Draining Day

Today was the last of my semi-holiday days, as J is still off work isolating (back tomorrow) and there was no volunteering this week. However, I feel tense and am running late, and did not manage to do everything I wanted to do.

I slept far too long again last night, with bad dreams that I don’t remember (thus sparing you the details). I finally got the letter from the psychiatrist about changing medication yesterday, so I reduced the dosage of my olanzapine today. We’ll see how that affects both sleep and mood. Obviously I want sleep to improve and mood to stay the same (good), but we’ll see. I’m on three different drugs that increase tiredness (and weight-gain), so changing one may not do enough, and the others seem too important and useful to change. I don’t think I’m far enough in my recovery to stop my meds entirely, and maybe I never will be. I do want to have a morning though, to have more hours in the day; to daven Shacharit (say Morning Prayers) at the proper time, maybe even at shul (synagogue) post-COVID; to align my body clock more with PIMOJ’s (she’s early to bed and very early to rise); to be less fearful of oversleeping when I have work or volunteering… I’m fed up with being quasi-nocturnal, really, especially in the winter when I don’t get enough daylight.

It’s strange… feeling that I want to hibernate at this time of year is not new, but feeling physically tired without feeling particularly emotionally low is new. I’m not quite sure what to make of it. To be honest, despite having slept through the morning, I wanted to go back to bed after breakfast, although I didn’t.

***

I tried to work on my novel, but my brain was basically doing what my body did this morning: retreating into hibernate mode with the bedclothes over its head. The main thing I did was delete 90% of what I wrote yesterday as it wasn’t working. As for what I did write… I sat in front of the document for an hour or so, of which about twenty or thirty minutes was productive. I wrote 300 words, leaving me 100 words behind where I was before I deleted yesterday’s work. I managed to use the word “gastronome.” I guess I’m quantifying my life again to try to “prove” to myself that I’m doing things…

***

I went for a walk and did some shopping, and I wrote my devar Torah – in the end, I did write a new one rather than reusing an old one. I did a little Torah study beyond the devar Torah, finishing Emmanuel Levinas’ Nine Talmudic Readings. I did not understand all of it, but what I did understand made me want to read more Levinas, at least his writings on Judaism and perhaps some of his more general ethical writings. His sense of a responsibility that precedes contracts, precedes even freedom and itself is necessary for it to exist is rather lacking in the world around us.

***

My uncle, in Israel, has had the COVID vaccine. He’s the first person I know personally to get it, at least that I know of – I can think of some people I know who should have had it, or should get it soon, but I haven’t heard that they have yet. I guess that’s the advantage for my uncle of living in small country (the entire population of Israel is about the same as that of Greater London, something not usually made clear in news coverage).

Meanwhile, our new cleaner refused to wear her mask properly (nose uncovered) on the grounds that she couldn’t breathe properly. This led to mild anxiety that she’s infected us. I don’t think she’s coming again, although for reasons unrelated to COVID precautions.

***

The COVID anxiety has subsided, but I’ve had bits of stress building up in the last hour or two, as I need to get ready for work tomorrow and feel that I haven’t done everything I want to do, and also that tomorrow is going to be busy. At least I can see that stress is not depression or anxiety.

ZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ

The main thing to report today is that I tried hard to get up when I woke up naturally this morning, not when I first woke around 5am, but when I awoke for the second time at 9am. I got up and sat on my bed, but I just felt so tired, I climbed back in and fell asleep again for nearly four hours! I wonder if I could force myself to eat something first, before getting back into bed, but there are prayers to be said on waking and when I feel burnt out and a bit low, it’s hard to get through them, although they only take a few minutes. Strictly speaking, one should say the whole of Shacharit, the Morning Prayer Service, before breakfast, which takes half an hour or forty minutes on a weekday (it varies a bit from day to day), and over an hour on Shabbat (Saturday), but I have been eating breakfast before Shacharit for many years because of depression. But I do like to say a few prayers before eating. But at the moment I also want to find a way to get up no later than 9am, and it’s hard to work out what to do.

There is no sign of the letter from my psychiatrist about changing my medication to sleep less. Realistically, it’s not going to arrive for a week or more now. She’s a good psychiatrist, but… NHS, useless at admin, etc…

I did about an hour and a half of Torah study on Friday night, which was good, except that I ate a lot of junk food at the same time. I’m not sure if there’s a causal relationship or not. I managed about an hour today. I seem to be doing OK on Torah study at the moment (where “OK” is a minimum of half an hour a day, and an hour or so most days).

And that was it for Shabbat (the Sabbath). Oh, I went to shul (synagogue) on Friday night. It was cold (the heating wasn’t on) and I sat in a draft from the door that we have to keep open because of COVID.

Tomorrow I’m seeing PIMOJ again. We’re rather stuck for ideas for dates when everything has to be outdoors. We just go to parks and eat lunch together. I guess it means we get to know each other well, but it would be nice if we could do something else. Anyway, tomorrow I hope to have the scary “I think we’re in a relationship, but I’m not sure if you do…” conversation.

“Prediction is difficult, particularly about the future”

I had mixed feelings about an online article on autism and left a comment, even though I don’t usually comment on that particular site (it’s mostly politics articles, and while the articles are interesting, the comments are often angry and lacking nuance). I’m not linking to it as I had to post the comment under my real name. I said that the difference between “high functioning” and “severe” autism is not always clear-cut, that I was extremely high functioning in the structured environment of school and got to a very good university, but I struggled there and even more since then. That I’m thirty-seven and have never had a full-time job or a relationship that lasted more than a few months, nor have I ever built my friendship network the way I would have liked (although I do have some friends, albeit many online). That like a lot of people on the spectrum I’ve spent much of my life struggling with mental health issues. I don’t consider myself to have “autistic superpowers” and I worry about how I will cope with the world when my parents aren’t here to help me.

In retrospect I’m not sure if I should have posted it. The line between “sharing experiences” and “self-pity” can be a fine one for me and I’ve crossed it many times in the past, usually when feeling upset and left behind by life or by my peers. That said, and very much to my surprise, within a couple of hours it had become the comment with the most upvotes on that article, and by a considerable margin, so I suppose some people thought it was a worthwhile contribution.

***

My main achievements for the day were cooking dinner (lentil dal and rice) and going for a run, the latter rather later than I wanted, after dark, as I made sure to cook dinner first in case I got an exercise migraine. I don’t think I was unusually short of breath, so perhaps the recent shortness of breath is a mask side-effect after all. I did come back with a headache though. I didn’t feel up to doing much Torah study with a headache, so I listened to an online shiur (religious class) rather than read Torah. I’m trying to listen to shiurim more, particularly on days when I feel depressed, tired or otherwise unable to read Torah. I do see shiurim as somewhat second-best, though, as I internalise ideas much easier in written form than spoken, not to mention that I feel that written information is “denser” than spoken i.e. I will come across more new ideas in an hour of reading than an hour of listening to a shiur. I’m not sure how true that feeling is.

***

My line manager, J, texted me to say that he is self-isolating after coming into contact with someone with COVID at our shul (synagogue), I assume/hope not at a service where I was present, as I haven’t heard anything. He has been going to shul a lot more than me in the pandemic, so it’s quite likely that that’s the case. So, no work this Thursday, or next Monday, which is bank holiday anyway.

***

I phoned my psychiatrist’s secretary to chase the letter I was supposed to have about changing medication to make me less tired. The secretary says that she was not told to write a letter and that she will have to speak to the psychiatrist, so another NHS error. I’m worried that this won’t be resolved until the new year. We ❤ NHS.

***

The Economist does a “world next year” publication at the end of each year. I’m amused that they’re still doing one for 2021, even though I’m pretty sure their 2020 edition failed to predict the pandemic, which dominated every aspect of the year, even more than either Brexit and the US election (which had its own surprises, such as Trump increasing his vote in absolute terms, but still losing). The BLM protests in the USA were unprecedented in their size, and the fact that they spread to other countries and no one predicted that. No one guessed that Israel would normalise relations with a slew of Arab countries either. “Prediction is difficult, particularly about the future” is a saying attributed to many different people, but it’s very true whoever said it.

I wish journalists would stick to reporting facts rather than trying to seem super-clever by predicting the future. Unfortunately, it’s cheap copy – it’s much cheaper to sit at your desk guessing what might happen instead of going out and asking people what did happen. No one remembers the failed predictions, so there’s no downside to it from the journalists’ point of view. It also means people you don’t like don’t actually have to do bad things for you to be able to criticise them, it just has to be possible for them to do bad things at some point in the future.

For example, at one point this summer, there were four different articles on the BBC’s Middle East news page saying that Israel was going to annex the Jordan Valley and asking if this would start a war. In the event, Israel didn’t annex the Jordan Valley, and the idea that it might looks like a bit of diplomatic maneuvering to get the Emirates/Bahrain peace deal. The BBC never retracted anything. It never does. About the same time, there was a skirmish on the Indo-Chinese border in which several soldiers were killed, which potentially could have started a war between the two most populous countries in the world, both nuclear-armed. It barely registered in Western news media. There’s a lot of ways you could understand this, none of them good.

(Coincidentally, I just came across a load of newspaper clippings on Twitter showing senior US politicians and health experts (not just Trump and, yes, including Democrats) saying in February that COVID wasn’t a serious problem and that people should celebrate Chinese New Year in big crowds as normal.)

Short Update

Sorry for the meaningless title. I hate picking titles, and this post is less than 500 words long, with no real theme.

Not a lot to report today. Work was fine. I’m taking an inventory of various assets, mostly in the form of antique Jewish ritual objects. I don’t really want to go into what they are and why we have them, as I’m trying to avoid making where I work obvious. It’s at least different, but also a bit frustrating, inasmuch as I have some documentation, but it’s not always clear, and sometimes I’m comparing two or three different objects of the same kind to see which one best fits the description. But the day passed quite quickly. I did make some mistakes when writing invoices though. I hope these are learning experiences.

A job that I “should” have applied for (entry-level librarian job at a major London museum, part-time) came up just now and I don’t have the confidence to apply for it – no confidence in my ability to do the job or my ability to cope with more hours than I’m currently doing.

I decided not to contact my GP for now regarding sleep and tiredness issues, but I will try to phone the psychiatrist’s secretary tomorrow to chase the letter that will change my medication. I think it’s worth seeing if the medication change I agreed with the psychiatrist works before pursuing other avenues.

I “went” to Zoom depression group. I didn’t have much to say, but thought I could at least listen to other people. However, I struggled to concentrate. I find concentration hard on Zoom anyway and I think going after work meant that I just couldn’t keep up. It’s probably worth still going, though, as I would still like the option to talk, and it’s good to hear how other people are doing even if I probably won’t remember much of it half an hour later.

I spoke about my job and my fears of messing it up, but I didn’t go into details. I didn’t mention PIMOJ. Whenever I think I could mention her, I think that we could have broken up by the next time we speak and then I’ll have to tell everyone we’ve broken up. I’m also not sure what to say at the moment. PIMOJ keeps saying that we’re “getting to know one another” and I’m not sure if she’s waiting for me to say that we’re in a relationship. I’m pretty bad at knowing what to do in these situations and I think she is, if anything, less experienced and confident than me. I’m pretty sure that she’s keen to continue, but I’m not sure what to say.

The Day Where I Counted My Blessings

I’m not sure what to think about today. Work was OK. I was doing a lot of repetitive form-filling. It wasn’t terribly interesting, but it’s the type of thing where I can just focus on it and get into some kind of rhythm, I guess the type of day where I can make the autism work for me a bit. I just hope I didn’t make any mistakes.

I had a late lunch and went into an empty office to have a video call with my psychiatrist. We’re going to try to adjust my medication a little to see if we can reduce my oversleeping and lack of energy. I’m wary of altering medication in case I get worse, but I think it’s got to the stage where I have to take the chance. However, it was not a good connection and I didn’t want to get the psychiatrist to keep repeating things, so I’m going to have to wait for the psychiatrist’s letter to know exactly what to do.

I briefly joined a Skype call with my parents, aunt and uncle and had a longer call with PIMOJ. The latter was… interesting. She had been asking me for a while if she could read my novel. I wasn’t terribly happy with this idea, but eventually I gave in and I wonder if I made a huge mistake. PIMOJ is incredibly upbeat and also deeply spiritual, pure and connected to God, whereas my novel… well, it deals with issues like depression, questions of faith, unrequited and slightly obsessive love, self-harm, suicidality, late diagnosed autism and emotional, physical and sexual abuse. It isn’t terribly happy, although I gave it an ending that is at least open to hope. PIMOJ works in mental health, so she’s not naive, but I think she was a bit shocked by it, by the thought that someone would want to write this down and that other people would want to read it. She thought the ending was hopeful, but too open-ended for her liking.

Even though PIMOJ knows a bit about me and my issues, I think she possibly didn’t realise until she read it just how low I’ve been in the past, and maybe isn’t convinced that I’m not still there. She didn’t say it was a bad book. She kept saying it was “interesting” and that she experienced a lot of compassion for the main characters, which I guess means the writing was emotional. I’m not sure I really made it clear that my writing came from a place of deep religious engagement.

I’m a bit worried she’s going to break up with me now, but I guess it was better that it came out sooner rather than later. She was texting me attentively today, and I know she didn’t read the entire novel this evening, so I guess that means she still feels a connection.

Perhaps it was just as well that today I had a reminder that things are pretty good for me at the moment. My life is not perfect, but I have supportive family, no immediate financial worries despite only working two days a week and outlets for at least some of my emotional needs. I’m not in an unhappy relationship or struggling to support my family financially or emotionally or dealing with abuse. I guess I need to be reminded to count my blessings sometimes.

Accelerated Decrepitude

Shabbat was OK except that I slept too much again. I was going to go into more detail, but I’m actually too tired. I’m going to talk to my psychiatrist about it when I speak to her on Thursday.

I did a lot of Torah study on Friday (well over an hour), but feel drained today and only managed twenty-five minutes or so. I haven’t worked on my novel or done various other chores I hoped to do tonight either. I just feel tired. However, I don’t know what will happen if I go to bed, given how much I’ve slept today. I didn’t do much recreational reading either because of Torah study and tiredness. I thought I would read a novel for an hour before bed yesterday, but after about fifteen minutes I was so tired that it was pointless to carry on reading and I went straight to bed.

I tried to reduce the price on my self-published non-fiction Doctor Who book, but I it insisted that I couldn’t change the price until I finished designing the book, even though it was published months ago. It won’t tell me what it thinks is not finished and I don’t know how to find out. Weird. Strange how so many things I try to do go wrong in weird ways.

I didn’t feel able to do much tonight, so I re-watched Blade Runner, director Ridley Scott’s Final Cut of the 1982 film, from which I took my title quote. I don’t know how many times I’ve seen it now, probably four or five. I find it a hugely immersive experience, even on the small screen. I’m sure it’s more impressive in the cinema. The plot is fairly slight and overly-dependent on coincidences and contrivances (a lot of detail and sub-plots were removed from the novel on which it is based, Philip K. Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?), but the direction, design, cinematography and incidental music fuse into a comprehensive vision of a dystopian future rarely equalled in cinema.

On recent viewings I’ve found myself wondering about parallels between replicants and autistic people, as both are supposed to be empathy-deficient, but the comparison doesn’t really work. The replicants seem to have cognitive empathy (Roy Batty seems to be able to guess what Detective Deckard will do), but lack emotional empathy (they appear to have empathy for each other, but not for humans, not even J. F. Sebastian, who tried to help and befriend them). Whereas autistic people are the reverse, feeling emotional empathy for the suffering of others, but lacking the “perspective-taking” cognitive empathy needed to understand and predict what other people are doing and why. If anything, the replicants are like psychopaths, in the clinical sense (setting aside the philosophical questions of whether they were born like this or developed as a result of slavery and mistreatment).

Writer’s Woes

It’s been a slightly difficult day, a day when it was hard to do things. In some ways, I feel very “blocked;” in others, I’m making progress, of varying degrees. It’s hard to assess how it’s been overall. The good news first.

I’m going to be volunteering tomorrow morning, packing food packages for the vulnerable. Hopefully this will be every Wednesday morning until at least the end of the year. I will have to get up about 6.30am, as if I was going to work! However, it will be finished by 11.00am, so I should be home by lunchtime and able to take things easy in the afternoon. It is through a major Jewish organisation, the one that ran the asylum seekers’ drop-in centre where I used to volunteer until that was stopped by COVID. I just hope I can do what I’m supposed to do; at the drop-in centre, I came to feel that I was not doing much good, if not actually being a liability. I’ve heard autistic people say they just get in the way when people want them to help and I fear that describes my attempts to help too. I don’t know if it’s something about not being able to “read” a large group of people and follow implicit or unspoken instructions well enough to do what needs doing and not get in the way, but I seem to get stuck and get in the way, more so than if I’m just left to sort something out by myself.

PIMOJ is really positive about my volunteering, which is good, as I worry she will lose interest in me if I can’t find work, although she has shown no sign of that so far.

I did manage to get through to the psychiatrist’s secretary today, but there is no sign of a letter from the psychiatrist to the GP. The secretary said she would speak to the psychiatrist. I’m worried that I may have misunderstood something about changing lithium brands.

Other achievements: I tried to go for a run, but after changing and warming up, my foot started hurting. The pain didn’t go after a minute or two of running, so I decided not to risk pulling something and went home. I cooked dinner, but had an, um, culinary malfunction (too much salt fell into the pasta and changing the water didn’t help), so it was rather salty, less than ideal (or healthy), although still edible. I spent half an hour editing something I wrote here a while back into a devar Torah (Torah thought). It’s a bit shorter than what I usually write, but will probably be OK. I’d like to add 100 words to it, but I’m not sure that I will be able to do so. I tried to do some Torah study after that, but was too tired and a bit depressed and also anxious about tomorrow (this was late at night; I’m not narrating in chronological order).

The main thing I did this afternoon was some redrafting on my novel. It was one of those days when it’s really hard to write, and I was dealing one of the most autobiographical passages, and one that brings up difficult memories for me. I did more cutting than anything else. I cut a load of stuff as irrelevant and/or verbose and over-written, including one of the surreal interludes I wrote that I now think simply didn’t work, much as I like the idea of having them in theory. I think I only spent about forty-five minutes on working it, excluding procrastination time.

I feel a lot more negative about the last couple of chapters I’ve redrafted than I did about the first couple. I guess some days go like that, particularly as I had other things to do. It just makes me think that I’ve got a lot to learn and do if I want to be a writer, or even to get this book into a sellable shape. Sometimes it’s so hard to find the words to express what I think and feel. Do other writers feel like this sometimes, struggling to write anything at all? I guess I associate the “churn it out regardless” type of writing with people who write reams of genre fiction of little depth as opposed to more emotionally-real, thoughtful or experimental writing, but maybe that’s me being a literary snob. Part of me feels I should just give up, except that I feel that I have something to say and don’t know how not to say it any more. Plus, I’m beginning to doubt whether a career other than writing is really open to me any more.

A different problem about self-expression is the fact that I increasingly feel I need to write something here about politics – not policies and people, but how lonely and scared I feel at the moment. Scared that I’ll be rejected for what I think. Scared because there are people I respect who I fear don’t respect people like me. Writing something about it, however short or inadequate, has become a challenge I feel I need to meet regardless of the outcome, in the name of fighting social anxiety and self-censorship, but I’m lacking bravery or, today, time.

The other reason to write about politics is that I feel I’m running out of things to say, while still needing my blog as an outlet. I feel that at the moment things are OK, but there isn’t a lot that’s changing that I can comment on. I write this for myself, but I don’t really want to either bore or alienate my readers. I guess I don’t really know why anyone reads this, but I feel dependent on my blog commenters as part of my support network, alongside more traditional support like therapy, my parents and depression and autism support groups.

NHS Fun and Games, Giving Up on Books, and A Slight Bit of Politics

I was expecting to be burnt out today after yesterday, and I was. I got up very late and felt burnt until late in the day, whereupon I tried to cram too much into too little time. There is only one job to apply for on my job application spreadsheet at the moment, and I feel it is really unlikely that I will get it (librarian at a big law firm), so I’m leaving that for the moment. I would like to have worked on my novel, but focused today on chores that absolutely needed doing. Hopefully I will get to the novel tomorrow.

***

More NHS fun and games: when I saw the psychiatrist a few weeks ago, she said that the company that manufactures my lithium was stopping production, so I would have to change brand. As I understood it, she wanted to decrease dosage and then build up on the new one. She said the details would be in a letter to my GP which she would copy to me. I haven’t received the letter. I tried to phone, but the number I had for (what I thought was) the clinic, which was also on the top of a (different, recent) letter from the psychiatrist was not recognised even though I’ve phoned it in the past. The second number on the letter wasn’t recognised either. Mum noticed a third number on the letter, which turned out to be the clinic main phone number; they said to phone the secretary and gave me a number which was the same as the first one, the one I thought was the clinic main phone number. I said it wasn’t connecting and they just insisted that was the right number. So I tried that number again (because insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different outcome) and this time it connected and rang and rang, but no one answered. I hung up, waited twenty minutes, phoned again, and it rang and rang and no one answered. I think they shut at 4pm and I’m guessing they were being naughty and not answering the phone at 3.50pm so they wouldn’t be kept after 4pm. So I guess I have to try again tomorrow. Sometimes it’s hard to avoid the impression that there are people working at the NHS who enjoy playing elaborate pranks on patients. Remember, kids, we ❤ the NHS!!!!!! 👏👏👏 🌈

***

I’m struggling with the novel I’m reading, Dominion. It’s a “What if the Nazis won World War II?” novel. I only really realised after I bought it that I already have three or four of these. I think there’s only so much mileage in these books. Dominion is a thriller, but so far I’m 150 pages in and very little that is thrilling has happened and its vision of a pro-Fascist Britain isn’t terribly interesting (Oswald Mosley and Enoch Powell in the government, who would have guessed….). It was OK when the book was focused on the main character, but currently it’s focused on a possibly autistic man in a psychiatric hospital and I feel really uncomfortable with it. Maybe it’s just too close to home.

Maybe close to home in more ways than one. I don’t believe in the author’s alternative history. I can see a Lord Halifax-led government making peace with Germany in 1940, but I can’t see Britain becoming Fascist without invasion. Appeasement was popular in Britain in the 1930s because of fear that another World War would lead to massive carnage, which it did, but I don’t see Fascism having enough support in Britain for a Fascist government of the kind described here. I guess chimes with some experiences I’ve had recently, talking with friends who feel that the contemporary USA is on the verge of becoming a dictatorship. I don’t like Donald Trump at all, and I hope he loses the election, but I really can’t see America becoming Fascist overnight. I don’t believe that countries with a long experience of democracy suddenly become dictatorships without war, invasion or severe economic and social trauma. So maybe this is reinforcing my fears that I see the world very differently to my friends, and worrying that they would stop being my friends if they knew, the feeling I have alluded to in the past here when I say I want to write about the way my political views make me feel alienated.

All this said, I’m bad at giving up on books. E. used to tell me to be more ruthless, saying time spent forcing myself to read a book I don’t enjoy is time wasted that could have been spent with a book I do enjoy. But I’m not sure I really want to spend another 550 pages with this one. I’m not sure what else I would read at the moment though. I feel I probably need something light, but don’t have anything obviously to hand. The thoughts about what could make a country become a dictatorship have been pushing me to have another go at my Mum’s copy of The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, which I started when I was fourteen or fifteen and gave up on after a couple of hundred pages. I was probably not old enough for it, but I think it might be to heavy (in all senses of the word) for me at the moment.

***

Achievements: I went for a longish (forty-five minutes) walk. I did nearly an hour of Torah study and dealt with a lot of emails and little chores, but felt that I didn’t manage that much overall. It feels a bit like a wasted day.

Suffering and Psychiatry

There is a price to a busy day like yesterday. I woke up in the middle of the night feeling really anxious, suddenly concerned that I would forget to tell the Department of Work and Pensions that I’m working (if I get the job) and shouldn’t be receiving benefits any more (the situation is actually more complicated than that, because my doctor’s note for the benefits states that I can work part-time, but not full-time, so a lot would depend on the nature of my contract). This led to catastrophising about going to jail for benefit fraud, but I didn’t want to write a note out of a superstitious fear that would “jinx” the job interview. I did write a note in the end, deciding piece of mind from the anxiety outweighed superstition.

***

I slept late, but when I awoke had to hurry as I had a video call with my psychiatrist. Annoyingly, the NHS expect you to log on ten minutes early (OK), but then play you awful lift muzak! Hands up who has no understanding of neurodiversity… There was also a recorded message that kept telling me to read the messages on the screen, even though there weren’t any.

The psychiatrist call itself was pretty good. She was pleased that I’ve been feeling better lately and said I looked a lot better. I told her about the job interview, but not about PIMOJ. The psychiatrist said that the brand of lithium I take is being discontinued, so I’ll have to switch to another brand, which is frustrating. Hopefully it will work just as well. She said I can try cutting back on my olanzapine and seeing if that makes a difference to my energy levels. If my mood gets worse, I can just resume the old dosage. I probably will do that, but not necessarily just yet, as in the past trying to come of olanzapine has led to significant mood changes and I think I would rather see if I’m going to be starting a new job and get started on it before doing anything. We both felt that the clomipramine should stay as it is, as it seems to be the most effective medication I’m on.

***

I helped Dad some more with setting up the sukkah, the portable shelter Jews eat in during the Sukkot festival (starting tomorrow night). I went shopping, initially going with my Dad to get the arbah minim (too complicated to explain, see here) then going to a Jewish bookshop and a charity shop to browse because I like browsing bookshops, but haven’t done it much lately because of COVID, as well as buying more vitamin D supplements from Boots. I still feel uncomfortable being around people in shops and did wonder if the browsing was a good idea. Mask compliance was very good, but social distancing and use of one way systems was not so good. I’m partially to blame here myself, but it’s not always easy to distance in a shop with narrow aisles or while queuing to pay.

I spent the rest of the afternoon/early evening sorting through emails and papers on my desk. It’s amazing how “Stuff” just builds up even without my apparently doing very much to generate it. I was too tired to do much and would have liked to unwind, but could not really relax feeling my desk and my inbox were disappearing under things.

***

I managed about forty-five minutes of Torah study; as usual, I wish I could have done more, but ran out of time and energy. Maybe it’s good that I always want to do more Torah study, even if sometimes I simply wish I could have got to a full hour. However, sometimes, like today, I wish I could spend more time exploring ancient and modern texts. The Talmud (I’m too tired to search for the reference, sorry) states that no one dies with even half his desires fulfilled. I realised that this applies to the righteous as well as ordinary people; the difference is that the righteous’ unfulfilled desires are spiritual rather than material. At least my desires here are spiritual.

In my ongoing (if sometimes intermittent) re-reading of Tanakh (the Hebrew Bible), I recently started Iyov (Job), to me one of the most challenging books of Tanakh. Alongside the biblical text, I started reading Job’s Illness: Loss, Grief and Integration: A Psychological Interpretation by a psychiatrist called Jack Kahn. It’s a study of the book that assumes that Job’s sufferings, while triggered by external events (the loss of his family and wealth) take on a psychological aspect based around depression, obsession and paranoia as seen in his speeches; his skin affliction is seen as psychosomatic. Job’s dialogues with his friends, with Elihu and finally with God enable him to reintegrate his personality and develop his psyche beyond his situation before his troubles started. “The vehicle by which his maturation is accomplished is, in fact, the very suffering which he undergoes.”

I’ve only read the introduction so far, so I’m not sure what the book will be like, but I’m intrigued by the premise and looking forward to reading it. I’m not sure if the author is Jewish (although Kahn is a Jewish name), but I’ve come across other Jewish quasi-psychological readings of Iyov that see the book as charting his growth from a religiosity based on fear of God and distance from other people to one based on love for both God and other people. I’m not sure if the book is still in print or easily available; I rescued my copy from the “duplicates/for sale” pile when I worked in a Jewish library. My copy also features some of William Blake’s illustrations to the biblical text.

***

Surprisingly, I got another job interview, this time for a school librarian position I applied for. I didn’t really expect to get this, as I have no experience of primary school librarianship. Unfortunately, the interview is next Tuesday and I have a date booked with PIMOJ and she has taken time off work, so I can’t cancel. I have emailed the school to ask if an alternative date is possible.

***

Speaking of the date, I’m worried and trying not to catastrophise. Try to stay in the present…

***

This short video from the National Autistic Society nicely illustrates the problems of dealing with a lot of questions/statements if you have autistic sensory overload and slower processing speed. This is how I feel in job interviews, or even just noisy kiddush halls.

“Time’s wingèd chariot hurrying near”

I was half-awake when the phone rang this morning.  It was the mental health clinic saying I had an appointment with the psychiatrist today after all, but on the phone.  Phone appointments are my least favourite kind.  Like a lot of people on the autism spectrum, I do not like the phone at all.  I feel very anxious and self-conscious on the phone, even more so than in person, and I find it hard to connect to the person on the other end.  I often struggle to hear and process information on the phone too, particularly if the line is not great.  Then there is the fact that NHS telephone appointments rarely seem to happen as scheduled, but often are very late (leading to anxious waiting) or very early (when I’m not ready and am doing something else).

Fortunately, the psychiatrist phoned when she said she would, at midday.  I know I’ve had bad experiences on the NHS before, and have been critical of that, but this psychiatrist seems really good (I think I saw her twice before lockdown).  I did struggle to hear everything on the phone call though and am worried I may have missed something.  I said that I’ve been feeling worse in the last few weeks and we spoke about increasing or changing medication, but both agreed to wait a few more months to try and get out of lockdown and see if the real-world triggers (Mum, E.) subside a bit.  She did want me to go for my regular lithium blood test now (over three months after the last one) rather than in September (six months) when the GP surgery wants me to go.  She also said she would also try to see where my autism referral has got to.  I assumed it was completely frozen where it was before lockdown, but the psychiatrist said she thinks they are doing some video assessments.  We booked another appointment for October.  Hopefully things will be a bit more normal by then, the Jewish autumn holiday season notwithstanding.  Whatever “normal” is.

I tried to book the blood test, but the online appointments are not working due to COVID (?!) and I will have to phone tomorrow.  Did I mention I hate phoning?

***

I don’t feel quite so depressed today, but I am still feeling some level of depression.  I also feel lethargic and drained, lacking in energy and motivation.  I start something, but then I hit an obstacle, however small, and grind to a halt.  A few minutes later, I start up again, until I hit another obstacle.

In terms of achievements, I advanced quite a bit with the bank accounts.  I think I’ve got it all set up now, I just need to transfer the money to the right account.

I did about an hour of novel writing.  I procrastinated a bit in the middle of it, but I felt better for having done it, although I realised I’m going to have to revisit one of my worst experiences at my further education job for the novel.  Sadly, my narrator’s life has to be as difficult as mine was.  At least I know he gets an ending that, if not exactly happy, is at least on some level redemptive.  I should be so lucky.

I did some Torah study, but I lost track of how much.  I think about fifty minutes, plus some time finishing my devar Torah (Torah thought).  I also did a bit of ironing and quickly wrote a review of a Doctor Who episode which I will post to my other blog once I’ve posted this and can log off my Secret Identity and onto my real name.

***

Today’s anxious/autistic stress moment: I went to pick up my blood test form from the doctor’s surgery (walking to/from there was my exercise for today).  I hadn’t been there since lockdown started and was not sure what to expect.  When I got there the doors were locked and there were signs saying only people with an appointment could come in.  Anxiety set in – social anxiety and autistic “new situation” anxiety.  I thought of ringing the buzzer, but was too scared of being told I was doing the wrong thing and being stupid.  In the end I phoned the surgery (while standing right outside) and asked them what to do.  They said to ring the buzzer and say why I was here and they would bring the form out, which I did, so it was OK in the end, but it made me feel useless again, and anxious.

Ordinarily I would probably have gone to the charity shop around the corner from the surgery afterwards and browsed the books to try to restore myself a bit, but I decided it wasn’t worth the risk with COVID, thus potentially depriving the economy of the pound I might have spent on a second-hand book.

***

Why do I feel the desperate need to love someone?  It seems so pointless, as I struggle to imagine ever being in a relationship again, both from a practical point of view of being ready and in terms of finding someone.  “More than the calf wants to suckle, the cow wants to nurse” says the Talmud.  It does seem hopeless, though.  I don’t know how I would even go about it now.  I guess via a professional shadchan (matchmaker), although I’m sceptical of them, or a dating website, although they seem expensive.

I feel like Orthodox Judaism is supposed to be about trading a degree of independence and freedom for security: security in terms of family, community, meaning and, above all, God.  I never got the security.  Maybe I didn’t make enough sacrifices.  I don’t know.  There is a part of me that says, “I won’t give up my books and Doctor Who and other telefantasy even if God wants it of me.”  That’s part of why I didn’t go to yeshiva (rabbinical seminary) and part of why I’ve never been able to fully embrace Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) Judaism.  There’s a part of me — arguably a neurodivergent, autistic part of me — that won’t give those things up for God, because they’re too important to me.  I can give them up for periods of time, but not permanently.  That’s a blemish in my service of God, from a religious perspective.  But, given who I am and how much a part of myself these things are, from an autistic special interest perspective, I don’t think I could ever have passed that test.  So maybe I do deserve to suffer, on some level, or at least not to be accepted by the community whose values of religious self-sacrifice I do not fully embrace.

***

I think I’m having a lot of vaguely morbid thoughts lately, sometimes going into suicidal ideation, perhaps because it’s my birthday next week.  I had hoped that thirty-six would be a good year, but it largely wasn’t.  I had vague hopes of finding work, finding love, even becoming more involved in my community.  I hoped it would be the year of “twice chai” (in gematria, Hebrew numerology, “chai” (life) is eighteen, so multiples of eighteen e.g. thirty-six are seen as auspicious).  I was also aware that the Ba’al Shem Tov, the founder of Hasidism was thirty-six according to legend when he started publicising his teachings.

The reality was that I was unemployed for all bar one month, Mum got ill, the world imploded with COVID lockdown and exploded with riots.  I had a girlfriend for a few months, but it didn’t work out, leaving me despondent.  My one month of employment didn’t lead on to anything bigger.  I spent three months not moving more than a mile from the house.  I did a few minor things — I led some services in shul (synagogue) and started writing and publicising my divrei Torah as well as self-publishing my Doctor Who book — but it hasn’t been a great year.

I feel that I’ve missed out on so much of life.  I haven’t done a lot of the things people say make life meaningful, whether somewhat self-indulgent (I don’t mean that in a judgemental way) things like travel or going to concerts or using alcohol (etc.) or sex, or more religious/self-denying things like helping others (I have obviously helped others, but not enough), significant Torah study, meaningful prayer and so on (actually, Judaism would say that good sex should be in the religious/helping others category, but that’s not strictly relevant to my point).

What have I done?  Written a book on Doctor Who that couldn’t find a publisher and which one person has read.  Written three-quarters of a first draft of a novel.  Some library work.  A few divrei Torah and shiurim (religious classes).  It’s not nothing, but it’s not very much.  I might be over a third of the way through my life.  (I might fall under a bus tomorrow, of course, which just makes me feel worse.)  I want to help people, I want to connect with other people and with God, I want to feel good about myself.  I want to write, and to be read.  I want to feel that there’s meaning in my being here, which I fear I have not felt since childhood (if I even felt it then).  I did two good things in my life, which I won’t mention here, but I don’t feel I can keep relying on them as sources of merit.

In his biography of Rebbe Nachman of Bratzlav, Tormented Master, Arthur Green quotes Rebbe Nachman, in his depression, as saying that we believe in two worlds, This World and the Next World.  However, while the latter certainly exists, maybe This World does not exist, because a lot of the time it feels like Gehennom (Purgatory).  That’s an image that resonates with me, and turns up a bit in stories that resonate with me (TV and prose).  It feels that way at the moment, the endless loneliness and self-loathing.

Do I really feel so self-loathing right now?  I used the word instinctively, but have I been feeling self-loathing recently so much as frustration with myself and my world?  That’s not the same thing.

Sometimes I feel the reverse, that I’m somehow carrying the world on my shoulders.  That my suffering should be redemptive in some sense.  That’s probably just as dangerous a thing to think.

I just want my life to have meaning.  I don’t know what I’m here for.

Porcupines in Winter

Oh dear, this is going to be one of those posts again, the very despairing and depressed type.  Sorry.  You don’t have to read it.

I thought I’d used the title of this post before, but apparently not.  The philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer wrote about porcupines that want to huddle together for warmth in winter, but if they do, they hurt each other with their spines.  This is how I feel: I want to draw closer to others, yet I find they “hurt” me and I apparently hurt them, not always for obvious reasons.

I woke up feeling very depressed and exhausted today; also rather lonely and “touch hungry.”  I feel a lot that I want to love and be loved.  I also feel a lot that I want to have sex, particularly when depressed.  Neither of these statements are hugely socially acceptable (in Western society, let alone Orthodox Jewish society), but the second is absolutely unacceptable.  I find it hard to live with knowing that I feel like that without being able to express it.  It is hard to know what to do with it for decades on end.

It was hard to get going today.  I just wanted to stay in bed.  Actually, I didn’t really want to be anywhere, but bed was easier than anywhere else.  I’m feeling a lot of self-loathing today and I don’t know why.  I just seem so socially inept.  I also seem pretty useless at living a good or productive life (not the same thing, I know), by either Western or Jewish standards.  It was hard to put on tallit and tefillin and daven (pray).  This is a struggle every morning, yet I do, usually rather late, and in the winter, when the days are short, I often miss Shacharit (Morning Prayers) entirely and have to skip straight to Minchah (Afternoon Prayers), but I do put on tallit and tefillin and daven, after breakfast, but before engaging with the day, yet I never give myself credit for it, I just beat myself up for doing it late.  I wish I could give myself credit for it.

I felt really depressed and exhausted even after lunch, when my mood usually peaks.  I wanted to cry, but didn’t feel able to do so.  I just wanted to curl up and hibernate.  I did very nearly go and do that; at any rate I went and lay on the bed.  I had told myself to do chores today rather than write my novel, but apparently the motivation I had to write the novel, inconsistent as it can be, can’t be transferred to chores.

The main chore opening a new ISA (tax-free savings account).  Dad is always getting me to open new bank accounts and ISAs because I will get more interest in the new one than my old one.  I do it because I am weak and always do what other people tell me to do, especially my parents.  I think the amount of interest I get on the amount of money I have to save is minimal, and probably not worth the hassle.  Also, having so many accounts confuses someone who is increasingly bad with numbers (unbelievably, I got an A* at GCSE maths.  I’ve got no idea how I did that.  I think I’ve become rusty in the intervening twenty years.  Being vague about money is one of the things E. did not like about me).  I can’t work out how to transfer money into this account and I think I may have messed something up.  I think I need to open a savings account with the same building society and then pay money from there into the ISA, but it’s a lot of hassle for what amounts to a relatively small amount interest over two years, which my Dad would probably then advise me to reinvest elsewhere anyway.

And, yes, I know having too many bank accounts is a first world problem, and being able to write off the small amount of interest is a sign of privilege (although the privilege in this case is more that I have practically zero expenditure because I have no life than that I have lots of money).  I’m not even sure what this money is being saved for; notionally to pay a deposit on a house or flat, I suppose, but it seems less and less likely that I’m ever going to be in a fit state to do that.  I can’t drive and am scared of learning, so it’s not going on a car, and I don’t really go on holiday, so it’s not going on that.  I live with my parents, so it’s not going on rent or white goods.  There isn’t much else to spend on it.

So that wasted an hour or two.  Then I wasted more time by going to the post office, which was shut despite saying online that it would be.  I also went to the pharmacist, which didn’t have what I was looking for.  At least I went for a walk.

I tried to do some Torah study, but felt too depressed to concentrate and only managed ten or fifteen minutes.

My main achievement for the day, aside from the walk, was cooking dinner, which I had already decided macaroni cheese, fortunately, as it is very quick and easy to cook.  I also phoned the mental health clinic to check that the appointment I had booked with the psychiatrist for this coming Thursday (from before lockdown) has been cancelled.  I feel I should have had some kind of official cancellation letter, but don’t think I have.  There was no answer when I phoned, so I’m guessing they haven’t reopened for non-emergency mental health yet.

I ended up just watching Doctor Who this evening in lieu of doing anything productive, because I just felt too depressed.  I ended up watching new series episodes for some reason (Asylum of the Daleks and The Name of the Doctor), even though I don’t generally like them as much as the original series.

***

I get a sort of pressure in my skull when I try to force myself to concentrate on things when I’m too exhausted and depressed.  I’ve never seen that listed as a depression symptom, but I get it quite a bit.  Also, when I get agitated, I start thinking as much in images than words, which I think is an autism symptom, but it would usually be constant for someone rather than only during times of agitation.

***

I think, far from being nearly over E., I’m only just beginning to mourn the loss of the relationship.  In Heaven Sent (perhaps the definitive Doctor Who episode), the Doctor reflects that the day someone dies isn’t the hardest day – that day you’re busy.  The difficult days are all the subsequent days when they’re still dead.  I think the fact that the relationship is still dead is hitting me.  I still think I did the right thing to end it, not least because I think E. would have ended it soon if I hadn’t, but still…  I miss her.  Or do I just miss having someone to talk to?  Can you even have “someone to talk to” in the abstract?

***

Sometimes I feel I could die or go mad from how “wrong” my life feels, but I don’t know how to change it, or if the changes I want are even possible (certainly being in a relationship is not possible now, and maybe not ever).  I just want to scream.  And I struggle to let other people understand how wrong my life seems to be, which makes me wonder if it’s just catastrophising, yet their suggestions for change all seem impossible and unworkable.

I just feel sad and lonely right now.  I’m hiding it from my parents again, or trying to (they can usually tell).  I’m not sure why I can’t tell them.  I’m just struggling to cope today.  I don’t feel tired, but I might go to bed because I’m too depressed to read (and reading The Jewish Review of Books today just makes me feel that should have been a journalist, essayist, novelist, academic… something shaping the Jewish experience and the world of ideas).  It’s either that or sit up late watching DVDs.  I feel that I hate myself, my life, my blog… except “hate” is too strong a word for what I feel.  I’m too depressed to feel hate today.

Well, at least today’s post is shorter than yesterday’s.

What If… ?

I felt tired much of today.  I woke up around 10.00am and was lying in bed feeling exhausted when my Dad reminded me that I had a psychiatrist appointment that I had forgotten about.  I struggled to get dressed and go.  My Dad gave me a lift to the psychiatrist, but the twenty minute walk home afterwards was gruelling because I was so tired.  I suppose I could have phoned Dad for a lift, but I don’t like to ask for too many, plus I needed the exercise.  I was tired by the time I got home.

I’ve struggled to do much today.  I really want to sleep, but I felt that I shouldn’t for multiple reasons: I had to cook dinner and finish writing my devar Torah as well as going to shiur (religious class) later and I didn’t want to disrupt my sleep pattern even more.  Lately I’ve been going to my Dad’s shul (synagogue) for Ma’ariv (Evening Prayers) before shiur on Thursdays because they’re practically next door to each other and the times work, but today I felt too drained to do two “peopling” events, so I decided to stick to shiur.

I also managed to spend about half an hour working on my novel.  I wrote about 450 words, which was good, but I was dipping into very upsetting parts of my memory and psyche for my writing and after half an hour I felt far too depressed and tired to continue, although I would have liked to have written more.  When I told E., she felt it was a downside to writing a novel that draws so much on my personal experiences and mostly negative ones at that.  I agreed with her, but on reflection, while it is problematic in some ways, I think there are advantages.  I wouldn’t push someone with anxiety or PTSD to face their fears, but I think there are advantages to confronting your demons, if you can do it in a safe way.  Hiding behind trigger warnings and the like is ultimately a limiting existence.  Although I’m not sure if writing is the best therapy; I remember John Cleese saying in an interview that writing is therapeutic, but not very good therapy, which is why so many writers get stuck writing the same idea again and again.

***

More fun with the not-for-profit sector…  I had a meeting with my psychiatrist, which went well.  I said I’ve been feeling a lot better this week now I’ve got a new job and she was pleased with that.  She asked if I want to take anything for my anxiety, but I was reluctant to take more meds (I take three different psych meds already, all of which are multiple tablets some at multiple times of the day, plus three daily vitamin supplements).  She said I can see my GP if the anxiety gets bad and I change my mind.  I thought she was going to discharge me, but she offered me a review appointment in six months time, which I took just in case things don’t work out with my new job or for any other reason.  I always feel a bit bad taking these appointments when I might be fine, but it’s so hard to get back into the NHS system once you’ve been discharged that I usually take them when I can, which I guess in economic terms is a “perverse incentive” (when the system encourages you to do something that ought to be discouraged, in this case taking appointments that other people may need more than I do).

So that was positive.  The negative was hearing back from the charity that works with the NHS to get people with mental illnesses into work.  My case worker still wants me to sign papers and insists I have to sign them in person, and by tomorrow.  I got annoyed, but I’m basically a nice person so said I would sign them if she could meet me closer to my home than the office where I saw her (she had already suggested meeting in a coffee shop to sign).  It’s still a trip out of my way, but it’s not the end of the world and I won’t feel bad.

***

One thought I had today which is worth reflecting on and possibly expanding on in the future is that I realised that I tend to see all my mistakes as moral failings, even if they are morally neutral oversights or innocent errors (saying the wrong words, accidentally interrupting someone etc.).  If I can view simple mistakes as morally wrong, then it’s no wonder I magnify the moral enormity of genuine religious or moral failings.

***

On the way home I indulged in bad habits and went into a charity shop and bought a second-hand book.  I’m trying to cut down on my book buying as I have a stack of books to read, but most of those are heavy-going classic literature or non-fiction.  I am trying to get back into reading both of those, but I don’t think they will necessarily be suitable for work days, when I need something lighter to read on my lunch break and on the Tube on the way home (I’m trying to do Torah study during the trip there in the morning).  Plus, it was only £1.

The book, Dominion by C. J. Sansom, is a “what if the Nazis had won World War II?” alternate history.  There are rather a lot of these.  I actually own five of these now, I realise a little to my surprise, including one written before World War II had even started (it predicted what the Nazis would do if Appeasement failed to stop them); and that’s not counting two episodes of Star Trek that aren’t too far from the premise.  That’s probably not surprising, as a it’s a major and comparatively recent historical event where everyone agrees that the achieved outcome was better than most of the alternatives.  Still, it is a little surprising how relatively few other alternate history premise novels are films are out there in comparison.  There are more I think in books published for the science fiction market, but not so many mainstream ones, whereas there are a lot of mainstream “Hitler wins” novels.  Of the five I own, four (FatherlandDominion, Making History and Swastika Night) were published as mainstream novels, not specialist science fiction ones and the fifth, The Man in the High Castle, was I think originally published by a science fiction publisher, but my copy is the Penguin Modern Classics edition (so far as I know it’s the only Philip K. Dick novel to be published by that line, which is telling in itself) and of course now it’s a streamable TV series.  And that’s not counting ones I don’t own, like the Small Change series, the somewhat related The Plot Against America or the fake documentary film It Happened Here (all vaguely on my enormous ‘to read/watch’ list).

I realised I own a couple of other alternate history novels with other premises.  The novella Great Work of Time by John Crowley is a borderline time-travel/alternate history story focused on changing time to stop the British Empire falling.  It’s definitely worth a read if you like time-travel or alternate history stories.  Red Son is kind of a “what if the Communists had won the Cold  War?” story, albeit with the twist that they win because Superman lands in the Ukraine instead of Kansas.  Yes, it’s a Superman graphic novel, but an intelligent one and also worth a read.  And The Difference Engine by William Gibson and Bruce Sterling is a steam-punk speculation on what would have happened if the Victorians had developed computers.  Strangely, Doctor Who has dealt more with threats to change history than scenarios where history has already been changed in an alternative history sense, but the parallel universe thread in Inferno is basically a “Hitler wins” type scenario, while Turn Left was a very personal alternate timeline story with major changes to the fictional narrative spiralling out from a minor difference.

It’s strange that I would not have mentioned it alternate history as a subgenre that particularly interests me until now, but my bookshelves say otherwise.  Maybe it’s not surprising, as I guess alternate history is where my interests in history and science fiction dovetail.

Awful Day

My psychiatrist phoned at midday.  I was still in bed, although I was awake, just feeling tired and depressed.  I think she didn’t really want to see me again.  I can understand that, as I don’t think there is much a psychiatrist can do for me, I just get scared to go out of the system completely because it’s so hard to get back into it again if/when I get worse.  She asked if I wanted to change my medication and I don’t, but maybe I should if I feel this bad.  Even though I am by no means “better,” my mood is somewhat better on clomipramine than off it, so I’m wary of changing despite the weight gain (which the psychiatrist didn’t believe was from clomipramine even though it started exactly then).  We spoke about exercise; I said I didn’t have an exercise routine, but she felt if I was walking for twenty minutes every other day that is an exercise routine, which is good I suppose, although I would still like to run more often.  She wanted me to go on social media to make friends, but I’m not sure if that’s such a good idea (see below for why this may in fact be a really bad idea).  I didn’t mention that I have friends through my blog and I’m not sure why.  I’m always reluctant to mention my blog to people.  I guess with most people I’m scared they might ask for the address, but the psychiatrist is hardly likely to do that.  The bottom line is that I have a short appointment booked in for January, which I guess is what I wanted, but I feel like I’m wasting everyone’s time.  Maybe I ought to think about medication change, but I’ve been through most types of antidepressants.

***

A letter turned up for me to day.  A proper one, not junk mail.  It turned out to be from the Maudsley Hospital, who do autism assessments, to tell me that I have not got funding for my autism assessment.  The way the NHS works is the GP refers you to the hospital, in this case the Maudsley, and then one hand of the NHS has to approve payment for the other hand and only then do you officially go on the waiting list for treatment.  My Mum phoned months ago and was told this was all approved and I was on the waiting list; now, suddenly, it seems I am not and I won’t be able to get assessed without paying crazy money to be seen privately.

My Mum tried phoning the Maudsley to find out what was going on, but the guy she spoke to who answered the number on the letter was not helpful and pretty much reduced her to tears with his lack of sympathy and unhelpfulness, as well as his refusal to tell her his name or his supervisor’s name so that we could say what had happened to anyone further up in the organisation.  She’s now emailed someone else from the Maudsley whose name and contact details she had from when she previously contacted them (when they said my funding was approved and I was on the waiting list) so we’ll have to wait and see what happens there.  We’ve also contacted Mencap, the charity that did my informal autism screening last year and which originally recommended to the GP that I be referred for full assessment.  They have said they will try to help and have asked to see the letters and emails that we already have.

Remember kids, WE ♥ THE NHS!!!!!  Without the NHS, Donald Trump would personally sell the organs of every sick person in Britain!!!!!

***

That did bring my mood down.  My main task for the day was to go to buy new trainers, which I did.  Other than that, I made the dental appointment that I wanted to make yesterday and spent an hour or more working on my devar Torah (Torah thought) for this week.  I’m actually getting a lot out of writing these divrei Torah, although I worry if I will be able to keep up with it long-term, especially once we hit the second half of Shemot (Exodus) and Vayikra (Leviticus) and the Torah readings become mostly legal and often focused on rituals that we don’t even do any more.

I did manage to go for a fairly late jog, which was reasonable given that it was late and my tracksuit trouser cord would not stay tied, so I had to keep stopping to retie it to prevent a “wardrobe malfunction” (modesty was preserved, rest assured).  Other than that I didn’t achieve much though.

***

I’ve had a toothache all day, where my wisdom tooth is coming through.  It’s been coming through for years and doesn’t usually hurt.  I’m sure this is a psychosomatic response to the autism diagnosis situation.

***

My wifi problem is getting worse.  I seem to hardly ever get wifi in my room now, and it’s even a struggle sitting on the stairs.  I even struggle to connect when I turn the laptop on for the first time in the day, which used to be OK.  I’m not at all sure why I can pick up wifi from two doors down, but not from this house.

***
I wasn’t going to post about politics, but apparently I’m “cold and uncaring and have no idea about the problems facing real people”.  This was from my autism What’sApp group, which I’ve now left.  They didn’t say it directly about me, just about the party I’ve voted for in the past and will vote for tomorrow.  I didn’t even get that upset, I’m used to this kind of thing, and it’s why I don’t really talk about who I vote for (for the record: not always the same party.  I consider myself a true floating voter, who genuinely tries to think about the issues and vote for the party with the best policies to address them).  Some people don’t think that a ‘normal’ person could vote differently to them or that there could be altruistic reasons for supporting something they don’t support.  (And that’s without addressing the Labour antisemitism issue.)  Given that I have never been to the meet-ups the group organised and given that they send a huge amount of texts without saying anything useful, I left the group.  I think Mencap are running some coffee mornings for people on the spectrum, which might be a better place to go to meet other autistic people, especially as there is probably a facilitator there.  That would only be possible if I’m not working full-time, or near to it.

I guess this is why I keep quiet about so many things: politics, religion, Doctor Who… Based on my experiences, both growing up (e.g. being bullied) and as an adult (e.g. this), it’s easier just to keep quiet and keep out of it than get people telling me I’m an Evil Tory-Imperialist-Zionist-Oppressor or a racist, patriarchal, homophobic Orthodox Jew or whatever.

There is, I suppose, an argument that I should confront people about these issues instead of just running off, whether it’s this or people in shul (synagogue) telling racist jokes or whatever.  I’m conflict averse and find it easier just to run, even if that means I’ll never win the argument or even engage with it.  It probably doesn’t help that I’m in a lot of groups where I don’t necessarily have the “right” thoughts about things whether it’s Orthodox Judaism or Doctor Who fandom or public sector workers or the mentally ill/disabled community.  The silly thing is that I don’t particularly identify as small-c conservative, and certainly not strongly as capital-C Conservative.  I just insist on thinking for myself and having “awkward” thoughts.

I wanted to work on my novel, but I was still tired from running even after dinner and this just finished me off.  I didn’t even feel anger, just a sense of ennui and a feeling that most people are going to think badly of me whatever I do and that nothing I can do will achieve very much.  So, DVD and bed, I think.  An appropriately awful end to an awful day.

(Someone from the WhatsApp group has texted to ask why I left.  They always do this.  I’m not sure how to respond, or whether to respond.  I don’t really want to engage and a text reading simply “Hi, why did you leave” without wondering if it was the conversation that was going on when I left doesn’t really encourage me to do so.)

Anxiety and Martyrdom Complexes

I saw a psychiatrist today for review.  It was a new psychiatrist; I think the last one is off sick.  Whatever the reason, turnover on the NHS is high and I’ve seen loads of psychiatrists.  I did have one who I saw for several years, but she was the exception.  I mentioned to her that my depression has worsened in the last few weeks.  Neither of us felt that changing medication is an appropriate response at the moment as I’m almost on the highest dose of clomipramine (my main antidepressant) and cutting anything (I’m on three different psychiatric medications) just makes things worse.  We spoke a bit about the effect of unemployment on my mental state and she said she could potentially refer me to somewhere that could help, but we’re not doing that for the moment as it seems that there isn’t much they can offer that isn’t being offered by the two organisations I’m already in touch with.  I also spoke a little bit about being on the waiting list for autism diagnosis, but there isn’t much that can be done about that.

To be honest, I have these reviews every quarter or so and the main reason I go is so that if my mood suddenly gets worse (even worse than currently), I’m on the system and can see someone easily, rather than having to be referred again by my GP, which is a lot of hassle and also slow.  I feel somewhat guilty about wasting NHS resources, especially as one of the bloggers I follow was complaining about lack of NHS resources today, but, as I mentioned the other day, I feel that this is the system I’m in and it’s acceptable to make the most of it.  I do believe in public healthcare, but I think the centralised model of the NHS dates from an era of confidence in central planning that is now long past.  If you were building a public health infrastructure from scratch today, you would not build something like the NHS (as is often stated, the NHS is respected worldwide, but almost never imitated).

Plus, I do believe that with the best will in the world, the NHS will always be overstretched.  If something is free, the demand, economically speaking, is potentially infinite.  If someone was giving out free bars of chocolate, you would potentially take as much as you could, limited mainly by the room you have to store it and the expiry date.  People aren’t going to request chemotherapy without needing it, but potentially many treatments could be over-prescribed to people who want help, but don’t urgently need it (similar to the over-prescription issue with antibiotics).  If they had to pay for it directly, they probably would not get it, being deterred by even a nominal price, but they will take any help that is free.  In an egalitarian, free-at-point-of-use system, it is hard (legally as well as practically) to discriminate between people who urgently need help and those who could benefit from some help, but are not in urgent need.  There is some prioritising of the very needy on the NHS (I think at the discretion of the GP referring the patient, which makes it open to abuse or at least inconsistency), but if you do not need help very urgently you just go on the waiting list with a bunch of people who need help significantly, moderately and perhaps only slightly.

Beyond this,  psychiatry and psychotherapy are incredibly labour intensive (one patient per therapist per hour for therapy; three or four patients per psychiatrist per hour) and requires highly-trained (and therefore expensive) psychiatrists therapists.  Mental illness is common and even people with mild mental health issues could potentially benefit from therapy (to be honest, even some people without a diagnosable condition could benefit from therapy, if money was no object) .  The result is that mental healthcare is always going to be overstretched, until we find a way either to significantly improve human psychological resilience or overcome our limited resources.  It is, however, not politically correct to say this.  Everyone (I mean politicians and commentators of all stripes) buys into the idea that, if only there was more money and less wastage, the NHS would be fine.

The appointment was not particularly long, but I finished exhausted, which was perhaps not the best setup for what happened next…

***

I started to fill in the application form for the school teaching assistant position.  The form is ten pages long, and they still want a cover letter on top of that (to be fair, I don’t think the form has any sections not in standard job application forms; I’m just used to filling them in online where the length isn’t immediately obvious).  I got completely overwhelmed by anxiety and despair.  I feel both overqualified and under-qualified.  Overqualified, because they’re really not expecting someone with an MA to apply for this type of job (to be fair, if I did get the job, I would consider using it as a step towards becoming a qualified teacher).  Under-qualified because I have minimal experience with children and am considering this role primarily because other people think I’m good with children, which is not necessarily the best way to be going about things.  I don’t feel that I’m particularly good with children, although when I do have positive interactions with young children I do find that restoring rather than draining.  But I don’t have those types of interactions (or any interactions, really) all that often.  Plus, I’m not at all sure I could cope with a noisy classroom, autism-wise.  From that point of view special needs teaching, which is often one-on-one, might be better, but I don’t know how to get qualified for that or how to tell if I’m at all suited.

I really feel that this is a bad idea, but I don’t know what else to do about it, especially as everyone around me is saying that it is a brilliant idea.  The frustrating thing is that this job is literally around the corner from where I live.  My commute would be a walk of under ten minutes!  And it’s a Jewish school too.  I don’t know what to do.  I’m thinking of writing to the school I’m applying to and asking if I could volunteer as a teaching assistant for a couple of weeks and see how it goes.  My Mum has also suggested speaking to a friend of hers who is a primary school teacher (and who has apparently been saying for years that I would be a good Jewish primary school kodesh (Jewish studies) teacher).

***

Other stuff is going by the wayside to try and work on this application, and a couple of librarian applications.  “Other stuff” being applying for unemployment benefits and working on my novel.  This time of year is always crazy for religious Jews, with so many festivals in such a short space of time leading to cramming too much stuff (work and other essential activities and chores) into the other days, but I had hoped to make some progress with the novel.

***

I’m not sure whether to write this, as it concerns someone else as well as me, but it’s mainly to criticise myself.  I got annoyed with my Dad for something.  When I decided to contact the school to see if I can volunteer as a teaching assistant, he said I should phone them rather than email and I got annoyed with him.  Like many autistic people, I hate using the phone.  It makes me anxious and I get confused about what to say, when to say it and when and how to end the conversation.  My Dad knows I hate phoning, yet he continually tells me to phone people when I say I intend to email them.  I don’t know why he does this.  I know he says you get an immediate response on the phone, which is true, and that some people don’t answer emails, but email leaves you with a paper trail, which is also useful and the bottom line is that phoning panics me enough that I will procrastinate to extremes, whereas writing an email is (somewhat) less procrastination-inducing.

I just feel bad about getting annoyed with Dad and shouting at him as one of my three Jewish new year’s resolutions was to try to shout at my Dad less and get angry with him less often.  I used to get on well with him, but in the last few years, we clash more and more often. I think his personality has changed quite a bit in recent years and I don’t know why.  I have some ideas, but I can’t go into them here.  I also feel more assertive about saying I have issues from autism now that I have done a lot of reading on it and realise that some of my quirks/difficulties are well-known symptoms of autism, whether it is failing to follow implicit instructions or to take initiative, forgetting verbal instructions and being somewhat pedantic and literal (all points of conflict with Dad).

I know he isn’t going to change and that if I want to improve things, I need to change things myself, but I don’t know how, especially as autistic facial expressions and tone of voice have historically been responsible for me getting into arguments with all my family quite unintentionally i.e. people assume I’m angry when I’m not.  My resolution was to pause before responding to him, but it’s hard to remember that in the heat of the moment and obviously I completely failed to do it here.

***

One last thought: at shiur (religious class) today, the shiur rabbi was saying that, at this time of year (Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur/Jewish New Year and Day of Atonement) we should not ask for health, prosperity etc., which we might not use correctly, but rather to be able to serve God in a way without suffering/with health, prosperity etc., but with the emphasis on serving God, not the suffering-free life.  I have a horrid feeling that the reason I can’t deal with my issues is that, on some unconscious level, I don’t want to serve God without suffering, either from self-loathing or a martyrdom complex.

Employment Support

I’m in the process of setting up some employment support with two different charities.  This is potentially to discuss revising my CV, interview practice and (most important for me at the moment) broadening my search to other sectors.  I’m looking at two charities because I’m desperate for help and just applied where I could; I didn’t realise both would come through so quickly, although it will still be some weeks before I get seen.

The person I spoke to today from one charity raised the question of job benefits again.  I thought I wasn’t eligible for these as I have too many savings and have not been in employment long enough in the last two years to qualify based on amount of national insurance contributions.  Having looked at the Citizens’ Advice Bureau website again, I think the wording is ambiguous, but that having worked at all in the last two years and paid national insurance is enough, in which case it would be worth my applying for it.  I would feel better if I could check before applying, but the CAB phone line is perpetually engaged.

Other than that, it was a quiet day.  It was a minor Jewish fast day (Tzom Gedaliah).  I don’t fast on the minor fast days because of the medication I take, I only fast on Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement) next week, but I always cut back on fast days and feel subdued.  It didn’t help that I slept in late and then fell asleep again after breakfast and missed Shacharit (Morning Prayers) entirely, although I did walk to shul (synagogue) for Ma’ariv (Evening Prayers).  I applied for another job, at a charity where I applied for a similar job in the past (I think I interviewed OK for that job, which may be good).  I did half an hour of Torah study (not nearly as much as I would have liked).  I didn’t work on my novel, bar reading an article online for research.  I think the novel is going to be on hold for the next few weeks, until all the Yom Tovim (festivals) are over.

I’ve also allowed myself to be persuaded by various people (my parents, E., and other people via my parents) to apply for a teaching assistant job at a local Jewish school, on the grounds that this will give me the opportunity to see if I would want to be a teacher.  I’m rather nervous of not having the right experience.  Lots of people say I’m good with children, but I don’t always feel confident with them.  On the other hand, there is apparently a real lack of male staff in primary schools, especially Orthodox Jewish ones (where teaching older students is more prestigious), which may work to my advantage.  I didn’t have time to apply today, but I hope to apply tomorrow.

I also have an appointment with a psychiatrist tomorrow, another new one perhaps because of the high turnover of NHS staff.  I find these somewhat tedious, as I don’t think it’s a good idea to cut back my medication, but the psychiatrists never really suggest anything new, they just exhort me to get a job, socialise, sort out my sleep pattern and so on.  But I don’t really want to be discharged while my mood is so variable, given how difficult it is to get seen by a psychiatrist again once you have been discharged, so I try to keep being seen every few months just in case I really need to be seen at some point.  This is arguably playing the system, but the system is arguably set up so that you have to play it to survive.

Bounded in a Nutshell

“I could be bounded in a nutshell, and count myself a king of infinite space, were it not that I have bad dreams.” Hamlet, William Shakespeare

I felt a huge amount of anger with HaShem (God) yesterday evening.  I’m just so lonely and feel so useless and I can’t see any way out.  It’s illogical to be angry with Him about my own failings, but I feel that if I wasn’t autistic and depressed, I wouldn’t be so lonely and isolated, which leads on to anger with Him for making me autistic (blame for the depression is more complicated).  I feel if I wasn’t autistic, I would be able to function in the frum (religious) world as He wants, but as it is, I can’t function.

I didn’t know how to process the anger, so I ended up hurting myself for the first time in a while.  I hit my legs with my fists while trying to talk to HaShem;  later I scratched myself slightly, but I’m not quite sure why I did that.  I have been fantasising about death again lately too, mainly just thinking that however bad things are here, one day I’ll be dead and unable to feel any more pain.

***

I’m still struggling with what to do about dating.  It still feels wrong, morally wrong, to date while I’m not just unemployed, but not even sure what I want to do with my life any more.  And I can’t face the thought of rejection and it seems there are so many reasons why someone would reject me (autistic, depressed, weird geeky interests, didn’t go to yeshiva or otherwise tick the appropriate frum boxes) even without being unemployed too.  Nor do I look forward to having to turn down someone I don’t feel is right for me.  And I’m wary of thinking that things will be better if I’m in a relationship (although it is true that I have felt better when I’ve been in a relationship in the past, even if I wasn’t “recovered”).

However, I just feel so lonely.  I feel like everyone has their partner except me.  This is blatantly untrue (a number of my friends are single), but reflects how I feel.  I feel that I am mostly self-contained.  I don’t need other people with me all the time.  I have solitary hobbies and even things like watching TV I prefer to do alone (I don’t like watching TV with other people because I don’t watch TV casually.  I don’t channel hop, I only watch things I want to watch and which I think are worth my time, but then I watch them with complete concentration and dislike noise and interruptions, particularly as the programmes I watch tend to be plot-heavy and reasonably complex to follow).  I should really be happy living alone as I’m an introvert and a bit of a loner.  But, as seen when my parents are away, when I’m actually alone, I do get more depressed, even though logically I should welcome being alone.  I do, on some level, need people around me, even if I don’t interact with them much.  I also need to be able to love and to feel loved and I’m rather starved of both of these things and have been much of my life.  My parents and my sister do care about me, but there are so difficulties in those relationships, most probably stemming from my autism and my having different “love languages” to my family.  We probably aren’t very good at showing love to each other in ways the other person can comprehend.

I try to cope with things and be self-contained (“If you are miserable alone, you will be miserable in a relationship” as everyone says), but I just feel so unbearably lonely and unloved that it’s impossible to escape the depression for long.

***

I saw the psychiatrist today.  It didn’t go well.  She focused on my unemployment, repeatedly telling me that I should get a job, which wasn’t terribly helpful.  She did suggest doing voluntary work, which is probably a good idea.  I didn’t feel like she was really listening, nor did I have the confidence to tell her that my depression and social anxiety are just as bad, if not worse, when I’m working, because of issues surrounding autism and mental illness in the workplace.  In fact, I haven’t told this psychiatrist about my autism at all, as the last one said that if I’ve been told I haven’t got it by the Maudsley Hospital, I don’t have it and that’s final.  As my GP has referred me for another assessment at the Maudsley, I’m not going to raise the issue again until I’ve had that assessment.

As well as sounding disappointed with me for not having a job, she sounded disappointed with me for not having friends.  I said I had “one or two” which is a simplification (I have two or three I’m in contact with regularly, but via text as they live elsewhere; I have one or two friends who live locally, but I usually only see them in shul (synagogue)).   I couldn’t really be bothered to explain as she didn’t seem interested and I was struggling to understand her accent; possibly she was struggling with mine too.  She asked if I am in a relationship; she didn’t really react when I said I’m not.  When she asked what I do when I’m not job hunting, I said I write a bit, which she misheard as “write a book” which is basically true so I didn’t correct her.

She asked if I have thoughts of self-harm or suicide and I said yes, because I have had them in the last couple of days, but she didn’t really seem to care as I said I wouldn’t act on the suicidal thoughts, which is probably true, and that I wouldn’t act on the self-harm thoughts, which was a lie because I did last night.  I don’t know why I lied; probably because it was very minor and I just wanted to get out of the appointment room.  I just didn’t feel comfortable opening up to her as she seemed to just want to process me quickly and get to the next patient and seemed to think that finding a job will be a panacea for me.

***

Today’s potential jobs: a school librarian maternity cover job (I don’t want to work in further education again after struggling previously); an “information assistant” that seems to be a library assistant role rather than an assistant librarian and has a lethal-looking commute; and a role billed as “knowledge librarian” but which also seems to be a library assistant role rather than a trained librarian role, judging from the lack of professional skills in the job description and which also requires SharePoint experience that I don’t have.  I was then reminded that I applied for a “knowledge librarian” role a few days ago; I think it was the same job as the job descriptions are similar, although it’s hard to be sure, as both jobs are advertised through different agencies and don’t state the name of the company that is advertising the job (this happens a lot and is very frustrating).

It is probably no wonder that I really want to do something else with my life, something I find more rewarding.  But, just as I don’t have the courage to start dating again, I don’t have the courage (or knowledge and perhaps the ability) to try to write professionally.

***

I feel like I’m coming down with a migraine, so the rest of the day is probably a wipe-out now.

Depressive Thoughts

(A stupid, pointless title, but I’m feeling awful.)

Last night after I blogged my mood went down quite rapidly.  I felt like I had been going flat out all week with networking workshop, Jewish Book Week, work two consecutive days and my parents away.  I just fell back into despair and lethargy and crawled into bed at midnight hoping I would wake feeling better or at least more alert.

However, I had strange dreams in the night.  First I was on the Tube and ended up helping a doctor who was helping a pregnant woman who I thought was a nun, but looked, in retrospect, like she was wearing a hijab.  I was aware that she had cut herself off from her community by getting pregnant, but I felt sorry for her.  I was worried about not getting home in time for Shabbat (the Sabbath), but was assured by the doctor that it didn’t start until 7.30pm (in reality, that won’t happen until the clocks go forward).  Then things shifted and I was in some sort of classroom (although I think I and the friends/other people with me were all adults).  A huge and intimidating man, about twice my height, stocky and with a long, thick beard was trying to test me on reading Hebrew aloud; I stumbled on this, but couldn’t convince him that this was due to social anxiety stopping me reading confidently rather than poor Hebrew literacy.  We started to daven (pray) the Friday evening service, but the intimidating teacher told us to skip Kabbalat Shabbat as it was too late.  At which point I woke up, I think.

I am not entirely sure what any of this means, although I can see that it was an anxiety dream (which may be why my sleep was not restful) with some obvious allusions: the pregnant “Muslim nun” rejected by her community represents my fears of being rejected by the frum (religious) world for being too worldly, but also by Doctor Who fandom for being too religious (she was still a nun even after presumably breaking her vow of chastity); more prosaically, the motif of being late for Shabbat reflects my fears that I’ll run late tomorrow getting ready for Shabbat by myself, plus I do still get occasional anxiety dreams about breaking Shabbat even though I’ve been shomer Shabbat, at least at a basic level, for half my life.

***

It was fortunate that I woke up when I did, as I had slept for eleven hours, dramatically oversleeping and having to rush out and skip both shaving and davening (praying) to get to my psychiatrist appointment on time, both of which I hate missing.  The radio was on in the waiting room and I found it irritating.  I don’t know why all NHS and social services waiting rooms seem to have TV or radio on these days.  I find it really annoying and it’s not terribly autistic-friendly.  It was a new psychiatrist as the one I saw last time is ill.  The appointment was OK, but I felt that I was just a statistic on the waiting list being processed.  She didn’t ask about my case history or the causes of my problems and didn’t seem terribly aware that I’ve been depressed without cure for most of the last sixteen years or more.  Maybe she didn’t know.  I didn’t say anything about autism, because the last psychiatrist was dismissive of it, saying I’d already been assessed and told I was not autistic.  My GP has sent my autism referral through and I’m on the (very long) waiting list, so there didn’t seem any point talking to this psychiatrist about it at this stage, although I did get vaguely upset when she said that social contact will get easier the more I practise it.  For a neurotypical person, maybe, not for someone whose brain isn’t wired to understand people.  The psychiatrist was also a bit blasé about my work issues, saying I would find part-time work easily.  I didn’t ask for a medication change, as the clomipramine seems to work a bit, sometimes, even though it still leaves me quite depressed and has led to a lot of weight gain.  I don’t think it’s particularly sensible to mess around with medication while I’m working if I can help it anyway.  I have another appointment for three months time, so I’ll see what happens and maybe ask to change things then.

***

In the afternoon I did not do much, but was busy with my job application spreadsheet, which I keep up to date, even though I have not actually applied for anything for weeks and have missed a lot of deadlines, alongside a few other chores.  I was hoping to work on one or both of my books too, but I didn’t get the chance again.  I’m so busy just surviving from day to day that I don’t have time for anything more future-orientated, whether writing books or job hunting.  I didn’t actually achieve much today, but I didn’t really relax and get the rest I need either.  Maybe I will be able to rest over Shabbat, but who knows?

***

Looking at job adverts again today brings back my work worries.  I know I’m over-qualified for my job, which is not too difficult, and although there are harder elements (choosing appropriate material for exhibitions is difficult but interesting, although it would help if I knew the collection better, but my background in history has been very useful here and won me praise from my line manager).  But the whole reason I like my job is because it’s not pushing me too hard right now, when I am struggling with self-esteem and energy and motivation issues as well as confusion about whether I’m autistic and how I should live my life if I am, as well as how to manage my mental health (with or without autism).  I don’t know what to do.

***

The work worries bleed into relationship worries, because I don’t think anyone will date me until I’m working much closer to full-time.  I know that I could still get married at some point, but it seems a long way off, which in turn makes having children (which I really want to do and think about a lot) less likely.  But it’s the loneliness that is so hard, and difficult to survive.  It’s probably loneliness more than anything that has triggered my suicidal times, even if it gets mixed up with despair and hard to isolate.  I don’t know how to survive the ten or twenty (or thirty or forty) years that I might have to wait until I’m functional enough to look for love and to meet someone who can see past my considerable dysfunctionality and all the baggage and drawbacks I come with.

I just wish I had people to talk to who understood me.  It’s been hard to talk to my parents lately, which is probably my fault.  I get irritable and sarcastic when I’m depressed, not to mention focused on catastrophising.  But my parents don’t entirely understand depression or autism entirely, although their understanding is greater than some people’s.  That’s not their fault, but it makes it hard.

I have friends who understand depression and autism and care about me, but they don’t live locally and I can only communicate via text and email, which is better than nothing, but also lacks something somehow, even to a socially anxious and avoidant person like me.  My local friends don’t really know so much about my issues, for various reasons, again, largely my fault.

I just wish there was someone in my life who cared about me and understood me and I could see regularly (and feel comfortable seeing regularly).  I know I depend too much on other people for my self-esteem, but I don’t know how to change that and I get annoyed by people who aren’t lonely telling me I have to love myself before anyone else can love me.  I could just as easily state that other people have to show me I’m worthy of love before I can love myself, because I don’t see myself as worthy.

***

On a related note, my sister phoned tonight to see how I’m getting on without my parents.  I struggled a bit to deal with the call.  I find that usually happens when she phones me.  I thought it was because she usually interrupts dinner/Doctor Who, but I wonder if it’s an autistic predictability thing and I would cope better if she told me in advance that she was planning to phone at a particular time on a particular day.  Still, I think she takes better care of me than I would be able to do if our roles were reversed.  Maybe I couldn’t cope with someone in my life who cared about me and understood me.

***

About 8pm, I was watching Doctor Who and noticed that I was crying.  I thought it was odd, as I didn’t consciously feel depressed.  Then about twenty minutes later, I realised I was depressed, painfully depressed and sad.  It’s strange how out of touch I am with my emotions.

***

I read a davar Torah (Torah insight) sent out by my shul (synagogue) for Rosh Chodesh Adar II (New Moon) upset me.  I felt I was being attacked and to some extent deserved to be attacked.  I don’t really know what ‘spirituality’ or ‘Jewish spirituality’ means any more, if I ever did.  I try to study some Torah every day and pray at least a bit of the three daily prayer services (although I often miss Shacharit on non-work days like today).  I want to be a good Jew, but I don’t really connect with HaShem (God) or Torah much these days emotionally.  I certainly can’t find “authentic spiritual joy” for Purim.  It’s just a struggle to get through Purim in one piece.  I want to be a good Jew, but it’s hard enough trying to perform the mitzvot (commandments) in my situation without worrying about kavannah (mindfulness), spirituality, meaning or connection to HaShem.

Then shiur (religious class) tonight was about genuine joy being connecting to HaShem via Torah, but we get distracted by false pleasures.  This might reinforce my feeling that I’m depressed because I’m a bad person and God hates me, which I hadn’t felt quite so much recently.  I think I might have missed the point of the shiur, though, or wilfully misinterpreted it to make myself feel bad.

Whether I misinterpreted things or not, I feel that I’m a bad person and a bad Jew who doesn’t connect with HaShem through davening, mitzvot and especially not through Torah and who is wasting his life on meaningless transitory pleasures like Doctor Who and writing (despite this I am still thinking of cosplaying (dressing up as a fictional character) the fourth Doctor for Purim, but I might not have the guts to do it).

So much of Jewish religiosity is tied up with community, which is problematic for me because of social anxiety and low self-esteem (it’s feeling that people would reject me  if they knew the real me that keeps me away more than actual experience of rejection), and with family, which is difficult for me because my parents don’t connect with Judaism in the same way as me and because when Jews say “family” they primarily mean spouse and children (maybe most non-Jews think like that too).

The silly thing is that I really believe intellectually, I just can’t connect emotionally with my religion, perhaps through depression (or autism?).

***

I can’t believe anyone reads this rubbish I write.  I shouldn’t write it, but I need to vent and here you go.  I suppose it’s better than hurting myself, at least assuming it isn’t just a very clever and complicated way of hurting myself, which might in fact be the case.

You Don’t Have to Be Neurotypical to Work Here – But It Helps!

I struggled to sleep again last night, despite not feeling consciously anxious.  I did my usual trick of eating porridge as a way of ingesting soporific warm milk (I don’t like the taste of milk ‘straight’) which worked, but I wonder how much of my weight gain is due to things like this.  Although the dark chocolate Kit-Kat I had for dessert at dinner because I was so depressed was probably worse.  The result was that I overslept this morning and rushed out to my networking workshop and got the Tube rather than the bus to save time, only to discover I’d been overcautious and arrived half an hour early.  I was too embarrassed to go in straight away and paced up and down outside for quarter of an hour.  I was still the first person there.

The workshop was quite good and, to my relief, didn’t involve too much interaction.  We did have to sell ourselves with an ‘elevator pitch’ which I struggled with.  The whole morning just underlined for me, if I could have forgotten, how vague I am on my career aspirations (not least because I really want to be a writer and librarianship is a time-filler while I work on my first books or second-choice in case I can’t write), how few people there are in my social network, how few professional contacts I have in the sector I work in and so on.  I did feel that with all the emphasis in the workshop on building networks of people, using casual conversations to build careers and using body language to put across meaning that the world of work is built for extrovert neurotypicals, not introverts or autistics.  The whole experience did make me feel somewhat negative about my career prospects.  At least I’m not a salesman like one of the people in the workshop.

I got home minutes before the torrential rain, which was good.

***

A strange thought this morning: when I had my first ever psychiatric assessment, at the university counselling service at Oxford, the psychiatrist was surprised that, at the age of nineteen, I’d never had a girlfriend and asked if I was gay.  When I said I wasn’t, he asked if he was sure I wasn’t gay.  (Goodness knows what he would have made of the fact that I didn’t even go on a date until I was twenty-seven.)  I hope that nowadays something like that would flag up high-functioning autism as a possible explanation as well as non-heterosexuality (and that non-heterosexuality would include asexuality as well as homo- and bi-sexuality).  To be fair to him, high-functioning autism was a lot less well-known sixteen years ago, but you would think that a mental health professional at Oxford would encounter more high-functioning autistics than the average person.

***

Another thought this morning: because of the way my mental health issues interact with my religious practices, I have to make an at least semi-conscious decision to remain Jewish frequently, whereas many Jews, frum (religious) as well as non-frum, can coast on autopilot.  But I constantly have to choose to put my energy into prayer, Torah study and being part of the community, just as I have to constantly choose to artificially limit my already limited (because of depression and autism) dating pool to the frum community.  This has disadvantages, in that I’m much more likely to go off the derekh (stop being religious), I am not well-integrated into the frum community and Judaism is not as organic a part of my life as it should be, as well as the fact that my issues interfere with my mitzvah observance to a significant extent.  However, perhaps it makes me more thoughtful about my beliefs and practices and more understanding of other ‘fringe Jews’ (as a now-defunct blog used to refer to Jews on the edge of the frum community, by choice or otherwise).  I do feel guilty that I invest such a small percentage of my time and energy in prayer, Torah study and communal activities, but this is the only way I can function right now.  It helps to be neurotypical here, too.

***

This evening I’m out, doing something cultural/religious, listening to Robert Alter speak about translating the whole of Tanakh (the Hebrew Bible).  I’m going by myself as I don’t know anyone currently in London who would like to go to hear someone talk about academic (as opposed to frum) Bible translation, although I’m not sure it would have occurred to me to ask a friend even if I had one.  I tend to assume that I should do cultural things by myself, whether from habit or because my friends don’t share my interests, although I do sometimes go to art galleries with my sister and try to see a ‘straight’ play with my Mum once a year, usually at the Open Air Theatre.  It will be a late night and I’m worried about getting up in time for work in the morning, so I’m doing as much of my evening routine as I can beforehand.  Hence blogging now.  Other than that, I hope just to relax and recuperate from the stresses of this morning before going out, which will doubtless tax my autistic self in various ways.

Realignments

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

***

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

***

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

***

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

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

Anyway, enough politics!!!!

***

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

***

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

Stresses and Social Anxiety

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

***

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

Virtuous Circles

22 Shevat: Yortzeit of the Kotzker Rebbe

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

***

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

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

***

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

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

***

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

***

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

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

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

***

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

Bleargh Again

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

***

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

***

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

***

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

***

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

***

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

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

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

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

***

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

***

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

***

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

NHS Woes

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

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

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

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

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

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

Crazy Cat Lady

My letter from the psychiatrist arrived, so I now officially have an appointment on Thursday!  It’s annoyingly at lunch time, which means I will go to work in the morning, come home at noon and go to my appointment, but – unless it’s over very quickly (which has happened to me before with NHS psychiatrists who just want to ‘process’ their patients ASAP) – I won’t be able to go back to work in the afternoon because by the time I get into town, it will practically be time to come back.  As I’m paid hourly, that is a financial loss, but to postpone the appointment would have meant waiting until January for another one.

On the whole I felt better today.  I got through over 130 records at work, which is an improvement on most of last week.  I think I mostly got through the morning by thinking about whether I could own guinea pigs in the back of my mind while working; in the afternoon I was a bit more down and began to doubt whether I could keep them and whether my parents will agree to my getting them (thus far Mum has cautiously expressed abstract approval and Dad has said nothing at all).  I’m glad that my rabbi mentor thinks that my owning a pet is “a wonderful idea” as, while he’s not infallible, he is usually right and he makes me feel a bit more confident that this isn’t a crazy idea.  We’re not really a pet-owning family, though, and I don’t think my parents really understand why this idea has suddenly gripped me.

Reading The Complete Guide to Asperger’s Syndrome at lunch brought me down a little, as I worry again that I won’t be diagnosed on the autistic spectrum – or with anything else unexpected – and will be left floating again with treatment-resistant depression and no help from the NHS other than drugs.  I feel there must be something going on other than pure unipolar depression, but I’m not a psychiatrist and I don’t know what it might be, other than guessing at autism or trauma.  But I’ve been wrong about things like this before.  I wish I had a psychiatrist I trusted and knew well, but the NHS doesn’t work like that.  I had one for a while, but only because she broke the rules by continuing to see me.  She thought I was autistic, but didn’t give me an official diagnosis and I think she came to see me as a frustrating problem patient.  She certainly seemed to stop listening to me after a while.

On the way home I felt a bit more down, probably from tiredness and hunger.  I found myself thinking of the wave of recent engagements of people doubtless ten or more years younger than me in my community.  While I try to be open to the idea that there might possibly be someone female out there of compatible age, religious outlook and personality who can at least tolerate my geekiness, borderline autism, social anxiety and depression, however improbable that seems, it is difficult to imagine how I could ever meet her and get talking to her.  I know someone who insists that there is nothing proactive whatever one can do to get married; it is completely up to God when and how you will meet your mate, but you will meet eventually.  I find this hard to accept.  Some people simply don’t get married and, in any case, in Judaism we are supposed to be proactive with our lives, at least up to a point (she accepted proactivity only in accepting arranged dates, but, as I’ve said, people aren’t arranging dates for me).  In any case, without a well-paying job that would let me support a family, talk of marriage seems pointlessly premature.  And without finding out what is wrong with me and finding a way of coping with it, it seems unlikely that I will ever manage much in the way of a career.   I guess this is the problem: that my issues are interlinked and it’s impossible to deal with one at a time.

Well, I seem to have brought myself down pretty well now.  I’m very tired and still somewhat hungry even after dinner.  I want to go for seconds, but I’ve put on a huge amount of weight on clomipramine and am wary of eating too much.  Life can be very frustrating.  I fear I’m going to turn into the male equivalent of a crazy cat lady.

End of the Week Bits and Pieces

I forgot to mention yesterday that I changed where I was sitting in the office (we hotdesk), so that the two people who pace up and down while on the phone were in front of me rather than behind me.  This seems to have helped.  They’re just as audible, but not so distracting.  It seems that noise behind me makes me more alert and anxious than noise in front of me.  Unfortunately, there is no guarantee about where I’ll be able to sit over the next three weeks.

I just got phoned by a variation on this scam.  Luckily I was suspicious and googled them rather than phoning them back.

I wish I could be as non-judgemental of myself as I am of others.  That said, I am judgemental of others, but then I make myself think about things and realise that what they have done isn’t so bad and they probably have extenuating circumstances.  But I can’t even do that with myself.  I feel that I know that I’m a bad person and that while it isn’t my concern what other people do, it is my concern to make sure that I do the right thing, so I should beat myself up until I change, which never works.  I don’t know what a better method is, though.

Before my meeting with the new psychiatrist on Thursday, I’m trying to write two lists.  I don’t always remember what I want to say and I’m worried I’m not going to be confident about talking about alternative diagnoses, so I want to have something written I can give him/her.  One list is of the depression symptoms, the other is other problems I’ve been having and other things that make me think I’m on the autistic spectrum, although I’m not sure whether I’ll say that I think I’m autistic.  Please let me know if there’s anything I talk about here that I’ve forgotten.

The depression list is:

  • Very low mood.
  • Despair.
  • Occasional thoughts of suicide or self-harm.
  • Anxiety, especially social anxiety and anxiety related to work.
  • Lack of energy.
  • Poor concentration.
  • Lack of motivation.
  • Easily and frequently exhausted.
  • Inability to experience pleasure.
  • Loneliness.
  • Disrupted sleep at weekends, albeit primarily on non-work days.
  • Panic attacks on the way to work the other week.

The other list of symptoms is:

  • Difficulty understanding and describing my emotions.
  • Difficulty making eye contact.
  • Difficulty reading body language.
  • Body language and voice tone that makes others think I’m angry or upset even when I’m not.
  • Intense interests.
  • Difficulty moving from one task to another and multitasking.
  • Poor spatial awareness/get lost easily.
  • Difficulty holding a conversation without a prepared ‘script,’ especially small talk.
  • Sensory overload from noise at work, in restaurants, etc.
  • Fidgeting and stereotyped/repetitive movements (spin on chair, move feet and hands, stroke face, deliberately press on fingers or put in desk drawer).
  • Tactile – I like feeling certain objects with my hands or even lips.
  • I can’t always tell when people are joking.
  • Difficulty remembering or understanding long and/or implicit instructions.
  • I tend to stick to routines.

Some of these could be depressive, some I think point towards autism, but it’s hard to be sure.  I’ve been told that I didn’t experience all of these as a child, which is one reason why I wasn’t diagnosed with autism in the past.

For some of these symptoms I know the technical terms (alexithymia, ideation, anhedonia etc.).  I’ve been to so many psychiatrists and therapists and read so many books I’ve picked stuff up.  But I was worried that if I used the terms, I would seem pretentious and showing off and maybe would make the psychiatrist think I was telling him/her what to do.  But on the other hand they might be helpful and show that I have done some research.  What do you think?

Man Out of Time

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Going Round in Circles

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

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

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

The Great Clomipramine Shortage of 2018

The Great Clomipramine Shortage of 2018 is continuing.  To cut a very long and boring story short, I should be able to get a repeat prescription tomorrow, but not the 50mg tablets I want and had been prescribed initially or the 10mg tablets the doctor prescribed as a ‘here’s one I prepared earlier’ fallback, but 25mg tablets.  The pharmacy are at least saving them for me while the surgery comes up with the requisite paperwork.  But I think when I see the psychiatrist on 8 November (if the NHS ever deigns to tell me when my appointment is…) I need to talk seriously about changing meds, because these aren’t available and aren’t doing much when they are available.  No idea where we go from here though.  MAOIs?  ECT?

The other thing I need to talk to the psychiatrist about is alternative diagnoses.  I’m still going back and forth in my mind about autism and social communication disorder.  Tony Attwood writes in The Complete Guide to Asperger’s Syndrome that diagnosis is like putting together a jigsaw puzzle.  When it is 80% complete (enough diagnostic criteria are met), the jigsaw is considered completed, BUT only if the corners and edges are in place too (certain criteria have to be met, regardless of how many other criteria are met).  I have the 80% complete, but I don’t have all the corners and edges, there are some symptoms I just don’t have, or not at a high enough level, to count as autistic.  I can see the autism picture, but because I haven’t got the right pieces, no one will give me any help with it.  So maybe social communication disorder is a better bet, or going to a CBT therapist and trying to work directly with self-esteem and social anxiety.

The other thing I get from reading the book at the moment is gratitude.  I thought my childhood was not great, but it could have been so much worse.  The bullying could have been even more intense and violent, I could have been unable to defend myself in any way except violence (which would have got me in bigger trouble) and, most of all, I could have been without my “mentor friend” who guided and protected me (literally protected me – he was tall and strong and even though he was a geek, he wasn’t bullied as much as I was).  No wonder I used to get upset and maybe even anxious if he missed a day of school.  My Mum wanted to split us up, because she thought he was holding back my social development and I would make more friends in another class or school, but I suspect I would just have been even more alone if that had happened.

Speaking of mentor figures, Attwood says of romantic partners sought by people with autism, “The partner they seek is someone who understands them and provides emotional support and guidance in the social world – someone to be a ‘mother figure’ and mentor.”  I’ve realised this before about myself.  It makes me pessimistic.  I’m a weird enough person to be trying to matched up as it is, without putting pressure on women to mentor me and even mother me (even without getting into the complexity of my far-from-straightforward relationship with my actual mother).  This seems like asking too much.  I can’t imagine anyone ever consenting to marry me on those terms.  But I worry about what will happen when my parents are gone.  Complex though my current relationship with them is, they are still doing a lot of mentoring and guiding, e.g. today, when Mum came to resolve the clomipramine prescription confusion at the doctor’s surgery, when my social anxiety/autism/social communication disorder/shyness/whatever was just making me shutdown and run away.

I just got back from shiur (religious class).  It’s become quite difficult.  I really enjoy the content, but the number of people going has gone up and I feel uncomfortable with the number of people in the room, especially as some are noisy and constantly interrupting with questions and interjections (Jews don’t really do quiet listening).  I don’t really cope very well with people who like to talk for the sake of talking, or because they like the sound of their voices, doubly so if I’m trying to concentrate on someone else talking.  Plus just being around so many people is anxiety-provoking for me – Attwood says that for autistic people the difficulty of being around people, in terms of energy needed in alertness, anxiety and reasoning out the correct social interactions on the spot, increases exponentially (rather than linearly) with the number of people.  At shiur, as well as normal fears of a social faux pas, I’m worried about a religious faux pas too.  Just to make things worse, I’m juggling more balls because some people at the shiur know a bit about my mental health issues and some don’t and some have been acquaintances since childhood and some have not, so there is a lot to think about.

I’ve been thinking again about pets.  Attwood recommends them as affectionate and understandable companions for autistic children (unlike neurotypical children, who are difficult to understand).  I’ve see them recommended for people with depression too.  As a child I had a couple of goldfish, but that was it.  My family aren’t really pet people.  But now I wonder if it would help me to have a pet.  It would also let me see if I can cope with responsibility, given that I want to have children one day (although, as I say, that seems unlikely to happen).  Small mammals seem the best bet, guinea pigs or rabbits (both are social animals and should ideally be kept with at least two – I’ve done some reading on this already).  But I haven’t got the confidence to mention this to my parents (who in any case think the pet will die and leave me even more depressed), not least because I worry whether I am non-depressed enough to look after a pet, especially when I come home from work exhausted.  And then there’s the financial cost.

In other news, my contract isn’t being renewed at work, if I happen not to have finished the work by the end of my current contract (23 November).  I was told it was because of internal problems and bureaucracy, but I worry that it was secretly because I was a disappointment and they aren’t happy with my work and the mistakes I make.  It’s rather academic, as I strongly suspect I will be more or less finished by 23 November anyway.  To be honest, I think I might be self-sabotaging my job hunting.  I don’t really feel capable of working, at least not until I have dealt with my self-esteem and social anxiety issues and the autism/social communication disorder/whatever issues, plus I’m just plain exhausted from two months (with another to come) of constant alertness and anxiety to deal with social interactions and noise at work.  I need to stop for a bit and calm down and get my bearings.  I know that sounds lazy and entitled, but I feel like I’m at breaking point and I need time out – more than the three day weekends I have (which tend to be spent on chores and job applications and sometimes volunteering).  Although I was tempted by the job I saw advertised for Information and Records Manager for MI5 and MI6.  I want to be licensed to kill people who talk in the library or bring back books late.

Planet NHS, Planet Autism

On Planet NHS:

Me: 

Hi,

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

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

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

Thank you and regards,

Luftmentsch

Him:

8th November with Dr …

Me:

Hi …

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

Regards,

Luftmentsch

Him:

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

Me: 

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

Regards,

Luftmentsch

Him:

8th November will be the day.

Me:

[Stunned silence.]

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

Meanwhile, back in the real world:

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

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

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

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

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

Sukkot and Stress

Today has been stressful and isn’t over yet.  I had to phone someone to make an appointment with a psychiatrist.  I phoned at lunch time and was told the person I needed to speak to (I assumed the psychiatrist) was with a patient; he would phone back later.  I wasn’t brilliantly happy about being phoned at work, but I consented.

I was phoned near the end of the day, when I was rushing to finish the work I was set (I was set more than usual and as my boss was off sick, I wasn’t sure if I was supposed to do all of it or not, so I rushed the last bit to get it done (although I was still late) and I am now worried that I made mistakes; the other temp said she sees it as an ongoing project and doesn’t rush to finish).  Because I was stressed, I was not in a positive state of mind to start with, but it quickly became apparent that the person I was talking to was not a psychiatrist, but some type of administrator (the NHS is full of administrators).  He also clearly had no idea of my case history.  One might think that one advantage of a huge socialised healthcare system is easy sharing of information.  One might think that.  It never happens.  I don’t think there are actually accurate records of all the medication I’ve been on over the last fifteen years, which scares me.

He seemed horrified that I haven’t had CBT (actually I have, I clarified, but fifteen years ago).  I got the impression that he seemed bemused that a quick burst of CBT and some antidepressants hadn’t sorted me out long ago, because obviously no one could have serious depression.  He suggested that I access the IAPT and self-refer to some local group that offers… well, I’m not quite sure what it offers as the guy was not talking clearly and I had half switched-off when I realised that he had no idea of who I was and what my problems are and was trying to fit this very square peg in a round hole.  (The other half switched off when he admitted he was phoning me from his car.)  But I think they offer occupational support and group work, although I’m not sure if that’s proper occupational therapy and group therapy.  I don’t need the former as I’m working at the moment (the guy browbeat me into saying that I could go on my day off as I only work four days a week; I couldn’t be bothered to tell him about Shabbat and early winter Fridays) and I don’t really need a therapy group as I have depression group and autism group.  But I said I would self-refer, because it can’t hurt and because I felt it was the only way I could get my real prize, a referral to a proper psychiatrist and maybe some CBT on the NHS (rather than privately) to work on my self-esteem and social anxiety, which would be a win if I can get it to fit with work and Shabbat.

I feel bad that I was a bit short with this guy, but I was at work and had nowhere private to go (it’s an open plan office) so I was in the toilet, with other people, with the cleaner going in and out, trying to be heard on the phone but not by other people, talking aloud about really private stuff, realising I was talking to someone who had no idea who I am or what my problems are and who is just trying to tick a load of boxes that are either unhelpful or which I ticked over a decade ago without result.  (I actually really hate the NHS and half hope someone will have the guts to privatise it, which is not what long-term NHS users are supposed to say; we’re supposed to be all, “Oooh, Jeremy Corbyn, save the NHS from Evil Tories!”  I don’t think a privately-run system will be any better, but at least it won’t be a political football any more and we might get rid of some pointless bureaucrats.)

Anyway…

The other news is that on my lunch break I finished the complex PTSD book (albeit that I skipped some not so relevant bits).  It was a useful description of trauma and emotional flashbacks and makes me think that there probably is an element of trauma in my history and it might be why I struggle to make progress with traditional depression treatments.  I have, however, already mentioned my fears that the attitude of “Your parents were abusive and you have to stop wanting to please them” isn’t terribly helpful for someone who wasn’t actually abused.  Also, while the book keeps talking about the need for unconditional self-love, it doesn’t always make clear (a) how to do this (although it did make me realise that my catastrophising about being single forever is a form of self-criticism) and (b) how to self-love without becoming a narcissist.  I have fears that if I stop beating myself up, I will inevitably end up like Donald Trump.  Plus, it doesn’t tell me how to love myself when I feel that I have genuinely done terrible things that are not deserving of forgiveness, or at least not until I have improved my ways a lot more than I have managed until now.

But my ordeal was not over.  I came home exhausted and hungry, but my father’s oldest friend was coming over to eat in the sukkah (the temporary hut Jews eat in on Sukkot to remember the Israelites in the wilderness).  I get annoyed at the way that my parents make me say hello to their friends generally, as it always seems awkward (I don’t know what to say or do), but at least I know their local friends.  Their non-local friends are harder to talk to, but this friend is hardest of all.  I have always found him overbearing, both in size (he’s well over six foot tall) and manner.  Frankly, although I can only remember one or two concrete instances, I always think of him as teasing me in a way that feels less friendly for me than he probably thinks.  (And this was before he spent a couple of years in a German prison for drug smuggling – seriously.)  I said hello from a distance, and disappeared.  He made a comment about hearing me from a distance and my parents were annoyed, but these days I have not got patience for difficult people.  Plus, I suppose my father’s oldest friend being here just reminds me how I’ve drifted from my own oldest friend, who I am still vaguely in contact with, but who I haven’t seen for years and who forgets I’m not on Facebook, so I found out about the birth of his children late, through my sister, which upset me, although I suppose it’s not his fault.  My father’s friend is still here and I can here him and my parents through my window, which is depressing me and making me worried that I will still  have to speak to him.

Shiur (religious class) also upset me.  The usual self-critical thoughts about not being holy like everyone else, not having simcha shel mitzvah (joy in the commandments) or simcha at all, not being married… plus everyone else got there early (I’m guessing there was a WhatsApp message I missed because my phone is not working properly) and was seated in the sukkah and eating before I got there, so I missed the social side and I didn’t get a drink because the plastic cups ran out and I was too shy to ask for another one.  I was too shy to answer any questions too, although I knew the answers to a few and could have showed off, although I suppose that’s no great loss.  Someone there was very rude, pressuring people to go to a fund-raising event and to bring whisky to shul on Simchat Torah next week when he doesn’t know people’s time and financial commitments (and some may, like me, avoid things due to social anxiety or some other legitimate reason).  This was the same person who, on finding out that I’m single, responded that it was “time” for me to get married, as if I was overwhelmed with offers of marriage and was foolishly wasting my time in hedonistic pleasure seeking (which is the exact opposite of my depressive anhedonia).  (To be fair, he did also offer to have me over to his house for Shabbat meals while I’m single.)  This shouldn’t have upset me, but obviously it did, because I’m still angry nearly two hours later.  This person is probably very holy (at any rate, all he seems to do is “learn” Torah), but perhaps he is so holy he forgets how ordinary people have to live.  Maybe that’s something I can take from my misery, that at least it has made me marginally more empathic and non-judgemental than I might otherwise have been, although if this is me with empathy and tolerance, I worry what me without them would look like.