Out of Spoons Error

I volunteered again today. I tried very hard not to feel stupid and useless. It’s probably not the best environment for someone on the autism spectrum, bearing in mind there are lots of people, we get verbal instructions (sometimes implicit ones) and need to use short-term memory and logical planning… It’s probably not surprising that I’m not always at my best. To be honest, the times I’ve felt most helpful have been when I’ve been given one repetitive job to do by myself for a prolonged period. I don’t mind if it’s incredibly boring, I just get into a pattern and think my own thoughts while mechanically putting tea lights in bags or whatever. I spoke a bit about this in therapy today and am now wondering if I should email in advance to volunteer for those kinds of jobs. It’s a bit scary to volunteer like that, even if I don’t say why that pattern of work suits me.

I also had a bad experience early on. I was supposed to bring some large cardboard boxes full of packets of granola down the outside fire escape staircase and into the car park. I was a bit worried about tripping down the stairs so I was going slowly to start with, but then I started feeling really faint and struggling to breathe in my mask and had to stop. I think it was primarily a blood pressure thing (my blood pressure used to be a little low), having to bend down to pick up these boxes. Wearing my mask definitely did not help, though, and I felt very faint and had to sit down outside without my mask for a few minutes to recover.

On the plus side, I do find volunteering rewarding and I think I do help. I certainly hope I don’t just get in the way. And someone I was at Oxford with who now works for the organisation that prepares the food packages was there today and I didn’t cycle down into self-criticism about not being where he is in life.

In the afternoon I wrote my devar Torah rather hurriedly. I hope it’s OK. I need to proof-read and send tomorrow. It’s frustrating not finishing things, but I didn’t want to write it all tomorrow. I tried to buy a wedding present for my closest shul (synagogue) friend’s daughter, but had problems getting it to deliver to their house rather than mine, so left that hanging over me too. Mum phoned John Lewis for me to find out what was happening; I did not have the spoons (energy). Again, I didn’t have envious thoughts of married people, which was positive.

I had a good therapy session this afternoon, but by early evening I was a bit grumpy and overwhelmed. I snapped at my Dad, which I shouldn’t have done, although I felt my point was justified if not my tone. I was buying my sister and brother-in-law an anniversary card online; Dad said I could change the font and colour and I said I was far too tired to care about that this time. It’s a question of spoons.

***

I am still feeling overwhelmed generally. I don’t think I’ve adjusted yet to going back to work, even if it is only two days a week. I suddenly have less time for writing, chores, religious obligations, exercise… I’m trying to do as much as I was doing, plus two days of work. It doesn’t really work. I did at least do some Torah study on the bus to volunteering.

***

Guilty pleasure time. I had intended to watch Blade Runner again this evening, in advance of watching Blade Runner 2049 in a week or two. But I was too exhausted and brain-not-working for something like that, so I ended up watching the James Bond film Moonraker again. Any James Bond film is a guilty pleasure for me, as I feel it’s not something a frum person “should” be watching (“should” again). But even among James Bond fans, Moonraker is considered awful. I don’t think it’s the worst Bond film by a long shot, although it probably is the silliest, not that I think that any Bond film is particularly ‘realistic.’

I could probably fill a paragraph or two on why I think Moonraker is actually a decent film, at least if you can accept a degree of silliness, but will just note Michael Lonsdale (who died recently) whose performance as villain Hugo Drax is arguably better than this film really deserved. There is definitely in my head a fruitful comparison of late seventies Bond to late seventies Doctor Who, both franchises indulging in greater humour to public acclaim, but receiving criticism from die-hard fans who complained that it was better in the sixties when it was “serious.” But I should probably not go too far down that route here, and not this late at night.

The Much-Anticipated Politics Post

I’ve mentioned a few times about wanting to write something about politics, not in a party political way, but in the sense of my moral and political intuitions and how I feel nervous about talking about them to other people. This post probably isn’t perfect, but it’s a start and I think I should just post it by this stage, so here we go…

***

There’s a good quote I came across relatively recently: “if people seem slightly stupid, they’re probably just stupid. But if they seem colossally and inexplicably stupid, you probably differ in some kind of basic assumption so fundamental that you didn’t realize you were assuming it, and should poke at the issue until you figure it out.”

If you want, please consider what follows an explanation of my colossal and inexplicable stupidity…

Like a lot of diaspora Jews, I was raised in an environment that was at least mildly left-of-centre. There was a feeling growing up that one should vote Labour/socialist (arguably not the same thing when I came of age in the Blair years) or at the very least Liberal Democrat/liberal. (It’s weird that antisemites see Jews as monolithically conservative when the reality is that most diaspora Jews seem to be left-of-centre.) As I reached my teenage years, I was influenced by two things. One was studying economics at A-Level and feeling that socialism simply doesn’t work, although I was open to more moderate state intervention in the market. The other was the outbreak of the Second Intifada in 2000. I don’t want to make this about Israel, but I felt that the news coverage and response from politicians and NGOs was increasingly one-sided. I felt that in the space of the first decade or so of the twenty-first century the “narrative” moved from a position of “There are faults on both sides, but Israel is heavy-handed” (which is a debateable point, but not necessarily antisemitic) to the demonisation of Israel as a uniquely evil state and which implicitly has to have its very existence questioned. This is much closer to antisemitism, at least in a world where no other state has had its legitimacy questioned like this. This attitude had been present among the hard-left for decades, coming ultimately out of Soviet Bloc propaganda (the USSR backed the Arabs), but seeped into the media, NGOs and the moderate left, particularly on campuses, where the atmosphere is increasingly hostile to Jewish students, something not really reported in the mainstream media, although it’s been reported widely in the Jewish press and online. Given that Zionism and the State of Israel are a major part of my identity, as they are for most Jews, this felt like an assault on my sense of self and poisoned my view of much of the left and made it harder and harder to see myself as a part of it, even though the right was not particularly appealing.

Contrary to what many people on the left feel, I don’t think there’s anything intrinsic about contemporary progressive thought that makes prejudice less likely than among conservatives, it’s just that the prejudice expresses itself in different ways. In the nineteenth and early twentieth century, Jews became identified on the left with capitalism, building on earlier antisemitic ideas about Jewish wealth and power. That idea was suppressed after the Holocaust, but has gradually crept back in, initially under the guise of anti-Zionism, but, as was seen in the Labour Party under Jeremy Corbyn, classic antisemitic conspiracy theories and even Holocaust denial are passed around quite openly now on the hard-left.

I suppose I had pulled on a thread and gradually my beliefs began to unravel. This all happened slowly, over a decade or more of time, but I guess by about 2010 I became interested in hearing views I had never really considered before.

I think my views achieved a kind of stasis for a few years where I didn’t really identify with anything other than a vague centrism. Then came Brexit, the most seismic event in British politics in my lifetime. I described myself as a “reluctant Remainer.” I disliked aspects of the EU, especially its lack of direct democratic accountability, but felt being in was better than being out. Still, when Leave won, I thought that was that. In the months that followed, I was horrified to see people I admired, working to annul a democratic vote because they disagreed with it. There seemed to me to be a class element to this: middle class, university-educated Remainers trying to block working class Brexiteers. All the Remainer talk of gullible working class voters being “tricked” into voting Leave made it hard to avoid feeling there wasn’t a sense of entitlement buried under there stemming from access to higher education.

As I read more over the coming years, I realised this paralleled the white working class’ embrace of Donald Trump in the USA. I hated Donald Trump, but I increasingly felt he was the only prominent person who had noticed that in the move to identity politics based on race, gender and sexuality, working class and lower middle class people, some of them living close to the breadline, had been forgotten. Their incomes have stagnated for decades while the rich and university educated have got richer. I felt that Trump was manipulative and probably had limited real regard for these people; like a businessman, he saw an attractive market. All the same, he signalled a failure in the democratic process that was most pronounced in America, but present in other Western countries.

(I suppose, if you want to go down this route, that I’m part of the lower middle class “left behinds” – fifteen years after leaving university, I’ve never had a full-time job or owned a home. Of course, in my case it’s due to autism and mental illness rather than “elite over-production” (briefly, the idea that there are now more people with degrees than there are good jobs that require degrees, resulting in unemployment among people who are already in debt from university fees that they were told they would easily pay off once they started working). Even so, there is some resentment of the prosperous middle class that I try to repress, but probably is in there to some extent, I can’t deny it.)

All the same, I feel uncomfortable calling myself a “conservative.” I don’t agree with all conservative policies, for one thing. For another, I find conservative political parties worldwide fairly repulsive. What works on a local scale as communal help ends up on a national scale as strict needs-testing and rooting out of “undeserving” claimants, backed up by occasional jingoism. COVID in particular has shown the British Conservative Party as inefficient when faced with a new challenge, while Donald Trump has shamelessly ignored the science and tried to make it a partisan issue (although I don’t see Trump as a conservative in any meaningful sense).

Nevertheless, I believe in evolutionary change and tradition; in localism and third sector involvement in social care; I believe that many problems are not solvable, not by government and certainly not within one electoral cycle; I am suspicious of simplistic mono-causal explanations; I am strongly opposed to monopolies and big corporations, whether public or private-sector; and I feel excluded from identity politics, which often seems antisemitic, and which in any case I see as socially divisive. So all these thoughts would mark me out as a conservative, albeit a very particular kind of conservative, what in Britain is sometimes referred to as One Nation Conservatism for its vision of a mutually responsible national culture that transcends the divisions of class. I care about many of the issues progressives care about (poverty, discrimination and injustice, the environment), I just find their answers simplistic and often unworkable.

I’ve tried other ways of looking at the political spectrum. One recent UK survey identified seven types of political ideologies and I’m don’t fit any one of them, so that didn’t help. Other people look at “Somewheres” versus “Anywheres” – those rooted in a place and culture against cosmopolitans who value global living and policies. This has the advantage of explaining Brexit and Trump well; both appealed to parts of the established right (but not the neo-liberals), but also to parts of the working class that had not previously voted conservatively. But my “Somewhere” place doesn’t exist; inasmuch as I want to conserve somewhere, it’s a construct of Jewish identity that only exists on an abstract plane, not in a real place (not even Israel).

George Orwell divided the world into moralists and revolutionaries. Moralists think there is no point in reforming institutions while human nature is in need of reform; revolutionaries think the reverse. I suppose I would mostly be a moralist. More pertinently, Orwell also coined the phrase “Tory anarchist,” defined by the political theorist Peter Wilkin as “a form of cultural dissident, out of step with and in opposition to many features of the modern world” who has “respect for privacy and the liberty of individuals, a fear of the state and its expanding power over social life; a nostalgic and melancholy temper… ; criticism of social conformism; and a pervasive sense of pessimism about the fate of the modern world.”

This is a phrase I’ve taken to heart. I like it partly because it’s loosely defined and allows me to avoid pinning myself down, but also because it suggests to me (although perhaps not to other people) a kind of dynamic tension between opposing outlooks that I feel strongly, as opposed to a synthesis or compromise.

I suppose I think that there is no one way of running a society/economy. It’s all about what trade-offs you are willing to make. I’m not a libertarian, but the libertarian saying that “There’s no such thing as a free lunch” seems to me to be inherently true, but frequently ignored. You can trade off economic growth against economic redistribution or unemployment against employment laws and minimum wage legislation and so on. It depends if you think the gain is worth the cost. I think that’s entirely sensible behaviour. The problem is that politicians rarely frame the decisions in that way; they tend to try to mislead voters into thinking that you can have it all. I’m very much opposed to that kind of short-term, simplistic thinking, whether it comes from the left or the right. I do very much see politics as a pragmatic business of balancing different positives and negatives and I feel uncomfortable with people who see it in a very redemptive, almost messianic, way, about “saving the world.” I don’t think we can save the world, only God can do that. We can just try to make it marginally less awful.

Even though I’ve moved rightwards, a lot of my friends and family are more left-wing, particularly online. The library sector is very left-wing, unsurprisingly, being based on public sector and education sector employment. On the other hand, some people in the Orthodox Jewish community are far off to my right. I haven’t been able to work out if most Orthodox Jews are right-wing, or just the most vocal ones. I mostly walk away from fights that are impossible to win and let other people believe what they like. It does leave me feeling “They would hate me if they knew me,” which is not good for my self-esteem. I do feel a lot of the time that I have to hide my sense of self, which probably isn’t healthy for me. Hence, I want to write this, just so I can see what happens and whether I can afford to open up to the world a bit more.

Sleeping, Walking, Writing

I went to bed early (for me, anyway), slept for twelve hours and woke up feeling burnt out again. By the time I got up the cleaner was here, but I was too tired to get dressed before going down for breakfast, so she saw that I was in pyjamas and dressing gown at midday. I suppose this could make me feel decadent, but mostly makes me feel lazy and useless. Then I ended up going back to bed for a bit, although I didn’t sleep. I just felt completely drained.

I can see that staying in bed so long might make me more tired, but I don’t usually wake up naturally after eight or nine hours. Even if I set an alarm, I don’t really wake up properly before I’ve turned it off in my sleep. An alarm on the other side of the room I just sleep through. Perhaps irrationally, it annoys me that I can’t work out if this is depressive burnout or autistic burnout. If depressive, why is it persisting when most of my other symptoms have gone? It’s it’s autistic, then why was I not like this as a child? I went to school every day without a problem until I was sixteen, when the depression started. Did I just have more energy or resilience then? It does make me worry about starting work next week; I hope I don’t have to cancel volunteering because it’s too much to do volunteering and therapy one day, then work the next.

I went for a walk even though it was a bit of a struggle because of exhaustion. It wasn’t terribly long, but I went slowly, because of exhaustion and because PIMOJ asked me to take some photos so she could see where I was going. That was quite a nice thing to do “together”, but stopping and starting probably neutralised the exercise aspect. I’m also not terribly good (or, to be fair, experienced) at taking photos with my phone. Still, it was a nice thing to do. I think PIMOJ would be good at getting me to do little things like that to bond or to decrease my depression (the whole photo thing came about because I said I was feeling depressed today and she said to go on a walk and then added to take photos so she could see where I’m going). I guess my fear is that sometimes I want to withdraw to my Fortress of Solitude and work things through or just sit with my emotions rather than being cheered up. Sometimes that’s the right decision for me; other times I do actually need to be cheered up (like today). I think it may take us a while to work out how to tell which is which.

I don’t know whether it was the walk or the fact that my mood usually peaks in the afternoon/early evening, but I managed to do an hour of work on my novel (admittedly with procrastination) and finished my devar Torah for the week.With the devar Torah, after saying yesterday I wasn’t satisfied with it, I actually feel happier with it now, feeling I’ve got a reasonable balance between primary sources, secondary sources and my own interpretations. Strangely, with the novel I currently feel happier with the plot thread I’ve invented from scratch than with the part that is rooted in my own experiences (and which was the original idea for the novel). The truth may be stranger than fiction, but fiction is better structured and probably more interesting. Also, I don’t really like the character based on me very much, which speaks volumes about my self-esteem.

This cartoon sums up a problem I’d already noticed in my novel. When I started writing a little over a year ago, I wrote an internal timeline of events (it’s a coming of age story that takes place over several years and I wanted to make sure that I didn’t accidentally have one character living through more time than the others by writing “a few months passed” too often), but I didn’t explicitly tie it to specific dates so that the book could be read as “roughly in the present” for a number of years. Then suddenly a massive, dramatic change to how we live occurred and I wonder if I should explicitly date it to be before COVID, otherwise the chronology doesn’t work. But then I worry it will feel almost like a period piece when (if?) we get to the other side of COVID.

***

I got an invitation, or a virtual invitation, to a wedding. It’s the daughter of one of my shul friends who is getting married. She is significantly younger than me as my friend is quite a bit older than me (a number of my friends are significantly older than me. I’m not sure if it speaks to my maturity or autism or something else). I’m glad I’m getting better at dealing with “older single in the frum (religious Orthodox Jewish) community” element of my life. It’s still a bit difficult to get my head around it. I sit with my friend at shul (synagogue) and have been invited for Shabbat and Yom Tov (Sabbath and festival) meals on a number of occasions, so I do know him and his family quite well. It just feels strange to be going to a wedding for someone so much younger than me, and a Zoom wedding at that. I’m not quite sure what the protocol is regarding presents. I would struggle to go if it was an in-person wedding with noise and strangers (autism and social anxiety), but the fact that it’s over Zoom and just the ceremony makes that easier at least although I’m not sure how it will fit with my new job.

***

From a pamphlet of quotations from Rebbe Nachman of Breslov that PIMOJ gave me: “Whatever one is enduring, one must muster the inner strength, as the verse says, “If I ascend to the heavens, there You are, and if I make my bed in hell, here You are,” because even in the depths of hell one can become close to God, for He is there also.” (originally from Lekutey Moharan)

3 Shopping Days to Lockdown

When my alarm went off at 9.00am (I usually set an alarm, even though I often turn it off in my sleep when it goes off), I actually thought I would get up. My mind felt reasonably alert, but my body was just too drained and burnt out after yesterday and I couldn’t get up and I fell asleep again after a few minutes. I didn’t end up getting up for another two hours, which was not good. The vaguely ill feeling I had yesterday has gone, fortunately, but I do feel drained. I’ve become better at seeing this as a symptom of autism (social burnout) rather than a sign of weakness, even before my assessment, but it is frustrating.

I think I had a dream about my novel and suddenly getting an idea for a much better novel that I had all planned out in my head and not knowing whether to switch to work on it. It’s sort of reflective of where I am at the moment, inasmuch as I worry that my mainstream novel is not working and I should switch to an idea I’ve had for a series of Jewish fantasy novels. I’m not actually going to switch at the moment as I don’t like leaving things half-finished and I want to see this project through. I also know that many authors have doubts when sitting down to extensive redrafting, so I shouldn’t set too much store by them at this stage. Nevertheless, I do wonder if the mainstream novel is going to be readable, let alone sellable.

Since writing the above, I read something, a blog post about sexual harassment. Although this is not the same as my novel (which is about domestic abuse in the Orthodox community, culminating in marital rape), it was similar enough that it made me think that I have a mission to write this book to the best of my ability and try to get it published.

***

I bought the new trainers I’ve been meaning to buy for a while. Hopefully these will support my arches better when running. My Dad took me to a big retail park with a number of warehouse-sized shops, including a sportswear shop. I wouldn’t have been able to get there easily on public transport, so I was grateful for the lift. On the other hand, when I shopping with my parents, I tend to let them take over. I guess it’s lack of confidence and social anxiety as well as a sense that I don’t know what I’m doing. Dad felt that in the past I had been sold over-priced and unsuitable running shoes by asking the shop assistants what shoes they would recommend for running. Dad said instead to go for a well-known brand (he said Nike), find some I like and then ask the assistant if they’re suitable for running. I’m not sure this is necessarily a better strategy, but I tried it and have black Nike trainers now. Hopefully they will be better for running than the previous ones.

***

My other real achievement (aside from scanning my autism assessment from 2006 to send to the psychiatrist doing my current assessment) was writing my devar Torah for this week. I am reasonably, but not completely, happy with it. It has more of a moral or even slightly polemical point than usual.

I also attended (on Zoom) a shiur (religious class) at my shul (synagogue). I was attracted by the fact that it was based on the teachings of Rabbi Kalonymus Kalmish Shapira, the early twentieth century Hasidic rebbe and Holocaust martyr. I read his book Sacred Fire a few months ago and was very moved; I quoted a few times here ideas about suffering and God’s empathy.

A few points I took from the shiur were that hinukh (education) should be about revealing the potential of the student; that we should aim for nothing less than spiritual greatness in our lives and not accept mediocrity; that we should daven (pray) as much as we are able, which sometimes might be less than other times (this was important to me as I can’t always daven properly due to depression and burnout) and to focus in prayer on consciousness of standing before God; and that we should be human and eat, drink and rejoice with our friends. The element that I struggled with was the injunctions to avoid sadness and worry; it is hard to tell what to do when these become pathological depression and anxiety.

Autism Assessment (1)

I slept badly last night. It probably wasn’t surprising that I had an anxious dream the night before my autism assessment, but the details were a bit odd. I dreamt about someone who was around (in the real world) at the worst time of my life who I hurt, and by whom I got hurt by in the process. I still feel I haven’t had closure on that and probably never will. It’s not that surprising I dreamt about her, as I still think about that situation a lot and am drawing on it for my novel, so it’s been at the forefront of my mind lately. The same dream also involved being in the library of a university I worked at for a while, where a (real life) Jewish lecturer was talking about the library having sixty-four windows representing sixty-four types of knowledge (philosophy, history, physics etc.) none of which included Torah study, which I think was about feeling sometimes that there is no place for religious Jews in secular Western society, and perhaps more broadly that there is no place for me in the world.

I woke feeling anxious and drained, which was not a good start, and I still didn’t know when my appointment was actually going to bed. I got ready for my appointment at 9.30am as per the email I received yesterday, only to be phoned a few minutes beforehand to be told the appointment was at 10.30am after all, as I was told on the phone. NHS, etc. At least they did get in touch.

The appointment itself went well. It lasted over an hour, with me talking for most of the time. We went over childhood experiences, recent history, general medical history and so on. I did use my prepared notes a bit. At the end, the psychiatrist said that I’m probably on the spectrum. However, before she finalises the diagnosis, she wants to look at the notes from my previous assessment ten years or more ago (which were not on file for some reason). I’m going to scan a copy of that over the weekend and email it along with my notes about why I think I’m on the spectrum so she can see the rest of that. Then we’ll have a shorter meeting in a few weeks to discuss diagnosis and recommendations. But it sounded like it was very likely that I’m going to be diagnosed as on the spectrum, or at least close enough that I won’t feel stupid for thinking that I’m there.

I think it’s all positive. It’s a relief just to hear that I’m probably on the spectrum. It explains a lot, and hopefully will stop me beating myself up so much about things when I can’t cope well with them.

I’m glad I have Shabbat to pause and process what happened today. Shabbat is good for processing. I am going to shul (synagogue) this evening. I did think about skipping a week as I’m tired, but I think it’s good to stay in the habit of going regularly and if I stay at home I’ll probably be just as tired. I might not do so much Torah study as usual though. I will probably be exhausted tomorrow, but that’s not a problem.

I might post more about this after Shabbat, if I have any more thoughts to add. I’ve got to dash now as Shabbat starts in an hour and a half now the clocks have gone back.

The Boy in the Bubble

I went to bed very early last night, but I slept for over twelve hours, so I got up late again this morning. I’m slightly embarrassed to say it, but I feel like I could have slept longer. I did feel drained and burnt out today, particularly in the morning and early afternoon. I’ve got to a point where I’m at least somewhat accepting that this is just what happens to me when I do things. Still, I wish I had more hours awake and alert.

I had a dream about being back at Oxford University. I was trying to get more time to do my work as I was depressed and autistic, but there was some kind of problem, I don’t know what. It may just have been that I did not have the courage to go to my tutor and explain. There were some people from my current shul (synagogue) there too for some reason. It’s pretty obvious that the dream was about feeling bad for needing support with my issues. I’ve never really got over that feeling of shame.

***

A librarian who turned me down for a job a while back saying my cataloguing wasn’t good enough has added me to his network on LinkedIn. I’ve never really got the hang of LinkedIn (like Facebook, but boring), but I reciprocated, because nowadays I mostly do if someone I vaguely know as a real person adds me (not random strangers). I’ve been on LinkedIn for years, but still haven’t got up to the thirty connections they say you should have for it to work well; a number of the connections I do have are family and friends in different sectors, not colleagues. It also reminds me of this cartoon.

***

PIMOJ and I were planning a date, when I realised it contravened COVID regulations (indoors with people outside my “bubble”). My sister and brother-in-law are our household’s “bubble,” so I can’t count PIMOJ as one. They (the regulations) are complicated enough now that I have to look them up as I don’t remember them. I think it will be a long, cold winter if we can’t meet indoors except in cafes and restaurants (where I don’t feel comfortable at the moment anyway). I was a bit nervous of mentioning this to PIMOJ in case it looked like I was backing out, but she was fine with it. When dating, I get so scared of being negative or just disagreeing in case; ironically, one date got angry with me because I was indecisive through fear of contradicting her, the opposite of what I intended. Dating in COVID is hard. Dating with low self-esteem and fear of rejection is harder. I need to learn that (a) PIMOJ seems to like me, other things being equal and (b) when it comes to values questions (like breaching lockdown or not), we’re usually on the same page. The latter is a somewhat unfamiliar place for me to be.

***

I started writing a new bit for my novel, plugging a plot-hole that I noticed. I wrote about 800 words in an hour, but feel I might be approaching the scene the wrong way and need to rewrite. As ever, I wanted to write more, but ran out of time. It can be hard to lead a full life when I only really have afternoons and evenings.

***

Other achievements today: I finished and sent my devar Torah (Torah thought) for the week. It was a little shorter than usual, but I couldn’t think of anything else to say and it seemed silly to pad it needlessly. I did some Torah study, albeit a disproportionate amount was spent tracing a reference in Rabbi Lord Sacks’ devar Torah to Ramban’s Torah commentary, but when I found it, I didn’t fully understand what Ramban was saying or why.

I went for a walk and did some shopping; I also failed to pick up my repeat prescription as the surgery has been slow in processing the pharmacy’s request (the lockdown procedure for requesting repeat prescriptions). I hope it’s ready before late afternoon tomorrow or I will run out over the weekend.

I did some ironing while watching Twin Peaks, which was a mistake, as Twin Peaks required atmosphere and concentration that were not possible while ironing. I find myself wanting to wallow in Twin Peaks. It has a unique atmosphere. Doctor Who is also capable of being mysterious, funny and scary in quick succession or even at the same time, but with Twin Peaks there is a sense of something else as well, I’m not sure what. Twin Peaks certainly has a sense of place which Doctor Who, by virtue of its time-space travelling format, does not, and Twin Peaks can have a greater sense of fear being aimed at an adult, post-watershed audience unlike Doctor Who, which has mostly been aimed at a family audience. There is something else, though, maybe a dreamlike atmosphere that I can’t pin down. Maybe Twin Peaks has a sense of fear that Doctor Who can’t have, because Doctor Who hasn’t really scared me since I was a child, whereas I know (from the classification warning on the DVD box) that Twin Peaks probably will have scenes that will scare or horrify me and I’m sitting on the edge of my seat in nervous anticipation.

Whatever the reason, I want to wallow it and binge-watch episodes, which is unusual for me, although not unknown. I don’t usually watch more than an hour of television in a day. I suppose the serial nature of the programme helps. When I watched Life on Mars and Ashes to Ashes earlier in the year, it was quite obvious that I was only going to get answers in the last episode of the season, if not the last episode of the programme as a whole, whereas here there are limited answers and more questions all the time.

Striving

It’s September. “Harvest has passed, summer is gone, but we have not been saved.” (Yirmiyah/Jeremiah 8.20) COVID is still with us and I still feel uncomfortable being near other people or entering a shop, as I had to do today. The autumn Jewish festivals are approaching and I feel unprepared for those too, uncertain of whether I will even feel comfortable setting foot in my shul (synagogue), given the risk of infection and the discomfort of having to wear a mask.

***

I got up at 10.15am again, which is good, but I wish I could get up an hour earlier (at least). I guess I wish I was a morning person when I’m really not one, but 10.15 seems very late, even if I’ve got up later. I did feel too tired to get dressed straight after breakfast and ended up reading online (including a depressing article on Minneapolis in Tablet Magazine, which probably wasn’t the best thing to read) while the coffee slowly kicked in. Again, this was a bad habit I wanted to kick, but haven’t managed to do so yet. I am probably trying to change too much of my life at the moment without enough of a plan; when I do a cheshbon nafesh (moral/religious self-assessment) later this week in preparation for Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year), I should try to set myself some realistic goals.

***

I was sent an email on high functioning autism and social interactions. This was as a result of the autism support group Zoom meeting last week. There was a list of attractive qualities in friends or partners often found in people on the spectrum. One was “detail orientated.” This is one of the things autistic people are known for, at least in stereotype, the trainspotter-type with an encyclopaedic and detailed knowledge of some very arcane topic, as well as the ability to focus on very mundane and repetitive tasks.

I wonder if I still have that detail orientation. I feel I used to have it, but I don’t any more, except I suppose about Doctor Who. As I’ve said before, in the last few years I feel I’ve lost my ability to focus on details when cataloguing or in the practise exam work I was doing the last few days. I don’t know what has caused this change. Maybe just a loss of confidence, maybe something more troubling.

I spoke about this a bit on the depression group Zoom call. People said that I should try to do things and see if that will bring my confidence back up, which I know is sensible, I’m just not sure how to go about it. I think that unemployment, and my previous unsuccessful jobs, have sapped my self-confidence about work just as lockdown and isolation have worsened my social anxiety and lack of self-confidence about socialising.

***

“The fact that a person is always prone to stumble, to deviate from justice and morality, does not discredit his perfection, since the basis of his perfection is the constant striving and the desire for perfection.” From The Lights of Penitence in Abraham Isaac Kook: The Lights of Penitence, The Moral Principles, Lights of Holiness, Essays, Letters, and Poems, emphasis added.

***

I finished The Islamist and moved on to the latest Jewish Review of Books. I find that the JRB covers all aspects of the Jewish experience: religion, history, Israel, culture and so on in a fairly balanced way not easy with a civilisation 3,000 years old and spread across the entire globe, but I feel it does ascribe slightly out-sized importance to various “classic” twentieth century American Jewish writers and critics. People like Philip Roth, Saul Bellow and Lionel Trilling. This issue we got five pages on Philip Roth, which seemed excessive (articles in the JRB are usually two to four pages long); for comparison, last issue the Bible only got three pages. I’m being slightly facetious, but I do think there is sometimes an excessive focus on twentieth century American literature, although as it’s mostly an American publication, maybe there’s more desire for Philip Roth than (I don’t know) Mendele Mocher-Seforim, Rav Saadia Gaon, or Jewish society in eighteenth century Poland.

***

Achievements: I worked on my novel and finished reading through the book as a whole for the first time. There’s a lot I want to change and it’s hard to assess my own work, but it’s not as awful as it might have been. I think there are some good bits in there, or bits that could be good with more work. I also went for a walk and did shopping. I spent an hour and a half cooking dinner, which was a bit longer than I wanted. I only did half an hour of Torah study, but I did finish reading Mishlei (The Book of Proverbs) in Hebrew, a couple of weeks earlier than I expected. I went to depression group via Zoom too. I had some trouble with my connection which made it somewhat frustrating, especially as other people had connection problems too.

Guilt

Shabbat was OK. There was all the usual stuff: praying, eating, sleeping, Torah study and recreational reading (mostly The Islamist and the latest Doctor Who Magazine, my subscription to which I am contemplating cancelling. I have contemplated cancelling it every couple of years since about 2003, but this time I’m really not sure what’s stopping me).

The afternoon was hard. I was reading The Lights of Penitence by Rav Kook (in the volume Abraham Isaac Kook: The Lights of Penitence, The Moral Principles, Lights of Holiness, Essays, Letters, and Poems) and came across a passage that talks about someone who feels pervaded by sin, immoral, uneducated, distant from God, and “stirred by dark and sinister passions that revolt him.” I thought, “This is me.” Unfortunately, the passage goes on to say that penitence will cure this and all healing and acceptance. Nothing about what happens if a person does teshuva (repentance) and feels just as wicked as before.

If I recall correctly, Rav Soloveitchik says something similar about repentance curing self-criticism in Halakhic Man, so that’s the two greatest “Modern Orthodox” rabbis, of very different outlook and temperament, agreeing that teshuva should remove self-hatred and needless guilt. I don’t know how to feel that. No wonder that in recent years Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur (Jewish New Year and the Day of Atonement, the holidays of judgment and repentance) have been hard for me and I struggle to get to shul (synagogue). Of course, this year I have decided not to go for Rosh Hashanah at least because I’m so worried about COVID and passing it on to Mum (who has surgery a week before Rosh Hashanah). I haven’t had to decide what I’m doing about Yom Kippur yet.

The guilt is pervasive and multifaceted. Some of it is feeling disconnected from God, which I’ve felt for a long time. Feeling that I don’t pray well enough, don’t study Torah enough, don’t connect enough. Feeling that I don’t have enough spirituality or meaning in my life. I don’t have much of either. But I also have guilt around my sexuality. Feeling that it’s pretty much impossible to get to the age thirty-seven as an unmarried virgin without having infringed on some at least some of the Jewish sexual laws, but as no one talks about it, I feel that maybe it is just me. Maybe I could do better. Maybe other people do manage to do better.

So, I spent the afternoon somewhat depressed because of this. I was initially upset to have napped for an hour and a half after lunch, but when I started to feel depressed, I was glad to have escaped being trapped in my head for a while. Despite Shabbat finishing nearly two hours earlier than at the height of summer, it’s still hard to get through when depressed.

I worry what PIMOJ (as sarnhyman has suggested I dub the Person I’m Messaging On JDate) would make of this. I’ve told her about my depression, but presented it in the past tense. Well, I thought I was mostly over it and now it was just reactive to things in my life, not an ongoing presence. I should have remembered that whenever I declare my depression over, it returns. PIMOJ works in mental health and I don’t know how that would shape her reaction to me. I want to open up to her about some things, but I’m scared. I want to get to know her better and get to a stage where we can both be more open, but I don’t know how to do that or how to judge when we’ve got there.

It’s not just the persistence of depression, but also the fact that she comes across in her messages as an ebullient person and one with a deep and sincere ahavat Shamayim (love of God). I had hoped some of that would rub off on me, but now I feel it’s more likely that I’ll scare her off. That she wouldn’t want to be with someone so quiet and downbeat, and intermittently (at least) depressed.

***

I just found this quote from Rav Kook, from The Lights of Holiness further on in the same volume:

The greater the person, the more he must seek to discover himself. The deep levels of his soul remain concealed from him so that he needs to be alone frequently, to elevate his imagination, to deepen his thought, to liberate his mind. Finally his soul will reveal itself to him by radiating some of its light upon him.

The Perfect Storm

I want to get into a better sleep pattern, so I asked my Dad to wake me up and open my blinds in the morning. It didn’t really work; I just went back to sleep. I’m so drained when I wake up in the mornings, even if I’ve had a lot of sleep, and also quite down, which is probably related to being drained. I used to say, “It’s depression,” but now I’m not sure if I’ve been clinically depressed in recent months. I guess now I can say, “It’s autistic burnout” although it probably isn’t, at least not every day.

I struggled with the job exam thing today. I had poor concentration and struggled to take in what I was trying to learn. I was just staring at the screen, unable to process what I was reading; alternatively, I procrastinated online. I’m struggling learn all the abbreviations and special words used in the process. I guess I’ve lost enthusiasm for it too. I felt tearful and depressed while trying to study for it, so maybe I am still depressed after all. I said a few days ago that my depression is now reactive to my life situation (unemployment; loneliness; Mum’s cancer) and the season/light level and not based on unresolved childhood issues. I think this is maybe not as significant a distinction as I had hoped.

I’m struggling on to try and get this job, and I’m not quite sure why, given it’s underpaid and not directly related to my career progression, as well as requiring unpaid self-training in a short timescale. I guess I’m desperate for a job, more for self-esteem than money (I don’t spend much and my parents are letting me stay without rent). Also, I suppose, to make myself more attractive to potential dates, but today I don’t feel like that that’s going to work out for me either (see below).

If I had more time, maybe I could learn this stuff, but I’m struggling to learn it in less than a week. I hope things might be a little easier once I practise with the practise data, but I need to read the user guide first, which is taking ages.

The fact that it feels like winter doesn’t help matters, with heavy rain. I wanted to go for a walk, but it was too wet. Dad had to drive me to the pharmacist to pick up my prescription. It’s less than ten minutes away on foot, but I would have got soaked.

Reading Ashley’s latest post, I wonder if I’ve internalised stigma. I feel I “only” have depression (the vanilla ice cream of mental illness), not anything that would “allow” me to be really ill, and that I would be better off if I had a job. Actually, the latter is probably true in my case, at least if I could find a job that was within my capabilities, part-time, in a safe environment, with a supportive line manager. My job in early 2019 was like that. I was hoping the job I’m applying for would be like that, but so far it has not been like that. However, I did feel a bit better after doing some ironing today, which I think was occupational therapy on some level.

***

I just feel exhausted and useless today, and rather desperate. A perfect storm of depression, despair, loneliness, low self-esteem and touch hunger. I’m trying to tell myself that I can build a career, preferably as a writer, and that I can find love, but it’s hard to believe sometimes. It feels like dating, job hunting and working are all necessary for my recovery, but all also require tremendous resources of energy, motivation, concentration and self-belief that I can’t access because of depression, anxiety or low self-esteem. I could probably say the same for other activities that are supposed to be good for me, like exercise, meditation and prayer.

I can see that there’s a lot of catastrophising going on today (“Everything is awful”), along with black and white thinking (“Things aren’t perfect, therefore they’re absolutely awful”) and emotional reasoning (“I feel bad, therefore everything must be objectively bad”). It’s not always easy to deal with those unhelpful thinking styles (black and white thinking in particular is basically the default autistic thinking style), but I guess it’s a start that I can spot them.

***

In terms of what may have triggered all this… aside from the onset of autumn… aside from the awful self-training I’m doing under pressure… aside from the stuff that has been in the background for months (COVID, Mum’s cancer)… it doesn’t help that I’m worried I scared off the women I was messaging on JDate. It’s probably too early to tell, but I do feel like I may have done that. I’m waiting for some replies and feeling very negative. I let my anxiety (possibly even OCD) get the better of me in one conversation the other day and said something stupid and now I’ve probably scared her off for good.

I’m questioning whether I did the right thing breaking up with E. again. Deep down, I know (in my “wise mind”) that I made the right decision, even if I can’t go into my reasons here (I know to readers here it seemed to be a sudden, impulsive decision, but it wasn’t). But emotionally it’s easy to think, “Oh, if only I was still in a relationship.”

In a weird way… I wonder if doing the job stuff instead of working on my novel today brought down my mood. Lately I have been feeling better; I’ve also been feeling that I’ve been making progress on my novel. Coincidence? Inasmuch as I believe I have any understanding of my mission in life (I believe everyone has a mission in life, it’s just not always easy to find it), it’s writing Jewish-related fiction. When I was pursuing that, I seemed happier. Suddenly I was talking to someone on JDate who also writes. Then I pause the novel, and suddenly my mood drops, I can’t function and I worry I’ve upset the JDater and cut her off. Some of that may be coincidence, but I don’t think I have to be superstitious to think that distancing myself from what I see as my vocation (writing) to do something that is strenuous, badly paid and which I worry will trigger my OCD (long story) might have triggered my depression again.

I don’t know how I “sell” this interpretation to other people though.

***

A WhatsApp devar Torah I listened to spoke about trust in God being rooted in awe of God, i.e. if we recognise that God controls everything in our lives, we will trust everything will be for the best. I find that hard when it seems like so much of my life has been negative (and I haven’t even had such a bad life compared to many people). I guess I feel that if God wanted my life to become good, He would have done it by now. It’s hard to think of having twenty really bad years and then suddenly everything is OK. I believe God could do that (He can do anything), yet from looking at the world, it seems such sudden and miraculous interventions are rare and I don’t know how I could deserve such a fate. An analogy: I believe that one day God will send the Messiah to redeem the world, but if I saw someone in the street claiming that he was the Messiah, I would assume he is probably suffering from a mental illness, even though I believe that theoretically it could be the real Messiah.

***

My GP at Oxford used to tell me “A bad day is just a bad day,” but there’s always a fear that one bad day will lead to two and then three and then keep snowballing.

***

Achievements: I spent a couple of hours trying to train for the job, but I don’t know how much sunk in. I did some ironing. I listened to divrei Torah for about five minutes.

Someone, Somewhere, Somehow, Some Time

I went to bed at midnight, which is relatively early for me. I was emotionally exhausted. I wanted to get up between 8.00am and 9.00am in case my work exam came through early, but although my parents woke me up when they went to the hospital at 8.30am, I fell asleep again until they came home just after 10.00am. I guess I was still emotionally exhausted. The good news is that when I finally did manage to get up, I was tired, but not particularly depressed, so hopefully I have avoided a relapse into full-blown clinical depression despite being so upset yesterday. I feel upset about what happened with me and E., yet I can’t see what I could have done differently. It’s sad knowing that we could have stayed together if COVID hadn’t intervened, but it does feel like something from God, something outside of my control. I think, given what happened, I made the right decision, but it’s hard.

I haven’t heard back from either the women I was talking to on JDate today. I’m mostly OK with that as I needed some space today after yesterday. I possibly messed up one conversation due to anxiety at the weekend and scared her off. I guess that’s one of those things. I probably was getting over-excited about those conversations anyway. It’s good to come back to reality a bit. I felt calm about dating this morning, quietly confident that I’ll find someone, somewhere, somehow, some time, even if it takes a long time.

***

The job application exam came through at 3.15pm… except that it isn’t just an exam. There’s a whole thick set of instructions to go through, nearly seventy pages, and a one hour webinar, followed by thirty sets of practise data and only then will I be sent the exam itself. I have to finish all the practice data and the exam by 11.59pm on Tuesday evening. It all looked complicated and daunting. I know, I have two degrees, one of which is from Oxford, but lately I doubt myself all the time and have no confidence in my ability to do anything. For example, I’ve wanted to play Risk with my parents recently, but it’s so long since I’ve played that I can’t remember the rules and I worry I won’t be able to relearn them, that’s how little self-confidence I have right now.

After half an hour reading the guidelines, I was not very far in and was in full “I can’t do this, I’m a screw-up, I’m not going to get the job, the women I’m talking to on JDate are going to stop talking to me because I can’t get a job” self-critical/catastrophising mode. The calm of the morning had gone.

I did regain some calm later. The worst that can happen is I try the test and fail the exam. Then I’ve wasted a few days. The job is not relevant to my career. It uses some librarian skills, but does not specifically require a trained librarian (hence low salary and no requirement for librarians on the job description). I have some reservations about the job, which I won’t go into here, but I won’t really know how justified they are without trying the practise data and exam. And, yes, I realise that I’m essentially being made to train myself quickly and for free, with no certainty of a job at the end of it, rather than being given a job and then being trained by the company, on their time. But I feel like I don’t have better options right now.

I had a chat with my parents about this. They say they’re happy to keep supporting me while I’m unemployed as long as I keep searching for new jobs and pestering the agencies (which I admit I’m not very good at, pestering people does not come easily to me, at least not deliberately). I feel stuck because I’m too advanced for graduate trainee roles, but my employment history and career progression are too inconsistent for higher jobs. A number of difficult jobs (or jobs that were made difficult by autism) and a bad result on some cataloguing tests have eroded my self-confidence in my ability to function as a librarian and especially to catalogue, or to work in any remotely noisy and busy environment. I apply for jobs that I think I can do, but there don’t seem to be that many. I’m not sure if that’s a self-confidence issue or a lack of jobs in the sector or COVID or all of the above.

There is, inevitably, also the feeling of “How will I get a girlfriend/spouse if I can’t get a job?” I don’t really have an answer to that at the moment, particularly as “I can write for money” isn’t working out well at the moment.

***

It’s nearly September and the nights are drawing in, which means the light level will soon start to bring my mood down. It would be a shame if I got over the depression, only to slump back because of autumn, unemployment and single-hood/loneliness and guilt over E.

***

I forgot to mention yesterday that Mum has now been told that the household only needs to shield for three days before her operation, not two weeks, as she was originally told. That will be a lot easier for all of us.

***

I’m reading The Islamist, Ed Husain’s account of his time as an Islamist (Islamic fundamentalist) and how he left the movement. It’s interesting to see the similarities and differences between Jewish fundamentalism and Islamic fundamentalism (the big difference is that Jewish fundamentalists don’t really want to change/convert/conquer the world, they just want to run away from it and build high walls so it can’t get in). I’m about two thirds of the way through; Husain is leaving radical Islam and looking for a more spiritual alternative.

It made me think about the lack of spirituality in my life. The person on JDate who I fear I scared off is very spiritual and more aware of God than pretty much anyone I’ve met before. I hoped maybe if the relationship worked out some of that would rub off on me.

In terms of spiritual thought systems and movements in Judaism, kabbalah (Jewish mysticism) doesn’t do much for me. Practical kabbalah (magic, essentially) is anti-rationalist in a way that does not work for me at all. More theoretical kabbalah just confuses me. I’m not sure how monotheistic it is, but beyond that I just can’t take in the complex systems describing God. I like the ethics of Hasidism, but struggle with the kabbalistic underpinnings, and the constant joy does not work for me with my melancholic personality, even aside from depression. Likewise the loud and performative attitude to davening (prayers) does not work well with autism. I like the teachings of the Kotzker Rebbe (Hasidic leader), but he’s been dead for 160 years and I don’t know how to bring that to the present. I’m interested in Mussar, the Jewish movement for ethical self-development, but I struggled to bring it into my life. For a while I tried reading Mussar texts and doing kabbalot (daily actions to stimulate certain ethical character traits; no relation to kabbalah), but it became just another “Should” for me to beat myself up about, so I stopped.

I just started reading a collection of texts by Rav Kook. The first text in the collection is The Lights of Penitence, so I thought it was appropriate for the run up to Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. Rav Kook was a mystical writer, but not a straightforward kabbalist and not an anti-rationalist at all, an interesting thinker who is not easily put in a box. Universalist as well as particularlist too. I’m hoping this volume will help me, but it’s taken the better part of a week to read the prefaces and introduction. What I’ve read of his writings in the past interests me, but, again, I don’t know where I go with those thoughts on a day to day level. Rav Kook is considered one of the founders of Religious Zionism, but the Religious Zionist movement homed in on just a part of his thought (settling the land of Israel) which doesn’t interest me so much.

***

Achievements: I spent an hour and twenty minutes on my novel, and nearly two more hours on job stuff (including the long chat I had with my parents about it). I went for a half hour walk (sadly no time/energy for a run today). I also spent forty minutes on my devar Torah, although I was really recycling an old devar Torah from years ago, expanding it and improving the use of sources. I spent about half an hour on additional Torah study. That’s not an insignificant amount of achievements, particularly considering my mood was all over the place, but I wanted to do more on the novel, more on the job stuff and more Torah study.

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.

A Matter of Trust

I had a headache when I went to bed last night which got worse when I was lying down, as often happens to me, so I ended up getting up and watching Star Trek: Voyager at two in the morning and then sleeping even later than normal, which was not good.  At least it was a comedic episode, rather than some heavy emotional drama or political parable.  Then I feel asleep in the afternoon today from the heat.

I think the combination of heat, continued lockdown and shielding Mum, and finishing the first draft of my novel have left a bit of a “now what?” feeling.  I’m not depressed exactly, just exhausted, but it’s hard to get motivated to do anything.  I do think having a short break from writing is a good idea, but I think deep down I really want to get back to it.  This is not a bad thing in itself, but I think more of a break would be helpful.  I’m still reading books about writing and wondering if they are helpful of counter-productive.  It’s hard to tell.

***

I’m struggling with Torah study from lack of engagement.  I’m not studying anything that really excites me at the moment.  My Tanakh (Hebrew Bible) study currently is Mishlei (Proverbs), which I’m struggling with.  I think it’s the “wisdom literature” outlook that good is always rewarded and evil always punished in this world, which I find simplistic.  “Wisdom literature” was a genre in many countries in the Ancient Near East, not just Israel and Judea, associated with the scribes at royal court.  It aimed to set out advice for living a good life, based on following the dictates of wisdom rather than other impulses.  It tends towards pithy aphorisms which makes Mishlei one of the more quotable books of Tanakh, but also feels like it’s making sweeping statements.  I think Kohelet (Ecclesiastes) is something of a critique of this outlook.  Kohelet is in many ways structured like wisdom literature, but is very conscious that the righteous are often not rewarded in this world.  (I have a whole theory of why some books of the Bible assume that reward and punishment occurs in a very obvious and simplistic sense and others take a different, more complex, view that I can share if anyone’s interested.)

To be honest, I find studying Tanakh challenging at times in general, although I do at times find it very rewarding too.  There’s such a weight of expectation on “The Bible” to be life-changing and inspirational that it can be hard to engage with it.  I don’t really understand how Protestants in particular seem to be able to “converse” with the Bible in a very personal way, although I used to be able to do that more than I can now.  I find the Koren Maggid Tanakh series of books really helpful at explaining the historical background and literary style of the books of Tanakh, but it’s an ongoing series and they haven’t published volumes on all the books of Tanakh yet – plus the Koren books focus on the straightforward contextual meaning of the text, which isn’t always the inspirational side – the sense of “Why did someone find this meaningful enough to canonise it?”

The weight of history on Tanakh can be off-putting too, like watching a classic film like Citizen Kane for the first time and not knowing if you like it or merely think you should like it.  Citizen Kane is a good example, as nowadays it doesn’t look so impressive because so many of its startling innovations have become cinematic standards.  Similarly, a lot of what Western civilisation took from biblical ethics is so ingrained that we assume that all societies believe the same thing and don’t realise how revolutionary Tanakh was and only notice where the biblical ethic does not match modern standards.

(Sorry, that was a big tangent.  I guess that was autistic special interest mode.)

Likewise the Mishnah I’m studying, Seder Zeraim, Masechet Terumot, agricultural laws, is rather dry and separate from my life.

Because of this feeling of disconnection I just ordered Emmanuel Levinas’ Nine Talmudic Readings, both because I want to read more Levinas (observant Jewish Existentialist philosopher) and because I want to study some Talmud without moving on from my weekly Talmud class, which is on hold during lockdown.  I also ordered Rav Kook’s Lights of Penitence because I also want to read more Rav Kook and it’s appropriate as we move towards Elul and Tishrei, the time of the year focused on introspection and repentance.  Hopefully that will give me more variety in my Torah study and something more inspirational and meaningful to my everyday life.  Still, I am conscious that I just spent nearly £50 on books.  Buying too many books (more than I can read, at any rate) is not the worst vice, but I do tend to assume that all my problems can be solved by buying more books, which is not necessarily the case here (or elsewhere).

***

Achievements: I posted on my Doctor Who blog for the first time in a while, which was good (posting something I mostly wrote a few days ago, but hadn’t posted).  Also, despite what I wrote above about Torah study, I did manage about fifty minutes of Torah study again today.  I also cooked dinner (Hungarian pepper ragout with rice, which I had only cooked once before; this time I topped it with a fried egg, which is not healthy, but tasted good).

I’m not sure what the opposite of “achievements” is, but in terms of negative things, I got a rejection from a job I applied for some time ago and I think I messed up a social interaction online with someone I particularly didn’t want to upset (not that there are people I do want to upset, but you know what I mean).  I also wanted to go for a walk at dusk as I did yesterday, but it started raining.  By the time I realised it had stopped, I was too tired and it was too late.  It looks like thunderstorms are predicted for the rest of the week, which will limit my ability to go out.

***

When my therapist suggested limiting my internet time, she said not to see it as another “Should,” but just an experiment.  She was worried that if I couldn’t stick to it, I would beat myself up.  I haven’t completely stuck to it, but I haven’t beaten myself up either.  I am pleased to be online less and seem to be happier, although I do worry a bit about not being well-informed of the news.  I am procrastinating less, although I’m not sure where the gained time is going.  Certainly the whole experiment has made me more mindful of when I go online or check my emails; I don’t do that casually any more, without thinking, but do it consciously and deliberately even if I’m doing it outside the approved times.

***

A thought I had last night: I need to learn to trust myself and to trust God.

I want to feel that I’ve achieved something with my life, that I’ve fulfilled my mission, or at least that I am on course to fulfil it.  I don’t think a person’s mission is necessarily tied up completely with his or her career or family responsibilities, but I do feel that I have achieved very little that is worthwhile in my life.  This is why I find it so hard to trust myself or love myself, because I feel unworthy because I am not doing what I was put here to do.

On the other hand, I find it hard to trust God because I want to know that I will have a successful, loving marriage at some point, or at least to know that I can cope with being alone (without my parents, which will happen one day).  I find it hard to trust that God will arrange for me to get married, or that He will give me the tools I need to cope with being single forever.  Or perhaps I feel that He will give me the tools, but I won’t use them, in which case it’s about trusting myself again.

I’m not sure how I find this trust.  I certainly don’t know how to learn to accept being single forever.  Sometimes I feel I could explode from loneliness and sexual frustration.

***

I posted this comment on Ashley’s blog post about self-stigma today and thought I would share here:

I think I have a lot of self-stigma, partly about my depression and social anxiety, but also about autism, paradoxically, often combined with “Maybe I’m not really on the autism spectrum and I’m just a freak” thoughts.

I suppose that, like a lot of people on the spectrum, well-meaning adults socialised me to think that I shouldn’t do the things I wanted to do or think the things I wanted to think. That I shouldn’t stim and I should force myself to talk to people because “it will get easier if I try” among other things. Maybe they were right about some of these things, but I guess the cumulative effect is to make me doubt myself and to feel that there is a “normal type of person” and that my behaviour as a depressed autistic person is abnormal and that this is wrong in itself and responsible for many of my issues, such as unemployment, singledom and loneliness. If only I could stop being a “freak” (one of my favourite terms for myself, you may have noticed) and become “normal,” all my problems would be solved.

Of course, none of the authority figures in my life had any knowledge of high functioning autism when I was a child; the diagnosis of Asperger’s Syndrome (as it was called) didn’t even get into the DSM [psychiatric diagnostic manual] until I was eleven and wasn’t well-known for many years after that.

Even now I make more eye contact than many people on the spectrum even though my natural preference, like many autistic people, is to avoid eye contact. This is because I was told to make eye contact as a child and I internalised that message (not knowing about autism at that age) so I very consciously force myself to make eye contact, and usually quietly freak out in my head about making too much eye contact, or too little, or the wrong type; if I feel I’m not making enough eye contact, or too much, I blame myself rather than accept it.

Post-Success Depression and Negative Self-Talk

I still feel very depressed.  I don’t know if this is about finishing the first draft of my novel or something else, something I don’t want to talk about here.  If it is about my novel, I had something similar when I was doing my MA: I would struggle against depression to finish an assignment, but when I handed it in, instead of feeling positive, I would feel more depressed and often be unable to start the next assignment for weeks.  It took me nearly three and a half years to finish a course that should have taken one academic year.

***

I was thinking of buying some more music and graphic novels and maybe some war gaming miniatures to paint (I don’t play war games any more, but sometimes I paint the models).  Then I started thinking that this was retail therapy, and I felt more guilty about it, and just started procrastinating, which is a worse problem than retail therapy, at least with the relatively small sums of money I’m thinking of spending.  In the end I bought two graphic novels, but am undecided as to whether to buy the miniatures.  It would be good to do something that doesn’t involve thinking (I guess there’s running), but I feel depressed when comparing miniatures painted by me recently with the much better ones painted in my teens, before I had medication-related tremor, and perhaps when my concentration and will power were better.

***

I finished fiddling around with my iTunes playlists, which was good.  I’ve been meaning to sort them out for a while now.  That was my main achievement for the day, alongside my usual pre-Shabbat chores.  I did a little Torah study, and I’ll probably do a bit more later, but it’s hard to do anything today.  It’s partly depression and exhaustion, but also the heat and humidity, which are both high today and make me uncomfortable.

***

I had another weird dream about conflict with my religious community, where a bunch of thugs mobbed the car I was in when it pulled over (which for some reason was being driven by Hugo Drax, the villain of the James Bond film Moonraker) and then I realised they were frum men, with suits and fedoras, and then I recognised some of them from shul.  That might be part of the reason why I woke up depressed and exhausted again.

I’m not sure why that conflict is on my mind when I haven’t had any real contact with the community for five months or so and am not likely to have any for another couple of months at least.  Maybe that’s it, though.  Maybe I’ve forgotten the good parts and the people I like and am only thinking about the negative.  Certainly there’s a lot of social anxiety over going to shul (synagogue) again, wondering if I can remember what to do and how to behave (I mean behave socially more than religiously, although that too, I guess), as well as autistic anxiety about wearing masks and the changed layout of the shul being different and confusing.  Shul has been reopened for a few weeks now, but I haven’t gone as we’re still shielding Mum as she’s immuno-suppressed and the risk is just too great.

Related to that, I don’t know when going to a shop is going to feel safe again.  I’ve hardly been in any for months.  The only one I really go to is the pharmacist, to collect my anti-depressants, but that’s awkward as not only is it often busy, but the post office is in the same shop, separated by a partition wall and that’s also often busy and people have to queue from the post office section into the pharmacist section.  I’d like to go to the nearby charity shop to browse second-hand books and DVDs as I know that’s something that de-stresses me a bit, but I just don’t dare to.

***

I wrote in yesterday’s post about blaming my teenage/early twenties self for not being more social.  After I turned off my computer, I remembered something I once said in therapy, that if I think of my very young self, say five or six years old or younger, I feel a great deal of love and compassion towards him, but I think of my somewhat older self (eight or ten years old and up) suddenly a whole load of negative feelings and internalised anger/aggression comes out about him (me) being too clever, aloof, irritating, an unintentional show-off, a Doctor Who obsessive to the exclusion of all else (even more than I am now…) and so on.  I’m guessing this is because the difficulties of my childhood started when I was somewhat older and that’s the time that I internalised negative thoughts and feelings about myself.  It is hard to know what to do with these thoughts.

***

I just heard that Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz died today (barukh dayan ha’emet).  He was a great man.  Among his many achievements was translating the Talmud into Modern Hebrew (most of the Talmud is written in Aramaic) and writing explanatory commentary, and then overseeing its translation into English and, I think, Russian.  It’s not the only current English translation, but it is very accessible and while the Artscroll Talmud (its main competitor in English translation) is focused on the detail of halakhic (legal) debate and only uses traditional sources, the Steinsaltz one is more focused on basic comprehensibility and uses modern sources and photos (of plants, ancient artifacts, etc.) to illustrate the social and material context of the Talmud.

He wrote many other books too, including a few I own.  I’m very fond of his book Simple Words and his translation of some of the stories of Rebbe Nachman of Bratzlav, again with commentary.

He was an important figure for me, not just because of the books that I have read, but also his attitude, being in some ways very traditional and Hasidic and in other ways very modern (he was originally a scientist before becoming a rabbi).  I believe his yeshiva (rabbinical seminary) taught Jewish philosophy and creative writing alongside the traditional yeshiva Talmud curriculum.  He once said, “An intellectual is not necessarily a university professor: he can also be a shoemaker.  An intellectual is a person of boundless curiosity, who has the desire and the ability to discuss everything, and the spark that can make something new out of anything.”  We can apply this to Rabbi Steinsaltz himself.

Catastrophising and Fatalism

The Doctor: Where’s your optimism?

Romana: It opted out.

– Doctor Who: The Armageddon Factor by Bob Baker and Dave Martin

I seem to be stuck back in the habit of waking up late and depressed, even if I go to bed a bit earlier.  I think some of the slump is finishing the first draft of my novel and contemplating the next mountain to climb, which is redrafting, which is looming and ominous, but which I can’t even get started on yet, as I want a short break so I can come to it fresh.  Something else happened that I won’t go into here that brought me down too and is on my mind today.  Plus, I had a weird, upsetting dream last night.  I can’t remember the details, but it was about getting in trouble with my religious community for having the wrong religious beliefs/practices.

I looked at the chart I made for dealing with depression and, yes, some of this probably is my critical voice talking and maybe some “shoulds” and, yes, a lot of it is catastrophising.  I don’t know what’s happening with my career or my writing, which is scary, and it’s hard not to catastrophise that.

There’s a lot of catastrophising about relationships too, feeling that I don’t have ways to meet someone.  There are some ways, but I feel they all have drawbacks and most are unlikely to succeed.  I also feel that I would have the best chance of building a relationship with someone who also has “issues,” but there’s no way of trying deliberately to meet such a person, certainly not within the frum (religious Jewish) community.  There are actually shadchanim (matchmakers) in the USA who specialise in “sensitive shidduchim (matches)” where both parties have some kind of issue (not necessarily mental health), but I couldn’t get any to work with me, largely because I’m not in the US, but in one case because I’m too modern, religiously.  Maybe it’s not sensible to think like that anyway; both my exes had issues and that was at least partly responsible for the failure of both relationships.  Maybe I need someone very stable and kind, although what she would see in me is anyone’s guess.

I also worry that I won’t be able to have children, partly because my issues are too ever-present and exhausting to make it a good idea, particularly if I marry someone with similar issues; partly because, as I get older, having children means finding a wife significantly younger than me, which seems unlikely to happen.   Some shadchanim and dating sites seem to divide the dating pool in two, under-forties and over-forties, the former being presumably for people who can have children, the latter for people who are too late, or who are assumed to already have children from a previous relationship and not to want more.

As I said, this is all catastrophising.  My parents still think I’ll get married and have at least one child, which seems wildly optimistic to me.  It’s hard to turn off the catastrophising voice though, particularly when there seems so little evidence against it.  I need to focus on stuff in the present, as I was recently, but it seems hard today when I feel to depressed to concentrate on anything and when my mind just wanders down the path of least resistance, which is the path of catastrophising and wallowing in self-pity.

I try to tell myself that if God wants me to have a career and a wife and children then it will happen and if He doesn’t, it won’t, and there’s not much I can do about that… except that just reinforces the fear that he doesn’t want me to have those things and there’s nothing I can do about it.  Certainly he hasn’t wanted me to have them so far.  I don’t think belief in God is supposed to make me so fatalistic, certainly not Jewish belief, which is supposed to be proactive.  We’re supposed to think that God wants the best for us, and if it doesn’t suit our desires or plans, that’s because we’re limited whereas He’s omniscient and knows what would be good for us better than we do.  I just wish I knew what His plan is and had some idea if I would ever get there.

Do I even know what I want out of life?  I’m not sure.  Part of me suspects I wouldn’t be happy even in a loving relationship, that I’m just too negative and depressed a person to be happy for long.  I don’t know what would make me happy or bring fulfilment to my life.  Maybe I’ve hit on things like love and career as goals because they make other people happy and I assume they would make me happy too, but perhaps they would not.

Being frum, doing mitzvot (commandments) and studying Torah, which, according to rabbis, are what my soul wants to do and which should make me happy do very little for me.  Does that make a bad Jew?  Or are depression and low self-esteem just too corrosive to happiness for a frum life to make a difference?  Nothing really seems to help conquer the sense of insecurity, loneliness and despair.  Would it help if God Himself told me that He thought I was a good person and a good Jew?  I’m not sure that it would at this stage.

I want to be grateful for the good things in my life, and I’ve been stating them each day for years, but somehow often I feel too lonely, anxious and despairing about the future to internalise that.  I just end up feeling guilty for not being happier and more grateful.  Maybe I’m just selfish and ungrateful, but I just feel like my psychological needs are not being met (as per Maslow) and I can’t fully function.

***

My therapist is away, and maybe that’s hard too.  I share a lot of my life here on the blog, but not all of it.  There’s some that seems too trivial, or too personal, or too shameful or perhaps too weird to share here.  I’m not sure how much of that I would share with my therapist either, but some of it.  Lately it’s also been hard to tell my parents when I feel depressed and to talk to them about things and I’m not sure why.  I think on some level I feel I’ve let them down by being depressed for so long.  I could phone Samaritans.  I’m not suicidal, but the service is technically not just for people who are suicidal or even intensely depressed, but somehow I can’t bring myself to phone just to chat, perhaps because I can’t bring myself to open up to a stranger unless in serious need.

***

This week I’ve been writing letters to people who have upset me or aroused strong, difficult emotions in me.  The letters are not intended to be sent, just to work my feelings through.  I decided to write one to the frum community, which was a slightly flippant idea, but I thought I would see what came out, as I’ve been writing these letters in a fairly stream of consciousness way.  I was quite surprised that it really didn’t go the way I expected, so I thought I’d share:

Dear frum community,

I tried so hard to fit in, but I never felt accepted.  That’s my gut feeling.  Is it true?  I  don’t know.  I think people were willing to accept me at youth stuff at shul when I was a teenager, but I was too scared, and maybe a bit arrogant.  Did I think I was better?  Or smarter?  Or did I just think I could not be friendly with someone who was not a geek?  To be fair, I was carrying a lot of hurt, trauma and guilt, and that only got worse at Oxford, where people were also willing to accept, but I was too scared again.

Nowadays I’m terrified I’m too Modern, too “heretical,” too weird, too guilty to fit in, especially being single, childless, depressed and autistic.  Is that your fault or mine?  Neither really, it just is.

It’s true you do stuff that upsets me.  The casual sexism and racism that exists [in the frum community].  The focus on ritual over ethics.  The anti-gentile feeling.  The lack of culture and imagination, the conflicts over science and sex and gender and work and Israel.  But I think ultimately that’s not the point.  The point is that I think I don’t deserve you and that I think you couldn’t cope with me.

Yours sincerely…

Reading back this letter makes me think that if I look back at thirteen year old Bar Mitzvah Me, I see the me who tried going to the shul (synagogue) youth service, but who couldn’t talk to anyone there, and who was scared of being bullied, as some of the kids there went to his school and weren’t always nice to him and he couldn’t always tell if they were bullying him or not.  The me who got fed up with no one talking to him even though he wouldn’t have known what to say if they had.  The me who was being asked (which he understood as “pressured”) to lein (chant from the Torah) in the youth service because he “leined so well at his bar mitzvah,”  but who was suffering from extreme stage fright post-bar mitzvah because he felt overwhelmed by praise that he didn’t think he deserved and who didn’t want to lein ever again.  The me who was going to start feeling increasing guilt over the next few years about his family’s lax standards of Shabbat and kashrut observance, but not know how to change that, and who was soon going to start feeling a lot of guilt around sex, and not know how to change that either.  And I suppose I should say that I want to hug him or tell him not to worry, but I just feel angry and want to shout, “Why couldn’t you just cope with it?  Why couldn’t you just stick it out and make friends and become part of the community?  And then maybe I wouldn’t be depressed and single and childless and lonely.”  That’s not really very self-loving.

I could say the same about Oxford Me, which was probably the last chance I had to really turn things around.  “Just talk to people!  Just go to events, even if they bore you!  Go on the Jewish Society committee, even though you hate the idea of doing so and you think you have no talents to bring to the table, and even though you think your tutorial work leaves you no time for things like this!  Make the time!  Ask girls out, even if you’re not sure they’re 100% compatible!  Just do something!”

But even now I would make the same mistakes again, there just isn’t the social circle to make it in.  Everyone’s got their friendship circle now, and usually their spouses and children (some I guess are on Spouse Number 2 by now).  There aren’t organisations that cater for single frum people approaching forty (nebbukh).  I wouldn’t be able to go anyway, for the same reason I didn’t go then.  Getting angry with Past Mes is just getting angry with Present Me.  I can’t even keep close friendships going any more.  I don’t really have any close friends any more, and the only people I really open up to (aside from my blog) are my therapist and my rabbi mentor.

***

Achievements: some time finishing off my devar Torah (Torah thought) for the week (although I had some negative thoughts about that, about my divrei Torah not being worthwhile).  I did a bit of Torah study.  I read more of Healing from Despair too, which is a Jewish book, but the chapter I read had no religious content and was just about the author’s experience of feeling suicidal, which was probably not the best thing to read.

I did some chores and went for a walk.  I basically did what I normally do, without two hours of writing my novel, so I feel a bit like I underachieved.  The time I would normally spend on the novel was partly spent on procrastination, partly on fiddling around with playlists on iTunes, and writing this mammoth post.

Another Busy Day

I woke up early today, at least by my usual standards.  I usually wake up in the early morning, but then I feel tired and usually fall asleep again until much later.  I decided the other day that I would try to force myself to stay up, which I managed today.  I was pretty tired (even though I had about seven hours of sleep), but I managed it.  I was OK once I drank coffee and I was glad to get an earlier start on the day and say the morning Shema and Amidah on time.

I did doze for half an hour in the afternoon though.

Achievements (although the above are really achievements too): I spent two hours on my novel and finished another chapter.  Only one more chapter to go!  I’m up to 72,000 words too, which is novel length, just about.  Hopefully the manuscript will grow a bit in redrafting.  The time taken to write each chapter seems to be becoming shorter too, even though they chapters are mostly the same length.  I have mixed feelings about the quality though.  Some of that is probably low self-esteem and it is just a first draft.  My English teacher used to say that a first draft is 99% of the work, and for non-fiction I would tend to agree, but I think writing fiction is more organic and individual and I need to redraft more, particularly as I’ve never written something this long before.

I did an hour of Torah study, much of it difficult Mishnah, which was good.

I also went for a half hour walk.  My ankle felt a bit strange when I woke up.  I’m not sure how to describe it – kind of weak and fragile.  It wasn’t painful, but I didn’t want to put too much weight on it.  I think something is wrong when I run, but I’m not sure if it’s my trainers or if I’m running incorrectly (it can happen).  I don’t really want to go shopping for new trainers at the moment because I’m avoiding shops except for essential items to shield Mum.  I could mail order, but my parents have put me off that by saying that returning them would be hard if they’re a bad fit.

I attended depression group online via Zoom.  I hadn’t attended for a while because I’ve been having therapy on Mondays and was too tired after that to go, but I’ve moved therapy to Wednesdays so that I can go again, plus my therapist is away this week anyway.  I mentioned my novel and people were really supportive, which was nice.

My mood was mostly good today, although it was drifting downwards when I dozed off in the afternoon, so maybe it was just as well that I fell asleep at that point.  My mood did dip slightly into self-recrimination and worry while walking, but mostly I was able to focus on the present.

Someone at depression group asked if I find it easier or harder online.  I find it harder, but I’m not sure why.  I think some of it is feeling that I’m being stared at by the camera the whole time, whereas in person I can see people are focusing on the person speaking, not me.  I also think there’s blurred boundaries when Zooming in from home (am I at home or in the group?) and less of a transition from home to group and back again and transitions are really important for people on the autism spectrum.  I find it hard to give people my full attention on Zoom, harder than in person, and I was getting fidgety by the end, which I know is autistic stimming and my way of trying to focus (rather than boredom), but I was glad that people couldn’t see that I was tapping my fingers because it might have looked rude.

I didn’t stick exactly to my limits on internet usage/email checking that I agreed with my therapist, but I did mostly stick to them and that does seem to help stay present-focused, not to compare myself with others so much and to avoid negative thoughts.  Actually, depression group can provoke comparing thoughts, a kind of procrustean bed where if they’re doing well, I feel I should be doing as well as they are, but if they aren’t doing well, I feel that I should be doing more things as I’m not so depressed.  I try not to think like that, but it’s not always easy.

I didn’t feel like I’d done much today, but writing it down I see that I have done quite a bit.

***

I made a mistake online.  Not a major one (it was less something I didn’t know and more something I phrased badly), but normally I would beat myself up about it, but I’m trying not to, which I guess is good.  With CBT for social anxiety, one technique is to make deliberate mistakes to become inured to them (one nineteenth/early twentieth century yeshiva (rabbinical seminary) used to get the students to do something similar, and there is an XKCD cartoon with a similar point…).  I did not do that when I did CBT for my social anxiety; as I think I’ve said, I don’t think I tried hard enough with CBT for social anxiety, although what I did seemed quite difficult at the time.

***

This passage in Healing from Despair: Choosing Wholeness in a Broken World (by Rabbi Elie Kaplan Spitz and Erica Shapiro Taylor) resonated with me: “A sensitive child, burdened by his natural physical desires and the emotional and intellectual demands he inherited… Rebbe Nachman entered into depressed periods throughout his life.”  My emotional and intellectual demands were not inherited, but came partly from social expectation and partly from my own inner drive for excellence, but otherwise it was very similar to my childhood and adolescence.

Looking for Work, Writing and Thinking

I used to think that if I was unemployed, I would take any job available, even if it was stacking shelves in the supermarket.   The reality has been different, as I’ve discovered that (a) there aren’t that many jobs I’m actually qualified to do and (b) there aren’t that many jobs that I would feel comfortable and capable of doing with depression, social anxiety and autism.  I’ve also discovered that employers view people who are over-qualified as being as unsuitable as people who are under-qualified.

To be honest, I increasingly feel anxious about getting another job as I don’t believe I will be able to cope with it with all my issues.  I feel there probably are some jobs I could do, but finding them and getting them is hard.  Part of me is glad to be out of work.  In part this is because I want the time to work on my novel, but also because I am terrified of getting another job that is bad for my mental health and bad for my autism, and because I am even more terrified of getting a job that I can’t do.  I have begun to doubt whether I still have the librarian skills that I used to have.  I have had too many cataloguing tests that I have done badly.

It is hard to tell how much of this is realistic and how much is low self-esteem and anxiety.  It does feel like the job I was happiest at in the last couple of years was the one I was probably a bit over-qualified for, although the happiness was only partly from that and partly from having a supportive manager and pleasant colleagues.  Even then, I had social anxiety at times (even though it was a backroom job) and used to come away exhausted at the end of the day, even though I was only working two days a week.  And I still felt I made some stupid mistakes, albeit usually from social anxiety when I was with my manager.

***

I worry sometimes about whether my thoughts are really my own.  Not in a psychotic sense, I hasten to add.  I just worry I pick things up from news media, social media, adverts, my religious community, everywhere really.  Political views, religious views, cultural views, desires, fantasies.  My image of what a good life would be.  I think everyone does this, but I don’t like the thought of my doing it.

I’m not so worried about religious thoughts, because I think I’m quite good about balancing belief and scepticism there and looking for sources I trust.  However, I worry about picking up political views unthinkingly sometimes.  It’s hard to tell.  I think I’m more trusting of some sources than others.  Much of social media seems to consist of being told that certain things are intolerable, but I’m not sure that they all are intolerable, or even worth mentioning.  George Orwell wrote (Politics vs Literature: An Examination of Gulliver’s Travels) that the highest form of totalitarianism is when there is no secret police and conformity is enforced simply by peer pressure.  I think we’re getting there on Twitter.

Cultural views, desires, wants, fantasies and so on are very hard to see past, particularly all-pervasive advertising, which is about selling an idea of a fantasy life (involving conspicuous consumption) as much as selling individual products.  I don’t think I’m very materialistic, but I can see that I might pick up ideas of what sort of life I should lead.  I can see why Haredi people and other religious fundamentalists try to tune out secular culture, but then that would just leave me with frum (religious) Jewish culture, which I don’t always agree with either (the cultural aspect, more than the religious aspect).

I think I want to have a job, with the caveats mentioned above.  I think I really want to get married and have children.  I think I really want, on some level, to be a “good” Jew, davening (praying) at shul (synagogue) three times a day and doing significant religious study, but lately that feels less achievable and possibly less desirable.  But to what extent are these really my thoughts and desires.  I certainly find aspects of both secular and frum culture hard to deal with.  I think my rabbi mentor said that everyone in the frum community finds aspects of it narrow-minded.  That everyone thinks it can be narrow-minded and prejudiced.  I’m not sure how true that is (I mean, how true that everyone finds aspects hard to deal with).

***

As agreed with my therapist, I’ve been trying to stay offline today, except for one period first thing when I get up and one in the early evening (now).  It’s hard to go without constant checking of email, blog comments and blog reader.  It makes me realise how much I did it mindlessly, out of boredom, desire for distraction and desire for connection with other people.  It’s going to be hard to wean myself off it, but I’m trying.  I did have to use the internet a bit today for novel research, but I tried not to use it for email and blogs except in those two periods.

I think when I get stuck on my writing, my brain goes into ‘idle’ for a few minutes and I read online or check emails and meanwhile my unconscious is looking for a solution to the writing problem.  So maybe I shouldn’t be trying to cut all that “unnecessary” online activity.

***

Achievements: I spent an hour writing.  Then, after a break, I tried to write my devar Torah for the week, but it just was not coming, so I went out to go for a walk and do some shopping.  I did nearly another hour on the novel after that.

I didn’t finish my devar Torah.  I wrote about a third or a half and then I got stuck.  I know what I could say, but I’m not sure I really want to go down that route.  I don’t have many alternatives, though.  I’ve been trying to get it sent on Thursday evening lately, because if I send it on Friday my Israeli readers don’t always get it before Shabbat.  The problem this week is that Thursday is the Fast of Av, the saddest day in the Jewish calendar, and Torah study is forbidden except for the sad bits of Tanakh (the Bible) and Talmud, so I can’t work on it then.  Which means I need to finish it tomorrow afternoon.  (I shouldn’t really work on it then, as the studying restrictions ideally start the afternoon before, but I don’t really have an alternative.)  So, I feel a bit stressed and disappointed about this.  I’m not sure how long I spent on it, but the creative juices just weren’t flowing.

I did about half an hour of straightforward Torah study and later might start re-reading Healing from Despair, a Jewish book about dealing with despair written by a rabbi.  To be honest, I don’t remember it being great first time around, but I’ve been desperate lately for Jewish texts about suffering and despair and even if this book isn’t so good, it might point me towards some useful primary or secondary sources.

***

I felt very depressed and sad on my walk, as I had intermittently at least all day.  It definitely feels like my mood slumps when I have free time at the moment, which I guess argues in favour of finding work, assuming it’s work that keeps me occupied.  I think of ‘sad’ and ‘depressed’ as two different states.  I think a person can be sad without being depressed, and I think I’m often depressed without being particularly sad.  Despairing and exhausted, but not sad.  I think sadness is about losing something, whereas maybe depression and despair are about not having something at all, particularly hope.  Maybe that’s not true.  I don’t know.

I felt sad partly about breaking up with E.  There isn’t a lot of point in going over this again, here or in my head, but it’s hard not to sometimes.

My novel isn’t the most cheerful thing either; currently one of my characters is trying to flee her abusive husband.  I think I need to contact a women’s charity and ask exactly what the process would be if someone asked for help, because it’s not completely clear from the websites I’ve been looking at, but I can see that they might not want to tell me, either because they don’t have time to help a writer or because they don’t tell people much for security reasons, to protect their clients.

I know it’s going to sound pretentious and arrogant, but I really hope writing is something I could make some kind of difference with.  Even with my plans for future novels, which will hopefully not be quite so heavy-going.  In the future I want to write Jewish fantasy/science fiction/historical novels that might encourage Jews to investigate their heritage more and make non-Jews more aware of Jewish history and the issues Jews have faced and still faced in non-Jewish societies.  This novel is heavier and more obviously “worthy” in that I’m trying to write about mental illness, autism and domestic violence in the frum community, where these things are not always discussed.  As the cliché goes, if even one person gets help or understands their situation from my writing, it will be worthwhile.  But first I have to write the thing!  But it does help with motivation, whereas I struggle with motivation for library jobs, even though they are also socially worthwhile, because I feel I’m just not making a difference; if anything, I worry I make things worse through messing stuff up at work.

“Time’s wingèd chariot hurrying near”

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

***

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Porcupines in Winter

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

***

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

***

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

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

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

Depression, Divrei Torah and Shopping in Partial Lockdown

I had a weird dream about my maternal grandparents last night.  They were doing decorating or something and then my grandma dropped dead (after doing a flip while dressed as a dog, rather improbably).  I had to call for an ambulance and for my Mum and somehow ended up locked out of the house and unable to unlock the front door while Muppets (actual Muppets, from The Muppet Show) crowded me and put me off.  It was a pretty weird dream, but I think it’s an attempt to process feelings about my parents’ mortality after Mum being ill on Sunday and her cancer in general (it was her parents in the dream).

Perhaps because of this, I felt pretty depressed on waking.  Or maybe I just did too much yesterday.  Plus, it was a fast day today in Judaism, one of the sadder days of the year, which always brings me down, even though I’m not allowed to fast on most of them any more because I’m on lithium.  I usually at least don’t brush my teeth on fast days as a small gesture, but I forgot and did that.  It’s hard to stay in the fast day state of mind when not actually fasting.  Similarly, in previous years I would have drunk just water today, but I drank tea and coffee and I doubt I would have got through the day easily without them.  The longer my depression goes on, the harder I find it to get into the mindset of the “sad” days of the Jewish calendar.  I guess I just feel that I’m depressed all the time and I’m struggling to get to normality even on a sadder day.

I did have depressed feelings about the future on waking.  The usual thoughts that I won’t ever get married, or probably even be in a relationship again, rooted in fears that I will not find another job, which seems to be necessary to find a girlfriend, and that I will  not get over the depression, which would also be good to get rid of before dating.  My unemployment may be fixable.  I hope it is, at any rate.  My depression I suspect is here to stay, on some level at least.

I wrote a lot more about this, but deleted it, as I don’t want to wallow in depression again.  I know I have made progress with the depression over the years and I’m certainly not as bad as I was circa 2003 to 2008 or even later, but it’s still a struggle and I don’t know what my improvement is down to, which makes me worry that I will relapse somehow.  Medication is certainly part of the improvement.  Maybe a certain amount of occupational therapy in terms of keeping active.  Psychotherapy has helped me understand myself a lot better and to deal with some short term problems, but I’m not sure it’s really helped me resolve much in the long term.  It is certainly helpful to talk to a therapist on a week-by-week basis to vent, but I’m not sure how much it helps in the long term.

***

Achievements: despite feeling very depressed, I spent two hours or so working on my novel, fairly absorbed and “in flow.”  I finished another chapter and did some reorganising of the plan for the last few chapters.  Once I started work, the depression feelings did subside quite a bit.  I am concerned that I don’t quite have enough plot left to generate the 13,000 or so words I need to make this acceptable even as a short novel.

I had to do some shopping and wanted to go further afield than I’ve been for a while.  There are basically two places to shop around here: a small parade of shops less than ten minutes’ walk away, and a big high street and shopping centre about fifteen or twenty minutes away.  I hadn’t gone further than the “less than ten minutes away” shops since lockdown started and felt I should push myself to go further, plus the thing I needed was more likely to be in the shops on the high street.

So, I set out.  The weather was horrible, but I saw it as exposure therapy as much as anything, as I’ve been worried about how I will adapt to “normal” post-lockdown life.  I wore a mask when I arrived at the shops, and then wore it home.  I was OK, albeit annoyed that it was often not possible to distance myself from other people as I would have liked.  I went into the Judaica shop too, which was a bit of a reward for getting down there, but I didn’t buy anything.  I still find masks uncomfortable.  I think I will still avoid the shops unless absolutely necessary, at least while Mum is immunosuppressed.

I also wrote my devar Torah (Torah thought) for the week.  I realised I’ve never really written about these here in detail.  These thoughts are short essays, typically 800 to 1,000 words on the week’s Torah reading.  I started writing them at the start of the Torah reading cycle last autumn, initially just to read aloud to my parents at the Shabbat (Sabbath) dinner table, but I now send them to a few friends and family too.  I do feel the pressure of the weekly deadline sometimes, but it can be quite a rewarding experience to think about the text, look at commentaries, and set out some ideas about it.

I’m slightly curious to look back over the ten months or so and see what themes emerge.  Even without doing that, I know there are some writers I quote a lot.  It’s pretty much inevitable that anyone writing on the Torah portion in the mainstream Jewish tradition is going to quote Rashi and Ramban (the two greatest Medieval Torah commentators) a lot.  More personal is my looking to the Kotzker Rebbe and (lehavdil bein chaim lechaim) Rabbi Lord Sacks a lot for inspiration.

One theme that I know has come up a lot, including this week, is the concept of individuality in Judaism, the idea that we all have a unique outlook on life and that this is, or should be, a theme of Jewish life over and above the conformist nature of a community.  The idea that God sees our individuality and that therefore we should strive ourselves to see and accept individuality, and that leaders in particular should do this.  I’m sure on some level it’s from feeling that I am not always accepted as an individual that I feel the need to stress these ideas, but that does not make them less valid or true.

***

From Sacred Fire: Torah from the Years of Fury 1939-1942 by Rabbi Kalonymus Kalmish Shapira, the Piaseczno Rebbe (emphasis added):

Moses was the most humble person ever to walk the earth.  He was constantly asking himself, “Who am I?  And how can I possibly… ?”  So God said to him, “It is not true that you are not fit, and it is not true that you have faults and blemishes, God forbid.  Your self-doubting is itself a form of worship, the type of worship that illuminates the world, coming as it does through a chain of causality from the name of God that is the future.”  It comes from the name of God, EHYE — “I will be.”  When a person feels that there is nothing worth looking at in his heart, but says, “I am nothing right now, but from now on I will try to be something,” his worship takes on the aspect of God’s Name, EHYE — I will be.  It draws out a reciprocal promise of EHYE — I will be.

Negativity and Meaning

I felt quite depressed again today.  Dad took Mum to her appointment with the surgeon and then for a socially distanced visit to my sister’s house, so I had the house to myself for a bit, which I like.  It’s nice to have personal space, not that we get in each others’ way very much (I’m usually in my bedroom, my parents in the lounge or office).  I did feel very depressed and lonely, trying not to catastrophise my thoughts about the future into complete despair (about marriage, children, having my writing “cancelled,” etc.).

I tried to work on my novel before therapy, but really I just wanted to cry.  I did, eventually get down to it and wrote quite a bit.  It was a violent scene, and although that was hard on one level, because domestic violence is pretty draining to write, I did find the actual writing flowed more than recently.  I definitely think that mainstream literary fiction is not 100% right for me (although I intend to finish the book) and I should be writing science fiction/fantasy adventure or something similar in the future.  It’s bits like that that have been easiest to write.

Therapy was difficult and very draining.  We spoke a lot about family and childhood.  Also about Mum’s illness and being increasingly conscious of my parents’ mortality.  I mentioned what Ashley has said about my having lots of “shoulds” and we worked a bit on finding alternative thoughts.  I don’t like replacing “should” with “could” because I feel I could do just about anything so saying, “I could do X” doesn’t help me make decisions, especially as it makes it hard to see how urgent or important a task is.  So we’re trying with phrases like “I would like to do this because…” or “This is in line with my values because…”  I like the latter, because sometimes I do things I don’t enjoy because it’s in line with my values e.g. prayer (which is not always enjoyable or uplifting, although it can be) and housework.  I’m also writing some questions to identify when I’m being self-critical e.g. “Is this my critical voice?” and “Would I talk to someone else like this?”

I often go for a walk after therapy, but I felt too tired today, especially as I knew I had shiur (religious class) later.  The shiur was on meaning, the last of three shiurim on the topic.  The first was on what meaning is; the second was on whether a person has to be religious to have meaning; and this one was on how can we make our lives more meaningful.  The shiurim were given by Dr Tamra Wright and Rabbi Dr Michael Harris.

The shiur this week was not so much a religious shiur as a talk on philosophy and positive psychology, but it was interesting.  Some points I took from it:

  • The optimal level for a meaningful element in your life is not always the maximal one.  In other words, if praying is meaningful for me, that doesn’t mean that praying 24/7 would be the most meaningful level of prayer.
  • Meaningful events/things can be small, not major life-changing things.
  • Recognising meaning or value that is already present is important.  Even increasing this recognition a little is good even without recognising the good perfectly.  (All of the above points taken from a book by the Israeli philosopher Iddo Landau.)
  • Writing a gratitude journal of things that went well and why they happened helps make life meaningful.  I already list things that I’m grateful for, but I don’t write it down or write why they happened.  Maybe I should change that.  Writing why they happened is supposed to show your agency more clearly.
  • One can have a flourishing, meaningful  life even without a cheerful disposition via pro-social emotions (e.g. compassion), engagement, relationships, a sense of something greater than me and achievement.
  • Spirituality is independent of religion (I knew that) and is “a sense of a close personal relationship to God (or nature or the universe or whatever term each person used for higher power) and a vital source of daily guidance. (From work by Lisa Miller)  This is associated with meaning.  I’m not sure how much I have this.  I struggle to feel a close personal relationship with God, although I believe in Him.  I suppose He is a source of daily guidance for me inasmuch as I try to live according to Jewish law and values, but I’m not sure that that was quite what was meant.
  • George Vaillant identified six tasks of adult development.  They’re too long to list here, but I’m not sure I’ve achieved any of them yet, maybe not even “identity” fully (separation from parents), which I should have managed by now.  The only one I might have achieved is “Becoming a keeper of the meaning – role of ‘wise judge’; impartial; conservation, preservation, passing on traditions.”  Because I’m more Jewishly observant and knowledgeable than my immediate family, they look to me for religious guidance.
  • Vaillant also says that self-worth is a dead end and meaning is found in thinking of ourselves less.  I find this hard.  I have noted my rather solipsistic self-absorption, which is perhaps partly from autism (after all, the name “autism” is about being self-contained), partly from social anxiety (not reaching out to others) and partly by temperament (tendency to ruminate).

Speaking of which, I did not really interact in the discussion because I was feeling too socially anxious.  Sigh.  I need to think about how to add some of those meaning-techniques to my life.

Walking Away from Omelas

Ashley pointed out yesterday that I use a lot of “shoulds.”  It’s hard to know what to do with that, other than to tell myself that I “shouldn’t” use them, which is just another “should.”  I always wonder how people without shoulds avoid being bad people and just acting hedonistically.  Donald Trump, for example, clearly does not have many “shoulds” in his brain, and I don’t want to end up like him.  Serial killers like Ted Bundy also come to mind.  Maybe there’s a model for people who don’t have “shoulds,” but who aren’t total narcissists or psychopaths.  I think Orthodox Judaism does involve a lot of “shoulds.”  Maybe I could talk to my rabbi mentor about this, but I’ve been avoiding him since I became worried (on slender evidence, I must admit) that I had upset him.

***

My fear that I’ve upset my rabbi mentor may be more evidence that my social anxiety has got worse during lockdown.  Obviously there’s social anxiety in the obvious sense of worrying about saying the wrong thing, but also there’s a feeling of inadequacy, that I can’t give people what they want.  I emailed some friends this week to try to work on my loneliness, and they emailed back, but I felt strong feelings of my not being “good enough” to deserve a response, in some vaguely-defined way.  That sounds like a grey area between social anxiety and low self-esteem.

***

I did a little work on my novel, but quickly became stuck.  I went for a walk and thought about what I was writing and decided to change my plans a bit, but I worry that this chapter is going to be short, and I was already worried that some of the later chapters are going to be short.  I hope I don’t run out of story before I reach the minimum word count.

***

Depressing thought for the day (non-mental health related): I saw a Tweet thread from a teacher who asked his students what side they would think of slavery if they had lived in the Antebellum South in the USA.  They said they would all be abolitionists.  He was trying to teach them that they probably would at least passively accept slavery, because they would have values and ethics conditioned by the society they lived in and would be wary of exposing themselves and their families to scorn, social ostracism and possibly violence by supporting radical minority opinions like abolitionism.  Although the thread did not say this, in fact, most European liberals in the 1860s wanted the South to win the Civil War, despite not even coming from slave-owning societies.  This was because the war was widely seen as being about a tyrannical central government restricting states’ rights, rather than about slavery.  Our perspective on the war (that it was a moral fight against slavery) is arguably simply the perspective of the victors, and not even all of them (even Lincoln spent the early part of the war insisting it was being fought to save the Union, not to end slavery).

One could pick many societies to play this game with e.g. Nazi Germany or the USSR.  There’s a famous story by Ursula K. Le Guin called The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas, about a utopian society called Omelas that exists in complete bliss for all, except that one small child must be kept in misery and degradation to prevent the society falling into anarchy.  Most people accept this; only a few are the titular ones who walk away from Omelas, preferring an uncertain future of exile to condoning such a situation.  (The idea is also found in Dostoyevski’s The Brothers Karamazov and William James.)

This is something I’ve often thought about.  How can I tell I’m not making morally wrong decisions or passively supporting immoral actions that are so “normal” that I don’t even think about them?  In fact, I probably am, on some level.  I’m semi-vegetarian (I only eat meat on Shabbat and Yom Tov (Sabbaths and festivals)) and I do think of going fully vegetarian or even vegan because industrial meat production is so cruel to animals (I don’t think eating meat is wrong per se, just that we should treat the animals more humanely before slaughter).  It’s a tough choice.  Then there’s the fact that a lot of our goods come from developing world countries where people are paid very little for their labour; in terms of cotton, there’s a real issue over actual slavery in some cotton-producing countries.  However, boycotting these countries would harm the poor of those countries much more than the rich and powerful, so how can we protest effectively?  Once you start thinking things through, it can be hard to know what workable solutions exist (unworkable solutions are much easier…  abolish this or that Bad Thing without wondering what the consequences will be).

I do have some minority beliefs that I would characterise as moral beliefs that most people disagree with (i.e. they see my unusual viewpoint as the immoral one, whereas I would see their dominant one as immoral, or at least mistaken), most of which I don’t talk about because I am conflict-avoidant.  I do sometimes wonder if I should “stand up and be counted” for them more.

It is scary to think that I am wrong about some of my core beliefs (I’m not talking just about ethical beliefs now, but general religious, political, social etc. beliefs), although doubtless I am.  It’s scarier to think that our society as a whole is wrong about major things and we’re all too close to see it.  I have often wondered what people will think of our society in a few decades’, or centuries’, time.  One wonders what statues our great-grandchildren will pull down.

On the other hand, it’s possible that I spend too much of my ruminating on unanswerable questions and expecting an impossible degree of moral perfection for myself…

“I Think It’s Going To Be A Long, Long Time”

I’ve been told in the past that I’m a very negative person, and I know it’s true.  I don’t think I complain as much as I used to, but I do feel very despairing about the future a lot of the time and that comes across when people try to help me or offer advice, particularly here.  I just feel like whenever someone suggests something to me that I could do to change my life, I’ve often done it before and it didn’t work.   I’ve been depressed for twenty years, I feel like I’ve tried most things.  Sometimes you have to keep trying something until it works, but it’s hard when it feels that nothing ever works.  Particularly when I sometimes feel like God is deliberately sabotaging everything I do for some mysterious purpose that I don’t even understand.

I told myself I would try to believe in myself more, but I don’t knowing how to do that.  How do you just start believing in yourself?  I don’t know how some people manage to reshape the world the way they want.

In terms of building a career as a writer, I’ve tried pitching article ideas to Jewish and geeky publications and sites in the past, but I haven’t found any interest so far.  I haven’t tried for some months, because I got disillusioned and then lockdown happened.  I don’t know if I’ve done it wrong or I just need to keep persevering or what.  I also need to send a copy of the book I self-published to Doctor Who Magazine to see if they will review it, or at least acknowledge it.

In terms of pitching articles, there aren’t that many Jewish sites or publications to try out for in the UK.  There are quite a lot of geeky ones, but my interest tends to be narrowly focused on Doctor Who and other classic British telefantasy; I don’t have much interest in gaming, superheroes or horror and even a lot of contemporary science fiction passes me by.  I know Doctor Who Magazine is being aimed at people half my age whose experience of the programme and fandom is very different to my own, so it doesn’t surprise me the editors don’t want me to write for it.  To be honest, I don’t look at much other fan stuff and I only glance at the Jewish papers.  I find them focused on cultural Jewishness more than religious Judaism and are at times hostile to Orthodox observance (we don’t get the Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) papers); I also find the quality of journalism and commentary poor in some of them lacking sometimes.  I’m wary of pitching to the Haredi newspapers because I don’t know them or their world, and I feel deeply uncomfortable writing for newspapers that won’t print pictures of women, which is the policy of most Haredi papers now, I think.

***

Trying to be positive about things, I’m trying hard not to get upset when I feel that my peers have achieved things and I have not, not to be upset when they get married and have children and so on.  I think I’ve improved in that area a little.  I am also trying to acknowledge and accept the Piaseczno Rebbe‘s (Rabbi Kalonymus Kalmish Shapira’s) idea in Sacred Fire that suffering does legitimate reduce our ability to pray and have faith in God and religious joy and not to beat myself up about lacking these things.

***

I couldn’t sleep last night.  I made two sleep hygiene mistakes that I thought I could get away with, but obviously couldn’t get away with one or the other or both.  One was that, after shiur (religious class), I needed “chill out”/decompression time in front of the TV just being passive, but I was wary of watching TV after 11pm in case it stopped me sleep, so I read instead, which was probably too active, intellectually, plus I made a bad choice of reading more of The Siege, which was full of depressing stuff about the Lebanese Civil War and Israel’s involvement in it.  I tried to balance this by eating ice cream as a treat for getting through shiur, but I suspect eating ice cream late at night wakes me up.  Whatever the reason, I was still awake at 2am.  I got up and ate porridge, the only way I can consume warm milk, as that helps me sleep, and watched Star Trek: Voyager.  I think I fell asleep around 3am.

***

I felt so depressed and self-critical after lunch today that I actually went back to bed and curled up in my duvet.  I had music on, but I think I drifted in and out of sleep for an hour or so (not because of not sleeping last night, as once I fell asleep, I slept for nine hours).  I felt very self-critical on getting up again, feeling I shouldn’t have gone back to bed and that I won’t do enough today as result.

I did eventually get up and force myself to do something.  As my weekly devar Torah (thought/essay on the weekly reading from the Five Books of Moses) has a looming deadline (tomorrow afternoon, to get it sent before Shabbat (the Sabbath) starts in Israel), I focused on that.  I was also aware I’d been apprehensive about it this week because I knew it would largely be a chiddush I had that I want to share.  A chiddush is an innovative interpretation of Torah.  This would seem to be paradoxical, as Torah is about revealed truth, not reasoned truth, but the idea is that the Torah is infinite, therefore there are always new interpretations to find.  (Admittedly that some people, mainly in the Haredi community, have an idea that all interpretations, including chiddushim, were revealed by God to Moses.)

However, I have noticed that, sociologically, people are very suspicious of chiddushim, particularly on aggadic (non-legal) passages.  While someone might feel very confident to give on an interpretation of a halakhic (legal) passage of Talmud in a chevruta or a shiur (paired study or class) and not mind if it’s new as long as it is well-reasoned, people rarely try to interpret aggadic passages, perhaps because there isn’t a clear “right” interpretation, unlike halakhic arguments.  I suspect this is related to the idea I have suggested in the past, that Jewish education for men is very “left-brain”/logical and not at all “right-brain”/creative.  Analysing halakhah is logical, but analysing narrative requires creativity and imagination.  This sociological situation is problematic for me as I’m a creative/associative thinker, not a logical one.  But I decided to stick an idea out there and see what happens.  I might even flag it up as a chiddush in my accompanying email and see what feedback I get.

***

I went for a run.  Halfway around it started raining, but I carried on.  My iPod has been telling me recently that my runs have been burning a lot of calories.  I’m not sure if that means I’m running faster or more consistently (not dropping into walking so much) or what.  So far I haven’t had an exercise migraine.  I think my mood did improve afterwards.

I did work on my novel for a bit after dinner and made a little progress, but gave up after a while as it was late and it clearly wasn’t going any further tonight.

***

I also felt upset and angry today that antisemitism seems to be so deeply embedded in parts of the far-left that an upswing of anti-racism protest and awareness actually leads to an increase of antisemitism, and that it’s largely been ignored by the mainstream media as it doesn’t fit their narrative.  But I don’t want to be political here, so I’ll move swiftly on…

***

I’m still worried about E., but convinced I shouldn’t contact her at the moment.  I wish we had a mutual friend so I could check she is OK.

***

Mum spoke to her oncologist.  The oncologist was OK with me going to shul (synagogue) services that are outside, but not inside, while Mum’s immunity is low.  I’m still wary, though.  I think the risk of rain and a move indoors is too high at the moment, plus I’m not convinced that my shul has the space to have thirty people in the small outside area available and still have good social distancing.  I am upset at missing my Talmud shiur though and worried about keeping up with them without knowing how far they got each week.

Self-Critical Thoughts and Studying Torah

I’ve been feeling drained again today, and more depressed than the last few days.  Although CBT has never worked well for my depression and self-esteem, I started monitoring my self-critical thoughts and feelings today, just out of curiosity, to see how many I had.  I had about eleven self-critical negative thoughts (including one sudden self-critical feeling without a clear thought).  Six were before lunch and three were while walking, whereas there weren’t any while I was working on my novel (not even “I’m a bad writer” thoughts) and only one while cooking dinner, which suggests that distraction works well for me.  “I hate myself” or variants thereof was the most common type of thought by a long way.

That seemed quite a lot of self-critical thoughts considering that I had thought that my depression is currently only an issue in the morning and not later.  In fact, nearly half of these self-critical thoughts occurred after lunch.  It is also surprising considering that I thought my self-esteem was better these days.  On the plus side, I suspect that even a few years ago I would have been having a lot more self-critical thoughts.  Eleven was fairly manageable.

That said, my mood was persistently low all day without obvious negative thought triggers.  This is probably why I’ve never found CBT helpful for depression or self-esteem.  I had anhedonia today too; I was snacking on fruit mid-afternoon and it just seemed… not nice, even though it wasn’t off.  It was quite uncomfortable and I had to force myself to eat it as I was hungry.

***

I’m still feeling lonely.  I had a whole long section here that was me speaking about being lonely and thinking I will be single forever because of my issues and where I live in the world (in terms of Jewish community), but I cut it because I’ve said it before and will probably say it again.  And I wasn’t even supposed to be thinking about this until I had a job or some kind of income.

And I miss E.  I can see it wasn’t going to work out, but I miss her as a friend as much as a girlfriend.  We used to text a lot during the days, at least until a couple of weeks before we broke up.  Part of me wants to text again, but I’m worried about getting sucked back into a relationship.  I’ve always told myself not to get into on/off relationship situations.  I told myself not even to think about contacting E. until after my birthday (another three weeks away) to try to get over her.  But I wish I had someone to message with.

***

This article deals a bit with the question I have about how much Torah study I should do.  It notes that, theoretically, every adult Jewish man should spend every free moment studying Torah; the reality is that very few people could do that.  The article notes that “I suspect that expectations are very much a factor of one’s personal level of Torah accomplishment.”

The problem is I don’t know how much Torah study is right for me.  When I’m spending two hours writing a day and nine or ten hours sleeping a night (really) and an hour or two watching TV and reading (largely during meals, to be fair) and goodness knows how long procrastinating, doing thirty minutes to an hour of Torah study a day seems minimal… but it often does feel that I can’t do more.  It sounds strange, but an hour of writing for me is often easier than an hour of Torah study, even before you factor in energy levels that are lower than normal and sink faster than normal because of depression.  Plus, I see writing as the nearest thing to earning a livelihood in my life at the moment, in that I hope to be able to get my novel finished and published and earn royalties from it, so it seems important.  Today I was exhausted by dinner time and doing any Torah study at all seemed almost impossible.

Incidentally, that article mentions Rabbi Nehorai’s comment in Sanhedrin 99a which is the basis for the later literature, but does not quote it.  I looked it up and it says, “Rabbi Nehorai says: Anyone for whom it is possible to engage in Torah study and who nevertheless does not engage in its study is included in the category of: “Because he has despised the word of the Lord.”” (From the Koren Noé Talmud edition on Sefaria; bold text is literal translation, non-bold text is contextual explanation).  This makes it sound like a lot would depend on what “possible” means for any given person, in terms of time, energy and so on.

***

Achievements: I spent an hour and ten minutes proofreading the chapter I finished yesterday.  I’m more happy with it than I was, but I still think a section will have to be reworked significantly in redrafting.  I cooked dinner and went for a walk.

Torah study was hard, as I mentioned.  I thought doing it after dinner would be easier, as I would be refreshed, but I felt depressed and exhausted and my brain was just not working.  I spent fifteen minutes reading Tehillim (Psalms) in Hebrew and that was it.  I wanted to read some of Sacred Fire, but my brain was just not functioning any more.

That was it for today, really.  I just felt too exhausted and depressed to do much after that and watched TV, a Star Trek Voyager episode about depression and self-harm (Extreme Risk) that established the situation quite well, but resolved it far, far too easily, and the Doctor Who episode Time Heist to try to cheer myself up.

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.

Trying Not to Wallow

I’m trying not to wallow in loneliness and despair today.  I had some blog comments last night that I saw when I put on my computer this morning that cheered me up.  I’m grateful to everyone who comments – I appreciate comments a lot, even “I-don’t-know-what-to-say-so-hugs”-type comments.  It’s good to know that I’m not alone and that people are reading.  I usually forget to “like” comments, because I focus on replying to them, but it doesn’t mean I don’t value them.  I am trying to remember to “like” them more.

***

Today’s achievements: I finished and sent the job application I started yesterday (that took about fifty minutes).  I don’t think I’ll get the job, and I’m not sure if I want it, because it’s full-time and I don’t think I can cope with that.  It is also potentially at high risk of infection from COVID or other illnesses and I’m not sure that’s a good idea while Mum’s immune system is suppressed.

I spent a while working on my novel, writing 600 words in one hour or so.  I worry that it is possibly turning into the most boring novel ever written.  The part that is based on my own life feels constrained by what happened to me.  I have fictionalised a lot of details, but it still feels lifeless.  The main character is irritating (although this may be my self-loathing speaking, as he’s based on me).  I have a female protagonist who is too passive and boring.  The supporting characters are featureless and barely appear.  The writing lacks zest.  The whole thing is humourless.  I have a lot to fix in future drafts.

I don’t think I’m really cut out for writing “serious” literary fiction, which is what this is trying to be.  I want to pursue my ideas about time-travel and monsters, and historical figures like Shabbatai Tzvi and Jack the Ripper, but I also want to finish one project before I start a new one, so I’m tied to this novel for now, until I finish it or find it totally unworkable.  I also worry whether I could write prolonged fiction without the “scaffolding” of writing about my own experiences to provide some structure for the story.

As well as writing and applying for a job, I also cooked dinner (vegetable curry), which took longer than I would have liked and, for complicated reasons, made me think about E.  I think I made the right decision to break up with her, but I miss her as my friend as well as thinking that I won’t manage to find anyone else willing to see past my issues and baggage.  I might stay friends, after a break, but I’m worried we’ll drift back into dating in a crazy on-off relationship, which would be a very bad idea.

Since I was eighteen or so, I’ve usually had one close female friend, usually platonic and generally an email- or text-based friendship.  Sometimes I’ve wanted that friend to be my girlfriend (and for a few short periods that was the case), but that was usually disastrous.  Things have been better when the friend is safely off-limits, due to not being Jewish or being significantly older than me.  Then she is someone I can turn to for emotional support and practical advice, particularly about interpersonal stuff that I struggle with because of autism.

I guess I have a vacancy at the moment, but I can’t really see myself pursuing even platonic female friendship at the moment (even if I knew someone to befriend), partly because of the risk of it turning into something more, partly because I feel disinclined to open up to anyone at the moment.  Plus, most of those friendships ended badly, often because of me.  So I should resign myself to being alone.  I wish I did have someone to text during the day, though.

After dinner I went for a half-hour walk.  I ended up feeling morose.  I was on edge from watching Ashes to Ashes while eating dinner.  It was a good episode, but violent and bleak and left me feeling on edge and wary of something awful happening to me, even though it was broad daylight and there were still people around.  I thought about Ashley’s post for today, and whether I will ever be happy.  I feel that I probably won’t be happy, and I’m onto worrying about whether I will be comfortable.  I worry about being alone when my parents die.  I wouldn’t want to impose on my sister and brother-in-law by moving in with them.  I worry about dying alone, in pain, without dignity (possibly in my own excrement, like Stalin).  Will I be OK financially?  Will anyone still care about me?  It’s scary.

Even if I did somehow find meaning and happiness, would I just feel guilty?  A kind of survivor syndrome that I turned my life around when so many others can’t?  I already feel vaguely guilty that my childhood was not awful and abusive (even though I was bullied at school, and adolescence was rather lonely and miserable), given how many abuse survivors I’ve come across in the mental health community.

After the walk, I tried to “snap out” of my moroseness (which never works) and do some Torah study, as I had been too busy to do any earlier.  I was tired and depressed and my room is very hot and uncomfortable, so I didn’t get very far.  I spent nearly fifteen minutes on a mishnah which I felt that the Artscroll commentary made more difficult than it needed to be (I feel they do this a lot).  I had a look at ideas for my devar Torah for twenty minutes or more, which was a bit more fruitful, until my brain gave up with heat and fatigue, but I need to do a lot more work on it.  My divrei Torah have not come easily lately, which is frustrating.

The Wild Pomegranite quoted Rebbe Nachman of Breslov:

“Sometimes a person’s goals and desire for holiness are beyond his capabilities. Therefore, he must control himself. He must limit his yearnings and fulfill – simply – whatever service to God he is capable of in that moment. Then he must pray to be led on the proper path for his level by serving God with joy and simplicity.” (Likutei Halakhot, Bet Knesset 5:24)

I feel this describes me.  I want to move to higher levels of holiness in terms of kavannah (mindfulness) in prayer and mitzvot (commandments), more and deeper Torah study, doing some kind of meaningful work (ideally writing), and marrying and having children, but these are beyond my capabilities at the moment, which is frustrating for me.  It is difficult and frustrating to accept being at a much more “basic” level of service, especially as I’m only vaguely aware of what exactly that would entails.  Nevertheless, it is where I am.

It reminded me of this quote also from Rebbe Nachman that I’ve blogged before:

The main thing is this: It is forbidden to despair!  Even a simple man who cannot study at all, or one who finds himself in a place where he is unable to study, or the like, should in his very simplicity be strong in worship and in the fear of God…  Even he who stands on the very bottom rung, God forbid, or in the very depths of hell, may God protect us, should nevertheless not despair.  He should fulfil the Scripture: ‘Out of the belly of the deep I cried’ (Jonah 2:3), and be as strong as he can.  Even he will be able to return and receive the Torah’s sustenance, by means of the zaddiq [saintly person].  The main thing is to strengthen yourself whatever way you can, no matter how far you have fallen.  If you hold on even just the slightest bit, there is yet hope that you will return to God. (quoted in Arthur Green Tormented Master: The Life and Spiritual Quest of Rabbi Nahman of Bratslav  p. 264)

I wrote these paragraphs earlier in the post, above the paragraphs about today.  I cut and pasted them here to end the post on a positive note.  It feels vaguely wrong.  I feel I should try to be positive, but it seems dishonest to end on a positive note that I don’t feel.  The “happiness is a choice” people would say to cut and paste and it will make me happier.  I think happiness is not always a choice, and rearranging things does not always help.  Some people are just in pain, and are going to stay in pain, and there isn’t much they can do about it.  But I also want to acknowledge that even in pain, there can be hope.  Whichever one I finish on – pain or hope – will be stressed more.  Concluding on something is taking a stand in favour of it.  But I see the two, pain and hope, at the same time (like duck/rabbit illusion).  Pain/hope.  Hope/pain.  Pain/hope/pain/hope/pain/hope/pain/hope/pain/hope/pain/hope/pain/hope/pain/hope/pain/hope/pain/hope/pain/hope/pain/hope/pain/hope/pain/hope/pain/hope/pain/hope/pain/hope/pain/hope/pain/hope/pain/hope/pain/hope/pain/hope/pain/hope/pain/hope/pain/hope/pain/hope/pain/hope/pain/hope/pain/hope/pain/hope/pain/hope/pain/hope/pain/hope/pain/hope/pain/hope/pain/hope/pain/hope/pain/hope/pain/hope/pain/hope/pain/hope…

“It’s so bittersweet now/When you know what you lost”

Title quote: Donnie by Ace of Base

This morning I started thinking about my birthday, which is in a month, which led on to thinking about the last five years.  Whether things have changed a lot or a little, for better or for worse, to try and work out the odds of the next five years changing substantially for the better.  We moved to this house, and this community, almost exactly five years ago, in the summer of 2015, so it’s a useful cut-off point.  At the time I was in the midst of deep depression and also religious OCD (itself at least partly caused by the house move) and I didn’t really want to move, but I was vaguely hopeful of making a new start in a frummer (more religious) community.  I had vague hopes of making friends and finding a spouse.

My depression was not initially affected by moving.  It probably has been better since going on clomipramine in late 2017, although it’s still present, mostly just in mornings now, but occasionally during the day or on mental health days.  My social anxiety is almost as bad as it used to be, despite having CBT last year.  My religious OCD is a lot better though, thanks to exposure therapy a few years ago, which is good – probably the biggest positive psychological change since moving.  I have gone to various support groups since moving, which has also helped a bit, plus I’ve been in and out of various therapies with various degrees of success.  I’ve been screened for autism and found out that I’m probably on the spectrum, but I’m still waiting for a formal diagnosis, and every new month in lockdown only pushes that further away.

I was working part-time when we moved.  Since then I’ve had four more jobs.  Only one was really a potential long-term career-type job, rather than a short contract.  I felt I messed up that job and left when they wanted to change the job description to something that I felt would give me more social anxiety, especially as I felt my boss had made clear that she didn’t have confidence in my ability to do the job properly.  That was probably a big mistake, though, as I’ve struggled to find permanent work since then.  I’ve largely lost faith in my ability to do a librarian-type job, as well as discovering that my autism stops me doing regular office work, so I feel useless and unemployable.

I wrote my non-fiction Doctor Who book (partly based on material going back to 2012 or so, but with a lot of new research done in the last five years) and self-published it after failing to interest any publishers in it.  I’m also working on a novel.

When we moved to this area, I initially went to a Modern Orthodox shul (synagogue) with my parents, but I felt swamped by the large numbers of people, I didn’t like the chazan (cantor) and choir, and I felt no one spoke to me other than my parents’ friends, so I switched to another shul, more Haredi (ultra-Orthodox), but smaller and friendlier.  I did feel like an outsider at times because I am more Modern and not so Haredi.  I was slowly beginning to feel a part of that shul when lockdown happened.

Before lockdown I was still struggling to get to shul, especially considering I was going to two or three services a day before we moved.  I feel that my current shul is too Haredi in outlook and I have to hide aspects of myself, but I don’t have an alternative.  I used to lead services and give drashas (religious talks) in my old shul, but haven’t had the confidence to do that much in the new one.  I feel like the least religious person in the shul.

I do write my weekly devar Torah (Torah thought) now which I sort of enjoy.  I send it to various people, although only two from my shul.  I don’t feel I’ve grown religiously in the last five years and in some ways am probably less religious than I used to be.

I did for a while move out of my parents’ home when I was in a nearer-to-full-time job and had more money.  That was good for my independence, but lonely at times.  I used to go home for Shabbat (the Sabbath) anyway.  I’m glad I moved back in with my parents long before lockdown started.

My social life has been as insignificant as ever.  I’ve made some friends over the last few years, mostly online, but I’ve lost a lot too, which is partly my fault.  I feel bad about that, although some were probably disasters waiting to happen.  People with mental health issues probably understand me more than most people, but putting lots of people with mental health issues together is probably a recipe for Drama with a capital ‘D’.

I’ve dated five (I think) women in the last five years, plus someone tried to set me up on a further shidduch date (arranged blind date) which didn’t happen because the woman went super-Haredi and started doing lots of background checks on me and perhaps found something she didn’t like; at any rate, she did not communicate and eventually I gave up.  The three shidduch dates I really did go own were not great, usually due to lack of shared interests and values, and one had a problem with my mental health issues.  (One of the dates was with a “real” matchmaking agency, two were set up by friends or friends-of-friends.)

I had another go at online dating, but didn’t get much of a response, except for one person who I ruled out because I felt she was dishonest (no, I’m not going into details).  Maybe that was a mistake too.

I had one nearly-girlfriend (a friend of my sister’s who I asked out).  We only went on four dates, but we texted between them a lot as she was out of the country.  That seemed to be going well, but we weren’t really that similar and she didn’t like my indecision and social anxiety.

Then I dated E., who seemed almost ideal for a while, but then wasn’t right for me.  I think I’ve posted enough about that recently to avoid the need for further elaboration.

Given that my experience with shidduch dates was so awful, not to mention limited (three in five years), I’m not hopeful for finding someone in the frum community in the future, given that shidduch dating is the normal way of dating there (I haven’t seen solid evidence, but anecdotal and semi-scientific evidence suggests most frum people meet their spouses through informally-arranged dates via friends and family, not professional matchmakers/agencies).  I wouldn’t ask out any more of my sister’s friends, partly as the others aren’t frum enough, partly as most of them are married now, partly as I don’t think my sister approved.  I do vaguely feel I should try online dating again, but it was a massive drain on my income for minimal response, so it’s hard to justify it.  I did find myself looking on one site briefly today though.

E. just dropped out of the sky and found me, which is unlikely to happen again, but is sadly the most likely way I could meet someone.

Overall there are some positives in the last five years: I’ve held down some jobs, sometimes, working four days a week even when very depressed, as part of a team and using my librarian skills as well as some (admittedly limited) ability to deal with problems and queries on the spot.  I dealt with my OCD and my depression is somewhat better.  I wrote my Doctor Who non-fiction book.  I’ve found shul that is a slightly better fit than the previous one and felt like I was beginning to fit in.  I write my devar Torah.  I lived alone for a while successfully.  I made a few friends and successfully dated E. for a while which at least exercised my relationship muscles and showed me that I can still be kind and compassionate and to listen.

On the downside, my depression and social anxiety are still present.  I don’t feel I’ve grown religiously and feel in some ways like I’ve gone backwards.  I’ve done badly in a couple of my jobs.  I couldn’t find a publisher for my book.  My shul is far from being a perfect fit.  I lost about as many friends as I gained, partly through my own fault.  Most of my dating experiences were negative and none worked out in the long-term.  I felt like I did prove that I could still be “present” and emotionally supportive in a relationship, but I also proved that I lack what lots of women seem to look for (stability, confidence, the ability to support a family, having “normal” interests and hobbies).

I spoke about some of this unemployment angst and dating angst in therapy.  The therapist said to reframe my experiences to try to focus on positives from them and things I can be curious about rather than negatives and self-criticism.  This is hard.  While there are some positives, as I noted above, there are lots of negatives too and little about this analysis really makes me feel optimistic for the future, except being able to cope practically and psychologically with living alone and also the improvement in my mood since being on clomipramine.

***

Filling in a job application reminds me of how long I’ve been out of work, how hard I’m finding it to find a suitable job, how badly I’ve fared in so many of my jobs, how out of place and incompetent I feel in the “real world” so much of the time…  It’s not a good feeling.  I just feel so useless.  I don’t have a lot of the skills and experience they want.  This often happens to me.  I haven’t managed my career and CPD well enough.  I just feel like a useless librarian (also a useless person, son, brother, friend, etc.).

Also, they wanted job references.  OK, that’s normal.  But they want character references to cover periods of unemployment.  Because I might be normal when in work, but turn into a psychopath when unemployed, presumably.  Do they think I’m Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde?

***

Today’s achievements: an hour and a half or so working on the job application, plus therapy and shiur (religious class, although it was more of a philosophy class, or at least philosophy of religion – are God and religion needed for meaning?).  I felt a bit ill after therapy and I knew I wanted to feel better for shiur, so I didn’t go for a walk after therapy as I usually do.  Because shiur was philosophy as much as Torah, I wanted to do some additional Torah study, but after five minutes reading Sacred Fire decided I was too tired.  No time to work on the novel today because of job application, therapy and shiur.

The Cat Who Walked By Himself

I feel like I’ve become rather misanthropic lately.  That without consciously choosing to do so, I’m retreating into a sulk.  Lockdown is being eased, but I want to stay in my room.  I see myself as too scared to try dating again, and I’m worried that one day I will not feel like that and I’ll get hurt again, as I always do.  Perhaps “fortunately” I see no point in trying to date while my financial position is so negative, and I see little chance of that changing any time soon.

As I’ve said before, consciously I say I want love, but deep down, what I unconsciously need is to accept that depression and autism mean that my life is going to be different to other people’s, that I will probably never be financially self-sufficient and that I will almost certainly not get successfully paired off, as well as never having many friends or fitting in to a community.  If I could accept that most of my life is going to be miserable, perhaps I could enjoy parts of it.  But I keep getting my hopes up that I can beat the odds, somehow, and then I get disappointed and hurt all over again.  Silly boy.

***

I’m still feeling super-lonely.  I feel sexually and romantically frustrated (is “romantically frustrated” a thing?  I want to love someone), but I’m lonely in a wider sense too.  I’m thinking about (not) fitting in, one of the well-worn themes of my inner monologue, let alone this blog.

I mostly don’t say anything about my mental health or autism away from this blog and similar blogs.  It’s just easier than dealing with embarrassment, confusion and sometimes stigma.  It’s easier to let people think I’m unusually dysfunctional than to admit what the issue is.

I don’t say much about my religion or politics either.  I worry that my religious and political views are sufficiently idiosyncratic to put off everyone who knows them, so I keep them fairly private.

I don’t mind talking about religion here, but I’m not sure why.  I suppose I don’t go into details about theology here, just say what “weird” stuff I do and how it affects me emotionally.  Sometimes strangers see that I’m Jewish and ask me questions in the street.  Strangely, I’m kind of OK with that.  At least they’re curious, not belligerent (I’ve had belligerence too, and attempted proselytisation).  The Jewish population of the UK is sufficiently small that it’s doubtful whether many people have ever met a Jew in many parts of the country, let alone a frum one, although in London that’s less likely.

I don’t like to pin down my views when talking to other religious Jews.  As Rabbi Lord Sacks said, Modern Orthodox Jews are a minority of a minority of a minority (Jews are about 0.02% of the world population; Orthodox Jews are about 10% of Jews; Modern Orthodox Jews are a small percentage  of Orthodox Jews).  I know I’m more “modern” in many ways than most frum (religious Orthodox) Jews.  Actually, I avoid talking about religion outside the community too, for fear of scorn from militant atheists, but sometimes I have to bring the subject up (usually at work) to ask for special dispensation e.g. not eating the same food as everyone else, leaving early on Fridays in the winter etc.

I don’t talk about my politics with anyone at all.  I talk politics a little bit with my parents, but somewhat abstractly.  They don’t know how I vote (which assumes I vote consistently…).  I don’t really fit with any party and I’m not sure that any ideology is an adequate model of a complex reality.  I dislike most politicians and activists these days.

I don’t like the current political atmosphere.  Too violent and opinionated on all sides; also pretentious.  “The best lack all conviction, while the worst/Are full of passionate intensity.”

My chosen professional sector is often more radical than I am (unsurprisingly, as most members are working in the public sector).  I know a lot of my friends, particularly my online friends, wouldn’t agree with me if they knew my views.  I left an autism WhatsApp group a while back because they were criticising a particular type of political viewpoint without it apparently occurring to them that people like that could be on the list, let alone that they might pass as “normal” people.

I get very angry about antisemitism, but mostly don’t say anything about that either, because it feels like almost no one outside the Jewish community really understands or cares, or is willing to listen.

I don’t like identity politics, which I find aggressive.  I prefer existentialist encounter and dialogue.

I just try to be kind and non-judgmental, and to really listen to people.

I change my mind quite a bit.  I like reading new ideas, if they’re argued well, and I try to be open-minded about things.  I get the impression that most people don’t do that.

I don’t mind having friends who have different views, but my experience is that fewer and fewer people are willing to do that (see here for the way acceptance of inter-political (progressive + conservative) marriage has declined even as acceptance for inter-racial and same-sex marriage has grown).  These days people seem to just want to hate people who are different (often in the name diversity, ironically) and mute or unfriend people with different views.  I just keep my head down and try to avoid arguments.  Life’s easier that way, but lonelier and scarier: I don’t feel accepted for who I am and I worry about slipping up and being rejected.  I sometimes wonder how many of my friends (particularly online) would ditch me if they knew what I really think about some things.

I do feel that there’s no one like me: religiously, politically, psychologically.  It was a relief to meet E., who was like me in many ways even if she wasn’t religious.  (Maybe we were too much alike; probably we were both too unstable.)

***

Today I just feel unlovable and unacceptable to anyone I might want to befriend me, date me or employ me.  I feel utterly useless in any context.  The only thing I feel vaguely good at is writing, and I don’t feel great at that.  I’ve certainly struggled to get paid for anything I’ve written.  It’s a long time since I’ve felt good at my job as a librarian, and I only intermittently see myself as a good son, brother, friend or good boyfriend/husband material.

***

Today’s achievements: a couple of library jobs have come up.  I’m was going to apply for both even though both are full-time, short-term jobs (both are maternity cover), where I really want a part-time, long-term job.  I would go for part-time short-term, but I’m not sure whether I would take a full-time job.  I don’t think I could cope, even for nine months.  If I got offered the job, I would probably ask to job share.

I spent twenty minutes trying to navigate a badly-designed website to apply for one job, only to eventually be told that it was open to internal candidates only.  (Then why was it advertised publicly?  I suspect it has to be, legally.)

With the other job I think there would be higher risk of COVID – or any infectious illness – for reasons I won’t go into here, and we’re still supposed to be shielding Mum who will have reduced immunity for some more months.  It is in any case a high stress, full-time job on multiple sites that could involve long travel times.  I really don’t feel I could do either job, but I feel under pressure (from myself as well as other people) to apply for whatever jobs are available, which at the moment is not many.  I would rather be working on my novel…

I’m not sure how long I spent dealing with job applications in total, but I didn’t actually write much of an application.  I just looked at job descriptions etc.

I did forty-five minutes Torah study, reading this week’s Torah portion, but I didn’t get much out of it and felt very stressed while I was doing it.  I would have liked to have done more, but did not have the time or energy.

I went for a thirty-five minute run; my pace was better than it has been for a while.  I didn’t get a migraine even though it was hot out; thank Heaven for small mercies.

I wanted to work on my novel after dinner, but I was too tired.  I realise that as we come out of lockdown, job applications are going to encroach on my writing time more and more.

We had a family Zoom meeting, me, my parents, my sister and brother-in-law and my aunt and uncle from Israel.  I hardly said anything again.  I’m pretty quiet even in in-person meetings, but on Zoom I just clam up completely.

***

I’ve made my blog find-able on search engines again.  My reasons for making it hidden (that I worried that I was saying too much about other people who might be identifiable) seemed less realistic, and so many people were finding it through my comments elsewhere on the blogosphere that it didn’t seem such an issue any more.  I thought about adding a contact form again so people can email me, but I’m more reluctant to do that.  I’ve made a couple of good friends through having that in the past (and ended up going out with E.), but I had a bad experience with it recently (not E.) and don’t know if I should do it again.

Of course, a few hours on and I already think it was a bad idea to make my blog fina-able and that I should switch it back to hidden again.  I can flip back and forth indefinitely, and probably will.

Staying Jewish, But Staying Lonely

I had a comment conversation on an old post the other day in the course of which I noted that in my experience, frum (religious Orthodox Jewish) people with mental health issues tend not to stay frum.  The person I was talking to agreed.  That is, on one level, an indictment of the frum community and its treatment of mental health issues, which are not really addressed meaningfully a lot of the time and can even be ignored by sufferers and their families as something damaging to shidduch (dating) chances, for the sufferer or their family.

Nevertheless, I was thinking on a personal level, about how I have tried to stay frum all these years as I’ve seen my peers go on to very different lives (community, careers, marriage, children) while I’m stuck in the same difficult situation.  This is, I suppose, a positive achievement on my part, but I struggle to see it as such.  I keep thinking that I should be doing better: more davening (prayer) with better kavannah (mindfulness), more Torah study and of a higher standard (more Talmud, basically), more kavannah on mitzvot, and working harder on my middot (character traits) especially having a strong connection to HaShem (God).  It’s hard to admit that I’ve been struggling hard and not giving up even though the temptation at time has been overwhelming, particularly when my religious OCD was at its height a few years ago and again this year when I’ve been feeling very distanced from HaShem and Judaism as well as from the community.

As I say, it is hard to give myself praise for that; much easier to criticise myself for not being good enough, to think that if I was a good enough Jew, I would do all those things despite being very depressed, or that just thinking about the concept of God would comfort me.  As it is, I worry that one day it will all be too hard for me and I will “go off the derekh” (literally “go off the path,” a horrible frum expression for stopping being frum).  Sometimes it just seems too hard, especially as I’m aware that my dating chances would be vastly improved if I wasn’t limiting myself to just the frum community or even just the Jewish community (the Jewish community worldwide is about fourteen million, one of the smaller religions.  I haven’t seen statistics for the frum community globally.  In the USA it’s about 10% of the total Jewish population; it’s probably a bit more elsewhere, especially Israel, but still probably no more than about 15%, so maybe about one to two million people).  Of course, much of the frum community would not consider me frum enough to marry them/their daughters, so that limits it even further.

Looking over what I’ve written, it’s strange how thinking about my standing religiously and with regard to the frum community always ends up as a discussion about marriage and loneliness.  I suppose it’s an indication of how lonely I feel generally and how hard it feels to gain acceptance to the frum community without a spouse.  So much of Jewish life revolves around family – family and community, but community centres around family.

There is the issue of God and loneliness which I have been thinking about lately too.  In The Lonely Man of Faith, Rav Soloveitchik writes about loneliness as an essential part of the human condition and the basis of the “covenantal community” which includes God as well as other people.  He is writing primarily about existential loneliness, about the alone-ness that comes from being an individual with unique thoughts and perspectives, rather than just being single and having few friends.

There is a concept of the Shekhinah, the Divine Presence (the feminine aspect of God), that is present over a sick person’s bed.  I’m not sure if that applies to mental illness (it’s talking about someone bed-bound).  Likewise it is said that the Shekhinah followed the Jews into exile and that She can be present in a marriage if a couple are worthy, but I’m not sure there is anything about Her being present to the lonely.  (I think I can accept God as loving more easily as She than He and I’m not sure why.)

***

I tried to work on my novel today, but I found it hard to concentrate.  I tried for about an hour and wrote less than 300 words.  It’s always hard to write on Fridays for some reason, even in the summer when Shabbat (the Sabbath) starts late, giving me more time.  I was feeling very lonely, wondering when (or, more likely, if) I will be well enough and earning enough to date, and especially wondering if I will ever find someone on the right religious level who can look past all my “issues” and see that I do have some things to offer in a relationship.  It all seems very unlikely, and I looked online endlessly for stuff about mental health and shidduchim.  I’m not sure what I wanted.  Maybe something to say I will get married, or conversely that I won’t get married, just something clear that would end the painful uncertainty.  I found it all very unlikely.

I am very lonely and that’s unlikely to change any time soon.  It’s been my default position since I was a teenager.  I don’t know why it’s so hard for me to accept that.  Unsurprisingly, this has been making me feel more depressed.

***

I dreamt about my novel last night, not the one I’m currently writing, but the vague (slightly more than vague) idea for the next one.  It possibly helped me out on a plot point, although I’m not sure yet.   It’s weird to have characters I’ve created permeate my subconscious almost before I’ve set pen to paper (I’ve written a few notes).  I guess it’s a good sign.

Not Waving, But Drowning

I spent today feeling a mixture of depression and anxiety about myself and the world.  Also a lot of loneliness.  I feel very lonely lately, despite living with my parents.  I feel like I’m going insane and I don’t know why.  I feel like I have done everything I “should” do to try to make friends, in person and online, and it never works.  We spoke about this a bit in therapy today, that it feels like I try to make friends and fail.  Then I get sucked into a downward spiral of self-recrimination, loneliness, social anxiety and depression, which makes it hard to even try to come out of the lonely-depressive spiral.

***

I thought about 1990s TV science fiction epic Babylon 5 and the questions posed by the series’ two ancient alien races: “Who are you?” (The Vorlon Question) and “What do you want?” (The Shadow Question).  I’m vague about who I am.  I just have vague impressions: curious, honest, non-judgmental.  As for what I want…  Money?  No.  Power?  No.  Status and fame?  No and no.  Sex?  Closer, but no.  Love?  Almost.  Acceptance?  I think that’s it.  I tell myself I want to be accepted by other people and beat myself up for not being accepted, when I really needed to accept myself.  The problem is that I don’t know how I learn to accept myself.   How does one suddenly do that?  CBT has not helped here.  I don’t feel that I’m a particularly good person.

***

I feel like I’m drowning in a world that is too complex for me to understand and live in.  I can’t bear the news, but I don’t know how I can change things or what to change.  People probably think I am part of one problem or another; goodness knows I’m not part of anyone’s solution, let alone having a solution of my own.

***
Sometimes I get in a situation where I’m counting down the hours from one therapy session to the next, because I want to go back and talk again.  In the hope I can find an answer.  But it’s time that brings the answers.  I’m just whirled around by the currents.

My Spiritual Overdraft

Last night, after I posted, I started feeling very depressed.  I hoped sleeping would help, but the depression has stayed with me since waking up today.  Last night I felt like big and small things are mixed together, as are my problems and those of the world, and it’s hard to distinguish them.  Very trivial things, like the fact that I’m accidentally reading the books in a Batman story arc in the wrong order, are mixed up with bigger things, like guilt for things I’ve done and with things going on in the world, like the riots in America.  Everything got mixed together.  Today it’s mostly settled down as a general sense of depression and perhaps loneliness.

Lately I’ve been trying to just sit with my negative thoughts rather than either fight them or wallow in them, but it’s hard.  It’s hard to even remember to do it, as it’s not how I am accustomed to treating these thoughts, and it’s certainly hard to do.

It’s one of those days when I’m not happy being myself, where I just feel guilty about everything I’ve ever done, I feel that everything was stupid or wrong and wonder why I can’t just act like a normal person.  Maybe a normal person would do the same things, but just not feel guilty.  I’m “shoulding” myself a lot, beating myself up for things I do, or don’t do.

It doesn’t help that stuff in the news makes me think that, as much structural problems in the economy or society, violence can be rooted in small acts of thoughtlessness that are treated as normal and not serious, like gossiping and losing one’s temper with close family (it’s not particularly politically correct to think like this.  Much easier to criticise Those People or That System instead).  I do these things, but I think they normalise selfishness, reduce empathy and create a bad atmosphere in society, although I’m hazy on how that leads to major things like murder and abuse.  They do seem serious to me.  Maybe I overthink things.

***

I did about half an hour of Torah study today.  I couldn’t really do more because of therapy and being exhausted from therapy afterwards.  Some of my reading was stuff online that made me feel that I’m a bad Jew.  This was on a website written by a rabbi who has become very popular writing about spirituality and personal growth, the areas where I feel lacking, so I hoped it might help.  However, it left me feeling that I don’t connect strongly and emotionally with God.  Well, I already knew that.  I don’t know how to become more spiritually developed and connect with God when I feel so depressed.  A rabbi I spoke to about this said I won’t be able to connect spiritually and feel spiritual joy until I’m over the depression, but in recent years the idea of not being depressed seems unlikely; I’m just trying to manage my mental illnesses.   I also don’t know how to connect with God and Judaism when so much of the frum (religious Orthodox Jewish) community seems opposed to people like me, at least the parts of it available for me to connect to.  Sometimes I wonder what is keeping me frum.  It can be hard to tell sometimes.

I possibly didn’t give the rabbi’s site a good enough chance, I felt uncomfortable with some sweeping statements he made and that prejudiced me against the gist of his writing.

Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz says somewhere something I would never dare to say, that the experience of many ba’alei teshuva (Jews raised non-religious who became religious later on) is like someone who married a wonderful person i.e. God, but who came along with a terrible family i.e. other Jews (Rav Steinsaltz is himself a ba’al teshuva).  I don’t think all frum Jews are bad people, far from it, but lately I feel stifled by the frum community and its attitudes and I don’t know what to do about it.  I wish I could move to a more Modern Orthodox community, but even then I know that some attitudes would probably remain.  Coming at a time when I also feel disconnected from HaShem (God) makes it difficult to stay frum sometimes and I think on some level I’m frum from habit at the moment, at least in part.  That’s not necessarily a huge problem; I think you can have a spiritual bank account and you can make some big withdrawals, maybe even have a managed overdraft for a while, if you already made some big deposits.  I think I did make those deposits in the past that can cover my current spending, I just can’t work out how to find the spiritual currency to get back into credit.

***

The good news today is that I wrote nearly 700 words of my novel in an hour, which was very good considering I was feeling very depressed.  I couldn’t write more because I had therapy and I always feel to tired to write after that.

In therapy we spoke about trying to accept the process of my critical thoughts rather than proving, disproving or fighting them (related to what I said above about trying to do this lately).  It’s hard.  We also spoke about the importance of acknowledging thoughts rather than repressing them.

The session ended awkwardly, though, as the screen froze and I wasn’t sure if the therapist was ending the session or not.  I texted to ask and waited a minute, but there was no reply, so I thought we were done and started something else, but then the therapist called back to say goodbye.  That sounds like a trivial interaction, but it disrupted the ‘back to reality’ feeling of the end of the therapy session.