The Perfect Storm

I want to get into a better sleep pattern, so I asked my Dad to wake me up and open my blinds in the morning. It didn’t really work; I just went back to sleep. I’m so drained when I wake up in the mornings, even if I’ve had a lot of sleep, and also quite down, which is probably related to being drained. I used to say, “It’s depression,” but now I’m not sure if I’ve been clinically depressed in recent months. I guess now I can say, “It’s autistic burnout” although it probably isn’t, at least not every day.

I struggled with the job exam thing today. I had poor concentration and struggled to take in what I was trying to learn. I was just staring at the screen, unable to process what I was reading; alternatively, I procrastinated online. I’m struggling learn all the abbreviations and special words used in the process. I guess I’ve lost enthusiasm for it too. I felt tearful and depressed while trying to study for it, so maybe I am still depressed after all. I said a few days ago that my depression is now reactive to my life situation (unemployment; loneliness; Mum’s cancer) and the season/light level and not based on unresolved childhood issues. I think this is maybe not as significant a distinction as I had hoped.

I’m struggling on to try and get this job, and I’m not quite sure why, given it’s underpaid and not directly related to my career progression, as well as requiring unpaid self-training in a short timescale. I guess I’m desperate for a job, more for self-esteem than money (I don’t spend much and my parents are letting me stay without rent). Also, I suppose, to make myself more attractive to potential dates, but today I don’t feel like that that’s going to work out for me either (see below).

If I had more time, maybe I could learn this stuff, but I’m struggling to learn it in less than a week. I hope things might be a little easier once I practise with the practise data, but I need to read the user guide first, which is taking ages.

The fact that it feels like winter doesn’t help matters, with heavy rain. I wanted to go for a walk, but it was too wet. Dad had to drive me to the pharmacist to pick up my prescription. It’s less than ten minutes away on foot, but I would have got soaked.

Reading Ashley’s latest post, I wonder if I’ve internalised stigma. I feel I “only” have depression (the vanilla ice cream of mental illness), not anything that would “allow” me to be really ill, and that I would be better off if I had a job. Actually, the latter is probably true in my case, at least if I could find a job that was within my capabilities, part-time, in a safe environment, with a supportive line manager. My job in early 2019 was like that. I was hoping the job I’m applying for would be like that, but so far it has not been like that. However, I did feel a bit better after doing some ironing today, which I think was occupational therapy on some level.

***

I just feel exhausted and useless today, and rather desperate. A perfect storm of depression, despair, loneliness, low self-esteem and touch hunger. I’m trying to tell myself that I can build a career, preferably as a writer, and that I can find love, but it’s hard to believe sometimes. It feels like dating, job hunting and working are all necessary for my recovery, but all also require tremendous resources of energy, motivation, concentration and self-belief that I can’t access because of depression, anxiety or low self-esteem. I could probably say the same for other activities that are supposed to be good for me, like exercise, meditation and prayer.

I can see that there’s a lot of catastrophising going on today (“Everything is awful”), along with black and white thinking (“Things aren’t perfect, therefore they’re absolutely awful”) and emotional reasoning (“I feel bad, therefore everything must be objectively bad”). It’s not always easy to deal with those unhelpful thinking styles (black and white thinking in particular is basically the default autistic thinking style), but I guess it’s a start that I can spot them.

***

In terms of what may have triggered all this… aside from the onset of autumn… aside from the awful self-training I’m doing under pressure… aside from the stuff that has been in the background for months (COVID, Mum’s cancer)… it doesn’t help that I’m worried I scared off the women I was messaging on JDate. It’s probably too early to tell, but I do feel like I may have done that. I’m waiting for some replies and feeling very negative. I let my anxiety (possibly even OCD) get the better of me in one conversation the other day and said something stupid and now I’ve probably scared her off for good.

I’m questioning whether I did the right thing breaking up with E. again. Deep down, I know (in my “wise mind”) that I made the right decision, even if I can’t go into my reasons here (I know to readers here it seemed to be a sudden, impulsive decision, but it wasn’t). But emotionally it’s easy to think, “Oh, if only I was still in a relationship.”

In a weird way… I wonder if doing the job stuff instead of working on my novel today brought down my mood. Lately I have been feeling better; I’ve also been feeling that I’ve been making progress on my novel. Coincidence? Inasmuch as I believe I have any understanding of my mission in life (I believe everyone has a mission in life, it’s just not always easy to find it), it’s writing Jewish-related fiction. When I was pursuing that, I seemed happier. Suddenly I was talking to someone on JDate who also writes. Then I pause the novel, and suddenly my mood drops, I can’t function and I worry I’ve upset the JDater and cut her off. Some of that may be coincidence, but I don’t think I have to be superstitious to think that distancing myself from what I see as my vocation (writing) to do something that is strenuous, badly paid and which I worry will trigger my OCD (long story) might have triggered my depression again.

I don’t know how I “sell” this interpretation to other people though.

***

A WhatsApp devar Torah I listened to spoke about trust in God being rooted in awe of God, i.e. if we recognise that God controls everything in our lives, we will trust everything will be for the best. I find that hard when it seems like so much of my life has been negative (and I haven’t even had such a bad life compared to many people). I guess I feel that if God wanted my life to become good, He would have done it by now. It’s hard to think of having twenty really bad years and then suddenly everything is OK. I believe God could do that (He can do anything), yet from looking at the world, it seems such sudden and miraculous interventions are rare and I don’t know how I could deserve such a fate. An analogy: I believe that one day God will send the Messiah to redeem the world, but if I saw someone in the street claiming that he was the Messiah, I would assume he is probably suffering from a mental illness, even though I believe that theoretically it could be the real Messiah.

***

My GP at Oxford used to tell me “A bad day is just a bad day,” but there’s always a fear that one bad day will lead to two and then three and then keep snowballing.

***

Achievements: I spent a couple of hours trying to train for the job, but I don’t know how much sunk in. I did some ironing. I listened to divrei Torah for about five minutes.

Trying to Live My Life as Well as I can

I had a slight headache when I went to bed last night, too slight to take anything for it, or so I thought.  Once I was lying down, it got considerably worse, as sometimes happens to me, so I ended up taking painkillers and waiting until they kicked in and I could lie down again.  I watched Star Trek: Voyager to pass the time, but the episode, although well-written and acted, turned out to be very dark and bleak, not the best thing to watch with a headache at 1.00am.

Once I did get to sleep, I had a weird dream.  I was at the Biblical Museum of Natural History in Israel, the museum I did a virtual tour of last week.  In reality, they have a few small live animals in small enclosures in the museum, but in the dream they were pretty much a fully-fledged zoo.  They had a large area for primates.  They wanted to introduce an orphan baby orangutan to their orangutan family, but the adults rejected him and they could not keep him in the enclosure for fear they would harm him.

On waking up, I realised that I’m the baby orangutan, or I fear I am.  I’m very fond of orangutans and gorillas; when I was a child, I had a big poster of an orangutan over my bed.  I fear that my “tribe” (the frum (religious Jewish) community) would reject me if they “really” knew me, just like the baby orangutan was rejected.  I’m not sure what prompted this thought right now, as I thought that lately I’d become more accepting of the fact that I’m never going to 100% fit in to frum society, or any other society and that I can still try to make friends there, daven (pray) there and so on.  Maybe I still have a long way to go before I can accept it emotionally.

***

I woke up to find that E. had emailed me.  She apologised for what happened at the end of our relationship and is really sorry for it and takes the blame for it.  She said that she’s trying to fix aspects of her life that I won’t go into here.  She said if I want to get in touch “in any capacity” she is willing too.

I don’t think it’s a good idea for us to get back together romantically, even if I wasn’t already talking to someone on JDate.  We had two attempts at that, and I think a third would be a bad idea.  In theory I’m open to staying friends.  I miss her a lot, as a friend.  I think she was a good friend, and I don’t think she gives herself enough credit for that.  I didn’t really blame her for what happened.  I think it was mostly a product of lockdown and the bad place she was in, literally and metaphorically.  However, I worry that the mutual attraction between us is so strong that we couldn’t stay platonic friends and we would end up in some never-ending on/off relationship, which I do not want, not least because it would stop me moving on.  So, I need to spend some time to think about this and whether I can manage a close platonic friendship that doesn’t “boil over” into something more dangerous and complicated.  To be honest, my gut instinct is that I can’t, which saddens me, but I’m not sure what I can do about it.

***

Just a few weeks ago everything seemed stagnant.  I was feeling a little frustrated, but also aware that a return to movement would be a return to anxiety.  Now, movement has come back: JDate, work (the exam I will hopefully have this week), E., the approaching Jewish festival season…  From this coming Friday my parents and I go back into very strict shielding for the two weeks before Mum’s operation, so that’s another thing approaching.  There is some anxiety at times, particularly late at night.  It’s hard to remember sometimes that it’s a good anxiety (ish), from things moving on.

***

As for today, I felt a bit down initially today, despite saying the other day that my depression is not such an issue and is mainly a reaction to autistic burnout.  I felt little motivation and low energy early on today, as well as somewhat low mood, but nowhere near as bad as it’s been in the past.  I feel today’s depression is probably primarily a response to anxiety, to things that I’m anxious about and to the experience of anxiety in the last few days.  I guess too much anxiety can lead to burnout too.

I tried to fight through the tiredness and lack of motivation to read over more of my novel.  I wrote notes to myself for when I’m redrafting, mostly to add or remove words or expand passages (especially “show don’t tell”), but I found myself writing DO NOT LIKE at one passage I particularly disliked.  I find it hard to judge how well-written the novel is.  I can perhaps tell with individual paragraphs, but assessing the ongoing narrative and character arcs is a lot harder.  This is why I’m re-reading the whole novel before really getting to grips with redrafting, to get an idea of the bigger picture.

Working on the novel helped lift my mood a bit, even if I worry that I won’t be able to get it into good enough shape to find a publisher.  At the moment, it’s a target to focus on.  I am trying to break down rewriting into small, finite, tasks, starting with re-reading the whole novel and listing the major incidents to get a better idea of how the plot is flowing, if it is unfolding evenly or not.

***

I felt anxious again by the early evening, and I wasn’t sure if it was about dating, E.’s email, or worrying that I would get an exercise migraine if I went for a run.  Or maybe something else entirely that I was consciously unaware of.  Sometimes it is hard even for me to read myself.  I had the sudden horrible worry that all I’ve done is swap depression for anxiety.  I guess time will tell.

Some stuff happened in the evening that was very anxiety-provoking, but I don’t feel comfortable sharing it here.  I think I navigated it OK, although perhaps not great.

***

Achievements: an hour or two of working on my novel (I lost track of exactly how long); a 5K run (no exercise migraine, thankfully); about forty-five minutes of Torah study.  It doesn’t look like so much, but I was fighting depression and anxiety at times, so it’s a bigger achievement than it appears.  I guess even if I think my depression and anxiety are now largely driven by external events and autistic burnout, that doesn’t mean they are going to vanish or suddenly become easier to deal with.  It’s a process every day of forcing myself to get up, to get going, to do some productive activities, to make sure I get the food, rest and relaxation that I need to avoid burnout.  Just to keep going, trying to live my life as well as I can.

A Matter of Trust

I had a headache when I went to bed last night which got worse when I was lying down, as often happens to me, so I ended up getting up and watching Star Trek: Voyager at two in the morning and then sleeping even later than normal, which was not good.  At least it was a comedic episode, rather than some heavy emotional drama or political parable.  Then I feel asleep in the afternoon today from the heat.

I think the combination of heat, continued lockdown and shielding Mum, and finishing the first draft of my novel have left a bit of a “now what?” feeling.  I’m not depressed exactly, just exhausted, but it’s hard to get motivated to do anything.  I do think having a short break from writing is a good idea, but I think deep down I really want to get back to it.  This is not a bad thing in itself, but I think more of a break would be helpful.  I’m still reading books about writing and wondering if they are helpful of counter-productive.  It’s hard to tell.

***

I’m struggling with Torah study from lack of engagement.  I’m not studying anything that really excites me at the moment.  My Tanakh (Hebrew Bible) study currently is Mishlei (Proverbs), which I’m struggling with.  I think it’s the “wisdom literature” outlook that good is always rewarded and evil always punished in this world, which I find simplistic.  “Wisdom literature” was a genre in many countries in the Ancient Near East, not just Israel and Judea, associated with the scribes at royal court.  It aimed to set out advice for living a good life, based on following the dictates of wisdom rather than other impulses.  It tends towards pithy aphorisms which makes Mishlei one of the more quotable books of Tanakh, but also feels like it’s making sweeping statements.  I think Kohelet (Ecclesiastes) is something of a critique of this outlook.  Kohelet is in many ways structured like wisdom literature, but is very conscious that the righteous are often not rewarded in this world.  (I have a whole theory of why some books of the Bible assume that reward and punishment occurs in a very obvious and simplistic sense and others take a different, more complex, view that I can share if anyone’s interested.)

To be honest, I find studying Tanakh challenging at times in general, although I do at times find it very rewarding too.  There’s such a weight of expectation on “The Bible” to be life-changing and inspirational that it can be hard to engage with it.  I don’t really understand how Protestants in particular seem to be able to “converse” with the Bible in a very personal way, although I used to be able to do that more than I can now.  I find the Koren Maggid Tanakh series of books really helpful at explaining the historical background and literary style of the books of Tanakh, but it’s an ongoing series and they haven’t published volumes on all the books of Tanakh yet – plus the Koren books focus on the straightforward contextual meaning of the text, which isn’t always the inspirational side – the sense of “Why did someone find this meaningful enough to canonise it?”

The weight of history on Tanakh can be off-putting too, like watching a classic film like Citizen Kane for the first time and not knowing if you like it or merely think you should like it.  Citizen Kane is a good example, as nowadays it doesn’t look so impressive because so many of its startling innovations have become cinematic standards.  Similarly, a lot of what Western civilisation took from biblical ethics is so ingrained that we assume that all societies believe the same thing and don’t realise how revolutionary Tanakh was and only notice where the biblical ethic does not match modern standards.

(Sorry, that was a big tangent.  I guess that was autistic special interest mode.)

Likewise the Mishnah I’m studying, Seder Zeraim, Masechet Terumot, agricultural laws, is rather dry and separate from my life.

Because of this feeling of disconnection I just ordered Emmanuel Levinas’ Nine Talmudic Readings, both because I want to read more Levinas (observant Jewish Existentialist philosopher) and because I want to study some Talmud without moving on from my weekly Talmud class, which is on hold during lockdown.  I also ordered Rav Kook’s Lights of Penitence because I also want to read more Rav Kook and it’s appropriate as we move towards Elul and Tishrei, the time of the year focused on introspection and repentance.  Hopefully that will give me more variety in my Torah study and something more inspirational and meaningful to my everyday life.  Still, I am conscious that I just spent nearly £50 on books.  Buying too many books (more than I can read, at any rate) is not the worst vice, but I do tend to assume that all my problems can be solved by buying more books, which is not necessarily the case here (or elsewhere).

***

Achievements: I posted on my Doctor Who blog for the first time in a while, which was good (posting something I mostly wrote a few days ago, but hadn’t posted).  Also, despite what I wrote above about Torah study, I did manage about fifty minutes of Torah study again today.  I also cooked dinner (Hungarian pepper ragout with rice, which I had only cooked once before; this time I topped it with a fried egg, which is not healthy, but tasted good).

I’m not sure what the opposite of “achievements” is, but in terms of negative things, I got a rejection from a job I applied for some time ago and I think I messed up a social interaction online with someone I particularly didn’t want to upset (not that there are people I do want to upset, but you know what I mean).  I also wanted to go for a walk at dusk as I did yesterday, but it started raining.  By the time I realised it had stopped, I was too tired and it was too late.  It looks like thunderstorms are predicted for the rest of the week, which will limit my ability to go out.

***

When my therapist suggested limiting my internet time, she said not to see it as another “Should,” but just an experiment.  She was worried that if I couldn’t stick to it, I would beat myself up.  I haven’t completely stuck to it, but I haven’t beaten myself up either.  I am pleased to be online less and seem to be happier, although I do worry a bit about not being well-informed of the news.  I am procrastinating less, although I’m not sure where the gained time is going.  Certainly the whole experiment has made me more mindful of when I go online or check my emails; I don’t do that casually any more, without thinking, but do it consciously and deliberately even if I’m doing it outside the approved times.

***

A thought I had last night: I need to learn to trust myself and to trust God.

I want to feel that I’ve achieved something with my life, that I’ve fulfilled my mission, or at least that I am on course to fulfil it.  I don’t think a person’s mission is necessarily tied up completely with his or her career or family responsibilities, but I do feel that I have achieved very little that is worthwhile in my life.  This is why I find it so hard to trust myself or love myself, because I feel unworthy because I am not doing what I was put here to do.

On the other hand, I find it hard to trust God because I want to know that I will have a successful, loving marriage at some point, or at least to know that I can cope with being alone (without my parents, which will happen one day).  I find it hard to trust that God will arrange for me to get married, or that He will give me the tools I need to cope with being single forever.  Or perhaps I feel that He will give me the tools, but I won’t use them, in which case it’s about trusting myself again.

I’m not sure how I find this trust.  I certainly don’t know how to learn to accept being single forever.  Sometimes I feel I could explode from loneliness and sexual frustration.

***

I posted this comment on Ashley’s blog post about self-stigma today and thought I would share here:

I think I have a lot of self-stigma, partly about my depression and social anxiety, but also about autism, paradoxically, often combined with “Maybe I’m not really on the autism spectrum and I’m just a freak” thoughts.

I suppose that, like a lot of people on the spectrum, well-meaning adults socialised me to think that I shouldn’t do the things I wanted to do or think the things I wanted to think. That I shouldn’t stim and I should force myself to talk to people because “it will get easier if I try” among other things. Maybe they were right about some of these things, but I guess the cumulative effect is to make me doubt myself and to feel that there is a “normal type of person” and that my behaviour as a depressed autistic person is abnormal and that this is wrong in itself and responsible for many of my issues, such as unemployment, singledom and loneliness. If only I could stop being a “freak” (one of my favourite terms for myself, you may have noticed) and become “normal,” all my problems would be solved.

Of course, none of the authority figures in my life had any knowledge of high functioning autism when I was a child; the diagnosis of Asperger’s Syndrome (as it was called) didn’t even get into the DSM [psychiatric diagnostic manual] until I was eleven and wasn’t well-known for many years after that.

Even now I make more eye contact than many people on the spectrum even though my natural preference, like many autistic people, is to avoid eye contact. This is because I was told to make eye contact as a child and I internalised that message (not knowing about autism at that age) so I very consciously force myself to make eye contact, and usually quietly freak out in my head about making too much eye contact, or too little, or the wrong type; if I feel I’m not making enough eye contact, or too much, I blame myself rather than accept it.

“Time’s wingèd chariot hurrying near”

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

***

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Struggling

I did not have a good morning.  I was woken at 10am by my phone ringing, but I didn’t recognise the number.  I assumed it was another therapist phoning me after yesterday.  I couldn’t face that having just woken up so I let it go to voicemail.  I feel asleep again, but had an upsetting dream and woke up before 11am, but was too depressed and exhausted to get up until I was forced to do so again, this time by a knock on the front door.  I knew that Dad was praying and Mum had gone back to bed because she was feeling very ill from chemo side-effects, so I had to answer it (it was the postman delivering new headphones I had ordered and which came in a ridiculously large box).  I tried to stay up and get dressed and I did at least manage to stay up, but I only got half dressed before deciding I had to eat before I could do anything else.

When I checked my emails I saw that another therapist emailed me, but she didn’t answer any my question about fees, just asked if I’d like to phone to speak or book an appointment, which makes me vaguely wonder if she’s going to be sensitive enough to social anxiety and autism issues.  I then checked my voicemail and saw that that voicemail message was from the same therapist who emailed.  Now I’ve heard from three of the four therapists I messaged.  I do feel uncertain what to do at the moment.  The voicemail therapist did seem less pushy than the one who phoned yesterday, but maybe that was because I didn’t answer the phone and so didn’t get put on the spot.

I struggled through the day with low energy, concentration and motivation.  I drank coffee mid-afternoon to wake myself up, which is rare for me.  I usually only drink coffee in the morning and tea in the afternoon.  I had a Skype call with E.  She is also struggling.  I guess with Mum and E. both struggling today, it probably isn’t surprised that I was upset too, as I was worried about them both.  I was lucky in the end that Mum felt better in the afternoon, so I didn’t have to do the Shabbat cooking as I was initially expecting to have to do.  I would have struggled to do that and speak to E.

I ran out of time, energy and concentration for novel writing, but I did post my short story on a password protected post, so that was one achievement, aside from my usual pre-Shabbat chores and helping to deal with the big Tesco delivery that arrived while I was finishing lunch.

On the plus side, the Amazon Marketplace seller I contacted has offered to replace the broken Life on Mars DVD box set I had, which is good.

Darker Than Expected

I struggled to get going again.  It’s difficult.  Once I get going, I’m OK, but I really struggle with depression, exhaustion and motivation for the first couple of hours that I’m awake.  Today I was missing E. a lot and feeling quite overwhelmed and depressed.  Once I’ve had breakfast, got dressed and davened (prayed) a little bit (only a fraction of the morning prayers, and sometimes skipping straight to the afternoon ones because I’m too late for the morning) I do tend to feel better, but even then I don’t feel 100% until after lunch.  Even when I was working full days I had a similar situation.  I had to rush out in the morning and I managed that OK, somehow, but the mornings at work would pass slowly and not always terribly well, bolstered by coffee, and only after I had eaten lunch would I feel that I could really do any good work.

Then I wasted far too much time at lunch trying to answer one of the questions in the Doctor Who Magazine crossword and failing to get it.  I can usually answer about three-quarters of the clues fairly easily, others with some difficulty and a few I need to look up online, but I was really stuck on one today, even after looking at a couple of scenes from the story in question.  This sort of thing really irritates me.  I’ve only been unable to find an answer once or twice before!

I procrastinated a lot in the afternoon, partly at least because I kept getting hit by waves of anxiety and depression.  I did eventually manage to email the Amazon seller I bought the broken DVD box set from that I mentioned yesterday.  I also emailed four psychotherapists to ask if they have client vacancies and if they charge lower rates for the unemployed.  One replied promptly by email, which was good.  Another phoned me, which was not good!  I dislike talking on the phone at the best of times and I was taken by surprise, which meant my anxiety level shot up.  Then he tried to get me to commit to an initial appointment, when I was hoping to compare the different fees, but obviously I didn’t want to say that to him.  I asked for time to think.  Still, I guess it’s good to know he could see me next week if I want.  I felt that he was a bit pushy, but maybe that was because I was so anxious.  I’m not sure if I really want a male therapist anyway; I seem to be able to open up more to female mental health professionals than males, although there have been exceptions.

I tried to get back to work on my novel, but procrastinated and then got roped into helping my parents with some stuff.  I did eventually manage about thirty minutes of work on the novel, redrafting a chunk previously written in the first person into the third person.  It seems to work better that way, leaving questions for me about how to write the rest of the book.  I also went for a walk for thirty-five minutes or so.  Even when walking I drifted into negative emotions, particularly anxiety and depression, despite listening to a podcast for distraction.  I did manage twenty-five minutes Torah study too.

Writing this down, I see that I achieved quite a bit, but would have liked to have done more Torah study and novel writing.  I also feel like I’m struggling a bit with emotional regulation at the moment, inasmuch as there are a lot of strong, difficult and sometimes conflicting emotions in my head, but I lack the ability to get rid of them or do much other than acknowledge their existence.  I’m struggling to just sit with them.

I wasn’t aware of this so much during the day, but looking back Mum has been struggling a bit today and I think that was also in my mind on some level and adding to the anxiety and depression.

I watched Star Trek Voyager to unwind, but it was unexpectedly dark.  Basically, the holographic doctor wanted to learn to experience family life, so he made a holographic family.  But he made them too sickeningly perfect, so one of the other characters introduced some changes and random program elements, which meant that his wife now had a life aside from pleasing him and his kids were now rebellious.  So far, so good and I thought we would stop there with the holographic doctor having Learnt An Important Lesson Today About Real Life (not coincidentally, Real Life was the title of the episode).  Except there was another quarter of an hour left, and his daughter rather shockingly had a fatal sporting accident and he had to deal with that, which was quite a lot darker than I needed today, or than the previous three seasons of the programme had led me to expect.

After this I had my daily call with E.  I do find it frustrating that I can’t be there in person for her.  We both want so much to have a ‘normal’ relationship without coronavirus and without the Atlantic Ocean being in the way.  But, at least we have Skype and WhatsApp, without which we really would be too far apart.  I can’t imagine having even an email long-distance relationship, let alone an old-fashioned one via letters (taking weeks to cross the ocean in a steamer, no doubt).

***

I find it increasingly hard to deal with all the applause and plaudits for the NHS.  Today we had the weekly applause for the NHS and carers as well as the slightly bizarre Doctor Who thank you (also: Jo Martin is a ‘real’ Doctor, but Michael Jayston isn’t? Hmmm…).

I acknowledge that NHS staff are doing a huge amount at the moment, and some have become ill (including my sister’s former flatmate) or even died as a result.  At the same time, I can’t forget the often appalling way I feel I have been treated over the years.  In my experience, there is a big difference in quality between NHS psychiatric care and care in other front line areas like accident and emergency or oncology.

I feel like a child whose father’s appearances in his life were erratic, unpredictable and highly variable in quality suddenly seeing his father lauded as a diligent, conscientious and a great man.  It is hard to deal with the dissonance.

Autism and Gear Shifting

I’m still getting up at 11am, which is late, but earlier than previously, but getting going is proving much harder.  I have so little energy and motivation, even after breakfast.  I try to avoid going on my computer before getting dressed, but then I just check emails and blogs on my phone.  It’s especially hard at the moment, as I’m not listening to music because of the Jewish semi-mourning period of the Omer, when we don’t listen to music, even though music helps to motivate me.  To be honest, there is a heter (permission) for depressed people to listen to music in the Omer, and I do use that heter at times, but primarily when my mood is low, not when I’m lacking energy, which is silly because lack of energy is just as much a symptom of depression as low mood.

***

I spoke to my rabbi mentor today.  He was glad things are going well between me and E.  I opened up about some of my fears about the relationship, not specific fears so much of a sense that something will go wrong, that something always goes wrong for me and that God wants to continually test me rather than let me be happy.  We spoke about this in the context of my difficulties with bitachon (trust in God) and my tendency to worry in general and also about the way that in the last week or two I’ve been trying to re-frame my understanding of my life to see that it can be seen as a series of achievements and positive events and not only as failures and negative events.

Unfortunately, after speaking to my rabbi mentor, I lost focus.  I meant to continue my search for a therapist, but ended up drifting into researching and writing my devar Torah (Torah thought) for the week, which was not exactly intentional.  I have at least nearly finished it now, although it needs some polish and I need to look something up.

It’s interesting, I think that since my teens I’ve had problems shifting tasks.  Once I’ve done one thing, it can be hard to change and go into a different task.  It’s only relatively recently that I’ve learnt that this is a classic autistic trait.  Although I can be a fairly driven person, and at university before depression I was quite capable of working long days, including working late into the night even with no work due the next day, since my teens (at least – I can’t really remember earlier) I’ve had this problem with procrastination, getting down to work and changing tasks – things that involve “changing gears” from one mode to another.  Strangely, it never affected me at school.  I don’t know if that was willpower or if I used the routine and mini-break of “pack books and stationery; dismissed from class; leave classroom; walk to next class; wait for teacher (talk to friends); file into classroom; unpack books and stationery” to end one task and reboot.  I did struggle with attention for my homework at weekends (I know all teenagers do, but still), so maybe that routine and movement to a new location really did help.  I’m not sure how I could replicate it though.

I struggled with this in the work world, particularly manning the issue desk when I was working in a further education library, as I would be doing some work, then get interrupted by someone borrowing a book; go back to work, then get interrupted by someone needing help finding something or with the photocopier and so on and I really struggled with that.  When someone turned up to talk to me, I would often go completely blank for a second, as if my brain was literally rebooting.  I think my line manager noticed and that was why she was dissatisfied with my work.

And then I stopped to write this (to get it out of my head) instead of Getting On With Things…

***

I did eventually get on with the therapy hunt.  I still feel pretty overwhelmed by it and think the names I’ve picked out are almost totally random.  OK, not totally random, but still fairly random and arbitrary; likewise my decision not to look any more for now.  I picked four names from the nine or so I’d found to email about prices (specifically if they offer concessions to the unemployed, as otherwise I can’t afford it) and availability.

I also went for a longish walk with some shopping and listened to another Intimate Judaism installment and was feeling somewhat more focused in the evening.  I had planned to do more therapy hunting after dinner, but while eating I was watching Life on Mars and now the DVDs are jamming on the laptop DVD player as well as the TV one and they crashed the DVD drive.  I wonder if it’s some kind of fault from the factory, although there are what may be scratches on the discs.  I guess this is the downside of buying cheap second-hand DVDs online.  I’m going to have to return them and buy replacements.  Annoyingly, I managed to get these very cheaply, but the copies currently available on Amazon are more expensive..

***

I mentioned that I’ve been writing a short story lately.  I finished it and I’m thinking of putting it in a password-protected post so that some people here could read it.  If you’re interested in reading it, please comment on this post and I will post it on a locked post and email you the password.  I would give the to anyone who comments regularly and maybe also to some people who ‘like’ my posts a lot, but don’t comment, if I think they’re real people and not spammers.

Therapy Hunting

I got up at 11.00am again today, although as with the last few days I struggled to get going.  I wasn’t feeling overtly depressed in the sense of despairing, but I did lack energy and motivation, which I guess is still depression of a kind.

I weighed myself for the first time since Pesach.  I have put on weight, but not much (half a kilo), which is a weird kind of victory.  I feel fat though.  Some of my clothes don’t fit so well (despite buying some larger ones a while back) and I know I’m two or three kilos overweight, which I haven’t been able to shift for years, since I was put on clomipramine.  I did go for a run again today.  I ran for most of the thirty-five minutes without going into a walk much, which was good.

I discovered that my self-published Doctor Who book is now available from Barnes and Noble as well as Lulu.com and Amazon UK.  I still can’t find it on Amazon US though.  I had an email from Lulu on Friday saying I should receive payment for the copies I’ve sold so far, but the money hasn’t reached my account yet.

I finished the short story I was writing and sent it to E. to see what she thinks.  E. and I Skyped again as we have been doing most days since the lockdown started.  I did twenty-five minutes of Torah study too, although I would have liked to have done more.

***

I spent nearly two hours looking for a therapist online.  I tried the questionnaire to find a therapist at welldoing.org.  The questionnaire had a long, long, looooong list of possible issues and I could easily have ticked six or seven that pertain to me, but I was only allowed to click three, so I went with depression, autism/Asperger’s and interpersonal relationships.  I hope the latter can cover my relationship with my Mum and need to come to terms with her mortality as well as my relationship with E. and understanding the changes that could entail in my life.  Autism isn’t exactly something I need to discuss in itself, but it informs my thoughts about my relationship with E. in particular and I would like to get someone who understands it if possible.  I think in many ways I’d prefer a therapist who understands autism to one who understands Orthodox Judaism, as I have a lot of experience explaining the latter to people, whereas autism is much harder to explain, especially as I feel like I don’t fully understand how it manifests in me.

Narrowing down the list of therapists is difficult, especially as I would be willing to do Skype sessions and would have to start with them.  I know it’s slightly weird to say this, but I have had male and female therapists/counsellors and I find it easier to open up to women than men (despite having had one positive male therapist and my rabbi mentor being male).  So I found myself biased in favour of women, even though that’s somewhat irrational.  Although a disproportionate amount of therapists and counsellors are female anyway.

Aside for checking BACP (British Association of Counselling and Psychotherapy) membership, so far I’ve narrowed down primarily by cost and partly by locality (just in case I ever want an in-person meeting post-COVID-19), and also by type of therapy.  I am quite clear that I don’t want CBT, as it has never helped me much (except with my OCD, but that’s a different type of CBT) and, having had a some psychodynamic therapy in the past (I think… therapists do not always make it clear) I was interested in trying a new approach.  I looked primarily at therapists offering existential therapy, although I know little about it.  I did this because of my interest in Jewish existentialist thinkers, although I’m not sure how much overlap there is (therapists would probably have heard of Martin Buber and maybe Emmanuel Levinas, but are less likely to have heard of other Jewish figures).  Existentialism generally focuses on issues like purpose, choice and authenticity, which obviously inform my thoughts on a lot of subjects I would like to address, like my relationship with E. and my attitude to my sexuality generally, my position in the wider world/working world and my relationship with the wider Jewish community (the latter two not issues I would bring to therapy per se, but which are likely to come up in passing).

Tomorrow I might try to find some other names and then narrow down the list to a few who I can email to ask for more information about their fees for unemployed people.  Most therapists seem to offer concessions for those in financial need, but I need to see if I would qualify and what the concession rates are.

***

Overall it was another good day and I’m glad to have made progress with the therapy hunt.  Now that Pesach (Passover) is over, I feel like I’m coping with lockdown quite well.  There are no jobs to apply for giving me time to help around the house and write and study Torah, although I probably procrastinate too much and I struggle with mornings and compensate by staying up late, which probably isn’t healthy.  E. and I have been able to Skype most days because of the greater flexibility she had when working from home which paradoxically may have been good for our relationship (not that I wanted her potential trip to the UK to be postponed).

Second Gear

I didn’t feel overtly so depressed or anxious today, but I felt emotionally run down.  It was not always easy to concentrate or get motivated to do anything.  I did manage to do some stuff (see below), but it was an uphill struggle.  I wasn’t necessarily consciously thinking about Mum’s cancer or my employment and benefits issues or my relationship with E., but I think they were probably there on an unconscious or semi-conscious way.  This is especially the case given that Mum starts chemo tomorrow, given that I filled in a form about my benefits situation and why I don’t have a medical certificate yet and given that I listened to a podcast about how people with different religious levels can be in a relationship together.

***

I did do a few things.  I cleared out some old papers in my top desk drawer.  I tend to be tidy, but also to stay tidy by shoving stuff in cupboards or drawers until they get really messy.  I was looking for papers about my benefits situation, but found some other important papers I had more or less forgotten about, including the form to claim money I paid into a pension fund when I was in regular work in 2017-18.  I had held off from taking the money in the hope that I would be in regular employment again soon and could pay the money directly into a new pension fund, but now it’s looking more like I should take the cash while I can and stick it in bank somewhere, not that interest rates are good for savers right now.  I also found some papers and leaflets about therapy from a much earlier therapy-hunting period that I thought I had somewhere, but wasn’t sure where.  These might be useful when I have the headspace to deal with that.

***

I still have abdominal pain.  I think it’s just anxiety, but I should probably talk to the doctor about it when I speak to him about my medical certificate.

***

I tried to work on my novel for an hour or so.  I felt very blocked until I started to write an unplanned 500 word semi-surreal, semi-religious fantasy dream sequence, which flowed straight out.  I had planned a fantasy interlude for when my narrator’s mental illness is at its height in a later chapter, but it seems to have “leaked out.”  I worry that my book is too straight-laced for me to write well, given that I tend not to be so interested in very straight realistic fiction, but I fear that a more magic realist perspective won’t sell and will jar in a novel about mental illness, autism and domestic abuse.

***

I went to shul (synagogue) for a mini-shiur (religious class) and Ma’ariv (Evening Prayers).  I want to get back to going to shul a couple of times during the week.  On my walk to and from shul, I listened to another Intimate Judaism podcast, this time on marriages where one spouse becomes more or less religious than the other.  It was talking more about marriages where both partners started more or less on the same level religiously and then one changes and becomes more or less religious, whereas E. and I have gone into our relationship knowing that we do and believe different things and will probably continue to do so indefinitely.  It was scary on one level, because there is obviously a lot of scope for argument and bitterness, but it was reassuring inasmuch as the rabbi and relationship therapist on the podcast felt that a couple who accept that the other person is different and where the communication is good should be able to navigate a lot of such issues, and E. and I do have very good communication and acceptance of our differences.

***

Just in case we didn’t have enough stress, the legal dispute my Dad is involved in has reached the courts.  Dad was in an accident a few years ago where his car and a motorbike collided at a turning (I blame myself a bit, as he had only come out to give me a lift home from the station).  It was hard to tell who was responsible, but no one seemed to be hurt and the damage to the car and bike was relatively minor.  We phoned for an ambulance for the motorcyclist, but she insisted she was fine and cancelled it.

Some time later, she launched a claim for damages, claiming she’s had health problems ever since.  It’s not impossible, but it did feel a bit like some ambulance-chasing lawyers are helping her make a quick buck out of ailments that may or may not be a consequence of an accident that may or may not be our fault.  Well, not a quick buck as the case has rumbled on for years, but some money at any rate.

The case reaches court next Thursday.  The lawyers are offering to settle out of court.  Mum wants to fight it, but Dad isn’t sure.  I’m inclined to agree with Dad; Dad’s insurance premiums have already gone up, so why waste the time and energy fighting this while Mum is very ill and the rest of us are feeling stressed and suffering minor ailments when the insurance company can take the hit instead?  This is the type of court case that only benefits the lawyers.

It reminds me of something W. S. Gilbert said, about if someone stops you in the street and demands your watch, punch him on the nose and walk on (I fear this would lead to assault charges nowadays…), but if someone threatens to take you to court to get your watch, just hand it over and consider that you’ve got off lightly.

***

I’m about to post on my Doctor Who blog for the first time in a very long time.  It is good to get it going again.  I’d like to post there more often, but I’m glad not to be writing a review of each story on transmission, as that becomes a bit of a conveyor belt of instant emotion (often shock and upset, at any rate if you’re a fan like me who tends towards the possessive of things he loves and pessimistic about change) that considered thought would challenge.  I don’t know if I’ll go through with the plan I had years ago of posting selected old blog posts and reviews of mine there, a plan that got disrupted when I started moving more urgently to completing my Doctor Who book and then to start work on my novel.

2020 Vision

I seem to be able to get to bed a bit earlier than a few weeks ago, but I don’t get up any earlier; later, if anything.  I think I slept about for twelve hours last night.  I basically have the type of depression where my body tries to hibernate: eat lots and then sleep for the rest of winter.  I’m trying to cut back on the eating, but the sleeping is harder to change.

Speaking of eating, my weight is the same as it was before Chanukah.  After eight doughnuts and a couple of mince pies, I’m counting that as a victory.

***

I went to the opticians for a routine eye test.  Aside from being kept waiting for a long time, there was nothing to report.  No change in my glasses prescription and I didn’t shake when I had lights shone in my eyes like I did last time.  I walked back in the rain, feeling guilty about not knowing what to do about all the homeless people who were stuck out in the cold and wet.

***

I tried to work on my novel, but didn’t get very far.  The way my book was structured, it had three main characters who alternately narrate chapters.  I tried writing the first chapter for narrator three and I just couldn’t do it.  It was bad enough that narrator two had covered some ground already covered by narrator one, but doing it a third time was ridiculous.  However, I couldn’t suddenly introduce a new narrative voice in the middle of the book after establishing two narrators early on especially as his story is so intertwined with narrator two’s that the problem of repetition would keep arising.  In any case, narrator three is also not much like me and I was struggling to get inside his head.  I can describe him through narrators one and two, but I can’t find his voice, at least not for long enough to write a chunk of the novel.  So, the important bits of his story are now going to be seen through narrator two’s eyes.  There wasn’t a lot to move or cut, which is telling, but cutting chapters means I’m now significantly below the average number of words per chapter for a novel-length story.  I hope to be able to put on some weight (so to speak) in redrafting, but I’m a bit worried about it.

***

I agreed to do some proofreading/editing for a friend.  I started today.  She’s a good enough writer that I haven’t had to correct much, including a slight tautology which I feel bad for picking up on as you could put down to a stylistic choice.  I also had to check a few British English vs. American English variants, but they were all OK.  I’m not so sure about the editing side of things, as this is a YA book and I don’t really read many of those.  I certainly don’t feel myself able to pass judgement on the accuracy of teenage speech patterns.  I’m going to have to assume she’s got those OK.

I did have trouble with the page layout and I can’t work out why; I couldn’t switch from the page view my friend had to my normal one.

***

I still don’t feel that I’m where I should be religiously.  Building on yesterday’s comments and my responses there, I’ve been told by rabbis that I’m doing OK considering all my issues, but I have high standards and feel that I don’t fit into the community, however understandable that is given depression, social anxiety and autism.  Also, my issues are dynamic; how I feel changes from day to day and even from hour to hour and it is hard to know what is right for me to do right now.  It’s a moving target that is hard to hit.

For example, today I only did ten minutes of Torah study because I was depressed and I used my limited resources of energy to proofread and work on my novel as well as going to my eye test and walking home (Dad gave me a lift there).  I also spent a lot of time procrastinating.  I’m not sure how I could/should have done things differently.  I could have procrastinated less, but I think that assumes non-depressed levels of energy, concentration and motivation.  But it’s hard to be sure.  Maybe I could have done things differently.  I don’t know.

Things are made worse by depressive anhedonia, so I can’t find my religious life enjoyable (no more so than any other part of my life, but this takes more effort than anything except work), and by my social anxiety and autistic socialising issues, which makes it hard to benefit from the close, supportive community that so many people identify as one of the major positives of being an Orthodox Jew.  I don’t feel that God really cares about me either, although going down this route takes us into philosophy (rationalists and kabbalists alike insist that God does not have emotions, although clearly there’s something which it is useful to us to understand as “love” for us) as much as depression and low self-esteem, although those are relevant too.

***

I don’t really think much of New Year’s Eve.  I’ve never even been to a New Year’s Eve party.  Jewish New Year (Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur)  is a ten day introspective experience that essentially involves a symbolic death and rebirth as a newer, better person (hopefully, anyway); New Year’s Eve involves spending an evening getting drunk and singing Auld Lang Syne.  Moreover, this isn’t the start of a new decade, although I remember from 1999/2000 that convincing people that 2020 is really the end of the 20-teens is going to be a non-starter (plus I’ll concede there is logic in treating 2020 as the start of the ’20s even if it falsely assumes that the calendar began with a year zero.  I will point out that the Victorians said celebrated the start of the twentieth century on 1 January 1901).

Still, I’ve been thinking lately about the last ten years, not so much because of New Year’s Eve, but because of my life.  E. and I have both feeling somewhat frustrated and pessimistic about our future; we both like each other and care about other, but it seems so hard to get the practical problems in being together out of the way.  Looking back over the last ten years shows how much could change in a decade, for better or for worse.

On 1 January 2010: my paternal grandfather was still alive (he died later that year) and my sister was single (she married in 2017).  My relationship with my mother was rather worse than now; my relationship with my father was better, for reasons I don’t fully understand (not understanding makes it hard to change).  I had never lived by myself unless you count university (Oxford is not exactly living by oneself) and never really thought that I might live anywhere other than the area I grew up for the foreseeable future (we moved in 2015).  I didn’t have many friends in 2010, and I don’t now, but I possibly have more now, at least if one counts online friends.  I did lose some friends over the decade, most through the usual “drifting apart through living in different cities, with different lives,” but a couple this year through doing the wrong thing and getting them angry at me.  That still hurts a bit, mostly because the way they reacted made me feel that they had hated me for some time and were just acting friendly out of pity.  There was one other friend I lost because he treated me badly and I just moved out of his life.  He still doesn’t realise how upset he made me and probably never will.

In 2010 I  had never been on date, despite being in my mid-twenties (I went on one for the first time in 2011).  I hadn’t asked many women out, but I had asked a few, all of whom turned me down.  I had got my BA and was preparing to do start my MA later in the year (it was supposed to be two years part-time, but took three and a half, notionally full-time).  I had never had a paid job (I still haven’t worked full-time, but I hadn’t even worked part-time then).  I suppose I felt comfortable in my Modern Orthodox shul (synagogue), although it was too much a fixture of my life to really think about it.  I had never lead services or given a drasha (religious speech/class) (I would lead services for the first time that year, after my grandfather’s death).  I blogged and occasionally wrote fiction and would move on to poetry in a couple of years, but I think by this stage I had abandoned any thought I might ever have had of writing a book, fiction or non-fiction, and would probably be astonished to think that I could do it.

By mid-2010 I felt that I was finally over my depression, but this was illusory.  In fact, I think I was still feeling bad at the beginning of the year and I would have a major relapse in the winter of 2010/11.  I had social anxiety which I did not really pay any attention to.  I had not yet really developed religious OCD, but the seeds of it were there.  At this time, autism was off my radar and hadn’t yet come back on it, having been told I was not on the spectrum and not knowing enough about autism to think otherwise.

I don’t know what conclusion I should draw from this.  There were a lot of ups and especially downs over the decade.  The overall trend was upward until about two years ago, then it slumped back down again.  Despite the improvements in some areas, I’m not really where one would expect a thirty-six year old to be in the abstract, not at all.  I don’t know what the prognosis is for E. and me.

***

And that’s about it for today, and 2019, really.  The only other thing I did today, other than cook some plain pasta, was finish watching Licence to Kill, and Timothy Dalton’s tenure as James Bond, which was interestingly down-to-earth, but not particularly fun or escapist.  I did mostly enjoy The Living Daylights, although I’m possibly being generous to it because I enjoyed it as a child.  Licence to Kill was too grim and gory for me.  I will probably pause watching Bond for a bit now; I was getting a bit tired of it anyway and there’s new Doctor Who tomorrow and again from Sunday, I’m hoping to see Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker on Thursday and I want to get started on my Star Trek: Voyager box set.  At least no one could accuse Voyager of being grim and gory.

Kill Your Darlings (not your Daleks)

I’m feeling awful again today.  I got up late and kept going back to bed.  I knew it would be hard coming back from holiday, but I didn’t realise just how far backwards I would go.  I know I need structure, but I’m worried about the stuff I have coming up in the next week or two.  I worry about even managing to get to these things on time (I’m basically nocturnal at the moment) let alone get through them.

I’ve got a meeting with a careers charity on Friday, a different one to the one I saw on Monday, not a specifically autism/mental health one, to talk about alternative careers and interview practice, but I’m worried I’m not going to say much and it’s mostly going to be me being told I’m doing everything wrong (that’s how the previous meeting there felt, a bit).  Then it’s going to be hectic to get home in good time before Shabbat.  Then next week I have a day long seminar thing on building a second career (I never really built the first one…).  I just got an email about it; it’s a series of talks over the day, but apparently “Morning and afternoon refreshments, together with lunch, are complimentary, and an important networking part of the day.”  Scary.  I might try to stay for refreshments, but, even aside from kashrut questions (the charity running the seminar is Jewish, but not religious, so it might not be kosher enough for me), I think I will need to get away from everyone for an hour if I am to have any hope of staying in the talks for the whole day.  Oh, and weirdly one of the speakers is the rabbi who was my shul rabbi growing up; he eventually quit the rabbinate and went into finance in which capacity he’s speaking.

***

I’m struggling with concentration and motivation again.  It’s hard to feel that I could be working in this state, yet I feel I should.  I discussed this with someone else online today, that I feel I should be working, even if part-time.  It’s partly that I don’t like being dependent on my parents, partly social expectation, part genuine feeling that I want to do something meaningful with my life.  Plus, although I’m going to have another go at applying for benefits, I doubt very much that I would qualify for sickness benefits.  I’m too functional.  It’s very difficult to claim benefits for mental illness as the system is essentially based around physical incapacity.  If you can see and walk and don’t need constant care it’s difficult to meet the burden of proof for being disabled.  I’m sceptical of whether I will get unemployment benefits, but I need to try and apply while I’m still in a period where I worked significantly in the last two tax years.

***

I did manage to do a few things.  I went for a walk and picked up my blood test form for my next blood test (I have them every three months on lithium tablets).  At the doctor’s surgery I saw someone I dated a number of years ago who dumped me as soon as I said I had mental health issues.  She lives locally, so I run into her from time to time although we haven’t spoken; I’m not sure if I’m good at hiding or she’s good at pretending not to see me.  (I suppose I’m pretending not to see her, really.)

I wrote a devar Torah (Torah thought) for Shabbat (the Sabbath), which took an hour, but I was pretty exhausted afterwards.  I did the slightly naughty rabbinic trick of writing about what I wanted to write about and tying it in to the parasha (weekly Torah reading).  Actually, that’s not entirely true; it’s more that I thought there was a link, and there was, but then when I sat down to write it, the link wasn’t as strong as I thought, but I carried on anyway.  I tried to work on my novel for an hour too and wrote a bit, but then decided that my narrator was acting out of character and the incident should happen later in the chapter, in a different context and perhaps a different way.  So I’m left with a shorter chapter than I started with, and a fragment to be reworked later.  But it’s too late to work on that tonight.  I need to find a way of getting more time to work on my novel, but it’s hard when I’m expected to make job hunting my “job” and still fit in chores, exercise and the like as well as coping with poor concentration and motivation.

***

I mentioned the other day about unfollowing a blog because the blogger said something that I felt was dismissive about mental illness and didn’t respond to my polite response.  Well, she just responded today and said she thought she had responded at the time, but her comment didn’t post properly and she only just realised.  I believe her, because I’ve been reading her blog for years and she’s never struck me as the type of person to casually lie or act rudely, and if she didn’t want to respond at all, why respond now?  (She can’t see that I unfollowed her because she posts on Blogger and it doesn’t show that I was following her on WordPress.)  But I’m undecided about following the blog again as I feel I do seem to end up with differences of opinion with her a lot.  But then again, maybe it’s good for me to see that I can open up to someone with very different opinions to my own, and disagree, and we still stay friends.  In the past we have often disagreed on matters “safely.”  That’s something I do struggle to accept; I usually keep quiet about differences for fear of rejection.

***

It’s also been a day when I’ve wandered into political stuff online again, which just depresses me beyond measure.  The flare-up of fighting in Israel depresses and worries me too; I was within range of some of the 360 rockets fired from Gaza just a few days ago.  Cousin 3 lives in the south of Israel, which is the most dangerous place for rockets.  It’s scary.

Speaking of which, some photos from my trip.

IMG-20191104-WA0000
Yam Kinneret/Sea of Galilee

DSC00800
View from Bental towards Mt. Hermon and Syria

DSC00814
Talmudic-era village, Katzrin

DSC00818
Talmudic-era synagogue, Katzrin

20191105_130906
Goats! Katzrin

DSC00819

 

DSC00824
Arbel National Park. I wish I could go to wilderness more often

DSC00831
Sunset on Kinneret/Sea of Galilee

Sex and the Single Jew

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

***

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

Good/Bad

A mixture of good and bad stuff happened over Shabbat (the Sabbath).

I led Mincha (the Afternoon Service) in shul (synagogue).  I was asked and, somewhat to my surprise, found myself saying yes.  I think the person who asked me was surprised I said yes too.  I shook really badly the whole time, to the extent that I wasn’t sure I was going to be able to get through it, but no one said anything (not even the rabbi, who was only two feet away from me), so it probably wasn’t noticeable (or people were too polite to mention it).  It did mean that I had no real kavannah (mindfulness) though, which I feel bad about.  Hopefully it will be easier if I do it again.

***

I had an argument with my parents when I got home.  It came out of nowhere really.  It was probably partly my fault, or at least the fault of my poor communication skills.  It scares me when arguments come out of nowhere.  The reality was that we were all stressed and were probably a bit fed up of each other after spending eight days together all the time, but still, it upset me.  There’s a lot more I could say here, but I don’t want to talk even semi-publicly here.  It’s at times like this that I wish I was still in therapy, or could talk to my rabbi mentor.  On that note, I couldn’t get in touch with my rabbi mentor while I was in Israel and am now rather worried about him, but unsure how to contact him.  I do have a landline number for him, but am unsure if it’s still a current number, don’t know what time to phone, and have a great deal of social anxiety about using the phone and especially having to speak to his teenage and pre-teen children who I haven’t seen since they were young children.

***

I missed Shacharit (Morning Service) again today.  I woke up at 7.30am and thought I would stay in bed until 8.00am, even though I knew I would probably fall asleep again.  I forgot to tell myself to just get up and eat something and then make a decision about whether to stay up or not.  Everything (depression, social anxiety, motivation) is so much easier once I’ve eaten, but getting to that stage is hard.

***

In shul, the person who gave me the job of tidying up the papers after Shabbat said he really appreciates my doing it.  From the fact he said it out of the blue, I eventually realised he was politely reprimanding me for not doing it the last two weeks (two weeks ago I was sick and last week I was in Israel).  By the time I realised that, he was gone and I didn’t go back and explain it to him, which was more a product of social anxiety than humility.

***

Someone else who I am somewhat friendly with at shul and who knows I am a librarian made a joke about me sorting out his own personal library, but, he added, “I have some books you wouldn’t approve of.”  I was rather dumbfounded.  This was coming from someone with a long, untrimmed beard and black hat, the trappings of Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) conformist piety.  The reality is that I probably would approve and may even have read them, but I was again too shy to say anything.  What could I say in that situation anyway?  It’s not like he said, “Oh, I’ve read book X” and I could say, “Oh, I’ve read that too.”  Still, it shows that my shul may be more diverse in practice and ideology than I thought.  And I guess he is indicating a degree of trust in me to make such a remark.

***

This Jewish year I set myself three targets to meet, to get to shul more frequently, especially on Saturday mornings; to be more patient and less angry or sarcastic with my father; and every evening to list three positive personal characteristics that I exhibited by my actions during the day (to boost self-esteem).  I didn’t really want to do three things, as I thought even one target would be difficult to meet if my depression is bad, but I could not decide what was the biggest priority; in any case, I read somewhere that one should make targets for mitzvot (commandments) between me and God (shul), me and other people (Dad) and me and myself (personal characteristics).  A little over one month into the year, I feel that I’m not doing well on any of them.  However, while I didn’t mean to focus on this, I have made some slight improvements on kavannah (mindfulness) in prayer and mitzvah performance and perhaps also in the amount of Torah study I do and how much I enjoy it.  I’m not quite sure what to make of all this.  Again, something I’d like to discuss with my rabbi mentor.

***

This is a post-Shabbat thing, but I stopped following a blog I’ve been following for many years.  The blog is by a somewhat geeky moderate Haredi woman who at the start of her blogging career was an “older single” (which in Haredi terms is anyone who gets to about twenty-five without being married).  For a long time it was a positive thing for me to see there were other frum (religious) geeky people out there, even in the Haredi world, and even women, and also that other people in the frum world were struggling to find their mates.  But lately the site has been difficult for me to read.  I’m not entirely sure why.  I don’t think it’s because she got married, but it seems to stem from around then, so maybe it is that, on some level.

The final straw was a piece she posted quoting a frum mental health professional who claimed that in the shtetl (the Jewish communities of Eastern Europe in the Medieval and Early Modern era until the Holocaust) people were too busy to suffer from mental health issues; they just forced themselves through things.  This is supposedly why there are no words for many contemporary mental health issues in Yiddish.  I left a polite comment saying that there was no real knowledge of mental illness anywhere in that period; there weren’t words for them in other languages either.  Minor “strange” behaviours were probably ignored as personal idiosyncrasy; more serious problems were dismissed as laziness, weakness, “female hysteria,” “nerves” and so on.  If someone was severely affected and ended up non-functional, they were written-off as “insane” and institutionalised, as probably happened to my great-grandmother (in the UK, not the shtetl).  I also pointed out that, if you know how to read between the lines, a lot of rabbis (the most documented figures) of the last few centuries have shown signs of mental illness.  I forgot to add that the fifth rebbe of Chabad-Lubavitch was treated by Sigmund Freud himself.

She didn’t reply.

In the last few years, I have seen myself drifting from a friendly online relationship with her to one where I seem to be annoyed by her a lot and struggling not to show it and this was the final straw.  So, unfollowing seemed more sensible than ending up as a troll.  I would rather check out while we are still on reasonably good terms.  It saddens me, though, as the ending of all friendships do, especially as I have lost too many friends in the last eighteen months for reasons I still struggle to understand.

I do worry about ending up on my own one day.  As I’ve said before, many of my friendships are online, on blogs or via email, and those seem more fragile than in-person friendships.  Since university, I’ve had a lot of close female friends, one at a time, and the friendships often ended badly with some kind of argument; the ones that didn’t ended when they moved away or got married and we drifted out of touch.  E. is the only female friend I’m in regular contact with now.  Maybe the frum relationship advisers are right that men and women can’t be close platonic friends (there was sexual tension in some of those friendships that didn’t last), or maybe I’m just bad at friendship.  Or maybe all friendships are transient and situational and I’m stuck in my situation while my friends move on.

I worry that I will lose E. one day too, but also that I won’t date anyone else while I’m friends with her, because I can’t imagine anyone else being so accepting of me or being so much on my wavelength, nor can I imagine another woman accepting my having such a close friendship with another woman.  At the moment I don’t think I should be dating anyone anyway, so it’s not much of an issue, but I do worry that it will be one day.

And Now for Something Completely Similar

I had another job interview today that didn’t go too well.  I got off to a bad start when I had another weird dream last night where I was in some kind of tiny Jewish community (I think there were literally just ten men, although I couldn’t see most of them, and one or two women) and I was expected to take some kind of rabbinic leadership role, but didn’t want to do so.  It was probably an anxiety dream about feeling that my job interview today would not be at the right place for me (not that it had anything to do with rabbis or Judaism), that librarianship as a whole may not be right for me, but that I’m not sure if I will be any more successful at writing.  It’s not surprising that I was having thoughts along these lines this morning while I got ready for my interview, although things were a bit better in the past in terms of not blaming myself for things.  I think I was less feeling worried and more grounded, even though I wasn’t conscious of using CBT techniques.

***

I got soaked walking to the station in heavy rain.  I couldn’t find my umbrella, and when I took my old umbrella, it turned out to be broken.  I think it was still usable if I pushed the broken spokes into place, but I was running late and decided it was easiest just to leave it behind.  So I was rather wet through my interview.

The interview itself was pretty bad.  I struggled to remember and process questions, sometimes needing to be reminded what the question was during the middle of an answer.  There were also a number of difficult questions that I hadn’t expected and planned for when I probably should have done so.  I’m not terribly good at interview preparation.  I’m not sure how much of it is finding it hard to predict what the interviewer wants to know and how much is anxious avoidance.

The good thing was that I didn’t blame myself or beat myself up too much afterwards.  It probably helped that I didn’t think the job was really right for me anyway.

I’m currently reading A Guide to Your Aspie by Amanda J. Harrington.  She describes getting “normal” jobs and being OK at them for a while, but eventually the stress of being autistic in a neurotypical environment builds up and she just can’t function any more.  That is familiar to me.  I have the added stresses of depression and social anxiety too.

***

I came home and watched an episode of Monty Python’s Flying Circus to cheer myself up.  This was not a great choice, as it turned out to be rather dated and unfunny, although Terry Gilliam’s animations are still disturbing.  I can see why I used to love things like this when I was younger, but it’s hard to appreciate it now.  The autism specialist Tony Attwood says people with high functioning autism often like surreal humour like Python, and it probably does fit a worldview that is intelligent, but struggles to make sense of the world.  But it seems to rely a lot on jokes that seem clever when you’re sixteen, but less so twenty years on when surreal juxtapositions don’t necessarily seem hilarious.

I’ve just done some miniature painting (five Daleks with two different colour schemes some of the TARDIS exterior), which kept me busy for an hour and a half or so, and I’ve read some interesting long-form essays on Tablet Magazine (one political, one historical with political ramifications), but I realised it’s not yet 6.00pm and I have no idea what to do.  I don’t usually get bored; usually I’m overwhelmed by Stuff To Do, or Stuff I Want To Read or Watch, but I feel depressed and aimless.  It would be torture to go back to job hunting today.  Ditto for jogging (certainly not in this weather).   I plan to do a bit of Torah study, but I don’t have the energy to do much.  I would like to work on the novel I want to start (have sort of started), but I’m not sure that I am really capable of doing much.  I don’t feel like reading and there isn’t anything I particularly want to watch on TV or from my DVD collection; the final episode of I Claudius seems too heavy, kol vachomer (even more so) catching up with the repeat of The Vietnam War on BBC iplayer.  I might watch the first Tim Burton Batman film, but even that would be just to fill in time really.

I feel vaguely annoyed with myself, but am not having self-critical thoughts as such, but I worry, given how low my mood is, that my conscious mind is just suppressing the thoughts so that I can’t use the CBT techniques.  CBT doesn’t really deal with the unconscious.  Or, it’s possible that the thoughts are coming at a speed or in a way that I can’t consciously recognise them and try to use the CBT techniques on them.

I’m probably in the kind of mood where I just turn everything against myself.  I just read an (entirely reasonable) blog post criticising people who self-diagnose with autism and now I’m feeling like I’m a bad person for doing that, even though I am pursuing diagnosis and this has been a very long journey (including psychiatrists and therapists who have said I’m on the spectrum without giving a formal diagnosis) and I feel I’m entitled to say something about how my life has been.  But, again, I’m not sure I have specific thoughts to write down and challenge with CBT.

Ugh, OK, I’m going to go and force myself to watch a DVD or something before I go crazy.

Like a Normal Neurotypical Person

The job agency who I asked to put me forward for a job are saying I don’t have the experience for it.  Which is true, I was just applying on the off-chance, but it’s depressing to think how few jobs I actually do have the experience and skills for and how many I’m just applying on the off-chance.  I also had another rejection without interview from a CV application.

When I say I’m looking for work, people often ask if there are many library jobs around.  Sometimes they voice the implicit question, “Aren’t all libraries being shut down or replaced by the internet?”  And I say there are jobs, which is true, but the reality is that a lot of those jobs require quite specific skills and experience, especially in the academic library sector, where I work.  I don’t often have those skills and experiences, for a variety of reasons e.g. the long period of time doing my MA resulting in skills going rusty; the depression and social anxiety stopping me keeping up with CPD; the depression resulting in my doing my MA at a university that was not really as good as I could have gone to.  I feel like I have got in a situation where I can’t get a job in my chosen field, but don’t know what else I could do, especially as I don’t feel that I could work in a normal open-plan office because of the autism.  Having had some jobs that were supposedly within my experience or even at a lower level, and then messed them up because of depression, social anxiety and autism, I feel pretty negative about my ability to hold down a job at all.  I am not sure who I can talk to about this.

I’m trying to pitch for proofreading work on PeoplePerHour.com, but all the proofreading jobs have already had a dozen or even several dozen pitches, and I can’t see why they would pick me, who has zero experience (on site and off it) in professional proofreading.  The proofreading jobs with fewer pitches generally turn out, on closer inspection, to be proofreading and translating jobs (why don’t they just say that upfront?).  I have a nightmare of taking on a freelance job and being too depressed to finish it and getting sued, or just doing the job wrongly because of depression brain and inexperience.

My Mum is very keen for me to do some voluntary work at a charity my sister’s in-laws are very involved with.  I don’t know what it involves, but it’s a charity that runs an online bookshop via Amazon Market Place.  The things I have heard about the role from my sister are not clear.  If it’s dealing with books it might be good for me, whereas if it’s personnel management I don’t think it would.  Even if I take the role, it will be unpaid and while it would be good to have something to do and put on my CV, I have limited time/energy which it would take away from job hunting and writing.  More than that, I suppose I feel that it would be a retrograde step back to when I couldn’t work at all because of my depression and was doing unpaid voluntary work at different places.  I asked my sister to put me in touch with the person who runs the bookshop and we’ll see what he says.

I asked her to pass on my email only, not phone.  Like many autistic people, I hate using the phone.  Part of me feels I should “Push myself” to do things I’m not comfortable with (as I was always told growing up); part of me thinks, “My brain is wired differently and I’m just not comfortable doing this.”  When I pushed myself as a child, the result was usually that I was more miserable and the supposed benefits of pushing myself to do new things (“It gets easier”) never materialised.

Dealing with bank paperwork today, I feel that I can’t cope with the simplest tasks and am utterly unsuited for life.  I’m not sure how realistic this feeling is, or what I can do about it.  Can you get life coaching for everything?  I don’t want to be selfish and self-obsessed.  I want to have a meaningful life that contributes to others.  I want to be part of a community and help other people out.  I want to take responsibility for my life rather than just live parasitically off other people and make excuses for my failure to achieve anything, but I can’t see how I can do that.  I don’t know how to change things regarding work, non-work chores or fitting in to the frum community.

***

I still feel burnt out.  Maybe E. and Ashley Leia are right about Shabbat (the Sabbath) being too much for me right now.  The problem is that I don’t know what to cut out.  I need to do some communal/social things and I would like to go to one Talmud shiur a week.  Plus, as I’ve said, one really has to go to Shabbat morning services to be fully considered a member of a community, make friends and, in my case, have any chance of being set up on a date with someone (not that that seems very likely in any case).

I feel very listless.  It’s hard to do anything, either to have the energy, motivation or concentration to do it.

***

I went out for dinner with my parents, sister and brother-in-law for my birthday.  We had a good time, but the restaurant was very noisy and I felt somewhat uncomfortable and found it hard to hear the conversation.  I do struggle sometimes with family meals because I struggle with “neurotypical conversation,” doubly so when I’m in a noisy restaurant and can’t really hear.  The food was good, though.  There was some talk about forthcoming or hoped for job interviews (not mine!), which made me think that, unlike others at the table, I have not “invested in my own professional development.”  I really am drifting through life.  I had a good time and left in a better mood than I’ve been for a while.

Also in the restaurant was the best Talmud teacher I’ve ever had, the only one who really made the Talmud make sense for me, but I was too shy to say anything to him; I don’t know if he saw or recognised me (he taught me about five years ago).

***

My birthday presents are coming in installments this year, which is quite nice.  Today’s gift, from my sister and brother-in-law, was the novel J by Howard Jacobson, which is a comic dystopian novel about antisemitism.  It sounds weird, but I enjoyed Jacobson’s The Finkler Question, which was about Jewish self-hatred and non-Jewish philosemitism and quite funny as well as serious (Jacobson would, I suspect, agree with Douglas Adams that the opposite of ‘funny’ is ‘not funny’ rather than ‘serious’… he’s certainly rightfully annoyed that the literary establishment overlooked him for years because he was pigeonholed as a ‘funny’ writer).

It struck me on the way home that a lot of non-fiction has been written in the last twenty years about the explosion of antisemitism in Europe, and to a lesser extent in the USA, in the last two decades (I mean, written in the Jewish press and community; comparatively little has been said in the non-Jewish community, which largely affected not to notice until the Labour Party antisemitism thing exploded), but hardly any fiction has been written about it.  I can’t believe Jacobson is the only novelist to have written about it, but I’m struggling to think of anyone else, which is really shocking.

***

My shul (synagogue) is organising a barbecue on Sunday.  It didn’t occur to me to go, partly because I don’t drive and wasn’t sure how I could get there, but partly because I wasn’t sure what I would do there.  I mean, I don’t talk to people at seudah or kiddush (if I’m there for kiddush), so why would I be able to talk to people at the barbecue?  Plus, I’m vegetarian except on Shabbat and Yom Tov and was unsure whether there would be any food for me.  Someone has now messaged me to offer me a lift if I’m going.  It never occurred to me to go and now I wonder if I’ve made a mistake.  I’ve committed to going to volunteering on Sunday now anyway, so I can’t change my mind, but I just wish I could do normal social things like a neurotypical person sometimes.

“We are far too young and clever”

I feel really depressed today and I can’t work out why.  I’m utterly drained of energy, motivation and concentration and my mood is very bleak.  I can’t do anything.  I’m struggling just to get ready for Shabbat (the Sabbath) and to do my CBT homework.  I struggled to go for a short walk to do some shopping, not helped by the fact I’m still aching from running for the first time in a year on Wednesday.  I’m not even going to try to do job applications or work on my books or phone the Citizens Advice Bureau about benefits.

Perhaps this is because tomorrow is my birthday and I feel pretty miserable about it.  Firstly, tomorrow is the Hebrew date of 17 Tammuz, which is a very sad day on which a lot of bad things happened.  It’s a fast day, but the fast is postponed to Sunday (because you can’t fast minor fasts on Shabbat/Sabbath), which is something at least.  One shouldn’t mourn on Shabbat, so at least I don’t have to be miserable.  Then my Hebrew birthday (lots of frum/religious people celebrate Hebrew birthdays now rather than solar ones, although there is no real tradition of celebrating either, and some important Medieval rabbis said it’s the solar one that counts) is three weeks and a day later on 10 Av.  9 Av is an even sadder fast day than 17 Tammuz, but 9 Av is on a Shabbat this year too, so gets postponed to 10 Av i.e. my Hebrew birthday.  So it feels like I’m being told to be miserable on my birthday this year, even without taking in to account that I will be thirty-six, unemployed, single, depressed and generally feeling like I have done nothing with the thirty-six years I have already had.

***

Last night I dreamt I was in Oxford (I think) and was given a semi-rabbinical job giving occasional sermons in the shul (synagogue).  I was very anxious, but everyone seemed to want to hear me.  Huh.

***

I’m also feeling depressed by antisemitism, and the failure of people usually (rightly) sensitive to stereotypes and structural prejudice to even notice antisemitism unless it’s skinheads doing Hitler salutes and shouting “Gas the Jews!” (and sometimes not even then).

Attitudes

I just stopped following a site I was occasionally reading.  It was for ba’alei teshuva (Jews raised non-religious who became religious later in life).  I thought it would be good to find people who share my struggles, but they seem to be on a much higher spiritual level than me.  The article that made me give up said that “as long as a person remains outside the world of closeness with Hashem [God], he will never attain it [closeness to God]”.  One is supposed to have trust in God and in genuine Torah leaders to attain this.  It concludes “If the reader is still doubtful at this point about the words here, then there is no proof we can bring to convince him otherwise. But one thing we can ask of him: For your own sake, and for the sake of the Jewish people, and for the sake of giving your Creator a satisfaction, cry to Hashem every day, hour after hour, and ask Him that he guide you to the truth. If a person really begs Hashem for this, and if he really wants it, Hashem will surely help him get to the truth, that he be able to give a nachas ruach (satisfaction) to Hashem all his life.”  I do at least try to cry out to be guided to the truth, despite the depression and exhaustion.  Maybe I don’t cry out enough or good enough or I don’t really want it.  Maybe, after everything I’ve been through over the years, I don’t believe that things will get any better for me, or that God wants things to be any different for me.  That God created me for anything other than suffering and punishment.  I don’t know.  But I don’t feel satisfaction or love in my life.  Apparently if I loved God, I wouldn’t care about being so lonely among people (perhaps – the article actually said that I would give up lust, which may not be the same thing).  I wish I could, but it’s not working out for me.

(I also don’t think we can give HaShemnachat ruach/satisfaction” and that statements in the Talmud and other authoritative texts to the contrary are “speaking the language of man,” but this is me being Maimonidean and is not the main issue (we can’t give satisfaction to God, because this would imply that God has a lack that we can fill, which is not possible).)

My issue isn’t really this post, it’s the entire outlook of the site which is super-frum (religious) and Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) and negative about the wider world and assuming that everyone is on a high spiritual level, which I am not.  I wish I was on the level of the writers and commenters for this site, but I am not.  I wish I could find people on my level and going through things I am going through to support me, but I can’t.  I suspect someone who has been frum for as long as I have isn’t supposed to still be struggling with basic things like davening (praying) and studying Torah every day.

On frum sites like that one, one thing you hear a lot is, “HaShem doesn’t give anyone a test they can’t cope with.”  I don’t think I’m coping with my tests.  Maybe I’m just lazy or wicked, but I don’t feel like I’m coping with autism, unemployment, loneliness or especially depression at all well.  The book Calling Out to You (on depression and anxiety from a frum perspective) did at least say that “coping” is not the same as “functioning normally as if there was no test” and that it’s OK to be sub-par when depressed or anxious.  That helps a bit, but I don’t feel like I’m coping at all.  I feel that every frum site I come across does this to me sooner or later, leaves me feeling wicked and distant from God and other Jews, who apparently don’t have the issues I have.

I do wish I could find a forum for talking with other frum Jews who have these kinds of issues (mental illness, autism, trouble trusting God because of childhood experiences etc.).  I was looking at a frum forum for another issue in the hope that some ideas would transfer or I would see some commonalities, but I couldn’t connect with the attitudes there.  They were just frummie attitudes that I can’t imitate.

***

I felt depressed this morning and while I felt a bit better after lunch, once I tried to do some interview preparation for tomorrow, my mood worsened.  I looked over my notes on ‘classic’ interview questions.  I still doubt my ability to answer them fluently under pressure.  So much depends on feeling confident in the interview despite social anxiety and responding promptly to unexpected questions despite autistic slow processing time.

It’s hard to do anything at the moment and I wonder what will happen if I do get a job.  I am largely caught up in depression and loneliness and struggle to be able to do anything.  I try to find small tasks (go for a walk, do thirty minutes of Torah study, write a job application for an hour), but it can be hard to do anything.  I just went for a walk and did some shopping and I became completely exhausted, even though I was only out for forty-five minutes.  (Low blood sugar may have been a contributory factor, to be fair, but it wasn’t that long since lunch.)  The job I’m up for tomorrow is full-time and I don’t have a clue how I would cope with that.

It’s tempting to say I just want to watch TV all day, but I don’t think I do.  That would show too much initiative, motivation and concentration.  I don’t really want to do anything at all.  I just have to exist, somehow.

The thing that scares me is being like this forever.  I already know that I’ve lost much of my teens, my twenties and half of my thirties to depression.  I feel like I will never have any joy in my life, having lost what are considered the most carefree and enjoyable years.  Even if I fully recovered, I would be struggling for years to establish myself in a career and to build friendships and relationships, all the things normal people do in their youth and twenties before moving on to build families and taking their career to the next level, things that I will probably never get around to doing.  And people have fun when they’re young.  I didn’t and now I feel that I never will.  It’s all very well saying that true spiritual joy will substitute for fake secular joy, but I’m not getting either.

***

(The next two paragraphs are about TV science fiction, past and present, so feel free to skip if that’s not of interest.)

I’ve been watching Star Trek Discovery lately.  I’m about of a third of the way through season one.  It’s very good, probably the best Star Trek since the best days of Deep Space Nine, but it is very, very bleak, full of gore and unpleasant, hard-bitten characters.  It is also more an action series than a science fiction one.  I have never been particularly interested in Klingon culture and wonder why the writers of Star Trek in all its iterations, have been so fascinated by language them.  I would like to see more of the Vulcans.

When I need some non-bleak TV, I’ve been re-watching random episodes of The Avengers and The New Avengers – the British, John Steed and Emma Peel Avengers, not the Marvel one.  I’ve been mostly watching The New Avengers, which most fans don’t like.  I actually like the first season of The New Avengers (although the second one is mostly not good), possibly because I actually saw some of The New Avengers before the original series, so I’m more nostalgic about it.  It’s cheerier than Discovery at any rate.

“Though I don’t want to die, I sometimes wish I’d never been born at all”

Today was a day when I struggled to do anything, primarily because of feeling depressed, but the heat didn’t help.  I feel lonely and rather depressed.  I feel that there’s no way out for me.  I want to work, but I can’t find a job that I feel capable of doing any more, so low has my self-esteem fallen from the problems I’ve had working over the last year or two.  I’m acutely conscious of living off my parents, of the fact that even when I was working, I was never earning enough to be self-sufficient in London, but I don’t know what to do about it.  I want to write, but I don’t know how to sell my writing.  I want to get married, but I can’t see a woman wanting to marry an unemployed autistic depressive.  I feel I’m never going to be able to afford to live in a community that is right for me religiously, if there even is such a community, at least in the UK (which I doubt).  I worry about losing my few remaining friends; I don’t seem to be able to balance the right amount of contact and opening up.  I either don’t see people at all for months on end and/or don’t tell them much about my emotional life or else I overload them with my issues.  I’ve never managed to work out this balancing act.

Lots of writers were rejected a lot before being published, I know.  Stephen King’s first novel was rejected by thirty publishers.  Then he threw the manuscript in the bin.  His wife fished it out and sent it to another publisher, who published it.  I don’t think I have enough self-esteem to send something thirty-one times.

***

The world suffocates me.  It’s insane.  Actually insane.   Everyone agrees it’s insane, they just disagree on what bits are insane and should be changed and what bits still have some sanity and should be kept.  Like Rebbe Nachman of Breslov’s parable about the objectively totally imperfect chandelier which everyone subjectively thinks has some good features and some bad ones, but no one can agree which is which, depending on their own flaws, everyone thinks the world should be changed “in accordance with how I think, which is objectively true.”  I don’t want to change the world any more.  I just want to run away before I get corrupted, killed or divine insane.  This is not very Jewish.  We are supposed to change the world for the better.

Like Yirmiyahu (Jeremiah), I want to leave the world and run an inn in the wilderness.  OK, not literally an inn in the wilderness, but to get away from things.  When I was dating E. we joked about getting married, living in the countryside somewhere, growing our own food, home-schooling our children and writing.  That’s not a terribly feasible dream, sadly.  Anyway, to be frum (religious Jewish) one has to live with other people, to belong to a community.  If one is looking for a group of frum Jews to live with in a rural setting away from civilisation, you rapidly end up living in a settlement on the West Bank, which I have no intention of doing for a whole host of reasons.  There may be some religious kibbutzim in Israel proper, but I’m not sure that there are many.  The kibbutz way of live proved not really sustainable.

I doubt I could really cut it as a farmer anyway, getting up at 4.00am to milk the cows or whatever.

I just feel that I can’t find a way to live in the world, rather than just existing.  I feel that maybe I am a religious person after all, deep down, but I don’t have an outlet for my religious feelings that isn’t blocked by depression, social anxiety or autism.  Not for the first time, I wish I could make Talmud study my autistic special interest, or even just be able to do it.  I wish someone had noticed when I was at school that I was somewhat different and had helped guide me in how to function in a neurotypical world, but when I was growing up, high-functional autism was unknown and I suspect that few rabbis would have the insight to guide someone like me to an appropriate religious path even today.

In one of the essays in Halakhic Morality, Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik speaks of the need of everyone to develop their own unique religious style.  As I recall (it’s a while since I read it), he says to do this by spending time with a religious mentor, observing how they act in life in general.  That’s not really an option for me, although one of my big regrets about not having gone to yeshiva (rabbinical seminary) is not having met great Torah scholars and tzaddikim (saintly people).  I do wish someone could guide me, though.  If I was more Haredi (like the people in my shul (synagogue)?) maybe I would try to take my problem to a gadol (great Torah scholar) and see what his da’at Torah (quasi-supernatural insight from years of studying Torah) is, but I’m sceptical of the existence of da’at Torah, at least in the quasi-supernatural sense, and I don’t believe that scholars have supernatural insight into non-halakhic (non-legal) life problems.  I would like to find my “way” though, somehow.

***

I didn’t feel able to apply for any jobs today, even though there’s one closing on Wednesday that I should apply for, although I’m fairly sure I won’t get it.  I just couldn’t face filling in another form.

In terms of actual achievements today, I went for a half-hour walk and managed about half an hour of Torah study.  I wanted to do much more, but ran out of time, which is another way of saying I prioritised other things, like my book, over it, which I probably should not have done.  It was at least Talmud study.  My shul seems to have stopped studying (“learning”) one page of Talmud together a week; we still have the weekly Talmud shiur (class), but we only do a couple of lines in depth rather than trying to cover a whole page.  I find this vaguely disappointing, although I can sort of see why they want to study in depth, because I often don’t understand the text when covered quickly (not that I always understand when it’s covered in depth, to be honest).  I’m trying to keep going with one page a week at home, but it’s going to get harder as I drift further away from the community and when the passages become more halakhic (legal) and complicated, as at the moment I’m in a stretch of primarily aggadic (non-legal) material, which is easier to understand, at least on a superficial level.

The other big thing I did today was start work on the fourth draft of my Doctor Who book, which will hopefully be the draft I will try to get published.  I’ve decided that, since my friends stopped talking to me, there isn’t really anyone I can ask to read some of it, as my other fan friends are super-busy, so I might as well get on with it.  I pruned about 650 words from the introduction to get it under 1,000 words, which is good as I think the book as a whole is too long.  I wanted to go on to the first chapter, but it was later than I intended and the rewriting took longer than expected so I left chapter one and instead formatted the introduction to go to a publisher (although the notes I have on manuscript format are really for magazine publishing, so this may be wrong), sorting out the title page for good measure.

I do feel good that the fourth/final (hopefully) draft is started, even though I will probably need to do at least one extra draft on the final chapter (on the most recent series), which might entail viewing those eleven episodes again.  I hope to get this all done in about three months, to be ready to start submitting at Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year).  I need to revise about five chapters a month to meet that target.

***

It is hard to do anything when I feel so lacking in motivation and concentration, so pessimistic about being able to do anything, and depressed and lonely.  I originally wrote “mildly depressed”, but I don’t think that’s true.  At times I’m mildly depressed, but at other times, particularly in the mornings and sometimes at other times during the day (e.g. tired, low blood sugar or after triggers) I can be more than mildly depressed.

***
Depression is… watching Star Trek Discovery while eating dinner and suddenly wanting to burst into tears and I don’t know why.

More In Heaven and Earth

I was woken far too early by a large bee that was trapped between the blind and the window and was making a lot of noise.  I failed to prod it out the window and decided to stay up, open the main windows (I only had the small ones open) and wait for it to leave of its own accord while I had breakfast.

On waking I noticed something odd.  The photo of my maternal grandparents, which sits on the bookcase opposite my bed, was on my bedside table, on the other side of the room.  I’m sure I didn’t put it there.  I do believe in God, but I don’t believe He randomly moves my stuff around.  I don’t believe in demons, ghosts, reincarnation, astrology, the evil eye, clairvoyance and various other things that some of my coreligionists believe in.  I am sure there is a rational explanation.  I just don’t know what it is.  I suppose the most likely explanation is that I got up and moved it in my sleep, somehow, although I have no history of sleepwalking, even as a child.

I am rather disconcerted by this, but I will endeavour not to tell my parents.  Similar things have happened to my Dad and he reads great significance into them, hinting, although not quite explicitly saying, that he feels them to be messages of some kind from his late father, something which I do not feel comfortable with.  I have no wish to encourage thoughts like these.  Still, it is disconcerting.

***

I submitted the job application I’ve been working on all week, the one where there were a lot of vague open questions that my autistic brain struggled with, and others that indicated that they wanted more experience than I had and a greater commitment to CPD (continuing professional development) than I can manage at the moment.  You know you’re trying to bluff your way through something when you start an answer “I endeavour…”  I think I have zero chance of getting the job and I doubt it even counts as good experience, given how much I struggled with it.  I feel a bit of an idiot.

***

There’s a book I’m reading, one chapter each week on spirituality, based on the weekly parasha (Torah portion read in the synagogue).  I’m struggling with it.  I don’t like to give up on books, but I’m worried it’s having a negative effect on me.  I just can’t work out how to have the kind of dynamic spiritual life the author suggests, full of inspiration and natural highs, enthusiasm, love for God, love for others and more.  I know it’s the depression, but I don’t think there is ever going to not be depression there for me, at least on some level.  I don’t know how I can enjoy my religious life.  This is especially problematic as “going through the motions” religiously, doing stuff by rote is criticised in Judaism, both by this book and by other teachers (e.g. my hero the Kotzker Rebbe said something along the lines of, “Someone who studies Torah and is not moved by it, who sins and forgives himself, who prays today because he prayed yesterday – a completely wicked person is better than him!”).

I wonder if I will ever have the religious life I want.  I want to have religious joy, simcha shel mitzvah (the joy of fulfilling the commandments).  I want to enjoy studying Torah again.  I want to feel part of a community.  I want to build a bayit ne’eman beYisrael (faithful house in Israel, a metaphor for a religious home).  But I worry that I will never manage these things.  For one thing, it seems to be a catch-22: if I don’t have joy, I won’t be able to get motivated to study Torah or to pray enthusiastically and mindfully.  But if I don’t study Torah or pray enthusiastically, I won’t earn the joy of the commandments.  Even at a basic level, if I cut Torah study and prayer to the bare minimum, there’s no room for joy from them.  They’re just chores, quickly dealt with.  Similarly, I can’t become part of a community while I feel myself to be so spiritually impoverished, but I can’t grow spiritually without being part of a community; I suspect I can’t get married without being part of a community either (to get set up on dates), but I suspect if I ever become fully integrated to a community, it would be because of a wife who is able to navigate things better than I can.

***

A related realisation I’ve come to in recent years: probably the biggest argument against the existence of God, or at least the Jewish conception of God, is the existence of suffering.  Why would a benevolent, omnipotent, omniscient God allow so much undeserved suffering?  I think there are really only two possible answers: either there is no God (or at least not a benevolent, omnipotent, omniscient one) or suffering is the point.  Not that we’re made to suffer per se, but that suffering is a key part of what happens to us here, to stimulate character growth and empathy and to give us challenges to overcome.

But it’s hard to believe that all the time.  Some of it is subjective, feeling that I’ve suffered in my life more than other people.  This may be true, but it’s hard to tell as I don’t know everything others have been through or will go through, or what I will go through in the coming years.  But some of it is more objective (although still somewhat subjective), feeling that I can’t go on any more.  I feel tired a lot of the time, and not just depressive exhaustion.  I’m not suicidal, but I often feel I have exhausted everything life has to offer me and that I have no strength to go on any more.  I have no enthusiasm for Jewish life or for life in general.  I don’t really have any hopes or ambitions for the future, and the thought that one day I will be dead is still quite calming – that I won’t have to worry about things any more.  It doesn’t help that these days the world around me (in the news) just confuses and scares me, but even without that, I feel drained and negative.

I don’t know how to get more energy and motivation.  This is, believe it or not, a good day for me.  I don’t feel as depressed and lonely as I did earlier this week, when my parents were away.  I have some energy.  I finished a job application, did nearly an hour of Torah study and worked on my book for an hour or so as well as going for a twenty-five minute walk.  But even so, I feel a lack of enthusiasm, joy and meaning.  Even writing my book, which in the past was restoring, felt like a struggle, although I did manage to write a thousand words or so.

***

An aside: someone who goes to the shiur (religious class) I go to was absent last night.  Today the shul announced that he and his wife had a baby.  He is my age or perhaps slightly older.  I try to feel happy for people, but every time I hear of someone my age marrying or having a child, I seem to feel my life slipping away from me.

You Can’t Win

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

***

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

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

***

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

***

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

***

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

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

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

***

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

“And I think it’s going to be a long, long time”

Lately I’ve been waking around 10am, getting up after a while, but spending hours eating breakfast and idly browsing online or going back to bed instead of getting dressed, because I don’t have the energy or motivation to get ready.  Listening to music, despite the omer, because depressed people are allowed to listen to music.  Fighting scary, violent thoughts about myself.

I had three potential jobs to apply for today.  None of them was very appealing, nor was I particularly likely to get them, but in the end I applied for a law research post rather than a law librarian or school librarian post.  That was a simple application (basically set up an online account with a job site and attach my CV), so I tried to apply for the other law librarian post, only to discover I had already applied and been rejected.  I’m not sure I can face the idea of school librarianship, so I’m leaving that for now.

I still haven’t dared raise the subject of reading some of my Doctor Who book with my fan friends.  I moved towards asking some, but haven’t done it yet, as they really do seem very busy and stressed with family crises.  I wish I knew more people I could ask.  I feel envious of books that have an acknowledgements announcement that goes on for three pages; how do they know so many people?  I’m not satisfied with the book, but don’t know how to move forwards with it.  I wrote some notes for a blog post for my Doctor Who blog the other day which, when I looked again the next day, turned out to be incoherent nonsense, which didn’t help my self-esteem.

***

On my last post, Ashley Leia asked me if fitting in is a prerequisite for acceptance.  I feel it is, but have trouble developing that thesis beyond getting bullied at school for being different.  In the conformist world of the frum (religious Orthodox Jewish) community, there can even be a religious imperative to not accepting the nonconformist, as people are encouraged to choose their friends carefully to make sure they are good influences.  That has never happened to me, but I’ve read online about people being ostracised or fearing ostracism for artistic endeavours, having the ‘wrong’ political opinions or accepting modern science and it scares me into preemptively disguising my beliefs and interests as well as my autism and depression.

There’s a paradox in the frum community in that many prominent rabbis have spoken of the need to cultivate one’s individuality (the Kotzker Rebbe said this a lot or, for a more modern perspective, see Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik’s essay Religious Styles in the collection Halakhic Morality: Essays on Ethics and Masorah, in which he says that as well as needing to perform the mitzvot (commandments), one must also develop a unique personal religious style), but the community as a whole seems to remain conformist.  Or maybe it only seems that way from the outside, because I don’t know enough people?  Perhaps I’m wrong.  I hope I’m wrong.  The general rule is that the more conservative the community, the more conformist.  In addition, people higher up the social scale can get away with more than other people, which I suppose is true in most cultures.  I know I’m at the bottom of the heap, so I keep schtum.

Of course, all human communities are conformist to some extent, that is where the feeling of kinship comes from.

As some of you may have seen me complain elsewhere, I feel a lack of clear role models for my boundary-breaking self, in both the Jewish and the non-Jewish community.  There are a lack of both real-life and fictional heroes who show you can be e.g. modern and religious, believing and questioning, frum and geeky and so on.  It is hard to orientate myself armed only with Chaim Potok novels.

Related to this is my relationship with HaShem (God), which has lately felt strained.  My davening (prayer) and hitbodedut (spontaneous prayer/meditation) have become very mechanical and routine.  My Torah study, when I do it, is as much about learning ancient languages as engaging with HaShem.  When I was very depressed, I sometimes used to feel very far from HaShem, but at other times I would feel close (there probably was some grandiosity here, perhaps almost psychotically so).  Now I feel distant, but I don’t feel yearning.  I don’t really feel anything.  I want to be religious, but I no longer feel that I know how, if I ever did.  I don’t know how to connect with people, which is necessary in Judaism as one finds God in community not in isolation, and this is problematic enough, but I if I can’t connect with people, I certainly can’t connect with HaShem.  On this note, it seems that most of the autistic people I’ve come across online or at autism group are not obviously religious.  I don’t really know what to do.

Who Would Fardels Bear?

“How weary, stale, flat, and unprofitable
Seem to me all the uses of this world!”

-William Shakespeare, Hamlet

Feeling burnt out, depressed, lonely and stupid today.  I didn’t get the job at the Very Important Organisation.  They give applicants graded feedback; mine was pretty poor, a mixture of threes and fours (out of seven) with a two for effective decision making.  You could put that down to autistic executive function issues, or plain indecisiveness.

I had no energy or enthusiasm for anything, but I forced myself out for an hour or so.  Mostly walking, some shopping and I closed a bank account that had a ridiculously small interest rate.  I bought the lentils I couldn’t get yesterday, but felt too exhausted to go and get a bat mitzvah card for my rabbi mentor’s daughter and so came home.

My mind is visual in some ways and sometimes throws up fantasies or daydreams using imagery from TV or film.  I think I daydream more, or more immaturely, than someone my age should be doing.  It can become quite absorbing, even frighteningly so, particularly when I’m depressed and agitated.  When I was out I had disturbing, agitated mental images of being cornered and outgunned, Blake’s 7-finale style, or chained to a bomb that could explode at any moment.  I’m not sure if the bomb represented the world or my psyche; I’m not convinced that either is in particularly good shape.

I feel that the world might self-destruct under the weight of its iniquities and inequities any time soon; my psyche might collapse under the weight of stress and internal contradictions.  In Politics vs Literature: An Examination of Gulliver’s Travels, George Orwell writes of people like Jonathan Swift who can’t enjoy the world and have no expectations from the next world and that such people end up wanting to stop anyone enjoying anything, “the envy of the ghost for the living” adding that “Swift ultimately blew everything to pieces in the only way that was feasible before the atomic bomb – that is, he went mad”.  I feel that I could join him, one day.  I don’t really want to stop other people being happy, I just want to get some small modicum of happiness for myself, but it doesn’t seem to be possible.

When I got home, I was still too depressed and exhausted to make job applications or to do any Torah study (I managed ten minutes or so in the end), so I worked on redrafting my Doctor Who book.  It says a lot that I was able to spend nearly two hours working on that more or less uninterrupted (or unprocrastinated), which is not something I have managed when working on job applications.  I now have completed third drafts of all fourteen existing chapters, although I’m still re-watching the most recent episodes for research for a fifteenth chapter that will need writing from scratch to cover Jodie Whittaker’s first year in the role.

I’m still not hugely happy with what I’ve written, but it’s hard to see what I should change.  I’m not good at judging my own work at the best of times and having worked on this for six years or more, it could probably do with a fresh pair of eyes, so I need to decide whether to ask my fan friends to read some chapters.  That would probably be more worthwhile than attempting a fourth draft without outside input, but my fan friends all have major life crises at the moment and I’m reluctant to ask any of them.  Plus, I don’t take criticism well and am worried that even constructive criticism could send me further downwards on a “I’m useless” spiral.

I intended to watch another episode of Doctor Who as research tonight, but the next episode is Rosa (about Rosa Parks) I’m too tired for such a heavy-going episode, so tonight will be a Blake’s 7 night (I’m currently mixing Doctor Who series eleven with a Blake’s 7 marathon).

***

It’s hard to tell how much I like to keep my political and religious views to myself and how much I feel I have to from not fitting in.  There’s an old joke about Modern Orthodox Jews that, “The people I can pray with, I can’t talk to; the people I talk to, I can’t pray with” meaning Modern Orthodox Jews are open to modernity and postmodernity and its arguments in academic and culture, but can’t talk about that with Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) Jews; conversely, they can have intellectual discussions with non-religious academics and non-Orthodox Jews, but can’t pray with them as they believe differently or not at all.  I feel that a lot, albeit not as much as I did when I worked in a non-Orthodox religious institution.

In addition to this, lately I have been aware that many of my friends would side differently to me on some major political issues and I wonder what they would think about me if they knew.  I usually keep my views quite even when they post things I find questionable or upsetting on their blogs.  Not using Twitter or Facebook makes this a little easier, but it can be hard.  This happens at depression group too, where one person in particular has strong political views and can be rude and dismissive of people who vote differently.  I’ve never said anything, and I’m sure he thinks I’m too nice to vote for… (or else he just doesn’t care).

Actually, I wonder what people think about me generally.  I sometimes wonder if the non-religious people I encounter at work, in fandom and on the blogosphere think I’m a ‘normal’ person, or at least a normal geek person, except for this weird quirk that I believe in God, and in a very legalistic and old-fashioned God at that, and have taken on lots of bizarre rituals.  They probably don’t really think like that (they’re too polite for one thing).  And, of course, I worry that if the people from my shul (synagogue) found out about my ‘modern’ beliefs and geeky interests, that would also be seen as crossing a line.

I guess it boils down to this: I have friends who have religious and political opinions and lifestyle choices I disagree with (from a Jewish point of view, the whole concept of “lifestyle choices” is fraught with difficulty as it assumes our lives are ours to deal with as we see fit, an idea that Orthodox Judaism would reject, arguing we’re called to a mission regardless of our desires and choices), but I make an effort to stay friends with them, because I don’t think you should ruin a friendship for politics or religion.  I know that makes me unusual, both in the Orthodox community (where people usually socialise with other Orthodox Jews, to avoid these kinds of situations and potential negative religious influences) and in the world at large, where people are mostly friends with people who hold similar views.  We have got used to hearing of families and friendships broken by Brexit or Trump.  So I suppose it’s natural that I wonder what the people I encounter are thinking and whether I really need to hide so much of my life from people.

That said, I feel so disillusioned and disenfranchised with the current political situation that I’m glad to have a reason not to talk politics, even with people who will agree with me.  It seems to me lately that we have a duty to save as much of life as we can from people who drag their angry and aggressive politics into everything.  I appreciate there is a role for political art and literature, but it’s a relief nowadays to find things that are beautiful for purely aesthetic reasons.  I suppose I can’t live in my ivory tower forever, but I can try.

***

If I confound expectation and manage to procreate, my eldest child’s teddy is now likely to be called Fardels Bear.

Existential Angst

I had another job interview today, at a very large law firm for a law librarian-type job.  I left my self lots of time to get there, which was lucky as I struggled to find their offices and wandered around a bit until I found them.  I’m not sure if the fault was Transport for London’s online directions or inadequate signage in central London.  I still got there early, though.  Then on the way home, I accidentally went into Farringdon mainline station instead of Farringdon Underground station, a mistake that seems to have cost me £2.40 just to go through the ticket barriers (which accepted my oyster card (Underground ticket)).  The signage is all done in the same font as the Underground signage, which is confusing.

There was a test before the interview, which was on proofreading and cataloguing, plus a trickier question about how I would respond to a problematic library user.  I was glad that I practised my cataloguing this week.  I was also glad that I prepared more thoroughly than in the past for the interview, as they threw twenty or thirty questions at me for an hour, which is a more intense interview than I’ve had since I applied to Oxford (not that I’ve had many job interviews, but you get the idea).  I had a sense of doing OK, but perhaps not great, but I’m a very bad judge of these things.  I think, like dating, chemistry with the office culture is important, and also how good the other candidates are (maybe also like dating).

I’m not sure if I would take the job.  I’m guessing the salary would be decent and the offices are very swish, as you would expect, but I don’t know that I’m ready, in terms of my psychological health, to work full-time even without the fact that the job description expects overtime, plus there may be a problem with Shabbat i.e. Friday afternoons in the winter, but also from a comment in the interview occasional Saturday work might be required too.  But even beyond that, I think the corporate culture at a place like this might not be right for me.  I find the idea of working somewhere that exists primarily to make money vaguely unsettling.  I’ve only worked somewhere like that once, on a short contract, and I didn’t like it (admittedly a lot of other things were wrong there too).  Even writing a book on Doctor Who seems more socially useful: people would hopefully enjoy the book, whereas spending my time helping lawyers to trace legal precedents to help big companies make deals seems… not quite my kind of thing.  I’m not an anti-capitalist by any means, I am just really uncertain that it’s where I would like to invest my energies, which, after all, are rather limited at the moment.  I feel like a precious snowflake saying that, but I’m not sure I would be happy in a job that was both high-pressured and not socially useful in any obvious kind of way.

I suppose the real trouble is that, deep down, I want to at least try to make a career as a writer of some description, I’m just scared and don’t know how to start.  I picture myself at the school swimming pool, standing on the side in my swimming trunks, trying to get the courage to jump into the freezing water…  Lately I’ve been interviewed for or considered librarianship jobs in academia, law and the civil service, and they all make me feel inadequate.  I know that, in theory, with my BA I should have been able to at least try to get jobs in any of those areas, either as a librarian or as an actual academic/lawyer/civil servant.  And I didn’t, because I was scared and didn’t believe in myself (granted I never wanted to be a lawyer, I just know that some huge proportion of Jews go into law).  And now I’m trying to work out what I do believe in my ability to do.

***

The assistant rabbi in his shiur (religious class) the last couple of weeks has spoken a lot about kedusha (holiness) and the importance of having it in our lives, but also the difficulty of obtaining it.  He says we can keep the whole of Jewish law, but even then we might not obtain kedusha because it is ultimately a gift from God; we have to prepare ourselves for it (do the mitzvot (commandments) and work on our characters), but we might not get it.

I do wonder if I am making any attempt to find kedusha in my life.  So much of the time at the moment I feel like I’m just going through the motions with davening (prayer), Torah study, mitzvot…  I know it’s hard to feel engaged with depression and the resultant poor concentration and motivation and I know feeling engaged can trick you into thinking you’ve got holiness when it’s just pleasure/joy/ego.  Even so, I feel there ought to be more to my religious life, but when I try to learn more/better or daven more/better, I just hit a barrier.  I know the barrier is probably depression or sometimes social anxiety, but I feel I should be able to get through it somehow.

I’m not sure I really know what kedusha is anyway, beyond thinking I don’t have it (I assume I would know it if I felt it, although that may simply not be true).  I haven’t read much Jewish philosophy lately, but a number of years ago I was quite into Jewish religious existentialist philosophy: Rav Soloveitchik, Emmanuel Levinas, Abraham Joshua Heschel, Emil Fackenheim, Franz Rosenzweig (couldn’t understand a word of him), Martin Buber’s Tales of the Hasidim…  A key idea in Jewish existentialism is that kedusha is found in relationships, in our interactions with others as much as ritual.  There is also emphasis on the longing for HaShem (God) and the feeling of distance from him (Rav Soloveitchik’s The Lonely Man of Faith is a key text here; also Arthur Green’s reading of Rabbi Nachman of Breslov and his Tales).  I know the longing, but I feel that I experience it less than I did when the depression was at its worst.  Has recovery (however partial and limited) made me less religious and God-aware?  It’s a scary thought.  My autism and social anxiety make it hard for me to find HaShem in personal interactions, although I try when I volunteer at the asylum seekers drop-in centre.  I try to reach out to people who are struggling online and find some satisfaction in doing that, although I worry about saying the wrong thing and think I have done so in the past.

***

Today has left me feeling exhausted.  I will try to go to shul (synagogue) tonight, but I doubt I will make it for tomorrow morning.  I will try to go to the seudah shlishit (third meal) being held as a farewell for the rabbi, the assistant rabbi and their wives, although with my shiurMincha and Ma’ariv (Afternoon and Evening services) it will last for about three and a half hours, which is a lot of ‘peopling’ particularly if I’m feeling exhausted.  Other than that, I will try to relax after a very stressful week, whilst musing in the background on what to do if I am offered either of the two jobs I was interviewed for this week.

Be Careful What You Wish For

Sometimes it feels that I do actually get almost everything I want, or think I want, if I wait long enough, but then it turns out not to be as good as I hoped.  In fact, it usually turns out to be painful.  That’s what happened with going to Oxford, being in a more frum (religious) community, getting a job with longer hours and more responsibility, dating and being published on a professionally.  It makes me wonder if I should really want anything (career, marriage, children) or is it just going to leave me longing for the days I was so depressed that I did nothing except sleep and watch TV (some people’s dream life, I suppose, although the reality was pretty awful).

Despite feeling that getting the things I want always goes wrong, it’s easy to envy other people, not so much for their money as their lives: the meaningful and sure career, the loving spouse or partner, the beautiful children, the meaningful religious life…  all “apparently” of course, as often the reality is different.  I suppose most people have to deal with suffering in the end, I’m just getting mine out the way first, although I’m worried that I’m just going to get a double serving.  And I’m not sure that everyone gets the same level of suffering.  The reward is proportional to the effort says the Mishnah.  Well, I hope so, although I’m not sure that suffering is the same as effort.  I don’t always feel that I’m putting in enough effort religiously, because I don’t always have the energy, motivation or concentration because of depression and perhaps because of laziness.

***

The job agency I have the interview through tomorrow sent me interview preparation advice.  I was concentrating so much on cataloguing preparation yesterday for the test that I hadn’t really thought about interview preparation.  It’s fair to say that I don’t usually do much of the interview preparation they suggest and am failing in ways I didn’t even recognise.  There’s some an element of autistic, “Why would I care about that?” (e.g. asking the interview panel about the office culture or why they like working there). There’s often a lot of feeling that I haven’t shown the desired competencies or experience and can’t do anything about that (usually accompanied by, “Why are they even calling me to interview?”) and some autistic “Well, I can’t read their minds well enough to guess what they will ask, so why bother?” and the equally autistic “I can’t describe what I would do, I just do it.”  There might also be an element of autistic hyperfocus on things that interest me, but poor concentration (worsened by depression) on things that don’t interest me.  There’s a fair bit of feeling that librarianship isn’t the right sector for me any more although I don’t know how I’d fair with an interview for a writing position.  I think part of the attraction of writing for me is that I can let my work speak for itself.  I suppose there is also the feeling that “Everything goes wrong for me so why am I even trying?”  And I don’t know why I would want tomorrow’s job other than I need the money and something to put on my CV.  Other things being equal (which they aren’t), why would I even want to work in a law library?

I suppose I don’t actually feel capable of getting and doing a job like most people.  There might be a bit of arrogance in there (“I’m above this”), but it’s mostly low self-esteem (“I can’t do this”) and the autistic feeling of, “I’m not like other people, I can’t function the way they can or in the environments they can.”  Not everyone with autism feels like that, obviously, so maybe it’s mostly low self-esteem.  I was supposed to be doing CBT to work on that, but the NHS seems to have forgotten me.  I tried chasing them, but I got fed up sending emails that were not answered and leaving answerphone messages that weren’t returned.

I tried to follow the agency’s preparation instructions, but I froze up.  The anxious/depressive “I can’t do this I can’t do this I can’t do this.”  Trying to describe how I dealt with a difficult situation (a question which, with variations, has come up a lot for me), I can’t think of anything they would think of as difficult that I handled well.  I can think of  things I’ve found difficult that neurotypicals would not find difficult, or that I handled badly, or at least not well from an interview point of view (trying established procedures or asking a colleague or superior for help would not be viewed positively by people looking for initiative and adaptability (not very autistic traits) and the fact that some of my decisions were over-ruled by superiors is not great either).  I don’t think I coped well with a difficult boss either; I don’t know how I would cope with difficult colleagues, as I’ve never had them, but I’m guessing it would be the same.

It’s hard to remember details from other jobs anyway.  I’ve twice been asked in the past about my favourite library management system and failed to give a good answer.  It’s the autistic/Sherlock Holmes “It doesn’t interest me so why should I bother to remember?” issue again.  I could give them a detailed answer comparing my favourite Doctor Who writers.

Looking at the company website terrified me, the sense of this being a massive multinational law firm and I couldn’t cope with such a large and pressured environment as the job spec stated.  When I applied for the job, I didn’t think I’d make it to interview, so I never thought I would really have to deal with this.  I was just trying to reassure the agency that I am genuinely looking for a job and putting myself forward for things.

I feel a bit like Icarus.  Once I was a high-flyer, but then I started falling, further than anyone had fallen before.  It’s very hard to know what to do when your wings have melted.  I suppose Icarus got what he wished for too.

***

Today I was feeling depressed even before the interview preparation email came through.  As usual, I woke late, struggled to get going and prayed a very minimal amount of Shacharit (morning prayers).  I cried a bit while doing so, I think more from frustration and perhaps despair as much as anything else.  I feel OKish now, but the depression and anxiety come and go.  This seems to be the “new normal” at the moment: bad mornings and days that are mostly good, but which have negative blips and low energy.

Not Quite An Argument

I guess I posted my last post too soon.  I just had dinner with my parents and it didn’t go well.  Dad wanted to carry on talking about my job interview and told me that I should have answers to why I want the job and where I see myself in five years time.  I sort of have a stock answer for why I want a librarianship job in higher education, but it seems less and less accurate; I really don’t think I’m cut out to be an academic librarian (but then what am I cut out for?).  The five years question is just impossible.  I don’t know where I see myself in five months.  I don’t know if I even want to be a librarian in five years time.  Dad said that I should say I want to take on more responsibility in the library, which might not be true even if I stay as a librarian (like a lot of autistic people, I have very little personal or professional ambition).  I said that I could say that, but it would be a lie.  Dad got annoyed with me and I ended up saying, rather more loudly than I intended, “I’m sorry I’m depressed, I’m trying hard…” and then breaking off.

I know it’s not easy for my parents having their elder child living at home in his mid-thirties, especially as my younger sister has left home long ago and ticked almost all the adult boxes (career, husband, house, mortgage) and I know it isn’t easy that my mood is often low, that I’m often negative, pessimistic and irritable and that they still are, in some sense, my carers (not to mention my bankers).  But it’s not easy for me being in this situation either, and I’m the one who has to live with my emotions and my autism 24/7.

I insisted on doing at least some of the washing up to apologise, even though I have zero energy.

I feel really guilty right now, not so much for the incident above as for other things that I would sort of like to write about, but feel that I shouldn’t.  I don’t feel that I’m a very good or lovable person.

I don’t feel tired enough to sleep, but I have zero motivation, concentration or energy to do anything, not to read and not even to watch TV.  I’m not quite sure how I’m going to fill the next three hours before bed.