Intense Day

I woke up feeling really burnt out again, and still felt that way after breakfast. I don’t know why I still feel like this. It’s usually this bad after a hectic day, but I haven’t had a really busy day since Thursday. It’s not just burnout. I feel quite depressed, although I’m not having many particular negative thoughts to trigger the feelings despite being at least vaguely concerned about several things in my life right now. After breakfast, I went back to bed with the lights off, wrapped myself tight in the duvet and listened to a classical music playlist (it was supposed to be calm music, but I think much of it was not actually that calm). This is behaviour that I would associate with being either very depressed or very overloaded and there was no obvious reason for either.

I wanted to go for a run today, as I thought it would help, but I couldn’t fit a run in. I went for a walk and spent much of it feeling like the “idiot child” who can’t get anything right. I also kept thinking about Eliot’s The Waste Land: “On Margate Sands/I can connect/Nothing with nothing”, which seemed to sum up how I felt. The main exception to this was when some horses and riders went past (there’s a riding school nearby and seeing horses in the streets is quite common). This made me wonder again about pet therapy or animal therapy, but I can’t work up the courage to take the leap of buying a pet or assuming that level of responsibility — which in turn makes me wonder why I think I’ll be able to have children one day. I think there’s a kind of event horizon of fantasy in my mind; having a career, a community, a wife and a family are things beyond the event horizon and I can’t devise logical strategies to get there.

I had an intense Skype call with PIMOJ after this. I had already intended to speak about some emotional issues (which may have triggered my depression) and being depressed just made me determined to open up about how I feel rather than brushing it aside and pretending to be fine. I think it was a good call, and important, but it was intense and draining. My relationship with PIMOJ is different to previous relationships. It’s more consciously considered, for reasons that I’m not ready to share yet, but we have to think very carefully about what we say and do. We are very different people and we have to work hard to understand each other (even without the language barrier).

I spent half an hour researching my devar Torah for the week. I wish I had more time to spend on it each week. I did some other Torah study and some miniature painting too, which probably helped unwind a bit. I watched two episodes of WandaVision too. As I suspected from the first episode, there is some clever and self-aware stuff going on, but the problem with spoofing the style of dated TV is that you have to sit through a lot of dated-seeming TV to get to the interesting parts. Maybe if I liked archival sitcoms as much as archival science fiction, I would like it more.

***

Looking at the Babylon 5 DVDs again, some discs seem scratched or dirty; one of the ones that looked pristine has a mark around the edge of the disc which I thought was part of the disc, but now looks more like damage to me. I need to investigate the discs some more. I found I can get replacement DVDs for about £5 per season on MusicMagpie, so I’m not too worried about having to break the bank to replace them any more. I ordered a replacement season one set as one or two of those discs seem irreparable, but I’ll spend some time with the latter seasons seeing if they can be cleaned up before I buy replacements.

Rebel Rebel

I’m not sure where I am today, emotionally. I had two big things going on, the pandemic and the autism assessment. Now there’s a third, potentially even bigger, and I am not coping well. I don’t want to talk about it here yet. Or rather I do want to talk about it, but I’m not sure that I should, so I won’t for now. Suffice to say that I went to bed late last night because I was dealing with a lot of anxious and self-critical thoughts. Then I couldn’t sleep, probably because I was over-tired and hadn’t done anything to relax. Then I overslept this morning and didn’t want to get up because of the anxiety. I eventually got up because my phone was ringing, but I didn’t get there in time and whoever they were, they didn’t leave a message and I didn’t recognise the number. Hopefully it was just a cold caller, but I worry it might have been something about the autism assessment, although I know it’s unlikely that they would contact me within twenty-four hours of the last assessment.

I’ve felt lately that I was getting ahold of my life, that I was making progress with work and writing and my relationship, that I was moving towards some kind of definitive autism diagnosis, and that I was feeling like depression and mental illness, while not “cured” (I don’t know that I will ever be “cured”), are less prominent in my life. I was even wondering if I should carry on blogging here, or blogging so regularly. What is the point of a mental health blog if my mental health is reasonable?

And then, WHAM! To be honest, I knew this would happen for some time, it just happened faster than I thought it would, and it hit me harder than I expected. I still can’t talk about what is actually happening except in the vaguest of terms, but I’ve been in a state of anxiety since the weekend, and I’m not sure if it’s going to change any time soon. I guess I’m just psychologically vulnerable to mental illness at times of stress, the way some people have reduced immunity and vulnerability to physical illness.

I was able to talk about it a lot in therapy today. We ended up speaking a lot about ideas of community, individuality, conformity and so on and particularly how these apply in the Orthodox Jewish community.

I spoke about feeling a burden at the moment, a bag full of guilt and critical voices from the community and who knows what else. I want to put the bag down, if only to breathe, but I can’t, I have to keep carrying it up the hill. How much of this is actually real (real guilt, real people criticising me) and how much is just in my head is hard to tell. I do feel, on some level, like I’m responsible for the world and that I’m judged to the minutest level of detail, in a way that no one (or no one other than a total tzaddik (saint)) is judged.

My therapist suggested there was anger there too, which is correct, but I’ve never known what to do with anger other than repress it, which is not good in the long-run and arguably leads to depression. I think in the summer, when our Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) neighbours were having lockdown-breaching prayer services in their garden three times a day, I wrote a letter, with no intention of sending it, saying how angry they made me. I think that helped somewhat, but my current anger seems too nebulous and undirected at the moment for that to be a viable strategy.

More surprisingly, I found myself suggesting that maybe on some level I like or need the friction with my community. I’m not entirely sure why I said this, but I suspect that I noted that I’ve spent two decades or more trying to be an Orthodox Jew and to “fit in” to the Orthodox community, but I’ve also spent two decades or more complaining (quietly) about the conformism, narrow-mindedness and bourgeois mentality that often operates in the Orthodox community, trying to not to be socialised out of my geekiness, my non-Jewish friends, the books I read. I guess I have a “can’t live with it, can’t live without it” attitude to the Orthodox world.

I can see it with my novel. Sometimes I’m terrified about the backlash I might face for suggesting that domestic abuse exists in the Orthodox community and that the autistic and mentally ill are not well-catered for there, but other times I will admit to myself that I hope there is some controversy, that it “shakes things up a bit.”

It’s hard to come to terms with this, as I was a well-behaved child and I was the absolute most well-behaved, non-rebellious teenager imaginable. But here I am, worrying that I’m going to bring the Temple crashing down around me, Shimshon (Samson) style, without really wanting to do it, just feeling driven to it by loneliness and desperation, the longing for a place where I can be accepted by people who aren’t like me. I feel I should (“should” again) be able not to care what people think about me, but somehow I can’t.

I told PIMOJ I was anxious and she called. It was a difficult conversation, not least because it was late and I didn’t really want to speak, but I felt I should as she was concerned about me. It really did become apparent that there is a psychological difference between us, that she doesn’t care who does or doesn’t like her, whereas I want to be liked and accepted, something that I don’t think she really understood. I don’t think she understood why it matters to me if other Orthodox Jews reject me. I don’t think I really understand why it matters to me, to be honest. My life would be a lot easier if I didn’t care who liked me, but I find myself unable to find the switch to turn it off.

***

There was no volunteering today, but I was supposed to be doing some work from home and I got up later than I intended for that. I got the work done (stuffing envelopes and stamping them) as well as having therapy, but I didn’t get out for a walk. Add in the call from PIMOJ and I ran out of time for more than five minutes of Torah study, although I did write my devar Torah for the week and liked it more than I expected. It’s going to be another late night. I don’t know if I’ll have time to relax before I go to bed again so sleeplessness is likely.

***

When I started this job, the Department of Work and Pensions said I was OK working part-time and still receiving some benefits. Now they’ve written to ask for more details about the work. I accept that I probably earn too much to justify the benefits, I just wish they would make their minds up. I do wonder whether other government departments and bodies (e.g. the Treasury, the Foreign Office) are as useless and bureaucratic as the DWP and the NHS. It’s easy to look at the lockdown mess and think that they are.

Celibacy

Despite my worries, I managed to get up early for volunteering and got there on time. It was fine. A couple of people asked if I was OK as I haven’t been for a fortnight, which was nice. I’m always amazed when people notice I’m absent. Someone donated fresh jam donuts for the volunteers and I had one. Possibly my waistband says I shouldn’t have. I still feel that I make mistakes and do stupid things there, although it’s more that what seems logical to me doesn’t always seem logical to other people and vice versa for various (autistic?) reasons. Sometimes it’s probably poor executive function or me not processing spoken instructions properly, but other times it can be me applying rules over-rigidly. Then again, maybe I’m being perfectionist and looking to autism to excuse behaviours that don’t really require excusing (again).

I was pretty exhausted in the afternoon and didn’t do very much other than a few minor chores. I intended to listen a shiur (religious class) that I missed, but it wasn’t up online. I did some other Torah study, but it was just bits and pieces, little audio vorts (short religious ideas) and articles in a religious magazine. I couldn’t face anything heavier. I did a little bit of ironing and thought about trying to force myself to do more chores, but I was worried about being burnt out tomorrow when I have work. I wish I knew why I still get so tired so easily even with the mood aspect of depression being rather easier than in the past. I just read and watched DVDs. I had been eating dinner in front of the Chanukah candles this week, but at dinner today I was drained and couldn’t face eating dinner alone with noise from my parents’ TV and ended up eating in my room, which was also alone and with TV, but at least it was my TV.

Reading this back, I see I actually did quite a lot, but I still feel guilty about not doing “enough” and not having “enough” energy considering I’m not depressed “any more”. There probably are imaginary standards of “normality” and “mentally ill” here that aren’t helpful to me.

***

I saw the next two paragraphs a few days ago on Elisheva Liss’ Jewish mental health blog. The bit I’m about to quote actually isn’t the main point of the post, but is the part that is pertinent to me and set me thinking.

As a woman, I don’t pretend to understand what it’s like for a young man to grow up in a society where extra-vaginal ejaculation is forbidden, especially in such stark contrast to the permissive sexual norms of the broader secular culture. I see the struggle, the emotional and sexual complexity involved…

What I do know, is that from the onset of puberty at anywhere from around ages 9-14, until marriage, which doesn’t happen until at least the ages of 18-22, boys are expected to both not have sex and to try not to ejaculate. I’m fairly certain that the majority are unable to completely refrain from any masturbation, fantasy, or ejaculation during these hormonal and turbulent developmental years. The way they navigate this challenge often impacts their self-concept and adult relationships. Some repress developing libido and disassociate from their sexual selves. Others split, embracing one conscious, religious identity, and another secret sexual life, often involving pornography and sexual experimentation. Still others recognize that the ideal they are presented with might be unrealistic for them, and try to limit sexual behavior, while allowing for and forgiving their human needs.

This isn’t really spoken about in the frum (religious Jewish world). I’m conscious of not wanting to reveal my entire life history online, but also of wanting to talk about this for reasons that are not entirely clear to me. (I’ve tried speaking about it in therapy, but I feel that writing this has made me realise there’s a lot more to say there.) My background is that I was brought up traditional, but not fully Torah observant and gradually became more observant in my teens. At the same time, I went to a co-educational (Modern Orthodox Jewish) school and eventually became interested in girls when I was about sixteen (I was a late developer, which I definitely think was a blessing). I also had sex education, at home and at school, but it was pretty functional. It was not the Haredi minimal or no sex education, but it focused on the biological “How do we make babies?” side of things. It was a long time before anyone ever really spoken to me about the emotional side of things, and probably most of the conversations I have had about dating and sex have been in therapy.

The problem with this is, being (probably) on the autism spectrum, I do not always pick things up easily if they aren’t explicitly spelt out to me, particularly regarding social interactions. No one ever said anything about masturbation, but somehow I intuited that it was wrong, and that sexual fantasy was likely to lead to it. Pornography was a lot harder to access when I was a teenager than it is these days, but there was already a lot of quasi-pornographic imagery in society; I think the infamous Wonderbra “Hello Boys” billboard advert (the one that supposedly caused numerous car crashes from men looking at the model’s cleavage and not at the road) came out shortly before I hit puberty, and there was a lot of similar adverts around and, anyway, you shouldn’t underestimate what sexually-frustrated teenage boys can find arousing (illustrations of Dark Elf warrior women in the Warhammer rule book…).

Being autistic, depressed and socially anxious did not make it easy to find girlfriends, or to work out how to find girlfriends (to this day, my few relationships have been either via dating websites or from the other person making the first move). During my time at school, I hardly spoke to girls, except a bit to my best friend’s girlfriend. In retrospect I wish I had, as looking back I see that there were intelligent, gentle girls in my year and even in my social group, and maybe my life would have gone differently if I’d just tried to talk to them, not necessarily to date, but just to get practise socialising with women, but I was too shy to really speak to them. I had a huge crush on one girl throughout my time in the sixth form (equivalent of high school, broadly), but was rarely able to speak to her and when I did, I think she was bored and embarrassed by me.

I did manage to build female platonic friendships at university, but that backfired when I asked one out. I was twenty, and it was the first time I had ever done that. She wasn’t interested and it ended badly.

I didn’t actually go on a date until I was twenty-seven. I’m now thirty-seven and still a virgin and unmarried. I don’t have any particular animus about the Jewish “no sex before marriage” rule, as I know that, emotionally, I couldn’t cope with casual sex anyway. I’m sure some people can, and chafe at the rule, but I know I can’t. I have just slowly begun another relationship, but there are reasons, that I won’t go into here, that mean that it will be years before we can get married, should we decide to do so, so I’m stuck with celibacy for now.

I can’t really put into words the huge amount of frustration, fascination, confusion, envy, guilt and even anger I feel around sex and celibacy. There is also fear, but I wrote about that on Hevria a number of years ago. (That’s aside from the worry that I have so much anxiety around sex that I’ll never be able to have a genuine healthy sexual relationship, even if I get married.) As a frum Jew, I’m not supposed to talk about it; as someone somewhat internet-savvy, I’m worried about being branded a misogynist “Incel” just for raising the topic. I’ve spoken about it in therapy quite a lot, and in more detail than I will go into here, but somehow I feel that I’ve never got to the bottom of it. I’ve barely spoken about it with my current therapist, even though I’ve been seeing her for over seven months. I don’t have the words. I’m not sure if that’s because of my upbringing or my issues.

From adolescence onwards, I’ve had a huge amount of guilt and shame around my sexual thoughts and feelings. For many years I tried to repress them and mostly failed. I’m not sure if it is really feasible to repress sexual thoughts and feelings long-term; it’s certainly not possible if one is at all engaged in hyper-sexualised Western society. Sometimes I can see why Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) Jews try to avoid Western society entirely, but I know that’s not my path.

One of the reasons I didn’t go to yeshiva (rabbinical seminary) between school and university as many people expected to was because of feelings of guilt around sex and the belief (which I now realise was completely mistaken) that I was the only frum or would-be frum teenage boy struggling with it. Admittedly there were half a dozen other reasons I didn’t go to yeshiva, but that decision had massive repercussions for the rest of my life, down to today, including why I feel so unmarriable in the frum community. I already had low self-esteem and a tendency to over-intellectualise things, and that and the added sexual guilt probably triggered an emotional downward spiral that fed in to my depression. It may not be coincidental (although it has only occurred to me writing this) that my first episode of depression followed about six months after the start of my first “real” crush (by which I mean the first one where I actively thought and fantasised about her all the time when she wasn’t around, rather than simply feeling vaguely anxious and attracted when I saw her).

Sometimes I feel that it’s eating away my insides. I feel that, at thirty-seven, I should not be desperate to have sex, and certainly I know it’s a bad idea to get married just to have sex. I wonder if I will ever be “ready,” emotionally. I can’t shake the feeling that middle aged sex (which is all that’s left for me) is dull and perfunctory and that if I was going to ever enjoy sex, it would have happened before now. I know this isn’t true, but it’s another lie the media perpetuates, and I can’t shake free of it.

Another thing I’ve never really got to the bottom of is whether I really want sex, or just (“just”?) intimacy. To be honest, I probably want both, and that’s probably healthy; I don’t think secular society, which says you can have healthy sex without intimacy, is particularly well-adjusted in that way. But if I absolutely had to choose, I think I would choose emotional intimacy over sex. I think that’s my absolute desire in many areas: marriage, yes, but also I want a few close friends (rather than many distant ones) and my conception of Heaven is an intimate closeness with God and perhaps with loved ones. But a successful, intimate marriage is the one I want most of all. Although I don’t feel myself particularly successful at achieving intimacy in those other areas either. I think I’m a very lonely person, and have been since my teens. Again, I can blame autism, depression and social anxiety, but I’m not sure how helpful that is.

I’m not sure what I want in writing this. I think a lot of it is about recognition. That I think I’m carrying some kind of burden by following Jewish law in this area, and especially doing it while more open to the sexualised Western culture than some parts of the community. I think it’s the best – or least worst – option for me right now, for a host of halakhic (Jewish legal), emotional and moral reasons, but it’s still a burden and one I hope I will put down one day, but fear that I will be carrying it for a long time. And somehow I want that acknowledged, which it isn’t, not by hyper-sexualised Western society or by the frum world, where most people are married by twenty-five. In some ways I don’t mind that many non-religious would not understand why I’m doing this, but I feel that I would like people in the frum community to understand the strain of long-term celibacy for “older singles,” beyond issues like loneliness, not fitting into the community etc. (not that those are particularly well-appreciated).

Actually, I’m not sure how much is recognition from society and how much is recognition by myself. That I really want to hear (ideally from God, but at least from someone frum who knows me well and who I respect) that I’m a good person, that I’ve done well in staying a virgin all these years, despite my failure to be 100% Torah observant in other areas of sexuality.

***

Today’s donuts: jam (very fresh) at volunteering.

Finding My Tribe, and People With Logical, But Annoyingly-Argued Views

I woke up in the middle of the night last night and struggled to get back to sleep. I think I’m still feeling overwhelmed, with some anxiety and depression that may be heading back to clinical levels with the winter and the persistence of COVID. I’m not settled into my new job, and I’m worried about my relationship with PIMOJ, and one or two other things, and there’s still COVID… Still, my devar Torah (Torah thought) this week was on God not letting us retire from life and have it easy when there is work to be done here in this world.

I didn’t do much at work. J took me with him when he went out in the morning; I’d love to say where we went, as it would strike you as unusual and perhaps a little Gothic, but I probably shouldn’t, for reasons of anonymity. The afternoon was largely spent trying to work out why Dropbox wasn’t working for either of us (on Monday it was just me who had a problem). I felt vaguely guilty about this, as my Dropbox stopped working first, despite knowing that I have no rational reason to feel guilty. Then J said we should leave early, I guess because there was little that we could do without Dropbox. I did at least speak to the helpdesk on the phone. Like many autistic and/or social anxious people, I hate the telephone and find it harder than any other form of interaction, so it was good that I made myself do that even if I didn’t get an answer.

Other than that, today I managed about half an hour of Torah study, which was a little disappointing, and finished off my devar Torah for the week. I find that during Chanukah (which started tonight) a large part of my evening is preparing and spent lighting “candles” (I use oil lights, although Mum uses candles, but we still call them candles for some reason), sitting around the candles with family and eating dinner near them (which is not obligatory, but is nice), so it eats into Torah time and relaxation time. Despite that, it is an oasis of calm when winter is beginning to bite. Tonight’s donut: jam.

***

It occurred to me that I’ve spent years trying to find my “tribe,” the way you see people write about finding their “tribe” (usually counter-cultural in some way, from LGBTQ to fandom to the Liberal Democrats). I’ve never found it. Over time I’ve tried and hoped that Orthodox Jews, Doctor Who fans, Oxonians, autistics or depressives might be my tribe, but none of them really are. I realised today I was hoping to find a group that was uniformly thoughtful, introspective and intelligent; probably also cultured and witty. None of them are that, obviously. It’s too much to ask one group to be all that. Maybe the point is to stop trying to find people who are like me, and to concentrate on finding people who can accept me. I’m not sure where to start, though.

***

My shul (synagogue) fees are going up. I’ve been paying full price even though I’ve been out of work for most of the last two years, and have only been working two days a week when I have been working. I’m not quite sure why I didn’t ask to have my fees reduced; maybe shame at admitting my employment situation. Now the fees have gone up and I feel I need to ask for a reduction, but I worry they’ll say, “But if you paid when you were unemployed, why can’t you pay when you’re working?” Also, the contact details if you want to talk about a reduction is phone number only. As I said, like many autistic people, I hate the telephone and find it harder than any other form of interaction and it’s making an awkward and difficult interaction much worse.

***

There ought to be a term for an argument that you feel is logically sound, but which you reject because of the pompous, sanctimonious way it’s put forward. I experienced this twice today. While on our work excursion, J had the radio on in the car and A Well-Known Talk Radio Host was talking ranting about Brexit. I am agnostic, if not downright confused, about Brexit these days. I think the economic and geopolitical arguments favour Remain, while the domestic political arguments (sovereignty) favours Leave, as well as the democratic need to see the referendum result through. So I am at least open to the idea that Brexit will cause major economic problems in three weeks’ time. But the Host seemed so self-righteous and gloating in his delivery that he really annoyed me, especially as I felt he was putting up so many straw men, he could open a scarecrow factory.

Then in the afternoon, I confess I was bored enough to look at Twitter on the way home, and George Takei (Mr Sulu from the original Star Trek) had tweeted that vaccine refusal is “not living up to the ideals of Star Trek.” I am completely in favour of vaccination. However, it seems a little ridiculous for an actor to use a TV show he used to be in as an argument in favour of what is an entirely medical decision. I’ve seen similar things in online Doctor Who fandom too, people with the wrong opinions being told that they are “against the ideals of the Doctor” or whatever. I’ve seen some debate online as to whether these people really derive their personal values and ethics from a TV show or if the programme just resonates with already-held beliefs. I hope it’s the latter, but I worry.

More Loneliness, and Writing Progress

I feel lonely again, and I feel “touch hungry” like crazy.  “Touch hunger” was a term I learnt from the sex therapist Talli Rosenbaum on the Intimate Judaism podcast, but I had felt the concept for a long time without knowing that there was a word for it.  It’s the feeling of wanting to be touched and held.  I feel that a lot at the moment.  I want someone to touch me romantically/sexually.  I can hug my parents, but it’s not the same, and I don’t always feel comfortable asking my parents for hugs; I’m not sure why (it’s not because of anything they’re doing).  My first girlfriend was the only person I’ve hugged in anything approaching a sexual way because E. and I had a long-distance relationship.  Even then, with my first girlfriend, it took me a long time to feel able to touch her because I wanted to keep Jewish law about not having physical contact before marriage and there was a lot of guilt in just hugging.  The whole experience was distinctly confusing emotionally, especially in terms of the way that relationship developed and the way it ultimately fell apart.  So there’s a lot of guilt, shame and confusion as well as loneliness, longing and despair around these feelings.

I’m thinking of E. today and wondering how our relationship fell apart so fast.  Was the initial attraction and the way it became very serious very quickly (we were speaking seriously about marriage) just infatuation?  Or would we have been OK if lockdown hadn’t been so difficult for her?  I guess I’ll never know.  Sometimes I wonder if I should have tried to stay with her for longer, until after lockdown, to see if things went back to normal, but I couldn’t cope with the psychological strain of the way she suddenly wanted the relationship to be.  It was as much a trust thing as anything else.  It does make me wonder if anyone could ever really love me, for more than a few months until the infatuation ended.  I don’t blame E. for what happened.  I just want to know if the situation could repeat in future relationships.  I want to know how I can trust anyone else.

***

I feel I haven’t said much that is new here in months.  Every day (except Shabbat/Saturday) I work on my novel, take exercise, do some Torah study or work on my weekly devar Torah (Torah thought), occasionally go to a shiur (religious class) on Zoom, go to therapy via Skype once a week, cook dinner or iron or do other chores a couple of times a week…  To be honest, the repetition doesn’t bother me so much (I guess there are advantages to being autistic after all), but I feel it must be dull to my readers and it’s no wonder I seem to get even fewer ‘likes’ than I did before lockdown.

Today’s repetition: I spent one and three-quarter hours on my novel.  I wrote 1,000 words and also edited a long fragment that I wrote almost exactly a year ago into the main body of the text.  It was the first bit of the novel that I wrote, when I was excited and just needed to get something down on paper even if it wasn’t starting from the beginning.  I reduced it from 4,000 words to 2,500, which makes me worry how much the entire book will shrink in redrafting.  I did cut a lot of unnecessary stuff though.  I slip into pretentious waffle if I’m not careful.

The writing was difficult, as I was challenging difficult thoughts and experiences from my past (particularly my further education job).  I was glad that I got through it without much procrastination, just fairly solid working.

It’s scary writing something so personal and which makes me so vulnerable.  The rest of the chapter is going to make me just as vulnerable and also risky in terms of content, especially from a frum (religious Orthodox Jewish) point of view.  There is certainly a risk with some of my writing in this book that people are going to be surprised that a frum person could write those things, still less apparently have experience of them.  I think some things need to be said, although it’s hard to judge what to say explicitly and what to leave unsaid sometimes.  I think I’m writing about things that lots of people sort-of know go on in the frum community, but prefer not to think about it.  If the book does get published, I could well end up hoping that not many people I know actually read it, or at least that they don’t tell me they’ve read it, otherwise there could be some awkward conversations.

***

By late afternoon, I was feeling depressed again.  I’m not sure if that was from writing or just generally.  I went for a thirty-five minute run, just managing to dodge the showers which helped a little.  I felt depressed and lonely while running, but tried to focus on getting through the day and not worrying about the future, as per my post yesterday.

I didn’t do much Torah study as I got an exercise migraine and had trouble shifting it.  I was OK for an hour or more after running, then I suddenly had a massive headache that stopped me from doing anything.  I ended up watching The Avengers (The Bird Who Knew Too Much) on the grounds that The Avengers is upbeat and requires relatively little concentration (this is the British 1960s espionage/science fiction TV series The Avengers, not the Marvel superhero films of the same name).  I did eventually manage about thirty minutes of Torah study in small bursts.

And now I should go to bed as it’s nearly 1am, but I don’t feel sleepy.  After I have a migraine, I end up feeling too tired to do much, but not actually sleepy and it’s hard to know what to do.

The Meaning of Life

I was still feeling very depressed when I woke up today.  I spent about an hour and a half working on my book, finishing one chapter, which I then split into two, as it was very long and had a natural breaking point.  I’ve written about 42,000 words so far, plus I have a fragment of about 4,000 words for the next chapter.  I’m aiming for 70,000 to 80,000 words overall, so I’m somewhat over halfway.  Maybe I will get a first draft finished by the end of the year after all.

I had therapy.  I was processing a lot of emotions that I felt uncomfortable with.  Feelings that triggered my inner critical voice and the guilt/shame emotions, feelings that I usually want to just repress rather than admit to and process.  I did at one point feel that I had to check that the therapist didn’t hate me for the things I was saying.  Despite that, I think it went well, but it was just draining and difficult.

I went for a walk afterwards and there were a lot more people out than I’ve seen for weeks, now that lockdown is partially lifted.  It was hard to socially distance (that should probably be “distance socially,” but that sounds weird).  I might start wearing a mask, although I’ve been dreading doing so for fears of autistic sensory discomfort.  Mum and Dad were brave and went to a National Trust site.  The buildings were closed, but they could go around the parks.  I’m glad they went despite the risk as Mum was glad to go out the house for something non-cancer-related.

I went to a Zoom shiur (religious class) at the London School of Jewish Studies (LSJS) in the evening, the first of three sessions.  I would not normally do that on a therapy day as I get very tired after therapy, but this was on the meaning of life and I’m struggling with finding meaning in life at the moment, so it seemed worth making the effort.  This week’s session was on whether life is meaningless (arguments for and against).  Strangely, there were a lot of people there I knew: a friend of my parents’; someone who used to volunteer with me at the asylum seekers drop-in centre; a library user from the first library I worked at; someone who used to go to my previous shul (synagogue); and someone who goes to the Wednesday shiur.  This did not prevent social anxiety; if anything, it worsened it.  I wish I did have the confidence to participate more at these shiurim.  I think I would get more out of them if I did.  Someone appeared to be Zooming in from their hospital bed, which showed dedication.

As often happens with shiurim at the LSJS, I can’t avoid the impression that if my life had gone to plan I could have been giving classes there or running the library or at least mixing in the same social circles as the people who do those things and certainly that I would want some of those things.  I want to be in a circle of like-minded people and friends, but I find it very hard to socialise at all, let alone direct my socialising purposefully towards meeting particular people.  The same goes for work: it’s hard enough finding a job, let alone building a particular career.  It’s another sign of my feelings of frustration with my life, that I haven’t achieved what people who go to Oxford usually achieve in terms of career and that I don’t mix with people with a similar outlook on life.

It was arguably a productive day overall, even if my emotions were up and down.  I find it hard to realise that, given my issues, I do have fairly productive days.  I just feel I should always be doing more.

“Sicklied o’er with the pale cast of thought”

Today was another day where I struggled to get going because of depression.  I spoke to my rabbi mentor just before lunch; afterwards I went shopping and took a long route home to get some exercise.  I had hoped to walk for half an hour, but it ended up being fifteen or twenty minutes because it was so cold and I didn’t have coat and gloves.

I did some Pesach cleaning and cooked dinner (bean burgers, which stuck together a bit better this time as I used an egg to bind them on my Mum’s suggestion).  Shopping plus walk plus cleaning the freezer plus cooking in rapid succession left me completely exhausted by dinner time.  I wanted to eat quickly and then work on the short story I’m writing and/or do some Torah study and preparation of divrei Torah (Torah thoughts) to say at the Pesach seder, but I felt too exhausted to do anything other than vegetate in front of the TV and try to get in a state where I felt well enough to Skype E. as arranged at 10pm.  I did about half an hour of Torah study, mostly after talking to E.  I wanted to do more, and to do seder preparation, but I was too exhausted and ran out of time (as it is I’m posting this long after my “No screens after 11pm” deadline).

***

I was watching Life on Mars, where Sam, Gene and Annie are being held hostage and discuss the moments of their lives that they want to relive if they die.  I realise I can’t really think of happy moments of my life, because I coloured all of them with guilt, embarrassment, shame, self-criticism or inadequacy of one kind or another.  When I passed my BA I was furious as I felt that I should have got a first; it took me a long time to accept that I was so depressed that passing at all was an achievement, let alone getting a 2.1.  When I passed my MA I was primarily relieved that my ordeal was over, although I think I felt a bit of happiness.  I graduated in absentia both times.  The BA would have been difficult, as Oxford graduations are generally on Saturdays, but I missed the MA graduation from social anxiety, autism and general annoyance at my university; probably from low self-esteem and desire to punish myself too.  In retrospect I regret that a bit.  I doubt I’ll ever graduate ‘properly’ from anything now.

***

This time of year is always a bit strange, the month between Purim and Pesach.  It’s spring at last, the world is waking up again and the days are getting longer and I get more energy and less of the seasonal aspect of my depression, but that extra time and energy gets spent on Pesach preparation rather than anything else, there is anxiety about Pesach (even without coronavirus and Mum’s cancer) and I have less time to spend on writing and exercise.  I don’t know if I’ll have time to go for a run this week or next week, even though I think I really need it.  Ditto for writing and for finding some divrei Torah for this week’s sedra (Torah reading) and for seder.

***

Stuff is feeding my religious OCD.  I saw something on the website of the umbrella organisation my shul (synagogue) is part of saying ideally I should not kasher my oven for Pesach, but have a dedicated Pesach oven in the garage (or wherever) for use at this time of year.  That would be nice, but it isn’t practical (for health and safety reasons).  The reality is that people in the shtetl (the Jewish towns and villages of Central and Eastern Europe in the pre-Holocaust era) didn’t have two ovens.  They kashered a lot more utensils used during the year for chametz (leaven) than we do nowadays.  Go back far enough and people didn’t have an oven in their house at all; the whole village went to the baker each day to bake their bread, or to bake their matzah at Pesach.

On the other hand, my rabbi mentor has given me some extremely lenient instructions about Pesach to prevent my OCD getting out of control, and I’m struggling to accept them.  I just feel like I’m doing something wrong.

Working on Myself, and On My Novel

As I’ve mentioned, we’re now into the Hebrew month of Elul, which is the introspection month before Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year) and Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement) in a few weeks’ time.  I’m signed up for a couple of daily ideas videos/talks for Elul and one idea that keeps coming up this year is the idea of mitzvot (commandments) that govern your relationship with yourself.

When I was growing up, I was always taught that there are two categories of mitzvot: those between me and God and those between me and other people.  An example of the former is eating only kosher food.  An example of the latter is not gossiping.  When I got older this idea of mitzvot between me and myself appeared, but I’ve rarely heard it dealt with until recently.  To be honest, this time last year I sat through a whole shiur (religious class) on this topic and still left wondering what an example of a mitzvah between me and myself is and how I can work on this area.

I know I do need to work on this area.  I know I have self-esteem issues, needless guilt issues and unnecessary shame.  I know that if I could accept myself more, I would feel more comfortable in my community and find it easier to make friends and to go to shul (synagogue) more often, so there would be wins in the categories of mitzvot between me and other people and between me and God too.  So it would be a win-win, but it’s hard to even begin to unravel what I should do, especially as I haven’t seen many people deal with it at length.  One article I found online suggested it’s about developing good character traits, but that’s still somewhat vague in terms of what the actual mitzvot concerned are.

***

I had my penultimate CBT session today.  My therapist suggested a couple of YouTube videos to watch about self-esteem and CBT.  I do wonder whether I will be able to continue using the techniques I was taught.  I feel as if I haven’t finished learning them all yet.  Still, I had some anxiety today and managed it better than I would have done in the past using techniques of grounding, postponing worry and putting things in perspective.  The therapist was enthusiastic about my volunteering in the museum, as it would give me an opportunity to practise talking to people in an environment where I am knowledgeable, so I guess I should try to pursue that, although it’s very scary.

One of the videos my therapist suggested I watch was a talk from Lizzie Velasquez, who is a woman with a rare genetic disorder (so rare only three people in the world are known to have it) that means she can’t put on weight (not “excessive weight” but any weight at all), which has obviously  affected her body shape and she was bullied a lot at school because of her appearance.  A video of her was put online by someone from her school claiming she was “The ugliest woman in the world” and was watched by nine million people, attracting all kinds of hateful comments, including people saying she should kill herself.  She was talking about how to take the negativity she has experienced and how she channelled it to push herself forward to achieve her goals in life.

I don’t always find “inspirational” stories that inspirational, but I found this quite inspiring.  I suppose I feel that if she isn’t letting herself be defined by her bullies, I don’t have to be defined by mine.  I do feel glad I was at school before social media, so I didn’t experience this kind of super-public online bullying.  The worst I had was when the school yearbook for GCSE (exams taken aged fifteen or sixteen) year, was banned by the teachers, which apparently was because the kids who wrote/edited it put in a lot of nasty stuff about myself and my friends, although I never found out what they said.

***

I read an article today by Howard Jacobson (having coincidentally just finished one of his novels yesterday) about finding his voice as a Jewish writer rather than trying to channel his literary heroes.  I feel that something similar has happened to me.  The books I read are mostly science fiction, murder mystery or nineteenth/early twentieth century classics.  I don’t have the type of logical, analytical mind to write a world-building science fiction novel or to plot a murder mystery story and, as Jacobson writes, trying to channel Dickens or Dostoyevsky isn’t really a sensible strategy these days.  I don’t read much contemporary literary fiction.  I did for a couple of years, when I was attending a book club, but I often struggled to engage with the books.  I thought it was me being an SF geek and not liking anything without a space ship, or at least a murder, but lately I’ve come to suspect that I often didn’t engage with the characters because there was no one like me, someone with mental health issues or from a religious Jewish background (I tended to connect more with stories set in religious cultures in other countries e.g. the devout Muslims in Afghanistan in Khaled Hosseini’s novels).  The breakthrough I’ve had just in the last few months is realising I can write stories about people like me, people with depression or high functioning autism, people caught on the fault-line between traditional Judaism and (post)modernity, people not sure where they fit in Western culture or outside it.  It’s quite exciting.

I spent about an hour working on my novel this evening – really too late in the day to achieve much, but I want to keep the momentum going.  I wrote a thousand words, which was good for (a) one hour and (b) 9.00pm.  I’m pleased with my progress so far, although it’s very early days still.

Fouled Up

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

***

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

***

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

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

***

I just hate myself and my life, really.

Am I a Disappointment?

Today was just awful.  I struggled to get up, struggled to stay awake on the train to work (I didn’t read at all, not Mishnah, not autism book and not fiction).  Then, when I got to work I discovered that I’ve made a mistake, potentially through all my work over the ten or so weeks I’ve been in this job.  I don’t know exactly how serious the mistake is.  I sent an email to apologise, but my boss is away until after my contract finishes.  The person standing in for her didn’t think it was so bad, but she wasn’t sure.  I started catastrophising and worried about them suing me to get my wages back or even my going to jail because the mistake involved potential infringement of GDPR regulations – if this sounds excessive, it’s worth noting that I have a history of pure O OCD fears that I’ve committed a crime without realising it and will go to jail, so that’s probably where that came from (Wikipedia has reassured me that a written warning is the most one would get for a first or accidental offence).

I spent the rest of the day struggling with this anxiety (some of which, as I say, was probably OCD), alongside despair, shame and self-loathing.  Years ago I went to a confidence class where I was told that everyone except brain surgeons and airline pilots has the right to make mistakes in their work, but I seem to do nothing but make mistakes.  Even this mistake came from over-compensating from previous mistakes, trying to avoid making them.  I’m seriously wondering if I should even be in the workforce at the moment, given that my depression-occluded concentration makes it so hard for me to avoid mistakes, even without struggling with depression and anxiety all day.  But I’m not sure what the alternative is.  I don’t qualify for benefits (or I didn’t last time I was assessed) and I don’t want to live off my parents.

I feel such a huge disappointment to everyone.  I was sure my boss regretted hiring me even before today.  I’m pretty certain my boss in my previous job came to regret hiring me.  She more or less told me that she didn’t think I could do my job, at least not the parts that involved interactions with staff and students.  I worry that I’m a disappointment to my parents too.  They say I’m not, but I can’t help but compare myself negatively with my (younger) sister, with a steadily-progressing career, a husband and now a house.  I wonder if I’m a disappointment to my religious community and rabbis.  It seems likely, as I don’t do the things a frum (religious) Jew should do.  I don’t know if I’m a disappointment to my friends.  They probably have minimal expectations for me, so don’t get disappointed, which is probably just as well.  But I feel like I’m a disappointment to everyone else I come into contact with.  I guess even this blog is a disappointment to anyone looking for genuine insight into mental illness, or anything other than self-absorbed navel-gazing, really.

“I Will Work Harder”

I worry that I may have lost a – well, friend is too strong a word, but friendly acquaintance – by owning up to my weaknesses/bad habits.  I nearly owned up to them publicly, or rather, I did, but then tried to retract what I said.  I have a pathological need for confession and absolution, and probably a desire to be hated by others as I hate myself by revealing my shortcomings.  This only applies online, though.  In person I can’t even admit to things that aren’t particularly shaming like my mental health or geekyness.

***

I feel like Boxer the horse from Animal Farm.  I beat myself up endlessly about my moral and religious failings and I keep telling myself “I must work harder” just as Boxer was always saying “I will work harder”.  But it never works.  Perhaps I work as hard, or harder, at my religious and moral life than most people (or most frum (religious) Jews), but the results are much less.  I try to judge myself based on my effort (which according to the Talmud is what God judges), but it’s hard.  I can’t accurately measure my own effort, let alone anyone else’s; I can measure outcomes.  I can see that I’m not going to shul (synagogue) as often as others, that I’m not studying Torah as much and so on.

So I try to work harder, but I can’t because I’m already at my emotional limit, if not beyond it (all that crying must signify something).  My rabbi said (at Ne’ilah on Yom Kippur, the holiest time of the year) that making resolutions to do more were pointless as they won’t work; we should be doing things better and smarter than before, using our existing routines and schedules in a better way to get more out of the year.  Don’t try to study an hour of Talmud each day when you get home exhausted, but use your half hour train journey to do it instead.  This is probably good advice, but I’m not sure where I have the free capacity at the moment to follow it.  I don’t know what I can actually change right now.

Indifferent Honest

In which I try to use religious ideas to support myself, but end up self-loathing again.

Today I am alternating between feeling wicked and incompetent.

I woke up early, at least for a Sunday and considering I went to bed so late last night.  For some reason when I woke up this morning I started thinking about a Midrash (ancient rabbinic expansion of the biblical story to interpret or explain it).  It runs like this (translation pasted with slight amendments from here; I don’t have the original):

“HaShem [God] tests tzaddikim [the righteous] whereas His soul despises those who are wicked and who love corruption.”  (Tehillim/Psalms 11:5)

“1) Rabbi Yonatan explains: a potter checking his pots (by tapping on their surface) doesn’t check faulty pots that would shatter after one tap, rather he checks strong pots that can survive even a number of knocks without shattering. So Hashem doesn’t test resha’im (wicked people) but tzaddikim (righteous people).

2) Rabbi Yosi ben Channina explains: When a flax dealer knows that his flax is superior, the more he beats it the more it thickens, whereas if his flax is inferior one beating causes it to split.

3) Rabbi Elazar explains: This is like a farmer who has two cows, one strong and one weak. To which does he attach the yoke, surely to the stronger one?”

– Bereishit Rabbah 32:3 and repeated with variations in 55:2

Three rabbis bring three different parables to explain why good people suffer in this world rather than wicked people.  In none of the parables does God benefit from the test, as He is perfect.  In the first case, the potter hits  his pots to show their strength to potential buyers, so he only hits the ones he knows won’t break.  This sees suffering as a way of demonstrating the strength of the person suffering to the world: God afflicts the righteous so other observers will see their strength of character in adversity.

In the second case, the flax dealer beats his good quality flax to improve it, but he doesn’t beat the inferior flat because it will have the opposite effect and make it worse quality.  From this point of view, suffering is to improve the person suffering.  God afflicts the righteous so that they will grow spiritual through their suffering and become better people as a result.

In the third parable, the farmer has a job that needs doing.  The suffering – the cow pulling the yoke – doesn’t actually benefit the person suffering either directly (parable two) or indirectly (parable one, where suffering made the virtues of the righteous obvious to the world whereas previously they were hidden and known only to HaShem).  It’s just something that needs doing.  From this point of view, God needs some suffering in this world as part of His plan for it; the reasons why aren’t dealt with in this parable.  It doesn’t directly benefit the righteous; God just knows that the wicked won’t be able to cope with it, but the righteous will, so of necessity He tests the righteous, not the wicked (and presumably rewards the righteous later although that isn’t stated here – see the discussion of “the sufferings of love” in Talmud Brachot which arguably deals with this issue).

I tried to apply some of this to me, but nothing seems to stick.  I don’t feel that depression and loneliness is making me stronger.  The opposite, really.  Maybe for a while it was making me stronger, but now I think it’s really holding me back.  Certainly most of my worst sins happen because of the depression, not despite it.  I don’t think it’s demonstrating my worth to others, because I hide my suffering and depression from most people and, anyway, I don’t know that there’s much to demonstrate.  And I don’t feel that I’m doing useful work ‘ploughing’ for God.  I don’t know.

I shouldn’t even say any of this.  I’m so wicked and evil, it isn’t surprising that I suffer.  Really everyone should hate me, but I hide my wickedness and trick people into liking me.

I wanted to write about why I hate myself so much and think I’m such a bad person, but I can’t bring myself to write about the thing I hate most about myself, the negative behaviour and acting out.  I wrote a bit yesterday, but then went back and deleted because I was too ashamed.  I don’t think I deserve to have friends and readers, but having got them, I’m scared of losing them.

What I will say is that I feel guilty that I have strong likes and dislikes about people.  Some people I just don’t like.  I don’t think I show that, but I feel bad about even feeling it.  Sometimes I feel like I’m judging people and although I try hard to see the best in people and find excuses for their bad behaviour, I feel bad that I have to do that consciously and not automatically.  Also, I don’t speak lashon hara (gossip, broadly speaking, although it’s a somewhat wider term than that) much, but I feel I shouldn’t speak it at all and I can feel guilty about that even for years afterwards.  I’m too short-tempered and sarcastic with my parents and sometimes in my head I say terrible things about people who annoy me.  I don’t meet my religious obligations as an Orthodox Jew: I don’t daven (pray) when I should or with a community or with concentration, I don’t do enough Torah study and there’s the fact I never went to yeshiva (rabbinical seminary)…  I’ve been going to Talmud shiur (class) at my shul (synagogue) for six months now, but I don’t understand it.  I would drop out, except that I’d be embarrassed to be the only one to do so.

And then there’s the one big, terrible, inexcusable thing that I can’t get around and which makes me feel everyone would be better off without me, that I’m such a liar and a hypocrite for doing this and trying to make people think I’m a good person and I don’t deserve to have friends and a community.  But I do want those things, so I’m keeping it quiet.

***

From wickedness to incompetence: I’ve been recording my budget/expenditure a particular way since I started university (eighteen years) and it’s worked fine, but in the last few months I’ve had a big discrepancy between what is actually in my bank account according to my statement and what my own records show and I can’t trace the discrepancy, no matter how hard I try.  The discrepancy was a surplus, but today turned into a deficit i.e. the surplus was being eroded and it seems to be self-correcting, as I suspected it would at some point.  I haven’t lost money and I’ve probably just missed something somewhere, but this does not help my feelings of being an idiot or at least not an adult.  I probably ought to run my bank accounts another way, but I’m not sure what would be easiest.  I used to be good at maths at school, but since leaving I’ve struggled with it and get vaguely panicked and confused by complicated calculations and big numbers, which is a self-confidence issue as much as anything: I can do mental arithmetic, but I don’t trust myself to do it correctly and double check myself.  It doesn’t help that my Dad is always getting me to open new savings accounts with different interest rates, which just confuses me (the current problem started when I opened one such account and I’m sure they’re related).

I shook at the barber again.  He noticed and asked if I was OK.  This also adds to the incompetent feeling, even though I know it’s just social anxiety and Not My Fault.  It also turns out I don’t just cry at work or when doing hitbodedut meditation, as I started crying at home while davening (praying).  I try not to beat myself up about that, as I think crying is healthy (even if crying in an open plan office probably isn’t), but it’s just another sign of the bad state I’m in.  My sister phoned to see how I am doing and asked if I’d found a new job yet for when my current contract ends in six weeks; I couldn’t tell her I’m just terrified and think I’m not actually capable of holding down a ‘proper’ job.  I honestly don’t know what to do about work, as I really don’t feel capable of working, but I know I will get even worse if I drop out of the labour market again and I know I won’t qualify for benefits.

Small Victory

I had a whole post in my head, but I didn’t want to post two big things in one day, plus I’m too tired to write at the moment.  I’ll see if I am willing/able to post it tomorrow.

However, I do want to note that, with a lot of effort and willpower, I avoided writing a manipulatively self-loathing and drama queening comment on this Hevria post (the one I referred to in my last post).  It’s a Pyrrhic victory, as I self-loathed and drama queened here instead, but it’s better here, where at least people know what they’re letting themselves in for, than there.  Although to be honest I think most regular writers and readers of Hevria know what to expect from me too by now.

I feel bad about the way my depression and self-loathing sometimes manipulates me into trying to manipulate others into feeding me compliments or agreeing with my self-loathing.  I think I really want the self-loathing support rather than the compliments, believe it or not.  I guess because then my depression makes sense, becomes a rational response to my freakish and wicked uselessness rather than a painful, but apparently random event, or, if not random, part of some divine plan too esoteric to be of any comfort to me.  If everyone agrees that I’m a useless freak, then my self-loathing and depression are justified and I might as well give up on trying to recover.  But if people think I’m a good person, a good writer, a good anything, then I have to decide if and how I’m going to play to my strengths.  But I’ve spent about seventeen years – half my life! – struggling with severe depression, loneliness and self-loathing, feeling that I just can’t escape the dark side of my psyche/soul.  So if people say that they can see good in me despite that, then I have a duty to myself and to others to somehow accentuate the good and ‘recover’.  But I don’t know how to ‘recover’ and other people tend to be short on useful advice.  So I’m left struggling by myself.

Ugh, sorry, this has turned into another long and incoherent post.  (There I go self-loathing again.)  It’s really just the second paragraph that’s the important bit.  The rest is just self-justification, really.  I should go back to watching Doctor Who, but Castrovalva just isn’t that good.

On Not Belonging to Clubs that Would Have Me as a Member

I feel exhausted, physically and emotionally.  The last two days have been difficult, and I have a stack of mostly boring chores to do during my thirteen days off (“holiday” if you like, but I’m not going away and probably not relaxing much, between depression and chores, although I intend to enjoy not having to get up around 6.30am).  I can’t go into all the details publicly, but here is what I can say.

I was over-stretched at work yesterday because three people were off sick out of a team of seven, so I spent five and a half hours (out of seven excluding lunch) on the issue desk to cover for them, which was very difficult.  I found it hard to concentrate on my other work: I tried to catalogue while on the issue desk, but it was difficult and cataloguing meant I was less aware of students coming up and asking questions or returning books, so I kept having to respond to coughs as they tried to attract my attention; eventually I gave up on cataloguing there.  I am still having difficulty with some requests and have to ask my colleagues for help or advice, which I feel bad about.  I feel I should be settled in the job by now.  I also tend to mis-hear requests or need to ask people to repeat what they said because I’m so socially anxious that I can’t concentrate on what they are asking at first, because I’m too busy thinking “Oh no, someone’s talking to me!  What should I do?”  I was upset by something unpleasant one student said (not about me, but it was still upsetting to hear), which I had better not repeat here.  One adult student said I’m friendly, though, which was nice and unexpected.

Yesterday was the last day of teaching, but I had a staff development day today before my holiday starts.  It was OK, not really worth talking about here.  We had an activity in the afternoon that has left me completely exhausted, not helped by disrupted sleep the last few nights.  I keep waking up in the middle of the night and when I look at the clock, no matter what time it is, I think I’ve overslept and then think maybe I haven’t overslept after all and can not remember what time I’m supposed to get up and what order the numbers come in.  This isn’t insomnia and it’s not exactly depressive ‘early waking’ either as I fall asleep afterwards.  I don’t know what it is, or if anyone else suffers from it.

I should probably cut this paragraph, because I don’t come out of it particularly well, but here goes: I just saw a post on Hevria that upset me, through no fault of its own.  They are really building up a community there and I feel excluded on multiple counts: because I don’t live in New York to take part in meetings, because I would be too socially anxious to go even if I did live in New York; because I’m not sure I can justify to myself donating the money they are asking for on my current income; and because I really wanted to write regularly for them at one point.  To be fair, Elad did say a while back that he would like me to write more regularly for them, but nowadays I don’t see myself as a Hevria writer.  I’m too depressed and depressing, not creative, radical, optimistic and spiritual.  Anyway, I’m a very bad writer.  And all my writing time (such as it is) goes on my Doctor Who book (which will never get published because it’s a saturated market and, as I said, I’m a very bad writer) or blogging, which is procrastination and venting, really, but necessary to get stuff out of my system and function, like sneezing (and about as literary).  Like this post, really, which is just a blatant attempt to fish for compliments (again).

Still, it upsets me to see this big club which I’ve never quite managed to join, even though I know a lot of the people involved are really nice and I would like to be friends with them, but they live on another continent and they wouldn’t want to know me if they met me in person, because I’m weird and boring and not creative, radical, spiritual, optimistic etc. etc. etc.  I do wish I had a community, though (I also wish someone would pay me for my writing, which is vulgar, but it’s about being valued as much as the money).  My shul is doing  a communal Friday night dinner in a few weeks and I know I should go, but I also know I will feel lonely and depressed because I will be practically the only single, childless person there (it’s billed as a family event) and will probably be too shy to talk all evening and maybe not even able to sit with anyone I like, so I’ve been procrastinating on paying for a space.  I feel such a freak sometimes always.

On a related note, various friends and relatives are trying to persuade me to go to a shadchan (matchmaker) after the one I contacted a few weeks ago did not get back to me.  I feel reluctant to, because the service it makes most sense for me to go to requires a monthly payment (it’s essentially a cross between the traditional shadchan and online dating) and because I’m a freak (I may have mentioned this before*) and not only do I feel unable to mention my Doctor Who geekery, yeshiva non-attendance, mental health issues (and their religious impact) and general religious struggles to a date, I don’t even feel I could mention them to the shadchan because I feel so ashamed of who I am and what I do.  But I don’t have any other way of meeting suitable women, so it’s either go or be single forever.  I do wonder if I’m too depressed to date, too lacking in energy, concentration and time.  I’ve been told energy and so on will come if I start dating, which doesn’t seem very likely.  I’ve also read that one shouldn’t date when very depressed, which would mean never dating in my case, as my non-depressed periods only last a couple of months;  just as I think I’ve “recovered” (whatever that means) and can think about moving on with my life, I start feeling depressed again.

I suppose I might as well admit that I’ve been having vague suicidal thoughts again.  I don’t want to kill myself, but sometimes I fantasise about doing so in an unrealistic way and a lot of the time I just wish that I wasn’t here.  There doesn’t seem to be very much going on in my life that makes me want to look forward to 2018, let alone 2020, 2030 or 2050 and, as I’ve said before, I don’t feel I have the usual religious get-out of reward in the next world, because I think I’ve sinned too much and that God just hates me.  I feel guilty about this as I know I have a few friends and family who would be upset and in any case, I don’t approve of suicide religiously, but I can’t really control where my mind goes (the reason CBT never worked for my depression) and trying to do so just provokes guilt for thinking of ‘forbidden’ thoughts.

This post sounds so adolescent, I can’t believe I’ll thirty-five next year.  I feel like a sixteen year old.  Actually, I wasn’t even this adolescent when I genuinely was a depressed sixteen year old.  Be that as it may, pizza and the start of Peter Davison’s time on Doctor Who beckons, if I can get the energy and motivation to daven Ma’ariv (say the evening prayers) and actually cook the pizza.

* Wasn’t I trying to stop the negative self-talk?  It’s very difficult, because it seems so true.

Sex, Love, Virginity and Fear of Missing Out

(My first scheduled post, I hope it posts OK.  Apologies if it hasn’t.)

I’ve noticed that, without really intending it, I’ve mentioned more than a few times here that I’m in my mid-thirties and a virgin.  It’s been on my mind a lot recently.  I think it comes out here because, outside of therapy, I don’t have anywhere to voice these thoughts.  I have never really been able to talk to my parents about sex and relationships.  I don’t really have friends that I feel comfortable talking to much about them either, certainly not to send them stuff like this out of the blue.  Actually, that’s not quite true, I talk to my non-biological sisters a bit about it, but then I feel embarrassed afterwards and wonder if I said too much and even then I don’t do it often.  Obviously I can’t talk about it at work, although sometimes I feel conscious that all my colleagues have at least one child, so they have all had sex at least once (let’s limit ourselves to the observable facts here, Watson.  And discount IVF for the moment).

I feel bad about mentioning it.  I feel I should be, somehow, above such things.  As a frum (religious) Jew, I’m supposed to think that sex is really good and important, but only in marriage and even in the context of marriage, one shouldn’t talk about it.  (It can be quite comical watching rabbis struggling with euphemisms when they have to talk about sex in sermons and drashas, although I still prefer such bowdlerisations to the stark vulgarity of postmodern slang.)  So within the frum community people are supposed to be having a lot of (marital) sex, but no one ever mentions it, even as the number of children ever multiplies.  And no one ever stops to talk about what the people who aren’t married should be doing (or shouldn’t be doing).

Beyond that… well, I’m probably somewhat autistic, so I’m not good at understanding and expressing interpersonal and emotional stuff at all.  So I can’t really understand what love and sex means to other people and I struggle to say what it means to me (hence this rambling post, as I try to understand what I think and express it somehow to you).  And I have mentioned that a lot of the fiction that resonated with me growing up implicitly celebrated celibacy: Tintin, Sherlock Holmes, the original Doctor Who (before Russell T. Davies and Steven Moffatt decided that the Doctor was a babe-magnet and that the original series was flawed for not featuring enough romance (I am actually worried about what incoming show-runner Chris Chibnall will do to the programme, given his track record, but that’s a subject for another time and another blog, when I’m ready to face the flame war).  Star Trek is an odd one, as Kirk was obviously a womaniser, but I was much more interested in Spock and later Data, both asexual (mostly).  I liked James Bond, but fast-forwarded through the sex until I got to about eighteen and realised I loathed everything about the character.

I doubt that this fiction messed me up emotionally.  More likely I looked (unconsciously) for heroes who also didn’t know what to say to girls and weren’t really interested anyway.  There was a reasonably big gap for me between hitting puberty physically and being emotionally interested in girls, about two or three years where I could have been dating but had no real interest in doing so.  That golden age eventually ended and I discovered that girls simply didn’t like me (actually I spent several years pining after them, but being too shy to ask them out, or really to talk to them at all), so asexual fiction became an escape from my intuition that I would be alone forever.

(I will add parenthetically that when Doctor Who came back in 2005 with a libido, those of us who felt uncomfortable with this were often branded online as emotionally-retarded freaks who couldn’t get girlfriends.  The fact that I already saw myself as an emotionally-retarded freak who had never had a girlfriend did not make me feel less ashamed or stigmatised.)

These days I think the fact that I can’t stop thinking about, and feeling vaguely ashamed of, being a thirty-something single virgin has less to do with sex, however.  To some extent, it’s about love, about wanting to love and be loved, to be accepted, and instead feeling ignored and forgotten by those around me.  But I think it’s largely about fear of missing out.  Feeling that being a single virgin makes me inadequate, proof that I’m a freak and emotionally disturbed and that no sensible woman would ever go near me.  Fear that I’m missing out on a world of adult pleasures both in terms of sex and love and the less-romantic things that follow on from that (home-building, child-rearing, being part of a community that tends to see single people as exceptions in need of help in conforming by being partnered up).

But also that sex comes to stand for various other pleasures and experiences that I have never had and probably never will have, because the depression, the social anxiety and the Asperger’s/autism get in the way.  This is a list of stuff that I’ve never done and in some cases would never want to do (usually because of the Asperger’s) but which many people in the Western world have done at least once and are considered highly enjoyable and/or meaningful (in no particular order):

  1. drunk alcohol (excluding kiddish wine, one or two sips of my parents’ drinks when I was a child and a shot of whisky I downed by mistake in kiddish once having mistaken it for grape juice);
  2. gone to a rock concert;
  3. really enjoyed a party, without having to go outside to escape at times (as an adult);
  4. had a friend who is close enough, emotionally and geographically, that we can just pop round to each others’ houses for a chat or tea;
  5. had a ‘peak experience’ (in Maslow’s terms);
  6. had an intense religious experience (not the borderline-psychotic experiences I had at university, where for a second or two I believed I was mashiach (the messiah);
  7. gone travelling by myself or with a friend/partner (not family);
  8. been able to meditate properly (I’ve tried.  I’ve managed a bit when the depression isn’t bad);
  9. flirted with someone (I’m only vaguely aware of what flirting is.  My therapist said I flirted with my ex a bit and I once ended up saying something that sounded more flirtatious than I intended to a girl I had a crush on at Oxford, so maybe that should be flirted successfully with someone);
  10. had someone flirt with me (my ex tried a few times, I think, but she came across too strong and explicit and used to scare me.  This was probably part of the reason she thought I was frigid);
  11. been kissed properly and enjoyed it (not what happened that felt more like abuse);
  12. exercised properly (I run a little bit, but can only run for a minute or two without dropping back into a walk, which worries me enough to make me wonder if I have undiagnosed physical health problems.  I haven’t done any real exercise since starting to work longer hours, though);
  13. talk meaningfully to a stranger;
  14. had a pet other than goldfish.  I mean a pet I can pet, like a cat or a rabbit;
  15. been loved romantically, properly;
  16. brought up children;
  17. been happy for a reasonably prolonged period rather than just vaguely content and not depressed (although I would settle for content and not depressed right now);
  18. really felt part of a community.

Some of these things are trivial; others are major parts of the human condition.  Some I suppose I may have experienced a bit (I did qualify several of them), but others, like sex, are totally unknown to me.  I feel like I’m missing out a big part of life and my virginity is emblematic of that.

I don’t know what to do about this.  By this stage I feel that I don’t know how to become a mentally-healthy person and never will know.  Which in turn means that no one could ever love me and I probably wouldn’t be capable of truly loving someone else.  My parents were encouraging me to go to another shadchan (matchmaker) after the one who didn’t get back to me recently, but I don’t feel much inclined to do so.  My Mum said, what if there is a woman out there who is perfect for me wondering if she will meet someone, but I doubt it and if she is there I doubt I could meet her anyway.  It seems easier just to give up and resign myself to being single forever.

I guess I better stop there, as writing this post has brought up a lot of difficult feelings that I had suppressed and did not understand for a long time and I actually feel very depressed, despairing, agitated and anxious (I think – alexithymia again) just thinking about these things.

Up and Down

I didn’t intend to write four posts in a little over twenty-four hours, but a couple of things happened that I wanted to get down before I forgot and the day has been a rush of emotions that I needed to get out of my system.  In no particular order:

  1. I was just looking through my diary for the past six weeks or so (or two months, if you want stretch it back to when I re-started work on 21 August).  A lot has happened.  I’ve actually achieved quite a bit in terms of some social things, as well as juggling work and Yom Tov (Jewish festivals).  No wonder I’m exhausted!  That actually makes me feel a bit more positive, knowing that I have achieved some things (maybe not big things for other people, but big for me with my depression, OCD, social anxiety and Asperger’s).
  2. I spoke to my parents the other day about dating and marriage.  I said that I’m not sure whether dating is a good thing or whether I am emotionally ready to marry yet, given my mental health.  My Dad said that he felt that if I could find someone who is a good match for me, it would be very good for my mental health.  I suppose having someone who is on my wavelength to talk to would be helpful.  It is hard to believe such a person exists, though, and that my tendency to self-sabotage and my social anxiety and gaucheness wouldn’t derail things.  I hope I am ready to give to someone as well as to receive (to be fair, when I was in a relationship, I gave a lot and got very little back, so that is hopeful).
  3. A lot of people from my shul (synagogue) have signed up for a big scheme to study four mishnayot a day.  It’s supposed to take about fifteen minutes a day.  I was tempted to join, but don’t think it’s a good idea for several reasons.  I’m struggling to do just one mishnah a day (admittedly that’s with quite a bit of commentary, but I think I wouldn’t understand a lot of the mishnayot without commentary); my rabbi mentor advised me to stick to one mishnah a day; and the group study is starting with a different seder (order: the Mishnah, the primary text of the Jewish Oral law, is divided into six sedarim or orders each dealing with a different topic.  They’re starting with the second order, Moed, dealing with festival laws, presumably because it is more relevant to daily Jewish life than the first order, Zeraim, dealing mostly with agricultural laws that haven’t been practised for nearly two thousand years, but that’s where I started).  Still, it’s a shame I can’t join, as some kind of external target might have given me an incentive to keep going and while I dislike broadcasting my religiosity, it probably wouldn’t be a bad thing to show my rabbi and my community I’m not a total am ha’aretz (ignoramus, but with the implication of also not being religiously observant) because they are probably wondering just how frum (religious) I am considering my patchy attendance at shul and total non-attendance at educational events.  Religious study is REALLY important in Orthodox Judaism, particularly for men.  It’s more important than prayer and is treated as if it is more important than most of the other commandments, including acts of kindness.  I’m really bad at it, so I feel that I’m a bad Jew, and that everyone else thinks that I’m a bad Jew.  So far as I can tell, 90% of the people reading this are non-Jews and sometimes I wonder why I can’t seem to connect with my co-religionists, online or in real life.  Do they all disdain me for not being frum enough?  Or is that the social anxiety speaking?  Maybe no one notices or cares about me.  Still, joining in with my community on something would have been nice, especially as I missed the educational event on Friday and I’m not sure I’m going to get to the oneg (Shabbat party) this Friday because of social anxity.
  4. Also, right now I really hate myself for reasons I’m not going to broadcast, but I feel a lousy human being.  I’ve never read the nineteenth century Jewish mystic, Rabbi Tzaddok HaKohen of Lublin, but I’ve seen him quoted as saying, “Sometimes a person will face a test which is so great that it is impossible for him not to sin; it is as the Sages said, ‘What could the boy do, to avoid sinning?’”  It occurs to me that if this is true, then a person can be caught doing something he can’t avoid, but feeling intensely guilty afterwards anyway.  This is a hard test.
  5. Trying to watch Blade Runner, but I can’t really concentrate on it.  Doctor Who and Dad’s Army are more my level at the moment, in terms of concentration level, lighter tone and also coming in short doses (25-30 minutes rather than nearly 2 hours).  Not sure if I’m going to bother going to the cinema to see the sequel this week, might just get the DVD and watch it in bits, which is what I suspect I will do with the first film.  A pity, as I would like to use those free cinema tickets and test how I react to the cinema from an Asperger’s point of view.
  6. I just interrupted the film to check my blog reader.  I’m not sure why; call it depressive poor concentration.  There’s a blog post from someone whose blog I follow with similar problems to me, except more of them and worse.  She’s currently in hospital and suicidal after being sexually abused during a previous hospital stay.  I get angry with God over things like this.  I get frustrated enough over my own issues, but why does a pleasant and intelligent young woman with everything to live for have to get treated like this until she wants to die?  From her blog post and her Twitter feed, she sounds seriously suicidal and I’m very concerned for her.  It makes no sense to me and makes me furious with Him.

The Four Horsemen of the Self-Destructive Apocalypse

Tiring day.  I had some bad news this morning (my sister’s future grandmother-in-law died), but it was fairly distant from me (I never met her) and I wasn’t desolated.  I also had some good news, being invited out for dinner on second night Sukkot (this Thursday), going to the people I was supposed to go to on Rosh Hashanah, before I got ill.

But the day was just tiring.  I struggled at work, cataloguing some difficult books and while I managed to offset the difficult ones with some easy ones to get through a reasonable amount, I gave up some of my lunch break because I thought I had been wasting time.  I need to have some familiarity with our stock to help students find books and to know which new ones to buy.  I also need to skim over books to catalogue them.  However, being an avid reader with a wide range of interests, it’s easy to get caught up in a book (fiction or non-fiction) and I tell myself off if I think I’m reading for too long.  As “too long” is entirely subjective, this is another opportunity for self-loathing, blame, shame and guilt, who I suppose are the Four Horsemen of the Self-Destructive Apocalypse (not that that’s a Jewish belief).

On the Tube home I sat opposite a beautiful, heavily pregnant woman (who looked a bit like Freema Agyeman from Doctor Who) and her husband.  I sat there, trying not to stare at them, feeling envious.  This is what I want: spouse, children, love.  Of course, the Four Horsemen ride in immediately.  I said this year would be different.  This year, I would stop envying others their lives.  This year I would accept HaShem’s (God’s) plan for me.  If He says jump, I say, “How high?”  If He says, “You will be lonely forever,” I say, “You know best.”  But I can’t do it.  I just can’t do it.  I want to be happy too much, I want to be loved too much.

“being a good kissing carrion”

Warning: this is going to be another miscellaneous post that blatantly ignores the classical unities by ranging over various places and dealing with various themes (admitedly all loosely connected with my mental health).  It does mostly stick to the last twenty-four hours, though.  One out of three ain’t bad.

I have been quite depressed again all day, but some unusual things happened at work that are worth recording, for my own records if nothing else.  I struggled to get up again and yet again had to skip most of Shacharit (morning prayers) to get to work on time.  I prayed a tiny bit in the flat and a tiny bit more off by heart while walking to the station. I felt quite down all day and intermittently wanted to just crawl into bed and give up.  (Fortunately I don’t have a bed at work, otherwise I might have got into it.)  I cried at work again.  I wouldn’t mind, but my glasses get tear-spattered even though I don’t produce that many tears and it gets hard to see out of them.

I had a Conversation with my boss.  She asked me how I was getting on with the longer hours and I surprised myself when, for the second time this week (the first being my conversation with the rabbi on Saturday night) I avoid the temptation to say “Fine” and actually admitted to having a problem.  I said my mood has been down since the summer and it hasn’t gone back to normal yet.  I could have said more, but I didn’t have enough courage.  It was a start.  My boss said that I should talk to her if I need to (I think in a practical, “I’m not coping, what can we do about work stress?” way rather than a more “shoulder to cry on” way), which was good.  Unfortunately, at that moment the phone rang and as I was due to take over on the issue desk, I couldn’t wait until she finished the call (which seemed to be too personal for me to be in the room at the same time anyway).  She did later ask if I’m still in therapy and mentioned that she wants to have weekly one-to-one meetings.  I think the latter is more a result of the new job she has given me (see below) than my mental health, but hopefully I’ll have a better idea of how I’m doing.

The new job is to select and purchase new books for the library, alongside clearing out old stock that is either falling to pieces or out of date (obviously books date at different rates in different subjects.  A computer science book from ten years ago is worthless, while an English literature book from the same time may still be very valuable).  I felt quite socially anxious while we were having this conversation.  I could feel my eyelid twitching again, as it has been on and off all day, and I was feeling overwhelmed with anxious and obsessive thoughts (pure O) and had to struggle to concentrate.  At one point I felt that I was about to have a panic attack, although I did not.  I hope I took everything in.  I also hope that this apparent upsurge in the social anxiety is merely a product of taking more notice of it to try and deal with it and not a genuine worsening of the situation.

It didn’t help that a couple of the books I was reading this afternoon triggered difficult feelings in me.  One was a book on diversity and prejudice that failed to mention antisemitism in the index or contents page; Judaism got a couple of mentions in the index, but that turned out to be only in the context of either “The Nazis persecuted lots of people, such as Jews, homosexuals etc.” or accusing Judaism of being discriminatory towards homosexuals and the disabled.  The author said that religious discrimination probably doesn’t exist in America, except for Muslims.  This despite Jews reporting experiencing more hate crime than any other religious group in the US (it was an American book).  From his name, I think the author is an assimilated Jew (the worst antisemites are all Jews).  So that triggered a lot of my politically-minded anger, which I usually try to repress (hence the lack of politics on this blog).

The other trigger was more personal.  I was cataloguing a book on dealing with difficult children in a pre-school childcare situation e.g. kindergarden.  It reminded me of my experiences as a child, that the children who act out end up getting more attention than the “good” children, although to be fair I think the author was trying hard to avoid rewarding bad behaviour with attention.  This in turn reminded me of a story my rabbi told a while back, about a teenager called Tzvi who was dared by his friends to make a prank call on Rabbi Moshe Feinstein, probably the leading Orthodox halakhicist (Jewish legal expert) of the twentieth century.  Despite the fact that the prank call occured after midnight (the young man had got the rabbi out of bed for what he said was a life or death question, which was actually something deliberately inane), Rav Moshe Feinstein sensed the disaffection in the young man and rather than slamming the phone down on him and going back to bed, he spent an hour studying Talmud with Tzvi to prepare the teenager for his next school class, even telling him a kasha (a question or difficulty, usually a logical inconsistency found in an earlier text) he had on a comment in Tosafot (one of the main Medieval commentaries on the Talmud) that he had never put in his books so that Tzvi could impress his teacher the next day, thereby showing him that studying Talmud could be more enjoyable than making prank phone calls.  Tzvi is apparently now a Rosh Yeshiva (head of a religious seminary and about the most prestigious job in the Orthodox Jewish community).  I thought, when I first heard this story, that if I had been at that school, I would have struggled through Talmud class without ever being disaffected enough to make rebellious prank calls and have a chevruta (paired study session) with a great rabbi to teach me how to learn and fill me with enthusiasm for the Talmud.

I shouldn’t sound too put out, as I got enough attention to get to Oxford, but I do feel that I was left to my own devices a bit at home and at school growing up and no one really noticed how badly I was doing emotionally, least of all myself.  My Mum made a couple of efforts to get me to counselling, but she didn’t really convince me that I should go and I never went.  I did go to counselling when I was sixteen and having my first episode of depression, but I sat in silence for four sessions and then gave up, although I remember the counsellor trying to dissuade me and saying that she thought I really needed help.  I wasn’t really ready to talk, mostly because I wasn’t sufficiently aware of my emotions to actually be able to talk.  I remember the counsellor asked something about my sexuality and I literally didn’t know what to say.  I knew I had a massive crush on a girl who barely registered my existence and probably didn’t like me much, but I couldn’t put that into words, let alone describe my loneliness and the confusion, guilt and shame that my desires instilled in me.

I spent a chunk of my lunch break today working on my Doctor Who book at the office.  I’m not sure how ethical that is, but it actually refreshed me more than just eating my sandwich and reading would have done.  I definitely think I need more intellectual stimulation of some kind, although how I fit it in with all the other things I should be doing/want to do is another question.  The book itself is proceding too slowly and sporadically to be that intellectual stimulation in a consistent way.  I am basically working my way through fifty-plus years of episodes finding new ideas to fit into what are essentially fourteen existing chapters (originally blog posts on my other blog) with another chapter to be written from scratch (more chapters if the book takes long enough that they make a lot more episodes!).  I need something more rewarding than my current life, although depressive anhedonia (inability to feel pleasure) might prevent that.  Certainly it prevents me enjoying my religious life, as I have noted in the past.  Currently I feel like today’s Dilbert cartoon.

The other thing I might enjoy is dating.  I am still not sure whether I should be thinking of dating again soon.  One of my non-biological older sisters remarked to me recently that more interesting and rounded people find it harder to find a soul-mate corresponding to them.  I suppose that makes sense, but I know interesting people who got married at a young age and while my arrogance and tendency to solipsism half-convince me at times that I have a more fascinating and complex inner life than most people, I don’t seriously believe that that is the case.  (It would be nice, though, but also isolating.  Reminds me of this xkcd cartoon.)

I went round to my ex-date’s flat for a few minutes to give her a present to say thank you for Shabbat lunch the other week.  When I got there, someone else was there, another friend of my sister who I was once vaguely interested in only to quickly pick up the vibe that she wasn’t interested in me (not that I asked her out or even flirted, I’m not that brave).  I was surprised that she even remembered who I am.  I felt bad that my Mum had given me a lift because I don’t drive and that she saw me going to my Mum’s car and getting in on the passenger side.  (I don’t normally ask for lifts from my parents, but occasionally necessity forces me to do so.  The not driving, incidentally, is probably another anxiety I ought to confront at some point.)  Sometimes I wonder if everyone is laughing at me when my back is turned, or if they just secretly can’t stand me.  I think I’d prefer being laughed at.  I’m not sure if either is better than the most probable reality, which is simply that I’m ignored and no one actually thinks of me at all when I’m not around.  No wonder I turn to solipsism, at least if I’m the only person in the universe I can be sure exists I matter in some way.

Shame

I watched an interesting TED talk by one of the great influences on my thought, Rabbi Lord Sacks.   Most of the talk is not relevant to this blog (although it’s definitely worth watching), but two things stood out to me.  One was where he mentions the best decision of  his life, meeting and eventually marrying a woman who was nothing like him: someone joyous and friendly when he was a self-obsessed young philosophy student.  My thought here was, “Why can’t something like that happen to me?”  I know I’d love to meet a frum woman who is joyous, friendly, gentle and kind who, for some strange reason, likes me.  I can’t imagine it happening.  I try to work on myself, to be more confident, friendly, outgoing and happy, but it doesn’t seem to help, as shown by my recent date dumping me apparently in part because I lack self-confidence.  I hope today to start work proper on the social anxiety CBT book I dug out a while back, but I’m not confident of it helping.

The other point, less wistful, is where he talks about the culture of the self and suggests replacing the self with the other, literally doing a “find and replace” in our minds and changing phrases like ‘self-worth’ and ‘self-esteem’ to ‘other-worth’ and ‘other-esteem’.  This is something I think about, because in recent years I’ve got into Jewish religious existentialist thinkers a bit and there the emphasis is on the redemption of solitude through helping the other.  The problem is that I’m very bad at this.  I try to be a good friend to my friends who are going through depression and other tough times, but there is a limit to how much I can do given that I am not a trained counsellor or therapist.  I just try to remember to email sometimes and to respond to their emails.  I’m too shy to really get involved in voluntary work or anything like that.  I wanted to get more involved in my depression support group, but because of pressure of work in my new job, I don’t have the time or energy to go very often any more and that pressure is only going to increase next term when I work four days a week.  I’d like to think I am reaching out to people and helping them with my blog, but deep down I know I do it only because I need release from all the words in my head, and maybe for the likes.

In any case, I’m not sure how sensible it is for me to replace ‘self-esteem’ with ‘other-esteem’.  I think my problem is I perhaps esteem others too much and certainly esteem myself too little.  I don’t trust my judgment on anything, but I find it hard to disagree with others, even if deep down I know they’re wrong.  I find it hard to stand out from the crowd.  As I said, I just got dumped apparently in part because my date thought I was “frightened” of her, frightened of disagreeing with her more than some abstract fear.  And she was probably right.

More than that, I feel actually ashamed of myself much of the time, at least when I’m in company.  Ashamed of my political views and perhaps occasionally of my religious views (where I am more ‘modern’ than my shul).  Ashamed of my hobbies and interests, which seem childish and a waste of time that would be better spent in prayer, Torah study and good deeds (from a religious point of view) or more cultured pursuits (from a secular one).  Ashamed of wasting what little creativity I have and also ashamed of wasting my time on it when I do devote some time to it.  That is why it’s safer to be in solitude, despite the loneliness this entails.  This is why I didn’t hang out with my peers in adolescence or at university.  This is why I can’t open up to people and make friends or find a partner.