Heights and Depths, and Special Interests

I’m feeling very depressed and anxious about something I can’t write about here.  I suppose it takes my mind off being depressed and anxious about being unemployed and single, or about the job interview I have tomorrow.  I feel I just mess stuff up, however hard I try not to.  I don’t even know how I do it.  Sometimes I wonder if there’s any end to things.

I didn’t manage to do much today, just a little bit of interview preparation for tomorrow and a short walk.  Otherwise I just brooded on things.

***

Last night I was flicking through The Spiritual Revolution of Rav Kook: The Writings of a Jewish Mystic.  One passage (pp. 18-19) attracted my attention.  Rav Kook says there are two types of temperament: some people are straightforward, conventional and internally stable.  They can achieve a  lot, particularly in the practical sphere, but they can’t reach either highest heights or lowest depths.  However, the second type “never have any rest… either they are ascending to the sublime heights of heaven or they are descending to the bitter depths of disaster.  These people need to concentrate on spiritual growth every single day” because if they find a way of life that suits them, they will keep growing, but if they don’t grow, they will “most likely collapse” and fall to the lowest depths.  “These people need to be immersed constantly in Torah and self-improvement, ethics, and sacred emotions.  And God forbid that they should live a life of conventional work and practical knowledge.”  (Elsewhere he writes about very spiritual people often struggling with practical matters.)

I feel that I am probably in the second category.  I don’t say this because I think I have achieved great heights, but because I think I sink to great depths.  This upsets me, because I want just to be a normal, conventional person, able to achieve a certain amount and able to coast, to some extent.  I want to be comfortable.  I don’t want to have to struggle all the time for things other people manage easily (healthy emotions, career, marriage and family, community, friendships).  Instead I have to fight to manage to cope with ‘normal’ things, in order to try to reach heights I don’t think I will ever actually attain.  I don’t feel particularly spiritual, which I suppose suggests that I’m down in the the depths (as does the thing I can’t talk about).

***

Sometimes I wonder if I should keep blogging.  My Dad asked me yesterday why I do it.  He doesn’t “get” social media at all and wonders why people need to update all their friends on what they had for lunch.  I tried to explain that writing is how I process what happens to me and that I’ve tried writing a private diary, but it’s hard to keep it up without feeling there is some kind of audience.  I also hope that, by talking about depression and autism in detail, other people struggling with these conditions might understand themselves better, and be reassured that they aren’t ‘weird’ or ‘abnormal.’  There are maybe ten or fifteen people who regularly ‘like’ my posts; one or two look spammy, but most seem to be ‘real’ people, so I feel I must be doing something right.  But sometimes I wonder if I’m just being self-obsessed, writing about my life as if it’s of great importance.  Really, as I say, I’m just trying to process what happens to me, given that I struggle to understand my life a lot of the time.  Whether because of depression or autism, I can’t instinctively process my emotions the way most people can.  I have to literally spell them out to myself and examine them like a therapist to understand them.

***

I’m watching the 1979 BBC adaptation of John le Carré’s Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy.  I’ve seen it before, and I’ve read the book (one of my favourites) three or four times.  I still enjoy it.  Savouring it, one episode a day.  I know the plot, and half the dialogue, by heart, but I drink in the acting, the direction, the atmosphere.  No one really points out that the books of le Carré’s strongest period (particularly the Smiley versus Karla trilogy, after he’d written a few books and honed his skills, but before the Cold War ended and left him in search of other material) are as fully-realised a fictional world as Tolkien’s Middle-Earth or Lucas’ Star Wars universe, a fictional world similar to, but running deeper than, our own, with its own geography, heroes and villains and, above all, its own vocabulary (the Circus, moles, lamplighters, scalphunters, Moscow rules and the like).  For me I think much of the appeal lies in this world-building.  It’s quite well-established that autistic people like these kinds of fleshed-out fictional worlds, although science fiction and fantasy are the more normal sources than spy novels.  I think George Smiley’s world is as much an autistic special interest for me than Doctor Who.  It’s certainly a comforting thing to return to when I feel depressed and anxious, as at the moment, like Doctor Who and one or two other series.

In many ways, Smiley’s world is more cohesive (despite all the “retcons”) than the Doctor Who universe, which is vastly larger, but open and less defined.  There are only nine Smiley novels (albeit that several non-Smiley novels arguably take place in the same fictional world, from little details) and they form a reasonably coherent whole, although it took a few novels for all the details to come together.  The secret vocabulary which is so important to me (because I like language?) only really first appears from the fifth novel in the sequence, Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy.

I wallow in George Smiley’s world.  I imagine myself inside it, and not just when reading the books, but when visiting or working in buildings that remind me of how I imagine the Circus (British Intelligence), old buildings housing large institutions that have seen better days (I’ve worked in one or two of those).  I couldn’t be a field-agent, but I imagine myself in Research in the Circus archives, working with Connie Sachs to ferret out Soviet agents.  Le Carré’s post-Cold War books don’t really have that same background and are, to me, a lot less interesting (and his politics are more predictable and, to my thinking, less nuanced, particularly his knee-jerk anti-Americanism).  Certainly I generally prefer the scenes of bureaucrats (“espiocrats” as le Carré calls them in his later books) sitting around talking to the scenes of undercover agents, especially as le Carré doesn’t really do action scenes very well (most of the Smiley stories are structured as mystery stories rather than conventional thrillers, again a difference to le Carré’s later books, and part of the reason I don’t like the later books as much).

(Although one day I’m going to have to write that essay on le Carré’s presentation of Jews…)

It’s funny how I can write 500 words on something I care about without thinking even on a bad day, while more mundane tasks just seem impossible.

Advertisements

Celestial Intervention

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

***

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

***

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

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

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

Speaking a Dead Language

The usual post-Yom Tov (festival) depression has set in.  Actually, it is more accurate to define it as post-mass social interaction (i.e. interacting with lots of people at shul (synagogue) and elsewhere) depression.  I was not tired last night so I stayed up late blogging and unwinding from the stresses of the last three days, but inevitably slept late this morning and woke up utterly drained from the last few days.  I feel pessimistic about all my recent plans to write professionally and to date again.  I feel that I can’t write well, that I don’t know anything (except my own moods) well enough to write about at length, that no one would date me while I’m unemployed and so on.

It’s been a day of procrastination and feeling too drained and depressed to do anything.  I did send an email to the values-based dating service matchmaker saying I would like to date again if they find anyone (I had said I wanted to stop until I can find a job).  I hope that’s not a terrible idea.  It feels a bit like a terrible idea, despite what people have said to me, here and elsewhere.  I briefly started signing up for another dating service, but backtracked when I realised that the free membership was limited, while it didn’t say anywhere on the site how much the paid membership was.  I can’t really afford a hefty monthly fee at the moment, so that was more time/energy wasted.  I guess this is a way of ensuring that unemployed people don’t date.

I also went for a very short walk to do some shopping, which completely exhausted me, and I cooked dinner for myself and my parents (macaroni cheese, about the easiest recipe I know) which also exhausted me.  I somehow managed about twenty minutes of Torah study as well as writing letters of complaint about a couple of secondhand items that were advertised as “very good,” but arrived in a poor condition.  So this was not a totally wasted day, but it was not a productive one.

However, I did not have time, energy or mood/brainpower for a load of other things I hoped to get done today (write to a couple of friends asking for help starting to write professionally; proof-reading and submitting a job application; trying to get submission guides from various periodicals I’d like to write for; and studying the weekly page of Talmud for my shiur).  All those things will get postponed to later in the week, assuming I feel better.

In the meantime, I’m fighting the urge to eat junk food after all the junk, especially ice cream, I ate over Yom Tov (it is customary to eat dairy produce on Shavuot).  I’m wondering if I really have what it takes to write professionally, considering the small number of people reading my blog and the fact that I haven’t really written much professionally in the past and my autistic/socially anxious/low self-esteem difficulties with networking and pushing my work out there.  Actually, I wonder if I have what it takes to do anything meaningful at all.  I feel so useless so much of the time.

***

Doctor Who Magazine has been running a cosplay feature for some time now.  Cosplaying is when fans of something dress up as their favourite characters, often for conventions (because part of the point is being seen by people who get the reference).  Part of my mind thinks it is a pointless waste of time and money; another part thinks it looks a lot of fun; a third agrees it looks fun, but is too anxious for either cosplaying or going to conventions.  Broadly, the Jewish, fannish and autistic/mentally ill parts of my head, I suppose.  I did dress up as the Doctor for Purim, albeit in what a dedicated cosplayer would consider a very inaccurate costume (only the scarf was authentic; the rest was just a vague approximation of Tom Baker’s costume from stuff I had to hand).

I feel torn into pieces by the thoughts in my head.  I want to be frum, yet I lack energy and enthusiasm for Torah and mitzvot and sometimes I’m angry with God.  I like classic British telefantasy, but I worry it’s a trivial thing to waste my life on.  I love writing, but am scared to do anything with it.  I’d like to make friends with people like myself, but I’m terrified of rejection, so avoid places where I might meet people like myself (shulDoctor Who conventions).  I assume that the fact that I’m not a typical Orthodox Jew or typical Doctor Who fan makes me unlikeable by more conventional members of those communities, when it might be the reverse, at least for some people (maybe, possibly).  Anxiety and autism make me stay in my comfort zone when I might enjoy moving out of it (writing professionally, including doing serious research; going to conventions).

Sometimes it feels like being a frum geek is like knowing a nearly-extinct language, that there are nuances or connections in Jewish stuff or fan stuff that only I can see.  That’s fun on some level, but it’s also lonely.  I guess loneliness is fundamental to my life.  Perhaps surprisingly, I did have a couple of friends at school, but never many and sometimes they were all away or busy and I was left on my own.  Then at Oxford it grew to being one of the dominating emotions of my life and has never really gone away.  I don’t know if I could cope with having a partner, it would be so strange.  Maybe I would still feel lonely, and therefore guilty that my wife wasn’t enough for me.

This mental division might affect my writing.  It’s possible that what I want to write is not going to align very well with the readership of various periodicals.  I want to write something on chronic illness, especially depression and high functioning autism, in the Jewish community, but I worry that anything I write will be too frum (religious) for the Jewish Chronicle, but too irreligious for any of the frummer Jewish newspapers (which I don’t read anyway, so I would need to research style and tone.  Plus, I think on principle, I don’t want to write for newspapers that refuse to run pictures of women, as is the case with many Orthodox newspapers).

Three Day Eventing

I’ll try to keep this brief, as it’s gone 11.30pm as I sit down to write (nearly 12.30am now I’m proof-reading), but it’s been a packed “three day event” (as my parents refer to Shabbat (the Sabbath) and two days of Yom Tov (festival) consecutively).  My sleep pattern has been thoroughly messed up by Tikkun Leil (staying up all night studying Torah) and long afternoon naps, so I doubt I’ll get to sleep soon anyway.

I got to some of the “learning” events (Orthodox Jews tend to refer to Torah study as “learning” because of a quirk of Yiddish; I think it makes it sound misleadingly basic).  Some were definitely better than others.  I was glad to do Tikkun Leil, as I mentioned, even though the topic (what Torah subjects should one be studying) was something liable to make me feel religiously inadequate.  The big inadequacy-making event was today, however, when a whole bunch of local shuls (synagogues) got together at my parents’ shul for two hour study fest.  I couldn’t find a chevruta (study partner) from my shul, so the Rosh Kollel paired me up with someone who turned out to be a nice guy, but far ahead of me in Talmudic studies.  He just raced through the set texts, through the Gemara and Rashi and on to other Rishonim and Acharonim (Medieval and modern commentators).  I could barely follow any of it.  For one thing, the sheer number of people in the hall meant that my autistic brain was overwhelmed with noise and half the time I couldn’t even hear my study partner.  Even when I could, I struggled to think of anything to say, which I suspect/hope is an autistic executive function issue, the same thing that makes me stop and ask for more time to think in job interviews.  My brain just doesn’t work that fast.  Then add in the social element of chevruta learning, the fact that not only do I have to engage the part of my brain that deals with Talmud, but I have to engage the part that deals with social interactions too, and it’s all too much for me, even without the fact that my partner had a natural flair for Talmudic study and just tore through everything.  I used to have this problem with paired or group learning in school, too, so it’s not a problem unique to religious study for me.

Then there was a shiur (lecture) that was supposed to clarify the sources, but just left me more confused; it didn’t help that I could barely hear it.  Then there were songs I didn’t know and by the time we got to the end, I was wondering if my Judaism is really the same as that of everyone else in the hall.  There were a couple of people I was at school with in the hall, people who were not my intellectual equals at school, but who have become rabbis and can “learn” properly.  I can’t really study Talmud, although I try a little.  I mostly study Tanakh (Hebrew Bible) and theology for Torah study.  No self-respecting yeshiva bochur (rabbinical seminary student) wastes time studying Nakh (the non-Mosaic books of the Bible) (unless they’re at a Religious Zionist yeshiva) or theology.  My theology shelf is full of suspect people like Rabbi Sacks, Rav Steinsaltz and Rabbi Eliezer Berkovits, let alone outright non-Orthodox and unacceptable thinkers like Abraham Joshua Heschel and Emil Fackenheim.  (Rav Soloveitchik just about gets a pass because he was a halakhicist and has yichus (great ancestors)).

Fortunately, the Rosh Kollel in his closing address spoke about the concept of kiddush hashem, sanctifying God’s name by being a good person publicly or even privately abstaining from temptation because of God’s command rather than from fear of being caught.  So I felt maybe I can do something as a Jew.  It is depressing, though.  I am struggling to be Jewish at the moment, simply because I can’t engage with texts and enjoy Jewish life the way I am supposed to do, because of depression and autism.

The good stuff: as well as getting to these study events, I stayed at shul for Shacharit (Morning prayers) after Tikkun Leil; I also – somehow, do not ask me how – got up this morning for shul.  I still got there very late (shul started at 8.45am; I turned up around 10.00am and struggled to get a seat as it was packed), but I got there.  Hopefully I will make it again on Shabbat.  I did feel a bit more comfortable being in the shul than I have done recently (admittedly this was before the upsetting study session today).

I read a lot, both my novel (Fatherland by Robert Harris, thankfully not as depressing as a ‘what if Hitler won?’ alternate universe-Holocaust-murder mystery-thriller could be) and Tanakh.  I finished reading Nevi’im, the Prophets.  I’ve read Tanakh through from the first page to the last in English and I’ve read every individual book in Hebrew (I struggled with the Aramaic bits), but not in the right order, as I alternated ‘easy’ and ‘hard’ books (‘easy’ and ‘hard’ in terms of prose vs. poetry and early vs. late Hebrew).  For several years, I’ve been reading through Tanakh in Hebrew and in order, sometimes with commentaries.  It’s taken a long time because (a) it’s long and (b) it’s longer if you add in commentaries and (c) it’s really hard to read a language that isn’t your first language if you’re very depressed, especially if it’s in archaic poetry.  I’ve gone through periods of months when I just haven’t read anything.  So this was a milestone.  I can’t remember how long it’s taken me to get through Nevi’im, probably four or five years.  Hopefully it won’t take as long to get through Ketuvim, the third and final section of Tanakh, but realistically it will take as long or longer, as I have more commentaries to read plus significant numbers of Aramaic chapters as well as some of the most complex poetry in Tanakh.

I had a difficult discussion with my parents on the first night of Yom Tov over dinner, just before I went to shul for the Tikkun Leil.  We got on to my career and my struggles with finding a library job.  They encouraged me to try to sell some of my writing.  Like, now, not in months or years when I think I’ve finally got something good enough.  I went into autistic/depressive black and white “It’s impossible” mode and actually ran off to my bedroom and lay in bed in the dark fully dressed for a few minutes, which I guess might be a form of autistic shutdown, albeit from emotional overload rather than sensory overload (I do this kind of running away a lot when I’m emotional; I’m not sure if it’s really the same as the types of shutdowns other autistic people experience).  Still, I did calm down after a few minutes and finish the conversation with my parents as well as getting to Tikkun Leil (it looked for a minute like I would just go to bed and stay there).

I realised I have a couple of contacts I can email for advice about starting to write professionally.  I can also write to the Jewish newspapers and see if they have submission guides.  Perhaps also Doctor Who Magazine, although lately they don’t run the kind of analytical articles I could write.  I have a couple of ideas for articles about mental health and autism in the Jewish community for the mainstream (non-religious) Jewish newspapers – they publish quite a bit about mental health, although really the articles need to be more in the frum (religious) newspapers, but I don’t know if I have the right contacts for that or if they would print anything on mental health and autism, especially articles saying that people with mental illness or autism might not function in the community the way they “should” (e.g. my experiences above).  So, hopefully this week I can send some emails and try to work out what I can write.  I am nervous about approaching people for help.  I always am, I guess because at school showing signs of weakness was a fatal mistake, and also because I feel, “Why should anyone help me?  Why would they think I’m worth helping?”  Plus there’s the element of “All beginnings are difficult” (as the Talmud says).

I also came across a passage in a book that resonated with me.  It was a short piece, just a couple of paragraphs, in an anthology of essays on Judaism.  It was by Rabbi Dr Abraham Twerski, who is a Hasidic rabbi and practising psychiatrist in the USA who has written extensively on Judaism and mental health issues.  It was just a short thing saying that some people go out of their way to give others the benefit of the doubt, but beat themselves up about every little mistake and that this is not a positive behaviour and that we should be realistic with ourselves.  So, it seemed significant that I “happened” to come across that passage over the long weekend.

So, that was Shabbat and Yom Tov.  It was probably objectively quite good, but it’s hard for me to feel positive feelings, while the negative ones (like the study session today) are overwhelming.  Some of that is the nature of depression, of course.  I realise I haven’t explicitly spoken about depression in this post, only autism and low self-esteem, but it’s always there, in the background, poisoning my mood and warping my view of myself and my life.  Now I need to have something to eat, watch some Blake’s 7 and go to bed.

Time’s Wingèd Chariot

A friend suggested an Orthodox shadchan (matchmaking service) to me (this one).  I had actually already heard of them – nearly used them, in fact, before using the values-based dating service.  I don’t think I should be dating right now, because of my unclear employment situation, not just being unemployed, but not even being sure I’m in the right career, wanting to try to be a writer, but being too scared to try and not really knowing how to go about it.  My parents and my rabbi mentor disagree with me and think I could be dating, but it just feels wrong to me.  Actually, if I asked any rabbi, they would almost certainly tell me I should be dating, because I’m not likely to get much better, mental health-wise,  marriage and children are mitzvot (commandments) and the right woman would overlook my mental health issues and unemployment because we would be soul-mates (really?!!).  I suppose I agree, up to a point, I just don’t believe there is a magic “right woman” out there for me and I can’t face opening up to women only to be rejected again and again.  Particularly as I can’t find a shadchan in the UK who deals with people with ‘issues’ like mine.  But I’m lonely.

It makes me wonder what women would think if I did turn up on a date without a job.  L. didn’t seem to care, but I think most women would.  In the Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) world it’s more common for men to date while not in employment, but that’s because people date while still in yeshiva (rabbinical seminary), and in some communities the man is expected to stay in yeshiva or kollel permanently, with the woman supporting the family while he studies.  I disagree with this behaviour and don’t particularly want to go down that path in a weird sort of secular way (being supported by my wife while I try to build a career).  And I really, really, really can’t imagine what type of woman would be interested in a depressed, autistic, unemployed frum-but-not-frum-enough geek.

But I do get really lonely.  Then again, dating just because I’m lonely isn’t necessarily the best idea either, although lots of people do it.

“But at my back I always hear/Time’s wingèd chariot hurrying near”.  I feel I should have got my life sorted out by now.  I should have dealt with my adolescent angst and my mental health issues, I should have got my autism diagnosis, I should have sorted my career and started a family already.  My peers at shul are all married with children and careers.  Assuming I marry someone my own age, it’s going to start getting harder to even have children soon.

***

I feel like my shul is trolling me.  Shortly after writing the above paragraphs, I saw they had sent out the text of a special prayer that I had never heard of before to say on Rosh Chodesh Sivan (tonight and tomorrow) to pray for one’s children to be righteous and that they should find righteous spouses from families of Torah scholars.  Seriously?!  You really want to rub in that I have no wife and children?!  For the sake of some obscure minhag (custom) that comes from just one seventeenth century kabbalist?  It’s an unfortunate coincidence that this should happen today, but it does reinforce the feeling that if you don’t have a spouse and children, there really is no room for you in a frum (religious Orthodox Jewish) community.  You are just too weird and unusual.  I shouldn’t get annoyed about this stuff, but it feels too much sometimes.  I don’t think it’s just my shul either.  I think any Orthodox community, Modern or Haredi, would assume everyone my age is married.

As if this wasn’t enough, another bad shul thing happened today.  I went to shul for Mincha and Ma’ariv (Afternoon and Evening Prayers).  I got there early and started reading Pirkei Avot to pass the time.  Suddenly I noticed out of the corner of my eye most of the people standing up and on some level I knew the new rabbi must have walked in (I’m very bad about standing up for rabbis, which is taken very seriously in the Haredi world).  I glanced up and saw him, but I just couldn’t stand up.  I don’t know why.  Maybe on some level I didn’t want to.  So I hoped it looked like I hadn’t seen him, but I was worried we had made eye contact when I looked up.  Then he started going around the shul talking to people.  I didn’t realise until he had almost got to me.  I stood up when he started talking to me, but I was so anxious my legs started shaking quite badly and I found it hard to stand upright.  I don’t know if he noticed.  Then he said something about he hoped I wasn’t working too hard and I had absolutely no idea what he was talking about.  I wasn’t sure if it was a joke or a genuine question or what.  My autism means I don’t always get jokes in casual conversation with people I’m not so familiar with, particularly if I’m nervous, and also that I can’t always tell when people are asking something out of politeness or if they really mean it.  So I wasn’t sure whether to say that I’m out of work or what.  Then, when davening (prayers) started, I suddenly had a fear that he thought I was in school and coming up to exams.  I’m nearly thirty-six, but I look a lot younger and have been mistaken for a sixth-former in the fairly recent past.  (I guess it’s better than looking older than my years.)  So, I have no idea how that interaction went.  I know it went badly, but I’m not sure just how badly.

The whole experience left me very anxious and agitated and unable to concentrate on davening.  During davening and afterwards I had violent agitated thoughts of having my throat slit or of maggots eating my rotting flesh.  It was horrible.  I started wondering why social interactions are so hard for me.  Not in the literal sense of having autism and social anxiety, but in a deeper, metaphysical way.  In Judaism there is a concept of middah keneged middah (measure for measure), that we get punished in the way we sinned, so I started wondering if I embarrass people in public (which is a very serious sin in Judaism).  I do tease my Dad and get annoyed with him more than I should and some of that may count as being in public, but it didn’t really seem to explain why I find it so hard to go through social situations (sometimes including just going shopping) without feeling embarrassed.  So, perhaps there is another reason, but I don’t know what it is.  I don’t know why I can’t just live an ordinary life like most people get to do.  Some Jews believe in gilgul neshamot (reincarnation).  I find that it raises more problems than it answers, but sometimes it’s tempting to believe I was just a horrible person in another life and that outweighs whatever it is I’m doing now.

***

I feel that I hate myself today.  I just feel that I hate everything about myself.  I’m not even sure why.  It’s probably just frustration with my life.  Sometimes I wish I believed in da’at Torah, the mystical clairvoyance that Haredi Jews believe their rabbis have that allows them to prophetically answer difficult life questions.  I wish I could believe someone could just tell me what to do with my life and then I could go and do it, or at least try to do it.  But I don’t think life works like that, certainly not my life, where I have to struggle for every little thing.  Plus there probably is some self-sabotage going on here, in dating and career.

But I’ve said all this before.  I wish I could break out of the loop my thoughts run around, but I don’t think that’s going to happen until someone either publishes me or marries me, neither of which seem very likely right now, and perhaps not even then.  I can’t believe I could meet someone like me through an Orthodox dating service anyway, and I certainly don’t believe I could meet someone in another way, so I’m stuck.  There just isn’t anyone like me (weird and dysfunctional).  I’m weird, crazy and lonely, I’m religious, but not enough.  When God made me, He made me too broken for anyone to match with me.

There’s a lot online about body image.  I don’t particularly struggle with that.  I don’t think I look great, but I don’t feel self-consciously ugly either most of the time.  But I don’t like myself as a person and I find it hard to believe that anyone else could like me either (I mean even as a friend, let alone for dating).  I don’t feel that I have any particularly good character traits and on the rare occasions people have said what they like about me, they tend to focus on my intelligence, which is problematic as (a) I don’t consider it a particularly strongly positive character trait (it’s not bad, but it’s not good like being kind or generous, it just is) and (b) my intelligence seems to have been negatively affected by my depression and I feel stupid a lot of the time these days, especially in social situations where social anxiety and autistic impairments kick in.

***

I didn’t have any jobs to apply for today, aside from a school librarian job I really don’t want, so I focused on my writing, managing to write much of the first draft of the final chapter of my Doctor Who book, covering the most recent episodes.  It feels a bit unsubstantial and I may have to rewatch some of those episodes before attempting a second draft.  I might try to get some feedback from friends first, though (I would like more feedback in general, if possible, if anyone else would like to volunteer).  Other than redrafting that chapter, the main thing to do now is to wait for feedback from friends I have shown chapters to and to decide whether to attempt a fourth draft or to submit it.  I think I probably will do at least one more draft.

Other than that, my only achievements today were going to shul, including walking there and back, and doing about an hour of Torah study.  I should be pleased with my writing, and on one level I am, but I always feel bad about prioritising writing over job hunting.  I wish I could get the courage to dedicate serious time to writing professionally, but I don’t have the guts.  Oh, and somehow I lost my to do list and I can’t remember what was on it.  I also watched a forgetable episode of Blake’s 7 (Volcano).  So not a great day in all.

More In Heaven and Earth

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

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

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

***

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

***

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

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

***

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

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

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

***

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

Crisis of Faith

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Standing on the Margins

I’ve been up and down again today.  I slept late again, after insomnia last night, which turned out to be because I’d forgotten to take my meds (I fell asleep around 3am, after taking them).  At times today I’ve been OK, but I tried doing some Torah study earlier and started crying.  I still feel very depressed.  There wasn’t an obvious trigger.

I did manage about half an hour of Torah study in the end.  It feels too little, particularly after what I wrote yesterday about “toiling” in Torah study in order to learn anything, but I just don’t feel able to do any more.  Am I being lazy?  Or beating myself up too much?  I don’t know.  My rational brain says I can force myself to do more, but the emotional side of me feels overloaded and unable to go on.  My self-esteem generally is low and I feel that I’m just not doing enough of anything at the moment: I didn’t job hunt today or do much Torah study or work on my books (except for watching Doctor Who: Demons of the Punjab for research for my book; I did work out why I don’t really like it, but that’s not entirely relevant to either this post or the book, although it was oddly mirrored by Michael Weingrad’s article today on Game of Thrones for the Jewish Review of Books).  All I did, aside from that half-hour of Torah study was a few Shabbat chores and some dusting, plus I’m hoping to go to shul (synagogue) in an hour.

I feel jealous of people who love Torah study, particularly men who love, and are good at, Talmudic study.  It must make being frum (religious Orthodox Jewish) so much easier and more enjoyable, just as it seems easier to be extrovert, and especially neurotypical, in such a community-based religion.  The assistant rabbi was speaking last night of spending hours studying with his chevruta (study partner), tearing just a few lines of Talmudic text to pieces and putting back together again in myriad ways until the understand it, and how disgusted he feels afterwards with the simplified “for dummies” explanations in the Artscroll Talmud edition commentary.  I can’t even understand the Artscroll explanations and I certainly can’t function with a chevruta, which is supposed to be the ideal Jewish way to study.

It’s funny, I tend to assume that I have no share in Olam HaBa (the World to Come i.e. Heaven).  Partly it’s that I can’t imagine anything that good happening to me (everything in my life goes wrong sooner or later, usually sooner), but also our images of Heaven – the Heavenly yeshiva where everyone studies Torah with HaShem (God), the great banquet, the circle dance around HaShem – they are all communal images.  True they are only metaphors, there isn’t a literal yeshiva, feast or dance in Heaven, but whenever I try to imagine myself in the images, it’s just awful.  I can’t study yeshiva-style, I get overloaded by the noise and the people and am too shy to say anything even if I understand the subject matter.  I hate parties and avoid them; when I do I’m left standing by the fringes (which I read the other day is what happens if you earn a not-so-good place in Olam HaBa).  And, as I noted recently, I hate circle dancing (not that I like any other type either); again, I leave early on Simchat Torah to avoid it.  I feel that Olam HaBa, if by some miracle I find myself there, will probably turn out to be like a shul Shabbat (Sabbath) dinner: I’ll feel uninspired and lonely while everyone else is having a great time, connecting with HaShem and bonding with their friends and family.

I feel more than ever that I want a frum wife who could help me grow religiously, but there’s zero chance of anyone frum wanting to go out with me.  The last two women I dated were not frum.  I don’t even know how I would even meet someone frum, and I’m sure she would not be interested in me.  My parents just feed my fantasy that I could only marry someone whose previous relationships were severely dysfunctional or abusive by suggesting that I’ll meet someone who isn’t interested in a ‘typical’ frum guy because of a bad previous experience, but I can’t see why she would not want to meet someone frum and a nice person.  Unless she isn’t interested in being frum at all, in which case I still wouldn’t be suitable.  If I make up extreme examples of reasons why no one would marry me, my parents produce equally bizarre and unlikely examples of women who might be interested in me.  I’m not convinced by them.

I’ve been using dysfunctional coping strategies for dealing with difficult feelings.  Doubtless this will include eating too much junk over Shabbat (the Sabbath).  I feel sinful (not for eating, for other things), but feeling sinful just makes it worse because I’m even more likely to react in a dysfunctional way out of guilt, low self-esteem and self-loathing.

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

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

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

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

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

Anyway, enough politics.

***

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

***

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

Who Would Fardels Bear?

“How weary, stale, flat, and unprofitable
Seem to me all the uses of this world!”

-William Shakespeare, Hamlet

Feeling burnt out, depressed, lonely and stupid today.  I didn’t get the job at the Very Important Organisation.  They give applicants graded feedback; mine was pretty poor, a mixture of threes and fours (out of seven) with a two for effective decision making.  You could put that down to autistic executive function issues, or plain indecisiveness.

I had no energy or enthusiasm for anything, but I forced myself out for an hour or so.  Mostly walking, some shopping and I closed a bank account that had a ridiculously small interest rate.  I bought the lentils I couldn’t get yesterday, but felt too exhausted to go and get a bat mitzvah card for my rabbi mentor’s daughter and so came home.

My mind is visual in some ways and sometimes throws up fantasies or daydreams using imagery from TV or film.  I think I daydream more, or more immaturely, than someone my age should be doing.  It can become quite absorbing, even frighteningly so, particularly when I’m depressed and agitated.  When I was out I had disturbing, agitated mental images of being cornered and outgunned, Blake’s 7-finale style, or chained to a bomb that could explode at any moment.  I’m not sure if the bomb represented the world or my psyche; I’m not convinced that either is in particularly good shape.

I feel that the world might self-destruct under the weight of its iniquities and inequities any time soon; my psyche might collapse under the weight of stress and internal contradictions.  In Politics vs Literature: An Examination of Gulliver’s Travels, George Orwell writes of people like Jonathan Swift who can’t enjoy the world and have no expectations from the next world and that such people end up wanting to stop anyone enjoying anything, “the envy of the ghost for the living” adding that “Swift ultimately blew everything to pieces in the only way that was feasible before the atomic bomb – that is, he went mad”.  I feel that I could join him, one day.  I don’t really want to stop other people being happy, I just want to get some small modicum of happiness for myself, but it doesn’t seem to be possible.

When I got home, I was still too depressed and exhausted to make job applications or to do any Torah study (I managed ten minutes or so in the end), so I worked on redrafting my Doctor Who book.  It says a lot that I was able to spend nearly two hours working on that more or less uninterrupted (or unprocrastinated), which is not something I have managed when working on job applications.  I now have completed third drafts of all fourteen existing chapters, although I’m still re-watching the most recent episodes for research for a fifteenth chapter that will need writing from scratch to cover Jodie Whittaker’s first year in the role.

I’m still not hugely happy with what I’ve written, but it’s hard to see what I should change.  I’m not good at judging my own work at the best of times and having worked on this for six years or more, it could probably do with a fresh pair of eyes, so I need to decide whether to ask my fan friends to read some chapters.  That would probably be more worthwhile than attempting a fourth draft without outside input, but my fan friends all have major life crises at the moment and I’m reluctant to ask any of them.  Plus, I don’t take criticism well and am worried that even constructive criticism could send me further downwards on a “I’m useless” spiral.

I intended to watch another episode of Doctor Who as research tonight, but the next episode is Rosa (about Rosa Parks) I’m too tired for such a heavy-going episode, so tonight will be a Blake’s 7 night (I’m currently mixing Doctor Who series eleven with a Blake’s 7 marathon).

***

It’s hard to tell how much I like to keep my political and religious views to myself and how much I feel I have to from not fitting in.  There’s an old joke about Modern Orthodox Jews that, “The people I can pray with, I can’t talk to; the people I talk to, I can’t pray with” meaning Modern Orthodox Jews are open to modernity and postmodernity and its arguments in academic and culture, but can’t talk about that with Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) Jews; conversely, they can have intellectual discussions with non-religious academics and non-Orthodox Jews, but can’t pray with them as they believe differently or not at all.  I feel that a lot, albeit not as much as I did when I worked in a non-Orthodox religious institution.

In addition to this, lately I have been aware that many of my friends would side differently to me on some major political issues and I wonder what they would think about me if they knew.  I usually keep my views quite even when they post things I find questionable or upsetting on their blogs.  Not using Twitter or Facebook makes this a little easier, but it can be hard.  This happens at depression group too, where one person in particular has strong political views and can be rude and dismissive of people who vote differently.  I’ve never said anything, and I’m sure he thinks I’m too nice to vote for… (or else he just doesn’t care).

Actually, I wonder what people think about me generally.  I sometimes wonder if the non-religious people I encounter at work, in fandom and on the blogosphere think I’m a ‘normal’ person, or at least a normal geek person, except for this weird quirk that I believe in God, and in a very legalistic and old-fashioned God at that, and have taken on lots of bizarre rituals.  They probably don’t really think like that (they’re too polite for one thing).  And, of course, I worry that if the people from my shul (synagogue) found out about my ‘modern’ beliefs and geeky interests, that would also be seen as crossing a line.

I guess it boils down to this: I have friends who have religious and political opinions and lifestyle choices I disagree with (from a Jewish point of view, the whole concept of “lifestyle choices” is fraught with difficulty as it assumes our lives are ours to deal with as we see fit, an idea that Orthodox Judaism would reject, arguing we’re called to a mission regardless of our desires and choices), but I make an effort to stay friends with them, because I don’t think you should ruin a friendship for politics or religion.  I know that makes me unusual, both in the Orthodox community (where people usually socialise with other Orthodox Jews, to avoid these kinds of situations and potential negative religious influences) and in the world at large, where people are mostly friends with people who hold similar views.  We have got used to hearing of families and friendships broken by Brexit or Trump.  So I suppose it’s natural that I wonder what the people I encounter are thinking and whether I really need to hide so much of my life from people.

That said, I feel so disillusioned and disenfranchised with the current political situation that I’m glad to have a reason not to talk politics, even with people who will agree with me.  It seems to me lately that we have a duty to save as much of life as we can from people who drag their angry and aggressive politics into everything.  I appreciate there is a role for political art and literature, but it’s a relief nowadays to find things that are beautiful for purely aesthetic reasons.  I suppose I can’t live in my ivory tower forever, but I can try.

***

If I confound expectation and manage to procreate, my eldest child’s teddy is now likely to be called Fardels Bear.

Meaning from Suffering

A random selection of stuff that went through my head today with even less thematic unity than normal…

Ashley Leia commented on the previous post regarding the high level of socialisation required in the Orthodox community.  I guess that’s what a lot of my blog is about, really, and certainly what I would want a book on mental health and autism in the frum (religious Orthodox Jewish) community to be about: that Orthodoxy does require a lot of socialisation and it isn’t always possible for people to fit in.

This dovetailed with a thought I had last night after I posted.  When frum people talk about what they like about Judaism and when non-Jews say what they admire about Judaism, some things often come up: strong family life, close-knit communities and many festivals with their unique rituals.  The problem is that because of my mental health issues and autism, things I struggle with in Judaism include family life, close-knit communities and many festivals with their unique rituals.  It feels sometimes like I have the usual difficulties of Judaism and more without the positives, or without many of the positives.  Sometimes I wonder why I’m frum, but I just “happen” to believe and am not hypocritical enough to believe and not do, or at least not try to do.

***

I’m having silly crush thoughts about someone I knew from a previous shul who I haven’t seen for about four years and who I have never (as far as I can remember) spoken to, not even to say hello.  When she saw my parents at a party last year, she apparently asked them how I was, by name.  I didn’t think that she knew me, let alone knew my name.  Somehow I can’t see that going anywhere, but I’ve been thinking of her for the last few days for no very obvious (or good) reason.  Even if I thought it was a good idea for me to be dating (which I don’t) and that she might be interested in me (which she almost certainly isn’t) I wouldn’t really know how to get in contact with her, nor would I have the confidence to do so.  But, still, I keep thinking about her.  My Dad once claimed that he’d had a dream where I was married to her.  (My Dad thinks his dreams are precognitive, which is why he isn’t worried about me not getting married and having children, because he’s seen my wife and kids in dreams.  I’m rather sceptical of things like that.)

I’m a very lonely person.  I’ve never had many friends and, even now, when I do have a small circle of friends, most of them live far away and I communicate with them by blogging, emailing, texting and/or What’sApping.  I long for real intimacy.  I mean the feeling when one really opens up to a close friend or especially a partner and is understood, and they open up and are understood in return.  This has been a rare and short-lived phenomenon in my life.  I suppose it’s related to what I said last week about existentialist Judaism and finding holiness in the interpersonal.

***

I went out to do some shopping for ingredients for dinner.  I was out walking for an hour and came back with nothing.  I couldn’t find lentils in the two small supermarkets and I’d forgotten that the big Sainsbury’s shuts early on Sunday and they were closed when I arrived.  I became so focused on finding the lentils that I forgot we needed apples too.  By the time I got home I was feeling too depressed and exhausted to cook much anyway.

***

I felt very depressed and despairing when I was out, not about myself, but about society as a whole.  Sometimes it’s easy to convince myself that society is just corrupt, and that Jewish society has been corrupted too, and that (as per the Rambam) I should go off somewhere and be a hermit.  I don’t think society has passed the point of no return, and as a student of history, I’m not really convinced that society is worse than ever before, overall, but one only needs to look in a newspaper to see that there’s a lot wrong with the world.

Nevertheless, I felt very agitated when trapped with my thoughts, despite taking advantage of the heter (permission) to allow depressed people to listen to music in the omer.  I don’t know why I experience this agitation sometimes, what triggers it or ends it, nor do I understand the anger and grandiosity that can accompany it.  I don’t know where it comes from or why or how to calm down without just waiting until I’m burnt out and exhausted, not to mention still depressed, just too tired to think.  I’ve been told it isn’t mania, as I once thought.  It seems to be associated with loneliness and comes particularly on days when I am alone.  It started while my parents were out today and continued while I was out shopping, but when I got home and saw my parents it subsided (maybe I do need to get married ASAP).  The immediate triggers are usually seeing political stuff online or in the newspapers, particularly stuff about antisemitism or other political events that trouble me.  But I’m not sure if they are really the triggers; it feels like they are just the proximate causes and there’s a deeper psychological cause somewhere that I haven’t identified.

Sometimes, particularly when I’m very agitated, I feel, on some level, that I want to die for everyone’s sins, although that’s not a very Jewish thing to say (in theory we don’t believe in vicarious punishment.  It does appear in some sources, but we downplay it).  When I was at university I had a couple of borderline-psychotic episodes for for a second or two I was convinced that I was Mashiach (the Messiah).

I just want my suffering to be meaningful beyond myself.  It’s hard just thinking that, at best, I might be atoning for some of my sins and saving myself from different suffering in Gehennom (Purgatory).  It’s much better for my ego and sense of purpose to feel that every day I suffer somehow pushes the world towards redemption, that every tear I shed spares a child from a terrorist’s rocket.  It’s hard to find real meaning in my suffering, so it’s easy to slip into fantasy.  I suppose that’s why I want to write a book about my experiences, to try to rescue them (the experiences, I mean), to let other people find meaning in them.  There is very little written about mental health from a frum Jewish perspective and, as far as I can tell, virtually nothing at all about high functioning autism.

***

In the end I did manage to do a few useful things today: I went shopping/walking for an hour, did ten minutes of Torah study (all I could face, really) and spent an hour and a half redrafting another chapter of my Doctor Who book as well as watching and taking notes The Ghost Monument episode for the chapter I still have to write.  I also cooked a packet of couscous.  I feel I should have done more, though.  I wanted to do ‘real’ cooking, not convenience food and I feel frustrated that I can spend an hour and a half or more on my book (not to mention blogging) and only ten minutes on Torah study, but the latter is draining while the former is restoring.  Still, it feels like a wasted day.  I can sort of see that maybe (maybe!) it shouldn’t feel like a wasted day and maybe I shouldn’t be beating myself up for not doing enough Torah study, especially as at one point I didn’t think I would manage any, but it’s hard to think like that.

Existential Angst

I had another job interview today, at a very large law firm for a law librarian-type job.  I left my self lots of time to get there, which was lucky as I struggled to find their offices and wandered around a bit until I found them.  I’m not sure if the fault was Transport for London’s online directions or inadequate signage in central London.  I still got there early, though.  Then on the way home, I accidentally went into Farringdon mainline station instead of Farringdon Underground station, a mistake that seems to have cost me £2.40 just to go through the ticket barriers (which accepted my oyster card (Underground ticket)).  The signage is all done in the same font as the Underground signage, which is confusing.

There was a test before the interview, which was on proofreading and cataloguing, plus a trickier question about how I would respond to a problematic library user.  I was glad that I practised my cataloguing this week.  I was also glad that I prepared more thoroughly than in the past for the interview, as they threw twenty or thirty questions at me for an hour, which is a more intense interview than I’ve had since I applied to Oxford (not that I’ve had many job interviews, but you get the idea).  I had a sense of doing OK, but perhaps not great, but I’m a very bad judge of these things.  I think, like dating, chemistry with the office culture is important, and also how good the other candidates are (maybe also like dating).

I’m not sure if I would take the job.  I’m guessing the salary would be decent and the offices are very swish, as you would expect, but I don’t know that I’m ready, in terms of my psychological health, to work full-time even without the fact that the job description expects overtime, plus there may be a problem with Shabbat i.e. Friday afternoons in the winter, but also from a comment in the interview occasional Saturday work might be required too.  But even beyond that, I think the corporate culture at a place like this might not be right for me.  I find the idea of working somewhere that exists primarily to make money vaguely unsettling.  I’ve only worked somewhere like that once, on a short contract, and I didn’t like it (admittedly a lot of other things were wrong there too).  Even writing a book on Doctor Who seems more socially useful: people would hopefully enjoy the book, whereas spending my time helping lawyers to trace legal precedents to help big companies make deals seems… not quite my kind of thing.  I’m not an anti-capitalist by any means, I am just really uncertain that it’s where I would like to invest my energies, which, after all, are rather limited at the moment.  I feel like a precious snowflake saying that, but I’m not sure I would be happy in a job that was both high-pressured and not socially useful in any obvious kind of way.

I suppose the real trouble is that, deep down, I want to at least try to make a career as a writer of some description, I’m just scared and don’t know how to start.  I picture myself at the school swimming pool, standing on the side in my swimming trunks, trying to get the courage to jump into the freezing water…  Lately I’ve been interviewed for or considered librarianship jobs in academia, law and the civil service, and they all make me feel inadequate.  I know that, in theory, with my BA I should have been able to at least try to get jobs in any of those areas, either as a librarian or as an actual academic/lawyer/civil servant.  And I didn’t, because I was scared and didn’t believe in myself (granted I never wanted to be a lawyer, I just know that some huge proportion of Jews go into law).  And now I’m trying to work out what I do believe in my ability to do.

***

The assistant rabbi in his shiur (religious class) the last couple of weeks has spoken a lot about kedusha (holiness) and the importance of having it in our lives, but also the difficulty of obtaining it.  He says we can keep the whole of Jewish law, but even then we might not obtain kedusha because it is ultimately a gift from God; we have to prepare ourselves for it (do the mitzvot (commandments) and work on our characters), but we might not get it.

I do wonder if I am making any attempt to find kedusha in my life.  So much of the time at the moment I feel like I’m just going through the motions with davening (prayer), Torah study, mitzvot…  I know it’s hard to feel engaged with depression and the resultant poor concentration and motivation and I know feeling engaged can trick you into thinking you’ve got holiness when it’s just pleasure/joy/ego.  Even so, I feel there ought to be more to my religious life, but when I try to learn more/better or daven more/better, I just hit a barrier.  I know the barrier is probably depression or sometimes social anxiety, but I feel I should be able to get through it somehow.

I’m not sure I really know what kedusha is anyway, beyond thinking I don’t have it (I assume I would know it if I felt it, although that may simply not be true).  I haven’t read much Jewish philosophy lately, but a number of years ago I was quite into Jewish religious existentialist philosophy: Rav Soloveitchik, Emmanuel Levinas, Abraham Joshua Heschel, Emil Fackenheim, Franz Rosenzweig (couldn’t understand a word of him), Martin Buber’s Tales of the Hasidim…  A key idea in Jewish existentialism is that kedusha is found in relationships, in our interactions with others as much as ritual.  There is also emphasis on the longing for HaShem (God) and the feeling of distance from him (Rav Soloveitchik’s The Lonely Man of Faith is a key text here; also Arthur Green’s reading of Rabbi Nachman of Breslov and his Tales).  I know the longing, but I feel that I experience it less than I did when the depression was at its worst.  Has recovery (however partial and limited) made me less religious and God-aware?  It’s a scary thought.  My autism and social anxiety make it hard for me to find HaShem in personal interactions, although I try when I volunteer at the asylum seekers drop-in centre.  I try to reach out to people who are struggling online and find some satisfaction in doing that, although I worry about saying the wrong thing and think I have done so in the past.

***

Today has left me feeling exhausted.  I will try to go to shul (synagogue) tonight, but I doubt I will make it for tomorrow morning.  I will try to go to the seudah shlishit (third meal) being held as a farewell for the rabbi, the assistant rabbi and their wives, although with my shiurMincha and Ma’ariv (Afternoon and Evening services) it will last for about three and a half hours, which is a lot of ‘peopling’ particularly if I’m feeling exhausted.  Other than that, I will try to relax after a very stressful week, whilst musing in the background on what to do if I am offered either of the two jobs I was interviewed for this week.

The Knot in My Stomach

I feel depressed and anxious, but there isn’t really much I can say right now.  There’s a lot I want to say, but it is going to have to wait a day.  However, I want to reach out, so I’m trying to find something to say.  This is the blogging equivalent of when I’m depressed and lonely and I go downstairs and hang around until my parents say something to me.

I had a knot of nausea in my stomach much of the day, struggling with anxiety, both dating anxiety and job interview anxiety.  It seems unfair to have both at the same time, but I guess life isn’t fair.  I don’t really want to talk about dating at the moment, but I looked again at the job description for my interview tomorrow and I wondered why they were even calling me to interview.  I only applied on the off chance, because I don’t have most of the experience they want.  I tried to prepare by imagining being asked “Tell me about a time you demonstrated attribute X”-type questions, but I really can’t imagine how I would do that for the things they want as I genuinely have not done them.  I suppose they have their reasons for calling me.  I’m trying to remember if I listed that I had a disability (depression and/or autism) which might have led to them calling me to tick the necessary diversity boxes rather than because they realistically think I could do the job.  I have mixed feelings about positive discrimination, but no one ever points out that it makes the candidates who succeed paranoid that they aren’t good enough and are just meeting a quota.  I do still worry that I wasn’t “really” Oxford material and I only got in to meet a quota of students from comprehensive schools.

I did manage to cook dinner for tonight and tomorrow.  I also went for a blood test (routine lithium level check which I need on my meds), which turned out to have been booked for tomorrow.  I’m not sure how I made that mistake.  Fortunately they squeezed me in today, although the receptionist gave me a stern talking to about the importance of checking appointment times carefully.  It was just one more thing going wrong.

I do wonder if I will ever get my life together, get a career and a home and a wife and children.  Be able to actually function as an independent adult and not be dependent on other people, their time and their money (and their patience).  Get some kind of religious life that seems meaningful to me, rather than flailing about trying to find meaning and purpose and not really finding them.  Everything seems so far away.  I try to tell myself that, viewed over the long-term, my life is definitely getting better.  My mood is better, my activity level is higher, my OCD largely under control.  I probably have more friends than ever before, albeit that I don’t really have much of a social life because most of my friends are long-distance and/or online friends.  It’s just that the improvements are glacially slow, occurring over a decade or more, so slow that it is hard to believe they are happening, and that it is hard to believe that they could continue to happen fast enough and for long enough for me to manage to marry young enough to have children (among other things).  I know I’ve said before that everyone laughs at me when I say I have a biological clock ticking, but (a) older men do have fertility issues, albeit not in the same ways as women and, more to the point, (b) I really can’t see a forty-something version of me dating twenty-something women to have a family.  Yes, I’ve heard all the stories of older men who marry younger women and produce happy families, I just can’t see it happening to me, not least because I expect the attraction of such men to young women is partly that they are rich and settled, and I can’t really imagine being either of those things.

I sometimes think that the worst thing in life is when we get what we want, and it turns out not to be good for us.  That’s what I’m brooding on now.  But it’s impossible not to want anything, unless you’re a complete tzadik (saint) or possibly a Buddhist.

Stressful Week Ahead

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

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

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

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

Job Hunting and Writing

My sleep seems to have fallen into a pattern of occasional mild insomnia followed by oversleeping and waking more tired and depressed than I went to bed.  That was the pattern last night and this morning.  I woke mildly depressed and allowed myself to take advantage of the heter (permission) that allows clinically depressed people to listen to music in the omer (the period between Passover and Pentecost, observed as a period of national mourning by Orthodox Jews, during much of which time music and other forms of celebration are prohibited).  I wish I had known about this years ago, as it does make things easier for me.  I’m not a great fan of music and don’t have particularly sophisticated tastes, but it can shift my mood a bit in a positive way and give me motivation to get dressed in the mornings or walk briskly.

I wanted to go to autism group as I haven’t been for months, but I felt that I lost too much away time today to depression and procrastination and that I could do with a quiet day/evening after more than a week of Pesach (Passover), the Doc Soc celebration and my date yesterday, especially as I hope (if that’s the right word) to go to a Yom HaShoah (Holocaust Memorial Day) event tomorrow.  So, I stayed at home and job hunted.

Job hunting is hard.  I really feel that my heart has gone out of it, on some level at least.  I would still like to find a part-time assistant librarian job in higher education, but all the jobs I find are full-time, or in further education, or require more skills and experience than I have or think I have (particularly people skills and tech skills).  I also have not seen any cataloguing courses advertised yet; I feel I would be more employable if I could polish up those skills.  But really I want to be writing, here or on my book (or books).  Getting started as a professional writer is hard, though, particularly as I’m not sure that I would want to specialise in one area, but rather to write in different places on science fiction, mental health and autism, and Judaism.

I did try to job hunt today, with some success.  I applied for one job via an agency (I just had to send my CV and edit my covering letter template; it wasn’t an application that asked for a detailed application form to be filled in or asked unusual questions) and started to apply for another before getting an interview at the agency for the first job (I assume to see whether they will put me forward for the job).  But I was easily distracted, including by Ashley’s appeal for writers, which interested me more than the paid jobs, even though it would be unpaid.  I am rapidly coming to the conclusion that I want to write more than I want to do anything else, as it’s the only thing I can easily be motivated to do when the depression is bad and it also is a fairly autism-friendly job (i.e. solitary).  It’s really the only job I can imagine myself doing and being happy in doing it.  I can do it alone, I can start late and finish late (I’m a night owl not a lark), I can pursue my special interests, I can focus on one task at a time without interruption, I enjoy expressing myself in writing and perhaps I could even feel that I’m contributing to the world in a small, but positive way.  The tricky thing is working out how to get paid for all of this, which is much harder, particularly as my interests are niche and they don’t connect with each other easily.

***

Filling in a form for that new agency, I forgot my phone number for a few moments.  I also forgot the third subject I took at A-level.  Forgetting personal information like that is something that happens to me disturbingly often.  Usually it is when I’m confronted with a human being, so that I can put it down to social anxiety.  I suppose in this case it’s depression eroding my concentration. It’s distressing and upsetting, though.

On Being Liked

Last night I was still thinking about the Doctor Who Society anniversary party after I posted about it.  One thing that came to mind, which has also come to mind a bit with some people from shul (synagogue) lately, is that some people seemed to actually like me.  This is a big thing for me to get my head around.  At school I thought only a handful of geeky kids liked me.  At university I was quite reluctant to describe anyone as my friend, as I only saw them at society events (Doctor Who Society or Jewish Society) and thought that they didn’t want to see me outside that.  Then for a long time when my depression was bad I thought, on some level at least, that people were only really my friend out of pity, because they were sorry for the state I was in.  So it’s been quite a shock recently (I mean over the last few months) to realise that some people seem to actually like me for who I am, even if they are aware of my mental health issues and the way I feel I don’t always quite fit in the communities I would like to belong to (Jewish community, Doctor Who fan community).  I’m still not quite sure how to process this.

***

Another thing I’m trying to process is my date with L.  I don’t really want to say too much about it as I don’t feel it’s appropriate to talk too much about dating while I’m actually going out with someone.  I don’t really know what to think, but that’s quite normal for me after a first date, particularly if it’s a blind date.  I guess L. in many ways is not the type of woman I have dated before or assumed I would marry, which may be a good thing, but I need time to process it.  We decided to go on another date, though (L. brought the subject up as I was going to wait, having been told in the past that I’m too quick to ask for another date).

Rabbi Lord Sacks has produced a calendar of thoughts, one per day for the omer (the period when we count the days between Pesach and Shavuot (Passover and Pentecost)).  I suppose it’s a kind of advent calendar, but with inspirational thoughts instead of chocolates.  One recent one stated that “Next time you meet someone radically unlike you, try seeing difference not as a threat but as an enlarging, possibility-creating gift.”  So I’m trying to see possibilities rather than worries.  But I am of course worrying and over-thinking everything, as usual.

The ‘About Three Quarters of the Way Through Pesach’ Post

Up late again today, despite going to bed a little earlier.  No strong anxiety or OCD, but I’m still in a moderately deep depression with no obvious triggers other than the stress of the time of year, and perhaps too much ‘peopling’ (although that was nearly a week ago now).  Still feeling wiped out today, although the cold symptoms have subsided, and I feel apprehensive about going to Oxford on Sunday for the Doctor Who Society’s thirtieth anniversary get together (there will be lots of people I don’t know!  And probably some who I do know, but haven’t seen for years!) followed by therapy on Monday (a one-off session at the moment via Skype, with my psychodynamic therapist, as I felt the need to talk some issues through) and then my date with L. in the afternoon, which is a lot of anxiety-provoking peopling in rapid succession, particularly if I manage to get to shul (synagogue) quite a bit over Yom Tov (the end of Passover, tonight until Saturday night).

Thinking morose thoughts about the world.  Lots of Jews think that this is ‘the generation of the footsteps of Mashiach (Messiah),’ the final generation before the start of the Messianic Age.  I have no idea if this is true.  The Talmud says that the period before the coming of the Mashiach will be a generation poor in Torah scholarship, arrogant, lacking in true leadership, lacking in respect for the elderly or for parents, impudent and heretical.  This seems true of today, but it seems true of most periods, at least to those who lived through them.  But I hope and pray, and try not to think about it too much; I find the millenarianism of much of the fundamentalist Jewish (and Christian, and Muslim) world disturbing and counter-productive.  One should do teshuva (repentance) and mitzvot (commandments) and study Torah, and leave the rest of HaShem (God).  Although it is probably difficult to avoid it at this time of year – the festival of redemption, in the month of redemption, when the Mashiach will come, according to tradition.  The Hasidim even celebrate the Feast of Mashiach on the last day of Pesach.

I’m not really sure what I’m trying to say in this post.  I really just wanted to check in as I’m going to be out of contact for at least forty-eight hours, maybe much longer.  I suppose I’m feeling lonely and a little apprehensive.  Chag sameach.

Chad Gadya

I still feel that I am coming down with a cold.  I feel hot and bothered and exhausted.  I’m not sure how much is exhaustion and how much is a real virus.  I felt so exhausted and depressed that I got up late and was slow getting ready, so the original plan for the day, to go to The Jewish Museum with my Dad, was abandoned as we wouldn’t get our money’s worth out of the entrance fee.  We went to the British Museum instead, which is free, so we didn’t feel resentful of only going for an hour or two.  I felt a bit better while I was there, physically and emotionally.  It was probably just as well that I missed The Jewish Museum, as I wanted to see the Jews and Money exhibition; spending the afternoon looking at Nazi and Soviet propaganda of Jews as economic parasites might not have been the most enjoyable thing on Chol HaMoed (the intermediate days of Passover).  Instead, at the British Museum, I got to look at relics from ancient civilisations that tried to wipe out the Jews, but have long-since vanished while we’re still here: Egyptians, Assyrians, Greeks, which I think was appropriate for the Festival of Redemption.

***

I have a date with L. on Monday.  This is after therapy at lunch time and spending the previous day peopling in Oxford after two days of Yom Tov, so I hope I will not be burnt out and unable to interact before I even get there (remember to breathe).  I’m trying not to overthink it, but it’s hard.

I’m also trying not to overthink Pesach (Passover) OCD stuff.  The religious OCD has been a lot better this year (three days to go), but it’s hard to let go of some thoughts, silly though they seem.  The biggest fear is that the kosher supermarkets might have accidentally had forbidden chametz (leavened) produce and we bought it, which is really just punishing myself for not having checked the hechshers (rabbinic seals of approval).  Sometimes my OCD means “I don’t think I deserve for this to be OK.”

***

I watched The King’s Speech yesterday.  My Dad insisted on lending me the DVD ages ago, but I hadn’t got around to it as I wasn’t that interested.  I was wrong.  It was really good, but what surprised me was that it’s really about self-esteem and accepting who you are, or rather who God/fate/life wants you to be.  Accepting that you can grow and change.

One exchange resonated with me:

Bertie [the future George VI]: I’m not going to sit here warbling.

Lionel Logue [speech therapist]: You can with me.

Bertie: You’re peculiar.

Logue: I take that as a compliment.

I like being different.  Admittedly this is because I have a low opinion of both the consumerist, hedonist, godless rat-race mainstream Western world and the often narrow-minded, self-righteous, and sometimes also hypocritically consumerist frum (religious Orthodox Jewish) world.  I complain that I don’t fit in either, but deep down, I don’t really want to belong in either.  I like being different.  But it’s lonely and I have a history of being bullied and rejected for being different.  So I hide my eccentricities and interests and compartmentalise my life: Jewish stuff, work stuff, geeky stuff…  My oldest friend is much more open about being a geeky.  When we were at school, he would refer to geeky stuff in class work; now he talks about it in his sermons (he’s a non-Orthodox rabbi).  I wish I could be a little bolder in presenting the real me.

I suppose that’s why writing is so important to me, here and in the books I would like to write/am writing.  I want to get the Doctor Who book finished in a couple of months and send it out to publishers so I can start work in earnest on the Judaism/autism/depression misery memoir that seems potentially more worthwhile, worthwhile because it might help other people and worthwhile because I’ll be able to show the real me.

Wasting Time

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I just feel like I want to cry right now.

***

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

Pesach Cometh

Well, it’s nearly half past midnight and I’m wide awake for reasons I will explain shortly.  I thought I would write up my experiences over the first two days of Pesach (Passover).

I’ve been doing a lot better than in previous years, but the last few days have not been without their difficulties.  The sederim were the hardest things.  The seder is the ritualised meal on the first two nights of Pesach where we discuss the story of the exodus of the Israelites from Egypt and eat symbolic food.  There are readings from Tanakh (the Hebrew Bible), including several Tehillim (Psalms) known together as Hallel, and further readings from the Talmud.

Some tension emerged, not so much at the time as over the two days, because my brother-in-law felt that he wanted to do more at the seder, whereas I felt replaced by him when he sang some of the Psalms and songs with tunes I didn’t know and couldn’t join in with.  I spent some time thinking about it afterwards, and decided there were two issues.  One was that, since my grandfather died, I’ve read the whole of Hallel each year, most of it alone.  Everyone says how well I do it and compares me to my grandfather (who I was probably closer to than to my other grandparents, at least in the last years of his life).  So I felt sidelined from the family and no longer linked to my grandfather.  I was especially aware over the weekend that my sister and BIL are both professionals with advancing careers and a large, recently refurbished, house and I assume (from the size of their house) that they are planning to start a family.  So I felt that I’m being pushed out of the family and that my sister and BIL and their future children will be the focus of family events from now on.

I know no one is deliberately sidelining me, but that’s how it felt.  I did speak to my BIL today and we did work out a compromise to divide some of the readings of the seder, so I feel a bit better now, but the feeling that my sister and BIL are living a better life than me and that they are more of a source of nachas (pride) to my parents than I am isn’t going to go away and will probably only get worse if they do have children (although I’m looking forward to being an eccentric bachelor uncle).

The bigger struggle is with the seder itself.  I try to find some inspiring Torah thoughts to expand on the set text of the haggadah and try to make it more than just reading the same passages every year, to find something different and, hopefully, meaningful.  I don’t know how much anyone gets out of this.  My parents appreciate it, but I’m not sure that our other guests (usually family and a couple of friends of my parents) do.  At least, they don’t say anything to me.  I would like to start discussions, which is what a seder should be, but it doesn’t seem to happen.  Yesterday one person did ask me something, but I struggled to understand what he was asking (I think it was based on a misunderstanding or false premise, but could not pin down what he was asking to work out what), but it just underlined how much the seder is not what I want it to be.

The problem is this.  This is going to sound arrogant, but at the seder, I’m usually the most Jewishly knowledgeable and religious person present by some margin, so I struggle to find anyone to engage with and surprise or inspire me.  Add to this an autistic lack of social skills that make it hard for me to engage with other people generally and bring a subject to life and it’s a recipe for disaster.  My rabbi mentor and my oldest friend are both rabbis, intelligent and knowledgeable, but I suspect (know, really) that both would enjoy the challenge of this kind of environment.  They would find ways of connecting, of getting the people present to talk about their own experience and thoughts on freedom, liberation, Judaism and so on even if they couldn’t anchor it to specific Jewish texts without help.  I just can’t do it.

At both seders I fell at times into depression because of this.  It didn’t help that sometimes I needed a time-out for autism (too much noise, too much talking) or for OCD (I went out to breathe deeply and to calm myself after being triggered).  I found myself thinking of an old joke after the seder last night.  A man goes to the doctor and says, “I’m really depressed.”  The doctor says, “Pagliacci the clown is in town.  Go and see him, that will cheer you up.”  The man says, “Doctor, I am Pagliacci!”  (Assume this is before the invention of antidepressants.)  I try to inspire everyone year after year, but what do I do if I need inspiration?  I feel the pressure sometimes of being the frummest (most religious) person in my family (OK, second frummest after my cousin who is training to be a rabbi (and a civil engineer), but he lives in Israel).

One thing that was popular was some visual aids I made, which I haven’t really tried before.  They were just some photocopies from the biblical archaeology book Israel in Egypt: The Evidence for the Authenticity of the Exodus Tradition by James K. Hoffmeier, pictures of things like slaves and overseers from Egyptian temples, a brick store and a map of the Nile Delta and the probable route of the exodus, but people seemed to like them, so I need to work out what similar things I can find for next year.

I mentioned needing some time-outs during the seder for OCD and autism.  The autism was the main problem, and I couldn’t cope with the meal part of the evening yesterday: the noise, combined with all the emotional upheaval (which triggered my depression) was too much for me and I ate quickly and went upstairs to read The Complete Peanuts until we were ready to resume the ritual side of the evening.  I only had one or two time-outs for OCD, which was pretty good going.  On the whole the OCD has been OK.  I even coped with the weirdness of products that were hechshered (stamped) as kosher for Pesach by some kashrut agencies, but also certified as only suitable for non-Pesach use by others on the same packaging.  I suspect that this is down to differing stringencies (Pesach is a great time of year for some rabbis/communities trying out weird stringencies that no one else worries about).  More taxing was a shiur (class) in shul (synagogue) titled “Kashering Ovens for Pesach“.  My heart sank when I saw that title.  Sure enough it triggered me, even though I knew that my rabbi mentor and my parents’ rabbi had approved how we kashered our oven.  The excessive use of Hebrew halakhic (legal) terminology I didn’t understand just made me feel further alienated and ignorant and reinforced my feelings about not being part of my community.

I woke up earlyish on Shabbat and made it to shul about an hour late.  I stayed for about two hours, until the end of the service, the first time I’d been to a Shabbat or Yom Tov (festival) morning service since Yom Kippur.  However, I struggled to sleep last night and overslept this morning.  I then dozed for two and a half hours in the afternoon and am wide awake now, hence blogging.

And that’s it really.  Another six days of Pesach left.  The last six days are usually easier, but I had a bad spell late on day five and day six last year, so I won’t predict plain sailing from here, but hopefully it should be more manageable.  It’s 2am now (I haven’t been writing this uninterruptedly, but it has taken me a while).  I don’t feel at all tired and I’m vaguely anxious (OCD anxious) about something, but I guess I should at least try to go to bed.

Everything and the Kitchen Sink

I’m going to switch my computer off in a minute as there is a lot to do this afternoon, but I just wanted to update the blog as I’ll be out of contact for a couple of days.

Things are going well.  I nearly said “surprisingly well” which would be a bit unfair, but I am surprised how well things seem to be going.  I did have an issue with kashering the kitchen sink last night, but I got it resolved OK and I kashered the sink in four or five goes rather than eight or nine.  The trick, it seems, is not to boil a whole kettle of water at once, because I lack the strength and dexterity to move that about fast enough.  Even when I made a mistake with the sink, I saw it as one of those things and not as a sign that I’m useless and that God hates me.

I got up in time for shul this morning (can I do that on Yom Tov too?  At least one day out of four?), went to the siyum, came home, helped put the last bits of chametz (leavened bread) away and tidy the kitchen, emptied the hoover and made the declaration nullifying any chametz I might have missed, all done on time.  There’s still a LOT to do today to get ready for seder, but this is an amazing start.  The atmosphere at home is very calm for Erev Pesach, everyone is just pulling together and getting things done as a team.

The one bad thing was that I couldn’t sleep last night and only got about five hours in the end, so I’m slightly worried about making it through the day and then on to seder in the evening.  I actually went for a nap for an hour and a bit after the chametz was all disposed of and that has helped, so hopefully I’ll be OK.

Pesach in six hours!

Variations on a Theme of Pesach Anxiety

Someone should write a thesis on the way that anxieties grow in the absence of sleep or food.  I couldn’t sleep last night and things that seemed OK during the day suddenly turned into bigger OCD anxieties when I was lying alone in the dark.  I ended up emailing my rabbi mentor, but I woke up today, very late again, to see that he hasn’t replied yet (as of 7pm, which is 9pm where he is), which just makes the worries worse.  I’m trying to keep things in perspective, as I’m not as anxious as I would have been in previous years, but I do feel that things are getting to me and I’ve got three more days of Pesach (Passover) preparation to get through.  As it is, I’ve got a knot of anxiety in my stomach that has come and gone all day.

I’m trying to accept that it’s OK to be stressed, and depressed, and OCD-anxious, even/especially at this time of year.  Trying not to think that other people seem to waltz through Pesach preparations without any worries, halakhic or otherwise.  It’s hard; I’m not on Facebook and I don’t use Twitter, but it’s still easy to compare my insides (horribly emotional) with other people’s calm outsides.

Clearing out some files on my computer last night (stuff that I thought would trigger OCD if I left it there) I found some notes following a meeting with my parents’ rabbi, who at the time was my rabbi too: “Torah was not given to the ministering angels [a rabbinic phrase that basically means that God doesn’t expect us to keep the Torah perfectly, because we aren’t perfect.  He has angels who are perfect, but He prefers our service to theirs because we have to struggle past our temptations and flaws].  We do our best, and leave the rest.  Pesach has fences and safeguards.  Don’t obsess over the last details of cleaning and kashering.  Enjoy Yom Tov.  Plan things to do, focus on things I enjoy about it.”  It’s hard to do that, though.  I’m actually struggling to think of enjoyable things I can do during the week.  I was nearly in tears davening (praying) before, just feeling overwhelmed by emotion and by events.  I feel that I’ve failed, that I’ve let everyone down, by giving in to my depression and anxiety again.

I went for a haircut this afternoon, which was awful.  I mean, the process of getting it, not how it has been cut.  I shook a bit, to the extent that the barber was unwilling to start at first, until his boss said something to him in a language I don’t understand.  I sat there with my eyes scrunched tight almost the whole time, repeating in my head that God loves me and that He has so much confidence in me that He has given me all these challenges (depression, OCD, social anxiety, loneliness etc.) because He knows I can cope with them.  Except that I don’t feel that I can cope with them.  The experience left me feeling shattered and exhausted.  I went into a couple of charity shops on the way home, but I didn’t buy anything.  Maybe I should have done.

I just keep thinking that I’ve let everyone down: family, friends, God, L. (who I’m not even quite dating yet).  It’s not my fault if I shake or feel depressed or feel OCD anxious… but somehow it feels like it is.

“You don’t know what it’s like to listen to your fears”

Mid-afternoon: There’s not a lot to say today.  Things have been continuing as they have been for the last week or so: I’m OK much of the time, but then suddenly my mood tanks and I have strong depression or (more usually) anxiety.  My anxiety is a mixture of religious OCD anxiety about the laws of Pesach (Passover), social anxiety about going to my shul’s (synagogue’s) weekday premises, which I haven’t been to much, and some kind of anxiety (I’m not quite sure what) about dating.  In the meantime, I’ve helped my parents with Pesach preparations.  That’s about it, really.

Evening: I wrote that paragraph above mid-afternoon, when I thought I would not have much to say today and just wanted to say that I’m coping.  However, I just had a stressful experience.  The prohibition on owning chametz (leavened bread and its derivatives) on Pesach is so severe, that religious Jews take a belt and braces approach: we destroy trivial amounts (usually by burning); larger amounts are sold to a non-Jew for the duration of the festival (it’s a binding sale and the non-Jew is under no obligation to sell it back afterwards, although the reality is that 99.99999% of the time they do as a matter of course) and, just in case we’ve missed anything, we declare any chametz that we own that is not destroyed or sold to be legally ownerless.  (I might write a post over Pesach about why we go to this extreme for a bit of bread, but I haven’t got time tonight.  Just accept it as another crazy thing Jews do.)

Today I sold my chametz or rather, gave my rabbi power of attorney to sell it on Friday morning.  I could feel my anxiety building in the afternoon.  I knew I was going to have to go to my shul‘s weekday premises and I felt uncomfortable and anxious about it.  I just haven’t been there enough to feel comfortable in the building, which is probably an autism familiarity thing as much as anything.  I was worried about doing the wrong thing or saying the wrong thing.  The anxiety was stronger for not being well-defined.  I just felt that I would do something wrong.

I got locked out when I arrived there, which was unfortunate.  I thought I knew the door code, but I didn’t.  Then the assistant rabbi said that he didn’t usually see me here.  It was an innocuous comment, but just made me feel that I’m being judged for not going to shul enough.  I felt very socially anxious during the afternoon and evening prayers.  There was then a long wait while the rabbi saw other people, during which my anxiety rose further.  I felt that I was going to say something wrong or the rabbi would judge me badly or think I was doing something sinful.  Of course, none of these things happened, but I did shake when I signed the document to give him power of attorney.  I walked home again feeling very shaken, physically shaken, and having OCD thoughts about having done things “wrongly”.

The positive thing to have come out of this is that I think I have an idea of why I struggle in the frum (religious Orthodox Jewish) community.  My Jewish identity is very strong and positive, and I see my Judaism as my most important identity, much more so than being a Doctor Who fan, autistic, depressed, an Oxonian or anything else.  Yet I find it so hard to interact with other frum Jews.  Low blood sugar, an unfamiliar setting (difficult with autism) and social anxiety today probably didn’t help things, but I think a lot of it goes back to my autism.

I have mentioned before that the reason I think my autism went undiagnosed for so long is because I have developed mental ‘algorithms’ for dealing with social situations.  I have one for eye contact and body language, one for making small talk and so on.  But with frum people, the algorithms become much more complex.  I need to factor in not saying anything that seems too secular and working out what “too secular” is (sometimes very frum people make jokes or comments that I would never dream of trying to get away with, which just confuses me).  I need to process words from foreign languages (Hebrew, Aramaic, Yiddish) that I may not be familiar with and which may be pronounced differently to how I would pronounce them (people in my shul tend to use Ashkenazi (Northern European) pronunciation, whereas I use Modern Hebrew pronunciation which is rooted in Sephardi (Iberian/Middle Eastern) pronunciation e.g. the final ‘t’ in Modern Hebrew often becomes ‘s’ in Ashkenazi pronunciation so Shabbat becomes Shabbos).  I need to process details of Jewish law and avoid transgressing it.  Then there are the social mores of the frum world, more formal in some ways (e.g. children refer to their elders as “Mr X” or “Mrs Y” not their first names), but more relaxed in others (e.g. people are far more relaxed about dropping in and out of their friends’ houses unexpectedly than in general, at least in anti-social London).  All this on top of my low self-esteem and feelings that I am religiously inadequate (e.g. the assistant rabbi’s comment), which just fuels the flames; it is hard to avoid a social/religious faux pas if you are in a state of some anxiety about making such a mistake.  It’s very difficult and it’s no wonder so much about my religious life leaves me feeling anxious, or that I have become such an infrequent shul-goer in recent years since moving to a new, frummer community.

Later: I’ve recovered now.  I’ve eaten (including a Magnum, reward for a difficult day) and watched some Doctor Who (I was supposed to have a break from it after watching so much as research for my book, but I’ve ended up watching the animated Shada because I’ve been stressed the last few days and needed the support that I can only get from my special interest).  I spoke to my parents about some of the ideas in this post and they felt that they made sense.  I know it seems silly to say that I worry how frum people will see me when I know that, compared with a lot of people I have a good understanding of Judaism and Jewish law and a reasonable Hebrew vocabulary, but there we go; anxieties aren’t rational.

More Over-Thinking

I had another anxiety dream last night, this time explicitly about kashering the oven (preparing it for the special Pesach/Passover dietary laws), although it ended in a stranger strangling me for no very obvious reason.  I think the stress is getting to me.

***

I got feedback on my job interview from last week.  Surprisingly, I did quite well in the test part of it (the one I thought I messed up because I had to skip a bit).  But they said I lacked experience with periodicals (which is completely true) and that my answers lacked depth and focused on what rather than how, which made me feel that my skills and experience were less important than my inability to talk about said skills and experience.  This was in regard to the very open (= not autism friendly) question where they gave me the person spec and asked me to describe how I’ve met those requirements in other jobs.  So I guess I have to put it down to one of those things.  At least the test answers were better than I thought at the time.

***

I’m struggling to write job applications.  Somehow all the jobs seem to be things I’m not qualified for or things I’m overqualified for, sometimes even both at the same time e.g. today I was applying for a job that was intended for new librarianship graduates (overqualified), but that also desired experience at a health library (under-qualified).  It is so hard to stay focused to write these applications, partly from boredom, but also because they just remind me of how badly I’ve struggled at work over the last year or two and of my fears that I just can’t function in a work environment.

***

I’m trying not to over-think things, but it’s hard.  I went for a walk after writing the job application to try to clear my head, but it didn’t work.  The walk was brisk at first, but became slower as I got tired and as the thoughts came out: that I am not good enough to get a job or a partner; that I have already messed things up with the woman I’m texting (call her L.); that I’m making a very large mountain out of a very small molehill regarding selling my chametz (leavened bread and the like), which nevertheless I worry I won’t do correctly; and that I can’t fit in to the Orthodox Jewish community.  I started wondering if I should have stayed working in further education last year after all.  It would at least have been a job.  I just felt that I couldn’t do it, and that my boss had no confidence in me either.  I have at least decided to look seriously into working as a proof-reader/editor to supplement my income after Pesach.

Dating is the hardest thing not to over-think.  I am more or less resigned to being unemployed for a while, perhaps because so far all the job opportunities I have found have been more terrifying than unemployment.  I haven’t really seen anything that has made me say both, “I could do that!” and “I want to do that!”  I’m trying to take Pesach preparations one day at a time and I seem to be doing OK with that, at least some of the time.  But it’s very hard not to catastrophise dating.  It’s hard to get an idea of someone from a few texts, but I constantly fear that we won’t be compatible and that I’ll have to break up with her and either I won’t have the courage to do it and will get stuck in a dysfunctional relationship or I will do it and she’ll be upset and I’ll feel terrible.  Strangely, it doesn’t really occur to me that if I don’t connect with her, she probably won’t connect with me and she may break up with me first.

I do worry that I’m so, um, unusual (weird) that no one will really connect with me.  I don’t honestly expect to find someone who is anything approaching a perfect match for me, the kind of fantasy female version of me, but I don’t know what I should realistically expect and what I should compromise on.  Sometimes I feel that I can’t connect with anyone, not family or friends, so maybe I should just accept the first person who seems to care about me regardless of how much we have in common.  I’m not sure how sensible this is.

Still, as I said yesterday, I’m trying to “look to Him [God] and do not inquire of the future, rather accept everything that comes to you with wholeheartedness”.  It’s very hard though.  The worst part is the feeling that I’m leading L. on somehow and am going to hurt her in a way that would be avoidable if I was a good enough/clever enough person to see it, even though it’s hard rationally to see any reason for thinking like that, beyond the fact that I look for reasons to beat myself up.

Ugh, I ate sugary ice cream earlier (Ben and Jerry’s chocolate fudge brownie) and now I think I’m crashing from the sugar because my mood is plummeting.  I should probably stop writing.

Living the Questions

Anxiety comes and goes a lot at the moment.  I’m like a cartoon character who can run off a cliff and keep going provided I don’t look down.  Once I do that, I plummet, and so does my mood.  “Looking down” sometimes means a direct trigger about the three topics that are making me anxious at the moment (Pesach, job hunting and dating) and sometimes means a physical trigger such as tiredness or hunger.  The two types of triggers interact, I think, so it’s easier to get panicked about Pesach when I’m tired or hungry.  I do have to engage with all three topics directly, so I can’t bury my head in the sand.  I have to engage with Pesach because it’s little over a week away and my parents need my help; with job hunting because I need to find a job I can do; and dating because I’m texting the woman I was set up with from the values-based dating service, although neither of us has time to meet before Pesach.

The funny thing is that, with regard to the job search and dating, it’s not so much rejection that makes me anxious as a feeling of letting people down.  I feel that I’m wasting people’s time by applying for jobs where I don’t have all the experience that seems to be required, even though I know that employers do not expect to find a candidate who meets all their criteria; I suppose now I also worry about not being able to function in a job, as I feel I didn’t function properly in my recent jobs.  With dating too I worry as differences emerge between us, fearing that will doom the relationship and I should terminate it now otherwise I’m leading her on, even though relationships always have differences and it’s hard to tell whether those differences are surmountable without meeting a few times (at least).

I just finished reading Jonah: The Reluctant Prophet by Erica Brown.  Near the end she quotes the poet Rainer Maria Rilke on loving and living the questions in your heart without seeking the answers, as you couldn’t get the answers until you are ready to live them too.  I suppose I should try to do this, however grudgingly (I want answers).  I also think of a comment from Rashi (Hebrew acronym for Rabbi Shlomo Yitzchaki), the greatest of the Medieval Jewish commentators.  Devarim/Deuteronomy 18.13 exhorts us to “Be wholehearted with HaShem your God” which Rashi (quoting Sifrei) explains as “Walk with Him with wholeheartedness and look to Him and do not inquire of the future, rather accept everything that comes to you with wholeheartedness and then you will be with Him and His portion.”  The comment is more about not practising divination, soothsaying, fortune telling or any other magical way of discovering the future, but I do try to remember it when I’m spiralling down into anxiety about the future and catastrophising about what might happen.  To try to trust in God and not to worry about what might happen.

***

The job I applied for today asked for “Patience, resilience and a good-humoured approach”.  Halevi (if only).  At least I seem to be a bit more understanding and forgiving of myself than I used to be.  I think this is as much due to being more certain about having autism as anything else.  I don’t know why I find it easier to accept my limitations from autism more easily than those from depression, but somehow I do.  Maybe it’s because I feel I should be over the depression by now, after so many years, whereas I can accept that autism is a lifelong condition.

***

I just came across some emails from E. from when we were dating.  I’d forgotten I had them.  I felt that I couldn’t be dating now while I still had copies of these emails and so I deleted them, but I feel a bit sad now.  Not that I think it would be possible or even desirable to get back together with E. – that’s over now, it came at a particular time and now it can’t be recaptured.  But it makes me wonder if anyone would ever seem so compatible again.  To be honest, I don’t think that anyone I’ve dated was really compatible with me.  There are always similarities and differences, but up to now, there has always been some significant difference that derails everything (religious level, income etc.).  I suppose the difficulty with E. is that it wasn’t really a difference that was the problem (although we had very different religious levels), but a similarity: we were both struggling in low income jobs because of mental health issues.  It just makes me worry that all my relationships will end eventually.  How can I tell which relationships might work and which are going to be destroyed by the differences (or the low income)?  I can only tell by trying them and seeing what happens, but this shatters my desire for control.  Which takes us back to Rashi and Rilke, I suppose, living the questions and not looking to the future.

Anxious Again

I feel a lot better today than I did yesterday, when I had a stomach bug.  I don’t feel sick or dizzy as I did yesterday, but I haven’t tried much food yet, just toast with margarine, a few tomatoes and a banana, with nothing to drink other than water and tea.  I still feel really achy, though.  I think I must have strained some muscles while I was being sick.  I was going to go for a walk today, but I decided I still don’t feel up to it.

It’s strange, although I have been used to an almost constant level of mental illness since my teens, I’m very rarely physically ill.  This was one of the worst physical illnesses I’ve ever had.  I don’t think I cope with physical pain terribly well.  I was thinking yesterday about people who are in worse pain than I am all the time.  There’s a Jewish belief, not so much a serious theological belief as a folk belief that people talk about, that if we could choose any type of suffering, we would choose that which we have anyway.  I’ve always been sceptical of that and assumed that if there is any truth to it, it’s because the suffering we have is the suffering we have tried to develop coping strategies for, but maybe there is more to it than that.

The other thing that I learnt yesterday was that maybe I’m not as bad a frum (religious) Jew as I thought.  Yesterday I was too sick to study Torah at all, too sick to daven Shacharit, Mincha and part of Ma’ariv (pray the Morning, Afternoon and part of Evening services).  I didn’t even change out of my pyjamas all day.  It made it clear that usually I do these things at least to some extent.  However depressed I am, I do pray two or three times a day, even if not in the ideal way and I do some Torah study every day even if only a few minutes.  I always change out of my pyjamas unless I’m physically ill, however depressed I am.  So, I guess those are all positives.

I was doing OK today mental health-wise, but I’ve suddenly become very anxious and have started catastrophising.  I have a job interview on Friday and am worried I am going to fail the cataloguing test, that I don’t know how to use their software well enough and that my cataloguing skills are too rusty.  I am also worried that if I do get the job, I will have to work through Chol HaMoed Pesach (the intermediate days of Passover, where it is permit to work, but discouraged if possible).  I am also catastrophising about the potential date I have, although I still have not spoken to the shadchan (matchmaker) about this.  I am concerned that I am making a huge mistake, although working out exactly what the mistake is at this stage, when I haven’t committed myself to anything more than a conversation with the shadchan is harder to tell.  I just have nightmares about getting married to the wrong person for the wrong reasons (loneliness, desperation or not wanting to hurt someone else’s feelings by rejecting her).  And I’m worried about Pesach, which seems to have come out of nowhere and leapt on me; I realised that I only have a little over two weeks until it and not three as I vaguely thought.

Having written this all down, it does seem that my anxieties are getting out of control and that I am worrying about things that are either not within my power (the job stuff) or which would have to go through a lot more stages of bad decisions to actually be problematic (dating).  But it’s hard to internalise that.  Plus what is an objectively real concern is that the job is for a library assistant role rather than an assistant librarian one which sounds trivial, but library assistant is a much lower, less skilled, less well-paid job than I’m qualified for.  I think the agency who keep putting me up for these jobs don’t understand the difference between assistant librarians and library assistants, which is a bit ridiculous for an agency that handles so many library jobs.  But I feel that I need to keep in work, so I accept these jobs, or at least put myself up for them, but I wonder what it will do for my career to have these things on my CV.

I wish I was in therapy, or had a friend I could talk to about this, but I’m not in therapy and my friends are busy dealing with major life issues of their own.  Maybe I should try to phone Samaritans later, but it seems silly to bother them with this stuff.

All The Lonely People

I’m a bit torn about staying up late writing this.  I wanted to get to bed early because the clocks go forward, so I’ll lose an hour of sleep, plus I have to be up early tomorrow for volunteering.  However, I slept about twelve hours last night and dozed for another two this afternoon so I’m far too wide awake.  My Mum said I didn’t do much on Friday, so why was I so lethargic today?  I think I’m just burnt out from a busy and emotionally-draining week.  Autism + depression + work stress + social interactions (at work and at depression group) = exhaustion.  I missed shul (synagogue) this morning through being too tired to get up, rather than too socially anxious, which seems like an improvement, weirdly.

I do feel rather lost at the moment.  It feels that my life has… well, I can’t say “unravelled” as it wasn’t very ravelled in the first place.  I just feel I don’t know what I should be doing about my career and I don’t feel at all comfortable with my religious life, feeling I should be more involved in prayer and Torah study and pursuing meaning in ritual and prayer, while at the same time I feel isolated in the frum (religious Orthodox Jewish) community and unable to fit in (more on that in a minute).  I struggle socially and don’t even know what I can do about that or what I even want to do.  I’ve given up on dating in the near future.  Realistically, I fear it could take me years to sort out my career and only then could I think about dating, which could have a knock on effect on whether I can have children, given that I can’t see myself marrying someone ten years younger than me.  I guess the bottom line in all these areas, career, Judaism, social life and dating, is that I don’t even know what I want or even how to find out what I want, let alone how I can get it.

And then on top of all this comes the start of a month of pre-Pesach stress and hoping that Pesach and its extra-strict dietary laws doesn’t set off my religious OCD again.  To be fair, last year I had just one bad twenty-four hour period (split over two calendar days) and whereas for the last few years I’ve spent all year worrying about Pesach and writing long lists of (mostly OCD) questions to ask my rabbi, this year I have not really had any of that, with only a few questions to ask, mostly relatively small points of clarification.  So that’s all good.

***

What I wanted to write about, while I don’t feel tired, is something interesting that happened at work this week.  I was sorting through some piles of “little magazines,” which are magazines, mostly about art, literature and/or politics (especially politics), produced cheaply and somewhat amateurishly for distribution to like-minded individuals, with content usually too iconoclastic and extreme to sell to established journals.  As a Doctor Who fan, it struck me that they were basically fanzines, but directed at artists or political obsessives/revolutionaries.

Looking in one radical feminist magazine, Jewish terms in a poem caught my eye.  It was about the author’s fascination with Hasidic Judaism and her feeling that she, as a woman, lesbian and feminist, could never be accepted by these religious thinkers that she admired.  Reading to the end of the poem, I saw that it was written by a female Reform rabbi I knew of.  I don’t think I ever met her, but in my first job, at a non-Orthodox rabbinical seminary, I spent some considerable time cataloguing part of her library, which she donated to the seminary after her death.  I was always intrigued and intimidated by her, intrigued because of the unusual mixture of radical feminist and traditionalist Orthodox material (or at least material about traditionalist Orthodoxy) in her collection, intimidated because I felt she would have no time for a conservative (in multiple ways), Orthodox person like me and because the general consensus among staff and students in the college (who all adored her) seemed to be that she didn’t suffer fools gladly, and whenever I meet someone like that, I worry that I come across as rather a fool.  (As an aside, I think “doesn’t suffer fools gladly” is a stupid phrase.  Is there anyone who wakes up in the morning thinking, “I hope I have to suffer some fools today, as I’d certainly be so glad to do so!”)

The poem, then, rather took me by surprise, but perhaps it shouldn’t have done.  The clue, I suppose, was in her library, which, as I say, was filled with radical feminist books, but also with books on Hasidic Judaism (a form of Orthodox Judaism that stresses joy and love and ecstatic prayer) and the Mitnagedim (the opponents of Hasidism, but still very Orthodox, stressing Torah study, particularly legalistic Talmudic study rather than prayer as the centre of Judaism).

It showed me another side of her, something I hadn’t really suspected.  I knew from her books and what her colleagues and students said about her that she was fiercely intelligent, intellectual and strong-willed.  Also religious, in the progressive Jewish way that tends to be rather more political than Orthodox Judaism.  Maybe angry, again mainly in a political way.  But I hadn’t really expected to see vulnerability.  I expected her to be out and proud in her beliefs and scornful of those who didn’t accept them.  The desire for acceptance and the feeling of rejection and isolation took me by surprise.

An article in the same magazine by a different author dealt with her feelings on having to defend Judaism and Zionism among left-wing feminists.  Taken together, the poem and the article seemed to sum up my feelings of wanting to be accepted by the frum (Orthodox Jewish) world and also wanting to be accepted in a more counter-cultural world (in my case Doctor Who fandom rather than radical feminist circles), but not conforming to expectations of behaviour and views in either.

It made me wonder if everyone feels that they are on the fringe of something.  Do lots of frum people feel that they’re on the fringe of Judaism?  Most of the people I know who feel like this are either converts (who feel they aren’t accepted by people born Jewish) and people with non-conventional political views (particularly in the US, where Jews tend to be very party-political: progressive (as in non-Orthodox) Jews are Democrats and Orthodox Jews tend to be Republicans, with anti-Trump Orthodox Jews feeling beleaguered).  I don’t really know many people who feel isolated because of atypical cultural interests and neurodivergent trouble with social interactions in general.

In reality, probably not everyone feels like this.  Some people seem happy alone and some people seem to be in the thick of things (whatever type of social group ‘it’ is) and happy with that.  But clearly other people do share my feeling that I can never be accepted by the people that I want to be accepted by, perhaps even the feeling of being torn between two worlds, neither of which I fear will really accept me.

Confessions of a Justified Sinner

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

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

***

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

***

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

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

***

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

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

***

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

***

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

***

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

Rearranging the Deckchairs on the Titanic

Talking to my parents at dinner last night was difficult.  I was really too drained to really put up with so much small talk and there was a bit of friction with my father over my inability to deal with small talk and his preference for it.  I was agitated and anxious last night, then slept a lot.  I could have got up in time for shul (synagogue) this morning, but was too tired, so went back to sleep, which I guess is an improvement from being too socially anxious to go (maybe).  I had lunch by myself as my parents were at friends, late because I overslept and cold because the hot plate (the only way we can heat up food on Shabbat (the Sabbath)) was on a timeswitch and had turned off because I was eating so late.  I dozed off after lunch too, so now I’m awake.

I can’t remember all my anxious thoughts last night, but I think they basically boiled down to: I used to worry I would never get over the depression and I would never get married, while I now worry that I will never even learn to manage the depression; never learn to manage my autism; never build a career; never even have a job I can cope with; never be able to support myself independently of my parents; never do an acceptable amount of daily davening and Torah study (prayer and religious study); never be accepted in my religious community; and, because of all of the above, I would never get married.  I don’t know where to start working on eight major, interconnected worries.  There is also a worry that that the cumulative effect of all of this would be that I stop being religious, but that seems somewhat less likely than the other worries.  I guess getting an autism diagnosis is the first step, but that depends on the vagaries of the NHS waiting list and whether I can convince the psychiatrist this time that I really am autistic.

***

I wonder how much I want to get married.  Consciously I want it a lot, but I wonder if I’m unconsciously afraid of rejection/effort/loss of freedom/something else and self-sabotaging, hence avoiding ways of dating (dating sites, professional shadchanim (matchmakers), my parents’ efforts to set me up with their friends’ children).  I tell myself no one could love me at the moment while I’m depressed and about to be unemployed, but maybe I should be more active in seeking dates and see what the women think.  Put like that, it sounds almost rational, but I think it’s disingenuous to present myself as ready to date when I’m a psychological and financial mess.  But maybe that’s just an excuse.  Maybe I can’t cope with the idea of dating.

I guess it applies to non-romantic social contact too.  I want to connect, but I don’t know how (autism) and I’m scared of rejection (social anxiety).  I don’t know how to live with loneliness and isolation, but I don’t know how to move on from it.

I guess this is where psychodynamic therapy comes in ahead of CBT.  CBT assumes we just need to clarify our thoughts so we can think the right things, whereas psychodynamic therapy deals with internal conflicts where we are actually torn about what the ‘right’ thing to think is.  So maybe it’s good that I might be able to see my psychodynamic therapist at the end of April, whereas my wait for CBT is indefinite.

***

I wasn’t tired this evening, unsurprisingly, so I spent some time tidying my desk drawers (although avoiding the bottom one, which has various Jewish papers in, which should really be buried at some point).  This is what the title of this post is referring to (not the government’s Brexit strategy).  There were various papers from the job I had last year, the one that I really messed up, as well as a lot about pensions, which is something else that worries me (I don’t have one, and I know I should, but I don’t earn enough money.  I worry what will happen to me).  I found something from CILIP (the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals), which I belong to largely in order to try to convince myself I’m a professional with a career and not a child trapped in an adult’s body/life.

I used to think of myself as an organised person, but along with my ability to plan (Dad: “You’re a terrible planner!”), I fear that this is more apparent than real i.e. I was organised when I didn’t have a busy enough life to produce much to organise.  My “organising” tends to involve shoving bits of paper from my desk in to drawers, and then periodically I clear the drawers by shoving the paper in ring binders.  Tidying ring binders happens very rarely, every few years, and tends to involve throwing a lot of stuff away.  I suppose tidying drawers happens every few months, but I  keep the top of my desk tidy most of the time, which creates the illusion of organisation, albeit that a pile of ring binders and papers mostly related to my writing projects has taken up residence on one side, which I tolerate on the grounds that they are at least meaningful projects that might bring in income one day and are more likely to be worked on if in view.

I also found a psychiatrist’s letter announcing that I was free of another episode of depression, which is vaguely depressing.  It shows I do come out of these episodes, but the time out of depression lasts a couple of months, whereas the episodes of depression themselves last a couple of years and I never have enough time in between to really build up my life.