Uneventful Shabbat

Uneventful Shabbat (Sabbath).  Quick update, more for me than anyone else.

Friday night Mincha and Ma’ariv (Afternoon and Evening Services) at shul (synagogue) was hard.  There were more people than usual because of a bar mitzvah.  A lot of people were clapping during the singing and making a lot of noise which I found uncomfortable, then the new rabbi initiated circle dancing after Lecha Dodi, which he seems to do a lot, even though there isn’t a huge amount of space for it.  I struggled with the noise and I’m not sure if I struggle more with it now I am aware of my autism or if it’s just that in the past I would have wrongly attributed my discomfort to depression or social anxiety.  I sat out (well, stood out) the dancing again.  I was exhausted from the autistic difficulties I had with going to the barber earlier, plus walking a lot during the day, plus the noise in shul and didn’t feel I could cope with holding hands with people I don’t know very well, being squeezed into a space too small for the number of people there and feeling awkwardly like everyone was staring at me (although it’s debatable whether I felt less stared at sitting it out, given how few people didn’t join in).

I had hoped to go to shul this morning, but after a night of insomnia and, when sleep eventually came, very strange dreams (upright talking orangutans who use public transport and patronise kosher cafes) I overslept.  And then slept for a further two hours after lunch and so am wide awake now.  I went to shul for Mincha today, but there was no seudah and shiur (third meal and religious class) as usual because a Famous Rabbi was in town and everyone was going to another shul to hear him speak after an hour of chevruta (paired) learning to prepare.  My experiences of chevruta learning in the past, including last week, have rather put me off it and I suspected Famous Rabbi’s shiur would be drily halakhic (on Jewish law), so I came home and read (parts of: a Doctor Who graphic novel (The Phantom Piper), a book on the Spanish Civil War and Rabbi Hayyim Angel’s fascinating book on Haggai, Zechariah and Malachi).

That was about it, really.  A little bit of anxiety about the quiz I’m going to tomorrow and about trying to sell my writing, but mostly I was OK.  Admittedly that was because I was asleep a lot.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Three Day Eventing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Victimhood

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

***

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

***

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

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

Crisis of Faith

I didn’t want to post much tonight, as Shabbat (the Sabbath) finished late and I’m going to go to bed late as it is and doubtless will struggle to sleep, given how much I slept over Shabbat (yes, I failed to make it to shul (synagogue) this morning again and dozed in the afternoon for about three hours too).  Tomorrow I hope to be volunteering, although “hope” is a somewhat tricky word there as “dread” might be nearer the mark.  I feel I ought to go, but like almost everything else in my life at the moment, I’ve lost confidence in my ability to actually do it properly.  Then in the evening I’m out for dinner with my family to celebrate my Mum’s birthday.  So I may not have the time/energy to post much tomorrow either, so I wanted to get a few thoughts down, for myself as much as anyone else.

Shabbat was difficult with a lot of depression and difficult thoughts.  I can’t remember all of them, but they were pessimistic thoughts about the future of Western society and frum (religious Jewish) society as well as my place in them, or rather my inability to find a place in either of them.  It sometimes feels like a race to see whether postmodern Western society or Orthodox Jewish society will self-destruct first.  Do I really want to be a part of either?  Lately I feel I just want to go off and be a hermit somewhere, but that’s not a very Jewish thing to want to do.  I have to existed somewhere and I’m not introverted and autistic enough to be able to cut other people out of my life completely.

I realised today that I’m going through a crisis of faith again, albeit a strange one.  I make it my third: years ago (probably around 2008, I’m not sure) I had a ‘traditional’ crisis of faith, not being sure what I believed, wanting proof for the existence of God and so on.  Then, over the last couple of years, particularly when my religious OCD was bad, I believed in God, but couldn’t believe that He loved me.  Now I can sort of believe that God loves me, but I don’t believe I can find a community that is right for me, that has the right balance between tradition and modernity, that takes Torah study and prayer seriously, but is also open to the (post)modern world, doesn’t stereotype non-Jews and non-religious Jews and doesn’t turn wicked people into heroes for political reasons.  It’s very difficult.

A Jew can’t be a Jew without a community.  That’s one of the major differences between Judaism and some other religions.  So I feel stuck.  I just feel that I stick out wherever I go and don’t fit in.  It doesn’t help that I don’t understand the nuances of social interactions because of autism, so I don’t know when some things are allowed.  For example, my shul isn’t Zionist, but some people are quite open about their Zionism and that seems to be OK, beyond a little teasing.  I don’t really understand it.  It’s hard to know what I have to do/believe and what is optional.

It doesn’t help that I don’t do the things a good Jewish man is supposed to do.  Between them, autism, depression and social anxiety keep me away from shul a lot and mean I study a lot less Torah than I should.  Similarly, I struggle to understand Talmudic study.  At shiur (religious class) today the topic was a very technical halakhic (Jewish law) topic and people were asking all kinds of kashas (high-level questions based on finding logical or conceptual flaws in a halakhic argument).  Meanwhile, I struggled to keep up.  I don’t know why so many people seem to be able to do this and I can’t.  I don’t know how many of them have spent significant time in yeshiva (rabbinical seminary) or studying Talmud with a chevruta (study partner) to learn this.  I assume most did not go to Jewish schools where they would have learnt it at a young age, although their children do.  But I just fell behind very quickly.

And, of course, I’m not married and I don’t have children, which is both a cause and an effect of my dislocation from the community.  In a community where almost every adult is married, not being married locks me out from a lot of social interactions, including some that might help me get married (given the strict gender segregation at most shul events).

The interesting thing about my earlier crises of faith (the ones I mentioned above) is that I never resolved them.  I never proved that God exists beyond all doubt or that God loves me.  They just stopped being important after a while.  I either learnt to live with the uncertainty, or they just stopped mattering.  Maybe one day this will stop mattering too.

This was supposed to be a short post just to announce what I was thinking, but it has become much longer, so I’ll leave this here.  There is, of course, much more to be said and I will probably return to this topic in the coming days.

The Diogenes Club Shtiebel

I spent Shabbat (the Sabbath) struggling with social anxiety and autism.  It was the last official Shabbat in the community for both the rabbi and the assistant rabbi and their wives and there was to be a celebratory seudah shlishit (third Shabbat meal) in their honour.  On Friday night, after Lecha Dodi, people started circle-dancing.  I dislike this at the best of times.  Autistically, I dislike the enforced close proximity and having to hold hands with two strangers (or at least people I don’t know well).  Social anxiously, I feel self-conscious, that everyone is looking at me and judging me.  Depressively, I can rarely enter into the spirit of things and really enjoy it.  Plus, our shul (synagogue) isn’t always big enough for all the people, so the circle can be rather tight and uncomfortable.  Sometimes I force myself to join in with this, but after a tiring job interview on Friday and perhaps being somewhat disorientated by the layout of the shul being different to usual and, as a result, my not being able to sit with my friends, I just couldn’t face it, so I stood outside the circle with the mourners, feeling self-conscious.

In the morning I woke up on time to go to shul, which you may recall I’ve been trying to do for some weeks now, but then I remembered the previous night and couldn’t face the large numbers of people who would be there this week.  I went back to bed, which was a mistake, as I could have gone to a different shul or even stayed awake and davened (prayed) at home, but I was obviously too tired to think straight.  I did at least avoid napping after lunch by forcing myself to go for a walk.

The real test was in the afternoon.  Talmud shiur (class) passed fine, but then, because the school hall wish usually serves as the shul was being used for the seudah, we davened in a classroom, about eighty men squeezed into a room intended for thirty children.  I felt terrible.  I was just overwhelmed by the proximity to other people.  I managed to stay for the whole of Mincha (the Afternoon Service), although I didn’t really have a choice, as it would have been hard to push past dozens of people to get out.

I washed and went through to the seudah.  I tried to sit with my friends, but I wasn’t able to do so.  I made motzei and ate a bit, but I was feeling very uncomfortable.  There were probably around 120 people, including some young children, all making a lot of noise and crammed close together.  I wasn’t with anyone I knew and no one was talking to me and I did not feel confident to talk to anyone else.  To be honest, this is what usually happens at seudah: I just eat and sit silently and wait for the shiur to start, but I assumed there wouldn’t be a proper shiur here, just a few speeches.  I felt like I couldn’t cope and that I was being overwhelmed, so I decided to quietly bentsch to myself (which I know I shouldn’t do when there is a zimun, but I considered it a health matter) and go.  I went home and read and then went to my father’s shul for Ma’ariv (the Evening Service) even though I think they daven too fast and with too much talking because I couldn’t face the crowded classroom a second time.

Since I was screened for autism and found out that I am probably on the spectrum, I am more confident about avoiding social events if I feel they aren’t right for me.  I know I’m better off coming home when I feel OK than going and feeling terrible.  When I was a child, my parents told me to go to social events and to talk to people I didn’t know, on the grounds that eventually my shyness would go away and it would become easier to cope.  I now know that my brain is wired differently to most people and it will always be like that, however hard I try to make things different.  I feel less inclined to “force myself” to go to social things now.

Still, I wonder how to build a social life for myself.  I feel like I’m some kind of social diabetic.  If I socialise too much – and “too much” is really very little – I get overwhelmed and can’t cope.  But if I don’t socialise at all, I feel lonely and unloved.  It’s hard to find the right level.  Moreover, how can I meet friends, have a sense of community or find a wife (in a community where people are usually set up on dates by mutual friends or family) if I can’t bear to go to social events at shul?  I’ve been going to my shul for several years now and I still only have two or three friends and no one I can really open up to.  Certainly no one in my shul has ever tried to set me up on a date.

Even though I left feeling more positive than on some previous occasions when I have forced myself to attend events where I felt socially anxious and autistically overwhelmed, I was left with a vague sense of resentment and unfairness, a mixture of envy and hatred for all the frum men I saw in my community today who manage to do what I can’t do and socialise happily, with their laughter and their whisky and their sports conversations, not to mention their attractive wives and cute children, all the things I don’t have.  It’s bad of me to feel this mixture of envy and hatred with a dash of lust (for married women at that), but I do.  I beat myself up for it, but it doesn’t go away.  The loneliness it triggered has also led on to “crush” thoughts about someone (not from my shul, but who I’m very unlikely to meet again any time soon), despite my telling myself, and my shadchan (matchmaker) that I don’t want to date until I’ve sorted out my work situation.

A curious side-light on this: there is someone at my shul who irritates me.  I try not to be irritated, because it’s pointless and because it’s sinful, but it’s unavoidable sometimes.  This person always has to answer the questions in shiur and he talks over other people, even the assistant rabbi.  He doesn’t really seem to take much notice of other people’s conversation, but just focuses on what he wants to say.  I never thought much of it, but today he started a huge argument with the people setting up the seudah, saying that he couldn’t sit near a particular food because he can’t stand the smell and that they shouldn’t put it on the table near him.  He got incredibly, shockingly angry about it until someone calmed him down.  I found myself wondering if he was autistic himself (possibly undiagnosed).  It would explain his lack of awareness of social cues and the ‘taking turns’ aspect of conversation, as well as sensory issues (the smell of the food) and emotional management issues around them (getting angry might even have been a meltdown, although this was before the seudah started, so he couldn’t really have been overstimulated).  I thought this would help me to empathise with him, but I just got more annoyed with him.  I feel that I want to say, “You just walk blithely through life not noticing all the people around you who you’re snubbing, you expect people at the seudah to fit in with your needs and your wishes and you don’t care what happens.  You don’t even seem to realise that you are inconveniencing people.  You go to the shiur and enjoy it and enjoy showing off your knowledge, you go to seudah and enjoy it.  I go through life terrified I’m going to upset somebody, I rarely speak for fear of saying the wrong thing (upsetting someone or appearing stupid), I can’t cope with the seudah and have to leave early, yet I’m the one who can’t cope with the deep, powerful, terrifying emotions aroused inside me all the time, I’m the one who represses himself to avoid getting angry with people and takes it out by acting out on himself in different ways (thankfully I don’t self-harm often, but it has happened, and I beat myself up emotionally a lot and lapse into behaviours I’m not proud of like eating junk).”  I suppose it just seemed unfair, but then I don’t believe that life is fair, so I shouldn’t be surprised or complain, but it does upset me, the way I just can’t cope, but other people who may have similar issues somehow do cope, while most people don’t face these problems at all.

***

Despite all this stress, I did spend some time in hitbodedut prayer/meditation thinking about how my life is going.  I still don’t know what I could or should be doing with my life or my career, but I do feel that the law library job would not be right for me.  I just don’t think I could cope in that high-pressure, money-focused environment.  How I explain that to other people if I get offered the job is another question.

I do feel that I need to spend some (more) serious time working on my writing.  Rabbi Lord Sacks, Emeritus British Chief Rabbi says that “Where what we want to do meets what needs to be done, that is where God wants us to be.”  I only have a vague sense of what I want to do and what needs to be done (being a socially anxious autistic person means at times I have only a vague sense of other people’s needs), but at the moment I feel it’s pushing me towards writing.

I do feel that I am making progress in my life, albeit with glacial slowness.  I feel I understand myself a bit better than I did even a year ago: what I can do, what I could do, what I should do.  But it is hard; I’m crawling on my hands and knees in the dark, feeling my way forwards an inch at a time.

Sleepy Shabbos and Community

It’s late (Shabbat goes out too late in the summer in this country), but I need to off-load some stuff that happened over Shabbat (the Sabbath).

I’m really struggling with my sleep at the moment.  I know I’ve written before about my curious obsession with my sleep pattern and my tendency to write too much about it, but messed up sleep has always been my most persistent depression symptom, and one of the most difficult to deal with.  I wanted very much today to get to shul (synagogue) particularly as there was a kiddush (refreshments afterwards) for the rabbi and rebbetzin, who are leaving soon.  Shul starts at 8.45am, but I knew I wouldn’t make it for then.  I just wanted to get there by 10ish.  I even asked my Dad to open my blinds at 8.30am in the hope that that would wake me up.  It did bring me out of my deep sleep, but I spent the rest of the morning in a not-very-deep sleep, at times almost waking up and being conscious enough to feel I should get up, but not actually waking up enough to do so.  I slept through my alarms as usual.  It was very frustrating.  I eventually got up about midday, much too late for shul.  Once I’d eaten, I felt somewhat better, as is usually the case.  It’s just getting up in the first place that’s the problem.

The silly thing is that I can get up for work or job interviews or health appointments, just not for shul or to start my day at a reasonable time.  I don’t know why this is the case.

And then I did it again after lunch!  I wanted to stay awake and read, but I felt drowsy, probably from overeating and being in a warm room and I slept for two more hours!  I have no idea how I will sleep tonight.

***

At seudah shlishit (the third Shabbat meal, between the afternoon and evening services) the rabbi was doing a Q&A because he is leaving soon.  I’m not sure if this was his intention, but people mostly asked him about his achievements and regrets in the eighteen years he was our rov (rabbi).  He spoke a lot about trying to get people involved with the shul, turning up to weekday services and so on, which made me feel bad for not doing that.  Before we moved to our current area nearly four years ago, I was present almost every day at Mincha and Ma’ariv (Afternoon and Evening Services) and was trying to go to Shacharit (Morning Service) more often, sleep problems notwithstanding.  But when we moved, social anxiety and depression undid a lot of the good work I had done over the years in getting to that point of regular attendance and I’m still struggling to get back to that level.  I go to my father’s shul midweek sometimes, but not usually to mine.  I’ve told myself I will try to get to one weekday service a week at my shul for a bit and see what that does.  I’m hoping it will have some kind of unconscious effect on my Shabbat attendance too, but that may be wishful thinking.

The rabbi also spoke about the need to cultivate a relationship with your community rabbi and asking him shaylas/sha’alot (religious questions, usually practical questions on relevant points of Jewish law) and about the need to have friends in your community.  He presented an idyllic picture of a community united by common values and helping each other with personal/spiritual growth.  I would really like to be part of such a community, but I struggle with these things.  I tend to take my sha’alot to my rabbi mentor even though he lives abroad, largely because he knows me very well now (he’s known me for about seventeen years) and he has had some training with mental health issues (many of my questions are mental health-related, on some level).  He is also sensitive with questions about dealing with family members who are less religious and when one can be lenient for shalom bayit (peace at home – again, many of my questions fall in this category).   For those reasons it probably is best for me to keep taking my sha’alot to my rabbi mentor, but it does put me in an odd situation, not quite fully in the community.  It doesn’t help that I have many friends outside the community, and indeed a number of my friends are not Jewish or not frum (religious), which is not typical for Orthodox Jews.

But above and beyond this, there is an issue about my fitting in that has made it hard to open up to people in the way that the rabbi was suggesting, either to a rabbi or to friends.  I know my shul isn’t a perfect fit regarding hashkafa (religious philosophy, which relates to a lot of things, but broadly attitudes towards those things known as modernity and postmodernity).  I like that my shul takes davening (prayer) and Torah study very seriously, but I know I’m more ‘modern’ than many of the community, in terms of things like attitudes to science, to broader Western culture and popular culture, to non-Jews and so on.  But I’m not sure that there are really many shuls in the country that are a good fit for me; United Synagogue shuls (like my old shul and like my parents’ shul) are more modern in outlook, but tend to have a mostly less religious community.  My parents’ shul has a larger than average cohort of committed, frum Jews, but it was far too large and unfriendly for me.

The rabbi’s words did make me worry again about whether I’m in the right place with the right rabbi and the right community/friends.  I think I’m probably in the right place at this precise moment in the sense that there is realistically no better fitting community for me at the moment.  Where I am in five years time, particularly if I get married (it could happen)… well, I suppose that’s another thing to consider as and when.

***

As an aside, there’s a quite famous anthropology/history book about the shtetl (the small Jewish townships of pre-Holocaust Eastern Europe) called Life is with People*.  I think the title sums up how focused Jewish life is on family and community, and how difficult it is if you have issues like autism and social anxiety that inhibit socialisation.

* It’s quite a good book, but apparently methodologically problematic as one of the academics who worked on it faked his academic credentials and seems to have been a KGB spy who probably assassinated Trotsky’s son.  At any rate, he was obsessed with issues of class and status and, as was pointed out in The Jewish Review of Books, spends some time in the book describing in detail who gets to sit in the best seats in shul.

***

When I dozed this afternoon I had a weird dream.  Aside from totally surreal or random elements (carrying a large dining room table up and down escalators in a department store; a box of weird Doctor Who toys based on the Dapol range), the main thing that stuck with me was talking my parents and possibly someone else (I think a former boss (one I got on with), but here she was some sort of teacher or even governess) about some subjects I was studying (A-level? BA?).  There were two subjects and I was sure I was going to fail both of them, but my parents disagreed.  When I woke up, I thought perhaps my mind was expressing anxiety over the career I’m trying to grow (librarianship) and the career I’m trying to build from scratch (writing), both of which I fear I’m going to fail at, but that the fact that my parents didn’t agree that I was going to fail perhaps indicated a deeper belief in myself.

Or it could just be a silly dream.

(Plus, in real life they really would insist that I won’t fail anyway.)

Night Before Oxford Nerves

This is an insomnia post, a rather rambling post written to try to empty my mind of thoughts and to tire myself out.  Apologies if it’s less focused that normal.  I don’t feel in the least bit tired, but I have to be up reasonably early tomorrow to go to Oxford for The Doctor Who Society’s thirtieth anniversary.  To be honest, I’m rather scared about going back to Oxford.  I’ve only been to Oxford once since graduating and that ended with me feeling rather depressed about my time there, thinking of all the times I was lonely and suicidal in the city of dreaming spires and lost causes.  And that’s just the city; I’m more nervous about seeing people I haven’t seen for over a decade (will they remember me?  Will I seem like a failure?) and being in a room of people I don’t know.  Plus, there will be one or two people there who are aware of my online persona, but who I have never met, so it’s scary to think of meeting them (I’ll be the guy in the skullcap).  I worry about being a disappointment if we meet in person or discovering that they aren’t actually following me any more.  But I have a fund of goodwill towards the Doc Soc (as we called it in my day; I think the current crop of undergrads call it Who Soc).  A vastly disproportionate amount of the good times I had at Oxford (there were some) were spent there.  I’m not sure I would go back for a JSoc (Jewish Society) event and I certainly don’t bother going back for college events.

It’s weird to think that my matriculation into Oxford was nearly eighteen years ago, half my lifetime.  I hope I’ve changed and grown since then, at least in a positive way.  It’s hard to tell.  I know myself better, and I think I can deal with my emotional issues better.  During my time at Oxford I was very depressed and almost certainly autistic, but I didn’t know how to cope with depression and I didn’t even think that I might be autistic.  Now I do have the awareness to understand and cope with those things better, although there is still a lot of room for improvement.  I do wish I had a clearer idea of where I’m going with my career and relationships, though.  I think I really do want to try to build a career as a writer, but it’s hard to take the plunge and I don’t think it would help that I want to write about very varied topics (Doctor Who, Judaism, mental health, autism).  As for relationships, I have a date with L. on Monday, but I’m trying not to think about it, as when I do I feel pessimistic.  Blind dates are scary anyway and with this one we have the added complexity of knowing each other when we were younger and trying to look past that at where we are now.

Backtracking somewhat, the last two days of Pesach (Passover) were OK.  No significant OCD, which was good, but I was quite depressed at times.  I went to shul (synagogue) in the evenings and also Friday morning, but not Saturday morning.  I wish I could get to shul more in the mornings, at least on Shabbat (the Sabbath) and Yom Yov (festivals), but I’m trying not to beat myself up for not going.  Goodness knows what everyone else makes of my sporadic attendance.  I suppose they think I’m not very frum (religious) or that I daven (pray) elsewhere.  I know I shouldn’t care what other people think of me, but I do.  Still, I got through a whole Pesach without a major OCD anxiety incident or an argument with my parents, so maybe things are looking up after all.  Otherwise Yom Tov was the usual: davening, eating, sleeping, Torah study and reading a bit.

Yom Tov was overshadowed by scary events either side of it: the abduction and rape of a woman from my local area beforehand (she is Jewish, although not so far as I’m aware anyone I know or have a connection with although I may discover otherwise in the coming days – the Jewish community is small and interlinked) and then the shooting at a shul in California, which is scary and disturbing.

Well, I should probably have another go at sleeping, given that I need to be up in six and a half hours.

Weekend Round-Up

The weekend went reasonably well.  I slept too much on Shabbat (the Sabbath) again and missed shul (synagogue) in the morning, although I went in the evening to see our potential new rabbi.  He seemed nice enough, but I suppose I feel slightly upset that as I was trying to build up relationships of trust with the current rabbi and the assistant rabbi and opening up a bit about my various issues and how they affect my Jewish life (mostly in a negative way), I now have to start all over again with a new rabbi.  Obviously it’s going to take time to build up trust again, and coming at a time when I feel that my depression and autism have largely pushed me to the fringes of the frum (religious) community, it’s not necessarily going to be easy to begin again.  I was too tired to go to the community meeting to vote him in this evening because I was out in the afternoon (see below), but I assume he was voted in (“elected” isn’t quite the right word as there were no other candidates).  He had to get 66% of the vote to secure the position, though, which made me wonder if someone was worried of a Brexit-type scenario.  (EDIT: he was voted in unanimously, which is definitely not like Brexit.)

Today I went to my sister and brother-in-law’s newly-refurbished house for tea.  They invited a lot of family, but my brother-in-law’s family is much larger than our side of the family, so it was just my parents and me for our side and a lot more people from the other side, although I think I’m the only person who still feels self-conscious around the other side of the family.  I coped OK.  I didn’t get depressed about not being married or owning a house as I thought I would.  I played a bit with my sister’s three year old nieces, although they were too tired to really be interested.  I ate too many biscuits and rogelach (pastries) though, which is probably a nervous thing – I don’t talk to people, so I sit there feeling anxious, so I eat to give me something to distract myself.  I think I’m crashing now from the sugar, feeling a bit depressed and anxious.

Other than that it’s been a slow weekend, some Pesach (Passover) preparation today, but not much else.  Tomorrow I should find out about the job I was interviewed for on Friday, although given that they were expecting to decide on Friday afternoon (there were only four people on the shortlist) and I still haven’t heard, it seems unlikely that I’m the first choice.

I’m hoping to go to depression group tomorrow (assuming that I’m not working on Tuesday).  The theme of the evening is hobbies, things people do to deal with depression and anxiety.  I’m trying to get the courage to read out a blog post or two from here, given that writing is my biggest hobby and my most effective way of dealing with my depression and anxiety.

***

I realised that my Pesach fears are different to previous years.  In the past I was worried that we would not prepare for Pesach correctly and I would end up eating forbidden chametz (leavened bread and its derivatives) on Pesach or that I would end up having a huge argument with my parents about the correct way to kasher things (make utensils usable for Pesach by purging of all traces of chametz).  This year I’m fairly confident that for the last few years, our Pesach has been kosher and it probably will be this year too.  Next week will be a crazy and stressful and rushed, but everything will probably turn out OK in the end.  I probably will argue with my parents at some point, but that will be because we’re all stressed and not over some huge kashering issue that is going to sour our relationship forever.  So my worries are more realistic now, although there is still the vague fear of something going really wrong unexpectedly – but that has happened in the past too and we’ve coped.  It’s why we pay so much in shul membership, so that we can phone the rabbi three hours before Yom Tov (God forbid) with a difficult sha’alah (question) as I had to do a few years ago (everything was OK in the end).  There’s less of the fear of divine punishment too, less feeling that God is waiting to pounce as soon as I make a mistake.

Progress and Burn Out

Over Shabbat (the Sabbath) I thought quite a bit about the job I applied for on Friday, despite the fact that I shouldn’t think about work on Shabbat.  I got alternately excited and anxious.  It doesn’t help that the advert didn’t really give an idea of what the job would involve, except that it would be some kind of news-related writing in “a leading magazine” and that I would be based partly in an office and partly at home.  I assume it is for a Jewish magazine, given that they were advertising on an Orthodox Jewish mailing list, although I suppose that may not be the case.  I have no experience in journalism and so don’t think that I will get the job, but it was worth trying.  At any rate, the fact that I had to send out samples of my writing may lead on to something, somewhere at a later stage.  Although if it is a Jewish magazine, I may have blown my chances of selection with some very non-frum writing.

Of course, looking at the news, both mainstream and the Jewish newspapers, is a thoroughly depressing experience, so maybe I don’t want to be immersed in that for a living.  Or maybe writing would at least feel like I’m doing something to fight back against the darkness.  I don’t know.

***

I mentioned to my parents about the woman I blogged about the other day, a daughter of their friends, who Mum wanted to set me up with some time ago because she felt she would be understanding of mental health issues, but couldn’t because she was seeing someone else and who I now know is single again.  Mum was anxious to set me up with her ASAP, which I don’t think is particularly sensible, given that I’m probably going to be unemployed again in a fortnight.  But inevitably thoughts of getting the magazine job mixed in with thoughts of dating again, if I can find a steady income.  Dad suggested set me up with the daughter of our neighbours.  For my part, I can’t really see why anyone would want to date me, certainly while I am not working full-time, but really why anyone would want to date me at all, given all my issues, unless she had serious issues of her own.  This is probably a problematic attitude, but I don’t know how to change it.  So far my dating experience has been limited and difficult.  I think my parents only see my strengths and ignore the considerable drawbacks I have that someone dating me would have to be able to accept.  Perhaps I only see the drawbacks and not the strengths; at any rate, I find it hard to see why anyone would date me, let alone marry.

I do get lonely, though, and long for understanding and real intimacy (not just sex), which is something I have spent my life looking for, in friends and potentially a partner, but have only ever really achieved for short periods.  I felt some of that loneliness over Shabbat too.  It would be nice to be dating again, but I can’t see it really going anywhere until I have some kind of steady income.

***

I struggled at dinner last night.  As usually happens, my Mum spoke a lot about her work and my Dad spoke quite a bit about his shul (synagogue).  My parents are both very talkative and very neurotypically talkative at that, speaking small talk and about people they know, rather than about more abstract matters like the news or religious things.  I try to stay interested, but there are limits to the amount of neurotypical small-talk conversation I can do, trying to show an interest and be empathetic regarding people I do not know and will never meet.  I tried to make the right noises, but after an hour and a half or more, I unintentionally delivered a very forceful and emphatic “Right!” as if shutting down the conversation, which my parents found hilarious.  They laughed, but I was very drained by the whole dinner and conversation, perhaps because I was already drained from spending the day writing the job application and then being around people in shul.  It did make me realise that one workshop wasn’t really enough to brief my parents on all aspects of autistic behaviour, and that even if they understand me, on some level, behaviour (theirs and mine) still needs to be negotiated in a spirit of compromise.

***

I was so drained from all of this that, despite being in bed before midnight, when I woke up at 9.15am this morning, I felt too tired to get to shul and went back to sleep.  I feel very bad about this, as I really want to get back into the habit of going on Shabbat mornings, but I simply can’t find a strategy to help me to get there.

***

I struggled to concentrate at shiur (Talmud class) today.  I realised halfway through that, strange as it seemed to someone used to thriving academically, I struggle with Talmudic study and my autism may be partly to blame.  But I’m not sure what exactly the issue would be, why I can cope with most forms of study, but not Talmudic study.  I am still coming to terms with the idea of being developmentally behind my peers, which is not something that was really the case when I was a child, when poor social interactions were put down to shyness and the effects of bullying and academic success was interpreted as a sign that I was functioning well in all areas, which in retrospect was clearly not the case.

***

I’ve been thinking of going back to my psychodynamic psychotherapist.  I stopped seeing her to do some CBT on the NHS to work on my low self-esteem, but I’ve been waiting six months or more and I still have not seen anyone.  I’ve phoned and emailed to try to find out where I am on the waiting list, but no one answers or responds.  It’s terrible.  In the meantime, I’m plutzing (fretting) about my career (or lack thereof), my relationships (ditto), my relationship with my parents, my attempt to come to terms with the likelihood that I’m autistic and so on, as well as just generally feeling depressed and anxious a lot.  It would be very helpful to speak to someone who knows me, but who is not emotionally involved in my life again.

***

After more than an hour and a half of work after Shabbat this evening, I have finally completed the second draft of my Doctor Who non-fiction book.  I have mostly been tidying up the various chapters, standardising spelling and layout and so on.  Bear in mind that the book originated in a series of blog posts and has been six years in the making; some of my preferred spellings and stylistic choices had changed over that time and I needed to make sure everything was uniform.  Now I can start on the third draft, this time working on the writing style, which in some ways is the hardest thing.  The second draft, incidentally, weighs in at 113,200 words, which probably means it needs trimming a bit.  If I am due another period of unemployment, maybe I can spend some time working on the book.

Drawing Lines

Shabbat (the Sabbath) was hard.  I did somehow make it to shul (synagogue) on Friday night, despite fears that the house would burn down if I left the Shabbat candles unattended.  I was five minutes late, but I did make it.  But my mood dipped a bit in the evening.  I stayed up late reading (I finished 13 Minutes, but I hardly did any Jewish reading) and didn’t get to bed until 1.00am.  Then I slept until 1.00pm and spent another hour feeling too depressed to move.  I did eventually get up and eat lunch, but after seudah (the third meal), I felt too depressed to go back to shul for shiur (Talmud class) and Ma’ariv (the Evening service) and went back to bed and dozed for another hour or so.  I’ve got no idea how I will get to sleep tonight.

***

I don’t remember much of what I was thinking about over Shabbat.  Mostly depressing stuff I imagine.  I do remember sitting with my head in my hands during seudah wondering why I am so repulsive to everyone (well, primarily to women).

I did try to remember some thoughts I  had based on recent posts/comments.

In response to the post about getting drunk on Purim not being an issue if you have an ‘inside’, I think in retrospect that I don’t actually know what the assistant rabbi was saying and I don’t want to put words into his mouth.  The things people have said in response here and away from the blog have not clarified things.  I suppose what it triggered in me was a feeling that ‘people who think they are bad are probably right’ which is probably not what he meant, but did reinforce my low self-esteem.

***

I think what I was trying to say in these posts is that it’s hard to tell how much leeway I have, religiously, in terms of mitzvah (religious commandment) performance from my issues.   There is a concept in Judaism that everyone is judged on their own level, on what could be expected of them given their physical and mental health, background, religious upbringing, abilities and so forth.  A person who is doing 100% of what they can do on a low level is greater than someone on a much higher level, but only doing 50% of what he could do.  The difficulty is judging where I fit in with that, what level I should be on and what can reasonably be expected from someone in my situation.

For example, in just under two weeks, it will be Purim and one of the main mitzvot of the festival is listening to Megillat Esther (the Book of Esther), once in the evening and once in the morning, being careful to hear every word (despite the noise made when the villainous Haman’s name is read).  If a person is deaf (assume 100% deaf, if they have impaired hearing it gets very complicated), though, they obviously don’t have to do this, because they can’t.  The Hebrew term is patur, exempt.

Now, listening to the Megillah is not easy for me.  The requirement to hear every word has historically been an opportunity for my religious OCD to make me panic about not having heard something.  The noise in shul is potentially difficult for someone with autism.  The sheer number of people is difficult for me with social anxiety.  The emphasis on experiencing extreme joy is paradoxically triggering of depression.  And getting up early to hear the morning reading is difficult with depression too, although I now live in a more religious area where there are probably readings at different times (but if I go somewhere new, that brings back the social anxiety).  But are any of these things severe enough to say I don’t have to even try to hear it?  I doubt it.  Maybe if I go and have a terrible time I have grounds for not beating myself up, but I don’t think I should stay away.

Judaism is all about drawing boundaries.  If someone is this ill, they can eat this much on Yom Kippur or can violate Shabbat this much to treat them.  I find with mental illness and autism it is harder to draw lines.  What I can do can vary not just from day to day, but from hour to hour and depends on myriad other factors (tiredness, hunger, other emotions, external triggers, etc.).  So it is very hard for me to judge myself.

Another example: this last Yom Kippur, I went to shul in the evening, but I was so exhausted and depressed as a result of attending the crowded two hour service that the next day I slept so late and had such difficulty getting up with depression and low blood sugar from the fast, that I didn’t get to shul until about 4pm, near the end of the day.  I have tried not to blame myself for this, as I doubt I could have done much differently, but I do wonder if I could have done more (this is aside from the issue of being seen to come in incredibly late by a shul full of people who don’t know or understand my issues).

Nearly Shabbat

15.00  Feeling terrible.  I should be getting ready for Shabbat or working on my books, but I can’t.  Want to go back to bed.  I wish I was dead.  I don’t know if I really think that.  I’m coming to realise that the feelings that I think are wanting love or sex might not be that at all, but something else (or something else tied up with wanting love and/or sex), so maybe feeling “I wish I was dead” is really something else too.  About loneliness or self-hatred, which is probably what the “wanting love/sex” feeling is too.

***

My sister wants to go out with me motzei Shabbat (Saturday evening), but I don’t really want to.  Maybe on Sunday, if it’s not a big thing, but not Saturday evening.  I don’t know though.  I don’t know and I don’t know how to say anything.  I’m just shut down (not in an autistic sense but actually maybe in an autistic sense; I don’t really understand melt-downs and shut downs and how they fit into my life).

***

Listening to Elton John sing Tiny Dancer over and over again.  Sometimes, particularly when I’m very depressed, I listen to the same song over and over (apparently even this is an autistic thing).  Usually there’s some kind of link from the lyrics to how I feel, but I think this is just about the music.  The song used to be triggering for me, for complicated reasons, but this seems to have worked as exposure therapy.

***

The assistant rabbi said yesterday that people who are frightened of getting drunk on Purim have no “inside”, because if you’ve got a real inside (inner world) there’s nothing in there to fear.  I’ve never been drunk, I don’t really drink at all and I’ve always been very scared of getting drunk and I’m glad depression and antidepressants give me reasons not to drink.  What does that say about me, and my “inside”?

***

16.45  Shabbat chores finished.  I should really have hoovered, at least the kitchen and my bedroom, but I don’t feel able.  I’m exhausted.  I’m not sure if I’m going to go to shul, I just feel exhausted (plus when I’m home alone I always feel nervous about going out with the Shabbat candles lit even though I’m only using tea lights).  No time to work on my books.  I guess this week was never going to be easy between networking course, work disruption and my parents being away.

***

This post is stupid.  My blog is stupid.  Why do people even read this?

Depressive Thoughts

(A stupid, pointless title, but I’m feeling awful.)

Last night after I blogged my mood went down quite rapidly.  I felt like I had been going flat out all week with networking workshop, Jewish Book Week, work two consecutive days and my parents away.  I just fell back into despair and lethargy and crawled into bed at midnight hoping I would wake feeling better or at least more alert.

However, I had strange dreams in the night.  First I was on the Tube and ended up helping a doctor who was helping a pregnant woman who I thought was a nun, but looked, in retrospect, like she was wearing a hijab.  I was aware that she had cut herself off from her community by getting pregnant, but I felt sorry for her.  I was worried about not getting home in time for Shabbat (the Sabbath), but was assured by the doctor that it didn’t start until 7.30pm (in reality, that won’t happen until the clocks go forward).  Then things shifted and I was in some sort of classroom (although I think I and the friends/other people with me were all adults).  A huge and intimidating man, about twice my height, stocky and with a long, thick beard was trying to test me on reading Hebrew aloud; I stumbled on this, but couldn’t convince him that this was due to social anxiety stopping me reading confidently rather than poor Hebrew literacy.  We started to daven (pray) the Friday evening service, but the intimidating teacher told us to skip Kabbalat Shabbat as it was too late.  At which point I woke up, I think.

I am not entirely sure what any of this means, although I can see that it was an anxiety dream (which may be why my sleep was not restful) with some obvious allusions: the pregnant “Muslim nun” rejected by her community represents my fears of being rejected by the frum (religious) world for being too worldly, but also by Doctor Who fandom for being too religious (she was still a nun even after presumably breaking her vow of chastity); more prosaically, the motif of being late for Shabbat reflects my fears that I’ll run late tomorrow getting ready for Shabbat by myself, plus I do still get occasional anxiety dreams about breaking Shabbat even though I’ve been shomer Shabbat, at least at a basic level, for half my life.

***

It was fortunate that I woke up when I did, as I had slept for eleven hours, dramatically oversleeping and having to rush out and skip both shaving and davening (praying) to get to my psychiatrist appointment on time, both of which I hate missing.  The radio was on in the waiting room and I found it irritating.  I don’t know why all NHS and social services waiting rooms seem to have TV or radio on these days.  I find it really annoying and it’s not terribly autistic-friendly.  It was a new psychiatrist as the one I saw last time is ill.  The appointment was OK, but I felt that I was just a statistic on the waiting list being processed.  She didn’t ask about my case history or the causes of my problems and didn’t seem terribly aware that I’ve been depressed without cure for most of the last sixteen years or more.  Maybe she didn’t know.  I didn’t say anything about autism, because the last psychiatrist was dismissive of it, saying I’d already been assessed and told I was not autistic.  My GP has sent my autism referral through and I’m on the (very long) waiting list, so there didn’t seem any point talking to this psychiatrist about it at this stage, although I did get vaguely upset when she said that social contact will get easier the more I practise it.  For a neurotypical person, maybe, not for someone whose brain isn’t wired to understand people.  The psychiatrist was also a bit blasé about my work issues, saying I would find part-time work easily.  I didn’t ask for a medication change, as the clomipramine seems to work a bit, sometimes, even though it still leaves me quite depressed and has led to a lot of weight gain.  I don’t think it’s particularly sensible to mess around with medication while I’m working if I can help it anyway.  I have another appointment for three months time, so I’ll see what happens and maybe ask to change things then.

***

In the afternoon I did not do much, but was busy with my job application spreadsheet, which I keep up to date, even though I have not actually applied for anything for weeks and have missed a lot of deadlines, alongside a few other chores.  I was hoping to work on one or both of my books too, but I didn’t get the chance again.  I’m so busy just surviving from day to day that I don’t have time for anything more future-orientated, whether writing books or job hunting.  I didn’t actually achieve much today, but I didn’t really relax and get the rest I need either.  Maybe I will be able to rest over Shabbat, but who knows?

***

Looking at job adverts again today brings back my work worries.  I know I’m over-qualified for my job, which is not too difficult, and although there are harder elements (choosing appropriate material for exhibitions is difficult but interesting, although it would help if I knew the collection better, but my background in history has been very useful here and won me praise from my line manager).  But the whole reason I like my job is because it’s not pushing me too hard right now, when I am struggling with self-esteem and energy and motivation issues as well as confusion about whether I’m autistic and how I should live my life if I am, as well as how to manage my mental health (with or without autism).  I don’t know what to do.

***

The work worries bleed into relationship worries, because I don’t think anyone will date me until I’m working much closer to full-time.  I know that I could still get married at some point, but it seems a long way off, which in turn makes having children (which I really want to do and think about a lot) less likely.  But it’s the loneliness that is so hard, and difficult to survive.  It’s probably loneliness more than anything that has triggered my suicidal times, even if it gets mixed up with despair and hard to isolate.  I don’t know how to survive the ten or twenty (or thirty or forty) years that I might have to wait until I’m functional enough to look for love and to meet someone who can see past my considerable dysfunctionality and all the baggage and drawbacks I come with.

I just wish I had people to talk to who understood me.  It’s been hard to talk to my parents lately, which is probably my fault.  I get irritable and sarcastic when I’m depressed, not to mention focused on catastrophising.  But my parents don’t entirely understand depression or autism entirely, although their understanding is greater than some people’s.  That’s not their fault, but it makes it hard.

I have friends who understand depression and autism and care about me, but they don’t live locally and I can only communicate via text and email, which is better than nothing, but also lacks something somehow, even to a socially anxious and avoidant person like me.  My local friends don’t really know so much about my issues, for various reasons, again, largely my fault.

I just wish there was someone in my life who cared about me and understood me and I could see regularly (and feel comfortable seeing regularly).  I know I depend too much on other people for my self-esteem, but I don’t know how to change that and I get annoyed by people who aren’t lonely telling me I have to love myself before anyone else can love me.  I could just as easily state that other people have to show me I’m worthy of love before I can love myself, because I don’t see myself as worthy.

***

On a related note, my sister phoned tonight to see how I’m getting on without my parents.  I struggled a bit to deal with the call.  I find that usually happens when she phones me.  I thought it was because she usually interrupts dinner/Doctor Who, but I wonder if it’s an autistic predictability thing and I would cope better if she told me in advance that she was planning to phone at a particular time on a particular day.  Still, I think she takes better care of me than I would be able to do if our roles were reversed.  Maybe I couldn’t cope with someone in my life who cared about me and understood me.

***

About 8pm, I was watching Doctor Who and noticed that I was crying.  I thought it was odd, as I didn’t consciously feel depressed.  Then about twenty minutes later, I realised I was depressed, painfully depressed and sad.  It’s strange how out of touch I am with my emotions.

***

I read a davar Torah (Torah insight) sent out by my shul (synagogue) for Rosh Chodesh Adar II (New Moon) upset me.  I felt I was being attacked and to some extent deserved to be attacked.  I don’t really know what ‘spirituality’ or ‘Jewish spirituality’ means any more, if I ever did.  I try to study some Torah every day and pray at least a bit of the three daily prayer services (although I often miss Shacharit on non-work days like today).  I want to be a good Jew, but I don’t really connect with HaShem (God) or Torah much these days emotionally.  I certainly can’t find “authentic spiritual joy” for Purim.  It’s just a struggle to get through Purim in one piece.  I want to be a good Jew, but it’s hard enough trying to perform the mitzvot (commandments) in my situation without worrying about kavannah (mindfulness), spirituality, meaning or connection to HaShem.

Then shiur (religious class) tonight was about genuine joy being connecting to HaShem via Torah, but we get distracted by false pleasures.  This might reinforce my feeling that I’m depressed because I’m a bad person and God hates me, which I hadn’t felt quite so much recently.  I think I might have missed the point of the shiur, though, or wilfully misinterpreted it to make myself feel bad.

Whether I misinterpreted things or not, I feel that I’m a bad person and a bad Jew who doesn’t connect with HaShem through davening, mitzvot and especially not through Torah and who is wasting his life on meaningless transitory pleasures like Doctor Who and writing (despite this I am still thinking of cosplaying (dressing up as a fictional character) the fourth Doctor for Purim, but I might not have the guts to do it).

So much of Jewish religiosity is tied up with community, which is problematic for me because of social anxiety and low self-esteem (it’s feeling that people would reject me  if they knew the real me that keeps me away more than actual experience of rejection), and with family, which is difficult for me because my parents don’t connect with Judaism in the same way as me and because when Jews say “family” they primarily mean spouse and children (maybe most non-Jews think like that too).

The silly thing is that I really believe intellectually, I just can’t connect emotionally with my religion, perhaps through depression (or autism?).

***

I can’t believe anyone reads this rubbish I write.  I shouldn’t write it, but I need to vent and here you go.  I suppose it’s better than hurting myself, at least assuming it isn’t just a very clever and complicated way of hurting myself, which might in fact be the case.

The Happiest Days of My Life

Shabbat (Sabbath) dinner alone went OK.  I read more of The Complete Peanuts and was distracted by the craziness of the forthcoming Israeli general election in The Jewish Chronicle, so I didn’t read much of 13 Minutes, which is less of a thriller than I thought from the blurb on the back and more of a teenage school story (I had a similar experience with Turtles All the Way Down a few months ago).  I slept too long and missed shul (synagogue) in the morning again and dozed off as well in the afternoon, which is frustrating.

Now I’m facing a busy and stressful week combined with my parents being away and am wondering how I will cope.  At least the hardest thing, the networking workshop, is over first.

***

On Shabbat in shul (synagogue), I found myself reflecting about the values of my shul against my own values.  We both value prayer and Torah study (in both cases the shul value both much more than I’m able to right now with my mental health issues).  But the shul places value on quarantining oneself from the wider culture, to a greater or lesser extent, while I do not.  I think Jews can learn things from the best of other cultures, if we’re careful, and we can teach things too.  I wouldn’t want to be set up with someone like my shul on a date, which is problematic as someone from shul might try to set me up with someone one day… but as it’s never really happened before now (slightly, once), that’s not really much of a concern.  More pertinent is the fact that I don’t know how to find a shul that fits more of my values.  I would probably have to be earning a lot more money and be more emotionally stable and independent so I could move out of my parents house and to another area and even then I might not find one.

***

I found myself feeling glad that I have Judaism, and books, and Doctor Who and other vintage science fiction/telefantasy to hold onto.  (Are they autistic special interests?  I’m not sure that they all are; I feel uncomfortable with the way some autistic people I know list all their hobbies as ‘special interests’ which I feel devalues the notion.  My interest in literature and even Judaism, important though they are, don’t seem as intense and self-soothing as my interest in Doctor Who and vintage telefantasy)  They give me a refuge and alternative ways of conceptualising the world.  A link to the past, something bigger and older than myself, somewhat bigger and older in the case of Doctor Who, immeasurably bigger and older in the case of literature and Judaism.  I feel sorry for people who have nothing larger than themselves.  I suppose that’s why it’s so important to me to try to find friends/a partner who share all of these interests, because they are so central to my sense of self.

***

I was feeling OK, but I suddenly felt quite depressed.  I don’t know if it’s apprehension about the week ahead, especially the networking workshop and coping without my parents, or if 13 Minutes is bringing up bad memories from school.  I would stop reading it, but I don’t like giving up on books, plus I want to know the reason behind the book’s central mystery, how Natasha Howland ended up drowning in the river in the middle of the night.  So much for trying new things.

My depression and autism make me feel that I won’t enjoying new things and they are sometimes right, but I’m not sure that they don’t sabotage things to prove themselves right.  When I was a child, my parents would push me to do social stuff saying, “Just try it once.”  Then, if I didn’t like it, they would press me to try it again on the grounds that the first time might be atypical.  I actually did more social stuff when I was very young (pre-teen), cubs, scouts, karate, but I’m not sure that I actually enjoyed any of them and I certainly didn’t make friends through them.  Mostly I just pined for my mentor friend and felt unable to talk to other people or feel comfortable without him.  I don’t think I could express or even understand my ambivalent-going-on-negative feelings about these activities.  I just avoided doing things as much as possible.

When I was eleven and twelve I got invited to bar and bat mitzvah parties of people in my class at school.  I hated them, all noise and music and dancing and emergent adolescent sexuality (boys and girls were dancing together (they weren’t frum simchas), which I simply didn’t understand as I didn’t hit puberty for another year).  Although I knew everyone, I had few friends, especially as my mentor friend simply didn’t go on the grounds that he didn’t enjoy discos and his parents didn’t push him to go, whereas mine said that if I was invited, it was rude not to go.  I used to hide in the toilets, which I thought was ruder than not going at all, but my parents disagreed.  I put it down to shyness, as did everyone else, but in retrospect the whole thing is an autistic deathtrap.  The funny thing is that I can’t remember consciously disliking the noise.  Trying to think back to it, I get a strong feeling of get me out of here, but it’s hard to identify the cause and I can see why I and everyone else assumed it was just my shyness at work.  Even my own bar mitzvah was like everyone else’s, because no one told me I had the option of another way.  My parents would have allowed something else, but, I suspect that in the absence of being presented with other options, I couldn’t think of anything.  Or perhaps I had been offered other options, but didn’t really understand them because I hadn’t been to similar parties, or lacked the imagination and self-awareness to predict what I would like.  Anyway, at my own bar mitzvah, I went outside and played in the entrance hall with a friend for most of the evening.  I remember that at my sister’s bat mitzvah my Mum got really angry with me for not standing with the rest of the family at the end of the evening; I think my issues was less noise and sensory overload there and more shyness and not wanting everyone staring at me.  At least these days my parents are more understanding of my mental health and neurodivergence, although I worry that I hide behind these things.  Then again, without them, maybe I wouldn’t want to hide.

***
I’m just struggling to do things today, to go for a walk and cook dinner.  I don’t exercise or cook as much as I used to, even when the depression was worse than it is now and I was still working more days per week.  I don’t know why this is the case.  I’m cooking red bean chilli because I’ve done it loads of times before.  I feel guilty that I’m not using the cookery book I got in the summer for my birthday.   I’ve only used it once, but I’ve hardly cooked anything since then and have mostly relied on known recipes.  I shouldn’t feel guilty about this, but I do.  I feel guilty about lots of things that aren’t my fault, and some that are.  I feel guilty that I burnt the onions again and that I probably damaged my Mum’s pot.  Actually, I probably should feel guilty about that.

***

Feeling like an anxious mess now.  I volunteered to help with something today; it took an hour, but I can’t do very much and that plus shopping plus cooking plus Talmud study has eaten up my whole day, so I probably won’t be able to work on my books as I wanted.  I still plan to do too much each day, or at least each non-work day.  I don’t know how most people manage to live much busier lives than me; I’m barely functional.

I’m so anxious about tomorrow, coping with the networking workshop and getting to the theatre on time in the evening for the Jewish Book Week talk and then getting home in time to get some sleep before work on Tuesday.  I feel, probably somewhat arrogantly, that I ought to be giving talks at Jewish Book Week one day.  I don’t mean that I’m a gifted or insightful writer, merely (yet again) that I feel in some nebulous way that everyone expected me to be a “success”, whatever that means, that I got through school telling myself that once I left and was free of the bullies, once I got to university, I would be a success, and yet I am a miserable failure who can’t even cook dinner.  How can I even think of careers and relationships when I’m such a non-functional mess?  I do feel that if the kids who bullied me at school could see me now they’d die laughing.

Snoopy’s Happy Dance and Other Minor Victories

Shabbat (the Sabbath) was full of minor victories and minor setbacks.  The setbacks: I woke up about 9.00am and contemplated getting to shul (synagogue – it starts at 8.45am, but at the moment I’d see getting there by 10.00am, or even at all, as a victory), but I got too anxious about what people might say to me if I was so late and went back to bed.  This is not good.  I also tried not to nap in the afternoon, especially as I slept twelve hours overnight, but I dozed off for twenty minutes or so.

The victories: I ate less junk food than I normally do on Shabbat (the only day I really over-indulge, but I need to lose some of the weight I’ve gained on clomipramine) and I finished reading The Dispossessed and another volume of The Complete Peanuts.  I also managed to see off what would once have been a major religious OCD meltdown quite easily and discussed my worries about tomorrow (see below) with my parents.  I also mostly put the mistake I made before Shabbat out of my head.

***

The oneg (Shabbat social event) that I thought was this week turns out to be next week.  I still don’t really want to go, or at least I don’t want to go if I’m my usual socially anxious self, but my Mum is encouraging me to go, especially as I’m home for Shabbat dinner alone next week.  I feel I should try to do social things, as I would like to have some friends and not turn into an antisocial hermit, but I’m not really sure this is the best way to do it.  I suspect I will be wrestling with this one all week.

***

I spoke to my parents a bit more about the autism workshop they went to on Wednesday for the family of people on the spectrum.  I said sometimes I worry that I won’t be diagnosed and did they really think that I was on the spectrum.  “YES!!!!!” was their immediate response.  So that was good, I think.

***

I’m troubled by a social/religious thing at shul, but I don’t want to discuss it here at the moment.  It’s tricky though and is making me a bit worried.

I’m also worrying about the coming fortnight.  Tomorrow I have volunteering, which I enjoy (albeit that I struggle with the social aspect), but which is very tiring, then when I get home, my sister and brother-in-law are here for dinner, but I’m not sure how I’ll be feeling, plus I’ll want to go and have some ‘alone time’ or I won’t sleep and an early night as I’m working on Monday this week.  I’ve been told I can go upstairs after the main course if I want/need to, which is good, but I would feel a bit bad doing that.

Monday is an event at work.  We’ve been planning it for a while, so it will be good to finally have it, but I will have to talk to strangers (gulp) about history stuff that I haven’t looked at for years (English Civil Wars and Interregnum which was my Special Subject at Oxford, but which I haven’t studied for fourteen years and Chartism, which I haven’t seen since secondary school).  Tuesday is an ordinary work day, then Wednesday is the last mental health class which I need to navigate and on Thursday I need to get a haircut and talk to someone from Remploy about working with autism and depression.

The Monday after that I have a networking training session (i.e. they train us to network better.  Getting me to network at all would be a start) and I’m out late at a Jewish Book Week event in the evening, but I will still need to be up early on Tuesday and Wednesday, as they are work days that week, then on Thursday I will see a(nother) psychiatrist if the NHS doesn’t mess me around again.  So overall it’s a busy fortnight.

Writing it down, it doesn’t seem so scary, but in my head it does.

***

I mentioned that I’m reading The Complete Peanuts.  It’s rather an interesting thing to read with depression and autism.  Everyone says it’s a strip about disappointment and unrequited it love, which on one level it is.  Charlie Brown never getting a Valentine’s day card.  So many unrequited crushes (Lucy for Schroder, Sally for Linus, Peppermint Patty for Charlie Brown and especially Charlie Brown for the red-haired girl).  The kite-eating tree.  The baseball team that never wins.  Charlie Brown never kicking the football.  The never-obtained Joe Shlabotnik baseball card.  The never-seen Great Pumpkin.  And so on.

But what doesn’t seem to get mentioned so much is that it’s also a strip about finding joy in being yourself, even if it makes you look weird to everyone else.  Snoopy’s fantasy life.  Linus’ security blanket.  Schroeder’s Beethoven obsession (is he autistic?).  Snoopy’s happy dance.  It’s actually quite reassuring that it says, yes, there’s a lot of misery out there, but it is possible to be happy, even if other people might think you’re nuts for doing what you’re doing.

Running Away

Today seems to have been a day for running away from people.

I had the penultimate meeting of my mental health group.  Everyone seems to get on well and they are planning on creating a What’sApp group to stay in touch.  I feel that I have struggled to connect with people and I struggle to involve myself in such a loud group.  I also feel that the content of the group has been too familiar to me or the solutions proposed have been too simplistic.  For instance, today we spoke about being assertive, rather than aggressive, passive or passive aggressive.  I feel that I have tried some of the tactics in one relationship that I sometimes struggle with, without success.  They said that sometimes one needs outside intervention in a relationship, but that isn’t realistic for me.  That only leaves me with modifying my expectations from the relationship or just moving away from it, but neither of those are really feasible either.  It is hard to know what to do sometimes.  I thought of trying harder at changing my expectations or using the suggested tactics, but it’s hard to do something when you are so sure it won’t work.  Still, a few people in the group spoke about being stuck in abusive relationships, now or in the past, so I’m better off in that regard.

I wasn’t going to join the What’sApp group, but on the way home I wondered if maybe I should have done so.  I don’t have to actually meet up with them, and maybe it would be a useful online support network that I could use via text, which is a much better medium for me to communicate in.  Of course, most What’sApp groups in my experience turn rapidly into pointless time-wasting…

Continuing the ‘running away’ theme, there is an oneg (Shabbat/Sabbath party thing) run by my shul (synagogue) at someone’s house tonight.  Usually I would force myself to go, at least for an hour, but I really can’t face it this time.  I sit there in silence, eat some junk food, refuse whisky, don’t always find the ‘inspiring’ stories and divrei Torah (homilies) inspiring, join in with the singing, but only if I know the tunes, and then go home after an hour feeling drained and excluded.  In the past I have told myself that if I don’t go to these things, I will never make friends and fit in, but after nearly three years, I have not got many friends at my shul (and the ones I do have I have made in other places e.g. the weekly shiur (class)) and I don’t feel accepted and am beginning to think I never will.

The reason the people from my group want to continue to be in contact is that many of them say this is the first place that they really fit in with people who understand them, but I’m too weird, or at least too complicated, to be understood fully by most people.  That is something I am just going to have to learn to deal with, compartmentalising my life (Jewish bits, mental health/autism bits, geeky bits).  It does make me worry about getting married, though, as I feel one should not do that with one’s spouse.  (One would think, with so many people at my support groups, reporting being in abusive relationships that I would have an advantage in not being an abusive person, but maybe there are enough non-abusive-but-still-normal people out there.)

Then on Sunday I have volunteering and then my sister and brother-in-law are coming in the evening.  I’m worried I’m going to be a wreck. Volunteering exhausts me.  By the time I get home I won’t have much time to recover before they come, nor will I have time after dinner to recover from that before I have to go to bed as this week I’m working on Monday and I really need a minimum of eight hours sleep to function, something my family don’t always appreciate.  I suppose I feel like running away from that, but I can’t.

Pessimism

Shabbat (the Sabbath) was difficult at times.  I had forgotten until I arrived at shul (synagogue) that the shul was having their communal dinner this week, the one I wanted to go to, but missed out on due to not realising when the application deadline was (partly my fault, partly the shul‘s fault for sending the publicity out at the last minute).  That made me feel a bit upset, especially when I realised that a neurotypical person might have followed my parents’ advice and emailed the admin office to ask if I could come if someone cancelled or if they could squeeze one more person in (there have to be some advantages to being one of the few single people in the shul).  However, I was too socially anxious and caught up in autistic black and white thinking (“It is past the deadline therefore there is nothing I can do”) to do any of this.

***

I had a long conversation with my parents over dinner about where my life is at the moment.  I can’t remember many of the details, but they were a lot more optimistic about my meeting with a matchmaker tomorrow than I am.  I feel deceitful and manipulative even arranging the meeting, as I don’t feel there is any realistic chance I can marry any time in the near to medium future.  I believe in God and Torah, but I struggle to believe that there I have a bashert (soulmate) out there who will see the good in me and be able to cope with the many, many difficulties that someone would encounter in a relationship with me, from my low/soon to be non-existent income to depressive low moods, socially anxious withdrawal and autistic empathy issues.  My parents’ insistence that someone might want me was not convincing, unless you somehow assume that all other frum (religious Orthodox Jewish) men are really unpleasant and unmarryable (they aren’t) or that someone would marry me just because she wants a child and needs someone, anyone, as a father (I can’t see that ending well).  E. was more into me than anyone I’ve ever dated (not admittedly a high hurdle to clear), but she couldn’t cope with me for more than two months, so I really can’t see anyone else tolerating me.  To be honest, if it was ‘just’ a question of depression, social anxiety and autism, I might still have hope, but my low income and uncertain career path is just too much for me to expect anyone to deal with, given that I want to have children and would be looking for a woman who wants to have children and children require lots of money.

***

I wanted to try to go to shul this morning and I actually woke up at 9.00am (shul starts at 8.45, but I would consider getting there by 10.00am a victory at the moment), but I fell asleep again before I could get up.  When I got to shul for shiur (Talmud class) this evening, I realised I had only read half of this week’s page of Talmud.  To be honest, I don’t think I understood any less than usual.  I really struggle to understand Talmudic logic.  Aren’t autistic people supposed to be good at detail?

***

On the way home from shul this evening it really hit me that I don’t belong anywhere in the Jewish world, at least not as it is in the UK.  I was thinking about the upcoming festival of Purim, where people wear fancy dress.  One of my friends dared me last year to wear my Doctor Who scarf, but I was too scared.  I’m trying to get the confidence to do it this year, but I’m not sure I’m going to manage it.

Charedi (ultra-Orthodox) communities like the one I belong to advocate keeping clear of most of the world outside the community.  I shouldn’t read biblical archaeology or secular literature or watch Doctor Who, because it’s all likely to raise questions and temptations and plant bad ideas in my head.  I don’t believe questions are resolved by running away from them or by giving them easy answers.  Likewise, most Charedi Jews (to be honest most religious Jews in general) avoid non-Jews and non-religious Jews outside of work situations.  Again, they’re seen as potentially tempting and corrupting.  But I need to go to my support groups for my mental health and if people there are in trouble, I will try to help them.  Likewise, with people who read my blog.  And I like talking to people about Doctor Who and I feel bad that I have not been able to do that much in recent years and want to get to situations where I can do this again, which means going into non-Jewish environments where many people’s ethics are going to be different to my own.  I feel that I know who I am and what my values are, but I do realise that my worldview has potentially been changed (“corrupted” if you want) from my interactions outside the community.

More Modern communities might be more understanding of these things, but I don’t think there are many Modern Orthodox communities in this country where most people are frum (rather than ‘traditional’, but not shomer mitzvot/keeping the commandments) and take davening (prayer) and Torah study seriously.  Certainly that’s not been my experience.  In my parents’ shul, which is virtually the only Modern shul I could realistically go to for the foreseeable future, there is too much talking during the services, too much chazanut and choral singing, too many people in general, too many people who aren’t frum and a rather cliquey and unfriendly feel to the community.  I didn’t fit in there at all when I used to go, even without the problem that there I was just seen as an extension of my father, not a person in my own right.

I would like to find a community that takes Torah and davening seriously, but is also friendly and open to the outside world and ideas from the humanities and sciences as well as popular culture and which doesn’t look down on non-Jews.  I don’t think such a place really exists in this country.  I do sometimes go to shiurim at the London School of Jewish Studies and they do have the right hashkafa (religious philosophy) for me.  The trouble is, everyone there is my parents’ age or older.  It’s depressing.  I feel that wherever I am, I’m hiding or stifling part of myself.

I know I’ve said most of this a lot in the past, I just need to vent at the unfairness of it.  If I was in America or Israel I wouldn’t have to twist myself to fit into one of a small number of boxes.  If I was well enough to be able to get a job and live by myself I would perhaps consider emigration, but it’s not realistic to do so now.

***

The other scary thought that I had on the way home is that it is a month to Purim, and from Purim another month to Pesach.  I will doubtless write more nearer the time, but these are the hardest, scariest two festivals for me, in terms of triggering OCD, depression, autistic triggers, everything.  Plus, I need to go in to work late on Purim, but I’m scared to ask for the time off after the whole situation I blogged yesterday about my psychiatrist appointment (I hate the NHS).

***

Tonight I’m drifting from one task to another without really finishing anything.  I had a pile of emails that arrived during Shabbat to sort through and most were job alerts i.e. scary stuff.  I think even though I knew there was little or no realistic chance of my job being extended past March, I was in denial about it and was hoping I would somehow stay in this job, which is the one I’ve been most comfortable in since leaving my first job in 2017.  I feel pretty pessimistic about finding anything remotely as good any time soon.

Optimism

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

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

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

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

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

Communication Problems

Shabbat was stressful in several respects.  After shul on Friday night, the person who invited me for dinner a couple of weeks ago invited me again, that evening or next week.  I can’t really handle the super-laid-back nature of many frum Jews with regard to sudden changes of plan (aren’t religious people supposed to be control freaks?).  Autistic people are not good at last minute plan changes.  I didn’t want to go to his house without telling my parents and I felt I had a reason not to go next week, but I couldn’t remember what it was.  It was only later that I remembered that I had the first session of my new course at The Network on Friday morning and that’s likely to leave me drained for the rest of the day.  But I couldn’t really hear everything he was saying to me anyway, partly because I was getting overwhelmed by the amount of noise in the room, partly because of my social anxiety.  When I’m talking to someone I’m nervous about talking to, my internal monologue starts saying stuff like, “Oh no, someone’s talking to me, what if I say the wrong thing?  What if he thinks I’m crazy?”  It’s hard to hear anything over that, let alone to respond appropriately.  I would like to be friends with this person, though, especially if he really wants to be friends with me and isn’t just doing it as a mitzvah (commandment/good deed) because I’m single.  He may even know a single woman to match me up with, although to be honest it’s doubtful that many of the people he or  his wife know that are our age are single.

***

When I got home I had a conversation with my father that was awkward for other reasons.  I’ve mentioned before that we don’t really communicate well at the moment.  I find his rambling, discursive mode of conversation confusing while I think he finds me curt and pedantic (which is probably not untrue).  I’m trying to sound less blunt, but it’s hard.  I’m really not expecting anything to change here until my parents go to an workshop for families of people with autism in about three weeks time.

Anyway, Dad asked me how old my line manager is and I said I can’t tell, which surprised him, although I thought he might have remembered that I can’t really estimate ages at all.  Then he asked if I’m enjoying my work and I said I don’t know.  I suppose he was more justified in being surprised at that answer, but I really don’t know if I’m enjoying it.  I didn’t even try to explain alexithymia (difficulty knowing or understanding one’s emotions) to him as I could see that being a difficult struggle, but I just tried to say that it keeps me occupied, but is pretty menial work, albeit that I get paid quite well because it’s a role that requires care and responsibility in handling rare books and documents.  Still, it was once again hard to help him to understand my worldview.

***

After dinner I tried reading The Dispossessed by Ursula Le Guin.  I like Le Guin, but I just can’t get in to this book, which is probably more a product of the various things going on in my life right now rather than the book itself.  After a while I gave up and carried on with The Complete Peanuts instead (I’m up to volume four, covering 1958-1959).  While it would be a stretch to read too much in to it, in terms of mental illness, Charles Schulz really knew how to express loneliness and life’s disappointments, but somehow he made us laugh at them.

***

I went to bed early for a Friday, hoping that I would get up early and go to shul for the first time on Shabbat morning in over a year.  However, although I briefly woke up early, I fell asleep again.  I don’t know how much of that is laziness, depression or social anxiety keeping me away from shul.

***

While I was asleep I had a dream that two orangutans were living on the roof of our house.  However, these orangutans were very carnivorous, grabbing birds and squirrels and killing them by smashing them hard against the windows before eating them.  I was going to call the RSPCA to get rid of them, but conversations about this had to be conducted in whispers at the other end of the house to prevent the orangutans hearing, as they could speak English; one had a pipe in his mouth, but I don’t think he actually smoked it.  I have no idea what on earth this dream might mean.

***

My parents hosted a supper quiz at home tonight for a charity.  It’s an annual event.  People host friends at their home and different homes compete.  They open the envelope of questions at 8pm and have three hours to enter them online.  Most of the questions are lateral-thinking ones rather than general knowledge to prevent people Googling the answers.  I used to join them sometimes, but these days I get put off by the numbers (usually around twenty people, although this year it’s fewer) and the fact that I can’t really answer lateral thinking questions, only general knowledge ones.  There’s a house in Oxfordshire that seems to win ever single year.  At any rate, the house was crowded tonight.  I’m hiding in my room with Doctor Who, both watching it and typing up over a week’s worth of notes for my book.

***

Tomorrow I’m off to my sister’s in-laws for her mother in-law’s birthday party.  It was delayed as she (my sister’s mother-in-law) is very ill.  I’m nervous, as I’m not going to know many people there and I’m worried that, although the food is being provided by a kosher caterer, I may have kashrut OCD issues.  I’ve been told I can leave early; fortunately there’s a bus that stops at the bottom of their road that, after a long journey, does eventually stop near our house, so I can get home easily, albeit not quickly.

***

Thought: I’ve had crushes that went nowhere on lots of women who I thought were perfect for me, but who would, in retrospect would have been terrible for me.  Does this mean that God is saving someone amazing for me?  Or that there isn’t anyone in the world who could possibly be right for me?  The latter seems more logical, especially as if someone is amazing for me, I would (in fairness) have to be amazing for her, and I can’t see myself be amazing for anyone, certainly not in the next five to ten years.

Disappointments

I overslept this morning and was very drained and a bit depressed once I got up.  Those feelings have pursued me all day.  I feel better for a bit, but then they come back.  Still, I’m doing a lot better than I was.

I had a meeting at The Network, the local government (I think) organisation that runs the well-being course I went on.  I arranged to go on another course in February that might help with assertiveness and dealing with difficult thoughts.  It’s at a place that is harder to get to than the last course.  To be honest, I’m not sure if it will help, or how much the other course helped, but I’m wary of turning down free help, both because it’s free and because it shows people I’m still trying to get better.  It will give me less time for writing, though.  I still haven’t really spoken to my parents about not looking too hard for another job so that I can write.

I find myself struggling again this afternoon.  Some of it is probably the tiredness, but some of it is a phone call I just had with a lawyer.  I think I’ve mentioned once before that my Dad was in a road accident years ago with a motorcyclist who is now suing for damages (even though she insisted she was unhurt at the time and turned away the ambulance my Dad called).  I just spoke to the lawyer to tell my side of the story (what I can remember, which isn’t much given (a) that it happened very fast and (b) it happened three years ago), in particular to state that I think that one of the witness statements was wrong.  I feel that I could make my father’s case stronger by lying and saying that I’m certain that my father’s car was stationary when the motorcycle hit and that there is no way the witness could have seen what he says he has seen, but I feel that while the first statement is possibly true and the second is probably true, I can’t honestly swear to either as absolute truth.  My parents say I should just tell the truth as I remember it, but I feel vaguely disloyal.  The reality is that it isn’t my father who will pay damages, but the insurance company, but he may have to pay court fees, although I still have a suspicion that the insurance company will opt settle out of court (which doubtless is how unscrupulous ambulance-chasing lawyers make their money, not that I’m suspecting the motorcyclist’s lawyers of being like that).  Still, the thought of giving evidence in court under oath is scary.

I’ve also discovered that I missed the deadline for my shul’s (synagogue’s) communal Shabbat (Sabbath) dinner.  A What’sApp message went out about it a week or so ago, but there wasn’t an email until late on Monday evening.  The email didn’t say that the online payment would close that evening!  So I’m too late.  That is a bit frustrating, but maybe it’s for the best, as I wasn’t sure if it would leave me feeling more depressed.

I just phoned to try to find out how much longer I’m likely to wait for CBT.  There was no answer – typical NHS.

Then I tried to look over old posts from this blog for paragraphs that can be removed from their original context and expanded or grafted on to other paragraphs (newly written or from other old posts) to form into chapters that I could form into a book on mental health.  This is going to take much longer than I thought, especially as I hate re-reading my old writing, as it just depresses me and makes me feel that I’m a terrible writer, that I have nothing interesting to say and why do I think people would want to read a book of my introverted auto-analysis?  So I feel more depressed than before, but at least I did something.  Although mostly I ended up distracted by reading about the supposed “Shidduch (Orthodox dating) Crisis” online.  I don’t know whether that really exists, but if it does, it ought to have played a lot more to my advantage than is the case.

I was going to register with We Go Together (values-based Jewish matchmaking service), but then thought that maybe I’m lapsing back into depression and shouldn’t be dating and postponed registering.  But thinking about dating leaves me feeling lonely again…

***

Lately I find myself wondering if I’m a kind person.  A few people have said I am.  I struggle to accept it, and not just from low self-esteem.  I acknowledge that I’m a compassionate person who feels other people’s pain, but I find that often I can’t understand how to help other people in practical terms; sometimes I am just too selfish to do help too.  I suppose it’s the divide between emotional empathy, recognising other people’s emotions, and cognitive empathy, taking other people’s perspectives and knowing how to respond.  Autistic people have emotional empathy, but not cognitive empathy.  One psychiatrist told me that I will never understand other people and should stop trying; similarly, a therapist told me (more sympathetically) that I want to help people, but I don’t know how.  So I find it strange that people seem to think I’m kind.

It’s probably been on my mind because I’ve been thinking about dating again and I know I would want someone who is gentle, kind and understanding to deal with all my issues, but I worry that I don’t have anything to offer in return.  I probably come across as kinder online than in real life because I’m better with text than words and actions – it’s easier to take time thinking things through in writing and perhaps I can imagine what I would want someone to say for me more easily than imagining what someone would do for me.

Writing, Dating and Other Diversions

Shabbat (the Sabbath) was good, although I’ve got the post-Shabbat slump at the moment.  Whether Shabbat finishes at 10.30pm in the height of summer or 4.45pm in the middle of winter, I always feel exhausted afterwards, probably because, by definition, it’s dark outside (Shabbat finishes when the stars come out) and, of course, there’s always tidying up to do (which admittedly is harder at 11.00pm in the summer), and although I’ve done my share of that tonight, I was struggling a little bit with some religious OCD thoughts that came up while I was doing it.  Telling myself that “My thoughts are not always my friends” does seem to help though.

Otherwise I’ve been quite well the last few days.  I still didn’t get to shul (synagogue) this morning, but I think I need to psych myself up for that at some point rather than just expect to start going again.  It’s a pity it’s hard to break it down to smaller steps that I can work on gradually (going later is almost as hard, in some ways harder, than being there for the start).  But my mood overall for the last few days has been positive, with optimistic thoughts about dating and writing and a lack of anxiety and depression, for all that I’m a bit worried about something I did at work.

***

I watched Star Trek Beyond this evening with my parents.  Watching films always seems to leave me drained in a way that watching TV does not.  When I go to the cinema, I assume it’s probably the sensory overload that does it, but I don’t know what does it on DVD.  Maybe concentrating for two hours is draining, even on days when I’m not consciously feeling depressed.

***

I’ve got a vague idea about writing the depression book a few people have said that they would like me to write.  I think, potentially, I could wade through the 1000 posts on this site (actually probably only about 600; the others are brief, private, personal journal posts) for material that can potentially be reworked and/or augmented as a book about depression.  But whereas I blog stuff as it happens to me or as I think of it, I could pick apart different themes (depression, autism, being mentally ill in the frum community) and stitch fragments of posts together to arrange the book thematically.  Maybe.  Or maybe this wouldn’t work, I’m not sure.  It needs some thought.  I don’t know what type of book people would want, what ‘value added’ they would want beyond the blog.  Please let me know your thoughts, particularly if you’re one of the people who has encouraged me to write a book on depression.

I want to set aside time on days when I don’t work to write the three (!) books I’m hoping to write: the Doctor Who book that is two-thirds written and which I’d like to get reasonably close to finished by Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year) in the autumn; the book on Orthodox Judaism for non-Jews; and the depression book, if I can get it to work.

***

CILIP, the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals, has sent me a pencil, badge and cardboard bookmark to mark my renewing my subscription.  The bookmark says, “I’m taking my career seriously – ready for the next challenge!” which seems a bit of a stretch for me.  I’m really not sure where I am with my career at the moment.  I’m hoping my job gets extended past March, but I’d rather spend the non-work days in the week working on my writing than working in a library.

***

I’m still thinking about trying to date again soon.  It requires working up a certain amount of courage.  I feel positive about it, but once I stop to think, it’s harder to accept that someone could want me, depression, autism and all.  I just read a couple of articles about “older singles” in the frum (religious Orthodox Jewish) community, which basically means singles over thirty or so years old.  They always say “X is in his late thirties and still single despite having nothing wrong with him.”  I know what they mean, but it always makes me feel, “If you’re neurotypical and mentally healthy and can’t get married, we’ll feel sorry for you, but if you’re autistic and depressed… well, what do you expect?”  I know that’s not quite what they mean, but it’s how it comes across.

Weirdly, I keep thinking about an acquaintance from school who I hadn’t thought about for years.  I didn’t really know her (it was a big school, with 240 children in a year and we didn’t have any classes together), but she always said hello to me using my name and it suddenly occurred to me the other day that maybe she liked me.  It’s weird to think that anyone at school could have had a crush on me, though, as I had terrible acne and was not good at making friends or even talking to people outside my immediate tiny friendship circle, especially not girls.  So maybe she was just being friendly.  But I’ve been vaguely wondering what would have happened if I had asked her out.  Or even if I’d actually spoken to her properly (I don’t think we ever really had a conversation).  I’m not sure why I keep thinking about her, though, particularly as I can’t really remember what she looked like.  Maybe that’s it: I remember her as a cheerful, positive and friendly presence (I didn’t experience many of those at school) more than a physical body and maybe I want that in my life.

Shabbat Dinner

It turned out that I was invited out for dinner yesterday after all.  It was interesting, I suppose, good in some ways and bad in others.

The bad: I was asked a lot of questions about my job and religious background.  This is quite normal in frum (religious Orthodox Jewish) circles.  I guess asking about a person’s background is normal in any situation where you meet new people, only the nature of Judaism as a way of life rather than simply a set of faith propositions means that childhood background is interwoven with religious connotations; within reason, you can make an educated guess about a person’s religious background by asking about their family (especially given the small, interwoven nature of the Jewish world), school, home town, and so on.  As for my job, that attracts a lot of attention in the frum world, I guess because it’s not a ‘normal’ frum job (lawyer, accountant, doctor, Jewish shop owner etc.), so people ask a lot of questions to understand it.

The problem for me is that I hate being asked these questions, particularly by frum people.   I get terrified that I will let slip some detail that will reveal me to be inadequate in some way, be it religiously or in terms of my mental health.  So, I was upset to be forced to admit to only working part-time because of health reasons, just as I was upset to be forced to admit that I hadn’t looked in to whether I could find a minyan for Mincha (prayer quorum for the Afternoon service) in the university where I work (it actually didn’t occur to me to do it, but I’m reasonably happy davening (praying) quickly by myself rather than using my already-short lunch break (I only get forty-five minutes) to go somewhere to daven with a minyan when I need the break time for my mental health).  Plus, these are small talk-type questions that typically bore autistic people like me.  So for these reasons, I find these questions anxiety-provoking, and then the anxiety makes me speak incoherently or forget basic facts about myself and even get things wrong.

Perhaps because of this anxiety, I shook a lot at dinner.  I don’t think anyone noticed, but I felt very self-conscious of it and was worried I was going to get food down my shirt, especially as there were no serviettes.

The conversation didn’t really rise about the small talk-ey, which frustrated and bored me a bit, plus some stuff was said that made me feel like I didn’t fit in in the frum world once again.  The person next to me, who asked me a lot of questions, was quite happy to admit he had only become religious in the last few years, but he had now gone the whole hog (so to speak), was davening with a minyan three times a day, setting time aside for religious study with a chevruta (study partner) and so on and even though I knew a lot more than he did religiously, I felt that he was actually more dedicated to Judaism.  Indeed, my host (who has been frum all his life) and this person rhapsodised at one point about how great a frum life is, how much joy and meaning it brings even the most trivial aspects of one’s life and so on.  I can’t share these feelings at all.  While it is not quite true that I have no joy or meaning in my Jewish life, I have very little, because of depression, social anxiety and consequent social isolation.

It didn’t help that some things were said about non-Jews that made me feel uncomfortable.  Likewise the conversation about the length of time one should date before becoming engaged, five or even three dates being deemed acceptable (“That covers the fundamentals; the rest you can work out on the way.”)  As I dated my first girlfriend for eight or nine months before realising she wasn’t right for me, and dated E. for two months, despite in both cases what seem in retrospect a number of big red flags, I am glad I was not under social pressure to propose quickly.  I worry a bit about getting set up with a very frum woman in the future and being expected to decide quickly whether to propose to her, albeit that with a very frum woman it would be more likely that I was signalling red flags to her than the other way around, given, that my red flags in the past have related to my girlfriends not being frum enough for me, or still being on the rebound from previous relationships.  It is probably true, as some of my friends say, that if you’re a conformist member of a fairly conformist sub-culture, it’s relatively easy to find a compatible mate, but if you are unusual in some way, it becomes much harder.  I’m hoping that if I meet the right person, it will be very obvious, but as I thought I was sure to marry both my exes, I worry that it won’t be, or if it is, I won’t trust my feelings (I’m great at overthinking).

On the plus side, despite my discomfort at times, I stayed for about four and a half hours (long winter Shabbat (Sabbath) meals…) before the noise and social interactions got too much for me and I made an excuse and left.  I did participate in the conversation a bit, even if it was generally only when other people spoke to me and I didn’t always feel comfortable doing so.  I did answer an obscure question on the week’s Torah portion that was asked at the table correctly even though no one else could, which I think earned me brownie points.  I enjoyed seeing my host’s young children at play, even if their volume and (as the evening went on) their fights drained me.

Perhaps most importantly, I mostly avoided feeling envious of my host and his family situation or the newly-wed couple there, although it helped that there were other unmarried men there, so I didn’t feel totally out of place.  (I’m assuming that my host is sufficiently religious that he wouldn’t invite single men and single women to the same meal, an attitude that I find counter-productive, but as I can’t imagine ever talking to a woman at such a meal, let alone ending up asking her out, the point is rather academic.)

I came away reasonably happy and proud of myself, but also thoroughly drained and thinking of the old Modern Orthodox saying about, “The people I can pray with, I can’t talk to and the people I can talk to, I can’t pray with.”

I came home and chatted to my parents for another half an hour, but after all this interaction I was somewhat agitated and on edge and I needed time to read and calm down, but I spent a lot of time pacing around and thinking about the evening and about other things.  I eventually got to bed around 1.00am.

Today, unsurprisingly, has been a draining day.  I managed to go to shul for my shiur (Talmud class) and Ma’ariv (the Evening service), but have done little else.  Today’s social embarrassment was being the only person who had to ask what the Mishnaic Hebrew word for ‘sex’ was in shiur, which I think the assistant rabbi would rather not have had to explain.  I have been feeling very drained, despite eleven hours sleep last night and half an hour this afternoon.  I really just wanted to vegetate in front of the TV this evening, but I had things to do especially as a chunk of tomorrow will be taken up with what promises to be a long and boring evening meeting at shul about choosing a new rabbi, which I feel obliged to attend as I was specifically asked to do so to give the perspective of single people (because all single people are the same… if anything I should be representing the neurodivergent and mentally ill, although I’m not quite sure how autism or depression would practically affect my choice of rabbi, nor am I aware if there are any other people like me in the community).

Belonging Somewhere

I just feel depressed today.  Unfocused and exhausted.  Lonely.   Nervous about not knowing if I’m out for dinner tonight,  extra nervous if I am going and extra extra nervous if I somehow have to intuit for myself if I’m invited (it’s not polite to say, “Have you invited me for dinner today?”).  Dad got annoyed with me before because I didn’t hear the doorbell when he was in the toilet.  I didn’t like to say I was in bed with the covers virtually over my head, being depressed.

I worry that I’ll never really get my life where I want it to be.  I think the prognosis so far isn’t good, considering how lots of other people with autism end up.  I worry how I will end up if I can never get a full-time job and get married.  Who is going to support me when my parents are gone?  Am I ever going to live the frum (religious) life I want?  How much do I even want that any more, when I seem to feel like I just can’t live in that world?

***

I got a WhatsApp message from the finance person from shul (synagogue) asking if I’m coming to the meeting about finding a new rabbi on Sunday.  I wonder if it was that rather than the Gift Aid form that he wanted to talk to me about the other day?  He said there aren’t many single people in the shul and they want to be sure they’re catering for us, which is nice on one level, but also makes me feel like a freak again.  I’m not sure how my single-ness would contribute to my choice of new rabbi.

I will try to get to the meeting, although I don’t have anything to say and if I’m depressed, I’m not going to force myself to go.

I feel that, as with most things, I need to pay the price of being part of a religious community, in terms of boring meetings and expensive fees, without having much of the benefit of spiritual growth and satisfaction, friendship, acceptance and so on.  I feel disconnected from the community, really.  Lately even at shiur, which I used to enjoy, I sometimes feel disconnected religiously, but also socially, in terms of personality.  I suppose I shouldn’t really have expected to connect anywhere properly.

I found myself wondering how much I really want to be part of a community.  Despite the fact that most frum people only socialise in the frum community, I seem to have almost as little in common with frum Jews as I have with non-frum Jews and non-Jews.  I can’t really connect with anyone.  Years ago, a psychiatrist (the one who thought I was autistic) told me that “You’ll never understand people and you should stop trying.”  I wonder if she was right and if it’s not possible to connect with people without understanding them.

Draining Shabbat

Well, that was a difficult Shabbat (Sabbath).  The main difficult thing was an argument with my Mum.  I won’t go into details.  It’s difficult to use this blog to vent (which I need to do at the moment as I’m not in therapy and my rabbi mentor is unreachable) while also keeping the laws of honouring parents and not gossiping.  I wrote a couple of paragraphs trying to do that, but then felt I still said too much.  I need to ask my rabbi mentor for guidance on what is OK to say on an anonymous or perhaps more accurately, semi-anonymous, blog but he’s really busy with work at the moment and I can’t get hold of him.  A lot would depend on how much this blog can be considered truly anonymous, and safe to remain anonymous indefinitely and I would not like to swear to that as there are half a dozen people reading this who know me away from the internet and who might theoretically meet my parents one day.  Some of those friends have offered to listen to my feelings about family privately, but it’s the same situation about not feeling I can share things.  I could phone Samaritans, but frankly it seems too petty and I’m worried about making such a big thing about it as it would set me off again.

I want to say more and keep trying to do so, but every time I try writing, it drifts into stuff I don’t think I should say.  I’ve wanted to deal with these feelings/thoughts/events in fiction before, but I’ve never really worked out how to do and suspect I don’t have the skill to disguise things particularly well, so the truth would be obvious.

The other thing that happened, which was more positive, was that someone I only vaguely know at shul (synagogue) invited me for Shabbat dinner next week.  He is one of the few people in the shul more or less my own age, so that is positive, both in terms of making friends my own age and in terms of being more accepted in the community (and maybe getting set up on shidduchim (dates) one day).  He is someone I envy somewhat, as he has the things that I can’t manage to get, in terms of family and career, but also someone I admire, inasmuch as he seems to be very frum (religious) and involved with the community as well as having a sharp intellect for Talmudic study and good middot (ethical character traits).  I’m very anxious though, worried that I will do or say the wrong thing somehow or come across as not frum enough.  I came home from shul on Friday night rather anxious because of this.

On the plus side, I did deal in a fairly calm way last night with a situation that a year or two ago would have triggered my kashrut OCD in a big way, although on the down side I did get triggered again and responded less well today.  I suppose life and especially mental health issues and autism are all about growth, but sometimes (often) it seems to be some steps forward and then more backwards; the difficulty comes in the periods where the backwards steps outnumber the forwards ones.  But perhaps unsurprisingly after all this psychological stress, I was exhausted last night and slept for a long time.

I had a strange dream about having a cat who, despite never having been let out the house, was somehow pregnant and apparently had five kittens, but then I realised there were ten and then fifteen.  I’m not sure what this means, except that I’m thinking seriously again about getting a pet (although not a cat) and maybe the dream was a reflection of that.  We did once have a cat give birth behind our garden shed, but that was about thirty years ago and probably not directly on my mind last night.  We thought it was a stray, but it turned out to belong to someone who lived in the area who claimed cat and kittens, much to my disappointment and my parents’ relief.

I’m still struggling with my thoughts for a book on Judaism aimed at non-Jews and non-religious Jews written in an informative rather than apologetic (in the sense of ‘defensive’) manner.  I keep thinking it could only work if it was personal, though, as I don’t have the knowledge to write an academic work, but I can’t work out how to marry the personal with the informative.  I guess I can’t work out what exactly it is that I want to say.  Maybe if I could do that, it would be easier to work out how to say it.  Of course, there is a whole halakhic question in how much I could write about Judaism for a non-Jewish audience; another thing to discuss with my rabbi mentor when he’s free.

On Not Pushing My Luck

I didn’t blog yesterday because there wasn’t much to say and I was busy (OK, I went to shiur (religious class) and I stayed up very late watching a two-hour Jonathan Creek special).  I was very anxious and depressed on the Tube into work in the morning and couldn’t read, either Mishnah or a novel.  I just focused on calm breathing, which seemed to help a bit.  Work was good, though.  I am actually feeling somewhat comfortable and enjoying being back in a higher education institution.

However, I’m still largely being shown what to do.  The scary bit will come next week when I have to start doing things by myself, especially as there was a LOT of information to take in, and largely orally, whereas I (like many autistic people) am better with written instructions.  I wrote some notes, but I’m not sure how coherent they are.  There is a checklist for the most important job I have to do, though, so I’m hoping to work from that.  I’m still not sure I know 100% what to do (or even close to 100%) and I will have to email or talk to people (yikes!) and go to get rare books from the vaults, which I’m worried will trigger OCD worries about having locked up correctly (or alternatively locking other people in).  And I already realised this morning that I have already forgotten to do something I meant to do yesterday.

However, I kind of find myself hoping that my contract might get extended, which I didn’t think in my previous job.  However, I don’t think an extension is likely.  I’m contracted for January with a possibility of extension to March, but apparently not beyond that and I’m not sure why – is it financial (the perennial problem in education and in libraries generally) or is there another reason?  If it’s just financial then maybe there’s hope?  But I don’t like to sound positive because I’m afraid if I am I will start messing things up or they will go wrong some other way.  I don’t like to hope any more.

***

I was thinking yesterday that if I can find a permanent job, even part-time, I should try dating again.  Last year the wife of the assistant rabbi at my parents’ shul (syngagogue) gave Dad the phone number of someone she felt might be able to find me find a shidduch (match) despite my depression.  This was in the run-up to Pesach which is the most stressful time of the Jewish year (think the days before Christmas, but much worse) so I said I would phone after Pesach, but I procrastinated a little and then I started dating E.  When we broke up, I thought if E., who was really into me, felt that she couldn’t cope with someone who wasn’t earning enough to support a family, then no one would be able to cope, so I didn’t make any effort to look for anyone else, but now I think E. might have been influenced by the confused feelings she still had for her ex.  But it’s still hard to think that someone might like me enough to look past my finances, my mental health and the fact that I’m not meeting my religious obligations as a good frum (religious) man should, in terms of prayer and Torah study.  It occurred to me yesterday that a marriage is for two people, but my wife would have to accept that in our relationship she would have to be one and a quarter, maybe one and a half of the two people, in terms of emotional support and finances.  That’s a lot to ask of someone and I don’t think I have enough to offer in return.  So now I’ve nearly talked myself out of it again and think I should just get a pet as a focus for my affection.  I mean, if I want someone gentle who will be affectionate to me and let me be affectionate to her maybe I’m better off with a guinea pig anyway.

***

Today I feel a bit exhausted, but not too depressed or anxious, which is good, despite lingering fears that I’m going to disappoint my boss at work.  I haven’t felt like this for a long time.  I’m not going to push my luck, though – I’m not doing much over the weekend.  There’s a big cross-shul oneg (Sabbath event) tonight which I’m skipping because I don’t think I’ll enjoy it much and it will drain me, whereas in the past I might have tried to force myself to go.  Likewise, I was hoping to go to a Doctor Who pub quiz on Sunday, but the friend I was going to go with isn’t going now, I won’t know anyone there and it finishes rather late and the other side of London, so I’m skipping that for now too.  It just seemed too risky to do either of those after a week when I did too new big things (new job and new well-being course).

Fear and Loathing in the Frum Community

Tonight seems to be the quiet before the storm.  I’m going to try to see my sister’s mid-renovation house tomorrow, even though I’m not entirely happy about it and even though I feel a little grumpy that my parents say I have to “show an interest” in my sister by going to see her house, even though it’s not finished, despite the fact that they still haven’t read the little leaflet I gave them about autism, which to me seems a bigger thing.  I asked my parents if they had read the leaflet, and where it was (as it wasn’t where I left it in the lounge, placed there so they would see it on Shabbat (the Sabbath) when they have time to read without distractions) and was told that they haven’t read it and that it is somewhere on my Mum’s desk, which is a bit like saying that the boat vanished somewhere in the Bermuda Triangle, as stuff on Mum’s desk just disappears in the mess.

Then later in the week, on Monday and Wednesday, I have the first two sessions of my  “Action for Wellbeing” class on coping with depression and on Tuesday and Thursday I’m starting my new job.  Also, on Monday evening I have a phone appointment with my GP about my autism referral and I’m rather nervous about what he will say and whether he will agree to refer me for an assessment.  So, I’m very nervous about all of these things.

Anyway, my parents are at the theatre tonight, so I’m home alone and free to do what I want really for the last time this week.

I had an anxiety dream about work last night, dreaming I was working in a library and feeling that I was enjoying it for once and getting on well with my colleagues, but my contract still didn’t get renewed.  Mixed in with this was more surreal stuff, like spiders laying giant eggs, an episode from Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy about Soviet troops in Czechoslovakia (one of my favourite novels, but an odd thing to turn up in a dream about work) and some kind of student art exhibition.  No idea what the rest of that signifies, but the work fears are pretty obvious.

I spent Shabbat feeling quite angry, partly with my parents (who didn’t take the hint that I wanted them to read the autism leaflet), partly with the Jewish community, particularly the Charedi (ultra-Orthodox) world I seem to have somehow found myself in despite not considering myself fully a member of it.  For the record, I think both the Modern Orthodox and Charedi worlds have problems and each could learn things from the other (I won’t go into detail here as it would take too long and probably not be of interest, but in short the Modern Orthodox world doesn’t take religion seriously enough while the Charedi world doesn’t take the world outside Orthodoxy seriously at all).  While the Modern Orthodox world is somewhat receptive to criticism, the Charedi world sees any criticism from the outside and most criticism from the inside as unjustified and the product of hatred of religion or antisemitism, so things are not likely to change in any good way.  Unfortunately,  the demographics mean that the non-Charedi world (Modern Orthodox and non-Orthodox) is in decline while the Charedi world is growing and will soon dominate Jewish life globally, which is not something I’m looking forward to.

I don’t know what any of this means for me, trying to find a place in a community that will accept me and is reasonably accepting of me, as well as providing friends and a wife and schools that I see as giving a reasonable (i.e. not totally brainwashed fundamentalist) education to my children.

Somewhat related to this fear of not fitting in: at Talmud shiur this afternoon, the assistant rabbi asked if I had a cold as I wasn’t in shul (synagogue) this morning.  I do have a cold, but I was absent because of depression and social anxiety, but I didn’t say that.  I also didn’t say that I’ve been to shul in the morning only once or twice in the last year or more, but only a couple of people really noticed.  I think I was only noticed today because the shamash (the person responsible for the practical running of the service) was asking where I was, I assume because he realised I haven’t had an aliyah to the Torah for a long time as I can’t think why else he would be looking for me.

Part of the issue with having a chronic, but invisible illness like depression is that even people who know about it forget about it (I have told the assistant rabbi a little in the past about my depression).  People don’t generally notice my absence; when they do and ask me about it, I don’t know what to say.  Maybe it’s my social anxiety speaking, but it’s hard to casually drop major depression into the conversation.  Even if I wasn’t afraid of stigma and incomprehension (and I am), it’s just a big thing to casually mention.  Maybe it doesn’t help that my autism means that I’ve had to learn the rules of conversation by rote and by trial and error and I have never learnt a ‘safe’ way to mention my depression easily; I don’t have the social intuition to know what I can say and when I can say it.

On a related note, there is an oneg (Shabbat party/social event thing) next Friday evening.  It’s a cross-shul thing so in theory people from all fifteen or so Orthodox shuls in the area could be there.  Usually I feel like I have to force myself to these things, but then I stand outside crying and overwhelmed with social anxiety or go inside, sit rigidly and anxiously, full of social anxiety, not talking to anyone, eating too many crisps and nuts, refusing alcohol (whisky is a big part of these things), not knowing any of the songs, sometimes having issues with the religious speakers, then making an excuse after an hour or so and leave.  Plus, the person whose house it is being held at is someone I have to confess I feel deeply envious of: about my age, married with a pretty wife and several cute young children and a large house.  I feel I will never have any of these things (yes, I know, he could have some major tragedy or struggle in his life that I don’t know about.  That’s not my point, though).  But not going feels like chickening out, is bound to upset my parents, and will just make me more sure than ever that I will never fit in to the frum (religious Orthodox Jewish) community, never make friends and never be known enough to be set up on dates with women (the main way of meeting someone in the frum world).  I don’t know what to do.

“It will all be the same in a hundred years”

I spent an hour or more after Shabbat (the Sabbath) working on my presentation for my interview.  Actually, I spent an hour occasionally jotting down ideas, but mostly panicking and procrastinating on Twitter (which I should never have joined – I don’t use it effectively to promote my blog, which was the whole purpose of being on it, although it’s probably just as well my recent blog posts haven’t had much of an audience, so out of touch am I with accepted fan wisdom.  Although it was weird to see a former Doctor Who script writer retweet a (non-Who, political) Tweet by a friend of my sister… small world).  I have something of an idea of the structure of the presentation and a few ideas, but it’s going to need a lot of work before Wednesday.  If the interview goes badly, at least it will be useful evidence for when I have my interview at The Network on Thursday (for employment support with mental health issues) and Barnet Mencap on Friday (for autism screening).

Shabbat itself was more of a struggle.  Friday night was good: I spent time feeling actually frum (religious) for once: I went to shul (synagogue), spent time on Torah study, reading Tanakh in Hebrew and looking up commentaries and Midrashim and things, at least to some extent.  I spent too much time after shul, but before dinner, lying on my bed tired and then I struggled to sleep when I went to bed properly, but on the whole I felt OK and I started re-reading The Transmigration of Timothy Archer, Philip K. Dick’s last and in some ways most beautiful book (I’m not quite sure why The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction thought it was the work of a “finished writer”).

Today was a lot harder.  I slept through the morning again and didn’t go to shul.  This upsets me, but I don’t know how to change it.  Dealing with social anxiety there is just too far down on my list of priorities at the moment, below dealing with less scary social anxiety situations, dealing with low self-esteem and finding a job I can actually do.

Then when I got up, there was stuff going on at home which I can’t talk about here, but which really brought me down.  I know I sound really open and honest here, but what you see is not all of me.  You see a lot of me, but nowhere near all, both in terms of how I feel now and what affects that, and what started all this (my mental health issues) in the first place.  And it’s very frustrating not being able to talk about that, especially now I’m not currently in therapy.  And then after Shabbat we had some more bad news, which I also can’t share here for different reasons, so that was also worrying and upsetting.

I did get to shul for Talmud shiur (Talmud class) (a really weird sugya (argument) about whether the souls of the dead know what happens in our world; after giving arguments back and forth, the Gemarah basically concludes that we just don’t know, which is rather frustrating) and Ma’ariv (the evening service).  The assistant rabbi asked if I was OK as I missed shiur on Thursday and I wasn’t sure whether to say I was at depression group.  Maybe next time there’s a clash (which won’t be until late January now), I should just message the shiur What’sApp group and instead of saying vaguely that I’m not able to come to shiur, as I usually do when I go to depression group instead, I should openly say I’m going to my depression support group.  At least then it forces me to be more open, but who knows how people will react.  (The shiur What’sApp group is very small, about six or eight members, the people I am most friendly with at shul.)

Good news: I have received that money I was owed from my shul and I’ve been taken back of the security rota.

I have a scarily busy, or just scary, week ahead: on Monday I should find out if I’m getting CBT on the NHS; on Wednesday I have my job interview (presentation; interview; cataloguing test); on Thursday I have my meeting at The Network about employment support and on Friday I’ve got my autism screening.  I’ve asked both my parents to come along to this.  Strictly speaking, they only need one parent, but I have wondered since my last assessment whether my Mum unconsciously tries to present me in a ‘good’ i.e. neurotypical light.  I guess it can’t hurt to have Dad there too even if that’s not the case.  And of course, Chanukah is in the background all week, although it will only be tricky on Friday, which will be a rush to get ready and light Chanukah lights after my screening and before Shabbat, which will start around 3.40pm.

I’ve been thinking recently about what my maternal grandparents used to say to me a lot, “It will all be the same in a hundred years.”  I’ve come across a similar quote from former British Prime Minister Arthur Balfour, “Nothing matters very much and most things don’t matter at all.”  I’ve been thinking about this with regard to the centenary of the end of World War I and with regard to Brexit, but also with regard to my own life.  I think some things do matter on a global scale and some things don’t, but it’s hard to tell what’s what sometimes.  Realistically, World War I did matter, and matters now one hundred years on, but realistically a lot of what I do won’t matter, now or in a century.  (Don’t ask me where Brexit fits in!)  Of course, from a religious point of view, everything matters, but I am not sure that that is the healthiest way to think about things when I’m stuck deeply in anxiety and despair.  It’s like Rebbe Simcha Bunim of Peshischa saying:

Everyone must have two pockets, with a note in each pocket, so that he or she can reach into the one or the other, depending on the need.  When feeling lowly and depressed, discouraged or disconsolate, one should reach into the right pocket, and, there, find the words: “For my sake was the world created.”  But when feeling high and mighty one should reach into the left pocket, and find the words: “I am but dust and ashes.”

(The former quote is from the Talmud, the latter Bereshit/Genesis 18.27.)

Maybe it’s good to think that things don’t matter if one is in danger of overthinking things and turning into an anxious mess.

Frustrations

I’m writing on a break from the post-Shabbat (Sabbath) tidying up, which is exhausting, while also What’sApping my Mum (who is still in Israel), so this may be even less coherent than usual.

Shabbat was OK, but somewhat lonely.  I didn’t get into as much of a depressed/agitated state as I have sometimes in the past when spending Shabbat home alone, but this was probably because I spent most of it asleep.  I didn’t get to shul (synagogue) at all, which was frustrating, not least because I’m not sure how much was depressive exhaustion and how much was social anxiety, although why that should be worse when my parents are away is a mystery, as I go to a different shul to them.  Maybe when other people are around I feel I need to put more of an effort into trying to get out.

I went to bed early for Shabbat (before midnight) and slept for about thirteen hours or more; I then dozed for another two and a half hours after seudah shlishit (the third Shabbat meal), which was one reason I missed shiur (religious class) and Ma’ariv (the evening service).  Sleeping extra on Shabbat is a mitzvah (commandment), but I think one can take it too far.  I’m certainly worried I won’t sleep tonight, even though I need to be up early tomorrow to volunteer at the asylum seekers drop-in centre.

I’m already feeling somewhat anxious about volunteering – a vague sense that something will go wrong, or I will do something wrong, without really knowing what, and a fear that for one reason or another I won’t be able to slip out and into the main shul building for Mincha (the afternoon service), even though there isn’t really any reason why I shouldn’t be able to do so (the advantage of volunteering in an Orthodox shul).

I was also supposed to do some things tonight, particularly replying to an email from a friend that I’ve been putting off because it was very long and will take ages to reply to, which is wrong of me, as well as buying Chanukah presents for my family, which may not arrive in time.  It doesn’t look like any of this is going to happen, because of sleeping until 6.30pm and then being slow and depressed.  To be fair, I tried to buy the presents during the week, but was prevented by various issues with Amazon (who I usually try to avoid) and they may have to wait until my parents get home and can decide for themselves what they want to do.

I’m struggling a lot again with thoughts and feelings that I can’t put into words.  There’s a lot of religious stuff in my head at the moment that may not be healthy.  I wish my suffering could be some kind of tikkun (rectification) or kapparah (atonement) for myself or the Jewish people or the world, but I doubt it is the latter.  I suppose on some level it probably is a kapparah for myself, but it would be good to know what it is atoning for, so it seemed less arbitrary.  Really I want to help other people somehow in my suffering, but it seems unlikely that that is the case.

This may be part of what lay behind a dream I had last night.  I can’t remember the details, but in the dream there were two women I asked out in real life who had turned me down.  One (in real life) was someone I knew online who I thought I had connected with (another frum geek) and the other was someone I was at school with and then met years later through a Jewish mental health charity and became friends with for a while.  I thought she was flirting with me, but apparently I was wrong (she repeatedly said I was a “genius” and also that I would have “really cute children”).  Neither was interested in me; I still comment on the former’s blog, but the latter cut of all contact with me.

In the dream, the latter was talking to the former about her issues (in the real world she had bipolar disorder and had repeatedly been hospitalised as a suicide risk; she also had a history of anorexia).  I wanted to help too, but she kept refusing to speak when she was aware that I was listening, until I realised that she didn’t want my help and that the only way I could help her was to leave her alone (there was then a surreal sequence I can’t fully describe about a dead tortoise in the garden; no idea what that represents).

This seemed to be an unconscious articulation of the fact that I want to help people, but often can’t do it, either because of my own issues or because I don’t know how to help people because of my autistic symptoms.  In particular, I had been reflecting before going to bed, and not for the first time, how frustrating it is to me to see all the discussion on Jewish websites and newspapers about the need to re-engage young Jews with Judaism and Jewish culture and encourage the raising of Jewish children (assimilation is still running strong).  I want to have children and give them a strong grounding in Judaism and a love of Judaism and Jewish culture (not just the religion, but the wider cultural aspects), but it looks like I never will marry and have children.  This upsets me a lot.  I suppose if I had to rank what I most dislike about my various conditions, the actual depression and social anxiety would probably come in about third, because I’m used to coping with them (up to a point anyway).  First would be the loneliness, particularly the romantic/sexual loneliness and second would be the feeling that I will never have children, the feeling of being the end of the line, that the tradition will, in some sense, end with me (in a manner of speaking… I’m still hoping that my sister and cousins will have children, but who knows what will happen?).

OK, now I’ve brought my mood really far down, I guess I should try to finish tidying up and then have something to eat, do some Torah study (done none at all today, thanks to falling asleep this afternoon) and get to bed at a reasonable time.  Hopefully eating might help my mood a bit, as I may have low blood sugar again; I haven’t eaten anything for nearly six hours, nor have I drunk much.

Up and Down

Today was my last day at work.  I finished the work I was set early and as my boss is still away and hadn’t left me any extra work, there was no reason to stay, so I left at 2.15pm.  I’m glad to be away from the office.  The people were nice, but it was not a good environment for me: too noisy and busy and I was too shy to talk to anyone, although I guess that’s partly the problem of being a temp and not ‘really’ on the team.  Plus, I made too many big mistakes, although I think some of them were because I misunderstood how the search engine on LinkedIn functions rather than pure incompetence (or depressive poor concentration) as I initially thought.  The early finish meant I could do some Shabbat shopping before it got too late as well.  I’m glad I got through the whole three month contract without a single sick day or late arrival due to depression, although I nearly fell at the proverbial last post, as I overslept by nearly half an hour this morning, but I rushed and took the bus to the station instead of walking and arrived at work on time.

I’m glad that I’ve got an interview for another job lined up, but I’m already terrified about it.  The interview is scary and so is the cataloguing test.  I feel that my cataloguing skills have gone really rusty, especially as I haven’t really done big number-building in Dewey (building up the long shelfmarks) since my MA eight years ago.  However, the really terrifying thing is the ten minute presentation about which I have no idea what to say.  It doesn’t help that I can only vaguely remember what this job involves and I don’t have access to the online job description.  Plus, I’m sure I’m going to start shaking when I speak and that anxiety in itself can trigger shaking.

***

Someone at work asked me about librarianship and what I had to do for my MA and I panicked and my mind went blank.  This happens to me a lot: people ask me questions about myself and topics that I know a lot about and that mean a lot to me, but I panic and can’t think of anything.  I tend to dread those kinds of conversations, rather than ones where I can hurriedly pass back the conversation by asking the other person a question (or the same one they just asked me).  With Doctor Who it’s even worse, as I grew up in the nineties when the programme was not in production (except for one TV movie) and its memory was a laughingstock, so I feel embarrassed and uncomfortable and change the subject.

***

I’ve been put back on the security rota at shul (synagogue) even though I’ve said that I have health issues and can’t guarantee to get there.  I may have to be more explicit and say that I have mental health issues and can pretty much guarantee to not be there in the mornings at the moment because that’s when things are worst and the fact that I get to shiurim (classes) and services in the evenings is not proof that I am well enough to get there in the mornings.  I always hate to say things like that, though.  I get scared how people will react if I say I have mental health issues.

***

I filled in the questionnaire that I was supposed to fill in before my therapy assessment on Monday.  I’ve done so many of these things now that I did it in just a couple of minutes, whereas the first time I did one, at the counselling service at university, I took so long over it that the therapist told me to just stop wherever I’d got up to.  Here the difficulty is more focusing on the last twelve days when the depression has lasted, with occasional brief gaps, for fifteen or twenty years.  Other than that it’s just ticking the worst box for most of the questions.  In the past I would probably have agonised over exactly how depressed I’ve been in the last two weeks, but this time I just answered for how I’ve been feeling “lately” as I know there hasn’t been much variation for months; I also don’t want to distort the answers by focusing too much on one or two better days when the average is so awful.  I guess I’ve been in the NHS long enough to learn to play the system, although I’m not sure that anyone really pays much attention to these questionnaires anyway.

(Also, is it autistic of me to wonder why “filling in” a questionnaire is the same as “filling out” a questionnaire when they sound like they should be opposites?)

***

Problem: I want to interact with Doctor Who fans on Twitter, both because it’s fun and to promote my blog.  Unfortunately, many Doctor Who fans are very political, whereas I want to avoid politics at the moment (including/especially Brexit).  I’m not sure how to do this (and wasting more time online is possibly not a goal I should be exploring).  Although I’m wondering if I should be using my blog to review new Doctor Who episodes at all.  My better reviews tend to be written after multiple viewings, often long after the event, and I want to reserve that blog for high-quality writing with an eye to professional publication one day.  On the other hand, if I don’t review there, I only end up writing mini-reviews in the comments on my friends’ blogs or in response to emails/texts.

***

I ate too much unhealthy food at shiur (Torah class) again.  I don’t know why I do this.  I do the same on Shabbat (the Sabbath), particularly at shul (synagogue) at kiddush (the refreshments after the service) or seudah shlishit (the third Shabbat meal).  I thought it might be a social anxiety thing, that I eat to distract myself or to look busy so no one talks to me, but I over-eat on Shabbat at home too.  Although today I didn’t intend to drink what my family refers to as “fat coke” (non-diet coca cola), which I don’t even like much.  I am possibly coming down from a sugar rush now.

Shiur was interesting, but left me somewhat depressed again.  The assistant rabbi was talking about the importance of building an ‘inside,’ an internal world.  He said that’s his primary message in the Torah he teaches.  I worry I don’t have an inside.  I spend a lot of time in thought, but I don’t know that my thoughts are worthwhile and they go round and round inside my head without going anywhere.  Sharing many (not all) of my thoughts here is not keeping my “inside” inside me in the way the assistant rabbi said we should.  I can’t remember everything he said, but he was talking about challenges and how they are often about engaging with things externally only.  I feel attracted to someone and then I feel guilty because that’s focusing on externals.  I think that I really want to have a meaningful relationship with someone which would be an interior relationship, but maybe I’m wrong and I could only relate to someone in a superficial way.  I don’t think that was my experience when in a relationship, but that was for such a relatively short period and I wonder sometimes what would happen if I was married and was with someone for years.

The other thing that happened at shiur was the subject came up of the time when the rabbi offered to give £50 to tzedaka (charity) if someone could answer a particular question that he was sure no one would be able to answer and I answered it correctly.  I still feel embarrassed about that, without really knowing why, and then I feel guilty (??? I find it hard to understand or name what I feel a lot of the time, let alone why I feel it) that I feel embarrassed.

***

Well, my mood is sinking fast and I’m tired, so I probably ought to get ready for bed.  I doubt I will blog tomorrow as Shabbat starts at 3.45pm and I have a lot of preparation to do as I’m home alone (which reminds me that I need to take some food out of the freezer before I go to bed tonight), so I probably won’t have time, especially as I’m likely to sleep in.  Last time I did Shabbat alone I said I would get myself invited out for at least one meal if it happened again, but when it came to it, I chickened out and didn’t.  In the frum (religious Orthodox Jewish) world it’s considered normal and acceptable to ask for dinner invitations if home alone or visiting for Shabbat and people who were not raised religious often cite it as something they love about Judaism, but the only time I tried it (when I went to New York in the summer), I got turned down flat.  Normal frum community stuff just doesn’t seem to work out for me (see also getting set up on dates, or not).

Up and Down

I didn’t speak to the lawyers as they didn’t phone after all.  I was ill (headache, then complete exhaustion) and so I didn’t phone them, so I’ve still got that hanging over me.  I guess the whole family has had this lawsuit hanging over us for two years or so now, like something out of Kafka, so maybe it’s not such a big change.  As I was still exhausted when Shabbat (the Sabbath) started, I didn’t go to shul (synagogue).

I did have a positive evening.  I spoke to my Dad about Brexit (my Dad is the only person I really feel comfortable talking about politics to).  It was a bit of a mutual despair society meeting.  Neither of us is hugely Europhile, for different reasons, but both of us think that staying in the EU was better than leaving, and that it’s no surprise that the EU is determined to punish Britain for wanting to leave, not least to deter countries like Greece and Italy for thinking that there’s an easy escape in the future.  My Dad thinks that a stock market crash is due soon (although, to be honest, I can’t remember a time when he didn’t think that a stock market crash was due soon) and we’re both worried by the rise of the far right and the return of antisemitism.  Politics depresses me, but sometimes it’s good to voice that depression.

Afterwards I did some Torah study and stayed in thought for a bit about politics, history and Jewish stuff.  I think I’ve mentioned before that, unlike many autistic people, I don’t monologue aloud to other people about my special interests because I had too many bad experiences doing that as a child, but I do do it in my head.  Sometimes it can get coloured by my mental health and become despairing, anxious and/or obsessive, particularly if I’ve read or heard something attacking something that matters a lot to me (e.g. Judaism, Israel, Doctor Who) and I need to ‘prove’ it’s wrong to myself, but on Friday I wasn’t doing that, I was just thinking.  Suddenly I realised I was feeling a bit happy for the first time in several months.

I spent a long time doing my hitbodedut spontaneous prayer.  I was thinking a lot about the passage repeated several times in the Talmud, that it doesn’t matter whether you do a lot or a little as long as you direct your heart to Heaven.  This was originally said in regard to sacrifices, but was later applied to Torah study and prayer.  I find it hard to hold on to this.  I know I don’t do enough (quantitatively or qualitatively) Torah study, prayer and good deeds, but maybe I’m not expected to do more given how depressed I am.  It is hard to tell and I wish there was some kind of objective measure whereby I could tell if I’m doing enough.  Ten minutes of Torah study most days doesn’t seem enough, even though I do try to get to a two shiurim (classes – see below) each week, but maybe I really can’t do more right now.  Likewise with davening (prayer), hurriedly racing through Mincha, Ma’ariv and sometimes a bit of Shacharit (afternoon, evening and morning prayers) with little kavannah (mindfulness) and without a minyan (congregation) is far from ideal, but maybe it’s all I can do.   I don’t know.

I stayed up late because of this, especially as, while not on a high exactly, I did feel somewhat alert and awake afterwards.  I couldn’t really read and was just thinking about things.

I had some other thoughts which I won’t go into here that made me feel better, but today I reflected negatively on some of what happened last night.  I overslept this morning and was drained and depressed again, spending ages lying in bed or sitting down, not doing anything except trying to find energy.  I felt that some of my thoughts from last night were potentially heretical or even idolatrous, but it is hard to know where I went wrong.  I ate my meals hurriedly (Mum and Dad were out for lunch, hence my being able to sleep in late without being woken for lunch) and dashed to shul for shiur and Ma’ariv, having initially felt that I would miss both.  I’m glad I went, as I would have beaten myself up if I had missed them.

I just finished another job application after Shabbat and am still pessimistic about my future.  I know it’s not clear whether I really am on the autistic spectrum, but I do have a lot of symptoms and certainly people with these symptoms do indeed struggle to hold down jobs and to build relationships and often end up permanently dependent on their families or the state, which does not encourage me.  I’m not sure what I can do, practically.  Without a diagnosis of autism, I’m limited in the help and “reasonable adjustments” that I can apply for in that area (although I’m not sure that there is a huge amount of help available for those diagnosed), but it’s quite clear that the NHS has no interest in paying for another assessment (to be fair, they’ve already paid for two) and a private one would be hugely expensive, especially as I’m not confident that I would get a clear diagnosis.  I think I have to learn to accept that I exist in a grey area where the autistic blurs into the neurotypical, and that I simply can’t receive any help.

To be honest, if I could deal with my depression and social anxiety and find the right job (and an understanding girlfriend/wife), the autism would be less of an issue.  But I do wonder if my boss in my previous job was right that I’m not cut out for contemporary librarianship, just as my current job has made clear that I’m not cut out for working in a noisy, contemporary office.  Both jobs have made clear, though, that I simply can’t work effectively while I’m so depressed, but as I am not considered sick enough to receive benefits, I’m not sure what my options are.  To be honest, I don’t want to live off the state (or my parents); I want to be doing something productive IF I can find something I can do competently without feeling in a terrible depressed-anxious-autistic state the whole time.

Thinking today about my religious thoughts from yesterday, I realised once again that I am desperate for love and intimacy.  In different ways, that desire drives my engagement with potential partners, friends, my religious community, HaShem (God) and even my thoughts about having pets.  I’m not sure if one can really be intimate with a pet exactly, even a dog, but maybe I’m wrong, having never had pets other than goldfish, which are not really very responsive and certainly they would be a receptacle for my love, even if they can’t truly love me back.  The funny thing is, though, that when I try to conceive of the afterlife, it is of being alone, either being alone feeling shame reflecting on the negative aspects of my life (Gehennom (purgatory)) or close to HaShem but no one else (Heaven).  It doesn’t occur to me that I would be with other people in Heaven, even though the Talmud does seem to suggest this, although Jewish afterlife beliefs are intentionally vague compared with most religions.  Presumably, like Jean-Paul Sartre, I think that Hell is other people.  But this fits ill with my desire for love and intimacy.

I finished re-reading The Empty Chair: Finding Hope and Joy: Timeless Wisdom from a Hasidic Master Rebbe Nachman of Breslov.  The penultimate quote is one of my favourites: “If you believe that you can damage, then believe that you can fix.  If you believe that you can harm, then believe that you can heal.”  It can be hard to believe that sometimes.