“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.

Bits and Pieces

The big news today is that the Jewish institution is going to phone tomorrow about my working there.  I’m guessing they want to negotiate something as they haven’t sent a straightforward yes/no email, although I could be wrong.  I asked them not to phone in the morning as I have a workshop then.  Since hearing, I’ve been feeling quite anxious, which is probably understandable, but might also stem from not being able to use my SAD light box for long today.  I’m also feeling somewhat depressed for the same reason, plus also because I’m wondering if E. and I will ever manage to get our lives sorted out enough to date again, let alone whether we’re right for each other.  I guess it’s good to know that she cares about me even if we aren’t technically together.

I had insomnia again, then slept too long and struggled to get up again.  I’m not sure where this insomnia has suddenly come from or, perhaps more accurately, why my antidepressants don’t knock me out the way they used to do.

I seem to have lost about 1kg of weight, which is good.  I just hope I really have lost it, as my weight can fluctuate.  Also, sometimes I don’t remember to weigh myself until after breakfast, which confuses things.  Of course, it’s nearly Chanukah, which is a super-fattening festival (potato latkes and doughnuts).  I don’t think I can forego the festive doughnuts!

The wifi problem has reached rock bottom.  It’s almost impossible for my computer to connect to our router from anywhere except right next to it, even though it can often locate the router of our neighbours two doors down, including when it can’t locate our router.  I have no idea how that works.  I want someone to look at it, but I suspect I’m going to need a new computer sooner rather than later.  My Dad wants to buy a power booster before we call anyone in to look at it.  I am ashamed to say that I argued with him about this, as it seemed obvious to me that that was a waste of time and money (why would only my computer have trouble connecting if it was a general wifi problem?  And why would it suddenly relatively recently rather than when we moved in four years ago?).  Sometimes it’s hard for me to tell the difference between arguing my case and autistic rigid thinking.

I finished the first draft of chapter three of my novel.  It’s not great, but it’s a start.  I’ve now written over 10,500 for the novel, which is good.

Tonight is the last of this series of Tuesday shiurim and then I need to get up early (about 7.30am) to go to an interview skills workshop, which will hopefully be easier than the last one, although doubtless there will be some scary mock-interview stuff to get through.  I spoke up at the shiur almost for the first time.  I had answered one or two questions in the past,  but only small things.  Here I ventured more of an opinion.  The shiur was on the Tower of Babel, looking at interpretations through the millennia from the Targumim (Aramaic translations) through the Midrash (ancient rabbinic expansions of the biblical story) to Medieval and modern commentaries.  This week we looked at the story modern Jewish religious works, but also in modern literature and art, including a short story by one of my favourite authors, Franz Kafka (The City Coat of Arms).  My contribution, after other people had spoken about the despair and futility evoked by the work, was to say that I found it quite funny.  I told the story that Kafka claimed to have read some of The Trial to his family consumed with laughter while they sat in stony-faced incomprehension and said I felt a bit the same here.  I meant it as a joke, but I worry it might not have been interpreted that way.  I did explain that I thought that the humour was the flip-side of the futility; either you laugh at the absurdity of the world or you fall into despair.  I didn’t say that I usually fall on the ‘despair’ side, which may be why I can find Kafka funny.

It would be a good thing if I could participate more in shiurim and classes and things, but I’m still held back a lot by social anxiety.

Another Difficult Day

I’m feeling really depressed again.  I went to bed really late (gone 2.00am) because I had a small burst of energy and not-feeling-awful and did a load of stuff (working on my novel, Torah study, enquiring about a job).  I then slept for ten hours and woke up feeling exhausted and depressed again.  I’m concerned about managing to get to my “second career” conference on Wednesday, especially as I’ll be out late on Tuesday at shiur.

I spend ages procrastinating online, probably because I want to connect with people and to read interesting ideas, but I’m too scared to actually reach out to people or get scared off by the abusive commentariat on “free for all” sites like Twitter, so I read intelligent sites that don’t have comment sections like Unherd and Tablet Magazine.  I don’t know if I’d be willing to interact about religion; the Jewish blogosphere seems to have mostly died or moved to Facebook, so it’s somewhat academic.  I read some mental health blogs and sometimes feel I can connect, but mostly I end up posting here on what was described as my “whiny, self-obsessed blog.”

I went back to bed for an hour after breakfast.  I do this quite a bit.  I tend to think of it as being a depressed thing about not wanting to face the day, but I think it’s also an autistic thing.  Like a lot of people on the spectrum, I like feeling wrapped up tight in my duvet and find that comforting and reassuring.  I think going back to bed in the daytime lets me do that as an autistic comforting thing as well as just withdrawing from the day.  I did just manage to daven Mincha (say Afternoon Prayers) in time (the sunset deadline was 4.07pm today).  This looks set to be another winter where I barely see the sun.

***

I finished the benefits form I was filling in.  It was easier than I expected, as I don’t have to list my medical condition at the moment.  There’s another questionnaire for that later.  I’m dreading that one already.  It’s so hard to make clear how my life is impacted by depression.  If I say “I’m always tired, I can’t get up in the morning, I have negative thoughts about myself and the world, I have no energy, I can’t concentrate, I have no motivation to work…” well, almost everyone feels like that about work.  The difference is that I feel like this on days when I don’t work too, but they don’t ask about that and they certainly don’t pay you benefits for not being able to relax.

Now I need an appointment at a Jobcentre to go through the form and see if I’ll be allowed [sic] to go further with the application.  I also need an appointment with my doctor to get a medical certificate/sick note.  I don’t have one of these as I’ve been out of work for so long, and in my last two jobs I either didn’t mention my illness and hid it (not good, it probably made me worse) or had an informal conversation with my super-understanding boss (I wish that job had lasted longer than three months, but there wasn’t the budget to make it permanent).

***

Over dinner I spoke to my parents again about tutoring.  Yesterday they spoke to one of their friends who tutors teenagers for maths and who may be able to give me some ideas about tutoring.  I’m worried I’m going to essentially have to study again to do it.  I could probably do English language and literature without too much effort; a lot of it is about spelling, grammar, paragraphing, structuring an argument, creative writing and so on that you either know or you don’t.  I could read up on a few set texts; to be honest, as I’ll be marking and giving feedback, not writing the answers myself, I probably won’t need to know the texts that well.  Tutoring history would be harder though, despite it being my BA subject because my BA was a long time ago and, in any case, history is so vast that one can study a lot of history and still have significant gaps.  When I did A-Levels, the curriculum my class did focused on nineteenth century British domestic social change (public health, public education, female franchise etc.) and post-Napoleonic European political history down to World War II, although everything post World War I seemed a bit rushed, or maybe I just wanted to focus on the earlier section.  I just looked up contemporary curricula, and they can cover different periods, with stuff I haven’t learnt either at A-Level or university; to be honest, I’m not sure how much I can remember of what I have studied.  How much detail would I have to remember and how much would it be a case of making sure that my students can structure their answers properly and respond to gobbets of text in the appropriate way?  I’m not sure.

***
Scrolling through my WhatsApp contacts, I see I still have details for someone who I dated years ago and who dumped me pretty darn quickly when I told her I had mental health issues.  Her userpic is now a wedding photo, and her husband looks super-frum (black hat), which makes me wonder why she was willing to date someone like me.  I mean, it’s good for her that she’s married and in a way it proves that she wasn’t right for me, but I’m not sure what it leaves me feeling.  Not really envious and despairing the way it once would because I’ve given up most hope of getting married.  I think E. is the only person who could accept me, and possibly one of very few people who I could accept, but that doesn’t look like going anywhere any time soon and I’m not even going to bother looking for anyone else while I’m unemployed and this depressed.  I just wish I could cope with things better in the meantime.  I mean cope with loneliness and celibacy and worrying what will happen when my parents aren’t here to look after me, particularly if I never work full-time (or learn to drive, a bigger thing than most people realise, or remember from their teenage days).

***

I did manage to work on my novel for about an hour.  It was admittedly interrupted by online procrastination and blog commenting, but I wrote about 500 words, which is my target for one hour.  I also managed about thirty or thirty-five minutes of Torah study.  This all seemed impossible when I woke up today, as I struggled to get going and when I had lunch and tried to do things in the afternoon.  I guess this is positive, but I wonder if I do not push myself too hard sometimes, ridiculous though it seems to say that.

Sex and the Single Jew

I had my second meeting today with the charity that helps people with mental health issues into work (I was referred via the NHS).  We spent most of the time talking about the type of help I would like, but I am still vague on what help they are actually offering.  The only thing the case worker (? I’m not sure what her title is) has recommended so far is a course on motivation for work and other skills which I think could be helpful, but it is only run on Friday afternoons and now we are in the winter, Shabbat (the Sabbath) starts very early (because sunset is so early), around 4pm and it will get even earlier as we head into December.  I would need to be home around an hour before that, to shower and do various chores and get to shul (synagogue) on time.  The course runs from noon to 2.30pm and it will take me around an hour to get home afterwards, so this is tricky.  Last time she mentioned it, I went into autistic “black and white thinking” mode and said I couldn’t go; this time I asked for the details of the person who runs it to see if maybe I could go for the first hour or so or find some other compromise.

She did give me some work to do with changes to my CV (fairly cosmetic, changing layout and fonts) and encouraged me to increase my usage of LinkedIn and Twitter.  I’m never really sure how to use LinkedIn and largely avoid it, although I do have an account with my job details that I try keep up to date.  LinkedIn just makes me inferior to people with a Real Career and panicked that I don’t know where my life is going or what to do about it, let alone how to build a career for myself.  As for Twitter… it’s a whole new world of insanity.  I did have an account briefly to try to get involved in online Doctor Who fandom, but Twitter is just so aggressive and political that I can’t cope with it at all and even when it’s not aggressive, the sheer volume of information (much of it trivial, if also sometimes funny) is overwhelming.  I try not to be glued to my phone all day; I’m less successful at not being glued to my laptop, but I don’t want to make it worse.  What I might do is unfollow all the Doctor Who fan accounts, even the ones I know in real life, and just follow a bunch of formal institutional accounts for libraries and universities that hopefully won’t be overwhelming or aggressive/political.  The problem is that I think that networking would eventually involve following personal accounts of librarians and maybe academics and they won’t necessarily stick just to libraries.  For one thing, academics and public sector workers can be very political; for another, Brexit and public sector spending are genuinely important issues for academic libraries, my chosen sector.  To quote Star Wars, “I have a bad feeling about this…”

I had a conversation about careers with my parents, which ended with them saying I have to do some kind of voluntary work now to get motivation back.  I don’t really feel capable of doing anything, so low is my confidence in my abilities and basic functionality, but I’ve agreed to get in touch (via my parents’ friend, who has a contact) with the local Jewish primary school to see if I can volunteer as a teaching assistant, although I’m worried that (a) that I’m not as good with children as my parents think, (b) that I won’t be able to cope with a classroom environment from an autistic point of view and (c) that right now I can’t cope with any work from a depression point of view.

I’m also going to force myself to prioritise my novel writing.  I was going to postpone that while I focused on other chores and job hunting after a month or more disrupted by Yom Tov (Jewish festivals) and holiday, but I feel I need to be doing something ASAP, and preferably something that might make me feel confident in my abilities.  It’s only really writing that does that.  Unfortunately, I also want to prioritise exercise and job hunting (and now volunteering), and I’ve signed up for shiurim (Jewish religious classes) starting tomorrow so I clearly have a problem with conflicting priorities, given my lack of energy and motivation, as well as time (given that I sleep for ten or more hours a day).  At the moment just functioning on a day-to-day level is hard.

***

I’m feeling depressed about being single again.  I actually understand why Orthodox Judaism puts such an emphasis on marriage and only allows sex (and, in Haredi (ultra-Orthodox circles) friendships between genders) in a marital setting.  It sounds bizarre to a secular Westerner, but while Judaism sees sexual satisfaction as important, it values it much less than the secular West (at least judging by the media).  It sees family and community values as far more important than sexuality or individualism, and as someone increasingly concerned about where Western hyper-individualism is leading us (particularly in terms of social cohesion, support for those on the fringes of society and in terms of our impact on the environment), I can value that.  But there isn’t really a back-up plan if you can’t find your mate, whether through bad luck, illness or not fitting the acceptable heterosexual pattern.

Because the model of the heterosexual family is so embedded in Orthodox Jewish social life, there isn’t really any acknowledgement of the loneliness and sexual frustration that can be experienced by people outside that model (single, divorced, widowed, gay, asexual).  The expectation is that anyone without a spouse is looking for one, unless perhaps widowed in old age.  Someone at shiur is divorced, and he has to put up with occasional comments that he should remarry, even though he seems to have no interest in doing so.  To be honest, if I didn’t keep myself to myself so much I would probably get the same.  There isn’t really another option on the menu other than marriage; even celibacy is not seen as a positive thing (unlike Catholicism).

I’m not sure where I’m really going with this.  Orthodoxy isn’t going to change for a handful of people who don’t fit in.  Most frum (religious Orthodox Jewish) Jews do manage to find someone, usually far before their peers in the wider Western society are even thinking of marriage.  I don’t know if anyone has done any research on how happy those marriages are.  Certainly divorce is rising in the frum world and there is a growing awareness of issues like domestic violence.  I know that people who are married are not necessarily happy or even safe (one of the themes of the novel I’m writing).  Still, I wish there was another model for the good life that I could use, or some kind of legitimate outlet or even acknowledgement of my sexuality.

I guess my sexuality frightens me in a way.  That it’s a part of myself that I don’t understand and can’t legitimately probe or investigate, but which is constantly tripping me up in little ways, like when I feel attracted to women on TV or whatever (as per Jewish law I shouldn’t really be looking at women like that).  When I was in group therapy we did an exercise on values and were given a list of sixty-odd values and told to pick our five core values.  One of the values was something like “exploring my sexuality”.  This freaked me out a bit.  I couldn’t work out how someone could put that as their core value up with things like honesty, kindness, justice, family, friendship and so on.  I mean, I really like Doctor Who.  I really like Doctor Who.  I have invested a significant amount of time and money in it over the last twenty-eight years, not least writing my unpublished book.  But I would not put “watching Doctor Who” as a core value and it seems weird to me that someone would put exploring their sexuality as a core value like that.  In my head, my image of what such a person would be like and how they would behave is not pretty and doubtless I would get “called out” on it if I shared it publicly in our hyper-sensitive age (so I won’t).  But I guess some of the fear (I use the word advisedly) generated by that item on the list is really repressed envy of someone more in touch with their needs than I am, and probably meeting them more than I am too, even if I think those needs are trivial and a distraction from worthier things and may be buying short-term gain with long-term regret.

***

Other than that today wasn’t that good.  I did some chores on the way home from my meeting and I somehow found the energy and concentration for forty minutes of Torah study.  But I haven’t done much else.  I tried to work on my novel for an hour, but it went slowly and after half an hour I think my mind switched off and I started getting distracted and fiddling around with Twitter without doing any of the things I said I would be doing with it.  Bearing in mind what I wrote about about sexuality, I think I was avoiding writing a scene where one of my characters (at university having previously led a sheltered life in religious schools and yeshiva (rabbinical seminary)) gets woken up by the person in the room upstairs having noisy sex.  It felt awkward to write, not least because it took me back to my Oxford days when this happened to me on more than one occasion (not woken up, but hearing it when I couldn’t sleep), the embarrassment, annoyance and guilt-inducing jealousy.  Still, I am 444 words further forward, which at least has a pleasing symmetry to it, even if I would have liked to have hit 500.

I Want to Break Free

I went to bed late last night as I was downloading holiday photos and listening to a Doctor Who audiobook (hopefully I will post some of the photos later in the week).  That was probably a mistake – both going to bed late and trying to multitask the photos and the audiobooks, as I’m really not good enough at multitasking to do that (autism again).  Then I got really hungry late and night and needed to eat before going to bed.  I then slept until after midday and was still in my pyjamas at 2.00pm.  I spent much of the day too drained and too depressed to do anything.  I still have confused feelings about E.  I guess it’s good in a way that we both feel confused about what we should do.  Better than one wanting a relationship and one not wanting one, at any rate.  But I do wish it was easier to work out what to do.

I have also been feeling pessimistic about finding work and sorting my life out.  Wading through the job adverts that came in while I was away, there are library jobs available.  Granted a lot are in school libraries and law libraries, not environments where I think I will thrive, but they are there, and there are some higher education jobs too, including another one from a college that keeps advertising lots of different library jobs; not sure what’s going on there.  I’ve applied for a couple of jobs there already and even got one interview, but I don’t think the institutional culture was right for me.  I did think of applying for this one, but the closing date was today (yesterday now) and I was in no fit state to be writing CVs and applications today.  There were a couple of jobs I wasn’t hugely excited by, but was thinking of applying for, but the commute was really too far.

I feel that I need more enthusiasm about working in general and librarianship in particular.  I’m not sure if it’s depression, prolonged unemployment or feeling that I’m in the wrong career that has caused this lack of enthusiasm, but I feel I really need to change it.  A couple of people at shul ask me regularly if I’ve found work; they are trying to be supportive and take an interest in my life, but it just makes me feel useless.  I feel like I must be self-sabotaging in some way, given my qualifications, but part of me knows it’s my illnesses (counting autism and low self-esteem as illnesses for convenience alongside depression and social anxiety) that are sabotaging my job hunt, my illnesses that are stopping me applying, or at least applying enthusiastically, for full-time work or work in noisy or unfamiliar environments when that is most of what is available.

It doesn’t help that so many job adverts are vague, not mentioning the job description, qualities wanted or closing date.  Some agency adverts don’t mention the company or even much about the sector!

I deleted some emails while I was away, but I still came back to a lot.  I deleted some and have been working through others.  Job adverts tend to be fairly repetitive – if a job is available, it will be listed on every email from that recruitment agency for weeks, so all other than the most recent can go straight in the deleted folder.  I have a thing about trying to keep my email inbox as empty as possible.  I don’t mind storing old emails in other folders, but I don’t like them sitting in my inbox unless they are, in some way, current.

I spent time chasing up the latest issue of the Jewish Review of Books, which hasn’t arrived after nearly two months.  Then I lost more time with some payments that I didn’t remember making on my bank account debit card, relatively small payments, but mysterious.  I phoned the bank fraud number and was put on hold for a while.  The person I spoke to said that the small amounts taken were extremely unlikely to be fraudulent, as fraudsters usually try to clear out your account quickly and run, so the small, but unremembered, payments were likely to be legitimate payments to an organisation that has two names or bank accounts, in this case one for “London School of Jewish Studies” and one for “ISJS”.  I’m not entirely sure why the second account is for “ISJS” rather than “LSJS” (unless someone put on caps lock but then held down the shift key too and ended up with a low case ‘l’), but once he said that, I did remember paying £58 to them a few weeks ago, right before my holiday.  I felt somewhat sheepish.  The sad thing is, as my Mum inadvertently reminded me, I used to be really good at keeping track of my money, but in the last year or two I’ve rather lost the knack or (more likely) feel too depressed and lacking in concentration and cognitive ability to do it.

I did eventually go for a run, which was my biggest accomplishment of the day (second biggest was fifteen minutes of Torah study).  It was late and I had to change my route after seeing a group of teenage boys hanging out on a street corner engaging in horseplay (I was probably being paranoid, but they just screamed ‘gang’ to me), but the run was better than I expected considering how late and dark it was and how depressed I was feeling, even if my pace was poor compared with other runs this year.

I have a lot to do in the coming weeks, including more job hunting; going to various support groups and conferences about job hunting and changing careers; going to a short course of shiurim (religious classes) (the LSJS payment); really getting to work on my novel; applying for proof-reading work; and applying for benefits as well as daily and weekly things like Torah study; exercising; writing a weekly devar Torah (Torah thought) and so on.  I also have a seminar thing to go to on preparing for an autism assessment and would like to make it to another depression group session before the end of the calendar year.  I should also either send my Doctor Who book manuscript to more publishers or bite the bullet and look into self-publishing.  It all seems very daunting and I don’t quite know where to start.  Tomorrow (today now) I have another meeting with the charity that helps people with mental health issues into work, which is as good a start as any, plus I have some other chores to do on the way home.

Homeward Thoughts from Abroad

I’m writing from the airport. I feel bad, partly because the holiday is ending and I’m back to job hunting, but mostly because I feel useless.

Last night Mum reminded me to thank Dad for the holiday. I don’t know if I would have remembered otherwise. I forgot to buy him a souvenir to say thanks because usually my sister would remind me. Similarly, today I finished packing and waited for my parents. It didn’t occur to me that Mum and Dad might need help.

I know that inability to “mind-read” is a classic high functioning autism symptom. Likewise for trouble acting on initiative. But somehow I feel I should be “better.” And I worry that I’m not on the spectrum, I’m just selfish and useless.

At the start of the holiday, when things were going well, I was more optimistic about my life and especially about me and E.  but now things seem hopeless again. A real downer to end on.

The Pseudonymous Rosh Yeshiva and Other Mysteries

I had upsetting dreams last night.  One was so bad when I woke up in the early hours I had to write it down so I didn’t forget it later, because I wanted to mention it here.  My notes don’t seem to really capture what I felt, though and in the light of day (literally) it doesn’t seem worth mentioning the dreams in full.  Suffice to say that one was about being useless as a university undergraduate (which is probably really about feeling useless at work, unless I’m genuinely still upset about not getting a first from Oxford nearly fifteen years on) and the second one was that no one would ever love me romantically (which is not entirely true as E. cares about me a lot even if it’s not clear how things could work out practically between us right now). The third dream was about not fitting in with Doctor Who fandom and fan culture generally (doubtless after my comments yesterday), although this dream was arguably more optimistic as I did sort of fit in, albeit bending some of my religious beliefs/practices and hoping neither frum (religious Orthodox Jewish) people nor fans would question me too carefully; it also had some arguably more positive bits about learning how to cope with my autistic traits as well as being able to help others, particularly children.

I suppose I do wonder how many people in the frum community are hiding parts of themselves, either minor misfitting beliefs or practices or much bigger ones (I know from the Jewish blogosphere that there are people who don’t believe in Judaism at all living very Orthodox lifestyles for family or social reasons).  I also wonder how many people with somewhat conservative political or cultural views are hiding in “woke” Doctor Who fandom, just talking about Doctor Who and keeping quiet about wider views.  I guess it would be easier to fit in if I went to conventions, as I imagine that Twitter conversations are much more political and contentious than in-person conversations.  But the thought of going to a convention does scare me somewhat.  I’d like to have more fan friends, but the thought of being with so many people is scary and I don’t have a particularly burning desire to meet people who worked on the programme or to buy rare merchandise, the other reason people go to conventions.  I think the focus of fandom has also moved now from specific Doctor Who conventions to general film/TV science fiction conventions, which interest me even less.

***

I mentioned my feeling over Yom Kippur that God loves me and that I can just do the best I can.  I forgot to mention that I realised that I probably do have a deeper connection to God and Judaism than just duty and obligation.  I don’t think I would do so much, at such cost to myself (financially, plus also in terms of time, precious concentration and mental energy, and the dramatic narrowing of my dating pool) unless it was deeper than that.  I’m not good at understanding my emotions, though.  It is hard to express what God, Torah and Yiddishkeit (“Jewish-ness”) mean to me.

I have more to say, but I just cut a chunk I wrote because I don’t want to get into it now as it’s too long and complicated.  I need to get ready for Shabbat (the Sabbath).  Just one thing I will note for now: this review makes the book look really interesting, both in itself and as a sign that maybe there are other people out there who want to read literature that deals with religious Jews in neither a critical or apologetic way, but just shows the complexity of the religious culture and the contemporary religious life for its own sake.  The book is apparently written under a pseudonym by a rosh yeshiva (head of a rabbinical seminary) who is clearly learned in Western literature and philosophy as well as Jewish Talmud.  I can’t find the publisher, A. B. Ruth, online, so it may be a self-published books (sometimes people disguise the fact a book is self-published like that).  So that’s somewhat more hopeful for my writing ambitions.

Holding On

Today was mostly a horrible day full of rejection, despair and anxiety.  I got three rejections, one from a library for a job, one from a publisher for my Doctor Who book, one from a Jewish website for an article.  I felt pretty useless.  The email from the publisher was spelt badly, which somehow made it worse, like they didn’t even have to care what I thought of them.

have applied to about 100 jobs in the last year, an average of two a week.  Actually, strictly speaking, I have about a hundred jobs listed on a spreadsheet; some closed for submissions before I could apply, but I reckon I’ve applied to seventy or eighty (and I did apply for some jobs not listed on the spreadsheet).  I did get two three-month contracts, so it hasn’t been a total loss and I am in a small sector and I’m dealing with depression, which most applicants aren’t, both of which are relevant.  People are advised to apply to apply to a new job each day, something not possible for me without looking in another career sector and without having better mental health as some days I’m just too depressed to deal with applications.  However you look at it, it’s rather dispiriting.

I also had a Skype call with my rabbi mentor where I felt I was unprepared and semi-incoherent.  This is probably not true, but I probably was hoping for more advice than he can actually give.  At some point I have to live my own life, but sometimes I feel so alone.  I was so worried today that I would do the wrong thing and not be able to rectify it and no one would be able to help me.  E. said she would help me and my family would to.  This is true, but I worry that one day I will mess up so badly that they won’t be able to help, particularly as working out what to do about my relationship with E. is part of the anxiety and I worry about scaring her off or being incompatible.  Some other stuff went wrong too, but it’s too petty to write about.  But everything built up so that by 4.00pm I was just feeling absolutely lousy.  I struggled to cook some dinner, do a few minutes of Torah study and go to shul, the latter partly because they are struggling for a minyan (prayer quorum), but mostly so I could give a thank you gift to the person who invited me for dinner last week.

I don’t know why I felt so bad.  I did a lot yesterday and it’s not uncommon for me to have a bad mental health day after an active day, which is frustrating, but a fact of life that I’ve learnt to accept.  I think some of it is anxiety about the situation with E., worrying that I will do the wrong thing.  Not even being sure what the right thing is.  There’s a lot of catastrophising everything that could possibly go wrong, even the mutually exclusive stuff.  And I guess the job and publishing anxieties just sit on top of those things.

When I got home from shul I eventually called a time out on the day.  I had dinner and watched The Trouble with Tribbles (a very funny Star Trek: The Original Series episode).  I ate ice cream (Ben and Jerry’s Birthday Cake) even though I’m trying to lose weight – I felt I deserved it.  My mood is somewhat better now, but I feel very tired, too tired to work on my novel (it’s too late anyway) or to do much extra Torah study (I managed about fifteen minutes in total today).  I also feel close to tears, even though I don’t feel so depressed.  All I can say is that I don’t think they’re depressive tears, more relieved or just tired ones

I try to tell myself that I’m doing well given that I’m still struggling with depression and social anxiety.  I sort of believe myself and sort of don’t, which is an improvement on how I used to be, when I just beat myself up endlessly about stuff.  I can see that I’m managing my anxiety better even on a day like today with some of the skills I learnt from CBT (postponing worry; grounding myself; focusing on problems that affect me now, not hypothetical future problems).  I’m very, very grateful that I have E. even if things are very confusing for both of us.

***

I’m still looking for a publisher for my Doctor Who book.  My Dad keeps saying, “Maybe the BBC will publish it.  They make Doctor Who.”  This is the sort of thing that sounds sensible unless you know otherwise.  “The BBC” don’t publish books (these days I think it’s questionable how much “The BBC” exists as a single corporation the way it did until the 1980s, but set that aside for now).  BBC Books was owned by the BBC, but was sold to Ebury Press which is owned by Penguin.  I can’t find an email address of anyone there who might be an editor.  I think most big publishing houses only take submissions through agents.  The small presses I’ve submitting my manuscript to so far have been very specialised science fiction publishing houses.  I don’t think the BBC/Ebury would accept something submitted on spec even if I could find an email address.  I’m not sure it’s particularly sensible to look for an agent to sell this book when the writing career I want to develop is in a completely different area (literary fiction).

I found some long lists of science fiction publishers to pitch my Doctor Who book to, but it is hard to tell which ones publish non-fiction about science fiction.  Most seem to be American, which is also a problem; I have pitched to American publishers, but only ones that have already published works about Doctor Who.  I don’t know if general American science fiction publishers would know enough about it.  And many of these publishers do not accept unsolicited submissions.

***

I’ve mentioned being signed up for some Elul/pre-Rosh Hashanah  (Jewish New Year) inspirational thoughts.  Rabbi Lord Sacks was talking on one of them today about the violinist Yehudi Menuhin trying to reconnect with his Judaism in his old age.  I feel that in the frum (religious Orthodox Jewish) community, we go wild over great Torah scholars and saintly people who are really close to God and we go wild over very secular people, particularly famous ones, when they make even a small movement towards Judaism (Aish.com is full of this kind of stuff).  But I feel like I’m out alone, struggling to connect with God and Torah.  I’m frum, I try to keep the mitzvot (commandments).  I believe in God, I want to be a good Jew, I’m just struggling with inspiration and feeling that God cares about me and I feel that no one really cares what happens to me.  I suppose this is about feeling alone in my life and having no one to help me too.  The feeling that I’m not good enough for God or for other Jews.  I don’t know what the answer is.

Fear of Being Accepted

I’ve been exhausted all day.  I’m not sure how depressed I’m feeling.  I struggle to understand my moods a lot of the time.  It’s always hard to tell what I feel when I’m not ultra-despairing.  I don’t think that I feel good or happy (I’m not sure that I really know what they would feel like), but I’m not sure if I feel mildly depressed or sort of neutral.  I did wake up with religious OCD anxieties about Pesach (Passover), which isn’t for another seven months.  This was partly the result something that happened recently, which I’m going to have to carefully sort out nearer the time, but I’ve been aware of the issue for a week or more and was able to shelve it for now; the fact that it’s suddenly leapt to the forefront of my thoughts is probably due to other stresses.  At least the anxieties mostly subsided during the day.

***

I got another job rejection today.  I did, however, finish painting my parents’ shed, assuming it dries evenly and doesn’t need a third coat (it seems OK so far).  It used up whatever energy I had left, but it was the first thing I’ve actually done to earn in the last five months.  Afterwards, I went to shul (synagogue) for Mincha and Ma’ariv (Afternoon and Evening prayers) afterwards, which may have been a tactical error as I was very tired.  I managed twenty or thirty minutes of Torah study, which was more than I expected given how tired I was after painting, but because of all of this I had no time or energy to work on my novel.

***

It was a day for finishing things in other ways too.  I finished reading J, a surprisingly bleak conclusion from a novelist (Howard Jacobson) who insists he’s “the Jewish Jane Austen.”  It’s a fairly laugh-free book, being about hatred and antisemitism.  I am not sure I agree with Jacobson’s idea of Jewish identity as being mostly intellectualism and contrariness.  I mean, that probably is a part of it, but he over-stresses it, here and in his non-fiction writings (in three separate essays, I’ve heard him say how disgusted he was with a rabbi and his family who invited him for Shabbat (Sabbath) dinner and spent the time talking about musicals rather than anything more intellectual which seems rather petty to me, going on about it so much).

I also finished reading a not-very-good Batman graphic novel (Bruce Wayne: Fugitive).  Jacobson doubtless would not approve (this does get to mental health in a minute, I promise!).  I went through a phase of reading a lot of Batman a few years back, off the back of the Christopher Nolan films.  I liked many of the storylines from the nineties, but found more recent stories became disturbingly sadistic, with a lot of real world-type violence (people being tortured with power tools etc.) that I found out of place in an essentially fantasy setting (Batman may not be as obviously fantasy as Superman or The Flash, but it is a comic about a man who dresses up as a bat to fight insane master-criminals.  I feel there’s quite a large of wish fulfillment fantasy in the premise).  Plus, Batman, who is supposed to be The World’s Greatest Detective, hardly does any detecting any more.  He just beats people up.  Yawn.  Watching the two Tim Burton Batman films a few weeks ago on a whim whet my appetite for the Dark Knight Detective, though, and I’m pondering what graphic novels to re-read from my collection or whether to try something new.

The reason I bring this up is that I realised I actually don’t like Batman much as a character any more.  I like the characters around him (many of whom have not be presented on screen in detail or at all) a lot more.  And I like the idea of Batman as someone who says he is a loner, but actually does have friends.  That was actually one point that was handled well in the graphic novel I was reading, where he upsets all his friends by going it alone, but they still stick around because they care about him.  I find that comforting, given that I am not good at making or, apparently, keeping my friends (having lost at least three over the last year and a bit).

***

Awkward: the Head of Employment for the charity I was volunteering for emailed to say he’s sorry I’m leaving and can he do anything to help?  My parents think he’s offering to help with my job search, given his job is helping people with developmental issues into work and that he knows about my autism.  I think he’s offering to help me stay at the charity somehow, which I’m not so keen on.  I don’t know how to politely ask the question, so I’ve agreed to meet and will see what he says at the meeting.

Also awkward: at my parents’ behest, I emailed a couple of job agencies who seem to have forgotten about me.  I hate doing stuff like that.

***

I’ve wanted to write something about my friendship with E. for a few days, but I wasn’t sure what to say.  I also wanted to get her permission (given my experience a few months back).

I guess it’s a slightly weird relationship.  The background is that we met online through my blog and live on different continents.  We dated long-distance for a couple of months, but then we broke up, but stayed friends, because E. couldn’t see things working out while we both had emotional issues and financial problems (which has only got worse since then now I don’t have a job at all).  But we still WhatsApp each other all the time.  We do basically act like we’re long-distance dating even though “officially” we’re not.

E. does sometimes say I should be trying to look for a frum (religious Orthodox Jewish) wife in the UK, but I can’t really see it happening.  Aside from my parents and my sister, I don’t think anyone cares for me like E. does and I think she understands me just as well as they do, maybe better in some ways.  Plus, as I’ve said many times, I really don’t fit into the frum community in the UK and can’t see myself meeting anyone or getting set up with anyone any time soon.

Lately we’ve both been open with each other that we’d like to date each other again, but we can’t see it working at the moment.  E. is scared of the financial/practical side of things (we can’t afford to support ourselves and neither of us is earning enough to be able to immigrate) and I’m scared that I’m so much more religious than E. (she said she would take on a lot of stuff if we got married, but I worry that that is not a good way to go about things, although lots of people do become frum that way).

Having been in therapy for so long in the past, I can put myself into the therapeutic mindset, and I just know that a good therapist would challenge this.  S/he would say, “Are you sure it’s just money/religion you’re worried about?”  Because I feel we probably are scared of the relationship on some level.  I’ve only had one girlfriend before and have been lonely most of my adult life.  E. has been through some difficult stuff too.  Maybe we’re both scared of rejection, and maybe we’re both even more scared of acceptance.  By which I mean, I’ve certainly got a strong self-image of being “not good enough” or “unlovable” and maybe E. is the same (she is in many ways the female me, which my first girlfriend really wasn’t).  It is quite scary to think of being loved romantically, if that hasn’t really happened to you in the past.

It is frustrating that we can’t take the relationship further because of our financial situation/my job situation and the fact that we live on different continents.  But I’m glad we do at least communicate so much.  E. is super-supportive and encouraging when I’m depressed or anxious.

***

Related to this, I was thinking about the forthcoming Jewish festivals and what I want for the Jewish new year.  I used to think I just needed to sort my mental health.  If God would deal with that, everything else would fall into place.  Now I realise that I need to daven (pray) for and work on so many things individually: mental health, career, community, friends, spouse…  It’s like there’s no end to the things I need.  I suppose, logically, or theologically, everyone needs to pray for all those things.  It’s just that most people would need to pray for them to be maintained, not to start from scratch, only needing one or two things.  However, I am trying not to get too depressed about things.  Trying to use the CBT techniques I’ve been taught.  Speaking of which, I have CBT tomorrow, so I should really get to bed…

Doomster and Gloomster

I just feel depressed and burnt out again after going out yesterday.  I went to bed very late and slept beyond noon.  This was not particularly good, especially as I need to be up relatively early tomorrow.  My focus for today was getting to autism group this afternoon, at least for a while (more than the fifteen minutes I managed last time).  There weren’t any library jobs to apply for, except for one that I’m not qualified for, so I didn’t need to feel guilty about neglecting the job hunt.  I tried to work for a little while on my novel, beginning to write a detailed chapter breakdown, but I struggled to cope with depression and despair and ran out of time because I had to leave mid-afternoon to get to autism group, which is in town.  I was determined not to arrive late after last time, when I arrived late and people were talking in little groups and I couldn’t join in.  I would also need to leave early to get up early tomorrow, which was another reason for arriving on time.

I have a busy few days and am worried about being overwhelmed.  Today was autism group, tomorrow I am seeing someone about volunteering, Thursday is CBT, Friday is sort of a quiet day for recovery, but is also erev Shabbat (day before the Sabbath), which means preparations and never quite enough time, even in the summer when Shabbat starts late.  Friday night and Saturday are Shabbat, with all that entails and Sunday is the busiest day of all, with my other volunteering in the late morning/early afternoon and then a family barbecue at my sister and brother-in-law’s house.  I am worried about getting overwhelmed long before Sunday.

I did at least manage to get to autism group.  I felt rather uncomfortable, as the moderator was only one person I had seen before.  Every time I go, it seems to be full of different people.  I think there’s a quite rapid turnover of people.  This makes it hard to build friendships.  I did speak to a couple of people.  I even initiated some conversations, as per my CBT homework, but I struggle to know what to say after, “I’m Luftmentsch, how are you?” and my conversations tend to peter out.  One of my big problems, both with small talk and in job interviews, is giving very closed down answers to questions – answering the immediate question, but not going into detail or developing the topic or asking more questions. This is an autistic issue and I’m not sure that CBT can really help with it; I literally do not know what to say and find it easier to sit in silence, whereas I know neurotypicals who would rather say something obvious rather than let a silence continue.  Sometimes I ask people at the group if they work, but I’m wary of saying that in case they’re unemployed (quite a few people in the group are) and don’t want to mention it.  Maybe I’m being over-sensitive.

This is problematic at home too; my Dad in particular gets frustrated with my curt responses (although I do not intend to be rude) and tries to ask more questions, which I find intrusive or bizarre e.g. when I go to shul (synagogue) he often asks me how many people were there, which I used to find a bizarre thing to ask, as he doesn’t know the people and the answer can’t make any difference to his life; also I don’t count the numbers, so I usually say something like “A normal amount” which can’t mean anything to him.  I know now that he’s just trying to show an interest in my life and fill the silence, but I still struggle not to sound irritated.  (I know I try not to write about other people, but my relationship with my parents, while not bad exactly has been strained in recent months or even years.  My Dad’s neurotypical way of talking and my autistic way of talking leads to a lot of needless bad feeling and I’m hoping by putting this here, someone might suggest something I can do.  I don’t mean this to reflect badly on my Dad.)

The group moderator did try to include me in some conversations, but I’m not sure that it was really that good for me to hear that lots of people are struggling to find work, make friends and find a partner.  On one level it is good to hear that, so I know I’m not alone, but if no one has any ideas for how to solve the problems, it just makes them seem more intractable and fuels anxious-depressive thoughts like, “I will never get a job/make friends/get married because I’m autistic.”  The only practical solutions suggested were not helpful.  I am already trying to widen my job search and contemplating switching sectors as suggested, without much success.  With regard to dating, the idea that I should look for a friend rather than a partner and see what develops isn’t really workable for me, as there are minimal opportunities for men and women to meet socially in the Orthodox Jewish world.  It’s mostly gender-segregated, other than formal dating opportunities (shidduchim/blind dates, singles events, speed dating (yes, speed dating was invented by an Orthodox rabbi!)).

I stayed for an hour, but that was all I could cope with.

***

I didn’t get the job I was interviewed for last week, the one at a weird place that I didn’t think would need a library.  (It was a dance school.  They had a small library.)  They said that they picked someone with experience in a similar library.  I don’t know if they were just being polite; I certainly felt I fared very badly in the interview.

***

Something I read online today just increased my belief that I don’t write in the appropriate way for contemporary Doctor Who fans, who are increasingly obsessed with viewing the programme through the lens of cultural studies theory and its source in left-wing identity politics theory (not my cup of tea).  Hence, I doubt my book will find a publisher.

***
I feel lonely again.  I’m glad I have E. as a friend, but feel wistful that we couldn’t make things work romantically.  I don’t think anyone else could ever understand and accept me as much as E does, but in the end even E. couldn’t accept me as a potential spouse, so I doubt anyone else could.  It’s depressing.  I tell myself that I can’t face dating at the moment, both the risk of rejection and feeling of inadequacy that comes from being unemployed and having no career to speak of; from being depressed; from being probably autistic, but still in limbo regarding diagnosis; and from not being terribly well integrated into the frum community where I would be looking for a partner.  It all seems overwhelming.  Maybe in a few years, if I can somehow find a job or (more likely, difficult though that seems) get a novel written and published, things might be different…

Meaning

I initially wrote that “today was a wasted, burnt out recovery day.”  That’s not actually completely true.  I did wake up feeling depressed and withdrawn.  I discovered that the Doctor Who pub quiz I wanted to go to (which I’ve only managed to go successfully once so far) was today and decided I was too depressed and it was too last minute for me to go.  I accidentally applied for job may have applied for before and don’t really want (I hit the ‘apply’ button on LinkedIn thinking it would take me to an application page, but it read that as a single-step application).  My parents had friends here, sitting in the garden, below my window, making a lot of noise, so I had to shut the windows to block the noise (laughter) out, but then had to have the fan on as the room was too hot.  I felt again this afternoon like I’m the person who has to be miserable all the time so other people can have fun.  Maybe I was Rabbi Hanina ben Dosa in a past life (“Notwithstanding his wonder-working powers, Ḥanina was very poor. Indeed, it became proverbial that, while the whole world was provided for through Ḥanina’s great merits, he himself sustained life from one Sabbath eve to another on a basket of carob-beans.”).  That was a joke.  I don’t believe in reincarnation and I’m not really a tzaddik (saintly person).   I wish I were.  I wished there was some obvious meaning to my suffering.

I’m currently recording activity and achievement and satisfaction levels for CBT.  I probably do somewhat more than I think, but (a) not as much as “normal” people and (b) although I do quite a bit, I hardly enjoy anything.  I don’t know what to do at the moment, because nothing seems enjoyable.  It’s difficult to concentrate to read or write.  Even watching Doctor Who, The Avengers or Star Trek feels more like doing something I remember enjoying rather than something I am enjoying.  I’ve tried watching some comedy programmes recently, but that’s even worse than science fiction; it’s hard to say “I’m going to be happy now.”  Over lunch I watched the first episode of Ken Burns’ acclaimed documentary series The Vietnam War.   It was far from ideal viewing, but I wanted to feel I was doing something vaguely intellectual, more so than just watching episodes of Doctor Who or Star Trek I’ve seen umpteen times before.

I’ve mentioned in the past that I watch my favourite TV programmes repeatedly.  I also re-read books, although not to the same extent, because of the greater time commitment involved, and the fact that there are more books I haven’t read that I want to read than TV programmes I haven’t watched than I want to watch.  I think they feel like old friends to me, when I don’t have many friends around me.  I think my favourite time for watching something is the second time rather than the first.  True, the twists are spoilt, but you can see the care with which the story is written, the throwaway lines and visual references that only become meaningful when you know how it ends, plus you know whether it’s going to be disappointing.  Actually, some episodes improve without the expectations of the first transmission and knowing what you won’t like.  I hardly ever watch current TV, probably because I don’t know if I’ll like it.  I think this is probably all very autistic: wanting to avoid surprises and know what’s going to happen in advance; relating to fictional characters more easily than re

I really just want to withdraw.  I vaguely want to be held by someone and loved, but I doubt whether I could manage real relationship, now or ever.

***

Later.  I sat out the early afternoon watching the Vietnam documentary and reading some not very good Doctor Who comics (the Evening’s Empire collection… seventh Doctor-era DWM comics were mostly not good).  I Skyped E. and that seemed to help a bit.  I went for a longish walk (forty minutes) and did some shopping while listening to The Beatles album Revolver, which I hadn’t heard right through for ages (am I the only person under the age of forty who still listens to whole albums?  Then again, I’m not that far off forty).  I had hoped to feel better after dinner and be able to work on my novel plan and do some Torah study, but I felt very depressed again.

***

Even later.  I spent a little bit of time working on my novel; a few minutes working on the plan, which I’m fairly pleased with at this stage, and a few minutes research online.  Not very much, but I was glad to do anything on a day when I felt so bad.  I still have a lot of planning and research to do on my book.  The research is going to be hard.  Much of the book is based on things I’ve experienced myself (write about what you know), but there is a plot strand about domestic abuse that I need to research.  There is a fairly obvious link between domestic abuse and depression.  I’ve read some things about it over the years and met abuse survivors at support groups, but I need to read more.  It won’t be fun, though.

I think finishing the Doctor Who book (despite the initial rejection from a publisher) and starting this book have done as much for me as CBT.  I feel I can write this book (whether I can get it published is another question), which is more than I can say for anything in my work life, or in my religious, social or romantic lives.  Rating each activity out of ten for pleasure and achievement for CBT has been an arbitrary and difficult exercise in some ways, especially as I struggle to understand my own emotions sometimes, but working on the novel is one of the few things that rate an ‘eight’ (nothing rates higher than eight at the moment), along with blogging and, surprisingly, eating lunch and reading (that was probably an overly generous eight, from the first day of the log when I was getting used to it).

I think that writing a book is not just an achievement in itself, although it is that, but that writing about depression and suffering is a way of finding meaning in everything I’ve been through, doubly so if others may benefit from it (cf. Viktor Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning).

***

A quote I just came across from Rav Kook: “When one realizes that being totally perfect is unattainable, one can finally understand that one’s true greatness is found in the holy journey of constantly becoming just a little bit better.” The Spiritual Revolution of Rav Kook: The Writings of a Jewish Mystic p. 55)