Sad Songs Say So Much

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

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

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

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

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Job Application

I feel burnt out today.  I left work late yesterday and then went to shiur (religious class) and didn’t get time to really relax as I spent my evening writing a long, emotional blog post, so it’s probably no surprise that I’m burnt out today.  I need downtime to relax and engage in my special interests to recuperate, not just to sleep, hence I feel exhausted even though I slept for eleven hours, because I didn’t have much time for TV or reading yesterday.

I spent today writing a job application for the somewhat mysterious writing post.  It’s a writing job, and part-time, so worth pursuing.  The tricky thing is that a lot of my writing experience has been writing about my bad mental health, which isn’t necessarily something one wants to show to a potential employer.

I managed to revise my CV for a writing job (it was geared to either librarianship or research).  I dug out some old pieces to send as samples.  I actually had to reconstitute two from online versions, as I’m really bad at keeping old writing.  It’s only recently that I have thought of writing professionally, so I simply got rid of stuff in the past.  I was told to submit recent work, but most of my recent writing deals too much with depression to feel comfortable sharing with a potential new boss, although one piece that I actually submitted deals with OCD and another could potentially lead them to this blog, if they decide to look for where it appeared on Hevria.com.  I think that’s just a chance I have to take to get a good spread of material to show my interests and talents.

As well as the OCD piece, which appeared on Den of Geek, there is something I wrote for Hevria on religion and my essay for Outside In (a collection of Doctor Who reviews), which is very old, but deals with politics and is worth including as the job is current affairs-based (admittedly it deals with 1970s politics, but that just shows I have depth and can contextualise – if anything the essay is more relevant in the era Corbyn and Momentum).

I got everything sorted, only to realise that as the job advert was through a closed mailing list so I couldn’t reply.  I tried to set up an account, but it’s a list for shomer Shabbat people only and they vet people, so it would take days to get accepted.  I logged in through my Mum’s account (with her permission obviously) and sent my CV and samples of my writing.  I hope they realise that it’s not her applying for the job.  I did say that in the email and of course my real contact details are on the CV so it should be OK.  I hope.

Optimism

I’m surprisingly not wiped out and ‘mentally hungover’ today, which is good.  I was expecting that there would be a price to pay for enjoying myself and socialising yesterday.  I did have struggle sleeping (hence blogging at 3.00am last night) and didn’t get to sleep until around 4.00am and slept through the morning, but otherwise I feel OK.

Today was a slow day.  I did some chores, including finally (I hope) sorting out the problem with my online medication repeat prescription requests and spent an hour working on my Doctor Who book (excluding time spent watching/half-watching some episodes for research while eating or dusting), finally confirming that it is just another three chapters that need a bit more detail before I can consider the second draft finished and start redrafting for style.  I admit that drafting a book for content and then polishing for style might not be the most sensible way of writing, but it’s really a product of the way this project grew from a series of blog posts, albeit that it is now much more than twice as long as the original series of posts.  Frustratingly, the actual writing won’t take more than a couple of hours, it’s watching the episodes for research that takes so long.

I feel like I’ve found a little oasis of calm in the last week or two.  I’ve got a job I feel reasonably comfortable with (albeit with moments of anxiety), I’m pushing myself a little bit socially and that seems to be going OK, my kavannah (mindfulness) in prayer is better, I’m more motivated for Torah study, I feel more comfortable describing myself as autistic (in select environments) even though I’m aware I may never get an official diagnosis, and perhaps I’ve come to terms with the label a little bit more than in the past.  I’m even feeling that maybe I do actually have a reasonable level of Jewish knowledge, particularly about the stuff that isn’t seen as crucial in the frum (religious Orthodox Jewish) world although it’s questionable about how much knowledge of Jewish history or Yiddish literature is really useful to a frum lifestyle.  I’m even feeling less anxious about the future.  On the whole, things feel reasonably positive.  I do wish I could get to shul (synagogue) on Shabbat (Sabbath) mornings, though.

I hope to have a meeting with a matchmaker from the values-based Jewish dating service next week, which is scary and exciting at the same time.  It’s difficult to know how much of my ‘issues’ to mention.  E. said to mention the autism; my rabbi mentor said to mention the depression, but not the autism (he was worried about stigma), but also that I should make an on-the-spot decision based on how the conversation goes.  Dating is hard, especially frum dating, doubly so with mental health issues and autism.  I am still concerned that I shouldn’t be looking for someone while I’m in such a low income job, but I’m assured that it’s not dishonest or problematic.

Of course, I’m aware that I have some very stressful and triggering Jewish festivals coming up in the next two months, that my contract only lasts until the end of March, that dating could be painful, that I am unlikely to ever be completely recovered from depression and that autistic people tend to struggle with employment and relationships… basically, I know that things could go very badly wrong at any time.  But I do feel a bit more confident in myself than I have for a while, which is good.

Drained

I went to bed late last night after my migraine and then slept for something like ten and a half hours with weird dreams.  I woke up feeling exhausted, drained and ‘mentally hungover’ without quite knowing why.  Maybe it was just from the week.  I’ve felt the same way all day so far.

A job advert has turned up in my inbox that I ought to go for, but I’m reluctant to do so.  Even though my job is due to expire at the end of March, I’m hoping that further funding will appear so I can keep working part-time rather than looking for new work in a new environment that might be full-time (the advertised job is full-time).  I don’t think I can cope with a full-time job, and I don’t think I can handle this particular advertised job.

The sad truth is that the number of jobs that I feel I can actually do, that I can actually cope with in terms of my depression, social anxiety and autism symptoms, is rather small.  I hope this will not always be the case, but at this stage I simply don’t know.  I think I will always have mental health issues, on some level, and if I am autistic, then I will always have that, but I don’t know if I will become better at coping.

In some ways I am better at dealing with things than I was when I left university after my BA nearly fourteen years ago.  Back then I didn’t think I would ever have a job, a relationship or be able to live alone and I thought I was doomed to lose all my friends (I lost some, but on balance I’ve made more new friends).  But I’m still far from fully functional and in some ways I’ve gone backwards: I’ve had relationships and lost them (not entirely my fault, admittedly), I’ve lived alone but moved back in with my parents and had jobs, but my current job is fewer hours than previous ones.  I avoid certain work environments (noise, pressure), which in some ways is a coping strategy, but limits my options.  I’m certainly unlikely to ever have a highly-paid job if I avoid pressured working environments, which will make it difficult to get married and support a family (which already has made it difficult I should say).  After all, E. liked me more than pretty much anyone I’ve ever met who isn’t an immediate blood relation, but even she couldn’t cope with this.  I would be willing to work part-time and be a house-husband, but I’m doubtful many women in the frum (religious Orthodox Jewish) world would go with that, and I worry that I would still get overwhelmed working and housekeeping.

Actually, low income limits my dating options in other ways, inasmuch as some Jews from small communities (basically anywhere other than Israel or the USA) boost their dating options by being open to dating people from another country, but it’s doubtful that I earn enough to be able to emigrate or sponsor anyone else to come here (which was another problem E. and I had), particularly with freedom of movement for Britain and the EU ending soon.

Regarding dating, I was procrastinating by hitting the ‘random’ button on XKCD and this cartoon came up.  I would much rather go on a date with the woman who collects Asian dolls than the one who gets drunk and dances on tables.  Once again, I find myself hoping to meet someone unusual who might find my own distinctiveness and openness to her traits balances my defects (in terms of the depression-social-anxiety-autism-low-income nexus), but then I realise that I live in a conformist sub-culture where it is hard to meet such people.  Even if they exist, they hide it, the way I hide my traits and interests.

I just feel that I want to be held tight by someone who loves me right now, but there’s zero chance of that happening.

Is This Coping?

Just a quick note (to myself as much as to anyone else) to say that I feel OK today.  I was very exhausted and “mentally hungover” on waking, but I’ve been out for a (routine) blood test and helped my Dad with Shabbat shopping.  I’m hoping to spend a little time working on my Jewish book before Shabbat starts.  That may not happen, but it’s’ good that I’m thinking very proactively about it.  And I managed to fight off some OCD anxiety.

More than this, I actually feel reasonably positive.  It feels like I might be able to find ways to manage the depression and autism.  I don’t think I’ll ever have a “normal” life, inasmuch as I don’t know if I will ever have a full-time job, get married and have children, but I think I can cope with working part-time and maybe dating for a bit, as long as I accept that I have less energy and socialising ability than most people.  That’s OK.  I think I’m probably going to have to depend on the kindness of others (particularly my parents and, if I find one, my wife, but also in the workplace and elsewhere) more than most people, but I guess that’s OK.  If I was blind or in a wheelchair I wouldn’t feel bad about needing help and I don’t think depression and autism are any more shameful.

I’ve got a busy weekend (shul (synagogue) tonight, volunteering on Sunday afternoon and family dinner on Sunday evening), so I’m going to try to rest a bit today and tomorrow.  I know this is just one good day (and yesterday was quite good), so I’m going to try not to read too much into it, but it’s good while it lasts.

Bad News/Good News

I don’t have time to write much today (Shabbat (the Sabbath) starts in a couple of hours and I’m still in my pyjamas), but I wanted to note a couple of things:

After feeling better at my depression support group yesterday evening, I feel bad again this morning, all “mental hangover-y,” depressed and exhausted.  I wish I could feel better for a little bit without there being a psychological price to pay later.

I’m still not sure if I’m supposed to be on security duty at shul (synagogue) tomorrow.

I’ve already received an appointment at the autism screening clinic, for next Friday morning.  I need to check whether it will be finished in time for me to get home for Shabbat, though, but I’m assuming it won’t be a full-scale assessment, so it will probably be OK.  I really wasn’t expecting to be seen that quickly; I’ve got a lot of anxiety now about what this will mean and whether I’m wasting their time and what happens if I get told I’m not autistic again.  It’s weird that being told I’m “normal” feels so terrifying, but it feels like autism would explain so much that being neurotypical just raises more questions than it answers.

Bleargh

I feel totally wiped out today.  Exhausted and depressed.  I ate two bowls of cereal and I still feel somewhat faint.  I forgot to take my meds last night, which probably didn’t help, but I think I’m wiped out from work.  I don’t think I can work four full days a week.  I definitely got worse when I increased my hours in my old job from three to four days, although a number of other things went wrong around that time, so it’s hard to be sure.  Unfortunately, all the jobs I see advertised are full time, or hours I can’t do (usually weekend jobs where you have to work on Saturdays).

Jewish inspirational sites just depress me.  I can’t do the things they tell me will make me happy and spiritually fulfilled.  They just leave me feeling despairing and guilty for being such a bad Jew.  These ideas on ways to love yourself are good, but I just can’t do them, or I’ve tried them and they don’t work for me.

The news is depressing.  It’s either terrible things, or trivial stories about ‘celebrities’ I’ve never heard of.  On the other hand, I’m pleased with myself for dubbing ex-minister Jo Johnson “BoJo’s bro Jo.”  And I rolled my eyes at the BBC inexplicably describing a new standard measure of a kilogram as “more egalitarian” – apparently identity politics now rules SI units (the rest of the article made perfect sense and gave no sense of what on Earth they were on about in that phrase.  I’ve long suspected BBC news of going slightly nuts).

More craziness: the otherwise very useful Goodreads.com has decided that because I’ve read The Brothers Karamazov in English translation, it should recommend me Arabic books in Arabic (not translation).  I can’t even work out what the titles are.  Must be something wrong with their algorithms.  But somehow it seems appropriate today, when I feel like the world is talking a different language to me.

I have to speak to lawyers today.  About three years ago, I was really exhausted coming home from therapy and decided to phone my Dad for a lift from the Tube station rather than walking for twenty minutes.  This turned out to be one of the most fateful decisions of my life.  As the car pulled out of the station drop-off area, a motorcycle courier smashed into it.  My Dad phoned an ambulance, but the courier said she was fine and cancelled it.  Meanwhile (not knowing the courier was fine) I went back inside the station and got one of the station guards (or whatever they’re called) in case he knew first aid.  The police were also called and questioned everyone, but eventually went away satisfied there was no dangerous driving.

About nine months later, my Dad got a letter from his insurance company saying he was being sued for damages by the courier, who claims she has problems with her leg now.  I’m pretty sure she got in touch with one of those ambulance-chasing “no win, no fee” law firms that cold call people touting for business.  I suspect the point of the exercise is to get my Dad’s insurance company to settle out of court in the belief that it’s cheaper to pay a sum outright rather than go to court and fight it.  However, the station guard is now claiming that he saw the accident (which is more or less impossible, as he was inside and talking to someone else when I came in) and that my Dad was to blame, so I have to talk to my Dad’s insurance company’s lawyers today.  This is not something I particularly needed right now.

It reminds me of something W. S. Gilbert (of Gilbert and Sullivan fame) said, that if someone comes up to you in the street and demands you give him your watch, you should punch him on the nose and send him on his way, but if he says he’s going to sue you for your watch, it’s easier and cheaper just to hand it over.  (Of course, nowadays if you punched a mugger on the nose you’d get arrested for assault and sued for damages.)

I’m supposed to be applying for two jobs today too, or one and a half as I started one application last Sunday, but with Shabbat (the Sabbath) starting at 3.54pm, and I’ve still got to have lunch and do my Shabbat preparation chores, that doesn’t seem very likely to happen, not while I feel this exhausted and depressed.

Failure to Thrive

I did not sleep well last night, waking up in the middle of the night with a headache, not being able to get back sleep, getting up and doing some things before suddenly dozing off when I finally thought I would get dressed and start the day.  My uncle and my sister came over for lunch (my brother-in-law is unwell) and we ate together.  Surprisingly, it was warm enough to eat in the garden.  The resultant mental hangover may have contributed to low mood in the afternoon.  At any rate, I was over-analysing things, wondering if I was contributing enough to the conversation, if I was over-sensitive to the sunlight and judging everything through the prisms of autism and social communication disorder.  The conversation got onto the topic of the new series of Doctor Who at some point, and the older generation opined that it was “too politically correct.”  I don’t particularly agree (although I agreed about the lack of Jews in general and frum (religious) Jews in particular in Western culture), but as usual with dissent I withdrew from the conversation rather than state an opposing view, from fear of being attacked or rejected.  This is not particularly healthy.

After lunch (which went on until after 4pm), I went for a walk.  I was feeling very miserable (perhaps from socialising, perhaps from eating too much ice cream, getting  a sugar rush and then crashing), feeling that the world does not have anything to offer me and that I would really like to die (while I was thinking this, Beethoven’s Ode to Joy came on my iPod…).  Then I ran into one of our neighbours with his young children (aged I guess about eighteen months and three or four years) and they were very curious and wanted to talk to me, so I played with them for a few minutes and I did feel somewhat better after that.  Maybe my Mum is right that I should be looking for a job working with young children, I just don’t feel confident to look after other people’s children, let alone teaching them.  On which note, the asylum seekers drop-in group I volunteer at is taking place on Sunday.  I was thinking of skipping this time, because I need to apply for jobs and because I’ve hardly done any cooking in weeks because of Yom Tov and various other things, but I’ve agreed to go now.

After returning home I spent a while working on a job application at a very prestigious public body.  I very much doubt that I have the experience and skills needed to get the job, or even to be called for interview, but I’m trying to fill out the application.  I have quite a bit still to do, but I’ve run out of time tonight, although it has been hard to stay focused on working on the task when the thought of getting the job, or even being called for interview, while appealing on some levels, is also terrifying.  Family lunch plus walk plus application plus (I admit) procrastination means little time for Torah study, which I feel bad about, and possibly a later night than I would like before work, as I ‘timeshifted’ watching tonight’s Doctor Who episode to later to concentrate on the application.

In Jewish thought God interacts with a person according to how much he or she wants Him to do so; He doesn’t force Himself on a person.  To some extent at at least a person receives overt divine intervention (as opposed to things happening apparently by ‘chance’, which is really also divine intervention of a different kind) in proportion to how much he or she wants it and is willing to let God in.  I think this is something of a simplification of a complex idea and God does not act in this way 100% of the time, but aside from the question of the difference between overt and covert intervention, it seems to me that this would act against people who can’t trust from their experiences (e.g. me).  I can understand philosophically that everything God does is for the good and even my suffering must have a purpose, but I find it hard to just trust Him; I assume His plan for me involves much more suffering and very few pleasant experiences, and that He hates me for my sins.  It is very hard to abandon myself to belief that I can recover from mental illness, find a job I can do, marry and have children and generally be happy.  It seems this is another way that the bullies of my childhood win.  Not only did they make me miserable at the time, but they have trained me to expect only the worse for myself, which becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy, whether for religious reasons or just psychological ones.  Even viewing the matter from a secular perspective, lots of cognitive psychologists would say that one’s experiences come to meet one’s thoughts and expectations, rather than the other way around.  I try to tell myself that my life could get better – and it could – but I can’t believe that it will get better or that God wants it to get better or that I deserve it to get better.

I feel I should be doing a lot better than I am with my life.  I had a whole paragraph here which I would have liked to have kept in, but which I thought was probably lashon hara (malicious speech) so I cut it.  But I feel a lack of affection and love in my life.  “Failure to thrive” was the term used when (I think this was in the 1950s) excessive hygiene fears led to parents and nurses being discouraged from holding babies for fear of passing on germs, resulting in unnecessary premature deaths, because babies need hugs and love as well as milk and warmth.  I feel a bit like that, that I’m failing to thrive in many senses of the term, particularly from lack of support, although it seems unfair to write that as I have some support and it is hard to state what exactly I want.  Certainly, despite doing so well at school, I have failed to thrive in any sense since going to university and especially since leaving it.

Bijou Postette

Today has been hard.  Lately the exciting-but-anxiety-provoking-thing has been if anything even more exciting and slightly less anxiety provoking, but I think yesterday I had a surfeit of good feelings (for once) and ended up feeling totally burnt out and depressed today.  I went to bed late, slept for ten hours or more and struggled to get up and get dressed (I didn’t have work today as my boss asked me to work on this coming Friday, which I don’t normally do, instead of today).  I had hoped to do various important chores, but was just too burnt out.  It’s good that I can recognise these days when they come and accept that there isn’t much I can do other than sit with my feelings and exhaustion and try not to beat myself up too much about not doing things, but it is difficult that I am still prone to these types of depression days, even when things are going better.  At least I went shopping (more for something to do and to get out than because I needed much) and cooked dinner and felt a bit better after that.  I’m going to bed soon, as I feel less depressed, but completely exhausted.

Pesach 1 and 2

The first two days of Pesach (Passover) have been and gone.  I spent a lot of them waiting to get on the computer to send a panicked email to my rabbi mentor asking about things I was anxious about or writing here to offload, but now the first two days of Yom Tov (festival) are over, that seems less urgent, which I suppose is good.

The positives: I got to shul (synagogue) every evening and even walked home with someone who lives in the same road as my parents, making conversation with him, which was good for social anxiety.  The sederim went reasonably well in terms of doing all the mitzvot (commandments).  I learnt on Friday night that I probably hadn’t been leaning correctly to fulfil the mitzvot of leaning while drinking wine and eating matzah in the past, so I was able to do that correctly this year, albeit that I felt bad for not having done it in the past, but I guess I am a tinok shenishbo (literally a Jewish child raised by non-Jews and hence ignorant of the halakhah (Jewish law) and not culpable for violations until he or she learns about it, but used by extension to apply to Jews raised in a non-observant way) here.  I enjoyed the second seder in particular with my sister’s in-laws.  I managed to talk a bit to my sister’s sister-in-law, who has special needs; she wanted to hug me when she left (she’s very affectionate and likes hugging everyone), which I guess means that she felt comfortable with me.  I usually try to be shomer negiah (not having affectionate physical contact with members of the opposite sex other than close relations), but I thought that in this instance I wouldn’t be able to explain myself to her because of her special needs and it was better just to avoid upsetting her.

The other positive experience was that some family friends came over today for kiddush (refreshments before lunch) and I got to spend some time playing with their young children (aged one and three or four), which I always enjoy.  I know that some autistic people find it easier to be with animals than people; I get nervous around animals, but I like young children.  I feel children just accept me for who I am without my needing to pretend to be anything I’m not.  And it’s easier to make conversation with young children than adults; just point to something and ask what it is or what colour it is and they’ll be happy to tell you and if you can’t think of anything to say, they don’t care about that either.

The more negative side of Yom Tov was that parts of the sederim were difficult (the seder is the meal on the first two nights of Pesach when we recite the story of the slavery and exodus of the Israelites from Egypt and eat symbolic foods).  The first night in particular we had some guests who weren’t particularly religious or into the seder service and I struggled to involve them.  I always find a few commentaries to go a bit deeper than the basic text of the story of the exodus, but I felt, perhaps wrongly, that people weren’t that interested.  I would like to ask some open questions to involve people (e.g. “do you think we are still enslaved today?” type questions), but I always find that hard – it always sounds a bit fake to me, or perhaps fake coming from me, as I don’t really speak like that generally.  I also worry that people will feel put on the spot and forced to join in.  I would love to go to a seder where there is a deep religious discussion of the exodus story and the Jewish conception of slavery and freedom, going much further than the prescribed text, but instead every year I find myself trying to involve other people.  To be fair, it varies from year to year and the first seder this year was a particularly difficult one, but I feel a bit like I’m doing kiruv (trying to get non-religious Jews to be aware of their heritage), which is not something I’m naturally good at.  I don’t want to sound arrogant or snobbish, but it can be very frustrating being the most Jewishly-educated and Jewishly-involved person at the seder, trying to learn something myself and pass on some of my enthusiasm to others, all the while dealing with my own social anxiety, depression and/or borderline autism.  I don’t think I managed it very well, although, as my parents say, these relatives do keep coming back year after year, so they must get something out of our seder.

The other biggish problem was OCD.  Over the last two days I had quite a bit of this, albeit at a much less intense level than in the past.  Some of it was the usual Pesach OCD, worrying that I had come into contact with chametz (leavened bread and food cooked with it or in vessels it has been cooked in, all forbidden on Pesach), which I expected, but some of it was new.  Lately I find that I have had a bit of OCD in prayer and mitzvah performance, worrying that I don’t have enough kavannah (usually translated as ‘concentration’ or ‘intent’, but perhaps a more appropriate word is (to use an overused buzz word) ‘mindfulness,’ being aware of the meaning of a prayer or mitzvah and doing it consciously and thoughtfully).  I worried that I had the wrong intention in listening to prayers and doing mitzvot and repeated them, or I felt I hadn’t listened to my father’s prayers properly and repeated them quietly, then worried that I had upset him or shamed him in front of others by implying that I didn’t think that his recital was good enough.  I don’t quite know what to do about this, other than trying to speak to my rabbi mentor about kavannah at some point.  It is not a bad thing to be aware of kavannah, and it is essential for both prayer and mitzvah performance, but as always with the OCD it gets out of control and becomes an impediment to spiritual growth rather than an aid to it.

I also slept rather too much.  I actually dozed off for twenty minutes or so during Pesach preparations on Friday, which was probably a good thing overall, but I felt a bit bad about sleeping when there was so much to do.  Obviously the sederim meant the last two nights were very late, but I slept late into the morning both yesterday and today, sleeping right through my alarms, being exhausted and having what I term a ‘mental hangover’ from late nights and intense social interactions during then days and then sleeping for another two hours after lunch, waking just in time to go to shul (synagogue) for Mincha and Ma’ariv (afternoon and evening prayers) before starting the cycle all over again.  Sleeping too much during the day probably led to my being insomniac last night, lying in bed with racing thoughts and not able to do much to calm down (I did eventually read a little bit until I felt more tired).  It’s nearly midnight now and I don’t feel at all tired and I still have to have something to eat and to shower before I go to bed.

It has to be said that things were much better than they had been for the previous few years.  The OCD, when it came, was much more subdued, with none of the extreme agitation and fear that God hates me and most of the time there was at least part of my mind that had things in the right perspective; I was often able to do things that the OCD was telling me were wrong because part of my mind told me that they were not wrong, and if they were, that would be a genuine mistake, not a deliberate sin.  I held on to a few anxieties all through Yom Tov to ask my rabbi mentor about afterwards, but having now sat down with them, most of them seem obviously trivial and OCD and I don’t know if I will ask about all of them, although I will probably ask about some.

One last thing that happened was that some of the yeshiva bachurim (rabbinical seminary students) at shul gave ten minute divrei Torah (religious talks) today between Mincha and Ma’ariv.  While this did make me feel a bit upset that I no longer feel able, or have the opportunity, to give such divrei Torah as I have in the past, I got a lot out of the talks.  In particular, it was interesting to see that the four men had different personalities, educational styles and topics, which reassured me a bit that becoming frum (religious) doesn’t necessarily mean becoming a conformist, although I do still fret that I’m too much of a non-conformist.  One thing that did resonate was a little one-line tangent in one of the divrei Torah; the main theme was the idea that everything comes from God and that we should use it to serve Him.  As an aside, the person noted that while people understand this to mean money, it really means everything, including things such as talents.  It resonated with my current thinking that I need to use my writing in a more productive way.  I don’t know why God would give me a talent for writing about science fiction television – it seems a very strange talent or mission to have, from a religious point of view – but that seems to be where He wants me to be right now.

OK, off to eat matzah and cheese and/or matzah and jam now, which, perhaps surprisingly, I haven’t had yet this Pesach (not jam and cheese at the same time, though, that wouldn’t be good).

“There’s a beautiful sadness that runs through him”

You know the drill: bed late, slept more than ten hours, up late, feeling depressed and depleted (low blood sugar after not eating for ten and a half hours doesn’t help).  I should have been doing some thing much more exciting last night than just staying up late writing about (not very good) Doctor Who episodes to end up with this much of a “mental hangover,” the term I use for exhaustion and depression after something fun.  But watching and writing about Doctor Who is pretty much the only enjoyable thing in my life right now (oh, I just started re-reading Dracula.  That’s good too).  Sad.

I feel that there isn’t really anything that I think or do that is uniquely me.  Everything I do is done better by someone else.  Or done to more acclaim, which isn’t always the same thing.  Even my Doctor Who book, which is about the best thing in my life at the moment (pathetic I know) is mediocre at best, especially when compared with other writers who, I feel, vocalise their political biases too much (Doctor Who fandom has long been very political) and don’t do enough research and make whopping mistakes.  Certainly I don’t have a hope of getting so many readers, if I even manage to get published.

I have ideas for stories, or at least images that might be made into stories, but I don’t know what to do with them.  The stories I used to write were really rubbish.  As someone who is probably somewhat autistic and alexithymic (unable to feel or describe emotions), I feel that I could never empathise with a character to accurately describe their mental state.  I can’t even describe my own mental state as well as I would like.

I feel inadequate and inauthentic.  Like nothing I do is really good or really me.  When am I going to see the real, unique, me?  Or is the real me just rubbish?  This blog is, I suppose, as near as I ever get to me, unfiltered, outside of my head.  And it’s garbage (and no one reads it).

I also feel like giving up on ever getting married.  I still haven’t heard back from the shadchanim (matchmakers).  I feel that even professional matchmakers have no hope of my ever getting married and I should just give up and accept that I will always be a lonely single virgin.  I do wonder what I did to make God hate me so much.  Sometimes I wonder if I could have a chance meeting with someone (these do happen, even in the frum (religious) world).   But I can’t really see it happening.  I’d be too shy to talk to some stranger on the Tube anyway.

There’s a real-life story on Aish.com (I can’t find it right now) about a Jewish guy who was not religious, but who went to Israel.  Standing at the Western Wall, the holiest site in Judaism, he asked God to send him a sign that He exists and immediately a guy tapped him on the shoulder and asked if he would like to learn about God in a yeshiva (rabbinical seminary).  Which he did, perhaps surprisingly.  Then a few months later, while studying in yeshiva in Jerusalem, he saw a Jewish woman in the street who looked “graceful” and prayed to God that he should meet someone like her.  A few months later, he finished at yeshiva, went home and went to shul (synagogue) one Shabbat (Sabbath) and saw the exact same woman.  Turned out they lived in the same city.  They dated (they were allowed to talk to members of the other sex at kiddush?) and got married.  Happy ever after.  Stories like this make me jealous and a bit angry.  I know what I said a few days ago about not having miracles being greater than having miracles, but couldn’t I have something to be going on with?  I believe in God, but I don’t believe in myself and sometimes I feel like I’m holding on to halakhah (Jewish law) with just the tips of my fingers and I don’t care what happens to me any more because whatever I do, God hates me and I have no share in Olam HaBa (the Next World).  Couldn’t I have something to help me?  Or does God really hate me so much that he wants to “make my heart heavy” like Pharaoh to stop being frum so He can destroy me completely?

Anyway, I really hate myself today.  I have a really long to do list, including getting my hair cut, which is pretty much my most hated thing ever (I hate the intrusion on my personal space and then there’s the fear that I’ll start shaking).  I don’t know if I’m going to have the energy or inclination to daven (pray) or do any Torah study.  I’m trying really  hard not to do what I did yesterday and leave a self-loathing comment ruining the blog of someone I respect.  But I really do feel (contrary to what she was writing) that God hates me and wants me to be lonely and miserable forever and it isn’t just a question of waiting for things to go right for me.  After eighteen years or more (possibly much more) it’s clear that things are not going to go spontaneously right for me, but also that I’ve tried pretty much everything and nothing helps.

Like I said, I really hate myself today.

“I have of late—but wherefore I know not—lost all my mirth”

A washed-out, grey, depressed day.  A day of pouring rain and depression.  A day when I’m too tired and depressed to do anything.  A day when prayer or Torah study or chores seem almost impossible (fortunately I do not go to work on Tuesdays).  A day of being slowed down by numerous minor inconveniences.  A day for sheltering indoors, drinking tea and watching Doctor Who.  A day of hoping that this is just a blip on the road to recovery, that it isn’t the start of a slide back into major depression.  A day of not caring, or caring too much.  A day of worrying about whether I will be able to get to work tomorrow and worrying about the return of antisemitism to Western society and its acceptance as a “progressive” ideology, when I really should be focused on keeping myself safe and healthy here and now.

I don’t know why I feel so bad today, but I have a few ideas.  Probably the biggest factor is my sister’s engagement party on Sunday.  That must have taken its toll, another ‘mental hangover’ as I call it, but I didn’t have time to recover, to get back my energy levels and to deal with the mixed emotions it provoked (all parties tend to make me feel lonely and isolated, but my little sister getting engaged while I’m still single is even more difficult) because I had work yesterday and then rushed out to Talmud class in the evening, falling asleep again before going to bed, although this time at least in my pyjamas, but with the lights on and hence with the extractor fan on in the bathroom – I hope I haven’t burnt it out.

The other factors are the two ongoing areas of uncertainty to which I have alluded recently.  I hesitate to say too much, but one area, as I have mentioned, concerns work and relates to uncertainty as to whether I can take the next step in my career, increasing my working hours even more and the fear that either this option will not be available to me, or that I will take it and it will be the proverbial camel-breaking straw and I will spiral back down into depression again, something that seems more likely today than last week.

It will probably surprise no one that the other area of uncertainty is romantic.  Again, I am torn between wanting to get things off my chest by writing about them here and the superstitious fear that if I say too much I will ruin everything, or that even getting my hopes up will ruin everything.  Suffice to say, I am consumed with uncertainty: hope and despair, loneliness and lust, anxiety and affection, fantasy and fear… trying to parse the slightest look or the smallest word almost Talmudically in the search for a meaning that would support my hopes or fears… trying to fight my most persistent religious challenges when I have my lowest reserves of energy (physical, mental, emotional), will-power and motivation… waiting impatiently for things to be resolved one way or the other, a process that will take at least another two weeks and maybe many more weeks, months, perhaps even years.

So, I do what I can to survive, to get through the day, to get ready for tomorrow and for Thursday (training day in, of all places, Oxford, my own personal Hell, combined with networking, my own personal Hell in a different way).  Dinner and Doctor Who and trying to survive.

Despatches from the Front Line 4 (Purim Day)

Continued from the last post.

I could not sleep last night.  I got to bed late anyway, after 1am, but my mind was full of thoughts about yesterday evening and anxieties about today and my date next week.  Eventually I realized I was not going to sleep and got up and Doctor Who-ed to calm my mind down, finally falling asleep some time around 2.20am.

I could not sleep in this morning, though, as I wanted to get to an early Shacharit (morning  service) and Megillah (Book of Esther) reading.  I managed to do this, getting up at 6.50am (on a Sunday!).  It mostly went well, but I had a bit of an OCD panic.  One is supposed to hear every single word of the Megillah and while I had heard every word, my mind drifted at one point and one word didn’t register properly – I heard it, but I didn’t register what it was until my reading caught up a second later.  I initially thought this was OK, but by the time I got home afterwards I was caught in the spiral of OCD doubt and was ready to find a later reading to hear it all again.  Fortunately, I decided to phone my rabbi first to check if this repetition was necessary and he assured me that everyone’s mind drifts during the reading and it is enough to have been there and heard every word.  Even so, part of me felt, “Maybe I didn’t ask the question properly.  Maybe I should go to another reading to be sure”, but I have been playing the OCD game long enough to know that there is no escape that way.  If I went to another reading, I would surely find another problem to make me think that I had not fulfilled the mitzvah (commandment).  This is the tricky thing about OCD, the way it tells you that you are doing the right thing, that you can never be too careful.  Give in just once and you are laying yourself open to an endless cycle of doubt and checking.  I have been trying very hard lately not to ask a rabbi a question unless I am quite sure that there is a legitimate doubt about what I should do and certainly only to ask the question once, not repeating the question because I think I have not explained myself properly or that I have not been understood.  I tell myself that asking a rabbi creates a halakhic (legal) reality; my job is to follow the ruling I have been given, not to second-guess the rabbi who gave it.  This is hard, but it is the only way to beat the OCD cycle.

There was then a sombre interval, when we found out that my great-aunt had died.  I did not know her particularly well, but my Dad was close to her and especially to my great-uncle (who died about a year ago).  This cast a shadow over the day.

I then managed to go to a Purim seudah (meal/party) with my sister, her boyfriend, her flatmate and various other people.  I had been at Oxford with a couple of people there and as I have mentioned in previous posts, I was worried that they would remember me negatively as aloof and standoffish (although I was actually desperately shy and depressed).  At any rate, they either did not remember me or did not think negatively of me.  I surprised myself by joining in the conversation a lot, even cracking a couple of well-received jokes and my jester’s hat proved a great hit (fancy dress being a Purim tradition dating from the Middle Ages).  It was an extremely positive experience, setting me up well for my blind date next week by making me feel that I can talk to strangers.

Now I’m slowly coming down, hoping that I won’t crash, either tonight or tomorrow morning, which is possible (what I call a mental hangover, when socializing or other activity one day leads to a worsening of the depression and lethargy the next).  Hopefully this is a sign of improvements in my mental health and ability to socialize that I will be able to build on in the future.