Someone, Somewhere, Somehow, Some Time

I went to bed at midnight, which is relatively early for me. I was emotionally exhausted. I wanted to get up between 8.00am and 9.00am in case my work exam came through early, but although my parents woke me up when they went to the hospital at 8.30am, I fell asleep again until they came home just after 10.00am. I guess I was still emotionally exhausted. The good news is that when I finally did manage to get up, I was tired, but not particularly depressed, so hopefully I have avoided a relapse into full-blown clinical depression despite being so upset yesterday. I feel upset about what happened with me and E., yet I can’t see what I could have done differently. It’s sad knowing that we could have stayed together if COVID hadn’t intervened, but it does feel like something from God, something outside of my control. I think, given what happened, I made the right decision, but it’s hard.

I haven’t heard back from either the women I was talking to on JDate today. I’m mostly OK with that as I needed some space today after yesterday. I possibly messed up one conversation due to anxiety at the weekend and scared her off. I guess that’s one of those things. I probably was getting over-excited about those conversations anyway. It’s good to come back to reality a bit. I felt calm about dating this morning, quietly confident that I’ll find someone, somewhere, somehow, some time, even if it takes a long time.

***

The job application exam came through at 3.15pm… except that it isn’t just an exam. There’s a whole thick set of instructions to go through, nearly seventy pages, and a one hour webinar, followed by thirty sets of practise data and only then will I be sent the exam itself. I have to finish all the practice data and the exam by 11.59pm on Tuesday evening. It all looked complicated and daunting. I know, I have two degrees, one of which is from Oxford, but lately I doubt myself all the time and have no confidence in my ability to do anything. For example, I’ve wanted to play Risk with my parents recently, but it’s so long since I’ve played that I can’t remember the rules and I worry I won’t be able to relearn them, that’s how little self-confidence I have right now.

After half an hour reading the guidelines, I was not very far in and was in full “I can’t do this, I’m a screw-up, I’m not going to get the job, the women I’m talking to on JDate are going to stop talking to me because I can’t get a job” self-critical/catastrophising mode. The calm of the morning had gone.

I did regain some calm later. The worst that can happen is I try the test and fail the exam. Then I’ve wasted a few days. The job is not relevant to my career. It uses some librarian skills, but does not specifically require a trained librarian (hence low salary and no requirement for librarians on the job description). I have some reservations about the job, which I won’t go into here, but I won’t really know how justified they are without trying the practise data and exam. And, yes, I realise that I’m essentially being made to train myself quickly and for free, with no certainty of a job at the end of it, rather than being given a job and then being trained by the company, on their time. But I feel like I don’t have better options right now.

I had a chat with my parents about this. They say they’re happy to keep supporting me while I’m unemployed as long as I keep searching for new jobs and pestering the agencies (which I admit I’m not very good at, pestering people does not come easily to me, at least not deliberately). I feel stuck because I’m too advanced for graduate trainee roles, but my employment history and career progression are too inconsistent for higher jobs. A number of difficult jobs (or jobs that were made difficult by autism) and a bad result on some cataloguing tests have eroded my self-confidence in my ability to function as a librarian and especially to catalogue, or to work in any remotely noisy and busy environment. I apply for jobs that I think I can do, but there don’t seem to be that many. I’m not sure if that’s a self-confidence issue or a lack of jobs in the sector or COVID or all of the above.

There is, inevitably, also the feeling of “How will I get a girlfriend/spouse if I can’t get a job?” I don’t really have an answer to that at the moment, particularly as “I can write for money” isn’t working out well at the moment.

***

It’s nearly September and the nights are drawing in, which means the light level will soon start to bring my mood down. It would be a shame if I got over the depression, only to slump back because of autumn, unemployment and single-hood/loneliness and guilt over E.

***

I forgot to mention yesterday that Mum has now been told that the household only needs to shield for three days before her operation, not two weeks, as she was originally told. That will be a lot easier for all of us.

***

I’m reading The Islamist, Ed Husain’s account of his time as an Islamist (Islamic fundamentalist) and how he left the movement. It’s interesting to see the similarities and differences between Jewish fundamentalism and Islamic fundamentalism (the big difference is that Jewish fundamentalists don’t really want to change/convert/conquer the world, they just want to run away from it and build high walls so it can’t get in). I’m about two thirds of the way through; Husain is leaving radical Islam and looking for a more spiritual alternative.

It made me think about the lack of spirituality in my life. The person on JDate who I fear I scared off is very spiritual and more aware of God than pretty much anyone I’ve met before. I hoped maybe if the relationship worked out some of that would rub off on me.

In terms of spiritual thought systems and movements in Judaism, kabbalah (Jewish mysticism) doesn’t do much for me. Practical kabbalah (magic, essentially) is anti-rationalist in a way that does not work for me at all. More theoretical kabbalah just confuses me. I’m not sure how monotheistic it is, but beyond that I just can’t take in the complex systems describing God. I like the ethics of Hasidism, but struggle with the kabbalistic underpinnings, and the constant joy does not work for me with my melancholic personality, even aside from depression. Likewise the loud and performative attitude to davening (prayers) does not work well with autism. I like the teachings of the Kotzker Rebbe (Hasidic leader), but he’s been dead for 160 years and I don’t know how to bring that to the present. I’m interested in Mussar, the Jewish movement for ethical self-development, but I struggled to bring it into my life. For a while I tried reading Mussar texts and doing kabbalot (daily actions to stimulate certain ethical character traits; no relation to kabbalah), but it became just another “Should” for me to beat myself up about, so I stopped.

I just started reading a collection of texts by Rav Kook. The first text in the collection is The Lights of Penitence, so I thought it was appropriate for the run up to Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. Rav Kook was a mystical writer, but not a straightforward kabbalist and not an anti-rationalist at all, an interesting thinker who is not easily put in a box. Universalist as well as particularlist too. I’m hoping this volume will help me, but it’s taken the better part of a week to read the prefaces and introduction. What I’ve read of his writings in the past interests me, but, again, I don’t know where I go with those thoughts on a day to day level. Rav Kook is considered one of the founders of Religious Zionism, but the Religious Zionist movement homed in on just a part of his thought (settling the land of Israel) which doesn’t interest me so much.

***

Achievements: I spent an hour and twenty minutes on my novel, and nearly two more hours on job stuff (including the long chat I had with my parents about it). I went for a half hour walk (sadly no time/energy for a run today). I also spent forty minutes on my devar Torah, although I was really recycling an old devar Torah from years ago, expanding it and improving the use of sources. I spent about half an hour on additional Torah study. That’s not an insignificant amount of achievements, particularly considering my mood was all over the place, but I wanted to do more on the novel, more on the job stuff and more Torah study.

The World is Waiting, Apparently

Work seems to be going OK and my mood has been better this week.  I don’t seem to be making as many mistakes as earlier in the week and so far my boss hasn’t complained about my speed, although I’m going slower than I would like.  I’m shaking again, though, when I talk to my boss.  Shaking is something that hasn’t been a huge problem for a while.  I shake when I get nervous, probably connected with medication side-effects, but I go long periods of not being troubled by it at all and then it can suddenly come out of nowhere.  My gut instinct is that I was so worried that my boss at this job would be like my boss at my previous job (critical and temperamental) that it led to anxiety and shaking.  Then, once it’s started, I begin to worry about shaking when I go into a social situation and my anxiety about shaking triggers the shaking itself and I become trapped by my own nervous system (nervous in both senses of the word).

The main thing I want to blog about today is something I read.  I’ve been reading Halakhic Morality: Essays on Ethics and Masorah by Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik.  Rav Soloveitchik (as he is known) is a major figure in twentieth century Orthodox Judaism, a major communal figure and a major thinker.  The book is a selection of previously unpublished essays and lectures on Jewish ethics.  The final chapter, titled Religious Styles, deals with the need to develop a unique personal religious style.  Rav Soloveitchik says that there is the halakhah, Jewish law, which is binding on all Jews in the same way and can be formally taught.  But there is also religious style, the way a person fulfils the commandments, which a person has to develop for himself, based on observing his or her parents and teachers.  One can keep all the mitzvot (commandments) punctiliously and still be a bad person if one has a bad style, for instance if one is short-tempered, rude, gluttonous and so on.

This was interesting to me, because I struggle to find my own religious style and to work out where I fit in the frum (religious) community, and it chimes with my understanding of the teachings of the Kotzker Rebbe a century earlier, which stress individuality.  But then the Rav says,

“Sometimes we walk into shul [synagogue] on Rosh ha-Shanah [Jewish New Year] and we are as cold as if we had just come out of a deep freeze.  We want to ignite a fire, to warm up our personality.  It happens to everybody; it happens to me too.  I do not think then about the philosophy of Rosh ha-Shanah and the concepts of malkhuyot, zikhronot, and shofarot [kingship, remembrance and the blowing of the shofar, the ram’s horn trumpet, the three core concepts of the day’s prayers].  No matter how wonderful and beautiful they are, how fascinating intellectually they may be, they will not light a fire.  One cannot arouse a person by philosophizing.

All I have to do is recollect the tune my grandfather R. Hayyim used while reciting U-Vekhen Ten Pahdekha [part of the Rosh Hashanah prayers] – that’s all!  Suddenly a fire is ignited, my heart begins to warm up and I begin to feel the sanctity of the day.” (pp. 198-199)

I find this interesting, as this is the problem I have been wrestling with in the run up to Rosh Hashanah (starting Sunday night), so it seemed strange to reach this chapter just now when I’ve been reading this book on and off for months.  I also feel cold about the coming Yom Tovim, but I don’t know how to warm myself.  To be honest, I have probably needed warming up for some years.  Unlike the Rav, I do not come from a famous rabbinic dynasty to have examples of ‘warm’ Jews from my ancestors.  To make matters worse, I have a lot of anger and resentment against HaShem (God) to work through and I don’t know how to do it.  Nor do I know what my unique religious style would be.  But I’m glad to know that it’s not just me who struggles.

In a somewhat related way, the assistant rabbi was talking in shiur (religious class) tonight about the need to connect with HaShem and other people in an authentic way, not just out of ego (so we can feel good that we condescend to help others) or to get rewarded.  He said we should find one middah (character trait) that is naturally well-developed in us, something that comes easily to us, and use that to help others altruistically at this time of year so that we will connect with the world in a genuinely altruistic, God-centred way and deserve a good new year.

I don’t know that I have even one good middah.  I can’t think of any good deed or mitzvah (commandment) that comes easily to me.    In the latest of his weekly parasha essays, Rabbi Lord Sacks says “The world is waiting for you” but I don’t know what I am expected to do.  The only thing I can think of where I connect to people in a genuinely altruistic way, doing it for other people rather than to get something for myself, is when I interact with people online, on my blog and other people’s blogs, where I genuinely like to connect and help with advice or support about mental illness.  But if that’s my mission in life, it rather implies that I will always be depressed.

I wish I could tell if I am a good person and a good Jew.  E. told me recently that she thinks that in secular terms, I would be a good person.  Which I guess is good, but I’m not sure if it’s good enough.  I mean, part of the reason I’m frum is that I find the secular Western ethic lacking in many ways and the Jewish ethic to be more meaningful and more fully thought through and in a way actually more humanistic, more attuned to human nature, more aware of its pitfalls and more able to avoid them, but also in some ways more accepting of it.  Somehow it feels that the active good I do is very little, and my goodness, such as it is, is mostly avoiding the bad.  Which is good, at least up to a point.  “Turn from evil and do good” says Tehillim (Psalms) (34.15).  Rabbi Pinchas of Koretz is said to have spent twenty-one years improving himself by following this dictum: seven years removing evil from himself; another seven years finding the good; and a third set of seven years inculcating the good into himself.  Still, I feel that if I started becoming frum when I was twelve, I’ve had well over my twenty-one years by now and I’m far from good.

The world might be waiting for me, but I don’t know what it is waiting for me to do.