Running Faster to Stand in the Same Place

I had the last session of my mental health class today.  I think part of the reason I was less excited about the class than the other people in the group, apart from feeling overwhelmed by the noise and the people, is that for many people in the group this was the first time that they had met people with the same issues as them, whereas I’ve been going to various support groups for several years now plus I have a network of friends with mental health issues built up through my blog, so it wasn’t such an eye-opening and validating experience for me.  It has at least got me thinking about CBT stuff again and trying to use it a bit while waiting for CBT on the NHS, which could take months, although I still feel a bit like CBT tries to place a little plaster on a wound that really requires many stitches.

A lot of people from the group are planning on meeting in the future.  I don’t know whether that will happen.  My experience of these things is that people always say they’ll stay in touch, but rarely do.  They have started a What’sApp group though.  I don’t know if I’ll go to the meet up, but I’ve been added to the What’sApp group.

***

Today I more or less resolved the mistake I was so worried about on Friday (definitely anxiety) and spoke to my rabbi mentor about a matter that had been troubling me recently (not mental health-related); he gave me some useful advice.

Less optimistically, I’ve been wading through job emails, but most of them are for things I’m under-qualified for (as if I didn’t feel inadequate already) or things I’m over-qualified for (as if I wasn’t worried enough already about many autistic people being underemployed, especially after one of my colleagues said I’m over-qualified for my current job) or require working on Saturdays.  I’m applying for full-time jobs because there aren’t many part-time jobs in my field (which surprised me a bit, as I thought librarianship was a job that lends itself easily to part-time work and jobshares); if I get further I will ask if working part-time is possible, although how many days I want to work is harder to work out.  I’m not convinced they would employ someone who isn’t willing to work the way they want though.  The other problem is working out how many days I should be working.  Two probably isn’t enough, four was too much (although that was a punishing environment anyway) so I suppose I should try three days.

***

I hoped to have an afternoon off after a stressful couple of days, but speaking to my rabbi mentor, dealing with job emails and other chores took up much of the time.  I wasn’t even applying for jobs, just reading job alerts and adding potential jobs to apply for to my spreadsheet of potential jobs.  As for the chores, they just seem to breed; I have a list and sometimes I can cross things off, but it grows faster than I can cut it down.  Similarly, I’m a neat person, but lately bits of paper have been appearing on my desk faster than I can get rid of them.  I shove some of them in the drawers, but that is just postponing the inevitable.  The worst breeders are emails, not so much rabbits as Tribbles (the Tribbles from Star Trek, it will be recalled, are cute balls of fur that can overrun a starship rapidly because they are born pregnant).

***

I did manage some work on my Doctor Who book (I hope to have second drafts of two more chapters finished by the weekend) and my mental health book.  Work on the latter consists of revisiting old blog posts and copying and pasting passages that look like they might still be coherent, meaningful and interesting out of context into a Word document.  I have a bunch of these on topics like depression, OCD, autism, the frum community and so on, about 25,000 words so far (that’s about a quarter of a book already and I’ve still got eighteen months of material to look at, even if I don’t use my old Livejournal), but I worry that I don’t have a clear shape in my head of what the book will look like.  I’m just experimenting at the moment, in my head and with my selections, on the various ways a book could look without really knowing what I’m doing.  I hope a clearer idea will materialise over time, but it might not.  It’s entirely possible that I won’t have a workable idea at the end of all of this.  Plus looking at old posts brings up bad memories sometimes or triggers feelings of loneliness and depression.

***

Lately there have definitely been some better days, in terms of mood at least and perhaps energy, although I still have bad days and even on ‘good’ days I can suddenly hit depression, self-loathing or OCD anxiety, sometimes with an obvious trigger and sometimes out of nowhere.  “Out of nowhere” might really be a physiological, rather than psychological, trigger, if I had a full understanding of myself: hunger or tiredness.  Exhaustion is a frequent presence too.  I think the improvement is mostly down to the arrival of spring (although apparently the cold and wet is due to come back by the end of the week) and feeling comfortable with my current job for the first time in a year or more, which makes it more unfortunate that my contract ends in a month’s time.

Recovery is, as I implied yesterday, more about finding coping strategies for surviving (a) in the world and (b) specifically in the Jewish community with autism, depression, social anxiety and occasional bouts of OCD.  I don’t think I’ll ever be ‘cured’ of my mental health issues and it’s impossible to ‘cure’ people of autism.  Some days the strategies work and some days they don’t.  On the days when they don’t work, there’s not a lot more I can do than struggle through work (or call in sick, but I very rarely do that these days) and come home and just vegetate in front of a Doctor Who/telefantasy DVD.

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Realignments

I was quite depressed and very sluggish on waking and I had to go to my mental health class without having shaved, which I don’t like doing.  The class was OK, more CBT stuff really.  I still struggle with CBT, despite wanting to try it again for my low self-esteem.  It always seems so fake to challenge my negative thoughts when there seem to be so many objectively true reasons for me to worry about the state of my life.  One psychiatrist said I was too clever to be fooled by it.  But I took some blank sheets for setting out and challenging negative thoughts in the week ahead and will try to challenge my thoughts.  We did an example in the class, which happened to reflect my job fears, and then I privately tried another example with my dating fears.  To be honest, I was still quite pessimistic afterwards, but perhaps slightly less so than before.

***

Related to this, I phoned to try to find out how long I’m going to have to wait for CBT on the NHS to deal with my low self-esteem.  As with the last time I phoned a week or two ago, there was no answer (typical NHS efficiency and customer service).  This time I left a message, but I doubt anyone will get back to me.

***

While I was in my mental health class, my parents were down the road at a workshop for families of people with autism.  I think they understand me better now they have been to the workshop.  At any rate, they said they felt they could understand me more.  They also wondered if my maternal grandfather was on the spectrum.  I think it is impossible to tell at this distance, but I guess it would explain why, as I grew up (he died when I was nineteen) I felt that he was more on my wavelength than other family members.

***

Despite this, I feel a bit better about the world today.  Maybe it’s the possible political realignment in the air; as someone in the centre, I’ve felt stranded in recent years as the political world has polarised to the extremes of right and left.  On the other hand, the extremes aren’t going to just go away without a fight, and third parties and centrist parties tend to do badly in UK elections because of the way our voting system works, plus, as the BBC news website says, the cross-party nature of the new group could put off as many people as it attracts.

I once heard it said that conservatives believe that people are inherently bad and need laws and traditions to keep them in check, whereas progressives believe that people are inherently good and if they do bad things it’s because they’ve been corrupted by bad laws and traditions or other systemic social issues.  To be honest, I don’t really believe either of these things.  I don’t think people are really inherently good or bad.  They probably are closer to good than bad most of the time, but then there are times when almost anyone is capable of being bad, when they’re tired, hungry, angry or scared.  Maybe this is why I struggle to locate myself politically.  I don’t really feel tribal feelings for any one party and I haven’t for many years.

Anyway, enough politics!!!!

***

I finished another chapter of my Doctor Who book in second draft (or ‘revised second’ draft/draft 2.5).  I only added 400 words, which, considering I spent fourteen and a half hours watching Doctor Who for research seems like a poor return BUT I think the chapter would have definitely read as sub-par, hurried and lacking in detail in places compared with some of the later chapters had I not made the revisions, so I will continue on to draft 2.5 of the third chapter.  After that, and possibly some very slight work to chapter four, it’s a big jump ahead to chapter fourteen, the final one… unless I get forced to write a chapter on last year’s episodes, which I’d rather not do, as I don’t think I have the necessary distance from them or a sense of where the series is going at the moment, but I can see that a publisher might want it.

***

I’m very tired though.  I don’t know why my mental health group leaves me so tired when I get so little out of it, and largely feel too anxious and overwhelmed to participate (unlike the previous course, where I participated a lot).  I think I dozed off for a few minutes in the afternoon.  I did a few minor chores, but didn’t try to do too much and I’m trying not to feel like I wasted the day.  I’m a bit upset I didn’t really feel up to doing any real Torah study, but I was just too tired.

Stresses and Social Anxiety

My mental health group was a little better today.  I didn’t really learn anything I didn’t already know, but it did make me decide to try to be better at catching my negative thinking, although I’m not quite sure how I’m supposed to do that in practical terms.  I think I just have a mismatched personality to get on with most of these people, which is unfortunate, but there isn’t much I can do about it.

One person said something she said she feels inferior to people she was at university with who are all now running the country, which made me wonder if she was at Oxford like me, as that’s something I feel a lot.  Usually I would have let that go, but I asked her afterwards and it turned out she went to Cambridge, so I was close.  I’m glad I’m not the only Oxbridge person who feels like a failure, though.

Someone at the group said I’m intelligent.  I get weirded out when people say that to me.  I’ve hardly said anything on this course, having been too socially anxious and overwhelmed by the noise; how can people think I’m clever?  Maybe I just give off ‘vibes.’  More prosaically, he probably overheard me tell the other person that I went to Oxford.  He did say that if you’re high functioning and mentally ill, you don’t do fewer “stupid” things, you just realise that you’re behaving in a stupid way, but don’t still know how to change it.  The course was supposed to help with that, but I’m not sure that it has…

***

Today’s bad news: my psychiatrist appointment at the end of the month has been moved to 6 June, despite the fact that I’ve already moved my work days around so that I could keep the appointment.  I think it’s appalling the way the NHS treats patients like cattle.  Yes, they’re short of money.  But the charity sector is even more short of money, and they don’t treat people like this.  Indeed, the private sector doesn’t have infinite funds and they also don’t treat people like this, despite the supposed “inhumanity” of treating people for “profit.”  It doesn’t cost anything to treat patients like human beings.  The NHS has messed me around like this so many times over the last seventeen years, costing me time, energy (which is precious to me) and, on occasion, money.  But they have a virtual monopoly over healthcare in this country so they’re isn’t much anyone can do about it unless you happen to be super-rich and able to be seen privately (to be honest, when I was in psychodynamic psychotherapy my parents were paying for me to be seen privately, but we were only able to do this because we were fortunate to find someone who charged means-adjusted fees, which isn’t always possible).  A lot of people don’t have health insurance because, in theory, you aren’t supposed to need it (or you pay it in your tax, depending how you want to look at it).  And monopolies, whether in the private sector or the public sector, don’t have to care about bad customer service, because where else can you go?

Anyway, I calmed down and phoned to ask why my appointment had been changed.  The psychiatrist is ill and they were assuming she won’t be back for months.  They offered me an appointment with a different psychiatrist a week after the cancelled appointment.  As I didn’t feel the previous one really listened to me, I was not upset about this, but the appointment they offered was on a day when I work, right in the middle of the day so I would have to take the whole day off and this was after having already changed one work day because of the cancelled appointment.

I decided to take the appointment for now and see what my line manager says next work; if the worst comes to the worst, I’ll cancel the new appointment and go in June.  But it does reinforce my current feelings of fatalism over recovery and work.  I have fallen back into pessimism after feeling better for a few days.

***

I have also booked for the networking class that is on the same day as the Jewish Book Week talk I’m going to.  I suppose this is work-centric, but I’m terrified that I simply won’t be able to network even in practice settings (role-play).  I hope I can relax enough in the afternoon to get to work the next day.  I would really like to see a careers advisor who understands about autism and mental illness, but I’m not sure how to find one.  I was told at the class today that I could raise work issues with my key worker, which I may try to do.  To be honest, I’m only vaguely aware of what my key worker’s job description is and what things I can talk to her about, but I think she’s a social worker who is supposed to direct me to courses like the class and other mental health and social services in the area, so perhaps that will help.  Reading this back, there are some positives in it, but I’m still in one of those depressive moods where everything just feels awful.  I’ve given up on ‘recovering’ (whatever that means), but I want to achieve some degree of day-to-day functionality (work, family etc.).  I just don’t know how.

Disappointments

I overslept this morning and was very drained and a bit depressed once I got up.  Those feelings have pursued me all day.  I feel better for a bit, but then they come back.  Still, I’m doing a lot better than I was.

I had a meeting at The Network, the local government (I think) organisation that runs the well-being course I went on.  I arranged to go on another course in February that might help with assertiveness and dealing with difficult thoughts.  It’s at a place that is harder to get to than the last course.  To be honest, I’m not sure if it will help, or how much the other course helped, but I’m wary of turning down free help, both because it’s free and because it shows people I’m still trying to get better.  It will give me less time for writing, though.  I still haven’t really spoken to my parents about not looking too hard for another job so that I can write.

I find myself struggling again this afternoon.  Some of it is probably the tiredness, but some of it is a phone call I just had with a lawyer.  I think I’ve mentioned once before that my Dad was in a road accident years ago with a motorcyclist who is now suing for damages (even though she insisted she was unhurt at the time and turned away the ambulance my Dad called).  I just spoke to the lawyer to tell my side of the story (what I can remember, which isn’t much given (a) that it happened very fast and (b) it happened three years ago), in particular to state that I think that one of the witness statements was wrong.  I feel that I could make my father’s case stronger by lying and saying that I’m certain that my father’s car was stationary when the motorcycle hit and that there is no way the witness could have seen what he says he has seen, but I feel that while the first statement is possibly true and the second is probably true, I can’t honestly swear to either as absolute truth.  My parents say I should just tell the truth as I remember it, but I feel vaguely disloyal.  The reality is that it isn’t my father who will pay damages, but the insurance company, but he may have to pay court fees, although I still have a suspicion that the insurance company will opt settle out of court (which doubtless is how unscrupulous ambulance-chasing lawyers make their money, not that I’m suspecting the motorcyclist’s lawyers of being like that).  Still, the thought of giving evidence in court under oath is scary.

I’ve also discovered that I missed the deadline for my shul’s (synagogue’s) communal Shabbat (Sabbath) dinner.  A What’sApp message went out about it a week or so ago, but there wasn’t an email until late on Monday evening.  The email didn’t say that the online payment would close that evening!  So I’m too late.  That is a bit frustrating, but maybe it’s for the best, as I wasn’t sure if it would leave me feeling more depressed.

I just phoned to try to find out how much longer I’m likely to wait for CBT.  There was no answer – typical NHS.

Then I tried to look over old posts from this blog for paragraphs that can be removed from their original context and expanded or grafted on to other paragraphs (newly written or from other old posts) to form into chapters that I could form into a book on mental health.  This is going to take much longer than I thought, especially as I hate re-reading my old writing, as it just depresses me and makes me feel that I’m a terrible writer, that I have nothing interesting to say and why do I think people would want to read a book of my introverted auto-analysis?  So I feel more depressed than before, but at least I did something.  Although mostly I ended up distracted by reading about the supposed “Shidduch (Orthodox dating) Crisis” online.  I don’t know whether that really exists, but if it does, it ought to have played a lot more to my advantage than is the case.

I was going to register with We Go Together (values-based Jewish matchmaking service), but then thought that maybe I’m lapsing back into depression and shouldn’t be dating and postponed registering.  But thinking about dating leaves me feeling lonely again…

***

Lately I find myself wondering if I’m a kind person.  A few people have said I am.  I struggle to accept it, and not just from low self-esteem.  I acknowledge that I’m a compassionate person who feels other people’s pain, but I find that often I can’t understand how to help other people in practical terms; sometimes I am just too selfish to do help too.  I suppose it’s the divide between emotional empathy, recognising other people’s emotions, and cognitive empathy, taking other people’s perspectives and knowing how to respond.  Autistic people have emotional empathy, but not cognitive empathy.  One psychiatrist told me that I will never understand other people and should stop trying; similarly, a therapist told me (more sympathetically) that I want to help people, but I don’t know how.  So I find it strange that people seem to think I’m kind.

It’s probably been on my mind because I’ve been thinking about dating again and I know I would want someone who is gentle, kind and understanding to deal with all my issues, but I worry that I don’t have anything to offer in return.  I probably come across as kinder online than in real life because I’m better with text than words and actions – it’s easier to take time thinking things through in writing and perhaps I can imagine what I would want someone to say for me more easily than imagining what someone would do for me.

Virtuous Circles

22 Shevat: Yortzeit of the Kotzker Rebbe

I’m still feeling quite good.  I’m waiting for the depression to come back, as it always does, but I’m trying to enjoy it while it lasts.  It’s interesting that my desire and ability to study Torah and to daven (pray) with kavannah (mindfulness) grows when my mood is better.  There probably is a virtuous circle of good mood –> more engaged with Judaism –> better mood.

***

I want to work on my books on non-(paid) work days (Mondays and Wednesdays; Fridays, at least when Shabbat starts later in the day; and potentially Sundays when I don’t volunteer.  Maybe also Saturday evening after Shabbat in the winter, although that’s hard).  I actually feel like a child in a sweetshop, getting to write about my special interests: Judaism, Doctor Who and mental health (OK, analysing my own psyche).  It’s just difficult to know where to start.  A while back I said I wanted to get paid for writing about my special interests; I’ve got some way still to go for that, but at least I can set aside some time aside in the hope that one day I will get paid for at least one of them.

Unfortunately after having gone to well-being group (see below), done some chores and spoken to my rabbi mentor (again, below) today, I was too tired to do much writing, but I did twenty minutes or so of working on the structure of the Jewish book.  I oscillated between excitement at writing and anxiety at the scale of the task and whether my book would be distinctive or well-written enough to compete in the marketplace.

***

I had the last session of well-being group today.  We looked at how far we have come and how to continue to grow.  It was a bit disappointing for me.  I have achieved things since starting the group, not least that I’m now working again two days a week; smaller, but potentially longer-lasting achievements include getting back into meditating daily and finding an affirmation that works for me when my thoughts get out of control, one that handily works for depression, OCD and social anxiety.  However, I feel there is so much more to do.  In particular, I haven’t been to shul (synagogue) on Shabbat (Saturday) morning for a year or more.  I don’t know how to get to that goal.  I can’t see a way to break it down to smaller steps as we have spoken about in the group.  I think part of the problem is that there is so much anxiety, guilt and self-loathing around where I fit in the frum (religious Orthodox Jewish) community that I don’t really want to go to shul.  On Friday afternoons and Shabbat afternoons I go from habit or I can psych myself up to go if I have to, but on Saturday mornings the temptation to sleep through my alarms is too strong.  I’m not sure what to do about this.  I need to find a way to build up to it in small steps, but I can’t think of any.

We also spoke about self-care in well-being group.  Everyone else seemed to think they don’t do enough, whereas I suspect I do too much, but it doesn’t really help me to cope better.

***

I have an appointment with the psychiatrist booked for 28 February.  This was booked before I was working, so is on a Thursday.  As I only work two days a week, it seemed a bit much to ask for a morning off to go, so I just tried to book a replacement appointment on a Monday, Wednesday or Friday, only to be told that the earliest free appointment is in May!  This is ridiculous.  To be fair, in this instance, unlike some (many) previous problems I’ve had with the NHS, this isn’t really their fault.  It’s basic economics that zero price means infinite demand, in theory.  Obviously there isn’t going to be literally infinite demand for psychiatric services, but demand is still going to far outstrip supply no matter how well the NHS is funded.  It’s still pretty awful service, though.  At least the receptionist was polite and apologetic, which isn’t always the case (something less justifiable by hard economics).

***

I spoke to my rabbi mentor about some of my recent experiences.  He said I sounded very positive and that my book ideas sounded interesting.  He was a bit concerned that my Jewish book idea sounded too much like this book, but I see mine as being less academic and more about explaining Judaism from the point of view of questions non-Jews actually ask me, based on how we appear to outsiders, rather than the things you would need to know to do a degree in Jewish Studies or Comparative Religion.  So, less on the history of Jewish theology and more on why we wear strange clothes and use unusual words when ostensibly speaking English.  But it might be worth trying to get hold of a copy of that book and one or two others before I get too involved in the project to nudge it in a different direction.

My rabbi mentor was also supportive of my decision to try dating again.  He agreed with me that there probably won’t be a time when I’m not dealing with my mental health on some level, so waiting until I’m “better” is pointless.  He felt that when I was in a relationship with E. that had a positive effect on my mood and that even going through relationship breakups has been a learning experience for me, so that it was worth trying again.

Writing this post, I wonder if dating will give me an incentive to go to shul on Shabbat mornings again?  Not for practical reasons so much as so I don’t have to explain to dates why I don’t go.

***

I emailed one of my colleagues from my further education job.  He replied saying they were just wondering where I was working now.  I always feel funny when people say they were talking about me.  It’s not paranoia, but a sense of, “Wow, people actually remember me when I’m not in the room.”

Crash

Today I crashed.

I suppose it started yesterday, when I got into a very agitated state in the evening when my parents were out.  I went to bed trying to count the number of people I thought would be upset if I killed myself, which was not an encouraging sign although it was good that I did at least acknowledge that some people would be upset, whereas in the past I might have assumed that no one would really care.

I woke up feeling much the same this morning.  I wanted to try positive self-affirmations again (don’t ask me why, as they haven’t worked in the past), but for every time I can tell myself I’m a good person, I tell myself several hundred times more that I’m a wicked, defective freak.

At work I felt terrible, really despairing and sure I couldn’t do my work properly.  I felt like I was going to fall asleep and had a powerful urge to hurt myself, because I felt so unable to cope.  I struggled to work because I was thinking about death so much, fantasising about overdosing and calling myself a defective freak who can’t do anything right.  I was feeling that I hate myself so much that there are no words for it and that I don’t hate anyone else this much, not even those who made me like this.

I somehow got through the morning, but was not restored very much by lunch.  I’m struggling more than I expected to with a forty-five minute lunch and wonder if I should ask to switch to one hour lunches and leave at 5.15pm instead of 5.00pm.  It didn’t help that there were two people in the staff room watching different programmes on their phones without headphones, which I felt was rude and antisocial.

Things came to a head when I went to prepare some books in the book store and virtually had a panic attack, terrified that I was going to damage one of the rare books.  I got into a complete state and phoned my Mum to ask what she felt I should do as I wasn’t being particularly rational.  She said to come home as I sounded too agitated to do any work.

I obviously needed to tell my line manager that I was not well, but I decided to tell her about the depression in some detail.  She was really supportive and said I should think about whether there are any changes I could make at work that would help me.  She also said that she’s really pleased with my work so far and that I’ve picked up a lot in a very short space of time; also that there isn’t much that I can do disastrously wrong in my job and that I’m very careful with the rare books.  I mentioned going too slowly in previous jobs because of my fear of mistakes and she didn’t think that that would be an issue here.  She was so supportive I went for broke and mentioned the autism as well.  I’m not quite sure why I did that, but it seemed appropriate to mention it as context and it turns out just as well that I did as she said she had already wondered if I’m on the spectrum (it seems that everyone thinks I’m autistic except the psychiatrists making the assessment…).

On the way home I had a telephone appointment with the duty GP at my doctor’s surgery.  It was slightly awkward as I had a couple of ‘autistic misunderstanding’ moments, which I guess is not surprising when I’m agitated and taking a serious private call in the street.  He felt that I should see my regular doctor, but unfortunately the regular doctor is off tomorrow, so I’m booked in for Thursday morning, which will make me late for work.  I did get a bit annoyed that he said that, if I’m suicidal, I should phone the crisis team, not the surgery.  I’ve done this in the past, only for the crisis team to say if I’m not actually about to try to kill myself, I should go to the GP.  Seriously, when I phoned the crisis team to report suicidal thoughts within twenty-four hours, I was told only to phone if I was actually having them at that moment.  As I know the GP will speak to me if I’m in crisis, even if he says I should phone the crisis team, whereas I know the crisis team will not speak to me, it’s a bit of a no-brainer as to which one I phone, regardless of what the proper protocol is supposed to be.  (More NHS fun and games.)

It was awkward telling my parents all this.  I suppose there isn’t an easy way to tell anyone you’re having suicidal thoughts.  My Mum got very emotional when I told her; perhaps because of this, I couldn’t tell my Dad that at all, just saying I was having “difficult” thoughts.  It’s awkward because most people don’t realise that (in my case, at any rate) there are a spectrum of thoughts that I would describe as “suicidal” from suicidal ideation (thinking or fantasising about suicide and dying) to vaguely noting how you could kill yourself to actively working out how you would kill yourself.  I don’t always find it easy to tell the difference between them, to be honest, so maybe I shouldn’t expect others to do so.

Mum burst into tears when I spoke to her.  Dad… I just struggle to talk to Dad at all these days.  We literally don’t speak each other’s language any more and I don’t know why.  His speech has become more garrulous and rambling, full of unnecessary detail, diversions and repetitions as well malapropisms and vague pronoun use (using pronouns without making it clear what objects they refer to) which are not easy for my autistic brain to understand.  He, on the other hand, has always found my vocabulary difficult to understand and I probably do some of the things I complain about him doing, like not sticking to the point or throwing in unnecessary detail.  Things are not helped by the fact that I think that both my parents are beginning to go a bit deaf and I can’t always tell if they’ve not heard something, heard it and are processing it or are just choosing to ignore it.  My Dad and I seem to bicker a lot more than we used to because of this and I’m not sure why it’s happened.  It upsets me, not least because I think it’s at least in part my fault, but I don’t know what I can do about it, especially as I can’t seem to explain to them about autistic thought patterns and how difficult Dad can be for me to understand.  Any suggestions would be welcome.

So that was my day.  I’m still feeling elements of post-trauma shock.  I know it sounds silly to say ‘trauma,’ but I guess that was how I felt telling my line manager about my issues.  I’m still feeling rather shaky and in shock.  I’m about to watch some Doctor Who for distraction and to make progress with the research for my book, which hopefully will make me feel a bit better.

Boldly Going

Today’s good news is that my contract at work has been extended to the end of March.  I don’t know how much credit I can take for that, as I’ve only done three days work so far, most of which has been spent on induction and training!  But it’s good news and takes some of the pressure of job hunting (which I’ve let slide somewhat in the last fortnight).  I am still terrified of making some huge and staggeringly costly mistake with the rare books, though.

***

I mentioned yesterday an issue with my shul (synagogue) fees.  I got phoned by one of the finance people just now.  I was taken by surprise – I do prefer to plan ahead for phone calls, otherwise I tend to panic, be confused, or just want to hang up because I’m not mentally in the right place.  This happened earlier when it was just my sister phoning to see how I am, so a surprise call from shul (which is causing me a lot of anxiety at the moment, both about being mentally well enough to attend about whether it has the right hashkafa (religious outlook) for me) and finances (which cause lots of people anxiety) was not welcome.  I confess I panicked and when he asked if it was a good time to speak, I said no.  Not really a lie, as I do need to get ready for bed soon, but I feel bad about it.  And now I’ve got a return call hanging over me, although he has at least given me the option of What’sApping.

Sometimes depression, social anxiety and autism make me do things I wish I didn’t do.  I mean things that are against my core values, like lying to someone (OK, I didn’t really lie, but I kind of did), the acting out that I don’t like to talk about here, or just being irritable.  I feel I’m far too irritable with my Dad in particular, but I don’t know how to change.  His method of communicating isn’t exactly great for communicating with someone on the spectrum, but I don’t know how to tell him that, especially if he won’t read the leaflet I left for him.

***

I got upset by something on Aish.com yesterday, which I felt was victim-blaming me for my issues and implying that if I really believed in God I would not be depressed, or at least I would not be unmarried and in a difficult financial situation, because if I really believed in God, He would make everything better.  E. said that I shouldn’t read Aish.com so much and that she sees their essays as pure propaganda.  I actually do see the theology presented there as simplistic.  I find some of their self-improvement and relationship advice interesting and useful, but reading more theological posts tends to get me annoyed sooner or later, but I do it anyway.  Maybe I should try to stop.

I just feel I need for contact with people sometimes and, given that my rabbi mentor is snowed under with work and not responding to my emails and that the rabbis at my shul are more Charedi (ultra-Orthodox) than I feel comfortable with, and that given that I have almost no frum (religious) friends, it is difficult to see where else I can go for religious discussion/support.  I do have a couple of frum friends, but I don’t like to bother them all the time.  There is the London School of Jewish Studies, but going to their classes involves staying out late, which is hard to do on work nights (and all the people there are twenty years or more older than me anyway, which doesn’t help from a social point of view).  Hevria used to help, but I’ve got hurt there in the past and I struggle to connect with many of the current crop of writers; I’m currently trying to avoid it as I probably should avoid Aish.  From that point of view, reading Aish is probably inevitable, like the way I aimlessly surf blogs and the like online trying to connect with people in other ways, even though I usually end up ‘triggered,’ lonely and miserable one way or another.

Re-reading this post from another blog today, I saw the following quote:

“For some, the satisfaction of leading a life bound to Torah is its own reward, but others might need to be assured that the righteous reap rewards and the wicked suffer punishments in the most prosaic of ways, preferably instantly and in plain sight.”

I try to be  in the former category, and, to be honest, my life being as it is, it’s the only really viable strategy for me to stay frum (religious), to accept access to the Jewish tradition as a reward in itself, but Aish is reflective of the idea, common in the frum community, that people get paid back for good or evil really quickly (William Kolbrener has a couple of good essays attacking this mentality in his book Open-Minded Torah).  I find this latter view theologically naive and simply false, but it’s hard not to get sucked into it when I see people on Aish, Hevria, Chabad.org or the parasha sheets in shul on Shabbat (the Sabbath) telling these kind of simplistic miracle stories and feel I inadequate and hated by God for not experiencing these kinds of miracles.

On a related note, I also struggle to cope with the idea of God as an unconditionally loving and forgiving parent.  I have no problem with God as benign Ruler or just Judge nor (more philosophically/metaphysically) with God as an infinite Being or the source of existence.  But because of some of my childhood experiences it’s very hard to accept the unconditionally loving parent.  My parents do love me unconditionally, but stuff that happened to me as a child that I can’t go into here made it hard for me to recognise that and accept it, let alone translate it to another level of reality and believe that I have a supernatural Parent who cares about me and wants to do good for me, or at least that He wants to do concrete goodness for me in the short-term, in this world, rather than some vaguely defined goodness in the future/the afterlife.

***

I’ve been clearing out old health-related papers: a huge pile of psychiatric reports going back to 2009 (which I think was when the NHS started sending them to me; there was apparently no report for my last meeting, late last year), and another big pile of CBT homework and occupational therapy reports.  CBT was helpful for me for my OCD (although not for depression) and occupational therapy was also helpful, as much, if not more so than psychotherapy, CBT and medication in getting me through my MA and into the workplace, but it’s vaguely unsettling to see so much of the last ten years of my life reduced to scraps of paper, and to be aware that much more could have been added that has been disposed of previously or was simply never sent to me (the psychiatric reports from 2003-2009).  Part of me worries that I will need this stuff some day, but I’ve never needed it until now and the NHS ought to keep copies (ha ha ha).  A lot of it is questionable anyway; the reports showed that my psychiatrist was often not listening to what I said, from how to spell my GP’s name to more important matters about my mood and cognitions.

***

(This next paragraph is relevant to a mental health/autism blog, it just takes a while to get there…)

I’m watching Star Trek: The Next Generation: Parallels.  I like Star Trek, but I haven’t watched it for a couple of years.  (I haven’t yet summoned up the courage to watch the latest series, Discovery.  The fact that they’ve made a big thing about being the first Star Trek series to use the f-word makes me wonder what their priorities are and if it is going to be ‘contemporary’ and ‘edgy’.)  The Star Trek universe is a reassuring, but slightly bland utopia, where all angst, doubt or guilt has been eliminated, along with personal eccentricity (unless you consider liking baseball an eccentricity).  The only person I can think of who has any of these traits is the minor character of Barclay, who is gradually therapied into ‘normality’.  Almost every character has won a shelf full of awards at Star Fleet Academy or on active service and several of them were ‘best X in their year.’  I wonder what would become of a weird freak like me in such a world, and whether autism has been medically eliminated in the way that Down’s Syndrome apparently hardly exists in Iceland because almost all foetuses found to have it are aborted.

(That’s at least relevant on a mental health blog; I’ll spare you the rant about the way Federation-style postmodern liberal pluralism strips other cultures of their internal coherence and meaning, leaving an empty, valueless, but inoffensive husk.)

As I say, I do like Star Trek, but this annoys me sometimes.  Doctor Who doesn’t present mental health or developmental disorders in a better way and arguably in a worse one, given how many villains are implicitly or explicitly identified as “mad”, but it does have a better track-record of showing harmless eccentricity in a positive light.

One thing I do like about Star Trek, though, is the camaraderie, the sense that the characters are real friends, although this makes me feel lonely and wish I had a group of close friends I could see regularly or work with.  The series bible forbade interpersonal conflict between the main characters, which is an odd thing to do from a dramatic viewpoint, but did create a cohesive set of characters, as well as providing reassurance for people like me who have difficulty dealing with conflict or accepting that friends can have disagreements and stay friends.

Good News, Bad News, Twitter News, Anxiety News

The good news: I’ve been offered CBT on the NHS.  I hope to be able to focus on my low self-esteem, as I think that might have a knock-on effect on both the depression and the social anxiety.

***

The bad news: I didn’t do any real work today, job hunting or interview preparation.  I did about two minutes of interview preparation and that was it.  I tried to get off the computer a bit (see below for more Twitter angst), but the novel I’m reading is The Transmigration of Timothy Archer by Philip K. Dick and is… not the best thing to read when depressed.  The book is about the narrator looking back at her life with her ex-husband, his father, the Bishop of California (who loses his faith) and the father’s mistress, who are all now dead, one or two from suicide.  It is actually a very moving book, and actually quite funny in parts, but I probably should not have started re-reading it, but I don’t like giving up on books.  I guess the thing to do now is to read the rest of it really fast and move on to some of the books I’m going to get for Chanukah.  To be honest, I’m probably not in the mood to read much at the moment anyway, just from depressive lack of concentration and motivation, and the fact that the outside world is wintry and winding down for the winter holidays.

***

I should really steer clear of Twitter.  I get annoyed about political stuff even if I don’t particularly agree with what’s being attacked (why?  I don’t know.  I dislike argument for reasons rooted in my childhood and I have a lot of baggage about contemporary politics in general because of antisemitism), and the Doctor Who stuff is just… well, I clearly don’t watch the programme the same way most modern fans do.  I don’t use the same vocabulary either (literally).

To be honest, Twitter was never going to be a good match for me.  The word limit means it’s mostly used for silly jokes and angry rants.  I’m not sure how to engage more with contemporary fandom without it, though.  I’m nervous of joining an online forum for fear of losing my entire life if I go down that particular rabbit hole (particularly as I’m thinking of trying to stay off the computer more) and I’m not sure how different it would be to Twitter, except that political stuff would be off-topic.

It would be good to have some more social contact, preferably some that isn’t mental health/autism-based.  To be honest, I probably need more real-world/local friends.  It would be good if I could be friendlier with people from shul/shiur (synagogue/religious class).  I think a couple of people like me on some level, but I get scared to open up and I don’t know how to hold conversations.

I think I’m basically looking for friends.  That’s why I procrastinate online, on Twitter and so on.  I’m looking for someone who says something that really speaks to me, in my confused uniqueness.  But I mostly just find anger and hatred online.  I don’t really know what I would find in the real world (shul, shiur), because I don’t really have the courage to open up enough to make real friends.  To be honest, most of the time I don’t have the courage to speak to other people at all.

I feel terrible today.  Just lonely and alone (not the same thing) and depressed and despairing and drained, with occasional bursts of anxiety.  I just feel fundamentally weird and unlovable.  You can be lonely even in a house with other people.  I feel fragile and vulnerable and unable to function.

***

Alternatively: why is the world so angry?  Why won’t anyone just listen?

***

I feel sure that this week is going to be full of embarrassment, first at my job interview on Wednesday, which I feel sure that I’m going to mess up, whether through poor preparation or anxiety (I’m very worried I’m going to shake visibly during my presentation, as lately I can’t seem to talk to people at work without shaking, or nearly shaking), then at my autism screening, which I feel sure is going to end with being told I’m not autistic (and, implicitly, why do I keep fantasising that I’m autistic?  Which sounds like a psychopathology in itself.  Is there a term for thinking you’ve got a medical condition when you don’t have it?  Is it just hypochondria?  Munchausen Syndrome is when you think you have lots of rare disorders, I think, not just one issue).

In Jewish thought, embarrassing someone else is a terrible thing to do.  In some ways it is considered worse than murder, because you can only murder someone once, whereas you can embarrass them many times; worse, every time that they think of the embarrassment, it is like you are murdering them again.  I don’t really want to spend the week getting embarrassed.

I guess I shouldn’t preemptively feel embarrassed, it’s just hard not to be negative sometimes.  I suppose the feeling is that if I feel embarrassed in advance, at least I’m prepared.  That’s anxiety for you.  As I mentioned yesterday, the last few years Chanukah has been a time of relative calm, but this year all the things that are going on in my life have, if not ruined that, then at least made it more difficult to feel the positive feelings.

***

Don’t worry about me if I go quiet for a bit.  I’m going to try to cut down my internet time (although at the moment I’m not sure how, particularly if I’m applying for jobs).  If I’m not job hunting, I should be reading hard copy books or watching DVDs, not aimlessly internet surfing or procrastinating.

“It will all be the same in a hundred years”

I spent an hour or more after Shabbat (the Sabbath) working on my presentation for my interview.  Actually, I spent an hour occasionally jotting down ideas, but mostly panicking and procrastinating on Twitter (which I should never have joined – I don’t use it effectively to promote my blog, which was the whole purpose of being on it, although it’s probably just as well my recent blog posts haven’t had much of an audience, so out of touch am I with accepted fan wisdom.  Although it was weird to see a former Doctor Who script writer retweet a (non-Who, political) Tweet by a friend of my sister… small world).  I have something of an idea of the structure of the presentation and a few ideas, but it’s going to need a lot of work before Wednesday.  If the interview goes badly, at least it will be useful evidence for when I have my interview at The Network on Thursday (for employment support with mental health issues) and Barnet Mencap on Friday (for autism screening).

Shabbat itself was more of a struggle.  Friday night was good: I spent time feeling actually frum (religious) for once: I went to shul (synagogue), spent time on Torah study, reading Tanakh in Hebrew and looking up commentaries and Midrashim and things, at least to some extent.  I spent too much time after shul, but before dinner, lying on my bed tired and then I struggled to sleep when I went to bed properly, but on the whole I felt OK and I started re-reading The Transmigration of Timothy Archer, Philip K. Dick’s last and in some ways most beautiful book (I’m not quite sure why The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction thought it was the work of a “finished writer”).

Today was a lot harder.  I slept through the morning again and didn’t go to shul.  This upsets me, but I don’t know how to change it.  Dealing with social anxiety there is just too far down on my list of priorities at the moment, below dealing with less scary social anxiety situations, dealing with low self-esteem and finding a job I can actually do.

Then when I got up, there was stuff going on at home which I can’t talk about here, but which really brought me down.  I know I sound really open and honest here, but what you see is not all of me.  You see a lot of me, but nowhere near all, both in terms of how I feel now and what affects that, and what started all this (my mental health issues) in the first place.  And it’s very frustrating not being able to talk about that, especially now I’m not currently in therapy.  And then after Shabbat we had some more bad news, which I also can’t share here for different reasons, so that was also worrying and upsetting.

I did get to shul for Talmud shiur (Talmud class) (a really weird sugya (argument) about whether the souls of the dead know what happens in our world; after giving arguments back and forth, the Gemarah basically concludes that we just don’t know, which is rather frustrating) and Ma’ariv (the evening service).  The assistant rabbi asked if I was OK as I missed shiur on Thursday and I wasn’t sure whether to say I was at depression group.  Maybe next time there’s a clash (which won’t be until late January now), I should just message the shiur What’sApp group and instead of saying vaguely that I’m not able to come to shiur, as I usually do when I go to depression group instead, I should openly say I’m going to my depression support group.  At least then it forces me to be more open, but who knows how people will react.  (The shiur What’sApp group is very small, about six or eight members, the people I am most friendly with at shul.)

Good news: I have received that money I was owed from my shul and I’ve been taken back of the security rota.

I have a scarily busy, or just scary, week ahead: on Monday I should find out if I’m getting CBT on the NHS; on Wednesday I have my job interview (presentation; interview; cataloguing test); on Thursday I have my meeting at The Network about employment support and on Friday I’ve got my autism screening.  I’ve asked both my parents to come along to this.  Strictly speaking, they only need one parent, but I have wondered since my last assessment whether my Mum unconsciously tries to present me in a ‘good’ i.e. neurotypical light.  I guess it can’t hurt to have Dad there too even if that’s not the case.  And of course, Chanukah is in the background all week, although it will only be tricky on Friday, which will be a rush to get ready and light Chanukah lights after my screening and before Shabbat, which will start around 3.40pm.

I’ve been thinking recently about what my maternal grandparents used to say to me a lot, “It will all be the same in a hundred years.”  I’ve come across a similar quote from former British Prime Minister Arthur Balfour, “Nothing matters very much and most things don’t matter at all.”  I’ve been thinking about this with regard to the centenary of the end of World War I and with regard to Brexit, but also with regard to my own life.  I think some things do matter on a global scale and some things don’t, but it’s hard to tell what’s what sometimes.  Realistically, World War I did matter, and matters now one hundred years on, but realistically a lot of what I do won’t matter, now or in a century.  (Don’t ask me where Brexit fits in!)  Of course, from a religious point of view, everything matters, but I am not sure that that is the healthiest way to think about things when I’m stuck deeply in anxiety and despair.  It’s like Rebbe Simcha Bunim of Peshischa saying:

Everyone must have two pockets, with a note in each pocket, so that he or she can reach into the one or the other, depending on the need.  When feeling lowly and depressed, discouraged or disconsolate, one should reach into the right pocket, and, there, find the words: “For my sake was the world created.”  But when feeling high and mighty one should reach into the left pocket, and find the words: “I am but dust and ashes.”

(The former quote is from the Talmud, the latter Bereshit/Genesis 18.27.)

Maybe it’s good to think that things don’t matter if one is in danger of overthinking things and turning into an anxious mess.

Up and Down

Today was my last day at work.  I finished the work I was set early and as my boss is still away and hadn’t left me any extra work, there was no reason to stay, so I left at 2.15pm.  I’m glad to be away from the office.  The people were nice, but it was not a good environment for me: too noisy and busy and I was too shy to talk to anyone, although I guess that’s partly the problem of being a temp and not ‘really’ on the team.  Plus, I made too many big mistakes, although I think some of them were because I misunderstood how the search engine on LinkedIn functions rather than pure incompetence (or depressive poor concentration) as I initially thought.  The early finish meant I could do some Shabbat shopping before it got too late as well.  I’m glad I got through the whole three month contract without a single sick day or late arrival due to depression, although I nearly fell at the proverbial last post, as I overslept by nearly half an hour this morning, but I rushed and took the bus to the station instead of walking and arrived at work on time.

I’m glad that I’ve got an interview for another job lined up, but I’m already terrified about it.  The interview is scary and so is the cataloguing test.  I feel that my cataloguing skills have gone really rusty, especially as I haven’t really done big number-building in Dewey (building up the long shelfmarks) since my MA eight years ago.  However, the really terrifying thing is the ten minute presentation about which I have no idea what to say.  It doesn’t help that I can only vaguely remember what this job involves and I don’t have access to the online job description.  Plus, I’m sure I’m going to start shaking when I speak and that anxiety in itself can trigger shaking.

***

Someone at work asked me about librarianship and what I had to do for my MA and I panicked and my mind went blank.  This happens to me a lot: people ask me questions about myself and topics that I know a lot about and that mean a lot to me, but I panic and can’t think of anything.  I tend to dread those kinds of conversations, rather than ones where I can hurriedly pass back the conversation by asking the other person a question (or the same one they just asked me).  With Doctor Who it’s even worse, as I grew up in the nineties when the programme was not in production (except for one TV movie) and its memory was a laughingstock, so I feel embarrassed and uncomfortable and change the subject.

***

I’ve been put back on the security rota at shul (synagogue) even though I’ve said that I have health issues and can’t guarantee to get there.  I may have to be more explicit and say that I have mental health issues and can pretty much guarantee to not be there in the mornings at the moment because that’s when things are worst and the fact that I get to shiurim (classes) and services in the evenings is not proof that I am well enough to get there in the mornings.  I always hate to say things like that, though.  I get scared how people will react if I say I have mental health issues.

***

I filled in the questionnaire that I was supposed to fill in before my therapy assessment on Monday.  I’ve done so many of these things now that I did it in just a couple of minutes, whereas the first time I did one, at the counselling service at university, I took so long over it that the therapist told me to just stop wherever I’d got up to.  Here the difficulty is more focusing on the last twelve days when the depression has lasted, with occasional brief gaps, for fifteen or twenty years.  Other than that it’s just ticking the worst box for most of the questions.  In the past I would probably have agonised over exactly how depressed I’ve been in the last two weeks, but this time I just answered for how I’ve been feeling “lately” as I know there hasn’t been much variation for months; I also don’t want to distort the answers by focusing too much on one or two better days when the average is so awful.  I guess I’ve been in the NHS long enough to learn to play the system, although I’m not sure that anyone really pays much attention to these questionnaires anyway.

(Also, is it autistic of me to wonder why “filling in” a questionnaire is the same as “filling out” a questionnaire when they sound like they should be opposites?)

***

Problem: I want to interact with Doctor Who fans on Twitter, both because it’s fun and to promote my blog.  Unfortunately, many Doctor Who fans are very political, whereas I want to avoid politics at the moment (including/especially Brexit).  I’m not sure how to do this (and wasting more time online is possibly not a goal I should be exploring).  Although I’m wondering if I should be using my blog to review new Doctor Who episodes at all.  My better reviews tend to be written after multiple viewings, often long after the event, and I want to reserve that blog for high-quality writing with an eye to professional publication one day.  On the other hand, if I don’t review there, I only end up writing mini-reviews in the comments on my friends’ blogs or in response to emails/texts.

***

I ate too much unhealthy food at shiur (Torah class) again.  I don’t know why I do this.  I do the same on Shabbat (the Sabbath), particularly at shul (synagogue) at kiddush (the refreshments after the service) or seudah shlishit (the third Shabbat meal).  I thought it might be a social anxiety thing, that I eat to distract myself or to look busy so no one talks to me, but I over-eat on Shabbat at home too.  Although today I didn’t intend to drink what my family refers to as “fat coke” (non-diet coca cola), which I don’t even like much.  I am possibly coming down from a sugar rush now.

Shiur was interesting, but left me somewhat depressed again.  The assistant rabbi was talking about the importance of building an ‘inside,’ an internal world.  He said that’s his primary message in the Torah he teaches.  I worry I don’t have an inside.  I spend a lot of time in thought, but I don’t know that my thoughts are worthwhile and they go round and round inside my head without going anywhere.  Sharing many (not all) of my thoughts here is not keeping my “inside” inside me in the way the assistant rabbi said we should.  I can’t remember everything he said, but he was talking about challenges and how they are often about engaging with things externally only.  I feel attracted to someone and then I feel guilty because that’s focusing on externals.  I think that I really want to have a meaningful relationship with someone which would be an interior relationship, but maybe I’m wrong and I could only relate to someone in a superficial way.  I don’t think that was my experience when in a relationship, but that was for such a relatively short period and I wonder sometimes what would happen if I was married and was with someone for years.

The other thing that happened at shiur was the subject came up of the time when the rabbi offered to give £50 to tzedaka (charity) if someone could answer a particular question that he was sure no one would be able to answer and I answered it correctly.  I still feel embarrassed about that, without really knowing why, and then I feel guilty (??? I find it hard to understand or name what I feel a lot of the time, let alone why I feel it) that I feel embarrassed.

***

Well, my mood is sinking fast and I’m tired, so I probably ought to get ready for bed.  I doubt I will blog tomorrow as Shabbat starts at 3.45pm and I have a lot of preparation to do as I’m home alone (which reminds me that I need to take some food out of the freezer before I go to bed tonight), so I probably won’t have time, especially as I’m likely to sleep in.  Last time I did Shabbat alone I said I would get myself invited out for at least one meal if it happened again, but when it came to it, I chickened out and didn’t.  In the frum (religious Orthodox Jewish) world it’s considered normal and acceptable to ask for dinner invitations if home alone or visiting for Shabbat and people who were not raised religious often cite it as something they love about Judaism, but the only time I tried it (when I went to New York in the summer), I got turned down flat.  Normal frum community stuff just doesn’t seem to work out for me (see also getting set up on dates, or not).

List of Good Things

Things were a bit better today.  I’m in a rush, so a quick list.

  1. I have a job interview on 5 December!  I seem to have lost all the details about the job, though, and can’t really remember anything about it.  I’ve applied for several recently and I find I’ve forgotten the details five minutes after sending the application off, if not earlier.  It’s a cataloguing role at a London university.  I’ve a vague feeling it’s cataloguing rare books, but I’m not sure and am uncertain how I find out.  It’s not clear, but it looks like I have to give a ten minute presentation on how I as a cataloguer (!) can encourage students to use the library catalogue instead of Google (no idea yet).  Plus a sixty minute cataloguing test.  I don’t mind the latter, as it will at least prove to myself that I deserve the job, if they decide to give it to me (as if that will stop me thinking I can’t do it…), but ten minutes is a very long time.
  2. I will have to rearrange my appointment with The Network, which is currently on the same day.  Fortunately I hadn’t got around to confirming it yet.  The Network is… actually, I’m not sure, but it’s an NHS thing that’s supposed to help people with mental health issues find jobs or just be more active.  I’m guessing it’s an occupational therapy-type thing.
  3. The autism group workshop meeting on coping with anxiety in the workplace that I was hoping to go to next week has been cancelled, which is frustrating.
  4. I had dinner out with my sister and brother-in-law.  It was good, although the restaurant was noisy (even though it wasn’t very full) and I couldn’t always hear my sister.
  5. I got to Golders Green early for dinner and to kill time and get out of the rain I went into a bookshop, which had a sale on, so I got copies of Dr Bloodmoney by Philip K. Dick (the only one of the most acclaimed half dozen or so of Dick’s books that I haven’t yet read, which I guess means it’s downhill from here) and The Dispossessed by Ursula K. Le Guin.  I haven’t decided whether I have bought them myself or if my parents will give them to me as Chanukah presents.  In our family we don’t do surprise gifts, we either specify presents to be bought or say, “Here’s £X, buy what you want, give it to me and I’ll give it back to you as a gift.”  It sounds brutally mercenary when put like that.  The Jonathan Creek and Sherlock DVDs I mentioned retail therapy-buying the other week have already become Chanukah presents.
  6. Today was a better day overall.  Work was still hard at times, though, and I had to have an unprecedented three coffees to stay awake through the morning.

Anxiety and Anger

I have a triage phone appointment next Monday to discuss CBT.  I have to fill in a questionnaire first, so I hope I can find the time to do that with work and being home alone.  I’m nervous that things won’t go the way I want even though I have only a vague idea of what I want from this.   I guess I’m used to being disappointed.

I’ve been pretty depressed today and also quite anxious about things, silly things, like when am I going to finish doing the research for the Doctor Who book I’m writing?  When am I going to have time to read all the books I want to read and re-read (I’m a re-reader and a re-viewer.  I don’t really understand people who only read a good book once.  I find I need to read or watch a story at least twice to fix it in my mind, and like revisiting good stories and characters)?  And so on. There was a lot of anxiety about politics too.  I should keep off Twitter, but I need to use it to promote my Doctor Who blog, which I’m only doing very tentatively.  So I read a bit and post almost nothing and don’t follow anyone, which is the worst of all possible worlds.  I was also feeling some anger, about politics and other stuff.  I’ve fallen out with someone (quietly – he doesn’t know he upset me) and the organisation he’s involved with (which wasn’t involved this time, but has upset me in the past) seems tainted now and I’m struggling to process what I feel even several months down the line.  I’m not very proud of that, but it’s there.  And anger about politics, but it seems like everyone’s angry about politics at the moment, not that that’s a sign of anything good (see Twitter again).

One of the things I was angry about was my autism non-diagnosis.  I was told that I have some autistic symptoms (I think I have more than was recorded, because I now realise I do things like stimming very subtly and wasn’t really aware of what I was doing or that it was relevant at the time), but not autism, so I couldn’t have any help.  The NHS just told me to continue with psychotherapy and medication.  It’s like being told that you aren’t diabetic, but you have some symptoms of diabetes and you could still die from it, but we aren’t going to give you insulin or teach you how to manage your diet because you don’t tick the right boxes.  So that’s getting me angry today.

Up and Down

I didn’t speak to the lawyers as they didn’t phone after all.  I was ill (headache, then complete exhaustion) and so I didn’t phone them, so I’ve still got that hanging over me.  I guess the whole family has had this lawsuit hanging over us for two years or so now, like something out of Kafka, so maybe it’s not such a big change.  As I was still exhausted when Shabbat (the Sabbath) started, I didn’t go to shul (synagogue).

I did have a positive evening.  I spoke to my Dad about Brexit (my Dad is the only person I really feel comfortable talking about politics to).  It was a bit of a mutual despair society meeting.  Neither of us is hugely Europhile, for different reasons, but both of us think that staying in the EU was better than leaving, and that it’s no surprise that the EU is determined to punish Britain for wanting to leave, not least to deter countries like Greece and Italy for thinking that there’s an easy escape in the future.  My Dad thinks that a stock market crash is due soon (although, to be honest, I can’t remember a time when he didn’t think that a stock market crash was due soon) and we’re both worried by the rise of the far right and the return of antisemitism.  Politics depresses me, but sometimes it’s good to voice that depression.

Afterwards I did some Torah study and stayed in thought for a bit about politics, history and Jewish stuff.  I think I’ve mentioned before that, unlike many autistic people, I don’t monologue aloud to other people about my special interests because I had too many bad experiences doing that as a child, but I do do it in my head.  Sometimes it can get coloured by my mental health and become despairing, anxious and/or obsessive, particularly if I’ve read or heard something attacking something that matters a lot to me (e.g. Judaism, Israel, Doctor Who) and I need to ‘prove’ it’s wrong to myself, but on Friday I wasn’t doing that, I was just thinking.  Suddenly I realised I was feeling a bit happy for the first time in several months.

I spent a long time doing my hitbodedut spontaneous prayer.  I was thinking a lot about the passage repeated several times in the Talmud, that it doesn’t matter whether you do a lot or a little as long as you direct your heart to Heaven.  This was originally said in regard to sacrifices, but was later applied to Torah study and prayer.  I find it hard to hold on to this.  I know I don’t do enough (quantitatively or qualitatively) Torah study, prayer and good deeds, but maybe I’m not expected to do more given how depressed I am.  It is hard to tell and I wish there was some kind of objective measure whereby I could tell if I’m doing enough.  Ten minutes of Torah study most days doesn’t seem enough, even though I do try to get to a two shiurim (classes – see below) each week, but maybe I really can’t do more right now.  Likewise with davening (prayer), hurriedly racing through Mincha, Ma’ariv and sometimes a bit of Shacharit (afternoon, evening and morning prayers) with little kavannah (mindfulness) and without a minyan (congregation) is far from ideal, but maybe it’s all I can do.   I don’t know.

I stayed up late because of this, especially as, while not on a high exactly, I did feel somewhat alert and awake afterwards.  I couldn’t really read and was just thinking about things.

I had some other thoughts which I won’t go into here that made me feel better, but today I reflected negatively on some of what happened last night.  I overslept this morning and was drained and depressed again, spending ages lying in bed or sitting down, not doing anything except trying to find energy.  I felt that some of my thoughts from last night were potentially heretical or even idolatrous, but it is hard to know where I went wrong.  I ate my meals hurriedly (Mum and Dad were out for lunch, hence my being able to sleep in late without being woken for lunch) and dashed to shul for shiur and Ma’ariv, having initially felt that I would miss both.  I’m glad I went, as I would have beaten myself up if I had missed them.

I just finished another job application after Shabbat and am still pessimistic about my future.  I know it’s not clear whether I really am on the autistic spectrum, but I do have a lot of symptoms and certainly people with these symptoms do indeed struggle to hold down jobs and to build relationships and often end up permanently dependent on their families or the state, which does not encourage me.  I’m not sure what I can do, practically.  Without a diagnosis of autism, I’m limited in the help and “reasonable adjustments” that I can apply for in that area (although I’m not sure that there is a huge amount of help available for those diagnosed), but it’s quite clear that the NHS has no interest in paying for another assessment (to be fair, they’ve already paid for two) and a private one would be hugely expensive, especially as I’m not confident that I would get a clear diagnosis.  I think I have to learn to accept that I exist in a grey area where the autistic blurs into the neurotypical, and that I simply can’t receive any help.

To be honest, if I could deal with my depression and social anxiety and find the right job (and an understanding girlfriend/wife), the autism would be less of an issue.  But I do wonder if my boss in my previous job was right that I’m not cut out for contemporary librarianship, just as my current job has made clear that I’m not cut out for working in a noisy, contemporary office.  Both jobs have made clear, though, that I simply can’t work effectively while I’m so depressed, but as I am not considered sick enough to receive benefits, I’m not sure what my options are.  To be honest, I don’t want to live off the state (or my parents); I want to be doing something productive IF I can find something I can do competently without feeling in a terrible depressed-anxious-autistic state the whole time.

Thinking today about my religious thoughts from yesterday, I realised once again that I am desperate for love and intimacy.  In different ways, that desire drives my engagement with potential partners, friends, my religious community, HaShem (God) and even my thoughts about having pets.  I’m not sure if one can really be intimate with a pet exactly, even a dog, but maybe I’m wrong, having never had pets other than goldfish, which are not really very responsive and certainly they would be a receptacle for my love, even if they can’t truly love me back.  The funny thing is, though, that when I try to conceive of the afterlife, it is of being alone, either being alone feeling shame reflecting on the negative aspects of my life (Gehennom (purgatory)) or close to HaShem but no one else (Heaven).  It doesn’t occur to me that I would be with other people in Heaven, even though the Talmud does seem to suggest this, although Jewish afterlife beliefs are intentionally vague compared with most religions.  Presumably, like Jean-Paul Sartre, I think that Hell is other people.  But this fits ill with my desire for love and intimacy.

I finished re-reading The Empty Chair: Finding Hope and Joy: Timeless Wisdom from a Hasidic Master Rebbe Nachman of Breslov.  The penultimate quote is one of my favourites: “If you believe that you can damage, then believe that you can fix.  If you believe that you can harm, then believe that you can heal.”  It can be hard to believe that sometimes.

NHS Woes

I’m just back from the psychiatrist.  It was not great.

The doctor had a thick Eastern European accent and I couldn’t always understand her.  She couldn’t always understand me either and I worried what might get lost in translation (she certainly misheard ‘autism’ as ‘OCD’ at one point).  She said I should stay on clomipramine even though it’s not doing much and the pharmacy is finding it hard to get hold of, as she thinks my OCD will get worse if I come off it (clomipramine helps OCD as well as depression).  She said she will write to my GP and tell him what to prescribe if they can’t get any more.  I think she said sertraline or venlafaxine, neither of which, to my lay knowledge, are like clomipramine (they’re new generation drugs, SSRIs; clomipramine is an older tricyclic) and both of which I think I’ve been on before (I’ve been on so many antidepressants I can’t remember which ones I’ve had.  My notes should say, but my experience is that my notes are incomplete, if not outright wrong, (“We love the NHS!”)).  The psychiatrist said that medication won’t help me much anyway (a previous psychiatrist said much the same) and encouraged me to get some CBT.  She did at least tell me how I could have that on the NHS with a relatively short waiting time.

I did ask about alternative diagnoses.  She said that if the Maudsley Hospital assessed me and said I’m not on the autistic spectrum, there isn’t a lot else that can be done, as they are the experts.  I was rather afraid of that.  I did ask if there is anything else that I might have to explain my condition, but she was pretty insistent on it just being treatment-resistant depression.  I feel that the psychiatrists must have missed something.  I guess I feel like I have psychiatric man flu.  I feel like ‘mere’ depression shouldn’t go on this long, or be this painful.  Maybe I just have as many prejudices about depression (and myself) as non-sufferers.

That was that, really.  She said she could discharge me or see me again in three months.  I opted for the latter, as I’m worried my condition will worsen when my contract ends in two weeks time and I remembered how hard it was to get into the system to get this appointment.  I reasoned that cancelling an existing appointment if a miracle happens and I feel a lot better will be much easier than getting a new appointment if I feel worse.  The receptionist who I was supposed to tell about the appointment hadn’t got a 2019 diary yet (don’t ask why they’re still using hardcopy diaries.  “We love the NHS!”) and wrote my name in the back of the 2018 diary.  My Mum, mindful of the problems I had getting this appointment (the phone calls and missing letters), was worried that I would get forgotten.  Unfortunately, the receptionist became angry and the confrontation became heated, making me feel uncomfortable (OK, making me wish the ground would swallow me up).  I think my Mum might write to complain.  I’m not a libertarian, but if I was the whole incident would seem to confirm a view of the NHS as an inefficient, under-equipped, unhelpful and bureaucratic organisation.  We love the NHS!

My Mum reminded me that I’m apparently supposed to have a meeting at The Network on 5 December.  So far as I can tell, this is a slightly Orwellian-named service for occupational therapy and support with work or other community-based activity for those with mental health issues.  It is perhaps worth pursuing, if they ever send me a letter telling me about my appointment.

I was so upset by the everything that happened that it didn’t occur to me for another hour afterwards that the appointment had finished early enough that I could have gone back to work for an hour or two.  I’m paid per hour, so it doesn’t make much difference to my employer, but the money might have been useful to me.  Now it’s too late to go back, which is probably just as well, as I still feel tense.  Tea has been consumed (if chicken soup is Jewish penicillin, then tea is English prozac), but retail therapy will probably be required after the stresses of yesterday and today (regarding yesterday’s events, my boss emailed me back from honeymoon saying I should just leave the data as it is.  I still think that she must regret hiring me, but my Mum told me not to mind-read).  I plan on buying cheap second-hand box sets of some of Sherlock and Jonathan Creek and possibly a volume of The Complete Peanuts as I fancy crime dramas to alternate with the Doctor Who episodes I’m watching for the book I’m writing (one could probably make the argument that Jonathan Creek is closer to the spirit of the prose Sherlock Holmes stories than Sherlock).  Other than that, I should use my free afternoon to try to self-refer for CBT and to catch up with emails, as much clearing out my inbox than actually writing to anyone.  I hope to get to shiur (Torah class) tonight too.

Man Out of Time

You find me on the horns of a dilemma.  After yesterday I felt I should spend my downtime after work in a quiet, not-over-bright room, avoiding excessive stimulation, because of autism (or whatever it is that makes working in a noisy, electric-lit open plan office staring at a computer screen all day so painful for me).  This is to improve my mental health.  Unfortunately, my mental health also requires me to write about my feelings to try to deal with them.  So I’m caught between autism (stay off the computer) and depression (blog).  Hmm.  At any rate, if you write one of the blogs I read and my comments and likes become less frequent, then it’s nothing personal, I’m just trying to cut down on internet time (which should also help with depression, as internet time becomes procrastination until I see something that triggers depression, usually about politics or religion).

I had a very stressful day.  I had some minor changes to my routine because of the evacuation of Moorgate Station, but while changing trains at King’s Cross instead, I decided it would be quicker to walk up the stationary escalator as if it was a staircase rather than deal with the slowness and crowding on the moving escalator (there were three escalators, up, down and stationary).  About halfway up I suddenly had a panic attack, or something approaching one, and felt I was going to fall off and plummet to my death or at least severe injury.  I somehow forced myself to keep climbing, while having visions of being stuck halfway up, unable to go up or down and I did eventually get to the top, but then on the platform overcrowding meant that I was standing right on the edge and I nearly had another panic attack fearing that I was going to fall in front of the train.  I don’t know what triggered all of that.  Usually anxiety for me is tied strongly to either social interactions or OCD thoughts, not straightforward fears like these.  I was still shaken when I got to work and didn’t really calm down until nearly lunch time.

I remained anxious much of the day.  I did not cope any better with the noisy environment and wanted to shout at people to shut up.  There are a couple of people who pace up and down the office while on the phone, presumably on the grounds that if they sit still and make a call they annoy a few people around them, but if they walk up and down they can annoy the whole office.  I really want to pace up and down behind them making exaggerated imitative gestures like Harpo Marx, but so far I have lacked the courage to do so.

I felt overwhelmed all day.  It’s hard to tease out what made me feel so bad; I would guess noise, social anxiety, fear that I was doing my job badly and going to get in trouble with my boss and maybe some other things (I’m trying to work out how I feel about the fluorescent lighting, autistically-speaking.  I’m not sure).  As it went on, it got worse, because the more depressed and anxious I got, the harder it became to work, which increased the fear that I was going to screw it all up and get in trouble, which made me more depressed and anxious.  I ended up wanting to self-harm and biting my fingers, although that may have been autistic stimming/attempted self-soothing as much as self-harm.  I did think some masochistic thoughts about being hurt.

My boss is now on holiday until after my contract expires, so if my work is bad, she’ll only be able to complain behind my back.  Unless it’s really bad and they sue me for my wages.

On the way home I reflected that I don’t fit in to the world.  I feel like a man in the wrong time.  I don’t think this is my world, but, realistically, I don’t think it ever was.  I’m not nostalgic for a real or imagined past.  I used to think my utopia lay in the future, but now I’m not sure.  As an Orthodox Jew I believe in a utopian future, but it is hard to see how we could get to it from here and even if it happens, I can’t see myself living in utopia, being happy and carefree.

I also reflected that I envied the wicked, but then corrected that thought.  I don’t envy the wicked, I envy people who are joyous and content.  I’m not entirely convinced that there are many wicked people among the truly joyous.  I think joy comes from meaning and love and I don’t think the wicked have that (hence they chase money, sex, power, fame and other inadequate substitutes).  I don’t really have meaning in my life.  I thought I did, but I don’t.  I don’t regret keeping the mitzvot (commandments), but they don’t bring me meaning and joy the way they are supposed to.  I know the Midrash and the Talmud would say that this is my fault, but I don’t know what I’m supposed to do differently (“If it is an empty matter, it is from you,” “If someone says ‘I sought and did not find,’ do not believe him” – I’m quoting from memory, but that’s the gist).

I guess I do have love, but it’s always fraught with difficulty.  The friends who care most about me are the furthest geographically and I rarely, if ever, get to spend time with them.  I don’t think I will ever experience the special loves of marital love or the love for children.  As for my family, they do care about me, but there is a barrier of communication between us.  I’m not sure if it’s autistic vs. neurotypical or very depressed vs. more mentally healthy or just plain old personality and communication differences (it’s not male vs. female as I have trouble understanding and being understood by my Dad as much as my Mum and my sister), but it’s hard to understand them and to make myself understood by them.

So, that’s where I am tonight.  Not really very different from every other workday night.  Overstimulated, exhausted, depressed.  Not anxious, but I will be in twelve hours.  Oh, and I still haven’t heard when or where my psychiatric appointment is other than “some time next Thursday (8 November).”  I just sent another letter, not as angry as it should be, but I used bold italics.  I somehow kept a straight face when typing, “Thank you for your help.”

Going Round in Circles

I managed to phone the private clinic where I’d like to try and do some CBT to work on my self-esteem and social anxiety.  They said I need to be seen by their psychiatrist first who would assess my needs and the most appropriate type of therapy.  When I said I was seeing an NHS psychiatrist in two weeks, they said to go to that appointment and try to get a referral.  I phoned the NHS psychiatrist too, twice, to have another go at finding out when my appointment is, but I got voicemail both times.  I didn’t bother to leave a message as I know they won’t get back to me.

I’m nervous about being pushed down the wrong therapy path at the private clinic or having my understanding of my needs ignored by either the private clinic or the NHS psychiatrist.  Worried about being told something about myself that doesn’t fit my self-image, although that image is so confused that I’m not sure what being told something that doesn’t fit would entail.  (I think I have autism, except when I don’t.)  There’s something horrible about being told you aren’t who you think you are.  It’s why identity politics is so much more explosive than ordinary politics.  I guess I identify myself on some level as being depressed and autistic, which makes it hard to move on from the former and from my non-diagnosis of the latter.  I guess the only thing I would feel as strongly is if someone said I wasn’t really Jewish.  I’ve had some good psychiatrists and therapists over the years, but also some who have blundered around telling me what they think is wrong with me and what I should do without listening to me (plus one or two who have moved from one group to the other).  It’s quite scary not knowing which category the next appointment will be in and, in the case of the NHS, not easily being able to change and find someone else.

I’m trying to work on the job application for a librarian role at an major public institution that I started last weekend and have not had enough energy to finish yet.  It’s hard.  I feel pretty useless and unlikely to get the job, but I feel I ought to try now I’ve started, even though I’ve subsequently found other potential jobs I have (marginally) more chance of getting.  I hate questions like being told to show I have “Demonstrable enthusiasm for the Library and Information Management profession and an interest in the information needs of a … Library” or show an “Aptitude for enquiry work using a range of information resources and tools, including the ability to find, evaluate and explain information”, both questions to be answered with relation to specific tasks and situations and with reference to the required characteristics for the job.

Planet NHS, Planet Autism

On Planet NHS:

Me: 

Hi,

I was referred to the psychiatrist by my doctor some weeks ago.   In early October, I spoke on the phone to Mr …. who referred me through the … Team.  However, I have not been sent an appointment letter yet.

My mother phoned last Tuesday and was told I have an appointment for 8 November, but the person she spoke to would not tell her the time of the appointment, saying it would be written in the letter.  However, I have still not received any letter.

Please could you let me know as soon as possible when my psychiatrist appointment is, as I need to arrange time off with my employer.

Thank you and regards,

Luftmentsch

Him:

8th November with Dr …

Me:

Hi …

Thank you, but please could you let me know the time of my appointment on 8 November with Dr …

Regards,

Luftmentsch

Him:

A letter will be sent to you with all the details once booked on the system.

Me: 

Please could you let me know when this is likely to be as I need to clear the time off with my employer.

Regards,

Luftmentsch

Him:

8th November will be the day.

Me:

[Stunned silence.]

This is why I get so annoyed at the idolatry of the NHS that goes on.  If, as someone said, the NHS is the religion of the British people, then I’m definitely agnostic.

Meanwhile, back in the real world:

Work was OK today, or at least not unbearably awful.  It was hard, but I felt a bit more together and I got by without any coffee at work (although I had one at home at breakfast and a couple of cups of tea) and without crying.  I did shake slightly when talking to my boss, and when drinking tea (both of which were completely due to psyching myself out by realising how bad it would be to start shaking).  My boss goes on honeymoon on Tuesday and will be away until after my contract is due to finish and her boss finished working there today, so my boss from next week will be someone I know slightly, but not well.  Change makes me anxious (another autistic trait).

A previous psychiatrist, the one who felt I was somewhere on the autistic spectrum (but didn’t give me a proper assessment or diagnosis) once told me that “You can’t understand people, so stop trying.”  It’s possible that my whole life has been trying to understand people, like the robot Commander Data in Star Trek: The Next Generation.  At any rate it explains why I ended up on the humanities/social sciences side, unlike many autistic people, despite being good at science at school.

Other autism-related thoughts today: I mentioned yesterday having a few geeky but non-autistic friends at school.  One very much fitted Tony Attwood’s idea of a non-autistic mentor friend who helps with socialisation.  We were friends from age five and are still occasionally in touch, although we haven’t seen each other in person in some years.  We were best friends until we were about fourteen, when we drifted apart a bit.  I remember being upset when we were told to write a passage about our best friend in Hebrew class and he read his out and it was about someone other than me.  It would be an exaggeration to say that that was a key moment in my life, but it probably was another step down a very long road.  As Attwood suggests, once the mentor friend is gone (in my case this really happened when I went to university and he, although going to the same university, went on a gap year first), social integration becomes much harder, particularly as in my case it coincided with living away from home for the first time.

I realised today that I had such limited social interactions in my first job, that it was no wonder that I found it so much easier than my current and immediately previous one.  I rarely had to deal with more than one or two people at a time, my boss was understanding, I rarely saw other staff members, library users were mature adults and the library was quiet (perhaps too quiet as I could get lonely sitting in the basement all afternoon).  Plus I did three days a week of three hours each, very different to my hours in my other jobs which are much closer to full-time.  Even so, I sometimes went off to cry in the toilet or didn’t get to work because I had a panic attack on the way.  This, I think, disguised my autistic socialisation problems and made me think I had workarounds until I got to my previous job, especially as university was also a somewhat protected environment.  It was only in my previous job, when my socialisation problems became more apparent, when I started thinking seriously about being misdiagnosed when told that I was not autistic, and thinking that the misdiagnosis could matter rather than being an abstract problem.  In particular, it became obvious that I have problems with certain types or levels of noise and with interpersonal interactions beyond simple shyness and that I’m not great with vague or implicit instructions or dealing with grey areas.

I also think my sensory sensitivity has been greater than I realised previously.  As a child, I found wool uncomfortable.  I often find wearing my watch uncomfortable (sometimes at work I take it off and put it in my pocket) and I’ve gone through periods of thinking that way about shoes.  I think mostly I’ve just soldiered on until I get inured to these feelings, although I still avoid wearing wool against my skin.