Forcing the End

I was given more to do at work today.  Lately I have been researching about 120 names a day; today I was given 300 for today and tomorrow together.  I couldn’t reach 150 by the end of the day, although I was close (145).  In the late afternoon I got faster at researching, which always happens, but this time I got a lot faster and hyperfocused.  I also experimented with listening to music again to blot out the open plan office noises; it helps a bit for nearby noise (the people next to me on the phone), but the music gets just as irritating as low level background noise while I’m trying work.  I do listen to music, but usually when doing something menial and sometimes I find it oppressive and prefer to do without.  The other thing that happened when hyperfocusing was that my blood sugar level dropped after a while.  I ate an apple and a cereal bar, but I still felt a bit shaky.  I worry that I was going too fast, hyperfocusing, but with poor quality concentration and making mistakes.  I guess I’ll have to wait and see, although it’s possible that any mistakes might not be found until the data is used, which could be long after I’ve left.  On a selfish level this won’t affect me, but I want to do a good job because I have a sense of integrity in my work.  I want to do the job they are paying me to do to the best of my ability.

I found myself feeling envious of the high-powered lawyers I was researching.  I don’t know why.  The law has never struck me as an interesting career and I could not cope with the stress and disruption of my life that a high-powered job would entail.  It would be nice to be more financially secure, but I would have to sacrifice too much that is important to me (leisure time, relationships, spirituality/religion and probably conscience) even if I was well-enough and neurotypical enough to do such a job (which I’m not).  But I don’t feel that I’m better off than they are.  They at least are having a good time (possibly).  I have God, but a lot of the time I feel He wants to hurt me and let me deprive myself of Olam HaBa (Heaven).  As Faustian pacts go, it looks like I did badly.  Maybe I’m wrong and it’s the depression talking.  I hope I am.  It’s hard to believe that, though.

When I went to the rabbi’s house for dinner on the first night of Rosh Hashanah, the person next to me said she heard an online shiur (class) where a rabbi said that the current Jewish generation is the strongest since the Akedah (the Binding of Isaac) in order to resist the lures of the outside world.  I’m not sure that I agree with this.  I think the people who lived through the Holocaust, the pogroms, the Crusades, the Hadrianic persecutions and so on were pretty strong.  Even if we’re talking about a different kind of strength, I don’t feel that I personally am doing all that well at resisting temptation.  In fact, I’m doing pretty badly.  But the statement reminded me of a passage from Martin Buber’s Tales of the Hasidim and I’ve been thinking about both recently.  This is the passage from Buber (translated by Olga Marx):

The Time to Come

It was on a sabbath and the rabbi of Rizhyn [Rabbi Yisrael of Rizhyn] sat at his table surrounded by his hasidim.  Then he said to them: “The days are near when all will be well with the common man both in body and in soul, but all will not be well with the extraordinary man, not in body and not in soul, and he will not even be able to recite one psalm.”

And he concluded: “Why do I tell you this?  So that your hearts shall not grieve: it ought to be so, it must be so.”

Another time he said: “In the last three hours before redemption it will be as difficult to cling to Jewishness as to climb a smooth wall of ice.  That is why in the Hoshanot prayer we say: ‘Three hours – pray help!’  Those are the last hours.”

Obviously, it would suit my vanity to think of myself as an extraordinary person, but I suppose beyond that I want to feel that there is some meaning in my life.  If I can’t do something meaningful, I’d like my suffering to be for some kind of eschatological purpose.  I suppose it would be a strange form of revenge, but still revenge, if my suffering helped redeem the people who treated me badly (when I was very ill, at Oxford, a couple of times I briefly thought that I was Mashiach (the Messiah).  I still don’t know if that was technically a psychotic episode and probably never will).  And I suppose I hope that the redemption will come soon, because I can’t cope with this world and if I can’t commit suicide, then I want everything to be magically sorted out without my having to do anything because I don’t know what I can do that I haven’t yet tried.  I suppose I feel that it would take the final redemption and the end of history to get rid of my depression and to get me married.  But I really am finding it hard to cling to Jewishness.  I have that part of it alright.  Just not the good bit, the redemptive bit.

The Boy You Always Wanted

Donnie was the boy you always wanted by your side./Donnie was the boy your girlfriends fell for one by one./Donnie was the one you always wanted day and night. – Donnie by Ace of Base

“Every lonely monster needs a companion.” Doctor Who: Hide by Neil Cross

At the moment I’m in the nervy, agitated state that for a while in the past I mistook for hypomania and wondered if I really had bipolar disorder (I had a psychiatrist who fuelled this a bit by saying I was probably somewhere on the bipolar spectrum, but I suspect that by that stage she was just saying anything to shut me up).

I think the reality of leaving my job has hit.  I’m not technically unemployed for another five and a bit weeks (I’m technically on paid holiday), but I think I’m already spiralling downwards.  I worry that I should not have left, given how hard it will be to get a new job, but I think if I had stayed I would either have stayed there indefinitely, despite being miserable, or been fired for being incompetent under the new job description.  I gave myself a day off from job-hunting today to sort some chores, but I felt depressed, procrastinated and only did a fraction of what I wanted to do.  I suppose I should allow myself a mental health day, except this hasn’t been that.  It’s fallen between two stools, neither a relaxing day off to recuperate from a draining term (draining physically, mentally and emotionally) nor a day in which I did many chores.  So now I still feel tense and tired, but I haven’t achieved much.

Job hunting in earnest should start tomorrow, but I’m fearful of it.  I spoke to my rabbi mentor today; he seemed to expect me to have surveyed the entire field by now and sent of some applications.  That would seem to underestimate how anxiety-provoking this is, and how inadequate I feel about my ability to do most jobs.

The reality of breaking up with E. keeps hitting me too.  I keep thinking I’m over it, or at least accepting that something might happen in the future, but not now, and then I realise I’m still telling myself we might get back together… well, we might, but it depends on my finding a better-paying job than seems likely and just generally being better at coping with The Real World than I’m likely to be any time soon (I don’t want to deal with The Real World.  The Real World is full of terrorism, antisemitism, sexism, racism, war, famine etc.  I want to leave The Real World to its own murderous devices and escape somewhere quiet).  E. said I could date other women if I get bored waiting for her, but (a) I don’t want other women, I want E. and (b) I can’t imagine there are many other women out there who are (i) interested in me and (ii) willing to be the main breadwinner.  So, I’m alone again, and I’m not good at dealing with that.

I’m beating myself up again and struggling with my thoughts.  I’ve messed stuff up again (I mean procrastinating and acting out in ways that I wish I wouldn’t do when depressed).  I suppose it’s nothing serious, but I always seem to be running in quicksand, sinking fast.  I wonder how I compare with other frum (religious) men, in terms of meeting religious obligations for prayer, religious study, personal development and so on.  It’s hard to tell how much latitude I should give myself because of the depression and other issues and I don’t have anyone to compare with, especially as my own mental health can vary widely from day to day and even across the day.  I also wonder what other people really think of me, but if they tell me they like me, I assume they’re being polite or, more bluntly, lying.

I’ve been using the heter (permission) for depressed people to listen to music in the Three Weeks of mourning when normally it would be forbidden (I wish I’d learnt about that years ago).  Despite never having deliberately listened to Ace of Base in the past (I think I must have been passively exposed to them through my sister), I’ve been obsessively listening to Donnie over and over (in the past I would have worried more about kol isha, but I think my depressed disaffection with Judaism has eroded my ability to care about some rabbinic mitzvot).  I do this sometimes, listen to the same song a million times in a month and then stop as suddenly as I started.  It usually assumes some bizarre significance in my mind, usually about my life, as if the singer is singing directly to me.  This is probably borderline psychotic.

Donnie (not my name, but sounds vaguely like my Hebrew name) is about unrequited love (I suspect I prefer songs about unrequited love to the other kind) and carrying a torch for someone.  I find myself wondering if I want E. to always want me by her side.  I find that I do, and then feel both guilty and frustrated because it could never work and I should want her to find someone else who can make her happy in a way that I can’t.

Sometimes I feel that if I could understand things better, things in the outside world, I could stop them or make them better.  I don’t consciously think this, but I think the feeling is there, on some level.  I spent years trying to understand antisemitism (I probably still do try) and I suspect that I felt that if I understood it, it would go away.  No, that’s not quite it.  That’s fairly psychotic, again.  Well, maybe it is a little psychotic.  It’s hard to put into words, but sometimes the pain in my head seems to have a direct relationship to the pain in the world (The Horrible Real World again), but it’s hard to work out in which direction it goes.  Maybe both ways.  Maybe I feel somehow responsible for things?  That’s not quite it (although it can happen with depression, particularly when it’s on the border of psychosis, as I’ve probably been in the past).  I guess it’s tied up with my quasi-solipsistic feeling of importance, that there isn’t really anything other than my mind.  That the barrier between my mind and the world is somewhat permeable?  I don’t really think that either, but… I can’t really put it into words.  It’s very frustrating.

Sometimes I imagine myself at my own funeral, listening to eulogies, getting angry at the lies to make me sound good, walking behind my own coffin…  This probably isn’t normal.  Sometimes I imagine burying myself, only me and no one else (this is a blatant steal from the Doctor Who novel Alien Bodies).  Sometimes I wonder if I’m dead and this is Gehennom.  That probably isn’t normal either.

Sometimes I feel like I’m this close to losing my grip on reality.  That’s probably why I take refuge in improbable, surreal fictions.  (I recently wrote a post on this, ostensibly for my Doctor Who blog, which I haven’t got around to posting yet.  Arguably it could fit on either of my blogs, but I can only put it on one, because one is anonymous and the other isn’t.)  Stuff like Doctor WhoThe Prisoner and Sapphire and Steel seem much more reflective of how I experience reality than most ‘realistic’ fiction.

Sex, Love, Virginity and Fear of Missing Out

(My first scheduled post, I hope it posts OK.  Apologies if it hasn’t.)

I’ve noticed that, without really intending it, I’ve mentioned more than a few times here that I’m in my mid-thirties and a virgin.  It’s been on my mind a lot recently.  I think it comes out here because, outside of therapy, I don’t have anywhere to voice these thoughts.  I have never really been able to talk to my parents about sex and relationships.  I don’t really have friends that I feel comfortable talking to much about them either, certainly not to send them stuff like this out of the blue.  Actually, that’s not quite true, I talk to my non-biological sisters a bit about it, but then I feel embarrassed afterwards and wonder if I said too much and even then I don’t do it often.  Obviously I can’t talk about it at work, although sometimes I feel conscious that all my colleagues have at least one child, so they have all had sex at least once (let’s limit ourselves to the observable facts here, Watson.  And discount IVF for the moment).

I feel bad about mentioning it.  I feel I should be, somehow, above such things.  As a frum (religious) Jew, I’m supposed to think that sex is really good and important, but only in marriage and even in the context of marriage, one shouldn’t talk about it.  (It can be quite comical watching rabbis struggling with euphemisms when they have to talk about sex in sermons and drashas, although I still prefer such bowdlerisations to the stark vulgarity of postmodern slang.)  So within the frum community people are supposed to be having a lot of (marital) sex, but no one ever mentions it, even as the number of children ever multiplies.  And no one ever stops to talk about what the people who aren’t married should be doing (or shouldn’t be doing).

Beyond that… well, I’m probably somewhat autistic, so I’m not good at understanding and expressing interpersonal and emotional stuff at all.  So I can’t really understand what love and sex means to other people and I struggle to say what it means to me (hence this rambling post, as I try to understand what I think and express it somehow to you).  And I have mentioned that a lot of the fiction that resonated with me growing up implicitly celebrated celibacy: Tintin, Sherlock Holmes, the original Doctor Who (before Russell T. Davies and Steven Moffatt decided that the Doctor was a babe-magnet and that the original series was flawed for not featuring enough romance (I am actually worried about what incoming show-runner Chris Chibnall will do to the programme, given his track record, but that’s a subject for another time and another blog, when I’m ready to face the flame war).  Star Trek is an odd one, as Kirk was obviously a womaniser, but I was much more interested in Spock and later Data, both asexual (mostly).  I liked James Bond, but fast-forwarded through the sex until I got to about eighteen and realised I loathed everything about the character.

I doubt that this fiction messed me up emotionally.  More likely I looked (unconsciously) for heroes who also didn’t know what to say to girls and weren’t really interested anyway.  There was a reasonably big gap for me between hitting puberty physically and being emotionally interested in girls, about two or three years where I could have been dating but had no real interest in doing so.  That golden age eventually ended and I discovered that girls simply didn’t like me (actually I spent several years pining after them, but being too shy to ask them out, or really to talk to them at all), so asexual fiction became an escape from my intuition that I would be alone forever.

(I will add parenthetically that when Doctor Who came back in 2005 with a libido, those of us who felt uncomfortable with this were often branded online as emotionally-retarded freaks who couldn’t get girlfriends.  The fact that I already saw myself as an emotionally-retarded freak who had never had a girlfriend did not make me feel less ashamed or stigmatised.)

These days I think the fact that I can’t stop thinking about, and feeling vaguely ashamed of, being a thirty-something single virgin has less to do with sex, however.  To some extent, it’s about love, about wanting to love and be loved, to be accepted, and instead feeling ignored and forgotten by those around me.  But I think it’s largely about fear of missing out.  Feeling that being a single virgin makes me inadequate, proof that I’m a freak and emotionally disturbed and that no sensible woman would ever go near me.  Fear that I’m missing out on a world of adult pleasures both in terms of sex and love and the less-romantic things that follow on from that (home-building, child-rearing, being part of a community that tends to see single people as exceptions in need of help in conforming by being partnered up).

But also that sex comes to stand for various other pleasures and experiences that I have never had and probably never will have, because the depression, the social anxiety and the Asperger’s/autism get in the way.  This is a list of stuff that I’ve never done and in some cases would never want to do (usually because of the Asperger’s) but which many people in the Western world have done at least once and are considered highly enjoyable and/or meaningful (in no particular order):

  1. drunk alcohol (excluding kiddish wine, one or two sips of my parents’ drinks when I was a child and a shot of whisky I downed by mistake in kiddish once having mistaken it for grape juice);
  2. gone to a rock concert;
  3. really enjoyed a party, without having to go outside to escape at times (as an adult);
  4. had a friend who is close enough, emotionally and geographically, that we can just pop round to each others’ houses for a chat or tea;
  5. had a ‘peak experience’ (in Maslow’s terms);
  6. had an intense religious experience (not the borderline-psychotic experiences I had at university, where for a second or two I believed I was mashiach (the messiah);
  7. gone travelling by myself or with a friend/partner (not family);
  8. been able to meditate properly (I’ve tried.  I’ve managed a bit when the depression isn’t bad);
  9. flirted with someone (I’m only vaguely aware of what flirting is.  My therapist said I flirted with my ex a bit and I once ended up saying something that sounded more flirtatious than I intended to a girl I had a crush on at Oxford, so maybe that should be flirted successfully with someone);
  10. had someone flirt with me (my ex tried a few times, I think, but she came across too strong and explicit and used to scare me.  This was probably part of the reason she thought I was frigid);
  11. been kissed properly and enjoyed it (not what happened that felt more like abuse);
  12. exercised properly (I run a little bit, but can only run for a minute or two without dropping back into a walk, which worries me enough to make me wonder if I have undiagnosed physical health problems.  I haven’t done any real exercise since starting to work longer hours, though);
  13. talk meaningfully to a stranger;
  14. had a pet other than goldfish.  I mean a pet I can pet, like a cat or a rabbit;
  15. been loved romantically, properly;
  16. brought up children;
  17. been happy for a reasonably prolonged period rather than just vaguely content and not depressed (although I would settle for content and not depressed right now);
  18. really felt part of a community.

Some of these things are trivial; others are major parts of the human condition.  Some I suppose I may have experienced a bit (I did qualify several of them), but others, like sex, are totally unknown to me.  I feel like I’m missing out a big part of life and my virginity is emblematic of that.

I don’t know what to do about this.  By this stage I feel that I don’t know how to become a mentally-healthy person and never will know.  Which in turn means that no one could ever love me and I probably wouldn’t be capable of truly loving someone else.  My parents were encouraging me to go to another shadchan (matchmaker) after the one who didn’t get back to me recently, but I don’t feel much inclined to do so.  My Mum said, what if there is a woman out there who is perfect for me wondering if she will meet someone, but I doubt it and if she is there I doubt I could meet her anyway.  It seems easier just to give up and resign myself to being single forever.

I guess I better stop there, as writing this post has brought up a lot of difficult feelings that I had suppressed and did not understand for a long time and I actually feel very depressed, despairing, agitated and anxious (I think – alexithymia again) just thinking about these things.

Signals from Fred

(Signals from Fred explained.)

The ancient Greek historian Herodotus said that the Persians would consider every great decision twice, once while sober, so they would not be lacking wisdom and once while drunk, so they would not be lacking courage.  I don’t know whether this is really true or not, but it reminded me a bit of my CBT therapist trying to get me to favour my “wise mind” over my “OCD mind.”  I thought I would try to write this post twice, once with my depressed mind (in black) and once with my wise mind, trying to think more positively (in red).  It turned into autoanalysis.

I felt a bit better on waking than I had done for the past few days, albeit achey (I probably didn’t warm up properly before exercising yesterday), but again procrastinated, eating breakfast slowly, reading online (about social anxiety and about antisemitism, probably not the best thing to be reading) and avoiding getting dressed and davening (praying), although I did at least shave (eventually).  I finally said a tiny bit of Shacharit (morning prayers) mere seconds before it was too late to do so and while I was davening I started crying, I’m not sure why.  That’s not necessarily a bad thing.  It can be a release, although this didn’t feel much like one.  I had zero kavannah (concentration in prayer).  The rabbi in my shul (synagogue) spoke recently of praying rapidly without kavannah being like asking for a favour in a hurried and inattentive way, insulting to the person you are talking to, but I am incapable of doing otherwise at the moment.  True, but at least I was davening.  Someone once told me that a rabbi had told her that davening at all when depressed is a great thing.  I don’t know how true that is.

I just heard that a friend of mine from Oxford got engaged.  I’m trying to feel happy for him, but it’s hard.  What I mostly feel is a sense of loneliness and isolation, as well as social anxiety about having more parties to go to and to feel awkard, bored and out of place at, as well as wondering when he got engaged and if this is another announcement I missed through not being on Facebook (his telling me was in response to my emailing him out of the blue to ask if he wanted to meet, as we haven’t seen each other for some months, maybe more than a year).  I did wonder how he met his fiancée and I suppose I could have asked him, but it’s doubtful the answer would have been any help to me anyway.

Even before this, I was thinking that if I had to sum myself up in two words, they would be “lonely” and “tormented.”  I meant that as a general comment, not one limited to how I feel today.  I’ve felt for some time that I am fundamentally a lonely person and today I added in the tormented part.  I’m not sure how to move on from them.  There is probably a lot of negative self-definition here.  Like I want to have problems.  I wonder what my therapist would make of this.  She used to talk of the “mantra” I had, telling her how bad my week had been.  Most of my peers from school and university (I’m thinking mainly of Oxford, for various reasons) have long since dropped off my radar, but the Jewish community is small and I do hear from time to time what people are doing, and it’s usually very positive: high-powered careers (going to Oxford means I know a lot of over-achievers;  also know quite a few who became rabbis as well as a couple of academics), marriage, children etc.  I think there may have been one or two divorces, I don’t know.  I just googled a few names which was very stupid of me and saw that someone who used to bully me at secondary school now has a business, a pretty wife, a baby and a dodgy beard.  I don’t wish him ill, but I wonder where I went wrong.  Interesting I said “where I went wrong”, not “where my life went wrong”, like I did something stupid, incorrect or immoral.  Like this is all  my fault.

I sometimes wish that my suffering could be some kind of kapparah (atonement) for other people, but Judaism doesn’t believe in vicarious punishment (actually, the historical reality is more complex than that, but certainly contemporary Judaism downplays it almost to non-existence and with good reason).  I used to want to be a lamed-vavnik, one of the thirty-six supremely righteous people on whose existence the world depends, but I have given up on the chances of achieving that particular ambition.  Ego, much? I was just thinking I’d rather be Mashiach ben Yosef than Mashiach ben David, because Mashiach ben Yosef gets killed before the messianic era begins.  That’s even worse!  I should probably add here I add a couple of borderline psychotic episodes at Oxford where I thought I was Mashiach, albeit only for a second or so.  When I told my therapist, years later, she pretty much freaked out about it.

I have long had an intuition that I have no share in Olam HaBa, the World to Come (essentially the Hebrew idiom for Heaven).  I can’t prove this to anyone, obviously.  Then why do I believe it?  Usually I’m reluctant to believe things without proof, purely on the basis of intuition.  Why is this different to ghosts, reincarnation, near death experiences and other things I’m sceptical of?  I’ve done some pretty bad things, but I don’t know that they will cost me my share in Olam HaBa.  Right.  But conversely,  no one can reassure me that I do have a share.  At school I was taught that almost everyone has a share in the next world and there is a famous teaching that all Jews have a share in the world to come, yet the Talmud lists a load of biblical characters who don’t have a share in Olam HaBa and with one exception they are all Jews.  At any rate, sometimes I feel I have done the three cardinal sins of murder, sexual immorality and idolatry.  ?!  Obviously I haven’t literally done those things.  I haven’t literally killed anyone or slept with a married woman.  But I feel I’ve done things equivalent to that e.g. the rabbis say that gossip and embarrassing someone in public are equivalent to murder and I’ve done those.  But regardless of what the rabbis say, there isn’t a literal equivalence.  You are supposed to die rather than murder, but you aren’t supposed to die rather than gossip.  I suspect I’ve also experienced baseless hatred, which is considered as bad as the three cardinal sins put together.  I said “suspect” because I can’t actually think of an instance of really hating someone, even someone who hurt me.  Dislike, yes, but not hate.  I can’t really think of very much positive that I’ve done.  I can think of two good things I did, which is not much, but more than nothing.  I don’t always keep Shabbat properly and I worry I don’t keep kashrut and Pesach properly.  Translation: sometimes I have accidentally broken Shabbat and my OCD tells me that I don’t keep kosher or Pesach properly, not my rational mind.  I don’t daven with kavannah, I skip a lot of Shacharit and I don’t do enough Torah study.  True, but as I said above, doing any Torah study or davening while depressed is impressive.  I did a lot of bad stuff before I became frum.  No, I did some fairly tame stuff that happens to be against halakhah before becoming frum, like eating vegetarian food in treif restaurants and watching TV on Shabbat.  I was a tinok shenishba and can’t be held responsible for it.  True, but it took me a long time to become frum and I made some mistakes.  I also had serious personal reasons for not becoming frummer sooner.  But there are still big things I still do that are against halakhah that I can’t mention here.  I have no reply to this, except that my mental health pushes me to do things I would rather not do e.g. being irritable and sarcastic to my parents.

Other people seem to have managed to do a lot more good than I have.  I just feel too paralyzed by my mental health, which isn’t really an excuse, as I know people who also have mental health issues who have triumphed over them, whether individuals I know (at least online) like Elad and Rivka Nehorai and Matthe Roth of Hevria or famous people like Abraham Lincoln and Winston Churchill (and possibly various eighteenth and nineteenth century Hasidic rebbes, although it’s hard to diagnose people in retrospect).  Sometimes I daydream about being murdered by terrorists to have some kind of redemptive death al kiddush HaShem.  The irritating thing is, you would think if I have no Olam HaBa, I would at least have some Olam HaZeh (this world).  I suppose I have food, water and shelter, so maybe that’s all I deserve.  And at least I’m doing a job that feels socially useful.

I guess the last few paragraphs are a fairly transparent attempt at getting people to disagree with me and say I’m a good person.  I doubt it will work, but I shouldn’t even be manipulating people (my friends!) like this.

Oh well, I did at least manage to finish my painting of the bathroom woodwork today, to go for a walk and do some shopping as well as managing forty minutes of Torah study (which is all good!), again mostly Horeb which I have to say I am anxious to finish as I’m not getting much from it (I have about eighty pages left), which is probably not the right attitude (but at least I’m reading it and I’m doing it so I can move on to other things).  On the downside, I got involved in writing this post and making myself depressed googling people I knew and forgot to sort through my work papers, which was supposed to be one of my tasks for today.  I did manage to do a few things, though.  It wasn’t a totally wasted day and I did this experiment of trying to argue with my negative thoughts here.