I’m Only Sleeping

I didn’t sleep well last night again. I thought/hoped I would sleep better now the interview is out of the way, but obviously not. First I couldn’t get to sleep, although I felt incredibly tired. I think I didn’t have enough “introvert alone time” after “peopling” for so long. Then I woke up about 5.30am feeling anxious. I can’t even remember what I was anxious about, although I know it was connected with the other job interview, the one I had last week and haven’t heard back from yet where I wanted the job more than the job interview I had yesterday. I think I was worried about being able to take off Jewish festivals and “early Fridays” in the winter when Shabbat (the Jewish Sabbath) starts early. I did eventually fall asleep again, and slept through until gone 10.30am and still woke up exhausted and burnt out. I don’t know if it’s depression, autistic burnout or medication side-effects (or a combination of the three) that makes me so tired in the mornings, but it’s hard to know what I can do about it. I know this increasingly feels like a sleep/burnout blog, which I guess is good, as it means the depression is less of an issue during the day and my other autism and social anxiety symptoms are under control (albeit probably because I’m not doing much that is social), but I’m not sure how interesting it is for anyone else.

***

I try not to use the word “triggering” regarding myself, as I feel that it trivialises the term for people who really have c-PTSD (just as I don’t like people saying they’re “depressed” when they mean vaguely down, or they’re “OCD” when they mean they’re neat and tidy). Still, some things are more likely to upset me and start negative thoughts than others. These upsetting thoughts can be vaguely obsessional, in the correct sense this time of being hard to get rid of, spiralling in on themselves and making me anxious and agitated. These kinds of thoughts tend to come from newspapers, news sites and the dreaded Twitter (Twitter is a bit like swimming in raw sewage that occasionally tells a good joke). I’m most vulnerable to these types of thoughts when feeling burnt out and mildly depressed… but I’m more likely to encounter these things when procrastinating (online or leafing through the hardcopy newspapers at home) because I’m feeling burnt out and mildly depressed, as happened today. I actually coped OK with coming across them today and dismissed said thoughts reasonably easily, but it can be difficult sometimes.

I probably should delete my Twitter account, just as I deleted my Facebook account seven years ago, but I think I would still be able to see other people’s Tweets, which is the dangerous bit and I have vague thoughts that I could use my Twitter account to job hunt or join in with Doctor Who fandom, although if I avoided doing either of those two things during lockdown, the likelihood of doing them afterwards seems very remote.

***

Achievements: after a lot of procrastinating (see above about the risks of this) I wrote a first draft of this week’s devar Torah (Torah thought). I managed to write a thought for every week this year, excluding a couple of weeks when Yom Tov (festivals) fell on Saturday and the regular Torah reading was postponed. The thoughts were about 600 to 1,000 words long, which is longer than it sounds (for comparison, I think most of my blog posts are around 1,000 words), and I do try to do some research for them rather than just rely on secondary sources; even if I find something in a secondary source, I like to trace the reference back to the original source in the Talmud or the Midrash or whatever, if I can find it and if my Hebrew/Aramaic is up to it (Sefaria.org is a blessing).

I didn’t manage a lot else. The main thing was a half-hour walk. I did some Torah study – as yesterday, listening to a shiur (religious class) for fifty minutes or so as I was too depressed to read much. Even so, I struggled to concentrate and drifted in and out of it. I think I should consider listening to shiurim more on days when I feel depressed and/or burnt out, although I need to work out how to get shiurim from YU Torah Online on my phone or ipod.

Otherwise, I watched TV: another episode of The Civil War (after talking of gore here the other day, there were some graphic photographs of wounded soldiers that I couldn’t look at) and I’m about to watch Star Trek Voyager.

EDIT: I forgot to say, I had dinner in the sukkah with my parents and two of their friends. I feel more comfortable with these friends than with some others, but I still was really only eating with them so I could eat in the sukkah. It started raining heavily after a while and we all went in; fortunately I had just about finished my pizza and went upstairs.

Bounded in a Nutshell

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

***

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

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

***

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

Lost in Translations

I enjoyed seeing Robert Alter speak about translating Tanakh (the Hebrew Bible) last night, but two things disconcerted me a little.  First, I was a bit taken aback that Professor Alter viewed translating Tanakh as a purely cultural/literary task, with no religious overtones whatsoever for him.  I’m not sure how I felt about that.  Not upset, exactly, but maybe disorientated, more than I would have expected, because I think I knew he wasn’t frum (religious) and I don’t think you have to be religious to take Tanakh seriously.  But ever since last night I’ve been thinking of the quote by T. S. Eliot about seeing the Bible as great literature, that the Bible’s influence on Western literature was only because it was seen as the word of God and now it is viewed as great literature, its influence will soon end [1].  The other thing that upset me, but didn’t surprise me, was the fact that the audience was mostly twenty to thirty years older than me.  I saw a few people my age or younger, but not many.  That fits with the demographic data on Anglo-Jewry, that the population is aging, and the younger generation is polarising between the Charedi (ultra-Orthodox) who won’t go to a talk by a secular Bible scholar and the assimilated (by far the larger group), who won’t go to a talk by a Bible scholar at all.  I’m not quite sure where I’m supposed to go.

I struggled to get to sleep afterwards, perhaps because I had a good time and find it hard to ‘come down’ after that, even though I was hardly high (it was good, but not that good).  I probably have some kind of introvert or autistic issue with coming from a public event and then trying to go to sleep without ‘alone time’ by myself to calm and self-soothe.  Or maybe I just struggle to switch off generally without explicit and fairly lengthy ‘alone time.’

***

I did manage to get up on time this morning for work despite only having about six hours sleep.  Work went slowly as I was doing some fairly tedious, repetitive tasks.  My line manager was very pleased with the work I did last week when she was off sick, but it seems pretty clear that there isn’t any budget to employ me after the end of the month.  This job has at least boosted my confidence in my ability to work after two very difficult jobs, even though I suspect I’m overqualified for it (and I am aware that many autistic people are unemployed or underemployed), but I am worried about working in a less friendly environment.

***

On the way home today I was thinking a lot about the mental health book I want to write.  If my Doctor Who book is simply (“simply”) a matter of expanding existing blog posts, the mental health/autism book is more like getting this blog, tearing it into tiny pieces and sticking some of the pieces together again, with many new additions.  It’s going to need a lot of work to make it coherent and meaningful.  But my real question is why I’m so desperate to write it in the first place – aside from privacy issues in baring my soul (here and in a book), if I hate my thoughts so much, why do I want to spend so much time with them?  Aside from the very real and disturbing possibility that I think that this is a good way to meet women, I suspect it’s a bid for sympathy and understanding.  I worry that I think that if I get my misery memoir published, I’ll never have to talk to anyone ever again, I’ll just hand them a copy of my book.  None of this is terribly sensible.

On a related note, in the book I’m reading, 13 Minutes, a school story/murder mystery, the only character I could empathise with, the geeky awkward girl, just got murdered.  She wasn’t even important enough to murder, but was collateral damage in an attempt to kill a more popular girl.  Which makes me think of the book Sunbathing in the Rain by Gwyneth Lewis, a depression memoir I read when I was first diagnosed with depression.  Lewis says that depression is like a murder mystery: you have been murdered; by finding out why you became depressed, you can solve the murder and return to life.

This in turn illuminates the problem I’ve been struggling with for a while.  I want to tell the story of my depression, to solve and relate the murder mystery.  Thanks to a lot of therapy, I have a fair idea of what made me like this (whodunnit), but I worry that I can’t tell the story without ‘naming and shaming’ people who hurt me and “made” me like this (I should probably add that I’m one of the guilty people, on some level).  I don’t really want to shame anyone.  I know some people hurt me, but some of them were children at the time and others didn’t intend to hurt me and most of them didn’t know what they were doing and the effect it was having.  Certainly I don’t think any of them deserve to be named and shamed.  But I’m still not sure I can tell the story of my depression coherently without it.  In some cases I can allude to things, but in others even a hint would make things too obvious.  Sometimes I think I’ve said too much even on this blog.  It’s difficult, especially as I have a deep desire/need in me for confession, in the broadest sense, to confess my sins, but also to tell my story, the story of how people/life hurt me.  I don’t know what the way out of this is.  I’ve contemplated fiction, but I don’t think I can do it and I’m not sure that pseudonymous publication would work either, for reasons I can’t really go into here.

[1] “I could fulminate against the men of letters who have gone into ecstasies over ‘the Bible as literature’, the Bible as ‘the noblest monument of English prose’. Those who talk of the Bible as a ‘monument of English prose’ are merely admiring it as a monument over the grave of Christianity. … the Bible has had a literary influence upon English literature not because it has been considered as literature, but because it has been considered as the report of the Word of God. And the fact that men of letters now discuss it as ‘literature’ probably indicates the end of its ‘literary’ influence.”  – T. S. Eliot, Religious and Literature.

You Don’t Have to Be Neurotypical to Work Here – But It Helps!

I struggled to sleep again last night, despite not feeling consciously anxious.  I did my usual trick of eating porridge as a way of ingesting soporific warm milk (I don’t like the taste of milk ‘straight’) which worked, but I wonder how much of my weight gain is due to things like this.  Although the dark chocolate Kit-Kat I had for dessert at dinner because I was so depressed was probably worse.  The result was that I overslept this morning and rushed out to my networking workshop and got the Tube rather than the bus to save time, only to discover I’d been overcautious and arrived half an hour early.  I was too embarrassed to go in straight away and paced up and down outside for quarter of an hour.  I was still the first person there.

The workshop was quite good and, to my relief, didn’t involve too much interaction.  We did have to sell ourselves with an ‘elevator pitch’ which I struggled with.  The whole morning just underlined for me, if I could have forgotten, how vague I am on my career aspirations (not least because I really want to be a writer and librarianship is a time-filler while I work on my first books or second-choice in case I can’t write), how few people there are in my social network, how few professional contacts I have in the sector I work in and so on.  I did feel that with all the emphasis in the workshop on building networks of people, using casual conversations to build careers and using body language to put across meaning that the world of work is built for extrovert neurotypicals, not introverts or autistics.  The whole experience did make me feel somewhat negative about my career prospects.  At least I’m not a salesman like one of the people in the workshop.

I got home minutes before the torrential rain, which was good.

***

A strange thought this morning: when I had my first ever psychiatric assessment, at the university counselling service at Oxford, the psychiatrist was surprised that, at the age of nineteen, I’d never had a girlfriend and asked if I was gay.  When I said I wasn’t, he asked if he was sure I wasn’t gay.  (Goodness knows what he would have made of the fact that I didn’t even go on a date until I was twenty-seven.)  I hope that nowadays something like that would flag up high-functioning autism as a possible explanation as well as non-heterosexuality (and that non-heterosexuality would include asexuality as well as homo- and bi-sexuality).  To be fair to him, high-functioning autism was a lot less well-known sixteen years ago, but you would think that a mental health professional at Oxford would encounter more high-functioning autistics than the average person.

***

Another thought this morning: because of the way my mental health issues interact with my religious practices, I have to make an at least semi-conscious decision to remain Jewish frequently, whereas many Jews, frum (religious) as well as non-frum, can coast on autopilot.  But I constantly have to choose to put my energy into prayer, Torah study and being part of the community, just as I have to constantly choose to artificially limit my already limited (because of depression and autism) dating pool to the frum community.  This has disadvantages, in that I’m much more likely to go off the derekh (stop being religious), I am not well-integrated into the frum community and Judaism is not as organic a part of my life as it should be, as well as the fact that my issues interfere with my mitzvah observance to a significant extent.  However, perhaps it makes me more thoughtful about my beliefs and practices and more understanding of other ‘fringe Jews’ (as a now-defunct blog used to refer to Jews on the edge of the frum community, by choice or otherwise).  I do feel guilty that I invest such a small percentage of my time and energy in prayer, Torah study and communal activities, but this is the only way I can function right now.  It helps to be neurotypical here, too.

***

This evening I’m out, doing something cultural/religious, listening to Robert Alter speak about translating the whole of Tanakh (the Hebrew Bible).  I’m going by myself as I don’t know anyone currently in London who would like to go to hear someone talk about academic (as opposed to frum) Bible translation, although I’m not sure it would have occurred to me to ask a friend even if I had one.  I tend to assume that I should do cultural things by myself, whether from habit or because my friends don’t share my interests, although I do sometimes go to art galleries with my sister and try to see a ‘straight’ play with my Mum once a year, usually at the Open Air Theatre.  It will be a late night and I’m worried about getting up in time for work in the morning, so I’m doing as much of my evening routine as I can beforehand.  Hence blogging now.  Other than that, I hope just to relax and recuperate from the stresses of this morning before going out, which will doubtless tax my autistic self in various ways.

Conforming and Job Hunting

I have essentially moved back in with my parents.  I had to give a month’s notice on the flat, so I’m technically still renting for another three and a bit weeks, but I was so lonely and depressed there, and the noise and smells from the building works next door were so disruptive, that I’ve moved a lot of my stuff back and am sleeping here.  If I’m not working, I don’t see the need to be woken up at 7.30am by builders.

I keep thinking about ways my life could have gone differently in all kinds of ways.  Just one example: I do wonder what would have happened if I had gone to yeshiva (rabbinical seminary) for a gap year the way I was ‘supposed’ to (i.e. the way the Jewish Studies teachers at my school expected me to do without ever saying anything to encourage me or help me choose one).  Eva said on one of my previous posts about this that I would have found yeshiva too extrovert and conformist.  I feel that that’s kind of the point, that it would have made me conform, so I actually fitted in to my religious community rather than sticking out from it (or, I suppose, pushed me into rebellion and secularism, although I don’t really see that as a positive).  Anyway, a more modern yeshiva might not have been so conformist.

I guess I feel that if I want to be accepted as part of the community, which includes being set up on dates with suitable women (if there are any left, which I very much doubt), I need to conform to the community’s rules: go to minyan more often, learn more Torah, especially Talmud, go to yeshiva, don’t have any unusual interests, dance on Simchat Torah even if I can’t stand it…  If I don’t conform, I can hardly be surprised when I have no close friends in the community and am not really noticed or helped.  I feel that I should have let myself be ‘brainwashed’ into conformity like so many of my peers when I was in my late teens/early twenties.  Then I would have a community, friends, a wife, children, things to talk about to them, like so many of my peers who I run into.  The self-esteem that comes from being accepted in a community and having friends and family around me.  If I had higher self-esteem, I probably would find it easier to get a job – plus I would probably have been like all the other frum men and got a boring job in accountancy or whatever rather than an unusual job with few prospects and difficulty being frum with it.  I might never have got depressed, or never realised that I was depressed (as I have probably been mildly depressed since my early teens).  Now I have my individuality, but I’m lonely and miserable and I hate myself.  I’m not sure that I got a good deal.

I don’t even know what frum (religious) men are allowed to be interested in.  When I try to listen in to other people’s conversations at shul (synagogue) or before shiur (religious class) starts, it’s usually about sport, sometimes about work or politics.  Occasionally about something religious.  That’s about it.  I guess they make ‘small talk’.  My Dad is big on small talk.  I find it confusing and irritating (one of my introvert/Aspie traits) and when he tries it on me, I find myself getting confused, bored and/or irritable very quickly.

Note: I wrote the previous two paragraphs before lunch.  A few hours later, I had been reminded of many of the negative aspects of conformity in parts of the Charedi (ultra-Orthodox) world, from opposition to secular studies, to anti-vaccine campaigning, to the ostracising of ‘outsiders’ and refusal to believe that ‘insiders’ (particularly rabbis) can have done wrong, even in the face of evidence and confessions.  So, maybe it’s not such a bad thing to be an outsider.  I guess really I would like it if there was a more vibrant Modern Orthodox movement in this country, as there is in Israel and the USA.  Here the centrist United Synagogue is rather stodgy and middle aged and, more to the point, it’s seats are largely filled by people whose relationship to Judaism is traditional and by rote at best, rather than passionately and diligently observant.  But moving to the US would be very difficult, as would moving to Israel, albeit for very different reasons.

I glanced through the latest magazine from CILIP, the Chartered Institute of Librarians and Information Professionals, of which I am a member.  It was filled with stuff about becoming a chartered librarian and going to CILIP conferences… all stuff I ought to be doing, but which I find scary from a low self-esteem and social anxiety/Aspie viewpoint (ditto for going to Doctor Who conventions, which might be good for my writing career).  Perhaps fortunately, I have just made an appointment with a career advisor for next month.  I suppose I should have been an academic, had I been rather more gifted and substantially less mentally ill.  I hate this whole business of selling myself, whether for a job or a relationship.  It’s hard to sell oneself when one loathes oneself.  I have discovered that LinkedIn can be as depressing as Facebook for seeing one’s peers doing much better than you, but I summoned up the courage to ‘connect’ with someone who I did my librarianship MA with, on the grounds that she was very clever and has probably done well in her career and therefore is a good contact to have.  I feel mercenary.

Anyway, I applied for a couple of jobs.  One I’m over-qualified for, the others under-qualified, but I decided to go with them anyway.  I’m not sure if there’s not a lot out there or if I’m just not looking in the right places, or taking too negative a view of my skills and abilities.  Someone said I’m not in control of my life, which is true.  I feel like a child so much of the time, a rather anxious and timid child with poor social skills and perhaps autism.  I don’t know how to take control of my life.  I’m sure it would solve a lot of my problems if I could (career, friendship, community, marriage).  But I just don’t know how one becomes an independent adult.  It’s as if, while I was always academically gifted, beyond a certain point I just failed to learn social skills and, later, career skills.  I wonder again if there’s any point in pursuing yet another autism assessment.  I don’t know.

Fragmented Thoughts

I’m off work for the end of term holidays.  I don’t feel particularly depressed or anxious (despite waiting to hear back from my rabbi mentor about a couple of Pesach (Passover) anxieties – I suspect he is going to be out of email contact until after Pesach now), but I do feel exhausted.  I behaved a bit in a way that I wish I hadn’t done, which was probably a delayed reaction to the stresses of the last few weeks and especially the last few days.  Then I had to ask my rabbi a technical (non-OCD) question and felt like a fraud for making myself appear frum (religious) after behaving in a less than ideal way.  The reality is that I have spiritual ascents and descents, same as most people who aren’t either tzadikim (saints) or completely wicked, but I feel like a fraud whenever I do things that I consider wrong.

I did some creative writing for the first time in ages, forcing myself to spend half an hour writing something I’ve been thinking about for a while, a sort of fact/fiction fantasy/memoir hybrid.  I don’t think it’s going to work, but I thought I would pursue it for a while, especially as I decided not to work on my Doctor Who book this week (it felt wrong to write it on Chol HaMoed as I intend to write it for profit).  I kept stopping to look at my emails or things online.  I don’t have this problem with my Doctor Who book or blogging.  I don’t know if this was because I feel so exhausted or because fiction (or “fiction”) is much harder for me to write than non-fiction.  I don’t know where I’m going with the fiction and I don’t trust myself to get there, which is not really a problem I have with non-fiction.  I hope to write for half an hour every day except Shabbat and Yom Tov (the Sabbath) for the two weeks of my holiday.  If I can do that, I should end up with about 5000 words by the end of my holiday, if I write at the same rate as today (which is a big assumption) which might give me an idea of whether to continue with this.  I’m still trying to work out if God really wants me to write, and if so what He wants me to write.  I remember what David Bowie said, that the worst joke God can play on you is to make you an artist, but a mediocre artist.  That seems to apply to me a lot.  Although I’m not quite sure that I see that as the worst thing in my life.  I could cope with being a mediocre writer if I was happier and more fulfilled in other areas e.g. my religious life, my social life.

Today was full of other frustrations.  I wanted to go to shul for Mincha and Ma’ariv (afternoon and evening services), but felt too tired.  I wanted to watch some of A for Andromeda, the 1960s British TV science fiction serial, but I feel too tired for half-reconstructed, half-audio only sixties science fiction and opted for something less challenging.  Still, I haven’t felt this calm at Pesach for many years, so I probably shouldn’t complain.  The day does feel a bit of a waste, though, and I wonder if I should make plans to Do Something on a couple of days over the next two weeks.

I feel lonely again.  It probably didn’t help that I watched Superbob, a film I bought on DVD to watch at Pesach last year, but was too anxious to watch, a low-budget British comedy about a lonely superhero going on his first date in six years, quite funny, in a very British way, but also about loneliness and geeky people who can’t get dates even if they have superpowers (“I just got to be myself, right?”  “Not if you want her to like you.”).  And I also read an essay by Rabbi Lord Sacks about Shir HaShirim (Song of Songs/Song of Solomon) and romantic love in Judaism from the introduction to his Pesach Mahzor (festival prayer book).  However, I was pretty lonely before I did either of these things, so something else must have triggered it, not that it takes much to make me feel lonely.

I think I’ve written before that I think there are different types of loneliness e.g. loneliness for friends, loneliness for community.  I feel the loneliness for a spouse most often and particularly today.  I don’t know why I feel it today.  It’s not as bad as many times in the past, but it’s there.  I don’t know if it’s being around my sister and her new husband the last few days or just coincidence.  One of my non-biological sisters sent me some links about introversion, which confirmed what I already knew, which is that you can be an introvert and lonely because introverts aren’t misanthropists, they just need intimate relationships and deep conversations, not superficial relationships and banal small talk.  Even being around a loved one without talking is good for an introvert.

I feel I am no closer to finding my other half.  To be honest, over the last few days I have been thinking that I should deliberately avoid dating for a while, until I at least try to work on my social anxiety some more.  The problem is that if I do that, it could easily be a year or more until I start dating again, dependent on my success (or otherwise) at working on the social anxiety and my employment situation in the coming months.  I don’t know if I could bear that and certainly it would make it even less likely that I will be able to have children, assuming I marry a woman around my own age.  Plus I feel I should date in the spring and summer, because my mood then is likely to be better than the autumn and winter, so if I miss the coming window of opportunity, it could be another six months before one comes around again.  Even if I’m sceptical of my rabbi mentor’s theory that if I become more sociable, people in my community will automatically start setting me up on dates with women like me, I guess it makes sense not to do an intensely social thing until I have improved my social anxiety.  But there is also the fear of procrastination and of waiting until things are perfect, which they never will be.

I guess that in my head there are ‘good’ and ‘bad’ reasons for wanting to be in a relationship or get married.  For example, wanting to be in a relationship simply to have sex isn’t likely to lead to a successful relationship, nor is wanting to get married just because it’s a mitzvah (religious commandment) whereas wanting to be in a relationship to give to someone else or to grow as a person or to have a deep and intimate relationship with someone are more likely to lead to a lasting marriage (although still a scary number of marriages end in divorce, even in the frum community, where divorce is less common).  The problem is, all the reasons are jumbled up and confused in my head.  There are some where I’m not sure if they’re good or bad reasons (e.g. wanting to have children), but more often the good and bad reasons are mixed together.  I know that I want to have a deep and intimate relationship with someone.  I also know that I want to have sex and that probably I wouldn’t be a normal heterosexual young male if I didn’t.  But does the latter wipe out the validity of the former?  It’s hard to unscramble these things in my head, especially as sex is such a primal driving force.  I also find it hard to believe that frum people who get married in their early twenties or even late teens (which seems ridiculously young to me) are motivated entirely by love and the desire to give and grow, rather than, at least in part, things like peer pressure, social conformity, libido, lack of other options and the assumption that this is what you do (I suspect that the supposed “shidduch crisis,” if it really exists, is caused at least in part by people marrying later because, consciously or unconsciously, they aren’t ready or willing to get married at nineteen or twenty).

I also find myself wondering about people who used to read this blog who I haven’t heard from for a while.  I wonder if I have said something to offend them and chase them away or if they just got bored of my negativity.  It feels sometimes like people drift in and out of my life and it’s hard to find a way to get people I like to stay.

Oh well.  It feels like the words are chasing themselves round and round on the page today without actually making any sense.  I’ve been cutting and editing, but it’s hard to say what I feel today, not least because I’m not really sure what I feel and I want to talk about publicly and what I want to hold on to by myself for now.  So, I suppose, bed now.

Asperger’s Syndrome and Me

I’ve been meaning for a while to write about how I fit with the symptoms of Asperger’s Syndrome/high functioning autism.  I’ve had two formal assessments, which said I wasn’t on the spectrum, but on the other hand, my former psychiatrist said I was.  She didn’t do a formal assessment (and by that stage in my treatment she was saying some unhelpful things e.g. “You’re on the autistic spectrum, so you’re never going to understand people and you should stop trying”), but she had seen me for a long time by then.  Looking at the report from the assessment I had in September 2006 at the Maudsley Hospital, they found no significant symptoms of any developmental disorder whatsoever.  On the other hand, I find when people write about their experience of autism or Asperger’s Syndrome online, I find I share a lot of the experiences and difficulties and when people on the spectrum have produced their own lists of the symptoms that they consider significant, I tend to score more highly.

It is hard to know what to think about this.  I tend to respect the opinion of medical professionals (unlike some people I have encountered on the spectrum, who insist that psychologists have no real knowledge of the experience of autism and are just trying to pathologise people for neurological variation).  On the other hand, since childhood (maybe not early childhood though) I have felt ‘different’ and not just because of my mental health issues, which came later.

I really do feel I think differently to other people, that I have genuine problems with socialising, making eye contact and making small talk (which bores me).  I don’t speak in a monotone, but my voice sometimes seems to come across as flatter than I intend, which sometimes makes me sound angry when I’m not (I was often told off by my parents as a child for looking or sounding angry when it was not my intention).  I can understand non-literal language, but I do like taking idioms literally for humorous reasons.  I learnt to read early and have always been an avid reader with a vocabulary that was in advance of my years, but I can be quite pedantic about language use, although I have learnt to be less so in recent years.

I much prefer interacting one-to-one or in small groups to big ones, although this could be introversion or social anxiety.  I think I get sensory overload sometimes, particularly at busy restaurants and parties (if I can’t avoid going to them) and I think I do stim in various ways, mostly fairly subtle, although there may have been a stimming aspect to my self-harming when the depression is bad.  I’m not sensitive to normal levels of light or sound, but I can’t sleep with the light on (noise is fine; my flat backs on to the A41 and I have no problem with the traffic noise, but the light from my neighbour’s security light, even with blackout blinds, makes it hard for me to sleep and I use an eye-mask).

I have a strong interest in Doctor Who and can reel off lots of lists about it (episode titles, writers, producers etc.).  I’m probably less interested than I used to be, but as a child it was an all-consuming interest.  Judaism might also count as a special interest, albeit a more socially acceptable one where one is actively encouraged to learn, memorise and think about information.

I’m not clumsy, but have never had great hand-to-eye coordination.

I get stressed or even panicked if I have to deviate from my routines.  I think part of me likes to create systematic theories about things that interest me, even as another part is aware that these theories are often not true, or at least simplistic; I certainly love order and clarity.  I can concentrate on things that matter to me to the exclusion of all else for long periods.

I don’t know how I fit in with empathy.  I can feel a lot of empathy for, say, things on the news, particularly anything involving children.  On the other hand, sometimes it is hard to empathise with my family if they are complaining of something I feel is trivial.  Also, even when I do empathise, it is hard to know what to do or say to make someone feel better.  I remember when I was a child and we were on holiday.  I was in bed and my mother leant over me to kiss me goodnight and hit her head on a low beam.  I knew she was in pain, but I didn’t know what to do and my Mum got annoyed with me for not hugging her, which did not occur to me.

I do find it hard to recognise my own emotions, as my therapist pointed out to me.  It’s hard to tell how much is not knowing what I feel and how much is the depression drowning out everything else, especially as I’ve probably been depressed since my mid-teens (at least).  I suspect that at times I have a maelstrom of negative emotions in which it’s hard to identify particular feelings, so I just tell people I’m depressed (by “people” I mean my parents and my therapist and maybe my sister, as I don’t tell other people how I’m really feeling).  I do cry sometimes without knowing why, including at work, but that’s probably the depression again.

It is very confusing to know what to do with all of this.  It clearly is important to me to think of myself as potentially being on the spectrum, because I still go on about it eleven years after being told that I’m not on it.  I used to say that it was enough that I know who I am without having a label, but I think I do want a label.  I guess some of it is the desire for neatness and being systematic, to know for sure who I am.  Some of it comes from worries about dating, feeling I should tell the shadchanit (matchmaker) everything about me and therefore needing to know where I stand as well as wondering if I would be a good match for a woman on the spectrum.  Less positively, perhaps part of me wants an excuse to feel bad about my difficulties socialising and my burn out afterwards (although my depression and social anxieties arguably already provide this).

I would particularly like to hear from other people on the spectrum about this post.  Please do comment!

(Ideas about autistic traits from people on the spectrum from here and here.  I also found this useful.)

Despatches from the Front Line 9

I’m just back from a run.  I had music going, but I spent most of the time brooding on loneliness.  I think I’m angsting about being lonely to avoid angsting about Pesach (Passover), which is one week away and I still have some big questions that I can’t get hold of a rabbi to ask.

I have a post about loneliness out on Hevria.com tomorrow, so I don’t want to go into this too much (anyway, someone told me this week that I write too much about how depressed I am…).  I don’t want to fall into the trap of saying, “If I have X, I will be happy” because usually if you aren’t happy without X, you won’t be happy with it.  You need to be happy in yourself and I am very much not happy in myself.  Still, IF I ever manage to be happy in  myself, I think I would still want the following to live a happy and fulfilled life:

one wife who loves me and who is willing to let me love her;

two good friends who I can talk to about my geeky and cultural interests and about Jewish things (probably some overlap here with my wife, who I would want to be my best friend, but I’m assuming that, given that the number of single frum geeky women (worldwide, let alone in the UK) is vanishingly small, it’s best not to assume my wife will share many or even any of my outside interests);

three happy, healthy children.

Add in my parents and  my sister and I think I only need a total of nine people close to me in my life, which is not very many.  I’ve largely given up on being accepted into a wider community, religious or geeky.  Throw in a reasonably engaging job that earns me enough money to support the wife and kids with a small amount over for occasional luxuries and also some joy and meaning in my religious life, which lately (lately?  For years) has been lacking both and that’s basically all I want out of life.  It doesn’t seem much to ask, but so far it is proved completely beyond my reach.  The problem is, I do not have a clue how to set realistic targets to reach it.  I have poor social skills (the borderline Asperger’s and borderline social anxiety cause problems here) and am very bad at talking to people, particularly to strangers.  I don’t know how to make friends at all, let alone to find a wife.