Goats!

Today we went to see the ruins of a Talmudic era (2nd to 8th century) village at Katsrin. It was fascinating, with restored or partially restored houses, wine and oil presses, bread ovens and the partially restored synagogue (Beit HaKenneset – no Yiddish shul in Talmudic times!).

Also on site were a large peacock and two rather cute small goats. One was definitely female (no horns, but udders and long ears framing her face like payot/sidecurls). The other, with horns, looked male to me, but one staff member addressed it in the feminine, “Mah at ochelet?” (“What are you eating?”) The answer, apparently, was a piece of string, which in goatish fashion it refused to relinquish. I now want a goat for a pet…

davened Mincha (said Afternoon Prayers) in the ruined synagogue, but it didn’t feel as “connected” as I had hoped. I’m not quite sure what I was hoping for. I got interrupted by a tour group, which didn’t help.

Afterwards we went into town in modern Katsrin to the archaeological museum there, mostly Roman era coins and pots, but some prehistoric artifacts and a carving of a biblical story that connects to me for reasons I won’t mention here.

Afterwards we sat and ate ice cream. I had a Magnum Duet, which isn’t kosher in the UK (most Magums aren’t, sadly). To be honest, it didn’t taste that different to classic or white Magnums, which are kosher (in boxes of four only, not loose).

We’re planning on looking for falafel for dinner, which we haven’t had on this trip yet.

I realise my mood seems better in these posts. The sunlight and warmth help, but I suspect it’s mostly the freedom from responsibility. My parents are dealing with a lot of stuff and I don’t have to worry about job hunting. Even my status as the only family member here who speaks any Hebrew is rarely needed, as most Israelis speak better English than my Hebrew, although I did speak a bit to order dinner last night. Sadly, tomorrow is the last proper day of the holiday.

I am OK(ish)

I am OK.  I know I was talking about feeling suicidal at the end of my last post.  I didn’t do anything silly.  I texted a friend and watched Doctor Who until I felt a bit better.  Unfortunately, it wasn’t until I had calmed down a bit that I realised that I should have phoned Samaritans to offload.  Unfortunately, I often don’t think to do that until after the event, like today.  Then it seemed that it would just rake up bad thoughts by repeating everything that happened on the phone to Samaritans after I had calmed down.

The trouble is, there are ongoing issues in my life that I can’t easily resolve.  Obviously my career and my desire for an autism diagnosis and fear that I won’t get one can’t be solved quickly and easily, but there are other things that I feel that I can’t talk about here that are never going to go away.  I spent years in therapy trying to come to terms with them, without success.  I have always been told that if you want to fix a relationship, you can only fix your side; you can hope that your changes will cause the other person to change, but ultimately you have to accept the other person’s actions or walk away.  I don’t feel that I should walk away from the difficult relationships in my life, but I also have tried to change things and have got sucked down into the black hole of dependency again because of depression and autism.  The only real solution (becoming independent and building a new life) is nixed by the depression and autism stopping me working anything approaching full time and stopping me from finding even finding a new job easily.

I don’t know what the solution is to this.  It’s frightening to realise that my inner emotional regulation thermostat goes almost immediately from frozen (too depressed to do anything) to scorching (self-harm and suicidal thoughts) without any ‘comfortable’ range.  (I’m not sure how good a metaphor that is, but you get the idea as suicidality isn’t the opposite of depression, far from it, but you get the idea.)  I don’t really have any resilience to even minor troubles (and today’s problems were fairly minor, objectively).

I’m calmer now, but still somewhat tense and worried about a lot of things: asking for rearranged hours at work for my psychiatrist appointment and Purim; finding a job after March; finding some kind of meaningful way to resolve the problems I can’t talk about, which sadly seem tied up in a way, at least emotionally, with my inability to forge close friendships and a romantic relationship.  I feel the post-trauma paralysis, not wanting or being able to really do anything, but I need to get ready for work tomorrow, somehow, and to shower and go to bed.

Thanks for reading.  It helps me understand myself to write things down (there was a lot in the last post that I didn’t really understand until I wrote it down) and I can only write things down if I think that someone might read it (don’t ask me why).  I would say that I hope other people find this meaningful, but I wouldn’t wish what I’m experiencing on anyone else.

(And, yes, again the thought of pets comes to my mind as a method of emotional regulation, but, again, I feel that my Mum doesn’t really want me to have them and I don’t have the courage to go against that.)

“Dear me, Mr Holmes! Dear me!”

I phoned the Samaritans phone helpline this afternoon.  I was feeling very overwhelmed, alone in the house, worrying about all the things happening this week.  It was helpful to talk through some of my thoughts and have someone else respond who isn’t close to me.  My parents and perhaps my friends are sometimes too close to me to help – they get frustrated with me when I put myself down or fail to snap out of black and white thinking or catastrophisation, plus I’m more likely to try to manipulate them (e.g. by attacking myself to try to get them to say I’m not a bad person) than I am a stranger.

The person I spoke to said I’ve taken a lot of positive steps to try to get an autism diagnosis and to try to get a new job and stay in employment, which I guess is true, even if it’s hard to give myself credit for it.  There’s a voice in my head that keeps saying how many people on the autism spectrum are unemployed or single and how many people in my depression group are unemployed or single and that’s hard to silence, but I’m trying to focus on one day or even one task at a time.  It’s hard though.

***

I’m still thinking about pets.  It’s on days like this, when I feel the need for physical contact, but my parents aren’t around, or I feel too many conflicted emotions to ask them for a hug that I really wish I could have a furry pet to stroke or hold.  I could potentially procrastinate about this for a long time, though; I need to find a way to force myself to a decision.  As I’ve said before, if I could look after someone else’s pet for a week or so while they’re a way that would be the ideal way to ‘test drive’ having a pet, but unfortunately I don’t have any local friends with a pet.  Pets are actually quite rare in the Orthodox Jewish world.

***

I was reminded today of a Jewish group I tried to get involved with.  I tried to do some writing for them, but they messed me around a lot.  The organisers actually messed me around a lot in different ways over the years and lately I’ve been avoiding them because I’m too angry.  It’s hard to feel OK with being angry, so my mind keeps pushing the anger towards self-loathing or loneliness.  I had mixed feelings about this group for some time, but still hung around on their fringes because I’m bad at getting toxic people out of my life.  I just want to be liked, really.

Even if I had been in the same city, I don’t know that I would have been able to fit in with that crowd, a very artsy, bohemian crowd of creatives.  They were looking for frustrated creatives who they could turn into actual creatives; I’m a frustrated academic, but ‘criticism’ was a dirty word to them.

Similarly, there is an online geeky community/message board-type thing that I used to be somewhat active on, but which I’ve drifted away from lately.  No big reason this time, just that the things being discussed there aren’t things that affect me very much.

Things like this do make me wonder if there is any group or community out there that I could really join and feel comfortable with.  Compare with the things I’ve been posting recently about my shul (synagogue), feeling that people there wouldn’t approve of my interests or beliefs, worrying that people there might be supportive of unsavoury characters; or about not fitting in to online Doctor Who fandom.  I can’t find anywhere I completely fit in.  (I wonder a bit how much the people reading this would like me in person.)

Maybe that’s not such a huge problem.  Maybe I can compartmentalise my life: frum community here, Doctor Who fandom there.  Maybe everyone does that, to some extent.  But I want to meet someone who I can love and who will be able to love me and that to me speaks of at least acceptance of the different parts of my character, and I can’t imagine someone accepting me like that based on these experiences.  These experiences – and my limited dating experiences – make me feel that no one could ever accept all my ‘stuff,’ my weird combination of beliefs, interests, mental health and developmental issues.

The Great Procrastinator

On this post, Yolanda commented to suggest that I should say something positive about myself in every post.  It’s an interesting idea, but I worry it would make me arrogant; also, I really don’t think there are many good things to say about me.  I don’t know what I would say, really.  I find it very hard to think of anything positive about myself.  I keep emails and blog comments were people say nice things about me, but I don’t know that they have much effect in the long term.  When we were dating, E. sent me a list of about ten reasons she thought I was a good boyfriend which I still have somewhere, but it’s hard to hold on to that, because obviously it wasn’t enough to keep her dating me.  Similarly, I’ve got comments people have sent to me, but so many of them have drifted out of my life.  It’s not really anyone’s fault, as these are long-distance online connections, but it’s hard to think anyone really thinks I’m such a good person when there are so few people really involved in my life.  Someone on Hevria once said that I’m a “special neshama” (special soul), but I don’t know why anyone would even say that in the first place about me.  I can’t see anything special in myself.

***

Moving one step closer to an autism diagnosis, even though there is a long road ahead, has brought up all kinds of thoughts about aspects of my life that I thought were ‘normal’ or at least me ‘just being strange/different/difficult’ and made me wonder if they are connected to autism.  For example, I used to react very strongly to the smell of paint and would get a bad headache if there was any decorating going on in the house.  These days I think I’ve become used to it, but it used to be something I really struggled with and I wonder if it could be autistic sensory overload.  It’s sometimes hard to identify what is autism, what is mental illness and what is just me being me, particularly regarding things that have changed over time.  I was interested to hear my Mum say at my screening that when I was a very young child I would happily play near other children, but I wouldn’t play with them, which is very typical autistic behaviour that I wasn’t aware that I exhibited.

***

I keep thinking about the huge number of autistic people, even high-functioning, who don’t manage to get a job or hold together a relationship, and how much it’s looking like I’m drifting into the former category (no job), being already clearly in the second one (no relationship).  I feel that at my previous job I would have been facing formal warnings for poor quality work if my contract hadn’t been so short that it wasn’t work the bother.  Maybe that’s just my paranoia, but I made a lot of mistakes.  And then in the job before that, it became clear that my boss simply didn’t think I could do my job properly, still less the more revised version of the job specification (with much more personal interaction) that I was being offered when my contract expired, even if she was weirdly shocked when I decided to turn the revised contract down (I don’t know how she expected me to do a job with a boss who was openly contemptuous of my abilities).  I just can’t think of a job that I think I could actually do with all my issues.  I don’t know what I would do if I was offered any of the jobs I’ve applied for lately.  I don’t feel that I could really do any of them.

It’s easy to fall down the hole of thinking that I’m a completely fudged up person with no positive traits whatsoever.  (I meant positive traits for a job, but it would apply to dating and life in general too.)

***

I’d put the idea of pets on the back burner recently.  I felt that my Mum was not at all comfortable with the idea and so my desire for a pet cooled.  I had a bit of a social anxiety freeze up when I realised I would have to go into a pet shop and ask to hold the guinea pigs and say what type of pet I wanted and buy all the necessary equipment.  It wasn’t the pet that was scary, it was the thought of talking to the shop assistant and asking for things, asking questions and wondering if the shop assistant would be judging me.  But I was just sent this article that says that pets are really beneficial for people with autism and anxiety.  So now I’m procrastinating about this again.  It would be good if I had a friend who had a pet that I could look after for a few days while they were away, so I can see how I cope with a pet, but I don’t know anyone with a pet.  Pets are not so common in the frum community.  Still, having pet guinea pigs would probably be a better way of flexing my social muscles and receiving affection than going on Twitter (insert your own joke about rats on Twitter).

***

I finished Turtles All the Way Down, a young adult novel with a narrator who suffers from OCD.  It was quite good, although not very much like the back cover blurb implied it would be.  I was expecting some kind of mystery or adventure story and it was a novel of character/semi-love story, with a slightly depressing open ending.  I did enjoy it, until last night, when I suddenly realised I wasn’t enjoying it any more and it was possibly triggering my own OCD, which is mostly under control these days, and I forced myself to read the last thirty or forty pages before bed so I could just finish it.  (I don’t like to just abandon books unfinished.)

Bleargh Again

I thought I only cried at work, but I started crying while davening Shacharit (saying morning prayers), or at least the tiny fragment of them that I say, about ten minutes out of forty or so.  Then I did it again during Ma’ariv (evening prayers).  I don’t know what triggered it.  To be honest, I don’t think there usually is a clear triggering for my tears.  Just a general sense of pervasive awfulness in life, in my personal life and in the world.

***

Psychiatrists don’t always seem to really believe me or worry about my being suicidal, because I don’t have a plan.  I don’t think I really need a plan.  Because of the clomipramine problems, I’ve ended up with three months worth of antidepressants.  I don’t need a plan just to swallow all my pills, particularly with my parents away for the next week or so.  I’m not feeling suicidal, just to clarify.  But I could become suicidal easily without spending ages working on a plan.  I have strong suicidal ideation/fantasy at times, but because I don’t literally have a plan, I worry I don’t get taken seriously, especially now I’m moved back in with my parents, even though I sometimes get very strong visual images of overdosing, which would be easy enough to act on (unlike other suicidal images/fantasies I have, about jumping off tall buildings or shooting myself, which would probably be impossible to act on in my situation).  But psychiatrists on the NHS don’t always seem to take me seriously in general.  A few have, and one took me seriously for a long time (the one who said I’m autistic), but then flipped and started treating me like a problem patient and bossing me around and not really listening to me.  To be fair, it could be that they do take me seriously, but don’t want to show it.  And I don’t know what they could do anyway.  Changing my meds could make suicidal thoughts worse in the short term, although I think it needs to be done (I must assert myself more next time) and I don’t think I should be in hospital right now.

***

I’m just feeling depressed today and unable to put it into words.  I think my depression has been underestimated by medical professionals at times because of my difficulty even understanding how depressed I am, let alone putting it into words for other people (the same probably goes for my autistic difficulties).  I’m good with words, but not with expressing emotions.  It often seems that outsiders underestimate my depression because I mask it well and try to keep functioning, while other problems are more visible.  When my religious OCD was at its worst, my father in particular thought that that was the main problem, more than the depression, because it had effects he could see (e.g. me preventing my parents using crockery that I thought had become treifed up and contaminated until I checked with a rabbi that it was OK), whereas the depression was in my head and he couldn’t see it.

***

I’m worrying about finding a job.  The jobs I find seem to be ones that I fear I can’t do (although that generally doesn’t stop me applying, but I feel sure I won’t get called for interview) or for which I’m either over-qualified or under-qualified.  Worrying about getting a job (a job I can actually do, unlike the last two) seems to be moving up to rival worrying about getting married, although the two are connected, as my experience with E. convinced me that no one is going to date me until I find a long-term, stable job and some kind of career plan.  I’m worried about just drifting through life, that I’m going to become one of those people with mental health issues or autism who can’t handle careers or relationships and just end up dependent on other people.  I worry what will happen to me when my parents aren’t here, because I don’t see myself being settled even in twenty or thirty years time.

***

I’m still procrastinating about getting guinea pigs.  I feel they would be too much work, and it would be too social anxiety-provoking to go to a pet shop and ask to hold them, but then I feel depressed and lonely and wish I could play with a tame animal.  I wish I didn’t procrastinate so much about things.  I’m pretty sure it’s my worst character trait.  It’s certainly one I wish I could get rid of.

***

I tried to apply for some jobs today.  I don’t think I’m really doing a good job of editing my CV to suit the different jobs I’m applying for, but I don’t really have the energy or concentration to do it properly. How could I actually do a job?  Maybe I’m unconsciously self-sabotaging.  It wouldn’t be the first time.  Or I’m just procrastinating again, to avoid or because I’m too depressed.  The thought of actually getting an interview terrifies me, maybe even more than the prospect of being depressed for the rest of my life.  I’m probably taking too long on finishing my Doctor Who book in order to delay considering it completed and sending it to publishers – the fear of rejection slips (like Snoopy…), but also the technicalities of getting it in the right format, finding publishers’ addresses, sending the manuscript and so on.

I started applying for a job that seemed interesting, but halfway through the form I found a more detailed job description than I had originally found and it requires training and experience with archives than libraries (very different skill sets, although not many people realise this).  I don’t know if I missed the detailed job description initially from my incompetence – or at least depression-induced poor concentration – or if the layout of the job description was poor.  In the end I decided to avoid the sunk cost fallacy and cut my losses; I’d wasted a couple of hours on it, but there was no point continuing to labour over an application for a job I clearly wasn’t going to get and probably couldn’t do if I did get it.  I wanted to start another application, but felt too depressed.  I had at least managed one job application today, for a research assistant role, although I suspect they will say I’m over-qualified as it’s intended for recent graduates.  I don’t feel much further up the careers ladder than most recent graduates, though.

Applying for jobs would be much easier if employers just wanted a CV and a cover letter; instead, most of the jobs I’m applying for have a unique application form with slightly different questions and/or lots of boxes to be filled in manually.  Google Chrome’s autofill helps a bit, but not with unusual questions, and sometimes it puts data in the wrong boxes.  Maybe it’s a deliberate way of weeding out depressives with poor concentration and motivation and low energy?

And how can I take seriously a Russell Group university that doesn’t know how to use an apostrophe on its forms?  About as much as all those over-educated lawyers I come across at work who also don’t know either.  Or the university which apparently wanted to know the names of all my employers down to 2029.  I’d like to know that too.  That university also got the names of both the universities I studied at wrong on their form.

***

This article is very moving.  I wish I could move on from my own negative self-perception like that.  Also, I posted a link to this article last week and I still think it’s a good article, but I still can’t do any of the actions.  I don’t think that I’ve accomplished much worthwhile or contributed to the world, or that I have worthwhile attributes, or that I deserve to cut myself some slack or pamper myself (yuk).  I don’t know how to surround myself with people who reaffirm my value and I don’t think there is anything that I’m good at that I could do.  As for challenging myself to do what’s hard, at the moment everything is hard.  I suppose I could imagine myself doing good, but I wouldn’t know how to convert it into action.

***

I was feeling nauseous just now, which is how anxiety manifests in me.  I don’t know why I feel like this.  Doctor Who (which has just finished) was good, but about unrequited love and coping with difficult workplaces, so was possibly triggering.  I need to force myself to eat something, though, especially as I cooked pasta earlier.

***

People say to hang in there and things will get better, but they just don’t get better for me.  I can’t see things ever getting better for me, long-term.  Things have been bad for so long, it’s difficult to believe I could be happy and competent as an adult.

Fifteen Years

I’ve had some difficult thoughts today.  I had a vague feeling today that I should stop writing this blog, because I don’t think I present Judaism well.  Not compared with sites like Aish.com or Chabad.org or even Hevria.com.  I make it sound like it’s all sin and impossible rituals and guilt, when really it isn’t.

I hate myself and have thoughts of suicide.  The main things stopping me are thinking of what it would do to my parents (I don’t think about my friends, which makes me feel guilty) and the fear of making a failed suicide attempt and ending up with terrible, permanent injuries.  It did occur to me that it’s more or less exactly fifteen years since I nearly attempted suicide (it was in Michaelmas Term of 2003 at Oxford, so any time from October to early December, but I think more towards the start or middle than the end).   I find it hard to think of tangible things that would be worse if I had killed myself then.  I’ve done some extra mitzvot (commandments) in the meantime, but also some extra averot (transgressions), so I’m not sure how that balances out.  I haven’t really done anything worthwhile with my life.  Or is that just the depression talking?  It’s hard to be sure.

The pharmacist had a big bag of clomipramine for me as some of the tablets have finally come in.  With my parents away next week, I’m a bit scared to have them in the house with me feeling like this, but I don’t know what to do with them.  There isn’t anyone I could give them to.

I’m fairly sure I’m not actively suicidal at the moment, but I do wish I had never been born and I would like to die (I guess that’s one ambition I’m sure to fulfil eventually).  I can’t see things improving.  Life is an endurance test for me; I can accept that HaShem (God) has His reasons for this, but I wish I had a clue of what they are, just to give me some chizuk (strength, inspiration).

My parents have been encouraging me to do teacher training again.  It seems to have become an idée fixe for them, a panacea that will cure all my problems (Dad seems to think being a teacher will make it easier to get married, possibly because I might meet a single female Jewish frum (religious) teacher at a Jewish school, although I doubt I could talk to her much if I did).  I can’t really blame them, as I have my own idées fixes.  Getting married or getting a girlfriend was one for a long time and still is, to some extent.  Getting an autism diagnosis has probably taken the first place now, although I don’t know what good it would do me.  I thought of emailing Dr Tony Attwood, who wrote The Complete Guide to Asperger’s Syndrome to ask what he thinks I should do, but it seemed chutzpahdik (someone or something having chutzpah – is that accepted enough in English now to not need translation?  Audacity is the nearest word).  I would basically be asking for a free consultation (via email – he lives in Australia).  In any case, the email address on his website probably goes to a secretary.

I’ve cooled off on the thought of buying guinea pigs.  I guess what my Mum said about my not being able to look after them, or to look for jobs if I use my energy up looking after them, has worried me.  Plus the thought of going into a pet shop and asking to hold the guinea pigs (as Dad said, to check I can do it) and of asking for help choosing a cage etc. has triggered my social anxiety to a great extent.  I don’t know how much I want them any more.  Maybe they were just another idée fixe.

I do feel lonely though.  I nearly wrote “I want to get laid,” but that’s not exactly true (and vulgar).  I do want physical affection and in-person support from someone who loves me.  I guess long-distance support from my friends isn’t enough.  My parents are sources of support and physical affection, but… I don’t know, it’s difficult with them sometimes, because of how they are and how I am and because of things in the past, but I can’t talk about that here, which is frustrating.  I feel guilty because of this.  If my parents aren’t good enough and my friends aren’t good enough, it could be that the problem is ME and I’m not good enough at accepting love.  In which case getting married or having a girlfriend wouldn’t make any difference.

I feel that my role in life is to suffer and endure.  At least, that’s what I’ve been doing more than anything else in my adult life.

I don’t want anyone to read this and worry about me.  I think the chances of my hurting myself are slim.  I’m pretty sure I would phone Samaritans if it got that bad, and I don’t think it will.  I’m tired more than suicidal.  I’ve just spent fifteen years or more struggling to survive, and I don’t know what else I can do.

Jewish and Whoish

I’ve often written about my feelings of having a fractured identity.  It’s like there are parts of my life that don’t go together.  Being geeky and a Doctor Who fan doesn’t fit terribly well with being a frum (religious Orthodox) Jew, particularly in a somewhat Charedi (ultra-Orthodox) community that isn’t always a good fit for me in itself.  And so far my attempts at paid employment have not fitted terribly well with my mental health issues and borderline autism, while identifying as autistic makes me feel a fraud, given that two assessments have ended with my being classified as neurotypical, but with a lot of autistic symptoms (but, of course, I can’t access help for those symptoms because I don’t have the appropriate diagnosis).

I started this blog thinking it would be a Jewish blog about mental health, but it turned out to be a mental health blog with Jewish overtones (and Hebrew/Yiddish vocabulary).  My assumption was that most of my readers would be Jews with mental health issues, but so far as I can tell that isn’t the case.  Most of my readers are non-Jews with mental health issues or autism (I didn’t even expect to blog much about autism, given my non-diagnosis).

It’s confusing to know who I am sometimes.  A lot of the time, really.  Maybe that’s why I like being with young children and want a pet (more on both of those things below); young children and animals just accept you as you are without feeling the need to stick a label on you or force your square pegs into their round holes.

(Although I’m aware that the person who labels and forces me the most is myself.)

Working my way backwards through things that happened to me during and after Shabbat, I’ve started another job application, for a cataloguing role.  Good pay, but only an eight month contract.  I’ve applied, even though I feel very negative about my ability to do any job competently at the moment.  The online application form is really badly designed and annoying.  Actually, I can feel my anxiety level rising as I fill the form in.  This is due to my anxiety about coping with work, not the badly designed form, although that doesn’t help.  I’m procrastinating a lot, again out of anxiety; it took an hour and a half just to fill in basic details about my qualifications and previous employment because I keep getting distracted because I don’t want to focus on it.

Someone who lives in our road gave me a lift home from shul (synagogue) tonight.  I accepted because it was pouring with rain.  It was awkward, though.  He had music on very loud and I struggled to hear what he was saying.  I don’t know how much of that was autistic sensory sensitivity, how much was social anxiety (when I’m socially anxious I get so caught up in my anxious thoughts that I don’t take in what the other person is saying) and how much was just that the music was very loud.  I suppose I could have asked him to turn it down, but it honestly didn’t occur to me.  He saw I had a Gemarah (volume of Talmud) with me (because I’d gone to Talmud shiur (class) before shul) and asked what I was learning (Orthodox Jews always talk of “learning” Torah rather than “studying,” a habit that irritates me no end).  He asked which perek (chapter) I was up to and I struggled to answer, as I had noted my progress more by page number and, in any case, I’m struggling to keep up with the shul’s weekly Talmud study programme and am only vaguely aware of what I’m studying (admittedly I understand aggadata (the non-legal part of the Talmud) more than halakhah (the legal part)).  I couldn’t remember the chapter names at all (the chapters are always named after the first two or three words of the chapter) and felt rather stupid, as I generally seem to end up feeling when I talk to people I don’t know well.  This is why I usually try to avoid being given lifts, because I don’t like being trapped in a conversation with someone.

Our shul, like most shuls in the UK, has volunteer security (sadly, the risk of attack is very high and the shooting in Pittsburgh has just reinforced this).  I had asked to be taken off the security rota for health reasons.  My depression and social anxiety mean that I haven’t made it to shul for a morning service for a long time.  I haven’t specified what my health reasons are though.  I didn’t realise that I was supposed to be on duty this morning.  I don’t know if I wasn’t told or if I just deleted the email without reading it because I thought I was not on the rota.  At any rate, in the evening I was told that I had missed my slot.  They weren’t angry about it, but I felt bad, because I don’t like to let people down and also because I think I’m going to have to open up more about the nature of my health issues and say that just because I can make it to shul for Shabbat (Sabbath) evening services, doesn’t mean that they can assume I am well enough to make it for morning services.  I still struggle to tell people about my issues, though, even after all these years.  It’s hard to tell why.  I guess I worry how people will react and I suppose I feel weak and useless for still being depressed after fifteen or twenty years.  I feel that I should have got over it by now.  Maybe that’s why I’m desperate for an autism diagnosis, because then I’ll have something that I won’t need to feel guilty for not being able to change because it’s not something you can cure.  Or maybe I just want to pile up as many diagnoses as possible to justify why I’m not still functioning properly after all this time and treatment.

I feel the same reticence with job applications.  Diversity rules mean employers have to ask if you have medical issues requiring “reasonable adjustment” to do a job, but I never mention the depression because I’m worried they won’t employ me, even though that’s illegal.

Over Shabbat dinner my parents were encouraging me to become a primary school kodesh (Jewish studies) teacher.  They’re trying to be helpful, but I can’t really see myself doing that.  They say I’m gifted with children, but I find that hard to believe.  I enjoy being with young children (pre-teen), but I get scared that I’m going to accidentally hurt them or let them hurt themselves somehow (this is probably pure O OCD) and I can’t see myself handling a class of thirty children.  I can see that teaching would be fulfilling, though, and teaching kodesh would mean working in a Jewish school, which would mean I wouldn’t have to worry about having time off for Jewish festivals and Friday afternoons in the winter, when Shabbat (the Sabbath) starts mid-afternoon.  However, I feel I need more experience around children before I make a decision that big, plus I’m not happy about retraining – teacher training, but I’d also have to brush up my Hebrew, particularly my grammar (modern Hebrew and biblical Hebrew have different verb conjugations and I get confused between the two, inasmuch as I can remember either).  I also suspect that I would have difficulty getting accepted as a kodesh teacher, given that I never went to yeshiva (rabbinical seminary) as most Orthodox Jewish men do for at least a year.

Going to yeshiva is a big thing for Jewish men.  People form their intellectual out look, meet friends and find role models, but, more than that, in the frum (religious Orthodox Jewish) world people will, rightly or wrongly, read a lot into a person’s choice of yeshiva: their religious outlook (how modern or fundamentalist), their politics (how Zionist), even I think their personality type.  Who a person gets set up with on dates is based a lot on one’s choice of yeshiva or sem (girls’ religious seminary).  If you go to Gush or Mir or YU, people make assumptions about you.

Of course, I know deep down that I would probably have had a lousy time at yeshiva.  I struggle to study Talmud and even in a modern yeshiva that wasn’t opposed to Western culture, there would have been little time for secular interests, certainly not Doctor Who.  Plus the style of study in a yeshivaBatei Midrash (study halls) of hundreds of pairs of students loudly arguing about texts is not good for someone either autistic or socially anxious.  And I wasn’t even that frum when I was old enough to go (which of course is one reason I didn’t go), although I suppose had I not been depressed when I finished at university, I might have gone for yeshiva for a while as some of my peers at Oxford did.

It’s funny, actually.  Although not going to yeshiva has had a huge effect on my life (or at least has convinced me that it’s had a huge negative effect on my life, which may not be the same thing), the actual studies are not really what I regret missing out on.  It’s actually spending time with holy people, great talmidei chachamim (Torah scholars), to learn from their characters.  This is the envy I have when someone says that they knew rabbi so-and-so at yeshiva.  I think a lot about what it would be like to meet one of my heroes from Jewish history.  The answer, I suppose, is that I would be too shy to talk.

On a related note, someone whose blog I read is struggling with religious matters (it’s not fair for me to go into details here and they aren’t really relevant), which reminded me of when I had a lot of religious questions, earlier in my depression and felt like I could lose my faith.  I can’t remember how it ended; probably there wasn’t a day when I woke up and said I didn’t have any major doubts.  I found some answers, but mostly I think I found Jewish religious existentialism, although it was a long time before I found a philosophical name to put to specific Jewish teachers whose writings made sense to me, and that helped reframe the question.

Religious existentialism teaches that doubt and questioning are part of life and that the search for answers is the religious life, not something you go through to become religious.  I realised that ‘proof’ is not how real human beings live their lives, that we base our lives on experience and human interactions, not abstract reasoning (although this is hard for someone who has difficulty with social interactions).  I still struggle with certain passages in Tanakh (the Hebrew Bible) and things like the problem of suffering or biblical archaeology, but I realised that the God of my religious heroes, the God of Hillel and Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev and the Kotzker Rebbe – is a loving God because a violent, abusive God would not have compassionate, just and loving followers.  Any questions I had came to seem less important to me than trying to be a good Jew like my great ancestors.  I’m not sure if this makes sense to anyone else. I think in matters of personal philosophy, everyone has to find their own answers, and the answer that satisfies one person won’t satisfy another (which is quite existentialist in itself).  I suppose what I’m saying is that my Yiddishkeit (Jewish-ness) is bound up with the history of my people and the example of great tzaddikim (holy people) much more than abstract philosophical reasoning or the details of texts (which is very Jewish).

I suppose the big question is why, if I’ve learnt to live with doubt, uncertainty and big questions in my religious life, and to some extent in my political life (I don’t really affiliate with any party any more), why do I struggle so much with doubt in my personal life: doubts whether I am autistic, doubts about my career, doubts about relationships and marriage, doubts above all about whether I’m a good person.  Really it’s more like certainty that I’m not a good person, even though lots of people have told me otherwise.

Some of it is low self-esteem and consciousness of the way that my mental health issues sometimes result in my acting in a way that I don’t agree with and would not do if I was not undergoing stress of some kind.  Some of it is what I said before about not fitting in.  I don’t feel that I fit in to any of the communities I find myself on the fringes of.  I don’t feel a fully religious Jew because of my geeky Doctor Who fannishness, but sometimes I don’t feel that I belong in the fan community, which has a lot of vocal militant atheists.  Plus the laws of Shabbat and kashrut (dietary laws) make interacting with non-Jews difficult.  I won’t go to conventions on a Saturday and going anywhere with food is problematic (a problem at my depression group too, where I can’t go to the more social meetings, which are on Saturdays and often involve food).  Although the main thing keeping me from Doctor Who conventions is social anxiety.

On an unrelated note, I spoke to my parents about getting guinea pigs.  My Dad felt I should go to a pet shop first and check I’m OK handling them, which makes sense.  My Mum was worried that I would be too depressed to care for pets or would neglect my job hunting if I was caring for them, which seemed a bit of a remote possibility.  I’m not sure if she’s completely happy with the idea.  Then again, I’m not sure how happy she needs to be, given that the guinea pigs would be in my room.  I probably do care too much about what my family think of me sometimes e.g. part of the reason I gave up on online dating was that my sister was so opposed to me doing it.  For what it’s worth, my rabbi mentor was really enthusiastic about my buying a pet and I trust his judgement on most things.

I suppose I just worry that my Mum might be right and I won’t be able to look after a pet.  I mean, with most things (dating, work etc.) my parents say I have certain abilities, but I find it hard to accept.  Here, Mum is suggesting that I might not be able to do this, so logically I should have absolutely no confidence in my ability, which makes me wonder if this is just a silly idea.  We’ve never had pets other than goldfish (I think my Dad had a budgie as a young child), so I have no idea how I would react to pets, whether I could care for them or what they would do for my mood.  I hope they would make me feel better, but they might not.

Silent Screaming

I think I got about eight hours sleep (I’m not sure, as I can’t remember when I went to bed), but I woke up feeling very tired and depressed and glad that I don’t work on Fridays.  I just feel wiped out by another work week, really (with added psychiatric review and major work mistake), and glad that my contract is nearly over.  I don’t know how I would work in a permanent job for four days a week, let alone five.  Unfortunately, it seems part-time work is hard to find, at least in areas I might be good at.  I’m still not convinced I’m in the right career, but don’t know what else to do.  The idea of doing a PhD in antisemitism and then going to work for a Jewish thinktank has a certain amount of appeal, especially after Pittsburgh, but I’m not sure I could cope with it practically or emotionally (immersing myself in antisemitism), socially useful though it would be.  My Mum still thinks I should retrain as a primary school teacher and it’s true that I find young children restoring rather than depleting, but the prospect of being responsible for thirty children at once terrifies me.  I don’t feel I cope that well with three or four children at the asylum seekers drop-in centre, and that’s only for a couple of hours a month.

Someone on BBC News drew her OCD as a cartoon character.  I’m not an artist, but my depression would probably look like an anthropomorphic cloud, dark (despairing) with downturned mouth (depressed), and rain (tears) and lightning (irritability/anger).

The shiur (religious Torah class) last night was interesting.  I thought over some of the issues that came indirectly out of it afterwards.  I don’t want to go into details, as it’s private, but it did help me a bit to understand how I could understand my suffering without seeing it as a sign that God hates me and is angry with me, which I’ve felt for years, although sadly it seemed to indicate that my main role on Earth is to suffer.  I hope I’m wrong about that.

I talk a lot about Jewish community stuff here, but I tend to shy away from detailed descriptions of Crazy Jewish Ritual, partly because I know most of my readers aren’t Jewish.  Maybe I shouldn’t do that.  Anyway, here is something Crazy I’ve been doing this week, although I don’t think it’s a common thing to do.  Maybe it will help other people psychologically even without the underlying beliefs.

I have mentioned struggling a lot with my religious life lately, feeling guilty, feeling angry with HaShem (God), struggling to daven (pray) and to study Torah.  I came across this passage in The Empty Chair: Finding Hope and Joy: Timeless Wisdom from a Hasidic Master Rebbe Nachman of Breslov:

The Rebbe said: When do I have my meditation?  When everyone is around me, that’s when I seclude myself with God.  I know how to cry out in a silent scream.  What I say is heard from one end of the world to the other, yet those around me hear nothing!

Anyone can do this.  Imagine the sound of such a scream in your mind.  Just as the throat brings a scream from your lungs to your lips, there are nerves that draw sound into your head.  When you do this, you are shouting inside your brain. Direct that shout to the One above and it will open Heaven’s gate.

I had heard of this before, but not tried it.  When I was struggling with my hitbodedut meditation this week I tried this, thinking of everything in the world that makes me depressed and anxious and self-hating and just screaming silently in my head.  I don’t know what it does religiously, but it was surprisingly cathartic psychologically.  I’ve been doing it for a few nights now.  It does feel like a real release of tension, particularly as I open my mouth as wide as I can, as if I was letting out a really loud scream, tensing all the muscles in my jaw.

One of those socially-awkward things that seem to happen to me a lot: I commented on a friend’s Doctor Who blog, forgetting I was logged into this account rather than the one for my non-anonymous Doctor Who blog (I’m always getting my two identities mixed up.  I could never be a spy or a superhero).  He’s now following this blog.  I don’t have a problem with that (my anonymity here is more to hide me from potential employers/dates (ha ha) rather than friends), but I don’t know if he realises this is me, if you know what I mean.  I worry that unless I can find a way to broach the subject in a way that doesn’t embarrass him some confusion will result down the line.

Over the weekend I hope to broach the subject of getting a pet (guinea pigs) with my parents more forcefully than before.  We aren’t really a pet family and my parents are wary of my getting a pet (I think they’re mainly worried how I will cope if/when it dies), but I really think it might help my loneliness and depression, especially as I’m likely to be home in my room alone a lot when my contract ends.  Wish me luck…

Thousand Word Essays

“Sometimes I lie awake at night, and I ask, ‘Is life a multiple choice test or is it a true or false test?’  Then a voice comes to me out of the dark, and says, ‘We hate to tell you this, but life is a thousand word essay.'” The Complete Peanuts: 1999 to 2000, Charles M. Schulz p. 30

I feel very drained today.  Yesterday evening my sister, brother-in-law and my sister’s mother-in-law, father-in-law and sister-in-law all came for dinner.  It was fun and I managed to join in (I’m beginning to feel more comfortable with them), but the evening lasted something like four or five hours which, after an intense work week, was too long for me and I was burnt out by the end.

Today I slept through the morning again, felt exhausted, but forced my self to go to Talmud shiur (class) and Ma’ariv (the evening service) at shul (synagogue) and to help tidy up at home afterwards, but now just want to curl up.  I should really be writing job applications or at least emailing the friend who sent me a very long email some time ago that I haven’t had the time/energy/concentration to respond to yet, but I don’t have the energy for anything other than TV.  I didn’t even read much over Shabbat, just Peanuts cartoons, because I was too drained for even a novel.  Likewise during the week, although I usually read on the train, I have often been too tired to do so this week, or I’ve read The Complete Guide to Asperger’s Syndrome instead, so I’m making slow progress through Robots and Empire, the book where Isaac Asimov tried to tie together his RobotGalactic Empire and Foundation series.  It doesn’t help that, 150 pages in (out of over 500), it hasn’t really captured my attention yet.  (I think Asimov was better at short stories and short novels than long novels.)

I had an autistic moment at the start of Talmud shiur when the assistant rabbi said they missed me at the parasha shiur on Thursday and I wasn’t sure whether that was an implied question asking if I’m OK or what I was doing.  I was actually at depression support group on Thursday evening.  The people who were there at the time know (a little bit) about my problems, but I was still too shy to say anything.

My sister, brother-in-law, my sister’s brother-in-law, his wife and their young children have gone to see fireworks for Guy Fawkes Night tonight.  I kind of wish I could have gone to fireworks with someone.  I haven’t really done Guy Fawkes Night for twenty years or so.  (Actually, that correlates approximately with the time that I’ve been depressed…)  I can here fireworks from my room right now, but I can’t see them.  I also find it weird that my sister now has a whole family that aren’t related to me, including nieces and a nephew.  This just makes me feel how unlikely it is that I will ever get married.  I thought again about going to a shadchan (matchmaker), but that seemed pointless until I have a more secure job, which in turn seems unlikely to happen until I have the depression under control and some idea of whether there really is anything else going on in my head that I need to deal with (autism, trauma etc.).  I’m still thinking of getting guinea pigs, so I can have some company and someone to care for, but I’m scared of what it would entail.  I don’t even know where there’s a pet shop.

The only other thing I can think of today is how depressing the world is.  I think all the bad news has just merged in my head into one big, ongoing piece of badness.  Brexitrumputincorbynsaudiran.  As Jews we believe that even small acts of goodness can turn the tide against evil, but sometimes it’s hard to see anything positive happening in the world.

I feel so tired.  It’s not yet 8.00pm but I feel ready to go to bed, although I probably wouldn’t sleep if I did, bearing in mind that I slept for twelve hours or so last night.  I don’t really think it’s a good idea to go to bed right now, so I’m going to watch DVDs instead.  I need to find the energy to make something to eat.

Ramblings

Shabbat (the Sabbath) was OK, but this evening has been tough.  The shooting at a shul (synagogue) in America has really upset and depressed me (for what it’s worth, it’s already been knocked off the top story spot on BBC news online by a football club owner’s helicopter crash).  I keep going back to the news online, but I don’t know why.  It can only get worse.  I suppose I want to understand why someone would want to do something like that.

I had a waffley paragraph of political despair here, which I decided to cut (it wasn’t controversial, just rambling), but I do worry about the way the world is going, polarising between equally repulsive far-right and far-left views.  As a natural centrist (albeit with a bit of an anarchist streak), it is hard to feel comfortable in the world.

I guess it all does make going to volunteer at the asylum seekers drop-in centre tomorrow (today now) seem more important.  At least I’m helping people, and people who are different from me in terms of race and religion.  I just hope it makes a difference somehow, even a very small difference.

More banally finishing the job application for a major British public institution proved very difficult, although I’ve sent it off now.  I answered some questions badly and one I could not really answer at all.  I just fudged it.  I won’t even be called to interview, but it’s too late tonight to start another application somewhere else.  I don’t know if I’ll have time tomorrow, as I’m volunteering and I need to cook dinner when I get home as Mum and Dad are out (and, yes a new episode of Doctor Who is on in the evening).  And then I got a migraine that thankfully responded quickly to painkillers, but made me feel worse for a while and slowed down the job application writing.

I didn’t mention that I got a rejection this week for more or less the only job that I’ve applied for recently that I really wanted to get.

A friend emailed me out of the blue to see how I’m doing, which was nice, but on the whole I’m still feeling very lonely, although it’s hard to tease apart exactly what the loneliness is, how much is about friendship, love, sex, attention, empathy, support or what.  I’m thinking more and more seriously about getting a pet (guinea pigs at the moment) but I’m unsure.  Mum turned out to be open to the idea when I raised it, but Dad didn’t say anything.  My worries are that I read that they need really big cages ideally and I’m not sure how much space I have in my room.  Plus, given that I daven (pray) and study Torah in my bedroom, I would have to ask a halakhic question about whether that is permissible with guinea pig litter around.  But I don’t know if getting a pet is a good idea.  Would it help me and be a step on the road to finding a wife and kids or would it cement my life as a loner, the male equivalent of the Crazy Cat Lady?  Can pets even help someone who really wants a meaningful adult romantic relationship?

I still feel really confused about what is ‘wrong’ with me and whether I can ever get the help I need.  Even if I don’t have autism, I have a lot of the symptoms, yet because I don’t have a diagnosis, I can’t access any support services (not that I’m sure that there is much for adults on the spectrum – it seems to be mostly geared up to children).  Yolanda commented on a previous post to say that a diagnosis might help me to be kinder to myself.  I responded that I was thinking the exact same thing today, but that really my depression diagnosis should also allow me to be kinder to myself, but I still beat myself up for being depressed for so long, for not managing to do things I could do years ago (although I do other things I didn’t do then), for not managing as well as other people with mental health issues might be managing and so on.

Still, at least we get an extra hour tonight.  I wish that happened more often than once a year.  I don’t need material things much more than the basics (food, shelter, books and science fiction DVDs), but I wish people could buy me more time for Chanukah or my birthday.