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.

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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.

“Spray Painting Daleks” is probably a more interesting title than “Another Interview” or “Have I Just Lost Another Date?”

I had a job interview today, for a position in a higher education library.  I think I did OK, but not great.  I did manage to answer all of the questions, but I struggled to think of specific examples of the things they were asking for.  My autistic mind tends to go blank when confronted with a sudden request to “Tell me about a time when you dealt with a difficult situation” or whatever.  The first question, just to make it harder, was to tell them about a time I received good customer service, which seemed a strange thing to ask.

So, I didn’t answer the questions that well, but they let slip that my CV looks good to them.  Which should be positive, but while they were describing the role, I was thinking that this position sounds a lot like my role in further education, just with slightly older students.  I did OKish there, but my boss was unhappy with my work and I often felt overwhelmed by the interactions I was supposed to have with staff and especially with students.  When someone would come to me with a problem, I would freeze before my brain moved into gear to work out how to deal with it, which is an autistic multitasking/task changing issue, but it suggests this type of environment isn’t right for me.

Plus, this job is full-time (unlike the further education one, which was three and then four days a week, term-time only) with occasional evening and weekend work, which I doubt I could manage right now with my mental health, even without the problem of Shabbat and Yom Tov (Sabbath and Jewish festivals).  Plus sudden evening work is not good for my autistic need for predictability.

I got shown the library.  I’m sure someone who temped in the further education library I worked at when we were short-staffed was working there, although I didn’t say anything as (a) I’m too shy and (b) I can’t remember what her name is.  I guess librarianship, like the Jewish community and Doctor Who fandom, is a small world.  (Don’t ask why I seem to gravitate to small worlds.)

***

I’m not sure what to do now.  I’m exhausted after this, and after days of rushing around doing Pesach stuff (preparation, then shul and seders and ‘peopleing’) and then a day lost to extreme depression.  I’m not as depressed as I was yesterday, but I am worn out.  I just spray painted some new Doctor Who miniatures I bought with white undercoat, but that didn’t take long and I won’t be able to move on with them until the paint is dry.  I might assemble the as-yet unassembled Daleks once they’re dry, but I don’t think I’ll get much further than that today (frustratingly I also ran out of paint before I could paint the TARDIS).

I don’t want to work on my books on Chol HaMoed (the intermediate, semi-festive, days of Pesach).  I might watch a film if I can decide whether to watch Ghostbusters II for the umpteenth time as ‘comfort food’ viewing or The King’s Speech, which I’ve never seen, but have been told is very good.

I also feel vaguely ill: dry itchy eyes, slightly sore throat, a bit hot and bothered and achey, as if I’m coming down with a cold.

***

L., who I was set up with via the values-based dating service and who I’ve been texting lately as we can’t meet until after Pesach, asked what I’m doing today after my interview.  I’m not sure how much to open up about myself and my hobbies (mental health blogging, Doctor Who, miniature painting), all of which could describe what I’m doing/about to do today.  I worry about seeming weird.  I have a weird intuition that she would be understanding about mental health stuff, but I don’t want to bring it up this early in the relationship, when we haven’t even been on a date yet.  So Doctor Who and painting it is.  She hasn’t texted back yet, so I don’t know if she thinks I’m a weird freak…  I wish there were some things in my life that I could talk about on dates or to people at shul (synagogue) without sounding weird or messed up.

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.

Everything and the Kitchen Sink

I’m going to switch my computer off in a minute as there is a lot to do this afternoon, but I just wanted to update the blog as I’ll be out of contact for a couple of days.

Things are going well.  I nearly said “surprisingly well” which would be a bit unfair, but I am surprised how well things seem to be going.  I did have an issue with kashering the kitchen sink last night, but I got it resolved OK and I kashered the sink in four or five goes rather than eight or nine.  The trick, it seems, is not to boil a whole kettle of water at once, because I lack the strength and dexterity to move that about fast enough.  Even when I made a mistake with the sink, I saw it as one of those things and not as a sign that I’m useless and that God hates me.

I got up in time for shul this morning (can I do that on Yom Tov too?  At least one day out of four?), went to the siyum, came home, helped put the last bits of chametz (leavened bread) away and tidy the kitchen, emptied the hoover and made the declaration nullifying any chametz I might have missed, all done on time.  There’s still a LOT to do today to get ready for seder, but this is an amazing start.  The atmosphere at home is very calm for Erev Pesach, everyone is just pulling together and getting things done as a team.

The one bad thing was that I couldn’t sleep last night and only got about five hours in the end, so I’m slightly worried about making it through the day and then on to seder in the evening.  I actually went for a nap for an hour and a bit after the chametz was all disposed of and that has helped, so hopefully I’ll be OK.

Pesach in six hours!

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.

Variations on a Theme of Pesach Anxiety

Someone should write a thesis on the way that anxieties grow in the absence of sleep or food.  I couldn’t sleep last night and things that seemed OK during the day suddenly turned into bigger OCD anxieties when I was lying alone in the dark.  I ended up emailing my rabbi mentor, but I woke up today, very late again, to see that he hasn’t replied yet (as of 7pm, which is 9pm where he is), which just makes the worries worse.  I’m trying to keep things in perspective, as I’m not as anxious as I would have been in previous years, but I do feel that things are getting to me and I’ve got three more days of Pesach (Passover) preparation to get through.  As it is, I’ve got a knot of anxiety in my stomach that has come and gone all day.

I’m trying to accept that it’s OK to be stressed, and depressed, and OCD-anxious, even/especially at this time of year.  Trying not to think that other people seem to waltz through Pesach preparations without any worries, halakhic or otherwise.  It’s hard; I’m not on Facebook and I don’t use Twitter, but it’s still easy to compare my insides (horribly emotional) with other people’s calm outsides.

Clearing out some files on my computer last night (stuff that I thought would trigger OCD if I left it there) I found some notes following a meeting with my parents’ rabbi, who at the time was my rabbi too: “Torah was not given to the ministering angels [a rabbinic phrase that basically means that God doesn’t expect us to keep the Torah perfectly, because we aren’t perfect.  He has angels who are perfect, but He prefers our service to theirs because we have to struggle past our temptations and flaws].  We do our best, and leave the rest.  Pesach has fences and safeguards.  Don’t obsess over the last details of cleaning and kashering.  Enjoy Yom Tov.  Plan things to do, focus on things I enjoy about it.”  It’s hard to do that, though.  I’m actually struggling to think of enjoyable things I can do during the week.  I was nearly in tears davening (praying) before, just feeling overwhelmed by emotion and by events.  I feel that I’ve failed, that I’ve let everyone down, by giving in to my depression and anxiety again.

I went for a haircut this afternoon, which was awful.  I mean, the process of getting it, not how it has been cut.  I shook a bit, to the extent that the barber was unwilling to start at first, until his boss said something to him in a language I don’t understand.  I sat there with my eyes scrunched tight almost the whole time, repeating in my head that God loves me and that He has so much confidence in me that He has given me all these challenges (depression, OCD, social anxiety, loneliness etc.) because He knows I can cope with them.  Except that I don’t feel that I can cope with them.  The experience left me feeling shattered and exhausted.  I went into a couple of charity shops on the way home, but I didn’t buy anything.  Maybe I should have done.

I just keep thinking that I’ve let everyone down: family, friends, God, L. (who I’m not even quite dating yet).  It’s not my fault if I shake or feel depressed or feel OCD anxious… but somehow it feels like it is.

“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.

More Over-Thinking

I had another anxiety dream last night, this time explicitly about kashering the oven (preparing it for the special Pesach/Passover dietary laws), although it ended in a stranger strangling me for no very obvious reason.  I think the stress is getting to me.

***

I got feedback on my job interview from last week.  Surprisingly, I did quite well in the test part of it (the one I thought I messed up because I had to skip a bit).  But they said I lacked experience with periodicals (which is completely true) and that my answers lacked depth and focused on what rather than how, which made me feel that my skills and experience were less important than my inability to talk about said skills and experience.  This was in regard to the very open (= not autism friendly) question where they gave me the person spec and asked me to describe how I’ve met those requirements in other jobs.  So I guess I have to put it down to one of those things.  At least the test answers were better than I thought at the time.

***

I’m struggling to write job applications.  Somehow all the jobs seem to be things I’m not qualified for or things I’m overqualified for, sometimes even both at the same time e.g. today I was applying for a job that was intended for new librarianship graduates (overqualified), but that also desired experience at a health library (under-qualified).  It is so hard to stay focused to write these applications, partly from boredom, but also because they just remind me of how badly I’ve struggled at work over the last year or two and of my fears that I just can’t function in a work environment.

***

I’m trying not to over-think things, but it’s hard.  I went for a walk after writing the job application to try to clear my head, but it didn’t work.  The walk was brisk at first, but became slower as I got tired and as the thoughts came out: that I am not good enough to get a job or a partner; that I have already messed things up with the woman I’m texting (call her L.); that I’m making a very large mountain out of a very small molehill regarding selling my chametz (leavened bread and the like), which nevertheless I worry I won’t do correctly; and that I can’t fit in to the Orthodox Jewish community.  I started wondering if I should have stayed working in further education last year after all.  It would at least have been a job.  I just felt that I couldn’t do it, and that my boss had no confidence in me either.  I have at least decided to look seriously into working as a proof-reader/editor to supplement my income after Pesach.

Dating is the hardest thing not to over-think.  I am more or less resigned to being unemployed for a while, perhaps because so far all the job opportunities I have found have been more terrifying than unemployment.  I haven’t really seen anything that has made me say both, “I could do that!” and “I want to do that!”  I’m trying to take Pesach preparations one day at a time and I seem to be doing OK with that, at least some of the time.  But it’s very hard not to catastrophise dating.  It’s hard to get an idea of someone from a few texts, but I constantly fear that we won’t be compatible and that I’ll have to break up with her and either I won’t have the courage to do it and will get stuck in a dysfunctional relationship or I will do it and she’ll be upset and I’ll feel terrible.  Strangely, it doesn’t really occur to me that if I don’t connect with her, she probably won’t connect with me and she may break up with me first.

I do worry that I’m so, um, unusual (weird) that no one will really connect with me.  I don’t honestly expect to find someone who is anything approaching a perfect match for me, the kind of fantasy female version of me, but I don’t know what I should realistically expect and what I should compromise on.  Sometimes I feel that I can’t connect with anyone, not family or friends, so maybe I should just accept the first person who seems to care about me regardless of how much we have in common.  I’m not sure how sensible this is.

Still, as I said yesterday, I’m trying to “look to Him [God] and do not inquire of the future, rather accept everything that comes to you with wholeheartedness”.  It’s very hard though.  The worst part is the feeling that I’m leading L. on somehow and am going to hurt her in a way that would be avoidable if I was a good enough/clever enough person to see it, even though it’s hard rationally to see any reason for thinking like that, beyond the fact that I look for reasons to beat myself up.

Ugh, I ate sugary ice cream earlier (Ben and Jerry’s chocolate fudge brownie) and now I think I’m crashing from the sugar because my mood is plummeting.  I should probably stop writing.

Living the Questions

Anxiety comes and goes a lot at the moment.  I’m like a cartoon character who can run off a cliff and keep going provided I don’t look down.  Once I do that, I plummet, and so does my mood.  “Looking down” sometimes means a direct trigger about the three topics that are making me anxious at the moment (Pesach, job hunting and dating) and sometimes means a physical trigger such as tiredness or hunger.  The two types of triggers interact, I think, so it’s easier to get panicked about Pesach when I’m tired or hungry.  I do have to engage with all three topics directly, so I can’t bury my head in the sand.  I have to engage with Pesach because it’s little over a week away and my parents need my help; with job hunting because I need to find a job I can do; and dating because I’m texting the woman I was set up with from the values-based dating service, although neither of us has time to meet before Pesach.

The funny thing is that, with regard to the job search and dating, it’s not so much rejection that makes me anxious as a feeling of letting people down.  I feel that I’m wasting people’s time by applying for jobs where I don’t have all the experience that seems to be required, even though I know that employers do not expect to find a candidate who meets all their criteria; I suppose now I also worry about not being able to function in a job, as I feel I didn’t function properly in my recent jobs.  With dating too I worry as differences emerge between us, fearing that will doom the relationship and I should terminate it now otherwise I’m leading her on, even though relationships always have differences and it’s hard to tell whether those differences are surmountable without meeting a few times (at least).

I just finished reading Jonah: The Reluctant Prophet by Erica Brown.  Near the end she quotes the poet Rainer Maria Rilke on loving and living the questions in your heart without seeking the answers, as you couldn’t get the answers until you are ready to live them too.  I suppose I should try to do this, however grudgingly (I want answers).  I also think of a comment from Rashi (Hebrew acronym for Rabbi Shlomo Yitzchaki), the greatest of the Medieval Jewish commentators.  Devarim/Deuteronomy 18.13 exhorts us to “Be wholehearted with HaShem your God” which Rashi (quoting Sifrei) explains as “Walk with Him with wholeheartedness and look to Him and do not inquire of the future, rather accept everything that comes to you with wholeheartedness and then you will be with Him and His portion.”  The comment is more about not practising divination, soothsaying, fortune telling or any other magical way of discovering the future, but I do try to remember it when I’m spiralling down into anxiety about the future and catastrophising about what might happen.  To try to trust in God and not to worry about what might happen.

***

The job I applied for today asked for “Patience, resilience and a good-humoured approach”.  Halevi (if only).  At least I seem to be a bit more understanding and forgiving of myself than I used to be.  I think this is as much due to being more certain about having autism as anything else.  I don’t know why I find it easier to accept my limitations from autism more easily than those from depression, but somehow I do.  Maybe it’s because I feel I should be over the depression by now, after so many years, whereas I can accept that autism is a lifelong condition.

***

I just came across some emails from E. from when we were dating.  I’d forgotten I had them.  I felt that I couldn’t be dating now while I still had copies of these emails and so I deleted them, but I feel a bit sad now.  Not that I think it would be possible or even desirable to get back together with E. – that’s over now, it came at a particular time and now it can’t be recaptured.  But it makes me wonder if anyone would ever seem so compatible again.  To be honest, I don’t think that anyone I’ve dated was really compatible with me.  There are always similarities and differences, but up to now, there has always been some significant difference that derails everything (religious level, income etc.).  I suppose the difficulty with E. is that it wasn’t really a difference that was the problem (although we had very different religious levels), but a similarity: we were both struggling in low income jobs because of mental health issues.  It just makes me worry that all my relationships will end eventually.  How can I tell which relationships might work and which are going to be destroyed by the differences (or the low income)?  I can only tell by trying them and seeing what happens, but this shatters my desire for control.  Which takes us back to Rashi and Rilke, I suppose, living the questions and not looking to the future.

Chores, Jobs and Puddle-Ducks

I did a few chores yesterday, but spent some time procrastinating and putting off Pesach (Passover) chores number.  In the evening I went to depression group.  The Monday meetings (which I haven’t been going to for a while because of work commitments on Tuesday mornings) tend to have a speaker or theme for the first half.  Yesterday we were talking about hobbies and other ways that we distract from our mental health issues.  Lots of people shared some (very good) artwork, so I spoke about my blog and read part of a post out.  Although I had spent some time beforehand choosing a post, I didn’t really hit me until I read it how suicidal I sounded in the post; I think one person was quite worried about me.  A few people said it was very powerfully written and a couple of people asked for the URL to read it, so I may have picked up a few more readers.  I do feel a bit embarrassed thinking about it today.  I always get embarrassed when people congratulate me on my writing, plus I wonder if maybe I did pick a very negative post to read (it was the beginning of this post).

Today was split between Pesach preparations and writing a job application.  I was slow to get up and get going because I was feeling depressed, but I managed to do a few things in the afternoon.  I feel frustrated by not being able to do as much in a day as I used to be able to do because of the depression, although “used to be able” is now going back so far that it isn’t really helpful any more.  Plus, I think that even when I was younger I still got distracted.  It’s possible that I just set targets I could never reach or, as my Dad says, that I’m just bad at planning.  Someone from the therapy group I attended at The Network said she only puts one thing on her to do list each day now and, depressingly, I could see the appeal of that.  I usually try to do far more than I actually manage to do and end up making myself more depressed by failing to meet my plan.

***

I found out that I didn’t get the job I was interviewed for last week.  It was not surprising, given how long I have been waiting to hear and how badly I did at the interview.  I suppose I should just put it down to experience, but it reinforces my feelings about not being able to work.  Related to these fears, I spoke to someone from A S Mentoring today, an organisation that helps people with autism in the workplace.  They could potentially help me, but there is a quite steep charge for seeing them after a free trial meeting as well as a three month waiting list.  My Mum is in favour of going on the waiting list, while my father was more sceptical of whether they could help.  I’m not sure what to do.  It doesn’t help that I’m not sure what my support needs actually are.  A lot would depend on what job I end up in.  Some of my issues, like needing extra-long processing time when asked an open question, my difficulty changing tasks at short-notice or my preference for written instructions over verbal ones, would apply in many environments.  If I had an understanding boss, as I did in my last job, but not in an earlier one, that would make things easier.

***

I seem to be having disturbing dreams at the moment, perhaps because of my high anxiety levels.  A couple of nights ago was a Nineteen Eighty-Four dream which, perhaps fortunately, I didn’t really remember, I was just left with a vague impression of it.  Then last night I dreamt about terrorism, shootings and plane hijackings.  And Beatrix Potter’s Jemima Puddle-Duck.  Don’t laugh, it really upset me as a child (when the dogs eat her eggs).

Weekend Round-Up

The weekend went reasonably well.  I slept too much on Shabbat (the Sabbath) again and missed shul (synagogue) in the morning, although I went in the evening to see our potential new rabbi.  He seemed nice enough, but I suppose I feel slightly upset that as I was trying to build up relationships of trust with the current rabbi and the assistant rabbi and opening up a bit about my various issues and how they affect my Jewish life (mostly in a negative way), I now have to start all over again with a new rabbi.  Obviously it’s going to take time to build up trust again, and coming at a time when I feel that my depression and autism have largely pushed me to the fringes of the frum (religious) community, it’s not necessarily going to be easy to begin again.  I was too tired to go to the community meeting to vote him in this evening because I was out in the afternoon (see below), but I assume he was voted in (“elected” isn’t quite the right word as there were no other candidates).  He had to get 66% of the vote to secure the position, though, which made me wonder if someone was worried of a Brexit-type scenario.  (EDIT: he was voted in unanimously, which is definitely not like Brexit.)

Today I went to my sister and brother-in-law’s newly-refurbished house for tea.  They invited a lot of family, but my brother-in-law’s family is much larger than our side of the family, so it was just my parents and me for our side and a lot more people from the other side, although I think I’m the only person who still feels self-conscious around the other side of the family.  I coped OK.  I didn’t get depressed about not being married or owning a house as I thought I would.  I played a bit with my sister’s three year old nieces, although they were too tired to really be interested.  I ate too many biscuits and rogelach (pastries) though, which is probably a nervous thing – I don’t talk to people, so I sit there feeling anxious, so I eat to give me something to distract myself.  I think I’m crashing now from the sugar, feeling a bit depressed and anxious.

Other than that it’s been a slow weekend, some Pesach (Passover) preparation today, but not much else.  Tomorrow I should find out about the job I was interviewed for on Friday, although given that they were expecting to decide on Friday afternoon (there were only four people on the shortlist) and I still haven’t heard, it seems unlikely that I’m the first choice.

I’m hoping to go to depression group tomorrow (assuming that I’m not working on Tuesday).  The theme of the evening is hobbies, things people do to deal with depression and anxiety.  I’m trying to get the courage to read out a blog post or two from here, given that writing is my biggest hobby and my most effective way of dealing with my depression and anxiety.

***

I realised that my Pesach fears are different to previous years.  In the past I was worried that we would not prepare for Pesach correctly and I would end up eating forbidden chametz (leavened bread and its derivatives) on Pesach or that I would end up having a huge argument with my parents about the correct way to kasher things (make utensils usable for Pesach by purging of all traces of chametz).  This year I’m fairly confident that for the last few years, our Pesach has been kosher and it probably will be this year too.  Next week will be a crazy and stressful and rushed, but everything will probably turn out OK in the end.  I probably will argue with my parents at some point, but that will be because we’re all stressed and not over some huge kashering issue that is going to sour our relationship forever.  So my worries are more realistic now, although there is still the vague fear of something going really wrong unexpectedly – but that has happened in the past too and we’ve coped.  It’s why we pay so much in shul membership, so that we can phone the rabbi three hours before Yom Tov (God forbid) with a difficult sha’alah (question) as I had to do a few years ago (everything was OK in the end).  There’s less of the fear of divine punishment too, less feeling that God is waiting to pounce as soon as I make a mistake.

Anxious Again

I was quite anxious when I woke up this morning.  This wasn’t surprising, as I had a job interview, but a lot of the anxiety was about other things, about Pesach preparations and dating.  I got to the interview nearly three quarters of an hour early and as I didn’t want to wait inside, I went to a nearby park, only to be pooped on by a bird.  I got most of it off, but it did stain and I did feel I should explain at the interview that I was smart when I left home this morning.

I don’t know whether it was because of that incident or not, but I did badly on the practical test.  It was just about locating items on the library catalogue, which I should have found easy, but some of the terms I was not familiar with (to be fair, these can vary from library to library) and I just could not find one item, either on a basic search or an advanced search.  I have no idea what I was doing wrong.  I felt very stupid.  It didn’t help that it was in a noisy office (deliberately, as that was where I would be working) and I struggle to work in noisy offices because of my autism.

The interview itself also went badly.  They asked me a few questions, but then gave me a list of personal qualities they were looking for and asked me to describe how I have shown them at work.  Of course, being autistic, presented with such a wide open question my mind just went blank and I struggled to say anything coherent at all.  I was hoping they would pick up on something I said and ask me to expand on it by asking a more focused question, but they didn’t, they just asked me to say more in a general way.  So that wasn’t good either.

To do badly in the test was a blow to my self-esteem, particularly coming after the cataloguing test at a different university that I failed a few months ago and the general feeling that has been growing over the last  year that I just can’t cope with the world of work.  I knew that I was overqualified for this job, at least on paper; this was not a role that called for a qualified librarian like myself and I was only applying for it because I felt desperate, so to feel that I had messed it up was painful.  I just feel that I can’t function any more.  I feel I was only ever competent in the rather artificial environment of school and, to a lesser extent, university, where tasks were clearly defined, significant instruction was given and tests were more of memory than of initiative.  I’m glad I’ve got the call with the person from A S Mentoring (an organisation providing workplace support for people on the autism spectrum) next week, so I can discuss this.

I haven’t heard back from the university yet and I’m guessing I won’t now until next week, given that it’s gone 5pm on a Friday, although they did say they would get back to me today (perhaps their first choice has asked for time to decide).  It certainly seems quite obvious that I wasn’t the first choice for the job, which is frustrating.

I’ve had a lot of dating anxiety too.  I don’t really want to go into it, and I’m not entirely sure that I understand what I’m feeling well enough to even try to go into it, but there is the anxiety of meeting someone on a blind date and wondering what would happen if there is a match ‘on paper’, but there isn’t enough chemistry or attraction.  It’s hard to feel that anyone could like me.  Plus there is always the fear of rejection, or of hurting someone else by rejecting her.  Then there is the fear that I don’t earn enough money to support a family, linked to previous fears of not being able to fit in to a work environment, and that I therefore shouldn’t even be looking to date right now.  I hope things can work out for me somehow, some day.

To try to cheer myself up, as Shabbat starts quite late now the clocks have gone forward, I spent some time this afternoon working on my Doctor Who book.  At least I find that restoring rather than depleting.  Writing is about the only thing I do currently feel somewhat competent at.  Even then I still struggle with the gap between how I want to write and how I feel I do write, the latter not being as good as the former.  It’s hard to let my own distinctive voice come out and not to try to impersonate other writers who have influenced me.

Update and Anxieties

I’ve got a job interview tomorrow for a job that I feel I’m in some ways overqualified for and in other ways not qualified for, but it’s a job, so I’m going for it.  I do need to tell the job agency to stop putting me up for ‘library assistant’ jobs rather than ‘assistant librarian’ jobs.  I know the difference sounds trivial, but there’s a huge difference in skill sets: a library assistant has no professional training and basically puts books on shelves, whereas an assistant librarian has significant training (usually an MA) and is qualified to do run a library.  The job agency just put me up for every job with ‘library’ in it.  But this is a job and I’m desperate, and it might be good experience at using another library management system.

That job is supposed to start ASAP; I don’t know if that means they literally want me to start next week.  Pesach (Passover) preparations are starting in earnest now too, so that will take up a lot of time over the next two weeks.  My blog posts might get a bit shorter and/or more intermittent for the next few weeks, although I doubt I’ll stop entirely.  I just hope I can keep going through the stress.  I had a huge amount of anxiety today about Pesach, my job interview and about dating.  It was actually quite a struggle at times, and it’s going to get worse before it gets better, certainly regarding Pesach, but potentially regarding work and dating too.

I spoke to the shadchan (matchmaker) who found someone for me to potentially date with shared values.  It turns out I went to school with her (the woman I would be dating).  I’m struggling a bit to separate her in my mind from her twelve year old self.  I guess it will be easier once I actually see her as an adult.  I didn’t know her terribly well as I went to a very big school.  The school year was divided in halves and even for things where you mixed with students from other classes, like PE, it was only within your half of the year.  She was in the other half, so I didn’t really have much contact with her.  To be honest, unless someone was either my friend or was bullying me, I didn’t really pay much attention to them, particularly not if they were female (I didn’t really begin to notice women until I was in the sixth form, by which time she had left).  I know I have been set up on a date before with someone I was at school with, and given the small size of the Anglo-Jewish community, perhaps it’s not surprising, but it’s hard to try to get rid of associations I might have about someone I used to know, whether what I remember about her (which might not reflect how she is now) or the fact that I suppose I want to escape my schooldays, which weren’t terribly happy.

We will hopefully go on a date, but it probably won’t be for a while, because of Pesach preparations and Pesach itself, as well as me potentially starting a new job.

I guess overall the news here is good.  I suppose the biggest worry is that I’m being pushed to the wrong jobs.  The kind of library jobs suitable for someone with my level of training and experience aren’t really out there at the moment, which may be seasonal (I think/hope that academic librarian jobs are going to be more common in the summer, hiring to start in the new academic year in September), but I also have the worry that autism is creating an imbalance between my skills and training on the one hand and my ability to cope in a real work environment on the other, that I just can’t cope with a lot of jobs, particularly not those involving significant interpersonal interactions, such as school librarians.  I’ve seen quite a few school librarian jobs but have generally not applied for them after my previous experiences in further education.  That’s potentially a long-term problem that I need to solve.  There is also the problem that I have probably neglected my CPD, because with the depression it’s enough of an effort just to manage a part-time job without having to do extra reading or courses as well.  I have an appointment booked in for next week with someone from A S Mentoring, a charity that provides workplace advice and support for people on the autism spectrum, which might help a bit, but if I do start a job next week, I might have to postpone that.

I guess I need to have a serious think about my career path over the coming weeks.  And probably to try not to think about dating someone I was at school with, for fear of overthinking the situation and ruining the date before we even get to it.

Anxious Again

I feel a lot better today than I did yesterday, when I had a stomach bug.  I don’t feel sick or dizzy as I did yesterday, but I haven’t tried much food yet, just toast with margarine, a few tomatoes and a banana, with nothing to drink other than water and tea.  I still feel really achy, though.  I think I must have strained some muscles while I was being sick.  I was going to go for a walk today, but I decided I still don’t feel up to it.

It’s strange, although I have been used to an almost constant level of mental illness since my teens, I’m very rarely physically ill.  This was one of the worst physical illnesses I’ve ever had.  I don’t think I cope with physical pain terribly well.  I was thinking yesterday about people who are in worse pain than I am all the time.  There’s a Jewish belief, not so much a serious theological belief as a folk belief that people talk about, that if we could choose any type of suffering, we would choose that which we have anyway.  I’ve always been sceptical of that and assumed that if there is any truth to it, it’s because the suffering we have is the suffering we have tried to develop coping strategies for, but maybe there is more to it than that.

The other thing that I learnt yesterday was that maybe I’m not as bad a frum (religious) Jew as I thought.  Yesterday I was too sick to study Torah at all, too sick to daven Shacharit, Mincha and part of Ma’ariv (pray the Morning, Afternoon and part of Evening services).  I didn’t even change out of my pyjamas all day.  It made it clear that usually I do these things at least to some extent.  However depressed I am, I do pray two or three times a day, even if not in the ideal way and I do some Torah study every day even if only a few minutes.  I always change out of my pyjamas unless I’m physically ill, however depressed I am.  So, I guess those are all positives.

I was doing OK today mental health-wise, but I’ve suddenly become very anxious and have started catastrophising.  I have a job interview on Friday and am worried I am going to fail the cataloguing test, that I don’t know how to use their software well enough and that my cataloguing skills are too rusty.  I am also worried that if I do get the job, I will have to work through Chol HaMoed Pesach (the intermediate days of Passover, where it is permit to work, but discouraged if possible).  I am also catastrophising about the potential date I have, although I still have not spoken to the shadchan (matchmaker) about this.  I am concerned that I am making a huge mistake, although working out exactly what the mistake is at this stage, when I haven’t committed myself to anything more than a conversation with the shadchan is harder to tell.  I just have nightmares about getting married to the wrong person for the wrong reasons (loneliness, desperation or not wanting to hurt someone else’s feelings by rejecting her).  And I’m worried about Pesach, which seems to have come out of nowhere and leapt on me; I realised that I only have a little over two weeks until it and not three as I vaguely thought.

Having written this all down, it does seem that my anxieties are getting out of control and that I am worrying about things that are either not within my power (the job stuff) or which would have to go through a lot more stages of bad decisions to actually be problematic (dating).  But it’s hard to internalise that.  Plus what is an objectively real concern is that the job is for a library assistant role rather than an assistant librarian one which sounds trivial, but library assistant is a much lower, less skilled, less well-paid job than I’m qualified for.  I think the agency who keep putting me up for these jobs don’t understand the difference between assistant librarians and library assistants, which is a bit ridiculous for an agency that handles so many library jobs.  But I feel that I need to keep in work, so I accept these jobs, or at least put myself up for them, but I wonder what it will do for my career to have these things on my CV.

I wish I was in therapy, or had a friend I could talk to about this, but I’m not in therapy and my friends are busy dealing with major life issues of their own.  Maybe I should try to phone Samaritans later, but it seems silly to bother them with this stuff.

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.

Confessions of a Justified Sinner

I feel depressed and listless today.  I don’t know why, aside from the usual reason (depression).

My sister and brother-in-law came over for dinner, but I didn’t feel very social.  I was better once they arrived than I thought I would be, but dinner was mostly small talk, which I struggle with from an autistic point of view.  I get bored by the conversation and struggle to think of anything to say; when I do, I don’t always make myself heard.  I find the conversation draining especially as it seems to be very loud; I’ve noticed Mum and Dad are both getting a bit hard of hearing which may be why it seems to be so loud, but I find it draining.  I don’t know if other autistic people have coping strategies for this kind of thing.  I don’t want to be rude.  I try to take an interest in family members’ lives, especially big life events (my sister and brother-in-law are moving into their first real home together this week and my parents were talking about their recent holiday), but sometimes it gets too much for me.  I feel bad about this, but don’t know what I can do about it.

***

Purim is over now, so I should be in Pesach-preparation mode.  I usually find some interpretations of the exodus story or the haggadah to make the seder more interesting and not just a reading of the same text each year, but I have little enthusiasm for it this year.  It’s partly the depression and partly the – well, religious crisis is putting it too strongly, but lack of religious motivation I currently have, the feeling that I’m a bad person and can never change because God has stacked the deck against me with autism and depression.  Plus, last year I thought that no one actually appreciates what I say, except my Dad and maybe my sister.  I fear the other guests just want to get on to the meal and go home and that they tolerate me at best.  I don’t know if this is true.  I would love to go to a seder one year where there is a real discussion and I learn something, but I can’t see it happening any time soon.

***

I googled “how to deal with sexual frustration.”  Most of the pages assumed I was in a relationship I had got bored of and wanted to rekindle.  The ones that assumed singledom mostly suggested things that aren’t halakhically-acceptable.   Other than that, it just said sports or hobbies as displacement activities, neither of which have worked for me in the past and neither of which are really options at the moment, mainly because of depression leaving me drained.

Perhaps most people would have the confidence to date and if I was like them, I would be asking my parents to set me up with their friends’/neighbours’ children as they (my parents) want.  Certainly the daughter of my Mum’s friend whose profile I saw on a dating website has a couple of things in common with me.  But I’m too scared of rejection, too sure that no one could love someone as depressed, autistic and especially unemployed (or about to be unemployed) as me, especially as her dating profile specified that she wanted to marry a professional.  Maybe, as I implied yesterday, I’m scared to date for reasons beyond social anxiety, scared of losing independence or something, or just scared of yet more rejection.  Or maybe it’s just lack of self-esteem; confident people seem more able to blag their way to what they want, whether it’s a partner, a career or position and esteem within the community.

***

Out shopping today I felt very angry with God.  I know lots of autistic people would not change how they are and see autism as a difference and not a disability, but I keep thinking that so many of the bad things in my life would either not be present or would be easier to deal with if I was not autistic, or perhaps if my autism had been diagnosed earlier.  I might not be depressed, might not be single, might not be lonely, might not be unemployable, might not be so poorly socialised into my religious community… and so on, and so on.  Nor do I have the “autistic superpowers” some autistic people claim to have; I can sometimes go into hyperfocus, but I don’t have useful sensory sensitivity or a special interest that is socially useful or which makes me popular.  I suppose it’s crazy to go down the route of “what if,” but it’s hard not to when real life seems so stagnant.

I just keep asking why God would do this to me.  I’m open to the idea that God makes us suffer to grow or so that we learn to help others, but I can’t see how I can realistically help others when I’m in this state and as for growing, if anything, as earlier paragraphs might have indicated, I’m going backwards, getting less religious.  I guess if my emunah (faith) wasn’t so strong, I would seriously be contemplating going off the derekh (stopping being religious), I find my religious life so dull and sometimes painful and with such few positive aspects to it at the moment.  I just happen to believe that God exists and that this is how He wants me to live, for reasons I don’t understand.  I still worry that one day I will stop believing and doing and then all this effort will have been wasted.

***

There was an article in the Jewish Chronicle a few months ago about a charity in Israel that helps people with moderate learning disabilities, including non-high functioning autism, to get married.  They provide practical and emotional support for a couple with learning disabilities to learn to live together.  I think, how can it be possible for someone with more severe autism than me to get a job and get married, and yet my intelligence just seems to make it harder for me to find a job or a wife, for reasons that I don’t really understand.  It doesn’t help that I’m not sure what help I want/need at the moment.  A friend suggested A S Mentoring to me as being able to help with my employment needs, but having looked at their website, I’m not sure if they’re offering anything that could help me; I want to be more sure what I want before contacting them.  Similarly with dating, maybe if I had the confidence to date, a lot of the issues surrounding it would fall away, but I’m too scared of rejection to dare to ask to be set up with anyone or to ask someone out.

***

I did at least go shopping today and did about twenty minutes of Talmud study.  I also worked on my Doctor Who book for an hour and a half or so (albeit with distractions), sorting out the third draft of chapters two and three.  It’s quite good, but not great, but I’m not sure I really have the skills to make it better.

***

This bit is probably of limited interest to most of my readers, but I’m watching Quatermass, the fourth and final science fiction serial featuring Professor Quatermass, broadcast in the seventies, more than twenty years after the first three serials.  It’s a bleak story to watch while I’m feeling depressed (SPOILERS: pretty much all the sympathetic characters die horribly), but it is haunting and psychologically terrifying by turns, as well as reflective of the social unrest and stagflation of Britain in the seventies.  That things in real life never quite turned out as badly as they did in Quatermass might give hope that Brexit and populism might not lead to the end of civilisation as we know it.  (As an aside, and getting really far off the subject, Nigel Kneale is not often lumped together with John le Carré, but both share an outlook that might best be described as “Tory Anarchist” (to quote George Orwell), horrified by Soviet totalitarianism, but also disgusted by American capitalism, hoping for some kind of kinder, authentically British alternative, but resigned to Britain’s post-imperial decline.  There is definitely more to consider here e.g. the skill both writers have for creating a fictional world through dialogue and a few telling details. </autistic special interests>)

Pessimism

Shabbat (the Sabbath) was difficult at times.  I had forgotten until I arrived at shul (synagogue) that the shul was having their communal dinner this week, the one I wanted to go to, but missed out on due to not realising when the application deadline was (partly my fault, partly the shul‘s fault for sending the publicity out at the last minute).  That made me feel a bit upset, especially when I realised that a neurotypical person might have followed my parents’ advice and emailed the admin office to ask if I could come if someone cancelled or if they could squeeze one more person in (there have to be some advantages to being one of the few single people in the shul).  However, I was too socially anxious and caught up in autistic black and white thinking (“It is past the deadline therefore there is nothing I can do”) to do any of this.

***

I had a long conversation with my parents over dinner about where my life is at the moment.  I can’t remember many of the details, but they were a lot more optimistic about my meeting with a matchmaker tomorrow than I am.  I feel deceitful and manipulative even arranging the meeting, as I don’t feel there is any realistic chance I can marry any time in the near to medium future.  I believe in God and Torah, but I struggle to believe that there I have a bashert (soulmate) out there who will see the good in me and be able to cope with the many, many difficulties that someone would encounter in a relationship with me, from my low/soon to be non-existent income to depressive low moods, socially anxious withdrawal and autistic empathy issues.  My parents’ insistence that someone might want me was not convincing, unless you somehow assume that all other frum (religious Orthodox Jewish) men are really unpleasant and unmarryable (they aren’t) or that someone would marry me just because she wants a child and needs someone, anyone, as a father (I can’t see that ending well).  E. was more into me than anyone I’ve ever dated (not admittedly a high hurdle to clear), but she couldn’t cope with me for more than two months, so I really can’t see anyone else tolerating me.  To be honest, if it was ‘just’ a question of depression, social anxiety and autism, I might still have hope, but my low income and uncertain career path is just too much for me to expect anyone to deal with, given that I want to have children and would be looking for a woman who wants to have children and children require lots of money.

***

I wanted to try to go to shul this morning and I actually woke up at 9.00am (shul starts at 8.45, but I would consider getting there by 10.00am a victory at the moment), but I fell asleep again before I could get up.  When I got to shul for shiur (Talmud class) this evening, I realised I had only read half of this week’s page of Talmud.  To be honest, I don’t think I understood any less than usual.  I really struggle to understand Talmudic logic.  Aren’t autistic people supposed to be good at detail?

***

On the way home from shul this evening it really hit me that I don’t belong anywhere in the Jewish world, at least not as it is in the UK.  I was thinking about the upcoming festival of Purim, where people wear fancy dress.  One of my friends dared me last year to wear my Doctor Who scarf, but I was too scared.  I’m trying to get the confidence to do it this year, but I’m not sure I’m going to manage it.

Charedi (ultra-Orthodox) communities like the one I belong to advocate keeping clear of most of the world outside the community.  I shouldn’t read biblical archaeology or secular literature or watch Doctor Who, because it’s all likely to raise questions and temptations and plant bad ideas in my head.  I don’t believe questions are resolved by running away from them or by giving them easy answers.  Likewise, most Charedi Jews (to be honest most religious Jews in general) avoid non-Jews and non-religious Jews outside of work situations.  Again, they’re seen as potentially tempting and corrupting.  But I need to go to my support groups for my mental health and if people there are in trouble, I will try to help them.  Likewise, with people who read my blog.  And I like talking to people about Doctor Who and I feel bad that I have not been able to do that much in recent years and want to get to situations where I can do this again, which means going into non-Jewish environments where many people’s ethics are going to be different to my own.  I feel that I know who I am and what my values are, but I do realise that my worldview has potentially been changed (“corrupted” if you want) from my interactions outside the community.

More Modern communities might be more understanding of these things, but I don’t think there are many Modern Orthodox communities in this country where most people are frum (rather than ‘traditional’, but not shomer mitzvot/keeping the commandments) and take davening (prayer) and Torah study seriously.  Certainly that’s not been my experience.  In my parents’ shul, which is virtually the only Modern shul I could realistically go to for the foreseeable future, there is too much talking during the services, too much chazanut and choral singing, too many people in general, too many people who aren’t frum and a rather cliquey and unfriendly feel to the community.  I didn’t fit in there at all when I used to go, even without the problem that there I was just seen as an extension of my father, not a person in my own right.

I would like to find a community that takes Torah and davening seriously, but is also friendly and open to the outside world and ideas from the humanities and sciences as well as popular culture and which doesn’t look down on non-Jews.  I don’t think such a place really exists in this country.  I do sometimes go to shiurim at the London School of Jewish Studies and they do have the right hashkafa (religious philosophy) for me.  The trouble is, everyone there is my parents’ age or older.  It’s depressing.  I feel that wherever I am, I’m hiding or stifling part of myself.

I know I’ve said most of this a lot in the past, I just need to vent at the unfairness of it.  If I was in America or Israel I wouldn’t have to twist myself to fit into one of a small number of boxes.  If I was well enough to be able to get a job and live by myself I would perhaps consider emigration, but it’s not realistic to do so now.

***

The other scary thought that I had on the way home is that it is a month to Purim, and from Purim another month to Pesach.  I will doubtless write more nearer the time, but these are the hardest, scariest two festivals for me, in terms of triggering OCD, depression, autistic triggers, everything.  Plus, I need to go in to work late on Purim, but I’m scared to ask for the time off after the whole situation I blogged yesterday about my psychiatrist appointment (I hate the NHS).

***

Tonight I’m drifting from one task to another without really finishing anything.  I had a pile of emails that arrived during Shabbat to sort through and most were job alerts i.e. scary stuff.  I think even though I knew there was little or no realistic chance of my job being extended past March, I was in denial about it and was hoping I would somehow stay in this job, which is the one I’ve been most comfortable in since leaving my first job in 2017.  I feel pretty pessimistic about finding anything remotely as good any time soon.

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.

“And I have seen the eternal Footman hold my coat, and snicker,/And in short, I was afraid.”

I’ve been having morbid thoughts all day.  I basically write my blog posts over the day.  If I’m at home, I have a blog window open on my computer and add to it across the day.  If I’m out, I send myself texts with notes of what I want to say.  The stuff I wanted to say today, particularly the stuff I was thinking about when I was walking home just now, was morbid in the extreme, stuff about wanting to die and everyone being better off without me and my not having done anything even vaguely good with my life and the unlikelihood of things ever changing.  I feel a bit better now I’m home.  I guess I still feel I do want to die, just not so urgently.  I don’t know whether I’ve done anything good or whether everyone would be better off without me.  It’s hard to tell, which is pretty damning in itself.

It is hard for me to believe that things could get better.  I don’t even believe my life will be better in Olam HaBa (The Next World).  I have said this a number of times, but I’ve never explained it.  It probably started when my religious OCD was bad.  I was fixated on the laws of Pesach (Passover), when the dietary laws are even more intense and complex than usual.  Certainly when I was growing up we did not keep these laws properly.  The punishment for not obeying them properly is karet, which is an ambiguous term, but probably means not having a share in Olam HaBa.  I had been told that no one gets karet these days because we’re on such a low spiritual level that we don’t have the level of conscious, knowledgeable hatred of God and Torah needed to incur it (I’ve never seen a source for that belief, but it seems to be widespread among Orthodox Jews).  I had likewise been told that you get karet for deliberately breaking the Pesach laws, not for not knowing the correct laws or making a mistake with them.  Nevertheless, I was sure I had incurred karet (although not my family, which also makes little sense).

Even though the OCD is less intense now and even though we probably do keep Pesach properly now, the feeling of being hated and punished by HaShem (God) persists.  I guess my life has been so awful for so long that I can’t believe that anything good could ever happen to me, and the only way that could be the case is if HaShem does not exist or desires to make me miserable.  As I strongly believe that He does exist, it is easy to feel He wants to make me miserable forever.  I know there are reasons why a good person might suffer, but I find them hard to internalise when the depression (and maybe pure O OCD) are going full-strength.  Even so, if my mission in life is to endure in misery, it is hard to see that as a positive thing, even if it is “only” for another fifty or sixty years before my eternal reward.  Fifty years of misery is not long compared to eternal reward, but fifty years is long compared to the fifteen or twenty years of depression I have already endured and I don’t know how I could get through another fifty years like the last fifteen.

That said, I doubt I would believe myself to be a good person even if HaShem told me I was.  I had disgusting thoughts on the way home and while I know on some level that they are OCD, it is hard not to think that I have corrupted myself over the years with bad behaviour and thoughts to the point where I can no longer control my thoughts.  I just hope I don’t lose control of my actions.

I avoid the news at the moment, but I saw a report last night that triggered conflicting emotions.  It was about disruptive children being placed in solitary confinement in schools so they can’t disrupt other children’s lessons.  The reporter made it quite clear that he thought that this was wrong.  Skipping over the fact that the solitary confinement booths looked a lot like the workspaces at my college library at Oxford, this left me conflicted.  The opponents of this disciplinary procedure argued that many of the disruptive students have mental health or developmental disorders such as autism/Asperger’s (the only condition named).  Obviously I felt sympathy to people with autism, but at the same time, I was conscious that the type of students being disciplined were basically the ones who made my life hell when I was at school and I would dearly have loved some of them to be shut up far away from me so I could work.  In particular, they interviewed one student about the treatment he received and the mental health issues that developed from prolonged solitary confinement, but they didn’t ask him what he did that was so disruptive that he was disciplined in this way.  This is the trouble I have when thinking about people who hurt me when I was younger.  As an adult, I know they most likely had “issues” of some kind of their own, but the fact is that I am dealing with decades-worth of misery and mental illness because of the behaviour of other people, people who have never asked for my forgiveness or perhaps even realised that they hurt me.  This is difficult.  At the same time, I know I have probably hurt other people, maybe as much as I was hurt.  This is also difficult.

Stuck in the Middle with Who?

I finally feel I achieved something this holiday: I went for a run for the first time in nearly eight months.  My trainers were covered in dust from lack of use.  To be honest, I walked quite a bit of it, which was bad even by my standards (I still find it hard to run continuously for twenty minutes or more and I do wonder how much is the depression depleting my stamina), but at least I was out for half an hour when I only expected to manage fifteen or twenty minutes.  I came back exhausted and a bit faint, but also somewhat reinvigorated.  So that’s a positive result.  I’ll try to go for another run on Sunday.  I’d like to build a run every Sunday and Friday through the summer, although the latter might be harder to fit in between therapy and Shabbat (the Sabbath).

I guess I’ve achieved a couple of things this holiday, actually.  I managed to get through Pesach OK, albeit with depression and some religious OCD, but less than the last couple of years except for one bad twenty-four hour hour period.  I did some chores that needed doing and I went out yesterday with my Dad.  I proof-read another two chapters of the second draft of my Doctor Who book today and have been taking notes for revisions on the next chapter.  I realised that writing the book has required me to read the feelings and motivations of various characters implied, but not explicitly stated, by the scripts and body language and intonation of the actors.  I think I’ve done this better than I expected, but it is something I often have to do consciously and struggle with sometimes; I’m not always sure I’ve read them correctly.  I’m not sure where that puts me on the autistic spectrum inasmuch as I find this hard (autistic),but I can do it to some extent (not autistic).  I guess it is a spectrum, with various degrees of severity.

I’m also trying a couple of new techniques for dealing with the depression, using my davening (prayers) as a mindful meditation technique (as per Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan in Jewish Meditation) and trying to accept my difficult thoughts and emotions rather than repressing them or getting anxious or depressed about them or indeed encouraging them, but I’m still trying to learn how to deal this and I wouldn’t like to say if they’re working at this stage.  Maybe I will write more on this when I’m more certain of how I’m managing it.

I suppose that those are all positive achievements, considering I was only off for two weeks and most of that was Pesach.  It’s always hard to accept that I’ve achieved things, though.

The rest of this post might be considered a very long digression, but it’s necessary to shed some light on something I’ve referred to here before more than once.  In fact, there might be a couple of people reading this who know that this is something I’ve been writing about and worrying about for many years, but I’ve seen something that makes me think this isn’t just my paranoid/introverted/depressed/autistic/whatever feelings, but something that others have observed in more objective ways.  If you want the short version, it’s mainly just me saying that a clever academic somewhere else online agrees with me about my being socially isolated in the Jewish community.  As for the long version:

On the Judaism Without Apologies blog Israeli polymath (computer scientist, political scientist and Talmudist) Moshe Koppel has been writing a sort of comparative psycho-sociological study of Orthodox Judaism and the Orthodox community versus the liberalism of non-religious American Jews.  I find it fascinating, even though I would query some of it and need more time to digest more of it (I’m hoping there will be a book version, because I suspect I internalise and evaluate information better in book format than blog format), partly because of the light it has shone on my evolving political views and my uncomfortable position in the Orthodox world.  I’m going to leave my (possibly somewhat unusual) politics out of this post and just look at the sociological side of things.

Koppel has been making his study concrete by looking at a couple of stereotypical fictional characters to represent each world, primarily Shimen, an Orthodox Jew and Holocaust survivor, and Heidi, a fairly secular American Jewish baby-boomer.  His most recent posts have been looking at the fine balance of Shimen’s religious world and the way this world has vanished in the next generation to be replaced by two streams of Orthodoxy going in opposite directions: a religious fundamentalism rejecting Western culture and a somewhat conflicted (or hypocritical), accommodationist attitude in more moderate religious thinkers.  Broadly, the former corresponds to Charedi (Ultra-Orthodox) Judaism, the latter to Modern Orthodoxy (I would question this a bit, as I felt he was taking examples from the extreme of Modern Orthodoxy and Open Orthodoxy and ignoring what is sometimes described as Centrist Orthodoxy, but we can leave such hair-splitting of practice aside for now).  Various posts have used game theory and sociological theory to show how forms of communal identification and ideological progression in both worlds result in a need for ever more extreme virtue signalling and radicalisation in both directions i.e. the fundamentalists become ever more fundamentalist to prove they aren’t liberal, while the liberals become ever more liberal to demonstrate they aren’t conservative.

The reason I bring this up is that the most recent posts explained to me my position in the Jewish world, and it is precarious.  Koppel describes Shimen’s generation as neither Charedi nor Modern Orthodox, preceding the evolution of these viewpoints, taking what it wanted from the wider world (some secular education, some bits of mainstream culture) while quietly ignoring what it deemed problematic.  Likewise, Shimen was able to balance the universal and particular elements of Jewish ethics.  Shimen probably didn’t know many non-Jews, but he probably didn’t really hate them either or think about them much at all, really, as long as they left the Jews alone.  But the next generation, confronted with an increasingly seductive, but increasingly anti-religious (both in the formal, atheist sense, but also in the sense of simply having ethical norms that are very different) wider culture is locked into one of two responses: build a ghetto and shut out Western culture as much as possible by demonising it or bend halakhah (Jewish law) as far as possible, if not further, to accommodate as much of contemporary Western thought and practice/society as possible.  Again, the former is the Charedi way, the latter the Modern Orthodox.

My rabbi mentor once said I have a strong dislike of religious hypocrisy.  It’s one of the most treasured things anyone ever said about me.  As a result, I find both approaches problematic.  I feel uncomfortable bending halakhah to fit ever-changing political and social mores and I have enough of a philosophical problem with postmodernism to be wary of trying to live my life in accordance with postmodern liberal standards.  But I also disagree with entirely shutting out Western civilisation, which has many good points (as a geek, I have to say there is little geek culture in the Charedi world).  Neither approach seems to me to do justice to the entirety and complexity of Jewish thought, the former prioritising liberal values ahead of problematic Jewish ones, the latter downplaying the universalist aspects of Jewish thought and at times adopting a prejudiced attitude to non-Jews and non-religious Jews that I can not share.  Hence the aspects of my life that I am wary of sharing with my fellow shul (synagogue) congregants: my love of Doctor Who and other vintage television science fiction; my deep and treasured friendships with non-Jews and non-religious Jews, some of them female; my reading of non-Orthodox theologians and bible critics; the fact that I used to work for a non-Orthodox rabbinical college and so on.  And, I suppose, the aspects of Judaism I don’t talk about much here, where I have a mostly non-Jewish audience, although this is due to irrelevance to my blog’s main topics as much as controversy.

Koppel’s argument is that Shimen’s middle ground has largely vanished.  I think, for various reasons (smaller community size; older communities; more antisemitism; different attitudes to religious education in state schools; a non-Jewish political culture that is different and where religion and identity politics are less contested) the division isn’t quite as stark in the UK and perhaps other European countries as in the USA (Israel is certainly a whole other kettle of fish which Koppel hasn’t got on to yet).  But it did give me some sociological back up for why I feel so alienated in my religious community, why I have the classic moderate Orthodox dilemma of “The people I pray with, I can’t talk to; the people I talk to, I can’t pray with” and why that makes it difficult for me to achieve the intimacy needed for close friendships and marriage within the community.

I do feel nostalgic for Koppel’s (or Shimen’s) world of “Litvishe gedolim [Lithuanian Talmud scholars] playing chess at the opera” and am saddened that it’s a world that has largely gone for good.  I don’t know what the solution is, either for me or for the wider community.  Koppel has hinted that he sees the possibility of growing a uniquely Jewish culture in Israel, which might be possible if the religious and secular communities don’t tear each other apart and if the Arab-Israeli Conflict doesn’t flare up again, neither of which looks likely to happen for long.  But even if that’s the case, while an idealistic part of me would like to make aliyah (move to Israel), I don’t see it as a realistic idea for me for a whole tranche of reasons, not least my mental health situation and the language barrier.  So I don’t know what I can do about meeting people like myself.

Maybe compartmentalisation, keeping my geeky friends/life and frum (religious) friends/life separate, is the only solution, but it doesn’t feel like a long-term answer.  Unless I can find a wife as unusually positioned as my self, my children are likely to end up significantly more fundamentalist or significantly less religious than I am*.  But I’m not sure how to find such a woman (even aside from all my other issues – mental health, geeky, etc.), but then, I don’t suppose many Charedi or less-frum/fundamentalist women would be particularly interested in me with my traits from the other side of the divide.

* And perhaps not even if I do find such a wife, as school and yeshiva mould character as well as parents and there is a well-known phenomenon of teenagers becoming significantly more or less religious/fundamentalist than their parents due to these influences.

Mene, Mene, Tekel Ufarsin

Pesach is over for another year (or thirteen months, as next year is a Jewish leap year, which means an extra month added in).  I made it through, just about.  I had one twenty-four hour period (over two days) of more bad OCD, but was mostly OK, which is to say some OCD, but not overwhelming.

The last two days were hard in other ways, though.  I’ve been anxious/angry about antisemitism and thinking that this is the beginning of the end of Anglo-Jewry, that what is happening in France, where brutal antisemitic murders are increasingly common and largely ignored by the police for political reasons (because they are carried out by certain members (by no means all) of a particular minority group that the politicians don’t want to antagonise) and where the Chief Rabbi has told Jewish men not to wear kippot (skullcaps) in public because it’s too dangerous, is going to start happening here soon.  Over the last twenty years there has been a massive increase in aliyah (immigration to Israel) from the French Jewish community (many of whom only moved to France in the post-war era, fleeing antisemitic violence in previously French-occupied North Africa).  I could see myself moving to Israel some time in the next thirty years.  I could see myself having to move.

That said, while historically there has been a lot of intellectual antisemitism in the UK, including from the left (Bernard Shaw (as far as I know, the first person to say that the Jews are the same as the Nazis, less than a week after Kristallnacht), the Webbs, Chesterton, Belloc, Eliot, etc.) and although England had one of the earliest blood libels, in the modern era there has been little in the way of popular antisemitism in this country.  Mosley’s Black Shirts were never a mass movement in the way political antisemitism created mass movements across Europe in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries or in the way political antisemitism has returned (on the left as well as the right) in the last twenty years or so.  I believe that Momentum is largely antisemitic, but I don’t believe that the majority of Labour Party members, let alone the population at large, are antisemitic.  The fear is that Corbyn and Momentum will offer enough bread and circuses that people will vote for them anyway, because while most people don’t agree with antisemitism, they don’t strongly disagree with it either, or even understand it will enough to disagree with it, particularly after decades of the BBC (which has a massive news monopoly in this country) insinuating that Jews (sorry, Israelis) are a uniquely racist and imperialist people/religion.

Such has been part of my thinking over Yom Tov, along with general thoughts about Western Civilisation tearing itself to pieces as the far-left and the far-right take over, or come close to taking over, in one country after another.  And, lo, I look at the news after Yom Tov and there’s been another terrorist attack in a European city.  The Jews’ revenge for being demonised by Europe: your cities are now as unsafe as Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, and for the same reasons.

However, all this has been a distraction from more personal angst.  I’ve felt very depressed for the last couple of days.  The OCD has been at bay, but I’ve been feeling cut off from God again, lonely and misunderstood.  I feel bad that I didn’t make it to shul (synagogue) in the mornings.  My parents say I need more “will power” which I find a bit upsetting.  I have the will to go to shul, I just don’t have the power, ha ha.  It’s hard to do things when the depression and social anxiety team up against me.  I was thinking again in shul today that God should have created me as a FFB (frum from birth) yeshiva bochur (Talmudic student) because He clearly loves them all much more than He loves me.

I argued with my parents a bit today.  I could see that I had woken up depressed and in a state where everything I say is going to sound grumpy and critical (I’m not sure how much this is depression and how much autism), so I tried to apologise in advance and say I didn’t mean to sound grumpy, I just couldn’t help it, and I tried to sound even-tempered but somehow there was still an argument.  I guess it was not entirely my fault.  I tried to defuse the situation.

What I have learnt from all this is that I probably do need to date only frum (religious) women.  I had been wondering, as frum women apparently aren’t interested in dating me, whether I should date non-frum Jewish women, if we had other values in common (integrity, family, love of learning, personal growth).  A lot of people in my family have done this, my Mum has long been encouraging me to do this (I have no idea why) and even my rabbi mentor surprised me by saying it wasn’t necessarily a bad idea, but I feel that if I marry a non-frum woman the mitzvot (commandments) will become a focus for resentment and argument.

Anyway, I’ve avoided the post-Pesach tidy up too long by writing this so off I go…

Bedroom Picspam

Oh dear, the OCD has come and gone all day (I’m currently resisting the temptation to ask if the superglue I got all over my fingers earlier is OK for Pesach; given my rabbis have found it funny when I asked if kitchen wipes and hair dye are OK, I’m going to assume that superglue is definitely not food and therefore not subject to the Pesach kashrut laws).  I’m also trying not to let J*r*my C*rb*n (yemach shemo) spoil my chag.  And now there’s pre-Yom Tov (festival) stress and resultant family tension.  So, something nice: my room!

My parents had my old room at their house decorated a couple of months ago, but it stretched on and was only finished a week or so ago.  Actually, it’s not quite finished; there’s a picture I still want to put up, but I can’t find a frame that fits.  The room looks a lot fresher and more welcoming than it did when we moved in over two and a half years ago.  This is good, as I come back every week for Shabbat (the Sabbath) and if my contract isn’t renewed past August I will probably have to move back in permanently, at least until I can find a new job.  It’s a pity we didn’t have the budget to do anything with the black wardrobe doors, but the rest of the room looks brighter.

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The view from my desk, with some of my 1,000-plus books (horizontal, vertical, two rows deep in places) on the left, guarded by the wargaming miniatures I used to paint/still occasionally paint and my DVDs on the right, with gaps where DVDs in my flat should be.

 

DSC00634

The view from the door as you come in.

I tried to photograph some of my fantasy wargaming miniatures (I never much liked wargaming, but I like to think I painted the miniatures well), but the photos didn’t come out well.  This was about the best photo, although far from the best paint job, a Dark Elf lord riding a dragon.

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I have to say, I used to paint these things a lot better when I was in my teens than I do now, although I haven’t painted for a year or more.  I don’t know if I have less patience or a less steady hand or what.  Someone has released a new Doctor Who game and I’d like to paint some of the miniatures, but Daleks, Cybermen and other Doctor Who monsters tend to be predominantly one colour (green or black, usually) and aren’t particularly interesting to paint.  I’d like to paint all the Doctors at least.

Fragmented Thoughts

I’m off work for the end of term holidays.  I don’t feel particularly depressed or anxious (despite waiting to hear back from my rabbi mentor about a couple of Pesach (Passover) anxieties – I suspect he is going to be out of email contact until after Pesach now), but I do feel exhausted.  I behaved a bit in a way that I wish I hadn’t done, which was probably a delayed reaction to the stresses of the last few weeks and especially the last few days.  Then I had to ask my rabbi a technical (non-OCD) question and felt like a fraud for making myself appear frum (religious) after behaving in a less than ideal way.  The reality is that I have spiritual ascents and descents, same as most people who aren’t either tzadikim (saints) or completely wicked, but I feel like a fraud whenever I do things that I consider wrong.

I did some creative writing for the first time in ages, forcing myself to spend half an hour writing something I’ve been thinking about for a while, a sort of fact/fiction fantasy/memoir hybrid.  I don’t think it’s going to work, but I thought I would pursue it for a while, especially as I decided not to work on my Doctor Who book this week (it felt wrong to write it on Chol HaMoed as I intend to write it for profit).  I kept stopping to look at my emails or things online.  I don’t have this problem with my Doctor Who book or blogging.  I don’t know if this was because I feel so exhausted or because fiction (or “fiction”) is much harder for me to write than non-fiction.  I don’t know where I’m going with the fiction and I don’t trust myself to get there, which is not really a problem I have with non-fiction.  I hope to write for half an hour every day except Shabbat and Yom Tov (the Sabbath) for the two weeks of my holiday.  If I can do that, I should end up with about 5000 words by the end of my holiday, if I write at the same rate as today (which is a big assumption) which might give me an idea of whether to continue with this.  I’m still trying to work out if God really wants me to write, and if so what He wants me to write.  I remember what David Bowie said, that the worst joke God can play on you is to make you an artist, but a mediocre artist.  That seems to apply to me a lot.  Although I’m not quite sure that I see that as the worst thing in my life.  I could cope with being a mediocre writer if I was happier and more fulfilled in other areas e.g. my religious life, my social life.

Today was full of other frustrations.  I wanted to go to shul for Mincha and Ma’ariv (afternoon and evening services), but felt too tired.  I wanted to watch some of A for Andromeda, the 1960s British TV science fiction serial, but I feel too tired for half-reconstructed, half-audio only sixties science fiction and opted for something less challenging.  Still, I haven’t felt this calm at Pesach for many years, so I probably shouldn’t complain.  The day does feel a bit of a waste, though, and I wonder if I should make plans to Do Something on a couple of days over the next two weeks.

I feel lonely again.  It probably didn’t help that I watched Superbob, a film I bought on DVD to watch at Pesach last year, but was too anxious to watch, a low-budget British comedy about a lonely superhero going on his first date in six years, quite funny, in a very British way, but also about loneliness and geeky people who can’t get dates even if they have superpowers (“I just got to be myself, right?”  “Not if you want her to like you.”).  And I also read an essay by Rabbi Lord Sacks about Shir HaShirim (Song of Songs/Song of Solomon) and romantic love in Judaism from the introduction to his Pesach Mahzor (festival prayer book).  However, I was pretty lonely before I did either of these things, so something else must have triggered it, not that it takes much to make me feel lonely.

I think I’ve written before that I think there are different types of loneliness e.g. loneliness for friends, loneliness for community.  I feel the loneliness for a spouse most often and particularly today.  I don’t know why I feel it today.  It’s not as bad as many times in the past, but it’s there.  I don’t know if it’s being around my sister and her new husband the last few days or just coincidence.  One of my non-biological sisters sent me some links about introversion, which confirmed what I already knew, which is that you can be an introvert and lonely because introverts aren’t misanthropists, they just need intimate relationships and deep conversations, not superficial relationships and banal small talk.  Even being around a loved one without talking is good for an introvert.

I feel I am no closer to finding my other half.  To be honest, over the last few days I have been thinking that I should deliberately avoid dating for a while, until I at least try to work on my social anxiety some more.  The problem is that if I do that, it could easily be a year or more until I start dating again, dependent on my success (or otherwise) at working on the social anxiety and my employment situation in the coming months.  I don’t know if I could bear that and certainly it would make it even less likely that I will be able to have children, assuming I marry a woman around my own age.  Plus I feel I should date in the spring and summer, because my mood then is likely to be better than the autumn and winter, so if I miss the coming window of opportunity, it could be another six months before one comes around again.  Even if I’m sceptical of my rabbi mentor’s theory that if I become more sociable, people in my community will automatically start setting me up on dates with women like me, I guess it makes sense not to do an intensely social thing until I have improved my social anxiety.  But there is also the fear of procrastination and of waiting until things are perfect, which they never will be.

I guess that in my head there are ‘good’ and ‘bad’ reasons for wanting to be in a relationship or get married.  For example, wanting to be in a relationship simply to have sex isn’t likely to lead to a successful relationship, nor is wanting to get married just because it’s a mitzvah (religious commandment) whereas wanting to be in a relationship to give to someone else or to grow as a person or to have a deep and intimate relationship with someone are more likely to lead to a lasting marriage (although still a scary number of marriages end in divorce, even in the frum community, where divorce is less common).  The problem is, all the reasons are jumbled up and confused in my head.  There are some where I’m not sure if they’re good or bad reasons (e.g. wanting to have children), but more often the good and bad reasons are mixed together.  I know that I want to have a deep and intimate relationship with someone.  I also know that I want to have sex and that probably I wouldn’t be a normal heterosexual young male if I didn’t.  But does the latter wipe out the validity of the former?  It’s hard to unscramble these things in my head, especially as sex is such a primal driving force.  I also find it hard to believe that frum people who get married in their early twenties or even late teens (which seems ridiculously young to me) are motivated entirely by love and the desire to give and grow, rather than, at least in part, things like peer pressure, social conformity, libido, lack of other options and the assumption that this is what you do (I suspect that the supposed “shidduch crisis,” if it really exists, is caused at least in part by people marrying later because, consciously or unconsciously, they aren’t ready or willing to get married at nineteen or twenty).

I also find myself wondering about people who used to read this blog who I haven’t heard from for a while.  I wonder if I have said something to offend them and chase them away or if they just got bored of my negativity.  It feels sometimes like people drift in and out of my life and it’s hard to find a way to get people I like to stay.

Oh well.  It feels like the words are chasing themselves round and round on the page today without actually making any sense.  I’ve been cutting and editing, but it’s hard to say what I feel today, not least because I’m not really sure what I feel and I want to talk about publicly and what I want to hold on to by myself for now.  So, I suppose, bed now.

Pesach 1 and 2

The first two days of Pesach (Passover) have been and gone.  I spent a lot of them waiting to get on the computer to send a panicked email to my rabbi mentor asking about things I was anxious about or writing here to offload, but now the first two days of Yom Tov (festival) are over, that seems less urgent, which I suppose is good.

The positives: I got to shul (synagogue) every evening and even walked home with someone who lives in the same road as my parents, making conversation with him, which was good for social anxiety.  The sederim went reasonably well in terms of doing all the mitzvot (commandments).  I learnt on Friday night that I probably hadn’t been leaning correctly to fulfil the mitzvot of leaning while drinking wine and eating matzah in the past, so I was able to do that correctly this year, albeit that I felt bad for not having done it in the past, but I guess I am a tinok shenishbo (literally a Jewish child raised by non-Jews and hence ignorant of the halakhah (Jewish law) and not culpable for violations until he or she learns about it, but used by extension to apply to Jews raised in a non-observant way) here.  I enjoyed the second seder in particular with my sister’s in-laws.  I managed to talk a bit to my sister’s sister-in-law, who has special needs; she wanted to hug me when she left (she’s very affectionate and likes hugging everyone), which I guess means that she felt comfortable with me.  I usually try to be shomer negiah (not having affectionate physical contact with members of the opposite sex other than close relations), but I thought that in this instance I wouldn’t be able to explain myself to her because of her special needs and it was better just to avoid upsetting her.

The other positive experience was that some family friends came over today for kiddush (refreshments before lunch) and I got to spend some time playing with their young children (aged one and three or four), which I always enjoy.  I know that some autistic people find it easier to be with animals than people; I get nervous around animals, but I like young children.  I feel children just accept me for who I am without my needing to pretend to be anything I’m not.  And it’s easier to make conversation with young children than adults; just point to something and ask what it is or what colour it is and they’ll be happy to tell you and if you can’t think of anything to say, they don’t care about that either.

The more negative side of Yom Tov was that parts of the sederim were difficult (the seder is the meal on the first two nights of Pesach when we recite the story of the slavery and exodus of the Israelites from Egypt and eat symbolic foods).  The first night in particular we had some guests who weren’t particularly religious or into the seder service and I struggled to involve them.  I always find a few commentaries to go a bit deeper than the basic text of the story of the exodus, but I felt, perhaps wrongly, that people weren’t that interested.  I would like to ask some open questions to involve people (e.g. “do you think we are still enslaved today?” type questions), but I always find that hard – it always sounds a bit fake to me, or perhaps fake coming from me, as I don’t really speak like that generally.  I also worry that people will feel put on the spot and forced to join in.  I would love to go to a seder where there is a deep religious discussion of the exodus story and the Jewish conception of slavery and freedom, going much further than the prescribed text, but instead every year I find myself trying to involve other people.  To be fair, it varies from year to year and the first seder this year was a particularly difficult one, but I feel a bit like I’m doing kiruv (trying to get non-religious Jews to be aware of their heritage), which is not something I’m naturally good at.  I don’t want to sound arrogant or snobbish, but it can be very frustrating being the most Jewishly-educated and Jewishly-involved person at the seder, trying to learn something myself and pass on some of my enthusiasm to others, all the while dealing with my own social anxiety, depression and/or borderline autism.  I don’t think I managed it very well, although, as my parents say, these relatives do keep coming back year after year, so they must get something out of our seder.

The other biggish problem was OCD.  Over the last two days I had quite a bit of this, albeit at a much less intense level than in the past.  Some of it was the usual Pesach OCD, worrying that I had come into contact with chametz (leavened bread and food cooked with it or in vessels it has been cooked in, all forbidden on Pesach), which I expected, but some of it was new.  Lately I find that I have had a bit of OCD in prayer and mitzvah performance, worrying that I don’t have enough kavannah (usually translated as ‘concentration’ or ‘intent’, but perhaps a more appropriate word is (to use an overused buzz word) ‘mindfulness,’ being aware of the meaning of a prayer or mitzvah and doing it consciously and thoughtfully).  I worried that I had the wrong intention in listening to prayers and doing mitzvot and repeated them, or I felt I hadn’t listened to my father’s prayers properly and repeated them quietly, then worried that I had upset him or shamed him in front of others by implying that I didn’t think that his recital was good enough.  I don’t quite know what to do about this, other than trying to speak to my rabbi mentor about kavannah at some point.  It is not a bad thing to be aware of kavannah, and it is essential for both prayer and mitzvah performance, but as always with the OCD it gets out of control and becomes an impediment to spiritual growth rather than an aid to it.

I also slept rather too much.  I actually dozed off for twenty minutes or so during Pesach preparations on Friday, which was probably a good thing overall, but I felt a bit bad about sleeping when there was so much to do.  Obviously the sederim meant the last two nights were very late, but I slept late into the morning both yesterday and today, sleeping right through my alarms, being exhausted and having what I term a ‘mental hangover’ from late nights and intense social interactions during then days and then sleeping for another two hours after lunch, waking just in time to go to shul (synagogue) for Mincha and Ma’ariv (afternoon and evening prayers) before starting the cycle all over again.  Sleeping too much during the day probably led to my being insomniac last night, lying in bed with racing thoughts and not able to do much to calm down (I did eventually read a little bit until I felt more tired).  It’s nearly midnight now and I don’t feel at all tired and I still have to have something to eat and to shower before I go to bed.

It has to be said that things were much better than they had been for the previous few years.  The OCD, when it came, was much more subdued, with none of the extreme agitation and fear that God hates me and most of the time there was at least part of my mind that had things in the right perspective; I was often able to do things that the OCD was telling me were wrong because part of my mind told me that they were not wrong, and if they were, that would be a genuine mistake, not a deliberate sin.  I held on to a few anxieties all through Yom Tov to ask my rabbi mentor about afterwards, but having now sat down with them, most of them seem obviously trivial and OCD and I don’t know if I will ask about all of them, although I will probably ask about some.

One last thing that happened was that some of the yeshiva bachurim (rabbinical seminary students) at shul gave ten minute divrei Torah (religious talks) today between Mincha and Ma’ariv.  While this did make me feel a bit upset that I no longer feel able, or have the opportunity, to give such divrei Torah as I have in the past, I got a lot out of the talks.  In particular, it was interesting to see that the four men had different personalities, educational styles and topics, which reassured me a bit that becoming frum (religious) doesn’t necessarily mean becoming a conformist, although I do still fret that I’m too much of a non-conformist.  One thing that did resonate was a little one-line tangent in one of the divrei Torah; the main theme was the idea that everything comes from God and that we should use it to serve Him.  As an aside, the person noted that while people understand this to mean money, it really means everything, including things such as talents.  It resonated with my current thinking that I need to use my writing in a more productive way.  I don’t know why God would give me a talent for writing about science fiction television – it seems a very strange talent or mission to have, from a religious point of view – but that seems to be where He wants me to be right now.

OK, off to eat matzah and cheese and/or matzah and jam now, which, perhaps surprisingly, I haven’t had yet this Pesach (not jam and cheese at the same time, though, that wouldn’t be good).

Pre-Pesach Post

This is being written in short intervals between Pesach (Passover) preparation.

The staff development day at work yesterday was OK, but I would have enjoyed it more had it not been so close to Pesach, and had I not been tired and developing a migraine.  The migraine got bad enough that by the time I got home, I went to bed and slept for an  hour and a half, which was probably just as well as Pesach preparation went on late and I didn’t get to bed until after 1.00am.

I woke up this morning early enough to go to shul (synagogue) for the siyum that would mean I didn’t have to fast today for the fast of the firstborn (sorry, no time to explain, google if you need to), but I was so tired that I decided I would be better off sleeping and having energy for preparation and seder, as I can’t fast the minor fasts with the medication I’m on anyway.  I had some Pesach OCD last night and today, but not as much as in recent years.  I asked my rabbis a couple of questions, but I’m trying hard to sit with my anxiety, as I’m supposed to for exposure therapy, rather than ask the question and stoke the OCD flames.

Things have been better than they have been on erev Pesach for a number of years.  From an OCD point of view, the worst is out of the way now; although sometimes questions can spring out of nowhere during Pesach, the preparation beforehand is definitely more anxiety-provoking.  However, from a social anxiety point of view, I have to get through two sederim with people I don’t know well, if at all, and who I worry are going to be put off by my attempts to add ideas beyond the text of the hagadah and my ritual punctiliousness (even though I don’t make other people eat as much matzah and maror as I do).  The depression has been OK the last few days, but I know that a serious lapse with OCD or social anxiety could send me spiraling back down again.  But I am hopeful of getting through the next eight days in a reasonable state.

Chag sameach vekasher! (My rabbi mentor once put it that way round to me, to stress the joy over the ritual checking.)

Two Quick Observations

Crazy, difficult day.  No time to blog at length, so I’ll just observe:

  1. I realised I’m struggling with OCD and depression at the moment not just from Pesach (although that’s a big enough trigger by itself), but because I’m spending a lot more time on the issue desk because one of my colleagues has been off sick for two weeks.  I find being on the issue desk the most draining, depleting task at work, and I’ve been spending three hours or more each day there, about half my working day.  Still, term is over now (staff development day tomorrow, though).
  2. I have perhaps the worst kind of religious OCD: the kind where deep down I know everything is OK, but I won’t let myself believe it because I don’t think I deserve things to be OK.  I nearly messed things up and was saved by ‘chance’ (HaShem/God), but I don’t think I deserve things to be OK so I obsess over what might have gone wrong until I convince myself that it did.  As my rabbi mentor has said in the past, if I don’t feel I deserve things to be OK, then it won’t matter how many rabbis or books I consult, I won’t be able to accept things as they are.

“It goes ding when there’s stuff”

I wasn’t intending to write today, but I have a few minutes to offload.  Unfortunately, most of the things that I want to write about are not a good idea to share publicly, if at all, but there’s something that’s worrying me (aside from Pesach (Passover) which is still worrying me a lot), but also slightly exciting me (exciting me too much), something that’s angering me (that’s partly my fault, but only partly), and something else that’s vaguely amusing and also bewildering me and slightly worrying me.  I guess alexithymia (difficulty understanding and distinguishing emotions) is scoring highly today too.

Pesach preparations are so far mostly going according to schedule, except that I allowed myself to be talked out of cleaning my mother’s hob, which means I have to trust her to do it properly, which is troubling my OCD.  I could be in a much worse state this time tomorrow, especially as she doesn’t like me questioning everything, which is understandable, but makes it hard for me to be clear on what’s happened, which my OCD demands.  Please, HaShem (God), help me to get through the next three/five/eleven days without any major depression, OCD anxiety or arguments with my family!

Tomorrow and Thursday I have to do a big detour on my journeys to and from work because of a strike on the Docklands Light Railway.  I am annoyed about this, as I didn’t need it this week, with so much to do for Pesach.

I finished watching the original 1963-1989 run of Doctor Who the other day and have nearly finished second drafts of all those chapters for my book, although finishing the chapter I’m working on will probably have to wait until after Pesach and at least one chapter (on Patrick Troughton’s Doctorate, plus a bit more) is probably going to require extensive research before the third draft.  The new series awaits!  After the interruption of the 1996 TV Movie.  I’m thinking of halting for a bit, though, and watching some films and/or the 1960s science fiction serials A for Andromeda and The Andromeda Breakthrough which I bought a while back on DVD and haven’t seen yet.

And, lo!  In two more days I will have done a whole year at my ‘new’ job.  That’s something that I should write about, although Pesach is likely to get in the way and I don’t have time to write now (and I wouldn’t risk tempting fate, not that I believe in fate, by doing it in advance).