Optimism/Pessimism

Today seems to be the first hot day of summer.  I’m not good with heat, particularly not the humid heat we have today.  I can’t really win, because I don’t mind the cold in autumn and winter, but I need more light than is available in the UK then.

I have a job interview tomorrow for a job that looks quite good.  There’s another job I applied for last week and one I want to apply for this week that also look quite good.  Which is all good, but scary.  Scary to think I could get a job and scary in a different way to think I might not get one.  Plus the scariness of the hours as some of the jobs are full-time and I’m not sure if I could cope with that right now and others are part-time, but require work on Fridays, which can be problematic in the winter when Shabbat (the Jewish Sabbath) starts mid-afternoon.  This is a problem most frum (religious) Jews have, but it’s easier to negotiate with a boss when you’re working a full week, rather than Friday being one of only three days in the office.

I’m having another day where just doing anything is an effort because I feel so depressed.  That’s not good when I need to do interview preparation, apply for a job, cook dinner, sort out bank paperwork…  I’d also like to write a short article on managing with chronic illness in the frum Jewish community and try to sell it to a Jewish newspaper, but I don’t know when I’ll have the time.  I suppose it’s good to be busy, but with depression at the same time, it can be a struggle.

What I am trying to do that takes no time, but quite a bit of effort, is to “thought stop” my worries, particularly about employment and marriage (or rather, the absence of both).  It’s hard when it feels logical to be worried, but I can see the worry does not actually help me, as it so rarely leads to positive action; if anything, the wallowing in despair stops me taking action and alienates those around me (as seen with my friends recently).  I’m trying even to feel hopeful that things could change for me, even though this seems like magical thinking (“The Law of Attraction” etc.) rather than reality.  I’m trying also to be at least open to the idea that God loves me, and that I’m not a terrible, useless, stupid person.  It’s hard.  It’s hard to know what’s realistic.  At the moment I don’t feel that I can write professionally, but I don’t know if that’s realistic or not.  And I keep remembering my friends telling me that I have a “whiny, self-obsessed blog” and I can’t stop it, even though I know it’s not helpful to think about it.

Another thing I need to decide on is whether I’m going to volunteer at the asylum seekers drop-in centre on Sunday.  I haven’t gone for a couple of sessions (it’s monthly).  I’ve become nervous about it.  I used to enjoy helping and looking after the children, but lately I’ve found it harder.  I feel awkward sorting the donations of clothes, feeling that I am confusing men’s and women’s garments as well as adult’s and children’s, but I’m embarrassed to ask anyone for help.  I thought volunteering would help me to meet people, but no one really talks to me, I’m too shy to talk to anyone else, and there’s no one my age there anyway (most are either older than me or teenagers/older children).  Few people are as frum as me either, so far as I can tell from clothing styles, although that’s not so much of an issue.  But the worst is that now there are so many children in the creche area that I feel totally overwhelmed.  It’s impossible to keep the children in the creche area and not running around the hall and onto the raised stage at the far end of the hall (which they love to escape to and go up – I have visions of them falling off) and they seem to be more disobedient lately (possibly because of competition for toys) and I struggle to control them.  Telling off other people’s children seems wrong and I lack the authority to do it.  I also struggle to engage with children over the age of seven or eight, which I suppose was the age where my own differences from other children started becoming obvious, although that may be rationalisation on my part.  So, I’m scared to go, but maybe that’s a reason why I should go, to confront my fears rather than running from them.  I seem to have done a lot of running away lately.

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The Demons of Self-Criticism, Doubt and Guilt

I’m being tormented by the demons of self-criticism, doubt and guilt today.  Wondering if those around me only pretend to like and support me out of kindness and pity, rather than genuine positive regard.  Wondering if I do anything in my life right.  Not just if I can get a job or sell some writing, but if I’m a good friend to anyone or do any genuine chessed (kindness).  E. says I’m a good friend to her (and she’s OK with me talking about her online in this way, so I feel comfortable saying that), so that’s something, but I wonder about other people.  I know I’ve had the problem at work in the past of thinking I’ve annoyed my boss and so staying out of her way and thereby not asking important questions and making much bigger mistakes, which is not good.

There’s a Jewish joke about two yeshiva bachurim (Jewish seminary students) who go for a walk in the woods and are mistaken for a bear and shot at.  They drop to the ground.  After a moment, one cautiously raises his head and says, “It appears we are still alive” and the other one responds, “And what is the evidence for this assertion?”  I know I’ve driven people away repeatedly asking, “What is the evidence for this assertion?” whenever anyone says I’m not stupid or useless or wicked, but I don’t know how to stop it.  I really am not convinced by the evidence that I’m not stupid or useless or wicked.

I’m second-guessing everything I put on my blog now.  The comments I made about interactions with people in shul (synagogue) yesterday seemed innocuous to me; I thought they might reflect badly on me, but not anyone else.  Now I wonder if that is true.  I went back and made that post private.  I worry about things I’ve said in the past, when I was sure this blog would remain anonymous.  Now I wonder if people will find out my identity one day.  Perhaps people will be able to go back and discover who I was writing about, or interpret comments that I thought were neutral or positive in a negative way.  Given that social anxiety and autistic social interaction difficulties are such a big part of my issues, I wonder if I can actually blog about how I feel without saying anything about people that might possibly be recognised and misinterpreted by other people.  I also wonder if I need to go back through the blog and purge a lot of posts.  I don’t think I’ve ever said anything that obvious or negative, but maybe I have.

The resultant depression from all this (or maybe it was a cause rather than a result) has led to a rather wasted day.  I struggled to do some interview preparation for Tuesday, but was really too depressed to focus on anything.  I only managed a few minutes of Torah study for the same reason.  I’m feeling so depressed, I’m not even worried about being unemployed or lonely forever – I just feel that my mood can’t get worse, even if my situation can.

My only real achievement was going to shul (synagogue) for Mincha and Ma’ariv (Afternoon and Evening Services).  I tried to arrive just as they were starting to avoid having to talk to anyone, but mistimed it and was late.  I felt horribly self-conscious and depressed the whole time I was there, even wanting to self-harm at one point, because I was feeling so self-loathing and tense (self-harm can be a release).  I wondered, not for the first time, what would happen if I appeared as visibly ill as I feel emotionally.  If I arrived at shul covered in blood, bruises and open wounds.

Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year) seems a long time ago, somehow, although it’s less than ten months ago.  I had hoped for a better year, a fresh start, but it didn’t really happen.  I’ve just drifted, drifted through jobs and job hunting and drifted through friendships and community life, as well as drifting through my own religious life.  I’ve struggled to take back control of my religious life, to try to get some joy and meaning out of it instead of just effort, but I haven’t really managed it.  I suppose I don’t feel as angry with HaShem (God) as I did then, which is good, but I don’t feel that I have any meaningfully close relationship with Him.  I still worry that His plan for me is just more suffering.  And I know people say that you have to expect Him to do good for you for it to happen.  I just expect Him to treat me as He has for the last twenty years.

I’ve lost friends this year and last year.  I feel sad about that.  I don’t have many to lose.  While I may have been responsible for losing this year’s friends, on some level, I wasn’t responsible last year (it was more that we drifted apart), but I still lost that friend however it happened.  I have another friend I haven’t seen for years and don’t know how to see him again, given how busy his life is.  I’m not on Facebook, so I tend to drift out of people’s lives, as they only publicise news on there.  I’m not sure how many children this friend has, whether he has had more since we last met.  I suppose I feel as if I’m drifting out of my friendships too.

Fever Pitch

I got two emails today that made me feel anxious.  The shadchan (matchmaker) from the values-based dating service got back to me and said she’s put me back in the system and I got an email from the assistant editor of a science fiction magazine saying that they don’t have formal submissions guidelines, but I can pitch ideas to them.  Both these things are terrifying me.  With regard to dating, I was hoping I’d somehow slipped through the cracks, to be honest.  I don’t feel up to dating right now despite my loneliness and despite what my parents and my rabbi mentor say.  However, this soon slipped from my mind as I focused on the other worry.

With regard to the science fiction magazine, it’s more complicated.  I googled the rumoured Blu-ray releases of TV science fiction for later this year as this magazine often ties articles to merchandise.  The rumoured releases aren’t confirmed yet, but they gave me an idea of some things to pitch.  It’s a start anyway.  I spent the afternoon and early evening brainstorming article ideas and writing a pitch based on them.  I do feel awkward that the clips (examples of my work) are all several years old, but I guess that’s what happens when one is starting out.

I do feel anxious writing the pitch.  It’s fear of rejection, but also social anxiety fear of drawing attention to myself and possibly looking stupid.  Or maybe even fear of moving on with my life.  I suppose a therapist would suggest I’m self-sabotaging out of fear of moving forward and that’s probably true on some level.  I’m trying to treat it as a learning curve and tell myself I will be rejected (at some point), but I can grow from rejections.

A flier sent out by my shul (synagogue) had a quote from Rabbi E. E. Dessler (twentieth century ethicist) who said, “When you have a true ambition for something, you will not give up hope.  Giving up hope is a sign that you are lacking in ambition to achieve that goal” so we shall see how much ambition I have.  I’m trying to believe that things could go well and that God could want this to work out for me, but it’s hard.

(It also feels deeply weird to be writing to someone whose opinions I’ve been reading in this very magazine since I was thirteen years old, but that’s a side issue.)

Celestial Intervention

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

***

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

***

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

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

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

Bounded in a Nutshell

“I could be bounded in a nutshell, and count myself a king of infinite space, were it not that I have bad dreams.” Hamlet, William Shakespeare

I felt a huge amount of anger with HaShem (God) yesterday evening.  I’m just so lonely and feel so useless and I can’t see any way out.  It’s illogical to be angry with Him about my own failings, but I feel that if I wasn’t autistic and depressed, I wouldn’t be so lonely and isolated, which leads on to anger with Him for making me autistic (blame for the depression is more complicated).  I feel if I wasn’t autistic, I would be able to function in the frum (religious) world as He wants, but as it is, I can’t function.

I didn’t know how to process the anger, so I ended up hurting myself for the first time in a while.  I hit my legs with my fists while trying to talk to HaShem;  later I scratched myself slightly, but I’m not quite sure why I did that.  I have been fantasising about death again lately too, mainly just thinking that however bad things are here, one day I’ll be dead and unable to feel any more pain.

***

I’m still struggling with what to do about dating.  It still feels wrong, morally wrong, to date while I’m not just unemployed, but not even sure what I want to do with my life any more.  And I can’t face the thought of rejection and it seems there are so many reasons why someone would reject me (autistic, depressed, weird geeky interests, didn’t go to yeshiva or otherwise tick the appropriate frum boxes) even without being unemployed too.  Nor do I look forward to having to turn down someone I don’t feel is right for me.  And I’m wary of thinking that things will be better if I’m in a relationship (although it is true that I have felt better when I’ve been in a relationship in the past, even if I wasn’t “recovered”).

However, I just feel so lonely.  I feel like everyone has their partner except me.  This is blatantly untrue (a number of my friends are single), but reflects how I feel.  I feel that I am mostly self-contained.  I don’t need other people with me all the time.  I have solitary hobbies and even things like watching TV I prefer to do alone (I don’t like watching TV with other people because I don’t watch TV casually.  I don’t channel hop, I only watch things I want to watch and which I think are worth my time, but then I watch them with complete concentration and dislike noise and interruptions, particularly as the programmes I watch tend to be plot-heavy and reasonably complex to follow).  I should really be happy living alone as I’m an introvert and a bit of a loner.  But, as seen when my parents are away, when I’m actually alone, I do get more depressed, even though logically I should welcome being alone.  I do, on some level, need people around me, even if I don’t interact with them much.  I also need to be able to love and to feel loved and I’m rather starved of both of these things and have been much of my life.  My parents and my sister do care about me, but there are so difficulties in those relationships, most probably stemming from my autism and my having different “love languages” to my family.  We probably aren’t very good at showing love to each other in ways the other person can comprehend.

I try to cope with things and be self-contained (“If you are miserable alone, you will be miserable in a relationship” as everyone says), but I just feel so unbearably lonely and unloved that it’s impossible to escape the depression for long.

***

I saw the psychiatrist today.  It didn’t go well.  She focused on my unemployment, repeatedly telling me that I should get a job, which wasn’t terribly helpful.  She did suggest doing voluntary work, which is probably a good idea.  I didn’t feel like she was really listening, nor did I have the confidence to tell her that my depression and social anxiety are just as bad, if not worse, when I’m working, because of issues surrounding autism and mental illness in the workplace.  In fact, I haven’t told this psychiatrist about my autism at all, as the last one said that if I’ve been told I haven’t got it by the Maudsley Hospital, I don’t have it and that’s final.  As my GP has referred me for another assessment at the Maudsley, I’m not going to raise the issue again until I’ve had that assessment.

As well as sounding disappointed with me for not having a job, she sounded disappointed with me for not having friends.  I said I had “one or two” which is a simplification (I have two or three I’m in contact with regularly, but via text as they live elsewhere; I have one or two friends who live locally, but I usually only see them in shul (synagogue)).   I couldn’t really be bothered to explain as she didn’t seem interested and I was struggling to understand her accent; possibly she was struggling with mine too.  She asked if I am in a relationship; she didn’t really react when I said I’m not.  When she asked what I do when I’m not job hunting, I said I write a bit, which she misheard as “write a book” which is basically true so I didn’t correct her.

She asked if I have thoughts of self-harm or suicide and I said yes, because I have had them in the last couple of days, but she didn’t really seem to care as I said I wouldn’t act on the suicidal thoughts, which is probably true, and that I wouldn’t act on the self-harm thoughts, which was a lie because I did last night.  I don’t know why I lied; probably because it was very minor and I just wanted to get out of the appointment room.  I just didn’t feel comfortable opening up to her as she seemed to just want to process me quickly and get to the next patient and seemed to think that finding a job will be a panacea for me.

***

Today’s potential jobs: a school librarian maternity cover job (I don’t want to work in further education again after struggling previously); an “information assistant” that seems to be a library assistant role rather than an assistant librarian and has a lethal-looking commute; and a role billed as “knowledge librarian” but which also seems to be a library assistant role rather than a trained librarian role, judging from the lack of professional skills in the job description and which also requires SharePoint experience that I don’t have.  I was then reminded that I applied for a “knowledge librarian” role a few days ago; I think it was the same job as the job descriptions are similar, although it’s hard to be sure, as both jobs are advertised through different agencies and don’t state the name of the company that is advertising the job (this happens a lot and is very frustrating).

It is probably no wonder that I really want to do something else with my life, something I find more rewarding.  But, just as I don’t have the courage to start dating again, I don’t have the courage (or knowledge and perhaps the ability) to try to write professionally.

***

I feel like I’m coming down with a migraine, so the rest of the day is probably a wipe-out now.

More In Heaven and Earth

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

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

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

***

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

***

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

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

***

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

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

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

***

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

Crisis of Faith

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Anyway, enough politics.

***

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

***

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

Stressful Week Ahead

I don’t have much to say today.  Or rather I do, but I don’t feel that I should say it, so this is a bit of a placeholder post to check in with the people who I know read this regularly and to hint that there will probably be more stressful posts in the not too distant future.

I’m not currently in therapy and I use my blog as my main outlet for emotional release, so it’s hard when something is upsetting me that I don’t feel I should talk about here.  I know my blog isn’t truly anonymous (and it could potentially become totally non-anonymous if I ever publish material from it as I would like to do) and talking about people behind their back seems wrong even if it isn’t clear who they are.  But I am currently dealing with a difficult situation.  I think I know deep down what the answer is, but it’s painful, and not just to myself.  I hate to hurt someone else, even if I know that it is necessary (although I’m not completely sure that it is yet).  I’m trying to keep an open mind for now without over thinking things, but I’m not terribly good at either of those things.

This situation and my job interview on Tuesday between them are going to throw me out of my comfort zone and make the next week or two difficult.  I think I really just want to be safe or comfortable in my life, with a settled career, family and community, but I don’t have any of those things (I have family in the sense of my parents and sister, but not wife and children) and the effort to get them is a big struggle, often too hard for me to cope with, or so it seems.  I suppose God probably doesn’t want me/anyone to be too comfortable in this world, because we’re here to grow and growth generally doesn’t come from comfortable complacency, but I wish I could be a bit more comfortable.

What is more positive is that I’ve finished the third draft of another chapter of my Doctor Who book. I’ve got three more chapters to redraft, and I need to write one from scratch for the latest episodes.  The problem is that I still can’t get it to ‘sing’ the way I want.  It’s OK, but it’s not great and I’m not sure whether anyone would really want to publish it.  It’s very frustrating.  I have things to say, I just don’t seem to be able to write them the way I would like.  I know a few people seemed to like the blog posts I wrote that the book is based on, but I’m not sure whether anyone would pay good money for the book version, even if it is significantly longer (approximately twice the length with one and a half new chapters, if I finish the one I need to write from scratch).

Wasting Time

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I just feel like I want to cry right now.

***

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

Tested

I felt quite depressed on waking again.  Although I must have been in bed for about twelve hours (this was at nearly 1pm), I still felt tired.  On the whole I’m probably doing OK, mental health-wise, at the moment, but I get bursts of depression and/or anxiety most days that last for a while and I’m definitely struggling to find my ‘place’ or role in terms of career, family, dating and fitting in to the Jewish community.  I tried telling myself that where I am (moderately depressed and anxious, autistic, unemployed etc.) is where God wants me to be, but it’s hard.  I keep wondering why I have to be like this.  But I don’t think we can know such things, at least not at the time.  Maybe years later, when we see how things turn out.

I just did a civil service initiative and judgement test for a job at a ministerial library that I applied for.  Part of the test was on attitudes to work.  I think the ideal candidate bounds out of bed in the morning and hurries joyfully to work and sets him or herself a number of career goals culminating in becoming the head of a department by the age of forty.  The test is not really set up for someone confused about their career choice and suffering from depressive anhedonia (lack of enjoyment) and lack of motivation.  My concentration during the test was poor too.

Then there was an initiative test which was based largely around management issues.  I’m not ready for a management job (and probably never will be), which suggests that the job is not right for me.  I found the multiple choice framework frustrating, as I frequently wanted to add clarification or a caveat, or felt that none of the answers given were very good, even though I could not think of a better one.  I suspect that I’m not management material.  I got through it rather quickly.  I was told it should take about fifty minutes, but I did it in thirty, which makes me worry I went through it too fast, but I couldn’t really connect the questions to anything that might really have guided me.  I did do some study of management for my librarianship MA, but nothing that really helped here.  Although it is fun to imagine Sir Humphrey Appleby, the Machiavellian civil service chief from Yes Minister being made to sit one of these tests (“Where’s the option ‘brief against your critics to their boss until he fires them’?”).

I did, apparently, pass the test and am still being considered for the job, which is good.

Weekend Round-Up

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

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

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

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

***

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

Confessions of a Justified Sinner

I feel depressed and listless today.  I don’t know why, aside from the usual reason (depression).

My sister and brother-in-law came over for dinner, but I didn’t feel very social.  I was better once they arrived than I thought I would be, but dinner was mostly small talk, which I struggle with from an autistic point of view.  I get bored by the conversation and struggle to think of anything to say; when I do, I don’t always make myself heard.  I find the conversation draining especially as it seems to be very loud; I’ve noticed Mum and Dad are both getting a bit hard of hearing which may be why it seems to be so loud, but I find it draining.  I don’t know if other autistic people have coping strategies for this kind of thing.  I don’t want to be rude.  I try to take an interest in family members’ lives, especially big life events (my sister and brother-in-law are moving into their first real home together this week and my parents were talking about their recent holiday), but sometimes it gets too much for me.  I feel bad about this, but don’t know what I can do about it.

***

Purim is over now, so I should be in Pesach-preparation mode.  I usually find some interpretations of the exodus story or the haggadah to make the seder more interesting and not just a reading of the same text each year, but I have little enthusiasm for it this year.  It’s partly the depression and partly the – well, religious crisis is putting it too strongly, but lack of religious motivation I currently have, the feeling that I’m a bad person and can never change because God has stacked the deck against me with autism and depression.  Plus, last year I thought that no one actually appreciates what I say, except my Dad and maybe my sister.  I fear the other guests just want to get on to the meal and go home and that they tolerate me at best.  I don’t know if this is true.  I would love to go to a seder one year where there is a real discussion and I learn something, but I can’t see it happening any time soon.

***

I googled “how to deal with sexual frustration.”  Most of the pages assumed I was in a relationship I had got bored of and wanted to rekindle.  The ones that assumed singledom mostly suggested things that aren’t halakhically-acceptable.   Other than that, it just said sports or hobbies as displacement activities, neither of which have worked for me in the past and neither of which are really options at the moment, mainly because of depression leaving me drained.

Perhaps most people would have the confidence to date and if I was like them, I would be asking my parents to set me up with their friends’/neighbours’ children as they (my parents) want.  Certainly the daughter of my Mum’s friend whose profile I saw on a dating website has a couple of things in common with me.  But I’m too scared of rejection, too sure that no one could love someone as depressed, autistic and especially unemployed (or about to be unemployed) as me, especially as her dating profile specified that she wanted to marry a professional.  Maybe, as I implied yesterday, I’m scared to date for reasons beyond social anxiety, scared of losing independence or something, or just scared of yet more rejection.  Or maybe it’s just lack of self-esteem; confident people seem more able to blag their way to what they want, whether it’s a partner, a career or position and esteem within the community.

***

Out shopping today I felt very angry with God.  I know lots of autistic people would not change how they are and see autism as a difference and not a disability, but I keep thinking that so many of the bad things in my life would either not be present or would be easier to deal with if I was not autistic, or perhaps if my autism had been diagnosed earlier.  I might not be depressed, might not be single, might not be lonely, might not be unemployable, might not be so poorly socialised into my religious community… and so on, and so on.  Nor do I have the “autistic superpowers” some autistic people claim to have; I can sometimes go into hyperfocus, but I don’t have useful sensory sensitivity or a special interest that is socially useful or which makes me popular.  I suppose it’s crazy to go down the route of “what if,” but it’s hard not to when real life seems so stagnant.

I just keep asking why God would do this to me.  I’m open to the idea that God makes us suffer to grow or so that we learn to help others, but I can’t see how I can realistically help others when I’m in this state and as for growing, if anything, as earlier paragraphs might have indicated, I’m going backwards, getting less religious.  I guess if my emunah (faith) wasn’t so strong, I would seriously be contemplating going off the derekh (stopping being religious), I find my religious life so dull and sometimes painful and with such few positive aspects to it at the moment.  I just happen to believe that God exists and that this is how He wants me to live, for reasons I don’t understand.  I still worry that one day I will stop believing and doing and then all this effort will have been wasted.

***

There was an article in the Jewish Chronicle a few months ago about a charity in Israel that helps people with moderate learning disabilities, including non-high functioning autism, to get married.  They provide practical and emotional support for a couple with learning disabilities to learn to live together.  I think, how can it be possible for someone with more severe autism than me to get a job and get married, and yet my intelligence just seems to make it harder for me to find a job or a wife, for reasons that I don’t really understand.  It doesn’t help that I’m not sure what help I want/need at the moment.  A friend suggested A S Mentoring to me as being able to help with my employment needs, but having looked at their website, I’m not sure if they’re offering anything that could help me; I want to be more sure what I want before contacting them.  Similarly with dating, maybe if I had the confidence to date, a lot of the issues surrounding it would fall away, but I’m too scared of rejection to dare to ask to be set up with anyone or to ask someone out.

***

I did at least go shopping today and did about twenty minutes of Talmud study.  I also worked on my Doctor Who book for an hour and a half or so (albeit with distractions), sorting out the third draft of chapters two and three.  It’s quite good, but not great, but I’m not sure I really have the skills to make it better.

***

This bit is probably of limited interest to most of my readers, but I’m watching Quatermass, the fourth and final science fiction serial featuring Professor Quatermass, broadcast in the seventies, more than twenty years after the first three serials.  It’s a bleak story to watch while I’m feeling depressed (SPOILERS: pretty much all the sympathetic characters die horribly), but it is haunting and psychologically terrifying by turns, as well as reflective of the social unrest and stagflation of Britain in the seventies.  That things in real life never quite turned out as badly as they did in Quatermass might give hope that Brexit and populism might not lead to the end of civilisation as we know it.  (As an aside, and getting really far off the subject, Nigel Kneale is not often lumped together with John le Carré, but both share an outlook that might best be described as “Tory Anarchist” (to quote George Orwell), horrified by Soviet totalitarianism, but also disgusted by American capitalism, hoping for some kind of kinder, authentically British alternative, but resigned to Britain’s post-imperial decline.  There is definitely more to consider here e.g. the skill both writers have for creating a fictional world through dialogue and a few telling details. </autistic special interests>)

Depressing Thoughts

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

Waving a Magic Wand

Trigger warning: suicide

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

***

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

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

***

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

***

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

***

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

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

Professor Quatermass Appeals to the Mutated Astronaut’s Vestigial Humanity

Trigger warning: suicide

Feeling incredibly depressed today.  I got to bed really late last night.  I’m not sure when exactly.  I wasn’t surprised, given how much I slept during the day.  Somehow I woke up when my alarm went off at 10.00am and knew I wouldn’t get back to sleep (I don’t know why this doesn’t happen to me on Shabbat), so I got up, ate breakfast, glanced at the newspaper, felt depressed.  Or more depressed, as I was already feeling depressed.

I feel alone, but I’m supposed to see my sister and brother-in-law today and I want to cancel because I can’t face socialising.  I suppose I felt that my sister was pushing me to see her and I wasn’t quite sure why, except that she always sees me when our parents are away.  It feels a bit like she’s checking I’m still alive.

***

I went back to bed after breakfast.  Buried myself under the duvet.  Try to shut out the world, but it’s still there.  No matter how vividly I try to imagine someone who loves me, she doesn’t exist.  She can’t exist, I suspect.  I just want someone to hold me and tell me I’m OK.  I’m such a screw up.

***

Just feeling awful today.  My parents are back tonight (they land about 1.00am so I probably won’t see them until tomorrow).  I’m not sure if that’s good or bad or both or neither.

I tried a bit to use CBT to challenge my thoughts, but it’s hard, partly because they (the thoughts) started as something inchoate at the moment, emotions and impressions rather than clear thoughts (I know CBT therapists would say that can’t happen, but I often wake up feeling depressed).  Trying to accept that things can get better.  Five years ago, I had just finished my MA, which took three and a half years rather than the single year it should have taken.  I wasn’t sure I was ever going to be able to work, but after a month or two of ‘recovering’ (sitting around feeling depressed), I started volunteering at a library again, turned that into a paid part-time job within a year (just), then went on to other jobs, which is all positive so maybe in another five years I could be somewhere else, much more positive than where I am now… but at the same time, I’ve never had a full-time job, most of my jobs have left me feeling useless and a burden on society and I’ve only had one real relationship since then (one and a half, maybe) and I can’t imagine any of this changing.  I’ve never been well enough to work full-time or rarely felt that I’m doing good work in a job.  Everything just seems so hopeless, I can see myself being in exactly the same situation in five years time, struggling through part-time, short-term jobs, depending financially on my parents, no romantic relationships, loneliness, self-loathing and depression.

I want to love and be loved so much, and it’s just been impossible for me for so much of my life.  I made a couple of good friends, which is something.  I can see that things have got better, or at least different, in some respects, but IF my life is improving (and I’m not sure that it is), it’s moving slowly.  Geologically slowly.   I can’t see it getting good enough any time soon, and probably not in time for me to ever have children.

***

I feel frail and mortal.  I’m not suicidal, but I just wish I wasn’t here.  I wish I’d never been born.  I wonder if I should try to go back to my psychodynamic therapist, as I don’t think CBT on the NHS is likely to happen any time soon and I’ve got sceptical again about whether CBT is able to help me; I can’t ‘prove’ to myself that my problems are just from thinking about things “wrongly” when my problems are objectively real and hard to tackle.  I have autism.  I have few friends.  I did not go to yeshiva, which is an important part of my religious community.  These are objective facts.  I suppose a CBT therapist would say that what matters is the interpretation I put on them, that I catastrophise my autism when some autistic people live happy lives, I devalue my existing friends and say they can’t satisfy my emotional needs and I catastrophise my yeshiva-non-attendance when there are plenty of ba’alei teshuva (Jews who became religious late in life) who didn’t go and thrive in the community.

***

I’m worried about seeing my sister and brother-in-law later.  I don’t feel able to ‘people’ today.  I want to work on my books.  I feel I should (that word again) be applying for jobs, and cooking dinner, and doing chores.  I’m not sure why she wants to see me, intellectually I can see she’s probably worried about me, but I can’t feel that.

I feel agitated and angry and despairing and I’m not good at reading people when I feel like that.  I can’t intuit that anyone cares about me, I can only know it intellectually.  Maybe that’s why I feel so alone, because it doesn’t feel like anyone cares about me, it’s just something I know, like the Ten Commandments or lists of Doctor Who actors and stories.  Maybe that’s why I’m so desperate to be held, to make love, because maybe then I will feel loved instead of just knowing it.

Maybe that’s why I don’t feel like God loves me.

***

For reasons I can’t say here, I feel that I was never good enough for my ex-girlfriends, that I was a rebound relationship or someone to go out with because there was no one better.  That’s probably also partly paranoia, but also partly rooted in things that were said or done to me over the years.  It just reinforces the feeling I’ve had for a while that only someone who was previously in really bad, abusive relationships would want to be with me, because only if someone was really hurtful would I seem better in comparison.  That I can only be second choice.  That I can only be with someone who is ‘settling’ for me.

***

So despairing.  Last night and today watched World Enough and Time/The Doctor Falls, which I consider Peter Capaldi’s last ‘real’ Doctor Who story (I tagged on the last five minutes of Twice Upon a Time, which I otherwise can’t stand).  I’ve mentioned that my grip on reality is not the always strongest, sometimes, particularly when feeling bad, I escape into fantasy, but often masochistic, self-hurting fantasy.  Imagining myself in the ‘deaths’ of all the Doctors.  Imagining dying and then turning into someone else, someone alive and potent and different and not me.  Better than me.  Anyone else would be better than me.

I want to die, but I haven’t got the guts.  I’m living for other people.  I’m living because I don’t want to upset my parents, and maybe my sister and friends, and because I’m scared of pain and hurting myself permanently, but non-fatally.  I don’t think good things will ever happen to me and I probably don’t believe that they should.

***

I finished the second draft of my Doctor Who book.  Which is good.  But I’m not going to have the time to do much else today, which is a pain, not least because of going out to eat.

I also went for a brisk half-hour walk.  I feel calmer, probably because I tired myself out (I have little stamina these days), but still struggling with thoughts and fantasies.  Apparently women with high-functioning autism are less likely to have special interests in mechanical objects (e.g. trains) and more likely to immerse themselves in fantasy worlds and to have trouble distinguishing fantasy and reality.  In this, as in some other things, I come across more like an autistic woman than a typical autistic man.  I fear that my grip on reality is not strong and one day I will flip over into psychosis (which I think is also more common in autistic people, although I’m not sure about that).  My fantasy life is vivid, but unimaginative and alternates between narcissism and masochism associated with my suicidal thoughts, although working out which triggers which is a chicken and egg situation.

Depressive Thoughts

(A stupid, pointless title, but I’m feeling awful.)

Last night after I blogged my mood went down quite rapidly.  I felt like I had been going flat out all week with networking workshop, Jewish Book Week, work two consecutive days and my parents away.  I just fell back into despair and lethargy and crawled into bed at midnight hoping I would wake feeling better or at least more alert.

However, I had strange dreams in the night.  First I was on the Tube and ended up helping a doctor who was helping a pregnant woman who I thought was a nun, but looked, in retrospect, like she was wearing a hijab.  I was aware that she had cut herself off from her community by getting pregnant, but I felt sorry for her.  I was worried about not getting home in time for Shabbat (the Sabbath), but was assured by the doctor that it didn’t start until 7.30pm (in reality, that won’t happen until the clocks go forward).  Then things shifted and I was in some sort of classroom (although I think I and the friends/other people with me were all adults).  A huge and intimidating man, about twice my height, stocky and with a long, thick beard was trying to test me on reading Hebrew aloud; I stumbled on this, but couldn’t convince him that this was due to social anxiety stopping me reading confidently rather than poor Hebrew literacy.  We started to daven (pray) the Friday evening service, but the intimidating teacher told us to skip Kabbalat Shabbat as it was too late.  At which point I woke up, I think.

I am not entirely sure what any of this means, although I can see that it was an anxiety dream (which may be why my sleep was not restful) with some obvious allusions: the pregnant “Muslim nun” rejected by her community represents my fears of being rejected by the frum (religious) world for being too worldly, but also by Doctor Who fandom for being too religious (she was still a nun even after presumably breaking her vow of chastity); more prosaically, the motif of being late for Shabbat reflects my fears that I’ll run late tomorrow getting ready for Shabbat by myself, plus I do still get occasional anxiety dreams about breaking Shabbat even though I’ve been shomer Shabbat, at least at a basic level, for half my life.

***

It was fortunate that I woke up when I did, as I had slept for eleven hours, dramatically oversleeping and having to rush out and skip both shaving and davening (praying) to get to my psychiatrist appointment on time, both of which I hate missing.  The radio was on in the waiting room and I found it irritating.  I don’t know why all NHS and social services waiting rooms seem to have TV or radio on these days.  I find it really annoying and it’s not terribly autistic-friendly.  It was a new psychiatrist as the one I saw last time is ill.  The appointment was OK, but I felt that I was just a statistic on the waiting list being processed.  She didn’t ask about my case history or the causes of my problems and didn’t seem terribly aware that I’ve been depressed without cure for most of the last sixteen years or more.  Maybe she didn’t know.  I didn’t say anything about autism, because the last psychiatrist was dismissive of it, saying I’d already been assessed and told I was not autistic.  My GP has sent my autism referral through and I’m on the (very long) waiting list, so there didn’t seem any point talking to this psychiatrist about it at this stage, although I did get vaguely upset when she said that social contact will get easier the more I practise it.  For a neurotypical person, maybe, not for someone whose brain isn’t wired to understand people.  The psychiatrist was also a bit blasé about my work issues, saying I would find part-time work easily.  I didn’t ask for a medication change, as the clomipramine seems to work a bit, sometimes, even though it still leaves me quite depressed and has led to a lot of weight gain.  I don’t think it’s particularly sensible to mess around with medication while I’m working if I can help it anyway.  I have another appointment for three months time, so I’ll see what happens and maybe ask to change things then.

***

In the afternoon I did not do much, but was busy with my job application spreadsheet, which I keep up to date, even though I have not actually applied for anything for weeks and have missed a lot of deadlines, alongside a few other chores.  I was hoping to work on one or both of my books too, but I didn’t get the chance again.  I’m so busy just surviving from day to day that I don’t have time for anything more future-orientated, whether writing books or job hunting.  I didn’t actually achieve much today, but I didn’t really relax and get the rest I need either.  Maybe I will be able to rest over Shabbat, but who knows?

***

Looking at job adverts again today brings back my work worries.  I know I’m over-qualified for my job, which is not too difficult, and although there are harder elements (choosing appropriate material for exhibitions is difficult but interesting, although it would help if I knew the collection better, but my background in history has been very useful here and won me praise from my line manager).  But the whole reason I like my job is because it’s not pushing me too hard right now, when I am struggling with self-esteem and energy and motivation issues as well as confusion about whether I’m autistic and how I should live my life if I am, as well as how to manage my mental health (with or without autism).  I don’t know what to do.

***

The work worries bleed into relationship worries, because I don’t think anyone will date me until I’m working much closer to full-time.  I know that I could still get married at some point, but it seems a long way off, which in turn makes having children (which I really want to do and think about a lot) less likely.  But it’s the loneliness that is so hard, and difficult to survive.  It’s probably loneliness more than anything that has triggered my suicidal times, even if it gets mixed up with despair and hard to isolate.  I don’t know how to survive the ten or twenty (or thirty or forty) years that I might have to wait until I’m functional enough to look for love and to meet someone who can see past my considerable dysfunctionality and all the baggage and drawbacks I come with.

I just wish I had people to talk to who understood me.  It’s been hard to talk to my parents lately, which is probably my fault.  I get irritable and sarcastic when I’m depressed, not to mention focused on catastrophising.  But my parents don’t entirely understand depression or autism entirely, although their understanding is greater than some people’s.  That’s not their fault, but it makes it hard.

I have friends who understand depression and autism and care about me, but they don’t live locally and I can only communicate via text and email, which is better than nothing, but also lacks something somehow, even to a socially anxious and avoidant person like me.  My local friends don’t really know so much about my issues, for various reasons, again, largely my fault.

I just wish there was someone in my life who cared about me and understood me and I could see regularly (and feel comfortable seeing regularly).  I know I depend too much on other people for my self-esteem, but I don’t know how to change that and I get annoyed by people who aren’t lonely telling me I have to love myself before anyone else can love me.  I could just as easily state that other people have to show me I’m worthy of love before I can love myself, because I don’t see myself as worthy.

***

On a related note, my sister phoned tonight to see how I’m getting on without my parents.  I struggled a bit to deal with the call.  I find that usually happens when she phones me.  I thought it was because she usually interrupts dinner/Doctor Who, but I wonder if it’s an autistic predictability thing and I would cope better if she told me in advance that she was planning to phone at a particular time on a particular day.  Still, I think she takes better care of me than I would be able to do if our roles were reversed.  Maybe I couldn’t cope with someone in my life who cared about me and understood me.

***

About 8pm, I was watching Doctor Who and noticed that I was crying.  I thought it was odd, as I didn’t consciously feel depressed.  Then about twenty minutes later, I realised I was depressed, painfully depressed and sad.  It’s strange how out of touch I am with my emotions.

***

I read a davar Torah (Torah insight) sent out by my shul (synagogue) for Rosh Chodesh Adar II (New Moon) upset me.  I felt I was being attacked and to some extent deserved to be attacked.  I don’t really know what ‘spirituality’ or ‘Jewish spirituality’ means any more, if I ever did.  I try to study some Torah every day and pray at least a bit of the three daily prayer services (although I often miss Shacharit on non-work days like today).  I want to be a good Jew, but I don’t really connect with HaShem (God) or Torah much these days emotionally.  I certainly can’t find “authentic spiritual joy” for Purim.  It’s just a struggle to get through Purim in one piece.  I want to be a good Jew, but it’s hard enough trying to perform the mitzvot (commandments) in my situation without worrying about kavannah (mindfulness), spirituality, meaning or connection to HaShem.

Then shiur (religious class) tonight was about genuine joy being connecting to HaShem via Torah, but we get distracted by false pleasures.  This might reinforce my feeling that I’m depressed because I’m a bad person and God hates me, which I hadn’t felt quite so much recently.  I think I might have missed the point of the shiur, though, or wilfully misinterpreted it to make myself feel bad.

Whether I misinterpreted things or not, I feel that I’m a bad person and a bad Jew who doesn’t connect with HaShem through davening, mitzvot and especially not through Torah and who is wasting his life on meaningless transitory pleasures like Doctor Who and writing (despite this I am still thinking of cosplaying (dressing up as a fictional character) the fourth Doctor for Purim, but I might not have the guts to do it).

So much of Jewish religiosity is tied up with community, which is problematic for me because of social anxiety and low self-esteem (it’s feeling that people would reject me  if they knew the real me that keeps me away more than actual experience of rejection), and with family, which is difficult for me because my parents don’t connect with Judaism in the same way as me and because when Jews say “family” they primarily mean spouse and children (maybe most non-Jews think like that too).

The silly thing is that I really believe intellectually, I just can’t connect emotionally with my religion, perhaps through depression (or autism?).

***

I can’t believe anyone reads this rubbish I write.  I shouldn’t write it, but I need to vent and here you go.  I suppose it’s better than hurting myself, at least assuming it isn’t just a very clever and complicated way of hurting myself, which might in fact be the case.

Over-Thinking?

Early afternoon:

The Doctor Who story The Space Museum, most of which I watched last night, has the regular characters trying and apparently failing to change their own futures, only to realise that they have had an effect on the people around them that has saved them.  I find myself wondering if I’ve ever had a substantial positive effect on those around me, as I can’t think of anything I’ve done myself that will change my own future to something even vaguely positive.

***

I woke up in the middle of the night with a headache and spent the next couple of hours alternately trying to sleep and watching Doctor Who again (The Chase now, perhaps Doctor Who‘s least successful attempt at comedy.  Say what you like about The Horns of Nimon, at least it raises a smile).  I did eventually fall back to sleep, but not before a lot of lying in bed feeling depressed and lonely.  I suppose I did at least steal a march on my Doctor Who research viewing.

***

I have a meeting later today with a matchmaker from the values-based matchmaking service.  This feels like a huge mistake.  Every time I’ve tried dating it goes horribly wrong.  Now I’m going to have to list my core values as religious commitment and integrity while covering up that I don’t do a lot of stuff frum (religious Orthodox Jews) Jews should do because of mental health issues and autism.  So much for religious commitment and integrity.

Basically, I’m just too broken for anyone to be able to love me and perhaps for me to really be able to love anyone else.  I think I should wait a couple of weeks and then ask for them not to set me up with anyone for the foreseeable future, ostensibly while I find a permanent job with longer hours, but also until I get ‘better’ (which is never going to happen).

***

Just seen an article stating that people with mild/high functioning autism/Asperger’s Syndrome do no better in life than people with more severe autism, in terms of careers and relationships, even if (like me) they were highly functional as children.  “‘The implication of our findings is that the consequences of having an autism spectrum disorder with profound difficulties in communication skills and social impairment can’t be compensated for by either high intellectual level or normal language function,’ says lead investigator Anne Myhre, associate professor of mental health and addiction at the University of Oslo in Norway.”  Apparently high quality early intervention is the only real way of having a positive outcome, which is bad news for me (I’m thirty-five and still not officially diagnosed, although convinced that I’m on the spectrum).  I don’t think I will qualify for benefits and having been on benefits for depression in the past, I would not to live off them (it’s pretty soul-destroying even if you have no alternative), but I don’t want to be a burden to my parents and I worry what will happen when they are gone.

***

Later…

The meeting with the matchmaker was OK in the end.  Much quicker than I expected; she asked for some personal details, briefly asked about career, hobbies and interests and then values (my own core values and those I am looking for).  I was expecting that she would ask questions to help me articulate and understand my values.  As it happens, I have a fairly good idea of my values from thinking about them with regard to previous relationships and my well-being class, but I felt a bit under pressure to rattle off a list of things I see in myself and want to see in a partner.

I listed my core values as religious commitment (which she didn’t count, apparently because I’d already asked to be matched only with shomer Shabbat women), integrity, and pursuing knowledge.  I think I may have also put personal growth on the list too.  In terms of what I’m looking for, it’s religious commitment and integrity again, but also empathy and trust.  I think the matchmaker may have put empathetic on my list of own values, but on reflection they probably are core values for me too.  I never think of myself as empathetic because I think, “Oh, I’m autistic, I don’t understand people” but (a) autistic people can feel empathy and (b) a lot of people say I’m empathetic, so maybe it’s true.  I certainly try to understand what people feel, even if that’s something I have to do consciously and with difficulty because of the autism rather than doing it intuitively like neurotypical people can do.

I did mention a bit about depression and autism, despite feeling overwhelmed with different advice from different people about whether to do so.  I don’t think they can legally tell anyone something like that anyway and the matchmaker didn’t seem to think it would be a problem, but there’s obviously no telling how a date would react if I told her.  I do still feel pretty pessimistic about dating, partly because of my financial situation, partly because I can’t believe anyone could really care about me with all my issues.

I felt really tense afterwards, as if I had had a very traumatic experience.  This seems to happen to me a lot lately; I suppose I’ve always been somewhat anxious, but nowadays I seem to experience everything remotely stressful as actual trauma.  Or maybe I’m more aware of existing feelings?  A while back my therapist (when I was in therapy) lent me a CD on dealing with trauma and maybe that made me more aware of the symptoms, bearing in mind that I often have a poor understanding of what I’m feeling.

The dating service is free and only matches people if they can find a someone who meets the criteria (i.e. both people’s values match); they don’t just match people for the sake of it the way professional matchmakers do.  So there’s no way of knowing whether I’ll even get a single date out of this, but I guess I feel like I’ve done something.

I am doing OCD second-guessing at the moment, going back over what I said and wondering if I should have said something else.  I feel I fudged it a bit.  I thought of preparing a list of values beforehand, but decided against it because I thought they would ask me questions to help me understand myself in more detail.  When this didn’t happen, I floundered a bit and now I’m worrying if I said the right thing.  I have to say that I think about my core values quite a lot, but the ones lower down the list shift a bit depending on my recent experiences, which values I think I’ve been showing more recently and which I’ve not focused on so much.  So I do worry a bit about whether I chose the right values.

I guess sooner or later I have to just accept that everything is in the hands of HaShem (God) and accept I can only do so much, doubly so with something like marriage.  Unfortunately, while I don’t currently feel that HaShem hates me, I feel He probably does want to put me through a lot of difficult situations, for whatever reason, so it’s hard to be confident and trusting.  I suppose that takes me back to The Space Museum at the start of this post and the feeling that our lives are essentially unpredictable and the patterns we think we see turn out to be illusory, while things we miss turn out to be far more important.

Or I could be over-thinking things again.  I have been told that I do that.

My Identity = My Thoughts?

Just a thought I had that I thought was worth getting down while it was fresh rather than leaving until tomorrow:

The whole ‘I have no share in Olam HaBa (the Next World, which for this post can be either Heaven or the messianic era)” fixation that I’ve had for the last few years started with my Pesach OCD, thinking (correctly) that we didn’t previously keep the special Pesach (Passover) dietary laws properly through ignorance and (incorrectly) assuming that was the same as deliberately flouting them and would be punished the same way i.e. through losing my share in Olam HaBa.  Since then the feeling has never really gone away for long.  This has puzzled me a little, as my religious OCD is now reasonably under control.  Obviously these thoughts have a receptive audience in me, given that I experienced a lot of rejection from authority figures as a child and it’s easy to project that on to God and assume He hates me, as well as using this a focal point for my own self-loathing.  But I wonder if there is something else here too.

I just found myself thinking that while some people may have to rectify a particular trait or thought process to have Olam HaBa, I would have to change my whole mind, because I’m just full of ‘bad’ thoughts all day long.  I was thinking about having offensive or insulting thoughts about other people at the time, but I could apply it to religiously offensive or violent or sexual thoughts.

When I was doing CBT for my OCD, my therapist gave me some research results that show that, for example, over 50% of people have felt a sudden impulse to say something rude or insulting to a friend even though they were not angry with them; over 20% of people have, on seeing a knife, thought of slitting their own wrist or throat; and 11% or women and 18% of men have had the impulse to masturbate in public.

It’s reassuring in a way to see that extreme thoughts similar to those that I experience are just normal, albeit perhaps more frequent and intense in my case than for most people, which is probably the result of the OCD anxiety itself (the more you try not to think about something, the more you think about it).  But somehow I still make the equation “My identity = My thoughts” and therefore assume that having ‘bad’ thoughts mean I am a bad person even if I don’t act on those thoughts.  And because bad thoughts have no place in Olam HaBa, they would have to be removed for me to go there… but then there won’t be anything left because I am just bad thoughts!  Or I think I am just bad thoughts, because I think my identity is my thoughts which is tantamount to saying my soul is my consciousness, which is probably not theologically correct.  At any rate, the assumption in Judaism is that a Jew has an element of Jewish identity even if he or she completely rejects Judaism consciously, which would seem to indicate that our soul is something deeper and more durable than our conscious thoughts.

I’m not sure that I’m explaining myself well here.  It’s a shame I’m not currently in therapy, as I would like to know what my previous psychodynamic therapist would have made of this.  There is probably more to say about this, but it’s late and I should go to bed.  Perhaps I will return to this train of thought in the coming days.

Inadequate and Defective

(Massive trigger warnings for suicide)

I feel awful.  Just totally inadequate and defective.  I bought a present for the people who invited me for Shabbat dinner and was relieved when no one answered the door (although I thought I could hear people indoors) and I had an excuse just to write a note and leave the present on the doorstep without speaking to anyone.  I don’t feel up to going to this big shul (synagogue) meeting tonight.  I don’t really feel fully part of the community anyway and I hardly ever make it to shul.  I wouldn’t know what to look for in a rabbi or be able to explain a vision for the kehilla (community).

I feel that I can’t find a role in the world.  Some people with autism can find a role, sooner or later, and I think that helps them to function and to feel they don’t have to succeed at things neurotypicals succeed at if they don’t want to.  A lot of people at my autism group seem to have jobs in IT, particularly programming, which probably isn’t a surprise to anyone.  I don’t have a role.  I thought librarianship might be it, but it looks like it isn’t, at least not without doing a considerable of remedial training.  I don’t have a role in the frum (religious Orthodox Jewish) world, which has a very narrow selection of roles largely determined by gender.  I don’t fit frum male roles.  I’m not a great Torah scholar, I didn’t go to yeshiva (rabbinical seminary), I can’t really study much Talmud, in fact I don’t have the energy, concentration and motivation to study much Torah at all.  In a previous community, I was involved with the shul, I was a regular attendee at minyan (prayer services) and often led services, but I’m too scared and ashamed of myself to do that in this, more religious, community and again, I don’t have the energy, concentration and motivation to get to minyan every day, let alone three times a day.  I’m never going to earn enough money to be a big philanthropist, I don’t have a home of my own to invite Shabbat guests to (and single men inviting people to meals would be considered weird; cooking is definitely gendered female (so my culinary abilities are a liability more than an asset in dating, sadly)) and it looks increasingly likely that I’m not even going to have children to get nachas (pride, reflected glory) off them.

That pretty much rules out all the frum roles open to me.  I don’t know what I do with the rest of my life now, especially as I’m not well enough to work full-time.

I’m having suicidal fantasies again too.  I guess the thought of spending two and a half discussing how to pick a new rabbi would make a lot of people contemplate death, but I really do feel a lot of the time that life has no promise for me.  Who would really want to live without love?  And not only does it seem certain that no one will be able to really love me the way I would want or let me love her, it seems unlikely that I will ever be financially secure, confident, well-liked or happy either.  I can’t see anything in my life that makes it worth living, but I can’t talk to anyone about this.  If I had cancer and missed the meeting tonight because I was too ill from chemotherapy, everyone there would understand and be concerned about me, but with depression it’s a completely different question.  I’ve hardly even told anyone about my depression because I’m so scared of the response I might get.  I guess stigma affects a person even if, like me, people have rarely said anything directly to me that could be considered stigmatising; it’s the fear of stigma that terrifies me.

It’s actually scary that suicidal thoughts have been such a part of my life for so long that they don’t even scare me any more.  I know I’m unlikely to act on them while my parents are alive, so they’re just more mental noise, like all the other static between my ears.  I’m such a drama queen that I would probably want to kill myself in some big, operatic way, like Sherlock Holmes faking his death by jumping off a tall building in public in the Sherlock episode The Reichenbach Fall.  That said, I think I’m more likely to kill myself with an overdose than anything else as the thought of doing anything that gets blood everywhere is not appealing to me.  To be honest, the two main things keeping me alive are (1) knowing, on some level, that my parents care about me and would be upset by my death and (2) the fear of making a bungled suicide attempt and ending up with permanent physical injury as well as depression.

I feel that anyone else having regular suicidal thoughts would be signed off work and focusing on recovery, whereas I’m so used to it that I just try to function, go to work, go to shul, go to this meeting, try to daven (pray) and study Torah and so on, feeling terrible all the while and no one (outside this blog, where I play the drama queen) knows anything about what is happening in my head, how much pain I’m in and how hard it is to keep going.  Sometimes I wish people did know.  That’s an attraction of suicide to me, actually.  Sometimes I want to make a failed suicide attempt, so I could let people know how I feel, because I don’t know how to tell them; I guess jumping off a building is a way of showing people that you have a problem.  I guess people would call that a cry for attention, I just don’t see that as a negative thing, I feel I’ve had very little attention in my life and it’s only fair that I get some when I need it.

It’s just horrible to spend the whole time feeling like a defective, inadequate freak.  Not feeling loved.  Not feeling worthwhile or useful.  I know I need to love myself and feel happy in myself before anyone can love me, but I don’t know how I can do that.  It’s not something you can just suddenly do.  I’ve tried positive mantras, but I just don’t believe them, just as I don’t believe that God loves me (and no one frum has been able to prove to me that He does love me).  The problem with the CBT approach of thought control is that I have too much evidence of not being good, lovable or worthwhile for me to easily accept that I am any of those things.  So I end up just fantasising endlessly about death and dying as a release.

Boldly Going

Today’s good news is that my contract at work has been extended to the end of March.  I don’t know how much credit I can take for that, as I’ve only done three days work so far, most of which has been spent on induction and training!  But it’s good news and takes some of the pressure of job hunting (which I’ve let slide somewhat in the last fortnight).  I am still terrified of making some huge and staggeringly costly mistake with the rare books, though.

***

I mentioned yesterday an issue with my shul (synagogue) fees.  I got phoned by one of the finance people just now.  I was taken by surprise – I do prefer to plan ahead for phone calls, otherwise I tend to panic, be confused, or just want to hang up because I’m not mentally in the right place.  This happened earlier when it was just my sister phoning to see how I am, so a surprise call from shul (which is causing me a lot of anxiety at the moment, both about being mentally well enough to attend about whether it has the right hashkafa (religious outlook) for me) and finances (which cause lots of people anxiety) was not welcome.  I confess I panicked and when he asked if it was a good time to speak, I said no.  Not really a lie, as I do need to get ready for bed soon, but I feel bad about it.  And now I’ve got a return call hanging over me, although he has at least given me the option of What’sApping.

Sometimes depression, social anxiety and autism make me do things I wish I didn’t do.  I mean things that are against my core values, like lying to someone (OK, I didn’t really lie, but I kind of did), the acting out that I don’t like to talk about here, or just being irritable.  I feel I’m far too irritable with my Dad in particular, but I don’t know how to change.  His method of communicating isn’t exactly great for communicating with someone on the spectrum, but I don’t know how to tell him that, especially if he won’t read the leaflet I left for him.

***

I got upset by something on Aish.com yesterday, which I felt was victim-blaming me for my issues and implying that if I really believed in God I would not be depressed, or at least I would not be unmarried and in a difficult financial situation, because if I really believed in God, He would make everything better.  E. said that I shouldn’t read Aish.com so much and that she sees their essays as pure propaganda.  I actually do see the theology presented there as simplistic.  I find some of their self-improvement and relationship advice interesting and useful, but reading more theological posts tends to get me annoyed sooner or later, but I do it anyway.  Maybe I should try to stop.

I just feel I need for contact with people sometimes and, given that my rabbi mentor is snowed under with work and not responding to my emails and that the rabbis at my shul are more Charedi (ultra-Orthodox) than I feel comfortable with, and that given that I have almost no frum (religious) friends, it is difficult to see where else I can go for religious discussion/support.  I do have a couple of frum friends, but I don’t like to bother them all the time.  There is the London School of Jewish Studies, but going to their classes involves staying out late, which is hard to do on work nights (and all the people there are twenty years or more older than me anyway, which doesn’t help from a social point of view).  Hevria used to help, but I’ve got hurt there in the past and I struggle to connect with many of the current crop of writers; I’m currently trying to avoid it as I probably should avoid Aish.  From that point of view, reading Aish is probably inevitable, like the way I aimlessly surf blogs and the like online trying to connect with people in other ways, even though I usually end up ‘triggered,’ lonely and miserable one way or another.

Re-reading this post from another blog today, I saw the following quote:

“For some, the satisfaction of leading a life bound to Torah is its own reward, but others might need to be assured that the righteous reap rewards and the wicked suffer punishments in the most prosaic of ways, preferably instantly and in plain sight.”

I try to be  in the former category, and, to be honest, my life being as it is, it’s the only really viable strategy for me to stay frum (religious), to accept access to the Jewish tradition as a reward in itself, but Aish is reflective of the idea, common in the frum community, that people get paid back for good or evil really quickly (William Kolbrener has a couple of good essays attacking this mentality in his book Open-Minded Torah).  I find this latter view theologically naive and simply false, but it’s hard not to get sucked into it when I see people on Aish, Hevria, Chabad.org or the parasha sheets in shul on Shabbat (the Sabbath) telling these kind of simplistic miracle stories and feel I inadequate and hated by God for not experiencing these kinds of miracles.

On a related note, I also struggle to cope with the idea of God as an unconditionally loving and forgiving parent.  I have no problem with God as benign Ruler or just Judge nor (more philosophically/metaphysically) with God as an infinite Being or the source of existence.  But because of some of my childhood experiences it’s very hard to accept the unconditionally loving parent.  My parents do love me unconditionally, but stuff that happened to me as a child that I can’t go into here made it hard for me to recognise that and accept it, let alone translate it to another level of reality and believe that I have a supernatural Parent who cares about me and wants to do good for me, or at least that He wants to do concrete goodness for me in the short-term, in this world, rather than some vaguely defined goodness in the future/the afterlife.

***

I’ve been clearing out old health-related papers: a huge pile of psychiatric reports going back to 2009 (which I think was when the NHS started sending them to me; there was apparently no report for my last meeting, late last year), and another big pile of CBT homework and occupational therapy reports.  CBT was helpful for me for my OCD (although not for depression) and occupational therapy was also helpful, as much, if not more so than psychotherapy, CBT and medication in getting me through my MA and into the workplace, but it’s vaguely unsettling to see so much of the last ten years of my life reduced to scraps of paper, and to be aware that much more could have been added that has been disposed of previously or was simply never sent to me (the psychiatric reports from 2003-2009).  Part of me worries that I will need this stuff some day, but I’ve never needed it until now and the NHS ought to keep copies (ha ha ha).  A lot of it is questionable anyway; the reports showed that my psychiatrist was often not listening to what I said, from how to spell my GP’s name to more important matters about my mood and cognitions.

***

(This next paragraph is relevant to a mental health/autism blog, it just takes a while to get there…)

I’m watching Star Trek: The Next Generation: Parallels.  I like Star Trek, but I haven’t watched it for a couple of years.  (I haven’t yet summoned up the courage to watch the latest series, Discovery.  The fact that they’ve made a big thing about being the first Star Trek series to use the f-word makes me wonder what their priorities are and if it is going to be ‘contemporary’ and ‘edgy’.)  The Star Trek universe is a reassuring, but slightly bland utopia, where all angst, doubt or guilt has been eliminated, along with personal eccentricity (unless you consider liking baseball an eccentricity).  The only person I can think of who has any of these traits is the minor character of Barclay, who is gradually therapied into ‘normality’.  Almost every character has won a shelf full of awards at Star Fleet Academy or on active service and several of them were ‘best X in their year.’  I wonder what would become of a weird freak like me in such a world, and whether autism has been medically eliminated in the way that Down’s Syndrome apparently hardly exists in Iceland because almost all foetuses found to have it are aborted.

(That’s at least relevant on a mental health blog; I’ll spare you the rant about the way Federation-style postmodern liberal pluralism strips other cultures of their internal coherence and meaning, leaving an empty, valueless, but inoffensive husk.)

As I say, I do like Star Trek, but this annoys me sometimes.  Doctor Who doesn’t present mental health or developmental disorders in a better way and arguably in a worse one, given how many villains are implicitly or explicitly identified as “mad”, but it does have a better track-record of showing harmless eccentricity in a positive light.

One thing I do like about Star Trek, though, is the camaraderie, the sense that the characters are real friends, although this makes me feel lonely and wish I had a group of close friends I could see regularly or work with.  The series bible forbade interpersonal conflict between the main characters, which is an odd thing to do from a dramatic viewpoint, but did create a cohesive set of characters, as well as providing reassurance for people like me who have difficulty dealing with conflict or accepting that friends can have disagreements and stay friends.

Fragile with Tears

After posting last night, I became very agitated and morbid.  I wrote the following paragraphs, but didn’t post them, partly because I didn’t want people to think I was about to kill myself, partly because I try to avoid posting more than once in a day (trigger warning for suicide):

I can’t stop thinking about suicide.  I don’t even want to kill myself, I just think I will one day, maybe in a week, maybe in fifty years.  More likely in fifty years, to be honest, when my parents are dead and I’ve lost touch with most of my friends.  I was just looking at suicide prevention stuff online and it was all about “If you kill yourself, your wife and kids will remember you as a corpse, they’ll have to move house because the resonances of the room where they found your body is [sic] too strong, they’ll be questioned by the police.”  Nothing about what if you want to kill yourself because you’re never going to have a wife and kids.

I have to hold on to the belief that my parents care about me, but sometimes it’s hard.  They don’t understand me at all and I don’t understand them at all.  It’s partly neurotypical vs autistic brains, but also different personalities, values and intensities of religious belief…

I’ve been told that God loves me, but I find it hard to believe, unless God on some level loved Hitler too.

I’m not in any danger of killing myself tonight, but I know I can never be sure I’m safe forever.

The ellipsis in the second paragraph covers some stuff I’m angry with my parents about, very trivial, but I had second thoughts about putting it in the public domain again.  In hindsight, it’s clearly an exaggeration to say that my parents don’t understand me at all and vice versa.  They probably do understand me to some extent, but not completely or anywhere near completely (I don’t know if anyone understands anyone else completely, even people who have lived together for decades).  But they don’t understand a lot about my mental health issues and autism and it’s hard to explain it to them.  Likewise, we’re on different religious levels with very different outlooks on life.  I don’t know how much I understand them.  Our brains are wired very differently is all I can say, but that’s not terribly helpful even to me, let alone to them.

***

I hear a lot regarding autism that autistic brains are “wired differently”.  I’ve taken to wondering what that actually means.  Maybe I’m being, well, autistic about this, but brains don’t have actual wires in them.  Does it mean the synapses don’t function properly or the connections between areas of the brain aren’t there?

***

At my well-being group today (what I was referring to as “resilience class”, but this is a more accurate name) I opened up a bit about autism, mostly because someone else there was being open about being on the spectrum and another person was talking about having brain damage from being in a car crash.  I hope I opened up for the right reasons, though, as I’m not always sure that I do.  It felt fairly safe, not least because there were little more than half the number of people who attended the first session.  I guess that’s how these things go.  I started the session very depressed and tense, but finished somewhat better, but my mood went down again on the way home; I’ve probably been  up and down all day.

I do think that the group is really for people with minor depression though.  The facilitators were talking about triggers and saying if something triggers you and you still feel depressed after after a couple of days, it might be an episode of depression.  Someone spoke about being depressed for months on end, but I’m just permanently depressed.  Out of the last sixteen years, I’ve probably been ‘not depressed’ for about two years in total, split into chunks of up to six months.  So that made me feel a bit hopeless.

Someone did say something helpful about “You can’t control the first thought, but you can control the second one.”  I thought that was interesting.

***

I looked over the notes I took at my new job last week, but I’m still worried there is so much for me still to know, even though officially I’m only contracted for another six days (over three weeks).  I really worry I’m going to mess it all up, but I’d like to stay working there if I can, as a higher education library with few client-facing interactions seems to be the best working environment for me so far.

One of the papers, detailing the handling of rare books and papers, cautioned me to be careful when handling things that are “fragile with tears”.  It meant “tears” as in “rips”, but I keep reading it as “crying.”  I think I’m “fragile with tears”.

***

I’m still lonely.  My experience of dating E. has taught me that there’s no point in dating anyone until I’m more financially secure, though, which could take years.  I’ve decided I need to wait until I have a permanent job, even if it’s part-time.  At least that shows I’m serious about my career and supporting a family, even if I can’t do it alone.  If something drops from the sky, I might reconsider, but I don’t think it’s likely.  Things like that rarely happen to me, although twice I’ve ended up dating or nearly dating someone who contacted me through my blog.  “Did you wish really hard?” to quote Doctor Who: The Doctor’s Wife.  Obviously I can’t wish hard enough.

***

A discussion on another blog makes me realise that, for all I talk about the frum (Orthodox Jewish) community, I’m too much on the fringes to really talk about it.  I was brought up going to an Orthodox shul (synagogue), but we were traditional rather than fully observant and I didn’t become fully shomer mitzvot (keeping the commandments) until around university age.  I still don’t really have many friends in the frum community, which marks me out as unusual for a frum person as they usually socialise within the community and often express the opinion that they would struggle to find common ground with non-observant Jews or non-Jews.  For me, I suspect I gravitate towards non-frum people not for the reasons I would have told myself in the past (I hate false piety; the frum world doesn’t accept my interests) and more because, in terms of the mental algorithms I use to function in a neurotypical world, it’s a relief not to have to run the “don’t say anything heretical/socially unacceptable” algorithm when I’m already using a lot of energy running the “how to interact with neurotypicals” algorithm, the “how to talk about my special interests to people who don’t share them” algorithm and the “how to share appropriately about mental health” algorithm.

***

I was going to do a whole big thing about this article, but it would be wrong and pointless of me to do so.  I just wish I knew how to have the kind of joy and purpose in my life, and in my Judaism, that the author speaks of and the belief that God loves me and believes in me.  As for “committing suicide in installments”… it’s an effort not to commit suicide in one literal go, just surviving is good even if I die a little more inside each day.  It’s a shame that the author of the original seven questions has died and so I can’t email him and ask.

***

An aside: when I started this blog, I used both ‘autism’ and ‘Asperger’s syndrome’ in posts and as tags, as I know both are used online.  A few months ago I became aware that ‘Asperger’s syndrome’ has been dropped as a separate condition in the DSM-5 psychiatric guidelines and also that it now appears that Hans Asperger, the doctor after whom the condition is named, collaborated with the Nazis in his native Austria.  I feel very uncomfortable calling myself someone with ‘Asperger’s’ now or ‘an Aspie’ but I wonder if calling myself ‘autistic’ or ‘on the autism spectrum’ to people who don’t know much about autism is a good idea.  I suppose it summons up images of the severely autistic and non-functional (e.g. Rain Man, although I’ve never seen that film) which can lead to stereotyping or disbelief that someone as outwardly functional as I am could actually be on the spectrum, especially as I don’t have a firm diagnosis yet.

Does anyone else have any ideas?  This comes up mainly at my well-being and depression support groups, which is the main place I would be open about my difficulties.  I have only opened up to one or two friends who don’t read my blog about this so far and am wary of saying anything at the moment, although part of me would like to do so.  I generally don’t even discuss my depression with friends who don’t read my blog, let alone the autism.

The Stuff in My Head

Another night of strange, disturbing dreams.  I should probably be glad that I usually don’t remember my dreams if they’re going to upset me.

***

I don’t really pay much attention to this time of year.  Not my festivals.  I do my introspection for Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year).  But 2018 has been crazy.  I had two jobs and got a third, but I messed the first two up and I’m worried I’m going to mess the new one up too.  I don’t know if I’m actually capable of holding down a job.  I did go on holiday by myself this year, for the first time, which was an achievement.  But otherwise the year was just depression and anxiety, and confusion about whether I’m autistic (still not conclusively resolved).

I guess if I take a longer-term view things are a bit better.  Five years ago I was limping to the end of an MA that should have taken one year, but actually took three and a half.  I was pleased about being nearly finished, but then the university started saying that because I had taken so long, they might give me a diploma instead of an MA, which would not have made me a qualified librarian (I got the MA in the end).  I had broken up with my first girlfriend earlier in the year after being sure that (a) we would get married and (b) I would never find another girlfriend if we broke up (the second of these wasn’t quite true, but nearly, at least so far).  I had never had a paying job, not even part-time (I don’t count coming in on occasional afternoons to do the filing at the office where my Mum worked when I was sixteen).

Since then I’ve got my MA, had three jobs and won a fourth and briefly been in another relationship.  This doesn’t make me feel much better, though, as the jobs were mostly disastrous and the relationship just got my hopes up only to dash them again; jobs and relationship alike both make me feel like an incompetent failure.

I probably have more friends than in 2013, but my social life is still largely based on the internet, despite moving to a different community with different shuls (synagogues) and starting going to support groups.

***

I feel so depressed today that it’s impossible to do anything.  Earlier I had Happy Xmas (War is Over) by John Lennon stuck in my head for some reason (I don’t think I’ve actually heard it yet this year), which is officially my least favourite song ever.  Not only is it a saccharin-sickly, sentimental (a choir of children!) and miserable dirge (and inaccurate – war is not over, however much you want it), it is indelibly associated in my mind with the winter of 2003/04, which was the worst time of my life, when I very nearly attempted suicide.

I was stuck in Oxford, first during term and then during the holiday, too depressed to work, but encouraged by my tutors to stay around in case my anti-depressants kicked in and I could catch up on the term.  I was regularly being visiting by psychiatric nurses, or irregularly visited, I should say, as I would have to wait in for them, but they would usually be very late, which messed up my plans and made me more depressed (although my plans were basically, “Try to get the energy to go out and buy food”) – this was long before autism was suggested, so I didn’t know just how bad I am at adjusting to changes.  My best friend (the woman I mentioned the other day) had stopped talking to me and I didn’t feel like opening up to anyone else in case they rejected me too, or perhaps just because I always find it hard to open up about depression (the woman who wasn’t talking to me had spotted the depression in me and asked me about it, which is pretty much a unique occurrence and one reason she was so special to me).

Happy Xmas (War is Over) was playing in a lot shops and getting a lot of airtime on the radio.  I don’t usually listen to music radio, but I also had terrible insomnia and was awake half the night in bed, listening to the BBC World Service, which has (or had) some music programmes late at night GMT.  I think as well as the Lennon original, someone had just released a cover that year.  Anyway, I heard it a lot and hearing it again just reminds me of that miserable winter and everything that happened in it.

***

The other thing in my head, weirdly enough, is Geoffrey Howe’s resignation speech, not because of Brexit or splits in the Conservative Party that might bring it to mine, but for the famous quote about “It is rather like sending your opening batsmen to the crease, only for them to find, as the first balls are being bowled, that their bats have been broken before the game by the team captain.”  I feel like that in my life, that my bat was broken before I even got onto the field.  I feel that whatever chance I might have had of love, family, friendship, community, happiness, anything I might want really, was taken away from me before I even had a chance to live in the world, first by autism and then by the difficult, perhaps even traumatic, things that happened to me as a child.  I know a lot of people with autism don’t consider it a disability, but a difference, even a positive difference.  However, I feel that I have gone so long without a diagnosis or help and have been on the receiving end of so much anger, hatred and incomprehension from other people that I simply can’t function in the world and would gladly get rid of this difference if I could, if I could just have a normal life.

I just want to have a normal life, with the normal amounts of love, friendship and happiness that normal people have.  Apparently this is too much to ask.  I think even then I could cope if I knew why I have to live like this.  I believe in God, so I believe there is a reason for my life being like this, being so miserable; ironically, it might be easier to cope with if I didn’t believe and just assumed there was no reason beyond blind chance.  It’s the not knowing the reason that makes coping with misery and loneliness extra hard, just as I can’t stand not knowing if I’ll ever find love and happiness.

I don’t know where I go from here.  I’ve been having thoughts of death all day, but I’m not really suicidal.  I went for a walk for half an hour and did some grocery shopping, but the effort of it exhausted me as if I had run a couple of miles.  I was supposed to sort out papers and emails today, but I’m not sure that I will be able to do so.  I also need to cook dinner as my parents are out tonight (a wedding, again, of someone rather younger than me – I am on the shelf).  All I want to do, all I feel capable of doing today, is sitting in my room and watching Doctor Who.

I just want to be loved.  Is that too much to ask?  My family do love me, they just don’t understand me, or always express affection in a way I can understand.   And I do have a couple of friends who care about me, but they’re so far away.  Knowing that doesn’t really make it any easier.  And still, I want to have a romantic relationship, which is a different kind of love.

***

I feel that I’m a really tightly wound-up person.  I worry that eventually I will explode or, more likely, implode, and I wonder what kind of damage that would do, and to whom.

***

I fear that this post has degenerated in incomprehensibility. I wonder sometimes what the people reading this blog think of me.  I get some likes, so I guess some people must find this interesting or moving, but I find it hard to believe that.

Always Have, Always Will

I struggled last night, but I can’t say why, because of lashon hara (malicious speech) issues.  Basically, there is someone in my life who periodically upsets me to a very great extent for no good reason and who for a variety of reasons I have to keep in my life.  I think this person has undiagnosed issues of their own, but they won’t seek help.  It’s very difficult.  The upshot was that it ruined my Shabbat evening.  I was very upset and couldn’t even read very much.

The other thing that upset me a bit last night was reading this paragraph in the book Sparks from Berditchov by Yaakov Klein:

Every Jew who is serious about his avodas Hashem [service of God] knows how many benefits this lifestyle yields, not only in the next world, but in this world as well… A life lived per the Torah’s Divine guidance is one of utmost vitality.  Every moment is packed with meaning and every circumstance inundated with the possibility of earning a piece of eternity.  There is hardly a situation that an oveid Hashem [servant of God] can’t handle; the raging rapids of life’s ups and downs may toss him about but he remains safe, ever protected by the lifejacket of “Gam zu letovah – This too is for the good,” and “Whatever the Merciful one does is for the best.”

I hardly know where to begin with this, so remote is it from my experience of Judaism.  Vitality?  Meaning and the possibility of earning eternity?   Handling difficult situations?  None of these reflect my religious reality.  I feel such a bad Jew reading this.  I don’t think I’m earning much reward and I don’t feel vitality or meaning, nor am I able to handle difficult situations through my trust in HaShem (God).  I do what I have to do because that’s what God says, because I happen to believe that the Torah is true and that I should follow it.  It looks like I am following because I have an autistic adherence to rules as much as anything more spiritual.  I don’t have the personal connection with God that my rabbis and teachers say is necessary to have reward in the Next World (not having a share in Olam HaBa (the Next World) is not a punishment as such, but a reflection of the fact that one has not built a connection with God in the spiritual world through good actions in this world).

I had some strange dreams at night after all this.  I had a work anxiety dream.  I don’t remember the details, but it was a mash-up of my first two jobs, and I had to go back to work there, except I think I was a volunteer again, rather than a paid employee (I had been a volunteer in the first library I worked in before being paid).  I also dreamt about the first woman I asked out, who turned me down and eventually stopped talking to me because of my depression (she was worried she would say the wrong thing and make me suicidal, but her stopping talking to me actually made me suicidal).  I stop thinking about her for long periods, particularly when I’m dating, but then she comes back to my mind.  In some ways she matters as much to me as the two women I was actually in proper relationships with.  At any rate, we were friends for quite a long time.  I do periodically google her, so I know she’s married with children and living in Israel.  Sometimes I wish I could just tell her that, yes, I’m still depressed, but there’s a reason I’m so messed up (autism) and I don’t blame her for what happened, and please would she at least feel pity for me.

I’ve been thinking about her all day and, after Shabbat, playing music that makes me think wistfully about lost love.  I wonder if anyone could ever care about me this much?  But it’s just fantasy, not real love.  I suppose I don’t really care about her, I care about her as she was fifteen years ago, when I last saw her, and she would say I care about an image of her in my mind, not the real her.  She said if I liked myself more, I would fall in love with someone more like myself; I still think she was a lot like me, more so than the two women I have actually dated (both of whom I thought at times that I was almost certain to marry), but obviously not enough.   It’s never enough, really.  I’m never enough for anyone.

After Shabbat I spent some time starting to paint my Doctor Who miniatures.  I like having a hobby that isn’t just reading or writing (as I seem to have stopped jogging), but I can tell that I don’t paint miniatures as well as I did in my teens.  I’m not sure how much is patience or skill – it’s just another thing I seem to be less good at than I was years ago.  I feel that I’m becoming useless.  The fact that my hand shakes when I’m trying to paint the fine detail doesn’t really help.  I painted for about an hour, excluding preparation and tidying time, but then my attention began to wane and I started getting a headache, probably not from paint fumes (they are very small pots of paint), but I thought it was a good idea to stop.  I basically finished K9 (because he’s easy), but the Doctors will require a lot more work.  I hope to spend some time on it in the next fortnight, before I have to start work.

Emotions

I went to bed late having achieved very little of what I planned for yesterday, but at least it was for a good reason (having my plans disrupted by getting a new job).  I did sleep through the whole morning, though and still woke up exhausted.  To be honest, when I sleep more than nine hours, I suspect I sleep too much; too much sleep can actually make you more tired.  But it can be hard to get up when I’m depressed and/or burnt out.  I spent the afternoon filling in paperwork for my new job, when really there are other tasks (mostly different paperwork, and emails to friends I have neglected) that I want to get on with before I start my new job.

I feel a bit more positive today, although I’m still terrified that I’m going to make huge mistakes in my new job.  My confidence in my ability to function in the workplace has plummeted thanks to my last two jobs.  It doesn’t help that I’m still not sure why I find it so hard to function: is it depression, social anxiety, autism or an interaction of all three?  Comorbidity is difficult.  It’s hard to build coping strategies when you aren’t sure what the problem is.  I just hope it’s not laziness or incompetence.  I don’t think it’s laziness, but I worry that it might be incompetence.  I do feel that depression has made me stupider.  I doubt that I could win a place at Oxford these days as I did in my teens.

Still, I do feel more positive about my position and about my life in general today.  This job fits so well with the other things I’ve managed to get set up, particularly the resilience course I’m doing, that it does feel bashert (predestined), not a  word I use very often.  It’s easier to believe that HaShem (God) is controlling my life in a positive way when things seem to be going well, even though perhaps it shouldn’t really make a difference, given that I don’t significantly doubt the existence of an omnipotent, benevolent God, just whether He cares about me or, more accurately, whether I’m good enough for Him to care about me.

When I stop to think seriously about the future, I feel less optimistic.  I guess I’m like a cartoon character than can run off a cliff and keep going until I look down and realise there’s nothing supporting me.  I can feel OK and positive about the future, but then I think, “This is a short-term, part-time job; I’m still no closer to finding a permanent job or to being able to take a full-time job; and without a job, and with all my ‘issues,’ I have nothing to attract a partner, and I doubt I will ever earn enough to support myself when my parents aren’t able to…” and so on.  That’s when I plummet like Wile E. Coyote.

I don’t think I’m particularly logical much of the time; to be honest, looking at the world, I doubt whether most people are logical most of the time, regardless of their religious views or lack thereof (I’m not even thinking of big, scary socio-political things here, just day to day things).  I know I’ve said before that I used to think of myself as a logical person, but in recent years I’ve come to realise that I’m a very emotional person who just thinks he’s logical.  I don’t think there’s anything wrong with being emotional some of the time, but it’s problematic when I’m emotional, but think I’m being logical e.g. when I come up with complicated ‘proofs’ to show that I’m a bad person, that no one cares about me, that my future will be terrible etc.

Actually, one of the scary things about mental illness is how it warps your perception of reality.  I remember stuff that I thought was true when my OCD was worse, stuff that now seems unlikely or even completely illogical, but which I was sure was demonstrably true at the time.  Scary stuff.  And that was just neurosis, not psychosis!

I find emotions difficult, particularly from a religious viewpoint.  I guess the fact that, like many autistic people, I’m probably somewhat alexithymic (have difficulty identifying and understanding my emotions) doesn’t help.  The Torah commands, or appears to command, various emotional states: loving HaShem and one’s neighbour, not  coveting other people’s things or bearing grudges etc.  I think there was a disagreement between the Medieval commentators about this.  Some said, the Torah does indeed command emotions.  Others said, it commands actions only; if the Torah commands love, it only commands to act lovingly; if it forbids bearing a grudge it forbids only acting on a grudge.  This is easier to accept than the idea that we can switch our emotions on and off (and also fits with the fact that Jewish thought generally prefers to deal with particular actions rather than abstract concepts, unlike Western philosophy).

It only occurred to me last night that the alexithymia might influence me in another way.  I’ve written before about being upset that I don’t experience simcha shel mitzvah (joy in the commandments) and that one rabbi told me that I won’t experience this until I have got over the depression (which I no longer think will happen; I just think I will have to learn to manage it) while my rabbi mentor said I should have some simcha shel mitzvah even now.  It occurs to me that I might not really know if I’m experiencing any simcha shel mitzvah and maybe I shouldn’t beat myself up so much for not experiencing it.

The Tunnel at the End of the Light

My main activity today was a workshop on autism and employment and higher education.  This included a lot of helpful information about whether to disclose autism (and by implication mental health issues I might also want to disclose) and employers’ legal obligations towards the disabled.  I was hoping for some information on coping strategies and adjustments for various problems one might experience, but I guess people with autism are too varied for a ‘one size fits all’ approach or perhaps there will be a workshop on that topic at another time.

In fact, the workshop really did bring home to me how autism affects different people very differently.  I knew this in an abstract way, but it was interesting to see it in action.  For instance, some people get affected by bright lights or loud noise and needed warning about a video that included these; I am usually fine with those, although sudden loud noises make me jump (I guess that’s the same for a lot of neurotypicals, though), but put me in a room with a lot of talking, even quiet talking, and pretty soon I will start spacing out as my brain tries to work out what everyone is saying (not consciously; I’m not eavesdropping ) and gets overloaded.  Similarly, even bright or flashing lights during the day are fine for me, but when I’m trying to sleep, even dim light or a little light under the crack in the door, will keep me awake.  Similarly, with communication, I did not feel confident saying much at all, and some other people looked similarly socially anxious and reluctant to join in, whereas other people were chatty or even a little disruptive by not know when to stop talking.

Part of my brain was trying to work out how I fitted in with this diverse group of people: was I ‘more’ or ‘less’ affected?  It’s not really a helpful perspective.  My therapist said that I tend to see mental illness as a competitive sport and part of me wants to be the ‘most depressed’ person or the person with the most diagnoses.  This, I would guess, stems partly from self-pity and partly to try to explain (to myself as much as to others) how badly my life has seemed to have gone wrong over the last fifteen years and to make excuses for myself or at least to provide mitigating circumstances.  But it was impossible really to create such a hierarchy at the autism workshop; even on the very superficial level at which one can get to know people in a two hour workshop, we all seemed incommensurable, each too different to compare to anyone else.

Related to this, I have been finding it hard over the last few days to work out how to conceptualise myself.  I think one problem of our society (by which I mean Western society rather than Jewish society for once) is a tendency to think in terms of oppressor/victim binary pairs (the Leninist “Who?  Whom?” – who is oppressing whom?), whereas in reality (a) things are not usually so clear cut and (b) even if one is a victim, it is not particularly helpful to think of oneself as a victim.  It leads to learned helplessness and low self-esteem.  Take it from someone who has ended up there.  But how to think of myself in a more positive light is hard.  Judaism as a culture/religion is less focused on victimhood, despite the fact that for many centuries Jews were (are) victimised.  Unfortunately, Jewish religious identity would focus on fulfilling the Torah,or at least fulfilling one’s potential, and being loved by God, which is problematic for me as I feel that I do not meet my religious obligations or even my potential and that consequently God does not love me.  I hope that CBT will help me frame things in a more helpful way.

It’s hard to do this with so few role models.  I don’t really expect there to be loads of books or TV programmes about autistic-depressive-socially-anxious-Orthodox-Jews, but there isn’t really much I’ve come across remotely like me.  I’m currently reading the novel Turtles All the Way Down, which is a reasonable portrayal of OCD.  However, in terms of portrayal of autism, The Imitation Game made me feel lonely and useless and that was a reasonably positive portrayal; I absolutely hated The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time which I felt failed to engage with people with autism at all sympathetically.

As for Jews… well, there are lots of Jews out there in fiction, but ninety-nine times out of a hundred they’re ultra-assimilated, there to provide a dash of ‘diversity’ without the author actually having to do any research.  In terms of detailed, positive portrayals of religious Jews, there’s Chaim Potok and that’s about it.  I haven’t read/seen Disobedience because the story wasn’t my type of thing and I worried it was going to be critical of Orthodox Judaism.  Don’t even mention The Yiddish Policeman’s Union, which started promisingly, but ended up by supporting every crazy antisemitic conspiracy theory going (author Michael Chabon has since distinguished himself as a rabid critic of Jews, Judaism, the Jewish State, and pretty much everything Jews do other than assimilating themselves out of existence).

So I’m left to turn back to nineteenth century Yiddish literature which is (a) hard to get hold of in translation and (b) often targeting Orthodoxy satirically as much as positively and even when it’s not, I find it hard to see myself as peasant or even a rabbi back in the shtetl (Jewish towns of Eastern Europe).  I did watch a bit of webcast comedy series Soon By You but the relationship-driven plots just made me feel more alone and upset that I don’t live in the USA where I would have a statistically greater chance of meeting someone like myself.  I haven’t seen Israeli drama Srugim, but I imagine that would inspire similar feelings, only replacing the USA with Israel.

Most of my heroes growing up were outsiders in other ways (aliens, robots and time-travellers) and were role models only via metaphorical interpretation.  More recently, watching Sherlock again I expected to empathise with Sherlock Holmes, but while the nineteenth century original was possibly autistic and probably bipolar, the modern-day TV version is, by his own admission, a “high-functioning sociopath” and almost sadistically rude.  I find myself more drawn to the minor character of Molly Hooper, a pathologist with apparently low self-esteem and an unrequited crush on Sherlock.  To be honest, if she was real, I’d want to date her (if she was Jewish), but I fear I wouldn’t measure up to Sherlock, even if he does manipulate her and generally treat her appallingly.

The sad truth is that, here in the real world, 99% of the time people with autism, depression, anxiety or OCD don’t actually have compensatory superpowers.

(As an aside, there’s an amusing poem by Philip Larkin called A Study of Reading Habits in which he reviews the literary heroes and anti-heroes of his childhood and adolescence, notes that these days he identifies more with the cowards and failures than the heroes and finally advises the reader to “Get stewed:/Books are a load of crap.”  Thus spake the Librarian of Hull University.)

I think I’ve mentioned this before, but Israeli statesman Shimon Peres was asked if he saw a light at the end of the tunnel regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict; he replied, “There is a light, the problem is there’s no tunnel” which I took to mean that the outlines of a peace deal are obvious to most people (other than fanatics on both sides); the problem is working out how to get there.

Similarly, I know what my ideal life would look like: mental health issues under control (I’ve given up on comprehensively escaping them and want just to manage them); a job I can do, which pays the bills and which stimulates me intellectually; the time/energy/mental health to meet my religious obligations (prayer, Torah study etc.); a wife and children; a certain amount of free time; a few friends; and a community I feel comfortable in.  This seems a lot (although most people seem to manage with most of these things) and I have absolutely no idea how to achieve these goals.  I don’t think I have a realistic image in my head of what they could look like in the real world.  I’m not even sure that I have a clear fantasy image of my dream job, let alone a realistic one and while I do have a fantasy image of being loved by someone, I’m not sure I really have the experience to know what a real relationship is like.  I don’t know how it is that some people can plan out their lives and then systematically achieve their goals; it seems quite beyond me.

The frum (pious) thing to say is that I trust that HaShem (God) will provide for me, but I don’t.  I fear that He hates me because of all my sins; worse, I worry that His plan for me involves only suffering, which is worse than punishment, because punishment can be mitigated by repentance, whereas if He simply plans for me to suffer for some reason that is beyond my comprehension, then there simply isn’t anything I can do about it.  I don’t know what to do about this or even how to raise the issue with other frum people e.g. my rabbi mentor.

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.

Fifteen Years

I’ve had some difficult thoughts today.  I had a vague feeling today that I should stop writing this blog, because I don’t think I present Judaism well.  Not compared with sites like Aish.com or Chabad.org or even Hevria.com.  I make it sound like it’s all sin and impossible rituals and guilt, when really it isn’t.

I hate myself and have thoughts of suicide.  The main things stopping me are thinking of what it would do to my parents (I don’t think about my friends, which makes me feel guilty) and the fear of making a failed suicide attempt and ending up with terrible, permanent injuries.  It did occur to me that it’s more or less exactly fifteen years since I nearly attempted suicide (it was in Michaelmas Term of 2003 at Oxford, so any time from October to early December, but I think more towards the start or middle than the end).   I find it hard to think of tangible things that would be worse if I had killed myself then.  I’ve done some extra mitzvot (commandments) in the meantime, but also some extra averot (transgressions), so I’m not sure how that balances out.  I haven’t really done anything worthwhile with my life.  Or is that just the depression talking?  It’s hard to be sure.

The pharmacist had a big bag of clomipramine for me as some of the tablets have finally come in.  With my parents away next week, I’m a bit scared to have them in the house with me feeling like this, but I don’t know what to do with them.  There isn’t anyone I could give them to.

I’m fairly sure I’m not actively suicidal at the moment, but I do wish I had never been born and I would like to die (I guess that’s one ambition I’m sure to fulfil eventually).  I can’t see things improving.  Life is an endurance test for me; I can accept that HaShem (God) has His reasons for this, but I wish I had a clue of what they are, just to give me some chizuk (strength, inspiration).

My parents have been encouraging me to do teacher training again.  It seems to have become an idée fixe for them, a panacea that will cure all my problems (Dad seems to think being a teacher will make it easier to get married, possibly because I might meet a single female Jewish frum (religious) teacher at a Jewish school, although I doubt I could talk to her much if I did).  I can’t really blame them, as I have my own idées fixes.  Getting married or getting a girlfriend was one for a long time and still is, to some extent.  Getting an autism diagnosis has probably taken the first place now, although I don’t know what good it would do me.  I thought of emailing Dr Tony Attwood, who wrote The Complete Guide to Asperger’s Syndrome to ask what he thinks I should do, but it seemed chutzpahdik (someone or something having chutzpah – is that accepted enough in English now to not need translation?  Audacity is the nearest word).  I would basically be asking for a free consultation (via email – he lives in Australia).  In any case, the email address on his website probably goes to a secretary.

I’ve cooled off on the thought of buying guinea pigs.  I guess what my Mum said about my not being able to look after them, or to look for jobs if I use my energy up looking after them, has worried me.  Plus the thought of going into a pet shop and asking to hold the guinea pigs (as Dad said, to check I can do it) and of asking for help choosing a cage etc. has triggered my social anxiety to a great extent.  I don’t know how much I want them any more.  Maybe they were just another idée fixe.

I do feel lonely though.  I nearly wrote “I want to get laid,” but that’s not exactly true (and vulgar).  I do want physical affection and in-person support from someone who loves me.  I guess long-distance support from my friends isn’t enough.  My parents are sources of support and physical affection, but… I don’t know, it’s difficult with them sometimes, because of how they are and how I am and because of things in the past, but I can’t talk about that here, which is frustrating.  I feel guilty because of this.  If my parents aren’t good enough and my friends aren’t good enough, it could be that the problem is ME and I’m not good enough at accepting love.  In which case getting married or having a girlfriend wouldn’t make any difference.

I feel that my role in life is to suffer and endure.  At least, that’s what I’ve been doing more than anything else in my adult life.

I don’t want anyone to read this and worry about me.  I think the chances of my hurting myself are slim.  I’m pretty sure I would phone Samaritans if it got that bad, and I don’t think it will.  I’m tired more than suicidal.  I’ve just spent fifteen years or more struggling to survive, and I don’t know what else I can do.

Suffering

I just saw something on the blog of someone I know who is losing her religious faith a story about a child who was mauled by a mountain lion and severely injured, which, it was argued, is evidence against the existence of God.  The funny thing is, with one slight change, the story could be used on a religious website to argue for the existence of God.  The change, obviously, is to focus on the miraculous survival of the child rather than the fact that she was injured in the first place.

I don’t really want to get into a debate about the existence or non-existence of God.  I know what I believe and why and don’t have much interest in debating the issue.  I’m not a good debater and wouldn’t do my beliefs justice; anyway, debating anything doesn’t interest me much.  I don’t have an argumentative personality.  In fact, argument tends to upset me and I avoid it.  But I want to flag up something I noticed about myself, a point of psychology rather than theology.

Intellectually, I accept that my suffering (depression, loneliness, anxiety etc.) could have meaning and purpose.  It’s not actually that hard to think of reasons that could explain it.  But I find it very hard to engage emotionally with that and because I can’t engage emotionally with it, I find it very hard to internalise it and stay inspired to keep going.  As I’ve mentioned, all my religious activities (prayer, Torah study, good deeds, hitbodedut) are suffering at the moment.  I’m not doing much religiously at all.  That’s partly due to lack of energy, concentration and motivation directly from the depression, but also because of my irrational, but deep-seated, feeling that HaShem (God) hates me and wants me to suffer out of anger, hatred and even spite.  Intellectually, I think this is nonsense, but our emotional brains are older and stronger than our rational brains and they tend to win.  As the rabbi of my shul (synagogue) said to me, I won’t experience simcha shel mitzvah (the joy of performing the commandments) until I’m over my depression.  Of course, at the moment it looks like I will never be over the depression, which takes me back to “God hates me” even though He could be storing up infinite reward to recompense me for my suffering, in this world or the next.

What matters to me is not the philosophical issue of whether God exists; as I said, I think, on balance, that He does, but even if He doesn’t, the issue doesn’t interest me that much these days.  What matters to me is finding a way to function and, on some level, to find joy in life despite the suffering that seems to be a fixture.  I don’t know how to do that (yet?).