“You should never have your best trousers on when you go out to fight for freedom and truth”

Today is Lag B’Omer and the end of the mourning period part of the Omer, at least according to the minhag (custom) I follow, so I’m clean-shaven again and can listen to music without worrying about anyone asking why I’m doing it (even though my rabbi mentor told me that people suffering from depression can listen to music, I feel uncomfortable about my parents or anyone from my shul (synagogue) catching me doing it).  Shaving again does lift my mood somewhat; at least I’m not so itchy.  Still, it’s always seemed a slightly weird day to celebrate, especially as I don’t actually believe Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai wrote The Zohar, which is ostensibly the main cause for celebration, and another difference between me and my community (although I just read that the connection between Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai’s death and the celebrations is very recent – as in Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai lived in the second century, but the connection was only made in the seventeenth or eighteenth).

The other thing happening today is the most pointless election in the history of British democracy, elections to the European Parliament, an organisation we were supposed to have left weeks ago and which we may still, in some sense at least, leave, or at least lose our voting rights in (which would probably be worse than either fully leaving or not leaving at all).  It’s basically being used as a protest vote by everyone annoyed with either the government or the opposition, which is pretty much everyone in the country.

I was always brought up to believe that there I have a moral duty to vote at every election, however pointless it might seem because “people died to win you the vote.”  Ignoring the fact that this is arguably a weird version of the sunk cost fallacy and that, as Oscar Wilde wrote in The Portrait of Mr W.H., the fact that someone died for an idea does not make it true, I’ve always stuck to that, but today I can’t.  I just can’t bring myself to vote for any of the parties.  Not the Conservatives, with their incompetence and infighting, not the Lib Dems and Change UK with their insistence on overturning the referendum result (I voted remain, but I think that overturning the referendum will be far worse for our democracy than leaving the EU even without a deal), and certainly not for the gang of Marxist antisemites running the Labour Party or the racist neo-Nazis of UKIP.  I can’t bring myself to vote for the Brexit Party either, so I spoilt my ballot by writing pretty much what I wrote here only more succinctly.

I feel really bad about it, like I done something not so much wrong as sacrilegious.  Like I’ve somehow offended against the spirit of democracy and if Britain ends up as a dictatorship, it will be my fault (whereas in reality I felt I was making the only gesture I could reasonably make towards saving British democracy, if that’s not pretentious).

Anyway, enough politics.

***

I had a sudden burst of religious OCD, worrying about some kashrut issues.  I’m not quite sure where this came from all of a sudden.  I know that OCD thoughts never go away fully and one has to be vigilant not to give in to the compulsions or checking that goes with them, but I’m not sure why they have suddenly flared up today.  I checked the first one with my rabbi mentor, but when the second thought came, I realised I was falling back into checking and (so far) resisted asking the question.  In OCD, as in politics, the price of freedom is eternal vigilance.

***

Dayenu is a song from the Pesach seder.  After describing the Egyptian slavery and exodus, we sing “If [God] had brought us out of Egypt, but not wrought justice on them, it would have been enough.  If He had wrought justice on them, but not on their gods, it would have been enough.”  And so on, for fifteen verses, saying how even if God had not done everything he did for us, but only some of it, we would still be grateful (it’s fun to sing, though).

I realised I do a kind of reverse dayenu.  “If I was only a geek and not autistic, it would be enough (to stop me getting married or building a career).  If I was only autistic and not depressed, it would be enough.”  And so on.  I need to find a way to stop doing this.  It may be entirely true that I am not going to build a career or get married, but endlessly repeating my mantra (as my therapist used to say) doesn’t make anything better and probably makes things worse.  I probably do something similar regarding fitting in to my community; I did that again today after reading something on a frum site online that I really disagreed with and feeling that I will never be accepted in the community, but don’t fit in in secular Western society either.

***

Speaking of which, shiur was difficult again.  First there was my stupidity: someone who goes passed me on the way there and offered me a lift, which I took out of politeness, even though I was literally just down the road from the assistant rabbi’s house.  He saved me all of two minutes.  Then I somehow ended up trying to get out the car while the engine was possibly still going and certainly before the handbreak was on.  I just get so nervous around people that I end up doing stupid things.

Then I had another “Is this really the right community for me?” moment, when I just do not believe some of the things the assistant rabbi was says; I don’t believe Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai wrote the Zohar and I don’t believe that all aggadata (non-legal material in the Talmud, but in this case specifically narratives about biblical characters and sages of the Talmudic era) literally happened.  That’s a relatively minor point on one level, because I do believe that these narratives, whether they happened or not, were written and preserved because they are meaningful, but I just feel like a dissident or a spy in a hostile country sometimes, where if I’m not careful I’ll slip and be ostracised.

But what really upset me was the substance of the shiur, which was about our ability to understand Torah being proportionate to our effort (in a supernatural way i.e. the reward is disproportionately greater than the amount of toil, as a reward from HaShem) and that toiling in Torah study is a goal in itself.  I feel I just don’t understand anything, certainly not Talmud, but I don’t feel I can toil any more.  I know I hardly do any Torah study at the moment, it’s just so hard when I often feel depressed and I’m trying to learn how to juggle mental illness and working/job hunting, and chores and community stuff and davening (prayer), which I still haven’t learnt after a couple of years of working several days a week (when I actually have a job).  Maybe I could/should do more.  I’ve been trying to do more just the last few days.  But I never really understand Talmud, no matter how hard I try.  I can understand Jewish philosophy sometimes, but that’s not considered important or particularly worthwhile.  But I can’t understand Mishnah and Gemarah and it’s hard to make the effort to try.  Even with Tanakh (Hebrew Bible), which I used to love, it’s hard to really connect and find anything meaningful (and, again, it’s not really considered meaningful study for an adult male).  I used to find a chiddush of my own on the sedra (innovative comment of my own devising on the weekly Torah portion).  I think I did that every week for about four years, but then the depression intervened and my inspiration dried up and I couldn’t think of anything.  I haven’t been able to get back into it.

I just feel so separate from God, it’s hard to make the effort to study, particularly when I don’t understand and often can’t connect it to anything in my life.  There’s so little meaning in my life, and I have so little drive to do anything, other than perhaps to write.  Maybe I’ve just got lazy.  When I was too depressed to work, I studied Torah every day (OK I did skip a bit in 2003-04), often for an hour, I think.  Nowadays I’m struggling to do half an hour.  When the depression is bad, even five or ten minutes can be hard.  So maybe it is my fault.  Maybe I’m just lazy or maybe I just don’t care any more.  I don’t know.  I’m just blaming myself more now, which isn’t going to help me make a positive change, like doing more Torah study.

This all made me think of the Gemarah (Shabbat 31a) about the six questions you get asked after death.  Supposedly when you die, you get asked six questions by the Heavenly Court.  They are:

  1. Were you honest in your business dealings?
  2. Did you fix times for Torah learning?
  3. Did you engage in procreation?
  4. Did you hope for salvation?
  5. Did you engage in the dialectics of wisdom?
  6. Did you (intellectually) differentiate between one thing and another?

However, this only helps you if you have awe of HaShem.

This is before getting judged for all your deeds.  This builds up a sort of character profile of whether you had the right life philosophy before they examine all your deeds.  Also, the whole thing – questions, court etc. – is deeply metaphorical and not literally what happens, which is probably beyond our comprehension.)

Of these, questions two, five and six are all about Torah study, so I’m pretty much stuffed there.  (Apparently the Vilna Gaon saw all six as allusions to the six orders of the Mishnah, so they’re all about Torah study.)  I’m obviously not going to succeed with number three either.  I don’t know if I hope for salvation enough.  I very much doubt that I have enough awe of HaShem.  I don’t really think about Him much.

I do feel, sometimes, what is the point of my even being Jewish?  Because I’m so bad at it.  I don’t learn enough and I don’t daven enough, or with kavannah (mindfulness) or with a minyan (community), I don’t do chessed (kindness) or any of the things I should do.  I don’t connect with God.  I don’t have a worthwhile job.  I don’t live in Israel.  I don’t really know why I’m here.

There was probably more I wanted to say, but I’ve just descended down into depression and self-loathing again, after being OK most of the day (albeit not achieving very much either).  I want to eat ice cream, but I shouldn’t (that word again) given that I ate junk at the shiur and will doubtless eat a huge amount of junk over Shabbat, but this has just upset me.  And now I’ve spent an hour writing this when I should be winding down for the night.

I really am a bad advert for Orthodox Judaism.  Please don’t judge all frum (religious) Jews by me.

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Meaning from Suffering

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

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

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

***

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

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

***

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

***

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

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

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

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

***

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

The Diogenes Club Shtiebel

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

Things Done Today

Things done today:

  1. Tried, for the third day running, to apply for a job at a particular institution, struggled to describe how I meet the criteria, procrastinated, decided the job is at too high a level for my experience and gave up both disappointed and relieved;
  2. Spoke to my rabbi mentor, a conversation in which I felt I did not really express myself clearly or describe my anxieties;
  3. Wrote a blog post that somehow got out of hand and turned much more political than I usually feel comfortable posting here;
  4. Did about thirty minutes of Torah study;
  5. Went for a fairly brisk thirty-five minute (or so) walk;
  6. Redrafted another chapter of my Doctor Who book, the first chapter in this draft about which I haven’t had a vague sense of unease.

I feel that today was frustrating, although I can see I did some good things, especially points four to six.  I just feel that I should be able to do more, the background level of mild depression notwithstanding.  There are so many little (and big) chores that I need to do that just get pushed away constantly, so many religious and family obligations that I feel I’m not meeting and I wish I had more time to spend on my writing.  Or maybe it’s that I wish I could give myself permission to spend more time on my writing.  I’m not sure that “redrafting” is quite the right word for what I’m doing with the text of my book either; I’m deleting material and making slight changes, but, so far, nothing very significant.  That’s probably a sign I’m either doing very well or missing something very wrong.

The DVD of the latest series of Doctor Who arrived, which I wanted anyway, but bought more urgently when I realised I probably should write a chapter on it for my book.  I think that it’s too early to really judge this new era, but I suspect a publisher would want me to make the book as up-to-date as possible and any new fans attracted to the programme by Jodie Whittaker will want something on her Doctor.  Plus, omitting it leaves me open to the accusation that I don’t see the female Doctor as ‘real’ Doctor Who, which is not the case.  I am still on the lookout for a cheap copy of Resolution to bring my collection of TV Who up to date, although I suspect I will have to fork out the full price if I want it in the next month or two.  £13.99 for an hour of so-so TV seems a bit much.  I think it’s still on iPlayer, but I’m a completist (arguably I get what I deserve if that’s the case, but that’s an argument for another time).

On Being Liked

Last night I was still thinking about the Doctor Who Society anniversary party after I posted about it.  One thing that came to mind, which has also come to mind a bit with some people from shul (synagogue) lately, is that some people seemed to actually like me.  This is a big thing for me to get my head around.  At school I thought only a handful of geeky kids liked me.  At university I was quite reluctant to describe anyone as my friend, as I only saw them at society events (Doctor Who Society or Jewish Society) and thought that they didn’t want to see me outside that.  Then for a long time when my depression was bad I thought, on some level at least, that people were only really my friend out of pity, because they were sorry for the state I was in.  So it’s been quite a shock recently (I mean over the last few months) to realise that some people seem to actually like me for who I am, even if they are aware of my mental health issues and the way I feel I don’t always quite fit in the communities I would like to belong to (Jewish community, Doctor Who fan community).  I’m still not quite sure how to process this.

***

Another thing I’m trying to process is my date with L.  I don’t really want to say too much about it as I don’t feel it’s appropriate to talk too much about dating while I’m actually going out with someone.  I don’t really know what to think, but that’s quite normal for me after a first date, particularly if it’s a blind date.  I guess L. in many ways is not the type of woman I have dated before or assumed I would marry, which may be a good thing, but I need time to process it.  We decided to go on another date, though (L. brought the subject up as I was going to wait, having been told in the past that I’m too quick to ask for another date).

Rabbi Lord Sacks has produced a calendar of thoughts, one per day for the omer (the period when we count the days between Pesach and Shavuot (Passover and Pentecost)).  I suppose it’s a kind of advent calendar, but with inspirational thoughts instead of chocolates.  One recent one stated that “Next time you meet someone radically unlike you, try seeing difference not as a threat but as an enlarging, possibility-creating gift.”  So I’m trying to see possibilities rather than worries.  But I am of course worrying and over-thinking everything, as usual.

Doc Soc-ing Again

I’m not quite sure how coherent this is going to be, so bear with me.  Perhaps I will come back tomorrow and add more.  I’m feeling exhausted from a massively draining day; it would have been draining for anyone, but even more so with autism and depression.  But I need to set things down so that I can sleep; as usual, I’m writing for myself as much as anyone else.

I struggled to sleep last night after helping with post-Pesach (Passover) tidying.  I think I fell asleep around 4.00am.  After five hours of sleep, I was up again to go to Oxford for the thirtieth anniversary party for the Doctor Who Society.  When I was there it was the Oxford University Doctor Who Society, but I think it lost the university bit a few years ago when the proportion of students in the society dropped below the critical threshold.  A lot of what happened to me at Oxford was fairly miserable and a previous trip back to the city a number of years ago left me upset, but the Doc Soc (as we called it then) was one of the few places I felt comfortable and accepted, so I wanted to make the effort to go and show my support.  Plus I am a former president.  I know I only did a term, but I still count!

When I arrived in Oxford I spiralled down quite quickly into depression.  It doesn’t help that the bus station is right by my old college.  My college was not the site of good times.  I actually spent much of the day trying to avoid being anywhere I could see it and only consented to have it in my sight (from a distance) at the end of the day when I was feeling better.  Wandering around the town, killing time before the party, I was just feeling that I didn’t belong in Oxford, that I messed up my time there, that the city was full of undergraduates having fun and I was lonely and miserable the whole time I was a student.  I think I even wondered vaguely if should just turn around and go home.

I killed time for a bit until 2pm, when the party was due to start and eventually found the confidence to go in.  The room was packed with people and, again, I started to wonder if I had made the right decision, immediately feeling rather overwhelmed and anxious.

I won’t give a blow by blow account of what happened, mainly because I can’t.  Everything blurs together.  I know I must have stayed feeling awkward and depressed for a bit, but gradually I loosened up and was able to speak to some friends from my Oxford days.  After a while, I was able to get the confidence to speak to one or two people who I recognised from blogs I follow, which led on to being introduced to people who I knew from commenting on those blogs, even though I didn’t know that they were Oxford people too.  I’m not quite sure how I managed to do that, but somehow I did.  I actually managed to speak to quite a few people over the afternoon and mostly didn’t shake, although I was careful when pouring drinks.  It helped that I was aware that this was an environment where people who are neurodivergent, eccentric or just plain different were more likely to be present and accepted than in other environments that I find myself in (work, shul (synagogue), dates).  Someone said she saw me in the street on the way there and thought that I looked that I might be the type of person who would be going to the Doctor Who Society which amused me.  I obviously look geeky even when not wearing my Doctor Who scarf (I decided that the ‘smart casual’ clothing instructions precluded both cosplay and Doctor Who t-shirts, although few other people felt the same way).

There were various events during the afternoon, including a talk on the history of the society by my friend M., a quiz (which my team did reasonably well at although I was inexplicably stricken by social anxiety when the time came to call out results and stayed silent) and various visual presentations that I should probably not go into too much detail about here.

It was a very enjoyable afternoon, but I was thoroughly exhausted by the end, especially as I stood for four hours as there weren’t enough chairs for the number of people.  I managed to get back to London where my Dad picked me up from the station, but I found the journey home painful, as he was making small talk, which I find challenging at the best of times, but I was too ‘peopled out’ to really deal with it.  I read the blog of a carer for a child with more severe autism than I have, and he (the child) apparently tries to stop people talking to him on the way home from school; I could see his point.  I don’t have extreme sensory sensitivities, but sometimes light or noise can be really irritating, and when I need to crash and have ‘alone time’ it is painful to be dragged into conversation, especially small talk.

Then, when I got home, there was some post-Pesach religious OCD anxiety.  I won’t go into details, but I still don’t know if I did the right thing about that.  I was caught (as I usually am with these things) between what I felt was right in the abstract and what I felt I should do to avoid upsetting my parents.  It does underline to me that even though my relationship with my parents is reasonably good at the moment (although it could/should be better and that it is at least partly my fault), there are just gulfs of understanding between us, usually neurotypical brain vs. autistic brain or mentally healthier brain vs. more mentally ill brain, but also sometimes religious gulfs.  My parents are fairly religious, but sometimes there are just gaps in understanding or attitude to Judaism and halakhah (Jewish law).  I don’t want to give examples and probably I shouldn’t really say any more.  I suppose most people are not clones of their parents, even if they have a lot in common.  It’s just hard to bridge the gaps sometimes.

So that was the most social day I’ve had in a very long time.  People are probably expecting me to say I came home and crashed in front of Doctor Who, but I actually watched Blake’s 7 (Blake’s 7, I should probably say for those who don’t know, was Doctor Who‘s unofficial sister show in the late 70s and early 80s.  There were no direct crossovers, but they shared a lot of actors, writers, directors, props, costumes etc.).

Tomorrow is my date with L. (arranged via the values-based dating agency), so I ought to go to bed and get some rest.

The ‘About Three Quarters of the Way Through Pesach’ Post

Up late again today, despite going to bed a little earlier.  No strong anxiety or OCD, but I’m still in a moderately deep depression with no obvious triggers other than the stress of the time of year, and perhaps too much ‘peopling’ (although that was nearly a week ago now).  Still feeling wiped out today, although the cold symptoms have subsided, and I feel apprehensive about going to Oxford on Sunday for the Doctor Who Society’s thirtieth anniversary get together (there will be lots of people I don’t know!  And probably some who I do know, but haven’t seen for years!) followed by therapy on Monday (a one-off session at the moment via Skype, with my psychodynamic therapist, as I felt the need to talk some issues through) and then my date with L. in the afternoon, which is a lot of anxiety-provoking peopling in rapid succession, particularly if I manage to get to shul (synagogue) quite a bit over Yom Tov (the end of Passover, tonight until Saturday night).

Thinking morose thoughts about the world.  Lots of Jews think that this is ‘the generation of the footsteps of Mashiach (Messiah),’ the final generation before the start of the Messianic Age.  I have no idea if this is true.  The Talmud says that the period before the coming of the Mashiach will be a generation poor in Torah scholarship, arrogant, lacking in true leadership, lacking in respect for the elderly or for parents, impudent and heretical.  This seems true of today, but it seems true of most periods, at least to those who lived through them.  But I hope and pray, and try not to think about it too much; I find the millenarianism of much of the fundamentalist Jewish (and Christian, and Muslim) world disturbing and counter-productive.  One should do teshuva (repentance) and mitzvot (commandments) and study Torah, and leave the rest of HaShem (God).  Although it is probably difficult to avoid it at this time of year – the festival of redemption, in the month of redemption, when the Mashiach will come, according to tradition.  The Hasidim even celebrate the Feast of Mashiach on the last day of Pesach.

I’m not really sure what I’m trying to say in this post.  I really just wanted to check in as I’m going to be out of contact for at least forty-eight hours, maybe much longer.  I suppose I’m feeling lonely and a little apprehensive.  Chag sameach.

All The Lonely People

I’m a bit torn about staying up late writing this.  I wanted to get to bed early because the clocks go forward, so I’ll lose an hour of sleep, plus I have to be up early tomorrow for volunteering.  However, I slept about twelve hours last night and dozed for another two this afternoon so I’m far too wide awake.  My Mum said I didn’t do much on Friday, so why was I so lethargic today?  I think I’m just burnt out from a busy and emotionally-draining week.  Autism + depression + work stress + social interactions (at work and at depression group) = exhaustion.  I missed shul (synagogue) this morning through being too tired to get up, rather than too socially anxious, which seems like an improvement, weirdly.

I do feel rather lost at the moment.  It feels that my life has… well, I can’t say “unravelled” as it wasn’t very ravelled in the first place.  I just feel I don’t know what I should be doing about my career and I don’t feel at all comfortable with my religious life, feeling I should be more involved in prayer and Torah study and pursuing meaning in ritual and prayer, while at the same time I feel isolated in the frum (religious Orthodox Jewish) community and unable to fit in (more on that in a minute).  I struggle socially and don’t even know what I can do about that or what I even want to do.  I’ve given up on dating in the near future.  Realistically, I fear it could take me years to sort out my career and only then could I think about dating, which could have a knock on effect on whether I can have children, given that I can’t see myself marrying someone ten years younger than me.  I guess the bottom line in all these areas, career, Judaism, social life and dating, is that I don’t even know what I want or even how to find out what I want, let alone how I can get it.

And then on top of all this comes the start of a month of pre-Pesach stress and hoping that Pesach and its extra-strict dietary laws doesn’t set off my religious OCD again.  To be fair, last year I had just one bad twenty-four hour period (split over two calendar days) and whereas for the last few years I’ve spent all year worrying about Pesach and writing long lists of (mostly OCD) questions to ask my rabbi, this year I have not really had any of that, with only a few questions to ask, mostly relatively small points of clarification.  So that’s all good.

***

What I wanted to write about, while I don’t feel tired, is something interesting that happened at work this week.  I was sorting through some piles of “little magazines,” which are magazines, mostly about art, literature and/or politics (especially politics), produced cheaply and somewhat amateurishly for distribution to like-minded individuals, with content usually too iconoclastic and extreme to sell to established journals.  As a Doctor Who fan, it struck me that they were basically fanzines, but directed at artists or political obsessives/revolutionaries.

Looking in one radical feminist magazine, Jewish terms in a poem caught my eye.  It was about the author’s fascination with Hasidic Judaism and her feeling that she, as a woman, lesbian and feminist, could never be accepted by these religious thinkers that she admired.  Reading to the end of the poem, I saw that it was written by a female Reform rabbi I knew of.  I don’t think I ever met her, but in my first job, at a non-Orthodox rabbinical seminary, I spent some considerable time cataloguing part of her library, which she donated to the seminary after her death.  I was always intrigued and intimidated by her, intrigued because of the unusual mixture of radical feminist and traditionalist Orthodox material (or at least material about traditionalist Orthodoxy) in her collection, intimidated because I felt she would have no time for a conservative (in multiple ways), Orthodox person like me and because the general consensus among staff and students in the college (who all adored her) seemed to be that she didn’t suffer fools gladly, and whenever I meet someone like that, I worry that I come across as rather a fool.  (As an aside, I think “doesn’t suffer fools gladly” is a stupid phrase.  Is there anyone who wakes up in the morning thinking, “I hope I have to suffer some fools today, as I’d certainly be so glad to do so!”)

The poem, then, rather took me by surprise, but perhaps it shouldn’t have done.  The clue, I suppose, was in her library, which, as I say, was filled with radical feminist books, but also with books on Hasidic Judaism (a form of Orthodox Judaism that stresses joy and love and ecstatic prayer) and the Mitnagedim (the opponents of Hasidism, but still very Orthodox, stressing Torah study, particularly legalistic Talmudic study rather than prayer as the centre of Judaism).

It showed me another side of her, something I hadn’t really suspected.  I knew from her books and what her colleagues and students said about her that she was fiercely intelligent, intellectual and strong-willed.  Also religious, in the progressive Jewish way that tends to be rather more political than Orthodox Judaism.  Maybe angry, again mainly in a political way.  But I hadn’t really expected to see vulnerability.  I expected her to be out and proud in her beliefs and scornful of those who didn’t accept them.  The desire for acceptance and the feeling of rejection and isolation took me by surprise.

An article in the same magazine by a different author dealt with her feelings on having to defend Judaism and Zionism among left-wing feminists.  Taken together, the poem and the article seemed to sum up my feelings of wanting to be accepted by the frum (Orthodox Jewish) world and also wanting to be accepted in a more counter-cultural world (in my case Doctor Who fandom rather than radical feminist circles), but not conforming to expectations of behaviour and views in either.

It made me wonder if everyone feels that they are on the fringe of something.  Do lots of frum people feel that they’re on the fringe of Judaism?  Most of the people I know who feel like this are either converts (who feel they aren’t accepted by people born Jewish) and people with non-conventional political views (particularly in the US, where Jews tend to be very party-political: progressive (as in non-Orthodox) Jews are Democrats and Orthodox Jews tend to be Republicans, with anti-Trump Orthodox Jews feeling beleaguered).  I don’t really know many people who feel isolated because of atypical cultural interests and neurodivergent trouble with social interactions in general.

In reality, probably not everyone feels like this.  Some people seem happy alone and some people seem to be in the thick of things (whatever type of social group ‘it’ is) and happy with that.  But clearly other people do share my feeling that I can never be accepted by the people that I want to be accepted by, perhaps even the feeling of being torn between two worlds, neither of which I fear will really accept me.

Self-Image

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

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

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

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

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

Sex, Politics and Alcohol

(Don’t say I shy away from the big topics here.)

I woke late, later than I wanted.  I was going in to work at lunchtime and staying late at an event this evening, but even so I wanted to be up at 9am, whereas I got up about 9.40am.  I was slow to get going, feeling depressed.  I wondered what I would say to my younger self, about to be diagnosed with depression for the first time seventeen years ago.  It was hard to think of anything encouraging.  I could say that he/I would at least survive, but I’m not keen on pure survival as a goal.

For some reason that I don’t understand, I thought a lot about my two failed relationships.  I don’t know what it is about me that prevents me from forming relationships.  Well, I do know, because on some level it’s autism and depression, but it’s hard to know what specifically stops me.  To be fair, both my exes had issues about as much as I did, so perhaps I shouldn’t just blame myself.  It’s hard not to blame someone, though, and I don’t really want to blame them either (as I said, they had issues too).  Given how long it was before I went out on my first date (I was twenty-seven) and the gap between my first and second relationships, I could be in my forties before I get the chance to try again, which is going to make starting a family harder.

***

I struggled through the early part of the work day (i.e. early afternoon) feeling like the idiot child again.  I felt I was making stupid mistakes and not thinking to do things until they were pointed out to me which could potentially be an autistic executive function deficit, I suppose, but that only occurred to me just now, not at the time; at the time I just thought I was being stupid and useless.  My boss was nice about it, which somehow just makes me feel worse.

Late afternoon brought the event/exhibition we were running.  From my point of view, it was similar to the event/exhibition we ran a few weeks ago, in terms of my curating rare books and trying to remember enough of my history BA to be able to talk about them while secretly hoping that I don’t say anything outrageously wrong.  At any rate, radical politics from the English Civil Wars and Interregnum seem popular again.  I was actually less affected by the crowds and noise than I had feared, except when someone dropped something on the other side of the room with a loud metallic noise which distracted me even though no one around me seemed to notice.  From everyone else’s perspective, this event was different to the previous one as we had food and wine (which I didn’t eat (a) because I was curating and (b) because it wasn’t kosher).

The other, bigger, difference was that we had some guest speakers.  They were interesting, but I didn’t take much in because I had been a bit triggered by the political nature of the event – not anything party political, but just general thoughts about protest (the theme of the event) and where I stand.  I feel counter-cultural in some ways, but I don’t subscribe to any political party or ideology and feel rather disenfranchised by contemporary politics.  I honestly struggle to find anyone I could in good conscience vote for at the next election (unless Elmo from Sesame Street stands against Theresa May again).  I fantasise about dropping out without knowing where I would go.  In fact, not only do I feel counter to mainstream culture, but also to the main counter-culture (to paraphrase The Avengers, I’m counter-counter-counter-cultural).  I feel Orthodox Judaism is strongly counter-cultural too (how could it not be, by far the smallest of the world’s major religions?), but too many Jews miss the point and end up with conformist bourgeois lives.  But the revolutionary potential is there.  For example, Buy Nothing Day is an established anti-consumerist protest day.  I once calculated that Orthodox Jews spend approximately two months not buying anything at all (if you add together Shabbat (the Sabbath) and Yom Tov (festivals) it comes to about two months, depending on whether Yom Tov falls on Shabbat in any given year and on whether you live in Israel and get one day less Yom Tov).  Shabbat itself is a very revolutionary egalitarian idea, a sanctuary in time that everyone receives in the same amount, regardless of wealth or status (cf. Heschel and Seeskin), a day when no one can compel anyone else to do anything.

I feel I am drifting from the point somewhat (sorry, it’s 1.30am and I’m drained, but not sleepy and need to get my thoughts in some kind of order before bed).  It’s just that whenever politics comes up lately (lately = for the last few years) I feel vaguely guilty for not having firm party political views (my opinions are more emotions or attitudes and not necessarily coherent).  But as the frum (religious) community is mostly conservative and my Doctor Who/online friends are mostly progressive, I would offend someone either way, so maybe it’s just as well that I quietly question everything, but say nothing.  It just means I always feel ‘wrong’ and under threat of rejection, as if I didn’t feel like that for umpteen other reasons already.  (My assumption that people would reject me because I don’t share their political views may be false, but in all the talk in the media of social media echo chambers, it’s hard to think otherwise.)

***

I got home at 10.30pm absolutely exhausted.  I had to “people” some more, as my parents had guests: my uncle’s mother-in-law over from Israel for a significant birthday (a tenuous family connection, but she’s essentially a family friend of long standing by now) and some other friends of my parents who are also friends of my uncle’s mother-in-law, including someone I used to work with.  So I had to go in and say hello when I really wanted to crash.  But I managed it.

***

The other thing that upset me a bit today was getting mistaken for a PhD student by the historian guest speaker.  Sometimes I feel I should have gone down that route, that I would be happier reading books than caring for them.  And high functioning autistics can do well in academia.  But every time I go to university, my depression gets bad and I say I will never go back.  Plus, if I was doing a PhD, it would probably end up being in the history of antisemitism, which would be hugely depressing, if necessary.

There was something else that was upsetting me, but I don’t want to get into it at 1.30am.  Maybe tomorrow.  Actually, I am going to go into it, because it’s upsetting me.  I feel I’m a really bad person because I get distracted by being attracted to people of the opposite sex.  I know most people are like that, but… well, I suppose I feel I should be above it in some way.  I worry that it affects my interactions, although I do try hard not to react to people differently based on how attractive I find them, and I certainly don’t flirt with women or anything improper.  I just wish it didn’t happen.  I don’t like being so aware of how attractive I find some women.  Particularly as I don’t think anyone finds me attractive, which makes the whole thing seem one-sided and exploitative.

When I wrote an article on Hevria.com years ago about being scared of my sexuality, someone commented to say I see women as “anxiety-inducing sexual objects” which upset me, probably because I’m scared it’s true.  Well, “anxiety-inducing” is true, but I have social anxiety, so everyone makes me anxious.  But, given that it seems unlikely that I will ever get married, I just wish I was asexual so I didn’t have to even worry about this craziness (being attracted to people).  There’s a story called Liking What You See by science fiction writer Ted Chiang, about whether it would be good if we could switch off physical attraction.  I think it probably would be good.

***

It’s 2.15am and I should get to bed.  I am probably coming down from today – not that it was particularly positive, but that social interactions and being busy at work get the adrenaline flowing and I need to unwind.  I can’t really crash tomorrow, unfortunately, as in the afternoon I’m speaking to someone from The Network (the local government-run organisation that provided group therapy courses I have recently attended), although I’m not sure there’s a lot more that they can do for me right now.

“It’s the end [of Purim], but the moment has been prepared for.”

(Sticking with the fourth Doctor quote theme from yesterday)

Purim

I struggled to get to sleep, being upset from what had happened earlier, and then had a disturbing dream.  I was working or (more likely) doing work experience somewhere for a week.  I can’t remember what the job was exactly, but it was some kind of creative work.  On my last day, all my colleagues mocked me for my incompetence.  I had done everything wrong, including misunderstanding an article by a famous writer even though I should have known his political views and realised I was misrepresenting them.  I think I ran away and was possibly pursued by my colleagues.  I asked why they kept giving me creative jobs if they could see that I’m not creative, but there was no answer.  Obviously there’s a lot of work anxiety in there (my real-life contract ends next week and the famous writer in the dream is one associated with that job), but also social anxiety and anxiety about my ability to be creative as I start the third draft of my Doctor Who book.  Perhaps there’s some political anxiety too.

7.30am  Despite disturbed sleep, I got to shul (synagogue) for Shacharit (morning prayers) and the Megillah (Book of Esther) reading.  I was a few minutes late for Shacharit, which I suppose was partly intentional as I’m out of the habit of davening (praying) the whole of Shacharit and was apprehensive about being there for the whole service.  I did hear the whole of the Megillah though.  I had the same OCD anxiety as last night about hearing every word as per halakhah (Jewish law), but I think I heard everything without having to repeat anything.  I actually felt quite tense and anxious as it went on, worrying that the noise would stop me hearing everything.  I think it was probably low blood sugar as I hadn’t eaten breakfast beforehand (really one should not eat before praying, although I usually do because I’m too depressed and exhausted otherwise, but I was trying to be good today), especially as I had some social anxiety after the service.  I felt better after breakfast.

***

2.00pm  I went to my Dad’s shul for Mincha (the afternoon service) because the service in my shul was in our weekday premises (the shteible, a small room rented in a larger shul, itself above Tesco).  In three years, I had never been to the shteible; I’ve had social anxiety about going in by myself and have been putting off going (more on this below), so I went to my Dad’s shul, which was also less far to walk.

***

4.30pm  I was invited out for Purim seudah (meal) at friends from shul, really my closest friend in the area.  I knew all of the men there from shul; the women were mostly their wives.  I had a good time and even joined in the conversation/banter a bit, but I did get overwhelmed with the noise at times.  I had moments when I felt, “Yes, I can fit in in a frum society, I can “speak Torah” intelligently and make appropriate jokes,” but at other times, I felt that I didn’t fit in with aspects of frum society.  I guess I’ll never completely fit in anywhere.  That’s probably that’s another reason I’m desperate to find a wife who matches me, so that at least I will have someone like me, and then we can try to raise kids with our values.  Still, no one tried to encourage (or “encourage”) me to drink (it is customary on Purim afternoon to get drunk, although Judaism being Judaism there is much dispute about what “customary” and “drunk” mean… amusingly, I got a job email today looking for a Research Coordinator at somewhere called “The Institute Of Alcohol Studies”  which was appropriate).

7.40pm  Around this time we had finished eating, but hadn’t bentsched (said grace after meals) yet.  I was going to ask if we could bentsch and I could go, as I was getting exhausted and ‘peopled out,’ but I didn’t really have the confidence to show that I was flagging, plus I guessed the men would be going on to Ma’ariv (the evening service) and I thought it would look bad if I disappeared just before then.  I decided to make the most of it and use it as a chance to go to the shteible with other people and see what it was like.  We walked there, as, while no one was drunk drunk, no one able to drive was sober enough to do so safely.  Ma’ariv was fine and then I walked home.  My Mum said that I looked happy and had had a very full and successful day.  I think I felt that, but it’s hard to be sure, as I second-guess and over-analyse myself so much and struggle to identify my emotions (alexithymia).

***

Other things than noise and social interactions that my autistic brain couldn’t cope with today: a training video for safeguarding children (for my volunteering) that played distracting music in the background while people were talking; and a job application that wanted me to “be willing to accept ‘change’ as part of the daily routine.”  The latter sounds profoundly disturbing to me, but it, or things like it, seem to be a common job requirement, like “being a good team player” (again, not always good for autistic or socially anxious people) and being “highly motivated” (not so good with depression).  I probably ought to be a hermit, or a lighthouse-keeper.

***

On days like today, when everything is going reasonably well, and I feel, if not happy, then at least content and not depressed or anxious, and I even go to shul and feel a part of a community, then I can say that God is merciful and everything is for the best in the long-run, and I can accept my suffering and willingly go into the valley of the shadow of death for Him.  It’s only the rest of the time, when I’m despairing and anxious and lonely and cut off from everyone that I can’t bear it.  In other words, I can bear my suffering except for when I’m actually suffering.  Unfortunately, the times when I’m suffering far outnumber the times when I’m not suffering.

***

That said, I feel a bit down about the way that my family interprets my words and sometimes my body language as angry and aggressive when that is not my intention.  This has happened regularly since childhood.  This is also common with autism, I believe, but happens with neurotypical people too.  It’s upsetting, though, especially as I really do get irritable more than I should because of depression and the strain of masking all my problems in public, as well as my autistic communication problems with my Dad.  There is a lot more to talk about regarding my relationship with my family, and the extent to which I’m trying to run away from it/them by getting married, but I can’t really talk about it here; it’s one reason I want to go back to my psychodynamic psychotherapist.  I want to make things right, but I don’t know how and I worry it’s not just a problem of human weakness of the kind most people experience (irritability, anger), but of the cognitive and experiential differences between me and my family.

***

Peopled out now, need a shower and autistic alone time with Quatermass and the Pit before bed or I won’t sleep…

Professor Quatermass Appeals to the Mutated Astronaut’s Vestigial Humanity

Trigger warning: suicide

Feeling incredibly depressed today.  I got to bed really late last night.  I’m not sure when exactly.  I wasn’t surprised, given how much I slept during the day.  Somehow I woke up when my alarm went off at 10.00am and knew I wouldn’t get back to sleep (I don’t know why this doesn’t happen to me on Shabbat), so I got up, ate breakfast, glanced at the newspaper, felt depressed.  Or more depressed, as I was already feeling depressed.

I feel alone, but I’m supposed to see my sister and brother-in-law today and I want to cancel because I can’t face socialising.  I suppose I felt that my sister was pushing me to see her and I wasn’t quite sure why, except that she always sees me when our parents are away.  It feels a bit like she’s checking I’m still alive.

***

I went back to bed after breakfast.  Buried myself under the duvet.  Try to shut out the world, but it’s still there.  No matter how vividly I try to imagine someone who loves me, she doesn’t exist.  She can’t exist, I suspect.  I just want someone to hold me and tell me I’m OK.  I’m such a screw up.

***

Just feeling awful today.  My parents are back tonight (they land about 1.00am so I probably won’t see them until tomorrow).  I’m not sure if that’s good or bad or both or neither.

I tried a bit to use CBT to challenge my thoughts, but it’s hard, partly because they (the thoughts) started as something inchoate at the moment, emotions and impressions rather than clear thoughts (I know CBT therapists would say that can’t happen, but I often wake up feeling depressed).  Trying to accept that things can get better.  Five years ago, I had just finished my MA, which took three and a half years rather than the single year it should have taken.  I wasn’t sure I was ever going to be able to work, but after a month or two of ‘recovering’ (sitting around feeling depressed), I started volunteering at a library again, turned that into a paid part-time job within a year (just), then went on to other jobs, which is all positive so maybe in another five years I could be somewhere else, much more positive than where I am now… but at the same time, I’ve never had a full-time job, most of my jobs have left me feeling useless and a burden on society and I’ve only had one real relationship since then (one and a half, maybe) and I can’t imagine any of this changing.  I’ve never been well enough to work full-time or rarely felt that I’m doing good work in a job.  Everything just seems so hopeless, I can see myself being in exactly the same situation in five years time, struggling through part-time, short-term jobs, depending financially on my parents, no romantic relationships, loneliness, self-loathing and depression.

I want to love and be loved so much, and it’s just been impossible for me for so much of my life.  I made a couple of good friends, which is something.  I can see that things have got better, or at least different, in some respects, but IF my life is improving (and I’m not sure that it is), it’s moving slowly.  Geologically slowly.   I can’t see it getting good enough any time soon, and probably not in time for me to ever have children.

***

I feel frail and mortal.  I’m not suicidal, but I just wish I wasn’t here.  I wish I’d never been born.  I wonder if I should try to go back to my psychodynamic therapist, as I don’t think CBT on the NHS is likely to happen any time soon and I’ve got sceptical again about whether CBT is able to help me; I can’t ‘prove’ to myself that my problems are just from thinking about things “wrongly” when my problems are objectively real and hard to tackle.  I have autism.  I have few friends.  I did not go to yeshiva, which is an important part of my religious community.  These are objective facts.  I suppose a CBT therapist would say that what matters is the interpretation I put on them, that I catastrophise my autism when some autistic people live happy lives, I devalue my existing friends and say they can’t satisfy my emotional needs and I catastrophise my yeshiva-non-attendance when there are plenty of ba’alei teshuva (Jews who became religious late in life) who didn’t go and thrive in the community.

***

I’m worried about seeing my sister and brother-in-law later.  I don’t feel able to ‘people’ today.  I want to work on my books.  I feel I should (that word again) be applying for jobs, and cooking dinner, and doing chores.  I’m not sure why she wants to see me, intellectually I can see she’s probably worried about me, but I can’t feel that.

I feel agitated and angry and despairing and I’m not good at reading people when I feel like that.  I can’t intuit that anyone cares about me, I can only know it intellectually.  Maybe that’s why I feel so alone, because it doesn’t feel like anyone cares about me, it’s just something I know, like the Ten Commandments or lists of Doctor Who actors and stories.  Maybe that’s why I’m so desperate to be held, to make love, because maybe then I will feel loved instead of just knowing it.

Maybe that’s why I don’t feel like God loves me.

***

For reasons I can’t say here, I feel that I was never good enough for my ex-girlfriends, that I was a rebound relationship or someone to go out with because there was no one better.  That’s probably also partly paranoia, but also partly rooted in things that were said or done to me over the years.  It just reinforces the feeling I’ve had for a while that only someone who was previously in really bad, abusive relationships would want to be with me, because only if someone was really hurtful would I seem better in comparison.  That I can only be second choice.  That I can only be with someone who is ‘settling’ for me.

***

So despairing.  Last night and today watched World Enough and Time/The Doctor Falls, which I consider Peter Capaldi’s last ‘real’ Doctor Who story (I tagged on the last five minutes of Twice Upon a Time, which I otherwise can’t stand).  I’ve mentioned that my grip on reality is not the always strongest, sometimes, particularly when feeling bad, I escape into fantasy, but often masochistic, self-hurting fantasy.  Imagining myself in the ‘deaths’ of all the Doctors.  Imagining dying and then turning into someone else, someone alive and potent and different and not me.  Better than me.  Anyone else would be better than me.

I want to die, but I haven’t got the guts.  I’m living for other people.  I’m living because I don’t want to upset my parents, and maybe my sister and friends, and because I’m scared of pain and hurting myself permanently, but non-fatally.  I don’t think good things will ever happen to me and I probably don’t believe that they should.

***

I finished the second draft of my Doctor Who book.  Which is good.  But I’m not going to have the time to do much else today, which is a pain, not least because of going out to eat.

I also went for a brisk half-hour walk.  I feel calmer, probably because I tired myself out (I have little stamina these days), but still struggling with thoughts and fantasies.  Apparently women with high-functioning autism are less likely to have special interests in mechanical objects (e.g. trains) and more likely to immerse themselves in fantasy worlds and to have trouble distinguishing fantasy and reality.  In this, as in some other things, I come across more like an autistic woman than a typical autistic man.  I fear that my grip on reality is not strong and one day I will flip over into psychosis (which I think is also more common in autistic people, although I’m not sure about that).  My fantasy life is vivid, but unimaginative and alternates between narcissism and masochism associated with my suicidal thoughts, although working out which triggers which is a chicken and egg situation.

Not Good Enough

I got very/even more depressed after posting last night, and very lonely.  There might have been anger in there too, I can’t remember.  I should probably have phoned Samaritans, but I didn’t think of it and I didn’t have the energy.  I eventually crawled into bed about 1.00am, slept for nine hours and had anxiety dreams I can only vaguely remember.  I managed to get up fairly soon after I woke up this morning, but I rather than get dressed, daven (pray) and start the day, I sat around in my pyjamas reading.  I feel bad about this, a bit, but not as much as I should.

***

It feels like I used to be clever and competent, at school and maybe even first year at university, but these days I’m just stupid.  That’s probably not true.  While depression probably does have an effect on my cognition, slowing me down and occasionally making me do stupid things, it’s more that I was high-functioning enough to cope at school, but as studying and later work became less about regurgitating information and more about thinking for myself, and as relationships (in the broadest sense) became less about structured play and more free-form, my autistic deficiencies in executive function and social interactions became more obvious.  My low-powered current job means I don’t have to do much of that kind of thinking, so it suits me, but I can feel that I’m overqualified and should be doing something more demanding and higher paying, not to mention something that continues past the end of the month.

***

On my last post, Ashley Leia commented, “It seems like the effort you put into practicing your religion in spite of the various illness obstacles you’re faced with should “count”, if there is such a thing, as much as someone who’s fulfilling more commitments but without having to climb over barriers each and every day.”  I responded, “I would hope so, and there are Jewish sources that would say so, but sometimes I wonder. Do I put “enough” effort in? Sometimes I feel I could do more. And sometimes it feels like good intentions are not enough, I have to actually do stuff.”

This was a slightly disingenuous answer.  The Talmud has a long discussion on suffering in Brachot (the volume I’m studying at shul (synagogue)), in which there’s a discussion (Brachot 5b) of Rabbi Elazar being sick and Rabbi Yochanan visiting him.  Rabbi Yochanan sees that Rabbi Elazar is crying and asks him why and rhetorically answers, “Why do you weep? Is it because you did not study enough Torah? Surely we learnt: The one who sacrifices much and the one who sacrifices little have the same merit, provided that the heart is directed to heaven.  Is it perhaps lack of sustenance? Not everybody has the privilege to enjoy two tables [spiritual and physical success].  Is it perhaps because of [the lack of] children? This is the bone of my tenth son! [Rabbi Yochanan had ten sons who all predeceased him and he would comfort those who lost children by telling them how he coped.]”  (Translation lazily copied from here, sorry, first and last square bracket comments by me.)

The interesting thing is that Rabbi Yochanan, in talking about not studying enough Torah, brings a proof-text about sacrifices; the sacrificial service is usually seen as having been replaced by prayer in the post-Temple era, not Torah study.  So this would seem to indicate that the principle of “the one who does much and the one who does little are the same, provided the heart is directed to Heaven” applies to both prayer and Torah study.

This should cheer me up, but it doesn’t.  I suppose I feel the little prayer and Torah study that I do, I do on autopilot, not with kavannah (mindfulness) and “directing my heart to Heaven”.  I don’t feel that I have the connection with HaShem (God) that I would need for that.  I also feel that, even if I can’t do as much as other people, I could do more than I currently do, if I just pushed myself harder, but somehow that never seems to work.  I do feel that I “should” do more, that I’m not suffering “enough” to do the little I do.  I still can’t accept that I do enough even if I accept that I can’t do as much as other people.

I suppose it comes back again to feeling that God hates me and that I can never be good enough for Him.

There is more to say about this, but my brain is in depressive shut-down today and just isn’t cooperating.  Perhaps more after Shabbat.

Lost in Translations

I enjoyed seeing Robert Alter speak about translating Tanakh (the Hebrew Bible) last night, but two things disconcerted me a little.  First, I was a bit taken aback that Professor Alter viewed translating Tanakh as a purely cultural/literary task, with no religious overtones whatsoever for him.  I’m not sure how I felt about that.  Not upset, exactly, but maybe disorientated, more than I would have expected, because I think I knew he wasn’t frum (religious) and I don’t think you have to be religious to take Tanakh seriously.  But ever since last night I’ve been thinking of the quote by T. S. Eliot about seeing the Bible as great literature, that the Bible’s influence on Western literature was only because it was seen as the word of God and now it is viewed as great literature, its influence will soon end [1].  The other thing that upset me, but didn’t surprise me, was the fact that the audience was mostly twenty to thirty years older than me.  I saw a few people my age or younger, but not many.  That fits with the demographic data on Anglo-Jewry, that the population is aging, and the younger generation is polarising between the Charedi (ultra-Orthodox) who won’t go to a talk by a secular Bible scholar and the assimilated (by far the larger group), who won’t go to a talk by a Bible scholar at all.  I’m not quite sure where I’m supposed to go.

I struggled to get to sleep afterwards, perhaps because I had a good time and find it hard to ‘come down’ after that, even though I was hardly high (it was good, but not that good).  I probably have some kind of introvert or autistic issue with coming from a public event and then trying to go to sleep without ‘alone time’ by myself to calm and self-soothe.  Or maybe I just struggle to switch off generally without explicit and fairly lengthy ‘alone time.’

***

I did manage to get up on time this morning for work despite only having about six hours sleep.  Work went slowly as I was doing some fairly tedious, repetitive tasks.  My line manager was very pleased with the work I did last week when she was off sick, but it seems pretty clear that there isn’t any budget to employ me after the end of the month.  This job has at least boosted my confidence in my ability to work after two very difficult jobs, even though I suspect I’m overqualified for it (and I am aware that many autistic people are unemployed or underemployed), but I am worried about working in a less friendly environment.

***

On the way home today I was thinking a lot about the mental health book I want to write.  If my Doctor Who book is simply (“simply”) a matter of expanding existing blog posts, the mental health/autism book is more like getting this blog, tearing it into tiny pieces and sticking some of the pieces together again, with many new additions.  It’s going to need a lot of work to make it coherent and meaningful.  But my real question is why I’m so desperate to write it in the first place – aside from privacy issues in baring my soul (here and in a book), if I hate my thoughts so much, why do I want to spend so much time with them?  Aside from the very real and disturbing possibility that I think that this is a good way to meet women, I suspect it’s a bid for sympathy and understanding.  I worry that I think that if I get my misery memoir published, I’ll never have to talk to anyone ever again, I’ll just hand them a copy of my book.  None of this is terribly sensible.

On a related note, in the book I’m reading, 13 Minutes, a school story/murder mystery, the only character I could empathise with, the geeky awkward girl, just got murdered.  She wasn’t even important enough to murder, but was collateral damage in an attempt to kill a more popular girl.  Which makes me think of the book Sunbathing in the Rain by Gwyneth Lewis, a depression memoir I read when I was first diagnosed with depression.  Lewis says that depression is like a murder mystery: you have been murdered; by finding out why you became depressed, you can solve the murder and return to life.

This in turn illuminates the problem I’ve been struggling with for a while.  I want to tell the story of my depression, to solve and relate the murder mystery.  Thanks to a lot of therapy, I have a fair idea of what made me like this (whodunnit), but I worry that I can’t tell the story without ‘naming and shaming’ people who hurt me and “made” me like this (I should probably add that I’m one of the guilty people, on some level).  I don’t really want to shame anyone.  I know some people hurt me, but some of them were children at the time and others didn’t intend to hurt me and most of them didn’t know what they were doing and the effect it was having.  Certainly I don’t think any of them deserve to be named and shamed.  But I’m still not sure I can tell the story of my depression coherently without it.  In some cases I can allude to things, but in others even a hint would make things too obvious.  Sometimes I think I’ve said too much even on this blog.  It’s difficult, especially as I have a deep desire/need in me for confession, in the broadest sense, to confess my sins, but also to tell my story, the story of how people/life hurt me.  I don’t know what the way out of this is.  I’ve contemplated fiction, but I don’t think I can do it and I’m not sure that pseudonymous publication would work either, for reasons I can’t really go into here.

[1] “I could fulminate against the men of letters who have gone into ecstasies over ‘the Bible as literature’, the Bible as ‘the noblest monument of English prose’. Those who talk of the Bible as a ‘monument of English prose’ are merely admiring it as a monument over the grave of Christianity. … the Bible has had a literary influence upon English literature not because it has been considered as literature, but because it has been considered as the report of the Word of God. And the fact that men of letters now discuss it as ‘literature’ probably indicates the end of its ‘literary’ influence.”  – T. S. Eliot, Religious and Literature.

Mistake

Ugh.  I just did something stupid.  And I didn’t even want to do it.  My worst mistakes tend to come either from wanting to be liked, or from noting that I have a tendency to enforce boundaries and thinking I should loosen up a little, but over-compensating.  I’d say I should trust my instincts more, but to be honest, the desire to loosen up isn’t bad, I’m just really bad at knowing how to apply it properly.  Now I have sit with my self-loathing for a day without anything to distract me…

Running Away

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pessimism

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

***

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

***

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

***

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

Stresses and Social Anxiety

My mental health group was a little better today.  I didn’t really learn anything I didn’t already know, but it did make me decide to try to be better at catching my negative thinking, although I’m not quite sure how I’m supposed to do that in practical terms.  I think I just have a mismatched personality to get on with most of these people, which is unfortunate, but there isn’t much I can do about it.

One person said something she said she feels inferior to people she was at university with who are all now running the country, which made me wonder if she was at Oxford like me, as that’s something I feel a lot.  Usually I would have let that go, but I asked her afterwards and it turned out she went to Cambridge, so I was close.  I’m glad I’m not the only Oxbridge person who feels like a failure, though.

Someone at the group said I’m intelligent.  I get weirded out when people say that to me.  I’ve hardly said anything on this course, having been too socially anxious and overwhelmed by the noise; how can people think I’m clever?  Maybe I just give off ‘vibes.’  More prosaically, he probably overheard me tell the other person that I went to Oxford.  He did say that if you’re high functioning and mentally ill, you don’t do fewer “stupid” things, you just realise that you’re behaving in a stupid way, but don’t still know how to change it.  The course was supposed to help with that, but I’m not sure that it has…

***

Today’s bad news: my psychiatrist appointment at the end of the month has been moved to 6 June, despite the fact that I’ve already moved my work days around so that I could keep the appointment.  I think it’s appalling the way the NHS treats patients like cattle.  Yes, they’re short of money.  But the charity sector is even more short of money, and they don’t treat people like this.  Indeed, the private sector doesn’t have infinite funds and they also don’t treat people like this, despite the supposed “inhumanity” of treating people for “profit.”  It doesn’t cost anything to treat patients like human beings.  The NHS has messed me around like this so many times over the last seventeen years, costing me time, energy (which is precious to me) and, on occasion, money.  But they have a virtual monopoly over healthcare in this country so they’re isn’t much anyone can do about it unless you happen to be super-rich and able to be seen privately (to be honest, when I was in psychodynamic psychotherapy my parents were paying for me to be seen privately, but we were only able to do this because we were fortunate to find someone who charged means-adjusted fees, which isn’t always possible).  A lot of people don’t have health insurance because, in theory, you aren’t supposed to need it (or you pay it in your tax, depending how you want to look at it).  And monopolies, whether in the private sector or the public sector, don’t have to care about bad customer service, because where else can you go?

Anyway, I calmed down and phoned to ask why my appointment had been changed.  The psychiatrist is ill and they were assuming she won’t be back for months.  They offered me an appointment with a different psychiatrist a week after the cancelled appointment.  As I didn’t feel the previous one really listened to me, I was not upset about this, but the appointment they offered was on a day when I work, right in the middle of the day so I would have to take the whole day off and this was after having already changed one work day because of the cancelled appointment.

I decided to take the appointment for now and see what my line manager says next work; if the worst comes to the worst, I’ll cancel the new appointment and go in June.  But it does reinforce my current feelings of fatalism over recovery and work.  I have fallen back into pessimism after feeling better for a few days.

***

I have also booked for the networking class that is on the same day as the Jewish Book Week talk I’m going to.  I suppose this is work-centric, but I’m terrified that I simply won’t be able to network even in practice settings (role-play).  I hope I can relax enough in the afternoon to get to work the next day.  I would really like to see a careers advisor who understands about autism and mental illness, but I’m not sure how to find one.  I was told at the class today that I could raise work issues with my key worker, which I may try to do.  To be honest, I’m only vaguely aware of what my key worker’s job description is and what things I can talk to her about, but I think she’s a social worker who is supposed to direct me to courses like the class and other mental health and social services in the area, so perhaps that will help.  Reading this back, there are some positives in it, but I’m still in one of those depressive moods where everything just feels awful.  I’ve given up on ‘recovering’ (whatever that means), but I want to achieve some degree of day-to-day functionality (work, family etc.).  I just don’t know how.

Toads

(My post titles become more elliptical as my mood goes down.  You can tell I’m not actually trying to attract readers.  The reference is to Philip Larkin, in case anyone cares.)

My mood has gone back down again, mostly because of my uncertain future.  I coped OK at work, but I overheard one conversation where my line manager’s line manager was advising some young people on a career in librarianship which made me realise (remember would be a better word) that I’m not actually doing anything to push my career on and wouldn’t know where to begin.  Then I had a meeting with my line manager where she said she’s pleased with my work, but reminded me that my contract expires in five weeks (which I took as a sign that it won’t be extended) and asked me where I would like to gain more experience while I’m here?  This offer is good in itself, but I did what I always do when faced with (a) an on the spot decision or (b) careers stuff in general: I froze and couldn’t think of anything (classic autistic executive function issues).

I did eventually say something reasonably positive, but I feel down overall.  I can’t seem to work out how to do something that I’m reasonably good at, enjoy at least a bit, and which doesn’t leave me a nervous wreck the whole time.  Because of depressive anhedonia, the only thing I even vaguely enjoy is writing and I don’t know how to get paid for that when I have no contacts, no confidence in my writing and a range of interests that is too wide in some ways and probably not deep enough in others.  I saw this post, which should be useful for me, but it just makes me feel panicked and confused.

Now twice I’ve been asked by different line managers in different jobs if I really want to be a librarian; my insistence that I do is becoming less and less convincing.  I don’t actually know what to do with my life or how to do it.  I just feel stuck.  I’m just waiting for someone to help me, because I do not feel capable of actually doing anything.  Twenty-two years of education (approximately, on and off) did not actually prepare me for the real world, not even the career-focused MA that was supposed to train me for a career.

I literally do not feel able to function in the real world, in terms of career, socialising, family or anything else important.  I admit I can function at a basic level (cooking, shopping, laundry, cleaning), but nothing harder than that.  I really feel that I want help with mental health and autism in the real world, but the courses I’ve been on that are supposed to help with those things didn’t tell me much I didn’t already know.  So either I know more than I think I know and need to learn how to apply it in practice or I’m not getting the help I need, possibly because of the difficulties of dealing with multiple diagnoses.

In addition, I have a meeting with a matchmaker on Sunday and I really don’t feel that I could possibly be attractive to anyone while I’m only working part-time and imminently about to be unemployed.  I feel guilty for even arranging to see the matchmaker, which is a bit silly.  I suppose I don’t have to go on dates, I could say my financial situation is problematic and could they keep me on file, but not actively set me up with anyone just now, but that is quite embarrassing to have to admit to.  I think I will have to do so, though, otherwise I’m only setting myself (and other people) up for heartache.

I’ve returned from shiur (religious class) feeling a little better, but I think this is tiredness rather than truly improved mood.  I struggle with the usual banter at shiur at the best of times, but I really wasn’t in the mood for it tonight, nor for the talk before and after of families (again) and the shul (synagogue) dinner tomorrow that I can’t go to because I missed the deadline (partly my fault, but partly because of poor marketing).  I did at least eat less junk food there than usual, but I’m fatalistic about losing weight while on clomipramine (I’ve put on a ton of weight since I started taking it), and I don’t think my GP or psychiatrist will let me come off it; they insist its working and the fact that I’ve felt somewhat better lately only strengthens their argument.  The weekend looks set to be difficult emotionally, between going to shul knowing many people will be staying for the meal and I won’t and the meeting with a matchmaker on Sunday (I already feel a fraud).  For now, I will go to bed, and hope that I feel better tomorrow.

I know I sound like a lazy, entitled child, but I genuinely feel completely lost and overwhelmed, unsure of what I’m actually capable of doing or how to do it.  The fact that I’m probably autistic means that I can’t actually do the thing that most people in this situation would do, which is network and talk to people.  I was thinking of going to a networking workshop, but it’s the same day as the Robert Alter talk I already booked to go to.  The talk isn’t until the evening, but I don’t think I can do the workshop and the talk  in one day and still have the energy to get to work the next day.  I hate the way my issues make me so pathetic and useless.

Metaphysics, Loneliness and Doing OK

Today went OK.  I felt that I messed some stuff up at times and that my boss was downplaying how badly I was doing because she’s nice.  I dropped a nineteenth century book on the floor at one point in front of her, picking a pile of books out of a crate and thinking there was one big book at the bottom, when it turned out there were two small ones, and I was only holding one of them.  I also had some anxiety about some other things.  However, I was able to calm myself most of the time with deep breathing and telling myself that sometimes my thoughts are not my friends and in retrospect I can’t remember everything I was anxious about, so this one is probably a win overall.

I do wish I had something better to look forward to at the end of the day than some of the Doctor Who story The Web Planet (Doctor Who fans may appreciate the reference; for the rest of you, imagine experimental, minimalist surrealist avant-garde theatre crossed with plotless primary school kids TV overlaid with a soundtrack of car alarms and broken pipes, only weirder and bizarrely more boring, for two and a half hours).  Perhaps to compensate, the last slice of blueberry pie was consumed, with Haagen Dazs vanilla ice cream.

***

Ashley Leia mentioned in a comment a while back about my thoughts not being my self, which she said is from acceptance and commitment therapy.  I find this a weird thought to hold on to.  If I’m not my thoughts, what am I?  I’m not my body, I believe I have a non-physical soul.  Is my soul not my thoughts?  I have automatically assumed they are the same and have done for years, but theologically it makes sense to assume they aren’t the same, that a soul is an expression of being rather than thinking, particularly if the soul is somehow a part of a God Who is seen as the Source or Essence of existence rather than an old man in the sky.  Certainly a God of Being and a soul of being is more Jewish than Greek philosophical notion of God being pure thought thinking itself.  In Judaism, God’s essential name is etymologically related to the verb ‘to be’ and He says He is “I Will Be What I Will Be” – being not thinking.  But this is too metaphysical for 10pm.

***

A similar thought to the above, but from earlier today:

I think most people, when they think of Heaven (whether they believe in it or not), they think of other people.  Being reunited with departed relatives, lost loves, meeting heroes from a bygone age.  It’s interesting that when I think of the afterlife, it is of being alone, either literally or alone with God.  When I think of Gehennom (Purgatory), I think of being alone with my thoughts of guilt and shame indefinitely; when I think of Heaven, it is of being somehow with God and able to understand my life, why so much of it has been suffering, why so much of everyone’s life is suffering.  But I struggle to imagine a blissful afterlife with other people, even though I loved my late grandparents.  I can’t imagine how disembodied souls could interact.  Maybe this will change as I get older.  I want to say: maybe this will change as I get older and more people I care about begin to die.  But I know that I should not say this, although I suspect it is true.  It is one of those things that is known to be true, but which we should not say.  One of those things that puzzles my autistic head.

***

I feel a bit lonely again tonight.  I’ve been thinking about Sunday, the Doctor Who quiz, and wondering if I can overcome my social anxiety and autism enough to be a bit more involved in fandom and make new friends.  I don’t think online fandom is really going to work for me any more; it’s too hard to make friends and the online world (generally, not just for Doctor Who fandom) is far too explosive and argumentative for me to stay in.  These days I’m trying only to stay on certain quiet corners of the internet, like this one.  But it’s fun to talk about Doctor Who with people who know about it in detail, in person.

But I always feel “too Jewish” when I mix with non-Jews socially, just as I feel “too geeky” and “too modern” with other frum Jews.  My friend M. sent me some photos taken on Sunday and I felt my kippah (skullcap) is weirdly prominent in some of them.  This is probably self-consciousness.  Certainly it’s hard to go to social events when you can’t eat or drink very much, and conventions are often held on Saturdays, at least partially.  I try to compartmentalise my life, but it’s like I’ve got my Jewish life in one closet (that’s probably not the best metaphor in the circumstances, but I can’t think of another) and my geek life in another and people from one aren’t even allowed to know that the other really exists for fear of what they might think of me.  I’m not so much afraid of rejection as total incomprehension.

Conventions are scary from an autistic and social anxiety point of view too: people, noise, but that seems like more of a surmountable challenge, IF I can get the courage to go.  Let’s face it, I’m not going to be the most autistic person (whatever that means) at a Doctor Who convention.

At any rate, I just booked to see Rabbi Rafi Zarum interview literary critic Robert Alter about translating Tanakh (The Hebrew Bible) in Jewish Book Week, so maybe I may make to a convention some day after all.

Scenes from an Autistic Childhood

Someone took my seat at shul (synagogue) yesterday.  I didn’t say anything, but I was quite annoyed.  Taking seats is a thorny area in most shulsHalakhically (according to Jewish law) one should sit in the same seat in shul every day.  However, one should also be friendly to visitors and new people at shul who don’t know which seats are free and might take one by accident.  Shuls where people throw people out of “their” seats by claiming ownership can get a bad reputation.  So I never know what to do in a situation like this.  I like my seat because I sit with the two people I’m most friendly with in the shul.  I had to sit in a different seat with someone else, which made me a bit uncomfortable.  The silly thing is, the person who took my seat sometimes sits behind me, so I thought he might know that I sit there.  I hope he isn’t planning to make it his seat permanently, especially as the people I sit with actually invited me to sit with them.

***

At dinner I had a very long discussion with my parents (a couple of hours long) about autism.  My Mum said she had read the leaflet I lent her and that it sounded a lot like me.  We spoke a lot about childhood events.  My parents didn’t think I really had autistic meltdowns.  They said when I was stress or overwhelmed I would go quiet and go off to the corner or to my room, but I’m not sure if this is really an autistic shutdown.  It doesn’t sound extreme enough.  They felt I avoided the type of situations that might have pushed me into a full-blown meltdown.  I avoided a lot of things as a child and as a teenager.

We spoke about my executive function, which was more textbook.  I said what I wrote here the other day, that I always thought I was organised because I plan, but now I realise I don’t stick to my plans.  My Dad’s response was, “You’re terrible at planning” agreeing that I don’t stick to my plans.  I get distracted from things.  I also spoke about not being good with choices and not liking it when Mum wants me to decide between a lot of things.  If I have to make a big decision e.g. changing my phone contract (something I’ve been putting off for months… procrastination is another trait my Dad brought up), my Mum will love to shop around and get loads of options for me, but I just get overloaded by that.  I prefer to be given a choice of just two or three of the apparently best options and accept that I may miss something even better.

Mum said something interesting about my desire for predictability which I didn’t know.  Apparently when I was young enough that Mum started to let me go out by myself, if Mum was sending me out to do some shopping I would bombard her with questions about what would happen – what should I say, what would the shopkeeper respond, what should I do if the shopkeeper said something else and so on.  She thought it was a bit weird, but as I am her eldest child, she didn’t really have anything to compare it with until my sister came along and was happier with short instructions.  I am still like that.  If I have to do something new, particularly if it involves social interactions, I still plan in detail, but I didn’t realise I did it in such detail from such a young age.

We also discussed my career a bit.  They both think I’ve been much less depressed lately since I started my new job, because I feel I can do it, I feel accepted by my colleagues and I feel my boss understands my issues, which was not always the case in my previous two jobs.  I said I would be happy if my contract was extended past March to stay in this job for a while.  Ideally I would rather be working three days a week rather than two, but I would like to use my non-work days to work on my writing.  They both seemed reasonably happy with that.

***

I was really exhausted after this long conversation, but I needed alone time before I could sleep, so I didn’t get to bed until very late, I think after 1.00am.  I actually woke up early this morning and could have gone to shul, but I panicked and didn’t go and went back to sleep instead.  I was worried that people would ask why I’m not normally there, which was a bit of a strange thing to worry about.  I think there must be something about shul that I really don’t like, because since my teens it has been hard to go even though I’m frum (religious) and I don’t think it’s just about sleeping in.  But on the other hand, I do find it easier to go in the evenings.  I think there might be a mixture of sensory overload, social anxiety, and issues with getting up early/depression.  I need to go a few times and become conscious of what is driving me away and work out how to either adapt so I can go or accept why I can’t go, but I don’t know how to actually get to shul a few times to make those observations.  In the past I’ve done it by making myself accountable to an occupational therapist saying, “I will get to shul by 10.00am every other Saturday in the coming month” but I don’t know who I can make myself accountable to now.  It doesn’t seem to work with my parents for some reason and I don’t think it would help doing it here, as I am too used to admitting failures here.

***

An aside from that discussion with my parents: the big traumatic events of my childhood that have scarred me so much have largely been forgotten by my Mum and also (I know from another conversation) my sister.  My Dad remembers, but perhaps doesn’t place so much emphasis on them.  It’s strange.  It feels wrong of me to remember them as so difficult, but that is how I remember them, albeit partly because therapy has made them feel so formative.  On the other hand, my Mum said she remembers me running out of the room with my hands over my ears at my sister’s engagement party, which I don’t remember at all.  I remember that I was there for an hour or so and then I got overwhelmed and went to another room, but I don’t remember running out with my hands over my ears.  Strange.

Quick Note

I started a new depression course today.  It was quite good, but there were a lot of people and a lot of talking and I got quite overloaded.  People were more friendly than on the previous course inasmuch as they spoke to each other before the course started and during the break instead of sitting in silence, but that of course triggers my social anxiety and also my autistic sensory overload at times.  Also, people did interrupt a bit during the actual course, mostly to try to make helpful or supportive comments, but I do find that kind of interrupting distracting and I hope the facilitators will be a bit more politely firm about people respecting other people when they are speaking.

Today’s autism moment: Dad gave me a lift to the course.  When the satnav said to “Keep right” for a moment I thought, “How?  We drive on the left in this country!”  D’oh!  (Do I just notice these things more now I’m aware of them and aware there is a label for them or are they becoming more common?  Logically it should be the first option, but it’s a bit weird all the same.)

Counter-Factuals

Trying to be brief as I took writing time to go to shiur (religious class) and work on my book, plus I need to go to bed as I have a new mental health course starting in the morning…

I was thinking while getting dressed this morning that my life would be so much better if I was not autistic (admittedly this assumes that I am autistic, which is still not certain.  “If I didn’t have autistic symptoms” might be more accurate).  I would be able to interact normally with people, probably wouldn’t be depressed and socially anxious, would have a better chance of a good job and a stable income and of a lasting relationship.  But by the time I had got to the station, I thought that there are just too many counter-factuals in something like that.  Once you start changing things, where do you stop?  If I wasn’t autistic, what would I be?  I think this is progress, of a kind.

***

Work was mostly fine today, except that when I left I was pleased with myself for not OCD checking I’d locked up the rare books store, except that by the time I was halfway down the road I was so anxious about it that I went back.  I need to work harder on exposure therapy.  There was also a nagging feeling throughout the day that I had forgotten something and wasn’t doing my job properly.  I don’t trust myself any more at work.

I also intended to walk home from the station, but by the time I arrived, I was so exhausted I had to phone my Mum for a lift.  Not good in multiple ways (exercise, environment, independence).

***

So far as I can tell, there are only a couple of books on mental health from a Jewish perspective and none at all on autism (high functioning or severe) and Judaism, let alone autism, mental health and Judaism together, so maybe there is room for my misery memoir in a crowded market after all.  I need to find the right tone, though; I’m hoping to use my blog as a basis for the text, but what is right here may not be right there.  I do wonder if there would be any backlash from some of the things I say, but I doubt many (any?) people in my community would read it.  That said, I don’t really want my parents or people from my community, let alone my rabbi, reading my thoughts about being a thirty-five year old virgin in a community that both fears and celebrates sexuality, but only permits it within marriage, which it therefore encourages at a young age… but maybe that fear in itself is reason for writing it.

***

I often wonder what other people really think of me.  I usually assume it’s something bad, or nothing at all.  It’s hard to believe it might be something good, but maybe I’m wrong.  I honestly don’t know what most people, including my friends, think of me.  I don’t know if that’s autism or something else.  (This is inspired by some interactions at work today and trying to work out how successful they were.)

Draining Workarounds, Unfinished Conversations and Accessories to Murder

I had another reasonably good, if tiring, day today.  This is beginning to look like A Trend.  Which is good, but also scary, as whenever I get used to things going well and start talking about Recovery, things go horribly wrong.  I haven’t been well for more than six months in the last sixteen years, so I shouldn’t read too much into six days, but it feels as if things might be getting better… which leaves me wondering when they will get worse.  Maybe “Recovery” isn’t the right mindset for someone in my position to have.  Maybe I should be thinking of a succession of short-terms, permanently.  I probably will always have some depression, or the threat of it, and certainly I will always be autistic.  I have been thinking for a while now of managing my mental health issues and managing my autism rather than recovering.

I had some anxiety on the way into work this morning, some of it understandable (work anxieties, dating) some of it less so (beating myself up for not davening with a minyan (praying with a community) and feeling no one who would be frum (religious) enough for me to date would want to marry me unless I was davening with a minyan more often, at least on Shabbat (Saturday) mornings).  My new affirmation (“My thoughts are not always my friends”) was quite useful here and I was reasonably calm, albeit that I did accidentally set off the alarms at work by being too hasty to check on some things I did in the vault last week.

I could also feel my OCD trying to get me again this evening.  Actually, I’m not sure that it is OCD.  Years ago someone on a mental health forum I used to frequent said that her grandmother was euthanized by a doctor, in a way that implied she approved, and periodically I remember this and wonder if I should have told someone, although as I don’t have a name, date or country, let alone place, where this is supposed to have happened, if it is even true, it seems unlikely that I could actually report it to anyone, let alone that a police force would take it seriously.  But every so often something makes me think of it and I feel like an unwitting accessory after the event and worry that there was something I should have done.

On the plus side, my mood was pretty good for most of the day, aside from these blips, and my kavannah (mindfulness) when davening has been much better the last few days.  Davening a little bit with kavannah is seen as better than davening a lot without it, so this makes me feel a bit better.

Despite this, I did have a couple of awkward moments at work.  I realised that I have trouble knowing when a conversation is finished or how to conclude a conversation that I sense is almost over.  I’ve been aware of this problem on some level for a while and I think it’s another autistic thing, but it’s become more of a problem in my new job, because it’s resulted in several awkward moments with my line manager.  I also had a difficult conversation in the staff room at lunch time.  I was staring into space, feeling tired and possibly a bit anxious when someone said, “Great book!”  It took me a minute to realise that he was speaking to me and another minute to realise that he was referring to the copy of The Dispossessed by Ursula le Guin that was on my lap.  He asked if I had read any more of her work and I did the autistic/fanboy thing of listing book titles I’ve read instead of having a normal conversation.

I have a lot of workarounds for social functioning with autism so that I can at least try to interact in the worlds of work and socialising, but these workarounds are very draining.  Imagine if your body worked fine, except that all of the processes that are now autonomic suddenly required conscious thought: breathing, heart beat, digestion etc.  Now imagine that you are trying to live a normal life while also consciously telling yourself, “Breathe in, breathe out, heart beat, digest lunch., breathe again…”  This is how I feel when talking to people I don’t feel comfortable with (which is most of them, on some level): I’m constantly telling myself to make more eye contact, but not too much, trying to read their body language, trying to read my own body language and check it’s saying what I want it to say, trying to process what they’re actually saying and respond to it in real time even though I don’t always take in spoken information easily and making snap decisions (like responding to a spoken stimulus) is very hard… no wonder I find conversation so anxiety-provoking, even without my childhood history of bullying.

My parents are speaking of paying for me to have a private autism assessment.  I am not convinced that it is a good use of money.  I don’t see a particular urgency in needing a diagnosis at this stage (their reasoning is if I get a new job I will need a diagnosis to get reasonable adjustments – see below) and private assessments are a lot of money.  Even then I could be told yet again that I’m not autistic.  By now I’m almost completely convinced I am autistic, but I’m worried I might be told again that my symptoms are not serious enough to warrant diagnosis, despite things like my comments in the immediately previous paragraph.

I’ve slacked off a bit in my job search since getting my current job.  The job is only two days a week and is technically only until the end of March (although I think unless I seriously mess something up in the next two months my line manager will lobby for me to stay longer, but only if the money is available, which is always the big if in higher education).  I feel I should be looking for something else either for Mondays and Wednesdays or for after March… yet I don’t feel inclined to look hard.  My last two jobs were so difficult and upsetting that I’m glad to be in a less intense work environment, both in terms of a job that is more suited to my personality and skill set and a reduced number of days per week that lets me recuperate more between work days as well as giving me time to work on my writing.  It’s much easier to see myself working in a salaried job for half a week and writing professionally for the other half than it is to see myself as working full-time or writing full-time.  I haven’t quite told my parents this yet, although I think I did tell them I was using my off time for writing.  I’m not quite sure how to tell them.

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.

Missing Goals

There was more to say after my second post yesterday, but I decided not to inflict a third post on you in one day.  I missed my meeting at shul (synagogue) because I felt too depressed.  I was having a lot of suicidal ideation and although I didn’t think I was seriously at risk of hurting myself, I just couldn’t face going to a meeting and pretending to be normal and interested for three hours.  I hope this decision doesn’t come back to haunt me.  I phoned the Samaritans helpline, essentially as a the price I made myself pay for not going to the meeting, but once I got through to someone, I realised that I didn’t actually know what I wanted to say and found the ‘encouraging’ noises the volunteer was making really off-putting and after seven minutes I apologised and quickly hung up.  I felt bad about that, but I wasn’t sure what else I could do.

***

At well-being class today we were speaking about long-term goals in love, work, play and exercise.  I felt lazy, because I probably play too much (admittedly it’s more procrastination than play) and I was vaguely upset that religious goals were not on there because they are really important to me (or were, before I lost all motivation to be a good Jew) and obviously are not important to most other people.  But I was really stuck on work and love.  I know my long-term work goal is to work full-time, or nearly, and permanently rather than on short-term contracts.  But I don’t know what short-term goals to set to work to that.  I asked the facilitators for help, but the stuff they said (join agencies, sign up for job alerts) were mostly stuff I’m already doing without success, although I did agree to do an online personality test to see if I’m in the right career.

As for love, I know my long-term goal is to get married, but I’ve no idea how to get there and I suspect it is not a feasible goal while I’m this depressed and on such a low income.  I probably should have asked for help here too, but I couldn’t face explaining about frum dating (dating for marriage only; shadchans (matchmakers); almost all events in my community being gender-segregated; non-gender-segregated events at Modern Orthodox places mostly attracting an older crowd; why I don’t think going to young professionals kiruv events to try to meet women my age who might be interested in becoming more religious is a particularly good idea (it’s depressing that, writing this, I can see it is better than nothing, painful as it would doubtless be); etc.).

I can’t face going to a shadchan on my current income level and with my current levels of depression, because I think I would get thrown out, but I have zero chance of meeting someone frum without meeting a shadchan, so I think the realistic thing is to learn to live without love, somehow.  I know my parents can’t meet my emotional needs, partly because of personality differences and autism/neurotypical differences, partly because no one’s parents can’t meet all their adult emotional needs.  So I don’t know how to feel loved and worthwhile.  I’m not sure how much I ever have felt loved and worthwhile; very little I suspect.  (I don’t know at this stage if having pets would make me feel more loved or just used to dispense food.)

There was a touching article in The Jewish Chronicle last week about a charity in Israel that helps people with learning disabilities to marry (I did just try to find the article to link to, but I couldn’t find it on the website and the other news there was too depressing for words).  They provide practical, emotional and possibly financial support for people with learning disabilities to marry and live independently as a couple.  I feel if people with autism who are not high functioning can have full-time jobs and get married, I should be able to too, but somehow it’s all too difficult juggling depression alongside autism (even high-functioning).  There isn’t really any help in the community for more functional people with depression or autism; regardless of how we’re feeling, it’s assumed we can cope with things.  I feel like I’m stuck in the emotional equivalent of the benefits trap, where moving off benefits into work entails a reduction of income.  I’m too functional for anyone to believe there is anything wrong with me.

***

It just feels really scary living in my head all the time.  All day I’ve been seeing Sherlock Holmes jumping apparently to his death in Sherlock: The Reichenbach Fall and I know my mind is telling me that that’s how I feel right now, falling so far and no one can help me (except he was faking his own death and had half of British Intelligence on hand to help him, we later discover).  I think so much about being a wicked person, being useless and defective, not being able to put things right, about God and everyone else hating me… it’s scary.  More than that, it’s tiring.

***

There was a problem with my medication again.  This time somehow my lithium was removed from the repeat prescription area as if I wasn’t on it any more.  My Mum (who I had asked to pop in to the surgery on the way home from work to pick it up for me) managed to sort it in the end, but I think she ended up arguing with the receptionists and I ended up arguing with her because she said I was being angry (when I was being assertive) and shouting (I was speaking loudly because I had her on speakerphone).

Why is it that whenever I try to be assertive, I get accused of being aggressive, and whenever I try to talk clearly (e.g. when I’m on speakerphone), I get accused of shouting?  I know it is possible for autistic people to be accused of being aggressive when they’re not trying to be aggressive.  I’ve spent half my life being told off by my parents for giving people “dirty black looks” when I thought I was just looking normally.  I suppose this is a similar thing, combined with the fact that shy people are often accused of being aggressive when they become more confident and assertive.  I think people prefer me as a doormat to someone who can take charge of a situation, and they prefer it when I listen politely to their (boring) conversations more than when I want to say something.

The whole experience has left me feeling tense, angry and self-critical.

***

I just did a personality test for my well-being course.  The outcome was not laid out particularly helpfully and what I could understand of it was not terribly surprising: I’m restrained, structured and sympathetic.  I’m bad at relaxing, being calm or keeping my composure.  I’m not daring, a thrill-seeker or a natural leader.  I like to reflect and to daydream.  I am, perhaps a little paradoxically, quite trusting and quite questioning.  This is all very predictable.  I did another test that suggested specific careers, which was a little surprising, because it gave me a 89% aptitude for archival work and only a 71% per cent aptitude for librarianship, despite no obvious questions that differentiated between the two, so far as I can tell.  The other jobs were typical Jewish jobs (and indeed typical autistic jobs) that would nevertheless bore me (IT, accountancy, actuarial work, financial analyst).  I do feel my life as an autistic person would be easier if I liked, and was good with, numbers.

***

Speaking of numbers, I haven’t sorted out my gift aid form for the shul yet.  I can’t summon up the courage to go through two years’ worth of payslips to see what I was earning and how much tax I was paying (not just a result of my vagueness about money; I had a couple of jobs and a couple of periods of unemployment in that time, so I think not knowing exactly what I was earning is more understandable for once).  I think the real reason has nothing to do with money or figures, though, and everything to do with the mixed feelings I currently have about my shul, and about Judaism.  I don’t think I would be happier as an atheist, though, although I might feel under less pressure (but not necessarily so).  It’s hard to think of myself being happy at all, to be honest.

***

E. said yesterday that she doesn’t think I’m ever going to fit into my shul community, which is probably true.  She says that she thinks I do push myself really hard to do social things and communal things, but I don’t enjoy them when I do them, not because of social anxiety, but because I’m not on the same wavelength as other people to be able to talk to them, which I guess is true.  I feel I “ought” to push myself to do these things, because I can hear my parents pushing me to do them when I was younger, but I don’t really enjoy them much.   She said I’m not a screw-up, I’m just dealing with some “really hard things” which is reassuring in a way, but I can’t see a way out.

Inadequate and Defective

(Massive trigger warnings for suicide)

I feel awful.  Just totally inadequate and defective.  I bought a present for the people who invited me for Shabbat dinner and was relieved when no one answered the door (although I thought I could hear people indoors) and I had an excuse just to write a note and leave the present on the doorstep without speaking to anyone.  I don’t feel up to going to this big shul (synagogue) meeting tonight.  I don’t really feel fully part of the community anyway and I hardly ever make it to shul.  I wouldn’t know what to look for in a rabbi or be able to explain a vision for the kehilla (community).

I feel that I can’t find a role in the world.  Some people with autism can find a role, sooner or later, and I think that helps them to function and to feel they don’t have to succeed at things neurotypicals succeed at if they don’t want to.  A lot of people at my autism group seem to have jobs in IT, particularly programming, which probably isn’t a surprise to anyone.  I don’t have a role.  I thought librarianship might be it, but it looks like it isn’t, at least not without doing a considerable of remedial training.  I don’t have a role in the frum (religious Orthodox Jewish) world, which has a very narrow selection of roles largely determined by gender.  I don’t fit frum male roles.  I’m not a great Torah scholar, I didn’t go to yeshiva (rabbinical seminary), I can’t really study much Talmud, in fact I don’t have the energy, concentration and motivation to study much Torah at all.  In a previous community, I was involved with the shul, I was a regular attendee at minyan (prayer services) and often led services, but I’m too scared and ashamed of myself to do that in this, more religious, community and again, I don’t have the energy, concentration and motivation to get to minyan every day, let alone three times a day.  I’m never going to earn enough money to be a big philanthropist, I don’t have a home of my own to invite Shabbat guests to (and single men inviting people to meals would be considered weird; cooking is definitely gendered female (so my culinary abilities are a liability more than an asset in dating, sadly)) and it looks increasingly likely that I’m not even going to have children to get nachas (pride, reflected glory) off them.

That pretty much rules out all the frum roles open to me.  I don’t know what I do with the rest of my life now, especially as I’m not well enough to work full-time.

I’m having suicidal fantasies again too.  I guess the thought of spending two and a half discussing how to pick a new rabbi would make a lot of people contemplate death, but I really do feel a lot of the time that life has no promise for me.  Who would really want to live without love?  And not only does it seem certain that no one will be able to really love me the way I would want or let me love her, it seems unlikely that I will ever be financially secure, confident, well-liked or happy either.  I can’t see anything in my life that makes it worth living, but I can’t talk to anyone about this.  If I had cancer and missed the meeting tonight because I was too ill from chemotherapy, everyone there would understand and be concerned about me, but with depression it’s a completely different question.  I’ve hardly even told anyone about my depression because I’m so scared of the response I might get.  I guess stigma affects a person even if, like me, people have rarely said anything directly to me that could be considered stigmatising; it’s the fear of stigma that terrifies me.

It’s actually scary that suicidal thoughts have been such a part of my life for so long that they don’t even scare me any more.  I know I’m unlikely to act on them while my parents are alive, so they’re just more mental noise, like all the other static between my ears.  I’m such a drama queen that I would probably want to kill myself in some big, operatic way, like Sherlock Holmes faking his death by jumping off a tall building in public in the Sherlock episode The Reichenbach Fall.  That said, I think I’m more likely to kill myself with an overdose than anything else as the thought of doing anything that gets blood everywhere is not appealing to me.  To be honest, the two main things keeping me alive are (1) knowing, on some level, that my parents care about me and would be upset by my death and (2) the fear of making a bungled suicide attempt and ending up with permanent physical injury as well as depression.

I feel that anyone else having regular suicidal thoughts would be signed off work and focusing on recovery, whereas I’m so used to it that I just try to function, go to work, go to shul, go to this meeting, try to daven (pray) and study Torah and so on, feeling terrible all the while and no one (outside this blog, where I play the drama queen) knows anything about what is happening in my head, how much pain I’m in and how hard it is to keep going.  Sometimes I wish people did know.  That’s an attraction of suicide to me, actually.  Sometimes I want to make a failed suicide attempt, so I could let people know how I feel, because I don’t know how to tell them; I guess jumping off a building is a way of showing people that you have a problem.  I guess people would call that a cry for attention, I just don’t see that as a negative thing, I feel I’ve had very little attention in my life and it’s only fair that I get some when I need it.

It’s just horrible to spend the whole time feeling like a defective, inadequate freak.  Not feeling loved.  Not feeling worthwhile or useful.  I know I need to love myself and feel happy in myself before anyone can love me, but I don’t know how I can do that.  It’s not something you can just suddenly do.  I’ve tried positive mantras, but I just don’t believe them, just as I don’t believe that God loves me (and no one frum has been able to prove to me that He does love me).  The problem with the CBT approach of thought control is that I have too much evidence of not being good, lovable or worthwhile for me to easily accept that I am any of those things.  So I end up just fantasising endlessly about death and dying as a release.

Shabbat Dinner

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Dear me, Mr Holmes! Dear me!”

I phoned the Samaritans phone helpline this afternoon.  I was feeling very overwhelmed, alone in the house, worrying about all the things happening this week.  It was helpful to talk through some of my thoughts and have someone else respond who isn’t close to me.  My parents and perhaps my friends are sometimes too close to me to help – they get frustrated with me when I put myself down or fail to snap out of black and white thinking or catastrophisation, plus I’m more likely to try to manipulate them (e.g. by attacking myself to try to get them to say I’m not a bad person) than I am a stranger.

The person I spoke to said I’ve taken a lot of positive steps to try to get an autism diagnosis and to try to get a new job and stay in employment, which I guess is true, even if it’s hard to give myself credit for it.  There’s a voice in my head that keeps saying how many people on the autism spectrum are unemployed or single and how many people in my depression group are unemployed or single and that’s hard to silence, but I’m trying to focus on one day or even one task at a time.  It’s hard though.

***

I’m still thinking about pets.  It’s on days like this, when I feel the need for physical contact, but my parents aren’t around, or I feel too many conflicted emotions to ask them for a hug that I really wish I could have a furry pet to stroke or hold.  I could potentially procrastinate about this for a long time, though; I need to find a way to force myself to a decision.  As I’ve said before, if I could look after someone else’s pet for a week or so while they’re a way that would be the ideal way to ‘test drive’ having a pet, but unfortunately I don’t have any local friends with a pet.  Pets are actually quite rare in the Orthodox Jewish world.

***

I was reminded today of a Jewish group I tried to get involved with.  I tried to do some writing for them, but they messed me around a lot.  The organisers actually messed me around a lot in different ways over the years and lately I’ve been avoiding them because I’m too angry.  It’s hard to feel OK with being angry, so my mind keeps pushing the anger towards self-loathing or loneliness.  I had mixed feelings about this group for some time, but still hung around on their fringes because I’m bad at getting toxic people out of my life.  I just want to be liked, really.

Even if I had been in the same city, I don’t know that I would have been able to fit in with that crowd, a very artsy, bohemian crowd of creatives.  They were looking for frustrated creatives who they could turn into actual creatives; I’m a frustrated academic, but ‘criticism’ was a dirty word to them.

Similarly, there is an online geeky community/message board-type thing that I used to be somewhat active on, but which I’ve drifted away from lately.  No big reason this time, just that the things being discussed there aren’t things that affect me very much.

Things like this do make me wonder if there is any group or community out there that I could really join and feel comfortable with.  Compare with the things I’ve been posting recently about my shul (synagogue), feeling that people there wouldn’t approve of my interests or beliefs, worrying that people there might be supportive of unsavoury characters; or about not fitting in to online Doctor Who fandom.  I can’t find anywhere I completely fit in.  (I wonder a bit how much the people reading this would like me in person.)

Maybe that’s not such a huge problem.  Maybe I can compartmentalise my life: frum community here, Doctor Who fandom there.  Maybe everyone does that, to some extent.  But I want to meet someone who I can love and who will be able to love me and that to me speaks of at least acceptance of the different parts of my character, and I can’t imagine someone accepting me like that based on these experiences.  These experiences – and my limited dating experiences – make me feel that no one could ever accept all my ‘stuff,’ my weird combination of beliefs, interests, mental health and developmental issues.

Planet NHS, Planet Autism

On Planet NHS:

Me: 

Hi,

I was referred to the psychiatrist by my doctor some weeks ago.   In early October, I spoke on the phone to Mr …. who referred me through the … Team.  However, I have not been sent an appointment letter yet.

My mother phoned last Tuesday and was told I have an appointment for 8 November, but the person she spoke to would not tell her the time of the appointment, saying it would be written in the letter.  However, I have still not received any letter.

Please could you let me know as soon as possible when my psychiatrist appointment is, as I need to arrange time off with my employer.

Thank you and regards,

Luftmentsch

Him:

8th November with Dr …

Me:

Hi …

Thank you, but please could you let me know the time of my appointment on 8 November with Dr …

Regards,

Luftmentsch

Him:

A letter will be sent to you with all the details once booked on the system.

Me: 

Please could you let me know when this is likely to be as I need to clear the time off with my employer.

Regards,

Luftmentsch

Him:

8th November will be the day.

Me:

[Stunned silence.]

This is why I get so annoyed at the idolatry of the NHS that goes on.  If, as someone said, the NHS is the religion of the British people, then I’m definitely agnostic.

Meanwhile, back in the real world:

Work was OK today, or at least not unbearably awful.  It was hard, but I felt a bit more together and I got by without any coffee at work (although I had one at home at breakfast and a couple of cups of tea) and without crying.  I did shake slightly when talking to my boss, and when drinking tea (both of which were completely due to psyching myself out by realising how bad it would be to start shaking).  My boss goes on honeymoon on Tuesday and will be away until after my contract is due to finish and her boss finished working there today, so my boss from next week will be someone I know slightly, but not well.  Change makes me anxious (another autistic trait).

A previous psychiatrist, the one who felt I was somewhere on the autistic spectrum (but didn’t give me a proper assessment or diagnosis) once told me that “You can’t understand people, so stop trying.”  It’s possible that my whole life has been trying to understand people, like the robot Commander Data in Star Trek: The Next Generation.  At any rate it explains why I ended up on the humanities/social sciences side, unlike many autistic people, despite being good at science at school.

Other autism-related thoughts today: I mentioned yesterday having a few geeky but non-autistic friends at school.  One very much fitted Tony Attwood’s idea of a non-autistic mentor friend who helps with socialisation.  We were friends from age five and are still occasionally in touch, although we haven’t seen each other in person in some years.  We were best friends until we were about fourteen, when we drifted apart a bit.  I remember being upset when we were told to write a passage about our best friend in Hebrew class and he read his out and it was about someone other than me.  It would be an exaggeration to say that that was a key moment in my life, but it probably was another step down a very long road.  As Attwood suggests, once the mentor friend is gone (in my case this really happened when I went to university and he, although going to the same university, went on a gap year first), social integration becomes much harder, particularly as in my case it coincided with living away from home for the first time.

I realised today that I had such limited social interactions in my first job, that it was no wonder that I found it so much easier than my current and immediately previous one.  I rarely had to deal with more than one or two people at a time, my boss was understanding, I rarely saw other staff members, library users were mature adults and the library was quiet (perhaps too quiet as I could get lonely sitting in the basement all afternoon).  Plus I did three days a week of three hours each, very different to my hours in my other jobs which are much closer to full-time.  Even so, I sometimes went off to cry in the toilet or didn’t get to work because I had a panic attack on the way.  This, I think, disguised my autistic socialisation problems and made me think I had workarounds until I got to my previous job, especially as university was also a somewhat protected environment.  It was only in my previous job, when my socialisation problems became more apparent, when I started thinking seriously about being misdiagnosed when told that I was not autistic, and thinking that the misdiagnosis could matter rather than being an abstract problem.  In particular, it became obvious that I have problems with certain types or levels of noise and with interpersonal interactions beyond simple shyness and that I’m not great with vague or implicit instructions or dealing with grey areas.

I also think my sensory sensitivity has been greater than I realised previously.  As a child, I found wool uncomfortable.  I often find wearing my watch uncomfortable (sometimes at work I take it off and put it in my pocket) and I’ve gone through periods of thinking that way about shoes.  I think mostly I’ve just soldiered on until I get inured to these feelings, although I still avoid wearing wool against my skin.