Victimhood

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

***

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

***

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

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

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Progress and Burn Out

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

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

***

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

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

***

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

***

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

***

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

***

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

***

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

Insomniac Thoughts

I couldn’t sleep again last night.  This seems to be happening to me more and more frequently, which may be a sign of worsening depression.  I was very anxious and depressed at work again, blaming myself for mistakes, real and imagined.  I somehow got through the morning.  The afternoon was easier from a mental health point of view; eating really does help my mood and I wonder if I should eat more for breakfast, although that sounds quite crazy.   I eat a bowl of porridge and try to eat a banana mid-morning for a boost.  I’m not quite sure what else I could eat that early and without finding significantly more time.

The afternoon, as I said, was easier from a mental health point of view, but it was still  hard.  I was emailing departmental administrators for various departments in the university and in other local universities and art schools to try to publicise an event we (our part of the library) are running in two weeks time.  I’m not good at this kind of thing.  I was just glad it was emailing and not phoning.  I was exhausted by the end of the day.  I intended to walk home from the station, but I suddenly realised as I got there that I was too tired and I had to phone my Dad for a lift.  I hate doing that – I hate having to give up my independence and I dislike missing the exercise, but I would not have made it home easily.

***

I felt bad about bickering with my Dad again when I got home.  I read a blog written by a career for a child with severe autism.  He often comes out of school grumpy from having had to mask his autism all day.  My autism isn’t so severe, but it is an effort to mask it all day, plus I’m masking depression and social anxiety too.  When I get home, the last thing I need is Dad doing his neurotypical talking act: making small talk and talking about people I don’t know and who don’t interest me; rambling from one topic to another; and using words incorrectly and asking questions he knows the answers to just to keep the conversation going and I become irritable and sarcastic.  By that stage, I just don’t have the energy to feign an interest.  I feel bad about this, but I don’t know what I can do.

***

When I couldn’t sleep last night I had a number of thoughts in my head, although I’m not sure if I couldn’t sleep because of my thoughts, or if I was thinking because I couldn’t sleep.

Thought 1: my Mum forwarded me an email yesterday from a Jewish advertising mailing list.  A magazine (it didn’t say which one) is looking for a part-time writer to cover national and international news with excellent writing and analysis skills as well as clear understanding of the UK Jewish community.  The job is partly based at home, partly in an office.  I’m not entirely sure where this job is heading, but I might as well apply for it, even though I have always insisted (and still do insist, really) that my writing talents don’t really lend themselves to journalism and even though I fear that the office is open-plan and therefore bad for autism.

***

Thought 2: in a moment of weakness yesterday I reactivated my account on a big Jewish dating website.  I only did it for a few minutes.  I just wanted to get some idea of how many Jewish women roughly my age and religious level there were in the UK.  I didn’t actually look at that because the home page shows you people in your area (not sure if that’s London or the whole of the UK – it’s an international site and the Anglo-Jewish community isn’t that large) who have recently joined and I recognised someone as the daughter of friends of my parents.  My Mum tried to set me up with this woman a while back, on the grounds that she was frum (religious) and had had mental health issues.  However, at the time she was dating someone else.  That has obviously now fallen through.

I would still be open to going out with her and I looked at her profile and there are definitely some points of commonality, but I was too terrified to do anything and suspended my account again.  I probably wouldn’t rejoin the site anyway, as it was rather a waste of money, but I might have asked Mum to try and set us up again if I wasn’t so depressed and feeling inadequate for being out of a job in two weeks time.  Just to make it harder to justify trying to meet her, she had put on her profile that she has a professional job and seeks someone else with a career.  On a non-Jewish dating site, I would read that as “no lazy layabouts” but on a frum Jewish site it’s as likely to mean “no frummies who want to spend all their time learning in yeshiva/kollel (rabbinical seminary) and being supported by their wives/in-laws/state benefits.”

I feel vaguely optimistic about this when really I shouldn’t considering I have never spoken to this woman, may never see her again, and have no idea if she would like me or have much in common with me.  I’m not optimistic enough to try to meet her, though, as I would rather beat myself up endlessly for being underemployed and soon to be unemployed.

***

Thought 3: a friend is going through a difficult breakup.  I suddenly realised that I’m going through the same feelings of desire and anger with God.  That’s probably not exactly true, but it sums things up better than that awful phrase “a crisis of faith.”  I don’t have trouble believing God exists, I have trouble believing He doesn’t want to hurt me because of how my life has been for the last twenty years.  And yet I want this relationship to work, somehow.  I want Him to take me back.

On that note, Shiur (religious class) was good today, although I’m not sure whether I can remember what was discussed in enough detail to really reflect on it, let alone internalise it.  Plus there were the usual social grey areas that I struggled with.  For example, the assistant rabbi said that realistically many people need to watch TV to unwind, however one should do it only to refresh oneself and only “appropriate” material.  I wonder how my viewing habits would be seen to fit with this.  Possibly not very much.  I’m trying to psyche myself up to dressing up (cosplaying, if you want) as the fourth Doctor on Purim next week, but I’m not sure that I’ve got the courage to risk comments.  Not even negative comments, just any comments.  (Plus, as cosplaying goes, it’s not very accurate; I’ve got an accurate fourth Doctor scarf a friend knitted, but the rest would Doctorish clothes, a Doctorish silhouette if you like, but not exactly like what Tom Baker actually wore, but I don’t think anyone there will notice that.)

Drawing Lines

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

***

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

Depressive Thoughts

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

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

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

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

***

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

***

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

***

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

***

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

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

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

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

***

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

***

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

People Can Be Draining

My mental health group was difficult again today.  There was a lot of talking, including small talk (which I struggle with) before the session and a lot of loud participation during the session, which is good, but still difficult for me when it is so loud (because of autistic sensory overload issues), especially with a lot of interrupting and going off at a tangent away from the point.  I did actually say at the end that I was feeling very overloaded from all the noise and someone else complained that we aren’t getting through the material.

I knew most of the material today anyway, as it was basic CBT stuff and material about the fight or flight response.  But I feel I should go as it’s free and someone else could have had the place if I don’t go – except that’s not quite true, as I only got on the course at the last minute as someone else cancelled, and the course is over-subscribed anyway, that’s part of the reason it’s so noisy.  Still, I don’t like to turn things down in case they help and because it seems arrogant to say that I know everything already and because people say you aren’t trying to get better if you don’t try anything, but I am worried that I’m not going to get anything out of the rest of this class.  I got a little bit out of the previous one, not a huge amount, but what I did pick up was helpful, so I’m still hoping I’ll get something out of this, but who knows?  I do know a lot about depression after seventeen years, from my experience and from my reading and therapy.

***

Since getting home from the group, I’ve been exhausted and trying to recuperate.  It didn’t help that I was up late last night working on my writing and did not have a refreshing sleep, which was probably a mistake after a day at work.  I started to listen to a very long (hour and a half) online shiur (religious class) on Jewish medical ethics regarding mental illness and mitzvot (religious commandments).  To be honest, this was probably not recuperating, but I didn’t want to waste the afternoon.  I am very bad at giving myself time off when I need it for mental health/autism reasons which is probably self-defeating in the long run.  The shiur was interesting, but I could not concentrate for all of it in one go.  Also, it has not left me much clearer about what I should be doing practically; a lot of it was about extreme cases, not chronic lower level issues, while high functioning autism is another issue again and was not covered (although some of the shiur was probably relevant to severe autism).

***

I do feel exhausted still, from this morning and from the shiur, not helped by a difficult  conversation I just had that I can’t go into here, but it’s hard when one feels misunderstood and drained by those around you.  I struggle with one particular interaction.  I don’t know if it’s autism or depression or just me being a Bad Person, but long-term readers of this blog will know that I often jump to “I’m a Bad Person” which is not terribly helpful.  Anyway, I’m going to turn my computer off, have dinner and try to get an early night.

Pensées

My mood was rather better today than it has been recently.  It felt a bit like my emotional ‘crash’ at work on Tuesday has helped me to get some things off my chest and now I feel I can work more confidently.  This is doubly so as my line manager was very pleased with my work today, including some where I was using quite a bit of initiative, so it’s good that she has seen what I’m capable of.  I did have some slight OCD anxiety about locking up the office and the rare books which I’m going to have to monitor to make sure it doesn’t get out of control.

I did manage to use an affirmation to try and fight my negative thoughts at work, including the OCD anxiety, which I don’t usually manage to do.  I’ve tried positive affirmations before (“I am a good person” etc.) without much success, as I don’t believe them, but at well-being group yesterday they gave us a long list of possible affirmations, a couple of which seemed to me to be more realistic.  I’ve opted for “My thoughts aren’t always my friends” to be used when depression, self-loathing, guilt or anxiety (including OCD anxiety) are threatening to get out of control.  I will see how I get on with this.  I think the actual affirmation was supposed to be “My mind is not always my friend” but I unconsciously changed it.  I think my version is better, because it’s less self-critical (talking about bad thoughts rather than my mind/self being wrong).

***

I saw the doctor this morning and we discussed why I felt so bad on Tuesday.  To be honest, I’m not sure what the trigger was, but it may have been going out for dinner with a large crowd of people I didn’t really know on Friday, plus trying to go to the shul (synagogue) meeting on Sunday and not making it, plus my parents being out on Monday evening and my mind spiralling downwards as sometimes happens when I’m alone.  We discussed ways to prevent this in future and I’m already thinking about how to avoid similar slumps after social engagements in the next few weeks.  I mentioned this to my parents, introducing them to the “spoon theory” of mentally ill/autistic energy levels; they seemed receptive.

***

As a result of the meeting I missed on Sunday, I’ve now found out about the six principles of my shul (synagogue).  They’re not really unexpected or controversial (fortunately), so I don’t feel that I’m in completely the wrong place, but two of them are about family, which makes me feel a bit… not unwelcome, but out of place.  But I think that would be the case wherever I went in the frum (religious Orthodox Jewish) world.  It’s a very family-centred religion.

***

I’m slowly inching towards writing the book about Judaism for non-Jews and non-religious Jews.  I’ve just started brainstorming a few ideas and I have some idea of what the structure will look like.  After my well-being course finishes next week, I’m hoping to spend some time writing on days when I don’t work.  That way I can think of myself as working partly in a library and partly in trying to become a semi-professional writer.  I will probably do some job hunting too, although my line manager hinted on Tuesday that she’s hoping to extend my contract past March if the money is available (“if the money is available” – the mantra of all libraries and universities).  I want to make progress with my Doctor Who book, but as I’m doing research and writing at the same time, my work won’t be continuous, as periodically I will write up all my notes and be waiting to do more research.  I hope to make progress with the Jewish book then (although that will also involve a mixture of researching and writing).

I’m less worried about the book being banned now.  I think that was the social anxiety speaking.  I still think I’m going to say stuff that would not be considered 100% OK in my community, I just don’t think anyone is going to notice or care (not noticing is quite likely; not caring less likely).  After all, no one in my shul is realistically part of the target audience.  I do need to talk to my rabbi mentor about what Torah I can write in a book for non-Jews, as technically non-Jews are supposed to learn Torah (except the first eleven chapters of Bereshit/Genesis and the whole of Iyov/Job), but I’ve raised the subject with him beforehand in the context of writing Torah on my blog and he didn’t think it was a problem (I just found the email where he told me, “We are required to be ambassadors to non-Jews, especially in today’s world where there is so much distorted
information out there… You MUST continue feeding informative and positive information to your friend, and others…”).

***

Yesterday I said I would consider dating if my contract gets renewed after March.  Today I found myself wondering if I need to wait that long.  The game-changer was realising that I actually need to date for quite a while to find out if a person is right for me and that the frum “dating for marriage in eight weeks” model of dating just won’t work for someone with so many issues and such poor people skills, not to mention such little dating experience and difficulty understanding his own feelings and emotional needs.  I need to date for many months to be sure my date can cope with me and that I can cope with her and to ease myself back into the idea of being in a relationship with someone else (bear in mind that in thirty-five years, my total time in a relationship amounts to about one year).

So, I don’t think I will be going to frum matchmakers just yet, but the dating service I linked to yesterday is, I think, for more ‘modern’ people and might be a way to meet someone who can cope with me and is on a compatible values level, which would include some basic religious compatibility (as religious observance is one of my core values, along with integrity).  I don’t think my wife would have to be as religious as me, as long as she kept what are sometimes thought of as the core mitzvot (commandments) of Jewish home life: Shabbat (the Sabbath), kashrut (the dietary laws) and niddah (the rules about when a couple can have sex), at least in a basic way.  While it’s tempting to fantasise about marrying a really shtark (super-frum) woman, it’s debatable whether I could actually cope with living with such a person even if I wasn’t mentally ill; it’s certainly unlikely she could cope with someone whose religious life is as impaired as mine necessarily is, not to mention issues about television, involvement in wider culture, my having non-Jewish and female friends etc.

I discussed dating with a friend who also has depression and autism recently.  She thinks it’s unfair that people say “If you aren’t happy single, you won’t be happy in a relationship” on the grounds that Maslow’s hierarchy of needs has love, sex and emotional security as fairly basic needs.  She thinks that most people in relationships would be pretty miserable if you separated them from their partners.  I can see her point.  I think I do still need to do a lot of work to be happy, and I probably never will be 100% happy, but I think it’s worth seeing if someone can accept me as I am as long as I don’t see her as the sole source of my happiness (which I think would be a mistake).  I know my mood is still very low, but I’m a lot more functional than I have been in the past and I think if I was in a successful relationship, my mood would be somewhat better even if it wasn’t 100% better.  Certainly when I’ve been in a relationship in the past, my mood has got visibly better to those around me.

Dating is scary, though.

***

An odd thing happened at shiur (Torah class) this evening.  Shiur is a slightly unusual place for me, in that there’s a bit of a “the weekend starts here” atmosphere.  It’s Thursday night, it’s a group of men away from their families and jobs and there is whisky.  Plus, the assistant rabbi, who gives the shiur, has a slightly mischievous sense of humour.  However, much of this is not normal for me.  There is some good-natured teasing, mostly in the form of running jokes e.g. a lot of people who attend are South Africans, so there’s rivalry to see each week the proportion of English-born vs. South African-born attendees and people tease the South Africans about their accents.  I don’t always understand the jokes nor do I always completely approve of the atmosphere; I don’t know whether that’s coming from autism or my history of being teased at school.

Today the assistant rabbi asked a question which no one could answer (not actually a Torah question; he was looking for a formal English word) and he said something like “amazing, we have an intellectual [points to the person on my right], an academic [points to the person on my left] and an intellectual and an academic [points to me] and none of them know!”  Now, I know that’s meant in good spirits and I know it’s a backhanded compliment because he’s saying I’m clever and well-educated, but something about it made me feel uncomfortable even as I laughed.  I’m sure he wouldn’t tease like this if I said I don’t like it, but I feel that saying something is a bit petty and maybe me being autistic/socially anxious and not entering into the proper spirit of the thing, but I don’t feel 100% comfortable with it.  Plus, I suppose part of me does like the fact that I’m apparently considered “one of the lads” and able to be part of this little group.  It’s difficult to know what to do.

Snatching Defeat from the Jaws of Victory

I had dreams last night about being autistic and whether that was ‘really’ a disability, although my unconscious mind got the terms wrong.  Perhaps unsurprisingly after that I woke up really depressed this morning and I was fighting back the tears as I had breakfast and got dressed, although the thought of being at work without my boss on what is only my fourth working day would probably have done that even without the dreams.  Yet again I couldn’t read on the Tube into work as I was too anxious and depressed.  I was worried that I was about to have a panic attack walking through the rush hour crowd at the station, but managed to stay calm with deep breathing.

Work, once I got there, was pretty good, though.  I coped with my line manager being out of the office and did a lot of the work she left for me even though she had forgotten that I had a meeting that I needed to go to another building outside the main campus.  She wasn’t expecting me to do all the work today anyway; she left too much in case I got stuck and couldn’t finish something.  I actually felt that I was enjoying work a bit today, which isn’t something I’ve felt for a while.  Higher education seems to be calmer than further education.  It’s frustrating to handle rare books without being able to peek at them (the books in the store are wrapped in paper); I feel a bit like an intellectual eunuch.  I’m sitting in on a class next week, though, so I should be able to see some of them then.  (When the books go out of the library, there have to be two people with them so that in case of emergency one stays with the books while the other goes for help, so I get to be the second person next week.)  I even started having ideas for things to show in the exhibition I’m supposed to be helping to plan.

I had some OCD worries about whether I had locked up the rare books store properly, but I fought it and resisted going down to check.  Slightly worse was a wobble I had when my line manager’s line manager was talking to a new library volunteer in the office.  She’s a librarianship student at the university and I was a bit envious of her and her clear career plan, given the improvised and only sporadically successful nature of mine (if I can really be said to have a career plan at all), doubly so as the university where I now work is the one that was first choice for my librarianship MA, but they weren’t accommodating of my mental health issues so I went to a much worse university where various things went wrong for me.

I also had an awkward moment when I went to the off-site meeting, as I wasn’t sure if the woman who looked like she was waiting to meet me was the person I was meeting or not.  She looked similarly unsure if I was the person she was meeting.  Very awkward.  Then I went into autism overload and was unable to say anything other than “Yes” “Right” and “Thank you” while she spoke to me.

Shiur (religious class) this evening was more difficult.  It is harder for me when there are a lot of people there, especially now the rabbi has new, wider, arm chairs in his dining room, which are comfortable, but made me feel a little as if the people next to me were invading my space a bit.  Some people made some jokes at the beginning that I thought were a bit rude and tasteless and show how, if you are secure in the community, you can take liberties, but I would never feel so secure (not that I would tell rude or sexist jokes, but I hide my hobbies, interests and beliefs for fear of being considered unacceptable).  Before the shiur started people were talking about their wives and the shiur concluded with the assistant rabbi talking about the Gemarah that says that matching husband and wife is like splitting the sea which underlined my single state.

The assistant rabbi also said that we should have a clear plan of where we want to go this year and in coming years spiritually and we should be planning on a week-by-week basis to get to that goal, which made me feel bad, because I don’t have spiritual goals any more.  My spiritual goal for this year is to get to Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement) without trying to kill myself, or at least to try to improve my mental health a little.  I don’t have any wider goals.  I’d say I have a goal to get a full-time job and get married (both of which I think are spiritual goals), but I don’t think either is feasible any time in the next few years.  As for davening (praying) more with a minyan (prayer quorum) or with more kavannah (mindfulness) or studying more Torah, I don’t think these would be feasible goals even if I cared that much about them, but I’ve been so worn down by my illness that I don’t really care any more.  I’m such a rasha (wicked person), but there you go, I have no energy left even to beat myself up about being a rasha.  This train of thought makes me lose the desire to write that book about Judaism, because who wants to read (or should read) what a rasha says about Judaism?

Plus the assistant rabbi’s baby started crying near the end and he didn’t hear and his wife didn’t hear.  It felt wrong to interrupt to say something, but I really can’t bear hearing children crying, so I felt helpless, upset and confused.  Eventually the rabbi’s wife heard and calmed the baby.

I have no idea if I’m out to dinner tomorrow night, which is also scary.  You might recall that at shul (synagogue) last week I was invited to someone’s for dinner, but the person said he would phone me to confirm.  I still haven’t heard anything.  I think I’m probably still invited (assuming he hasn’t forgotten to tell his wife, which is possible) because frum culture is very laid back like that about times and invitations, which drives me crazy because I’m autistic and need to plan and can’t make last minute changes (and I’m also one eighth Yekkish – the Yekkes (German Jews) are the exception and are stereotypically pedantic and obsessive about punctuality) .

Anyway, now I’ve brought my self down after having a good day, so I’m going to meditate (breathing meditation and hitbodedut spontaneous prayer/meditation) and shower, watch Star Trek and go to bed, trying to focus on the good parts of the day and not the anxieties and failures.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jews, Diversity and Role Models in the Media

(This is really a continuation of my last post with added thoughts from the last few hours.)

I managed to get to the shiur (religious class) at the London School of Jewish Studies this evening, despite some social anxiety.  The class was interesting and despite my problems with concentration at the moment just flew by; I didn’t look at my watch once in an hour and a half.  Much of it was familiar to me, but I learnt some things and it was good to hear Torah that was coming from a slightly different perspective to what I’m used to hearing at shul (synagogue) and, one closer to my personal hashkafa (religious philosophy).

The audience was a bit depressing, though.  Out of maybe sixty or seventy people (I’m bad at estimating numbers) there were three or four people roughly my age; everyone else was my parents’ generation or older.  I think that’s a fairly accurate reflection of Modern Orthodoxy in this country.  The moderate Modern/Centrist Orthodoxy represented by the United Synagogue is polarising; some are becoming Charedi (ultra-Orthodox) (which I guess is what I have done, even if for practical rather than ideological reasons); the rest are just leaving – either leaving Judaism entirely or leaving Orthodoxy for Progressive Judaism or, more usually I think, simply not joining any kind of organised community.  All of which makes me worry about how I can meet people with a similar hashkafa to make friends and maybe to get married (one day, maybe, perhaps).

***

On my previous post, Ashley Leia suggested I was mistaken in complaining of antisemitism in this week’s Doctor Who, so I should probably clarify that I wasn’t suggesting the writers are consciously antisemitic, merely that they used a trope that has traditionally been used by Christian antisemitic (or anti-Jewish, if you want to split hairs over the difference between antisemitism and anti-Judaism) polemicists to attack Judaism (presenting Judaism as a religion of justice or even vengeance as against Christianity as a religion of love, even though Christianity’s commandments of love are quotations from Tanakh (the Hebrew Bible, what Christians call the Old Testament)).  This was unfortunate, particularly in a series that has trumpeted its own commitment to diversity, doubly so in the second episode this series to portray organised religion as primarily a force for division and persecution with few positive points.  It increasingly, uncomfortably, feels to me like “diversity” is often circumscribed (in Doctor Who and in Western culture in general) and that cultures that are truly alien to the writers’ (and most of the audience’s) worldviews, that is religious and traditional cultures, are met with criticism rather than acceptance, something that is only applied to “safe” cultures that do not threaten postmodern liberal values.  As Alan Verskin put it in a recent review in The Jewish Review of Books “Tolerating a culture because it is no different from your own is not a good test of toleration.”

The entirety of Verskin’s review, of a recent children’s fantasy novel dealing with Medieval Jewish history, may be of interest to some readers here, to people interested in fantasy and especially in diversity issues in fantastic and historical fiction.  Verskin also talks about realising “how remarkably few Jewish characters there are in books that are not expressly made and marketed for Jewish children (the exception being Holocaust literature, which, of course, is a different matter).”  I would say that if you are looking for specifically religious Jewish characters (not necessarily Orthodox, but with some meaningful connection to Jewish tradition, texts and practice), they are almost non-existent, whether in children’s fiction or adult fiction and whatever the medium, even in stories written by Jews.  Many years ago I read the Jewish science fiction and fantasy anthologies Wandering Stars and More Wandering Stars; the engagement with Jewish texts, traditions and substantive culture (not necessarily religious culture, but more than the odd Yiddishism or bagel) was limited in most of the stories, many of which saw Judaism as defined by antisemitism as much as by Jews and their culture (cf. Jean-Paul Sartre).

The main exceptions are books, film and TV from Israel, which, by their nature often have limited impact in other countries, both due to the language barrier and the fact that culture from small countries often struggles to penetrate foreign markets.  Sometimes one can find translated books or subtitled films, but it is not always possible.

I used to think that I didn’t need to see fictional characters who reflect my life experiences and thoughts, but lately I have found (partly thanks to all the talk of diversity in Western culture) that I do.  In the absence of figures like me, religious Jewish figures, I find myself drawn either to surrogates (I have alluded in the past to the article in European Judaism that the Doctor from Doctor Who, despite being an alien time-traveller, is in fact the most positively-portrayed Jew on British television, at least symbolically speaking) or to biblical, Midrashic or rabbinic figures.

There is definitely a danger in taking prophets and tzaddikim (saintly people), whether ancient or more modern, as my heroes, especially for someone such as myself with a poor sense of self and a perhaps permeable boundary between the real and the imaginary, not to mention a psyche given to extreme self-criticism, but with occasional counter-veiling moments of delusions of grandeur.  In particular, I look for figures who can model Jewish observance alongside mental health issues or neurodivergent traits.  I have already spoken a few times about the eighteenth and nineteenth century religious leaders, Rebbe Nachman of Bratslav and the Kotzker Rebbe and their importance for me as figures who combined active religious life with bouts of extreme (probably clinical) depression, self-criticism and/or withdrawal thus providing some kind of model for my own attempts at building a religious life despite my mental health issues.  Perhaps I will try to explore some of these role models and mentors in future posts.

Another Psychiatric Assessment, and the Orthodox Jewish Religious Spectrum

I desperately feel like I need a break after my last job for the sake of my mental health, but I’m not sure that I’m going to get one.  I was woken up at 9.30am today (I wanted to lie in) by someone from an agency who wants to register me tomorrow so that I can apply for a short-term job.   So I had volunteering yesterday, my therapy assessment today and now registering tomorrow.  After that I’ll need to get to work on my presentation for the job interview on 5 December and if I don’t get that job, it’s back to job applications (realistically I’ll continue with the applications in case I don’t get the job).  I just feel exhausted and burnt out; goodness knows how I’ll feel by the end of the year (hard to believe that’s about a month away now).  Now I’m feeling sulky and miserable about the whole situation.  I suppose it’s probably good to keep busy, as once I stop the depression takes over and it’s hard to start again, but I feel miserable about it.

I feel bad that I got so annoyed about yesterday’s Doctor Who.  I told myself I wasn’t going to write long critical reviews any more, but it annoyed me.  I probably also over-reacted to the line about “Love your neighbour” being from the New Testament (it’s not.  It’s Tanakh/”Old Testament”).  I know they weren’t being intentionally antisemitic, but it is a classic antisemitic line.  I feel that identity politics and Twitter create a situation where everyone is shouting about being REALLY OFFENDED so you have to over-react to everything just to get heard and taken seriously.  I wish I didn’t get caught up in it all though.

Tonight I’m off to the London School of Jewish Studies to hear Rabbi Rafi Zarum speak about Chanukah (from their website: “This timely lecture will look at the clash between Athens and Jerusalem as it plays out today in the assimilation of Jews into modern culture.  Can traditional Jewish faith survive in the face of Western secularity?
What are the rules of engagement?”).  He’s a very good speaker and the topic is interesting, if potentially somewhat triggering for me, so it should be good, and I’m looking forward to hearing a more Modern Orthodox speaker after spending so much time lately in the more Charedi (ultra-Orthodox) world.

I’ve spoken quite a bit about Modern Orthodox vs. Charedi without really explaining the difference.  It may surprise you to know that there aren’t really any major differences in belief or practice between the communities.  The Charedi world accepts extra stringencies and is more literalist in its approach to sacred texts, but the essence of the commandments and beliefs are the same, unlike the differences between the Orthodox and Progressive communities.  And, in a sense, the Modern Orthodox and Charedi worlds aren’t really different communities.  It’s more a spectrum with very Modern at one end and very religiously conservative at the other and most people on a point somewhere in between with a fair bit of mingling between people who are somewhat more or less modern.  The difference is about approaches to modernity and it plays out in a number of ways.  For instance, attitudes to secular education, attitudes to Torah/science conflicts, attitudes to mainstream culture, attitudes to Israel and Zionism, gender roles, and so on.  Someone may be quite modern in some areas and more conservative in others, but usually are at a similar place on most or all areas.

However, in this country at least (I think things are different in the USA and Israel) more modern communities tend to have a membership comprised largely of people who are ‘traditional’ but not fully observant of the mitzvot (commandments) and who don’t take prayer and Torah study particularly seriously.  There is a lot of talking in the services, difficulty getting a minyan (prayer quorum) during the week, poor attendance at educational events and so on.  So, if one is (like me) quite Modern philosophically, but also very serious about Judaism, it can be hard to find a community that fits.  The choice is between a community that fits ideologically, but doesn’t offer the kind of vibrant Jewish life one wants or between a more active community that doesn’t fit philosophically.  It’s a difficult choice.  In my case the choice was made easier by the fact that the nearest Modern Orthodox shul (synagogue) was just too big and unfriendly for me and also by the fact that it’s my parents’ shul and I had no independent identity there, I was just my father’s son.

For me another problem is finding a wife at a similar place on the religious spectrum.  If I go to a professional shadchan (matchmaker) I suspect (perhaps wrongly) that I will be matched with people on the more Charedi end of the spectrum and certainly if people from my shul try to match me up that is where they will be coming from.  That’s not necessarily a problem if she doesn’t have a problem with my own outlook; however, I feel she might well have such a problem.

Sigh.  I’m OK when I’m thinking or writing about Judaism or Doctor Who or history, but then I stop and think about the Real World again and reality seeps back in.  I’m not sure what I’m more afraid of at the moment: a long period of unemployment or another job I can’t do well.  I wish I could get some sense of what is different about me and why, and what I could do to function better in the world.  I don’t even know where to look.  I’ve just typed up a ‘to do’ list, which makes me feel a little better.  At any rate, a printed list will look better than scraps of paper, and saves me continually copying things from one day to the next in my diary when, inevitably, I only get a couple of things done every day before being overwhelmed with depression (or procrastination).  There are sixteen things on the list (albeit that one is “Peanuts exhibition” because I’m worried if I don’t write it somewhere I’ll forget until it’s over.  But fifteen unpleasant tasks).  The list ranges from the minor (polish my shoes) to the major (open a new bank account that my Dad thinks would be good for me; do serious clothes shopping as many of my clothes have worn out or no longer fit because of all the weight I’ve put on with clomipramine – I hate clothes shopping).  Then there are the small, but tricky tasks, like writing for the umpteenth time for the £70 refund of money I’m owed by my shul, this time threatening to stop paying my fees unless they at least tell me why they won’t even respond to my emails (the treasurer is the wife of an old friend of my father and I know they have had a number of major life-cycle events, good and bad, in recent months, so I would be understanding if she’s busy, but she should at least respond to my emails to say she is aware of the situation).   And, of course, there’s job applications that I should be working on daily.

And then it goes from feeling I can’t cope to feeling that I’m a terrible person and that I want to die.  It’s quite frightening how fast it can change and with no obvious reason.

Later

I just had an hour long telephone assessment for CBT on the NHS.  I feel very drained.  Assessments are draining anyway, and I find speaking on the phone even harder than in person.  I had a lot of thoughts about whether I was describing my symptoms accurately and comprehensibly, whether I’ve been on therapy too much to qualify for more NHS therapy, whether the fact that CBT didn’t help in the past for my depression means that they will assume it won’t work now for my self-esteem, whether I’m wrong to feel that helping my self-esteem will have a knock-on effect on my depression rather than the other way around…  I had to talk about the behaviour I am not proud of and why it makes me hate myself, which is difficult to talk about to someone I don’t know, over the phone.  I was also asked a lot of questions about suicide and self-harm that were hard to answer.  I think about death and suicide a lot, but it’s hard to put a figure on what I think the probability is of my trying to kill myself.  How does one even put a number on that?  Pressed to give a probability out of ten, I said three, which seemed small, but the psychiatrist seemed incredulous or just worried that I was saying there was a 30% chance I would try to kill myself and put that way it did seem large and worrying.  I honestly don’t know what the correct answer is as there are so many factors involved.

Apparently I should find out whether I’m on the waiting list for CBT either later today or next Monday (I assume the psychiatrist only works on Mondays), but the waiting list itself is three to five months at the moment.

I feel I need to stop to relax for a bit before I go out to my shiur later, so I’m not going to try to do anything else today except finish off the laundry I started earlier.  I feel somewhat tearful and depressed.  Also alone; I’m glad my parents are home this evening, as I doubt I will talk to anyone at the shiur later.

Frustrations

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Up and Down

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

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

***

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

***

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

***

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

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

***

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

***

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

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

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

***

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

Up and Down

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jewish and Whoish

I’ve often written about my feelings of having a fractured identity.  It’s like there are parts of my life that don’t go together.  Being geeky and a Doctor Who fan doesn’t fit terribly well with being a frum (religious Orthodox) Jew, particularly in a somewhat Charedi (ultra-Orthodox) community that isn’t always a good fit for me in itself.  And so far my attempts at paid employment have not fitted terribly well with my mental health issues and borderline autism, while identifying as autistic makes me feel a fraud, given that two assessments have ended with my being classified as neurotypical, but with a lot of autistic symptoms (but, of course, I can’t access help for those symptoms because I don’t have the appropriate diagnosis).

I started this blog thinking it would be a Jewish blog about mental health, but it turned out to be a mental health blog with Jewish overtones (and Hebrew/Yiddish vocabulary).  My assumption was that most of my readers would be Jews with mental health issues, but so far as I can tell that isn’t the case.  Most of my readers are non-Jews with mental health issues or autism (I didn’t even expect to blog much about autism, given my non-diagnosis).

It’s confusing to know who I am sometimes.  A lot of the time, really.  Maybe that’s why I like being with young children and want a pet (more on both of those things below); young children and animals just accept you as you are without feeling the need to stick a label on you or force your square pegs into their round holes.

(Although I’m aware that the person who labels and forces me the most is myself.)

Working my way backwards through things that happened to me during and after Shabbat, I’ve started another job application, for a cataloguing role.  Good pay, but only an eight month contract.  I’ve applied, even though I feel very negative about my ability to do any job competently at the moment.  The online application form is really badly designed and annoying.  Actually, I can feel my anxiety level rising as I fill the form in.  This is due to my anxiety about coping with work, not the badly designed form, although that doesn’t help.  I’m procrastinating a lot, again out of anxiety; it took an hour and a half just to fill in basic details about my qualifications and previous employment because I keep getting distracted because I don’t want to focus on it.

Someone who lives in our road gave me a lift home from shul (synagogue) tonight.  I accepted because it was pouring with rain.  It was awkward, though.  He had music on very loud and I struggled to hear what he was saying.  I don’t know how much of that was autistic sensory sensitivity, how much was social anxiety (when I’m socially anxious I get so caught up in my anxious thoughts that I don’t take in what the other person is saying) and how much was just that the music was very loud.  I suppose I could have asked him to turn it down, but it honestly didn’t occur to me.  He saw I had a Gemarah (volume of Talmud) with me (because I’d gone to Talmud shiur (class) before shul) and asked what I was learning (Orthodox Jews always talk of “learning” Torah rather than “studying,” a habit that irritates me no end).  He asked which perek (chapter) I was up to and I struggled to answer, as I had noted my progress more by page number and, in any case, I’m struggling to keep up with the shul’s weekly Talmud study programme and am only vaguely aware of what I’m studying (admittedly I understand aggadata (the non-legal part of the Talmud) more than halakhah (the legal part)).  I couldn’t remember the chapter names at all (the chapters are always named after the first two or three words of the chapter) and felt rather stupid, as I generally seem to end up feeling when I talk to people I don’t know well.  This is why I usually try to avoid being given lifts, because I don’t like being trapped in a conversation with someone.

Our shul, like most shuls in the UK, has volunteer security (sadly, the risk of attack is very high and the shooting in Pittsburgh has just reinforced this).  I had asked to be taken off the security rota for health reasons.  My depression and social anxiety mean that I haven’t made it to shul for a morning service for a long time.  I haven’t specified what my health reasons are though.  I didn’t realise that I was supposed to be on duty this morning.  I don’t know if I wasn’t told or if I just deleted the email without reading it because I thought I was not on the rota.  At any rate, in the evening I was told that I had missed my slot.  They weren’t angry about it, but I felt bad, because I don’t like to let people down and also because I think I’m going to have to open up more about the nature of my health issues and say that just because I can make it to shul for Shabbat (Sabbath) evening services, doesn’t mean that they can assume I am well enough to make it for morning services.  I still struggle to tell people about my issues, though, even after all these years.  It’s hard to tell why.  I guess I worry how people will react and I suppose I feel weak and useless for still being depressed after fifteen or twenty years.  I feel that I should have got over it by now.  Maybe that’s why I’m desperate for an autism diagnosis, because then I’ll have something that I won’t need to feel guilty for not being able to change because it’s not something you can cure.  Or maybe I just want to pile up as many diagnoses as possible to justify why I’m not still functioning properly after all this time and treatment.

I feel the same reticence with job applications.  Diversity rules mean employers have to ask if you have medical issues requiring “reasonable adjustment” to do a job, but I never mention the depression because I’m worried they won’t employ me, even though that’s illegal.

Over Shabbat dinner my parents were encouraging me to become a primary school kodesh (Jewish studies) teacher.  They’re trying to be helpful, but I can’t really see myself doing that.  They say I’m gifted with children, but I find that hard to believe.  I enjoy being with young children (pre-teen), but I get scared that I’m going to accidentally hurt them or let them hurt themselves somehow (this is probably pure O OCD) and I can’t see myself handling a class of thirty children.  I can see that teaching would be fulfilling, though, and teaching kodesh would mean working in a Jewish school, which would mean I wouldn’t have to worry about having time off for Jewish festivals and Friday afternoons in the winter, when Shabbat (the Sabbath) starts mid-afternoon.  However, I feel I need more experience around children before I make a decision that big, plus I’m not happy about retraining – teacher training, but I’d also have to brush up my Hebrew, particularly my grammar (modern Hebrew and biblical Hebrew have different verb conjugations and I get confused between the two, inasmuch as I can remember either).  I also suspect that I would have difficulty getting accepted as a kodesh teacher, given that I never went to yeshiva (rabbinical seminary) as most Orthodox Jewish men do for at least a year.

Going to yeshiva is a big thing for Jewish men.  People form their intellectual out look, meet friends and find role models, but, more than that, in the frum (religious Orthodox Jewish) world people will, rightly or wrongly, read a lot into a person’s choice of yeshiva: their religious outlook (how modern or fundamentalist), their politics (how Zionist), even I think their personality type.  Who a person gets set up with on dates is based a lot on one’s choice of yeshiva or sem (girls’ religious seminary).  If you go to Gush or Mir or YU, people make assumptions about you.

Of course, I know deep down that I would probably have had a lousy time at yeshiva.  I struggle to study Talmud and even in a modern yeshiva that wasn’t opposed to Western culture, there would have been little time for secular interests, certainly not Doctor Who.  Plus the style of study in a yeshivaBatei Midrash (study halls) of hundreds of pairs of students loudly arguing about texts is not good for someone either autistic or socially anxious.  And I wasn’t even that frum when I was old enough to go (which of course is one reason I didn’t go), although I suppose had I not been depressed when I finished at university, I might have gone for yeshiva for a while as some of my peers at Oxford did.

It’s funny, actually.  Although not going to yeshiva has had a huge effect on my life (or at least has convinced me that it’s had a huge negative effect on my life, which may not be the same thing), the actual studies are not really what I regret missing out on.  It’s actually spending time with holy people, great talmidei chachamim (Torah scholars), to learn from their characters.  This is the envy I have when someone says that they knew rabbi so-and-so at yeshiva.  I think a lot about what it would be like to meet one of my heroes from Jewish history.  The answer, I suppose, is that I would be too shy to talk.

On a related note, someone whose blog I read is struggling with religious matters (it’s not fair for me to go into details here and they aren’t really relevant), which reminded me of when I had a lot of religious questions, earlier in my depression and felt like I could lose my faith.  I can’t remember how it ended; probably there wasn’t a day when I woke up and said I didn’t have any major doubts.  I found some answers, but mostly I think I found Jewish religious existentialism, although it was a long time before I found a philosophical name to put to specific Jewish teachers whose writings made sense to me, and that helped reframe the question.

Religious existentialism teaches that doubt and questioning are part of life and that the search for answers is the religious life, not something you go through to become religious.  I realised that ‘proof’ is not how real human beings live their lives, that we base our lives on experience and human interactions, not abstract reasoning (although this is hard for someone who has difficulty with social interactions).  I still struggle with certain passages in Tanakh (the Hebrew Bible) and things like the problem of suffering or biblical archaeology, but I realised that the God of my religious heroes, the God of Hillel and Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev and the Kotzker Rebbe – is a loving God because a violent, abusive God would not have compassionate, just and loving followers.  Any questions I had came to seem less important to me than trying to be a good Jew like my great ancestors.  I’m not sure if this makes sense to anyone else. I think in matters of personal philosophy, everyone has to find their own answers, and the answer that satisfies one person won’t satisfy another (which is quite existentialist in itself).  I suppose what I’m saying is that my Yiddishkeit (Jewish-ness) is bound up with the history of my people and the example of great tzaddikim (holy people) much more than abstract philosophical reasoning or the details of texts (which is very Jewish).

I suppose the big question is why, if I’ve learnt to live with doubt, uncertainty and big questions in my religious life, and to some extent in my political life (I don’t really affiliate with any party any more), why do I struggle so much with doubt in my personal life: doubts whether I am autistic, doubts about my career, doubts about relationships and marriage, doubts above all about whether I’m a good person.  Really it’s more like certainty that I’m not a good person, even though lots of people have told me otherwise.

Some of it is low self-esteem and consciousness of the way that my mental health issues sometimes result in my acting in a way that I don’t agree with and would not do if I was not undergoing stress of some kind.  Some of it is what I said before about not fitting in.  I don’t feel that I fit in to any of the communities I find myself on the fringes of.  I don’t feel a fully religious Jew because of my geeky Doctor Who fannishness, but sometimes I don’t feel that I belong in the fan community, which has a lot of vocal militant atheists.  Plus the laws of Shabbat and kashrut (dietary laws) make interacting with non-Jews difficult.  I won’t go to conventions on a Saturday and going anywhere with food is problematic (a problem at my depression group too, where I can’t go to the more social meetings, which are on Saturdays and often involve food).  Although the main thing keeping me from Doctor Who conventions is social anxiety.

On an unrelated note, I spoke to my parents about getting guinea pigs.  My Dad felt I should go to a pet shop first and check I’m OK handling them, which makes sense.  My Mum was worried that I would be too depressed to care for pets or would neglect my job hunting if I was caring for them, which seemed a bit of a remote possibility.  I’m not sure if she’s completely happy with the idea.  Then again, I’m not sure how happy she needs to be, given that the guinea pigs would be in my room.  I probably do care too much about what my family think of me sometimes e.g. part of the reason I gave up on online dating was that my sister was so opposed to me doing it.  For what it’s worth, my rabbi mentor was really enthusiastic about my buying a pet and I trust his judgement on most things.

I suppose I just worry that my Mum might be right and I won’t be able to look after a pet.  I mean, with most things (dating, work etc.) my parents say I have certain abilities, but I find it hard to accept.  Here, Mum is suggesting that I might not be able to do this, so logically I should have absolutely no confidence in my ability, which makes me wonder if this is just a silly idea.  We’ve never had pets other than goldfish (I think my Dad had a budgie as a young child), so I have no idea how I would react to pets, whether I could care for them or what they would do for my mood.  I hope they would make me feel better, but they might not.

Silent Screaming

I think I got about eight hours sleep (I’m not sure, as I can’t remember when I went to bed), but I woke up feeling very tired and depressed and glad that I don’t work on Fridays.  I just feel wiped out by another work week, really (with added psychiatric review and major work mistake), and glad that my contract is nearly over.  I don’t know how I would work in a permanent job for four days a week, let alone five.  Unfortunately, it seems part-time work is hard to find, at least in areas I might be good at.  I’m still not convinced I’m in the right career, but don’t know what else to do.  The idea of doing a PhD in antisemitism and then going to work for a Jewish thinktank has a certain amount of appeal, especially after Pittsburgh, but I’m not sure I could cope with it practically or emotionally (immersing myself in antisemitism), socially useful though it would be.  My Mum still thinks I should retrain as a primary school teacher and it’s true that I find young children restoring rather than depleting, but the prospect of being responsible for thirty children at once terrifies me.  I don’t feel I cope that well with three or four children at the asylum seekers drop-in centre, and that’s only for a couple of hours a month.

Someone on BBC News drew her OCD as a cartoon character.  I’m not an artist, but my depression would probably look like an anthropomorphic cloud, dark (despairing) with downturned mouth (depressed), and rain (tears) and lightning (irritability/anger).

The shiur (religious Torah class) last night was interesting.  I thought over some of the issues that came indirectly out of it afterwards.  I don’t want to go into details, as it’s private, but it did help me a bit to understand how I could understand my suffering without seeing it as a sign that God hates me and is angry with me, which I’ve felt for years, although sadly it seemed to indicate that my main role on Earth is to suffer.  I hope I’m wrong about that.

I talk a lot about Jewish community stuff here, but I tend to shy away from detailed descriptions of Crazy Jewish Ritual, partly because I know most of my readers aren’t Jewish.  Maybe I shouldn’t do that.  Anyway, here is something Crazy I’ve been doing this week, although I don’t think it’s a common thing to do.  Maybe it will help other people psychologically even without the underlying beliefs.

I have mentioned struggling a lot with my religious life lately, feeling guilty, feeling angry with HaShem (God), struggling to daven (pray) and to study Torah.  I came across this passage in The Empty Chair: Finding Hope and Joy: Timeless Wisdom from a Hasidic Master Rebbe Nachman of Breslov:

The Rebbe said: When do I have my meditation?  When everyone is around me, that’s when I seclude myself with God.  I know how to cry out in a silent scream.  What I say is heard from one end of the world to the other, yet those around me hear nothing!

Anyone can do this.  Imagine the sound of such a scream in your mind.  Just as the throat brings a scream from your lungs to your lips, there are nerves that draw sound into your head.  When you do this, you are shouting inside your brain. Direct that shout to the One above and it will open Heaven’s gate.

I had heard of this before, but not tried it.  When I was struggling with my hitbodedut meditation this week I tried this, thinking of everything in the world that makes me depressed and anxious and self-hating and just screaming silently in my head.  I don’t know what it does religiously, but it was surprisingly cathartic psychologically.  I’ve been doing it for a few nights now.  It does feel like a real release of tension, particularly as I open my mouth as wide as I can, as if I was letting out a really loud scream, tensing all the muscles in my jaw.

One of those socially-awkward things that seem to happen to me a lot: I commented on a friend’s Doctor Who blog, forgetting I was logged into this account rather than the one for my non-anonymous Doctor Who blog (I’m always getting my two identities mixed up.  I could never be a spy or a superhero).  He’s now following this blog.  I don’t have a problem with that (my anonymity here is more to hide me from potential employers/dates (ha ha) rather than friends), but I don’t know if he realises this is me, if you know what I mean.  I worry that unless I can find a way to broach the subject in a way that doesn’t embarrass him some confusion will result down the line.

Over the weekend I hope to broach the subject of getting a pet (guinea pigs) with my parents more forcefully than before.  We aren’t really a pet family and my parents are wary of my getting a pet (I think they’re mainly worried how I will cope if/when it dies), but I really think it might help my loneliness and depression, especially as I’m likely to be home in my room alone a lot when my contract ends.  Wish me luck…

Thousand Word Essays

“Sometimes I lie awake at night, and I ask, ‘Is life a multiple choice test or is it a true or false test?’  Then a voice comes to me out of the dark, and says, ‘We hate to tell you this, but life is a thousand word essay.'” The Complete Peanuts: 1999 to 2000, Charles M. Schulz p. 30

I feel very drained today.  Yesterday evening my sister, brother-in-law and my sister’s mother-in-law, father-in-law and sister-in-law all came for dinner.  It was fun and I managed to join in (I’m beginning to feel more comfortable with them), but the evening lasted something like four or five hours which, after an intense work week, was too long for me and I was burnt out by the end.

Today I slept through the morning again, felt exhausted, but forced my self to go to Talmud shiur (class) and Ma’ariv (the evening service) at shul (synagogue) and to help tidy up at home afterwards, but now just want to curl up.  I should really be writing job applications or at least emailing the friend who sent me a very long email some time ago that I haven’t had the time/energy/concentration to respond to yet, but I don’t have the energy for anything other than TV.  I didn’t even read much over Shabbat, just Peanuts cartoons, because I was too drained for even a novel.  Likewise during the week, although I usually read on the train, I have often been too tired to do so this week, or I’ve read The Complete Guide to Asperger’s Syndrome instead, so I’m making slow progress through Robots and Empire, the book where Isaac Asimov tried to tie together his RobotGalactic Empire and Foundation series.  It doesn’t help that, 150 pages in (out of over 500), it hasn’t really captured my attention yet.  (I think Asimov was better at short stories and short novels than long novels.)

I had an autistic moment at the start of Talmud shiur when the assistant rabbi said they missed me at the parasha shiur on Thursday and I wasn’t sure whether that was an implied question asking if I’m OK or what I was doing.  I was actually at depression support group on Thursday evening.  The people who were there at the time know (a little bit) about my problems, but I was still too shy to say anything.

My sister, brother-in-law, my sister’s brother-in-law, his wife and their young children have gone to see fireworks for Guy Fawkes Night tonight.  I kind of wish I could have gone to fireworks with someone.  I haven’t really done Guy Fawkes Night for twenty years or so.  (Actually, that correlates approximately with the time that I’ve been depressed…)  I can here fireworks from my room right now, but I can’t see them.  I also find it weird that my sister now has a whole family that aren’t related to me, including nieces and a nephew.  This just makes me feel how unlikely it is that I will ever get married.  I thought again about going to a shadchan (matchmaker), but that seemed pointless until I have a more secure job, which in turn seems unlikely to happen until I have the depression under control and some idea of whether there really is anything else going on in my head that I need to deal with (autism, trauma etc.).  I’m still thinking of getting guinea pigs, so I can have some company and someone to care for, but I’m scared of what it would entail.  I don’t even know where there’s a pet shop.

The only other thing I can think of today is how depressing the world is.  I think all the bad news has just merged in my head into one big, ongoing piece of badness.  Brexitrumputincorbynsaudiran.  As Jews we believe that even small acts of goodness can turn the tide against evil, but sometimes it’s hard to see anything positive happening in the world.

I feel so tired.  It’s not yet 8.00pm but I feel ready to go to bed, although I probably wouldn’t sleep if I did, bearing in mind that I slept for twelve hours or so last night.  I don’t really think it’s a good idea to go to bed right now, so I’m going to watch DVDs instead.  I need to find the energy to make something to eat.

Emotional Pain

I cried at work again.  I’m in constant emotional pain, at least at work, but I can’t describe it to people, so I don’t get taken seriously.  (EDIT: not “taken seriously” is a bit harsh.  But I can’t tell even my parents how I feel, how I spend my whole time at work struggling just to keep my head above the water, let alone actually do my work.  See the quote below about autistic people being in a constant state of alertness and anxiety.)  Things aren’t so bad at home, but work is unbearable.  I feel trapped in my life.  At times I really don’t want to live, but I won’t commit suicide either, so I’m stalemated.  One of the Renaissance writers, someone like Sir Thomas More, said that the worst test God can give a person is to make him think that God wants him to kill himself.  I don’t think God wants me to kill myself, but I don’t know what he does want me to do.

I don’t want to think of myself as a victim, but the alternative seems to be thinking of myself as a failure, because I seem to fail at everything I try.

I wanted to go to a shiur (religious) class tonight, but I feel too exhausted, even a little faint (even after dinner), which might possibly be psychosomatic from the depression or, more likely, social anxiety.  I should fight it, but I don’t think now is the time.  I’m too tired and depressed at the moment and I worry that if I stay out late tonight, work tomorrow will be impossible.  The shiur was on sadness in Jewish thought, which might have been helpful, but might have been problematic, as ‘sadness’ isn’t the same as ‘depression’ and I could have ended up guilt-tripping myself into feeling that I am a bad person for being depressed, or for being depressed in the ‘wrong’ way.

More autism stuff that could be written about me from The Complete Guide to Asperger’s Syndrome:

“One of the problems faced by children with Asperger’s Syndrome who use their intellect rather than intuition to succeed in some social situations is that they may be in an almost constant state of alertness and anxiety, leading to a risk of mental and physical exhaustion.” (p. 29)

“Blame [for social difficulties] is directed at oneself: ‘I am stupid’; or others: ‘It’s your fault.'” (p. 30)

“”The child, sometimes as young as seven years old, may develop a clinical depression as a result of insight into being different and perceiving him- or herself as socially defective.” (p. 35)

The book also states that autistic children can use fantasy as an escape.  I think Doctor Who and Star Trek were for me escapes into a world where intelligence, difference and even eccentricity were prized, very different to my school.  I had a couple of geeky-but-non-autistic friends at school (primary and secondary), which probably kept me sane, although even there I kept somewhat distant from some of them and I think I was a bit nervous about going to other people’s houses if I didn’t know them well.  I did fantasise a lot, though.  Strangely (or perhaps not), I think my Walter Mitty life started in my teens, when most people are moving away from fantasy.  My friends were getting into things I had no interest in (wargaming, RPGing) and was sometimes scared by (girls, soft drugs), so I retreated into fantasy scenarios of saving the school from Daleks.  As I got older, aliens turned into terrorists and wish-fulfilment fantasies of escaping without a scratch like James Bond turned into masochistic fantasies of being hurt and on to suicidal fantasies of redemptive death, or just death.

My romantic life has largely been fantasy too, necessarily so, but problematically so.  Having such little real experience of relationships makes it harder that I ever will manage to adjust my expectations, and meet someone else’s expectations of me.

The Complete Guide to Asperger’s Syndrome also says that people with sub-diagnostic autism symptoms (which realistically is what I probably have and what I’m currently diagnosed with) can benefit from the same help that people with a diagnosis get, which is good, if I can find a way of getting help.  It’s also interesting that my sister and my Dad have some sub-diagnostic symptoms, which again is supposed to be common in families of people on the spectrum.  Although no one is going to mistake someone who likes small talk and hates silence as much as my Dad for someone on the autistic spectrum.  I guess that’s another reason why I want a diagnosis.  Growing  up my parents told me that they were shy as children and I should just ‘push myself’ to talk to other people and that it would get easier with practise.  It never did, and I suppose if I was diagnosed as being on the spectrum, that would be a kind of justification for failing to master small talk and social skills.  Maybe that’s not a good thing, maybe it will just encourage me to isolate myself.  I don’t know.  I don’t really know about a lot of things right now.

“SHUT THE **** UP!!!”

Today was awful.  Just awful.  Working out why is harder.

I spent the whole day at work feeling terribly depleted.  Lately I have been checking 150 or so records a day, but today I only managed about 110 and had to tell my boss I would finish the rest tomorrow as I was feeling ill (I will now probably have to explain about my mental health, at least a bit, which I was hoping to avoid on this short contract).  I was feeling depleted, my eyes felt strained, I was having trouble ‘gear shifting’ from one aspect of a task to the next, things I associate with stress.  I kept wanting to shout at people to “SHUT THE **** UP!!!”

I don’t know why I was so bad.  I think it was very noisy in the office (although not necessarily more so than usual) and I just couldn’t cope with it.  I listened to classical music on my iPod, but that’s the lesser of two evils as I prefer silence when working on something that requires concentration.  This way I wasn’t being forced to pay attention to the words of the conversation (I can’t easily tune out of words I can hear, at least not at will rather than from my mind wandering when someone is talking to me about something I’m not interested in), but there was the noise of the music, and the muffled noise of the talking in the background.

I don’t normally think of myself as being so sensitive to noise, but maybe I’m used to being in quiet environments (at home, in the library).  I recall that at university I preferred to work in my room to working in the libraries, as I found them all too noisy.  At the time I thought finding libraries noisy a little eccentric, but now it seems downright autistic.  It does make me wonder if I have panic attacks at shuls (synagogues) because of the noise rather than the people and social anxiety – it would explain why I don’t generally have them in my quiet shul, but did in other, noisier, ones – my shul has a strict ‘no speaking during davening (prayer)’ rule.

I’m not going to my shiur (class) now.  I could have just about made it, if I wolfed down my dinner, but I’m really tense and in need of relaxation if I’m to have any chance of doing a decent amount of work tomorrow.  I’ve been irritable with my parents, which I feel bad about, even if some of it is justified.

I’ve been thinking a lot about autism today.  The book I ordered on autism turned up today and apparently it has various diagnostic criteria.  I intend to go through it and write notes on my symptoms (I’ve already started – I had a lot of ideas today) and why I think I’m autistic and intend to type them up before I have an assessment – if I can have another assessment, of course.  I think a lot was overlooked in my previous assessments and that was perhaps partly my fault for not mentioning certain things, but I didn’t know that some things were so relevant and I probably felt ashamed of some things.  Plus, as I understand it the assessment criteria have been revised and widened in recent years.  At the very least, if  I’m not autistic, I would like some psychiatrist to explain what the flip is wrong with me that means I can’t function in society.  I can’t hold down a job, I can’t have a relationship, I’m continually accumulating more mental illness diagnoses.  If there isn’t something wrong with me, then I’m either lazy or incompetent and, much as I hate myself, I can’t in all honesty see myself as either of those, at least not to the extent that would be needed to explain my problems.  There’s just too much evidence of my ability to produce quality work in the right circumstances, even against difficult odds (doing two degrees while very depressed) for me to seem lazy or stupid.  It’s a question of finding out how to find the right environment to thrive in.

A lot of autistic people get annoyed when neurotypical people talk about “curing” autism.  I guess I can see their point, but I don’t always feel it the same way.  I’m not particularly proud of who I am.  OK, I am a bit, and I like trying to have a more individual and intellectual life than some people, but I feel that I would at least consider sacrificing it to be “normal,” to have a normal life with love and happiness and companionship and community and normal, bearable, human sadness,  not this terrible constant misery, loneliness and despair.  I envy the men who have normal frum lives of yeshiva, a career in law or accountancy, a wife and a few kids, evenings “learning” Gemarah, drinking whisky with their cronies at kiddush on Shabbat, and following the football and cricket for innocent relaxation.  I feel like a monstrous, crazy geek-freak who doesn’t fully fit in to any of the sub-cultures I try to belong to (frum, geeky, cultured or now autistic) and who can’t function in ordinary environments.

Later…

I spoke to my parents a bit about this.  They said they’re willing to support me in looking for re-diagnosis if I think it will lead to practical benefits.  They agreed that I’m right to ask for some kind of reappraisal when I see the psychiatrist (which I’ve now discovered is in early November, I think 8 November, although I don’t know the exact time or how it will fit with work yet) as they agree with me that there must be something that’s been overlooked to explain why I’m the way I am.  So that’s all positive.  Until then, I just need to try to think of all the reasons why I think I’m autistic and type them out for the psychiatrist.

Odd Thoughts of an Odd Fellow

The title is more whimsical than I feel.  I’m exhausted and depressed.  I had trouble concentrating at work again today.  I had a lot of ruminations.  I always find it hard to explain my thoughts and feelings because I’m not good at describing them at the best of times and no one has ever really explained to me what their thoughts and feelings are like and how could we even compare them objectively to see if my “happy” is the same as your “happy” or if a “racing thought” for me is the same as a “racing thought” for you?  I sometimes get involved in my thoughts and lose track of time, or even the outside world. I can be walking and thinking and then suddenly I’m somewhere else and I don’t remember walking there.  Or I just stand staring into space and thinking and my parents ask me if there’s something wrong, which really annoys me.  My thoughts seem very ‘loud’ sometimes, if that makes sense. Sometimes I focus so much on what I’m thinking that my sight and hearing get turned down, so to speak.

The best way to describe my thoughts today would be ‘echoing’.  As in I would have a thought, usually a somewhat depressive thought about politics and not fitting in, and it would sort of echo around in my head.  I couldn’t stop thinking it, over and over.  This happens to me a lot, but I don’t think I really noticed it in the same way before; certainly this is the first time I thought of the echoing metaphor.  I think this counts as obsession in the OCD sense, but I suspect it counts as depressive rumination too.

I have no confidence in my ability to do my work.  I can accept that most of what I’m doing I can do on autopilot now, finding and checking information, but sometimes there’s a conflict of information, usually when a person’s LinkedIn page says someone is working somewhere, but the company’s website says s/he isn’t, and I have to make a judgement call as to which one is right and I worry that I’m doing it wrongly, or inconsistently (but maybe there isn’t one consistently right answer here).

Speaking of confidence, I still want to find a CBT therapist to work with me on my self-esteem, but I remembered today that I did a confidence and self-assertiveness evening class several years ago (I think it was before my MA, so 2009-2010).  That was largely CBT-based and to be fair it did help a bit at the time (I even did some public speaking off the back of it, which I can’t imagine doing now), but then I started my MA and the stress of producing work hit me and I spiralled back down into depression again (if it ever truly went away) and the improved confidence and self-esteem evaporated.  I ask myself if I can really tell myself “I am a good person” first thing in the morning with a straight face and not want to laugh.  Or cry.  Or punch myself in the face.

I don’t know whether I want another autism assessment.  The diagnostic criteria have changed since my last assessment, so there may be a point to it, but I don’t know what I’m more afraid of: being told I’m autistic (and therefore may struggle for the rest of my life) or being told yet again that I’m not (and therefore having no master narrative to explain and justify my weirdness to myself).

I mention being mentally ill and possibly autistic a lot online.  Not in real life, but a lot online, even where it’s not strictly relevant.  It has become central to my identity and not in a good way (if there even is such a thing as mental illness being central to one’s identity in a good way).  I think I do it to excuse myself.  I know I haven’t done anything with my life, but I’m mentally ill.  I know I’m falling short of my religious obligations, but I’m mentally ill.  I know I go on too much about how awful my life is, but I’m mentally ill.  And so on.

I’m hoping to go to a new series of shiurim starting tomorrow, although I think I may be too tired and home from work too late.  It’s about understanding the mitzvot (commandments) from a psychological perspective.  The rabbi giving it has an MA in organisational psychology.  It might be interesting and useful (or triggering).  It’s at a Modern Orthodox adult educational institution, which is a somewhat better (but not perfect) fit for my type of Judaism than my more Charedi/ultra-Orthodox shul (synagogue).  Unfortunately my experience in the past is that most people who go there are twenty years or more older than me, so from a dating point of view it’s a non-starter and not even great from a friendship point of view, although some of my friends are a lot older than me.

I’ve been playing ‘What if…’ again.  What if I went to a different school?  What if I had stuck with counselling when I was sixteen?  What if I had just asked her out?  (For any given value of “her”.)  What if I had gone to yeshiva (rabbinical seminary)?  What if I wasn’t too religious and conservative to be accepted in Doctor Who fandom?  Or if I wasn’t too geeky and modern to be accepted in the frum community?  Or if I wasn’t too autistic and mentally ill to be accepted anywhere?  Or if I just had the confidence to say, “I’m Luftmentsch, I’m mentally ill and religious and a Doctor Who fan, accept me or reject me, I don’t care any more”?!  That’s the big one: what if I actually didn’t care any more?

Intimations of Mortality

I was going to go to autism group after work, but on the train I felt terrible, exhausted and overstimulated.  It’s hard to pinpoint exactly what I struggle with, especially as some times I’m fine with some things, but not at other times.  I have no problem with trains most of the time, but they are hard at rush hour, and I’m not sure if it’s the noise, the heat or the people, which means it’s hard to tell if it’s social anxiety or autism.  Similarly, I can’t tell if I struggle at work from the noise (autism) or the fear of interactions with others (social anxiety) or the feeling that I’m doing badly and am going to get fired (depression and low self-esteem).  Then being depleted makes my blood sugar drop and I feel faint and sometimes start trembling, so I have to eat, which makes me worry about clomipramine-induced weight gain…

Whatever the reason, my work days are terrible ordeals at the moment.  At some point in the afternoon today I found myself crouched on the floor of the toilet, trying to escape from things.  If this was a permanent job, I would be seriously considering resigning.  As it is, I’m counting down the next six weeks.

I do worry if I’m fit to work, but, again, it’s hard to tell anyone that, because I’m not sure myself if the problem is depression, social anxiety or autism.  Someone told me that where I live one can have free (i.e. state-provided) help with autism, including a pre-assessment (for want of a better word) where they tell you whether you are likely to be diagnosed with autism and what that would entail.  I don’t know if I qualify because I’ve already been assessed twice and told I’m not autistic, but if I can go, I’m seriously thinking of going and saying that I really think that I’ve been wrongly diagnosed and that I’m autistic, that much of my life only makes sense if I’m autistic and that several mental health professionals (and some friends) strongly believe that I’m autistic, especially as the diagnostic criteria have been revised and broadened since I was assessed.

I had a lot of death fantasy today, not so much wanting to die, although there was some of that, but wondering if I’m dead and in Gehennom (Purgatory).  It’s probably just as well that I’ve finished reading VALIS, as that was probably encouraging me in that kind of solipsistic fantasy.  I just want not to be here.  I can’t imagine my life ever being worth living.  I just seem to be a mass (or mess) of mental illness and autism and trying to unpick and cure – or even just alleviate – one part of my problems runs into the problem that they are all interconnected and you can’t deal with one without dealing with all the others first.

My self-belief is at an all time low (which is saying something).  I can’t see myself managing to get a permanent job and stay at this level of functionality indefinitely.  I don’t even need to worry about getting married, just worrying about functioning is bad enough.  I don’t think I have ever worked as hard with depression this bad as I have this year.  Usually when working with depression in the past I was doing very short hours or studying with control over my study schedule, but now I’m nearly working full time with a long commute at rush hour.  On one level it’s impressive, but I worry that I’m going to burn out; goodness knows what that would entail – suicide? psychosis?  To be honest, I don’t think it would be either, but I don’t know what it would be.

I feel inclined to withdraw from social things, as I did with autism group and as I have been doing with shul (synagogue).  It occurred to me today that I probably do have a couple of friends, or potential friends, who could accept me if I would open up to them, but I’m scared that if I do that they won’t accept and I’ll be worse off than I am now, where at least I have them as somewhat friendly.  So I don’t open up and so never get to move those friendships on to closer friendships.  I don’t know how to talk to people about my mental health/autism and I don’t know how to explain that they dominate my entire life to the exclusion of almost everything else.  And then there’s the shame I feel about my geeky interests with other frum (religious) people, so that’s another key part of me I don’t open up about.

I did at least get to shiur (religious class), as by the evening I had eaten and relaxed a bit and felt somewhat restored, although I was inwardly a bit disquieted by the unusually large number of men packed into the assistant rabbi’s dining room.  The topic was not so easy for me either as it was about having purpose in life and living according to that purpose, whereas I don’t feel I know my purpose at all and don’t know how to find out; I’ve been told I can work it out by listing the five happiest moments of my life and what I would do with a million pounds and six hours of free time a day, but I don’t think I can think of five times I’ve been really happy and I simply don’t know what I would do with money and time.  This was also tied in to having a spouse and children to take forward your mission, which is obviously sensitive to me.  The assistant rabbi was saying that a person can be studying Torah and doing mitzvot (commandments) and still be messing up by not studying the Torah and doing the mitzvot  needed for his precise mission, so obviously that’s just going to reinforce my feeling that I’m a bad person and I’m not going to go to Olam HaBa (Heaven).  And he spoke about my acting out too and about that being wrong (not that he knows that I do it, he just meant it generally).

In terms of finding my mission in life, sometimes I think I should try to contact the author of this article and ask if she can offer any tips on finding my life’s mission, but I don’t know what she could say that isn’t in the article.  Other than that, I have no idea what to do.

“Good Ol’ Charlie Brown… How I hate him”

I seem to be stuck in a rut, getting neither better nor worse.  Last night in shul (synagogue) I was thinking of writing a bitter, sarcastic post about not fitting into the frum (religious Orthodox Jewish) community, but today I don’t feel so bitter, although I’m still pessimistic.  The frum world is a community where one fits in largely by contributing.  There are various different roles available, but I can’t find one that suits me.  I don’t earn enough to be a big philanthropist, I don’t have the confidence to lead services (although I have in the past), my social anxiety keeps me away from a lot of chessed (social care) opportunities and so on…  I feel there must be something I’m good at that contributes meaningfully, but I can’t find it.  Even my blog seems to be read more by non-Jews than Jews, which wasn’t really what I expected (I think the number of Jewish blogs has declined in recent years, but that could be a subjective impression or reflective of my own reading habits.  They may have been crowded out by professional or semi-professional sites like HevriaTabletThe Wisdom Daily and Mosaic.)

Today yet again I knew answers in shiurim (religious classes), but was too shy to speak up.  There’s a guy in one shiur I go to who seems to like the sound of his own voice too much.  He knows a lot, but he does speak more than anyone else, both asking and answering questions (and sometimes answering questions that were asked of the rabbi before he can answer).  This is starting to really annoy me, but I’m sure it’s only because his over-answering throws makes my shyness look even worse.

I spoke to my parents about dating last night.  It was a mistake, because it was me playing ‘Ain’t it awful’ again and getting annoyed when the disagreed, but I guess some good came out of it.  First, my Mum said that the woman she was trying to set me up with lives in America, so I’m not quite sure why she even got mentioned.  I asked my parents if they thought I would ever get married and they both said yes.  I knew my Dad would, because he’s dreamt about my being married and having children, and he thinks his dreams are precognitive (I disagree).  I still don’t think I’m going to get married, but in the course of the discussion we did come up with the name of one Modern Orthodox rabbi (and Doctor Who fan) who might be able to find me a suitable shadchan.  It does seem hard though as I have two separate (although not contradictory) set of criteria: within the category of frum women, I want to find someone who is geeky (or at least tolerates my geekiness), but I also need to find someone who accepts my mental health issues.  It’s hard to go in both directions at the same time.  My Mum tried to encourage me to go back to dating websites or to try dating apps, but I’m wary of them.  My experience was that dating websites are expensive and, for whatever reason, women were generally not interested in me (either in contacting me or responding to emails I sent them), although to be fair I met my first girlfriend through J-Date.  I actually had more success on J-Date than I did on J-Wed (which is a more specifically frum site geared particularly for dating for marriage rather than just looking to date generally), which seemed counter-intuitive.  Mind you, I’m not sure whether I had a reasonable sample size in terms of numbers of people and amount of time I was on there.  I still don’t think they’re the way to find geeky and/or mental health-tolerant individuals, although I’m not sure what a better way to do that would be.

I read various online cartoons every day.  I saw a Peanuts cartoon today (obviously not a new new one, but one newly on this site) where Peppermint Patty refers to Charlie Brown as “boring, dull, wishy-washy ol’ Chuck” and says that no one could love him,  not knowing that he is hiding nearby.  I feel that one could say the same things about me.  Actually the very first Peanuts cartoon reads “Well!  Here comes ol’ Charlie Brown!  Good ol’ Charlie Brown!  Yes, sir!  Good ol’ Charlie Brown… How I hate him!”  I worry that that’s me too.

(It also slightly disturbs me nowadays that all the children in Peanuts are in love with each other.  Patty loves Charlie Brown, Sally is in love with Linus (“My sweet babboo”), Lucy is in love with Schroeder and of course Charlie Brown is in love with the Little Red-Haired Girl who we never see.  (The bird Woodstock once tragically fell in love with a worm.)  This never bothered me as a child, but it does bother me as an adult.  I also have a horrible feeling that one day I’m going to buy the Complete Peanuts books, which run to twenty-five volumes and will cost serious £££ (that’s serious $$$$$ if you’re American).

A couple of people have told me lately that I’m a good person.  I find that really hard to believe, especially as no one ever gives me concrete examples of the good things I’m supposed to have done.  I don’t know why they believe I’m a good person; it’s certainly not a belief I’ve ever tried to spread.  And I think about sex far too much for a frum person, although to be fair people who don’t read my blog won’t know that, as I don’t talk about sex at all.

I had a weird dream last night.  I don’t remember all the details, but my boss from my old job was my step-mother (yuk!) and she was telling me off for various things and I answered her back and said she had no right to tell me what to do.  I’m hoping that means that my resolution to reduce my negative self-talk has gone down to a deep level, although so far all I’ve really been able to do is try to be consciously aware of my self-critical thoughts rather than challenge them.  I still worry that if I don’t beat myself up all the time, I’m going to turn into a narcissist.  I did just send an email to find out if a nearby therapy centre could potentially offer me CBT for my low self-esteem.

Tomorrow I’m writing a job application and talking to my rabbi mentor and, if I get time, trying to catch up with the pile of stuff that has built up over the Yom Tov (festival) period.  The job actually looks like a good one, primarily cataloguing, fairly easy commute and well-paid, but full time, which would be hard.

New Doctor Who in less than twenty-four hours…

The Struggle

Not much to report today.  Work is a struggle against boredom, tiredness, exhaustion (in my mind the tiredness I fight in the morning is qualitatively different to the exhaustion I fight late afternoon, the former the result of lack of sleep, the latter of working too much without enough of a break), hunger (some of which is probably disguised boredom and some exhaustion), depression and anxiety about doing the wrong thing or making mistakes, and general self-consciousness. I’m currently feeling particularly self-conscious for carrying around a big cabin bag, as, while my backache has largely gone, I’m wary of it coming back if I take a heavy rucksack again; yesterday my boss asked me if I was staying away from home in the evening.  I was crying at my desk again this morning.  I feel that something has to give, but I know from experience that I can stay in the ‘something has to give’ state indefinitely, even for years, before an outside event makes things somewhat better or worse; the melodramatic and violent (in multiple senses) ‘breakdown’ of fiction is not really the everyday reality of depression.

I was thinking on my way home, not for the first time, that I’m not sure what the difference would be between my life and Gehennom (purgatory).  Gehennom supposedly consists of a constant re-viewing of one’s life, filled with guilt and shame for everything one did wrong.  I can only see two or three differences: Gehennom only lasts a year (then one usually goes to Heaven unless one is very bad, in which case one ceases to exist) and eventually has a therapeutic effect whereby the soul comes to terms with the bad things that it has done.  On the other hand, if I was really in Gehennom, I probably wouldn’t have my books and DVDs, so I’m somewhat better off in that respect.

Similarly, the news – I mean the actual national/international news, not my personal news – is depressing beyond belief.  I’ve largely tuned it out.  It feels like something has to give there too, but, again, I doubt it will.  We’ll probably just carry on, lurching wildly first to the right and then to the left, interspersed with occasional financial crashes and wars, the way we have done for thousands of years.

I’m trying to call myself out on my negative self-talk/internal monologue, but it’s hard.  Harder still to replace it with something more positive.  I still worry that if I don’t beat myself up continually, I will turn into some kind of psychopathically violent narcissist.  Inasmuch as I see myself as a good person, which isn’t much, I fear that it’s less down to natural goodness and more overactive conscience, runaway guilt and social anxiety.

I still don’t know what to do about the woman my Mum wants to set me up with.  My feeling is that if we don’t have much in common, there wouldn’t be much point dating, but if we do have stuff in common, it could potentially lift my mood.  Unfortunately, I can’t find out if we have anything in common without going on a date if she’s even interested, which she may not be.  In the very frum (religious) world, it is common to ask all kinds of questions in advance of a date to see if two people might have stuff in common (even though this is in conformist communities with perhaps less individual variation than normal, at least according to stereotype), but I don’t think I could get away with that.  Also, someone did it to me last year and it was quite irritating.

I’m apparently currently glutted with women being suggested to me, which is unusual.  Glutted only by my standards, though i.e. two.  I’m just back from shiur; it was cancelled, but I didn’t realise until I got there because my phone isn’t working properly, so I didn’t get the WhatsApp messages.  Someone else obviously didn’t get them either, because he was there.  I’ll call him Talmudist, because I don’t think we’ve seen the last of him.  I’ve mentioned him before as the person who was astonished to learn that I’m single and told me to marry.  He greeted me bluntly with “Would you go to Israel to live?”  I could see where this was going, but feigned ignorance to buy time and said that was a big question to suddenly ask me in the street.  Apparently someone’s sister-in-law’s daughter (or was it his daughter-in-law’s sister?  One of the two) is looking for someone, but only if he’s willing to live in Israel.  I made non-committal noises and was told to I need to think about such things (actually, I’ve been thinking on and off about living in Israel for years, but for better reasons than looking to marry, but I don’t think it’s feasible for a number of reasons).  I was also recommended to look for a wife in Manchester, which at any rate isn’t as far away as Israel, with less of  a language barrier.  According to Talmudist, many Jewish men find brides in Manchester, although the laws of supply and demand, not to mention basic biology, being what they are, I wondered what happens to the glut of Mancunian men deprived of native-born wives.  Perhaps they all come to London (or Israel).

Anyway, Talmudist says he wants to see me happy and fulfilled, which apparently is only possible if I marry.  Years ago I would have welcomed this sudden interest in finding me a mate, but lately I feel that I’m better off trying to find ways to be happy while single.  Give me the serenity to accept the things I can not change and all that.  On the way home I wondered what would happen if I publicly admitted to being a weirdo geek freak with depression, social anxiety, complex trauma and high-functioning autism.  I’m honestly not sure.  I don’t think Talmudist would understand.

I suppose this seems all very strange and backwards and Fiddler on the Roof-esque to most of my readers.  The Orthodox Jewish community is small, conservative and traditional; it’s considered quite normal to be overly-interested in other people’s behaviour and to feel threatened by even minor non-conformity.  The assumption is that everyone wants to conform really, so you can help them by nudging them in the right direction.  That’s not to say it’s right, morally or halakhically.  You’re not really supposed to rebuke people (or you are, but only in narrowly-defined situations that most people won’t meet) and talking about sensitive subjects is flirting with ona’at devarim, hurting people with words, a very serious sin according to the rabbis.  But most people in the community marry early and with fewer people suffering fertility issues than in the past, most people don’t really understand what long-term single people or childless couples go through.  It’s a failure of empathy, really.  I suspect this incident may repeat itself…

A curious autistic-type moment today: thinking about the first time my sister brought her now-husband to meet us, I found myself wondering why I was so nervous about meeting him when I get on well with him.  It took me a minute to realise that past-me hadn’t met him yet, and so didn’t have the knowledge of present-me (knowing that we get on well).  I know difficulty with perspective-taking is a common autistic symptom, but I hadn’t experienced it with a younger version of myself.

I finished a masechta (volume) of Mishnah today (the Mishnah is the older, shorter and simpler part of the Talmud).  Four down, fifty-nine to go.  It’s good to have small victories, even though I sometimes fear they just throw the failures and anxieties into sharper relief.  The pile of unanswered emails and jobs to do, grows exponentially, though.  Even the urgent jobs to do list is too long.  Well, I can at least use some of the time I would have spent at shiur trying to sort out the problem with my phone.

Sukkot 1 and 2

I shouldn’t really be writing this when I need to go to bed to be up so early tomorrow, but I need to stop the racing thoughts in my head.  I’m not translating all the Hebrew words because I’m in a hurry.  Google is your friend.

Sukkot is Zman Simchatenu, the Time of our Joy, but I’ve been up and down the last few days.  Sometimes I’ve been OK, but at other times I’ve slipped back into depression and occasionally into OCD (about the sukkah).  The depression hit me particularly badly in the shiur between Mincha and Ma’ariv tonight.  It was a highly technical halakhic shiur about arbah minim and I could not follow it at all, but judging by the apparently relevant and incisive questions, some at least of the other men in shul could follow it.  I felt such an idiot.  I don’t know why I’ve never been able to ‘get’ Talmudic/halakhic analysis when so many men who, to be frank, as not my intellectual equals generally do get it.  I’ve decided to try to make time to study Nakh (the post-Mosaic books of the Hebrew Bible) again (in Hebrew), but it’s hard to make time for it or to get in the right headspace when I’m depressed.  But Tanakh appeals to me a lot more than Talmud and halakhah, even if I suspect I’m just reading it for literary reasons and the challenge of understanding the Hebrew as much as for religious reasons.

I know/know of a lot of Jews who have stopped being religious because of mental illness.  Likewise a number of Jews who left because they couldn’t get married or fit into the community (this is particularly true of ba’alei teshuva (people who became religious late in life) and converts).  I feel that logically I should stop being religious, but by some strange fluke I happen to believe and so feel stuck in a religion that I believe is true, but which doesn’t actually bring me any joy or peace and with a God who I still find it hard to believe actually loves me, given all I’ve done, and given the way He treats me.  This feeling is only going to increase as we head towards Simchat Torah next week, which is unbearable for anyone with depression or social anxiety, particularly if they don’t have young children or grandchildren (or great-grandchildren, kayn eiyn hara).

I’m trying not to go on about the fact that I’m never going to get married, as I realised (from the C-PTSD book) that it’s just another form of self-criticism, but trying not to mention it doesn’t actually mean that I don’t believe it.  I really can’t see how I could even meet someone in the frum world where men and women only meet if they are set up on dates together and I don’t have a critical mass of acquaintances who know me well enough to set me up with women.  Plus I hide my true self (mentally ill, geeky, open to non-Orthodox ideas) from everyone to avoid rejection, so they wouldn’t set me up with the right women anyway.  It doesn’t help that I currently exist in a grey area between the Modern Orthodox and Haredi/Yeshivish worlds.  I wish there was more of a vibrant Modern Orthodoxy in this country, but there isn’t.  That being the case, I don’t know how to meet someone.  I’d like to go to a course at the London School of Jewish Studies next month, which is about the most vibrant Modern Orthodox institution in the UK (not to meet someone, just because the course looked interesting and possibly helpful to my mental health), but I’m not sure if I can manage staying out late with getting up early for work.

(Did you notice that I managed to make the paragraph about not complaining about never getting married into a complaint about never getting married?)

It’s very clear to me now that I’m avoiding shul in the mornings because of social anxiety.  What is less clear is why I can get to shul on Shabbat and Yom Tov afternoons when I can’t make it in the mornings.  Is just because I’m already awake and up rather than having to go from sleep to dressing to being in shul in half an hour?  I’m not sure.  Why can I get up for work, but not shul, even though shul is hours later?  And what is at the root of the anxiety?  Is it just fear of rejection and not belonging in my community?  Again, I’m not sure.

In non-Jewish news, I’ve had a backache for about a week, which may be my depressive/low self-esteem slumping bad posture catching up with me as my Dad always said it would.  Plus I can’t hear properly and yesterday I felt really dizzy in the evening, which may be the sign of an ear infection.  There’s been a huge problem with my antidepressants too and I’m worried about whether I’m going to be able to get a repeat prescription tomorrow (long story).  So, I’m generally feeling not at my best at the moment and uncertain of how to move forward.

Colonel Runaway

One problem of the concept of ’emotional flashbacks’ that I’ve mentioned is the difficulty I have in distinguishing an emotional flashback (if there really is such a thing) from my ‘normal’ feelings of depression, despair, anxiety and self-loathing.  Or maybe there is no difference – they really are the same thing.  The book I’m reading on C-PTSD did seem to imply that a lot of what is diagnosed as depression and anxiety is actually misdiagnosed C-PTSD, which might explain why the usual depression treatments have been so ineffective for me, but I’m wary of doing my usual thing of finding a potential new diagnosis and getting very involved and emotionally-invested in researching it before a psychiatrist tells me I don’t actually have it (cf. bipolar disorder, autism and other things).  I guess I feel like the boy who cried wolf with myself.

Emotional flashbacks or not, it has been a difficult Shabbat (Sabbath) and I am ashamed to say that, yet again, I mostly responded by running away.  I ran away from shul (synagogue) early during Ma’ariv (the evening service) this evening.  This was partly because I had a migraine (and was aware that I’m likely to feel just as bad, if not worse, on Wednesday, as fasting always makes me ill), but also because I was feeling deeply depressed and socially anxious.  I’m not quite sure what triggered it.  There are too many possible causes, or maybe it was the cumulative effect of all of them.  I was initially a bit upset that I couldn’t join in the lechaim (drink, in this case whisky) at the Talmud shiur (class) for finishing the first perek (chapter) of Talmud because I don’t drink because of the depression and my anti-depressants.  Then at Mincha (the afternoon service) someone took my usual seat, which upset me more than it should have done (symbolic of my not having found my place in the community?), then I didn’t realise there was going to be a seudah shlishit (third Shabbat meal) and had already eaten mine at home (after eating seudah shlishit one can’t eat again until after Shabbat) and the rabbi’s Shabbat Shuva shiur (class) about Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement) depressed me – I’m not sure if I felt I couldn’t be forgiven or that I would be, but didn’t deserve to be (or maybe it was something else).  The last straw was an acquaintance coming up and talking to me and I was reluctant to mention that I haven’t been at shul much recently because of depression and social anxiety, but then I got trapped in my white lies about everything being fine… so it all got to much for me and I ran away from shul during the Amidah, skipping the extra post-Shabbat prayers.  I suppose also ran away by sleeping too much to avoid my thoughts and to avoid shul, as usual.

As I mentioned, the rabbi’s shiur about Yom Kippur upset me and I’m not entirely sure why.  He quoted a parable from Rebbe Shneur Zalman of Liadi, that what happens on Yom Kippur is as if a king gave his friend the crown jewels, and the friend dropped them in raw sewage, and then the king personally wiped them clean.  Likewise HaShem (God) gives us a pure soul, which we sully over the year with all our sins, and then on Yom Kippur He personally cleans our souls and returns them to a pristine state.  The rabbi also compared it to a king changing his baby’s nappy, not caring about how disgusting it is and even cooing over the baby while doing it to show his love.  That should be a reassuring image, but somehow it wasn’t.  I just feel inadequate and undeserving of forgiveness.   Perhaps – and this is somewhat speculative – I feel I would rather die than be forgiven, not in some kind of rebellious Miltonic sense, but just that I don’t feel I deserve forgiveness and I’m scared of HaShem, but not in the way we’re supposed to be.  I’m sure it’s all rooted in my childhood, in the traumatic experiences that I can’t talk about here, although I want to, but it’s hard to know what to do.

I suppose I just want to be told that I’m good, but am scared of it.  Scared of being told that I’m not good, but also scared of being told that I am good.  I don’t feel I deserve to be told that.  Sometimes I fantasise about meeting some great rabbi (past or present) who could tell me that I’m a good person, or having some kind of semi-prophetic dream about it, but I think that scares me, without my really knowing why.  He didn’t mention it today, but the rabbi has often stated the kabbalistic (mystical) that sinning creates a negative spiritual entity, which God sustains Himself, when he would be justified in telling it to sustain itself off our souls.  I don’t know what that means or whether I believe it (I’m wary of saying that I don’t believe in kabbalah at all, but I find it impossible to understand and, unlike halakhah (Jewish law), which I also struggle to understand, I don’t even understand the general principles behind it or connect with it at all, and a lot of it does seem illogical in a way that I don’t find with other aspects of Torah).  I haven’t heard that idea from anyone else, although I have heard the idea that male masturbation creates demons from the unused semen.  I don’t know whether I believe that either.  But I find it easier to believe that I’m creating hundreds of negative spiritual creatures every year from my sins than that HaShem forgives me for everything and coos over me like a loving parent.  Maybe that makes me a terrible person, or maybe I’m just messed up.

Rosh Hashanah

In the end I did a half-hearted chesbon nafesh (assessment of my spiritual standing last year) in the closing hours of year while I was doing other stuff.  I didn’t write it down, unlike the previous twelve years or so that I have filed on my laptop.  I’m not sure I can remember what I found, but did feel I had done slightly more than I expected, but not much more.

I had a surprise short-notice invitation to the rabbi of my shul (synagogue) for dinner.  I must have slipped out at the end of Ma’ariv on first night Rosh Hashanah (New Year) last year because I didn’t know that the rabbi gives everyone (well, every man, but there weren’t many women there) a personal bracha (blessing).  He wished me a year of equanimity, which was nice.  The assistant rabbi blessed me that I should find someone to marry “at right time”.  I’m glad that he said “at the right time” because I really don’t think I am marryable right now.  See also the person from shiur (religious class) who said a fine person like me deserves beautiful wife… there are several questionable assumptions right there, but I’ll leave that for now.  It’s all meant well, but I feel realistically I would be better off with a blessing to accept that I’m always going to be single.  I can’t tell the rabbi or assistant rabbi about E, but I don’t think either would approve (my rabbi mentor does, but he is probably more broadminded).  But the Talmud says that a man without a wife is without blessing, life, joy, help, good and peace so opting to stay single doesn’t really come in to it.  Plus, one has to be socialised into the norms of the community (more on this later).

I enjoyed dinner, but I didn’t say much.  I really take with me two things from the evening: the person sitting next to me played a little practical joke on me, telling me something obviously untrue that I completely fell for and one of the other women at the dinner looked familiar, but I couldn’t work out why; only later did I realise I think tried to talk to her on a Jewish dating site years ago (she wasn’t interested – she thought I was too “wordly” and would find her boring).

On the morning of the first day of Rosh Hashanah, I was too depressed and socially anxious to get up, so I missed shul and the blowing of the shofar yet again.  I feel bad about this, but it has happened so many times that I don’t feel that bad about it any more and not in a good way.  It was harder to explain my absence to the people I was sitting with (the seating has been rearranged for chaggim (festivals)) when I saw them in the afternoon.  I said that I have health issues without say what.

Based on a dvar Torah sheet I read on first night, I tried to focus on accepting my feelings when davening (praying), even thought that meant most of my davening was full of very sad feelings.  It wasn’t always possible, though, and sometimes I was on autopilot or just too socially anxious to concentrate.

On the second night I went to dinner with one of the people I usually sit with in shul, the closest friend I really have there, and his family and the other person who sits with us.  This was a less anxiety-provoking meal and I enjoyed it, but on the way home I suddenly developed a migraine.  It’s like I’m not allowed to enjoy myself without something going wrong.

I was supposed to be on security duty at 12.30pm on the second day.  I was feeling depressed, but forced myself out about 12.15pm (shul had started at 7.45am, I think) only to discover there was some kind of mix up about the security rota and I didn’t need to be there.  I took the opportunity to daven and to hear some of the shofar blasts, although I’m not convinced I heard enough to fulfil the mitzvah because I was so late.  I was overwhelmed by the noise and the close proximity other people (far more people come for Rosh Hashanah  and Yom Kippur than for ordinary services, so we are packed in to the small school hall where we daven).

There was a shiur in the evening between Mincha and Ma’ariv which made me quite depressed.  It was given by a rabbi who does kiruv (outreach) work with teenagers.  He was talking about the lack of self-esteem in teenagers, which made me feel depressed, similar to the way the rabbi, at dinner the first night, said that one should find one’s tachlit (purpose) by the end of one’s teens; I’m thirty-five and I have absolutely no idea what my tachlit is or how to find out.  On the way home I reflected on my own teen years and felt very lonely and depressed.  I feel there was a way I could have succeeded in my life, particularly my religious life, but probably my mental health too, if I had made certain decisions when I was thirteen or fourteen, even when I was eighteen.  But social anxiety and a feeling of non-conformity, a feeling that other people (peers, but also kiruv rabbis) were trying to bully and twist me out of shape kept me from doing that.  Now I don’t fit into a frum (religious) community; I can’t get married (I’m in a weird non-relationship with a non-frum woman); I have few frum friends, but not many; I have no role in my community, nowhere where I fit in.  I made some bad choices, but I was also pushed into bad choices by family dynamics, social interactions, bullying, loneliness and a fear of a one-size-fits-all approach to kiruv and acceptance in the frum community that allows the secular world to enter in some ways, but not others (yes to football and politics, no to geekyness).  I don’t know where I go from here.

I couldn’t sleep last night, probably due to sleeping too much over Yom Tov (so much for the minhag of sleeping less over Rosh Hashanah).  I eventually got four or five hours sleep and spent much of the day struggling at work, feeling exhausted and not knowing what to do and thinking that I can’t actually do the fairly simple task I’ve been set.  On the way home I saw the frum woman I dated briefly last year only for her to drop me instantly when my mental health issues came out.  And then I managed to run into her again.  I can accept that life is miserable, but why does it have to be so hard?

Thoughts from the Last Shabbat of the Year

Just a few thoughts I was wrestling with over Shabbat (the Sabbath).

I couldn’t sleep on Friday night.  I’m not sure why.  I had a lot of somewhat agitated thoughts during the evening and they just continued when I got to bed.  Eventually I got up and read an anthology of (not very good) Doctor Who comic strips until I felt tired enough to sleep.

The agitated thoughts raced around, but were mostly about the idea of belonging somewhere in the frum (religious Jewish) community and whether HaShem (God) loves me.  The Jewish Chronicle had devoted quite a bit of space to Chief Rabbi Mirvis’ thirty-six page document laying out guidelines for United Synagogue  Jewish schools regarding LGBT+ students.  Obviously Orthodox Judaism has a more rigid and prescriptive approach to gender and sexuality than the secular West, but Rabbi Mirvis was concerned (quite rightly, in my opinion) about people feeling excluded from the community and especially about the high rate of suicide among LGBT+ people and the homophobia and transphobia people encounter in the Orthodox community.  His aim was to create an inclusive community where pupils feel able to talk about their gender and sexuality without prejudice.

Although I’m not LGBT+ (and I’m technically not part of a United Synagogue shul any more, although I have links as my parents are), the fact that he was making a big effort to reach out to people that historically the mainstream Orthodox community has seen as being on the fringe, or beyond it, was comforting to me, as it implied a more inclusive community for everyone.  Particularly as his argument for inclusion was based on “love your neighbour as yourself” and “do not stand by your brother’s blood” (i.e. don’t stand by when other people are in danger) and the fact that schools have a duty of care for all their students, rather than more pragmatic considerations (e.g. the community is shrinking and we can’t afford to turn people away).

So, I was thinking about this a lot.  I’m not sure I can fully reconstruct my thought processes, but I suppose it was on the lines of, “Rabbi Mirvis implies HaShem loves everyone, regardless of who they are, therefore He must love me, regardless of all the bad things I do.”  This obviously was not a new thought for me, but in the past I always follow it up with, “Well, if HaShem loves everyonedoes He love Hitler then?  Or Osama bin Laden?” and then I end up feeling that if He doesn’t love people who are evil, maybe I’m evil too.  But I got thinking that if everyone is holy because they are created in the image of HaShem, with a holy soul, then it would only be if I committed murder (i.e. destroying the image of HaShem in someone else) or rape (equivalent to murder according to the Torah) that He would stop loving me.  And, bad as I am, even at my most self-loathing I can’t claim to have committed rape or murder.

I’m not sure how coherent this reasoning is.  Certainly the Jewish tradition argues that you can destroy your connection with HaShem with other sins, some of which I’ve done, but it also adds a load of caveats to that stating that you have to really understand the spiritual consequences of the bad things you’re doing and do them deliberately to anger HaShem in order to cut yourself off from Him forever and it’s generally assumed that these days people don’t have that awareness.  But I guess this area of feeling loved or hated by HaShem is something I’m going to struggle with for a while longer, but I do feel as if I made a step forward last  night.

In recent years I’ve influenced by a lot of Jewish religious existentialist thinkers.  Jewish existentialism tends to focus a lot on relationships as the core of the religious experience, with ritual and study being subsidiary to that.  The core idea is the encounter – the encounter with HaShem and the encounter with other human beings – when two people meet and are able to respond to each other from the depths of their souls.  This appeals to me very much, but I feel I’m very bad at it.  I do try to go to my support groups and to comment on mental health blogs online and to keep in touch with friends who have mental health issues.  I feel that that is where I’m supposed to be right now, being there for other people, even if it’s just to listen and validate.  (In my experience being heard – really being heard – is one of the most therapeutic things.)  It’s hard though.  I’ve let some bloggers whose blogs I read know that they can email me via my blog if they want, but I subsequently worried that that was too forward and maybe I scared them.  I find interpersonal interactions laden with difficulty.  Still, if anyone reading this feels lonely or distressed and wants to email, please use the link at the top.  Although I say it myself, I consider myself a very non-judgemental person.  I’m pretty good at responding to emails quickly, although there will be quite a few days this month when I can’t check my emails due to all the Yom Tovim (Jewish festivals).

At shiur (religious class) on Thursday someone assumed I was married with children and I had to tell I am single and childless.  Tonight he asked how old I was and when I said I was thirty-five, he said I should get married.  I said I want to, I just haven’t met the right person yet.  Then I felt bad, because I still hope that E. might be the right person and I have met her, she just doesn’t feel that we should be dating right now, which I kind of agree with and kind of don’t agree with.  We both really care about each other a lot and message each other a lot (multiple times a day, far more than I message anyone else).  But there’s a lot of obstacles to making that a relationship though.  I wasn’t going to tell him that I was in an “It’s complicated” situation, though.  Frum people aren’t supposed to get into “It’s complicated” situations.  He did at least wish that this year would be the year I get married.

My parents asked me again about E. at lunch too.  They do that quite a bit, which I’m slightly worried by.  Every so often my Dad asks if I’m still in touch with her.  I’m not sure whether he realises what the situation is, as I haven’t had the confidence to tell him exactly that we both still really like each other.  My Mum knows a bit more.  She is worried that I would wait for E. so long that I would miss other opportunities.  I understand that, but I don’t feel up to dating other women right now anyway.  E. was right that I’m too dysfunctional and (let’s be honest) too poor (I mean financially poor) to think about marriage and family.  If I can de-dysfunctionalise myself… well, maybe E. might be interested then and if not, I can think about dating other women, but at the moment I think I need to concentrate on getting myself better.

I feel sad writing this post.  It’s brought up so many mixed emotions for me.  I really want to reach out to people.  I really just want to help people, but I feel that I don’t have anything to offer other than a sympathetic ear and a non-judgemental nature.

And now it’s the last Jewish day of the Jewish year 5778 (Jewish days run sunset to sunset).  I already wished everyone here shana tova/good new year earlier in the week, because I wasn’t sure I would have the time or inclination to write again.  Still, knowing that a disproportionate number of my readers have difficulties of one kind or another, I hope everyone is written for life, health, prosperity and happiness tomorrow (we believe that everyone gets judged by HaShem on Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year) regarding whether they will have a good new year, non-Jews as well as Jews).  We should all have the joy that comes from knowing and accepting who we are, and having people around us who accept that self-definition and care about us.  Shana tova.

The World is Waiting, Apparently

Work seems to be going OK and my mood has been better this week.  I don’t seem to be making as many mistakes as earlier in the week and so far my boss hasn’t complained about my speed, although I’m going slower than I would like.  I’m shaking again, though, when I talk to my boss.  Shaking is something that hasn’t been a huge problem for a while.  I shake when I get nervous, probably connected with medication side-effects, but I go long periods of not being troubled by it at all and then it can suddenly come out of nowhere.  My gut instinct is that I was so worried that my boss at this job would be like my boss at my previous job (critical and temperamental) that it led to anxiety and shaking.  Then, once it’s started, I begin to worry about shaking when I go into a social situation and my anxiety about shaking triggers the shaking itself and I become trapped by my own nervous system (nervous in both senses of the word).

The main thing I want to blog about today is something I read.  I’ve been reading Halakhic Morality: Essays on Ethics and Masorah by Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik.  Rav Soloveitchik (as he is known) is a major figure in twentieth century Orthodox Judaism, a major communal figure and a major thinker.  The book is a selection of previously unpublished essays and lectures on Jewish ethics.  The final chapter, titled Religious Styles, deals with the need to develop a unique personal religious style.  Rav Soloveitchik says that there is the halakhah, Jewish law, which is binding on all Jews in the same way and can be formally taught.  But there is also religious style, the way a person fulfils the commandments, which a person has to develop for himself, based on observing his or her parents and teachers.  One can keep all the mitzvot (commandments) punctiliously and still be a bad person if one has a bad style, for instance if one is short-tempered, rude, gluttonous and so on.

This was interesting to me, because I struggle to find my own religious style and to work out where I fit in the frum (religious) community, and it chimes with my understanding of the teachings of the Kotzker Rebbe a century earlier, which stress individuality.  But then the Rav says,

“Sometimes we walk into shul [synagogue] on Rosh ha-Shanah [Jewish New Year] and we are as cold as if we had just come out of a deep freeze.  We want to ignite a fire, to warm up our personality.  It happens to everybody; it happens to me too.  I do not think then about the philosophy of Rosh ha-Shanah and the concepts of malkhuyot, zikhronot, and shofarot [kingship, remembrance and the blowing of the shofar, the ram’s horn trumpet, the three core concepts of the day’s prayers].  No matter how wonderful and beautiful they are, how fascinating intellectually they may be, they will not light a fire.  One cannot arouse a person by philosophizing.

All I have to do is recollect the tune my grandfather R. Hayyim used while reciting U-Vekhen Ten Pahdekha [part of the Rosh Hashanah prayers] – that’s all!  Suddenly a fire is ignited, my heart begins to warm up and I begin to feel the sanctity of the day.” (pp. 198-199)

I find this interesting, as this is the problem I have been wrestling with in the run up to Rosh Hashanah (starting Sunday night), so it seemed strange to reach this chapter just now when I’ve been reading this book on and off for months.  I also feel cold about the coming Yom Tovim, but I don’t know how to warm myself.  To be honest, I have probably needed warming up for some years.  Unlike the Rav, I do not come from a famous rabbinic dynasty to have examples of ‘warm’ Jews from my ancestors.  To make matters worse, I have a lot of anger and resentment against HaShem (God) to work through and I don’t know how to do it.  Nor do I know what my unique religious style would be.  But I’m glad to know that it’s not just me who struggles.

In a somewhat related way, the assistant rabbi was talking in shiur (religious class) tonight about the need to connect with HaShem and other people in an authentic way, not just out of ego (so we can feel good that we condescend to help others) or to get rewarded.  He said we should find one middah (character trait) that is naturally well-developed in us, something that comes easily to us, and use that to help others altruistically at this time of year so that we will connect with the world in a genuinely altruistic, God-centred way and deserve a good new year.

I don’t know that I have even one good middah.  I can’t think of any good deed or mitzvah (commandment) that comes easily to me.    In the latest of his weekly parasha essays, Rabbi Lord Sacks says “The world is waiting for you” but I don’t know what I am expected to do.  The only thing I can think of where I connect to people in a genuinely altruistic way, doing it for other people rather than to get something for myself, is when I interact with people online, on my blog and other people’s blogs, where I genuinely like to connect and help with advice or support about mental illness.  But if that’s my mission in life, it rather implies that I will always be depressed.

I wish I could tell if I am a good person and a good Jew.  E. told me recently that she thinks that in secular terms, I would be a good person.  Which I guess is good, but I’m not sure if it’s good enough.  I mean, part of the reason I’m frum is that I find the secular Western ethic lacking in many ways and the Jewish ethic to be more meaningful and more fully thought through and in a way actually more humanistic, more attuned to human nature, more aware of its pitfalls and more able to avoid them, but also in some ways more accepting of it.  Somehow it feels that the active good I do is very little, and my goodness, such as it is, is mostly avoiding the bad.  Which is good, at least up to a point.  “Turn from evil and do good” says Tehillim (Psalms) (34.15).  Rabbi Pinchas of Koretz is said to have spent twenty-one years improving himself by following this dictum: seven years removing evil from himself; another seven years finding the good; and a third set of seven years inculcating the good into himself.  Still, I feel that if I started becoming frum when I was twelve, I’ve had well over my twenty-one years by now and I’m far from good.

The world might be waiting for me, but I don’t know what it is waiting for me to do.

Life and Death

I was the first person to get to shiur (religious class) last night.  The assistant rabbi, who takes the class, made the usual small talk gambit of asking how I am and if I had any news.  I didn’t really want to get into talking about myself, but I don’t like to lie and I’m a bad liar, so I started to tell him about my job situation.  I felt really stupid telling him about leaving my old job, as if it was a stupid thing for me to do, which perhaps it was.  Fortunately we got interrupted by other people arriving.

I found it hard to concentrate at shiur.  I kept thinking about dying and being dead.  When I got home I flicked through a book on complex PTSD (which I’m still not convinced I have) which said that “passive suicidality” (fantasising about death without actively planning suicide) is common among people with complex PTSD.  That is probably the case with me, regardless of whether I have complex PTSD, as I think about death and dying a lot when depressed, but don’t usually make plans to kill myself, although I do sometimes take precautions in case I do impulsively try to hurt myself.  The author of the book felt that passive suicidality is a form of childish fantasy, of wanting to remove oneself from the situation one finds oneself in, which fits the way I experience it (“childish” in the sense of its something a child without power to alter his/her environment would fantasise as an escape, not making a value judgement about it).

The shiur was about seeing HaShem’s (God’s) sovereignty everywhere.  The assistant rabbi said that we don’t really experience this in our lives.  I felt that I do see it a bit, but because I don’t experience HaShem as benevolent, it is hard to be glad about it or trust that things will turn out well.  So, I can acknowledge that HaShem gave me a job really quickly after leaving my old job, within a week but it’s hard to hold on to that, partly because it is not really a career-enhancing job, nor is it likely to last more than three or four months, but mostly because when something good happens to me, I assume that something bad is going to come out of it sooner or later, even if the bad is only the loss of the good (which is more frustrating in some ways than never having the good in the first place).  I feel when something goes well, I’m just waiting for it to go disastrously wrong.  This is how my life seems to have gone: every good thing being short-term and leading to bad things that are long-term and painful enough to outweigh the short-term good things.

***

I came across this article on identifying your life’s mission that I’ve read in the past again.  It reminds me of something the assistant rabbi was saying yesterday about needing to know what you want out of life at this time of year so you can pray for it.  I still have no idea how to answer the article’s questions that are supposed to help find your mission in life: what are the five or ten most pleasurable moments of your life? (I don’t know.  I can’t think of many overwhelmingly positive moments.)   And what would you do with a billion dollars and six hours a day of discretionary time? (I have absolutely no idea.)  Mostly I want to be dead, inasmuch as my fantasy is just not to have to engage with the world any more, because I can’t face it and I don’t feel I do very well at living in it.  The thought of actually doing something just triggers anxiety as I’m sure I can’t do it.  I’m certainly struggling with career choices.  As my new job is short-term, I’m still looking at career emails from agencies and websites, but I don’t know what I want to do.  I was reminded today of my boss in my old job asking me if I really wanted to be a librarian when she told me that she didn’t think I was able to meet the revised job specification.  I do feel that I don’t seem to be as suited to librarianship as I thought I would be, but I don’t have a clue what to do instead.

I just looked at the cheshbon nafesh (self-assessment) I did this time last year.  I was stressed, but feeling positive: I felt I had brought the OCD under control with CBT and I was making significant improvements with my depression on clomipramine and was trying to see myself as ‘someone with depression’ rather than a ‘depressive’ i.e. not to be defined by my illness.  I was positive about my job and living away from home.  I felt that I was making friends at shul (synagogue).  I had read or re-read quite a few religious books over the previous year, although I felt I had missed most of the (far too long) list of targets from the year before.  It feels like almost all these things have disappeared now, except controlling the OCD.  Even the clomipramine doesn’t seem to be doing much.

***

I just bought the complex PTSD book that I was looking at last night.  It may have been a stupid thing to do given that (a) it is far from clear that I have complex PTSD; (b) I have a huge pile of books to read already; and (c) I do not have such a good record with self-help books (e.g. the social anxiety book I bought that was useful for understanding social anxiety, but which I could not follow through with the practical steps to recovery).  I bought it because, regardless of whether I have PTSD, it looks like it has some useful stuff about self-love.  Anyway, that’s my salary for my first hour and a quarter of work next week gone.

The Wrong Path

I was offered the chance to lead Ma’ariv (the evening service) in shul (synagogue) tonight.  In my old shul I used to do that a lot and got a bit of a buzz from it (albeit that I felt guilty about ‘showing off’), but I hadn’t been asked in the three years that I’ve lived in this area.  I assumed everyone had me down as not knowledgeable and/or religious enough, given how little I get to shul because of the depression and social anxiety, so I was surprised to be asked.  However, I panicked and turned it down, which I feel bad about, as I may never get asked again now.  I really need to do something about my social anxiety, as not only did I turn down Ma’ariv today, but I avoided shul this morning because of it.

The shiur (religious class) today during seudah shlishit (the third Shabbat (Sabbath) meal) at shul reinforced my feelings that I’m barely even treading water at the moment regarding Judaism.  The idea was that not only is it important to to the right actions, but one has to be on the right path too.  Otherwise one can end up doing the right thing, but in the wrong place.  I don’t have a clue what path I should be on, or what that would even mean in terms of my life.

A weird thing happened during Ma’ariv.  At one point I just stopped and realised that the top of the letter tzaddi looks like two horns (צ).  This reminded of the Midrash where Aharon (Aaron) is afraid to become High Priest, as the horns of the altar look like the horns of a calf, reminding him of his role in the Golden Calf.  He has to be reassured by Moshe (Moses) that HaShem (God) has forgiven him.  I stopped for about minute (which is quite a long time) thinking about this, unable to go on.  I’m not quite sure what my unconscious was trying to tell me, but I guess it may be related to being asked to lead Ma’ariv.

Weird mind thing number two: this morning I dreamt about the twelfth Doctor (Peter Capaldi) telling me, “Whatever you do, be a Doctor” which may mean that my unconscious wants me to do a PhD.  Or it may mean that I’ve been watching too much Doctor Who (got one full season and one special episode (= thirteen episodes) left of my epic re-watch of all surviving TV Doctor Who from its creation in 1963).  (Also, Clara told the Doctor to “Be a Doctor” and not a warrior when she was killed, but I’m not sure how that fits in.)