Catastrophising and Fatalism

The Doctor: Where’s your optimism?

Romana: It opted out.

– Doctor Who: The Armageddon Factor by Bob Baker and Dave Martin

I seem to be stuck back in the habit of waking up late and depressed, even if I go to bed a bit earlier.  I think some of the slump is finishing the first draft of my novel and contemplating the next mountain to climb, which is redrafting, which is looming and ominous, but which I can’t even get started on yet, as I want a short break so I can come to it fresh.  Something else happened that I won’t go into here that brought me down too and is on my mind today.  Plus, I had a weird, upsetting dream last night.  I can’t remember the details, but it was about getting in trouble with my religious community for having the wrong religious beliefs/practices.

I looked at the chart I made for dealing with depression and, yes, some of this probably is my critical voice talking and maybe some “shoulds” and, yes, a lot of it is catastrophising.  I don’t know what’s happening with my career or my writing, which is scary, and it’s hard not to catastrophise that.

There’s a lot of catastrophising about relationships too, feeling that I don’t have ways to meet someone.  There are some ways, but I feel they all have drawbacks and most are unlikely to succeed.  I also feel that I would have the best chance of building a relationship with someone who also has “issues,” but there’s no way of trying deliberately to meet such a person, certainly not within the frum (religious Jewish) community.  There are actually shadchanim (matchmakers) in the USA who specialise in “sensitive shidduchim (matches)” where both parties have some kind of issue (not necessarily mental health), but I couldn’t get any to work with me, largely because I’m not in the US, but in one case because I’m too modern, religiously.  Maybe it’s not sensible to think like that anyway; both my exes had issues and that was at least partly responsible for the failure of both relationships.  Maybe I need someone very stable and kind, although what she would see in me is anyone’s guess.

I also worry that I won’t be able to have children, partly because my issues are too ever-present and exhausting to make it a good idea, particularly if I marry someone with similar issues; partly because, as I get older, having children means finding a wife significantly younger than me, which seems unlikely to happen.   Some shadchanim and dating sites seem to divide the dating pool in two, under-forties and over-forties, the former being presumably for people who can have children, the latter for people who are too late, or who are assumed to already have children from a previous relationship and not to want more.

As I said, this is all catastrophising.  My parents still think I’ll get married and have at least one child, which seems wildly optimistic to me.  It’s hard to turn off the catastrophising voice though, particularly when there seems so little evidence against it.  I need to focus on stuff in the present, as I was recently, but it seems hard today when I feel to depressed to concentrate on anything and when my mind just wanders down the path of least resistance, which is the path of catastrophising and wallowing in self-pity.

I try to tell myself that if God wants me to have a career and a wife and children then it will happen and if He doesn’t, it won’t, and there’s not much I can do about that… except that just reinforces the fear that he doesn’t want me to have those things and there’s nothing I can do about it.  Certainly he hasn’t wanted me to have them so far.  I don’t think belief in God is supposed to make me so fatalistic, certainly not Jewish belief, which is supposed to be proactive.  We’re supposed to think that God wants the best for us, and if it doesn’t suit our desires or plans, that’s because we’re limited whereas He’s omniscient and knows what would be good for us better than we do.  I just wish I knew what His plan is and had some idea if I would ever get there.

Do I even know what I want out of life?  I’m not sure.  Part of me suspects I wouldn’t be happy even in a loving relationship, that I’m just too negative and depressed a person to be happy for long.  I don’t know what would make me happy or bring fulfilment to my life.  Maybe I’ve hit on things like love and career as goals because they make other people happy and I assume they would make me happy too, but perhaps they would not.

Being frum, doing mitzvot (commandments) and studying Torah, which, according to rabbis, are what my soul wants to do and which should make me happy do very little for me.  Does that make a bad Jew?  Or are depression and low self-esteem just too corrosive to happiness for a frum life to make a difference?  Nothing really seems to help conquer the sense of insecurity, loneliness and despair.  Would it help if God Himself told me that He thought I was a good person and a good Jew?  I’m not sure that it would at this stage.

I want to be grateful for the good things in my life, and I’ve been stating them each day for years, but somehow often I feel too lonely, anxious and despairing about the future to internalise that.  I just end up feeling guilty for not being happier and more grateful.  Maybe I’m just selfish and ungrateful, but I just feel like my psychological needs are not being met (as per Maslow) and I can’t fully function.

***

My therapist is away, and maybe that’s hard too.  I share a lot of my life here on the blog, but not all of it.  There’s some that seems too trivial, or too personal, or too shameful or perhaps too weird to share here.  I’m not sure how much of that I would share with my therapist either, but some of it.  Lately it’s also been hard to tell my parents when I feel depressed and to talk to them about things and I’m not sure why.  I think on some level I feel I’ve let them down by being depressed for so long.  I could phone Samaritans.  I’m not suicidal, but the service is technically not just for people who are suicidal or even intensely depressed, but somehow I can’t bring myself to phone just to chat, perhaps because I can’t bring myself to open up to a stranger unless in serious need.

***

This week I’ve been writing letters to people who have upset me or aroused strong, difficult emotions in me.  The letters are not intended to be sent, just to work my feelings through.  I decided to write one to the frum community, which was a slightly flippant idea, but I thought I would see what came out, as I’ve been writing these letters in a fairly stream of consciousness way.  I was quite surprised that it really didn’t go the way I expected, so I thought I’d share:

Dear frum community,

I tried so hard to fit in, but I never felt accepted.  That’s my gut feeling.  Is it true?  I  don’t know.  I think people were willing to accept me at youth stuff at shul when I was a teenager, but I was too scared, and maybe a bit arrogant.  Did I think I was better?  Or smarter?  Or did I just think I could not be friendly with someone who was not a geek?  To be fair, I was carrying a lot of hurt, trauma and guilt, and that only got worse at Oxford, where people were also willing to accept, but I was too scared again.

Nowadays I’m terrified I’m too Modern, too “heretical,” too weird, too guilty to fit in, especially being single, childless, depressed and autistic.  Is that your fault or mine?  Neither really, it just is.

It’s true you do stuff that upsets me.  The casual sexism and racism that exists [in the frum community].  The focus on ritual over ethics.  The anti-gentile feeling.  The lack of culture and imagination, the conflicts over science and sex and gender and work and Israel.  But I think ultimately that’s not the point.  The point is that I think I don’t deserve you and that I think you couldn’t cope with me.

Yours sincerely…

Reading back this letter makes me think that if I look back at thirteen year old Bar Mitzvah Me, I see the me who tried going to the shul (synagogue) youth service, but who couldn’t talk to anyone there, and who was scared of being bullied, as some of the kids there went to his school and weren’t always nice to him and he couldn’t always tell if they were bullying him or not.  The me who got fed up with no one talking to him even though he wouldn’t have known what to say if they had.  The me who was being asked (which he understood as “pressured”) to lein (chant from the Torah) in the youth service because he “leined so well at his bar mitzvah,”  but who was suffering from extreme stage fright post-bar mitzvah because he felt overwhelmed by praise that he didn’t think he deserved and who didn’t want to lein ever again.  The me who was going to start feeling increasing guilt over the next few years about his family’s lax standards of Shabbat and kashrut observance, but not know how to change that, and who was soon going to start feeling a lot of guilt around sex, and not know how to change that either.  And I suppose I should say that I want to hug him or tell him not to worry, but I just feel angry and want to shout, “Why couldn’t you just cope with it?  Why couldn’t you just stick it out and make friends and become part of the community?  And then maybe I wouldn’t be depressed and single and childless and lonely.”  That’s not really very self-loving.

I could say the same about Oxford Me, which was probably the last chance I had to really turn things around.  “Just talk to people!  Just go to events, even if they bore you!  Go on the Jewish Society committee, even though you hate the idea of doing so and you think you have no talents to bring to the table, and even though you think your tutorial work leaves you no time for things like this!  Make the time!  Ask girls out, even if you’re not sure they’re 100% compatible!  Just do something!”

But even now I would make the same mistakes again, there just isn’t the social circle to make it in.  Everyone’s got their friendship circle now, and usually their spouses and children (some I guess are on Spouse Number 2 by now).  There aren’t organisations that cater for single frum people approaching forty (nebbukh).  I wouldn’t be able to go anyway, for the same reason I didn’t go then.  Getting angry with Past Mes is just getting angry with Present Me.  I can’t even keep close friendships going any more.  I don’t really have any close friends any more, and the only people I really open up to (aside from my blog) are my therapist and my rabbi mentor.

***

Achievements: some time finishing off my devar Torah (Torah thought) for the week (although I had some negative thoughts about that, about my divrei Torah not being worthwhile).  I did a bit of Torah study.  I read more of Healing from Despair too, which is a Jewish book, but the chapter I read had no religious content and was just about the author’s experience of feeling suicidal, which was probably not the best thing to read.

I did some chores and went for a walk.  I basically did what I normally do, without two hours of writing my novel, so I feel a bit like I underachieved.  The time I would normally spend on the novel was partly spent on procrastination, partly on fiddling around with playlists on iTunes, and writing this mammoth post.

Crushes and Being in the Present

There are things I think about talking about here, drop hints about, but back away from talking about openly.  I’m not sure why I do this.  I know why I’m too nervous to talk about them (a whole bunch of different reasons for different topics), but I’m not sure why I keep wanting to bring them up.  Maybe because they seem important to me, or simply because I often go into confessional mode on my blog and want to offload everything.  Or maybe I’m just trying to provoke people into stopping reading.

One topic I’ve been thinking about for the last few days is crushes.  I’ve had some kind of crush most of the time since I was sixteen when I haven’t been in a relationship, which is most of the time.  As soon as one crush drops out of my life or marries someone else, I find someone else to fixate on.  It’s very adolescent.  I suppose it’s a product of wanting love, but being too afraid to be open and vulnerable with someone, so I just obsess about people from a distance.  It’s worth noting that of my two “proper” relationships, one was not originally a crush at all (she messaged me on JDate), the other was a mild crush at best (we were emailing, originally just as friends, and I felt a bit of attraction, but only acted on it when she said she felt the same way).  So that may be significant, that crushes almost never turn out well.

I can feel the Crush Wraith (I was going to say Crush Monster, but really a crush is ghostly and insubstantial) coming back even though it’s not long since I broke up with E., and even though the circumstances of our break up arguably ought to make me think twice about ever being in a relationship again, or at least not until a whole bunch of other criteria are met (now I’m talking about my love life like an economist…).

It’s not just that.  Part of me wants to get back in touch with E., not to date again, I tell myself, but just to be friends.  She was a good friend, and I don’t have many friends, ergo I should get back in contact, or so the logic goes.  Then comes the guilt: E. doesn’t have many friends either.  Maybe she’s in a worse state than I am.  Maybe it’s an matter of kindness to get back in contact with her.  I’m worried if I do that, we’ll end up with a permanently unresolved on/off relationship that will get in the way of other relationships.  I think the attraction is too strong for us to be friends; not close friends, at any rate.

***

The sermon from Shabbat Shoftim 30 August 1941 in Sacred Fire: Torah from the Years of Fury 1939-1942, the sermons of the Piaseczno Rebbe, Rabbi Kalonymus Kalmish Shapira, resonated with me over Shabbat.

He starts with a verse from the sedra, which the translator (J. Hershy Worsch) translates as, “Be guileless with God your Lord.” (Devarim/Deuteronomy 18.13)  I don’t like that translation very much.  I would prefer something like “Have integrity in your relationship with God your Lord” or “You must be wholehearted with the Lord your God” (which is Sefaria.org’s translation).  Tamim has connotations of integrity and wholeheartedness.

He then quotes the Medieval commentator Rashi (Hebrew acronym for Rabbi Shlomo ben Yitzchak).  I’m going to give a mash-up of Worsch’s translation of Rashi and the translation on Sefaria as I don’t like either of them completely and I’m too tired to translate from scratch (it’s gone midnight here): “Walk before Him wholeheartedly; put your hope in Him and do not attempt to investigate the future.  Simply accept whatever happens to you, and then you will be with God — to be His portion.”  This is my favourite Rashi comment, but I’m bad at living up to it, so it got my attention.

In sermonic style, Rabbi Shapira discuss some other things, moving to the situation of the Jews in the Warsaw Ghetto, and in Europe in the Holocaust in general, saying a Jew would be unable to respond to hope or good news because he has been so “beaten and tortured that he that he is utterly broken and effaced by pain and poverty… there is no longer a person capable of rejoicing.”  This is common in Sacred Fire, the acknowledgement that faith and joy depend on physical and psychological wholeness (another meaning of tamim), which I think is crucially missing from a lot of other attempts to deal with suffering religiously.

He says that if the Jews knew that they would be saved tomorrow, they would find courage.  “The problem is that they cannot see any end to the darkness.”  Then he returns to Rashi’s comment: “Even if you are broken and oppressed, nevertheless be artless and whole. Take strength in God your Lord because you know that God your Lord is with you in your suffering.  Do not attempt to project into the future, saying, “I cannot see an end to the darkness,” but simply accept whatever happens to you, and then you will be with God — to be His portion.” (Emphasis added.)

That seemed very meaningful to me, the idea of being mindfully in the present and not trying to see the future, and to see that was seen as having what I would translate as integrity (being “artless and whole”), which is important to me.  Whether I can do that is another question.  It’s hard when I’m feeling lonely and unlovable and unemployable.

***

Today I slept a lot.  When I was awake, I felt mildly depressed.  I did some Torah study and read more of The Siege.  I played a game of Rummikub with my parents after seudah (dinner), but didn’t want to play a second game and went off to read.

I’m trying to feel grateful for things like being able to spend time with my parents (and getting on well with them) and not being in lockdown by myself, but it can be hard.  I had difficult feelings today, things that were probably vague feelings of anxiety, as well as feelings of sexual frustration that can be triggered by strong negative emotions like anxiety, depression or anger.  It is very hard to know what to do with those feelings.

Pesach Fail/OCD Success?

I got up about the same time as yesterday, which was good.  I felt very anxious and struggled with some OCD thoughts, but avoided asking my rabbi mentor about most of them.  I told myself that I was 90% sure what I was doing was OK, and if I was wrong, it was a genuine mistake, and that not asking unnecessary questions is a positive thing for me, otherwise the OCD gets out of control.  Nevertheless, I felt intermittently overwhelmed and struggled to get going.  I tried to focus on gratitude for my family and friends and especially for E.  I guess I do still worry that I’ll scare E. off sooner or later, either with my issues or my religiosity, but she cares about me more than anyone except my parents.

The one thing I really struggled with was kashering the kitchen sink.  This involves purging the sink of any trace of food by pouring boiling water over it.  There are quite strict rules about this.  The water has to be boiling, not boiled, so you only get a few seconds to do it before the kettle is considered too cold.  Also, only water within a couple of inches of where the spout of water hits the sink or drainer counts as close enough to still be boiling.  And you have to hit 51% of the sink and drainer in this way.  And, of course, it’s impossible to tell just by looking what was hit in this way and what was not because the water just flows everywhere.

The truth is, I didn’t feel like I managed it this year, but I was also worried about getting stuck in a OCD spiral of doing it again and again and again, trying to get it “perfect”.  So I tried to make sure I got each part of the sink once (which still took several goes) and then I left it.  I just sent my rabbi mentor an email asking if he thinks that was the right approach, especially as we don’t actually put anything directly in our sink on Pesach, which mitigates the need for this somewhat.  As I said to my rabbi mentor, my intuition is that this is the best possible option available, and I also note that, while writing that email to him and writing this blog post and accepting what I’ve done, I can feel my confidence level about the sink rising a little bit.

Did I do the right thing?  God knows (literally).  I tried my best, and probably did as good as most people would, but they wouldn’t agonise over it.  I think we have a good enough solution for now, with the caveat that we may need to ask a rabbi a question if anything drops into the sink over Pesach.  At the moment, looking for “good enough” solutions is all I can do.

There then followed a slightly frantic hour or so as I tried to make dinner for all of us in a kitchen that is half unusable (because in Pesach mode, not in everyday mode, where we still are).  I could feel anxiety rising in me from the sink, but also about Pesach in general, what time I will go to bed tonight, if I will sleep, if I will get up on early tomorrow morning as I want and really need to do…  I’ve had stomach pains again this evening, which seems to be an anxiety thing and which hasn’t been present for the last few weeks.

I’m currently waiting for my parents to be ready to do the nocturnal search for chametz (leavened food), done the night before Pesach.  I hope not to get to bed too late, although that’s somewhat up in the air at the moment.  I did a bit of Torah study today, but not much, but I think I was doing important things for the family.  I didn’t go for a walk in the end though which I would have liked to have done.  I want to get up early in the morning (although it would take to long to explain why… another complicated religious thing), so would like to get to bed reasonably early.

I’m not sure if I’ll be able to blog tomorrow.  It’s the busiest day of the year.  If not, I won’t get the chance to blog again until Saturday evening, so Pesach kasher vesameach to those celebrating, and stay healthy to everyone.

The Great Matzah Panic of 2020

I got up marginally earlier today!  I know that’s not such an exciting thing to report for most people, but given how much I’ve been struggling with sleep recently it seems important to me.

Mum actually came in at something like 9.30am to tell me that my sister had phoned to report doing Pesach (Passover) shopping and the kosher supermarket was packed with people panic buying for Pesach.  (I’m not quite sure why she felt this was worth waking me up for.)  I then slept intermittently, dreaming about Pesach and, for some reason, the allied bombing of Dresden in 1945 (perhaps not as weird as it sounds, as there is a family story about that which makes it prominent in my mind, although not particularly at the moment) before waking up again around 11.15am and getting up soon thereafter.  I did actually feel a bit better than I usually do on getting up and even just managed to do some of my morning prayers while it was still morning, whereas lately I’ve been too depressed and exhausted to pray before the afternoon.

I was pretty worried about the Pesach food shopping.  We managed to dissuade Mum from doing it.  Dad and I should really have gone ASAP, but Dad had to take Mum to a scan and another meeting with the oncologist and then I had a skype meeting set up with my rabbi mentor, so we couldn’t get out until mid-afternoon.  Normally lack of food wouldn’t be such a problem, but for Pesach the Jewish dietary rules are stricter and everything has to be produced under special conditions so we can’t just pull food from the freezers (yes, we have five freezers.  Yes, I feel that is excessive.  Yes, Mum feels she doesn’t have enough freezer space and could really do with another one.  Yes, Jewish mothers do show their love for their family through cooking a lot.  Plus at the moment we have a freezer that is almost entirely full of apple desserts because we had a bumper crop from our apple tree last year and Mum was baking faster than we could eat).

Dad and I spent an exhausting two hours out shopping, much of it in the smallish kosher supermarket.  Not everything had arrived yet, but some things had already sold out.  There weren’t many matzahs left, with no Rakusen’s or Aviv brand matzahs at all, which was a bit shocking.  We managed to find substitutes, although we later found loads of Rakusen’s matzahs in Sainsbury’s and bought some there, so we now have a ton of matzahs.  I feel vaguely bad about this in case other people can’t find any.  I am slightly concerned about the food we still need to find, although most of it is not essential and/or has to be bought nearer the time because it spoils.  When we popped into Sainsbury’s afterwards, was almost totally empty of fruit and vegetables, just a few cucumbers and cooking apples, and, bizarrely, a crate of pomegranates.

I did have some slight religious OCD in that the kosher supermarket was set out part for Pesach, part for ordinary food and the demarcation was not always obvious.  I think I checked for “Kosher for Pesach” seals on everything we bought in the shop, but I got worried that I missed something and I went to the garage, where all the Pesach food currently is, and checked again.  I knew that this was giving in to the religious OCD on some level, but it was hard to resist.  At least I stopped myself from checking the meat Dad bought without me and I just relied on the fact that he asked in the butcher what was Pesachdik.  It is easy to slip back into OCD modes of thought at this time of year and I have to try to be vigilant against it, while not beating myself up when I give in.  Certainly the OCD flare up happened at a time when I had several of the HALT (Hungry, Anxious, Lonely, Tired) indicators.

***

I wouldn’t be so worried about the coronavirus situation if it wasn’t for (1) Mum being at high risk of complications and (2) worry about how we will manage Pesach if we are ill or in self-isolation.  My big worries at the moment are (i) if Mum gets coronavirus; (ii) if our oven cleaner has to cancel our pre-Pesach clean due to illness or anything else, which would make kashering it for Pesach much harder; (iii) the stores run out of horseradish and romaine lettuce for marror, the bitter herb eaten at the Pesach seder.   I can see that (iii) is potentially a situation where we do our best and have to trust that God understands; (ii) is more problematic, but probably not insoluble; but (i) is obviously much more scary and frightening as well as largely out of our control.

Once Pesach is out the way I hope I will feel a bit less anxious, although Mum will obviously still be a high risk for many months.  Listening to Rabbi Lord Sacks interviewed online and reading Mary Harrington’s article on UnHerd today makes me think that I’m lucky to already live in a close-knit local community rather than to need to build one from scratch as per Harrington’s article.  Even though I don’t feel fully integrated into the Jewish community, I can think of a couple of people locally who I could call on if my parents and I were housebound, and certainly my parents have lots of local friends who would help us.  Not being allowed to drive on Shabbat (the Sabbath) is one of those Jewish laws that has positive unexpected consequences, in that Orthodox Jews all live in walking distance of a synagogue and hence of other community members, which isn’t necessarily the case in non-Orthodox synagogues or other places of worship.

***

I went to an online shiur (religious class) on Zoom that my rabbi was giving about what to do when self-isolating from a religious perspective.  To be honest, I didn’t learn that much; years of depression meant I’m quite familiar with which parts of the prayer services can be said privately and which can only be said with a community.

I feel I should have some kind of religious response to coronavirus, but I don’t.  I feel the same emotional disconnection I feel on Shabbat (the Sabbath) and Yom Tov (festivals), where if I try, I can engage somewhat intellectually with the meaning of the day, but not emotionally.  I’ve heard different people suggest different possible religious reasons for this crisis, from lack of community to a lack of personal connection to God to climate change, and nothing really resonates that much with me.  Plus, while I do believe everything happens for a reason, I’m sceptical about how much of that reason we can intuit and understand in this world, especially in the short term.  It’s easy to project one’s own personal gripes about the world or the community and say that that is the reason for this.  Rabbis are suggesting pray more intensely, say Tehillim (Psalms), study Torah and give tzedaka (charity), but that’s kind of the rabbinical equivalent of the doctor saying eat five portions of fruit and vegetables a day, avoid sugar, and take regular exercise, something that is applicable to everyone at every time and a useful fallback for emergencies rather than something unique to this crisis.

If anything, I feel gratitude to God: gratitude that we live in a time when we have the medical and communications technology to make our lives continue in some way, gratitude for living in a part of the world where central government can stay in charge despite this crisis without falling into anarchy, gratitude that I’m not likely to starve any time in the near future, gratitude that I have my parents still and that we should manage to have some kind of Pesach, even if it’s a weird and subdued one (the oncologist said that my sister and brother-in-law should not stay with us for Pesach, although they are allowed to visit for a couple of hours one day in chol hamoed).

I should probably add that all the rabbinical responses I’ve seen to coronavirus have stressed the importance of staying healthy and obeying government medical guidelines and said that halakhah (Jewish law) mandates staying safe and healthy and that doing so overrules most mitzvot (commandments).  I was pleased that most of these responses have also stressed our responsibility to pray for non-Jews to be healed and protected too.

***

The Further Education library where I used to work is advertising for a senior librarian.  I’m not sure if this means my ex-boss has left or if she was higher than senior librarian in the restructuring and they’re looking for someone below her.  Part of me wants to apply, part of me thinks I would be crazy to do so, considering it was not a good environment for me, and this is a more skilled/responsible job.  As someone on the autistic spectrum and with social anxiety, it was hard for me to deal with noisy teenagers, people with poor English language skills and being expected to change tasks quickly and deal with problems as they arose, and I can only imagine this being worse in a senior librarian position rather than an assistant librarian one, as I was before.

It feels weird to be worrying about work rather than Mum or coronavirus.

***

I was eating dinner and watching Life on Mars earlier when my Mum came into my room and shoved her phone under my nose.  I thought she was trying to show me a video; it took a minute to realise it was a video conference with most of my Israeli family.  I wasn’t really sure what to say or do and after waving I made an excuse and left.  This is the kind of situation where I feel that autism affects me as social communication disorder in that I struggle to know how to react in social situations and get overwhelmed, doubly so if, as in this case, it’s a situation I’m thrust into unexpectedly without preparation.  Social anxiety doesn’t help in here either.  I guess that hasn’t happened so much recently because self-isolation has removed some of those interactions from my life.

***

I’m going to violate my “no screens after 11pm” rule because I’m completely exhausted from today and need to relax after two hours of shopping and a long period of time on Skype and Zoom by finishing watching the Life on Mars episode I started before.  I also want to try to do a little Torah study before winding down the for the night, even if it’s only ten or fifteen minutes.  I feel this post has turned into a general dumping ground for every anxiety I had today and I hope it wasn’t too negative or boring.  I should probably try to get some relaxation time before bed.

Nearly Lost Day

As expected, I felt burnt out today after everything I did yesterday and all the “peopling.”  I slept late and struggled to get up when I did wake up, then struggled to get going.  I had a long and deep text conversation with E. which left us both feeling very happy about the way our relationship works and our communication and shared values.

After lunch I looked at job adverts again.  So many institutions and companies advertise themselves as “A fast-paced environment.”  I’m not really able to cope with more than a moderately-paced environment, and even that only part-time.  There weren’t any jobs I was wild about, but I would have liked to have tried to apply for something, but in the event I felt too depressed and exhausted.

I did manage to do some Torah study.  We’re up to the first of several weeks of Torah readings about the building of the Tabernacle, the portable Temple in the wilderness, a very difficult narrative for us moderns to get anything from – and I’ve committed myself to write about it each week, which is scary.  I also managed to cook plain pasta for dinner.  I didn’t feel up to doing anything else.

I cooked dinner because we had another family issue.  Nothing too serious this time, but I think we all feel that things are hard right now and it’s easy to catastrophise and assume that “Everything is going wrong!”  In a strange way, I think we’ll feel better once Mum’s chemotherapy starts, as events will be moving on and we’ll have a better idea of how much our lives are going to be disrupted over the next year.  At the moment I have stomach pains which I’ve had periodically for some weeks now and which I think are a stress issue, although my parents want me to go to the doctor and I’m half convinced they’re right, but the surgery makes it really hard to get an appointment.

***

I’ve been wondering lately why my depression and social anxiety are so entrenched, particularly the depression.  Reading mental health blogs, there are people who suffered serious abuse and the like who are doing better than me.  The only explanation I have for my depression and why it feels so treatment-resistant is that I might have high functioning autism that somehow went undiagnosed twice already.  It feels like autism alone is not enough to make me like this, which leads on to feeling that I’m weak and lazy.  To be fair, I think I probably am on the autism spectrum, but I still wonder why some people on the spectrum manage to live normal or even gifted lives and I can’t.  Certainly I realise that my life would be a lot easier if I was good with numbers like so many successful autistic people are.  In my experience many high functioning autistic people work in IT/computer programming, accountancy and banking; some companies in these sectors actively seek out autistic workers because they fit so well.

On the positive side, I feel hugely grateful for having E. in my life.  She accepts so much in my life that is negative and off-putting to most people.  Still, there is so much uncertainty and frustration in our relationship – frustration at being on different continents and not knowing when or how we will be able to move our relationship to the next level.  In some ways it would be easier if we knew we could get married in X number of years, even if X was a fairly large number, but not know if we’ll ever get to that stage is frustrating.

Still, I feel hugely grateful for how kind and understanding E. is.  I don’t think I’ve ever felt this grateful for anything before.  I don’t know what I would do if she wasn’t in my life.  And I’m glad that we have the communication skills and have built up enough trust to make this weird long-distance, slow-motion relationship work despite all the uncertainty and “issues” that we both have.  Paradoxically, the fact we both have issues is probably part of the key to the relationship working, as it means the relationship is reciprocal, not just one person giving and one taking, and because it means that we each know what the other is going through.

***

One last thing on the subject of gratitude: I saw this week’s Doctor Who one day late (it was too late to watch it when I got in yesterday) and enjoyed it.  It was far from perfect, but good, at least until the cliff-hanger, which gave me bad memories of Army of Ghosts/Doomsday.  So I’m grateful for that too.

Unsuitable for Children and Those of a Nervous Disposition

I slept badly last night, for various reasons, and woke up late for volunteering.  I felt exhausted and did not have much inclination to be around people, but I didn’t want to give in the depression, so I went anyway, albeit that I was very late and missed most of the setting up.  My Dad gave me a lift.  I feel bad at how much I rely on him for lifts.  I try to walk or take public transport, but he regularly offers lifts and sometimes it’s just much easier to accept, but that probably drives the difficult edge on our relationship, on some level.  I never learnt to drive.  I had all kinds of excuses, but it was basically anxiety at the thought of being in charge of a powerful, dangerous machine, now reinforced by the feeling that “I’m autistic and I can’t multi-task and I have poor spatial awareness, so I’ll never be able to drive safely” which is not a particularly helpful attitude.

Back to volunteering.  There were a lot more children in the creche area than there were adults supervising, which was awkward.  Hard to keep an eye on all of the children at once.  My Mum says I’m good with children, but I struggle sometimes to know how to talk to them, particularly if they’re upset or angry and particularly older and more active children.  I probably cope best with children who are like me at that age.  I also feel inhibited with other people’s children somehow, and with so many other people around.  I suppose I feel inhibited from being silly and messing around with the children with so many adults I don’t know around, which is not always the case when I’m with my second cousins and their children at home.

I hoped to go for a run when I got home, but I’m too tired to do anything.  Four hours after volunteering finished, I still feel utterly exhausted.  I did about fifteen minutes of Torah study on the bus home and I’ve eaten, showered, read some Batman, looked at a few blogs and davened (prayed), but that’s about all.  I’m just going to spent the evening in front of the TV, I think (my parents are going out).  Certainly no writing or job applications today.

Going back to children… I realised over Shabbat (the Sabbath) that if I want to have children, I probably have a narrow window to do so (assuming things don’t work out with E.).  I basically need to get married in the next four years.  If I’m looking to get married in the frum (religious Orthodox Jewish) world, it’s basically going to have to be through a professional shadchan (matchmaker) as I’m not being set up on dates by acquaintances (the usual method of meeting someone in the frum world), there aren’t any singles events (and I doubt I could cope with them if there were) and I don’t really want to try online dating again (perhaps wrongly).  So that means using a shadchan.  The shadchanim I’ve seen divide the dating pool into ‘older’ and ‘younger’ singles, with the dividing line at forty.  I guess they have to draw a line somewhere, but it seems a bit arbitrary.  A forty year old man could feasibly marry a thirty-eight year old woman and have children without it seeming icky.  In fact, a man who is exactly forty is not likely to find his match in the forty-plus group, as men tend to marry younger women.  The bottom line is that I’ve got just under four years before I go in the older pool and pretty much have to give up on hopes of having children.  Given my financial situation, I very much doubt I will be doing any dating any time soon, so I hear the sociological (rather than biological) clock ticking…

I’m trying to focus on what I have, but I’m always on such a tightrope between what I have and what I don’t have.  I have my physical health, but that reminds me that my mental health is poor.  My parents and sister and E. support me, but I feel rejected by my community (while also thinking that it’s really my fault, that I don’t put myself out there enough or make enough of an effort to get to know people).  I don’t have immediate financial problems as my parents are letting me live here for free, but I feel dependent and inadequate because of that and I can’t see myself becoming financially secure any time soon.  And I can’t see myself getting married and building a family while not financially secure and more mentally healthy, which in turn makes me more depressed, so it’s a vicious circle.  It’s hard.  All the Jewish (and other) inspirational sites and books say to focus on gratitude for the good that you have rather than what you don’t have and I try to do that.  Really I do.  However, it feels like I have to define things in a precise way to sound better than the are e.g. specifying that I have good physical health because I don’t have good health in the abstract in the way these books would normally encourage people to see themselves as healthy.  Every evening I thank God for a minimum of five things that happened that day, but so often I seem to be thanking Him that, when things went wrong, they didn’t go utterly disastrously wrong, or that even though I was really depressed, I still got stuff done.

Envy

I don’t think of myself as an envious person, but over the last few years I have been increasingly visited by envy.  It probably started a few years ago, when Hevria was launched and I felt strongly that I wanted to write for it, but wasn’t asked.  After about six months I volunteered, only to be turned down; I’m still not entirely sure why.  I got very upset and my writing never really recovered.  I’ve written odd bits and pieces since then, including a couple of guest posts for Hevria and one piece for Den of Geek that I got paid for, but almost no poetry and it took a long time before I turned back to writing regularly when I started this blog and started editing various Doctor Who blog posts into a book.  (In the end I was sort of offered the chance to write regularly for Hevria, but I no longer have the time and I still feel blocked from that kind of writing, although I’m not sure how serious the offer was anyway.  But it felt good to be offered anyway.)

Then last year I managed, somehow, to go out for a Shabbat tisch (community Sabbath party thing) hosted by someone from the shul I’m trying to move to.  He is my age or even younger and as I walked into his house and saw his lovely home and cute children and beautiful wife (I didn’t actually see his wife.  I once saw him talking to a woman who I assumed was his wife, given that he’s very frum and probably doesn’t talk to other women if he can avoid it, but I could be wrong) and felt that he had all the things that I wanted.  I had to force myself not to feel envy and it was hard.  I felt a similar thing when I went to my ex-date for lunch this last Shabbat: her flat is so much larger and more comfortable and attractive than my tiny converted garage.  I told myself more space means more housework, but I’m not sure how convinced I was.

I envy a lot of my peers their lives, their friendships, their relationships and their children, all the things I want and lack, but I also envy their Torah learning and mitzvot (commandments).  I want to be a better Jew and I assume my peers are all doing better at that than I am.  I know we are told that what matters is the effort, not the achievement, and I have to put in a lot of effort just to stay in the same place, let alone to grow and I have no idea how much effort they put in.  But it is hard not to feel inadequate, to feel that I could be better if I was more like them.  I feel I lack the joy and passion others can find in religion; I feel as if I’m doing things out of obligation and saying prayers by rote rather than really connecting with God and Torah.  I still believe, I just don’t feel, I suspect my depression stops me feeling.  It is difficult.

I suppose what it all boils down to is a feeling that life has passed me by, that I will never have the joy or pleasure or love or simple satisfaction in my achievements that other people get to experience.  Funnily enough, it has been suggested to me that other children were envious of me at school and that this was why they bullied me.  I find this hard to believe, but also vaguely unfair, given that I think my academic achievement was the product of hard work rather than natural cleverness; I was intelligent at school, but I had to work hard for my grades.

I try to feel gratitude as the antidote to envy.  I try to thank God for at least five things every day (even if it’s “Thank you that I didn’t hurt myself when I felt so depressed”).  I get on better with my family than I used to do, certainly better than a lot of other people do.  I have a job (two-thirds of a full-time job now), which is worth something in this economy and also given that a few years ago it seemed completely impossible that I would ever be working.  I live by myself without trouble and I have some friends, even if they do largely live inside my computer.  But I feel I need something more.  I have no joy, no romantic/sexual love, no passion, no purpose and it is hard not to envy those who do have these things.

I suspect I need something else in my life.  Sherlock Holmes turned to drugs to stimulate his brain when work dried up; I suspect I too need something to fill my non-work hours, but hopefully something healthier and more socially acceptable.  My work on my book precludes other hobbies, but it offers one possible outlet, but it is going slowly thanks to my having to watch so many old episodes of Doctor Who for research.  I’m not sure my religion can offer me anything more than more frustration at the moment.  I can’t stand any party enough to get involved in politics.  That leaves dating and volunteering.  The former is tempting, but maybe the latter is more sensible (in the sense that I don’t know if I’m ready for dating, but also that I doubt anyone would want me anyway and maybe it’s just easier not to bother looking).  But I haven’t the time or energy for either at the moment; I’ll just have to hope things get easier if and when I have settled into a new work routine.