Fear of Rejection (Mini-Post)

Last night (well, this morning, really), I dreamt about the friends who cut me off when I mentioned them on my blog in a way that they thought was critical, although that was not my intention. When I woke up, I wondered if my unconscious was telling me that my comments about PIMOJ yesterday could be seen as critical. She is unaware of the blog at the moment, but who knows what could happen in the future. I looked over the post today and was unsure, although the comments I received were positive about my conversation with her (i.e. positive about her as well as the interaction). So now I am confused. I feel I may make yesterday’s post private in a day or two to be on the safe side. My rabbi mentor once encouraged me not to mention anyone else on my blog, but I’m not sure how that’s really possible given that a major part of my struggles involves dealing with a social communication disorder, which means I struggle with interactions and need to write them down to process them, and it can help to have feedback from other people here.

I woke to find that PIMOJ had sent me several long messages continuing our conversation from yesterday. I did worry that this meant that she would reject me, but she also sent me messages saying that she is still here for me… It feels strange… I tend to assume if people disagree with me, that’s it, they will leave me, even though my (adult, as opposed to childhood) experience of that does not always fit entirely with that worldview.

I haven’t done much today other than get ready for Shabbat (the Sabbath). I feel so burnt out. I will try not to mind if I can’t do much Torah study over Shabbat, or if I can’t write my novel tomorrow evening after Shabbat. I feel I just need some recharging alone time with a novel (or classic Doctor Who after Shabbat) or whatever.

ANXIOUS!!! Scrupulous?

In the last few days I’ve been feeling confident in some ways, not in others.  I feel curiously confident about my ability to write – I don’t think I’m a great author and I’ve definitely got a lot to learn, but I feel I could write.  However, I don’t feel confident about my ability to get published, in terms of producing what publishers want as well as persevering through rejection and learning the technical procedures for laying out submissions and so on.

I’ve found a job to apply for that might be good for me.  It’s slightly unusual.  The job description was not detailed, but it involves working to improve search engines by rating keywords and search terms.  From the company site, I think it is really about training AI algorithms, although I won’t be doing the technical stuff, just collecting data.  The attraction is (a) although not intended for a librarian/information manager, my information management skills may be useful, (b) I can work from home, (c) I have flexible hours, maximum 20 hours a week.  So this would be in a non-stressful environment (home), allowing me to work, say, 10am-6pm each day, three days a week with two days for writing!  It is a freelance, contract position, so no job security, but you can say that about most jobs nowadays (even before COVID).  I spent nearly two hours applying (one of those annoying cases where they want a CV plus an online application form that just paraphrases your CV).

***

Eliza recommended Shabbat.com as a dating site, which I had not heard of (I’d possibly heard of it as a site to find a Shabbat host, but not as a dating site).  I signed up and created a profile.  Unlike JDate, it’s free.  There were a lot of Anglo-Jewish women on there (including the daughter of friends of my parents who lives down the road and who my Dad has been trying to set me up with for years, but I’ve never seen the slightest sign that she’s interested in me), but I just got overwhelmed and shut it down.  Sigh.  Maybe I don’t have the stamina for online dating, to contact so many people to try to find The One.  It’s an effort for me to open up to anyone.  I suppose it does reassure me that there are women out there, if only I could work out how to meet them.  Someone has to like me, right?  (No, they don’t, says my inner critic.)

I couldn’t cancel my JDate subscription (the three day grace period turned out to be only in parts of America) so am committed for three months and might as well use them.  Losing £90 is a pain, but it’s only money, and money isn’t a huge problem for me right now (I have no job, but I also have no life beyond buying occasional books and DVDs, mostly second-hand and cheap; my parents aren’t charging me rent).  I’m trying to focus on trusting God that everything is for the best, even if nothing works out and it all just turns out to be expensive social anxiety exposure therapy.

That was my thought in the early afternoon, when I realised I couldn’t cancel.  Since then, four people sent me a “flirt” on JDate, which as far as I can tell is a way of signifying interest in someone’s photo and profile without saying anything substantive in case they don’t reciprocate.  You just get a message saying “Person X sent you a flirt” and you can decide whether to respond with a more substantial message or not.  Two of the flirters didn’t have information or photos on their profiles beyond living in the US, so I put them to one side for now.  Both looked slightly suspicious (beyond the lack of data) in apparently being willing to date anyone from 35 to 75, which seemed an suspiciously large age range.

As for the women who looked more legitimate, one is Modern Orthodox, but living in the States – which is not impossible given my experience with E.  The other is from someone whose profile says she’s “culturally Jewish,” but when I responded to her flirt with a short message introducing myself, she sent me a longer message which seems very religious.  It is true that some people really don’t like labels and particularly “Orthodox” (which admittedly is kind of a dour and unattractive thing to call yourself: “Right-thinking”).  I’m going to respond to her before going to bed, and to the American woman tomorrow – I don’t think I have the stamina to reply to both now (see below for why).

I guess it’s nice to be thought attractive, given that these women “flirted” me based on a photo and a short profile.  Still, the thought of actually messaging them, or anyone else on either site, makes me feel anxious.  When I’m single and lonely, I just feel how nice it would be to be in a relationship with someone I like and trust.  I forget that to build a relationship of love and trust, I have to start by talking to a lot of women I don’t know and am scared of, and face a lot of rejection.  At the moment, I want to cower under the table until my bashert (soul-mate) finds me.   Sadly, life doesn’t work like that.

I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t pleased at getting a reaction, though, nor that both these women, but particularly the UK-based one, seem like the type of person I would be looking to meet.

***

I’ve been feeling very anxious today about both applying for the job and internet dating and I wonder if the latter at least is not more than just social anxiety.  ‘Pure O’ OCD (obsessions without compulsions) can sometimes be called “scrupulosity,” because sufferers are often obsessed with being morally perfect.  In the past I have had this with Jewish dietary laws (on the plus side: yesterday someone did something at home that would have sent me into a huge panic and sending emails to rabbis just a couple of years ago and I was fine with it, so I’ve made progress there at least).

While I’m not sure I have scrupulosity regarding dating in a strictly clinical sense sense, I do have a lot of worries about not wanting to mislead women, not wanting to waste their time dating them if I think it won’t work out and so on.  It adds to general social anxiety about dating and makes it hard to cope.  I can have it a bit (to a much lesser extent) with job applications, trying to be honest in my application about my skills and experience.  Whether because of autistic black-and-white thinking or scrupulosity (autistic people are disproportionately likely to suffer from OCD), I have always struggled with the idea that it’s OK to bend the truth a little on job applications, or that it’s OK to chat on dating sites with women up to a point without being sure that you want to go out with them.

Because of the tendency in frum circles to only date if ready to marry, I kind of feel I shouldn’t date without a firm career and good mental health, but if I pursue a career as a writer, I may never have real job security (if anyone does these days) and I don’t think my mental health is ever going to be perfect.

After I’d done all of this, I remembered an email from my rabbi mentor some time ago where he said I should just try to meet a lot of women to see what I want/need from a relationship.  That sounds weirdly unrabbinic advice, but I’m pretty sure it’s what he said (although I can’t find the email).

I did find the email where he said it’s OK to email two or more women at once, as long as I don’t do that once I move one relationship to the point where we’re actually dating.

***

Achievements: aside from job application, setting up a dating profile and messaging on JDate… thirty-five minutes of Torah study (I might try to do a little more) and a run.  So a pretty busy day.  The run led to another exercise migraine, sadly.  I only realised after the run, and after the headache had set in, that I hadn’t davened Minchah (said afternoon Prayers), so it was a struggle to do that by the deadline.  I pushed myself to start, then I stopped and had to go to the toilet because I was retching, came back and restarted, stopped and actually threw up… even then I wanted to finish the service until I realised how silly it seemed.  I suppose it shows how much I push myself to do what I feel I “should” do religiously without taking into account my health.

The Return of the Job Applications

Work (positive): my Mum came into my room excited today just when she was about to go to chemo.  I was still in bed and had barely woken up.  “There’s a perfect job for you on [Jewish mailing list]!”  Dad said the same thing later on.  When I eventually got up and looked… it is potentially a very good job for me.  I don’t know about “perfect” (I’m not sure that anything’s perfect), but it would hopefully be a long-term job, within my skill set and maybe within my experience too.  It’s part-time and maybe would even give some writing time, although I’m not sure about that (I would probably have to crack getting up early if I wanted writing time – I don’t want to give up on writing fiction, so I might have to think laterally to find some time, as I do need a day job).  It would also be completely OK with Jewish holidays and early leaving on winter Fridays because it’s at a Jewish institution.  I don’t want to say too much about it, though, because it’s early days and because there aren’t so many institutions like this around and I don’t want to give too much away online.  I also think the job was advertised before, and I didn’t even get to interview stage, so I’m not getting my hopes up at this stage.

There are some scary aspects – I think all work is scary for me, on some level, because of social anxiety and low self-esteem (I don’t think I can do anything right) and because a job is something new and autism, even high functioning autism, does not like new things – but hopefully it would be manageable.  I have failed to get similar jobs in this sector (or sub-sector of the library sector) before though; I’m not hugely experienced in this area.  So, I’m not as excited as my parents were, but it is potentially interesting.

I psyched myself up to phone and ask for an application form as I thought I need to challenge my social anxiety more, especially as I have hardly done anything social for months, but there was no answer when I phoned.  I emailed for an application form instead.

***

Work (negative): I got feedback on my cataloguing test from the other week.  It wasn’t great.  Some of it was my confusion over how they wanted it done, but some of it is that I have got rusty over the years when I haven’t been consistently cataloguing.  Even when I have been cataloguing, the library standards I’ve been using have perhaps been less stringent than would be necessary for a pure cataloguing job.  I feel guilty about that.  This dented my confidence a bit for the other job application, even though that would probably not involve so much cataloguing and especially not up to the standards required for the cataloguing test job.  It doesn’t take much to reinforce my feelings about being an inadequate librarian, and an inadequate everything else.  If I hadn’t been depressed, and had finished my MA in a year and gone straight to a cataloguing job… but there’s really no point in playing those games.

It’s upsetting though.  Sometimes it feels like my low self-esteem is eminently justified: I can’t hold down a job permanently, or work full-time, or maintain a relationship properly, or make friends easily, or do other things like drive a car.  I know I need to focus on the positives, the things I can do, but sometimes there just seem so many negatives.

***

I still feel lonely.  I find myself endlessly checking emails, blog comments, and my blog reader, hoping for some spark of communication.  Anything to feel less alone.  The problem is that true I-Thou moments of connection are rare and, as I learnt at my religion/philosophy shiur (class) on Monday, impossible to manufacture.  You must be open to them (which often I am not) and, I suppose, lucky (which I also am not).  Perhaps also skilled at communication (again, I’m not – you may be noticing a pattern here).  It probably doesn’t help that I keep so many of my opinions to myself, on religion, politics, culture and life in general, because I’m so scared of rejection.

***

Achievements today: I tried to phone about the job and emailed instead when no one answered the phone.  That took longer than I would have expected.  I also brought in the weekly food delivery and put it all away; I do that most weeks, but I only realised today it takes about fifteen minutes, rather more than I would have thought, enough to qualify as a proper weekly chore, at least from the point of view of doing it with lowered depressive energy levels.  It would certainly take time and energy away from other things.

I spent an hour and forty minutes writing my novel, managing about 800 words, which is OK, but not great.  I also did some planning for the next bit, which was easier than I expected.  One of the minor characters is trying to force herself into the story more.  I want her to be in it more, as she’s more fun than all my other characters (Doctor Who fans: think Amelia Ducat or Professor Rumford), but I’m not sure I can justify it from a narrative point of view.

I spent about fifteen minutes working on my devar Torah (Torah thought) for the week, which I am not entirely happy with, but I am running out of time to work on it.  I also had my other shiur (religious class) for an hour and a half, which I’m still struggling with.  On the one hand, I know a lot already and am not being stretched so much.  On the other hand, I’m too socially anxious to really participate, especially as being on Zoom is even harder than being in a class in person.  Not only am I reluctant to answer questions, I won’t even read out (in English, let alone Hebrew), which is pure social anxiety.

***

It is hard to function when it is so hot.  I’ve had my fan going all afternoon with my windows shut all day (except for the small air vents) to see if it helps shutting out the hot air, but I’m not sure it has done much except make it stuffy.  I went for a walk after shiur, when it was late and cool, which was refreshing, but I came back to my room which is so hot.

***

Stuff I’ve been beating myself up about today: thoughts and feelings connected with loneliness that are probably normal and not to be ashamed of, but I feel ashamed of them anyway.  Other thoughts that are probably also normal, but I feel ashamed of them too, as if they were nasty and offensive.  I try to remember, as someone said in a therapy group I was in, “I’m not responsible for my first thought, but I am responsible for my second one” which I take to mean that sometimes “bad” (hateful, angry, aggressive, rude, lustful, spiteful, etc.) thoughts come into my head, but that’s not my fault if I don’t pursue them.

I also wrote a blog comment late last night that probably came out wrong.  I was trying to say that I find God as written literally in Tanakh to be often strict and difficult to see as moral, whereas Jews read Tanakh in the light of Talmud and Midrash which give the impression of a kinder, forgiving God, which is then read back into Tanakh based on clues in the text that point towards the kinder God (I think there is an idea that the Written Torah (Tanakh) comes from God’s attribute of justice while the Oral Torah (everything else, but especially Talmud) comes from His attribute of kindness, hence the difference).  I don’t think I expressed that well.  I communicate better in writing than in any other medium, but sometimes I feel that I just can’t communicate well at all.

Confessions of a Justified Sinner

I feel depressed and listless today.  I don’t know why, aside from the usual reason (depression).

My sister and brother-in-law came over for dinner, but I didn’t feel very social.  I was better once they arrived than I thought I would be, but dinner was mostly small talk, which I struggle with from an autistic point of view.  I get bored by the conversation and struggle to think of anything to say; when I do, I don’t always make myself heard.  I find the conversation draining especially as it seems to be very loud; I’ve noticed Mum and Dad are both getting a bit hard of hearing which may be why it seems to be so loud, but I find it draining.  I don’t know if other autistic people have coping strategies for this kind of thing.  I don’t want to be rude.  I try to take an interest in family members’ lives, especially big life events (my sister and brother-in-law are moving into their first real home together this week and my parents were talking about their recent holiday), but sometimes it gets too much for me.  I feel bad about this, but don’t know what I can do about it.

***

Purim is over now, so I should be in Pesach-preparation mode.  I usually find some interpretations of the exodus story or the haggadah to make the seder more interesting and not just a reading of the same text each year, but I have little enthusiasm for it this year.  It’s partly the depression and partly the – well, religious crisis is putting it too strongly, but lack of religious motivation I currently have, the feeling that I’m a bad person and can never change because God has stacked the deck against me with autism and depression.  Plus, last year I thought that no one actually appreciates what I say, except my Dad and maybe my sister.  I fear the other guests just want to get on to the meal and go home and that they tolerate me at best.  I don’t know if this is true.  I would love to go to a seder one year where there is a real discussion and I learn something, but I can’t see it happening any time soon.

***

I googled “how to deal with sexual frustration.”  Most of the pages assumed I was in a relationship I had got bored of and wanted to rekindle.  The ones that assumed singledom mostly suggested things that aren’t halakhically-acceptable.   Other than that, it just said sports or hobbies as displacement activities, neither of which have worked for me in the past and neither of which are really options at the moment, mainly because of depression leaving me drained.

Perhaps most people would have the confidence to date and if I was like them, I would be asking my parents to set me up with their friends’/neighbours’ children as they (my parents) want.  Certainly the daughter of my Mum’s friend whose profile I saw on a dating website has a couple of things in common with me.  But I’m too scared of rejection, too sure that no one could love someone as depressed, autistic and especially unemployed (or about to be unemployed) as me, especially as her dating profile specified that she wanted to marry a professional.  Maybe, as I implied yesterday, I’m scared to date for reasons beyond social anxiety, scared of losing independence or something, or just scared of yet more rejection.  Or maybe it’s just lack of self-esteem; confident people seem more able to blag their way to what they want, whether it’s a partner, a career or position and esteem within the community.

***

Out shopping today I felt very angry with God.  I know lots of autistic people would not change how they are and see autism as a difference and not a disability, but I keep thinking that so many of the bad things in my life would either not be present or would be easier to deal with if I was not autistic, or perhaps if my autism had been diagnosed earlier.  I might not be depressed, might not be single, might not be lonely, might not be unemployable, might not be so poorly socialised into my religious community… and so on, and so on.  Nor do I have the “autistic superpowers” some autistic people claim to have; I can sometimes go into hyperfocus, but I don’t have useful sensory sensitivity or a special interest that is socially useful or which makes me popular.  I suppose it’s crazy to go down the route of “what if,” but it’s hard not to when real life seems so stagnant.

I just keep asking why God would do this to me.  I’m open to the idea that God makes us suffer to grow or so that we learn to help others, but I can’t see how I can realistically help others when I’m in this state and as for growing, if anything, as earlier paragraphs might have indicated, I’m going backwards, getting less religious.  I guess if my emunah (faith) wasn’t so strong, I would seriously be contemplating going off the derekh (stopping being religious), I find my religious life so dull and sometimes painful and with such few positive aspects to it at the moment.  I just happen to believe that God exists and that this is how He wants me to live, for reasons I don’t understand.  I still worry that one day I will stop believing and doing and then all this effort will have been wasted.

***

There was an article in the Jewish Chronicle a few months ago about a charity in Israel that helps people with moderate learning disabilities, including non-high functioning autism, to get married.  They provide practical and emotional support for a couple with learning disabilities to learn to live together.  I think, how can it be possible for someone with more severe autism than me to get a job and get married, and yet my intelligence just seems to make it harder for me to find a job or a wife, for reasons that I don’t really understand.  It doesn’t help that I’m not sure what help I want/need at the moment.  A friend suggested A S Mentoring to me as being able to help with my employment needs, but having looked at their website, I’m not sure if they’re offering anything that could help me; I want to be more sure what I want before contacting them.  Similarly with dating, maybe if I had the confidence to date, a lot of the issues surrounding it would fall away, but I’m too scared of rejection to dare to ask to be set up with anyone or to ask someone out.

***

I did at least go shopping today and did about twenty minutes of Talmud study.  I also worked on my Doctor Who book for an hour and a half or so (albeit with distractions), sorting out the third draft of chapters two and three.  It’s quite good, but not great, but I’m not sure I really have the skills to make it better.

***

This bit is probably of limited interest to most of my readers, but I’m watching Quatermass, the fourth and final science fiction serial featuring Professor Quatermass, broadcast in the seventies, more than twenty years after the first three serials.  It’s a bleak story to watch while I’m feeling depressed (SPOILERS: pretty much all the sympathetic characters die horribly), but it is haunting and psychologically terrifying by turns, as well as reflective of the social unrest and stagflation of Britain in the seventies.  That things in real life never quite turned out as badly as they did in Quatermass might give hope that Brexit and populism might not lead to the end of civilisation as we know it.  (As an aside, and getting really far off the subject, Nigel Kneale is not often lumped together with John le Carré, but both share an outlook that might best be described as “Tory Anarchist” (to quote George Orwell), horrified by Soviet totalitarianism, but also disgusted by American capitalism, hoping for some kind of kinder, authentically British alternative, but resigned to Britain’s post-imperial decline.  There is definitely more to consider here e.g. the skill both writers have for creating a fictional world through dialogue and a few telling details. </autistic special interests>)

Family Tensions

I will admit from the start that this story doesn’t reflect well on me.  I started writing to vent, but the more I wrote, the more I realised that it really is my own fault.  I’m writing partly to get perspective, partly to explain why the next X number of months while I live with my parents are going to be tough, and why it’s doubtful that anyone could bear to live with me for long.  Also, no explanations of Jewish words/concepts this time as I’ll be here all night.  Sorry.  If you’re not Jewish, you’re just going to have wing this one.

I just had a conversation with my Mum that went something like this:

Me: My friend who I thought was taking me to shul on Friday night next week when I’m in Crown Heights has said he doesn’t go, so I’ll have to daven at home.

Mum: Why don’t you go online and see if there are shuls in Crown Heights?

Me: I don’t want to wander around Crown Heights by myself at night in case I get lost.  It’s an area with a lot of crime.

Mum: But there may be a shul on your road.

Me: If I did, it would be Chabad.  I’ll be the only person there not in a suit and is clean-shaven.

Mum: We davened at Chabad and we didn’t stand out.

Me: You davened at Chabad House.  It’s geared up for kiruv.  It’s not the same.

Mum: So you’ll be a guest and they’ll make you feel welcome.

Me: They’ll try to convert me.

I can’t remember what Mum said next, but it ended with me saying that I understand the frum world more than her and her storming out while I said something unpleasant (I am not proud of this, but I am being honest).  This was just after Mum and Dad had a conversation across me while I was in the room, but as if I wasn’t there, asking who is giving me a lift to the doctor tomorrow morning when I hadn’t asked for a lift and was planning on walking.

OK, I admit I handled this whole situation badly, partly because I’m tired, hungry, stressed and anxious.  I know I’m a difficult person to live with, but there are also psychological issues here.  I guess the specific issues here that I can see now I’ve calmed down a bit are:

  1. My parents think of me as a child.  This is partly because I always will be their child, but mostly because I’m unmarried, live at home, am unemployed and am lacking in some life skills.  They don’t treat my sister as a child to the same extent, even though she’s younger than me.
  2. I hate being thought of as a child, especially as I realise that in many ways, I am still a child.
  3. I don’t like it when people try to solve my problems.  A lot of the time, when I raise a problem, especially if I don’t specifically ask for advice, I’m looking to vent, not to have a solution thrust on me.  I’m not good at taking advice.
  4. Worse than that, what I say the problem is is not always what the problem actually here.  Here I came up with lots of problems, all of which were true to a greater or lesser extent, but the real problem was only vaguely touched on: I hate walking into a new shul by myself.  The fact that the shul would be Hasidic makes it worse, but that is the issue.  When I calmed down, I googled shuls in Crown Heights as Mum suggested and in a few seconds found two on the road I’ll being staying on, albeit I think quite a way away.  One at least was Hasidic (although not Chabad), but that isn’t the point.  The point was, I had said my problem was one thing, when it was really something else.
  5. The something else here, and probably usually, is social anxiety.  That’s what stops me walking into a new shul.
  6. As I think I’ve mentioned before, I tend to try to tell people that my problems are hopeless.  I generally want either to be agreed with and proved that they are hopeless or to be disagreed with and proved that there is hope.  However, no one can prove the future, so people just try to problem solve or dismiss my problems, both of which anger me.
  7. I just have personality clashes with my parents which naturally lead to a lot of bickering.  To be fair, there is a family dynamic of bickering.  I am not by any means the most argumentative person in the family.  There are deeper issues here that would carry me outside what I think I can halakhically say in public, even anonymously, but there are historical family issues that mean that when arguments start, a lot of bad buttons get pressed for me – not anger management ones, but catastrophising, feeling frustrated, not taken seriously, isolated and ignored and so on.
  8. You may have noticed that being ignored and isolated is pretty much the worst thing in the world for me, and I spend a lot of my life worrying that I will die lonely and unloved and then go to the afterlife where God will tell me that He hates me and isn’t interested in me.  Basically 90% of the biggest mistakes I’ve made and sins I’ve done, and perhaps also a lot of arguments I’ve got into, come from my fear of being isolated and ignored.  It’s not an exaggeration to say that almost ALL my problems are rooted in this dynamic of the family dynamic of bickering leading to feelings of isolation and rejection.

There probably is a lot more I could say if this was a therapy session, but the takeaway point is that I realise that that argument was (a) largely my fault (my parents might have realised after thirty-five years that social anxiety is at the bottom of most of my fears, but I don’t blame them for not doing so) and (b) was largely preventable.  But I can’t work out how I could have got out of the argument.  From the point where I nonchalantly said I’d have to daven at home (when I was just venting, not looking for a solution to a problem or even much of a response), I was basically locked in to an argument because every further step pressed more of my buttons about rejection, isolation and not being listened to, but because I couldn’t openly admit to my fears, I was just driven to more bizarre (albeit logical in my head) reasons to defend my position.  Logically, my Mum was right: google and find a shul (plus I don’t know how dangerous Crown Heights really is, as a non-New York resident.  I was just freaked out by people on Hevria joking about crack addicts on the streets.  I basically don’t want to be in Crown Heights at all and am only there because of a friend who has seriously let me down and am finding more and more reasons to hate the fact that I’m going to be there and worry that they’re going to find my bullet-ridden corpse in the gutter).

In my defence, all I can say is that some of my fears are justified.  Orthodox shuls are often not welcoming, sadly, and ultra-Orthodox communities in particular are notoriously insular and suspicious of outsiders, especially those who, by dress and bearing, are clearly not ultra-Orthodox themselves.  That doesn’t really justify what I said, though.

Pedestals

I just had a difficult therapy session.  I don’t really write about therapy here much, probably because I have it on Friday (over Skype) and then it’s a rush to get ready for Shabbat (the Sabbath), so I don’t have time, but I feel I really need to write this and my therapist was encouraging me to do so.  It’s difficult to shift from therapy mode to Shabbat mode today and I need to try to move on a bit.

We started with my mistake (which wasn’t really a mistake) at shiur (Bible class) yesterday.  I only intended to mention it in passing, but as sometimes happens, it became the dominant topic.  We spoke about what it means to make a mistake, especially in front of people I want to impress.  We spoke about why it’s harder to fit in with other frum (religious) Jews than with non-Jewish work colleagues (or people I know through Doctor Who fandom or mental health blogging, although I didn’t mention that).  We said I put other people on a pedestal and think that I’m inferior to them, particularly frum Jews, who I see as completely perfect, even though I know that that’s not the case.  I feel that if I admit to mental health issues, or missing shul (synagogue) because of those issues, or to religious doubts, or committing sins, or thinking that God hates me or anything like that, frum people will reject me.  If I see myself as human, I see other people as angels; if I see other people as human, I see myself as… I don’t know, some kind of animal I guess (perhaps fortunately we don’t have devils in the Christian sense in Judaism so I can’t see myself as one of those).  I can’t connect with people because I’m too ashamed to show them my real self for fear of rejection.

It’s even worse with dating, because I put frum women on an even higher pedestal than frum men, thinking that not only do they not sin, but that they are full of chessed (kindness) and pure faith and are also all very pretty, far out of my league in terms of personality, religious standing and looks and that none of them would ever come down to my level to marry me or even date me.

However, I there is a part of me that also sees myself as better than everyone else.  I see myself as some kind of Romantic hero (Romantic in the artistic, sturm und drang, sense), fighting an epic battle with my internal demons, with mental health issues, temptation and doubt and that other people living ordinary lives could never hope to understand my deep and difficult struggles.  So from this point of view I’m above everyone else, a sort of hero struggling with forces beyond the comprehension of the average person (maybe that’s why I’m a Doctor Who fan…).  So again it’s hard to relate to other people, because I feel that I’m on a level far above ordinary mortals and that no one could understand what I have gone through.  (World War I often appears as a metaphor for my depression and I sometimes feel like those who fought in the war and returned unable to describe their experiences or relate to those who were too young, too old, too infirm or too female to fight).

That was really where the session ended.  We ran out of time.  I felt really tense talking about this, clenching my hands, curling up my legs a bit, bending my spine and really just wanting to curl up in a ball and stop talking, so it was obviously really difficult and important for me to say this.  I don’t really know how to process these thoughts (hence writing them down).  I don’t know where I go from here.  My experience is that understanding myself doesn’t necessarily lead to changing how I live, especially in very emotionally challenging areas such as this, so it is hard to know how I can move on from this outlook and adopt a healthier one.  I guess it’s a bit of a catch-22 situation, that until I can relate to other people, particularly other frum people, more as real people, I won’t be able to open up to them, but until I open up to them (and encourage them to possibly open up to me), I won’t be able to relate to them more as real people.

Too Much Too Much

I made some mistakes at work again.  They weren’t really awful, in the grand scheme of things, but I probably beat myself up about them more than I should.  One of the students said I had a bad attitude.  I suspect she was projecting her own anger and bad attitude onto me, but I felt guilty in case she was right and my tone of voice was harsher than I intended.  This does happen to me sometimes, probably a lot more when I was a child. I understand that it’s another Asperger’s/autism trait.  Poor executive function (another Asperger’s issue) has been a problem at work lately too.  I used to think that this wasn’t a problem for me, but now I increasingly suspect it is.  I know I’m indecisive, but I thought that was just my personality, but it could be the Asperger’s.  More pertinently, while I’m very self-motivated, I do find it hard to get down to things and to switch from one thing to another.  It’s another reason I hate being on the issue desk, because I will be doing some work and then a student will come up and ask a question or return a book and I have to go back and forth from one task to another, involving a multitude of windows and programs on my computer and I get lost.  I worry that I made a fool of myself to my boss today getting confused when switching windows and doing different tasks while we were working on something together on my computer.

Then WordPress recommended one far-right antisemitic blog and one far-left anti-Zionist/borderline antisemitic blog to me.  I think WordPress’ recommendation algorithm picked up the word ‘Jews’ and decided they must be like my blog.  This stuff upsets me more than it should.  I should be immune to antisemitism by now, having experienced so much of it, but it always gets to me.  I think it’s the injustice of it that hurts me, because unlike other unjustified criticism (e.g. that student who thought I had a bad attitude) I don’t really worry that it might be true (well, maybe some anti-Zionist criticism, but not the blog that argued that Donald Trump is a puppet of the international Jewish conspiracy and will convert to Judaism any day now).  Anyway, I don’t want to make this into a political blog, so I’ll stop there, but I can internal-monologue on this for hours (Asperger’s again).  Sigh.  As an aside, there don’t seem to be many Jewish blogs on WordPress, judging by the blogs I get recommended and the people who follow my blog, who seem to come mainly via recommendations on WordPress, so far as I can tell.  Few people seem to come here from my comments on Hevria.

I’ve had a few things I’ve wanted to blog about the last few days, but I haven’t really had the time with Chanukah and work.  I’ve been at my parents’ house for ‘candle’ lighting every night (candle in inverted commas because I actually use olive oil lamps).  This has been good but it takes a whole chunk out of my evening.  I’m desperately trying to get to the end of term in one piece.  I’ve just got to get through two ‘proper’ work days and one staff development day, then I have thirteen days off.  Thirteen days to sleep in and to work on my Doctor Who book and maybe do some of the exercising and cooking I have been neglecting lately, but also thirteen days to potentially be depressed and lonely – the depression, loneliness and self-loathing have been lurking in the background again lately.  I’ve been using very negative self-talk in my internal monologues again.  I don’t think I ever stopped really, but I think I might have done it less for a bit, but am doing more again.  I’m calling myself a “freak” a lot again, thinking I’ll never get married (the shadchan (matchmaker) I contacted never got back to me).  My parents were all excited that they have three weddings of friends’ children to go to next year and it was hard for me not to say something inappropriate about how depressed they were making me feel.  At least my sister’s marriage is out of the way, but I still need to deal with my friend’s wedding next year.  It’s a year (pretty much exactly) since I last felt suicidal, but I was feeling a bit that way today.  Not that I actually wanted to kill myself, but that I wished I wasn’t here.  The pure O (obsession/OCD) thoughts of throwing myself under a train, which is normally just a distraction that doesn’t bother me much somehow seem more worrying, less a fear that I will go crazy and impulsively jump for no reason and more a worry that one day I might really jump from real despair.

Anyway, what I wanted to write about tonight (this post has been a massive digression to vent so far) is something that happened at shiur tonight.  I realised that I knew quite a bit, Jewishly and secularly, but that I was too scared to share it.  Scared of being wrong (I did answer one question incorrectly, probably due to nerves/social anxiety as I did know the right answer), but also scared of being right and seeming ‘too clever’, like I was bullied and told off for being when I was growing up, especially if I say that someone else is wrong.  Also scared of knowing something I shouldn’t.  I’ll explain the last two points.

The shiur was about ChanukahChanukah, for those who don’t know, commemorates when the Greeks who ruled the land of Israel (actually the Seleucid (Greek-descended) rulers of Syria, but their culture was Hellenic/Greek) tried to impose Hellenic culture on the Jews there and basically destroy Judaism as a religion, or at least turn it into something less monotheistic and distinctively Jewish and more pagan and universalist.  The Jews rebelled and won, purified the Temple and struggled to light the menorah (lamp) because the Greeks had defiled all the olive oil, but found a tiny jar of pure oil that miraculously burned for eight days, exactly the time needed for them to prepare more oil.

The rabbi who gave the shiur constructed a whole philosophical structure around this about Greek culture, what it was and how it compares with Jewish culture.  It was interesting, but I had two problems.  One was I had heard a different interpretation, probably a complementary one, I haven’t really thought it through, which I was too scared to share with people in case it looked like I was criticising the rabbi or showing off.  There was also some general discussion at the end that I could have joined in with, but was scared to for the same reason.  But there were also things I was scared to say for fear of showing off secular knowledge and privileging that over Torah.  I wasn’t 100% convinced that his analysis of Hellenic culture fitted with what I have read in secular sources and I certainly wasn’t convinced that his analysis of Sadducee religion, which he brought in, was at all correct.  The Sadducees were a Jewish sect in late antiquity.  He was correct that they were heavily influenced by Hellenism, unlike the Pharisees, the ancestors of rabbinic Judaism, but I’m not convinced that they didn’t want to serve God; rather they were textual literalists who rejected the oral tradition, which isn’t the same thing to my way of thinking, even if it did lead to major differences in belief and practice from Pharisaic/rabbinic Judaism.  I suppose it says something about me that I’m still thinking about this, trying to find a way to reconcile what the rabbi said with what I have read and learnt elsewhere rather than just saying he’s wrong.  But I’m scared to ask the question for fear of looking too ‘modern’ and secular-influenced and for fear of looking like I’m attacking him with my degree in history (not that I studied ancient history or Jewish history at university).

I do feel that I often have things to share with people (comments, jokes, even quotations that I feel are appropriate or amusing), but I hold back for fear of what people would think.  Too intellectual.  Too elitist.  Too geeky.   Too weird.  Too religious.  Too secular.  Too irritating.  Maybe this is wrong of me.  Maybe I hold too much of myself back for anyone to be able to get to know, and maybe even like, the real me, let alone to build up intimacy and friendship.  But I’m too scared of rejection, from my childhood experiences and from my experiences on dates where I have opened up to women and tried to show them a bit of the real me (not the intense things I share here, but just my knowledge and personality, plus sometimes the existence of my mental health issues), only to be rejected.  I know I share a lot of things here, but I think I don’t really believe that other people are going to read this when I write, at least on some level and I do hold some things back, actually in some ways more now that I know that I have more readers and I can try to predict what they want to read (so fewer irrelevant quotations from Doctor Who, for example).

It is hard to know how I can open up to more people in an appropriate way in the future.  I guess this is something that the book I bought on social anxiety might be able to help me with (I haven’t started using it yet because I’ve been too busy), but I worry that the Asperger’s prevents me from judging when it is appropriate to say something and so I err on the side of caution and say nothing.  I worry that this is impossible to change and so I will never fit in, make friends, find a community or get married.

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.

Nice Jewish Fanboy Would Like To Meet

Recently I’ve been listening to the Nice Jewish Fangirls podcasts, which is a new thing for me, as I have rarely listened to podcasts before, and never fan-produced ones.  It’s very good, but it makes me feel inadequate and lonely (OK, everything makes me feel inadequate and lonely, but this in particular).  It’s partly because the three presenters all seem really enthusiastic about all sorts of new and upcoming things, whereas I’m mainly enthusiastic about things I’ve already read or seen, especially old Doctor Who.  I care most about things that are known quantities that won’t disappoint me, episodes of Doctor Who from the sixties or seventies that I have seen dozens of times and which will always be the same.  I suppose I’ve been let down too many times, even by new Doctor Who (I basically left online fandom around 2007 because I didn’t enjoy the new episodes any more and I didn’t want to be a troll making everyone miserable and although I’ve enjoyed it a lot more since around 2010 or 2011, I haven’t really moved back).

The Nice Jewish Fangirls also go to conventions and make Shabbat and kashrut work there, whereas I’ve always used those as excuses not to go, but really I don’t go because I’m terrified of the crowds and the noise and not fitting in.  And they use slang which just makes me feel stuffy and overly formal.  I have no idea why I talk and write in such a stilted way; it’s possibly one of my borderline autistic traits, but I find using slang in writing almost impossible.  I’m not sure how much I use it in speech; definitely a bit, but possibly not as much as other people, I’m not sure, but I rarely use very modern and internet-influenced slang.  And their successful writing and podcasting careers just reminds me that since my Hevria rejection two years ago, I’ve let what little talent I have stagnate as I’ve given in to the writer’s block, which is really an just excuse for fear of rejection or possibly for fear of acceptance.  I am at least making progress with my non-fiction Doctor Who book, although if I seriously thought there was a chance of getting it published, I’m sure I would find it harder to work on it.

But mostly the loneliness comes from listening to these three interesting, clever, enthusiastic, witty Nice Jewish Fangirls and wishing I had an interesting, clever, enthusiastic, witty Nice Jewish Fangirlfriend and feeling that I never will, that even if I somehow got to meet someone like that (I don’t necessarily mean one of the women from the podcast, but someone clever and interesting and geeky as well as frum and female) she would be out of my league and uninterested in a weird and broken person like me.  I mean, I’m not even a “normal” geeky person, even aside from the brokeness and mental health issues, there’s a lot of geeky stuff that I know nothing about and, I suppose, some non-geeky stuff I’m interested in.

I do at least have a couple of frum geeky email penfriends now who I can “talk” to online, which is an improvement, although it comes at the same time as I’ve lost other friends (or realized that I probably lost them a long time ago, which isn’t the same thing).  I don’t mean to operate a “one in, one out” policy with my friends, but it seems like I’m unable to maintain more than one vaguely close friendship and a couple of loose acquaintanceships at the same time.  I am a bit of a loner and I don’t want an enormous social circle, but I’d like to have a few friends and one special person to give to, to share my life with, someone really on my wavelength.  I’ve been feeling that more and more since my sister got engaged and it’s quite painful now and I just don’t know what to do about it, except maybe to go to a shadchan in a few weeks (when I’m more settled in my new job) and see if she knows any frum geeky girls in London, but I don’t have much hope – as I’ve said before, the Anglo-Jewish population is so tiny to begin with that frum geeks would be a tiny minority within a tiny minority.