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

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

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

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

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

Anyway, enough politics.

***

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

***

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Who Would Fardels Bear?

“How weary, stale, flat, and unprofitable
Seem to me all the uses of this world!”

-William Shakespeare, Hamlet

Feeling burnt out, depressed, lonely and stupid today.  I didn’t get the job at the Very Important Organisation.  They give applicants graded feedback; mine was pretty poor, a mixture of threes and fours (out of seven) with a two for effective decision making.  You could put that down to autistic executive function issues, or plain indecisiveness.

I had no energy or enthusiasm for anything, but I forced myself out for an hour or so.  Mostly walking, some shopping and I closed a bank account that had a ridiculously small interest rate.  I bought the lentils I couldn’t get yesterday, but felt too exhausted to go and get a bat mitzvah card for my rabbi mentor’s daughter and so came home.

My mind is visual in some ways and sometimes throws up fantasies or daydreams using imagery from TV or film.  I think I daydream more, or more immaturely, than someone my age should be doing.  It can become quite absorbing, even frighteningly so, particularly when I’m depressed and agitated.  When I was out I had disturbing, agitated mental images of being cornered and outgunned, Blake’s 7-finale style, or chained to a bomb that could explode at any moment.  I’m not sure if the bomb represented the world or my psyche; I’m not convinced that either is in particularly good shape.

I feel that the world might self-destruct under the weight of its iniquities and inequities any time soon; my psyche might collapse under the weight of stress and internal contradictions.  In Politics vs Literature: An Examination of Gulliver’s Travels, George Orwell writes of people like Jonathan Swift who can’t enjoy the world and have no expectations from the next world and that such people end up wanting to stop anyone enjoying anything, “the envy of the ghost for the living” adding that “Swift ultimately blew everything to pieces in the only way that was feasible before the atomic bomb – that is, he went mad”.  I feel that I could join him, one day.  I don’t really want to stop other people being happy, I just want to get some small modicum of happiness for myself, but it doesn’t seem to be possible.

When I got home, I was still too depressed and exhausted to make job applications or to do any Torah study (I managed ten minutes or so in the end), so I worked on redrafting my Doctor Who book.  It says a lot that I was able to spend nearly two hours working on that more or less uninterrupted (or unprocrastinated), which is not something I have managed when working on job applications.  I now have completed third drafts of all fourteen existing chapters, although I’m still re-watching the most recent episodes for research for a fifteenth chapter that will need writing from scratch to cover Jodie Whittaker’s first year in the role.

I’m still not hugely happy with what I’ve written, but it’s hard to see what I should change.  I’m not good at judging my own work at the best of times and having worked on this for six years or more, it could probably do with a fresh pair of eyes, so I need to decide whether to ask my fan friends to read some chapters.  That would probably be more worthwhile than attempting a fourth draft without outside input, but my fan friends all have major life crises at the moment and I’m reluctant to ask any of them.  Plus, I don’t take criticism well and am worried that even constructive criticism could send me further downwards on a “I’m useless” spiral.

I intended to watch another episode of Doctor Who as research tonight, but the next episode is Rosa (about Rosa Parks) I’m too tired for such a heavy-going episode, so tonight will be a Blake’s 7 night (I’m currently mixing Doctor Who series eleven with a Blake’s 7 marathon).

***

It’s hard to tell how much I like to keep my political and religious views to myself and how much I feel I have to from not fitting in.  There’s an old joke about Modern Orthodox Jews that, “The people I can pray with, I can’t talk to; the people I talk to, I can’t pray with” meaning Modern Orthodox Jews are open to modernity and postmodernity and its arguments in academic and culture, but can’t talk about that with Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) Jews; conversely, they can have intellectual discussions with non-religious academics and non-Orthodox Jews, but can’t pray with them as they believe differently or not at all.  I feel that a lot, albeit not as much as I did when I worked in a non-Orthodox religious institution.

In addition to this, lately I have been aware that many of my friends would side differently to me on some major political issues and I wonder what they would think about me if they knew.  I usually keep my views quite even when they post things I find questionable or upsetting on their blogs.  Not using Twitter or Facebook makes this a little easier, but it can be hard.  This happens at depression group too, where one person in particular has strong political views and can be rude and dismissive of people who vote differently.  I’ve never said anything, and I’m sure he thinks I’m too nice to vote for… (or else he just doesn’t care).

Actually, I wonder what people think about me generally.  I sometimes wonder if the non-religious people I encounter at work, in fandom and on the blogosphere think I’m a ‘normal’ person, or at least a normal geek person, except for this weird quirk that I believe in God, and in a very legalistic and old-fashioned God at that, and have taken on lots of bizarre rituals.  They probably don’t really think like that (they’re too polite for one thing).  And, of course, I worry that if the people from my shul (synagogue) found out about my ‘modern’ beliefs and geeky interests, that would also be seen as crossing a line.

I guess it boils down to this: I have friends who have religious and political opinions and lifestyle choices I disagree with (from a Jewish point of view, the whole concept of “lifestyle choices” is fraught with difficulty as it assumes our lives are ours to deal with as we see fit, an idea that Orthodox Judaism would reject, arguing we’re called to a mission regardless of our desires and choices), but I make an effort to stay friends with them, because I don’t think you should ruin a friendship for politics or religion.  I know that makes me unusual, both in the Orthodox community (where people usually socialise with other Orthodox Jews, to avoid these kinds of situations and potential negative religious influences) and in the world at large, where people are mostly friends with people who hold similar views.  We have got used to hearing of families and friendships broken by Brexit or Trump.  So I suppose it’s natural that I wonder what the people I encounter are thinking and whether I really need to hide so much of my life from people.

That said, I feel so disillusioned and disenfranchised with the current political situation that I’m glad to have a reason not to talk politics, even with people who will agree with me.  It seems to me lately that we have a duty to save as much of life as we can from people who drag their angry and aggressive politics into everything.  I appreciate there is a role for political art and literature, but it’s a relief nowadays to find things that are beautiful for purely aesthetic reasons.  I suppose I can’t live in my ivory tower forever, but I can try.

***

If I confound expectation and manage to procreate, my eldest child’s teddy is now likely to be called Fardels Bear.

Living in a Thomas the Tank Engine Dystopia

I haven’t written for a few days.  You may have heard that there was a flare up of violence in Israel.  700 rockets were fired at Israel from Gaza in 48 hours, with four Israeli civilians killed.  Like many diaspora Jews, I feel a strong connection to Israel, doubly so as I have family there (my cousin spent Sunday running in and out of bomb shelters).  For all the in-fighting in the Jewish community, Jews see each other as family and come together when one is attacked, more so, as far as I can tell, than is done by other religious or ethnic minority communities.  It’s an intuitive thing for us.

I don’t really want to write about the conflict here, because I don’t want to get dragged into a political discussion about the rights and wrongs of the situation, nor do I want antisemitic trolling, which has happened to me in the past.  Yet there is no denying that antisemitism and Jew-hatred, let alone Jew-killing makes my mood plummet, and I felt it would be dishonest not to acknowledge that here on my blog, where I am usually open about my feelings.  It’s frightening that my mental health and well-being as well as my physical safety is under constant threat from outsiders who I have no control over, but that is the daily reality of being Jewish.  So I was stuck feeling that the one thing I had to write about was the one thing I didn’t want to write about.

That is all I want to say about this.

***

I had a one-off therapy session yesterday, my first in some months.  I felt a bit sheepish afterwards because, as my therapist said, there isn’t much that therapy can do for me right now.  She said I have ongoing life-struggles (getting an autism diagnosis; job hunting/wondering if I’m in the right career; dating), but I seem to be coping with them OK.  She said I need a friend to mull things over with rather than a therapist at the moment, which is probably true.  I feel a bit sheepish about this, but perhaps I had to go through a therapy session to realise I don’t really need it at the moment.

***

My sleep is still disrupted.  I’m getting to bed a little earlier than I was, but I still sleep through most of the morning and sometimes, as today, I wake up feeling so exhausted and depressed that I can’t get up for an hour.  Cereal and coffee helps, but I have to get up to eat them, which is the hard part.  I’m fed up of living like this – sleeping too long, at the wrong time, being too exhausted and depressed to do as much as I would like during the day, procrastinating when I should be doing things – but it is hard to change things.  I do just enough to avoid the total collapse that would lead to outside intervention, but I’m only doing the bare essentials; I have a long to do list that isn’t getting attacked.  I actually went back to bed after breakfast today.  I didn’t sleep, but I just felt too drained to do anything, even to get dressed.

***

I eventually managed to send off another job application, but, again, I don’t feel that I really have the necessary skills and I think that was reflected in my answers to the questions on the application, which were waffley and not really reflective of the experience needed.  The second interview for the job I was interviewed for during Pesach is on Thursday and I haven’t been called for that either, so it looks like I haven’t got that, although I suppose they could still call tomorrow.

After the job application (which only took about forty minutes to finish), I went for a walk and to do some shopping for an hour or so, but when I came back I was exhausted.  I did manage to hoover my room, which needed doing, but took longer than I would have liked due to low energy and the hoover not working properly.  I hate that I get tired so easily and manage to do so little.  I wanted to start work on a small writing project I recently agreed to work on for Ashley Leia, but after all this and my struggles complaining to the council (see below), I ran out of time and energy.  I did at least manage about twenty-five minutes of Torah study after dinner.

Looking at this, I did achieve things, and I did perhaps achieve more than I have managed on some days recently.  It’s just hard to let myself feel proud of my achievements instead of attacking myself for not managing more.  I think it is a bad idea to predicate one’s happiness on having more money or power or fame, but I’ve somehow got stuck with the idea that my worth in life is predicated on the amount of things I do.  To some extent this is supported by Judaism, which makes looking at it differently difficult, but Judaism speaks of giving one’s best effort, even if that does not result in much of a practical result, whereas I want to achieve a certain (dangerously undefined) amount without taking into account how hard I try or how difficult it is for me to achieve things because of my ‘issues.’  Perhaps I should call it The Really Useful Engine Fallacy, after the online theory (picked up by various print newspapers on a slow news day) that the Thomas the Tank Engine books are set in a brutal dystopia where one’s value depends on one’s ability to work and be a “really useful engine”*.

* This is going way off the topic, but looking for articles on that theory led me to this page where a commenter said “I think both worlds [Thomas the Tank Engine and Star Trek] are relatable to a certain kind of person because they both depict worlds where your value doesn’t come from navigating social hierarchies, but from simply loving what you are doing.”  Is it too much to say that “a certain kind of person” is “an autistic person”?  Because it fits the rest of the statement.  I did love Thomas as a child and I still do like Star Trek, although I prefer Doctor Who, which is more anarchic, because I’m a rebel (a bit).

***

I did also try to send a complaint to the council about the fact that they have stopped the household food waste recycling service they used to run.  I’ve been meaning to do this for months and had not got around to it.  The decision is bad enough for the environment even without the fact that they did not inform the public that it was happening; I’m sure we aren’t the only household who continued using expensive compostable bin liners for food waste after they had switched to burying it in landfill.

They don’t make it easy to find the relevant address to write to, as they funnel you to specific online reporting forms and if you can’t find one that’s relevant it is hard to find a general address to write to.  I tried to set up an account with them, which they recommend doing to send a complaint, but the website wouldn’t accept a password from me, even though I met the rather stringent criteria given (eight characters, letters, numbers, upper case, lower case, some special characters!).  In the end I had to use a different form to complain without setting up an account.

The form referred to me as a “customer” which annoyed me.  I’m not hugely anti-capitalism (reading about Thomas the Tank Engine as a capitalist dystopia notwithstanding), but I don’t think all our interactions can be reduced to the market, and this is one of them.  I’m a resident (not technically a ratepayer, but my parents are), not a customer.

The whole thing left me feeling as if the machinery of government in this country is in the hands of uninterested technocrats who think they know better than the electorate, but that surely is just my paranoia…

***

I’m still worried about dating.  I feel no one could ever love me or live with me, so I should stop seeing L. for her own good.  But when I reflect on that, it doesn’t seem so logical, though.  “My thoughts are not always my friends.”  I can see that there would be some difficulties if we were in a relationship, but I can also see how we could possibly balance each other out in a positive way, if I don’t panic and inadvertently sabotage the relationship.

I guess I can’t see anything in my life turning out well, though.  Certainly not in the next year or two.  I try to focus on the improvements I’ve made to my life, but they seem equivocal.  I’ve had jobs… but nothing lasting or that I feel I’ve done well.  I’ve dated… but never built a lasting relationship.  My shul (synagogue) attendance and Torah study fluctuate wildly.  It’s hard to see things suddenly turning around.

Still, I’ve just set up a date with L. for Sunday.  We’re going to picnic in a park in central London.  I’m hoping it won’t rain.  The weather forecast is dry, but you can never tell in this country…

Jews, Politics and My Depression

This is rather more political than what I usually write, and I’m scared to post, but here goes:

I’ve been caught up in political stuff last night and today and that has made me feel depressed.  I get trapped.  Partly I want to avoid politics, because it just upsets and/or depresses me.  Stuff about antisemitism (of all kinds: far-right, far-left and Islamist) upsets me and a lot of other news just depresses me.  There’s obviously a lot of distressing stuff in the news at the moment.  The problem is that I find job hunting so boring.

I’ve been thinking a lot about politics and Jews, last night and today.  Perhaps my thoughts drifted that way in part because of Yom HaShoah (Holocaust Memorial Day), which has come into our home this year with yortzeit candles (memorial candles for the dead) for four Jewish children murdered in the Holocaust, as part of an international remembrance initiative.

In a way the Jews of the UK are lucky, in that we have a clear enemy in Jeremy Corbyn and Momentum.  Many British Jews are left of centre and would not normally consider voting for the Conservative Party, or even for the Liberal Democrats, but they can’t cope any more.  According to a poll for The Jewish Chronicle, more than 85% of British Jews believe that Jeremy Corbyn is an antisemite.  For comparison, although Liberal Democrat leader Vince Cable has been hostile to Israel in the past and called for an arms boycott of the state, only 6% of British Jews see him as antisemitic.  So, contrary to what Corbyn’s supporters say, Jews are perfectly capable of distinguishing anti-Israel views from outright antisemitic ones.  It is shocking that the man who could be prime minister in a matter of months has difficulty, at the very least, in noticing classic antisemitic tropes and conspiracy theories used by those around him (Jews and money, Jews and covert power, Jews as child-murderers) and expresses support for terrorist groups and dictatorships that openly murder and persecute Jews.  But at least the Jewish community can rally together against him.  One might almost be grateful to Corbyn for helping Anglo-Jewry to overcome its various religious, social and political divisions (it’s hard to think of any other topic that commentators as politically different as Melanie Phillips and Jonathan Freedland can agree on), as we as for encouraging the usually docile Anglo-Jewry to actually stand up for itself.

The same can not be said for the other political controversy that is preoccupying me today.  In the USA, most Jews are traditionally Democrats; since the Depression, every single Democratic candidate for president has won at least two-thirds of the Jewish vote (Franklin Roosevelt managed over 90% at one point), but Orthodox Jews (who make up only 10% of American Jewry, albeit that they are often its most visible element) tend to be Republicans.  This trend has continued in recent years with most non-Orthodox Jews being strongly anti-Trump, but some Orthodox Jews (at least) being vocal Trump supporters.

I mentioned last night that I drift sometimes into a quasi-academic mode.  I can do that here, and examine as a social historian the complex interplay between religion, politics, history and culture (and the culture wars) in American society in general and American Jewry in particular.  The way that despite the formal separation of church (or synagogue) and state in America, religiously progressive Jews have come to identify Jewish values, particularly tikkun olam/social justice (or “social justice” as the identification is not uncontested) very strongly with progressive political values, while Orthodox Jews have identified Jewish values, particularly Zionism and “family values” (another contested term), equally strongly with conservative political values.

As I say, I can analyse dispassionately, but it does hurt me viscerally when I see the fall-out from Trump’s culture wars and the absolute breakdown in civility between right and left in America infect the Jewish community and separate Jew from Jew.  It depresses me beyond measure to see that people and communities I know online that once placed spirituality, community and brotherly love at the forefront of their minds are now reduced to petty point-scoring and offensive insults.  Where both sides cite the Torah to support their views and describe the other side as “self-hating Jews” who are supporting antisemites.

I do actually have an American friend whose online writings, which I once loved, I have had to stop reading in the last year.  That’s partly because of a personal hurt he did to me, for which I have tried to forgive him, but which still pains me.  But it’s also because so much of his written output is devoted to attacking Donald Trump.  I personally do not like Trump at all and would rather Hilary Clinton was sitting in the Oval Office right now, so I should support him, but his attitude is that even if you hate Trump, if you don’t think he is as bad as Hitler, you are enabling him as much as his MAGA-baseball-capped supporters.  I don’t think Trump is another Hitler, and I think it’s dangerous to throw terms like that around (and, no, I wouldn’t compare Jeremy Corbyn to Hitler either).  I think it’s tragic that my friend, who I once admired for his commitment to brotherly love for all, regardless of religion, race, nationality or politics is now unable to write anything without accusing people who disagree with him of the most terrible things.  And I know that there are people on the other side of the debate doing the same things, often in the comments sections of his posts, people who think that anyone who disagrees with them is not just wrong, but wicked.

It’s Manichean stuff.  The Sons of Light versus the Sons of Darkness.  We’re absolutely right and you’re absolutely wrong.  God is on our side and you are evil.  This depresses me immensely.  I hate to see the anger, the loathing and the self-righteousness.  I hate to see people use simplistic interpretations of Judaism to support transient and flawed political policies and suspect political leaders.  And I wonder what happens to a democracy where half of the population think that the other half is outright evil and dangerous, something that is happening here in the UK too with Brexit.

Politics and Despair

I went to bed far, far too late even without losing an hour from putting the clocks forward.  It was mostly down to posting late at night and then procrastinating.  I’ve mentioned before that I idly browse online when I feel lonely.  This is not terribly helpful, because I can’t get the kind of contact I want/need, plus lately I’ve blocked a lot of sites for being too triggering, so there aren’t many places I can actually go (unless I switch the block off.  Which I just did out of boredom/curiosity.  Not good).  Anyway, I spend ages flitting around the internet, not knowing where to go, often until I hit on something that upsets me (usually the news).

The upshot of this was that I overslept, and then was too depressed to get up.  I did eventually get up and somehow got out the house and to my volunteering at the asylum seekers’ drop-in centre, albeit without davening (praying) first.   I was very late for volunteering, but they were understaffed, so they were just grateful I was there.  I spent the afternoon looking after the children in the play area, struggling to watch all of them at once because of a lack of other volunteers and trying to get the children to play together nicely.  It’s hard to discipline other people’s children, especially when they don’t say anything and you can’t work out if they’re pre-verbal or just don’t speak English.  I survived, but have come home completely exhausted.  I somehow did a few minutes of Torah study on the bus home; I’m not sure that I will manage much more.

***

Just now I skipped over what happened at home between crawling out of bed this morning and getting to volunteering.  I had lots of very self-critical thoughts.  I felt tired of being the person no one can rely on at work, in my family, in my religious community or at volunteering.  I wanted to burrow into the earth and get away.  I actually crawled under my desk (I’m not entirely sure why; it seemed like a good idea at the time).  I tried to cry but I had no tears, I just made sobbing noises.  I told myself a lot of very harsh, self-critical things: “I’m a ******* waste of space.  No one could love you, you’re ******* incompetent.  You’re a ****** retard.”  (Don’t ask why my inner monologue flips between the first and second person.)

I’m not sure what I can do when I feel like that.  I think I only stopped because I went out to volunteering.

***

Pretty much anything in the news is triggering.  I no longer know what to think about Brexit.  I have a kind of mental tutorial essay on the history of Britain’s post-war involvement with Europe that gets triggered when anyone starts talking about Brexit, a commentary running from Churchill’s belief in European unity without Britain and Attlee’s negativity to de Gaulle’s “Non!” to Heath speaking bad French and Wilson’s referendum to Thatcher’s downfall, Major’s paralysis and now this.  I think whether we had never gone in to the EU, or whether we had voted to Remain, the tensions would still be there, because they come from the fact that Britain is on Europe’s doorstep, but has a very different political system and history to most of Europe, which produces centrifugal and centripetal forces pulling the country in and out simultaneously.  Whatever happens, the forces are still there; in or out, Europe is going to be a major issue in British politics for the foreseeable future.

I want to vent about Jew-hatred too, but I’m too scared.  I just wrote a paragraph on this, but I deleted it.  I’m too scared of being attacked.  I hate being attacked by antisemites, because I know they’re wrong, but their hatred of me fits with my self-hatred, so the attacks don’t bounce off as they should. Then I spend hours/days obsessing over their hatred, even though the fault is with them not us; it is in fact antisemitic to suggest that Jews “provoke” antisemitism, just as it is misogynistic to say that women in short skirts are “provoking” sexual assault.  I hate that I can’t speak about the hatred that is upsetting me for fear of provoking more of it.  I hate that I still have to deal with this.

I wish I had the mental strength to do something productive to fight antisemitism and anti-Zionism, but I don’t have the mental stamina.  I feel I have let my people down.  I also wish I could turn off the pain and the obsessive, agitated thoughts that seeing this hatred causes me.

***

Happier things: I ordered some more Doctor Who miniatures to paint last night, partly a reward for getting through my job, partly because if I’m going to be unemployed again, it’s probably worthwhile having a non-screen-based hobby (i.e. not watching DVDs, blogging or working on my books).  Just under £45 bought me twelve Daleks, Davros, the TARDIS and the thirteenth Doctor to paint, which should keep me busy for a while.

Sex, Politics and Alcohol

(Don’t say I shy away from the big topics here.)

I woke late, later than I wanted.  I was going in to work at lunchtime and staying late at an event this evening, but even so I wanted to be up at 9am, whereas I got up about 9.40am.  I was slow to get going, feeling depressed.  I wondered what I would say to my younger self, about to be diagnosed with depression for the first time seventeen years ago.  It was hard to think of anything encouraging.  I could say that he/I would at least survive, but I’m not keen on pure survival as a goal.

For some reason that I don’t understand, I thought a lot about my two failed relationships.  I don’t know what it is about me that prevents me from forming relationships.  Well, I do know, because on some level it’s autism and depression, but it’s hard to know what specifically stops me.  To be fair, both my exes had issues about as much as I did, so perhaps I shouldn’t just blame myself.  It’s hard not to blame someone, though, and I don’t really want to blame them either (as I said, they had issues too).  Given how long it was before I went out on my first date (I was twenty-seven) and the gap between my first and second relationships, I could be in my forties before I get the chance to try again, which is going to make starting a family harder.

***

I struggled through the early part of the work day (i.e. early afternoon) feeling like the idiot child again.  I felt I was making stupid mistakes and not thinking to do things until they were pointed out to me which could potentially be an autistic executive function deficit, I suppose, but that only occurred to me just now, not at the time; at the time I just thought I was being stupid and useless.  My boss was nice about it, which somehow just makes me feel worse.

Late afternoon brought the event/exhibition we were running.  From my point of view, it was similar to the event/exhibition we ran a few weeks ago, in terms of my curating rare books and trying to remember enough of my history BA to be able to talk about them while secretly hoping that I don’t say anything outrageously wrong.  At any rate, radical politics from the English Civil Wars and Interregnum seem popular again.  I was actually less affected by the crowds and noise than I had feared, except when someone dropped something on the other side of the room with a loud metallic noise which distracted me even though no one around me seemed to notice.  From everyone else’s perspective, this event was different to the previous one as we had food and wine (which I didn’t eat (a) because I was curating and (b) because it wasn’t kosher).

The other, bigger, difference was that we had some guest speakers.  They were interesting, but I didn’t take much in because I had been a bit triggered by the political nature of the event – not anything party political, but just general thoughts about protest (the theme of the event) and where I stand.  I feel counter-cultural in some ways, but I don’t subscribe to any political party or ideology and feel rather disenfranchised by contemporary politics.  I honestly struggle to find anyone I could in good conscience vote for at the next election (unless Elmo from Sesame Street stands against Theresa May again).  I fantasise about dropping out without knowing where I would go.  In fact, not only do I feel counter to mainstream culture, but also to the main counter-culture (to paraphrase The Avengers, I’m counter-counter-counter-cultural).  I feel Orthodox Judaism is strongly counter-cultural too (how could it not be, by far the smallest of the world’s major religions?), but too many Jews miss the point and end up with conformist bourgeois lives.  But the revolutionary potential is there.  For example, Buy Nothing Day is an established anti-consumerist protest day.  I once calculated that Orthodox Jews spend approximately two months not buying anything at all (if you add together Shabbat (the Sabbath) and Yom Tov (festivals) it comes to about two months, depending on whether Yom Tov falls on Shabbat in any given year and on whether you live in Israel and get one day less Yom Tov).  Shabbat itself is a very revolutionary egalitarian idea, a sanctuary in time that everyone receives in the same amount, regardless of wealth or status (cf. Heschel and Seeskin), a day when no one can compel anyone else to do anything.

I feel I am drifting from the point somewhat (sorry, it’s 1.30am and I’m drained, but not sleepy and need to get my thoughts in some kind of order before bed).  It’s just that whenever politics comes up lately (lately = for the last few years) I feel vaguely guilty for not having firm party political views (my opinions are more emotions or attitudes and not necessarily coherent).  But as the frum (religious) community is mostly conservative and my Doctor Who/online friends are mostly progressive, I would offend someone either way, so maybe it’s just as well that I quietly question everything, but say nothing.  It just means I always feel ‘wrong’ and under threat of rejection, as if I didn’t feel like that for umpteen other reasons already.  (My assumption that people would reject me because I don’t share their political views may be false, but in all the talk in the media of social media echo chambers, it’s hard to think otherwise.)

***

I got home at 10.30pm absolutely exhausted.  I had to “people” some more, as my parents had guests: my uncle’s mother-in-law over from Israel for a significant birthday (a tenuous family connection, but she’s essentially a family friend of long standing by now) and some other friends of my parents who are also friends of my uncle’s mother-in-law, including someone I used to work with.  So I had to go in and say hello when I really wanted to crash.  But I managed it.

***

The other thing that upset me a bit today was getting mistaken for a PhD student by the historian guest speaker.  Sometimes I feel I should have gone down that route, that I would be happier reading books than caring for them.  And high functioning autistics can do well in academia.  But every time I go to university, my depression gets bad and I say I will never go back.  Plus, if I was doing a PhD, it would probably end up being in the history of antisemitism, which would be hugely depressing, if necessary.

There was something else that was upsetting me, but I don’t want to get into it at 1.30am.  Maybe tomorrow.  Actually, I am going to go into it, because it’s upsetting me.  I feel I’m a really bad person because I get distracted by being attracted to people of the opposite sex.  I know most people are like that, but… well, I suppose I feel I should be above it in some way.  I worry that it affects my interactions, although I do try hard not to react to people differently based on how attractive I find them, and I certainly don’t flirt with women or anything improper.  I just wish it didn’t happen.  I don’t like being so aware of how attractive I find some women.  Particularly as I don’t think anyone finds me attractive, which makes the whole thing seem one-sided and exploitative.

When I wrote an article on Hevria.com years ago about being scared of my sexuality, someone commented to say I see women as “anxiety-inducing sexual objects” which upset me, probably because I’m scared it’s true.  Well, “anxiety-inducing” is true, but I have social anxiety, so everyone makes me anxious.  But, given that it seems unlikely that I will ever get married, I just wish I was asexual so I didn’t have to even worry about this craziness (being attracted to people).  There’s a story called Liking What You See by science fiction writer Ted Chiang, about whether it would be good if we could switch off physical attraction.  I think it probably would be good.

***

It’s 2.15am and I should get to bed.  I am probably coming down from today – not that it was particularly positive, but that social interactions and being busy at work get the adrenaline flowing and I need to unwind.  I can’t really crash tomorrow, unfortunately, as in the afternoon I’m speaking to someone from The Network (the local government-run organisation that provided group therapy courses I have recently attended), although I’m not sure there’s a lot more that they can do for me right now.

Realignments

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

***

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

***

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

***

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

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

Anyway, enough politics!!!!

***

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

***

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

Self-Acceptance

I’m not sure why I’m so obsessed with writing about how much sleep I get.  I’m not obsessed with chronicling other aspects of my life tangentially related to my mental health, such as exercise or diet.  Maybe because it’s an index of normality: eight or nine hours good quality sleep = good, anything more or less or bad quality = depression.  Sleep is always the first thing to go wrong when an episode of depression starts and the last thing to improve.

Be that as it may, I went to bed too late last night (I had a burst of energy after dinner and stayed up blogging and writing emails), slept too much, but had poor quality sleep with strange dreams again (not sure why I’m having so many lately; I don’t usually remember my dreams) and woke up with a slight headache to discover the gas man was just arriving to service our boiler.  Which is in the kitchen.  So I had to be visible while getting breakfast ready while in pyjamas and dressing gown, which makes me feel self-conscious, but I was feeling too tired and depressed to get dressed before eating, as is usually the case (according to strict halakhah (Jewish law) one should always get dressed and pray before eating, but I almost never feel well enough to do that).

Dad and the gas engineer were having a very neurotypical small talk conversation.  Part of me wonders why I can’t manage to do that and another part thinks I would go out of my mind with boredom if I could do it.

***

I went back to bed after breakfast.  Normally that’s something I would try to avoid, usually by being online, but I’ve now blocked most of my procrastination/distraction sites as triggering in one way or another, so in the absence of energy to do anything productive, I ended up going back to bed.  It was good to just lie in the semi-darkness, not being stimulated by anything other than birdsong and the ticking of the clock, even if I did feel guilty (and lonely.  Being in bed by myself makes me feel lonely, even though I’ve never actually shared a bed with anyone; even as a child although my parents would let me fall asleep in their bed if I was upset by a nightmare or thunderstorm, they would carry me out once I fell asleep.  But I can imagine what it must feel like).

Staying too long in bed, it occurs to me, might not just be about exhaustion, laziness, running away from the world or any of the other labels I rightly or wrongly ascribe to it.  My world divides into concentric circles of safety and danger.  Some are probably in flux depending on my experiences (e.g. shul (synagogue), which sometimes feels safe and sometimes feels very dangerous), but my home is safe, my bedroom is very safe and my bed is safest of all.

***

My job search has become very cursory.  I really want to stay in my current job, even though a job that only employs me two days a week is, on a purely financial level, not very satisfactory, even if they do extend my contract past March.  But I feel comfortable in the role demanded of me, which was not the case in my last two jobs, and I get on well with my boss (again, unlike the last two jobs) and the time off to recover, go on mental health courses and work on my writing is useful, even if recently I have been too exhausted and depressed to make much use of the writing time.  But I feel I should still be job hunting for my parents’ sake.  After all, they are supporting me financially.

***

New insights continue to come from my autism identification.  I thought that I don’t have the problems some autistic people have with executive function (planning and decision making).  I acknowledge that I’ve always been indecisive and prefer to have limited choices or even to have someone else make decisions for me.  Sometimes I completely seize up when someone offers me a choice and I don’t know what to say or how to decide, to the point where this is visible to other people (one date got really annoyed with me for this, fuelling my ‘no one could ever love me’ thoughts).  It has taken a long time for me to realise that this could be autism.

More surprising is to realise that I’m not that good at planning.  I make lots of lists and plans, but, since my mid-teens (before severe depression), I’ve had a habit of drifting away from plans once I’ve made them, sometimes within minutes.  I regularly and dramatically underestimate how long it will take me to complete tasks and the amount of energy and concentration that will be expended by them and I let myself procrastinate and get distracted by things if I am not that interested in what I should be doing.  I guess it’s one of those things that is hard to judge, though, because lots of people aren’t good at plans or are easily distracted without being autistic and some of it is that on some level I still assume I have non-depressed reserves of energy even though I’ve been depressed for seventeen-plus years.

Similarly, I always thought that I didn’t have autistic meltdowns, but reading up on them, I think I might, but that they don’t manifest primarily as screaming or physically lashing out, but as crying, catastrophising and asking excessively for reassurance from other people.  I think I tended to interpret these as panic attacks or worsening of depression rather than as meltdowns, but perhaps I have been mistaken.  I probably have also got in the habit of avoiding situations that I find triggering or leaving when things become difficult, which is good, but makes it hard to know how I would react if pushed further.

I think I may have had more explosive meltdowns when I was younger, but I learnt pretty early on that there were other people around me who could shout a lot louder and longer than I could and that explosive anger is just too dangerous, so over time I had fewer angry-type meltdowns and more anxious ones, or just repressed my feelings so that they turned into depression and OCD, what this site calls “implosive” rather than “explosive” meltdowns (“Visible symptoms of this may include withdrawing from communication, hiding, self-harming, curling up in a ball, rocking intensely and may make random sounds and noises to drown out the world around them” – withdrawal, self-harm, crying, curling up in a ball all sound familiar, perhaps also acting out in other ways that would only be obvious to myself).

Past examples might be the crying and catastrophising that I assumed were panic attacks  (again, this site calls meltdowns a form of panic attack) when I went to stay with my first girlfriend’s family for the first time and the occasions when I stood outside social events at shul crying because I felt too overwhelmed to go inside.  Perhaps also the strange feeling, that I assumed at the time was a straightforward panic attack, that I had on the London Underground a few months ago when, after having to suddenly change my usual travel route to work because of a station closure, and while in a big, stimulating crowd of commuters, I felt emotionally overwhelmed while trying to walk up a stationary escalator at Kings Cross Tube station and for a few moments was worried I was going to be so overwhelmed with anxiety and despair that I would not be able to move any further up or get back down to the bottom either.  A similar situation occurred a few minutes later in a very uncomfortable crowd on the platform where I started worrying that I was going to fall under the train and felt a similar unbearable rush of anxiety and feeling overwhelmed.

This might even explain the unexpressed anger and agitation that appears as racing thoughts, often slightly paranoid, self-loathing, or furious at other people, that can appear after social overload, including in positive situations but particularly in negative ones.  This used to happen to me a lot at the Jewish Society when I was at university, where I wanted to fit in and make friends, but found it painfully hard to do so; once depression was added to the mix, I would often leave Shabbat meals early and walk very briskly around Oxford for an hour thinking how angry I was at myself and everyone else, sometimes even mentally composing aggressive suicide notes, until I would finally arrive back home and collapse exhausted onto the bed.

At any rate, it is worth looking out for similar behaviour in the future.

(I would welcome feedback on meltdowns from other people on the spectrum, as it’s the part of autism I understand the least and have greatest difficulty identifying with.)

***

I think I’m learning slowly – very slowly – that I’m autistic and that’s OK.  It was one thing to think I was autistic, but quite a different thing to be able to accept and make allowances for myself.  This is the case even though I still don’t have a diagnosis and I worry what would happen to my self-image if I was told yet again that I’m not on the spectrum.  I’m even being more accepting of some of my religious ‘failings’ (not davening (praying) with a minyan (community) or with kavannah (mindfulness); not liking Purim and Simchat Torah, etc.), even the ones that are due to depression and social anxiety as much as autism.

It’s funny that I never felt that depression or social anxiety were valid reasons for being ‘this way’ but that autism is valid.   I suppose autism explains oddities of my personality that aren’t explicable by depression or social anxiety or were present even when everything else is OK, from the indecisiveness mentioned above to difficulties with eye contact, body language and reading emotions (in other people and myself) to the fact that when I was a child I used to like making Lego models as per the instructions rather than experimenting with my own designs (although I did make Lego Daleks of my own design because my Doctor Who special interest trumps everything).

***

I wrote a not-quite-angry letter written to HMRC querying why they are now pressing me for money they told me I didn’t have to pay months ago.  I also found directions to my course on Friday and emailed the matchmaker from the values dating service.  I have mixed thoughts about how sensible dating is for me right now, although it’s hard to imagine a time when it would ever be substantially easier.  I also read this week’s Talmud page in advance of Shabbat’s shiur (and failed to understand it).  i didn’t have time for much work on my books, but spending a long time writing my thoughts on poor executive function and meltdowns here was really helpful in understanding myself and could be useful for my mental health/misery memoir book, which is all good.  Even so, I didn’t do everything I wanted or planned, and not just because I had a headache, which is frustrating, albeit another demonstration of impaired executive function.

***

I try not to be political here, but I have to say this or my head will explode: every time I see or hear the words “Donald Tusk” on the news, I have a vision of a Babar-type elephant with big tusks, dressed in a suit, standing on his hind legs and carrying a briefcase.  This has bothered me for years.

Appointments and More Disappointments

(Apologies for the contrived title, riffing on yesterday’s post’s title to show some sort of link or continuation.  It’s not even strictly accurate, as it’s questionable whether the events here really count as “appointments”, certainly not in the plural.  I’ve never been good at titles since my school days…)

I was hoping to go to my depression group tonight, but I didn’t go, not because of the snow (I was ready to risk an arduous journey home), but because I had a migraine this afternoon.  It started at work and I had to dash out of a meeting with my line manager because I thought I was going to throw up (luckily I didn’t, not least because the nearest toilet was on another floor).  The headache and nausea had more or less gone by the time I got home, but I still felt light-headed and shaky on my legs, so I decided that staying in was the best option even without snow.  For that reason I skipped the shiur (religious class) I would normally go to on Thursday evenings too.  It’s a shame I’m missing depression group, though, as I had quite a lot to talk about in terms of my autism screening and new job and was looking forward to venting some of my conflicted feelings about both of those things as well as telling my friends there that there has at least been some progress.  Hopefully I can go next month.

On the plus side, the outcome of the meeting at work was that my line manager is happy what I’m doing and is still sympathetic about the depression and autism.  I’m still not really looking too hard for new work, even though this job currently due to end in March, because I would rather stay here as long as possible and use the free days for mental health courses at The Network and working on my books.  I’m still torn between which book to work on primarily.  The Doctor Who book is further along (I’ve already largely done a second draft), but it will take time while I do more research before I can move to a third draft.  I’m still hoping to finish the whole thing by the autumn.  In the meantime, I don’t know whether to work on the ‘understanding Judaism for non-Jews’ book or the ‘Jewish mental health and autism’ book based on my blog.  The latter will probably win out, because it’s more important and because it’s easier at the moment as the first task is to look over two years worth of old blog posts for reusable material.  Possible first line: “My life has never been of much interest to me, but my inner life, my auto-analysis, has been of overwhelming interest to me since adolescence.”

Last night, after saying here that I wasn’t going to join the values-based dating service, I went and signed up for it.  I’ll have to meet with a matchmaker to discuss my values and those that I’m looking for in a wife, so I won’t be set up with any dates yet.  I don’t know how long that takes to happen and they do say that they won’t match you unless they find someone who seems to be a good match, values-wise, so nothing may come of it at all.  And of course finding someone with a values match doesn’t guarantee we have anything else in common, or that we have good chemistry, or that she can cope with my depression-autism-social-anxiety-low-income nexus.  But I guess it can’t hurt.  (Actually, it can hurt, but I’m risking it anyway.)

I was going to write about some political stuff that upset me today, but I got scared.  I was going to write why I got scared, but I got too scared to write that too.  Suffice to say that I don’t live in one of the echo chambers people say everyone is in these days, and I don’t necessarily believe what other people assume people like me believe.  I don’t think that makes me a bad person, but I know others will disagree, so I’m keeping quiet.  This saddens me.

Despite all this, I’m coping with today’s disappointments better than yesterday’s and I’m feeling fairly positive overall, hence this shorter than usual post.

Wind Up Where You Started From

I feel exhausted today and rather depressed, which isn’t really a surprise, considering that yesterday was a busy day with a lot of social interactions and then I stayed up late writing a blog post that was supposed to help me process the events of the day, but actually made me feel more stressed.  I suspect despite ten hours of sleep, I am still running a deficit of energy spoons.  I went for a twenty minute walk that exhausted me, which definitely makes me feel out of spoons.  I wanted to do my weekly Talmud study today and work on my Doctor Who book, but I don’t feel like doing either at the moment, although I might try again after dinner, when my mood might be a bit better.  Everything is just an effort at the moment, I feel so exhausted and depressed.  I’m just sitting in front of my laptop and vegetating, which is bad, as sooner or later I hit something that upsets me even more.

***

I wonder if I should have posted what I did yesterday.  In trying to process my feelings, I said more than I would normally say in public about my political views.  I tend to hide most of my opinions (about anything) from other people as much as possible to avoid confrontation and rejection.  This is probably not particularly helpful or conducive to making friends.

***

Despite writing a post that was twice as long as usual last night, I realised this morning that I forgot things I should have mentioned, such as being my being upset by my friend’s defence of Jeremy Corbyn against alleged [real] antisemitism accusations, but hiding my feelings to avoid causing offence; discussion of my nihilistic despair about the state of the world; and thoughts about the Jewish educational conference Limmud that my other friend was just back from.

Limmud is one of the few positive innovations to come out of Anglo-Jewry in the last few decades, a non-denominational religious educational conference aimed at all Jews which has now spread globally.  It’s very popular, albeit controversial among some Orthodox Jews, who refuse to attend events where non-Orthodox rabbis and educators speak.  That doesn’t bother me, but it would bother me a bit that my community would probably not be so happy with me going.

However, the real reason I’ve never gone is social anxiety and autism: literally thousands of people go to Limmud and attend talks, communal meals and entertainment together and the idea frankly terrifies me.  This despite the fact that I’ve been told it’s a good way to meet a partner who is serious about Judaism (as if I would have the confidence to talk to strangers there…).  I really ought to go, as a number of my friends have gone in the past, as have my sister and brother-in-law and they all enjoyed it (but then, they aren’t autistic and socially anxious).   I just haven’t worked up the courage to go yet.  I guess I feel that I do have a reason not to go now that I understand my social anxiety and autism a bit more.  I wish I could have told that to people who questioned my social withdrawal years ago at Oxford.  It’s funny that I accept my social anxiety more as a ‘real’ thing now it’s linked to autism than I did when it was just something free floating.

***

On a positive note, here are the Doctor Who miniatures I painted last week (left to right: first Doctor, fourth Doctor, K9, fifth Doctor, tenth Doctor, eleventh Doctor, twelfth Doctor).

DSC00758

Miniatures 2

***

The last few days I’ve been wondering if maybe I could write that book about Orthodox Judaism after all.  I think I should avoid apologetics, but maybe it’s not a bad thing to write a personal account if it’s honest about being personal and non-generalising.  It’s still a scary thing to contemplate writing, though, both from the effort required in research and writing and the backlash I might get from things I write from people whose opinions I care about.  In the worst case scenario, my book ends up in cherem (banned).  That’s not likely to happen, as I’m not important enough in the frum (religious Orthodox Jewish) world for it to be worth banning anything I write, but people might regard things I write as incorrect, heretical or (more nebulously), true, but not something one should tell non-Jews and non-frum Jews about.

***

I’ve never really celebrated secular New Year’s Eve, less from religious reasons than social anxiety.  My plan for tonight involves DVDs (probably Sherlock: His Last Vow) and perhaps a book (Mythago Wood) if I have enough energy spoons to read, which does not seem so likely at the moment.

My parents have got ten friends over for dinner tonight.  I will be expected to come down and say hi, something I hate doing.  I can feel everyone staring at me and asking small talk questions that I can’t answer easily, like “How are you?” (“Really depressed” isn’t an acceptable answer) and “What are you doing?” (“About to start a job I’m terrified I’m going to mess up”).

It’s difficult reading people reflecting on happy and successful years, when I don’t feel that mine was like that.  It’s difficult in another reading about sad things that happened to people in 2018 (because I’m not a sadist).  Jews greet the new year with a mixture of awe and trepidation, which seems to fit better with the types of years I experience than alcohol-induced levity and blind optimism. According to the Jewish calendar, we’re nearly a third of the way through the current year (5779) already and it hasn’t been great, so I don’t think things are going to go much differently via the Gregorian calendar.

Anyway, felicitations and what-not.

Virtue Signalling

It’s been a slightly strange day, with a lot of emotions this evening in particular.  As usual, I’m writing as much to process and understand my thoughts for myself as I am to present them for other people.  So, apologies if this is less coherent than usual.  Also, apologies for the mammoth length, about twice as long as usual.  There’s a lot to say, and I feel I could probably write more if I had the time.

***

I’m only vaguely aware of my anxiety.  I think I mentioned that at the CBT assessment I had a few weeks ago, the result was that I was told that I have at least elements of anxiety as well as depression, but over the years I have not been so aware of the anxiety, other than social anxiety and, at times, OCD (which is an anxiety disorder).  This is despite the frequent comorbidity of anxiety with both depression and autism.  One therapist felt that the depression was so strong that it drowned out the anxiety except when the anxiety was itself very strong.  It’s also possible that I just haven’t noticed the anxiety because of alexithymia (difficulty identifying and understanding my emotions).  Certainly when my mental health issues first became identifiable, at school, I was feeling nauseous every morning on the way to school, but it was only years later that I realised that that was almost certainly anxiety rather than general feelings of being “emotionally low” (which was the non-diagnosis my doctor gave me at the time to try to avoid prescribing any medication).  At any rate, the anxiety this morning may have started as social anxiety about volunteering, but quickly spiralled into general catastrophising about other aspects of volunteering and my new job.

***

I volunteered at the asylum seekers drop-in centre again today.  As mentioned, I was feeling rather anxious about it beforehand, primarily because I wanted to slip out near the end to go to Mincha (the Afternoon service) in the shul (synagogue) (the drop-in centre is in the shul hall, not the main shul building) and I was worried about not knowing the code to the shul door and getting locked out (I should clarify that the drop-in centre is not in my shul, but another one some way away).

The format of the day is two hours of preparation for the asylum seekers, which I usually spend sorting donations of clothing, two hours with them, where they can get food, donations of clothing, nappies and toiletries and see professionals (varying according to who has been able to come, but usually lawyers and doctors, sometimes dentists or counsellors) and then a certain amount of tidying up afterwards.  I was initially sorting donations of clothing to start with and as is often the case, I felt more than a little awkward.  The clothing tends to come all mixed up and I’m not always good at separating male and female clothing or adult and children’s clothing.  Obviously there are some things that are clearly in one category or another, but others are less clear.  To be fair, other people struggle sometimes too, but I do not feel confident asking for help.  I also feel that the other volunteers are able to talk to each other more easily; I always feel like I have a sign on my forehead saying AUTISTIC-SOCIALLY ANXIOUS-DEPRESSED and that everyone can see how awkward I am.  This is probably my paranoia, but it feels real.

After that, when the asylum seekers came, I volunteered in the childcare area again.  There were a lot of children there today.  Thankfully there were quite a few volunteers, although many were older children themselves (the children of volunteers tend to help in the childcare area, probably because it’s more fun than helping adult asylum seekers sort through clothes and unused nappies.  That’s why I help there, anyway).  The autistic side of me I was quite overwhelmed by the amount of noise and things going on at times.  I tried to focus one level of attention on the children I was with at the time while I focused another level of attention on the childcare area as a whole, to check nothing dangerous/unpleasant was going on.  The children were well-behaved (actually, they almost always are well-behaved), although one boy has a habit of trying to take my glasses off me.  I spent a lot of time today looking after a toddler who kept trying to crawl over to where some of the older children were playing with a ball.  As I had visions of her getting trampled, I kept trying gently to encourage her away from them and at one point picked her up and carried her away, although I’m not confident carrying children and try to avoid it, as they can usually sense I’m anxious and sometimes start crying.

I realised, for all my parents say I’m good with children (and I’ll concede that on some levels I am good with children; I’m certainly patient with children and willing to play repetitious games for long periods), I don’t know how to talk to them.  If I recall correctly, one of the symptoms of autism spectrum disorders can be difficulty talking in age-appropriate ways and I do struggle to do that.  My instinct is to talk far too formally to them.  I usually suppress that instinct, but I don’t really know what to say instead and tend to ask very simple questions or distract them with toys.  (Bear in mind that most of the children at the drop-in centre are five or six at most, often much younger, although I’m not quite sure how that should affect how I talk to them.)  I’m struggling to put this into words, but when I see the other volunteers talk to the children they seem to do it much more naturally and age-appropriately.  To be fair, as I say, I do have the patience and stamina to spend two hours sitting on the floor drinking imaginary cups of ‘tea’ and waving teddy bears about, which the other volunteers tend not to do, going for breaks or changing activities.  I just point this out as another autism symptom I need to note before my assessment.

***

Another social thing I struggle with at volunteering is talking to the other volunteers.  I do know a few people by sight or even by name now and one volunteer I actually know from my previous shul, before I moved house.  But I find it hard to make conversation with them or to introduce myself to people I don’t know.  I’ve heard people say that volunteering is a good way for shy people to find a partner, but that hasn’t been my experience, partly because I’m the wrong age (most of the volunteers are ten or twenty years older than me), partly because I’m too shy and don’t really know what to say to women I don’t know.  I know the first time I went I did get talking to two sisters who seemed to be about my age, but I haven’t seen them since, sadly.

***

(Pause, change ends, eat oranges)

(I really did just eat an orange)

***

In the evening, after coming home for a much needed shower and Doctor Who break, I went for dinner with a couple of old friends from my university days at Oxford.  We get together every six months or so to catch up.  Our lives have gone in quite different ways, so it’s good that we still want to meet.  One of my friends is a political scientist working on migration and statelessness (a hot topic at the moment, obviously – she was recently in Mexico interviewing women on the caravan bound for the USA).  She spoke at length tonight about the plight of the stateless.  I had no idea that there are so many people in this category (an estimated fifteen million) nor the reasons for it.  I would have assumed they were mostly refugees, but apparently a lot are people who have simply failed to fill in the appropriate paperwork through suspicion of the authorities (e.g. Roma) or traditional lifestyles (e.g. migrant pastoral farmers), particularly when new states have been created in post-colonial territories or following the break up of states like Yugoslavia and the USSR.   They have now missed the appropriate deadlines for application for citizenship and fallen through the gaps in the bureaucratic systems and can’t work, marry or travel; they can’t even officially die.

I mentioned the asylum seekers drop-in centre.  I was pretty blatantly virtue signalling, but I wanted to find common ground with my friend.  I usually avoid politics as I feel my political views are a little unusual.  I suppose they aren’t monumentally weird; I’m not a Fascist or a Pantisocrat.  Realistically, I’m just a centrist with small-l liberal and small-c conservative aspects to my personality, but I have a fondness for George Orwell’s term ‘Tory Anarchist’, which to me reflects not a hyphenated identity, but a dialectical tension between the ordered and anarchic sides of my nature (it’s an anarchism rooted less in Bakunin and Kropotkin and more in the prophets and rabbis of ancient Israel, who had a deep-seated suspicion of governments, money, power, authority and militarism.  As Philip K. Dick said, the Jews have always fought for freedom).  Whatever the reason, I have an instinctive ability to take the opposite view of whoever is talking to me.  This is not from natural contrariness on my part, or not consciously.  I am naturally conflict-averse and long to avoid any kind of political quarrel.  But I seem doomed to offend everyone if I speak my mind.  My frum (religious) friends and acquaintances are likely to be conservative.  I don’t know, so I could be stereotyping, but Orthodox Jews tend to be conservative.  On the other hand, my other friends tend to be very liberal.  When I’m with the former, I feel liberal, even anarchist, but when I’m with the latter I feel super-conservative.

Today I did not feel super-conservative.  I was actually deeply moved by my friend’s account of the plight of the stateless.  In retrospect, I fear that there is very little that can be realistically done in the short to medium term, but I guess this is the conservative side of me speaking (progressives tend to see all problems as solvable; conservatives tend to see some problems as manageable at best).  In retrospect I can see why governments might be unwilling to award citizenship to literally millions of strangers from unstable parts of the world, sight unseen.  But I feel that dialectical tension again, because I want to do something to help.

Hence, my doing something I would not normally do and virtue signalling by bringing up my voluntary work.  I am not entirely sure what I was thinking, but I think I wanted to signal agreement and empathy for the people she has met, as well as tacit support, in broad, non-committal terms, for her goals (“tacit support, in broad, non-committal terms”… I even sound like Sir Humphrey Appleby.  Ugh).

***

On the way home I thought about my friends, and how I feel too liberal for some and too conservative for others.  I thought about my shul, and how the rabbi would probably not approve of my voluntary work at a centre for non-Jewish (often Muslim) asylum seekers, even though the shul that runs the centre is Orthodox.  I was in a Jewish part of London and, seeing the frum men and women, I thought as usual about wanting to have a frum wife, but in this context I wondered if it would be possible.  After all, I could end up with a wife who liked my friends, but not my shul, or one who my rabbi would accept, but my friends would loathe.  I remembered that E. was quite adamant about not being married by my rabbi when we were dating.  At volunteering, I wondered if I would ever meet someone right for me.  Sociologically, the Anglo-Jewish community is polarising into the Charedi (ultra-Orthodox) and the Jewishly unaffiliated and uninterested.  Even the United Synagogue middle-of-the-road types are generally not frum enough for me any more.

***

I sometimes feel like a man of far too many parts, unable to really fit in anywhere.  I want my wife to be someone I feel completely comfortable with and accepted by, but this seems impossible.  Granted, that’s partly because I feel so ill at ease with myself, but even if I did like myself, it seems impossible for anyone else to accept me.  And now I remember a friend who I opened up to a bit about my political thoughts who never responded to that email… did he simply overlook it or run out of time?  Or was he shunning my views?  He is at least still my friend, so he can’t have found them that obnoxious.

And, if it wasn’t nearly 2.00am, I could raise the Z word (‘Zionism’) which is a whole can of worms in itself.  But I should get to bed.

***

Sigh.  Writing this was supposed to help me calm down and sort out my thoughts before bed, but it has actually made me much more tense and anxious as well as more alert and not ready to sleep.  I wish I just could be a normal person, with normal, straightforward views, rather than trying to make myself an outlier in every community of which I could vaguely be considered a member.  And I wish I could accept that it’s possible for people to like me without their agreeing with every political, religious and cultural opinion I have.

Despair, Mostly

I feel drained today and the more I try to do something, the harder it gets.  It feels like my wheels are spinning in the mud.

I watched a few minutes of the debate in Parliament about Brexit.  The actual quality of debate was higher than I expected (maybe my expectations have been lowered by online “debate”), but the whole situation depresses me.  However this works out in the short to medium term, I can see a long-term collapse in support for mainstream parties that don’t seem able to deliver on their promises and a consequent shift to the far-right and the far-left.  Already Labour is basically a doctrinaire Marxist Jew-baiting party, even though historically (before Jeremy Corbyn) the British Labour Party was neither of those things (unlike some continental socialist parties).  This, I fear, is the way democracies die, and you can see similar things happening, in different ways, across the Channel and across the Atlantic.  Everywhere people are losing trust and hope in conventional politics and turning to extremism.

Anyway, I’m trying not to think about that, and this isn’t supposed to be a political blog.  It’s just another thing that depresses me, and when something grabs my attention, the autistic part of my brain won’t stop bringing it up everywhere.

I also saw this article about negative dating beliefs.  I have all six of those negative dating beliefs (five negative self-perceptions and one negative perception about dating itself).  I am not dating at the moment, but it makes me feel I will never manage to get married.  To be honest, if I can get a diagnosis of autism, I think it will actually boost my dating chances.  From my perception of how shidduch dating (dating in the religious Jewish community) works, shadchans (matchmakers) try to set people up in a rather superficial way and certainly if you have an unusual trait or characteristic, they will try to match you up with other people with that characteristic, at least initially, especially if the trait is seen as negative.  The assumption seems to be “like goes with  like.”  So if I have an autism diagnosis I suspect I would be likely to be matched up with women on the spectrum, which I suspect would be more likely to lead to marriage than dating the neurotypical women I’ve mostly been dating in the past.  Then again, autism is arguably under-diagnosed in women, so they may not know or they may know and not admit to it, fearing it would be “bad for shidduchim” (bad for their marriage chances).  Dating is hard, frum (religious Jewish) dating is very hard, doubly so when you aren’t “perfect” enough for other people.

My Dad has found out that there are companies that organise kosher holidays for groups of Jews in their late twenties and thirties and is encouraging me to go on one at some point.  I think he’s hoping I will go on one and meet someone as many of the tours are specifically for singes, although at the moment I doubt I could keep up with the itinerary of an organised tour, nor do I imagine I could start a relationship with someone that way.  It takes a lot for me to be able to ask someone out and I can’t see myself doing it on a tour with lots of other people.  Plus, I do not like being in large groups and tend to withdraw and become unattractive.  It is true that if I wanted to visit somewhere exotic, e.g. South America, Africa or Asia, where usually the kosher options would be limited, I would be better off on a tour where they can organise all that, kasher a kitchen in a hostel or whatever they do.  However, I’m not really a great traveller.  Although I would vaguely like to see Inca pyramids or the Grand Canyon or whatever, the thought of going through all the processes of a holiday (booking, packing, travelling) I find off-putting.  Maybe it’s me being autistic again.

Stuff I did today:

  1. davened (prayed) a bit of Shacharit, the whole of Mincha and Ma’ariv;
  2. wrote a review of yesterday’s Doctor Who episode and the season as a whole that I was reasonably pleased with (for once) for my other blog;
  3. about ten minutes of Torah study;
  4. watched an episode of Doctor Who for research for my book (I feel slightly depressed by how much research I still feel the need to do even after having worked my way through all of (what survives) of TV Who);
  5. applied for a job (basically, just cut and pasted a cover letter and changed the job title as well as slightly editing my CV);
  6. added dates of birthdays, anniversaries and meetings to my 2019 diary;
  7. realised I’d double-booked myself onto a depression course on the same day as an autism course and tried to rearrange the latter, feeling embarrassed and stupid;
  8. finished reading The Complete Guide to Asperger’s Syndrome (except for some pages skipped as irrelevant to me);
  9. wrote this blog post;
  10. procrastinated and felt exhausted, listless and depressed.

Chanukah Frustrations

Today has been a frustrating day.  I got up relatively early, at least for a Sunday, but then after breakfast I think I fell asleep again for two hours.  I’m trying to work on my interview presentation, but I feel what I have written is sub-par and doesn’t really answer the question the way I think they want.  It’s certainly shorter than it should be, about eight minutes instead of ten, and sure to contract further on the day when I go faster with anxiety.  I’m also not sure whether to do a bibliography; I don’t know if they want it and I only have one website on it anyway.  I feel that as a librarian I should provide references, but I’m not sure if I was really supposed to do research for it anyway, and especially not online (I used Google to answer a question about not using Google (actually, strictly speaking I used DuckDuckGo, as I don’t use Google so much because I have an anarchist streak, but it’s the same principle)).

I suppose that I should at least be grateful that it looks like I will make it to the interview as a few days ago even that was not clear.  But trying to write the presentation I find myself on the verge of tears again, choking up with anxiety and despair, and I procrastinate online or read things that interest me more, like clashing (moderately) ‘pro’ and (violently) ‘con’ obituaries for George Bush Snr. online.  I also worry about shaking when I give the presentation or even having a panic attack on the Tube on the way there and not actually making it.  It probably is true that I’m not in the career that interests me most, but working out what would interest me more (when I’m interested in many things) and whether I could actually do it (when depression, social anxiety and autistic symptoms make so many things difficult for me) is much harder.

There was anxiety in the evening too, after lighting Chanukah lights and later on.  I went on to Twitter to look at Doctor Who stuff and got triggered by political stuff.  “Triggered” is probably the wrong word, and one I overuse, but I was reminded that my political outlook is different to that of many of my friends, and that I suspect that many of my friends would reject me if I voiced some of my opinions.

Overall the day was frustrating.  I did some work on the presentation (even though not enough) and I dusted my room (which was long overdue), but again I didn’t cook dinner properly, just made something out of a packet and didn’t do as much Torah study as I would have liked (but at least I did some).

***

Tonight is the start of Chanukah.  When I was growing up Chanukah was a favourite festival because we got presents.  Nowadays it’s a favourite because it’s the least triggering festival (that word again).  It doesn’t involve complex OCD-triggering laws like Pesach and Sukkot.  It doesn’t involve drinking and enforced extreme happiness that are so difficult with depression like Purim and Simchat Torah.   It doesn’t involve social anxiety-inducing trips to crowded shul (synagogue) services.  It doesn’t involve depression-triggering soul-searching and guilt like Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.  It doesn’t threaten to mess up my sleep pattern like Shavuot.  I don’t even have to take time off work (not that I am working this year, but you get the idea).  Just light the candles, sing the songs and eat latkes and doughnuts.

Chanukah is an unusual festival anyway and not just in being post-biblical.  It is sometimes said that Jewish festivals can be summarised as “They tried to kill us, they failed, let’s eat!”  Actually only Pesach and Purim can be summarised that way.  What is unusual about Chanukah is that it does commemorate victory over persecution, but spiritual/cultural persecution rather than physical.  The “Greeks” (actually the Hellenistic Syrian Seleucid dynasty) didn’t want to kill us, merely to destroy our sovereignty, religion and culture, and the war against them for independence was as much a civil war of traditional Jews against Hellenised Jews as much as Jews vs. Greeks.  Unlike the Babylonians and the Romans, the Greeks didn’t destroy the Temple (symbol of Jewish religious independence), but defiled it with pigs and idolatrous statues, to turn the symbol of Jewish religious particularism and counter-culturalism (monotheism in a pagan world) into a conventionally Hellenistic Temple.  From that point of view it’s the appropriate festival for an era when Judaism as a religion is collapsing in the diaspora due to assimilation and when Zionism is under attack from (among others) secular progressives who are opposed to Jewish sovereignty and present it as an irrelevant to or even in opposition to traditional Jewish identity.  As Rabbi Zarum said when I heard him speak last week, Chanukah reminds us that we are all, from the most Modern to the most Charedi, drawing boundaries over what aspects of wider Western culture we let in and what we keep out and that we should at least be doing this self-consciously rather than unthinkingly.

(It’s really not the “Jewish Christmas,” whatever Hollywood says to the contrary, but you probably don’t want to see me on my soapbox about the presentation of Jews in popular culture again.  Anyway, Chanukah hardly ever actually coincides with Christmas, even though it always does in Hollywood.)

So Chanukah seems calm and when my OCD was worse in particular it seemed a bit of an oasis compared with other festivals, but once I start to think about the themes of the festival, suddenly it becomes fraught with meaning and with difficulty.  Am I too Westernised?  (Tellingly, a lot of my problem with recent Doctor Who episodes has stemmed from this idea of Jewish religious particularism.)  Am I fighting antisemitism the way I might be (there was a big and worrying survey of antisemitic attitudes in Europe in the Jewish press this week and I wasn’t sure what to make of it)?  Is living in Israel the only sustainable way of being Jewish in the long-term now, due to both assimilation and antisemitism?  What should I do?

“What should I do?” seems to be the general question of my life at the moment.

Chanukah is at least the tale of the triumph of a few heroes against enormous odds with miraculous Divine assistance, which I guess is reassuring to think about when I’m struggling to cope with all my mental health issues.  And there is, of course, the central miracle of the oil that burnt for eight days rather than one, which is why we light candles in the first place.  The idea of feeling pushed beyond natural boundaries is one I can empathise with, although it feels painful rather than miraculous to me.

***

I saw a strange story over Shabbat about a Chassidic rebbe (Rav Ben Tzion, the Bobover Rebbe) and his grandson Naftul’che before the Holocaust.  It was Chanukah and the grandson, who was a boy, was playing dreidel (a Chanukah game with a spinning top with writing on the sides; depending on how it lands, you either add to or take from the kitty of coins or sweets in the middle) with him.  Naftul’che was winning a lot, but his grandfather suddenly placed his hand over the dreidel before he could see it and said, “We don’t always need to know what the dreidel lands on.  The main thing is for a Jew just to keep going.”  I think the person who told the story was implying that this was some kind of conscious or unconscious premonition of the Holocaust, in which Rav Ben Tzion was killed; Naftul’che survived and became the Rebbe and his grandfather was teaching him to keep going no matter what.  But I guess the idea that resonates is that sometimes all we can do is just keep going, we can’t even tell how the dreidel has landed, how things are going to be or even how they are now, we just have to keep going; that even if we don’t win our rightful prize, just keeping going is enough.

***

I get lonely sometimes, particularly nights like tonight, where it’s a chag (festival), albeit a minor one, and my parents have gone out and my sister has long since left home and married and I’m home alone… and I like the quiet and solitude, but it also reminds me how few friends I have and that I’m not married and probably never will be.  I worry what will happen to me when my parents aren’t here.  Financially as much as emotionally.  I’ve never had a full-time job, and the last two jobs I had, I performed very badly.  I’m not used to doing important things badly and I don’t like it.  I hope it was just autism stuff (noise, people) and depression stuff (poor concentration, constant exhaustion) and not that I’m fundamentally a defective person.

Sometimes it feels like there are so many thoughts crowded in my head, sometimes even contradictory ones and certainly some that show me in a bad light.  I get angry and disgusted with myself sometimes.  A lot, really.  It is difficult to know what to do with these thoughts, how to repress or express them.  I wonder again what is wrong with me – if not autism, then what?  Because it feels like something is very wrong with me, and has been for a long time.  Is it really ‘just’ depression?  It does seem like I mess up every interpersonal relationship I have sooner or later, as well as most jobs.  Is that depression or social anxiety or what?

Sometimes I want to be hugged, but asking my parents can be problematic.  I’m not good at navigating personal relationships, even with people who care about me, especially if there is a complicated history.  I guess everything I do comes in the context of my own complicated history.  Part of me would like to start over from scratch, but that’s not really an option by this stage, although Rebbe Nachman of Breslav would say that is.  “If your tomorrow is the same as your today, what need have you for tomorrow,” I think is the quote (quoting from memory).

Up and Down

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

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

***

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

***

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

***

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

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

***

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

***

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

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

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

***

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

Up and Down

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bleargh

I feel totally wiped out today.  Exhausted and depressed.  I ate two bowls of cereal and I still feel somewhat faint.  I forgot to take my meds last night, which probably didn’t help, but I think I’m wiped out from work.  I don’t think I can work four full days a week.  I definitely got worse when I increased my hours in my old job from three to four days, although a number of other things went wrong around that time, so it’s hard to be sure.  Unfortunately, all the jobs I see advertised are full time, or hours I can’t do (usually weekend jobs where you have to work on Saturdays).

Jewish inspirational sites just depress me.  I can’t do the things they tell me will make me happy and spiritually fulfilled.  They just leave me feeling despairing and guilty for being such a bad Jew.  These ideas on ways to love yourself are good, but I just can’t do them, or I’ve tried them and they don’t work for me.

The news is depressing.  It’s either terrible things, or trivial stories about ‘celebrities’ I’ve never heard of.  On the other hand, I’m pleased with myself for dubbing ex-minister Jo Johnson “BoJo’s bro Jo.”  And I rolled my eyes at the BBC inexplicably describing a new standard measure of a kilogram as “more egalitarian” – apparently identity politics now rules SI units (the rest of the article made perfect sense and gave no sense of what on Earth they were on about in that phrase.  I’ve long suspected BBC news of going slightly nuts).

More craziness: the otherwise very useful Goodreads.com has decided that because I’ve read The Brothers Karamazov in English translation, it should recommend me Arabic books in Arabic (not translation).  I can’t even work out what the titles are.  Must be something wrong with their algorithms.  But somehow it seems appropriate today, when I feel like the world is talking a different language to me.

I have to speak to lawyers today.  About three years ago, I was really exhausted coming home from therapy and decided to phone my Dad for a lift from the Tube station rather than walking for twenty minutes.  This turned out to be one of the most fateful decisions of my life.  As the car pulled out of the station drop-off area, a motorcycle courier smashed into it.  My Dad phoned an ambulance, but the courier said she was fine and cancelled it.  Meanwhile (not knowing the courier was fine) I went back inside the station and got one of the station guards (or whatever they’re called) in case he knew first aid.  The police were also called and questioned everyone, but eventually went away satisfied there was no dangerous driving.

About nine months later, my Dad got a letter from his insurance company saying he was being sued for damages by the courier, who claims she has problems with her leg now.  I’m pretty sure she got in touch with one of those ambulance-chasing “no win, no fee” law firms that cold call people touting for business.  I suspect the point of the exercise is to get my Dad’s insurance company to settle out of court in the belief that it’s cheaper to pay a sum outright rather than go to court and fight it.  However, the station guard is now claiming that he saw the accident (which is more or less impossible, as he was inside and talking to someone else when I came in) and that my Dad was to blame, so I have to talk to my Dad’s insurance company’s lawyers today.  This is not something I particularly needed right now.

It reminds me of something W. S. Gilbert (of Gilbert and Sullivan fame) said, that if someone comes up to you in the street and demands you give him your watch, you should punch him on the nose and send him on his way, but if he says he’s going to sue you for your watch, it’s easier and cheaper just to hand it over.  (Of course, nowadays if you punched a mugger on the nose you’d get arrested for assault and sued for damages.)

I’m supposed to be applying for two jobs today too, or one and a half as I started one application last Sunday, but with Shabbat (the Sabbath) starting at 3.54pm, and I’ve still got to have lunch and do my Shabbat preparation chores, that doesn’t seem very likely to happen, not while I feel this exhausted and depressed.

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.

Furious

I am furious.  I am so angry about this.  “Zionists” apparently don’t understand history or “English irony”.  I have a BA in Modern History from the University of Oxford; Jeremy Corbyn got two Es at A-Level and did not move into higher education, so I think I know which one of us is more qualified to be doling out history lessons.  And as for the irony… well, the fact that the most humourless man in British politics, a man with all the comic sensitivity of being hit in the face with a plank of wood, is accusing people of lacking a sense of irony is ironic in itself.

But this isn’t a politics blog and I wouldn’t mention this here were it not for the adjective “English,” which, combined with the statement that British Zionists have “having lived in this country for a very long time, probably [emphasis added] all their lives” leads to the suggestion that they possibly haven’t lived here all their lives, or that even if they have lived here all their lives, they still have the whiff of the shtetl about them.  That Jews – and I think the implication has to be that he means Jews, not, say non-Jewish Zionists like Tony Blair – aren’t really English.  That we don’t belong.  And this is the leader of the largest “progressive” party in the country, the man who could easily be Prime Minister in eighteen months if (when) the Brexit negotiations go wrong, using language more usually associated with the far-right.  They don’t belong here.  They haven’t lived here as long as we have.  They don’t understand us.  They aren’t really us.  No wonder he’s been praised by neo-Nazi Nick Griffin and former KKK leader David Duke.

This ends up on a mental health blog because of the emotions this brings up in me.  Remember what I said earlier this week about not fitting in?  Well, now I begin to feel that on an epic scale.  The old feeling that, however long we live somewhere, Jews are never quite accepted.  That we never belong.  As they say, paranoia is when you think everyone is out to get you; Jewish paranoia is when everyone really is out to get you.  I don’t think that’s true, I don’t think all non-Jews are antisemites, but I think a lot more of them are than I thought five years ago.  I feel a bit frightened.  I feel glad that, if things continue getting worse, I can indeed move to Israel (ironically – that word again! – the better Corbyn and Momentum do, the more Jews move from Britain to Israel).  But most of all I feel angry.

Anger is a hard emotion for me to deal with.  Because of stuff that happened in my childhood that I can’t go into here, anger feels dangerous to me.  I admit I get sarcastic with my parents sometimes, particularly when the depression is bad, but when I get really angry, as with my American friend the other week, I stifle it inside myself and burn myself up inside holding on to it.  I run conversations or blog posts or comments that I’ve read or that I want to write in my head over and over, I can’t concentrate, my mind races, I want to EXPLODE with all the stuff in my head.

Not this time.  I feel fairly calm, or I was until I sat down to write this (I’ve got a bit worked up now).  Just coolly, calmly angry and determined that I have to do something to fight the spread of antisemitism in this country and the ‘mission creep’ that lets its spread from legitimate criticism of the State of Israel to dubious anti-Zionism (dubious because why should this one state out of all the dozens in the world involved in some kind of conflict with neighbours be destroyed?  Plus I have yet to see a blueprint for its destruction that wouldn’t end in ethnic cleansing or genocide of its Jewish citizens) and then on to foul antisemitism.

And so, I come again to feeling that I ought to be doing a PhD in history, focusing on some aspect of antisemitism.  Even before I saw the story, I had been thinking earlier today that it might be sensible to buy a couple of the books I wanted on antisemitism and use some of my time, now I’m out of work, to read them, seeing if I can cope with immersing myself in antisemitism and if they spark questions in my mind that might be fruitful for PhD research.  I still don’t know if I have the energy (in terms of depression) or inclination for a PhD, but I really feel that I’ve been given a good shove in that direction.

(Oh, the job interview was OK, but not great.  I should know by Wednesday whether I was chosen.  Thanks, Jeremy Corbyn, for selfishly relegating my main news to a footnote in my own blog.)

Not Fitting In

I was just out shopping and I saw someone I knew from shiur.  I was going to talk to him, but I found myself walking past him and out and hoping he didn’t see (he was doing something on his phone and didn’t seem to notice me).  I hate it when social anxiety makes me do things like this, but I don’t know how to change.  I need to speak to my parents about trying CBT for it.

I was actually thinking a few minutes before this happened that so many of the things that upset me and which I brood and ruminate about boil down to feeling rejected and not good enough.  I feel that I’m not good enough to get married, that I’m too ‘modern’ for my religious community, that I’m too conservative for the Doctor Who fan community, that I don’t fit in to any political party and so people will reject me if they know my political views. Antisemitism seems a very personal rejection, when it shouldn’t do, it’s just morons being morons; Jeremy Corbyn doesn’t know me personally.  When I had a job, I worried that I was not good at it and would get found out.  I worry about how people will react if I tell them about my mental health issues, but in my support groups I still feel different: “too” depressed, “not autistic enough.”  Or perhaps I start to notice other differences, like class and background, always feeling that no one could accept me if they knew the ‘real’ me.  They would always have a reason to hate and reject me.

I constantly feel like I’m hiding my true self and trying to ‘pass’ in different ways in different places.  There isn’t really one place where I really feel I can be myself, except maybe here on my blog, but then again I feel that so few people read this that I’m not sure it really counts as acceptance.

I don’t even know who the ‘real’ me is. There are things about the frum (Orthodox Jewish religious) world that scare me and make me want to leave, but then, when I go to the secular Western world, that’s just as scary and corrupt, if not more so.  So where do I go?  In the USA there’s a bit of middle ground, but there isn’t much vibrant Modern Orthodoxy in the UK, just the middle-aged and largely non-religious United Synagogue.  I don’t know where I go from here.

Sluggish

I was trying to get an earlyish night last night, but then the electricity fused at around midnight and we (my parents and I) spent more than half an hour trying to resolve the problem, without success.  An electrician is here at the moment.  Fortunately, when the house was rewired when we moved in (the old wiring was downright dangerous) the electrician put it on two separate circuits as a safety measure: if one fuses, we at least have lights and power in some of the house.  Hence we have electricity for internet, for now at least.  But as a result, I didn’t get to bed until late yet again.  I’m not sure how late, I think it was around 2.00am.  Certainly after 1.00am.  Then I slept until 11.00am and woke up exhausted again, which even caffeine has not completely helped with.  At times I feel  too depressed and exhausted to keep my eyes open.  It’s 4.15pm and I still haven’t had the energy to daven (pray).  This could be the increased dosage of clomipramine, as it’s sedating.  It’s probably too early to tell whether the increased dosage will make me less depressed.

I’m trying not to think about politics, antisemitism or PhDs, but it’s hard.  Scary stuff just keeps coming up in apparently innocuous places.  I should work, but I feel too exhausted and depressed.

I have a job interview tomorrow.  I’m worried about problems with Shabbat and Yom Tov if I get the job, but also that I will be too depressed tomorrow to perform well at the interview.

It’s the Jewish month of Elul, which means it’s time for introspection (as if I didn’t do that all the time).  I haven’t done a cheshbon nafesh yet.  This may be the first year I don’t do one in twelve years.  Cheshbon nafesh is a sort of ethical and religious self-audit, assessing how you have been as a Jew in the last year.  I’ve been putting it off partly from lack of time, with job hunting and other necessary things, but partly because I’m afraid of what it will show, and afraid I don’t care.  This year I intended to work on my depression and social anxiety, which hasn’t happened.  I intended to daven (pray) with more kavannah (mindfulness), which has maybe happened a tiny, tiny bit, but on the other hand I daven with a minyan (prayer quorum i.e. a community) even less than last year.  And I intended to study one Mishnah a day, which I haven’t done and in fact am doing significantly less Torah study (religious study) than I used to do.

To be honest, I’m worried about the upcoming Yamim Noraim (High Holy Days i.e. Jewish New Year and Day of Atonement).  I don’t feel capable of spending hours in shul (synagogue) and I don’t really want to do it either.  I’m not sure if I feel angry with HaShem (God), but I certainly feel disconnected from Him and from Judaism.  The fact that I have no simcha shel mitzvah (joy in performing the commandments) is really upsetting me and I don’t know if it’s my fault or a product of the depression or what to do about it.  One rabbi said it’s the depression and there’s nothing I can do until I get better, which I don’t really see ever happening; another said I should at least have a bit of simcha, which just makes me feel that I’m a bad Jew and it’s all my fault.  I feel resentful of the fact that, until recently at least, I was trying for years – decades – to be a good Jew despite feeling terrible and having depleted energy levels and I have nothing to show for it except the feeling that I’m a bad Jew and it’s possible all my fault, but even if it’s not, then HaShem obviously hates me and doesn’t want my mitzvot.  The fact that I feel completely disconnected from my community, and the fact that it looks like I’ll never get married and have children (which is a key part of being accepted in a frum community as well as something I want for myself) just makes things worse.  I genuinely feel that it is at least likely that HaShem views me as wicked and hates me.

It’s a struggle to daven or to study Torah with this mindset or to do mitzvot.  I’ve been slipping with my mitzvah performance a little, mostly in minor things, like following lenient views on certain matters that I wouldn’t have done previously.   I worry that soon I will move on to bigger things, though.

Burnt Out

Today was a bit of a wasted day.  OK, not totally wasted.  I was at least not very emotionally depressed today, even if I was still suffering from exhaustion and poor motivation.

I slept late again (having stayed up later than I wanted watching Doctor Who for my book.  I should really have just gone to bed as I was very tired).  I felt burnt out all day.  I spent two or three hours making a spreadsheet of all the jobs I can apply for.  It was helpful, as I can now instantly compare job title, salary, closing dates and more to decide which job to apply for next and which to leave (temporarily or permanently), but it took much longer than I expected.

It didn’t help that I procrastinate too much and spend time idly internet browsing, which I suppose is a sign of lack of interest or enthusiasm in job hunting.  I got caught up in the ends of yesterday’s Doctor Who identity politics hooha (or should that be Whoha?) and another online argument today and again these bled in to my feelings about antisemitism and the left.  (According to the Labour Party, Jamaican-style jerk rice is unbelievably racist and offensive, but Holocaust denial, Protocols of the Elders of Zion-style antisemitic conspiracy theories, blood libels and being friends with terrorists who target Jewish civilians aren’t.)

Ugh, I can feel myself getting sucked back into politics.  These days I hate politics.  I dislike all the political parties in the UK and don’t feel represented by any of them.  But the whole Labour antisemitism thing has taken me by surprise.  It’s been ticking over since Jeremy Corbyn became leader in 2015 and I’ve known about it and been intermittently angry, upset and worried about it, but suddenly in the last week or two it’s really got hold of me and I’ve been looking at websites that deal with Israel, antisemitism and the left, something I usually only do when there’s a specific scandal or flare up of Middle East violence.  I’m not sure which came first, though, that or the thought of doing a PhD that deals with antisemitism in some way, but they do seem to go together.

The first thing I had published semi-professionally on the internet (semi-professionally in that it was for a commercial website, but I didn’t get paid for it) was on antisemitism and anti-Zionism (when the latter turns into the former) and I’ve read quite a bit about it over the years and thought about it a lot.  I suppose I want to understand it, but I’m worried that part of me thinks that if only I could understand it, I could do something to stop it or persuade people to think differently, but I don’t think that life is that easy and I’m not at all sure that it’s sensible to do a PhD with that kind of expectation.

Today I also posted a review on my Doctor Who blog, which I have neglected of late, and I tweeted for the first time to try to raise its profile.  I think it may take me a while to get the hang of Twitter, though, and I still have to be sure I don’t get sucked into more procrastination and more depressing politics and antisemitism.  Twitter seems to be the general clearing house for abuse and hurtful speech of all kinds (religious, political, cultural) and even people I know and like as nice and good people away from Twitter give in to their angrier side on Twitter, in retweets and likes, if not in tweets, particularly about politics (Trump and Brexit as well as Corbyn).

I’m beginning to wonder if it’s worth being on it just to raise the profile of my blog, particularly as I’m not sure that I’m able to do that effectively anyway.  Maybe I should just buy a book on SEO?  To go with some more books on antisemitism (I already have a couple) to see if they spark any ideas?  (I’ve catalogued this book and wanted to read it for years, but I’ve never got around to it, partly because it’s depressing and partly because I read a lot on public transport and it weighs about as much as a brick.  Also this book, this one and a few others.)

Twitterings, Thoughts and Theses

Today has been a rather better day than recently (actually, although yesterday was hard, the evening was good: my sister and brother-in-law came over and I told everyone about my New York trip and showed them my photos).

The bad news first (to get it out of the way): I spent three hours filling in an online application only for me to lose the whole thing when the internet crashed, as it periodically does on my laptop for reasons unknown.  I was actually trying to save it at the time, because I got worried that the internet would crash and I would lose it.  Which it promptly did.  I don’t know whether to apply again, as it was a long-shot application and I’m not convinced I would be any good at it, or enjoy it, if I somehow got the job.

Also, today was a bad day to chose to set up a Twitter account to promote my new Doctor Who blog as there was a big argument in the Doctor Who online community about racism.  Doctor Who fans can be very ‘right on’ and also very argumentative and dogmatic, weirdly, for fans of a programme that is supposed to be about tolerance and open-mindedness.  In the context of the ongoing argument about antisemitism in the Labour Party, this made me wonder why people who are (rightly) so aware of most types of prejudice can be so blind about antisemitism in their ranks.  The fact that argument had spiralled out of something in the latest Doctor Who Magazine and rapidly turned into people telling two half-Chinese journalists who edit it that they should be offended by, and not enjoy, a particular episode from the seventies that treated the Chinese in a way which now seems racist, even though these journalists enjoyed anyway just reminded me of the way Jews get told by certain non-Jews to be offended by some things and not offended by others, which doesn’t necessarily correlate with what I actually find offensive and antisemitic.

This all reignited the thoughts about whether I should do a PhD in the history of antisemitism and then move into some kind of career involving researching antisemitism to fight it, an idea I have been toying with (in a “someone should do that” sort of way) for years without ever thinking I would seriously act on it… more on this later.

I didn’t realise how aggressively Twitter markets other people to you, though.  I haven’t been on Facebook for years, so I wasn’t expecting to see every single thing that the people I follow do turn up on my timeline.  And I’m only following four people at the moment!  (Strictly speaking only one is a person, the others are groups or organisations.)  I’m going to have to be careful with this, it’s going to be easy to get sucked in, both into procrastination and into arguments.  Bear in mind my political views in particular can be idiosyncratic so no one agrees with me.

With all that out of the way, the good news: I managed to get an appointment with a doctor this morning.  My usual doctor is away, but I saw another one.  He was very understanding, increased the dosage of my antidepressants and referred me to an NHS psychiatrist.  He also booked me in with an appointment with my usual doctor later in the week to keep him in the loop.  He booked me in directly, so I didn’t need to go back to the receptionists.  It also looks like the larger dosage tablets of clomipramine are back in stock at the pharmacists, so I should be able to reduce the number of tablets I take while increasing the dosage I take.

I also got a job interview!  The Jewish careers advice service where I saw the careers advisor last week had sent my CV out to some places and one is interested.  It’s only short-term (eight to sixteen weeks, depending on whether they decide to employ one person or two) with the possibility of being flexible with hours.  It’s billed as research, but it looks mainly like searching names and contact details on company websites and inputting them into a database.  At least it’s a start.  The date of the interview hasn’t been set yet.

That said, I was feeling strongly today that I need to do something academic-ish.  I felt in the past that academic librarianship would be that thing, but I’m increasingly unsure.  The CBT therapist I saw for the OCD was not convinced that it was intellectually-stimulating enough for me and she may have been right.  Certainly cataloguing doesn’t involve as much reading as I’d hoped!  And working in libraries for the last couple of years has made me itch a bit to something that involves more abstract thought and writing.

So, I’ve been kicking around thesis ideas again.  To summarise my thinking so far, I looked at all the areas I’m interested in and tried to see what might work.  A cultural studies thesis on Doctor Who or science fiction?  Not sure it’s really considered rigorous enough to open the doors I want and certainly I would feel a bit silly spending years on end writing about Doctor Who, much as I would probably enjoy it.  Plus, I’m not into the jargon and postmodernist theory that accompanies so much of the field.  Jewish stuff?  My language skills aren’t good enough for Tanakh (Bible) or the teachings of the Kotzker Rebbe and I don’t have the grounding in general philosophy for a PhD on Jewish philosophy.  I’m not sure that I feel any great affinity for any general historical topic at the moment and my gut tells me that the main topic in Jewish history that I feel I could write about is antisemitism.  I think I have some things I could say here, but it’s hard to know if I’ve got anything substantial and new to say or anything that could be said at thesis length or how I would go about researching it or if I have the right language skills, or, or, or, or…  I don’t know.  It’s scary and I don’t know who to talk to about it and I still don’t know if I’m willing/able to do a thesis.  But I do think something about antisemitism, either historical or contemporary, and probably focusing on antisemitism, perhaps on Israel and the political left or maybe a more general thesis on the image of the Jew in wider culture and how this informs political and philosophical debate on Israel and Judaism in Western society… despite decades of secularism, I think a lot of Westerners, even militantly secular ones, view Jews through the spectacles of Christianity, which is hugely problematic (the former Chief Rabbi, Lord Sacks, once called Richard Dawkins a “Christian atheist” in a debate; Dawkins was apparently not amused, but his view of Judaism does seem to be unconsciously filtered through centuries of Christian anti-Jewish polemic).

So unfortunately I spent a lot of the day thinking about antisemitism, and about the ongoing hooha in Doctor Who fandom, and how the two are linked, conceptually, if not directly.

In other news, more evidence of my being tuned to a different wavelength to other people: I suddenly stopped dead in the street while walking home to watch some ants (but there were a lot of them, probably a whole nest), which maybe isn’t so normal.  Then when I got home watched Dad unloading the dishwasher and it was genuinely not until he had about three plates left that what he was doing registered in my head and I realised I should help (to be fair, I had just put the washing on the line, so I did some housework).  Then I couldn’t concentrate on job hunting because I was really pleased with a joke I came up with and kept replaying it in my head (someone on Twitter was posting about portraits of American Presidents and I wanted to say that you can tell that Nixon’s a portrait is good because of the way the lies follow you around the room).  I need to find some kind of way to live in this world like a normal person. (I’m normal, it’s everyone else who is weird.)

One last good thing: I put up posters of Doctors one through twelve (plus the Valeyard and the War Doctor) in my room a few weeks ago and now, thanks to the latest Doctor Who Magazine I’ve got the incoming thirteenth Doctor up too.  It’s silly, but having her picture on the back of my door makes me feel more optimistic about the thirteenth Doctor and the upcoming episodes.  (I was worried I wouldn’t like the new series.  Doctor Who fans do this a lot.  I have hardly ever gone into a new series without at least a bit of worry that it wouldn’t be as good as it used to be.)

Excused

I’ve been excused post-Pesach tidying because I’m too depressed, both in terms of exhaustion and low mood.  I guess it was good that I lasted this long.  I feel a bit bad that I noted the arguments that I had with my parents in the previous post, as it was really just a blip; most of Pesach we survived without much tension.  Considering Pesach stress usually induces at least one meltdown on someone’s part, this was a positive thing.  I edited the previous post (although it didn’t say anything really bad), but I feel bad that I posted it in the first place, particularly as people who get my posts via email will see the original version, not the edited version.

The other thing I feel bad about in that post is that, after over a year, I finally wrote a political post.  These days I’m not much of a party political person in the left-right sense.  I think both sides have a lot to answer for, and beg a lot of questions.  I don’t think I can think of a single political leader who I can really say I admire.  Even Aung San Suu Kyi has become tarnished by the reality of power.  But I am political in the sense of caring about people and wanting the world to be better, but that’s pretty unfocused.  I do also care about my own people, the Jewish people, and our place in the world and particularly about the constant threat of anti-Jewish hatred and violence.  I don’t feel the need to apologise for this, but I do try to keep it away from the blog, as this is really a mental health blog, although it is a Jewish mental health blog, and I think attempts to separate the Jewish people and the Jewish state from the Jewish religion are artificial and question-begging, if not outright antisemitic.  So, although I have been worrying a lot about antisemitism lately, I will try to keep it off the blog.

My Day

2.20am  I finally got to bed, having been up late eating porridge and watching Doctor Who (but not as much as I wanted) and texting my non-biological twin about stuff that makes me depressed and anxious.

ca12.30pm  Woke up.  Laid in bed for a bit, feeling anxious about work (see below) and basically wishing I was dead.  Got up after a bit.

1.55pm  After eating two bowls of cereal, I finally feel a bit awake, although still somewhat tired and rather depressed and also somewhat faint and low blood sugar level-ish.  I don’t want to eat lunch in my pyjamas (it just feels wrong), which means gathering my energy to get dressed when I just want to go back to bed and avoid the world.  I’m anxious about work stuff and especially about Purim, the upcoming minor Jewish festival, which means I can go to work, but there are extended services in the evening and morning to read Megillat Esther/The Book of Esther so I would like to ask to leave work early/arrive late those days so I can go, but asking makes me nervous. Plus Purim, being basically the nearest thing to Carnival in Judaism, is tough when you’re depressed (I wrote about it last year here, although it turned out to be not as bad as I feared it would).

3.00pm  Read some depressing stuff about Donald Trump.  Read some stuff about depression that probably should have made me more forgiving of myself, but for some reason rubbed me up the wrong way.  I suppose I don’t feel that non-mentally ill, non-autistic people don’t deserve to have their misunderstandings reflected back at them angrily.  I don’t think anger really helps anything very much, although I do feel it.  Back to bed briefly a couple of times.  I feel like a post-regenerative Time Lord in urgent need of a Zero Room.

3.50pm Dressed, at last.  But also tearful and still somewhat low blood sugar level-ish.  I put on tallit and tefillin and davened Mincha (said afternoon prayers), but it was very difficult, not just impossible to concentrate, but almost impossible even to get the energy to speak.

4.20pm  Finally had lunch, while watching the first half of Resurrection of the Daleks.  Not the greatest Doctor Who story ever told, but easy enough to watch.

5.20pm  Aimless internet browsing.  Unfortunately, this ended up getting political and depressing because I end up looking at the sites of political friends in the hope that they post something else.  A lot about abuse, which upsets me.  Also some stuff that just seemed a bit self-obsessed and unthinking.  But I’m just too depressed to get up and do anything else, though.

6.10pm  Feel depressed that the day is virtually over and I have done none of the things I intended.  No haircut (when am I going to do that?  I’m drifting towards the Einstein/Jewfro stage), no shopping done (too late now, so no oranges today), no bank accounts not sorted (another thing being delayed until half-term, two weeks off).  I don’t feel able to email my rabbi about talking about dating.  It seems pointless anyway, as I don’t feel able to date in this state.  I thought about going for a walk, but it is cold and dark out and getting late and I have work tomorrow.  I wish it was summer.

6.35pm  Skimmed (too depressed to read properly) an article on dating after divorce on Aish.  I’m not divorced, but according to this article, I’ve pretty much never been able to date and probably never will be:

Some aspects of healing you can look for include: feeling optimistic more often than feeling depressed; not grieving for what you no longer have [I never had it in the first place!]; being able to let go of your more intense feelings of anger, resentment, and bitterness; and not being preoccupied with thoughts about what was or what could have been. Above all, it’s vital for you… to feel that you’ve developed a new equilibrium and are relatively comfortable in the routine you’ve established…  If you want to be in a healthy relationship, one that’s built on a foundation of mutual caring and respect, you have to be able to feel that you are a valuable and deserving person… Do I have a vision for my future?

I fail almost every question!  I am seriously messed up and unlovable.  I wish God had made me asexual, it would have made things so much easier.  Although, if I wasn’t so lonely, I might have been more lovable.

6.50pm   Shave.  It’s a bit ridiculous shaving at this time of day, but it does make me feel a bit better and this way  if I’m too depressed/tired/late to shave tomorrow morning I won’t go into work with three day’s worth of beard, looking a shlokh (mess).

6.55pm   Daven Ma’ariv (say the evening prayers) with zero kavannah (concentration, attention) and study Torah for less than five minutes.

19.15pm  Cook dinner (vegetarian kedgeree, or rice with curry powder, eggs and sweetcorn.  If I had been up to going shopping, I would have bought veggie sausages to replace the tinned tuna in the actual recipe).  This is pretty much the easiest recipe I know and has carbohydrates, protein and vegetables and also keeps so I can have it tomorrow too (I usually cook for two days, it’s not much more effort and saves worrying about what to eat the next day).

19.40  Dinner and more Doctor Who.

20.50 Blog on my non-anonymous Doctor Who blog, which was naughty of me when I have done so little and it is getting late.

21.10  Make lunch for tomorrow, pack.

21.30  Mindfulness meditation which went OK, not great) and hitbodedut spontaneous prayer/meditation, which went very bad, hardly spoke, my mind was racing thinking about all the major Bad Things that happened to me in my childhood and adolescence and then when I had a girlfriend, how hurt I’ve been, bullied, emotionally neglected, boundaries ignored, the decades of loneliness and emotional pain that I’m carrying…  but then also feeling that I’ve never been the victim of actual abuse or criminal neglect and I have nothing to feel depressed about.  Also feeling angry with God, wondering why He does this to me, what have I done wrong?  I have done some bad things, but no more so than most people.  In any case, my depression started before I was twenty (possibly long before) and there’s an idea in Judaism that you get a period of grace in your teens when you are legally responsible for your actions, but not punished.  If you repent before twenty, then your misdeeds are wiped out.  I was depressed before I was twenty, so it can’t be a punishment, or not only a punishment.  I don’t believe in reincarnation, but some Jews do, so I wondered if I was a reincarnation of someone awful.  This did not cheer me up.  I drifted deeper into depression and couldn’t speak at all, except odd words and phrases.  I punched the wall once, but other than that didn’t even have the energy to self-harm and ended my session a minute or two early because I was just sitting watching the clock and feeling awful.

All in all a pretty awful day, with occasional moments of OKness.  I wish I had at least got out of the flat for a bit (other than throwing stuff in the bin).

22.00  Read this back and realised it’s garbage, but too tired to do anything other than hit “Publish!”

Resonances

It has been a stressful day.  A couple of things happened at work that I can’t write about here, but the upshot was that I realised (or had confirmed, as I already suspected it) that work is triggering because common experiences I have at work resonate strongly with memories with bad childhood experiences of school and family life.  I am not sure how to deal with this.  One thing I can write a little bit about here is a couple of students who are acting very friendly to me, despite the fact that they are not the quietest and I have had to ask them to keep the noise down a few times.  I am more than slightly suspicious of their motives and wonder if they think that befriending me will mean I am lenient with them or if there is some kind of joke going on at my expense that I don’t know about.  This feels very much how I felt much of the time at school, confused and anxious that everyone was laughing at me.

Similarly illuminating are two comments on British Prime Minister Edward Heath seen in The Prime Ministers: The Office and its Holders since 1945 by Peter Hennessy.  According to Lord Carrington, Heath was, “a somewhat lonely man… [who]… needed friendship yet found it hard to unbutton himself to others.”  Whereas Hennessy describes him as having “the combination of shyness and defensiveness that can, in Roy Jenkins’ marvellous phrase, produce the Heath ‘affronted penguin’ impression.”  I think the first quote describes me; I fear the second one does too, more than I would like anyway.

Uniting my first two paragraphs, to the Calvin Coolidge method of dealing with students, I can now add the Clement Attlee method: “A period of silence on your part would be most welcome.”

 

I think I just drama queened again on Hevria.  I can’t actually tell any more.  Mea culpa.

Good and Evil and Other Everyday Questions

I don’t know why davening (praying) makes me cry at the moment, but it does.  Mainly Shacharit (morning prayers) for some reason.  It’s not from intense prayer, as I have zero kavannah (concentration), I just put on tefillin and rush through the two main prayers for ten minutes (out of about thirty) right before the (halakhic) midday deadline.  But I feel like crying by the time I’m finished, if not earlier, and I do.

Lately I’ve been finding myself getting caught up reading political stuff online and ending up depressed and sometimes angry.  I guess a lot of people feel the news makes them depressed and angry at the moment.  When I’m depressed, I always fluctuate between wanting to run away from the news because it’s too depressing and feeling I should at least be informed of what’s happening.  That was even before the huge events of the last year, which make me feel like a snowflake caught in an avalanche.  I feel I should know what’s happening, but I don’t feel able to change anything, particularly events abroad.  I’m not even always sure how I want to change things.  My politics, as I may have mentioned, are slightly unconventional; I don’t really want to go into it, but I’m in a liminal zone between parties.  On some issues I’m more left-wing and on some I’m more right-wing and on some I don’t really fit anywhere.  So I can’t (for instance) join a party or protest movement as some of my friends have done to cope with their feelings of disempowerment because none is a good fit for me.  In any case, I hate the adversarial nature of politics.  My instinct is for dialogue, compromise and cooperation, values currently in short supply on all sides.

I did manage to go for a jog, although I think I walked most of the last half mile.  My pace was very poor, but I was glad to get out.  I was less glad to discover that jogging seems to make me want to cry too, although I didn’t actually cry.  I did shed a tear when eating lunch and reading Daniel Deronda, though, which had nothing to do with the contents of the book.  It just happened.

I have heard from both the rabbis I asked about the OCD worry, and it was indeed OCD.  I feel a bit bad about having given in to the OCD, although I am bolstered slightly by the knowledge that I have other OCD worries that I have recognized as such and not asked about, even though sometimes they concern me.

I tried making a vegetable curry, but worrying about insects in the cauliflower sent me down the path towards OCD anxiety and despair.  Given the difficulty of checking for non-kosher insects, I’m wondering whether I should keep eating cauliflower, or at least buy the expensive pre-checked type.  There is no halakhic standard for checking vegetables for insects.  My rabbi mentor suggested finding a website of guidelines to follow, but unfortunately none of them are comprehensive, which means I can’t follow just one of them, and they do sometimes contradict each other as to the best method of checking.  For example, with cauliflower, at one extreme one site says it is better to avoid it entirely because it is so hard to check and so often infested; at the other extreme, one site says just break off the florets, examine and rinse, with other sites offering suggestions with intermediate levels of difficulty.  The real problem is that Mum cooks broccoli and/or cauliflower as the main vegetables (alongside potatoes) every Shabbat and doesn’t follow even the most lenient option; my rabbi mentor said to just surreptitiously look at the food before eating it to avoid an argument (shalom bayit) on the grounds that these vegetables are usually either fine or completely infested, in which case Mum would have noticed when cooking it, but I worry if that is too lenient.  Or do I just feel I’m not making life difficult enough for myself?  Or am I worried about an avoidable argument with Mum?  It’s very hard to tell when something that should be a straightforward practical/halakhic decision becomes an interpersonal relationship one.  I realized this is why I haven’t made a vegetable curry for months.  I need to find some substitute for the cauliflower.  I guess I could just remove it and increase the amount of potato, carrot and beans (I don’t really want to increase the onion).  At least insects can’t treif up my pots if one gets through, it’s just another big sin for me.  It’s also a bit disgusting.  I guess this must sound quite crazy to my non-Jewish readers, but I did find one definite insect today (it was moving) and a couple of possibles.

There’s an exercise you can do if you have low self-esteem and/or obsessive (OCD) thoughts of being sinful, where you imagine a scale with the most righteous person you can think of at one end and the most wicked at the other and place various people you know in between and then you try to place yourself on there.  You’re supposed to see that you’re an OK person.  Whenever I try this, I start out somewhere in the middle and slowly drift towards the Hitler end of the scale, usually ending up saying, “Well, I would be as evil as Hitler or at least as Jack the Ripper, if I had the same opportunities and experiences that they had.”  I felt like that today, trying to respond to a friend who emailed to say that God loves me.  I don’t feel that God could love someone as bad as me.  I didn’t email back, because it sounded melodramatic, but then again I know she’s reading this, so I guess I’m still being melodramatic.  Maybe I’m not as bad as Hitler, but I still feel I’m pretty bad, within the confines of normal human badness.

There’s a prominent Charedi religious leader (I won’t give him the honorific of ‘rabbi’) who was arrested for sexual assault a few months ago.  He admitted rape both in court and privately to his disciples and said he deserved to be executed for what he had done.  But he also told his followers that he was allowing himself to be framed as a suffering he has taken on himself to help the Jewish people, so a lot of his disciples still insist he is a great, saintly man.  If I think of him, I feel revulsion and disgust, but after a few seconds, I feel maybe I’m nearly that bad.  I would never rape someone (God forbid), but I feel attracted to women who I’m not in a relationship with, which feels nearly as bad (certainly some feminist literature I’ve encountered would say it’s as bad).  And I have never told a lie as big as his claim to be innocent and saintly, but I feel I let people believe I’m a better person than I really am, which is the same kind of thing.  This seems silly written down, but it is how I feel when I think about him, which I have been doing a lot recently, I guess because it upsets me (I mean, I think about it because there’s a part of my mind that wants to upset myself).

My flat is my landlords’ garage converted into a flat and the rear door opens into their garden.  I had it open today, because the flat is poorly ventilated and that’s the best way to ventilate it when it’s hot and especially when I’m cooking.  One of my landlord’s children and his brother or friend discovered me for the first time.  I clearly posed a philosophical problem for the primary school-age mind, inasmuch as he discovered, from asking me, that I’m neither a daddy nor a teenager and I don’t live with my Mummy.  This clearly exhausted all the lifestyle options that he could think of (his family is also frum).  I was actually amused by the incident (maybe my Mum and my aunt are right that I’m good with children.   I certainly find it easier to talk to pre-teen children I don’t know well than to adults I don’t know well), but it did make me feel that I’m in a very anomalous position, being a frum single thirtysomething man living alone.

Oh well, the curry is now cooked, although I need to cook some rice.  I know there are positives to focus on today: jogging, cooking, shopping for a belated engagement present for my sister without getting too depressed and hopefully I will manage a bit of Torah study before bed, but part of me wants to count on the failures: oversleeping, missing most of Shacharit again, missing shul yet again, the OCD worry that my landlords’ son might have got something in my microwave’s air vents when he put something down on it while he was standing in my doorway (for lack of space, the microwave sits on a little table in the doorway, which is not ideal)…  I must try to focus on the positives.

Flow My Tears, The Librarian Said

I’m carrying on with my depressed mind in black and my wise mind in red.

I keep crying today without really knowing why.  I just sit there and suddenly my eyes are moist and I really want to let go and sob, but I can’t.  It’s not necessarily a bad thing, it could just be a release, although as I don’t know why I’m crying and as I find it hard to really cry, it probably isn’t much of a release.

I overslept again and struggled to get going, managing very little of Shacharit again.  At least I did some.  I’m achey (I must have pulled a lot of muscles doing aerobics), lacking motivation and energy and I want to comfort eat (resisting so far).  I did manage to spend thirty-five minutes proof-reading the second draft of the sixth chapter of the book I’m writing on Doctor Who covering the bulk of Jon Pertwee’s time in the role and Tom Baker’s first story (the odd divisions are from my following stylistic changes, usually revolving around changes of producer or script editor, rather than lead actor).  The chapter nearly doubled in size for the second draft, weighing in at nearly 8,200 words.  This is now the longest chapter in the book (so far), but rather than feel good about it, I just worry I won’t be able to increase the later chapters to the same length, or write a new chapter on Peter Capaldi’s time on the show.  I certainly don’t feel much of a sense of achievement in having written it, just frustrated that it’s not as good as I would like it to be.  This is still good, even if I don’t feel anything.  It’s done for now and I can move on to the next chapter.  I have also sort of restarted my Doctor Who blog (no link as it’s currently under my real name), not for anything detailed, just odd reflections, quotes and silly jokes.  Not sure how long I’ll continue with it.  It’s good that I’m reaching out there too.

I also have a poem coming out on Hevria.com on Monday.  That’s also good.  I suppose it’s all go, creatively, except that I wrote the poem years ago, but didn’t show it to anyone.  So?  It’s still my poem.   Perhaps that gives me some distance on it, not to feel so worried about it or critical of it.   Or maybe not, as I am still somewhat nervous about it, as it’s about antisemitism and might be seen as controversial.  It also has some profanity (use of the f-word, quoting things that have been shouted at me in the street), which I don’t normally use, but  which seemed necessary given the context.

I feel a bit bad because my Mum just phoned me with some sad news from her work (someone died), but after listening politely for eight minutes I said I need to go (which was true) because it’s hard to empathize over the death of someone you never knew and she had even finished talking about work and was just going through everything that had happened to her today.  I didn’t think I was rude, but I think she got upset anyway, so now I feel bad for upsetting her.  It’s my fault, I was trying really hard to be patient, but I slipped up and probably annoyed her.  I can’t be responsible for other people’s reactions.  I did try to be polite and she had finished telling me about her issues at work.  I probably could have been more polite and waited a bit longer, though, if I had tried.

Identity

I have not written much lately.  This is not for want of things to write about.  So much has happened or is happening, but I simply have not had the time or energy to write.  Pesach (Passover) was better than it has been for a couple of years; there was some OCD and some family tensions, but better than the last few years.  I have started a new job, which is going well.  The team are friendly and the work is challenging, but not impossible.  In the background I have various writing projects and am trying to get to shul (synagogue) more often and to do more religious study as well as keeping up with the household chores.

I am trying to find the balance in my life, to make positive changes (the new job, trying to daven (pray) more with a minyan (prayer quorum), trying to study more Torah) without getting overwhelmed by the changes.  It is hard sometimes as, although I am not depressed as I once was, it can still be hard to enjoy things.  In particular, I have been thinking lately about not having simcha shel mitzvah (joy in performing the commandments).  I heard from a rabbi a while back that I won’t experience this until after I have recovered from the depression, but it makes it hard to get motivated to do things if I can’t experience joy in them, especially as I am thinking more these days of managing my mental health than of being “cured.”  It is hard to know what to do sometimes.

I have also been struggling with questions of identity, about trying to find a place in the Jewish community and in the wider world with my niche interests.  I have been thinking about politics quite a bit, unsurprisingly given the news, and thinking that my political views probably come across as complicated if not confused.  I don’t really feel comfortable with any party, but, given that I do force myself to vote for someone, I suspect I will be voting for a party that a number of my friends do not approve of.  There is so much anger in the world at the moment, especially regarding politics and identity that I feel under attack a lot of the time, especially given my fragile ego, whether it’s Doctor Who fans insisting that you have to be progressive to enjoy the programme or people at seudah shlishit (the third Sabbath meal) in shul being scornful of giving tzedaka (charity) to non-Jews or the horror stories I hear from American friends of Orthodox Jews bullied at the Shabbat table for not voting for Donald Trump or the ongoing antisemitism crisis in the Labour Party…

Even as my own world is improving, the wider world feels increasingly like a frightening and tribal place where a slightly unusual and (I hope) thoughtful person like myself is forced to squeeze himself into uncomfortable boxes or lose his friends.  I am trying to go slowly, to focus on my recovery and to take things one step at a time, but sometimes it seems as if events in the wider world are pushing on faster than I would like.