“It’s like watching a car crash in slow motion”

Thus spake Detective Inspector Drake in Ashes to Ashes, and it feels a lot like my life at the moment.

Lately I just want to withdraw.  I spent a lot of Shabbat in bed, wrapped in my duvet even when I wasn’t sleeping.  It’s a classic autistic self-comforting tactic.  I’ve been wanting to do it today too, although I’ve fought against the urge.

I’m scared to talk to anyone, even to blog or to read other blogs, for fear of getting into an argument.  There’s too much anger in the world at the moment.

I did at least manage to watch a talk between Rabbi Rafi Zarum (British, half Yemenite) and Rabbi Shais Rishon (American, black) about race and Judaism so I’m not totally running away from the world.  It was about as depressing as I expected (I’ve read some of Rabbi Rishon’s writing before so I knew what to expect; Rabbi Zarum apparently didn’t judging by his shocked reactions), although there was one funny joke.

Achievements: forced myself to work on my novel for an hour and wrote 650 words even thought I was too depressed to write anything today.  Went for a thirty-five minute run that was surprisingly good, although an exercise migraine set in hours later.  I tried to do some Torah study, but the migraine set in then and I only managed five minutes.  I haven’t felt well enough to daven Ma’ariv (say Evening Prayers) yet either.  Going to watch TV until hopefully the solpadeine kicks in, although I feel like I could throw up any time now.

***

I spoke to my rabbi mentor this morning.  I’m still processing the conversation.  He said that everyone in the frum (religious Orthodox Jewish) struggles with trying to feel inspired or to find meaning in Judaism and that I’m not the only person to struggle with the way the frum community can be narrow-minded or lacking in dynamism or inspiration.

This is all true, but I wonder where this leaves me.  I still feel that I have less meaning and inspiration going for me than a lot of religious Jews, and perhaps more frustration with the frum world than most frum Jews.  Sometimes (not all the time) lately it feels like I’m very close to walking out on the frum world and there are only a few things keeping me here.  If it were possible to be some kind of Jewish hermit, I probably would be one.  I guess I am one, in a way.

***

I know I have it easy compared to a lot of other people, but that doesn’t mean I’m not struggling.  A wise person once said, the worst thing that ever happened to you is still the worst thing that ever happened to you, even if even worse things have happened to other people.  While it’s true that a man who has had his legs eaten by an alligator should be grateful that he still has his life, arms, eyes, hearing etc. I’m not sure that makes it any easier to cope with the loss of legs.  I haven’t lost my legs, but I’ve never really got my life functioning properly and I feel that I’m running out of time to sort that, plus most of the time I feel too depressed, anxious and tired to do anything about it, not to mention too alone in the world (yes, despite family and friends).

***

OK, TV now, and trying hard not to throw up…

Loneliness and Fitting In

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

***

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Self-Hating Jew

Our Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) next-door neighbours held more socially distanced, but (I think) still lockdown-breaking, minyanim (prayer meetings) in their garden over Shabbat (the Sabbath) again. There was also some kind of gathering or party going on last night in the garden of the house behind us. They didn’t go in until 2am and made a lot of noise before then. Strangely, I got bothered more by the minyanim and couldn’t work out why, as the party seemed more antisocial (assuming they weren’t all from the same house, which is possible).

My eventual reasoning was that, despite being an Orthodox Jew myself, I’m carrying around a lot of anger and possibly other emotions around Orthodox Jews and my place in the frum (religious Orthodox Jewish) community, particularly around feeling that I never found my place in the community, that I have to hide who I really am or fear ostracism, as well as anger about people not being friendly or setting me up on shidduch dates when I was single. It’s something I might bring to therapy this week, although there is some other stuff I’d also like to talk about (I might have to prioritise). The anger and hatred is kind of weird. Jewish self-hatred is a real thing, but it’s usually associated with people right on the edge of the community, not people who are religious and integrated to the community (and I am integrated on some level).

I think it ties in with my view of God as punitive, or at least indifferent to me. I don’t believe God is punitive or indifferent to other people, just to me. It might be related to low self-esteem in general, or to my feelings of not fitting into the community. Not being a good enough Jew, which then leads to anger back at the community.

***

Otherwise it was a fairly normal Shabbat. I struggled to sleep again on Friday night. I’m not sure why. It seems to happen sometimes without cause, but this time it could have been the noise (although insomnia carried on for two hours after the noise stopped), the fact I drank some Diet Coke at dinner (I don’t know why I’ve got in the habit of doing this again, although I’m not convinced it really makes much difference) or the fact that I forgot to take my tablets until right before I went to bed. The latter is probably the key factor.

Because I couldn’t sleep, I lay in bed for quite a long time with my thoughts, which was not comfortable. I thought I was feeling more comfortable with my thoughts and in control of them lately, but obviously not. I can’t remember exactly what I was thinking, just that it was unpleasant. I did intermittently get up and read, a mixture of The Siege: The Saga of Israel and Zionism (which is really good) and Batman graphic novels.

I fell asleep around 4am and slept through the morning, being woken intermittently by the Shacharit minyan (Morning Prayer Service) next door and falling asleep again (I dreamt I wrote them an angry letter of complaint), then I slept for three more hours after lunch. Not good. I will struggle to sleep tonight. I did wake from my nap refreshed though, which was good as generally I don’t feel so refreshed from sleep, either night sleep or naps.

Other than that I just did some Torah study and ate with my parents. There’s not a lot else to report.

Anhedonia and Resentment

Another struggling morning.  It’s so hard to get going.  I just feel so tired and depressed.  It’s also easier to get sucked into despair and loneliness (missing E. – not exactly the dictionary definition of loneliness, but it’s hard to think what else it is) than at any other point of the day, although I am be glad that nowadays there are times when I’m less likely to be sucked in to them.

I wrote a job application, mostly tidying up my CV and template cover letter.  I decided to leave it before sending it and have another look at it tomorrow, as I was quite depressed today and didn’t think I really concentrated on it well.  I ought to be able to do the job well, but I’ve completely lost confidence in my ability to do the job I was trained for to the extent that I don’t think I can do this job and on some level don’t want to get it.  Nevertheless, I intend to send it tomorrow.

Other stuff done today: therapy (see below), thirty minutes of Torah study, a thirty minute walk, and a Skype call with E.  I had an idea for my devar Torah (Torah thought) for this week, but it needs developing and I’m not sure where to take it.

***

Therapy today was useful.  We spoke a bit about grieving for parts of my life that I lost or never had (e.g. the stereotypical frum (religious Orthodox Jewish life)) rather than internalising them as a critical internal voice (e.g. “I’m useless because I’m not married).  We also spoke about the persecutor-victim-rescuer drama triangle, a relationship model where all three roles are unhealthy (“relationship” in this context means any relationship of people, not necessarily a romantic one).  I think a lot of my friendships/romantic/would-be romantic relationships in the past were victim-rescuer relationships, one way or the other, whereas with E. that’s not the case.  It’s a lot healthier; even though both of us have a lot of issues, we don’t really play the victim or rescuer, we support each other as equals and have good boundaries.

***

One thing I touched on in therapy was the feeling I have of God being critical and punitive, even though that’s not the type of theology I was brought up with or read nowadays.  It’s hard to see where that comes from except my general internal critical voice, which is hyperactive.

Related to that (which I didn’t discuss in therapy), is that I’m still struggling to emotionally connect with God or Judaism.  I was trying to work out earlier how much Jewish stuff I would still do if I knew there was no reward or punishment for it.  I would still keep Shabbat, because I feel that’s very positive for me in a very tangible way.  I would still study Torah, but maybe shift my focus (then again, maybe not).  Keeping kosher doesn’t bother me so I would keep that up.  I might reduce prayer.  It’s hard to tell.

Looking at the last paragraph, I looks like overall I would stick with most of Jewish practice: (Shabbat, Torah, kashrut and davening covers the bulk of daily Jewish practice for a non-married person.  I just wish it brought me more joy.  Is it the lack of connection to God that strips it of joy or is it the depressive anhedonia (inability to experience pleasure)?  Because obviously depending on what the cause is, the solution would be very different.  It’s not like there’s much joy in my life from other sources, so it could well be that I just don’t experience much joy or pleasure.

E. and I have been studying Pirkei Avot, the volume of Talmud that deals with ethics, together.  She keeps saying that while it’s interesting and some of it seems reasonable, it wouldn’t change her life.  I’m not sure if I can think of a single Jewish teaching that changed my life in that way.  I think it’s a cumulative effect of learning lots of things and doing lots of things that made me more religious.  Nevertheless, I am aware that a lot of my religious growth was driven by not wanting to be a hypocrite in picking and choosing elements of Jewish belief and practice, and that other people won’t necessarily feel the same need for consistency.  Indeed, outside of certain parts of the Orthodox Jewish community, pick and choose Judaism is the norm.

I would say that I doubt I could pass my religiosity to others because of that lack of joy and focus on integrity, but somehow I have influenced people around me to become more frum in some ways, even if not as much as me, so obviously I’m doing something right, I just don’t know what.

***

I do struggle with feelings of jealousy connected to anhedonia, feeling resentful and upset that other people can enjoy their lives whereas my enjoyment has been limited for the last twenty years and not that great even before that.  The most resentment and jealousy is over sex and over religion, people who enjoy their religious lives and find meaning and joy in it as well as friendship and community.

I don’t know why these two areas are the big sources of resentment for me.  I have never been a great traveller, but I don’t really resent people who do travel, perhaps because I was taken on a number of holidays in Europe as a child.  But I don’t resent people who have been to Asia or South America or other places I’ve never been to.  I don’t really resent people who can drink alcohol safely (which I’ve always been too scared to do) or who can drive (which I’ve also always been too scared to do).  I suppose I do feel resentful when there’s a party or social community event and I’m too depressed, autistic and socially awkward to attend.  Even so, sex and religion seem to be the big sources of resentment.  Or maybe I’m just confronted with them more often.

***

I was thinking crazy stuff today, at least before therapy.  I don’t know if I can put it in words, but I guess there were elements of catastrophising, self-blame, repressed anger and despair.  I tried to write the job application, but then I get sucked into procrastination online, and that triggered other thoughts and feelings (see the next paragraph).  I’m trying to notice when I’m catastrophising or self-blaming or worrying about stuff that is out of my control, or getting angry with people who I have now cut out of my life, but it can be hard to do that straight away.

***

I saw a comment online earlier that listed “severe depression” as being up there with drink, drugs, diseases, “several” divorces and domestic violence as the only things that would stop “Any eligible Orthodox Jewish man” meeting the proverbial “‘nice’ eligible Orthodox Jewish woman.”  Well, I did find a nice Jewish girl, fortunately, but I guess this is why I had to go outside of the frum community.  Still, “depression is as bad as domestic violence”… talk about stigma.  Reminds me of another article I saw years ago, on a secular website this time, that basically said if you have treatment-resistant depression, you’re never going to find a romantic partner, and that’s not fair, but life’s not fair, so deal with it.  It really was that blunt.

***

Boots has sold out of hair clippers.  I’m going to look like the abominable snowman by the time the barbers re-open.  At least I can shave again tomorrow.

Avoidance, Esteem and Too Much Theology

I got up at 10am again today.  I tried to make it for 9.30, but I kept drifting in and out of sleep, having weird dreams.  I did go online before getting dressed though.  I try to tell myself I am a work in progress.  The problem is that, particularly early in the day, when I’m not doing anything, the depression rushes in.  It stops me getting started on my day and it can also creep in when I’m doing other things.  I felt pretty depressed while davening (praying) this morning, for instance, without an obvious trigger.

I had another day that got away from me, another autistic-bad-at-planning day when I made an over-enthusiastic plan and quickly drifted away from it.  Actually, it’s as much depression’s fault as autism’s, given that I would be OK for a bit and then suddenly hit by a wave of depression.  I feel like I use autism and depression to make excuses for myself, but then again maybe I just use them to blame myself in different ways.

I did manage about an hour and a half on my novel, just over a thousand words, battling procrastination and not really wanting to confront some of my less than stellar times at Oxford.  I would have liked to have written some more, but I could feel the kind of tension inside my skull that I associate with exhaustion and imminent burn out, so I stopped.  By that stage I had also drafted my devar Torah (Torah thought) for the week, done some hoovering to help with the housework, and been for a forty-five minute walk.  I did about twenty minutes of Torah study too.  So, not a bad day productivity-wise, even if I would like to do MORE all the time.

***

(The next paragraph or two gets a bit theological, so you might want to skip ahead.)

This evening is the start of my paternal grandfather’s yortzeit (death anniversary).  Usually my father would go to shul (synagogue) for Ma’ariv (Evening Prayers) and say the Mourner’s Kaddish prayer.  This has to be said with nine other men, and doing it on Zoom is not permitted.  Instead, we davened Ma’ariv on Zoom, with a whole bunch of Dad’s friends and some family, but without Kaddish (and one or two other things that can’t be said remotely).  Instead, following rabbinic advice, afterwards I read out and explained a Mishnah (the oldest part of the Talmud, the Jewish oral tradition).  I just read the most recent Mishnah in my ongoing study of Seder Zeraim, the order dealing with agricultural law, specifically Terumot chapter one, mishnah one, the volume dealing with the portion of the crop given to the priests in ancient times.  It’s really not the best thing to pick, but I wasn’t sure what else to do and picking another mishnah at random seemed a bit arbitrary.  At least it wasn’t a very complicated one to explain.  The idea is that by us studying the mishnah together my grandfather has prompted Torah study, which results in him attaining greater reward in Heaven.

My problem is that I struggle theologically with the idea that we can do anything meaningful to help the dead.  I see Kaddish as being primarily for the mourner, to reconnect with God after loss.  The idea that Torah study by a person’s descendants can help a dead person is only about a hundred and fifty years old, which is yesterday in Judaism.  Not ancient at all.  Even Mourner’s Kaddish “only” goes back about 1,000 years.  Before teaching the Mishnah on Zoom, I was supposed to say “May my grandfather’s  neshama (soul) have an aliyah (be elevated), but I really feel uncomfortable saying that, as I’m really not sure reward works that way.  I feel very uncomfortable with the idea, widespread in contemporary Orthodox Judaism, that we can transfer our merits around to anyone in need, living or dead.  I don’t believe reward (and punishment, for that matter) is something external.  As the former rabbi of my shul said, “Heaven isn’t a palace in the sky and if you do enough good things they give you the keys.”  Occasionally, we get material reward in this world, which is external, but usually reward is in the next world, where I believe it is a form of closeness to and understanding of God, a product of what we made our souls into in this world, not an external gift given to us by God.  As one rabbi said, it is like memory, and just as you can’t give your memories to someone else, you can’t give the connection you made with God from doing a mitzvah or studying Torah.

I think this is perfectly Orthodox, but I know that 99% of Orthodox Jews disagree with me, so it’s a(nother) thing I just keep quiet about.

Anyway, in my head I was teaching the mishnah in memory of my grandfather (to perpetuate his memory among the living), but I said something like “hopefully it will be an aliyah for his neshama.”  I felt I had to say it because people might have prompted me if I didn’t and partly just in case I’m wrong and it could do something for him.  But I feel vaguely dishonest and hypocritical.

I also felt a bit bad that I had written an explanation of the mishnah and just read it out.  When I do public speaking, I usually prefer to write notes and speak partially from memory rather than reading out, but I didn’t feel that I understood the mishnah well enough to do that.  At least I didn’t shake.

I didn’t stay for the lechaim (drink) afterwards as I don’t like Zoom and it sounded like the organised chaos of twenty or thirty people on Zoom at the same time, talking at the same time, shouting to be heard, and interrupting each other, plus, of course, I don’t drink.  Eventually my Dad’s friends left the call and it was just family.  I felt like I should have been there for more of the family call, but I needed to eat and unwind a bit.  Only a few hours earlier I was writing about my fictionalised younger self’s tendency to withdraw and not connect with people when the opportunity presented itself and then I was falling into the same patterns of avoidance.  I did eventually decide to go down and join in the rest of the call after I had eaten, so there is some progress since I was in my early twenties.

***

I have a folder where I save positive blog comments and emails that I’ve been sent.  I use them to cheer myself up and boost my self-esteem when it’s low.  The problem is that I don’t remember to look at them.  I used to have some printed out and blue tacked to my cupboards so I saw them.  Speaking about this to my new therapist on Monday, I decided that I should do that again.  I’ve been cutting and pasting some quotes from people and feel quite emotional… there’s a lot of people, most of whom I’ve never met in person, who seem to have positive things to say about me and my writing and I’m not entirely sure how to deal with that.  My mind is trying to make me beat myself up for losing contact with some of them, but I know that the way the online world works; long-term contacts are rare.  I’m more inclined to beat myself up about people who were once my friends, but who have fallen out with me, usually for reasons I do not fully understand or agree with.  I have thought about deleting these comments and emails in the past, but so far I have not done so.  Aside from it seeming a bit like a Stalinist rewriting of history to pretend that we were never friends, I like to remember that we were friends once, even if it didn’t last.  I’m not really a grudge-bearer.

Also, while looking in the folder, I found the first email E. ever sent me, which I thought I had lost forever, so that cheered me up.  It’s weird to think if she had never sent that email, both our lives would have gone on completely different paths.

Autism and Gear Shifting

I’m still getting up at 11am, which is late, but earlier than previously, but getting going is proving much harder.  I have so little energy and motivation, even after breakfast.  I try to avoid going on my computer before getting dressed, but then I just check emails and blogs on my phone.  It’s especially hard at the moment, as I’m not listening to music because of the Jewish semi-mourning period of the Omer, when we don’t listen to music, even though music helps to motivate me.  To be honest, there is a heter (permission) for depressed people to listen to music in the Omer, and I do use that heter at times, but primarily when my mood is low, not when I’m lacking energy, which is silly because lack of energy is just as much a symptom of depression as low mood.

***

I spoke to my rabbi mentor today.  He was glad things are going well between me and E.  I opened up about some of my fears about the relationship, not specific fears so much of a sense that something will go wrong, that something always goes wrong for me and that God wants to continually test me rather than let me be happy.  We spoke about this in the context of my difficulties with bitachon (trust in God) and my tendency to worry in general and also about the way that in the last week or two I’ve been trying to re-frame my understanding of my life to see that it can be seen as a series of achievements and positive events and not only as failures and negative events.

Unfortunately, after speaking to my rabbi mentor, I lost focus.  I meant to continue my search for a therapist, but ended up drifting into researching and writing my devar Torah (Torah thought) for the week, which was not exactly intentional.  I have at least nearly finished it now, although it needs some polish and I need to look something up.

It’s interesting, I think that since my teens I’ve had problems shifting tasks.  Once I’ve done one thing, it can be hard to change and go into a different task.  It’s only relatively recently that I’ve learnt that this is a classic autistic trait.  Although I can be a fairly driven person, and at university before depression I was quite capable of working long days, including working late into the night even with no work due the next day, since my teens (at least – I can’t really remember earlier) I’ve had this problem with procrastination, getting down to work and changing tasks – things that involve “changing gears” from one mode to another.  Strangely, it never affected me at school.  I don’t know if that was willpower or if I used the routine and mini-break of “pack books and stationery; dismissed from class; leave classroom; walk to next class; wait for teacher (talk to friends); file into classroom; unpack books and stationery” to end one task and reboot.  I did struggle with attention for my homework at weekends (I know all teenagers do, but still), so maybe that routine and movement to a new location really did help.  I’m not sure how I could replicate it though.

I struggled with this in the work world, particularly manning the issue desk when I was working in a further education library, as I would be doing some work, then get interrupted by someone borrowing a book; go back to work, then get interrupted by someone needing help finding something or with the photocopier and so on and I really struggled with that.  When someone turned up to talk to me, I would often go completely blank for a second, as if my brain was literally rebooting.  I think my line manager noticed and that was why she was dissatisfied with my work.

And then I stopped to write this (to get it out of my head) instead of Getting On With Things…

***

I did eventually get on with the therapy hunt.  I still feel pretty overwhelmed by it and think the names I’ve picked out are almost totally random.  OK, not totally random, but still fairly random and arbitrary; likewise my decision not to look any more for now.  I picked four names from the nine or so I’d found to email about prices (specifically if they offer concessions to the unemployed, as otherwise I can’t afford it) and availability.

I also went for a longish walk with some shopping and listened to another Intimate Judaism installment and was feeling somewhat more focused in the evening.  I had planned to do more therapy hunting after dinner, but while eating I was watching Life on Mars and now the DVDs are jamming on the laptop DVD player as well as the TV one and they crashed the DVD drive.  I wonder if it’s some kind of fault from the factory, although there are what may be scratches on the discs.  I guess this is the downside of buying cheap second-hand DVDs online.  I’m going to have to return them and buy replacements.  Annoyingly, I managed to get these very cheaply, but the copies currently available on Amazon are more expensive..

***

I mentioned that I’ve been writing a short story lately.  I finished it and I’m thinking of putting it in a password-protected post so that some people here could read it.  If you’re interested in reading it, please comment on this post and I will post it on a locked post and email you the password.  I would give the to anyone who comments regularly and maybe also to some people who ‘like’ my posts a lot, but don’t comment, if I think they’re real people and not spammers.

200 Hours (Approximately)

… being the approximate length of time from the start of the Pesach food restrictions to the end of the holiday (in the diaspora).

Firstborns are supposed to fast the day before Pesach, but it’s generally accepted that they can go to a siyum (party for finishing studying some Torah) to avoid it.  I woke up at 7.00am as intended, got up a little later than I wanted, but “went” to an online siyum.  I had trouble logging in and missed the first half, although this is all kind of stringent this year anyway as no one should really be fasting in a health crisis even if they didn’t get to a siyum.

I fell into OCD anxiety while eating breakfast.  I mostly got it under control by the time Mum got up, but then she was sick, which set up a whole load more anxiety – worry about her, worry about getting everything ready on time for Pesach.  Once I start worrying, I can worry about everything, so I started worrying about me and E., feeling that the history of my life shows that good things rarely happen for me and never last and worrying that something will stop us being together, even though I don’t know what.  E. is basically the best thing that ever happened to me, so I’m terrified she’s going to be taken from me somehow.

We did get the house changed over to Pesach mode on time.  Having done the negative side of the festival (removing forbidden food), we are now busily doing the positive (cooking and preparing Pesach food).  I am struggling intermittently with OCD and anxiety.  I am washing my hands far too often, even for COVID-19.  I have to keep telling myself that I’m doing my best and that that’s all that God can expect of me, and also that I’m not responsible for what other people choose to do or not do.  I tell myself that God is probably more like my rabbi mentor (empathetic, understanding, patient, forgiving) and less like [insert name of any fire and brimstone clergyman].

We’ve got about an hour and a half until Pesach now.  My parents have excused me from further food preparation, as I’ve been helping all day, and I only got about five and a half hours sleep last night.  I’m going to shower and get into my Yom Tov clothes and probably chill in front of the TV for a bit so that I’m in a reasonable state of mind for the seder service this evening, the centrepiece of Pesach celebrations.  It’s tempting to try to continue helping now, or do more Torah study or something, but then I’ll be a mess by this evening, so I’m going to take my time off knowing that I will be doing a lot to help the smooth running of the seder later.

I will be out of contact for three days now, until Saturday evening, as we engage in what Ze’ev Maghen refers to as Judaism’s annual Existential War on Leaven Bread.  Chag kasher vesameach to those celebrating.  Stay well to everyone else.

Coughs and Sneezes Spread Diseases

“You’re a loser, Joni, or whatever your name is, because you live in fear and that isn’t really living at all, is it?  Now, I don’t live in fear.  I’m alive.” – Life on Mars episode 1.4 by Ashley Pharoah

I woke up at 10am today and got up at 11am, which was good.  It was late, but earlier than recently.  In terms of activity, I tried to work on my novel for an hour after lunch.  I made a little progress, but struggled to write light, witty, flirty date dialogue unsurprisingly.  I’m not sure how I’m going to get through this chapter.  Hard work, I suppose.  I wrote about 250 words, which is half of my usual hourly target.  I spent a lot of time procrastinating and read a “long read” article on the BBC news website about the US government’s response to coronavirus when I should have been writing.

I felt very anxious and depressed today, which also didn’t help me to get in the writing zone.  I had less specific anxiety about coronavirus or Pesach (although a little about the former) and more general feelings of depression and anxiety.  I know from my past that anxiety about X can manifest as worrying about Y, even though X and Y are totally unrelated and X may be vastly more important and serious than Y.  Some of that may be happening here.  I do over-analyse myself, “What am I feeling?  Am I feeling the right thing?”  As if there’s a “right” thing to feel.

I’ve never had much success with mental health/CBT affirmations, but I’m trying to tell myself “My thoughts are not always my friends” which helped somewhat with controlling my religious OCD in the past.  The anxiety and depression fluctuated throughout the day, getting better after my run (see below), but by the evening I was feeling awful, just wanting to curl up and sleep while the world went away.  I had a brief Skype call with E., but I felt bad at being in a state, although I know she cares enough to want to see me when I feel like that.

***

I went on my Officially Sanctioned Single Daily Exercise Session (I went for a run).  I added a bit more distance to my usual run, which coincidentally took the time taken up to exactly thirty minutes, which is good.  Pace and stamina were pretty good too, at least by my recent standards.  There were a few people around, but most looked like they were exercising rather than going anywhere in particular.  The run did seem to help with the anxious thoughts, which is good to know for the future.

***

I joined in with a global simultaneous Jewish prayer meeting.  No Skype/Zoom connection, just thousands of people praying at the same time.  I stuck with the shorter list of Tehillim (Psalms) and prayers on the Orthodox Union website rather than the longer, more mystical list of prayers sent out by my rabbi (although that list confirmed my suspicions that Tehillim chapter 120 on the OU list should have read 121).

The other virtual community thing I did today was watch a live shiur (religious class) given by Rabbi Lord Sacks via YouTube.  I haven’t really been part of a streamed event like that before, so it was interesting to see the number of viewers grow.  There were about 770 by the end, which was good considering that it was only advertised today.  It’s weird how social isolation is bringing people together.  I then spent nearly an hour researching and writing my weekly devar Torah (Torah thought).  So it was a fairly solid day from a religious point of view.

***

Back to anxiety and depression…

Another of parents’ friends had another baby.  I just feel… It’s like other people have bad times – illness, bereavement, relationship breakdown, unemployment – and then after a while it goes and something good happens.  And with me, I have bad things, and they stick around, and eventually other bad things join them and I feel even worse.

Compared with the quote at the top, I do feel like I’m living in fear, of everything (illness, bereavement, relationship breakdown, unemployment), and it isn’t really living, but it’s all I’ve got.  Which leads to all the “Why is this happening to me?  Am I a bad person?  Does God hate me?” questions.

Anyway, I need to go, or I’ll miss my “No screens after 11pm” deadline.

Post-Work Slump

I’m not sure what time I went to bed last night, probably some time between midnight and 1.00am, but I slept for hours and hours and then was too depressed, exhausted and anxious to get up.  I finally got up around 2.30pm, just as my Mum was coming home, having cancelled her post-work volunteering because she was ill.  I did feel better for eating cereal and drinking coffee, but of course by then the bulk of the day was gone.

I guess today’s depression/anxiety is mostly centred on work, some worry about a family issue that hopefully will come to a head tomorrow, and also whether E. and I will be able to move our relationship on, as well as general worries about my life as a whole, whether I will ever get it sorted out.  E. was feeling positive about us today, so I felt vaguely bad for being pessimistic (although I know she would say that I shouldn’t judge my feelings), not least because I know nothing has changed objectively since I was feeling positive a few days ago, it’s just that today I feel depressed so everything seems bad.  Plus, I wish she was around in person more than ever on days like today when I’m not able to say much via text but would like just to watch TV together.

I heard a good quote the other day, I can’t remember where, probably on a Jewish website: “Life is a test and most people fail because they try to copy others, not realising that they have a different question.”  It’s probably too wordy to be a truly great quote, but it does refer to what I’m struggling with in terms of thinking that I should doing what my peers are doing (career, family, community) when I that is not realistic and, so far as it is possible for me to tell, that does not seem to be God’s plan for me at the moment.  The problem is, I would like to be doing a lot of that stuff and don’t really see an alternative.  I don’t qualify for benefits (generalisation: I’m going to have to look into this again), so I basically have to have a career.  E. and I want to build a relationship that is more than a long-distance friendship, but I don’t know how – how in practical terms.  I want to have friends and community for my mental well-being, but the process of building those relationships is difficult and highly stressful for someone with social anxiety and autism (and someone not in exactly the right community anyway).  It is very difficult to see what I should do sometimes.

***

So, today I didn’t do very much, just sat around feeling exhausted, depressed and unable to do anything.  The trouble with the benefits system for the mentally ill (leaving aside the question of whether it’s too strictly enforced) is that it is set up for people with illnesses or disabilities that are both visible and the same every day.  If you’ve have a leg amputated, there are not going to be some days when you have both legs and some when you don’t.  Whereas with mental illness (and some physical illnesses), there can be days when you’re fine and so you get told you can work, and then there are some days when you just can’t function at all, but outsiders can’t see why that is.

What I did do was play nurse to my mother for a bit and cook dinner (although Tuesdays is my night to cook even if she is well).  I made macaroni cheese, because it’s a very easy recipe, one of two recipes that I can cook without reading the instructions, although it was far too salty.  I also spent a few minutes updating my CV and interview answer notes to include my experiences in work this year.

I struggled to do some Torah study.  I spent ten minutes reading a not-terribly-interesting or informative essay on The Lehrhaus.com.  I spent another ten minutes (just under) reading a chapter of Tehillim (Psalms), in this case chapter 24, which is very familiar to me as it appears a lot in the Jewish liturgy.  It can be interesting reading prayers as Torah study as I read them in a new way and notice things I don’t notice when davening (praying), but not today.  So about twenty minutes in total, which is not bad considering how I was feeling, but I felt that I had not got much out of it, as is often the case.

I tried to work on my novel, but it was hard and I got distracted by #AddAWordRuinABook on Twitter, my favourites being The Cat in the MAGA Hat and especially Catch-22 Diseases.  I looked at my own books in the search for inspiration to join in and thought of reading Murder on the Leyton Orient Express and its sequel, The Word for World is Nottingham Forrest (I should probably explain to non-UK resident readers that those are jokes on British football teams).  Also A Midsummer Night’s Freudian Dream, The Spy Who Came in From the Cold Storage, Flame War and Peace, Lady Windermere’s Fan ClubThe Crack House at Pooh Corner, Decorating a Study in Scarlet and Green Eggs and Hamlet (OK, that’s cheating slightly).  I would also like to see a film of The Marx Brothers Karamazov.  In non-fiction, there’s Plato’s Coffee Republic, A Brief History of Time Shares and The Blind Drunk Watchmaker although Star Trek fans might not appreciate The Selfish Gene Roddenberry.

Now I don’t feel tired, but should probably go to bed as it’s gone midnight.

***

My depression is sabotaging my diet.  I ate seconds at dinner, more because it was there and I was comfort eating than because I was hungry.  I didn’t eat ice cream yesterday, as I suggested I would, but I did eat Quality Street chocolates.  It’s hard to be on a diet when I’m this depressed.  I don’t generally comfort eat to a huge extent, but when I’m feeling so low it’s hard to feel I should ban myself completely from any junk food that might cheer me up for a few minutes, especially as my weight gain is primarily caused by medication rather than the amount of junk food I’m eating.

***

Another reason I’m depressed today: farewell Nicholas Parsons, alav hashalom (peace upon him), comedy’s greatest straight man, Just a Minute supremo and a fine Doctor Who guest actor.  He will be missed.

2020 Vision

I seem to be able to get to bed a bit earlier than a few weeks ago, but I don’t get up any earlier; later, if anything.  I think I slept about for twelve hours last night.  I basically have the type of depression where my body tries to hibernate: eat lots and then sleep for the rest of winter.  I’m trying to cut back on the eating, but the sleeping is harder to change.

Speaking of eating, my weight is the same as it was before Chanukah.  After eight doughnuts and a couple of mince pies, I’m counting that as a victory.

***

I went to the opticians for a routine eye test.  Aside from being kept waiting for a long time, there was nothing to report.  No change in my glasses prescription and I didn’t shake when I had lights shone in my eyes like I did last time.  I walked back in the rain, feeling guilty about not knowing what to do about all the homeless people who were stuck out in the cold and wet.

***

I tried to work on my novel, but didn’t get very far.  The way my book was structured, it had three main characters who alternately narrate chapters.  I tried writing the first chapter for narrator three and I just couldn’t do it.  It was bad enough that narrator two had covered some ground already covered by narrator one, but doing it a third time was ridiculous.  However, I couldn’t suddenly introduce a new narrative voice in the middle of the book after establishing two narrators early on especially as his story is so intertwined with narrator two’s that the problem of repetition would keep arising.  In any case, narrator three is also not much like me and I was struggling to get inside his head.  I can describe him through narrators one and two, but I can’t find his voice, at least not for long enough to write a chunk of the novel.  So, the important bits of his story are now going to be seen through narrator two’s eyes.  There wasn’t a lot to move or cut, which is telling, but cutting chapters means I’m now significantly below the average number of words per chapter for a novel-length story.  I hope to be able to put on some weight (so to speak) in redrafting, but I’m a bit worried about it.

***

I agreed to do some proofreading/editing for a friend.  I started today.  She’s a good enough writer that I haven’t had to correct much, including a slight tautology which I feel bad for picking up on as you could put down to a stylistic choice.  I also had to check a few British English vs. American English variants, but they were all OK.  I’m not so sure about the editing side of things, as this is a YA book and I don’t really read many of those.  I certainly don’t feel myself able to pass judgement on the accuracy of teenage speech patterns.  I’m going to have to assume she’s got those OK.

I did have trouble with the page layout and I can’t work out why; I couldn’t switch from the page view my friend had to my normal one.

***

I still don’t feel that I’m where I should be religiously.  Building on yesterday’s comments and my responses there, I’ve been told by rabbis that I’m doing OK considering all my issues, but I have high standards and feel that I don’t fit into the community, however understandable that is given depression, social anxiety and autism.  Also, my issues are dynamic; how I feel changes from day to day and even from hour to hour and it is hard to know what is right for me to do right now.  It’s a moving target that is hard to hit.

For example, today I only did ten minutes of Torah study because I was depressed and I used my limited resources of energy to proofread and work on my novel as well as going to my eye test and walking home (Dad gave me a lift there).  I also spent a lot of time procrastinating.  I’m not sure how I could/should have done things differently.  I could have procrastinated less, but I think that assumes non-depressed levels of energy, concentration and motivation.  But it’s hard to be sure.  Maybe I could have done things differently.  I don’t know.

Things are made worse by depressive anhedonia, so I can’t find my religious life enjoyable (no more so than any other part of my life, but this takes more effort than anything except work), and by my social anxiety and autistic socialising issues, which makes it hard to benefit from the close, supportive community that so many people identify as one of the major positives of being an Orthodox Jew.  I don’t feel that God really cares about me either, although going down this route takes us into philosophy (rationalists and kabbalists alike insist that God does not have emotions, although clearly there’s something which it is useful to us to understand as “love” for us) as much as depression and low self-esteem, although those are relevant too.

***

I don’t really think much of New Year’s Eve.  I’ve never even been to a New Year’s Eve party.  Jewish New Year (Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur)  is a ten day introspective experience that essentially involves a symbolic death and rebirth as a newer, better person (hopefully, anyway); New Year’s Eve involves spending an evening getting drunk and singing Auld Lang Syne.  Moreover, this isn’t the start of a new decade, although I remember from 1999/2000 that convincing people that 2020 is really the end of the 20-teens is going to be a non-starter (plus I’ll concede there is logic in treating 2020 as the start of the ’20s even if it falsely assumes that the calendar began with a year zero.  I will point out that the Victorians said celebrated the start of the twentieth century on 1 January 1901).

Still, I’ve been thinking lately about the last ten years, not so much because of New Year’s Eve, but because of my life.  E. and I have both feeling somewhat frustrated and pessimistic about our future; we both like each other and care about other, but it seems so hard to get the practical problems in being together out of the way.  Looking back over the last ten years shows how much could change in a decade, for better or for worse.

On 1 January 2010: my paternal grandfather was still alive (he died later that year) and my sister was single (she married in 2017).  My relationship with my mother was rather worse than now; my relationship with my father was better, for reasons I don’t fully understand (not understanding makes it hard to change).  I had never lived by myself unless you count university (Oxford is not exactly living by oneself) and never really thought that I might live anywhere other than the area I grew up for the foreseeable future (we moved in 2015).  I didn’t have many friends in 2010, and I don’t now, but I possibly have more now, at least if one counts online friends.  I did lose some friends over the decade, most through the usual “drifting apart through living in different cities, with different lives,” but a couple this year through doing the wrong thing and getting them angry at me.  That still hurts a bit, mostly because the way they reacted made me feel that they had hated me for some time and were just acting friendly out of pity.  There was one other friend I lost because he treated me badly and I just moved out of his life.  He still doesn’t realise how upset he made me and probably never will.

In 2010 I  had never been on date, despite being in my mid-twenties (I went on one for the first time in 2011).  I hadn’t asked many women out, but I had asked a few, all of whom turned me down.  I had got my BA and was preparing to do start my MA later in the year (it was supposed to be two years part-time, but took three and a half, notionally full-time).  I had never had a paid job (I still haven’t worked full-time, but I hadn’t even worked part-time then).  I suppose I felt comfortable in my Modern Orthodox shul (synagogue), although it was too much a fixture of my life to really think about it.  I had never lead services or given a drasha (religious speech/class) (I would lead services for the first time that year, after my grandfather’s death).  I blogged and occasionally wrote fiction and would move on to poetry in a couple of years, but I think by this stage I had abandoned any thought I might ever have had of writing a book, fiction or non-fiction, and would probably be astonished to think that I could do it.

By mid-2010 I felt that I was finally over my depression, but this was illusory.  In fact, I think I was still feeling bad at the beginning of the year and I would have a major relapse in the winter of 2010/11.  I had social anxiety which I did not really pay any attention to.  I had not yet really developed religious OCD, but the seeds of it were there.  At this time, autism was off my radar and hadn’t yet come back on it, having been told I was not on the spectrum and not knowing enough about autism to think otherwise.

I don’t know what conclusion I should draw from this.  There were a lot of ups and especially downs over the decade.  The overall trend was upward until about two years ago, then it slumped back down again.  Despite the improvements in some areas, I’m not really where one would expect a thirty-six year old to be in the abstract, not at all.  I don’t know what the prognosis is for E. and me.

***

And that’s about it for today, and 2019, really.  The only other thing I did today, other than cook some plain pasta, was finish watching Licence to Kill, and Timothy Dalton’s tenure as James Bond, which was interestingly down-to-earth, but not particularly fun or escapist.  I did mostly enjoy The Living Daylights, although I’m possibly being generous to it because I enjoyed it as a child.  Licence to Kill was too grim and gory for me.  I will probably pause watching Bond for a bit now; I was getting a bit tired of it anyway and there’s new Doctor Who tomorrow and again from Sunday, I’m hoping to see Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker on Thursday and I want to get started on my Star Trek: Voyager box set.  At least no one could accuse Voyager of being grim and gory.

Disconnections

I overslept this morning and was late for volunteering at the asylum seekers’ drop-in centre.  I had anxiety dreams about sitting exams, which seemed a dream association for my new job, which I’m worried about (you might have noticed).  Mind you, I was dreaming about carrying around an atom bomb, which doesn’t fit as neatly.  I think Hitler was in there somewhere too.  Anyway, I set my alarm for the wrong time and then I felt too tired and depressed to get up and stayed in bed for another hour.  I don’t think I wanted to go to volunteering at the asylum seekers drop-in centre any more than I want to start my new job.

I did get there in the end, albeit very late, after all the setting up.  I helped look after the children again, but felt redundant and useless much of the time.  I don’t think I’m good with children, no matter what my parents and my aunt say.  When it came to time to tidy up I had to tidy most of the toys by myself, which is a big task and we try to do it in a relatively short time, so stuff just gets shoved in boxes regardless of what it is, rather than being put away neatly in the right boxes (it doesn’t help that the bags and boxes we have aren’t really the right size or shape, they’re just things people had that got pressed into service).  I think the person who runs the drop-in centre felt that things should be packed away more neatly, and I would agree with that, it’s just difficult to do it by myself in the time available.  So I felt rather useless there too.  I left before moving the last few boxes into the garage where they are stored between sessions as my Dad was waiting for me outside and I felt that I was just messing stuff up (I already managed to break a plastic lid by stepping on it accidentally) plus I hadn’t had much lunch and moving heavy boxes was making me feel faint.

After that I had a break for an hour or two and then my sister and brother-in-law came over for Chanukah candle lighting and presents (and dinner).  We had five Chanukiot, so 45 lights (candles and oil) lit in total.  Dinner was good, but I struggle with family groups sometimes.  I don’t know why.  I guess because the conversation is usually fairly small talky, which I’m not good at; tonight a lot was about football, which does not interest me at all.  Often the discussion at family meals is about work or my parents’ friends and their families or people from my parents’ shul (synagogue) and I usually just zone out and concentrate on eating.

I drifted in and out of the conversation and I had a moment of anxiety about a kashrut (dietary law) issue, which may or may not be OCD.  I went upstairs once or twice as I felt a bit stifled – I wanted to shout to everyone to leave me alone at one point, which may be what the beginnings of an autistic meltdown feels like (I don’t generally have meltdowns, but given that there are a lot of autistic symptoms I used to think I didn’t have, but now realise I have in a subtle or unusual way, I wonder if that’s really the case).

I think I passed for OK most of the time even if I didn’t always feel OK.  My parents asked if I was OK and I lied and said I was, but they didn’t query it, so I guess I seemed OK.  I did enjoy some of the evening.  I probably did need more time to de-stress after volunteering before dinner and again after dinner before bed.  I did watch a Bond film, half after volunteering, half after dinner.  It was The Living Daylights, which I really liked as a child.  Looking at it again, it probably wasn’t the ideal thing to watch today, as I need escapism and this was a surprisingly down-to-earth thriller, the closest Bond comes to John le Carré.  This would usually be a good thing, but I think I needed escapist hokum more.  Here, the plot twists made my head hurt a bit, although I think I followed it in the end.

***

As an aside, It’s weird how autistic special interests work, inasmuch in the last six weeks or so I’ve suddenly got back into Bond films after fifteen or twenty years, but already I’ve filled my head with all kinds of Bond trivia (did you know that Q’s real name is Major Boothroyd?).  On the other hand, I completely forget important facts about my family and friends moments after they tell them to me.  I’m sure that one of the reason I have wide general knowledge is that it’s easy to find a Doctor Who link to so many things, so they stick in my memory that way.

***

I have been limiting myself to one doughnut a day during Chanukah to try to limit the weight gain; not that I would generally eat more than one doughnut a day, but occasionally on first or last night of Chanukah I might have two.  I had a chocolate doughtnut today (the type with the chocolate inside), but I was seriously tempted to have a mince pie too, to reward myself for getting through today in one piece.  (Mince pies are the only even vaguely Christmassy thing I do.)  So far I have resisted temptation, but it was hard sitting around the table with all this nosh and not eating, especially when I wasn’t so involved with the conversation.  Now I feel like I have post-sugar rush slump after the doughnut, but I may eat a mince pie tomorrow or on New Year’s Eve to reward myself for getting through today.

***

I’m struggling with meditation lately.  I used to do ten minutes a day of deep breathing meditation followed by ten minutes of hitbodedut meditation, which is a Jewish technique that is part meditation and part prayer, speaking to God extempore in the vernacular (where most Jewish prayer is a set text in Hebrew or occasionally Aramaic).  I find it hard to still my mind with breath meditation and I struggle to speak to God any more.  I’ve tried various combinations: all breathing, all hitbodedut, five minutes of each, as much as I feel like of each; but none of them really feels right any more.

Sometimes I wonder if I still believe in God or if I’m religious out of habit.  I think I do believe, but I feel that belief flows from actions rather than the reverse and I don’t do things like pray or learn (study Torah) or connect with a religious community enough, or enjoy them enough, to embed God in my life any more.  If you do lots of mitzvot (commandments), you will probably find yourself believing in God, whereas if you don’t do anything religious, you will probably lose what belief you had.  It’s not a hard and fast rule and it’s not hard to find exceptions, but it explains how a lot of people function much of the time.  But I don’t know how to cope with doing those things or making those connections when I’m so tired and depressed so much of the time, plus socially anxious and anhedonic (unable to feel pleasure).

Plus, it feels hard to thank God for things when I’m aware that so much in my life is hard, and hard to ask him for things when so often in the past the answer has been no.  I want to be Jewish, so I do Jewish things (mitzvot), but it’s hard to feel that God is there, if that’s even possible.  I know I have good things in my life, and I hope to write a bit about how my life has changed over the last decade in a future post for the new year, but there is still a lot that I’m struggling with and find it hard to see what good might come from things.

On the whole, I basically do believe in God.  I worry about infringements of Jewish law (as earlier with the religious OCD).  I don’t feel like a hypocrite for davening (praying) or studying Torah, but I do struggle to engage emotionally with God, Torah or mitzvot and I worry where that part of my life is headed if I carry on feeling like this and responding to my life in this way.

Dancers at the End of Yom Tov

The end of Yom Tov (festivals) went OK overall.  On Shimini Atzeret evening (Sunday night) I was feeling quite exhilarated about the thought of trying to write a weekly devar Torah (short Torah essay) again.  From feeling zero connection to what I have been “learning” (much as I dislike the Yeshivish word, “studying” doesn’t seem right in this context), suddenly I was finding, if not answers, then at least kashas (questions, textual difficulties) to pursue.  On Shimini Atzeret day I crashed a bit, perhaps unsurprisingly.  I had gone to bed really late because I was a bit agitated in a positive way (the kind of feeling that once had me wondering if I had bipolar disorder instead of unipolar depression, but apparently it’s not mania), but, as often happens, I crashed afterwards.  I struggled to get up again on Monday morning.

I went to shul (synagogue) in the evening, but was very anxious that I wouldn’t be able to slip away before the Simchat Torah festivities started.  I find Simchat Torah very hard.  We celebrate finishing and restarting the annual Torah reading by dancing with the Torah scrolls.  This is circle dancing, holding hands and going round and round.  I’ve never worked out why it makes me so uncomfortable, whether it’s depression (the party atmosphere), social anxiety (being visible to everyone), lack of confidence (not feeling able to dance) or autism (the noise and close proximity to people I don’t know well).  This is aside from my shul auctioning Simchat Torah honours in return for committing to study Torah in the coming year, which makes me feel bad for not being able to commit to anything, let alone the immense amount some people commit to.  Whatever reason, I find the day hard.  There were one or two years where I did manage to enter into the spirit of things and dance, but that was in a shul where I felt quite comfortable for reasons that are not likely to replicate themselves any time soon.  Usually I slip away before the dancing starts, but I feel bad about not even trying to dance.  On my way out, someone asked if I was going and I said yes and felt bad, but I don’t know how else to cope.  I’d like to enjoy Simchat Torah one day, but I don’t know how.

I came home to find my parents home.  I had expected Dad and maybe Mum to be at their own shul and I did a typical autistic thing of being completely put out by a minor change of plan and ended up arguing over my Dad about some petty thing.  Really we weren’t arguing about that, I was expressing my anger and frustration with myself for not being able to stay in shul and he was expressing his frustration that he can’t solve my problems.

I did manage to have dinner with my parents, slept for twelve hours or more and woke up feeling better than expected.  I missed shul during the day, but went back for Ma’ariv (the Evening Service).  We were waiting for a minyan (prayer quorum) and, as it was the closing minutes of Simchat Torah and the Tishrei holiday period, the rabbi started singing and dancing (this is what happens if you have a somewhat Hasidishe rabbi) and I allowed myself to get dragged into that even though it felt a little uncomfortable, so I did just about dance a bit on Simchat Torah.  I then helped take down the shul sukkahs and to take two of the Sifrei Torah (Torah scrolls) back to our weekday premises.  So I felt I did my bit to help, but I also felt a bit as if I was tidying up from a really great party that I had mostly missed, which seems a bit like the story of my life.

I helped my Dad begin to take down our sukkah too.  At least I felt that I had enjoyed using that one more.

***

On balance, I would have to say that it was a good Sukkot, and a good Tishrei generally.  I got to shul in the morning several times as well as the evenings.  I heard the shofar both days on Rosh Hashanah, I wasn’t too ill on Yom Kippur (although I did spend much of the day too drained to get out of bed) and, despite it being mid-October and expected to be wet, we had almost every lunch and dinner in the sukkah over Sukkot and Shmini Atzeret.  I just wish I could finish things more positively on Simchat Torah, and that I didn’t feel like I was so unfocused in my religious life, like I could/should be doing more in terms of davening (praying) with a minyan and with kavannah (mindfulness) as well as doing more, and deeper, Torah study.  It can be hard to see where I am growing, which is the point of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, as well as to see where my joy in being Jewish comes from, which is the point of Sukkot, Shmini Atzeret and Simchat Torah.

I noticed on the way home that someone down the road has their Christmas lights up already.  It somehow seems wrong that the Christians are putting up their Christmas lights before the Jews have finished taking their sukkot down.  There’s still two months before Christmas!  That’s like putting up your sukkah soon after Tisha B’Av!

***

A side-light on this (not Christmas decorations, I mean on religious focus): looking in Leaping Souls: Rabbi Menachem Mendel and the Spirit of Kotzk by Chaim Feinberg there is a story of a Hasid who came to the Kotzker Rebbe and complained that since coming to Kotzk, he has become fearful that his prayers and Torah study are blemished by secret self-interest and imperfections.  He is told by the Rebbe that maybe God doesn’t want his prayers or Torah study, but his heartfelt inner anguish and dissatisfaction with himself, his desire to be a better person (God wants the heart, according to the Talmud although that’s not quoted here).  I’ve heard similar stories with a number of Hasidic Rebbes.  I’m not sure if they’re reassuring or not.  It’s reassuring to think there might be a positive reason for feeling like this, but not reassuring to think I might feel like this for the rest of my life.

It’s not, I suppose, an attitude that would attract many modern people, who seem to like to be told that the religious life, done right, is easy and comfortable and that God can be your best friend who will help you out of any trouble if you just Believe.  I can’t imagine Aish or the JLE or any other kiruv organisation trying to win non-religious Jews to the religious life by telling them that God wants their inner anguish as they struggle to do the right thing, or even just to work out what the right thing is.  It speaks to me, though.  It speaks to the part of me that thinks that life is hard and if there is an all-powerful, benevolent God, then for some reason He doesn’t want us to be happy here, in which case this world is a vale of soul-making (as the thoroughly atheist John Keats put it), not one of happiness.  I can cope with soul-making.  It’s when people tell me that if only I was frum (religious) I would be happy that I get angry, because either I’m not doing religion properly or this is just untrue.  But a world of soul-making, where my inner anguish builds my soul into something beautiful… I can cope with that philosophically.  It is hard to live it every day, though.

***

After my Jewish existentialism post E. asked if I could recommend any books.  I did, but I hadn’t looked at the books for years and now I’m wondering how relevant they are.  This happens a lot when people ask me for advice, I end up panicking and second-guessing myself.  I’m not sure what exactly I’m catastrophising about there.  I’m not sure what the worst case scenario is that I’m worried about.

***

Speaking of books, I find myself doing an impression of Buridan’s Ass again, only with books instead of straw.  Buridan’s Ass is a thought experiment about a hungry donkey placed equidistantly between two identical piles of hay; unable to determine which haystack is “better,” he stands procrastinating between the two until he starves to death.  I find this unlikely, but I can’t choose what book to read out of my many unread novels, unread non-fiction books, novels to re-read, non-fiction books to re-read, and Doctor Who novels to re-read (which seem to be in a separate category, although I’m not quite sure why).  I could look on my Goodreads page to find the numbers to go with each category, but I’m a bit scared of how large they would be.  I have a lot of unread books; well, I have a lot of books period, and a proportion are going to be unread and, given that I’m a re-reader, lots of read books can revert to being quasi-unread (un-re-read) given time.

It doesn’t help that I can’t work out whether I could really get a lot out of re-reading heavy stuff Dickens or Dostoevsky or reading serious non-fiction at the moment, mental health-wise.  I don’t feel like reading much other than Agatha Christie, John le Carré and Doctor Who, but I’m not sure that that proves a lot.  I have an unread Philip K. Dick short story collection that I got for my birthday some months ago, one of my favourite authors, but somehow I can’t feel enthusiastic for a short story collection right now, the thought of keep having to start again rather than immersing myself in a world for a while…  I was in shul for the reading of Kohelet (Ecclesiastes) on Shabbat, which concludes that “of making many books there is no end and much study is a weariness of flesh” which is probably a lesson to me, although I’m not quite sure what.  Probably that I should stop writing and go to bed.

Square Peg, Meet Round Hole

I use this blog for daily private journaling as well as this public side.  The private journal is mostly just a list of things I did that day plus a note on how I felt and a link to that day’s public post, but yesterday I wrote a terse note about how I was interpreting my life: “Managed to do quite a lot, but frustrated that I couldn’t do more and that I procrastinated; this level of guilty may be unfair and counter-productive.” (Emphasis added.)  I know it doesn’t sound much, but it’s a big thing for me to note my guilt and suggest it might be misplaced.

***

I had a phone call with my CBT therapist.  It was just to check in and see that I haven’t relapsed in the three weeks since our last session so that she can discharge me.  My social anxiety is somewhat better, but my depression is worse.  She was somewhat concerned about this.  I wasn’t so worried, because I think my depression can’t be cured, only managed (although arguably at the moment I am not managing it well).  I think I’ve learnt some useful CBT tricks with this therapist for dealing with social anxiety and self-esteem, albeit that I still struggle in these areas.  However, the depression is bad, but I think it will always be bad, or at least much of the time.  Certainly CBT has not helped the depression much in the past and I would have mixed feelings about trying it again – it would feel like wasting everyone’s time and money, including my own.

***

I tried to start writing a devar Torah (Torah thought/essay), but rapidly realised that (a) the idea I was hoping to use wasn’t enough for a 1,000 word essay, (b) the idea had no particular point to it and (c) I would have to quote a Midrash from an unpublished manuscript quoted by Aviva Gottleib Zornberg and I wasn’t sure I could get away with unpublished manuscripts found by a modern, non-Haredi scholar (who also happens to be a woman, to make it more shocking).  Maybe one of those things, but not all three (manuscript; modern/non-Haredi; female).  The alternative is to write about the idea I wrote about yesterday, but I don’t know the original source for that idea and, again, I don’t think I could get away with quoting it in the name of a Modern Orthodox Rosh Yeshiva.  It’s a shame, as you could take the “children of Rachel = spirituality in physicality” idea and run with it looking at the way that the Yosef (Joseph) narrative in Bereshit (Genesis) mirrors Queen Esther’s story in Megillat Esther (Esther) – both Yosef and Mordechai (and presumably therefore Esther) were descendants of Rachel.  If you had room, you could then potentially talk about hester panim, the hiding of God’s presence in the latter story but not the former.

My life would be a lot easier and potentially happier if there was a more lively and engaged Modern Orthodoxy in this country in general and in my area in particular that I could engage with.

***

I do feel depressed today, partly because of the devar Torah disappointment, partly perhaps from finishing CBT and wondering if I should have tried to stay in therapy to work on the depression despite my reservations, or even just realising (again) that my depression is here to stay.  I’m also getting concerned that I still haven’t heard when my autism assessment is (I was referred in December with a waiting list of eight to twelve months).  My Mum emailed the hospital; no response.  The GP offered to check and I said yes; no response from the GP.  The charity that did my autism screening offered to check and I said yes; no response from the charity.  It’s getting a bit troubling.  I guess the wet, dark weather and the shrinking amount of daylight don’t help the depression either.

***

I spoke to my parents’ primary school teacher friend about volunteering as a Teaching Assistant.  Actually, my Mum spoke, as I was in full autistic ‘this is big and scary and is an implicit open question and I don’t know how to approach it’ lack of executive function mode.  She said she could probably get me voluntary TA work at the primary school she works in either a secular or limmudei kodesh (Jewish Studies) classes, but there is quite a long commute on the bus.  She thought she might be able to get me into a local Jewish primary school too, which would be better from a commute point of view, but she doesn’t know the school now it’s a state school run by a private company (rather than the state itself).

I’m terrified by the whole idea of working with children.  I really don’t know why so many people think I’m good with young children.  On the other hand, librarianship is not working for me at all, and if I do manage to make a career as a writer, it isn’t going to happen for a long time and I need to earn money in the meantime which means working in another sector, even if I volunteer to try that sector out first.  The fact that so many people (critical people, to be honest) have said I’m good with children must count for something, but, talking to my parents’ friend, I was just feeling that this is going to be yet another thing that I fail at.  By the end of the conversation (only a couple of minutes) I was feeling completely overwhelmed and worried that I was about to burst into tears.

***

I went to my Thursday shiur (religious class).  I feel very out of place now, but I don’t want to attract attention – and potentially discussion of my beliefs – by not going.  The hashkafa (religious philosophy) of the rabbi doesn’t really align with mine.  I don’t know why I used to tolerate that, but find it harder now, maybe because now I feel that the community isn’t right for me, or that I have gone back to reading the Rationalist Judaism blog (although I have big problems with that too).  It’s quite kabbalistic (mystical).  I feel like I’m hiding myself there.  Perhaps it wouldn’t be so bad if I did manage to write that devar Torah, but…  Still, I want to write a novel one day (not the one I’ve already started) about mysticism, religious rationalism and religious existentialism in Judaism/the Jewish community, so I guess it counts as research on that.

On the way to shiur I listened to a five minute devar Torah from Rabbi Lord Sacks on Kohelet (Ecclesiastes) which is read on the Shabbat of SukkotKohelet is all about the futility of life and how to give it meaning.  Rabbi Lord Sacks says that Kohelet sees meaning in joy, specifically the joy of honest work, the joy of marriage and the joy of being grateful and living in the moment.  I don’t have the first two; I try to be grateful and live in the moment, but somehow I struggle with it and never get any actual joy out of it.  I don’t know what to do.  Based on what I’ve seen him write elsewhere, I suspect Rabbi Sacks would say I should stop seeking joy and just focus on other people and it will come naturally, but social anxiety makes it impossible for me to come into contact with other people without becoming hugely focused on myself.

Tomorrow the rabbi of my shul is hosting an oneg (a sort of Sabbath party with alcohol, junk food, singing and divrei Torah/Torah thoughts) in his sukkah.  I struggle with these things.  When I was new to my shul, I tried to go to a couple and ended up standing outside literally crying with social anxiety.  I think I would probably get in the door now I feel somewhat more at home in the community, or at least more familiar with it, but I feel I don’t enjoy these things the way I should and I’ve got less chance of getting to shul on Shabbat (Saturday) morning if I go to the oneg, so I should think strategically and stay away.  That would all argue against going, but I feel I should try to be a part of the community and maybe one day I’ll enjoy something like a normal person would…  Life is hard.

***

I feel like a square peg in a round hole.  Some of it is being ‘modern’ in a moderate Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) community, but I think it’s deeper than that.  I don’t fit anywhere; moreover, I have to admit that there’s a part of me that actively sabotages fitting in anywhere.  I honestly think that part of my problem is that a part of me wants not to fit in anywhere and finds reasons why I don’t fit in whatever the situation is.  Reasons that no one could accept me if they knew the ‘real’ me.  Reasons to withdraw and stay away.  Call it Groucho Marx Syndrome: “I don’t want to belong to any club that will accept me as a member.”  In my shul I feel too modern, but when I go to Modern Orthodox shiurim, I feel that people aren’t frum (religious) enough.  I am not naive and I can bring kashas (questions based on contradictions and logical flaws) on Jewish philosophy, but I can bring kashas on Enlightenment and postmodern thought too, so I’m staying Jewish and frum.  I don’t have wisdom or understand the meaning of life or how to live it.  I’m not sure that I can even describe myself as a seeker of meaning or wisdom (perhaps.  I hope so).  I don’t know what I am, really and I don’t know who can accept me.

***

It feels like it’s just been a pointless, wasted day that should have been a fun Chol HaMoed day if I was a “normal” person, which I’m not.  I really need a day of nothing to recover from all the Yom Tovim (festivals), but I have more Yom Tov coming next week and then job hunting and then a trip to Israel that I’m dreading, then more job hunting… I just got an email for a training day for people considering changing career that I should (that word again) go to, but I can’t face it.  I wish I could access the hidden positive feelings I recently said I must have about God and Torah and Judaism, because right now they would be very useful, but they’re very hidden.  I try to connect, but I can’t.

***

I had weird dreams again last night, although I can only remember fragments: Boris Johnson, the London Underground, World War I (I think, but maybe World War II, or both) and giving away lots of my books to charity shops and then trying to buy them all back again because I regretted it.  Also raising someone else’s baby, and dying.  All life is here in my subconscious.  I wish I knew what it all means, or could access it in my writing.

The Real Me

It’s supposed to be a bad sign if it rains on Sukkot, the Jewish festival we’re partway through.  This is because we eat (and sleep, if you’re brave) in thatched huts in the garden to remember the Israelites living in portable huts in the wilderness.  So if it rains and we can’t do that, so it’s a sign of Divine displeasure.  I think this probably only applies in Israel, as rain at this time of year is rare there.  Unlike here in the UK, where it’s been raining quite a bit (my family in Israel were too hot to go outdoors…).

It’s tempting to use that to segue into the story of my last two days, but it wouldn’t be entirely accurate.  There were some not-so-good things, and those are uppermost in my mind at the moment for reasons that will become obvious, but I can see objectively that there were good things too.  For a change, I will do this topically rather than chronologically.

Shul (synagogue): I got to shul quite a lot: both evenings and this morning (I was about twenty minutes late this morning, on time for the others).  The services were OK, although I was clock-watching after a while this morning, which may have been more to do with anxiety about having guests for lunch afterwards (see below).  I did struggle with the shiurim (religious classes) between Mincha and Ma’ariv (Afternoon and Evening Service) both days.  They were halakhic (Jewish law-focused) and somewhat triggering of my religious OCD in terms of making me worry that we were not fulfilling the festival laws properly.  Moreover, seeing so many people from the community engaging with the discussion and answering questions while I felt confused and unable to follow the argument made me feel that I just can’t engage with perhaps the most important area of religious practice for an Orthodox Jewish man: Talmudic and halakhic study.  I realised Torah as taught at a high level for men is largely left-brain/logical (Talmudic and halakhah) not right-brain/creative.  I need the creative aggadic (narrative) side.  This is often neglected.  Although to be fair, the shiur I go to on Thursdays is less halakhic, but I don’t participate as much as I could due to lack of confidence.  I felt like the shiurim told me how to fulfil the mitzvot (commandments) of Sukkot, but didn’t explore why we do these specific things, the symbolism and meaning.  Although, if they had done that, they probably would have gone for a kabbalistic (Jewish mysticism) approach that I would find equally problematic…

I was left feeling that I will never feel useful in my community.  I’m too scared to lead davening (lead the service), if they even ask me again, and I can’t do Talmudic and halakhic study (when I came in for Mincha someone was sitting at the table with three Hebrew-only books open, tracing some arcane point of halakhah, and he’s not even one of the people I have down as a really good scholar!).  I am hoping to write a devar Torah (essay on the weekly Torah reading) for later in the year, if I can manage it and if they still have the slot open to anyone (the same guy writes it each week, but I think that’s because no one else volunteers rather than because he really wants to write 1,000 words every week).

Mum said I should focus on the positive, saying I connect to God in my shul, but I don’t really.  I don’t really connect to God anywhere at the moment.  I just like my shul because there’s no talking and not much chazzanut (cantorial singing) and the people are nice.

Sukkah (sitting in the hut in the garden): this was pretty successful.  We had dinner out there on the first night, which is the most important meal of the holiday to have there.  I had kiddush (the blessing over wine and snacks before lunch) on the first day, but then it started raining and we had to eat lunch inside; it actually stopped raining, but my parents didn’t want to go out and I didn’t argue as the rabbi had said that if you go inside because of the weather you don’t have to come out if it stops raining, although I wasn’t sure that applied as technically we hadn’t started lunch itself when the rain stopped.  We had most of dinner last night, hurriedly coming in when the heavens opened towards the end of the main course.  And we had lunch out there today.  So, a reasonable success there.

Mental health: not so good.  As mentioned above, I had some religious OCD regarding the sukkah and the arbah minim (branches and a really expensive citrus fruit held and shaken during the Sukkot shul services), worrying that I wasn’t following the laws properly.  That was partly due to the shiurim, but probably mostly due to myself.  This was disappointing, as the religious OCD has been under control lately.  There was quite a bit of depression, which was partly a result of the OCD, but maybe a cause of it too.

On Monday evening after dinner I lay down on my bed in semi-darkness for a long time, unable to move or do anything.  I was somewhat similar today after lunch, albeit with a more obvious cause (see below).  I wonder if this was an autistic shutdown.  I’ve mentioned that my autism was not diagnosed for a long time (technically is still undiagnosed) and one of the reasons is an absence of some traits, such as meltdowns (overloaded, emotional responses to sensory and/or emotional overload).  I don’t really understand shutdowns as well as meltdowns and they seem to be less accepted as legitimate autistic behaviour, but they do seem to suit my behavioural pattern better, but it could just be depression.  It’s sometimes hard to see where one of my issues ends and another begins.

Social: we had our neighbours over for lunch today.  I don’t really know them well, although I’ve known them for a number of years.  Some time ago my Dad wanted to set me up with their daughter (who also came today), which made the whole situation feel more awkward to me, as I don’t think she’s interested in me at all.  I coped, but I largely found the conversation overwhelming: loud and uninteresting (neurotypical small talk).  As I said, I had a bit of a shutdown afterwards and didn’t really get time to recover before shul and the shiur that left me feeling bad, which may have been strategically unwise, although I would have had to go to shul anyway as my tallit and machzor (prayershawl and festival prayer book) were still there.  I upset my parents by coming home from shul in a bit of a state and snapping at them.  Mum said they don’t like it when I come home from shul beating myself up, so now I’m beating myself up even more for upsetting them and beating myself up.

Sigh.  Sukkot is also known as Zman Simchateinu, the Time of our Joy.  It’s supposed to be the most joyous Jewish festival.  I could see the depression trap there a mile off, but I still kind of fell into it.  I tried to focus on the halakhic definition of joy, but that didn’t really work either.  Eating meat and wine – I don’t like meat much and I don’t drink alcohol because it’s a depressant and doesn’t go with my meds.  Sleeping more than usual – well, that’s a problem in itself.  Buying jewellery for one’s wife and sweets for one’s children – nooooooo.

Reading: I read a fair chunk of both Batman: Knightfall: Knightsend (graphic novel) and Doctor Who: The New Adventures: First Frontier (Doctor Who spin-off novel).  They were quite  good.  To be honest, if they were much better, it would probably have been wasted on me anyway.

***

I came home from shul today feeling useless, feeling that I can’t lead davening or “learn” Torah or do any of the Jewish stuff I should.  I felt I was a third-rate writer and failed librarian (if “failed librarian” is even a thing).  I sometimes feel that I want to win the Booker Prize just to prove myself to… I’m not sure who.  Myself, probably, or the people who bullied me at school (like they (a) remember me or (b) care about the Booker Prize).

It’s funny to come here after Yom Tov and see that I have positive feedback from people here…  It’s weird how people seem to like me more online than in real life.  Am I more “real” here when I have time to think and no pressure of being in a room with someone or do I fake it more here with time to think and draft and edit every comment I make?

This reminded me of a weird story.  Years and years ago there was a letter in Doctor Who Magazine from a teenager called Robert A. J. Newton who started a Doctor Who club at his school.  He got permission from the teachers to put up signs to advertise it.  For reasons that are too complicated to go into here, the society was called HABAFOM (don’t ask, it’s a very obscure Doctor Who reference).

He stuck up over seventy A5 sheets of paper with quotes from the series, intended to demonstrate that the programme is “poetic, brilliant and thought-provoking” only for them to be taken down by staff.  He went to the deputy head to ask why and was told off for putting up material that was, “radical, anti-establishment, contentious and occult” (I liked that so much that I had to look up the exact quote).  He responded that he had permission to advertise his Doctor Who club.  The deputy head said that if the quotes had been attributed to Doctor Who rather than the mysterious HABAFOM, it would have been OK as no one would have taken them seriously.

I feel a bit like this.  That online, people think I’m a good person and clever, but in real life I just come across as an idiot or a freak and can’t believe that I’m capable of good things and if I tried to show them who I am, it would alter their view of me, perhaps for the worst (if they find out I hold certain beliefs or opinions).  I don’t know.  Meg commented on a recent post to say that I’m the most religious person she knows, but I feel that if she knew some of the people I know, she would think that they’re much better than me more religious.

Maybe that’s not true.  I have a certain notoriety at my Thursday night shiur for once answering a question that the rabbi there bet £50 to charity that no one could answer, but I feel I have to live up to that.  CBT was supposed to make me feel that people do like me and find me interesting, and I can sort of see that, but at the same time it’s really difficult to hold on to those beliefs.  I guess the fact that I’m questioning this at all and not just assuming the worst about how everyone sees me online and in real life is some kind of improvement, in a way.

***

Sukkot lasts several more days, so more days with the sukkah and arbah minim, but it’s permissible to do some work on the next few days.  So, we shall see how the next few days go.

“It’s been a funny sort of day”

…if you’ll excuse the Open All Hours quote, as I don’t know how else to describe my Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement).

On the down side, I missed the whole of shul (synagogue) this morning and early afternoon.  On Yom Kippur we stay in shul for several hours in the evening (yesterday) then from 8.00am or so until after nightfall (between 7.30 and 8.30pm or so, depending on the time of year) with only a short break mid-afternoon (dependent on how quickly we’ve got through the prayers and whether we need to pad out or hurry up to finish at nightfall).  In theory.  This is all possible because we fast totally (no food or drink at all except for life-threatening circumstances) all day (actually longer than twenty-four hours – it usually ends up about twenty-five and a half).

What actually happened to me this year (as last year) was that I went to the evening service yesterday and managed to get reasonably into the spirit of it, emotionally, but then struggled to sleep at night.  I did eventually fall asleep, but as expected, when I woke up this morning I was completely exhausted from yesterday, plus I had very low blood sugar.  On a normal day I would get up and eat breakfast and drink some coffee and slowly begin to feel a bit better, but that was out today, so I ended up spending the whole morning in bed.  I think I managed to get up around 2.00pm, but it was hard and I kept going back to bed because I was so exhausted and probably also depressed (the exhaustion was overwhelming enough to be dominant).

I eventually managed to stay up and get dressed, getting to shul around 3.15pm, only to discover that the community was going on a break.  I prayed to myself for a bit, then read some of the commentary in the machzor (festival prayer book).  The service restarted at 3.50pm, but I spent a lot of time in the next couple of hours standing outside as it was very hot inside and needed fresh air.  I usually get a bad headache from fasting on Yom Kippur and sometimes throw up, but to my surprise I was OK today.  I was able to stay inside and join in enthusiastically with Neilah (the fifth and final Yom Kippur service – Yom Kippur is unique in having five prayer services rather than three (weekdays) or four (Sabbath and other festivals)), which is rare for me as usually I feel too ill.

So that was a negative that turned into a positive.  The other negatives were a bit of religious OCD thinking that I more or less talked myself through, but which did make me feel bad for a while, and the fact that I was too tired to go back to shul after breaking my fast to help tidy up as I had hoped to do.  I just felt too exhausted again.  I feel bad that when they ask for volunteers for these things, it’s always the same people who join in, albeit that I am often one of them and probably shouldn’t feel too bad.

On the plus side, aside from missing most of shul, I did have some positive experiences.  I felt as if something inside me shifted, not a conventional religious experience (still haven’t had one of those), but a change of perspective.  When I got up today, I was thinking, “What if I do believe that God loves me and I’m too scared to accept what that would say about me [that I’m a good person, so I assume that God hates me]?”  My thoughts immediately became very depressed and self-critical.  I was in therapy for long enough to realise that a sudden dip in mood is often a sign of being on the right track and confronting myself with something my unconscious doesn’t want to hear!

Then later I was standing outside during Mincha (The Afternoon Service) trying to cool down.  I can’t remember what my exact train of thought was, but I think it was something about feeling inadequate compared to other people and then I just thought that I can only do the best I can manage with my issues/background/life.

I know from experience moments like this are not always enduring.  Probably I will go back to thinking that God hates me and that I should behave as a “normal” frum (religious Orthodox Jewish) person (pray with a community three times a day; study a significant amount of Torah, preferably Talmud, every day) regardless of my issues.  Even if don’t go back to that negative view permanently, I probably will go back to it intermittently.  Nevertheless, it was good to feel somewhat comfortable with my religious identity for a few hours and to know that having got to that point of realisation, it may be easier to get back to it in the future.

Then I came back home to break my fast and heard of the attack on the shul in Halle, Germany.  It’s sad that my immediate response wasn’t shock or tragedy, but just to wonder if it was “neo-Nazis or Islamists?” so normal do these things seem to have become again (it seems to have been neo-Nazis in this case).  I was also depressed to see ethnic cleansing in Syria on the news, which is also not surprising as it has been on the cards for some days now.

Eat Pray Sleep (Love)

Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year) went well in the end.  Of the ten prayer services over Yom Tov and the period immediately before and after, I attended eight in full.  I missed most of Shacharit (Morning Prayers) both days, just hurriedly saying a little bit of them by myself.  I actually managed to wake up fairly early, around 8.00am both days, but I struggled to get up, particularly this morning when I was exhausted from yesterday.  I got to shul (synagogue) at 9.45am yesterday and around 10.45 or 11.00am today.  For reference, Rosh Hashanah Shacharit and Musaf (Morning and Additional Prayers) are REALLY long – my shul started at 7.45am both days and went on until 1.30pm today and 2.00pm yesterday.  I did manage to hear the shofar (blowing of the ram’s horn trumpet) in full both days.

Mood-wise, I was mostly OK, except for Sunday evening, when I was very depressed and despairing.  Yesterday and today I was OK, but a bit tired and overwhelmed at times, especially this evening when the shul was flooded.  There were enough dry bits of the room for us to be able to hold the service, but it probably added to my stress levels.  There was also an alarm ringing in the building much of today and yesterday.  Orthodox Jews won’t use electricity on Shabbat or Yom Tov (Sabbath or festivals) so we couldn’t turn it off.  That’s the kind of thing that is certain to set off autistic annoyance in me.  I think it was quiet enough that everyone else tuned it out.

After struggling on Sunday evening, I’ve been feeling a little more confident about having a good year and that God might have good things in store for me.  I’ve been feeling that writing is somehow my main mission in life, at least at the moment, and that writing fiction about “fringe Jews” (to use a phrase from a now-defunct blog, meaning Jews on the fringe of the community, in a variety of different ways) might be a useful and meaningful thing to do.  However, I don’t know what to do about many other issues in my life: how to earn money while writing before I can support myself (my parents and E. want me to consider teaching or being a teaching assistant; in some ways it’s tempting, but in other ways it’s scary) and my relationship with E. (emotionally/in terms of personality we seem a really good fit, but financially/practically there are issues and religiously we don’t fit well at all).  I also need to make a decision fairly soon about whether I will volunteer in a museum or as a teaching assistant; the former seems a better fit on the surface, but the latter is more likely to lead to a job.  On a job note: I had a call the other day from someone about job support.  I missed his call and it went to voicemail and I couldn’t really hear him.  He called several times over Yom Tov when obviously I could not answer.  I think he is from a mental health charity offering support into the workplace for people with mental health issues.

Shul took up most of the last two days.  There isn’t much downtime on Rosh Hashanah.  When not davening (praying) or eating I was mostly sleeping.  I read quite a lot of Batman to unwind as I didn’t have a head for The Elegant Universe (the popular physics book I’m reading).  I’m reading the Batman: Knightfall saga, a big epic storyline that ran over multiple comics in 1993 where Bruce Wayne is crippled and is replaced as Batman by Jean-Paul Valley/Azrael who turns out to be brainwashed, unstable and uber-violent, so Bruce Wayne (after being magically healed because this is comics) has to reclaim the title of Batman from him.  I’ve only read parts of it, as I don’t buy individual comics, only graphic novel collections and much of the saga was not collected into graphic novel form until a year ago.  The bits missed so far have not been so essential, but I do have an essential bit coming up soon that I’m looking forward to reading (the storyline where Bruce Wayne gets magically healed) .

I’m off to have a belated dinner now alongside an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation.  I’m thinking A Matter of Time (the episode where the Enterprise crew meet a time-travelling historian who claims to know their future, but is actually a criminal whose hints about future events are just bluff and guess work).  I fancy a trivial episode rather than something epic.  I’m too tired for epic this evening.

The Day of Judgement

I feel awful.  The month of Tishrei (the month chock-full of festivals, each with their own unique stress for me and my issues) doesn’t even begin for another hour and a half, but I already feel exhausted.  I don’t know how I managed to get up this morning.  I just wanted to stay in bed.  I still want to go back to bed.  I somehow dragged myself out of bed, ate breakfast and davened (prayed) a tiny bit of Shacharit (morning prayers) at the very last minute.  (I almost never have the time and energy to say much of Shacharit, which is quite a long service even on weekdays without the extra Shabbat and Yom Tov (Sabbath and festival) prayers, and I usually daven it at the last minute.  Mornings are my worst time for depression.)

I’m back to how I was feeling last year, more or less hoping that I don’t get written for another year of life because I just can’t cope with this world and feel I’m not contributing anything to it.  The chance of God inscribing me for a good life seems so remote as to be impossible; death really does seem the only way out.  I’m not suicidal though.  I just want not to be here.  I don’t think I’m going to manage to finish my novel; anything else (career, family, community) seems even more impossible.  I’m not suicidal, but I really feel that I don’t want to be here any more, for all that I know my family and E. would be upset by that.  I do feel guilty (for my family and E., not for the religious reasons God wants me to stay alive), but also worn down to nothingness by my life.

The weather (wet and miserable) isn’t helping my mood at all.  I feel like I don’t care whether I make it to shul (synagogue) over Yom Tov (festival), not even for the shofar, the blowing of the ram’s horn trumpet, the primary commandment of the day.  People blow the shofar outside of shul for people who are sick and can’t get to shul (in my previous community the rabbi used to walk to the local hospital to blow for Jews there), but I haven’t got the courage to tell anyone that I might not hear it and arrange to hear it privately or with other sick people because feel guilty that I’ll miss shul because I’m depressed and asleep.  It doesn’t feel like a valid reason to ask for special treatment.  I don’t know if I care or not about missing the shofar.  It’s hard to tell.  Right now I feel like I might not not even make it to shul in the evenings, even though I usually find those services less stressful.  I just want to withdraw.  I  just want curl up and sleep.  I don’t trust myself to pray spontaneously to HaShem (God) because I’m worried what I might say to Him, that I might ask to die or something.  I’m safer with the set prayers, but I’m not sure how much energy I have to read the very different and longer prayers of Rosh Hashanah.

I just feel barely functional today.  I didn’t manage anything other than Yom Tov chores – no working on my novel or studying Torah.  I don’t know how I’m going to get through shul tonight at all, and it’s not even a long service (about forty minutes).  With our previous rabbi, people used to stay behind after first night Rosh Hashanah to get a personalised blessing from the rabbi.  I’m not sure if the new rabbi will do that.  I’m not sure how I feel about that generally (asking for blessings from people is something that I feel uncomfortable with, at least with the way it’s done in Haredi circles) and I’m nervous as to what he might say.  The previous rabbi knew about my issues last year and wished me a year of equanimity, which was nice even if it didn’t really happen; the then assistant rabbi blessed me that I should get married, which was meant well, but I think ultimately fed my feeling that I need to be married to be accepted in the community.  I’m worried the new rabbi will do the same as he doesn’t know about my issues, just that I’m single, and in the frum (religious Orthodox Jewish) world being single is about the worse thing that can ever happen to you.

So, no computer, phone or internet for me for two days.  Shana tova tichtavu ve tichtamu/may you be written and sealed for a good new year.

“It’s my soul of pain”

(A rather mammoth post, sorry.  I’ve got a lot of stuff I’m trying to process today.)

I felt really depressed and exhausted on waking again today.  It was very hard to get going (although it always is).  I was thinking about E. a lot and wondering what will become of us.  I don’t even know how I would describe our relationship to a third party.  I mean, technically we’re both clear that we’re just friends and that a deeper relationship wouldn’t work at the moment, but we both know that we care about each other.

The house was busy as we had the cleaner and the gardener here, so there was a lot of noise.  Just having other people around can be hard when I’m very depressed, one of those things were it’s not clear if it’s triggering depression, autism or social anxiety, but it feels bad either way.

***

I had a brief appointment with my CBT therapist to check in on progress.  She was pleased that the anxiety is better and that I’m pushing myself socially, but as my depression has been a bit worse this week, we’ve booked another check in appointment for a few weeks’ time.  That will be a phone appointment.  I wish today’s had been a phone appointment, as I had to walk both ways.  The walk is thirty-five minutes each way, albeit both journeys were interrupted by trips to shops.  It left me pretty exhausted again.

Strangely, on the way home the politics-related anger I was experiencing yesterday came back out of nowhere.  I just wanted to “do a Donald Trump” and angrily vent my frustrations (albeit that the things that frustrate me are not the things that frustrate him).  It’s weird how this happens.  I usually like nuance and reasoned debate, but sometimes I just want to scream and shout and call people names.  I guess Trumpism (which is more an aggressive style of politics than an ideology) is infectious.  I guess, given how reserved I usually am, it’s not surprising I sometimes fantasise about completely losing it one day.  Jumping on the table and screaming at people.

So many news articles and political statements these days seem designed just to get one side riled up against the other.  Everyone condemns the other side for doing it, but seems blind to their own actions.  This article suggests that polarised politics is here to stay, in the UK as in the US.  The author’s response to it: “I don’t watch a whole lot of news, as the news that matters finds me anyway. I don’t do social media. I do read poetry, and visit state parks with my family, and listen to music. Recently, for instance, I got through all ten of Mahler’s symphonies, plus Das Lied von der Erde. That was nice.”  That sounds good.  Better than thinking about Boris Johnson, Jeremy Corbyn and Jo Swinson, anyway.

***

I subscribed to a Jewish website a while back, via email rather than my blog reader as per usual for some reason that I don’t remember.  I rapidly realised that it wasn’t for me.  It was for “BTs” (ba’alei teshuva, people raise secular who found religion late in life) and I thought it might help with my issues fitting in to the community.  Maybe other people have the same issues.  It turned out to be written by super-frummie people (using frummie in the somewhat derogatory sense of people who are really religious in an OTT way).  I unsubscribed, but they periodically send stuff to me anyway (naughty!).  Today a post arrived and I was going to delete it without reading, but something about the title made me look inside.  Skimming the article depressed me.  It says there are three types of people who serve God:

1) The lower kind of eved [servant], one who serves Hashem [God] only because he needs Him.
2) The higher kind of eved, one who serves Hashem because he lives his life for Him.
3) Ben [child], which is when one serves Hashem out of a love for Him.

I don’t know  where I fit here.  I don’t serve God because I need Him (I mean, I do need him, but that’s not what motivates me), but I don’t live my life for Him and I don’t know I really love Him, although identifying any kind of emotion with depression, autism and alexithymia (difficulty identifying and understanding emotions) is hard.  My depression is so bad that I can’t live my life for myself, let alone anyone else.  I serve Him because I feel it’s right.  So I don’t know where I fit in.  I guess this is the question I’ve had for some time.  I can just about accept that God cares about me (inasmuch as we can talk about God having emotions, which is a whole other philosophical debate).  But I feel that I just do what I can, when I can, because I feel I a sense of duty and responsibility.  I know that’s not right, from a Jewish point of view, that we are supposed to love God and feel an intense connection to Him, but with my issues, that’s all the emotions I can manage.

Another thing I saw today was this post from a blogger I like a lot, although he hardly ever blogs nowadays.  I wanted to comment, but I wasn’t sure what to say.  I feel that I do experience the religious exhaustion he talks about from trying to find my place in the religious and secular worlds.  I feel I should be (as he says) “at a stage where we have our peer groups, our work and our histories; we made the big religion and lifestyle decisions years ago.”  But depression and social anxiety force me to make those decisions again every single day.  Every time I go into shul (synagogue) or shiur (religious class) it can feel almost as nerve-wracking as if it was the first ever time.  I still worry about saying the wrong thing or being caught out.  I have a degree of acceptance of my choices, but I’m not comfortable that those I respect and want to be respected by would accept those choices.  It’s hard.

***

It has been a bad day for my religion making me miserable.  I went to shiur (religious class) in the evening.  I worry that I really go only for the social side, to try to mix with people from my shul in a semi-social setting (most of the people I’m somewhat friendly with at shul go to the shiur).  The content of the shiur seems to be over my head a lot lately.  It is often quite mystical and I don’t really connect with that.  Tonight the rabbi giving the shiur was talking about Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year, starting Sunday evening).   I had heard the idea that Rosh Hashanah is a microcosm of the coming year before, that your experience over the two days of Yom Tov (festival) affects the rest of the year.  There’s an idea to sleep less on Rosh Hashanah for that reason, but that’s not always easy with depression.  Today the ex-assistant rabbi said that the amount of energy and enthusiasm for davening (prayer) and Torah study in the coming year and all the chiddushim (innovative Torah interpretations) one will have in the new year are decided on Rosh Hashanah.  I don’t know why this upset me, but it did.  It somehow felt that it was all my fault that I have no energy or enthusiasm for anything religious any more.  I feel like I screw up every year and get written in God’s ‘bad’ book and if only I could be a better Jew, I wouldn’t be depressed.

The shiur rabbi was also talking about needing to find an authentic connection with God in our Jewish observance based on our personalities and personal strengths.  In theory I would agree with this, but he said that he knows that everyone present has strengths because we all have jobs and careers which mean we all have a marketable skill.  He forgot, if he knew, that I’ve been unemployed for six months.  He certainly didn’t know that I’m struggling in my career in librarianship and feeling I’m not skilled enough and can’t cope with it, but I’m also struggling to build a new career as a writer.  I don’t want to sound critical because he probably didn’t know about my situation and he certainly didn’t mean to hurt me, but it did upset me a bit.  Then he said he knows we all have enthusiasm because we have hobbies and that just made me feel bad that I have to hide my hobbies in my community because I think they would not be considered quite “kosher” (no pun intended).

He also said that people today have “cushy lives”…  OK, I know I’m not in a death camp or conscripted into the Tsarist army, I know that historically most Jews have had much harder times in terms of antisemitic violence, poverty, endemic and epidemic disease and so on and that I have, in historical terms, a huge amount of “modern privilege.”  I know that I’m lucky that my parents support me, both financially and emotionally and that lots of people with issues like mine are faring much worse than I am.  Even so, I feel that life on the autistic spectrum with treatment-resistant depression and social anxiety is not by any means “cushy.”  I know he didn’t mean to upset me, but… well, I got upset.  Some of this is the classic “invisible illness syndrome,” that people don’t realise I’m ill and have issues and they make assumptions about how my life is based on superficial criteria.

On a more mundane note, I intended not to eat any of the snacks provided as I usually binge far too much on them (I’m not sure if that’s a product of anxiety (distraction) or gluttony).  I still ended up eating two home-baked chocolate chip cookies, which were very nice.  I shouldn’t really blame my poor self-control on feeling upset.  At least I didn’t eat any crisps.

***

I save positive emails from friends and positive blog comments.  The idea is to read them when I’m depressed, but I don’t always remember, so sometimes I print some out and blue tack them to my wardrobe.  To be honest, after a while I stop noticing them, but sometimes I suddenly see one when I need to.  I hadn’t blue tacked any up for quite a while.  I decided to print some recent ones so I have something to support me over the upcoming Jewish festival season.  I felt quite emotional reading them.  Emotional that people say positive things about me, but also emotional that I’ve lost touch with so many people.  I know it’s not really my fault (except for the friends I upset), that online friendships can be more fragile than real-world friendships and just because someone stopped reading my blog doesn’t mean they think I’m a bad person; it could be that they’ve just run out of time for blog reading.  Still, it did make me feel happy and sad at the same time.  (I’ve quoted this before, but it’s so true: “It’s a smile, but you’re sad. It’s confusing, it’s like two emotions at once. It’s like you’re malfunctioning.” – Doctor Who: Mummy on the Orient Express.  If David Tennant was the ADHD Doctor and Tom Baker was the bipolar Doctor, then Peter Capaldi was the high-functioning autism Doctor.)

***

I feel on edge and I don’t know what to do to unwind.  I feel a bit anxious and quite depressed.  I’m in one of those moods where I say the wrong thing to everyone, or maybe I just worry that I do.  Did I say the wrong thing here about shiur?  I get terrified of mentioning anyone else on my blog since falling out with people over it, but I feel I made clear that I’m not blaming the rabbi, just saying that I was upset and it wasn’t his fault.  I’m sure he wouldn’t have said what he said if he had known it would upset me.  I shouldn’t mention it, but I need to write to process my feelings.

I need to retreat to my Fortress of Solitude.  I would normally watch TV, but I feel anhedonic (unable to feel pleasure) and don’t really feel like watching anything.  I doubt I will sleep at the moment though so I need to find something to do.

***

The WordPress random keyword suggestion thing suggested I look for posts on “Anime, WordPress, sharks.”  I think Anime WordPress Sharks could be a hit cartoon series, no?  About Japanese cartoon sharks that write blogs.

Unsuitable for Children and Those of a Nervous Disposition

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

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

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

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

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

Holding On

Today was mostly a horrible day full of rejection, despair and anxiety.  I got three rejections, one from a library for a job, one from a publisher for my Doctor Who book, one from a Jewish website for an article.  I felt pretty useless.  The email from the publisher was spelt badly, which somehow made it worse, like they didn’t even have to care what I thought of them.

have applied to about 100 jobs in the last year, an average of two a week.  Actually, strictly speaking, I have about a hundred jobs listed on a spreadsheet; some closed for submissions before I could apply, but I reckon I’ve applied to seventy or eighty (and I did apply for some jobs not listed on the spreadsheet).  I did get two three-month contracts, so it hasn’t been a total loss and I am in a small sector and I’m dealing with depression, which most applicants aren’t, both of which are relevant.  People are advised to apply to apply to a new job each day, something not possible for me without looking in another career sector and without having better mental health as some days I’m just too depressed to deal with applications.  However you look at it, it’s rather dispiriting.

I also had a Skype call with my rabbi mentor where I felt I was unprepared and semi-incoherent.  This is probably not true, but I probably was hoping for more advice than he can actually give.  At some point I have to live my own life, but sometimes I feel so alone.  I was so worried today that I would do the wrong thing and not be able to rectify it and no one would be able to help me.  E. said she would help me and my family would to.  This is true, but I worry that one day I will mess up so badly that they won’t be able to help, particularly as working out what to do about my relationship with E. is part of the anxiety and I worry about scaring her off or being incompatible.  Some other stuff went wrong too, but it’s too petty to write about.  But everything built up so that by 4.00pm I was just feeling absolutely lousy.  I struggled to cook some dinner, do a few minutes of Torah study and go to shul, the latter partly because they are struggling for a minyan (prayer quorum), but mostly so I could give a thank you gift to the person who invited me for dinner last week.

I don’t know why I felt so bad.  I did a lot yesterday and it’s not uncommon for me to have a bad mental health day after an active day, which is frustrating, but a fact of life that I’ve learnt to accept.  I think some of it is anxiety about the situation with E., worrying that I will do the wrong thing.  Not even being sure what the right thing is.  There’s a lot of catastrophising everything that could possibly go wrong, even the mutually exclusive stuff.  And I guess the job and publishing anxieties just sit on top of those things.

When I got home from shul I eventually called a time out on the day.  I had dinner and watched The Trouble with Tribbles (a very funny Star Trek: The Original Series episode).  I ate ice cream (Ben and Jerry’s Birthday Cake) even though I’m trying to lose weight – I felt I deserved it.  My mood is somewhat better now, but I feel very tired, too tired to work on my novel (it’s too late anyway) or to do much extra Torah study (I managed about fifteen minutes in total today).  I also feel close to tears, even though I don’t feel so depressed.  All I can say is that I don’t think they’re depressive tears, more relieved or just tired ones

I try to tell myself that I’m doing well given that I’m still struggling with depression and social anxiety.  I sort of believe myself and sort of don’t, which is an improvement on how I used to be, when I just beat myself up endlessly about stuff.  I can see that I’m managing my anxiety better even on a day like today with some of the skills I learnt from CBT (postponing worry; grounding myself; focusing on problems that affect me now, not hypothetical future problems).  I’m very, very grateful that I have E. even if things are very confusing for both of us.

***

I’m still looking for a publisher for my Doctor Who book.  My Dad keeps saying, “Maybe the BBC will publish it.  They make Doctor Who.”  This is the sort of thing that sounds sensible unless you know otherwise.  “The BBC” don’t publish books (these days I think it’s questionable how much “The BBC” exists as a single corporation the way it did until the 1980s, but set that aside for now).  BBC Books was owned by the BBC, but was sold to Ebury Press which is owned by Penguin.  I can’t find an email address of anyone there who might be an editor.  I think most big publishing houses only take submissions through agents.  The small presses I’ve submitting my manuscript to so far have been very specialised science fiction publishing houses.  I don’t think the BBC/Ebury would accept something submitted on spec even if I could find an email address.  I’m not sure it’s particularly sensible to look for an agent to sell this book when the writing career I want to develop is in a completely different area (literary fiction).

I found some long lists of science fiction publishers to pitch my Doctor Who book to, but it is hard to tell which ones publish non-fiction about science fiction.  Most seem to be American, which is also a problem; I have pitched to American publishers, but only ones that have already published works about Doctor Who.  I don’t know if general American science fiction publishers would know enough about it.  And many of these publishers do not accept unsolicited submissions.

***

I’ve mentioned being signed up for some Elul/pre-Rosh Hashanah  (Jewish New Year) inspirational thoughts.  Rabbi Lord Sacks was talking on one of them today about the violinist Yehudi Menuhin trying to reconnect with his Judaism in his old age.  I feel that in the frum (religious Orthodox Jewish) community, we go wild over great Torah scholars and saintly people who are really close to God and we go wild over very secular people, particularly famous ones, when they make even a small movement towards Judaism (Aish.com is full of this kind of stuff).  But I feel like I’m out alone, struggling to connect with God and Torah.  I’m frum, I try to keep the mitzvot (commandments).  I believe in God, I want to be a good Jew, I’m just struggling with inspiration and feeling that God cares about me and I feel that no one really cares what happens to me.  I suppose this is about feeling alone in my life and having no one to help me too.  The feeling that I’m not good enough for God or for other Jews.  I don’t know what the answer is.

Feeling Weird and Depressed

I’m supposed to go to shul tomorrow morning for CBT homework, but I’m really not sure that I’m going to make it.  I just feel too depressed in the mornings even without the social anxiety that I’m supposed to be challenging.  If I do go, I might cut down some of my evening shul-going, although I doubt I’ll cut it out completely.  It’s hard to know what to cut, though.

I’m still feeling a lot of anger and resentment about the frum (religious Orthodox Jewish) community.  I blame them for the fact that I’m still single and the fact that I don’t fit in to the community or have many frum friends (not that I have many non-frum friends either).  I feel that they’re trying to force me to think and behave a certain way.  I get angry and resentful, but after a while sometimes I think, “Well, I can’t really blame them for the fact that I don’t fit in.”  To be honest, I probably don’t even try to fit in that much, but it’s hard to try even the little bit that I do, such is the disempowering nature of depression, social anxiety and especially autism.  The problem is that I don’t know what I should actually do to fit in.  As someone on the spectrum, I do not have that knowledge that other people would have intuitively of how to fit in to a community.  I think even people who are not frum could do a better job than I do at talking to people at my shul and trying to fit in.

While beating myself up for blaming my community, I also feel bad about being so upset by people much younger than me getting engaged, but it is what I feel and I don’t know how to change that.  I try telling myself that other people being married doesn’t stop me getting married (it’s not like I’m going to marry a twenty year old) and that the world is miserable enough that it’s good that someone is happy even if it can’t be me, but I still feel like I’m going to be depressed and alone forever.  In my more depressed, but more self-aware moments, I feel like I wouldn’t be happy even in a relationship.  I doubt very much that any of my crushes would have worked out, nor the first woman I dated.  I think E. is the only person I’ve liked where things might have worked out with, except for the financial issue.  Which is a big thing and rather intrinsic to me at the moment.  I do feel that I missed the boat and there are no single women my age left, which isn’t true, but also sort of is, at least in the frum world, where really most people are married well before they turn thirty and most of the single people my age would be divorcées with children.  Not that I would even rule them out, but it would pose even more challenges to the huge pile I already have.

My CBT therapist is trying to get me to think that it is possible for me to get married, but I honestly believe that that, while possible, is hugely unlikely by this stage and that I’d be much better off trying to accept that I will be single and lonely for the near future and try to learn to cope with it.  I might get married one day, if I can sort my life out, but probably too late to have children, and far too far off for it to be much comfort now.  I can see myself getting married in my fifties, if I somehow get my life together and start a a career, rather than in my late thirties.

When I have thoughts like, “I’m weird, I’m never going to get married,” I’m supposed to challenge them, but I do believe that I am weird in my community.  Normal people get set up on shidduch dates by people who know them; I don’t.  I just don’t know enough frum people and/or those I do know don’t know women the right age and/or they simply aren’t interested in helping me.  Maybe that’s not weirdness per se, but it does make it hard to date when the usual means of dating is cut off from me.

I feel such a bad Jew.  I feel I should take responsibility for my actions and not blame other people.  I feel I should have a straightforward loving relationship with HaShem  (God) and Torah the way other people in my community seem to.  I feel I should care again.  I wish I could care again.  I wish I knew how to fit in.  But I can’t do any of these things.

I want to talk to my rabbi mentor about the community angst.  Maybe I’m worrying too much about being excluded if I share my thoughts.  I don’t know.  But I can’t get hold of him at the moment as he’s very busy and travelling a lot.

***

One of the job agencies I’m signed up for has sent me a library assistant role again.  I don’t really want to apply for it, because I’m over-qualified, plus it would be a lot of personal interaction and I’m not sure that I could cope.  But it would be a job and I really need a job.  I really want to focus on my writing, but I haven’t got the courage to say that to anyone.  Am I desperate enough to do a job I’m over-qualified for (again)?  I don’t know.  My parents feel this type of job might lead on to an assistant librarian job, but I’m inclined to think if anything it would be the reverse: that once I have this on my CV, I’ll be tainted forever and never get another librarian job.  But it’s so hard to find work that is within my experience level, let alone that I could do with depression and autism.

I’m trying to job hunt, but I’m practically in tears.  I can’t face any of the jobs available.  I just want to write.  I suppose really I don’t want to be here at all, but given that I am here, I just want to write.  One job advert is looking for someone “Enthusiastic and resilient” which is the exact opposite of what I am.  I applied for one job, wrote to ask for more information on a second and decided I didn’t have the skill set for a third.  This is what passes for productivity in my life at the moment, when I’m not writing.

Doing online job applications when wifi drops every two minutes isn’t much fun either.

***

Today is the first day of the Hebrew month of Av, the saddest month in the calendar (also, the yortzeit of Aharon).  Also my Hebrew birth month.  Apparently it’s supposed to be the happiest month in the year, but only when Mashiach (the Messiah) comes.  This is not much of a comfort to me.  I’m supposed to be mourning the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem, but it’s hard to focus on something I’ve never seen when I’m so caught up in my own troubles and when I already have a degree of anger at HaShem for my life.

***

In other news, I finished reading Gershom Scholem’s book on the history of Kabbalah (actually a compilation of his articles for the Encyclopedia Judaica on kabbalah, but also on the Shabbatean movement, which is hardly mainstream kabbalah.  Interesting, though).  It hasn’t made me more inclined to study kabbalah and I remain rather sceptical of its provenance and intrinsic monotheism.  I suppose that’s another thing to hide in shul (synagogue).

The real exciting news today is that police raided a cannabis farm down the road.  I didn’t see it, but I did see a bunch of bored looking police officers standing outside when I came back from CBT yesterday.  Who says suburbia is boring?

Too Hot!

The house is very hot still and my bedroom seems to be significantly hotter than anywhere else even though the sun (which shines through the windows in the afternoons) has long set.  The house is also rather dark, as we’re keeping the lights off to stop heating it up any more.  I feel uncomfortable in the heat, which may or may not be an autistic sensory issue, it’s hard to tell.  It isn’t helped by having to wear so many layers for religious reasons.

***

I felt myself teetering on the brink of religious OCD again this morning.  The terrible “What if I’m doing X wrong?” feeling.  Apparently everyone has these thoughts, just as everyone has thoughts of “I’m stupid, I’m useless.”  OCD and anxiety start when we take the “What if…?” thoughts seriously, just as low self-esteem and depression starts when we take the self-critical thoughts seriously.  I did at least pull myself back from the brink, realising that these were just worrying thoughts with no basis, but there’s always a sort of residue of “But what if I should be taking this seriously?”  The OCD thoughts were about idol worship, so if I was doing something wrong, that would be a big thing to worry about, so perhaps it’s not surprising that the thoughts don’t go away immediately.

Since then my mood has mostly been good today, although I feel as if I haven’t really moved out of first gear, which might explain it.  It’s been hard to function in this heat and humidity.  I did a proofreading test (more on that below) and I’m reasonably confident about my abilities there, so that might be why I felt less out of place and incompetent than when I’m applying for jobs that I don’t think I can do.  I had some CBT homework to do and realised that I had missed some extra sheets on thought challenging.  I’m not sure if the therapist wanted me to do those during the whole week for tomorrow.  I’m trying not to catastrophise about that and I did at least manage to do some thought challenging today.  I also spent about forty-five minutes on Torah study as I effectively didn’t do any yesterday because of my headache.  So I did a few things, but I feel that I could have done more, certainly if it wasn’t so hot and if I’d really managed to get going properly.

***

Regarding thought challenging, I noticed comparing myself to others came up quite a bit just this evening and I think it comes up generally.  I see some people I was at school with in the area I live and they all seem settled with jobs (I assume), families, friends, apparently a settled religious life…  I know that I don’t really know what their lives are like.  People could have invisible health issues, strained marriages, financial issues, work issues, religious doubts and confusion.  Nor do I know what the future holds; maybe the coming decades will be better for me.  Still, I just wonder why they appear to have everything they need to be happy and I don’t.  But I suppose if I go down this path I either end up asking why I psychologically need to compare myself to others, which would be a question for psychodynamic psychotherapy, or why good people suffer, which would be a question for theology.  Either way, it’s not really a question for a CBT approach.  I suppose underneath it all is the psychological-theological fear that God will somehow overlook me or punish me and never reward me for trying to be a good Jew.  I don’t really know what the answer to that is. I don’t believe that God would overlook anyone, but somehow if someone was overlooked, I just know it would be me.  Maybe this is why I’ve often struggled with CBT; somehow it tries to get me to sweep my fears under the carpet.

***

On a somewhat related note, I’m probably being interviewed on Friday by someone writing a book on mental illness in the frum (religious Orthodox Jewish) community.  I’m not entirely sure what she wants to ask about, but maybe it will be a chance to have an idea of whether other people in the community have similar issues with acceptance.

***

I struggled to sleep again last night.  My room gets very hot even with the windows open and the electric fan on.  Plus after my headache went I didn’t feel at all sleepy, but I did feel hungry, so I stayed up too long eating and pottering (I think Americans say ‘puttering’).  It’s good to potter sometimes.  Lately although I don’t actually do much, or not as much as I would like, I’m always trying to get through a long list of things to do, so I don’t really potter.  It’s good to flick through books and do odd chores and just think about things.  I didn’t fall asleep until about 5.00am, which was ridiculous and primarily the fault of the heat.  I hope I sleep better tonight.

***

I did a test today for some freelance proofreading that I pitched for.  I’m worried about being too fast as I was asked how quickly I can read 3,000 words and, not having proofread professionally before, I didn’t know.  If I was proofreading my own work it would not take that long, but my writing doesn’t have major errors to untangle.  I looked a bit online and 1,000 words an hour seems to be normal, but I’m not sure if that’s for ordinary proofreading or proofreading in translation.  The test passage was fairly straightforward, but I’m guessing someone who pays a third party to proofread their PhD dissertation (or whatever) is probably not confident with spelling and grammar and needs more attention.  So I’m not entirely sure what the ‘right’ answer is to this question.  I did the test in quarter of an hour for 1,350 words, which made me worry I was going much too fast.

It’s hard to start out on something new like this.  One of the friends who fell out with me recently was a proofreader, which makes everything seem more painful as I could have spoken to her for advice, but I don’t dare to get back in contact.

***

Freudian slip of the day: writing an email about the voluntary work opportunity my parents want me to investigate, I nearly asked what roles are “avoidable” rather than “available.”  Oh dear.  Anyway, I will be investigating this voluntary opportunity further, but I do feel vaguely that doing charity work instead of paid work is somehow a backwards step and further cements my self-image as Mr Useless Depressive Autistic Freak.

Morbid Dream

I’ve been having weird dreams lately.  I don’t usually remember my dreams, just fragments at most, but I woke up in the early hours after the dream I’m about to recount and it seemed significant enough that I got up and wrote some notes on it, which say more than I can remember now.  I’m cutting out some details I don’t want to share.

In the dream I was dying and I knew it.  I said a tearful goodbye to my sister.  I said I did love her even though I knew I didn’t show it well.  I said a shorter goodbye to my parents or possibly didn’t say goodbye to them at all, although they were there.  Lots of other people came to say goodbye to me, but I didn’t see who they were as they were in another room; although they came to say goodbye, they weren’t supposed to come in until I had died.

My secondary school English teacher came in, but kept his distance.  I said, “Sir, I’m dying of anxiety and ennui, I’m not contagious!”  (“Dying of anxiety and ennui” – even my unconscious thinks I’m a drama queen.)

Dying felt like dozing off.  I felt guilty, I think because everyone was upset, but I was excited that I was about to find out for sure if God really exists and get to meet Him, but then I remembered Gehennom (Purgatory) and became worried.

As I began to wake up from the dream, I realised I was not actually dying.  There was no relief, just a sense of bathos and anticlimax, as well as guilt for overreacting and putting everyone to such trouble.

I guess the dream shows how morbid my thoughts can be and obsessed with death and having some kind of meaningful life.  Also that I want to connect with God, but don’t know how to do it in this world, through Torah and mitzvot (commandments), only through dying.  I do think, as I said, that my dream shows that I think I’m a drama queen.  It also shows that I feel guilty about my relationships with my sister and maybe my parents, that they love me, but I can’t show them how I feel about them.  Maybe I feel things differently because of the autism; certainly I show my feelings differently because of it.  It was also interesting that my unconscious mind used the word ‘ennui,’ which is not a word I use very much consciously.

***
Today has mostly been a day for chores.  My new phone seems to be up and running now.  It wasn’t as complicated a process as I feared.  I cooked vegetarian bean burgers, which took longer than I expected and fell to pieces.  They’re the trickiest recipe in my repertoire; it’s always hard to get them to cohere.  My parents liked them though.  I also walked to the shops and did a lot of grocery shopping.  I also went to the Judaica shop to buy more tzitzit (Jewish ritual fringed undergarment) to replace the ones I failed to retie the other week.  The Judaica shop has a loyalty card scheme, but you need to spend £15 in one go to get a stamp (it’s literal card, not a digital card), so I bought some books I possibly didn’t need.  I have several volumes of a multi-volume edition of Tanakh (Hebrew Bible) with no translation, but the commentary of Rashi (all in Hebrew).  I’m trying to get the whole set, but it’s not clear how much has been published.  I do like being able to look up Rashi without needing the translation (and Chabad.org has a translation online if I get stuck), but I probably didn’t urgently need the books, so that may be £10 spent frivolously at a time when I have zero income.  The books should be useful over time, though.  It’s always useful to have access to key commentaries on Tanakh if you can read them in the original, rather than rely on Rabbi Artscroll and Rabbi Google.

The Citizen’s Advice Bureau contacted me to say I might be eligible for benefits after all, because of my depression, but it depends on how much I can or can’t work plus how much National Insurance I’ve paid in the last two years.  The information they sent me doesn’t say how much I need to have paid, annoyingly, so I will have to phone them again.  To be honest, I’m sceptical about (a) whether I will be considered “ill enough” to qualify for benefits and (b) whether I have paid enough National Insurance to qualify, as I have spent the last tax year in and out of work and I have only ever worked part-time.

I also submitted the article I tried to submit to a Jewish newspaper a few weeks ago to a different newspaper.  This time I emailed it to the editor, community editor and features editor, which may be overkill, but I think I’m only going to sell my writing by bombarding people with it (I’m not joking).  I got no response to the previous pitch, so even getting a rejection will be an improvement.

All of that took up most of the day, which was a bit disappointing.  By the evening I was getting a migraine, which meant I didn’t really do any Torah study.  I will try to do a few minutes before bed.  My efficiency is a lot lower than it should be at the moment.  By at the moment, I mean “When I’m depressed,” which is most of the time I’ve been an adult.  I’m just completely exhausted now.  This frustrates, upsets and worries me.

I did at least cope with hearing via the shul What’sApp about children being born to people my age without drifting into envy and loneliness.  So I guess that’s an improvement.

***

I’m still watching Star Trek Discovery season one.  I’m about three quarters of the way through.  It’s good, but also relentlessly grim, which gets tiring after a while; it’s also occasionally too gory for my liking.  It reminds me of Babylon 5, which I also liked a lot, but got very grim by season four.  And between this and Deep Space Nine, I clearly find the mirror universe much less interesting than the average Star Trek writer.

I’m also still reading Gershom Scholem on the history of Kabbalah, which is interesting, but heavy-going in a different way.

I think I have a new favourite bizarre Wikipedia page: List of Presidents of the United States with facial hair.  Who knew that Harry Truman grew a goatee while on holiday in 1948?

Are Friends Electric?

I woke up feeling awful, even by my usual standards, incredibly depressed and exhausted.  I dreamt about the sin of the golden calf (probably because it was mentioned in passing in the shiur (religious class) yesterday) and feeling unbearably far from God.  In the dream, I reflected that it would be better to be in Gehennom (Hell/Purgatory) than here, because at least there one would know for sure that God exists, even if one can not reach Him.  I woke up feeling so lonely and depressed that it took me three quarters of an hour to be able to get up.

The Talmud states that while some dreams can be a form of prophecy, most dreams are simply the product of our waking thoughts and even prophetic dreams contain some nonsense.  They suggest reframing a negative dream in a positive light through positive interpretation (I’m not sure if the idea is that reframing makes good things happen on some mystical level or if it simply helps us view events positively from a psychological perspective whatever happens).  I’m not sure how to make something good out of this.  I suppose it shows I’m genuinely concerned about being far from God, but it doesn’t tell me how accurate that feeling is or how to overcome it.

***

Watching Star Trek Discovery, I feel what I often feel about Star Trek in its various iterations, that the team spirit and mutual support that the characters give one another is reassuring, but also makes me feel lonely for not having a support network like that.

I also feel that I have thoughts to share, but I don’t know how to share them, how to find places where they might fit, pitch them properly and get them published.  I’m also scared to write anything about politics or religion for fear of getting flamed, but those topics are fairly predominant in my thoughts.

***

I went to get my new phone today and discovered that my current phone is so old that they can’t transfer my data to the new one.  This doesn’t bother me too much, as I hardly have any numbers on there anyway, I have almost no apps and I don’t really use the camera phone as I shake too much to get a clear picture with it.

What it does do is drive home how few friends I have.  I’ve lost three friends in the last year and drifted away from more.  Two were the ones who fell out with me a few weeks ago (I’m still not entirely sure why).  Another treated me quite badly, but I took the cowardly way out and didn’t say anything and just let the friendship drift away.  I didn’t need to ghost him, as he never made contact with me anyway, which I would say is telling, but most of my friends have been like that, historically.  And then there are other friends I’ve just drifted away from.  No histrionics or ghosting, just not coming into contact with each other any more or having things in common now they have careers and families.  I suppose I’ve been avoiding making contact because I feel inferior to them, and they don’t often make contact with me so nothing happens.

I should get ready for Shabbat (the Sabbath).  It’s probably not ideal to go into a day that is always difficult, from a social anxiety and autism point of view, while in a lonely and self-critical state of mind, but I don’t really know what else I can do.  I’m glad I have E. and one or two other more distant friends, and that I have a reasonable relationship with my parents, sister and brother-in-law.  Also that there are a few people at shul (synagogue) who seem to like me, even if I don’t generally know what to do about that because of my high-functioning autism.

Faith and Tests

Not a lot to say today.  I had an interview for a combined librarian/writer job.  The interview went OKish, but I may have messed up the written test and I’m not sure that I can commit to working full-time, especially not for a role that will potentially put me in triggering situations as a matter of course (it’s not as bad it sounds like, but I can’t really be more specific in a semi-public setting).

***

CBT was useful, but I think I need some time to process it.  One thing that stuck in my mind was that we spoke about my issues being caused partly by being bullied at school and the therapist said that I don’t see the bullies any more so I shouldn’t worry about what they think.  I agreed, but the reality is more complicated in terms of who I actually still run into in my community and what kind of relationship I have with them.  Perhaps I should have raised that, but the relationship I have with the main person I’m thinking of is really complicated and I’m not entirely sure how to describe, nor am I entirely sure that I consciously understand the situation particularly well; there may well be different conscious and unconscious motivations (e.g. trying to prove to myself that I don’t bear grudges by seeing this person).

***

At shiur (religious class) tonight, the assistant rabbi (who isn’t the assistant rabbi any more, but I’ll keep calling him that for now as this blog is already quite confusing for the number of rabbis mention without changing their titles too) spoke about emunah, faith, as occurring when you are in a situation that is awful and has no apparent end in sight, but you keep trusting that this is the right situation for you to be in, on some level.  This is an idea I have heard before, but somehow it penetrated my mind more thoroughly than in the past.  Recently, I have been trying without much success to work on not worrying that I will be depressed, unemployed and single forever and focus on the fact that things can change and even if they don’t, this is where I am (apparently) meant to be right now, unpleasant though it seems.  I suppose the secular version would be not worrying about things you can’t change or saying it will all be the same in a hundred years (as my maternal grandparents used to say), except this goes further and is open to the current situation as being, on some level, positive, even if I can’t see it at the moment.

***

Yesterday I quoted the idea, very common in the frum (religious Orthodox Jewish) world, that God does not give people tests they can not stand.  Ashley Leia felt this was a privileged view.  I’m not sure “privileged” is the word I would use, but I see her unease.  I’ve been thinking about it since then.  Obviously the idea at a basic level is that for God to punish someone, their sin must not have been inevitable.

First, I tried to find the source of the quote, using Rabbi Google.  I assumed it was something in the Talmud, as people seem to say, “Chazal tells us that God doesn’t give us a test we can’t pass” (Chazal is the Hebrew acronym for “our sages, may they be remembered for good,” but is only used for Talmudic rabbis).

The only relevant page I found was this one (admittedly I did not search for long).  Most of the ‘proofs’ there are not real proofs at all (only the Rabbi Nachman of Bratzlav quote seems really pertinent to me, and that’s late eighteenth/early nineteenth century, which is pretty recent from a Jewish perspective and about 1,500 years after the editing of the Talmud).  The ‘proofs’ seem at best circumstantial, stating that God does not act tyrannically and ask more of people than they can bear, but I’m not sure that that’s really the same thing.  One could argue from those examples that God does not give someone a test that they can’t bear, but you could also argue that God could give people an overwhelming test that they can’t bear, but that He doesn’t then punish them for sinning in that way, because they didn’t have free will.  This might be the meaning of the quote there from Rav Dessler and I think Rabbi Tzadok HaKohen of Lublin says something similar, that God can put a person in a situation where they have no choice but to sin, but will not punish them for doing that (although presumably they are only sure it was an “impossible” sin/test in the Next World).

To some extent, though, I think the above paragraph is splitting hairs and not addressing the core issue.  I think the bigger issue is, what is a test?  Is a test always about being tempted with two options, one morally good and one morally bad?  Or is a test a more nebulous concept with no clear outcome?  Does it have to be a moral test or could it be a test of endurance?  Or are they the really same thing, on some level?  (To some extent, the decision may be semantic rather than conceptual.)

Similarly, is something a test just because it’s hard or does it have to be morally challenging (and see the Rav Dessler quote again that something morally challenging is neither too easy nor too hard).  Maybe some things are difficult without being tests e.g. that they are the background to a different test.  So maybe being depressed is not my test so it can feel unbearable and my faith can falter; maybe the test is to learn to keep my temper when depression makes me irritable or to keep doing the tiny, basic amount of davening (praying) and Torah study I do.  Or vice versa; maybe davening is not really relevant to me one way or the other right now, but it’s just an expression of a real test, which is having emunah (faith).

I do think there has to be the possibility of failure for a test to have meaning, though, otherwise it is not a real test.  But it could be that the parts that I feel I’m failing are not the issues I’m really being tested on.

***

I think when I’ve left comments here in response to reader comments I might have left them in the wrong place so they don’t register as replies in the original commenter’s notifications.  I apologise for that.  I do respond to all comments, however briefly.

Attitudes

I just stopped following a site I was occasionally reading.  It was for ba’alei teshuva (Jews raised non-religious who became religious later in life).  I thought it would be good to find people who share my struggles, but they seem to be on a much higher spiritual level than me.  The article that made me give up said that “as long as a person remains outside the world of closeness with Hashem [God], he will never attain it [closeness to God]”.  One is supposed to have trust in God and in genuine Torah leaders to attain this.  It concludes “If the reader is still doubtful at this point about the words here, then there is no proof we can bring to convince him otherwise. But one thing we can ask of him: For your own sake, and for the sake of the Jewish people, and for the sake of giving your Creator a satisfaction, cry to Hashem every day, hour after hour, and ask Him that he guide you to the truth. If a person really begs Hashem for this, and if he really wants it, Hashem will surely help him get to the truth, that he be able to give a nachas ruach (satisfaction) to Hashem all his life.”  I do at least try to cry out to be guided to the truth, despite the depression and exhaustion.  Maybe I don’t cry out enough or good enough or I don’t really want it.  Maybe, after everything I’ve been through over the years, I don’t believe that things will get any better for me, or that God wants things to be any different for me.  That God created me for anything other than suffering and punishment.  I don’t know.  But I don’t feel satisfaction or love in my life.  Apparently if I loved God, I wouldn’t care about being so lonely among people (perhaps – the article actually said that I would give up lust, which may not be the same thing).  I wish I could, but it’s not working out for me.

(I also don’t think we can give HaShemnachat ruach/satisfaction” and that statements in the Talmud and other authoritative texts to the contrary are “speaking the language of man,” but this is me being Maimonidean and is not the main issue (we can’t give satisfaction to God, because this would imply that God has a lack that we can fill, which is not possible).)

My issue isn’t really this post, it’s the entire outlook of the site which is super-frum (religious) and Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) and negative about the wider world and assuming that everyone is on a high spiritual level, which I am not.  I wish I was on the level of the writers and commenters for this site, but I am not.  I wish I could find people on my level and going through things I am going through to support me, but I can’t.  I suspect someone who has been frum for as long as I have isn’t supposed to still be struggling with basic things like davening (praying) and studying Torah every day.

On frum sites like that one, one thing you hear a lot is, “HaShem doesn’t give anyone a test they can’t cope with.”  I don’t think I’m coping with my tests.  Maybe I’m just lazy or wicked, but I don’t feel like I’m coping with autism, unemployment, loneliness or especially depression at all well.  The book Calling Out to You (on depression and anxiety from a frum perspective) did at least say that “coping” is not the same as “functioning normally as if there was no test” and that it’s OK to be sub-par when depressed or anxious.  That helps a bit, but I don’t feel like I’m coping at all.  I feel that every frum site I come across does this to me sooner or later, leaves me feeling wicked and distant from God and other Jews, who apparently don’t have the issues I have.

I do wish I could find a forum for talking with other frum Jews who have these kinds of issues (mental illness, autism, trouble trusting God because of childhood experiences etc.).  I was looking at a frum forum for another issue in the hope that some ideas would transfer or I would see some commonalities, but I couldn’t connect with the attitudes there.  They were just frummie attitudes that I can’t imitate.

***

I felt depressed this morning and while I felt a bit better after lunch, once I tried to do some interview preparation for tomorrow, my mood worsened.  I looked over my notes on ‘classic’ interview questions.  I still doubt my ability to answer them fluently under pressure.  So much depends on feeling confident in the interview despite social anxiety and responding promptly to unexpected questions despite autistic slow processing time.

It’s hard to do anything at the moment and I wonder what will happen if I do get a job.  I am largely caught up in depression and loneliness and struggle to be able to do anything.  I try to find small tasks (go for a walk, do thirty minutes of Torah study, write a job application for an hour), but it can be hard to do anything.  I just went for a walk and did some shopping and I became completely exhausted, even though I was only out for forty-five minutes.  (Low blood sugar may have been a contributory factor, to be fair, but it wasn’t that long since lunch.)  The job I’m up for tomorrow is full-time and I don’t have a clue how I would cope with that.

It’s tempting to say I just want to watch TV all day, but I don’t think I do.  That would show too much initiative, motivation and concentration.  I don’t really want to do anything at all.  I just have to exist, somehow.

The thing that scares me is being like this forever.  I already know that I’ve lost much of my teens, my twenties and half of my thirties to depression.  I feel like I will never have any joy in my life, having lost what are considered the most carefree and enjoyable years.  Even if I fully recovered, I would be struggling for years to establish myself in a career and to build friendships and relationships, all the things normal people do in their youth and twenties before moving on to build families and taking their career to the next level, things that I will probably never get around to doing.  And people have fun when they’re young.  I didn’t and now I feel that I never will.  It’s all very well saying that true spiritual joy will substitute for fake secular joy, but I’m not getting either.

***

(The next two paragraphs are about TV science fiction, past and present, so feel free to skip if that’s not of interest.)

I’ve been watching Star Trek Discovery lately.  I’m about of a third of the way through season one.  It’s very good, probably the best Star Trek since the best days of Deep Space Nine, but it is very, very bleak, full of gore and unpleasant, hard-bitten characters.  It is also more an action series than a science fiction one.  I have never been particularly interested in Klingon culture and wonder why the writers of Star Trek in all its iterations, have been so fascinated by language them.  I would like to see more of the Vulcans.

When I need some non-bleak TV, I’ve been re-watching random episodes of The Avengers and The New Avengers – the British, John Steed and Emma Peel Avengers, not the Marvel one.  I’ve been mostly watching The New Avengers, which most fans don’t like.  I actually like the first season of The New Avengers (although the second one is mostly not good), possibly because I actually saw some of The New Avengers before the original series, so I’m more nostalgic about it.  It’s cheerier than Discovery at any rate.

More or Less

Reading this week’s section in the book Sparks from Berditchov, Yaakov Klein quotes the famous saying in the Talmud: both one who gives much and one who gives little are equally accepted by God provided he directs his heart to Heaven i.e. if you can’t study much Torah or daven (pray) a lot, it doesn’t matter as long as you do it to serve God.  I have long been familiar with the saying, but it has never comforted me because I thought (a) I could do more than I do and (b) I don’t direct my heart to Heaven properly i.e. my motivation is wrong and I don’t focus on God, instead doing things out of habit.

I’m still not sure about this, but I did wonder: if I force myself to get dressed to daven a tiny bit when really I want to sleep or eat or do anything else, is that habit or for God?  (It can take me ten minutes to force myself to start davening because I’m so depressed that the thought of davening seems actually painful, and even then I only daven for ten minutes or so because I just can’t cope with any more.)  Or if I force myself to study Torah for a few minutes when I really want to watch TV or write or read something else or just not study Torah, is that just habit?  It feels like even if I’m not consciously saying, “I want to connect with God” (which I’m definitely not doing) it must have some kind of spiritual motivation because I’m not thinking about reward and if it’s not about reward and I’m not doing it because I want to do it, it must be to connect with God, right?  Or is it just habit after all?  Maybe I can be in the habit of making myself do things that are painful.  I don’t know.  I wish I knew.

***

I had insomnia again last night despite not drinking coke at dinner, which I had thought was the cause of Friday night insomnia.  I went to bed at 12.30am, got up around 1.30am and read a Doctor Who novella which lasted quite conveniently until I started to get tired around fifty minutes later, although I think it was nearly 3.00am before I actually fell asleep.

I’m a bit stumped as to why I have sometimes get insomnia on Friday nights in particular, if it really isn’t caffeine.  The heat yesterday didn’t help, but I don’t think that was the main reason.  I think some of it is that I go to shul (synagogue) in the evening, which is draining because of lots of people and noise.  Then I come home and go into dinner, which is draining because my parents make the dreaded Small Talk and I have to listen politely and try to suppress my autistic desire not to do so.  Then I do some Torah study and meditation (breathing meditation and hitbodedut spontaneous prayer/meditation).  I read a bit and go to bed, but I wonder if the reading isn’t enough time to really relax compared to the autistic stresses of the evening, especially if I’ve spent a chunk of the day job hunting as I did yesterday.  In the winter it’s perhaps not so bad as I have more time after dinner to unwind when Shabbat starts earlier and dinner is at 6.00pm rather than 9.00pm.  I did read a bit before bed yesterday, but it was a heavy-going academic book (Kabbalah by Gershom Scholem, which is basically all the articles Scholem wrote on the history of kabbalah (Jewish mysticism) for the Encyclopedia Judaica compiled together in a book), which probably was not the ideal thing to unwind me.

As with last Shabbat (Sabbath), I then woke up at 7.00am and decided I needed to sleep more rather than get up and hang around waiting for shul, but in retrospect, it was probably social anxiety again trying to avoid shul, so in the end I didn’t go to shul at all.  I was alone for lunch too as my parents were out, but that was OK.  I fell asleep for two and a half hours in the afternoon, which I didn’t want to do, as I won’t sleep tonight now, but the heat and the heavy meal made me too drowsy to resist.

I did make it to shul in the evening for two shiurim (religious classes), Minchaseudah and Ma’ariv (Afternoon Service, third Sabbath meal and Evening Service).  It was OK, but I was distracted a lot by feeling lonely and wishing I had a wife and kids.  I don’t know where that came from.  In Talmud shiur the topic of Chana’s (Hannah’s) prayer for a child came up, but that was after I’d already started getting these thoughts, although it probably didn’t help matters.

It’s just depressing.  I wish I didn’t want a wife and kids so much because (a) I can’t see myself ever being in that situation and (b) given how my relationships have been with friends and family lately, I’m not sure I could manage marital or parental relationships.  But I feel this gaping wound in my soul.  I know I’m never going to be rich or famous or powerful or influential or honoured and respected (not even the small amount of honour a rabbi has or the tiny amount of honour a communal lay leader gets).  And I’m OK with that, because I don’t want those things deep down.  But I do want this and it hurts me so much that I don’t think I’m ever going to get it.  Just to make it worse, it’s a mitzvah (commandment), and one almost everyone seems to manage to fulfil, so I feel that God is probably angry with me for not doing it, even though I want to do it.

I can just about accept that I might get married one day.  Extrapolating (admittedly a dangerous pursuit), I can see that I’m better off than I was ten or fifteen years ago, when the idea of my ever having even a part-time job seemed ridiculous.  So maybe I will learn to manage my life well enough so that I could get married in my forties or fifties.  It would be better than nothing, but as I very much doubt I would marry someone significantly younger than me, it would mean that children would be unlikely.

Family and Torah Chiddushim

(The migraine is gone.)

I had turned off my computer for the night, but I switched it back on as I wanted to record two things for myself as much as anyone else.

1) I have written here a lot about wanting to have a family and worrying that I will never be able to do so.  I have also written here a lot lately about feeling disconnected from HaShem (God) and Torah.  I think the two are connected.  I want to have someone to pass on my Torah to.  The primary transmission of Torah is parent to child, not student to teacher.  In Jewish thought, transmission of Torah by teachers is second-best, a compromise in a real world where many parents do not have the time or knowledge to pass on everything their child should know.  But ideally it should be parent to child.  So I want to have children to pass on my Torah to.

I should probably explain “my Torah” which is probably puzzling to non-Jewish or non-frum readers.  When I talk about “my Torah,” on some level I’m talking about the values that I would want to pass on to my children: tolerance; financial, emotional and intellectual honesty; pursuit of meaning and so on.  However, there is another dimension.

Torah has “seventy facets” of interpretation according to the Talmud.  According to the Ba’al Shem Tov (the founder of Hasidism), however, it has 600,000 interpretations, one for every Jew who left Egypt.  Every Jew has their own portion in Torah, the chiddushim (novel interpretations), the unique understanding of the expression of God’s infinite mind that only someone with their background, experience and interests could find.  This is why Torah study is described as a creative activity, not just learning facts and arguments.  It is the very personal connection of the individual to the infinite God through the medium of the Torah.

A rabbi whose blog I used to read many years ago (he doesn’t blog any more) once wrote, “The pleasure, the fulfillment, dare I say, the orgasm of the true encounter with God through the vehicle of Torah study is at its height when who’s learning is really, really me, and what’s being learned is really, really God’s Will.”  It’s that I have been feeling lacking in my life, the times when I connect with God, either through chiddush in Torah study (my own, or finding an amazing chiddush of someone else’s that speaks to me), through davening (prayer) or through mitzvot.  I feel I used to have this, at least on some level, and now I don’t.  It’s not entirely the fault of depression, because I think I’ve felt it at times when very depressed.  It is possible that it is the fault of depression added to the stresses work/job hunting as when I felt it in the past, I was not working.

At the moment I feel as if not only do I have no Torah, even if I did have it, I wouldn’t have anyone to pass it on to.  In my previous shul, before we moved house four years ago, I wrote divrei Torah (Torah thoughts) for the newsletter and sometimes gave drashot (talks).  There is no opportunity to do the latter in my current shul and while I could write a davar Torah, I do not have the courage to risk negative reactions by doing so; I certainly wouldn’t dare to put my own chiddush in it.  I no longer share divrei Torah with my parents on Shabbat, having ‘gone dry’ a number of years ago, around the time we moved.  I did find a chiddush this evening, so maybe my prayers for connection have been answered.  We shall see.

2) I finished re-reading (or re-re-re-reading) Tormented Master: The Life and Spiritual Quest of Nahman of Bratzlav.  There is a long quote at the end of the second appendix (on Rebbe Nahman of Bratzlav’s allegorical tales) that resonated with me, seemed, in some way, to describe me and my writing (blog, fiction, poetry) as much as the actual subject; I may have blogged it before, but it is worth repeating:

“What is this quest that so fills Nahman’s life, finding such poignant portrayal finally in the Tales?  We may call it a search for God by one who felt himself alone, a search for wholeness by one who experienced himself as shattered or fragmented, a search for language and self-expression by one who felt himself unwillingly locked into an inner silence… Nahman was one who defined his life as that of a seeker; for such people it usually only in irreducible sacred symbols or in the ultimate profundities of silence that the object of their search can be defined.  To ask the seeker: “What is it that you are looking for?” is already to misperceive totally the nature of the search.”

Half of What I Say is Meaningless

“Half of what I say is meaningless,/But I say it just to reach you”

– Julia, The Beatles

A job agency emailed asking if it could put me up for a job that is ridiculously short-term (one month), terrible pay, boring and far below the intellectual and professional level where I should be working.  It’s a library assistant rather than assistant librarian – very big difference as the latter needs professional training at Masters level or equivalent and the former requires no training at all.  It’s essentially just shlapping (moving) books and relabelling them.  I very much doubt that it could lead on to something bigger.  The scary thing is, I’m was almost tempted to go for it because I’m desperate.  Plus I don’t want to upset the agency by turning jobs down.  Get on your bike, etc.  But I think it will send the wrong message if I put it on my CV.  I will look downwardly mobile.  I sent another application for a law library job, which I was rather lukewarm about, but other than that, I’m out of options at the moment.  Aside from the interview next week, there’s nothing looking promising in the pipeline.

***
I had to buy a new phone today.  I wanted to change contract, although the new one is not really any better, but the phone was old and beginning to break (the ringer has stopped working properly at times recently unless the phone is rebooted).  I went to Carphone Warehouse with my Mum.  I don’t really trust myself to make these kinds of decisions alone.  It’s silly really (although I suppose if I had a wife and said I always ask her advice before buying anything that would be seen as reasonable), but I don’t really trust myself to spot the best deals and not to be manoeuvred into buying whatever the sales assistant wants (true autistic story: it took me a stupidly long time to realise that if the sales assistant says that they use model X in their home, they may not be being completely honest).  I felt very autistic there, firstly because the doors to the street were open and a lot of noise was coming in from the main road outside and I couldn’t hear everything that was being said and spaced out a bit, but also because I got lost in the details and I’m not entirely sure what I’ve committed to buying.  It probably doesn’t help that phones don’t interest me, I don’t really understand them; I don’t mean how they work (although I don’t understand that), but I have only the vaguest idea of all the stuff you can do on phones these days in terms of apps, streaming internet content and so forth and I try to avoid using mine as much as possible.  But I know this kind of vagueness about concrete things was one of the reasons E. just wanted to stay friends and not date and I worry that realistically any potential date is going to have the same reservations.

***

My mood today was reasonably good, or at least, it was after lunch.  I always wake up drained and depressed, struggle to get going (particularly now I’m not working) and tend to stay that way until lunch time.  But this afternoon as well as walking to and from the shops and doing some shopping, I spent a while on the fragment of semi-autobiographical fiction that I’ve been writing and did about forty-five minutes of Torah study.  Not a great day, but I achieved some things.  Except now I’m sitting here watching the sun set as I write and I feel melancholy again.  I feel lonely and I know that means romantic/sexual loneliness.  Perhaps that is just being human (I’ve read The Lonely Man of Faith three times), but it feels a dangerous emotion for me, because it’s an itch I doubt I will ever manage to scratch.  Certainly not for a long time.

There is also a vague feeling of emptiness in my life, which may be connected with that.  The feeling that my religious life is, if not a fraud, then at least hollow.  That I do mitzvot, especially prayer and Torah study, from obligation more than with enthusiasm and joy.  That I can’t connect with HaShem (God) any more, and have not done so for many years, even though I still believe strongly that He is there.  I know He is there, I just can’t hear Him.  There’s too much static.

“Staying alive too complicated for you?”

The quote in the title comes from the final episode of Blake’s 7, which I watched again tonight.  Sometimes, too often lately, I feel as if it’s me (rather than Blake’s erstwhile revolutionaries) who is being surrounded by gas masked soldiers in black uniforms with no escape.  Staying alive does feel too complicated a lot of the time, not in the sense of being suicidal, but just in being overwhelmed by all the things I’m expected to do.  Today only partly fits that mould, though, as there was some positive in the negative.

***

I have an appointment for CBT on the NHS on Thursday.  I’m hoping to work on my self-esteem, as I’ve tried CBT for depression in the past without success.  I’m hoping raising my self-esteem will correct some of the depression, which seems to be rooted at least partially in self-hatred.

I was asked if I was OK seeing a female therapist and I said yes.  Now I wonder why.  I was really worried about having to wait much longer if I said no (I’ve been on the waiting list for seven or eight months).  There is an issue with being alone with someone of the opposite sex under Jewish law (something in the news a while back because the US Vice-President Pence won’t meet women alone either).  It usually isn’t an issue with medical appointments, as it is assumed a health professional will not act improperly and in any case doesn’t have the time because of other patients, but this does not apply with therapist for various reasons.  Usually it’s OK in a place like a hospital (where I’ll be seen) because other people can theoretically come in or because the doors have windows so it’s not considered secluded.  I hope that’s the case here.  The thing is, I find I don’t care that much, a sign of the way may religious observance seems to be slipping slightly around the edges lately.

The other mistake I may have made is going for an appointment at 4.00pm instead of 6.30pm.  I thought that the 4.00pm one would give me more time to go home, eat and unwind a bit before shiur (religious class) at 8.10pm (downtime is important because of depression and autism), but if I get a job soon, that might be problematic.  I’ll just have to wait and see. CBT should only last ten weeks or so anyway.

I filled in some questionnaires for the therapist, about depression and anxiety and how they affect my life.  I’ve been depressed for so long, and filled in so many of these forms, that it is hard to tell if I am answering accurately for the last two weeks rather than the last sixteen years.  I think my depression has eased a little over time, but my anxiety has worsened a little, probably because the improvement in my depression means I’m now involved more in work and social situations, so I have more things to be anxious about.  I hope I answered reasonably accurately.  The anxiety feelings in particular I found hard to stick a value on.

***

I pushed through social anxiety to phone the Citizens’ Advice Bureau to ask about benefits, given that I’m unemployed and depressed.  I struggled to hear at times because it was in a noisy call centre, and at one point I thought the person I was talking to was speaking when it was in fact someone else in the call centre.

I discovered that I’m probably not eligible for any government aid.  Although I’m unemployed, I can’t claim Universal Credit (which has replaced Jobseeker’s Allowance) because my savings are too large.  I might be eligible for Personal Independence Payment (PIP) because of the depression, but I’m not hopeful: I was on Disability Living Allowance (DLA), and when that was replaced by PIP, I was reassessed and was told my depression does not affect me enough to let me claim PIP.  PIP, like DLA before it, is basically set up for physical illness or disability rather than mental illness and it’s very hard to prove that you are “ill enough” to qualify with an invisible illness, especially a mental illness.  People who know me can see that I struggle with work and certainly I feel burnt out when working a lot, but it’s hard to say exactly why I feel burnt out or to prove or quantify it.

My politics are complicated these days, but I do appreciate that governments have limited means and, potentially at least, infinite demands made on them and I appreciate the advantages of helping people into work, for the sick and disabled as much as for the economy.  I also realise that I have a fairly comfortable, privileged, middle class existence, at least as far as externals go, and that there are more deserving people than me in the country, let alone the world.  Nevertheless, it is frustrating when the fact that my parents and grandparents (who were not hugely rich) saved money for me rather than spending it prevents me claiming assistance; likewise when the fact that I push myself to try and work somewhat counts against me.

***

Aside from that phone call, my main tasks today were cooking dinner (I over-salted the rice and let it spill over) and retying my tzitzit (ritual fringed garment Orthodox Jewish men wear).  I’ve done this before and on paper it’s easy: just alternate a certain number of double knots and loops of string, but I got into a complete tangled mess of string with it and gave up.  Tzitzit only cost about £6 so wasting more than an hour on it seemed stupid, even if I am short of money.  I feel bad about getting into such a mess about something that (a) is objectively easy and (b) I’ve done before (albeit only once or twice).  I don’t know what went wrong.  It just reinforces my feeling about not being good at practical things.  Trouble tying knots can apparently be another autism symptom.  I was no good at knots in the scouts.  I was actually pretty bad at everything in the scouts (don’t like being away from home, had trouble making friends), but I kept going.  I think I felt I ought to like it, even though I actually didn’t.

I didn’t manage to apply for any jobs today.  I did manage to do some Torah study and went to shul (synagogue) and worked on my fiction.  I’m not sure if the balance here is positive or negative.  I’m up to 3,000 words on my fiction, which seems pretty good, albeit tiny in comparison to what an actual novel should be (70,000 – 110,000 words, apparently).  I do have some idea of where this might go, but it is scary.  I haven’t shown it to anyone yet.  When I have a chapter completed in draft (which hopefully will be soon), I will probably show E. and see what she thinks.

I often disagree with Melanie Phillips, but while writing today I found this old newspaper column (behind a paywall) on writing fiction and a lot of it sounded familiar: “For as long as I can remember, I believed some people had the gift of writing creatively while others did not and that I was without doubt in the latter category. So the disjointed fragments of stories and characters that swirled around in my head stayed there” and “It also requires trust that these things will survive being exposed to the light of day. For it leaves you vulnerable to being mocked or rubbished over what may be crucial to your sense of self. Imagination is very revealing.”  I’d say doubly so when my writing is consciously semi-autobiographical.

***

I’m struggling still with the question of being loved by God.  Lots of people would say that God loves us unconditionally, but then I wonder if that means that he loves Hitler unconditionally.  This seems to be a no-win question: either He does love Hitler unconditionally, in which case does it really mean very much to be loved by Him?; or He doesn’t love Hitler unconditionally, in which case there is a point at which one stops being lovable and I worry where that point is and whether I have crossed it.  One could perhaps answer the first question by contrasting God’s love and His justice.  I’m not enough of a philosopher or kabbalist to work out what that would mean.  Possibly that one is loved unconditionally on one level, but that one is loved for one’s deeds on another level, which could combine the worst of both outcomes (feeling that love is meaningless, but that there is also a line where it stops).

I used to think that I was at least good at not speaking lashon hara (improper speech about other people), but the last few weeks have made me feel that I share too much publicly here for that to be the case.  I don’t feel that I have any good points any more.

***

Related to that, I keep thinking about my ex-friends saying I have a “whiney, self-obsessed blog” and worrying that they’re right.  I am self-obsessed.  Whether it’s a result of autism or loneliness, I do struggle to believe that the world outside of my head is as real as the world inside it.  I suppose that’s why it’s hard to believe that the outside world could be pleasant, when my interior world seems so unpleasant.

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An article on finding part-time work suggests asking those around me to look out for suitable jobs for me.  This sounds awfully like frum (religious Jewish) dating.  If I can’t get anyone to set me up with a wife, I’m’not sure I’ll have more success getting them to set me up with a job…