Negativity and Meaning

I felt quite depressed again today.  Dad took Mum to her appointment with the surgeon and then for a socially distanced visit to my sister’s house, so I had the house to myself for a bit, which I like.  It’s nice to have personal space, not that we get in each others’ way very much (I’m usually in my bedroom, my parents in the lounge or office).  I did feel very depressed and lonely, trying not to catastrophise my thoughts about the future into complete despair (about marriage, children, having my writing “cancelled,” etc.).

I tried to work on my novel before therapy, but really I just wanted to cry.  I did, eventually get down to it and wrote quite a bit.  It was a violent scene, and although that was hard on one level, because domestic violence is pretty draining to write, I did find the actual writing flowed more than recently.  I definitely think that mainstream literary fiction is not 100% right for me (although I intend to finish the book) and I should be writing science fiction/fantasy adventure or something similar in the future.  It’s bits like that that have been easiest to write.

Therapy was difficult and very draining.  We spoke a lot about family and childhood.  Also about Mum’s illness and being increasingly conscious of my parents’ mortality.  I mentioned what Ashley has said about my having lots of “shoulds” and we worked a bit on finding alternative thoughts.  I don’t like replacing “should” with “could” because I feel I could do just about anything so saying, “I could do X” doesn’t help me make decisions, especially as it makes it hard to see how urgent or important a task is.  So we’re trying with phrases like “I would like to do this because…” or “This is in line with my values because…”  I like the latter, because sometimes I do things I don’t enjoy because it’s in line with my values e.g. prayer (which is not always enjoyable or uplifting, although it can be) and housework.  I’m also writing some questions to identify when I’m being self-critical e.g. “Is this my critical voice?” and “Would I talk to someone else like this?”

I often go for a walk after therapy, but I felt too tired today, especially as I knew I had shiur (religious class) later.  The shiur was on meaning, the last of three shiurim on the topic.  The first was on what meaning is; the second was on whether a person has to be religious to have meaning; and this one was on how can we make our lives more meaningful.  The shiurim were given by Dr Tamra Wright and Rabbi Dr Michael Harris.

The shiur this week was not so much a religious shiur as a talk on philosophy and positive psychology, but it was interesting.  Some points I took from it:

  • The optimal level for a meaningful element in your life is not always the maximal one.  In other words, if praying is meaningful for me, that doesn’t mean that praying 24/7 would be the most meaningful level of prayer.
  • Meaningful events/things can be small, not major life-changing things.
  • Recognising meaning or value that is already present is important.  Even increasing this recognition a little is good even without recognising the good perfectly.  (All of the above points taken from a book by the Israeli philosopher Iddo Landau.)
  • Writing a gratitude journal of things that went well and why they happened helps make life meaningful.  I already list things that I’m grateful for, but I don’t write it down or write why they happened.  Maybe I should change that.  Writing why they happened is supposed to show your agency more clearly.
  • One can have a flourishing, meaningful  life even without a cheerful disposition via pro-social emotions (e.g. compassion), engagement, relationships, a sense of something greater than me and achievement.
  • Spirituality is independent of religion (I knew that) and is “a sense of a close personal relationship to God (or nature or the universe or whatever term each person used for higher power) and a vital source of daily guidance. (From work by Lisa Miller)  This is associated with meaning.  I’m not sure how much I have this.  I struggle to feel a close personal relationship with God, although I believe in Him.  I suppose He is a source of daily guidance for me inasmuch as I try to live according to Jewish law and values, but I’m not sure that that was quite what was meant.
  • George Vaillant identified six tasks of adult development.  They’re too long to list here, but I’m not sure I’ve achieved any of them yet, maybe not even “identity” fully (separation from parents), which I should have managed by now.  The only one I might have achieved is “Becoming a keeper of the meaning – role of ‘wise judge’; impartial; conservation, preservation, passing on traditions.”  Because I’m more Jewishly observant and knowledgeable than my immediate family, they look to me for religious guidance.
  • Vaillant also says that self-worth is a dead end and meaning is found in thinking of ourselves less.  I find this hard.  I have noted my rather solipsistic self-absorption, which is perhaps partly from autism (after all, the name “autism” is about being self-contained), partly from social anxiety (not reaching out to others) and partly by temperament (tendency to ruminate).

Speaking of which, I did not really interact in the discussion because I was feeling too socially anxious.  Sigh.  I need to think about how to add some of those meaning-techniques to my life.

Depressed, Lonely and Shielding

Chaconia mentioned that I have a habit of quantifying my depression into minutes or hours of activity, numbers of negative thoughts and so on.  I had noticed this, at least to some extent, but it doesn’t seem unhelpful so I’ve never challenged it.  If anything, it shows me most days that I do more than I would otherwise subjectively believe.  Nevertheless, I wonder if it’s connected to the fears of losing control that I wrote about last week.  That if I stopped monitoring myself, I would become out of control somehow, probably through inactivity.

***

I felt very so depressed and exhausted again today.  I’m not sure why I’ve been feeling worse the last few days.  It could be the break up, but I thought I was over that.  Maybe I’m not.  It wouldn’t be surprising if I wasn’t, as while it only lasted a few months (a) we had been together before and (b) it very intense both emotionally and in the amount of time we spent Skyping.  I also feel that lockdown is getting to me a bit, but I’m also very worried about what the end of lockdown means for me, in terms of applying for jobs again, but also in terms of other activities such as shul (synagogue).

***

My shul sent out an email the other day regarding services coming out of lockdown, but I didn’t get it.  I chased it and got it today.  They are limiting services to thirty people, outside when weather permits, with masks and bringing your own siddur (prayer book), tallit (prayer shawl) etc.  I have very mixed feelings about it.  Part of me would like to get back to the routine of shul, not least to challenge my social anxiety, which has probably got worse over the last four months without me pushing against my urge to run away from people and events.  There is also the fact that the social element of shul may help my mood (or worsen it).

On the other hand, I feel I don’t get much out of shul, certainly not at the moment, and maybe I should leave it to other people who get more out of it.  I would be sorry to miss Talmud shiur, which is resuming on Shabbat (Saturday), especially as that can be hard to catch up on subsequently, so if I miss a few weeks now I may never catch up (I would like to finish even one masechta (volume) of Talmud once as whenever I go to a shiur, we never complete one).  My big reservation is whether it would be dangerous for Mum if Dad and I to go back to shul.  We are still supposed to shield her until 31 July and even after then her immune system will be weak.  The government guidelines are that shielded people should not go to places of worship, but they don’t say anything about other members of the household.  My Mum has a meeting with the oncologist tomorrow and has promised to raise the question.

***

I found writing really difficult today.  My difficulty writing is not helped by the fact that I’m writing a novel with two different viewpoints, and whose characters do not intersect directly in the middle of the novel.  This has proved unexpectedly difficult to write.  Every time I alternate viewpoints, which happens with most new chapters, I struggle to get back into the head and situation of the main character of that chapter.

I went for a walk to try to jump start my brain.  I wrote for a short while when I returned, but still struggled.  Then I had to have dinner and get ready for shiur (religious class) on Zoom.

While out walking I had a lot of rapid images going through my head.  Autistic people often think in images rather than words.  I usually think in a mixture of the two, but when I’m feeling agitated the images become faster and more vivid, some times distressingly so.  Today’s images were not distressing, but they were rapid and agitated.

***

My therapist suggested getting in contact with friends to ease my loneliness.  The problem (aside from lockdown) is a lack of friends to contact, at least away from the blogosphere.  I emailed two friends, one of whom has already replied.  I’m not convinced email contact alone will do much to alleviate loneliness, and even without lockdown, it’s hard to see people, as so many of my friends are long-distance.  It is good to hear from other people though, and to get outside my own head for a bit.

I wish I had some way of contacting other religious Jews who are struggling religiously.  Ideally on a message board or mailing list or similar, probably not in person as I’m not good at that and we would probably all want to be anonymous.  I feel like I’m still struggling with being a good Jew, even though breaking up with E. reduced some of the cognitive dissonance I think I was under.

These thoughts were triggered by looking at the Beyond BT website again, which I shouldn’t do as it makes me feel inadequate, as no one there seems to have the same struggles I do.  When the Jewish blogosphere was more active years ago, there used to be “OTD” blogs (OTD = off the derekh (road) = people becoming non-religious) blogs, but they are not what I want.  Those were mainly for people with issues with Torah and science or Bible criticism.  I just struggle to have positive feelings about my religious life because of depressive anhedonia (inability to feel pleasure) and because I struggle to find meaning in my pain, which leads me to feel God must hate me to make me suffer so much pain with no obvious meaning.  I don’t really have much of a spiritual life at all, as distinct from a religious one.  I don’t think I’m a very spiritual person at the best of times, even without depression and anhedonia.  Maybe I’m being unfair to myself.

***

Zoom shiur was OK this week.  I participated rather more than usual, although the flipside was making more mistakes.  That was the last in that run of shiurim (on Rashi), although I have one more week of my Monday shiur (on meaning).

***

You may remember my Dad’s car’s catalytic converter was stolen a while back, right at the start of lockdown.  Now someone has stolen the replacement!  It’s unlikely to be the same thief, as the first time it was taken from the hospital car park and this time it was taken from our front drive.  It’s quite expensive to replace and needs to be fitted by a mechanic, so this is a huge expense and hassle.  Apparently they’re very easy to steal and very valuable, so there’s a lot of incentive for thieves.  They’ve damaged the car too.  This is very frustrating and we’re all angry about it.

Control and Meaning

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

***

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

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

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

“It’s like watching a car crash in slow motion”

Thus spake Detective Inspector Drake in Ashes to Ashes, and it feels a lot like my life at the moment.

Lately I just want to withdraw.  I spent a lot of Shabbat in bed, wrapped in my duvet even when I wasn’t sleeping.  It’s a classic autistic self-comforting tactic.  I’ve been wanting to do it today too, although I’ve fought against the urge.

I’m scared to talk to anyone, even to blog or to read other blogs, for fear of getting into an argument.  There’s too much anger in the world at the moment.

I did at least manage to watch a talk between Rabbi Rafi Zarum (British, half Yemenite) and Rabbi Shais Rishon (American, black) about race and Judaism so I’m not totally running away from the world.  It was about as depressing as I expected (I’ve read some of Rabbi Rishon’s writing before so I knew what to expect; Rabbi Zarum apparently didn’t judging by his shocked reactions), although there was one funny joke.

Achievements: forced myself to work on my novel for an hour and wrote 650 words even thought I was too depressed to write anything today.  Went for a thirty-five minute run that was surprisingly good, although an exercise migraine set in hours later.  I tried to do some Torah study, but the migraine set in then and I only managed five minutes.  I haven’t felt well enough to daven Ma’ariv (say Evening Prayers) yet either.  Going to watch TV until hopefully the solpadeine kicks in, although I feel like I could throw up any time now.

***

I spoke to my rabbi mentor this morning.  I’m still processing the conversation.  He said that everyone in the frum (religious Orthodox Jewish) struggles with trying to feel inspired or to find meaning in Judaism and that I’m not the only person to struggle with the way the frum community can be narrow-minded or lacking in dynamism or inspiration.

This is all true, but I wonder where this leaves me.  I still feel that I have less meaning and inspiration going for me than a lot of religious Jews, and perhaps more frustration with the frum world than most frum Jews.  Sometimes (not all the time) lately it feels like I’m very close to walking out on the frum world and there are only a few things keeping me here.  If it were possible to be some kind of Jewish hermit, I probably would be one.  I guess I am one, in a way.

***

I know I have it easy compared to a lot of other people, but that doesn’t mean I’m not struggling.  A wise person once said, the worst thing that ever happened to you is still the worst thing that ever happened to you, even if even worse things have happened to other people.  While it’s true that a man who has had his legs eaten by an alligator should be grateful that he still has his life, arms, eyes, hearing etc. I’m not sure that makes it any easier to cope with the loss of legs.  I haven’t lost my legs, but I’ve never really got my life functioning properly and I feel that I’m running out of time to sort that, plus most of the time I feel too depressed, anxious and tired to do anything about it, not to mention too alone in the world (yes, despite family and friends).

***

OK, TV now, and trying hard not to throw up…

Ups, Downs, Social Anxiety and Perfectionism

Mum’s first chemo session went well, aside from being kept waiting for an hour.  Unfortunately, Dad’s car was not functioning well on the way home and he thinks someone has stolen the catalytic converter (there is apparently a black market for them), which is both inconvenient and costly, especially as Mum’s car also needs repair work.  It never rains, but it pours (which is what is happening outside today too).

The other issue is that Mum got a letter today saying she has another nodule (I’m not quite sure what to call it) and needs a further scan, which she was told she should have before chemo, although as the letter only arrived today, this was not very helpful.  Another typical NHS screw-up.

***

I tried to get up by 11.00am today, which doesn’t sound very impressive, but I still couldn’t make it.  I did the thing of dreaming I had got up instead, which is always doubly frustrating when you really have to get up.  When I did get up at 11.45am, I felt incredibly drained and unable to do anything other than eat breakfast and check emails and blogs (which I was also trying not to do before getting dressed – failed again).  I’m trying not to beat myself up about all of this, because it doesn’t really help, but part of me feels that if I don’t beat myself up about stuff, I won’t change.  Not that beating myself up has a great track record of inspiring change.

I used my SAD light box which I haven’t used for a few days.  It’s hard to tell if it helped.

One good thing that happened to today was the delivery of a parcel addressed to me.  I was puzzled by what it could be, but on opening was “surprised and delighted” to see it was my non-fiction Doctor Who book, arriving rather earlier than I expected.  It is pleasingly hefty.  I feel vaguely annoyed that I decided to credit it to [my first initials] [my surname] rather than [my first name] [my surname], which would be more satisfying to see on the cover, but I wanted to distinguish it from the fiction I hope to publish one day and the initials does make it seem slightly more serious for a non-fiction work somehow.

I gave my Doctor Who blog url on the blurb on the back, but that seems to be hard to out of commission (see below).  I’m not entirely happy with the cover either, but I’m no graphic designer.  I am vaguely worried that my bibliographic strategy (providing a comprehensive bibliography at the end, but only citing references in text for substantial use or direct quotation to balance between the popular and academic modes) was not good enough, but I think/hope that’s just anxiety (although part of me is worried about being sued for plagiarism).  I spotted a reference that got left off the bibliography, but that was an example I cited in the text at least; I’ve also spotted an incorrect italicisation, but that’s probably the price I pay for self-publishing and doing my own proof-reading.  This is probably self-blame trying to sabotage a good event again.

There is a temptation to revise and reprint with self-published books, but there’s a very real price on that in terms of having to pay for proof copies, not to mention the fact that I deliberately rushed the final stages through to get it finished around the time the latest series of Doctor Who was finishing.  As a result, I approved it for distribution, so it should be available through bookshops and websites in six to eight weeks, if chosen (Lulu.com seem a bit vague on how this works exactly), although I would prefer sales through Lulu.com, as I get a higher proportion of the price.

I went for a walk in the pouring rain to get some stuff I needed for Purim (upcoming Jewish festival on Monday night and Tuesday) and came back with a slight headache and feeling generally run down, although with depression I feel like that most days.  We’re all super-paranoid about colds and flu at the moment, not because of coronavirus, but because of Mum’s weakened immune system.  I hope I won’t need to self-isolate (although if I do have to, then I will agree with the man in this cartoon).

***
As for my struggles with my Doctor Who blog yesterday, it seems that WordPress are another high tech company that doesn’t do customer support, instead outsourcing to a free (for them) user discussion forum.  I tried to post a comment there to ask how I re-access my blog, only to be told that I was not allowed to post what I had written.  I do not know why I was not allowed or how to change it to something I am allowed to post.  I had been quite impressed with WordPress compared with other blog platforms I’ve used over the years (Blogger, Livejournal), but this is pretty rubbish behaviour.

***

I went to shul (synagogue) and then on to shiur (religious class) and ate a load of chocolate cranberries.  I didn’t eat biscuits, but that was mainly because they were down the other end of the table and I was too socially anxious to ask anyone to pass them down.

I wasn’t sure what to make of the shiur, which was not a good fit for my worldview, being very kabbalistic (mystical) and Haredi (ultra-Orthodox, although ‘insular’ is more the word here).  It ratcheted my pre-Purim nerves up a bit – not the religious OCD I’m worried about, more the sense that I can’t connect emotionally with Purim and grow from it, as we are supposed to connect with and grow from it.  This is the same for me with pretty much every single other Jewish festival and Jewish ritual which I do on some level by rote, but it feels worse here, perhaps because Purim is a day most people connect to, or think they have connected to (religiously-sanctioned drunkenness perhaps confuses the matter).  Sometimes I think it’s lucky that I believe so strongly and have a certain amount of cognitive engagement with Judaism, as I’m clearly not practising Judaism because of any meaning or joy I get directly from mitzvot.  Actually, that’s not entirely true, as I get something from Shabbat, difficult though it is to define what, and I do occasionally do some Jewish study that really appeals, but again, it’s mostly a cognitive process for me, I don’t know how to move things to the emotional and practical spheres.  I’m not sure how I’m supposed to encourage E. to think that what I do is worth doing when I struggle to explain even why I do it.

It also looks like I’m not being invited out for the Purim seudah (Purim festive meal) as I was last year.  Perhaps it’s for the best that I keep Mum and Dad company this year, if they’re around (I vaguely recall that they got invited out and accepted depending on chemo side-effects).  It wouldn’t feel bad had I not been invited out for the first time last year and enjoyed myself.  In the frum (religious Orthodox Jewish) community it’s generally considered OK to invite yourself to other people’s meals and events unless you know good reasons not to, but I don’t have the courage.  The one time I tried to invite myself to someone else’s meal, it ended badly and the social anxiety is too strong to try it again.  Another mismatch between my values and those of the wider community.  Purim is supposed to be such a day of joy and ahavat Yisrael (love of other Jews) that’s it a struggle to be alone.

Another Fine Mess

Rather than oversleeping as usual, I woke up early this morning and could not get back to sleep, which happens to me occasionally.  Looking out of my bedroom window, I discovered that flat roof of the kitchen was flooded (the gutter was blocked) and when I went downstairs I found water on the kitchen floor, although thankfully not deep.  After breakfast Dad and I went outside to look at the gutters.  I held the ladder as he went up it.  He pulled out a thick plug of moss that was blocking the gutter… and a torrent of water gushed down on us.  We hadn’t thought that through.  I got off fairly lightly, but Dad was soaked.  There’s a running joke in the family about Dad and I doing DIY being like Laurel and Hardy and never was that more true than here.  Another fine mess, indeed.

***
I went for a run before lunch, but fared poorly.  My pace and stamina in daytime runs seems to be much worse than for nighttime ones, which may be because I’m tired in general before lunch.  Unfortunately, at this time of the year if I eat lunch and wait a couple of hours before running, it is nighttime.

(Dog lovers might want to skip this next bit.)  I was not helped by being attacked by a dog, a small fluffy thing, but vicious, that repeatedly ran across the road, away from its owner to chase me down the street.  The owner attempted to call it back, but not very effectively and when she did manage to get it back on the other side of the road and I tentatively tried to move on, it ran back over to attack me again.  Twice.  I only escaped when a new passerby appeared by for the dog to attack.  I really did think it was going to bite me, although I escaped shaken, but not bitten.

***

Other than running and doing fifty minutes of Torah study, the main thing I did today was looking online briefly to see if there was anything about training as a tutor.  I’ve said I should be able to tutor in English and maybe history, but I worry whether I really can do that.  I didn’t find much.  I did find some exam papers and mark schemes, but crucial parts of the English language paper, passages from real-world texts, could not be included online for copyright reasons.  I am still nervous about the whole idea and don’t really know how I would go about tutoring someone or marking something as complicated and subjective as an A-Level English essay.  I looked at some stuff about self-publishing for my Doctor Who non-fiction book too and that also looked difficult, certainly if I want to avoid selling my soul to Amazon (I think it is basically impossible to sell mainstream books without dealing with Amazon in some way).

I shouldn’t get fazed by things like this, but I do.  I go into autistic rigid thinking and fear of newness and unfamiliarity with added low self-esteem and just think “I can’t do this.”  I know this makes life miserable for my friends and family, because I procrastinate and don’t do stuff and in some cases just hang around until people do it for me, but it’s always hard for me to know what to do; once I know that, I’m often (or at least sometimes) OK.  It constantly amazes me how easily other people are able to do stuff and I can’t.  For example, my second-oldest cousin from Israel is coming to stay with us later this week.  A few weeks ago she decided she wanted to come, she bought the plane tickets, phoned to ask if she could stay, arranged a lift from the airport from her uncle on the other side of the family… and that was it!  I could never do something so easily.

***

And so, Chanukah arrived at last.  My Mum is feeling ill, which perhaps made it less enjoyable.  I was given Penguin Lost, Andrey Kurkov’s sequel to Death and the Penguin, a novel about corruption and organised crime in post-Communist Ukraine that is still clear in my mind sixteen years after reading it.  After we lit candles (I always say “candles” even though I’ve been using olive oil lights for years), my Dad put on easy listening music and I couldn’t cope with it for some reason, probably because I was tired and hungry.  I mean I had an autistic “I can’t cope with noise” reaction, which I don’t usually get unless music is very loud or I’m trying to do something requiring concentration.

I feel I’ve rather wasted the day, and gone into Chanukah unprepared.  Years ago a blogger I followed ran a series of posts on how every Jewish sub-group has its own Chanukah on which it projects its own meanings: the Zionist Chanukah, the Haredi Chanukah, the anti-Zionist Chanukah, the assimilated Chanukah…  I’m not sure what meaning I find in it tonight.  The main thought I think of when I looked at the lights was the idea (a Midrash?) that, like olive oil, Jews produce a pure light, but only when placed under great pressure.  That’s not even a specifically Chanukahdik thought, it’s a general idea about the Menorah (lamp) in the Temple.  Possibly I shouldn’t beat myself up about this, but I never really seem to get as much from Jewish festivals as I feel I “should” (that word again).  I feel I should find meaning and inspiration that raises my service of God progressively higher with each successive festival, but it never happens.  Maybe that only happens to the very devout, or the very lucky.

I do feel better after dinner (tonight’s doughnut: jam), but I’m going to watch TV rather than push myself to do research on domestic abuse for my novel as I can’t really face it.  I feel I haven’t done much today.  This isn’t true, as this post shows, but I feel I didn’t do as much as I should (and again) given the time I woke up.  Tomorrow Dad and I are off to The Imperial War Museum.  I’m not quite sure why I thought that was a cheery day out, but I haven’t been there for years and it’s a chance to do some father-son bonding.  But I don’t want to be up late tonight as we want to have early lunch and then leave.

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)

I Can’t Stand Up for Falling Down

“He talks to himself sometimes because he’s the only one who understands what he’s talking about.” Doctor Who: The Ark in Space by Robert Holmes

I couldn’t sleep last night.  Pretty much immediately after havdalah I spent over an hour writing a blog post to try to get my anxiety out of my system, then spent half an hour looking at the news (depressing) then I watched some Doctor Who to unwind from everything else which probably amounted to far too much blue light late at night and certainly amounted to being up too late, which, combined with self-loathing and agitation, meant I didn’t fall asleep until some time around 3.30am.  I don’t remember what I was thinking about when I was trying to fall asleep, but I got pretty agitated about something to do with my depression and mental health.

Whatever hope I might have had yesterday that I have some kind of share in Olam HaBa (the next world) has dissipated.  Thinking about my posts about not knowing what my mission is (which is obviously connected to having a share in Olam HaBa – our reward depends on fulfilling our missions) – I found this article I’d saved to my bookmarks ages ago and forgotten about which asks two questions to find your mission:

Rabbi Nivin offers two methods for discovering your mission:

  1. Ask yourself (and write down): What were the five or ten most pleasurable moments in my life?
  2. Ask yourself: If I inherited a billion dollars and had six hours a day of discretionary time, what would I do with the time and money?

I honestly don’t know the answer to either question.  Regarding the former, I find it hard to remember any pleasurable moments in my life since adulthood.  Anhedonia (inability to feel pleasure) is a key symptom of depression.  I think I’ve found socializing with known friends somewhat pleasurable, but I can’t do that for long without needing to be alone to recharge and anyway it can’t be my mission to socialize and it’s almost impossible for me to socialize anyway, due to lack of friends and social anxiety about making new ones or getting in contact with existing ones.  Likewise it’s doubtful that watching and writing about science fiction counts.  Before I moved communities two years ago, I used to get something from leading services in shul and giving drashot (religious talks), but with one very tiny exception, I haven’t done that since moving, partly from lack of opportunity, partly from lack of confidence now I’m in a much frummer community, partly from the fear that enjoying doing them was pride and that it would be punished by my making a fool of myself if I ever tried to them again.  Other than that, things I might enjoy are mostly stuff that I wouldn’t want to encourage myself to do, like self-harm (which can be a real release) or posting self-loathing comments here and on Hevria.  Jogging?  We’re getting silly now.  As for the second question, I don’t have a clue at all.  I know I’m supposed to say Torah study or maybe chessed (acts of kindness), but I know I wouldn’t do that really.

This is why I will have no share in Olam HaBa, because when I die they’re going to ask me, “Why didn’t you do X?” and I’ll say, “Because I didn’t think I was good enough to do it” or even “I never even thought about doing it.”  I want to be a husband and a father, but I don’t think that’s a life mission (otherwise most people would not have a mission beyond that) and it’s not going to happen anyway.

I just tried looking at some blog posts about how to hate myself less, but they either list things I’ve tried without success (think of my skills, achievements and virtues; write a list of my values; say positive affirmations every day) or stuff that I don’t think I can do (worry less about what other people think of me (this was why I got dumped a few weeks ago); accept other people’s positive views of myself as being as valid as my negative ones (why should I when they clearly don’t know me as well as I know myself?  And what about people’s negative views of me – how can I accept one and not the other)).  In particular, everyone says not to care what other people think of me, but no one can give me a practical way of reaching this zen-like state.  What’s the point of telling me, as one site did, “You may be in a tough place right now where you feel lonely or like a loser. No worries, we’ve all been there. But it’s time for you to realize how common these things are, and that they’re experienced by even the most successful and happiest people in the world. Those people get past them, and you will too” when for twenty years I haven’t managed to get past these feelings?

This article says that when you criticize yourself you should imagine part of you shouting abuse at the other part of you, perpetrator and victim, so you can see you have learned the hatred (the perpetrator) and direct love at the victim part of you.  The problem is, when I was thinking “Luftmentsch, why don’t you just **** off and DIE!” I tried to imagine seeing the perpetrator-me and tell him to **** off himself, but I automatically imagined him shouting it back at me (the real me, not the victim-me) so vividly and loudly that I actually flinched in real life.  Now I’m being bullied by imaginary people…  Maybe some people are just messed up beyond all hope?

I managed to go for a jog, at least and now feel too exhausted to hurt myself, which I suppose is good, although I also feel too exhausted to make dinner, which is less good.

Tune in tomorrow when you can see how much flak I’ll have taken for my poem on antisemitism on Hevria…

Heaven Sent, Hell Bent; Or, Doctor Who is my Spirit Guide (Maybe)

(No wise mind today, this is too weird and it’s too late at night after Shabbat.)

I had a weird Shabbat.  At shul (synagogue) this morning, someone asked me to lunch.  I panicked and said I had to go home because my parents were expecting me, which was true, but it was early enough that I could have gone home, told Mum I was going out to lunch and gone back out again.  Really, I panicked.  It happened so fast that I’m not even sure why I panicked.  I think I was worried about not having anything to say or saying something stupid, but it might even have been more fundamental than that, just worrying that someone wants to see me socially worrying me in itself, feeling I will disappoint in someway or that some ill-defined bad thing will happen.  I felt guilty for not going, particularly as this person was going to be eating alone because I wasn’t going but also relieved.  I don’t know what I’ll do if I get asked again, by this person or someone else.  I say I want to have friends, but when I’m presented with the possibility, usually I panic and run away.

On a more positive note, I did speak a little at seudah shlishit (the third meal) at shul.  I made some suggestions about interpreting some Torah passages we were discussing and made a (very slight) attempt at humour.  So that was something positive.  It’s taken nearly eighteen months to get to this stage…

I slept a lot over Shabbat again.  I nearly dozed off during the leining (Torah reading) in shul, which was very bad.  I had a weird dream this afternoon.  I don’t normally relate my dreams, partly because I usually can’t remember them (either coherently or at all), partly because other people’s dreams are usually not terribly interesting, but I thought this one says something about me, although what it says is open to interpretation.

At the start of the dream my parents were annoyed with me.  They thought I was being short-tempered when I wasn’t intending to seem like that.  This happens to me a lot and has happened since childhood.  I think it might be one of my borderline Asperger’s symptoms, that I’m not always as expressive as I would like to be in my tone of voice and facial expressions and so I seem angry when I’m not.

My memory of the next bit is fairly incoherent (something about superheroes loosely based on the graphic novel Superman: Red Son?!).  The next bit I can sort of remember is being with characters from Doctor Who (second Doctor, Jamie and Zoe, I think).  I think there was some sort of void between universes (as in The Mind Robber) and then we were in another universe, which I somehow knew was Heaven.  I think.  This is the clearest bit of the dream for me, but I still don’t remember it coherently.  I think I felt intense pleasure in this other universe/Heaven, like nothing I had experienced before.  It made all my suffering worthwhile.  And then I was fighting against myself: part of me wanted to stay there, part of me was trying to wake up.  I felt I had to wake myself up (I have had this experience before when finishing a dream).  Eventually I woke up and it was much later than I intended and I only had a little bit of time to study Torah before going back to shul.

On waking, I wondered if this was a prophetic dream and I had really been shown that I do have a share in the next world (see my comments about feeling I don’t have a share in the next world here) and that it is worth suffering in this world to get it.  Even if I never get any joy or pleasure in this world, it would still be worth it to have the next world.  The void between universes would be Gehennom.  The longer I’ve been awake, though, the more I doubt it.  In Judaism dreams can have prophetic meaning (e.g. Yosef’s/Joseph’s dreams) but even prophetic dreams have a nonsensical element (again, even Yosef’s dreams had this) and some dreams are completely nonsensical.  Why would I be shown that I have a share in the next world?  (My only possible explanation is because I was thinking about death and suicide recently, especially after what happened regarding lunch.)  Especially when I was not even in a state of ritual purity?  And if I was shown the next world, how could I even understand it?  It makes much more sense to see this as a fantasy dream – I wrote during the week about thinking I have no share in the next world, and now my unconscious produces a wish-fulfillment dream about it.  But I can’t shake the feeling that maybe I have been shown something important, if I could just put aside my scepticism.  (Interesting article on dreams in Judaism here.)

The final distressing thing that happened to me was looking through a booklet of Torah thoughts in shul this evening.  There was an essay on prayer.  I brought the booklet home after Shabbat so I can quote it:

Being real about tefilla [prayer] means we realize we are praying to our Father in Heaven Who wants only our good and has the power to do anything.  Therefore, we should anticipate that Hashem [God] wants to help us…

If we do not expect that Hashem will answer our tefilla, Hashem will not invade our space and shock us with success.  He wants us to earn the realization that He is our Father in Heaven and that we can always count on Him.

This worries me greatly.  I suppose it could explain why I don’t get the “miracles” that other frum Jews claim to have received (you can read a million of these stories on Hevria.com, Aish.com, Chabad.org etc.).  I admit I get a few things (I’ve been fortunate with my career), but I have spent all my adult life, if not more, struggling with mental illness, loneliness and misery.  I just don’t expect things to change.  I think God wants me to be this miserable, for some reason.

I feel I have just experienced so much misery in my life, so much bullying, emotional neglect and occasionally behaviour bordering on abuse, that it is hard to believe that God only wants good things for me.  I believe that God is omniscient, omnipotent and benevolent… to everyone else.  My experience is simply that he doesn’t want me to have a happy life, for whatever reason, because I have not experienced that kind of positive experience in life generally.

And even if I can get past my own experiences, I am haunted by the Holocaust, especially by the one million babies and children who were murdered by the Nazis.  When I try and pray for good things, for myself and others, I often see the Holocaust victims, particularly the children, and I think, if God didn’t help them, what guarantee do I have that He will help me?  I can’t adopt the simplistic attitude that so many religious people seem to have that God will always step in at the last minute to stop anything terrible from happening.  I even wrote a poem about seeing the Holocaust children years ago, although I don’t really remember what I wrote and don’t intend to dig it out now.

I suppose this ties in with everything else I have written about tonight, about being asked to lunch and panicking and turning it down (running away from a potentially good thing) and then having a dream that might have a positive interpretation and insisting on giving it a negative one, even though in Judaism one can ‘force’ a dream to have a good interpretation by believing in that good interpretation.  I just can’t open myself up to the possibility of goodness, if only because of the depression and despair in which I am mired.  This seems really unfair, as it seems to guarantee that narcissists and other unpleasant people will have a good time while good people who have been made self-critical by suffering and abuse will not receive anything good.

Miscellany 2

“Some kind of solitude is measured out in you/You think you know me, but you haven’t got a clue.” Hey Bulldog, The Beatles

I went back to bed for half an hour or so this afternoon.  I was too tired and depressed to do very much.  I only got up to answer the phone, otherwise I might still be there.  I wanted to go for a run, but didn’t have the energy.  I’m worried that I still let life get to me, that I can’t accept my alone-ness as a fact of life.  I’m not the only thirty-odd year old virgin and I’m certainly not the only lonely person in the world.  I just can’t see how I can actually meet someone.  To be honest, at the moment I can’t see how I can get through the next week, or go back to work in August, let alone worry about something as abstract as dating.  Forget dating, I can’t even make dinner: I boiled some eggs for lunch, hoping to use some of them to make kedgeree this evening (about the easiest recipe I know that actually is a recipe not just cheese on toast), but it took all afternoon before I could face cooking the rice to go with it and it threatened to spark off kashrut OCD.  I did manage to daven Mincha (say the afternoon prayers), but I had zero kavannah (concentration), even with Tehillim/Psalms 6 which should have expressed what I was feeling.  I managed some Torah study for ten or fifteen minutes, but it was basic and poor; it was hard to read and translate Hebrew, even from my bar mitzvah sedra.   I did at least spend half an hour or so working on the Doctor Who book and I feel I’m getting to grips with the current chapter.

The rabbi was talking yesterday about the need to know oneself before one can grow in any way.  I don’t know that I know myself very well.  In some ways I do understand myself, I think I know what my core values are and I know what triggers the mental health issues (which is not the same as being able to cope with the triggers).  However, I think I might overestimate my negative points and underestimate my good ones.  I don’t actually think I have any good points.  One friend said today that I’m “lovely”, another that I’m “saintly”.  I find it hard to accept any of this.  Not that I would accuse them of lying, just that I think they don’t know me well enough or are trying to cheer me up (I think I already upset both of them for different reasons today without calling them liars too…).  I certainly don’t know what my purpose is in life or how I find out (years of therapy haven’t really helped here).  I would say I don’t have one, except that my religious beliefs indicate that everyone has one.

I wanted to steer clear of dating until I understood myself better, but my CBT therapist felt I understood myself well enough and that frum (religious) couples who get married in their late teens or early twenties don’t know themselves any better than I do (this just adds more confusing feelings about frum people and married people).  Dating has been pretty disastrous, though, with most of the women I have asked out or gone out with this year have apparently decided that I’m too weird or too mentally ill for them.  Maybe there is someone out there who doesn’t think I’m weird (possible) or broken (unlikely… I really am a screw-up), but I think I’m too jaded and hurt to look for her by now.  And unless I marry someone a lot younger than myself (unlikely), a family looks less and less likely.

A friend got annoyed at me for saying on my blog that I have no one to show my writing to, when she would look at it.  I didn’t realize that she would, given that my other friends are unwilling to look at it (they don’t say they are unwilling, they even encourage me to send them stuff, they just don’t give me any feedback).  Anyway, at the moment I have not got the energy, motivation or concentration to write anything other than the Doctor Who book.  I don’t much feel like showing anyone my stuff at the moment anyway.  I’m not very good at taking criticism, it just makes me feel a bad writer and a bad person for even thinking I could write.  It’s bad enough I’ve got a poem coming out on Hevria soon.

I should try to socialize, but I think I hate myself too much to impose on anyone.  Anyway, I only have two friends in London, neither very close and both too busy to see me most of the time.  It was good to see my non-biological sisters last week, though.  If I’m well enough I’m hoping to go to the science fiction exhibition at The Barbican with my Dad later in the week, although I already suspect it is going to bore him and am feeling guilty about going.

I say I want to have people in my life, yet I spend all my time pushing them away.  I’m trying to deal with my social anxiety with a CBT book, but the problem is my social anxiety is worst on Shabbat, when I can’t write down how I feel (and even on other days it is hard to take out pen and paper and write down in a public place, which is where I feel socially anxious).  I bet I don’t even really want to get married to love someone, just to have sex.  As I’m sure I couldn’t cope with casual sex, even if it were religiously permitted, I don’t know what to do about that.

I want to eat junk food, but I don’t have much in the flat, fortunately.  Actually, it’s more that I want to eat, but don’t have the energy or motivation to actually eat anything.  I want to vegetate in front of the TV, but the Doctor Who story I’m watching (Planet of the Daleks) is not very good and I’m stuck watching it for my research for my book (the book that may never get finished…).  It was sufficiently bad that I posted something on my non-anonymous Doctor Who blog to complain, the first I’ve done that in a while (although I have posted some quotes there recently).  I feel the need to press on with the Doctor Who episodes so I can get on with writing the book, although if I’m too depressed to write that’s rather pointless.  I suppose I really want to get done quickly so I can tie it all up with the Peter Capaldi era of the show and not have to worry about writing more chapters for as-yet untransmitted seasons, because I’m not sure I have the ability to come up with new interpretations any more rather than just revising old posts.  I’m also scared that Doctor Who fandom, not always the friendliest place, is about to become very nasty with the new Doctor and I’m afraid that I won’t like the next series as the new show-runner and chief writer isn’t someone whose work I like.

So here I am, playing games of Ain’t It Awful again and waffling in a vaguely stream of consciousness way.  I sometimes wonder what other people’s interior monologues are like; mine are often focused on big religious/political/cultural questions and interspersed with high and popular cultural references (yes, especially Doctor Who), but when I’m depressed like today it becomes full of self-loathing and images of myself being hurt in various ways.  At least I’m doing this on my own blog and not on Hevria.  Last time I did it on Hevria someone said she was sorry that my life had been hard and it took me a couple of reads to realize that she meant it, as I was initially worried she was being sarcastic, which I suppose shows what I think of myself, that I deserve to be criticised and not taken seriously when I say I’m in pain.