Purim, Dried Fruit, and Upholding the Torah by Breaking It

I was shattered after shul (synagogue) last night and went to bed early (for me), before midnight.  And then I couldn’t sleep.  I tried eating porridge (the only way I’ll consume warm milk), I tried watching Doctor Who (in case I hadn’t relaxed properly after serious “peopling”).  I think I eventually fell asleep about 3am.  And then I had to get up at 6.30am for shul again.  I think I spent most of the day going on caffeine.

A while back I heard the acronym HALT: don’t do anything if you’re Hungry, Angry, Lonely or Tired.  I heard this regarding depression, but replace Angry with Anxious, and this is a good descriptor of the conditions that trigger my OCD.  I think I hit all four in shul listening to the Megillah (Book of Esther) today.  I was hungry as I was good and didn’t eat beforehand (as per halakhah, Jewish law); Anxious because of the fear I wouldn’t hear all the words of the Megillah; Lonely-ish (OK, I was worried people were judging me, which isn’t quite loneliness, but is not fitting in); and Tired (actually not so tired.  The coffee must have been strong).  From that point of view, it was probably good that I didn’t repeat any words I was worried I might have missed.  There isn’t so much noise in early morning readings as people have already done it last night and some are going to work, but there were a lot of coughs.  I was worried about a couple of words, but forced myself not to repeat because I was not sure that I missed a word and was worried that repeating words would be a downward spiral so I should only do it if I was sure I missed a word.

I tried my best, and that will have to be enough.  It feels somehow wrong to say this.  “Sometimes the Torah is upheld by breaking it” is a Talmudic dictum that I’ve seen applied to religious OCD.  Sometimes you have to risk making a mistake to get out of the OCD downward spiral.  Once I got home and ate breakfast I was more confident that I had heard the Megillah correctly.  It occurs to me that Purim Megillah readings will probably always be difficult for me and it’s just about pushing through without giving in to the OCD.

People don’t really dress up in costumes for morning Megillah readings, except for young children.  I wore my pinstripe suit and converse trainers and secretly went as the David Tennant incarnation of the Doctor, after more overtly doing the Tom Baker version last night.

I went to shul for Mincha (Afternoon Prayers) even though I was exhausted and hungry and really wanted to eat and vegetate in front of the TV, not walk for twenty minutes to shul, daven (pray) and then walk back again.  But I did it, although I didn’t feel as good about it as perhaps I should have felt.  When I got home, exhausted, I had my seudah (Purim meal), which is another Purim mitzvah (commandment).  It was OK.  I had salt beef, which I hadn’t had for a while.  My parents were out, so I was alone.  I wished it could be more, but I don’t know how it could have been, realistically, at least not without making a lot of work for myself cooking a lot of food or trying to find an invitation which would probably have been with people I didn’t feel comfortable with.  It’s a Purim mitzvah to get drunk, or to drink more than usual, but I didn’t do that because I worry what would happen if I got drunk.

I was given some mishloach manot (gifts of food, another Purim mitzvah), from my parents, but also from one of the people I sit with in shul, which was unexpected and very nice, particularly a big box of dried fruits.

By the time I finished seudah I was exhausted again.  I dozed for an hour and felt a lot better.  The shul WhatsApp group can usually only be posted to by the rabbi and committee, but it’s now a tradition that on Purim it’s open to anyone in the community to post banter and jokes.  There were a slew of coronavirus jokes (and others) in the afternoon, but then people started posting photos of their seudahs and I felt the need to bail in the interests of not suffering jealousy and envy (currently there was a morbidly serious conversation about coronavirus mortality compared with flu and car crashes).

It wasn’t a bad Purim overall.  There was some anxiety, but depression was mostly kept at bay and autistic symptoms were about as good as they could be for a festival that it is about as autism unfriendly as they come.  I think it seemed a let down because I’ve had a couple of good Purims in recent years and last year’s was particularly good.  I think I seem to be alternating good and not so good ones in different years.  None were as bad as the one about four years ago when I ended up in a complete state with religious OCD, so there is progress.

Post-Purim I ate dinner with Mum and Dad and decided I felt up to working on my novel.  I did that for about fifty minutes (650 words and flowing well, very good).  I Skyped E. after that for a while, but had to stop as it was getting late.  And now I should be thinking about bed.

Shammai’s Tefillin and Tom Baker’s Scarf

I had a weird dream last night.  The background to it is a conversation I had with E. about my Jewish identity.  E. is worried that I sacrifice a lot for Jewish law without getting much in return in terms of meaning or joy.   I agreed that I should do something about this.  What I will do is probably going to take a lot of time here over the coming weeks and months.

Last night I had a dream.  A little old man with a long rabbinical beard, who was some kind of father-figure was trying to get me to put on different tefillin, the leather boxes containing parchments with Bible verses on them that Orthodox Jewish men wear during weekday morning prayer services.  In reality, there are two types; most people wear “Rashi tefillin” but some people also wear “Rabbeinu Tam tefillin” named after the eleventh century sage Rashi and his grandson Rabbeinu Tam, who interpreted the commandment differently and put the verses in different orders.  In my dream, this rabbinic debate was projected backwards a thousand years to Hillel and Shammai, the Jewish leaders in the first century BCE.  Based on their legal rulings and stories about them, Hillel has a reputation for being lenient and kind, while Shammai is seen as strict and critical.  I have long felt Shammai to have an unfairly bad reputation (I’m still talking in real life) and in the dream I was pleased that the old man was trying to get me to wear Shammai tefillin.  There was a deep identification with Shammai as someone who had an approach that resonated with me personally and that set me apart from other people with a more liberal (if that’s the right word) approach.

As time went on, though, it stopped being so clear-cut.  I can’t remember the details, but other people (I think my mother and others) tried to get me to stop wearing the Shammai tefillin.  I myself began to have doubts about whether I really connected with him any more and if that was the appropriate outlook for me to have.  I can’t remember how the dream ended, but it does seem to be a sign from my unconscious that I’ve identified with the stricter aspects of my religion and for a while took a degree of pride in the dedication that needed, but it’s not working out well for me any more and I need to find something more positive to identify with.

***

I felt at a loose end today.  I just wanted to get on with Purim, but I had to wait.  I didn’t want to waste the day, but I didn’t want to do a lot and go into Purim drained and in a bad mood.  I did a little Torah study and spent an hour working on my novel.  I felt blocked, but I managed to write about 600 words.  At the moment I’m just trying to press on as quickly as possible, to get something, anything, down on paper so I don’t lose momentum or lose confidence in my ability to write.  I realise I’m going to have to do a lot of redrafting, so I just want to write something to get started.  I feel like the book I’m writing might need some significant changes, but I’m not sure what or how to do it and I’m hoping having a finished draft will help.  I feel like I don’t have such a clear model of the book in my head any more.  I ordered the first series of Life on Mars (which I have never seen, perhaps surprisingly) to look at  how it shifts to surreal interludes in an otherwise realistic story, which I hope will help with inspiration for my story and what I want to do.

I would have liked to have done more today, but by late afternoon some Purim anxiety and depression was setting in and, as I said, I was worried about overstretching myself and going in to Purim more anxious and depressed than I needed to be.

***

Shul was reasonably good in the end.  To understand the next bit, you have to understand that Jews read the Megillah (The Book of Esther) twice (in Hebrew) on Purim, evening and morning, and that, from an Orthodox perspective, one must hear every word on both occasions (the only time we have such a strict rule about a recitation).  Paradoxically, we also encourage children (and adults) to make noise at the name of the villain Haman, who wanted to wipe out the Jews.  So you have a situation where you have to be very quiet or very noisy and shift easily between the two.  When my OCD was at its worst I used to worry that I had missed words or, worse, that the reader had made a mistake and only I had noticed.  The noise is not always easy with autism either and the fact that it’s considered a child-friendly festival and there are lots of kids going in and out.

I carried a lot of anxiety to today’s reading because of that, but I was mostly OK.  I think I heard every word and I told myself if I didn’t, I had done all I could reasonably do.  My second line of  defence, if I thought I had messed up and needed to go to hear it again somewhere else, would have been to tell myself that going to a later reading would just be giving in to the OCD and I would probably come out doubtful again, but I didn’t go that far.  I did wonder if the reader had pronounced a word wrong, but I told myself that the rabbi and gabbaim on the bimah have the job of checking, not me, and they could hear better as they were next to him.

There seemed to be more noise than in recent years, but I coped OK.  There was a really noisy, stroppy kid in front of me, but his father took him out early on, which I was glad for; not all parents would have been so considerate.   I dressed up in my Tom Baker/Doctor Who scarf again, with my sonic screwdriver but no one got (or admitted to getting) the reference.  There were some pop cultural costumes, mostly Harry Potter and Star Wars.

After the service, there was a lot of milling around.  There was supposed to be food and then a “bubble show” for the children (it basically looked like people blowing really big soap bubbles), but it took ages to reorganise the room for food.  I wanted to help, but in these situations I tend to mill about helplessly and get in the way unless someone gives me something very specific to do, which I think is another classic autism trait, but I still feel bad about it.  I ate two jacket potatoes, but am still hungry.  There were no hamantaschen, the pastries traditionally eaten on Purim.  I will have some more dinner in a minute, and definitely some hamantaschen.

***

Mum had another scan today.  It looks like the nodule they were worried about is on the known tumour itself, which we gathered was positive, as these things go.  She had some bleeding from the PICC line, the tube inserted in her arm for the chemotherapy, which apparently is normal.  As she went to the hospital to ask about that today, she doesn’t need to go back tomorrow to get the PICC line cleaned as arranged.

***

I saw an interesting devar Torah (Torah thought) from Rabbi Lord Sacks about the Jewish festival of PurimPurim is the supreme Jewish festival of joy.  The Purim story, as recorded in the Book of Esther, is about the Vizier of the Persian Empire wanting to wipe out the Jews, but his plans were thwarted through the intervention of Queen Esther and Mordechai.  As Rabbi Sacks says, this should be a festival of relief at best, not joy, so why do we celebrate so ecstatically?  His answer is as follows:

There are two kinds of joy. There’s expressive joy, the joy you experience and communicate because that’s how you feel. But there’s also therapeutic joy, the joy you will yourself to feel in order to protect yourself against negative emotions. And when we rejoice on Purim, on this festival which is actually the festival about antisemitism, we are saying something very important. “We will not be intimidated. We will not be traumatised. We will not be defined by our enemies. We will live with the threats and even laugh at them because what we can laugh at, we cannot be held captive by.” And that therefore is really what the joy of Purim is about. It’s about surviving, and beyond that, thriving, even as we walk through the valley of the shadow of death. It’s a way of saying, “I will eat and I will drink and I will celebrate and I will not let dark clouds enter my mind or my heart.”

This resonated a lot today.  We are trying not to be intimated by Mum’s cancer and to carry on as normal as best we can.  Likewise, I try to function with all my issues on the most difficult Jewish festival (OK, joint most difficult with Simchat Torah, but I don’t really need to stay for all of that).  I wonder if I can experience that joy even in the midst of depression.  There is, I suppose, something almost Nietzschean about it, about willing yourself to experience joy in the face of death (“That which does not kill me only makes me stronger”).

***

I need to be up early for the second Megillah reading tomorrow, but I’m probably going to watch some TV before bed as I need to unwind.  I still feel quite tense.  I feel like watching Doctor Who, but I’m procrastinating over which story to watch.  I feel like something with Tom Baker after just being dressed as him.  I’m thinking The Robots of Death, which I find a bit over-rated by fans, but has the kind of detailed science fictional world-building that the BBC used to do well in the seventies, on Doctor Who and Blake’s 7, but doesn’t seem to be able to do any more, being fixated on the “emotional journeys” of the characters instead.

Sales

I sold my first two copies of my Doctor Who book today!  To fan friends.  Very exciting.  It’s weird to think people are willing to pay good money to read my ideas.  I’m planning to send a review copy to Doctor Who Magazine when the book is available through mainstream bookshops (at the moment it’s only available through Lulu.com) in the hope they will review it, although there’s so much official merchandise out there that I doubt they’ll promote unofficial stuff.  There is, of course, the fear that no one will like it…

I sent out an email to some family and friends promoting the book too.  I feel a bit awkward that my sister pointed out a typo that I’d missed on the back cover yesterday, but I don’t think it’s worth going to the expense of changing it now, particularly as it probably won’t sell in actual shops, only online.

I spoke to my rabbi mentor for twenty minutes or so.  We spoke a bit about my mood going up and down a lot at the moment and he said that would be normal with my Mum being ill even without the additional stresses I have from depression, unemployment, Jewish festivals etc.  I did say that if I was going to be unemployed, it’s good that it’s now, when I can at least use that time to help look after Mum, do cooking and prepare for Pesach (Passover).  We spoke a bit about coming to terms with my parents’ mortality.  On some level it seems wrong to say that, as Mum’s prognosis is good, but it is the first time either of my parents have had such a serious illness.  I do feel I’m grieving, in a strange way, because rather than ruminating obsessively about Mum’s illness (which is how I usually experience anxiety), I go about my usual business and then suddenly I remember that Mum is ill and that one day she won’t be here and feel depressed, which in my experience is more like grief, when I find I suddenly remember someone who died.  I’m not quite sure what I’m grieving, though.  I suppose it could be the childlike sense of feeling I could trust my parents to be there for me forever.

I went for a run for the first time in three weeks.  The delay was because of a combination of poor weather; family, and other, events; and low mood.  Hopefully now the days are getting longer it will be easier to go out in the daytime even on days when I need to do other things too.  My pace was not great, but I was glad to get out.  I did feel quite exhausted and somewhat shaky on returning and ended up eating fruit and then a kosher pot noodle (as it was too early for dinner), so probably put back on whatever weight I had lost.  Still, it felt good to get out and burn off some energy through exercise rather than in anxiety and rumination.

I had a exercise migraine in the evening, which made my late Skype call with E. difficult.  We ended up having a fairly serious conversation, which wasn’t ideal, but we did manage to navigate it well.  We do have good communication, which is probably essential when we are separated geographically and are coming from different places religiously (although our other values are similar).

I did manage over an hour of Torah study after my run, but before the migraine got bad.  I was slightly surprised at my stamina.

I still have a migraine, so this is going to be a truncated post.  I am probably going to watch TV (not sure what, probably The Avengers; something light) until I go to bed as I don’t feel well enough to do anything else, but don’t feel sleepy.  I suppose it will distract me from being anxious about Purim, which starts tomorrow evening and about which I am somewhat apprehensive, primarily for the social aspect, but also somewhat for fears that my religious OCD will get out of control.

Abandonment Mini-Post

Watching Star Trek Voyager last night helped me unwind a bit, but my negative self-criticism came back minutes after it finished.  I went to bed and managed to fall asleep (I was worried I would stay awake ruminating), but could not get up at 11.00am as I had hoped again and just lay in bed feeling depressed until my Mum came in at 12.00pm, which gave me a burst of adrenaline to get up; even then, it actually took my Dad coming in ten minutes later to actually get me up and I didn’t feel anything like OK until after I had eaten and had coffee.

I’m feeling really depressed today.  It’s hard to do anything – I have no energy or motivation.  Doing Shabbat (Sabbath) preparation chores, I kept having to stop to rest e.g. after I’d hoovered half my room I had to stop before hoovering the other half. I don’t know why I feel like this, whether it’s Mum (see below for the latest update) or not being invited to a seudah (festive meal) for Purim (Jewish festival Monday night and Tuesday) or just general end-of-the-week tiredness.  I keep thinking about being alone: worrying that no one will read my blog (there are only about ten people left) or my books…  I guess, realistically, all of those symptoms could just as plausibly stem from being ignored by my shul friends for Purim as from worrying that my Mum will (God forbid) die; it’s abandonment issues either way and I’ve always been lousy at dealing with that.  At least E. says she won’t leave me, and the people still reading my blog seem to be persistent, and comment, which I prefer to likes or hits (I know my blog is pretty repetitive, and I say it’s really just for myself, but I would find it hard to write if literally no one was reading).

***

My Mum had some more problems with the NHS about the scan she should have done before she started chemo.  I think she got it sorted in the end, but it is stressful for her.

Ups, Downs, Social Anxiety and Perfectionism

Mum’s first chemo session went well, aside from being kept waiting for an hour.  Unfortunately, Dad’s car was not functioning well on the way home and he thinks someone has stolen the catalytic converter (there is apparently a black market for them), which is both inconvenient and costly, especially as Mum’s car also needs repair work.  It never rains, but it pours (which is what is happening outside today too).

The other issue is that Mum got a letter today saying she has another nodule (I’m not quite sure what to call it) and needs a further scan, which she was told she should have before chemo, although as the letter only arrived today, this was not very helpful.  Another typical NHS screw-up.

***

I tried to get up by 11.00am today, which doesn’t sound very impressive, but I still couldn’t make it.  I did the thing of dreaming I had got up instead, which is always doubly frustrating when you really have to get up.  When I did get up at 11.45am, I felt incredibly drained and unable to do anything other than eat breakfast and check emails and blogs (which I was also trying not to do before getting dressed – failed again).  I’m trying not to beat myself up about all of this, because it doesn’t really help, but part of me feels that if I don’t beat myself up about stuff, I won’t change.  Not that beating myself up has a great track record of inspiring change.

I used my SAD light box which I haven’t used for a few days.  It’s hard to tell if it helped.

One good thing that happened to today was the delivery of a parcel addressed to me.  I was puzzled by what it could be, but on opening was “surprised and delighted” to see it was my non-fiction Doctor Who book, arriving rather earlier than I expected.  It is pleasingly hefty.  I feel vaguely annoyed that I decided to credit it to [my first initials] [my surname] rather than [my first name] [my surname], which would be more satisfying to see on the cover, but I wanted to distinguish it from the fiction I hope to publish one day and the initials does make it seem slightly more serious for a non-fiction work somehow.

I gave my Doctor Who blog url on the blurb on the back, but that seems to be hard to out of commission (see below).  I’m not entirely happy with the cover either, but I’m no graphic designer.  I am vaguely worried that my bibliographic strategy (providing a comprehensive bibliography at the end, but only citing references in text for substantial use or direct quotation to balance between the popular and academic modes) was not good enough, but I think/hope that’s just anxiety (although part of me is worried about being sued for plagiarism).  I spotted a reference that got left off the bibliography, but that was an example I cited in the text at least; I’ve also spotted an incorrect italicisation, but that’s probably the price I pay for self-publishing and doing my own proof-reading.  This is probably self-blame trying to sabotage a good event again.

There is a temptation to revise and reprint with self-published books, but there’s a very real price on that in terms of having to pay for proof copies, not to mention the fact that I deliberately rushed the final stages through to get it finished around the time the latest series of Doctor Who was finishing.  As a result, I approved it for distribution, so it should be available through bookshops and websites in six to eight weeks, if chosen (Lulu.com seem a bit vague on how this works exactly), although I would prefer sales through Lulu.com, as I get a higher proportion of the price.

I went for a walk in the pouring rain to get some stuff I needed for Purim (upcoming Jewish festival on Monday night and Tuesday) and came back with a slight headache and feeling generally run down, although with depression I feel like that most days.  We’re all super-paranoid about colds and flu at the moment, not because of coronavirus, but because of Mum’s weakened immune system.  I hope I won’t need to self-isolate (although if I do have to, then I will agree with the man in this cartoon).

***
As for my struggles with my Doctor Who blog yesterday, it seems that WordPress are another high tech company that doesn’t do customer support, instead outsourcing to a free (for them) user discussion forum.  I tried to post a comment there to ask how I re-access my blog, only to be told that I was not allowed to post what I had written.  I do not know why I was not allowed or how to change it to something I am allowed to post.  I had been quite impressed with WordPress compared with other blog platforms I’ve used over the years (Blogger, Livejournal), but this is pretty rubbish behaviour.

***

I went to shul (synagogue) and then on to shiur (religious class) and ate a load of chocolate cranberries.  I didn’t eat biscuits, but that was mainly because they were down the other end of the table and I was too socially anxious to ask anyone to pass them down.

I wasn’t sure what to make of the shiur, which was not a good fit for my worldview, being very kabbalistic (mystical) and Haredi (ultra-Orthodox, although ‘insular’ is more the word here).  It ratcheted my pre-Purim nerves up a bit – not the religious OCD I’m worried about, more the sense that I can’t connect emotionally with Purim and grow from it, as we are supposed to connect with and grow from it.  This is the same for me with pretty much every single other Jewish festival and Jewish ritual which I do on some level by rote, but it feels worse here, perhaps because Purim is a day most people connect to, or think they have connected to (religiously-sanctioned drunkenness perhaps confuses the matter).  Sometimes I think it’s lucky that I believe so strongly and have a certain amount of cognitive engagement with Judaism, as I’m clearly not practising Judaism because of any meaning or joy I get directly from mitzvot.  Actually, that’s not entirely true, as I get something from Shabbat, difficult though it is to define what, and I do occasionally do some Jewish study that really appeals, but again, it’s mostly a cognitive process for me, I don’t know how to move things to the emotional and practical spheres.  I’m not sure how I’m supposed to encourage E. to think that what I do is worth doing when I struggle to explain even why I do it.

It also looks like I’m not being invited out for the Purim seudah (Purim festive meal) as I was last year.  Perhaps it’s for the best that I keep Mum and Dad company this year, if they’re around (I vaguely recall that they got invited out and accepted depending on chemo side-effects).  It wouldn’t feel bad had I not been invited out for the first time last year and enjoyed myself.  In the frum (religious Orthodox Jewish) community it’s generally considered OK to invite yourself to other people’s meals and events unless you know good reasons not to, but I don’t have the courage.  The one time I tried to invite myself to someone else’s meal, it ended badly and the social anxiety is too strong to try it again.  Another mismatch between my values and those of the wider community.  Purim is supposed to be such a day of joy and ahavat Yisrael (love of other Jews) that’s it a struggle to be alone.

Unglamorous Success

Shabbat (the Sabbath) was a success, in an unglamorous sort of way.  I went to shul (synagogue) last night as usual and forced myself to shake hands with the rabbi afterwards as I think I chickened out of doing it last week.  I walked back with an elderly gentleman who lives further down our road.  I’ve walked home with him before, but neither of us is really into small talk, so the walk is rather quiet.  In the past that made me feel self-conscious and awkward, but last night I seemed to be OK with it, which seemed to be a social anxiety victory.

Dinner conversation was largely about my Mum’s illness and treatment.  I was OK, up until the point when I wasn’t and started feeling sad and anxious.  I’m not sure how much was worry about her per se and how much about how stressful the next few weeks, and the upcoming festivals of Purim and Pesach, are going to be and the fear that they will trigger depression and religious OCD.

I overslept in the morning again, but I’ve given up trying to go to shul in the mornings at the moment.  I was annoyed to doze for an hour after lunch, though, as it might stop me sleeping this evening.

I went to shul this afternoon for services and Talmud shiur (religious class) even though I felt a bit depressed and anxious.  I’ve felt a bit more comfortable and accepted at shul the last week or two, especially as I’m following Talmud shiur better (I prepare beforehand and revise afterwards) and as I’ve led services a couple of times.

I am wondering if I should speak to the new rabbi about some of my issues, at shul and in general.  My main reason is because Pesach might prompt religious OCD, in which case it would be good to have someone locally who can determine if a problem is real or in my head, as my rabbi mentor tends not to pick up his emails on Chol HaMoed (the intermediate days of the festival) and obviously will be out of contact on Yom Tov itself.  I don’t know if the new rabbi has much mental health experience, although it was something that people raised when the community was looking for a rabbi.  If I am going to speak to him, it would be good to do so in advance rather than in the rush immediately before Pesach.

I spent an hour and a quarter tonight working on my non-fiction Doctor Who book’s jacket.  I think I’ve got the hang of the cover designer on Lulu.com, although I still find it awkward in pages.  I’m not sure if that’s my ignorance or genuine design flaws.  I find my back cover blurb lacks punch and my biography seems perfunctory (I grew up reading The New Adventures series of Doctor Who spin-off novels where the authors often seemed in a competition to come up with most bizarre and comic biographies).  I’ve sent it to my sister (who works in marketing) and I might send it to E.  I feel slightly sick just using marketing hyperbole, like describing my book as “essential” when it’s clearly not literally essential in the way that water and food are essential.  I don’t have much of an eye for graphic design either and I’m limited by copyright law in terms of the images I could use (I decided not to use any).

I have a busy day tomorrow: a family get together at lunch time and a lecture by Rabbi Joshua Berman on historical accuracy in Tanakh (Hebrew Bible) in the evening which I’m looking forward to.  So I should probably have something to eat and go to bed, given that it’s already 10.00pm.

Mum’s Results

My Mum got her test results today.  The good news is that the cancer hasn’t spread beyond where they already knew it is (breast and lymph) and that it is treatable.  The bad news is that treatment (chemotherapy, surgery and radiotherapy) will take about a year, including recovery, so 2020 looks like being a stressful year for all of us.  We don’t have a proper treatment plan yet, so I’m assuming that is only a rough plan; I’m not sure exactly how that would differ from an official treatment plan.

This is a side of the NHS I’m not used to seeing: fast, friendly and effective.  I think Mum even has a support nurse who she can turn to with questions and for emotional support.  It’s scary how different mental healthcare provision is from cancer treatment.  I’m not sure why mental healthcare is so under-resourced, whether it’s stigma and public apathy or simply the fact that mental healthcare is very labour-intensive.  Psychotherapy in particular can go on for years with no clear end in sight, making mental health a potentially bottomless pit for funding.

The prognosis seems to be good, but it’s scary to be suddenly confronted with my parents’ mortality.  I’ve never entirely been independent from them because of my depression (and, perhaps, on some level, because of the autism) and I’ve worried in the abstract in the past about how I would cope without them, but this makes it all more real.  I’m also wondering how it will alter the family dynamic.  I’m used to being the only person who is ill and now that will change, which is likely to be disconcerting to all of us, at the very least.

My sister and brother-in-law came over in the evening to eat dinner and discuss my Mum’s treatment.  We had a reasonably good time, despite the conversation being initially very serious.

***

I seem to be struggling with sleep even more than usual since Mum has been ill.  I’ve gone from sleeping ten hours a night to twelve hours, and I wake feeling exhausted and depressed enough that I would probably sleep more, or at least stay in bed longer, if Dad didn’t insist that I get up.  I know it’s not surprising, as sleeping more is always the first sign of depression in me and the last thing to improve (I haven’t really had a fully healthy sleep pattern since my teens), but it is frustrating.  It’s pushing me into a more nocturnal life, as I stay up late because I’m not tired and because I want to accomplish some of the things I didn’t manage during the day, but that probably just perpetuates the problem.

Although I felt a bit better after breakfast, I still struggled to get dressed and start the day.  Perhaps that was inevitable given that Mum had her big appointment.  Maybe I was unconsciously trying to push it off somehow.  Even after lunch I felt listless and unwilling to do anything.  I tried to practise self-care, turn down the Shoulds and so on, but it’s hard.  I still struggle to turn off the Shoulds and the self-criticism for fear of turning into a bad person.  I don’t think genuinely bad people are much bothered by self-criticism and I’m worried that if I stop criticising myself, I will turn into a bad person.

I did manage to do a few things.  I signed up for my local public library on their website, which I had neglected to do since we moved here.  I stopped using my public library when I went to university because I didn’t want to risk losing public library books by taking them up to Oxford, and then I got out of the public library habit because I got into the charity shop habit.  I can be possessive about books anyway and buying books for £1 from charity shops reinforced that and created an expanding To Read pile that I felt I should address before borrowing other books.  Still, if I’m going to be unemployed for a while, it makes sense to join the library, particularly if I need to do research for writing projects.  Plus, I’ve come to accept that a lot of the books on my To Read pile are going to stay there indefinitely; when I’m depressed (and it seems I will be depressed for the foreseeable future), I’m not realistically going to read The Iliad or heavy non-fiction or to re-read books like Great Expectations and Crime and Punishment, much as part of me would like to.

I felt too distracted to do much that was useful today, at least until Mum phoned after her appointment.  I spent some time working on my bibliography, but was easily distracted.  I managed to write up about fifteen references.  I’m now about halfway through the bibliography, but some of the remaining references will require a lot of work to locate, and to find out how to reference properly (I need to check how to reference DVD production subtitles and supporting features).  I’m hoping to get it finished by the end of next week.

***

Chaconia commented to say that I might still be eligible for ESA (benefits), but I’m feeling quite confused by the whole situation.  I should probably find some time to sit down and work out how many National Insurance credits I have, if I’m still getting them and if there are any benefits I might be eligible for.  I find the government benefits website rather confusing to navigate, perhaps deliberately.

***

As if knowing I would need cheering up, my Doctor Who sonic screwdrivers arrived moments after Mum and Dad got home.  They are pleasingly chunky and usable, with sound effects and, in some cases, lights and extendable parts.  I suspect that the ones seen on TV more recently were designed with merchandising opportunities in mind, for collectors and cosplayers (people who dress up as fictional characters) as much as for children.  I suppose now I officially count as a cosplayer myself, if my Tom Baker/fourth Doctor scarf didn’t already qualify me.  To be honest, three of the six screwdrivers in the set are virtually identical to each other, but the other three are all very different designs, so I’m glad I spent the extra £10 to buy the set rather than just buying the fourth Doctor one and maybe spending more to buy another one somewhere down the line.  I showed them to my family after dinner and everyone was impressed, although I haven’t told anyone exactly how much they cost – at nearly £40 it was rather more than I am usually willing to pay for a fairly frivolous purchase and an impulsive one at that, but given that I don’t usually spend that much money on things, I think I can be forgiven one frivolous expense at a time of emotional stress.  It is making me rather more excited about Purim, which was the purpose of the exercise, although there’s another month to go.

The Craziest Fanboy Thing I’ve Done

Mum had tests today to see if the cancer has spread, which rather casts everything you’re about to read below into sharp relief, but I need to vent here to avoid going on about it to my parents.  We hope to get the results on Wednesday.  I’m suddenly feeling very worried.  Cancer in one place is scary enough, but now I’m worried that it’s already spread without any obvious signs so far.  I know this is just worrying, but it’s still scary and hard to dismiss as “hypothetical, therefore not worth worrying about.”

***

Today has been disappointing.  I sent an email about work last Thursday, trying to see if my contract at the place where I was working in January would be extended, but so far answer came there none.

I played Bureaucracy! again and lost.  I went to my meeting at the Jobcentre about benefits, only to discover that I have to have been in work continuously for two years and to have paid National Insurance (NI) during them.  I had received mixed messages about this.  Also, my doctor’s letter was not an official “fit note.”  The person I was speaking to insisted on sending the form in, saying I could post the fit note later in the week, but as I’ll have to pay £25, I’m not sure I’ll bother.  It’s frustrating that I fall between the gaps of different benefits, but that’s how it is at the moment.

I nearly burst into tears on the way home from the Jobcentre.  I just felt frustrated about benefits and worried about Mum.  I procrastinated for much of the day.  The positive things I did were half an hour of Torah study, a long Skype call with E. and a longish conversation with my parents about Mum’s tests and my benefits.  I also cooked dinner (macaroni cheese, one of my standby easy recipes).  That’s not nothing (if you’ll pardon the double negative), they were successes on a difficult day, but as always I am left with the feeling that I should do more.  E. is super-supportive of me and says not to beat myself up about what I can or can’t do and that the right job is out there for me, but I am aware that the biggest obstacle to our being together at the moment is my inability to get even a part-time job.

I spent an hour and a quarter this evening working on my Doctor Who book’s bibliography, confusing myself where the bibliographical referencing rules diverge from the similar, but not identical, library cataloguing ones.  The About Time books about Doctor Who have given me a lot of frustration over the years, so it’s probably not surprising that they continued to frustrate here, with publishing information hidden at the back rather than on the title or copyright page and much confusion as to Lawrence Miles’ contribution to the revised edition of volume 3 as well as Lars Pearson on volume 6 and Dorothy Ail on volume 7 (I tentatively put them all down as authors).  It did at least remind me that I haven’t produced a copyright page for my own book.

To be fair, the About Time books at their peak were very good, despite their flaws and despite the fact that they later became too frustrating for me to read (I gave up after volume 8; I don’t think my friends lasted that long).  Along with the Doctor Who Magazine articles by the likes of Philip MacDonald, Alan Barnes and Gareth Roberts, they made me want to write seriously about Doctor Who and television science fiction in general, so it feels appropriate to reference them.

The fact remains that I have about eighty-five more references to write up, so I’m going to be doing this for a while.  Some of the references are basically already written in my notes and just need checking or slight alterations.  For other references, I was clearly writing rely on my own memory of the vast amount of non-fiction Doctor Who material that I’ve read over the years (autistic special interest!) and just wrote a brief note to remind me that I needed to reference “DVD Remembrance of the Daleks cut scene” or “Marc Platt interview – Light as a recording angel”.  Occasionally I’ve set myself fact-checking tasks too (“DWM archive Space Museum Spooner remove humour?”).  An analogy: I’m generally a tidy person, but I achieve this partly by tidying as I go, but also by shoving stuff that I’m too busy/depressed to deal with into drawers or cupboards and leaving it for Another Time.  This is the equivalent of what I’ve done with the references, and Another Time has now become Right Now.

***

In better news, this anthology of books by Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan arrived today, second-hand and slightly battered, but readable.  I actually already own one of the books, but it was easiest to buy it again to get the two books I did want (The Infinite Light and If You Were God).  Rabbi Kaplan is an interesting figure.  He came from a non-religious background and according to Wikipedia was expelled from school as a teenager for bad behaviour.  He then became a research physicist and later an Orthodox rabbi.  He wrote or translated a ton of books, mostly aimed at non-religious Jews and bringing them to observance, at a time when few people in the Orthodox world was writing for non-religious Jews or involved in kiruv (outreach to get non-religious Jews to become religious).  Then he died suddenly at the age of forty, leaving a widow and ten children, which was very sad.

***

I usually do retail therapy by buying books or DVDs, usually cheap from charity shops.  However, monster anxiety ends up with a monster purchase…  Last night I was thinking about how I’m going to get through the coming weeks.  I’m worried about Mum, I’m worried about being unemployed and I’m already dreading the Jewish festival of Purim, where people wear fancy dress and there is a general carnival atmosphere, difficult with depression and social anxiety (there are religious OCD issues with the festival too).  I thought of dressing as the fourth Doctor again, doubly so when I’m not always clear on what is acceptable in my community.  I have a proper fourth Doctor scarf, knitted for me by another fan friend.  I don’t really have any more of the costume, but with my big coat and borrowing my Dad’s hat, it creates the right silhouette, a kind of impressionistic “What I Would Wear If I Was the Fourth Doctor” effect.  Tom Baker’s costume changed regularly anyway while keeping the same basic idea of big coat and long scarf.

And then I thought, why not, to make it more fun this year, buy a replica sonic screwdriver, the Doctor’s favourite plot device space tool?  I knew they were commercially available, but I didn’t know how much they cost.  I discovered that a fourth Doctor sonic screwdriver would set me back nearly £30, but for another £10, I could get a set of six old and new series replica sonics.  And, yes, I gave in and bought it.  I can’t even say it will have resale value if I’m buying them to use, given that merchandise loses value the moment you open the box.

This does at least mean that if I want to change costumes and spend part or all of Purim in a less conspicuous costume, I can wear my purple pinstripe suit, which doesn’t look a million miles from the tenth Doctor’s brown pinstripe suit, along with my Converse trainers (which I hate; I have no idea how David Tennant wore them for days on end) and be an impressionistic “What I Would Wear If I Was the Tenth Doctor” complete with the (different) correct sonic, but look to outsiders much the same as any frum person in a suit.  This could be useful if I get invited to a Purim seudah (meal).  There is also, I suppose, a kind of symmetry in dressing up as my most and least favourite Doctors, although it does worryingly suggest that I might end up trying to cosplay all thirteen (or fourteen.  Or fifteen.  Or sixteen.  Or…) Doctors over time.  Which means eventually having to deal with That Coat.

I threw in a yoyo too for £1, because if you’re going to do a thing, you have to do it properly (jelly babies, or kosher equivalents, won’t be allowed in the shul though).

This is the craziest fanboy thing I’ve done in a long while, unless you count writing a 100,000 word non-fiction book about Doctor Who.

Anyway, I hope not to be spending more money on retail therapy in the near future.

SAD, References and Eminent Victorians

This is always the worst time of year for me.  February may get more daylight than December, but it’s four months or more since we had a reasonable amount of daylight and the cumulative effect of deprivation is getting to me, even with my SAD light box.  I also have chapped hands and lips, despite using moisturiser and lip balm, although they aren’t as badly affected as they have been in the past.  I want winter to end, even though I’m aware that the end of winter brings with it the Jewish festivals of Purim and Pesach, with all their attendant difficulties of religious OCD and social anxiety, as well as sometimes depression, not to mention the usual stress of Pesach preparation (seriously, Christmas has nothing on Pesach).  It’s going to be super-hard this year, as Mum will probably in the midst of cancer treatment.  Still, like it or not, Monday is Tu B’Shvat, a very minor Jewish holiday (not really a holiday at all) that nevertheless signals the start of spring, at least in Israel.  Purim and Pesach are coming…  and so is spring, if I can hold out long enough.

***

I had a Shabbat (Sabbath) struggling with Shoulds.  I struggled to get to shul (synagogue) on Friday and Saturday evenings.  I felt this was probably a good Should, as staying at home would be giving in to social anxiety and depression and make going again next week harder.  I didn’t push myself to go to shul on Saturday morning though and let myself eat a lot of junk food, which I regret a bit now.  I drank too much Diet Coke on Friday night too, which may have been why I didn’t sleep.   After lunch today I was tired and a bit depressed and did the autistic thing I sometimes do of going back to bed and wrapping the duvet around me because it feels reassuring (I think that’s why I do that.  It’s not always easy to tell).  Inevitably, I fell asleep, although it was not my intention, and when I woke I had to eat seudah shlishit (the third Shabbat meal) in a hurry and was still late for shul.

More troublingly, I accidentally broke Shabbat twice, which was not good.  One was too complicated to explain here and maybe not such a problem, but the other problem was that the phone woke me up this morning and my brain thought it was Friday and I answered it before realising my mistake, thinking it might be about my benefits appointment on Monday.  It wasn’t even important, just cold-calling, ambulance-chasing lawyers, “Have you been in an accident that wasn’t your fault?”  I’m not generally in favour of banning lots of things, but I wish someone would ban them.  Anyway, I felt bad about breaking Shabbat even if it was accidental.

I was given the honour of gelilah at Minchah (wrapping up the Torah scroll and putting its decorations back on it after the Torah reading in the Afternoon Service), which made me feel a bit that I was receiving some kind Divine approbation after all the stuff in the previous paragraph, but I don’t believe that worldly honour is a sign of Divine approval; one can find honoured people who are not at all worthy.  Hmm.

***

After Shabbat, I spent twenty-five minutes finishing another chapter of my novel, which I was glad to do.  I’m still unsure how good it is, but E. has liked what she has read so far (not this chapter yet).  I also spent some time (not sure how long) working on the bibliography for my Doctor Who book.  While I was writing the book I had wavered as to whether I would produce a bibliography, with the result that my note-taking for one was fairly shoddy, I’m sad to say, as a librarian and a historian.  Some references are just a title or a description, because I know my Doctor Who books and magazines well enough that I expected my future self (which is now my current self…) to be able to locate them and create proper references later if necessary without much bother.  That plan now looks slightly stupid as I’m faced with digging through piles and piles of magazines to find particular articles.  I do know where most things are, at least roughly, it’s just a pain to dig them out, especially as I have to move my bedside cabinet just to get to them.  Later on I think I realised this was stupid and started constructing proper references that can just be cut and pasted in.

I started with a couple of these more finished references.  The first to be polished and included in the bibliography happened by a nice coincidence to be an article by a friend who sometimes comments here.  More problematic was trying to create references for some pages on the BBC website that turn out not to exist any more.  I did get worried, as these were references to actual archival documentation that the BBC had scanned and put up, I think to celebrate Doctor Who‘s fiftieth anniversary in 2013 and really should be referenced.  Obviously they had been deemed obsolete and deleted from the BBC website some time in the last year or two (not for the first time in Doctor Who‘s history).  Fortunately, I managed to find preserved versions of all the pages via the Internet Archive.  I was pleased with this, not least because I had never managed to find anything on that site before.  So in the end I got five references done, which is the daily target I have set myself.

I’m not sure whether I could/should produce a reference for every single televised Doctor Who story (nearly 300, depending on how you define “story”), on whatever format I own it, not to mention other series where I’ve referenced them (e.g. the Cathy Gale episodes of The Avengers in a discussion of Sara Kingdom).  I mean, I should, but I’m going to be here FOREVER if I do and, given that it’s aimed at the fan market rather than the academic market, maybe there’s no need.  Can something this obvious be taken as a given?  Hmm…  Suggestions on a postcard (or comment) please!

***

I’m re-reading The Lion and the Unicorn: Gladstone vs. Disraeli on the two titanic figures of mid-nineteenth century British politics.  I had been thinking about re-reading it for a while, as I couldn’t remember much about it, but Brexit and the prospect of major political realignment in this country and perhaps elsewhere pushed it up my reading list as I wanted to read about the previous realignment that happened after the repeal of the Corn Laws fractured the Tory Party with the Whigs, radicals and free trade Tories becoming the Liberal Party and the Conservative Party formed out of the protectionist Tory rump.  I’m not sure if “It reads like a novel” is always a compliment for a history book, but in this case it is.  A very interesting and readable account of Victorian politics.

So far I don’t find either Gladstone or Disraeli particularly likeable: Gladstone was a prig and bore and emotionally constipated even by Victorian standards; Disraeli on the other hand was a cynical opportunist.  I find Gladstone easier to empathise with, though, as many of his flaws are my own: he also tended to see everything as a question of principle (once resigning from the Cabinet on a point of principle so trivial that everyone thought he had just destroyed his career for no good reason, but then voting in support of the legislation he had just resigned to oppose apparently because he thought he shouldn’t vote against his party), struggled with human contact and beat himself up endlessly about fairly normal aspects of sexuality.  Again, hmm.

Sad Songs Say So Much

I did get a reasonable amount of sleep in the end, just at the wrong time.  I was hoping to escape a post-Purim socialising ‘mental hangover’ as I woke feeling OK, but it seems to have set in over the afternoon.  I wanted to do some serious Torah study this afternoon, but I’m not sure I’m going to manage more than half an hour or so.

I feel lonely again.  I do wonder if there is anyone really like me.  Some things today made me think that maybe if I went back on Facebook, I could find people like me.  There’s a Facebook page for frum (religious Orthodox Jewish) geeky women that apparently has 2,500 members, so I guess there may be women like me out there.  More platonically, a post on Den of Geek: Geeks Against Loneliness spoke of people, particularly autistic people, finding interest groups for obscure hobbies on Facebook (the one in the article was for fans of electricity pylons, which makes my love of or forty, fifty or sixty year old British science fiction TV drama seem mainstream).  But then I remember what Facebook was actually like, the political posts that, even when I broadly agreed with them, were upsettingly angry and disturbingly question-begging, the fear of missing out, the comparing of my inner life to other people’s external lives and feeling inadequate, the opportunity for looking up people I was at school or university with and seeing they are doing better than I am…  I don’t think it’s for me.  If HaShem (God) intends me to meet my bashert (destined soulmate) that way, He’ll just have to find another way.  I’m not going to risk my mental health there.

As I say, I’m coming round to the ideathat there are frum geeky women out there, which is something, I just don’t know how to meet them.  I guess even “geeky” these days covers a huge number of different subcultures, so I wouldn’t necessarily even have much in common with a geeky woman if she was in to, for example, Game of Thrones and and the Marvel cinematic universe.  I keep nearly meeting the right women, but there’s always something major that knocks the relationship of course.  She’s not frum enough or she’s stopping being frum.  She doesn’t want children.  She wants someone richer.  She lives in another country.  And so on.  Some of these things I’ve tried to overcome and some were just too final.

I’m just looking for a gentle, frum, geeky woman, in her thirties or so, with a sense of integrity, preferably living in the UK and who can cope with my depression, autism, low salary and problematic career path and the fact that I’m not a ‘normal’ frum guy.  Some days that seems like a lot to ask for and some days it seems possible, but even on the good days, I’m not sure how I go about meeting her.  I worry what I can offer her.  Mostly love (if not necessarily shown in the most neurotypical way), fidelity, integrity, kindness and intelligence, but that doesn’t always seem like very much.  I feel like anyone wanting that in a partner would have that as basic and would want extra ‘features’ and traits on top.  I wish I was better-integrated into the frum community, to increase the chances of someone knowing someone who knows someone who is right for me.  But, then again, most of the frum people I know don’t know about my geekiness, mental health issues or autism, so maybe that still wouldn’t work.

“It’s the end [of Purim], but the moment has been prepared for.”

(Sticking with the fourth Doctor quote theme from yesterday)

Purim

I struggled to get to sleep, being upset from what had happened earlier, and then had a disturbing dream.  I was working or (more likely) doing work experience somewhere for a week.  I can’t remember what the job was exactly, but it was some kind of creative work.  On my last day, all my colleagues mocked me for my incompetence.  I had done everything wrong, including misunderstanding an article by a famous writer even though I should have known his political views and realised I was misrepresenting them.  I think I ran away and was possibly pursued by my colleagues.  I asked why they kept giving me creative jobs if they could see that I’m not creative, but there was no answer.  Obviously there’s a lot of work anxiety in there (my real-life contract ends next week and the famous writer in the dream is one associated with that job), but also social anxiety and anxiety about my ability to be creative as I start the third draft of my Doctor Who book.  Perhaps there’s some political anxiety too.

7.30am  Despite disturbed sleep, I got to shul (synagogue) for Shacharit (morning prayers) and the Megillah (Book of Esther) reading.  I was a few minutes late for Shacharit, which I suppose was partly intentional as I’m out of the habit of davening (praying) the whole of Shacharit and was apprehensive about being there for the whole service.  I did hear the whole of the Megillah though.  I had the same OCD anxiety as last night about hearing every word as per halakhah (Jewish law), but I think I heard everything without having to repeat anything.  I actually felt quite tense and anxious as it went on, worrying that the noise would stop me hearing everything.  I think it was probably low blood sugar as I hadn’t eaten breakfast beforehand (really one should not eat before praying, although I usually do because I’m too depressed and exhausted otherwise, but I was trying to be good today), especially as I had some social anxiety after the service.  I felt better after breakfast.

***

2.00pm  I went to my Dad’s shul for Mincha (the afternoon service) because the service in my shul was in our weekday premises (the shteible, a small room rented in a larger shul, itself above Tesco).  In three years, I had never been to the shteible; I’ve had social anxiety about going in by myself and have been putting off going (more on this below), so I went to my Dad’s shul, which was also less far to walk.

***

4.30pm  I was invited out for Purim seudah (meal) at friends from shul, really my closest friend in the area.  I knew all of the men there from shul; the women were mostly their wives.  I had a good time and even joined in the conversation/banter a bit, but I did get overwhelmed with the noise at times.  I had moments when I felt, “Yes, I can fit in in a frum society, I can “speak Torah” intelligently and make appropriate jokes,” but at other times, I felt that I didn’t fit in with aspects of frum society.  I guess I’ll never completely fit in anywhere.  That’s probably that’s another reason I’m desperate to find a wife who matches me, so that at least I will have someone like me, and then we can try to raise kids with our values.  Still, no one tried to encourage (or “encourage”) me to drink (it is customary on Purim afternoon to get drunk, although Judaism being Judaism there is much dispute about what “customary” and “drunk” mean… amusingly, I got a job email today looking for a Research Coordinator at somewhere called “The Institute Of Alcohol Studies”  which was appropriate).

7.40pm  Around this time we had finished eating, but hadn’t bentsched (said grace after meals) yet.  I was going to ask if we could bentsch and I could go, as I was getting exhausted and ‘peopled out,’ but I didn’t really have the confidence to show that I was flagging, plus I guessed the men would be going on to Ma’ariv (the evening service) and I thought it would look bad if I disappeared just before then.  I decided to make the most of it and use it as a chance to go to the shteible with other people and see what it was like.  We walked there, as, while no one was drunk drunk, no one able to drive was sober enough to do so safely.  Ma’ariv was fine and then I walked home.  My Mum said that I looked happy and had had a very full and successful day.  I think I felt that, but it’s hard to be sure, as I second-guess and over-analyse myself so much and struggle to identify my emotions (alexithymia).

***

Other things than noise and social interactions that my autistic brain couldn’t cope with today: a training video for safeguarding children (for my volunteering) that played distracting music in the background while people were talking; and a job application that wanted me to “be willing to accept ‘change’ as part of the daily routine.”  The latter sounds profoundly disturbing to me, but it, or things like it, seem to be a common job requirement, like “being a good team player” (again, not always good for autistic or socially anxious people) and being “highly motivated” (not so good with depression).  I probably ought to be a hermit, or a lighthouse-keeper.

***

On days like today, when everything is going reasonably well, and I feel, if not happy, then at least content and not depressed or anxious, and I even go to shul and feel a part of a community, then I can say that God is merciful and everything is for the best in the long-run, and I can accept my suffering and willingly go into the valley of the shadow of death for Him.  It’s only the rest of the time, when I’m despairing and anxious and lonely and cut off from everyone that I can’t bear it.  In other words, I can bear my suffering except for when I’m actually suffering.  Unfortunately, the times when I’m suffering far outnumber the times when I’m not suffering.

***

That said, I feel a bit down about the way that my family interprets my words and sometimes my body language as angry and aggressive when that is not my intention.  This has happened regularly since childhood.  This is also common with autism, I believe, but happens with neurotypical people too.  It’s upsetting, though, especially as I really do get irritable more than I should because of depression and the strain of masking all my problems in public, as well as my autistic communication problems with my Dad.  There is a lot more to talk about regarding my relationship with my family, and the extent to which I’m trying to run away from it/them by getting married, but I can’t really talk about it here; it’s one reason I want to go back to my psychodynamic psychotherapist.  I want to make things right, but I don’t know how and I worry it’s not just a problem of human weakness of the kind most people experience (irritability, anger), but of the cognitive and experiential differences between me and my family.

***

Peopled out now, need a shower and autistic alone time with Quatermass and the Pit before bed or I won’t sleep…

Waving a Magic Wand

Trigger warning: suicide

On a previous post, Yolanda said I have “strong faith”.  I don’t feel like that, certainly compared to other people in the frum (religious Jewish) community.  Partly it’s that I avoid social markers of faith, like saying “Barukh HaShem!” when people ask how I am (literally “Bless God,” but idiomatically “Thank God”).  But I feel that I don’t trust God.  I know that faith and trust are different things in Judaism; faith is about thinking God exists while trust is about accepting that whatever happens is for the best; but it is hard to have the former without the latter.  In a sense, on an intellectual level, I can accept that everything is for the best, but I can’t feel it.  My life just seems so miserable, I feel that there has to be more to it than this.  But I worry that if the “best possible outcome” for me for the last twenty years has apparently been (on the grounds that whatever God causes to happen is for the best) for me to be lonely and miserable, thinking of myself as a freak that no one could like, let alone love, how can I know that the next twenty years – or sixty years – won’t be the same?  I don’t think I could bear that.  This is when I start feeling suicidal.  I think I could cope with suffering if I felt there was a purpose or end to it, but being lonely and miserable indefinitely for no obvious reason is just too much to bear.  But I don’t know what the alternative is.  I don’t seriously believe that stopping being frum (religious) would make me happier, although it might make life a little easier and would widen my dating pool, but I think the key limiting factors on my dating are my mental health issues and autism and my under/unemployment.

***

Speaking of dating, Ashley Leia said I should date women and let them decide if they want me rather than decide in advance that they won’t date me.  That does make a kind of sense, and my parents and rabbi mentor have said similar things… but in my brain dating seriously without an income is disingenuous and futile.  Maybe that’s not accurate.  But I’m scared of the rejection I feel sure will follow dating in this state.  And I worry about meeting the right person at the wrong time and her rejecting me because I’m unemployed or depressed and then I’ll never get a second chance with her because she has tagged me as not suitable.

Of course, the problem is that I want other people to make decisions for me but then I don’t cooperate with them.  The other problem is that I’m terribly lonely, so I think endlessly about how things would have to change so that I could date, which just makes me feel more hopeless.  So I procrastinate endlessly and feel lonely and depressed all the time.  I find it doubtful that anyone could really make me happy, to be honest.

***

I could write an equally long, equally depressing rant about my career.  I’m not sure how much I want to be a librarian any more; it turned out not to really be like my experience in the library where I first worked, first as a volunteer, then as a paid employee.    I haven’t kept up with my CPD (and my training, at a not-very-good university because of depression, was arguably not good enough in the first place) and I feel pretty unemployable in my chosen career.  It’s a struggle to wade through job adverts and try to reply, I’m so lacking in self-belief.  Lots of jobs require work on Saturdays too, which I can’t do for religious reasons.  Then there are all the jobs I’m over- or under-qualified for…  I have to hope something will turn up, but as with dating, there’s no guarantee that it will, or that I will be good enough for the opportunity or psychologically ready to accept it.

Someone suggested A S Mentoring to me, but I’m not sure they are really offering anything that would be useful to me.  I suppose I should contact them and find out… which is also scary.

***
I suppose what I really want is for someone to wave a magic wand and for me to wake up in a new life with the things I want.  But real life doesn’t work like that.  I don’t mind having to work for things, but it seems that no matter how hard I try, I never get the things I work for and I can’t go on much longer without getting some kind of result.

***

I went shopping for a very belated wedding present for my sister and brother-in-law (long story why it’s been so long).  Out walking and seeing all the Purim stuff in the Jewish shops, I reflected that it is only a few days until Purim, the happiest festival in the Jewish calendar, and yet the one I struggle with the most (well, tied with Pesach).  I feel like Judaism is built for mentally healthy neurotypicals (for all the autistic precision with which Jewish law is codified).  There isn’t anywhere for someone who can’t join in with the festive crowd, who can’t drink, doesn’t have children or grandchildren and probably never will…

There’s a constant pressure to Do Things, whether from Judaism or work or family and friends.  I just constantly feel that I have to do painful things so I don’t “let people down,” but no one is making sacrifices for me (except for my parents supporting me rent-free).  I can’t cope with the constant pressure to be perfect.  I’m not perfect, nowhere near it.  Why can’t anyone understand that and leave me alone?

I honestly don’t know what I would do if someone said, “OK, you can choose the life you want.  You can decide if you want to pray or study Torah and how much, what to do for work, what family and social life you want.”  I can’t imagine would what actually feel good or how I can work that out.  In reality, I probably couldn’t cope with a career or being married.  Western society doesn’t really present me with an alternative to having a career and frum society doesn’t present me with an alternative to getting married.  I think I could manage, and might benefit from (in terms of personal growth as well as support and happiness), a boyfriend/girlfriend relationship, but that’s not really an option in frum society.

***

Related: I just shouted at my parents.  My Mum eagerly told me that my sister and BIL have concrete under their shale patio.  I neither knew nor cared about this, no one having told me that it was a concern and I can’t really bring myself to care.  Then Dad insisted on showing me a photo and I didn’t know what to say and ended up saying, “I don’t know what you want from me – to say “MY GOD THAT’S THE BEST GARDEN I’VE EVER SEEN??!!!”  They did at least see the funny side.  I shouldn’t have done it, but it’s getting harder and harder for me to take any kind of interest in my sister’s house without becoming monumentally depressed, yet everyone else seems to be expecting me to be as fascinated as if I were going to be living there myself.  At least if she had a baby, I could play with him or her.

***

I feel like I can’t take any more.  I can’t stand being so lonely and miserable.  I want to die, but killing myself…  I can’t put it into words, but I do and don’t want to kill myself.  I do because I want to escape, but I don’t because I couldn’t put my parents through that, and because, I suppose, some part of me still hopes I might one day have some small measure of joy, albeit probably not in this world, and that would never happen if I killed myself.  Plus, I suppose I can’t help feeling that killing myself would just lead to more punishment somehow.

I don’t want people to worry about me.  I’m not going to do anything.  I wouldn’t dare, really.  I just wish so much that this wasn’t happening to me.  I just wish that I wasn’t here.

Drawing Lines

Shabbat (the Sabbath) was hard.  I did somehow make it to shul (synagogue) on Friday night, despite fears that the house would burn down if I left the Shabbat candles unattended.  I was five minutes late, but I did make it.  But my mood dipped a bit in the evening.  I stayed up late reading (I finished 13 Minutes, but I hardly did any Jewish reading) and didn’t get to bed until 1.00am.  Then I slept until 1.00pm and spent another hour feeling too depressed to move.  I did eventually get up and eat lunch, but after seudah (the third meal), I felt too depressed to go back to shul for shiur (Talmud class) and Ma’ariv (the Evening service) and went back to bed and dozed for another hour or so.  I’ve got no idea how I will get to sleep tonight.

***

I don’t remember much of what I was thinking about over Shabbat.  Mostly depressing stuff I imagine.  I do remember sitting with my head in my hands during seudah wondering why I am so repulsive to everyone (well, primarily to women).

I did try to remember some thoughts I  had based on recent posts/comments.

In response to the post about getting drunk on Purim not being an issue if you have an ‘inside’, I think in retrospect that I don’t actually know what the assistant rabbi was saying and I don’t want to put words into his mouth.  The things people have said in response here and away from the blog have not clarified things.  I suppose what it triggered in me was a feeling that ‘people who think they are bad are probably right’ which is probably not what he meant, but did reinforce my low self-esteem.

***

I think what I was trying to say in these posts is that it’s hard to tell how much leeway I have, religiously, in terms of mitzvah (religious commandment) performance from my issues.   There is a concept in Judaism that everyone is judged on their own level, on what could be expected of them given their physical and mental health, background, religious upbringing, abilities and so forth.  A person who is doing 100% of what they can do on a low level is greater than someone on a much higher level, but only doing 50% of what he could do.  The difficulty is judging where I fit in with that, what level I should be on and what can reasonably be expected from someone in my situation.

For example, in just under two weeks, it will be Purim and one of the main mitzvot of the festival is listening to Megillat Esther (the Book of Esther), once in the evening and once in the morning, being careful to hear every word (despite the noise made when the villainous Haman’s name is read).  If a person is deaf (assume 100% deaf, if they have impaired hearing it gets very complicated), though, they obviously don’t have to do this, because they can’t.  The Hebrew term is patur, exempt.

Now, listening to the Megillah is not easy for me.  The requirement to hear every word has historically been an opportunity for my religious OCD to make me panic about not having heard something.  The noise in shul is potentially difficult for someone with autism.  The sheer number of people is difficult for me with social anxiety.  The emphasis on experiencing extreme joy is paradoxically triggering of depression.  And getting up early to hear the morning reading is difficult with depression too, although I now live in a more religious area where there are probably readings at different times (but if I go somewhere new, that brings back the social anxiety).  But are any of these things severe enough to say I don’t have to even try to hear it?  I doubt it.  Maybe if I go and have a terrible time I have grounds for not beating myself up, but I don’t think I should stay away.

Judaism is all about drawing boundaries.  If someone is this ill, they can eat this much on Yom Kippur or can violate Shabbat this much to treat them.  I find with mental illness and autism it is harder to draw lines.  What I can do can vary not just from day to day, but from hour to hour and depends on myriad other factors (tiredness, hunger, other emotions, external triggers, etc.).  So it is very hard for me to judge myself.

Another example: this last Yom Kippur, I went to shul in the evening, but I was so exhausted and depressed as a result of attending the crowded two hour service that the next day I slept so late and had such difficulty getting up with depression and low blood sugar from the fast, that I didn’t get to shul until about 4pm, near the end of the day.  I have tried not to blame myself for this, as I doubt I could have done much differently, but I do wonder if I could have done more (this is aside from the issue of being seen to come in incredibly late by a shul full of people who don’t know or understand my issues).

Nearly Shabbat

15.00  Feeling terrible.  I should be getting ready for Shabbat or working on my books, but I can’t.  Want to go back to bed.  I wish I was dead.  I don’t know if I really think that.  I’m coming to realise that the feelings that I think are wanting love or sex might not be that at all, but something else (or something else tied up with wanting love and/or sex), so maybe feeling “I wish I was dead” is really something else too.  About loneliness or self-hatred, which is probably what the “wanting love/sex” feeling is too.

***

My sister wants to go out with me motzei Shabbat (Saturday evening), but I don’t really want to.  Maybe on Sunday, if it’s not a big thing, but not Saturday evening.  I don’t know though.  I don’t know and I don’t know how to say anything.  I’m just shut down (not in an autistic sense but actually maybe in an autistic sense; I don’t really understand melt-downs and shut downs and how they fit into my life).

***

Listening to Elton John sing Tiny Dancer over and over again.  Sometimes, particularly when I’m very depressed, I listen to the same song over and over (apparently even this is an autistic thing).  Usually there’s some kind of link from the lyrics to how I feel, but I think this is just about the music.  The song used to be triggering for me, for complicated reasons, but this seems to have worked as exposure therapy.

***

The assistant rabbi said yesterday that people who are frightened of getting drunk on Purim have no “inside”, because if you’ve got a real inside (inner world) there’s nothing in there to fear.  I’ve never been drunk, I don’t really drink at all and I’ve always been very scared of getting drunk and I’m glad depression and antidepressants give me reasons not to drink.  What does that say about me, and my “inside”?

***

16.45  Shabbat chores finished.  I should really have hoovered, at least the kitchen and my bedroom, but I don’t feel able.  I’m exhausted.  I’m not sure if I’m going to go to shul, I just feel exhausted (plus when I’m home alone I always feel nervous about going out with the Shabbat candles lit even though I’m only using tea lights).  No time to work on my books.  I guess this week was never going to be easy between networking course, work disruption and my parents being away.

***

This post is stupid.  My blog is stupid.  Why do people even read this?

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.

Pessimism

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

***

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

***

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

***

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

Spoon Theory

I went to another autism workshop today.  The first half was a sort of ‘what is autism?’ overview that was mostly familiar to me, but the second half, on coping strategies, was more helpful.  It has made me feel that I ought to be less afraid to make my issues known at work, not just autism (if I ever get a proper diagnosis), but also depression.  That said, although it’s illegal to discriminate based on illness or disability, it doubtless does still occur, so I would be wary of admitting to anything before I’d actually signed a contract, otherwise they might suddenly “discover” that I’m not the best candidate.

On which note, I have an interview tomorrow at the library of a London university (there are enough of those for that to be vague and anonymous).  I only found out about this late yesterday (although I heard I was potentially up for it last week to be fair), so I haven’t done any preparation.  This may be self-sabotage on some level, as I’m terrified of getting another job and doing badly at it.  Because I was at the autism workshop this afternoon, I couldn’t do any preparation then either.

***

At the autism workshop they spoke about “spoon theory,”  which I had heard of before, but not really applied to myself.  The idea is that everyone starts the day with a certain number of “spoons” of energy.  Performing tasks expend “spoons”; relaxing increases them.  People with disabilities, including mental health issues (e.g. depression) and developmental disabilities (e.g. autism) often start the day with fewer “spoons” in their bank and use more “spoons” than healthy, neurotypical people in doing the same tasks.  So, spending an hour working in an open-plan office might be one spoon for a neurotypical person, but two or three spoons for me, despite the fact that I’m probably a spoon or two less before I even start work.  The exact number might be more or less depending on many other factors e.g. how tired, hungry, stressed, anxious, depressed etc. I was feeling.

I think “spoons” is a slightly odd way of looking at it (the Doctor Who fans reading this might be having flashbacks to Sylvester McCoy…), but I guess it makes it more concrete than talking about energy levels in a vague way as I usually do.  Certainly I should be a lot more forgiving of myself.  Talking about “reasonable adjustments” in the workplace made me realise how little leniency I give myself.  This applies not just to autism (which technically I’m not diagnosed with yet), but to depression and social anxiety, even though I was diagnosed with those fifteen years ago.  I expect myself to do what a healthy, neurotypical me from a parallel universe would do and get annoyed when inevitably only manage a tiny fraction of that.  Nor do I really accept that things that are considered low-energy consuming or even restoring to neurotypical, healthy people are incredibly draining for me e.g. conversations with acquaintances, going shopping.

Related to this, Liora suggested the other day that I should find a more objective way to assess my activity, so I’ve drawn up a list of basic tasks I do most weeks and awarded them points (“spoons”, if you want) based on how tiring and difficult they are.  I didn’t discriminate between things that are physically tiring (going for a walk) and things that are emotionally draining (socialising).  I didn’t want to make it hugely complicated, so I’ve awarded 5 points for easier things and 10 for harder; I may refine this over time.  I probably ought to assess my moods more often during the day too, rather than just before I go to bed, which distorts things as nighttime is a good time for me, moodwise.  I’ll see how that goes.

On the way home from the autism workshop I suddenly got a migraine.  My head really hurt and I felt like I was going to throw up, which is normal for me with a migraine (and for some strange psychosomatic reason even though for medical reasons I don’t fast on the minor Jewish fasts, I still get ill on them, as happened today (the Fast of Tevet)).  What was unusual and frightening was shaking a lot, so much so that I felt that I could not walk and had to phone my Dad to give me a lift home from the bus stop, even though it’s only a ten minute walk away.  I feel better now, but I still have a bit of a headache which is getting worse again (I probably need to eat and sleep).

This is a comment I just posted on this post on Hevria.com, about fitting in to the Orthodox community.  I thought it was relevant to some recent discussion here so I’ve copied and pasted it (without my usual translations/explanations of Jewish stuff):

I struggle with this a lot. I don’t feel I’ve ever really fitted in to a community (any community, not just a frum one) and I don’t know how much is natural differences, how much that I’m almost certainly autistic (pursuing diagnosis) which makes any kind of social interaction really difficult and how much is just my depression and social anxiety making things seem harder than they actually are. It’s hard to tell how much people are really judging me and how much it’s my imagination (or my desire to see myself as a loner). Plus I find making friends really difficult. I’ve been going to my shul for two and a half years and I have about three friends, none really close.

But even though I hate standing out and would not rebel for the sake of rebelling, I find it hard to make myself fit in if it involves changing something that’s important to me (and, being autistic, even quite minor things are really important to me, if they’re part of my routine and regular way of living).

It’s complicated by the fact that I would describe myself as Modern Orthodox, but there isn’t really a vibrant MO community in the UK (I mean YU-type level of observance and outlook). I belong to a synagogue that would probably be described as moderate Yeshivish in US terms (I’ve almost never heard anyone say ‘Yeshivish’ in the UK) because it’s the best – or least worst – fit in many ways, but in some ways it’s a bad fit.

I still dress in a particular way. I’m almost the only person who wears a kippa srugah (which I don’t do for ideological reasons, but because I have dandruff and a kippah srugah can go in the washing machine which a suede one can’t!) and I’m the only person who wears non-white shirts on Shabbat. I know that this makes me stand out and I don’t want to stand out, but I don’t want to change who I am either.

There is bigger stuff that I keep private, though, certain beliefs and opinions that would not be considered strange in an MO community, but would be here, like attitudes to Torah/science controversies or academic Bible criticism. I worry a bit about people seeing my bookshelves one day. And I’m very worried about being ‘outed’ as a Doctor Who fan which does not seem appropriate. (Last year a friend (not from the community) dared me to dress up as the Doctor for Purim and I chickened out. Not sure what I’ll do this year.) I worry that if the Doctor Who book I’m writing gets published, word will get out in the community and I don’t know what the response will be. People in the community own TVs, but at the same time it’s something that is not talked about and looked down on and seen as a concession to weakness.

The other hard thing is being single. So much of the frum community is geared up to families. Being an “older single ” (I hate that phrase) is tough. I try to force myself to go to family social events at shul sometimes, but I’ve noticed I’m the only single/childless person there. There are a few other singles in the community (I think mostly divorced/widowed rather than unmarried), but the community basically assumes, with some justification a life trajectory that goes: school –> yeshiva/sem –> marriage –> children and career/housewifing. I’ve missed almost all the points on that flow diagram and it’s difficult.

Of course, the difficulty talking about autism or depression and social anxiety only adds to the issues – I mean the general stigma around them in any community, not just the frum one (although in the frum world we add in lots of “Bad for Shidduchim” fears too).

Funnily enough, because I mix in non-Jewish communities (autism and mental health support groups and blogs, Doctor Who fandom), there I experience the opposite, where instead of being the super-progressive and rebellious one, I worry that every sees me as reactionary and bigoted or at least really backwards. So I don’t feel that I fit in completely there either, although I do feel the mental health communities and fandom can be more welcoming in some ways.

More Purim

Not much to report.  I somehow managed to get up in time for the Megillah reading at shul (synagogue) this morning.  True, I missed the first half of the service, but I got there for the whole Megillah reading, which was the object of the exercise.  I also got to work, although shul and train delays from the snow led me to arrive an hour and a half late.  I do feel a bit left out at not going to a Purim seudah (festive meal) and having to work instead, particularly seeing the jokey messages on the shul Whatsapp.  Another reason to think about changing job, I guess.  Not to mention finding friends who I can eat with.  To be fair, I did get myself invited to the seudah my sister went to last year and someone at shul offered to find me a seudah this year if I wanted, but I had to work.

I seem to have done OK this week.  I have felt a bit better, and haven’t been crying at work so much, so perhaps the higher dosage of clomipramine is helping, although something is stopping me from falling asleep at night, despite being exhausted.  I have also started drinking coffee instead of tea at breakfast.  I don’t like coffee much (although I do like coffee ice cream and coffee chocolate), but it seems to do a better job of keeping me awake until lunch time.  I’m also trying to use my self-help CBT book to help with my social anxiety, but I’m not sure I’m going to have the confidence to face my fears as required.

Oh, and apparently some company has developed a hologram image for virtual assistants like Alexa and Siri.  Apparently they want her to be a companion for people living alone (sounds scarily like Blade Runner 2049).  My immediate thought was, I would probably get desperate enough to ask her to marry me.  My second thought was, what if she tells me that she thinks she can do better?

Equivocal Purim (So Far)

It’s late, I’m exhausted and I need to be up really early tomorrow, but I need to get this out of my system and if I don’t write it here, I’ll have to put it in my private diary/blog, so here goes:

Today was a mixed bag.  I got to work late because of the snow, but my boss was understanding.  I had arranged to leave half an hour early to get home in time for shul (synagogue) for the festival of Purim, but she allowed me to go an hour and a half early in case of more train delays.  So that was all good.

Shul was more problematic.  On Purim we listen to Megillat Esther/the book of Esther twice, morning and evening, and we have to hear literally every word both times.  This is made more problematic by the fact that we are encouraged to make noise at the name of the villain, Haman, the first (or second, depending on how you count Pharaoh) of many people to attempt genocide against the Jews.  As has happened every year since I developed religious OCD, I was worried that I missed a word, but that I would miss more in attempting to catch up.  To cut a long story short, in the end I decided that I probably had heard the word and didn’t go to the late evening reading (for people who work late and missed the first reading) to be sure I heard everything because I could feel myself slipping into a black hole of OCD and despair.  However, my mood stayed lower all evening.

After that there was some food and entertainment.  I put on my jester’s hat (fancy dress is another Purim tradition) and ate.  For practical reasons, the people with young children were eating in a separate room to those without, but it meant that I was eating with the teenagers and the middle aged (or older).  It was OK, as I sat with my friends, but looking back it made me feel like an unmarried misfit again as all the people my age were in the ‘with children’ rooms.  No children was a mixed blessing, as it stopped me feeling broody, but lessened the fun atmosphere of seeing kids in fancy dress.  I attempted some conversation with some success, but failed to make myself vulnerable in the way my therapist advised.  I skipped the entertainment, though, because it seemed quite child-centric.

After that I made a massive detour to my parents’ house to make a bikkur cholim (visiting the sick) call as my Mum has a bad cold and my Dad cut himself badly (doing something that I couldn’t understand with a broken bath plug).  They were pleased to see me, so at least I succeeded there.  I took home a pile of hamantaschen (Purim pastries) as my reward and walked home in what can only be described as an Arctic blizzard, feeling exhausted and depressed and not entirely sure why.

Tomorrow I have to be up about 6.00am for the morning Megillah reading, then on to work.  My Purim seudah (festive Purim meal, which has to be held on the afternoon, not tonight) will be a sandwich and a hamantashen at work.

Purim has always been hard for me.  It’s a difficult festival with Asperger’s and social anxiety because of the noise and general party atmosphere, it’s difficult with depression because everyone else is happy (and drunk, by the afternoon) and it’s difficult with religious OCD because I worry I haven’t fulfilled the various mitzvot (commandments) properly.  I used to think my depression started one Purim.  I’m not sure about that any more, as I think my depression may have extended back into my early teens (at least), but it certainly became noticeable as an illness on Purim eighteen years ago.

I feel I did OK in keeping the OCD at bay, but am still slightly anxious that I haven’t heard the Megillah properly.  I feel like this with a lot of my mitzvot, that everyone seems to think I’m pretty frum (religious), but I feel that I’m not doing anything right on even the most basic level.  Sometimes I wonder if I’ve done even one mitzvah correctly in my whole life.  I would give a lot to know that HaShem (God) finds my mitzvot precious.

Ups and Downs

The last couple of days have been fairly good.  My therapist is supportive of the idea of focusing on the social anxiety for a while.  She even suggested that I might want to take time out from our psychodynamic therapy to go back to CBT, as I did when I wanted to try CBT for my religious OCD.  There are practical problems against that, though, both financial and in terms of being able to get an appointment on a Friday, the only weekday I don’t work.  For the moment I’m not going down that route and we spoke about trying to open up to people more, but I struggled to do that over Shabbat (the Sabbath).  I psyched myself up to talk be more open about my issues and say that I’ve been struggling with them this week to the two people I sit with at shul (synagogue), who are the closest people I have to friends there, but I didn’t get a chance to speak to them and when the assistant rabbi asked how I was, I panicked and said everything was fine, partly because I was taken by surprise, partly because there were other people nearby, partly because I hadn’t prepared myself for that interaction.  I did manage to be a bit more open with my uncle, who was staying with us for Shabbat, but I’m not sure how much of a big achievement that was in retrospect.  He did say I was on form with my humour at dinner on Friday, though, which was nice.

I slept through much of Saturday again, unfortunately.  Yesterday evening I spent some time rearranging my newly-decorated room at my parents’ house (it’s not yet finished, though, as there was a problem with the new blinds), moving bric-a-brac and the wargaming miniatures I used to paint back from my parents’ study, although there are more miniatures to move next week, plus certificates and pictures to put up still.  I’m glad that it has been done now, though, because I may have to move back in with my parents if my contract is not renewed past the summer, so at least I’ll have a nice room now.  I did have a headache yesterday evening, not a really bad migraine, but still painful and it took literally hours to respond to painkillers and stopped me doing as much as I would have liked.  It contributed to my going to bed late again, although that was partly my fault, as I stayed up late reading news and politics online and being upset, angry and scared.  The news upsets me so much these days.  I guess a lot of it would upset anyone, but I also find myself thinking critically about what I’m told, whether by a left-wing or right-wing source.  I read the news less than I used to, but I feel reluctant to stop completely, as I am still a citizen of a democracy and I like to be informed about what is happening in places I care about and even generally in other countries.  I like to be well-informed, but being well-informed often means reading about lots of death and suffering.

Today, as usual, I overslept.  I don’t mind so much, as I do need to catch up my sleep by this stage in the week, and it’s not like Shabbat where part of me would like to go to shul, but I do have things to do today and I just feel a bit burnt out.  I wrote down a list of things to do last night; apart from some minor tasks that will only take a few minutes, I wanted to wipe away the mould growing on my front door (the flat gets very damp), go for a jog (not going to happen), go shopping, cook dinner for tonight and tomorrow, proof-read the second-draft of another chapter of my Doctor Who book, do some Torah study including preparing extra ideas to read out at the Pesach (Passover) seder, look at my social anxiety CBT book, email my rabbi mentor and redraft an essay I wrote years ago that one of my non-biological sisters said I should submit to Hevria.  The problem with prioritising these is that the are all important, depending on how I look at them.  Jogging is important because I do hardly any exercise at the moment and my medication is making me almost overweight, but cooking is important to try to eat less convenience food (I don’t have the time/energy to cook properly on work days), working on my book is important for my self-esteem and because I enjoy it at a time when I enjoy very little and so on.  And because of oversleeping and feeling too burnt out to get going, I have less than half a day to do them.

As indicated by the previous paragraph, we are coming up to the most stressful time of year for me, religiously.  Purim is this week, a minor festival, but with lots of commandments that can trigger my religious OCD, but also with a boisterous carnival atmosphere that can be hard with depression, social anxiety and Asperger’s (I wrote about it last year here, although the actual experience was somewhat better than I feared).  Then a month later comes Pesach, which requires a lot of preparation and has a lot of opportunities to trigger the OCD.  That said, last night I was able to feel a little bit of excitement about them and not so much anxiety.  I read something in the book of essays based on the teachings of Rav Kook that while strictness is necessary for spiritual growth, so is kindness (to oneself as well as others).  Perhaps this will inspire me to be kinder towards myself when I fall short, particularly when the failures are clearly due to my depression, social anxiety or possible Asperger’s, as is often the case.

I wrote most of the above around 1.30pm, after my I just had a late breakfast.  I mostly sounded upbeat, but now, after a late lunch things don’t seem as positive.  I was eating and watching Doctor Who (admittedly a very bad episode) when suddenly I could feel myself crying without knowing why.  I feel like I want to curl up and go back to bed, or at least eat a lot.  I’ve got to try to get on with some of the things on that list above, but it’s hard.  It’s going to be a difficult week…

Despatches from the Front Line 3 (Purim Evening)

“In the party of the universe, the Doctor was the sad one on the stairs.” Doctor Who: The New Adventures – The Death of Art Simon Bucher Jones (quoted from memory as I don’t have time to look it up!)

Having got my anxiety and despair in early (on this blog and last night), Purim tonight was surprisingly good.  Not amazing, but better than expected.

I heard the Megillah (Book of Esther) and only right at the very end did I have some OCD anxiety about whether I had fulfilled my obligation by listening to every single word, as halakhah (Jewish law) requires.  On Friday evening, the person I know best at the shul (synagogue) encouraged me to stay for the party afterwards.  I refused initially, but he asked again tonight and I decided to stay when he said that they would like me to and that I could pay later (I think I mentioned last week that I wanted to go to the party, but I procrastinated over it and it sold out before I had bought ticket).

I stayed at the party for an hour or so.  There were circus performers doing tricks, which was entertaining.  Then there was food and the opportunity to learn basic circus tricks (juggling, stilt walking etc.).  I was too shy to do this, but I ate a lot of junk food.  No one really spoke to me and I was too shy to speak to anyone, but I was OK with the crowd (I am often bad with crowds, a mixture of borderline Asperger’s and borderline social anxiety) and watched the children learning to juggle and spin plates for a while.  After three quarters of an hour or so I started to feel lonely and to feel left out, especially as I was one of the few (possibly the only) adult there without either spouse or children.  It might not have been so bad if people had spoken to me, or if I was confident enough to speak to them.  I stayed another quarter of an hour to get my money’s worth and to avoid seeming rude and then I came home (and promptly had to go back when I was halfway home as I’d left my Megillah behind!).  It was OK and I didn’t feel too lonely, but sometimes it is hard to be single in a community where almost everyone marries very young.  There was someone I was at school with there, now a rabbi, who was with his five or six year old daughter, so he’s obviously been married seven or eight years.  It is hard to avoid feeling inferior sometimes (about the fact that he’s a rabbi as well as the fact that he’s married with children).

The letter from the psychiatrist after my review last week arrived today, so hopefully tonight I can increase the dose of my clomipramine, which will hopefully help the depression and OCD.  Tomorrow is the second Megillah reading if I can get up in time, as well as  a Purim seudah (meal/party) in the afternoon; I got my sister to get me an invitation to the seudah that her friends are co-hosting, which I feel a bit bad about, especially as a lot of the people there will be people who I was at Oxford with and I am afraid that they think I was rude for not talking to them when I was there, although in reality I wanted to talk to them, I was just depressed and shy.

Cancer Day (Purim Post)

Imagine there was a day when all the religious Jews in the world celebrated the fact that they didn’t have cancer.  Imagine if they read aloud a 2500 year old book about God curing all the Jews of cancer, that they gave gifts of food to help friends celebrate that they don’t have cancer, that they had big parties to rejoice in the fact that they don’t have cancer.

And now imagine what it would be like to experience this if you actually did have cancer.  Imagine being told to join in when you were sick from chemotherapy.  Imagine being told that you can will yourself to not have cancer, that if you drink enough alcohol, your cancer will go away.

This is what Purim (the Jewish festival that falls this coming Sunday) feels like with depression and loneliness.  On Purim we celebrate the joy of salvation with gifts of food, parties with friends and family and a lot of alcohol.  But to those of us with loneliness and depression it feels like a cruel joke.  What is there for me to celebrate, I ask myself?  I can see objectively there are some positive things in my life, even if they seem fragile and unlikely to last.  I can see that however bad things are now, they have been even worse in the past.  But the constant pain and loneliness just won’t go away, however hard I try to “get in the Purim spirit.”  And alcohol, I am told, would just make things worse, Purim tradition or no.

I am going to try hard.  I want to get to hear the Megillah (Book of Esther) at least once, preferably both readings, evening and morning.  I will try to do the other mitzvot (commandments), to give charity, give gifts of food, have a seudah (party) according to the technical requirements i.e. to eat a meal containing some bread in the afternoon, although I have not been invited to a party with other people and my parents and sister are all out (technically my sister invited me to the party she is going to, but I felt awkward going to someone else’s party uninvited with lots of strangers, particularly as the party is being given by a friend of my sister who I was at university with, but who I don’t know well because I was too depressed to make friendships at the time).  So my “party” will probably consist of eating a sandwich alone in my flat while watching Doctor Who (you may have already noticed a pattern on this blog of my watching Doctor Who when stressed or depressed.  That’s because there is a pattern!).  I was trying to psyche myself up to go a Saturday night Purim party at shul (synagogue), but I procrastinated over it so long that they sold out before I could buy a ticket.  I tell myself I would have been miserable had I gone, which is sour grapes, but probably true.  I will try to report back here as to how it all goes.