Fear of Rejection (Mini-Post)

Last night (well, this morning, really), I dreamt about the friends who cut me off when I mentioned them on my blog in a way that they thought was critical, although that was not my intention. When I woke up, I wondered if my unconscious was telling me that my comments about PIMOJ yesterday could be seen as critical. She is unaware of the blog at the moment, but who knows what could happen in the future. I looked over the post today and was unsure, although the comments I received were positive about my conversation with her (i.e. positive about her as well as the interaction). So now I am confused. I feel I may make yesterday’s post private in a day or two to be on the safe side. My rabbi mentor once encouraged me not to mention anyone else on my blog, but I’m not sure how that’s really possible given that a major part of my struggles involves dealing with a social communication disorder, which means I struggle with interactions and need to write them down to process them, and it can help to have feedback from other people here.

I woke to find that PIMOJ had sent me several long messages continuing our conversation from yesterday. I did worry that this meant that she would reject me, but she also sent me messages saying that she is still here for me… It feels strange… I tend to assume if people disagree with me, that’s it, they will leave me, even though my (adult, as opposed to childhood) experience of that does not always fit entirely with that worldview.

I haven’t done much today other than get ready for Shabbat (the Sabbath). I feel so burnt out. I will try not to mind if I can’t do much Torah study over Shabbat, or if I can’t write my novel tomorrow evening after Shabbat. I feel I just need some recharging alone time with a novel (or classic Doctor Who after Shabbat) or whatever.

Exhausted

I woke up exhausted again and struggled to get going. I guess I did a lot yesterday, but it frustrates me. This is fast turning from a mental health/autism blog into an exhaustion/burnout blog. What bothers me a bit is not knowing why I feel like this. If it’s depression, why is my mood mostly good? And if it’s autism, why is it so bad even on days when I have not had obvious triggers, and why didn’t it affect me this way as a child? I’m beginning to wonder if I should be researching other issues, like CFS, although a glance at a website on CFS reveals more differences to my symptoms as similarities.

I helped Dad put up the sukkah, the portable dwelling we “live” in during the festival of Sukkot (Tabernacles) which is coming soon. In warmer climates, like Israel and parts of America, people basically live out there for the whole week of the festival, but in the UK we consider ourselves lucky if it’s dry enough to eat out there once a day. There is still a lot to do to prepare the sukkah. I was up on ladders helping. I don’t like being on ladders outdoors. I’m OK being on ladders indoors (changing lightbulbs), but somehow I feel that if I stand on the top step of a ladder on the patio, I’m going to lose my balance, fall off and crack my head open on the paving stones. Being on a lower step doesn’t bother me. I can even stand on the second-highest rung of the taller ladder, which is as high as the top of the short ladder. It’s something about the top rung, and the stone floor. Anyway, I managed to do what needed doing, but I wish I wasn’t mildly anxious about so many things.

I spent a bit over an hour working on my presentation for my job interview next week, getting the new one mostly written, but between waking up exhausted, helping Dad with the sukkah and therapy, I did not have much time to spend on it, especially as by mid-afternoon I was exhausted. I didn’t even go for a walk after therapy. Therapy was just too tiring this week. I’ve been exhausted all evening. I’ve been reading and watching the Ken Burns documentary The Civil War (on the American Civil War) while sloooowly scanning the forms my Mum and I had to fill in yesterday about my autism symptoms. I’m scanning so we’ve got a backup copy when if the NHS loses it. Our scanner is very slow. I’m vaguely worried about the box where they asked for previous psychiatric medicines and I put “Too many to mention.” I don’t remember all the psych drugs I’ve been on, and I know the NHS has lost the details over the years.

***

Something that came up in the autism questionnaires yesterday was whether I treat other people like objects. Now, obviously I want to say, “NO!” On reflection, I think in some sense I do treat people like objects. I empathise with people and don’t want to cause them pain (if anything, I’m over-cautious about that), but I think I have to consciously tell myself what other people might be feeling and I often get surprised because people don’t react the way I expect them to react. I think I probably also treat people like objects in the sense of sometimes forgetting that they have a life that goes on when I’m not around (since childhood I’ve been obsessed with solipsism) and that they have emotions that they might not show. That’s not a very nice thing to admit to and I’m wrestling with the idea that I may be being too hard on myself, but when I saw the question, I felt fairly instinctively that there was some truth in it for me.

I feel there is probably more to say, but it’s late and I’m tired, once again…

A Matter of Trust

I had a headache when I went to bed last night which got worse when I was lying down, as often happens to me, so I ended up getting up and watching Star Trek: Voyager at two in the morning and then sleeping even later than normal, which was not good.  At least it was a comedic episode, rather than some heavy emotional drama or political parable.  Then I feel asleep in the afternoon today from the heat.

I think the combination of heat, continued lockdown and shielding Mum, and finishing the first draft of my novel have left a bit of a “now what?” feeling.  I’m not depressed exactly, just exhausted, but it’s hard to get motivated to do anything.  I do think having a short break from writing is a good idea, but I think deep down I really want to get back to it.  This is not a bad thing in itself, but I think more of a break would be helpful.  I’m still reading books about writing and wondering if they are helpful of counter-productive.  It’s hard to tell.

***

I’m struggling with Torah study from lack of engagement.  I’m not studying anything that really excites me at the moment.  My Tanakh (Hebrew Bible) study currently is Mishlei (Proverbs), which I’m struggling with.  I think it’s the “wisdom literature” outlook that good is always rewarded and evil always punished in this world, which I find simplistic.  “Wisdom literature” was a genre in many countries in the Ancient Near East, not just Israel and Judea, associated with the scribes at royal court.  It aimed to set out advice for living a good life, based on following the dictates of wisdom rather than other impulses.  It tends towards pithy aphorisms which makes Mishlei one of the more quotable books of Tanakh, but also feels like it’s making sweeping statements.  I think Kohelet (Ecclesiastes) is something of a critique of this outlook.  Kohelet is in many ways structured like wisdom literature, but is very conscious that the righteous are often not rewarded in this world.  (I have a whole theory of why some books of the Bible assume that reward and punishment occurs in a very obvious and simplistic sense and others take a different, more complex, view that I can share if anyone’s interested.)

To be honest, I find studying Tanakh challenging at times in general, although I do at times find it very rewarding too.  There’s such a weight of expectation on “The Bible” to be life-changing and inspirational that it can be hard to engage with it.  I don’t really understand how Protestants in particular seem to be able to “converse” with the Bible in a very personal way, although I used to be able to do that more than I can now.  I find the Koren Maggid Tanakh series of books really helpful at explaining the historical background and literary style of the books of Tanakh, but it’s an ongoing series and they haven’t published volumes on all the books of Tanakh yet – plus the Koren books focus on the straightforward contextual meaning of the text, which isn’t always the inspirational side – the sense of “Why did someone find this meaningful enough to canonise it?”

The weight of history on Tanakh can be off-putting too, like watching a classic film like Citizen Kane for the first time and not knowing if you like it or merely think you should like it.  Citizen Kane is a good example, as nowadays it doesn’t look so impressive because so many of its startling innovations have become cinematic standards.  Similarly, a lot of what Western civilisation took from biblical ethics is so ingrained that we assume that all societies believe the same thing and don’t realise how revolutionary Tanakh was and only notice where the biblical ethic does not match modern standards.

(Sorry, that was a big tangent.  I guess that was autistic special interest mode.)

Likewise the Mishnah I’m studying, Seder Zeraim, Masechet Terumot, agricultural laws, is rather dry and separate from my life.

Because of this feeling of disconnection I just ordered Emmanuel Levinas’ Nine Talmudic Readings, both because I want to read more Levinas (observant Jewish Existentialist philosopher) and because I want to study some Talmud without moving on from my weekly Talmud class, which is on hold during lockdown.  I also ordered Rav Kook’s Lights of Penitence because I also want to read more Rav Kook and it’s appropriate as we move towards Elul and Tishrei, the time of the year focused on introspection and repentance.  Hopefully that will give me more variety in my Torah study and something more inspirational and meaningful to my everyday life.  Still, I am conscious that I just spent nearly £50 on books.  Buying too many books (more than I can read, at any rate) is not the worst vice, but I do tend to assume that all my problems can be solved by buying more books, which is not necessarily the case here (or elsewhere).

***

Achievements: I posted on my Doctor Who blog for the first time in a while, which was good (posting something I mostly wrote a few days ago, but hadn’t posted).  Also, despite what I wrote above about Torah study, I did manage about fifty minutes of Torah study again today.  I also cooked dinner (Hungarian pepper ragout with rice, which I had only cooked once before; this time I topped it with a fried egg, which is not healthy, but tasted good).

I’m not sure what the opposite of “achievements” is, but in terms of negative things, I got a rejection from a job I applied for some time ago and I think I messed up a social interaction online with someone I particularly didn’t want to upset (not that there are people I do want to upset, but you know what I mean).  I also wanted to go for a walk at dusk as I did yesterday, but it started raining.  By the time I realised it had stopped, I was too tired and it was too late.  It looks like thunderstorms are predicted for the rest of the week, which will limit my ability to go out.

***

When my therapist suggested limiting my internet time, she said not to see it as another “Should,” but just an experiment.  She was worried that if I couldn’t stick to it, I would beat myself up.  I haven’t completely stuck to it, but I haven’t beaten myself up either.  I am pleased to be online less and seem to be happier, although I do worry a bit about not being well-informed of the news.  I am procrastinating less, although I’m not sure where the gained time is going.  Certainly the whole experiment has made me more mindful of when I go online or check my emails; I don’t do that casually any more, without thinking, but do it consciously and deliberately even if I’m doing it outside the approved times.

***

A thought I had last night: I need to learn to trust myself and to trust God.

I want to feel that I’ve achieved something with my life, that I’ve fulfilled my mission, or at least that I am on course to fulfil it.  I don’t think a person’s mission is necessarily tied up completely with his or her career or family responsibilities, but I do feel that I have achieved very little that is worthwhile in my life.  This is why I find it so hard to trust myself or love myself, because I feel unworthy because I am not doing what I was put here to do.

On the other hand, I find it hard to trust God because I want to know that I will have a successful, loving marriage at some point, or at least to know that I can cope with being alone (without my parents, which will happen one day).  I find it hard to trust that God will arrange for me to get married, or that He will give me the tools I need to cope with being single forever.  Or perhaps I feel that He will give me the tools, but I won’t use them, in which case it’s about trusting myself again.

I’m not sure how I find this trust.  I certainly don’t know how to learn to accept being single forever.  Sometimes I feel I could explode from loneliness and sexual frustration.

***

I posted this comment on Ashley’s blog post about self-stigma today and thought I would share here:

I think I have a lot of self-stigma, partly about my depression and social anxiety, but also about autism, paradoxically, often combined with “Maybe I’m not really on the autism spectrum and I’m just a freak” thoughts.

I suppose that, like a lot of people on the spectrum, well-meaning adults socialised me to think that I shouldn’t do the things I wanted to do or think the things I wanted to think. That I shouldn’t stim and I should force myself to talk to people because “it will get easier if I try” among other things. Maybe they were right about some of these things, but I guess the cumulative effect is to make me doubt myself and to feel that there is a “normal type of person” and that my behaviour as a depressed autistic person is abnormal and that this is wrong in itself and responsible for many of my issues, such as unemployment, singledom and loneliness. If only I could stop being a “freak” (one of my favourite terms for myself, you may have noticed) and become “normal,” all my problems would be solved.

Of course, none of the authority figures in my life had any knowledge of high functioning autism when I was a child; the diagnosis of Asperger’s Syndrome (as it was called) didn’t even get into the DSM [psychiatric diagnostic manual] until I was eleven and wasn’t well-known for many years after that.

Even now I make more eye contact than many people on the spectrum even though my natural preference, like many autistic people, is to avoid eye contact. This is because I was told to make eye contact as a child and I internalised that message (not knowing about autism at that age) so I very consciously force myself to make eye contact, and usually quietly freak out in my head about making too much eye contact, or too little, or the wrong type; if I feel I’m not making enough eye contact, or too much, I blame myself rather than accept it.

It’s Too Darn Hot

I slept better last night than Friday night, but it’s still far too hot for me to feel comfortable.  I feel like I could give in to negative thoughts if I let myself, so I’m trying to stay in the present and not in my head.

It’s been hard to do anything today, the whole house is a big sauna.  I’m sweltering.  I never worked out if I’m extra-sensitive to heat as an autistic sensory sensitivity thing, or if I just don’t like it when it’s very hot.  I tried to write a job application, but I struggled to concentrate, because of the heat.  To be honest, I’m not sure that I’m as proactive and confident as they want.  Apparently I should have “The confidence to challenge and persuade where appropriate” – yikes!

After an hour and a half of trying to fill in the application and not getting too far, I gave up for the day.  It’s too hot.

***

Other achievements today: nearly an hour of Torah study.  I saw my sister and brother-in-law (with social distancing) for a bit when they came in their new car, although I went off to my room after a while as the conversation had become completely about cars and I don’t drive.  I very hurriedly wrote a Doctor Who review for my other blog (I can sometimes write these quickly when I have something to say although I haven’t posted it yet).  It was too hot to walk, let alone run, so no exercise.

I watched a film with my parents.  It was good to do something different together.

I do feel I didn’t do everything I wanted to do today, but that’s partly because of the heat, partly because of something that came up and took up a lot of time.  I’m staying up late now, although it’s not particularly cool, just because I don’t feel tired and I want to catch up on some of the things I missed during the day.  There doesn’t seem much point in going to bed yet, as I doubt I’ll sleep in this heat.

***

I was online more than I should have been according to my new “only go online twice a day” rule.  I thought I had good reason to bend the rules, but arguably it was just anxiety on my part.

Also related to anxiety, I think I messed up another social interaction, perhaps with negative consequences.  Sometimes the world in my head and objective reality don’t correspond very closely and it’s difficult to get out of my head and into the real world.

***

I feel a bit bad that when I posted here the letter I wrote to vent my feelings about the frum (religious Jewish) community, I didn’t make it clear that my concerns about racism, sexism etc. where about feelings I’ve found in parts of the community, not everywhere in it.  I don’t want to slander the whole community.  But there are parts I struggle to accept.

***

I am very bad at checking the spam folder on WordPress.  From the few times I’ve looked at it in the past, it seemed it generally did not deleted anything it shouldn’t.  I think once I found a comment that had gone in there by mistake.  However, I just had a look and found a couple of legitimate comments from earlier in the week that it had marked as spam.  Now I’m thinking I need to check more regularly, and I wonder if I’ve missed comments completely in the past.  Apologies to anyone whose comment got eaten, I will try to check more regularly in the future.

Someone to Watch Over Me

I’m dealing with difficult feelings today.  I felt overwhelmed when I got up, although I feel calmer now.  Some of it was sitting waiting for the doctor to phone (see below), which is always anxiety-inducing – social anxiety as much as medical anxiety, plus now autistic “new situation” anxiety about socially isolated phone appointments (I’ve only had phone appointments before for follow up calls about mental health which didn’t need to be in person).

Dad phoned the doctor for me at 8.30am and got me a telephone appointment.  The line was quite bad, so I was struggling with the phone call even more than usual.  I was supposed to get a text beforehand allowing me to send a photo of the mole, but somehow I didn’t get it, although I got my Dad to take a photo.  The surgery is not really good at admin things like that.  The doctor said he couldn’t do much without a photo, but said that I could send one on the surgery website – I didn’t know that there is an online consultation feature now for minor illnesses, which is good.  I hope that stays after COVID, as it would be a useful way of getting around the problems booking an appointment.

The online consultation was difficult too.  There was a list of options, but there wasn’t an option for moles and the like.  I did eventually find a “My problem is not listed” option.  There are loads and loads of pages of questions to go through, but I did eventually get to an option to upload photos.

On the plus side, they answered within a couple of hours.  The doctor wants to send it to a dermatologist to be sure, but is pretty confident that it’s benign, which is definitely good.

***

I still feel confused some of the time about whether I made the right decision to break up with E.  I don’t want to explain why I broke up here, because that’s not fair on her, but my parents, who I did tell, thought it was the right decision, but still I worry.  Did I mess up my last chance at happiness?  I hope not.  I don’t think so, but sometimes it’s hard to be sure, particularly late at night, as happened last night.  It’s easy to get sucked into thinking that I continually make bad decisions (in general, not just regarding dating), which is not true, but it does feel that way sometimes.

***

I’m trying not to wallow in guilt right now.  We’re in the time of the Jewish calendar called The Three Weeks.  It’s a time of mourning for the destruction of the Temple, the exile of the Jewish people and many other tragedies of our history.  The last nine days are even more intense, leading up to Tisha B’Av, the saddest day in the Jewish calendar, next Thursday.  In the Three Weeks, we don’t hold weddings or celebrations, shave or cut hair or listen to music.

One is not supposed to wear clean clothes in the last nine days, but it is permitted to “pre-wear” them for ten minutes or so before the nine days start.  I usually do this, but forgot this year, so I’ve been wearing clean shirts.  I feel bad about this.  Everything has just been so crazy this year.  I feel like I’m hardly observing the Three Weeks as I can’t fast the rabbinic fasts that bookend it on my medication and I have listened to music when feeling depressed, although not when feeling OK.  I’m trying not to beat myself up about this and other things and to accept that I’m fallible, but it doesn’t seem entirely right somehow.  I know my therapist said to focus on values rather than “shoulds.”  I am still trying to live in accordance with my values generally, even if I can’t keep these laws properly this year.  It doesn’t feel right, though.  I’m glad that I’m not shaving for the Three Weeks, even though my beard itches like crazy.  I’ll be glad to shave it off next Friday.

***

I managed some writing today, getting close to finishing another chapter.  There’s one important passage that I don’t think I’ve got right, but I’m not sure how to change it.  It’s hard to write something of a religious experience when I haven’t exactly had one myself.

***

I watched the Star Trek Voyager episode Someone to Watch Over Me.  I vaguely remembered watching this one on original UK transmission, but I didn’t remember much of the plot.  It’s basically a Pygmalion rip-off as the Doctor and Tom Paris bet whether the Doctor can educate Seven of Nine enough to get, and keep, a date in a few days, with the Doctor inadvertently falling in love with her while educating her in human interactions.  Seven is a human who was converted to a cyborg and then back to a human.  She is pretty emotionless and remorselessly logical and efficiency-focused.  She comes across as somewhat autistic in some ways, particularly in her inability to make small talk, to build friendships or to intuit the emotional needs of others.  I find her the most interesting character in the programme because of that (and not because of Jeri Ryan’s figure-hugging costume…).

At the start of this episode she’s unable to understand why B’Ellana Torres is angry at her for using her relationship with Tom as a case study on sexual relationships.  Captain Janeway and the Doctor take this curiosity as a sign that Seven unconsciously wants to be in a relationship.  Around the time this was broadcast, I was in my late teens and similarly curious about relationships, but uncertain what to do about them (I didn’t go on a date until I was twenty-seven), so I used to linger when my Mum or my sister were watching soap operas and rom coms, while pretending not to be watching them.  In retrospect, soap operas and rom coms probably were not the best role models, although I don’t think I ever “learnt” all that much from them.  I didn’t know how else to find out about relationships.

The episode was pretty cringey overall, in terms of Seven’s lack of social graces and the Doctor’s inability to express his feelings for her.  I’ve been there regarding both of those things.  It does make me wonder if I’m ever going to be socially graceful and build the friendships and romantic relationship I want.  I’m not sure if I (or anyone else) can really learn small talk and interpersonal interactions from a book or lecture.  I’m also not sure I can really learn them in my late thirties.  It does feel that I should have learnt these things in childhood or adolescence, when my brain was more plastic.

Porcupines in Winter

Oh dear, this is going to be one of those posts again, the very despairing and depressed type.  Sorry.  You don’t have to read it.

I thought I’d used the title of this post before, but apparently not.  The philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer wrote about porcupines that want to huddle together for warmth in winter, but if they do, they hurt each other with their spines.  This is how I feel: I want to draw closer to others, yet I find they “hurt” me and I apparently hurt them, not always for obvious reasons.

I woke up feeling very depressed and exhausted today; also rather lonely and “touch hungry.”  I feel a lot that I want to love and be loved.  I also feel a lot that I want to have sex, particularly when depressed.  Neither of these statements are hugely socially acceptable (in Western society, let alone Orthodox Jewish society), but the second is absolutely unacceptable.  I find it hard to live with knowing that I feel like that without being able to express it.  It is hard to know what to do with it for decades on end.

It was hard to get going today.  I just wanted to stay in bed.  Actually, I didn’t really want to be anywhere, but bed was easier than anywhere else.  I’m feeling a lot of self-loathing today and I don’t know why.  I just seem so socially inept.  I also seem pretty useless at living a good or productive life (not the same thing, I know), by either Western or Jewish standards.  It was hard to put on tallit and tefillin and daven (pray).  This is a struggle every morning, yet I do, usually rather late, and in the winter, when the days are short, I often miss Shacharit (Morning Prayers) entirely and have to skip straight to Minchah (Afternoon Prayers), but I do put on tallit and tefillin and daven, after breakfast, but before engaging with the day, yet I never give myself credit for it, I just beat myself up for doing it late.  I wish I could give myself credit for it.

I felt really depressed and exhausted even after lunch, when my mood usually peaks.  I wanted to cry, but didn’t feel able to do so.  I just wanted to curl up and hibernate.  I did very nearly go and do that; at any rate I went and lay on the bed.  I had told myself to do chores today rather than write my novel, but apparently the motivation I had to write the novel, inconsistent as it can be, can’t be transferred to chores.

The main chore opening a new ISA (tax-free savings account).  Dad is always getting me to open new bank accounts and ISAs because I will get more interest in the new one than my old one.  I do it because I am weak and always do what other people tell me to do, especially my parents.  I think the amount of interest I get on the amount of money I have to save is minimal, and probably not worth the hassle.  Also, having so many accounts confuses someone who is increasingly bad with numbers (unbelievably, I got an A* at GCSE maths.  I’ve got no idea how I did that.  I think I’ve become rusty in the intervening twenty years.  Being vague about money is one of the things E. did not like about me).  I can’t work out how to transfer money into this account and I think I may have messed something up.  I think I need to open a savings account with the same building society and then pay money from there into the ISA, but it’s a lot of hassle for what amounts to a relatively small amount interest over two years, which my Dad would probably then advise me to reinvest elsewhere anyway.

And, yes, I know having too many bank accounts is a first world problem, and being able to write off the small amount of interest is a sign of privilege (although the privilege in this case is more that I have practically zero expenditure because I have no life than that I have lots of money).  I’m not even sure what this money is being saved for; notionally to pay a deposit on a house or flat, I suppose, but it seems less and less likely that I’m ever going to be in a fit state to do that.  I can’t drive and am scared of learning, so it’s not going on a car, and I don’t really go on holiday, so it’s not going on that.  I live with my parents, so it’s not going on rent or white goods.  There isn’t much else to spend on it.

So that wasted an hour or two.  Then I wasted more time by going to the post office, which was shut despite saying online that it would be.  I also went to the pharmacist, which didn’t have what I was looking for.  At least I went for a walk.

I tried to do some Torah study, but felt too depressed to concentrate and only managed ten or fifteen minutes.

My main achievement for the day, aside from the walk, was cooking dinner, which I had already decided macaroni cheese, fortunately, as it is very quick and easy to cook.  I also phoned the mental health clinic to check that the appointment I had booked with the psychiatrist for this coming Thursday (from before lockdown) has been cancelled.  I feel I should have had some kind of official cancellation letter, but don’t think I have.  There was no answer when I phoned, so I’m guessing they haven’t reopened for non-emergency mental health yet.

I ended up just watching Doctor Who this evening in lieu of doing anything productive, because I just felt too depressed.  I ended up watching new series episodes for some reason (Asylum of the Daleks and The Name of the Doctor), even though I don’t generally like them as much as the original series.

***

I get a sort of pressure in my skull when I try to force myself to concentrate on things when I’m too exhausted and depressed.  I’ve never seen that listed as a depression symptom, but I get it quite a bit.  Also, when I get agitated, I start thinking as much in images than words, which I think is an autism symptom, but it would usually be constant for someone rather than only during times of agitation.

***

I think, far from being nearly over E., I’m only just beginning to mourn the loss of the relationship.  In Heaven Sent (perhaps the definitive Doctor Who episode), the Doctor reflects that the day someone dies isn’t the hardest day – that day you’re busy.  The difficult days are all the subsequent days when they’re still dead.  I think the fact that the relationship is still dead is hitting me.  I still think I did the right thing to end it, not least because I think E. would have ended it soon if I hadn’t, but still…  I miss her.  Or do I just miss having someone to talk to?  Can you even have “someone to talk to” in the abstract?

***

Sometimes I feel I could die or go mad from how “wrong” my life feels, but I don’t know how to change it, or if the changes I want are even possible (certainly being in a relationship is not possible now, and maybe not ever).  I just want to scream.  And I struggle to let other people understand how wrong my life seems to be, which makes me wonder if it’s just catastrophising, yet their suggestions for change all seem impossible and unworkable.

I just feel sad and lonely right now.  I’m hiding it from my parents again, or trying to (they can usually tell).  I’m not sure why I can’t tell them.  I’m just struggling to cope today.  I don’t feel tired, but I might go to bed because I’m too depressed to read (and reading The Jewish Review of Books today just makes me feel that should have been a journalist, essayist, novelist, academic… something shaping the Jewish experience and the world of ideas).  It’s either that or sit up late watching DVDs.  I feel that I hate myself, my life, my blog… except “hate” is too strong a word for what I feel.  I’m too depressed to feel hate today.

Well, at least today’s post is shorter than yesterday’s.

“Just pretend I’m Sherlock Holmes”

Warning: this is a mammoth post.  I don’t think I’ve written a blog post at this length for quite a while.  Don’t say you weren’t warned…

I spoke too soon last night when I said I didn’t get an exercise migraine.  Just when I was about to get ready for bed, about three hours after running, I suddenly got hit by a migraine.  Fortunately it was responsive to solpadeine and a “kool ‘n’ soothe” gel strip, but it did result in my going to bed about an hour later than I would have otherwise done, as I stayed up watching Fawlty Towers (The Kippers and the Corpse) while I waited for the medication to help (if I lie down with a migraine, it gets worse).

I slept late as usual.  I do wish I didn’t sleep for so long.  It would be nice to have some morning again.  Nevertheless, on some level that amount of sleep seems to be what I need to do to recover from all the activity I crowd into the afternoons and evenings.  Being nocturnal isn’t such a bad thing when I’m unemployed (although Jewish law assumes that men get up very early in the morning for morning prayers, which have to be said early), but it would be better if I slept for seven or eight hours a night instead of nine or ten, sometimes more.  I guess there’s not much point complaining when I’ve spent fifteen years trying to shift this pattern with no success, except when I have some external event in the morning like work or a psychiatrist appointment.

I had an anxiety dream last night about having to lead a shul (synagogue) service and not feeling able to do so.  Maybe that’s a reaction to shuls reopening, even though I’m not going yet because we’re shielding Mum.

***

Yesterday was the start of what looks set to be a week of not working on my novel so I can catch up with some real world stuff that needs doing.  I feel a bit stifled just at the thought of not writing for a week, which I guess is good (that I want to write so much).

Unfortunately, after lunch, when I tried to get down to things, I felt more tired and depressed than in the morning, which is unusual.  Usually I feel better after lunch.  I guess I didn’t really want to get down to chores, plus it was hard to work out what I could reasonably get done before therapy at 4pm.

***

I tried to set up an Amazon seller account so I could buy some adverts for my self-published Doctor Who non-fiction book.  However, it turns out it costs $40 a month!  I thought payment was per ad click, but there’s a subscription to pay first just to have a seller account.  I don’t have that kind of money at the moment.  I’d need to sell nearly two thousand copies a year just to break even and I doubt I could manage that.  So that plan is going on the back-burner now, unless it turns out I’ve misunderstood how it works, which is possible.

I’m not terribly good at marketing.  My marketing plan basically now consists of sending a free copy of the book to Doctor Who Magazine and hoping they review it, or at least put a mention in the merchandise news section.  I spent some time today writing a covering letter for that.  I hope to post the copy tomorrow.

***

I had Skype therapy today.  The connection was interrupted twice and the therapist let it run over by five minutes to make up for it, which was good of her.

I went for a walk for half an hour after therapy.  I ended up feeling like I’m in the wrong time.  I guess it’s not uncommon for people from conservative religious groups (e.g. me) to feel out of sync with the wider world.  Usually they fit in their own community, though.  I feel I don’t fit anywhere.  I feel like “the traveller from beyond time” (Doctor Who: The Savages).  Yesterday I was thinking what historical society I would want to live in.  My Mum always says she wants to live in the 1920s, but only if she was rich, so she could be a Flapper.  I thought I’d like to be an eccentric Victorian gentleman scholar of independent means.  Then I realised I basically just wanted to be Sherlock Holmes (as well as solving crimes, Holmes wrote a number of monographs on criminology, not to mention other, unrelated, subjects).

It’s not just that I have different ethics, tastes and mores from other people.  Sometimes I feel a bit as if I’m trying to think differently to other people.  It feels like most people think in three dimensions, and I want to think in four, but I can’t do it because I’m not a mathematician or physicist.  Not literally a mathematician, but the type of person who could think differently to most people.  That I want to be a great visionary, but haven’t got the ability to think anything new, just an inability to think what everyone else thinks.

A better analogy might be that I feel like I’m on a different frequency to other people a lot of the time, primarily because of autism.  Other people can’t quite “get” me, and I can’t get them.

After dinner I think my thoughts went somewhat downhill.  I tried to do some Torah study, but only managed fifteen minutes before feeling overwhelmed by depression and exhaustion.

***

My Dad spoke to me again about working in a local primary school as a teaching assistant.  I do not think that this is a good idea at all, but my parents are convinced that I am good with children.  I have not seen any real evidence of this, but they are convinced.  Nor do I think working in a primary school is a particularly good idea from an autistic point of view.  I think Dad was annoyed I was so dismissive.  He said it is local (which is undoubtedly true) and that I could do with the money (also true) and that it would give me something to do.  The latter is technically true as well, but I would still need to job hunt to get a library job, which would be a better fit, plus I’m already working on a novel and see myself as having more chance of a career as a writer than as a teacher/TA, not that I see myself as having much of a chance of getting any sort of career.  Taking a full-time TA job would basically put my novel-writing on indefinite hold and even a part-time job would cause some disruption.

***

I thought I was over E.  I guess I spoke too soon about that too.  I keep thinking about what happened.  I don’t really think it could have worked out between us, but I have thoughts and nebulous feelings about her at times.  It’s mostly feelings that I can’t really pin down and analyse.  I guess wishing things could have worked out.  Some worry about how she is coping without me and hoping she is OK.  Wishing I had someone who cared for me and could see past all my issues.  Someone I could care for.

I hate the fact that I always have crushes when I’m not in a relationship (which is the vast majority of the time).  They’re always painful and make me act stupidly and they never lead to anything.  I wish I could just turn my libido off.  I’m blatantly never going to get married, so it’s kind of pointless.  I should just focus on my writing, and Jewish stuff (except getting married is a Jewish thing, so there’s an obvious problem right there).

I have been thinking about a story from the Talmud (Menachot 44a) today.  I have blogged about it before, but I’m going to blog about it again, because I think it’s a good story.  I don’t know if it really happened; it doesn’t really matter.  The story is about a young Jewish yeshiva (seminary) student who went illicitly to visit a prostitute in a distant land.  As he undressed, he saw his tzitzit, the fringes on a four-cornered garment that Jewish men wear, and couldn’t go through with the act.  He sat there naked and the woman joined him, asking what flaw he saw in her.  He said that she was the most beautiful woman he had ever seen, but that his tzitzit seemed like four witnesses testifying that God punishes sin and rewards virtue and he could not go through with the sin of sleeping with her.  The woman asked the man to write down his name, the name of his city, the name of his Torah teacher and the yeshiva where he studied.  This the man did.  Then he left.  Meanwhile the woman sold her property, gave a third to the government and a third to the poor and uses the remainder to travel to the man’s city, where she asked his rabbi to convert her.  He was sceptical, thinking she wants to convert simply to get married to a Jewish man, but when he sees the list of names he seems to intuit the story and that she had a meaningful connection and oversees her conversion and she married the man who came to her.

Rabbi Eliezer Berkovits has a whole long analysis of the story in his essay A Jewish Sexual Ethics (reprinted in Essential Essays on Judaism ed. David Hazony).  He sees the moment of contact, when the yeshiva student and the prostitute sit together, and he gives her all the names in his life, symbolising his sense of self and personal history, as being an I-Thou moment (according to Martin Buber’s philosophy, which we covered a bit in the recent Jewish philosophy shiur (religious class) I went to).  “It is redemption from impersonality” says Rabbi Berkovits.

This is what I want from life, really, certainly from a relationship.  To be redeemed from impersonality.  To really connect with someone.  I thought I had that, but obviously I didn’t.  The online world is particularly bad for tricking you into thinking that you are closer to someone than you really are, and it’s probably no surprise that my first relationship was formed via a dating website and involved a lot of emailing and texting back and forth even after we moved off JDate and my second one was formed via my blog and involved a lot more emailing and texting, not least from being long-distance.  This may be part of the reason they failed.  Maybe we both had a false image of each other.  I don’t know.  If I dated again, I don’t know what method I would use to meet someone (dating site, dating app, professional shadchan (matchmaker), hope for a date arranged by friends or family, etc.).  They all seem pretty problematic in different ways.  I certainly wouldn’t try speed dating, which just terrifies me (little known fact: speed dating was invented by an Orthodox rabbi.  It is very much how frum people date: short, to the point, a lot of information passed very quickly to see if you’re compatible, then move on to the next one).

We actually spoke about this in therapy today.  Not about speed dating, about wanting connection, and missing that.  I get on OK with my parents, but we don’t have the close rapport that my Dad had with his Dad and my Mum had with her Mum.  We don’t always receive each other’s frequencies.  I don’t really have close friends I can talk to any more.  I fell out with them, or they drifted away.  I’m avoiding E. at the moment and don’t know if we can continue as platonic friends.  The friends I do have don’t live locally either, which is problematic at the moment.

My parents have lots of local friends, and during lockdown they’ve been going round to each others’ houses on Shabbat and having socially distanced conversations on the driveways.  I can’t really do that easily; even my local friends live quite a way away, but I would be too scared to just turn up on someone’s doorstep unannounced.  What if they didn’t want to see me?  What if I ran out of conversation?  I guess this is social anxiety.

We spoke about this today in therapy too, the way I drifted away from friends in my teens when socialising became less about playing a game together with clear rules as per childhood and more about “chilling.”  I never got the hang of that, or ever felt confident inviting myself to other people’s parties the way my peers did.  It didn’t help that I was terrified of drink, drugs, tobacco and sex and most of my peers were into at least one of those.  To be honest, forget cannabis or booze, I was terrified of people talking to me, or my crush talking to me, although I wanted that to happen… I had a crush on one girl during the whole two years of the sixth form (equivalent to high school).  Sometimes I tried awkwardly try to talk to her, but mostly I just stood around near her and hoped she would say something to me.  Nowadays I think she didn’t like me much and found me irritating, but was too polite to say so, especially as her best friend was dating one of my close friends.

I feel the touch hunger today too.  I guess I could ask my parents for a hug, but somehow I feel I can’t, and it’s not quite the same anyway.  It would be good to be in a relationship where my physical and emotional needs are both met, but that seems unlikely to happen any time soon.  I’ll be thirty-seven this time next week.  Somehow I feel that I could easily turn forty and still be a virgin.  I can’t see my life changing quickly, except possibly for the worse.  I think it could easily be at least five years before I’ve established myself as a writer and only once I have a career do I feel that I can even think of dating again.

Ugh, I’m catastrophising again.

I wrote a huge post, but I still feel that I haven’t really expressed what I feel.  It’s hard to describe loneliness, even though I’ve experienced it for so much of my life.  I probably do live inside my head too much.

I’m about to eat ice cream, because I feel I need it, and maybe impulse buy/retail therapy buy some Doctor Who DVDs, although I probably shouldn’t, because I just feel rotten today.  I hope this is just the “mental hangover” from “peopling” yesterday and not anything more serious.

Barbecue and Torah Study as a Process

My parents and I went to a barbecue at my sister and brother-in-law’s house.  I was slightly apprehensive that either my religious OCD would come into play regarding the kosher standard of the food, or that I would feel left out of the conversation and be bored.  In the event, I had a good time.  There was lots of food, and there was vegetarian for me (I only eat meat and fish on Shabbat and Yom Tov (Sabbath and festivals)).  I was mostly engaged in the conversation, which is good, because sometimes I feel a complete outsider.  I’m not sure if that’s autistic communication issues or just that the conversation is often career and house stuff that I can’t relate to, sadly.  I did start feeling “peopled out” after a few hours and struggled through the last hour we were there, then started suggesting maybe we should leave as it was getting late.  I guess I always get anxious when I don’t have a clear exit strategy.  It was good, but I came away feeling pretty exhausted and glad that I hadn’t really planned to do much today other than barbecue, Torah study and run.

I mostly did not get the usual “My younger sister is married and owns a house, when am I going to get married and buy a house?” thoughts, but I did briefly have some “What woman would be messed up enough to date me?” thoughts on the way home.

I also managed an hour of Torah study and a run.  The run started badly and I got out of breath easily, plus at one point I developed a pain in my knee and thought I was going to have to stop, but the second half was a lot better.  I doubt the run burnt off all the calories from the salt and pepper kettle chips I ate at the barbecue…  Still, I haven’t got an exercise migraine (although they can start hours later), which is good.

***

I had two positive emails in response to my devar Torah (Torah thought) this week, which was good.

***

I had a thought today that I’m still mulling over; it hasn’t led to a change in attitude yet.  Maybe I should think of Torah study as process rather than an action.  The emphasis is supposed to be on studying (“learning” in Yeshivish, the argot of the Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) world) rather than on content studied.  In other words, the goal is to spend as much time as possible studying, not to master so many volumes of Talmud, albeit that more recently the idea of Daf Yomi (studying one folio a day to complete the Talmud in seven and a half years) has gained traction.  Still, that’s not how it is taught in yeshivot (seminaries), where they focus on only two of the six orders of the Talmud (the Talmud is divided topically into six divisions, known as “orders” and subdivided into volumes) and not by any means the most relevant.  They focus on marriage law and tort law, because these are considered the most difficult volumes, which sharpen the intellect most.  A great Torah scholar is known as a talmid chacham which means literally a “wise student” emphasising that the idea is to study, not to know.

Of course, this may not help, as I don’t study Torah that much as a percentage of my day, even if it is a mainstay of my life.

***

That was it, really.  I didn’t do very much today.  It’s actually hard to say that, because I felt I should have done more, particularly as yesterday was Shabbat (the Sabbath) so I didn’t do anything and I didn’t do much on Friday either.  Mood was quite good most of the time, although there was some stuff lurking underneath the surface.  I guess it was a good day, although it’s strangely hard to say that too.

Flow, Masks and News Media

The world is just so horrible at the moment that I want to steer clear of news and Twitter, but there is some kind of masochistic attraction.  I think it’s partly fear of not being informed about something important, even if there isn’t much I can do about it (like COVID), but mostly boredom and procrastination.  It’s easy to click on something and read it, and the news is always updating.  However, we seem to have abandoned the idea of analysis.  It feels like every media or social media outlet is just a list of things or people to hate, mostly things or people I have not heard of and have no opinion on until goaded by the media or social media to come up with one.

Mind you, when I gave in to temptation today, I did read an interesting and possibly career-pertinent Twitter discussion (actual discussion, not argument, rant or invective) about whether literacy standards in children’s books and young adult books have slipped over the last few decades.

***

Away from the real world, Mum cut my hair.  That’s the most noteworthy thing about today.  I’m glad not to have to go to the barber, given how anxiety-provoking that can be for me because of autism, social anxiety and tremor.

My novel writing flowed quite nicely today, the way I feel it “should” for a professional writer.  I wrote quite a lot, although towards the end I realised I’ll have to re-order the sequence of events in this chapter a bit to make them flow better.  I’m also reconsidering the ending of the story, which is a slightly nerve-wracking thing – I’m not entirely sure where I’m going now, when previously I thought I knew.

I went for a walk to pick up my prescription.  I wore a mask because I was going to the pharmacist.  I still can’t get used to wearing it and I’m dreading when I have to use public transport again.  I suspect that they will be around for a long time.  Even if the official requirement to wear a mask on public transport is lifted, I am guessing people will still wear them out of caution and a kind of politeness.  Who knew that rush hour on the Tube could get more depressing and uncomfortable?  Then again, given what happened when lockdown regulations were eased last week, maybe I’m wrong about that.  Maybe everyone will just go crazy and mask-free.

I managed quite a bit of Torah study today too, including Tehillim (Psalms) in Hebrew and Mishnah.  The Mishnah’s point seemed straightforward, but as usual the commentary made it seem more complicated until I couldn’t understand it all, which is not good.  I spent some time thinking about what to write in my devar Torah (Torah thought) for this week.  I admit I’m finding it a bit harder than I expected to find something to write about for 500 to 1,000 words each week.

***

I was feeling quite self-critical last night and this morning.  I had an interaction elsewhere on the internet that I felt went badly, which may have been catastrophising.  This led me to over-generalise that all my interactions go badly.  It’s easy to think that I can’t cope with interacting with people in general.  It is true that sometimes I try to say the right thing and fail, but I need to focus on the fact that that does not always happen.  It is more correct to say that there are certain types of interaction that I handle badly, but I’m not sure what I can do about that.

Otherwise, my mood was reasonably good today, but I feel like there’s stuff bubbling under the surface that might come up soon and I’m not sure what that’s going to feel like.

***

I realised that I’m not thinking about E. much.  In a weird way, I feel guilty that I’m mostly over the ending of the relationship.  I felt like it  (the ending of the relationship) should have affected me more.  I don’t think it means I didn’t care about her, or that the relationship wasn’t real, just that I realise it was not really possible to save it the way things turned out.  I think I also worry more about bad things that might happen before they happen; once they’ve happened, I can generally deal with them.  If only I could channel some of that emotional energy back in time to before it happens and stop the worrying in advance.

I am still trying to work out if E. and I could still be friends, if that is sensible or something I want.  I definitely lack friends at the moment and would benefit from another one, but I worry about us being sucked into an unending on/off relationship, plus if I do ever end up dating again within the frum (religious Orthodox Jewish) community, having close female friends will probably not go down well.

It’s hard not to endlessly probe at the, “Will I ever be in a lasting relationship?” question, although I wish I didn’t.  That’s part of what I mean about agonising over relationships before they’ve started.  It is, I suppose, the emotional equivalent of probing a painful tooth.  No good can come of it, yet it’s compulsive.

Autism and Depression in the Workplace and More on Meaning

I dreamt about doing my A-Levels (equivalent of High School) and struggling with self-organisation because of my high functioning autism.  In reality, I was OK academically/organisationally at A-Level.  It was socially where I was beginning to struggle, as I couldn’t cope with more complex forms of adolescent friendship compared with childhood friendship, or with the greater levels of freedom I was being given.  Drink, drugs and sex scared me a lot; maybe it’s appropriate that they did, but they didn’t seem to scare my peers.  In reality, it was only when I got to the world of work, much delayed by depression, that my autistic issues became really noticeable.  I woke up with 17 Again by Eurythmics in my head (I sincerely hope I am never seventeen again).  I wanted to go back to sleep, as I had only slept for seven hours (I generally sleep much more because of depression), but it was too hot, so I got up.

I sleep badly when it’s hot anyway, partly from the heat, partly perhaps because I usually wrap myself up in a duvet, one of my more autistic traits, and I can’t do that when it’s too hot.  I’ve wrapped myself up in my duvet like a cocoon since I was a child.  I suppose it makes me feel secure.  When I was a child, I had an idea that if burglars broke into the house and stabbed me, the duvet would protect me.  I’m not sure if I really believed this, nor do I know if I really thought I was living in a production of Richard III and was likely to be stabbed by housebreakers.  I do feel more secure wrapped in my duvet though.  They sell weighted duvets now for people on the spectrum.  I’ve thought about getting one.

***

I got a weird response from the place I applied for a job the other day.  They said they have had a lot of responses; also that the library is small, but that they will get back to me.  I think they were saying they don’t want a trained librarian, just someone who will do admin for books, but it seemed an odd way of saying it.  Am I hoping I get the job or not?  I don’t know.  It would be good to have some income and structure, and the esteem that comes from work, in other people’s eyes if not my own.  On the other hand, I like having time to write when I’m most productive (afternoon/early evening) and working five afternoons a week was not my preferred part-time structure.  I would prefer two or three full days a week, giving me time to recover from work days as well as time to write on non-work days.

***

I got a letter saying my benefits have gone up as they now don’t think I’m able to work at the moment (although I understand I’m still allowed to look for low-paying part-time work).  Previously the benefits were lower because I was expected to be looking for work.  I’m not complaining, but I’m not sure why they’ve suddenly made this change, which makes me worry it’s a mistake and I will have to pay the money back, so I’m scared to spend any of it.  It’s not like the Department of Work and Pensions don’t have form with that sort of thing.  I would be generally suspicious of any government body giving away free money, to be honest.

***

I watched Rabbi Rafi Zarum of the London School of Jewish Studies interview Rabbi Yehoshua Engelman who is a rabbi who became a psychotherapist.  They spoke about meaning and the danger of religion making people do things because they have to do it rather than because it’s an authentic expression of what they want to do.  Rabbi Engelman reminded me of some thoughts I’ve had about framing doing religious things that I don’t really want to do as, “I’m doing it because I’m in a relationship with God” rather than “I’m doing it because God said so,” which is perhaps a subtle difference, but an important one.  It’s about prioritising the aspects of Judaism that I have chosen to be present in, on some level, (having a relationship with God) over the dry ritualistic aspects (doing as I’m told).  Even if the outcome is the same, the mindset is very different.  Just as I do things that I think are pointless or counterproductive sometimes because my parents want me to do them and I value keeping the relationship more than I value my freedom not to do that thing, so I do things that God wants me to do for the sake of my relationship with Him rather than because I worry that I will “get zapped” (as they would say in my shiur (religious class)).

***

A paragraph from my novel sums up how I felt struggling with depression and high functioning autism in the workplace:

I have always worked hard and achieved despite my troubles.  Now there is no correlation between effort and achievement; I do my best, but it is not good enough, I can not function as I am supposed to do, there are problems I can not solve without requesting help.

I still feel like this sometimes.  I am sure it would be worse if I was in work rather than job hunting.  It felt like that at times in all the jobs I have had, except perhaps the first one, but some were particularly bad.

Writing this chapter is probably what triggered the autism dream last night.

***

Achievements today: two hours on my novel, almost exactly 1,000 words.  I could have done a little more, but it’s so hot, and I’m tired from Shabbat chores and need a passive TV break before Shabbat.

The Return of the Job Applications

Work (positive): my Mum came into my room excited today just when she was about to go to chemo.  I was still in bed and had barely woken up.  “There’s a perfect job for you on [Jewish mailing list]!”  Dad said the same thing later on.  When I eventually got up and looked… it is potentially a very good job for me.  I don’t know about “perfect” (I’m not sure that anything’s perfect), but it would hopefully be a long-term job, within my skill set and maybe within my experience too.  It’s part-time and maybe would even give some writing time, although I’m not sure about that (I would probably have to crack getting up early if I wanted writing time – I don’t want to give up on writing fiction, so I might have to think laterally to find some time, as I do need a day job).  It would also be completely OK with Jewish holidays and early leaving on winter Fridays because it’s at a Jewish institution.  I don’t want to say too much about it, though, because it’s early days and because there aren’t so many institutions like this around and I don’t want to give too much away online.  I also think the job was advertised before, and I didn’t even get to interview stage, so I’m not getting my hopes up at this stage.

There are some scary aspects – I think all work is scary for me, on some level, because of social anxiety and low self-esteem (I don’t think I can do anything right) and because a job is something new and autism, even high functioning autism, does not like new things – but hopefully it would be manageable.  I have failed to get similar jobs in this sector (or sub-sector of the library sector) before though; I’m not hugely experienced in this area.  So, I’m not as excited as my parents were, but it is potentially interesting.

I psyched myself up to phone and ask for an application form as I thought I need to challenge my social anxiety more, especially as I have hardly done anything social for months, but there was no answer when I phoned.  I emailed for an application form instead.

***

Work (negative): I got feedback on my cataloguing test from the other week.  It wasn’t great.  Some of it was my confusion over how they wanted it done, but some of it is that I have got rusty over the years when I haven’t been consistently cataloguing.  Even when I have been cataloguing, the library standards I’ve been using have perhaps been less stringent than would be necessary for a pure cataloguing job.  I feel guilty about that.  This dented my confidence a bit for the other job application, even though that would probably not involve so much cataloguing and especially not up to the standards required for the cataloguing test job.  It doesn’t take much to reinforce my feelings about being an inadequate librarian, and an inadequate everything else.  If I hadn’t been depressed, and had finished my MA in a year and gone straight to a cataloguing job… but there’s really no point in playing those games.

It’s upsetting though.  Sometimes it feels like my low self-esteem is eminently justified: I can’t hold down a job permanently, or work full-time, or maintain a relationship properly, or make friends easily, or do other things like drive a car.  I know I need to focus on the positives, the things I can do, but sometimes there just seem so many negatives.

***

I still feel lonely.  I find myself endlessly checking emails, blog comments, and my blog reader, hoping for some spark of communication.  Anything to feel less alone.  The problem is that true I-Thou moments of connection are rare and, as I learnt at my religion/philosophy shiur (class) on Monday, impossible to manufacture.  You must be open to them (which often I am not) and, I suppose, lucky (which I also am not).  Perhaps also skilled at communication (again, I’m not – you may be noticing a pattern here).  It probably doesn’t help that I keep so many of my opinions to myself, on religion, politics, culture and life in general, because I’m so scared of rejection.

***

Achievements today: I tried to phone about the job and emailed instead when no one answered the phone.  That took longer than I would have expected.  I also brought in the weekly food delivery and put it all away; I do that most weeks, but I only realised today it takes about fifteen minutes, rather more than I would have thought, enough to qualify as a proper weekly chore, at least from the point of view of doing it with lowered depressive energy levels.  It would certainly take time and energy away from other things.

I spent an hour and forty minutes writing my novel, managing about 800 words, which is OK, but not great.  I also did some planning for the next bit, which was easier than I expected.  One of the minor characters is trying to force herself into the story more.  I want her to be in it more, as she’s more fun than all my other characters (Doctor Who fans: think Amelia Ducat or Professor Rumford), but I’m not sure I can justify it from a narrative point of view.

I spent about fifteen minutes working on my devar Torah (Torah thought) for the week, which I am not entirely happy with, but I am running out of time to work on it.  I also had my other shiur (religious class) for an hour and a half, which I’m still struggling with.  On the one hand, I know a lot already and am not being stretched so much.  On the other hand, I’m too socially anxious to really participate, especially as being on Zoom is even harder than being in a class in person.  Not only am I reluctant to answer questions, I won’t even read out (in English, let alone Hebrew), which is pure social anxiety.

***

It is hard to function when it is so hot.  I’ve had my fan going all afternoon with my windows shut all day (except for the small air vents) to see if it helps shutting out the hot air, but I’m not sure it has done much except make it stuffy.  I went for a walk after shiur, when it was late and cool, which was refreshing, but I came back to my room which is so hot.

***

Stuff I’ve been beating myself up about today: thoughts and feelings connected with loneliness that are probably normal and not to be ashamed of, but I feel ashamed of them anyway.  Other thoughts that are probably also normal, but I feel ashamed of them too, as if they were nasty and offensive.  I try to remember, as someone said in a therapy group I was in, “I’m not responsible for my first thought, but I am responsible for my second one” which I take to mean that sometimes “bad” (hateful, angry, aggressive, rude, lustful, spiteful, etc.) thoughts come into my head, but that’s not my fault if I don’t pursue them.

I also wrote a blog comment late last night that probably came out wrong.  I was trying to say that I find God as written literally in Tanakh to be often strict and difficult to see as moral, whereas Jews read Tanakh in the light of Talmud and Midrash which give the impression of a kinder, forgiving God, which is then read back into Tanakh based on clues in the text that point towards the kinder God (I think there is an idea that the Written Torah (Tanakh) comes from God’s attribute of justice while the Oral Torah (everything else, but especially Talmud) comes from His attribute of kindness, hence the difference).  I don’t think I expressed that well.  I communicate better in writing than in any other medium, but sometimes I feel that I just can’t communicate well at all.

Against a Sea of Troubles

I’m still feeling pretty bad, very depressed and anxious.  I feel like my life has unravelled and I don’t know what to do next.  I feel like I’ve lost so many people who mattered to me in the last year or two, and a lot of it has been my fault, albeit that I doubt I could have known it beforehand.  I suspect autistic difficulties reading people and situations is part of the problem, or maybe that’s just an excuse.  It doesn’t help that because there are so few people in my life, they take on disproportionate importance.  I don’t think that people whose blogs I read or who comment on my blog should really matter that much to me, but they do, because I have so few friends.  I feel withdrawn.  I want to hide in my room from the world.

I forced myself to do some things today: fifty minutes or so working on the novel (it felt like crawling over broken glass, but I did get a bit done), just over an hour working on my devar Torah (Torah thought) for the week, a thirty-five minute run.  I feel a little bit proud of getting the devar Torah written while I felt so bad, although it was mainly based on one book rather than several as I usually like to do.

I feel like I have tried everything you’re “supposed” to try for depression: therapy, CBT, medication, routine, volunteering, working, exercise, seeking social contacts, involvement in a religious community, creativity… nothing seems to work for very long and most of it doesn’t work at all.  It is hard to know what to do.  I’m hoping that a firm autism diagnosis will help, but I’m not sure how, and I could be two years away from such a diagnosis.  I’ve learnt a lot about myself over the years, but I’m not sure if I’m a better person, or a better Jew, as a result.  And self-knowledge is good, but also limited: it won’t buy you food or comfort you when you’re down.

I feel like my one remaining chance in life is to manage to make some kind of a career as  a professional writer, which is a big thing to ask of myself with almost no experience of professional writing and a few rejections already.  I feel I’ve pretty much failed at librarianship although I’m still looking for work in the sector.

I’m going to try to go easy with myself over the next few days.  I’ll try to do some Torah study tonight, but probably not much else.  Tomorrow I have my usual Friday pre-Shabbat chores and I told Mum I would clean the oven.  I will try to do some work on the novel on Friday and Sunday, but I won’t beat myself up if I don’t manage much.  Monday I have therapy and then a Zoom shiur (religious class) in the evening; I’m not planning on doing much else.

***

I don’t know who is still reading this, if anyone (I think maybe two or three people).  I wonder again if I should make it a private blog, but I worry that when I’ve tried that in the past, I ultimately end up stopping writing; it’s hard for me to write without some kind of implicit audience.  I’d be tempted to try password-protected posts, but in the past when I’ve tried them my experience is that no one is interested enough to log in, particularly as they don’t usually show up in blog reader feeds.  I do feel a bit exposed here at the moment, which is the whole point, in a sense, but also feels a bit dangerous sometimes.  I worry that I experience my life by writing about it, which probably isn’t healthy.

“It’s like watching a car crash in slow motion”

Thus spake Detective Inspector Drake in Ashes to Ashes, and it feels a lot like my life at the moment.

Lately I just want to withdraw.  I spent a lot of Shabbat in bed, wrapped in my duvet even when I wasn’t sleeping.  It’s a classic autistic self-comforting tactic.  I’ve been wanting to do it today too, although I’ve fought against the urge.

I’m scared to talk to anyone, even to blog or to read other blogs, for fear of getting into an argument.  There’s too much anger in the world at the moment.

I did at least manage to watch a talk between Rabbi Rafi Zarum (British, half Yemenite) and Rabbi Shais Rishon (American, black) about race and Judaism so I’m not totally running away from the world.  It was about as depressing as I expected (I’ve read some of Rabbi Rishon’s writing before so I knew what to expect; Rabbi Zarum apparently didn’t judging by his shocked reactions), although there was one funny joke.

Achievements: forced myself to work on my novel for an hour and wrote 650 words even thought I was too depressed to write anything today.  Went for a thirty-five minute run that was surprisingly good, although an exercise migraine set in hours later.  I tried to do some Torah study, but the migraine set in then and I only managed five minutes.  I haven’t felt well enough to daven Ma’ariv (say Evening Prayers) yet either.  Going to watch TV until hopefully the solpadeine kicks in, although I feel like I could throw up any time now.

***

I spoke to my rabbi mentor this morning.  I’m still processing the conversation.  He said that everyone in the frum (religious Orthodox Jewish) struggles with trying to feel inspired or to find meaning in Judaism and that I’m not the only person to struggle with the way the frum community can be narrow-minded or lacking in dynamism or inspiration.

This is all true, but I wonder where this leaves me.  I still feel that I have less meaning and inspiration going for me than a lot of religious Jews, and perhaps more frustration with the frum world than most frum Jews.  Sometimes (not all the time) lately it feels like I’m very close to walking out on the frum world and there are only a few things keeping me here.  If it were possible to be some kind of Jewish hermit, I probably would be one.  I guess I am one, in a way.

***

I know I have it easy compared to a lot of other people, but that doesn’t mean I’m not struggling.  A wise person once said, the worst thing that ever happened to you is still the worst thing that ever happened to you, even if even worse things have happened to other people.  While it’s true that a man who has had his legs eaten by an alligator should be grateful that he still has his life, arms, eyes, hearing etc. I’m not sure that makes it any easier to cope with the loss of legs.  I haven’t lost my legs, but I’ve never really got my life functioning properly and I feel that I’m running out of time to sort that, plus most of the time I feel too depressed, anxious and tired to do anything about it, not to mention too alone in the world (yes, despite family and friends).

***

OK, TV now, and trying hard not to throw up…

Loneliness and Fitting In

I woke up feeling depressed and lonely again.  E. is concerned about my tendency to turn everything into guilt, that I assume that everything bad in my life is my fault and if I was a good person I could change it.  She thinks that this is not really the case.  She feels in particular that I shouldn’t feel guilty about not being emotionally connected to Judaism.  I guess it’s hard not to when Judaism presents a lot of things (perhaps most things) in moral terms and assumes that good people can change them, at least with the right tools.  It’s assumed that a person who wants a better relationship to God or Judaism can ‘fix’ that; it doesn’t take into account that my brain chemistry might prevent that, or say what I should do instead or how I should cope.

That said, I wonder if this is really guilt or if I’m misunderstanding my emotions again.  I don’t think what I see as guilt is really sadness, but maybe it’s loneliness or disconnection.  I was reading about domestic abuse again (see below) and came across the idea that abusive men express all their emotions as anger; I wonder if I express all my emotions as depression or guilt.  I don’t know if that idea even makes sense.  At the very least, alexithymia (difficulty understanding my own emotions) makes it hard to understand what I feel.

I’m worried about the future too.  I want lockdown to be over, but at the same time, that would shift my worries about career and relationship up a gear as I have to confront things again.  I’m already dreading the cataloguing test I have to do soon for a job application.

***

I’m also struggling with political thoughts that I don’t really want to write about here, worries about the situation across the Atlantic, worries about my participation in racist societies, but also about the much greater coverage of and sensitivity around racism by most people in the West compared with antisemitism.  Jews aren’t more likely than most people to be killed by the police, but they are more likely than many to experience violence.  In the USA, Jews are the victim of well over half religious hate crimes, far more than any other religious group.  I don’t feel this is a particularly appropriate time to talk about antisemitism.  We need to concentrate on racism right now.  The problem is that much of the world has shown that it never thinks the time is right to talk about antisemitism.

Mind you, I can get upset by little things, for instance, a letter in an old Jewish Chronicle criticising Orthodox rabbis unfairly.

I’m not sure how these thoughts would be classified.  They’re kind of on the boundary between depression and anxiety, with some anger, but not what people generally mean when they refer to those feelings in a psychotherapeutic context.

***

I spent an hour or more trying to work on my novel.  I wrote about 450 words, which was not bad, but not great either.  I procrastinated a lot, got upset about irrelevant things (see the paragraph above) then read abuse survivors’ accounts to try to get me back into the mindset of writing about abuse, but that just made me feel more miserable and made it harder to concentrate.

I tried to look at my notes from my librarianship MA on cataloguing in preparation for doing a cataloguing test some time this week or next for a job application.  It was hard to concentrate because I felt so depressed, and because I was aware that I probably know this stuff as well as I ever will.  I feel I probably know the stuff, I just have no confidence in my ability to show it.  I’ve really lost confidence in my ability to do librarian stuff in recent years.  It’s hard to remember that I once thought that I would be a good librarian, even a professional cataloguer.

***

I didn’t do much Torah study (about fifteen minutes).  I  wrote this rather long email to my rabbi mentor instead (slightly edited here):

I’m really struggling religiously lately.  It’s hard to daven and to learn Torah in particular. It also feels like I have no meaningful connection to HaShem [God] and to Torah much of the time. It’s hard to work out why. Or, there are many possible reasons:

– my depression/general mental health (which has got worse the last couple of weeks) – one rabbi once told me that I wouldn’t be able to connect emotionally to God and Torah until I recover, but it increasingly looks like there is no recovery for me, just being able to manage my condition better;

– resentment of simplistic theologies in the frum world that see working at Judaism and especially having bitachon [trust in God] as immediately positive results.  I think these are wrong, but they make part of my brain think, “God must be angry with me, or He would have healed me/got me a job/let me get married by now;

– feelings of despair regarding my life, relationship, career, etc. and feeling that I won’t be able to build anything because HaShem keep testing me by making me suffer and taking away what I’ve achieved;

– generally feeling like a social misfit in the frum world: the United Synagogue doesn’t take Torah and davening [prayer] seriously enough for me, in the Federation I feel like have to hide various beliefs and interests because they’re unacceptable, and the people at the London School of Jewish Studies are mostly a generation older than me. I felt in particular that my local shul has not always supported me well in terms of helping me be part of the community or regarding my mental health (as well as setting me up on shidduch dates [arranged blind dates]), although things had been a bit better at the start of the year and I felt that after four years, I was fitting in a little bit better… and then coronavirus came and disrupted even that.

Lately I wonder if I won’t fit in anywhere, ever. It seems everywhere I go, I feel that I don’t fit in, and I’m beginning to wonder if that’s just in my head, or from my autism. I really feel that I struggle to fit in and to follow the unspoken social codes, which is a classic autistic symptom. On the other hand, I’ve never had the kind of support that the frum world is said to provide to most people in need.

And underneath it all is the feeling of emptiness, loneliness, isolation.  Of feeling that HaShem is so far from me and indifferent to me, or that He will invalidate all my mitzvot on some technicality.  I feel I can’t connect with Him.  Sometimes I feel that I don’t know what it would be like to feel joy at all.  I saw something the other day about the need to have spiritual pleasure, but I’m not even able to have physical pleasure.

Sometimes I worry I’m frum more out of habit than anything else these days, which does not make me feel good. To be honest, the non-Orthodox/non-religious world is just as off-putting to me as the frum world, but I know E. finds aspects of the frum world difficult, especially the lack of appreciation of serious culture, and I find it hard to “sell” her the frum life when I feel so negative about it.

I do still enjoy Shabbat, even though I feel that is partly a relaxation thing as much as a spiritual one.  Occasionally I do see Torah that resonates, but it’s hard to build on it; likewise if I daven well one day.  I do enjoy writing my weekly divrei Torah [Torah thoughts], although I do experience that as a stress sometimes, and a drain on time for Torah study.

This is what I’ve been feeling.  Would it be possible to discuss it, by Skype or email, please?  I don’t know if there is an answer, but I feel I need to try something new.  I mean a new strategy to engage with my religious life.  It’s just so hard to keep going sometimes.

I’m not sure what I expect to get from it.  He can’t wave a magic wand and solve my troubles and we have spoken about this in the past.  I suspect if I was more confident in myself and worried less about what other people think of me, I would fit in to frum society better, and if I fitted in better socially, a lot of my lack of religious connection would go away.  But I’m not sure how to do that.

Building Characters

I spent the day wrestling with negative feelings of depression and despair. I would feel OK, and then something would set me off again. It has to be said, though, that my mood was mostly reasonably good and optimistic, particularly in the afternoon (mornings are still hard). That said, little things can bring me down.

***

Every year there is a “Forty Under Forty” list in The Jewish News listing the top forty communal leaders in the Jewish community under the age of forty, whether religious, political or cultural leaders. It’s a fairly horrible concept and I try to avoid it, as there are always people I know on the list, and it makes me feel like I’ve wasted my life while other people have built careers and made a difference to the world, particularly as I won’t be “under forty” for much longer. Looking at part of the list today (it’s always published in installments) I saw someone I knew, but I didn’t feel as jealous or despairing as I might have done in the past. Likewise, lately I don’t feel as jealous and lonely when people much younger than me get married or have children. And I don’t carry as much anger and resentment as I used to about my childhood and adolescence. I feel I’ve made a lot of progress in therapy dealing with my issues. And yet I can’t seem to permanently shake the depression, despair, loneliness and other negative feelings. I feel like I’ve done everything I should do to recover, but it still doesn’t help. Somehow it persists.

***

I keep checking my email, blog reader, WhatsApp… I know when I do this it’s a mixture of boredom and loneliness. Just wanting to connect with someone, but usually not finding anyone or, worse, making the wrong kind of connection, usually by seeing something that upsets me, typically by making me feel attacked.

***

I probably shouldn’t relate all my dreams here (the ones I can remember anyway) as other people’s dreams are not usually as interesting as they think they are, but I had a classic anxiety dream about being in my rabbi mentor’s yeshiva (rabbinical seminary) on the day he was taking his rabbinical exams and feeling that everyone was looking down on me for not being religious enough. I wonder what that could be about? Sometimes you don’t need to be Sigmund Freud to work it out. There was also some weirdly OCD stuff about trying to do the ritual hand washing on waking and before eating, but not being able to find a big enough cup.

***

I have a new webcam, which I ordered weeks ago, and which has finally arrived. So that’s good. I had been borrowing my Dad’s laptop for every Zoom or Skype interaction. In other ways I feel like I’m ready for lockdown to be over. I know, everyone else reached this point weeks, if not months, ago. But lockdown seemed to suit me: I didn’t have to meet people, there weren’t jobs to worry about applying for, I didn’t have to go anywhere or do anything, I had time to write. But I feel I probably should be trying to move my life on and get back in the habit of actually doing things other than writing, jogging, cooking and cleaning. Plus, it would be good to move towards moving my relationship with E. on. And seeing other people, actually going to shul (synagogue) and to physical shiurim (religious classes) would probably be good for me, not least because I feel like my social anxiety is getting worse while I avoid people. Online socialising isn’t working so well for me, as it’s just made me more dependent on likes and follows, behaviour which I thought I had grown out of, and, as I’ve said before, I struggle with Zoom calls – too many people, too many things happening at once, too easy to psychologically check out and refuse to interact with other people.

***

I felt blocked in my writing this week, so I emailed a writer friend to ask for advice. She recommended some books and also some exercises to try to clarify (to myself) who my characters are and what they want. I learnt two things from this. The first is that I have a weak idea of what my secondary hero wants or needs, which is probably why she has felt like the biggest weak link in the novel so far, too vaguely written to really cohere or stand out.

The second is… well, this is a slightly edited version of the character profile I created for the hero, who is kind of a fictionalised version of myself (I was going to say “Mary-Sue,” the fan term for a character who is a wish-fulfillment figure for the author, but this character is more an anti-Mary Sue, annoying, self-obsessed and useless).

  • Wants/needs: consciously wants love, acceptance.  Unconsciously needs to accept himself, his autism, his depression
  • Weakness: lack of self-knowledge
  • Obstacles that play to weaknesses/show growth: struggle in environments not designed for autistics; contemplate suicide because can’t cope with self.  Not upset with God or world, just with himself.  Can’t accept his autism/depression means that he needs to live differently to other people.
  • Choice: choose life or death, which is choosing to love himself
  • What he learns to achieve his goal: to choose life because even without God, he recognises his own uniqueness and worth.

I think it’s helped clarify my main character, but it’s certainly helped clarify my own needs. To be honest, “lack of self-knowledge” isn’t really my fault, but that of the character (who is really me some years ago, not me now). I understand myself, I just struggle to put what I’ve learnt in therapy and elsewhere into practice, hence the comment above about having addressed issues, but been unable to move on. Still, it was interesting to realise I still haven’t really accepted my depression and autism (the latter partly because it’s still undiagnosed) and my consequent need to live a different life to other people with different standards of success. For example, for me success might be maintaining reasonably positive mood over time, engaging on some level with my community and friends and getting some kind of job (which probably won’t be high-powered/high-stress) as opposed to having a dynamic career, getting married and having children, having lots of friends and taking some kind of community leadership position.

Quick, Let’s Drink a Million Cups of Tea While We Procrastinate

That title…  I think I’m clever and funny when really, I’m not.

I just feel inadequate today.

I was pretty exhausted last night after Skype therapy and Zoom shiur (religious class) and I went to bed early (for me at any rate – midnight) hoping I would get up earlier today, but I still slept very late.  I just feel so depressed and exhausted on waking.  Maybe it’s not surprising given that I had a very draining day yesterday.  I think a lot of the problem about waking tired is to do with low blood sugar, which has always affected me badly, although I don’t plan on getting up in the middle of the night to eat.

Even after breakfast and getting dressed, I still felt really depressed and exhausted.  Struggling to do anything.

***

I feel like I’ve sunk into some kind of religious crisis (again) without really realising how.  Rebbe Nachman of Bratzlav says that religious crises are inevitable and unending in this world; as soon as you achieve some kind of certainty about something, it brings with it a whole load of new unknowns for you to worry about (it’s not clear if the unknowns are completely new, or old ones on a deeper or more intense level).  I believe in God, but I find it harder and harder to connect to Him and to Torah and mitzvot (commandments).  I know a lot stems from not fitting in to a religious community for moral and practical support and also feeling like I’ve transgressed the community’s standards in ways that I’m not always sure about (as in, I’m not sure if I’ve transgressed them or not).  I’ve always felt alone, even in my religious practice, even when I was a more regular attendee at shul (synagogue).  I’ve always felt that in the final analysis, it came down to just me and God without other people really being involved.  That’s probably a horrible thing to say, but it ties in with my lack of friends, my difficulties communicating with my parents, the fact that I was single for most of my adult life and my fascination with solipsism and solipsistic fiction.

I guess now I feel that I have to “sell” Orthodox Judaism to E. or she won’t join me in it and I don’t know how to sell something I feel so increasingly equivocal about.  Depressive anhedonia is a big part of the problem too, more so than anything theological.  It’s hard to enjoy Judaism when I can’t enjoy anything, even things that are easier to enjoy.

Ashley Leia asked me on the last post if I felt that God causes my suffering.  I said yes.  Conceptually that doesn’t bother me so much. I came to the conclusion a while back that we aren’t here on Earth to be happy, but to grow, and growth often requires suffering as a stimulus, therefore suffering is to be accepted as part of the human condition in this world.  Nevertheless, I feel exhausted and not sure how to carry on sometimes. It just feels so overwhelming and unending. There is definitely a difference between accepting suffering intellectually and feeling emotionally accepting of it.  I can accept it intellectually (I know other people have it much worse than I do), but it’s hard to accept emotionally.  Hard to accept that I might always feel like this, that I’ve lost the life I thought I would have at this stage of life (career, wife, kids, community, self-love).  It’s hard to see so many other people apparently living that life with no idea if I will ever achieve it.

***

It doesn’t help that I’m feeling quite blocked with my writing at the moment.  I sit in front of the computer, drink a lot of tea, idly surf online and blog, but it’s a struggle to write anything for the novel.  I wonder if the story I’m trying to tell is too complicated for me, or if I’m cut out to be a writer at all.  Maybe it was absurd to think I could write about domestic abuse, a subject which I have not experienced directly.  All my writing about  it seems crass and ill-formed.

***

Religious crisis, low mood and writer’s block are probably connected with isolation.  I haven’t been on the depression group Zoom call for weeks as I get too tired after therapy now, which is on the same day.  E. and I haven’t spoken much for the last few days because of Shabbat and my shiur yesterday and E.’s workload, although we did speak today.  Some people who used to comment here haven’t done so for a while and nor have some bloggers I follow/am friends with posted on their blogs lately and I’m worried if everyone is OK, or if they’re angry with me and are avoiding me/have taken me off their friends’ list.  I guess I feel isolated.  I didn’t have much in the way of social contact even before lockdown, but I feel like I’m losing more of it.  My shul (synagogue) is doing another Zoom Kabbalat Shabbat service (beginning of the Friday evening service), but I found the last one awkward and uncomfortable, so I probably won’t do it again.  My parents are hoping to have my sister and brother-in-law over either socially distanced in the garden or via Zoom on Sunday to celebrate my Mum’s birthday, so hopefully that will help, although I’m nervous about even socially distanced meeting.

***

The Kotzker Rebbe spoke about the evil inclination stealing “the delicate chord of truth from your heart”.  After that, it no longer worries if you work or pray or study, because without the chord of truth, whatever you do is of no interest to him (i.e. it’s meaningless).  I feel like I lost the chord of truth a long time ago.

***

I’m just feeling today that I failed at everything.  I failed at being a good Jew.  I failed at being a good writer.  I failed at being a good blogger.  I worry that I’ve failed at being a good friend and boyfriend, and probably also at being a good son and brother.

I feel that other people I meet online have a reason to be mentally ill (often abuse or trauma of some kind), but I haven’t experienced anything bad, I’m just too useless to function properly.  I should get over myself.  Alternatively, they produce something with their pain, some art or something to help others, something that somehow justifies and explains what they endured.  I haven’t managed that either.

Part of me says that this is just my inner critical voice speaking, but it seems kind of reassuring to say that.  Much harder to confront the reality of having failed at everything I tried.

The sudden upswing of depression might also be because Mum has asked me to go with her to her oncologist appointment tomorrow.  Mum likes to have someone with her, as she gets overwhelmed sometimes and misses information.  Dad went to the first few meetings, then COVID-19 happened and non-patients were not allowed in the hospital.  Now one non-patient is allowed in “At their own risk” (which is a bit scary in itself).  Mum wants it to be me rather than Dad because he may not be able to park the car there (I’m not sure why) so will have to drop us off, go home, and come back to collect us later.

There is also some genuine fear about me and E., in that we know that we both have real anxieties about the relationship over things that we can’t do anything about at the moment and we have to just sit with those feelings and see what happens in the long term.

***

Achievements today: I cooked dinner (spicy rice and lentils), and spent forty minutes or so researching and writing my devar Torah (Torah thought) for the week.  It’s easier to write a devar Torah sometimes (like today) than it is to study Torah for some reason, perhaps to do with concentration and motivation.  I was also anxious that I would not find enough material for this weeks’ sedra (Bamidbar, focusing on the census of the Israelites in the wilderness – not easy to talk about) so was I trying out ideas and looking for sources when I found something.

I went for a run, which I hoped would help my mood, but I struggled to run, walking lots of the time, partly because of depression, but also because of the heat and, in the second half, an exercise migraine.  I had a lot of negative thoughts buzzing around my brain: that I’ve disappointed my parents and never given them any naches (reflected glory from children or grandchildren); that E. will realise sooner or later what a useless, pathetic, needy, screwed up boyfriend I am and leave me (she’s told me I’m catastrophising about this, but it was still what I was thinking); that I’ll probably die lonely, impoverished and unloved, maybe even homeless and living on the streets…  just a negative thought spiral.

I came back too exhausted and migrainey to think negative thoughts; post-migraine I tend to feel physically fragile, but emotionally OK (a rather extreme and counter-productive way of shifting a low mood).  However, the negative thoughts are already creeping back.  I need to daven Ma’ariv (say Evening Prayers) and I want to do a little Torah study if I can today, even if it’s only a few minutes.  I want to chill out in front of the TV for a bit, but it’s getting late and I’m not sure if that will just keep me awake later.

***

The rabbi from my shul WhatsApped me to check how I am, which was nice.  I do feel a bit more a part of the community when he does that.  I’m not quite sure what to say at the moment, though.

***

There aren’t many jobs being advertised at the moment, unsurprisingly, but I just got an advert for a “Cybrarian” which sounds (a) horribly like something out of Doctor Who*, (b) horribly like something from dot-com boom of the nineties and (c) like a overly-modern company where I would not fit into the corporate culture, particularly as they put “The ability to laugh at yourself” on the job description.  How do they interview for that?  I worry they make fun of you and then say, “What’s the matter?  Can’t you laugh at yourself?”  Mind you, they put “a profound love and passion for Technology [sic]” on the list too, which sounds even more disturbing, particularly as “Technology” was capitalised throughout the advert and job description.

* Which has given us Cyberman, Cybergun, Cybercontroller, Cybermat, Cyberplanner, Cyber-megatron bomb, Cyberleader, Cyberwar, Cyberbomb (“The most explosive devices in the universe!”), Cyberlieutenant, Cybermite, Cyberiad, Cyberium and Cyberdrone.

The Fall’s Gonna Kill You

I’m trying not to start every post writing about my sleep from the previous night, but there’s no denying that I went to bed late, slept badly, had weird dreams that upset me without being entirely sure why, and got up late, feeling depressed and exhausted. Whether that’s a symptom or a cause of what followed is not clear at this point.

I have a rush of thoughts in my head and I’m not sure I can put them all down, but they centre on Judaism and my relationship to it.  I don’t think Judaism provides much meaning to me, in a tangible everyday sense, rather than a more abstract theoretical one, and it certainly doesn’t provide much joy, although I do appreciate Shabbat (the Sabbath) even if I sleep through much of it.  It’s come to the fore lately because of my relationship to E. and the fear I have that I won’t be able to “sell” Orthodox Judaism to her if I don’t like it enough myself.  I feel that I can’t get by on autopilot any more as I’ve done for many years, but that if I don’t find a way of making it enjoyable for her, we won’t be able to get married and live together.  But I can’t leave Judaism either, because I really believe in it.  I mean, really believe.  Which I suppose must mean I get some meaning from it, even if I can’t describe how or why.

I enjoy Shabbat, as I said, which is just a wonderful sacred time away from the world.  I don’t always get meaning from Torah study, but I enjoy the “archaeological” side of studying ancient texts in foreign languages.  You decode the meaning of words and sometimes it’s something truly alien to the modern experience (of life, let alone religion), but sometimes a vivid image or idea hits you and there’s a connection across hundred s or even thousands of years between you and the author (whoever he really was).  I find that exciting.  Lately I’m getting something out of studying Sacred Fire, the sermons of Rabbi Kalonymous Kalmish Shapira in the Warsaw Ghetto during the Holocaust.  I know that’s not thousands of years ago, but (thankfully) it still seems a very different time, even though it’s technically still within living memory.  He seems to understand suffering in a way that few rabbinic sources I’ve read do, understands how it can destroy you from within and stop you keeping up with religious life, which is how I feel at the moment.

I don’t think that I get much else that’s tangible out of Judaism, though, certainly not from the social aspect, although I doubt I would fit in anywhere.  As I said in a comment on the last post, I think unconsciously I don’t want to fit in anywhere; at any rate, whenever I join a new community, I start thinking up reasons why they could never accept me, which causes me to hold back and not be accepted.  Possibly I should just wait until people actually reject me rather than preempting them.  I can’t imagine living a life without Judaism though.  Secularism, in both its Enlightenment and Postmodern guises just seems so hollow and meaningless, far more so than Orthodox Judaism.  But Orthodox Judaism as it is usually presented, in both its Modern Orthodox and Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) guises just seems impossible for someone with all my issues.

The previous rabbi at my shul (synagogue) said that one needs to separate the emotional religious questions from logical ones.  Not that one is right and the other wrong, but that emotional questions need emotional answers, not logical ones and vice versa.  From that point of view, I’m in need of emotional answers, not logical ones.  Similarly, my rabbi mentor told me that when he was training as a counsellor and Jewish student chaplain that he was taught that when presented with a question of faith to address the personal problem beneath it.  He said that at the time he thought that was really offensive (to assume that every question of faith is really hiding a personal problem), but as he became more experienced, he saw that there was some truth in it.

From that point of view, the personal problem is obvious.  It is well-known that the frum (religious Orthodox Jewish) community assumes every adult is married.  It is also true that being married “locks” a person into frumkeit (religious culture) by making it harder to drop out (because of the difficulties it would entail for the marriage).  Perhaps if I’d found a frum spouse in the UK I would have swallowed my reservations about the frum world(s) to get married, whether the lack of passion and religious commitment in the Modern Orthodox world or the numerous intellectual reservations I have about the Haredi worldview.  Maybe I would have lived with the cognitive dissonance in either world, locked in by my marriage.

But I was unable to find a spouse in the frum community, and then I ended up with E., who is not frum.  Now I feel pulled in two directions: I still have an intellectual commitment to frumkeit, but I struggle to have an emotional connection with it, and now I am aware that I could make E. and my life much easier and probably more fun by simply dropping a lot of frum commitments.  It is hard to know what to do.

***

I feel upset with myself for what I wrote in the comment to this post.  It was true, but I felt I shouldn’t have written it.  I shouldn’t involve other people in my issues (as if I haven’t done that already to E. and my family) and I shouldn’t voice my resentment at my failure to be frum.

I worry about not fitting in with people here online too, although if ever people have chosen to be around me based on my deepest inner thoughts, it’s on my blog.  I wonder what people make of me, whether they think I’m a good person, and whether I give a negative impression of Orthodox Judaism.  I hope I don’t present Judaism in a really bad way just because of my issues.

***

That’s pretty much where my brain was all day today.  Feeling that I’m a bad Jew and that the system is rigged against people like me, but that there’s nothing I can do about it, and worried about what it means for my relationship.  Feeling like a fraud and not sure what I should do or where I should go.

I tried to work on my novel for an hour and a half, but I was too distracted.  I procrastinated a lot and only wrote 200 words before giving up.  I felt that my writing isn’t going anywhere, not this book and quite possibly not any books.  Which is another reason E. shouldn’t date me, because I don’t bring anything to the relationship financially.  As well as my inability to function for prolonged periods of time, whether due to depression or autism.

I’m going to post this earlier than usual, because I need to dump these thoughts out of my head.  Then I’m going to go for a run and see if that helps my mood.

Darker Than Expected

I struggled to get going again.  It’s difficult.  Once I get going, I’m OK, but I really struggle with depression, exhaustion and motivation for the first couple of hours that I’m awake.  Today I was missing E. a lot and feeling quite overwhelmed and depressed.  Once I’ve had breakfast, got dressed and davened (prayed) a little bit (only a fraction of the morning prayers, and sometimes skipping straight to the afternoon ones because I’m too late for the morning) I do tend to feel better, but even then I don’t feel 100% until after lunch.  Even when I was working full days I had a similar situation.  I had to rush out in the morning and I managed that OK, somehow, but the mornings at work would pass slowly and not always terribly well, bolstered by coffee, and only after I had eaten lunch would I feel that I could really do any good work.

Then I wasted far too much time at lunch trying to answer one of the questions in the Doctor Who Magazine crossword and failing to get it.  I can usually answer about three-quarters of the clues fairly easily, others with some difficulty and a few I need to look up online, but I was really stuck on one today, even after looking at a couple of scenes from the story in question.  This sort of thing really irritates me.  I’ve only been unable to find an answer once or twice before!

I procrastinated a lot in the afternoon, partly at least because I kept getting hit by waves of anxiety and depression.  I did eventually manage to email the Amazon seller I bought the broken DVD box set from that I mentioned yesterday.  I also emailed four psychotherapists to ask if they have client vacancies and if they charge lower rates for the unemployed.  One replied promptly by email, which was good.  Another phoned me, which was not good!  I dislike talking on the phone at the best of times and I was taken by surprise, which meant my anxiety level shot up.  Then he tried to get me to commit to an initial appointment, when I was hoping to compare the different fees, but obviously I didn’t want to say that to him.  I asked for time to think.  Still, I guess it’s good to know he could see me next week if I want.  I felt that he was a bit pushy, but maybe that was because I was so anxious.  I’m not sure if I really want a male therapist anyway; I seem to be able to open up more to female mental health professionals than males, although there have been exceptions.

I tried to get back to work on my novel, but procrastinated and then got roped into helping my parents with some stuff.  I did eventually manage about thirty minutes of work on the novel, redrafting a chunk previously written in the first person into the third person.  It seems to work better that way, leaving questions for me about how to write the rest of the book.  I also went for a walk for thirty-five minutes or so.  Even when walking I drifted into negative emotions, particularly anxiety and depression, despite listening to a podcast for distraction.  I did manage twenty-five minutes Torah study too.

Writing this down, I see that I achieved quite a bit, but would have liked to have done more Torah study and novel writing.  I also feel like I’m struggling a bit with emotional regulation at the moment, inasmuch as there are a lot of strong, difficult and sometimes conflicting emotions in my head, but I lack the ability to get rid of them or do much other than acknowledge their existence.  I’m struggling to just sit with them.

I wasn’t aware of this so much during the day, but looking back Mum has been struggling a bit today and I think that was also in my mind on some level and adding to the anxiety and depression.

I watched Star Trek Voyager to unwind, but it was unexpectedly dark.  Basically, the holographic doctor wanted to learn to experience family life, so he made a holographic family.  But he made them too sickeningly perfect, so one of the other characters introduced some changes and random program elements, which meant that his wife now had a life aside from pleasing him and his kids were now rebellious.  So far, so good and I thought we would stop there with the holographic doctor having Learnt An Important Lesson Today About Real Life (not coincidentally, Real Life was the title of the episode).  Except there was another quarter of an hour left, and his daughter rather shockingly had a fatal sporting accident and he had to deal with that, which was quite a lot darker than I needed today, or than the previous three seasons of the programme had led me to expect.

After this I had my daily call with E.  I do find it frustrating that I can’t be there in person for her.  We both want so much to have a ‘normal’ relationship without coronavirus and without the Atlantic Ocean being in the way.  But, at least we have Skype and WhatsApp, without which we really would be too far apart.  I can’t imagine having even an email long-distance relationship, let alone an old-fashioned one via letters (taking weeks to cross the ocean in a steamer, no doubt).

***

I find it increasingly hard to deal with all the applause and plaudits for the NHS.  Today we had the weekly applause for the NHS and carers as well as the slightly bizarre Doctor Who thank you (also: Jo Martin is a ‘real’ Doctor, but Michael Jayston isn’t? Hmmm…).

I acknowledge that NHS staff are doing a huge amount at the moment, and some have become ill (including my sister’s former flatmate) or even died as a result.  At the same time, I can’t forget the often appalling way I feel I have been treated over the years.  In my experience, there is a big difference in quality between NHS psychiatric care and care in other front line areas like accident and emergency or oncology.

I feel like a child whose father’s appearances in his life were erratic, unpredictable and highly variable in quality suddenly seeing his father lauded as a diligent, conscientious and a great man.  It is hard to deal with the dissonance.

Light a Candle

We haven’t stocked up on post-Pesach (Passover) food yet, so when I was hit by hunger late last night I sat up late eating matzah and jam because the alternatives were toast or cornflakes, both of which I had already had earlier in the day.  More matzah and jam was not the healthiest option, and I know I’ve put on weight again over Yom Tov (the festival).

I did manage to get up at 11am again today, although I felt quite sluggish and struggled to get going.  I went shopping and went for an extended walk on the way back.  I hadn’t been shopping in a supermarket for a while, so I was surprised to see the aisles measured out into two metre long blocks, although there were still bottlenecks at the tills and doors.

I cooked dinner, which was the reason for going shopping.  I cooked vegetable curry, even though I cooked it recently, as it’s pretty basic and I wasn’t sure what ingredients would be available.  As it was, I couldn’t get the beans I wanted.  We also had a load of potatoes, so I knew I could use some of them.  Cooking took longer than expected, though, and I didn’t have time for much else, particularly not looking for a therapist which I rashly said I would do today without considering my desire to go shopping and cook.

I attended (online) the weekly depression group lockdown session.  I think it’s useful for me to have the social contact, even though I don’t say much at these things.  I always feel self-conscious, or even more self-conscious than usual, with the online meetings and I don’t know why, as I’ve had Skype therapy and Skype dates, so one would think Zoom depression group should not be harder.  Some of it might be that therapy and dates were one-to-one, whereas with depression group there are eight or ten or people and the time lags and the cutting to the wrong screens based on accidental noise are more obvious.  Next week it has been suggested that we talk about books we’ve read recently.  I have an idea of a book to talk about, although it’s not one I’ve read recently, but I’m not sure if I’ll have the confidence.

During the short break in the depression group session I went downstairs and lit a yellow yortzeit candle for Yom HaShoah (Holocaust Memorial Day – the Jewish one, as distinct of International Holocaust Memorial Day in January).  The candle is in memory of a named child who was murdered; Dad said he was told we should also add in the children we lit for last year (this could potentially lead to very long lists of names in a number of years time).  There are four modern Jewish festive or memorial days at this time of year, Yom HaShoah, Yom HaZikaron (Israeli Memorial Day), Yom Ha’Atzmaut (Israeli Independence Day) and Yom Yerushalayim (Jerusalem Day) and I have never been entirely sure how to celebrate or commemorate them, although this is a matter of discussion in the wider Jewish community too, generally with a Modern Orthodox/Religious Zionist vs. Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) split, but even in the Modern Orthodox/Religious Zionist world there are widely divergent opinions.  There was an online Yom HaShoah service tonight, but I decided depression group would be better for my mental health.  I don’t know how I would have responded to a one and three-quarter Holocaust memorial service.

After depression group I squeezed in a Skype call with E. and half an hour of Torah study, but I feel pretty tired now and it has got very late again, so I should get to bed, although as with yesterday I feel very hungry…

The Masque of COVID-19

It’s probably no surprise to every one that more and more stuff is shutting down: doctor’s surgery, shul (synagogue), depression group…  Shiur is potentially continuing, but online via video conference software.  It makes me realise that I wasn’t quite as socially isolated as I assumed I was.  I suddenly remembered that I hadn’t emailed one of my American email friends for a couple of months and wanted to check how her baby is getting on.  I’m struggling to stop touching my face, though, as that’s the main form of autistic ‘stimming’ that I do to keep calm.

It seems weirdly like the world is slowing down to my pace.  Now almost everyone is stuck at home all the time.  No schools, no religious services, no public recreation, shopping for essentials only.  No inessential medical care.  It’s just occurred to me that I have no idea if the blood test I’m supposed to have next week is still going ahead.  It’s not immediately essential, but if I delay and my lithium level has shifted, that’s potentially life-threatening.  I wish I’d thought to ask my doctor yesterday.  I will have to try to phone tomorrow.

It’s scary how things can collapse so quickly… although it’s also remembering that in Western countries at least, it’s unlikely that law and order, government etc. will collapse, which is a good thing.  A recession is pretty much certain, but hopefully the economy won’t completely collapse in a Venezualan way.  It’s still scary though, especially as The Spectator‘s daily politics email is suggesting some kind of compulsory lockdown looms for London.  I don’t know if we would be too far out in the suburbs for that to affect us.

I should probably stop reading the news (again), as it’s too scary and makes me anxious about getting through the next few weeks/months.  (Apparently Chinese newspapers are suggesting limiting coronavirus news to 40% of the information one receives, which still seems like a lot, although I’m not sure if reading old Doctor Who novels and Snoopy comics counts as “information” in this context.)

***

Back in what passes for the real world, I’m still struggling with mornings; today even managing to get up, eat and drink coffee didn’t fully lifted my mood or given me energy.  I’m trying not to beat myself up about all of this, as it doesn’t achieve anything, and if I had a physical illness that made it hard to get up and get going I wouldn’t beat myself up, but somehow even after so many years of this, I still think I ought to be able to force myself to get up earlier, or to get dressed faster, or just to be more efficient even when I feel lousy.  After that, I’m OK during most of the day, but I’ll get ambushed by sadness or worry at points.  Or guilt, for doing something dangerous, reckless and immoral like rubbing my nose.

***

In terms of achievements, I spent half an hour researching ideas to bring to the table for the seder at Pesach (the Pesach (Passover) seder is the meal where we retell the story of the Exodus from Egypt.  There is a set text, but I like to add some new ideas each time).  I did think of doing more, but I felt it was better to mix seder preparation with ordinary Torah study over a couple of weeks.  I’ve earmarked some stuff as I came across it during the year anyway, so it’s mostly a case of writing summaries of longer ideas and perhaps finding a few ideas in a haggadah (seder book) at some point.  I also spent twenty minutes on general Torah study; I hope to take that up to half an hour before bedtime.

I also went for a run.  My stamina was not great, but it’s good to keep active.  I had a Skype chat with E., which was good, although we both feel frustrated that we won’t be in the same country for months.  I explained to E. about the Three Day Week in the seventies, which made me feel older than I actually am (I wasn’t around in the seventies!).

My Doctor Who book is now available for sale on Amazon UK and US!  There’s even a look inside preview.  I sent off an application to have my Goodreads page registered as a Goodreads author, which I can do now my Doctor Who book is up on Goodreads and Amazon.  I also ordered a copy of my book to send to Doctor Who Magazine as a review copy.  It’s unlikely much will come of that as, in a crowded marketplace, pretty much no non-official merchandise gets reviewed there any more, but I felt it was worth gambling about £10 on.

On a related note, apparently Amazon are not restocking books due to COVID-19.  I don’t know how that will affect me, as my book is essentially print on demand.  If anything, it might push people direct to the publisher at Lulu.com, where I get to keep a bigger profit as Lulu take a tiny slice compared with Amazon’s chunk.

***

I’ve complained about the reception staff at my doctor’s surgery before, but today they impressed me.  They phoned to ask if they should post me my medical certificate as I can’t pick it up (I hadn’t told them about the problem printing it, so either lots of people have problems or the doctor made a mistake in saying I wouldn’t need to come in to get it).  They also informed me of the new system for collecting prescriptions, whereby I have to go directly to the chemist, who will request the prescription from the surgery, who then send it back.  I nominated a new chemist that is much more local than Boots, who I was using previously.

***

In terms of distractions, I’m enjoying Life on Mars rather more than Star Trek Voyager and rationing the former in regard to the latter.  Life on Mars is really my type of thing: clever, funny, slightly scary, and weird.  I’m trying not to beat myself up for not watching it on first airing; at any rate, if I had watched it then, it wouldn’t cheer me up to discover it now.  There’s a moral there, somewhere.  Voyager is OK, but I remember almost none of the episodes, even though I must have seen most of them at least once in the past, which is telling – I’ve remembered much more of Star Trek: The Next Generation and Deep Space Nine when revisiting them on DVD.

That said, I haven’t watched any TV today and do not intend to, due to my “no TV after 11pm” rule (which I’ve failed at again, as it’s 11.30pm already, but I’m trying to minimise late night TV).

I’m also re-reading The Also People, a Doctor Who spin-off novel from the 90s.  I used to read loads of these as a teenager and was never entirely happy with them.  I remembered this one as being fun and light, which it is in comparison with some of The New Adventures (the umbrella name for one of the ranges of Doctor Who novels), but I’d forgotten how confusing the books’ internal continuity could get if you weren’t reading all the novels, in order, and also how annoying I found their conception of the Doctor, presenting him as a ruthless, manipulative quasi-superbeing.  This was not without precedent in the television series, but at the time I did feel as if many of the novels were an exercise in missing the point of the programme, not unlike my feelings about this year’s Doctor Who TV episodes, albeit for slightly different reasons.  Of course, as with this year’s episodes, for a large chunk of the audience, this was not a mistake at all, but genuine quality.  Fandom sometimes feels like a conglomeration of people who all like the same TV series, but for wildly different and sometimes contradictory reasons.  At least this novel isn’t too depressing, and is well-written (I recently showed E. the latest chapter of my novel and she praised a few bits; it occurred to me afterwards that they were really in the style of the better New Adventures).  For some reason my copy is falling to pieces physically, which upsets me a bit, as I didn’t think I’d treated it badly.

Achievements

I felt totally exhausted on waking today, which probably isn’t surprising after the last couple of days.  It was a real struggle to get up, eat and get dressed.  I did manage it eventually.

In terms of achievements today, I worked on this week’s devar Torah (Torah thought) for nearly an hour, although I still have a bit to do tomorrow.  I spent thirty-five minutes working on my novel.  I also went for a run.  I am not sure how well I ran as I didn’t set my iPod to record it properly, which is frustrating as I would like to know.  I seemed to get out of breath and drop into a walk quite a bit early on, but then get back into running and run for longer periods, although in no recent runs have I been running as well as I was last summer, when I was hardly lapsing into a walk at all.  I’m not sure what’s behind that, weather, depression or something else.

I was very tired in the evening after my run and for a while I had some strong negative thoughts (self-critical and religious OCD), unsurprisingly as I had all four HALT warnings going (Hungry, Anxious, Lonely and Tired, although Anxious was as much an effect as a cause).  I guess I’ve been lonely all day without realising it.  I’ve been checking my blog readers a lot, although I don’t subscribe to many so there have been few updates.  I think this checking tends to be from loneliness (wanting to connect with people) as much as from boredom and procrastination.  There probably is an element of habit in it too.

I did feel a lot better after dinner, although still tired.  I spent another fifteen minutes on my novel. I also emailed the shul (synagogue) rabbi to ask if we can meet.  He suggested Sunday morning.  I feel slightly awkward about it, as I don’t have much to actually ask him, aside from asking if he knows any frum (religious Orthodox Jewish) therapists, it’s more to let him know a bit about my situation in case the OCD is bad before or during Pesach (Passover) or if something happens with Mum.  Still, rabbis are supposed to give pastoral care, and I’m paying a lot for my shul fees, considering I’m unemployed, so I might as well get my money’s worth.  (Whether I should ask for reduced fees is a whole other issue.  I probably should, but I’m ashamed to ask.)

Speaking of which, I’m not sure whether I absolutely need a frum therapist or simply one who has had frum patients and/or some awareness of Judaism.  The latter might be easier to find.  It probably would make some aspects of treatment easier, but then again it might make others harder.

***

A side light on Purim: I mentioned I stayed for dinner after Megillah reading at shul (synagogue) on Monday evening.  The meal was not gender-segregated and I sat with the person I sit with in shul, plus his wife and adult daughter.  I find the extremes of gender segregation in the Orthodox world off-putting at times (not always), but what I really find difficult in my shul is the confusion, in that there is usually gender segregation, but not always, and I can’t work out what the rule is that governs it, if there is one.  It’s not like some shuls where mixed seating would never, under any circumstances, happen, but it only happens occasionally and I can’t work out why.  I guess as someone on the autistic spectrum I like clear rules, especially for nebulous social interactions, and the absence of one is confusing.

Inaugural

I had another difficult morning/early afternoon when I struggled to get up and get going because of depression and exhaustion.  My day was to be structured around two fixed points (not in the Doctor Who sense, I assume), Skyping E. and going, or trying to go, to the new rabbi’s inauguration at shul (synagogue).  In addition, I wanted to do some Torah study and my parents wanted me to do some chores; I wanted to watch Doctor Who after the inauguration, but was aware that it was an extra-long episode and I might not get the time.

Once I got going, I felt a bit better, as usual, but during the afternoon, while doing Torah study, I suddenly felt quite depressed again.  Admittedly the Torah portion for this week, which I was reading, is hard to get inspiration from, focusing on the design of the High Priest’s vestments and the inauguration ceremony for the Tabernacle (which involved more slaughtering of animals than the rabbi’s inauguration did).  I was glad to get through such a difficult sedra (portion) when not feeling great, particularly as I am going to have to spend much of my Torah study time this week researching an idea for this week’s devar Torah (Torah thought), which requires some research and thought, so I didn’t want to have to come back to finish this later.

***

The rabbi’s inauguration pretty good.  Some interesting speeches/drashas (religious homilies).  There were quite a lot of people there, packed into the relatively small hall.  Ma’ariv (the Evening Service) followed by the inauguration took about two hours.  There were cakes, drinks and whisky afterwards, but I decided sitting for two hours in a crowded hall counts as ‘peopling’ and two hours of peopling + loud music + a crowded room did not make for a situation I wanted to continue being in, even if the cakes were good (I couldn’t see clearly enough to tell) – plus I really wanted to eat dinner before moving on to sweet things.  Of course, as I sat at the back, near the door (in case I needed to leave during the inauguration) no one is going to realise I was there, but at least I felt that I was doing the right thing and being part of a community.  On the way home, I noticed I was getting the stomach cramps I’ve had intermittently lately, which I think are anxiety-related, so I probably did the right thing in getting out while the going was good, especially as the stomach cramps went after I got home.

I did have complex feelings about fitting in and not fitting in to the community.  Feeling like I was part of the community by being there, but also that I don’t fully subscribe to the community’s outlook, and I know that E. wouldn’t feel comfortable there and that if I had children I would probably not want them to be brought up with that outlook, or at least not without being exposed to other outlooks too.  It’s not so much that I disagree with major articles of faith as social and cultural assumptions and general worldview.

At the same time there were thoughts about what would have happened if I had become Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) or had gone to yeshiva (rabbinical seminary) after school and so on.  My life might have gone in a different way, but it is impossible to tell what way.  Sometimes I think I could have become a conforming Haredi Jew, perhaps with a more strained relationship with my parents, probably married with children.  Other times I think force-feeding could lead to vomiting, so to speak, and I would have stopped being frum (observant) entirely.  And I have no idea how my mental health issues would fit in here.

 

***

(The last bit is Doctor Who, but also some stuff on autism and popular culture if you want to skip to the last paragraph.)

So, Doctor Who, after being atypically good last week was back to being pants and not worth hurrying home for.  The plot thread I really liked last week turned out to be a throwaway thing that wasn’t very relevant.  I actually nearly gave up on the episode twenty minutes from the end, I was so uninterested, which I think is unprecedented.  It wasn’t even a car crash awful story like Timelash or Kill the Moon.  Just really boring and incoherent while trying to be pointlessly epic and definitive, as well as hitting a load of my dislike buttons.  Maybe one day I’ll review it properly for my semi-defunct Doctor Who blog, and doubtless the two people reading this who might be interested in more detail from me will discuss it on their own blogs soon enough and I will comment there.

For now I’ll just paste this comment I saw on Twitter (I broke my “No Twitter” rule briefly out of curiosity to see if anyone else was so dissatisfied): “Most of this series of Dr Who has given me the same sense of disorientation I had when reading most of the New Adventures – a feeling it’s made by & for people who see something very different in the programme to me. Which is fine I suppose, but for me just 😕”  (Hoping I got the right emoji there as I had to paste from another source.)  To be honest, I think it’s just that I dislike, on some level, much of post-1989 (original series) Doctor Who, and it’s just fluke that Steven Moffat provided enough bits I like to get past the usual dislike of New Who much of the time when he was showrunner.

Quite why I react so differently to pre-1990s Doctor Who and pre-1990s popular culture in general – to contemporary iterations is an interesting question I’ve never solved.  I basically like the stuff that was already old and unfashionable when I found it as a child in the 90s or later.  It’s not just nostalgia, as I have liked some new Doctor Who as well as old programmes like Sapphire and Steel and The Prisoner that I discovered when an adult.  I do genuinely believe that popular culture has changed in recent decades (as it always does) and is now less autism-friendly.  I think contemporary culture is much more information-dense and difficult to keep up with if you have slower processing time.  Likewise, the idea that everyone has to go on an Emotional Journey preferably involving love/sex is difficult if you struggle reading and understanding emotions and especially hard to empathise with if you are still a virgin.  There were emotional journeys in the past, but not always foregrounded so much (compare the original 1982 Blade Runner with Blade Runner 2049 from 2017.)  Things are also much bigger and more “epic” – I’m not really sure how to explain that if you don’t watch modern science fiction or superhero films and TV, but the hero has to be shown not just as competent, but superheroic and almost godlike, which I find pompous.  Plus there’s all the postmodern identity politics stuff which just irritates me.  But I still wonder why I like some things more than others.  I really liked Star Trek Discovery season one (looking forward to season two after I’ve finished Voyager), which was mostly up-to-date stylistically and appropriately diverse, but still managed to avoid hitting too many of my dislike buttons.

Good/Bad (Mostly Good)

More bureaucracy weirdness.  I got a letter last week saying that my doctor’s certificate was about to run out.  As I had been told I wasn’t going to be eligible for benefits, and as the letter telling me the certificate was about to run out was dated after the time it said the certificate would run out (classic Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) incompetence) I just shoved it in a drawer and forgot about it.  Now I’ve received a letter saying that I am going to be getting Employment Support Allowance for a year.  Despite being told that my doctor’s certificate was not correct and then being told it was out of date, as well as being told that I don’t have the right amount of NI contributions.  All very strange, but I’m not going to complain – but similarly if it somehow doesn’t materialise, I won’t be surprised either.  Hopefully by the time it runs out next year I’ll have a better idea of where I stand with my autism diagnosis and whether that leaves me eligible for anything, although I suspect I’m too high functioning.   I seem to be too high functioning to claim much for depression too, especially as the assessment forms are geared towards physical disability.  I swear the DWP live on another planet though.  Their communication skills are appalling.

***

Friday night was good, given how exhausted I was.  I got through shul (synagogue) OK, even joining the circle dance in Kaballat Shabbat.  I do find it awkward holding hands with other people, plus the room, full of chairs and tables, isn’t really laid out for that kind of thing and we get a bit squashed in (the “dance” is more of an awkward walk around the room).

I went to Shabbat dinner at one of my shul friends’ flat and enjoyed it.  I think I joined in the conversation more than I used to.  My friend and the other friend there are on the mailing list for my weekly devar Torah (Torah thought) email and I was persuaded to read it aloud at the table (he had printed it off in advance).  I only shook very slightly, interestingly when I was self-conscious, either about something that I had written (referencing a non-religious Bible critic) or just about shaking.  There were a couple of awkward moments, when I was asked how my parents were and I didn’t want to lie, but wasn’t sure how much to say, and when one of my friends suddenly asked me apropos of nothing in particular, if I had ever thought of writing a book.  I was rather astonished and I think I lapsed into incoherence before saying I’ve been published in a couple of places and am writing a novel.  I didn’t mention the Doctor Who book, partly because I wasn’t sure what frum (religious) people would say about a book about television, but also because I feel even for a non-frum audience, it’s a strange thing to admit to.  I mean, I don’t know how many hours I’ve spent on that book in the last seven years.  A lot.  It does seem slightly odd to invest so much time in a family TV programme for such little return.

I got home about 10.00pm, spoke to my parents for a bit and did some Torah study, although the Talmud I was trying to prepare just confused me.  I couldn’t sleep and stayed up late reading Alex cartoons.  I missed shul again this morning and fell asleep after lunch.  I don’t want to sleep so much, but heavy Shabbat lunch makes me so drowsy that I just want to wrap myself in my duvet (a classic autistic habit I’ve had since childhood) and inevitably I drift off after a few minutes.  When I woke up I finished re-reading The Art of Biblical Poetry and went to shul, where I was baffled by the Talmud shiur (I could not understand it easier with a group at 6.00pm than I had by myself at 10.30pm the previous night).  I managed to speak to the person I saw at the shiur (class) I went to last week, which I wouldn’t have done in the past.  I also told an (I hope) amusing anecdote to people in the car on the way home when my friend offered me a lift, which I also would not have done in the past.  So I guess Shabbat was more good than bad.

***

I got a couple of job rejections in the last few days.  I have nothing to say about this any more, so I will resort to emoji.  😦

***

I’m planning on going to the rabbi’s inauguration ceremony at shul tomorrow, but fortunately I didn’t need to book so I won’t feel bad if I don’t feel up to it.  To be honest, I expect it will be a bunch of long speeches and then refreshments where I’ll find it awkward to talk to anyone.  I suspect I will spend the whole evening longing to go back home and watch tomorrow’s Doctor Who series finale (the first episode I’ve been anxious to watch in some weeks, thanks to a quite good and intriguing first half last week).  Nevertheless, given my patchy shul attendance, I feel I should show my face if I can, even if I don’t last the entire evening (although walking out in front of the various dignitaries could be awkward.  I should try to get a seat near the door).

Checking In

Feeling utterly drained and despairing today.  Today everything feels like wading through treacle.  I think “peopling” at depression group was just too much for me yesterday, even with Mum giving me a lift both there and back again (she insisted on the latter, saying that if I caught a cold waiting for the bus home it would be problematic for her starting chemotherapy next week).  This is not good for what is still a winter Friday with fairly early-starting Shabbat (before 5.30pm).  Added to my usual chores, my parents asked me to hoover downstairs and I really needed to hoover my bedroom too.  I wanted to do some Torah study, particularly to prepare for tomorrow’s Talmud class, but my brain just isn’t working, so I’ve ended up watching Star Trek Voyager instead, which might not be sensible, but seems the best chance of getting though the day.

I’m going out for dinner to one of the people I sit with at shul (synagogue), along with the other person who sits with us and his wife.  The dinner should be OK, if I have the energy, as these are the people I feel most comfortable with in the community and two of them (the two men) have some idea of my issues.  Still, it is hard to do anything, let alone “peopling” again when I feel like this.

Not Understanding Myself

I had insomnia last night.  I realised just before going to bed that I’d forgotten to take my evening meds, which was doubtless why I was alert enough to work on my devar Torah (Torah thought) for two hours after dinner.  My meds aren’t sleeping tablets, but they do make me drowsy and I struggle to fall asleep without them.  I think I eventually fell asleep around 4.00am.  So it was even less of a surprise than usual that I woke exhausted and depressed again.

The weekly job email from CILIP (The Chartered Institute of Librarians and Information Professionals) comes out on Thursdays.  I found one job that’s potentially worth applying for, but that was all.  It’s easy to feel disheartened when there seem to be so few jobs that fit my skills, experiences and especially my needs for a safe, calm environment with few people and the ability to work only two or three days a week.

I emailed the therapist I used to see if I could see her again.  She says that she doesn’t think she can help me any more and that if I want more therapy I should look for a new therapist who might offer something new.  On one level, I can see that might be valid (I was with this therapist for something like eight years, which is a long time, particularly when there isn’t much of an improvement), but looking for a new therapist from scratch is scary, particularly given that the family finances are worse off than they were a few years ago, and the old therapist was probably charging less than a new one would charge.  The finance problem is partly because my father now only works part-time (my Mum has worked part-time for years), with the added complication that it looks like my Mum’s paid sick leave is going to be a lot less than we had hoped.

In the past in this situation I would have been very despairing.  That’s not how I feel, but that’s probably because I haven’t been in therapy for a year or so, so I know I’m coping on some level.  I do feel that it’s hard to unpick my emotions at the moment and understand them and that I would like to talk to a therapist, but I’m daunted by the thought of finding one, let alone one in the right and geographical area and price bracket.  At the moment I feel “depressed” and “anxious,” but am struggling to define and understand my emotions in more detail.  As someone who has become perhaps over-reliant on such therapeutic analysis, it is scary and difficult.  I know I’ve focused a lot on the forthcoming Jewish festivals of Purim and Pesach and the stress and mental health triggers around them as a target for worry, but maybe this is another case where what I overtly worry about is a proxy for something more nebulous and undefined, in this case issues about coping as an adult without my parents and the whole concept that my parents will die one day and I will be left alone, which connects with other issues (my autism assessment and benefits troubles; my relationship with E.; my relationships with my other family members).

I struggled a bit at depression group because of that.  I didn’t feel I understand myself well enough at the moment to say much that was meaningful.  Perhaps because of that, I felt that people asked a lot of questions to prompt me and I ended up with my conversation drifting in the direction of the questions.  It’s a criticism of myself rather than anyone else, but not really even of myself.  I simply didn’t know what to say and as nature abhors a vacuum, people guided me to say something.  Maybe I should have just signalled that we could move on.

I worry that some of my responses made me seem uncaring and incompetent, although it was really my autism that was the issue.  People asked how my family are coping and I didn’t really know, because autism means I can’t intuit how people are feeling unless they tell me, and it also means I don’t necessary think to ask people how they are feeling, certainly beyond the “how is your day going?” level.  I did ask my Mum how she was most days when she was first diagnosed, but I fell out of the habit.  I was also asked where my Mum is going to be treated and I couldn’t remember because my autism means I don’t remember a lot of stuff that my brain doesn’t label as important, and it has a different system of ranking importance to most people.  It doesn’t rank the name of the hospital as important, because I’m not going to have to go there myself, let alone go there alone, and I don’t have a special interest in hospitals, so my brain is quite happy just knowing that Mum is going to The Hospital without caring about which hospital it is (actually, it’s several hospitals for several treatments – that much did travel into my brain).

It’s a shame, as I wanted to go to depression group, but I don’t think I really had anything to say about how I’m feeling and I felt tense from being around people a lot of the time.

Shiur (religious class) got cancelled so I didn’t have to tell anyone that I was missing it to go to depression group.  This happened last time I was going to miss shiur for depression group too.  E. wondered if it was a sign that I shouldn’t tell anyone.  I’m not superstitious like that, but I wonder if the maths is against it.  Of the people in the WhatsApp group, three know a little bit about my depression, one knows I have some illness but not what it is and three I don’t think know anything. There are another two people who go who aren’t on WhatsApp so won’t see it.  It’s possible that the small numbers involved make this not worth worrying about.

I can see that if a lot of people at shiur and shul (synagogue) knew about my issues and were understanding that could lead to a big improvement in my life and in my relationship and comfort level with the community.  However, if they were not understanding then the reverse could happen.  Two of the people who know do seem to worry if I’m not in shul or shiur when normally I would be, which may be because they’re aware of the issues.  Other people don’t say anything.  So far no one who knows has said anything negative.  It is a bit of a conundrum.

Peopling and Ancient Historians

I woke up feeling very anxious.  The anxiety was mostly centred on my relationship with E.,  feeling that it’s really special, but worried that external things will stop us ever moving it on.  To be honest, I think I was really worried about other things, but was fixating on that instead.  I find that I do that sometimes, feel anxious about one thing, but focus on an entirely different anxiety, perhaps because it feels “safer” somehow or more manageable.

I went to my second cousin’s house with a bunch of family (my parents, sister and brother-in-law; my Mum’s cousin and her husband; two of my second cousins, their spouses and children).  I hadn’t been to their house before, which I suppose made me a bit anxious, and certainly I was worried how I would feel with so many people and what I would say.  I was also a bit worried about what would happen if I didn’t eat anything there, as my kashrut standards are different to my extended family’s.

In the event I didn’t eat anything, which felt a bit awkward and made me feel a bit self-conscious, but no one seemed to get offended.  I spoke to my cousin and a bit to his wife, but I struggle to talk to the adults sometimes, even though I know them fairly well (I was at school with these two second-cousins and we tend to meet a couple of times a year).  I played with the children a lot, especially the eldest, who has learning disabilities and is fairly non-verbal with us, although apparently she is now using more words with her parents and grandparents.  I suppose I feel a kind of connection with her, even though my autistic social communication impairments are very different to her learning disabilities.

I stayed for about three hours, but I was pretty exhausted by the end.  I had planned to leave after a minimum of one hour, so it was an impressive achievement, but I was exhausted by the end and practically dragging my parents out of the door, especially as I was hungry and knew I was going out again later and would have to recuperate first.

***

I spent a couple of hours relaxing and eating dinner before going out again to the London School of Jewish Studies.  I was rather tired and peopled out, but I was determined to go as I wanted to hear the speaker, Rabbi Joshua Berman on the historical accuracy of Tanakh (the Hebrew Bible) and to buy his new book Ani Maamin: Biblical Criticism, Historical Truth, and the Thirteen Principles of Faith.  I would have eagerly devoured his book some years ago, when I was struggling with the concept of historical accuracy and Tanakh.  Nowadays I’ve found a lot of my answers and an approach that works for me, but his lecture re-framed some things I sort of knew, but not entirely and gave a kind of rabbinic imprimatur to some ideas.  I think his book, which is obviously much more wide ranging than his forty-five minute lecture, answers some further questions of mine and I look forward to reading it in the near future (I bought a copy and he signed it).

There were a few people my age there, but most people were my parents’ age or older, as is usually the case at the LSJS.  I saw someone I was at university with, but he didn’t see me.  More surprising was seeing someone from my shul and his wife, someone I see as rather Haredi (ultra-Orthodox).  I was sort of hoping he would see me, but I don’t think he did.  I didn’t go to talk to him after the lecture because I entered the scrum to buy a copy of the book.  I’d like to get the courage to say I saw him when I next see him, just to see if it breaks the ice, but I don’t know if I’ll have the courage to do so.  I guess it’s a lesson in not making assumptions about others, particularly people at my shul.  It’s not the first time I’ve been caught out like that.

I did feel quite tense during the lecture, partly because it was in a packed room, so I literally didn’t have much space to spread out in (and all the anxiety from social interaction and people), but also because I knew I wanted to buy the book afterwards, and although I had emailed last week to reserve a copy, I did not know what the procedure would be to go and get a copy and get it signed.  I was also somewhat socially anxious about getting the book signed, but I think the anxiety over whether I would get a copy came from an autistic anxiety about unknown situations.  It’s the type of thing that bothers me, but not in a debilitating sense, so I haven’t mentioned it in autism assessments in the past, but intend to do so in the future.

The content of the lecture is perhaps of some interest to some readers here; if not, you can skip the rest of the post.  Obviously I can’t summarise a forty-five minute lecture plus question and answer session in one blog post, but this is what I took from it.

He started by saying that biblical and rabbinic (Medieval) Hebrew has no words for “history,” “fact” or “fiction.”  While moderns like us assume that good history is factual, based on research, with no additions and certainly no moral sermonising and is intended rather to inform about the past, to ancient and Medieval audiences, good history told the gist of a known tradition, but with additions at the discretion of the author, the aim being less to accurately describe the past and more to relate traditions in a morally uplifting way.  He contrasted the descriptions of the death of King Shaul (Saul) in the biblical book of Shmuel (Samuel) with the post-biblical Josephus and how Josephus took the bare bones of the biblical story and completely changed the tone and details for the sake of his own meta-narrative (a term Rabbi Berman did not use, which I bring up because as someone with a BA in History and, at one point, an interest in questions of historiography, I was aware that Rabbi Berman was simplifying some complex ideas here).  We assume that if an author departs from fact, then he is writing fiction, but to ancient audiences all that mattered was the essential truth of the narrative, not the factual detail (again, there is probably a lot more that could be said here).  Then he looked at a passage from Yehoshua (Joshua) where the Caananite prostitute Rachav alludes to four of the first five ten commandments in an apparently off-the-cuff piece of dialogue (I wasn’t totally convinced about two of the commandments being alluded to).  Rabbi Berman suggested that this dialogue was contrived and unlikely, and that it was more likely that the dialogue was inserted to make a wider point: that Rachav was a good person who helped the Israelites and that the Israelites were right to spare her.  Ancient audiences would have seen learning this underlying truth as the key thing, not whether the dialogue was accurate and rendered only from primary sources.

In the question and answer session, various points were raised, including what this means for the unique status of the Torah if it is stylistically ancient and includes laws from codes like the Hammurabi Code.  Rabbi Berman quoted Rav Kook’s answer, which I’ve heard before, that God if a general Torah principle was encapsulated in a known and practised non-Jewish law, then at times that would be included in the Torah; he said (which I did not know) that many of the Medieval commentators see Temple ritual as based in some ways on non-Jewish ritual.  There is a general principle, that I was already familiar with, that the Torah speaks the language of man, which he stressed meant that there is no “Divine Esperanto” that God could speak to be understood in the same way by ancients and moderns.  The reality is we understand texts differently.  What is universal is the message of the Torah not its language.

This points up a deeper problem that one questioner raised, that Rabbi Berman was assuming a “core” Divine historical truth clothed in sometimes invented detail by prophetic authors.  As one questioner seemed to be saying, how do we know that the core is true?  Or what do we do if it seems not to be true?  Rabbi Berman’s approach explains details that are apparently contradicted by other biblical or non-biblical texts, but not entire narratives.  I felt Rabbi Berman didn’t really deal with this, although it was somewhat outside the topic of the lecture and potentially a topic in its own right.  I’m not sure if Rabbi Berman’s book deals with this (On the Reliability of the Old Testament by K. A. Kitchen and Israel in Egypt: The Evidence for the Authenticity of the Exodus Tradition by James K. Hoffmeier are books I found useful here).

Overall it was an interesting lecture and worth forcing myself out for, particularly to get the book.

Unglamorous Success

Shabbat (the Sabbath) was a success, in an unglamorous sort of way.  I went to shul (synagogue) last night as usual and forced myself to shake hands with the rabbi afterwards as I think I chickened out of doing it last week.  I walked back with an elderly gentleman who lives further down our road.  I’ve walked home with him before, but neither of us is really into small talk, so the walk is rather quiet.  In the past that made me feel self-conscious and awkward, but last night I seemed to be OK with it, which seemed to be a social anxiety victory.

Dinner conversation was largely about my Mum’s illness and treatment.  I was OK, up until the point when I wasn’t and started feeling sad and anxious.  I’m not sure how much was worry about her per se and how much about how stressful the next few weeks, and the upcoming festivals of Purim and Pesach, are going to be and the fear that they will trigger depression and religious OCD.

I overslept in the morning again, but I’ve given up trying to go to shul in the mornings at the moment.  I was annoyed to doze for an hour after lunch, though, as it might stop me sleeping this evening.

I went to shul this afternoon for services and Talmud shiur (religious class) even though I felt a bit depressed and anxious.  I’ve felt a bit more comfortable and accepted at shul the last week or two, especially as I’m following Talmud shiur better (I prepare beforehand and revise afterwards) and as I’ve led services a couple of times.

I am wondering if I should speak to the new rabbi about some of my issues, at shul and in general.  My main reason is because Pesach might prompt religious OCD, in which case it would be good to have someone locally who can determine if a problem is real or in my head, as my rabbi mentor tends not to pick up his emails on Chol HaMoed (the intermediate days of the festival) and obviously will be out of contact on Yom Tov itself.  I don’t know if the new rabbi has much mental health experience, although it was something that people raised when the community was looking for a rabbi.  If I am going to speak to him, it would be good to do so in advance rather than in the rush immediately before Pesach.

I spent an hour and a quarter tonight working on my non-fiction Doctor Who book’s jacket.  I think I’ve got the hang of the cover designer on Lulu.com, although I still find it awkward in pages.  I’m not sure if that’s my ignorance or genuine design flaws.  I find my back cover blurb lacks punch and my biography seems perfunctory (I grew up reading The New Adventures series of Doctor Who spin-off novels where the authors often seemed in a competition to come up with most bizarre and comic biographies).  I’ve sent it to my sister (who works in marketing) and I might send it to E.  I feel slightly sick just using marketing hyperbole, like describing my book as “essential” when it’s clearly not literally essential in the way that water and food are essential.  I don’t have much of an eye for graphic design either and I’m limited by copyright law in terms of the images I could use (I decided not to use any).

I have a busy day tomorrow: a family get together at lunch time and a lecture by Rabbi Joshua Berman on historical accuracy in Tanakh (Hebrew Bible) in the evening which I’m looking forward to.  So I should probably have something to eat and go to bed, given that it’s already 10.00pm.

Drifting Away

I had some religious OCD anxieties late last night, and then a night of confused dreams which also included some religious OCD imagery.  It’s probably just a sign of the emotional stress I’m under at the moment, although one dream focused strongly on the preparations for Pesach (Passover), which is now officially on the horizon, and which is always difficult enough even without Mum undergoing chemotherapy.

***

I seem to have lost the details of the boring, but part-time, admin job I was thinking of applying for, so I suppose that means I won’t apply for it, unless I see it advertised again.

***

I think I’ve worked out how the cover-maker works on Lulu.com, but I need some time to mess around with it before I finalise my design.  It doesn’t help that the cover-maker seems to be rather glitchy and hard to save and return to it later.  And I need to write a back cover blurb and author biography; having just tried, I realise they are going to take more time and energy than I expected.

***

My parents have been economising a bit.  A few weeks ago we went from two weekend newspapers to one (we stopped getting a daily paper years ago), and at the end of the month we will stop getting The Jewish Chronicle too.  To be honest, it just cements my drift away from politics lately.  The last few years have left me deeply disenchanted with politics in general and suspicious and critical of all the major parties.  I feel that I don’t have much of a voice and wouldn’t know what to say if I did, although I do still read a couple of news and political opinion sites, including the inevitable BBC News, for all its manifold faults.

As for The Jewish Chronicle, in recent years I really only paid attention to the religion and comment pages.  I will still be able to follow global, long-term trends in the Jewish community on Tablet.com and my beloved The Jewish Review of Books, although both tend to have a strongly American focus.  As for reading about antisemitism in our homegrown politicians and the ongoing Labour antisemitism issue… I suspect I’ll hear, one way or the other.  News like that has a habit of remorselessly tracking a person down.

I do feel that the print media are almost as bad as social media in trying to make me angry and upset about things that are often not worth getting angry and upset about and about which I can do little even if they are worth being upset about.  It is true that, without the Jewish community’s ongoing protests against Jeremy Corbyn and Labour party antisemitism, Labour might have done a lot better in the last election, so obviously you can have a voice if you can find enough like-minded people.  But I’m not good at finding like-minded people.

***

I’m still feeling bad about the friends I’ve lost in the last year or so.  It’s scary because often I could not see an obvious reason: the reasons given seemed like over-reactions, or paranoia.  In one case, I sensed a brittleness in an online blog friendship; comments sounded more aggressive than I intended, or were perceived as such and it seemed safer to drift away while still relatively friendly than to actually have a full-blown argument one day.  In other cases, I would have been happy to continue the friendship, but was told my actions crossed a line, even though the existence of that line was not always obvious to me, certainly not beforehand.

I feel bad because I’ve rarely lost friends in this way in the past, only through drifting away slowly and non-confrontationally.  To lose four in relatively rapid succession, in ways that felt outside my control, has shaken me a bit as I wonder if I could lose other friends suddenly and unexpectedly.  I try to be a good friend to other friends in need, but I don’t always know what to say or do.

***

Shabbat awaits…

Born Too Late

Mum has a treatment plan, a mixture of two types of chemotherapy plus antibodies, then surgery and then radiotherapy starting 3 March.  There isn’t really a lot I can do at this stage.  I’m not sure what I feel about this.  I probably need time to process it.

***

I’m still struggling with job applications, submitting in another one today.  I wonder lately whether I’m aiming for jobs that are just beyond my level, because of my depression, social anxiety and high functioning autism.  I keep seeing library assistant jobs being advertised (one agency keeps trying to put me up for them and I was even interviewed for one) and wonder if it was a mistake to get my MA and train as a librarian.  It was certainly a difficult process with depression that took three times longer than it should have done.  Part of me thinks I should just have become a library assistant.  The work would be less challenging and I would doubtless be bored and there would still be social interactions to deal with and the salary would be a lot lower (although any salary is greater than being unemployed and ineligible for benefits).  But maybe I would have been able to work three or four days a week or even full-time.  Once I go down that route, though, it will be hard to go back to where I am now.  Maybe I’m beating myself up again.  Someone with my education and intellect should be able to do something more skilled and intellectual, but somehow I can’t find the right work or keep it.

Sometimes I just feel like I want some omniscient being to come and tell me what I Should be doing with my life, because I don’t have a clue.

I once joked to one of my friends (who comments here sometimes) that we were born too late and in the wrong class; we really have the mindset for financially-independent Victorian gentlemen scholars, pursuing research in obscure topics without having to worry about funding or teaching or anything modern scholars have to worry about.  Certainly retreat to an ivory tower seems more tempting, but more distant, than ever, looking at the world and politics as well as my life.

As I said, I did fill in another job application today, for a library and research position at a charity, but I think I don’t have the skills in statistical research and summarising complex information that they require.  I have applied for two jobs at this charity in the past; for one I was rejected outright, for the other I got called to interview, but did not get through it; in particular, I don’t think I did well on the summarising test, which is a more technical skill than it seems on the surface.  Looking at the job specification, there are jargon-ey phrases which, if phrased differently, might prompt memories of similar work in my employment history, but faced with such general terms (“Proven ability to deliver and contribute to the development of high quality user-focused information services”) my autistic brain draws a blank as the statement is too vague and abstract to prompt any “I’ve done that!” thoughts.  This happens to me a lot with job applications.  In the end I met eight of the ten criteria on the person specification, but I’m not sure that I demonstrated that I met the criteria well, and the two I was missing were very important.

***

I’m nervous about my devar Torah (Torah thought) for this week.  First I thought I wouldn’t be able to write it, or that it would be incoherent.  Now I’m more confident I can write it (I have nearly 500 words written and a bit to add later or tomorrow), but I worry that I’ve got a chiddush, a new argument.  This sounds good, but I told myself I would not write new ideas any more, because in the Orthodox community people don’t seem to like them unless you’re an important, well-known rabbi, and even then innovative readings of halakhic (legal) debates are preferred to narrative interpretations or philosophical ideas.  My idea sits on the intersection between halakhah and philosophy.  And now I have a number of new people reading it who I worry might reject me on some level.  Or just tell me I’m being stupid.  OK, my family and friends are unlikely to tell me I’m being stupid, but they might tell me my argument is weak or confused.

***

Calling anyone who has used Lulu.com for self-publishing!

Aside from the job application, devar Torah and procrastinating, my main achievement today was working on my non-fiction Doctor Who book.  I uploaded the file as a pdf, but I couldn’t check if the fonts were embedded properly without Adobe Acrobat, which I don’t have.  Lulu.com was said it wouldn’t print fonts 6 pt or smaller; I had a few footnotes at 8 pt which for some reason Lulu thought were at 6 pt, but I decided to take a chance and keep them in, given that they really are above 6 pt and given that I didn’t want to have to sort the pagination out yet again.

I struggled with Lulu’s cover wizard for a bit.  I’m not sure I really have the right software to use it.  For some reason, it is pushing the last letters of the title off the cover.  Change the font or move the text box are the obvious solutions, but I can’t work out how to do either.  So far as I can tell, font is fixed, but different colour covers use different fonts and/or different font sizes.  Weird, but true.  Now I can get a font size that fits, but it’s with an ugly beige colour cover.  I think this may be step 1 and the next step will allow me to change font size or text location?  OK, I’m giving up for tonight now.

***

I watched a not-so-good episode of Star Trek Voyager today, notable for the fact that while it was ostensibly about Commander Chakotay’s desire to leave behind the Native American traditions of his family and then to return to them later in life, it seemed to me a lot like a familiar story of a young Jew who finds Judaism stifling, obscurantist and particularistic, but finds his way back to it, to some extent, in middle age, particularly after the death of a parent.  So, I found author Michael Piller on Wikipedia and, lo!, he was Jewish.  Of course, it’s a familiar pattern from many cultures intersecting with modernity, but it hit Jews harder than many, for a variety of reasons.  It’s sad though that you can tell stories about Jews on TV… provided they aren’t actually Jews.  As Cynthia Ozick said, “Jews are not metaphors”.  (The full quote is, “Jews are not metaphors – not for poets, not for novelists, not for theologians, not for murderers, and never for anti-Semites…”)

***

I gave in and ate ice cream.  It’s hard not to eat junk at all when I feel so depressed and anxious.  When I feel bad, it’s hard to tell myself that I shouldn’t do something that will make me feel a bit better even if just for a few minutes.  This is especially true as I don’t binge, but clomipramine means everything goes straight to my waistline.

Successful Shabbat

Shabbat (the Sabbath) was good, overall.  Shul (synagogue) on Friday night was OK.  I had dinner with my family, which is still overshadowed by Mum’s cancer diagnosis, then back to shul at 8.30pm for an evening learning event.  There were twelve of us, including the rabbi running the event (not the regular shul rabbi).  First was chevruta (paired) study of the key sources in the Talmud and later commentators and law codes.  We spent about thirty or forty minutes coming to grips with these and then there was a short shiur (class) for fifteen or twenty minutes applying the principles from the texts.  I was paired with one of my friends, to my relief, and we did OK going through the texts.  We were on similar levels, I think, which made it better than these situations sometimes go with me, both in terms of confidence and thinking of things to say.  It was a highly technical discussion of a point of law in the Jewish laws of property and damages, not the type of thing I usually like study, but I found it quite interesting.  There was a short piece of aggadata (non-legal material, in this case narrative) in the midst of the halakhah (Jewish law) which made things a bit easier for me (about a caravan in the ancient Middle East that was being stalked by a lion, so every evening they left one of their donkeys for the lion in the hope that it would be satiated and not attack the caravan.  It made me wonder what they did if they ran out of donkeys).  Afterwards there was potato kugel (kugel is a kind of pudding that can be made of various things, sweet or savoury, but most often grated potato).  This was the one week when we had potato kugel for dinner at home, but I would never turn down more.  As I said to Dad, kugels are like buses, you wait ages and then two come along at once.  I was glad to be socialising in a ‘safe’ environment in shul and was glad there were relatively few people there, so I did not get overwhelmed and also was visibly joining in and not merging into the background.

When we were sitting around eating kugel and drinking whisky (not me, but the other men) the rabbi quoted something (I didn’t catch where from) that said that doing a mitzvah against difficulty means the reward is one hundred-fold.  He was thinking of all of us coming out in the cold, wet and wind at night, but I thought of my depression, social anxiety and autism.  Even if “one hundred-fold” is rabbinic hyperbole, I felt that maybe I should cut myself some slack for trying to be a good Jew under difficult circumstances.

I didn’t push myself to get up early for shul this morning, but I did go back for Minchah, Talmud shiur and Ma’ariv (Afternoon Service, Talmud class and Evening Service).  There was no one willing or able to lead Minchah so I was asked.  I hadn’t done it for about five  years, not since we came to this community.  I have been more tuneful, but I don’t think I made any obvious mistakes aside from misunderstanding the rabbi about when to start on two occasions.  I even coped with slowly reading the Aramaic passage recited when taking the Torah scroll out, although I felt that people were staring at me and mentally wondering why I didn’t restart.  I shook with anxiety a little, but not as violently I did when leading weekday services at this shul previously, so maybe I’m becoming more confident with participating in this shul.  I didn’t (thank G-d!) drop the Torah scroll from shaking as I was vaguely worried about.

My devar Torah (Torah thought) email that I shared with a slightly wider group of people before Shabbat this week also seems to have gone down well, so maybe I’m beginning to move outwards into the community again after a period of retrenchment and mental health struggle over the last five years.

***

Today is my parents’ wedding anniversary (before you ask, no, they didn’t deliberately go for a Valentine’s weekend wedding, it just ended up like that).  They bought a very rich chocolate cake for dessert for Shabbat meals.  They don’t normally do that for their anniversary, only for family birthdays, and I felt that it was partly a kind of reward because of the stressful few weeks we’ve had with Mum’s cancer diagnosis.  It was really good cake, though, and we’ve still got quite a bit left.

***

After Shabbat, I did a bit more work on the bibliography for my non-fiction Doctor Who book.  I got through a pile of books that came out between 1997 and 2006, basically from the point where Doctor Who seemed to be dead until the point where it had come back, but the new generation of fans had not quite arrived yet.  It’s the Doctor Who fandom I heard about and tentatively joined in via Doctor Who Magazine (particularly the editorships of Gary Gillatt, Alan Barnes and Clayton Hickman), books like Doctor Who: From A to ZLicence Denied and Doctor Who: The Book of Lists and later joined more fully in the Oxford University Doctor Who Society (Doc Soc) and its fanzine The Tides of Time.  It was a slightly strange fandom, a place where on the one hand people would take the programme extremely seriously and write lengthy quasi-scholarly articles about themes or characterisation, and then five minutes later they would be completely taking the Mickey and making fun of the whole thing, sometimes even in the same article.

I suppose I was only ever really on the fringes of that fandom; the Doc Soc was my greatest involvement, and that was only a small society when I was there.  In 2005 the programme came back on TV and completely changed the demographic of fandom; later the arrival of social media and Twitter would alter the way that fans communicated.  I’m not really involved in fandom any more.  I just read and comment on a couple of blogs run by people I consider friends as much as fellow fans.  I still read Doctor Who Magazine (and tried to pitch to write for it, without success), but it feels very much like an ‘official’ piece of merchandise now and not the upmarket glossy quasi-fanzine it once aimed to be.  You won’t see anyone criticise anything or lightly make fun of anything; in fact, they’re not even running reviews of the new episodes.

I’ve sometimes ventured onto Doctor Who Twitter, but I find it a bit scary: sometimes quick to take offense and rather political, plus I find Twitter in general a source of angst and time wasting and I try to avoid it.  I’ve never been to a convention, either pre- or post-new series.  Part of me would like to go, but part of me, particularly the autistic part of me, is scared stiff at the thought of it.  I would like to find that kind of fan commentary/appreciation/gentle mockery that I used to find in the late nineties and early noughties, but I’m not sure it even exists any more, let alone where to find it.  And I wish I had been a bit more involved in “my” fandom when it was thriving, even if I wasn’t in it now, although I suppose I was too young and socially anxious to get much more involved.

***

I wrote a long comment tonight about autism and my religious beliefs on MidWestAspie’s blog.  I’ve decided to cross-post my comment here (cutting off a bit that is a not relevant and correcting a couple of typos) as it touches on some issues I’ve raised here, but never really spoken about at length:

Interesting post. I have heard other people on the spectrum say that their ASD made them leave their religious upbringing. I’m the reverse. I’m a religious Orthodox Jew and in the process of getting an ASD diagnosis (I’m pretty sure I’m on the spectrum, and have been told I am by mental health practitioners, but don’t have the bit of paper yet). I was raised traditional, but not fully religious and became a lot more religious in my teens and early twenties. I’ve never really felt a clash between those aspects of my self (ASD and Judaism).

My university background is in the humanities (history and then information management) rather than science, so maybe that’s made me more open to the idea that things exist, and can be shown to be likely to exist or to be a certain way, without our being able to “prove” that they exist like a scientific or mathematical proof. For example, I think Napoleon was defeated at Waterloo, but I can’t prove that in the way that a scientist can prove that e=mc2 or the way Decartes tried to prove that “I think therefore I am.” When I was in my twenties I went through a kind of religious crisis about this type of thing, but this was the position that I eventually came to. I think whether a system has meaning is not falsifiable in a Popperian sense. You can say that God is an unnecessary hypothesis, but if you find meaning in an idea or a practice, I think there is truth to that meaning even if the data it rests on is, in some sense, flawed (I’m not sure if I’m explaining this well).

OTOH, I have a quite existential approach to faith. A number of years ago I was reading a lot in Jewish religious existentialists (e.g. Rav Soloveitchik, Levinas, Heschel, Fackenheim, Buber) and am still very influenced by them. The emphasis on dialogue and encounter and ethics. I don’t feel much security from my faith in the way that you say your parents do and in the way that I see other people in my community react. I went through another religious crisis of a kind in recent years where I was sure that God hated me, but I eventually realised that I was just projecting my own low self-esteem. But I don’t feel that God is my Cosmic Buddy who will do what I ask, nor do I think much about the afterlife or reward or stuff like that. I talk to God, but I don’t expect Him to answer me in an immediate or overt way. I don’t expect my life to go well in this world just because I try to keep the Torah. Maybe it’s not part of my psychological make-up (or ASD), maybe it’s the pessimism that comes from two decades of mental illness, or maybe it’s just that Judaism is a very present-centred religion and we don’t talk much about Heaven or reward, even though we believe in them.

I’ve never had the type of religious experience you describe and I wouldn’t know what to do with it if I did. I absolutely don’t believe Judaism means giving up my responsibility. On the contrary, Judaism, and especially Jewish existentialism, means accepting a huge amount of responsibility. Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Kotzk, the nineteenth century proto-Jewish existentialist thinker, said, “The seeking is the finding” and that is how I relate to Judaism, it is an ongoing quest for me to find meaning in my life and in my people’s traditions, not a set of answers someone else is spoon-feeding me.

I know there are people in the Orthodox Jewish community who like being spoon-fed. I know that there are people who believe a lot of stuff I consider incorrect, silly or occasionally dangerous, whether its creationism or magical thinking (segulot) or whatever. And on my blog I write a lot about my trouble fitting in to my community and getting annoyed about things people believe or say. But the fact that other people believe things that I think are wrong doesn’t make me think that everything they believe must be wrong, if I find meaning in it. And I’m not bothered about other people finding meaning in their own traditions, because I believe that, as Rabbi Lord Sacks said (and got in trouble for saying with the ultra-Orthodox) God is bigger than religion and God speaks to people in different ways. I do believe the Torah to be a qualitatively different type of truth from other religions, but even if I felt that Judaism was exactly equal to other religious truths, there is a Burkean conservative aspect to my mind that makes me think there is meaning and goodness in following and maintaining the traditions, customs and festivals of one’s own people regardless of what others think or do.

There probably is more I could add to this, but it’s late and this post is too long already.  I will say that there probably was a time, when I was in my teens or twenties, when, if my life had gone differently, I could perhaps have become an atheist, possibly even the aggressively militant type.  I suppose I was lucky that I knew enough to convince myself that the militant atheists (Dawkins, Hitchens etc.) were overstating their case and didn’t really know much about Judaism from the inside.  It does make my head hurt a bit wondering what might have been and what that would mean for me, but you drive yourself mad thinking like that.