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.

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

(Sticking with the fourth Doctor quote theme from yesterday)

Purim

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

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

***

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

***

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

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

***

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

***

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

***

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

***

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

Doctor Who and the Purim of Doom

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

***

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

***

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

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

***

19.00 Purim

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

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

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

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

Doctor Who: The Power of Kroll

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Doctor: I win.

Virtuous Circles

22 Shevat: Yortzeit of the Kotzker Rebbe

I’m still feeling quite good.  I’m waiting for the depression to come back, as it always does, but I’m trying to enjoy it while it lasts.  It’s interesting that my desire and ability to study Torah and to daven (pray) with kavannah (mindfulness) grows when my mood is better.  There probably is a virtuous circle of good mood –> more engaged with Judaism –> better mood.

***

I want to work on my books on non-(paid) work days (Mondays and Wednesdays; Fridays, at least when Shabbat starts later in the day; and potentially Sundays when I don’t volunteer.  Maybe also Saturday evening after Shabbat in the winter, although that’s hard).  I actually feel like a child in a sweetshop, getting to write about my special interests: Judaism, Doctor Who and mental health (OK, analysing my own psyche).  It’s just difficult to know where to start.  A while back I said I wanted to get paid for writing about my special interests; I’ve got some way still to go for that, but at least I can set aside some time aside in the hope that one day I will get paid for at least one of them.

Unfortunately after having gone to well-being group (see below), done some chores and spoken to my rabbi mentor (again, below) today, I was too tired to do much writing, but I did twenty minutes or so of working on the structure of the Jewish book.  I oscillated between excitement at writing and anxiety at the scale of the task and whether my book would be distinctive or well-written enough to compete in the marketplace.

***

I had the last session of well-being group today.  We looked at how far we have come and how to continue to grow.  It was a bit disappointing for me.  I have achieved things since starting the group, not least that I’m now working again two days a week; smaller, but potentially longer-lasting achievements include getting back into meditating daily and finding an affirmation that works for me when my thoughts get out of control, one that handily works for depression, OCD and social anxiety.  However, I feel there is so much more to do.  In particular, I haven’t been to shul (synagogue) on Shabbat (Saturday) morning for a year or more.  I don’t know how to get to that goal.  I can’t see a way to break it down to smaller steps as we have spoken about in the group.  I think part of the problem is that there is so much anxiety, guilt and self-loathing around where I fit in the frum (religious Orthodox Jewish) community that I don’t really want to go to shul.  On Friday afternoons and Shabbat afternoons I go from habit or I can psych myself up to go if I have to, but on Saturday mornings the temptation to sleep through my alarms is too strong.  I’m not sure what to do about this.  I need to find a way to build up to it in small steps, but I can’t think of any.

We also spoke about self-care in well-being group.  Everyone else seemed to think they don’t do enough, whereas I suspect I do too much, but it doesn’t really help me to cope better.

***

I have an appointment with the psychiatrist booked for 28 February.  This was booked before I was working, so is on a Thursday.  As I only work two days a week, it seemed a bit much to ask for a morning off to go, so I just tried to book a replacement appointment on a Monday, Wednesday or Friday, only to be told that the earliest free appointment is in May!  This is ridiculous.  To be fair, in this instance, unlike some (many) previous problems I’ve had with the NHS, this isn’t really their fault.  It’s basic economics that zero price means infinite demand, in theory.  Obviously there isn’t going to be literally infinite demand for psychiatric services, but demand is still going to far outstrip supply no matter how well the NHS is funded.  It’s still pretty awful service, though.  At least the receptionist was polite and apologetic, which isn’t always the case (something less justifiable by hard economics).

***

I spoke to my rabbi mentor about some of my recent experiences.  He said I sounded very positive and that my book ideas sounded interesting.  He was a bit concerned that my Jewish book idea sounded too much like this book, but I see mine as being less academic and more about explaining Judaism from the point of view of questions non-Jews actually ask me, based on how we appear to outsiders, rather than the things you would need to know to do a degree in Jewish Studies or Comparative Religion.  So, less on the history of Jewish theology and more on why we wear strange clothes and use unusual words when ostensibly speaking English.  But it might be worth trying to get hold of a copy of that book and one or two others before I get too involved in the project to nudge it in a different direction.

My rabbi mentor was also supportive of my decision to try dating again.  He agreed with me that there probably won’t be a time when I’m not dealing with my mental health on some level, so waiting until I’m “better” is pointless.  He felt that when I was in a relationship with E. that had a positive effect on my mood and that even going through relationship breakups has been a learning experience for me, so that it was worth trying again.

Writing this post, I wonder if dating will give me an incentive to go to shul on Shabbat mornings again?  Not for practical reasons so much as so I don’t have to explain to dates why I don’t go.

***

I emailed one of my colleagues from my further education job.  He replied saying they were just wondering where I was working now.  I always feel funny when people say they were talking about me.  It’s not paranoia, but a sense of, “Wow, people actually remember me when I’m not in the room.”

Dot dot dot. Dash dash dash. Dot dot dot.

Just back from a twilight walk (twilight is about 4.00pm here at the moment).  It was only for twenty-five minutes, but it was a real struggle.

I just feel like a mess today, completely drained and depressed and worried about the future.  I also feel run down, like I’m coming down with a cold, which doesn’t help (it could actually be a cold, but depression can make me feel like this too).  I still have a long to do list, having achieved very little over the “holiday” time before my new job starts, which wasn’t really supposed to be a holiday for me.  I spend time when I should be sorting these things feeling too depressed and drained to care about shopping, bank accounts or pensions, which is wrong of me or at least not good of me.

I probably shouldn’t have sent that email to the Aish.com agony aunt.

I probably shouldn’t think the internet can substitute for real personal interactions (real world interactions are much harder, though).

I probably shouldn’t think I can get anything right.

I probably shouldn’t be here at all.

I don’t believe I’ll be happy this year, or any year.

I don’t think I want to die, I just want to be happy, but I don’t know how.  I don’t really know how to die either, but it’s certain to happen at some point, unlike being happy.

I don’t want to die, but why does living have to be so painful?

I hate this blog.  I hate my writing.

What does it say about me that the only things I get praised for (my writing, my rapport with children) are things I don’t believe are true and, in the case of my writing, actively dislike?

I’m feeling a lot of loneliness and self-hatred today.  I wonder why anyone reads the trivial, tedious, negative things I write.  I wonder if I will ever be loved, or happy (the two seem to go together, although maybe they don’t).

My Mum is upset by how I’m feeling today, but I struggle to understand what she is feeling.  I cognitively know she is upset, but it’s hard to feel it.  That could be autism or depression.  I blame myself and feel more guilty.  Why do I always have to ruin things for everyone else?

My sister wants me to come and see her new house mid-renovation on Sunday and I’m already feeling upset about it, partly for understandable (I think) reasons that I won’t go into now, but also because I’ve already seen the house once pre-renovation and will see it when it’s all done and I wonder how many times I have to go and see this house and end up feeling terrible that I’m never going to get married and own a house.  And then I feel guilty for feeling that too.

My parents said that 2018 was a good year for me, but that seems to be based mainly on my solo trip to New York.  They think I made the right decision leaving my job in further education, but I’m not so sure.  They’re optimistic about my finding a permanent new job and getting a firm autism diagnosis, but I’m not sure about that either.

I can’t find the words to fit what I feel right now.  Alexithymia is awful when writing is your only release of emotions.  I wish someone loved me romantically.  But I know I probably couldn’t cope if someone did.  I know people care about me in other ways, but I spend a lot of time avoiding them or inadvertently being rude to them because I can’t cope with it and don’t know how to respond.

I don’t know how much of that last paragraph is true.  I really don’t understand my feelings today.  Alexithymia is, indeed, awful.

I can’t cope with my feelings.  They overwhelm me.

I can’t cope with my guilt.  It overwhelms me.

I feel that I’m such a terrible person, that nothing good will ever happen to me, that nothing good deserves to happen to me.  I wish I could explain more (because I deserve to be publicly shamed), but don’t have the guts

Up and Down

I didn’t speak to the lawyers as they didn’t phone after all.  I was ill (headache, then complete exhaustion) and so I didn’t phone them, so I’ve still got that hanging over me.  I guess the whole family has had this lawsuit hanging over us for two years or so now, like something out of Kafka, so maybe it’s not such a big change.  As I was still exhausted when Shabbat (the Sabbath) started, I didn’t go to shul (synagogue).

I did have a positive evening.  I spoke to my Dad about Brexit (my Dad is the only person I really feel comfortable talking about politics to).  It was a bit of a mutual despair society meeting.  Neither of us is hugely Europhile, for different reasons, but both of us think that staying in the EU was better than leaving, and that it’s no surprise that the EU is determined to punish Britain for wanting to leave, not least to deter countries like Greece and Italy for thinking that there’s an easy escape in the future.  My Dad thinks that a stock market crash is due soon (although, to be honest, I can’t remember a time when he didn’t think that a stock market crash was due soon) and we’re both worried by the rise of the far right and the return of antisemitism.  Politics depresses me, but sometimes it’s good to voice that depression.

Afterwards I did some Torah study and stayed in thought for a bit about politics, history and Jewish stuff.  I think I’ve mentioned before that, unlike many autistic people, I don’t monologue aloud to other people about my special interests because I had too many bad experiences doing that as a child, but I do do it in my head.  Sometimes it can get coloured by my mental health and become despairing, anxious and/or obsessive, particularly if I’ve read or heard something attacking something that matters a lot to me (e.g. Judaism, Israel, Doctor Who) and I need to ‘prove’ it’s wrong to myself, but on Friday I wasn’t doing that, I was just thinking.  Suddenly I realised I was feeling a bit happy for the first time in several months.

I spent a long time doing my hitbodedut spontaneous prayer.  I was thinking a lot about the passage repeated several times in the Talmud, that it doesn’t matter whether you do a lot or a little as long as you direct your heart to Heaven.  This was originally said in regard to sacrifices, but was later applied to Torah study and prayer.  I find it hard to hold on to this.  I know I don’t do enough (quantitatively or qualitatively) Torah study, prayer and good deeds, but maybe I’m not expected to do more given how depressed I am.  It is hard to tell and I wish there was some kind of objective measure whereby I could tell if I’m doing enough.  Ten minutes of Torah study most days doesn’t seem enough, even though I do try to get to a two shiurim (classes – see below) each week, but maybe I really can’t do more right now.  Likewise with davening (prayer), hurriedly racing through Mincha, Ma’ariv and sometimes a bit of Shacharit (afternoon, evening and morning prayers) with little kavannah (mindfulness) and without a minyan (congregation) is far from ideal, but maybe it’s all I can do.   I don’t know.

I stayed up late because of this, especially as, while not on a high exactly, I did feel somewhat alert and awake afterwards.  I couldn’t really read and was just thinking about things.

I had some other thoughts which I won’t go into here that made me feel better, but today I reflected negatively on some of what happened last night.  I overslept this morning and was drained and depressed again, spending ages lying in bed or sitting down, not doing anything except trying to find energy.  I felt that some of my thoughts from last night were potentially heretical or even idolatrous, but it is hard to know where I went wrong.  I ate my meals hurriedly (Mum and Dad were out for lunch, hence my being able to sleep in late without being woken for lunch) and dashed to shul for shiur and Ma’ariv, having initially felt that I would miss both.  I’m glad I went, as I would have beaten myself up if I had missed them.

I just finished another job application after Shabbat and am still pessimistic about my future.  I know it’s not clear whether I really am on the autistic spectrum, but I do have a lot of symptoms and certainly people with these symptoms do indeed struggle to hold down jobs and to build relationships and often end up permanently dependent on their families or the state, which does not encourage me.  I’m not sure what I can do, practically.  Without a diagnosis of autism, I’m limited in the help and “reasonable adjustments” that I can apply for in that area (although I’m not sure that there is a huge amount of help available for those diagnosed), but it’s quite clear that the NHS has no interest in paying for another assessment (to be fair, they’ve already paid for two) and a private one would be hugely expensive, especially as I’m not confident that I would get a clear diagnosis.  I think I have to learn to accept that I exist in a grey area where the autistic blurs into the neurotypical, and that I simply can’t receive any help.

To be honest, if I could deal with my depression and social anxiety and find the right job (and an understanding girlfriend/wife), the autism would be less of an issue.  But I do wonder if my boss in my previous job was right that I’m not cut out for contemporary librarianship, just as my current job has made clear that I’m not cut out for working in a noisy, contemporary office.  Both jobs have made clear, though, that I simply can’t work effectively while I’m so depressed, but as I am not considered sick enough to receive benefits, I’m not sure what my options are.  To be honest, I don’t want to live off the state (or my parents); I want to be doing something productive IF I can find something I can do competently without feeling in a terrible depressed-anxious-autistic state the whole time.

Thinking today about my religious thoughts from yesterday, I realised once again that I am desperate for love and intimacy.  In different ways, that desire drives my engagement with potential partners, friends, my religious community, HaShem (God) and even my thoughts about having pets.  I’m not sure if one can really be intimate with a pet exactly, even a dog, but maybe I’m wrong, having never had pets other than goldfish, which are not really very responsive and certainly they would be a receptacle for my love, even if they can’t truly love me back.  The funny thing is, though, that when I try to conceive of the afterlife, it is of being alone, either being alone feeling shame reflecting on the negative aspects of my life (Gehennom (purgatory)) or close to HaShem but no one else (Heaven).  It doesn’t occur to me that I would be with other people in Heaven, even though the Talmud does seem to suggest this, although Jewish afterlife beliefs are intentionally vague compared with most religions.  Presumably, like Jean-Paul Sartre, I think that Hell is other people.  But this fits ill with my desire for love and intimacy.

I finished re-reading The Empty Chair: Finding Hope and Joy: Timeless Wisdom from a Hasidic Master Rebbe Nachman of Breslov.  The penultimate quote is one of my favourites: “If you believe that you can damage, then believe that you can fix.  If you believe that you can harm, then believe that you can heal.”  It can be hard to believe that sometimes.

Missing a Plan

I was expecting to be burnt out and oversleep after volunteering yesterday, so I was surprised to wake up and get up before 9.30am.  However,  I turned out to be exhausted in a more subtle way.  I was OK doing basic tasks, but tasks requiring brainpower or needing to force my way through poor motivation (such as applying for jobs I don’t want and don’t think I could get e.g. today’s application for a law librarian post that said that experience of a law firm was essential, which I don’t have) were much harder and I even went back to bed for a bit after lunch.  It’s hard to sound enthusiastic about such jobs.  I did manage to fill in a job application, but as I had to do little for this one other than make slight changes to my CV and template cover letter (I wish all applications were so easy), it doesn’t feel a great achievement – it probably only took me about an hour when I’m aiming to do three hours of ‘work’ on job hunting a day.  Still, I had to save some energy for shopping and cooking as my parents are away.

I was going to post this as a comment on this blog post, but I decided I was drama queening again and only posted a shorter comment, so here is the longer version: I haven’t done a cheshbon nafesh (self-appraisal) yet this year and it’s looking like I might not do one for the first time in twelve years or more.  I failed miserably at last year’s targets.  I’m dreading Yom Tov (Jewish festivals) and I’m not sure how much time I’m going to be in shul (synagogue) for due to depression, social anxiety.

More to the point, I feel really angry with HaShem (God) for the way my life has gone.  I acknowledge that I’ve made some bad choices, but mostly I feel I was set up to fail and even a highly competent person (which I am not) would not succeed with the mental health and other issues I’ve been given from childhood onwards.  I have no simcha shel mitzvah (joy in performing the commandments) and have realised I never really have had any.  I’ve asked rabbis about this and been told that I won’t have any until I’m not depressed (which is scary as I don’t think I’m ever not going to be depressed) or that I should be able to get a bit (which just makes me feel a terrible person for not having any as if I’m deliberately stopping myself enjoying my religious life). I feel like I can’t actually do this any more without getting something back from it, selfish and wicked though that is i.e. I know I should be frum (religious) lishmah (for its own sake), but I’m just not that good a Jew.  I don’t think that most frum people are doing what they do 100% lishmah and not because they enjoy or get satisfaction from Shabbat, Torah study, davening (prayer) etc. at least a bit of the time.  Halakhically, there is nothing wrong with enjoying one’s religious life, quite the reverse.

I don’t feel particularly accepted in the frum world and part of me wonders if I really do want to be accepted there.  So, at the moment I’m basically sulking in my room (having left my job recently) and I worry that I’m going to do that over Yom Tov as well and just not go to shul.  I ask myself why should I apologise to HaShem when surely He has plenty to apologise to me for (making me depressed and lonely all my adult life for starters).  I feel like He hates me and spends all His time trying to make me miserable and I don’t know why.  I feel bad just thinking that let alone typing it, and I wasn’t really conscious of it until I wrote it just now, but I think it’s true (I mean, it’s true that I feel He should apologise, not that I think that an objective observer would say He should apologise. I haven’t gone that far yet).  It’s hard to do a realistic cheshbon nafesh coming from this place, where at least part of me feels unable to take responsibility for my actions, rightly or wrongly.  I know I recently quoted Rabbi Lord Sacks as saying that we can see ourselves as victims or we can take responsibility for our lives and he made it very clear that the latter is better, but I genuinely do not know how I can honestly take responsibility for things that seem to have been largely out of my control.  Nor do I feel able to make positive changes to my life.  I feel zero motivation to actually do mitzvot, except that I know I’ll be hit by guilt if I skip anything or do sins.

An analogy: I’ve put on a lot of weight since being put on clomipramine and it doesn’t seem to bear much relation to what I’m eating.  I’ve tried cutting back, but when I’m this anhedonic (unable to feel pleasure) it’s difficult to stop doing one of the few things I enjoy, to the point where it’s hard to care about my weight or health sometimes.  I haven’t gone completely over-the-top in eating, but I just ate a load of corn chips as a mid-afternoon snack more because it was too hard to resist rather than from real desire and that isn’t something I would have done in the past.  Likewise with my religious life, it’s getting harder and harder to motivate myself to follow those 613 dos and don’ts.  Concentrating on reward and punishment or the meaning of life and Jewish history or what HaShem wants from me is difficult when concentrating on anything is hard and it feels like HaShem is trying to hurt me.   It just seems so pointless to expend so much effort on a religion that I’m not good at and which gives me no satisfaction, joy, sense of community, meaning or purpose.

Rationally, cognitively, intellectually, theologically – whatever you want to call it – when I’m using my intellect, I don’t think that HaShem really hates me.  I’m not sure that He really hates anyone.  But I feel emotionally that He hates me, because He hurts me so much.  I know I’m supposed to assume it will be for the best in the end, but it’s hard to accept that anything good can come of this, particularly as my low self-esteem means I don’t think I’m getting any reward in the next world for everything I’ve suffered here.  Even when I say HaShem doesn’t hate anyone, part of me feels I should make an exception for very evil people like Hitler and then I’m off wondering if maybe I’m that evil.

Coming up to Rosh Hashanah without having done that cheshbon nafesh, I do feel that my life lacks focus and drive.  I’ve never really found my mission in life, the thing that is uniquely me, that I can do indefinitely without becoming depleted and that would make a positive difference to the world.  I thought it might be librarianship for a while, but now that looks unlikely.  Perhaps because of that lack of focus and joy, my relationships (in the broadest sense) and my everyday Jewish practice have to bear a huge burden of providing meaning and satisfaction which perhaps they could never realistically bear.

Well, it took just eight hours for me to start having suicidal thoughts after my parents left on holiday.  I don’t feel seriously suicidal, inasmuch as it’s possible to have non-serious suicidal thoughts.  I just feel that I don’t want to be here and no one would be worse off if I wasn’t here.  The people from my Thursday night shiur (religious class) are having a collection for the assistant rabbi, who gives the shiur, as his wife just had a baby daughter.  This just reinforces my feeling that only people with spouses and children really count in the frum community, even though that isn’t the intention.  Also the suggested donation seemed quite a lot to me, given that I’m unemployed, but I don’t like to ask for special treatment or for financial help from my parents, although I’m sure I would get either if I asked.  I have got an invitation for dinner on second day Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year) today, so I’m not feeling totally unwanted, but I do feel on the fringes of the frum community right now.

I feel that there must be some secret to being frum that I’m missing.  I’ve seen people I was at school with who were perhaps not the cleverest or the most academic or the most well-behaved students suddenly become super-frum and, in some cases, get smichah (rabbinic ordination) and I wish I knew what the secret was.  It seems like I was academic and well-behaved enough for me to get on well in the frum world, but somehow it hasn’t worked out like that.  My inability to study Talmud, or even to really want to study it, is a massive liability in a community built around Talmudic study (at least for men) and my social anxiety makes community life in general and daily communal prayer difficult.  And then of course there’s the way that my mental health issues and my ‘weirdness’/geekiness/possible autism make me feel alone and uncomfortable around most frum people and make it hard for me to date, even though marriage is, if not the passport into the frum community, then at least the proof that you are a mature and responsible adult (even if you’re only nineteen).

Too Late for the Pebbles to Vote

“The avalanche has already started.  It is too late for the pebbles to vote.” – Babylon 5: Believers by David Gerrold

Today was my last day in my job, although technically I’m still under contract until mid-August and the next few weeks are paid holiday, although I’ll be using a lot of it to start job hunting.  I’ve already started getting in touch with contacts I have in the areas of writing and researching that I might be interested in to get an idea of what would be involved.

Today was a slightly odd day, as I’d done most of my work and there wasn’t much point starting anything new, so I just helped out with the library reorganisation a bit.  About 11.00am all the library suddenly trooped into the office and stood in front of my desk, rather to my surprise, and presented me with a leaving card and present (a mug decorated to look like the scrabble tile of the initial of my first name), which must have been bought quickly, given that I only turned the contract down yesterday.  I had a bit of an autistic/alexithymic moment, being overwhelmed by a rush of different emotions that were hard to identify: pleasure, embarrassment, happiness, regret and probably more.  But I was really glad that I seemed to have made such an impression in a relatively short period of time.  I just hope I communicated that, as the overwhelming emotional rush made it hard for me to know what to say or do.  A little later an ex-colleague, who got transferred to one of the other colleges in the super-college a few months ago, popped in to say goodbye.  She happened to be in the building and heard I was leaving, so she came up, which was really nice, as I was worried I wouldn’t get the chance to say goodbye to her.

There is a bit of regret and maybe even a little self-recrimination that maybe I should have tried out the new contract and seen how it goes and maybe I’m running away from social stuff a bit, but something happened today that I won’t go into here that made me think I was right to leave.  Plus, while I should push myself on the social anxiety front, I also need to play to my strengths and the new job description was just too much too quickly (in terms of required interpersonal interactions).

E. is really supportive of my decision too, which matters a lot to me, as I respect her opinion a lot.  My family, while I think initially leaning towards encouraging me to take the contract, are now more supportive of my decision, even though I’m going to have to move back in with my parents soon for financial reasons.  And my non-biological sisters have been really supportive while I’ve been trying to make up my mind too and they think I’m doing the right thing.

At shiur tonight someone asked how I am and I mentioned about my job, even though my instinct was to hide it.  Afterwards, while I was walking back, I stopped to respond to a text and someone from shiur and caught up with me and spoke to me.  After I got panicked enough about talking to him that I got my address wrong (!) he asked the question I dread most i.e. where do daven (pray) on Shabbat (Sabbath) mornings?  I am usually asleep, a combination of depressive exhaustion after the work week with a bit of socially anxious avoidance of crowds.  I mentioned that I have some health issues and don’t always make it to shul (synagogue) without going into details.  I always feel really awkward saying that, but I don’t know what else to say.  It’s better than lying and pretending I daven elsewhere, I guess.

On a somewhat related note, I wanted to respond to this post (about a podcast for frum (religious) women who struggle with balancing careers, family and religious lives) by saying that I feel the need for one for men too, but I was worried I might be deemed sexist (to be honest, I’m so scared of identity politics calling out that I’m scared to express an opinion on a lot of things).  But I would like someone to tell me what is normal and what is halakhically acceptable (acceptable according to Jewish law) for frum men (and if ‘normal’ is the same as ‘halakhically acceptable’ here).  I know that women have their own challenges which in many ways are harder, but as a frum guy I feel a pressure to: 1) earn money to support a family (a particularly sticky point for me at the moment, given that this was why E. and I broke up); 2) do my share of the chores to support said family as well as 3) spend quality time with said family, especially encouraging my children’s religious education and growth.  Furthermore I have to 4) daven three times a day 5) with kavannah (mindfulness) and 6) a minyan (prayer quorum) as well as 7) study Torah for a couple of hours daily 8) ideally at least some of the time with a chevruta (study partner) (not my preferred mode of study) and 9) ideally Talmud and halakhah (Jewish law) (which are not my favourite areas of study, either for interest or ability – this post just made me feel totally inadequate, as the author is so far ahead of my ability) and 10) working on developing my character attributes in line with Jewish teachings while still 11) staying sociable at shul social events like kiddush (refreshments after Shabbat morning services) and seudah shlishit (the third Shabbat meal) and discussing work, politics and sport (boring!).  Most of these things I find hard because of my mental health and probable neurodivergence.  I guess I would like to know what is ‘normal’ here and what the basic level of ‘acceptable’ is.  I feel everyone from my shul does all of the above, at least to some extent (OK, they don’t all study Talmud, but they do all seem to study Jewish stuff) and I’d like to know how much (and how they fit it in), but it’s not really the done thing to ask, and asking would entail speaking about the way depression, social anxiety and probable autism hold me back.

I Coulda Been a Contender

Today was a day of mild incompetence (not always my own), punctuated by occasional moments of sheer despair.  In one of my despairing moments at work, I thought that I have everything in life except the things that make it worth living: love, joy, companionship.  But then I thought, actually, I don’t even have that.  I don’t have financial security (my parents still help me out and if my contract is not renewed I will probably have to move back in with them); I don’t have a job I enjoy, let alone a career that I’m progressing with; I have a couple of friends, but mostly long-distance, which is hard; and while I have my physical health up to a point, I’m not sure how easy it is to separate physical and mental/emotional health.  Depression leads to a general sense of being worn out and under the weather much of the time, as well as a greater likelihood of infection.  I do have the love of my parents and sister, difficult though we find it sometimes to understand each other (mentally ill autistic vs. healthier allistic) and a couple of long-distance friends, which is something, but I want more.  Is that selfish of me?   Maybe it is, but I don’t think so.  I could accept my friendships being long-distance (in some ways communicating by text and email is better for me), but I want to love and be loved.

I also reflected that in another life I might have stayed at Oxford (or gone on to Cambridge, I suppose, although my sister would have killed me if I was there when she was) and fitted in a bit better around academics.  At least there are a lot of Aspies there, diagnosed and otherwise.  But on getting to Oxford as an undergraduate, I rapidly felt out of my depth and although I did pretty well in my first year exams (missing a first by two marks), a few months later the depression set in (or became more obvious and intrusive) and my grades in my finals were acceptable at best.  I never felt like a really first class intellect and I don’t think I could really have been a professional historian.  Plus, Oxford and Cambridge are not good places to be Jewishly.  The Jewish communities are small, there are no kosher shops, let alone restaurants, and the Oxford Jewish community is pluralistic rather than Orthodox.  No mikvah or Jewish schools either, so not good for families.  I suppose if I wasn’t frum and had been more academically confident and less depressed, I might have stayed at Oxford as a post-graduate student and met some similarly shy and gauche female post-grad (perhaps in the sciences rather than the humanities so we wouldn’t feel in competition with each other) and been happy.  But I don’t think my life is built for happiness.

To be honest, I’m not sure if anyone other than my two exes was ever remotely interested in me romantically (although I know one other woman who says I’m cute), although I find it sufficiently difficult to read body language to be sure.  I know a woman recently was really invading my personal space and I couldn’t work out what was going on there.  At Oxford I thought someone was attracted to me and made a fool of myself confronting her about it.  She now lives two or three doors down the road.  I don’t think she remembers me, but maybe she’s just being polite and pretending not to know/see me.

I do remember a weird evening at Oxford.  There was a quiz between the Doctor Who Society and the Star Trek Society (this was in my penultimate term, when I was Doctor Who Society president).  After the quiz the Doc Soc (as we called ourselves then) went to the pub; we invited Trek Soc, but only their (female) president came.  I thought she was looking at me strangely all evening, but thought I was being silly (probably reflecting on my previous embarrassment).  When I started walking home afterwards she was suddenly beside me.  It turned out we were going in the same direction.  When we got to the house she lived in, there was an awkward scene on the doorstep where I wondered if she expected me to kiss her or ask for her phone number or something.  Of course, it would have been an unlikely intermarriage: a Whovian and a Trekker.  She was almost certainly not Jewish either!  Even if I hadn’t been frum (religious), it would probably have been very silly to start anything at that stage, as was approaching exams with my mental health in a terrible state (I was only managing about an hour of work a day).  But I do sometimes wonder what on Earth happened/could have happened/was supposed to have happened there.

I find myself thinking sometimes about girls/women I knew in my teens and twenties who I could have asked out but didn’t and how my life might have gone differently if I had, particularly with girls I knew at school, before the depression was really affecting me.  I suppose one shouldn’t really think like that, but sometimes I wonder if I had a chance for happiness and lost it already and that my misery is my fault and, more than that, I will get punished (here or in Olam HaBa (the Next World)) for messing up.  I sometimes think God should make situations a bit easier to read, at least for the autistic among us.

Jam Tomorrow

I managed to get a few chores done and cooked dinner (just rice and vegetarian sausages with tinned sweetcorn.  Doesn’t really count as cooking).  Other than that, I haven’t achieved anything today, except to feel depressed, despairing, lonely, anxious, incompetent, angry and Aspie, as well as a bit headachey.

I feel so incredibly furious right now.  I mean, at the world in general and maybe at God, and maybe the Jewish community.  I want to scream and shout and rage at the way I have done, if not everything, then at least most things that I was told to do to be liked/happy/successful and none of it has worked.  It’s always, “Well done for trying, now do this” (if I get congratulated at all on what I’ve achieved).  There’s always something else I have to do.  I can never be happy or loved romantically, not even for a short time.  How do other people get to be happy and loved and, if not rich and successful, then to pay the bills?  I know everyone has issues, but I can’t help feeling that my issues have been going on longer, and are more painful and persistent, than most people’s.

The stupid thing is that I’m already calming down, because I know that life isn’t fair (not from our understanding of it, anyway; maybe from God’s point of view, in the Next World, but not here) and that no one promised me even a modicum of happiness and romantic love and really I can’t complain and, of course, deep down I know I’m mainly angry at myself for not being able to deal with my issues and for acting out and succumbing to negative coping strategies.

Back on the hamster’s wheel again tomorrow.  Round and round and round and never arriving.

Struggling

Well, I suppose the sky didn’t fall on my head yesterday after all (insert your own Asterix joke here), but it’s bulging worryingly.  Unfortunately, I can’t really speak openly about it, for various reasons.  I hope things will turn out OK, and it’s by no means certain that things will go wrong (and in one area at least they are likely to be at least OKish), but it’s all very worrying.

I worry I will never have a reasonable job (where reasonable equals a living wage and enough intellectual stimulation, but not massively outside my comfort zone in terms of ability, self-confidence and social interaction and an environment that is reasonably depression/social anxiety/autism-friendly).  Partly because of this, I worry I will never get married and have kids.  I’m thirty-five next month.  It feels like everyone else has sorted this stuff out by now, or at least everyone else in my peer group (young professionals, usually intelligent high achievers, often ex-Oxford or Cambridge).  It isn’t quite true that everyone has this sorted out, but most of them seem to have done so, although there may be some confirmation bias or discounting contrary evidence.

My main ambition in life used to be that I wanted to be a tzaddik (saintly person).  I did eventually realise that I simply don’t have the right personality or background for that.  I’m basically too messed up, religiously and psychologically.  Now I just want to be a good man and a good Jew, somewhat happy with someone to love and to love me.  Even that seems far beyond my reach, though.

I feel like HaShem (God) has decided that I should never be happy.  I think I could even accept that; what is hard to accept is feeling taunted when happiness is placed before me and snatched away as I begin to accept it.  Am I being punished?  Am I supposed to grow from this torture?  Is my suffering helping someone, somehow?  (I hope so, but I can’t see how.)

I guess the frummie (religious) answer to unmarried or otherwise miserable people in their twenties is that one should stick with things and HaShem will make it all work in the end.  By the time you get to middle age this doesn’t work so well, so sadly many people just victim-blame the person suffering and say it’s their fault rather than confront the theological problem of suffering.   I’m somewhere in between my twenties and middle age, so I suppose I don’t have to accept either of these answers.

The even more general frummie answer to every problem, beyond “HaShem will make it work out in the end”, or really just taking it into further detail, is that I suffer here for reward in the world to come (afterlife), but it’s hard to accept that when (a) I don’t feel that I’m doing enough to have a share in the world to come, especially given my rabbi’s recent shuirim (classes) related to this topic and (b) it’s hard to accept that I’m suffering now to get a reward in the future when I need something concrete in the here and now to keep me going so I don’t go completely off the derekh (stop being religious) and lose my share in the world to come completely out of utter misery and despair.  What am I supposed to do to keep going?

The Sky Falls

I feel terrible right now, despairing and self-loathing.  I wish I wasn’t a delicate snowflake (in the fragile sense, not the political sense) who gets upset by everything.  I know life has to be hard so that we grow, but I wish it didn’t have to hurt quite so much, so much of the time.  I wish I could be happy for more than a couple of months at a time, before being separated by several years of depression and things going wrong.  I wish I could have the everyday happiness that other people seem to get, even when things are hard.  I wish I could cope with disappointment and failure better.  I wish I could just deal with things the way other people are able to do, to just get up and get a new job, a new home, a new life.  And I wish I didn’t blame myself for everything.

Pain, Suffering and Being There

In Why Bad Things Don’t Happen to Good People, Rabbi Shaul Rosenblatt distinguishes between pain and suffering.  “When pain matters to us more than anything else, we suffer.  When it does not, we do not.  The more we have in life that matters to us over and above the pain, the more that pain recedes into the background.  When nothing matters more than the pain we are going through, it comes into intense focus and overwhelms us.  That overwhelmingness, we refer to as suffering.”

I don’t know what I can do any more to move on from my pain.  My job just makes me feel worse.  I want to help people, but I don’t know how.  In any case, my friends and family rarely turn to me when in need (possibly they think I’m too selfish, autistic or incompetent to be of any use).  I desperately want to have a wife and children to love and give to and (I’ll admit it) to love me, but it looks like it’s never going to happen.  I don’t really have any other ambitions, except perhaps to write, which I also struggle with.  I can’t seem to move on in my life at all.

Rabbi Rosenblatt says that ‘good’ and ‘bad’ in this world only relate to God.  Something that brings us closer to God is good, even if it’s painful; something that moves us away from God is bad, even if it’s pleasurable.  I feel my depression driving me away from God.  It stops me praying with kavannah (mindfulness), with a minyan (quorum) or, sometimes, from praying at all.  It stops me studying Torah, the primary ongoing religious obligation on Jewish men.  It stops me building a family.  It stops me doing mitzvot (commandments) and acts of kindness.  It makes me angry and distrustful of God.  And I don’t know how to move on from this.

I think Rabbi Rosenblatt gets on to trust in HaShem (God) later in the book.  I haven’t got to that bit yet, but I skimmed ahead a bit.  I know that, because of some things that happened in my childhood, I can’t trust God and I don’t know how to get around that.  I understand what happened to me as a child and I can see how the events that made me distrust God do not logically prove that God is not worthy of being trusted, but I can’t undergo the emotional catharsis to move on.  For years I’ve been thanking God for five or more things every day (something else Rabbi Rosenblatt suggests, although I was already doing it), but I still find it hard to trust that He loves me or wants good things for me or that He won’t overwhelm me with suffering.  I feel that, like Charlie Brown and Lucy, every time I come to kick the ball, HaShem moves the ball away at the last moment and I fall on my back again, usually in the form of another episode of depression (although sometimes He throws other things at me, instead of or as well as the depression, to keep me on my toes e.g. my OCD).

I feel that I want to give, but I can’t.  My social anxiety holds me back from reaching out to people who need help.  My friends and family, as I’ve said, rarely come to me with their problems.  Unfortunately I do know people with similar problems to my own, but as I said, I’m generally not the person they call when they’re down, although I do try to text or email when they’re down or I haven’t heard from them for a while.  I guess many of them have other friends, siblings or spouses who look after them better than I could.  And it looks like there isn’t anyone out there who wants me to be her husband, even though I want so much to be there for someone (this is actually a somewhat dangerous thought, as it means I get attracted to people who I think need ‘rescuing’, which isn’t particularly healthy, doubly so as I feel that only someone with serious issues would accept dating someone with as many issues as I have).

I’m trying to entertain the idea that things might turn out well, even if they will probably turn out very differently to how I would currently like.  It’s hard though.  I strongly suspect that I won’t get any of the things that I think would make me happy; I just hope I can find something that makes me genuinely happy instead.  Otherwise life seems an endless cycle of disappointment.  The problem is that I can’t attain even the things that I think would make me genuinely happy (religious growth, real love) let alone more transient things that make life bearable for people.

“It’s a pity/That I’m like me”

(Another one of my written-piecemeal-during-the-day update posts.  And a super-mammoth one at that.  Possibly I should just go on Twitter or Facebook, except that neither is good for my mental health.)

12.10pm  I don’t know what time I went to bed last night.  I know it was very late, probably around 3.00am, but earlier than two nights ago (about 4.30am).  I got really hungry late at night and stayed up late eating matzah and jam and junk food.  Not good on any level, really.  I have been eating more junk food over the last few days, which I tell myself is OK because of being happy on Yom Tov (Jewish festival), but is more comfort eating than anything else, and the cravings I’ve had since I was put on clomipramine.  Anyway, I woke up today about 11.30am after a strange Doctor Who dream.  I feel completely drained.  My Dad just asked if I was OK because I was huffing and puffing as I went up the stairs.  I just want to go back to bed.

1.50pm  Still in pyjamas, having got no further towards getting dressed than putting on socks.  Idly browsing the web was a mistake, because it led to politics which led to antisemitism.  Depressing.  I should avoid this stuff, but I care too much.  I wrote a long paragraph about antisemitism here, but cut it because this is a mental health blog, not a political one and I don’t have the stamina to get arguments.  I will say that I believe the way forward is empathy and dialogue, but I don’t know how you enter into dialogue with people who have already judged that you have nothing to say to them.

2.40pm  Dressed.  Davened Musaf and Hallel (said the additional Pesach prayers and Psalms), but left Minchah (the afternoon service) and tefillin (my custom is to wear them on Chol HaMoed with a silent bracha) until after lunch because I’m still too exhausted.  I suddenly had intense religious OCD while davening.  I asked my rabbi mentor something about Pesach two years ago that he said was fine, but I’m worried (this is where the OCD comes in) that I didn’t explain it well enough, so I asked him again the other day, but he hasn’t got back to me.  (I’m guessing that he’s not checking email over Chol HaMoed (the intermediate days of the festival, where some work is allowed) or is busy with his children off school.)  Deep down I know that if there is an issue, it’s not my fault, as he said it was OK, but I worry that I didn’t ask the question properly and that it is my fault.

3.30pm  I watched Are You Autistic? (recorded last week) over lunch.  It just confused me.  It made me wonder if I’m not autistic after all, which, of course, was what I was told when I was assessed.  It’s hard to process the fact that I have lots of autistic traits, but am also missing lots of traits that should be present for diagnosis.  Perhaps my difficulties really do stem from strong introversion and social anxiety (which I was also told I don’t technically have); reduced concentration from depression could account for the poor executive function.  I don’t know how many of my non-autistic traits can be attributed to social masking and other coping mechanisms (see this post I wrote recently).  I feel that if I was diagnosed with autism, I would be able to understand myself and seek support, not least at work, but just being a bit weird leaves me confused and unable to ask for help.

I had more OCD over lunch too.  I sort of kept it under control, but I have a nagging feeling of having done something wrong (religiously) and that I should ask a rabbi about what happened, even though I know that would also be wrong (psychotherapeutically).

4.00pm  There’s more feelings of inadequacy around my writing.  The feeling that I should have been a regular writer for Hevria, but I got turned down for reasons I never really understood and feel guilty about mentioning so often.  What should have been a boost to my confidence (that they’ve published me several times) turns into another reason to beat myself up (that they didn’t want me to write regularly and pay me.  The payment is more symbolic than mercenary – it would show that someone values my writing.  I’ve only been paid once for a piece of writing, two if you count the professionally-published piece where the writers’ fees were donated to charity).  I wouldn’t have been able to cope with writing regularly anyway.  I have several pieces for Hevria on my computer that I’ve never submitted, I’m not sure why.  I don’t know if it’s fear of rejection or, worse, fear of acceptance.  There’s the worry that I’ll never sell my Doctor Who book(s),  that I don’t write well enough, that I don’t write originally enough, that I’m too out of sync with standard fan criticism (which these days is just identity politics and sarcasm)…

I feel too exhausted to do any creative writing today.  It would just be painful.

Edited 10.30pm  I think when I wrote this, the previous two paragraphs were not connected in my mind.  Reading them back, they clearly are connected.  It’s easier not to even try to do something than to try and fail, or be rejected.  I guess I will have to try harder to write tomorrow.  This is why I’m not cutting the previous paragraphs, even though I do not come out well from them; in fact, I come across as petty and bitter.  I hope that’s the depression talking.

5.00pm  I finally managed to daven Mincha.  It felt like an endurance test with depression and exhaustion, with OCD thoughts in the background.

5.35pm  Fighting the urge to go back to bed and start the day over again.  Or just to go back to bed.

6.10pm  Back from a twenty minute walk.  I didn’t realise how cold it was and went out without a coat.  Thoughts about antisemitism mutated into general despair about politics and the Western world.  I could hardly hear the music I was listening to, my thoughts were so loud.  (Does that even make sense?  It happens to me a lot.  I get sucked into a maelstrom of thought and lose contact with everything around me.  Sometimes at work I’m trying to work, but my depressive thoughts start and become so vivid that I don’t even notice my physical surroundings any more.  When I’m with my parents, they see me staring into space sometimes and ask if I’m OK when I’m just thinking, which of course breaks the concentration, for good or for ill.)

6.50pm   Feeling lonely and unlovable.  I don’t have the energy/motivation to actually talk to anyone, but I wish there was someone to (literally and metaphorically) hold my hand and watch TV with me.  I feel more unmarriable than ever, particularly as I’ve more or less decided that I shouldn’t date until I’ve made progress with my social anxiety, which seems unlikely to happen any time soon, and that the depression is constantly going to hold me back from forming a serious relationship, which also doesn’t seem like changing any time soon.  I found myself thinking that maybe I shouldn’t have broken up with my ex (five years ago this month!), which is a scary thing to think when she herself admitted that she wasn’t really there for me and our religious paths had diverged.

It seems unfair that other people get to have fun and I don’t (not that marriage is just for fun by any means, but I’m talking generally).  I tell myself that this life is for growth, not for pleasure, but that just seems like “the opiate of the masses.”  Anyway, Judaism is not opposed to the sensual pleasures of this world, it merely seeks to harness them for a holy purpose.  Which reminds me that my shul (synagogue) rabbi said I won’t feel simcha shel mitzvah (the joy of performing the commandments) until I’m over the depression (which makes me despair) and that my rabbi mentor disagreed and said I should feel a bit (which just makes me feel guilty for not feeling it at all).  I am nearly halfway through Pesach and while I am not as OCD anxious as I feared I would be, I have not really had any simcha shel mitzvah (unless you count playing with my friends’ children) and am not sure how to get it in the next four days.

8.00pm  Just watched the first two episodes of the DVD of 1960s science fiction thriller A for Andromeda.  I knew that all bar one of the episodes were missing and reconstructed from photos, surviving clips and captions, but for some reason I thought there was audio too (as per missing Doctor Who episodes), but in fact this is not the case and watching the episodes was harder work than I expected, probably harder than I really needed.  I do feel calmer for having watched it, although this partly because OCD anxiety and depression have been replaced by feeling too exhausted to care about anything.  Still, it was involving enough, if showing its age in places.  I really like old British TV science fiction and feel they don’t really make anything like it any more.  I look forward to reaching the surviving sixth episode and then the sequel, The Andromeda Breakthrough, which survives in its entirety.  Apparently there was a remake of A for Andromeda a while back which I will probably check out at some point.  Another book I could write at some point: something about the Quatermass and Andromeda serials and their various spin-offs and remakes.  Although I don’t know who would buy it…

9.00pm  Over dinner I thought that I want to feel reciprocated love, even (I’ll say it) to feel lust that is reciprocated for once.  I’m fed up of having my most powerful emotions being invalidated by others by their one-sided nature.  I suppose no one can actually invalidate my emotions, but I’ve been told a couple of times over the years by women I’ve liked, “You don’t love me,” which was probably true, I probably didn’t literally love them, but in my naivety I thought I did love them and being told that I didn’t hurt.  It’s hard to have a good understanding of love and related emotions when (a) you have an alexithymic incomprehension of all your emotions and (b) every time you feel something romantic or sexual you end up rejected and burdened with guilt.

10.40pm  Another day over with very little done.  I did manage fifteen minutes of Torah study, which was fifteen minutes more than I thought I would manage, but other than a short walk and this post I haven’t achieved much.  I haven’t even hoovered the bedroom carpet, which is filthy and which I haven’t got around to doing since last week.  Tomorrow, I suppose, is another day, one on which I have a routine blood test, so I will at least have to be up earlyish.

Thoughts I’ve had this Evening

Someone as messed up as me doesn’t deserve to be happy…

…so it’s just as well that I can’t ever be happy.

I just want someone to tell me I’m a good person…

…and let myself believe them, which is harder.

I feel so lonely…

…I wish there was someone here with me…

…which I can now understand as wanting someone I feel comfortable talking to or just being with, but also someone I feel comfortable touching and letting her touch me, gently and affectionately more than just sexually…

…One of my (female) friends once said that I tend to fall for “alpha women” who aren’t interested in me.  I’m not sure if that’s completely true (about them being alpha women, they certainly aren’t interested in me), but I guess some of them would qualify…

…but saying I’m looking for someone gentle, caring, quiet and family-focused is hard, because I feel like I’m saying that I’m looking for some stereotyped pre-feminist Victorian Stepford Wife, when really all I’m saying is that I want to marry someone like myself (I’m not sure if I’m caring, but I’m gentle, quiet and family-focused)…

…for the record, I cook, clean, grocery shop and can launder, iron and sew (the latter very badly).  I’m not looking for a domestic servant or living doll.  I have no problem with my wife going to work leaving me as a house-husband if it makes economic sense for us.  I just want to meet someone like me, someone I would feel able to trust: thoughtful, intelligent, gentle, caring, quiet, family-focused and with a sense of integrity both in terms of being honest and in terms of being true to herself and her unique character…

…Maybe if I show that last paragraph to the shadchanit she might know someone suitable?

On a different note, I spent much of the evening downloading photos from my sister’s wedding.  I didn’t even take that many, and some came out blurred because of problems with my camera’s flash, or off-centre because I had to stay out of the way of the official photographer.  Oh well.  I don’t know if anyone’s interested in seeing them.  I can’t put them up here because of my anonymity and because there are photos of young children that I wouldn’t put up without their parents’ permission, but if anyone I know in real life (or have known online for a long time) wants the Snapfish link, please email me.  I didn’t take many photos (even fewer once I weeded out the really bad ones).  Maybe I was too busy experiencing the event or maybe I just felt too nervous too much of the time.  I’m not sure.  Certainly I spent a lot of the evening elsewhere, during the dancing.

Torah from the Depths: Vayeira: Becoming Laughter

Continuing my weekly posts of mental health-inspired reflections on the weekly Torah reading.

Strangely, in a sedra that is so much about death and near death, the resonance I found with my depression was not death and destruction at all, but birth and life.

“And Sarah said, “God has made laughter for me, all who hear will laugh (yitzchak) for me.” – Bereshit/Genesis 21.6

I have mentioned in the past the importance of firsts in traditional Jewish textual exegesis.  As far as I can tell, the idea of laughter is first recorded in the Torah in relation to the birth of Yitzchak (Isaac), first when God tells the elderly Avraham (Abraham) and Sarah (who is infertile as well as elderly) that they will have a son and then when he is born.  Importantly, Yitzchak means, “He will laugh” and this play on words appears in the verse I quoted above.

What resonated with me is the idea of such laughter so intense that everyone shares it, that even takes over the entirety of a person’s being (I am not enough of a dikduknik (grammarian) to be sure, but I think “tzechok asa li” “has made laughter for me” can also be translatated as “has made me into laughter”, a laughter so strong that one completely becomes it with one’s whole being).  I think this is the laughter that comes as a release after a long period of suffering, when sadness is converted to joy, as with the Avraham and Sarah miraculously having a child in old age after decades of infertility.  Happy are those who are granted such laughter.

The Four Horsemen of the Self-Destructive Apocalypse

Tiring day.  I had some bad news this morning (my sister’s future grandmother-in-law died), but it was fairly distant from me (I never met her) and I wasn’t desolated.  I also had some good news, being invited out for dinner on second night Sukkot (this Thursday), going to the people I was supposed to go to on Rosh Hashanah, before I got ill.

But the day was just tiring.  I struggled at work, cataloguing some difficult books and while I managed to offset the difficult ones with some easy ones to get through a reasonable amount, I gave up some of my lunch break because I thought I had been wasting time.  I need to have some familiarity with our stock to help students find books and to know which new ones to buy.  I also need to skim over books to catalogue them.  However, being an avid reader with a wide range of interests, it’s easy to get caught up in a book (fiction or non-fiction) and I tell myself off if I think I’m reading for too long.  As “too long” is entirely subjective, this is another opportunity for self-loathing, blame, shame and guilt, who I suppose are the Four Horsemen of the Self-Destructive Apocalypse (not that that’s a Jewish belief).

On the Tube home I sat opposite a beautiful, heavily pregnant woman (who looked a bit like Freema Agyeman from Doctor Who) and her husband.  I sat there, trying not to stare at them, feeling envious.  This is what I want: spouse, children, love.  Of course, the Four Horsemen ride in immediately.  I said this year would be different.  This year, I would stop envying others their lives.  This year I would accept HaShem’s (God’s) plan for me.  If He says jump, I say, “How high?”  If He says, “You will be lonely forever,” I say, “You know best.”  But I can’t do it.  I just can’t do it.  I want to be happy too much, I want to be loved too much.

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.

Heaven Sent, Hell Bent; Or, Doctor Who is my Spirit Guide (Maybe)

(No wise mind today, this is too weird and it’s too late at night after Shabbat.)

I had a weird Shabbat.  At shul (synagogue) this morning, someone asked me to lunch.  I panicked and said I had to go home because my parents were expecting me, which was true, but it was early enough that I could have gone home, told Mum I was going out to lunch and gone back out again.  Really, I panicked.  It happened so fast that I’m not even sure why I panicked.  I think I was worried about not having anything to say or saying something stupid, but it might even have been more fundamental than that, just worrying that someone wants to see me socially worrying me in itself, feeling I will disappoint in someway or that some ill-defined bad thing will happen.  I felt guilty for not going, particularly as this person was going to be eating alone because I wasn’t going but also relieved.  I don’t know what I’ll do if I get asked again, by this person or someone else.  I say I want to have friends, but when I’m presented with the possibility, usually I panic and run away.

On a more positive note, I did speak a little at seudah shlishit (the third meal) at shul.  I made some suggestions about interpreting some Torah passages we were discussing and made a (very slight) attempt at humour.  So that was something positive.  It’s taken nearly eighteen months to get to this stage…

I slept a lot over Shabbat again.  I nearly dozed off during the leining (Torah reading) in shul, which was very bad.  I had a weird dream this afternoon.  I don’t normally relate my dreams, partly because I usually can’t remember them (either coherently or at all), partly because other people’s dreams are usually not terribly interesting, but I thought this one says something about me, although what it says is open to interpretation.

At the start of the dream my parents were annoyed with me.  They thought I was being short-tempered when I wasn’t intending to seem like that.  This happens to me a lot and has happened since childhood.  I think it might be one of my borderline Asperger’s symptoms, that I’m not always as expressive as I would like to be in my tone of voice and facial expressions and so I seem angry when I’m not.

My memory of the next bit is fairly incoherent (something about superheroes loosely based on the graphic novel Superman: Red Son?!).  The next bit I can sort of remember is being with characters from Doctor Who (second Doctor, Jamie and Zoe, I think).  I think there was some sort of void between universes (as in The Mind Robber) and then we were in another universe, which I somehow knew was Heaven.  I think.  This is the clearest bit of the dream for me, but I still don’t remember it coherently.  I think I felt intense pleasure in this other universe/Heaven, like nothing I had experienced before.  It made all my suffering worthwhile.  And then I was fighting against myself: part of me wanted to stay there, part of me was trying to wake up.  I felt I had to wake myself up (I have had this experience before when finishing a dream).  Eventually I woke up and it was much later than I intended and I only had a little bit of time to study Torah before going back to shul.

On waking, I wondered if this was a prophetic dream and I had really been shown that I do have a share in the next world (see my comments about feeling I don’t have a share in the next world here) and that it is worth suffering in this world to get it.  Even if I never get any joy or pleasure in this world, it would still be worth it to have the next world.  The void between universes would be Gehennom.  The longer I’ve been awake, though, the more I doubt it.  In Judaism dreams can have prophetic meaning (e.g. Yosef’s/Joseph’s dreams) but even prophetic dreams have a nonsensical element (again, even Yosef’s dreams had this) and some dreams are completely nonsensical.  Why would I be shown that I have a share in the next world?  (My only possible explanation is because I was thinking about death and suicide recently, especially after what happened regarding lunch.)  Especially when I was not even in a state of ritual purity?  And if I was shown the next world, how could I even understand it?  It makes much more sense to see this as a fantasy dream – I wrote during the week about thinking I have no share in the next world, and now my unconscious produces a wish-fulfillment dream about it.  But I can’t shake the feeling that maybe I have been shown something important, if I could just put aside my scepticism.  (Interesting article on dreams in Judaism here.)

The final distressing thing that happened to me was looking through a booklet of Torah thoughts in shul this evening.  There was an essay on prayer.  I brought the booklet home after Shabbat so I can quote it:

Being real about tefilla [prayer] means we realize we are praying to our Father in Heaven Who wants only our good and has the power to do anything.  Therefore, we should anticipate that Hashem [God] wants to help us…

If we do not expect that Hashem will answer our tefilla, Hashem will not invade our space and shock us with success.  He wants us to earn the realization that He is our Father in Heaven and that we can always count on Him.

This worries me greatly.  I suppose it could explain why I don’t get the “miracles” that other frum Jews claim to have received (you can read a million of these stories on Hevria.com, Aish.com, Chabad.org etc.).  I admit I get a few things (I’ve been fortunate with my career), but I have spent all my adult life, if not more, struggling with mental illness, loneliness and misery.  I just don’t expect things to change.  I think God wants me to be this miserable, for some reason.

I feel I have just experienced so much misery in my life, so much bullying, emotional neglect and occasionally behaviour bordering on abuse, that it is hard to believe that God only wants good things for me.  I believe that God is omniscient, omnipotent and benevolent… to everyone else.  My experience is simply that he doesn’t want me to have a happy life, for whatever reason, because I have not experienced that kind of positive experience in life generally.

And even if I can get past my own experiences, I am haunted by the Holocaust, especially by the one million babies and children who were murdered by the Nazis.  When I try and pray for good things, for myself and others, I often see the Holocaust victims, particularly the children, and I think, if God didn’t help them, what guarantee do I have that He will help me?  I can’t adopt the simplistic attitude that so many religious people seem to have that God will always step in at the last minute to stop anything terrible from happening.  I even wrote a poem about seeing the Holocaust children years ago, although I don’t really remember what I wrote and don’t intend to dig it out now.

I suppose this ties in with everything else I have written about tonight, about being asked to lunch and panicking and turning it down (running away from a potentially good thing) and then having a dream that might have a positive interpretation and insisting on giving it a negative one, even though in Judaism one can ‘force’ a dream to have a good interpretation by believing in that good interpretation.  I just can’t open myself up to the possibility of goodness, if only because of the depression and despair in which I am mired.  This seems really unfair, as it seems to guarantee that narcissists and other unpleasant people will have a good time while good people who have been made self-critical by suffering and abuse will not receive anything good.

Shame

I watched an interesting TED talk by one of the great influences on my thought, Rabbi Lord Sacks.   Most of the talk is not relevant to this blog (although it’s definitely worth watching), but two things stood out to me.  One was where he mentions the best decision of  his life, meeting and eventually marrying a woman who was nothing like him: someone joyous and friendly when he was a self-obsessed young philosophy student.  My thought here was, “Why can’t something like that happen to me?”  I know I’d love to meet a frum woman who is joyous, friendly, gentle and kind who, for some strange reason, likes me.  I can’t imagine it happening.  I try to work on myself, to be more confident, friendly, outgoing and happy, but it doesn’t seem to help, as shown by my recent date dumping me apparently in part because I lack self-confidence.  I hope today to start work proper on the social anxiety CBT book I dug out a while back, but I’m not confident of it helping.

The other point, less wistful, is where he talks about the culture of the self and suggests replacing the self with the other, literally doing a “find and replace” in our minds and changing phrases like ‘self-worth’ and ‘self-esteem’ to ‘other-worth’ and ‘other-esteem’.  This is something I think about, because in recent years I’ve got into Jewish religious existentialist thinkers a bit and there the emphasis is on the redemption of solitude through helping the other.  The problem is that I’m very bad at this.  I try to be a good friend to my friends who are going through depression and other tough times, but there is a limit to how much I can do given that I am not a trained counsellor or therapist.  I just try to remember to email sometimes and to respond to their emails.  I’m too shy to really get involved in voluntary work or anything like that.  I wanted to get more involved in my depression support group, but because of pressure of work in my new job, I don’t have the time or energy to go very often any more and that pressure is only going to increase next term when I work four days a week.  I’d like to think I am reaching out to people and helping them with my blog, but deep down I know I do it only because I need release from all the words in my head, and maybe for the likes.

In any case, I’m not sure how sensible it is for me to replace ‘self-esteem’ with ‘other-esteem’.  I think my problem is I perhaps esteem others too much and certainly esteem myself too little.  I don’t trust my judgment on anything, but I find it hard to disagree with others, even if deep down I know they’re wrong.  I find it hard to stand out from the crowd.  As I said, I just got dumped apparently in part because my date thought I was “frightened” of her, frightened of disagreeing with her more than some abstract fear.  And she was probably right.

More than that, I feel actually ashamed of myself much of the time, at least when I’m in company.  Ashamed of my political views and perhaps occasionally of my religious views (where I am more ‘modern’ than my shul).  Ashamed of my hobbies and interests, which seem childish and a waste of time that would be better spent in prayer, Torah study and good deeds (from a religious point of view) or more cultured pursuits (from a secular one).  Ashamed of wasting what little creativity I have and also ashamed of wasting my time on it when I do devote some time to it.  That is why it’s safer to be in solitude, despite the loneliness this entails.  This is why I didn’t hang out with my peers in adolescence or at university.  This is why I can’t open up to people and make friends or find a partner.

“It is a Great Mitzvah to be Happy Always”

I’m running very late today, but I wanted to quickly write down a few thoughts that have been running through my head over the last couple of days.  Warning: if you aren’t religious, this may come across as insufferably pious.

A while back I made the mistake of googling my ex-girlfriend and found her blog.  I won’t go into details as my identity here is not entirely private and I don’t want to hurt her, but it turns out that from the way that her life has gone, we could not have stayed together.  To be honest, this is not a surprise, as most of what she wrote on her blog was known to me when we were still together, I just naively thought our relationship was strong enough for us to work through it together.

I have mixed feelings though: I can sort of see God’s hand in ensuring that the relationship ended when it did before we were married with children (a few months earlier, before the troubles really started, I was assuming we would be engaged fairly soon), but also worried that I could easily make the same mistakes again, especially as my big mistakes consisted of not recognising early danger signs and thinking that almost any relationship could be saved if both participants were willing to work on it enough, which I’ve always been taught was the correct way to view relationships.  To be honest, there probably were other warning signs that I missed or dismissed in my excitement at finally having a girlfriend for the first time in my life (I was nearly twenty-seven when we started going out) and I worry that it could easily happen again.  But I can’t see what the alternative is to going out there and trying to find someone more compatible, more stable in her lifestyle choices and worldview and hope that this time I can spot any warning signs in advance from my experience.  I guess being in my mid-thirties finally works to my advantage, as someone my own age is likely to be more settled in her life and views than my ex was (she was quite a bit younger than me, in her early twenties when we started going out, a time of personality formation and sometimes radical new lifestyle choices).

There’s a parable by Rebbe Nachman of Breslov that I’ve been thinking of yesterday and today.  It’s only a page and a bit long, but it’s quite complicated and as I don’t have my copy with me, I’ll have to summarize.  Basically, a peasant finds a precious stone and goes on a trip to have it valued and to sell it.  En route the jewel is lost, but because the peasant stayed happy despite this, he is able to make another business deal involving selling a large quantity of wheat that suddenly came into his possession that nets him much more money than selling the jewel would have done.  The moral, as it usually is with Rebbe Nachman, is that one should always be happy; the jewel was not really the peasant’s so he lost it, but the wheat really was his, so he kept it, but only because he stayed happy.  So my ex was not my bashert (soulmate) so I lost her, but perhaps, if I stay happy and trust in God, I will meet someone else who will be my bashert and we will stay together.  Or if God has decreed that I shouldn’t ever get married, as I often fear… well, being happy and trusting that He has His reasons seems a lot better than the alternatives of being depressed, angry and bitter.  Believe me, I’ve been depressed, angry and bitter, and happiness and trust are a lot more fun and somehow a lot more adult than adolescent despair and rage (I don’t by the militant atheist view that nihilistic doubt is more adult than faith, but that’s a whole other post).

This is a viewpoint that does not come easily to me and I was resistant to it for a long time, but I do think it leads to a happier, more well-adjusted life if one can manage it.  (Note that Rebbe Nachman himself, despite his exortations to his Hasidim, seems to have spent his whole life wrestling with his own doubt and despair and what may have been bipolar disorder – see Arthur Green’s excellent biography, Tormented Master: The Life and Spiritual Quest of Rabbi Nahman [sic] of Bratslav, which I had to read to really be able to accept Rebbe Nachman’s thought as more than just simplistic positive thinking; according to Rabbi Green it’s a proto-existentialist wrestling with one’s inner demons and rescuing faith and joy from the jaws of doubt and despair).

Adventures in Searching for a Soul Mate

It’s been a busy twenty-four hours, leaving me with mixed emotions.

First the good news: my sister got engaged over Shabbat!  I’m very happy for her.  Her fiancé is a really nice guy and I get on well with him (fortunately).  I think they will be very happy together.  I’m also happy for my parents, who have watched from the sidelines as most of their friends’ children have married and had children.  At least my parents have a chance of being grandparents now.

The not-so-good news: I have been on two dates with someone over the last week, the second being a walk in the park on Shabbat (as she lives locally).  I thought it was going well even though my mental health issues came up.  But at the end she said she wants some time to think about whether she wants to go out with me again, which I took as an indication that she probably isn’t that interested, although maybe that’s reading too much into it.  Maybe she just wanted time to think about my mental health.  I don’t know.

It was quite difficult that both these things happened within a few hours of each over.  I have some really conflicted emotions right now.  Fortunately my mood overall is still OK, although because of it I did go to bed really late (after 3am) because I was watching Doctor Who and emailing a friend, trying to process everything that had happened and to relax.  Then I slept through the whole morning and got up at noon.  I am trying to be more forgiving of myself when I do things like this now as I know I need to do it sometimes for my mental health, even though I missed most of Shacharit and lost the morning.

Right now I have two verses going through my head.  One is, “Is not Aharon (Aaron) the Levite your brother?… and also behold he is coming to meet you and when he sees you he will rejoice in his heart.” (Shemot 4.14 concerning Aharon rejoicing over Moshe (Moses) becoming the leader of the Israelites, even though he was displacing his elder brother Aharon who, unlike Moshe, had been with the Israelites in their suffering in Egypt).  The other is “This is not done in our place, to give the younger in marriage before the elder.” (Bereshit 29.26, concerning Yaakov (Jacob) being tricked into marrying Leah before her younger sister Rachel).  I feel happy for my sister, but also frustrated that my little sister is getting married and I might not even have another date.  When we have two conflicting verses we search for a third to reconcile them, but I haven’t found it yet.

I did think on Friday, before all this started, that if I have to be single my whole life, I can accept it.  I’m lonely, I want to love and be loved, to have companionship and children and being a virgin in my mid-thirties is increasingly difficult, but I can cope with those things.  I have lived by myself for nearly a year now and I have survived (admittedly mostly going home for Shabbat and Yom Tov).  I see no reason why I can’t survive indefinitely like this.   But I don’t want to just survive, I want to be happy and loved.  I wonder if that will ever happen.

Identity

I have not written much lately.  This is not for want of things to write about.  So much has happened or is happening, but I simply have not had the time or energy to write.  Pesach (Passover) was better than it has been for a couple of years; there was some OCD and some family tensions, but better than the last few years.  I have started a new job, which is going well.  The team are friendly and the work is challenging, but not impossible.  In the background I have various writing projects and am trying to get to shul (synagogue) more often and to do more religious study as well as keeping up with the household chores.

I am trying to find the balance in my life, to make positive changes (the new job, trying to daven (pray) more with a minyan (prayer quorum), trying to study more Torah) without getting overwhelmed by the changes.  It is hard sometimes as, although I am not depressed as I once was, it can still be hard to enjoy things.  In particular, I have been thinking lately about not having simcha shel mitzvah (joy in performing the commandments).  I heard from a rabbi a while back that I won’t experience this until after I have recovered from the depression, but it makes it hard to get motivated to do things if I can’t experience joy in them, especially as I am thinking more these days of managing my mental health than of being “cured.”  It is hard to know what to do sometimes.

I have also been struggling with questions of identity, about trying to find a place in the Jewish community and in the wider world with my niche interests.  I have been thinking about politics quite a bit, unsurprisingly given the news, and thinking that my political views probably come across as complicated if not confused.  I don’t really feel comfortable with any party, but, given that I do force myself to vote for someone, I suspect I will be voting for a party that a number of my friends do not approve of.  There is so much anger in the world at the moment, especially regarding politics and identity that I feel under attack a lot of the time, especially given my fragile ego, whether it’s Doctor Who fans insisting that you have to be progressive to enjoy the programme or people at seudah shlishit (the third Sabbath meal) in shul being scornful of giving tzedaka (charity) to non-Jews or the horror stories I hear from American friends of Orthodox Jews bullied at the Shabbat table for not voting for Donald Trump or the ongoing antisemitism crisis in the Labour Party…

Even as my own world is improving, the wider world feels increasingly like a frightening and tribal place where a slightly unusual and (I hope) thoughtful person like myself is forced to squeeze himself into uncomfortable boxes or lose his friends.  I am trying to go slowly, to focus on my recovery and to take things one step at a time, but sometimes it seems as if events in the wider world are pushing on faster than I would like.

Reasons to Be Cheerful (About Being Jewish)

Despite the fact that I am very religious, it can be easy for me to get despondent about Judaism.  My OCD focuses on my religious practices and my depression has introduced doubts about whether God loves me, whether I am worthy of His love and my whole experience of mental illness has made me question God’s existence and benevolence at times.  I spend a lot of time thinking that I’m a bad Jew.  So I thought I would note down the reasons why I rejoice in being Jewish!

I was going to explain the more obscure ones, but I don’t have time.  Feel free to ask questions in the comments!

So, in no particular order:

  1. Jews are encouraged to ask question and are even allowed to argue with God.
  2. The feeling of continuity with my ancestors over a period of 3,000 years.
  3. Judaism’s concern with the dignity of all human beings.
  4. Judaism was perhaps the first civilization to encourage people to speak truth to power.
  5. The structure Judaism gives to my days, weeks and year.
  6. Halakhah (Jewish law) takes abstract concepts about ethics and theology and turns them into concrete actions.
  7. The focus on personal growth and the practical strategies for achieving it.
  8. Shabbat (the Sabbath).  Everything about it, from the tunes to challah bread, to the rest from work and from electronic devices to time with family to the feeling of peace and “having a second soul” that descends eighteen minutes before sunset on Friday.
  9. Enjoyable marital sex is a mitzvah (commandment).  In particular, a man has an obligation in the ketubah (marriage agreement) to satisfy his wife and it’s grounds for divorce if he doesn’t.  This has been the case for thousands of years!
  10. Judaism teaches that everyone has access to God without an intermediary.
  11. Teshuva (repentance): no matter what you’ve done, there is always a way back.
  12. My religious heroes: Yitzchak (Isaac), Yirmiyahu (Jeremiah), Iyov (Job), Rabbi Nachman of Breslov, Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev, the Kotzker Rebbe, Abraham Joshua Heschel, Rav Kook… the list goes on!
  13. The thoughtfulness and complexity of Jewish thought and especially halakhic thought and the way they refuse to accept easy answers, instead following thoughts to their conclusion.
  14. The Jewish sense of humour, present even in religious texts.
  15. Finding God in the mundane.
  16. The fact that Judaism has helped the Jews survive millenia of persecution.
  17. The emphasis on relationships, joy and love.
  18. The fact that embarrassing others and spreading gossip, even if true, are seen as some of the most serious sins (unlike wider Western culture, where gossip and embarrassment are used to sell newspapers and win ratings wars).
  19. The down-to-earth practicality of Judaism.
  20. Chessed (kindness) and the striving for what Rabbi Aharon Lichtenstein termed “social beatitude.”
  21. The bond between all Jews, left and right, religious and secular, Orthodox and Progressive: if one suffers, we all feel it.
  22. The lack of dogma and acceptance of multiple opinions.
  23. The concept of argument for the sake of Heaven.
  24. The multiple ways of looking at the world: halakhic and aggadic, rationalist, mystical and existentialist.
  25. The depth, complexity and beauty of our holy texts from Tanakh (the Hebrew Bible) through Midrash and Talmud to Hasidic tales and philosophical tracts – even law codes are examined stylistically.
  26. This is a list about religion, but I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t proud of the Jewish influence on science, the humanities and the arts, from Kafka to Chagall to Wiesel to Simon and Garfunkel to Freud to Einstein to Disraeli to Marx (I mean Groucho) to all those Nobel Prize winners who are Children of Israel… not to mention the co-creators of Superman, Batman and Doctor Who.  And William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy (that one’s for you, Alex!).
  27. I’m going to say it… Pesach is stressful and sets off my OCD like crazy, but deep down, I think it’s still my favourite Yom Tov (festival): the weirdness of covering the house in tin foil and plastic, the novelty of crockery used for only eight days a year, the special foods (ritual and cultural), the seder service where we spend an evening eating symbolic foods and discussing religious texts and thinking about what it really means to be free… underneath the stress and the OCD, I think I still love it!

Despatches from the Front Line 4 (Purim Day)

Continued from the last post.

I could not sleep last night.  I got to bed late anyway, after 1am, but my mind was full of thoughts about yesterday evening and anxieties about today and my date next week.  Eventually I realized I was not going to sleep and got up and Doctor Who-ed to calm my mind down, finally falling asleep some time around 2.20am.

I could not sleep in this morning, though, as I wanted to get to an early Shacharit (morning  service) and Megillah (Book of Esther) reading.  I managed to do this, getting up at 6.50am (on a Sunday!).  It mostly went well, but I had a bit of an OCD panic.  One is supposed to hear every single word of the Megillah and while I had heard every word, my mind drifted at one point and one word didn’t register properly – I heard it, but I didn’t register what it was until my reading caught up a second later.  I initially thought this was OK, but by the time I got home afterwards I was caught in the spiral of OCD doubt and was ready to find a later reading to hear it all again.  Fortunately, I decided to phone my rabbi first to check if this repetition was necessary and he assured me that everyone’s mind drifts during the reading and it is enough to have been there and heard every word.  Even so, part of me felt, “Maybe I didn’t ask the question properly.  Maybe I should go to another reading to be sure”, but I have been playing the OCD game long enough to know that there is no escape that way.  If I went to another reading, I would surely find another problem to make me think that I had not fulfilled the mitzvah (commandment).  This is the tricky thing about OCD, the way it tells you that you are doing the right thing, that you can never be too careful.  Give in just once and you are laying yourself open to an endless cycle of doubt and checking.  I have been trying very hard lately not to ask a rabbi a question unless I am quite sure that there is a legitimate doubt about what I should do and certainly only to ask the question once, not repeating the question because I think I have not explained myself properly or that I have not been understood.  I tell myself that asking a rabbi creates a halakhic (legal) reality; my job is to follow the ruling I have been given, not to second-guess the rabbi who gave it.  This is hard, but it is the only way to beat the OCD cycle.

There was then a sombre interval, when we found out that my great-aunt had died.  I did not know her particularly well, but my Dad was close to her and especially to my great-uncle (who died about a year ago).  This cast a shadow over the day.

I then managed to go to a Purim seudah (meal/party) with my sister, her boyfriend, her flatmate and various other people.  I had been at Oxford with a couple of people there and as I have mentioned in previous posts, I was worried that they would remember me negatively as aloof and standoffish (although I was actually desperately shy and depressed).  At any rate, they either did not remember me or did not think negatively of me.  I surprised myself by joining in the conversation a lot, even cracking a couple of well-received jokes and my jester’s hat proved a great hit (fancy dress being a Purim tradition dating from the Middle Ages).  It was an extremely positive experience, setting me up well for my blind date next week by making me feel that I can talk to strangers.

Now I’m slowly coming down, hoping that I won’t crash, either tonight or tomorrow morning, which is possible (what I call a mental hangover, when socializing or other activity one day leads to a worsening of the depression and lethargy the next).  Hopefully this is a sign of improvements in my mental health and ability to socialize that I will be able to build on in the future.