Angst In My Pants

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

***

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

***

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

***

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

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

***

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

***

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

Heat and Light

Shabbat (Sabbath) was OK, but a bit of a struggle.  It’s just too hot.  I know that in some places it gets hotter and more humid, but bear in mind houses in the UK are built for cold.  They are insulated and sometimes poorly ventilated.  So it’s pretty sweltering.  I couldn’t sleep at all last night.  I stayed up reading.  I eventually fell asleep around 5.00am.

Once I slept a lot again over Shabbat, despite the insomnia.  I slept late once I got to sleep and I napped in the afternoon, so I’m super-awake now, which is not good.

***

Today we ate in the garden, both lunch and seudah shlishit (the third Sabbath meal).  I was apprehensive about this, because I had a vague sense it ought to be religiously prohibited, but I couldn’t think of a reason why, or at least, not a reason I couldn’t argue against.  That said, if I hadn’t seen our super-Hasidic next-door neighbours do it last week, I don’t think I would have done it.  Still, I guess it’s progress in being less religious OCD-defined, and more open to things generally.  There’s probably a good deal of autistic “I don’t want to do anything new” in the “It’s halakhically forbidden (forbidden by Jewish law),” as much as OCD and over-caution.

***

My mood was variable.  I had the weird thought that in terms of dates, I’m doing about as well by just posting stuff on my blog and occasionally meeting people romantically that way (meeting online or in person) than I am being proactive in the real world or even hoping non-internet women would want to date me.  Obviously my online presence is more confident, more charming, more I-don’t-know-what than my in-person presence (unsurprising, as in-person presence is socially crippled by social anxiety and autism).  Who knows whether I’ll meet someone else that way?  Still, I do feel the odds are against my finding anyone soon, or even really being able to manage a relationship soon.  It’s just counter-productive to dwell on those thoughts.

(It’s strange, but despite my shyness and social anxiety, I do quite like meeting people in person who I have “spoken” to online.  I’ve done it quite a lot.)

I realised that somewhere along the line I stopped praying to find my spouse.  I’m not sure why.  I know in the last year or so I’ve cut down a lot of voluntary/spontaneous prayer because of feeling depressed and tired and overwhelmed and far from God.  That was probably a bad idea, making me more distant from God, but it’s hard to know how to get back to it.

I never know what to pray for about dating anyway.  I don’t exactly feel like I could get married at the moment, certainly financially and maybe emotionally.  Maybe I should pray to find some other activity or social network that would take away the loneliness?  But it feels unJewish to be in my late thirties and unmarried and not doing the one proactive thing I can really do about it (prayer).

Plus, how would I pray to feel less sexually frustrated, from a Jewish point of view, without praying to get married?  There isn’t another option.  It’s pretty clear from the Talmud that praying to reduce your libido doesn’t work (“There are no half blessings from Heaven”); marriage is the only option.  But what if, financially and emotionally, that isn’t possible right now, maybe never?  What should I pray for?

***

Those thoughts about finding a spouse by just waiting until she finds my blog (maybe) cheered me up a bit, but others brought me down.  I started crying while I was davening Minchah (saying Afternoon Prayers), I’m not sure why.  I had been thinking about a chiddush (novel Torah thought) I had and I’m not sure if it was connected.

In Bereshit (Genesis) chapter 6, God tells Noach (Noah) to build the ark and that it should have a “tzohar.”  It is not clear what a “tzohar” is.  The Medieval commentator Rashi (based on the Midrash in Bereshit Rabbah) gives us two options: “Some say this is a window and some say this is a precious stone that gave light to them.”

However, contrary to the way a lot of people read it, Midrash isn’t just about finding quirky facts about the Torah.  It is about finding deeper meanings.  What is this teaching us?

In his book Genesis: From Creation to Covenant, Rabbi Zvi Grumet notes that the description of the flood undoes the Creation narrative from chapter 1 of Genesis, with the world being uncreated stage by stage in reverse order as everything is destroyed, back to the point where the waters above and the waters below were divided on day two, leaving only the light created on day one.  The only thing not mentioned are the luminaries, created on day four.  We can assume they were covered by clouds, from the point of view of the ark, but this is not explicitly stated.

We might then argue that the “window” opinion assumes that the luminaries were still visible and all that was needed was a window to let the light of the sun and moon in, whereas the “luminescent stone” opinion assumes that the luminaries were invisible, and some artificial (quasi-supernatural) light source was necessary for the ark’s inhabitants.

Perhaps the deeper symbolism is this.  The “window” option assumes that even at a time of strict justice, when God withdraws his mercy and lets destruction reign on the world, even then there is hope as a natural part of the world.  There are intrinsically positive aspects of creation still around, still shedding their light from a distance.  God’s Presence can always be felt.

The “luminescent stone” approach is darker, in all senses.  It says that sometimes the world is so dark that you can find no natural source of light altogether.  The world outside is absolutely awful with no exceptions.  At a time like this, we have to rely on God to cast light for us directly and miraculously because the outside world is just too dark and horrible for us.  (I feel that this is a post-Holocaust type of perspective.)

I thought about the above, then I immediately went to daven Minchah, as I said, and I suddenly started crying and I didn’t know why.  I strongly suspect it is connected to what I was thinking, but I don’t know if I felt overwhelmed that God was providing light for me after all, or upset and alone that I feel He is not providing light for me.

***

My parents and I didn’t play a game on Shabbat this week, partly as Shabbat is finishing earlier now and partly because our neighbours came to the door for a socially distanced conversation with my parents towards the end of Shabbat, when we’d been playing (we all nap in the afternoon).  I’m trying to persuade my parents to play a longer, more involved game on a Sunday afternoon, as we’re all in at the moment, maybe Trivial Pursuit or Risk (my family don’t like to play Trivial Pursuit with me because I win.  I think at one stage they would only play if I answered the Genius Edition questions and they answered questions from a similar, but easier, quiz game).  I don’t remember the rules to Risk, but I’ve been thinking lately that I want to play it again.

***

I’m trying to listen to a long playlist on Spotify, but someone keeps editing it, so every time I open Spotify to listen to it, the track order has been changed and it’s hard to keep track of what I’ve heard to and what I haven’t.  Very annoying.  It’s one of the Spotify-produced (as opposed to user-produced) playlists too.

“Hey, hey, I saved the world today”

Today was a difficult day.  I struggled at work, partly because of people using the library for work and for a shiur (religious class), making me feel self-conscious as I carried on with my work around  them and creating noise that was hard to tune out, which only got worse when the choir practise started in the next room.  I think that’s going to happen every other Monday afternoon and I’ll just have to put up with it.  As I’ve said, the library rates quite low in the institution’s priorities.  I’m not upset about that as it makes sense within those priorities, for reasons I can’t say without giving too much away about it, but it does make it hard for me with autistic noise issues.  That I find libraries frequently too noisy for me is one of my main pieces of evidence in favour of my being on the spectrum.

Beyond this, I felt a lot of depression and anxiety today, some about work and how I am doing with it and how I will do with the next step forward, which is going to involve talking to people (the horror!).  I did get a bit of a better idea about that next step though.  I want to do some research tomorrow (even though it’s not a work day – it will be easier at home), but it looks like WordPress has a plugin for a library management system for small libraries, which could be ideal for us, although I need to find out if it’s compatible with the institution’s website and how to install it, whether it’s something I could do myself or if I would need outside contractors (quite likely given that my IT skills, while competent, do not extend to coding and I’m only vaguely aware of what plugins are).

As well as all this, there was anxiety about my relationship with E.  We both feel we should bite the bullet and look for ways of moving our relationship on, but we’re both scared that doing that will wreck everything.  To be honest, I’m not even sure that I’m in the right place to be thinking about relationships given that my mood and energy levels fluctuate so much at the moment.  That said, our text conversation did show that we both think that relationships involve work and investment of time and energy and are not just about finding “The One,” which is a big thing that lots of people don’t understand.

We’re also both scared of self-sabotaging things.  I think we’re actually both scarily alike, once you take into account the religious differences (both Jewish, but I’m a lot more observant).  In terms of personality and, I think, core values, we’re not identical, but similar.  But dealing with religious differences and geographical distance and both of us having mental health issues and neither of us really earning enough to live on…  It does make it seem hard to build a relationship.  It doesn’t help that I overthink things and spent hours today trying to quantify how I feel about E. to see if I care “enough” which is probably not a sensible thing to do any day, let alone a day when I feel stressed, depressed and anxious.

I’m also anxious about something else that I can’t write about here.

On the plus side, Dad said he was pleased that I’m getting more responsibility in my new job, while CILIP (the Chartered Institute of Librarians and Information Professionals) got back to me to say I could try to apply for Chartership, which is scary, but also exciting, given that I read about people getting Chartership in the CILIP magazine and think, “I could never do that, only people who are really good at their career could do that.”  Chartership would mark me out as a better librarian and make me more employable as well as being a confidence boost, given that at the moment I rate my professional skills and ability low.

Also on the plus side, I did do a reasonable amount at work, even if I was sidetracked onto stuff I didn’t really want to deal with and am still not sure how well I am coping with the number of stakeholders and the amount of stake that they are holding (so to speak).  I did fifty minutes of Torah study on the Tube too, managing some on the way home as well as the way there (a Mishnah and a chunk of The Art of Biblical Poetry by Robert Alter, which I’m counting as Torah even though my rabbi probably wouldn’t) and walked to and from the station (twenty minutes each way).  I also spent an additional seven minutes reading a psalm once I was home (as study rather than prayer), so in terms of achievement it was a good day, even if it wasn’t so much in terms of mood.

***

On a previous post, Chaconia suggested that people at shul (synagogue) might see me as aloof.  This is something I do worry about.  When I was in counselling when I was at university (not the first time I was in counselling, but the first time I was actually able to talk to the counsellor), the counsellor suggested a dynamic whereby I get anxious of social contact and withdraw, but other people see this as holding myself aloof and respond by avoiding me, which fuels my anxiety and withdrawal in a vicious circle.  This was the first time a counsellor or therapist had re-framed my life in a way that brought sudden insight, so it’s stuck in my memory.  Realistically, it probably does still happen, especially now we know that high-functioning autism is probably a factor in there too, involving difficulty understanding and coping with social interactions.  I do hold back from people and they don’t know what’s going on in my head to know why I’m holding back.  It’s just hard to know what to do it, especially when, as I mentioned to Chaconia, I’ve told people at shul about my issues and the response has been mixed, sometimes silence, once negative remarks, although I think a couple of my friends at shul do now message me to check I’m OK if I miss a service or shiur that I normally would attend.  I’m not complaining, because I genuinely don’t know what sort of response I would like to get to my issues and what would help me to fit in and “come out of my shell” (to use a horrible phrase much used about me by adults when I was a child).

***
I “discovered” a song recently.  Actually, I rediscovered it, as I must have heard it years ago and it lodged in my head without knowing who sang it or what the lyrics really were.  Then it came on on a Spotify playlist the other day and I discovered the chorus lyrics really are, “Hey, hey, I saved the world today/Everybody’s happy now/The bad thing’s gone away/And everybody’s happy now/The good thing’s here to stay/Please let it stay” but the song (I Saved the World Today by Eurythmics) as a whole has a level of irony and desperation that I hadn’t noticed before and which seems relevant to the bad-yet-good day I had today, starting, “Monday finds you like a bomb/That’s been left ticking there too long” while the second verse talks about “a hurting thing inside/But I’ve got everything to hide”.  That was my day, anyway.