I wonder how much of my low self-esteem comes from guilt about sex. Religious guilt about thinking about sex, but also feminist guilt about being attracted to women. Did the low self-esteem, guilt and shame start when I hit adolescence? I was shy as a child, but did I have low self-esteem before adolescence? I can’t remember.
Is it hard for any “normal” male (or female? I don’t know) who cares deeply about a traditionalist religion to get through adolescence any more without feeling hugely guilty? Such is the culture clash between highly sexualised, even pornified, Western sexual culture and religious culture. Then there was my first relationship, much of which was spent negotiating what levels of physical contact we were comfortable with (contrary to stereotype, she wanted to be much more physical than I did; she was a lot more experienced than I was too). Whenever I try to think positively about myself, I feel my libido is there to indict me.
It’s weird being thirty-seven and still a virgin, or at least it seems that way from the world around me. Certainly in the Orthodox Jewish world it’s weird and rather pitiable, although no one voices that opinion. In the Western world its weird for for different reasons. I suppose I seem inadequate, or dangerous (the “dangerous misogynistic incel” meme). The first psychiatrist I saw thought I was gay because I was twenty and had never had a girlfriend. I wonder what he would have thought if he could have known I wouldn’t even go on a date until I was twenty-seven.
Maybe it’s different in a religious community that encourages monasticism and religious celibacy. In the Orthodox Jewish community, where early marriage and large families are the norm, I feel this weird pseudo-child, a fact not helped by my autism and mental illness history rendering me childish and helpless more often than I would like. I agree with the Orthodox Jewish prohibition on sex before marriage, but I wonder if I will ever get there — or if, when I do, it will be one more thing that autism renders difficult and uncomfortable for me. Many people on the spectrum struggle with sex for a variety of reasons, usually tied to sensory discomfort or issues around interpersonal relationships. My experiences with my first relationship don’t make this any easier, just adding more guilt and fear.
Now I’m in a relationship, which makes these worries both more and less pertinent: fewer worries of the “No one could ever love me?” type, but more of the “What if she decides I’m too broken?” or “What if I’m just too autistic to do make this work?” type, as well as the specific obstacles our relationship faces.
I’ve mentioned before my asexual childhood fictional heroes (possibly I had already intuited on some level that sex and relationships would be hard for me) have all been sexualised now. Not for the first time, I reflect that the diversity agenda (which I see a lot in librarianship) is, in many ways, not all that diverse.
I feel haunted by the question, “Am I normal?” Haunted both religiously and generally. Also, “Am I good?” I wonder if God thinks I am a good person or a good Jew. These questions are not uniquely related to sex, but they are not absent from it either. I would like to know very much if God thinks I’m a good Jew.
I don’t know if it was a cause or a result of these thoughts, or something entirely unrelated, but today I had a bit of a mid-Pesach slump. Actually, in OCD anxiety terms, it was good: some things that would normally have been very triggering were overcome quite easily, but my mood was low. I just felt down and struggled to get involved in anything. I managed about forty minutes of Torah study, which surprised me, as it was difficult to concentrate.
I went for a run, which was good in terms of pace and moved my low mood a bit, but also refocused the low mood as general angst: “What if PIMOJ breaks up with me?” “What if our relationship doesn’t work out for some other reason?” “What if I never progress past my autism to build a career?” “What if I never get published?” (Published more than I have been already, I guess.) It’s telling that I was worried about not getting published and didn’t even think about a librarianship career.
I do think lockdown has made my relationship with PIMOJ hard, particularly the last few weeks when we’ve both also been busy with Pesach preparation and she’s been working compulsory overtime several days a week and speaking on video, let alone in person, has been almost impossible. Hopefully things will get a bit easier from here on.
In the evening I had a Zoom call with a couple of university friends. It was good, but also hard in parts, partly because I’m not comfortable on Zoom, partly because I feel our lives are very different. One friend teaches in a law school, the other at a university and I feel a bit inferior. On the other hand, they’re really impressed with my novel, but I don’t like to talk about it for reasons I can’t understand. I was trying to say that someone had read the novel and not liked it without saying it was PIMOJ, because I haven’t told them about PIMOJ and don’t want to at this stage. I didn’t want to talk about my autism assessment either and was vague there when talking about bad Microsoft Teams experiences, which I had at my assessment. I don’t know why I hide so much from people in real life. I’m scared of making myself vulnerable, which is probably an issue I have with PIMOJ too. I’m trying to make myself more vulnerable to her and share more, but it’s not always easy. I’m scared of how she might respond. I also had the issue I had yesterday of wanting to know how long the meeting would last. It was a free meeting and so should have been forty minutes, but went on longer, which made me vaguely anxious. All that said, my mood was better afterwards and I’m glad I managed it.
Perhaps because my mood was better after the call, I decided to send the devar Torah (Torah thought, although this was shorter and less textually-based and possibly less well-reasoned than normal) I wrote earlier in the week after all, after having been on the point of dumping it because I disliked it so much. My belief that Judaism is fundamentally anarchist in outlook (not voiced in so many words) is one I have hinted at before, although I’m wary of stating it explicitly for fear of the response it will get. Obviously it’s a different kind of anarchism to that of modern anarchist thinkers, based on individual responsibility and self-restraint.
All day, when my mood was bad, I was saying I would just vegetate in front of the TV. But then I thought I would do some Torah study first and then I would run first and in the end I’ve only watched forty minutes of TV. I wonder if I do more than I give myself credit for, but I haven’t actually done much today, just thought about doing things.
I went to my autism support group on Zoom this morning. I was wary of it, as I find it a lot less helpful than depression group, but it was about relationships and I wanted to see if I would learn anything. The main thing I learnt is that the person who runs the meetings seems to have issues with neurotypicals and needs to work them through somewhere else rather than just ranting about them in the meeting. I left early because it was just too much. There wasn’t really much helpful advice, just some stuff about being authentic and making room for yourself in the relationship and feeling free to have non-standard relationships if that works for you. Someone there had been married for nearly fifty years, which is reassuring, although other people were speaking about not wanting to live with anyone at all. It makes me feel vaguely weird for wanting a “neurotypical standard” relationship involving marriage and living in the same house. I felt there wasn’t really enough talk about how to make compromises for a relationship rather than expecting your neurotypical partner to make compromises for you. The final straw was when the presenter said that, for autistic people, no means no, but neurotypical people are “play games” and often say no when they mean yes, which struck me as a misleading and dangerous thing to say.
I was also a bit worried by the number of people in the group who are quite happy living by themselves. Not worried for them, if they’re happy, but I’ve had mixed feelings about that. I have lived by myself at times and I coped and enjoyed parts of it, but I also found it very lonely and isolating at times. Realistically, there isn’t any easy way I can have people around me when I want them, but not when I don’t, so either living alone or with someone involves trade-offs. I also think that some of the people in the “want to live alone forever” group were OK with having casual sex, and I’m not, for various reasons, so that certainly does alter the cost/benefit analysis.
I spent an hour or so working on my devar Torah for the week, partially abandoning my original plan when I was unable to locate some quotes in the primary sources. I prefer to use primary sources than secondary ones, but I don’t always know where to find the primary sources for concepts and sayings I’ve picked up over the years, plus I’m often reliant on online sources and my imperfect Hebrew translation skills. I know I’m not alone in struggling to remember where I heard things as the internet is full of Jews either misattributing quotes and concepts or saying vaguely that, “It’s a Jewish idea that…” or “The rabbis say that…” Someone should make an index of well-known Talmudic and Midrashic stories and quotes. Famously, a lot of Jews, including some very frum (religious) ones, misremember the story about Avraham (Abraham) smashing up his father’s idol workshop as an actual passage in the Torah (it isn’t, it’s a Midrash (rabbinic expansion of the biblical narrative)).
After that, I did a mixture of Torah study and cooking and went for a 5K run, but I did feel a bit lost without either paid work or my novel to work on. I’m resting the novel for a few weeks until my writer/editor friend can look at it. I feel pretty negative about it at the moment, to be honest, and keep wondering what possessed me to try to a mainstream novel of character. Part of me wants to start on a new novel, but I know I have to stick with this one until it’s either ready for publication or definitely unpublishable.
I spoke to PIMOJ in the evening. To be honest, during and after my run I was having negative thoughts (personal worries, worries about antisemitism… the usual), but I did feel better after speaking to PIMOJ. We didn’t even talk about my issues, we just talked. It was good.
Lately I’ve had some minor religious OCD, not the Purim Megillah issue I wrote about, but “idolatrous” thoughts when I was trying to pray. I’ve had this a lot over the years. The easiest way to get rid of them is exposure therapy. Trying not to think about something tends to make you think about it, so the anxiety about not thinking X immediately prompts thoughts of X. The solution is to deliberately think about X a lot, so I spent time this evening repeating the phrase where I usually have the trouble while thinking the things I usually try not to think in the hope that I will get to a point where I’m so desensitised to thinking about them that I don’t try not to think about them (if that makes sense). I may have to do this for a number of days until it works, but I’ve responded well to this in the past.
The good news for today is that I have an appointment for the final part of my autism assessment booked in for 9 March, two weeks’ time. This is really all down to my Mum, who has been phoning to chase it up. Sadly on the NHS, or parts of it, there’s a benefit in having someone willing and able to make a certain amount of noise on your behalf when waiting for an appointment, in case you drop off the system, as I suspect I had done.
I was burnt out again this morning, sleeping for about twelve hours, although I intended to “only” sleep for ten. The problem is partly that I turn off my clock radio alarms in my sleep, or at least don’t wake up for long enough to really wake up and stay awake. I put my phone on the other side of the room, so I have to get up to turn the alarm off, but its alarm is too quiet to really wake me and I sleep through it. Even if I do wake up, I fall asleep again before I can summon the energy to get up. I’m sure this must be boring and repetitive to readers, but it’s how my life is at the moment, with this major obstacle (burnout and oversleeping) that I just can’t make progress on and don’t really understand, even though I’ve made a lot of progress with the rest of my life.
I went for a walk and to the post office. That was crowded. The post office is inside the pharmacy and the pharmacy is doing COVID vaccinations, so there were a lot of people trying to socially distance inside and outside the shop. My mood slumped again while I was out walking, which might be a late afternoon blood sugar thing, or maybe because I was listening to the Intimate Judaism podcast about sex and Orthodox Judaism and it made me think how slow and uncertain it will be to move my relationship with PIMOJ on to a point where we can marry. My mood dropped a bit again while I was cooking dinner (vegetable curry), although it improved as I focused on cooking, which suggests that not having a focus is a trigger for negative thoughts.
I went to a shiur (religious class), the last of this set of shiurim, this time on Megillat Esther (The Book of Esther). It was more in depth than the previous ones, presumably because Esther is one of the better-known books of the Hebrew Bible among Jews, as we read it every year (twice, morning and evening) on Purim, which is this Thursday night and Friday. There were some interesting points about liminal spaces and identity in Esther. It made me feel more positive about the upcoming Purim, a festival that traditionally inspires very mixed feelings in me.
Then I saw that my shul (synagogue) had sent out an email about social distancing over Purim. So the whole community can all hear the Megillah, morning and evening safely, they are running four different readings at night and another four in the morning in different rooms of the building. I’m not entirely sure where my room is, so I need to go early to make sure I get there on time. They said there will be stewards to guide us, but I’m slightly apprehensive about it and plan to get there ten or fifteen minutes early to be safe.
I’ve noticed that I’ve had to struggle against religious OCD thoughts more lately. So far I haven’t sent any panicked emails to my rabbi asking if things were OK, which means it’s mostly under control and no actual OCD, just thoughts. (Actually, there was one email, but it was realistically a necessary email, and I didn’t send follow-up emails even though I was still worried.) Even so, I’m a bit concerned about things spiralling out of control as we approach Pesach. I’m trying to remember my coping strategies and exposure therapy techniques. I’m also trying to tell myself “I can cope” as my therapist suggested.
I guess my life is far from perfect right now, but realistically, no one’s life is ever perfect, and my current life is manageable, at least for the foreseeable future. I’m going with that for now. I do feel kind of fragile and vulnerable though, as if I’m aware I don’t have great resilience at the moment and am worried how I might cope if things start to go wrong.
I had another date with PIMOJ. We’ve had a lot of “walk and picnic in a park” dates of necessity, because of COVID, but we have been enjoying each other’s company enough for them to stay interesting. Today I asked if PIMOJ was ready for us to call ourselves boyfriend and girlfriend and she was really pleased and said yes. We had a good time, we make each other laugh a lot. We have very different personalities, but I think we share a lot of core values, and we find the personality differences stimulating.
We were together for about four hours, with maybe an hour and a half more travel time to and from the park, so I felt pretty exhausted when I got home. I was too tired to do much after that. I spent an hour or so finishing reading a book on domestic abuse in the Jewish community as research for my novel. I was pleased to see that it didn’t tell me anything I didn’t know, indicating that my research has been thorough. I just hope that comes across in the novel. Tomorrow I hope to start the third draft. I did about an hour of Torah study too, somewhat to my surprise.
My mood dipped a lot in the evening, to a level that would probably be mild depression if sustained over time. Sometimes when something good happens, my mood dips afterwards, perhaps as I realise that my life is going to change, even if in a positive way (autism doesn’t like change, even for the better). I also have a lot of guilt flying about at the moment, perhaps needlessly, connected in different ways to dating PIMOJ, whether it’s the guilt about my sexuality that I’ve been carrying for years or the fact that I know that E cared about me and that, even though we were not right for each other, and even though I did not rush from E to a relationship with PIMOJ, I still feel that E would be hurt if she knew that I have moved on and am serious about someone else.
I did feel a bit short of breath at times when PIMOJ and I were walking today, not bad enough that I had to stop, but I did slow down a little once or twice. I can’t tell if this is real or if it’s psychosomatic and I’m overthinking it. This is worrying me as it’s new.
It may be connected with being overweight, which is problematic as my weight gain has been from my medication and has not responded well to exercise. I haven’t really made significant dietary changes, although I did reduce my cheese and egg consumption a while back when I was told my cholesterol was a bit high (it’s crept up a bit again since then). I think I have put on more weight, although it’s hard to tell as I don’t weigh myself regularly. I do eat some junk food, but I feel not much, except on Shabbat when admittedly I do eat quite a lot, eating chocolate nuts mindlessly while reading or studying Torah.
I may have to try harder to control my weight with diet, but I’m not entirely sure how. I don’t want to quit eating junk food completely, but I may have to. In the past I’ve never managed to quit junk food entirely as, when I was depressed, I wanted to have some small treat to reward myself for getting through the day. I say I’m not depressed now, so maybe I can go without any junk at all, as if I was diabetic, but the thought of it does not fill me with enthusiasm.
I probably eat too many carbohydrates, but I don’t know how to cut them out without being hungry all the time. For reasons that would take a long time to explain, I think work has made my diet a little worse, in terms of eating more white bread and less wholemeal and more eggs again. I also often get hungry at bedtime and eat cereal and I don’t know whether that’s medication-induced or a bad habit or what. I already eat a lot of fruit and vegetables during the day, but I still get hungry, so it’s hard to switch more fruit and veg in instead of junk or carbs. I will try to go for a run tomorrow and see what happens in terms of shortness of breath.
Anyway, I’m not happy that I’m thinking about my weight in this negative way and having negative body image as even when my depression was at its worst, I didn’t have particularly bad body image. I didn’t have particularly good body image either, I just didn’t think about how I looked much and was too busy beating myself up for my thoughts and actions. But I have always wanted to be broadly healthy and I don’t think I am any more.
I deleted my Twitter account. I’d been thinking about it for a while, but the final straw was this post. Possibly I was a little impulsive, but I’ve felt that I’ve been on there too much lately, getting caught up in performative outrage. I don’t even post, just read, so I’m not even building online relationships, just watching other people get angry.
I worry sometimes about being in an echo chamber where I don’t hear opposing views. Then again, I constantly modify my political views, and I must get those new ideas from somewhere. I try to be open-minded, and to listen to people even if I don’t always go looking for ideas I disagree with, not least because I feel those views often attack me as a person. I probably do have a kind of Overton Window in my head that shifts back and forth.
This decision was confirmed by my starting to read Morality, Rabbi Lord Sacks’ z”tl book about the shift in the moral culture of the West from a communal focus to individualism with a resulting polarisation and inflaming of the public sphere.
I watched some Doctor Who (I didn’t feel in the right mood for the relative realism and cynicism of The Sandbaggers). Lately I’ve been watching season eighteen of the original run of Doctor Who, broadcast from 1980 to 1981, Tom Baker’s seventh and last in the lead role. I’m about halfway through, although I’ve seen the stories in it many times before. I’m not sure why I decided to watch the whole thing. I think DVDs have changed the way I watch TV from individual stories to whole seasons, even though the original run of Doctor Who didn’t have much continuity from one story to the next (although this season did, perhaps why I’m watching it as a whole).
It’s an odd season, based more around real science than most Doctor Who, and lacking in humour, but rich in world-building and atmosphere, albeit that I think the atmosphere comes from the direction, electronic incidental music and even costume design as much as the writing; certainly Logopolis, the season finale (in modern terms), lacks a lot of coherence in the writing and works more from imagery and the sobriety of Baker’s valedictory performance.
It’s a polarising season too; from broadcast onwards there was been a fan discourse that saw it as “adult” and “serious” and an improvement on earlier stories that were seen as “childish” and “silly,” but then revisionists switched those views around. The advantage of coming to original Doctor Who after it finished is not needing to take sides in debates like this; I can appreciate both sides.
This should probably have been on my Doctor Who blog, but it’s hard to feel bothered to write there when no one reads it, and when I feel I should post coherent essays, not little reflections.
Despite my worries, I managed to get up early for volunteering and got there on time. It was fine. A couple of people asked if I was OK as I haven’t been for a fortnight, which was nice. I’m always amazed when people notice I’m absent. Someone donated fresh jam donuts for the volunteers and I had one. Possibly my waistband says I shouldn’t have. I still feel that I make mistakes and do stupid things there, although it’s more that what seems logical to me doesn’t always seem logical to other people and vice versa for various (autistic?) reasons. Sometimes it’s probably poor executive function or me not processing spoken instructions properly, but other times it can be me applying rules over-rigidly. Then again, maybe I’m being perfectionist and looking to autism to excuse behaviours that don’t really require excusing (again).
I was pretty exhausted in the afternoon and didn’t do very much other than a few minor chores. I intended to listen a shiur (religious class) that I missed, but it wasn’t up online. I did some other Torah study, but it was just bits and pieces, little audio vorts (short religious ideas) and articles in a religious magazine. I couldn’t face anything heavier. I did a little bit of ironing and thought about trying to force myself to do more chores, but I was worried about being burnt out tomorrow when I have work. I wish I knew why I still get so tired so easily even with the mood aspect of depression being rather easier than in the past. I just read and watched DVDs. I had been eating dinner in front of the Chanukah candles this week, but at dinner today I was drained and couldn’t face eating dinner alone with noise from my parents’ TV and ended up eating in my room, which was also alone and with TV, but at least it was my TV.
Reading this back, I see I actually did quite a lot, but I still feel guilty about not doing “enough” and not having “enough” energy considering I’m not depressed “any more”. There probably are imaginary standards of “normality” and “mentally ill” here that aren’t helpful to me.
I saw the next two paragraphs a few days ago on Elisheva Liss’ Jewish mental health blog. The bit I’m about to quote actually isn’t the main point of the post, but is the part that is pertinent to me and set me thinking.
As a woman, I don’t pretend to understand what it’s like for a young man to grow up in a society where extra-vaginal ejaculation is forbidden, especially in such stark contrast to the permissive sexual norms of the broader secular culture. I see the struggle, the emotional and sexual complexity involved…
What I do know, is that from the onset of puberty at anywhere from around ages 9-14, until marriage, which doesn’t happen until at least the ages of 18-22, boys are expected to both not have sex and to try not to ejaculate. I’m fairly certain that the majority are unable to completely refrain from any masturbation, fantasy, or ejaculation during these hormonal and turbulent developmental years. The way they navigate this challenge often impacts their self-concept and adult relationships. Some repress developing libido and disassociate from their sexual selves. Others split, embracing one conscious, religious identity, and another secret sexual life, often involving pornography and sexual experimentation. Still others recognize that the ideal they are presented with might be unrealistic for them, and try to limit sexual behavior, while allowing for and forgiving their human needs.
This isn’t really spoken about in the frum (religious Jewish world). I’m conscious of not wanting to reveal my entire life history online, but also of wanting to talk about this for reasons that are not entirely clear to me. (I’ve tried speaking about it in therapy, but I feel that writing this has made me realise there’s a lot more to say there.) My background is that I was brought up traditional, but not fully Torah observant and gradually became more observant in my teens. At the same time, I went to a co-educational (Modern Orthodox Jewish) school and eventually became interested in girls when I was about sixteen (I was a late developer, which I definitely think was a blessing). I also had sex education, at home and at school, but it was pretty functional. It was not the Haredi minimal or no sex education, but it focused on the biological “How do we make babies?” side of things. It was a long time before anyone ever really spoken to me about the emotional side of things, and probably most of the conversations I have had about dating and sex have been in therapy.
The problem with this is, being (probably) on the autism spectrum, I do not always pick things up easily if they aren’t explicitly spelt out to me, particularly regarding social interactions. No one ever said anything about masturbation, but somehow I intuited that it was wrong, and that sexual fantasy was likely to lead to it. Pornography was a lot harder to access when I was a teenager than it is these days, but there was already a lot of quasi-pornographic imagery in society; I think the infamous Wonderbra “Hello Boys” billboard advert (the one that supposedly caused numerous car crashes from men looking at the model’s cleavage and not at the road) came out shortly before I hit puberty, and there was a lot of similar adverts around and, anyway, you shouldn’t underestimate what sexually-frustrated teenage boys can find arousing (illustrations of Dark Elf warrior women in the Warhammer rule book…).
Being autistic, depressed and socially anxious did not make it easy to find girlfriends, or to work out how to find girlfriends (to this day, my few relationships have been either via dating websites or from the other person making the first move). During my time at school, I hardly spoke to girls, except a bit to my best friend’s girlfriend. In retrospect I wish I had, as looking back I see that there were intelligent, gentle girls in my year and even in my social group, and maybe my life would have gone differently if I’d just tried to talk to them, not necessarily to date, but just to get practise socialising with women, but I was too shy to really speak to them. I had a huge crush on one girl throughout my time in the sixth form (equivalent of high school, broadly), but was rarely able to speak to her and when I did, I think she was bored and embarrassed by me.
I did manage to build female platonic friendships at university, but that backfired when I asked one out. I was twenty, and it was the first time I had ever done that. She wasn’t interested and it ended badly.
I didn’t actually go on a date until I was twenty-seven. I’m now thirty-seven and still a virgin and unmarried. I don’t have any particular animus about the Jewish “no sex before marriage” rule, as I know that, emotionally, I couldn’t cope with casual sex anyway. I’m sure some people can, and chafe at the rule, but I know I can’t. I have just slowly begun another relationship, but there are reasons, that I won’t go into here, that mean that it will be years before we can get married, should we decide to do so, so I’m stuck with celibacy for now.
I can’t really put into words the huge amount of frustration, fascination, confusion, envy, guilt and even anger I feel around sex and celibacy. There is also fear, but I wrote about that on Hevria a number of years ago. (That’s aside from the worry that I have so much anxiety around sex that I’ll never be able to have a genuine healthy sexual relationship, even if I get married.) As a frum Jew, I’m not supposed to talk about it; as someone somewhat internet-savvy, I’m worried about being branded a misogynist “Incel” just for raising the topic. I’ve spoken about it in therapy quite a lot, and in more detail than I will go into here, but somehow I feel that I’ve never got to the bottom of it. I’ve barely spoken about it with my current therapist, even though I’ve been seeing her for over seven months. I don’t have the words. I’m not sure if that’s because of my upbringing or my issues.
From adolescence onwards, I’ve had a huge amount of guilt and shame around my sexual thoughts and feelings. For many years I tried to repress them and mostly failed. I’m not sure if it is really feasible to repress sexual thoughts and feelings long-term; it’s certainly not possible if one is at all engaged in hyper-sexualised Western society. Sometimes I can see why Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) Jews try to avoid Western society entirely, but I know that’s not my path.
One of the reasons I didn’t go to yeshiva (rabbinical seminary) between school and university as many people expected to was because of feelings of guilt around sex and the belief (which I now realise was completely mistaken) that I was the only frum or would-be frum teenage boy struggling with it. Admittedly there were half a dozen other reasons I didn’t go to yeshiva, but that decision had massive repercussions for the rest of my life, down to today, including why I feel so unmarriable in the frum community. I already had low self-esteem and a tendency to over-intellectualise things, and that and the added sexual guilt probably triggered an emotional downward spiral that fed in to my depression. It may not be coincidental (although it has only occurred to me writing this) that my first episode of depression followed about six months after the start of my first “real” crush (by which I mean the first one where I actively thought and fantasised about her all the time when she wasn’t around, rather than simply feeling vaguely anxious and attracted when I saw her).
Sometimes I feel that it’s eating away my insides. I feel that, at thirty-seven, I should not be desperate to have sex, and certainly I know it’s a bad idea to get married just to have sex. I wonder if I will ever be “ready,” emotionally. I can’t shake the feeling that middle aged sex (which is all that’s left for me) is dull and perfunctory and that if I was going to ever enjoy sex, it would have happened before now. I know this isn’t true, but it’s another lie the media perpetuates, and I can’t shake free of it.
Another thing I’ve never really got to the bottom of is whether I really want sex, or just (“just”?) intimacy. To be honest, I probably want both, and that’s probably healthy; I don’t think secular society, which says you can have healthy sex without intimacy, is particularly well-adjusted in that way. But if I absolutely had to choose, I think I would choose emotional intimacy over sex. I think that’s my absolute desire in many areas: marriage, yes, but also I want a few close friends (rather than many distant ones) and my conception of Heaven is an intimate closeness with God and perhaps with loved ones. But a successful, intimate marriage is the one I want most of all. Although I don’t feel myself particularly successful at achieving intimacy in those other areas either. I think I’m a very lonely person, and have been since my teens. Again, I can blame autism, depression and social anxiety, but I’m not sure how helpful that is.
I’m not sure what I want in writing this. I think a lot of it is about recognition. That I think I’m carrying some kind of burden by following Jewish law in this area, and especially doing it while more open to the sexualised Western culture than some parts of the community. I think it’s the best – or least worst – option for me right now, for a host of halakhic (Jewish legal), emotional and moral reasons, but it’s still a burden and one I hope I will put down one day, but fear that I will be carrying it for a long time. And somehow I want that acknowledged, which it isn’t, not by hyper-sexualised Western society or by the frum world, where most people are married by twenty-five. In some ways I don’t mind that many non-religious would not understand why I’m doing this, but I feel that I would like people in the frum community to understand the strain of long-term celibacy for “older singles,” beyond issues like loneliness, not fitting into the community etc. (not that those are particularly well-appreciated).
Actually, I’m not sure how much is recognition from society and how much is recognition by myself. That I really want to hear (ideally from God, but at least from someone frum who knows me well and who I respect) that I’m a good person, that I’ve done well in staying a virgin all these years, despite my failure to be 100% Torah observant in other areas of sexuality.
Today’s donuts: jam (very fresh) at volunteering.
The first day of my new job went quite well. The train was relatively empty at 9.00am. There were still a lot of people on it, but we could sit with at least one empty seat between us and everyone wore masks. Also, I’m pleased that London Underground has put up signs reminding people that some disabilities are invisible, but I found their “Be Kind” signs a bit patronising.
Once arrived at work, I was in an office with my friend/line manager (who I will refer to as J for convenience). It was a small office and although we were socially distanced most of the time, at times we were not. The work he had me doing today was mostly checking data, comparing hardcopy records with the database and noting discrepancies. I got through about three-quarters of the data today, which was faster than he expected. I hope that doesn’t mean I’ve been sloppy. I was trying to be careful, and the office was mostly quiet, which hopefully means my concentration will be better than the previous data-entry jobs where I struggled with noise and interactions with others. I also hope that it doesn’t mean that the job won’t last long. J said he would look for other work for me when I finish this. He said there is work to be done migrating data from an existing database to Access, but I’m not sure if I’ll be able to do that, although I was trained in using Access many years ago.
I felt awkward at lunch, as J just ate at his desk and seemed to keep working except when he went off to pray. I stopped for lunch, but felt too awkward too read my novel in the office as I would normally do to recharge during lunch. I ended up not taking a full hour because I was just sitting there messing around on my phone. My Dad says I should query this, or say that I need a full hour, which is already making me feel anxious. Part of me feels I shouldn’t ask for a full lunch as I’m already coming in to work an hour late (to avoid the Tube in rush hour with COVID) and probably leaving half an hour early most days (as J offered me a lift home and implied he always would, and he likes to leave around 4.30pm to beat the rush hour traffic). I can’t leave the office later, as we were the last ones out and I don’t want the responsibility of locking up. On the other hand, if J seems to be OK with this, maybe I shouldn’t argue. He seems to have an attitude of working towards the job rather than the clock.
As I said, J gave me a lift home as he lives near me. I sat in the back to socially distance, but I felt a bit uncomfortable, although I’m sure it’s safer than the Tube would have been at rush hour.
I was pleased that J did not talk much in the office, so I wasn’t distracted or too socially anxious. He did put the radio on in the car on the way home and then talked over it, so that I couldn’t hear and concentrate on either him or the radio. I probably should have said something, but I thought it would be rude. As he seemed to be making neurotypical small talk, I just made “Yes, right”-type noises and tried not to worry too much if I couldn’t hear everything.
On the whole I think it went well. It’s not a terribly interesting job and it’s not where my career should be going, but it keeps me occupied, plugs a gap on my CV and earns me some money at a time when the whole world is struggling, not just me.
I went to a Hasidut chaburah on Zoom via my shul (synagogue). I’m not sure how to translate chaburah. I guess it’s more informal than a shiur (religious class). The word is etymologically related to the idea of fellowship, of people getting together to work on their personality traits together, in this case via Hasidut, specifically the teachings of the Hasidic Rebbe of Piaseczno. To be honest, I was probably too tired to get much from it, and talks about character traits just tend to make me feel useless and bad, full of bad traits, but I was interested to hear the rabbi say that we are not our character traits, because I tend to identify overly with my character traits, especially the negative ones. I tend to struggle to identify myself away from my thoughts and traits.
I’m mostly feeling OK now, just very tired. But I do feel a bit daunted. Things are going reasonably well for me at the moment, but I’m daunted by how long it will be before anything can come to fruition. The job I just started is not going to be a career. It probably won’t last more than two or three months. I don’t know where I go with my career after that. My novel is progressing, but I blow hot and cold as to whether it is any good. I think it will be a year or so before I feel able to share any of it with anyone else (OK, strictly speaking E saw some early chapters, but I’m not in contact with her any more and I think she was biased as we were dating at the time).
Above all, things are going well with PIMOJ, but we can’t even see each other properly because of lockdown. I think things are good, but it’s hard to be sure when we get to spend such little time together. She’s not like me at all in terms of personality, but we have a lot of core values in common. I do feel that I can’t always communicate with her so well via text and I’m not completely sure why, given that I usually find text easier although, as I’ve said in the past, if we do communicate better in person, that’s better for our long-term relationship prospects (I’ve also said that the fact that English isn’t her first language probably complicates things). For various reasons this is not going to be a typical ultra-Orthodox-style whirlwind romance (in the Haredi/ultra-Orthodox world, people will typically go on six or eight dates at most before deciding to marry someone). Even conservatively, if not much goes wrong, it’s going to be several years before we could think about getting married (and we’re both religious, so my thirty-seven years of celibacy are set to continue indefinitely).
I know I’ve vacillated back and forth here about posting something about my politics, wanting to write something from a social anxiety point of view as anything else i.e. about feeling isolated in certain gatherings rather than advocating X, Y and Z. I actually wrote a long post which has been sitting in my drafts folder for a while now. I want to add a bit to it, but perhaps I’ll post it later this week, assuming I don’t lose my nerve.
I often seem to be in situations where most people don’t share my beliefs, whether political or religious (religiously, I’ve shared Rabbi Lord Sacks’ z”tl notion that Modern Orthodox Jews are a minority or a minority of a minority). This is often uncomfortable, but it does mean that I can’t take anything for granted, I have to articulate what I believe and why constantly, at least to myself if not to other people. That’s probably a worthwhile exercise to undertake regardless of what you believe.
Shabbat was OK. There was all the usual stuff: praying, eating, sleeping, Torah study and recreational reading (mostly The Islamist and the latest Doctor Who Magazine, my subscription to which I am contemplating cancelling. I have contemplated cancelling it every couple of years since about 2003, but this time I’m really not sure what’s stopping me).
The afternoon was hard. I was reading The Lights of Penitence by Rav Kook (in the volume Abraham Isaac Kook: The Lights of Penitence, The Moral Principles, Lights of Holiness, Essays, Letters, and Poems) and came across a passage that talks about someone who feels pervaded by sin, immoral, uneducated, distant from God, and “stirred by dark and sinister passions that revolt him.” I thought, “This is me.” Unfortunately, the passage goes on to say that penitence will cure this and all healing and acceptance. Nothing about what happens if a person does teshuva (repentance) and feels just as wicked as before.
If I recall correctly, Rav Soloveitchik says something similar about repentance curing self-criticism in Halakhic Man, so that’s the two greatest “Modern Orthodox” rabbis, of very different outlook and temperament, agreeing that teshuva should remove self-hatred and needless guilt. I don’t know how to feel that. No wonder that in recent years Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur (Jewish New Year and the Day of Atonement, the holidays of judgment and repentance) have been hard for me and I struggle to get to shul (synagogue). Of course, this year I have decided not to go for Rosh Hashanah at least because I’m so worried about COVID and passing it on to Mum (who has surgery a week before Rosh Hashanah). I haven’t had to decide what I’m doing about Yom Kippur yet.
The guilt is pervasive and multifaceted. Some of it is feeling disconnected from God, which I’ve felt for a long time. Feeling that I don’t pray well enough, don’t study Torah enough, don’t connect enough. Feeling that I don’t have enough spirituality or meaning in my life. I don’t have much of either. But I also have guilt around my sexuality. Feeling that it’s pretty much impossible to get to the age thirty-seven as an unmarried virgin without having infringed on some at least some of the Jewish sexual laws, but as no one talks about it, I feel that maybe it is just me. Maybe I could do better. Maybe other people do manage to do better.
So, I spent the afternoon somewhat depressed because of this. I was initially upset to have napped for an hour and a half after lunch, but when I started to feel depressed, I was glad to have escaped being trapped in my head for a while. Despite Shabbat finishing nearly two hours earlier than at the height of summer, it’s still hard to get through when depressed.
I worry what PIMOJ (as sarnhyman has suggested I dub the Person I’m Messaging On JDate) would make of this. I’ve told her about my depression, but presented it in the past tense. Well, I thought I was mostly over it and now it was just reactive to things in my life, not an ongoing presence. I should have remembered that whenever I declare my depression over, it returns. PIMOJ works in mental health and I don’t know how that would shape her reaction to me. I want to open up to her about some things, but I’m scared. I want to get to know her better and get to a stage where we can both be more open, but I don’t know how to do that or how to judge when we’ve got there.
It’s not just the persistence of depression, but also the fact that she comes across in her messages as an ebullient person and one with a deep and sincere ahavat Shamayim (love of God). I had hoped some of that would rub off on me, but now I feel it’s more likely that I’ll scare her off. That she wouldn’t want to be with someone so quiet and downbeat, and intermittently (at least) depressed.
I just found this quote from Rav Kook, from The Lights of Holiness further on in the same volume:
The greater the person, the more he must seek to discover himself. The deep levels of his soul remain concealed from him so that he needs to be alone frequently, to elevate his imagination, to deepen his thought, to liberate his mind. Finally his soul will reveal itself to him by radiating some of its light upon him.
Shabbat (Sabbath) was OK, but a bit of a struggle. It’s just too hot. I know that in some places it gets hotter and more humid, but bear in mind houses in the UK are built for cold. They are insulated and sometimes poorly ventilated. So it’s pretty sweltering. I couldn’t sleep at all last night. I stayed up reading. I eventually fell asleep around 5.00am.
Once I slept a lot again over Shabbat, despite the insomnia. I slept late once I got to sleep and I napped in the afternoon, so I’m super-awake now, which is not good.
Today we ate in the garden, both lunch and seudah shlishit (the third Sabbath meal). I was apprehensive about this, because I had a vague sense it ought to be religiously prohibited, but I couldn’t think of a reason why, or at least, not a reason I couldn’t argue against. That said, if I hadn’t seen our super-Hasidic next-door neighbours do it last week, I don’t think I would have done it. Still, I guess it’s progress in being less religious OCD-defined, and more open to things generally. There’s probably a good deal of autistic “I don’t want to do anything new” in the “It’s halakhically forbidden (forbidden by Jewish law),” as much as OCD and over-caution.
My mood was variable. I had the weird thought that in terms of dates, I’m doing about as well by just posting stuff on my blog and occasionally meeting people romantically that way (meeting online or in person) than I am being proactive in the real world or even hoping non-internet women would want to date me. Obviously my online presence is more confident, more charming, more I-don’t-know-what than my in-person presence (unsurprising, as in-person presence is socially crippled by social anxiety and autism). Who knows whether I’ll meet someone else that way? Still, I do feel the odds are against my finding anyone soon, or even really being able to manage a relationship soon. It’s just counter-productive to dwell on those thoughts.
(It’s strange, but despite my shyness and social anxiety, I do quite like meeting people in person who I have “spoken” to online. I’ve done it quite a lot.)
I realised that somewhere along the line I stopped praying to find my spouse. I’m not sure why. I know in the last year or so I’ve cut down a lot of voluntary/spontaneous prayer because of feeling depressed and tired and overwhelmed and far from God. That was probably a bad idea, making me more distant from God, but it’s hard to know how to get back to it.
I never know what to pray for about dating anyway. I don’t exactly feel like I could get married at the moment, certainly financially and maybe emotionally. Maybe I should pray to find some other activity or social network that would take away the loneliness? But it feels unJewish to be in my late thirties and unmarried and not doing the one proactive thing I can really do about it (prayer).
Plus, how would I pray to feel less sexually frustrated, from a Jewish point of view, without praying to get married? There isn’t another option. It’s pretty clear from the Talmud that praying to reduce your libido doesn’t work (“There are no half blessings from Heaven”); marriage is the only option. But what if, financially and emotionally, that isn’t possible right now, maybe never? What should I pray for?
Those thoughts about finding a spouse by just waiting until she finds my blog (maybe) cheered me up a bit, but others brought me down. I started crying while I was davening Minchah (saying Afternoon Prayers), I’m not sure why. I had been thinking about a chiddush (novel Torah thought) I had and I’m not sure if it was connected.
In Bereshit (Genesis) chapter 6, God tells Noach (Noah) to build the ark and that it should have a “tzohar.” It is not clear what a “tzohar” is. The Medieval commentator Rashi (based on the Midrash in Bereshit Rabbah) gives us two options: “Some say this is a window and some say this is a precious stone that gave light to them.”
However, contrary to the way a lot of people read it, Midrash isn’t just about finding quirky facts about the Torah. It is about finding deeper meanings. What is this teaching us?
In his book Genesis: From Creation to Covenant, Rabbi Zvi Grumet notes that the description of the flood undoes the Creation narrative from chapter 1 of Genesis, with the world being uncreated stage by stage in reverse order as everything is destroyed, back to the point where the waters above and the waters below were divided on day two, leaving only the light created on day one. The only thing not mentioned are the luminaries, created on day four. We can assume they were covered by clouds, from the point of view of the ark, but this is not explicitly stated.
We might then argue that the “window” opinion assumes that the luminaries were still visible and all that was needed was a window to let the light of the sun and moon in, whereas the “luminescent stone” opinion assumes that the luminaries were invisible, and some artificial (quasi-supernatural) light source was necessary for the ark’s inhabitants.
Perhaps the deeper symbolism is this. The “window” option assumes that even at a time of strict justice, when God withdraws his mercy and lets destruction reign on the world, even then there is hope as a natural part of the world. There are intrinsically positive aspects of creation still around, still shedding their light from a distance. God’s Presence can always be felt.
The “luminescent stone” approach is darker, in all senses. It says that sometimes the world is so dark that you can find no natural source of light altogether. The world outside is absolutely awful with no exceptions. At a time like this, we have to rely on God to cast light for us directly and miraculously because the outside world is just too dark and horrible for us. (I feel that this is a post-Holocaust type of perspective.)
I thought about the above, then I immediately went to daven Minchah, as I said, and I suddenly started crying and I didn’t know why. I strongly suspect it is connected to what I was thinking, but I don’t know if I felt overwhelmed that God was providing light for me after all, or upset and alone that I feel He is not providing light for me.
My parents and I didn’t play a game on Shabbat this week, partly as Shabbat is finishing earlier now and partly because our neighbours came to the door for a socially distanced conversation with my parents towards the end of Shabbat, when we’d been playing (we all nap in the afternoon). I’m trying to persuade my parents to play a longer, more involved game on a Sunday afternoon, as we’re all in at the moment, maybe Trivial Pursuit or Risk (my family don’t like to play Trivial Pursuit with me because I win. I think at one stage they would only play if I answered the Genius Edition questions and they answered questions from a similar, but easier, quiz game). I don’t remember the rules to Risk, but I’ve been thinking lately that I want to play it again.
I’m trying to listen to a long playlist on Spotify, but someone keeps editing it, so every time I open Spotify to listen to it, the track order has been changed and it’s hard to keep track of what I’ve heard to and what I haven’t. Very annoying. It’s one of the Spotify-produced (as opposed to user-produced) playlists too.
Today my mood has been OK when I’m busy doing things, but it drops pretty quickly when I’m not. I especially low at the moment (see final section).
I feel sexually frustrated again, not the in obvious way, but just wishing that I was with someone I loved and could give to that way. Also, to have that type of intimacy. I think I’m generally a sensible, play it safe, type of person. I don’t take risks. I don’t drink or smoke and illegal drugs scare me. Yet, for most of my adult life, I’ve found myself constantly wishing that I was in a relationship, even though I know that would not have been a sensible thing for me to do most of the time, given how much I’ve been struggling with mental illness since I was sixteen (at least). I guess it’s loneliness and feeling that I’ve never been completely accepted and understood. I felt that acceptance with E., until suddenly it wasn’t there, which was frightening.
I’m trying not to think like that (about wanting to be in a relationship), but it’s hard. I guess it’s better to accept those feelings, and to sort of make space for them in my head, but to acknowledge that I shouldn’t be focusing on them right now. It’s hard not to focus on them. Lately my mood has been OK when I’m doing something, but then I stop and suddenly the depression and loneliness rush in.
We’re in the introspective time of year. The Three Weeks of Mourning are introspective, thinking about what we’ve done wrong to contribute to the exile of the Jewish people and the destruction (or non-rebuilding) of the Temple in Jerusalem, then we go into Elul which is the month of introspection before Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year) and then we have the Ten Days of Repentance bookended by Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur (The Day of Atonement). Even though this introspection is only really starting, I already feel that I know what to focus on this year. I need to learn to be in the present and not worry about the future and to stop trying to predict it, because it’s impossible to predict accurately.
The Medieval Torah commentator Rashi says (on Devarim (Deuteronomy) 18.13): “‘You shall be wholehearted with HaShem Your God’: walk before him whole-heartedly, put your hope in Him and do not attempt to investigate the future, but whatever it may be that comes upon you accept it whole-heartedly, and then you shall be with Him and become His portion.” (translation via Sefaria, slightly modernised)
I think Rashi is quoting or paraphrasing the halakhic Midrash (I haven’t checked which). It’s talking primarily about not engaging in soothsaying, divination and the like (that’s the context of the verse), but Rashi makes a wider homiletic point about having faith in the future and accepting whatever happens.
I’d like to have the mindful/present-centred mindset of not worrying about the future or feeling excessive guilt and shame about the past, but it’s hard. I worry a lot, and when I think about my past, it almost always seems to lead to guilt or self-blame. It would be so nice to think of myself married to someone who I love and who loved me, just as it would be nice to think of myself as making a career writing Jewish novels, but both seem so distant that they seem like I’m taunting myself rather than setting realistic goals.
I guess I feel scared because it seems like I’ve passed the point in my life where I could have the things I want in life. I could still get married any time until I’m ancient, but if I want children (and I do) I have to either find a wife in the next few years or marry someone significantly younger than me. I know people who have happy marriages who do have a big age gap, but I feel it’s not so likely for me. Likewise with careers, it’s really hard to be building a career from nothing in my late thirties, especially as I am struggling with librarianship, but not confident enough in my writing ability and struggling to get started with that too. If I built some kind of career and if I got married, then I think I could have some happiness even if I couldn’t have children, but I struggle to feel positive about being unemployed, single and living with my parents in the long-term. And of course in the frum community almost everyone my age is married, just as most of my Oxford peers (that I still know of) have important jobs in law, politics, academia, the rabbinate or the like. This is why I left Facebook, to try to stop myself from comparing myself to others. I have to accept that my life is going to be very different to other people’s (including my sister’s), but it’s hard to do that when I don’t have a clear idea of what type of life I could realistically build.
I woke up early, about 7.15am. Despite only having had four or five hours sleep (I went to bed late and then struggled to sleep, probably from sleeping too much in the day), I didn’t feel too tired, but I didn’t feel inclined to get up and just stayed wrapped up in my duvet. It wasn’t a particularly sensible thing to do, as I eventually fell asleep again, for several hours and ended up getting up no earlier than usual.
Achievements: an hour and twenty minutes spent on the novel (admittedly with some procrastination). I finished another chapter. I’m up to 66,000 words, with two chapters left to go, so hopefully the word count will be OK. There’s a lot to do in redrafting, though. I see this taking at least four drafts, maybe more.
I also did forty-five minutes of Torah study, reading this coming Shabbat’s Torah portion (Va’etchanan, my bar mitzvah portion).
I got changed to have a run, put insoles in my trainers to see if that makes them more cushioned and stops hurting my feet, and warmed up, but once I started running, I could feel my ankle hurting again. Not badly, but I didn’t want to risk making it worse, so I decided not to run for a few days. I went for a walk instead, which isn’t as good at sublimating negative feelings, but is better than nothing.
Sometimes it’s hard to know what to do or think. Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about China persecuting the Uighurs, and also the Tibetans, Chinese Christians and adherents of Falun Gong, who are also being persecuted, but aren’t in the news. I want to do something, but I don’t know what. I feel very small and insignificant. It’s hard even to talk about it without sounding like I’m making a point about some other issue. The Jewish newspapers have been drawing parallels between the treatment of the Uighurs and the Holocaust, but it is hard to know what can be done. There aren’t large numbers of refugees here that I could help in some practical way (I used to volunteer at a refugee drop-in centre, although it’s been shut from COVID), nor is escalated confrontation with China a promising option, when it could easily become a nuclear standoff that would destroy the planet.
The Doctor Who bit; also the antisemitism bit (skip if not interested):
Asking for the Doctor Who Series Twelve box set for my birthday looks more and more like it was a mistake. I watched episode three, Orphan 55, which I hated first time around, in the hope that I would find something to like now I know what the bad bits are. I didn’t. In a word, awful. In two words, really awful.
Unlike first viewing, I’m not completely sure that there’s an antisemitic bit. There’s a montage of images of natural disasters and riots that includes a shot of fighter planes flying over Jerusalem, the only identifiable place in the sequence. I feel it shows that BBC-types see “Israel” as a shorthand for “evil” in a way they wouldn’t with other countries. At least, I hope it’s “Israel”; it’s possibly “Jews,” a thought not dispelled by the BBC’s low-key coverage of the weekend’s Twitter antisemitism storm compared with the coverage of other forms of prejudice.
I told myself I wouldn’t write negative reviews any more, for various reasons, so I’m going to let it go rather than reviewing it on my Doctor Who blog, but I hope I get more out of the rest of the series or this will be a waste of time and money. I think the series did get somewhat better as it went on.
The sad truth is that I’m enough of a completist that I still want to have every TV episode and that I will watch episodes at least twice because I know a first viewing sometimes obscures good points. Experimental episodes in particular can improve on second viewing once you can see what they are trying to do, although very little of this series was experimental. You can call that autistic obsession on my part if you want, and certainly the BBC makes a lot of money out of people like me. Still, there are more expensive hobbies out there. I’m just glad I don’t have the need to own every Doctor Who novel, audio drama, comic strip, computer game, etc. which would be an enormous drain of time as well as money.
I thought on waking that, although I still felt quite depressed today, I was not as paralysingly depressed and exhausted as the last couple of days, but soon my mood dipped down again.
The supermarket delivery came an hour early this morning, while Mum and Dad were still at the hospital for Mum’s chemo. I was still in pyjamas as I wasn’t expecting them yet. I didn’t even have my dressing gown on. I know, realistically, I’m not the only person in pyjamas at 11am during lockdown, but it’s still embarrassing, not least because I’m aware it could easily have happened outside lockdown given my disrupted sleep pattern.
I’m still struggling with bank account stuff. I feel bad for saying it, but it is making feel completely overwhelmed. I’m not sure if that’s depression or autism or what. I did start to make progress with it, but then their website crashed and seemed to be not working generally, rather just for me, and I had to give up.
I did manage to go out to post Doctor Who Magazine a review copy of my book. I would like them to review it, but I’m not so hopeful. They basically only review official merchandise these days, and there’s so much of that that they only review a fraction of it. I did at least overcome the autistic anxiety of going to a new place as I hadn’t used this post office before. I am also hopeful that Doctor Who Magazine might at least mention my book on the merchandise news page.
I did spend an hour putting together a devar Torah (Torah thought) for this week. I was relieved to get it done, as I was not sure I had anything to say, but I felt I was over-reliant on secondary sources this week, particularly Nehama Leibowitz’s Studies in Bamidbar Numbers and some badly-referenced Midrashim in the Artscroll Stone Edition Chumash. I guess it can’t be great every week. It did bring me a bit out of my low mood, which was good. I wanted to do some more Torah study later on, but didn’t manage more than a few minutes.
As I was having trouble with the building society site, I used the time for working on my novel. As is often the case when starting a new chapter, I struggled to get into it, but eventually managed an hour or so of work and about 400 words, which was not bad considering how depressed I felt. The depression may have helped channel my narrator’s frustrations.
I went for a run too. It wasn’t great, but wasn’t bad considering that I was very depressed and I hurt my foot somehow halfway through. I think it helped my mood a bit as I felt a bit better afterwards. I think I have lost some body fat in the last few months, which is good.
We’re in the annual Jewish national mourning period known as The Three Weeks, where frum (religious Orthodox Jewish) men don’t shave. One week in and my beard is itchy, and it’s worse when wearing a mask I discovered today. I wonder if compulsory masks will end the hipster stylised facial hair that’s become common in the last decade or so?
I guess part of what I find so frustrating about not being married is not just the celibacy, but not being able to talk about what I feel about being celibate. There is, supposedly, a “shidduch crisis” in the frum (religious Orthodox Jewish) world where, for reasons that are debated, there may be a surplus of unmarried frum women over frum men. There is supposed to be a similar, but somewhat different, “singles crisis” in the wider Jewish community of a surplus of unmarried women (not frum) who want to marry a Jew over Jewish men who want to marry a Jewish woman. And there is, apparently, a different crisis entirely of single men in the secular world who can’t find partners, again for contested reasons.
What bothers me about all of this (aside from the obvious fact that despite there being a two-fold shortage of Jewish men, I still can’t find a partner, which makes me feel useless beyond all repair), is that no one talks much about what this means emotionally. There’s a lot of of talk about “fixing the shidduch crisis” in the frum world i.e. making matches, but not about the emotional fall out of being single. In the wider world the only people talking about it are violent and misogynistic “Incels,” who I wouldn’t want to associate with. I tried to talk about it a bit in my novel, but perhaps I shied away from the full extent of it. Or maybe I don’t even have the vocabulary to talk about something that is so hidden and repressed. Maybe that’s something to fix in the redrafting, if I can find the right words.
Then the Star Trek: Voyager episode I watched today was not helpful. Ensign Kim fell in love with an alien and was given an official reprimand for breaching protocol. Almost every iteration of Star Trek has one character who is persistently unlucky in love. In Voyager, it’s Harry Kim. After spending the first season or two pining after his fiancée on the other side of the galaxy, he fell in love with a succession of unobtainable women: a hologram, a cyborg, “the wrong twin” (one who didn’t like him, unlike her sister, who he didn’t like) and now an alien from a xenophobic race. Later, if I recall correctly, he falls in love with a reanimated corpse (um, yeah). The character feels like a virgin, even though he isn’t.
I feel I have a certain amount in common with him, as I suspect that I too tend to fall for unobtainable women. Or maybe they’re all unobtainable for me? The first woman I asked out, insisting that we did not have much in common, said that if I liked myself more, I would like someone who I had more in common with. The reality is that I’m not sure there is such a person, or what difference it would make. I suppose E. and I had a lot in common, although we had some big things not in common (particularly religion). It still wasn’t enough to keep us together. Maybe in some ways we had too much in common, in terms of needyness and low income.
Ensign Kim’s formal reprimand was unfair, though. Star Trek characters are always having flings with aliens with no repercussions. Captain Kirk and Commander Riker slept their way around the Alpha Quadrant without so much as a warning. As Commander Chakotay said, Captain Janeway was being strict with Harry because he always kept to the rules in the past. I feel like that a lot – not regarding sex, but generally. When I was a child, I felt that my observance of the rules was never noticed by authority figures, but I was too scared to break them. Lately I feel like God is punishing me more than most people because He expects more from me, although it’s hard to tell what He expects me to do differently, or how I should do it. I do feel at times that my loneliness and single state is somehow a punishment for something, although I know that’s not particularly logical.
A different type of loneliness: Rabbi Lord Sacks’ Torah email this week is a eulogy for his teacher, Rabbi Nahum Rabinovitch, who died recently. He speaks movingly of the idea of the teacher in Judaism. “In Judaism, study is life itself, and study without a teacher is impossible. Teachers give us more than knowledge; they give us life.” (Emphasis in original) When I think about whether I made a mistake in not going to yeshiva (rabbinical seminary) for a gap year, the actual content I would have learnt is only third on my list of regrets. My bigger regrets are not “learning how to learn” and not having come into contact with great Torah scholars who I would have learnt from, from their personalities as much as their lessons. There’s a wonderful essay by Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik (in the book Halakhic Morality) where he says that the content of Judaism can be learnt from books, but each person also has to develop their own unique “religious style” which can not be taught, only aroused within them by watching a great teacher.
My rabbi mentor is of course a teacher to me, but only in an ad hoc way. He has never been in the position of formal teacher to me in any long-term way. I am lucky that he has set aside so much time for me over the years, but it is not the same as being at a yeshiva with teachers. I have learnt from teachers in books: Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Kotzk, Rav Soloveitchik, Rav Kook and (lehavdil bein chayim le chayim) Rabbi Sacks himself and Rabbi Steinsaltz (among others). Still, I feel book learning from dead or distant rabbis is not good enough, just as my Talmudic studies seem too small and low-level and my general Torah studies disconnected and lacking focus.
I do not know what to do about this.
Another line in Rabbi Sacks’ essay resonated for different reasons. “Early on, he said to me, ‘Don’t be surprised if only six people in the world understand what you are trying to do.'” I feel like that sometimes when contemplating my own writing, what I write now and what I want to write. Maybe I’m being arrogant. I would prefer to say that I’m doing what all good writers should do – writing for myself – and I know from experience that I have unusual tastes.
I keep coming back to the feeling that everything just seems so difficult and endless. I was feeling earlier today that I should be glad that I’m hurtling unstoppably towards death because life just seems so painful and meaningless. Lonely and painful. I don’t know what I really enjoy or find meaningful any more, except writing, but even then I struggle to get anything published or to get any money from it. I just feel so pessimistic about my life ever being good. My childhood had problems, but could have been a lot worse had I not had one really good friend, but from adolescence to adulthood, my life has pretty much never been good. It’s hard to hold out on a hope that things will go back to how they were when I eight years old.
Oh dear, this is going to be one of those posts again, the very despairing and depressed type. Sorry. You don’t have to read it.
I thought I’d used the title of this post before, but apparently not. The philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer wrote about porcupines that want to huddle together for warmth in winter, but if they do, they hurt each other with their spines. This is how I feel: I want to draw closer to others, yet I find they “hurt” me and I apparently hurt them, not always for obvious reasons.
I woke up feeling very depressed and exhausted today; also rather lonely and “touch hungry.” I feel a lot that I want to love and be loved. I also feel a lot that I want to have sex, particularly when depressed. Neither of these statements are hugely socially acceptable (in Western society, let alone Orthodox Jewish society), but the second is absolutely unacceptable. I find it hard to live with knowing that I feel like that without being able to express it. It is hard to know what to do with it for decades on end.
It was hard to get going today. I just wanted to stay in bed. Actually, I didn’t really want to be anywhere, but bed was easier than anywhere else. I’m feeling a lot of self-loathing today and I don’t know why. I just seem so socially inept. I also seem pretty useless at living a good or productive life (not the same thing, I know), by either Western or Jewish standards. It was hard to put on tallit and tefillin and daven (pray). This is a struggle every morning, yet I do, usually rather late, and in the winter, when the days are short, I often miss Shacharit (Morning Prayers) entirely and have to skip straight to Minchah (Afternoon Prayers), but I do put on tallit and tefillin and daven, after breakfast, but before engaging with the day, yet I never give myself credit for it, I just beat myself up for doing it late. I wish I could give myself credit for it.
I felt really depressed and exhausted even after lunch, when my mood usually peaks. I wanted to cry, but didn’t feel able to do so. I just wanted to curl up and hibernate. I did very nearly go and do that; at any rate I went and lay on the bed. I had told myself to do chores today rather than write my novel, but apparently the motivation I had to write the novel, inconsistent as it can be, can’t be transferred to chores.
The main chore opening a new ISA (tax-free savings account). Dad is always getting me to open new bank accounts and ISAs because I will get more interest in the new one than my old one. I do it because I am weak and always do what other people tell me to do, especially my parents. I think the amount of interest I get on the amount of money I have to save is minimal, and probably not worth the hassle. Also, having so many accounts confuses someone who is increasingly bad with numbers (unbelievably, I got an A* at GCSE maths. I’ve got no idea how I did that. I think I’ve become rusty in the intervening twenty years. Being vague about money is one of the things E. did not like about me). I can’t work out how to transfer money into this account and I think I may have messed something up. I think I need to open a savings account with the same building society and then pay money from there into the ISA, but it’s a lot of hassle for what amounts to a relatively small amount interest over two years, which my Dad would probably then advise me to reinvest elsewhere anyway.
And, yes, I know having too many bank accounts is a first world problem, and being able to write off the small amount of interest is a sign of privilege (although the privilege in this case is more that I have practically zero expenditure because I have no life than that I have lots of money). I’m not even sure what this money is being saved for; notionally to pay a deposit on a house or flat, I suppose, but it seems less and less likely that I’m ever going to be in a fit state to do that. I can’t drive and am scared of learning, so it’s not going on a car, and I don’t really go on holiday, so it’s not going on that. I live with my parents, so it’s not going on rent or white goods. There isn’t much else to spend on it.
So that wasted an hour or two. Then I wasted more time by going to the post office, which was shut despite saying online that it would be. I also went to the pharmacist, which didn’t have what I was looking for. At least I went for a walk.
I tried to do some Torah study, but felt too depressed to concentrate and only managed ten or fifteen minutes.
My main achievement for the day, aside from the walk, was cooking dinner, which I had already decided macaroni cheese, fortunately, as it is very quick and easy to cook. I also phoned the mental health clinic to check that the appointment I had booked with the psychiatrist for this coming Thursday (from before lockdown) has been cancelled. I feel I should have had some kind of official cancellation letter, but don’t think I have. There was no answer when I phoned, so I’m guessing they haven’t reopened for non-emergency mental health yet.
I ended up just watching Doctor Who this evening in lieu of doing anything productive, because I just felt too depressed. I ended up watching new series episodes for some reason (Asylum of the Daleks and The Name of the Doctor), even though I don’t generally like them as much as the original series.
I get a sort of pressure in my skull when I try to force myself to concentrate on things when I’m too exhausted and depressed. I’ve never seen that listed as a depression symptom, but I get it quite a bit. Also, when I get agitated, I start thinking as much in images than words, which I think is an autism symptom, but it would usually be constant for someone rather than only during times of agitation.
I think, far from being nearly over E., I’m only just beginning to mourn the loss of the relationship. In Heaven Sent (perhaps the definitive Doctor Who episode), the Doctor reflects that the day someone dies isn’t the hardest day – that day you’re busy. The difficult days are all the subsequent days when they’re still dead. I think the fact that the relationship is still dead is hitting me. I still think I did the right thing to end it, not least because I think E. would have ended it soon if I hadn’t, but still… I miss her. Or do I just miss having someone to talk to? Can you even have “someone to talk to” in the abstract?
Sometimes I feel I could die or go mad from how “wrong” my life feels, but I don’t know how to change it, or if the changes I want are even possible (certainly being in a relationship is not possible now, and maybe not ever). I just want to scream. And I struggle to let other people understand how wrong my life seems to be, which makes me wonder if it’s just catastrophising, yet their suggestions for change all seem impossible and unworkable.
I just feel sad and lonely right now. I’m hiding it from my parents again, or trying to (they can usually tell). I’m not sure why I can’t tell them. I’m just struggling to cope today. I don’t feel tired, but I might go to bed because I’m too depressed to read (and reading The Jewish Review of Books today just makes me feel that should have been a journalist, essayist, novelist, academic… something shaping the Jewish experience and the world of ideas). It’s either that or sit up late watching DVDs. I feel that I hate myself, my life, my blog… except “hate” is too strong a word for what I feel. I’m too depressed to feel hate today.
Well, at least today’s post is shorter than yesterday’s.
I feel lonely again, and I feel “touch hungry” like crazy. “Touch hunger” was a term I learnt from the sex therapist Talli Rosenbaum on the Intimate Judaism podcast, but I had felt the concept for a long time without knowing that there was a word for it. It’s the feeling of wanting to be touched and held. I feel that a lot at the moment. I want someone to touch me romantically/sexually. I can hug my parents, but it’s not the same, and I don’t always feel comfortable asking my parents for hugs; I’m not sure why (it’s not because of anything they’re doing). My first girlfriend was the only person I’ve hugged in anything approaching a sexual way because E. and I had a long-distance relationship. Even then, with my first girlfriend, it took me a long time to feel able to touch her because I wanted to keep Jewish law about not having physical contact before marriage and there was a lot of guilt in just hugging. The whole experience was distinctly confusing emotionally, especially in terms of the way that relationship developed and the way it ultimately fell apart. So there’s a lot of guilt, shame and confusion as well as loneliness, longing and despair around these feelings.
I’m thinking of E. today and wondering how our relationship fell apart so fast. Was the initial attraction and the way it became very serious very quickly (we were speaking seriously about marriage) just infatuation? Or would we have been OK if lockdown hadn’t been so difficult for her? I guess I’ll never know. Sometimes I wonder if I should have tried to stay with her for longer, until after lockdown, to see if things went back to normal, but I couldn’t cope with the psychological strain of the way she suddenly wanted the relationship to be. It was as much a trust thing as anything else. It does make me wonder if anyone could ever really love me, for more than a few months until the infatuation ended. I don’t blame E. for what happened. I just want to know if the situation could repeat in future relationships. I want to know how I can trust anyone else.
I feel I haven’t said much that is new here in months. Every day (except Shabbat/Saturday) I work on my novel, take exercise, do some Torah study or work on my weekly devar Torah (Torah thought), occasionally go to a shiur (religious class) on Zoom, go to therapy via Skype once a week, cook dinner or iron or do other chores a couple of times a week… To be honest, the repetition doesn’t bother me so much (I guess there are advantages to being autistic after all), but I feel it must be dull to my readers and it’s no wonder I seem to get even fewer ‘likes’ than I did before lockdown.
Today’s repetition: I spent one and three-quarter hours on my novel. I wrote 1,000 words and also edited a long fragment that I wrote almost exactly a year ago into the main body of the text. It was the first bit of the novel that I wrote, when I was excited and just needed to get something down on paper even if it wasn’t starting from the beginning. I reduced it from 4,000 words to 2,500, which makes me worry how much the entire book will shrink in redrafting. I did cut a lot of unnecessary stuff though. I slip into pretentious waffle if I’m not careful.
The writing was difficult, as I was challenging difficult thoughts and experiences from my past (particularly my further education job). I was glad that I got through it without much procrastination, just fairly solid working.
It’s scary writing something so personal and which makes me so vulnerable. The rest of the chapter is going to make me just as vulnerable and also risky in terms of content, especially from a frum (religious Orthodox Jewish) point of view. There is certainly a risk with some of my writing in this book that people are going to be surprised that a frum person could write those things, still less apparently have experience of them. I think some things need to be said, although it’s hard to judge what to say explicitly and what to leave unsaid sometimes. I think I’m writing about things that lots of people sort-of know go on in the frum community, but prefer not to think about it. If the book does get published, I could well end up hoping that not many people I know actually read it, or at least that they don’t tell me they’ve read it, otherwise there could be some awkward conversations.
By late afternoon, I was feeling depressed again. I’m not sure if that was from writing or just generally. I went for a thirty-five minute run, just managing to dodge the showers which helped a little. I felt depressed and lonely while running, but tried to focus on getting through the day and not worrying about the future, as per my post yesterday.
I didn’t do much Torah study as I got an exercise migraine and had trouble shifting it. I was OK for an hour or more after running, then I suddenly had a massive headache that stopped me from doing anything. I ended up watching The Avengers (The Bird Who Knew Too Much) on the grounds that The Avengers is upbeat and requires relatively little concentration (this is the British 1960s espionage/science fiction TV series The Avengers, not the Marvel superhero films of the same name). I did eventually manage about thirty minutes of Torah study in small bursts.
And now I should go to bed as it’s nearly 1am, but I don’t feel sleepy. After I have a migraine, I end up feeling too tired to do much, but not actually sleepy and it’s hard to know what to do.
There are things I think about talking about here, drop hints about, but back away from talking about openly. I’m not sure why I do this. I know why I’m too nervous to talk about them (a whole bunch of different reasons for different topics), but I’m not sure why I keep wanting to bring them up. Maybe because they seem important to me, or simply because I often go into confessional mode on my blog and want to offload everything. Or maybe I’m just trying to provoke people into stopping reading.
One topic I’ve been thinking about for the last few days is crushes. I’ve had some kind of crush most of the time since I was sixteen when I haven’t been in a relationship, which is most of the time. As soon as one crush drops out of my life or marries someone else, I find someone else to fixate on. It’s very adolescent. I suppose it’s a product of wanting love, but being too afraid to be open and vulnerable with someone, so I just obsess about people from a distance. It’s worth noting that of my two “proper” relationships, one was not originally a crush at all (she messaged me on JDate), the other was a mild crush at best (we were emailing, originally just as friends, and I felt a bit of attraction, but only acted on it when she said she felt the same way). So that may be significant, that crushes almost never turn out well.
I can feel the Crush Wraith (I was going to say Crush Monster, but really a crush is ghostly and insubstantial) coming back even though it’s not long since I broke up with E., and even though the circumstances of our break up arguably ought to make me think twice about ever being in a relationship again, or at least not until a whole bunch of other criteria are met (now I’m talking about my love life like an economist…).
It’s not just that. Part of me wants to get back in touch with E., not to date again, I tell myself, but just to be friends. She was a good friend, and I don’t have many friends, ergo I should get back in contact, or so the logic goes. Then comes the guilt: E. doesn’t have many friends either. Maybe she’s in a worse state than I am. Maybe it’s an matter of kindness to get back in contact with her. I’m worried if I do that, we’ll end up with a permanently unresolved on/off relationship that will get in the way of other relationships. I think the attraction is too strong for us to be friends; not close friends, at any rate.
The sermon from Shabbat Shoftim 30 August 1941 in Sacred Fire: Torah from the Years of Fury 1939-1942, the sermons of the Piaseczno Rebbe, Rabbi Kalonymus Kalmish Shapira, resonated with me over Shabbat.
He starts with a verse from the sedra, which the translator (J. Hershy Worsch) translates as, “Be guileless with God your Lord.” (Devarim/Deuteronomy 18.13) I don’t like that translation very much. I would prefer something like “Have integrity in your relationship with God your Lord” or “You must be wholehearted with the Lord your God” (which is Sefaria.org’s translation). Tamim has connotations of integrity and wholeheartedness.
He then quotes the Medieval commentator Rashi (Hebrew acronym for Rabbi Shlomo ben Yitzchak). I’m going to give a mash-up of Worsch’s translation of Rashi and the translation on Sefaria as I don’t like either of them completely and I’m too tired to translate from scratch (it’s gone midnight here): “Walk before Him wholeheartedly; put your hope in Him and do not attempt to investigate the future. Simply accept whatever happens to you, and then you will be with God — to be His portion.” This is my favourite Rashi comment, but I’m bad at living up to it, so it got my attention.
In sermonic style, Rabbi Shapira discuss some other things, moving to the situation of the Jews in the Warsaw Ghetto, and in Europe in the Holocaust in general, saying a Jew would be unable to respond to hope or good news because he has been so “beaten and tortured that he that he is utterly broken and effaced by pain and poverty… there is no longer a person capable of rejoicing.” This is common in Sacred Fire, the acknowledgement that faith and joy depend on physical and psychological wholeness (another meaning of tamim), which I think is crucially missing from a lot of other attempts to deal with suffering religiously.
He says that if the Jews knew that they would be saved tomorrow, they would find courage. “The problem is that they cannot see any end to the darkness.” Then he returns to Rashi’s comment: “Even if you are broken and oppressed, nevertheless be artless and whole. Take strength in God your Lord because you know that God your Lord is with you in your suffering. Do not attempt to project into the future, saying, “I cannot see an end to the darkness,” but simply accept whatever happens to you, and then you will be with God — to be His portion.” (Emphasis added.)
That seemed very meaningful to me, the idea of being mindfully in the present and not trying to see the future, and to see that was seen as having what I would translate as integrity (being “artless and whole”), which is important to me. Whether I can do that is another question. It’s hard when I’m feeling lonely and unlovable and unemployable.
Today I slept a lot. When I was awake, I felt mildly depressed. I did some Torah study and read more of The Siege. I played a game of Rummikub with my parents after seudah (dinner), but didn’t want to play a second game and went off to read.
I’m trying to feel grateful for things like being able to spend time with my parents (and getting on well with them) and not being in lockdown by myself, but it can be hard. I had difficult feelings today, things that were probably vague feelings of anxiety, as well as feelings of sexual frustration that can be triggered by strong negative emotions like anxiety, depression or anger. It is very hard to know what to do with those feelings.
I dreamt about doing my A-Levels (equivalent of High School) and struggling with self-organisation because of my high functioning autism. In reality, I was OK academically/organisationally at A-Level. It was socially where I was beginning to struggle, as I couldn’t cope with more complex forms of adolescent friendship compared with childhood friendship, or with the greater levels of freedom I was being given. Drink, drugs and sex scared me a lot; maybe it’s appropriate that they did, but they didn’t seem to scare my peers. In reality, it was only when I got to the world of work, much delayed by depression, that my autistic issues became really noticeable. I woke up with 17 Again by Eurythmics in my head (I sincerely hope I am never seventeen again). I wanted to go back to sleep, as I had only slept for seven hours (I generally sleep much more because of depression), but it was too hot, so I got up.
I sleep badly when it’s hot anyway, partly from the heat, partly perhaps because I usually wrap myself up in a duvet, one of my more autistic traits, and I can’t do that when it’s too hot. I’ve wrapped myself up in my duvet like a cocoon since I was a child. I suppose it makes me feel secure. When I was a child, I had an idea that if burglars broke into the house and stabbed me, the duvet would protect me. I’m not sure if I really believed this, nor do I know if I really thought I was living in a production of Richard III and was likely to be stabbed by housebreakers. I do feel more secure wrapped in my duvet though. They sell weighted duvets now for people on the spectrum. I’ve thought about getting one.
I got a weird response from the place I applied for a job the other day. They said they have had a lot of responses; also that the library is small, but that they will get back to me. I think they were saying they don’t want a trained librarian, just someone who will do admin for books, but it seemed an odd way of saying it. Am I hoping I get the job or not? I don’t know. It would be good to have some income and structure, and the esteem that comes from work, in other people’s eyes if not my own. On the other hand, I like having time to write when I’m most productive (afternoon/early evening) and working five afternoons a week was not my preferred part-time structure. I would prefer two or three full days a week, giving me time to recover from work days as well as time to write on non-work days.
I got a letter saying my benefits have gone up as they now don’t think I’m able to work at the moment (although I understand I’m still allowed to look for low-paying part-time work). Previously the benefits were lower because I was expected to be looking for work. I’m not complaining, but I’m not sure why they’ve suddenly made this change, which makes me worry it’s a mistake and I will have to pay the money back, so I’m scared to spend any of it. It’s not like the Department of Work and Pensions don’t have form with that sort of thing. I would be generally suspicious of any government body giving away free money, to be honest.
I watched Rabbi Rafi Zarum of the London School of Jewish Studies interview Rabbi Yehoshua Engelman who is a rabbi who became a psychotherapist. They spoke about meaning and the danger of religion making people do things because they have to do it rather than because it’s an authentic expression of what they want to do. Rabbi Engelman reminded me of some thoughts I’ve had about framing doing religious things that I don’t really want to do as, “I’m doing it because I’m in a relationship with God” rather than “I’m doing it because God said so,” which is perhaps a subtle difference, but an important one. It’s about prioritising the aspects of Judaism that I have chosen to be present in, on some level, (having a relationship with God) over the dry ritualistic aspects (doing as I’m told). Even if the outcome is the same, the mindset is very different. Just as I do things that I think are pointless or counterproductive sometimes because my parents want me to do them and I value keeping the relationship more than I value my freedom not to do that thing, so I do things that God wants me to do for the sake of my relationship with Him rather than because I worry that I will “get zapped” (as they would say in my shiur (religious class)).
A paragraph from my novel sums up how I felt struggling with depression and high functioning autism in the workplace:
I have always worked hard and achieved despite my troubles. Now there is no correlation between effort and achievement; I do my best, but it is not good enough, I can not function as I am supposed to do, there are problems I can not solve without requesting help.
I still feel like this sometimes. I am sure it would be worse if I was in work rather than job hunting. It felt like that at times in all the jobs I have had, except perhaps the first one, but some were particularly bad.
Writing this chapter is probably what triggered the autism dream last night.
Achievements today: two hours on my novel, almost exactly 1,000 words. I could have done a little more, but it’s so hot, and I’m tired from Shabbat chores and need a passive TV break before Shabbat.
I wonder if a lot of my fears are about control. The fear about not being in employment again, the fear about dating and marriage and being alone forever… what worries me is not just the object of my fear, but not knowing. Not being able to psychologically prepare myself for it somehow. Keeping on trying in vain to sort my life out. Even the fear about being alone forever, which is my biggest fear. It would be sad never to experience love and sex, but I’ve been without them for nearly thirty-seven years now, so I should know I can survive them. It’s true I’ve never been completely alone, but there have been times (particularly when I was at Oxford) when I was pretty cut off from family and friends and I survived, and I have better coping skills and social skills now than I did then.
No, the fear is control. Not knowing what will happen. Not being ready for it, for the choices I will have to make.
I think a lot of my anger with God comes down to this. To not knowing. I feel like I’m sitting a exam without being taught the subject first. That I can’t prepare myself. Feeling that I’ve been set up to fail. That He wants me to fail. That He wants me to be lonely in This World, essentially so that I will fail my test and lose the Next World too. That if I knew what was going to happen to me, I could prepare, and pass the test, and be happy in This World and the Next World. Perhaps some people do get to prepare themselves (hence, Torah and mitzvot), but not everyone. For some of us, the whole of life is the test (Rabbi Yehudah HaNasi says in a couple of places in the Talmud that “Some acquire their World over many years, and some acquire their world in a single moment.”).
I think we are defined by the choices we make. So it’s probably not surprising that I take that seriously and want to ensure I make the best choices. It’s probably not helped by low self-esteem that makes me fear I’m going to make much worse choices than I actually would make (no, I don’t realistically think I’m going to turn into a misogynist, incel or Viking, according to this depressing article, even if no woman ever consents to go on a date with me ever again). There is the fear that if I was given a sudden choice, I would make the wrong decision. That I need to think (over-think) everything first. That’s also probably not true.
I also feel that my life will only have meaning if I do a “meaningful” job, or write meaningful books or get married and have children. Maybe that’s not true either. I feel life in the abstract has meaning. I would not feel that anyone should commit suicide. Yet I back away from assuming that my own life has absolute value. I feel I have to justify it somehow. It’s not helped by getting a lot of signals from society (general Western society as well as frum society) that everyone should have a job and a partner and children.
I’m not sure how I can find my inherent meaning. Logotherapy is the school of psychology devoted to meaning, but I’ve never met a logotherapist. I’ve read Man’s Search for Meaning, which is the founding document of logotherapy, but I’m still unsure of what meaning means for me (so to speak).
I guess things like learning about history and the society around me, making ethical choices, being part of the Jewish people across time and space and appreciating literature give my life meaning.
In a strange way, I find meaning in watching Doctor Who. Not just the stories that are objectively worthy of artistic response, but the not-so-good ones too, or even more so. It’s easy to find merit in City of Death or Heaven Sent, but to find it in The Space Museum or Terminus is harder and finding something enjoyable in them feels like somehow rescuing something that the world, and even fandom, had written off. Like finding hidden treasure. Or showing gratitude to the writers, performers and producers: that they aren’t forgotten or despised.
It’s funny, I wrote the above, and then I felt overwhelmed with depression about probably being single forever. So it’s not the whole of the reason for my depression. I clearly don’t want to be alone forever even if I can prepare somehow. I want to get married. But I think control and meaning are parts of it.
Achievements: I sent off my CV for the job I mentioned yesterday. I still feel inadequate for it, a thought only reinforced by drawing on memories of an earlier job and interview for my novel-writing today. I felt quite anxious while writing because of this.
I spent nearly two hours working on my novel. I tried to to do another ten or fifteen minutes to take it up to two hours. I didn’t get far with that, but I did at least write over 1,500 words, which is I think the most I have written of the novel in one day and is especially good given that the writing revisited some difficult times for me.
I worked on my devar Torah (Torah thought) for fifty minutes, as well as managing about twenty-five minutes of Torah study. I also went for a half-hour walk, plus did some ironing, so I guess it was a busy day. I still wish I could do more though. I still feel inadequate and not fully adult.
I feel like I’ve become rather misanthropic lately. That without consciously choosing to do so, I’m retreating into a sulk. Lockdown is being eased, but I want to stay in my room. I see myself as too scared to try dating again, and I’m worried that one day I will not feel like that and I’ll get hurt again, as I always do. Perhaps “fortunately” I see no point in trying to date while my financial position is so negative, and I see little chance of that changing any time soon.
As I’ve said before, consciously I say I want love, but deep down, what I unconsciously need is to accept that depression and autism mean that my life is going to be different to other people’s, that I will probably never be financially self-sufficient and that I will almost certainly not get successfully paired off, as well as never having many friends or fitting in to a community. If I could accept that most of my life is going to be miserable, perhaps I could enjoy parts of it. But I keep getting my hopes up that I can beat the odds, somehow, and then I get disappointed and hurt all over again. Silly boy.
I’m still feeling super-lonely. I feel sexually and romantically frustrated (is “romantically frustrated” a thing? I want to love someone), but I’m lonely in a wider sense too. I’m thinking about (not) fitting in, one of the well-worn themes of my inner monologue, let alone this blog.
I mostly don’t say anything about my mental health or autism away from this blog and similar blogs. It’s just easier than dealing with embarrassment, confusion and sometimes stigma. It’s easier to let people think I’m unusually dysfunctional than to admit what the issue is.
I don’t say much about my religion or politics either. I worry that my religious and political views are sufficiently idiosyncratic to put off everyone who knows them, so I keep them fairly private.
I don’t mind talking about religion here, but I’m not sure why. I suppose I don’t go into details about theology here, just say what “weird” stuff I do and how it affects me emotionally. Sometimes strangers see that I’m Jewish and ask me questions in the street. Strangely, I’m kind of OK with that. At least they’re curious, not belligerent (I’ve had belligerence too, and attempted proselytisation). The Jewish population of the UK is sufficiently small that it’s doubtful whether many people have ever met a Jew in many parts of the country, let alone a frum one, although in London that’s less likely.
I don’t like to pin down my views when talking to other religious Jews. As Rabbi Lord Sacks said, Modern Orthodox Jews are a minority of a minority of a minority (Jews are about 0.02% of the world population; Orthodox Jews are about 10% of Jews; Modern Orthodox Jews are a small percentage of Orthodox Jews). I know I’m more “modern” in many ways than most frum (religious Orthodox) Jews. Actually, I avoid talking about religion outside the community too, for fear of scorn from militant atheists, but sometimes I have to bring the subject up (usually at work) to ask for special dispensation e.g. not eating the same food as everyone else, leaving early on Fridays in the winter etc.
I don’t talk about my politics with anyone at all. I talk politics a little bit with my parents, but somewhat abstractly. They don’t know how I vote (which assumes I vote consistently…). I don’t really fit with any party and I’m not sure that any ideology is an adequate model of a complex reality. I dislike most politicians and activists these days.
I don’t like the current political atmosphere. Too violent and opinionated on all sides; also pretentious. “The best lack all conviction, while the worst/Are full of passionate intensity.”
My chosen professional sector is often more radical than I am (unsurprisingly, as most members are working in the public sector). I know a lot of my friends, particularly my online friends, wouldn’t agree with me if they knew my views. I left an autism WhatsApp group a while back because they were criticising a particular type of political viewpoint without it apparently occurring to them that people like that could be on the list, let alone that they might pass as “normal” people.
I get very angry about antisemitism, but mostly don’t say anything about that either, because it feels like almost no one outside the Jewish community really understands or cares, or is willing to listen.
I don’t like identity politics, which I find aggressive. I prefer existentialist encounter and dialogue.
I just try to be kind and non-judgmental, and to really listen to people.
I change my mind quite a bit. I like reading new ideas, if they’re argued well, and I try to be open-minded about things. I get the impression that most people don’t do that.
I don’t mind having friends who have different views, but my experience is that fewer and fewer people are willing to do that (see here for the way acceptance of inter-political (progressive + conservative) marriage has declined even as acceptance for inter-racial and same-sex marriage has grown). These days people seem to just want to hate people who are different (often in the name diversity, ironically) and mute or unfriend people with different views. I just keep my head down and try to avoid arguments. Life’s easier that way, but lonelier and scarier: I don’t feel accepted for who I am and I worry about slipping up and being rejected. I sometimes wonder how many of my friends (particularly online) would ditch me if they knew what I really think about some things.
I do feel that there’s no one like me: religiously, politically, psychologically. It was a relief to meet E., who was like me in many ways even if she wasn’t religious. (Maybe we were too much alike; probably we were both too unstable.)
Today I just feel unlovable and unacceptable to anyone I might want to befriend me, date me or employ me. I feel utterly useless in any context. The only thing I feel vaguely good at is writing, and I don’t feel great at that. I’ve certainly struggled to get paid for anything I’ve written. It’s a long time since I’ve felt good at my job as a librarian, and I only intermittently see myself as a good son, brother, friend or good boyfriend/husband material.
Today’s achievements: a couple of library jobs have come up. I’m was going to apply for both even though both are full-time, short-term jobs (both are maternity cover), where I really want a part-time, long-term job. I would go for part-time short-term, but I’m not sure whether I would take a full-time job. I don’t think I could cope, even for nine months. If I got offered the job, I would probably ask to job share.
I spent twenty minutes trying to navigate a badly-designed website to apply for one job, only to eventually be told that it was open to internal candidates only. (Then why was it advertised publicly? I suspect it has to be, legally.)
With the other job I think there would be higher risk of COVID – or any infectious illness – for reasons I won’t go into here, and we’re still supposed to be shielding Mum who will have reduced immunity for some more months. It is in any case a high stress, full-time job on multiple sites that could involve long travel times. I really don’t feel I could do either job, but I feel under pressure (from myself as well as other people) to apply for whatever jobs are available, which at the moment is not many. I would rather be working on my novel…
I’m not sure how long I spent dealing with job applications in total, but I didn’t actually write much of an application. I just looked at job descriptions etc.
I did forty-five minutes Torah study, reading this week’s Torah portion, but I didn’t get much out of it and felt very stressed while I was doing it. I would have liked to have done more, but did not have the time or energy.
I went for a thirty-five minute run; my pace was better than it has been for a while. I didn’t get a migraine even though it was hot out; thank Heaven for small mercies.
I wanted to work on my novel after dinner, but I was too tired. I realise that as we come out of lockdown, job applications are going to encroach on my writing time more and more.
We had a family Zoom meeting, me, my parents, my sister and brother-in-law and my aunt and uncle from Israel. I hardly said anything again. I’m pretty quiet even in in-person meetings, but on Zoom I just clam up completely.
I’ve made my blog find-able on search engines again. My reasons for making it hidden (that I worried that I was saying too much about other people who might be identifiable) seemed less realistic, and so many people were finding it through my comments elsewhere on the blogosphere that it didn’t seem such an issue any more. I thought about adding a contact form again so people can email me, but I’m more reluctant to do that. I’ve made a couple of good friends through having that in the past (and ended up going out with E.), but I had a bad experience with it recently (not E.) and don’t know if I should do it again.
Of course, a few hours on and I already think it was a bad idea to make my blog fina-able and that I should switch it back to hidden again. I can flip back and forth indefinitely, and probably will.
(Please forgive the frivolous title. I hate thinking up titles every day. It is vaguely relevant to some of what I’ve written.)
I felt depressed and exhausted on waking again today, and lonely. In terms of exhaustion and depression, maybe I did too much yesterday. It seems that even a half-day for an ordinary person wears me out. Or maybe my break-up just hit me again. I did feel better in the afternoon.
This is what I have been thinking about in terms of loneliness. Supposedly the Orthodox world has a “shidduch crisis” or a “dating crisis” of single Orthodox Jews who can’t get married. There is a lot of discussion on Jewish websites and newspapers about (a) whether the shidduch crisis actually exists and (b) if it does exist, what is responsible for it (generally phrased as, “Whose fault is it?”)? You can google for more information, if you dare (it’s a rabbit hole you may never return from).
I’m not sure the shidduch crisis actually exists, and I’m not sure that any of the proposed explanations for it hold water, but a lot of people seem to think that there is such a crisis and generally the crux problem is supposed to be, for variously suggested reasons, a surplus of single women over single men. Supposedly this means that the men get to pick and choose between women, which results in them never committing and always looking for a “better” woman than the one they have currently been set up with. Meanwhile the women end up being urged to “settle” for sub-standard men because of their ticking biological clocks.
At the time when we were friends rather than dating, E. said that her experience was that frum (religious Orthodox Jewish) single women in their thirties are all desperate to get married and have children and so will “settle” for anyone who can be a father, including me. See, for example, the woman, who tellingly signs herself “Pretty Desperate”, who is asking here about dating someone with a stable mental illness (the whole letter is a really sign of how narrow-minded the Orthodox world of dating can be, with the writer considering herself on the shelf at age twenty-eight!) I’m not sure that I really want to be a live-in sperm donor, but it depresses me that no one is even willing to “settle” for me. I think I would be a good husband, aside from the fact that I’m unlikely to ever earn enough to support a family solo. I’m honest, kind and gentle and probably a better listener than most men, even if things said to me verbally don’t always stick in my memory because of autistic processing issues. Nevertheless, I can see that my “issues,” my finances and my general geekiness would put most frum women (and many women generally) off. It’s sad.
It occurs to me that although the frum community sets marriage as a universal standard, it also writes off whole classes of people and gives them little support in finding a spouse (converts, ba’alei teshuva (people raised non-religious who became religious later in life), people with physical and mental health issues, divorcees and children of divorcees all spring to mind). I’m not sure how these people find mates, if they somehow attract each other as the more eligible candidates pair off and leave the field or if they remain unmarried. I think the USA there are some shachanim (matchmakers) who specialise in helping people with “sensitive” issues to find their spouses. Meaning, if you have issues you will be matched with someone with similar issues, which in some ways is logical, in other ways is crazy and is also basically eugenics (similarly, at the other end of the spectrum, rabbinic families also interbreed, selecting for intelligence).
These thoughts were distracting me today as I tried to write my novel. The fears, and the loneliness and sexual frustration, won’t go away. If someone could tell me, “You will get married and have children, but not for another five years,” I could get on with my life in the meantime, but as it is I constantly worry about things, I suppose in the hope that some great idea about how to find and keep a mate will come to me that I haven’t had in the last twenty years or so.
(Have I really been single and lonely for twenty years, with just a couple of little gaps? No wonder I’m so depressed.)
I suppose related to this is the fact that not only is loneliness rarely mentioned in frum society (where it is assumed that most adults are happily married), but sexual frustration (within or outside marriage) is never mentioned, not least because of the understanding that no one should talk about sex. It is only listening to the Intimate Judaism podcast recently that I’ve realised that other people also struggle with celibacy in a culture where the only legitimate sex is within marriage, and even then only at certain times. I am at least not having forbidden pre-marital sex as some “older singles” apparently do according to the sex therapist on Intimate Judaism. Even so, there’s a lot of guilt around sex and sexual thoughts and behaviours for me and I worry about the guilt poisoning my sex life if I ever do manage to get married. The guilt around sex for me probably doesn’t help me when dating, giving me more reasons to feel inadequate compared to my date, even beyond my general feelings of inadequacies when compared to frum Jews. I feel too ashamed to think anyone could accept me with my not-always-fully-repressed sexuality, even if they got past all the other issues.
I spoke about this a bit with my therapist this week, about thinking and doing stuff sexually that, as a frum Jew, I shouldn’t. I can’t remember her exact words, but it was along the lines of accepting my sexuality as natural, having compassion on myself and realising I’m in a difficult situation that Orthodox Judaism was not really designed for. It’s difficult though. I wish I could just turn my lust off.
Achievements today: I did an hour and a half to two hours of novel writing, about 900 words. The exact amount is hard to estimate because of procrastination time. I was pleased to get to 900 words and reached a sensible point to stop, so I did. It was hard to write with all of those lonely, despairing thoughts, but I try to force myself through those thoughts and feelings and do some writing five or six days a week. If I want to be a professional or semi-professional writer, I need to be able to work every working day, even if I’m having a lousy time with depression.
I did thirty-five minutes of Torah study. It’s hard to get up to an hour a day at the moment except over Shabbat. I’m not sure why. I wanted to do more, but procrastinated and ran out of time and got too tired. I should prioritise Torah study more, but I also want to prioritise writing, exercising and helping around the house. I can’t prioritise everything all at once. Sigh.
I went for a half hour walk. I also did some ironing. I would be a good house husband, I can clean, cook, launder and iron as well as shop for groceries. However, my sewing is lousy. Half the time I can’t even thread the needle.
I had a Zoom call with a bunch of friends from my university days. We meet up once or twice a year to catch up on what we’ve been doing since we last met. One had had COVID and nearly been hospitalised (she was triaged and judged well enough to cope at home). I always feel vaguely awkward that they’ve moved on with their lives in a way that I haven’t. All have good careers and one is married with a baby. I did impress them by saying I’m working on a novel. When I set it was partly set in Oxford, I had to reassure them it wasn’t a roman à clef and they don’t have to worry about being in it. In fact, this isn’t quite true, as part of the novel is based heavily on my experiences with another person, not in this group, although by this stage in the writing process a lot of details have been changed or invented. The person I’m thinking of would probably see certain resemblances, but I don’t think anyone else will.
I didn’t get the job for which I did a cataloguing test a couple of weeks ago. I asked for feedback on the test, although I’m nervous of what it might say.
I wrote the following about my experience of depression on Kacha’s blog and thought I would copy it to here as it’s a useful summary of how I experience depression now and in the past. I think depression will always be around for me most days, but I am able to control it more than I used to do. I find it hard to ever see myself living a “normal” or “full” life though:
I had a period of many years when the depression was a constant daily phenomenon. Then I started to experience periods of remission for some months, mixed with periods of depression. I still feel very depressed for some time every day (usually in the mornings), and still sometimes have to take a mental health day every so often. However, I am able to do quite a few things during the day most days now, even if it is not like working a nine to five job plus having family and social commitments, which is what I think of as a “full” life.
I think activity helps. Once I can start doing things, that can push the depression away, although events during the day (usually things I see or read or hear) can trigger it again.
I would add that I’m glad I’m not at the stage I was at from 2003 to circa 2008 (or possibly later) when I was not able to work at all, or from 2008 to 2017 or so when extreme depression was common on many days even when I was working a fairly full week. I think clomipramine, which I was put on after a mental health crisis in late 2017 has done a lot for me in that regard, as well as the occupational therapy of work, then job hunting (awful though that is) and, now, trying to write books.
Another struggling morning. It’s so hard to get going. I just feel so tired and depressed. It’s also easier to get sucked into despair and loneliness (missing E. – not exactly the dictionary definition of loneliness, but it’s hard to think what else it is) than at any other point of the day, although I am be glad that nowadays there are times when I’m less likely to be sucked in to them.
I wrote a job application, mostly tidying up my CV and template cover letter. I decided to leave it before sending it and have another look at it tomorrow, as I was quite depressed today and didn’t think I really concentrated on it well. I ought to be able to do the job well, but I’ve completely lost confidence in my ability to do the job I was trained for to the extent that I don’t think I can do this job and on some level don’t want to get it. Nevertheless, I intend to send it tomorrow.
Other stuff done today: therapy (see below), thirty minutes of Torah study, a thirty minute walk, and a Skype call with E. I had an idea for my devar Torah (Torah thought) for this week, but it needs developing and I’m not sure where to take it.
Therapy today was useful. We spoke a bit about grieving for parts of my life that I lost or never had (e.g. the stereotypical frum (religious Orthodox Jewish life)) rather than internalising them as a critical internal voice (e.g. “I’m useless because I’m not married). We also spoke about the persecutor-victim-rescuer drama triangle, a relationship model where all three roles are unhealthy (“relationship” in this context means any relationship of people, not necessarily a romantic one). I think a lot of my friendships/romantic/would-be romantic relationships in the past were victim-rescuer relationships, one way or the other, whereas with E. that’s not the case. It’s a lot healthier; even though both of us have a lot of issues, we don’t really play the victim or rescuer, we support each other as equals and have good boundaries.
One thing I touched on in therapy was the feeling I have of God being critical and punitive, even though that’s not the type of theology I was brought up with or read nowadays. It’s hard to see where that comes from except my general internal critical voice, which is hyperactive.
Related to that (which I didn’t discuss in therapy), is that I’m still struggling to emotionally connect with God or Judaism. I was trying to work out earlier how much Jewish stuff I would still do if I knew there was no reward or punishment for it. I would still keep Shabbat, because I feel that’s very positive for me in a very tangible way. I would still study Torah, but maybe shift my focus (then again, maybe not). Keeping kosher doesn’t bother me so I would keep that up. I might reduce prayer. It’s hard to tell.
Looking at the last paragraph, I looks like overall I would stick with most of Jewish practice: (Shabbat, Torah, kashrut and davening covers the bulk of daily Jewish practice for a non-married person. I just wish it brought me more joy. Is it the lack of connection to God that strips it of joy or is it the depressive anhedonia (inability to experience pleasure)? Because obviously depending on what the cause is, the solution would be very different. It’s not like there’s much joy in my life from other sources, so it could well be that I just don’t experience much joy or pleasure.
E. and I have been studying Pirkei Avot, the volume of Talmud that deals with ethics, together. She keeps saying that while it’s interesting and some of it seems reasonable, it wouldn’t change her life. I’m not sure if I can think of a single Jewish teaching that changed my life in that way. I think it’s a cumulative effect of learning lots of things and doing lots of things that made me more religious. Nevertheless, I am aware that a lot of my religious growth was driven by not wanting to be a hypocrite in picking and choosing elements of Jewish belief and practice, and that other people won’t necessarily feel the same need for consistency. Indeed, outside of certain parts of the Orthodox Jewish community, pick and choose Judaism is the norm.
I would say that I doubt I could pass my religiosity to others because of that lack of joy and focus on integrity, but somehow I have influenced people around me to become more frum in some ways, even if not as much as me, so obviously I’m doing something right, I just don’t know what.
I do struggle with feelings of jealousy connected to anhedonia, feeling resentful and upset that other people can enjoy their lives whereas my enjoyment has been limited for the last twenty years and not that great even before that. The most resentment and jealousy is over sex and over religion, people who enjoy their religious lives and find meaning and joy in it as well as friendship and community.
I don’t know why these two areas are the big sources of resentment for me. I have never been a great traveller, but I don’t really resent people who do travel, perhaps because I was taken on a number of holidays in Europe as a child. But I don’t resent people who have been to Asia or South America or other places I’ve never been to. I don’t really resent people who can drink alcohol safely (which I’ve always been too scared to do) or who can drive (which I’ve also always been too scared to do). I suppose I do feel resentful when there’s a party or social community event and I’m too depressed, autistic and socially awkward to attend. Even so, sex and religion seem to be the big sources of resentment. Or maybe I’m just confronted with them more often.
I was thinking crazy stuff today, at least before therapy. I don’t know if I can put it in words, but I guess there were elements of catastrophising, self-blame, repressed anger and despair. I tried to write the job application, but then I get sucked into procrastination online, and that triggered other thoughts and feelings (see the next paragraph). I’m trying to notice when I’m catastrophising or self-blaming or worrying about stuff that is out of my control, or getting angry with people who I have now cut out of my life, but it can be hard to do that straight away.
I saw a comment online earlier that listed “severe depression” as being up there with drink, drugs, diseases, “several” divorces and domestic violence as the only things that would stop “Any eligible Orthodox Jewish man” meeting the proverbial “‘nice’ eligible Orthodox Jewish woman.” Well, I did find a nice Jewish girl, fortunately, but I guess this is why I had to go outside of the frum community. Still, “depression is as bad as domestic violence”… talk about stigma. Reminds me of another article I saw years ago, on a secular website this time, that basically said if you have treatment-resistant depression, you’re never going to find a romantic partner, and that’s not fair, but life’s not fair, so deal with it. It really was that blunt.
Boots has sold out of hair clippers. I’m going to look like the abominable snowman by the time the barbers re-open. At least I can shave again tomorrow.
Today was difficult. I woke up and had a weird Groundhog Day moment when I realised it was Shabbat (the Sabbath) again. Too many days lately have been Shabbat, Yom Tov (festival), Erev Shabbat and Erev Yom Tov (day before Shabbat or Yom Tov). I just want some normal days, where I can write and Skype E. and go jogging and vegetate in front of the TV.
I was quite drained over Shabbat and didn’t do a lot of the stuff I would normally do. I went for a walk and I did a bit of Torah study, but not as much as I would usually have done. I have finished re-reading the first fifty Psalms in Hebrew, which makes me exactly a third of the way through the book, but it’s taken me a very long time to get here (about ten months, I calculate with help from Goodreads). I did a bit of recreational reading too, but not a huge amount. I slept a lot again.
I feel even more than before that I need to speak to a therapist. I have a lot to process about the changes in my life: Mum’s illness, getting back together with E., continuing unemployment and the fact that I’ve dropped a mental health coping strategy without really having considered what the emotional side-effects would be. I mean, I was right to stop it, as it was very negative, but I’m not sure how well I’m coping. There’s probably a lot to say in therapy about my relationship with my parents, which I’ve spoken about before, but not regarding confronting their mortality, which has only just become a non-theoretical issue. Likewise about my sexuality – I’ve spoken a lot about it in therapy in the past, but I probably did not say everything I needed to say or work through everything, and suddenly it’s more relevant than at most times in the past. I mean about the way being single in a community that only permits sex after marriage forced me to repress my sexuality for so long, with a concomitant build up of guilt, shame and who knows what else, as well as interactions with other emotions and thoughts. I’m not expressing myself clearly here, and that’s partly deliberate, but partly not – I don’t really know what to say about this other than things feel so difficult so much of the time.
Tonight I’m feeling listless again, and lonely. It’s frustrating that my girlfriend lives on the other side of the world, although I worry I would mess things up somehow if she was here. I’m in two minds about watching TV tonight. It’s after 11pm, so I shouldn’t, but I need to relax and I feel too depressed and lacking in concentration to read. I’m not likely to sleep soon anyway, given how much I’ve slept today.
I feel the interest of these posts is diminishing, if there ever was an interest to other people (apparently there was, but I find it hard to believe). I’m just trying to dump my thoughts so I can move on from the evening and towards sleep. I feel unless lockdown ends soon (which it won’t), even I am going to run out of things to blog, just endless lists of runs and books read and self-criticism about not enough Torah study.
I hope to use some of the energy that would have been spent on writing long blog posts on fiction writing. I want to finish the short story I’m working on and then move on to the novel, away from the dull, but necessary bit I’m writing and onto the more interesting/disturbing stuff, although as I’ve said before, the novel isn’t exactly the type of thing I read, or want to write, but it makes sense to start with something semi-autobiographical. I have so many images in my head so much of the time, but forming them into stories is really hard. I suspect that most of them are pilfered from other books/TV/films/comic strips, but talent borrows while genius steals.
I’m mostly doing OK today, but I’ll be going along, doing what I need to do, and then suddenly feel sad or anxious for no obvious reason. Fortunately it seems to shift after a while. Credit that to Shabbat (Sabbath) and sunshine. I’m not sure what will happen next week when Pesach (Passover) preparation goes to the next level and rain is forecast.
I went out to do some shopping earlier, to pick up my prescription and some fruit and veg. The didn’t have my lithium tablets in 400mg dose tablets, only 200mg. I accepted those (although I didn’t think the pharmacist was supposed to change dosage like that, although maybe these are special times), but it means taking four lithium tablets an evening instead of two, alongside two clomipramine, one olanzapine and some vitamin supplements, plus of course my three morning tablets. It’s frustrating, but I’m glad to have got the tablets at all, as I don’t know if I would be allowed to go to a different pharmacy at the moment, at least not without difficulty.
I had to wait outside the greengrocer’s for a long time as they were only allowing two people in at a time. By the time I had finished there, I was feeling extremely anxious. I’m not sure how much was health anxiety, how much social anxiety (I had to ask the shop assistant some things) and how much is just me beating myself up for stuff that isn’t my fault, in a borderline pure-O OCD way (not Pesach OCD for once). I could have got home in about five minutes, but I took a detour for fifteen minutes to get some kind of walk as exercise and to fight off the anxiety, but it wasn’t particularly effective. I would have liked to have gone for a longer walk, but I didn’t as I wanted to do some Pesach preparation alongside my Shabbat preparation. Now the clocks have gone forward, Shabbat starts later, so as well as Shabbat chores and shopping I’ve done some Pesach preparation, which hopefully will “buy” me some time to bake or exercise next week.
Mum it seems is on the high risk COVID-19 list after all, although this is not completely clear to me. However, we’re struggling to have the government website to recognise her as such, which we would need to get priority for shopping delivery slots. The automated phone line flatly refused to recognise her NHS number.
This post seems banal even by my usual standards and I’m not sure that anyone will be interested. Coronavirus seems to have given us a lots of time to talk, but nothing to talk about. Aside from Pesach preparation, I’m not really being upset (I’m trying not to use the word ‘triggered’) by anything. I just feel surprisingly lonely, and worried about E. and frustrated at being so far from her at this time.
I feel caught in the tentacles of bureaucracy. I requested an updated medical certificate for my benefits. The surgery told me to book a telephone appointment with a doctor. I looked online; they have none available. If I booked on the automatic booking system on the phone, I wouldn’t be able to choose which doctor I got (I would like to speak to the one who wrote the original medical certificate) so I phoned, got through the long list of automated options, and managed to speak to a receptionist. My doctor isn’t available until the 17th, which is quite long to keep the Department of Work and Pensions waiting, but I feel at the moment it is better to stick with the doctor who knows how serious my symptoms are if I want to get a sympathetic hearing from the DWP.
I did struggle with social anxiety to make that appointment, so I should probably feel glad about that. I do feel that I’m just getting tied up in other people’s bureaucratic knots when I had to finish my job application, cook dinner and work on my devar Torah for the week, as well as wanting to get back into working on my novel and exercising (I haven’t been for a run for ages). Now I’ll probably need to write an interim covering letter to the DWP to explain why the medical certificate is being delayed…
I finished and sent another job application, but I feel like I’m just not hitting the mark with these things any more, if I ever was. The frustrating thing is that I can’t work out why I’m missing the target.
I cooked dinner, which took ages. Vegetable curry is not the most technically difficult recipe I know, but cauliflower takes ages to check for insects as per Orthodox Jewish practice, plus the curry itself takes a while to cook. I successfully fought a couple of religious OCD thoughts. I think I don’t note and congratulate myself for fighting this enough; I say when I struggle with the OCD, but fail to note that this is a relatively rare occurrence now. One of the things they teach you in CBT for OCD is that you will continue to have OCD thoughts in recovery, because everyone has OCD thoughts. The difference is whether you give in to the thoughts and obsess about them or ignore them.
I listened to a couple of installments of the Intimate Judaism podcast while cooking. It’s basically an Orthodox rabbi and an sex therapist talking about sexuality and intimacy issues in the frum (religious Orthodox Jewish) community, in a sensitive and insightful way, not a cringey one. I could have done with something like this when I was in my teens or twenties. Still, at least it’s here now I’m navigating having a girlfriend again.
I have stomach cramps and sensitivity around my abdomen again. This has happened intermittently for a couple of months now. At first I thought it was constipation (which I’ve struggled with since I was put on clomipramine), but lately I’ve been wondering if it’s a stress reaction, as it doesn’t seem to correlate obviously with anything else (although I haven’t been keeping records, so this is just what it seems to me). It started a bit before Mum was diagnosed with cancer, I think, but I had been feeling stressed about unemployment for some time before Mum was diagnosed. And of course my relationship with E. moved back to being a romantic relationship rather than a platonic one around the same time. That was a very positive change that I’m very glad happened, but I find any change difficult (an autistic trait) and this one entails confronting the difficulties of a long-distance relationship so it would not be surprising if it manifested psychosomatically alongside the other stressors.
I did some Torah study and devar Torah (Torah thought) preparation at the same time by listening to an online shiur (class) by a rabbi whose blog I used to read (he rarely posts there now, sadly, as his posts were good), which was interesting. The shiur was on the parallels between the stories of Yosef (Joseph), Daniel and Esther.
I did some chores, but I didn’t get any further with my novel. I just ran out of time and energy, which is frustrating.
I watched episode one of the original series Doctor Who story The Awakening yesterday. It is a reminder that slightly incoherent Doctor Who is not a new phenomenon. Still, I find it easier to connect to something like this than to some recent episodes. I’m not sure how much is nostalgia and how much something else.
Bureaucracy! is never defeated, merely subdued temporarily. Today I got a letter from the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) saying that my medical certificate has expired and I need a new one. If I want to keep receiving benefits (which I have not received at all yet) I am to send them the new one by 28 February i.e. three days before this letter arrived. I am not entirely sure what I am supposed to do, given that the medical certificate I had before was apparently not a proper medical certificate. I wish they didn’t have to make things so difficult for people who are already struggling with life. This is one reason why I’ve become so sceptical of people who think that the state can and should take on so responsibility for so many aspects of life, because I don’t think it’s managing with what it’s got already.
Mum had a tube put in her arm today under local anaesthetic to prepare for her chemo later in the week. Perhaps because of this, I suddenly felt really depressed this afternoon. I think it’s a mixture of worrying about her and worrying about myself (whether I’ll ever get another job and what will become of me and E.). My Dad has had a backache for two weeks now. It’s not dangerous, but it’s left him in a lot of pain. Both my parents being ill at the same time has just reinforced the “facing my parents’ mortality” thoughts and everything that entails, in terms of worrying about them dying and worrying about how I would cope without them (emotionally and materially, given that I can’t currently support myself). I felt bad that Mum sorted out dinner as I was doing a job application, which had only taken so long because of depressive oversleeping and procrastination. Then we heard that the son of my parents’ friends (who is younger than me), who has been fighting leukemia for years and years, is not doing well in his current battle, which just made me feel more depressed and morbid.
I spent about an hour and a half on the job application (including procrastination time, sadly). I filled in all the basic “name, address, education, previous jobs” stuff, but I still need to write the actual “why I would be good at this job” bit tomorrow.
I tried to work on my novel for about half an hour. I procrastinated a lot, but wrote about 350 words. I realise that my mind is working while I’m procrastinating and there’s no real point beating myself up about not concentrating (within limits). Unfortunately after about thirty minutes, I realised I was getting tired and the quality of my writing was deteriorating, so I gave up.
I spent ten or fifteen minutes revising Saturday’s Talmud shiur (class). I didn’t understand it much better this time around. I spent nearly another thirty minutes on other Torah study.
Other than that, I went to the doctor’s surgery to ask about getting a new medical certificate (which is a twenty minute walk each way, plus a lot of time waiting in the queue at the surgery). While walking, I listened to a podcast that E. suggested I listen to about sexuality intended for religious Orthodox Jews. I listened to the first podcast in the series and will probably listen to some of the others. I wish I could have heard it years ago, as it probably would have helped me not internalise some of the guilt that I’ve internalised about my sexuality.
The post title was intended to refer to bureaucracy, although I suppose it could apply to me. I’m not sure what I feel about that.
I’m averaging a good night’s sleep – I slept for twelve hours last night after sleeping for only four the night before. I would rather have it spread evenly though. One of the things I hate most about depression is waking up more tired than I went to bed and spending an hour or more before I feel able to confront the day.
I worked on my weekly devar Torah (Torah thought) for nearly an hour and cooked dinner. Other than that I didn’t do much except feel vaguely nervous about work, about which I still have something of an Impostor Syndrome.
I did something that felt somewhat against Jewish law and downloaded some music that I probably shouldn’t because it was sung by women. In the Haredi world, it is Not Done for men to listen to women singing. It is obviously not considered a problem by secular standards, and even in the Modern Orthodox world my rabbi mentor said most people only apply the law to live music and not recorded music. I suspect it’s one of the things that has suddenly become a lot stricter in the last sixty years or so. Haredi rabbis used to go to the opera. Not all of them, but some prominent ones did, apparently (I don’t have documentary proof, but I’ve heard it from a few places I consider reliable). I had been avoiding listening to female lead vocals in recent years, but over the last year I’ve been feeling so awful and struggling to keep going with my motivation in Judaism and, inevitably, I’ve slipped in a few areas, including this.
Anyway, I downloaded some music on iTunes, but it didn’t download properly and I just spent an hour and a half instant messaging the iTunes helpdesk. I’m sure some people would say that this is A Sign that I’m not supposed to do this, but I can’t see how I can be on such a high level that it makes any difference to me. I feel I’m not such a tzaddik (saintly person) that God should zap me (as the shiur rabbi would say) for such a trivial thing.
The guy on the helpdesk talked me through some things that changed which songs were or weren’t downloaded properly, but didn’t resolve the problem. Then he told me to alter some stuff on my laptop that I had trouble doing because Windows is pants and while I was trying to work out what to do the helpdesk guy hung up on me. I tried doing what he said anyway and it still didn’t help. I am not sure what to do, as Apple have lousy customer support (why do people love Apple so much?). I guess I will have to instant messenger someone again on Thursday.
I still feel like God is punishing me with this problem. I also lost my novel writing time today because of it and will probably lose it again on Thursday if I have to do this again. Writing is hard in my new job. I thought not job hunting would lead to more novel writing, but so far I’ve been too tired to write on work days i.e. Mondays and Wednesdays, which I expected, but also too tired write much on Tuesdays and Thursdays because work tires me out so much, doubly so on Tuesdays because I have to cook dinner. Fridays are a write-off in the winter because Shabbat (the Sabbath) starts so early. I can write a little on Saturday evening, but that time often gets swallowed by tidying up, by other chores I didn’t have time for in the week or by blogging any upsetting things that happened over Shabbat (upsetting things often seem to happen on Shabbat). That just leaves Sundays for writing, which is ridiculous.
Now I feel super-tense, depressed and agitated from trying to solve the problem and failing, and thinking about having to do it again on Thursday, and not having time to write and thinking about my whole big ‘to do’ list that has sat untouched since I started this job. The easiest thing to do with the music might be to wait until the invoice comes and refuse purchase stating there’s a problem, and then try to buy it again in a few weeks. As for feeling tense, depressed and agitated, I don’t have an answer to that. I started watching a Star Trek: Voyager episode, but it wasn’t terribly interesting.
At the back of my mind, I’m still thinking about two articles I read today, here and here (trigger warning for sexual abuse). I’m glad I don’t belong to a very Haredi community like the one in the first article (the Tablet Magazine one), but a group of people from my shul (synagogue) went to the siyum in the second post (they wouldn’t have necessarily known about the politics there). This type of thing makes me really angry. On a personal level, I know I do stuff wrong, and it’s pretty much impossible for a single man my age not to do some stuff wrong regarding sex, but I don’t hurt other people despite my struggles. I hate the idea that there have been so many cases of people able to get away with hurting other people because of the attitudes of parts of the frum community, attitudes that are suspicious of the non-Jewish police (or non-Orthodox police in Israel) and which automatically view people on the fringes of the community as being suspect especially when it’s their word against a rabbi or religious leader, particularly one with yichus (good lineage). There isn’t anything I can do other than try to write books about people on the fringe of the frum community and hope that helps someone, so it’s frustrating when I can’t even do that.
I just feel awful right now and I don’t know how I will get to sleep while feeling so tense and depressed (to bring the post full circle). Someone recently said that I’m not really ill and I haven’t really suffered anything, I’m just useless undependable. E. and one of my other friends said not to listen to this person, but it’s hard not to sometimes. At the moment, looking at how little I achieved today, I feel pretty useless.
I struggled to sleep again last night. I got about four hours in the end. I was surprisingly awake in the morning, but flagging by mid-afternoon and had to phone my Dad for a lift home from the Tube station after work as I was too tired to walk home.
Most of the day was OK, although I changed my plans for the library in a large-ish way which I hope wasn’t too much of an impulsive decision or one that will cost me support with library users. I am still adapting to the environment and what is expected of me on the one hand and what resources are available on the other. I need to take some time to think about long-term planning, probably away from the library as it’s hard to sit and plan there because of interruptions and not wanting to look like I’m just spending my time staring into space (I’m very happy to stand staring into space while thinking about things at home, but my parents always come and ask if I’m OK, which breaks the train of thought).
The benefactor who owns the library came in today for Minchah and Ma’ariv (Afternoon and Evening Prayers). I tried to show him what I was doing, but I got the impression he thought it was fine and didn’t really want to be hands-on with it. I guess that’s good, I just worry that I won’t be able to cope with being so self-directed.
I was going fairly well until after davening (prayers). The last hour or so of the day was really hard. By that stage I was very tired and my blood sugar had probably dropped. I tend to snack on fruit during the day, but for various reasons that isn’t always easy at work. I was dealing with some books that someone had bought or, more likely, donated to the library at some point by and about Chabad Lubavitch. Chabad is an ultra-Orthodox Hasidic movement noted for kiruv (outreach), essentially trying to encourage/help non-religious Jews to become more religious. They tend to provoke polarising reactions in other Jews and I have mixed feelings about them. Some of the books were by Rabbi Shmuel (Shmuely) Boteach, who is an even more polarising figure. You may have heard of him as he has a media presence far beyond any official position he’s ever held. He even stood for Congress a few years back. He was Chabad shaliach at Oxford. A shaliach is an emissary; shluchim are a couple sent to a particular place to a place, generally a remote one with few Jewish amenities (shuls, kosher food etc.) to run Chabad kiruv there and provide services to Jews who live there or are passing through as travellers. It’s usually a life-long commitment, but Rabbi Boteach outgrew Oxford and he left before I went up, but older students and community members still talked about him a lot during my time there, which shows how big a personality he is.
I flicked through his book, which was titled Moses of Oxford. The title might give you an idea of why Rabbi Boteach is such a polarising figure. (I have to flick through books to get an idea of where they belong in the library, but then I worry about reading too much and wasting time… this is a problem I have never resolved in all my years of librarianship.) The book was a collection of essays he wrote, or possibly lectures/divrei Torah he delivered in Oxford. There was quite a bit about sex. This is one of Rabbi Boteach’s favourite topics. He became quite notorious for writing books with titles like Kosher Sex and Kosher Adultery. His argument is that pornography, masturbation and the general sexualisation of society are robbing us of true intimacy and eroticism within marriage. His argument is not that sex is bad, so it should be limited to marriage, but rather that sex is great, but it only works in marriage.
It’s not an argument I’m particularly opposed to, inasmuch as I know anything about sex, being a thirty-six year old virgin, but that’s kind of the point: it just reminded me that there’s this big thing in life that almost everyone experiences and almost everyone enjoys (to the extent that not enjoying it is seen as a symptom of a problem of some kind) and I’m never likely to experience it. From there on it was just a downward spiral into thinking that E. and I will never move our relationship on. By this stage, the toxic cocktail of hunger, exhaustion and self-pity sent me towards general catastrophisation of my life. Fortunately I was able to eat something on the way home and feel better.
Honestly, lately I’ve been feeling happier about my love life than I have felt for a long time. E. cares about me more than anyone who isn’t an immediate blood relation ever has done and if anything I worry that I can’t reciprocate well enough, not that E. has ever complained (she says I’m a good friend). And I’m glad she’s in my life even if our relationship remains platonic. It’s just that every so often something makes me think about how much is missing from my life, sometimes sex, sometimes children, sometimes a more nebulous sense of contentment, meaning and stability, and then I wonder if I will ever be “normal.” Even if my life comes together at some point, say in my forties, I wonder how I can keep going until then. That’s something that applies to many, many more things than just sex, but sex is somehow emblematic of them all because it is so ubiquitous in secular Western society and covertly signalled in Jewish society with talk of producing children and grandchildren and the sanctity of marriage and the “Shabbat mitzvah.”
Anyway, I went home and crashed. I wrote most of this post, but didn’t hit “publish” then watched a James Bond film, Die Another Day, because it was too early to go to bed, but I was too exhausted to do anything that required brainpower. I struggled not to eat junk food and eventually succumbed to the big box of Quality Street that my parents opened. Not eating any junk at all most days is hard when I have traditionally used small treats as a reward for getting through difficult depression days. I did at least only eat one orange creme. I’m the only person in the house who really likes cremes, so I’ve potentially got a whole stash down there. Diet another day.
Die Another Day wasn’t great, but I was too tired to care. I think I like James Bond for the “wrong” reasons. The sex and violence doesn’t interest me much, but I like the laconic villains, the bad jokes, the gadgets and the lateral thinking problem solving, plus supporting actors like Desmond Llewelyn and Judi Dench. My favourite Bond so far is Roger Moore, which I know makes me a Bad Fan to most Bond fans, but there you go. I like the sillier (I would say fun) films of the seventies too.
Bedtime soon, I think.
I spent Shabbat (the Sabbath) with my parents at my sister and brother-in-law’s house. We had a good time, but I had some anxiety about certain religious things where my sister and BIL aren’t as strict as I would like to be. It wasn’t always clear what was a genuine issue and what was my religious OCD. One or two things I asked politely if we could do differently or if I could do it for myself separately; with a lot of things, I just accepted it in the name of shalom bayit (family peace i.e. not having arguments), although I want to ask my rabbi mentor what I should do when I go there again. I did have to deal with a lot of anxiety on Friday night, which was ostensibly focused on not being sure how they would do various religious things, but was probably also on some level my autism panicking about going to a new situation/building. Perhaps because of being tired from anxiety and ‘peopling,’ I slept a lot, although I tend to do that anyway. I did feel slightly upset about not going to shul (synagogue) over Shabbat as I didn’t want to go to the Masorti (non-Orthodox) one around the corner that everyone else went to, but I was too socially anxious to go to a different Orthodox one by myself. I also missed my Talmud shiur (class) which is frustrating, but unavoidable. It was a good Shabbat overall.
When I got home I spent about forty-five minutes on Torah study, mostly Talmud, the first Talmud study I’ve done by myself in over a month, I think. My understanding of the Aramaic language of the Talmud is improving, but the arguments can still be hard to follow.
I tried to work on my novel afterwards, but 10pm is really too late to be sitting down to write. I managed to write for half an hour, but my mind was elsewhere and I procrastinated a bit, only managing about 200 words. While procrastinating, I came across a quote from James Bond author Ian Fleming saying that he used to write 2,000 words a day over four hours. I usually manage 500 words a day, generally writing for one hour, so in terms of work speed, I seem to be doing OK; I’m not massively slow. I do wish I could just find more time each day to write, but it’s hard to do that while job hunting and trying to do Jewish stuff and dealing with depression. Just doing an hour a day most days is hard enough.
Workwise, I got a message on LinkedIn from someone asking if I would be interested in being a school librarian in the Cayman Islands. Death in Paradise fantasies followed (I don’t watch it, but my parents do). It’s not exactly a sensible plan for where I am right now, or for any religious Orthodox Jew, but I guess it’s a nice idea.
Speaking of remote exotic islands, The James Bond Collection arrived unexpectedly early today. The postman had to hide it as we were still with my sister and brother-in-law. Watching Live and Let Die the other week only fuelled my nostalgia for the Bond films of the sixties, seventies and eighties that I grew up watching (I’m much less interested in the more recent ones). I bought the box set as it turns out you can’t buy individual Bond films on DVD currently, it’s an all-or-nothing proposition.
I still feel that this is a vaguely retrograde step in my development, given that Bond is not exactly a role model to me, but I guess I need escapism and I’ve watched every Doctor Who and The Prisoner episode umpteen times as well as most Star Trek and a lot of The Avengers more than once. While I don’t think Bond would make me violent (and maybe provide vicarious release from my desire to punch J*r*my C*rbyn in the face, preferably while shouting “Nationalise this, you antisemite!”) I guess there is the risk that the amorous adventures of Commander Bond just making my own feelings of sexual inadequacy and loneliness even worse.
Taking buying this DVD box set with some other things I’ve been doing lately, I do wonder if I am slipping religiously. I also wonder if it was even possible for me to stay at the religious level I had achieved in the past for the long-term, while I’m struggling with undiagnosed autism, severe depression and social anxiety, and while I’m unmarried, have few religious friends and don’t feel connected to my religious community (although someone from shul texted to ask if I was OK as they didn’t see me over Shabbat, which was nice). It is very hard to stay Jewish and religious while socially isolated and especially while an “older single” or widow or divorcee with no children. So much of Judaism is family- and community-based. I’ve seen other people say the same thing.
Possibly I’m overthinking things. I do tend to do that.
To be honest it’s hard to stay religiously Jewish at all these days; most Jews are not religious. I was thinking about this a lot on Friday night when I was at home by myself when everyone else was at shul. There’s a quote (which I’ve taken from Buber’s Tales of the Hasidim) from the Rebbe of Rizhyn in the nineteenth century that, “In the last three hours before redemption it will be as difficult to cling to Jewishness as to climb a smooth wall of ice.” The three hours has gone on an awfully long time and it gets harder and harder to stay Jewish, but still… I remind myself of this sometimes when I feel I’m struggling to run fast enough to stay in the same place. Hopefully it counts for something.
I had my second meeting today with the charity that helps people with mental health issues into work (I was referred via the NHS). We spent most of the time talking about the type of help I would like, but I am still vague on what help they are actually offering. The only thing the case worker (? I’m not sure what her title is) has recommended so far is a course on motivation for work and other skills which I think could be helpful, but it is only run on Friday afternoons and now we are in the winter, Shabbat (the Sabbath) starts very early (because sunset is so early), around 4pm and it will get even earlier as we head into December. I would need to be home around an hour before that, to shower and do various chores and get to shul (synagogue) on time. The course runs from noon to 2.30pm and it will take me around an hour to get home afterwards, so this is tricky. Last time she mentioned it, I went into autistic “black and white thinking” mode and said I couldn’t go; this time I asked for the details of the person who runs it to see if maybe I could go for the first hour or so or find some other compromise.
She did give me some work to do with changes to my CV (fairly cosmetic, changing layout and fonts) and encouraged me to increase my usage of LinkedIn and Twitter. I’m never really sure how to use LinkedIn and largely avoid it, although I do have an account with my job details that I try keep up to date. LinkedIn just makes me inferior to people with a Real Career and panicked that I don’t know where my life is going or what to do about it, let alone how to build a career for myself. As for Twitter… it’s a whole new world of insanity. I did have an account briefly to try to get involved in online Doctor Who fandom, but Twitter is just so aggressive and political that I can’t cope with it at all and even when it’s not aggressive, the sheer volume of information (much of it trivial, if also sometimes funny) is overwhelming. I try not to be glued to my phone all day; I’m less successful at not being glued to my laptop, but I don’t want to make it worse. What I might do is unfollow all the Doctor Who fan accounts, even the ones I know in real life, and just follow a bunch of formal institutional accounts for libraries and universities that hopefully won’t be overwhelming or aggressive/political. The problem is that I think that networking would eventually involve following personal accounts of librarians and maybe academics and they won’t necessarily stick just to libraries. For one thing, academics and public sector workers can be very political; for another, Brexit and public sector spending are genuinely important issues for academic libraries, my chosen sector. To quote Star Wars, “I have a bad feeling about this…”
I had a conversation about careers with my parents, which ended with them saying I have to do some kind of voluntary work now to get motivation back. I don’t really feel capable of doing anything, so low is my confidence in my abilities and basic functionality, but I’ve agreed to get in touch (via my parents’ friend, who has a contact) with the local Jewish primary school to see if I can volunteer as a teaching assistant, although I’m worried that (a) that I’m not as good with children as my parents think, (b) that I won’t be able to cope with a classroom environment from an autistic point of view and (c) that right now I can’t cope with any work from a depression point of view.
I’m also going to force myself to prioritise my novel writing. I was going to postpone that while I focused on other chores and job hunting after a month or more disrupted by Yom Tov (Jewish festivals) and holiday, but I feel I need to be doing something ASAP, and preferably something that might make me feel confident in my abilities. It’s only really writing that does that. Unfortunately, I also want to prioritise exercise and job hunting (and now volunteering), and I’ve signed up for shiurim (Jewish religious classes) starting tomorrow so I clearly have a problem with conflicting priorities, given my lack of energy and motivation, as well as time (given that I sleep for ten or more hours a day). At the moment just functioning on a day-to-day level is hard.
I’m feeling depressed about being single again. I actually understand why Orthodox Judaism puts such an emphasis on marriage and only allows sex (and, in Haredi (ultra-Orthodox circles) friendships between genders) in a marital setting. It sounds bizarre to a secular Westerner, but while Judaism sees sexual satisfaction as important, it values it much less than the secular West (at least judging by the media). It sees family and community values as far more important than sexuality or individualism, and as someone increasingly concerned about where Western hyper-individualism is leading us (particularly in terms of social cohesion, support for those on the fringes of society and in terms of our impact on the environment), I can value that. But there isn’t really a back-up plan if you can’t find your mate, whether through bad luck, illness or not fitting the acceptable heterosexual pattern.
Because the model of the heterosexual family is so embedded in Orthodox Jewish social life, there isn’t really any acknowledgement of the loneliness and sexual frustration that can be experienced by people outside that model (single, divorced, widowed, gay, asexual). The expectation is that anyone without a spouse is looking for one, unless perhaps widowed in old age. Someone at shiur is divorced, and he has to put up with occasional comments that he should remarry, even though he seems to have no interest in doing so. To be honest, if I didn’t keep myself to myself so much I would probably get the same. There isn’t really another option on the menu other than marriage; even celibacy is not seen as a positive thing (unlike Catholicism).
I’m not sure where I’m really going with this. Orthodoxy isn’t going to change for a handful of people who don’t fit in. Most frum (religious Orthodox Jewish) Jews do manage to find someone, usually far before their peers in the wider Western society are even thinking of marriage. I don’t know if anyone has done any research on how happy those marriages are. Certainly divorce is rising in the frum world and there is a growing awareness of issues like domestic violence. I know that people who are married are not necessarily happy or even safe (one of the themes of the novel I’m writing). Still, I wish there was another model for the good life that I could use, or some kind of legitimate outlet or even acknowledgement of my sexuality.
I guess my sexuality frightens me in a way. That it’s a part of myself that I don’t understand and can’t legitimately probe or investigate, but which is constantly tripping me up in little ways, like when I feel attracted to women on TV or whatever (as per Jewish law I shouldn’t really be looking at women like that). When I was in group therapy we did an exercise on values and were given a list of sixty-odd values and told to pick our five core values. One of the values was something like “exploring my sexuality”. This freaked me out a bit. I couldn’t work out how someone could put that as their core value up with things like honesty, kindness, justice, family, friendship and so on. I mean, I really like Doctor Who. I really like Doctor Who. I have invested a significant amount of time and money in it over the last twenty-eight years, not least writing my unpublished book. But I would not put “watching Doctor Who” as a core value and it seems weird to me that someone would put exploring their sexuality as a core value like that. In my head, my image of what such a person would be like and how they would behave is not pretty and doubtless I would get “called out” on it if I shared it publicly in our hyper-sensitive age (so I won’t). But I guess some of the fear (I use the word advisedly) generated by that item on the list is really repressed envy of someone more in touch with their needs than I am, and probably meeting them more than I am too, even if I think those needs are trivial and a distraction from worthier things and may be buying short-term gain with long-term regret.
Other than that today wasn’t that good. I did some chores on the way home from my meeting and I somehow found the energy and concentration for forty minutes of Torah study. But I haven’t done much else. I tried to work on my novel for an hour, but it went slowly and after half an hour I think my mind switched off and I started getting distracted and fiddling around with Twitter without doing any of the things I said I would be doing with it. Bearing in mind what I wrote about about sexuality, I think I was avoiding writing a scene where one of my characters (at university having previously led a sheltered life in religious schools and yeshiva (rabbinical seminary)) gets woken up by the person in the room upstairs having noisy sex. It felt awkward to write, not least because it took me back to my Oxford days when this happened to me on more than one occasion (not woken up, but hearing it when I couldn’t sleep), the embarrassment, annoyance and guilt-inducing jealousy. Still, I am 444 words further forward, which at least has a pleasing symmetry to it, even if I would have liked to have hit 500.
The house is sporty today. Mum watched the tennis while Dad watched the cricket. I should add that this is all on TV (although Dad is going to the cricket later in the week with my brother-in-law). I have zero interest in cricket and tennis, or netball and formula one racing (which apparently were also on today). I have zero interest in watching any sport. I can sort of see the appeal of playing sport, but I’ve never really seen the appeal of watching other people play sport. Maybe I’m just not competitive.
Ashley Leia said on my last post that I do a lot of peopling on Shabbat which I guess is true, although at the moment I’m so focused on the fact that I keep missing morning shul because of social anxiety that I don’t focus on how much other social interaction I have, especially as interactions with my parents feel like they shouldn’t count as draining. They aren’t as stressful as other social interactions, but they are still draining on some level. No wonder Sundays tend to be something of a depressive wash out (including today).
There was an article in the newspaper about “incels” – “involuntarily celibate” men who become angry and misogynistic. Well, it could be that they become angry and misogynistic, but equally it could be anger issues and misogyny that keep them celibate. They seem to have an entitled attitude that assumes that they should get to sleep with whoever they want to. The thing is, some of the incels mentioned in the article have mental health issues or autism, which made the article resonate with me in a negative way.
I would not identify as an incel, but if I’m asked about my sexuality (which, generally speaking, I’m not), I would define as “celibate” because that does define me more than being heterosexual, at least in some ways. Even though my celibacy is for both religious and emotional reasons, because I would not have sex outside marriage and because I couldn’t cope emotionally with being with anyone as a casual hookup, it is still part of how I see myself, as someone who, for whatever reason, is not currently seeking sex and struggles being in a wider (Western) culture that permits and, to some extent, expects casual sex as well as in an (Orthodox Jewish) culture that promotes and expects early marriage.
I’m glad I don’t get sucked into outwardly expressing anger about my loneliness or anything else. I do sometimes fume inside my head about things (mostly antisemitism these days) and in the past I’ve drifted into angry suicidal thoughts (hoping to make people feel guilty for my death), but mostly I turn my anger inward as depression and low self-esteem, which isn’t any healthier but at least isn’t hurting anyone else (incels have been known to murder women). But I can see that these men have a warped view of sex and relationships as being about taking rather than giving and, as I said, they assume they have a right to sleep with whoever they want.
I desperately want to find someone who I can give to, but with depression and autism I can only give in certain ways. I certainly wouldn’t blame anyone for not wanting to be around me, either as a friend or as a partner. I know I’m a lot to take, with all my issues. I just worry that sooner or later everyone will leave me.
On this note, periodically someone will leave one or more comments on my blog, or even message me through my contact page, saying they like my blog and get a lot out of it. And I feel pleased for a while. And then I stop hearing from them. If they were on my followers list, they disappear from it. I know people stop following blogs all the time, for a whole variety of reasons, but this always leaves me worrying that I said or did something wrong, doubly so since falling out with the friends who didn’t like my blogging. I worry I was too religious or too political or said something offensive without realising it. I’ve had friendships that went like this too. Possibly I’m overthinking this. I just want to connect with people, really, and I worry that there’s something about me that stops that (it possibly starts with ‘a’ and ends with ‘utistic’).
It doesn’t help that I’m a great one for wondering “What if…?” What if I had spoken to the woman I had a crush on (for any given crush)? What if I had gone to yeshiva (rabbinical seminary)? And so on. E. asked me today what I thought my life would be like if I hadn’t become religious. I think I would probably still be depressed, as the depression stems from autism and childhood experiences as much as anything. I could see myself as a militantly anti-religious atheist, funnily enough. I would have a wider dating pool if I didn’t restrict myself just to frum women, but I think I would still struggle to find a partner because of autism and social anxiety. I would probably fit in better in Doctor Who fandom and maybe in academia; my social life at university would have been either slightly better or significantly worse for not having the Jewish Society to go to. And if I was more settled in fandom or academia, peer pressure would probably drag my political beliefs further left. Although I’m not sure it’s sensible to think about this too much, especially as there’s probably an element of chaos theory that makes such changes unpredictable.
The library job that I had a year ago (the one I left because they made the job more people-based and my boss said she didn’t think I could cope with it) is still advertising for my boss’ position. I wonder if I made a mistake leaving that job, if things could have turned out so differently with a different boss. I wonder if I could have done the new version of the job, as other jobs I have been applying for have been similarly people-based. I suppose I’ll never know as they aren’t advertising any assistant librarian jobs and I wouldn’t apply for the senior librarian role.
My main tasks for today were setting up my new phone (mostly done, although the phone number won’t transfer from the old phone until tomorrow or possibly Tuesday) and reading for CBT. The latter was largely about safety behaviours and saying that they can be counter-productive. I agree with that, but I feel that some safety behaviours are necessary, particularly for my autism. If I avoid going to parties because I’m socially anxious I can see that that would be potentially negative and counter-productive, but what if I avoid them because they make me feel uncomfortable because of sensory overload? I have the same mixture of social anxiety and autism around Simchat Torah celebrations (which happens more frequently than my getting invited to parties).
CBT and phone took much longer than expected, so I didn’t get much else done other than going for a walk. I was prepared to cook dinner, but apparently we’re ordering takeaway pizza. I need to get away from screens for a bit, though, so I’m posting this now.