Anxiety Central

Today is a bad day for anxiety and self-recrimination.  I discovered that the Oxford Doctor Who Society team did get to the quiz on Sunday.  I’m not sure how I missed them, although only one team member from Sunday was there when I went previously, so perhaps it’s not surprising that I didn’t recognise them.  And I had an acknowledgement email from one science fiction magazine (that I probably shouldn’t have mentioned by name – I have amended that) for my pitch, which is making me more anxious than any job interview.   I suppose it’s understandable that receiving a formal acknowledgement sets off anxiety, but I’m not sure why it sets off self-critical and self-loathing thoughts.  I feel that I just beat myself up for trying things even before I get rejected.  There is, I suppose, a hope that everything will work out this time – or that at least something will work out – coupled with a fear that, judging by past experience, it probably won’t work out.

I’m also struggling with irrational guilt.  I had a question about my job interview on Thursday and emailed the head of HR, but my Dad said I should have phoned.  He is right that it might have been quicker (assuming she was at her desk), but I hate using the phone.  Many autistic and socially anxious people feel the same.  The autistic time lag in processing and responding to conversations seems worse on the phone.  So I emailed, but felt guilty, which is the worst of both worlds.

One Jewish newspaper I wrote to for submission guidelines asked to see copies of my work.  As it’s a fairly religious newspaper, I didn’t want to send any Doctor Who/science fiction criticism.  However, this meant going even further back in time to when I had an article on antisemitism published on a site now absorbed into Tablet Magazine.  I feel awkward about this too, especially as, unlike yesterday, today I sent screenshots of the articles I had written on the sites as well as sending them as Word documents; then I realised afterwards that the sites might be considered inappropriate by a religious newspaper (nothing unsafe for work, just geeky stuff on one site and the fact that the other (a Jewish cultural site) had a “Sex & Love” column tab at the top of the screen).  Nor did I mention that one column was pseudonymous.  The newspaper said they’d keep my details on file and consider me on an ad hoc basis in the future, which I think was a polite brush-off.  Everything today seems to be triggering social anxiety and self-recrimination.

Also, it turns out that I have few copies of material I have had published online.  I guess a mixture of tidiness and low self-esteem regarding my writing have led me to delete much of my writing after posting it online or not to bother transferring it when I’ve upgraded computers.  This applies not just to material from my blog, but even stuff I’ve had published professionally or semi-professionally.  I just never thought I would want or need a copy of it ever again.  Silly of me.  I had to copy and paste stuff I’d written from the web.  There’s a lesson in there about self-esteem and confidence in my work.

I guess the outcome of all of this stuff in the last two paragraphs is a need for better curation of my work.  It probably doesn’t help that I have varied interests that I’ve written about in the past, while it’s only really in the last few months that I’ve been thinking seriously about a career as a writer, with the need to target consistent markets and build up a portfolio of work rather than just writing about anything I fancy and sending it wherever anyone will take it.

Other than that, the day was largely spent in interview preparation and a long phone call to some friends who are sitting shivah (Jewish mourning ritual).  I was glad I was able to phone them, but I find long phone calls draining at the best of times.  I did some Torah study for about forty-five minutes, but I felt quite tired and struggled to concentrate; then my mood plummeted in the late afternoon.  I went to shul (synagogue) in the evening despite these feelings.  I made sure to arrive exactly on time rather than early as the new rabbi has been making a point of speaking to everyone before the service and I didn’t feel like talking, but he wasn’t there (he only works part-time).

The optimism I felt a day or two ago is beginning to evaporate again as I feel lonely, unlovable and unemployable.  I keep thinking of ‘near-misses,’ women I have a lot in common with, but where there is one key difference that stops us turning the friendship into a relationship, or one key reason it wouldn’t work.  I ask myself if I should compromise, but I know that would not be a sensible idea for either of us.  And I worry that I’m not actually employable, that my mix of depression, social anxiety and autism makes it impossible for me to do a job, while not being severe enough for me to qualify for state benefits.  I’m not sure where I go from here.

This all sounds depressed and pessimistic again, when it shouldn’t be.  Nothing really bad has happened to me today.  My friends sitting shivah should be an example of how life can go badly wrong and how lucky I am in comparison.  But I just can’t feel any positive feelings.

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I Have No Idea What to Call This Post And Don’t Have Time to Think About It (1.5 Hours to Shabbat)

I’ve had feedback from both the friends I wrote to about writing.  What they wrote seems really useful, but also daunting.  I suppose if it was easy, they wouldn’t have to pay people to do it.  I fee like I’m drowning in self-disbelief (is that a word?  The opposite of self-belief).  I struggle to see myself writing professionally.  Yet I want to write.  Writing feels like it’s the only thing I’m any good at.  (Despite having ended that last sentence with a preposition.)  And it’s restoring for me rather than draining, which is unlike most things.  I think I need to find a way to start small and build confidence.  The actual writing is less of a problem than finding the right market and submitting ideas and articles and coping with rejection, not to mention the social anxiety that stops me from making contact with publishers for fear of saying or doing the wrong thing.  I did try to pitch an idea to a geeky website once and didn’t even get a response.  I don’t know if the idea was bad or I just pitched it badly.

I do feel a certain excitement about the thought of writing professionally that I haven’t felt with librarianship for a while.  The other thing I take from the experience of writing these emails is that two people who have never met me in person and just know me from my writing took a lot of time to respond to my emails which indicates (a) that they think my writing is fairly good and (b) I must, on some level, be a likeable person.

I keep positive emails from friends and blog comments in an email folder.  Periodically I print them out, so I can see them at times when my computer is off.  I printed some out today as I wanted to see them over Yom Tov earlier in the week and thought I might want them over Shabbat (I don’t use my computer on Shabbat and Yom Tov).  That does help to boost my confidence a little, at least when I remember to read them.  In the past I’ve had them blue tacked to my wardrobe doors, but after a while I stopped noticing them.

I went for a haircut.  I shook.  I feel a bit upset about that, even though it’s not my fault.  The shaking is a medication side-effect, but it was worst when the barber moved my head about rather roughly, which suggests that it is related to social anxiety and autistic problems with being touched.

On a purely materialistic level, a new graphic novel I pre-ordered ages ago and the publication of which was then much delayed finally arrived today (The Clockwise War, the latest Doctor Who Magazine comic collection).  Doctor Who Magazine comics tend to read better in one or two sittings than a handful of pages a month, particularly when they have long and complicated story arcs like this one, so I’ve been looking forward to this.

Merely Existing

Much of today it felt like it has never not rained and will never not rain.  I feel like that myself, like I have never not been depressed and never will not be depressed.  Given that I have been depressed almost all of my adult life, maybe that’s not surprising.  Still, lately I had been feeling a bit better, but apparently I still haven’t recovered from three days of Shabbat and Yom Tov (Sabbath and festival) earlier this week.  I had an answer to an email about writing professionally that has just made me think I will never be able to do it, will never be able to be functional in the world of work at all.  I also needed to decide if I wanted to go to a social thing on Sunday (Doctor Who quiz) without the friend who I thought might be going.  I decided that I would like to go, if I there is room for me on the team, as I enjoyed it the last time I went and it’s good to do something social that isn’t shul (synagogue) or support group, but it’s another anxiety.  Everything just feels too difficult right now.  I didn’t go to autism group tonight, as I couldn’t face it today, especially after the last time (last time I failed to talk to anyone and left after just fifteen minutes, feeling lonely and depressed).

I think by this stage it’s obvious that there is no quick fix, or even medium term fix, for my problems.  I don’t know how to survive in this world as an adult.  I got stuck somewhere in adolescence.  Or maybe I know how to survive, at a basic level (I haven’t actually tried to kill myself, despite coming very close sometimes, nor do I turn to substance abuse or the like to cope).  But I don’t know how to thrive, which I would define as functioning in a way that I enjoy, at least on some level, rather than merely existing.

I wanted today either to go to autism group or to get a haircut, but I didn’t feel up to either (I find haircuts very stressful for autistic and social anxiety reasons as well as having problems with shaking from medication side-effects).  I did manage to go for a twenty-five minute walk and to send some emails, as well as redrafting the final chapter of my Doctor Who book for half an hour or so.  It’s hard to know whether to be pleased with this or not.  I didn’t manage to do much today; on the other hand, I felt so depressed that I achieved far more than I thought I would when I woke up.  Is that good or bad?  Or both or neither?

I just want to be normal.  I want to have a meaningful career and a steady income.  I want to have a wife and children.  I want to have friends and a community.  I want to have a meaningful and enjoyable religious life, to love God and Torah and Judaism in an uncomplicated way, not a difficult and twisted one.  I would like to know, at the very least, why I can’t have these things, and how to cope without them.  They never taught us that at school.

***

Of course, there are different interpretations of ‘normal.’  I was thinking before about what ‘normal’ is for frum (religious Orthodox Jewish) men.  What I feel I should be like to fit in to a community and to be marryable.  These were my thoughts:

Charedi (ultra-Orthodox) man: should ideally spend all day in Talmud study, but if he has to work, should have first studied for many years in yeshiva and kollel (rabbinical seminary).  Should study Talmud for two or three hours a day with a chevruta (study partner).  Should daven (pray) with a minyan (community) three times a day.  Should want to have eight to ten children.  Should not own a TV and only use the internet for work.

Modern Orthodox man: should have a BA and if possible a higher degree.  Should have studied for many years in yeshiva before qualifying for a profession, preferably law, accountancy or medicine.  Should daven (pray) with a minyan (community) three times a day (unless he is a doctor).  Should study Talmud for about two hours a day, ideally with a chevruta.  Should want to have three or four children.  May own a TV, but doesn’t have time to watch it.

Religious Zionist man: similar to Modern Orthodox men, but should live in Israel and have served in the Israeli army, perhaps becoming a career soldier.  Is allowed to study Tanakh (Hebrew Bible) as well as Talmud because of its nationalistic overtones.  Should want five or six children.

I’m being somewhat facetious, but this is the image I have in my head of frum men.  I’m not sure how realistic this image is, but you can see why someone with depression, social anxiety and autism and everything those things entail in terms of energy, concentration, motivation, social communication issues and so on is going to struggle to compete and have feelings of low self-esteem reinforced.  I do wonder how I could find out if my image is accurate.  For what it’s worth, my rabbi mentor has a BA as well as smicha (rabbinic ordination), has worked in the rabbinate, the charity sector and now privately in business, has five children, but no TV.  I don’t know how he would define himself, but he’s closest to Modern Orthodox.

***

Career-wise, I was told today that I have an interview for a job I forgot I’d applied for next week.  I hope I feel somewhat better next week, as I’m in no state to prepare for an interview today.  Apparently the interview includes “a five minute presentation.”  It is not clear if they are presenting to me as part of the scheduled library tour before the interview, or if I am supposed to present to them, and if so, what about.

I had a positive response to some questions from one of my writing contacts about getting started.  I emailed someone else with similar questions.  I do feel very uncertain how to proceed.  It’s scary to think of starting out on this route, but, the interview next week notwithstanding, I’m struggling to build any kind of library career, let alone a mental health and autism-friendly one.  I try to focus just on the next step, but it’s hard not to think that I’m going to mess this up, just as I feel I’ve messed everything else up.

***

I finished reading Fatherland.  It was very good and not as depressing as I thought it would be, at least for the most part.  I don’t know what to read next, though.  I have a long list of books to read; actually, I have several long lists on Goodreads: Want to Read; To Read Non-Fiction; To Read Torah; Part Read to Finish; and Possibly to Read, as well as books I’ve read, but want to read again, particularly if I’m older and would understand them better now than when I first read them.  This is a product of a couple of factors: working in libraries for a number of years, I acquired a lot of cheap or free books, usually unwanted donations or withdrawn books; I often visit charity shops to look for bargains or just for retail therapy when depressed; on the other hand, because of the depression, I don’t often read the non-fiction or heavy fiction that sits on my shelves.  I want to read more non-fiction and classic fiction.  Even looking at my non-fiction list, there are lots that look interesting: Gershom Scholem on the history of Kabbalah, Orwell’s Homage to Catalonia (read in conjunction with an undergraduate level introduction to The Spanish Civil War), America During the Cold WarThe Islamist…  In addition, I’ve long meant to re-read Great Expectations which I suspect I would understand better, psychologically, than I did when I read it as a set text for GCSEs aged fourteen or fifteen.  I feel like a boy in a sweetshop, but also a boy who is aware that he might feel sick if he tries to eat too much i.e. I really might struggle with Dickens or non-fiction.

***

I just watch the Blake’s 7 episode that contained this line: “However much you might like to pretend you’re a loner, you’re not really.” (Terminal by Terry Nation).  Just going to leave that hanging there…

Speaking a Dead Language

The usual post-Yom Tov (festival) depression has set in.  Actually, it is more accurate to define it as post-mass social interaction (i.e. interacting with lots of people at shul (synagogue) and elsewhere) depression.  I was not tired last night so I stayed up late blogging and unwinding from the stresses of the last three days, but inevitably slept late this morning and woke up utterly drained from the last few days.  I feel pessimistic about all my recent plans to write professionally and to date again.  I feel that I can’t write well, that I don’t know anything (except my own moods) well enough to write about at length, that no one would date me while I’m unemployed and so on.

It’s been a day of procrastination and feeling too drained and depressed to do anything.  I did send an email to the values-based dating service matchmaker saying I would like to date again if they find anyone (I had said I wanted to stop until I can find a job).  I hope that’s not a terrible idea.  It feels a bit like a terrible idea, despite what people have said to me, here and elsewhere.  I briefly started signing up for another dating service, but backtracked when I realised that the free membership was limited, while it didn’t say anywhere on the site how much the paid membership was.  I can’t really afford a hefty monthly fee at the moment, so that was more time/energy wasted.  I guess this is a way of ensuring that unemployed people don’t date.

I also went for a very short walk to do some shopping, which completely exhausted me, and I cooked dinner for myself and my parents (macaroni cheese, about the easiest recipe I know) which also exhausted me.  I somehow managed about twenty minutes of Torah study as well as writing letters of complaint about a couple of secondhand items that were advertised as “very good,” but arrived in a poor condition.  So this was not a totally wasted day, but it was not a productive one.

However, I did not have time, energy or mood/brainpower for a load of other things I hoped to get done today (write to a couple of friends asking for help starting to write professionally; proof-reading and submitting a job application; trying to get submission guides from various periodicals I’d like to write for; and studying the weekly page of Talmud for my shiur).  All those things will get postponed to later in the week, assuming I feel better.

In the meantime, I’m fighting the urge to eat junk food after all the junk, especially ice cream, I ate over Yom Tov (it is customary to eat dairy produce on Shavuot).  I’m wondering if I really have what it takes to write professionally, considering the small number of people reading my blog and the fact that I haven’t really written much professionally in the past and my autistic/socially anxious/low self-esteem difficulties with networking and pushing my work out there.  Actually, I wonder if I have what it takes to do anything meaningful at all.  I feel so useless so much of the time.

***

Doctor Who Magazine has been running a cosplay feature for some time now.  Cosplaying is when fans of something dress up as their favourite characters, often for conventions (because part of the point is being seen by people who get the reference).  Part of my mind thinks it is a pointless waste of time and money; another part thinks it looks a lot of fun; a third agrees it looks fun, but is too anxious for either cosplaying or going to conventions.  Broadly, the Jewish, fannish and autistic/mentally ill parts of my head, I suppose.  I did dress up as the Doctor for Purim, albeit in what a dedicated cosplayer would consider a very inaccurate costume (only the scarf was authentic; the rest was just a vague approximation of Tom Baker’s costume from stuff I had to hand).

I feel torn into pieces by the thoughts in my head.  I want to be frum, yet I lack energy and enthusiasm for Torah and mitzvot and sometimes I’m angry with God.  I like classic British telefantasy, but I worry it’s a trivial thing to waste my life on.  I love writing, but am scared to do anything with it.  I’d like to make friends with people like myself, but I’m terrified of rejection, so avoid places where I might meet people like myself (shulDoctor Who conventions).  I assume that the fact that I’m not a typical Orthodox Jew or typical Doctor Who fan makes me unlikeable by more conventional members of those communities, when it might be the reverse, at least for some people (maybe, possibly).  Anxiety and autism make me stay in my comfort zone when I might enjoy moving out of it (writing professionally, including doing serious research; going to conventions).

Sometimes it feels like being a frum geek is like knowing a nearly-extinct language, that there are nuances or connections in Jewish stuff or fan stuff that only I can see.  That’s fun on some level, but it’s also lonely.  I guess loneliness is fundamental to my life.  Perhaps surprisingly, I did have a couple of friends at school, but never many and sometimes they were all away or busy and I was left on my own.  Then at Oxford it grew to being one of the dominating emotions of my life and has never really gone away.  I don’t know if I could cope with having a partner, it would be so strange.  Maybe I would still feel lonely, and therefore guilty that my wife wasn’t enough for me.

This mental division might affect my writing.  It’s possible that what I want to write is not going to align very well with the readership of various periodicals.  I want to write something on chronic illness, especially depression and high functioning autism, in the Jewish community, but I worry that anything I write will be too frum (religious) for the Jewish Chronicle, but too irreligious for any of the frummer Jewish newspapers (which I don’t read anyway, so I would need to research style and tone.  Plus, I think on principle, I don’t want to write for newspapers that refuse to run pictures of women, as is the case with many Orthodox newspapers).

Three Day Eventing

I’ll try to keep this brief, as it’s gone 11.30pm as I sit down to write (nearly 12.30am now I’m proof-reading), but it’s been a packed “three day event” (as my parents refer to Shabbat (the Sabbath) and two days of Yom Tov (festival) consecutively).  My sleep pattern has been thoroughly messed up by Tikkun Leil (staying up all night studying Torah) and long afternoon naps, so I doubt I’ll get to sleep soon anyway.

I got to some of the “learning” events (Orthodox Jews tend to refer to Torah study as “learning” because of a quirk of Yiddish; I think it makes it sound misleadingly basic).  Some were definitely better than others.  I was glad to do Tikkun Leil, as I mentioned, even though the topic (what Torah subjects should one be studying) was something liable to make me feel religiously inadequate.  The big inadequacy-making event was today, however, when a whole bunch of local shuls (synagogues) got together at my parents’ shul for two hour study fest.  I couldn’t find a chevruta (study partner) from my shul, so the Rosh Kollel paired me up with someone who turned out to be a nice guy, but far ahead of me in Talmudic studies.  He just raced through the set texts, through the Gemara and Rashi and on to other Rishonim and Acharonim (Medieval and modern commentators).  I could barely follow any of it.  For one thing, the sheer number of people in the hall meant that my autistic brain was overwhelmed with noise and half the time I couldn’t even hear my study partner.  Even when I could, I struggled to think of anything to say, which I suspect/hope is an autistic executive function issue, the same thing that makes me stop and ask for more time to think in job interviews.  My brain just doesn’t work that fast.  Then add in the social element of chevruta learning, the fact that not only do I have to engage the part of my brain that deals with Talmud, but I have to engage the part that deals with social interactions too, and it’s all too much for me, even without the fact that my partner had a natural flair for Talmudic study and just tore through everything.  I used to have this problem with paired or group learning in school, too, so it’s not a problem unique to religious study for me.

Then there was a shiur (lecture) that was supposed to clarify the sources, but just left me more confused; it didn’t help that I could barely hear it.  Then there were songs I didn’t know and by the time we got to the end, I was wondering if my Judaism is really the same as that of everyone else in the hall.  There were a couple of people I was at school with in the hall, people who were not my intellectual equals at school, but who have become rabbis and can “learn” properly.  I can’t really study Talmud, although I try a little.  I mostly study Tanakh (Hebrew Bible) and theology for Torah study.  No self-respecting yeshiva bochur (rabbinical seminary student) wastes time studying Nakh (the non-Mosaic books of the Bible) (unless they’re at a Religious Zionist yeshiva) or theology.  My theology shelf is full of suspect people like Rabbi Sacks, Rav Steinsaltz and Rabbi Eliezer Berkovits, let alone outright non-Orthodox and unacceptable thinkers like Abraham Joshua Heschel and Emil Fackenheim.  (Rav Soloveitchik just about gets a pass because he was a halakhicist and has yichus (great ancestors)).

Fortunately, the Rosh Kollel in his closing address spoke about the concept of kiddush hashem, sanctifying God’s name by being a good person publicly or even privately abstaining from temptation because of God’s command rather than from fear of being caught.  So I felt maybe I can do something as a Jew.  It is depressing, though.  I am struggling to be Jewish at the moment, simply because I can’t engage with texts and enjoy Jewish life the way I am supposed to do, because of depression and autism.

The good stuff: as well as getting to these study events, I stayed at shul for Shacharit (Morning prayers) after Tikkun Leil; I also – somehow, do not ask me how – got up this morning for shul.  I still got there very late (shul started at 8.45am; I turned up around 10.00am and struggled to get a seat as it was packed), but I got there.  Hopefully I will make it again on Shabbat.  I did feel a bit more comfortable being in the shul than I have done recently (admittedly this was before the upsetting study session today).

I read a lot, both my novel (Fatherland by Robert Harris, thankfully not as depressing as a ‘what if Hitler won?’ alternate universe-Holocaust-murder mystery-thriller could be) and Tanakh.  I finished reading Nevi’im, the Prophets.  I’ve read Tanakh through from the first page to the last in English and I’ve read every individual book in Hebrew (I struggled with the Aramaic bits), but not in the right order, as I alternated ‘easy’ and ‘hard’ books (‘easy’ and ‘hard’ in terms of prose vs. poetry and early vs. late Hebrew).  For several years, I’ve been reading through Tanakh in Hebrew and in order, sometimes with commentaries.  It’s taken a long time because (a) it’s long and (b) it’s longer if you add in commentaries and (c) it’s really hard to read a language that isn’t your first language if you’re very depressed, especially if it’s in archaic poetry.  I’ve gone through periods of months when I just haven’t read anything.  So this was a milestone.  I can’t remember how long it’s taken me to get through Nevi’im, probably four or five years.  Hopefully it won’t take as long to get through Ketuvim, the third and final section of Tanakh, but realistically it will take as long or longer, as I have more commentaries to read plus significant numbers of Aramaic chapters as well as some of the most complex poetry in Tanakh.

I had a difficult discussion with my parents on the first night of Yom Tov over dinner, just before I went to shul for the Tikkun Leil.  We got on to my career and my struggles with finding a library job.  They encouraged me to try to sell some of my writing.  Like, now, not in months or years when I think I’ve finally got something good enough.  I went into autistic/depressive black and white “It’s impossible” mode and actually ran off to my bedroom and lay in bed in the dark fully dressed for a few minutes, which I guess might be a form of autistic shutdown, albeit from emotional overload rather than sensory overload (I do this kind of running away a lot when I’m emotional; I’m not sure if it’s really the same as the types of shutdowns other autistic people experience).  Still, I did calm down after a few minutes and finish the conversation with my parents as well as getting to Tikkun Leil (it looked for a minute like I would just go to bed and stay there).

I realised I have a couple of contacts I can email for advice about starting to write professionally.  I can also write to the Jewish newspapers and see if they have submission guides.  Perhaps also Doctor Who Magazine, although lately they don’t run the kind of analytical articles I could write.  I have a couple of ideas for articles about mental health and autism in the Jewish community for the mainstream (non-religious) Jewish newspapers – they publish quite a bit about mental health, although really the articles need to be more in the frum (religious) newspapers, but I don’t know if I have the right contacts for that or if they would print anything on mental health and autism, especially articles saying that people with mental illness or autism might not function in the community the way they “should” (e.g. my experiences above).  So, hopefully this week I can send some emails and try to work out what I can write.  I am nervous about approaching people for help.  I always am, I guess because at school showing signs of weakness was a fatal mistake, and also because I feel, “Why should anyone help me?  Why would they think I’m worth helping?”  Plus there’s the element of “All beginnings are difficult” (as the Talmud says).

I also came across a passage in a book that resonated with me.  It was a short piece, just a couple of paragraphs, in an anthology of essays on Judaism.  It was by Rabbi Dr Abraham Twerski, who is a Hasidic rabbi and practising psychiatrist in the USA who has written extensively on Judaism and mental health issues.  It was just a short thing saying that some people go out of their way to give others the benefit of the doubt, but beat themselves up about every little mistake and that this is not a positive behaviour and that we should be realistic with ourselves.  So, it seemed significant that I “happened” to come across that passage over the long weekend.

So, that was Shabbat and Yom Tov.  It was probably objectively quite good, but it’s hard for me to feel positive feelings, while the negative ones (like the study session today) are overwhelming.  Some of that is the nature of depression, of course.  I realise I haven’t explicitly spoken about depression in this post, only autism and low self-esteem, but it’s always there, in the background, poisoning my mood and warping my view of myself and my life.  Now I need to have something to eat, watch some Blake’s 7 and go to bed.

Dating Procrastination

Last night I decided that I probably should start dating, or at least contact this dating service and see what they think.  I thought that, if I want signs, then it probably counts for something that my parents and my rabbi mentor think I should be dating.  And, while I have no real idea what God thinks, getting married and having children is a mitzvah (commandment), so I should probably be pursuing it.  The more I thought about it, the more I felt that I have a certain calm when I thought I should be dating, albeit accompanied by anxiety.  It didn’t seem particularly immoral to go on dates with my mental health issues; the worst that can happen is the women don’t want to see me again.  Plus, I should do my hishtadlut (effort) if I want HaShem (God) to send my soulmate.

This morning the calm was gone.  I felt very depressed again, albeit not particularly anxious (too depressed to be anxious.  Anxiety requires a certain amount of energy, concentration and motivation).  I felt that I’m too depressed and my self-esteem is too low to face multiple rejections again.  I felt that I’m too weird and screwed up for anyone to be able to love me (the evidence from previous crushes/dates/girlfriends supports this thesis).  I worried that I want sex more than I want love (given that I’m a celibate virgin, it is hard to judge how realistic this fear is) and wouldn’t be able to cope with a real relationship, for all that my ex-girlfriends felt that I was attentive to their emotional needs.  It felt like dating in this state would just be misleading people (shadchan (matchmaker), dates) into thinking I’m a functioning human being when I’m blatantly not.  I’m sceptical of whether shadchanim and dating sites really help (some evidence suggests they don’t); I don’t think there’s a science, or even an art, to matching people, it just seems like pot luck whether you get set up with someone compatible even if you’re ‘normal,’ let alone a freak like me.  And it seems immature to think that someone else could solve my problems, or even help me to live with them better.  It seems pretty inevitable that I’m going to be miserable and lonely all my life, simply because I’ve been miserable and lonely all my adult life so far.  And if I’m going to be miserable anyway, I’m much better off being miserable by myself than making someone else miserable.

It just seems my life is to be one long stretch of misery and loneliness, occasionally punctuated by brief moments of hope, just to seem more painful when they are gone.  It doesn’t seem a lot that I can do about this.  Being single is only part of this, but it’s probably the least amenable to improvement (although the longer I’m unemployed, the more questionable that seems).  I’m back to feeling I would rather die than be like this forever.  My habit of seeing everything in life as an ethical question (“Is it morally right for me to date?”) rather than a pragmatic question (“Would dating make me happier/more energised/more motivated/less depressed?”) probably doesn’t help, as it makes the question too complicated.  Although, to be honest, I’m not sure what the answer to the pragmatic question would be either.  A lot would depend on how quickly I found someone right for me, or whether I would find someone at all.

Well, anyway, my rabbi mentor just got back to me while I was writing this and said I should continue dating “even though it is difficult at times.”  I suppose that’s as near to the word of God as I’m going to get (although I trust my rabbi mentor because he’s a trained counsellor and the wisest person I know as much as because he’s a rabbi).  I don’t know how I keep going with it despite disappointment.  It’s like job applications, and I’m getting quite disenchanted with those, except that I find it easier to believe that someone could employ me than be in a relationship with me.

***

Speaking of job applications, I’m applying for a part-time job somewhere that sounds potentially good, if they could accommodate my need to leave early on winter Fridays, but writing the personal statement shows me that while I have some of the skills and experience they want, I don’t have all of them by any means.

***

A bookmark that came free with a book I purchased this week advises me that it’s better to be happy and odd than miserable and ordinary (the quote is apparently from Goodnight Mister Tom, which I’ve never read).  I would agree, except that I seem to be both odd and miserable.

***

I feel apprehensive about getting through Shabbat (the Sabbath) and Shavuot (Pentecost), but there’s not a lot I can do about that now.  See you on Tuesday (or possibly late on Monday night).

Bounded in a Nutshell

“I could be bounded in a nutshell, and count myself a king of infinite space, were it not that I have bad dreams.” Hamlet, William Shakespeare

I felt a huge amount of anger with HaShem (God) yesterday evening.  I’m just so lonely and feel so useless and I can’t see any way out.  It’s illogical to be angry with Him about my own failings, but I feel that if I wasn’t autistic and depressed, I wouldn’t be so lonely and isolated, which leads on to anger with Him for making me autistic (blame for the depression is more complicated).  I feel if I wasn’t autistic, I would be able to function in the frum (religious) world as He wants, but as it is, I can’t function.

I didn’t know how to process the anger, so I ended up hurting myself for the first time in a while.  I hit my legs with my fists while trying to talk to HaShem;  later I scratched myself slightly, but I’m not quite sure why I did that.  I have been fantasising about death again lately too, mainly just thinking that however bad things are here, one day I’ll be dead and unable to feel any more pain.

***

I’m still struggling with what to do about dating.  It still feels wrong, morally wrong, to date while I’m not just unemployed, but not even sure what I want to do with my life any more.  And I can’t face the thought of rejection and it seems there are so many reasons why someone would reject me (autistic, depressed, weird geeky interests, didn’t go to yeshiva or otherwise tick the appropriate frum boxes) even without being unemployed too.  Nor do I look forward to having to turn down someone I don’t feel is right for me.  And I’m wary of thinking that things will be better if I’m in a relationship (although it is true that I have felt better when I’ve been in a relationship in the past, even if I wasn’t “recovered”).

However, I just feel so lonely.  I feel like everyone has their partner except me.  This is blatantly untrue (a number of my friends are single), but reflects how I feel.  I feel that I am mostly self-contained.  I don’t need other people with me all the time.  I have solitary hobbies and even things like watching TV I prefer to do alone (I don’t like watching TV with other people because I don’t watch TV casually.  I don’t channel hop, I only watch things I want to watch and which I think are worth my time, but then I watch them with complete concentration and dislike noise and interruptions, particularly as the programmes I watch tend to be plot-heavy and reasonably complex to follow).  I should really be happy living alone as I’m an introvert and a bit of a loner.  But, as seen when my parents are away, when I’m actually alone, I do get more depressed, even though logically I should welcome being alone.  I do, on some level, need people around me, even if I don’t interact with them much.  I also need to be able to love and to feel loved and I’m rather starved of both of these things and have been much of my life.  My parents and my sister do care about me, but there are so difficulties in those relationships, most probably stemming from my autism and my having different “love languages” to my family.  We probably aren’t very good at showing love to each other in ways the other person can comprehend.

I try to cope with things and be self-contained (“If you are miserable alone, you will be miserable in a relationship” as everyone says), but I just feel so unbearably lonely and unloved that it’s impossible to escape the depression for long.

***

I saw the psychiatrist today.  It didn’t go well.  She focused on my unemployment, repeatedly telling me that I should get a job, which wasn’t terribly helpful.  She did suggest doing voluntary work, which is probably a good idea.  I didn’t feel like she was really listening, nor did I have the confidence to tell her that my depression and social anxiety are just as bad, if not worse, when I’m working, because of issues surrounding autism and mental illness in the workplace.  In fact, I haven’t told this psychiatrist about my autism at all, as the last one said that if I’ve been told I haven’t got it by the Maudsley Hospital, I don’t have it and that’s final.  As my GP has referred me for another assessment at the Maudsley, I’m not going to raise the issue again until I’ve had that assessment.

As well as sounding disappointed with me for not having a job, she sounded disappointed with me for not having friends.  I said I had “one or two” which is a simplification (I have two or three I’m in contact with regularly, but via text as they live elsewhere; I have one or two friends who live locally, but I usually only see them in shul (synagogue)).   I couldn’t really be bothered to explain as she didn’t seem interested and I was struggling to understand her accent; possibly she was struggling with mine too.  She asked if I am in a relationship; she didn’t really react when I said I’m not.  When she asked what I do when I’m not job hunting, I said I write a bit, which she misheard as “write a book” which is basically true so I didn’t correct her.

She asked if I have thoughts of self-harm or suicide and I said yes, because I have had them in the last couple of days, but she didn’t really seem to care as I said I wouldn’t act on the suicidal thoughts, which is probably true, and that I wouldn’t act on the self-harm thoughts, which was a lie because I did last night.  I don’t know why I lied; probably because it was very minor and I just wanted to get out of the appointment room.  I just didn’t feel comfortable opening up to her as she seemed to just want to process me quickly and get to the next patient and seemed to think that finding a job will be a panacea for me.

***

Today’s potential jobs: a school librarian maternity cover job (I don’t want to work in further education again after struggling previously); an “information assistant” that seems to be a library assistant role rather than an assistant librarian and has a lethal-looking commute; and a role billed as “knowledge librarian” but which also seems to be a library assistant role rather than a trained librarian role, judging from the lack of professional skills in the job description and which also requires SharePoint experience that I don’t have.  I was then reminded that I applied for a “knowledge librarian” role a few days ago; I think it was the same job as the job descriptions are similar, although it’s hard to be sure, as both jobs are advertised through different agencies and don’t state the name of the company that is advertising the job (this happens a lot and is very frustrating).

It is probably no wonder that I really want to do something else with my life, something I find more rewarding.  But, just as I don’t have the courage to start dating again, I don’t have the courage (or knowledge and perhaps the ability) to try to write professionally.

***

I feel like I’m coming down with a migraine, so the rest of the day is probably a wipe-out now.

Fouled Up

There was another shul (synagogue) engagement of someone around my age today, albeit this time a divorcee.  I think I once tried to ‘talk’ to her on a dating site (when I didn’t know she was from my shul), only for her to say that I was “too worldly” for her, which reinforced my feeling of having put myself in a position between two worlds (Modern Orthodox and Haredi (ultra-Orthodox)) where no one could be interested in me.  The feeling of “when is it my turn?” never seems to go away, despite my occasional feeling that getting married would not solve my problems and perhaps would worsen them.

In a comment on yesterday’s post, Ashley Leia said, “if you put off dating until you feel you are likeable/acceptable to a woman, but you don’t consider yourself likeable/acceptable full stop, and being unmarried reinforces the idea of being unlikeable/unacceptable, that seems like a vicious circle that’s never going to end. Why not let the potential dates decide for themselves?”

This is probably true, but hard for me to accept.  It just seems so ludicrous to think that anyone could ever love me.  Anyone wanting to marry me would basically be marrying my issues (autism, depression, unemployment and more) and I don’t think I have enough positives in my favour to counter-balance that.  I’m seriously not kind enough or rich enough or clever enough or good-looking enough or frum enough or whatever to be worth marrying in my own right.  So I would basically be marrying someone who wants to care for someone, which isn’t a healthy basis for a relationship.  I know people say you shouldn’t be dating if you don’t love yourself, which pretty much means I will never date again.

I also feel I have exactly as much chance of getting married by doing nothing proactive at all as I have by going to shadchanim, on dating sites or asking women out i.e. no chance at all.

Of course, if I did get married, I would still be depressed and have low self-esteem and my first girlfriend was probably right that I’m frigid (certainly I have autistic issues with touch and intimacy, both physical and emotional), so I could end up in a worse situation than I’m in now.

***

Am I punishing myself too much?  With dating, or rather, not dating, and other things?  I don’t know.  Probably.  There is definitely self-sabotage in not going to shadchanim and not going on dating websites, but there has probably also been self-sabotage in doing those things too, in going to shadchanim and on to dating sites when I didn’t feel ready as well as asking out women who had little in common with me and apparently didn’t like me much (which seems to be most of them).

I’ve had thoughts of self-harm again, yesterday and today.  I haven’t acted on them, at least, not physically, but I feel that, as I try to live my life on multiple levels (physical, spiritual, ethical) there are ways I can hurt myself that don’t involve physical harm, but which can be just as dangerous and lasting, if not more so, at least to someone who believes in the soul.  “For he who lives more life than one/More deaths than one must die.”  I don’t like myself very much.

It’s a number of years since I read The Brothers Karamazov, but there’s a bit in there I’ve been thinking of yesterday and today.  The Karamazovs are all hedonists and libertines except for Alyosha, who is an ascetic, but someone says that, even so, he’s still a Karamazov.  He still has the libertine streak, he just uses it for asceticism.  The idea is that one can be a hedonistic ascetic.  I’m not a hedonist and I’m not really an ascetic, but I do have an ascetic streak, but it’s probably more about punishing myself than withdrawing from the world.  Maybe I’m being too hard on myself again.  I think I probably do like to punish myself, on some level, but then I feel I deserve it.  Sometimes I feel like I want to list all my sins here so no one would read this any more.  When the depression is bad (like now), I just want to hurt myself, physically and perhaps also by shaming myself (I’m not sure if that’s a desire or a fear, maybe both).

I just feel my life isn’t a story that can end well for me.  It’s doubtful that I will ever manage a career, a relationship or a family.  It’s doubtful that my writing will be published (more than the little scraps that have been published).  I don’t perform mitzvot (commandments) or daven (pray) well or study much Torah.  So I’m not sure, without all those things, how my life could ever be worthwhile.  I just feel fouled up beyond all repair.

***

Someone elsewhere on the internet said that if people at my shul (synagogue) won’t accept me, they aren’t worthy of my time.  The problem is that I don’t know if people accept me or not, or where the boundaries of acceptable behaviour lie.  Plus, I don’t have a better community to go to, and you can’t be a frum Jew (certainly not a frum Jewish man) without having a community.  The silly thing is that lately, when I was feeling a bit better, I was beginning to believe people liked me.  I don’t know what I think now.  I also don’t know how much I think people like me because they don’t really know me; if they knew me better, they wouldn’t like me.

***

Otherwise today has been a slow day.  The summer seems to have evaporated and it’s another dreary grey English June day here.  I sent off another job application (for a Knowledge Librarian post at a large company), but all they wanted was my CV, no covering letter to adapt or long application form to fill it.  This was good, as the forms usually just cover the same information as the CV, but in different little boxes making cutting pasting fiddly.

Because I didn’t have any more jobs to apply for, I finished the first draft of the final chapter of my Doctor Who book.  I need to redraft it at some point and it might be worth re-watching some episodes again to help flesh the chapter out; at the same time, the book as a whole needs some serious pruning, so a fourth draft will probably be necessary when I get feedback from my friends.  It does feel never ending at times.  Still, I’m probably on target for my aim of finishing around Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year, in the autumn).

***

I just hate myself and my life, really.

Time’s Wingèd Chariot

A friend suggested an Orthodox shadchan (matchmaking service) to me (this one).  I had actually already heard of them – nearly used them, in fact, before using the values-based dating service.  I don’t think I should be dating right now, because of my unclear employment situation, not just being unemployed, but not even being sure I’m in the right career, wanting to try to be a writer, but being too scared to try and not really knowing how to go about it.  My parents and my rabbi mentor disagree with me and think I could be dating, but it just feels wrong to me.  Actually, if I asked any rabbi, they would almost certainly tell me I should be dating, because I’m not likely to get much better, mental health-wise,  marriage and children are mitzvot (commandments) and the right woman would overlook my mental health issues and unemployment because we would be soul-mates (really?!!).  I suppose I agree, up to a point, I just don’t believe there is a magic “right woman” out there for me and I can’t face opening up to women only to be rejected again and again.  Particularly as I can’t find a shadchan in the UK who deals with people with ‘issues’ like mine.  But I’m lonely.

It makes me wonder what women would think if I did turn up on a date without a job.  L. didn’t seem to care, but I think most women would.  In the Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) world it’s more common for men to date while not in employment, but that’s because people date while still in yeshiva (rabbinical seminary), and in some communities the man is expected to stay in yeshiva or kollel permanently, with the woman supporting the family while he studies.  I disagree with this behaviour and don’t particularly want to go down that path in a weird sort of secular way (being supported by my wife while I try to build a career).  And I really, really, really can’t imagine what type of woman would be interested in a depressed, autistic, unemployed frum-but-not-frum-enough geek.

But I do get really lonely.  Then again, dating just because I’m lonely isn’t necessarily the best idea either, although lots of people do it.

“But at my back I always hear/Time’s wingèd chariot hurrying near”.  I feel I should have got my life sorted out by now.  I should have dealt with my adolescent angst and my mental health issues, I should have got my autism diagnosis, I should have sorted my career and started a family already.  My peers at shul are all married with children and careers.  Assuming I marry someone my own age, it’s going to start getting harder to even have children soon.

***

I feel like my shul is trolling me.  Shortly after writing the above paragraphs, I saw they had sent out the text of a special prayer that I had never heard of before to say on Rosh Chodesh Sivan (tonight and tomorrow) to pray for one’s children to be righteous and that they should find righteous spouses from families of Torah scholars.  Seriously?!  You really want to rub in that I have no wife and children?!  For the sake of some obscure minhag (custom) that comes from just one seventeenth century kabbalist?  It’s an unfortunate coincidence that this should happen today, but it does reinforce the feeling that if you don’t have a spouse and children, there really is no room for you in a frum (religious Orthodox Jewish) community.  You are just too weird and unusual.  I shouldn’t get annoyed about this stuff, but it feels too much sometimes.  I don’t think it’s just my shul either.  I think any Orthodox community, Modern or Haredi, would assume everyone my age is married.

As if this wasn’t enough, another bad shul thing happened today.  I went to shul for Mincha and Ma’ariv (Afternoon and Evening Prayers).  I got there early and started reading Pirkei Avot to pass the time.  Suddenly I noticed out of the corner of my eye most of the people standing up and on some level I knew the new rabbi must have walked in (I’m very bad about standing up for rabbis, which is taken very seriously in the Haredi world).  I glanced up and saw him, but I just couldn’t stand up.  I don’t know why.  Maybe on some level I didn’t want to.  So I hoped it looked like I hadn’t seen him, but I was worried we had made eye contact when I looked up.  Then he started going around the shul talking to people.  I didn’t realise until he had almost got to me.  I stood up when he started talking to me, but I was so anxious my legs started shaking quite badly and I found it hard to stand upright.  I don’t know if he noticed.  Then he said something about he hoped I wasn’t working too hard and I had absolutely no idea what he was talking about.  I wasn’t sure if it was a joke or a genuine question or what.  My autism means I don’t always get jokes in casual conversation with people I’m not so familiar with, particularly if I’m nervous, and also that I can’t always tell when people are asking something out of politeness or if they really mean it.  So I wasn’t sure whether to say that I’m out of work or what.  Then, when davening (prayers) started, I suddenly had a fear that he thought I was in school and coming up to exams.  I’m nearly thirty-six, but I look a lot younger and have been mistaken for a sixth-former in the fairly recent past.  (I guess it’s better than looking older than my years.)  So, I have no idea how that interaction went.  I know it went badly, but I’m not sure just how badly.

The whole experience left me very anxious and agitated and unable to concentrate on davening.  During davening and afterwards I had violent agitated thoughts of having my throat slit or of maggots eating my rotting flesh.  It was horrible.  I started wondering why social interactions are so hard for me.  Not in the literal sense of having autism and social anxiety, but in a deeper, metaphysical way.  In Judaism there is a concept of middah keneged middah (measure for measure), that we get punished in the way we sinned, so I started wondering if I embarrass people in public (which is a very serious sin in Judaism).  I do tease my Dad and get annoyed with him more than I should and some of that may count as being in public, but it didn’t really seem to explain why I find it so hard to go through social situations (sometimes including just going shopping) without feeling embarrassed.  So, perhaps there is another reason, but I don’t know what it is.  I don’t know why I can’t just live an ordinary life like most people get to do.  Some Jews believe in gilgul neshamot (reincarnation).  I find that it raises more problems than it answers, but sometimes it’s tempting to believe I was just a horrible person in another life and that outweighs whatever it is I’m doing now.

***

I feel that I hate myself today.  I just feel that I hate everything about myself.  I’m not even sure why.  It’s probably just frustration with my life.  Sometimes I wish I believed in da’at Torah, the mystical clairvoyance that Haredi Jews believe their rabbis have that allows them to prophetically answer difficult life questions.  I wish I could believe someone could just tell me what to do with my life and then I could go and do it, or at least try to do it.  But I don’t think life works like that, certainly not my life, where I have to struggle for every little thing.  Plus there probably is some self-sabotage going on here, in dating and career.

But I’ve said all this before.  I wish I could break out of the loop my thoughts run around, but I don’t think that’s going to happen until someone either publishes me or marries me, neither of which seem very likely right now, and perhaps not even then.  I can’t believe I could meet someone like me through an Orthodox dating service anyway, and I certainly don’t believe I could meet someone in another way, so I’m stuck.  There just isn’t anyone like me (weird and dysfunctional).  I’m weird, crazy and lonely, I’m religious, but not enough.  When God made me, He made me too broken for anyone to match with me.

There’s a lot online about body image.  I don’t particularly struggle with that.  I don’t think I look great, but I don’t feel self-consciously ugly either most of the time.  But I don’t like myself as a person and I find it hard to believe that anyone else could like me either (I mean even as a friend, let alone for dating).  I don’t feel that I have any particularly good character traits and on the rare occasions people have said what they like about me, they tend to focus on my intelligence, which is problematic as (a) I don’t consider it a particularly strongly positive character trait (it’s not bad, but it’s not good like being kind or generous, it just is) and (b) my intelligence seems to have been negatively affected by my depression and I feel stupid a lot of the time these days, especially in social situations where social anxiety and autistic impairments kick in.

***

I didn’t have any jobs to apply for today, aside from a school librarian job I really don’t want, so I focused on my writing, managing to write much of the first draft of the final chapter of my Doctor Who book, covering the most recent episodes.  It feels a bit unsubstantial and I may have to rewatch some of those episodes before attempting a second draft.  I might try to get some feedback from friends first, though (I would like more feedback in general, if possible, if anyone else would like to volunteer).  Other than redrafting that chapter, the main thing to do now is to wait for feedback from friends I have shown chapters to and to decide whether to attempt a fourth draft or to submit it.  I think I probably will do at least one more draft.

Other than that, my only achievements today were going to shul, including walking there and back, and doing about an hour of Torah study.  I should be pleased with my writing, and on one level I am, but I always feel bad about prioritising writing over job hunting.  I wish I could get the courage to dedicate serious time to writing professionally, but I don’t have the guts.  Oh, and somehow I lost my to do list and I can’t remember what was on it.  I also watched a forgetable episode of Blake’s 7 (Volcano).  So not a great day in all.

Victimhood

I’ve mentioned that I’m using Rabbi Lord Sacks’ omer calendar, which has inspiring statements for each day of the omer.  Tonight’s statement was, “Never define yourself as a victim.  There is always a choice, and by exercising the strength to choose, we can rise above fate.”  This is something I have heard before from Rabbi Sacks and also from Viktor Frankl and Jordan Peterson.

I want to define myself by my choices, but it feels like so much of my life has not been created by my choices, but by my autism and my mental illnesses, so it becomes very easy to slip into a victim mentality (something encouraged by a wider culture that divides society into victims and oppressors with no middle ground).  I do want to stop defining myself as a victim, but it’s very hard and I’m not really sure how to do it.  What positive choices have I made?  It is hard to tell.  Again, if I compare myself with my peers, they seem to have successfully chosen career A or to marry person B or to have child C, or to be involved in their  shul or voluntary work or whatever they do.  I do have elements of that, but at a much lower level, with much less actual meaningful choice.  If I wasn’t depressed and autistic, I would be much freer to live my life as I would want.

I suppose Frankl in particular (Man’s Search for Meaning) would argue that I have the choice of how to respond to autism and depression, whether or not to define myself as a victim, but I’m not sure (or no one has ever revealed to me) what the alternative to victim status is while living a life that is (a) very far from what I want and (b) very far from what either the Jewish or Western communities present as a good or meaningful life.  I understand that I can possibly embrace my neurodivergence, but it’s hard to embrace the depression because the depression of its very nature pushes me towards a despairing/victim state of mind.  It’s like trying to cure diabetes by trying to mentally will a stable blood sugar level rather than regulating diet and taking insulin.  I feel I could only really choose how to respond to depression if I was cured, which is a paradox.

On a related note, during the shiur (class) during seudah (the third Shabbat meal) yesterday, the rabbi spoke of humility and that it is not about knowing our weaknesses, but rather knowing our strengths, acknowledging them as gifts from God and using them to help others.  This was an idea I had heard before, albeit not quite in those words, but I find it hard to identify my strengths and work out how to use them to help others.  This is perhaps partly due to low self-esteem.  People have told me that I write well, but I find that hard to believe and it is impossible to work out how to use that ability to help others.  I do want to write about mental health issues, Judaism and Doctor Who, but I find it hard to dedicate the time to it and I don’t have the confidence to take time out from my career (or job hunt, at the moment) to try writing professionally.  Not knowing the practical steps needed to get something published does not help either.

As an interesting sidelight on this, there’s a regular feature in Doctor Who Magazine where a Doctor Who celebrity is asked twenty randomly-selected interview questions from a box.  One of them asks which member of the opposite sex they would want to swap places with for a day.  I thought about this, and I realised there isn’t anyone of either sex that I would particularly want to swap places with.  I either lack imagination or at a very basic level I’m happy with who I am, I just wish I could be less depressed/lonely/inhibited/anxious/self-critical/etc.

***

I had some difficult thoughts and experiences over Shabbat (the Sabbath).  I mentioned on Friday someone I know from shiur who just had a child.  He was in shul (synagogue) on Friday night, but I was too anxious to wish him mazal tov.  I always get nervous doing things like that in case I’ve made a mistake and got the wrong person or the wrong life event.  I didn’t introduce myself to the new rabbi either, although he came and spoke to me on Shabbat afternoon.  It was bad of me not to do those things, but I don’t know how to force myself to do things like that, except by guilt-tripping myself.

I had some disturbed dreams that night and again when I dozed on Shabbat afternoon.  I don’t remember all the details, but there was a lot of darkness and I think violence; one was set in World War II, although it was drawn as much from Dad’s Army as from the reality of the war (and my unconscious got the dates wrong, perhaps to prolong it).  I woke up in time for shul in the morning, but again my social anxiety got the better of me and I went back to sleep, probably to avoid the new rabbi, at least on some level.  As a result, I ended up upset again at sleeping through so much of Shabbat (about eleven hours at night/morning and a three hour nap in the afternoon) and also about running away from things so much at the moment: shul, autism group last week and the farewell seudah for the previous rabbi and assistant rabbi a few weeks ago.

There were some more positive thoughts and experiences.  I liked the new rabbi’s style of delivering the weekly Talmud shiur (Talmud class).  It seemed a little more structured than the assistant rabbi’s style, with frequent recaps of what we had learnt.  He has extended the shiur by ten minutes, which was good too, giving more time for the page of Talmud, although we still did not quite finish it.  (Rabbis are often bad timekeepers, for some reason.  Actually, stereotype would suggest that all Jews are bad timekeepers, except for Yekkes (German Jews).  I’m only one-eighth Yekkish, but I conform to Yekkish stereotype: punctual, pedantic, detail-focused, obsessively honest.)  I also thought about making some small changes in my religious life and practices, dropping some non-obligatory things and making slight changes to try to have more kavannah (mindfulness) in prayer and to study more Torah, or at least to enjoy it more.

As usual after being in shul for so long (nearly three hours, counting two shiurimMincha, seudah, Ma’ariv and helping to tidy up) I was left drained.  I was thinking back to the person from shiur with the new baby.  At a baby boy’s brit (circumcision), we say, “Just as he has entered into the covenant, so may he enter into Torahchuppah (the wedding canopy) and good deeds.”  It makes it sound so natural for people, that one should just flow into Torah, marriage and good deeds, but it’s so hard for me to manage any of them.  I can’t do any of them ‘naturally,’ only with a lot of effort and focus; with marriage, not even then (plus there is an idea I heard from Chief Rabbi Mirvis, that “good deeds” comes after marriage in the prayer because the primary place for good deeds is to benefit your spouse, that marriage is holy because it offers so many opportunities for good deeds in a way not possible in other relationships, so I won’t ever really be able to do good deeds unless I marry).

***

I cancelled the paid part of my non-anonymous Doctor Who blog, downgrading to a free blog.  I hadn’t used it as much as I had intended, partly because I’ve decided that writing instant reviews of Doctor Who episodes isn’t really playing to my strengths as a writer (I tend to be quite polarised for or against something on first viewing and develop a more nuanced view after repeated viewing and discussion with others), partly because the time I thought I would spend re-posting old articles has been spent working on my Doctor Who book.  I may put old or even new articles up there at some point, but right now my priority is finishing the book.

***

Other than that, it’s been a ‘treading water’ type of day, running just to stay in the same place to paraphrase Lewis Carroll.  Aside from catching up with my blog for Shabbat, I went for a walk to buy ingredients to cook for dinner, and cooked them.  That’s it, really, aside from some Torah study, although I’m hoping to grab a bit of time to work on my Doctor Who book for half an hour or so before bed, so that I feel like I’ve accomplished something.

I don’t feel too depressed today, but I do feel lonely.  I keep having ‘crush’ type thoughts on someone I haven’t seen for four years and have never had the confidence to speak to.  I keep wondering if she’s seeing anyone.  I would probably have heard if she was married (married again, as she was divorced), the Jewish grapevine being what it is, but my parents do sometimes try to hide things like that from me in the believe it would depress me to know (it would, but not knowing causes problems too).  It’s stupid to think she could be interested in me, or that we would have anything in common, or that I could even speak to her (bearing in mind in twenty-five years I didn’t say a single word), but I suppose that is what loneliness does to me.  I should really try to focus on the real world and not the imaginary world that only exists in my head.  In the real world, I will probably never get married, I will probably be single and lonely forever, and I need to find ways of accepting that and not feeling like a victim because of it.

Standing on the Margins

I’ve been up and down again today.  I slept late again, after insomnia last night, which turned out to be because I’d forgotten to take my meds (I fell asleep around 3am, after taking them).  At times today I’ve been OK, but I tried doing some Torah study earlier and started crying.  I still feel very depressed.  There wasn’t an obvious trigger.

I did manage about half an hour of Torah study in the end.  It feels too little, particularly after what I wrote yesterday about “toiling” in Torah study in order to learn anything, but I just don’t feel able to do any more.  Am I being lazy?  Or beating myself up too much?  I don’t know.  My rational brain says I can force myself to do more, but the emotional side of me feels overloaded and unable to go on.  My self-esteem generally is low and I feel that I’m just not doing enough of anything at the moment: I didn’t job hunt today or do much Torah study or work on my books (except for watching Doctor Who: Demons of the Punjab for research for my book; I did work out why I don’t really like it, but that’s not entirely relevant to either this post or the book, although it was oddly mirrored by Michael Weingrad’s article today on Game of Thrones for the Jewish Review of Books).  All I did, aside from that half-hour of Torah study was a few Shabbat chores and some dusting, plus I’m hoping to go to shul (synagogue) in an hour.

I feel jealous of people who love Torah study, particularly men who love, and are good at, Talmudic study.  It must make being frum (religious Orthodox Jewish) so much easier and more enjoyable, just as it seems easier to be extrovert, and especially neurotypical, in such a community-based religion.  The assistant rabbi was speaking last night of spending hours studying with his chevruta (study partner), tearing just a few lines of Talmudic text to pieces and putting back together again in myriad ways until the understand it, and how disgusted he feels afterwards with the simplified “for dummies” explanations in the Artscroll Talmud edition commentary.  I can’t even understand the Artscroll explanations and I certainly can’t function with a chevruta, which is supposed to be the ideal Jewish way to study.

It’s funny, I tend to assume that I have no share in Olam HaBa (the World to Come i.e. Heaven).  Partly it’s that I can’t imagine anything that good happening to me (everything in my life goes wrong sooner or later, usually sooner), but also our images of Heaven – the Heavenly yeshiva where everyone studies Torah with HaShem (God), the great banquet, the circle dance around HaShem – they are all communal images.  True they are only metaphors, there isn’t a literal yeshiva, feast or dance in Heaven, but whenever I try to imagine myself in the images, it’s just awful.  I can’t study yeshiva-style, I get overloaded by the noise and the people and am too shy to say anything even if I understand the subject matter.  I hate parties and avoid them; when I do I’m left standing by the fringes (which I read the other day is what happens if you earn a not-so-good place in Olam HaBa).  And, as I noted recently, I hate circle dancing (not that I like any other type either); again, I leave early on Simchat Torah to avoid it.  I feel that Olam HaBa, if by some miracle I find myself there, will probably turn out to be like a shul Shabbat (Sabbath) dinner: I’ll feel uninspired and lonely while everyone else is having a great time, connecting with HaShem and bonding with their friends and family.

I feel more than ever that I want a frum wife who could help me grow religiously, but there’s zero chance of anyone frum wanting to go out with me.  The last two women I dated were not frum.  I don’t even know how I would even meet someone frum, and I’m sure she would not be interested in me.  My parents just feed my fantasy that I could only marry someone whose previous relationships were severely dysfunctional or abusive by suggesting that I’ll meet someone who isn’t interested in a ‘typical’ frum guy because of a bad previous experience, but I can’t see why she would not want to meet someone frum and a nice person.  Unless she isn’t interested in being frum at all, in which case I still wouldn’t be suitable.  If I make up extreme examples of reasons why no one would marry me, my parents produce equally bizarre and unlikely examples of women who might be interested in me.  I’m not convinced by them.

I’ve been using dysfunctional coping strategies for dealing with difficult feelings.  Doubtless this will include eating too much junk over Shabbat (the Sabbath).  I feel sinful (not for eating, for other things), but feeling sinful just makes it worse because I’m even more likely to react in a dysfunctional way out of guilt, low self-esteem and self-loathing.

“And I think it’s going to be a long, long time”

Lately I’ve been waking around 10am, getting up after a while, but spending hours eating breakfast and idly browsing online or going back to bed instead of getting dressed, because I don’t have the energy or motivation to get ready.  Listening to music, despite the omer, because depressed people are allowed to listen to music.  Fighting scary, violent thoughts about myself.

I had three potential jobs to apply for today.  None of them was very appealing, nor was I particularly likely to get them, but in the end I applied for a law research post rather than a law librarian or school librarian post.  That was a simple application (basically set up an online account with a job site and attach my CV), so I tried to apply for the other law librarian post, only to discover I had already applied and been rejected.  I’m not sure I can face the idea of school librarianship, so I’m leaving that for now.

I still haven’t dared raise the subject of reading some of my Doctor Who book with my fan friends.  I moved towards asking some, but haven’t done it yet, as they really do seem very busy and stressed with family crises.  I wish I knew more people I could ask.  I feel envious of books that have an acknowledgements announcement that goes on for three pages; how do they know so many people?  I’m not satisfied with the book, but don’t know how to move forwards with it.  I wrote some notes for a blog post for my Doctor Who blog the other day which, when I looked again the next day, turned out to be incoherent nonsense, which didn’t help my self-esteem.

***

On my last post, Ashley Leia asked me if fitting in is a prerequisite for acceptance.  I feel it is, but have trouble developing that thesis beyond getting bullied at school for being different.  In the conformist world of the frum (religious Orthodox Jewish) community, there can even be a religious imperative to not accepting the nonconformist, as people are encouraged to choose their friends carefully to make sure they are good influences.  That has never happened to me, but I’ve read online about people being ostracised or fearing ostracism for artistic endeavours, having the ‘wrong’ political opinions or accepting modern science and it scares me into preemptively disguising my beliefs and interests as well as my autism and depression.

There’s a paradox in the frum community in that many prominent rabbis have spoken of the need to cultivate one’s individuality (the Kotzker Rebbe said this a lot or, for a more modern perspective, see Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik’s essay Religious Styles in the collection Halakhic Morality: Essays on Ethics and Masorah, in which he says that as well as needing to perform the mitzvot (commandments), one must also develop a unique personal religious style), but the community as a whole seems to remain conformist.  Or maybe it only seems that way from the outside, because I don’t know enough people?  Perhaps I’m wrong.  I hope I’m wrong.  The general rule is that the more conservative the community, the more conformist.  In addition, people higher up the social scale can get away with more than other people, which I suppose is true in most cultures.  I know I’m at the bottom of the heap, so I keep schtum.

Of course, all human communities are conformist to some extent, that is where the feeling of kinship comes from.

As some of you may have seen me complain elsewhere, I feel a lack of clear role models for my boundary-breaking self, in both the Jewish and the non-Jewish community.  There are a lack of both real-life and fictional heroes who show you can be e.g. modern and religious, believing and questioning, frum and geeky and so on.  It is hard to orientate myself armed only with Chaim Potok novels.

Related to this is my relationship with HaShem (God), which has lately felt strained.  My davening (prayer) and hitbodedut (spontaneous prayer/meditation) have become very mechanical and routine.  My Torah study, when I do it, is as much about learning ancient languages as engaging with HaShem.  When I was very depressed, I sometimes used to feel very far from HaShem, but at other times I would feel close (there probably was some grandiosity here, perhaps almost psychotically so).  Now I feel distant, but I don’t feel yearning.  I don’t really feel anything.  I want to be religious, but I no longer feel that I know how, if I ever did.  I don’t know how to connect with people, which is necessary in Judaism as one finds God in community not in isolation, and this is problematic enough, but I if I can’t connect with people, I certainly can’t connect with HaShem.  On this note, it seems that most of the autistic people I’ve come across online or at autism group are not obviously religious.  I don’t really know what to do.

Who Would Fardels Bear?

“How weary, stale, flat, and unprofitable
Seem to me all the uses of this world!”

-William Shakespeare, Hamlet

Feeling burnt out, depressed, lonely and stupid today.  I didn’t get the job at the Very Important Organisation.  They give applicants graded feedback; mine was pretty poor, a mixture of threes and fours (out of seven) with a two for effective decision making.  You could put that down to autistic executive function issues, or plain indecisiveness.

I had no energy or enthusiasm for anything, but I forced myself out for an hour or so.  Mostly walking, some shopping and I closed a bank account that had a ridiculously small interest rate.  I bought the lentils I couldn’t get yesterday, but felt too exhausted to go and get a bat mitzvah card for my rabbi mentor’s daughter and so came home.

My mind is visual in some ways and sometimes throws up fantasies or daydreams using imagery from TV or film.  I think I daydream more, or more immaturely, than someone my age should be doing.  It can become quite absorbing, even frighteningly so, particularly when I’m depressed and agitated.  When I was out I had disturbing, agitated mental images of being cornered and outgunned, Blake’s 7-finale style, or chained to a bomb that could explode at any moment.  I’m not sure if the bomb represented the world or my psyche; I’m not convinced that either is in particularly good shape.

I feel that the world might self-destruct under the weight of its iniquities and inequities any time soon; my psyche might collapse under the weight of stress and internal contradictions.  In Politics vs Literature: An Examination of Gulliver’s Travels, George Orwell writes of people like Jonathan Swift who can’t enjoy the world and have no expectations from the next world and that such people end up wanting to stop anyone enjoying anything, “the envy of the ghost for the living” adding that “Swift ultimately blew everything to pieces in the only way that was feasible before the atomic bomb – that is, he went mad”.  I feel that I could join him, one day.  I don’t really want to stop other people being happy, I just want to get some small modicum of happiness for myself, but it doesn’t seem to be possible.

When I got home, I was still too depressed and exhausted to make job applications or to do any Torah study (I managed ten minutes or so in the end), so I worked on redrafting my Doctor Who book.  It says a lot that I was able to spend nearly two hours working on that more or less uninterrupted (or unprocrastinated), which is not something I have managed when working on job applications.  I now have completed third drafts of all fourteen existing chapters, although I’m still re-watching the most recent episodes for research for a fifteenth chapter that will need writing from scratch to cover Jodie Whittaker’s first year in the role.

I’m still not hugely happy with what I’ve written, but it’s hard to see what I should change.  I’m not good at judging my own work at the best of times and having worked on this for six years or more, it could probably do with a fresh pair of eyes, so I need to decide whether to ask my fan friends to read some chapters.  That would probably be more worthwhile than attempting a fourth draft without outside input, but my fan friends all have major life crises at the moment and I’m reluctant to ask any of them.  Plus, I don’t take criticism well and am worried that even constructive criticism could send me further downwards on a “I’m useless” spiral.

I intended to watch another episode of Doctor Who as research tonight, but the next episode is Rosa (about Rosa Parks) I’m too tired for such a heavy-going episode, so tonight will be a Blake’s 7 night (I’m currently mixing Doctor Who series eleven with a Blake’s 7 marathon).

***

It’s hard to tell how much I like to keep my political and religious views to myself and how much I feel I have to from not fitting in.  There’s an old joke about Modern Orthodox Jews that, “The people I can pray with, I can’t talk to; the people I talk to, I can’t pray with” meaning Modern Orthodox Jews are open to modernity and postmodernity and its arguments in academic and culture, but can’t talk about that with Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) Jews; conversely, they can have intellectual discussions with non-religious academics and non-Orthodox Jews, but can’t pray with them as they believe differently or not at all.  I feel that a lot, albeit not as much as I did when I worked in a non-Orthodox religious institution.

In addition to this, lately I have been aware that many of my friends would side differently to me on some major political issues and I wonder what they would think about me if they knew.  I usually keep my views quite even when they post things I find questionable or upsetting on their blogs.  Not using Twitter or Facebook makes this a little easier, but it can be hard.  This happens at depression group too, where one person in particular has strong political views and can be rude and dismissive of people who vote differently.  I’ve never said anything, and I’m sure he thinks I’m too nice to vote for… (or else he just doesn’t care).

Actually, I wonder what people think about me generally.  I sometimes wonder if the non-religious people I encounter at work, in fandom and on the blogosphere think I’m a ‘normal’ person, or at least a normal geek person, except for this weird quirk that I believe in God, and in a very legalistic and old-fashioned God at that, and have taken on lots of bizarre rituals.  They probably don’t really think like that (they’re too polite for one thing).  And, of course, I worry that if the people from my shul (synagogue) found out about my ‘modern’ beliefs and geeky interests, that would also be seen as crossing a line.

I guess it boils down to this: I have friends who have religious and political opinions and lifestyle choices I disagree with (from a Jewish point of view, the whole concept of “lifestyle choices” is fraught with difficulty as it assumes our lives are ours to deal with as we see fit, an idea that Orthodox Judaism would reject, arguing we’re called to a mission regardless of our desires and choices), but I make an effort to stay friends with them, because I don’t think you should ruin a friendship for politics or religion.  I know that makes me unusual, both in the Orthodox community (where people usually socialise with other Orthodox Jews, to avoid these kinds of situations and potential negative religious influences) and in the world at large, where people are mostly friends with people who hold similar views.  We have got used to hearing of families and friendships broken by Brexit or Trump.  So I suppose it’s natural that I wonder what the people I encounter are thinking and whether I really need to hide so much of my life from people.

That said, I feel so disillusioned and disenfranchised with the current political situation that I’m glad to have a reason not to talk politics, even with people who will agree with me.  It seems to me lately that we have a duty to save as much of life as we can from people who drag their angry and aggressive politics into everything.  I appreciate there is a role for political art and literature, but it’s a relief nowadays to find things that are beautiful for purely aesthetic reasons.  I suppose I can’t live in my ivory tower forever, but I can try.

***

If I confound expectation and manage to procreate, my eldest child’s teddy is now likely to be called Fardels Bear.

Meaning from Suffering

A random selection of stuff that went through my head today with even less thematic unity than normal…

Ashley Leia commented on the previous post regarding the high level of socialisation required in the Orthodox community.  I guess that’s what a lot of my blog is about, really, and certainly what I would want a book on mental health and autism in the frum (religious Orthodox Jewish) community to be about: that Orthodoxy does require a lot of socialisation and it isn’t always possible for people to fit in.

This dovetailed with a thought I had last night after I posted.  When frum people talk about what they like about Judaism and when non-Jews say what they admire about Judaism, some things often come up: strong family life, close-knit communities and many festivals with their unique rituals.  The problem is that because of my mental health issues and autism, things I struggle with in Judaism include family life, close-knit communities and many festivals with their unique rituals.  It feels sometimes like I have the usual difficulties of Judaism and more without the positives, or without many of the positives.  Sometimes I wonder why I’m frum, but I just “happen” to believe and am not hypocritical enough to believe and not do, or at least not try to do.

***

I’m having silly crush thoughts about someone I knew from a previous shul who I haven’t seen for about four years and who I have never (as far as I can remember) spoken to, not even to say hello.  When she saw my parents at a party last year, she apparently asked them how I was, by name.  I didn’t think that she knew me, let alone knew my name.  Somehow I can’t see that going anywhere, but I’ve been thinking of her for the last few days for no very obvious (or good) reason.  Even if I thought it was a good idea for me to be dating (which I don’t) and that she might be interested in me (which she almost certainly isn’t) I wouldn’t really know how to get in contact with her, nor would I have the confidence to do so.  But, still, I keep thinking about her.  My Dad once claimed that he’d had a dream where I was married to her.  (My Dad thinks his dreams are precognitive, which is why he isn’t worried about me not getting married and having children, because he’s seen my wife and kids in dreams.  I’m rather sceptical of things like that.)

I’m a very lonely person.  I’ve never had many friends and, even now, when I do have a small circle of friends, most of them live far away and I communicate with them by blogging, emailing, texting and/or What’sApping.  I long for real intimacy.  I mean the feeling when one really opens up to a close friend or especially a partner and is understood, and they open up and are understood in return.  This has been a rare and short-lived phenomenon in my life.  I suppose it’s related to what I said last week about existentialist Judaism and finding holiness in the interpersonal.

***

I went out to do some shopping for ingredients for dinner.  I was out walking for an hour and came back with nothing.  I couldn’t find lentils in the two small supermarkets and I’d forgotten that the big Sainsbury’s shuts early on Sunday and they were closed when I arrived.  I became so focused on finding the lentils that I forgot we needed apples too.  By the time I got home I was feeling too depressed and exhausted to cook much anyway.

***

I felt very depressed and despairing when I was out, not about myself, but about society as a whole.  Sometimes it’s easy to convince myself that society is just corrupt, and that Jewish society has been corrupted too, and that (as per the Rambam) I should go off somewhere and be a hermit.  I don’t think society has passed the point of no return, and as a student of history, I’m not really convinced that society is worse than ever before, overall, but one only needs to look in a newspaper to see that there’s a lot wrong with the world.

Nevertheless, I felt very agitated when trapped with my thoughts, despite taking advantage of the heter (permission) to allow depressed people to listen to music in the omer.  I don’t know why I experience this agitation sometimes, what triggers it or ends it, nor do I understand the anger and grandiosity that can accompany it.  I don’t know where it comes from or why or how to calm down without just waiting until I’m burnt out and exhausted, not to mention still depressed, just too tired to think.  I’ve been told it isn’t mania, as I once thought.  It seems to be associated with loneliness and comes particularly on days when I am alone.  It started while my parents were out today and continued while I was out shopping, but when I got home and saw my parents it subsided (maybe I do need to get married ASAP).  The immediate triggers are usually seeing political stuff online or in the newspapers, particularly stuff about antisemitism or other political events that trouble me.  But I’m not sure if they are really the triggers; it feels like they are just the proximate causes and there’s a deeper psychological cause somewhere that I haven’t identified.

Sometimes, particularly when I’m very agitated, I feel, on some level, that I want to die for everyone’s sins, although that’s not a very Jewish thing to say (in theory we don’t believe in vicarious punishment.  It does appear in some sources, but we downplay it).  When I was at university I had a couple of borderline-psychotic episodes for for a second or two I was convinced that I was Mashiach (the Messiah).

I just want my suffering to be meaningful beyond myself.  It’s hard just thinking that, at best, I might be atoning for some of my sins and saving myself from different suffering in Gehennom (Purgatory).  It’s much better for my ego and sense of purpose to feel that every day I suffer somehow pushes the world towards redemption, that every tear I shed spares a child from a terrorist’s rocket.  It’s hard to find real meaning in my suffering, so it’s easy to slip into fantasy.  I suppose that’s why I want to write a book about my experiences, to try to rescue them (the experiences, I mean), to let other people find meaning in them.  There is very little written about mental health from a frum Jewish perspective and, as far as I can tell, virtually nothing at all about high functioning autism.

***

In the end I did manage to do a few useful things today: I went shopping/walking for an hour, did ten minutes of Torah study (all I could face, really) and spent an hour and a half redrafting another chapter of my Doctor Who book as well as watching and taking notes The Ghost Monument episode for the chapter I still have to write.  I also cooked a packet of couscous.  I feel I should have done more, though.  I wanted to do ‘real’ cooking, not convenience food and I feel frustrated that I can spend an hour and a half or more on my book (not to mention blogging) and only ten minutes on Torah study, but the latter is draining while the former is restoring.  Still, it feels like a wasted day.  I can sort of see that maybe (maybe!) it shouldn’t feel like a wasted day and maybe I shouldn’t be beating myself up for not doing enough Torah study, especially as at one point I didn’t think I would manage any, but it’s hard to think like that.

Existential Angst

I had another job interview today, at a very large law firm for a law librarian-type job.  I left my self lots of time to get there, which was lucky as I struggled to find their offices and wandered around a bit until I found them.  I’m not sure if the fault was Transport for London’s online directions or inadequate signage in central London.  I still got there early, though.  Then on the way home, I accidentally went into Farringdon mainline station instead of Farringdon Underground station, a mistake that seems to have cost me £2.40 just to go through the ticket barriers (which accepted my oyster card (Underground ticket)).  The signage is all done in the same font as the Underground signage, which is confusing.

There was a test before the interview, which was on proofreading and cataloguing, plus a trickier question about how I would respond to a problematic library user.  I was glad that I practised my cataloguing this week.  I was also glad that I prepared more thoroughly than in the past for the interview, as they threw twenty or thirty questions at me for an hour, which is a more intense interview than I’ve had since I applied to Oxford (not that I’ve had many job interviews, but you get the idea).  I had a sense of doing OK, but perhaps not great, but I’m a very bad judge of these things.  I think, like dating, chemistry with the office culture is important, and also how good the other candidates are (maybe also like dating).

I’m not sure if I would take the job.  I’m guessing the salary would be decent and the offices are very swish, as you would expect, but I don’t know that I’m ready, in terms of my psychological health, to work full-time even without the fact that the job description expects overtime, plus there may be a problem with Shabbat i.e. Friday afternoons in the winter, but also from a comment in the interview occasional Saturday work might be required too.  But even beyond that, I think the corporate culture at a place like this might not be right for me.  I find the idea of working somewhere that exists primarily to make money vaguely unsettling.  I’ve only worked somewhere like that once, on a short contract, and I didn’t like it (admittedly a lot of other things were wrong there too).  Even writing a book on Doctor Who seems more socially useful: people would hopefully enjoy the book, whereas spending my time helping lawyers to trace legal precedents to help big companies make deals seems… not quite my kind of thing.  I’m not an anti-capitalist by any means, I am just really uncertain that it’s where I would like to invest my energies, which, after all, are rather limited at the moment.  I feel like a precious snowflake saying that, but I’m not sure I would be happy in a job that was both high-pressured and not socially useful in any obvious kind of way.

I suppose the real trouble is that, deep down, I want to at least try to make a career as a writer of some description, I’m just scared and don’t know how to start.  I picture myself at the school swimming pool, standing on the side in my swimming trunks, trying to get the courage to jump into the freezing water…  Lately I’ve been interviewed for or considered librarianship jobs in academia, law and the civil service, and they all make me feel inadequate.  I know that, in theory, with my BA I should have been able to at least try to get jobs in any of those areas, either as a librarian or as an actual academic/lawyer/civil servant.  And I didn’t, because I was scared and didn’t believe in myself (granted I never wanted to be a lawyer, I just know that some huge proportion of Jews go into law).  And now I’m trying to work out what I do believe in my ability to do.

***

The assistant rabbi in his shiur (religious class) the last couple of weeks has spoken a lot about kedusha (holiness) and the importance of having it in our lives, but also the difficulty of obtaining it.  He says we can keep the whole of Jewish law, but even then we might not obtain kedusha because it is ultimately a gift from God; we have to prepare ourselves for it (do the mitzvot (commandments) and work on our characters), but we might not get it.

I do wonder if I am making any attempt to find kedusha in my life.  So much of the time at the moment I feel like I’m just going through the motions with davening (prayer), Torah study, mitzvot…  I know it’s hard to feel engaged with depression and the resultant poor concentration and motivation and I know feeling engaged can trick you into thinking you’ve got holiness when it’s just pleasure/joy/ego.  Even so, I feel there ought to be more to my religious life, but when I try to learn more/better or daven more/better, I just hit a barrier.  I know the barrier is probably depression or sometimes social anxiety, but I feel I should be able to get through it somehow.

I’m not sure I really know what kedusha is anyway, beyond thinking I don’t have it (I assume I would know it if I felt it, although that may simply not be true).  I haven’t read much Jewish philosophy lately, but a number of years ago I was quite into Jewish religious existentialist philosophy: Rav Soloveitchik, Emmanuel Levinas, Abraham Joshua Heschel, Emil Fackenheim, Franz Rosenzweig (couldn’t understand a word of him), Martin Buber’s Tales of the Hasidim…  A key idea in Jewish existentialism is that kedusha is found in relationships, in our interactions with others as much as ritual.  There is also emphasis on the longing for HaShem (God) and the feeling of distance from him (Rav Soloveitchik’s The Lonely Man of Faith is a key text here; also Arthur Green’s reading of Rabbi Nachman of Breslov and his Tales).  I know the longing, but I feel that I experience it less than I did when the depression was at its worst.  Has recovery (however partial and limited) made me less religious and God-aware?  It’s a scary thought.  My autism and social anxiety make it hard for me to find HaShem in personal interactions, although I try when I volunteer at the asylum seekers drop-in centre.  I try to reach out to people who are struggling online and find some satisfaction in doing that, although I worry about saying the wrong thing and think I have done so in the past.

***

Today has left me feeling exhausted.  I will try to go to shul (synagogue) tonight, but I doubt I will make it for tomorrow morning.  I will try to go to the seudah shlishit (third meal) being held as a farewell for the rabbi, the assistant rabbi and their wives, although with my shiurMincha and Ma’ariv (Afternoon and Evening services) it will last for about three and a half hours, which is a lot of ‘peopling’ particularly if I’m feeling exhausted.  Other than that, I will try to relax after a very stressful week, whilst musing in the background on what to do if I am offered either of the two jobs I was interviewed for this week.

Be Careful What You Wish For

Sometimes it feels that I do actually get almost everything I want, or think I want, if I wait long enough, but then it turns out not to be as good as I hoped.  In fact, it usually turns out to be painful.  That’s what happened with going to Oxford, being in a more frum (religious) community, getting a job with longer hours and more responsibility, dating and being published on a professionally.  It makes me wonder if I should really want anything (career, marriage, children) or is it just going to leave me longing for the days I was so depressed that I did nothing except sleep and watch TV (some people’s dream life, I suppose, although the reality was pretty awful).

Despite feeling that getting the things I want always goes wrong, it’s easy to envy other people, not so much for their money as their lives: the meaningful and sure career, the loving spouse or partner, the beautiful children, the meaningful religious life…  all “apparently” of course, as often the reality is different.  I suppose most people have to deal with suffering in the end, I’m just getting mine out the way first, although I’m worried that I’m just going to get a double serving.  And I’m not sure that everyone gets the same level of suffering.  The reward is proportional to the effort says the Mishnah.  Well, I hope so, although I’m not sure that suffering is the same as effort.  I don’t always feel that I’m putting in enough effort religiously, because I don’t always have the energy, motivation or concentration because of depression and perhaps because of laziness.

***

The job agency I have the interview through tomorrow sent me interview preparation advice.  I was concentrating so much on cataloguing preparation yesterday for the test that I hadn’t really thought about interview preparation.  It’s fair to say that I don’t usually do much of the interview preparation they suggest and am failing in ways I didn’t even recognise.  There’s some an element of autistic, “Why would I care about that?” (e.g. asking the interview panel about the office culture or why they like working there). There’s often a lot of feeling that I haven’t shown the desired competencies or experience and can’t do anything about that (usually accompanied by, “Why are they even calling me to interview?”) and some autistic “Well, I can’t read their minds well enough to guess what they will ask, so why bother?” and the equally autistic “I can’t describe what I would do, I just do it.”  There might also be an element of autistic hyperfocus on things that interest me, but poor concentration (worsened by depression) on things that don’t interest me.  There’s a fair bit of feeling that librarianship isn’t the right sector for me any more although I don’t know how I’d fair with an interview for a writing position.  I think part of the attraction of writing for me is that I can let my work speak for itself.  I suppose there is also the feeling that “Everything goes wrong for me so why am I even trying?”  And I don’t know why I would want tomorrow’s job other than I need the money and something to put on my CV.  Other things being equal (which they aren’t), why would I even want to work in a law library?

I suppose I don’t actually feel capable of getting and doing a job like most people.  There might be a bit of arrogance in there (“I’m above this”), but it’s mostly low self-esteem (“I can’t do this”) and the autistic feeling of, “I’m not like other people, I can’t function the way they can or in the environments they can.”  Not everyone with autism feels like that, obviously, so maybe it’s mostly low self-esteem.  I was supposed to be doing CBT to work on that, but the NHS seems to have forgotten me.  I tried chasing them, but I got fed up sending emails that were not answered and leaving answerphone messages that weren’t returned.

I tried to follow the agency’s preparation instructions, but I froze up.  The anxious/depressive “I can’t do this I can’t do this I can’t do this.”  Trying to describe how I dealt with a difficult situation (a question which, with variations, has come up a lot for me), I can’t think of anything they would think of as difficult that I handled well.  I can think of  things I’ve found difficult that neurotypicals would not find difficult, or that I handled badly, or at least not well from an interview point of view (trying established procedures or asking a colleague or superior for help would not be viewed positively by people looking for initiative and adaptability (not very autistic traits) and the fact that some of my decisions were over-ruled by superiors is not great either).  I don’t think I coped well with a difficult boss either; I don’t know how I would cope with difficult colleagues, as I’ve never had them, but I’m guessing it would be the same.

It’s hard to remember details from other jobs anyway.  I’ve twice been asked in the past about my favourite library management system and failed to give a good answer.  It’s the autistic/Sherlock Holmes “It doesn’t interest me so why should I bother to remember?” issue again.  I could give them a detailed answer comparing my favourite Doctor Who writers.

Looking at the company website terrified me, the sense of this being a massive multinational law firm and I couldn’t cope with such a large and pressured environment as the job spec stated.  When I applied for the job, I didn’t think I’d make it to interview, so I never thought I would really have to deal with this.  I was just trying to reassure the agency that I am genuinely looking for a job and putting myself forward for things.

I feel a bit like Icarus.  Once I was a high-flyer, but then I started falling, further than anyone had fallen before.  It’s very hard to know what to do when your wings have melted.  I suppose Icarus got what he wished for too.

***

Today I was feeling depressed even before the interview preparation email came through.  As usual, I woke late, struggled to get going and prayed a very minimal amount of Shacharit (morning prayers).  I cried a bit while doing so, I think more from frustration and perhaps despair as much as anything else.  I feel OKish now, but the depression and anxiety come and go.  This seems to be the “new normal” at the moment: bad mornings and days that are mostly good, but which have negative blips and low energy.

Maror Fressers

Unusually, I woke early and couldn’t get back to sleep, so I got up.  I didn’t get much of an early start on the day, as I frittered away some time listening to podcasts on politics and antisemitism as well as trying to get rid of emails.  I use a free email site for Oxford graduates, but really they intend you to move quickly from the free site to a paid upgrade.  I’m reluctant to do this, but I am fast running out of free space now my email folders are filling up with work- and job hunting-related emails, sometimes with huge attachments.  (It’s telling that it’s taken me fourteen years to get to this stage, whereas their business model presumably expects most people to get to it within a year or so of graduation.)  I am not quite sure what to do about this.  I have a free gmail account with a lot of free space which is associated with my other (non-anonymous) blog, but I know if I switch accounts, some of my friends will miss the email telling them to update their address books.  Then there is the hassle of changing my details on internet shopping sites and the like (I could lose some spam, though).

This was all procrastination as I knew I had to set up some online accounts to try to get some freelance proofreading/copy editing work.  I started to do that, but then I started getting anxious, worrying that I didn’t know the proper procedures for proofreading and would mess it up, not being sure what to put on my profile, worrying I wouldn’t get any work because I have no experience or positive reviews…  I wasn’t hugely anxious, but it was a struggle to work on my profile page.  It turned into a struggle between hope and anxiety/procrastination.  I did email a friend who proofreads to ask for help, although I felt very stupid.  Suddenly I felt like I didn’t have a clue what proofreaders and copy editors do, beyond the most general outline.

I could feel the worries spiralling out like fractals in a way that I am familiar with from my OCD, where each answer leads to another three questions.  Being autistic and fearing the unknown probably didn’t help either; I wanted to know and prepare for every eventuality.  Soon I was drifting into self-critical thoughts, thinking that I’m not good at anything, I’m not going to be able to get a job, even that no one really likes me, feeling incompetent and unskilled compared to other people advertising proofreading and copy editing…  I ended up feeling really depressed again and not sure what to do.

I did complete a profile for one site in the end.  I might go on a couple of others too.  My friend was also really helpful.  So that is all positive.  In other news, however, I got two job rejections, for the job I was interviewed for recently and for another one that I quite wanted.

***

This evening I went to my parents’ shul (synagogue) for a Yom Ha’atzmaut (Israeli Independence Day) event.  I enjoyed it to some extent, but not hugely.  There was a good magician, but I was terrified he would pick on me to come up on to the stage to help with his act.  I also felt swamped by the number of people, most of whom I didn’t know, and by the noise.  I slipped out during the raffle to get away from it all.  But I think the real reason I was subdued was that, with a small war in Israel over the weekend, the festivities seemed a bit hollow.  They just seemed to show how far we still have to go.  I thought a bit about this story about my hero, the Kotzker Rebbe (Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Kotzk, nineteenth century Hasidic rabbi).  I found the story here some time ago.  I edited it and tidied it up a little to read at the seder this year, although I didn’t have time to rewrite it totally into my “voice”:

One  year, the Kotzker Rebbe failed to pass out Maror [bitter herb, eaten at the seder in memory of the bitterness of the Egyptian slavery] to his family and those at the Seder.   The people around the table whispered to the Sochatchover Rebbe, the Kotzker Rebbe’s son in law, that he should remind the Kotzker to pass out Maror.   The Sochatchover in a light-hearted comment to the Kotzker Rebbe mentioned a disagreement in the Talmud whether Marror today is Rabbinic or Biblical.  The Sochatchover said to his father-in-law that I have a proof from the Rebbe that Maror is Rabbinic, because the Rebbe has not passed out the Maror.

The Kotzker responded to his son-in-law, you are correct and gave Maror to everyone.  Suddenly, the Kotzker declared in a loud voice, “Maror Fressers”, Maror Fressers translates into, People who indulge in Maror.  Due to the fear of the Rebbe everyone around the table scattered and only the Sochatchover remained.

After a while Reb Hersh Tomashover [the Rebbe’s gabbai, essentially his PA], came in the room and the Kotzker asked him, where is everyone.  Reb Hersh answered that the Rebbe chased them out of the house when the Rebbe screamed out, Maror Fressers.  The Kotzker replied that he did not mean the people around the table.

When the Kotzker screamed out Maror Fressers, he was praying to God.  Maror is bitterness and slavery and persecution.  Enough already.  It is time for Moshaich [the Messiah].  The Jews have suffered and suffered and suffered.   The Jews are constantly eating Maror and it is time for salvation.

Living in a Thomas the Tank Engine Dystopia

I haven’t written for a few days.  You may have heard that there was a flare up of violence in Israel.  700 rockets were fired at Israel from Gaza in 48 hours, with four Israeli civilians killed.  Like many diaspora Jews, I feel a strong connection to Israel, doubly so as I have family there (my cousin spent Sunday running in and out of bomb shelters).  For all the in-fighting in the Jewish community, Jews see each other as family and come together when one is attacked, more so, as far as I can tell, than is done by other religious or ethnic minority communities.  It’s an intuitive thing for us.

I don’t really want to write about the conflict here, because I don’t want to get dragged into a political discussion about the rights and wrongs of the situation, nor do I want antisemitic trolling, which has happened to me in the past.  Yet there is no denying that antisemitism and Jew-hatred, let alone Jew-killing makes my mood plummet, and I felt it would be dishonest not to acknowledge that here on my blog, where I am usually open about my feelings.  It’s frightening that my mental health and well-being as well as my physical safety is under constant threat from outsiders who I have no control over, but that is the daily reality of being Jewish.  So I was stuck feeling that the one thing I had to write about was the one thing I didn’t want to write about.

That is all I want to say about this.

***

I had a one-off therapy session yesterday, my first in some months.  I felt a bit sheepish afterwards because, as my therapist said, there isn’t much that therapy can do for me right now.  She said I have ongoing life-struggles (getting an autism diagnosis; job hunting/wondering if I’m in the right career; dating), but I seem to be coping with them OK.  She said I need a friend to mull things over with rather than a therapist at the moment, which is probably true.  I feel a bit sheepish about this, but perhaps I had to go through a therapy session to realise I don’t really need it at the moment.

***

My sleep is still disrupted.  I’m getting to bed a little earlier than I was, but I still sleep through most of the morning and sometimes, as today, I wake up feeling so exhausted and depressed that I can’t get up for an hour.  Cereal and coffee helps, but I have to get up to eat them, which is the hard part.  I’m fed up of living like this – sleeping too long, at the wrong time, being too exhausted and depressed to do as much as I would like during the day, procrastinating when I should be doing things – but it is hard to change things.  I do just enough to avoid the total collapse that would lead to outside intervention, but I’m only doing the bare essentials; I have a long to do list that isn’t getting attacked.  I actually went back to bed after breakfast today.  I didn’t sleep, but I just felt too drained to do anything, even to get dressed.

***

I eventually managed to send off another job application, but, again, I don’t feel that I really have the necessary skills and I think that was reflected in my answers to the questions on the application, which were waffley and not really reflective of the experience needed.  The second interview for the job I was interviewed for during Pesach is on Thursday and I haven’t been called for that either, so it looks like I haven’t got that, although I suppose they could still call tomorrow.

After the job application (which only took about forty minutes to finish), I went for a walk and to do some shopping for an hour or so, but when I came back I was exhausted.  I did manage to hoover my room, which needed doing, but took longer than I would have liked due to low energy and the hoover not working properly.  I hate that I get tired so easily and manage to do so little.  I wanted to start work on a small writing project I recently agreed to work on for Ashley Leia, but after all this and my struggles complaining to the council (see below), I ran out of time and energy.  I did at least manage about twenty-five minutes of Torah study after dinner.

Looking at this, I did achieve things, and I did perhaps achieve more than I have managed on some days recently.  It’s just hard to let myself feel proud of my achievements instead of attacking myself for not managing more.  I think it is a bad idea to predicate one’s happiness on having more money or power or fame, but I’ve somehow got stuck with the idea that my worth in life is predicated on the amount of things I do.  To some extent this is supported by Judaism, which makes looking at it differently difficult, but Judaism speaks of giving one’s best effort, even if that does not result in much of a practical result, whereas I want to achieve a certain (dangerously undefined) amount without taking into account how hard I try or how difficult it is for me to achieve things because of my ‘issues.’  Perhaps I should call it The Really Useful Engine Fallacy, after the online theory (picked up by various print newspapers on a slow news day) that the Thomas the Tank Engine books are set in a brutal dystopia where one’s value depends on one’s ability to work and be a “really useful engine”*.

* This is going way off the topic, but looking for articles on that theory led me to this page where a commenter said “I think both worlds [Thomas the Tank Engine and Star Trek] are relatable to a certain kind of person because they both depict worlds where your value doesn’t come from navigating social hierarchies, but from simply loving what you are doing.”  Is it too much to say that “a certain kind of person” is “an autistic person”?  Because it fits the rest of the statement.  I did love Thomas as a child and I still do like Star Trek, although I prefer Doctor Who, which is more anarchic, because I’m a rebel (a bit).

***

I did also try to send a complaint to the council about the fact that they have stopped the household food waste recycling service they used to run.  I’ve been meaning to do this for months and had not got around to it.  The decision is bad enough for the environment even without the fact that they did not inform the public that it was happening; I’m sure we aren’t the only household who continued using expensive compostable bin liners for food waste after they had switched to burying it in landfill.

They don’t make it easy to find the relevant address to write to, as they funnel you to specific online reporting forms and if you can’t find one that’s relevant it is hard to find a general address to write to.  I tried to set up an account with them, which they recommend doing to send a complaint, but the website wouldn’t accept a password from me, even though I met the rather stringent criteria given (eight characters, letters, numbers, upper case, lower case, some special characters!).  In the end I had to use a different form to complain without setting up an account.

The form referred to me as a “customer” which annoyed me.  I’m not hugely anti-capitalism (reading about Thomas the Tank Engine as a capitalist dystopia notwithstanding), but I don’t think all our interactions can be reduced to the market, and this is one of them.  I’m a resident (not technically a ratepayer, but my parents are), not a customer.

The whole thing left me feeling as if the machinery of government in this country is in the hands of uninterested technocrats who think they know better than the electorate, but that surely is just my paranoia…

***

I’m still worried about dating.  I feel no one could ever love me or live with me, so I should stop seeing L. for her own good.  But when I reflect on that, it doesn’t seem so logical, though.  “My thoughts are not always my friends.”  I can see that there would be some difficulties if we were in a relationship, but I can also see how we could possibly balance each other out in a positive way, if I don’t panic and inadvertently sabotage the relationship.

I guess I can’t see anything in my life turning out well, though.  Certainly not in the next year or two.  I try to focus on the improvements I’ve made to my life, but they seem equivocal.  I’ve had jobs… but nothing lasting or that I feel I’ve done well.  I’ve dated… but never built a lasting relationship.  My shul (synagogue) attendance and Torah study fluctuate wildly.  It’s hard to see things suddenly turning around.

Still, I’ve just set up a date with L. for Sunday.  We’re going to picnic in a park in central London.  I’m hoping it won’t rain.  The weather forecast is dry, but you can never tell in this country…

Chad Gadya

I still feel that I am coming down with a cold.  I feel hot and bothered and exhausted.  I’m not sure how much is exhaustion and how much is a real virus.  I felt so exhausted and depressed that I got up late and was slow getting ready, so the original plan for the day, to go to The Jewish Museum with my Dad, was abandoned as we wouldn’t get our money’s worth out of the entrance fee.  We went to the British Museum instead, which is free, so we didn’t feel resentful of only going for an hour or two.  I felt a bit better while I was there, physically and emotionally.  It was probably just as well that I missed The Jewish Museum, as I wanted to see the Jews and Money exhibition; spending the afternoon looking at Nazi and Soviet propaganda of Jews as economic parasites might not have been the most enjoyable thing on Chol HaMoed (the intermediate days of Passover).  Instead, at the British Museum, I got to look at relics from ancient civilisations that tried to wipe out the Jews, but have long-since vanished while we’re still here: Egyptians, Assyrians, Greeks, which I think was appropriate for the Festival of Redemption.

***

I have a date with L. on Monday.  This is after therapy at lunch time and spending the previous day peopling in Oxford after two days of Yom Tov, so I hope I will not be burnt out and unable to interact before I even get there (remember to breathe).  I’m trying not to overthink it, but it’s hard.

I’m also trying not to overthink Pesach (Passover) OCD stuff.  The religious OCD has been a lot better this year (three days to go), but it’s hard to let go of some thoughts, silly though they seem.  The biggest fear is that the kosher supermarkets might have accidentally had forbidden chametz (leavened) produce and we bought it, which is really just punishing myself for not having checked the hechshers (rabbinic seals of approval).  Sometimes my OCD means “I don’t think I deserve for this to be OK.”

***

I watched The King’s Speech yesterday.  My Dad insisted on lending me the DVD ages ago, but I hadn’t got around to it as I wasn’t that interested.  I was wrong.  It was really good, but what surprised me was that it’s really about self-esteem and accepting who you are, or rather who God/fate/life wants you to be.  Accepting that you can grow and change.

One exchange resonated with me:

Bertie [the future George VI]: I’m not going to sit here warbling.

Lionel Logue [speech therapist]: You can with me.

Bertie: You’re peculiar.

Logue: I take that as a compliment.

I like being different.  Admittedly this is because I have a low opinion of both the consumerist, hedonist, godless rat-race mainstream Western world and the often narrow-minded, self-righteous, and sometimes also hypocritically consumerist frum (religious Orthodox Jewish) world.  I complain that I don’t fit in either, but deep down, I don’t really want to belong in either.  I like being different.  But it’s lonely and I have a history of being bullied and rejected for being different.  So I hide my eccentricities and interests and compartmentalise my life: Jewish stuff, work stuff, geeky stuff…  My oldest friend is much more open about being a geeky.  When we were at school, he would refer to geeky stuff in class work; now he talks about it in his sermons (he’s a non-Orthodox rabbi).  I wish I could be a little bolder in presenting the real me.

I suppose that’s why writing is so important to me, here and in the books I would like to write/am writing.  I want to get the Doctor Who book finished in a couple of months and send it out to publishers so I can start work in earnest on the Judaism/autism/depression misery memoir that seems potentially more worthwhile, worthwhile because it might help other people and worthwhile because I’ll be able to show the real me.

Not Quite An Argument

I guess I posted my last post too soon.  I just had dinner with my parents and it didn’t go well.  Dad wanted to carry on talking about my job interview and told me that I should have answers to why I want the job and where I see myself in five years time.  I sort of have a stock answer for why I want a librarianship job in higher education, but it seems less and less accurate; I really don’t think I’m cut out to be an academic librarian (but then what am I cut out for?).  The five years question is just impossible.  I don’t know where I see myself in five months.  I don’t know if I even want to be a librarian in five years time.  Dad said that I should say I want to take on more responsibility in the library, which might not be true even if I stay as a librarian (like a lot of autistic people, I have very little personal or professional ambition).  I said that I could say that, but it would be a lie.  Dad got annoyed with me and I ended up saying, rather more loudly than I intended, “I’m sorry I’m depressed, I’m trying hard…” and then breaking off.

I know it’s not easy for my parents having their elder child living at home in his mid-thirties, especially as my younger sister has left home long ago and ticked almost all the adult boxes (career, husband, house, mortgage) and I know it isn’t easy that my mood is often low, that I’m often negative, pessimistic and irritable and that they still are, in some sense, my carers (not to mention my bankers).  But it’s not easy for me being in this situation either, and I’m the one who has to live with my emotions and my autism 24/7.

I insisted on doing at least some of the washing up to apologise, even though I have zero energy.

I feel really guilty right now, not so much for the incident above as for other things that I would sort of like to write about, but feel that I shouldn’t.  I don’t feel that I’m a very good or lovable person.

I don’t feel tired enough to sleep, but I have zero motivation, concentration or energy to do anything, not to read and not even to watch TV.  I’m not quite sure how I’m going to fill the next three hours before bed.

Wasting Time

I’m struggling today, with depression, OCD and irrational guilt.  The depression is probably from exhaustion as much as anything after the last three days.  I just have no energy and low mood without particular depressive thoughts.  Seder has disrupted my sleep pattern again.  I was up until 3.30am or so last night writing my blog, but also because I was not tired from sleeping during the day too much.  I slept until about 12.30pm today and then spent two and a half hours trying to get the energy to eat breakfast and get dressed.

The OCD is about kosher supermarkets, and whether all the food in them is kosher for Pesach if they aren’t rabbinically supervised.  It’s silly really, as I buy food from there during the rest of the year without feeling the need to check the hechshers (rabbinic seals of approval).  I just worry that we might have bought non-kosher for Pesach food by mistake.

The guilt is the silliest thing, because it’s not even primarily for things I have actually done.  I was reading Neshamas.com, a website for people within the frum (religious Orthodox Jewish) community where they can post anonymously about anything non-insulting.  People write really moving stuff on there about abuse, crises of faith, confusion about their sexuality and so on.  I was reading posts about abuse and marital rape and worrying that if I was married, I would be abusive, even though I have no evidence for that, and possibly some evidence against.  It’s silly, really.  I guess that’s low self-esteem, or more likely pure O OCD, which can make people feel guilty for things they haven’t done.  My CBT therapist said that people who have OCD thoughts about abuse are the least likely to actually be abusive.  Then I commented on some posts on Neshamas, but felt that I had said the wrong thing and might have made things worse and felt bad about that.  It’s hard to know what to do sometimes.

I guess I have some other guilt too today.  I’m not sure how justified it is.  Sometimes I just have to cope anyway I can.  So, for example, today I’m making an educated guess that I’m doing the right thing about the non-supervised, but kosher, supermarkets and carrying on eating food from there, assuming that the desire not to is just OCD.  But it’s hard to know that it’s right; it could be that I’m just trying to find an excuse to stop worrying.  Other things I know are wrong, but are hard to avoid e.g. being irritable when I’m depressed (although actually today I’m not particularly irritable, just exhausted).  Also, I feel that I should be preparing for my interview tomorrow or doing Torah study or something semi-productive, but it’s hard, but because I’ve got the interview tomorrow I can’t say I’m taking Chol HaMoed as holiday.

I don’t think I really want the job I’m up for tomorrow.  It’s similar to the job I did in further education, but with higher education students, which should be good, but I just remember how I messed up that job and how my boss thought I couldn’t cope.  There’s a job description the length of my arm and I just think, “How can I do this?”  I don’t know what I’ll say if I get asked why I want the job at the interview.  I don’t know where I see myself in five years either, the other question my Dad says gets asked a lot.  I don’t really feel able to cope with any kind of job that involves interactions with other people at the moment i.e. most of them.  I feel I could be a writer or a lighthouse keeper and that’s about it.  I feel I should take some positive steps towards becoming a writer, but I’m scared and taking on a career with no experience and no sure and steady income just because a few people have said I can write well.  I feel I should earn a lot of money first to subsidise myself for a couple of years while I try to write, but there isn’t much chance of that happening.

I guess I’m feeling lonely too.  I wish I could connect with someone, but it’s really hard.  I just feel awful, all burnt out and depressed, unable to do anything.  I did go for a twenty minute walk, but that’s about all I’ve done today.  I want to do some Torah study, but I don’t have the energy, concentration or really the motivation.  I suppose I could try to listen to a shiur (religious class) online for a bit.

I’m not particularly anxious, because the depression is so strong today that it drowns out the anxiety, but I’m vaguely worried about that OCD anxiety, about my exhausting my parents’ sympathy and patience for me, about my career, about dating L. (I don’t feel that anyone could love someone as messed up as I am) and so on.

I just feel like I want to cry right now.

***

One thing I forgot to talk about yesterday/last night regarding my seder was the idea that we are supposed to imagine that God redeemed us individually from Egypt.  The idea is that if the exodus had not occurred, we would still be slaves 3,000 years later, or at least that we would still have a slave mentality and not be able to live truly free lives.  I find this hard.  I found I could imagine being a slave and I could imagine HaShem (God) being with me in slavery and suffering, but it was very hard to see myself as actually freed.  I think I may have achieved it for a few seconds, but not for long.  I guess it’s good that I think that God is with me in my suffering, which I wouldn’t have thought a little while ago.

More Variations on a Theme of Pesach Anxiety

I’m glad I’m not in my FE job today, as I would doubtless have been caught in the climate change protests in the Docklands, which I really wouldn’t need when there is Pesach stuff to be done.  I don’t know why the protesters are bothering anyway; no one is going to catastrophise about climate change when we’re all too busy catastrophising about Brexit…

***

I’m sleeping really badly at the moment.  It takes me a couple of hours to fall asleep, and then I sleep through the whole morning.  This is not good with Pesach stuff to do.  I don’t think I’m consciously lying awake thinking about Pesach, but I’m sure that’s the reason for the insomnia.

***

Our usual kosher butchers were out of shank bones (symbolising the Pesach lamb on the seder plate), but I remembered another, small kosher butcher my parents had forgotten about.  I went down today and they still had so I feel like I have Officially Saved Pesach.  (No one else feels thinks I Saved Pesach, but it’s my story and I’m sticking to it.)

***

kashered the hob for Pesach.  I had some problems with this, which I won’t go into, but I did make a hurried Skype call to my rabbi mentor in the middle to check some things, which I wouldn’t normally do.  But I think I did it OK.  I’m not feeling OCD anxious about it.

***

I felt really stressed and anxious this afternoon, less OCD anxiety about preparing for Pesach wrongly and more general anxiety about leaving everything to the last minute because much of the preparation requires help from my parents (either because it’s a two-person job or because I don’t know where things are) or can only take place after certain things have happened which my parents want to leave until later, so I’m waiting for them and plutzing and worrying how I will sleep tonight and how I will do everything tomorrow night and how I will sleep tomorrow night and how I will get up early on Friday morning and how I will do everything on Friday…  It doesn’t help that I tend to view small mistakes or setbacks as catastrophic, or at least as signalling that bigger mistakes are to come, which is not always the case.  I don’t usually have big meltdowns the way some autistic people do, but I probably do experience small ones, when I get overwhelmed by a mixture of anxiety, stress, tiredness and helplessness, usually because of things that are out of my control.  I felt that building inside of me earlier and I managed suppress it by going for a brisk walk and so far we haven’t had a major Pesach argument this year, but it’s hard.  I think I am coping OK overall, although I’m wary of saying anything for superstitious reasons that I’m afraid it will all go wrong if I mention it.

I guess that as with many of my issues (in life in general), a lot boils down to living with my parents and having to play by their rules where their rules are not good for me with depression, anxiety, OCD and autism (autism likes to know when things will happen, anxiety likes not to leave things to the last minute, depression, autism and OCD all need lots of sleep).  I really should not be living with my parents aged thirty-five.

I do feel bad that, because of preparation, I haven’t had much time for Torah study or to go to shul.  Although I suspect that men who can keep up with Torah study and shul at this time of year are either super-organised or are exempted from much of the cleaning and kashering by their wives (or even forcibly expelled from the house by their wives for the duration).

***

So now half our kitchen is Pesachdik and half is still chametz.  My rabbi mentor says that this is the most dangerous time of year, when it’s easiest to mix up chametz and Pesachdik.  I agree, and it’s doubly hard with religious OCD.  I guess if you want to know what it’s like, the comparison would be to take someone with germ contamination OCD and dump a load of raw sewage in her kitchen and expect her to just carry on as if it wasn’t there.  Not going to happen.

Forty-six hours to go…

***

Looking at this inventory for self-stigma of mental illness, I think I have quite a bit of self-stigma about my mental health, especially if I include the autism too.  I know autism isn’t a mental illness, but just rephrasing the questions to be about autism gets similar results for me.  I knew I had poor self-esteem, but I didn’t realise how much I see myself as inadequate because of mental illness and autism until I was agreeing with statements like “I feel inferior to others who don’t have a mental illness/autism” or “I can’t contribute anything to society because I have a mental illness/autism”.  Even statements that I don’t actually agree with cognitively or about others, I intuitively agree with about myself e.g. “Mentally ill people shouldn’t get married” which I don’t believe for other people, but I do feel that I shouldn’t get married, or at least that I won’t be able to.

Anxious Again

I feel a lot better today than I did yesterday, when I had a stomach bug.  I don’t feel sick or dizzy as I did yesterday, but I haven’t tried much food yet, just toast with margarine, a few tomatoes and a banana, with nothing to drink other than water and tea.  I still feel really achy, though.  I think I must have strained some muscles while I was being sick.  I was going to go for a walk today, but I decided I still don’t feel up to it.

It’s strange, although I have been used to an almost constant level of mental illness since my teens, I’m very rarely physically ill.  This was one of the worst physical illnesses I’ve ever had.  I don’t think I cope with physical pain terribly well.  I was thinking yesterday about people who are in worse pain than I am all the time.  There’s a Jewish belief, not so much a serious theological belief as a folk belief that people talk about, that if we could choose any type of suffering, we would choose that which we have anyway.  I’ve always been sceptical of that and assumed that if there is any truth to it, it’s because the suffering we have is the suffering we have tried to develop coping strategies for, but maybe there is more to it than that.

The other thing that I learnt yesterday was that maybe I’m not as bad a frum (religious) Jew as I thought.  Yesterday I was too sick to study Torah at all, too sick to daven Shacharit, Mincha and part of Ma’ariv (pray the Morning, Afternoon and part of Evening services).  I didn’t even change out of my pyjamas all day.  It made it clear that usually I do these things at least to some extent.  However depressed I am, I do pray two or three times a day, even if not in the ideal way and I do some Torah study every day even if only a few minutes.  I always change out of my pyjamas unless I’m physically ill, however depressed I am.  So, I guess those are all positives.

I was doing OK today mental health-wise, but I’ve suddenly become very anxious and have started catastrophising.  I have a job interview on Friday and am worried I am going to fail the cataloguing test, that I don’t know how to use their software well enough and that my cataloguing skills are too rusty.  I am also worried that if I do get the job, I will have to work through Chol HaMoed Pesach (the intermediate days of Passover, where it is permit to work, but discouraged if possible).  I am also catastrophising about the potential date I have, although I still have not spoken to the shadchan (matchmaker) about this.  I am concerned that I am making a huge mistake, although working out exactly what the mistake is at this stage, when I haven’t committed myself to anything more than a conversation with the shadchan is harder to tell.  I just have nightmares about getting married to the wrong person for the wrong reasons (loneliness, desperation or not wanting to hurt someone else’s feelings by rejecting her).  And I’m worried about Pesach, which seems to have come out of nowhere and leapt on me; I realised that I only have a little over two weeks until it and not three as I vaguely thought.

Having written this all down, it does seem that my anxieties are getting out of control and that I am worrying about things that are either not within my power (the job stuff) or which would have to go through a lot more stages of bad decisions to actually be problematic (dating).  But it’s hard to internalise that.  Plus what is an objectively real concern is that the job is for a library assistant role rather than an assistant librarian one which sounds trivial, but library assistant is a much lower, less skilled, less well-paid job than I’m qualified for.  I think the agency who keep putting me up for these jobs don’t understand the difference between assistant librarians and library assistants, which is a bit ridiculous for an agency that handles so many library jobs.  But I feel that I need to keep in work, so I accept these jobs, or at least put myself up for them, but I wonder what it will do for my career to have these things on my CV.

I wish I was in therapy, or had a friend I could talk to about this, but I’m not in therapy and my friends are busy dealing with major life issues of their own.  Maybe I should try to phone Samaritans later, but it seems silly to bother them with this stuff.

Politics and Despair

I went to bed far, far too late even without losing an hour from putting the clocks forward.  It was mostly down to posting late at night and then procrastinating.  I’ve mentioned before that I idly browse online when I feel lonely.  This is not terribly helpful, because I can’t get the kind of contact I want/need, plus lately I’ve blocked a lot of sites for being too triggering, so there aren’t many places I can actually go (unless I switch the block off.  Which I just did out of boredom/curiosity.  Not good).  Anyway, I spend ages flitting around the internet, not knowing where to go, often until I hit on something that upsets me (usually the news).

The upshot of this was that I overslept, and then was too depressed to get up.  I did eventually get up and somehow got out the house and to my volunteering at the asylum seekers’ drop-in centre, albeit without davening (praying) first.   I was very late for volunteering, but they were understaffed, so they were just grateful I was there.  I spent the afternoon looking after the children in the play area, struggling to watch all of them at once because of a lack of other volunteers and trying to get the children to play together nicely.  It’s hard to discipline other people’s children, especially when they don’t say anything and you can’t work out if they’re pre-verbal or just don’t speak English.  I survived, but have come home completely exhausted.  I somehow did a few minutes of Torah study on the bus home; I’m not sure that I will manage much more.

***

Just now I skipped over what happened at home between crawling out of bed this morning and getting to volunteering.  I had lots of very self-critical thoughts.  I felt tired of being the person no one can rely on at work, in my family, in my religious community or at volunteering.  I wanted to burrow into the earth and get away.  I actually crawled under my desk (I’m not entirely sure why; it seemed like a good idea at the time).  I tried to cry but I had no tears, I just made sobbing noises.  I told myself a lot of very harsh, self-critical things: “I’m a ******* waste of space.  No one could love you, you’re ******* incompetent.  You’re a ****** retard.”  (Don’t ask why my inner monologue flips between the first and second person.)

I’m not sure what I can do when I feel like that.  I think I only stopped because I went out to volunteering.

***

Pretty much anything in the news is triggering.  I no longer know what to think about Brexit.  I have a kind of mental tutorial essay on the history of Britain’s post-war involvement with Europe that gets triggered when anyone starts talking about Brexit, a commentary running from Churchill’s belief in European unity without Britain and Attlee’s negativity to de Gaulle’s “Non!” to Heath speaking bad French and Wilson’s referendum to Thatcher’s downfall, Major’s paralysis and now this.  I think whether we had never gone in to the EU, or whether we had voted to Remain, the tensions would still be there, because they come from the fact that Britain is on Europe’s doorstep, but has a very different political system and history to most of Europe, which produces centrifugal and centripetal forces pulling the country in and out simultaneously.  Whatever happens, the forces are still there; in or out, Europe is going to be a major issue in British politics for the foreseeable future.

I want to vent about Jew-hatred too, but I’m too scared.  I just wrote a paragraph on this, but I deleted it.  I’m too scared of being attacked.  I hate being attacked by antisemites, because I know they’re wrong, but their hatred of me fits with my self-hatred, so the attacks don’t bounce off as they should. Then I spend hours/days obsessing over their hatred, even though the fault is with them not us; it is in fact antisemitic to suggest that Jews “provoke” antisemitism, just as it is misogynistic to say that women in short skirts are “provoking” sexual assault.  I hate that I can’t speak about the hatred that is upsetting me for fear of provoking more of it.  I hate that I still have to deal with this.

I wish I had the mental strength to do something productive to fight antisemitism and anti-Zionism, but I don’t have the mental stamina.  I feel I have let my people down.  I also wish I could turn off the pain and the obsessive, agitated thoughts that seeing this hatred causes me.

***

Happier things: I ordered some more Doctor Who miniatures to paint last night, partly a reward for getting through my job, partly because if I’m going to be unemployed again, it’s probably worthwhile having a non-screen-based hobby (i.e. not watching DVDs, blogging or working on my books).  Just under £45 bought me twelve Daleks, Davros, the TARDIS and the thirteenth Doctor to paint, which should keep me busy for a while.

Self-Image

It’s late, so just a quick post to note the last day of my job.  I was touched to receive a farewell card and book token; I had only been there for three months and they would have been justified in not noting my departure in any way.  I suppose this means that they liked me, on some level.  It’s funny, I often reflect that I’m glad I’m not telepathic, so I don’t have to experience the negative thoughts people surely think about me, but when people do express their feelings about me, it’s usually positive.  The cognitive dissonance has been building up for some time and possibly my self-image is very slightly and slowly improving.  This despite feeling that I had made mistakes and embarrassed myself in front of my boss again today.

I was rather embarrassed not to have a new job already lined up when people asked me what I will do now.  I had a helpful chat with my line manager about future employment prospects at the institution and elsewhere.  In fact, the job agency through which I was employed at this institution has already forwarded me an advert for another job in the same institution for which I will apply, although I’m not sure I have the required experience.

The job application I spent a couple of hours working on earlier in the week seems to have been wasted, as the helpdesk for the website says there is no record of my email address being used to set up an account to make an application.  This was at the public sector body that has caused me a great deal of wasted time and money over the years, as well as other forms of aggravation.  Realistically, I probably wouldn’t want to work for them, but a job’s a job.

I went to depression group in the evening.  I spoke about my job issues and related autism issues, but despite considering mentioning it, I didn’t mention my loneliness and thoughts about dating.  I didn’t want to spend too long talking (I was the first person to talk), plus explaining frum (religious Orthodox Jewish) dating is something of a culture shock to people used to Western-style dating and relationships.

Related to this, I have come to the realisation that I can’t have a serious relationship right now.  There’s just too much uncertainty in my life with unemployment and autism issues.  I would be open to a more casual type of relationship, but it’s not really allowed in the frum world.  I suspect a lot of women my age are looking for marriage anyway.  Sad, but true: I’m not ready for marriage and children yet.  I wish I was, but I need to learn how to look after myself better first and then how to get more out of the day so I can work, meet my religious obligations, have a family life and still get the autistic alone time I need to function.  I don’t know when I will be ready, though.  It’s very frustrating, as on some level at least I think I’m psychologically ready to love someone, I just don’t know how live in the mundane world at the same time (the reverse of people who have careers, but don’t know how to love and just pursue casual dates and hook ups).

Pain

I feel bad today, but I can’t work out what ‘bad’ means.  I guess it means ‘depressed.’  I’m struggling to understand my feelings again.  I did feel close to tears at times.  Earlier I was virtually crying, except that I couldn’t quite manage it.  I should feel anxious, about Pesach and about working late tomorrow (I’m going in at 1pm and working until 9pm to help with a public evening event, which will mean – gulp! – talking to strangers) and I do feel a bit anxious about these things, but I’m not sure that that’s what I am really feeling.  For much of the day I just wanted to curl up in a ball and ignore the world, really.  That’s more depression than anxiety, although, looking at the news, maybe it’s a rational response to the world (cf. Catch-22).  At any rate, it’s hard to do anything today.

I feel guilty, too, because I make myself out to be a better person here than I actually am.  I confess a lot here, but I can’t quite bring myself to confess everything.  So people think I’m better than I actually am.  I feel bad about that.  I suppose I have the idea that if everyone knew all my faults and accepted them, maybe I could accept them myself or forgive myself or something.  Or maybe I just feel bad that that people think I’m a good person when… well, in the past I would have said “when I’m not a good person,” but today I feel more that it should be “when I’m not such a good person,” which I suppose is an improvement of a kind.

***

I did look for extra cataloguing training on the CILIP (Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals) website, but I couldn’t find anything current.  I tried to sign up to some education and research mailing lists on JISCMail, but got panicked by the sheer numbers of lists there and the obscure areas they deal with (A forum on Hoshin Kanri [?]; Huddersfield Consortium College Libraries; Hull Geochemistry and Geobiology; Historians of Women Religious of Britain and Ireland – that’s just some of the Hs).  I signed up to a higher education list in the end and thought I would see how that goes before I decide whether to sign up for any more.  I’m not very good at CPD, or anything connected with my career, really.

***

My self-perception has really altered in the last year.  I used to think that I would be good at a job if I could find the right one, that depression was the main obstacle to my building a career, that one day the right combination of therapy, medication and activity/occupational therapy might – might! – help me deal with my depression, that I was an organised person and so on.  Now I have this huge thing called ‘autism’ looming over me as a potential diagnosis.  In some ways that’s good, because it leaves open the door to hoping that one day I will find the ‘right’ way to work and to live in order to have a career and potentially a family with my mental health issues managed at the root rather than just treating the symptoms, but in the meantime I am struggling to know who I am, what I could/should be doing about my career and relationships (relationships with family and friends as well as romantic relationships), how I can live and what I can expect of myself in my religious life.  I guess it’s no wonder I feel depressed, exhausted and confused so much of the time.

I wish I could have some kind of careers advice session, except not just about my career, but about the whole of my life, that someone would tell me what kind of career would suit me, where I fit in with the Jewish community, what type of woman I should be trying to date and how to meet her, how to cope with everyday life…  A S Mentoring might be able to help with some of that, but I’m not sure how to formulate the questions I need to ask yet, as well as being nervous about asking for help and embarrassed that I seem to need to rely on charities (mental health (JAMI) and autism (A S Mentoring, Mencap)) all the time when I feel I should be able to do things for myself.  Plus, I feel somethings are harder because I have more than one issue.  Autism and depression can interact in different ways and it’s not always clear which is predominating at any given time e.g. when should I try to push through exhaustion on the grounds that it’s just a symptom of depression and when should I accept it as a sign that I’m overstimulated and need quiet and rest.

I did fill in the online form for A S Mentoring, so that’s something positive I’ve done today.

***

Other than that, I didn’t do much today.  I went for a forty minute walk in the sunshine, which was good.  I started to apply for another job, but it was hard to overcome the depression.  This one is listed as a librarian role, but from the qualifications they are looking for, I think it’s another job where a librarian would be over-qualified and that it’s really a glorified library assistant role.  I tried to fill the online form in, but kept lapsing back into despair.  I find this whole process so tedious and I’m terrified that while I have the skills to write job applications and I apparently interview well, I’m actually incapable of holding down a real job.

***

This article is very true.  It would have been pretty much impossible for me to have had support for autism at school, certainly at primary school, as high-functioning autism/Asperger’s Syndrome wasn’t recognised until the year I started secondary school; when I was a child, if you were verbal, you weren’t autistic, end of story.  Even so, I think my parents and teachers were aware that things weren’t right in some way and that I was a target for bullies (but usually different bullies; I wasn’t usually consistently targeted by the same people, which made stopping it hard, especially when it was kids I didn’t know from other years shouting stuff at me in corridors when we passed) and was lacking in confidence, but that wasn’t considered special needs.  My Mum tried to get me to see the school counsellor, but handled it badly and just upset me and my form tutor once told me I needed to… I can’t remember his exact words, but he basically told me I was working too much and needed to develop my life outside of work .  But the general view was that my grades were good, so I was doing well, even if I wasn’t socially integrated, especially as I don’t get meltdowns or stim in a very obvious way or have other external symptoms of autism.

I suppose I was also lucky, going to a Jewish school, that there were voluntary shiurim (religious classes) to go to at lunchtimes, so I didn’t have to spend them in the playground.  On days when there weren’t shiurim I could be quite lonely and miserable if I got separated from my small circle of friends (e.g. they were at music practice or we got split up in the lunch hall crowd), which happened quite frequently.  I do wonder if I would be in the emotional/psychological state I’m in today (depression, social anxiety) if more support had been available when I was growing up, but I guess that way madness lies.

***

I keep having mini revelations about my autism.  I used to think I was a bad writer because I don’t use much metaphorical language, not in my blogs and non-fictional writing, but also not very much when I was writing fiction or poetry.  Now I realise that that could be autism.  I don’t struggle with non-literal language the way some autistic people do, but I don’t use it much and I’m very aware of, and irritated by, clichéd language, which often consists of tired metaphors that are just taken for granted and not even used as metaphors any more.

***

I looked at some articles on Neshamas, which I hadn’t done for ages.  I don’t know why, because I could have guessed it would be upsetting.  I suppose I was lonely and I just wanted to connect with people who feel as awful as I do, even if it’s just by reading what they wrote.  I read stuff written by women who are being abused/raped by their husbands.  It makes me angry and upset that this happens.  But also, it makes me think that I do have something to offer in a relationship, in terms of not actually being abusive.  But then after a moment it somehow seems inadequate.  That those women deserve better than the men who are abusing them, but that they would also deserve better than me.  That I wouldn’t be able to meet anyone’s needs, I just wouldn’t hurt her.  That I’m objectifying women just by wanting to be in a relationship with someone, even though I just want to be able to give to someone.

It’s possible that I’m not thinking straight about something here, but it’s hard to tell what.

Confessions of a Justified Sinner

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

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

***

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

***

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

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

***

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

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

***

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

***

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

***

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

Insomnia Again

Like Ahashverosh, I can’t sleep, despite only having slept about six hours out of the last forty or so.  I forgot to take my tablets after shul (synagogue) this morning (yesterday morning I should say, really) and forgot to take them tonight as well after being out for dinner.  I finally took them about 1.00am, but they don’t seem to have made me sleepy yet.  They aren’t sleeping tablets, of course, but they usually make me tired (for much of the day, probably).  Here are a few thoughts that were going around my head while I was getting ready for bed and/or while I was lying in bed trying to sleep:

I feel that so much of my life over the last twenty years or so (the time that I’ve been depressed) has been trying to understand myself.  In therapy, on my blogs and, less healthy, in endless introspection and repetitive, circular thoughts.  Actually, it’s more that therapy and blogging are attempts to stop the repetitive thoughts and turn the circular thoughts into some kind of linear thought (linear, but going where?).  I don’t understand much of my life, but particularly about my social life, constantly complaining that I don’t have friends and a romantic partner, but also running away from them, finding social contact frightening and draining, but also exhilarating at times, wanting love and intimacy, but being terrified of them, experiencing aching loneliness as the constant backdrop of my life, wanting to escape it, but fearing there will be nothing left of me if I do.

The excitement of the potential autism diagnosis is that it explains so much of this mystery.  I constantly see more aspects of personality in a new light, more puzzles solved.  Hence the fear that I could be told (for the third time) that I’m not autistic and will have to start the search for meaning all over again.  For instance, I could understand that social anxiety made socialising with strangers hard, but I could never quite understand why socialising with friends left me drained even when I enjoyed it.  Now, of course, I realise that any kind of social contact, not to mention being in a public space like a restaurant or museum (popular places to socialise for me) is terribly draining for someone on the autism spectrum.

The other thing that I ruminate over (‘obsess over’ might be more accurate, in a borderline clinical sense) is my own sense of inadequacy and sinfulness.  This, I hasten to say, is not very Jewish.  Judaism has a reasonably positive view of human nature and a pragmatic approach to sin: it happens, we can use it to repent and grow.  But I obsess over my mistakes, beat myself up for falling into the same traps again and again, blame myself, devise plans for improvement that never work and so on.  Because ultimately my worst sins, the ones I beat myself up about the most, stem from that same aching loneliness, the chasm or void at the centre of my life or even at the centre of my soul.  My therapist has told me that I don’t do anything wrong by secular standards.  My rabbi mentor says I’m a good person with a one or two challenges.  I feel that some people at least would be understanding and sympathetic, that they would note the void in my life and say that it’s not unreasonable that a normal person would try to fill it, even in somewhat dysfunctional ways, that I could be doing much worse things instead.  And yet.  And yet.  I can’t shake the feeling of sinful inadequacy, even though that very feeling is part of the aching void, such that beating myself up makes me more likely to fall victim to the same emotions again and again.

Somewhat related to this: lately when lying in bed trying to sleep, I have found myself imagining a presence with me.  Not a religious feeling.  Imagining – in a non-sexual way – that I’m in bed with my wife and that she is speaking reassuringly to me, telling me that I’m doing well in coping with my issues, that I shouldn’t blame myself for falling, that she would still love and accept me despite my failures.  I am not sure what to make of this.  It’s good that I can voice some positive, supportive statements about myself now, even if I have to put them into someone else’s mouth to accept them.  But I worry about creating a fantasy life that I can’t escape from, that I am getting my hopes up by making myself believe I will find a supportive wife when I will possibly (probably?  I don’t know, it seems like that) not get married at all.  I worry that I’ve created a pliable fantasy partner who has no needs and just exists to boost my ego, which is very unhealthy.  And I still struggle to believe that God could think any of that positive stuff about me.

***

So, that’s what’s in my head tonight/this morning.  It’s 4.00am and I don’t feel remotely tired, perhaps just a little agitated.  Not quite sure what to do now.

The Elephants in the Room

I just feel overwhelmed today.  I should probably explain that this post was one of the ones I write piecemeal during the day, so it may be rambling and also vary widely from optimism to pessimism in successive paragraphs; I’m having a rather up and down day.  I can sort something out and be OK, but then the negative thoughts come back and I can’t cope again.

It’s Purim next week and I don’t feel ready.  And then it’s Pesach a month after that and I’m certainly not ready.  I mean, no one’s ready in practical terms at this stage, but I don’t feel emotionally ready.  Maybe no one is emotionally ready either, I don’t know.  I wish I knew what other people think and feel, not just about Pesach, but generally.  It’s part of my reason for blogging.  I know I write self-obsessed posts, but I have to write it to try to say what I feel, to understand it and to try to see if other people feel the same way, although it seems that most of them don’t.  I know that apparently lots of people have the type of thoughts that distress people with OCD, but they don’t get anxious and obsessive about them.  But no one talks about this.  I have ‘bad’ thoughts (violent thoughts, sexual thoughts, insulting thoughts) in my head all the time and I’m told that other people have the same thoughts, but no one ever mentions it.  That strikes me as bizarre.  How can people not mention this stuff?  Or feel guilty and ashamed (even if they are automatic and not acted on, it’s hard not to feel bad that they’re even in my head)?

***

I did something stupid last night.  I stayed up late working on my Doctor Who book (I’ve now finished the research and am working on tidying up the second draft a bit before starting the third draft).  About 1.00am when I was getting ready for bed, I was thinking about the conversation on my blog yesterday about relationships.  I remembered that last year (pretty much exactly a year ago, actually) I had been trying to find a shadchan (matchmaker) who would work with someone with depression in the UK, but I had no success.  However, my Dad asked the wife of the assistant rabbi at his shul (synagogue) and she suggested someone (I’ll call her Rebbetzin D).  I was going to phone her after Pesach, but then I started dating E. and so didn’t.  After E. broke up with me, I was too pessimistic about anyone ever wanting to marry me to do anything about dating again until recently.

Last night I thought about contacting her at some point soon to see if she could help me meet someone, but I was nervous, so I decided to see if her email address was online anywhere.  I found her LinkedIn page and looked on that to see if I could find an email address… and accidentally added her to my network (or whatever they call the equivalent of friending on LinkedIn).  The only way I could think of to salvage the situation was to take advantage of the facility to add a short note to the friend request.  Which I did, trying to explain my situation in under 300 characters.

I suppose if this was a hasgacha pratit (Divine Providence) story of the kind so beloved by Jewish websites, my mistake would result in her setting me up with someone who turned out to be my soulmate.  The reality is she accepted the request, but has not replied to the message, so far as I can tell (I’m not really good with LinkedIn).  I don’t know what to do now, whether it’s worth messaging again or phoning in a few weeks or just accepting that, like lots of other people I asked about trying to set a depressed person up with someone, she doesn’t know what to do or maybe thinks I shouldn’t actually be looking to get married.

I actually feel less depressed about this for the stupid mistake and more for the aspect of “Oh, there’s another thing I’ve tried that hasn’t worked.  How many options do I have left?  Anything?”  I just feel so hopeless.  That was my last option and it didn’t work.  I feel that I’m going to be alone and unloved forever.  Goodness knows what will happen when my parents aren’t able to support me (financially and emotionally).  I know I should be challenging these thoughts with CBT, but they seem real and not distorted.  I know I’m catastrophising, but I feel I’m also drawing “evidence-based conclusions” from past experience.  It’s not catastrophising to say I’m never going to win the lottery or be a billionaire.  Why is it catastrophising to say I’m going to be alone forever?

***

The plus side: this made me check my LinkedIn page for the first time in ages and realised it was really out of date.  Not just missing my current job, but the one before too.  I keep my CV up to date, but not my LinkedIn page, which is very twentieth century of me.  So I guess it’s good that I noticed.

I have jobs I could apply for, but I don’t want any of them, and don’t think I would get any of them, or could do any of them if I got them, so it’s hard to get motivated.

***

So, today I updated my LinkedIn page, browsed jobs online again and found nothing I felt competent to do, again.  I can’t tell how much is low self-esteem and how is that I’m genuinely not qualified for anything decent.  Looking at my CV and LinkedIn page, I realise just how over-qualified I am – on paper – for my current job, yet I feel I’m only just coping with it and could not manage anything more complicated or time-consuming.  I feel such a screw-up.

***

I just had an instant messenger conversation with an advisor at Remploy, the organisation for helping disabled people in the workplace.  They gave me some links, but I’m not sure that any of them offer what I actually want/need, careers advice about whether I’m in the right sector or if I have transferable skills that might be useful in a more comfortable sector, especially one where I can find part-time work more easily.  I feel I’m doing something wrong with work, but I don’t know what and I don’t know how to find out what I’m doing wrong, because I don’t know the right questions to ask or the person to ask them to.

This did, however, lead on to a longer and more useful instant messenger conversation at the National Careers Service.  The person there said that I’m doing the right sort of thing in my job search, which is good, but also means that if I’m struggling, there are no quick fixes.  But he suggested a couple of other specialist job sites to look at, including one for NHS jobs.  I knew that hospitals have libraries, but it seems there are more information management jobs in the NHS than I was aware of.  Similarly, I knew about civil service libraries (although I think most ministries have shut theirs now because of budget cuts), but there is a specialist civil service recruitment site which might be useful.

I feel I have some options for the future, but I feel my depression and autism are really stopping me finding anything suitable for me and making it difficult for me to pursue a career in a structured and focused way, or to find a job at the moment, while I can’t work full-time.  I don’t know what I can do about that.

***
Other people seem to know how to do useful things, and I feel that the only thing I can do is write about my feelings.  And I don’t even understand them properly, I write to try to understand them.  The world seems not to be set up for people like me to thrive in it.  I just seem to be a huge failure.  I’m not exactly suicidal, but I’m not sure what benefit there is to the world in my staying alive, except that I have a few family members and friends who care about me (although I don’t know why).  I’m such a screw-up.  No wonder hardly anyone wants to employ me and no one wants to date me.

***

I phoned the NHS about CBT again.  I’m on the waiting list for it, but I don’t know how long I will have to wait.  I keep phoning and leaving messages, but no one answers or replies.  In the meantime, I feel I need some kind of therapy.  I’m not entirely convinced CBT will work, although I was willing to give it another try, at least to work on my self-esteem issues, but I’m wondering if I should just go back to my (privately-funded) psychodynamic psychotherapist on the grounds that she would probably see me at short notice and I know I can talk to her.  My parents said I should wait a week now they’re back from holiday and see how I feel.

My parents also said that if I was lonely while I was away, I could have What’sApped them.  It genuinely did not occur to me to do this which is probably autistic rigidity of thought, although if questioned, I would probably have assumed that they were busy or else they would have phoned me, as they usually do (apparently my Mum didn’t want me to think she was over-protective, so she didn’t phone at all).

***

My life just seems a mess right now.  No career, no job (not the same thing), no relationship.  Few friends, but I feel I’m mishandling the friendships I do have as well as my relationships with my parents and sister.  I don’t turn to them (friends and family) for help, because I don’t want to overwhelm them, and my non-blogging friends don’t really know much about my mental health, but then there’s a barrier between us because it feels to me (although probably not to them) that my depression and autism are the huge twin elephants in the room.  It doesn’t help that I can’t really describe what I feel at all in speech and only imperfectly in writing, so non-blog-reading people are not getting me at my most eloquent about my issues and feelings.

I just feel that the whole of my life is just wrong and I don’t know where to start to fix it, let alone how to fix it.  Looking at this comment I left on Rivki Silver’s blog earlier today, I feel like a drama queen, but it also feels completely true.  I genuinely do not know how I change my employment situation or my social/romantic situation (lumping singleness and lack of close real-world friends together, although they are probably different).  And the helplessness and hopelessness is just killing me.  I’m pushing myself to the limits of what I’m comfortable with (in terms of social anxiety in particular) to further my career without getting anywhere.  I just don’t know what else I could do about dating either.  Contacting Rebbetzin D. was my last option.  I suppose I might hear from the values-based dating service one day or I could go back to online dating, but it seems a way to lose a lot of money without getting anywhere, and my sister does not approve of it.  And there are still professional shadchanim, although everyone seems to be sceptical of those.  And the issue is as much about getting women to date me after they meet me or hear my story than to get set up on dates in the first place.

King of Pain

In the end I went to dinner with my sister and brother-in-law.  The restaurant was very noisy and I found it hard to focus on what they were saying.  The food was good, but we left after the main course.  I would have liked dessert, but was put off by the noise, and didn’t want to risk my mood deteriorating again, so I didn’t ask to stay for it when my sister and BIL said they were full.  They didn’t really talk much about their new house, to my relief, as I’m finding it increasingly hard to take an interest in a topic I know nothing about (never having been a homeowner) and which makes me feel like a useless and inadequate freak for not being able to join in.  My sister and BIL invited me to a housewarming in a month’s time, which I’m already feeling anxious about.  Thinking about this, it occurred to me that, as I’m extremely unlikely to get married any time soon, my sister will continue to be the centre of the family’s attention for an indefinite time to come, unless I hurt myself.  This was a dangerous thought to have.  I wish I had not thought it, but I did.  As I’ve said before, I’m not a very nice person, nor a very stable one.

(I don’t plan on hurting myself, I should say.  I’m just aware of the possibility, and how people might react – probably negatively, but putting me in the spotlight.)

***

Ashley Leia commented on my last post to say “This single person’s take on it is that the top two essentials people are looking for in a relationship are to be loved and to be accepted, and the rest is more or less negotiable.”  As we say in Yiddish, alevi, if only.  I really hope this is true, if not for me then for other people, but it hasn’t been my experience so far.  Both the women I have been in a relationship with said I was particularly kind, loving and understanding of their issues in a way that their previous boyfriends had not been.  Yet both broke up with me for other reasons (actually, I technically broke up with my first girlfriend, but only because I could see that our views were incompatible; she agreed that it was the only solution).

My first girlfriend was worried that I would be frigid even after marriage.  E. was worried that together we would never earn enough to support a family in comfort.  I don’t think either of these fears are unreasonable.  I think a lot (too much) about sex, but frequently feel uncomfortable with even casual, non-sexual physical contact (aside from Jewish law, guilt and everything else that complicates sex even more).  I worry that even if I do ever have sex, I will be one of those autistic people who finds it disgusting.  When my ex tried to kiss me once, I did indeed find it disgusting, although it probably didn’t help that she took me by surprise (not as much fun as I would expected); I half-heartedly tried to kiss her again after my shock, but found that I could not work out how to do it.  Similarly, I can’t see myself working anywhere near to full time in the next few years, so unless my spouse was earning a lot herself, money would be an issue (and if she was she was earning a lot, she would probably be a career-focused person I would have very little in common with).

This is without the extra baggage wanted in frum circles, where it seems to be expected that men will study a certain amount of Torah and pray with a minyan (community) three times a day.  I don’t know if any women would really see those as deal-breakers, but it seems like it would be hard to admit to not doing them, like admitting to not showering or brushing your teeth regularly.  Probably no one has a list of desired character traits in a mate that starts, “Good personal hygiene” because it’s taken as a given.  It’s generally accepted that if you want a partner, you have to take care of that, and if you don’t shower, then you will be rejected automatically without any other reason.  I don’t take care of the spiritual equivalents of showering and flossing.

My rabbi mentor once told me not to worry about not having been to yeshiva (rabbinical seminary) because in reality no one cares about that in a husband and that I have good knowledge anyway for someone who hasn’t spent significant time in yeshiva.  I hope he is right, but it seems hard to imagine a frum (religious) woman choosing me over a hypothetical yeshiva bachur, unless he was particularly bad in other ways.

I have thought of marrying a ba’alat teshuva (Jew raised non-religious who became religious later in life) or a geyoret (convert to Judaism), but even aside from the fact that they would probably buy into the frum community social norms, the issues of physical relations and finances are still going to be there, as they would be if I dated someone not so frum.  In addition the issues caused more directly by depression and autism will be around whoever I date: low energy, irritability, communication difficulties and so on.  Plus, in the frum world dating is for marriage.  While frum people don’t all get engaged after eight dates, the expectation is that one will get engaged quickly or move on quickly.  I feel the need to date for a longer period because of my issues and the bad experiences I’ve had dating in the past, but the option isn’t really open for me.

While I hope – I really, really, really hope – that what Ashley says (which is similar to what my parents and my rabbi mentor say) is true, my experience in life so far is that things are not that simple, at least not for me.

***

A quote from Tormented Master: The Life and Spiritual Quest of Rabbi Nahman of Bratslav by Arthur Green: “It may have been in reaction to the extreme senses of depression and worthlessness which so frequently overcame him that Nahman developed a compensatory sense of unique greatness and value to the world.” (p.122)  This sounds worryingly familiar from my own life, although usually I keep my narcissism and megalomania private and only share my self-hatred.  Even at my worst, I can see I’m not really a great person, but believing I’m not a terrible person is much harder.