Stuckness

I realised I’ve hardly spoken to anyone in forty-eight hours, since my parents have been away.  Aside from a few words at autism group yesterday, and the What’sApp call with my Mum that went badly on Monday evening, that’s about it, unless you count saying “excuse me” as I tried to get past people on the Tube yesterday.  This is what happens when I’m left on my own.  I’m not even sure if I’m lonely, exactly.  Just lost inside my head.

Otherwise, it’s the same as usual: sleeping too much, impossible to get going when I wake up, loneliness, depression…  I tried to work on a job application, but it’s a struggle to deal with their rather precise questions, which seem to indicate that I don’t have the necessary experience.  Maybe I’ll have another go another day, if I feel better.

Given the trajectory of my life over the last five or ten years, I am beginning to believe things might get somewhat better for me and I’ll learn to manage my mental health issues and autism better.  However, I don’t think I’ll ever be totally free of them.  I’m uncertain as to whether I will ever build any kind of meaningful career for myself (as a librarian, writer or anything else) or whether I will manage it in time to save enough to support myself in old age or in case of other depression episodes.  Likewise, while I am trying to stay open to the idea of marrying “one day,” it is very hard to believe I will marry at an age when I will be able to have children.  I suppose it’s an improvement on how I used to be, when I felt I could never get any better, an idea that was supported by my lack of progress.

I suppose I should try to do something productive with my day.  It’s 6.45pm.  I’ve been awake for nearly six hours and I haven’t done anything except eat breakfast and lunch, get dressed, daven Mincha (say Afternoon Prayers) and try and fail to work on my job application (not to mention procrastinating a lot).  I would like to go for a walk, or work on one of my books or do some miniature painting or study Torah for a few minutes.  I don’t feel like I could really do any of them, let alone all of them, but I will try to go for a walk in a minute and see if that helps at all.

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Optimism

I’m surprisingly not wiped out and ‘mentally hungover’ today, which is good.  I was expecting that there would be a price to pay for enjoying myself and socialising yesterday.  I did have struggle sleeping (hence blogging at 3.00am last night) and didn’t get to sleep until around 4.00am and slept through the morning, but otherwise I feel OK.

Today was a slow day.  I did some chores, including finally (I hope) sorting out the problem with my online medication repeat prescription requests and spent an hour working on my Doctor Who book (excluding time spent watching/half-watching some episodes for research while eating or dusting), finally confirming that it is just another three chapters that need a bit more detail before I can consider the second draft finished and start redrafting for style.  I admit that drafting a book for content and then polishing for style might not be the most sensible way of writing, but it’s really a product of the way this project grew from a series of blog posts, albeit that it is now much more than twice as long as the original series of posts.  Frustratingly, the actual writing won’t take more than a couple of hours, it’s watching the episodes for research that takes so long.

I feel like I’ve found a little oasis of calm in the last week or two.  I’ve got a job I feel reasonably comfortable with (albeit with moments of anxiety), I’m pushing myself a little bit socially and that seems to be going OK, my kavannah (mindfulness) in prayer is better, I’m more motivated for Torah study, I feel more comfortable describing myself as autistic (in select environments) even though I’m aware I may never get an official diagnosis, and perhaps I’ve come to terms with the label a little bit more than in the past.  I’m even feeling that maybe I do actually have a reasonable level of Jewish knowledge, particularly about the stuff that isn’t seen as crucial in the frum (religious Orthodox Jewish) world although it’s questionable about how much knowledge of Jewish history or Yiddish literature is really useful to a frum lifestyle.  I’m even feeling less anxious about the future.  On the whole, things feel reasonably positive.  I do wish I could get to shul (synagogue) on Shabbat (Sabbath) mornings, though.

I hope to have a meeting with a matchmaker from the values-based Jewish dating service next week, which is scary and exciting at the same time.  It’s difficult to know how much of my ‘issues’ to mention.  E. said to mention the autism; my rabbi mentor said to mention the depression, but not the autism (he was worried about stigma), but also that I should make an on-the-spot decision based on how the conversation goes.  Dating is hard, especially frum dating, doubly so with mental health issues and autism.  I am still concerned that I shouldn’t be looking for someone while I’m in such a low income job, but I’m assured that it’s not dishonest or problematic.

Of course, I’m aware that I have some very stressful and triggering Jewish festivals coming up in the next two months, that my contract only lasts until the end of March, that dating could be painful, that I am unlikely to ever be completely recovered from depression and that autistic people tend to struggle with employment and relationships… basically, I know that things could go very badly wrong at any time.  But I do feel a bit more confident in myself than I have for a while, which is good.

Draining Workarounds, Unfinished Conversations and Accessories to Murder

I had another reasonably good, if tiring, day today.  This is beginning to look like A Trend.  Which is good, but also scary, as whenever I get used to things going well and start talking about Recovery, things go horribly wrong.  I haven’t been well for more than six months in the last sixteen years, so I shouldn’t read too much into six days, but it feels as if things might be getting better… which leaves me wondering when they will get worse.  Maybe “Recovery” isn’t the right mindset for someone in my position to have.  Maybe I should be thinking of a succession of short-terms, permanently.  I probably will always have some depression, or the threat of it, and certainly I will always be autistic.  I have been thinking for a while now of managing my mental health issues and managing my autism rather than recovering.

I had some anxiety on the way into work this morning, some of it understandable (work anxieties, dating) some of it less so (beating myself up for not davening with a minyan (praying with a community) and feeling no one who would be frum (religious) enough for me to date would want to marry me unless I was davening with a minyan more often, at least on Shabbat (Saturday) mornings).  My new affirmation (“My thoughts are not always my friends”) was quite useful here and I was reasonably calm, albeit that I did accidentally set off the alarms at work by being too hasty to check on some things I did in the vault last week.

I could also feel my OCD trying to get me again this evening.  Actually, I’m not sure that it is OCD.  Years ago someone on a mental health forum I used to frequent said that her grandmother was euthanized by a doctor, in a way that implied she approved, and periodically I remember this and wonder if I should have told someone, although as I don’t have a name, date or country, let alone place, where this is supposed to have happened, if it is even true, it seems unlikely that I could actually report it to anyone, let alone that a police force would take it seriously.  But every so often something makes me think of it and I feel like an unwitting accessory after the event and worry that there was something I should have done.

On the plus side, my mood was pretty good for most of the day, aside from these blips, and my kavannah (mindfulness) when davening has been much better the last few days.  Davening a little bit with kavannah is seen as better than davening a lot without it, so this makes me feel a bit better.

Despite this, I did have a couple of awkward moments at work.  I realised that I have trouble knowing when a conversation is finished or how to conclude a conversation that I sense is almost over.  I’ve been aware of this problem on some level for a while and I think it’s another autistic thing, but it’s become more of a problem in my new job, because it’s resulted in several awkward moments with my line manager.  I also had a difficult conversation in the staff room at lunch time.  I was staring into space, feeling tired and possibly a bit anxious when someone said, “Great book!”  It took me a minute to realise that he was speaking to me and another minute to realise that he was referring to the copy of The Dispossessed by Ursula le Guin that was on my lap.  He asked if I had read any more of her work and I did the autistic/fanboy thing of listing book titles I’ve read instead of having a normal conversation.

I have a lot of workarounds for social functioning with autism so that I can at least try to interact in the worlds of work and socialising, but these workarounds are very draining.  Imagine if your body worked fine, except that all of the processes that are now autonomic suddenly required conscious thought: breathing, heart beat, digestion etc.  Now imagine that you are trying to live a normal life while also consciously telling yourself, “Breathe in, breathe out, heart beat, digest lunch., breathe again…”  This is how I feel when talking to people I don’t feel comfortable with (which is most of them, on some level): I’m constantly telling myself to make more eye contact, but not too much, trying to read their body language, trying to read my own body language and check it’s saying what I want it to say, trying to process what they’re actually saying and respond to it in real time even though I don’t always take in spoken information easily and making snap decisions (like responding to a spoken stimulus) is very hard… no wonder I find conversation so anxiety-provoking, even without my childhood history of bullying.

My parents are speaking of paying for me to have a private autism assessment.  I am not convinced that it is a good use of money.  I don’t see a particular urgency in needing a diagnosis at this stage (their reasoning is if I get a new job I will need a diagnosis to get reasonable adjustments – see below) and private assessments are a lot of money.  Even then I could be told yet again that I’m not autistic.  By now I’m almost completely convinced I am autistic, but I’m worried I might be told again that my symptoms are not serious enough to warrant diagnosis, despite things like my comments in the immediately previous paragraph.

I’ve slacked off a bit in my job search since getting my current job.  The job is only two days a week and is technically only until the end of March (although I think unless I seriously mess something up in the next two months my line manager will lobby for me to stay longer, but only if the money is available, which is always the big if in higher education).  I feel I should be looking for something else either for Mondays and Wednesdays or for after March… yet I don’t feel inclined to look hard.  My last two jobs were so difficult and upsetting that I’m glad to be in a less intense work environment, both in terms of a job that is more suited to my personality and skill set and a reduced number of days per week that lets me recuperate more between work days as well as giving me time to work on my writing.  It’s much easier to see myself working in a salaried job for half a week and writing professionally for the other half than it is to see myself as working full-time or writing full-time.  I haven’t quite told my parents this yet, although I think I did tell them I was using my off time for writing.  I’m not quite sure how to tell them.

Sex, Death and Other ‘Bad’ Thoughts

I wrote the first half of this post last night, but I didn’t want to post four times in twenty-four hours.  To be honest, I’m slightly reluctant to post something as despairing and self-loathing as this, but I feel compelled to do so, to confess.  I don’t know why.  It makes it a bit easier to cope, I suppose, although explaining how is trickier.  I hope people get something out of it.  There are twenty or so people ‘liking’ this regularly, so that has to mean someone likes this stuff, right?

I just feel so despairing.  I hate myself so much, and that self-hate seems to me to be entirely legitimate, if anything disproportionately small to the things I have; I should, if anything, hate myself more, not less.  Yet the few people I have let into my deepest secrets (some of them, anyway) tell me that I’m quite normal.  It is difficult to know what to make of this.

People seem to reach the conclusion from a rapid conversation that I’m an intelligent and good person.  This has happened to me on short phone calls to the Samaritans.  I do not know how they come to these conclusions, which seem astoundingly wrong to me.

Sometimes I wish there was a prophet or rebbe that I could go to and find out the meaning of my life and what I should do with it, or even just if I’m a good person.  But I don’t believe in da’at Torah (the belief that great Torah scholars have a quasi-prophetic ability to answer even mundane, practical questions in an inspired way).  Likewise I don’t believe in getting blessings from rebbes or rabbis or praying at the graves of dead tzadikim (saintly people).  I pray to God, but He always seems to say “No.”  I’m willing to trust that it’s for the best, but I wish He would give me more practical fortitude to keep going.

***

My rabbi mentor has not returned my emails for a couple of weeks.  I am a bit worried about him, and also concerned to hear the answers to some of my halakhic (Jewish law) questions which I don’t want to take to the rabbis of my shul, who will be too strict or at least too Charedi (ultra-Orthodox).  Similarly, some kashrut questions I sent to the London Bet Din (rabbinical court) (well, one question several times because I wasn’t sure if it sent properly) has gone unanswered.  I feel vaguely worried, but the fact that I’m coping OK is a sign that the religious OCD at least is under control; a few years ago I was a constant wreck, waiting to hear back from rabbis or the Bet Din about my questions.  Nowadays I can dismiss some at least of the questions as obviously unnecessary.

***

On to today: last night I struggled to get to sleep and then today I struggled to get up.  I actually woke up an hour earlier than I intended and couldn’t get back to sleep because I felt so stiff and achey – I think I had been cold and curled up.  My cold is mostly gone, but I still feel really depressed, unsurprisingly (it wasn’t just going to vanish with the cold).  I still really hate myself too.  I can’t understand how anyone cares about me, except that I must deceive them about who I really am.  Sorry about that.  I shouldn’t say that.  Except that I did, and I’ve struck it through, but not deleted it.  It’s hard to stick to what I said about trying not to criticise my blog here.

***

I started my depression/resilience/activity course today.  It was quite good, but very anxiety-provoking.  In fact, the whole day has been anxiety-provoking, both social anxiety and general anxiety.  I struggled on my course with the activity done in pairs as I did not really know what to say.  I don’t think my pair and I did it properly in the end, but I think I was confused.  I’m worried about having to set an achievable target at the end of each session, which amounts to two a week, as the class is on Mondays and Wednesdays, and then report back on success (or otherwise) in the next class.

On the course they said that one never goes backwards in recovery.  Even if one seems to go backwards, one is in fact learning necessary things about oneself.  It doesn’t seem that way.  Someone said he had been depressed for three years and was worried if he would ever recover; I silently worried that I have been depressed sixteen years or so and don’t seem to be able to recover for more than a few months at a time.

***

Freud, I’m informed, thought life boiled down to eros and thanatos, the sex instinct and the death instinct.  I think that I think about both too much.  I see the skull beneath the skin, to paraphrase Eliot.  I was certainly thinking of dying in my course today, when I was feeling anxious that I wouldn’t be able to set achievable targets and that I didn’t want to be monitored by a class of strangers or even to be in the room with sixteen people.  I just wanted to die.  It’s a release sometimes to think of dying, of killing myself or just of being dead.  I do believe in an afterlife, but most of the time I think I’m too wicked to deserve it, but Jews don’t believe in eternal damnation, so the idea of just not existing seems like some kind of a release.  I sometimes try to visualise my body decomposing, which probably isn’t a nice thing to think about.  I guess this is suicidal ideation, thinking about suicide and death rather than actually planning to kill myself.  My experience, as I think I’ve said before, is that crisis teams are not interested if you are merely thinking about death, only if you actually have a plan to kill yourself, although the distinction between thinking about death and having a plan to kill yourself is, I think, less clear cut than that policy implies.  I was probably thinking about this too much in the course today, a symptom of anxiety and despair.

To be honest, I was probably thinking of sex too much as well as death.  I think that thinking about sex at all is bad for me, both for religious reasons and because it’s fairly obvious to me that no one is ever going to be interested in me.  I beat myself up about sex a lot, though, because of religious reasons and feminist reasons.  For example, just feeling attracted to someone there instantly provokes guilt for hirhuim assurim (forbidden thoughts) and also for objectifying women.  It’s a relief in a way that no one else at the course seemed to be Jewish, so far as I could tell, so everyone is off limits anyway.  It would be good if I could just avoid thinking about sex and love, because I don’t think anyone could ever love me.

***

Whenever I see frum families, especially frum women, with their children, which happens a lot where I live, I feel that I will never get married and have children and I feel so lonely.  I wonder how almost everyone else in the community manages to pair off so easily and I don’t.

I see frum (religious) children where I live and imagine them on a trajectory from school to yeshiva/seminary to careers in accountancy and law (men) or teaching or occupational therapy (women) and marriage and children… A few will be hit by some kind of life issue and a few more will drop out of the frum community, but most are going to be on that path for life.  I felt vaguely today that I made a choice for the religious life over the secular one, thinking although it entailed sacrifices, it would bring rewards.  Actually, this isn’t really true.  I never sat down and said, “Today I’m going to be frum.”  I just drifted into it, from a traditional background to full observance over many years.  My point is that if I was offered that choice – and in a sense it is still before me, I could still stop being religious – that is what I would choose and why.  Except I never received the rewards of being frum, the this worldly ones anyway: family, community, support, meaning, spirituality; but I don’t have the worldly benefits of not being religious either.  I ended up with a non-functional depressive/autistic life that I can’t imagine anyone deliberately choosing.

***

I have so many ‘bad’ thoughts, they frighten me.  I worry about what they say about me, whether I will act on them.  When my religious OCD was worse, I did a lot of reading about it and learnt that everyone has ‘bad’ thoughts and that people who obsess over them with OCD (scrupulosity) are less likely to act on them than anyone else.  But I wonder why I have so many bad thoughts.  I wish I could know what other people think, to know if my thoughts are ‘normal,’ both in nature, intensity and frequency… thoughts of self-harm and suicide, thoughts of death and decay, sexual thoughts, violent thoughts, blasphemous thoughts, offensive thoughts…  I feel I must be a bad person, or at least a very unwell person, to have so many bad thoughts, even if I don’t act on them (and I’ve acted on thoughts that I think do make me a bad person).  I find it hard to dismiss them as just thoughts that everyone has as no one else seems to report them, except very unwell people, which is not encouraging.

***

I start my new job tomorrow.  I really wish I didn’t.  I just feel sure it’s going to go disastrously wrong.  I can’t work out why anyone would want to employ me, except, again, that I deceive them about how useless I really am (which is another thing I’m not supposed to write/think).  They just sent me a massive email with induction information.  I’m not sure why they waited until the end of the day before I start to send this – it would have been easier if I could have had time to read through it properly.

The Mountaineer

I got up surprisingly early this morning considering I didn’t get to bed until 2.00am, so I’m hoping to get the time, amid preparations for Shabbat (the Sabbath) by myself in my flat, to walk round to my parents’ house and leave some of my medication there out of the way of temptation.  I’ll still need to have a week’s worth or so in the flat, though.

A metaphor came to my mind that I originally heard in quite a different context, of being like a climber stuck on a high mountain at night.  If he stops moving,  he will die, but it is dark and cold and he is tired and wants to sleep.  That’s how I feel with my depression.  I know I have to keep moving, but I no longer have the energy or hope to do so.

I made a list last night of things I’ve tried to cope with my depression.  There may be stuff I’ve missed, but I think these are the main things:

  • Working,
  • Volunteering,
  • Being frum (religious),
  • Positive affirmations,
  • Medication.  Lots of medication,
  • CBT,
  • Counselling,
  • Psychotherapy,
  • Vitamins,
  • Exercise,
  • Socialising (a bit, anyway),
  • Opening up to people (a tiny bit),
  • A sunlight-simulating alarm clock,
  • Dating,
  • Prayer (set, spontaneous, Hebrew, English),
  • Meditation/mindfulness,
  • Phoning the Samaritans,
  • Keeping a diary and blogging.

Also, things I would like to try, but have not been able to:

  • Taking vitamin B6,
  • Using a light box.

I feel the only things I haven’t tried are alternative medicine and segulot (protective charms or rituals), as I don’t believe in either of them.

This is why I feel rather pessimistic when people suggest something that I should do to deal with the depression, because I’ve usually tried it already or if I haven’t, then I don’t feel particularly confident that it will work when nothing else has done.

Today the world feels set up for mentally stable, neurotypical people and not for those with depression, social anxiety or Asperger’s Syndrome, let alone all three.  It’s going to be an effort just to go to shul (synagogue) for an hour this evening, let alone to do anything more social or energy-depleting.

Luftmentsch 1, Social Anxiety 0

Shabbat (the Sabbath) was mostly good, somewhat to my surprise.  I woke up a bit late, but I was overwhelmed by anxiety about work and stayed in bed for twenty minutes or so, making me very late for shul (synagogue).  I did manage to meet my social anxiety CBT target of wishing a “gut Shabbos” to someone I don’t normally talk to (actually to two people) and I spoke to someone who started a conversation with me.

Then I walked to the flat of the woman I was dating a few weeks ago for lunch.  The walk itself was about six miles and took just under an hour and a half, so a twelve mile, three hour round trip, by myself and without music etc.  It was a little boring, but manageable, although I should have worn thicker socks and a hat as I ended up with blisters on my feet and a migraine in the evening.  I have been so consumed with work anxiety this week that I ‘forgot’ to worry about lunch until I was walking there, when I suddenly started worrying that I would be too shy to talk to anyone and also that I would get lost and not be able to find the flat (I didn’t).  Initially I did find it hard to speak to people, but once we all sat down to lunch I became more confident.  It probably helped that I was next to someone who seemed quite talkative (in a good way) and asked me lots of questions about myself.  I tried to speak quite freely about myself for a change, even though it took me to areas I normally try to keep quiet i.e. Doctor Who fandom and mental health (although I didn’t quite say that I have mental health issues).  After a while I felt confident in joining in the general discussion around the table.

Unfortunately I couldn’t stay as long as I would have liked, as I wanted to be back in time for shul, but it was a boost to (a) be able to converse with other people my age and level of frumkeit (religiosity) about myself and my interests and (b) to realize that there are still plenty of other frum people roughly my age who are unmarried (of the eleven adults (plus one baby) present, only two were married) and none of them, male or female, seemed the unmarriable freaks I sometimes fear I am.  This makes me feel more confident about resuming dating in a couple of months’ time, although I still think contacting the shadchan (matchmaker) who specializes in matching up people with health issues or other issues is probably the place to start.

On the way home I reflected that I might be more interesting than I usually assume.  I do have a range of interests and hobbies, from Jewish learning and reading (Torah and Jewish history, nineteenth century Yiddish literature) to general history to science fiction, particularly vintage British TV science fiction to creative writing to jogging.  I’ve met (and dated) plenty of people who struggle to find so many interests.  This was not the first time I have thought this recently, but it is still a new and unusual enough thought that it is hard to believe it or think it without a degree of effort.

With these boosts to my self-esteem, my anxiety faded somewhat on the return trip.  I managed to talk to people a bit at seudah (the third Shabbat meal) at shul and listened with interest to the shiur (class), although unfortunately it was around this time the migraine kicked in, so I couldn’t concentrate as well as I would have liked.  (I’m going to get religious for a few lines so feel free to skip ahead if this doesn’t mean much to you.)  The rabbi was talking about the paradoxical nature of the forthcoming Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year) festival where we are supposed to feel fear of God, but also love of God.  This seems contradictory, but he argued we start feeling fear that our lives for the next year are being decided today, move to a feeling of dependence when we realize that not just every year, but even every moment of life that we have is given by God and that we have no ultimate control over the matter, but this dependence in turn leads to appreciate for the lives we have and the realization that God has given us this life to grow into the best people we can be, which in turn leads to love for God.  This was what I really needed to hear right now and it was unfortunate that my head was aching and I couldn’t take it all in.

I had to leave shul early during  Ma’ariv because I felt too ill: my head was pounding and I felt sick; the fact that the shul is a very hot and poorly-ventilated building didn’t help.  Again, there was a positive here as in the past I would have forced myself to say the whole of Ma’ariv despite my headache and stay until the end, whereas today I said the essential prayers quickly to myself and went home long before the rest of the congregation, which I think shows that I am beginning to put my own needs first when necessary and to worry less about the negative judgment of others.

So all in all a positive day.  I have a busy day ahead of me tomorrow, so I should get to bed soon.

Bad Day

If the title seems prosaic, it’s because I’m restraining myself from melodramatic phrases.  I suppose the background to all of this is that I slept badly; I got to bed early, around 11.10pm, but woke up about 4.40am and I don’t think I went back to sleep, although I lay in bed for over an hour and a half.  So I was probably a bit sleep-deprived when all this hit.  I was certainly bored out of my skull, as you shall see.

I’m trying not to write about work, but I have to record that I got told off today for a situation where I was trying hard to do the right thing according to the inadequate information I had been given and without knowing that the information I had was inadequate (to be fair, it didn’t help that I had forgotten something I did know, but I was told it once, at my job interview about six months ago when I was nervous and not focused on taking in information).  I could have argued back, but I had no desire to escalate the situation, so I took it as a kapparah (atonement).  (I should learn to do this with my parents.)  Ironically, if I had given in to my social anxiety in the first place, none of this would have happened, which is probably not a good lesson to learn.

Enrollment was tedious and the job I was given was largely superfluous.  Fortunately, this has been realized by the management and I have been told that I only need to do half a day on enrollment tomorrow and can go off to the library office and catalogue on the other half.  More serious is that the enrollment seemed to trigger some strong social anxiety problems in terms of panicking about situations when they didn’t go the way I had been prepared for them to go and not knowing what to do to resolve situations.  I mostly did resolve things eventually, I hope correctly.  It makes me worry that my social anxiety is worsening in the way that my OCD got worse at a time of stress (moving house).  I am worried that this may impact my ability to do my job.  Not the enrollment, which is only a couple of days in the year, but being on the library issue desk.  My job is mostly in the office, but I have to spend some time on the issue desk every day and it can be hard sometimes, particularly when I’m being asked about things that I am still not familiar with.  I feel guilty for asking my boss or my colleagues (and it’s going to be harder to do either after today), but I sometimes have to do so.  I’m worried that I should know more by now.  However, the fear that my social anxiety will impact on my ability to do my job may simply be another example of my anxiety!  It may also be the case that I am becoming more aware of the problem (I mean social anxiety in general) as I try to focus on it and resolve it.

When someone asks me a question that I don’t know the answer to, my mind shuts down and rather than thinking of solutions (ask someone, look it up, ask a question to understand what they are asking etc.) I sit there like a rabbit caught in the oncoming car headlights.  It doesn’t help that sometimes it is hard to understand the library users, as they sometimes speak quietly and often have thick accents (bear in mind that to some of them English is a second language and one they are not very fluent in).  I suppose I must usually understand and think of an answer, or ask someone, or one of my colleagues comes to help me out.  I am beginning to learn how to deal with problems and develop ‘scripts’ for frequently occurring situations, but I feel like I’m doing it very slowly.  I’m assuming that as my boss has not complained, she is not worried about my progress; I don’t like to ask her opinion as that would seem needy.

Perhaps fortunately I had my CBT for social anxiety book with me and read some of it on the way home, but I am not sure how to implement what I read.  It encouraged me to take risks and see what happens.  I feel like I am unlikely to take risks at work for fear I will get fired, especially after today, while taking risks at shul (synagogue) and ‘being myself’ (let alone talking to women) seems a surefire way to become a social pariah.

It’s worrying how quickly I drift from “a bad thing happened” to “I’m a bad person” to “I wish I was dead.”  Given the way I impulsively finished my post yesterday my negative emotions seem to be overwhelming me again.  I wonder if I should try to get an appointment with a psychiatrist again, although I am not sure what exactly he could do.  It is tempting, though, as I need to respond to an email from the last psychiatrist I was seeing and it is hard enough to see psychiatrists on the NHS that I am tempted to ask for an appointment.  I also wonder if I should tell my boss that my mental health has worsened recently.  I feel that the more urgent a conversation about mental health is, the harder it is to have it.

So, dinner beckons, probably vegetarian cholent as Jewish comfort food, from a tin, sadly, and a cup of tea, because I’m still upset and while I usually avoid caffeine in the evenings, I’m English too.

Absent Passion

No work again today as it’s a public holiday in the UK, although I’ve had some slightly OCD anxiety about it and keep checking my diary and phone to see that it really is a holiday.  Sigh.  I went to bed very late again last night (this morning, really), because I got upset and agitated late at night, as sometimes happens.  Then I overslept this morning.  It was a struggle to get up again.   I think there was some mild depersonalization.  I wanted to get up, but my legs wouldn’t move and for a brief period they some seemed not to belong to me.  Things like this happen to me occasionally.  It’s a bit disturbing, although it’s hard to tell how much is actual depersonalization from my depression and how much is me thinking it’s happening from the fear that it is happening, if that makes sense.

I achieved one or two things, like doing more Torah study/preparation for the forthcoming Yomim Noraim (High Holidays) and going for a run, but my heart was not really in anything.  So much of my life seems to be done by rote, out of obligation or need rather than desire or will (ratzon).  I suppose this goes back to my rabbi’s questions on Shabbat (the Sabbath): what would I ask for if God offered me one wish?  And what, when I get it, can I never have enough of?  I have some ideas what the answers to these questions are, but they aren’t anything I can currently get in the way I want and feel I need.

I’ve started thinking seriously about my cheshbon nafesh (self-analysis of what I’ve done and how I’ve grown over the last year).  On the whole, I would have to say it was a good year.  I brought my depression and OCD under control (to varying extents, but I stopped being suicidal and self-harming), I got a new job with much longer hours in a very different environment and seem to have adapted to it and to getting up earlier reasonably well.  I continued living by myself and managed to keep up with cooking, cleaning and shopping.  I kept up with my religious obligations (prayer, study including my Talmud shiur (class)) to some extent and I now to get to shul (synagogue) for every service on Shabbat.  I made a couple of new friends, began to fit in better to my new community, coped with my sister’s engagement and had a significantly less stressful Pesach (Passover) than I’ve had for the past couple of years.  I started writing a book, or at least making one out of blog posts.  I started this blog and have a couple of regular readers and I write fewer drama queen comments on Hevria now I can write here instead.

Still, it is difficult not to see the negatives too: I still work significantly less than full-time, I still don’t daven (pray) as often as I would like, with as good kavannah (concentration) as I would like or, on weekdays, with a minyan (prayer quorum).  I still feel lonely, but I’m on the point of giving up on making new friends or dating again because they are so hard and they hurt so much.  I still get tired very easily and I still have some religious problem areas, mostly triggered by stress or depression, but probably not excusable (e.g. irritability and sarcasm at times, particularly towards my parents).  Like I said, so much of my life seems to come from routine rather than passion.  My life at times runs like clockwork, which is certainly an improvement from the depths of paralyzing depression, but it’s about as interesting and joyous as clockwork too.  I’m still lonely and miserable a lot of the time and I still feel like a misfit in too many situations, particularly among my co-religionists.  Perhaps related to this stagnation, my creativity has suffered.  I write here about how I feel and I’m working on re-writing and editing that Doctor Who book, but I have not written much in the way of poetry or fiction or articles for Hevria.  I still feel blocked creatively, partly from experiencing rejection (it all comes down to rejection with me).

Going back to my rabbi’s questions, I enjoy work quite a bit, but not fully; I can tell, because I clock-watch a lot.  I enjoy jogging and cooking sometimes (not simultaneously!), but they also both feel like chores a lot of the time.  I’m not sure whether I enjoy writing or I just need to do it, I feel a compulsion to get my feelings down on paper (I think I do enjoy writing about Doctor Who, but it’s increasingly hard to feel I have something new to say, and I feel my style of writing doesn’t really fit in with the trends in critical thought in fandom).  Religiously, I do enjoy Torah study at times, but not as much as I feel I should.  I don’t really enjoy prayer or find it meaningful much of the time, I do it from obligation and because I know that to get to the few times when it is meaningful, I have to go through all the times when it is not.  I don’t get much in the way of simcha shel mitzvah (joy in the commandments).  I meet my religious obligations not from fear, habit or social conformity, but from strong belief, understanding and acceptance of the teachings of the Torah and perhaps from love of God and Judaism, which is all good, but I don’t perform them from joy, as I should do.  I have been told by my rabbi that I won’t be able to feel simcha shel mitzvah until I’m over the depression, but I don’t think I will ever fully be over the depression.

I can’t tell how much of this is depressive anhedonia (the inability to feel pleasure, caused by depression) and how much is that I’m living the wrong life, doing the wrong things, trying to please the wrong people.  I know that I love Judaism (not just the religion, but the history, the culture and the people, frustrating though all that can be at times) and I could never be happy without it, but I wonder if I need a different approach, somehow, but I’ve never really got into mussar and I can’t see myself as a Hasid and non-Orthodox Judaism wouldn’t work for me on multiple levels, would, in fact exacerbate my problems.

On another note, albeit related to personal growth and forcing myself to do things, I watched more of King Lear.  It was probably not the best thing to watch, not just because it’s bleak, tragic and violent (“Out, vile jelly!”), but because it probably requires too much attention in my current state.  It’s hard to tell what to do about serious culture when I’m depressed.  I like reading big nineteenth century novels and reading and watching Shakespeare, but when I’m depressed it can be hard to get into the appropriate state of mind.  However, I don’t want to give up on them long-term (given that I don’t think I will ever be fully recovered), so every so often I steel myself and try them, as with my currently reading Daniel Deronda and watching this.  I guess it’s like jogging and writing and Torah study and prayer: I have to put a lot of effort in to get something out of it eventually and I just hope the cost-benefit ratio is good enough.  I think I’m still getting something out of King Lear, though.  It’s not my favourite Shakespeare play, but I think it is the most powerful in some ways.  It’s a play that takes us to the limits of betrayal and madness, and beyond.  It has a sort of nightmarish power even when I can’t take in the poetry and I’m going on my memory of the plot rather than what I see.  And the production I’m watching is very well-acted.

“I will not reason and compare”

Today was my first day back at work.  I actually achieved quite a bit, but it was also a day when I compared myself to a terrorist (semi-jokingly).

I actually managed to get to bed by just after 11.30 last night, which was a pleasant surprise considering I was out late with my family, but I couldn’t sleep, perhaps from blogging shortly before bed or perhaps because I was a bit stressed and not relaxed from being out with people I didn’t know well.  I don’t know what time I fell asleep; any time between 00.30am and 1.00am would be my guess, but I’m not a good judge of time.  I had strange dreams, which I don’t really remember, except that one of them concerned The Shining, a film I have never seen nor planned to see (I don’t watch horror films).

Surprisingly I managed to wake up at 6.00am, but it took me nearly half an hour to get up and I ate breakfast and dressed very slowly, so much so that I could only say a little of Shacharit (morning prayers).  I left a few minutes late and then went back when I was halfway down the road to check I’d locked the door; I know this happens to everyone sometimes, but it makes me worry about my OCD, especially as the kashrut OCD has been worse the last few days.  I caught the bus to the station rather than walking to try to make up lost time and should have got to work on time, but there were train delays when I was halfway there, so I was half an hour late.

It turned out most of my colleagues were on holiday, as was my boss, and enrollment doesn’t start until Thursday, so I got on with cataloguing.  I hope I’ve done the right things, though, as I’m worried that I haven’t.  I still feel like I’m learning the ropes, which is a bit worrying as I’m going to have new responsibilities added to the existing ones this term.

I was very tired during the morning, perhaps unsurprisingly.  I found myself crying a bit too, just sitting there working with tears suddenly coming.  I was glad that only one of my colleagues was around and she was on the issue desk while I was in the office so she didn’t see me.  I felt better after lunch, so low blood sugar was probably a factor.  Late morning is often a bad time for me in terms of tiredness and depression and I have been known to start falling asleep around 10.30 at work or in shul on Shabbat.  I usually take a banana with to eat around then for a boost, but it doesn’t always work and hot drinks are a problem at work as we have to boil the water from the water cooler which seems to make me feel nauseous.  Then in the afternoon I began to feel ill, as I had felt last Thursday and Friday, like the beginnings of a cold that never really comes out, achey and hot with a sore throat and dry eyes.

I did at least achieve quite a bit over the day.  I catalogued about thirty books, which was very good, even if they were fairly easy, but whenever I do something well, I worry that I have done it incorrectly.  I feel guilty about not working at my optimum all day long, particularly regarding slowing down in the late morning, but deep down I know that it is impossible to work for seven hours with only one break (especially as that break was cut short today to catch up time lost due to train delays).

I feel a lot less depressed today and glad to be back at work, but I still have some OCD thoughts that I am struggling with and I have a stack of emails to answer tomorrow that are panicking me a bit (psychiatrist, joining the new shul, Shabbat lunch with my ex-date, landlady).  Hopefully I’ll feel better after having eaten and relaxed a bit, if not after having had a night’s sleep.

The downside is that despite feeling a bit better, I still put myself down.  I’ve found out that I’m probably OK eating before Shacharit if I do it because of my depression, which is good to know (eating is permitted even for strong hunger, according to Rav Hirsch in Horeb, if I understand it correctly, so I’m assuming that kol vachomer (a fortiori) it’s OK to eat to get past the depression-induced lack of energy and motivation.  I still struggle to like myself, though, or to work out how to get my life really back on track.  I should probably start by admitting that it is a lot more on track than it was a year ago, when I was much more depressed (suicidal), having much stronger OCD thoughts, sleeping through whole mornings, working far fewer hours and sometimes failing to get to work completely and hardly going to shul at all.  But in a day’s time we’re going to be in the Hebrew month of Elul, which is the start of the five or six weeks of introspection and self-evalution running up to Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, a time when it’s easy to give in to the despair and self-loathing, at least for me.

Example number one of deep-rooted, instinctive self-loathing: I had been planning to go to a shadchan (professional matchmaker) after the Yom Tovim (festivals), but now I’m not so sure that I’m ready.  I was thinking today that no one could ever love me and that if it wasn’t a mitzvah to get married, I would just resign myself to being single forever and not even bother to look for a partner.  It’s all just too painful being rejected all the time.  People have told me that it will happen when I don’t expect it, but it doesn’t really work that way (a) if you’re too shy to start spontaneously talking to women and (b) if you’re frum and events where the sexes can mingle casually are increasingly rare.  I am not sure that there are single women my age at my shul, for example, but if they are, I wouldn’t be able to talk to them even if I had the courage, as men and women stand separately even at the kiddush.  It’s true that there is no halakhic reason for this and often one or two people talk across the table or even go round to the other side, but this is rare and I would never have the confidence to do it, even though I think the whole idea is silly and unnecessary.

Examples number two: I compared myself to a terrorist.  There was a headline in the newspaper about the man wanted in connection with the terrorist attack in Barcelona.  It said something like “THE MOST WANTED MAN IN THE WORLD” so inevitably I wryly put myself down by describing myself as “the least wanted man in the world.”  It was a fairly tasteless joke on multiple levels and I’m not proud of it, but it just came into my head.  I don’t really think I’m like a terrorist, but I don’t want to go down that path in case I start proving to myself that I am like a terrorist. [I decided to edit out the next bit because it was too self-loathing.  Suffice to say, I was blaming myself again for things I haven’t done and making myself out to be a worse person than I am.]

So, on the whole it was a goodish day, at least in terms of getting to work, getting quite a bit done, and being less paralyzingly depressed, but there is obviously a long way to go still in terms of self-esteem and OCD if I’m going to struggle with OCD and self-loathing thoughts.

(Also, if this post suddenly disappears or gets dramatically edited, it means I’ve decided I have made it much too personal and want to take it out of the public domain.)

Family Weekend

I think I’ve returned to where I was before I broke up two weeks ago, emotionally.  I managed to navigate a number of things this weekend without falling back into depression, social anxiety or OCD (at least not too much).

The background to the weekend is that my aunt and one of my five cousins were over here from Israel.  I was a bit nervous about how I would be over the weekend in terms of my mental health.  The plan was that my aunt and cousin would be with us (me and my parents) over Shabbat alongside my sister and, on Shabbat lunch, my sister’s fiancé and then I would go out with my parents, aunt and cousin on Sunday.

Shabbat meals passed off well.  No arguments or anything like that.  Across the whole weekend I didn’t have much depression or social anxiety around my aunt, cousin or my sister’s fiancé (who asked my advice on what Yom Tov machzor (festival prayer book) to buy – he was probably just making conversation, but it was nice that he asked me).  There were a few OCD thoughts, but I tried hard to keep them under control, with a reasonable degree of success.

My sister was the only person who noticed that I’d deliberately left my sideburns a bit longer and more tapered than usual when I shaved off my Three Weeks beard last week.  Somehow I thought she would notice.  It was a bit of a whim on my part.  I’ve always liked long sideburns (although my sideburns aren’t hugely long) and have been toying with growning the longer for a while.  I felt facial hair is back in fashion, so I decided to go for it.  I’m vaguely nervous about how they will be seen at work and especially at shul (synagogue) as peyot (sidecurls) are common, but not long sideburns.  I guess this is something where I have to be willing to stand out, as with wearing a kippah sruga (crocheted skullcap) and coloured shirt.

I got to shul on Shabbat morning, albeit quarter of an hour late (I somehow slept through my alarm).  I still didn’t really talk to anyone in the kiddush, but I did talk a little bit at the seudah shlishit (third meal).  I nearly answered a question in the shiur (class) during seudah, but chickened out at the last minute.  I guess social anxiety won that one.

On Saturday night, after Shabbat went out, I sat around in the kitchen with my parents, aunt and cousin, just chatting.  I’ve written before here about not being good at just “hanging out” with people and tending to go off by myself either because I don’t think I’ll enjoy being with other people or because I’m worried what they will think of me or what I will say, so it was good that I managed to do this.  I then went to bed, but couldn’t sleep because of a migraine, so I ended up lying in bed watching Doctor Who, waiting for my painkillers to kick in (in the end a Cool ‘n’ Soothe strip proved more effective).  Death to the Daleks is far from being seventies Doctor Who at its best and it wasn’t improved by being watched at 2.00am with a sick headache.

Today I went out to the park with my parents, aunt and cousin.  Again, it’s something I might have used the depression to avoid in the past, but I wanted to spend as much time as I could with my family, particularly as I’ve now realized how important family is to me.  We had a good time and bumped into a couple of people we knew, including my primary school teacher from when I was about five.  She hadn’t changed.  She said I hadn’t changed either, but I’m not sure if that was because I do tend to run into her every couple of years.

The last hour or two has been a bit harder.  I’m back in my flat by myself now and I’m tired from the afternoon out (I do worry a little that my energy levels are still low; I’m not sure how much it’s depression or just that I’m older now.  It makes me worry about being able to cope with having children) and ended up feeling a little down and OCD, although I’ve mostly kept things under control.  Eating the wrong food probably doesn’t help (my Mum took a lot of junk food out with us, but no fruit other than grapes; I would have taken apples and bananas).  Hopefully eating dinner will help.

Pure Obession

I woke up late this morning, about 9.30, but actually earlier than I expected to wake up (I was expecting to still be asleep at 10.00, if not 11.00).  I had a bit of a headache that was threatening to become a migraine, though, so I took some painkillers and ate breakfast and went back to bed, reading and thinking.  After the headache started to go I felt tired (as I usually do after a migraine), but better than I have done since breaking up a week and a half ago.  I had a supportive email from my therapist, which was good too.

davened (prayed) most of Shacharit (the morning service), which again is more than I’ve done for a while, albeit rather late.  I noticed the OCD (obsessive compulsive disorder) was bad again, though.  In fact, it has been for a while (probably since I broke up), but I hadn’t fully registered it.  Like the depression, it tends to flare up at times of stress, so it is no surprise that it has returned after my breakup and my worries about being single and lonely forever.

I don’t think I’ve really explained my religious OCD (scrupulosity).  I was going to link to the article I wrote about it for Den of Geek‘s Geeks vs. Loneliness slot (the only writing for which I’ve actually been paid!), but the page currently seems to be down.  Basically, rather than worrying about cleanliness, safety or order (which is what most people associate with OCD), my OCD takes the form of worrying about religious things, which is known as scrupulosity.  The most difficult aspect, in terms of the amount of distress and disruption to my life, has been with the Jewish food laws: the everyday laws of kashrut and the special food laws of Pesach (Passover).  This has been better recently, since I had some CBT a number of months ago, but it lurks in the background and comes to the fore at times of stress, and I’m often still not 100% convinced that my flat is really kosher; I do live with the vague expectation/fear that I’m going to have to replace all my crockery at some point.  The thoughts are the obsession; the compulsion is either to wipe and clean crockery or to check with a rabbi that all is OK – the latter is particularly difficult to deal with, as normally one would check a question with a rabbi, but here it fuels the OCD so it is hard to know what to do.

The other set of obsessions don’t have accompanying compulsion (known as pure O).  I am better at dealing with them these days, so I tend to mean the dietary worries when I talk about OCD, but actually the pure O has been around for much longer, on and off, since not all that long after I was diagnosed with the depression, back in 2003.  Sometimes it takes the form of violent thoughts that I worry I might act on one day.  I have been reassured that people who have such obsessive thoughts are the least likely to be violent, as they are generally gentle people who are horrified by their thoughts; that is why they find them so disturbing.  I should probably point out here the nature of OCD: everyone has potentially disturbing thoughts from time to time, but people who develop OCD take them very seriously as meaning something true and important about themselves and become unable to stop thinking about them (the analogy usually used is that if someone says to you, “Don’t think about a white bear” it becomes impossible for you to think of anything except a white bear).  In short, they become an obsession and the compulsions develop to try to control the obsessive thoughts.  So I am aware of the violent thoughts, but I try not to let them worry me, although it is difficult.  I really want to have a family (my wanting to have children has been in part responsible for breaking two potential relationships recently), but sometimes I worry that I should not do so if there is even the slightest risk that I have violent thoughts lurking inside of me.

More disturbing, at least recently, is the fact that I do also get idolatrous thoughts, basically thoughts of other religions and deities than the One I believe in, which tend to be worst when I am davening.  As one is supposed to keep one’s thoughts clear, I worry that my prayer is worthless or, worse, actually considered idolatrous, praying to a false god.  I know that worrying about these thoughts just makes them worse, so I try not to let them get to me, but just to ‘wash out’ of my mind as they washed in, but it can be very hard.  This is what happened this morning, leaving me feeling a bit self-critical and annoyed with myself.  So I hope I have not just traded the depression for more OCD.  I know the depression and OCD will probably always be there on some level, but I would like to go back to how I was in the months before the breakup, with the depression and the OCD firmly in the background.

Liveblogging Depression 6

20.01 Doctor Who: The Sea Devils: Episode 2.  Old Doctor Who is better than new Doctor Who.  Swordfight!  Bad jokes!  Also, squishing stress ball (Evel Kneidel, the stress matzah ball) – helpful.

20.27 I suspect this experiment isn’t working, so I’ll stop clogging up everyone’s feeds and go back to doing one post.

20.40 Lying on the bed again, for the umpteenth time today, feeling awful and worrying.  Worries I won’t recover.  Worried I will never be able to speak my mind about anything for fear of being demonized and losing friends.  Terrified that no one could ever love me, that admitting my mental health issues will just lead to rejection.  Even worried that this liveblogging experiment failure will lose me my small base of followers.  I trust that God’s will will come to pass, but what if He wants me to be lonely and unloved?  That is, after all, how He seems to have wanted me to feel for so much of my life.

20.46 Not at all hungry, even a little nauseous, but feel I ought to eat something, so opting for cereal (muesli).  More Doctor Who.

20.58 Still haven’t actually got around to eating and DVD.  Parents aren’t answering phones.  Might well take more olanzapine tomorrow without waiting to hear from psychiatrist.

21.06 Just spoke to Mum, she agreed with me that I should just take the olanzapine tomorrow morning and tell the psychiatrist rather than waiting for him to email me back, otherwise the depression might get worse and I might miss work.

21.11 Emailed the psychiatrist.  Worried he will tell me I should have stayed on the lower dose for longer, but feel I know my mind and my body better than a doctor (this is halakhah, incidentally).

21.16 Ma’ariv.  Poor kavannah (concentration).  Worried that no one really reads what I write here.  Worried about That Thing, that I will never find someone who can love me for the broken person that I am.

ca21.25 Text from friend offering support, feel a bit better.

21.37 Dinner and Doctor Who, interspersed with texting friend.  Also, make lunch for tomorrow, pack.

Still to do: shower, hitbodedut, bed.

Introspection

It’s funny, when I started writing this blog, I expected to be writing little essays on Judaism and mental health.  The way it has turned out, I’m writing more of a journal of my feelings of depression, OCD, anxiety and borderline Asperger’s while in recovery.  I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that, it just doesn’t really fit the image I had of myself and my writing style.  Of course, that’s partly because the “essay writing” side of my brain has been occupied working on my Doctor Who non-fiction book and I have generally been busy with and tired from my new job.  I don’t seem to have many readers (so far as I can tell from page views, likes and followers), but I think I’m OK with that.  I’m really bad at the marketing/SEO side of blogging and neither of my previous blogs had many readers (although if anyone wants to link to me on their own blogs, I won’t say no!).  I used to worry about that more; here I think I’m glad I have half a dozen or maybe a dozen readers who seem to read most of what I write and get something out of it, even if I do wonder what people find to enjoy in my ramblings about life, mental health and working in a library (I now have the official title of “Assistant Librarian (Collection Managment)” which sounds very formal and important!).

Anyway, today is another lethargic day, but not really depressed emotionally.  I feel OK, I just haven’t got the energy to do anything.  I think I’m still recovering from the week, so I’m awarding myself another quiet day and not going for a run, as I would normally try to do on a Friday.  I just don’t have the energy.  I plan to watch Doctor Who (The Curse of Peladon) until I need to get ready for Shabbat.  I overslept ridiculously, partly because I went to bed very late (1.00am), but even so, I slept for about eleven and a half hours, which I think I needed.

I have to tell myself that I am still in recovery, not recovered.  Maybe I will always be vulnerable (I won’t say weak) and have to take care of myself.  I hope I can find a wife who can be accepting of that, given that earlier this year I dated someone who couldn’t cope with it, which makes me scared of opening up in the future about my depression.  (As an aside, I found a cool children’s book at work to explain about depression to very young children.  I made a note of that; hopefully it will be useful one day.)  Maybe I won’t be able to work completely full-time, or not for a while.  I just hope I can manage the transition from three to four full days a week in September.  At any rate, I have coped with a full term of working three days a week, which is good.  I have another week left before the long summer holiday, which I’m not actually contracted to do, I’m working extra for TOIL (Time Off In Lieu) so that I can take three days of Yom Tov (Jewish festivals) off as unpaid leave in the next term.  Also, being around for the library stock take is probably good work experience for me, as I’ve never done a stock take before.  But I think I really do need at least some of this long holiday to recuperate before the next term, which I guess is the advantage of working in a college library, even if the reduced pay (obviously I don’t get paid for those weeks) is a pain.

“I’m So Tired”

I feel a bit washed out today.  Not depressed, but tired and lethargic.  It’s a Jewish fast day, which doesn’t help; I can’t fast for medical reasons (it’s dangerous to get dehydrated while taking lithium tablets, so I asked my rabbi mentor and my psychiatrist when I was put on them and they said fast Yom Kippur, but not the rabbinic fasts), but I usually feel subdued on these days.

It’s probably not surprising that I’m tired, as I’ve had a busy three days with the sheva brachos on Shabbat, being out on Sunday and then having a strategy thing at work yesterday, which was actually quite interesting and fun, but pushed me far outside my comfort zone in terms of going to a different campus (and getting lost on the way there – Google Maps showed that the Tube station I would get out at was by a roundabout, but I didn’t realize until I got there that four or five major roads intersected with totally inadequate signposting to show me the way) and participating in discussions with strangers.  It doesn’t help that I haven’t slept well the last few nights, probably because it has been very hot again.

So I am not surprised that today I feel washed out.  Rather than beating myself up for oversleeping and not achieving much, I’m just focusing on a few key tasks and hoping to let myself relax and prepare for tomorrow, when I have a team-building exercise at work, doing conservation work in a Victorian cemetary that is now a park (not sure what it’s going to involve exactly and I’m slightly apprehensive, not least because it might rain).  I do worry a bit about how I will cope from September, when I am working four days a week, but I guess I will just have to wait and see.  After all, I have coped with moving from working three afternoons a week to three full days without a relapse of the depression.

I have also reduced the dose of olanzapine that I take recently and am hoping to stop it completely.  My current psychiatrist doesn’t like prescribing it (it was prescribed by my previous psychiatrist) and I think it has caused me to shake a bit recently, so I will be glad if I can come off it completely, especially as I think it’s the clomipramine that is really helping me.

Shul-Going

I’m feeling surprisingly good!  The day started badly when I overslept and was half an hour late for shul (synagogue), partly my fault as I stayed up late last night reading The Jewish Chronicle and feeling depressed about its contents (it’s always bad news of one kind or another; if it’s not antisemitism, it’s assimilation and if it’s neither of those, it’s some kind of communal broiges (argument), although the problem was also that I couldn’t sleep because it’s turned hot again.  But the afternoon was better.  I spent a couple of hours studying Torah and enjoying it.  A few months ago I was worried that the depression had killed my love for Torah study, as even though I was no longer depressed, I did not really enjoy it, but I spent two hours this afternoon reading the beginning of next week’s sedra, finding questions and looking for answers in Rashi’s commentary (I realized I love Rashi…) and in The Encyclopedia of Biblical Personalities followed by a lengthy read of Rav Hirsch’s Horeb, feeling glad that, as he suggested, I have a rabbi mentor I can turn to for advice (religious and general) and use as a role model.

I then went back to shul.  After Mincha there were sheva brachos for the rabbi’s daughter.  To explain: when frum Jews get married, they don’t have one party.  That would be too easy.  No, they have a party every night for a week, preferably with at least one new guest each evening (except Shabbat – Shabbat itself counts as the new guest).  (Weirdly, people think Judaism is a boring and serious religion…).  I wasn’t sure whether to go as I somehow didn’t get the email asking people to say if they were coming, but the chairman of the shul assured me they had over-catered (well, it’s a Jewish event…), so I went.  I was nervous as I still don’t feel like I’ve completely settled into the shul, large crowds make me anxious and weddings can make me feel depressed, wondering if I will ever get married.  This is especially true of very frum weddings like this one, where the couple are typically in their early twenties or even late teens, which just makes me feel on the shelf.

However, I had a good time.  I sat with someone I know from Talmud shiur (class) and spoke a bit to him and to some other people, including a blueberry-scoffing young boy of five or six, who was fascinated by a kiwi fruit that had been cut into the same shape as the opened-up satsuma (“They’re the same!  This one’s smaller!  It’s the baby!”  That was the kid, not me).  There was singing, some divrei Torah, lots of jokes (including a surprisingly risqué one from the chairman), some alcohol (I didn’t have any, I don’t risk it with the depression and anti-depressants) and, inevitably, lots and lots of food.  I thought that there was going to be dancing after Ma’ariv and havdalah (Jewish dancing, where you just go around in a circle holding hands with the people next to you and maybe stamping or clapping), but after one dance people started drifting away.  Still, the fact that I was looking forward to the dancing is nothing short of amazing, considering normally I hate it and slip away to avoid getting involved (I usually find Simchat Torah really tough), so I do feel that I’ve come a long way tonight.

I enjoyed the evening and it made me feel more sure that I should formally join the community soon.  Currently my membership is at a shul I go to sometimes in the week, but rarely on Shabbat or Yom Tov; the rabbi there has been incredibly supportive of my mental health and the official hashkafa (religious philosophy) there is closer to my own than at the shul I do go to on Shabbat, but I find the community not focused enough on davening (prayer) with too much talking in the service (there is no talking at all at my Shabbat shul, even though decorum at Orthodox shuls is often surprisingly poor), but above all it’s just too big and unfriendly compared with the tiny and welcoming shul I go to on Shabbat.  Also, my parents go to the shul I am currently a member of and I feel that I don’t exist in my own right there, even though the rabbi and assistant rabbi have invited me to dinner without my parents on occasion.  Going to a different shul to them over the last year and a bit has helped me develop my own sense of identity and independence for the first time in a very long time, so I think it’s about time I took the plunge and formally joined.  I’m just slightly nervous of the fact that I have to have a talk with the rabbi before I can join, though.  I don’t think they turn anyone away, but I’m still nervous of being judged in some way and I don’t really know how to describe myself, my level of Jewish education and observance or my outlook.

Second Thoughts

I’m typing hurriedly in my lunch hour again.  I was going to enjoy the sunshine, but fled a park full of rowdy teenagers.  Why must they swear so much and bully each other?  I hated my teenage years, and I hate being reminded of them.

Much of post was in fact drafted the old-fashioned way, with pen and paper, on the Tube to work this morning.  There are some minor things I wanted to complain about, but I am trying to cultivate a positive attitude and complain less, so I will try not to mention them (except for the rowdy teens).

I feel a bit bad regarding my second post yesterday.  I don’t mind having posted it here, but I probably should not have posted it as a comment on Hevria.com.  I did get a sympathetic response from the original writer, but I wonder if she was annoyed with me underneath [EDIT: she has since said that she’s not annoyed]; I certainly feel as if I was being difficult, really saying, “I’ve had it worse than you” which is unfair, as well as violating my new no complaints rule!  My therapist thinks that I might not have had my my emotions mirrored back to me enough when I was a child, leaving me with difficulties in understanding what I feel and dealing with it (I suppose that’s an alternative explanation for the Asperger’s symptoms).  It’s possibly why I need external validation from my blog and commenting on Hevria and elsewhere.  At any rate, I feel I came across as grumpy and rejecting the author’s feelings in favour of saying that my own are worse, which is not polite.

Yesterday was a stressful day anyway, with my problems with therapy and a general feeling of not being able to achieve much.   I went out for a run in the early evening, even though it was probably too hot, just so I could work off some tension and feel that I had accomplished something.  I’m glad that I seem to be coping with stress better, without falling back into depression.  The OCD has got marginally worse in the last few weeks, but I think it’s still mostly under control.  The winter will be the big test as it’s usually when the nights start getting longer and earlier that I fall back into depression.  But that is still some months off, with a lot to happen between then and now.  I just hope I can keep going as I am now through all the scary things on the horizon, especially the ones that I don’t feel able to talk about here yet.

Luftmentsch Versus Social Anxiety

Things I’ve done to fight the social anxiety in the last couple of days:

Dug out booklet on CBT for social anxiety that I remembered I bought at university;

Spoke to people at Kiddush (blessing said before dinner and lunch on the Sabbath, by extension the refreshments served with the Kiddush blessing after the morning service on the Sabbath) and Seudah Shlishit (third Sabbath meal, often eaten communally at the synagogue) at shul (synagogue);

Spoke to the frum  man who started a conversation with me on the bus, even though I wanted to read and was nervous that he would judge me negatively;

Responded politely when said frum man blessed me that I would get married soon even though I thought it was a bit of a personal thing to say (I think it was meant well and who knows, maybe it will work);

Phoned someone to arrange a date, even though I was very nervous (I haven’t really asked someone out for years, the other dates I’ve been on recently were blind dates arranged by other people although to be fair my sister had checked with this person (a friend of my sister) that she was willing to go out with me before giving me her phone number);

Tried deep breathing when I started shaking at the barber’s and mostly got it under control (I’ve been told the shaking is probably a minor panic attack, but also that it’s caused by medication side-effects; I’m not sure how they interact.  This hasn’t been a problem for some years, so it felt a bit of a retrograde step, but I tried not to let it worry me);

Answered questions at Talmud shiur (class);

Went  to a coffee morning for the OCD support group I go to (or used to go to – I haven’t been for a while, partly because it’s been hard with work, partly because I’ve been a lot better).

The half-time score: Luftmentsch 8, social anxiety 1.

It Is What It Is

“It is what it is” is a phrase I’ve encountered in a couple of places recently.  On the one hand, it’s a silly platitude.  Obviously it is what it is; what else could it be?  Still, as with most platitudes, there is some truth in there.  Sometimes things just are what they are.

In an ideal world, I would be working full time or at least four days a week, sleeping no less than seven hours on work nights and no more than eight hours on non-work nights.  I would be doing an hour and a half of Torah study a day, mostly “serious” stuff, Talmud and Tanakh (Bible) with commentaries.  I would be davening (praying) on time and usually with a minyan (prayer quorum).  I would be working regularly on the book I’m writing and jogging for half an hour a couple of times a week.  I would socialize sometimes and get to my depression support group regularly.

The reality is very different.  I am not achieving any of these targets.  Some, like my sleep, need to be changed urgently (when I am consistently getting only six or even five hours of sleep before work, I come close to falling asleep at my desk mid-morning, especially as I don’t drink coffee!  Bananas are good for waking up, I’ve discovered).   Others feasibly could wait a bit.  For instance, Torah study tends to be an average of about forty-five minutes a day, which isn’t too bad, but some days I do considerably more and other days considerably less.

I’m trying to accept that I can’t turn my life around overnight.  I’ve been depressed pretty much all my adult life.  Work and leisure time patterns that most people build up slowly in their teens and early twenties are suddenly being thrust upon me (and this is without the stresses and time consumption of dating – I’m phoning someone today to try to arrange a date, hopefully).  I’m trying to keep my head above the water and not relapse into depression and OCD, although this is harder some days that others.  Sometimes “It is what it is” is all there is to hold on to.