Merely Existing

Much of today it felt like it has never not rained and will never not rain.  I feel like that myself, like I have never not been depressed and never will not be depressed.  Given that I have been depressed almost all of my adult life, maybe that’s not surprising.  Still, lately I had been feeling a bit better, but apparently I still haven’t recovered from three days of Shabbat and Yom Tov (Sabbath and festival) earlier this week.  I had an answer to an email about writing professionally that has just made me think I will never be able to do it, will never be able to be functional in the world of work at all.  I also needed to decide if I wanted to go to a social thing on Sunday (Doctor Who quiz) without the friend who I thought might be going.  I decided that I would like to go, if I there is room for me on the team, as I enjoyed it the last time I went and it’s good to do something social that isn’t shul (synagogue) or support group, but it’s another anxiety.  Everything just feels too difficult right now.  I didn’t go to autism group tonight, as I couldn’t face it today, especially after the last time (last time I failed to talk to anyone and left after just fifteen minutes, feeling lonely and depressed).

I think by this stage it’s obvious that there is no quick fix, or even medium term fix, for my problems.  I don’t know how to survive in this world as an adult.  I got stuck somewhere in adolescence.  Or maybe I know how to survive, at a basic level (I haven’t actually tried to kill myself, despite coming very close sometimes, nor do I turn to substance abuse or the like to cope).  But I don’t know how to thrive, which I would define as functioning in a way that I enjoy, at least on some level, rather than merely existing.

I wanted today either to go to autism group or to get a haircut, but I didn’t feel up to either (I find haircuts very stressful for autistic and social anxiety reasons as well as having problems with shaking from medication side-effects).  I did manage to go for a twenty-five minute walk and to send some emails, as well as redrafting the final chapter of my Doctor Who book for half an hour or so.  It’s hard to know whether to be pleased with this or not.  I didn’t manage to do much today; on the other hand, I felt so depressed that I achieved far more than I thought I would when I woke up.  Is that good or bad?  Or both or neither?

I just want to be normal.  I want to have a meaningful career and a steady income.  I want to have a wife and children.  I want to have friends and a community.  I want to have a meaningful and enjoyable religious life, to love God and Torah and Judaism in an uncomplicated way, not a difficult and twisted one.  I would like to know, at the very least, why I can’t have these things, and how to cope without them.  They never taught us that at school.

***

Of course, there are different interpretations of ‘normal.’  I was thinking before about what ‘normal’ is for frum (religious Orthodox Jewish) men.  What I feel I should be like to fit in to a community and to be marryable.  These were my thoughts:

Charedi (ultra-Orthodox) man: should ideally spend all day in Talmud study, but if he has to work, should have first studied for many years in yeshiva and kollel (rabbinical seminary).  Should study Talmud for two or three hours a day with a chevruta (study partner).  Should daven (pray) with a minyan (community) three times a day.  Should want to have eight to ten children.  Should not own a TV and only use the internet for work.

Modern Orthodox man: should have a BA and if possible a higher degree.  Should have studied for many years in yeshiva before qualifying for a profession, preferably law, accountancy or medicine.  Should daven (pray) with a minyan (community) three times a day (unless he is a doctor).  Should study Talmud for about two hours a day, ideally with a chevruta.  Should want to have three or four children.  May own a TV, but doesn’t have time to watch it.

Religious Zionist man: similar to Modern Orthodox men, but should live in Israel and have served in the Israeli army, perhaps becoming a career soldier.  Is allowed to study Tanakh (Hebrew Bible) as well as Talmud because of its nationalistic overtones.  Should want five or six children.

I’m being somewhat facetious, but this is the image I have in my head of frum men.  I’m not sure how realistic this image is, but you can see why someone with depression, social anxiety and autism and everything those things entail in terms of energy, concentration, motivation, social communication issues and so on is going to struggle to compete and have feelings of low self-esteem reinforced.  I do wonder how I could find out if my image is accurate.  For what it’s worth, my rabbi mentor has a BA as well as smicha (rabbinic ordination), has worked in the rabbinate, the charity sector and now privately in business, has five children, but no TV.  I don’t know how he would define himself, but he’s closest to Modern Orthodox.

***

Career-wise, I was told today that I have an interview for a job I forgot I’d applied for next week.  I hope I feel somewhat better next week, as I’m in no state to prepare for an interview today.  Apparently the interview includes “a five minute presentation.”  It is not clear if they are presenting to me as part of the scheduled library tour before the interview, or if I am supposed to present to them, and if so, what about.

I had a positive response to some questions from one of my writing contacts about getting started.  I emailed someone else with similar questions.  I do feel very uncertain how to proceed.  It’s scary to think of starting out on this route, but, the interview next week notwithstanding, I’m struggling to build any kind of library career, let alone a mental health and autism-friendly one.  I try to focus just on the next step, but it’s hard not to think that I’m going to mess this up, just as I feel I’ve messed everything else up.

***

I finished reading Fatherland.  It was very good and not as depressing as I thought it would be, at least for the most part.  I don’t know what to read next, though.  I have a long list of books to read; actually, I have several long lists on Goodreads: Want to Read; To Read Non-Fiction; To Read Torah; Part Read to Finish; and Possibly to Read, as well as books I’ve read, but want to read again, particularly if I’m older and would understand them better now than when I first read them.  This is a product of a couple of factors: working in libraries for a number of years, I acquired a lot of cheap or free books, usually unwanted donations or withdrawn books; I often visit charity shops to look for bargains or just for retail therapy when depressed; on the other hand, because of the depression, I don’t often read the non-fiction or heavy fiction that sits on my shelves.  I want to read more non-fiction and classic fiction.  Even looking at my non-fiction list, there are lots that look interesting: Gershom Scholem on the history of Kabbalah, Orwell’s Homage to Catalonia (read in conjunction with an undergraduate level introduction to The Spanish Civil War), America During the Cold WarThe Islamist…  In addition, I’ve long meant to re-read Great Expectations which I suspect I would understand better, psychologically, than I did when I read it as a set text for GCSEs aged fourteen or fifteen.  I feel like a boy in a sweetshop, but also a boy who is aware that he might feel sick if he tries to eat too much i.e. I really might struggle with Dickens or non-fiction.

***

I just watch the Blake’s 7 episode that contained this line: “However much you might like to pretend you’re a loner, you’re not really.” (Terminal by Terry Nation).  Just going to leave that hanging there…

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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).

Dating Procrastination

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

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

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

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

***

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

***

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

***

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

Bounded in a Nutshell

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

***

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

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

***

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

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.

Victimhood

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

***

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

***

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

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

Stuckness

I realised I’ve hardly spoken to anyone in forty-eight hours, since my parents have been away.  Aside from a few words at autism group yesterday, and the What’sApp call with my Mum that went badly on Monday evening, that’s about it, unless you count saying “excuse me” as I tried to get past people on the Tube yesterday.  This is what happens when I’m left on my own.  I’m not even sure if I’m lonely, exactly.  Just lost inside my head.

Otherwise, it’s the same as usual: sleeping too much, impossible to get going when I wake up, loneliness, depression…  I tried to work on a job application, but it’s a struggle to deal with their rather precise questions, which seem to indicate that I don’t have the necessary experience.  Maybe I’ll have another go another day, if I feel better.

Given the trajectory of my life over the last five or ten years, I am beginning to believe things might get somewhat better for me and I’ll learn to manage my mental health issues and autism better.  However, I don’t think I’ll ever be totally free of them.  I’m uncertain as to whether I will ever build any kind of meaningful career for myself (as a librarian, writer or anything else) or whether I will manage it in time to save enough to support myself in old age or in case of other depression episodes.  Likewise, while I am trying to stay open to the idea of marrying “one day,” it is very hard to believe I will marry at an age when I will be able to have children.  I suppose it’s an improvement on how I used to be, when I felt I could never get any better, an idea that was supported by my lack of progress.

I suppose I should try to do something productive with my day.  It’s 6.45pm.  I’ve been awake for nearly six hours and I haven’t done anything except eat breakfast and lunch, get dressed, daven Mincha (say Afternoon Prayers) and try and fail to work on my job application (not to mention procrastinating a lot).  I would like to go for a walk, or work on one of my books or do some miniature painting or study Torah for a few minutes.  I don’t feel like I could really do any of them, let alone all of them, but I will try to go for a walk in a minute and see if that helps at all.

You Can’t Win

My parents are away for a few days, starting this morning, and I have the house to myself.  This is good in some ways, but bad in others.  In particular, my loneliness gets worse when they’re away.  Even though I don’t talk to them that much, I seem to benefit from other people being in the house, which I guess sheds light on my desire to get married.  Of course, when they’re here, I get frustrated with them, particularly if I feel they’re treating me as a child.  It’s difficult being an adult living with my parents, especially as, to some extent, they have good reason for assuming I can’t cope by myself because of my high functioning autism and depression.  More on this below.

***

I felt very depressed again today and lacking in energy, motivation and concentration.  I really wasted the day sleeping as I struggled to sleep last night, then slept through the morning and dozed off again after breakfast.  I kept going back to lie on the bed because I feel so drained.  That was how I dozed off after breakfast.  I just have no energy for anything.  I felt as limp as a rag doll much of the day and didn’t feel able to do anything except type a bit.  I didn’t even feel able to read much, although my mood energy and concentration got a bit better in the late afternoon.  I don’t know why my mood has sunk recently.  It’s possible that the busy week I had two weeks ago, with a break-up and two stressful job interviews and then three job rejections (actually two rejections, plus belated feedback from a third) knocked me out and I have recovered, which feels a bit pathetic.  I feel I should (that word again) be better at recovering, but I can’t make myself better by beating myself up, sadly.

Well, all I managed to do today was go for a half hour walk and buy bananas, as well as ten minutes of Torah study.  I did find a new job to apply for, only to find that it seems I had wanted to apply for it in February, but the advert was taken down before I applied for it.  As I haven’t seen it advertised lately, I’m guessing they didn’t fill the post first time around or possibly they’re advertising for a similar, but non-identical role, so I decided to try again, but I got dismayed by the lengthy online application and request for evidence CPD and the like (with my issues it’s hard just to hold down a part-time job, let alone do CPD).  Other than that, the only productive thing I did was watch an episode of Doctor Who as research for my book.

***

My life seems to be about contingency planning right now.  What career can I build for myself given that I don’t seem to be able to build one in librarianship?  Will I manage to make one as a writer?  This is hard, especially as I don’t know anyone who could advise me and am not convinced that I am a good writer (albeit that my low number of blog followers may be due to my writing in a style that might fit better in a weekly magazine or newspaper column than a daily blog post and not necessarily a sign that I should not write book-length pieces).  What religious community should I go to, given that my current is not perfect, but might be the least-worst option for now, and how can I integrate if I can’t find a perfect fit?  What outlets can I find for my loneliness, my need to give and receive love and my sexuality, given that Jewish law and social anxiety seem to rule most options out?  I guess pets might be an option again, but I’ve gone off the idea a bit.

***

There’s a beautiful piece in the latest Jewish Review of Books that I read today, John J. Clayton reflecting on getting old with Parkinson’s Disease.  It would have caught my attention anyway, for being quite religious, which is unusual (admittedly not quite so unusual in the JRB than in a mainstream newspaper), but I found a lot of it seemed familiar to my situation, even though depression is a very different illness to Parkinson’s (although I do have medication-induced tremor at awkward times).  The sense of trying to stay positive and grateful when you can feel your strength, even your life dripping away.  Wanting to stay positive so other people will be able to praise your inner fortitude and gratitude when you’re gone, but really not feeling up to it.  The sense of life not going according to plan, the feeling of this isn’t supposed to happen.  I can’t shake the jealous feeling that somehow I lost my life, the feeling, as Clayton said, of being a ghost, of watching my peers live the life I wanted to live, that I felt I would/should live.

***

My Mum just called on What’sApp.  It didn’t go well.  I think the line was bad; at any rate either I couldn’t hear her properly or she was hesitating a lot.  I thought she couldn’t hear me and spoke louder, so she said I didn’t need to shout.  We both ended up getting annoyed with each other.  The underlying cause, of course, is that I’m nearly thirty-six and have lived alone before, but because of my “issues,” my parents feel the need to check up on me in a way that they don’t do to my (younger, married) sister.  And knowing that, on some level, I probably do need to be checked up on only makes it feel worse.  It doesn’t help that, because of my autism, I don’t like speaking on the phone generally and I especially don’t like sudden phone calls out of the blue, which disrupt my plans (even if, as tonight, I don’t really have concrete plans, they still make me worry how long the call will take, what I should say and so on) and feel like an invasion of my metaphorical space.  Now I feel angry and guilty, feeling worse for knowing that I don’t have a legitimate reason to get angry.  Plus, of course, the worry that “If some horrible holiday-related disaster happens to my parents, then the last time I spoke to them would be an argument” (rather than it being me grunting goodbye when I was basically asleep this morning).

Now I’m trying to work out if I’ve ever told my family any of the above, or if I’m just autistically assuming that they know it.  This has all come about because I was depressed yesterday and also because when they went away for a week in the winter, they didn’t tell me to phone, so I assumed they didn’t want to hear from me and stayed out of contact all week.  They assumed I would phone, but I didn’t.  I was depressed all week and I think they blamed themselves, although if they had phoned I would almost certainly have lied and said I was fine, because I’m not good at opening up about my emotions in person (as opposed to in writing), particularly with my parents, with whom I don’t always have a straightforward relationship.

I did text them to apologise, but I still feel bad.  I also feel bad (a different type of bad) about not being able to cope with basic social interactions because of my autism.

***

This post seems to be full of my pleading “issues” to explain why I do, or don’t do, the things people expect me to do.  This just makes me feel useless, even if it’s true.  I feel that if things had been even slightly different for me perhaps I could have turned my autistic traits into strengths rather than weaknesses and succeeded in the work sphere at least, even if not in my social/family/romantic life.  Maybe I will be able to turn things around, I just can’t see how.

I’m Gonna Be (Drained)

I woke up today feeling totally wiped out, exhausted and depressed.  In a way these days are a little easier than days when I’m a bit down, but still feel I ought to job hunt or work on my books or study a lot of Torah because it’s easier to accept that I can’t do as much as I would like.

Although I hoped to go to volunteering late, in the end I missed it completely.  I wasn’t well enough.  I felt useless and sinful.

I went for a walk and did literally two minutes of Torah study.  That’s all I managed.  Other than that I just watched TV (Doctor Who, research for my book including the terrible, historically inaccurate and antisemitic The Witchfinders which was only watched because I needed to do so) until it was time to go out with my family for my Mum’s birthday.  The food was good, but they ran out of dessert and we had to pay by cash as their card reader broke.  The restaurant was too noisy for me, with a lot of customer noise plus ‘background’ music at just the right level to annoy me: too quiet to listen to properly, but loud enough to distract me with vaguely-recognisable beats and stop me listening to the conversation as my autistic brain tries to tune in to it properly.  I mostly let the conversation wash over me and didn’t worry too much about joining in.  It seemed the easiest option.  Although I did identify Come On EileenDancing Queen and I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles); also some Beatles, but I forget what.

Because there was no dessert, my sister and brother-in-law came back to our house for hot drinks and cake.  I found that a bit easier because it was quieter, even if the conversation centred on our shared dismay at the political situation.  I do feel bloated after everything I’ve eaten this evening.

While we were out, my Mum mentioned that the woman she wanted to set me up with some time ago (daughter of her friends who had mental health issues) is now engaged.  So that’s another missed opportunity, or a narrow escape from more rejection, depending on how you want to look at it.

I feel lonely.  It’s still hard to believe anyone could ever want me.  I certainly don’t think I could find someone in time to have children, which upsets me, let alone that I could be well enough for dating, marriage and children to be realistic prospects any time in the next few years.  It’s frustrating that there is no religiously legitimate outlet for my sexuality and no practical outlet for my desire to love and be loved romantically.  It’s frustrating that the women I have liked were not interested in me.  It’s also frustrating that I recently found someone who was interested in me, but she wasn’t right for me at all.  Although probably on days like today I’m being selfish anyway.  I want someone to love me, but I don’t have the energy/capability to love anyone else.

I suspect people like me don’t get married or have children or find communities they fit in.  I should be glad I even have a few friends, as I don’t think I deserve/could cope with that.

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.

The Diogenes Club Shtiebel

I spent Shabbat (the Sabbath) struggling with social anxiety and autism.  It was the last official Shabbat in the community for both the rabbi and the assistant rabbi and their wives and there was to be a celebratory seudah shlishit (third Shabbat meal) in their honour.  On Friday night, after Lecha Dodi, people started circle-dancing.  I dislike this at the best of times.  Autistically, I dislike the enforced close proximity and having to hold hands with two strangers (or at least people I don’t know well).  Social anxiously, I feel self-conscious, that everyone is looking at me and judging me.  Depressively, I can rarely enter into the spirit of things and really enjoy it.  Plus, our shul (synagogue) isn’t always big enough for all the people, so the circle can be rather tight and uncomfortable.  Sometimes I force myself to join in with this, but after a tiring job interview on Friday and perhaps being somewhat disorientated by the layout of the shul being different to usual and, as a result, my not being able to sit with my friends, I just couldn’t face it, so I stood outside the circle with the mourners, feeling self-conscious.

In the morning I woke up on time to go to shul, which you may recall I’ve been trying to do for some weeks now, but then I remembered the previous night and couldn’t face the large numbers of people who would be there this week.  I went back to bed, which was a mistake, as I could have gone to a different shul or even stayed awake and davened (prayed) at home, but I was obviously too tired to think straight.  I did at least avoid napping after lunch by forcing myself to go for a walk.

The real test was in the afternoon.  Talmud shiur (class) passed fine, but then, because the school hall wish usually serves as the shul was being used for the seudah, we davened in a classroom, about eighty men squeezed into a room intended for thirty children.  I felt terrible.  I was just overwhelmed by the proximity to other people.  I managed to stay for the whole of Mincha (the Afternoon Service), although I didn’t really have a choice, as it would have been hard to push past dozens of people to get out.

I washed and went through to the seudah.  I tried to sit with my friends, but I wasn’t able to do so.  I made motzei and ate a bit, but I was feeling very uncomfortable.  There were probably around 120 people, including some young children, all making a lot of noise and crammed close together.  I wasn’t with anyone I knew and no one was talking to me and I did not feel confident to talk to anyone else.  To be honest, this is what usually happens at seudah: I just eat and sit silently and wait for the shiur to start, but I assumed there wouldn’t be a proper shiur here, just a few speeches.  I felt like I couldn’t cope and that I was being overwhelmed, so I decided to quietly bentsch to myself (which I know I shouldn’t do when there is a zimun, but I considered it a health matter) and go.  I went home and read and then went to my father’s shul for Ma’ariv (the Evening Service) even though I think they daven too fast and with too much talking because I couldn’t face the crowded classroom a second time.

Since I was screened for autism and found out that I am probably on the spectrum, I am more confident about avoiding social events if I feel they aren’t right for me.  I know I’m better off coming home when I feel OK than going and feeling terrible.  When I was a child, my parents told me to go to social events and to talk to people I didn’t know, on the grounds that eventually my shyness would go away and it would become easier to cope.  I now know that my brain is wired differently to most people and it will always be like that, however hard I try to make things different.  I feel less inclined to “force myself” to go to social things now.

Still, I wonder how to build a social life for myself.  I feel like I’m some kind of social diabetic.  If I socialise too much – and “too much” is really very little – I get overwhelmed and can’t cope.  But if I don’t socialise at all, I feel lonely and unloved.  It’s hard to find the right level.  Moreover, how can I meet friends, have a sense of community or find a wife (in a community where people are usually set up on dates by mutual friends or family) if I can’t bear to go to social events at shul?  I’ve been going to my shul for several years now and I still only have two or three friends and no one I can really open up to.  Certainly no one in my shul has ever tried to set me up on a date.

Even though I left feeling more positive than on some previous occasions when I have forced myself to attend events where I felt socially anxious and autistically overwhelmed, I was left with a vague sense of resentment and unfairness, a mixture of envy and hatred for all the frum men I saw in my community today who manage to do what I can’t do and socialise happily, with their laughter and their whisky and their sports conversations, not to mention their attractive wives and cute children, all the things I don’t have.  It’s bad of me to feel this mixture of envy and hatred with a dash of lust (for married women at that), but I do.  I beat myself up for it, but it doesn’t go away.  The loneliness it triggered has also led on to “crush” thoughts about someone (not from my shul, but who I’m very unlikely to meet again any time soon), despite my telling myself, and my shadchan (matchmaker) that I don’t want to date until I’ve sorted out my work situation.

A curious side-light on this: there is someone at my shul who irritates me.  I try not to be irritated, because it’s pointless and because it’s sinful, but it’s unavoidable sometimes.  This person always has to answer the questions in shiur and he talks over other people, even the assistant rabbi.  He doesn’t really seem to take much notice of other people’s conversation, but just focuses on what he wants to say.  I never thought much of it, but today he started a huge argument with the people setting up the seudah, saying that he couldn’t sit near a particular food because he can’t stand the smell and that they shouldn’t put it on the table near him.  He got incredibly, shockingly angry about it until someone calmed him down.  I found myself wondering if he was autistic himself (possibly undiagnosed).  It would explain his lack of awareness of social cues and the ‘taking turns’ aspect of conversation, as well as sensory issues (the smell of the food) and emotional management issues around them (getting angry might even have been a meltdown, although this was before the seudah started, so he couldn’t really have been overstimulated).  I thought this would help me to empathise with him, but I just got more annoyed with him.  I feel that I want to say, “You just walk blithely through life not noticing all the people around you who you’re snubbing, you expect people at the seudah to fit in with your needs and your wishes and you don’t care what happens.  You don’t even seem to realise that you are inconveniencing people.  You go to the shiur and enjoy it and enjoy showing off your knowledge, you go to seudah and enjoy it.  I go through life terrified I’m going to upset somebody, I rarely speak for fear of saying the wrong thing (upsetting someone or appearing stupid), I can’t cope with the seudah and have to leave early, yet I’m the one who can’t cope with the deep, powerful, terrifying emotions aroused inside me all the time, I’m the one who represses himself to avoid getting angry with people and takes it out by acting out on himself in different ways (thankfully I don’t self-harm often, but it has happened, and I beat myself up emotionally a lot and lapse into behaviours I’m not proud of like eating junk).”  I suppose it just seemed unfair, but then I don’t believe that life is fair, so I shouldn’t be surprised or complain, but it does upset me, the way I just can’t cope, but other people who may have similar issues somehow do cope, while most people don’t face these problems at all.

***

Despite all this stress, I did spend some time in hitbodedut prayer/meditation thinking about how my life is going.  I still don’t know what I could or should be doing with my life or my career, but I do feel that the law library job would not be right for me.  I just don’t think I could cope in that high-pressure, money-focused environment.  How I explain that to other people if I get offered the job is another question.

I do feel that I need to spend some (more) serious time working on my writing.  Rabbi Lord Sacks, Emeritus British Chief Rabbi says that “Where what we want to do meets what needs to be done, that is where God wants us to be.”  I only have a vague sense of what I want to do and what needs to be done (being a socially anxious autistic person means at times I have only a vague sense of other people’s needs), but at the moment I feel it’s pushing me towards writing.

I do feel that I am making progress in my life, albeit with glacial slowness.  I feel I understand myself a bit better than I did even a year ago: what I can do, what I could do, what I should do.  But it is hard; I’m crawling on my hands and knees in the dark, feeling my way forwards an inch at a time.

High Anxiety

I had a job interview today at a Very Important Organisation.  The Very Important Organisation is so important that just going there for an interview is worth talking about, but also so important that it’s pretty much impossible to talk about it without giving away what it is, so I’m going to be silent here.  Suffice to say I nearly couldn’t find it, but got there on time in the end.  I thought I did OK in the interview because I only had a little autistic mental freeze, but the interview lasted about twenty-five minutes and at the start they said it would be forty-five minutes to an hour, maybe more, so I either aced it or did so badly they just wanted me out of there.

I started feeling anxious on the way home about whether I could actually do the job.  I became anxious about having to do cataloguing, even though it wasn’t on the job spec or the overview they gave me at the interview, because one of the interviewers said something about seeing it on my CV.  I’ve become paranoid about my cataloguing skills, feeling that I’m so rusty that maybe I should not say I can do it any more, but then what would I put on my CV?  I also asked if the job could be done as as job share, which did not go down well, so if I get it, I would probably have to do it full-time and I’m not sure I’m ready for that.

Later this afternoon I got a call from an agency offering me an interview and test (gulp) at a law firm (as a law librarian) this Friday.  I’ve never really seen myself as a law librarian, but I will go along and see what happens.  There is a test, details unknown, which terrifies me after messing up (or more accurately, being unable to complete) the last cataloguing test I did.  I worry that my skills are so rusty as to be useless.  It feels sometimes like interviews and tests exist just to further lower my self-esteem.

***

I broke up with L., if “broke up” is the right term when we’d only been on two dates.  I just didn’t think there was enough chemistry.

“Chemistry” seems such a stupid, intangible thing to break up over.  I can see that L. is kind and gentle and that maybe the fact we had both been through a lot of difficult times could help the relationship.  Moreover, in the past, I used to get annoyed when people broke up with me for a lack of chemistry.  In fact, I used to think I would date someone with no chemistry and see if it would develop, but now I realise just how important it is, even if it is undefinable.  I could see it was just never going to develop on its own, no matter how hard I tried to force it.  I feel sorry for L., as she is a nice person who has had a hard life, but marrying someone out of pity is not a good idea and she deserves better than that.

The scary thing is that for a week or so I convinced myself that the chemistry was there.  At the end of our first date, I was sure that L. was about to say she didn’t want to see me again and I was fine with that as I didn’t really feel anything, but to my surprise, she wanted to meet again and so I said yes to give it a chance.  Then for a week or so afterwards, in my mind I thought we were perfect for each other and were bound to get married eventually, but as soon as I turned up for our second date and met her in the flesh again that certainty evaporated immediately and I realised it was just fantasy.  I was projecting what I wanted out of the relationship onto her, not relating to her as a real person.

Breaking up does feel like the right decision, upsetting though it is to have to say that to someone (I’d never really broken up with anyone before, except one instance which was a semi-mutual thing; usually they break up with me).  I’ve also asked the dating service I met L. through not to set me up with anyone else for now, as I want to concentrate on my job hunt.  I think I have enough uncertainty and stress with that and my wait for an autism assessment without adding any more stress in.  My parents and (I think) my rabbi mentor seem to think I could be dating, but I just don’t think I can handle it right now, despite my loneliness.  Plus, being unemployed doesn’t make me terribly attractive.

***

Still, I think I have learnt a bit from the experience.  From my dating experience over the last couple of years, I feel that I’m looking for someone kind and intelligent, but who probably is already quite frum (religious).  I’ve dated non-frum women who said they would become frum for me, but I worry that that would make Judaism into a barrier, plus I want someone who is interested in active spiritual growth with me, not just doing something as a chore to make me happy.  I realise I’ve probably priced myself out of the market here, as someone frum might want a partner who went to yeshiva (rabbinical seminary) or who goes to shul (synagogue) or studies Talmud more often than I do.  Plus I also need someone who can accept my mental health situation and my financial situation, which is not going to be easy.  They also need to accept my geekery, which can be hard in general society, let alone frum society.

Put like that I wonder a bit if I made the right decision with L., but I think I did, although I may be single for a long time yet.  The relationship didn’t have any of the joy or excitement I associate with starting other relationships, which is not a promising start.

***

It’s hard to prise my feelings apart sometimes.  My Mum said yesterday that she thinks my depression is a lot better and when I say I’m depressed now I often mean I’m anxious.  There could be something in that.  I certainly seem more anxious than I was in the past.  Thinking about work/career, dating, marrying and having children or just the future in general does make me feel anxious at the moment because it all seems scarily open, but time is ticking on, as I said yesterday.

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.

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.

Politics and Despair

I went to bed far, far too late even without losing an hour from putting the clocks forward.  It was mostly down to posting late at night and then procrastinating.  I’ve mentioned before that I idly browse online when I feel lonely.  This is not terribly helpful, because I can’t get the kind of contact I want/need, plus lately I’ve blocked a lot of sites for being too triggering, so there aren’t many places I can actually go (unless I switch the block off.  Which I just did out of boredom/curiosity.  Not good).  Anyway, I spend ages flitting around the internet, not knowing where to go, often until I hit on something that upsets me (usually the news).

The upshot of this was that I overslept, and then was too depressed to get up.  I did eventually get up and somehow got out the house and to my volunteering at the asylum seekers’ drop-in centre, albeit without davening (praying) first.   I was very late for volunteering, but they were understaffed, so they were just grateful I was there.  I spent the afternoon looking after the children in the play area, struggling to watch all of them at once because of a lack of other volunteers and trying to get the children to play together nicely.  It’s hard to discipline other people’s children, especially when they don’t say anything and you can’t work out if they’re pre-verbal or just don’t speak English.  I survived, but have come home completely exhausted.  I somehow did a few minutes of Torah study on the bus home; I’m not sure that I will manage much more.

***

Just now I skipped over what happened at home between crawling out of bed this morning and getting to volunteering.  I had lots of very self-critical thoughts.  I felt tired of being the person no one can rely on at work, in my family, in my religious community or at volunteering.  I wanted to burrow into the earth and get away.  I actually crawled under my desk (I’m not entirely sure why; it seemed like a good idea at the time).  I tried to cry but I had no tears, I just made sobbing noises.  I told myself a lot of very harsh, self-critical things: “I’m a ******* waste of space.  No one could love you, you’re ******* incompetent.  You’re a ****** retard.”  (Don’t ask why my inner monologue flips between the first and second person.)

I’m not sure what I can do when I feel like that.  I think I only stopped because I went out to volunteering.

***

Pretty much anything in the news is triggering.  I no longer know what to think about Brexit.  I have a kind of mental tutorial essay on the history of Britain’s post-war involvement with Europe that gets triggered when anyone starts talking about Brexit, a commentary running from Churchill’s belief in European unity without Britain and Attlee’s negativity to de Gaulle’s “Non!” to Heath speaking bad French and Wilson’s referendum to Thatcher’s downfall, Major’s paralysis and now this.  I think whether we had never gone in to the EU, or whether we had voted to Remain, the tensions would still be there, because they come from the fact that Britain is on Europe’s doorstep, but has a very different political system and history to most of Europe, which produces centrifugal and centripetal forces pulling the country in and out simultaneously.  Whatever happens, the forces are still there; in or out, Europe is going to be a major issue in British politics for the foreseeable future.

I want to vent about Jew-hatred too, but I’m too scared.  I just wrote a paragraph on this, but I deleted it.  I’m too scared of being attacked.  I hate being attacked by antisemites, because I know they’re wrong, but their hatred of me fits with my self-hatred, so the attacks don’t bounce off as they should. Then I spend hours/days obsessing over their hatred, even though the fault is with them not us; it is in fact antisemitic to suggest that Jews “provoke” antisemitism, just as it is misogynistic to say that women in short skirts are “provoking” sexual assault.  I hate that I can’t speak about the hatred that is upsetting me for fear of provoking more of it.  I hate that I still have to deal with this.

I wish I had the mental strength to do something productive to fight antisemitism and anti-Zionism, but I don’t have the mental stamina.  I feel I have let my people down.  I also wish I could turn off the pain and the obsessive, agitated thoughts that seeing this hatred causes me.

***

Happier things: I ordered some more Doctor Who miniatures to paint last night, partly a reward for getting through my job, partly because if I’m going to be unemployed again, it’s probably worthwhile having a non-screen-based hobby (i.e. not watching DVDs, blogging or working on my books).  Just under £45 bought me twelve Daleks, Davros, the TARDIS and the thirteenth Doctor to paint, which should keep me busy for a while.

Self-Image

It’s late, so just a quick post to note the last day of my job.  I was touched to receive a farewell card and book token; I had only been there for three months and they would have been justified in not noting my departure in any way.  I suppose this means that they liked me, on some level.  It’s funny, I often reflect that I’m glad I’m not telepathic, so I don’t have to experience the negative thoughts people surely think about me, but when people do express their feelings about me, it’s usually positive.  The cognitive dissonance has been building up for some time and possibly my self-image is very slightly and slowly improving.  This despite feeling that I had made mistakes and embarrassed myself in front of my boss again today.

I was rather embarrassed not to have a new job already lined up when people asked me what I will do now.  I had a helpful chat with my line manager about future employment prospects at the institution and elsewhere.  In fact, the job agency through which I was employed at this institution has already forwarded me an advert for another job in the same institution for which I will apply, although I’m not sure I have the required experience.

The job application I spent a couple of hours working on earlier in the week seems to have been wasted, as the helpdesk for the website says there is no record of my email address being used to set up an account to make an application.  This was at the public sector body that has caused me a great deal of wasted time and money over the years, as well as other forms of aggravation.  Realistically, I probably wouldn’t want to work for them, but a job’s a job.

I went to depression group in the evening.  I spoke about my job issues and related autism issues, but despite considering mentioning it, I didn’t mention my loneliness and thoughts about dating.  I didn’t want to spend too long talking (I was the first person to talk), plus explaining frum (religious Orthodox Jewish) dating is something of a culture shock to people used to Western-style dating and relationships.

Related to this, I have come to the realisation that I can’t have a serious relationship right now.  There’s just too much uncertainty in my life with unemployment and autism issues.  I would be open to a more casual type of relationship, but it’s not really allowed in the frum world.  I suspect a lot of women my age are looking for marriage anyway.  Sad, but true: I’m not ready for marriage and children yet.  I wish I was, but I need to learn how to look after myself better first and then how to get more out of the day so I can work, meet my religious obligations, have a family life and still get the autistic alone time I need to function.  I don’t know when I will be ready, though.  It’s very frustrating, as on some level at least I think I’m psychologically ready to love someone, I just don’t know how live in the mundane world at the same time (the reverse of people who have careers, but don’t know how to love and just pursue casual dates and hook ups).

Frustrations

I got to bed about 3.30am, which was rather ridiculous.  I had a horrible, gory nightmare that I won’t go into in detail, which was based on two accounts I read on Neshamas.com of women raped and abused by their husbands.  It makes me angry that some men are so evil and exploitative.

I want to have a wife and children I can love, but it doesn’t look like that’s going to work out – soon or at all?  I don’t know.  I guess it’s good that I’m even acknowledging that I might get married one day.  I’ve realised that accepting that I’m not going to get married isn’t going to work, because it doesn’t make me feel any less lonely.  I can only tell myself that if I get married, then my wife may will have been through some kind of stress or trauma, so I have to be strong for her.  This is probably a stupid thing to think, but it has been somewhat helpful in keeping me going, because I feel like I’m doing something for a reason/for someone else, rather than just trying to accept being unlovable and lonely indefinitely.

***

I feel a bit like I’m marking time until my autism assessment.  That I’m not really able to deal with finding a new job or dating until I know where I stand.  The thing is, there’s no guarantee I will be diagnosed.  After all, I’ve had two assessments that said I’m not autistic, and even if I understand myself and autism better now than I did then, it’s still possible that I won’t be… I nearly wrote ‘accepted,’ which is telling, but I meant ‘diagnosed.’  I’m not sure what would happen then, as by this stage I’m 90% sure I am on the spectrum and I would not really accept that I’m not autistic unless someone came up with an alternative diagnosis that described me even better.  But my assessment probably won’t come for another six months to a year, so I’m not sure what to do in the meantime.  It has to be said, though, that I’ve investigated other diagnosis options (e.g. bipolar disorder) over the years without success, so I may still not be diagnosed autistic.  I just feel there is something different about me, something that is more than ‘just’ depression, that how I think and act is noticeably different to other people, at least after you know what to look for.

***

I had my meeting at The Network, who provide group therapy and support.  There wasn’t much left to offer now I’ve done both their group therapy courses, with mixed success.  I was told that it’s good that I’m being proactive in job hunting and contacting support organisations like Remploy (who help disabled people into work) and A S Mentoring (who offer support in the workplace for people on the autism spectrum).  I was asked what I wanted from The Network, which in my experience is what mental health service providers ask when they can’t think of anything to offer themselves; if they still have options left they tend to suggest them themselves.  I said I couldn’t think of anything.  I wasn’t sure what they actually had left to offer, plus I’m autistically bad with open questions like that.

I cried on the bus home without really knowing why, although I did at least manage to do some Torah study too.  It was hard, as I was feeling too depressed to read.

***

When I got home I wanted to work on the job application I started the other day, but I couldn’t log into the site even though I was 90% sure I had the right password.  I requested a single-use password to login and change my password, but didn’t receive one.  I emailed for help, but by that stage it was after office hours, so I don’t hold out hope of being able to access it today.  Interviews are on the week beginning 8 April, so I’m guessing they want the applications in by the end of this week.  I won’t name the organisation, but it might just be a major institution whose incompetence has often been noted here in the past…  I remembered that the main section I had left was the box where I should write why I wanted to apply for the job and tried to draft a response from memory, but I would have liked to have seen the form again, especially as the job description that I have saved is very vague and I think there was a more detailed one behind the password firewall.

I did at least use the time to work on my Doctor Who book, redrafting chapter four, although I’m still frustrated by how little I’ve been able to cut and by the fact that, stylistically, it isn’t what I want it to be, but I can’t enunciate how or why.

Sex, Politics and Alcohol

(Don’t say I shy away from the big topics here.)

I woke late, later than I wanted.  I was going in to work at lunchtime and staying late at an event this evening, but even so I wanted to be up at 9am, whereas I got up about 9.40am.  I was slow to get going, feeling depressed.  I wondered what I would say to my younger self, about to be diagnosed with depression for the first time seventeen years ago.  It was hard to think of anything encouraging.  I could say that he/I would at least survive, but I’m not keen on pure survival as a goal.

For some reason that I don’t understand, I thought a lot about my two failed relationships.  I don’t know what it is about me that prevents me from forming relationships.  Well, I do know, because on some level it’s autism and depression, but it’s hard to know what specifically stops me.  To be fair, both my exes had issues about as much as I did, so perhaps I shouldn’t just blame myself.  It’s hard not to blame someone, though, and I don’t really want to blame them either (as I said, they had issues too).  Given how long it was before I went out on my first date (I was twenty-seven) and the gap between my first and second relationships, I could be in my forties before I get the chance to try again, which is going to make starting a family harder.

***

I struggled through the early part of the work day (i.e. early afternoon) feeling like the idiot child again.  I felt I was making stupid mistakes and not thinking to do things until they were pointed out to me which could potentially be an autistic executive function deficit, I suppose, but that only occurred to me just now, not at the time; at the time I just thought I was being stupid and useless.  My boss was nice about it, which somehow just makes me feel worse.

Late afternoon brought the event/exhibition we were running.  From my point of view, it was similar to the event/exhibition we ran a few weeks ago, in terms of my curating rare books and trying to remember enough of my history BA to be able to talk about them while secretly hoping that I don’t say anything outrageously wrong.  At any rate, radical politics from the English Civil Wars and Interregnum seem popular again.  I was actually less affected by the crowds and noise than I had feared, except when someone dropped something on the other side of the room with a loud metallic noise which distracted me even though no one around me seemed to notice.  From everyone else’s perspective, this event was different to the previous one as we had food and wine (which I didn’t eat (a) because I was curating and (b) because it wasn’t kosher).

The other, bigger, difference was that we had some guest speakers.  They were interesting, but I didn’t take much in because I had been a bit triggered by the political nature of the event – not anything party political, but just general thoughts about protest (the theme of the event) and where I stand.  I feel counter-cultural in some ways, but I don’t subscribe to any political party or ideology and feel rather disenfranchised by contemporary politics.  I honestly struggle to find anyone I could in good conscience vote for at the next election (unless Elmo from Sesame Street stands against Theresa May again).  I fantasise about dropping out without knowing where I would go.  In fact, not only do I feel counter to mainstream culture, but also to the main counter-culture (to paraphrase The Avengers, I’m counter-counter-counter-cultural).  I feel Orthodox Judaism is strongly counter-cultural too (how could it not be, by far the smallest of the world’s major religions?), but too many Jews miss the point and end up with conformist bourgeois lives.  But the revolutionary potential is there.  For example, Buy Nothing Day is an established anti-consumerist protest day.  I once calculated that Orthodox Jews spend approximately two months not buying anything at all (if you add together Shabbat (the Sabbath) and Yom Tov (festivals) it comes to about two months, depending on whether Yom Tov falls on Shabbat in any given year and on whether you live in Israel and get one day less Yom Tov).  Shabbat itself is a very revolutionary egalitarian idea, a sanctuary in time that everyone receives in the same amount, regardless of wealth or status (cf. Heschel and Seeskin), a day when no one can compel anyone else to do anything.

I feel I am drifting from the point somewhat (sorry, it’s 1.30am and I’m drained, but not sleepy and need to get my thoughts in some kind of order before bed).  It’s just that whenever politics comes up lately (lately = for the last few years) I feel vaguely guilty for not having firm party political views (my opinions are more emotions or attitudes and not necessarily coherent).  But as the frum (religious) community is mostly conservative and my Doctor Who/online friends are mostly progressive, I would offend someone either way, so maybe it’s just as well that I quietly question everything, but say nothing.  It just means I always feel ‘wrong’ and under threat of rejection, as if I didn’t feel like that for umpteen other reasons already.  (My assumption that people would reject me because I don’t share their political views may be false, but in all the talk in the media of social media echo chambers, it’s hard to think otherwise.)

***

I got home at 10.30pm absolutely exhausted.  I had to “people” some more, as my parents had guests: my uncle’s mother-in-law over from Israel for a significant birthday (a tenuous family connection, but she’s essentially a family friend of long standing by now) and some other friends of my parents who are also friends of my uncle’s mother-in-law, including someone I used to work with.  So I had to go in and say hello when I really wanted to crash.  But I managed it.

***

The other thing that upset me a bit today was getting mistaken for a PhD student by the historian guest speaker.  Sometimes I feel I should have gone down that route, that I would be happier reading books than caring for them.  And high functioning autistics can do well in academia.  But every time I go to university, my depression gets bad and I say I will never go back.  Plus, if I was doing a PhD, it would probably end up being in the history of antisemitism, which would be hugely depressing, if necessary.

There was something else that was upsetting me, but I don’t want to get into it at 1.30am.  Maybe tomorrow.  Actually, I am going to go into it, because it’s upsetting me.  I feel I’m a really bad person because I get distracted by being attracted to people of the opposite sex.  I know most people are like that, but… well, I suppose I feel I should be above it in some way.  I worry that it affects my interactions, although I do try hard not to react to people differently based on how attractive I find them, and I certainly don’t flirt with women or anything improper.  I just wish it didn’t happen.  I don’t like being so aware of how attractive I find some women.  Particularly as I don’t think anyone finds me attractive, which makes the whole thing seem one-sided and exploitative.

When I wrote an article on Hevria.com years ago about being scared of my sexuality, someone commented to say I see women as “anxiety-inducing sexual objects” which upset me, probably because I’m scared it’s true.  Well, “anxiety-inducing” is true, but I have social anxiety, so everyone makes me anxious.  But, given that it seems unlikely that I will ever get married, I just wish I was asexual so I didn’t have to even worry about this craziness (being attracted to people).  There’s a story called Liking What You See by science fiction writer Ted Chiang, about whether it would be good if we could switch off physical attraction.  I think it probably would be good.

***

It’s 2.15am and I should get to bed.  I am probably coming down from today – not that it was particularly positive, but that social interactions and being busy at work get the adrenaline flowing and I need to unwind.  I can’t really crash tomorrow, unfortunately, as in the afternoon I’m speaking to someone from The Network (the local government-run organisation that provided group therapy courses I have recently attended), although I’m not sure there’s a lot more that they can do for me right now.

Sad Songs Say So Much

I did get a reasonable amount of sleep in the end, just at the wrong time.  I was hoping to escape a post-Purim socialising ‘mental hangover’ as I woke feeling OK, but it seems to have set in over the afternoon.  I wanted to do some serious Torah study this afternoon, but I’m not sure I’m going to manage more than half an hour or so.

I feel lonely again.  I do wonder if there is anyone really like me.  Some things today made me think that maybe if I went back on Facebook, I could find people like me.  There’s a Facebook page for frum (religious Orthodox Jewish) geeky women that apparently has 2,500 members, so I guess there may be women like me out there.  More platonically, a post on Den of Geek: Geeks Against Loneliness spoke of people, particularly autistic people, finding interest groups for obscure hobbies on Facebook (the one in the article was for fans of electricity pylons, which makes my love of or forty, fifty or sixty year old British science fiction TV drama seem mainstream).  But then I remember what Facebook was actually like, the political posts that, even when I broadly agreed with them, were upsettingly angry and disturbingly question-begging, the fear of missing out, the comparing of my inner life to other people’s external lives and feeling inadequate, the opportunity for looking up people I was at school or university with and seeing they are doing better than I am…  I don’t think it’s for me.  If HaShem (God) intends me to meet my bashert (destined soulmate) that way, He’ll just have to find another way.  I’m not going to risk my mental health there.

As I say, I’m coming round to the ideathat there are frum geeky women out there, which is something, I just don’t know how to meet them.  I guess even “geeky” these days covers a huge number of different subcultures, so I wouldn’t necessarily even have much in common with a geeky woman if she was in to, for example, Game of Thrones and and the Marvel cinematic universe.  I keep nearly meeting the right women, but there’s always something major that knocks the relationship of course.  She’s not frum enough or she’s stopping being frum.  She doesn’t want children.  She wants someone richer.  She lives in another country.  And so on.  Some of these things I’ve tried to overcome and some were just too final.

I’m just looking for a gentle, frum, geeky woman, in her thirties or so, with a sense of integrity, preferably living in the UK and who can cope with my depression, autism, low salary and problematic career path and the fact that I’m not a ‘normal’ frum guy.  Some days that seems like a lot to ask for and some days it seems possible, but even on the good days, I’m not sure how I go about meeting her.  I worry what I can offer her.  Mostly love (if not necessarily shown in the most neurotypical way), fidelity, integrity, kindness and intelligence, but that doesn’t always seem like very much.  I feel like anyone wanting that in a partner would have that as basic and would want extra ‘features’ and traits on top.  I wish I was better-integrated into the frum community, to increase the chances of someone knowing someone who knows someone who is right for me.  But, then again, most of the frum people I know don’t know about my geekiness, mental health issues or autism, so maybe that still wouldn’t work.

Insomnia Again

Like Ahashverosh, I can’t sleep, despite only having slept about six hours out of the last forty or so.  I forgot to take my tablets after shul (synagogue) this morning (yesterday morning I should say, really) and forgot to take them tonight as well after being out for dinner.  I finally took them about 1.00am, but they don’t seem to have made me sleepy yet.  They aren’t sleeping tablets, of course, but they usually make me tired (for much of the day, probably).  Here are a few thoughts that were going around my head while I was getting ready for bed and/or while I was lying in bed trying to sleep:

I feel that so much of my life over the last twenty years or so (the time that I’ve been depressed) has been trying to understand myself.  In therapy, on my blogs and, less healthy, in endless introspection and repetitive, circular thoughts.  Actually, it’s more that therapy and blogging are attempts to stop the repetitive thoughts and turn the circular thoughts into some kind of linear thought (linear, but going where?).  I don’t understand much of my life, but particularly about my social life, constantly complaining that I don’t have friends and a romantic partner, but also running away from them, finding social contact frightening and draining, but also exhilarating at times, wanting love and intimacy, but being terrified of them, experiencing aching loneliness as the constant backdrop of my life, wanting to escape it, but fearing there will be nothing left of me if I do.

The excitement of the potential autism diagnosis is that it explains so much of this mystery.  I constantly see more aspects of personality in a new light, more puzzles solved.  Hence the fear that I could be told (for the third time) that I’m not autistic and will have to start the search for meaning all over again.  For instance, I could understand that social anxiety made socialising with strangers hard, but I could never quite understand why socialising with friends left me drained even when I enjoyed it.  Now, of course, I realise that any kind of social contact, not to mention being in a public space like a restaurant or museum (popular places to socialise for me) is terribly draining for someone on the autism spectrum.

The other thing that I ruminate over (‘obsess over’ might be more accurate, in a borderline clinical sense) is my own sense of inadequacy and sinfulness.  This, I hasten to say, is not very Jewish.  Judaism has a reasonably positive view of human nature and a pragmatic approach to sin: it happens, we can use it to repent and grow.  But I obsess over my mistakes, beat myself up for falling into the same traps again and again, blame myself, devise plans for improvement that never work and so on.  Because ultimately my worst sins, the ones I beat myself up about the most, stem from that same aching loneliness, the chasm or void at the centre of my life or even at the centre of my soul.  My therapist has told me that I don’t do anything wrong by secular standards.  My rabbi mentor says I’m a good person with a one or two challenges.  I feel that some people at least would be understanding and sympathetic, that they would note the void in my life and say that it’s not unreasonable that a normal person would try to fill it, even in somewhat dysfunctional ways, that I could be doing much worse things instead.  And yet.  And yet.  I can’t shake the feeling of sinful inadequacy, even though that very feeling is part of the aching void, such that beating myself up makes me more likely to fall victim to the same emotions again and again.

Somewhat related to this: lately when lying in bed trying to sleep, I have found myself imagining a presence with me.  Not a religious feeling.  Imagining – in a non-sexual way – that I’m in bed with my wife and that she is speaking reassuringly to me, telling me that I’m doing well in coping with my issues, that I shouldn’t blame myself for falling, that she would still love and accept me despite my failures.  I am not sure what to make of this.  It’s good that I can voice some positive, supportive statements about myself now, even if I have to put them into someone else’s mouth to accept them.  But I worry about creating a fantasy life that I can’t escape from, that I am getting my hopes up by making myself believe I will find a supportive wife when I will possibly (probably?  I don’t know, it seems like that) not get married at all.  I worry that I’ve created a pliable fantasy partner who has no needs and just exists to boost my ego, which is very unhealthy.  And I still struggle to believe that God could think any of that positive stuff about me.

***

So, that’s what’s in my head tonight/this morning.  It’s 4.00am and I don’t feel remotely tired, perhaps just a little agitated.  Not quite sure what to do now.

Doctor Who and the Purim of Doom

This will be another ‘written across a whole day’ post.

11.15am  I’m not sure how long I slept, but I think it was about eleven hours, which was probably too long.  I woke up utterly drained and depressed and I’m not sure if that was from sleeping too long or from the pressure of working two consecutive days.  Today I still feel that no one could ever love me, but I’m too exhausted to really care any more.

11.45am Today is the Fast of Esther, which I think is the most obscure Jewish fast day (this or the Fast of the Firstborn, but arguably that doesn’t count).  I used to assume it dated from Esther’s fast in Megillat Esther (the Book of Esther), which is the key text for the festival of Purim (tonight and tomorrow), but apparently it’s from the Gaonic era (early Middle Ages) although it does commemorate the earlier fast.  At any rate, I’m not allowed to fast on lithium except for Yom Kippur, so I’m not fasting today.  I think I’ve gone past the point of feeling bad about not fasting.  Eating some breakfast and drinking coffee makes me feel a bit better, but not much.  I really just want to go to bed and sleep through the next day and a half, although I am sort of looking forward to the Purim seudah (festive meal) I’ve been invited to tomorrow, just as long as no one tries to force me to drink alcohol.  I don’t think they will, but it’s hard to be sure.

I want to have a quiet day (afternoon really now – it’s nearly noon) to recover from the last two days and prepare for the Megillah reading tonight, which will be draining for depression, social anxiety, OCD and autism reasons.  Not the easiest religious ritual for me, by any means.  In the meantime, I want to watch more of Quatermass and the Pit (1950s BBC science fiction serial) and work on my Doctor Who book a bit, if I feel up to it.

2.15pm  Thinking again about being single and that no one could love me, albeit that the thoughts aren’t as intense as yesterday.  I wonder what the CBT response to these thoughts should be.  I suppose to look for evidence to disprove the assertion that no one could love me.  Which is hard, as there is really no evidence against.  I’ve only had two romantic relationships (and a third thing that perhaps approached becoming a relationship), which ended in ways that make me worry that no one could ever love someone as messed up as me, albeit that they all focused on different elements of my messed upness.  To some extent I’m probably manipulating the data to fit my theory; certainly my first relationship ended for fairly complex reasons that were at least partly down to my girlfriend.  But it is hard to hold on to that when everything fits my theory at least partially.  There isn’t much data to base a theory on, which is one thing to hold on to, but, again, that basically means that I haven’t had much romantic success, which is not encouraging.  CBT is hard to do when all the evidence supports your “thinking errors”.  I guess I’m catastrophising and jumping to conclusions, but it’s hard when the evidence points that way.  I don’t have “proof” that no one would marry me, but I won’t have proof until I either die single or get married and I can’t stop myself worrying in the meantime.  I know, worrying doesn’t help either, it just feels as if it should.  Also, this is probably my way of expressing loneliness to myself and others.  Maybe it would be more fruitful to search for different ways to express loneliness rather than to worry about the future.

***

3.00pm  Moving photo albums from one room to another with Dad.  Dad says I’m always irritable with him these days.  This is true and it saddens me, but I don’t know what to do.  Part of it is that I am under a lot of strain at the moment with work and depression and have been for nearly two years now.  I have to mask autism and depression at work, but that makes it harder to keep up appearances at home.  But part of it is that Dad tends not to do things in an autism-friendly way.  He asks me to help him with things, but he doesn’t tell me when and then expects me to drop anything I’m doing and help, which upsets me because it messes up my plan for the day; autism hates surprises and last minute changes.  He’s been nagging me to help with the photo albums for ages, but hasn’t given a time.  Last week he asked me and I said let me finish X, but he never came back and then suddenly today he asked me again.  I started to move the photo albums, but then he expected me to put them out in order; I got annoyed at this change (although I was probably being autistic and overly-literal here and should have guessed he would want me to put them out) and he got annoyed that I didn’t want to help.

Dad also talks in a very unhelpful way, from an autistic point of view, with too many details and jumping from topic to topic without making it clear what he’s talking about.  Then I get annoyed and tell him to stick to the point and things escalate.  I don’t like this aspect of myself and my current life, but I don’t know what to do about it.  I can’t think how to change things; telling myself to “try harder not to be irritable” doesn’t really help and just undermines my self-esteem even more.

***

3.30pm  I just read two essays by Rabbi Lord Sacks (the former British Chief Rabbi) about finding meaning and being called to something in life.  I don’t have a clue what the meaning in my life is or what I am being called to do.  Rabbi Sacks says that “Where what we want to do meets what needs to be done, that is where God wants us to be”, but I don’t seem to be able to do anything and my understanding of my own wants is not particularly good.  Mostly I want to just avoid certain situations and people.  I’ve thought in the past of writing to him about things like this, but his office staff doubtless open his mail and he probably wouldn’t even see the letter, let alone respond.

***

4.55pm  I began redrafting my Doctor Who book with the introduction and first chapter.  It was OK, but I’m not entirely happy with it, which may be my immaturity as a writer as much as anything, and while I pruned a couple of hundred words, I probably need to be more ruthless with later and longer chapters.

Feeling exhausted and depressed and not entirely sure why.  Some of it is doubtless bickering with Dad before, some is being tired from working on my book, some is general depression, so I intend to watch TV for a bit before I have to get ready for Purim.

***

19.00 Purim

Purim is a minor festival, so work is permitted and I can blog.  I moved my work days around this week so that I wouldn’t have to go to work, though, which is good.  It’s the most carnivalesque Jewish festival, which can be hard for me with depression, autism and social anxiety.

“There’s no point in being grown up if you can’t be childish sometimes!” Doctor Who: Robot

There is a custom to wear fancy dress on Purim.  I made my way to shul (synagogue) for Purim dressed as the fourth Doctor.  My scarf was the only item that was strictly accurate (a friend knitted it for me years ago according to the official BBC pattern and air mailed it to me from Texas), but I was more nervous about going dressed as a TV character to a shul where lots of people don’t own TVs and look down on TV as the most corrupting and least acceptable of all media.  As it happened, no one said anything, except someone who made a joke about the length of the scarf.  I don’t know if no one understood who I was dressed as.  I don’t really talk to many people at shul anyway.

The Doctor: Well, you’d better introduce me.
Romana: As what?
The Doctor: Oh, I don’t know… a wise and wonderful person who wants to help. Don’t exaggerate.

Doctor Who: The Power of Kroll

I heard once that if one dresses up on Purim, one should dress up as the person one wants to be.  I don’t know if this is true (I only heard it once).  I’m not sure what it says about me that I want to be the Doctor, or specifically the fourth Doctor, or even if I do really want to be him in a meaningful way, but I wish I had his confidence and his ability to wear his eccentricities on his sleeve and not worry what other people think about him, as well as for keeping his sense of humour when faced with danger and evil.

“Even the sonic screwdriver won’t get me out of this one” Doctor Who: The Invasion of Time

I listened to Megillat Esther (the Book of Esther).  One is supposed to hear every word, but there is also a custom to make noise after the name of Haman, who tried to wipe out the Jewish people.  This is fertile ground for my religious OCD.  I actually did OK.  I told myself I wasn’t going to catch up words, let alone go to another reading, unless I was really sure I had missed something.  Three or four times I thought I heard a word, but wasn’t sure and wanted to repeat it, but I didn’t let myself because I knew it would just stoke the flames of OCD.  It is theoretically possible that I did not fulfil the mitzvah (commandment), but I think I did the right thing.

“You’re a beautiful woman, probably.” Doctor Who: City of Death

At dinner afterwards, my Dad tried again to persuade me to go out with our neighbours’ daughter (or our neighbour, I suppose, as she lives with her parents).  I’m not quite sure what to make of this.  I don’t know if I have anything in common with her, other than having lived in two of the same communities and being frum.  I’ve never picked up any feeling that she is at all attracted to me (although admittedly I’m not good at such things).  By coincidence, I passed her while I was on the way to shul this evening and we said hello, but if she spotted the significance of my Doctor Who scarf, she didn’t say anything.

“Failure is one of the basic freedoms” Doctor Who: The Robots of Death

I was having dinner with my parents, everything was going well… and then, suddenly, it wasn’t.  Something happened that I can’t talk about here, sadly.  But it brought my mood crashing down.  I know that people say that you can’t make your happiness dependent on other people, but the fact is that human beings are social animals (even someone as introverted and autistic as I am) and the moods and behaviour of those around us do affect us, especially the moods of those close to us.  We pick up other people’s moods just as we infect people with our moods.  I’m not sure what I can do for this.

So, tomorrow is the bulk of Purim.  I hope I will be OK.  I’ve been invited out to a seudah (festive meal) in the afternoon, which will hopefully be good.  I’m more nervous about getting to shul in time to hear the Megillah again (one should hear it twice, evening and morning), but I’m less worried about hearing the words as there isn’t usually much noise at the morning reading because there aren’t many children and some people are going to work, so they need to get through it quickly.

For now I’m going to get some retail therapy buying a second-hand copy of the next Complete Peanuts volume (1963-1964), because Peanuts has been keeping me sane recently with it’s resigned acceptance of life’s ups and downs, as well as a second-hand copy of the House of Cards trilogy; not the Netflix series, the original 1990s BBC serials with Ian Richardson as Sir Francis Urquhart.  I’ve never seen it, but I need a break from wall-to-wall science fiction.

Chase: What do you do for an encore, Doctor?

Doctor: I win.

Depressing Thoughts

Today was pretty awful.  I started the day feeling more depressed than anxious, which I suppose was at least different to recent workdays.  It was hard to do anything.  I don’t know how I got up and dressed and to work on time.

I had a whole series of spiralling negative thoughts.  On the way to work, I was thinking that my community neither wants nor needs me and that therefore, as per Pirkei AvotHaShem (God) must not want me either.  The quote (Avot 3.10) is “[Rabbi Chanina ben Dosa] would say: Anyone from whom the spirit of creations find pleasure, from him the spirit of God finds pleasure. And anyone from whom the spirit of creations do not find pleasure, from him the spirit of God does not find pleasure.”  (Translation from here because I was lazy; I think “spirit of creations” is a rather archaic translation.)  I don’t think, realistically, that that means that if you have no friends then God hates you.  There’s obviously a lot in the Torah about God caring for those on the fringes of society.  But when I’m depressed, it’s easy to interpret it that way.  At any rate, I felt that the Torah was written for mentally-healthy neurotypicals and I don’t know how to earn a share in it.  It’s probably true that the Torah is written for the majority of people to practise (I think Rambam says that) and I certainly don’t know how to connect to it any more, if I ever did, so that’s true to some extent, perhaps unlike what happened next.

***

Last night I asked some of my friends if they thought I could be happy dating someone who didn’t share my geeky interests.  They were divided on this.  (There is also the question of how closely one has to define “geeky interests” given that some of my interests are very niche even for geeks, whereas lots of popular geek interests pass me by completely, but I’ll ignore that for now.)  Thinking about this prompted a whole morning of negative thoughts.  I can’t find frum (religious) geeky women who will date me, but then I can’t find non-geeky women willing to date me either, despite someone saying that in her experience, frum single women over thirty feel desperate and lower their standards.  In fact, I’ve seen “older” (i.e. over thirty) frum single women online complain that “I only get set up with weird autistic guys; all the normal guys get set up with younger women.”  I guess I’m one of those guys (I’m not sure if they’re literally autistic; more likely the women are just being rude), except that I’m not being set up with anyone.  The two women I was set up with in quick succession two years ago probably felt like that; one dumped me on the grounds we had nothing in common (which I took to mean I have weird, geeky interests, perhaps incorrectly), the other because of my depression.

This led on to fears that even if I could find someone willing to marry me, I would not be her first choice as her husband; she would be ‘settling’ with me from loneliness or a desire for children.  Even if she didn’t have a lost lover somewhere she was still pining for, she would have a mental image of a dream husband that I would always fall short of.  I hope this is just my depression and low self-esteem lying to me, but so far as I can tell, every woman I’ve ever crushed on or dated has liked me less than I liked her, often significantly less.  Maybe this is just me beating myself up again, but I’ve had very little interest from women over the years.

I know everyone says you have to love yourself before other people will love you, but apart from the fact that I simply don’t think that this is true, my childhood experiences make it pretty much impossible for me to love myself at the moment.  I struggle to believe that God loves me.  I can’t really believe that anyone else could love me, although I desperately hope that someone will.  It’s a lot to ask someone to take on though.  I know I’m not an easy person to be around.  I would definitely date the women that are considered a “bad match” in the frum world though.  Those considerations are usually spurious.  Other things being equal, I wouldn’t have a problem marrying a ba’a’lat teshuva, a geyoret, someone with physical or mental health issues, or someone with children from a previous relationship (although admittedly that one is harder and requires more thought than the others)… The problem is that I haven’t got anyone to communicate this intention to who might set me up with someone who is also finding it hard to meet a spouse.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, I really struggled to work with these thoughts racing in my head.  I’ve decided not to date for a while, but I still worry because I want to know, somehow, that I will find someone one day.  Not everyone does get partnered up, even in the frum world where marriage is a strongly-enforced social norm.  It’s not knowing what is going to happen to me that is so painful.  If I knew I was going to be single forever, I could at least try to find alternative outlets for my need to love and be loved, somehow.  Get pets or something.  Instead, I’m just faced with a huge question mark.  Sometimes I wish I was asexual; at least in that case I wouldn’t want romantic/sexual love.  The outcome would be the same, but I wouldn’t care.

***

I felt better as the afternoon went on, perhaps because I was distracted from my emotional pain by work and a physical pain (headache), although that at least responded quickly to medication.  I did have more depressing thoughts on the way home.  I was thinking about my career, or lack thereof, again, the fact that I lack direction, experience and confidence at work.  It occurs to me that describing autism as a spectrum running from high-functioning to severe is very misleading.  It implies a consistent and continuous increase in symptoms running along the spectrum.  The reality is that whether someone on the spectrum shows one particular symptom has no bearing on whether they show others.  I don’t generally have meltdowns, for instance, but that doesn’t mean that my other symptoms are less pronounced.  Moreover, symptoms can be situational.  I can be more or less functional depending on how many people are around and who I am with, how tired or hungry I am, how bad my depression and social anxiety are…  I’m high-functional in many ways, but I am really struggling in work environments, even different kinds of work environments, and I find it hugely frustrating that I’m so out of my depth and don’t know where I can turn for help (someone suggested AS Mentoring recently, but I haven’t had a chance to see what they offer).

Some autistic people are lucky enough to find their niche, a task needing a particular skillset that they match more or less exactly.  Some of these people may present symptoms more severely than me at certain times and in certain places, but at work they fit almost 100% and are completely functional.  I just wish I could find my niche.  I feel I’ve made mistakes here, but that could be the depression and low self-esteem talking; I don’t know if things would be materially different if I had gone to yeshiva (rabbinical seminary), had done my MA at a better university, or had continued leading prayer services and teaching Torah when I moved to this area.  I can see that all of these could have led on to other positive things and a more positive life for me overall, but maybe they simply weren’t possible and I shouldn’t beat myself up about having passed them by.

So Wonderfully Normal

Every day I have to win the battle all over again.  Today was much the same as many days recently: insomnia last night and tired today, anxiety and depression on the way in to work, mainly anxiety and catastrophising about dating.  I felt better after lunch (some people aren’t themselves until they’ve had their morning coffee; I’m not myself until I’ve had lunch, which is more problematic), but worse again in the afternoon, feeling that I’m not coping with life, work or relationships (not just dating, but family too).  Working with my line manager in the afternoon, I felt spectacularly incompetent.  Why do I always make my worst mistakes when my line manager is watching?  Or is it because she’s watching (social anxiety)?

I did feel bad for not eating dinner with Mum and Dad (we don’t usually eat together during the week) and eating in front of the TV instead, but I’m just completely exhausted and unable to ‘people’ (interact) and if I don’t watch TV while eating, I won’t have time and if I don’t watch TV and unwind I will not be in a fit state to work tomorrow.  Maybe it’s just as well that I’m not married as I do worry about how I would cope with a wife and children.  But it’s so lonely being by myself, especially as my parents don’t always understand me.  This is probably an unsolvable dilemma.

***

Speaking of which, everyone (parents, friends, rabbi mentor) are probably right that I shouldn’t let imminent unemployment deter me from dating, but I think the risk of getting hurt is too strong at the moment.  While I don’t automatically think that I should swear off dating until I’m working and have got made some kind of progress with my mental health and autism diagnosis and/or acceptance of myself, I probably don’t need to throw that in there just now, especially with Purim and Pesach approaching, with all the practical and emotional problems that come with them.  I think it’s worth waiting a bit to at least try to set things up in my favour, however lonely I am right now.

I guess this particular instance of dating was different inasmuch as I know that this person (I’ll call her D) is probably more understanding of mental health issues than most and I saw from her JWed profile that we have one or two values in common.  But I still can’t shake the feeling that no ‘normal’ person would date me, that even despite her being someone with an understanding of mental health issues, I would need to find a geeky autistic woman to accept me, even though there aren’t so many of those in the wider community, let alone the narrower and more conformist Orthodox Jewish world.  I guess I’m just worried that D is too “normal” to ever be able to like or understand me, although I’m not quite sure what I’m basing my assumption of “normal” on.  I suppose no one is really “normal”… except that most people are quantifiably less “not normal” than I am.

I guess the bottom line is that I should leave dating for a few weeks.  Whether I ever pursue dating D is probably best shelved until then too.  Although my experience is that very few things in my life are ever resolved in a meaningful way; the can is kicked down the road indefinitely or other worries come and displace one particular worry from my mind.  Maybe I should be negotiating Brexit…  The question, as ever, is how to deal with the loneliness and hopelessness in a vaguely healthy way, the feeling that no one understands me or cares and that no one ever will.  I know that some people do care about me and I know that I don’t have any solid evidence that I will never get married (just a lot of circumstantial evidence), but I still feel lonely and despairing.

***

More realistically, it might be good to see if CILIP, the professional body for librarians, run a cataloguing refresher course, as I feel my cataloguing skills have gone very rusty and that would be an asset in the labour market.  I still struggle to see myself as employed and happy, though, just as I can’t see myself in a real relationship and happy.  I can’t imagine myself happy in any context, really, except perhaps being dead and in the afterlife, which is not reassuring.

***

Reading the digest of Purim laws that the rabbi of my shul (synagogue) sends out to stoke my religious OCD to ensure the community performs the relevant mitzvot (commandments) correctly, I feel anxious again.  I’ve pretty much told myself that I’m just going to try to get through Purim any way I can and if I do some mitzvot in a sub-optimal way or even miss out on some of them… well, I’ve done mitzvot, including Purim ones, in a sub-optimal way before or even missed out on them completely.  There were many years when I was not able to go to hear the Megillah in the morning as well as evening and some years I think I didn’t hear it at all; at the time I told myself it was depression, but in retrospect social anxiety and perhaps autism were bigger factors.  It is a big worry, though.  I want to do the mitzvot and to have a meaningful day, difficult though it is for me to find meaning in any aspects of Judaism at the moment, let alone through the day when we connect to God with extreme joy.  (Something I liked about D’s profile was that she stressed her desire to keep halakhah (Jewish law) while also having wider cultural interests and she wanted a husband who had hobbies.  Except that I wasn’t supposed to talk about this.)

***

I may be able to see my private psychodynamic psychotherapist again, but not until after Pesach and it would depend on whether I could fit it in with any work I might be doing, as she is only free on Mondays.  So now I’m waiting to see two therapists, as I’m still on the waiting list for CBT on the NHS.

***

I’m thinking of making my blog invitation only.  Unfortunately, I think that would mean that only people who read blogs through WordPress could read it, which is a problem as I have real-world friends reading this who don’t use WordPress.  I do worry about how much information I’m putting into the public domain, though, especially if I am trying to pursue a career in writing.  I know this blog is anonymous, but it’s not very anonymous if you really want to find my true identity.  Advice will be gratefully accepted.

***

I should probably explain that the post title is me being sarcastic about myself and my day.  It’s a quote from the first ever episode of Doctor Who, about a teenage girl who is acting strangely; her teachers hope she is meeting a boy, which would be “so wonderfully normal” for her, but she turns out to be an alien who lives with her grandfather in a police box which is a time-space travel machine.  Today I feel about as normal as she is, and about as likely to have a secret assignation with a member of the opposite sex.

Waving a Magic Wand

Trigger warning: suicide

On a previous post, Yolanda said I have “strong faith”.  I don’t feel like that, certainly compared to other people in the frum (religious Jewish) community.  Partly it’s that I avoid social markers of faith, like saying “Barukh HaShem!” when people ask how I am (literally “Bless God,” but idiomatically “Thank God”).  But I feel that I don’t trust God.  I know that faith and trust are different things in Judaism; faith is about thinking God exists while trust is about accepting that whatever happens is for the best; but it is hard to have the former without the latter.  In a sense, on an intellectual level, I can accept that everything is for the best, but I can’t feel it.  My life just seems so miserable, I feel that there has to be more to it than this.  But I worry that if the “best possible outcome” for me for the last twenty years has apparently been (on the grounds that whatever God causes to happen is for the best) for me to be lonely and miserable, thinking of myself as a freak that no one could like, let alone love, how can I know that the next twenty years – or sixty years – won’t be the same?  I don’t think I could bear that.  This is when I start feeling suicidal.  I think I could cope with suffering if I felt there was a purpose or end to it, but being lonely and miserable indefinitely for no obvious reason is just too much to bear.  But I don’t know what the alternative is.  I don’t seriously believe that stopping being frum (religious) would make me happier, although it might make life a little easier and would widen my dating pool, but I think the key limiting factors on my dating are my mental health issues and autism and my under/unemployment.

***

Speaking of dating, Ashley Leia said I should date women and let them decide if they want me rather than decide in advance that they won’t date me.  That does make a kind of sense, and my parents and rabbi mentor have said similar things… but in my brain dating seriously without an income is disingenuous and futile.  Maybe that’s not accurate.  But I’m scared of the rejection I feel sure will follow dating in this state.  And I worry about meeting the right person at the wrong time and her rejecting me because I’m unemployed or depressed and then I’ll never get a second chance with her because she has tagged me as not suitable.

Of course, the problem is that I want other people to make decisions for me but then I don’t cooperate with them.  The other problem is that I’m terribly lonely, so I think endlessly about how things would have to change so that I could date, which just makes me feel more hopeless.  So I procrastinate endlessly and feel lonely and depressed all the time.  I find it doubtful that anyone could really make me happy, to be honest.

***

I could write an equally long, equally depressing rant about my career.  I’m not sure how much I want to be a librarian any more; it turned out not to really be like my experience in the library where I first worked, first as a volunteer, then as a paid employee.    I haven’t kept up with my CPD (and my training, at a not-very-good university because of depression, was arguably not good enough in the first place) and I feel pretty unemployable in my chosen career.  It’s a struggle to wade through job adverts and try to reply, I’m so lacking in self-belief.  Lots of jobs require work on Saturdays too, which I can’t do for religious reasons.  Then there are all the jobs I’m over- or under-qualified for…  I have to hope something will turn up, but as with dating, there’s no guarantee that it will, or that I will be good enough for the opportunity or psychologically ready to accept it.

Someone suggested A S Mentoring to me, but I’m not sure they are really offering anything that would be useful to me.  I suppose I should contact them and find out… which is also scary.

***
I suppose what I really want is for someone to wave a magic wand and for me to wake up in a new life with the things I want.  But real life doesn’t work like that.  I don’t mind having to work for things, but it seems that no matter how hard I try, I never get the things I work for and I can’t go on much longer without getting some kind of result.

***

I went shopping for a very belated wedding present for my sister and brother-in-law (long story why it’s been so long).  Out walking and seeing all the Purim stuff in the Jewish shops, I reflected that it is only a few days until Purim, the happiest festival in the Jewish calendar, and yet the one I struggle with the most (well, tied with Pesach).  I feel like Judaism is built for mentally healthy neurotypicals (for all the autistic precision with which Jewish law is codified).  There isn’t anywhere for someone who can’t join in with the festive crowd, who can’t drink, doesn’t have children or grandchildren and probably never will…

There’s a constant pressure to Do Things, whether from Judaism or work or family and friends.  I just constantly feel that I have to do painful things so I don’t “let people down,” but no one is making sacrifices for me (except for my parents supporting me rent-free).  I can’t cope with the constant pressure to be perfect.  I’m not perfect, nowhere near it.  Why can’t anyone understand that and leave me alone?

I honestly don’t know what I would do if someone said, “OK, you can choose the life you want.  You can decide if you want to pray or study Torah and how much, what to do for work, what family and social life you want.”  I can’t imagine would what actually feel good or how I can work that out.  In reality, I probably couldn’t cope with a career or being married.  Western society doesn’t really present me with an alternative to having a career and frum society doesn’t present me with an alternative to getting married.  I think I could manage, and might benefit from (in terms of personal growth as well as support and happiness), a boyfriend/girlfriend relationship, but that’s not really an option in frum society.

***

Related: I just shouted at my parents.  My Mum eagerly told me that my sister and BIL have concrete under their shale patio.  I neither knew nor cared about this, no one having told me that it was a concern and I can’t really bring myself to care.  Then Dad insisted on showing me a photo and I didn’t know what to say and ended up saying, “I don’t know what you want from me – to say “MY GOD THAT’S THE BEST GARDEN I’VE EVER SEEN??!!!”  They did at least see the funny side.  I shouldn’t have done it, but it’s getting harder and harder for me to take any kind of interest in my sister’s house without becoming monumentally depressed, yet everyone else seems to be expecting me to be as fascinated as if I were going to be living there myself.  At least if she had a baby, I could play with him or her.

***

I feel like I can’t take any more.  I can’t stand being so lonely and miserable.  I want to die, but killing myself…  I can’t put it into words, but I do and don’t want to kill myself.  I do because I want to escape, but I don’t because I couldn’t put my parents through that, and because, I suppose, some part of me still hopes I might one day have some small measure of joy, albeit probably not in this world, and that would never happen if I killed myself.  Plus, I suppose I can’t help feeling that killing myself would just lead to more punishment somehow.

I don’t want people to worry about me.  I’m not going to do anything.  I wouldn’t dare, really.  I just wish so much that this wasn’t happening to me.  I just wish that I wasn’t here.

Progress and Burn Out

Over Shabbat (the Sabbath) I thought quite a bit about the job I applied for on Friday, despite the fact that I shouldn’t think about work on Shabbat.  I got alternately excited and anxious.  It doesn’t help that the advert didn’t really give an idea of what the job would involve, except that it would be some kind of news-related writing in “a leading magazine” and that I would be based partly in an office and partly at home.  I assume it is for a Jewish magazine, given that they were advertising on an Orthodox Jewish mailing list, although I suppose that may not be the case.  I have no experience in journalism and so don’t think that I will get the job, but it was worth trying.  At any rate, the fact that I had to send out samples of my writing may lead on to something, somewhere at a later stage.  Although if it is a Jewish magazine, I may have blown my chances of selection with some very non-frum writing.

Of course, looking at the news, both mainstream and the Jewish newspapers, is a thoroughly depressing experience, so maybe I don’t want to be immersed in that for a living.  Or maybe writing would at least feel like I’m doing something to fight back against the darkness.  I don’t know.

***

I mentioned to my parents about the woman I blogged about the other day, a daughter of their friends, who Mum wanted to set me up with some time ago because she felt she would be understanding of mental health issues, but couldn’t because she was seeing someone else and who I now know is single again.  Mum was anxious to set me up with her ASAP, which I don’t think is particularly sensible, given that I’m probably going to be unemployed again in a fortnight.  But inevitably thoughts of getting the magazine job mixed in with thoughts of dating again, if I can find a steady income.  Dad suggested set me up with the daughter of our neighbours.  For my part, I can’t really see why anyone would want to date me, certainly while I am not working full-time, but really why anyone would want to date me at all, given all my issues, unless she had serious issues of her own.  This is probably a problematic attitude, but I don’t know how to change it.  So far my dating experience has been limited and difficult.  I think my parents only see my strengths and ignore the considerable drawbacks I have that someone dating me would have to be able to accept.  Perhaps I only see the drawbacks and not the strengths; at any rate, I find it hard to see why anyone would date me, let alone marry.

I do get lonely, though, and long for understanding and real intimacy (not just sex), which is something I have spent my life looking for, in friends and potentially a partner, but have only ever really achieved for short periods.  I felt some of that loneliness over Shabbat too.  It would be nice to be dating again, but I can’t see it really going anywhere until I have some kind of steady income.

***

I struggled at dinner last night.  As usually happens, my Mum spoke a lot about her work and my Dad spoke quite a bit about his shul (synagogue).  My parents are both very talkative and very neurotypically talkative at that, speaking small talk and about people they know, rather than about more abstract matters like the news or religious things.  I try to stay interested, but there are limits to the amount of neurotypical small-talk conversation I can do, trying to show an interest and be empathetic regarding people I do not know and will never meet.  I tried to make the right noises, but after an hour and a half or more, I unintentionally delivered a very forceful and emphatic “Right!” as if shutting down the conversation, which my parents found hilarious.  They laughed, but I was very drained by the whole dinner and conversation, perhaps because I was already drained from spending the day writing the job application and then being around people in shul.  It did make me realise that one workshop wasn’t really enough to brief my parents on all aspects of autistic behaviour, and that even if they understand me, on some level, behaviour (theirs and mine) still needs to be negotiated in a spirit of compromise.

***

I was so drained from all of this that, despite being in bed before midnight, when I woke up at 9.15am this morning, I felt too tired to get to shul and went back to sleep.  I feel very bad about this, as I really want to get back into the habit of going on Shabbat mornings, but I simply can’t find a strategy to help me to get there.

***

I struggled to concentrate at shiur (Talmud class) today.  I realised halfway through that, strange as it seemed to someone used to thriving academically, I struggle with Talmudic study and my autism may be partly to blame.  But I’m not sure what exactly the issue would be, why I can cope with most forms of study, but not Talmudic study.  I am still coming to terms with the idea of being developmentally behind my peers, which is not something that was really the case when I was a child, when poor social interactions were put down to shyness and the effects of bullying and academic success was interpreted as a sign that I was functioning well in all areas, which in retrospect was clearly not the case.

***

I’ve been thinking of going back to my psychodynamic psychotherapist.  I stopped seeing her to do some CBT on the NHS to work on my low self-esteem, but I’ve been waiting six months or more and I still have not seen anyone.  I’ve phoned and emailed to try to find out where I am on the waiting list, but no one answers or responds.  It’s terrible.  In the meantime, I’m plutzing (fretting) about my career (or lack thereof), my relationships (ditto), my relationship with my parents, my attempt to come to terms with the likelihood that I’m autistic and so on, as well as just generally feeling depressed and anxious a lot.  It would be very helpful to speak to someone who knows me, but who is not emotionally involved in my life again.

***

After more than an hour and a half of work after Shabbat this evening, I have finally completed the second draft of my Doctor Who non-fiction book.  I have mostly been tidying up the various chapters, standardising spelling and layout and so on.  Bear in mind that the book originated in a series of blog posts and has been six years in the making; some of my preferred spellings and stylistic choices had changed over that time and I needed to make sure everything was uniform.  Now I can start on the third draft, this time working on the writing style, which in some ways is the hardest thing.  The second draft, incidentally, weighs in at 113,200 words, which probably means it needs trimming a bit.  If I am due another period of unemployment, maybe I can spend some time working on the book.

King of Pain

In the end I went to dinner with my sister and brother-in-law.  The restaurant was very noisy and I found it hard to focus on what they were saying.  The food was good, but we left after the main course.  I would have liked dessert, but was put off by the noise, and didn’t want to risk my mood deteriorating again, so I didn’t ask to stay for it when my sister and BIL said they were full.  They didn’t really talk much about their new house, to my relief, as I’m finding it increasingly hard to take an interest in a topic I know nothing about (never having been a homeowner) and which makes me feel like a useless and inadequate freak for not being able to join in.  My sister and BIL invited me to a housewarming in a month’s time, which I’m already feeling anxious about.  Thinking about this, it occurred to me that, as I’m extremely unlikely to get married any time soon, my sister will continue to be the centre of the family’s attention for an indefinite time to come, unless I hurt myself.  This was a dangerous thought to have.  I wish I had not thought it, but I did.  As I’ve said before, I’m not a very nice person, nor a very stable one.

(I don’t plan on hurting myself, I should say.  I’m just aware of the possibility, and how people might react – probably negatively, but putting me in the spotlight.)

***

Ashley Leia commented on my last post to say “This single person’s take on it is that the top two essentials people are looking for in a relationship are to be loved and to be accepted, and the rest is more or less negotiable.”  As we say in Yiddish, alevi, if only.  I really hope this is true, if not for me then for other people, but it hasn’t been my experience so far.  Both the women I have been in a relationship with said I was particularly kind, loving and understanding of their issues in a way that their previous boyfriends had not been.  Yet both broke up with me for other reasons (actually, I technically broke up with my first girlfriend, but only because I could see that our views were incompatible; she agreed that it was the only solution).

My first girlfriend was worried that I would be frigid even after marriage.  E. was worried that together we would never earn enough to support a family in comfort.  I don’t think either of these fears are unreasonable.  I think a lot (too much) about sex, but frequently feel uncomfortable with even casual, non-sexual physical contact (aside from Jewish law, guilt and everything else that complicates sex even more).  I worry that even if I do ever have sex, I will be one of those autistic people who finds it disgusting.  When my ex tried to kiss me once, I did indeed find it disgusting, although it probably didn’t help that she took me by surprise (not as much fun as I would expected); I half-heartedly tried to kiss her again after my shock, but found that I could not work out how to do it.  Similarly, I can’t see myself working anywhere near to full time in the next few years, so unless my spouse was earning a lot herself, money would be an issue (and if she was she was earning a lot, she would probably be a career-focused person I would have very little in common with).

This is without the extra baggage wanted in frum circles, where it seems to be expected that men will study a certain amount of Torah and pray with a minyan (community) three times a day.  I don’t know if any women would really see those as deal-breakers, but it seems like it would be hard to admit to not doing them, like admitting to not showering or brushing your teeth regularly.  Probably no one has a list of desired character traits in a mate that starts, “Good personal hygiene” because it’s taken as a given.  It’s generally accepted that if you want a partner, you have to take care of that, and if you don’t shower, then you will be rejected automatically without any other reason.  I don’t take care of the spiritual equivalents of showering and flossing.

My rabbi mentor once told me not to worry about not having been to yeshiva (rabbinical seminary) because in reality no one cares about that in a husband and that I have good knowledge anyway for someone who hasn’t spent significant time in yeshiva.  I hope he is right, but it seems hard to imagine a frum (religious) woman choosing me over a hypothetical yeshiva bachur, unless he was particularly bad in other ways.

I have thought of marrying a ba’alat teshuva (Jew raised non-religious who became religious later in life) or a geyoret (convert to Judaism), but even aside from the fact that they would probably buy into the frum community social norms, the issues of physical relations and finances are still going to be there, as they would be if I dated someone not so frum.  In addition the issues caused more directly by depression and autism will be around whoever I date: low energy, irritability, communication difficulties and so on.  Plus, in the frum world dating is for marriage.  While frum people don’t all get engaged after eight dates, the expectation is that one will get engaged quickly or move on quickly.  I feel the need to date for a longer period because of my issues and the bad experiences I’ve had dating in the past, but the option isn’t really open for me.

While I hope – I really, really, really hope – that what Ashley says (which is similar to what my parents and my rabbi mentor say) is true, my experience in life so far is that things are not that simple, at least not for me.

***

A quote from Tormented Master: The Life and Spiritual Quest of Rabbi Nahman of Bratslav by Arthur Green: “It may have been in reaction to the extreme senses of depression and worthlessness which so frequently overcame him that Nahman developed a compensatory sense of unique greatness and value to the world.” (p.122)  This sounds worryingly familiar from my own life, although usually I keep my narcissism and megalomania private and only share my self-hatred.  Even at my worst, I can see I’m not really a great person, but believing I’m not a terrible person is much harder.

Nearly Shabbat

15.00  Feeling terrible.  I should be getting ready for Shabbat or working on my books, but I can’t.  Want to go back to bed.  I wish I was dead.  I don’t know if I really think that.  I’m coming to realise that the feelings that I think are wanting love or sex might not be that at all, but something else (or something else tied up with wanting love and/or sex), so maybe feeling “I wish I was dead” is really something else too.  About loneliness or self-hatred, which is probably what the “wanting love/sex” feeling is too.

***

My sister wants to go out with me motzei Shabbat (Saturday evening), but I don’t really want to.  Maybe on Sunday, if it’s not a big thing, but not Saturday evening.  I don’t know though.  I don’t know and I don’t know how to say anything.  I’m just shut down (not in an autistic sense but actually maybe in an autistic sense; I don’t really understand melt-downs and shut downs and how they fit into my life).

***

Listening to Elton John sing Tiny Dancer over and over again.  Sometimes, particularly when I’m very depressed, I listen to the same song over and over (apparently even this is an autistic thing).  Usually there’s some kind of link from the lyrics to how I feel, but I think this is just about the music.  The song used to be triggering for me, for complicated reasons, but this seems to have worked as exposure therapy.

***

The assistant rabbi said yesterday that people who are frightened of getting drunk on Purim have no “inside”, because if you’ve got a real inside (inner world) there’s nothing in there to fear.  I’ve never been drunk, I don’t really drink at all and I’ve always been very scared of getting drunk and I’m glad depression and antidepressants give me reasons not to drink.  What does that say about me, and my “inside”?

***

16.45  Shabbat chores finished.  I should really have hoovered, at least the kitchen and my bedroom, but I don’t feel able.  I’m exhausted.  I’m not sure if I’m going to go to shul, I just feel exhausted (plus when I’m home alone I always feel nervous about going out with the Shabbat candles lit even though I’m only using tea lights).  No time to work on my books.  I guess this week was never going to be easy between networking course, work disruption and my parents being away.

***

This post is stupid.  My blog is stupid.  Why do people even read this?

Depressive Thoughts

(A stupid, pointless title, but I’m feeling awful.)

Last night after I blogged my mood went down quite rapidly.  I felt like I had been going flat out all week with networking workshop, Jewish Book Week, work two consecutive days and my parents away.  I just fell back into despair and lethargy and crawled into bed at midnight hoping I would wake feeling better or at least more alert.

However, I had strange dreams in the night.  First I was on the Tube and ended up helping a doctor who was helping a pregnant woman who I thought was a nun, but looked, in retrospect, like she was wearing a hijab.  I was aware that she had cut herself off from her community by getting pregnant, but I felt sorry for her.  I was worried about not getting home in time for Shabbat (the Sabbath), but was assured by the doctor that it didn’t start until 7.30pm (in reality, that won’t happen until the clocks go forward).  Then things shifted and I was in some sort of classroom (although I think I and the friends/other people with me were all adults).  A huge and intimidating man, about twice my height, stocky and with a long, thick beard was trying to test me on reading Hebrew aloud; I stumbled on this, but couldn’t convince him that this was due to social anxiety stopping me reading confidently rather than poor Hebrew literacy.  We started to daven (pray) the Friday evening service, but the intimidating teacher told us to skip Kabbalat Shabbat as it was too late.  At which point I woke up, I think.

I am not entirely sure what any of this means, although I can see that it was an anxiety dream (which may be why my sleep was not restful) with some obvious allusions: the pregnant “Muslim nun” rejected by her community represents my fears of being rejected by the frum (religious) world for being too worldly, but also by Doctor Who fandom for being too religious (she was still a nun even after presumably breaking her vow of chastity); more prosaically, the motif of being late for Shabbat reflects my fears that I’ll run late tomorrow getting ready for Shabbat by myself, plus I do still get occasional anxiety dreams about breaking Shabbat even though I’ve been shomer Shabbat, at least at a basic level, for half my life.

***

It was fortunate that I woke up when I did, as I had slept for eleven hours, dramatically oversleeping and having to rush out and skip both shaving and davening (praying) to get to my psychiatrist appointment on time, both of which I hate missing.  The radio was on in the waiting room and I found it irritating.  I don’t know why all NHS and social services waiting rooms seem to have TV or radio on these days.  I find it really annoying and it’s not terribly autistic-friendly.  It was a new psychiatrist as the one I saw last time is ill.  The appointment was OK, but I felt that I was just a statistic on the waiting list being processed.  She didn’t ask about my case history or the causes of my problems and didn’t seem terribly aware that I’ve been depressed without cure for most of the last sixteen years or more.  Maybe she didn’t know.  I didn’t say anything about autism, because the last psychiatrist was dismissive of it, saying I’d already been assessed and told I was not autistic.  My GP has sent my autism referral through and I’m on the (very long) waiting list, so there didn’t seem any point talking to this psychiatrist about it at this stage, although I did get vaguely upset when she said that social contact will get easier the more I practise it.  For a neurotypical person, maybe, not for someone whose brain isn’t wired to understand people.  The psychiatrist was also a bit blasé about my work issues, saying I would find part-time work easily.  I didn’t ask for a medication change, as the clomipramine seems to work a bit, sometimes, even though it still leaves me quite depressed and has led to a lot of weight gain.  I don’t think it’s particularly sensible to mess around with medication while I’m working if I can help it anyway.  I have another appointment for three months time, so I’ll see what happens and maybe ask to change things then.

***

In the afternoon I did not do much, but was busy with my job application spreadsheet, which I keep up to date, even though I have not actually applied for anything for weeks and have missed a lot of deadlines, alongside a few other chores.  I was hoping to work on one or both of my books too, but I didn’t get the chance again.  I’m so busy just surviving from day to day that I don’t have time for anything more future-orientated, whether writing books or job hunting.  I didn’t actually achieve much today, but I didn’t really relax and get the rest I need either.  Maybe I will be able to rest over Shabbat, but who knows?

***

Looking at job adverts again today brings back my work worries.  I know I’m over-qualified for my job, which is not too difficult, and although there are harder elements (choosing appropriate material for exhibitions is difficult but interesting, although it would help if I knew the collection better, but my background in history has been very useful here and won me praise from my line manager).  But the whole reason I like my job is because it’s not pushing me too hard right now, when I am struggling with self-esteem and energy and motivation issues as well as confusion about whether I’m autistic and how I should live my life if I am, as well as how to manage my mental health (with or without autism).  I don’t know what to do.

***

The work worries bleed into relationship worries, because I don’t think anyone will date me until I’m working much closer to full-time.  I know that I could still get married at some point, but it seems a long way off, which in turn makes having children (which I really want to do and think about a lot) less likely.  But it’s the loneliness that is so hard, and difficult to survive.  It’s probably loneliness more than anything that has triggered my suicidal times, even if it gets mixed up with despair and hard to isolate.  I don’t know how to survive the ten or twenty (or thirty or forty) years that I might have to wait until I’m functional enough to look for love and to meet someone who can see past my considerable dysfunctionality and all the baggage and drawbacks I come with.

I just wish I had people to talk to who understood me.  It’s been hard to talk to my parents lately, which is probably my fault.  I get irritable and sarcastic when I’m depressed, not to mention focused on catastrophising.  But my parents don’t entirely understand depression or autism entirely, although their understanding is greater than some people’s.  That’s not their fault, but it makes it hard.

I have friends who understand depression and autism and care about me, but they don’t live locally and I can only communicate via text and email, which is better than nothing, but also lacks something somehow, even to a socially anxious and avoidant person like me.  My local friends don’t really know so much about my issues, for various reasons, again, largely my fault.

I just wish there was someone in my life who cared about me and understood me and I could see regularly (and feel comfortable seeing regularly).  I know I depend too much on other people for my self-esteem, but I don’t know how to change that and I get annoyed by people who aren’t lonely telling me I have to love myself before anyone else can love me.  I could just as easily state that other people have to show me I’m worthy of love before I can love myself, because I don’t see myself as worthy.

***

On a related note, my sister phoned tonight to see how I’m getting on without my parents.  I struggled a bit to deal with the call.  I find that usually happens when she phones me.  I thought it was because she usually interrupts dinner/Doctor Who, but I wonder if it’s an autistic predictability thing and I would cope better if she told me in advance that she was planning to phone at a particular time on a particular day.  Still, I think she takes better care of me than I would be able to do if our roles were reversed.  Maybe I couldn’t cope with someone in my life who cared about me and understood me.

***

About 8pm, I was watching Doctor Who and noticed that I was crying.  I thought it was odd, as I didn’t consciously feel depressed.  Then about twenty minutes later, I realised I was depressed, painfully depressed and sad.  It’s strange how out of touch I am with my emotions.

***

I read a davar Torah (Torah insight) sent out by my shul (synagogue) for Rosh Chodesh Adar II (New Moon) upset me.  I felt I was being attacked and to some extent deserved to be attacked.  I don’t really know what ‘spirituality’ or ‘Jewish spirituality’ means any more, if I ever did.  I try to study some Torah every day and pray at least a bit of the three daily prayer services (although I often miss Shacharit on non-work days like today).  I want to be a good Jew, but I don’t really connect with HaShem (God) or Torah much these days emotionally.  I certainly can’t find “authentic spiritual joy” for Purim.  It’s just a struggle to get through Purim in one piece.  I want to be a good Jew, but it’s hard enough trying to perform the mitzvot (commandments) in my situation without worrying about kavannah (mindfulness), spirituality, meaning or connection to HaShem.

Then shiur (religious class) tonight was about genuine joy being connecting to HaShem via Torah, but we get distracted by false pleasures.  This might reinforce my feeling that I’m depressed because I’m a bad person and God hates me, which I hadn’t felt quite so much recently.  I think I might have missed the point of the shiur, though, or wilfully misinterpreted it to make myself feel bad.

Whether I misinterpreted things or not, I feel that I’m a bad person and a bad Jew who doesn’t connect with HaShem through davening, mitzvot and especially not through Torah and who is wasting his life on meaningless transitory pleasures like Doctor Who and writing (despite this I am still thinking of cosplaying (dressing up as a fictional character) the fourth Doctor for Purim, but I might not have the guts to do it).

So much of Jewish religiosity is tied up with community, which is problematic for me because of social anxiety and low self-esteem (it’s feeling that people would reject me  if they knew the real me that keeps me away more than actual experience of rejection), and with family, which is difficult for me because my parents don’t connect with Judaism in the same way as me and because when Jews say “family” they primarily mean spouse and children (maybe most non-Jews think like that too).

The silly thing is that I really believe intellectually, I just can’t connect emotionally with my religion, perhaps through depression (or autism?).

***

I can’t believe anyone reads this rubbish I write.  I shouldn’t write it, but I need to vent and here you go.  I suppose it’s better than hurting myself, at least assuming it isn’t just a very clever and complicated way of hurting myself, which might in fact be the case.

Busyness, Loneliness and Jewish Studiousness

I didn’t have work today, having gone in on Monday instead, so I got to sleep in.  I actually slept for something like eleven hours and finally woke feeling refreshed.  I don’t know why I need to sleep so long; I used to assume it was the depression making me exhausted, but it may also be the effort of masking depression and autism in social situations and at work.  I started sleeping longer at weekends when I was a teenager, which is probably fairly common, but that was also the time I first started showing symptoms of depression and when school perhaps started becoming harder from an autistic point of view, as the nature of friendship changed and became less about playing together and more about sharing emotions.

The downside of sleeping in is that doing everything I wanted to do today became harder, especially as I was feeling a bit down, or at least sluggish (it’s not always easy for me to tell the difference between the ‘low mood’ and ‘low energy’ aspects of depression, which I guess is alexithymia again).  I probably wanted to do too much anyway, but as I said yesterday, chores have a habit of breeding.  I needed to get a haircut and buy an anniversary card for my uncle and aunt, catch up on this week’s Talmud study, speak to Remploy about career’s advice and workplace support options for someone with depression and autism and a few smaller things.  I also wanted to get through some more Doctor Who episodes for research (not relaxation, as it’s become a chore at times to do it, although I enjoyed the much-maligned The Gunfighters). 

I managed everything except speaking to Remploy, which was good, especially as I can now put aside the second drafts of another two Doctor Who book chapters.  I shook quite a bit while having my hair cut, which wasn’t good.  I’m trying hard not to beat myself up about not getting everything done.  As I said, I probably wanted to do too much anyway.  The problem is I hate having my haircut and I was nervous about having to contact Remploy so the urge to procrastinate is there, along with the fear that I was procrastinating even if I wasn’t.  Of course, the reason I’m so sluggish today is probably at least in part because I did quite a bit yesterday, so to some extent there’s a trade off.  I will see if I can speak to Remploy before I go into Shabbat mode tomorrow afternoon.

***

I try to push myself sometimes to read things that are out of my usual comfort zone, so I’m reading 13 Minutes, a thriller about teenage girls and their cliques and bitchiness.  It’s been making me think of my school days, which were miserable, but I realise from the book that a lot of what was going on went over my head.  I just wasn’t aware of a lot of stuff in terms of interpersonal dynamics (friends, lovers, enemies).  I don’t know if that was autism or just being out of the loop, if the two aren’t really the same thing.  I certainly wasn’t really aware of my peers having sex like the characters in the book.

Now, of course, I think about it too much.  I feel that there’s a huge part of life I’m locked out of.  I don’t know why I fixate on that.  I’m not a great traveller, but I don’t feel that I’m missing out much there.  I don’t touch drugs or alcohol, but I don’t feel that I’m missing out on them.  Maybe because I long for intimacy more than sex per se and feel I’ve never or rarely experienced the kind of closeness I want with people.  Or because from a frum point of view, sex is bad until you get married, when it’s good, which makes it harder to write off.  My frum peers have lots of children by this point.  I hope I get rewarded for my abstemiousness at some point, but I worry that I won’t.  It’s not like I really had a choice; I couldn’t have sex even if I wanted, women have never exactly thrown themselves at me.  Tehillim/Psalms asks God to store our tears in a flask and record them as a sign that He is with us.  It can be hard to feel that my suffering is somehow preserved for a meaningful goal, though.

***

On a more positive note, I mentioned doing the weekly Talmud study above and while I still feel that I understand very little of the actual arguments of which the Talmud is mostly comprised, I think I am slowly learning key words and logical terms.  In the long run, that’s probably more important than actually understanding the arguments.

In the last few days I’ve felt more confident in my own Jewish knowledge in general, at least compared with other ba’alei teshuva (people ethnically Jewish but raised non-religious who became religious later on in life), which is a positive thing given that many of the people in my shul are ba’alei teshuva.  I feel that I probably do know a lot compared to the average ba’al teshuva, although most of the time I’m too scared to reveal my knowledge.  I also feel that I have more of a sense of an underlying philosophy of Judaism than many Jews have.  I feel like a ba’alat teshuva or geyoret (convert to Judaism) might accept me as a husband, although there is still a feeling that she would be ‘settling’ for me in the absence of someone better and that a frum (religious) from birth Jewish woman wouldn’t accept me.  I don’t know whether this is true.

***

Related to this, I do feel today that someone might want to marry me; the problem is finding a job to support a family/make myself more attractive and in working out how to actually meet women, given that I’m not integrated into the frum community enough to get set up on dates.  Plus, as I said, I do still have the nagging sense that if someone did marry me, she would be ‘settling’ for me, not marrying me because she really wants me in the first instance, although for a while today even that feeling disappeared.  But there’s no telling what I will think tomorrow.

Running Faster to Stand in the Same Place

I had the last session of my mental health class today.  I think part of the reason I was less excited about the class than the other people in the group, apart from feeling overwhelmed by the noise and the people, is that for many people in the group this was the first time that they had met people with the same issues as them, whereas I’ve been going to various support groups for several years now plus I have a network of friends with mental health issues built up through my blog, so it wasn’t such an eye-opening and validating experience for me.  It has at least got me thinking about CBT stuff again and trying to use it a bit while waiting for CBT on the NHS, which could take months, although I still feel a bit like CBT tries to place a little plaster on a wound that really requires many stitches.

A lot of people from the group are planning on meeting in the future.  I don’t know whether that will happen.  My experience of these things is that people always say they’ll stay in touch, but rarely do.  They have started a What’sApp group though.  I don’t know if I’ll go to the meet up, but I’ve been added to the What’sApp group.

***

Today I more or less resolved the mistake I was so worried about on Friday (definitely anxiety) and spoke to my rabbi mentor about a matter that had been troubling me recently (not mental health-related); he gave me some useful advice.

Less optimistically, I’ve been wading through job emails, but most of them are for things I’m under-qualified for (as if I didn’t feel inadequate already) or things I’m over-qualified for (as if I wasn’t worried enough already about many autistic people being underemployed, especially after one of my colleagues said I’m over-qualified for my current job) or require working on Saturdays.  I’m applying for full-time jobs because there aren’t many part-time jobs in my field (which surprised me a bit, as I thought librarianship was a job that lends itself easily to part-time work and jobshares); if I get further I will ask if working part-time is possible, although how many days I want to work is harder to work out.  I’m not convinced they would employ someone who isn’t willing to work the way they want though.  The other problem is working out how many days I should be working.  Two probably isn’t enough, four was too much (although that was a punishing environment anyway) so I suppose I should try three days.

***

I hoped to have an afternoon off after a stressful couple of days, but speaking to my rabbi mentor, dealing with job emails and other chores took up much of the time.  I wasn’t even applying for jobs, just reading job alerts and adding potential jobs to apply for to my spreadsheet of potential jobs.  As for the chores, they just seem to breed; I have a list and sometimes I can cross things off, but it grows faster than I can cut it down.  Similarly, I’m a neat person, but lately bits of paper have been appearing on my desk faster than I can get rid of them.  I shove some of them in the drawers, but that is just postponing the inevitable.  The worst breeders are emails, not so much rabbits as Tribbles (the Tribbles from Star Trek, it will be recalled, are cute balls of fur that can overrun a starship rapidly because they are born pregnant).

***

I did manage some work on my Doctor Who book (I hope to have second drafts of two more chapters finished by the weekend) and my mental health book.  Work on the latter consists of revisiting old blog posts and copying and pasting passages that look like they might still be coherent, meaningful and interesting out of context into a Word document.  I have a bunch of these on topics like depression, OCD, autism, the frum community and so on, about 25,000 words so far (that’s about a quarter of a book already and I’ve still got eighteen months of material to look at, even if I don’t use my old Livejournal), but I worry that I don’t have a clear shape in my head of what the book will look like.  I’m just experimenting at the moment, in my head and with my selections, on the various ways a book could look without really knowing what I’m doing.  I hope a clearer idea will materialise over time, but it might not.  It’s entirely possible that I won’t have a workable idea at the end of all of this.  Plus looking at old posts brings up bad memories sometimes or triggers feelings of loneliness and depression.

***

Lately there have definitely been some better days, in terms of mood at least and perhaps energy, although I still have bad days and even on ‘good’ days I can suddenly hit depression, self-loathing or OCD anxiety, sometimes with an obvious trigger and sometimes out of nowhere.  “Out of nowhere” might really be a physiological, rather than psychological, trigger, if I had a full understanding of myself: hunger or tiredness.  Exhaustion is a frequent presence too.  I think the improvement is mostly down to the arrival of spring (although apparently the cold and wet is due to come back by the end of the week) and feeling comfortable with my current job for the first time in a year or more, which makes it more unfortunate that my contract ends in a month’s time.

Recovery is, as I implied yesterday, more about finding coping strategies for surviving (a) in the world and (b) specifically in the Jewish community with autism, depression, social anxiety and occasional bouts of OCD.  I don’t think I’ll ever be ‘cured’ of my mental health issues and it’s impossible to ‘cure’ people of autism.  Some days the strategies work and some days they don’t.  On the days when they don’t work, there’s not a lot more I can do than struggle through work (or call in sick, but I very rarely do that these days) and come home and just vegetate in front of a Doctor Who/telefantasy DVD.