, “I hope I have to suffer some fools today, as I’d certainly be so glad to do so!”)

The poem, then, rather took me by surprise, but perhaps it shouldn’t have done.  The clue, I suppose, was in her library, which, as I say, was filled with radical feminist books, but also with books on Hasidic Judaism (a form of Orthodox Judaism that stresses joy and love and ecstatic prayer) and the Mitnagedim (the opponents of Hasidism, but still very Orthodox, stressing Torah study, particularly legalistic Talmudic study rather than prayer as the centre of Judaism).

It showed me another side of her, something I hadn’t really suspected.  I knew from her books and what her colleagues and students said about her that she was fiercely intelligent, intellectual and strong-willed.  Also religious, in the progressive Jewish way that tends to be rather more political than Orthodox Judaism.  Maybe angry, again mainly in a political way.  But I hadn’t really expected to see vulnerability.  I expected her to be out and proud in her beliefs and scornful of those who didn’t accept them.  The desire for acceptance and the feeling of rejection and isolation took me by surprise.

An article in the same magazine by a different author dealt with her feelings on having to defend Judaism and Zionism among left-wing feminists.  Taken together, the poem and the article seemed to sum up my feelings of wanting to be accepted by the frum (Orthodox Jewish) world and also wanting to be accepted in a more counter-cultural world (in my case Doctor Who fandom rather than radical feminist circles), but not conforming to expectations of behaviour and views in either.

It made me wonder if everyone feels that they are on the fringe of something.  Do lots of frum people feel that they’re on the fringe of Judaism?  Most of the people I know who feel like this are either converts (who feel they aren’t accepted by people born Jewish) and people with non-conventional political views (particularly in the US, where Jews tend to be very party-political: progressive (as in non-Orthodox) Jews are Democrats and Orthodox Jews tend to be Republicans, with anti-Trump Orthodox Jews feeling beleaguered).  I don’t really know many people who feel isolated because of atypical cultural interests and neurodivergent trouble with social interactions in general.

In reality, probably not everyone feels like this.  Some people seem happy alone and some people seem to be in the thick of things (whatever type of social group ‘it’ is) and happy with that.  But clearly other people do share my feeling that I can never be accepted by the people that I want to be accepted by, perhaps even the feeling of being torn between two worlds, neither of which I fear will really accept me.

Drowsy

Really burnt out today.  I guess leaving job + depression group + end of busy week + lots of noise this morning (see below) isn’t a good combination.  I should really be doing job hunt stuff, either trying to resuscitate my lost job application or revise cataloguing to see if I can get that temporary cataloguing job at the library I’ve just left, but I don’t feel able to do anything.  Before I just wanted to eat and watch TV.; now I just want to lie down and nap.  I did at least clear most of a huge backlog of emails.  I have no energy or motivation whatsoever and I suspect that if I did try to do something, I would quickly discover I have minimal concentration too.  I did manage to go out to buy mother’s day flowers for my Mum, although I accepted a lift from my Dad; I tend to get flowers on the Friday before so she has them for Shabbat (the Sabbath), plus I’m volunteering on Sunday so will be short of time.

***

Depression group last night was more difficult than I made out in my last post.  I was feeling very drowsy and it was hard to concentrate on what people were saying, which I felt bad about, but there wasn’t a lot I could do about it.  I’m just glad I made it to the end.

***

My sister was here this morning.  She and her husband are in the process of moving in to their new house (not fully renovated yet, but finished enough that they can move in) and she had removal men here taking a lot of her/their stuff that was still here (she had a lot of her books here, plus a lot of their wedding presents have been sitting here for over a year, waiting for them to have a home with enough space for them).  I somehow slept through most of the noise, drifting in and out of sleep and having strange dreams, but I did get up in time to speak to her briefly before she went.  She brought good health news about her in-laws, which was good, although it reminded me that I have friends who are struggling with a family health issue and I don’t know if I’m doing the right thing to support them.  I feel that I’m not good at that sort of thing.

***

I suppose I should go and try to do something vaguely productive before Shabbat comes in…

Confessions of a Justified Sinner

I feel depressed and listless today.  I don’t know why, aside from the usual reason (depression).

My sister and brother-in-law came over for dinner, but I didn’t feel very social.  I was better once they arrived than I thought I would be, but dinner was mostly small talk, which I struggle with from an autistic point of view.  I get bored by the conversation and struggle to think of anything to say; when I do, I don’t always make myself heard.  I find the conversation draining especially as it seems to be very loud; I’ve noticed Mum and Dad are both getting a bit hard of hearing which may be why it seems to be so loud, but I find it draining.  I don’t know if other autistic people have coping strategies for this kind of thing.  I don’t want to be rude.  I try to take an interest in family members’ lives, especially big life events (my sister and brother-in-law are moving into their first real home together this week and my parents were talking about their recent holiday), but sometimes it gets too much for me.  I feel bad about this, but don’t know what I can do about it.

***

Purim is over now, so I should be in Pesach-preparation mode.  I usually find some interpretations of the exodus story or the haggadah to make the seder more interesting and not just a reading of the same text each year, but I have little enthusiasm for it this year.  It’s partly the depression and partly the – well, religious crisis is putting it too strongly, but lack of religious motivation I currently have, the feeling that I’m a bad person and can never change because God has stacked the deck against me with autism and depression.  Plus, last year I thought that no one actually appreciates what I say, except my Dad and maybe my sister.  I fear the other guests just want to get on to the meal and go home and that they tolerate me at best.  I don’t know if this is true.  I would love to go to a seder one year where there is a real discussion and I learn something, but I can’t see it happening any time soon.

***

I googled “how to deal with sexual frustration.”  Most of the pages assumed I was in a relationship I had got bored of and wanted to rekindle.  The ones that assumed singledom mostly suggested things that aren’t halakhically-acceptable.   Other than that, it just said sports or hobbies as displacement activities, neither of which have worked for me in the past and neither of which are really options at the moment, mainly because of depression leaving me drained.

Perhaps most people would have the confidence to date and if I was like them, I would be asking my parents to set me up with their friends’/neighbours’ children as they (my parents) want.  Certainly the daughter of my Mum’s friend whose profile I saw on a dating website has a couple of things in common with me.  But I’m too scared of rejection, too sure that no one could love someone as depressed, autistic and especially unemployed (or about to be unemployed) as me, especially as her dating profile specified that she wanted to marry a professional.  Maybe, as I implied yesterday, I’m scared to date for reasons beyond social anxiety, scared of losing independence or something, or just scared of yet more rejection.  Or maybe it’s just lack of self-esteem; confident people seem more able to blag their way to what they want, whether it’s a partner, a career or position and esteem within the community.

***

Out shopping today I felt very angry with God.  I know lots of autistic people would not change how they are and see autism as a difference and not a disability, but I keep thinking that so many of the bad things in my life would either not be present or would be easier to deal with if I was not autistic, or perhaps if my autism had been diagnosed earlier.  I might not be depressed, might not be single, might not be lonely, might not be unemployable, might not be so poorly socialised into my religious community… and so on, and so on.  Nor do I have the “autistic superpowers” some autistic people claim to have; I can sometimes go into hyperfocus, but I don’t have useful sensory sensitivity or a special interest that is socially useful or which makes me popular.  I suppose it’s crazy to go down the route of “what if,” but it’s hard not to when real life seems so stagnant.

I just keep asking why God would do this to me.  I’m open to the idea that God makes us suffer to grow or so that we learn to help others, but I can’t see how I can realistically help others when I’m in this state and as for growing, if anything, as earlier paragraphs might have indicated, I’m going backwards, getting less religious.  I guess if my emunah (faith) wasn’t so strong, I would seriously be contemplating going off the derekh (stopping being religious), I find my religious life so dull and sometimes painful and with such few positive aspects to it at the moment.  I just happen to believe that God exists and that this is how He wants me to live, for reasons I don’t understand.  I still worry that one day I will stop believing and doing and then all this effort will have been wasted.

***

There was an article in the Jewish Chronicle a few months ago about a charity in Israel that helps people with moderate learning disabilities, including non-high functioning autism, to get married.  They provide practical and emotional support for a couple with learning disabilities to learn to live together.  I think, how can it be possible for someone with more severe autism than me to get a job and get married, and yet my intelligence just seems to make it harder for me to find a job or a wife, for reasons that I don’t really understand.  It doesn’t help that I’m not sure what help I want/need at the moment.  A friend suggested A S Mentoring to me as being able to help with my employment needs, but having looked at their website, I’m not sure if they’re offering anything that could help me; I want to be more sure what I want before contacting them.  Similarly with dating, maybe if I had the confidence to date, a lot of the issues surrounding it would fall away, but I’m too scared of rejection to dare to ask to be set up with anyone or to ask someone out.

***

I did at least go shopping today and did about twenty minutes of Talmud study.  I also worked on my Doctor Who book for an hour and a half or so (albeit with distractions), sorting out the third draft of chapters two and three.  It’s quite good, but not great, but I’m not sure I really have the skills to make it better.

***

This bit is probably of limited interest to most of my readers, but I’m watching Quatermass, the fourth and final science fiction serial featuring Professor Quatermass, broadcast in the seventies, more than twenty years after the first three serials.  It’s a bleak story to watch while I’m feeling depressed (SPOILERS: pretty much all the sympathetic characters die horribly), but it is haunting and psychologically terrifying by turns, as well as reflective of the social unrest and stagflation of Britain in the seventies.  That things in real life never quite turned out as badly as they did in Quatermass might give hope that Brexit and populism might not lead to the end of civilisation as we know it.  (As an aside, and getting really far off the subject, Nigel Kneale is not often lumped together with John le Carré, but both share an outlook that might best be described as “Tory Anarchist” (to quote George Orwell), horrified by Soviet totalitarianism, but also disgusted by American capitalism, hoping for some kind of kinder, authentically British alternative, but resigned to Britain’s post-imperial decline.  There is definitely more to consider here e.g. the skill both writers have for creating a fictional world through dialogue and a few telling details. </autistic special interests>)

Doctor Who and the Purim of Doom

This will be another ‘written across a whole day’ post.

11.15am  I’m not sure how long I slept, but I think it was about eleven hours, which was probably too long.  I woke up utterly drained and depressed and I’m not sure if that was from sleeping too long or from the pressure of working two consecutive days.  Today I still feel that no one could ever love me, but I’m too exhausted to really care any more.

11.45am Today is the Fast of Esther, which I think is the most obscure Jewish fast day (this or the Fast of the Firstborn, but arguably that doesn’t count).  I used to assume it dated from Esther’s fast in Megillat Esther (the Book of Esther), which is the key text for the festival of Purim (tonight and tomorrow), but apparently it’s from the Gaonic era (early Middle Ages) although it does commemorate the earlier fast.  At any rate, I’m not allowed to fast on lithium except for Yom Kippur, so I’m not fasting today.  I think I’ve gone past the point of feeling bad about not fasting.  Eating some breakfast and drinking coffee makes me feel a bit better, but not much.  I really just want to go to bed and sleep through the next day and a half, although I am sort of looking forward to the Purim seudah (festive meal) I’ve been invited to tomorrow, just as long as no one tries to force me to drink alcohol.  I don’t think they will, but it’s hard to be sure.

I want to have a quiet day (afternoon really now – it’s nearly noon) to recover from the last two days and prepare for the Megillah reading tonight, which will be draining for depression, social anxiety, OCD and autism reasons.  Not the easiest religious ritual for me, by any means.  In the meantime, I want to watch more of Quatermass and the Pit (1950s BBC science fiction serial) and work on my Doctor Who book a bit, if I feel up to it.

2.15pm  Thinking again about being single and that no one could love me, albeit that the thoughts aren’t as intense as yesterday.  I wonder what the CBT response to these thoughts should be.  I suppose to look for evidence to disprove the assertion that no one could love me.  Which is hard, as there is really no evidence against.  I’ve only had two romantic relationships (and a third thing that perhaps approached becoming a relationship), which ended in ways that make me worry that no one could ever love someone as messed up as me, albeit that they all focused on different elements of my messed upness.  To some extent I’m probably manipulating the data to fit my theory; certainly my first relationship ended for fairly complex reasons that were at least partly down to my girlfriend.  But it is hard to hold on to that when everything fits my theory at least partially.  There isn’t much data to base a theory on, which is one thing to hold on to, but, again, that basically means that I haven’t had much romantic success, which is not encouraging.  CBT is hard to do when all the evidence supports your “thinking errors”.  I guess I’m catastrophising and jumping to conclusions, but it’s hard when the evidence points that way.  I don’t have “proof” that no one would marry me, but I won’t have proof until I either die single or get married and I can’t stop myself worrying in the meantime.  I know, worrying doesn’t help either, it just feels as if it should.  Also, this is probably my way of expressing loneliness to myself and others.  Maybe it would be more fruitful to search for different ways to express loneliness rather than to worry about the future.

***

3.00pm  Moving photo albums from one room to another with Dad.  Dad says I’m always irritable with him these days.  This is true and it saddens me, but I don’t know what to do.  Part of it is that I am under a lot of strain at the moment with work and depression and have been for nearly two years now.  I have to mask autism and depression at work, but that makes it harder to keep up appearances at home.  But part of it is that Dad tends not to do things in an autism-friendly way.  He asks me to help him with things, but he doesn’t tell me when and then expects me to drop anything I’m doing and help, which upsets me because it messes up my plan for the day; autism hates surprises and last minute changes.  He’s been nagging me to help with the photo albums for ages, but hasn’t given a time.  Last week he asked me and I said let me finish X, but he never came back and then suddenly today he asked me again.  I started to move the photo albums, but then he expected me to put them out in order; I got annoyed at this change (although I was probably being autistic and overly-literal here and should have guessed he would want me to put them out) and he got annoyed that I didn’t want to help.

Dad also talks in a very unhelpful way, from an autistic point of view, with too many details and jumping from topic to topic without making it clear what he’s talking about.  Then I get annoyed and tell him to stick to the point and things escalate.  I don’t like this aspect of myself and my current life, but I don’t know what to do about it.  I can’t think how to change things; telling myself to “try harder not to be irritable” doesn’t really help and just undermines my self-esteem even more.

***

3.30pm  I just read two essays by Rabbi Lord Sacks (the former British Chief Rabbi) about finding meaning and being called to something in life.  I don’t have a clue what the meaning in my life is or what I am being called to do.  Rabbi Sacks says that “Where what we want to do meets what needs to be done, that is where God wants us to be”, but I don’t seem to be able to do anything and my understanding of my own wants is not particularly good.  Mostly I want to just avoid certain situations and people.  I’ve thought in the past of writing to him about things like this, but his office staff doubtless open his mail and he probably wouldn’t even see the letter, let alone respond.

***

4.55pm  I began redrafting my Doctor Who book with the introduction and first chapter.  It was OK, but I’m not entirely happy with it, which may be my immaturity as a writer as much as anything, and while I pruned a couple of hundred words, I probably need to be more ruthless with later and longer chapters.

Feeling exhausted and depressed and not entirely sure why.  Some of it is doubtless bickering with Dad before, some is being tired from working on my book, some is general depression, so I intend to watch TV for a bit before I have to get ready for Purim.

***

19.00 Purim

Purim is a minor festival, so work is permitted and I can blog.  I moved my work days around this week so that I wouldn’t have to go to work, though, which is good.  It’s the most carnivalesque Jewish festival, which can be hard for me with depression, autism and social anxiety.

“There’s no point in being grown up if you can’t be childish sometimes!” Doctor Who: Robot

There is a custom to wear fancy dress on Purim.  I made my way to shul (synagogue) for Purim dressed as the fourth Doctor.  My scarf was the only item that was strictly accurate (a friend knitted it for me years ago according to the official BBC pattern and air mailed it to me from Texas), but I was more nervous about going dressed as a TV character to a shul where lots of people don’t own TVs and look down on TV as the most corrupting and least acceptable of all media.  As it happened, no one said anything, except someone who made a joke about the length of the scarf.  I don’t know if no one understood who I was dressed as.  I don’t really talk to many people at shul anyway.

The Doctor: Well, you’d better introduce me.
Romana: As what?
The Doctor: Oh, I don’t know… a wise and wonderful person who wants to help. Don’t exaggerate.

Doctor Who: The Power of Kroll

I heard once that if one dresses up on Purim, one should dress up as the person one wants to be.  I don’t know if this is true (I only heard it once).  I’m not sure what it says about me that I want to be the Doctor, or specifically the fourth Doctor, or even if I do really want to be him in a meaningful way, but I wish I had his confidence and his ability to wear his eccentricities on his sleeve and not worry what other people think about him, as well as for keeping his sense of humour when faced with danger and evil.

“Even the sonic screwdriver won’t get me out of this one” Doctor Who: The Invasion of Time

I listened to Megillat Esther (the Book of Esther).  One is supposed to hear every word, but there is also a custom to make noise after the name of Haman, who tried to wipe out the Jewish people.  This is fertile ground for my religious OCD.  I actually did OK.  I told myself I wasn’t going to catch up words, let alone go to another reading, unless I was really sure I had missed something.  Three or four times I thought I heard a word, but wasn’t sure and wanted to repeat it, but I didn’t let myself because I knew it would just stoke the flames of OCD.  It is theoretically possible that I did not fulfil the mitzvah (commandment), but I think I did the right thing.

“You’re a beautiful woman, probably.” Doctor Who: City of Death

At dinner afterwards, my Dad tried again to persuade me to go out with our neighbours’ daughter (or our neighbour, I suppose, as she lives with her parents).  I’m not quite sure what to make of this.  I don’t know if I have anything in common with her, other than having lived in two of the same communities and being frum.  I’ve never picked up any feeling that she is at all attracted to me (although admittedly I’m not good at such things).  By coincidence, I passed her while I was on the way to shul this evening and we said hello, but if she spotted the significance of my Doctor Who scarf, she didn’t say anything.

“Failure is one of the basic freedoms” Doctor Who: The Robots of Death

I was having dinner with my parents, everything was going well… and then, suddenly, it wasn’t.  Something happened that I can’t talk about here, sadly.  But it brought my mood crashing down.  I know that people say that you can’t make your happiness dependent on other people, but the fact is that human beings are social animals (even someone as introverted and autistic as I am) and the moods and behaviour of those around us do affect us, especially the moods of those close to us.  We pick up other people’s moods just as we infect people with our moods.  I’m not sure what I can do for this.

So, tomorrow is the bulk of Purim.  I hope I will be OK.  I’ve been invited out to a seudah (festive meal) in the afternoon, which will hopefully be good.  I’m more nervous about getting to shul in time to hear the Megillah again (one should hear it twice, evening and morning), but I’m less worried about hearing the words as there isn’t usually much noise at the morning reading because there aren’t many children and some people are going to work, so they need to get through it quickly.

For now I’m going to get some retail therapy buying a second-hand copy of the next Complete Peanuts volume (1963-1964), because Peanuts has been keeping me sane recently with it’s resigned acceptance of life’s ups and downs, as well as a second-hand copy of the House of Cards trilogy; not the Netflix series, the original 1990s BBC serials with Ian Richardson as Sir Francis Urquhart.  I’ve never seen it, but I need a break from wall-to-wall science fiction.

Chase: What do you do for an encore, Doctor?

Doctor: I win.