Happy for Myself, Worried for the World

I wanted to get up early again, but I felt really drained this morning and got up at 10.30am (I’ve been up later, but still…) and still struggled to get going. I was glad I had the house to myself for a bit as Mum and Dad were at the hospital much of the day. I did do a few things (see below), but I struggled to find the energy to do as much as I had planned and wanted. It’s not surprising that I’m drained from yesterday, but I do find it frustrating that I can’t live my life at 100% optimum (or anywhere near it) the way some people seem to do, even though I know that autistic burnout and perhaps the remnants of depressive exhaustion are real parts of my life.

Achievements: I read a book on writing (developing realistic characters) for an hour; I studied Torah for nearly an hour; and I watched an interview with Ed Husain (whose book The Islamist I just read) about Israel and the Islamic world. I went for a 5K run too, which unfortunately gave me a bit of a headache and stopped me doing much in the evening.

Not a lot else happened. I was, as I said, exhausted from yesterday, so I didn’t do as much as I would have liked. I feel that my communication (too early to say ‘relationship’) with PIMOJ seems to be going well (basing this largely on what she said explicitly in emails, as I’m bad at reading between the lines), so my mood was reasonably good. Then in the late afternoon I had some very good news, but I can’t share it here yet (hopefully soon). But it was very cheering.

We’ve got to strictly shield from now until Mum’s operation on Thursday, so I won’t be running or walking or even going outside for a few days. I probably wouldn’t have gone for a run today if I had known this, but my parents were still at the hospital when I went out. On the plus side, I don’t think we need to shield so strictly afterwards, so in theory I could go to shul (synagogue) again from next week, but I feel very nervous about doing so for multiple reasons.

Despite my reasonably good mood, I was a bit upset by some news from the wider world. On the one hand, Ed Husain seemed very positive in his interview about the possibilities of wider Israel-Sunni Arab peace deals, which is good, although I worried he was over-optimistic; on the other hand, Unherd had disturbing articles about the normalisation of violence against women in otherwise consensual sex and the worrying news that 28% of “Biden supporters” (which I assume means Democrats) and 19% of Trump supporters (which might well not be a straightforward synonym for Republicans) say that they won’t accept the legitimacy of a victory by the other side in the forthcoming presidential election. Neither of these things bode well for Western society if true (I’m assuming that bad social/political trends that start in America spread to the rest of the Western world sooner or later), and I suspect they are true. So that brought my mood down a bit.

The King is in the Field

I felt quite calm today, although the last half hour has seen some dating anxiety resurface. My friend Stoic Wannabe recently posted on a her blog a lists of books she wishes someone would write, and I would add to that list How to Find Your Soul-Mate, and Be Completely Sure He/She/They are the Right One, Without Suffering Rejection Along the Way. But I don’t think life works like that.

Today was mostly pre-Shabbat (Sabbath) chores, dusting and working on my novel. Working on the novel was hard to day. I think I wrote last week about the “running out of energy” feelings of Fridays, that the mystics say that the world is rejuvenated every week on Shabbat, and that I can believe that because Friday always seems to be a day when the world is running down and out of energy, as am I. Even if I don’t do much on Fridays, somehow it’s all a bit of a struggle. I did read over another chapter of my novel. There’s a lot of rewriting to do, but somehow it seems a bit funnier than I remembered. It’s a serious book, but there is some observational humour in there.

***

It occurred to me today that perhaps most of my mental health issues now are rooted in autism and the general uncertainty of my life (which is also related to autism and the way it impacts my career and dating, particularly while I’m self-diagnosed rather than by a psychiatrist). I know in the past I had childhood issues to work through, but I think I’ve mostly processed those in therapy now. I can accept that the adults around me did not always do the right thing for me, but that this was because they were imperfect humans like the rest of us and not malicious. OK, I never felt they were malicious as such, but I did feel a lot of blame. Likewise I accept that I was bullied a lot by the other children, but that there isn’t much point still hanging on to that.

My depression tends to flare up now at times of tiredness (particularly first thing in the morning) and at times of stress and exhaustion, especially when I’m around people, which also triggers social anxiety. This could mean that it’s related to autistic burnout as much as anything else. A day of draining activity will leave me burnt out and depressed the next day; prolonged draining activity (such as working in an environment that is stressful for me, as when I had an office job for several months), might trigger a more prolonged burnout. “Draining” in this context means emotionally draining more than physically draining; a day of housework and work on my novel might be significantly less tiring than a few hours in a noisy environment where I have to “mask” my autism, such as a busy shopping centre.

I will try to observe over the coming weeks and see if this hypothesis is correct, but I think it is at least partially correct.

***

Today is the first day of the Jewish month of Elul. This is the introspective month before the Yamim Noraim, the High Holy Days, the most solemn festivals in the Jewish calendar. Elul is a time of personal reflection and soul-searching about how we’ve grown over the last year, but it’s also seen as a time when God is particularly close and accessible to those who seek Him (“The King is in the field” as the mystics say).

I think this time two years ago I was in a bad state, deeply depressed about life and very angry with God. I believed in Him, but I was angry about how much pain He had put me through with depression, loneliness and autism. By 2019, I had more of a sense that I wanted to be a writer, but I was still struggling with getting there. I was also on the waiting list for an autism assessment and I think that just knowing that I probably am on the spectrum helped me to accept myself and my “weird” characteristics more, but of course I’m still waiting for the assessment itself because of COVID halting so much non-urgent NHS treatment.

This year I feel a lot better. It has been a very strange year that no one was expecting, and we’ve had the additional challenge of Mum’s cancer, but I’ve used much of the lockdown time to make progress on my novel, which I think in a curious way has helped work through some of those childhood/adolescent issues that I mentioned above (the novel has a semi-autobiographical thread). I also self-published my non-fiction book about Doctor Who. That has not sold well, but I feel due to marketing issues rather than anything else. I’m not sure how to promote it.

I don’t feel anger towards God any more, but I do feel some apprehension. I’m trying to accept that I’m never going to completely fit into the Orthodox community, and that that’s OK (partly the effect of autism and mental illness, partly that I have a more “modern” outlook for Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) Jews, but am more passionately engaged than most people in United Synagogue shuls (synagogues)). It would be nice to feel more accepted, but I’m not sure what that would feel like. I feel like I have made a couple of friends at shul, but also that I have not managed to build up the close friends that I’ve lost over the last couple of years, now including E.

I didn’t mean this to turn into a formal cheshbon nafesh (self-analysis)! That’s how I feel contemplating Elul this year: a bit more confident and happier than previously. Of course, some of that is knowing that I will probably escape some of the harder parts of the festivals this year, particularly spending so much time in shul, because of lockdown limitations. But I definitely feel more upbeat about the new year and the autumn festival season than I did for the last couple of years.

Happiness is a Warm DVD

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

***

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

Catastrophising and Fatalism

The Doctor: Where’s your optimism?

Romana: It opted out.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

***

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

Dear frum community,

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

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

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

Yours sincerely…

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

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

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

***

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

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

OCD Slightly Resurgent, Otherwise Quiet

I woke up and got up early again (at least by my standards), which was good.  Less good was that I woke up from a very disturbing dream, in which I had tried to do something to promote unity between different groups of Jews and instead inadvertently created a situation which led to more division, and the burning of some religious papers by someone else out of spite (religious papers in Judaism should be buried respectfully, not burned).  The dream ended with me crying uncontrollably as a rabbi said I had done the right thing, but had been let down by other people.

I think the dream was primarily about my feelings of discomfort with the frum (religious Jewish) community.  I feel some (not all) people in it can be divisive and even spiteful, like the people in my dream.  However, I also feel that my feelings of discomfort are a product of my own prejudices as much as reality, so I could be the spiteful people in the dream too.  It is hard to be objective.  I woke up feeling sombre and upset, but I somehow managed to get up rather than just go back to sleep as part of me wanted.

The dream did at least get me up early again today, so I could say the most important morning prayers at the right time, and say more of the morning prayer service than I usually manage.

***

I spent two and a half hours working on my novel.  My main character/narrator just got assessed and diagnosed with high functioning autism.  It brought to mind my worries about whether I am on the spectrum and (different question) whether I will be diagnosed as being on the spectrum, bearing in mind I’ve been assessed twice and told that I’m not on the spectrum, but am challenging that diagnosis given that I have now done more research and have observed myself in new work and social environments (my previous assessments were before I had worked or even volunteered).

I started to worry that I’m not on the spectrum.  I made myself worried enough that I did an online screening (similar to the one I had in person eighteen months ago) which showed that I probably am on the spectrum, but I wish I didn’t have this kind of obsessive worrying about it.  As someone in my novel says, getting a diagnosis won’t change who I am or what I experience, even if it explains it.  However, it would change my perception of myself, so it is no wonder that it seems important and anxiety-provoking.

***

Other than that, today was mostly the usual stuff: cooked dinner (vegetarian kedgeree, because it’s one of my easy recipes), a walk, nearly an hour of Torah study.  I lost a lot of the time I had gained by getting up early.  I’m not sure where it went.

I did write a letter to E., not to send to her, just to express my feelings to myself.  Reading it back, I sounded a lot angrier than I thought I was.  Maybe I’ve been carrying a lot of anger around for the last couple of months since we broke up, or even before then.  I worry about how E. is doing, but I still haven’t got back in contact with her.  I noticed she’s posting stuff on Goodreads (I didn’t unfriend her, I’m not sure why, maybe because I don’t use Goodreads as a social media, only as an online catalogue of my books), so I know she’s still alive and functioning, but I am still reluctant to communicate directly.

***

My religious OCD has been dormant for a while, but it never goes away fully.  Everyone has “crazy” thoughts sometimes; what turns them into OCD is when they won’t go away and you end up obsessing about them (‘pure O’ OCD) or performing compulsions to get rid of them (more stereotypical OCD).  I have in the past had ‘pure O’ OCD about the Jewish dietary laws (kashrut), among other things.

Lately there have been a few kashrut issues where I thought on balance they were OK, but I wasn’t 100% sure.  When my OCD was at it’s height, I would have asked a question of a rabbi or the London Bet Din (yes, I emailed their food technologist a lot when my OCD was raging a few years ago.  I still blush to think of it).  I was trying hard not to ask the question, because asking just provokes more questions – the way OCD grows is that you can never be 100% sure of anything, so every answer provokes more questions, as well as accustoming you to asking questions rather than relying on your own judgement.  I was fairly sure things were OK and was intent on just leaving it like that.

Unfortunately, today I gave in to ask a question, and then it snowballed.  I think I’ve got it under control now, and even for the hour or so that it happened, my anxiety levels were nothing compared with a few years ago.  Nevertheless, it’s a reminder of how fragile my mental health can be and how easily things can unravel.

***

I haven’t got much else to say today.  I feel a lot calmer and present-focused now I’ve cut a lot of internet use.  I haven’t strictly kept to only using the internet and email twice a day as my therapist suggested, but I’m not doing a lot more than that, except for novel research.  I’m also not looking at news and opinion sites much and not at Twitter at all (I haven’t been on other social media sites for years).  I feel a lot happier and peaceful, but I worry that I’m becoming ignorant of the world.  I guess I feel I can’t change the world much anyway, and the areas where I could change it, I still keep up with.  Still, we’re constantly being bombarded with messages about the importance of making a stand, demanding change, “silence is violence” (which I think is a glib and misleading phrase, although it has an element of truth) and so on that not being super-aware of what’s going on seems vaguely immoral.

Like a Lion

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

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

***

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

***

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

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

***

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

***

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

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

Trying to Be Present in the Present

Today my mood has been OK when I’m busy doing things, but it drops pretty quickly when I’m not.  I especially low at the moment (see final section).

I feel sexually frustrated again, not the in obvious way, but just wishing that I was with someone I loved and could give to that way.  Also, to have that type of intimacy.  I think I’m generally a sensible, play it safe, type of person.  I don’t take risks.  I don’t drink or smoke and illegal drugs scare me.  Yet, for most of my adult life, I’ve found myself constantly wishing that I was in a relationship, even though I know that would not have been a sensible thing for me to do most of the time, given how much I’ve been struggling with mental illness since I was sixteen (at least).  I guess it’s loneliness and feeling that I’ve never been completely accepted and understood.  I felt that acceptance with E., until suddenly it wasn’t there, which was frightening.

I’m trying not to think like that (about wanting to be in a relationship), but it’s hard.  I guess it’s better to accept those feelings, and to sort of make space for them in my head, but to acknowledge that I shouldn’t be focusing on them right now.  It’s hard not to focus on them.  Lately my mood has been OK when I’m doing something, but then I stop and suddenly the depression and loneliness rush in.

We’re in the introspective time of year.  The Three Weeks of Mourning are introspective, thinking about what we’ve done wrong to contribute to the exile of the Jewish people and the destruction (or non-rebuilding) of the Temple in Jerusalem, then we go into Elul which is the month of introspection before Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year) and then we have the Ten Days of Repentance bookended by Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur (The Day of Atonement).  Even though this introspection is only really starting, I already feel that I know what to focus on this year.  I need to learn to be in the present and not worry about the future and to stop trying to predict it, because it’s impossible to predict accurately.

The Medieval Torah commentator Rashi says (on Devarim (Deuteronomy) 18.13): “‘You shall be wholehearted with HaShem Your God’: walk before him whole-heartedly, put your hope in Him and do not attempt to investigate the future, but whatever it may be that comes upon you accept it whole-heartedly, and then you shall be with Him and become His portion.” (translation via Sefaria, slightly modernised)

I think Rashi is quoting or paraphrasing the halakhic Midrash (I haven’t checked which).  It’s talking primarily about not engaging in soothsaying, divination and the like (that’s the context of the verse), but Rashi makes a wider homiletic point about having faith in the future and accepting whatever happens.

I’d like to have the mindful/present-centred mindset of not worrying about the future or feeling excessive guilt and shame about the past, but it’s hard.  I worry a lot, and when I think about my past, it almost always seems to lead to guilt or self-blame.  It would be so nice to think of myself married to someone who I love and who loved me, just as it would be nice to think of myself as making a career writing Jewish novels, but both seem so distant that they seem like I’m taunting myself rather than setting realistic goals.

I guess I feel scared because it seems like I’ve passed the point in my life where I could have the things I want in life.  I could still get married any time until I’m ancient, but if I want children (and I do) I have to either find a wife in the next few years or marry someone significantly younger than me.  I know people who have happy marriages who do have a big age gap, but I feel it’s not so likely for me.  Likewise with careers, it’s really hard to be building a career from nothing in my late thirties, especially as I am struggling with librarianship, but not confident enough in my writing ability and struggling to get started with that too.  If I built some kind of career and if I got married, then I think I could have some happiness even if I couldn’t have children, but I struggle to feel positive about being unemployed, single and living with my parents in the long-term.  And of course in the frum community almost everyone my age is married, just as most of my Oxford peers (that I still know of) have important jobs in law, politics, academia, the rabbinate or the like.  This is why I left Facebook, to try to stop myself from comparing myself to others.  I have to accept that my life is going to be very different to other people’s (including my sister’s), but it’s hard to do that when I don’t have a clear idea of what type of life I could realistically build.

***

I woke up early, about 7.15am.  Despite only having had four or five hours sleep (I went to bed late and then struggled to sleep, probably from sleeping too much in the day), I didn’t feel too tired, but I didn’t feel inclined to get up and just stayed wrapped up in my duvet.  It wasn’t a particularly sensible thing to do, as I eventually fell asleep again, for several hours and ended up getting up no earlier than usual.

Achievements: an hour and twenty minutes spent on the novel (admittedly with some procrastination).  I finished another chapter.  I’m up to 66,000 words, with two chapters left to go, so hopefully the word count will be OK.  There’s a lot to do in redrafting, though.  I see this taking at least four drafts, maybe more.

I also did forty-five minutes of Torah study, reading this coming Shabbat’Torah portion (Va’etchanan, my bar mitzvah portion).

I got changed to have a run, put insoles in my trainers to see if that makes them more cushioned and stops hurting my feet, and warmed up, but once I started running, I could feel my ankle hurting again.  Not badly, but I didn’t want to risk making it worse, so I decided not to run for a few days.  I went for a walk instead, which isn’t as good at sublimating negative feelings, but is better than nothing.

***

Sometimes it’s hard to know what to do or think.  Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about China persecuting the Uighurs, and also the Tibetans, Chinese Christians and adherents of Falun Gong, who are also being persecuted, but aren’t in the news.  I want to do something, but I don’t know what.  I feel very small and insignificant.  It’s hard even to talk about it without sounding like I’m making a point about some other issue.  The Jewish newspapers have been drawing parallels between the treatment of the Uighurs and the Holocaust, but it is hard to know what can be done.  There aren’t large numbers of refugees here that I could help in some practical way (I used to volunteer at a refugee drop-in centre, although it’s been shut from COVID), nor is escalated confrontation with China a promising option, when it could easily become a nuclear standoff that would destroy the planet.

***

The Doctor Who bit; also the antisemitism bit (skip if not interested):

Asking for the Doctor Who Series Twelve box set for my birthday looks more and more like it was a mistake.  I watched episode three, Orphan 55, which I hated first time around, in the hope that I would find something to like now I know what the bad bits are.  I didn’t.  In a word, awful.  In two words, really awful.

Unlike first viewing, I’m not completely sure that there’s an antisemitic bit.  There’s a montage of images of natural disasters and riots that includes a shot of fighter planes flying over Jerusalem, the only identifiable place in the sequence.  I feel it shows that BBC-types see “Israel” as a shorthand for “evil” in a way they wouldn’t with other countries.  At least, I hope it’s “Israel”; it’s possibly “Jews,” a thought not dispelled by the BBC’s low-key coverage of the weekend’s Twitter antisemitism storm compared  with the coverage of other forms of prejudice.

I told myself I wouldn’t write negative reviews any more, for various reasons, so I’m going to let it go rather than reviewing it on my Doctor Who blog, but I hope I get more out of the rest of the series or this will be a waste of time and money.  I think the series did get somewhat better as it went on.

The sad truth is that I’m enough of a completist that I still want to have every TV episode and that I will watch episodes at least twice because I know a first viewing sometimes obscures good points.  Experimental episodes in particular can improve on second viewing once you can see what they are trying to do, although very little of this series was experimental.  You can call that autistic obsession on my part if you want, and certainly the BBC makes a lot of money out of people like me.  Still, there are more expensive hobbies out there.  I’m just glad I don’t have the need to own every Doctor Who novel, audio drama, comic strip, computer game, etc. which would be an enormous drain of time as well as money.

Bonus Post: Two Dreams (Guilt and Making Friends)

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

Trying Not to Wallow

I’m trying not to wallow in loneliness and despair today.  I had some blog comments last night that I saw when I put on my computer this morning that cheered me up.  I’m grateful to everyone who comments – I appreciate comments a lot, even “I-don’t-know-what-to-say-so-hugs”-type comments.  It’s good to know that I’m not alone and that people are reading.  I usually forget to “like” comments, because I focus on replying to them, but it doesn’t mean I don’t value them.  I am trying to remember to “like” them more.

***

Today’s achievements: I finished and sent the job application I started yesterday (that took about fifty minutes).  I don’t think I’ll get the job, and I’m not sure if I want it, because it’s full-time and I don’t think I can cope with that.  It is also potentially at high risk of infection from COVID or other illnesses and I’m not sure that’s a good idea while Mum’s immune system is suppressed.

I spent a while working on my novel, writing 600 words in one hour or so.  I worry that it is possibly turning into the most boring novel ever written.  The part that is based on my own life feels constrained by what happened to me.  I have fictionalised a lot of details, but it still feels lifeless.  The main character is irritating (although this may be my self-loathing speaking, as he’s based on me).  I have a female protagonist who is too passive and boring.  The supporting characters are featureless and barely appear.  The writing lacks zest.  The whole thing is humourless.  I have a lot to fix in future drafts.

I don’t think I’m really cut out for writing “serious” literary fiction, which is what this is trying to be.  I want to pursue my ideas about time-travel and monsters, and historical figures like Shabbatai Tzvi and Jack the Ripper, but I also want to finish one project before I start a new one, so I’m tied to this novel for now, until I finish it or find it totally unworkable.  I also worry whether I could write prolonged fiction without the “scaffolding” of writing about my own experiences to provide some structure for the story.

As well as writing and applying for a job, I also cooked dinner (vegetable curry), which took longer than I would have liked and, for complicated reasons, made me think about E.  I think I made the right decision to break up with her, but I miss her as my friend as well as thinking that I won’t manage to find anyone else willing to see past my issues and baggage.  I might stay friends, after a break, but I’m worried we’ll drift back into dating in a crazy on-off relationship, which would be a very bad idea.

Since I was eighteen or so, I’ve usually had one close female friend, usually platonic and generally an email- or text-based friendship.  Sometimes I’ve wanted that friend to be my girlfriend (and for a few short periods that was the case), but that was usually disastrous.  Things have been better when the friend is safely off-limits, due to not being Jewish or being significantly older than me.  Then she is someone I can turn to for emotional support and practical advice, particularly about interpersonal stuff that I struggle with because of autism.

I guess I have a vacancy at the moment, but I can’t really see myself pursuing even platonic female friendship at the moment (even if I knew someone to befriend), partly because of the risk of it turning into something more, partly because I feel disinclined to open up to anyone at the moment.  Plus, most of those friendships ended badly, often because of me.  So I should resign myself to being alone.  I wish I did have someone to text during the day, though.

After dinner I went for a half-hour walk.  I ended up feeling morose.  I was on edge from watching Ashes to Ashes while eating dinner.  It was a good episode, but violent and bleak and left me feeling on edge and wary of something awful happening to me, even though it was broad daylight and there were still people around.  I thought about Ashley’s post for today, and whether I will ever be happy.  I feel that I probably won’t be happy, and I’m onto worrying about whether I will be comfortable.  I worry about being alone when my parents die.  I wouldn’t want to impose on my sister and brother-in-law by moving in with them.  I worry about dying alone, in pain, without dignity (possibly in my own excrement, like Stalin).  Will I be OK financially?  Will anyone still care about me?  It’s scary.

Even if I did somehow find meaning and happiness, would I just feel guilty?  A kind of survivor syndrome that I turned my life around when so many others can’t?  I already feel vaguely guilty that my childhood was not awful and abusive (even though I was bullied at school, and adolescence was rather lonely and miserable), given how many abuse survivors I’ve come across in the mental health community.

After the walk, I tried to “snap out” of my moroseness (which never works) and do some Torah study, as I had been too busy to do any earlier.  I was tired and depressed and my room is very hot and uncomfortable, so I didn’t get very far.  I spent nearly fifteen minutes on a mishnah which I felt that the Artscroll commentary made more difficult than it needed to be (I feel they do this a lot).  I had a look at ideas for my devar Torah for twenty minutes or more, which was a bit more fruitful, until my brain gave up with heat and fatigue, but I need to do a lot more work on it.  My divrei Torah have not come easily lately, which is frustrating.

The Wild Pomegranite quoted Rebbe Nachman of Breslov:

“Sometimes a person’s goals and desire for holiness are beyond his capabilities. Therefore, he must control himself. He must limit his yearnings and fulfill – simply – whatever service to God he is capable of in that moment. Then he must pray to be led on the proper path for his level by serving God with joy and simplicity.” (Likutei Halakhot, Bet Knesset 5:24)

I feel this describes me.  I want to move to higher levels of holiness in terms of kavannah (mindfulness) in prayer and mitzvot (commandments), more and deeper Torah study, doing some kind of meaningful work (ideally writing), and marrying and having children, but these are beyond my capabilities at the moment, which is frustrating for me.  It is difficult and frustrating to accept being at a much more “basic” level of service, especially as I’m only vaguely aware of what exactly that would entails.  Nevertheless, it is where I am.

It reminded me of this quote also from Rebbe Nachman that I’ve blogged before:

The main thing is this: It is forbidden to despair!  Even a simple man who cannot study at all, or one who finds himself in a place where he is unable to study, or the like, should in his very simplicity be strong in worship and in the fear of God…  Even he who stands on the very bottom rung, God forbid, or in the very depths of hell, may God protect us, should nevertheless not despair.  He should fulfil the Scripture: ‘Out of the belly of the deep I cried’ (Jonah 2:3), and be as strong as he can.  Even he will be able to return and receive the Torah’s sustenance, by means of the zaddiq [saintly person].  The main thing is to strengthen yourself whatever way you can, no matter how far you have fallen.  If you hold on even just the slightest bit, there is yet hope that you will return to God. (quoted in Arthur Green Tormented Master: The Life and Spiritual Quest of Rabbi Nahman of Bratslav  p. 264)

I wrote these paragraphs earlier in the post, above the paragraphs about today.  I cut and pasted them here to end the post on a positive note.  It feels vaguely wrong.  I feel I should try to be positive, but it seems dishonest to end on a positive note that I don’t feel.  The “happiness is a choice” people would say to cut and paste and it will make me happier.  I think happiness is not always a choice, and rearranging things does not always help.  Some people are just in pain, and are going to stay in pain, and there isn’t much they can do about it.  But I also want to acknowledge that even in pain, there can be hope.  Whichever one I finish on – pain or hope – will be stressed more.  Concluding on something is taking a stand in favour of it.  But I see the two, pain and hope, at the same time (like duck/rabbit illusion).  Pain/hope.  Hope/pain.  Pain/hope/pain/hope/pain/hope/pain/hope/pain/hope/pain/hope/pain/hope/pain/hope/pain/hope/pain/hope/pain/hope/pain/hope/pain/hope/pain/hope/pain/hope/pain/hope/pain/hope/pain/hope/pain/hope/pain/hope/pain/hope/pain/hope/pain/hope/pain/hope/pain/hope/pain/hope/pain/hope/pain/hope/pain/hope/pain/hope/pain/hope/pain/hope/pain/hope/pain/hope/pain/hope/pain/hope/pain/hope/pain/hope/pain/hope/pain/hope/pain/hope…

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

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

***

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

***

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

***

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

***

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

Loneliness and Fitting In

I woke up feeling depressed and lonely again.  E. is concerned about my tendency to turn everything into guilt, that I assume that everything bad in my life is my fault and if I was a good person I could change it.  She thinks that this is not really the case.  She feels in particular that I shouldn’t feel guilty about not being emotionally connected to Judaism.  I guess it’s hard not to when Judaism presents a lot of things (perhaps most things) in moral terms and assumes that good people can change them, at least with the right tools.  It’s assumed that a person who wants a better relationship to God or Judaism can ‘fix’ that; it doesn’t take into account that my brain chemistry might prevent that, or say what I should do instead or how I should cope.

That said, I wonder if this is really guilt or if I’m misunderstanding my emotions again.  I don’t think what I see as guilt is really sadness, but maybe it’s loneliness or disconnection.  I was reading about domestic abuse again (see below) and came across the idea that abusive men express all their emotions as anger; I wonder if I express all my emotions as depression or guilt.  I don’t know if that idea even makes sense.  At the very least, alexithymia (difficulty understanding my own emotions) makes it hard to understand what I feel.

I’m worried about the future too.  I want lockdown to be over, but at the same time, that would shift my worries about career and relationship up a gear as I have to confront things again.  I’m already dreading the cataloguing test I have to do soon for a job application.

***

I’m also struggling with political thoughts that I don’t really want to write about here, worries about the situation across the Atlantic, worries about my participation in racist societies, but also about the much greater coverage of and sensitivity around racism by most people in the West compared with antisemitism.  Jews aren’t more likely than most people to be killed by the police, but they are more likely than many to experience violence.  In the USA, Jews are the victim of well over half religious hate crimes, far more than any other religious group.  I don’t feel this is a particularly appropriate time to talk about antisemitism.  We need to concentrate on racism right now.  The problem is that much of the world has shown that it never thinks the time is right to talk about antisemitism.

Mind you, I can get upset by little things, for instance, a letter in an old Jewish Chronicle criticising Orthodox rabbis unfairly.

I’m not sure how these thoughts would be classified.  They’re kind of on the boundary between depression and anxiety, with some anger, but not what people generally mean when they refer to those feelings in a psychotherapeutic context.

***

I spent an hour or more trying to work on my novel.  I wrote about 450 words, which was not bad, but not great either.  I procrastinated a lot, got upset about irrelevant things (see the paragraph above) then read abuse survivors’ accounts to try to get me back into the mindset of writing about abuse, but that just made me feel more miserable and made it harder to concentrate.

I tried to look at my notes from my librarianship MA on cataloguing in preparation for doing a cataloguing test some time this week or next for a job application.  It was hard to concentrate because I felt so depressed, and because I was aware that I probably know this stuff as well as I ever will.  I feel I probably know the stuff, I just have no confidence in my ability to show it.  I’ve really lost confidence in my ability to do librarian stuff in recent years.  It’s hard to remember that I once thought that I would be a good librarian, even a professional cataloguer.

***

I didn’t do much Torah study (about fifteen minutes).  I  wrote this rather long email to my rabbi mentor instead (slightly edited here):

I’m really struggling religiously lately.  It’s hard to daven and to learn Torah in particular. It also feels like I have no meaningful connection to HaShem [God] and to Torah much of the time. It’s hard to work out why. Or, there are many possible reasons:

– my depression/general mental health (which has got worse the last couple of weeks) – one rabbi once told me that I wouldn’t be able to connect emotionally to God and Torah until I recover, but it increasingly looks like there is no recovery for me, just being able to manage my condition better;

– resentment of simplistic theologies in the frum world that see working at Judaism and especially having bitachon [trust in God] as immediately positive results.  I think these are wrong, but they make part of my brain think, “God must be angry with me, or He would have healed me/got me a job/let me get married by now;

– feelings of despair regarding my life, relationship, career, etc. and feeling that I won’t be able to build anything because HaShem keep testing me by making me suffer and taking away what I’ve achieved;

– generally feeling like a social misfit in the frum world: the United Synagogue doesn’t take Torah and davening [prayer] seriously enough for me, in the Federation I feel like have to hide various beliefs and interests because they’re unacceptable, and the people at the London School of Jewish Studies are mostly a generation older than me. I felt in particular that my local shul has not always supported me well in terms of helping me be part of the community or regarding my mental health (as well as setting me up on shidduch dates [arranged blind dates]), although things had been a bit better at the start of the year and I felt that after four years, I was fitting in a little bit better… and then coronavirus came and disrupted even that.

Lately I wonder if I won’t fit in anywhere, ever. It seems everywhere I go, I feel that I don’t fit in, and I’m beginning to wonder if that’s just in my head, or from my autism. I really feel that I struggle to fit in and to follow the unspoken social codes, which is a classic autistic symptom. On the other hand, I’ve never had the kind of support that the frum world is said to provide to most people in need.

And underneath it all is the feeling of emptiness, loneliness, isolation.  Of feeling that HaShem is so far from me and indifferent to me, or that He will invalidate all my mitzvot on some technicality.  I feel I can’t connect with Him.  Sometimes I feel that I don’t know what it would be like to feel joy at all.  I saw something the other day about the need to have spiritual pleasure, but I’m not even able to have physical pleasure.

Sometimes I worry I’m frum more out of habit than anything else these days, which does not make me feel good. To be honest, the non-Orthodox/non-religious world is just as off-putting to me as the frum world, but I know E. finds aspects of the frum world difficult, especially the lack of appreciation of serious culture, and I find it hard to “sell” her the frum life when I feel so negative about it.

I do still enjoy Shabbat, even though I feel that is partly a relaxation thing as much as a spiritual one.  Occasionally I do see Torah that resonates, but it’s hard to build on it; likewise if I daven well one day.  I do enjoy writing my weekly divrei Torah [Torah thoughts], although I do experience that as a stress sometimes, and a drain on time for Torah study.

This is what I’ve been feeling.  Would it be possible to discuss it, by Skype or email, please?  I don’t know if there is an answer, but I feel I need to try something new.  I mean a new strategy to engage with my religious life.  It’s just so hard to keep going sometimes.

I’m not sure what I expect to get from it.  He can’t wave a magic wand and solve my troubles and we have spoken about this in the past.  I suspect if I was more confident in myself and worried less about what other people think of me, I would fit in to frum society better, and if I fitted in better socially, a lot of my lack of religious connection would go away.  But I’m not sure how to do that.

Shammai’s Tefillin and Tom Baker’s Scarf

I had a weird dream last night.  The background to it is a conversation I had with E. about my Jewish identity.  E. is worried that I sacrifice a lot for Jewish law without getting much in return in terms of meaning or joy.   I agreed that I should do something about this.  What I will do is probably going to take a lot of time here over the coming weeks and months.

Last night I had a dream.  A little old man with a long rabbinical beard, who was some kind of father-figure was trying to get me to put on different tefillin, the leather boxes containing parchments with Bible verses on them that Orthodox Jewish men wear during weekday morning prayer services.  In reality, there are two types; most people wear “Rashi tefillin” but some people also wear “Rabbeinu Tam tefillin” named after the eleventh century sage Rashi and his grandson Rabbeinu Tam, who interpreted the commandment differently and put the verses in different orders.  In my dream, this rabbinic debate was projected backwards a thousand years to Hillel and Shammai, the Jewish leaders in the first century BCE.  Based on their legal rulings and stories about them, Hillel has a reputation for being lenient and kind, while Shammai is seen as strict and critical.  I have long felt Shammai to have an unfairly bad reputation (I’m still talking in real life) and in the dream I was pleased that the old man was trying to get me to wear Shammai tefillin.  There was a deep identification with Shammai as someone who had an approach that resonated with me personally and that set me apart from other people with a more liberal (if that’s the right word) approach.

As time went on, though, it stopped being so clear-cut.  I can’t remember the details, but other people (I think my mother and others) tried to get me to stop wearing the Shammai tefillin.  I myself began to have doubts about whether I really connected with him any more and if that was the appropriate outlook for me to have.  I can’t remember how the dream ended, but it does seem to be a sign from my unconscious that I’ve identified with the stricter aspects of my religion and for a while took a degree of pride in the dedication that needed, but it’s not working out well for me any more and I need to find something more positive to identify with.

***

I felt at a loose end today.  I just wanted to get on with Purim, but I had to wait.  I didn’t want to waste the day, but I didn’t want to do a lot and go into Purim drained and in a bad mood.  I did a little Torah study and spent an hour working on my novel.  I felt blocked, but I managed to write about 600 words.  At the moment I’m just trying to press on as quickly as possible, to get something, anything, down on paper so I don’t lose momentum or lose confidence in my ability to write.  I realise I’m going to have to do a lot of redrafting, so I just want to write something to get started.  I feel like the book I’m writing might need some significant changes, but I’m not sure what or how to do it and I’m hoping having a finished draft will help.  I feel like I don’t have such a clear model of the book in my head any more.  I ordered the first series of Life on Mars (which I have never seen, perhaps surprisingly) to look at  how it shifts to surreal interludes in an otherwise realistic story, which I hope will help with inspiration for my story and what I want to do.

I would have liked to have done more today, but by late afternoon some Purim anxiety and depression was setting in and, as I said, I was worried about overstretching myself and going in to Purim more anxious and depressed than I needed to be.

***

Shul was reasonably good in the end.  To understand the next bit, you have to understand that Jews read the Megillah (The Book of Esther) twice (in Hebrew) on Purim, evening and morning, and that, from an Orthodox perspective, one must hear every word on both occasions (the only time we have such a strict rule about a recitation).  Paradoxically, we also encourage children (and adults) to make noise at the name of the villain Haman, who wanted to wipe out the Jews.  So you have a situation where you have to be very quiet or very noisy and shift easily between the two.  When my OCD was at its worst I used to worry that I had missed words or, worse, that the reader had made a mistake and only I had noticed.  The noise is not always easy with autism either and the fact that it’s considered a child-friendly festival and there are lots of kids going in and out.

I carried a lot of anxiety to today’s reading because of that, but I was mostly OK.  I think I heard every word and I told myself if I didn’t, I had done all I could reasonably do.  My second line of  defence, if I thought I had messed up and needed to go to hear it again somewhere else, would have been to tell myself that going to a later reading would just be giving in to the OCD and I would probably come out doubtful again, but I didn’t go that far.  I did wonder if the reader had pronounced a word wrong, but I told myself that the rabbi and gabbaim on the bimah have the job of checking, not me, and they could hear better as they were next to him.

There seemed to be more noise than in recent years, but I coped OK.  There was a really noisy, stroppy kid in front of me, but his father took him out early on, which I was glad for; not all parents would have been so considerate.   I dressed up in my Tom Baker/Doctor Who scarf again, with my sonic screwdriver but no one got (or admitted to getting) the reference.  There were some pop cultural costumes, mostly Harry Potter and Star Wars.

After the service, there was a lot of milling around.  There was supposed to be food and then a “bubble show” for the children (it basically looked like people blowing really big soap bubbles), but it took ages to reorganise the room for food.  I wanted to help, but in these situations I tend to mill about helplessly and get in the way unless someone gives me something very specific to do, which I think is another classic autism trait, but I still feel bad about it.  I ate two jacket potatoes, but am still hungry.  There were no hamantaschen, the pastries traditionally eaten on Purim.  I will have some more dinner in a minute, and definitely some hamantaschen.

***

Mum had another scan today.  It looks like the nodule they were worried about is on the known tumour itself, which we gathered was positive, as these things go.  She had some bleeding from the PICC line, the tube inserted in her arm for the chemotherapy, which apparently is normal.  As she went to the hospital to ask about that today, she doesn’t need to go back tomorrow to get the PICC line cleaned as arranged.

***

I saw an interesting devar Torah (Torah thought) from Rabbi Lord Sacks about the Jewish festival of PurimPurim is the supreme Jewish festival of joy.  The Purim story, as recorded in the Book of Esther, is about the Vizier of the Persian Empire wanting to wipe out the Jews, but his plans were thwarted through the intervention of Queen Esther and Mordechai.  As Rabbi Sacks says, this should be a festival of relief at best, not joy, so why do we celebrate so ecstatically?  His answer is as follows:

There are two kinds of joy. There’s expressive joy, the joy you experience and communicate because that’s how you feel. But there’s also therapeutic joy, the joy you will yourself to feel in order to protect yourself against negative emotions. And when we rejoice on Purim, on this festival which is actually the festival about antisemitism, we are saying something very important. “We will not be intimidated. We will not be traumatised. We will not be defined by our enemies. We will live with the threats and even laugh at them because what we can laugh at, we cannot be held captive by.” And that therefore is really what the joy of Purim is about. It’s about surviving, and beyond that, thriving, even as we walk through the valley of the shadow of death. It’s a way of saying, “I will eat and I will drink and I will celebrate and I will not let dark clouds enter my mind or my heart.”

This resonated a lot today.  We are trying not to be intimated by Mum’s cancer and to carry on as normal as best we can.  Likewise, I try to function with all my issues on the most difficult Jewish festival (OK, joint most difficult with Simchat Torah, but I don’t really need to stay for all of that).  I wonder if I can experience that joy even in the midst of depression.  There is, I suppose, something almost Nietzschean about it, about willing yourself to experience joy in the face of death (“That which does not kill me only makes me stronger”).

***

I need to be up early for the second Megillah reading tomorrow, but I’m probably going to watch some TV before bed as I need to unwind.  I still feel quite tense.  I feel like watching Doctor Who, but I’m procrastinating over which story to watch.  I feel like something with Tom Baker after just being dressed as him.  I’m thinking The Robots of Death, which I find a bit over-rated by fans, but has the kind of detailed science fictional world-building that the BBC used to do well in the seventies, on Doctor Who and Blake’s 7, but doesn’t seem to be able to do any more, being fixated on the “emotional journeys” of the characters instead.

Ups, Downs, Social Anxiety and Perfectionism

Mum’s first chemo session went well, aside from being kept waiting for an hour.  Unfortunately, Dad’s car was not functioning well on the way home and he thinks someone has stolen the catalytic converter (there is apparently a black market for them), which is both inconvenient and costly, especially as Mum’s car also needs repair work.  It never rains, but it pours (which is what is happening outside today too).

The other issue is that Mum got a letter today saying she has another nodule (I’m not quite sure what to call it) and needs a further scan, which she was told she should have before chemo, although as the letter only arrived today, this was not very helpful.  Another typical NHS screw-up.

***

I tried to get up by 11.00am today, which doesn’t sound very impressive, but I still couldn’t make it.  I did the thing of dreaming I had got up instead, which is always doubly frustrating when you really have to get up.  When I did get up at 11.45am, I felt incredibly drained and unable to do anything other than eat breakfast and check emails and blogs (which I was also trying not to do before getting dressed – failed again).  I’m trying not to beat myself up about all of this, because it doesn’t really help, but part of me feels that if I don’t beat myself up about stuff, I won’t change.  Not that beating myself up has a great track record of inspiring change.

I used my SAD light box which I haven’t used for a few days.  It’s hard to tell if it helped.

One good thing that happened to today was the delivery of a parcel addressed to me.  I was puzzled by what it could be, but on opening was “surprised and delighted” to see it was my non-fiction Doctor Who book, arriving rather earlier than I expected.  It is pleasingly hefty.  I feel vaguely annoyed that I decided to credit it to [my first initials] [my surname] rather than [my first name] [my surname], which would be more satisfying to see on the cover, but I wanted to distinguish it from the fiction I hope to publish one day and the initials does make it seem slightly more serious for a non-fiction work somehow.

I gave my Doctor Who blog url on the blurb on the back, but that seems to be hard to out of commission (see below).  I’m not entirely happy with the cover either, but I’m no graphic designer.  I am vaguely worried that my bibliographic strategy (providing a comprehensive bibliography at the end, but only citing references in text for substantial use or direct quotation to balance between the popular and academic modes) was not good enough, but I think/hope that’s just anxiety (although part of me is worried about being sued for plagiarism).  I spotted a reference that got left off the bibliography, but that was an example I cited in the text at least; I’ve also spotted an incorrect italicisation, but that’s probably the price I pay for self-publishing and doing my own proof-reading.  This is probably self-blame trying to sabotage a good event again.

There is a temptation to revise and reprint with self-published books, but there’s a very real price on that in terms of having to pay for proof copies, not to mention the fact that I deliberately rushed the final stages through to get it finished around the time the latest series of Doctor Who was finishing.  As a result, I approved it for distribution, so it should be available through bookshops and websites in six to eight weeks, if chosen (Lulu.com seem a bit vague on how this works exactly), although I would prefer sales through Lulu.com, as I get a higher proportion of the price.

I went for a walk in the pouring rain to get some stuff I needed for Purim (upcoming Jewish festival on Monday night and Tuesday) and came back with a slight headache and feeling generally run down, although with depression I feel like that most days.  We’re all super-paranoid about colds and flu at the moment, not because of coronavirus, but because of Mum’s weakened immune system.  I hope I won’t need to self-isolate (although if I do have to, then I will agree with the man in this cartoon).

***
As for my struggles with my Doctor Who blog yesterday, it seems that WordPress are another high tech company that doesn’t do customer support, instead outsourcing to a free (for them) user discussion forum.  I tried to post a comment there to ask how I re-access my blog, only to be told that I was not allowed to post what I had written.  I do not know why I was not allowed or how to change it to something I am allowed to post.  I had been quite impressed with WordPress compared with other blog platforms I’ve used over the years (Blogger, Livejournal), but this is pretty rubbish behaviour.

***

I went to shul (synagogue) and then on to shiur (religious class) and ate a load of chocolate cranberries.  I didn’t eat biscuits, but that was mainly because they were down the other end of the table and I was too socially anxious to ask anyone to pass them down.

I wasn’t sure what to make of the shiur, which was not a good fit for my worldview, being very kabbalistic (mystical) and Haredi (ultra-Orthodox, although ‘insular’ is more the word here).  It ratcheted my pre-Purim nerves up a bit – not the religious OCD I’m worried about, more the sense that I can’t connect emotionally with Purim and grow from it, as we are supposed to connect with and grow from it.  This is the same for me with pretty much every single other Jewish festival and Jewish ritual which I do on some level by rote, but it feels worse here, perhaps because Purim is a day most people connect to, or think they have connected to (religiously-sanctioned drunkenness perhaps confuses the matter).  Sometimes I think it’s lucky that I believe so strongly and have a certain amount of cognitive engagement with Judaism, as I’m clearly not practising Judaism because of any meaning or joy I get directly from mitzvot.  Actually, that’s not entirely true, as I get something from Shabbat, difficult though it is to define what, and I do occasionally do some Jewish study that really appeals, but again, it’s mostly a cognitive process for me, I don’t know how to move things to the emotional and practical spheres.  I’m not sure how I’m supposed to encourage E. to think that what I do is worth doing when I struggle to explain even why I do it.

It also looks like I’m not being invited out for the Purim seudah (Purim festive meal) as I was last year.  Perhaps it’s for the best that I keep Mum and Dad company this year, if they’re around (I vaguely recall that they got invited out and accepted depending on chemo side-effects).  It wouldn’t feel bad had I not been invited out for the first time last year and enjoyed myself.  In the frum (religious Orthodox Jewish) community it’s generally considered OK to invite yourself to other people’s meals and events unless you know good reasons not to, but I don’t have the courage.  The one time I tried to invite myself to someone else’s meal, it ended badly and the social anxiety is too strong to try it again.  Another mismatch between my values and those of the wider community.  Purim is supposed to be such a day of joy and ahavat Yisrael (love of other Jews) that’s it a struggle to be alone.

100%

I was actually feeling happy last night.  I was thinking that I was glad that E. is in my life. Even if we never manage to move our relationship forward, I’m glad about where our relationship is now.  It feels weird to be even vaguely happy, it’s so rare in my life, doubly so to be happy about a less than ideal situation because I’m usually a worrier and a glass half empty person.

I went to bed about 1.00am, which wasn’t so bad considering how much I’d done in the evening.  But then I woke up at 7.00am and couldn’t get back to sleep.  After a while I was going to just get up and start the day early, but then fell back asleep and slept through until gone 1.00pm, which was not good and cost me my run today, admittedly partly because we went out for dinner tonight which affected what time I should eat lunch and when I needed to be ready to go out.  The main things I did today were forty-five minutes of Torah study, thirty-five minutes writing an email of support to a friend with religious OCD and go out for dinner with family to celebrate family birthdays, which was good, but has left me drained and needing introvert alone time, but unable to take any because I need to go to bed to get to work on time tomorrow for two important meetings.

Depression, depressive exhaustion and depression-disrupted sleep take a huge toll on my potential activity level.  I just can’t do as much as I would be able to do without depression, which is hard to accept when this is clearly how I’ve been all my adult life and how I will continue to be for a very long time, rather than it being a short-term illness that can be cured with medication and therapy (as depression is for some people).

I’ve bought some books lately.  It’s not such a problem given that I was earning some money this month, but some of them felt a bit like impulse buys, which I usually try to avoid.  It’s probably filling an internal void, although I’m not sure what.  I do feel like I’m using 100% of my energy at the moment even though I’m only working two days a week and doing a tiny bit of writing, exercising and Torah study in the remaining days and maybe the void comes there somehow.  I’ve mentioned before that I increasingly feel I can only plan for one major task a day, which seems pathetic, but it’s all I can manage.  There’s a lot more I want to do with my life which I just don’t have the energy/headspace for, from finishing my novel and moving on with becoming a Chartered librarian to moving my relationship with E. on to odd chores like backing up my iTunes account and joining the local public library (five years after moving here!  I am a bad librarian).

Tomorrow is set to be a scary day.  I have a phone meeting with the company that installs library management software (LMS) and online catalogues (OPACs) to see if they can help us.  The benefactor who owns the library is coming in at some point to see what I’ve done so far, say if he wants me to continue and set a budget for the LMS/OPAC installation project.  Somewhere after those things I will need to email the institution IT guy to try to give him a better idea of what I want to do with the LMS/OPAC project, and what aspects of it I need his help for.  A lot of peopling, particularly when it will probably be a late night because we’re out for dinner (family birthdays, two almost consecutive).  I think there will be a shiur (religious class) in the library at some point for added disruption.  There’s some scary stuff later in the week too.  Strangely, I’m not feeling too anxious about this, whether from confidence or exhaustion I don’t know.

A second-hand CD I bought turned out to be broken (damaged case, which I was tempted to accept, but I discovered the last track won’t play properly as well), so that I need to complain about that.  To be honest, if they offered me a refund I would accept, as the CD was really cheap and I don’t even like the last track much and it downloaded OK to iTunes which is where I listen to most of my music; it’s the principle of the thing really.  It’s just another thing to do, like sorting out self-publishing my book and investigating becoming a Chartered Librarian.  I have a long To Do List of non-work stuff and it’s hard to find time to do it.  And I only work two days a week!  I don’t know how I’d cope if I worked more.  At least I’m making progress with my novel.

First Day Nerves

I slept badly last night.  I went to bed early, at 10.30pm, feeling very tired, but woke up once my light was out.  I think I finally fell asleep around 1.00am, having got up for a while and printed an alternative route to work, on the Tube rather than the bus, much quicker, but also more expensive.  Then I woke up around 4.30am and couldn’t get back to sleep.  I eventually decided that I might as well get up early so that I could use my SAD light before leaving.

By 6.30am (when I was planning to get up), I felt incredibly anxious and also rather guilty that I didn’t go back to the library a second, longer, look before suggesting what I could or couldn’t do for it.  Possibly I am expecting too much of myself here, given that I was doing that consultation work for free.  I did at least have time to check the Tube fees for the faster route, and it’s not that much more expensive than the bus.

I got to work on time.  Work was a bit crazy though.  I’m not sure what I can share here exactly.  I measured up the shelf space and calculated the approximate number of books in the collection.  I thought about the pros and cons of moving stuff around.  I won’t go into all of thought processes behind it, but there’s some ideas to balance about strict order versus ease of use bearing mind the users are not librarians or even academics.  I did a lot of tidying and eventually got three or four bookcases looking much more ordered than before.  I’m still not entirely sure where this is going and probably won’t for a while.

What did surprise me a bit was the number of people in the room during the day!  I can’t go into why this was so surprising without revealing too much about the institution, but there were a lot more people going in and out, or in and staying in, than I expected, and a lot more noise from elsewhere in the building than I expected too.  I also spoke to some of the people there and… again, it’s hard to know what I can say, but I think there will be more office politics here than I expected and also more stakeholders in the library than I expected, which is difficult as I’m not always the most savvy person with office politics and trying not to upset the stakeholders, but also recognising that one or two people are a lot more important stakeholders than some other people.

I did feel quite overwhelmed and tense and had an earlier lunch than I intended because I needed a break.  I discovered later that although no one had objected to me when I said I wanted to work from 9.30am to 5.30pm, this is not possible because the site shuts at 5.00pm.  In fact, the security guard started locking up the library about 4.50pm.  So I will have to work slightly earlier, but this should not be too much of a problem if I am going on the Tube, the quicker journey.  I did cope with the afternoon better and felt like I was making some kind of progress by the end, although I still have many questions in my mind about what I am going to do with the library once it’s more orderly.

My parents said I was “buzzing” when I came in.  They think I feel positive about the work and the responsibility.  I guess I am, on some level, even if I feel anxious too.  I also think that, working two days a week, there is work here for at least the better part of the year, which is good, assuming the benefactor wants the work done, and me to do it.

***

Part two of Doctor Who was OK, polished, but over-familiar and under-written.  I think I should go back to my idea of not reviewing new episodes on a first viewing, as it’s too easy to get caught up in the negatives.  Apologies to those to whom I promised to send a review.

Arbel and Kinneret

We spent the early afternoon at Arbel National Park, looking at spectacular views over Tiberias and towards Tzfat. The rocky paths were awkward, but not too difficult or dangerous.  I saw several lizards to add to the list of wildlife spotted on this trip.

After lunch we intended to go to Capernaum, which we thought was a ruined Roman city, but when we got there we were greeted by a sign that said “CAPERNAUM – CITY OF JESUS”, signs warning that this was a religious site and prohibiting various things and hundreds of pilgrims being constantly bussed in. So far as I could tell, the main attraction here was the church.

We decided this was not for us and drove to the far side of the Kinneret/Sea of Galilee. We ate ice cream and watched the sun set over the lake/sea and and watched the birds flying past, including some brilliant blue ones.

I have a headache that has come and gone all afternoon, but otherwise it was a good end to the holiday. Tomorrow is the flight home, and a return to the cold and wet.

One thing I have noticed is the huge amount of religious tat: kitsch art and souvenirs with religious themes aimed partly at Jews, but mostly at Christians. Occasionally you do see tasteful pieces, but a lot are kitsch: replicas of the Ark of the Covenant, candlesticks in the shape of Samson pushing the pillars of the Philistine temple, Noah’s Ark models, lots of crucifixes. You see this stuff all over Israel, but particularly at places with religious resonance for Christians. I’m afraid in my head I have an image of pilgrims from the Bible Belt being the main consumers of this stuff. That’s probably me stereotyping; I’m sure there are Evangelicals from Texas or Alabama with a highly developed aesthetic sense, but they aren’t buying this stuff.

To be fair, my parents have a small model of a Hasid that I think my sister and I bought for them on one trip. I think that’s more tasteful, either because it’s very small in comparison with some of these pieces or because it’s not directly religious. There’s something about taking imagery that goes to the core of Western religion and art and using it for cheap, mass-produced tourist-fodder that is inherently kitsch.

Goats!

Today we went to see the ruins of a Talmudic era (2nd to 8th century) village at Katsrin. It was fascinating, with restored or partially restored houses, wine and oil presses, bread ovens and the partially restored synagogue (Beit HaKenneset – no Yiddish shul in Talmudic times!).

Also on site were a large peacock and two rather cute small goats. One was definitely female (no horns, but udders and long ears framing her face like payot/sidecurls). The other, with horns, looked male to me, but one staff member addressed it in the feminine, “Mah at ochelet?” (“What are you eating?”) The answer, apparently, was a piece of string, which in goatish fashion it refused to relinquish. I now want a goat for a pet…

davened Mincha (said Afternoon Prayers) in the ruined synagogue, but it didn’t feel as “connected” as I had hoped. I’m not quite sure what I was hoping for. I got interrupted by a tour group, which didn’t help.

Afterwards we went into town in modern Katsrin to the archaeological museum there, mostly Roman era coins and pots, but some prehistoric artifacts and a carving of a biblical story that connects to me for reasons I won’t mention here.

Afterwards we sat and ate ice cream. I had a Magnum Duet, which isn’t kosher in the UK (most Magums aren’t, sadly). To be honest, it didn’t taste that different to classic or white Magnums, which are kosher (in boxes of four only, not loose).

We’re planning on looking for falafel for dinner, which we haven’t had on this trip yet.

I realise my mood seems better in these posts. The sunlight and warmth help, but I suspect it’s mostly the freedom from responsibility. My parents are dealing with a lot of stuff and I don’t have to worry about job hunting. Even my status as the only family member here who speaks any Hebrew is rarely needed, as most Israelis speak better English than my Hebrew, although I did speak a bit to order dinner last night. Sadly, tomorrow is the last proper day of the holiday.

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.

“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.