Happiness is a Warm DVD

I sat outside last night watching a DVD on my laptop.  The weather was a little cooler.  I couldn’t get my Star Trek Voyager DVD to play (my laptop DVD player is temperamental), so I watched Doctor Who instead.  I started a re-watch of my favourite season, the 1978-1979 season, in my opinion the apogee of Doctor Who as science fantasy children’s series (thus, hated by fans who think Doctor Who is Serious Adult Drama… the fault line between fans who think Doctor Who is a children’s programme and those who think it is a Serious Adult Drama is one of the biggest in fandom).  I felt quite happy watching it, despite the fact that I could hear my parents talking despite my earphones, that the security light kept coming on and shining in my eyes, and that the picture quality was not great (my screen needs cleaning and I kept seeing my reflection in it because of the ambient light).  Normally when I watch TV, I try to immerse myself in it, but I was able to enjoy it without doing that 100%.  I suppose it does show that I can be happy, and with quite small things.  My Mum noticed I was smiling.

I had another unrestful night’s sleep.  It’s a little cooler, but still too hot for me.  There is a breeze, and around four o’clock the heavy rain we were forecast finally arrived, but only lasted a few minutes.  It started raining heavily again just before seven, with thunder, to the extent I had to shut the windows, but, again, it didn’t last long.  It’s still quite hot, with a bit of a cooling breeze, but very humid and I still feel quite uncomfortable.  I can concentrate a little better than the last few days, but not brilliantly.

***

Last night I had the thought of logging on to JDate and seeing if there were many women my age and frumkeit (religiosity) level on there, but I couldn’t log on.  I thought I still had a profile on there, but apparently not.  I assume they delete profiles if they’re inactive for a long period of time as I don’t remember deleting it.  I don’t think I could have used JDate since I met my first girlfriend on there in 2012.  My experience at the time made me feel there weren’t enough frum (religious) enough women on the site for me, but maybe I would be willing to be more flexible on “frum enough” now.  I think I probably have to be.  It’s hard to tell what “frum enough” looks like, though, as I worry that I compromised too much when I was dating E. and that it would not have worked in the long-term.

JDate is probably better for me right now than its competitor, JWed.  JWed, as its name implies, is a dating-for-marriage site, not a dating-for-dating site.  It also asks users to categorise themselves religiously, offering them seven different types of Orthodox Jewish identities and several more non-Orthodox ones.  Jews like pigeon-holing other Jews, you might have noticed.  It also asks you to say how often you pray and study Torah, whether you wear tzitzit (ritual fringed garment) if you are a man and if you would cover your hair after marriage if you are a woman, all questions designed to further pigeon-hole religiously.  These are supposed to be proxies to gauge religious devotion, but aren’t always in reality, but the problem of using them as such stretches far beyond the dating world, or even the frum world.  JDate doesn’t quite offer such craziness, although if I recall correctly, it does still offer several different flavours of Orthodoxy (I doubt there are many Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) Jews on JDate though even if there is an option for them).

My main concerns with JDate are that I can’t afford to pay the monthly subscription; and that there are more men than women on dating sites, so women tend not to respond to men on dating sites unless they appear amazing.  I do still have some concerns about not “dating for marriage.”  However, my biggest concern is how to talk about my employment situation or about trying to be a writer in my profile without having sold much, and while worrying that I’m not going to be able to make much of a success of writing.

I feel that E., like my first girlfriend, thought that I was a good boyfriend, but also that my emotional neediness and unemployed status was a lot to cope with, and eventually was too much to cope with.  I find it hard to believe anyone else could see past that permanently, not just for a few months until the novelty of having an attentive and listening boyfriend wore off.

There is also the practical problem, of course, of dating in the time of COVID and social distancing.  This may be less of a problem now, as I think we can stop shielding Mum soon as her chemo is finished.  We have to shield around the time of her surgery, but I think not when she has radiotherapy after that.

I wrote to my rabbi mentor about this today and I look forward to reading his response.  Writing it down did make me think that some of my concerns were due to anxiety or even a kind of ‘pure O’ OCD, in terms of taking the morality an action very seriously, paying more attention to it than it needs, in moral terms.  I think dating at this time is probably not against my values, although I’m not sure if it’s necessarily a product of those values at this time.  Whether it’s sensible is another question.

***

Speaking of being a writer, I’m feeling pessimistic today.  I finished If You Want to Write, the writing book I was currently reading.  It was kind of hippie-ish (although written in the 1930s), all about doing what you want and finding your own truth, which is true, but the opposite is probably true too.  I wasn’t surprised by this, as the book was recommended to me by a hippie-ish friend who I fell out with, someone who described himself as being all about empathy and compassion and then treated me quite badly.    I don’t think I can internalise the “rules” of writing from the books I’m reading, not even this one, which just says to be honest (and is against genre fiction).  I feel a great writer wouldn’t need to internalise rules, but a merely competent one probably does need to do so.  I certainly feel my book could do with more structure and more vivid characters.  But, as I’ve said before, I oscillate between thinking that there are no rules for literature and that there are rules for it, like any other skill, if only I could learn them.

I did half an hour of research for the novel, reading a rape survivor’s statement, which was understandably depressing.  I struggle to see why some men find the concept of “consent” so difficult to grasp.

I also spent twenty minutes or so working on my list of things that I want to add or change in the next draft of my novel, so overall this was a reasonably productive day for the novel.

***

Other achievements: I spent an hour on my devar Torah (Torah thought), getting it mostly sorted to my satisfaction, although I had a vague sense of not having explained it clearly enough to myself, let alone anyone else.  The sense that I sort of understand what I’m saying, but not quite perfectly.  I spent another hour on Torah study, so it was quite a productive day from a religious point of view too.

It’s funny how my feelings writing my devar Torah every week mirror my feelings writing my Oxford tutorial essays: the initial blank incomprehension with nothing to write, the slow research and analysis, the gradual revelation of what I’m going to write, then the actual writing, followed by relief, but a feeling of not having really nailed it.

I also finished re-reading Healing from Despair: Choosing Wholeness in a Broken World.  I didn’t get much from this except to recall that I didn’t like it much the first time I read it.  I’m not entirely sure why I didn’t like it.  I think maybe its use of biblical and historical models for healing from despair was too simplistic.

Incidentally, I have finished three books in two days, although as I was reading them concurrently and not consecutively, it’s not such a notable achievement.

***

Sometimes I just stand, staring into space, completely lost in thought.  My parents invariably then ask if something’s wrong or what I’m doing.  This completely breaks the chain of thought.  (This happened today.)  I’ve never been sure if this is “normal” behaviour or “autistic” behaviour or just a personal quirk.  I do find it frustrating that I can’t just stand and think without someone thinking I’m ill.  I guess if I get married, I’ll have to tell my wife to ignore me when I do this.

Someone To Love

I slept badly, waking up exhausted and covered in sweat.  I really need summer pyjamas, although I’m not sure it’s worth it for the few weeks I would actually need them each year.  It’s hard to believe it was so much cooler at night just a couple of weeks ago.  The hoped-for thunderstorm never materialised yesterday.  Today we could hear distant thunder all afternoon and also saw lightning after a while, but the rain has not reached us, and the sky remains blue.  The thunder has stopped, but there is more of a breeze, which helps a bit.  In late afternoon it was cool enough to go for a walk, which was good, although I came back with a headache.

All I could think of today was how hot and uncomfortable I am, which I guess means I am not feeling anxious about anything else, but also means I am not doing anything productive.  I wish we had air conditioning.

Mum had her last chemotherapy session today, so there’s progress there at least.  Now she has a break for recuperation before surgery in a month’s time.

Achievements: the walk, half an hour of Torah study, an hour or so working on my devar Torah (which still isn’t finished, even though I’m taking most of it from just one book, Rabbi Joshua Berman’s The Temple: It’s Symbolism and Meaning Then and Now).  I did a bit of reading of a book on writing.  That’s about it.

***

At some point I stopped praying every day to get married.  I’m not sure when.  I suppose it was some months ago, when my hitbodedut (spontaneous prayer) became shorter and sporadic, sometimes abandoned completely.  It was around the time I broke up with E.  Hitbodedut was when I used to ask to get married.  I think I stopped asking for much at all, other than the set prayers, and prayers for people I know who are sick in my Amidah (I have also been saying special prayers for the whole world since COVID hit).  To be honest, I’m not entirely sure what I say when I do my hitbodedut at the moment.  I probably do ask for things, but not consistently, and mainly small things like meeting my goals for the next day.  I probably do still pray to get married, just intermittently and not every day.

I suppose it was hard to believe that the big things I asked for would ever be granted.  It felt like God had no interest in giving me what I was asking, so why bother ask?  Like, I suspect, many things I think or feel, this is theologically problematic.  For one thing, we’re supposed to ask for what we want.  For another, there are plenty of Jewish approaches to prayer that see it as a lot more than “Ask, Get.”  I once gave a fifteen minute shiur (religious class) on three approaches to prayer; one did not even deal directly with asking for things at all and the other two saw the asking as subsidiary to other processes.

But still, I struggle to ask.  Some of it is feeling hopeless about ever meeting the right person (or coping with meeting a lot of wrong people first), but a lot of it is what I wrote the other day about not feeling ready to get married, but wanting to be in a serious, committed relationship, even if it’s non-physical.  That doesn’t really exist in Orthodox Jewish culture and it’s hard to ask God for something that is ostensibly wrong.  Sinful, even.  (Admittedly the Talmud says that the burglar prays to God that he won’t get caught before he burgles a house, but this is hardly intended as an example to follow.)  But praying to get married seems silly when I may never get to that stage.

I think I do still sometimes pray to get a job, get married and have children, but not every night, consistently.  Just sometimes.  Praying to get a job AND get married AND have children sounds a lot and something that couldn’t happen for ages, if at all.  I suppose I should be praying to feel a bit less depressed and exhausted, and to sell some writing or something.  Small steps.

***

One of the things I struggle with because of autism is reading people (in the sense of understanding them) and knowing if they’re interested in me, interested either in being my friend or, in some cases, having a relationship with me.  I have probably lost potential friends who I misread or who panicked me and I didn’t know how to talk to them, even though I thought they were nice and would have liked to be friends with them (this is social anxiety).  Similarly, I probably bored and upset a lot of women who I wanted to date, but was too shy to ask, so I just hung around them, hoping something would happen and we would magically be dating.

A third category, which I was thinking about a bit today, is people who drifted into my life and then drifted out again, leaving me puzzled and confused.  This happened mostly online; I think the nature of the internet and blogs is that people drift in and out very quickly.

I came across an email today from 2014.  This was from someone I “met” online, where we were both commenting on a Jewish website.  She was really complimentary and asked for my email address and we emailed back and forth for a bit, but most of her emails were short emails saying she was slowly writing a long email that would tell me more about her.  I never got the long email; after a while the short emails stopped too.  I don’t know if she was interested in me romantically and then lost her nerve or something else.  She was about to start an Orthodox Jewish conversion (her father was Jewish, but not her mother), and the bet din (rabbinical conversion court) would not have been happy to know she was in a deep personal conversation with a Jewish man before conversion (it might make them see the conversion as not motivated by sincere belief, but in order to have a Jewish marriage), so it would be understandable if she wanted to stop emailing.  She was also starting a programme of study abroad, although I forget what, so that might have explained her lack of time to write too, but ghosting me just left me wondering what happened.  That’s an extreme example, but similar things have happened to me and they always leave me feeling puzzled and confused, wondering if I did something wrong or if I misread the whole situation from the start (although in that situation I was fairly confused about what she wanted even from the start).

***

I’m sitting in the garden, because it’s cooler than the house and my room is so hot that my headache gets worse if I sit there.  I just finished reading Muck, Dror Burstein’s quasi-modern reimagining of the biblical Yirmiyah/Jeremiah.  I feel too tired to do anything, but not tired enough to sleep, plus my room, as I say, is uncomfortably hot.  I might watch Star Trek Voyager on my laptop in the garden, with headphones in, as Mum and Dad are out here talking and they will probably go inside and put the TV on loudly soon (the TV is right by the French windows into the garden, which are open).

It’s Too Darn Hot

I slept better last night than Friday night, but it’s still far too hot for me to feel comfortable.  I feel like I could give in to negative thoughts if I let myself, so I’m trying to stay in the present and not in my head.

It’s been hard to do anything today, the whole house is a big sauna.  I’m sweltering.  I never worked out if I’m extra-sensitive to heat as an autistic sensory sensitivity thing, or if I just don’t like it when it’s very hot.  I tried to write a job application, but I struggled to concentrate, because of the heat.  To be honest, I’m not sure that I’m as proactive and confident as they want.  Apparently I should have “The confidence to challenge and persuade where appropriate” – yikes!

After an hour and a half of trying to fill in the application and not getting too far, I gave up for the day.  It’s too hot.

***

Other achievements today: nearly an hour of Torah study.  I saw my sister and brother-in-law (with social distancing) for a bit when they came in their new car, although I went off to my room after a while as the conversation had become completely about cars and I don’t drive.  I very hurriedly wrote a Doctor Who review for my other blog (I can sometimes write these quickly when I have something to say although I haven’t posted it yet).  It was too hot to walk, let alone run, so no exercise.

I watched a film with my parents.  It was good to do something different together.

I do feel I didn’t do everything I wanted to do today, but that’s partly because of the heat, partly because of something that came up and took up a lot of time.  I’m staying up late now, although it’s not particularly cool, just because I don’t feel tired and I want to catch up on some of the things I missed during the day.  There doesn’t seem much point in going to bed yet, as I doubt I’ll sleep in this heat.

***

I was online more than I should have been according to my new “only go online twice a day” rule.  I thought I had good reason to bend the rules, but arguably it was just anxiety on my part.

Also related to anxiety, I think I messed up another social interaction, perhaps with negative consequences.  Sometimes the world in my head and objective reality don’t correspond very closely and it’s difficult to get out of my head and into the real world.

***

I feel a bit bad that when I posted here the letter I wrote to vent my feelings about the frum (religious Jewish) community, I didn’t make it clear that my concerns about racism, sexism etc. where about feelings I’ve found in parts of the community, not everywhere in it.  I don’t want to slander the whole community.  But there are parts I struggle to accept.

***

I am very bad at checking the spam folder on WordPress.  From the few times I’ve looked at it in the past, it seemed it generally did not deleted anything it shouldn’t.  I think once I found a comment that had gone in there by mistake.  However, I just had a look and found a couple of legitimate comments from earlier in the week that it had marked as spam.  Now I’m thinking I need to check more regularly, and I wonder if I’ve missed comments completely in the past.  Apologies to anyone whose comment got eaten, I will try to check more regularly in the future.

Love Your Neighbour

I don’t have much to write today.  It was a normal lockdown Shabbat.  I slept too much, and at the wrong times, but that’s also normal.  I won at Scrabble this week.  I started playing strategically.  I think in the past I would just have gone for the longest or most obscure word, but sometimes a really basic word can get a higher score, if it has a high-scoring letter or hits a double word (etc.) square.  I do get a bit frustrated that it’s hard to play a lot of obscure words that I know, but I guess that’s just showing off.

I tried to stay in the present and not worry about the future or beat myself up about past decisions (breaking up with E., going to the school I went to and not the one my Mum wanted me to go to).  I probably have made some bad decisions in my life, albeit partly because a big part of my life was unknown until recently (high functioning autism – which technically has still not been diagnosed, so who knows where this will go?).  There’s not a lot I can do about that now, though.  If I do manage to build a career as a Jewish author, then I think a lot of my past decisions and difficulties will have led me to it.  If I can’t do that…  who knows, really?

My big struggle today is with loving my neighbour, literally and metaphorically.  Literally, I have a lot less time for our Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) neighbours than I did in the past, because of the illegal minyanim (prayer service).  They have stopped most of these since shuls (synagogues) reopened (although they are still doing Saturday nights).  I still feel angry and resentful.  I still feel that they were risking our lives, especially Mum’s life, for the sake of their spirituality, even though the actual risk to Mum was probably small, even when she was in our garden at the same time they were davening (praying) in their garden.  People breaking the rules annoys me a lot.  In my experience, people on the autism spectrum either obsess over every tiniest rule and can’t bend a rule no matter how justified or alternatively can’t stand any rules at all, however logical.  I’m definitely in the former camp.  It was not always easy at work to work out when I should bend the rules for people and when I should be strict.  Maybe I should write a letter to the neighbours and not send it?  That was a technique my therapist suggested for dealing with feelings about E.; I should probably try it there too.

In a more general sense, I am in this weird situation of being frum (religious Orthodox Jewish) and wanting to stay frum, but also having a lot of resentment against the frum community.  I think it’s mainly about feeling I don’t fit in, which is probably largely because of the lack of a vibrant, committed, Modern Orthodox community in this country, unlike America and Israel.  Here the United Synagogue has a hashkafa (philosophical outlook) I agree with, but most US members are not shomer mitzvot (keeping the commandments), not even close.  Most are “traditional” and are members of an Orthodox shul (synagogue) out of family tradition, convenience or a vague sense that Reform Judaism isn’t “real” Judaism.

The Haredi world is a lot more committed to Torah study, meaningful prayer and mitzvah performance (keeping the commandments), yet has an outlook I often disagree with, whether over the place of secular study and the sciences, the role of women or various other things.  I could probably cope with that if that was all, although it does make me feel that I’m hiding myself, but I feel there is a level of casual sexism, racism/anti-non-Jew feeling and so on that sometimes appears and upsets me.

I think there is a lot of hesed (kindness) in the frum world, but not much empathy.  If you have a “normal” problem, people will help, but if you have an unusual situation or something that is stigmatised and not spoken about (the classic “bad for shidduchim” (potential marriage chances) problem) people won’t help and probably won’t even be able to understand what your problem is.  My thought on this matter were provoked from reading about a Haredi woman who adopted a black girl and has experienced a huge amount of unthinking racism, but it applies to mental health stigma, homosexuality, children who stop being religious… lots of things.

I feel that I do have a lot of anger and resentment towards what really is my own community that I have to work through somehow if I’m to keep functioning and I’m not really sure how to do it.  I kind of hope that one day I’ll marry someone who fits into the community better than I do and somehow things will slot into place, that suddenly I’ll have more frum friends and feel able to be myself, but I’m not sure that that’s a realistic idea.  Realistic in that I don’t think finding a wife would necessarily let me fit in a lot better and in that I’m not sure how likely it is that I will find a frum wife.

Like a Lion

I’ve been struggling to get to sleep this week, not hugely, but persistently.  I woke up early (for me) this morning and rose “like a lion,” like I’m supposed to (per Jewish texts).  I managed to get going quite quickly and say the Shema prayer and the Shacharit Amidah (the main Morning Prayer) on time, which I almost never manage these days because of depression, even though I skipped most of the other morning prayers.

My mood was quite good today, except while I was davening (praying) I suddenly had self-critical thoughts about myself, thinking that I must be a disappointment to my parents compared with my sister.  Still, I’m trying not to get sucked into depression and negativity.  I try to tell myself I’m on my own path.  Try to focus on the present.

***

Today is 10 Av, according to the Jewish calendar, and my Hebrew birthday.  The morning is still a sad period from Tisha B’Av and the Three Weeks of mourning, but from the afternoon, the mourning restrictions are lifted and one can listen to music, go on holiday, shave, trim nails etc.  I’ve done or am looking forward to doing all those things, except no holidays this year because of COVID and Mum’s cancer.  I’m not a great traveller anyway.  Maybe it’s good that my Hebrew birthday always starts sad and gets better (except when 9 Av falls on Saturday, then the fast is postponed to 10 Av and the whole day is miserable).

***

I tried to apply for a librarian job at a charity, but the online application system said I have already applied there.  I have actually applied for three different roles there, most recently in February.  I assume they never recruited because of COVID and are looking again.  I emailed them to check that my previous application will still be considered.  I did get called for interview for one of the three jobs, so I think it’s worth applying again.  I’m unsure about applying to a different institution where I also had an interview, but I felt that I wasn’t a good match for the institution’s culture.  I also applied for a job I don’t think I’m qualified for, because it was an easy LinkedIn application that only takes two minutes.  I’m not sure how sensible that was.  My thinking was that if I’m really not qualified, they won’t even call me to interview and that the risk was worth it considering how little time it took to apply.

I’m still concerned that most jobs in my sector are full-time and I don’t think I can cope with more than three days a week (at most) at the moment.  My parents say, “Apply and worry about that when you get the job.”  I’m not sure.  I think I need to think about other jobs in other sectors.  I did go to a careers advisor before COVID, but I felt he didn’t know the library sector and skill set so well.  He suggested being a private tutor, but I feel I need training in how to teach someone (including how to mark work, not something I’ve had to do before) and was not sure how to get it.

***

Achievements: aside from the job stuff and the usual pre-Shabbat chores, I went for a walk and worked on my novel.

***

I’m feeling pensive at the moment because today I’ve been reminded of a number of my friends and friends of my parents who are struggling with major health issues for themselves or their families right now.  It makes saddened and empathetic, and also puts one’s own problems in perspective.  The only way I can really believe in God, given the amount of suffering in the world, is to assume that this world is a “vale of soul-making” as Keats put it or the “ante-chamber” to the “banquet hall” as the Mishnah says and that we are here purely to grow, not to be happy.  Not that there is anything wrong with accepting happiness where we find it, but happiness is the natural state of the Next World; in This World our natural state is to struggle so that we can make our souls (Keats) and prepare ourselves (the Mishnah), which are really two ways of saying the same thing.

I didn’t really want to end on a down note, but I need to go as we’re heading towards Shabbat now, so Shabbat shalom (peaceful Sabbath).

Online Friends, Doctor Who and Anti-Psychiatry

I woke up late (there’s a story there, but too complicated and trivial to be worth relating) and rather depressed.  I felt a bit better after breakfast, but not great.  I felt depressed enough to listen to music while getting dressed, and intermittently during the day which I have been avoiding recently because of The Three Weeks of Jewish national mourning.  But I listened really quietly, because I’m still avoiding explaining to my parents that my rabbi mentor said it was OK to listen to music when I’m depressed.  I’m not sure why I feel self-conscious like that, because it’s hardly the most problematic thing I do when depressed.  Sleeping through the whole morning is worse, both Jewishly and pragmatically, as is becoming irritable and sniping at my parents.

Incidentally, I came across this post yesterday that shows it’s not just me who struggles at this time of the Jewish year.

***

I tried to work on my novel, but it was hard.  Aside from being upset by more antisemitism reported by The Jewish Chronicle (I probably shouldn’t read it), it was hard to engage with writing.  A new chapter is always hard, I think because I’ve been switching perspective in alternate chapters, so I need to change how I think each time, but this chapter needs to be handled sensitively (a woman fleeing her abusive rapist husband with her baby) and I was so caught up in my own negative feelings that I found it hard to enter into someone else’s and I didn’t want to write something inappropriate, so it was easiest not to write.  All this, plus a strong background level of depression and exhaustion.  Plus, I had therapy in the afternoon, which is normally when I do most of my writing.

Eventually I gave up and did a bit of Torah study for twenty minutes to fill the gap until therapy.  I don’t think I would have been able to do much more even without therapy, as I was feeling so depressed.  My main other achievement, after therapy, was to go for a walk.  It was raining lightly when I left, but I decided I needed the exercise.  Unfortunately it then rained heavily, but by the time I got home, it was easing up.

***

Therapy was good.  I shared that I’m trying not to worry about my parents’ mortality and instead to focus on gratitude that I have a good relationship with them and am able to spend so much time with them.

I also spoke about feeling dependent on online interactions.  A lot of my friends are online, certainly the ones I communicate with most regularly.  I like having online friendships, especially with people who also have struggles, and I think it’s good to have mutual support there, but I was worrying that I’ve become someone who is constantly checking his emails or blog reader for the “hit” of having a comment on my blog or a new post to read on someone else’s blog.  I’m going to try to limit myself to internet use only twice a day, when I get up and in the early evening.  My therapist is away for a few weeks now, so I’m going to be able to have a few weeks to practise that and get back to her about it.

I’m too tired after therapy to do much, so I mostly watched TV, aside from walking and eating dinner with my parents.

***

The Doctor Who bit with some general mental health bits:

I didn’t feel like watching more current Doctor Who after therapy, so watched some of my birthday present to myself, The Macra Terror.  This is a Doctor Who story from 1967 that, like nearly 100 episodes, is missing from the archives.  It was broadcast before commercial video recorders existed, but some fans taped the soundtrack of these episodes (basically put an old reel-to-reel tape recorder by the TV speaker while it was being broadcast) and that’s been used as the basis for an animated version.  There’s some discussion among fans as to whether animation is the best way of experiencing missing episodes, and certainly the animation is not Pixar standard, but at least it gives an idea of what the story was like.  I find watching the animations easier to follow than listening to the narrated soundtrack on CD.

The story has some interesting aspects from a mental health point of view (which is why I’m writing here rather than on my Doctor Who blog).  The toxic positivity and conformity of the futurist Colony came across well, with conformity enforced by peer pressure, brainwashing and hospitalisation for euphemistic “correction” with dissent being conflated with psychosis by the authorities, an effective depiction of the co-option of psychiatry by oppressive regimes.  One could interpret the story as being somewhat anti-psychiatry (in the R. D. Laing sense), in that the dissidents are treated as psychotic, but in fact are genuinely seeing something in society that everyone else has been brainwashed to deny, although given that this is Doctor Who, what they can see are giant crabs, rather than abstract oppression or power structures.

I don’t really agree with the anti-psychiatry movement in general.  I think medication and therapy are often helpful.  I think they may be right that one can suffer mental illness as a result of being aware of negative things in society, although I think there probably is a personal trigger too.  I also think the anti-psychiatry movement was too narrow and ideological in outlook (mostly Marxist, although Thomas Szazz was liberatarian).  I don’t share such a dogmatic outlook.  I’m sure my experience of antisemitism, which I do feel affects the ups and downs of my depression on a day to day basis (see above), even if it’s not a cause as such, would not be accepted as a legitimate society cause of my mental illness by the Marxists in the movement, given that an increasing amount of antisemitism is coming from the hard-left, who are in denial of it (see the latest Twitter incident).

Two Years

Shabbat was good.  The usual mix of praying, studying Torah, eating, sleeping (too much) and reading.  I came last at Scrabble.  I had some rotten letters, far too many vowels.  I’m not very competitive, but I am getting annoyed that I’ve only won one game so far this summer.  There was some discussion as to whether ‘boxy’ (my word) is a word or not.  Our dictionary (Collins) says no, but now Shabbat is out, Merriam-Webster online says yes.  Maybe I’d have been better off with ‘oiled,’ but I couldn’t remember how many ‘L’s were in it.

I finished Sacred Fire: Torah from the Years of Fury, 1939-1942, kept up with weekly page of Talmud and read a bunch of Tehillim (Psalms) in Hebrew.  I didn’t do much recreational reading, just a little bit more of Muck, which is very good.  I didn’t go for a walk, partly because I slept and then wanted to study Torah and read, partly because it looked like rain.

***

Yesterday I realised it is nearly two years since I left my further education job (it’s nearly two years since I stopped working, although I was technically under contract for a couple of weeks in August when I was on holiday).  It feels much longer.  I think leaving may be the worst decision I ever made, and I’ve made some pretty bad ones.

For those of you who don’t remember or weren’t reading then, my initial contract was up.  I was not sure if it would be renewed, as everything in the library world, and the education world, is suffering from lack of funds.

I was offered a permanent contract, but my boss made it quite clear that she didn’t think I was handling the job as well as she expected.  The permanent contract was in many ways a new job, working all the time at the college’s secondary site (instead of once a week there and usually at the main site) where I would be expected to have much more contact with staff, talking to them, getting book recommendations from them and trying to get them to bring students to the library more often.  This terrified me given my social anxiety and the fact that the interpersonal aspects of the job so far had convinced me that I am autistic.  My boss had also made it clear that she felt that this interpersonal interaction side of the job was something I was particularly bad at.  I agreed, and decided to turn the job down, which seemed to astonish her, even though her vocal lack of confidence in my skills was a major factor in my turning it down.

If I’d realised how hard it would be to build a career or even to find a new job that is mostly backroom librarian stuff with minimal interpersonal interactions, maybe I would have taken that job.  Since then I’ve only worked for seven months in total out of twenty-three (not counting that August when I was paid, but not working).

I made a list of everything I’ve done in the last two years to try to work out if they were good or bad.  Aside from only seven months working, I had some interviews and tests and did badly in a lot of them, but not quite all (obviously two I did well in as I got the jobs).

I went on two dates with one person via a matchmaking site (not a success) and was in a long-distance relationship with E. for four or five months that also ended badly.

My mood (depression) has been extremely variable, and although I had some CBT last year for social anxiety, my social anxiety has got worse because of lockdown.  I also think I didn’t push myself hard enough with the CBT, although being restricted to ten sessions on the NHS didn’t help.

On the plus side, I finished my Doctor Who non-fiction book, but failed to get a publisher, or many readers when I self-published.  I have written most of the first draft of a novel.  This is the biggest thing in my life at the moment, aside from helping around the house now Mum has cancer.

My therapist, who I’d been seeing for years (seven?  Something like that) stopped seeing me in late 2018 because she said there was nothing else she could do for me.  That made me feel hopeless (not the first time mental health professionals have basically said that they can’t do anything for me as my issues are too difficult for them).  I started with a new therapist a few weeks ago.  She seems good, but I have seen so many therapists over the years, I see it as being more about letting off steam than being “cured” or one day having a “normal” life.

I still haven’t had an(other) autism assessment, despite being pushed towards it by the further education job and then by the following office job, which nearly drove me insane and made me realise my brain really isn’t wired like most people’s.

I made some new friends, mostly online, but quite a few friends have stopped talking to me, or I’ve stopped talking to them to prevent arguments (or from fear we would drift back into a relationship again in the case of E.).  I feel incredibly bad about this, but don’t know how to stop it happening again.

I think I had begun to fit in slightly better at shul (synagogue) and talk to one or two more people before lockdown.  I led services a couple of times too, but wonder if I should have done that (I had tremor issues again someone said I looked “like you were going to have a coronary”).  I still feel the community is not a perfect fit for me, but it’s the best on offer.  A few people know I have medical issues even if I haven’t told them the details, but I don’t always feel supported, although the rabbi has been messaging to check in regularly during lockdown, which is good.

Reading this back mostly makes me feel despairing, seeing how little has gone right in the last two years.  The plus side, I suppose, is that a lot happened, even if much of it was bad, so perhaps I should be hopeful that the next two years won’t be stagnant, even if I feel the chances of finding a job (let alone a good job), finding a girlfriend/wife or finding a publisher for my book all seem slim.

“I was shot and found myself in 1983”

Well, unlike Alex Drake in Ashes to Ashes, I wasn’t shot, but I did find myself in 1983 when I came into this world thirty-seven years ago.

My birthday got off to a bad start today.  Mum had a bad turn soon after I got up and we were worried about her for a while, although she’s fine now.

Then I tried to book my blood test, but failed because of COVID restrictions on where it can be done at the moment.  There’s a whole long story here that I won’t go into, but the short version is that I don’t know where I can have it done and am struggling to get hold of my psychiatrist to find out.  Typical NHS bureaucracy.  I know this sounds a trivial problem, and it is, but it leaves me feeling very flustered with social anxiety about asking people things and autistic confusion about new situations that I’m not prepared for, and being put through to receptionists who are short with me just leaves me feeling worse.

Also, on weighing myself, it looked like I hadn’t lost weight after all.

However, I was cheered up by getting a LOT of birthday messages here!  Thank you so much!  Also some messages from family during the day.  My ankle seems a lot better today too, although I need to work out what’s causing the pain to find a long-term solution.  Dad suggested insoles to cushion my feet more which might be a good first step.  That said, I did avoid going for a walk today to help it heal.

***

I did a bit of work on my novel, but between my problems phoning about my blood test, therapy, and decompressing from therapy afterwards, and then having family over for my birthday, I didn’t get much time today.  On the downside, I realised that when I sent Doctor Who Magazine a review copy of my Doctor Who book last week, I forgot to put my email address and phone number on the covering letter, although I did put my physical address.  I tell myself, I had never sent such a letter before, but it still annoys me that I make sloppy mistakes like that, even though I know it’s the kind of practical/interpersonal thing that you might expect someone on the autism spectrum to get wrong.

I guess it’s frustrating as I never had the organisational issues at school or university that might have flagged up autism.  I had a friend at school who was very intelligent, but also not at all organised and (to be honest) rather lazy.  He never did his homework or had the right books with him and only engaged with his studies inasmuch as they interested him.  He didn’t go to university when the rest of us did, but didn’t really do much in the way of career-building; I don’t even remember if he even had a job when I last saw him, back when I was still doing my BA.  My sister knows his sister and ran into him a few years back.  He had a girlfriend who was pregnant; I got the impression he still didn’t have much of career, maybe not even a job.  His parents always seemed super-permissive and content to just let him coast through life.  They were a wealthy family, so maybe he didn’t need to do any more than that to survive.

My point is that in many ways he fitted the autism stereotype a lot more than I do, the stereotype of intense interest in some topics, but complete uninterest in others and total disorganisation and lack of social savvy.  I never forgot my books, but perhaps that was only because I was super-careful to follow my routine of packing every evening before bed, checking against the timetable and my diary notes so that I didn’t forget anything and even checking my bag multiple times on the way in to school to see if I had forgotten anything (autism loves routines).   The further I get from the organised routine of school and, to a lesser extent, university, the more I make sloppy mistakes and end up blaming myself.  My parents help me with some stuff (I’ve mentioned my Dad helping me with money), but they don’t know anything about writing and publishing.  I just feel so useless and incompetent at times.  I try to tell myself it’s not my fault, but I worry that it is my fault and that when I have my assessment, I’m going to get told I’m not autistic, just useless.

***

Therapy was good.  We spoke about loneliness a lot.  I also went back and forth with guilt and anxiety about breaking up with E., which I guess is looking for validation on some level.  I spoke about not always being aware of when my inner critic is talking when I’m depressed and not being able to think of practical strategies to beat loneliness when I feel lonely.  The therapist suggested making some charts (I guess I could do flow charts) e.g. “If I feel depressed –> ask if it’s my inner critic talking” or “If I feel lonely –> email a friend /or –> phone Samaritans” rather than sit ruminating.  I will try to do that this week.

I spoke a bit about dating too.  The therapist did say that someone who could cope with my issues is probably going to be a very “special” and kind person, which is something I’ve thought about myself, even down to describing her as “special.”  How do I even find such a person?  According to stereotype, every frum guy is looking for a kind (and pretty) wife; it’s hard to see how I can stand out from the crowd, especially as, also according to stereotype, every frum woman (outside of the yeshiva world of full-time “learning”) is looking for guy who can support a family while taking prayer and Talmud study seriously, which is not exactly me right now.  It would probably also have to be someone who had some kind of issues of her own or the relationship would be unbalanced.  I don’t know how I could deliberately find such a relationship with someone with issues, other than wait and hope God will intervene.  I don’t think dating is going to happen again for me for a very long time…  That may be just as well, as I think I still have a lot of difficult feelings to work through regarding E.

***

As today was my birthday, my sister and brother-in-law came over and we had takeaway pizza in the garden, socially distanced, followed by chocolate cake and ice cream.  It was good, but I always end up feeling vaguely guilty that I get “peopled out” before anyone else gets tired.  I always seem to get fidgety a good hour before anyone else seems to.

Presents: Doctor Who: The Complete Twelfth Series DVD from my parents.  This was the 2020 series.  I know, I was lukewarm about the series when it was broadcast earlier this year, so why did I ask for it as a present?  (We don’t really do surprise presents in my family, we just tell each other what we would like.)  I admit I did have second thoughts about that.  To cut a long story short, I wasn’t sure what could be ordered because of COVID hitting my favourite online bookshop with supply issues.  I decided I would rather have something on the day than wait for months.  I also know I do often dislike new episodes of Doctor Who on first viewing and then like them a lot more on repeated viewing.  I think it’s something about the area where fannishness meets autism that means I need time to adjust to new ideas in my favourite programme.  I used to think the 2008 series was absolutely the worst series of Doctor Who ever; now I think that its second half in particular is a really exemplary run of episodes.  I didn’t think most of these episodes (the 2020 series) were bad, just so-so (except Orphan 55, which was pants and antisemitic).  As Peter Davison (the fifth Doctor) said, if a Doctor Who fan thinks an episode is “bad,” that means he “only” watches it thirty times.  If nothing else, reviewing the episodes for my Doctor Who blog ought to be fun; I deliberately didn’t review them on first viewing because I was worried I would be overly negative.  And there is still £10 or so in the budget to get one or two books when the supply chain restarts.

From my sister and brother-in-law, I got Minority Report, which is volume four of The Collected Stories of Philip K. Dick, one of my favourite authors.  (I have volumes one to three of the short stories already.)  Also, Muck by Dror Burstein, which is a sui generis modern re-telling of the biblical book of Jeremiah, a “comedy with apocalyptic stakes” that looks fun and also worth checking out if I want to write Jewish-themed fantasy and science fiction.  I guess it’s appropriate Three Weeks reading too.

Mum and Dad also gave me a MoonPig birthday card with my picture on it.  It’s not such a bad picture, which I saying something as I usually hate looking at pictures of myself.

I’m pretty tired and “peopled out” now.  I did some late night Torah study just now (about half an hour, not bad considering how late it is) and I ought to go to bed, but I feel I need to decompress a bit with TV or something to unwind from therapy and peopling.

***

There’s been a weird, intermittent humming sound from somewhere nearby today, which makes my bedroom sound eerily like the TARDIS.  I really would like to be able to take my room anywhere in time and space.  But probably not to 1983.

“If you’re lonely you can talk to me”

I went to bed late, the usual post-Shabbat (Sabbath) in the summer issue of Shabbat finishing late, then davening (praying) and tidying up, off-loading my thoughts onto my blog and needing some time to decompress.  I watched the first episode of the Doctor Who story Warriors of the Deep, a story I used to hate, but now see some virtues in.  I don’t understand why fandom remembers Peter Davison as the “bland and boring” Doctor when he’s actually the energetic and sarcastic one.  OK, enough Doctor Who for now!

I struggled to sleep when I went to bed.  I think I fell asleep around 3.00am.  I woke up (for the second time) about 10.00am after the dreams I wrote about here.  The dreams, and thinking about them after waking, left me in a thoughtful mood, not depressed, but not as happy as when I woke up from the second dream.  It does seem easier to make friends in dreams than in real life.  Mind you, it seems easier to make friends online than in real life too.

My mood did go down again after a while, though, and I felt quite lonely again too.  Then around 12.30pm, I was hit by a sudden tidal wave of loneliness and despair which persisted for much of the day.  It’s not just despair and loneliness, but thinking I’m too weird to ever be in a lasting relationship.  “The most terrible poverty is loneliness and the feeling of being unloved.” (Mother Theresa)  I wonder if I will ever be happy and loved romantically… My parents love me, it’s true, and I know that’s something other people can’t take for granted and I try to be grateful for it.  Still, I feel romantic love is different and not replaceable with parents’ love.  Plus, lately I am struggling to express myself to my parents again.  It seems I go through phases of being close to them and then less close.  Maybe I don’t want to upset them by saying I’m depressed while Mum is ill.  Or maybe I don’t want to admit that sometimes I have begun to worry that I made a mistake breaking up with E.  I feel like I just need to be held.

I feel that I’m spiralling downwards into a pit of loneliness and despair at the moment and I don’t know what I can do about it.  I’m hoping that getting past my birthday, and past Tisha B’Av next week, will help, but who knows?

What I posted the other day (about God so to speak experiencing our suffering) no longer cheers me up as much as it did.  I have found this a lot.  CBT in particular seems to assume that if you can find one thought or affirmation that really raises your mood, that sorts out your depression or anxiety permanently.  You just have to repeat the magic phrase or affirmation.  Whereas I find that after a while, thoughts that raise my mood lose their potency somehow.  Like the Borg in Star Trek, the depression adapts to my shields and weapons (the thoughts or affirmations) and breaks through them.  I suppose I find other things to feel anxious or depressed about.  Or maybe mental health ruminations just aren’t logical and can’t be fought with logic.

***

I forced myself to apply for a job that came up.  Job adverts and related bumf is the most horribly, Orwellian, meaningless mass of jargon, cliché and meaningless phrases.  The public sector (where this job is) is, if anything, even worse than the private sector.  The purpose of the job is “contribute to the delivery of [institution’s] knowledge and library services”.  So the job of the assistant librarian is to deliver library services.  Someone thought that sentence was meaningful and non-obvious enough to be worth writing down.

Anyway, it’s another assistant librarian job that I feel I ought to be able to do, but worry that I can’t.  It’s also full-time, and I don’t think I could cope with that.  But I’m applying anyway, to show willing.  I forced myself to fill in the application, although if it’s so hard for me to fill in the application (and much of it was saved in the system from a previous application to a job at the same institution), I have no idea how I will manage the work.  Writing the application just makes me revisit all the jobs I messed up in the past.  I just feel so useless these days.

***

I went for a run and came back with a painful foot (left ankle and under the left arch) and an exercise headache (verging on migraine).  I think my trainers, which I bought last winter, are possibly not the best or don’t fit properly, as I keep getting minor pains in my feet, although this is the worst I’ve had.  I probably should have stopped halfway through the run when it started hurting, but I am stubborn and I wanted to see whether a slightly different route I was taking took my run over three miles (it did, with reasonable pace, foot notwithstanding.  It was over five kilometres too).  I felt I could cope with it.  This is what I do: I set myself a target, then I push myself to meet it, and when I feel I can’t cope, I still push on because I don’t want to admit failure (to myself as well as to others), and then I crash and hurt myself and can’t do anything for a period of time.  It’s a pattern that has repeated for years, usually with mental health, but sometimes with physical health.

Fortunately, after showering, eating and taking some solpadeine, both foot and head seem to be rather better, although both ache a little still.

I do seem to have lost some weight.  I think I’m now on the borders of being overweight rather than being clearly overweight.  This is pretty good, as clomipramine made me put on a lot of weight, but is a non-negotiable part of my treatment regimen as it’s the only anti-depressant that has ever done much for me long-term.

My mood has been a bit better since my run; still somewhat depressed and lonely, but not so much.

***

I managed some Torah study for an hour or so too, and brainstormed some ideas for this week’s devar Torah (Torah thought).  So I guess it was a fairly productive day even if I feel exhausted and slightly headachey.  I did watch the rest of Warriors of the Deep, and will probably watch an episode of Star Trek Voyager before bed.  That’s quite a lot of TV by my usual standards, but I feel I need to balance out the activity with mindless relaxation for my own mental health.

***

I’ll be thirty-seven in under an hour.  Thirty-seven isn’t such a big event as thirty or forty because humans use a base ten counting system and like round numbers, and thirty-seven isn’t evenly divisible by ten.  Still, it feels like I should have got my life together by now, that I should have a career or at least a job and a network of friends and a place in my religious community and some kind of relationship, maybe even children.  I looked up 37 on Wikipedia, but there weren’t any factoids that I could understand easily without having more maths knowledge than I have, except that it’s a prime number (which I already knew) and also normal body temperature in degrees Celsius and the atomic number of rubidium.  I worked out that the thirty-seventh Doctor Who story was The Tomb of the Cybermen, which I’ve always found over-rated.  I don’t know what this proves, except that I shouldn’t let one day out of 365 in the year (one out of 366 this year) have such power over me.

I’m not going to say that thirty-seven can’t be worse than thirty-six, because clearly it could be.  But I will say I’m going to hope for a better year.  In the immortal words of Delta and the Bannermen (going back to Doctor Who, sorry), “Here’s to the future/Love is the answer.”  (Also, “Can we have space buns and tea?”)

Bonus Post: Two Dreams (Guilt and Making Friends)

This is quite long and I know some people find other people’s dreams boring, so I put them in a separate post.  You can skip it if you want.  I’ll try to post my usual update later.

I had two dreams last night.  In the first dream, I had been part of some kind of big armed robbery (!) before the dream started, masterminded by a boss from a former real world job (I won’t say which one, just in case).  I had had a minor role as some kind of look out or something similar.  The mastermind was trying to get us together to do an even bigger robbery, one in which it was more likely someone would get killed.  I didn’t want to do this, nor did several of the other people who were involved in the first one, but the mastermind was blackmailing us, saying if we didn’t cooperate, she would tell the police about our involvement in the first robbery.  I decided I couldn’t cope with the guilt and was going to tell my parents and my rabbi mentor what I had done, even if I ended up going to jail.  I was less worried about jail and more feeling guilty that I had let my parents and rabbi mentor down by doing such a bad thing.

I woke up feeling upset and guilty.  It took me a moment to realise it was a dream and I hadn’t really done such a bad thing against my values.  This was probably triggered by revisiting the job where I had that boss for my novel, where I felt I had been incompetent at times (incompetent, not criminal!) but I don’t know why I exaggerated it to that extent.  I suppose it shows how awkward I’ve found the workplace over the last couple of years (when I’ve actually had a job to go to).

***

In the second dream I was in some kind of residential scheme for people with “issues.”  I think I was still a teenager.  Some of the other teenagers there were people I was at school with, but others weren’t.  I was leaving a day early for some reason.  I wanted to stay in touch, but wasn’t sure how to leave my email address.  I wanted to give it to one of the people running the programme (who were all nuns, for some reason) to pass on, but first I couldn’t find any blank paper as all the pads had scrawls on them, and then my pen wouldn’t write — the ink just sat in a blob, like mercury.  Then the nun wasn’t sure about giving my email to women, in case they misunderstood, but then some of the women came in and wanted my email address.  Then I woke up.

I think the second dream was about a residential scheme I did for a week when I was sixteen, for students from state schools who wanted to apply to Oxbridge.  We did a one week course with other people thinking of studying the same subject to get an idea of what studying at Oxbridge is like.  I struggled with it initially.  I nearly came home after the first night because I felt so homesick and lonely.  I did eventually connect a bit with the other students, but on the last night they went to the pub with the teachers and I stayed in the building.  I don’t know why.  I just couldn’t go.  They even came back to get me, but I couldn’t face it.  I was so angry with myself for not going, but I just couldn’t manage it.  I guess it was social anxiety and not being used to being accepted in a group.  Maybe some autistic stuff about feeling I can’t understand other people properly.  I don’t know what they thought about me.  I think they tried to stay in contact together as a group for a bit afterwards, but I didn’t manage that either.  I feel quite bad writing this, as they were friendly and I couldn’t cope with that.  I feel like I let them down.  So I think my dream was about what if this had gone better.  What if I could connect with people better.

One of the students there in the dream was someone I was at school with, but struggled to understand.  I was a bit wary of him, for reasons I did not really understand.  He was clever, but not geeky.  He was very left-wing, much further than I was then, let alone now, and rather anti-Zionistic at a Jewish school where everyone was Zionist; I’m not sure if I knew that at the time though.  I suppose I couldn’t find common ground to connect with him; it didn’t help that I didn’t really know him or have classes with him, he was just a friend of some of my friends, and I found those situations hard.  In the dream I knew of all this, but I still got on with him regardless.

I woke up feeling happy and rested, even though I had slept for less then I usually do and I decided to get up.

Because God is Infinite His Pain is Infinite

I made a crucial typo in yesterday’s post.  It should have read, “Therefore it’s impossible for something to exist without God knowing and understanding it.  Therefore God can’t find me weird and unlikeable.”  I put “with” instead of “without.”  Whoops.  Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase and Fable has a whole long list of historical editions of the Bible that, thanks to typos, enjoined readers to “sin on more” instead of “sin no more” or commanded them that “Thou shalt commit adultery” missing the “not” or suggested that “The fool hath said in his heart there is a God” (instead of “no god”).  Ahem.  At least my mistake won’t cost me anything; the missing “no” in the last quote cost the printers £3000 (a huge sum of money in the seventeenth century) and the edition was suppressed, so they couldn’t make anything back from it.

Anyway, Shabbat (the Sabbath) was OK.  I was mostly bouncing back and forth between depression and sort-of OKness.  I worried a bit that I made a mistake in breaking up with E., or that I didn’t make a mistake, but I will still be single forever.  I think I had some other depressive thoughts, but I don’t remember what they were now.  I know I had a few morbid thoughts about my parents dying.  I slept a lot again, hence feeling really awake now (midnight) and not sure what to do.

The one really good thing that happened was something I came across in the holy book Sacred Fire: Torah from the Years of Fury 1939-1942 by the Piaseczno Rebbe, Rabbi Kalonymus Kalmish Shapira, translated by J. Hershy Worch.  It’s from a sermon delivered in the Warsaw Ghetto on Shabbat Shekalim (Mishpatim), 14 February 1942, in the middle of the Holocaust.  I’m going to quote it at length:

For behold!  A Jew, tortured in his suffering, may think he is the only one in pain, as though his individual, personal pain, and the pain of all other Jews, has no affect Above, God forbid.  But, as the verse (Isaiah 63:9) says, “In all their pain is His pain,” and as we learn in the Talmud (Hagigah 15b) in the name of R. Meir, “When a person suffers, to what expression does the Shechinah (Divine) give utterance? ‘O woe!  My head, O woe!  My arms.’”  In sacred literature we learn that God, as it were, suffers the pain of a Jew much more than that person himself feels it.

Possibly because God is infinite – and hence unknowable in the world – His pain at the suffering of Jewish people is also infinite.  Perhaps it is just impossible for any human to feel such immense pain, it is impossible even to apprehend the level of God’s pain, to know that He bears it.

Hagigah is actually one of the few masechtot (volumes) of Talmud I actually own a hard copy of, so I looked up the reference.  In the Steinsaltz (Koren Noé) Edition Talmud, the translation explains that this pain (‘O woe!  My head, O woe!  My arms.’) is referring to someone who is in pain because he has been sentenced to lashes or to death by the court (in ancient times, when Jewish courts permitted corporal and capital punishment).  The Talmud goes on to say, if God feels so much pain when a wicked person is punished, how much more so when a righteous person is in pain.  In fact, the quotation comes in a whole long narrative about Elisha ben Avuyah the Talmudic rabbi who became a heretic, and how some of the rabbis tried to get him into Heaven (so to speak) after his death even though he was very wicked.

So this would indicate that God does feel my pain and care about me on an individual level, not just because I’m human/Jewish (I know it is a very particularist Jewish text, like a lot of Jewish texts, particularly mystical ones).  This is the question that has been bothering me for a couple of years now.  I’m not sure what I feel now I have an answer.  I think I do feel closer to God.  I’m not sure what else I feel.  My mood has been going up and down, as I said.

That’s all I have to say tonight.

“Just pretend I’m Sherlock Holmes”

Warning: this is a mammoth post.  I don’t think I’ve written a blog post at this length for quite a while.  Don’t say you weren’t warned…

I spoke too soon last night when I said I didn’t get an exercise migraine.  Just when I was about to get ready for bed, about three hours after running, I suddenly got hit by a migraine.  Fortunately it was responsive to solpadeine and a “kool ‘n’ soothe” gel strip, but it did result in my going to bed about an hour later than I would have otherwise done, as I stayed up watching Fawlty Towers (The Kippers and the Corpse) while I waited for the medication to help (if I lie down with a migraine, it gets worse).

I slept late as usual.  I do wish I didn’t sleep for so long.  It would be nice to have some morning again.  Nevertheless, on some level that amount of sleep seems to be what I need to do to recover from all the activity I crowd into the afternoons and evenings.  Being nocturnal isn’t such a bad thing when I’m unemployed (although Jewish law assumes that men get up very early in the morning for morning prayers, which have to be said early), but it would be better if I slept for seven or eight hours a night instead of nine or ten, sometimes more.  I guess there’s not much point complaining when I’ve spent fifteen years trying to shift this pattern with no success, except when I have some external event in the morning like work or a psychiatrist appointment.

I had an anxiety dream last night about having to lead a shul (synagogue) service and not feeling able to do so.  Maybe that’s a reaction to shuls reopening, even though I’m not going yet because we’re shielding Mum.

***

Yesterday was the start of what looks set to be a week of not working on my novel so I can catch up with some real world stuff that needs doing.  I feel a bit stifled just at the thought of not writing for a week, which I guess is good (that I want to write so much).

Unfortunately, after lunch, when I tried to get down to things, I felt more tired and depressed than in the morning, which is unusual.  Usually I feel better after lunch.  I guess I didn’t really want to get down to chores, plus it was hard to work out what I could reasonably get done before therapy at 4pm.

***

I tried to set up an Amazon seller account so I could buy some adverts for my self-published Doctor Who non-fiction book.  However, it turns out it costs $40 a month!  I thought payment was per ad click, but there’s a subscription to pay first just to have a seller account.  I don’t have that kind of money at the moment.  I’d need to sell nearly two thousand copies a year just to break even and I doubt I could manage that.  So that plan is going on the back-burner now, unless it turns out I’ve misunderstood how it works, which is possible.

I’m not terribly good at marketing.  My marketing plan basically now consists of sending a free copy of the book to Doctor Who Magazine and hoping they review it, or at least put a mention in the merchandise news section.  I spent some time today writing a covering letter for that.  I hope to post the copy tomorrow.

***

I had Skype therapy today.  The connection was interrupted twice and the therapist let it run over by five minutes to make up for it, which was good of her.

I went for a walk for half an hour after therapy.  I ended up feeling like I’m in the wrong time.  I guess it’s not uncommon for people from conservative religious groups (e.g. me) to feel out of sync with the wider world.  Usually they fit in their own community, though.  I feel I don’t fit anywhere.  I feel like “the traveller from beyond time” (Doctor Who: The Savages).  Yesterday I was thinking what historical society I would want to live in.  My Mum always says she wants to live in the 1920s, but only if she was rich, so she could be a Flapper.  I thought I’d like to be an eccentric Victorian gentleman scholar of independent means.  Then I realised I basically just wanted to be Sherlock Holmes (as well as solving crimes, Holmes wrote a number of monographs on criminology, not to mention other, unrelated, subjects).

It’s not just that I have different ethics, tastes and mores from other people.  Sometimes I feel a bit as if I’m trying to think differently to other people.  It feels like most people think in three dimensions, and I want to think in four, but I can’t do it because I’m not a mathematician or physicist.  Not literally a mathematician, but the type of person who could think differently to most people.  That I want to be a great visionary, but haven’t got the ability to think anything new, just an inability to think what everyone else thinks.

A better analogy might be that I feel like I’m on a different frequency to other people a lot of the time, primarily because of autism.  Other people can’t quite “get” me, and I can’t get them.

After dinner I think my thoughts went somewhat downhill.  I tried to do some Torah study, but only managed fifteen minutes before feeling overwhelmed by depression and exhaustion.

***

My Dad spoke to me again about working in a local primary school as a teaching assistant.  I do not think that this is a good idea at all, but my parents are convinced that I am good with children.  I have not seen any real evidence of this, but they are convinced.  Nor do I think working in a primary school is a particularly good idea from an autistic point of view.  I think Dad was annoyed I was so dismissive.  He said it is local (which is undoubtedly true) and that I could do with the money (also true) and that it would give me something to do.  The latter is technically true as well, but I would still need to job hunt to get a library job, which would be a better fit, plus I’m already working on a novel and see myself as having more chance of a career as a writer than as a teacher/TA, not that I see myself as having much of a chance of getting any sort of career.  Taking a full-time TA job would basically put my novel-writing on indefinite hold and even a part-time job would cause some disruption.

***

I thought I was over E.  I guess I spoke too soon about that too.  I keep thinking about what happened.  I don’t really think it could have worked out between us, but I have thoughts and nebulous feelings about her at times.  It’s mostly feelings that I can’t really pin down and analyse.  I guess wishing things could have worked out.  Some worry about how she is coping without me and hoping she is OK.  Wishing I had someone who cared for me and could see past all my issues.  Someone I could care for.

I hate the fact that I always have crushes when I’m not in a relationship (which is the vast majority of the time).  They’re always painful and make me act stupidly and they never lead to anything.  I wish I could just turn my libido off.  I’m blatantly never going to get married, so it’s kind of pointless.  I should just focus on my writing, and Jewish stuff (except getting married is a Jewish thing, so there’s an obvious problem right there).

I have been thinking about a story from the Talmud (Menachot 44a) today.  I have blogged about it before, but I’m going to blog about it again, because I think it’s a good story.  I don’t know if it really happened; it doesn’t really matter.  The story is about a young Jewish yeshiva (seminary) student who went illicitly to visit a prostitute in a distant land.  As he undressed, he saw his tzitzit, the fringes on a four-cornered garment that Jewish men wear, and couldn’t go through with the act.  He sat there naked and the woman joined him, asking what flaw he saw in her.  He said that she was the most beautiful woman he had ever seen, but that his tzitzit seemed like four witnesses testifying that God punishes sin and rewards virtue and he could not go through with the sin of sleeping with her.  The woman asked the man to write down his name, the name of his city, the name of his Torah teacher and the yeshiva where he studied.  This the man did.  Then he left.  Meanwhile the woman sold her property, gave a third to the government and a third to the poor and uses the remainder to travel to the man’s city, where she asked his rabbi to convert her.  He was sceptical, thinking she wants to convert simply to get married to a Jewish man, but when he sees the list of names he seems to intuit the story and that she had a meaningful connection and oversees her conversion and she married the man who came to her.

Rabbi Eliezer Berkovits has a whole long analysis of the story in his essay A Jewish Sexual Ethics (reprinted in Essential Essays on Judaism ed. David Hazony).  He sees the moment of contact, when the yeshiva student and the prostitute sit together, and he gives her all the names in his life, symbolising his sense of self and personal history, as being an I-Thou moment (according to Martin Buber’s philosophy, which we covered a bit in the recent Jewish philosophy shiur (religious class) I went to).  “It is redemption from impersonality” says Rabbi Berkovits.

This is what I want from life, really, certainly from a relationship.  To be redeemed from impersonality.  To really connect with someone.  I thought I had that, but obviously I didn’t.  The online world is particularly bad for tricking you into thinking that you are closer to someone than you really are, and it’s probably no surprise that my first relationship was formed via a dating website and involved a lot of emailing and texting back and forth even after we moved off JDate and my second one was formed via my blog and involved a lot more emailing and texting, not least from being long-distance.  This may be part of the reason they failed.  Maybe we both had a false image of each other.  I don’t know.  If I dated again, I don’t know what method I would use to meet someone (dating site, dating app, professional shadchan (matchmaker), hope for a date arranged by friends or family, etc.).  They all seem pretty problematic in different ways.  I certainly wouldn’t try speed dating, which just terrifies me (little known fact: speed dating was invented by an Orthodox rabbi.  It is very much how frum people date: short, to the point, a lot of information passed very quickly to see if you’re compatible, then move on to the next one).

We actually spoke about this in therapy today.  Not about speed dating, about wanting connection, and missing that.  I get on OK with my parents, but we don’t have the close rapport that my Dad had with his Dad and my Mum had with her Mum.  We don’t always receive each other’s frequencies.  I don’t really have close friends I can talk to any more.  I fell out with them, or they drifted away.  I’m avoiding E. at the moment and don’t know if we can continue as platonic friends.  The friends I do have don’t live locally either, which is problematic at the moment.

My parents have lots of local friends, and during lockdown they’ve been going round to each others’ houses on Shabbat and having socially distanced conversations on the driveways.  I can’t really do that easily; even my local friends live quite a way away, but I would be too scared to just turn up on someone’s doorstep unannounced.  What if they didn’t want to see me?  What if I ran out of conversation?  I guess this is social anxiety.

We spoke about this today in therapy too, the way I drifted away from friends in my teens when socialising became less about playing a game together with clear rules as per childhood and more about “chilling.”  I never got the hang of that, or ever felt confident inviting myself to other people’s parties the way my peers did.  It didn’t help that I was terrified of drink, drugs, tobacco and sex and most of my peers were into at least one of those.  To be honest, forget cannabis or booze, I was terrified of people talking to me, or my crush talking to me, although I wanted that to happen… I had a crush on one girl during the whole two years of the sixth form (equivalent to high school).  Sometimes I tried awkwardly try to talk to her, but mostly I just stood around near her and hoped she would say something to me.  Nowadays I think she didn’t like me much and found me irritating, but was too polite to say so, especially as her best friend was dating one of my close friends.

I feel the touch hunger today too.  I guess I could ask my parents for a hug, but somehow I feel I can’t, and it’s not quite the same anyway.  It would be good to be in a relationship where my physical and emotional needs are both met, but that seems unlikely to happen any time soon.  I’ll be thirty-seven this time next week.  Somehow I feel that I could easily turn forty and still be a virgin.  I can’t see my life changing quickly, except possibly for the worse.  I think it could easily be at least five years before I’ve established myself as a writer and only once I have a career do I feel that I can even think of dating again.

Ugh, I’m catastrophising again.

I wrote a huge post, but I still feel that I haven’t really expressed what I feel.  It’s hard to describe loneliness, even though I’ve experienced it for so much of my life.  I probably do live inside my head too much.

I’m about to eat ice cream, because I feel I need it, and maybe impulse buy/retail therapy buy some Doctor Who DVDs, although I probably shouldn’t, because I just feel rotten today.  I hope this is just the “mental hangover” from “peopling” yesterday and not anything more serious.

Barbecue and Torah Study as a Process

My parents and I went to a barbecue at my sister and brother-in-law’s house.  I was slightly apprehensive that either my religious OCD would come into play regarding the kosher standard of the food, or that I would feel left out of the conversation and be bored.  In the event, I had a good time.  There was lots of food, and there was vegetarian for me (I only eat meat and fish on Shabbat and Yom Tov (Sabbath and festivals)).  I was mostly engaged in the conversation, which is good, because sometimes I feel a complete outsider.  I’m not sure if that’s autistic communication issues or just that the conversation is often career and house stuff that I can’t relate to, sadly.  I did start feeling “peopled out” after a few hours and struggled through the last hour we were there, then started suggesting maybe we should leave as it was getting late.  I guess I always get anxious when I don’t have a clear exit strategy.  It was good, but I came away feeling pretty exhausted and glad that I hadn’t really planned to do much today other than barbecue, Torah study and run.

I mostly did not get the usual “My younger sister is married and owns a house, when am I going to get married and buy a house?” thoughts, but I did briefly have some “What woman would be messed up enough to date me?” thoughts on the way home.

I also managed an hour of Torah study and a run.  The run started badly and I got out of breath easily, plus at one point I developed a pain in my knee and thought I was going to have to stop, but the second half was a lot better.  I doubt the run burnt off all the calories from the salt and pepper kettle chips I ate at the barbecue…  Still, I haven’t got an exercise migraine (although they can start hours later), which is good.

***

I had two positive emails in response to my devar Torah (Torah thought) this week, which was good.

***

I had a thought today that I’m still mulling over; it hasn’t led to a change in attitude yet.  Maybe I should think of Torah study as process rather than an action.  The emphasis is supposed to be on studying (“learning” in Yeshivish, the argot of the Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) world) rather than on content studied.  In other words, the goal is to spend as much time as possible studying, not to master so many volumes of Talmud, albeit that more recently the idea of Daf Yomi (studying one folio a day to complete the Talmud in seven and a half years) has gained traction.  Still, that’s not how it is taught in yeshivot (seminaries), where they focus on only two of the six orders of the Talmud (the Talmud is divided topically into six divisions, known as “orders” and subdivided into volumes) and not by any means the most relevant.  They focus on marriage law and tort law, because these are considered the most difficult volumes, which sharpen the intellect most.  A great Torah scholar is known as a talmid chacham which means literally a “wise student” emphasising that the idea is to study, not to know.

Of course, this may not help, as I don’t study Torah that much as a percentage of my day, even if it is a mainstay of my life.

***

That was it, really.  I didn’t do very much today.  It’s actually hard to say that, because I felt I should have done more, particularly as yesterday was Shabbat (the Sabbath) so I didn’t do anything and I didn’t do much on Friday either.  Mood was quite good most of the time, although there was some stuff lurking underneath the surface.  I guess it was a good day, although it’s strangely hard to say that too.

“Boy, does that sound like a boring person’s idea of fun!”

I’m hearing Alice Otterloop’s dismissal from Cul de Sac applied to my life today (see the title comment).  It’s not so bad really.  Shabbat (Sabbath) dinner yesterday was fine, but late.  I then ended up spending an hour or more on Torah study, mostly trying to get back into Talmud Berachot to keep up with the resumed shiur (religious class) at shul (synagogue), even though I can’t go to it because we’re shielding Mum.  I didn’t understand much of it and 10pm is probably too late for Talmud.  I read a bit and went to sleep around 1.30am.

Today I went for walk after lunch, which I hoped would stop me napping in the afternoon, as it seemed to do last week, but it didn’t help and I still slept for a couple of hours (not sure how long exactly as I forgot to look at the clock when I went to bed).  Hence, it’s just gone midnight and I’m quite awake, although listless and vaguely bad tempered.  I’m not sure why I feel like this.  It may connect to bursts of depression that I had on and off during the day.  I only managed forty-five minutes of Torah study today, much of it going over that Talmud passage again.  I spent some more time reading a novel.  Then we had seudah shlishit (the third Sabbath meal) and played two games of Rummikub.  Dad won both.  He usually does as he has a mathematical brain and it’s a numbers game.  Despite being autistic, I don’t really have a numbers brain.  It’s things like this that make me worry that I’m not actually autistic, just rubbish at living life.  Huh.

I’ve nearly finished the novel I’m re-reading (Doctor Who: The New Adventures: Bad Therapy).  I don’t think I enjoyed the Doctor Who spin-off novels enough for me to enjoy re-reading them too often.  I find a book I don’t think I remember much about, but once I start reading, it comes back to me.  With Doctor Who TV episodes, I enjoy them so much I can watch them umpteen times even knowing the plot (and dialogue, cliff-hangers, and more interesting shot compositions).  Ditto for some of the Doctor Who Magazine comic strips, but apparently not for the novels.

I’m back in a depressed mood, and too awake to sleep…  Not sure what to do.  I might break my “No screens after 11pm” rule (honoured much more in the breach than the observance) and watch TV.  Maybe The Avengers or something.  Something silly, to try to unwind and switch off the depressed thoughts.

Depression, Divrei Torah and Shopping in Partial Lockdown

I had a weird dream about my maternal grandparents last night.  They were doing decorating or something and then my grandma dropped dead (after doing a flip while dressed as a dog, rather improbably).  I had to call for an ambulance and for my Mum and somehow ended up locked out of the house and unable to unlock the front door while Muppets (actual Muppets, from The Muppet Show) crowded me and put me off.  It was a pretty weird dream, but I think it’s an attempt to process feelings about my parents’ mortality after Mum being ill on Sunday and her cancer in general (it was her parents in the dream).

Perhaps because of this, I felt pretty depressed on waking.  Or maybe I just did too much yesterday.  Plus, it was a fast day today in Judaism, one of the sadder days of the year, which always brings me down, even though I’m not allowed to fast on most of them any more because I’m on lithium.  I usually at least don’t brush my teeth on fast days as a small gesture, but I forgot and did that.  It’s hard to stay in the fast day state of mind when not actually fasting.  Similarly, in previous years I would have drunk just water today, but I drank tea and coffee and I doubt I would have got through the day easily without them.  The longer my depression goes on, the harder I find it to get into the mindset of the “sad” days of the Jewish calendar.  I guess I just feel that I’m depressed all the time and I’m struggling to get to normality even on a sadder day.

I did have depressed feelings about the future on waking.  The usual thoughts that I won’t ever get married, or probably even be in a relationship again, rooted in fears that I will not find another job, which seems to be necessary to find a girlfriend, and that I will  not get over the depression, which would also be good to get rid of before dating.  My unemployment may be fixable.  I hope it is, at any rate.  My depression I suspect is here to stay, on some level at least.

I wrote a lot more about this, but deleted it, as I don’t want to wallow in depression again.  I know I have made progress with the depression over the years and I’m certainly not as bad as I was circa 2003 to 2008 or even later, but it’s still a struggle and I don’t know what my improvement is down to, which makes me worry that I will relapse somehow.  Medication is certainly part of the improvement.  Maybe a certain amount of occupational therapy in terms of keeping active.  Psychotherapy has helped me understand myself a lot better and to deal with some short term problems, but I’m not sure it’s really helped me resolve much in the long term.  It is certainly helpful to talk to a therapist on a week-by-week basis to vent, but I’m not sure how much it helps in the long term.

***

Achievements: despite feeling very depressed, I spent two hours or so working on my novel, fairly absorbed and “in flow.”  I finished another chapter and did some reorganising of the plan for the last few chapters.  Once I started work, the depression feelings did subside quite a bit.  I am concerned that I don’t quite have enough plot left to generate the 13,000 or so words I need to make this acceptable even as a short novel.

I had to do some shopping and wanted to go further afield than I’ve been for a while.  There are basically two places to shop around here: a small parade of shops less than ten minutes’ walk away, and a big high street and shopping centre about fifteen or twenty minutes away.  I hadn’t gone further than the “less than ten minutes away” shops since lockdown started and felt I should push myself to go further, plus the thing I needed was more likely to be in the shops on the high street.

So, I set out.  The weather was horrible, but I saw it as exposure therapy as much as anything, as I’ve been worried about how I will adapt to “normal” post-lockdown life.  I wore a mask when I arrived at the shops, and then wore it home.  I was OK, albeit annoyed that it was often not possible to distance myself from other people as I would have liked.  I went into the Judaica shop too, which was a bit of a reward for getting down there, but I didn’t buy anything.  I still find masks uncomfortable.  I think I will still avoid the shops unless absolutely necessary, at least while Mum is immunosuppressed.

I also wrote my devar Torah (Torah thought) for the week.  I realised I’ve never really written about these here in detail.  These thoughts are short essays, typically 800 to 1,000 words on the week’s Torah reading.  I started writing them at the start of the Torah reading cycle last autumn, initially just to read aloud to my parents at the Shabbat (Sabbath) dinner table, but I now send them to a few friends and family too.  I do feel the pressure of the weekly deadline sometimes, but it can be quite a rewarding experience to think about the text, look at commentaries, and set out some ideas about it.

I’m slightly curious to look back over the ten months or so and see what themes emerge.  Even without doing that, I know there are some writers I quote a lot.  It’s pretty much inevitable that anyone writing on the Torah portion in the mainstream Jewish tradition is going to quote Rashi and Ramban (the two greatest Medieval Torah commentators) a lot.  More personal is my looking to the Kotzker Rebbe and (lehavdil bein chaim lechaim) Rabbi Lord Sacks a lot for inspiration.

One theme that I know has come up a lot, including this week, is the concept of individuality in Judaism, the idea that we all have a unique outlook on life and that this is, or should be, a theme of Jewish life over and above the conformist nature of a community.  The idea that God sees our individuality and that therefore we should strive ourselves to see and accept individuality, and that leaders in particular should do this.  I’m sure on some level it’s from feeling that I am not always accepted as an individual that I feel the need to stress these ideas, but that does not make them less valid or true.

***

From Sacred Fire: Torah from the Years of Fury 1939-1942 by Rabbi Kalonymus Kalmish Shapira, the Piaseczno Rebbe (emphasis added):

Moses was the most humble person ever to walk the earth.  He was constantly asking himself, “Who am I?  And how can I possibly… ?”  So God said to him, “It is not true that you are not fit, and it is not true that you have faults and blemishes, God forbid.  Your self-doubting is itself a form of worship, the type of worship that illuminates the world, coming as it does through a chain of causality from the name of God that is the future.”  It comes from the name of God, EHYE — “I will be.”  When a person feels that there is nothing worth looking at in his heart, but says, “I am nothing right now, but from now on I will try to be something,” his worship takes on the aspect of God’s Name, EHYE — I will be.  It draws out a reciprocal promise of EHYE — I will be.

Negativity and Meaning

I felt quite depressed again today.  Dad took Mum to her appointment with the surgeon and then for a socially distanced visit to my sister’s house, so I had the house to myself for a bit, which I like.  It’s nice to have personal space, not that we get in each others’ way very much (I’m usually in my bedroom, my parents in the lounge or office).  I did feel very depressed and lonely, trying not to catastrophise my thoughts about the future into complete despair (about marriage, children, having my writing “cancelled,” etc.).

I tried to work on my novel before therapy, but really I just wanted to cry.  I did, eventually get down to it and wrote quite a bit.  It was a violent scene, and although that was hard on one level, because domestic violence is pretty draining to write, I did find the actual writing flowed more than recently.  I definitely think that mainstream literary fiction is not 100% right for me (although I intend to finish the book) and I should be writing science fiction/fantasy adventure or something similar in the future.  It’s bits like that that have been easiest to write.

Therapy was difficult and very draining.  We spoke a lot about family and childhood.  Also about Mum’s illness and being increasingly conscious of my parents’ mortality.  I mentioned what Ashley has said about my having lots of “shoulds” and we worked a bit on finding alternative thoughts.  I don’t like replacing “should” with “could” because I feel I could do just about anything so saying, “I could do X” doesn’t help me make decisions, especially as it makes it hard to see how urgent or important a task is.  So we’re trying with phrases like “I would like to do this because…” or “This is in line with my values because…”  I like the latter, because sometimes I do things I don’t enjoy because it’s in line with my values e.g. prayer (which is not always enjoyable or uplifting, although it can be) and housework.  I’m also writing some questions to identify when I’m being self-critical e.g. “Is this my critical voice?” and “Would I talk to someone else like this?”

I often go for a walk after therapy, but I felt too tired today, especially as I knew I had shiur (religious class) later.  The shiur was on meaning, the last of three shiurim on the topic.  The first was on what meaning is; the second was on whether a person has to be religious to have meaning; and this one was on how can we make our lives more meaningful.  The shiurim were given by Dr Tamra Wright and Rabbi Dr Michael Harris.

The shiur this week was not so much a religious shiur as a talk on philosophy and positive psychology, but it was interesting.  Some points I took from it:

  • The optimal level for a meaningful element in your life is not always the maximal one.  In other words, if praying is meaningful for me, that doesn’t mean that praying 24/7 would be the most meaningful level of prayer.
  • Meaningful events/things can be small, not major life-changing things.
  • Recognising meaning or value that is already present is important.  Even increasing this recognition a little is good even without recognising the good perfectly.  (All of the above points taken from a book by the Israeli philosopher Iddo Landau.)
  • Writing a gratitude journal of things that went well and why they happened helps make life meaningful.  I already list things that I’m grateful for, but I don’t write it down or write why they happened.  Maybe I should change that.  Writing why they happened is supposed to show your agency more clearly.
  • One can have a flourishing, meaningful  life even without a cheerful disposition via pro-social emotions (e.g. compassion), engagement, relationships, a sense of something greater than me and achievement.
  • Spirituality is independent of religion (I knew that) and is “a sense of a close personal relationship to God (or nature or the universe or whatever term each person used for higher power) and a vital source of daily guidance. (From work by Lisa Miller)  This is associated with meaning.  I’m not sure how much I have this.  I struggle to feel a close personal relationship with God, although I believe in Him.  I suppose He is a source of daily guidance for me inasmuch as I try to live according to Jewish law and values, but I’m not sure that that was quite what was meant.
  • George Vaillant identified six tasks of adult development.  They’re too long to list here, but I’m not sure I’ve achieved any of them yet, maybe not even “identity” fully (separation from parents), which I should have managed by now.  The only one I might have achieved is “Becoming a keeper of the meaning – role of ‘wise judge’; impartial; conservation, preservation, passing on traditions.”  Because I’m more Jewishly observant and knowledgeable than my immediate family, they look to me for religious guidance.
  • Vaillant also says that self-worth is a dead end and meaning is found in thinking of ourselves less.  I find this hard.  I have noted my rather solipsistic self-absorption, which is perhaps partly from autism (after all, the name “autism” is about being self-contained), partly from social anxiety (not reaching out to others) and partly by temperament (tendency to ruminate).

Speaking of which, I did not really interact in the discussion because I was feeling too socially anxious.  Sigh.  I need to think about how to add some of those meaning-techniques to my life.

Wanderer in the Fourth Dimension

It’s been a very difficult day.

I was feeling quite anxious on waking up this morning.  Then Mum was quite ill very suddenly.  I was going to write what happened, but then I thought she might not want me to.  She’s OK now, but I was very worried for a time and thought briefly I might have to phone for an ambulance.  It was very frightening.  So that added a new level of anxiety.  Fortunately she’s seeing her surgeon tomorrow, so she can tell him about it.  I’m not sure he’s the best person to tell, but it’s a start.  But it’s a reminder of my parents’ mortality, and of the fact that while Mum’s prognosis is good, she is still seriously ill.

After a while Mum seemed to be OK and the adrenaline rush from dealing with the situation wore off, and I drifted back into depression, possibly worse for being post-adrenaline.  I managed to work on my novel and wrote quite a bit without too much procrastination, but once I had stopped, the depression came rushing back at me again, with agitation and probably also anxiety and loneliness, although it’s hard to be sure.  I felt pretty overwhelmed.

I tried to get myself to do some Torah study without using “should” language about it, but it was hard.  It was just a slog to get through it.  Here are some things that are hard to read in the Torah, from a contemporary perspective: genealogies, descriptions of sacrificial Temple rituals and censuses, because they are all very long and repetitive and it’s hard to connect them to anything in modern spirituality.  I struggle to connect them.  And they were all in this week’s sedra (Torah reading).  There was a little bit of narrative, but not much.  I did get through it and technically I didn’t “should” myself into it, but I think that was because autistic determination/absorption took over, and not in a good way, and I sort of forgot that I had the option of stopping.

I’m also trying not to think about the future, but it’s hard.  And it’s hard not to do it without “shoulding” myself into not doing it (“I should not think about the future.”).

About 8pm it hit me that it’s been a really hard day.  I hadn’t really thought about it that way before then, I’d been too busy living through it.  I felt a bit tired, but really tense.  It was late, but I wanted to go for a run before dinner to relieve some of the tension.  Possibly there was some “shoulding” there, but I did feel that I would be tense all evening unless I went out for a bit.  I had a reasonable run, and didn’t get an exercise migraine, so that was good.  I was still feeling stressed, so I ate ice cream for dessert after dinner, which probably put back the calories I lost running.  Oh well.

***

I felt a bit bad that my sister seemed more worried about Mum than I was.  Of course, by the time Mum told her, I’d seen that Mum was feeling a lot better, whereas my sister didn’t know and was probably imagining the worst, so in some ways it’s not surprising that she was very upset while I was calm.

I spend all my time worrying about some fairly abstract things in my life and the world at large (if I’ll ever have a proper job, if I’ll ever get married, if antisemitism is getting worse), but I can be pretty detached about people who I actually care about.  I feel like it makes me a bad person, but I’m not sure what worrying would achieve; if anything, I’d rather worry less about myself than more about my family and friends.   I guess it can be hard distinguishing caring from worrying, the former being good and the latter bad.  Maybe this is another “should” to avoid.  I just wish I didn’t feel inhuman and uncaring sometimes.

Detachment can be another autism symptom too, of course.  It could be that I do care about my family and friends, I just express it in a different way to most people.

***

NB: this next isn’t really anything to do with today or anyone I mentioned here today, just something I’ve been thinking about recently.

I find it hard to understand people.  They’re… complicated.  Sometimes one person has apparently contradictory character traits.  They can be supportive to some people, but cold to others, or caring when they’re in a good mood, but unbearable when they’re angry.  I find it difficult to understand.  Maybe I’ve been an avid reader since childhood to try to get inside other people’s heads.  I know autism doesn’t make it any easier.  I wonder if I will struggle to invent believable characters in my writing because of this.  Already I think my second most important character is flat and bland, while the villain is probably too nasty.  He’s a psychopath; psychopaths are usually very charming to most people and I think I’ve struggled to show that.

I struggle to understand people on a societal level too.  I don’t feel like I belong to either twenty-first century Western society or to contemporary frum society.  I can “pass” in both, but not always very well.  I’m not good on details like slang or popular culture in either society.

Maybe I’m just afraid of opening up.  Maybe people would be OK with my idiosyncrasies if I did so.  Or maybe not.  I suspect on some level I studied history to try to understand societies better.  I’m not sure if it helped any more than reading novels helped me understand individuals.  Sometimes I try to look at our current society as if I were an outsider, a future historian.

Maybe that’s why I’ve always liked time-travel stories.  I’d much rather have a time machine than a spaceship.  Maybe that’s why I prefer Doctor Who to Star Trek (OK, among several other reasons).  The idea of being lost in time is scary, but sometimes that feels how I live my life.

“Have you ever thought what it’s like to be wanderers in the fourth dimension?  Have you?  To be exiles…?” – Doctor Who: An Unearthly Child by Anthony Coburn

The Cat Who Walked By Himself

I feel like I’ve become rather misanthropic lately.  That without consciously choosing to do so, I’m retreating into a sulk.  Lockdown is being eased, but I want to stay in my room.  I see myself as too scared to try dating again, and I’m worried that one day I will not feel like that and I’ll get hurt again, as I always do.  Perhaps “fortunately” I see no point in trying to date while my financial position is so negative, and I see little chance of that changing any time soon.

As I’ve said before, consciously I say I want love, but deep down, what I unconsciously need is to accept that depression and autism mean that my life is going to be different to other people’s, that I will probably never be financially self-sufficient and that I will almost certainly not get successfully paired off, as well as never having many friends or fitting in to a community.  If I could accept that most of my life is going to be miserable, perhaps I could enjoy parts of it.  But I keep getting my hopes up that I can beat the odds, somehow, and then I get disappointed and hurt all over again.  Silly boy.

***

I’m still feeling super-lonely.  I feel sexually and romantically frustrated (is “romantically frustrated” a thing?  I want to love someone), but I’m lonely in a wider sense too.  I’m thinking about (not) fitting in, one of the well-worn themes of my inner monologue, let alone this blog.

I mostly don’t say anything about my mental health or autism away from this blog and similar blogs.  It’s just easier than dealing with embarrassment, confusion and sometimes stigma.  It’s easier to let people think I’m unusually dysfunctional than to admit what the issue is.

I don’t say much about my religion or politics either.  I worry that my religious and political views are sufficiently idiosyncratic to put off everyone who knows them, so I keep them fairly private.

I don’t mind talking about religion here, but I’m not sure why.  I suppose I don’t go into details about theology here, just say what “weird” stuff I do and how it affects me emotionally.  Sometimes strangers see that I’m Jewish and ask me questions in the street.  Strangely, I’m kind of OK with that.  At least they’re curious, not belligerent (I’ve had belligerence too, and attempted proselytisation).  The Jewish population of the UK is sufficiently small that it’s doubtful whether many people have ever met a Jew in many parts of the country, let alone a frum one, although in London that’s less likely.

I don’t like to pin down my views when talking to other religious Jews.  As Rabbi Lord Sacks said, Modern Orthodox Jews are a minority of a minority of a minority (Jews are about 0.02% of the world population; Orthodox Jews are about 10% of Jews; Modern Orthodox Jews are a small percentage  of Orthodox Jews).  I know I’m more “modern” in many ways than most frum (religious Orthodox) Jews.  Actually, I avoid talking about religion outside the community too, for fear of scorn from militant atheists, but sometimes I have to bring the subject up (usually at work) to ask for special dispensation e.g. not eating the same food as everyone else, leaving early on Fridays in the winter etc.

I don’t talk about my politics with anyone at all.  I talk politics a little bit with my parents, but somewhat abstractly.  They don’t know how I vote (which assumes I vote consistently…).  I don’t really fit with any party and I’m not sure that any ideology is an adequate model of a complex reality.  I dislike most politicians and activists these days.

I don’t like the current political atmosphere.  Too violent and opinionated on all sides; also pretentious.  “The best lack all conviction, while the worst/Are full of passionate intensity.”

My chosen professional sector is often more radical than I am (unsurprisingly, as most members are working in the public sector).  I know a lot of my friends, particularly my online friends, wouldn’t agree with me if they knew my views.  I left an autism WhatsApp group a while back because they were criticising a particular type of political viewpoint without it apparently occurring to them that people like that could be on the list, let alone that they might pass as “normal” people.

I get very angry about antisemitism, but mostly don’t say anything about that either, because it feels like almost no one outside the Jewish community really understands or cares, or is willing to listen.

I don’t like identity politics, which I find aggressive.  I prefer existentialist encounter and dialogue.

I just try to be kind and non-judgmental, and to really listen to people.

I change my mind quite a bit.  I like reading new ideas, if they’re argued well, and I try to be open-minded about things.  I get the impression that most people don’t do that.

I don’t mind having friends who have different views, but my experience is that fewer and fewer people are willing to do that (see here for the way acceptance of inter-political (progressive + conservative) marriage has declined even as acceptance for inter-racial and same-sex marriage has grown).  These days people seem to just want to hate people who are different (often in the name diversity, ironically) and mute or unfriend people with different views.  I just keep my head down and try to avoid arguments.  Life’s easier that way, but lonelier and scarier: I don’t feel accepted for who I am and I worry about slipping up and being rejected.  I sometimes wonder how many of my friends (particularly online) would ditch me if they knew what I really think about some things.

I do feel that there’s no one like me: religiously, politically, psychologically.  It was a relief to meet E., who was like me in many ways even if she wasn’t religious.  (Maybe we were too much alike; probably we were both too unstable.)

***

Today I just feel unlovable and unacceptable to anyone I might want to befriend me, date me or employ me.  I feel utterly useless in any context.  The only thing I feel vaguely good at is writing, and I don’t feel great at that.  I’ve certainly struggled to get paid for anything I’ve written.  It’s a long time since I’ve felt good at my job as a librarian, and I only intermittently see myself as a good son, brother, friend or good boyfriend/husband material.

***

Today’s achievements: a couple of library jobs have come up.  I’m was going to apply for both even though both are full-time, short-term jobs (both are maternity cover), where I really want a part-time, long-term job.  I would go for part-time short-term, but I’m not sure whether I would take a full-time job.  I don’t think I could cope, even for nine months.  If I got offered the job, I would probably ask to job share.

I spent twenty minutes trying to navigate a badly-designed website to apply for one job, only to eventually be told that it was open to internal candidates only.  (Then why was it advertised publicly?  I suspect it has to be, legally.)

With the other job I think there would be higher risk of COVID – or any infectious illness – for reasons I won’t go into here, and we’re still supposed to be shielding Mum who will have reduced immunity for some more months.  It is in any case a high stress, full-time job on multiple sites that could involve long travel times.  I really don’t feel I could do either job, but I feel under pressure (from myself as well as other people) to apply for whatever jobs are available, which at the moment is not many.  I would rather be working on my novel…

I’m not sure how long I spent dealing with job applications in total, but I didn’t actually write much of an application.  I just looked at job descriptions etc.

I did forty-five minutes Torah study, reading this week’s Torah portion, but I didn’t get much out of it and felt very stressed while I was doing it.  I would have liked to have done more, but did not have the time or energy.

I went for a thirty-five minute run; my pace was better than it has been for a while.  I didn’t get a migraine even though it was hot out; thank Heaven for small mercies.

I wanted to work on my novel after dinner, but I was too tired.  I realise that as we come out of lockdown, job applications are going to encroach on my writing time more and more.

We had a family Zoom meeting, me, my parents, my sister and brother-in-law and my aunt and uncle from Israel.  I hardly said anything again.  I’m pretty quiet even in in-person meetings, but on Zoom I just clam up completely.

***

I’ve made my blog find-able on search engines again.  My reasons for making it hidden (that I worried that I was saying too much about other people who might be identifiable) seemed less realistic, and so many people were finding it through my comments elsewhere on the blogosphere that it didn’t seem such an issue any more.  I thought about adding a contact form again so people can email me, but I’m more reluctant to do that.  I’ve made a couple of good friends through having that in the past (and ended up going out with E.), but I had a bad experience with it recently (not E.) and don’t know if I should do it again.

Of course, a few hours on and I already think it was a bad idea to make my blog fina-able and that I should switch it back to hidden again.  I can flip back and forth indefinitely, and probably will.

Man We Was Lonely

I had a rather lonely Shabbat (Sabbath).  Meals with my family were good and we played Rummikub after seudah shlishit (the third Sabbath meal) today (I lost), but the rest of the time I was in my room and in my head too much.  I was feeling a lot that I’m never going to be well enough and able to work enough to be financially self-supporting, which will mean that I’m never going to be able to date again.  I ended up wallowing a lot in my despair.  I know it’s not healthy to keep “proving” to myself all the reasons no one would want to marry me, or all the reasons why I wouldn’t even get another date, but it’s hard to stop when I’m in this sort of mood.

I wallowed in these thoughts last night and a bit again this afternoon.  I didn’t go for a walk, partly because I didn’t want to be stuck inside my head when I did that.  I did try a grounding technique I recently heard about that was partially successful, but it’s hard to remember that I can do things like that when I feel depressed or anxious.  Other than that, I read and did some Torah study, not as much as I would have liked of either because I slept for three hours this afternoon (very bad, but one way of shutting my thoughts off).  I did reach (in Hebrew) Tehillim/Psalms 100, two thirds of the way through the book, which was good, although I can’t remember how long it’s taken me to get this far.

Other than that, I didn’t do much apart from try not to get annoyed at the illegal minyan next door, which is showing worrying signs of permanence.  My Mum spoke to her rabbi about it; he has promised to try to speak to our neighbour’s rabbi and see if he can stop them, but I’m not hopeful.  She’s also thinking of putting a note through the door asking them to be quieter because she’s having chemo, but I’m not hopeful about that either; Hasidim are notorious for davening (praying) loudly.

***

A weird thing I noticed while wallowing in loneliness: of my two successful relationships, both started with a written-based relationship.  I met my first girlfriend on JDate.  She wasn’t in London much for the first couple of months that we dated, so our relationship started on email and then moved to text messages with only one physical date.  We wrote a lot of long emails before we even met.  Then my relationship with E. started via email.  She read my blog and emailed via my blog contact page and we emailed as friends for some time before she said she was interested in dating.

I’m a lot more fluent and less anxious in writing than in person and I suspect that helped me present as someone date-able and reasonably “normal.”  That doesn’t seem a positive trait to have, as text-based dating is not a normal way of dating in the frum (religious Orthodox Jewish) world where people are set up by friends or shadchanim (matchmakers) and initially communicate through those people rather than directly.  There are frum dating sites, but my experience on those lately has not been as good as when I met my first girlfriend.  Last time I was on one, I paid a lot in subscriptions without getting many responses to my emails, and no dates at all.

(EDIT: just remembered that a couple of years ago I dated someone that looked quite serious, but never got to “formal” boyfriend/girlfriend relationship stage, but that involved a lot of texting too as she was working in the USA for a chunk of the not-quite-relationship.)

***

A bird flew into the room while we were eating seudah.  I’m rather ashamed to say that my parents chased it out.  I froze.  I’m not exactly phobic of birds, but I don’t like close contact with them either.  I guess it’s a fear of them flying at my face (or defecating on me, which is a slightly different fear).  I feel bad that I fail at so many tasks that young men are supposed to be able to do.  Not that I’m particularly young any more.

The Meaning of Life

I was still feeling very depressed when I woke up today.  I spent about an hour and a half working on my book, finishing one chapter, which I then split into two, as it was very long and had a natural breaking point.  I’ve written about 42,000 words so far, plus I have a fragment of about 4,000 words for the next chapter.  I’m aiming for 70,000 to 80,000 words overall, so I’m somewhat over halfway.  Maybe I will get a first draft finished by the end of the year after all.

I had therapy.  I was processing a lot of emotions that I felt uncomfortable with.  Feelings that triggered my inner critical voice and the guilt/shame emotions, feelings that I usually want to just repress rather than admit to and process.  I did at one point feel that I had to check that the therapist didn’t hate me for the things I was saying.  Despite that, I think it went well, but it was just draining and difficult.

I went for a walk afterwards and there were a lot more people out than I’ve seen for weeks, now that lockdown is partially lifted.  It was hard to socially distance (that should probably be “distance socially,” but that sounds weird).  I might start wearing a mask, although I’ve been dreading doing so for fears of autistic sensory discomfort.  Mum and Dad were brave and went to a National Trust site.  The buildings were closed, but they could go around the parks.  I’m glad they went despite the risk as Mum was glad to go out the house for something non-cancer-related.

I went to a Zoom shiur (religious class) at the London School of Jewish Studies (LSJS) in the evening, the first of three sessions.  I would not normally do that on a therapy day as I get very tired after therapy, but this was on the meaning of life and I’m struggling with finding meaning in life at the moment, so it seemed worth making the effort.  This week’s session was on whether life is meaningless (arguments for and against).  Strangely, there were a lot of people there I knew: a friend of my parents’; someone who used to volunteer with me at the asylum seekers drop-in centre; a library user from the first library I worked at; someone who used to go to my previous shul (synagogue); and someone who goes to the Wednesday shiur.  This did not prevent social anxiety; if anything, it worsened it.  I wish I did have the confidence to participate more at these shiurim.  I think I would get more out of them if I did.  Someone appeared to be Zooming in from their hospital bed, which showed dedication.

As often happens with shiurim at the LSJS, I can’t avoid the impression that if my life had gone to plan I could have been giving classes there or running the library or at least mixing in the same social circles as the people who do those things and certainly that I would want some of those things.  I want to be in a circle of like-minded people and friends, but I find it very hard to socialise at all, let alone direct my socialising purposefully towards meeting particular people.  The same goes for work: it’s hard enough finding a job, let alone building a particular career.  It’s another sign of my feelings of frustration with my life, that I haven’t achieved what people who go to Oxford usually achieve in terms of career and that I don’t mix with people with a similar outlook on life.

It was arguably a productive day overall, even if my emotions were up and down.  I find it hard to realise that, given my issues, I do have fairly productive days.  I just feel I should always be doing more.

“You can’t mend people, can you? You can’t mend people!”

I switched my previous post to private.  The antisemitism stuff is true, but this was probably the wrong time to share those thoughts.  I tried to explain the way my mind works, but I don’t think I did so successfully.  I got too caught up in my anger and fear for myself and other Jews.  The “touch hunger” stuff is true, and I will probably pick up on it again at some point, but not now.

***

There’s still an impending Bad Thing that I don’t seem to be able to get away from.  To be honest, it’s pretty much happened already, but there’s a small chance it can change.  I’m not hopeful though.  The whole situation makes me feel lonely and inadequate.  It is hard to be positive about the future when so much of the past was so negative.  Why should anything change?  I know my rabbi mentor said I have “privilege” and in some senses I do, but I have had, and continue to have, real hardships too.  The fact that I’m lucky to have loving family and a degree of financial support doesn’t make depression, high functioning autism, loneliness and unemployment easier.

Somehow I don’t seem to know how to change things so that bad stuff does not happen, or (more realistically) so that I can cope with it better when it happens.  I hope that a firm autism diagnosis might lead on to help with getting back into the workplace, but somehow I doubt it, as I’ve had quite a bit of help already, to no avail (or limited avail).  In any case, because of COVID, I have no idea when my assessment will be.  From what little information I have, eighteen months from whenever lockdown is officially over seems to be the minimum time, so probably about two years from now.

***

I’m feeling guilty and lonely again about having lost so many people from my life generally and especially recently (the last year or two).  I’ve lost far too many friends, but I’m not sure how much I could realistically have done differently, and some of those friendships were probably doomed from the start.

More tangible guilt feelings came from mulling over something from a Zoom shiur (religious class) last week.  The rabbi said that we should elevate our non-religious interests and tastes by using them for religious purposes, relaxing so we can reconnect with God, eating good food on Shabbat (the Sabbath) to celebrate etc.  Otherwise our interests are distractions from God, which is not a good thing.

My Doctor Who fandom (and other classic British telefantasy fandom, but let’s stick with Doctor Who for brevity) is something that I have invested a lot of time, money and energy in over the years, not least with writing my non-fiction book about the programme.  As an autistic special interest, it’s really important to my well-being, helping me to shelter from the difficulties of the world as well as to recharge.  It even helps me understand a confusing world a bit easier.  A lot of my general knowledge comes via Doctor Who, one way or another; even my first encounter with postmodernism was in the Doctor Who Magazine of the late nineties (I miss the crazy, silly, sarky, pseudo-intellectual fandom of the nineties and early noughties).  I suspect that I use the more emotional newer episodes to understand emotion better (if the tenth Doctor was the ADHD Doctor, the twelfth Doctor was the autistic Doctor).  But does it bring me closer to God?  I doubt it, especially with the series being generally sceptical, if not atheist, in outlook.

As Alex Drake asked in the episode of Ashes to Ashes that I just watched (season three, episode one), what do you do when the stories in your head are more real than the real world?  My answer: try to make telling those stories your role in the real world, or so I hope, but it’s a lot to stake my future on when I don’t know if I can write that well or get published.

So, I feel bad about investing so much time and energy in something that gives me pleasure and support, but doesn’t help me religiously.  Just when I was beginning to feel I was connecting to God again too.

***

My sister and brother-in-law came over for a socially distanced tea and cake.  I was mostly mentally present and engaged, despite some initial difficulty.  It does feel that every time I see them, they’ve done some additional “adult” thing that I’ve never done, despite their being younger than me.  This time it was buying a trellis for the garden.  I can’t imagine ever buying a trellis.  I wrote in my sister’s copy of my Doctor Who book, which I guess is an adult thing I’ve done that they haven’t done, even if it doesn’t feel “real” as it is self-published.

Other achievements of the day: forty minutes of Torah study (I would have liked to have done more, but I ran out of energy), a thirty-five minute run (and resultant exercise migraine – I knew it was likely given how hot it was out) and an indeterminate amount of time writing my novel – I was distracted at times, but wrote 900 words.

***

Sometimes I feel I’m a terrible person, and sometimes I want to tell people everything about me so that they’ll realise how terrible I am and stop being my friends, because I don’t deserve friends, and at least if I had no friends, it would stop me getting my hopes up about ever being happy.  I don’t think I will ever be happy, but every so often I hope that I will and it’s painful when those hopes are dashed again.

***

The BBC news site wins the prize for stating the obvious with their headline, “Coronavirus: People living alone at risk of loneliness”.  A deduction worthy of Sherlock Holmes, and it only took them a couple of months to work it out.  As someone who has lived alone, I can say that people living alone are at risk of loneliness even without coronavirus and lockdown.  I am glad I moved back in with my parents in 2018 as it has meant I haven’t been alone in lockdown.

***

(The title quote is from Doctor Who, inevitably: Kinda by Christopher Bailey.  I was going to say it’s the pseud-fan’s favourite Who, but that’s really a three-way tie between KindaWarriors’ Gate and Ghost Light.)

“I don’t ever want to play the part/Of a statistic on a government chart”

Just feeling awful today.  It’s hard to do anything.  I just want to sleep.  Even in my dream last night I felt tired.  I want to withdraw from the world, what’s left of it.

Difficult things are happening to me and I’m struggling to process them, particularly without being able to write about them.  I may write some private thoughts for myself.  I tried to work on my novel, but I was just too depressed and anxious.  I feel that I don’t cope well with life.

I also feel like a statistic.  Some stuff I’ve been reading lately has been talking about the radicalisation of the middle classes, the expansion of university education leading to too many university graduates fighting over not enough good jobs that genuinely require a degree and not enough (and over-priced) houses.  I’m obviously unemployed and living with my parents, but I haven’t become radicalised (or Awoken), perhaps because I find it hard to hold a political opinion without questioning it for long.  Regardless of politics, I have a shed-load of other “issues” going on which would make life difficult for me even without the expansion of higher education, the housing crisis, COVID and a million other things.

Will I ever get my life sorted?  I don’t know.  I feel I need to scale down my understanding of what “sorted” would entail.  I had a morbid, but necessary, discussion with my parents the other day about how I would survive financially if they died.  The financial side worries me, but so does the practical side, meaning, even if they left me enough money, I worry I would be calling my sister all the time for help with things.  I’m probably better at practical things than I give myself credit for, but I do often need help.

***

Twitter is dangerously tempting at the moment.  The desire to find people who can explain and contextualise the world in a way I agree with is strong, even though there aren’t many people I wholly agree with at the moment, and arguments online just prompt more depression and anxiety.  The other temptation of Twitter is that it’s short.  I don’t have the head to read a 2,000 word essay at the moment, but Tweets are just short lines, so it’s easy to tell myself “Just one more,” but that strength means that they are often just name-calling or virtue signalling, not reasoned debates (although I have seen one or two reasoned debates on threads today).

I just feel confused and frightened by the news at the moment, really.  It’s hard to say, “Actually, I think both sides make some good points and some bad points,” when people are trying to drag you to one side or the other or to demonise you for not being on their side.  I mean that as a general cultural point, not specifically about Black Lives Matter, cancel culture, riots, capitalism, COVID responses or anything else.  It’s hard to have the courage to be independent.

“Here comes your nineteenth nervous breakdown”

(I don’t like The Rolling Stones much, but Dad was just playing this and it seemed appropriate.)

I feel very depressed today, but quite not as much as yesterday.  I still feel alone somehow, even though I know people care about me.  I worry about my life, my future,  if I even have a future.  I just want to withdraw, from everything.  I’m still trying to accept and experience my feelings, but it’s hard when they are like this, so strong and overwhelmingly negative with no obvious truths to teach me.  I try to focus on E. and on my parents.  Maybe I’ve become over-reliant on this blog, and reading other people’s blogs.  Maybe it’s no substitute for real-life contact and friendships, not that real-life contact of any kind is easy at the moment.  I thought a bit about going cold turkey from blogs (mine and other people’s), but I don’t think I could do it.  I’m glad I’ve been in lockdown with my parents; I think we would all have gone crazy if I hadn’t been, particularly given Mum’s chemo.

I’m going to try to recuperate over Shabbat (the Sabbath).  Not to worry too much about prayer or Torah study (although it might be helpful to read a few more pages of Sacred Fire), just to read light things and try to relax.

***

I wrote the above in the early afternoon.  After that I managed to engage with the day a bit: I picked up my prescription, went for a walk, did my Shabbat chores, finished my devar Torah (Torah thought) and spent an hour or so working on my novel (only writing 400 words, but doing some research and planning, so pretty good overall) as well as having a quick Skype call with E.  I’m not sure how much this engagement was a cause or an effect of my mood picking up in the afternoon i.e. did I do things because I felt better or did I feel better because I did things?

“Rescue me before I fall into despair”

“More loneliness than any man could bear/Rescue me before I fall into despair.” – Message in a Bottle by The Police

A new issue of The Tides of Time, the fanzine of the Oxford University Doctor Who Society is out online.  It looks interesting, but I’m not sure how much I’ll read, as it has already provoked mixed feelings.  Partly this is from feeling that my time in the society has long gone.  The new issue, although containing many articles from people who have left or were never even there has little from people who were there when I was there.  Even the nickname of the society has changed from the Doc Soc (my generation) to Who Soc.  I’m very much out of the fandom loop, which is why (I assume) I missed the call for articles on Twitter.  Fandom today, as far as I can tell, largely takes place on Twitter and big, multi-fandom super-conventions like Comic-Con, neither of which are good environments for me, for different reasons.  Plus, modern fandom is so political, and these days I keep my politics to myself to keep myself safe, but it’s often different from (stereotypical) fan politics.  Add in that I didn’t much like the last series of Doctor Who, unlike the reviewers in the fanzine, and it’s hard to find common ground, and when I fail to find common ground with people, I read that, perhaps wrongly, as implicit criticism of my positions, and run off before people can attack me.  I feel like if I could have stayed in the loop, I could have promoted my book more (not in the fanzine, but online or in person), or would have had more friends to promote it to, but it’s rather pointless to go down that route now.  But there is a feeling of loneliness from having lost (or never had) these kinds of friendship networks.

Speaking of which, after I posted on Thursday, before Yom Tov, I realised what the nagging sense of melancholy was that I was experiencing: loneliness.  I feel that today, the feeling that I can’t connect with people.  That the attempt to live two lives, one religious (Orthodox Judaism) and one secular (Doctor Who fandom, and secular life in general) has failed, and that neither appreciates or respects the other.  E. has remarked that Orthodox society is often uncultured, which I can’t deny is true, to some extent at least.  It can be rather bourgeois.  I try to put up with it, but I worry that she won’t be able to.  I worry that I will just drive myself crazy trying to find people I can connect with, then running away from them when I find them because I think they must hate me really.  Hiding parts of my personality all the time.  This is basically what I have done for the last twenty years or so, since I went to university.  Kafka writes somewhere about someone chained with one chain to Heaven and with another to earth, so that he can’t move in either direction.  I feel a bit like that.

All that said, I have opted to renew the subscription on my Doctor Who blog for another year.  Just in case.  Now I need to find something to write on it, and the time to write it.

I am feeling lonely today though, ill at ease with myself and the world(s) around me, the one world I see on the news and in the papers and the other world I see on Jewish blogs.  I also feel depressed, which I suppose ties in with the loneliness and also with the world I see around me.  It’s scary to think that I could potentially be living in the USA in a few years time, looking at the stuff on the news.

***
I’m trying to practice “radical acceptance” of my parents’ quirks and foibles, accepting things that I can’t change.  It’s difficult.  It’s even harder to apply it to my neighbours’ behaviour.  The latter is very hard, because, as well as lockdown-breaching minyanim (prayer meetings), they had a noisy garden party with I think more than six guests (possibly six adult guests, but a load of children too), and not at all socially distanced.  From the conversation that drifted up, it sounded like one of the guests was trying to convince our neighbour to keep his minyan going after lockdown.  If they did that, I think I would alert the council to an unauthorised change of house use.  This has happened before with shtiebels (tiny synagogues in houses or above shops) that have been started without the necessary permissions.

***

I applied for a job a while back that was rather rashly advertised in lockdown.  They have now cancelled or possibly just postponed the interview stage, but have sent me a cataloguing exercise to complete.  I’ve glanced at it and gone into panic mode.  I have rather lost confidence in my cataloguing abilities, although they used to be good.  I feel like the gunslinger who has lost his nerve and with it his ability to sling guns quicker than other gunslingers, or at all.  I suppose failing at this at least avoids the face-to-face nature of the interview fail.

***

Other than that, it was a fairly ordinary locked-down day.  I spent about two hours working on my novel, writing just over 1,000 words and struggling against the noise from next door.  I went for a half hour walk and had my Skype Torah study session with E.

Mum cut my hair.  Most of it, anyway; I trimmed the sideburns.  I don’t think it had been cut since February (February 6, according to my private journal posts).  Mum did a good job, but I had to trim my sideburns, which I’d left long when I shaved off my omer beard, as they looked silly with shorter hair.  This is a shame, as I like having longish sideburns.

***

Towards evening, depression set in, and guilt.  I felt bad that I ate dinner separately to my parents so that I could watch TV.  I felt bad over something I had done repeatedly in the past, something forbidden by Judaism and sometimes seen negatively more widely.  Although maybe this guilt is a good thing, as I’ve been going back and forth in my mind about including this in my novel.  It probably is an issue worth bringing up (in the secular world, even more so the religious one), but I’m scared of how people will respond, whether they will judge me, boycott my book or ignore the other messages in it, about autism, mental health and abuse.

Brushes with Criminality

Sigh. I was trying to write less about disrupted sleep here, but I got woken again at 8.15am by the illegal minyan (prayer meeting) in the garden next door, which now seems to be a fully-fledged, three times a day minyan – basically an open-air shul (synagogue).  I decided I was rested enough after seven hours of sleep to get up and get an early start on the day, and was glad they aren’t davening (praying) before 7.00am, as would be normal if people were going out to work.  Later this week is the festival of Shavuot (Pentecost), when it is customary to stay up all night studying Torah and pray at first light, so I have worries of being woken at 3.30am.  I can’t bring myself to inform on a minyan, however illegal, so I have to put up with it somehow.  I don’t want to sleep with my windows shut, because it makes the room stuffy and I worry about waking with a headache.

I will try not to mention the illegal minyan again, as it’s probably not good to make this type of thing well-known (chillul hashem); there’s been enough in the mainstream press about Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) Jews breaking lockdown here, in the US and especially in Israel.  But I can’t promise they won’t do something outrageous that I have to offload here.

Getting up early did at least mean that I davened a bit more of Shacharit (Morning Prayers) than usual, and at the proper time for once.  I also used some of that time gained to work on my novel, managing about an hour and a half in the morning. Quite a bit of that time went on research, but I wrote 600 words before lunch.  Overall I spent nearly two and a half hours on the novel today, despite doing several other things (see below), writing over a thousand words, which was very good.  So maybe some good will come of the illegal minyan after all, if it sorts out my disrupted sleep pattern.

I had a Skype call with my rabbi mentor.  Unfortunately, it was a short call and I did what I’ve been doing with therapy and have done in the past at depression group, which is just blurt out a huge load of stuff at the start, expressing a lot of thoughts and emotions that I’ve had lately, all in one go, like a tidal wave of anxious/depressive emotion.  My rabbi mentor felt that I was doing well at understanding and processing these feelings and thoughts, which is good, and he helped me with one or two specific matters.  I do feel a bit strange when I just blurt all this stuff out, though.  Slightly embarrassed, and vulnerable and exposed.  Exhausted too and even a bit shaken, which I suppose is unsurprising if I’m revealing a lot of private thoughts.

It was Mum’s birthday today.  We had a socially distanced tea in the garden with my sister and brother-in-law.  They were very nervous about getting close to Mum, so there was good social distancing.  It was good to see them again.  We’ve had some doorstep conversations, but nothing as long as this since before lockdown.  I think it’s getting harder to stick to lockdown; half lockdown is perhaps harder to maintain than full lockdown (that’s somewhat analogous to Jewish law where very difficult things are often psychologically easier to stick to than apparently trivial ones).  I know I’ve complained about people bending the rules, but I think Mum would have been really upset if she couldn’t have seen my sister, given that she starts the next bout of chemo tomorrow.  I tend to be very rule-abiding (I suspect that people on the autism spectrum tend to be either extremely rule-focused or totally anarchic) and I’m not sure what I would have done if I had been the person who lived outside the family home.

Then we had a more legitimately lockdown-approved Zoom talk with my Israeli family, but I found it draining after a while especially as it was a long call.  It left me somewhat peopled out, particularly after the tea with my sister and BIL.

As it was Mum’s birthday, we had takeaway and watched the Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) comedian Ashley Blaker’s latest show, which was posted online for people who paid.  Then I went for a walk in the gathering dusk, as I had been sitting all day and needed to stretch my legs.  I managed forty-five minutes of Torah study too, although it was a bit of a struggle not to feel bad about not making it up to an hour.

I decided to break my “no screens after 11pm” rule (which is much honoured in the breach anyway) as after such a busy day with so much peopling, I need a passive TV-watching break to avoid burn out tomorrow.

***

Two things that have left me thoughtful today:

  1. My rabbi mentor says he enjoys my weekly devar Torah (Torah thought).  OK.  My uncle said that he enjoys it to and has been forwarding it with some other divrei Torah to his friends from shul (synagogue).  I’m not quite sure what I think of that.
  2. Ashley Blaker told some really rude jokes in his act.  Jokes I won’t repeat here because I would blush.  This has made me ponder a lot more about what the rules are in the frum (religious Orthodox Jewish) community and who has the impunity to break them, given that he is very frum-looking (beard, dark suit, velvet kippah (skullcap), black hat).  It matters to me because I’m writing about sexual violence in my novel, which I feel is an important subject, but I wonder if that will get me a bad reputation (I would do it anyway, I think).  Is this one of those cases where if you ask the question, you’ll be told it’s forbidden, but if you have the chutzpah to just do it, you can get away with it?  Does the transient nature of a comedy show mean he can get away with more than in a permanent medium like print?  Unless people from his shul are in the audience, no one is going to know.  Is he assuming that any frum person who gets the sex jokes is going to have to pretend not to understand lest it become clear that they have dirty minds too?  Particularly given that part of the routine was about frum people being so naive that there are hilarious double entendres in the frum press apparently unnoticed.  Hmm.

Hollow, Empty and Dead Inside

I didn’t have to go to the hospital with Mum today after all.  My parents discovered that a hotel near the hospital is renting out car park places, so Dad could park and go in to the appointment with Mum as her extra person.  That’s better for everyone, although I had a weird feeling of disappointment after having psyched myself up for it.

***

I woke up earlyish, but I’m not sure if that was due to thinking I had to be up early to go to the hospital or because our next door neighbour’s son was sitting in the garden listening to a Zoom shiur (religious class) really loudly, then was on a really loud chevruta (paired learning), far above my intellectual level and he’s only in his teens, so that probably brought my mood down early on.  (Why do Jews get so overexcited when “learning” and start shouting?  Or when talking, to be honest?)

Yesterday was burning agitation.  Today is quiet and still, but the stillness of depression and the grave, the stillness of nothing happening inside.  I didn’t do any real Torah study yesterday, because of depression and migraine, but I did spend forty minutes writing my devar Torah (Torah thought) which I hope should count for something.  I didn’t do my hitbodedut meditation/unstructured prayer either, but that has been perfunctory for quite a while.

I’m just feeling awful today, hollow and empty and dead inside.  I feel almost physically ill and struggle to do anything.  I wish E. was here, but part of me is saying that it can’t last (our relationship, I mean) and that I’ll be hurt sooner or later.  Yesterday we (E. and I) agreed to focus on the present and not to worry about the post-COVID world, which is too unpredictable, whether big things like the economy or personal things like our job prospects and our relationship.  But it’s easy to believe that everything will go wrong, same as it always does for me.  I feel I can’t do anything, that my life is not going anywhere.

I tried to work on my novel, but I struggled to write anything, either for the chapter I was working on or when I tried to jump ahead to the next chapter.  I ended up giving up and watching TV (Ashes to Ashes then Doctor Who).  I forced myself to go for a walk, although I didn’t really want to (because of the heat as well as the depression/exhaustion) and while I was walking my internal monologue/internal critic asked me, “Why don’t you just **** off and die?” and I didn’t have a good answer.  Most people with high functioning autism don’t manage to do paid work (despite being defined by the wider world as “high functioning”) and anecdotal evidence (at least) suggests they don’t manage to maintain relationships either, so I don’t know why I think I can buck either trend.

I had my online Zoom shiur (class) this evening.  I still feel I’m not going to learn a lot I don’t already know.  I did manage to speak up though, once.  It’s a shame I’m too socially anxious to share knowledge much that others might benefit from.  Selfish even, if I want to blame myself (I usually do).  I don’t know if it’s because I was on my Dad’s computer (the replacement webcam for my one still hasn’t arrived), but I just felt extra-awkward the whole time.  I just sat through the shiur thinking, “I am such a **** up” and that no one could ever like me and that my life will never get sorted out.  There was some fantasising about self-harm, which I haven’t done for a while.

***

I’m worried about a couple of blog friends who haven’t posted for a while, but I’m also worried that if I send them “Are you OK?” emails that will just put them in the awkward position of having to tell me that they’ve taken me off their friends lists.  I worry I’m too weird and depressing for people to cope with, let alone relate to.

I just discovered that some nasty comments from someone I had to mute on the blog were sitting in my trash folder on WordPress.  They had been there for several months unnoticed.  I had assumed that blocking bounced them back into the ether, but apparently they go into the trash folder and sit there.  I deleted them all, but it upset me even more, and the content of the comments reinforced my feeling of being useless and having no justification for being depressed.  It also makes me worried, as one of these comments was a reblog notification – the person reblogged my post, apparently to criticise and mock it.  It makes me wonder what other negative stuff this person has put out there about me.  Naturally, I assume I deserve it.

***

The Midrash in Sifra on last week’s sedraBehukotai, says there are seven stages of apostasy that lead on one to the other:

  1. Not studying Torah;
  2. Not performing commandments;
  3. Despising those who keep the commandments;
  4. Hating the sages who teach the commandments;
  5. Preventing others from observing the commandments;
  6. Denying that God gave the commandments;
  7. Denying the existence of God.

It’s hard to tell where I am.  I’m not studying much Torah.  I perform some commandments, but not others, some because of depression, some to compromise with E., some because I don’t have the strength any more.  I don’t “despise” anyone, but there’s aspects of the Orthodox world I don’t like, I don’t have much respect for sages who preach full-time yeshiva study and denigration of the wider world.  Sometimes I worry I’m heading for points six and seven.  Is this catastrophising again?  Possibly perfectionism too.  I have kashas (difficulties, questions) on Judaism, but I also have big kashas on the secular world of humanism, Enlightenment and postmodernism too.  Of course, my biggest kasha is on the world: how can I fit into it?

Quick, Let’s Drink a Million Cups of Tea While We Procrastinate

That title…  I think I’m clever and funny when really, I’m not.

I just feel inadequate today.

I was pretty exhausted last night after Skype therapy and Zoom shiur (religious class) and I went to bed early (for me at any rate – midnight) hoping I would get up earlier today, but I still slept very late.  I just feel so depressed and exhausted on waking.  Maybe it’s not surprising given that I had a very draining day yesterday.  I think a lot of the problem about waking tired is to do with low blood sugar, which has always affected me badly, although I don’t plan on getting up in the middle of the night to eat.

Even after breakfast and getting dressed, I still felt really depressed and exhausted.  Struggling to do anything.

***

I feel like I’ve sunk into some kind of religious crisis (again) without really realising how.  Rebbe Nachman of Bratzlav says that religious crises are inevitable and unending in this world; as soon as you achieve some kind of certainty about something, it brings with it a whole load of new unknowns for you to worry about (it’s not clear if the unknowns are completely new, or old ones on a deeper or more intense level).  I believe in God, but I find it harder and harder to connect to Him and to Torah and mitzvot (commandments).  I know a lot stems from not fitting in to a religious community for moral and practical support and also feeling like I’ve transgressed the community’s standards in ways that I’m not always sure about (as in, I’m not sure if I’ve transgressed them or not).  I’ve always felt alone, even in my religious practice, even when I was a more regular attendee at shul (synagogue).  I’ve always felt that in the final analysis, it came down to just me and God without other people really being involved.  That’s probably a horrible thing to say, but it ties in with my lack of friends, my difficulties communicating with my parents, the fact that I was single for most of my adult life and my fascination with solipsism and solipsistic fiction.

I guess now I feel that I have to “sell” Orthodox Judaism to E. or she won’t join me in it and I don’t know how to sell something I feel so increasingly equivocal about.  Depressive anhedonia is a big part of the problem too, more so than anything theological.  It’s hard to enjoy Judaism when I can’t enjoy anything, even things that are easier to enjoy.

Ashley Leia asked me on the last post if I felt that God causes my suffering.  I said yes.  Conceptually that doesn’t bother me so much. I came to the conclusion a while back that we aren’t here on Earth to be happy, but to grow, and growth often requires suffering as a stimulus, therefore suffering is to be accepted as part of the human condition in this world.  Nevertheless, I feel exhausted and not sure how to carry on sometimes. It just feels so overwhelming and unending. There is definitely a difference between accepting suffering intellectually and feeling emotionally accepting of it.  I can accept it intellectually (I know other people have it much worse than I do), but it’s hard to accept emotionally.  Hard to accept that I might always feel like this, that I’ve lost the life I thought I would have at this stage of life (career, wife, kids, community, self-love).  It’s hard to see so many other people apparently living that life with no idea if I will ever achieve it.

***

It doesn’t help that I’m feeling quite blocked with my writing at the moment.  I sit in front of the computer, drink a lot of tea, idly surf online and blog, but it’s a struggle to write anything for the novel.  I wonder if the story I’m trying to tell is too complicated for me, or if I’m cut out to be a writer at all.  Maybe it was absurd to think I could write about domestic abuse, a subject which I have not experienced directly.  All my writing about  it seems crass and ill-formed.

***

Religious crisis, low mood and writer’s block are probably connected with isolation.  I haven’t been on the depression group Zoom call for weeks as I get too tired after therapy now, which is on the same day.  E. and I haven’t spoken much for the last few days because of Shabbat and my shiur yesterday and E.’s workload, although we did speak today.  Some people who used to comment here haven’t done so for a while and nor have some bloggers I follow/am friends with posted on their blogs lately and I’m worried if everyone is OK, or if they’re angry with me and are avoiding me/have taken me off their friends’ list.  I guess I feel isolated.  I didn’t have much in the way of social contact even before lockdown, but I feel like I’m losing more of it.  My shul (synagogue) is doing another Zoom Kabbalat Shabbat service (beginning of the Friday evening service), but I found the last one awkward and uncomfortable, so I probably won’t do it again.  My parents are hoping to have my sister and brother-in-law over either socially distanced in the garden or via Zoom on Sunday to celebrate my Mum’s birthday, so hopefully that will help, although I’m nervous about even socially distanced meeting.

***

The Kotzker Rebbe spoke about the evil inclination stealing “the delicate chord of truth from your heart”.  After that, it no longer worries if you work or pray or study, because without the chord of truth, whatever you do is of no interest to him (i.e. it’s meaningless).  I feel like I lost the chord of truth a long time ago.

***

I’m just feeling today that I failed at everything.  I failed at being a good Jew.  I failed at being a good writer.  I failed at being a good blogger.  I worry that I’ve failed at being a good friend and boyfriend, and probably also at being a good son and brother.

I feel that other people I meet online have a reason to be mentally ill (often abuse or trauma of some kind), but I haven’t experienced anything bad, I’m just too useless to function properly.  I should get over myself.  Alternatively, they produce something with their pain, some art or something to help others, something that somehow justifies and explains what they endured.  I haven’t managed that either.

Part of me says that this is just my inner critical voice speaking, but it seems kind of reassuring to say that.  Much harder to confront the reality of having failed at everything I tried.

The sudden upswing of depression might also be because Mum has asked me to go with her to her oncologist appointment tomorrow.  Mum likes to have someone with her, as she gets overwhelmed sometimes and misses information.  Dad went to the first few meetings, then COVID-19 happened and non-patients were not allowed in the hospital.  Now one non-patient is allowed in “At their own risk” (which is a bit scary in itself).  Mum wants it to be me rather than Dad because he may not be able to park the car there (I’m not sure why) so will have to drop us off, go home, and come back to collect us later.

There is also some genuine fear about me and E., in that we know that we both have real anxieties about the relationship over things that we can’t do anything about at the moment and we have to just sit with those feelings and see what happens in the long term.

***

Achievements today: I cooked dinner (spicy rice and lentils), and spent forty minutes or so researching and writing my devar Torah (Torah thought) for the week.  It’s easier to write a devar Torah sometimes (like today) than it is to study Torah for some reason, perhaps to do with concentration and motivation.  I was also anxious that I would not find enough material for this weeks’ sedra (Bamidbar, focusing on the census of the Israelites in the wilderness – not easy to talk about) so was I trying out ideas and looking for sources when I found something.

I went for a run, which I hoped would help my mood, but I struggled to run, walking lots of the time, partly because of depression, but also because of the heat and, in the second half, an exercise migraine.  I had a lot of negative thoughts buzzing around my brain: that I’ve disappointed my parents and never given them any naches (reflected glory from children or grandchildren); that E. will realise sooner or later what a useless, pathetic, needy, screwed up boyfriend I am and leave me (she’s told me I’m catastrophising about this, but it was still what I was thinking); that I’ll probably die lonely, impoverished and unloved, maybe even homeless and living on the streets…  just a negative thought spiral.

I came back too exhausted and migrainey to think negative thoughts; post-migraine I tend to feel physically fragile, but emotionally OK (a rather extreme and counter-productive way of shifting a low mood).  However, the negative thoughts are already creeping back.  I need to daven Ma’ariv (say Evening Prayers) and I want to do a little Torah study if I can today, even if it’s only a few minutes.  I want to chill out in front of the TV for a bit, but it’s getting late and I’m not sure if that will just keep me awake later.

***

The rabbi from my shul WhatsApped me to check how I am, which was nice.  I do feel a bit more a part of the community when he does that.  I’m not quite sure what to say at the moment, though.

***

There aren’t many jobs being advertised at the moment, unsurprisingly, but I just got an advert for a “Cybrarian” which sounds (a) horribly like something out of Doctor Who*, (b) horribly like something from dot-com boom of the nineties and (c) like a overly-modern company where I would not fit into the corporate culture, particularly as they put “The ability to laugh at yourself” on the job description.  How do they interview for that?  I worry they make fun of you and then say, “What’s the matter?  Can’t you laugh at yourself?”  Mind you, they put “a profound love and passion for Technology [sic]” on the list too, which sounds even more disturbing, particularly as “Technology” was capitalised throughout the advert and job description.

* Which has given us Cyberman, Cybergun, Cybercontroller, Cybermat, Cyberplanner, Cyber-megatron bomb, Cyberleader, Cyberwar, Cyberbomb (“The most explosive devices in the universe!”), Cyberlieutenant, Cybermite, Cyberiad, Cyberium and Cyberdrone.

Anger and Resentment

I had a not so good Shabbat (Sabbath).  It wasn’t bad exactly, just not great.

Our Haredi (ultra-Orthodox Jewish) next door neighbours had a minyan (prayer quorum) in their garden again for all the Shabbat prayer services.  I got annoyed about this because I worry about whether it could expose Mum to coronavirus.  Last week some rabbis from the local community sent out some guidelines saying that now lockdown has lifted a little, garden minyanim are OK, but only if people stay in their own garden and just daven (pray) at the same time as their neighbours.  This on the other hand was ten men in one garden and it annoyed me a lot (plus there was the noise when I was trying to pray in my own room).  So that upset me.

I was tempted to write a load of angry stuff about Haredim, given that there have been a LOT of incidents of Haredi Jews breaking lockdown in the UK, US and Israel, some of which have got into the mainstream media as a result of the police breaking gatherings up.  I decided I shouldn’t stereotype, because some Haredi Jews are keeping lockdown, but not only have they got themselves a bad name, they’re giving other Jews a bad name too, which upsets me.

I guess I have a degree of anger and frustration over the frum (religious Orthodox Jewish) community (I’m deliberately blurring the line between Modern Orthodox and ultra-Orthodox there).  I felt that I wasn’t particularly well supported with my mental health or integrating into shuls (synagogues) and the wider community.  I don’t get many Shabbat meal invitations, as single people in the frum community normally do and certainly not many people tried to find me a wife they way the community “should” do for “normal” people. I know a lot of people with similar issues to me (“older” singles, depressed, ba’alei teshuva (became religious later in life), not accepting certain Haredi beliefs and practices) complain of being marginalised in the community.  I haven’t experienced that clearly, but it could be a factor.  I hang out sometimes on… not antiHaredi blogs per se, but blogs by people who see problems in the Haredi world that they want to change (or mock).  It’s easy to get sucked into a negative, critical attitude, particularly as I don’t really subscribe to a lot of things the Haredi world believes in.

On the other hand, I admit I feel like a square peg in a round hole not just here but in every community I try to fit into (e.g. Doctor Who fandom, group therapy).  I never feel like I fit and that’s probably at least partly my fault, or the fault of my social anxiety and high functioning autism.  “High functioning” can be a bit of a misnomer, as there can be plenty of situations, especially social situations, where I don’t function well at all.  I feel like it’s partly my fault and I should find a healthier way to work through my anger and resentment.  I worry that even if I find a Modern Orthodox community that is a better fit on paper, I still won’t be able to fit in and make friends.

***

I got a bit upset around seudah shlishit (the third Sabbath meal, so effectively dinner time) today.  Mum and Dad had accepted some food from friends during the week that I wouldn’t have accepted because of kashrut (Jewish dietary law) fears and there was a bit of discussion about what to do with some other food that was OK, but had a question mark on it for another reasons.  Things became a bit tense for minute.  We didn’t have an argument, but it made me think.  I used to look forward to leaving home so I could run my kosher kitchen the way I wanted.  The reality is that because of depression, I’m thirty-six and still live with my parents and their rules.  I have to compromise.  And I have to compromise with my sister’s rules when I go there.  And on one level that’s OK, because life is about compromise and only crazy fundamentalists are happy about riding roughshod over other people in the name of Absolute Truth.  But on another level, I feel envious of other people whose families all keep the same level of kashrut.  It must be so much easier on so many levels.

***

I couldn’t sleep last night.  I had finished the Doctor Who short story collection I had been reading and didn’t feel like engaging with the history book I just started, so I ended up reading a Batman graphic novel (Death and the Maidens).  It wasn’t a particularly good one, sadly.  I hadn’t read Batman for quite some time.  I got really into it for a while, then drifted out again.  I just started a re-read of a long arc that I had mixed feelings about first time around.

I did fall sleep this afternoon, so my sleep pattern is going to be messed up now, particularly as I’m having a lot of late-night, post-Shabbat screen time, offloading here and catching up on blogs posted today.  This might be a mistake.

Well, I should probably think about bed, as it’s long past midnight now.  I’m not sure how coherent this post is, either in the abstract or to anyone who doesn’t understand the intricacies of the Orthodox Jewish community, but it’s too late to work on it any more, so here goes…

Productive Day

In my rush to get to my Zoom shiur (religious class) last night I forgot to take my medication.  I remembered before bed, but it meant that I didn’t feel tired when I went to bed, despite it being late.  My default is basically insomnia, and if I fall asleep easily most nights nowadays, it’s because of my medication making me drowsy, something driven home when I forget to take it, to the extent that if I can’t sleep, the first thing I do is check if I took my meds.  I did eventually fall asleep after doing my usual insomnia trick of eating porridge as a way of eating warm milk (I don’t like the taste of ‘neat’ milk, and we don’t have hot chocolate), but I had to spend quite a long time in bed wrestling with agitated thoughts first.  Not necessarily ‘bad’ thoughts, but agitated ones that I couldn’t stop.

Today was reasonably productive.  I spent an hour and three quarters or so working on my novel.  Admittedly some of that was procrastination time, but I wrote 500 words and went over my plans for the current chapter and some of the later ones to make them more detailed and coherent so that I’m sure that the plot develops more smoothly and I’m not improvising important details.  I am beginning to get worried that this isn’t going to stretch to a full-length novel, at least not on the first draft.  Then again, I know I’ve got stuff to go back and add in the second draft, so maybe that’s not such a huge problem.

I worked on my devar Torah (Torah thought) for fifteen minutes and did fifty minutes of Torah study, which is the most I’ve managed to do on a weekday for a while.  I went for a half hour walk and was a bit frightened by the fact that more people seemed to be out now that the lockdown restrictions have been loosened a little.  I don’t blame them, but I was worried about carrying some kind of infection home to Mum, who has a low immune system at the moment from chemotherapy, and it was difficult to avoid everyone.  At one point I was walking in the middle of the road to avoid people on both pavements; even then I think I passed near to some people.

I would have liked to have made my novel writing time up to a round two hours, but I can’t deny that my day was fairly productive.  My mood was more variable.  It was mostly OK, but every so often I’d hit something that would trigger difficult (depressive, agitated, anxious) thoughts for a bit.  The subjects were typical for me: religion (theology and sociology of religion); politics; dating anxieties.  I think the thoughts mostly didn’t stay around too long, but I’m not sure how much that was due to me neither fighting nor wallowing in them.  I think I did wallow in them a bit, or at least some of them.  Well, maybe “wallow” is too harsh, but I wasn’t always able to welcome my thoughts, learn from them and dismiss them.  It’s hard to remember how to deal with these thoughts when they hit me.  Still, some of the stuff I was thinking of would have upset me all day in the past and that wasn’t the case today.  Nor did E. being too busy to Skype for long leave me worrying that she was about to dump me, as it probably would have done in the past.

I guess that was a pretty good day overall, even if that doesn’t make for the most interesting blog post.  Even Ashes to Ashes was reasonably good, even if it did rip off Edge of Darkness and have some whopping big plot holes (Gene and Alex get into a top secret military establishment with one forged pass between them; then Ray, Chris and Shaz get in with no ID at all.  Riiiiiight.  Possibly there was a cut scene somewhere).

***

My sister came over this morning while I was still asleep and left some stuff on the doorstep for us: cooked meat for Shabbat (Saturday) meals and, more importantly, chocolate rogelach (pastries).  I think she feels frustrated that she can’t really help with Mum’s cancer because of lockdown.

***

Mum asked me why I didn’t applaud the NHS as per usual.  The real answer is that I was busy and didn’t want to interrupt what I was doing, but also that it’s beginning to annoy me.  As I’ve mentioned before, my experience of the NHS (for mental health) has been so variable and sometimes so awful.  It seems disloyal to say that publicly now though.  I feel a bit like I’m the first person to stop applauding Stalin and now I’m going to be sent to the gulag as a traitor (I mean in relation to everyone else on the street, not Mum).  Then again,

Hypotheticals and Counter-Factuals

I was up late last night.  I mean, I’m up late every night, partly because depression makes me nocturnal and partly because having a girlfriend in a timezone five hours behind me makes for a lot of late night Skype calls, but I was up particularly late, partly writing my blog post (which shouldn’t have taken that long) and partly dealing with difficult emotions.  Watching an episode of Ashes to Ashes had triggered a lot of thoughts and feelings about could I have become a really bad person, like the villain in that episode (a sexually frustrated and religiously-motivated rapist and murderer), if my life had gone just a little bit differently.  Really there’s no end to counter-factual questions like that, because there’s no way to test which of our characteristics are innate and which are acquired, or even how much of each.  But depression (and, I guess, pure O OCD) love those kind of “Am I really a bad person?” questions, particularly if they can lead to me beating myself up for things I’ve never done and would never too.

I probably do ask myself these type of hypothetical questions too much.  I know I was asking here the other day about whether I would continue any Orthodox Jewish practice if I lost my belief, and I do often wonder if I was an atheist what my source of moral inspiration would be and so on.  Up to a point those questions are interesting, but once you go down the “How close am I to being a murderer?” route it’s more a sign of mental illness.

Then I realised (this is still late last night) that an invitation I had to a Zoom anniversary get-together for a shul (synagogue) friend’s thirtieth wedding anniversary (yes, my shul friends are mostly a lot older than me) was yesterday and not next Tuesday.  I was a bit upset to have missed it.  I wasn’t entirely looking forward to it, as I find Zoom events hard, but if I didn’t go I would have wanted to send a message beforehand to explain why I find them hard, rather than just not show up.  I sent an apologetic text today, but I still feel a bit upset.  I guess it is easy to lose track of time in lockdown.

I got woken up early in the morning, unfortunately by Mum being sick from chemo side effects.  I got her some water and she said she thought she was OK, so I went back to bed and then fell into a deep sleep for hours, waking up after midday, which was disappointing when I’ve been trying so hard lately to move my wake up time a bit earlier in the day.  It was almost the end of time for Shacharit (morning prayers), so I somehow managed to get dressed quickly and pray a little bit before breakfast, which I usually find impossible because I’m too drained and depressed until after eating cereal and drinking coffee.

I didn’t do as much as I would have liked today, partly because of that late start.  I spent a bit over half an hour working on my devar Torah (Torah thought) for the week, which might not have been the best use of time.  I’ve been trying to give my divrei Torah more definite conclusions.  The typical way most people would do this is either ending on a takeaway practical moral or personal development point or a quasi-prayer that the world should be redeemed soon.  I don’t really feel comfortable with either of those, but I feel like I should try them.  The topic for this week pretty much forced me down the “prayer for redemption” route this week, but I think generally I’d be happier with the “moral point” version.

I worked on my novel for a little while, but I didn’t do much.  That was partly due to starting late and finishing early (as I had a Zoom shiur (religious class) this evening), partly due to feeling a bit stuck.  I’m starting to write a new chapter, and that can be hard, and this time it’s 100% events from my research and imagination, not drawing from my personal experience except in the most general sense.  It doesn’t help that my confidence in this project is a bit reduced.  I don’t think it’s going to be amazing.  I am trying to stay confident that it might get published and speak to people, but I think there’s a limit to how good could be, and that’s difficult for a perfectionist like me.  In the end I wrote about three hundred words in an hour so, which I guess illustrates how productive I have been recently, that this now seems very substandard.

I also went for a walk for half an hour or so.  It has turned cold again.

In the late afternoon, my mood dipped.  I tried to accept the difficult feelings without fighting or giving in to them, but it was hard.  I was thinking that my life is so much better than it was a number of years ago, when my depression was a constant and unbearable thing, but I also reflected that I’m still struggling with my mood and especially with my engagement with the world (which is a combined depression/social anxiety/high functioning autism thing).  I no longer have the confidence in my ability to work as a librarian or cataloguer.  At the same time, I don’t yet have confidence in my ability to write professionally, and especially not in my ability to sell my writing to publishers, which stems from a mixture of low self-esteem and social anxiety, perhaps also some autistic social ineptitude.

***

As I mentioned, I had an online shiur (religious class) for an hour and a half on Zoom this evening.  The class was on Rashi (Hebrew acronym for Rabbi Shlomo ben Yitzchak), the most important biblical commentator.  I struggled with it.  I find Zoom classes very difficult.  Even in speaker view, where you see primarily just the person talking (as opposed to gallery view, where everyone on the call is visible at once) the picture changes too much for me and there is often too much extraneous noise.  I think a lot of people struggle with this even without autistic sensory overload issues.  I feel self-conscious moving even slightly knowing that I’m on everyone’s screens and my usual lack of confidence in answering questions was magnified.  I didn’t really say anything at all, even when we were in smaller groups.

It didn’t help that I think I seemed to be more familiar with the texts in question than most people there, so I knew a lot of the answers in advance, but not because I worked them out, just because I had encountered them previously, so I was reluctant to say anything.  I struggle to find the confidence to speak out in classes and shiurim in general, even though by this stage I know that I am often right, and that at the London School of Jewish Studies I’m usually one of the more knowledgeable people in the class, and my confidence could use the boost of being told I’m right sometimes (which is probably a horribly arrogant thing to say).

So, I’m slightly apprehensive about the other five classes in this course.  I’m also somewhat apprehensive about another Zoom shiur I’m booked for next Monday, but I think that will be a more traditional “one person talks and everyone listens” format; likewise a three session course I’m thinking of going to in a few weeks on meaning (I feel desperately in need of more meaning in my life).  Monday’s course might help me decide what to do about the meaning course, although my current thinking is that I should have skipped the Rashi course and done the other two shiurim/courses.  However, I have paid for the Rashi course, so I will try to get the most out of it.