Someone To Love

I slept badly, waking up exhausted and covered in sweat.  I really need summer pyjamas, although I’m not sure it’s worth it for the few weeks I would actually need them each year.  It’s hard to believe it was so much cooler at night just a couple of weeks ago.  The hoped-for thunderstorm never materialised yesterday.  Today we could hear distant thunder all afternoon and also saw lightning after a while, but the rain has not reached us, and the sky remains blue.  The thunder has stopped, but there is more of a breeze, which helps a bit.  In late afternoon it was cool enough to go for a walk, which was good, although I came back with a headache.

All I could think of today was how hot and uncomfortable I am, which I guess means I am not feeling anxious about anything else, but also means I am not doing anything productive.  I wish we had air conditioning.

Mum had her last chemotherapy session today, so there’s progress there at least.  Now she has a break for recuperation before surgery in a month’s time.

Achievements: the walk, half an hour of Torah study, an hour or so working on my devar Torah (which still isn’t finished, even though I’m taking most of it from just one book, Rabbi Joshua Berman’s The Temple: It’s Symbolism and Meaning Then and Now).  I did a bit of reading of a book on writing.  That’s about it.

***

At some point I stopped praying every day to get married.  I’m not sure when.  I suppose it was some months ago, when my hitbodedut (spontaneous prayer) became shorter and sporadic, sometimes abandoned completely.  It was around the time I broke up with E.  Hitbodedut was when I used to ask to get married.  I think I stopped asking for much at all, other than the set prayers, and prayers for people I know who are sick in my Amidah (I have also been saying special prayers for the whole world since COVID hit).  To be honest, I’m not entirely sure what I say when I do my hitbodedut at the moment.  I probably do ask for things, but not consistently, and mainly small things like meeting my goals for the next day.  I probably do still pray to get married, just intermittently and not every day.

I suppose it was hard to believe that the big things I asked for would ever be granted.  It felt like God had no interest in giving me what I was asking, so why bother ask?  Like, I suspect, many things I think or feel, this is theologically problematic.  For one thing, we’re supposed to ask for what we want.  For another, there are plenty of Jewish approaches to prayer that see it as a lot more than “Ask, Get.”  I once gave a fifteen minute shiur (religious class) on three approaches to prayer; one did not even deal directly with asking for things at all and the other two saw the asking as subsidiary to other processes.

But still, I struggle to ask.  Some of it is feeling hopeless about ever meeting the right person (or coping with meeting a lot of wrong people first), but a lot of it is what I wrote the other day about not feeling ready to get married, but wanting to be in a serious, committed relationship, even if it’s non-physical.  That doesn’t really exist in Orthodox Jewish culture and it’s hard to ask God for something that is ostensibly wrong.  Sinful, even.  (Admittedly the Talmud says that the burglar prays to God that he won’t get caught before he burgles a house, but this is hardly intended as an example to follow.)  But praying to get married seems silly when I may never get to that stage.

I think I do still sometimes pray to get a job, get married and have children, but not every night, consistently.  Just sometimes.  Praying to get a job AND get married AND have children sounds a lot and something that couldn’t happen for ages, if at all.  I suppose I should be praying to feel a bit less depressed and exhausted, and to sell some writing or something.  Small steps.

***

One of the things I struggle with because of autism is reading people (in the sense of understanding them) and knowing if they’re interested in me, interested either in being my friend or, in some cases, having a relationship with me.  I have probably lost potential friends who I misread or who panicked me and I didn’t know how to talk to them, even though I thought they were nice and would have liked to be friends with them (this is social anxiety).  Similarly, I probably bored and upset a lot of women who I wanted to date, but was too shy to ask, so I just hung around them, hoping something would happen and we would magically be dating.

A third category, which I was thinking about a bit today, is people who drifted into my life and then drifted out again, leaving me puzzled and confused.  This happened mostly online; I think the nature of the internet and blogs is that people drift in and out very quickly.

I came across an email today from 2014.  This was from someone I “met” online, where we were both commenting on a Jewish website.  She was really complimentary and asked for my email address and we emailed back and forth for a bit, but most of her emails were short emails saying she was slowly writing a long email that would tell me more about her.  I never got the long email; after a while the short emails stopped too.  I don’t know if she was interested in me romantically and then lost her nerve or something else.  She was about to start an Orthodox Jewish conversion (her father was Jewish, but not her mother), and the bet din (rabbinical conversion court) would not have been happy to know she was in a deep personal conversation with a Jewish man before conversion (it might make them see the conversion as not motivated by sincere belief, but in order to have a Jewish marriage), so it would be understandable if she wanted to stop emailing.  She was also starting a programme of study abroad, although I forget what, so that might have explained her lack of time to write too, but ghosting me just left me wondering what happened.  That’s an extreme example, but similar things have happened to me and they always leave me feeling puzzled and confused, wondering if I did something wrong or if I misread the whole situation from the start (although in that situation I was fairly confused about what she wanted even from the start).

***

I’m sitting in the garden, because it’s cooler than the house and my room is so hot that my headache gets worse if I sit there.  I just finished reading Muck, Dror Burstein’s quasi-modern reimagining of the biblical Yirmiyah/Jeremiah.  I feel too tired to do anything, but not tired enough to sleep, plus my room, as I say, is uncomfortably hot.  I might watch Star Trek Voyager on my laptop in the garden, with headphones in, as Mum and Dad are out here talking and they will probably go inside and put the TV on loudly soon (the TV is right by the French windows into the garden, which are open).

Heat and Light

Shabbat (Sabbath) was OK, but a bit of a struggle.  It’s just too hot.  I know that in some places it gets hotter and more humid, but bear in mind houses in the UK are built for cold.  They are insulated and sometimes poorly ventilated.  So it’s pretty sweltering.  I couldn’t sleep at all last night.  I stayed up reading.  I eventually fell asleep around 5.00am.

Once I slept a lot again over Shabbat, despite the insomnia.  I slept late once I got to sleep and I napped in the afternoon, so I’m super-awake now, which is not good.

***

Today we ate in the garden, both lunch and seudah shlishit (the third Sabbath meal).  I was apprehensive about this, because I had a vague sense it ought to be religiously prohibited, but I couldn’t think of a reason why, or at least, not a reason I couldn’t argue against.  That said, if I hadn’t seen our super-Hasidic next-door neighbours do it last week, I don’t think I would have done it.  Still, I guess it’s progress in being less religious OCD-defined, and more open to things generally.  There’s probably a good deal of autistic “I don’t want to do anything new” in the “It’s halakhically forbidden (forbidden by Jewish law),” as much as OCD and over-caution.

***

My mood was variable.  I had the weird thought that in terms of dates, I’m doing about as well by just posting stuff on my blog and occasionally meeting people romantically that way (meeting online or in person) than I am being proactive in the real world or even hoping non-internet women would want to date me.  Obviously my online presence is more confident, more charming, more I-don’t-know-what than my in-person presence (unsurprising, as in-person presence is socially crippled by social anxiety and autism).  Who knows whether I’ll meet someone else that way?  Still, I do feel the odds are against my finding anyone soon, or even really being able to manage a relationship soon.  It’s just counter-productive to dwell on those thoughts.

(It’s strange, but despite my shyness and social anxiety, I do quite like meeting people in person who I have “spoken” to online.  I’ve done it quite a lot.)

I realised that somewhere along the line I stopped praying to find my spouse.  I’m not sure why.  I know in the last year or so I’ve cut down a lot of voluntary/spontaneous prayer because of feeling depressed and tired and overwhelmed and far from God.  That was probably a bad idea, making me more distant from God, but it’s hard to know how to get back to it.

I never know what to pray for about dating anyway.  I don’t exactly feel like I could get married at the moment, certainly financially and maybe emotionally.  Maybe I should pray to find some other activity or social network that would take away the loneliness?  But it feels unJewish to be in my late thirties and unmarried and not doing the one proactive thing I can really do about it (prayer).

Plus, how would I pray to feel less sexually frustrated, from a Jewish point of view, without praying to get married?  There isn’t another option.  It’s pretty clear from the Talmud that praying to reduce your libido doesn’t work (“There are no half blessings from Heaven”); marriage is the only option.  But what if, financially and emotionally, that isn’t possible right now, maybe never?  What should I pray for?

***

Those thoughts about finding a spouse by just waiting until she finds my blog (maybe) cheered me up a bit, but others brought me down.  I started crying while I was davening Minchah (saying Afternoon Prayers), I’m not sure why.  I had been thinking about a chiddush (novel Torah thought) I had and I’m not sure if it was connected.

In Bereshit (Genesis) chapter 6, God tells Noach (Noah) to build the ark and that it should have a “tzohar.”  It is not clear what a “tzohar” is.  The Medieval commentator Rashi (based on the Midrash in Bereshit Rabbah) gives us two options: “Some say this is a window and some say this is a precious stone that gave light to them.”

However, contrary to the way a lot of people read it, Midrash isn’t just about finding quirky facts about the Torah.  It is about finding deeper meanings.  What is this teaching us?

In his book Genesis: From Creation to Covenant, Rabbi Zvi Grumet notes that the description of the flood undoes the Creation narrative from chapter 1 of Genesis, with the world being uncreated stage by stage in reverse order as everything is destroyed, back to the point where the waters above and the waters below were divided on day two, leaving only the light created on day one.  The only thing not mentioned are the luminaries, created on day four.  We can assume they were covered by clouds, from the point of view of the ark, but this is not explicitly stated.

We might then argue that the “window” opinion assumes that the luminaries were still visible and all that was needed was a window to let the light of the sun and moon in, whereas the “luminescent stone” opinion assumes that the luminaries were invisible, and some artificial (quasi-supernatural) light source was necessary for the ark’s inhabitants.

Perhaps the deeper symbolism is this.  The “window” option assumes that even at a time of strict justice, when God withdraws his mercy and lets destruction reign on the world, even then there is hope as a natural part of the world.  There are intrinsically positive aspects of creation still around, still shedding their light from a distance.  God’s Presence can always be felt.

The “luminescent stone” approach is darker, in all senses.  It says that sometimes the world is so dark that you can find no natural source of light altogether.  The world outside is absolutely awful with no exceptions.  At a time like this, we have to rely on God to cast light for us directly and miraculously because the outside world is just too dark and horrible for us.  (I feel that this is a post-Holocaust type of perspective.)

I thought about the above, then I immediately went to daven Minchah, as I said, and I suddenly started crying and I didn’t know why.  I strongly suspect it is connected to what I was thinking, but I don’t know if I felt overwhelmed that God was providing light for me after all, or upset and alone that I feel He is not providing light for me.

***

My parents and I didn’t play a game on Shabbat this week, partly as Shabbat is finishing earlier now and partly because our neighbours came to the door for a socially distanced conversation with my parents towards the end of Shabbat, when we’d been playing (we all nap in the afternoon).  I’m trying to persuade my parents to play a longer, more involved game on a Sunday afternoon, as we’re all in at the moment, maybe Trivial Pursuit or Risk (my family don’t like to play Trivial Pursuit with me because I win.  I think at one stage they would only play if I answered the Genius Edition questions and they answered questions from a similar, but easier, quiz game).  I don’t remember the rules to Risk, but I’ve been thinking lately that I want to play it again.

***

I’m trying to listen to a long playlist on Spotify, but someone keeps editing it, so every time I open Spotify to listen to it, the track order has been changed and it’s hard to keep track of what I’ve heard to and what I haven’t.  Very annoying.  It’s one of the Spotify-produced (as opposed to user-produced) playlists too.

Feedback Loop

Yesterday finished badly.  I went to bed earlier than usual (although still late) because I felt tired and depressed.  I tried to do my hitbodedut meditation/prayer/talking to God, but got overwhelmed with guilt, anxiety and despair halfway through and had to stop.  At least I was feeling something, lately it’s been hard to feel anything while doing it.

Then today started badly.  It was a real struggle to get up.  I woke up around 10am, but fell asleep again.  I eventually got up around 12.30pm, after an indeterminate amount of time lying in bed feeling awful, just depressed and exhausted.  I’ve been having weird dreams recently too.  There was one that involved Hitler’s head (in a They Saved Hitler’s Brain sort of way, but I don’t remember the details), and last night I dreamt about people from shul (synagogue) coming round, but just sitting in the lounge silently studying Talmud.  In the dream, this seemed like a success, as they seemed to think I was on some level capable of Talmud study.  There was also a ten year old boy who I managed to speak to in Hebrew, at least to offer him a drink.  I’m not sure what any of this means.

Events today were mostly trivial, but also somewhat frustrating or upsetting.  I’ve put on weight, about 1kg since I last weighed myself.  It’s not surprising, as I’ve only had time/energy to exercise intermittently and have been eating more junk than usual since the coronavirus lockdown started.

Then the latest Doctor Who Magazine arrived.  They didn’t print the letter I had sent them, which isn’t a surprise as I admitted to not enjoying the most recent series.  They don’t print negative letters any more, even one like mine which basically argued that Doctor Who is large and diverse and if some fans don’t like the current version, they can just focus on what they like and not throw their toys out of the pram on Twitter.

Writing this down, it doesn’t seem like so much, but I felt very overwhelmed and really just wanted to go back to bed and start the day again.

I didn’t have much to do today, in terms of Pesach preparation or anything else, so I wrote my devar Torah (Torah thought) for the week, which ended up being quite a bit shorter than usual, from lack of inspiration as much as depression.  This week’s sedra (Torah portion) has some long legal passages about the sacrificial laws and a description of the inauguration ceremony of the priests, which had been previewed a view weeks ago in Shemot (Exodus), so it can be hard to find something interesting and relevant to a contemporary audience.

I went for a run, but as I was too depressed and exhausted to run for more than a few metres at a time, it was mostly a walk.  I passed a bunch of six teenagers, split up on both sides of the road so I couldn’t safely pass while keeping two metres distant from both groups.  I think this is the first really flagrant lockdown breach I’ve seen.  My uncle says that the Israeli lockdown is stricter, with people limited to a 100m radius area around their residence and police and army enforcement.

I’m struggling with religious OCD, in some ways more so than yesterday, wanting to email my rabbi mentor to chase up the answers to yesterday’s questions.  I did email in the end, and although I turned it into a general venting email, it really was to seek reassurance, which I know is wrong with OCD.  It is hard to do exposure therapy for Pesach OCD when exposure therapy requires repeated exposures over time and Pesach is only one week a year, plus a week or two of preparation beforehand.

Despite being at home with my parents, I felt lonely today.  I don’t always find it easy to communicate with my parents when I feel very depressed (or even when I don’t feel depressed).  I felt alone.  In the evening I actually did some social (or virtual-social) stuff: a massive thirteen person extended family Zoom call (which was basically certain family members shouting a lot and others of us sitting quietly) and a Skype call with E.  I was glad to speak to E., but I just had a knot of anxiety in my stomach the whole time and worried I was going to alienate her somehow, even though I knew this was irrational and that E. cares about me a lot.  I think at times like this my anxiety just transfers from subject to subject depending on what I’m doing at the time so that I always feel anxious.  I did speak a bit to my parents about my anxieties in the end, which was good.  I’m lucky to have them, and to have E.  I don’t know where I would be without them.

***

There was an interesting discussion today over on Ashley Leia’s blog about whether the term “high functioning” is a useful descriptor for mental health.  I would say not, and most if not all commenters there agreed.  Certainly in my case functionality is not static and binary, but fluctuates with time, with different situations and with other factors like tiredness and hunger, as well as the interaction of different aspects of my issues (so today high anxiety/religious OCD anxiety and depression are feeding back into each other and making things worse).  The same goes for my high-functioning autism.

There can also be a judgmental element to functionality, where high functional people are not allowed to have bad days/episodes or are not given adequate support because it’s assumed they are coping and that high functionality equates to mental stability and consistently positive mental health.  I function well inasmuch as I get dressed every day, look after my health and hygiene needs, eat reasonably healthily, exercise, look for work and so on, but whenever I get a job, my stress levels rocket up and I’ve had trouble meeting all my work obligations; I think at least two previous managers thought I was incompetent and probably regretted hiring me.  I don’t know if I’ll ever manage to work full-time.  So it’s hard to see myself as functional, even though I know that I am compared to some people, or even compared with myself as I was from circa 2003 to 2009 or so.

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.

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

Overthinking

The office was quieter today and I was more productive.  I finished the leftover work from yesterday, did my work for today and finished early enough to ask my boss for more work, so I think I redeemed myself.

I just had dinner with my parents, sister and brother-in-law.  I was depleted enough that I didn’t really want to socialise, but I was good and stayed even though it was draining and even though I may not get the relaxation time I desperately need if I am to be functional tomorrow.  Routine won in the end as I had to make my lunch and start getting ready for bed.  I’m not sure if that’s autistic routine or genuinely necessary routine as I’m starting to second-guess myself (more on that in a minute).  I did struggle at times, though; socialising is never easy for me, even with people I feel comfortable with.

I’ve started reading The Complete Guide to Asperger’s Syndrome by Tony Attwood, on the recommendation of someone from my autism support group.  I haven’t got very far, but already I’m having mixed feelings.  Some of it seems very familiar and I’ve taken a lot of notes of things to write down and show at my assessment, if I go for one.  On the other hand, a lot is unfamiliar, or is stressed more than I feel it, reminding me that if I am autistic, I’m very much at the high-functioning end, which in turn (a) makes me feel guilty for being so dysfunctional (in the sense that other people are worse off than me so I shouldn’t complain and in the sense that I “should” function better) and (b) makes me suspect that a putative third assessment will be as ambiguous as the first two assessments.  I’m now scrutinising and questioning my actions more than I probably should, trying to work out what is autistic and what is neurotypical.  I find myself wondering what I would think or do if I don’t get diagnosed (again), how I would square another non-diagnosis with the mental health professionals and friends who think I am on the spectrum.  Do I just want to be autistic for some perverse reason?  Do I think it makes me more interesting?  That it makes concrete the distance I feel from society?  Makes my unipolar depression somehow less mundane, even sexier?  I suppose I need to remind myself that regardless of what the professionals say, I genuinely do struggle with a lot of basic social interaction, over and beyond my mental health issues.  At my depression support group, during the tea break, very depressed people are able to make small talk with each other; it’s only me standing there, feeling too shy, confused and awkward to talk to anyone, unless someone comes and tries to rescue me by starting a conversation, which I usually engage in rather awkwardly.

That reminds me of a passage I read in the book today.  It says that people with high-functioning autism sometimes “avidly observe and intellectually analyze social behaviour” and interact successfully based on imitation and a rehearsed social script.  This sounds like me.  It is apparently more common in girls with autism than boys (I noticed a while back that I behave like a girl with autism more than a boy with it.  Autism in girls seems to be under-diagnosed, perhaps because girls are socialised differently or are better at deliberately compensating for problems.)  The result is that signs of difficulty in interactions may not be noticed by a professional during a short diagnostic assessment.  This sounds like me.  I believe can ‘pass’ as neurotypical up to a point; every week I manage several short conversations with neurotypicals at work, shul and shiur, but if the conversation goes on for more than a couple of minutes, I run out of “script” and start to panic, both at what I should say and how to respond to what they might say to me.  It’s at this point that things can start to go wrong, as I become so focused on my anxiety that I can’t concentrate on their side of the conversation, or even hear it properly.

The other thing I thought about today was my religious life and how much I’m struggling with it.  I feel I’m going through a crisis of faith, albeit a strange one: I believe in God, I just don’t believe in myself.  I have minimal motivation for prayer (set or spontaneous/hitbodedut) or religious study.  Prayer seems pointless, as God always seems to turn my requests down, or at least the important ones.  I suppose He knows best, but then I wonder why I bother saying anything.  I know there are reasons to pray – I gave a shiur (class) years ago on approaches to prayer and why we should pray, given that God knows everything and is benevolent, which would seem to render prayer immaterial.  I know, but I don’t feel.  Similarly my mind has little space or ability to deal with the agricultural laws of the shmittah (sabbatical) year (the Mishnah I’m currently trying to study), the laws of prayer (the Gemarah my shul is studying communally) or even the prophecies of Hoshea (Hosea, the book of Nakh (the post-Mosaic books of the Hebrew Bible) that I’m trying to re-read).  I’m slightly more involved in the weekly Torah reading, but not much (we’re currently in the early chapters of Bereshit/Genesis).  I don’t know what type of study would pique my interest at the moment and still be something that I can study from a practical (energy/motivation/concentration) point of view.  It’s very tempting to give up and take the extra time for myself, for sleep or relaxation.  I suppose it counts for something that I’m still trying to stick with prayer and Torah study, although I’m not sure what it counts for or says about me.

Difficult Days

Well, that was a difficult forty-eight hours.

It started on Thursday night, when I was trying to do my hitbodedut prayer/meditation, but couldn’t think of anything to say and slid into bed fully dressed and fell asleep at about 11pm.  I’m not entirely sure what I was thinking.  I think I was hoping to doze for an hour or two and then get up and get ready for bed properly, but I slept until 6am, changed into my pyjamas, slept for another five hours and then had to race to get to my blood test on time.  I had my blood test (and shook again – the phlebotomists think I have a fear of needles, but it’s actually social anxiety, and fear of shaking from social anxiety, that triggers it).  I helped my Dad with some shopping and came home with a headache that felt like it was going to turn into a migraine.  Painkillers helped, but I felt completely exhausted (as I do after a full-blown migraine) and increasingly light-headed, so I skipped shul (synagogue) in the evening.  That may have been a mistake, because it’s going to be harder to go back next week, especially as I was already nervous about what some people might say to me.

After that we had friends of my parents over for dinner.  They’re nice people and I feel more comfortable with them than I do with most of my parents’ friends, but I was feeling out of it and autistic.  I didn’t make much eye contact or contribute much to the conversation.  My parents felt too noisy and the conversation was just small talk, which I don’t like and struggle to make.  (I feel sorry for neurotypicals, condemned by genetics to have boring conversations.)

After dinner I went upstairs.  I tried to do my hitbodedut again.  I spent an hour thinking depressive thoughts and crying a lot.  I guess it was at least authentic, and I felt more connection than I have in prayer for a long time.  I stayed up really late (until about 1.30am) thinking about things, which was also a mistake.

I was thinking about emailing (after Shabbat) the person who does the Q & A for Teens advice column on Aish.com.  I’ve thought this on and off for years.  At first I thought I just want someone to tell me I’m a good person (I fantasise about one of my heroes from Jewish history appearing to me in a dream or something and telling me I’m a good Jew) and as my rabbinic mentor won’t, and I think my parents and friends are biased, I need to find someone else.  Then I realised I really want someone to tell me that I’m a terrible person.  I suspect I genuinely want someone to reinforce my belief that I’m a lousy person and a terrible Jew and that I have no chance of good things ever happening to me.  I don’t know why I need someone else to tell me this when I’m doing such a good job of telling myself.

I did at least realise that a lot of my problems are really the same thing.  I knew they were interconnected, but now I realise they are all actually facets of the same thing: my worries about not having a career, about no one wanting to marry me, about God being angry with me, are all different aspects of the toxic shame and guilt I feel from my childhood and from my continuing behaviour (not having a career, not being married, acting out).  I guess on the plus side that means if I can deal with that, maybe I can sort my whole life out.  On the other hand, the fact that I haven’t sorted it out in thirty years indicates that it won’t be easy (on which note, the therapy clinic that was supposed to phone me on Friday didn’t.  I also wanted to chase my psychiatric referral on Friday, but felt too ill).

On Friday night I found the following quote in the book Sparks from Berditchov by Yaakov Klein: “The Berditchover [Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev] writes elsewhere: ‘If a person gives up on himself and thinks that Hashem [God] has no pleasure from his service, although he may think himself to be quite humble, this is not called humility at all; on the contrary, it leans a bit towards heresy.’”  This was something else I pondered a lot.  I really, genuinely, 100% (OK, maybe 80%) believe that HaShem has no interest in my Torah and mitzvot because they are so insignificant and meaningless in comparison with other people’s and because I do so many big aveirot (sins), particularly acting out when the depression and social anxiety are bad, that I’m a hypocrite even trying to be frum (religious).  So now I feel I shouldn’t think that, but I can’t in good conscience think of HaShem wanting my mitzvot.  So I don’t know what to do.

(Also, why does it lean towards “heresy” and not, say, lying?  Perhaps the idea is related to the fact that people have a divine soul, so saying that God has no connection with you is like saying that you have no soul or that God hates Himself.)

Today was bad.  Really bad.  I woke up late, unsurprisingly.  I was trying to talk to Mum while I was eating breakfast, but somehow it all went wrong.  I don’t talk much about my parents and my childhood here, although there’s a lot I’d like to say, but I’m scared because this blog is not really 100% anonymous and I worry about honouring parents and not gossiping.  I try not to blame my parents for my condition, but I’m aware that my depression, social anxiety and low self-esteem are largely rooted in my childhood family dynamic and while things are better than they were, problems resurface periodically.  So, today my Mum said I was being aggressive, when it was not my intention.  Since childhood, my parents and my sister have accused me of being angry or aggressive in intonation and in how I look at them when it was never my intention and I increasingly suspect that it is my autism and depression that is responsible.  I think that’s what happened here.  I tried to write it off as one of those things, but over lunch I got into an argument with Mum again.  I was partly responsible this time, but only partly.  It’s very hard.  She has her own emotional/psychological issues, but she’s not really trying to deal with them, so I’m left carrying them as well as my own.

I fell asleep after lunch.  When I awoke I had missed the beginning of my Talmud shiur (class).  I felt too depressed and withdrawn to go to shul (synagogue) for Mincha (the afternoon service).  I tried not to beat myself up about that, but I probably will.  I tried to study some Tanakh (Hebrew Bible), but it was hard work and not particularly inspiring (Hoshea).  I should do some chores now Shabbat is over, but I don’t really have much of a desire to do so.  Tomorrow I need to have a haircut, which is my absolute least favourite not-genuinely-bad thing.  I worry about shaking again, which in itself can be enough to trigger it, but even before I had an issue with shaking, I’ve had autistic issues with that kind of close contact with strangers, particularly as I’m feeling very sensitive about touch at the moment (I jumped when my Dad put his hand on my shoulder the other day).

The K is for Kindred

Work is still hard.  It’s very depleting.  I don’t know if it’s the noisy, open plan nature of the office (worse today with a demo of striking Uber drivers outside – their UK headquarters is apparently in the next office block), the fact that I push myself without taking breaks as I would like and probably need, or the boring and repetitive nature of the task, but I struggle with exhaustion the whole time and on through the evening.  I take frequent drink breaks and toilet breaks (the toilet is at least quiet and sometimes I stay there a minute or two longer than I strictly need), but I still get badly depleted by the end of the day.

I went to bed later than I wanted to last night, but I was feeling really tense and felt I had to watch some Doctor Who to relax or I would not sleep.  I still had an anxiety dream, partly about religious OCD-type stuff, partly about the woman I dated two summers ago.  We broke up on good terms (she tried to set me up with someone else a few months later), but she couldn’t cope with my social anxiety (although that was not the only reason we weren’t suited) and the dream made me somewhat anxious and ruminative about dating, especially as there were other anxiety-provoking elements (the OCD imagery and thinking someone was about to attack me in the dream).  I woke up early, but a bit tense and unable to get back to sleep, although it was almost time to wake up anyway.

The dream was probably in part because my Dad wants to talk to a Modern Orthodox rabbi he knows about getting me set up on dates with Modern Orthodox women (a better bet than the more Haredi/ultra-Orthodox women I suspect I would be set up with if I followed the advice of people from my shul), but I’m not sure I can see the point right now.  It seems logical to wait until I’ve had a psychiatric review and some CBT for my low self-esteem and social anxiety.  Part of me can’t see the point of dating at all, because I always end up alone and miserable.  The OCD elements in the dream, which I don’t really remember in detail now, were probably because I’m struggling with my religious OCD in eating at work.  I’ve mostly kept it under control, but I can see how easily I could spiral back down.  The negative side-effect is that I’m the only person on the team who never offers to make tea or coffee for the other team members; I feel bad about it, but I would never cope with handling the non-kosher mugs.  I can’t explain this to them, though.

Part of the reason for the depletion at work is the autism and social anxiety.  So much of the time I feel like a small child trapped in a world he doesn’t understand and can’t cope with.  I feel that my autism has gone undiagnosed because I have learnt coping strategies and workarounds that make me look neurotypical to outsiders, but deep down I struggle to learn and remember what truly neurotypical people intuit automatically.  I feel I have a vast algorithm in my head about how to interact with other people that I have to consult for almost every interpersonal interaction.  Doubtless it started as a simple flow diagram when I was a baby (“Is someone cooing over me? –> Yes –> smile at them”), but with every new situation I find myself in, new branches of questions and answers have been welded on until it takes far too long to navigate a way through it and find quick answers, leaving me unsure what to say or do far too much.  I feel it was only through being in safe, familiar environments (school, academia or at home depressed) that I survived up until now; now in a work environment, I am just not coping.  It was the same in my previous job, so it’s not just this job that is the issue.

***

I’ve been struggling to do my hitbodedut for some time now.  Hitbodedut is considered a form of Jewish meditation, although it’s more like prayer: talking to God spontaneously in the vernacular (not set prayers in Hebrew).  On Friday  nights (Shabbat), perhaps when I’m more relaxed, I sometimes get overwhelmed with thoughts and just lie on my bed crying.  On other nights I just can’t think of anything to say at all.  I just sit there and my mind wanders to other things.  Sometimes I can’t face it at all and just skip it, despite feeling it really helped with the depression in earlier years.  Sometimes I feel angry with God, which is OK in Judaism, but I can’t express it and feel guilty despite knowing it’s OK.  To be honest, all prayer and Torah study is hard, bordering on impossible at the moment, but hitbodedut is hardest, whether because it’s not obligatory or because it brings me face to face with my deepest thoughts and fears.

***

I’m re-reading Philip K. Dick’s VALIS books (Radio Free Albemuth, VALISThe Divine Invasion and The Transmigration of Timothy Archer).  It probably wasn’t a sensible idea.  In 1974 Dick, who was probably pretty unstable already (he thought God had given him the answers to a high school exam and by this stage had drug issues) had what was probably a psychotic episode, but which he interpreted as communication from a gnostic saviour deity.  Except when he thought it was a message from aliens.  Or that he was inadvertently eavesdropping on a Soviet experiment in telepathy.  One of them, anyway, if not all three.  He spent the rest of his life trying to work through and understand what happened to him, both in his “non-fictional” Exegesis and in his final novels.

The novels are related more by theme than by plot.  I’m currently re-reading Valis, which in many ways is the craziest of all of them (Dick is two characters/narrators in the novel, the sane Philip Dick and the unstable Horselover Fat (Horselover = Philip in Greek, Fat = Dick in German).  There’s an amazing evocation of what it feels like to realise that you are losing your sanity and how the twisted ‘logic’ of mental illness works which is both moving and funny and perhaps helps me to understand myself, but to get there you have to read through pages of insane theology about occluded gods and saviours and living knowledge and the Black Iron Prison.  Reading it, I wonder if this is how I sound to my blog readers.  I don’t mean about my religious beliefs, but my self-perception and what I write about my mental health issues and experiences.  When I say, completely honestly, that I think that I will never get married, that I feel that I am very wicked and that God hates me and that, no matter how much good I do and how much evil I avoid, I won’t have any Olam HaBa (Heaven) and how this world feels more like Gehennom (Hell/Purgatory) than Olam HaZeh (the physical world), when I say all that, do people just switch off or even laugh, as people might at Dick/Fat’s Exegesis?  It’s a scary thought.  I know my parents just switch off when I say I’m never going to find someone to love me, because they don’t think it’s true, and someone whose blog I read told me not to predict what God is going to do by assuming I will be single forever.  It’s frustrating when what seems obviously true to me is unintelligible to everyone else and as a result they see me as funny or stupid when I really feel despairing and lonely and in need of empathy.

The other thought I have is to wonder whether this blog is my Exegesis.  I certainly invest a lot of time in it the way Dick invested a lot of time in his Exegesis.  I haven’t read the actual Exegesis, only the extracts in VALIS, and I don’t really want to read it for several reasons, but the published version is nearly a thousand pages and apparently that only represents about a tenth of what Dick wrote.  I don’t know how many pages I’ve blogged over the years, at the four blogs I have, at different times, had (not all were mental health blogs, though).  But it must be a significant amount, given that most of my posts are a thousand words or more.  It’s a horrible image, in a way, writing and writing and writing from early in the morning until late into the night (on days when I’m not at work, I often start a blog post in the morning and add to it throughout the day before posting in the evening; this post was started just before 6.00am, but that was the result of unusual circumstances (waking up from a disturbing dream)).  So much cogitation, so little concrete growth or recovery to show for it!  I suppose I do understand myself a lot better than I did twelve years ago, when I started blogging, but I don’t know how much of that is from blogging and how much from therapy (and growing up).  It’s a disturbing thought, anyway.

Hated By God

Today was pretty awful.  It started OK, but things went wrong across the morning, until by the afternoon I just wanted to go home.  I didn’t, but I fear that I was neither productive nor careful enough in my work.  I just tried to do the best I could, given the circumstances, but I’m not sure that that was good enough.

In a way that fits with this post, which I actually wrote last week (bar a few edits), but sat on for a few days while I checked with my rabbi mentor that I hadn’t breached the rules of lashon hara (forbidden malicious speech).

I had a moment of insight the other week doing my hitbodedut spontaneous prayer/meditation.  I was actually feeling very depressed, despite being rather better during the day.  The feeling of being alone with God is very over-powering and triggers a lot of self-hating thoughts and despair, to the extent that I recently stopped doing hitbodedut for a couple of days or cut it short.  (I usually only do ten minutes, but even that is hard; on Shabbat it tends to become more intense for some reason and I let it run on for half an hour or even an hour, mostly just sobbing, which I shouldn’t really do on Shabbat, but it feels like the only really authentic religious experience I have all week, so I am loath to stop it.)  It wasn’t a new insight.  Rather, something that I have known cognitively for a long time hit me with added emotional force.

I had a difficult childhood in some ways, although I feel guilty for saying that, as nothing serious, nothing illegal happened to me.  There was the bullying at school, which I’ve mentioned before.  But not all bullied children have mental health issues in adulthood and in any case, bullies pick targets who are likely to react as victims.  There were some issues when I was primary school aged, maybe also a bit older.  I don’t want to go into details.  It was, as I said, nothing illegal or immoral.  My parents were not aware of the effects that events were having on me, I’m sure, or they would have done things differently.  But for a long time, several years, when I was impressionable I was in a situation where I was being sent signals that I was not valued and no one really noticed, because I was not the epicentre of the difficulties, just a bystander.  No one was aware of it at the time, but my self-esteem was being eroded.  The lesson I was learning was that even though I was well-behaved and hard working, things could go disastrously wrong and I could be left alone in the world to fend for myself and that no one really cared what I thought or wanted.  That I was not lovable or worthwhile or valued.

Adults can cope with cognitive dissonance, but children can not.  A child can not think, “Bad things are happening to me, but that doesn’t make me a bad person” and certainly can not think, “I am being treated unfairly, but it isn’t anyone else’s fault, it’s just life.”  A child feels, “I am being treated like I am worthless, therefore I am worthless.”  I didn’t consciously think that I was worthless.  I can’t remember much of what I consciously thought and felt at that time, but I’m pretty sure it wasn’t anything like what I feel about myself now.  But I internalised the messages that I was worthless and unlovable and that whatever I did, however good I was, it would never be good enough, I would always be rejected, I would always meet with disaster and isolation.  I could never express these feelings, perhaps because I didn’t understand them (I’m not sure if the alexithymia (inability to feel or distinguish emotions) is a cause or an effect of this) and partly because I thought I couldn’t influence events, perhaps also because I had built my self-image into that of a ‘good’ boy.  So the feelings were repressed and probably worsened by my experiences at school, where I was further bullied and devalued by my peers.

Nowadays I have a good relationship with my parents.  It’s taken some work on my part and it’s taken a long time, but I can talk about a lot of my issues to them.  They’re never going to fully understand my mental health issues or my borderline Asperger’s traits and there probably will be some things we will always disagree on (as in any relationship), but we get on well, especially now I live away from them and only go home for Shabbat and Yom Tov (Sabbaths and Jewish festivals).  But the feelings don’t go away.  So I think I project them onto my cosmic parent, God.  I feel that He hates me and that everything I do is wrong.  I can marshal some evidence in favour of these assertions, but, rationally, it probably isn’t much.  It’s very emotional.  For a long time it was focused on, or perhaps through, my religious OCD, but in the last ten months or so that has been a lot better, so it has become more free-floating, just a general all-pervasive sense of sinfulness and uselessness, combined with some more concrete anxieties (getting time off work for Yom Tov, Pesach cleaning etc.).  Obviously my anxieties over marriage come into play here, as it feels like something that God is withholding from me deliberately and also because I feel that no woman frum (religious) enough for me to want to marry would consider someone as sinful as I feel I am.

Unfortunately, this intuitive, rather than reasoned, nature of my feelings means that it is hard to address them.  I have known more or less all of what I have written here for a long time, it has just been hard to feel it, and lately the emotional part of my brain has been running over the cognitive part.  Still, maybe it means something positive that I felt this for a bit recently even though it’s been a struggle to remember it sometimes.

The Shul Dinner

I managed to go to the Shabbat (Sabbath) dinner at my shul (synagogue) on Friday.  It was reasonably good.  I mean, the meal was very good, and my mental health while there was reasonably good.  There was set seating and I was worried that I would be with people I didn’t know and be too shy to talk all evening, but I was put opposite one of the people I usually sit with in services, the person in the community who I would most consider a friend.  I have eaten at his house a few times, so I know his wife as well, who was with him.  I was also seated next to the rabbi.  I’m not sure whether to read anything into that.  I think they just needed to slot me in where there was a space, as I was the only person over eighteen there who wasn’t with his/her spouse.  Still, I don’t worry about talking to rabbis the way some people do.

The food was good.  I managed to speak to some people during and before the meal, both people I already knew, like my friend, his wife and the rabbi and people I recognised by sight, but had never spoken to before.  There was some social anxiety about talking to new people or just talking generally, but I managed to get through it.  I shook a little to start with from anxiety (I spilt grape juice all over my plate at kiddush), but I don’t think anyone noticed and after a while I relaxed and felt better.  The organisers had the good idea of serving the young children their main course first and then some of the teenage girls took them off to play or do some kind of activities somewhere else so the adults could converse uninterrupted.  After the main course people moved around a bit to talk to friends on other tables and I began to feel a bit lost and lonely as the people I knew moved away.  The rabbis and some of the men started singing zmirot (Shabbat songs) at one table.  I went over to join them, but they were mostly singing songs I didn’t know, or words I knew to tunes I didn’t know, so I couldn’t join in.

Still, on the whole it was a success and I enjoyed most of it, although I was lucky in who I was seated with.

When I left I was feeling that I needed to get away from the crowd a bit, as I had had enough of being in a big group, but it would be nice if there were one or two people I could discuss it with.  I thought of going to my parents’ house to see if they were back from the dinner they went to at their shul, but I thought that if they weren’t in, it would be a twenty minute detour in the cold and dark, which I didn’t fancy (as it happens, they would not be home for another hour or so, so I did the right thing).  When I got home I was feeling a bit lonely, wishing I had a wife to talk to and thinking about various things that had happened at the dinner connected with that.  As I said, I was the only single adult there and many people had children there too.  The assistant rabbi had given a short dvar Torah (religious thought) where he mentioned the importance of “friends, a spouse, a rov (rabbi), a community” to focus on the important things in life and I was thinking that I have these things tenuously or not at all.  Likewise, the person sitting next to me (not the rabbi, on the other side) was getting annoyed that his children kept interrupting him when he tried to speak and I was thinking “If only I could be upset that my children interrupt me.”

I did my hitbodedut meditation/spontaneous prayer for about an hour, which is much longer than usual.  I usually only do about ten minutes, but I felt I had a lot to say to HaShem (God), mostly about this loneliness.  I was also thinking about something the assistant rabbi said in his shiur (class) this week, about the ultimate kiddush HaShem (sanctification of God’s name) being when a person refrains from sin in private, even though no one would know what he had done.  This tied in with something I have been thinking about a lot recently, from the Babylon 5 episode Comes the Inquisitor, which turns around the idea that some people would be willing to die for a cause in public, if they would become a posthumous hero, but that true heroism is willingness to die for what is right even if no one ever knows.  So I was thinking a lot about what my life means if it is lived by myself, trying to do the right thing and often failing, but occasionally doing something right and whether that is good enough, even if no one else would ever know.  I didn’t really come to any great conclusions.

I read for a bit after this, as I was tired, but also a bit hungry and not ready to go to sleep, needing to ‘come down’ from the dinner and also from the intensity of my hitbodedut experience.  I got to bed about 1.00am, which was rather too late.

I woke up early enough to go to shul today, but I felt too depressed and exhausted after Friday, so I went back to sleep.  By the time I got up it was about 1.30pm.  I struggled to get going and get dressed.  I davened (prayed) a tiny bit, had lunch, davened Minchah (prayed the afternoon service) and had seudah (the third Shabbat meal).  The flat was very cold by this stage, even though I had the heater on a time-switch, so I went back to bed and promptly fell asleep for another hour and a half, until long past the end of Shabbat.  I might have to take a sleeping tablet tonight to avoid my sleep pattern being messed up again.  I’m glad I managed to clean my flat during the week, as I was supposed to do it tonight, but I’m far too lethargic to do so.  I also seem to be getting a migraine.  It’s a shame that today has been difficult, as yesterday was good.

The News from Nowhere

There’s not much to report from this weekend, but I feel the need to reach out.  I managed to get to shul (synagogue) without much trouble on Friday night, but I missed Saturday morning, this time explicitly because of social anxiety.  I did at least manage to shake hands with the rabbi and the assistant rabbi after the service on Friday night, something I hadn’t managed for several weeks, maybe even a couple of months, because of social anxiety and fear of being judged.

I did get very depressed again while doing my hitbodedut meditation/spontaneous prayer on Friday night.  Speaking of meditation, I’ve gone back to trying to do some mindfulness meditation before my hitbodedut, just for three minutes, to see if I can manage it without getting agitated.  It’s hard and I’m not sure what benefit I really get from it, but it seems to be one of those things that depressed people are expected to do, even if it hurts and doesn’t help, in order to be taken seriously by non-depressed people (like exercising and “making an effort”).

Today I slept late again.  Even once awake it took me hours to get dressed.  I pottered around the flat, skimming books on Doctor Who, browsing aimlessly online, trying to resist the temptation to eat too much.  although I have almost no actual junk food in the flat, I can easily eat too many nuts or dried apricots.  Dried apricots in particular have a lot of sugar, albeit natural rather than refined sugar.  I was supposed to go to my parents’ house this afternoon to see them, my sister and my brother-in-law, but I wasn’t up to going.  I should be cooking chilli for dinner as I haven’t cooked much lately, but instead I’m writing this and feeling awful.

After two weeks, the shadchan (matchmaker) for people with health issues still hasn’t got back to me, not even to acknowledge receipt of my shidduch (dating) profile.  I would chase it, except that I feel in no fit state to be dating anyway.

I emailed my rabbi mentor last night to see if we could speak about my feeling that God hates me and that I have no share in Olam HaBa (the Next World/Heaven).  I don’t know if he could really change the way I think, though.  It’s becoming very hard to stay frum (religious) as I feel so religiously inadequate compared with the other people at shul and on Hevria, feeling that I am going backwards rather than forwards in my spiritual development, that I am simply not doing enough that God must really hate me.  At the moment I don’t really feel anything except a vague depressive sadness and lethargy, but I think deep down I want to be a good Jew, but  I feel like I’ve been set up to fail almost since I was born, if not earlier.  Only I should not say so.  I should take responsibility for my actions.  I can’t believe that anyone who really knows me could love me or forgive me.  My evidence for this is that only two “people” really know me.  I’m one and I don’t love or forgive myself.  The other is HaShem (God) and it often feels like He doesn’t love or forgive me either.

“I am but mad north-north west”

I’ve had an awful twenty-four hours.  It’s hard to indicate how disturbed and agitated my thoughts have been.  I don’t want to write in detail and worry everyone… but then, I do feel the need to reach out.  Then again, even if I wanted to, I doubt I could replicate the fast, choppy, agitated and often visual thoughts going through my head this afternoon.

Picking up from yesterday’s post I was very depressed before going to bed.  I didn’t really want to do my hitbodedut spontaneous prayer; in the end I did a few minutes before giving up.  I think I went to bed around 11pm, but I couldn’t sleep and ended up getting up and watching Doctor Who and somehow getting a stomach ache from I don’t know what.

The bottom line was that I overslept this morning and didn’t have time to daven (pray).  I got to work before 9am, so I was able to say the Shema and the Amidah and Alenu prayers in the little conference room, but I couldn’t put on tallit and tefillin today.  On the train in, I was too depressed to read (either Mishnah or recreational reading) or to listen to music.  I just sat with my eyes scrunched shut.  I wondered if I was losing my ability to be frum (religious).  If I believe in God and the Torah surely it should follow automatically that I would at least try to be frum, but apparently not.  It’s as hard to do it now as when the religious OCD was at its worst, but this time with no obvious reason.

I struggled through the morning feeling shattered and having great difficulty concentrating, but it was afternoon when everything really went wrong.  I kept texting myself brief notes of what I was thinking, primarily to write this post, but it strikes me that I do have a timecoded record of my thoughts in case I decide to go to a doctor about this.

Shortly after I got back from lunch at 2pm, I was still struggling to concentrate and feeling exhausted (so no energy boost from lunch).  My anxiety spiked and I started worrying that I was going to be fired or even be arrested.  I haven’t really mentioned this here, but as well as OCD worries about kashrut and other Jewish things, I have anxieties that I might have committed a crime without realising it and I’m going to get arrested for it, or that I will commit a crime or a sackable offence at work.  Mixed in with this were some more or less rational worries about the political situation, but the OCD and related anxieties were more worrying for coming out of nowhere and dominating.  OK, not quite nowhere, as they are clearly based on my experience last week of my boss finding out about my blog, but these types of thoughts had been dormant for a while and I thought I had largely beaten them.

Shortly afterwards, I was crying and thinking about resigning my job.  I can’t remember why this seemed like a good idea, but it was probably because I feel I just can’t cope with it.  I was the only person in the office at this point; I didn’t want to be seen crying… but part of me did, just to get it out in the open.

By half-past three, I was feeling the feeling I refer to as being ‘sunk’, when I feel like a sunk ship at the bottom of the sea, unable to move or do anything.  I was feeling overwhelmed by despair.  Strangely, I was still working with this going on in the background.  I would work for a few minutes, struggle with my thoughts for a bit, work some more… I think the amount of cataloguing I did wasn’t particularly bad.  I doubt my boss will complain or think anything amiss if I don’t tell her what a bad time I was having.

It was around this time (3.40pm) that I was having thoughts of hurting myself.  Either actual thoughts of self-harm and later of suicide, or images of being beaten up by my doppelganger.  The thoughts were vivid enough to make me wince sometimes.  I can’t remember at what point I started thinking about overdosing on my medication, but it persisted through the afternoon.

By the time I finished work at 5pm, I was having intense thoughts of hurting myself/being hurt and of suicide.  I usually phone my parents most days, but I didn’t phone them yesterday and I was trying to think of how to avoid phoning them today, because I feel I have let them down, and that I’ve let the college I work for down too.  I feel I’ve pretty much let everyone down and that I’m not really capable of doing anything right.

Then on the way home I was reminded of a major mistake I made fifteen years ago… the story is too long, not to mention too embarrassing, to mention here, but it makes me feel like I can never escape my mistakes, that they will always come back to haunt me.

I’ve written this down and, as I feared, it sounds fairly rational.  What I can’t really communicate is how frightening this is.  I know I’m not psychotic, but my thoughts are so agitated and violent, they come so quickly and so (apparently) outside of my control that they frighten me, especially when I start thinking of throwing myself in front of a train or overdosing on my meds, even if I don’t really intend to follow through on those thoughts.  It’s the fear that I might have a moment of weakness and act on them.

I don’t know what to do.  I don’t know if I can really go to the doctor having had two or three bad days, particularly as I would have to miss work to do so, possibly most of a day, as I would be an emergency appointment squeezed in when they had time.  And getting time off for an appointment means telling my boss and, realistically, my parents (a) because I tell my parents all my major news and (b) because I’m not sure how much of a fit state I’m in to coordinate making an appointment and getting to it on time without at least having the potential of a lift to the doctor if I’m running late.  I do feel like I’ve let everyone down.

Then there’s the question of what would happen if I did go to the doctor.  I do have a sympathetic GP, but I know from experience that there isn’t much he can do for me when I’m in distress, but not actually hurting myself.  He might refer me back to the psychiatrist, but there’s a waiting list for that.  He might send the crisis team round, but they’re completely inadequate.  I’ve been here before.  All they do is turn up some time during the day to make sure you haven’t killed yourself in the last twenty-four hours.  They’re useless timekeepers too: if they say that they will come at 10.00am, they could turn up at any time from 10.00 to 3.00pm… unless you assume they’re coming late and stay in bed, in which case they’ll arrive at 9.30am.  To be fair I can see that their day would be hard to schedule, but it makes carrying on with work and my routine difficult even though the main thing they say is to carry on with one’s routine and work.  So that would require more time off work.

I’d rather go to work if I can, given that I think being off work for two weeks was what triggered this episode, or at least worsened it.  I’d like to ask for something to be made easier, but I don’t know what is both a “reasonable adjustment” that work will agree to, and which doesn’t render my job meaningless.  What upsets me about work is screwing everything up, so reducing the workload isn’t going to make that fear go away, because however little I do, I will still be afraid of screwing it up.  I could potentially ask to be kept off the issue desk for a while, as that’s the most anxiety-inducing part of the job, but (a) I think that might go beyond “reasonable adjustment”, (b) it would advertise to all my colleagues that I have issues and (c) I don’t think running away is a particularly good strategy.

So I feel fairly stuck.  I don’t feel as agitated as I did earlier, when I was worried that I would become suicidal, but at the same time, I sometimes feel it would be better if I stayed agitated and fantasising of self-harm because that would be easier to deal with than having my mood change all the time.

Struggling to Understand Emotions

I wasn’t planning on writing, certainly not at midnight (1am now – writing this took a while and then I got distracted reading hilarious-but-terrifying New Yorker articles about the most powerful man in the world and his enormous ego) but I feel depressed and want to try to get my thoughts out of my head.

Shabbat (the Sabbath) was hard again.  I struggled in shul (synagogue) on Friday night, feeling quite depressed and socially anxious and not really concentrating on the prayers.  I managed to avoid going to bed when I got home, which I’ve done for the last few weeks (this would be around 5pm), but I still went to bed right after dinner, about 8.30pm.  I told myself I wanted to think about things, but really I wanted to wallow in the depression and sleep.  I did both.  I woke up about an hour later, feeling bad about what I had done.  I did my hitbodedut (speaking to God).  I can’t remember what I said, but I know I spent a lot of the time crying.  I think it was loneliness and feelings of inadequacy and wanting to know that God loves me.  I went to bed late because of this.  Hitbodedut on Friday nights can be like this.  I don’t know if it’s because I’m in more of a spiritual mode or something else, but I get much more emotional and often more depressed, but also sometimes I feel some connection with HaShem (God) which I don’t normally feel.  During the week my it’s a struggle to get my hitbodedut to last the ten minutes I try to do and I’m often tired and feel like I’m talking to myself, whereas on Fridays I can speak for thirty or forty minutes and I don’t usually feel tired whatever time it is and sometimes there’s a bit of a connection.  I don’t quite know what to make of this.

Nor do I know what to make of the dreams I had last night.  I don’t normally remember my dreams, but every so often I go through phases of remembering bits and pieces of them.  I know I had odd dreams last night with religious undertones, or maybe even overtones – I don’t remember enough detail.  I woke up with a phrase in my head that I thought was a great chiddush (novel interpretation of a religious text) and its arrival in my head might just be a sign that God was communicating His love to me.  Still, I was sceptical, as I always am of things like that, and as the day wore on, the supposed chiddush seemed less and less coherent or justifiable.  Eventually I dismissed it as an irrational thought from my subconscious, perhaps trying to make myself feel better, rather than anything more supernatural.

I missed shul in the morning again.  I woke up on time, but I felt too bad to get out of bad.  I say “bad” because it’s hard for me to tell if I’m avoiding it because of exhaustion, depression or social anxiety.  I know I’m going to have to face shul again sooner or later, but I can’t find the inner strength to do so.

Another thing I don’t understand is my reaction to films.  I wrote in a previous post that this might be sensory overload in the cinema, but this evening I was watching a film on TV with my parents and felt depressed when it finished without being sure why, or even being sure of what exactly I was feeling, except knowing that it did not feel good.  Other potential reasons why the film might have upset me today was that I didn’t like it  very much (it made a mess of one of my absolute favourite novels, Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy by John le Carré; read the book or watch the TV adaptation with Alec Guinness as George Smiley, very faithful to the novel and beautifully acted, unlike the film) and that I abandoned my semi-diet and had an ice cream because I was so disappointed by the film; I’ve mentioned before that I worry that eating too much sugary food can trigger a dip in my mood as my blood sugar level goes up and down and I suppose that could have happened here, although it would have had to have happened very fast.

So it’s gone 1.00am and I’m left feeling a bit tired, but not really sleepy, if that makes sense, a bit lonely and depressed and very hungry (why?!  I’ve done nothing but eat or sleep all day!), but not sure what to do about it.  I don’t know why films and theatre seem to make me depressed in way that books and TV don’t or if sugar really does affect my mood so much.  I wish I wasn’t single and alone at the moment.  I don’t really want to talk and certainly not to do anything physical, just to have someone I feel comfortable being around and being quiet with, if that makes sense.  Someone who can just accept me.  But I know that that won’t happen until I can accept myself.  The problem is that I don’t know how to do that.  I went on a self-esteem course years ago and while it did give me hints about how to say “No” and deal with recalcitrant students at work, the CBT-style hints about self-esteem (say positive affirmations about yourself, congratulate yourself on even trivial achievements) have never really helped me.  My self-loathing seems to be too deeply-rooted for anything to shift it.  Nor has years of psychotherapy helped me, leading me to fear a solitary and self-loathing existence for the rest of my life.

Leaping Souls

I’m writing this idly while waiting for Mum to wake up so we can light Chanukah candles (she’s not feeling well, so we haven’t lit yet).  I wasn’t planning on writing as I don’t really have much to say today, or rather, I do, but I need time to process things, discuss them with my therapist (who is away until January now) and internalise them and even then some of them may be too personal to write.  But I’m at a loose end, so I’ll write a bit of what I’ve been feeling over the last few weeks and especially over Shabbat (the Sabbath).

Shabbat was hard again.  I felt quite depressed and socially anxious in shul (synagogue) on Friday night again and slept through Shabbat morning after insomnia on Friday night.  The depression really does hit me in shul on Shabbat evening, when I’m away from the displacement activity of work.  I felt better during dinner, but felt very depressed and anxious during my hitbodedut.  Hitbodedut (literally ‘making oneself alone’) combines elements of prayer, meditation and, I guess, therapy.  Whereas prayer in Judaism usually means set prayers, in Hebrew, with a minyan (prayer quorum), hitbodedut is just talking to God in the vernacular, for as long as you want, saying whatever you want.  During the week it’s been very hard to do lately, partly from tiredness, partly from the ‘blocked’ nature of so much of my life, particularly my religious life, at the moment.  But on Shabbat it all comes out.  A lot of pain and depression and guilt and probably some anxiety and maybe sometimes anger.  Feelings of inadequacy and wondering how I can go on.

Lately I wonder how I can go on, why I’m still a frum (religious) Jew when Judaism probably causes me some pain and certainly uses a lot of energy, motivation and concentration that is in short supply with the depression, social anxiety and Asperger’s.  It’s not for reward, because I feel like God hates me and wants to punish me and that I don’t deserve a share in Olam HaBa (the Next World).  It’s not for fear of punishment, because even though I know rationally that punishment in Olam HaBa is worse than anything in this world, what I have been suffering over the last seventeen years or so seems as bad as anything else I could suffer; anyway, suffering in Olam HaBa only lasts one year, then you go to your reward or, if you’re really bad, your soul just stops existing.  That seems better than what I’m going through now, which has been going on for seventeen years (at least) and could go on for another seventy. It’s not for family reasons, because I’m the most religious person in my immediate family, so I’m not fitting in with the others.  It’s not from peer pressure, because most of my friends are not frum or not Jewish and most of the Jewish friendships have been made after things got hard for me.  It’s not for community, because I don’t feel I belong to one.  It’s not for simcha shel mitzvah (the joy of performing the commandments) because I don’t generally feel it because of the depression, although I do love Shabbat.

All I know is the story told by the Kotzker Rebbe (my hero), that all the souls come down to Earth from Heaven and the angel pulls up the ladder behind them.  God says, “Leap up to Heaven.”  Some souls say, “It’s impossible to leap from Earth to Heaven” and don’t even try.  Some try for a bit, but soon give up.  But some say, “If God tells me to leap into Heaven, I must keep trying” and they try and try and eventually God has mercy on them and reaches down and pulls them into Heaven.

I guess for me the jumping is an end in itself.  It’s the triumph of will over experience.  I believe in God and in the divine authorship of the Torah, so I jump, even though it hurts and even though I don’t expect to get anything positive out of it.

Anyway, I can’t imagine not being a Jew and I can’t imagine Judaism without halakhah (Jewish law/practice) – all attempts at creating cultural or non-halakhic Judaisms seem to me to be problematic and question-begging.  So I keep halakhah to be a Jew, because I am a Jew and I know I want to be a Jew.  Maybe it doesn’t have to be any deeper than that.