Angst In My Pants

I still feel that I’m wilting in the heat.  It was hard to do anything again today.  The weather is predicted to be in the thirties (Celsius) until Wednesday, getting hotter every day until Thursday, then cooler, but with thunderstorms for the rest of the week, so I don’t think I’ll be exercising much this week.  I hope to go for a walk after dinner, if it’s a bit cooler than it is now.

***

I finished the job application I was writing.  I don’t know why the trend seems to be to ask for character references for time spent unemployed.  I could understand asking for character references if you’ve never worked, but I don’t know why they want character references for time between jobs.  I gave my rabbi, but technically he’s only known me for two years.  I feel it just draws attention to the fact that I’ve been out of work so much.

I found myself thinking about things I’ve done wrong at work, and job applications that I felt were not brilliant.  Somehow I feel that I struggle to demonstrate that I’ve got particular skills or had particular experiences even when I have had them.  There may be an autistic issue of looking at things a particular way and struggling to reframe my experiences to meet the demands of the application.  Sometimes talking to my parents helps with this, but I feel bad for needing help with applications.

***

I’m also feeling depressed (not quite the right word, but down and frustrated) that the only women I’ve been able to build a relationship with are women who also have “issues.”  That’s not a problem in itself, but it can create a situation where we both have issues and the relationship doesn’t work because of that.  Although sometimes they can’t cope with my issues, while expecting me to cope with theirs, which is not fair.

I feel that I want to be in a serious relationship, one that could lead to marriage one day, but that isn’t rushing towards it in the short-term.  Not involving sex (I’m not sure what I feel about hugging and hand holding), but close and emotionally connected.  The problem is that in the frum (religious Jewish) world, this type of relationship doesn’t really exist.  The focus is more on going out and deciding in the space of relatively few dates if you are right for each other and then getting married quickly.  I doubt that I could cope with being married at the moment, especially if I would be expected to have children soon after, as I would be in the frum community.  I want to have children some day, but I don’t know if I’ll ever be ready for that responsibility, emotionally or financially.  That’s another reason not to marry, as from a halakhic (Jewish legal) point of view, using birth control indefinitely without having any children is problematic.

I don’t really want to date non-religious women, because, for all my problems with the frum world, I can’t see my life being compatible with someone who doesn’t keep the basics, and I doubt a non-religious woman would want a long-term non-physical relationship.  I suppose in the more Modern Orthodox world I might find someone who wanted a slower-moving relationship, although even there the trend seems to be going towards faster dating, but I suspect by the time they get to my age, most of those women are looking to marry and have children too.  Anyway, I don’t know how to meet such a person.  Maybe on JDate, but online dating hasn’t always worked out well for me.

The idea that “dating is for marriage (and happens very quickly)” is so pervasive in the frum world that I feel guilty for even thinking that I want to date towards marriage, but slower than most.  It feels almost as if I wanted to be promiscuous, which must sound strange to outsiders.  That said, you might be surprised how many frum women I’ve met who are not sure if they want children, or are certain that they don’t.  So clearly there are other people who don’t fit the mould.

Of course, I can’t see many women wanting much to do with a man with poor employment prospects, depression, social anxiety and autism, so maybe all this is a pointless train of thought anyway.

***

The reverse side of this is that the thought of being in a relationship again makes me feel nervous as well as excited.  Being with someone who was right for me, at a time when I was ready for a relationship and children sounds good, but getting there seems impossible with all my issues and baggage, not to mention the whole process of dating different women, being rejected, having misunderstandings and arguments (actually, I haven’t had arguments, but I’m afraid I would), making myself vulnerable and getting hurt again…  The end is good if you can get there, but the journey seems impossible, at least for someone like me, with issues and a fragile sense of self-esteem (a fragile sense of self in general, really).

I have ended up having close platonic friendships with women over the years, often not frum or not Jewish, which I guess was a kind of substitute for a romantic relationship.  Most of those women I would have been open to dating if the situation had been different or if they had been interested.  Those friendships increasingly ended badly, most recently in E. and I becoming boyfriend/girlfriend and then breaking up, so I’m scared to do that any more.  I do worry about being alone forever, about not being able to talk to anyone.  I crave intimacy (I mean emotional intimacy more than physical, although there is an element of that), but it is elusive.

***

I’m not even sure if anything I’ve written in the last two sections makes sense, or if it all cancels itself out somehow.

***

I feel like I’m stuck in a never ending loop: living in lockdown, applying for jobs I don’t get, writing books no one reads, getting crushes that never go anywhere…  I’m aware that that’s not really accurate.  I’ve only written one book, I’m still working on the second.  I do get crushes that don’t go anywhere, but that’s over a much bigger timescale than just lockdown.  Shielding Mum in lockdown is hard, but hopefully that will get a bit easier in a month or so, after her operation, although I think I’ll be nervous about going into shops for a while longer, let alone going to shul (synagogue).

All that said, I wish there was some clearer sign that things can work out well for me, with career, writing and dating, and over a reasonable timescale too.  I don’t want to suddenly build a career and find love in my eighties (although I suppose it would be better than nothing).  I just worry I’ll never find even the small amount of happiness and fulfilment that most people manage to find.

***

Achievements today: not much.  I finished the job application, did about three quarters of an hour of Torah study and read paprt of a book on writing.  I bought books on writing when I had writers’ block a couple of months ago.  I’m torn between thinking that writing can’t be taught and I’m just going to confuse myself and stifle my creativity by reading about it and thinking that writing is a skill like anything else and saying that one shouldn’t formally learn it is like saying Yehudi Menuhin should have just picked up the violin and been perfect without lessons.

***

I’ve been listening to Sparks lately.  Sparks are a band who formed in the sixties and are still going, formed from brothers Ron and Russell Mael.  They aren’t hugely famous.  They are American, but were more popular in the UK than the US.  Their most famous song is This Town Ain’t Big Enough for the Both of Us.  To be honest, they can be a bit hit and miss and are something of an acquired taste, but their best songs are eccentric and quirky, with clever lyrics.  I find a lot of the songs have resonance for me.  Sherlock Holmes is about wanting to be someone you aren’t.  The Existential Threat is about anxiety.  Amateur Hour and When I’m With You are about insecurity in different ways.  Edith Piaf (Said it Better than Me) is about someone who has no regrets, because he has never done anything exciting.  And, to be honest, I suspect other people have thought I Wish You Were Fun about me behind my back.

Trying to Be Present in the Present

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

***

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

***

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

***

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

***

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

Depressed, Anxious, Vegetating

Despite feeling very depressed, I did the cataloguing assessment I had to do for a job application.  I don’t feel that I did it very well and certainly it took longer than it should have done.  It was hard to concentrate and I got up to pace the room with agitation at some points.  I experienced a lot of anxiety and agitation doing it.  I also struggled with the content.  I felt I didn’t understand all of the instructions and I wasn’t sure if that was their fault or mine.  I also struggled with the online Library of Congress Subject Headings website.  I hadn’t used LCSH for nearly ten years, since I did my librarianship MA, and I think even then I only used the hard copy books, not the online database.  I struggled with it.

I’m also experiencing other anxiety.  I mentioned yesterday that three books on writing novels that I ordered arrived.  Today they were followed by belated copies of the latest Doctor Who Magazine and Jewish Review of Books.  I’m feeling overwhelmed by stuff I have to read, and the writing guide books make me wonder how much I’m going to have to edit and redraft my novel.

***

I still feel very depressed after finishing the cataloguing test.  I worked on my devar Torah (Torah thought) for over an hour, but I wasn’t particularly happy with it.  I had misunderstood a couple of things and the corrected idea wasn’t as powerful as I had thought at first.

I wanted to work on my novel, exercise or do more substantial Torah study, but didn’t feel well enough and decided the rest of the afternoon would have to be a mental health day.

I’m giving up on doing anything else today.  I’m just too depressed to do anything other than vegetate in front of the TV.  I’m trying not to feel hopeless and useless, but it’s hard.  Doctor Who, from the original run (The Web of Fear), because (a) it hits my autistic special interest comfort zone more than anything else and (b) because I know all the stories inside out, so it doesn’t matter if I lose concentration.

Dating Procrastination

Last night I decided that I probably should start dating, or at least contact this dating service and see what they think.  I thought that, if I want signs, then it probably counts for something that my parents and my rabbi mentor think I should be dating.  And, while I have no real idea what God thinks, getting married and having children is a mitzvah (commandment), so I should probably be pursuing it.  The more I thought about it, the more I felt that I have a certain calm when I thought I should be dating, albeit accompanied by anxiety.  It didn’t seem particularly immoral to go on dates with my mental health issues; the worst that can happen is the women don’t want to see me again.  Plus, I should do my hishtadlut (effort) if I want HaShem (God) to send my soulmate.

This morning the calm was gone.  I felt very depressed again, albeit not particularly anxious (too depressed to be anxious.  Anxiety requires a certain amount of energy, concentration and motivation).  I felt that I’m too depressed and my self-esteem is too low to face multiple rejections again.  I felt that I’m too weird and screwed up for anyone to be able to love me (the evidence from previous crushes/dates/girlfriends supports this thesis).  I worried that I want sex more than I want love (given that I’m a celibate virgin, it is hard to judge how realistic this fear is) and wouldn’t be able to cope with a real relationship, for all that my ex-girlfriends felt that I was attentive to their emotional needs.  It felt like dating in this state would just be misleading people (shadchan (matchmaker), dates) into thinking I’m a functioning human being when I’m blatantly not.  I’m sceptical of whether shadchanim and dating sites really help (some evidence suggests they don’t); I don’t think there’s a science, or even an art, to matching people, it just seems like pot luck whether you get set up with someone compatible even if you’re ‘normal,’ let alone a freak like me.  And it seems immature to think that someone else could solve my problems, or even help me to live with them better.  It seems pretty inevitable that I’m going to be miserable and lonely all my life, simply because I’ve been miserable and lonely all my adult life so far.  And if I’m going to be miserable anyway, I’m much better off being miserable by myself than making someone else miserable.

It just seems my life is to be one long stretch of misery and loneliness, occasionally punctuated by brief moments of hope, just to seem more painful when they are gone.  It doesn’t seem a lot that I can do about this.  Being single is only part of this, but it’s probably the least amenable to improvement (although the longer I’m unemployed, the more questionable that seems).  I’m back to feeling I would rather die than be like this forever.  My habit of seeing everything in life as an ethical question (“Is it morally right for me to date?”) rather than a pragmatic question (“Would dating make me happier/more energised/more motivated/less depressed?”) probably doesn’t help, as it makes the question too complicated.  Although, to be honest, I’m not sure what the answer to the pragmatic question would be either.  A lot would depend on how quickly I found someone right for me, or whether I would find someone at all.

Well, anyway, my rabbi mentor just got back to me while I was writing this and said I should continue dating “even though it is difficult at times.”  I suppose that’s as near to the word of God as I’m going to get (although I trust my rabbi mentor because he’s a trained counsellor and the wisest person I know as much as because he’s a rabbi).  I don’t know how I keep going with it despite disappointment.  It’s like job applications, and I’m getting quite disenchanted with those, except that I find it easier to believe that someone could employ me than be in a relationship with me.

***

Speaking of job applications, I’m applying for a part-time job somewhere that sounds potentially good, if they could accommodate my need to leave early on winter Fridays, but writing the personal statement shows me that while I have some of the skills and experience they want, I don’t have all of them by any means.

***

A bookmark that came free with a book I purchased this week advises me that it’s better to be happy and odd than miserable and ordinary (the quote is apparently from Goodnight Mister Tom, which I’ve never read).  I would agree, except that I seem to be both odd and miserable.

***

I feel apprehensive about getting through Shabbat (the Sabbath) and Shavuot (Pentecost), but there’s not a lot I can do about that now.  See you on Tuesday (or possibly late on Monday night).

Victimhood

I’ve mentioned that I’m using Rabbi Lord Sacks’ omer calendar, which has inspiring statements for each day of the omer.  Tonight’s statement was, “Never define yourself as a victim.  There is always a choice, and by exercising the strength to choose, we can rise above fate.”  This is something I have heard before from Rabbi Sacks and also from Viktor Frankl and Jordan Peterson.

I want to define myself by my choices, but it feels like so much of my life has not been created by my choices, but by my autism and my mental illnesses, so it becomes very easy to slip into a victim mentality (something encouraged by a wider culture that divides society into victims and oppressors with no middle ground).  I do want to stop defining myself as a victim, but it’s very hard and I’m not really sure how to do it.  What positive choices have I made?  It is hard to tell.  Again, if I compare myself with my peers, they seem to have successfully chosen career A or to marry person B or to have child C, or to be involved in their  shul or voluntary work or whatever they do.  I do have elements of that, but at a much lower level, with much less actual meaningful choice.  If I wasn’t depressed and autistic, I would be much freer to live my life as I would want.

I suppose Frankl in particular (Man’s Search for Meaning) would argue that I have the choice of how to respond to autism and depression, whether or not to define myself as a victim, but I’m not sure (or no one has ever revealed to me) what the alternative to victim status is while living a life that is (a) very far from what I want and (b) very far from what either the Jewish or Western communities present as a good or meaningful life.  I understand that I can possibly embrace my neurodivergence, but it’s hard to embrace the depression because the depression of its very nature pushes me towards a despairing/victim state of mind.  It’s like trying to cure diabetes by trying to mentally will a stable blood sugar level rather than regulating diet and taking insulin.  I feel I could only really choose how to respond to depression if I was cured, which is a paradox.

On a related note, during the shiur (class) during seudah (the third Shabbat meal) yesterday, the rabbi spoke of humility and that it is not about knowing our weaknesses, but rather knowing our strengths, acknowledging them as gifts from God and using them to help others.  This was an idea I had heard before, albeit not quite in those words, but I find it hard to identify my strengths and work out how to use them to help others.  This is perhaps partly due to low self-esteem.  People have told me that I write well, but I find that hard to believe and it is impossible to work out how to use that ability to help others.  I do want to write about mental health issues, Judaism and Doctor Who, but I find it hard to dedicate the time to it and I don’t have the confidence to take time out from my career (or job hunt, at the moment) to try writing professionally.  Not knowing the practical steps needed to get something published does not help either.

As an interesting sidelight on this, there’s a regular feature in Doctor Who Magazine where a Doctor Who celebrity is asked twenty randomly-selected interview questions from a box.  One of them asks which member of the opposite sex they would want to swap places with for a day.  I thought about this, and I realised there isn’t anyone of either sex that I would particularly want to swap places with.  I either lack imagination or at a very basic level I’m happy with who I am, I just wish I could be less depressed/lonely/inhibited/anxious/self-critical/etc.

***

I had some difficult thoughts and experiences over Shabbat (the Sabbath).  I mentioned on Friday someone I know from shiur who just had a child.  He was in shul (synagogue) on Friday night, but I was too anxious to wish him mazal tov.  I always get nervous doing things like that in case I’ve made a mistake and got the wrong person or the wrong life event.  I didn’t introduce myself to the new rabbi either, although he came and spoke to me on Shabbat afternoon.  It was bad of me not to do those things, but I don’t know how to force myself to do things like that, except by guilt-tripping myself.

I had some disturbed dreams that night and again when I dozed on Shabbat afternoon.  I don’t remember all the details, but there was a lot of darkness and I think violence; one was set in World War II, although it was drawn as much from Dad’s Army as from the reality of the war (and my unconscious got the dates wrong, perhaps to prolong it).  I woke up in time for shul in the morning, but again my social anxiety got the better of me and I went back to sleep, probably to avoid the new rabbi, at least on some level.  As a result, I ended up upset again at sleeping through so much of Shabbat (about eleven hours at night/morning and a three hour nap in the afternoon) and also about running away from things so much at the moment: shul, autism group last week and the farewell seudah for the previous rabbi and assistant rabbi a few weeks ago.

There were some more positive thoughts and experiences.  I liked the new rabbi’s style of delivering the weekly Talmud shiur (Talmud class).  It seemed a little more structured than the assistant rabbi’s style, with frequent recaps of what we had learnt.  He has extended the shiur by ten minutes, which was good too, giving more time for the page of Talmud, although we still did not quite finish it.  (Rabbis are often bad timekeepers, for some reason.  Actually, stereotype would suggest that all Jews are bad timekeepers, except for Yekkes (German Jews).  I’m only one-eighth Yekkish, but I conform to Yekkish stereotype: punctual, pedantic, detail-focused, obsessively honest.)  I also thought about making some small changes in my religious life and practices, dropping some non-obligatory things and making slight changes to try to have more kavannah (mindfulness) in prayer and to study more Torah, or at least to enjoy it more.

As usual after being in shul for so long (nearly three hours, counting two shiurimMincha, seudah, Ma’ariv and helping to tidy up) I was left drained.  I was thinking back to the person from shiur with the new baby.  At a baby boy’s brit (circumcision), we say, “Just as he has entered into the covenant, so may he enter into Torahchuppah (the wedding canopy) and good deeds.”  It makes it sound so natural for people, that one should just flow into Torah, marriage and good deeds, but it’s so hard for me to manage any of them.  I can’t do any of them ‘naturally,’ only with a lot of effort and focus; with marriage, not even then (plus there is an idea I heard from Chief Rabbi Mirvis, that “good deeds” comes after marriage in the prayer because the primary place for good deeds is to benefit your spouse, that marriage is holy because it offers so many opportunities for good deeds in a way not possible in other relationships, so I won’t ever really be able to do good deeds unless I marry).

***

I cancelled the paid part of my non-anonymous Doctor Who blog, downgrading to a free blog.  I hadn’t used it as much as I had intended, partly because I’ve decided that writing instant reviews of Doctor Who episodes isn’t really playing to my strengths as a writer (I tend to be quite polarised for or against something on first viewing and develop a more nuanced view after repeated viewing and discussion with others), partly because the time I thought I would spend re-posting old articles has been spent working on my Doctor Who book.  I may put old or even new articles up there at some point, but right now my priority is finishing the book.

***

Other than that, it’s been a ‘treading water’ type of day, running just to stay in the same place to paraphrase Lewis Carroll.  Aside from catching up with my blog for Shabbat, I went for a walk to buy ingredients to cook for dinner, and cooked them.  That’s it, really, aside from some Torah study, although I’m hoping to grab a bit of time to work on my Doctor Who book for half an hour or so before bed, so that I feel like I’ve accomplished something.

I don’t feel too depressed today, but I do feel lonely.  I keep having ‘crush’ type thoughts on someone I haven’t seen for four years and have never had the confidence to speak to.  I keep wondering if she’s seeing anyone.  I would probably have heard if she was married (married again, as she was divorced), the Jewish grapevine being what it is, but my parents do sometimes try to hide things like that from me in the believe it would depress me to know (it would, but not knowing causes problems too).  It’s stupid to think she could be interested in me, or that we would have anything in common, or that I could even speak to her (bearing in mind in twenty-five years I didn’t say a single word), but I suppose that is what loneliness does to me.  I should really try to focus on the real world and not the imaginary world that only exists in my head.  In the real world, I will probably never get married, I will probably be single and lonely forever, and I need to find ways of accepting that and not feeling like a victim because of it.

More In Heaven and Earth

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

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

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

***

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

***

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

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

***

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

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

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

***

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

The Courtship of the Yonghy-Bonghy-Bo

One of my less agreeable habits is arguing with people about how hopeless my future is.  When I’m feeling depressed, I start telling people that I’m not going to recover and get a full-time job and especially that I’ll never get married (I used to do this a lot on the comments on Hevria.com).  If they agree with me, then I feel doubly depressed and hopeless.  If they disagree with me, then I say that they don’t understand and argue with them until they agree with me to shut me up.  I’m not quite sure what I get out of this, but I must get something out of it.

A week or so ago I got involved in an argument like this on another blog.  I think I may have mentioned it in a previous post.  The blogger opined that there is nothing one can do to find one’s spouse.  It is completely down to HaShem (God), helped along by helpful member’s of one’s community who match you up with people until you find the one HaShem has appointed for you.  I responded that this may be true for most people (although I’m not sure I agree even then), but it wouldn’t work for me, because no one in my community seems to be looking out for someone for me.  Most of the people in my community don’t even know me, given my semi-detached state from it.

Today I don’t feel quite so depressed or quite so hopeless.  Things went a bit better at work (for one thing most of the students have finished with the library for the academic year) and I feel vaguely more hopeful and ‘normal’ than I have since E. broke up with me.  This may change tomorrow, which is apparently D-Day for the renewal of my contract, but for today I feel somewhat better.

Even so, I find it hard to be really optimistic about my future.  I can’t see myself getting a better-paying and full-time job, not to mention a proper, structured career, any time soon.  Similarly, I can’t see myself marrying.  Today I can somewhat grudgingly admit that there may be a frum (religious), geeky, woman out there who might even be able to tolerate my low income, my mental health issues and borderline autism and my consequent failure to meet my religious obligations for prayer and Torah study and my failure to go to yeshiva.  And she might even live in the UK, tiny though the Anglo-Jewish population is and tinier still though the frum community is.  But I find it pretty much impossible to work out how I could actually meet her.

My father obtained for me a while back the phone number of a well-known rebbetzin (rabbi’s wife) who, he was assured, would be able to help me find someone.  However, these days I feel sceptical of shadchanim (matchmakers) and I worry that I shouldn’t go to her until I am financially secure and more emotionally stable, neither of which looks set to happen any time soon.  I suppose if I’m depressed and lonely enough over the summer I might overcome my fear of the telephone enough to call, but I’m not sure I will and I really don’t think that shadchanim can help me.  I don’t really feel that anyone can help me, unless HaShem drops someone from the sky on me via my blog or a friend or relative (more likely a friend of my parents).  To be fair I have been set up on a couple of dates, but they never went very far because of my geeky interests and mental health issues.  I twice met people through my blog, which is twice more than I would have expected, except neither worked out anyway despite them being better matches for me (probably because they had a better idea of who I was rather than being matched on the basis purely of gender and age and perhaps intelligence and introversion).  I’m not quite sure where this leaves me, as I can’t really see lightning striking in the same place three times, although I’d love to be proved wrong.

So Lonely: Jumbled Thoughts from a Lonely Day

I’m off work today, which is probably just as well, as I need to get ready for spending Shabbat (the Sabbath) alone in my flat (usually I stay with my parents).  This can get pretty lonely.  I’ve got stuff to read: Dracula, which I am very much enjoying re-reading, the latest Doctor Who Magazine, and volume two of Vampire Knight (manga comic aimed at teenage girls (vampire romance/school story) which I can’t work out if I like.  I like the main character, but a volume and a half in, the plot is only really starting).  Still, it looks set to be a lonely Shabbat.  Most single people in the frum (religious Orthodox Jewish) community would get themselves invited out if they were by themselves for Shabbat, but I don’t know that many people and I’ve never felt comfortable inviting myself around to people’s houses, even though I know that English and Jewish customs are at variance here and that most frum people would consider it perfectly acceptable behaviour.  Of course, eating at other people’s houses can be just as difficult for me, trading loneliness for social anxiety.

I was in bed for about twelve hours last night/this morning.  I’m not sure how long I actually slept, as I lay in bed for a while feeling too depressed and exhausted to get up and put some cereal and milk in a bowl, even though I knew I would feel better if I ate and restored my blood sugar level, but I must have been asleep for at least eleven hours, which isn’t good.  I somehow slept through the racket of building works two houses away (it’s sounds like they’re demolishing the house brick by brick).  I dreamt about Groundhog Day which wasn’t that surprising as my parents had borrowed the DVD from me and I’ve often reflected that I seem to be in a Groundhog Day-type situation of repeating the same actions again and again without breaking out of the loop, but it was disturbing to dream of myself being in such a situation for millions of years (or was it billions?) without breaking free.  That’s how I feel with my depression and loneliness.  Also some weird stuff about falling into the Thames with someone (someone female, not sure who, but I think I liked her in the dream) and her being rescued without me and (nearly?) abducted while I couldn’t do anything to save her, because I was stranded holding on to a fence that stuck out over the river (?), trying to avoid drowning.  My sister was involved too, somehow, and Jack the Ripper was in there too, for some disturbing reason.  I don’t usually remember my dreams, or only in fragments; maybe this should make me glad.

Today is Rosh Chodesh (New Moon of the Jewish month of) Adar.  The Talmud says that with the start of Adar, we increase in joy, as we head into the month of Purim, the most carnivalesque Jewish festival and then into the month of Nisan, the month of redemption and Pesach (Passover), the festival of redemption.  I, however, feel extra anxious and depressed at this time of year.  The enforced jollity of Purim sets of my depression and social anxiety.  The many commandments of Purim and especially of Pesach, set off my religious OCD.  I find the whole time of year a struggle.  Just seeing the bags of Purim food in the kosher shops just now made me feel anxious and depressed and, I suppose, lonely, knowing that most people don’t feel like this and are looking forward to spending enjoyable times with friends and family (I don’t have friends nearby to spend time with).

It occurs to me that to the lists I made about myself yesterday to try to understand what I should be doing with my life, I could add another matched pair of lists with things that are depleting and things that are restoring to me (I can’t remember where, if anywhere, I read this idea).  In the depleting box goes work, shul and pretty much all socialising.  And more or less everything else, really: housework, cooking, shopping, commuting on the Tube, davening (praying), Torah study.  In the restoring box goes a tiny amount of socialising (unfortunately it’s hard to tell in advance what will be restoring or depleting), possibly writing my blog and certainly writing my Doctor Who book (it’s telling that I work on it in my lunch break at work without worrying about my energy levels).  Also watching classic Doctor Who and some new Doctor Who (which sometimes presses a whole load of my buttons about emotional relationships, love, loneliness and not fitting in, not least when the Doctor turned into one of the kids who used to bully me at school) and watching my favourite vintage TV science fiction series on DVD.  I’m not sure where watching Sherlock fits into this, but it seems to have finished and I haven’t bought any DVDs because I can’t work out if it’s sufficiently triggering to steer clear.  And that’s pretty much all the TV I watch.  I’m not sure about recreational reading.  I do tend to like reading ‘heavy’ books (fiction or non-fiction), but I do enjoy them, even though they can feel like a slog and take ages to read because a lot of the time I don’t feel up to it.  I have some lighter reading piled up on my ‘to read’ pile, though.  Perhaps depleting and restoring in equal measure.

Hmm, looking at this, I’m really not sure how I increase the restoring activities and decrease the depleting ones, as most of the depleting ones are unavoidable and crowd out the time available for the restoring ones.

I’ve pretty much given up on waiting for the shadchanim (matchmakers) to get back to me.  As far as I can see, they aren’t interested in looking for someone for me, whether because of my geekiness, mental illness, ‘modern’ outlook or some other reason.  I don’t know where to go from here.  I could try Shidduch.im, the UK affiliate of Saw You at Sinai, which is kind of a cross between a dating site and a shadchan, inasmuch as they send you profiles each week and if you like the profile you are sent and she likes yours, you can date.  It’s a paid site, so they would be legally obliged to send me profiles each week, but there’s no guarantee they will find anyone suitable (rather than randomly matching me up to see if anything sticks) or that the woman in question would want to meet me.  I’m not sure I’m willing to pay for more rejection.

I went into the Jewish bookshop today and saw various books on dating.  The questions seem pretty remote from me.  Should you start at 22 or 25?  (I couldn’t find someone willing to go out with me until I was 27.)  What should you do if you’re dating someone, but someone else suggests someone even better-sounding to you?  (I can’t imagine that ever happening to me.)  Nothing about, “What if you’re such a freak that no one wants to set you up with anyone, let alone actually date you?”

“Where do I go from here?” is question I keep asking myself about my mental health, dating, my career and my religious practices, and I don’t have any answers at all, which is scary.  I honestly don’t know where I’ll be in one year’s time, except that I will almost certainly still be mentally ill and I hope I will still be frum, but I don’t think I can guarantee even that.  It probably isn’t true that I haven’t felt this hopeless for a long time, as I feel hopeless a lot of the time, but I haven’t felt challenged in so many ways at the same time for some years.  I keep hoping that this is the ‘darkest before dawn’ moment that always seems to come in tales of hasgacha  pratit (Divine intervention), but somehow I just bumble through without really resolving things very much, at least until the next crisis.

I want to go to my parasha shiur (weekly Torah reading class) tonight, as it’s likely to be the only really social thing I’ll manage over the next few days, but I don’t really have the energy, plus I need to cook dinner and clean the flat (which hasn’t been cleaned for weeks).  Also, the assistant rabbi always seems to ask me the hardest questions, or at least expects me to answer them, which is nice on some level (he asked me how I know so much if I didn’t go to yeshiva), but also puts me on the spot on nights like tonight when I don’t really want to be around people very much.  Can you be lonely and withdrawn at the same time?

Apology

It’s always questionable whether one should return to a blog post one regrets after finishing it, or if one becomes a fool returning to his folly (like a dog returning to its vomit, according to Tanakh (the Hebrew Bible).  I sort of regret the last post, but I’m leaving it up because I don’t fully regret it.  I regret ending on such a pessimistic and self-loathing note, but I do genuinely think I will be alone forever, and jumping through shidduch (matchmaking) hoops becomes harder when I can’t see a positive outcome.

I don’t know why I got into such a dark place this evening.  It may be that going to the cinema was a mistake.  I always seem to come away from the theatre or the cinema feeling a bit melancholy, but I always assumed it was to do with the content of the play or film or envy of seeing the performers applauded on stage in the case of the theatre and wishing someone would applaud me and my work/life.  But maybe it is an autistic thing about noise and sensory overload or a social anxiety thing about crowds.  I don’t want to cut yet another thing out of my life, though, especially as I only go to the cinema once or twice a year, the theatre probably even less frequently.

Despite this, today I’m thinking that I’m probably not really on the autistic spectrum at all.  I just finished reading another book on Asperger’s (Aspertools) and felt that the advice in there was either obvious things I’ve been doing for years and don’t associate with my possible Asperger’s (break tasks into little steps; write lists) or things that are clearly written for people with much more serious issues than I have which just makes me feel guilty about poor functionality when I might not even be on the spectrum.

Anyway, something overwhelmed me today, whether it was just depression or noise or crowds and I sunk into the usual pit of despair.  I shouldn’t have broadcast it all here though.  When I’m very depressed, I suppose I just look to provoke a response from people, either to tell me that things will improve, or, better, to agree that they are hopeless (better because I don’t believe they will improve).  I shouldn’t play games like this, but I do and have done for years.  I was reflecting today that I have long since forgiven the people who hurt me as a child, but I can’t move on from the feelings of being worthless and hopeless that they created.  I do worry that if I got married, not only would I not be able to feel any better, I would discount the relationship in the way that, when the depression is bad, I find it hard to remember that my parents love me and that I do have a few friends who seem to like me at least a bit.  To be fair, I don’t think I really did that when I was in a relationship or when I was in a semi-relationship this summer.  Also, I find it harder to discount relationships when someone is actually there being friendly or loving to me.  This is why it’s so problematic that most of my friends live away from London.

I ate dinner and watched Doctor Who (which I wouldn’t normally do after spending three hours in the cinema, but I was desperate) and felt a bit better.  I have started to write my shidduch profile.  So far I’ve just done the personal details, which took long enough.  The actual who-I-am-and-what-I’m-looking-for bit will have to wait, although I can just edit from previous online dating profiles.  In the end I decided to leave out a lot of information about my family.  If I’m asked for it, I will give it, but it was intrusive enough having to give my parents’ names and shul affiliation.  I wasn’t going to list their educational background just to feel even more of a useless ba’al teshuva (penitent, but in this context someone raised non-religious who became religious later in life).  I already feel bad that I haven’t got a yeshiva on there and that my secondary school, although Jewish and Orthodox, was not at all religious.   Even going to Oxford seems like a bad thing in this context.  A frum person would have gone to a London university so he could stay with his parents in a frum community – or not gone to university at all, of course.  I do at least have rabbis for references, but it probably looks suspicious that I don’t have any references who are “friends, roommates, chavrusas (study partners)”.  I don’t have many friends, almost none I could ask to give me a reference and almost all my friends are problematic in frum terms, being not frum, not Jewish or not male (I’m not sure which of these would be worst).

On the plus side, I have discovered that I have the contact details for eight rabbis plus one rabbinic trainee.  Nearly a minyan.  If I ever get arrested, I’m going to have so many character witnesses!  Of course, shidduch dating also requires character references, for much the same reason.

Anyway, this was supposed to be an apology post, but it has mutated into another general post, even though I was trying to stop posting twice a day.  Also, it’s twenty past eleven and I was originally planning to get an early night, ha ha.