“You should never have your best trousers on when you go out to fight for freedom and truth”

Today is Lag B’Omer and the end of the mourning period part of the Omer, at least according to the minhag (custom) I follow, so I’m clean-shaven again and can listen to music without worrying about anyone asking why I’m doing it (even though my rabbi mentor told me that people suffering from depression can listen to music, I feel uncomfortable about my parents or anyone from my shul (synagogue) catching me doing it).  Shaving again does lift my mood somewhat; at least I’m not so itchy.  Still, it’s always seemed a slightly weird day to celebrate, especially as I don’t actually believe Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai wrote The Zohar, which is ostensibly the main cause for celebration, and another difference between me and my community (although I just read that the connection between Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai’s death and the celebrations is very recent – as in Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai lived in the second century, but the connection was only made in the seventeenth or eighteenth).

The other thing happening today is the most pointless election in the history of British democracy, elections to the European Parliament, an organisation we were supposed to have left weeks ago and which we may still, in some sense at least, leave, or at least lose our voting rights in (which would probably be worse than either fully leaving or not leaving at all).  It’s basically being used as a protest vote by everyone annoyed with either the government or the opposition, which is pretty much everyone in the country.

I was always brought up to believe that there I have a moral duty to vote at every election, however pointless it might seem because “people died to win you the vote.”  Ignoring the fact that this is arguably a weird version of the sunk cost fallacy and that, as Oscar Wilde wrote in The Portrait of Mr W.H., the fact that someone died for an idea does not make it true, I’ve always stuck to that, but today I can’t.  I just can’t bring myself to vote for any of the parties.  Not the Conservatives, with their incompetence and infighting, not the Lib Dems and Change UK with their insistence on overturning the referendum result (I voted remain, but I think that overturning the referendum will be far worse for our democracy than leaving the EU even without a deal), and certainly not for the gang of Marxist antisemites running the Labour Party or the racist neo-Nazis of UKIP.  I can’t bring myself to vote for the Brexit Party either, so I spoilt my ballot by writing pretty much what I wrote here only more succinctly.

I feel really bad about it, like I done something not so much wrong as sacrilegious.  Like I’ve somehow offended against the spirit of democracy and if Britain ends up as a dictatorship, it will be my fault (whereas in reality I felt I was making the only gesture I could reasonably make towards saving British democracy, if that’s not pretentious).

Anyway, enough politics.

***

I had a sudden burst of religious OCD, worrying about some kashrut issues.  I’m not quite sure where this came from all of a sudden.  I know that OCD thoughts never go away fully and one has to be vigilant not to give in to the compulsions or checking that goes with them, but I’m not sure why they have suddenly flared up today.  I checked the first one with my rabbi mentor, but when the second thought came, I realised I was falling back into checking and (so far) resisted asking the question.  In OCD, as in politics, the price of freedom is eternal vigilance.

***

Dayenu is a song from the Pesach seder.  After describing the Egyptian slavery and exodus, we sing “If [God] had brought us out of Egypt, but not wrought justice on them, it would have been enough.  If He had wrought justice on them, but not on their gods, it would have been enough.”  And so on, for fifteen verses, saying how even if God had not done everything he did for us, but only some of it, we would still be grateful (it’s fun to sing, though).

I realised I do a kind of reverse dayenu.  “If I was only a geek and not autistic, it would be enough (to stop me getting married or building a career).  If I was only autistic and not depressed, it would be enough.”  And so on.  I need to find a way to stop doing this.  It may be entirely true that I am not going to build a career or get married, but endlessly repeating my mantra (as my therapist used to say) doesn’t make anything better and probably makes things worse.  I probably do something similar regarding fitting in to my community; I did that again today after reading something on a frum site online that I really disagreed with and feeling that I will never be accepted in the community, but don’t fit in in secular Western society either.

***

Speaking of which, shiur was difficult again.  First there was my stupidity: someone who goes passed me on the way there and offered me a lift, which I took out of politeness, even though I was literally just down the road from the assistant rabbi’s house.  He saved me all of two minutes.  Then I somehow ended up trying to get out the car while the engine was possibly still going and certainly before the handbreak was on.  I just get so nervous around people that I end up doing stupid things.

Then I had another “Is this really the right community for me?” moment, when I just do not believe some of the things the assistant rabbi was says; I don’t believe Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai wrote the Zohar and I don’t believe that all aggadata (non-legal material in the Talmud, but in this case specifically narratives about biblical characters and sages of the Talmudic era) literally happened.  That’s a relatively minor point on one level, because I do believe that these narratives, whether they happened or not, were written and preserved because they are meaningful, but I just feel like a dissident or a spy in a hostile country sometimes, where if I’m not careful I’ll slip and be ostracised.

But what really upset me was the substance of the shiur, which was about our ability to understand Torah being proportionate to our effort (in a supernatural way i.e. the reward is disproportionately greater than the amount of toil, as a reward from HaShem) and that toiling in Torah study is a goal in itself.  I feel I just don’t understand anything, certainly not Talmud, but I don’t feel I can toil any more.  I know I hardly do any Torah study at the moment, it’s just so hard when I often feel depressed and I’m trying to learn how to juggle mental illness and working/job hunting, and chores and community stuff and davening (prayer), which I still haven’t learnt after a couple of years of working several days a week (when I actually have a job).  Maybe I could/should do more.  I’ve been trying to do more just the last few days.  But I never really understand Talmud, no matter how hard I try.  I can understand Jewish philosophy sometimes, but that’s not considered important or particularly worthwhile.  But I can’t understand Mishnah and Gemarah and it’s hard to make the effort to try.  Even with Tanakh (Hebrew Bible), which I used to love, it’s hard to really connect and find anything meaningful (and, again, it’s not really considered meaningful study for an adult male).  I used to find a chiddush of my own on the sedra (innovative comment of my own devising on the weekly Torah portion).  I think I did that every week for about four years, but then the depression intervened and my inspiration dried up and I couldn’t think of anything.  I haven’t been able to get back into it.

I just feel so separate from God, it’s hard to make the effort to study, particularly when I don’t understand and often can’t connect it to anything in my life.  There’s so little meaning in my life, and I have so little drive to do anything, other than perhaps to write.  Maybe I’ve just got lazy.  When I was too depressed to work, I studied Torah every day (OK I did skip a bit in 2003-04), often for an hour, I think.  Nowadays I’m struggling to do half an hour.  When the depression is bad, even five or ten minutes can be hard.  So maybe it is my fault.  Maybe I’m just lazy or maybe I just don’t care any more.  I don’t know.  I’m just blaming myself more now, which isn’t going to help me make a positive change, like doing more Torah study.

This all made me think of the Gemarah (Shabbat 31a) about the six questions you get asked after death.  Supposedly when you die, you get asked six questions by the Heavenly Court.  They are:

  1. Were you honest in your business dealings?
  2. Did you fix times for Torah learning?
  3. Did you engage in procreation?
  4. Did you hope for salvation?
  5. Did you engage in the dialectics of wisdom?
  6. Did you (intellectually) differentiate between one thing and another?

However, this only helps you if you have awe of HaShem.

This is before getting judged for all your deeds.  This builds up a sort of character profile of whether you had the right life philosophy before they examine all your deeds.  Also, the whole thing – questions, court etc. – is deeply metaphorical and not literally what happens, which is probably beyond our comprehension.)

Of these, questions two, five and six are all about Torah study, so I’m pretty much stuffed there.  (Apparently the Vilna Gaon saw all six as allusions to the six orders of the Mishnah, so they’re all about Torah study.)  I’m obviously not going to succeed with number three either.  I don’t know if I hope for salvation enough.  I very much doubt that I have enough awe of HaShem.  I don’t really think about Him much.

I do feel, sometimes, what is the point of my even being Jewish?  Because I’m so bad at it.  I don’t learn enough and I don’t daven enough, or with kavannah (mindfulness) or with a minyan (community), I don’t do chessed (kindness) or any of the things I should do.  I don’t connect with God.  I don’t have a worthwhile job.  I don’t live in Israel.  I don’t really know why I’m here.

There was probably more I wanted to say, but I’ve just descended down into depression and self-loathing again, after being OK most of the day (albeit not achieving very much either).  I want to eat ice cream, but I shouldn’t (that word again) given that I ate junk at the shiur and will doubtless eat a huge amount of junk over Shabbat, but this has just upset me.  And now I’ve spent an hour writing this when I should be winding down for the night.

I really am a bad advert for Orthodox Judaism.  Please don’t judge all frum (religious) Jews by me.

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Doc Soc-ing Again

I’m not quite sure how coherent this is going to be, so bear with me.  Perhaps I will come back tomorrow and add more.  I’m feeling exhausted from a massively draining day; it would have been draining for anyone, but even more so with autism and depression.  But I need to set things down so that I can sleep; as usual, I’m writing for myself as much as anyone else.

I struggled to sleep last night after helping with post-Pesach (Passover) tidying.  I think I fell asleep around 4.00am.  After five hours of sleep, I was up again to go to Oxford for the thirtieth anniversary party for the Doctor Who Society.  When I was there it was the Oxford University Doctor Who Society, but I think it lost the university bit a few years ago when the proportion of students in the society dropped below the critical threshold.  A lot of what happened to me at Oxford was fairly miserable and a previous trip back to the city a number of years ago left me upset, but the Doc Soc (as we called it then) was one of the few places I felt comfortable and accepted, so I wanted to make the effort to go and show my support.  Plus I am a former president.  I know I only did a term, but I still count!

When I arrived in Oxford I spiralled down quite quickly into depression.  It doesn’t help that the bus station is right by my old college.  My college was not the site of good times.  I actually spent much of the day trying to avoid being anywhere I could see it and only consented to have it in my sight (from a distance) at the end of the day when I was feeling better.  Wandering around the town, killing time before the party, I was just feeling that I didn’t belong in Oxford, that I messed up my time there, that the city was full of undergraduates having fun and I was lonely and miserable the whole time I was a student.  I think I even wondered vaguely if should just turn around and go home.

I killed time for a bit until 2pm, when the party was due to start and eventually found the confidence to go in.  The room was packed with people and, again, I started to wonder if I had made the right decision, immediately feeling rather overwhelmed and anxious.

I won’t give a blow by blow account of what happened, mainly because I can’t.  Everything blurs together.  I know I must have stayed feeling awkward and depressed for a bit, but gradually I loosened up and was able to speak to some friends from my Oxford days.  After a while, I was able to get the confidence to speak to one or two people who I recognised from blogs I follow, which led on to being introduced to people who I knew from commenting on those blogs, even though I didn’t know that they were Oxford people too.  I’m not quite sure how I managed to do that, but somehow I did.  I actually managed to speak to quite a few people over the afternoon and mostly didn’t shake, although I was careful when pouring drinks.  It helped that I was aware that this was an environment where people who are neurodivergent, eccentric or just plain different were more likely to be present and accepted than in other environments that I find myself in (work, shul (synagogue), dates).  Someone said she saw me in the street on the way there and thought that I looked that I might be the type of person who would be going to the Doctor Who Society which amused me.  I obviously look geeky even when not wearing my Doctor Who scarf (I decided that the ‘smart casual’ clothing instructions precluded both cosplay and Doctor Who t-shirts, although few other people felt the same way).

There were various events during the afternoon, including a talk on the history of the society by my friend M., a quiz (which my team did reasonably well at although I was inexplicably stricken by social anxiety when the time came to call out results and stayed silent) and various visual presentations that I should probably not go into too much detail about here.

It was a very enjoyable afternoon, but I was thoroughly exhausted by the end, especially as I stood for four hours as there weren’t enough chairs for the number of people.  I managed to get back to London where my Dad picked me up from the station, but I found the journey home painful, as he was making small talk, which I find challenging at the best of times, but I was too ‘peopled out’ to really deal with it.  I read the blog of a carer for a child with more severe autism than I have, and he (the child) apparently tries to stop people talking to him on the way home from school; I could see his point.  I don’t have extreme sensory sensitivities, but sometimes light or noise can be really irritating, and when I need to crash and have ‘alone time’ it is painful to be dragged into conversation, especially small talk.

Then, when I got home, there was some post-Pesach religious OCD anxiety.  I won’t go into details, but I still don’t know if I did the right thing about that.  I was caught (as I usually am with these things) between what I felt was right in the abstract and what I felt I should do to avoid upsetting my parents.  It does underline to me that even though my relationship with my parents is reasonably good at the moment (although it could/should be better and that it is at least partly my fault), there are just gulfs of understanding between us, usually neurotypical brain vs. autistic brain or mentally healthier brain vs. more mentally ill brain, but also sometimes religious gulfs.  My parents are fairly religious, but sometimes there are just gaps in understanding or attitude to Judaism and halakhah (Jewish law).  I don’t want to give examples and probably I shouldn’t really say any more.  I suppose most people are not clones of their parents, even if they have a lot in common.  It’s just hard to bridge the gaps sometimes.

So that was the most social day I’ve had in a very long time.  People are probably expecting me to say I came home and crashed in front of Doctor Who, but I actually watched Blake’s 7 (Blake’s 7, I should probably say for those who don’t know, was Doctor Who‘s unofficial sister show in the late 70s and early 80s.  There were no direct crossovers, but they shared a lot of actors, writers, directors, props, costumes etc.).

Tomorrow is my date with L. (arranged via the values-based dating agency), so I ought to go to bed and get some rest.

Night Before Oxford Nerves

This is an insomnia post, a rather rambling post written to try to empty my mind of thoughts and to tire myself out.  Apologies if it’s less focused that normal.  I don’t feel in the least bit tired, but I have to be up reasonably early tomorrow to go to Oxford for The Doctor Who Society’s thirtieth anniversary.  To be honest, I’m rather scared about going back to Oxford.  I’ve only been to Oxford once since graduating and that ended with me feeling rather depressed about my time there, thinking of all the times I was lonely and suicidal in the city of dreaming spires and lost causes.  And that’s just the city; I’m more nervous about seeing people I haven’t seen for over a decade (will they remember me?  Will I seem like a failure?) and being in a room of people I don’t know.  Plus, there will be one or two people there who are aware of my online persona, but who I have never met, so it’s scary to think of meeting them (I’ll be the guy in the skullcap).  I worry about being a disappointment if we meet in person or discovering that they aren’t actually following me any more.  But I have a fund of goodwill towards the Doc Soc (as we called it in my day; I think the current crop of undergrads call it Who Soc).  A vastly disproportionate amount of the good times I had at Oxford (there were some) were spent there.  I’m not sure I would go back for a JSoc (Jewish Society) event and I certainly don’t bother going back for college events.

It’s weird to think that my matriculation into Oxford was nearly eighteen years ago, half my lifetime.  I hope I’ve changed and grown since then, at least in a positive way.  It’s hard to tell.  I know myself better, and I think I can deal with my emotional issues better.  During my time at Oxford I was very depressed and almost certainly autistic, but I didn’t know how to cope with depression and I didn’t even think that I might be autistic.  Now I do have the awareness to understand and cope with those things better, although there is still a lot of room for improvement.  I do wish I had a clearer idea of where I’m going with my career and relationships, though.  I think I really do want to try to build a career as a writer, but it’s hard to take the plunge and I don’t think it would help that I want to write about very varied topics (Doctor Who, Judaism, mental health, autism).  As for relationships, I have a date with L. on Monday, but I’m trying not to think about it, as when I do I feel pessimistic.  Blind dates are scary anyway and with this one we have the added complexity of knowing each other when we were younger and trying to look past that at where we are now.

Backtracking somewhat, the last two days of Pesach (Passover) were OK.  No significant OCD, which was good, but I was quite depressed at times.  I went to shul (synagogue) in the evenings and also Friday morning, but not Saturday morning.  I wish I could get to shul more in the mornings, at least on Shabbat (the Sabbath) and Yom Yov (festivals), but I’m trying not to beat myself up for not going.  Goodness knows what everyone else makes of my sporadic attendance.  I suppose they think I’m not very frum (religious) or that I daven (pray) elsewhere.  I know I shouldn’t care what other people think of me, but I do.  Still, I got through a whole Pesach without a major OCD anxiety incident or an argument with my parents, so maybe things are looking up after all.  Otherwise Yom Tov was the usual: davening, eating, sleeping, Torah study and reading a bit.

Yom Tov was overshadowed by scary events either side of it: the abduction and rape of a woman from my local area beforehand (she is Jewish, although not so far as I’m aware anyone I know or have a connection with although I may discover otherwise in the coming days – the Jewish community is small and interlinked) and then the shooting at a shul in California, which is scary and disturbing.

Well, I should probably have another go at sleeping, given that I need to be up in six and a half hours.

The ‘About Three Quarters of the Way Through Pesach’ Post

Up late again today, despite going to bed a little earlier.  No strong anxiety or OCD, but I’m still in a moderately deep depression with no obvious triggers other than the stress of the time of year, and perhaps too much ‘peopling’ (although that was nearly a week ago now).  Still feeling wiped out today, although the cold symptoms have subsided, and I feel apprehensive about going to Oxford on Sunday for the Doctor Who Society’s thirtieth anniversary get together (there will be lots of people I don’t know!  And probably some who I do know, but haven’t seen for years!) followed by therapy on Monday (a one-off session at the moment via Skype, with my psychodynamic therapist, as I felt the need to talk some issues through) and then my date with L. in the afternoon, which is a lot of anxiety-provoking peopling in rapid succession, particularly if I manage to get to shul (synagogue) quite a bit over Yom Tov (the end of Passover, tonight until Saturday night).

Thinking morose thoughts about the world.  Lots of Jews think that this is ‘the generation of the footsteps of Mashiach (Messiah),’ the final generation before the start of the Messianic Age.  I have no idea if this is true.  The Talmud says that the period before the coming of the Mashiach will be a generation poor in Torah scholarship, arrogant, lacking in true leadership, lacking in respect for the elderly or for parents, impudent and heretical.  This seems true of today, but it seems true of most periods, at least to those who lived through them.  But I hope and pray, and try not to think about it too much; I find the millenarianism of much of the fundamentalist Jewish (and Christian, and Muslim) world disturbing and counter-productive.  One should do teshuva (repentance) and mitzvot (commandments) and study Torah, and leave the rest of HaShem (God).  Although it is probably difficult to avoid it at this time of year – the festival of redemption, in the month of redemption, when the Mashiach will come, according to tradition.  The Hasidim even celebrate the Feast of Mashiach on the last day of Pesach.

I’m not really sure what I’m trying to say in this post.  I really just wanted to check in as I’m going to be out of contact for at least forty-eight hours, maybe much longer.  I suppose I’m feeling lonely and a little apprehensive.  Chag sameach.

Chad Gadya

I still feel that I am coming down with a cold.  I feel hot and bothered and exhausted.  I’m not sure how much is exhaustion and how much is a real virus.  I felt so exhausted and depressed that I got up late and was slow getting ready, so the original plan for the day, to go to The Jewish Museum with my Dad, was abandoned as we wouldn’t get our money’s worth out of the entrance fee.  We went to the British Museum instead, which is free, so we didn’t feel resentful of only going for an hour or two.  I felt a bit better while I was there, physically and emotionally.  It was probably just as well that I missed The Jewish Museum, as I wanted to see the Jews and Money exhibition; spending the afternoon looking at Nazi and Soviet propaganda of Jews as economic parasites might not have been the most enjoyable thing on Chol HaMoed (the intermediate days of Passover).  Instead, at the British Museum, I got to look at relics from ancient civilisations that tried to wipe out the Jews, but have long-since vanished while we’re still here: Egyptians, Assyrians, Greeks, which I think was appropriate for the Festival of Redemption.

***

I have a date with L. on Monday.  This is after therapy at lunch time and spending the previous day peopling in Oxford after two days of Yom Tov, so I hope I will not be burnt out and unable to interact before I even get there (remember to breathe).  I’m trying not to overthink it, but it’s hard.

I’m also trying not to overthink Pesach (Passover) OCD stuff.  The religious OCD has been a lot better this year (three days to go), but it’s hard to let go of some thoughts, silly though they seem.  The biggest fear is that the kosher supermarkets might have accidentally had forbidden chametz (leavened) produce and we bought it, which is really just punishing myself for not having checked the hechshers (rabbinic seals of approval).  Sometimes my OCD means “I don’t think I deserve for this to be OK.”

***

I watched The King’s Speech yesterday.  My Dad insisted on lending me the DVD ages ago, but I hadn’t got around to it as I wasn’t that interested.  I was wrong.  It was really good, but what surprised me was that it’s really about self-esteem and accepting who you are, or rather who God/fate/life wants you to be.  Accepting that you can grow and change.

One exchange resonated with me:

Bertie [the future George VI]: I’m not going to sit here warbling.

Lionel Logue [speech therapist]: You can with me.

Bertie: You’re peculiar.

Logue: I take that as a compliment.

I like being different.  Admittedly this is because I have a low opinion of both the consumerist, hedonist, godless rat-race mainstream Western world and the often narrow-minded, self-righteous, and sometimes also hypocritically consumerist frum (religious Orthodox Jewish) world.  I complain that I don’t fit in either, but deep down, I don’t really want to belong in either.  I like being different.  But it’s lonely and I have a history of being bullied and rejected for being different.  So I hide my eccentricities and interests and compartmentalise my life: Jewish stuff, work stuff, geeky stuff…  My oldest friend is much more open about being a geeky.  When we were at school, he would refer to geeky stuff in class work; now he talks about it in his sermons (he’s a non-Orthodox rabbi).  I wish I could be a little bolder in presenting the real me.

I suppose that’s why writing is so important to me, here and in the books I would like to write/am writing.  I want to get the Doctor Who book finished in a couple of months and send it out to publishers so I can start work in earnest on the Judaism/autism/depression misery memoir that seems potentially more worthwhile, worthwhile because it might help other people and worthwhile because I’ll be able to show the real me.

Wasting Time

I’m struggling today, with depression, OCD and irrational guilt.  The depression is probably from exhaustion as much as anything after the last three days.  I just have no energy and low mood without particular depressive thoughts.  Seder has disrupted my sleep pattern again.  I was up until 3.30am or so last night writing my blog, but also because I was not tired from sleeping during the day too much.  I slept until about 12.30pm today and then spent two and a half hours trying to get the energy to eat breakfast and get dressed.

The OCD is about kosher supermarkets, and whether all the food in them is kosher for Pesach if they aren’t rabbinically supervised.  It’s silly really, as I buy food from there during the rest of the year without feeling the need to check the hechshers (rabbinic seals of approval).  I just worry that we might have bought non-kosher for Pesach food by mistake.

The guilt is the silliest thing, because it’s not even primarily for things I have actually done.  I was reading Neshamas.com, a website for people within the frum (religious Orthodox Jewish) community where they can post anonymously about anything non-insulting.  People write really moving stuff on there about abuse, crises of faith, confusion about their sexuality and so on.  I was reading posts about abuse and marital rape and worrying that if I was married, I would be abusive, even though I have no evidence for that, and possibly some evidence against.  It’s silly, really.  I guess that’s low self-esteem, or more likely pure O OCD, which can make people feel guilty for things they haven’t done.  My CBT therapist said that people who have OCD thoughts about abuse are the least likely to actually be abusive.  Then I commented on some posts on Neshamas, but felt that I had said the wrong thing and might have made things worse and felt bad about that.  It’s hard to know what to do sometimes.

I guess I have some other guilt too today.  I’m not sure how justified it is.  Sometimes I just have to cope anyway I can.  So, for example, today I’m making an educated guess that I’m doing the right thing about the non-supervised, but kosher, supermarkets and carrying on eating food from there, assuming that the desire not to is just OCD.  But it’s hard to know that it’s right; it could be that I’m just trying to find an excuse to stop worrying.  Other things I know are wrong, but are hard to avoid e.g. being irritable when I’m depressed (although actually today I’m not particularly irritable, just exhausted).  Also, I feel that I should be preparing for my interview tomorrow or doing Torah study or something semi-productive, but it’s hard, but because I’ve got the interview tomorrow I can’t say I’m taking Chol HaMoed as holiday.

I don’t think I really want the job I’m up for tomorrow.  It’s similar to the job I did in further education, but with higher education students, which should be good, but I just remember how I messed up that job and how my boss thought I couldn’t cope.  There’s a job description the length of my arm and I just think, “How can I do this?”  I don’t know what I’ll say if I get asked why I want the job at the interview.  I don’t know where I see myself in five years either, the other question my Dad says gets asked a lot.  I don’t really feel able to cope with any kind of job that involves interactions with other people at the moment i.e. most of them.  I feel I could be a writer or a lighthouse keeper and that’s about it.  I feel I should take some positive steps towards becoming a writer, but I’m scared and taking on a career with no experience and no sure and steady income just because a few people have said I can write well.  I feel I should earn a lot of money first to subsidise myself for a couple of years while I try to write, but there isn’t much chance of that happening.

I guess I’m feeling lonely too.  I wish I could connect with someone, but it’s really hard.  I just feel awful, all burnt out and depressed, unable to do anything.  I did go for a twenty minute walk, but that’s about all I’ve done today.  I want to do some Torah study, but I don’t have the energy, concentration or really the motivation.  I suppose I could try to listen to a shiur (religious class) online for a bit.

I’m not particularly anxious, because the depression is so strong today that it drowns out the anxiety, but I’m vaguely worried about that OCD anxiety, about my exhausting my parents’ sympathy and patience for me, about my career, about dating L. (I don’t feel that anyone could love someone as messed up as I am) and so on.

I just feel like I want to cry right now.

***

One thing I forgot to talk about yesterday/last night regarding my seder was the idea that we are supposed to imagine that God redeemed us individually from Egypt.  The idea is that if the exodus had not occurred, we would still be slaves 3,000 years later, or at least that we would still have a slave mentality and not be able to live truly free lives.  I find this hard.  I found I could imagine being a slave and I could imagine HaShem (God) being with me in slavery and suffering, but it was very hard to see myself as actually freed.  I think I may have achieved it for a few seconds, but not for long.  I guess it’s good that I think that God is with me in my suffering, which I wouldn’t have thought a little while ago.

Pesach Cometh

Well, it’s nearly half past midnight and I’m wide awake for reasons I will explain shortly.  I thought I would write up my experiences over the first two days of Pesach (Passover).

I’ve been doing a lot better than in previous years, but the last few days have not been without their difficulties.  The sederim were the hardest things.  The seder is the ritualised meal on the first two nights of Pesach where we discuss the story of the exodus of the Israelites from Egypt and eat symbolic food.  There are readings from Tanakh (the Hebrew Bible), including several Tehillim (Psalms) known together as Hallel, and further readings from the Talmud.

Some tension emerged, not so much at the time as over the two days, because my brother-in-law felt that he wanted to do more at the seder, whereas I felt replaced by him when he sang some of the Psalms and songs with tunes I didn’t know and couldn’t join in with.  I spent some time thinking about it afterwards, and decided there were two issues.  One was that, since my grandfather died, I’ve read the whole of Hallel each year, most of it alone.  Everyone says how well I do it and compares me to my grandfather (who I was probably closer to than to my other grandparents, at least in the last years of his life).  So I felt sidelined from the family and no longer linked to my grandfather.  I was especially aware over the weekend that my sister and BIL are both professionals with advancing careers and a large, recently refurbished, house and I assume (from the size of their house) that they are planning to start a family.  So I felt that I’m being pushed out of the family and that my sister and BIL and their future children will be the focus of family events from now on.

I know no one is deliberately sidelining me, but that’s how it felt.  I did speak to my BIL today and we did work out a compromise to divide some of the readings of the seder, so I feel a bit better now, but the feeling that my sister and BIL are living a better life than me and that they are more of a source of nachas (pride) to my parents than I am isn’t going to go away and will probably only get worse if they do have children (although I’m looking forward to being an eccentric bachelor uncle).

The bigger struggle is with the seder itself.  I try to find some inspiring Torah thoughts to expand on the set text of the haggadah and try to make it more than just reading the same passages every year, to find something different and, hopefully, meaningful.  I don’t know how much anyone gets out of this.  My parents appreciate it, but I’m not sure that our other guests (usually family and a couple of friends of my parents) do.  At least, they don’t say anything to me.  I would like to start discussions, which is what a seder should be, but it doesn’t seem to happen.  Yesterday one person did ask me something, but I struggled to understand what he was asking (I think it was based on a misunderstanding or false premise, but could not pin down what he was asking to work out what), but it just underlined how much the seder is not what I want it to be.

The problem is this.  This is going to sound arrogant, but at the seder, I’m usually the most Jewishly knowledgeable and religious person present by some margin, so I struggle to find anyone to engage with and surprise or inspire me.  Add to this an autistic lack of social skills that make it hard for me to engage with other people generally and bring a subject to life and it’s a recipe for disaster.  My rabbi mentor and my oldest friend are both rabbis, intelligent and knowledgeable, but I suspect (know, really) that both would enjoy the challenge of this kind of environment.  They would find ways of connecting, of getting the people present to talk about their own experience and thoughts on freedom, liberation, Judaism and so on even if they couldn’t anchor it to specific Jewish texts without help.  I just can’t do it.

At both seders I fell at times into depression because of this.  It didn’t help that sometimes I needed a time-out for autism (too much noise, too much talking) or for OCD (I went out to breathe deeply and to calm myself after being triggered).  I found myself thinking of an old joke after the seder last night.  A man goes to the doctor and says, “I’m really depressed.”  The doctor says, “Pagliacci the clown is in town.  Go and see him, that will cheer you up.”  The man says, “Doctor, I am Pagliacci!”  (Assume this is before the invention of antidepressants.)  I try to inspire everyone year after year, but what do I do if I need inspiration?  I feel the pressure sometimes of being the frummest (most religious) person in my family (OK, second frummest after my cousin who is training to be a rabbi (and a civil engineer), but he lives in Israel).

One thing that was popular was some visual aids I made, which I haven’t really tried before.  They were just some photocopies from the biblical archaeology book Israel in Egypt: The Evidence for the Authenticity of the Exodus Tradition by James K. Hoffmeier, pictures of things like slaves and overseers from Egyptian temples, a brick store and a map of the Nile Delta and the probable route of the exodus, but people seemed to like them, so I need to work out what similar things I can find for next year.

I mentioned needing some time-outs during the seder for OCD and autism.  The autism was the main problem, and I couldn’t cope with the meal part of the evening yesterday: the noise, combined with all the emotional upheaval (which triggered my depression) was too much for me and I ate quickly and went upstairs to read The Complete Peanuts until we were ready to resume the ritual side of the evening.  I only had one or two time-outs for OCD, which was pretty good going.  On the whole the OCD has been OK.  I even coped with the weirdness of products that were hechshered (stamped) as kosher for Pesach by some kashrut agencies, but also certified as only suitable for non-Pesach use by others on the same packaging.  I suspect that this is down to differing stringencies (Pesach is a great time of year for some rabbis/communities trying out weird stringencies that no one else worries about).  More taxing was a shiur (class) in shul (synagogue) titled “Kashering Ovens for Pesach“.  My heart sank when I saw that title.  Sure enough it triggered me, even though I knew that my rabbi mentor and my parents’ rabbi had approved how we kashered our oven.  The excessive use of Hebrew halakhic (legal) terminology I didn’t understand just made me feel further alienated and ignorant and reinforced my feelings about not being part of my community.

I woke up earlyish on Shabbat and made it to shul about an hour late.  I stayed for about two hours, until the end of the service, the first time I’d been to a Shabbat or Yom Tov (festival) morning service since Yom Kippur.  However, I struggled to sleep last night and overslept this morning.  I then dozed for two and a half hours in the afternoon and am wide awake now, hence blogging.

And that’s it really.  Another six days of Pesach left.  The last six days are usually easier, but I had a bad spell late on day five and day six last year, so I won’t predict plain sailing from here, but hopefully it should be more manageable.  It’s 2am now (I haven’t been writing this uninterruptedly, but it has taken me a while).  I don’t feel at all tired and I’m vaguely anxious (OCD anxious) about something, but I guess I should at least try to go to bed.

Pesach Surprises

Another weird anxiety dream last night, this time about being bullied somewhere that felt like a mix of school and my last job and not knowing if my friend was secretly behind it.  At least I feel asleep easily last night and got up at 10am, which is earlier than I’ve managed all week, I think.  I wish I didn’t sleep for nine or ten hours each night, though.  I can’t work out how much of that is depressive hibernation and how much is that I get so overwhelmed by things (from mental health issues, but also autism) that I need to sleep longer than most people.

Some OCD anxiety yesterday and today and emailing of my rabbi mentor late last night, but I’m trying to keep things under control.  The full Pesach (Passover) preparation craziness starts today, though, and goes on until 7.30pmish tomorrow, when Yom Tov (the festival) actually starts.  After that there is a lot less to do and a lot less risk of something going wrong, although there are still contamination (or “contamination”) fears for the eight days of Pesach.

***

I’ve got a job interview on Tuesday, on Chol HaMoed Pesach (the intermediate, semi-festive, days of Passover).  I’m going to go as one can work on Chol HaMoed to avoid a significant loss, which turning down the interview potentially would be, but I’m not happy about it, especially as lately interviews seem to be a chance for me to humiliate myself.  I suppose the experience will be good (this is one of those things people say to make things sound better that doesn’t actually make things sound better).  The job is full time Monday to Friday, which I don’t think I can cope with at the moment, plus occasional late nights and weekends (obviously I couldn’t do Saturdays or late on Fridays at all).  Working full-time will make it hard for me to go to support groups and will probably lead to burn out.  The job specification is very long and terrifies me.  Then there is the fact that I’m waiting for CBT therapy and don’t know how I could fit that in.  Also, this is a job through an agency, and I haven’t told anyone there about my autism, so I won’t get any adjustments for that.  But, I will go, and try to put aside this catastrophisation, and ask if I can make it a job share if necessary.

Strangely, the job interview makes me feel depressed more than anxious.  I just don’t feel that I can do the job, but then, I don’t really think I’ll do well at the interview either – one of those situations where the feared outcomes can’t both happen, but I worry about them both anyway.

***

I find with Pesach there is sometimes a nasty surprise in the last day or two.  I think of it as analogous to an October Surprise in the American presidential election.  Something where you plan and plan and everything seems to be going to plan, but then a big disruption happens and you have to improvise.

Last year I had a migraine the day before Pesach.  I was right the other side of London for a work staff development day and I was supposed to come home (a two hour trip), tidy my flat, then go to my parents’ house, help tidy there, kasher the sink and do bedikat chametz (search for leavened food).  I came home with a bad migraine, went back to my flat, took some painkillers, fell asleep for an hour or two and woke feeling a lot better.  I got everything done.  So it can be done.

This year our cleaner, who was supposed to come today, cancelled at the last minute.  For a while it looked like we had to magically find a couple more hours to make up the shortfall, but fortunately we managed to get another cleaner through the same agency.  I’m just hoping that that’s the last nasty surprise (I’m telling myself the job interview is a good surprise, difficult though it is to believe it).  A few other minor things have happened, but so far nothing major.  I’m worried that something will go wrong, though.

***

Tonight I have my least favourite part of Pesach preparation: kashering the sink.  This is to remove any traces of Pesach food taste that might linger.  To kasher a sink, you clean it thoroughly, don’t use it for anything hot for twenty-four hours and then pour boiling water all over it, including the taps, followed by cold water (this is a simplification; ask your local Orthodox rabbi if you want to know how to kasher an actual sink).  The tricky parts are (a) the water must be boiling, not boiled, which means you only get about five seconds to do this before the water in the kettle is too cool and has to be reboiled and (b) the water must be from the main spout from the kettle or at least a small radius around it, not water ‘downstream’ (so to speak), again so that it stays hot, so no pouring it just at the top and letting it flow down.

The problem is partly that I’m not that dexterous and find it awkward to pour a very full kettle of boiling water quickly at different angles to get all four sides of the sink, but mainly that there is no way to see how much of the sink has been done correctly or if it was quick enough, so my OCD makes me do this repeatedly.  I think most frum (religious) people do it in one or two goes, but I take seven or eight or even more.  I wish someone would make a sink that changes colour when boiling water is poured on it so I could see what I have done.

This is so triggering to my OCD that when I moved out of my parents house and into my own flat, for nearly a year I refused to put things in the sink itself, because I didn’t believe that I had kashered it correctly.  That was partly because I misunderstood a few things about how to do it, but mostly because of my anxiety about the whole process.  Even now I ask my Dad to kasher with me, so that he can check I don’t take too long or miss bits… except that then my OCD tells me he is wrong, so I do them again anyway.  I know several rabbis who can’t understand why I find this so stressful, they can just do it in a matter of minutes and then move to the next thing, but I find it a nightmare.  And we always leave it to the night before Pesach because we need to use the sink for chametz (leavened food) as long as possible, which means it gets done late at night at the same time as searching for chametz (which is fun, but takes a while) when I want to go to bed early to try to get up in time for shul (synagogue) the next morning so I can go the siyum and get out of fasting the Fast of the First-born (not even going to try explaining that, sorry).

Still, I have just made the charoset (one of the symbolic foods at the seder: a sweet brown paste symbolising the mortar the Israelite slaves made and used to sweeten the bitter herbs), which is a job I enjoy more, perhaps partly because my Mum always says it reminds her that her father used to do it.  I’m trying to stay calm and focused and just hold on to the fact that so far, things are going according to schedule.

More Variations on a Theme of Pesach Anxiety

I’m glad I’m not in my FE job today, as I would doubtless have been caught in the climate change protests in the Docklands, which I really wouldn’t need when there is Pesach stuff to be done.  I don’t know why the protesters are bothering anyway; no one is going to catastrophise about climate change when we’re all too busy catastrophising about Brexit…

***

I’m sleeping really badly at the moment.  It takes me a couple of hours to fall asleep, and then I sleep through the whole morning.  This is not good with Pesach stuff to do.  I don’t think I’m consciously lying awake thinking about Pesach, but I’m sure that’s the reason for the insomnia.

***

Our usual kosher butchers were out of shank bones (symbolising the Pesach lamb on the seder plate), but I remembered another, small kosher butcher my parents had forgotten about.  I went down today and they still had so I feel like I have Officially Saved Pesach.  (No one else feels thinks I Saved Pesach, but it’s my story and I’m sticking to it.)

***

kashered the hob for Pesach.  I had some problems with this, which I won’t go into, but I did make a hurried Skype call to my rabbi mentor in the middle to check some things, which I wouldn’t normally do.  But I think I did it OK.  I’m not feeling OCD anxious about it.

***

I felt really stressed and anxious this afternoon, less OCD anxiety about preparing for Pesach wrongly and more general anxiety about leaving everything to the last minute because much of the preparation requires help from my parents (either because it’s a two-person job or because I don’t know where things are) or can only take place after certain things have happened which my parents want to leave until later, so I’m waiting for them and plutzing and worrying how I will sleep tonight and how I will do everything tomorrow night and how I will sleep tomorrow night and how I will get up early on Friday morning and how I will do everything on Friday…  It doesn’t help that I tend to view small mistakes or setbacks as catastrophic, or at least as signalling that bigger mistakes are to come, which is not always the case.  I don’t usually have big meltdowns the way some autistic people do, but I probably do experience small ones, when I get overwhelmed by a mixture of anxiety, stress, tiredness and helplessness, usually because of things that are out of my control.  I felt that building inside of me earlier and I managed suppress it by going for a brisk walk and so far we haven’t had a major Pesach argument this year, but it’s hard.  I think I am coping OK overall, although I’m wary of saying anything for superstitious reasons that I’m afraid it will all go wrong if I mention it.

I guess that as with many of my issues (in life in general), a lot boils down to living with my parents and having to play by their rules where their rules are not good for me with depression, anxiety, OCD and autism (autism likes to know when things will happen, anxiety likes not to leave things to the last minute, depression, autism and OCD all need lots of sleep).  I really should not be living with my parents aged thirty-five.

I do feel bad that, because of preparation, I haven’t had much time for Torah study or to go to shul.  Although I suspect that men who can keep up with Torah study and shul at this time of year are either super-organised or are exempted from much of the cleaning and kashering by their wives (or even forcibly expelled from the house by their wives for the duration).

***

So now half our kitchen is Pesachdik and half is still chametz.  My rabbi mentor says that this is the most dangerous time of year, when it’s easiest to mix up chametz and Pesachdik.  I agree, and it’s doubly hard with religious OCD.  I guess if you want to know what it’s like, the comparison would be to take someone with germ contamination OCD and dump a load of raw sewage in her kitchen and expect her to just carry on as if it wasn’t there.  Not going to happen.

Forty-six hours to go…

***

Looking at this inventory for self-stigma of mental illness, I think I have quite a bit of self-stigma about my mental health, especially if I include the autism too.  I know autism isn’t a mental illness, but just rephrasing the questions to be about autism gets similar results for me.  I knew I had poor self-esteem, but I didn’t realise how much I see myself as inadequate because of mental illness and autism until I was agreeing with statements like “I feel inferior to others who don’t have a mental illness/autism” or “I can’t contribute anything to society because I have a mental illness/autism”.  Even statements that I don’t actually agree with cognitively or about others, I intuitively agree with about myself e.g. “Mentally ill people shouldn’t get married” which I don’t believe for other people, but I do feel that I shouldn’t get married, or at least that I won’t be able to.

“You don’t know what it’s like to listen to your fears”

Mid-afternoon: There’s not a lot to say today.  Things have been continuing as they have been for the last week or so: I’m OK much of the time, but then suddenly my mood tanks and I have strong depression or (more usually) anxiety.  My anxiety is a mixture of religious OCD anxiety about the laws of Pesach (Passover), social anxiety about going to my shul’s (synagogue’s) weekday premises, which I haven’t been to much, and some kind of anxiety (I’m not quite sure what) about dating.  In the meantime, I’ve helped my parents with Pesach preparations.  That’s about it, really.

Evening: I wrote that paragraph above mid-afternoon, when I thought I would not have much to say today and just wanted to say that I’m coping.  However, I just had a stressful experience.  The prohibition on owning chametz (leavened bread and its derivatives) on Pesach is so severe, that religious Jews take a belt and braces approach: we destroy trivial amounts (usually by burning); larger amounts are sold to a non-Jew for the duration of the festival (it’s a binding sale and the non-Jew is under no obligation to sell it back afterwards, although the reality is that 99.99999% of the time they do as a matter of course) and, just in case we’ve missed anything, we declare any chametz that we own that is not destroyed or sold to be legally ownerless.  (I might write a post over Pesach about why we go to this extreme for a bit of bread, but I haven’t got time tonight.  Just accept it as another crazy thing Jews do.)

Today I sold my chametz or rather, gave my rabbi power of attorney to sell it on Friday morning.  I could feel my anxiety building in the afternoon.  I knew I was going to have to go to my shul‘s weekday premises and I felt uncomfortable and anxious about it.  I just haven’t been there enough to feel comfortable in the building, which is probably an autism familiarity thing as much as anything.  I was worried about doing the wrong thing or saying the wrong thing.  The anxiety was stronger for not being well-defined.  I just felt that I would do something wrong.

I got locked out when I arrived there, which was unfortunate.  I thought I knew the door code, but I didn’t.  Then the assistant rabbi said that he didn’t usually see me here.  It was an innocuous comment, but just made me feel that I’m being judged for not going to shul enough.  I felt very socially anxious during the afternoon and evening prayers.  There was then a long wait while the rabbi saw other people, during which my anxiety rose further.  I felt that I was going to say something wrong or the rabbi would judge me badly or think I was doing something sinful.  Of course, none of these things happened, but I did shake when I signed the document to give him power of attorney.  I walked home again feeling very shaken, physically shaken, and having OCD thoughts about having done things “wrongly”.

The positive thing to have come out of this is that I think I have an idea of why I struggle in the frum (religious Orthodox Jewish) community.  My Jewish identity is very strong and positive, and I see my Judaism as my most important identity, much more so than being a Doctor Who fan, autistic, depressed, an Oxonian or anything else.  Yet I find it so hard to interact with other frum Jews.  Low blood sugar, an unfamiliar setting (difficult with autism) and social anxiety today probably didn’t help things, but I think a lot of it goes back to my autism.

I have mentioned before that the reason I think my autism went undiagnosed for so long is because I have developed mental ‘algorithms’ for dealing with social situations.  I have one for eye contact and body language, one for making small talk and so on.  But with frum people, the algorithms become much more complex.  I need to factor in not saying anything that seems too secular and working out what “too secular” is (sometimes very frum people make jokes or comments that I would never dream of trying to get away with, which just confuses me).  I need to process words from foreign languages (Hebrew, Aramaic, Yiddish) that I may not be familiar with and which may be pronounced differently to how I would pronounce them (people in my shul tend to use Ashkenazi (Northern European) pronunciation, whereas I use Modern Hebrew pronunciation which is rooted in Sephardi (Iberian/Middle Eastern) pronunciation e.g. the final ‘t’ in Modern Hebrew often becomes ‘s’ in Ashkenazi pronunciation so Shabbat becomes Shabbos).  I need to process details of Jewish law and avoid transgressing it.  Then there are the social mores of the frum world, more formal in some ways (e.g. children refer to their elders as “Mr X” or “Mrs Y” not their first names), but more relaxed in others (e.g. people are far more relaxed about dropping in and out of their friends’ houses unexpectedly than in general, at least in anti-social London).  All this on top of my low self-esteem and feelings that I am religiously inadequate (e.g. the assistant rabbi’s comment), which just fuels the flames; it is hard to avoid a social/religious faux pas if you are in a state of some anxiety about making such a mistake.  It’s very difficult and it’s no wonder so much about my religious life leaves me feeling anxious, or that I have become such an infrequent shul-goer in recent years since moving to a new, frummer community.

Later: I’ve recovered now.  I’ve eaten (including a Magnum, reward for a difficult day) and watched some Doctor Who (I was supposed to have a break from it after watching so much as research for my book, but I’ve ended up watching the animated Shada because I’ve been stressed the last few days and needed the support that I can only get from my special interest).  I spoke to my parents about some of the ideas in this post and they felt that they made sense.  I know it seems silly to say that I worry how frum people will see me when I know that, compared with a lot of people I have a good understanding of Judaism and Jewish law and a reasonable Hebrew vocabulary, but there we go; anxieties aren’t rational.

All The Lonely People

I’m a bit torn about staying up late writing this.  I wanted to get to bed early because the clocks go forward, so I’ll lose an hour of sleep, plus I have to be up early tomorrow for volunteering.  However, I slept about twelve hours last night and dozed for another two this afternoon so I’m far too wide awake.  My Mum said I didn’t do much on Friday, so why was I so lethargic today?  I think I’m just burnt out from a busy and emotionally-draining week.  Autism + depression + work stress + social interactions (at work and at depression group) = exhaustion.  I missed shul (synagogue) this morning through being too tired to get up, rather than too socially anxious, which seems like an improvement, weirdly.

I do feel rather lost at the moment.  It feels that my life has… well, I can’t say “unravelled” as it wasn’t very ravelled in the first place.  I just feel I don’t know what I should be doing about my career and I don’t feel at all comfortable with my religious life, feeling I should be more involved in prayer and Torah study and pursuing meaning in ritual and prayer, while at the same time I feel isolated in the frum (religious Orthodox Jewish) community and unable to fit in (more on that in a minute).  I struggle socially and don’t even know what I can do about that or what I even want to do.  I’ve given up on dating in the near future.  Realistically, I fear it could take me years to sort out my career and only then could I think about dating, which could have a knock on effect on whether I can have children, given that I can’t see myself marrying someone ten years younger than me.  I guess the bottom line in all these areas, career, Judaism, social life and dating, is that I don’t even know what I want or even how to find out what I want, let alone how I can get it.

And then on top of all this comes the start of a month of pre-Pesach stress and hoping that Pesach and its extra-strict dietary laws doesn’t set off my religious OCD again.  To be fair, last year I had just one bad twenty-four hour period (split over two calendar days) and whereas for the last few years I’ve spent all year worrying about Pesach and writing long lists of (mostly OCD) questions to ask my rabbi, this year I have not really had any of that, with only a few questions to ask, mostly relatively small points of clarification.  So that’s all good.

***

What I wanted to write about, while I don’t feel tired, is something interesting that happened at work this week.  I was sorting through some piles of “little magazines,” which are magazines, mostly about art, literature and/or politics (especially politics), produced cheaply and somewhat amateurishly for distribution to like-minded individuals, with content usually too iconoclastic and extreme to sell to established journals.  As a Doctor Who fan, it struck me that they were basically fanzines, but directed at artists or political obsessives/revolutionaries.

Looking in one radical feminist magazine, Jewish terms in a poem caught my eye.  It was about the author’s fascination with Hasidic Judaism and her feeling that she, as a woman, lesbian and feminist, could never be accepted by these religious thinkers that she admired.  Reading to the end of the poem, I saw that it was written by a female Reform rabbi I knew of.  I don’t think I ever met her, but in my first job, at a non-Orthodox rabbinical seminary, I spent some considerable time cataloguing part of her library, which she donated to the seminary after her death.  I was always intrigued and intimidated by her, intrigued because of the unusual mixture of radical feminist and traditionalist Orthodox material (or at least material about traditionalist Orthodoxy) in her collection, intimidated because I felt she would have no time for a conservative (in multiple ways), Orthodox person like me and because the general consensus among staff and students in the college (who all adored her) seemed to be that she didn’t suffer fools gladly, and whenever I meet someone like that, I worry that I come across as rather a fool.  (As an aside, I think “doesn’t suffer fools gladly” is a stupid phrase.  Is there anyone who wakes up in the morning thinking, “I hope I have to suffer some fools today, as I’d certainly be so glad to do so!”)

The poem, then, rather took me by surprise, but perhaps it shouldn’t have done.  The clue, I suppose, was in her library, which, as I say, was filled with radical feminist books, but also with books on Hasidic Judaism (a form of Orthodox Judaism that stresses joy and love and ecstatic prayer) and the Mitnagedim (the opponents of Hasidism, but still very Orthodox, stressing Torah study, particularly legalistic Talmudic study rather than prayer as the centre of Judaism).

It showed me another side of her, something I hadn’t really suspected.  I knew from her books and what her colleagues and students said about her that she was fiercely intelligent, intellectual and strong-willed.  Also religious, in the progressive Jewish way that tends to be rather more political than Orthodox Judaism.  Maybe angry, again mainly in a political way.  But I hadn’t really expected to see vulnerability.  I expected her to be out and proud in her beliefs and scornful of those who didn’t accept them.  The desire for acceptance and the feeling of rejection and isolation took me by surprise.

An article in the same magazine by a different author dealt with her feelings on having to defend Judaism and Zionism among left-wing feminists.  Taken together, the poem and the article seemed to sum up my feelings of wanting to be accepted by the frum (Orthodox Jewish) world and also wanting to be accepted in a more counter-cultural world (in my case Doctor Who fandom rather than radical feminist circles), but not conforming to expectations of behaviour and views in either.

It made me wonder if everyone feels that they are on the fringe of something.  Do lots of frum people feel that they’re on the fringe of Judaism?  Most of the people I know who feel like this are either converts (who feel they aren’t accepted by people born Jewish) and people with non-conventional political views (particularly in the US, where Jews tend to be very party-political: progressive (as in non-Orthodox) Jews are Democrats and Orthodox Jews tend to be Republicans, with anti-Trump Orthodox Jews feeling beleaguered).  I don’t really know many people who feel isolated because of atypical cultural interests and neurodivergent trouble with social interactions in general.

In reality, probably not everyone feels like this.  Some people seem happy alone and some people seem to be in the thick of things (whatever type of social group ‘it’ is) and happy with that.  But clearly other people do share my feeling that I can never be accepted by the people that I want to be accepted by, perhaps even the feeling of being torn between two worlds, neither of which I fear will really accept me.

“It’s the end [of Purim], but the moment has been prepared for.”

(Sticking with the fourth Doctor quote theme from yesterday)

Purim

I struggled to get to sleep, being upset from what had happened earlier, and then had a disturbing dream.  I was working or (more likely) doing work experience somewhere for a week.  I can’t remember what the job was exactly, but it was some kind of creative work.  On my last day, all my colleagues mocked me for my incompetence.  I had done everything wrong, including misunderstanding an article by a famous writer even though I should have known his political views and realised I was misrepresenting them.  I think I ran away and was possibly pursued by my colleagues.  I asked why they kept giving me creative jobs if they could see that I’m not creative, but there was no answer.  Obviously there’s a lot of work anxiety in there (my real-life contract ends next week and the famous writer in the dream is one associated with that job), but also social anxiety and anxiety about my ability to be creative as I start the third draft of my Doctor Who book.  Perhaps there’s some political anxiety too.

7.30am  Despite disturbed sleep, I got to shul (synagogue) for Shacharit (morning prayers) and the Megillah (Book of Esther) reading.  I was a few minutes late for Shacharit, which I suppose was partly intentional as I’m out of the habit of davening (praying) the whole of Shacharit and was apprehensive about being there for the whole service.  I did hear the whole of the Megillah though.  I had the same OCD anxiety as last night about hearing every word as per halakhah (Jewish law), but I think I heard everything without having to repeat anything.  I actually felt quite tense and anxious as it went on, worrying that the noise would stop me hearing everything.  I think it was probably low blood sugar as I hadn’t eaten breakfast beforehand (really one should not eat before praying, although I usually do because I’m too depressed and exhausted otherwise, but I was trying to be good today), especially as I had some social anxiety after the service.  I felt better after breakfast.

***

2.00pm  I went to my Dad’s shul for Mincha (the afternoon service) because the service in my shul was in our weekday premises (the shteible, a small room rented in a larger shul, itself above Tesco).  In three years, I had never been to the shteible; I’ve had social anxiety about going in by myself and have been putting off going (more on this below), so I went to my Dad’s shul, which was also less far to walk.

***

4.30pm  I was invited out for Purim seudah (meal) at friends from shul, really my closest friend in the area.  I knew all of the men there from shul; the women were mostly their wives.  I had a good time and even joined in the conversation/banter a bit, but I did get overwhelmed with the noise at times.  I had moments when I felt, “Yes, I can fit in in a frum society, I can “speak Torah” intelligently and make appropriate jokes,” but at other times, I felt that I didn’t fit in with aspects of frum society.  I guess I’ll never completely fit in anywhere.  That’s probably that’s another reason I’m desperate to find a wife who matches me, so that at least I will have someone like me, and then we can try to raise kids with our values.  Still, no one tried to encourage (or “encourage”) me to drink (it is customary on Purim afternoon to get drunk, although Judaism being Judaism there is much dispute about what “customary” and “drunk” mean… amusingly, I got a job email today looking for a Research Coordinator at somewhere called “The Institute Of Alcohol Studies”  which was appropriate).

7.40pm  Around this time we had finished eating, but hadn’t bentsched (said grace after meals) yet.  I was going to ask if we could bentsch and I could go, as I was getting exhausted and ‘peopled out,’ but I didn’t really have the confidence to show that I was flagging, plus I guessed the men would be going on to Ma’ariv (the evening service) and I thought it would look bad if I disappeared just before then.  I decided to make the most of it and use it as a chance to go to the shteible with other people and see what it was like.  We walked there, as, while no one was drunk drunk, no one able to drive was sober enough to do so safely.  Ma’ariv was fine and then I walked home.  My Mum said that I looked happy and had had a very full and successful day.  I think I felt that, but it’s hard to be sure, as I second-guess and over-analyse myself so much and struggle to identify my emotions (alexithymia).

***

Other things than noise and social interactions that my autistic brain couldn’t cope with today: a training video for safeguarding children (for my volunteering) that played distracting music in the background while people were talking; and a job application that wanted me to “be willing to accept ‘change’ as part of the daily routine.”  The latter sounds profoundly disturbing to me, but it, or things like it, seem to be a common job requirement, like “being a good team player” (again, not always good for autistic or socially anxious people) and being “highly motivated” (not so good with depression).  I probably ought to be a hermit, or a lighthouse-keeper.

***

On days like today, when everything is going reasonably well, and I feel, if not happy, then at least content and not depressed or anxious, and I even go to shul and feel a part of a community, then I can say that God is merciful and everything is for the best in the long-run, and I can accept my suffering and willingly go into the valley of the shadow of death for Him.  It’s only the rest of the time, when I’m despairing and anxious and lonely and cut off from everyone that I can’t bear it.  In other words, I can bear my suffering except for when I’m actually suffering.  Unfortunately, the times when I’m suffering far outnumber the times when I’m not suffering.

***

That said, I feel a bit down about the way that my family interprets my words and sometimes my body language as angry and aggressive when that is not my intention.  This has happened regularly since childhood.  This is also common with autism, I believe, but happens with neurotypical people too.  It’s upsetting, though, especially as I really do get irritable more than I should because of depression and the strain of masking all my problems in public, as well as my autistic communication problems with my Dad.  There is a lot more to talk about regarding my relationship with my family, and the extent to which I’m trying to run away from it/them by getting married, but I can’t really talk about it here; it’s one reason I want to go back to my psychodynamic psychotherapist.  I want to make things right, but I don’t know how and I worry it’s not just a problem of human weakness of the kind most people experience (irritability, anger), but of the cognitive and experiential differences between me and my family.

***

Peopled out now, need a shower and autistic alone time with Quatermass and the Pit before bed or I won’t sleep…

Doctor Who and the Purim of Doom

This will be another ‘written across a whole day’ post.

11.15am  I’m not sure how long I slept, but I think it was about eleven hours, which was probably too long.  I woke up utterly drained and depressed and I’m not sure if that was from sleeping too long or from the pressure of working two consecutive days.  Today I still feel that no one could ever love me, but I’m too exhausted to really care any more.

11.45am Today is the Fast of Esther, which I think is the most obscure Jewish fast day (this or the Fast of the Firstborn, but arguably that doesn’t count).  I used to assume it dated from Esther’s fast in Megillat Esther (the Book of Esther), which is the key text for the festival of Purim (tonight and tomorrow), but apparently it’s from the Gaonic era (early Middle Ages) although it does commemorate the earlier fast.  At any rate, I’m not allowed to fast on lithium except for Yom Kippur, so I’m not fasting today.  I think I’ve gone past the point of feeling bad about not fasting.  Eating some breakfast and drinking coffee makes me feel a bit better, but not much.  I really just want to go to bed and sleep through the next day and a half, although I am sort of looking forward to the Purim seudah (festive meal) I’ve been invited to tomorrow, just as long as no one tries to force me to drink alcohol.  I don’t think they will, but it’s hard to be sure.

I want to have a quiet day (afternoon really now – it’s nearly noon) to recover from the last two days and prepare for the Megillah reading tonight, which will be draining for depression, social anxiety, OCD and autism reasons.  Not the easiest religious ritual for me, by any means.  In the meantime, I want to watch more of Quatermass and the Pit (1950s BBC science fiction serial) and work on my Doctor Who book a bit, if I feel up to it.

2.15pm  Thinking again about being single and that no one could love me, albeit that the thoughts aren’t as intense as yesterday.  I wonder what the CBT response to these thoughts should be.  I suppose to look for evidence to disprove the assertion that no one could love me.  Which is hard, as there is really no evidence against.  I’ve only had two romantic relationships (and a third thing that perhaps approached becoming a relationship), which ended in ways that make me worry that no one could ever love someone as messed up as me, albeit that they all focused on different elements of my messed upness.  To some extent I’m probably manipulating the data to fit my theory; certainly my first relationship ended for fairly complex reasons that were at least partly down to my girlfriend.  But it is hard to hold on to that when everything fits my theory at least partially.  There isn’t much data to base a theory on, which is one thing to hold on to, but, again, that basically means that I haven’t had much romantic success, which is not encouraging.  CBT is hard to do when all the evidence supports your “thinking errors”.  I guess I’m catastrophising and jumping to conclusions, but it’s hard when the evidence points that way.  I don’t have “proof” that no one would marry me, but I won’t have proof until I either die single or get married and I can’t stop myself worrying in the meantime.  I know, worrying doesn’t help either, it just feels as if it should.  Also, this is probably my way of expressing loneliness to myself and others.  Maybe it would be more fruitful to search for different ways to express loneliness rather than to worry about the future.

***

3.00pm  Moving photo albums from one room to another with Dad.  Dad says I’m always irritable with him these days.  This is true and it saddens me, but I don’t know what to do.  Part of it is that I am under a lot of strain at the moment with work and depression and have been for nearly two years now.  I have to mask autism and depression at work, but that makes it harder to keep up appearances at home.  But part of it is that Dad tends not to do things in an autism-friendly way.  He asks me to help him with things, but he doesn’t tell me when and then expects me to drop anything I’m doing and help, which upsets me because it messes up my plan for the day; autism hates surprises and last minute changes.  He’s been nagging me to help with the photo albums for ages, but hasn’t given a time.  Last week he asked me and I said let me finish X, but he never came back and then suddenly today he asked me again.  I started to move the photo albums, but then he expected me to put them out in order; I got annoyed at this change (although I was probably being autistic and overly-literal here and should have guessed he would want me to put them out) and he got annoyed that I didn’t want to help.

Dad also talks in a very unhelpful way, from an autistic point of view, with too many details and jumping from topic to topic without making it clear what he’s talking about.  Then I get annoyed and tell him to stick to the point and things escalate.  I don’t like this aspect of myself and my current life, but I don’t know what to do about it.  I can’t think how to change things; telling myself to “try harder not to be irritable” doesn’t really help and just undermines my self-esteem even more.

***

3.30pm  I just read two essays by Rabbi Lord Sacks (the former British Chief Rabbi) about finding meaning and being called to something in life.  I don’t have a clue what the meaning in my life is or what I am being called to do.  Rabbi Sacks says that “Where what we want to do meets what needs to be done, that is where God wants us to be”, but I don’t seem to be able to do anything and my understanding of my own wants is not particularly good.  Mostly I want to just avoid certain situations and people.  I’ve thought in the past of writing to him about things like this, but his office staff doubtless open his mail and he probably wouldn’t even see the letter, let alone respond.

***

4.55pm  I began redrafting my Doctor Who book with the introduction and first chapter.  It was OK, but I’m not entirely happy with it, which may be my immaturity as a writer as much as anything, and while I pruned a couple of hundred words, I probably need to be more ruthless with later and longer chapters.

Feeling exhausted and depressed and not entirely sure why.  Some of it is doubtless bickering with Dad before, some is being tired from working on my book, some is general depression, so I intend to watch TV for a bit before I have to get ready for Purim.

***

19.00 Purim

Purim is a minor festival, so work is permitted and I can blog.  I moved my work days around this week so that I wouldn’t have to go to work, though, which is good.  It’s the most carnivalesque Jewish festival, which can be hard for me with depression, autism and social anxiety.

“There’s no point in being grown up if you can’t be childish sometimes!” Doctor Who: Robot

There is a custom to wear fancy dress on Purim.  I made my way to shul (synagogue) for Purim dressed as the fourth Doctor.  My scarf was the only item that was strictly accurate (a friend knitted it for me years ago according to the official BBC pattern and air mailed it to me from Texas), but I was more nervous about going dressed as a TV character to a shul where lots of people don’t own TVs and look down on TV as the most corrupting and least acceptable of all media.  As it happened, no one said anything, except someone who made a joke about the length of the scarf.  I don’t know if no one understood who I was dressed as.  I don’t really talk to many people at shul anyway.

The Doctor: Well, you’d better introduce me.
Romana: As what?
The Doctor: Oh, I don’t know… a wise and wonderful person who wants to help. Don’t exaggerate.

Doctor Who: The Power of Kroll

I heard once that if one dresses up on Purim, one should dress up as the person one wants to be.  I don’t know if this is true (I only heard it once).  I’m not sure what it says about me that I want to be the Doctor, or specifically the fourth Doctor, or even if I do really want to be him in a meaningful way, but I wish I had his confidence and his ability to wear his eccentricities on his sleeve and not worry what other people think about him, as well as for keeping his sense of humour when faced with danger and evil.

“Even the sonic screwdriver won’t get me out of this one” Doctor Who: The Invasion of Time

I listened to Megillat Esther (the Book of Esther).  One is supposed to hear every word, but there is also a custom to make noise after the name of Haman, who tried to wipe out the Jewish people.  This is fertile ground for my religious OCD.  I actually did OK.  I told myself I wasn’t going to catch up words, let alone go to another reading, unless I was really sure I had missed something.  Three or four times I thought I heard a word, but wasn’t sure and wanted to repeat it, but I didn’t let myself because I knew it would just stoke the flames of OCD.  It is theoretically possible that I did not fulfil the mitzvah (commandment), but I think I did the right thing.

“You’re a beautiful woman, probably.” Doctor Who: City of Death

At dinner afterwards, my Dad tried again to persuade me to go out with our neighbours’ daughter (or our neighbour, I suppose, as she lives with her parents).  I’m not quite sure what to make of this.  I don’t know if I have anything in common with her, other than having lived in two of the same communities and being frum.  I’ve never picked up any feeling that she is at all attracted to me (although admittedly I’m not good at such things).  By coincidence, I passed her while I was on the way to shul this evening and we said hello, but if she spotted the significance of my Doctor Who scarf, she didn’t say anything.

“Failure is one of the basic freedoms” Doctor Who: The Robots of Death

I was having dinner with my parents, everything was going well… and then, suddenly, it wasn’t.  Something happened that I can’t talk about here, sadly.  But it brought my mood crashing down.  I know that people say that you can’t make your happiness dependent on other people, but the fact is that human beings are social animals (even someone as introverted and autistic as I am) and the moods and behaviour of those around us do affect us, especially the moods of those close to us.  We pick up other people’s moods just as we infect people with our moods.  I’m not sure what I can do for this.

So, tomorrow is the bulk of Purim.  I hope I will be OK.  I’ve been invited out to a seudah (festive meal) in the afternoon, which will hopefully be good.  I’m more nervous about getting to shul in time to hear the Megillah again (one should hear it twice, evening and morning), but I’m less worried about hearing the words as there isn’t usually much noise at the morning reading because there aren’t many children and some people are going to work, so they need to get through it quickly.

For now I’m going to get some retail therapy buying a second-hand copy of the next Complete Peanuts volume (1963-1964), because Peanuts has been keeping me sane recently with it’s resigned acceptance of life’s ups and downs, as well as a second-hand copy of the House of Cards trilogy; not the Netflix series, the original 1990s BBC serials with Ian Richardson as Sir Francis Urquhart.  I’ve never seen it, but I need a break from wall-to-wall science fiction.

Chase: What do you do for an encore, Doctor?

Doctor: I win.

Thanatos

Trigger warning: suicide

Also, rather long and involved, if that needs a warning

Well, that was an awful, awful day.  The stupid thing is that nothing particularly bad even happened.  I made some stupid mistakes at work and looked like an idiot in front of my line manager and her line manager, but it wasn’t anything really terrible.  But it just sent me over the edge.

I woke up feeling depressed, which was not a good start.  Already by the time I was on the way to work I was feeling that “I don’t deserve to live.”  I felt I just couldn’t cope and wanted to die.  There was a feeling of wanting to attract attention.  People look down on people who hurt themselves as a cry for attention, but that seems to ignore the fact that sometimes there just aren’t the words to say how you feel.

At work I went very slowly, not deliberately, but I was just struggling to work and to feel that I could cope.  Already by lunchtime I messaged E. to say I was having a lousy day, even though I could see that nothing bad had happened.  By mid-afternoon I had embarrassed myself in front of my line manager and was locked in a vicious circle of feeling useless –> making mistakes –> feeling useless –> making mistakes.  I felt like an idiot, which, as my brain helpfully reminded me, is from the Greek idios meaning private or on one’s own.  I have been on my own for so long that I have turned into an idiot.

Also, my brain now sends me depressive self-hating thoughts in Greek…

Floundering, I felt that I should be doing menial work instead of my actual job, but then felt that I couldn’t actually do that either.  I’m not suited for menial labour.  I need intellectual work, but narrowly defined and without the need for special qualifications.  I don’t think this work exists, unless I can find a way to get paid for my writing.

Feeling that I was unemployable did not cheer me up, unsurprisingly, and I started thinking about hurting myself again and about suicide.  I felt that I wanted to die, more than anything.  I texted E. to say that I was only holding on for family and friends, but really that was a lie.  I was just holding on for my parents.  It pains me to say it, but I was so far gone that the thought of my friends or even my sister might not have been enough to keep me going by themselves.  Things just seemed so hopeless.  It seems so impossible that my career could improve or that anyone could ever love me, especially without a good career (note the way that I see a career as valuable primarily to make me more marryable).

This cycle carried on for the rest of the afternoon.  It’s hard now, hours later, now I’ve calmed down, to really describe how I felt.  I know I’ve tried to write these thoughts down and blog them in the past, but it’s hard, because at the time there’s a tension and an agitation and my thoughts start racing, but I think not being able to communicate the thoughts makes them worse; once I can start to write them down, I can begin to see logical flaws in them and even the act of writing them down or speaking them through with someone (if I can see a therapist or phone Samaritans) can help to calm me down.  But at work I was trying to plough on regardless with my job and that just increased the pressure and the agitation.

Eventually, the day finished and I could come home.  Or so I thought.  I was halfway to the station when I started having OCD thoughts about not having locked up the rare books store room properly.  I tried to stay with the thoughts and go home, but it was too much for me and I went back to check.  By that stage I could see that I was in a state.  My blood sugar was probably very low and I was thinking all kinds of self-loathing thoughts, thinking that I should stop being frum (religious) if I want to get married.  I thought that if I walked back to the station straight away I would end up in a terrible state, so after checking the rare books, I went to the staff room and ate all the food I had with me (an apple and a cereal bar), after which I felt somewhat better and went home.

I was still having difficult thoughts though.  I don’t use profanity as a rule, but I’m ashamed to relate some of the things I was thinking.  I was still thinking that I just wanted to die, that I would rather die than recover, because recovery seemed so impossible.  Because Gehennom (the ‘bad’ afterlife in Judaism, but more like Purgatory than Hell) couldn’t be worse than how I felt.  Because Gehennom lasts for only one year, and because at least in Gehennom I wouldn’t be humiliated in front of other people on a regular basis.  Feeling really angry with God.  Just furious.  I can’t even remember everything I thought, it was so terrible and strong.

And the final insult, I returned home to a letter from the taxman (or taxwoman, in this case) informing me that, no, they made a mistake previously, I do really owe them another £60 from the last tax year.  I don’t mind paying the money – well, I do, but it’s not the main irritant.  It’s having yet another thing to sort out because other people screwed up.  It’s not like our public services are doing much for me.  Maybe I ought to phone the crisis team and demand my money’s worth.

I usually blog my day when I get in to offload, but I was too worried about what I would write if I went straight into it, so I forced myself to daven Ma’ariv (say the evening prayers), eat dinner and watch TV for a bit to calm down.  I felt – I still feel – exhausted and somewhat in shock.  I usually avoid caffeine in the evenings, but I drank some tea because I really did feel in shock.  I watched some of The Quatermass Experiment (the live 2005 remake of the 1950s science fiction serial).  Part of it was set in my place of work; I think they might even have filmed some of the non-live cutaway shots in the street I was walking down two hours earlier when I was having OCD thoughts, which was a bit unnerving.

I still feel exhausted and a bit in shock and my shoulder muscles are really tense, but my mood is better.  I have a bit of a ‘coming down’ feel, except I’m coming down from something bad rather than good.  Coming up, maybe.  At least I’m home and safe in my room with my books and DVDs.  I guess for an autistic person quiet, space, familiarity and special interests (books and DVDs) are all important (perhaps even all-important).  I bought some chocolate (minstrels, one of my favourites) on the way home because I felt I needed to have some kind of reward for getting through the day in one piece, even if it won’t be help me lose weight.

***

When I’d calmed down a bit, I recalled the first time I was suicidal, in fact when I nearly took an overdose, when I was in my third year at Oxford.  I sat down to take an overdose, but at the last instant changed my mind and phoned someone (a friend who wasn’t talking to me because she couldn’t cope with my being suicidal, but that’s another story).  About a week later I casually mentioned this to the university counselling service counsellor I was seeing and she was astonished that I had neglected to mention this suicide attempt and that I didn’t think it was worth telling her.  She asked me what my parents would think if I killed myself and I said they would be upset; she said they would be devastated.

I wonder now, over fifteen years on, whether this was autism, not the suicidality, but not thinking it was important enough to mention to my counsellor and only being able to express my parents’ grief in a partial and limited way.  It’s like the way I downplayed my sister’s grief and my friends’ grief if I were to kill myself.  It’s hard for me to conceptualise it and I don’t know how much is self-loathing (no one cares about me) and how much is autistic ‘mindblindness’ (not being able to imagine how other people feel generally).

***

This morning, while my thought processes were getting out of control, I thought that knowing that I’m probably autistic, I need to find adaptive solutions to my problems, accepting the reality of autism and probably also of some kind of permanent level of depression, at least in the background, rather than technical ‘tweaks’ of the kind I have been trying to make for years.  The tweaks were sometimes successful (the occupational therapist I used to see probably made more positive changes to my life than anyone), but I really need to change the way I live to adapt to the reality of my situation, I just don’t know how.  It’s possible – probable, even – that adaptive changes have been suggested by therapists and psychiatrists before now, but that I couldn’t implement them, perhaps partly because I hadn’t been diagnosed as autistic (technically I still haven’t been diagnosed, of course).

I don’t know what changes I could make, though.   I’m already more or less accepting not going to shul (synagogue) on Shabbat (Saturday) mornings without trying to guilt-trip myself, which may or may not be a good thing; today I was wondering if I would make it to shul for the morning Megillah reading on Purim next week or if I just feel too overwhelmed to do that too.  It seems to be easy to feel that I can’t do things with autism rather than that I can do things.  Maybe I should be accepting that I can make it to shul.  Should I just accept that I will never have a job I feel comfortable in, that I will never get married?  It’s hard to know what is realistic, much too easy to try to do too much or too little.

When the depression was feeling bad earlier I wondered if I would find it easier to get married if I wasn’t frum.  I couldn’t give up Shabbat and kashrut, but anything else would seem like fiddling at the margins.  Should I be looking for non-frum women who are willing to compromise (as E. was)?  I’m afraid of the tensions that might result and what sort of compromise I would have to make in return.  But a non-frum woman would not care about my not davening with a minyan (community) or learning (studying Torah/Talmud) enough.  I would date a frum woman with ‘issues’ although I would be nervous of how our issues would combine, particularly if she had mental health issues.  However, a lot of ‘issues’ in the frum world are not things that I would consider issues at all (ba’alat teshuva or geyoret, parents divorced, siblings stopped being frum etc.) and I would be happy to date such a person.

On the other hand, lately I’ve felt my frumkeit slipping in little ways.  Nothing big.  I still believe in God (even if I’m angry with Him some of the time), keep kosher, keep Shabbat and so on.  But I don’t beat myself up so much for missing davening or shul or Torah study and it’s getting harder and harder to avoid cultural stuff (books, TV, films, music) that feels treif and that I would previously have avoided.  I don’t know where this is going though.

The Elephants in the Room

I just feel overwhelmed today.  I should probably explain that this post was one of the ones I write piecemeal during the day, so it may be rambling and also vary widely from optimism to pessimism in successive paragraphs; I’m having a rather up and down day.  I can sort something out and be OK, but then the negative thoughts come back and I can’t cope again.

It’s Purim next week and I don’t feel ready.  And then it’s Pesach a month after that and I’m certainly not ready.  I mean, no one’s ready in practical terms at this stage, but I don’t feel emotionally ready.  Maybe no one is emotionally ready either, I don’t know.  I wish I knew what other people think and feel, not just about Pesach, but generally.  It’s part of my reason for blogging.  I know I write self-obsessed posts, but I have to write it to try to say what I feel, to understand it and to try to see if other people feel the same way, although it seems that most of them don’t.  I know that apparently lots of people have the type of thoughts that distress people with OCD, but they don’t get anxious and obsessive about them.  But no one talks about this.  I have ‘bad’ thoughts (violent thoughts, sexual thoughts, insulting thoughts) in my head all the time and I’m told that other people have the same thoughts, but no one ever mentions it.  That strikes me as bizarre.  How can people not mention this stuff?  Or feel guilty and ashamed (even if they are automatic and not acted on, it’s hard not to feel bad that they’re even in my head)?

***

I did something stupid last night.  I stayed up late working on my Doctor Who book (I’ve now finished the research and am working on tidying up the second draft a bit before starting the third draft).  About 1.00am when I was getting ready for bed, I was thinking about the conversation on my blog yesterday about relationships.  I remembered that last year (pretty much exactly a year ago, actually) I had been trying to find a shadchan (matchmaker) who would work with someone with depression in the UK, but I had no success.  However, my Dad asked the wife of the assistant rabbi at his shul (synagogue) and she suggested someone (I’ll call her Rebbetzin D).  I was going to phone her after Pesach, but then I started dating E. and so didn’t.  After E. broke up with me, I was too pessimistic about anyone ever wanting to marry me to do anything about dating again until recently.

Last night I thought about contacting her at some point soon to see if she could help me meet someone, but I was nervous, so I decided to see if her email address was online anywhere.  I found her LinkedIn page and looked on that to see if I could find an email address… and accidentally added her to my network (or whatever they call the equivalent of friending on LinkedIn).  The only way I could think of to salvage the situation was to take advantage of the facility to add a short note to the friend request.  Which I did, trying to explain my situation in under 300 characters.

I suppose if this was a hasgacha pratit (Divine Providence) story of the kind so beloved by Jewish websites, my mistake would result in her setting me up with someone who turned out to be my soulmate.  The reality is she accepted the request, but has not replied to the message, so far as I can tell (I’m not really good with LinkedIn).  I don’t know what to do now, whether it’s worth messaging again or phoning in a few weeks or just accepting that, like lots of other people I asked about trying to set a depressed person up with someone, she doesn’t know what to do or maybe thinks I shouldn’t actually be looking to get married.

I actually feel less depressed about this for the stupid mistake and more for the aspect of “Oh, there’s another thing I’ve tried that hasn’t worked.  How many options do I have left?  Anything?”  I just feel so hopeless.  That was my last option and it didn’t work.  I feel that I’m going to be alone and unloved forever.  Goodness knows what will happen when my parents aren’t able to support me (financially and emotionally).  I know I should be challenging these thoughts with CBT, but they seem real and not distorted.  I know I’m catastrophising, but I feel I’m also drawing “evidence-based conclusions” from past experience.  It’s not catastrophising to say I’m never going to win the lottery or be a billionaire.  Why is it catastrophising to say I’m going to be alone forever?

***

The plus side: this made me check my LinkedIn page for the first time in ages and realised it was really out of date.  Not just missing my current job, but the one before too.  I keep my CV up to date, but not my LinkedIn page, which is very twentieth century of me.  So I guess it’s good that I noticed.

I have jobs I could apply for, but I don’t want any of them, and don’t think I would get any of them, or could do any of them if I got them, so it’s hard to get motivated.

***

So, today I updated my LinkedIn page, browsed jobs online again and found nothing I felt competent to do, again.  I can’t tell how much is low self-esteem and how is that I’m genuinely not qualified for anything decent.  Looking at my CV and LinkedIn page, I realise just how over-qualified I am – on paper – for my current job, yet I feel I’m only just coping with it and could not manage anything more complicated or time-consuming.  I feel such a screw-up.

***

I just had an instant messenger conversation with an advisor at Remploy, the organisation for helping disabled people in the workplace.  They gave me some links, but I’m not sure that any of them offer what I actually want/need, careers advice about whether I’m in the right sector or if I have transferable skills that might be useful in a more comfortable sector, especially one where I can find part-time work more easily.  I feel I’m doing something wrong with work, but I don’t know what and I don’t know how to find out what I’m doing wrong, because I don’t know the right questions to ask or the person to ask them to.

This did, however, lead on to a longer and more useful instant messenger conversation at the National Careers Service.  The person there said that I’m doing the right sort of thing in my job search, which is good, but also means that if I’m struggling, there are no quick fixes.  But he suggested a couple of other specialist job sites to look at, including one for NHS jobs.  I knew that hospitals have libraries, but it seems there are more information management jobs in the NHS than I was aware of.  Similarly, I knew about civil service libraries (although I think most ministries have shut theirs now because of budget cuts), but there is a specialist civil service recruitment site which might be useful.

I feel I have some options for the future, but I feel my depression and autism are really stopping me finding anything suitable for me and making it difficult for me to pursue a career in a structured and focused way, or to find a job at the moment, while I can’t work full-time.  I don’t know what I can do about that.

***
Other people seem to know how to do useful things, and I feel that the only thing I can do is write about my feelings.  And I don’t even understand them properly, I write to try to understand them.  The world seems not to be set up for people like me to thrive in it.  I just seem to be a huge failure.  I’m not exactly suicidal, but I’m not sure what benefit there is to the world in my staying alive, except that I have a few family members and friends who care about me (although I don’t know why).  I’m such a screw-up.  No wonder hardly anyone wants to employ me and no one wants to date me.

***

I phoned the NHS about CBT again.  I’m on the waiting list for it, but I don’t know how long I will have to wait.  I keep phoning and leaving messages, but no one answers or replies.  In the meantime, I feel I need some kind of therapy.  I’m not entirely convinced CBT will work, although I was willing to give it another try, at least to work on my self-esteem issues, but I’m wondering if I should just go back to my (privately-funded) psychodynamic psychotherapist on the grounds that she would probably see me at short notice and I know I can talk to her.  My parents said I should wait a week now they’re back from holiday and see how I feel.

My parents also said that if I was lonely while I was away, I could have What’sApped them.  It genuinely did not occur to me to do this which is probably autistic rigidity of thought, although if questioned, I would probably have assumed that they were busy or else they would have phoned me, as they usually do (apparently my Mum didn’t want me to think she was over-protective, so she didn’t phone at all).

***

My life just seems a mess right now.  No career, no job (not the same thing), no relationship.  Few friends, but I feel I’m mishandling the friendships I do have as well as my relationships with my parents and sister.  I don’t turn to them (friends and family) for help, because I don’t want to overwhelm them, and my non-blogging friends don’t really know much about my mental health, but then there’s a barrier between us because it feels to me (although probably not to them) that my depression and autism are the huge twin elephants in the room.  It doesn’t help that I can’t really describe what I feel at all in speech and only imperfectly in writing, so non-blog-reading people are not getting me at my most eloquent about my issues and feelings.

I just feel that the whole of my life is just wrong and I don’t know where to start to fix it, let alone how to fix it.  Looking at this comment I left on Rivki Silver’s blog earlier today, I feel like a drama queen, but it also feels completely true.  I genuinely do not know how I change my employment situation or my social/romantic situation (lumping singleness and lack of close real-world friends together, although they are probably different).  And the helplessness and hopelessness is just killing me.  I’m pushing myself to the limits of what I’m comfortable with (in terms of social anxiety in particular) to further my career without getting anywhere.  I just don’t know what else I could do about dating either.  Contacting Rebbetzin D. was my last option.  I suppose I might hear from the values-based dating service one day or I could go back to online dating, but it seems a way to lose a lot of money without getting anywhere, and my sister does not approve of it.  And there are still professional shadchanim, although everyone seems to be sceptical of those.  And the issue is as much about getting women to date me after they meet me or hear my story than to get set up on dates in the first place.

Drawing Lines

Shabbat (the Sabbath) was hard.  I did somehow make it to shul (synagogue) on Friday night, despite fears that the house would burn down if I left the Shabbat candles unattended.  I was five minutes late, but I did make it.  But my mood dipped a bit in the evening.  I stayed up late reading (I finished 13 Minutes, but I hardly did any Jewish reading) and didn’t get to bed until 1.00am.  Then I slept until 1.00pm and spent another hour feeling too depressed to move.  I did eventually get up and eat lunch, but after seudah (the third meal), I felt too depressed to go back to shul for shiur (Talmud class) and Ma’ariv (the Evening service) and went back to bed and dozed for another hour or so.  I’ve got no idea how I will get to sleep tonight.

***

I don’t remember much of what I was thinking about over Shabbat.  Mostly depressing stuff I imagine.  I do remember sitting with my head in my hands during seudah wondering why I am so repulsive to everyone (well, primarily to women).

I did try to remember some thoughts I  had based on recent posts/comments.

In response to the post about getting drunk on Purim not being an issue if you have an ‘inside’, I think in retrospect that I don’t actually know what the assistant rabbi was saying and I don’t want to put words into his mouth.  The things people have said in response here and away from the blog have not clarified things.  I suppose what it triggered in me was a feeling that ‘people who think they are bad are probably right’ which is probably not what he meant, but did reinforce my low self-esteem.

***

I think what I was trying to say in these posts is that it’s hard to tell how much leeway I have, religiously, in terms of mitzvah (religious commandment) performance from my issues.   There is a concept in Judaism that everyone is judged on their own level, on what could be expected of them given their physical and mental health, background, religious upbringing, abilities and so forth.  A person who is doing 100% of what they can do on a low level is greater than someone on a much higher level, but only doing 50% of what he could do.  The difficulty is judging where I fit in with that, what level I should be on and what can reasonably be expected from someone in my situation.

For example, in just under two weeks, it will be Purim and one of the main mitzvot of the festival is listening to Megillat Esther (the Book of Esther), once in the evening and once in the morning, being careful to hear every word (despite the noise made when the villainous Haman’s name is read).  If a person is deaf (assume 100% deaf, if they have impaired hearing it gets very complicated), though, they obviously don’t have to do this, because they can’t.  The Hebrew term is patur, exempt.

Now, listening to the Megillah is not easy for me.  The requirement to hear every word has historically been an opportunity for my religious OCD to make me panic about not having heard something.  The noise in shul is potentially difficult for someone with autism.  The sheer number of people is difficult for me with social anxiety.  The emphasis on experiencing extreme joy is paradoxically triggering of depression.  And getting up early to hear the morning reading is difficult with depression too, although I now live in a more religious area where there are probably readings at different times (but if I go somewhere new, that brings back the social anxiety).  But are any of these things severe enough to say I don’t have to even try to hear it?  I doubt it.  Maybe if I go and have a terrible time I have grounds for not beating myself up, but I don’t think I should stay away.

Judaism is all about drawing boundaries.  If someone is this ill, they can eat this much on Yom Kippur or can violate Shabbat this much to treat them.  I find with mental illness and autism it is harder to draw lines.  What I can do can vary not just from day to day, but from hour to hour and depends on myriad other factors (tiredness, hunger, other emotions, external triggers, etc.).  So it is very hard for me to judge myself.

Another example: this last Yom Kippur, I went to shul in the evening, but I was so exhausted and depressed as a result of attending the crowded two hour service that the next day I slept so late and had such difficulty getting up with depression and low blood sugar from the fast, that I didn’t get to shul until about 4pm, near the end of the day.  I have tried not to blame myself for this, as I doubt I could have done much differently, but I do wonder if I could have done more (this is aside from the issue of being seen to come in incredibly late by a shul full of people who don’t know or understand my issues).

“You’ve won it once. Now you’ll have to go out there and win it again.”

I’m very tired after a difficult few days (with more stress to come in the next few days), so I’m just listing a few things from today with one slightly longer reflection.

I had a disturbing dream last night.  I even know what inspired it: an episode of Jonathan Creek, although why my unconscious mind waited a month since I watched the episode before forcing it on me is a mystery.  Perhaps because of this, I woke tired and struggled through the early morning.

***

I had to fight my religious OCD last night and today.  It’s generally under control, but I know that I can easily slip back into it, particularly when tired, stressed, hungry or depressed, so I have to keep on fighting, which can be draining when combined with my other issues.

***

I had some success using CBT techniques to ignore or challenge negative thoughts about myself (thoughts that my colleague hated me and my insistence on precisely following security procedure with the rare books).

***

One of my other colleagues congratulated me on my book choices for yesterday’s exhibition saying they were powerful and she was still thinking about them.

***

I had a migraine by the time I finished work again.  I’m not sure why I keep getting them lately.  It may be because I work so long without breaks.  I worked for three hours without much of a break this morning and four hours after lunch, with one or two toilet breaks, but no food breaks and little or no water because of the fact that I’m not supposed to bring food or drink near the rare books.  This was after deciding that the basement was too hot to work in and taking the books up to the office despite the extra time taken in the hope I wouldn’t get a headache from the heat.  Then again, one of the migraines was not at work, so I could be seeing patterns where there are none.  I felt so bad that when the working day finished I stayed in the staff room for a long time because I was worried that I would throw up on a hot and crowded Tube train.  Eventually I felt well enough to come home, by which time the Tube was less crowded and I got a seat easily, but I had to walk home from the station as my parents had gone out.

***

I listened to/watched three of the four episodes of The Celestial Toymaker today “listened” because 97 episodes of 1960s Doctor Who survive only as off-air audio recordings made by fans in the days before home video.  Listening at least meant that I could do something when I was in the staff room with a migraine.  The Celestial Toymaker is one of my least favourite stories, but I found a nugget of new insight for my book, so it was worth it.

***

The more likely it seems that I’m on the autistic spectrum, the easier it gets to “forgive” myself for not having the lifestyle I “should” have (career, spouse, children) or the religious life I “should” have (career, spouse, children again; plus daven (pray) more often, at greater length, with greater kavannah (mindfulness) and with a minyan (community); study more Torah, especially more Talmud; and improve my character traits more).  I don’t know why depression on its own was not enough to make me forgive myself, but somehow with autism, depression, social anxiety and occasional OCD, I feel I have a “reason” to be where I am.

I do feel a bit like I have to constantly reinvent the wheel every day, though.  Every day I have to learn how to cope and be Jewish with autism and depression.  The fact that I managed it yesterday is no guarantee that I can manage it again today.  The quote that came into my head today, even though I don’t like football, was England manager Alf Ramsey to the team before extra time in the 1966 World Cup final: “You’ve won it once. Now you’ll have to go out there and win it again.”  That’s how it feels, that every day I have to learn how to win, how to be me, how to be depressed and autistic and Jewish and survive, and then the next day I have to do it all over again.

Snoopy’s Happy Dance and Other Minor Victories

Shabbat (the Sabbath) was full of minor victories and minor setbacks.  The setbacks: I woke up about 9.00am and contemplated getting to shul (synagogue – it starts at 8.45am, but at the moment I’d see getting there by 10.00am, or even at all, as a victory), but I got too anxious about what people might say to me if I was so late and went back to bed.  This is not good.  I also tried not to nap in the afternoon, especially as I slept twelve hours overnight, but I dozed off for twenty minutes or so.

The victories: I ate less junk food than I normally do on Shabbat (the only day I really over-indulge, but I need to lose some of the weight I’ve gained on clomipramine) and I finished reading The Dispossessed and another volume of The Complete Peanuts.  I also managed to see off what would once have been a major religious OCD meltdown quite easily and discussed my worries about tomorrow (see below) with my parents.  I also mostly put the mistake I made before Shabbat out of my head.

***

The oneg (Shabbat social event) that I thought was this week turns out to be next week.  I still don’t really want to go, or at least I don’t want to go if I’m my usual socially anxious self, but my Mum is encouraging me to go, especially as I’m home for Shabbat dinner alone next week.  I feel I should try to do social things, as I would like to have some friends and not turn into an antisocial hermit, but I’m not really sure this is the best way to do it.  I suspect I will be wrestling with this one all week.

***

I spoke to my parents a bit more about the autism workshop they went to on Wednesday for the family of people on the spectrum.  I said sometimes I worry that I won’t be diagnosed and did they really think that I was on the spectrum.  “YES!!!!!” was their immediate response.  So that was good, I think.

***

I’m troubled by a social/religious thing at shul, but I don’t want to discuss it here at the moment.  It’s tricky though and is making me a bit worried.

I’m also worrying about the coming fortnight.  Tomorrow I have volunteering, which I enjoy (albeit that I struggle with the social aspect), but which is very tiring, then when I get home, my sister and brother-in-law are here for dinner, but I’m not sure how I’ll be feeling, plus I’ll want to go and have some ‘alone time’ or I won’t sleep and an early night as I’m working on Monday this week.  I’ve been told I can go upstairs after the main course if I want/need to, which is good, but I would feel a bit bad doing that.

Monday is an event at work.  We’ve been planning it for a while, so it will be good to finally have it, but I will have to talk to strangers (gulp) about history stuff that I haven’t looked at for years (English Civil Wars and Interregnum which was my Special Subject at Oxford, but which I haven’t studied for fourteen years and Chartism, which I haven’t seen since secondary school).  Tuesday is an ordinary work day, then Wednesday is the last mental health class which I need to navigate and on Thursday I need to get a haircut and talk to someone from Remploy about working with autism and depression.

The Monday after that I have a networking training session (i.e. they train us to network better.  Getting me to network at all would be a start) and I’m out late at a Jewish Book Week event in the evening, but I will still need to be up early on Tuesday and Wednesday, as they are work days that week, then on Thursday I will see a(nother) psychiatrist if the NHS doesn’t mess me around again.  So overall it’s a busy fortnight.

Writing it down, it doesn’t seem so scary, but in my head it does.

***

I mentioned that I’m reading The Complete Peanuts.  It’s rather an interesting thing to read with depression and autism.  Everyone says it’s a strip about disappointment and unrequited it love, which on one level it is.  Charlie Brown never getting a Valentine’s day card.  So many unrequited crushes (Lucy for Schroder, Sally for Linus, Peppermint Patty for Charlie Brown and especially Charlie Brown for the red-haired girl).  The kite-eating tree.  The baseball team that never wins.  Charlie Brown never kicking the football.  The never-obtained Joe Shlabotnik baseball card.  The never-seen Great Pumpkin.  And so on.

But what doesn’t seem to get mentioned so much is that it’s also a strip about finding joy in being yourself, even if it makes you look weird to everyone else.  Snoopy’s fantasy life.  Linus’ security blanket.  Schroeder’s Beethoven obsession (is he autistic?).  Snoopy’s happy dance.  It’s actually quite reassuring that it says, yes, there’s a lot of misery out there, but it is possible to be happy, even if other people might think you’re nuts for doing what you’re doing.

Counter-Factuals

Trying to be brief as I took writing time to go to shiur (religious class) and work on my book, plus I need to go to bed as I have a new mental health course starting in the morning…

I was thinking while getting dressed this morning that my life would be so much better if I was not autistic (admittedly this assumes that I am autistic, which is still not certain.  “If I didn’t have autistic symptoms” might be more accurate).  I would be able to interact normally with people, probably wouldn’t be depressed and socially anxious, would have a better chance of a good job and a stable income and of a lasting relationship.  But by the time I had got to the station, I thought that there are just too many counter-factuals in something like that.  Once you start changing things, where do you stop?  If I wasn’t autistic, what would I be?  I think this is progress, of a kind.

***

Work was mostly fine today, except that when I left I was pleased with myself for not OCD checking I’d locked up the rare books store, except that by the time I was halfway down the road I was so anxious about it that I went back.  I need to work harder on exposure therapy.  There was also a nagging feeling throughout the day that I had forgotten something and wasn’t doing my job properly.  I don’t trust myself any more at work.

I also intended to walk home from the station, but by the time I arrived, I was so exhausted I had to phone my Mum for a lift.  Not good in multiple ways (exercise, environment, independence).

***

So far as I can tell, there are only a couple of books on mental health from a Jewish perspective and none at all on autism (high functioning or severe) and Judaism, let alone autism, mental health and Judaism together, so maybe there is room for my misery memoir in a crowded market after all.  I need to find the right tone, though; I’m hoping to use my blog as a basis for the text, but what is right here may not be right there.  I do wonder if there would be any backlash from some of the things I say, but I doubt many (any?) people in my community would read it.  That said, I don’t really want my parents or people from my community, let alone my rabbi, reading my thoughts about being a thirty-five year old virgin in a community that both fears and celebrates sexuality, but only permits it within marriage, which it therefore encourages at a young age… but maybe that fear in itself is reason for writing it.

***

I often wonder what other people really think of me.  I usually assume it’s something bad, or nothing at all.  It’s hard to believe it might be something good, but maybe I’m wrong.  I honestly don’t know what most people, including my friends, think of me.  I don’t know if that’s autism or something else.  (This is inspired by some interactions at work today and trying to work out how successful they were.)

One Better Day

Today was a better day.  I seem to be relying on work days to give me a jolt of energy and snap me out of depression and into active mode.  Which is good so far as it goes, but I worry about not having much positive in my life outside of work (my writing is positive, but as yesterday showed, the thought that I could/should be writing is not always depression-defeating).  I also worry what will happen if my contract doesn’t get renewed past March.

***

I’m not sure if I’ve mentioned that my part of the library where I work is running an event/exhibition later this month for students from an art school.  My line manager asked me to find material for it.  The theme is ‘protest’ so I picked a load of pamphlets and books dating from the English Civil Wars and Interregnum, Chartism, Jewish emancipation debate and early editions of famous satirical novels (before everyone jumps on me, I was going to include women’s suffrage too, but my line manager said that was the theme last year and to avoid duplication).  There was some other interesting material too, but I can’t really talk about it as it would make it more obvious (at least to some people) which university I’m working It’s a shame I can’t mention some of the unique material that would identify the university, as some of it is really interesting or exciting.  In particular, we’re the semi-official archive for the papers of writer I really like, so it’s quite exciting to work with that.

I was talking my line manager and one of the curators through my choices today.  My line manager has a PhD in history, but not in any of the periods I was dealing with and the curator I think didn’t have a direct history background.  I was really nervous about talking to them and trying hard not to shake, but I think they liked it.  To be honest, I hadn’t looked at the Civil Wars and Interregnum for nearly fifteen years (final year of my BA); Chartism for even longer (secondary school) so I probably made some mistakes, but it seemed to be good enough on the whole and my line manager was very pleased.  I’m terrified of having to go through this again in a few weeks with a bunch of strangers (art students!  Scary bohemian types, who probably drink pot and smoke acid!).

I did get a bit of a buzz from presenting, though.  I’ve done public speaking in the past, but it’s something I haven’t done for a long time, because my previous experience was mostly in my old shul (synagogue); at the current one there aren’t opportunities to present and I would feel too inadequate and shy to do so if there were.  I don’t lead services any more for the same reason.  I do get something from presenting, though, even if I drive myself crazy with fear of shaking and over-analysing my mistakes.

Other than that, work was fairly straightforward today, except that there were severe train delays on the way in and I had to go via an alternative route.  I was only a few minutes late in the end and I did work into my lunch to make up the time (and still ended up leaving late at the end of the day), but I wasn’t sure if I was supposed to tell anyone I was making up the time or if that just sounded silly and childish.  My line manager wasn’t in when I arrived, so I told her line manager why I was late, but I wasn’t sure if that was the right thing to do or if I should have told my line manager when she arrived.  It’s this kind of pragmatic social interaction that I find really difficult, being on the autism spectrum.

There were a couple of other moments of social awkwardness today, too trivial to mention, which could be plain old social anxiety and self-consciousness rather than autism, but I do feel like I’m in a world I don’t understand a lot of the time.  I follow a blog written by the co-carer for a boy with autism and I was thinking recently of commenting to say that if he seems sometimes to be unintelligible to his carers, from his point of view everyone in the world is unintelligible, and then it hit me that that’s exactly how I feel, albeit with the caveat that my autism is not so severe and I’ve learnt masking and coping strategies over time and built empathy and perspective-taking skills.

***

I have also had some anxiety around locking doors at work, especially the strong room where the rare books are stored.  I probably need to keep an eye on this to stop it turning into full-blown OCD.  I’ve been going back to double-check things and I probably should not do so and just tell myself that I’ve got to move on (exposure therapy).  This is easy to say, but hard to do.

***

I’m signed up to a newsletter with links to articles on autism on a health website and I came home to find a LOT today.  Some of them look useful, at least for my family if not for me, but I’m not sure when I’m going to get the time to read them.  Lots of useful-looking stuff about what “mild” or “high functioning” autism actually means and how to explain it to people, now that the term “Asperger’s Syndrome” has officially been scrapped.  On the other hand, reading this kind of stuff makes me worry that I’m not ‘really’ autistic, I’m just lazy and useless, which I guess is the problem of having some symptoms strongly, but others very mildly or not at all.

There is a whole article about how mild autism can be masked in some people by high intelligence and strong language skills which I guess is what happened to me.  I certainly learnt early on not to talk about my special interest (Doctor Who) to most people, and I remember my parents telling me after one parents’ evening that I didn’t make eye contact with my teachers all evening; ever since I’ve struggled consciously to make eye contact, even though it feels very uncomfortable and I have no idea if I’m doing it too much/not enough.  I don’t know if I exhibited any obvious stimming or echolalia when I was very young, but I’m pretty sure Authority would have stopped me soon enough if I had.  I do stim, but so subtly I’ve only become aware of it in the past couple of years and while I like the sound of some words (like ‘echolalia’) it would feel ‘wrong’ to say them aloud for no reason, although lately I have started to sometimes say words for no reason other than liking the sound when no one else is around.

A sympathetic psychiatrist might diagnose me, but an unsympathetic one would just reiterate all the assessments that said I was not on the spectrum.  Naturally, I hear the voice of the unsympathetic one in my head and tell myself I’m stupid, incompetent and lazy.  Actually, that’s not quite true.  Since my positive autism screening it has been a little bit easier to accept myself for who I am, but I do think another negative assessment could set me back a long way.  I don’t think I could easily be persuaded that I’m neurotypical now, though.  I think there’s something different about me, whether or not it’s autism.

***

I’m getting more into The Dispossessed, which turns out to be as much about loneliness as about science fictional technology or anarchism vs. capitalism.  There was a paragraph I read today, too long to quote in full, about how painful it is for a child to feel different and that the only way to alleviate this pain is to know adults who are also different to show that this is OK.  Like Shevek, I had loving adults in my life, but none who were different and could show me how to be different and cope with solitude.

***
I need to respond to the email from the dating service I signed up to.  I have very mixed feelings about that.  Part of me wants to leave it already or at least procrastinate over taking the next step, while part of me wants to go ahead with it.  I begin to suspect that Brexit will be quicker and easier to resolve than my love life…

Rules You Never Told Me

Today was a “no spoons” sort of day…

1.15pm: I had weird dreams, woke up exhausted, depressed and OCD anxious, had breakfast, still felt exhausted and depressed, went back to sleep and woke up too late to daven Shacharit (say the morning prayers), none of which is good.  I still feel exhausted and depressed (I keep going back to bed), albeit less so and at least the OCD anxiety seems to have gone.  It’s probably good that I have work to focus on tomorrow.

It’s 1.15pm and I’m still not fully dressed.  Sitting half-dressed, feeling exhausted, lonely and overwhelmed.  Yesterday I thought that my ‘downs’ were at least better than they used to be, but today I’m not sure.  It’s probably that there’s more variation over a day than over several days, that I still dip as low as ever some days, but I get higher up every day too.  Right now I can’t do anything, though, just struggling to get dressed.  Spent a while lying in bed in a quiet dark room, which suggests I was overstimulated yesterday, even though I was only at the party for an hour.  (Of course, today it’s probably good that I’m due to watch more of Doctor Who: The Sensorites as it’s difficult to think of anything less stimulating!)  My Dad just said I’m “slow today” which doesn’t exactly help things.

2.40pm: After lunch and an episode of The Sensorites.  Still very depressed and drained.  Not sure what sort of targets would be realistic to set today.  I don’t want to waste the whole day, but not sure what I can do, given that I’ll feel worse if I set a target and fail to meet it.

2.45pm: Yuk.  Just came across this post online about why to study in yeshiva.  Reason number three is that your children won’t respect you if you don’t go, because you won’t be able to help them with their kodesh (Jewish studies) homework.  The number one reason, ahead of even getting spiritual inspiration or study skills, is that it will move you up in the “Jewish marriage market” and you won’t get “a great spouse and a beautiful family” without it (those are exact quotes from the article).  So, pretty much all my fears about no one frum (religious) enough for me wanting to marry me because I didn’t go to yeshiva are vindicated.  Because marriage is a market and the idea is to marry the “best” person (the most learned man, the prettiest woman (or the one with the richest father)), not the person who is right for you.  At least my rabbi mentor disagrees strongly with this viewpoint (and I wouldn’t want to marry someone Chabad anyway, and they wouldn’t want to marry me for more reasons than just that I didn’t go to yeshiva).

That said, I do sometimes wonder if I should have gone to yeshiva, if the experience might have helped me avoid depression or if I would just have been as lonely there as I was at university; or whether it would have helped me fit in to the frum community or if my autistic symptoms and social anxiety would just have been exacerbated in the noise of a beit midrash (study hall, where students debate loudly in pairs) or if the depression would have been exacerbated by the long working days (eight hours or more of study with few breaks and little recreation allowed, plus early starts and late finishes to mess up my sleep pattern) and the communal living with, I think, little opportunity for me to have the time I need alone (unless you go to a yeshiva that encourages meditation, but only Breslov and some Mussar yeshivot would do that).

E. says it’s a shame that I don’t have any distraction/procrastination sites that don’t end up upsetting me (usually about religion or politics) sooner or later.  I suspect the problem is more that I get upset really easily even when looking at stuff that shouldn’t be triggering.

3.10pm: struggling to work out what to do today.  I still haven’t put on tefillin or davened (prayed) yet today, so I really ought to do that.  I would also like to try to go for a walk, as I need exercise.  But I think doing my weekly Talmud study is out of the question, ditto cooking dinner or working on my mental health book.  I’m just too depressed and drained.

I got a letter from HMRC (the taxman).  They wrote to me some months ago saying I hadn’t paid enough tax in the last fiscal year (although I’ve no idea why, as I’m taxed PAYE) and that I owed them about £60.  When I queried this they said I still owed them a “small” amount of money (they didn’t say how much), but that I didn’t have to pay because the administrative costs in processing it were too great.  Today I received another letter from them saying I do have to pay the £60 after all, and I have to pay in less than three weeks.  I do not know what to do.

The money itself isn’t the issue.  I can pay £60.  I do feel like I’m having money extorted out of me and that there are other tax evaders and avoiders they should be focusing on, but I believe in a mixed market system of capitalism-plus-a-welfare-safety-net and I don’t really begrudge paying towards that, even though I feel I’m not really earning enough to justify treating me as one of society’s wealthy rather than needy.

However, I struggle to understand and deal with things like this and get panicked by them, which troubles me.  I don’t know whether it’s because of depression, autism, laziness, stupidity, or something else…  It’s worrying, because I wouldn’t know how to cope with these things without my father to help me.  I suppose it’s also a blow to my self-esteem, because tax demands feel like a ‘book learning’-type thing that I used to be good at, so it’s disappointing not to be able to cope.

I do wonder how I would cope at school these days, given that the depression seems to have eroded my intelligence and autism-masking skills.  I certainly don’t think I could get in to Oxford again if I was seventeen again.  Mind you, I suspect that even at the time my academic success was masking practical and social failure.  I was certainly often told that “For a clever boy, you can be very stupid sometimes.”  It’s just a shame I can’t remember what mishaps provoked that sentiment, as I’m sure it would be useful for my autism assessment.

Actually, I doubt I could lead shul (synagogue) services or give divrei Torah (Torah talks) as I did in my previous shul, although that may be as much to do with feeling inadequate in my new community as to the effects of the depression per se.

6.00pm:  A matchmaker from the values-based dating service I applied to last week got in touch to arrange to meet to discuss what I’m looking for in a wife.  I feel too depressed to think that it’s a good idea to respond at the moment.  I guess I’m scared to do it too.  I can’t see trying to have a relationship ending well in any circumstance.  There is the problem that anyone frum enough for me would probably think I’m not frum enough for her, while anyone who could accept my geeky interests and non-yeshiva education would probably not want to accept my level of religious commitment.  But beyond this, and arguably more problematically than it, I have the problem that I’m just too broken for anyone ‘normal’ to take and while I’ve dated women with issues of their own, that always ends in my getting hurt by them.  It’s so tempting to email the matchmaker and say that this was all a huge mistake and/or I’m too ill or to make some other excuse and duck out of this.

***

Things done today:

  • Got up and got dressed (eventually – it was a bad enough day for this to be worth noting);
  • davened twice;
  • blogged;
  • shaved (albeit very late);
  • ca10 minutes of Torah study;
  • twenty-five minute walk (fairly brisk, but with quite a lot of agitated thoughts);
  • cooked plain pasta for dinner for self and parents;
  • made lunch and packed for work tomorrow;
  • 5 minutes breathing meditation, ten minutes hitbodedut unstructured prayer/meditation;
  • showered;
  • watched TV to distract myself instead of some online procrastination (Doctor Who and The Avengers (the British John Steed and Mrs Peel Avengers).

Things not done today:

  • weekly Talmud study;
  • dealing with tax demand;
  • responding to dating service email;
  • doing more work on either/any of my books;
  • reading any more of The Dispossessed (really struggling to get into this book, even though I can see it’s objectively good.  Maybe it’s just not the right time).

My Identity = My Thoughts?

Just a thought I had that I thought was worth getting down while it was fresh rather than leaving until tomorrow:

The whole ‘I have no share in Olam HaBa (the Next World, which for this post can be either Heaven or the messianic era)” fixation that I’ve had for the last few years started with my Pesach OCD, thinking (correctly) that we didn’t previously keep the special Pesach (Passover) dietary laws properly through ignorance and (incorrectly) assuming that was the same as deliberately flouting them and would be punished the same way i.e. through losing my share in Olam HaBa.  Since then the feeling has never really gone away for long.  This has puzzled me a little, as my religious OCD is now reasonably under control.  Obviously these thoughts have a receptive audience in me, given that I experienced a lot of rejection from authority figures as a child and it’s easy to project that on to God and assume He hates me, as well as using this a focal point for my own self-loathing.  But I wonder if there is something else here too.

I just found myself thinking that while some people may have to rectify a particular trait or thought process to have Olam HaBa, I would have to change my whole mind, because I’m just full of ‘bad’ thoughts all day long.  I was thinking about having offensive or insulting thoughts about other people at the time, but I could apply it to religiously offensive or violent or sexual thoughts.

When I was doing CBT for my OCD, my therapist gave me some research results that show that, for example, over 50% of people have felt a sudden impulse to say something rude or insulting to a friend even though they were not angry with them; over 20% of people have, on seeing a knife, thought of slitting their own wrist or throat; and 11% or women and 18% of men have had the impulse to masturbate in public.

It’s reassuring in a way to see that extreme thoughts similar to those that I experience are just normal, albeit perhaps more frequent and intense in my case than for most people, which is probably the result of the OCD anxiety itself (the more you try not to think about something, the more you think about it).  But somehow I still make the equation “My identity = My thoughts” and therefore assume that having ‘bad’ thoughts mean I am a bad person even if I don’t act on those thoughts.  And because bad thoughts have no place in Olam HaBa, they would have to be removed for me to go there… but then there won’t be anything left because I am just bad thoughts!  Or I think I am just bad thoughts, because I think my identity is my thoughts which is tantamount to saying my soul is my consciousness, which is probably not theologically correct.  At any rate, the assumption in Judaism is that a Jew has an element of Jewish identity even if he or she completely rejects Judaism consciously, which would seem to indicate that our soul is something deeper and more durable than our conscious thoughts.

I’m not sure that I’m explaining myself well here.  It’s a shame I’m not currently in therapy, as I would like to know what my previous psychodynamic therapist would have made of this.  There is probably more to say about this, but it’s late and I should go to bed.  Perhaps I will return to this train of thought in the coming days.

Draining Workarounds, Unfinished Conversations and Accessories to Murder

I had another reasonably good, if tiring, day today.  This is beginning to look like A Trend.  Which is good, but also scary, as whenever I get used to things going well and start talking about Recovery, things go horribly wrong.  I haven’t been well for more than six months in the last sixteen years, so I shouldn’t read too much into six days, but it feels as if things might be getting better… which leaves me wondering when they will get worse.  Maybe “Recovery” isn’t the right mindset for someone in my position to have.  Maybe I should be thinking of a succession of short-terms, permanently.  I probably will always have some depression, or the threat of it, and certainly I will always be autistic.  I have been thinking for a while now of managing my mental health issues and managing my autism rather than recovering.

I had some anxiety on the way into work this morning, some of it understandable (work anxieties, dating) some of it less so (beating myself up for not davening with a minyan (praying with a community) and feeling no one who would be frum (religious) enough for me to date would want to marry me unless I was davening with a minyan more often, at least on Shabbat (Saturday) mornings).  My new affirmation (“My thoughts are not always my friends”) was quite useful here and I was reasonably calm, albeit that I did accidentally set off the alarms at work by being too hasty to check on some things I did in the vault last week.

I could also feel my OCD trying to get me again this evening.  Actually, I’m not sure that it is OCD.  Years ago someone on a mental health forum I used to frequent said that her grandmother was euthanized by a doctor, in a way that implied she approved, and periodically I remember this and wonder if I should have told someone, although as I don’t have a name, date or country, let alone place, where this is supposed to have happened, if it is even true, it seems unlikely that I could actually report it to anyone, let alone that a police force would take it seriously.  But every so often something makes me think of it and I feel like an unwitting accessory after the event and worry that there was something I should have done.

On the plus side, my mood was pretty good for most of the day, aside from these blips, and my kavannah (mindfulness) when davening has been much better the last few days.  Davening a little bit with kavannah is seen as better than davening a lot without it, so this makes me feel a bit better.

Despite this, I did have a couple of awkward moments at work.  I realised that I have trouble knowing when a conversation is finished or how to conclude a conversation that I sense is almost over.  I’ve been aware of this problem on some level for a while and I think it’s another autistic thing, but it’s become more of a problem in my new job, because it’s resulted in several awkward moments with my line manager.  I also had a difficult conversation in the staff room at lunch time.  I was staring into space, feeling tired and possibly a bit anxious when someone said, “Great book!”  It took me a minute to realise that he was speaking to me and another minute to realise that he was referring to the copy of The Dispossessed by Ursula le Guin that was on my lap.  He asked if I had read any more of her work and I did the autistic/fanboy thing of listing book titles I’ve read instead of having a normal conversation.

I have a lot of workarounds for social functioning with autism so that I can at least try to interact in the worlds of work and socialising, but these workarounds are very draining.  Imagine if your body worked fine, except that all of the processes that are now autonomic suddenly required conscious thought: breathing, heart beat, digestion etc.  Now imagine that you are trying to live a normal life while also consciously telling yourself, “Breathe in, breathe out, heart beat, digest lunch., breathe again…”  This is how I feel when talking to people I don’t feel comfortable with (which is most of them, on some level): I’m constantly telling myself to make more eye contact, but not too much, trying to read their body language, trying to read my own body language and check it’s saying what I want it to say, trying to process what they’re actually saying and respond to it in real time even though I don’t always take in spoken information easily and making snap decisions (like responding to a spoken stimulus) is very hard… no wonder I find conversation so anxiety-provoking, even without my childhood history of bullying.

My parents are speaking of paying for me to have a private autism assessment.  I am not convinced that it is a good use of money.  I don’t see a particular urgency in needing a diagnosis at this stage (their reasoning is if I get a new job I will need a diagnosis to get reasonable adjustments – see below) and private assessments are a lot of money.  Even then I could be told yet again that I’m not autistic.  By now I’m almost completely convinced I am autistic, but I’m worried I might be told again that my symptoms are not serious enough to warrant diagnosis, despite things like my comments in the immediately previous paragraph.

I’ve slacked off a bit in my job search since getting my current job.  The job is only two days a week and is technically only until the end of March (although I think unless I seriously mess something up in the next two months my line manager will lobby for me to stay longer, but only if the money is available, which is always the big if in higher education).  I feel I should be looking for something else either for Mondays and Wednesdays or for after March… yet I don’t feel inclined to look hard.  My last two jobs were so difficult and upsetting that I’m glad to be in a less intense work environment, both in terms of a job that is more suited to my personality and skill set and a reduced number of days per week that lets me recuperate more between work days as well as giving me time to work on my writing.  It’s much easier to see myself working in a salaried job for half a week and writing professionally for the other half than it is to see myself as working full-time or writing full-time.  I haven’t quite told my parents this yet, although I think I did tell them I was using my off time for writing.  I’m not quite sure how to tell them.

Writing, Dating and Other Diversions

Shabbat (the Sabbath) was good, although I’ve got the post-Shabbat slump at the moment.  Whether Shabbat finishes at 10.30pm in the height of summer or 4.45pm in the middle of winter, I always feel exhausted afterwards, probably because, by definition, it’s dark outside (Shabbat finishes when the stars come out) and, of course, there’s always tidying up to do (which admittedly is harder at 11.00pm in the summer), and although I’ve done my share of that tonight, I was struggling a little bit with some religious OCD thoughts that came up while I was doing it.  Telling myself that “My thoughts are not always my friends” does seem to help though.

Otherwise I’ve been quite well the last few days.  I still didn’t get to shul (synagogue) this morning, but I think I need to psych myself up for that at some point rather than just expect to start going again.  It’s a pity it’s hard to break it down to smaller steps that I can work on gradually (going later is almost as hard, in some ways harder, than being there for the start).  But my mood overall for the last few days has been positive, with optimistic thoughts about dating and writing and a lack of anxiety and depression, for all that I’m a bit worried about something I did at work.

***

I watched Star Trek Beyond this evening with my parents.  Watching films always seems to leave me drained in a way that watching TV does not.  When I go to the cinema, I assume it’s probably the sensory overload that does it, but I don’t know what does it on DVD.  Maybe concentrating for two hours is draining, even on days when I’m not consciously feeling depressed.

***

I’ve got a vague idea about writing the depression book a few people have said that they would like me to write.  I think, potentially, I could wade through the 1000 posts on this site (actually probably only about 600; the others are brief, private, personal journal posts) for material that can potentially be reworked and/or augmented as a book about depression.  But whereas I blog stuff as it happens to me or as I think of it, I could pick apart different themes (depression, autism, being mentally ill in the frum community) and stitch fragments of posts together to arrange the book thematically.  Maybe.  Or maybe this wouldn’t work, I’m not sure.  It needs some thought.  I don’t know what type of book people would want, what ‘value added’ they would want beyond the blog.  Please let me know your thoughts, particularly if you’re one of the people who has encouraged me to write a book on depression.

I want to set aside time on days when I don’t work to write the three (!) books I’m hoping to write: the Doctor Who book that is two-thirds written and which I’d like to get reasonably close to finished by Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year) in the autumn; the book on Orthodox Judaism for non-Jews; and the depression book, if I can get it to work.

***

CILIP, the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals, has sent me a pencil, badge and cardboard bookmark to mark my renewing my subscription.  The bookmark says, “I’m taking my career seriously – ready for the next challenge!” which seems a bit of a stretch for me.  I’m really not sure where I am with my career at the moment.  I’m hoping my job gets extended past March, but I’d rather spend the non-work days in the week working on my writing than working in a library.

***

I’m still thinking about trying to date again soon.  It requires working up a certain amount of courage.  I feel positive about it, but once I stop to think, it’s harder to accept that someone could want me, depression, autism and all.  I just read a couple of articles about “older singles” in the frum (religious Orthodox Jewish) community, which basically means singles over thirty or so years old.  They always say “X is in his late thirties and still single despite having nothing wrong with him.”  I know what they mean, but it always makes me feel, “If you’re neurotypical and mentally healthy and can’t get married, we’ll feel sorry for you, but if you’re autistic and depressed… well, what do you expect?”  I know that’s not quite what they mean, but it’s how it comes across.

Weirdly, I keep thinking about an acquaintance from school who I hadn’t thought about for years.  I didn’t really know her (it was a big school, with 240 children in a year and we didn’t have any classes together), but she always said hello to me using my name and it suddenly occurred to me the other day that maybe she liked me.  It’s weird to think that anyone at school could have had a crush on me, though, as I had terrible acne and was not good at making friends or even talking to people outside my immediate tiny friendship circle, especially not girls.  So maybe she was just being friendly.  But I’ve been vaguely wondering what would have happened if I had asked her out.  Or even if I’d actually spoken to her properly (I don’t think we ever really had a conversation).  I’m not sure why I keep thinking about her, though, particularly as I can’t really remember what she looked like.  Maybe that’s it: I remember her as a cheerful, positive and friendly presence (I didn’t experience many of those at school) more than a physical body and maybe I want that in my life.

Is This Coping?

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

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

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

Pensées

My mood was rather better today than it has been recently.  It felt a bit like my emotional ‘crash’ at work on Tuesday has helped me to get some things off my chest and now I feel I can work more confidently.  This is doubly so as my line manager was very pleased with my work today, including some where I was using quite a bit of initiative, so it’s good that she has seen what I’m capable of.  I did have some slight OCD anxiety about locking up the office and the rare books which I’m going to have to monitor to make sure it doesn’t get out of control.

I did manage to use an affirmation to try and fight my negative thoughts at work, including the OCD anxiety, which I don’t usually manage to do.  I’ve tried positive affirmations before (“I am a good person” etc.) without much success, as I don’t believe them, but at well-being group yesterday they gave us a long list of possible affirmations, a couple of which seemed to me to be more realistic.  I’ve opted for “My thoughts aren’t always my friends” to be used when depression, self-loathing, guilt or anxiety (including OCD anxiety) are threatening to get out of control.  I will see how I get on with this.  I think the actual affirmation was supposed to be “My mind is not always my friend” but I unconsciously changed it.  I think my version is better, because it’s less self-critical (talking about bad thoughts rather than my mind/self being wrong).

***

I saw the doctor this morning and we discussed why I felt so bad on Tuesday.  To be honest, I’m not sure what the trigger was, but it may have been going out for dinner with a large crowd of people I didn’t really know on Friday, plus trying to go to the shul (synagogue) meeting on Sunday and not making it, plus my parents being out on Monday evening and my mind spiralling downwards as sometimes happens when I’m alone.  We discussed ways to prevent this in future and I’m already thinking about how to avoid similar slumps after social engagements in the next few weeks.  I mentioned this to my parents, introducing them to the “spoon theory” of mentally ill/autistic energy levels; they seemed receptive.

***

As a result of the meeting I missed on Sunday, I’ve now found out about the six principles of my shul (synagogue).  They’re not really unexpected or controversial (fortunately), so I don’t feel that I’m in completely the wrong place, but two of them are about family, which makes me feel a bit… not unwelcome, but out of place.  But I think that would be the case wherever I went in the frum (religious Orthodox Jewish) world.  It’s a very family-centred religion.

***

I’m slowly inching towards writing the book about Judaism for non-Jews and non-religious Jews.  I’ve just started brainstorming a few ideas and I have some idea of what the structure will look like.  After my well-being course finishes next week, I’m hoping to spend some time writing on days when I don’t work.  That way I can think of myself as working partly in a library and partly in trying to become a semi-professional writer.  I will probably do some job hunting too, although my line manager hinted on Tuesday that she’s hoping to extend my contract past March if the money is available (“if the money is available” – the mantra of all libraries and universities).  I want to make progress with my Doctor Who book, but as I’m doing research and writing at the same time, my work won’t be continuous, as periodically I will write up all my notes and be waiting to do more research.  I hope to make progress with the Jewish book then (although that will also involve a mixture of researching and writing).

I’m less worried about the book being banned now.  I think that was the social anxiety speaking.  I still think I’m going to say stuff that would not be considered 100% OK in my community, I just don’t think anyone is going to notice or care (not noticing is quite likely; not caring less likely).  After all, no one in my shul is realistically part of the target audience.  I do need to talk to my rabbi mentor about what Torah I can write in a book for non-Jews, as technically non-Jews are supposed to learn Torah (except the first eleven chapters of Bereshit/Genesis and the whole of Iyov/Job), but I’ve raised the subject with him beforehand in the context of writing Torah on my blog and he didn’t think it was a problem (I just found the email where he told me, “We are required to be ambassadors to non-Jews, especially in today’s world where there is so much distorted
information out there… You MUST continue feeding informative and positive information to your friend, and others…”).

***

Yesterday I said I would consider dating if my contract gets renewed after March.  Today I found myself wondering if I need to wait that long.  The game-changer was realising that I actually need to date for quite a while to find out if a person is right for me and that the frum “dating for marriage in eight weeks” model of dating just won’t work for someone with so many issues and such poor people skills, not to mention such little dating experience and difficulty understanding his own feelings and emotional needs.  I need to date for many months to be sure my date can cope with me and that I can cope with her and to ease myself back into the idea of being in a relationship with someone else (bear in mind that in thirty-five years, my total time in a relationship amounts to about one year).

So, I don’t think I will be going to frum matchmakers just yet, but the dating service I linked to yesterday is, I think, for more ‘modern’ people and might be a way to meet someone who can cope with me and is on a compatible values level, which would include some basic religious compatibility (as religious observance is one of my core values, along with integrity).  I don’t think my wife would have to be as religious as me, as long as she kept what are sometimes thought of as the core mitzvot (commandments) of Jewish home life: Shabbat (the Sabbath), kashrut (the dietary laws) and niddah (the rules about when a couple can have sex), at least in a basic way.  While it’s tempting to fantasise about marrying a really shtark (super-frum) woman, it’s debatable whether I could actually cope with living with such a person even if I wasn’t mentally ill; it’s certainly unlikely she could cope with someone whose religious life is as impaired as mine necessarily is, not to mention issues about television, involvement in wider culture, my having non-Jewish and female friends etc.

I discussed dating with a friend who also has depression and autism recently.  She thinks it’s unfair that people say “If you aren’t happy single, you won’t be happy in a relationship” on the grounds that Maslow’s hierarchy of needs has love, sex and emotional security as fairly basic needs.  She thinks that most people in relationships would be pretty miserable if you separated them from their partners.  I can see her point.  I think I do still need to do a lot of work to be happy, and I probably never will be 100% happy, but I think it’s worth seeing if someone can accept me as I am as long as I don’t see her as the sole source of my happiness (which I think would be a mistake).  I know my mood is still very low, but I’m a lot more functional than I have been in the past and I think if I was in a successful relationship, my mood would be somewhat better even if it wasn’t 100% better.  Certainly when I’ve been in a relationship in the past, my mood has got visibly better to those around me.

Dating is scary, though.

***

An odd thing happened at shiur (Torah class) this evening.  Shiur is a slightly unusual place for me, in that there’s a bit of a “the weekend starts here” atmosphere.  It’s Thursday night, it’s a group of men away from their families and jobs and there is whisky.  Plus, the assistant rabbi, who gives the shiur, has a slightly mischievous sense of humour.  However, much of this is not normal for me.  There is some good-natured teasing, mostly in the form of running jokes e.g. a lot of people who attend are South Africans, so there’s rivalry to see each week the proportion of English-born vs. South African-born attendees and people tease the South Africans about their accents.  I don’t always understand the jokes nor do I always completely approve of the atmosphere; I don’t know whether that’s coming from autism or my history of being teased at school.

Today the assistant rabbi asked a question which no one could answer (not actually a Torah question; he was looking for a formal English word) and he said something like “amazing, we have an intellectual [points to the person on my right], an academic [points to the person on my left] and an intellectual and an academic [points to me] and none of them know!”  Now, I know that’s meant in good spirits and I know it’s a backhanded compliment because he’s saying I’m clever and well-educated, but something about it made me feel uncomfortable even as I laughed.  I’m sure he wouldn’t tease like this if I said I don’t like it, but I feel that saying something is a bit petty and maybe me being autistic/socially anxious and not entering into the proper spirit of the thing, but I don’t feel 100% comfortable with it.  Plus, I suppose part of me does like the fact that I’m apparently considered “one of the lads” and able to be part of this little group.  It’s difficult to know what to do.

Snatching Defeat from the Jaws of Victory

I had dreams last night about being autistic and whether that was ‘really’ a disability, although my unconscious mind got the terms wrong.  Perhaps unsurprisingly after that I woke up really depressed this morning and I was fighting back the tears as I had breakfast and got dressed, although the thought of being at work without my boss on what is only my fourth working day would probably have done that even without the dreams.  Yet again I couldn’t read on the Tube into work as I was too anxious and depressed.  I was worried that I was about to have a panic attack walking through the rush hour crowd at the station, but managed to stay calm with deep breathing.

Work, once I got there, was pretty good, though.  I coped with my line manager being out of the office and did a lot of the work she left for me even though she had forgotten that I had a meeting that I needed to go to another building outside the main campus.  She wasn’t expecting me to do all the work today anyway; she left too much in case I got stuck and couldn’t finish something.  I actually felt that I was enjoying work a bit today, which isn’t something I’ve felt for a while.  Higher education seems to be calmer than further education.  It’s frustrating to handle rare books without being able to peek at them (the books in the store are wrapped in paper); I feel a bit like an intellectual eunuch.  I’m sitting in on a class next week, though, so I should be able to see some of them then.  (When the books go out of the library, there have to be two people with them so that in case of emergency one stays with the books while the other goes for help, so I get to be the second person next week.)  I even started having ideas for things to show in the exhibition I’m supposed to be helping to plan.

I had some OCD worries about whether I had locked up the rare books store properly, but I fought it and resisted going down to check.  Slightly worse was a wobble I had when my line manager’s line manager was talking to a new library volunteer in the office.  She’s a librarianship student at the university and I was a bit envious of her and her clear career plan, given the improvised and only sporadically successful nature of mine (if I can really be said to have a career plan at all), doubly so as the university where I now work is the one that was first choice for my librarianship MA, but they weren’t accommodating of my mental health issues so I went to a much worse university where various things went wrong for me.

I also had an awkward moment when I went to the off-site meeting, as I wasn’t sure if the woman who looked like she was waiting to meet me was the person I was meeting or not.  She looked similarly unsure if I was the person she was meeting.  Very awkward.  Then I went into autism overload and was unable to say anything other than “Yes” “Right” and “Thank you” while she spoke to me.

Shiur (religious class) this evening was more difficult.  It is harder for me when there are a lot of people there, especially now the rabbi has new, wider, arm chairs in his dining room, which are comfortable, but made me feel a little as if the people next to me were invading my space a bit.  Some people made some jokes at the beginning that I thought were a bit rude and tasteless and show how, if you are secure in the community, you can take liberties, but I would never feel so secure (not that I would tell rude or sexist jokes, but I hide my hobbies, interests and beliefs for fear of being considered unacceptable).  Before the shiur started people were talking about their wives and the shiur concluded with the assistant rabbi talking about the Gemarah that says that matching husband and wife is like splitting the sea which underlined my single state.

The assistant rabbi also said that we should have a clear plan of where we want to go this year and in coming years spiritually and we should be planning on a week-by-week basis to get to that goal, which made me feel bad, because I don’t have spiritual goals any more.  My spiritual goal for this year is to get to Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement) without trying to kill myself, or at least to try to improve my mental health a little.  I don’t have any wider goals.  I’d say I have a goal to get a full-time job and get married (both of which I think are spiritual goals), but I don’t think either is feasible any time in the next few years.  As for davening (praying) more with a minyan (prayer quorum) or with more kavannah (mindfulness) or studying more Torah, I don’t think these would be feasible goals even if I cared that much about them, but I’ve been so worn down by my illness that I don’t really care any more.  I’m such a rasha (wicked person), but there you go, I have no energy left even to beat myself up about being a rasha.  This train of thought makes me lose the desire to write that book about Judaism, because who wants to read (or should read) what a rasha says about Judaism?

Plus the assistant rabbi’s baby started crying near the end and he didn’t hear and his wife didn’t hear.  It felt wrong to interrupt to say something, but I really can’t bear hearing children crying, so I felt helpless, upset and confused.  Eventually the rabbi’s wife heard and calmed the baby.

I have no idea if I’m out to dinner tomorrow night, which is also scary.  You might recall that at shul (synagogue) last week I was invited to someone’s for dinner, but the person said he would phone me to confirm.  I still haven’t heard anything.  I think I’m probably still invited (assuming he hasn’t forgotten to tell his wife, which is possible) because frum culture is very laid back like that about times and invitations, which drives me crazy because I’m autistic and need to plan and can’t make last minute changes (and I’m also one eighth Yekkish – the Yekkes (German Jews) are the exception and are stereotypically pedantic and obsessive about punctuality) .

Anyway, now I’ve brought my self down after having a good day, so I’m going to meditate (breathing meditation and hitbodedut spontaneous prayer/meditation) and shower, watch Star Trek and go to bed, trying to focus on the good parts of the day and not the anxieties and failures.

Brief Update and Quotes

Not a lot happened today.  I was a wreck of anxiety and depression on the Tube into work and my line manager was late in, so I spent the first twenty minutes or at work so panicking and trying to work out what I was supposed to do, but once she turned up I calmed down and think I did OK, if perhaps a bit slow.  She’s away on Thursday and her line manager, who is supposed to be the person I speak to if I’m stuck, is in meetings half the day, so that will be a test of how well I’m adapting.  And then I’ll be halfway through my contract already!

Other than that there’s not a lot to say, except that I had another couple of autistic moments.  Someone from the shul (synagogue) financial team wanted me to sort out my gift aid form (a way charities can claim tax revenue back from the government, but only from donors who were taxpayers themselves) and I replied speaking of calendar years when I should have been speaking of tax years, of course.  Sometimes I astound myself at my unworldliness (that’s not good, by the way).  More amusingly, my line manager was talking about one class I need to help prepare for having “students from different time periods.”  I knew she meant students studying different time periods, but for a split-second part of my brain was thinking of time travellers coming to use the library.

Some quotes from the last few days, for me to ponder on as much as anything else:

Me (in a comment here about Google-stalking old acquaintances): Weirdly, more than I want to know what people are doing, I want people who came into my life to know just how hard my life has been. Perhaps the ones who hurt me, but mostly the ones who I potentially hurt (I don’t know if I did) or at least the ones who would have witnessed my craziness and freakishness. I wish they could just know that there are reasons for my being a freak (depression, autism), I wasn’t just some crazy weirdo who messed up their lives on a whim. – I’ve felt like this for years particularly regarding people who were around when the depression became unmanageable when I was doing my BA.  I guess it just reflects how messed up I feel I am and how much I feel other people perceive this.  I don’t know if they really do.  I feel anyone who knew me at university in particular must think that I’m some kind of freak.  I suppose it would be good not to think like this and try to move on, but it’s hard.

E.: Having autism doesn’t cancel out your good qualities.  It just means you might express them differently. – I need to internalise this.  I feel that autism and depression make me a freak (that word again), autism more so than depression, because depression is more common (I think) and somewhat more socially acceptable these days.  It’s a struggle to think of myself as different rather than weird.  I just hope I can find someone who sees that too (the quote from E. was in the context of a discussion about whether anyone would ever want to marry me).

Someone from well-being group: You can’t control the first thought, but you can control the second one.  – This actually seemed really empowering to me.  I wish I had heard it when my religious OCD was at it’s worst, but it’s something to remember if it flares up again.  But also it can apply to other unwanted thoughts (anger, lust, self-hatred, etc.).

Draining Shabbat

Well, that was a difficult Shabbat (Sabbath).  The main difficult thing was an argument with my Mum.  I won’t go into details.  It’s difficult to use this blog to vent (which I need to do at the moment as I’m not in therapy and my rabbi mentor is unreachable) while also keeping the laws of honouring parents and not gossiping.  I wrote a couple of paragraphs trying to do that, but then felt I still said too much.  I need to ask my rabbi mentor for guidance on what is OK to say on an anonymous or perhaps more accurately, semi-anonymous, blog but he’s really busy with work at the moment and I can’t get hold of him.  A lot would depend on how much this blog can be considered truly anonymous, and safe to remain anonymous indefinitely and I would not like to swear to that as there are half a dozen people reading this who know me away from the internet and who might theoretically meet my parents one day.  Some of those friends have offered to listen to my feelings about family privately, but it’s the same situation about not feeling I can share things.  I could phone Samaritans, but frankly it seems too petty and I’m worried about making such a big thing about it as it would set me off again.

I want to say more and keep trying to do so, but every time I try writing, it drifts into stuff I don’t think I should say.  I’ve wanted to deal with these feelings/thoughts/events in fiction before, but I’ve never really worked out how to do and suspect I don’t have the skill to disguise things particularly well, so the truth would be obvious.

The other thing that happened, which was more positive, was that someone I only vaguely know at shul (synagogue) invited me for Shabbat dinner next week.  He is one of the few people in the shul more or less my own age, so that is positive, both in terms of making friends my own age and in terms of being more accepted in the community (and maybe getting set up on shidduchim (dates) one day).  He is someone I envy somewhat, as he has the things that I can’t manage to get, in terms of family and career, but also someone I admire, inasmuch as he seems to be very frum (religious) and involved with the community as well as having a sharp intellect for Talmudic study and good middot (ethical character traits).  I’m very anxious though, worried that I will do or say the wrong thing somehow or come across as not frum enough.  I came home from shul on Friday night rather anxious because of this.

On the plus side, I did deal in a fairly calm way last night with a situation that a year or two ago would have triggered my kashrut OCD in a big way, although on the down side I did get triggered again and responded less well today.  I suppose life and especially mental health issues and autism are all about growth, but sometimes (often) it seems to be some steps forward and then more backwards; the difficulty comes in the periods where the backwards steps outnumber the forwards ones.  But perhaps unsurprisingly after all this psychological stress, I was exhausted last night and slept for a long time.

I had a strange dream about having a cat who, despite never having been let out the house, was somehow pregnant and apparently had five kittens, but then I realised there were ten and then fifteen.  I’m not sure what this means, except that I’m thinking seriously again about getting a pet (although not a cat) and maybe the dream was a reflection of that.  We did once have a cat give birth behind our garden shed, but that was about thirty years ago and probably not directly on my mind last night.  We thought it was a stray, but it turned out to belong to someone who lived in the area who claimed cat and kittens, much to my disappointment and my parents’ relief.

I’m still struggling with my thoughts for a book on Judaism aimed at non-Jews and non-religious Jews written in an informative rather than apologetic (in the sense of ‘defensive’) manner.  I keep thinking it could only work if it was personal, though, as I don’t have the knowledge to write an academic work, but I can’t work out how to marry the personal with the informative.  I guess I can’t work out what exactly it is that I want to say.  Maybe if I could do that, it would be easier to work out how to say it.  Of course, there is a whole halakhic question in how much I could write about Judaism for a non-Jewish audience; another thing to discuss with my rabbi mentor when he’s free.

On Not Pushing My Luck

I didn’t blog yesterday because there wasn’t much to say and I was busy (OK, I went to shiur (religious class) and I stayed up very late watching a two-hour Jonathan Creek special).  I was very anxious and depressed on the Tube into work in the morning and couldn’t read, either Mishnah or a novel.  I just focused on calm breathing, which seemed to help a bit.  Work was good, though.  I am actually feeling somewhat comfortable and enjoying being back in a higher education institution.

However, I’m still largely being shown what to do.  The scary bit will come next week when I have to start doing things by myself, especially as there was a LOT of information to take in, and largely orally, whereas I (like many autistic people) am better with written instructions.  I wrote some notes, but I’m not sure how coherent they are.  There is a checklist for the most important job I have to do, though, so I’m hoping to work from that.  I’m still not sure I know 100% what to do (or even close to 100%) and I will have to email or talk to people (yikes!) and go to get rare books from the vaults, which I’m worried will trigger OCD worries about having locked up correctly (or alternatively locking other people in).  And I already realised this morning that I have already forgotten to do something I meant to do yesterday.

However, I kind of find myself hoping that my contract might get extended, which I didn’t think in my previous job.  However, I don’t think an extension is likely.  I’m contracted for January with a possibility of extension to March, but apparently not beyond that and I’m not sure why – is it financial (the perennial problem in education and in libraries generally) or is there another reason?  If it’s just financial then maybe there’s hope?  But I don’t like to sound positive because I’m afraid if I am I will start messing things up or they will go wrong some other way.  I don’t like to hope any more.

***

I was thinking yesterday that if I can find a permanent job, even part-time, I should try dating again.  Last year the wife of the assistant rabbi at my parents’ shul (syngagogue) gave Dad the phone number of someone she felt might be able to find me find a shidduch (match) despite my depression.  This was in the run-up to Pesach which is the most stressful time of the Jewish year (think the days before Christmas, but much worse) so I said I would phone after Pesach, but I procrastinated a little and then I started dating E.  When we broke up, I thought if E., who was really into me, felt that she couldn’t cope with someone who wasn’t earning enough to support a family, then no one would be able to cope, so I didn’t make any effort to look for anyone else, but now I think E. might have been influenced by the confused feelings she still had for her ex.  But it’s still hard to think that someone might like me enough to look past my finances, my mental health and the fact that I’m not meeting my religious obligations as a good frum (religious) man should, in terms of prayer and Torah study.  It occurred to me yesterday that a marriage is for two people, but my wife would have to accept that in our relationship she would have to be one and a quarter, maybe one and a half of the two people, in terms of emotional support and finances.  That’s a lot to ask of someone and I don’t think I have enough to offer in return.  So now I’ve nearly talked myself out of it again and think I should just get a pet as a focus for my affection.  I mean, if I want someone gentle who will be affectionate to me and let me be affectionate to her maybe I’m better off with a guinea pig anyway.

***

Today I feel a bit exhausted, but not too depressed or anxious, which is good, despite lingering fears that I’m going to disappoint my boss at work.  I haven’t felt like this for a long time.  I’m not going to push my luck, though – I’m not doing much over the weekend.  There’s a big cross-shul oneg (Sabbath event) tonight which I’m skipping because I don’t think I’ll enjoy it much and it will drain me, whereas in the past I might have tried to force myself to go.  Likewise, I was hoping to go to a Doctor Who pub quiz on Sunday, but the friend I was going to go with isn’t going now, I won’t know anyone there and it finishes rather late and the other side of London, so I’m skipping that for now too.  It just seemed too risky to do either of those after a week when I did too new big things (new job and new well-being course).