Angst In My Pants

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

***

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

***

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

***

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

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

***

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

***

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

Trying to Be Present in the Present

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

***

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

Telephone Anxiety

I had to make a couple of phone calls, both medical-related.  One to my psychiatrist try to resolve the question of where I can have my blood test at the moment because most hospitals are either not doing blood tests at all or are only doing urgent ones; the alternative is to travel to a hospital quite some way away.  The other call to the GP because I have a suspicious mole on my back that I’ve just noticed – itchy and I think new, although it’s hard to tell, as I have a lot of skin blemishes.  I’ve had two moles removed in the past and they were fine, but it’s more anxiety-provoking now with Mum being treated for cancer and with COVID disrupting everything, leading to autistic “new thing” anxiety.

I was experiencing very strong social anxiety before phoning.  I generally would experience that before phoning anyway, but it seemed worse than usual.  I really think lockdown has set me back regarding social anxiety.

I spoke to the psychiatrist’s secretary.  She went to speak to the psychiatrist and phoned me back to say I could have the blood test done in September, which was what the GP originally wanted.  Hopefully things will have changed a bit by then.

As for the GP, I was on hold for a long time and then was told that non-emergency appointments are only dealt with at 8.30am.  I suppose I could have known that, as that was sort-of the pre-COVID system (new appointments were only released at 8.30am and 6.30pm, which is a really awful system on so many levels, particularly when dealing with people who may not be keeping straightforward hours), but it wasn’t clear from the surgery website.

It feels like almost every interaction I have with GP reception staff ends with me feeling stupid.  That’s an exaggeration, but does it happen a lot.  I think a lot of the receptionists at the practice are just bad-tempered and I internalise their mood and turn it against myself.  I do dread contacting the surgery now, which is not good.  It took a huge effort to phone today; I can’t imagine how it will feel tomorrow.  The doctors are really nice there, so I don’t want to change practice, but getting past the “gatekeepers” can be a challenge.  They mess up prescriptions and the like a lot too.  Coincidentally, a friend posted on his blog to say that even pre-COVID, a lot of doctors’ receptionists seemed to be trying to stop anyone from seeing a doctor, which is sadly my experience too.

***

Aside from the hour or more that I spent doing that, it was a good day.  (It didn’t take me an hour to phone, but it took a long time to psyche myself up to doing it and to calm myself down afterwards.)

I worked on my novel for about an hour and three quarters.  The writing flowed easily for the first hour, but the second part was harder, and I ended up procrastinating online.  I think I should try to split my writing time into two chunks with a break in-between in the future.  I did write well over 1,000 words, which was good.  I did another fifteen minutes or so after dinner too, to get up to two full hours, which was also good.

I went for a walk after that.  I found I was ruminating on being single and the fact that my therapist said that I should widen my dating pool to include less religious women as otherwise I was likely to struggle to find someone kind and understanding enough to cope with all my issues.  This may be true, but I have noticed that, since breaking up with E., who was a lot less religious than me, some (not all) of my religious anxieties have reduced.  I feel a lot less of a sense of inner conflict about how religious I am/should be.  So I’m a bit wary of dating someone else less religious.   That said, frum (religious Orthodox Jewish) women seem not to like me at all, so maybe I’ll have to date non-frum women.

I found I was sinking into despair about this and quite consciously tried to change my thoughts to think about my devar Torah (Torah thought) for the week.  I wrote that when I got home, or at least I wrote a draft.  As is usually the case, I’m not brilliantly happy with it.  In particular, there was one Midrash (rabbinic expansion of the biblical text) that I think I interpreted correctly, but superficially; I felt there were depths to it that I could not reach.  Then I quoted the Medieval commentator Rashi, but couldn’t find his source; the references given didn’t seem to be correct.  It’s frustrating, but at 500 – 1000 words a week, my divrei Torah are never going to be exhaustive, so I shouldn’t feel too bad.

My partial regret for the day is only managing twenty minutes of Torah study, but that is in addition to spending an hour or so researching and writing my devar Torah, so that’s really not bad for one day.

Because God is Infinite His Pain is Infinite

I made a crucial typo in yesterday’s post.  It should have read, “Therefore it’s impossible for something to exist without God knowing and understanding it.  Therefore God can’t find me weird and unlikeable.”  I put “with” instead of “without.”  Whoops.  Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase and Fable has a whole long list of historical editions of the Bible that, thanks to typos, enjoined readers to “sin on more” instead of “sin no more” or commanded them that “Thou shalt commit adultery” missing the “not” or suggested that “The fool hath said in his heart there is a God” (instead of “no god”).  Ahem.  At least my mistake won’t cost me anything; the missing “no” in the last quote cost the printers £3000 (a huge sum of money in the seventeenth century) and the edition was suppressed, so they couldn’t make anything back from it.

Anyway, Shabbat (the Sabbath) was OK.  I was mostly bouncing back and forth between depression and sort-of OKness.  I worried a bit that I made a mistake in breaking up with E., or that I didn’t make a mistake, but I will still be single forever.  I think I had some other depressive thoughts, but I don’t remember what they were now.  I know I had a few morbid thoughts about my parents dying.  I slept a lot again, hence feeling really awake now (midnight) and not sure what to do.

The one really good thing that happened was something I came across in the holy book Sacred Fire: Torah from the Years of Fury 1939-1942 by the Piaseczno Rebbe, Rabbi Kalonymus Kalmish Shapira, translated by J. Hershy Worch.  It’s from a sermon delivered in the Warsaw Ghetto on Shabbat Shekalim (Mishpatim), 14 February 1942, in the middle of the Holocaust.  I’m going to quote it at length:

For behold!  A Jew, tortured in his suffering, may think he is the only one in pain, as though his individual, personal pain, and the pain of all other Jews, has no affect Above, God forbid.  But, as the verse (Isaiah 63:9) says, “In all their pain is His pain,” and as we learn in the Talmud (Hagigah 15b) in the name of R. Meir, “When a person suffers, to what expression does the Shechinah (Divine) give utterance? ‘O woe!  My head, O woe!  My arms.’”  In sacred literature we learn that God, as it were, suffers the pain of a Jew much more than that person himself feels it.

Possibly because God is infinite – and hence unknowable in the world – His pain at the suffering of Jewish people is also infinite.  Perhaps it is just impossible for any human to feel such immense pain, it is impossible even to apprehend the level of God’s pain, to know that He bears it.

Hagigah is actually one of the few masechtot (volumes) of Talmud I actually own a hard copy of, so I looked up the reference.  In the Steinsaltz (Koren Noé) Edition Talmud, the translation explains that this pain (‘O woe!  My head, O woe!  My arms.’) is referring to someone who is in pain because he has been sentenced to lashes or to death by the court (in ancient times, when Jewish courts permitted corporal and capital punishment).  The Talmud goes on to say, if God feels so much pain when a wicked person is punished, how much more so when a righteous person is in pain.  In fact, the quotation comes in a whole long narrative about Elisha ben Avuyah the Talmudic rabbi who became a heretic, and how some of the rabbis tried to get him into Heaven (so to speak) after his death even though he was very wicked.

So this would indicate that God does feel my pain and care about me on an individual level, not just because I’m human/Jewish (I know it is a very particularist Jewish text, like a lot of Jewish texts, particularly mystical ones).  This is the question that has been bothering me for a couple of years now.  I’m not sure what I feel now I have an answer.  I think I do feel closer to God.  I’m not sure what else I feel.  My mood has been going up and down, as I said.

That’s all I have to say tonight.

Repeat to Fade

It’s been business as usual: depressed, lonely, touch hungry.  Beating myself up about things that probably aren’t in my control, and neglecting things that are.  I’m pessimistic about the future, but trying not to think about it too much.  I feel that autism is at the root of my issues (depression, work issues, relationship issues, friendship issues, community issues, maybe even God issues — see below) and that’s not something I can ever “cure.”  The most I can do is get taught workarounds for it.  While even workarounds would be something, I feel that autism set me up to fail from the moment I was born.  Will I ever get a career (librarianship or writing)?  Will anyone ever really be able to love me romantically?  Will I ever be able to build the type of friendships and community life I want?  It all seems terribly unlikely.

I also worry about not being diagnosed a third time when I feel so sure I’m on the spectrum.  What future would that give me?  Would it mean that I’m not on the spectrum and my issues are just in my head i.e. I’m just useless?  Would it mean no career, no relationship, no life?  It would certainly mean no NHS help, although I’m not quite sure what they can offer anyway.

***

Yesterday was one month since I broke up with E.  It was the right thing to do, but I haven’t got back in touch with her from fear that if I do that, we’ll end up together again.  Sometimes I feel like I shouldn’t have broken up.  There’s a feeling of, “Even if it wasn’t perfect, I’m not likely to get any better offers.”  It is hard to know what to do with lonely feelings when there is no outlet.

***

I tried to work on my novel, but it was hard to get in the right mindset.  I needed to write something related to a big mistake I made at work once, and I procrastinated because I didn’t want to revisit it in my memory.  I made slow progress, but I did get through the difficult bit.  It seemed like it wasn’t such a big mistake in retrospect once I confronted it.  I am still worried about not having quite enough plot to last to the minimum word count.

***

Good things: my parents have bought a chocolate fudge cake as it’s my birthday next week.  There’s a huge chocolate swirl thing on the top.  This has cheered me up a little.  Even then there was a problem, in that Dad ordered a square cake and they gave a round, which is smaller because there are no corners (the price is the same, so the square is better value for money).  I wouldn’t have noticed if Dad hadn’t pointed it out to me.  But I’m trying not to let that bother me.

The post also bought half of an indulgent “birthday present” I bought for myself a few days ago: an animated Doctor Who story from years ago on DVD (The Infinite Quest).  It’s aimed more at children than most Doctor Who (it was an animated segment on the children’s spin off Totally Doctor Who), but I was curious to see it again and found a cheap copy on Music Magpie (one of the “anything other than Amazon” sites I’ve taken to using).  To be honest, it wasn’t not great, much more obviously aimed at children than the average Doctor Who story, but it was diverting.

***

I was not abused as a child, but there were some things that happened to me which therapists have said could be trauma, and which could have stopped me believing that adult authority figures really cared about me and/or would protect me.  I’ve also known that this is the probable cause of my difficulty in trusting God and accepting He loves me, God being another authority figure in essence.

The problem with knowing this is it hasn’t really taken me anywhere.  I guess in a book or TV programme, this would be big revelation to the main character and they would suddenly achieve catharsis and closure and move on with their lives.  In reality, it’s something I’ve known for years, even decades, but I still feel depressed and I still feel, at least some of the time, that God hates me and is out to punish me for real or imagined sins.

What I did find myself wondering today, and don’t really have time to explore further before Shabbat, is where my autism fits in.  I didn’t know about high functioning autism as a child (the diagnosis didn’t even exist back then), but I was conscious of being an outsider both at home and especially at school, that people found me weird and didn’t like me.  Do I assume that God is also going to find me weird and unlikeable?  Maybe.

The mystics (in Judaism and other religions) teach that God is in everyone and everything as well as being beyond everything (panentheism, as distinct from pantheism where God is everything without having a transcendent Being beyond everything).  Therefore it’s impossible for something to exist without God knowing and understanding it.  Therefore God can’t find me weird and unlikeable.  But I resist this, partly because I’ve never felt fully comfortable with mysticism and kabbalah, but partly — I don’t know what, just resistance to the idea that God loves me.  That I can’t be that good.  I don’t know.  (Of course, a rationalist like Rambam would find the idea of God being in everything heretical nonsense.  Maybe that’s why I struggle to accept it.)

***

I’ve noticed I’ve started using Oxford commas in my writing recently, despite being pretty set against them in the past.  I’m not sure why this is.

“Time’s wingèd chariot hurrying near”

I was half-awake when the phone rang this morning.  It was the mental health clinic saying I had an appointment with the psychiatrist today after all, but on the phone.  Phone appointments are my least favourite kind.  Like a lot of people on the autism spectrum, I do not like the phone at all.  I feel very anxious and self-conscious on the phone, even more so than in person, and I find it hard to connect to the person on the other end.  I often struggle to hear and process information on the phone too, particularly if the line is not great.  Then there is the fact that NHS telephone appointments rarely seem to happen as scheduled, but often are very late (leading to anxious waiting) or very early (when I’m not ready and am doing something else).

Fortunately, the psychiatrist phoned when she said she would, at midday.  I know I’ve had bad experiences on the NHS before, and have been critical of that, but this psychiatrist seems really good (I think I saw her twice before lockdown).  I did struggle to hear everything on the phone call though and am worried I may have missed something.  I said that I’ve been feeling worse in the last few weeks and we spoke about increasing or changing medication, but both agreed to wait a few more months to try and get out of lockdown and see if the real-world triggers (Mum, E.) subside a bit.  She did want me to go for my regular lithium blood test now (over three months after the last one) rather than in September (six months) when the GP surgery wants me to go.  She also said she would also try to see where my autism referral has got to.  I assumed it was completely frozen where it was before lockdown, but the psychiatrist said she thinks they are doing some video assessments.  We booked another appointment for October.  Hopefully things will be a bit more normal by then, the Jewish autumn holiday season notwithstanding.  Whatever “normal” is.

I tried to book the blood test, but the online appointments are not working due to COVID (?!) and I will have to phone tomorrow.  Did I mention I hate phoning?

***

I don’t feel quite so depressed today, but I am still feeling some level of depression.  I also feel lethargic and drained, lacking in energy and motivation.  I start something, but then I hit an obstacle, however small, and grind to a halt.  A few minutes later, I start up again, until I hit another obstacle.

In terms of achievements, I advanced quite a bit with the bank accounts.  I think I’ve got it all set up now, I just need to transfer the money to the right account.

I did about an hour of novel writing.  I procrastinated a bit in the middle of it, but I felt better for having done it, although I realised I’m going to have to revisit one of my worst experiences at my further education job for the novel.  Sadly, my narrator’s life has to be as difficult as mine was.  At least I know he gets an ending that, if not exactly happy, is at least on some level redemptive.  I should be so lucky.

I did some Torah study, but I lost track of how much.  I think about fifty minutes, plus some time finishing my devar Torah (Torah thought).  I also did a bit of ironing and quickly wrote a review of a Doctor Who episode which I will post to my other blog once I’ve posted this and can log off my Secret Identity and onto my real name.

***

Today’s anxious/autistic stress moment: I went to pick up my blood test form from the doctor’s surgery (walking to/from there was my exercise for today).  I hadn’t been there since lockdown started and was not sure what to expect.  When I got there the doors were locked and there were signs saying only people with an appointment could come in.  Anxiety set in – social anxiety and autistic “new situation” anxiety.  I thought of ringing the buzzer, but was too scared of being told I was doing the wrong thing and being stupid.  In the end I phoned the surgery (while standing right outside) and asked them what to do.  They said to ring the buzzer and say why I was here and they would bring the form out, which I did, so it was OK in the end, but it made me feel useless again, and anxious.

Ordinarily I would probably have gone to the charity shop around the corner from the surgery afterwards and browsed the books to try to restore myself a bit, but I decided it wasn’t worth the risk with COVID, thus potentially depriving the economy of the pound I might have spent on a second-hand book.

***

Why do I feel the desperate need to love someone?  It seems so pointless, as I struggle to imagine ever being in a relationship again, both from a practical point of view of being ready and in terms of finding someone.  “More than the calf wants to suckle, the cow wants to nurse” says the Talmud.  It does seem hopeless, though.  I don’t know how I would even go about it now.  I guess via a professional shadchan (matchmaker), although I’m sceptical of them, or a dating website, although they seem expensive.

I feel like Orthodox Judaism is supposed to be about trading a degree of independence and freedom for security: security in terms of family, community, meaning and, above all, God.  I never got the security.  Maybe I didn’t make enough sacrifices.  I don’t know.  There is a part of me that says, “I won’t give up my books and Doctor Who and other telefantasy even if God wants it of me.”  That’s part of why I didn’t go to yeshiva (rabbinical seminary) and part of why I’ve never been able to fully embrace Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) Judaism.  There’s a part of me — arguably a neurodivergent, autistic part of me — that won’t give those things up for God, because they’re too important to me.  I can give them up for periods of time, but not permanently.  That’s a blemish in my service of God, from a religious perspective.  But, given who I am and how much a part of myself these things are, from an autistic special interest perspective, I don’t think I could ever have passed that test.  So maybe I do deserve to suffer, on some level, or at least not to be accepted by the community whose values of religious self-sacrifice I do not fully embrace.

***

I think I’m having a lot of vaguely morbid thoughts lately, sometimes going into suicidal ideation, perhaps because it’s my birthday next week.  I had hoped that thirty-six would be a good year, but it largely wasn’t.  I had vague hopes of finding work, finding love, even becoming more involved in my community.  I hoped it would be the year of “twice chai” (in gematria, Hebrew numerology, “chai” (life) is eighteen, so multiples of eighteen e.g. thirty-six are seen as auspicious).  I was also aware that the Ba’al Shem Tov, the founder of Hasidism was thirty-six according to legend when he started publicising his teachings.

The reality was that I was unemployed for all bar one month, Mum got ill, the world imploded with COVID lockdown and exploded with riots.  I had a girlfriend for a few months, but it didn’t work out, leaving me despondent.  My one month of employment didn’t lead on to anything bigger.  I spent three months not moving more than a mile from the house.  I did a few minor things — I led some services in shul (synagogue) and started writing and publicising my divrei Torah as well as self-publishing my Doctor Who book — but it hasn’t been a great year.

I feel that I’ve missed out on so much of life.  I haven’t done a lot of the things people say make life meaningful, whether somewhat self-indulgent (I don’t mean that in a judgemental way) things like travel or going to concerts or using alcohol (etc.) or sex, or more religious/self-denying things like helping others (I have obviously helped others, but not enough), significant Torah study, meaningful prayer and so on (actually, Judaism would say that good sex should be in the religious/helping others category, but that’s not strictly relevant to my point).

What have I done?  Written a book on Doctor Who that couldn’t find a publisher and which one person has read.  Written three-quarters of a first draft of a novel.  Some library work.  A few divrei Torah and shiurim (religious classes).  It’s not nothing, but it’s not very much.  I might be over a third of the way through my life.  (I might fall under a bus tomorrow, of course, which just makes me feel worse.)  I want to help people, I want to connect with other people and with God, I want to feel good about myself.  I want to write, and to be read.  I want to feel that there’s meaning in my being here, which I fear I have not felt since childhood (if I even felt it then).  I did two good things in my life, which I won’t mention here, but I don’t feel I can keep relying on them as sources of merit.

In his biography of Rebbe Nachman of Bratzlav, Tormented Master, Arthur Green quotes Rebbe Nachman, in his depression, as saying that we believe in two worlds, This World and the Next World.  However, while the latter certainly exists, maybe This World does not exist, because a lot of the time it feels like Gehennom (Purgatory).  That’s an image that resonates with me, and turns up a bit in stories that resonate with me (TV and prose).  It feels that way at the moment, the endless loneliness and self-loathing.

Do I really feel so self-loathing right now?  I used the word instinctively, but have I been feeling self-loathing recently so much as frustration with myself and my world?  That’s not the same thing.

Sometimes I feel the reverse, that I’m somehow carrying the world on my shoulders.  That my suffering should be redemptive in some sense.  That’s probably just as dangerous a thing to think.

I just want my life to have meaning.  I don’t know what I’m here for.

Porcupines in Winter

Oh dear, this is going to be one of those posts again, the very despairing and depressed type.  Sorry.  You don’t have to read it.

I thought I’d used the title of this post before, but apparently not.  The philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer wrote about porcupines that want to huddle together for warmth in winter, but if they do, they hurt each other with their spines.  This is how I feel: I want to draw closer to others, yet I find they “hurt” me and I apparently hurt them, not always for obvious reasons.

I woke up feeling very depressed and exhausted today; also rather lonely and “touch hungry.”  I feel a lot that I want to love and be loved.  I also feel a lot that I want to have sex, particularly when depressed.  Neither of these statements are hugely socially acceptable (in Western society, let alone Orthodox Jewish society), but the second is absolutely unacceptable.  I find it hard to live with knowing that I feel like that without being able to express it.  It is hard to know what to do with it for decades on end.

It was hard to get going today.  I just wanted to stay in bed.  Actually, I didn’t really want to be anywhere, but bed was easier than anywhere else.  I’m feeling a lot of self-loathing today and I don’t know why.  I just seem so socially inept.  I also seem pretty useless at living a good or productive life (not the same thing, I know), by either Western or Jewish standards.  It was hard to put on tallit and tefillin and daven (pray).  This is a struggle every morning, yet I do, usually rather late, and in the winter, when the days are short, I often miss Shacharit (Morning Prayers) entirely and have to skip straight to Minchah (Afternoon Prayers), but I do put on tallit and tefillin and daven, after breakfast, but before engaging with the day, yet I never give myself credit for it, I just beat myself up for doing it late.  I wish I could give myself credit for it.

I felt really depressed and exhausted even after lunch, when my mood usually peaks.  I wanted to cry, but didn’t feel able to do so.  I just wanted to curl up and hibernate.  I did very nearly go and do that; at any rate I went and lay on the bed.  I had told myself to do chores today rather than write my novel, but apparently the motivation I had to write the novel, inconsistent as it can be, can’t be transferred to chores.

The main chore opening a new ISA (tax-free savings account).  Dad is always getting me to open new bank accounts and ISAs because I will get more interest in the new one than my old one.  I do it because I am weak and always do what other people tell me to do, especially my parents.  I think the amount of interest I get on the amount of money I have to save is minimal, and probably not worth the hassle.  Also, having so many accounts confuses someone who is increasingly bad with numbers (unbelievably, I got an A* at GCSE maths.  I’ve got no idea how I did that.  I think I’ve become rusty in the intervening twenty years.  Being vague about money is one of the things E. did not like about me).  I can’t work out how to transfer money into this account and I think I may have messed something up.  I think I need to open a savings account with the same building society and then pay money from there into the ISA, but it’s a lot of hassle for what amounts to a relatively small amount interest over two years, which my Dad would probably then advise me to reinvest elsewhere anyway.

And, yes, I know having too many bank accounts is a first world problem, and being able to write off the small amount of interest is a sign of privilege (although the privilege in this case is more that I have practically zero expenditure because I have no life than that I have lots of money).  I’m not even sure what this money is being saved for; notionally to pay a deposit on a house or flat, I suppose, but it seems less and less likely that I’m ever going to be in a fit state to do that.  I can’t drive and am scared of learning, so it’s not going on a car, and I don’t really go on holiday, so it’s not going on that.  I live with my parents, so it’s not going on rent or white goods.  There isn’t much else to spend on it.

So that wasted an hour or two.  Then I wasted more time by going to the post office, which was shut despite saying online that it would be.  I also went to the pharmacist, which didn’t have what I was looking for.  At least I went for a walk.

I tried to do some Torah study, but felt too depressed to concentrate and only managed ten or fifteen minutes.

My main achievement for the day, aside from the walk, was cooking dinner, which I had already decided macaroni cheese, fortunately, as it is very quick and easy to cook.  I also phoned the mental health clinic to check that the appointment I had booked with the psychiatrist for this coming Thursday (from before lockdown) has been cancelled.  I feel I should have had some kind of official cancellation letter, but don’t think I have.  There was no answer when I phoned, so I’m guessing they haven’t reopened for non-emergency mental health yet.

I ended up just watching Doctor Who this evening in lieu of doing anything productive, because I just felt too depressed.  I ended up watching new series episodes for some reason (Asylum of the Daleks and The Name of the Doctor), even though I don’t generally like them as much as the original series.

***

I get a sort of pressure in my skull when I try to force myself to concentrate on things when I’m too exhausted and depressed.  I’ve never seen that listed as a depression symptom, but I get it quite a bit.  Also, when I get agitated, I start thinking as much in images than words, which I think is an autism symptom, but it would usually be constant for someone rather than only during times of agitation.

***

I think, far from being nearly over E., I’m only just beginning to mourn the loss of the relationship.  In Heaven Sent (perhaps the definitive Doctor Who episode), the Doctor reflects that the day someone dies isn’t the hardest day – that day you’re busy.  The difficult days are all the subsequent days when they’re still dead.  I think the fact that the relationship is still dead is hitting me.  I still think I did the right thing to end it, not least because I think E. would have ended it soon if I hadn’t, but still…  I miss her.  Or do I just miss having someone to talk to?  Can you even have “someone to talk to” in the abstract?

***

Sometimes I feel I could die or go mad from how “wrong” my life feels, but I don’t know how to change it, or if the changes I want are even possible (certainly being in a relationship is not possible now, and maybe not ever).  I just want to scream.  And I struggle to let other people understand how wrong my life seems to be, which makes me wonder if it’s just catastrophising, yet their suggestions for change all seem impossible and unworkable.

I just feel sad and lonely right now.  I’m hiding it from my parents again, or trying to (they can usually tell).  I’m not sure why I can’t tell them.  I’m just struggling to cope today.  I don’t feel tired, but I might go to bed because I’m too depressed to read (and reading The Jewish Review of Books today just makes me feel that should have been a journalist, essayist, novelist, academic… something shaping the Jewish experience and the world of ideas).  It’s either that or sit up late watching DVDs.  I feel that I hate myself, my life, my blog… except “hate” is too strong a word for what I feel.  I’m too depressed to feel hate today.

Well, at least today’s post is shorter than yesterday’s.

More Loneliness, and Writing Progress

I feel lonely again, and I feel “touch hungry” like crazy.  “Touch hunger” was a term I learnt from the sex therapist Talli Rosenbaum on the Intimate Judaism podcast, but I had felt the concept for a long time without knowing that there was a word for it.  It’s the feeling of wanting to be touched and held.  I feel that a lot at the moment.  I want someone to touch me romantically/sexually.  I can hug my parents, but it’s not the same, and I don’t always feel comfortable asking my parents for hugs; I’m not sure why (it’s not because of anything they’re doing).  My first girlfriend was the only person I’ve hugged in anything approaching a sexual way because E. and I had a long-distance relationship.  Even then, with my first girlfriend, it took me a long time to feel able to touch her because I wanted to keep Jewish law about not having physical contact before marriage and there was a lot of guilt in just hugging.  The whole experience was distinctly confusing emotionally, especially in terms of the way that relationship developed and the way it ultimately fell apart.  So there’s a lot of guilt, shame and confusion as well as loneliness, longing and despair around these feelings.

I’m thinking of E. today and wondering how our relationship fell apart so fast.  Was the initial attraction and the way it became very serious very quickly (we were speaking seriously about marriage) just infatuation?  Or would we have been OK if lockdown hadn’t been so difficult for her?  I guess I’ll never know.  Sometimes I wonder if I should have tried to stay with her for longer, until after lockdown, to see if things went back to normal, but I couldn’t cope with the psychological strain of the way she suddenly wanted the relationship to be.  It was as much a trust thing as anything else.  It does make me wonder if anyone could ever really love me, for more than a few months until the infatuation ended.  I don’t blame E. for what happened.  I just want to know if the situation could repeat in future relationships.  I want to know how I can trust anyone else.

***

I feel I haven’t said much that is new here in months.  Every day (except Shabbat/Saturday) I work on my novel, take exercise, do some Torah study or work on my weekly devar Torah (Torah thought), occasionally go to a shiur (religious class) on Zoom, go to therapy via Skype once a week, cook dinner or iron or do other chores a couple of times a week…  To be honest, the repetition doesn’t bother me so much (I guess there are advantages to being autistic after all), but I feel it must be dull to my readers and it’s no wonder I seem to get even fewer ‘likes’ than I did before lockdown.

Today’s repetition: I spent one and three-quarter hours on my novel.  I wrote 1,000 words and also edited a long fragment that I wrote almost exactly a year ago into the main body of the text.  It was the first bit of the novel that I wrote, when I was excited and just needed to get something down on paper even if it wasn’t starting from the beginning.  I reduced it from 4,000 words to 2,500, which makes me worry how much the entire book will shrink in redrafting.  I did cut a lot of unnecessary stuff though.  I slip into pretentious waffle if I’m not careful.

The writing was difficult, as I was challenging difficult thoughts and experiences from my past (particularly my further education job).  I was glad that I got through it without much procrastination, just fairly solid working.

It’s scary writing something so personal and which makes me so vulnerable.  The rest of the chapter is going to make me just as vulnerable and also risky in terms of content, especially from a frum (religious Orthodox Jewish) point of view.  There is certainly a risk with some of my writing in this book that people are going to be surprised that a frum person could write those things, still less apparently have experience of them.  I think some things need to be said, although it’s hard to judge what to say explicitly and what to leave unsaid sometimes.  I think I’m writing about things that lots of people sort-of know go on in the frum community, but prefer not to think about it.  If the book does get published, I could well end up hoping that not many people I know actually read it, or at least that they don’t tell me they’ve read it, otherwise there could be some awkward conversations.

***

By late afternoon, I was feeling depressed again.  I’m not sure if that was from writing or just generally.  I went for a thirty-five minute run, just managing to dodge the showers which helped a little.  I felt depressed and lonely while running, but tried to focus on getting through the day and not worrying about the future, as per my post yesterday.

I didn’t do much Torah study as I got an exercise migraine and had trouble shifting it.  I was OK for an hour or more after running, then I suddenly had a massive headache that stopped me from doing anything.  I ended up watching The Avengers (The Bird Who Knew Too Much) on the grounds that The Avengers is upbeat and requires relatively little concentration (this is the British 1960s espionage/science fiction TV series The Avengers, not the Marvel superhero films of the same name).  I did eventually manage about thirty minutes of Torah study in small bursts.

And now I should go to bed as it’s nearly 1am, but I don’t feel sleepy.  After I have a migraine, I end up feeling too tired to do much, but not actually sleepy and it’s hard to know what to do.

Crushes and Being in the Present

There are things I think about talking about here, drop hints about, but back away from talking about openly.  I’m not sure why I do this.  I know why I’m too nervous to talk about them (a whole bunch of different reasons for different topics), but I’m not sure why I keep wanting to bring them up.  Maybe because they seem important to me, or simply because I often go into confessional mode on my blog and want to offload everything.  Or maybe I’m just trying to provoke people into stopping reading.

One topic I’ve been thinking about for the last few days is crushes.  I’ve had some kind of crush most of the time since I was sixteen when I haven’t been in a relationship, which is most of the time.  As soon as one crush drops out of my life or marries someone else, I find someone else to fixate on.  It’s very adolescent.  I suppose it’s a product of wanting love, but being too afraid to be open and vulnerable with someone, so I just obsess about people from a distance.  It’s worth noting that of my two “proper” relationships, one was not originally a crush at all (she messaged me on JDate), the other was a mild crush at best (we were emailing, originally just as friends, and I felt a bit of attraction, but only acted on it when she said she felt the same way).  So that may be significant, that crushes almost never turn out well.

I can feel the Crush Wraith (I was going to say Crush Monster, but really a crush is ghostly and insubstantial) coming back even though it’s not long since I broke up with E., and even though the circumstances of our break up arguably ought to make me think twice about ever being in a relationship again, or at least not until a whole bunch of other criteria are met (now I’m talking about my love life like an economist…).

It’s not just that.  Part of me wants to get back in touch with E., not to date again, I tell myself, but just to be friends.  She was a good friend, and I don’t have many friends, ergo I should get back in contact, or so the logic goes.  Then comes the guilt: E. doesn’t have many friends either.  Maybe she’s in a worse state than I am.  Maybe it’s an matter of kindness to get back in contact with her.  I’m worried if I do that, we’ll end up with a permanently unresolved on/off relationship that will get in the way of other relationships.  I think the attraction is too strong for us to be friends; not close friends, at any rate.

***

The sermon from Shabbat Shoftim 30 August 1941 in Sacred Fire: Torah from the Years of Fury 1939-1942, the sermons of the Piaseczno Rebbe, Rabbi Kalonymus Kalmish Shapira, resonated with me over Shabbat.

He starts with a verse from the sedra, which the translator (J. Hershy Worsch) translates as, “Be guileless with God your Lord.” (Devarim/Deuteronomy 18.13)  I don’t like that translation very much.  I would prefer something like “Have integrity in your relationship with God your Lord” or “You must be wholehearted with the Lord your God” (which is Sefaria.org’s translation).  Tamim has connotations of integrity and wholeheartedness.

He then quotes the Medieval commentator Rashi (Hebrew acronym for Rabbi Shlomo ben Yitzchak).  I’m going to give a mash-up of Worsch’s translation of Rashi and the translation on Sefaria as I don’t like either of them completely and I’m too tired to translate from scratch (it’s gone midnight here): “Walk before Him wholeheartedly; put your hope in Him and do not attempt to investigate the future.  Simply accept whatever happens to you, and then you will be with God — to be His portion.”  This is my favourite Rashi comment, but I’m bad at living up to it, so it got my attention.

In sermonic style, Rabbi Shapira discuss some other things, moving to the situation of the Jews in the Warsaw Ghetto, and in Europe in the Holocaust in general, saying a Jew would be unable to respond to hope or good news because he has been so “beaten and tortured that he that he is utterly broken and effaced by pain and poverty… there is no longer a person capable of rejoicing.”  This is common in Sacred Fire, the acknowledgement that faith and joy depend on physical and psychological wholeness (another meaning of tamim), which I think is crucially missing from a lot of other attempts to deal with suffering religiously.

He says that if the Jews knew that they would be saved tomorrow, they would find courage.  “The problem is that they cannot see any end to the darkness.”  Then he returns to Rashi’s comment: “Even if you are broken and oppressed, nevertheless be artless and whole. Take strength in God your Lord because you know that God your Lord is with you in your suffering.  Do not attempt to project into the future, saying, “I cannot see an end to the darkness,” but simply accept whatever happens to you, and then you will be with God — to be His portion.” (Emphasis added.)

That seemed very meaningful to me, the idea of being mindfully in the present and not trying to see the future, and to see that was seen as having what I would translate as integrity (being “artless and whole”), which is important to me.  Whether I can do that is another question.  It’s hard when I’m feeling lonely and unlovable and unemployable.

***

Today I slept a lot.  When I was awake, I felt mildly depressed.  I did some Torah study and read more of The Siege.  I played a game of Rummikub with my parents after seudah (dinner), but didn’t want to play a second game and went off to read.

I’m trying to feel grateful for things like being able to spend time with my parents (and getting on well with them) and not being in lockdown by myself, but it can be hard.  I had difficult feelings today, things that were probably vague feelings of anxiety, as well as feelings of sexual frustration that can be triggered by strong negative emotions like anxiety, depression or anger.  It is very hard to know what to do with those feelings.

Control and Meaning

I wonder if a lot of my fears are about control.  The fear about not being in employment again, the fear about dating and marriage and being alone forever… what worries me is not just the object of my fear, but not knowing.  Not being able to psychologically prepare myself for it somehow.  Keeping on trying in vain to sort my life out.  Even the fear about being alone forever, which is my biggest fear.  It would be sad never to experience love and sex, but I’ve been without them for nearly thirty-seven years now, so I should know I can survive them.  It’s true I’ve never been completely alone, but there have been times (particularly when I was at Oxford) when I was pretty cut off from family and friends and I survived, and I have better coping skills and social skills now than I did then.

No, the fear is control.  Not knowing what will happen.  Not being ready for it, for the choices I will have to make.

I think a lot of my anger with God comes down to this.  To not knowing.  I feel like I’m sitting a exam without being taught the subject first.  That I can’t prepare myself.  Feeling that I’ve been set up to fail.  That He wants me to fail.  That He wants me to be lonely in This World, essentially so that I will fail my test and lose the Next World too.  That if I knew what was going to happen to me, I could prepare, and pass the test, and be happy in This World and the Next World.  Perhaps some people do get to prepare themselves (hence, Torah and mitzvot), but not everyone.  For some of us, the whole of life is the test (Rabbi Yehudah HaNasi says in a couple of places in the Talmud that “Some acquire their World over many years, and some acquire their world in a single moment.”).

I think we are defined by the choices we make.  So it’s probably not surprising that I take that seriously and want to ensure I make the best choices.  It’s probably not helped by low self-esteem that makes me fear I’m going to make much worse choices than I actually would make (no, I don’t realistically think I’m going to turn into a misogynist, incel or Viking, according to this depressing article, even if no woman ever consents to go on a date with me ever again).  There is the fear that if I was given a sudden choice, I would make the wrong decision.  That I need to think (over-think) everything first.  That’s also probably not true.

I also feel that my life will only have meaning if I do a “meaningful” job, or write meaningful books or get married and have children.  Maybe that’s not true either.  I feel life in the abstract has meaning.  I would not feel that anyone should commit suicide.  Yet I back away from assuming that my own life has absolute value.  I feel I have to justify it somehow.  It’s not helped by getting a lot of signals from society (general Western society as well as frum society) that everyone should have a job and a partner and children.

I’m not sure how I can find my inherent meaning.  Logotherapy is the school of psychology devoted to meaning, but I’ve never met a logotherapist.  I’ve read Man’s Search for Meaning, which is the founding document of logotherapy, but I’m still unsure of what meaning means for me (so to speak).

I guess things like learning about history and the society around me, making ethical choices, being part of the Jewish people across time and space and appreciating literature give my life meaning.

In a strange way, I find meaning in watching Doctor Who.  Not just the stories that are objectively worthy of artistic response, but the not-so-good ones too, or even more so.  It’s easy to find merit in City of Death or Heaven Sent, but to find it in The Space Museum or Terminus is harder and finding something enjoyable in them feels like somehow rescuing something that the world, and even fandom, had written off.  Like finding hidden treasure.  Or showing gratitude to the writers, performers and producers: that they aren’t forgotten or despised.

***

It’s funny, I wrote the above, and then I felt overwhelmed with depression about probably being single forever.  So it’s not the whole of the reason for my depression.  I clearly don’t want to be alone forever even if I can prepare somehow.  I want to get married.  But I think control and meaning are parts of it.

***

Achievements: I sent off my CV for the job I mentioned yesterday.  I still feel inadequate for it, a thought only reinforced by drawing on memories of an earlier job and interview for my novel-writing today.  I felt quite anxious while writing because of this.

I spent nearly two hours working on my novel.  I tried to to do another ten or fifteen minutes to take it up to two hours.  I didn’t get far with that, but I did at least write over 1,500 words, which is I think the most I have written of the novel in one day and is especially good given that the writing revisited some difficult times for me.

I worked on my devar Torah (Torah thought) for fifty minutes, as well as managing about twenty-five minutes of Torah study.  I also went for a half-hour walk, plus did some ironing, so I guess it was a busy day.  I still wish I could do more though.  I still feel inadequate and not fully adult.

“I don’t know why nobody told you/How to unfold your love”

I got up earlier than usual, although I still spent a long time (I’m not sure how long) lying in bed feeling depressed.  I think I got woken up by the window cleaner, who made a lot of noise even before he took a phone call right outside my window.  It was hard to work out what the noise was with my sleep-befuddled brain; I don’t usually here voices from outside the window when I’m not on the ground floor.

Achievements today: I managed to write my devar Torah for the week in under an hour before lunch, which was an impressive start to the day.  I did a further fifteen minutes of Torah study; I would have liked to have done more, but, as usual, no time/energy.  The other big achievement was writing over 1,150 words of my novel in about two hours, making a good start on the next chapter.  I dusted my room, which didn’t take anywhere as near as long as I expected (admittedly it was not the most thorough dusting).  I went for a thirty-five minute run too.  It was OK, but not great.

***

I got notification that I should get some more money from selling copies of my non-fiction Doctor Who book.  Only about £10, but it’s nice to get anything.  I’m not sure how many copies I’ve sold and if I’ve still only sold it to people who know me personally.  I think the revenue today was from my sister buying a copy and then a little bit more from an Amazon sale to an unknown person, which is quite exciting.

When lockdown is over I still intend to send a review copy to Doctor Who Magazine to try to get some publicity.  I’ve even been thinking of going back on Twitter to promote it, but Twitter is so angry and political so much of the time, and is a massive time waster even when it’s not angry, that I’m wary of doing so.

***

Thinking of my book reminds me of E., because she insisted on buying a copy even though I said she didn’t have to and wouldn’t understand it (as she’s hardly seen any Doctor Who).  To be honest, a lot of things remind me of E. today.  I’m still not sure how I went from being “in the top 1% of boyfriends” (apparently) to someone inessential in such a short period.  Would our relationship have survived without lockdown?  It’s probably better not to ask those questions.

***

I don’t think I should be dating right now as I need to get over E., but I can’t help wondering if I will ever date again.  I mean, how would I even meet someone?  In the frum (religious Orthodox Jewish) community there are few events where unmarried men and women can mingle, not that I would have the courage to go/talk to anyone if there were.  I’ve become scared of shadchanim (professional matchmakers) and I’m not integrated into the community enough for the normal method of dating (being set up with someone by mutual friends).  I met my first girlfriend on Jdate, but since then my online dating experiences have not been good and I’m reluctant to try again.  I didn’t meet many women my age when volunteering or at shiurim (religious classes) and if I did I would not have the courage to talk to them.  Actually, that’s not quite true, the first time I volunteered at the asylum seekers’ drop-in centre, there were two sisters there about my age who I spoke to a bit and seemed to get on with OK.  They said they would come back the next time, but I haven’t seen them again in the years I’ve been going.

My Dad once asked a bunch of people who, if anyone, could help someone in the frum community with depression find a spouse.  Someone did answer.  The assistant rebbetzin (rabbi’s wife) of his shul (synagogue) gave him the name of someone and I said I would phone her, but I never did because I met E. (the first time we went out) and then after that it seemed too late and I was pessimistic about her, or any other anonymous shadchan, being able to help me, particularly as my rabbi mentor was sceptical about them too.  I guess I could contact her in the future, although saying “Rebbetzin X said I should contact you three years ago…” might seem a bit weird.  I am more sceptical about whether she could help now, and too ashamed to talk to her without having a job.

I feel I shouldn’t even be looking for love without having a job and less depression.  It’s not so much feeling that I don’t deserve love (although that is part of it) as thinking that no one will be able to look past those two things, as they haven’t in the past.

I probably have more needs than most people too.  I need some with shared values (obviously), intelligent, caring, ideally frum and probably family-centred, although as I get older, having children seems less and less likely.  That’s not too much, although building trust and communication is harder, given my social anxiety and high functioning autism, but the big thing is that she, whoever she is, would have to accept all my various “issues,” both psychological and the fact that I’m unlikely to be able to work full-time any time soon and my attempted career as a writer is not going well (not to mention my geeky interests – those alone have put people off in the past even without depression and unemployment).  That makes it likely that she will also have “issues,” yet negotiating two sets of borderline (at least) psychopathological issues is what basically killed off both my relationships, the one with E. and the one seven years ago.

Maybe I should be looking for someone with issues that aren’t psychological, but I don’t know how well I could connect with such a person, or how she could connect with me.

It’s easy to get sucked into thinking that I will never meet anyone and shouldn’t try, which will just make it almost certain that I won’t meet anyone.  I mean, it’s not impossible, as E. just dropped down from the sky (she read my blog and emailed), but I don’t expect that to happen again any time soon, particularly as my blog is hidden these days.

***

Bottom line: I feel lonely, but I worry I could never let myself be vulnerable with anyone again.

Related: I flip between wanting to make my blog fully public and “findable” again or making it completely private (at the moment doing neither).

***

A lot of complaining stuff was cut here, about the illegal minyan (prayer meeting) next door, about librarians who don’t know what they’re complaining against and should know better, and about antisemitism.  It’s been a day for getting annoyed with people.  Going to watch some original series Doctor Who (Inferno), as I need to unwind in the way that only my autistic special interest can do.

Breaking Up and Impostor Syndrome

E. and I broke up.  It was a mutual thing, more or less.  It isn’t fair of me to go into too many details.  I’ll just say that we realised our needs were no longer compatible.  To be honest, it’s been on the cards since last week and I was really just holding on for therapy yesterday to check that I wasn’t rushing into something stupid.  Because of that, I feel like I’ve done a lot of my grieving over the last week or so.  I feel numb and empty now, and somewhat depressed, but not as much as a few days ago.

In the end, it was like breaking up with my first, and only previous, girlfriend: everything seemed fine, until suddenly it wasn’t.  My needs suddenly weren’t being met and I was told I wasn’t meeting her needs, and neither of us felt able to change things without hurting ourselves.  I find it scary how quickly it fell apart.  I worry that I can never be sure that I have a good relationship; the next day my partner might turn around and want me to behave completely differently.  I guess it’s for the best that it happened now and not ten years down the line.

It’s hard, because E. wasn’t just my girlfriend, but also my best friend, and the only person outside my family I’ve been really close to lately.  I’m not sure whether we will stay friends.  We did that the first time we broke up and ended up drifting back into a romantic relationship, which clearly was not a good idea with hindsight, so maybe we both need a clean break.  The problem is, neither of us have that many other friends, so I’ll feel lonely as well as worried about her being lonely.

I feel I have a lot of love to give someone, but I doubt there is anyone compatible and don’t know how to meet someone even if there is.  My issues would probably preclude any kind of stable, long-term relationship, which is the only kind I want.  I’ve been lonely for much of my life, so I’m used to it, but it is still hard.

***

On an unrelated note, last night and today I’ve been thinking about something that happened in my first job, several years ago.  I was working in the library of a Jewish educational institution (I’m trying to keep things vague, but there aren’t many such institutions in London).  Sometimes people would donate books or even their personal libraries to us when they died.  A female rabbi (Reform) connected with the institution died and bequeathed her library and I spent my final months there cataloguing it.

Cataloguing someone’s library is a curiously intimate experience, because you learn what their real interests are.  Previously I’d worked on the library of someone who was involved in the campaign for Soviet Jewry, and he obviously had a lot of books on the USSR, Soviet Jewry and Jewish dissidents.  As for this rabbi she was a radical lesbian feminist and had a lot of books on feminism (Jewish and general), which made me wonder if she would instinctively dislike me, given that I’m Orthodox and Orthodoxy is not exactly feminist (although I consider myself as feminist as an Orthodox Jew can be, if not a bit more) or LGBT-friendly.  I never had the chance to meet her, but she had a reputation in the institution as someone who held strong opinions and who didn’t suffer fools, which made her sound a bit scary too.  But she also had a lot of books on Jewish religious existentialism (Martin Buber, Emmanuel Levinas, etc.) and, surprisingly, on Hasidism.  At the time I was exploring both of those, and I felt a sense of kinship.

One day I came across an article she had written in a journal where she said she was interested in Hasidism, but felt that she would be rejected by the rabbis she admired because of her sex (and possibly also her sexuality, I don’t remember).  It was surprisingly vulnerable – “surprisingly” because everything everyone said about her made her seem tough and abrasive, the type of person who would just say, “Accept me as I am; if not, it’s your loss, not mine.”  Suddenly she seemed a much more complicated person than she did from the way everyone spoke about her, although her library had given me the first clue that this was the case.  It made me feel even more of a link to her, because wherever I am, I feel I would be rejected, doubly so at this institution, where I always felt a bit of an outsider because I’m Orthodox and the institution was not.

I don’t know why I’ve been thinking about this.  Maybe I’m trying to tell myself that everyone has issues or feels an outsider sometimes or has Impostor Syndrome.

***

There is a wider issue here about assuming people will reject me because of my views.  I’ve spoken a lot about doing that in the frum community, but I do it in other places too.  Lately I’ve been avoiding people with different political views, less because I disagree with them (I’m used to having minority opinions and I try to be non-judgmental of people I disagree with or who have different lives), and more because of fear they would reject me and “cancel” me if they knew I thought differently.  Maybe I shouldn’t be so worried.  It’s hard to tell.

***

Today was not a great day for achievements.  I woke early (or got woken, I’m not sure), but was too depressed to get out of bed and fell asleep again.  The second time I woke up was late and I was still depressed, but I had to make myself get up.  I cooked dinner and went for a half-hour walk.  I did half an hour of Torah study.  Otherwise, I was too nervous and depressed about breaking up with E. to really do anything else like working on my novel.  I might do some more Torah study after dinner or work on my novel.  I don’t know.  Hopefully tomorrow will be a better day.

***

“The future lies this way.” Doctor Who: Logopolis by Christopher H. Bidmead

Loneliness and Fitting In

I woke up feeling depressed and lonely again.  E. is concerned about my tendency to turn everything into guilt, that I assume that everything bad in my life is my fault and if I was a good person I could change it.  She thinks that this is not really the case.  She feels in particular that I shouldn’t feel guilty about not being emotionally connected to Judaism.  I guess it’s hard not to when Judaism presents a lot of things (perhaps most things) in moral terms and assumes that good people can change them, at least with the right tools.  It’s assumed that a person who wants a better relationship to God or Judaism can ‘fix’ that; it doesn’t take into account that my brain chemistry might prevent that, or say what I should do instead or how I should cope.

That said, I wonder if this is really guilt or if I’m misunderstanding my emotions again.  I don’t think what I see as guilt is really sadness, but maybe it’s loneliness or disconnection.  I was reading about domestic abuse again (see below) and came across the idea that abusive men express all their emotions as anger; I wonder if I express all my emotions as depression or guilt.  I don’t know if that idea even makes sense.  At the very least, alexithymia (difficulty understanding my own emotions) makes it hard to understand what I feel.

I’m worried about the future too.  I want lockdown to be over, but at the same time, that would shift my worries about career and relationship up a gear as I have to confront things again.  I’m already dreading the cataloguing test I have to do soon for a job application.

***

I’m also struggling with political thoughts that I don’t really want to write about here, worries about the situation across the Atlantic, worries about my participation in racist societies, but also about the much greater coverage of and sensitivity around racism by most people in the West compared with antisemitism.  Jews aren’t more likely than most people to be killed by the police, but they are more likely than many to experience violence.  In the USA, Jews are the victim of well over half religious hate crimes, far more than any other religious group.  I don’t feel this is a particularly appropriate time to talk about antisemitism.  We need to concentrate on racism right now.  The problem is that much of the world has shown that it never thinks the time is right to talk about antisemitism.

Mind you, I can get upset by little things, for instance, a letter in an old Jewish Chronicle criticising Orthodox rabbis unfairly.

I’m not sure how these thoughts would be classified.  They’re kind of on the boundary between depression and anxiety, with some anger, but not what people generally mean when they refer to those feelings in a psychotherapeutic context.

***

I spent an hour or more trying to work on my novel.  I wrote about 450 words, which was not bad, but not great either.  I procrastinated a lot, got upset about irrelevant things (see the paragraph above) then read abuse survivors’ accounts to try to get me back into the mindset of writing about abuse, but that just made me feel more miserable and made it harder to concentrate.

I tried to look at my notes from my librarianship MA on cataloguing in preparation for doing a cataloguing test some time this week or next for a job application.  It was hard to concentrate because I felt so depressed, and because I was aware that I probably know this stuff as well as I ever will.  I feel I probably know the stuff, I just have no confidence in my ability to show it.  I’ve really lost confidence in my ability to do librarian stuff in recent years.  It’s hard to remember that I once thought that I would be a good librarian, even a professional cataloguer.

***

I didn’t do much Torah study (about fifteen minutes).  I  wrote this rather long email to my rabbi mentor instead (slightly edited here):

I’m really struggling religiously lately.  It’s hard to daven and to learn Torah in particular. It also feels like I have no meaningful connection to HaShem [God] and to Torah much of the time. It’s hard to work out why. Or, there are many possible reasons:

– my depression/general mental health (which has got worse the last couple of weeks) – one rabbi once told me that I wouldn’t be able to connect emotionally to God and Torah until I recover, but it increasingly looks like there is no recovery for me, just being able to manage my condition better;

– resentment of simplistic theologies in the frum world that see working at Judaism and especially having bitachon [trust in God] as immediately positive results.  I think these are wrong, but they make part of my brain think, “God must be angry with me, or He would have healed me/got me a job/let me get married by now;

– feelings of despair regarding my life, relationship, career, etc. and feeling that I won’t be able to build anything because HaShem keep testing me by making me suffer and taking away what I’ve achieved;

– generally feeling like a social misfit in the frum world: the United Synagogue doesn’t take Torah and davening [prayer] seriously enough for me, in the Federation I feel like have to hide various beliefs and interests because they’re unacceptable, and the people at the London School of Jewish Studies are mostly a generation older than me. I felt in particular that my local shul has not always supported me well in terms of helping me be part of the community or regarding my mental health (as well as setting me up on shidduch dates [arranged blind dates]), although things had been a bit better at the start of the year and I felt that after four years, I was fitting in a little bit better… and then coronavirus came and disrupted even that.

Lately I wonder if I won’t fit in anywhere, ever. It seems everywhere I go, I feel that I don’t fit in, and I’m beginning to wonder if that’s just in my head, or from my autism. I really feel that I struggle to fit in and to follow the unspoken social codes, which is a classic autistic symptom. On the other hand, I’ve never had the kind of support that the frum world is said to provide to most people in need.

And underneath it all is the feeling of emptiness, loneliness, isolation.  Of feeling that HaShem is so far from me and indifferent to me, or that He will invalidate all my mitzvot on some technicality.  I feel I can’t connect with Him.  Sometimes I feel that I don’t know what it would be like to feel joy at all.  I saw something the other day about the need to have spiritual pleasure, but I’m not even able to have physical pleasure.

Sometimes I worry I’m frum more out of habit than anything else these days, which does not make me feel good. To be honest, the non-Orthodox/non-religious world is just as off-putting to me as the frum world, but I know E. finds aspects of the frum world difficult, especially the lack of appreciation of serious culture, and I find it hard to “sell” her the frum life when I feel so negative about it.

I do still enjoy Shabbat, even though I feel that is partly a relaxation thing as much as a spiritual one.  Occasionally I do see Torah that resonates, but it’s hard to build on it; likewise if I daven well one day.  I do enjoy writing my weekly divrei Torah [Torah thoughts], although I do experience that as a stress sometimes, and a drain on time for Torah study.

This is what I’ve been feeling.  Would it be possible to discuss it, by Skype or email, please?  I don’t know if there is an answer, but I feel I need to try something new.  I mean a new strategy to engage with my religious life.  It’s just so hard to keep going sometimes.

I’m not sure what I expect to get from it.  He can’t wave a magic wand and solve my troubles and we have spoken about this in the past.  I suspect if I was more confident in myself and worried less about what other people think of me, I would fit in to frum society better, and if I fitted in better socially, a lot of my lack of religious connection would go away.  But I’m not sure how to do that.

Post-Yom Tov Post

I’m breaking with my usual post-Yom Tov (festival) habit of trying to catch up on blogs and stuff in the hope of getting to bed before 2am.  For the same reason, this is going to be more of a summary of the last three days than a blow-by-blow account.

The shortest version is that the first two days (Yom Tov proper) where an emotional rollercoaster, but I was broadly coping, but Shabbat (the Sabbath) was just too much and I was not good.  To be honest, three day Yom Tovs, or “Three Day Events” as my parents call them, are pretty draining for everyone even without COVID-19 disruption and without depression and OCD.

As for the more detailed version… well, the first two days I was up and down.  At times I was worried or depressed about some things, but mostly I was able to calm myself by reminding myself that my rabbi mentor told me not to worry about chametz (leaven food, forbidden on Pesach) smaller than an olive (although I know he is being lenient with me here, so it doesn’t always help) and by reminding myself that I’m not responsible for what my parents choose to do.  I think there was probably in the background the usual current worries: worries about my Mum, her cancer, and her risk of COVID-19 infection; worries about COVID-19 in general; worries about E.; worries about my relationship with E. (which is going well, I hasten to add, but is at a crossroads, which is exciting but also scary, or was at a crossroads until COVID-19 put our plans on a back burner).  And so on.

The sederim went quite well, considering there were just three of us, although it felt a bit weird.  Usually we would have about ten or so people in total one night; the other would be me, my parents, my sister and my brother-in-law.  This year it was just three of us both nights (“Why is this night so different?”).  We did have some more discussion than usual, which gives me an idea of how to do things differently in the future.  I had a migraine on the afternoon of the first day, but it had subsided by the second seder, which was good.  I still struggled to learn anything new at the seder, and to connect emotionally with the ideas of the night.  I still end up over-thinking things and not feeling them.  I wish I could get more out of seder, and out of Judaism in general.  The only real feeling of connection I had was via guilt and anxiety when I did something wrong (see below).

One interesting thing while I was eating the matzah (unleavened bread) was a strong feeling that freedom is being able to “just go,” which obviously connects with the story of the matzah in the Torah, that the Israelites did not have time to bake bread before leaving slavery in Egypt, but is interesting in terms of my usual procrastination and my awareness that my relationship with E. is going to require quite a bit of risk-taking and adventurous departures if it’s going to work.

I made some mistakes, in terms of forgetting to do a few things.  Most of them were rectifiable, but in opening some celery I had forgotten to open before Yom Tov I tore some writing on the packaging, a big no-no on Shabbat and Yom Tov (it’s considered erasing).  I felt very upset about this, and then managed to do it again the next day on something else (that was less obviously my fault though).  As I say, I felt upset, but I did manage to move on.

And then we got to Shabbat…  It was going well, and then there was an Issue.  There was an oversight in the kitchen (I won’t go into the details which are fairly complex) and potentially we had messed up the Pesach kosher-ness of some food.  I was 80% sure it was OK, but still couldn’t bring myself to eat it.  I didn’t argue with my parents, but they did eat it, and put it on our plates, which meant that the plates were now potentially problematic.  I tried to stay calm, but it was hard to do that with all the worries I mentioned above in my head plus the minor Pesach worries and now plus this.  I tried not to eat anything potentially ‘contaminated’ for the rest of the day, but it was hard to keep track of what cutlery had gone where and by lunchtime on Saturday I was de facto relying on my opinion that the food was OK (which at least had now grown to 90% certainty).

After Shabbat we emailed my parents’ rabbi and he said what I had thought: it was OK, we had just infringed a protective measure intended as an extra level of safety.  But it’s hard to spend Pesach every year wrestling with feelings that God is going to deny me any reward in the afterlife because of confused and panicked decisions I take at Pesach, especially as those are motivated more by a desire to avoid arguing with my parents than some selfish desire to eat chametz on Pesach.  I thought I was past this stage, but apparently not, or at least, not in this crazy year.

It’s hard to treat OCD at a time of the year when we are supposed to be worried about what we eat.  I suppose the analogy would be to someone who had germ contamination OCD and was trying to treat it with exposure therapy, but now has to deal with COVID-19 and suddenly being told to wash her hands all the time.

I also ate a load of junk over the three days and little fruit and veg, again because of a complicated religious/not-arguing-with-parents reason (I usually eat a lot of fruit and veg).  On the plus side, my biscuits tasted good, despite the cinnamon balls turning into macaroon shape and the almond macaroons ending up as a solid block that my Mum had to hack into smaller chunks.

Other than that it was the usual Yom Tov mix of over-eating, oversleeping, praying and reading.  My parents more or less forced me to go for a half-hour walk each day, which I needed.  I worked through a couple more Tehillim/Psalms in Hebrew and read more of Ani Maamin as well as more than half of a murder mystery set in a Haredi community, the first in a long sequence.  I’m enjoying it enough to stick with it to see how it ends, but I’m not sure if I’ll be reading any more.  It’s not really as interesting as I thought it would be, maybe because the Haredi community doesn’t seem so exotic; if anything, it seems less strict than my own community, which probably wasn’t the intention.

***

I should really go to bed.  I’m already violating my “No screens after 11pm” rule just to write this, but I’ve been struggling for the last few days with trying to keep going without being able to off-load.  I feel like I need to watch some TV to unwind.  I know it might keep me awake, but not relaxing will also keep me awake and I don’t really feel like reading any more.

Thinking Versus Feeling

Possibly I did too much yesterday, as I felt very depressed on waking again today and struggled to get up and get dressed.  I felt a bit lonely today, despite my parents being around, and I miss E.  We don’t know when we’ll get to see each other in person again, which in some ways is no different to before coronavirus, except that previously E. was supposed to be coming to the UK for work reasons and now that’s been postponed indefinitely.  I didn’t really feel like doing anything, but my parents were depending on me for dinner, especially as Mum was feeling quite ill today with chemo side-effects.

Even once I had worked through the initial depression, or some of it, I had quite a lot of anxiety.  Some of that was Pesach (Passover) related.  Some was listening to another Intimate Judaism podcast and worrying about my relationship with E., although there isn’t any rational reason to do so.  Worrying that our religious differences would be too big to bridge despite all the other similarities.  Wondering if we will ever get to move our relationship forward, and how.  Wondering when we will be on the same continent!

On the plus side, I dropped the parev (neither dairy nor meat, according to the kosher food laws) measuring spoon into the milchig (milk) sink and calmly rinsed it off and moved on rather than going into a religious OCD panic and emailing my rabbi mentor as would have happened a few years ago.

***

In terms of achievements, I cooked dinner (while listening to the podcast) and helped look after Mum who, as I say, was quite ill today.  I also went for a jog.  I jogged for longer than usual both in terms of time (another five minutes or more) and distance (over half a mile more) and my pace was reasonably good; I think it actually improved in the added bit as I got my second wind.  I did end up with an exercise migraine, though, and I hurt my foot somehow, although both feel better now.  I Skyped E. and did about twenty-five or thirty minutes of Torah study; I don’t seem to be able to do much more at the moment except on Shabbat (the Sabbath).

***

I feel a bit like I should be volunteering at the moment.  In a way I am, because I’m helping with housework and especially cooking now Mum is ill and we don’t have a cleaner.  Still, I feel I should do more for the wider community, but the sad truth is that I’m barely coping with everything I have to do as it is (in fact, I’m not doing stuff I would want to do, like write fiction) and the Pesach stress is only just starting; next week will be much harder.  It’s hard just to keep going at the moment with depression and anxiety.  The clinching argument, of course, is that volunteering would probably expose me to coronavirus and other contagious illnesses that we’re trying to keep away from Mum at the moment.

***

I watched a(nother) silly Star Trek Voyager episode where the ship was attacked by a virus that has grown to macroscopic size and is now a foot long and flies through the air attacking people with its stinger (?!).  Maybe coronavirus isn’t so bad.

***

Two religious thoughts I’ve been thinking about:

  1. Although a lot of Judaism is intellectual and text-focused, much of it is emotional and experiential, especially the festivals, none more so than Pesach with the symbolic foods we eat and the foods we deliberately don’t eat.  Given the problems I’ve historically had accessing and accepting my emotions, it is perhaps not surprising that I struggle with this.  On seder night, the first two nights of Pesach, when we tell the story of the exodus of the Israelites from Egypt and eat the symbolic foods of matzah (unleavened bread) and maror (bitter herbs) and drink the four cups of wine (grape juice in my case, because of medication interactions), I seem to end up thinking hard about the symbolism rather than emotionally connecting to it.  Possibly if I could stop thinking about things (things in general) and just experience them, my life, and especially my Jewish life, would be much better.  I need to focus less on thinking and more on feeling.

(An aside: the Kotzker Rebbe was once confronted by a Chabad Hasid who waxed lyrical on the Chabad mode of prayer, all emanations and unifications.  But where, said the Kotzker, is the pupik (literally the belly button), where are the emotional guts of the matter?)

2) I have historically struggled with bitachon, trust in God.  In particular, the idea that good can come of my long mental health history is something that I struggled to engage with emotionally, even if I could vaguely see it intellectually (that thinking-feeling dichotomy again).

Lately, as E. and I have tried to make our long-distance relationship work, I can sort of see how some negative or difficult things brought me to where I am now, where I’m in a relationship with her.  If I hadn’t been depressed, I would never have set up this blog and I would never have met E.  If I had been better integrated into the frum (religious Orthodox Jewish) community, I probably would not have contemplated being with E.  If I hadn’t struggled growing up with being more religious, or at least wanting to be more religious, than my parents were, I wouldn’t have learnt how to handle such conflicts in my relationship with E.  And so on.

Still, even though I can see that maybe there was a reason for all those things, I’m still terrified that things won’t work out for E. and me, that this is setting me up for another disappointment, the worst one yet.  I’m trying to trust, but it’s hard.

***

It’s also late.  My “No screens after 11pm” rule has been broken flagrantly this evening, but I am up late partly because I was being a good boyfriend and a good son, talking to E. and looking after my Mum, so I don’t feel too bad.  I am tired though, and hungry.  So hitting ‘Publish’ now.

Abandonment Mini-Post

Watching Star Trek Voyager last night helped me unwind a bit, but my negative self-criticism came back minutes after it finished.  I went to bed and managed to fall asleep (I was worried I would stay awake ruminating), but could not get up at 11.00am as I had hoped again and just lay in bed feeling depressed until my Mum came in at 12.00pm, which gave me a burst of adrenaline to get up; even then, it actually took my Dad coming in ten minutes later to actually get me up and I didn’t feel anything like OK until after I had eaten and had coffee.

I’m feeling really depressed today.  It’s hard to do anything – I have no energy or motivation.  Doing Shabbat (Sabbath) preparation chores, I kept having to stop to rest e.g. after I’d hoovered half my room I had to stop before hoovering the other half. I don’t know why I feel like this, whether it’s Mum (see below for the latest update) or not being invited to a seudah (festive meal) for Purim (Jewish festival Monday night and Tuesday) or just general end-of-the-week tiredness.  I keep thinking about being alone: worrying that no one will read my blog (there are only about ten people left) or my books…  I guess, realistically, all of those symptoms could just as plausibly stem from being ignored by my shul friends for Purim as from worrying that my Mum will (God forbid) die; it’s abandonment issues either way and I’ve always been lousy at dealing with that.  At least E. says she won’t leave me, and the people still reading my blog seem to be persistent, and comment, which I prefer to likes or hits (I know my blog is pretty repetitive, and I say it’s really just for myself, but I would find it hard to write if literally no one was reading).

***

My Mum had some more problems with the NHS about the scan she should have done before she started chemo.  I think she got it sorted in the end, but it is stressful for her.

Peopling and Ancient Historians

I woke up feeling very anxious.  The anxiety was mostly centred on my relationship with E.,  feeling that it’s really special, but worried that external things will stop us ever moving it on.  To be honest, I think I was really worried about other things, but was fixating on that instead.  I find that I do that sometimes, feel anxious about one thing, but focus on an entirely different anxiety, perhaps because it feels “safer” somehow or more manageable.

I went to my second cousin’s house with a bunch of family (my parents, sister and brother-in-law; my Mum’s cousin and her husband; two of my second cousins, their spouses and children).  I hadn’t been to their house before, which I suppose made me a bit anxious, and certainly I was worried how I would feel with so many people and what I would say.  I was also a bit worried about what would happen if I didn’t eat anything there, as my kashrut standards are different to my extended family’s.

In the event I didn’t eat anything, which felt a bit awkward and made me feel a bit self-conscious, but no one seemed to get offended.  I spoke to my cousin and a bit to his wife, but I struggle to talk to the adults sometimes, even though I know them fairly well (I was at school with these two second-cousins and we tend to meet a couple of times a year).  I played with the children a lot, especially the eldest, who has learning disabilities and is fairly non-verbal with us, although apparently she is now using more words with her parents and grandparents.  I suppose I feel a kind of connection with her, even though my autistic social communication impairments are very different to her learning disabilities.

I stayed for about three hours, but I was pretty exhausted by the end.  I had planned to leave after a minimum of one hour, so it was an impressive achievement, but I was exhausted by the end and practically dragging my parents out of the door, especially as I was hungry and knew I was going out again later and would have to recuperate first.

***

I spent a couple of hours relaxing and eating dinner before going out again to the London School of Jewish Studies.  I was rather tired and peopled out, but I was determined to go as I wanted to hear the speaker, Rabbi Joshua Berman on the historical accuracy of Tanakh (the Hebrew Bible) and to buy his new book Ani Maamin: Biblical Criticism, Historical Truth, and the Thirteen Principles of Faith.  I would have eagerly devoured his book some years ago, when I was struggling with the concept of historical accuracy and Tanakh.  Nowadays I’ve found a lot of my answers and an approach that works for me, but his lecture re-framed some things I sort of knew, but not entirely and gave a kind of rabbinic imprimatur to some ideas.  I think his book, which is obviously much more wide ranging than his forty-five minute lecture, answers some further questions of mine and I look forward to reading it in the near future (I bought a copy and he signed it).

There were a few people my age there, but most people were my parents’ age or older, as is usually the case at the LSJS.  I saw someone I was at university with, but he didn’t see me.  More surprising was seeing someone from my shul and his wife, someone I see as rather Haredi (ultra-Orthodox).  I was sort of hoping he would see me, but I don’t think he did.  I didn’t go to talk to him after the lecture because I entered the scrum to buy a copy of the book.  I’d like to get the courage to say I saw him when I next see him, just to see if it breaks the ice, but I don’t know if I’ll have the courage to do so.  I guess it’s a lesson in not making assumptions about others, particularly people at my shul.  It’s not the first time I’ve been caught out like that.

I did feel quite tense during the lecture, partly because it was in a packed room, so I literally didn’t have much space to spread out in (and all the anxiety from social interaction and people), but also because I knew I wanted to buy the book afterwards, and although I had emailed last week to reserve a copy, I did not know what the procedure would be to go and get a copy and get it signed.  I was also somewhat socially anxious about getting the book signed, but I think the anxiety over whether I would get a copy came from an autistic anxiety about unknown situations.  It’s the type of thing that bothers me, but not in a debilitating sense, so I haven’t mentioned it in autism assessments in the past, but intend to do so in the future.

The content of the lecture is perhaps of some interest to some readers here; if not, you can skip the rest of the post.  Obviously I can’t summarise a forty-five minute lecture plus question and answer session in one blog post, but this is what I took from it.

He started by saying that biblical and rabbinic (Medieval) Hebrew has no words for “history,” “fact” or “fiction.”  While moderns like us assume that good history is factual, based on research, with no additions and certainly no moral sermonising and is intended rather to inform about the past, to ancient and Medieval audiences, good history told the gist of a known tradition, but with additions at the discretion of the author, the aim being less to accurately describe the past and more to relate traditions in a morally uplifting way.  He contrasted the descriptions of the death of King Shaul (Saul) in the biblical book of Shmuel (Samuel) with the post-biblical Josephus and how Josephus took the bare bones of the biblical story and completely changed the tone and details for the sake of his own meta-narrative (a term Rabbi Berman did not use, which I bring up because as someone with a BA in History and, at one point, an interest in questions of historiography, I was aware that Rabbi Berman was simplifying some complex ideas here).  We assume that if an author departs from fact, then he is writing fiction, but to ancient audiences all that mattered was the essential truth of the narrative, not the factual detail (again, there is probably a lot more that could be said here).  Then he looked at a passage from Yehoshua (Joshua) where the Caananite prostitute Rachav alludes to four of the first five ten commandments in an apparently off-the-cuff piece of dialogue (I wasn’t totally convinced about two of the commandments being alluded to).  Rabbi Berman suggested that this dialogue was contrived and unlikely, and that it was more likely that the dialogue was inserted to make a wider point: that Rachav was a good person who helped the Israelites and that the Israelites were right to spare her.  Ancient audiences would have seen learning this underlying truth as the key thing, not whether the dialogue was accurate and rendered only from primary sources.

In the question and answer session, various points were raised, including what this means for the unique status of the Torah if it is stylistically ancient and includes laws from codes like the Hammurabi Code.  Rabbi Berman quoted Rav Kook’s answer, which I’ve heard before, that God if a general Torah principle was encapsulated in a known and practised non-Jewish law, then at times that would be included in the Torah; he said (which I did not know) that many of the Medieval commentators see Temple ritual as based in some ways on non-Jewish ritual.  There is a general principle, that I was already familiar with, that the Torah speaks the language of man, which he stressed meant that there is no “Divine Esperanto” that God could speak to be understood in the same way by ancients and moderns.  The reality is we understand texts differently.  What is universal is the message of the Torah not its language.

This points up a deeper problem that one questioner raised, that Rabbi Berman was assuming a “core” Divine historical truth clothed in sometimes invented detail by prophetic authors.  As one questioner seemed to be saying, how do we know that the core is true?  Or what do we do if it seems not to be true?  Rabbi Berman’s approach explains details that are apparently contradicted by other biblical or non-biblical texts, but not entire narratives.  I felt Rabbi Berman didn’t really deal with this, although it was somewhat outside the topic of the lecture and potentially a topic in its own right.  I’m not sure if Rabbi Berman’s book deals with this (On the Reliability of the Old Testament by K. A. Kitchen and Israel in Egypt: The Evidence for the Authenticity of the Exodus Tradition by James K. Hoffmeier are books I found useful here).

Overall it was an interesting lecture and worth forcing myself out for, particularly to get the book.

Good Stuff, Not So Good Stuff

Good news and bad news on waking.  The bad news was that I had slept for twelve hours and still woke up feeling terrible, tired and depressed.  I had also lost the entire morning and some of the afternoon.

The good news, or at least better news, was that I have lost some weight again.  My weight is almost at the lowest since I started keeping a proper record of it two months ago.  I’m still technically overweight, but not as much.  This despite comfort eating in the last week or two due to stress and anxiety about Mum’s cancer, work and my relationship with E. (which is going fine, but I worry my “issues” will make it impossible to move the relationship on).  It is hard to understand my yoyoing weight (or even my “Wyoming weight” as the WordPress spellchecker prefers); it seems to go up and down with little relation to diet and exercise, although maybe that’s due to insufficient record-keeping.

I went for a run, which was not a particularly good run, but I was struggling against depression and exhaustion (it was only an hour since I’d got up for the second time today) as well as sunlight in my eyes and wind that was often against me.  I did about half an hour of Torah study, plus a chunk of research for this week’s devar Torah, which I probably should not have been doing today, but sometimes I go into a panic about not being able to locate sources or to find sources that support my understanding of Midrashim and the like.

I cooked dinner again, kedgeree for my parents and vegetarian kedgeree (kedgeree minus the fish) for myself, one of my easy “stand-by” recipes that I can cook quickly and without needing a recipe.  My parents were pleased because I’ve cooked dinner on three consecutive nights.  I suspect I will be doing this a lot in the coming months and I’m OK with that, it lets me feel that I’m doing something useful.

I didn’t do any job applications, although there is only one job I’ve seen advertised at the moment that I’m even vaguely attracted by (temporary cataloguing librarian, but full-time and only for two months).

I spent over an hour working on my bibliography for my non-fiction Doctor Who book and made some good progress.  Despite this, I get frustrated by mistakes and omissions in my notes and, more worryingly, mistakes in the bibliography as I put it together (missing commas are important in something as structured as a bibliography).  That said, lately I do seem to be beating myself up about stuff that isn’t my fault a lot, although it’s hard to tell if it’s more than usual, as I do it a lot generally.

And that’s it for today, really!

“Living’s in the way we die”

I had weird and disturbing dreams again last night, which set me up for a difficult day.  One was quite upsetting, where I was indoors, possibly in some kind of school.  There was a war going on around me, but I was scared and just hid under some school laboratory-style workbenches while other people around me were heroic .  There was also another, more surreal, dream.  I don’t remember much about it, but there was a bit where my Dad and I were sitting in the car and a purple cockatoo was perched on the side and trying to recite poetry while my Dad kept hitting it and knocking it off in a flurry of purple feathers.  Very strange.  My Dad is not usually cruel to animals, I should stress!  I wish I knew what the cowardice dream was about, although maybe it’s just the obvious: that I don’t think of myself as at all brave or competent.  As if to reinforce this, I then overslept, missed my various alarms and had to rush to be in time for my Skype call with my rabbi mentor.

***

I had a good chat with my rabbi mentor, albeit that there really wasn’t much he could say.  I had emailed to ask if we could chat on the day I forgot to take my medication and so went super-anxious; since then, although I felt somewhat anxious about a number of things, I was also aware that there isn’t much I can do about any of them at this stage; I have to just wait and see what happens.  He did say that getting back together with E. is a good thing.

Unfortunately, I slumped back into depression and anxiety again with a vengeance after lunch.  Sometimes life just seems like an endless list of things to worry about, with the worst possible outcome happening sooner or later, not least because everyone I know and care about will die one day, if I wait long enough.  It’s easy to get sucked into negative thinking about careers, friendships, my relationship with E., my relationships with my family and so on, assuming everything will, or at least could, go wrong sooner or later.  I don’t want to go down that path, but it is scarily attractive on days when many things do not seem to be anchored firmly.

I had several heavy conversations today, with my rabbi mentor, with E. and with my parents and overall they’ve left me feeling as anxious as I was before them.  Life just seems so big and scary so much of the time, and I never seem to get a hold of it the way someone with my privileges (in both the traditional and identity politics senses) should do.  However hard I try, I never quite get a grip on my career, or my community and friendships, or my relationships with family or romantic partners.  I feel I have in many ways been dealt a bad hand, but in other ways it seems more like I’ve squandered my considerable blessings.  And even if I have been dealt a bad hand, what’s the point of complaining?  I’ve never heard of anyone who turned their life around by complaining.  Today I just feel full of anxiety that everything will go wrong, and that there’s nothing I can do about it, which is a horrible, defeatist feeling and liable to be a self-fulfilling prophecy.

When I was cooking dinner, it all became overwhelming again and I’m surprised I managed to get dinner done at all, let alone that I managed a tricky recipe (bean burgers) about the best I’ve ever managed it.  My life – everything – just seems so hopeless sometimes.  I feel like everything will go wrong, no matter what I do.  I got into another negative thought spiral.  I tried to eat something (kosher pot noodle, seriously not healthy, but I wanted carbs fast), which helped a little and let me finish cooking, but the negative thoughts soon came back again once I’d finished.

While cooking, I felt that I just can’t function in this world, that I belong on another planet.  That’s a fairly common feeling among people on the spectrum; unfortunately, unemployment, failed relationships and persistent mental illness are also common on the spectrum.  I feel that if I can’t manage a career, or a relationship, where am I going to find meaning and purpose in my life?  Religion is an obvious alternative that appeals to many people who also feel marginalised by society, but lately I’ve been struggling with that too, feeling like I’m just going through the motions.  I believe, but Judaism is so much more about doing than believing and right now doing anything is an effort and yields few immediate rewards the way it does for some frum (religious) people.  To be fair, E. said the other day that she’s impressed by the way I keep with even a bit of prayer and religious study each day when I feel so awful (this is what I mean when I say she’s amazing to me).

Then, perhaps because I got so caught up in myself, I forgot to daven Minchah (say Afternoon Prayers).  I seem to do this once a year, at some point in the winter.  If I’d remembered ten minutes earlier today, I would have been OK.  Technically if I could, and possibly should, have said a “catch-up” Amidah (the main prayer) after the Amidah of Ma’ariv (the Evening Service), but I was too depressed and exhausted to feel able to do that.

***

The title of the post, “Living’s in the way we die“, is the only lyric from a James Bond film theme that makes me think of a Hasidic story (I assume coincidentally): that when Rebbe Simcha Bunim of Peshischa lay dying, he comforted his wife, saying his entire life had been a preparation for this moment.  I find it a slightly morbid thought, but also a reassuring one, that death can be a meaningful crescendo to a life well-lived rather than a meaningless extinction.

That said, it’s worrying how easily I can slip into thinking, “Oh well, I’ll be dead one day” for reassurance about many of my problems, even when I’m not actively suicidal (which I haven’t been for a couple of years).  It’s kind of the depressive version of “It will all be the same in a hundred years” which my maternal grandparents used to say a lot.  I just find it really hard to find positives to hold onto.  It’s hard to believe that I could build a career as a librarian or a novelist, get married, have children or fit into the Jewish community; on the other hand, it is absolutely certain that one day I will die, and somehow focusing on that seems less likely to lead to disappointment rather than keep trying to improve my life and constantly being knocked back.

***

I’m sorry, this whole post is monumentally depressing.  I hope things will feel better tomorrow, but, frankly, who knows?  I just feel so lost and adrift in my life.

Xeno’s Chapter

Things are quiet.  I’m bored.  Who wants a referendum on leaving NATO?

Just kidding!  (I hope.)

Seriously, Shabbat (the Sabbath) actually was quite quiet, but that was good after this stressful week.  I am still struggling to get motivated to go to shul (synagogue) on Friday and Saturday afternoons.  I woke up in time to go to shul this morning, but decided I couldn’t face it and went back to sleep.  I think a lot of it is to do with not feeling like I fit in and being worried that if I say the wrong thing, I’ll be… not thrown out, but perhaps pushed to the fringe of the community (or the fringe of the fringe, because I feel I’m on the fringe now).  If I feel that uncertain about being there even on Friday and Saturday afternoons, where I do quite enjoy the services, it’s no wonder that the service I already struggle with is impossible to get motivated to go to.

Similarly, I thought of sending some friends my weekly devar Torah emails and then thought better of it when I thought of basing some upcoming essays on controversial rabbis or ideas.  This happened during my weekly Friday night insomnia, which I now think is anxiety-related, like my pre-work insomnia.

I did have a better time doing Torah study, managing about an hour and twenty minutes on Friday (very good), and mostly having the time/energy/patience to do it properly i.e. read Tanakh (Hebrew Bible) in Hebrew, study Talmud in Aramaic, look up words I didn’t know in the dictionary or the Reference Guide to the Talmud, take time to think about things and so on.  I do get much more out of Torah study when I do it this way, but I don’t always have the time, energy or patience to do it, and certainly I can’t take several thick books on the Tube with me.

My mood was rather better having remembered to take my tablets, but I’m still worried about a lot of stuff, including my relationship with E. (although, as she said, we’ve got to a stage where not trying to be together is as scary as trying.  We care about each other too much by this stage for “It’s complicated, let’s give up” to be a pain-free option) and the other thing I can’t blog about.  I’m not so worried about work, mostly because I’ve become hugely pessimistic about my job prospects and can see myself stuck doing odd jobs on short-term contracts with long gaps of unemployment in between for the rest of my life.

I do need to move on with applying for benefits now I know I can work part-time and still claim ESA.

***

There’s a lot of noise from downstairs.  A charity my Mum is involved in does a quiz at home each year, basically a supper quiz where you get a group of friends together in a house and fill in the answers online, allowing the charity to save on overheads and have many more tables than would be possible in an ordinary supper quiz.  My parents always host a table.  I used to join in, but I can’t always cope with the people and the noise (they usually have fifteen to twenty people, all talking at once) and, anyway, to make googling the answers harder, the questions are mostly lateral thinking rather than general knowledge and I’m no good at those.  They gave me some unanswered questions and I answered one of them, so I guess I’m good for something, although I felt vaguely that I was cheating.

***

I struggled to work on my novel.  It was hard, given the noise from downstairs and the fact that my brain does not want to engage with the current chapter, which is based to some degree on the most difficult time of my life; like Xeno’s Paradox, I work on it and work on it, but only seem to get halfway there.  I worked for about an hour, but a lot of that was spent on procrastination.  I try to tell myself that my mind is working at those moments, ticking over in the background, but I’m not sure that it is.  I did at least almost meet my 500 word target.

I tried to work after dinner too, but I felt too depressed.  Guilt-tripping myself for the times I slipped up and wrote things here that I shouldn’t have written about my parents.  Stuff that should have gone into therapy or not been said at all, that I wrote down here.  And I invariably went back afterwards and deleted it, but anyone subscribing to my blog by email would have seen it.  I’m a terrible person sometimes.  I try to be a good person, but I don’t manage it, and I feel awful for those slips.

I tried watching Star Trek Voyager over dinner, hoping to come back to my writing refreshed, but it was one of those episodes focused on a character we’ve never seen before, which can be hard to get into, and about a Big Moral Dilemma, which was arguably too big to be dealt with in a forty-three episode in which several cast members are made up to look like aliens.  So my mood was, if anything, worse, and I didn’t feel like writing any more.

Ugh, I should write off the rest of the evening.  Watch TV, something more fun than the Voyager episode.  The Avengers or something (Avengers or New Avengers).

The Puzzle

I woke up feeling super-anxious.  I was diagnosed with anxiety a while back, but I’ve never been entirely convinced, as my general anxiety levels seem to fluctuate a lot and perhaps get “drowned out” by depression (as opposed to social anxiety, which I’m sure I have).  Today I felt super-anxious though: about my job, about my relationship with E., about her work situation, and about the big thing I can’t talk about here.  Trying to breathe and be mindful, I do feel a bit better.  But the worries creep back in.

Other things I’ve been doing are being irritable (got into a silly argument with my Dad) and blaming myself for something, anything.  Just feeling I’m a terrible person and everything is my fault, which I guess distracts from all the things that are not my fault and which are totally outside of my control.

I went to the dentist for a check up.  Everything was fine, except that I’ve somehow slightly chipped one of my teeth, I don’t know how.  But the discomfort when the dentist was scraping plaque off my teeth just reinforced my anxiety.

I tried to work on my novel and managed to do so for about half an hour, writing nearly 300 words, but I couldn’t concentrate.  I felt like my head was going to explode with all the things in it.  There’s so much I’m scared about.  A lot of this is inchoate feelings and some of it is things that maybe should not be voiced.  I texted my sister about some of this and she is feeling a lot calmer than I am although she is only worried about one of the things I’m worried about, albeit the biggest one.  I just don’t know what to say or where to begin.  It’s at times like this that I drift back to childhood, mentally, asking my parents for hugs, crying or taking refuge in favourite TV programmes.

I went depression group tonight.  Coincidentally, the shiur (religious class) I usually go to on Thursdays got cancelled tonight, so I don’t need to message the group, but it will happen sooner or later, so it would be good if I can think of a non-melodramatic way of admitting to going to depression group.  Depression group was helpful, but I came away wondering if I’d handled the interpersonal interactions well enough; in fact my autistic traits made concentration difficult at times and I felt a bit overwhelmed.

I’m trying to be kind to myself, but it’s hard, partly from personality, partly, I guess for religious reasons.  These days, lots of frum (religious) Jews would say that it is good to be kind to yourself, particularly at times of stress, only to make small changes to your life at any one time and so on.  The problem for me is that, although I’m not an expert, I haven’t really come across these attitudes dating from more than two hundred and fifty years ago or so (from the rise of Hasidism) and in many ways they have only become mainstream accepted ideas in recent decades (since the rise of neo-Hasidism, the ba’al teshuva movement and the rise of popular psychology in the world generally).  I’m more open than most Orthodox Jews to the idea that Judaism changes over time, but my poor self-esteem makes me worry, what if this is a mistake God doesn’t want me to be kind to myself?  What if I’m really bad at judging what I should be pursuing in life and He will keep sending me pain and suffering until I turn my life upside down?  This is probably not true, but I have enough doubt to worry about things.

***

The Reference Guide to the Talmud arrived today.  I’m looking forward to using it in my Talmud study.  It explains a lot of Talmudic terminology.  As well as using legal terminology, the Talmud also employs a precise vocabulary, so the term used to introduce a counter-argument will tell you whether it is going to be an argument based on a contradictory text or one based purely on logic.   There are also grammatical guides to Aramaic (the language of most of the Talmud) and a section on historical background to the Talmudic era that I might read in full at some point, chronological tables of Talmudic rabbis, a diagram of the Second Temple, guides to Talmudic weights and measures and a guide to Rashi script (a type of calligraphic Hebrew script used primarily for commentaries on the Hebrew Bible or Talmud – I can mostly read Rashi script, but some of the letters are similar and I get confused occasionally).  This is all fascinating stuff to a history geek like me and I hope it will help with my studies, both to understand the language used and so to understand the arguments and also to provide the contextual information that my brain needs to understand and remember abstract legal thought.

***

On the way back from depression group, I started thinking about the final scene of the BBC adaptation of John le Carré’s Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy (not in the book).  George Smiley is with his estranged wife, Ann.  Smiley is able to unearth the traitor in MI6, but not to understand human beings, particularly not his wife.  “Poor George,” remarks Ann.  “Life’s such a puzzle to you, isn’t it?”  I felt like this tonight.  I can at least sometimes understand things, concepts, ideas, words, stories, histories like the Reference Guide to the Talmud… but I struggle to understand people at all.  I don’t know what people thought of me tonight, when I felt a bit overwhelmed.  For all my struggles with the Talmud, I suspect I find it easier to understand than people.

Hello, I Must Be Going

After the dream I recounted in my last post, I fell asleep again and slept through the morning, which was sad, but probably inevitable as I had only had about four and a half hours sleep at that point, having stayed up late last night blogging and watching Fawlty Towers to relax as otherwise I felt I would struggle to sleep.  I watched The Waldorf Salad episode, and vaguely want someone to make a GIF of the bit where Basil Fawlty starts shouting “This is exactly how Nazi Germany started!” at hotel guests who have the temerity to complain about substandard service, and then use it when people on Twitter are throwing “Nazi” accusations around at people who clearly aren’t Nazis (you can see the clip here).

I felt better on waking than I did yesterday, although it was still a bit of a struggle to get myself to go out for a jog and my pace and stamina were pretty bad when I did go.  I procrastinated during the afternoon, although I did spend half an hour or so writing my devar Torah (Torah thought) for the week and did another fifteen minutes of Torah study.  I didn’t do much work on my novel, or anything else, because a big thing happened that I can’t talk about here, which disrupted things.   I guess it’s OK to accept that that is going to happen sometimes.

***

There are so many things in my head at the moment and I can’t write them down here: because they concern other people; because I don’t understand them enough to find the words; or because I get overwhelmed with other stuff, with day to day anxieties and despair (if there is such a thing as “day to day despair”).  In the last category comes thoughts about things like politics or the Jewish community, things I write about a bit where they intersect clearly with my emotions, but not on a deeper level about why these things are so upsetting to me.  I’d like to write about them, but I guess most of my “excess” writing energy (more than what I use for blogging “day to day despair”) goes on my novel and my weekly devar Torah rather than on these potentially more thoughtful pieces.  It would be nice to step back and look at the bigger picture here, to explain why I want to fit into the Orthodox Jewish community yet find it so hard, or why so much political comment these days upsets me.

Yet for the moment I look set to be overwhelmed with the “can’t blog because it concerns other people” type of feeling… a lot of stuff happened today and I haven’t processed it yet, and I usually would write here to process, but I can’t.  Ugh, I feel I’m becoming incoherent (I’m very tired, about to go to bed).

***

A reason to be very, very careful about what I write about other people is that I feel bad about some stuff I’ve written here before, stuff I shouldn’t have said and deleted almost immediately after posting, but anyone who is subscribed to this on email rather than blog reader would have seen the original version.  Mostly I try to be good about not saying stuff that’s personal or identifiable, but sometimes, particularly when I’m very depressed or angry, things can slip out.  There isn’t any thing that can be done about this and it worries me.  There’s a story about someone who gossiped about a famous rabbi, then felt guilty and told the rabbi what he’d done and asked what he could do to make amends.  The rabbi told him to cut a pillow open outdoors and let the wind scatter the feathers.  He did this and asked the rabbi what to do next, only to be told to gather the feathers, spreading gossip being like scattering feathers because you can’t undo the damage.  I feel bad about that.

***

I’ve been feeling morbid today.  Thinking about death, and the death of people close to me.  There is no answer to this, death is the only certainty we face.  The best we can do is try to live in the present and appreciate the people around us while we can, which I have been trying to do today.  It is hard though.

***

On a happier note, I watched the Marx Brothers film Animal Crackers with my Dad.  I’ve seen it many times before, but it was still funny.  It’s strange: it’s a profoundly dated film in terms of plot, character, direction, acting, design… and yet Groucho Marx seems very modern in both character and performance (I wonder how they got away with some of the jokes in 1930).  I suppose it shows how much modern comedy is still indebted to Groucho’s style ninety years on.  Harpo is sometimes modern, when not being awkwardly #metoo and chasing women around, Chico is occasionally modern, Zeppo not modern at all, but Groucho is modern, not all of the time, but a lot of it.

***

A big thing that I’d be interested to hear people’s opinion on before I make the decision: if I go to depression group tomorrow (Thursday), I will have to miss shiur (religious class).  I could message the shiur What’sApp group with a vague message that I’m busy or I could send them a message that “casually” mentions that I’m busy “at my depression support group.”  I’m wondering what sort of response the latter would get and whether it could be interpreted as melodramatic/attention-seeking.  The shiur rabbi and two people in the group know that I suffer from depression, but the others don’t, although I have vaguely mentioned health issues to one of them.

Symbolic Dream

I had a fairly vivid and memorable dream last night.

In the dream I was in a Jewish library that doubled as a shul (synagogue), like the one I was working in recently, but it was being used as a shul for a Shacharit (Morning Service) service while I was there.  There were copies of the Qu’ran and somehow building bridges to the Muslim community and fighting Islamophobia came into it, I’m not sure how exactly.  The rabbi of the shul was a very well-known rabbi who I greatly respect and whose books have influenced my thinking a lot (in real life I mean as well as the dream).  I didn’t think he knew me, but after he gave a vort (literally a word, i.e. a very short Torah thought), I commented to him on it and he announced my insight to the community and mentioned me by name.  Somehow an old acquaintance of mine who I have drifted away from in the real world was involved (in real life he is very involved in left-wing causes and anti-Islamophobia so it isn’t so surprising that my mind should make the association).  Then I was walking in to a different, secular, library where I was working or volunteering.  I was helping to sort the Tintin books and regretted that I couldn’t put them in the correct order without looking it up, whereas in real life I could probably more or less manage that.  There was also something about having a child and asking that rabbi to bless him, although I’m not sure if I had a child in the dream or if it was just an aspiration.  I woke up early, as if it was a work day, but refreshed and with a feeling of peace, although I did fall asleep again.

I feel that this is a very telling dream.  Some of it is about Trump’s Israel-Palestine “Peace Plan” which I feel is no such thing and is just about to legitimate a land-grab by the Israeli right.  It pains me to say this as a staunch Zionist and someone who thinks that the situation in the West Bank is more complex than the mainstream media represents, but I can’t think of any other outcome.  The dream was saying that it will be necessary for the Jewish community to build grassroots links with the Islamic community in the days ahead, although I’m not sure how that relates to me, and I’m not sure how many people in the Islamic community are willing to build bridges back.

The rabbi I respect is in favour of a land-for-peace deal and does interfaith work in reality, so could have appeared for that reason, but also has a connection to the library I was working at, although I did not meet him there.  Perhaps him knowing me in my dream is my unconscious saying that I did good work there even if it’s over now, hence also the feeling of satisfaction on waking.  Working in another, secular library afterwards could be my unconscious saying that I should be optimistic about finding new work.  The library being used as a shul for a service where I felt comfortable may be optimism about finding a shul where I can be fully accepted.  The child I thought about in the dream may be a feeling of optimism about building a relationship with E. and one day having children.

I don’t really see dreams as prophecies of the future, but even as a sign about my unconscious understanding of the present, this one seemed positive and I was not surprised to wake feeling refreshed even after only four and a half hours of sleep, although, as I say, I did fall asleep again.  There were some other details, but I’m not sure where they fit in.  But it did seem a positive dream, even if it seems to stem from negative events in my life and the world.

Post-Work Slump

I’m not sure what time I went to bed last night, probably some time between midnight and 1.00am, but I slept for hours and hours and then was too depressed, exhausted and anxious to get up.  I finally got up around 2.30pm, just as my Mum was coming home, having cancelled her post-work volunteering because she was ill.  I did feel better for eating cereal and drinking coffee, but of course by then the bulk of the day was gone.

I guess today’s depression/anxiety is mostly centred on work, some worry about a family issue that hopefully will come to a head tomorrow, and also whether E. and I will be able to move our relationship on, as well as general worries about my life as a whole, whether I will ever get it sorted out.  E. was feeling positive about us today, so I felt vaguely bad for being pessimistic (although I know she would say that I shouldn’t judge my feelings), not least because I know nothing has changed objectively since I was feeling positive a few days ago, it’s just that today I feel depressed so everything seems bad.  Plus, I wish she was around in person more than ever on days like today when I’m not able to say much via text but would like just to watch TV together.

I heard a good quote the other day, I can’t remember where, probably on a Jewish website: “Life is a test and most people fail because they try to copy others, not realising that they have a different question.”  It’s probably too wordy to be a truly great quote, but it does refer to what I’m struggling with in terms of thinking that I should doing what my peers are doing (career, family, community) when I that is not realistic and, so far as it is possible for me to tell, that does not seem to be God’s plan for me at the moment.  The problem is, I would like to be doing a lot of that stuff and don’t really see an alternative.  I don’t qualify for benefits (generalisation: I’m going to have to look into this again), so I basically have to have a career.  E. and I want to build a relationship that is more than a long-distance friendship, but I don’t know how – how in practical terms.  I want to have friends and community for my mental well-being, but the process of building those relationships is difficult and highly stressful for someone with social anxiety and autism (and someone not in exactly the right community anyway).  It is very difficult to see what I should do sometimes.

***

So, today I didn’t do very much, just sat around feeling exhausted, depressed and unable to do anything.  The trouble with the benefits system for the mentally ill (leaving aside the question of whether it’s too strictly enforced) is that it is set up for people with illnesses or disabilities that are both visible and the same every day.  If you’ve have a leg amputated, there are not going to be some days when you have both legs and some when you don’t.  Whereas with mental illness (and some physical illnesses), there can be days when you’re fine and so you get told you can work, and then there are some days when you just can’t function at all, but outsiders can’t see why that is.

What I did do was play nurse to my mother for a bit and cook dinner (although Tuesdays is my night to cook even if she is well).  I made macaroni cheese, because it’s a very easy recipe, one of two recipes that I can cook without reading the instructions, although it was far too salty.  I also spent a few minutes updating my CV and interview answer notes to include my experiences in work this year.

I struggled to do some Torah study.  I spent ten minutes reading a not-terribly-interesting or informative essay on The Lehrhaus.com.  I spent another ten minutes (just under) reading a chapter of Tehillim (Psalms), in this case chapter 24, which is very familiar to me as it appears a lot in the Jewish liturgy.  It can be interesting reading prayers as Torah study as I read them in a new way and notice things I don’t notice when davening (praying), but not today.  So about twenty minutes in total, which is not bad considering how I was feeling, but I felt that I had not got much out of it, as is often the case.

I tried to work on my novel, but it was hard and I got distracted by #AddAWordRuinABook on Twitter, my favourites being The Cat in the MAGA Hat and especially Catch-22 Diseases.  I looked at my own books in the search for inspiration to join in and thought of reading Murder on the Leyton Orient Express and its sequel, The Word for World is Nottingham Forrest (I should probably explain to non-UK resident readers that those are jokes on British football teams).  Also A Midsummer Night’s Freudian Dream, The Spy Who Came in From the Cold Storage, Flame War and Peace, Lady Windermere’s Fan ClubThe Crack House at Pooh Corner, Decorating a Study in Scarlet and Green Eggs and Hamlet (OK, that’s cheating slightly).  I would also like to see a film of The Marx Brothers Karamazov.  In non-fiction, there’s Plato’s Coffee Republic, A Brief History of Time Shares and The Blind Drunk Watchmaker although Star Trek fans might not appreciate The Selfish Gene Roddenberry.

Now I don’t feel tired, but should probably go to bed as it’s gone midnight.

***

My depression is sabotaging my diet.  I ate seconds at dinner, more because it was there and I was comfort eating than because I was hungry.  I didn’t eat ice cream yesterday, as I suggested I would, but I did eat Quality Street chocolates.  It’s hard to be on a diet when I’m this depressed.  I don’t generally comfort eat to a huge extent, but when I’m feeling so low it’s hard to feel I should ban myself completely from any junk food that might cheer me up for a few minutes, especially as my weight gain is primarily caused by medication rather than the amount of junk food I’m eating.

***

Another reason I’m depressed today: farewell Nicholas Parsons, alav hashalom (peace upon him), comedy’s greatest straight man, Just a Minute supremo and a fine Doctor Who guest actor.  He will be missed.

100%

I was actually feeling happy last night.  I was thinking that I was glad that E. is in my life. Even if we never manage to move our relationship forward, I’m glad about where our relationship is now.  It feels weird to be even vaguely happy, it’s so rare in my life, doubly so to be happy about a less than ideal situation because I’m usually a worrier and a glass half empty person.

I went to bed about 1.00am, which wasn’t so bad considering how much I’d done in the evening.  But then I woke up at 7.00am and couldn’t get back to sleep.  After a while I was going to just get up and start the day early, but then fell back asleep and slept through until gone 1.00pm, which was not good and cost me my run today, admittedly partly because we went out for dinner tonight which affected what time I should eat lunch and when I needed to be ready to go out.  The main things I did today were forty-five minutes of Torah study, thirty-five minutes writing an email of support to a friend with religious OCD and go out for dinner with family to celebrate family birthdays, which was good, but has left me drained and needing introvert alone time, but unable to take any because I need to go to bed to get to work on time tomorrow for two important meetings.

Depression, depressive exhaustion and depression-disrupted sleep take a huge toll on my potential activity level.  I just can’t do as much as I would be able to do without depression, which is hard to accept when this is clearly how I’ve been all my adult life and how I will continue to be for a very long time, rather than it being a short-term illness that can be cured with medication and therapy (as depression is for some people).

I’ve bought some books lately.  It’s not such a problem given that I was earning some money this month, but some of them felt a bit like impulse buys, which I usually try to avoid.  It’s probably filling an internal void, although I’m not sure what.  I do feel like I’m using 100% of my energy at the moment even though I’m only working two days a week and doing a tiny bit of writing, exercising and Torah study in the remaining days and maybe the void comes there somehow.  I’ve mentioned before that I increasingly feel I can only plan for one major task a day, which seems pathetic, but it’s all I can manage.  There’s a lot more I want to do with my life which I just don’t have the energy/headspace for, from finishing my novel and moving on with becoming a Chartered librarian to moving my relationship with E. on to odd chores like backing up my iTunes account and joining the local public library (five years after moving here!  I am a bad librarian).

Tomorrow is set to be a scary day.  I have a phone meeting with the company that installs library management software (LMS) and online catalogues (OPACs) to see if they can help us.  The benefactor who owns the library is coming in at some point to see what I’ve done so far, say if he wants me to continue and set a budget for the LMS/OPAC installation project.  Somewhere after those things I will need to email the institution IT guy to try to give him a better idea of what I want to do with the LMS/OPAC project, and what aspects of it I need his help for.  A lot of peopling, particularly when it will probably be a late night because we’re out for dinner (family birthdays, two almost consecutive).  I think there will be a shiur (religious class) in the library at some point for added disruption.  There’s some scary stuff later in the week too.  Strangely, I’m not feeling too anxious about this, whether from confidence or exhaustion I don’t know.

A second-hand CD I bought turned out to be broken (damaged case, which I was tempted to accept, but I discovered the last track won’t play properly as well), so that I need to complain about that.  To be honest, if they offered me a refund I would accept, as the CD was really cheap and I don’t even like the last track much and it downloaded OK to iTunes which is where I listen to most of my music; it’s the principle of the thing really.  It’s just another thing to do, like sorting out self-publishing my book and investigating becoming a Chartered Librarian.  I have a long To Do List of non-work stuff and it’s hard to find time to do it.  And I only work two days a week!  I don’t know how I’d cope if I worked more.  At least I’m making progress with my novel.

A Matter of Trust

I was catastrophising earlier and beating myself up for stuff that probably isn’t my fault.

I got an email from the IT guy at work in response to my email about installing an online library catalogue.  I thought I hadn’t explained things well and that he didn’t understand me at all and I started beating myself up for communicating badly.  Having calmed down and read the email again, I think he did understand some of what I was saying, but other things I didn’t explain well or didn’t think were relevant, or I haven’t even decided what we could do about them yet.  I’m still beating myself up a bit.  I decided to reply to him after Shabbat (the Sabbath) as I don’t have the headspace, time or energy to do so effectively now.

E. said I shouldn’t beat myself up for not feeling the “right” way about her.  She says there isn’t a “right” way to feel.  I guess I understand that, but I still worry about what will happen between us.  I’ve never been in a relationship for more than a few months, and even that was a one-off.  I don’t entirely know what long-term relationships feel like or involve.  I guess it’s scary because in the last week or so we’ve moved from “It would be great if we could get back together again one day” to “maybe we should be thinking in practical terms about what getting back together would involve and how to get there” which is exciting, but also scary.  But we had a little text talk earlier where she said I shouldn’t worry about this and we both said how much we trust each other.  My rabbi mentor says that, once you get past the initial chemistry, relationships are pretty much entirely about trust, and (in my limited experience) I think he’s right.

“When you open your heart/You can make a new start/When your crumbling world falls apart”

I’m stuck in post work exhaustion again.  I went to bed about 12.30am, which is reasonably good for me on a night when I don’t have work the next day, particularly as I was watching a long film which I kept pausing (I think because I was feeling overloaded, although I’m not entirely sure why beyond what I said yesterday about fast cutting in films and TV).  But I slept for twelve hours and woke up exhausted.  It was an effort to get up and eat some cereal and drink coffee.  The food and caffeine did eventually help a bit, but only up to a point.

I went back to bed after breakfast for a bit, from depression as much as exhaustion.  I thought about E.  I don’t get lonely any more, I just miss E.  I guess that’s telling.  I do worry we will never get our lives sorted out enough to be together, and I feel bad about that, because it’s much more my life that’s in a mess than hers.  I still worry that I’m not feeling the “right” emotions or “strong enough” emotions for her.  I am probably over-analysing again.  E. suggested today that we have some advantages in having got to know each other well as friends without trying to impress each other, which is true, and I think we have learnt that we have compatible personalities and core values.  It’s just that the practical aspects of our lives are so hard to align.  I’m not in a fit state to be dating.

I gave up on the idea of jogging again today.  I just had too much to do and too little energy, plus by late afternoon I started to develop a headache.  Likewise, I haven’t got any further with looking into self-publishing my non-fiction book.  I spent some time writing two work emails regarding setting up an online catalogue for the library.  I struggled to write the more technical one as I realised my ignorance in the technical side of library management systems and online catalogues, as well as my ignorance generally regarding the inner technological workings of the internet.  I’m reasonably confident that the IT person I emailed isn’t the person of the same name who bullied me at school as I found his LinkedIn page and the dates don’t quite fit (he must be a year or two older than me), which is something of a relief.

I forced myself to go to shul (synagogue) and shiur (religious class) even though I was feeling depressed and withdrawn and my headache had not gone when I left, although the pain killer I had taken soon kicked in.  In the event, the shiur dealt with the same question I had looked at for my devar Torah (Torah thought) this week, albeit taking it in a very different direction.  I found the focus on kabbalah (mysticism) confusing and I didn’t agree with some of the kabbalistic assumptions on which it was based.  I also ate a huge amount of junk food there.  I got into one of my comfort eating moods and just ate and ate.  I wish I’d had better self-control.  I find in places like shiur where there’s a huge amount of junk food and everyone is sitting around eating, it’s very hard to eat nothing at all, but surprisingly it’s even harder to eat just a little.  Total abstinence is easier than eating a little and when I reached for my first biscuit, thinking that would be the only one, I had already lost the battle.  Still, I did go there; at one point even that seemed unlikely.

I tried to work on my novel when I got home.  I was easily distracted and eventually became too tired to continue, but I did nearly an hour (including distractions) and wrote about 450 words, close to my target of 500.  I’m going to go to bed soon, although I want to finish the episode of Star Trek Voyager I was watching before, one of the irritating episodes where they meet some aliens with a religious belief and patronise them because the writers think that religion is silly and backwards, but can’t say so overtly.

Struggling to Understand my Emotions

I woke up feeling very depressed and lonely today.  Mum and Dad were both out for most of the day, which probably reinforced the loneliness; it’s strange how even an introvert loner like me gets used to waking in a house with at least one other person up and about.  I went back to bed for over an hour after breakfast because I was so depressed.  Work does seem to take a lot out of me.  I get through the work days OK and perhaps there is some adrenaline during them, as I sometimes have a burst of energy in the evening after work, but I’m a wreck the next day.

I decided not to go for a run, as it would take too much time.  After a lot of procrastination, I wrote an email to a company that installs software for library management systems and online catalogues to ask if they have a system that would be suitable for where I work and if they would be able to install it.  I always feel bad asking questions like this, like I should somehow know in more detail what’s on offer.  I also realise that sending this stuff to the “contact” box on the website is not ideal and I should have a personal contact somewhere.  Plus, I always feel guilty doing things like this by email when I can hear my Dad saying I should phone, although as has been noted by commenters here before, that’s not always the best approach and may be a product of generational divide or differing communication styles as much as by autism or social anxiety.

As well as not going for a run, I didn’t move further towards getting my non-fiction book self-published.  I did cook dinner (vegetarian kedgeree, the easiest recipe I know) and emailed a friend who is struggling with her own issues.  I also spent half an hour reviewing last week’s Talmud shiur (class).  It seemed to make more sense, although it’s taken me three or four attempts to get to this stage and I don’t know if I have the time/energy/concentration to do this regularly.  I also managed to work on my novel for half an hour.  I would have liked to have spent longer on it, but I wanted to get to bed reasonably early so stopped.  I hit my 500 word target comfortably, which was good.

I’ve been beating myself up for stupid things.  I worry I’ve upset someone with an innocent blog comment that I would not have made if I had known what the reaction would be, which I should really have guessed.  I worry about losing my friends.  It feels like it’s objectively true that my friendships seem to end eventually.  This is obviously true if one takes a long enough perspective, but that’s not terribly helpful.  I do have friends from university (over fifteen years ago) and one from school (albeit that we haven’t seen each other in years), but lately I’ve lost a lot of friends, sometimes my fault, on some level at least, and sometimes not, but it makes me worry that I can’t keep friends.  Lately I seem to be some sort of disaster area for social interactions.  I didn’t eat dinner with my parents either, because I wanted to eat, watch TV (to try to relax a bit) and then try to do some things I didn’t do during the day (to get some feeling of accomplishment) and the only way to do that was to eat while watching TV so I felt bad for not eating with them.

I worry about losing E. too, particularly as I don’t know how I keep losing friends to avoid doing it in the future.  I also worry that I don’t care about her enough, where “enough” is a problematically vague label to fit on an emotion that can’t be easily quantified, particularly when (a) I have always had trouble understanding my own emotions and (b) severe depression is warping my emotional life generally.  I suppose I care about E. enough so that she thinks I’m a good friend, which is probably all that’s needed at the moment.  I do worry that I can’t cope with people, though.  What if E. and I get married (halevi) and then we discover that I can’t cope with living with anyone other than my parents (who I cope with by hiding in my room most of the time)?  It’s good that we’re thinking of moving our relationship on, but I’m terrified of hurting E.  To be honest, if I can’t make things work with E., I very much doubt that I can make them work with anyone else.  I wish we could just date like “normal” people, with issues about religious difference, geographical distance or mental health issues.

I guess there I go talking about “normality” again, as if there is such a thing.  “Normal” and “should” are words I should (!) ban from my vocabulary.

Well, I “should” go to bed…

Kosher Angst

I struggled to sleep again last night.  I got about four hours in the end.  I was surprisingly awake in the morning, but flagging by mid-afternoon and had to phone my Dad for a lift home from the Tube station after work as I was too tired to walk home.

Most of the day was OK, although I changed my plans for the library in a large-ish way which I hope wasn’t too much of an impulsive decision or one that will cost me support with library users.  I am still adapting to the environment and what is expected of me on the one hand and what resources are available on the other.  I need to take some time to think about long-term planning, probably away from the library as it’s hard to sit and plan there because of interruptions and not wanting to look like I’m just spending my time staring into space (I’m very happy to stand staring into space while thinking about things at home, but my parents always come and ask if I’m OK, which breaks the train of thought).

The benefactor who owns the library came in today for Minchah and Ma’ariv (Afternoon and Evening Prayers).  I tried to show him what I was doing, but I got the impression he thought it was fine and didn’t really want to be hands-on with it.  I guess that’s good, I just worry that I won’t be able to cope with being so self-directed.

I was going fairly well until after davening (prayers).  The last hour or so of the day was really hard.  By that stage I was very tired and my blood sugar had probably dropped.  I tend to snack on fruit during the day, but for various reasons that isn’t always easy at work.  I was dealing with some books that someone had bought or, more likely, donated to the library at some point by and about Chabad Lubavitch.  Chabad is an ultra-Orthodox Hasidic movement noted for kiruv (outreach), essentially trying to encourage/help non-religious Jews to become more religious.  They tend to provoke polarising reactions in other Jews and I have mixed feelings about them.  Some of the books were by Rabbi Shmuel (Shmuely) Boteach, who is an even more polarising figure.  You may have heard of him as he has a media presence far beyond any official position he’s ever held.  He even stood for Congress a few years back.  He was Chabad shaliach at Oxford.  A shaliach is an emissary; shluchim are a couple sent to a particular place to a place, generally a remote one with few Jewish amenities (shuls, kosher food etc.) to run Chabad kiruv there and provide services to Jews who live there or are passing through as travellers.  It’s usually a life-long commitment, but Rabbi Boteach outgrew Oxford and he left before I went up, but older students and community members still talked about him a lot during my time there, which shows how big a personality he is.

I flicked through his book, which was titled Moses of Oxford.  The title might give you an idea of why Rabbi Boteach is such a polarising figure.  (I have to flick through books to get an idea of where they belong in the library, but then I worry about reading too much and wasting time… this is a problem I have never resolved in all my years of librarianship.)  The book was a collection of essays he wrote, or possibly lectures/divrei Torah he delivered in Oxford.  There was quite a bit about sex.  This is one of Rabbi Boteach’s favourite topics.  He became quite notorious for writing books with titles like Kosher Sex and Kosher Adultery.  His argument is that pornography, masturbation and the general sexualisation of society are robbing us of true intimacy and eroticism within marriage.  His argument is not that sex is bad, so it should be limited to marriage, but rather that sex is great, but it only works in marriage.

It’s not an argument I’m particularly opposed to, inasmuch as I know anything about sex, being a thirty-six year old virgin, but that’s kind of the point: it just reminded me that there’s this big thing in life that almost everyone experiences and almost everyone enjoys (to the extent that not enjoying it is seen as a symptom of a problem of some kind) and I’m never likely to experience it.  From there on it was just a downward spiral into thinking that E. and I will never move our relationship on.  By this stage, the toxic cocktail of hunger, exhaustion and self-pity sent me towards general catastrophisation of my life.  Fortunately I was able to eat something on the way home and feel better.

Honestly, lately I’ve been feeling happier about my love life than I have felt for a long time.  E. cares about me more than anyone who isn’t an immediate blood relation ever has done and if anything I worry that I can’t reciprocate well enough, not that E. has ever complained (she says I’m a good friend).  And I’m glad she’s in my life even if our relationship remains platonic.  It’s just that every so often something makes me think about how much is missing from my life, sometimes sex, sometimes children, sometimes a more nebulous sense of contentment, meaning and stability, and then I wonder if I will ever be “normal.”  Even if my life comes together at some point, say in my forties, I wonder how I can keep going until then.  That’s something that applies to many, many more things than just sex, but sex is somehow emblematic of them all because it is so ubiquitous in secular Western society and covertly signalled in Jewish society with talk of producing children and grandchildren and the sanctity of marriage and the “Shabbat mitzvah.”

***

Anyway, I went home and crashed.  I wrote most of this post, but didn’t hit “publish” then watched a James Bond film, Die Another Day, because it was too early to go to bed, but I was too exhausted to do anything that required brainpower.  I struggled not to eat junk food and eventually succumbed to the big box of Quality Street that my parents opened.  Not eating any junk at all most days is hard when I have traditionally used small treats as a reward for getting through difficult depression days.  I did at least only eat one orange creme.  I’m the only person in the house who really likes cremes, so I’ve potentially got a whole stash down there.  Diet another day.

Die Another Day wasn’t great, but I was too tired to care.  I think I like James Bond for the “wrong” reasons.  The sex and violence doesn’t interest me much, but I like the laconic villains, the bad jokes, the gadgets and the lateral thinking problem solving, plus supporting actors like Desmond Llewelyn and Judi Dench.  My favourite Bond so far is Roger Moore, which I know makes me a Bad Fan to most Bond fans, but there you go.  I like the sillier (I would say fun) films of the seventies too.

Bedtime soon, I think.

Running on Empty

That was a difficult Shabbat (Sabbath).  I didn’t really want to go to shul (synagogue) on Friday evening (afternoon really; Shabbat started at 3.48pm) because I just felt too tired and overloaded.  I forced myself to go and probably would have felt worse if I had missed it, but I didn’t get much out of it.  I don’t seem to get much out of shul any more, if I ever did.  The mini-shiur (class) in the middle was on an obscure halakhic (Jewish law) matter that is, I suspect, primarily a superstition that has crept into minor law codes, but which has been unearthed by Haredi scholars who are looking for more laws and assume that nothing external to Judaism could enter the halakhic process so it must all be authentic and meaningful.  If you’ve read the famous essay Rupture and Reconstruction by Rabbi Haym Soloveitchik you’ll know what I mean (the essay concludes “Zealous to continue traditional Judaism unimpaired, religious Jews seek to ground their new emerging spirituality less on a now unattainable intimacy with Him [God], than on an intimacy with His Will, avidly eliciting Its intricate demands and saturating their daily lives with Its exactions. Having lost the touch of His presence, they seek now solace in the pressure of His yoke.”).

I came home and got through dinner with my family, but then I went and lay on my bed in the dark for half an hour.  I’m never sure, when I do that, if it’s a type of autistic withdrawal from emotional overload or just depression.  I guess they could overlap.

I just felt all evening that I’m running on empty, religiously.  I suppose emotionally too, although I’m only realising that now.  I still believe in God, and the Divine origin of the Torah, and the importance and meaningfulness of halakhah and the mitzvot (commandments), but it’s a struggle to get motivated to do anything Jewish.  I try to daven (pray) and do some Torah study (more on this below), but it’s hard.  Perhaps it would be easier if someone external was congratulating me when I do these things, or perhaps that would just feel patronising and make it seem worse.  I don’t know.  I just feel I have nothing left to give.  I want to keep Shabbat (it’s currently the only truly meaningful or enjoyable Jewish practice in my life) and I wouldn’t do anything drastic like stopping keeping kashrut (the dietary laws), but davening and Torah study get harder and harder, as do mitzvot that aren’t particularly strongly embedded in my life, like not listening to women singing (I was just listening to Annie Lennox/Eurythmics) or not watching stuff that has a lot of sex and violence (my recent binging on James Bond films that I had seen for decades, although to be honest I’m not greatly fond of sex and violence in fiction generally… I like the Roger Moore Bond films because they’re all deliberately cartoonish and unreal).

I don’t think I’ve ever got much out of my religion.  I know my parents became more religious because they found adopting certain practices meaningful or enjoyable, but that’s never been my motivation.  I’ve enjoyed too little for that to motivate me.  I used to enjoy Torah study.  I suppose I still do, if it’s about something that interests me.  I’m enjoying the Maggid Koren series of literary critical books on Tanakh (Hebrew Bible).  In fact, I finished the volume on Bereshit (Genesis: From Creation to Covenant) over Shabbat.  But these days I rarely experience any kind of meaningful connection with God when I daven or “learn” (study Torah… it’s probably telling that I usually say “study Torah” rather than “learn” as most Orthodox Jews do).  I’ve largely stopped meditating.

I know we’re supposed to serve God because it’s the right thing to do, because we’re in His covenant, but we’re supposed to enjoy it as well.  Other Jews talk about what they get from Judaism, whether it’s intellectual stimulation from “learning” or connection from davening or meditation or the feeling of emotional support in the community, or the warmth of Jewish families…  Religious Jews will say that Judaism enables us to enjoy the physical world meaningfully rather than hedonistically over-indulge or ascetically abstain, but I don’t enjoy much generally (depressive anhedonia), have had to curtail my diet because of medication-led weight gain and, am not allowed to have sex because I’m not married, which I suspect is the main thing people are thinking of when they say that Jews are allowed to avoid physical stuff within boundaries.  I know we’re supposed to serve God as an end in itself, but it’s hard to keep going when I’m getting nothing in return, just on a simple practical need for refuelling.  All I can say is that depressive anhedonia means that not being frum would probably be just as miserable for me, so I might as well stick with Judaism in the hope that there is an afterlife and I get something there that I can’t get here.  Which is entirely the wrong attitude, for practical reasons as much as religious ones.

For a while I thought that at least I could model positive aspects of Judaism to non-Jews/non-religious Jews, but I don’t think that’s true any more.  If anything my recent bursts of religious OCD just present it in a bad light here.

The other thing that worried me over Shabbat is whether I actually care about anyone.  I know my parents care about me and my sister does and E. certainly cares about me, but I find it hard to know what I feel about other people.  My feelings are often a black box that I can’t easily access except with therapy or slowly writing stuff here.  I know some people think that this blog is self-indulgent navel-gazing, but really it’s a kind of archaeology, slowly trying to unearth and understand what I’m thinking and feeling at any given time.  I just happen to let other people read it too.  I’m not sure that I know exactly what “caring about someone” would feel like.  I worried that I didn’t care much about my cousins, but then when we were worried that my cousin had gone missing last Shabbat (which I think I downplayed here because by the time I could write she was home, but I was really worried at the time) I was very upset that something might have happened to her, so maybe I do care about people.

Asking myself “Would I do X for person Y?” to try to see how much I care about them doesn’t really help as I’ve conditioned myself to think that I should (my favourite word again) give anything, my life even, to help others, even though the reality is that if I had to go out of my way for most people, it would make me resentful, but some of that would be autistic annoyance at disruption.  If someone said, “Can you do something minor for me right away?” or “Can you do something major for me in a week’s time?” I would probably find the former harder, because I wouldn’t have time to plan for it and accept it, whereas the big thing I know is coming and can prepare for, practically and emotionally, which is much easier from an autistic point of view (my parents have never entirely grasped this, one reason we don’t see eye to eye lately).

I read a bit and went to bed earlyish even though I didn’t feel tired and had no intention of trying to go to shul in the morning.  Even so, I couldn’t sleep, so I got up and read some more.  I don’t know what time I fell asleep in the end.  Probably somewhere around 2.00am.

I slept through the morning again, struggled to get ready for lunch and then had to go back to bed for a bit afterwards, before eating seudah quickly and hurrying to shul.  I did somehow daven a bit at home and get to shul for shiur and Ma’ariv (Evening Service).  I only really did that because I have my little job tidying up the papers after Ma’ariv.  I didn’t really want to go to the shiur or the service.

The shiur was on Daf Yomi.  Daf Yomi is a thing whereby you study one page (that’s both sides of a page) of Talmud a day and you complete the whole Talmud in approximately seven and a half years.  It’s been going since the 1920s I think.  They just completed/re-started another cycle (in fact I think the re-start is tonight/Sunday), so it’s been in the air in the Jewish community recently.  In theory it allows ‘ordinary’ people to study the whole of the Talmud, although I’ve never been sure if the average person really understands that much Talmud in one go, even if they go to a shiur.  It would take me about an hour to study that much Talmud, but that would really just reading through it.  Serious comprehension would take longer, possibly indefinitely.  But apparently tens of thousands of people manage it, including growing numbers of women (although not in the Haredi world).

The rabbi spoke about making a set time each day to study Torah.  He said even doing five minutes, even two minutes, a day was OK if you genuinely could not do more, which reassured me a bit.  Unfortunately, he then undermined this by saying that we should all really do Daf Yomi, that Rav Moshe Feinstein (the leading Haredi posek (jurist) of the twentieth century) said that there’s a mitzvah to study the whole of the Talmud that can be fulfilled through Daf Yomi (I very much doubt any rabbi before the twentieth century would have said there’s a mitzvah for all men to study the whole of the Talmud; Talmud used to be for an intellectual/religious elite, not everyone) and that everyone should have a set time for studying Torah morning and evening even if they’re ill.  So that just fed a load of my fears about not doing enough and thinking that I will never be a good enough Jew and that even thought I’m ill, I should be doing a lot more study.

I’m home now, obviously, and back in weekday mode.  I still have these worries about running on empty religiously, and how much worse I might feel once I start work and have that drain on my resources, and whether I care about my parents or E., not to mention what caring for E. would/could/might one day actually entail and so on.

It was hard to do anything this evening.  I didn’t manage any proofreading, but I spent a bit of time working on my novel – a bit under an hour, and even less when you take out the procrastination time dotted inside that hour.  I did write over 600 words, which is better than my usual target of 500 per hour.  The procrastination just made me feel more depressed, seeing things online that upset me one way or another, not necessarily in ways that are easy to explain, but tied in with my weak sense of self and identity, and my isolation in the frum community.