Celestial Intervention

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

***

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

***

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

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

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

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Merely Existing

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

***

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

***

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

Speaking a Dead Language

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

Three Day Eventing

I’ll try to keep this brief, as it’s gone 11.30pm as I sit down to write (nearly 12.30am now I’m proof-reading), but it’s been a packed “three day event” (as my parents refer to Shabbat (the Sabbath) and two days of Yom Tov (festival) consecutively).  My sleep pattern has been thoroughly messed up by Tikkun Leil (staying up all night studying Torah) and long afternoon naps, so I doubt I’ll get to sleep soon anyway.

I got to some of the “learning” events (Orthodox Jews tend to refer to Torah study as “learning” because of a quirk of Yiddish; I think it makes it sound misleadingly basic).  Some were definitely better than others.  I was glad to do Tikkun Leil, as I mentioned, even though the topic (what Torah subjects should one be studying) was something liable to make me feel religiously inadequate.  The big inadequacy-making event was today, however, when a whole bunch of local shuls (synagogues) got together at my parents’ shul for two hour study fest.  I couldn’t find a chevruta (study partner) from my shul, so the Rosh Kollel paired me up with someone who turned out to be a nice guy, but far ahead of me in Talmudic studies.  He just raced through the set texts, through the Gemara and Rashi and on to other Rishonim and Acharonim (Medieval and modern commentators).  I could barely follow any of it.  For one thing, the sheer number of people in the hall meant that my autistic brain was overwhelmed with noise and half the time I couldn’t even hear my study partner.  Even when I could, I struggled to think of anything to say, which I suspect/hope is an autistic executive function issue, the same thing that makes me stop and ask for more time to think in job interviews.  My brain just doesn’t work that fast.  Then add in the social element of chevruta learning, the fact that not only do I have to engage the part of my brain that deals with Talmud, but I have to engage the part that deals with social interactions too, and it’s all too much for me, even without the fact that my partner had a natural flair for Talmudic study and just tore through everything.  I used to have this problem with paired or group learning in school, too, so it’s not a problem unique to religious study for me.

Then there was a shiur (lecture) that was supposed to clarify the sources, but just left me more confused; it didn’t help that I could barely hear it.  Then there were songs I didn’t know and by the time we got to the end, I was wondering if my Judaism is really the same as that of everyone else in the hall.  There were a couple of people I was at school with in the hall, people who were not my intellectual equals at school, but who have become rabbis and can “learn” properly.  I can’t really study Talmud, although I try a little.  I mostly study Tanakh (Hebrew Bible) and theology for Torah study.  No self-respecting yeshiva bochur (rabbinical seminary student) wastes time studying Nakh (the non-Mosaic books of the Bible) (unless they’re at a Religious Zionist yeshiva) or theology.  My theology shelf is full of suspect people like Rabbi Sacks, Rav Steinsaltz and Rabbi Eliezer Berkovits, let alone outright non-Orthodox and unacceptable thinkers like Abraham Joshua Heschel and Emil Fackenheim.  (Rav Soloveitchik just about gets a pass because he was a halakhicist and has yichus (great ancestors)).

Fortunately, the Rosh Kollel in his closing address spoke about the concept of kiddush hashem, sanctifying God’s name by being a good person publicly or even privately abstaining from temptation because of God’s command rather than from fear of being caught.  So I felt maybe I can do something as a Jew.  It is depressing, though.  I am struggling to be Jewish at the moment, simply because I can’t engage with texts and enjoy Jewish life the way I am supposed to do, because of depression and autism.

The good stuff: as well as getting to these study events, I stayed at shul for Shacharit (Morning prayers) after Tikkun Leil; I also – somehow, do not ask me how – got up this morning for shul.  I still got there very late (shul started at 8.45am; I turned up around 10.00am and struggled to get a seat as it was packed), but I got there.  Hopefully I will make it again on Shabbat.  I did feel a bit more comfortable being in the shul than I have done recently (admittedly this was before the upsetting study session today).

I read a lot, both my novel (Fatherland by Robert Harris, thankfully not as depressing as a ‘what if Hitler won?’ alternate universe-Holocaust-murder mystery-thriller could be) and Tanakh.  I finished reading Nevi’im, the Prophets.  I’ve read Tanakh through from the first page to the last in English and I’ve read every individual book in Hebrew (I struggled with the Aramaic bits), but not in the right order, as I alternated ‘easy’ and ‘hard’ books (‘easy’ and ‘hard’ in terms of prose vs. poetry and early vs. late Hebrew).  For several years, I’ve been reading through Tanakh in Hebrew and in order, sometimes with commentaries.  It’s taken a long time because (a) it’s long and (b) it’s longer if you add in commentaries and (c) it’s really hard to read a language that isn’t your first language if you’re very depressed, especially if it’s in archaic poetry.  I’ve gone through periods of months when I just haven’t read anything.  So this was a milestone.  I can’t remember how long it’s taken me to get through Nevi’im, probably four or five years.  Hopefully it won’t take as long to get through Ketuvim, the third and final section of Tanakh, but realistically it will take as long or longer, as I have more commentaries to read plus significant numbers of Aramaic chapters as well as some of the most complex poetry in Tanakh.

I had a difficult discussion with my parents on the first night of Yom Tov over dinner, just before I went to shul for the Tikkun Leil.  We got on to my career and my struggles with finding a library job.  They encouraged me to try to sell some of my writing.  Like, now, not in months or years when I think I’ve finally got something good enough.  I went into autistic/depressive black and white “It’s impossible” mode and actually ran off to my bedroom and lay in bed in the dark fully dressed for a few minutes, which I guess might be a form of autistic shutdown, albeit from emotional overload rather than sensory overload (I do this kind of running away a lot when I’m emotional; I’m not sure if it’s really the same as the types of shutdowns other autistic people experience).  Still, I did calm down after a few minutes and finish the conversation with my parents as well as getting to Tikkun Leil (it looked for a minute like I would just go to bed and stay there).

I realised I have a couple of contacts I can email for advice about starting to write professionally.  I can also write to the Jewish newspapers and see if they have submission guides.  Perhaps also Doctor Who Magazine, although lately they don’t run the kind of analytical articles I could write.  I have a couple of ideas for articles about mental health and autism in the Jewish community for the mainstream (non-religious) Jewish newspapers – they publish quite a bit about mental health, although really the articles need to be more in the frum (religious) newspapers, but I don’t know if I have the right contacts for that or if they would print anything on mental health and autism, especially articles saying that people with mental illness or autism might not function in the community the way they “should” (e.g. my experiences above).  So, hopefully this week I can send some emails and try to work out what I can write.  I am nervous about approaching people for help.  I always am, I guess because at school showing signs of weakness was a fatal mistake, and also because I feel, “Why should anyone help me?  Why would they think I’m worth helping?”  Plus there’s the element of “All beginnings are difficult” (as the Talmud says).

I also came across a passage in a book that resonated with me.  It was a short piece, just a couple of paragraphs, in an anthology of essays on Judaism.  It was by Rabbi Dr Abraham Twerski, who is a Hasidic rabbi and practising psychiatrist in the USA who has written extensively on Judaism and mental health issues.  It was just a short thing saying that some people go out of their way to give others the benefit of the doubt, but beat themselves up about every little mistake and that this is not a positive behaviour and that we should be realistic with ourselves.  So, it seemed significant that I “happened” to come across that passage over the long weekend.

So, that was Shabbat and Yom Tov.  It was probably objectively quite good, but it’s hard for me to feel positive feelings, while the negative ones (like the study session today) are overwhelming.  Some of that is the nature of depression, of course.  I realise I haven’t explicitly spoken about depression in this post, only autism and low self-esteem, but it’s always there, in the background, poisoning my mood and warping my view of myself and my life.  Now I need to have something to eat, watch some Blake’s 7 and go to bed.

Time’s Wingèd Chariot

A friend suggested an Orthodox shadchan (matchmaking service) to me (this one).  I had actually already heard of them – nearly used them, in fact, before using the values-based dating service.  I don’t think I should be dating right now, because of my unclear employment situation, not just being unemployed, but not even being sure I’m in the right career, wanting to try to be a writer, but being too scared to try and not really knowing how to go about it.  My parents and my rabbi mentor disagree with me and think I could be dating, but it just feels wrong to me.  Actually, if I asked any rabbi, they would almost certainly tell me I should be dating, because I’m not likely to get much better, mental health-wise,  marriage and children are mitzvot (commandments) and the right woman would overlook my mental health issues and unemployment because we would be soul-mates (really?!!).  I suppose I agree, up to a point, I just don’t believe there is a magic “right woman” out there for me and I can’t face opening up to women only to be rejected again and again.  Particularly as I can’t find a shadchan in the UK who deals with people with ‘issues’ like mine.  But I’m lonely.

It makes me wonder what women would think if I did turn up on a date without a job.  L. didn’t seem to care, but I think most women would.  In the Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) world it’s more common for men to date while not in employment, but that’s because people date while still in yeshiva (rabbinical seminary), and in some communities the man is expected to stay in yeshiva or kollel permanently, with the woman supporting the family while he studies.  I disagree with this behaviour and don’t particularly want to go down that path in a weird sort of secular way (being supported by my wife while I try to build a career).  And I really, really, really can’t imagine what type of woman would be interested in a depressed, autistic, unemployed frum-but-not-frum-enough geek.

But I do get really lonely.  Then again, dating just because I’m lonely isn’t necessarily the best idea either, although lots of people do it.

“But at my back I always hear/Time’s wingèd chariot hurrying near”.  I feel I should have got my life sorted out by now.  I should have dealt with my adolescent angst and my mental health issues, I should have got my autism diagnosis, I should have sorted my career and started a family already.  My peers at shul are all married with children and careers.  Assuming I marry someone my own age, it’s going to start getting harder to even have children soon.

***

I feel like my shul is trolling me.  Shortly after writing the above paragraphs, I saw they had sent out the text of a special prayer that I had never heard of before to say on Rosh Chodesh Sivan (tonight and tomorrow) to pray for one’s children to be righteous and that they should find righteous spouses from families of Torah scholars.  Seriously?!  You really want to rub in that I have no wife and children?!  For the sake of some obscure minhag (custom) that comes from just one seventeenth century kabbalist?  It’s an unfortunate coincidence that this should happen today, but it does reinforce the feeling that if you don’t have a spouse and children, there really is no room for you in a frum (religious Orthodox Jewish) community.  You are just too weird and unusual.  I shouldn’t get annoyed about this stuff, but it feels too much sometimes.  I don’t think it’s just my shul either.  I think any Orthodox community, Modern or Haredi, would assume everyone my age is married.

As if this wasn’t enough, another bad shul thing happened today.  I went to shul for Mincha and Ma’ariv (Afternoon and Evening Prayers).  I got there early and started reading Pirkei Avot to pass the time.  Suddenly I noticed out of the corner of my eye most of the people standing up and on some level I knew the new rabbi must have walked in (I’m very bad about standing up for rabbis, which is taken very seriously in the Haredi world).  I glanced up and saw him, but I just couldn’t stand up.  I don’t know why.  Maybe on some level I didn’t want to.  So I hoped it looked like I hadn’t seen him, but I was worried we had made eye contact when I looked up.  Then he started going around the shul talking to people.  I didn’t realise until he had almost got to me.  I stood up when he started talking to me, but I was so anxious my legs started shaking quite badly and I found it hard to stand upright.  I don’t know if he noticed.  Then he said something about he hoped I wasn’t working too hard and I had absolutely no idea what he was talking about.  I wasn’t sure if it was a joke or a genuine question or what.  My autism means I don’t always get jokes in casual conversation with people I’m not so familiar with, particularly if I’m nervous, and also that I can’t always tell when people are asking something out of politeness or if they really mean it.  So I wasn’t sure whether to say that I’m out of work or what.  Then, when davening (prayers) started, I suddenly had a fear that he thought I was in school and coming up to exams.  I’m nearly thirty-six, but I look a lot younger and have been mistaken for a sixth-former in the fairly recent past.  (I guess it’s better than looking older than my years.)  So, I have no idea how that interaction went.  I know it went badly, but I’m not sure just how badly.

The whole experience left me very anxious and agitated and unable to concentrate on davening.  During davening and afterwards I had violent agitated thoughts of having my throat slit or of maggots eating my rotting flesh.  It was horrible.  I started wondering why social interactions are so hard for me.  Not in the literal sense of having autism and social anxiety, but in a deeper, metaphysical way.  In Judaism there is a concept of middah keneged middah (measure for measure), that we get punished in the way we sinned, so I started wondering if I embarrass people in public (which is a very serious sin in Judaism).  I do tease my Dad and get annoyed with him more than I should and some of that may count as being in public, but it didn’t really seem to explain why I find it so hard to go through social situations (sometimes including just going shopping) without feeling embarrassed.  So, perhaps there is another reason, but I don’t know what it is.  I don’t know why I can’t just live an ordinary life like most people get to do.  Some Jews believe in gilgul neshamot (reincarnation).  I find that it raises more problems than it answers, but sometimes it’s tempting to believe I was just a horrible person in another life and that outweighs whatever it is I’m doing now.

***

I feel that I hate myself today.  I just feel that I hate everything about myself.  I’m not even sure why.  It’s probably just frustration with my life.  Sometimes I wish I believed in da’at Torah, the mystical clairvoyance that Haredi Jews believe their rabbis have that allows them to prophetically answer difficult life questions.  I wish I could believe someone could just tell me what to do with my life and then I could go and do it, or at least try to do it.  But I don’t think life works like that, certainly not my life, where I have to struggle for every little thing.  Plus there probably is some self-sabotage going on here, in dating and career.

But I’ve said all this before.  I wish I could break out of the loop my thoughts run around, but I don’t think that’s going to happen until someone either publishes me or marries me, neither of which seem very likely right now, and perhaps not even then.  I can’t believe I could meet someone like me through an Orthodox dating service anyway, and I certainly don’t believe I could meet someone in another way, so I’m stuck.  There just isn’t anyone like me (weird and dysfunctional).  I’m weird, crazy and lonely, I’m religious, but not enough.  When God made me, He made me too broken for anyone to match with me.

There’s a lot online about body image.  I don’t particularly struggle with that.  I don’t think I look great, but I don’t feel self-consciously ugly either most of the time.  But I don’t like myself as a person and I find it hard to believe that anyone else could like me either (I mean even as a friend, let alone for dating).  I don’t feel that I have any particularly good character traits and on the rare occasions people have said what they like about me, they tend to focus on my intelligence, which is problematic as (a) I don’t consider it a particularly strongly positive character trait (it’s not bad, but it’s not good like being kind or generous, it just is) and (b) my intelligence seems to have been negatively affected by my depression and I feel stupid a lot of the time these days, especially in social situations where social anxiety and autistic impairments kick in.

***

I didn’t have any jobs to apply for today, aside from a school librarian job I really don’t want, so I focused on my writing, managing to write much of the first draft of the final chapter of my Doctor Who book, covering the most recent episodes.  It feels a bit unsubstantial and I may have to rewatch some of those episodes before attempting a second draft.  I might try to get some feedback from friends first, though (I would like more feedback in general, if possible, if anyone else would like to volunteer).  Other than redrafting that chapter, the main thing to do now is to wait for feedback from friends I have shown chapters to and to decide whether to attempt a fourth draft or to submit it.  I think I probably will do at least one more draft.

Other than that, my only achievements today were going to shul, including walking there and back, and doing about an hour of Torah study.  I should be pleased with my writing, and on one level I am, but I always feel bad about prioritising writing over job hunting.  I wish I could get the courage to dedicate serious time to writing professionally, but I don’t have the guts.  Oh, and somehow I lost my to do list and I can’t remember what was on it.  I also watched a forgetable episode of Blake’s 7 (Volcano).  So not a great day in all.

More In Heaven and Earth

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

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

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

***

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

***

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

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

***

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

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

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

***

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

Crisis of Faith

I didn’t want to post much tonight, as Shabbat (the Sabbath) finished late and I’m going to go to bed late as it is and doubtless will struggle to sleep, given how much I slept over Shabbat (yes, I failed to make it to shul (synagogue) this morning again and dozed in the afternoon for about three hours too).  Tomorrow I hope to be volunteering, although “hope” is a somewhat tricky word there as “dread” might be nearer the mark.  I feel I ought to go, but like almost everything else in my life at the moment, I’ve lost confidence in my ability to actually do it properly.  Then in the evening I’m out for dinner with my family to celebrate my Mum’s birthday.  So I may not have the time/energy to post much tomorrow either, so I wanted to get a few thoughts down, for myself as much as anyone else.

Shabbat was difficult with a lot of depression and difficult thoughts.  I can’t remember all of them, but they were pessimistic thoughts about the future of Western society and frum (religious Jewish) society as well as my place in them, or rather my inability to find a place in either of them.  It sometimes feels like a race to see whether postmodern Western society or Orthodox Jewish society will self-destruct first.  Do I really want to be a part of either?  Lately I feel I just want to go off and be a hermit somewhere, but that’s not a very Jewish thing to want to do.  I have to existed somewhere and I’m not introverted and autistic enough to be able to cut other people out of my life completely.

I realised today that I’m going through a crisis of faith again, albeit a strange one.  I make it my third: years ago (probably around 2008, I’m not sure) I had a ‘traditional’ crisis of faith, not being sure what I believed, wanting proof for the existence of God and so on.  Then, over the last couple of years, particularly when my religious OCD was bad, I believed in God, but couldn’t believe that He loved me.  Now I can sort of believe that God loves me, but I don’t believe I can find a community that is right for me, that has the right balance between tradition and modernity, that takes Torah study and prayer seriously, but is also open to the (post)modern world, doesn’t stereotype non-Jews and non-religious Jews and doesn’t turn wicked people into heroes for political reasons.  It’s very difficult.

A Jew can’t be a Jew without a community.  That’s one of the major differences between Judaism and some other religions.  So I feel stuck.  I just feel that I stick out wherever I go and don’t fit in.  It doesn’t help that I don’t understand the nuances of social interactions because of autism, so I don’t know when some things are allowed.  For example, my shul isn’t Zionist, but some people are quite open about their Zionism and that seems to be OK, beyond a little teasing.  I don’t really understand it.  It’s hard to know what I have to do/believe and what is optional.

It doesn’t help that I don’t do the things a good Jewish man is supposed to do.  Between them, autism, depression and social anxiety keep me away from shul a lot and mean I study a lot less Torah than I should.  Similarly, I struggle to understand Talmudic study.  At shiur (religious class) today the topic was a very technical halakhic (Jewish law) topic and people were asking all kinds of kashas (high-level questions based on finding logical or conceptual flaws in a halakhic argument).  Meanwhile, I struggled to keep up.  I don’t know why so many people seem to be able to do this and I can’t.  I don’t know how many of them have spent significant time in yeshiva (rabbinical seminary) or studying Talmud with a chevruta (study partner) to learn this.  I assume most did not go to Jewish schools where they would have learnt it at a young age, although their children do.  But I just fell behind very quickly.

And, of course, I’m not married and I don’t have children, which is both a cause and an effect of my dislocation from the community.  In a community where almost every adult is married, not being married locks me out from a lot of social interactions, including some that might help me get married (given the strict gender segregation at most shul events).

The interesting thing about my earlier crises of faith (the ones I mentioned above) is that I never resolved them.  I never proved that God exists beyond all doubt or that God loves me.  They just stopped being important after a while.  I either learnt to live with the uncertainty, or they just stopped mattering.  Maybe one day this will stop mattering too.

This was supposed to be a short post just to announce what I was thinking, but it has become much longer, so I’ll leave this here.  There is, of course, much more to be said and I will probably return to this topic in the coming days.

Standing on the Margins

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

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

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

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

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

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

“You should never have your best trousers on when you go out to fight for freedom and truth”

Today is Lag B’Omer and the end of the mourning period part of the Omer, at least according to the minhag (custom) I follow, so I’m clean-shaven again and can listen to music without worrying about anyone asking why I’m doing it (even though my rabbi mentor told me that people suffering from depression can listen to music, I feel uncomfortable about my parents or anyone from my shul (synagogue) catching me doing it).  Shaving again does lift my mood somewhat; at least I’m not so itchy.  Still, it’s always seemed a slightly weird day to celebrate, especially as I don’t actually believe Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai wrote The Zohar, which is ostensibly the main cause for celebration, and another difference between me and my community (although I just read that the connection between Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai’s death and the celebrations is very recent – as in Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai lived in the second century, but the connection was only made in the seventeenth or eighteenth).

The other thing happening today is the most pointless election in the history of British democracy, elections to the European Parliament, an organisation we were supposed to have left weeks ago and which we may still, in some sense at least, leave, or at least lose our voting rights in (which would probably be worse than either fully leaving or not leaving at all).  It’s basically being used as a protest vote by everyone annoyed with either the government or the opposition, which is pretty much everyone in the country.

I was always brought up to believe that there I have a moral duty to vote at every election, however pointless it might seem because “people died to win you the vote.”  Ignoring the fact that this is arguably a weird version of the sunk cost fallacy and that, as Oscar Wilde wrote in The Portrait of Mr W.H., the fact that someone died for an idea does not make it true, I’ve always stuck to that, but today I can’t.  I just can’t bring myself to vote for any of the parties.  Not the Conservatives, with their incompetence and infighting, not the Lib Dems and Change UK with their insistence on overturning the referendum result (I voted remain, but I think that overturning the referendum will be far worse for our democracy than leaving the EU even without a deal), and certainly not for the gang of Marxist antisemites running the Labour Party or the racist neo-Nazis of UKIP.  I can’t bring myself to vote for the Brexit Party either, so I spoilt my ballot by writing pretty much what I wrote here only more succinctly.

I feel really bad about it, like I done something not so much wrong as sacrilegious.  Like I’ve somehow offended against the spirit of democracy and if Britain ends up as a dictatorship, it will be my fault (whereas in reality I felt I was making the only gesture I could reasonably make towards saving British democracy, if that’s not pretentious).

Anyway, enough politics.

***

I had a sudden burst of religious OCD, worrying about some kashrut issues.  I’m not quite sure where this came from all of a sudden.  I know that OCD thoughts never go away fully and one has to be vigilant not to give in to the compulsions or checking that goes with them, but I’m not sure why they have suddenly flared up today.  I checked the first one with my rabbi mentor, but when the second thought came, I realised I was falling back into checking and (so far) resisted asking the question.  In OCD, as in politics, the price of freedom is eternal vigilance.

***

Dayenu is a song from the Pesach seder.  After describing the Egyptian slavery and exodus, we sing “If [God] had brought us out of Egypt, but not wrought justice on them, it would have been enough.  If He had wrought justice on them, but not on their gods, it would have been enough.”  And so on, for fifteen verses, saying how even if God had not done everything he did for us, but only some of it, we would still be grateful (it’s fun to sing, though).

I realised I do a kind of reverse dayenu.  “If I was only a geek and not autistic, it would be enough (to stop me getting married or building a career).  If I was only autistic and not depressed, it would be enough.”  And so on.  I need to find a way to stop doing this.  It may be entirely true that I am not going to build a career or get married, but endlessly repeating my mantra (as my therapist used to say) doesn’t make anything better and probably makes things worse.  I probably do something similar regarding fitting in to my community; I did that again today after reading something on a frum site online that I really disagreed with and feeling that I will never be accepted in the community, but don’t fit in in secular Western society either.

***

Speaking of which, shiur was difficult again.  First there was my stupidity: someone who goes passed me on the way there and offered me a lift, which I took out of politeness, even though I was literally just down the road from the assistant rabbi’s house.  He saved me all of two minutes.  Then I somehow ended up trying to get out the car while the engine was possibly still going and certainly before the handbreak was on.  I just get so nervous around people that I end up doing stupid things.

Then I had another “Is this really the right community for me?” moment, when I just do not believe some of the things the assistant rabbi was says; I don’t believe Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai wrote the Zohar and I don’t believe that all aggadata (non-legal material in the Talmud, but in this case specifically narratives about biblical characters and sages of the Talmudic era) literally happened.  That’s a relatively minor point on one level, because I do believe that these narratives, whether they happened or not, were written and preserved because they are meaningful, but I just feel like a dissident or a spy in a hostile country sometimes, where if I’m not careful I’ll slip and be ostracised.

But what really upset me was the substance of the shiur, which was about our ability to understand Torah being proportionate to our effort (in a supernatural way i.e. the reward is disproportionately greater than the amount of toil, as a reward from HaShem) and that toiling in Torah study is a goal in itself.  I feel I just don’t understand anything, certainly not Talmud, but I don’t feel I can toil any more.  I know I hardly do any Torah study at the moment, it’s just so hard when I often feel depressed and I’m trying to learn how to juggle mental illness and working/job hunting, and chores and community stuff and davening (prayer), which I still haven’t learnt after a couple of years of working several days a week (when I actually have a job).  Maybe I could/should do more.  I’ve been trying to do more just the last few days.  But I never really understand Talmud, no matter how hard I try.  I can understand Jewish philosophy sometimes, but that’s not considered important or particularly worthwhile.  But I can’t understand Mishnah and Gemarah and it’s hard to make the effort to try.  Even with Tanakh (Hebrew Bible), which I used to love, it’s hard to really connect and find anything meaningful (and, again, it’s not really considered meaningful study for an adult male).  I used to find a chiddush of my own on the sedra (innovative comment of my own devising on the weekly Torah portion).  I think I did that every week for about four years, but then the depression intervened and my inspiration dried up and I couldn’t think of anything.  I haven’t been able to get back into it.

I just feel so separate from God, it’s hard to make the effort to study, particularly when I don’t understand and often can’t connect it to anything in my life.  There’s so little meaning in my life, and I have so little drive to do anything, other than perhaps to write.  Maybe I’ve just got lazy.  When I was too depressed to work, I studied Torah every day (OK I did skip a bit in 2003-04), often for an hour, I think.  Nowadays I’m struggling to do half an hour.  When the depression is bad, even five or ten minutes can be hard.  So maybe it is my fault.  Maybe I’m just lazy or maybe I just don’t care any more.  I don’t know.  I’m just blaming myself more now, which isn’t going to help me make a positive change, like doing more Torah study.

This all made me think of the Gemarah (Shabbat 31a) about the six questions you get asked after death.  Supposedly when you die, you get asked six questions by the Heavenly Court.  They are:

  1. Were you honest in your business dealings?
  2. Did you fix times for Torah learning?
  3. Did you engage in procreation?
  4. Did you hope for salvation?
  5. Did you engage in the dialectics of wisdom?
  6. Did you (intellectually) differentiate between one thing and another?

However, this only helps you if you have awe of HaShem.

This is before getting judged for all your deeds.  This builds up a sort of character profile of whether you had the right life philosophy before they examine all your deeds.  Also, the whole thing – questions, court etc. – is deeply metaphorical and not literally what happens, which is probably beyond our comprehension.)

Of these, questions two, five and six are all about Torah study, so I’m pretty much stuffed there.  (Apparently the Vilna Gaon saw all six as allusions to the six orders of the Mishnah, so they’re all about Torah study.)  I’m obviously not going to succeed with number three either.  I don’t know if I hope for salvation enough.  I very much doubt that I have enough awe of HaShem.  I don’t really think about Him much.

I do feel, sometimes, what is the point of my even being Jewish?  Because I’m so bad at it.  I don’t learn enough and I don’t daven enough, or with kavannah (mindfulness) or with a minyan (community), I don’t do chessed (kindness) or any of the things I should do.  I don’t connect with God.  I don’t have a worthwhile job.  I don’t live in Israel.  I don’t really know why I’m here.

There was probably more I wanted to say, but I’ve just descended down into depression and self-loathing again, after being OK most of the day (albeit not achieving very much either).  I want to eat ice cream, but I shouldn’t (that word again) given that I ate junk at the shiur and will doubtless eat a huge amount of junk over Shabbat, but this has just upset me.  And now I’ve spent an hour writing this when I should be winding down for the night.

I really am a bad advert for Orthodox Judaism.  Please don’t judge all frum (religious) Jews by me.

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

***

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

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

***

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

***

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

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

***

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

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

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

Who Would Fardels Bear?

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

-William Shakespeare, Hamlet

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

Meaning from Suffering

A random selection of stuff that went through my head today with even less thematic unity than normal…

Ashley Leia commented on the previous post regarding the high level of socialisation required in the Orthodox community.  I guess that’s what a lot of my blog is about, really, and certainly what I would want a book on mental health and autism in the frum (religious Orthodox Jewish) community to be about: that Orthodoxy does require a lot of socialisation and it isn’t always possible for people to fit in.

This dovetailed with a thought I had last night after I posted.  When frum people talk about what they like about Judaism and when non-Jews say what they admire about Judaism, some things often come up: strong family life, close-knit communities and many festivals with their unique rituals.  The problem is that because of my mental health issues and autism, things I struggle with in Judaism include family life, close-knit communities and many festivals with their unique rituals.  It feels sometimes like I have the usual difficulties of Judaism and more without the positives, or without many of the positives.  Sometimes I wonder why I’m frum, but I just “happen” to believe and am not hypocritical enough to believe and not do, or at least not try to do.

***

I’m having silly crush thoughts about someone I knew from a previous shul who I haven’t seen for about four years and who I have never (as far as I can remember) spoken to, not even to say hello.  When she saw my parents at a party last year, she apparently asked them how I was, by name.  I didn’t think that she knew me, let alone knew my name.  Somehow I can’t see that going anywhere, but I’ve been thinking of her for the last few days for no very obvious (or good) reason.  Even if I thought it was a good idea for me to be dating (which I don’t) and that she might be interested in me (which she almost certainly isn’t) I wouldn’t really know how to get in contact with her, nor would I have the confidence to do so.  But, still, I keep thinking about her.  My Dad once claimed that he’d had a dream where I was married to her.  (My Dad thinks his dreams are precognitive, which is why he isn’t worried about me not getting married and having children, because he’s seen my wife and kids in dreams.  I’m rather sceptical of things like that.)

I’m a very lonely person.  I’ve never had many friends and, even now, when I do have a small circle of friends, most of them live far away and I communicate with them by blogging, emailing, texting and/or What’sApping.  I long for real intimacy.  I mean the feeling when one really opens up to a close friend or especially a partner and is understood, and they open up and are understood in return.  This has been a rare and short-lived phenomenon in my life.  I suppose it’s related to what I said last week about existentialist Judaism and finding holiness in the interpersonal.

***

I went out to do some shopping for ingredients for dinner.  I was out walking for an hour and came back with nothing.  I couldn’t find lentils in the two small supermarkets and I’d forgotten that the big Sainsbury’s shuts early on Sunday and they were closed when I arrived.  I became so focused on finding the lentils that I forgot we needed apples too.  By the time I got home I was feeling too depressed and exhausted to cook much anyway.

***

I felt very depressed and despairing when I was out, not about myself, but about society as a whole.  Sometimes it’s easy to convince myself that society is just corrupt, and that Jewish society has been corrupted too, and that (as per the Rambam) I should go off somewhere and be a hermit.  I don’t think society has passed the point of no return, and as a student of history, I’m not really convinced that society is worse than ever before, overall, but one only needs to look in a newspaper to see that there’s a lot wrong with the world.

Nevertheless, I felt very agitated when trapped with my thoughts, despite taking advantage of the heter (permission) to allow depressed people to listen to music in the omer.  I don’t know why I experience this agitation sometimes, what triggers it or ends it, nor do I understand the anger and grandiosity that can accompany it.  I don’t know where it comes from or why or how to calm down without just waiting until I’m burnt out and exhausted, not to mention still depressed, just too tired to think.  I’ve been told it isn’t mania, as I once thought.  It seems to be associated with loneliness and comes particularly on days when I am alone.  It started while my parents were out today and continued while I was out shopping, but when I got home and saw my parents it subsided (maybe I do need to get married ASAP).  The immediate triggers are usually seeing political stuff online or in the newspapers, particularly stuff about antisemitism or other political events that trouble me.  But I’m not sure if they are really the triggers; it feels like they are just the proximate causes and there’s a deeper psychological cause somewhere that I haven’t identified.

Sometimes, particularly when I’m very agitated, I feel, on some level, that I want to die for everyone’s sins, although that’s not a very Jewish thing to say (in theory we don’t believe in vicarious punishment.  It does appear in some sources, but we downplay it).  When I was at university I had a couple of borderline-psychotic episodes for for a second or two I was convinced that I was Mashiach (the Messiah).

I just want my suffering to be meaningful beyond myself.  It’s hard just thinking that, at best, I might be atoning for some of my sins and saving myself from different suffering in Gehennom (Purgatory).  It’s much better for my ego and sense of purpose to feel that every day I suffer somehow pushes the world towards redemption, that every tear I shed spares a child from a terrorist’s rocket.  It’s hard to find real meaning in my suffering, so it’s easy to slip into fantasy.  I suppose that’s why I want to write a book about my experiences, to try to rescue them (the experiences, I mean), to let other people find meaning in them.  There is very little written about mental health from a frum Jewish perspective and, as far as I can tell, virtually nothing at all about high functioning autism.

***

In the end I did manage to do a few useful things today: I went shopping/walking for an hour, did ten minutes of Torah study (all I could face, really) and spent an hour and a half redrafting another chapter of my Doctor Who book as well as watching and taking notes The Ghost Monument episode for the chapter I still have to write.  I also cooked a packet of couscous.  I feel I should have done more, though.  I wanted to do ‘real’ cooking, not convenience food and I feel frustrated that I can spend an hour and a half or more on my book (not to mention blogging) and only ten minutes on Torah study, but the latter is draining while the former is restoring.  Still, it feels like a wasted day.  I can sort of see that maybe (maybe!) it shouldn’t feel like a wasted day and maybe I shouldn’t be beating myself up for not doing enough Torah study, especially as at one point I didn’t think I would manage any, but it’s hard to think like that.

High Anxiety

I had a job interview today at a Very Important Organisation.  The Very Important Organisation is so important that just going there for an interview is worth talking about, but also so important that it’s pretty much impossible to talk about it without giving away what it is, so I’m going to be silent here.  Suffice to say I nearly couldn’t find it, but got there on time in the end.  I thought I did OK in the interview because I only had a little autistic mental freeze, but the interview lasted about twenty-five minutes and at the start they said it would be forty-five minutes to an hour, maybe more, so I either aced it or did so badly they just wanted me out of there.

I started feeling anxious on the way home about whether I could actually do the job.  I became anxious about having to do cataloguing, even though it wasn’t on the job spec or the overview they gave me at the interview, because one of the interviewers said something about seeing it on my CV.  I’ve become paranoid about my cataloguing skills, feeling that I’m so rusty that maybe I should not say I can do it any more, but then what would I put on my CV?  I also asked if the job could be done as as job share, which did not go down well, so if I get it, I would probably have to do it full-time and I’m not sure I’m ready for that.

Later this afternoon I got a call from an agency offering me an interview and test (gulp) at a law firm (as a law librarian) this Friday.  I’ve never really seen myself as a law librarian, but I will go along and see what happens.  There is a test, details unknown, which terrifies me after messing up (or more accurately, being unable to complete) the last cataloguing test I did.  I worry that my skills are so rusty as to be useless.  It feels sometimes like interviews and tests exist just to further lower my self-esteem.

***

I broke up with L., if “broke up” is the right term when we’d only been on two dates.  I just didn’t think there was enough chemistry.

“Chemistry” seems such a stupid, intangible thing to break up over.  I can see that L. is kind and gentle and that maybe the fact we had both been through a lot of difficult times could help the relationship.  Moreover, in the past, I used to get annoyed when people broke up with me for a lack of chemistry.  In fact, I used to think I would date someone with no chemistry and see if it would develop, but now I realise just how important it is, even if it is undefinable.  I could see it was just never going to develop on its own, no matter how hard I tried to force it.  I feel sorry for L., as she is a nice person who has had a hard life, but marrying someone out of pity is not a good idea and she deserves better than that.

The scary thing is that for a week or so I convinced myself that the chemistry was there.  At the end of our first date, I was sure that L. was about to say she didn’t want to see me again and I was fine with that as I didn’t really feel anything, but to my surprise, she wanted to meet again and so I said yes to give it a chance.  Then for a week or so afterwards, in my mind I thought we were perfect for each other and were bound to get married eventually, but as soon as I turned up for our second date and met her in the flesh again that certainty evaporated immediately and I realised it was just fantasy.  I was projecting what I wanted out of the relationship onto her, not relating to her as a real person.

Breaking up does feel like the right decision, upsetting though it is to have to say that to someone (I’d never really broken up with anyone before, except one instance which was a semi-mutual thing; usually they break up with me).  I’ve also asked the dating service I met L. through not to set me up with anyone else for now, as I want to concentrate on my job hunt.  I think I have enough uncertainty and stress with that and my wait for an autism assessment without adding any more stress in.  My parents and (I think) my rabbi mentor seem to think I could be dating, but I just don’t think I can handle it right now, despite my loneliness.  Plus, being unemployed doesn’t make me terribly attractive.

***

Still, I think I have learnt a bit from the experience.  From my dating experience over the last couple of years, I feel that I’m looking for someone kind and intelligent, but who probably is already quite frum (religious).  I’ve dated non-frum women who said they would become frum for me, but I worry that that would make Judaism into a barrier, plus I want someone who is interested in active spiritual growth with me, not just doing something as a chore to make me happy.  I realise I’ve probably priced myself out of the market here, as someone frum might want a partner who went to yeshiva (rabbinical seminary) or who goes to shul (synagogue) or studies Talmud more often than I do.  Plus I also need someone who can accept my mental health situation and my financial situation, which is not going to be easy.  They also need to accept my geekery, which can be hard in general society, let alone frum society.

Put like that I wonder a bit if I made the right decision with L., but I think I did, although I may be single for a long time yet.  The relationship didn’t have any of the joy or excitement I associate with starting other relationships, which is not a promising start.

***

It’s hard to prise my feelings apart sometimes.  My Mum said yesterday that she thinks my depression is a lot better and when I say I’m depressed now I often mean I’m anxious.  There could be something in that.  I certainly seem more anxious than I was in the past.  Thinking about work/career, dating, marrying and having children or just the future in general does make me feel anxious at the moment because it all seems scarily open, but time is ticking on, as I said yesterday.

Sleepy Shabbos and Community

It’s late (Shabbat goes out too late in the summer in this country), but I need to off-load some stuff that happened over Shabbat (the Sabbath).

I’m really struggling with my sleep at the moment.  I know I’ve written before about my curious obsession with my sleep pattern and my tendency to write too much about it, but messed up sleep has always been my most persistent depression symptom, and one of the most difficult to deal with.  I wanted very much today to get to shul (synagogue) particularly as there was a kiddush (refreshments afterwards) for the rabbi and rebbetzin, who are leaving soon.  Shul starts at 8.45am, but I knew I wouldn’t make it for then.  I just wanted to get there by 10ish.  I even asked my Dad to open my blinds at 8.30am in the hope that that would wake me up.  It did bring me out of my deep sleep, but I spent the rest of the morning in a not-very-deep sleep, at times almost waking up and being conscious enough to feel I should get up, but not actually waking up enough to do so.  I slept through my alarms as usual.  It was very frustrating.  I eventually got up about midday, much too late for shul.  Once I’d eaten, I felt somewhat better, as is usually the case.  It’s just getting up in the first place that’s the problem.

The silly thing is that I can get up for work or job interviews or health appointments, just not for shul or to start my day at a reasonable time.  I don’t know why this is the case.

And then I did it again after lunch!  I wanted to stay awake and read, but I felt drowsy, probably from overeating and being in a warm room and I slept for two more hours!  I have no idea how I will sleep tonight.

***

At seudah shlishit (the third Shabbat meal, between the afternoon and evening services) the rabbi was doing a Q&A because he is leaving soon.  I’m not sure if this was his intention, but people mostly asked him about his achievements and regrets in the eighteen years he was our rov (rabbi).  He spoke a lot about trying to get people involved with the shul, turning up to weekday services and so on, which made me feel bad for not doing that.  Before we moved to our current area nearly four years ago, I was present almost every day at Mincha and Ma’ariv (Afternoon and Evening Services) and was trying to go to Shacharit (Morning Service) more often, sleep problems notwithstanding.  But when we moved, social anxiety and depression undid a lot of the good work I had done over the years in getting to that point of regular attendance and I’m still struggling to get back to that level.  I go to my father’s shul midweek sometimes, but not usually to mine.  I’ve told myself I will try to get to one weekday service a week at my shul for a bit and see what that does.  I’m hoping it will have some kind of unconscious effect on my Shabbat attendance too, but that may be wishful thinking.

The rabbi also spoke about the need to cultivate a relationship with your community rabbi and asking him shaylas/sha’alot (religious questions, usually practical questions on relevant points of Jewish law) and about the need to have friends in your community.  He presented an idyllic picture of a community united by common values and helping each other with personal/spiritual growth.  I would really like to be part of such a community, but I struggle with these things.  I tend to take my sha’alot to my rabbi mentor even though he lives abroad, largely because he knows me very well now (he’s known me for about seventeen years) and he has had some training with mental health issues (many of my questions are mental health-related, on some level).  He is also sensitive with questions about dealing with family members who are less religious and when one can be lenient for shalom bayit (peace at home – again, many of my questions fall in this category).   For those reasons it probably is best for me to keep taking my sha’alot to my rabbi mentor, but it does put me in an odd situation, not quite fully in the community.  It doesn’t help that I have many friends outside the community, and indeed a number of my friends are not Jewish or not frum (religious), which is not typical for Orthodox Jews.

But above and beyond this, there is an issue about my fitting in that has made it hard to open up to people in the way that the rabbi was suggesting, either to a rabbi or to friends.  I know my shul isn’t a perfect fit regarding hashkafa (religious philosophy, which relates to a lot of things, but broadly attitudes towards those things known as modernity and postmodernity).  I like that my shul takes davening (prayer) and Torah study very seriously, but I know I’m more ‘modern’ than many of the community, in terms of things like attitudes to science, to broader Western culture and popular culture, to non-Jews and so on.  But I’m not sure that there are really many shuls in the country that are a good fit for me; United Synagogue shuls (like my old shul and like my parents’ shul) are more modern in outlook, but tend to have a mostly less religious community.  My parents’ shul has a larger than average cohort of committed, frum Jews, but it was far too large and unfriendly for me.

The rabbi’s words did make me worry again about whether I’m in the right place with the right rabbi and the right community/friends.  I think I’m probably in the right place at this precise moment in the sense that there is realistically no better fitting community for me at the moment.  Where I am in five years time, particularly if I get married (it could happen)… well, I suppose that’s another thing to consider as and when.

***

As an aside, there’s a quite famous anthropology/history book about the shtetl (the small Jewish townships of pre-Holocaust Eastern Europe) called Life is with People*.  I think the title sums up how focused Jewish life is on family and community, and how difficult it is if you have issues like autism and social anxiety that inhibit socialisation.

* It’s quite a good book, but apparently methodologically problematic as one of the academics who worked on it faked his academic credentials and seems to have been a KGB spy who probably assassinated Trotsky’s son.  At any rate, he was obsessed with issues of class and status and, as was pointed out in The Jewish Review of Books, spends some time in the book describing in detail who gets to sit in the best seats in shul.

***

When I dozed this afternoon I had a weird dream.  Aside from totally surreal or random elements (carrying a large dining room table up and down escalators in a department store; a box of weird Doctor Who toys based on the Dapol range), the main thing that stuck with me was talking my parents and possibly someone else (I think a former boss (one I got on with), but here she was some sort of teacher or even governess) about some subjects I was studying (A-level? BA?).  There were two subjects and I was sure I was going to fail both of them, but my parents disagreed.  When I woke up, I thought perhaps my mind was expressing anxiety over the career I’m trying to grow (librarianship) and the career I’m trying to build from scratch (writing), both of which I fear I’m going to fail at, but that the fact that my parents didn’t agree that I was going to fail perhaps indicated a deeper belief in myself.

Or it could just be a silly dream.

(Plus, in real life they really would insist that I won’t fail anyway.)

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

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

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

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

Chad Gadya

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

***

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

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

***

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

One exchange resonated with me:

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

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

Bertie: You’re peculiar.

Logue: I take that as a compliment.

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

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

Wasting Time

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I just feel like I want to cry right now.

***

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

Pesach Cometh

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Variations on a Theme of Pesach Anxiety

Someone should write a thesis on the way that anxieties grow in the absence of sleep or food.  I couldn’t sleep last night and things that seemed OK during the day suddenly turned into bigger OCD anxieties when I was lying alone in the dark.  I ended up emailing my rabbi mentor, but I woke up today, very late again, to see that he hasn’t replied yet (as of 7pm, which is 9pm where he is), which just makes the worries worse.  I’m trying to keep things in perspective, as I’m not as anxious as I would have been in previous years, but I do feel that things are getting to me and I’ve got three more days of Pesach (Passover) preparation to get through.  As it is, I’ve got a knot of anxiety in my stomach that has come and gone all day.

I’m trying to accept that it’s OK to be stressed, and depressed, and OCD-anxious, even/especially at this time of year.  Trying not to think that other people seem to waltz through Pesach preparations without any worries, halakhic or otherwise.  It’s hard; I’m not on Facebook and I don’t use Twitter, but it’s still easy to compare my insides (horribly emotional) with other people’s calm outsides.

Clearing out some files on my computer last night (stuff that I thought would trigger OCD if I left it there) I found some notes following a meeting with my parents’ rabbi, who at the time was my rabbi too: “Torah was not given to the ministering angels [a rabbinic phrase that basically means that God doesn’t expect us to keep the Torah perfectly, because we aren’t perfect.  He has angels who are perfect, but He prefers our service to theirs because we have to struggle past our temptations and flaws].  We do our best, and leave the rest.  Pesach has fences and safeguards.  Don’t obsess over the last details of cleaning and kashering.  Enjoy Yom Tov.  Plan things to do, focus on things I enjoy about it.”  It’s hard to do that, though.  I’m actually struggling to think of enjoyable things I can do during the week.  I was nearly in tears davening (praying) before, just feeling overwhelmed by emotion and by events.  I feel that I’ve failed, that I’ve let everyone down, by giving in to my depression and anxiety again.

I went for a haircut this afternoon, which was awful.  I mean, the process of getting it, not how it has been cut.  I shook a bit, to the extent that the barber was unwilling to start at first, until his boss said something to him in a language I don’t understand.  I sat there with my eyes scrunched tight almost the whole time, repeating in my head that God loves me and that He has so much confidence in me that He has given me all these challenges (depression, OCD, social anxiety, loneliness etc.) because He knows I can cope with them.  Except that I don’t feel that I can cope with them.  The experience left me feeling shattered and exhausted.  I went into a couple of charity shops on the way home, but I didn’t buy anything.  Maybe I should have done.

I just keep thinking that I’ve let everyone down: family, friends, God, L. (who I’m not even quite dating yet).  It’s not my fault if I shake or feel depressed or feel OCD anxious… but somehow it feels like it is.

Baking

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

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

***

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

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

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

“You don’t know what it’s like to listen to your fears”

Mid-afternoon: There’s not a lot to say today.  Things have been continuing as they have been for the last week or so: I’m OK much of the time, but then suddenly my mood tanks and I have strong depression or (more usually) anxiety.  My anxiety is a mixture of religious OCD anxiety about the laws of Pesach (Passover), social anxiety about going to my shul’s (synagogue’s) weekday premises, which I haven’t been to much, and some kind of anxiety (I’m not quite sure what) about dating.  In the meantime, I’ve helped my parents with Pesach preparations.  That’s about it, really.

Evening: I wrote that paragraph above mid-afternoon, when I thought I would not have much to say today and just wanted to say that I’m coping.  However, I just had a stressful experience.  The prohibition on owning chametz (leavened bread and its derivatives) on Pesach is so severe, that religious Jews take a belt and braces approach: we destroy trivial amounts (usually by burning); larger amounts are sold to a non-Jew for the duration of the festival (it’s a binding sale and the non-Jew is under no obligation to sell it back afterwards, although the reality is that 99.99999% of the time they do as a matter of course) and, just in case we’ve missed anything, we declare any chametz that we own that is not destroyed or sold to be legally ownerless.  (I might write a post over Pesach about why we go to this extreme for a bit of bread, but I haven’t got time tonight.  Just accept it as another crazy thing Jews do.)

Today I sold my chametz or rather, gave my rabbi power of attorney to sell it on Friday morning.  I could feel my anxiety building in the afternoon.  I knew I was going to have to go to my shul‘s weekday premises and I felt uncomfortable and anxious about it.  I just haven’t been there enough to feel comfortable in the building, which is probably an autism familiarity thing as much as anything.  I was worried about doing the wrong thing or saying the wrong thing.  The anxiety was stronger for not being well-defined.  I just felt that I would do something wrong.

I got locked out when I arrived there, which was unfortunate.  I thought I knew the door code, but I didn’t.  Then the assistant rabbi said that he didn’t usually see me here.  It was an innocuous comment, but just made me feel that I’m being judged for not going to shul enough.  I felt very socially anxious during the afternoon and evening prayers.  There was then a long wait while the rabbi saw other people, during which my anxiety rose further.  I felt that I was going to say something wrong or the rabbi would judge me badly or think I was doing something sinful.  Of course, none of these things happened, but I did shake when I signed the document to give him power of attorney.  I walked home again feeling very shaken, physically shaken, and having OCD thoughts about having done things “wrongly”.

The positive thing to have come out of this is that I think I have an idea of why I struggle in the frum (religious Orthodox Jewish) community.  My Jewish identity is very strong and positive, and I see my Judaism as my most important identity, much more so than being a Doctor Who fan, autistic, depressed, an Oxonian or anything else.  Yet I find it so hard to interact with other frum Jews.  Low blood sugar, an unfamiliar setting (difficult with autism) and social anxiety today probably didn’t help things, but I think a lot of it goes back to my autism.

I have mentioned before that the reason I think my autism went undiagnosed for so long is because I have developed mental ‘algorithms’ for dealing with social situations.  I have one for eye contact and body language, one for making small talk and so on.  But with frum people, the algorithms become much more complex.  I need to factor in not saying anything that seems too secular and working out what “too secular” is (sometimes very frum people make jokes or comments that I would never dream of trying to get away with, which just confuses me).  I need to process words from foreign languages (Hebrew, Aramaic, Yiddish) that I may not be familiar with and which may be pronounced differently to how I would pronounce them (people in my shul tend to use Ashkenazi (Northern European) pronunciation, whereas I use Modern Hebrew pronunciation which is rooted in Sephardi (Iberian/Middle Eastern) pronunciation e.g. the final ‘t’ in Modern Hebrew often becomes ‘s’ in Ashkenazi pronunciation so Shabbat becomes Shabbos).  I need to process details of Jewish law and avoid transgressing it.  Then there are the social mores of the frum world, more formal in some ways (e.g. children refer to their elders as “Mr X” or “Mrs Y” not their first names), but more relaxed in others (e.g. people are far more relaxed about dropping in and out of their friends’ houses unexpectedly than in general, at least in anti-social London).  All this on top of my low self-esteem and feelings that I am religiously inadequate (e.g. the assistant rabbi’s comment), which just fuels the flames; it is hard to avoid a social/religious faux pas if you are in a state of some anxiety about making such a mistake.  It’s very difficult and it’s no wonder so much about my religious life leaves me feeling anxious, or that I have become such an infrequent shul-goer in recent years since moving to a new, frummer community.

Later: I’ve recovered now.  I’ve eaten (including a Magnum, reward for a difficult day) and watched some Doctor Who (I was supposed to have a break from it after watching so much as research for my book, but I’ve ended up watching the animated Shada because I’ve been stressed the last few days and needed the support that I can only get from my special interest).  I spoke to my parents about some of the ideas in this post and they felt that they made sense.  I know it seems silly to say that I worry how frum people will see me when I know that, compared with a lot of people I have a good understanding of Judaism and Jewish law and a reasonable Hebrew vocabulary, but there we go; anxieties aren’t rational.

Weekend Round-Up

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

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

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

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

***

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

All The Lonely People

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rearranging the Deckchairs on the Titanic

Talking to my parents at dinner last night was difficult.  I was really too drained to really put up with so much small talk and there was a bit of friction with my father over my inability to deal with small talk and his preference for it.  I was agitated and anxious last night, then slept a lot.  I could have got up in time for shul (synagogue) this morning, but was too tired, so went back to sleep, which I guess is an improvement from being too socially anxious to go (maybe).  I had lunch by myself as my parents were at friends, late because I overslept and cold because the hot plate (the only way we can heat up food on Shabbat (the Sabbath)) was on a timeswitch and had turned off because I was eating so late.  I dozed off after lunch too, so now I’m awake.

I can’t remember all my anxious thoughts last night, but I think they basically boiled down to: I used to worry I would never get over the depression and I would never get married, while I now worry that I will never even learn to manage the depression; never learn to manage my autism; never build a career; never even have a job I can cope with; never be able to support myself independently of my parents; never do an acceptable amount of daily davening and Torah study (prayer and religious study); never be accepted in my religious community; and, because of all of the above, I would never get married.  I don’t know where to start working on eight major, interconnected worries.  There is also a worry that that the cumulative effect of all of this would be that I stop being religious, but that seems somewhat less likely than the other worries.  I guess getting an autism diagnosis is the first step, but that depends on the vagaries of the NHS waiting list and whether I can convince the psychiatrist this time that I really am autistic.

***

I wonder how much I want to get married.  Consciously I want it a lot, but I wonder if I’m unconsciously afraid of rejection/effort/loss of freedom/something else and self-sabotaging, hence avoiding ways of dating (dating sites, professional shadchanim (matchmakers), my parents’ efforts to set me up with their friends’ children).  I tell myself no one could love me at the moment while I’m depressed and about to be unemployed, but maybe I should be more active in seeking dates and see what the women think.  Put like that, it sounds almost rational, but I think it’s disingenuous to present myself as ready to date when I’m a psychological and financial mess.  But maybe that’s just an excuse.  Maybe I can’t cope with the idea of dating.

I guess it applies to non-romantic social contact too.  I want to connect, but I don’t know how (autism) and I’m scared of rejection (social anxiety).  I don’t know how to live with loneliness and isolation, but I don’t know how to move on from it.

I guess this is where psychodynamic therapy comes in ahead of CBT.  CBT assumes we just need to clarify our thoughts so we can think the right things, whereas psychodynamic therapy deals with internal conflicts where we are actually torn about what the ‘right’ thing to think is.  So maybe it’s good that I might be able to see my psychodynamic therapist at the end of April, whereas my wait for CBT is indefinite.

***

I wasn’t tired this evening, unsurprisingly, so I spent some time tidying my desk drawers (although avoiding the bottom one, which has various Jewish papers in, which should really be buried at some point).  This is what the title of this post is referring to (not the government’s Brexit strategy).  There were various papers from the job I had last year, the one that I really messed up, as well as a lot about pensions, which is something else that worries me (I don’t have one, and I know I should, but I don’t earn enough money.  I worry what will happen to me).  I found something from CILIP (the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals), which I belong to largely in order to try to convince myself I’m a professional with a career and not a child trapped in an adult’s body/life.

I used to think of myself as an organised person, but along with my ability to plan (Dad: “You’re a terrible planner!”), I fear that this is more apparent than real i.e. I was organised when I didn’t have a busy enough life to produce much to organise.  My “organising” tends to involve shoving bits of paper from my desk in to drawers, and then periodically I clear the drawers by shoving the paper in ring binders.  Tidying ring binders happens very rarely, every few years, and tends to involve throwing a lot of stuff away.  I suppose tidying drawers happens every few months, but I  keep the top of my desk tidy most of the time, which creates the illusion of organisation, albeit that a pile of ring binders and papers mostly related to my writing projects has taken up residence on one side, which I tolerate on the grounds that they are at least meaningful projects that might bring in income one day and are more likely to be worked on if in view.

I also found a psychiatrist’s letter announcing that I was free of another episode of depression, which is vaguely depressing.  It shows I do come out of these episodes, but the time out of depression lasts a couple of months, whereas the episodes of depression themselves last a couple of years and I never have enough time in between to really build up my life.

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

(Sticking with the fourth Doctor quote theme from yesterday)

Purim

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

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

***

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

***

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

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

***

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

***

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

***

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

***

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

Depressing Thoughts

Today was pretty awful.  I started the day feeling more depressed than anxious, which I suppose was at least different to recent workdays.  It was hard to do anything.  I don’t know how I got up and dressed and to work on time.

I had a whole series of spiralling negative thoughts.  On the way to work, I was thinking that my community neither wants nor needs me and that therefore, as per Pirkei AvotHaShem (God) must not want me either.  The quote (Avot 3.10) is “[Rabbi Chanina ben Dosa] would say: Anyone from whom the spirit of creations find pleasure, from him the spirit of God finds pleasure. And anyone from whom the spirit of creations do not find pleasure, from him the spirit of God does not find pleasure.”  (Translation from here because I was lazy; I think “spirit of creations” is a rather archaic translation.)  I don’t think, realistically, that that means that if you have no friends then God hates you.  There’s obviously a lot in the Torah about God caring for those on the fringes of society.  But when I’m depressed, it’s easy to interpret it that way.  At any rate, I felt that the Torah was written for mentally-healthy neurotypicals and I don’t know how to earn a share in it.  It’s probably true that the Torah is written for the majority of people to practise (I think Rambam says that) and I certainly don’t know how to connect to it any more, if I ever did, so that’s true to some extent, perhaps unlike what happened next.

***

Last night I asked some of my friends if they thought I could be happy dating someone who didn’t share my geeky interests.  They were divided on this.  (There is also the question of how closely one has to define “geeky interests” given that some of my interests are very niche even for geeks, whereas lots of popular geek interests pass me by completely, but I’ll ignore that for now.)  Thinking about this prompted a whole morning of negative thoughts.  I can’t find frum (religious) geeky women who will date me, but then I can’t find non-geeky women willing to date me either, despite someone saying that in her experience, frum single women over thirty feel desperate and lower their standards.  In fact, I’ve seen “older” (i.e. over thirty) frum single women online complain that “I only get set up with weird autistic guys; all the normal guys get set up with younger women.”  I guess I’m one of those guys (I’m not sure if they’re literally autistic; more likely the women are just being rude), except that I’m not being set up with anyone.  The two women I was set up with in quick succession two years ago probably felt like that; one dumped me on the grounds we had nothing in common (which I took to mean I have weird, geeky interests, perhaps incorrectly), the other because of my depression.

This led on to fears that even if I could find someone willing to marry me, I would not be her first choice as her husband; she would be ‘settling’ with me from loneliness or a desire for children.  Even if she didn’t have a lost lover somewhere she was still pining for, she would have a mental image of a dream husband that I would always fall short of.  I hope this is just my depression and low self-esteem lying to me, but so far as I can tell, every woman I’ve ever crushed on or dated has liked me less than I liked her, often significantly less.  Maybe this is just me beating myself up again, but I’ve had very little interest from women over the years.

I know everyone says you have to love yourself before other people will love you, but apart from the fact that I simply don’t think that this is true, my childhood experiences make it pretty much impossible for me to love myself at the moment.  I struggle to believe that God loves me.  I can’t really believe that anyone else could love me, although I desperately hope that someone will.  It’s a lot to ask someone to take on though.  I know I’m not an easy person to be around.  I would definitely date the women that are considered a “bad match” in the frum world though.  Those considerations are usually spurious.  Other things being equal, I wouldn’t have a problem marrying a ba’a’lat teshuva, a geyoret, someone with physical or mental health issues, or someone with children from a previous relationship (although admittedly that one is harder and requires more thought than the others)… The problem is that I haven’t got anyone to communicate this intention to who might set me up with someone who is also finding it hard to meet a spouse.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, I really struggled to work with these thoughts racing in my head.  I’ve decided not to date for a while, but I still worry because I want to know, somehow, that I will find someone one day.  Not everyone does get partnered up, even in the frum world where marriage is a strongly-enforced social norm.  It’s not knowing what is going to happen to me that is so painful.  If I knew I was going to be single forever, I could at least try to find alternative outlets for my need to love and be loved, somehow.  Get pets or something.  Instead, I’m just faced with a huge question mark.  Sometimes I wish I was asexual; at least in that case I wouldn’t want romantic/sexual love.  The outcome would be the same, but I wouldn’t care.

***

I felt better as the afternoon went on, perhaps because I was distracted from my emotional pain by work and a physical pain (headache), although that at least responded quickly to medication.  I did have more depressing thoughts on the way home.  I was thinking about my career, or lack thereof, again, the fact that I lack direction, experience and confidence at work.  It occurs to me that describing autism as a spectrum running from high-functioning to severe is very misleading.  It implies a consistent and continuous increase in symptoms running along the spectrum.  The reality is that whether someone on the spectrum shows one particular symptom has no bearing on whether they show others.  I don’t generally have meltdowns, for instance, but that doesn’t mean that my other symptoms are less pronounced.  Moreover, symptoms can be situational.  I can be more or less functional depending on how many people are around and who I am with, how tired or hungry I am, how bad my depression and social anxiety are…  I’m high-functional in many ways, but I am really struggling in work environments, even different kinds of work environments, and I find it hugely frustrating that I’m so out of my depth and don’t know where I can turn for help (someone suggested AS Mentoring recently, but I haven’t had a chance to see what they offer).

Some autistic people are lucky enough to find their niche, a task needing a particular skillset that they match more or less exactly.  Some of these people may present symptoms more severely than me at certain times and in certain places, but at work they fit almost 100% and are completely functional.  I just wish I could find my niche.  I feel I’ve made mistakes here, but that could be the depression and low self-esteem talking; I don’t know if things would be materially different if I had gone to yeshiva (rabbinical seminary), had done my MA at a better university, or had continued leading prayer services and teaching Torah when I moved to this area.  I can see that all of these could have led on to other positive things and a more positive life for me overall, but maybe they simply weren’t possible and I shouldn’t beat myself up about having passed them by.

Waving a Magic Wand

Trigger warning: suicide

On a previous post, Yolanda said I have “strong faith”.  I don’t feel like that, certainly compared to other people in the frum (religious Jewish) community.  Partly it’s that I avoid social markers of faith, like saying “Barukh HaShem!” when people ask how I am (literally “Bless God,” but idiomatically “Thank God”).  But I feel that I don’t trust God.  I know that faith and trust are different things in Judaism; faith is about thinking God exists while trust is about accepting that whatever happens is for the best; but it is hard to have the former without the latter.  In a sense, on an intellectual level, I can accept that everything is for the best, but I can’t feel it.  My life just seems so miserable, I feel that there has to be more to it than this.  But I worry that if the “best possible outcome” for me for the last twenty years has apparently been (on the grounds that whatever God causes to happen is for the best) for me to be lonely and miserable, thinking of myself as a freak that no one could like, let alone love, how can I know that the next twenty years – or sixty years – won’t be the same?  I don’t think I could bear that.  This is when I start feeling suicidal.  I think I could cope with suffering if I felt there was a purpose or end to it, but being lonely and miserable indefinitely for no obvious reason is just too much to bear.  But I don’t know what the alternative is.  I don’t seriously believe that stopping being frum (religious) would make me happier, although it might make life a little easier and would widen my dating pool, but I think the key limiting factors on my dating are my mental health issues and autism and my under/unemployment.

***

Speaking of dating, Ashley Leia said I should date women and let them decide if they want me rather than decide in advance that they won’t date me.  That does make a kind of sense, and my parents and rabbi mentor have said similar things… but in my brain dating seriously without an income is disingenuous and futile.  Maybe that’s not accurate.  But I’m scared of the rejection I feel sure will follow dating in this state.  And I worry about meeting the right person at the wrong time and her rejecting me because I’m unemployed or depressed and then I’ll never get a second chance with her because she has tagged me as not suitable.

Of course, the problem is that I want other people to make decisions for me but then I don’t cooperate with them.  The other problem is that I’m terribly lonely, so I think endlessly about how things would have to change so that I could date, which just makes me feel more hopeless.  So I procrastinate endlessly and feel lonely and depressed all the time.  I find it doubtful that anyone could really make me happy, to be honest.

***

I could write an equally long, equally depressing rant about my career.  I’m not sure how much I want to be a librarian any more; it turned out not to really be like my experience in the library where I first worked, first as a volunteer, then as a paid employee.    I haven’t kept up with my CPD (and my training, at a not-very-good university because of depression, was arguably not good enough in the first place) and I feel pretty unemployable in my chosen career.  It’s a struggle to wade through job adverts and try to reply, I’m so lacking in self-belief.  Lots of jobs require work on Saturdays too, which I can’t do for religious reasons.  Then there are all the jobs I’m over- or under-qualified for…  I have to hope something will turn up, but as with dating, there’s no guarantee that it will, or that I will be good enough for the opportunity or psychologically ready to accept it.

Someone suggested A S Mentoring to me, but I’m not sure they are really offering anything that would be useful to me.  I suppose I should contact them and find out… which is also scary.

***
I suppose what I really want is for someone to wave a magic wand and for me to wake up in a new life with the things I want.  But real life doesn’t work like that.  I don’t mind having to work for things, but it seems that no matter how hard I try, I never get the things I work for and I can’t go on much longer without getting some kind of result.

***

I went shopping for a very belated wedding present for my sister and brother-in-law (long story why it’s been so long).  Out walking and seeing all the Purim stuff in the Jewish shops, I reflected that it is only a few days until Purim, the happiest festival in the Jewish calendar, and yet the one I struggle with the most (well, tied with Pesach).  I feel like Judaism is built for mentally healthy neurotypicals (for all the autistic precision with which Jewish law is codified).  There isn’t anywhere for someone who can’t join in with the festive crowd, who can’t drink, doesn’t have children or grandchildren and probably never will…

There’s a constant pressure to Do Things, whether from Judaism or work or family and friends.  I just constantly feel that I have to do painful things so I don’t “let people down,” but no one is making sacrifices for me (except for my parents supporting me rent-free).  I can’t cope with the constant pressure to be perfect.  I’m not perfect, nowhere near it.  Why can’t anyone understand that and leave me alone?

I honestly don’t know what I would do if someone said, “OK, you can choose the life you want.  You can decide if you want to pray or study Torah and how much, what to do for work, what family and social life you want.”  I can’t imagine would what actually feel good or how I can work that out.  In reality, I probably couldn’t cope with a career or being married.  Western society doesn’t really present me with an alternative to having a career and frum society doesn’t present me with an alternative to getting married.  I think I could manage, and might benefit from (in terms of personal growth as well as support and happiness), a boyfriend/girlfriend relationship, but that’s not really an option in frum society.

***

Related: I just shouted at my parents.  My Mum eagerly told me that my sister and BIL have concrete under their shale patio.  I neither knew nor cared about this, no one having told me that it was a concern and I can’t really bring myself to care.  Then Dad insisted on showing me a photo and I didn’t know what to say and ended up saying, “I don’t know what you want from me – to say “MY GOD THAT’S THE BEST GARDEN I’VE EVER SEEN??!!!”  They did at least see the funny side.  I shouldn’t have done it, but it’s getting harder and harder for me to take any kind of interest in my sister’s house without becoming monumentally depressed, yet everyone else seems to be expecting me to be as fascinated as if I were going to be living there myself.  At least if she had a baby, I could play with him or her.

***

I feel like I can’t take any more.  I can’t stand being so lonely and miserable.  I want to die, but killing myself…  I can’t put it into words, but I do and don’t want to kill myself.  I do because I want to escape, but I don’t because I couldn’t put my parents through that, and because, I suppose, some part of me still hopes I might one day have some small measure of joy, albeit probably not in this world, and that would never happen if I killed myself.  Plus, I suppose I can’t help feeling that killing myself would just lead to more punishment somehow.

I don’t want people to worry about me.  I’m not going to do anything.  I wouldn’t dare, really.  I just wish so much that this wasn’t happening to me.  I just wish that I wasn’t here.

Insomniac Thoughts

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

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

***

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

***

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

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

***

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

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

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

***

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

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

Things Fall Apart

Just feeling awful today, depressed and exhausted, and I’ve got so much to do.  I had anxiety dreams last night about Pesach and, bizarrely, my MA.  I feel exhausted, perhaps from the intense emotions and agitation yesterday.  The books on depression and anxiety don’t tell you just how tiring they can be.  Suicidal thoughts in particular can be utterly draining and I’m guessing that’s why I feel so exhausted today.  I can’t really face job-hunting at the moment, which will make things worse in the long-run.  I’m just glad I’m not working today.  I just wanted to watch TV, but I needed to go out and get a prescription and was supposed speak to someone from The Network (who run the group therapy/courses I did recently) and do various things for family, although the person from the Network never phoned (the public sector is so lousy at this sort of thing).  I’ve got a huge pile of emails too, mostly job alerts for jobs that are of no interest and which I don’t think I can do.  I’d like to work on my Doctor Who book, which is a more achievable task, because I enjoy it more and because at the moment I’m just tidying up the second draft by standardising spelling and layout, which I can do while feeling bad, but I feel bad about doing that when I ‘should’ be job-hunting.  I don’t know whether I will get any of these things done.  I fell asleep for an hour after lunch, which I guess is a sign I was tired, although I slept for nine hours last night.  I couldn’t really afford to lose the time, though.

***

I woke to find an email about the my university’s Doctor Who Society’s anniversary party.  I was hoping to go to this, but I realise now I’m probably not going to be able to do so, as it falls in the Jewish national mourning period after Pesach.  I thought I could justify going if it was just to socialise and watch Doctor Who, but I think it’s more of a party party, which doesn’t seem right for me to go to.  I was already missing the dinner, for kashrut reasons.  I enjoyed going there more than anything else at university, but even then I missed out on social trips to restaurants and location trips that were always on Saturdays for the sake of people who had early lectures on Monday morning.  I know Jewish law is supposed to reduce social and romantic involvements between Jews and non-Jews and even between frum (religious) and non-frum Jews, and up to a point, I accept that, but it’s hard when you have limited social and romantic possibilities, and people within the frum community aren’t always the most friendly or just aren’t on my wavelength.

I try not to perform mitzvot (commandments) in expectation of reward, but sometimes when I look at everything I’ve sacrificed to be frum, and what I may have to sacrifice to stay frum, it’s hard not to feel that I want something in return.  Worse, I feel that deserve something in return, which is very wrong of me.

***

Lately I’ve felt my religious observance slipping a little as I noted in yesterday’s post.  Nothing big, just little things.  Some of it might not even be bad, like beating myself up less for davening (praying) in a less ideal way or not at all and for studying less Torah.  Sometimes it’s hard to care when one feels so depressed.  If I’m thinking about suicide, which is virtually the biggest no-no in Judaism, then nothing else seems that important, doubly so if I don’t think I’ve got any reward coming to me.

At any rate, today it was hard to “learn” Torah (as the Orthodox say) and I didn’t really manage much.  As an Orthodox Jewish man, I’m supposed to think that I exist to “learn,” particularly Gemarah (the main part of the Talmud).  I’m supposed to do it day and night, at every free opportunity.  It’s supposed to give meaning to my life and be more important than all other mitzvot (commandments) and acts of chessed (kindness); as the saying goes, when we pray, we speak to God, but when we “learn,” God speaks to us, which is supposed to be more amazing – thinking God’s thoughts and in some sense joining with Him (this is why it is seen as meaningful even if you don’t understand what you are studying or if it is aspects of Jewish law no longer practised).  This may have been the case for me once.  I used to study for an hour or more a day, even though I was very depressed, but that was when I wasn’t working or was working less, and it gave some kind of meaning to my life, to my illness.  But nowadays I do at most twenty to thirty minutes, sometimes just five minutes, although I feel I should still study as much as I used to on days when I don’t work.  However, it’s hard to care from depressive lack of energy, concentration and motivation and because it doesn’t speak to me any more.  I know the Talmud says that that’s my fault (“If  it is empty, it is from you”).    I don’t like the atmosphere so much at parsha shiur (Torah class) either, too boisterous and masculine, but that’s a slightly different issue.

I’ve always struggled with learning halakhah (Jewish law) and Talmud, but I used to enjoy other aspects of Jewish study, Tanakh (Hebrew Bible) and Jewish philosophy, but lately I don’t (to be honest, “lately” is probably for a year or more).  Some of it is depression making it hard to concentrate, engage with things and enjoy things, but I was “learning” more when I was more depressed than I am now.  Some of it is the feeling of rejection I have from God and from the Orthodox world.  It’s hard to engage with them.  Some of it is doubtless repressed guilt and wanting to isolate myself, not to mention envy of people who spend longer in study and get something out of it (e.g. the semi-retired person at my shiur who studies Talmud for something like four hours a day and loves it).

***

It’s not just hard to be a frum Jew without studying Torah, it’s hard to be a frum Jew without a spouse and children and that might be another reason I’m slipping.  There are push and pull factors with families that keep a person frum.  The push factor is that shuls are centred around families and if you have a family it’s much easier to fit in.  You have something to talk to other people about after shul (school, bar/bat mitzvahs, weddings, grandchildren, great-grandchildren) and you can go to family-centred social events without feeling out of place (I’ve mentioned in the past that I rarely see the few other single people at my shul attend social events).  The pull factor is that if you have a family, it’s harder to stop being religious, because it can lead to conflict with your spouse and because you don’t want to negatively affect your children’s marriage prospects by leaving the community, which would be seen as reflecting badly on them.  I have heard that unscrupulous kiruv professionals try to get new ba’alei teshuva (people who are ethnically Jewish, but raised non-religious) married as soon as possible to ‘lock them in’ to a frum lifestyle.

I heard of frum “older” singles (“older” in inverted commas because it means over the age of about twenty-five in the frum community) get criticised for being “picky” or being patronised or given unwanted advice.  I guess I’m lucky that I’m invisible enough in the frum world to mostly avoid that sort of thing, but that brings the drawback that no one is actually setting me up on dates, when being set up by a third party is the main way of dating in the frum world.  I would be terrified to go to singles events and there aren’t many of them advertised anyway (apparently it’s too dangerous to let large numbers of single men and women talk to each other, even with a view to getting married).  I’ve thought recently of trying internet dating sites again, but no one really responded to me on them, plus I have heard that, like job applications (something else I’m bad at), it’s a numbers game: you need to message hundreds of women to get a handful of responses and one date.  There simply aren’t enough women of anything approaching my particular level of frumkeit (religiosity) in the UK for that to work (even ignoring whether I’m in a strange place between Modern and ultra-Orthodoxy).

***

Sometimes I feel like I just want to be held, but I’m sufficiently self-aware to question that.  My first girlfriend thought I was frigid and I fear she was right.  I could ask my parents for hugs, but I usually don’t, but then again that relationship is difficult at the moment in some ways.  I worry that I wouldn’t cope with a relationship if I actually had one.