Withdrawing

I sometimes find reality too much to cope with.  When I was a child, I used to wonder if I was an actor in a futuristic soap opera and I was given drugs to make me hallucinate what (I thought) was happening to me so I would act realistically, but when I went to sleep I would wake up in the real world and live my real life.  I don’t think I ever believed that was literally true, but I obviously liked to play with the idea that I had a different life, somewhere.

I don’t think that I’m in a soap opera or hallucinating any more, but I there is definitely a solipsistic cast to my mind.  I think on some level I find it hard to believe that the real world ‘out there’ is as real as the one in my head, and I’m rather ashamed to admit that I probably struggle to believe that other people’s thoughts are as real as my own.  It probably stems from an autistic difficulty reading other people’s thoughts; if I can’t read them, it’s hard to take them into account.

I’ve had the stuffing knocked out of me in the last few days.  I did something that hurt some people I care about, although it was not my intention.  I don’t know how much is really my fault, but I blame myself.  At the same time, I feel that every few years, I fall out with good friends because they can’t cope with my mental health and autism situation, and I don’t know how much of that is my fault (as in, I could do things differently if I wanted to) and how much is just the way I am and I have to resign myself to the fact that either I have to keep my friends at arm’s length and not let them into my world or accept that my good friends will only last a couple of years before the inevitable overload, explosion and cutting themselves off from me.  Even with the therapist I saw for many years, there was more than one occasion when the therapeutic relationship broke down almost completely and I wasn’t sure whether to go on seeing her and she felt there was little point in her carrying on seeing me.  I do seem to be too much for most people to handle.

I worry that ‘knowing me’ and ‘liking me’ are mutually exclusive.  A few people manage both, but not many.  I know I sometimes come across as selfish and uncaring because of autism and depression.  This is not my intention, but I don’t always know how to act as I’m expected to act.  Yet I want to have close relationships, which require knowing and being known, as well as liking and being liked.  Am I doomed to be lonely forever?

This all makes me want to withdraw inside myself even more, cut off my contacts with people “for their own good, before I hurt them.”  Keep my existing friends distant.  Stop talking to my parents about my feelings.  Above all, stop blogging.  Except I can’t stop blogging, because the world in my head needs to be let out somehow.  Even so, part of me is feeling that I should abandon this blog and start a new one with no readers.  Do it differently – somehow – next time.  I doubt I will actually do that, but my thoughts at the moment are tending towards the self-critical.

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Celestial Intervention

I sent off four emails to get submissions guidelines for different publications (three Jewish newspapers and a science fiction magazine).  This was a way of testing the water for potentially submitting articles as a freelancer.  I’m scared that I’ve said the wrong thing or written to the wrong person and will stop them ever employing me, but obviously saying nothing wasn’t going to lead to them employing me either.  Later in the week I hope to buy some copies of some of the American Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) newspapers, which I don’t normally read, to see if I could write for them.  I’m not sure if I could write for them, or if I would really want to do so, as the culture shock is quite big.

***

I started to wish Dad a happy father’s day and to thank him for being “a good Dad,” but realised this was damning with faint praise and switched mid-sentence to “great Dad,” but the resulting confusion sounded worse than if I’d said nothing.  This is why I prefer writing to speaking.  Similarly, I had an awkward, but necessary, conversation with my sister, but I think I will have to talk to her again about this (something I don’t want to go into here).  I’m struggling with a halakhic (Jewish legal) matter arising from this, but can’t raise it with my rabbi mentor, as I sent him a couple of emails last week and he hasn’t responded, which usually means he’s very busy or has some kind of family crisis and I should leave him alone for a week or two.  I don’t want to take this matter to other rabbis, as they lack his understanding of my family background and they may lack his insight in dealing with families where some members are more religious than others.  So I feel a bit stuck.

***

I went to the Doctor Who pub quiz I went to a few months ago, with the Oxford University Doctor Who Society team… except that when I got to the pub, they weren’t there.  I knew my friend (who is the only real contact I have with them nowadays) wasn’t going, but I’d been in contact with someone else who said they were going.  But either a completely different group went to the one I was expecting from last time (possible, I suppose, as the society is much bigger and more active than it was in my day) or they changed their plans, perhaps because of traffic coming from Oxford.  You can’t join the quiz late and you need two for a team, so there didn’t seem much point in staying.  I did see a couple of other fans I knew from Oxford, but I was never close with them and wasn’t sure if they remembered me, so social anxiety won out and I came home.

On the way home I was feeling a mixture of anger and resignation.  I think more resignation than anger.  Why do things like this always happen to me?  I did what I have been told to do since I was a child, I went out of my comfort zone, I put myself out there, I tried to make friends… and yet again I was disappointed again (and ripped off – Tube and bus fairs across London aren’t cheap).  Am I cursed or something?  That everything I do goes wrong.  Am I being punished for something?  For not going to see the Famous Rabbi yesterday?  I try to accept that things can turn out well, that my suffering is a tikkun or a kapparah or something, but it just feels like God hates me and delights in making everything go wrong for me.  Aish.com, Chabad.org and Hevria.com have very different outlooks, but they all seem to have the same basic idea that if you trust in God, He will basically do what you want.  This is theologically immature, and they would probably deny it if you asked them, but it’s what posts like this and this seem to amount to, when I read them.  Do what God wants, trust in Him and expect Him to help, and everything will turn out fine.  But what if it doesn’t?  What if you can’t expect God to help because of a lifetime of misery and loneliness?  What if you don’t know if you’re doing what He wants?  If you don’t know what He wants you to do?

Yesterday I was feeling a bit confident about writing, but today I have a feeling of stumbling through life (work, writing, family, friendships), making big mistakes and needing other people’s help.  I doubt whether I could ever get anything published.  I wish I could just be normal.  I feel bad saying this, as I’ve got friends whose mother just died, so my problems seem insignificant in contrast… except they aren’t insignificant.  Someone said, “the worst thing that’s ever happened to you is the worst thing that ever happened to you, regardless of its place in the continuum of bad things ever to happen to people.”  Missing these people is not the worst thing that ever happened to me, but a life of misery and loneliness is and I don’t know how to change it.

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.

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.

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.

Pesach Cometh

Well, it’s nearly half past midnight and I’m wide awake for reasons I will explain shortly.  I thought I would write up my experiences over the first two days of Pesach (Passover).

I’ve been doing a lot better than in previous years, but the last few days have not been without their difficulties.  The sederim were the hardest things.  The seder is the ritualised meal on the first two nights of Pesach where we discuss the story of the exodus of the Israelites from Egypt and eat symbolic food.  There are readings from Tanakh (the Hebrew Bible), including several Tehillim (Psalms) known together as Hallel, and further readings from the Talmud.

Some tension emerged, not so much at the time as over the two days, because my brother-in-law felt that he wanted to do more at the seder, whereas I felt replaced by him when he sang some of the Psalms and songs with tunes I didn’t know and couldn’t join in with.  I spent some time thinking about it afterwards, and decided there were two issues.  One was that, since my grandfather died, I’ve read the whole of Hallel each year, most of it alone.  Everyone says how well I do it and compares me to my grandfather (who I was probably closer to than to my other grandparents, at least in the last years of his life).  So I felt sidelined from the family and no longer linked to my grandfather.  I was especially aware over the weekend that my sister and BIL are both professionals with advancing careers and a large, recently refurbished, house and I assume (from the size of their house) that they are planning to start a family.  So I felt that I’m being pushed out of the family and that my sister and BIL and their future children will be the focus of family events from now on.

I know no one is deliberately sidelining me, but that’s how it felt.  I did speak to my BIL today and we did work out a compromise to divide some of the readings of the seder, so I feel a bit better now, but the feeling that my sister and BIL are living a better life than me and that they are more of a source of nachas (pride) to my parents than I am isn’t going to go away and will probably only get worse if they do have children (although I’m looking forward to being an eccentric bachelor uncle).

The bigger struggle is with the seder itself.  I try to find some inspiring Torah thoughts to expand on the set text of the haggadah and try to make it more than just reading the same passages every year, to find something different and, hopefully, meaningful.  I don’t know how much anyone gets out of this.  My parents appreciate it, but I’m not sure that our other guests (usually family and a couple of friends of my parents) do.  At least, they don’t say anything to me.  I would like to start discussions, which is what a seder should be, but it doesn’t seem to happen.  Yesterday one person did ask me something, but I struggled to understand what he was asking (I think it was based on a misunderstanding or false premise, but could not pin down what he was asking to work out what), but it just underlined how much the seder is not what I want it to be.

The problem is this.  This is going to sound arrogant, but at the seder, I’m usually the most Jewishly knowledgeable and religious person present by some margin, so I struggle to find anyone to engage with and surprise or inspire me.  Add to this an autistic lack of social skills that make it hard for me to engage with other people generally and bring a subject to life and it’s a recipe for disaster.  My rabbi mentor and my oldest friend are both rabbis, intelligent and knowledgeable, but I suspect (know, really) that both would enjoy the challenge of this kind of environment.  They would find ways of connecting, of getting the people present to talk about their own experience and thoughts on freedom, liberation, Judaism and so on even if they couldn’t anchor it to specific Jewish texts without help.  I just can’t do it.

At both seders I fell at times into depression because of this.  It didn’t help that sometimes I needed a time-out for autism (too much noise, too much talking) or for OCD (I went out to breathe deeply and to calm myself after being triggered).  I found myself thinking of an old joke after the seder last night.  A man goes to the doctor and says, “I’m really depressed.”  The doctor says, “Pagliacci the clown is in town.  Go and see him, that will cheer you up.”  The man says, “Doctor, I am Pagliacci!”  (Assume this is before the invention of antidepressants.)  I try to inspire everyone year after year, but what do I do if I need inspiration?  I feel the pressure sometimes of being the frummest (most religious) person in my family (OK, second frummest after my cousin who is training to be a rabbi (and a civil engineer), but he lives in Israel).

One thing that was popular was some visual aids I made, which I haven’t really tried before.  They were just some photocopies from the biblical archaeology book Israel in Egypt: The Evidence for the Authenticity of the Exodus Tradition by James K. Hoffmeier, pictures of things like slaves and overseers from Egyptian temples, a brick store and a map of the Nile Delta and the probable route of the exodus, but people seemed to like them, so I need to work out what similar things I can find for next year.

I mentioned needing some time-outs during the seder for OCD and autism.  The autism was the main problem, and I couldn’t cope with the meal part of the evening yesterday: the noise, combined with all the emotional upheaval (which triggered my depression) was too much for me and I ate quickly and went upstairs to read The Complete Peanuts until we were ready to resume the ritual side of the evening.  I only had one or two time-outs for OCD, which was pretty good going.  On the whole the OCD has been OK.  I even coped with the weirdness of products that were hechshered (stamped) as kosher for Pesach by some kashrut agencies, but also certified as only suitable for non-Pesach use by others on the same packaging.  I suspect that this is down to differing stringencies (Pesach is a great time of year for some rabbis/communities trying out weird stringencies that no one else worries about).  More taxing was a shiur (class) in shul (synagogue) titled “Kashering Ovens for Pesach“.  My heart sank when I saw that title.  Sure enough it triggered me, even though I knew that my rabbi mentor and my parents’ rabbi had approved how we kashered our oven.  The excessive use of Hebrew halakhic (legal) terminology I didn’t understand just made me feel further alienated and ignorant and reinforced my feelings about not being part of my community.

I woke up earlyish on Shabbat and made it to shul about an hour late.  I stayed for about two hours, until the end of the service, the first time I’d been to a Shabbat or Yom Tov (festival) morning service since Yom Kippur.  However, I struggled to sleep last night and overslept this morning.  I then dozed for two and a half hours in the afternoon and am wide awake now, hence blogging.

And that’s it really.  Another six days of Pesach left.  The last six days are usually easier, but I had a bad spell late on day five and day six last year, so I won’t predict plain sailing from here, but hopefully it should be more manageable.  It’s 2am now (I haven’t been writing this uninterruptedly, but it has taken me a while).  I don’t feel at all tired and I’m vaguely anxious (OCD anxious) about something, but I guess I should at least try to go to bed.

Everything and the Kitchen Sink

I’m going to switch my computer off in a minute as there is a lot to do this afternoon, but I just wanted to update the blog as I’ll be out of contact for a couple of days.

Things are going well.  I nearly said “surprisingly well” which would be a bit unfair, but I am surprised how well things seem to be going.  I did have an issue with kashering the kitchen sink last night, but I got it resolved OK and I kashered the sink in four or five goes rather than eight or nine.  The trick, it seems, is not to boil a whole kettle of water at once, because I lack the strength and dexterity to move that about fast enough.  Even when I made a mistake with the sink, I saw it as one of those things and not as a sign that I’m useless and that God hates me.

I got up in time for shul this morning (can I do that on Yom Tov too?  At least one day out of four?), went to the siyum, came home, helped put the last bits of chametz (leavened bread) away and tidy the kitchen, emptied the hoover and made the declaration nullifying any chametz I might have missed, all done on time.  There’s still a LOT to do today to get ready for seder, but this is an amazing start.  The atmosphere at home is very calm for Erev Pesach, everyone is just pulling together and getting things done as a team.

The one bad thing was that I couldn’t sleep last night and only got about five hours in the end, so I’m slightly worried about making it through the day and then on to seder in the evening.  I actually went for a nap for an hour and a bit after the chametz was all disposed of and that has helped, so hopefully I’ll be OK.

Pesach in six hours!

More Variations on a Theme of Pesach Anxiety

I’m glad I’m not in my FE job today, as I would doubtless have been caught in the climate change protests in the Docklands, which I really wouldn’t need when there is Pesach stuff to be done.  I don’t know why the protesters are bothering anyway; no one is going to catastrophise about climate change when we’re all too busy catastrophising about Brexit…

***

I’m sleeping really badly at the moment.  It takes me a couple of hours to fall asleep, and then I sleep through the whole morning.  This is not good with Pesach stuff to do.  I don’t think I’m consciously lying awake thinking about Pesach, but I’m sure that’s the reason for the insomnia.

***

Our usual kosher butchers were out of shank bones (symbolising the Pesach lamb on the seder plate), but I remembered another, small kosher butcher my parents had forgotten about.  I went down today and they still had so I feel like I have Officially Saved Pesach.  (No one else feels thinks I Saved Pesach, but it’s my story and I’m sticking to it.)

***

kashered the hob for Pesach.  I had some problems with this, which I won’t go into, but I did make a hurried Skype call to my rabbi mentor in the middle to check some things, which I wouldn’t normally do.  But I think I did it OK.  I’m not feeling OCD anxious about it.

***

I felt really stressed and anxious this afternoon, less OCD anxiety about preparing for Pesach wrongly and more general anxiety about leaving everything to the last minute because much of the preparation requires help from my parents (either because it’s a two-person job or because I don’t know where things are) or can only take place after certain things have happened which my parents want to leave until later, so I’m waiting for them and plutzing and worrying how I will sleep tonight and how I will do everything tomorrow night and how I will sleep tomorrow night and how I will get up early on Friday morning and how I will do everything on Friday…  It doesn’t help that I tend to view small mistakes or setbacks as catastrophic, or at least as signalling that bigger mistakes are to come, which is not always the case.  I don’t usually have big meltdowns the way some autistic people do, but I probably do experience small ones, when I get overwhelmed by a mixture of anxiety, stress, tiredness and helplessness, usually because of things that are out of my control.  I felt that building inside of me earlier and I managed suppress it by going for a brisk walk and so far we haven’t had a major Pesach argument this year, but it’s hard.  I think I am coping OK overall, although I’m wary of saying anything for superstitious reasons that I’m afraid it will all go wrong if I mention it.

I guess that as with many of my issues (in life in general), a lot boils down to living with my parents and having to play by their rules where their rules are not good for me with depression, anxiety, OCD and autism (autism likes to know when things will happen, anxiety likes not to leave things to the last minute, depression, autism and OCD all need lots of sleep).  I really should not be living with my parents aged thirty-five.

I do feel bad that, because of preparation, I haven’t had much time for Torah study or to go to shul.  Although I suspect that men who can keep up with Torah study and shul at this time of year are either super-organised or are exempted from much of the cleaning and kashering by their wives (or even forcibly expelled from the house by their wives for the duration).

***

So now half our kitchen is Pesachdik and half is still chametz.  My rabbi mentor says that this is the most dangerous time of year, when it’s easiest to mix up chametz and Pesachdik.  I agree, and it’s doubly hard with religious OCD.  I guess if you want to know what it’s like, the comparison would be to take someone with germ contamination OCD and dump a load of raw sewage in her kitchen and expect her to just carry on as if it wasn’t there.  Not going to happen.

Forty-six hours to go…

***

Looking at this inventory for self-stigma of mental illness, I think I have quite a bit of self-stigma about my mental health, especially if I include the autism too.  I know autism isn’t a mental illness, but just rephrasing the questions to be about autism gets similar results for me.  I knew I had poor self-esteem, but I didn’t realise how much I see myself as inadequate because of mental illness and autism until I was agreeing with statements like “I feel inferior to others who don’t have a mental illness/autism” or “I can’t contribute anything to society because I have a mental illness/autism”.  Even statements that I don’t actually agree with cognitively or about others, I intuitively agree with about myself e.g. “Mentally ill people shouldn’t get married” which I don’t believe for other people, but I do feel that I shouldn’t get married, or at least that I won’t be able to.

Weekend Round-Up

The weekend went reasonably well.  I slept too much on Shabbat (the Sabbath) again and missed shul (synagogue) in the morning, although I went in the evening to see our potential new rabbi.  He seemed nice enough, but I suppose I feel slightly upset that as I was trying to build up relationships of trust with the current rabbi and the assistant rabbi and opening up a bit about my various issues and how they affect my Jewish life (mostly in a negative way), I now have to start all over again with a new rabbi.  Obviously it’s going to take time to build up trust again, and coming at a time when I feel that my depression and autism have largely pushed me to the fringes of the frum (religious) community, it’s not necessarily going to be easy to begin again.  I was too tired to go to the community meeting to vote him in this evening because I was out in the afternoon (see below), but I assume he was voted in (“elected” isn’t quite the right word as there were no other candidates).  He had to get 66% of the vote to secure the position, though, which made me wonder if someone was worried of a Brexit-type scenario.  (EDIT: he was voted in unanimously, which is definitely not like Brexit.)

Today I went to my sister and brother-in-law’s newly-refurbished house for tea.  They invited a lot of family, but my brother-in-law’s family is much larger than our side of the family, so it was just my parents and me for our side and a lot more people from the other side, although I think I’m the only person who still feels self-conscious around the other side of the family.  I coped OK.  I didn’t get depressed about not being married or owning a house as I thought I would.  I played a bit with my sister’s three year old nieces, although they were too tired to really be interested.  I ate too many biscuits and rogelach (pastries) though, which is probably a nervous thing – I don’t talk to people, so I sit there feeling anxious, so I eat to give me something to distract myself.  I think I’m crashing now from the sugar, feeling a bit depressed and anxious.

Other than that it’s been a slow weekend, some Pesach (Passover) preparation today, but not much else.  Tomorrow I should find out about the job I was interviewed for on Friday, although given that they were expecting to decide on Friday afternoon (there were only four people on the shortlist) and I still haven’t heard, it seems unlikely that I’m the first choice.

I’m hoping to go to depression group tomorrow (assuming that I’m not working on Tuesday).  The theme of the evening is hobbies, things people do to deal with depression and anxiety.  I’m trying to get the courage to read out a blog post or two from here, given that writing is my biggest hobby and my most effective way of dealing with my depression and anxiety.

***

I realised that my Pesach fears are different to previous years.  In the past I was worried that we would not prepare for Pesach correctly and I would end up eating forbidden chametz (leavened bread and its derivatives) on Pesach or that I would end up having a huge argument with my parents about the correct way to kasher things (make utensils usable for Pesach by purging of all traces of chametz).  This year I’m fairly confident that for the last few years, our Pesach has been kosher and it probably will be this year too.  Next week will be a crazy and stressful and rushed, but everything will probably turn out OK in the end.  I probably will argue with my parents at some point, but that will be because we’re all stressed and not over some huge kashering issue that is going to sour our relationship forever.  So my worries are more realistic now, although there is still the vague fear of something going really wrong unexpectedly – but that has happened in the past too and we’ve coped.  It’s why we pay so much in shul membership, so that we can phone the rabbi three hours before Yom Tov (God forbid) with a difficult sha’alah (question) as I had to do a few years ago (everything was OK in the end).  There’s less of the fear of divine punishment too, less feeling that God is waiting to pounce as soon as I make a mistake.

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>)

“It’s the end [of Purim], but the moment has been prepared for.”

(Sticking with the fourth Doctor quote theme from yesterday)

Purim

I struggled to get to sleep, being upset from what had happened earlier, and then had a disturbing dream.  I was working or (more likely) doing work experience somewhere for a week.  I can’t remember what the job was exactly, but it was some kind of creative work.  On my last day, all my colleagues mocked me for my incompetence.  I had done everything wrong, including misunderstanding an article by a famous writer even though I should have known his political views and realised I was misrepresenting them.  I think I ran away and was possibly pursued by my colleagues.  I asked why they kept giving me creative jobs if they could see that I’m not creative, but there was no answer.  Obviously there’s a lot of work anxiety in there (my real-life contract ends next week and the famous writer in the dream is one associated with that job), but also social anxiety and anxiety about my ability to be creative as I start the third draft of my Doctor Who book.  Perhaps there’s some political anxiety too.

7.30am  Despite disturbed sleep, I got to shul (synagogue) for Shacharit (morning prayers) and the Megillah (Book of Esther) reading.  I was a few minutes late for Shacharit, which I suppose was partly intentional as I’m out of the habit of davening (praying) the whole of Shacharit and was apprehensive about being there for the whole service.  I did hear the whole of the Megillah though.  I had the same OCD anxiety as last night about hearing every word as per halakhah (Jewish law), but I think I heard everything without having to repeat anything.  I actually felt quite tense and anxious as it went on, worrying that the noise would stop me hearing everything.  I think it was probably low blood sugar as I hadn’t eaten breakfast beforehand (really one should not eat before praying, although I usually do because I’m too depressed and exhausted otherwise, but I was trying to be good today), especially as I had some social anxiety after the service.  I felt better after breakfast.

***

2.00pm  I went to my Dad’s shul for Mincha (the afternoon service) because the service in my shul was in our weekday premises (the shteible, a small room rented in a larger shul, itself above Tesco).  In three years, I had never been to the shteible; I’ve had social anxiety about going in by myself and have been putting off going (more on this below), so I went to my Dad’s shul, which was also less far to walk.

***

4.30pm  I was invited out for Purim seudah (meal) at friends from shul, really my closest friend in the area.  I knew all of the men there from shul; the women were mostly their wives.  I had a good time and even joined in the conversation/banter a bit, but I did get overwhelmed with the noise at times.  I had moments when I felt, “Yes, I can fit in in a frum society, I can “speak Torah” intelligently and make appropriate jokes,” but at other times, I felt that I didn’t fit in with aspects of frum society.  I guess I’ll never completely fit in anywhere.  That’s probably that’s another reason I’m desperate to find a wife who matches me, so that at least I will have someone like me, and then we can try to raise kids with our values.  Still, no one tried to encourage (or “encourage”) me to drink (it is customary on Purim afternoon to get drunk, although Judaism being Judaism there is much dispute about what “customary” and “drunk” mean… amusingly, I got a job email today looking for a Research Coordinator at somewhere called “The Institute Of Alcohol Studies”  which was appropriate).

7.40pm  Around this time we had finished eating, but hadn’t bentsched (said grace after meals) yet.  I was going to ask if we could bentsch and I could go, as I was getting exhausted and ‘peopled out,’ but I didn’t really have the confidence to show that I was flagging, plus I guessed the men would be going on to Ma’ariv (the evening service) and I thought it would look bad if I disappeared just before then.  I decided to make the most of it and use it as a chance to go to the shteible with other people and see what it was like.  We walked there, as, while no one was drunk drunk, no one able to drive was sober enough to do so safely.  Ma’ariv was fine and then I walked home.  My Mum said that I looked happy and had had a very full and successful day.  I think I felt that, but it’s hard to be sure, as I second-guess and over-analyse myself so much and struggle to identify my emotions (alexithymia).

***

Other things than noise and social interactions that my autistic brain couldn’t cope with today: a training video for safeguarding children (for my volunteering) that played distracting music in the background while people were talking; and a job application that wanted me to “be willing to accept ‘change’ as part of the daily routine.”  The latter sounds profoundly disturbing to me, but it, or things like it, seem to be a common job requirement, like “being a good team player” (again, not always good for autistic or socially anxious people) and being “highly motivated” (not so good with depression).  I probably ought to be a hermit, or a lighthouse-keeper.

***

On days like today, when everything is going reasonably well, and I feel, if not happy, then at least content and not depressed or anxious, and I even go to shul and feel a part of a community, then I can say that God is merciful and everything is for the best in the long-run, and I can accept my suffering and willingly go into the valley of the shadow of death for Him.  It’s only the rest of the time, when I’m despairing and anxious and lonely and cut off from everyone that I can’t bear it.  In other words, I can bear my suffering except for when I’m actually suffering.  Unfortunately, the times when I’m suffering far outnumber the times when I’m not suffering.

***

That said, I feel a bit down about the way that my family interprets my words and sometimes my body language as angry and aggressive when that is not my intention.  This has happened regularly since childhood.  This is also common with autism, I believe, but happens with neurotypical people too.  It’s upsetting, though, especially as I really do get irritable more than I should because of depression and the strain of masking all my problems in public, as well as my autistic communication problems with my Dad.  There is a lot more to talk about regarding my relationship with my family, and the extent to which I’m trying to run away from it/them by getting married, but I can’t really talk about it here; it’s one reason I want to go back to my psychodynamic psychotherapist.  I want to make things right, but I don’t know how and I worry it’s not just a problem of human weakness of the kind most people experience (irritability, anger), but of the cognitive and experiential differences between me and my family.

***

Peopled out now, need a shower and autistic alone time with Quatermass and the Pit before bed or I won’t sleep…

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.

So Wonderfully Normal

Every day I have to win the battle all over again.  Today was much the same as many days recently: insomnia last night and tired today, anxiety and depression on the way in to work, mainly anxiety and catastrophising about dating.  I felt better after lunch (some people aren’t themselves until they’ve had their morning coffee; I’m not myself until I’ve had lunch, which is more problematic), but worse again in the afternoon, feeling that I’m not coping with life, work or relationships (not just dating, but family too).  Working with my line manager in the afternoon, I felt spectacularly incompetent.  Why do I always make my worst mistakes when my line manager is watching?  Or is it because she’s watching (social anxiety)?

I did feel bad for not eating dinner with Mum and Dad (we don’t usually eat together during the week) and eating in front of the TV instead, but I’m just completely exhausted and unable to ‘people’ (interact) and if I don’t watch TV while eating, I won’t have time and if I don’t watch TV and unwind I will not be in a fit state to work tomorrow.  Maybe it’s just as well that I’m not married as I do worry about how I would cope with a wife and children.  But it’s so lonely being by myself, especially as my parents don’t always understand me.  This is probably an unsolvable dilemma.

***

Speaking of which, everyone (parents, friends, rabbi mentor) are probably right that I shouldn’t let imminent unemployment deter me from dating, but I think the risk of getting hurt is too strong at the moment.  While I don’t automatically think that I should swear off dating until I’m working and have got made some kind of progress with my mental health and autism diagnosis and/or acceptance of myself, I probably don’t need to throw that in there just now, especially with Purim and Pesach approaching, with all the practical and emotional problems that come with them.  I think it’s worth waiting a bit to at least try to set things up in my favour, however lonely I am right now.

I guess this particular instance of dating was different inasmuch as I know that this person (I’ll call her D) is probably more understanding of mental health issues than most and I saw from her JWed profile that we have one or two values in common.  But I still can’t shake the feeling that no ‘normal’ person would date me, that even despite her being someone with an understanding of mental health issues, I would need to find a geeky autistic woman to accept me, even though there aren’t so many of those in the wider community, let alone the narrower and more conformist Orthodox Jewish world.  I guess I’m just worried that D is too “normal” to ever be able to like or understand me, although I’m not quite sure what I’m basing my assumption of “normal” on.  I suppose no one is really “normal”… except that most people are quantifiably less “not normal” than I am.

I guess the bottom line is that I should leave dating for a few weeks.  Whether I ever pursue dating D is probably best shelved until then too.  Although my experience is that very few things in my life are ever resolved in a meaningful way; the can is kicked down the road indefinitely or other worries come and displace one particular worry from my mind.  Maybe I should be negotiating Brexit…  The question, as ever, is how to deal with the loneliness and hopelessness in a vaguely healthy way, the feeling that no one understands me or cares and that no one ever will.  I know that some people do care about me and I know that I don’t have any solid evidence that I will never get married (just a lot of circumstantial evidence), but I still feel lonely and despairing.

***

More realistically, it might be good to see if CILIP, the professional body for librarians, run a cataloguing refresher course, as I feel my cataloguing skills have gone very rusty and that would be an asset in the labour market.  I still struggle to see myself as employed and happy, though, just as I can’t see myself in a real relationship and happy.  I can’t imagine myself happy in any context, really, except perhaps being dead and in the afterlife, which is not reassuring.

***

Reading the digest of Purim laws that the rabbi of my shul (synagogue) sends out to stoke my religious OCD to ensure the community performs the relevant mitzvot (commandments) correctly, I feel anxious again.  I’ve pretty much told myself that I’m just going to try to get through Purim any way I can and if I do some mitzvot in a sub-optimal way or even miss out on some of them… well, I’ve done mitzvot, including Purim ones, in a sub-optimal way before or even missed out on them completely.  There were many years when I was not able to go to hear the Megillah in the morning as well as evening and some years I think I didn’t hear it at all; at the time I told myself it was depression, but in retrospect social anxiety and perhaps autism were bigger factors.  It is a big worry, though.  I want to do the mitzvot and to have a meaningful day, difficult though it is for me to find meaning in any aspects of Judaism at the moment, let alone through the day when we connect to God with extreme joy.  (Something I liked about D’s profile was that she stressed her desire to keep halakhah (Jewish law) while also having wider cultural interests and she wanted a husband who had hobbies.  Except that I wasn’t supposed to talk about this.)

***

I may be able to see my private psychodynamic psychotherapist again, but not until after Pesach and it would depend on whether I could fit it in with any work I might be doing, as she is only free on Mondays.  So now I’m waiting to see two therapists, as I’m still on the waiting list for CBT on the NHS.

***

I’m thinking of making my blog invitation only.  Unfortunately, I think that would mean that only people who read blogs through WordPress could read it, which is a problem as I have real-world friends reading this who don’t use WordPress.  I do worry about how much information I’m putting into the public domain, though, especially if I am trying to pursue a career in writing.  I know this blog is anonymous, but it’s not very anonymous if you really want to find my true identity.  Advice will be gratefully accepted.

***

I should probably explain that the post title is me being sarcastic about myself and my day.  It’s a quote from the first ever episode of Doctor Who, about a teenage girl who is acting strangely; her teachers hope she is meeting a boy, which would be “so wonderfully normal” for her, but she turns out to be an alien who lives with her grandfather in a police box which is a time-space travel machine.  Today I feel about as normal as she is, and about as likely to have a secret assignation with a member of the opposite sex.

Progress and Burn Out

Over Shabbat (the Sabbath) I thought quite a bit about the job I applied for on Friday, despite the fact that I shouldn’t think about work on Shabbat.  I got alternately excited and anxious.  It doesn’t help that the advert didn’t really give an idea of what the job would involve, except that it would be some kind of news-related writing in “a leading magazine” and that I would be based partly in an office and partly at home.  I assume it is for a Jewish magazine, given that they were advertising on an Orthodox Jewish mailing list, although I suppose that may not be the case.  I have no experience in journalism and so don’t think that I will get the job, but it was worth trying.  At any rate, the fact that I had to send out samples of my writing may lead on to something, somewhere at a later stage.  Although if it is a Jewish magazine, I may have blown my chances of selection with some very non-frum writing.

Of course, looking at the news, both mainstream and the Jewish newspapers, is a thoroughly depressing experience, so maybe I don’t want to be immersed in that for a living.  Or maybe writing would at least feel like I’m doing something to fight back against the darkness.  I don’t know.

***

I mentioned to my parents about the woman I blogged about the other day, a daughter of their friends, who Mum wanted to set me up with some time ago because she felt she would be understanding of mental health issues, but couldn’t because she was seeing someone else and who I now know is single again.  Mum was anxious to set me up with her ASAP, which I don’t think is particularly sensible, given that I’m probably going to be unemployed again in a fortnight.  But inevitably thoughts of getting the magazine job mixed in with thoughts of dating again, if I can find a steady income.  Dad suggested set me up with the daughter of our neighbours.  For my part, I can’t really see why anyone would want to date me, certainly while I am not working full-time, but really why anyone would want to date me at all, given all my issues, unless she had serious issues of her own.  This is probably a problematic attitude, but I don’t know how to change it.  So far my dating experience has been limited and difficult.  I think my parents only see my strengths and ignore the considerable drawbacks I have that someone dating me would have to be able to accept.  Perhaps I only see the drawbacks and not the strengths; at any rate, I find it hard to see why anyone would date me, let alone marry.

I do get lonely, though, and long for understanding and real intimacy (not just sex), which is something I have spent my life looking for, in friends and potentially a partner, but have only ever really achieved for short periods.  I felt some of that loneliness over Shabbat too.  It would be nice to be dating again, but I can’t see it really going anywhere until I have some kind of steady income.

***

I struggled at dinner last night.  As usually happens, my Mum spoke a lot about her work and my Dad spoke quite a bit about his shul (synagogue).  My parents are both very talkative and very neurotypically talkative at that, speaking small talk and about people they know, rather than about more abstract matters like the news or religious things.  I try to stay interested, but there are limits to the amount of neurotypical small-talk conversation I can do, trying to show an interest and be empathetic regarding people I do not know and will never meet.  I tried to make the right noises, but after an hour and a half or more, I unintentionally delivered a very forceful and emphatic “Right!” as if shutting down the conversation, which my parents found hilarious.  They laughed, but I was very drained by the whole dinner and conversation, perhaps because I was already drained from spending the day writing the job application and then being around people in shul.  It did make me realise that one workshop wasn’t really enough to brief my parents on all aspects of autistic behaviour, and that even if they understand me, on some level, behaviour (theirs and mine) still needs to be negotiated in a spirit of compromise.

***

I was so drained from all of this that, despite being in bed before midnight, when I woke up at 9.15am this morning, I felt too tired to get to shul and went back to sleep.  I feel very bad about this, as I really want to get back into the habit of going on Shabbat mornings, but I simply can’t find a strategy to help me to get there.

***

I struggled to concentrate at shiur (Talmud class) today.  I realised halfway through that, strange as it seemed to someone used to thriving academically, I struggle with Talmudic study and my autism may be partly to blame.  But I’m not sure what exactly the issue would be, why I can cope with most forms of study, but not Talmudic study.  I am still coming to terms with the idea of being developmentally behind my peers, which is not something that was really the case when I was a child, when poor social interactions were put down to shyness and the effects of bullying and academic success was interpreted as a sign that I was functioning well in all areas, which in retrospect was clearly not the case.

***

I’ve been thinking of going back to my psychodynamic psychotherapist.  I stopped seeing her to do some CBT on the NHS to work on my low self-esteem, but I’ve been waiting six months or more and I still have not seen anyone.  I’ve phoned and emailed to try to find out where I am on the waiting list, but no one answers or responds.  It’s terrible.  In the meantime, I’m plutzing (fretting) about my career (or lack thereof), my relationships (ditto), my relationship with my parents, my attempt to come to terms with the likelihood that I’m autistic and so on, as well as just generally feeling depressed and anxious a lot.  It would be very helpful to speak to someone who knows me, but who is not emotionally involved in my life again.

***

After more than an hour and a half of work after Shabbat this evening, I have finally completed the second draft of my Doctor Who non-fiction book.  I have mostly been tidying up the various chapters, standardising spelling and layout and so on.  Bear in mind that the book originated in a series of blog posts and has been six years in the making; some of my preferred spellings and stylistic choices had changed over that time and I needed to make sure everything was uniform.  Now I can start on the third draft, this time working on the writing style, which in some ways is the hardest thing.  The second draft, incidentally, weighs in at 113,200 words, which probably means it needs trimming a bit.  If I am due another period of unemployment, maybe I can spend some time working on the book.

Insomniac Thoughts

I couldn’t sleep again last night.  This seems to be happening to me more and more frequently, which may be a sign of worsening depression.  I was very anxious and depressed at work again, blaming myself for mistakes, real and imagined.  I somehow got through the morning.  The afternoon was easier from a mental health point of view; eating really does help my mood and I wonder if I should eat more for breakfast, although that sounds quite crazy.   I eat a bowl of porridge and try to eat a banana mid-morning for a boost.  I’m not quite sure what else I could eat that early and without finding significantly more time.

The afternoon, as I said, was easier from a mental health point of view, but it was still  hard.  I was emailing departmental administrators for various departments in the university and in other local universities and art schools to try to publicise an event we (our part of the library) are running in two weeks time.  I’m not good at this kind of thing.  I was just glad it was emailing and not phoning.  I was exhausted by the end of the day.  I intended to walk home from the station, but I suddenly realised as I got there that I was too tired and I had to phone my Dad for a lift.  I hate doing that – I hate having to give up my independence and I dislike missing the exercise, but I would not have made it home easily.

***

I felt bad about bickering with my Dad again when I got home.  I read a blog written by a career for a child with severe autism.  He often comes out of school grumpy from having had to mask his autism all day.  My autism isn’t so severe, but it is an effort to mask it all day, plus I’m masking depression and social anxiety too.  When I get home, the last thing I need is Dad doing his neurotypical talking act: making small talk and talking about people I don’t know and who don’t interest me; rambling from one topic to another; and using words incorrectly and asking questions he knows the answers to just to keep the conversation going and I become irritable and sarcastic.  By that stage, I just don’t have the energy to feign an interest.  I feel bad about this, but I don’t know what I can do.

***

When I couldn’t sleep last night I had a number of thoughts in my head, although I’m not sure if I couldn’t sleep because of my thoughts, or if I was thinking because I couldn’t sleep.

Thought 1: my Mum forwarded me an email yesterday from a Jewish advertising mailing list.  A magazine (it didn’t say which one) is looking for a part-time writer to cover national and international news with excellent writing and analysis skills as well as clear understanding of the UK Jewish community.  The job is partly based at home, partly in an office.  I’m not entirely sure where this job is heading, but I might as well apply for it, even though I have always insisted (and still do insist, really) that my writing talents don’t really lend themselves to journalism and even though I fear that the office is open-plan and therefore bad for autism.

***

Thought 2: in a moment of weakness yesterday I reactivated my account on a big Jewish dating website.  I only did it for a few minutes.  I just wanted to get some idea of how many Jewish women roughly my age and religious level there were in the UK.  I didn’t actually look at that because the home page shows you people in your area (not sure if that’s London or the whole of the UK – it’s an international site and the Anglo-Jewish community isn’t that large) who have recently joined and I recognised someone as the daughter of friends of my parents.  My Mum tried to set me up with this woman a while back, on the grounds that she was frum (religious) and had had mental health issues.  However, at the time she was dating someone else.  That has obviously now fallen through.

I would still be open to going out with her and I looked at her profile and there are definitely some points of commonality, but I was too terrified to do anything and suspended my account again.  I probably wouldn’t rejoin the site anyway, as it was rather a waste of money, but I might have asked Mum to try and set us up again if I wasn’t so depressed and feeling inadequate for being out of a job in two weeks time.  Just to make it harder to justify trying to meet her, she had put on her profile that she has a professional job and seeks someone else with a career.  On a non-Jewish dating site, I would read that as “no lazy layabouts” but on a frum Jewish site it’s as likely to mean “no frummies who want to spend all their time learning in yeshiva/kollel (rabbinical seminary) and being supported by their wives/in-laws/state benefits.”

I feel vaguely optimistic about this when really I shouldn’t considering I have never spoken to this woman, may never see her again, and have no idea if she would like me or have much in common with me.  I’m not optimistic enough to try to meet her, though, as I would rather beat myself up endlessly for being underemployed and soon to be unemployed.

***

Thought 3: a friend is going through a difficult breakup.  I suddenly realised that I’m going through the same feelings of desire and anger with God.  That’s probably not exactly true, but it sums things up better than that awful phrase “a crisis of faith.”  I don’t have trouble believing God exists, I have trouble believing He doesn’t want to hurt me because of how my life has been for the last twenty years.  And yet I want this relationship to work, somehow.  I want Him to take me back.

On that note, Shiur (religious class) was good today, although I’m not sure whether I can remember what was discussed in enough detail to really reflect on it, let alone internalise it.  Plus there were the usual social grey areas that I struggled with.  For example, the assistant rabbi said that realistically many people need to watch TV to unwind, however one should do it only to refresh oneself and only “appropriate” material.  I wonder how my viewing habits would be seen to fit with this.  Possibly not very much.  I’m trying to psyche myself up to dressing up (cosplaying, if you want) as the fourth Doctor on Purim next week, but I’m not sure that I’ve got the courage to risk comments.  Not even negative comments, just any comments.  (Plus, as cosplaying goes, it’s not very accurate; I’ve got an accurate fourth Doctor scarf a friend knitted, but the rest would Doctorish clothes, a Doctorish silhouette if you like, but not exactly like what Tom Baker actually wore, but I don’t think anyone there will notice that.)

Thanatos

Trigger warning: suicide

Also, rather long and involved, if that needs a warning

Well, that was an awful, awful day.  The stupid thing is that nothing particularly bad even happened.  I made some stupid mistakes at work and looked like an idiot in front of my line manager and her line manager, but it wasn’t anything really terrible.  But it just sent me over the edge.

I woke up feeling depressed, which was not a good start.  Already by the time I was on the way to work I was feeling that “I don’t deserve to live.”  I felt I just couldn’t cope and wanted to die.  There was a feeling of wanting to attract attention.  People look down on people who hurt themselves as a cry for attention, but that seems to ignore the fact that sometimes there just aren’t the words to say how you feel.

At work I went very slowly, not deliberately, but I was just struggling to work and to feel that I could cope.  Already by lunchtime I messaged E. to say I was having a lousy day, even though I could see that nothing bad had happened.  By mid-afternoon I had embarrassed myself in front of my line manager and was locked in a vicious circle of feeling useless –> making mistakes –> feeling useless –> making mistakes.  I felt like an idiot, which, as my brain helpfully reminded me, is from the Greek idios meaning private or on one’s own.  I have been on my own for so long that I have turned into an idiot.

Also, my brain now sends me depressive self-hating thoughts in Greek…

Floundering, I felt that I should be doing menial work instead of my actual job, but then felt that I couldn’t actually do that either.  I’m not suited for menial labour.  I need intellectual work, but narrowly defined and without the need for special qualifications.  I don’t think this work exists, unless I can find a way to get paid for my writing.

Feeling that I was unemployable did not cheer me up, unsurprisingly, and I started thinking about hurting myself again and about suicide.  I felt that I wanted to die, more than anything.  I texted E. to say that I was only holding on for family and friends, but really that was a lie.  I was just holding on for my parents.  It pains me to say it, but I was so far gone that the thought of my friends or even my sister might not have been enough to keep me going by themselves.  Things just seemed so hopeless.  It seems so impossible that my career could improve or that anyone could ever love me, especially without a good career (note the way that I see a career as valuable primarily to make me more marryable).

This cycle carried on for the rest of the afternoon.  It’s hard now, hours later, now I’ve calmed down, to really describe how I felt.  I know I’ve tried to write these thoughts down and blog them in the past, but it’s hard, because at the time there’s a tension and an agitation and my thoughts start racing, but I think not being able to communicate the thoughts makes them worse; once I can start to write them down, I can begin to see logical flaws in them and even the act of writing them down or speaking them through with someone (if I can see a therapist or phone Samaritans) can help to calm me down.  But at work I was trying to plough on regardless with my job and that just increased the pressure and the agitation.

Eventually, the day finished and I could come home.  Or so I thought.  I was halfway to the station when I started having OCD thoughts about not having locked up the rare books store room properly.  I tried to stay with the thoughts and go home, but it was too much for me and I went back to check.  By that stage I could see that I was in a state.  My blood sugar was probably very low and I was thinking all kinds of self-loathing thoughts, thinking that I should stop being frum (religious) if I want to get married.  I thought that if I walked back to the station straight away I would end up in a terrible state, so after checking the rare books, I went to the staff room and ate all the food I had with me (an apple and a cereal bar), after which I felt somewhat better and went home.

I was still having difficult thoughts though.  I don’t use profanity as a rule, but I’m ashamed to relate some of the things I was thinking.  I was still thinking that I just wanted to die, that I would rather die than recover, because recovery seemed so impossible.  Because Gehennom (the ‘bad’ afterlife in Judaism, but more like Purgatory than Hell) couldn’t be worse than how I felt.  Because Gehennom lasts for only one year, and because at least in Gehennom I wouldn’t be humiliated in front of other people on a regular basis.  Feeling really angry with God.  Just furious.  I can’t even remember everything I thought, it was so terrible and strong.

And the final insult, I returned home to a letter from the taxman (or taxwoman, in this case) informing me that, no, they made a mistake previously, I do really owe them another £60 from the last tax year.  I don’t mind paying the money – well, I do, but it’s not the main irritant.  It’s having yet another thing to sort out because other people screwed up.  It’s not like our public services are doing much for me.  Maybe I ought to phone the crisis team and demand my money’s worth.

I usually blog my day when I get in to offload, but I was too worried about what I would write if I went straight into it, so I forced myself to daven Ma’ariv (say the evening prayers), eat dinner and watch TV for a bit to calm down.  I felt – I still feel – exhausted and somewhat in shock.  I usually avoid caffeine in the evenings, but I drank some tea because I really did feel in shock.  I watched some of The Quatermass Experiment (the live 2005 remake of the 1950s science fiction serial).  Part of it was set in my place of work; I think they might even have filmed some of the non-live cutaway shots in the street I was walking down two hours earlier when I was having OCD thoughts, which was a bit unnerving.

I still feel exhausted and a bit in shock and my shoulder muscles are really tense, but my mood is better.  I have a bit of a ‘coming down’ feel, except I’m coming down from something bad rather than good.  Coming up, maybe.  At least I’m home and safe in my room with my books and DVDs.  I guess for an autistic person quiet, space, familiarity and special interests (books and DVDs) are all important (perhaps even all-important).  I bought some chocolate (minstrels, one of my favourites) on the way home because I felt I needed to have some kind of reward for getting through the day in one piece, even if it won’t be help me lose weight.

***

When I’d calmed down a bit, I recalled the first time I was suicidal, in fact when I nearly took an overdose, when I was in my third year at Oxford.  I sat down to take an overdose, but at the last instant changed my mind and phoned someone (a friend who wasn’t talking to me because she couldn’t cope with my being suicidal, but that’s another story).  About a week later I casually mentioned this to the university counselling service counsellor I was seeing and she was astonished that I had neglected to mention this suicide attempt and that I didn’t think it was worth telling her.  She asked me what my parents would think if I killed myself and I said they would be upset; she said they would be devastated.

I wonder now, over fifteen years on, whether this was autism, not the suicidality, but not thinking it was important enough to mention to my counsellor and only being able to express my parents’ grief in a partial and limited way.  It’s like the way I downplayed my sister’s grief and my friends’ grief if I were to kill myself.  It’s hard for me to conceptualise it and I don’t know how much is self-loathing (no one cares about me) and how much is autistic ‘mindblindness’ (not being able to imagine how other people feel generally).

***

This morning, while my thought processes were getting out of control, I thought that knowing that I’m probably autistic, I need to find adaptive solutions to my problems, accepting the reality of autism and probably also of some kind of permanent level of depression, at least in the background, rather than technical ‘tweaks’ of the kind I have been trying to make for years.  The tweaks were sometimes successful (the occupational therapist I used to see probably made more positive changes to my life than anyone), but I really need to change the way I live to adapt to the reality of my situation, I just don’t know how.  It’s possible – probable, even – that adaptive changes have been suggested by therapists and psychiatrists before now, but that I couldn’t implement them, perhaps partly because I hadn’t been diagnosed as autistic (technically I still haven’t been diagnosed, of course).

I don’t know what changes I could make, though.   I’m already more or less accepting not going to shul (synagogue) on Shabbat (Saturday) mornings without trying to guilt-trip myself, which may or may not be a good thing; today I was wondering if I would make it to shul for the morning Megillah reading on Purim next week or if I just feel too overwhelmed to do that too.  It seems to be easy to feel that I can’t do things with autism rather than that I can do things.  Maybe I should be accepting that I can make it to shul.  Should I just accept that I will never have a job I feel comfortable in, that I will never get married?  It’s hard to know what is realistic, much too easy to try to do too much or too little.

When the depression was feeling bad earlier I wondered if I would find it easier to get married if I wasn’t frum.  I couldn’t give up Shabbat and kashrut, but anything else would seem like fiddling at the margins.  Should I be looking for non-frum women who are willing to compromise (as E. was)?  I’m afraid of the tensions that might result and what sort of compromise I would have to make in return.  But a non-frum woman would not care about my not davening with a minyan (community) or learning (studying Torah/Talmud) enough.  I would date a frum woman with ‘issues’ although I would be nervous of how our issues would combine, particularly if she had mental health issues.  However, a lot of ‘issues’ in the frum world are not things that I would consider issues at all (ba’alat teshuva or geyoret, parents divorced, siblings stopped being frum etc.) and I would be happy to date such a person.

On the other hand, lately I’ve felt my frumkeit slipping in little ways.  Nothing big.  I still believe in God (even if I’m angry with Him some of the time), keep kosher, keep Shabbat and so on.  But I don’t beat myself up so much for missing davening or shul or Torah study and it’s getting harder and harder to avoid cultural stuff (books, TV, films, music) that feels treif and that I would previously have avoided.  I don’t know where this is going though.

King of Pain

In the end I went to dinner with my sister and brother-in-law.  The restaurant was very noisy and I found it hard to focus on what they were saying.  The food was good, but we left after the main course.  I would have liked dessert, but was put off by the noise, and didn’t want to risk my mood deteriorating again, so I didn’t ask to stay for it when my sister and BIL said they were full.  They didn’t really talk much about their new house, to my relief, as I’m finding it increasingly hard to take an interest in a topic I know nothing about (never having been a homeowner) and which makes me feel like a useless and inadequate freak for not being able to join in.  My sister and BIL invited me to a housewarming in a month’s time, which I’m already feeling anxious about.  Thinking about this, it occurred to me that, as I’m extremely unlikely to get married any time soon, my sister will continue to be the centre of the family’s attention for an indefinite time to come, unless I hurt myself.  This was a dangerous thought to have.  I wish I had not thought it, but I did.  As I’ve said before, I’m not a very nice person, nor a very stable one.

(I don’t plan on hurting myself, I should say.  I’m just aware of the possibility, and how people might react – probably negatively, but putting me in the spotlight.)

***

Ashley Leia commented on my last post to say “This single person’s take on it is that the top two essentials people are looking for in a relationship are to be loved and to be accepted, and the rest is more or less negotiable.”  As we say in Yiddish, alevi, if only.  I really hope this is true, if not for me then for other people, but it hasn’t been my experience so far.  Both the women I have been in a relationship with said I was particularly kind, loving and understanding of their issues in a way that their previous boyfriends had not been.  Yet both broke up with me for other reasons (actually, I technically broke up with my first girlfriend, but only because I could see that our views were incompatible; she agreed that it was the only solution).

My first girlfriend was worried that I would be frigid even after marriage.  E. was worried that together we would never earn enough to support a family in comfort.  I don’t think either of these fears are unreasonable.  I think a lot (too much) about sex, but frequently feel uncomfortable with even casual, non-sexual physical contact (aside from Jewish law, guilt and everything else that complicates sex even more).  I worry that even if I do ever have sex, I will be one of those autistic people who finds it disgusting.  When my ex tried to kiss me once, I did indeed find it disgusting, although it probably didn’t help that she took me by surprise (not as much fun as I would expected); I half-heartedly tried to kiss her again after my shock, but found that I could not work out how to do it.  Similarly, I can’t see myself working anywhere near to full time in the next few years, so unless my spouse was earning a lot herself, money would be an issue (and if she was she was earning a lot, she would probably be a career-focused person I would have very little in common with).

This is without the extra baggage wanted in frum circles, where it seems to be expected that men will study a certain amount of Torah and pray with a minyan (community) three times a day.  I don’t know if any women would really see those as deal-breakers, but it seems like it would be hard to admit to not doing them, like admitting to not showering or brushing your teeth regularly.  Probably no one has a list of desired character traits in a mate that starts, “Good personal hygiene” because it’s taken as a given.  It’s generally accepted that if you want a partner, you have to take care of that, and if you don’t shower, then you will be rejected automatically without any other reason.  I don’t take care of the spiritual equivalents of showering and flossing.

My rabbi mentor once told me not to worry about not having been to yeshiva (rabbinical seminary) because in reality no one cares about that in a husband and that I have good knowledge anyway for someone who hasn’t spent significant time in yeshiva.  I hope he is right, but it seems hard to imagine a frum (religious) woman choosing me over a hypothetical yeshiva bachur, unless he was particularly bad in other ways.

I have thought of marrying a ba’alat teshuva (Jew raised non-religious who became religious later in life) or a geyoret (convert to Judaism), but even aside from the fact that they would probably buy into the frum community social norms, the issues of physical relations and finances are still going to be there, as they would be if I dated someone not so frum.  In addition the issues caused more directly by depression and autism will be around whoever I date: low energy, irritability, communication difficulties and so on.  Plus, in the frum world dating is for marriage.  While frum people don’t all get engaged after eight dates, the expectation is that one will get engaged quickly or move on quickly.  I feel the need to date for a longer period because of my issues and the bad experiences I’ve had dating in the past, but the option isn’t really open for me.

While I hope – I really, really, really hope – that what Ashley says (which is similar to what my parents and my rabbi mentor say) is true, my experience in life so far is that things are not that simple, at least not for me.

***

A quote from Tormented Master: The Life and Spiritual Quest of Rabbi Nahman of Bratslav by Arthur Green: “It may have been in reaction to the extreme senses of depression and worthlessness which so frequently overcame him that Nahman developed a compensatory sense of unique greatness and value to the world.” (p.122)  This sounds worryingly familiar from my own life, although usually I keep my narcissism and megalomania private and only share my self-hatred.  Even at my worst, I can see I’m not really a great person, but believing I’m not a terrible person is much harder.

Depressive Thoughts

(A stupid, pointless title, but I’m feeling awful.)

Last night after I blogged my mood went down quite rapidly.  I felt like I had been going flat out all week with networking workshop, Jewish Book Week, work two consecutive days and my parents away.  I just fell back into despair and lethargy and crawled into bed at midnight hoping I would wake feeling better or at least more alert.

However, I had strange dreams in the night.  First I was on the Tube and ended up helping a doctor who was helping a pregnant woman who I thought was a nun, but looked, in retrospect, like she was wearing a hijab.  I was aware that she had cut herself off from her community by getting pregnant, but I felt sorry for her.  I was worried about not getting home in time for Shabbat (the Sabbath), but was assured by the doctor that it didn’t start until 7.30pm (in reality, that won’t happen until the clocks go forward).  Then things shifted and I was in some sort of classroom (although I think I and the friends/other people with me were all adults).  A huge and intimidating man, about twice my height, stocky and with a long, thick beard was trying to test me on reading Hebrew aloud; I stumbled on this, but couldn’t convince him that this was due to social anxiety stopping me reading confidently rather than poor Hebrew literacy.  We started to daven (pray) the Friday evening service, but the intimidating teacher told us to skip Kabbalat Shabbat as it was too late.  At which point I woke up, I think.

I am not entirely sure what any of this means, although I can see that it was an anxiety dream (which may be why my sleep was not restful) with some obvious allusions: the pregnant “Muslim nun” rejected by her community represents my fears of being rejected by the frum (religious) world for being too worldly, but also by Doctor Who fandom for being too religious (she was still a nun even after presumably breaking her vow of chastity); more prosaically, the motif of being late for Shabbat reflects my fears that I’ll run late tomorrow getting ready for Shabbat by myself, plus I do still get occasional anxiety dreams about breaking Shabbat even though I’ve been shomer Shabbat, at least at a basic level, for half my life.

***

It was fortunate that I woke up when I did, as I had slept for eleven hours, dramatically oversleeping and having to rush out and skip both shaving and davening (praying) to get to my psychiatrist appointment on time, both of which I hate missing.  The radio was on in the waiting room and I found it irritating.  I don’t know why all NHS and social services waiting rooms seem to have TV or radio on these days.  I find it really annoying and it’s not terribly autistic-friendly.  It was a new psychiatrist as the one I saw last time is ill.  The appointment was OK, but I felt that I was just a statistic on the waiting list being processed.  She didn’t ask about my case history or the causes of my problems and didn’t seem terribly aware that I’ve been depressed without cure for most of the last sixteen years or more.  Maybe she didn’t know.  I didn’t say anything about autism, because the last psychiatrist was dismissive of it, saying I’d already been assessed and told I was not autistic.  My GP has sent my autism referral through and I’m on the (very long) waiting list, so there didn’t seem any point talking to this psychiatrist about it at this stage, although I did get vaguely upset when she said that social contact will get easier the more I practise it.  For a neurotypical person, maybe, not for someone whose brain isn’t wired to understand people.  The psychiatrist was also a bit blasé about my work issues, saying I would find part-time work easily.  I didn’t ask for a medication change, as the clomipramine seems to work a bit, sometimes, even though it still leaves me quite depressed and has led to a lot of weight gain.  I don’t think it’s particularly sensible to mess around with medication while I’m working if I can help it anyway.  I have another appointment for three months time, so I’ll see what happens and maybe ask to change things then.

***

In the afternoon I did not do much, but was busy with my job application spreadsheet, which I keep up to date, even though I have not actually applied for anything for weeks and have missed a lot of deadlines, alongside a few other chores.  I was hoping to work on one or both of my books too, but I didn’t get the chance again.  I’m so busy just surviving from day to day that I don’t have time for anything more future-orientated, whether writing books or job hunting.  I didn’t actually achieve much today, but I didn’t really relax and get the rest I need either.  Maybe I will be able to rest over Shabbat, but who knows?

***

Looking at job adverts again today brings back my work worries.  I know I’m over-qualified for my job, which is not too difficult, and although there are harder elements (choosing appropriate material for exhibitions is difficult but interesting, although it would help if I knew the collection better, but my background in history has been very useful here and won me praise from my line manager).  But the whole reason I like my job is because it’s not pushing me too hard right now, when I am struggling with self-esteem and energy and motivation issues as well as confusion about whether I’m autistic and how I should live my life if I am, as well as how to manage my mental health (with or without autism).  I don’t know what to do.

***

The work worries bleed into relationship worries, because I don’t think anyone will date me until I’m working much closer to full-time.  I know that I could still get married at some point, but it seems a long way off, which in turn makes having children (which I really want to do and think about a lot) less likely.  But it’s the loneliness that is so hard, and difficult to survive.  It’s probably loneliness more than anything that has triggered my suicidal times, even if it gets mixed up with despair and hard to isolate.  I don’t know how to survive the ten or twenty (or thirty or forty) years that I might have to wait until I’m functional enough to look for love and to meet someone who can see past my considerable dysfunctionality and all the baggage and drawbacks I come with.

I just wish I had people to talk to who understood me.  It’s been hard to talk to my parents lately, which is probably my fault.  I get irritable and sarcastic when I’m depressed, not to mention focused on catastrophising.  But my parents don’t entirely understand depression or autism entirely, although their understanding is greater than some people’s.  That’s not their fault, but it makes it hard.

I have friends who understand depression and autism and care about me, but they don’t live locally and I can only communicate via text and email, which is better than nothing, but also lacks something somehow, even to a socially anxious and avoidant person like me.  My local friends don’t really know so much about my issues, for various reasons, again, largely my fault.

I just wish there was someone in my life who cared about me and understood me and I could see regularly (and feel comfortable seeing regularly).  I know I depend too much on other people for my self-esteem, but I don’t know how to change that and I get annoyed by people who aren’t lonely telling me I have to love myself before anyone else can love me.  I could just as easily state that other people have to show me I’m worthy of love before I can love myself, because I don’t see myself as worthy.

***

On a related note, my sister phoned tonight to see how I’m getting on without my parents.  I struggled a bit to deal with the call.  I find that usually happens when she phones me.  I thought it was because she usually interrupts dinner/Doctor Who, but I wonder if it’s an autistic predictability thing and I would cope better if she told me in advance that she was planning to phone at a particular time on a particular day.  Still, I think she takes better care of me than I would be able to do if our roles were reversed.  Maybe I couldn’t cope with someone in my life who cared about me and understood me.

***

About 8pm, I was watching Doctor Who and noticed that I was crying.  I thought it was odd, as I didn’t consciously feel depressed.  Then about twenty minutes later, I realised I was depressed, painfully depressed and sad.  It’s strange how out of touch I am with my emotions.

***

I read a davar Torah (Torah insight) sent out by my shul (synagogue) for Rosh Chodesh Adar II (New Moon) upset me.  I felt I was being attacked and to some extent deserved to be attacked.  I don’t really know what ‘spirituality’ or ‘Jewish spirituality’ means any more, if I ever did.  I try to study some Torah every day and pray at least a bit of the three daily prayer services (although I often miss Shacharit on non-work days like today).  I want to be a good Jew, but I don’t really connect with HaShem (God) or Torah much these days emotionally.  I certainly can’t find “authentic spiritual joy” for Purim.  It’s just a struggle to get through Purim in one piece.  I want to be a good Jew, but it’s hard enough trying to perform the mitzvot (commandments) in my situation without worrying about kavannah (mindfulness), spirituality, meaning or connection to HaShem.

Then shiur (religious class) tonight was about genuine joy being connecting to HaShem via Torah, but we get distracted by false pleasures.  This might reinforce my feeling that I’m depressed because I’m a bad person and God hates me, which I hadn’t felt quite so much recently.  I think I might have missed the point of the shiur, though, or wilfully misinterpreted it to make myself feel bad.

Whether I misinterpreted things or not, I feel that I’m a bad person and a bad Jew who doesn’t connect with HaShem through davening, mitzvot and especially not through Torah and who is wasting his life on meaningless transitory pleasures like Doctor Who and writing (despite this I am still thinking of cosplaying (dressing up as a fictional character) the fourth Doctor for Purim, but I might not have the guts to do it).

So much of Jewish religiosity is tied up with community, which is problematic for me because of social anxiety and low self-esteem (it’s feeling that people would reject me  if they knew the real me that keeps me away more than actual experience of rejection), and with family, which is difficult for me because my parents don’t connect with Judaism in the same way as me and because when Jews say “family” they primarily mean spouse and children (maybe most non-Jews think like that too).

The silly thing is that I really believe intellectually, I just can’t connect emotionally with my religion, perhaps through depression (or autism?).

***

I can’t believe anyone reads this rubbish I write.  I shouldn’t write it, but I need to vent and here you go.  I suppose it’s better than hurting myself, at least assuming it isn’t just a very clever and complicated way of hurting myself, which might in fact be the case.

The Happiest Days of My Life

Shabbat (Sabbath) dinner alone went OK.  I read more of The Complete Peanuts and was distracted by the craziness of the forthcoming Israeli general election in The Jewish Chronicle, so I didn’t read much of 13 Minutes, which is less of a thriller than I thought from the blurb on the back and more of a teenage school story (I had a similar experience with Turtles All the Way Down a few months ago).  I slept too long and missed shul (synagogue) in the morning again and dozed off as well in the afternoon, which is frustrating.

Now I’m facing a busy and stressful week combined with my parents being away and am wondering how I will cope.  At least the hardest thing, the networking workshop, is over first.

***

On Shabbat in shul (synagogue), I found myself reflecting about the values of my shul against my own values.  We both value prayer and Torah study (in both cases the shul value both much more than I’m able to right now with my mental health issues).  But the shul places value on quarantining oneself from the wider culture, to a greater or lesser extent, while I do not.  I think Jews can learn things from the best of other cultures, if we’re careful, and we can teach things too.  I wouldn’t want to be set up with someone like my shul on a date, which is problematic as someone from shul might try to set me up with someone one day… but as it’s never really happened before now (slightly, once), that’s not really much of a concern.  More pertinent is the fact that I don’t know how to find a shul that fits more of my values.  I would probably have to be earning a lot more money and be more emotionally stable and independent so I could move out of my parents house and to another area and even then I might not find one.

***

I found myself feeling glad that I have Judaism, and books, and Doctor Who and other vintage science fiction/telefantasy to hold onto.  (Are they autistic special interests?  I’m not sure that they all are; I feel uncomfortable with the way some autistic people I know list all their hobbies as ‘special interests’ which I feel devalues the notion.  My interest in literature and even Judaism, important though they are, don’t seem as intense and self-soothing as my interest in Doctor Who and vintage telefantasy)  They give me a refuge and alternative ways of conceptualising the world.  A link to the past, something bigger and older than myself, somewhat bigger and older in the case of Doctor Who, immeasurably bigger and older in the case of literature and Judaism.  I feel sorry for people who have nothing larger than themselves.  I suppose that’s why it’s so important to me to try to find friends/a partner who share all of these interests, because they are so central to my sense of self.

***

I was feeling OK, but I suddenly felt quite depressed.  I don’t know if it’s apprehension about the week ahead, especially the networking workshop and coping without my parents, or if 13 Minutes is bringing up bad memories from school.  I would stop reading it, but I don’t like giving up on books, plus I want to know the reason behind the book’s central mystery, how Natasha Howland ended up drowning in the river in the middle of the night.  So much for trying new things.

My depression and autism make me feel that I won’t enjoying new things and they are sometimes right, but I’m not sure that they don’t sabotage things to prove themselves right.  When I was a child, my parents would push me to do social stuff saying, “Just try it once.”  Then, if I didn’t like it, they would press me to try it again on the grounds that the first time might be atypical.  I actually did more social stuff when I was very young (pre-teen), cubs, scouts, karate, but I’m not sure that I actually enjoyed any of them and I certainly didn’t make friends through them.  Mostly I just pined for my mentor friend and felt unable to talk to other people or feel comfortable without him.  I don’t think I could express or even understand my ambivalent-going-on-negative feelings about these activities.  I just avoided doing things as much as possible.

When I was eleven and twelve I got invited to bar and bat mitzvah parties of people in my class at school.  I hated them, all noise and music and dancing and emergent adolescent sexuality (boys and girls were dancing together (they weren’t frum simchas), which I simply didn’t understand as I didn’t hit puberty for another year).  Although I knew everyone, I had few friends, especially as my mentor friend simply didn’t go on the grounds that he didn’t enjoy discos and his parents didn’t push him to go, whereas mine said that if I was invited, it was rude not to go.  I used to hide in the toilets, which I thought was ruder than not going at all, but my parents disagreed.  I put it down to shyness, as did everyone else, but in retrospect the whole thing is an autistic deathtrap.  The funny thing is that I can’t remember consciously disliking the noise.  Trying to think back to it, I get a strong feeling of get me out of here, but it’s hard to identify the cause and I can see why I and everyone else assumed it was just my shyness at work.  Even my own bar mitzvah was like everyone else’s, because no one told me I had the option of another way.  My parents would have allowed something else, but, I suspect that in the absence of being presented with other options, I couldn’t think of anything.  Or perhaps I had been offered other options, but didn’t really understand them because I hadn’t been to similar parties, or lacked the imagination and self-awareness to predict what I would like.  Anyway, at my own bar mitzvah, I went outside and played in the entrance hall with a friend for most of the evening.  I remember that at my sister’s bat mitzvah my Mum got really angry with me for not standing with the rest of the family at the end of the evening; I think my issues was less noise and sensory overload there and more shyness and not wanting everyone staring at me.  At least these days my parents are more understanding of my mental health and neurodivergence, although I worry that I hide behind these things.  Then again, without them, maybe I wouldn’t want to hide.

***
I’m just struggling to do things today, to go for a walk and cook dinner.  I don’t exercise or cook as much as I used to, even when the depression was worse than it is now and I was still working more days per week.  I don’t know why this is the case.  I’m cooking red bean chilli because I’ve done it loads of times before.  I feel guilty that I’m not using the cookery book I got in the summer for my birthday.   I’ve only used it once, but I’ve hardly cooked anything since then and have mostly relied on known recipes.  I shouldn’t feel guilty about this, but I do.  I feel guilty about lots of things that aren’t my fault, and some that are.  I feel guilty that I burnt the onions again and that I probably damaged my Mum’s pot.  Actually, I probably should feel guilty about that.

***

Feeling like an anxious mess now.  I volunteered to help with something today; it took an hour, but I can’t do very much and that plus shopping plus cooking plus Talmud study has eaten up my whole day, so I probably won’t be able to work on my books as I wanted.  I still plan to do too much each day, or at least each non-work day.  I don’t know how most people manage to live much busier lives than me; I’m barely functional.

I’m so anxious about tomorrow, coping with the networking workshop and getting to the theatre on time in the evening for the Jewish Book Week talk and then getting home in time to get some sleep before work on Tuesday.  I feel, probably somewhat arrogantly, that I ought to be giving talks at Jewish Book Week one day.  I don’t mean that I’m a gifted or insightful writer, merely (yet again) that I feel in some nebulous way that everyone expected me to be a “success”, whatever that means, that I got through school telling myself that once I left and was free of the bullies, once I got to university, I would be a success, and yet I am a miserable failure who can’t even cook dinner.  How can I even think of careers and relationships when I’m such a non-functional mess?  I do feel that if the kids who bullied me at school could see me now they’d die laughing.

Alone

Sometimes I think I should go off and become a hermit somewhere, but I dreamt about Brexit last night.  So, you see, there is no escaping the real world…

I’m having another day when I can’t tell if I’m depressed or just tired.  I suppose I’m so used to be both that it’s hard to tell when there’s just one without the other.  I’m looking at potential jobs to apply for and updating my CV and my confidence in my ability to work is still very low.  I can’t see myself doing any of these jobs.  I feel that between my depression-interrupted career and my social anxiety- and autism-impaired ability to network and go to CPD conferences and the fact that my librarianship MA was at a not very good university (because of the depression, in a complicated way), I’m not really able to do all the things that, in theory, I ought to be able to do.  I know I’m over-qualified for my current job, at least on paper, but I’m OK with that, as I feel I can do my work without freaking out about things.  I know lots of people with autism end up under-employed and I’m worried about being one of them, but I’m not sure what to do about it at the moment.

I’m on my own for Shabbat (Sabbath) dinner tonight as my parents are going to friends.  I could go to the oneg (Shabbat event) at my shul (synagogue), but, as I said last week (I originally thought it was last week), I don’t enjoy these things and having a more certain autism diagnosis makes me feel that I won’t enjoy these things however much I try.  These days I feel less inclined to force myself to try things that I really feel I’m unlikely to enjoy.  I am forcing myself to go to a networking workshop on Monday, but that’s because, although I’m sure I won’t enjoy it, I might get something out of it.  But I was quite looking forward to having time alone tonight, to do some Torah study and read more of 13 Minutes, at least until my mood dropped.

I’m alone again all next week, as my parents are away in sunnier climes (Sarn Lanzarote).  I hope I cope OK.  I’ve got a busy week, with the networking workshop on the same day as the Jewish Book Week event I’m going to (the first time I’ve gone to Jewish Book Week) and then two consecutive days of work followed by an appointment with a psychiatrist.  With my parents away, I will need to fit in cooking, laundry and probably also shopping as well, somehow.

Even on days like this, when I’m not really so depressed and haven’t been for a few days, I wonder if I’m always going to be like this.  I feel like I’m 50% or 60% there.  I’m functional at a basic level.  I’m working part-time.  I’m doing some basic Torah study and I pray sometimes and occasionally make it to shul.  I have some friends (mostly long-distance, but in a way that suits me as I prefer text and email to speech).  And I’m working on my books and worrying I’ll never get them finished, or published.  But there’s so much more I want.  It would be too much to say I have career plans or even goals, but I want to do something useful, enjoyable (on some level) and closer to full-time.  I want to have more friends who are really on my wavelength.  I want to get married and have children.  I want to get my books published.  And all these things seem far away.

And then suddenly, mid-afternoon and mid-Shabbat preparations, I was hit by a wave of depression and loneliness, I don’t know where from.  It’s scary that it can come out of nowhere like that and hit me.  I just feel overwhelmed by things and unable to do anything and I’m no longer looking forward to an evening by myself.

More Peopling

By the time my sister and brother-in-law left last night, I was exhausted from ‘peopling’ with family and at the asylum seekers drop-in centre.  I watched Doctor Who (an old-style, twenty-five minute episode) for a bit.  By 10.30pm I did not feel relaxed and thought I would not sleep, but I went to bed anyway, because I thought I would feel guilty if I stayed up watching TV.  Sure enough, I couldn’t sleep.  An hour later I got up, watched Doctor Who and ate porridge (the only way I can consume warm milk to make me drowsy) which is what I probably should have done in the first place; I fell asleep soon afterwards, but by that time it was gone midnight and I only got six hours sleep.

I got into work feeling that I had walked into The Twilight Zone.  The library was completely empty of both students and staff, at least above the ground floor; the office I work in was also empty.  When I turned on my computer, I discovered that my line manager had food poisoning and her line manager, who shares our office and usually gets in to work at 8.00am, was out in the morning and working from home in the afternoon.

This was a bit problematic, as my line manager was supposed to be helping with the event/exhibition we were running.  Fortunately the other staff members who were helping were around.  I think I managed to do everything that was needed.  Nothing went disastrously wrong, at any rate.  I did end up standing up from about four hours straight, spending about two of those hours talking almost non-stop about rare books and the historical periods they came from.  I hadn’t really had time to revise these things from university or even school, so I hope I didn’t say anything too incorrect.  I think I was mostly coherent, but I have a bad habit of interrupting myself when explaining things to add information I should have mentioned earlier.  I shook a little bit, but not much and I think/hope not visibly to other people.

The event seemed to be popular with the people who came and the numbers were good (according to one of the other staff members, who had an idea of what is normal for these things).  The only negative thing was when one staff member said I was surely overqualified for my job.  She meant it as a compliment, but it just reminded me of what a mess my career is and how years of mental illness has sidetracked me.

I didn’t get to eat lunch until 1.30pm.  I usually have early lunch, because my blood sugar tends to drop by late morning, so you can imagine the state I was in by that stage, especially after all the standing and talking.  Work was difficult in the afternoon as I was exhausted and ready to shutdown.  It involved some rather tedious checking and amending of dates from catalogue records, which I kept messing up, probably because of exhaustion.  I went rather slowly and did much less than I would have liked.

By the time I finished for the day, rather late, I was exhausted and probably had low blood sugar again.  I felt depressed by being in a building full of undergraduates, remembering how miserable and lonely I was when I was an undergraduate and feeling what George Orwell described as the envy of the ghost for the living, although I was thinking more literally of the ghost soldier from Sapphire and Steel and his resentment.  By the time I got to the station I was feeling literally hopeless and making melodramatic comments to myself about wanting to die, but I was aware in some way that this was probably low blood sugar even if I didn’t have the energy or presence of mind to challenge the thoughts with CBT.  I ate an apple on the Tube which helped somewhat, although I had to stand for most of the journey.  I felt exhausted enough to phone my Dad for a lift home from the station, which I hate doing, but do a lot lately because work exhausts me so much.  By the time he arrived, I was virtually in shutdown and unable to say anything to him much more coherent than grunts.

I’m not sure how much this is genuine autistic shutdown or just depressive withdrawal.  I’m not sure whether I have ‘real’ autistic shutdowns, although I usually have things closer to shutdowns than meltdowns when exhausted and overstimulated.  Autism is a spectrum, which means a lot of the behaviours can be exhibited to a greater or lesser degree.  I’m slowly learning to recognise behaviour I exhibit in a lesser degree in myself where I once thought that I did not show this behaviour at all, which contributed to my negative diagnoses.  Of course, one doesn’t have to exhibit every form of autistic behaviour to be diagnosed on the spectrum.

This week I have two consecutive work days for the first time in a couple of months, so I need to somehow not crash tomorrow morning after two busy days.

Volunteering, Peopling and Anxiety

I woke up feeling sluggish this morning and then felt depressed when it was time to go to volunteer at the asylum seeker’s drop-in centre.  I felt very anxious and depressed on the way there and unable to read on the bus.  Part of me wanted to turn back, and I nearly did leave once I got there, because I felt that I just was not coping or doing what was required of me.  I felt that I was not able to distinguish between male and female donated clothes, or children’s and adult’s clothes – not in all cases, but in some cases.  I also felt too shy to talk to anyone else.  But I stayed.  When the asylum seekers came, I helped look after the children, as I usually do.  At first I really struggled to do this too; it took about an hour for me to feel relaxed enough to really play with them.

It didn’t help that I’m not always sure exactly what to do, a combination of inexperience with children and the complexity of caring for other people’s children in an environment that requires safeguarding.  I never know whether we should tell the children off; one child hit another, I think by accident, but I wasn’t sure if I should tell him to apologise.  I probably should (although as he’s pretty non-verbal, I’m not sure it would have done any good).  Nor did I know what to do to the hurt child.  I felt autisticly unaware of what response he needed.  If it was my own child, I suppose I would have realised I should hug him eventually, but I wouldn’t hug anyone else’s child for safeguarding reasons and because I’m often autistically wary of some types of physical contact.  Furthermore, several of the toddlers have a habit of running off all the time and it is hard to keep them in the play area.  They like to play on the stairs leading up to the stage at the far end of the hall, which worries me, but, again, I never know if I’m allowed to pick them up and carry them away, so I tend to try to coax them back down, although I did repeatedly pick up one toddler who kept trying to leave the hall because it was the only way to stop him getting into trouble.

I did enjoy it in the end, but I really struggle to talk to the other volunteers or to connect with anyone (volunteer or asylum seeker) over the age of about four.

***

The other thing that upset me at volunteering was realising that, even though the centre is organised by a Modern Orthodox organisation so far as I could tell from clues like how they were dressed (not to mention statistical probabilities), most of the people volunteering were not so frum (religious), whereas my more Charedi (ultra-Orthodox) shul (synagogue) would never organise charitable care for non-Jews.  It upsets me that things are so compartmentalised, that it seems impossible for one person or community to have a social conscience and also meticulous care for ritual commandments.  It makes me feel that it is no wonder that I struggle to find friends and a wife when there is nowhere in the Jewish community where I feel comfortable and able to be myself.

***

I had a short time to recover before my sister and brother-in-law came over for dinner.  I struggled with this as I was still tired from volunteering, plus the conversation was mainly about my sister and BIL’s house renovations.  I don’t know if this doesn’t interest me because I have never owned a house, because of my personality or because of my autism, but whatever the reason, I was not very interested.  I tried to look interested for an hour and a half, but I was going to go upstairs when my parents started talking about the autism workshop they went to last week, so I thought I should stay around for that as I wanted to have a conversation with my sister about autism.  That was quite long, but useful.  It would have been better if the conversations had been the other way around, though, as now I’m exhausted from too much ‘peopling’ and need to unwind before I go to bed, but don’t have much time for Doctor Who as I need an early night as I have work tomorrow and am going to have to talk to a lot of students at the event/exhibition of rare books that we are running.  On which note I will have to leave you.

Snoopy’s Happy Dance and Other Minor Victories

Shabbat (the Sabbath) was full of minor victories and minor setbacks.  The setbacks: I woke up about 9.00am and contemplated getting to shul (synagogue – it starts at 8.45am, but at the moment I’d see getting there by 10.00am, or even at all, as a victory), but I got too anxious about what people might say to me if I was so late and went back to bed.  This is not good.  I also tried not to nap in the afternoon, especially as I slept twelve hours overnight, but I dozed off for twenty minutes or so.

The victories: I ate less junk food than I normally do on Shabbat (the only day I really over-indulge, but I need to lose some of the weight I’ve gained on clomipramine) and I finished reading The Dispossessed and another volume of The Complete Peanuts.  I also managed to see off what would once have been a major religious OCD meltdown quite easily and discussed my worries about tomorrow (see below) with my parents.  I also mostly put the mistake I made before Shabbat out of my head.

***

The oneg (Shabbat social event) that I thought was this week turns out to be next week.  I still don’t really want to go, or at least I don’t want to go if I’m my usual socially anxious self, but my Mum is encouraging me to go, especially as I’m home for Shabbat dinner alone next week.  I feel I should try to do social things, as I would like to have some friends and not turn into an antisocial hermit, but I’m not really sure this is the best way to do it.  I suspect I will be wrestling with this one all week.

***

I spoke to my parents a bit more about the autism workshop they went to on Wednesday for the family of people on the spectrum.  I said sometimes I worry that I won’t be diagnosed and did they really think that I was on the spectrum.  “YES!!!!!” was their immediate response.  So that was good, I think.

***

I’m troubled by a social/religious thing at shul, but I don’t want to discuss it here at the moment.  It’s tricky though and is making me a bit worried.

I’m also worrying about the coming fortnight.  Tomorrow I have volunteering, which I enjoy (albeit that I struggle with the social aspect), but which is very tiring, then when I get home, my sister and brother-in-law are here for dinner, but I’m not sure how I’ll be feeling, plus I’ll want to go and have some ‘alone time’ or I won’t sleep and an early night as I’m working on Monday this week.  I’ve been told I can go upstairs after the main course if I want/need to, which is good, but I would feel a bit bad doing that.

Monday is an event at work.  We’ve been planning it for a while, so it will be good to finally have it, but I will have to talk to strangers (gulp) about history stuff that I haven’t looked at for years (English Civil Wars and Interregnum which was my Special Subject at Oxford, but which I haven’t studied for fourteen years and Chartism, which I haven’t seen since secondary school).  Tuesday is an ordinary work day, then Wednesday is the last mental health class which I need to navigate and on Thursday I need to get a haircut and talk to someone from Remploy about working with autism and depression.

The Monday after that I have a networking training session (i.e. they train us to network better.  Getting me to network at all would be a start) and I’m out late at a Jewish Book Week event in the evening, but I will still need to be up early on Tuesday and Wednesday, as they are work days that week, then on Thursday I will see a(nother) psychiatrist if the NHS doesn’t mess me around again.  So overall it’s a busy fortnight.

Writing it down, it doesn’t seem so scary, but in my head it does.

***

I mentioned that I’m reading The Complete Peanuts.  It’s rather an interesting thing to read with depression and autism.  Everyone says it’s a strip about disappointment and unrequited it love, which on one level it is.  Charlie Brown never getting a Valentine’s day card.  So many unrequited crushes (Lucy for Schroder, Sally for Linus, Peppermint Patty for Charlie Brown and especially Charlie Brown for the red-haired girl).  The kite-eating tree.  The baseball team that never wins.  Charlie Brown never kicking the football.  The never-obtained Joe Shlabotnik baseball card.  The never-seen Great Pumpkin.  And so on.

But what doesn’t seem to get mentioned so much is that it’s also a strip about finding joy in being yourself, even if it makes you look weird to everyone else.  Snoopy’s fantasy life.  Linus’ security blanket.  Schroeder’s Beethoven obsession (is he autistic?).  Snoopy’s happy dance.  It’s actually quite reassuring that it says, yes, there’s a lot of misery out there, but it is possible to be happy, even if other people might think you’re nuts for doing what you’re doing.

Running Away

Today seems to have been a day for running away from people.

I had the penultimate meeting of my mental health group.  Everyone seems to get on well and they are planning on creating a What’sApp group to stay in touch.  I feel that I have struggled to connect with people and I struggle to involve myself in such a loud group.  I also feel that the content of the group has been too familiar to me or the solutions proposed have been too simplistic.  For instance, today we spoke about being assertive, rather than aggressive, passive or passive aggressive.  I feel that I have tried some of the tactics in one relationship that I sometimes struggle with, without success.  They said that sometimes one needs outside intervention in a relationship, but that isn’t realistic for me.  That only leaves me with modifying my expectations from the relationship or just moving away from it, but neither of those are really feasible either.  It is hard to know what to do sometimes.  I thought of trying harder at changing my expectations or using the suggested tactics, but it’s hard to do something when you are so sure it won’t work.  Still, a few people in the group spoke about being stuck in abusive relationships, now or in the past, so I’m better off in that regard.

I wasn’t going to join the What’sApp group, but on the way home I wondered if maybe I should have done so.  I don’t have to actually meet up with them, and maybe it would be a useful online support network that I could use via text, which is a much better medium for me to communicate in.  Of course, most What’sApp groups in my experience turn rapidly into pointless time-wasting…

Continuing the ‘running away’ theme, there is an oneg (Shabbat/Sabbath party thing) run by my shul (synagogue) at someone’s house tonight.  Usually I would force myself to go, at least for an hour, but I really can’t face it this time.  I sit there in silence, eat some junk food, refuse whisky, don’t always find the ‘inspiring’ stories and divrei Torah (homilies) inspiring, join in with the singing, but only if I know the tunes, and then go home after an hour feeling drained and excluded.  In the past I have told myself that if I don’t go to these things, I will never make friends and fit in, but after nearly three years, I have not got many friends at my shul (and the ones I do have I have made in other places e.g. the weekly shiur (class)) and I don’t feel accepted and am beginning to think I never will.

The reason the people from my group want to continue to be in contact is that many of them say this is the first place that they really fit in with people who understand them, but I’m too weird, or at least too complicated, to be understood fully by most people.  That is something I am just going to have to learn to deal with, compartmentalising my life (Jewish bits, mental health/autism bits, geeky bits).  It does make me worry about getting married, though, as I feel one should not do that with one’s spouse.  (One would think, with so many people at my support groups, reporting being in abusive relationships that I would have an advantage in not being an abusive person, but maybe there are enough non-abusive-but-still-normal people out there.)

Then on Sunday I have volunteering and then my sister and brother-in-law are coming in the evening.  I’m worried I’m going to be a wreck. Volunteering exhausts me.  By the time I get home I won’t have much time to recover before they come, nor will I have time after dinner to recover from that before I have to go to bed as this week I’m working on Monday and I really need a minimum of eight hours sleep to function, something my family don’t always appreciate.  I suppose I feel like running away from that, but I can’t.

I am OK(ish)

I am OK.  I know I was talking about feeling suicidal at the end of my last post.  I didn’t do anything silly.  I texted a friend and watched Doctor Who until I felt a bit better.  Unfortunately, it wasn’t until I had calmed down a bit that I realised that I should have phoned Samaritans to offload.  Unfortunately, I often don’t think to do that until after the event, like today.  Then it seemed that it would just rake up bad thoughts by repeating everything that happened on the phone to Samaritans after I had calmed down.

The trouble is, there are ongoing issues in my life that I can’t easily resolve.  Obviously my career and my desire for an autism diagnosis and fear that I won’t get one can’t be solved quickly and easily, but there are other things that I feel that I can’t talk about here that are never going to go away.  I spent years in therapy trying to come to terms with them, without success.  I have always been told that if you want to fix a relationship, you can only fix your side; you can hope that your changes will cause the other person to change, but ultimately you have to accept the other person’s actions or walk away.  I don’t feel that I should walk away from the difficult relationships in my life, but I also have tried to change things and have got sucked down into the black hole of dependency again because of depression and autism.  The only real solution (becoming independent and building a new life) is nixed by the depression and autism stopping me working anything approaching full time and stopping me from finding even finding a new job easily.

I don’t know what the solution is to this.  It’s frightening to realise that my inner emotional regulation thermostat goes almost immediately from frozen (too depressed to do anything) to scorching (self-harm and suicidal thoughts) without any ‘comfortable’ range.  (I’m not sure how good a metaphor that is, but you get the idea as suicidality isn’t the opposite of depression, far from it, but you get the idea.)  I don’t really have any resilience to even minor troubles (and today’s problems were fairly minor, objectively).

I’m calmer now, but still somewhat tense and worried about a lot of things: asking for rearranged hours at work for my psychiatrist appointment and Purim; finding a job after March; finding some kind of meaningful way to resolve the problems I can’t talk about, which sadly seem tied up in a way, at least emotionally, with my inability to forge close friendships and a romantic relationship.  I feel the post-trauma paralysis, not wanting or being able to really do anything, but I need to get ready for work tomorrow, somehow, and to shower and go to bed.

Thanks for reading.  It helps me understand myself to write things down (there was a lot in the last post that I didn’t really understand until I wrote it down) and I can only write things down if I think that someone might read it (don’t ask me why).  I would say that I hope other people find this meaningful, but I wouldn’t wish what I’m experiencing on anyone else.

(And, yes, again the thought of pets comes to my mind as a method of emotional regulation, but, again, I feel that my Mum doesn’t really want me to have them and I don’t have the courage to go against that.)

Communication Problems

Shabbat was stressful in several respects.  After shul on Friday night, the person who invited me for dinner a couple of weeks ago invited me again, that evening or next week.  I can’t really handle the super-laid-back nature of many frum Jews with regard to sudden changes of plan (aren’t religious people supposed to be control freaks?).  Autistic people are not good at last minute plan changes.  I didn’t want to go to his house without telling my parents and I felt I had a reason not to go next week, but I couldn’t remember what it was.  It was only later that I remembered that I had the first session of my new course at The Network on Friday morning and that’s likely to leave me drained for the rest of the day.  But I couldn’t really hear everything he was saying to me anyway, partly because I was getting overwhelmed by the amount of noise in the room, partly because of my social anxiety.  When I’m talking to someone I’m nervous about talking to, my internal monologue starts saying stuff like, “Oh no, someone’s talking to me, what if I say the wrong thing?  What if he thinks I’m crazy?”  It’s hard to hear anything over that, let alone to respond appropriately.  I would like to be friends with this person, though, especially if he really wants to be friends with me and isn’t just doing it as a mitzvah (commandment/good deed) because I’m single.  He may even know a single woman to match me up with, although to be honest it’s doubtful that many of the people he or  his wife know that are our age are single.

***

When I got home I had a conversation with my father that was awkward for other reasons.  I’ve mentioned before that we don’t really communicate well at the moment.  I find his rambling, discursive mode of conversation confusing while I think he finds me curt and pedantic (which is probably not untrue).  I’m trying to sound less blunt, but it’s hard.  I’m really not expecting anything to change here until my parents go to an workshop for families of people with autism in about three weeks time.

Anyway, Dad asked me how old my line manager is and I said I can’t tell, which surprised him, although I thought he might have remembered that I can’t really estimate ages at all.  Then he asked if I’m enjoying my work and I said I don’t know.  I suppose he was more justified in being surprised at that answer, but I really don’t know if I’m enjoying it.  I didn’t even try to explain alexithymia (difficulty knowing or understanding one’s emotions) to him as I could see that being a difficult struggle, but I just tried to say that it keeps me occupied, but is pretty menial work, albeit that I get paid quite well because it’s a role that requires care and responsibility in handling rare books and documents.  Still, it was once again hard to help him to understand my worldview.

***

After dinner I tried reading The Dispossessed by Ursula Le Guin.  I like Le Guin, but I just can’t get in to this book, which is probably more a product of the various things going on in my life right now rather than the book itself.  After a while I gave up and carried on with The Complete Peanuts instead (I’m up to volume four, covering 1958-1959).  While it would be a stretch to read too much in to it, in terms of mental illness, Charles Schulz really knew how to express loneliness and life’s disappointments, but somehow he made us laugh at them.

***

I went to bed early for a Friday, hoping that I would get up early and go to shul for the first time on Shabbat morning in over a year.  However, although I briefly woke up early, I fell asleep again.  I don’t know how much of that is laziness, depression or social anxiety keeping me away from shul.

***

While I was asleep I had a dream that two orangutans were living on the roof of our house.  However, these orangutans were very carnivorous, grabbing birds and squirrels and killing them by smashing them hard against the windows before eating them.  I was going to call the RSPCA to get rid of them, but conversations about this had to be conducted in whispers at the other end of the house to prevent the orangutans hearing, as they could speak English; one had a pipe in his mouth, but I don’t think he actually smoked it.  I have no idea what on earth this dream might mean.

***

My parents hosted a supper quiz at home tonight for a charity.  It’s an annual event.  People host friends at their home and different homes compete.  They open the envelope of questions at 8pm and have three hours to enter them online.  Most of the questions are lateral-thinking ones rather than general knowledge to prevent people Googling the answers.  I used to join them sometimes, but these days I get put off by the numbers (usually around twenty people, although this year it’s fewer) and the fact that I can’t really answer lateral thinking questions, only general knowledge ones.  There’s a house in Oxfordshire that seems to win ever single year.  At any rate, the house was crowded tonight.  I’m hiding in my room with Doctor Who, both watching it and typing up over a week’s worth of notes for my book.

***

Tomorrow I’m off to my sister’s in-laws for her mother in-law’s birthday party.  It was delayed as she (my sister’s mother-in-law) is very ill.  I’m nervous, as I’m not going to know many people there and I’m worried that, although the food is being provided by a kosher caterer, I may have kashrut OCD issues.  I’ve been told I can leave early; fortunately there’s a bus that stops at the bottom of their road that, after a long journey, does eventually stop near our house, so I can get home easily, albeit not quickly.

***

Thought: I’ve had crushes that went nowhere on lots of women who I thought were perfect for me, but who would, in retrospect would have been terrible for me.  Does this mean that God is saving someone amazing for me?  Or that there isn’t anyone in the world who could possibly be right for me?  The latter seems more logical, especially as if someone is amazing for me, I would (in fairness) have to be amazing for her, and I can’t see myself be amazing for anyone, certainly not in the next five to ten years.

Overload, But Good

I need to write about my day for my private journal, so I may as well write it here; you read about the bad days, so I guess you should see the good ones too.

I got up quite early (for a Sunday), but struggled with exhaustion.  I did eventually get going.  I went to volunteer at the asylum seekers drop-in centre (I still think there should be an apostrophe in that, but it’s how they spell it).  I deliberately arrived over an hour late because I knew I had a busy day and I wouldn’t be able to cope with four hours plus of volunteering.

At first I felt completely out of place.  Even after volunteering there for several months, I don’t feel that I know anyone well enough to say anything deeper than “Hi, how are you?”  I struggled with sorting piles of clothes (I can’t always easily tell men’s from women’s or adults’ from children’s… to be fair, I’m not the only person there with this problem).  When the asylum seekers arrived, I went to volunteer in the creche area as I usually do, but at first I found it difficult to connect with the children; there were other volunteers there who seemed to find it much easier to connect with them.  I actually thought about coming home, but after a while there were so many children there that they really needed me to help, plus I found it easier to play with some of the younger (pre-school) children, who seemed to like me.  There was one little baby there in particular who happened to share my first name who seemed to feel very comfortable with me; at one point he tried to feed me his half-eaten biscuit, which was cute and slightly gross at the same time!

I then came home and vegetated in front of Doctor Who for an hour and a half to regain some energy (not exactly relaxing, though, as I’m watching as research for my Doctor Who book) before going out to dinner with my family.  It was my sister and my father’s birthdays last week and this was the celebration at the local kosher Chinese restaurant (my sister’s favourite).  I was limited in my food choices as I’m vegetarian during the week (I only eat meat and fish on Shabbat (the Sabbath) and Yom Tov (Jewish festivals)) and the restaurant had limited vegetarian options.  Kosher meat restaurants have limited vegetarian options as a rule and I’m not entirely sure why.  I suppose not being allowed to serve cheese or milk (because of kosher laws preventing meat and dairy in the same meal) limits them, but you can still do things with tofu or soya; this restaurant had one tofu side dish only, which is frustrating.  I did have vegetarian spring rolls, vegetarian dim sum, various vegetable, rice, noodle and tofu side dishes (as a family we ordered five different side dishes, all meat free, and shared them around) and hot chocolate cake and parev (non-dairy) ice cream.  We had a good time, but I struggled with the noise in the restaurant, which was somewhat uncomfortable for me.  It’s strange that it’s only in the last few years, since I’ve learnt about autism and sensory overload, that I’ve realised how uncomfortable I can feel in noisy places.  I suppose one needs to know a concept and have a name for it before one can identify it.  Before then, I probably just put uncomfortable feelings down to introversion, social anxiety or depression or just went home in a bad mood without knowing why.

I ought to go to bed now, as I have the last session of my well-being group tomorrow and I’m likely to be exhausted.  I’d like to do some work on one or more of the three books I am writing/would like to write if I have the energy.  Still, today was a positive experience after a difficult start, which is good.  I even got some Torah study in there at some point.