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.

Anxiety and Peopling; and Judaism as Counter-Culture

Feeling depressed and anxious today.  I felt tired and didn’t really want to do anything.  I was worried about my Mum, who has tests tomorrow, and about my benefits interview which is also tomorrow and whether my doctor’s not from nearly two months ago is still valid.  I’m also worried about my writing.  E. is enjoying my novel, but says one of the narrators is a lot more fleshed out than the other.  I was worried about this, as one is basically me and the other has elements of me, but also elements I’m trying to create.  Naturally the former is a lot more realistic.  I’ve already written about my surprise at being a more intuitive “let the characters/situation take over” writer than a detailed planner; now I suspect I am also a serious redrafter.  I had an English teacher at school who would say that the first draft is 99% of the work and I always believed that (former Doctor Who showrunner Steven Moffat has said something similar), but I’m sure the first draft of this book is just going to be the basic skeleton; if it’s ever any good, that’s going to come together in the redrafting.

My main achievements today: dusting my room and completing another five references for my bibliography.  I went to the theatre in the evening with my parents, sister and brother-in-law to see Eric and Little Ern, essentially a tribute act to Morecambe and Wise (note to non-UK readers: extremely popular British comedians in the sixties and seventies, still repeated a lot on TV).  I found the first half very funny despite the slightly restricted view from where I was sitting.  I struggled through the second half as my anxieties had come back.  My parents, sister and BIL went for coffee afterwards and part of me wanted to go with, but I just felt too drained and in need of alone time and unable to be in an environment with other people any more.  I think we were all glad to have a good laugh before my Mum’s treatment really begins tomorrow, and I think my parents would have liked it if I could have gone to coffee for that reason, but I just couldn’t face it.

***

“I’m still quite socially awkward.”  I did quite enjoy Doctor Who tonight, despite the cancer stuff (it didn’t upset me, but I’m worried about my parents watching it, probably in several weeks time knowing them), although I felt a bit that I was enjoying it out of a feeling of obligation because there were a lot of tropes I usually like, rather than because I was actually enjoying it.  Possibly I was over-thinking it.  The mental health stuff did make me feel that if that police officer had bet me that my life would be better in three years time in any time from 2003 until 2017, she would have lost the bet (and don’t police officers always patrol in pairs?).

***

Now, post-Doctor Who and post-everything else today I just feel exhausted and depressed and a bit anxious.  I feel that E. is so much better to me than I deserve.  I worry that we’ll never be able to work out the practical problems in our relationship.  Just feeling hugely worried about tomorrow, and all the scary things in the weeks and months ahead (Mum, benefits, work, writing, community, PurimPesach…).  There is more to say, but I can’t find the words, and I need to go to bed to be up in nine hours.

***

Written earlier:

I’m trying to crack my Twitter habit (not really enough to say “addiction,” especially as I only lurk and don’t post or comment).  It’s easy to fall into the habit of procrastinating on there, and there is some rewarding content, but too much that is depressing or just trying to get me angry about things that aren’t worth getting angry about.

Speaking of Twitter, I’ve been thinking today about TV presenter Philip Schofield coming out as gay.  I wonder what would happen if a TV presenter or celebrity announced they were converting to Orthodox Judaism, and not to get married to a Jew, but simply out of genuine belief in God and Torah, and that this was going to have a massive impact on the work they did, the days they would be available for work, the food they ate and so on.  I don’t think there would be abuse as such (unless they mentioned Israel or the Labour Party), but I think there would be a lot of confusion and bewilderment on Twitter and in the newspapers and maybe some mild mockery in the way that Gwyneth Paltrow’s eccentric New Age beliefs and practises are mocked.  I can’t imagine anyone saying it was something to “celebrate.”  Not just with Judaism, but with traditional religion in general.  It does indicate where the boundaries of ‘normal’ are in our culture these days.

The only person I can think of like this is The Big Bang Theory actress Mayim Bialik, who is an Orthodox Jew, although not a convert, but she isn’t really famous outside of a narrow section of the internet where she admittedly has a strong following among Modern Orthodox Jews, particularly geeky MO women (Bialik was a research scientist before going into acting and is an Orthodox feminist so is a role model to a wide range of people).

In fact, just think of the number of traditionally religious characters you see on TV or film, and how many of those are positive and how many negative.  Those of you who see me engage online in Doctor Who fandom will realise this is something that bothers me increasingly and is part of the reason I’ve started writing fiction again, to create the characters who are like me and who don’t get seen anywhere else.

There is more to be said here that I may pick up in a post I’ve been struggling with conflicted thoughts about writing lately…

The Puzzle

I woke up feeling super-anxious.  I was diagnosed with anxiety a while back, but I’ve never been entirely convinced, as my general anxiety levels seem to fluctuate a lot and perhaps get “drowned out” by depression (as opposed to social anxiety, which I’m sure I have).  Today I felt super-anxious though: about my job, about my relationship with E., about her work situation, and about the big thing I can’t talk about here.  Trying to breathe and be mindful, I do feel a bit better.  But the worries creep back in.

Other things I’ve been doing are being irritable (got into a silly argument with my Dad) and blaming myself for something, anything.  Just feeling I’m a terrible person and everything is my fault, which I guess distracts from all the things that are not my fault and which are totally outside of my control.

I went to the dentist for a check up.  Everything was fine, except that I’ve somehow slightly chipped one of my teeth, I don’t know how.  But the discomfort when the dentist was scraping plaque off my teeth just reinforced my anxiety.

I tried to work on my novel and managed to do so for about half an hour, writing nearly 300 words, but I couldn’t concentrate.  I felt like my head was going to explode with all the things in it.  There’s so much I’m scared about.  A lot of this is inchoate feelings and some of it is things that maybe should not be voiced.  I texted my sister about some of this and she is feeling a lot calmer than I am although she is only worried about one of the things I’m worried about, albeit the biggest one.  I just don’t know what to say or where to begin.  It’s at times like this that I drift back to childhood, mentally, asking my parents for hugs, crying or taking refuge in favourite TV programmes.

I went depression group tonight.  Coincidentally, the shiur (religious class) I usually go to on Thursdays got cancelled tonight, so I don’t need to message the group, but it will happen sooner or later, so it would be good if I can think of a non-melodramatic way of admitting to going to depression group.  Depression group was helpful, but I came away wondering if I’d handled the interpersonal interactions well enough; in fact my autistic traits made concentration difficult at times and I felt a bit overwhelmed.

I’m trying to be kind to myself, but it’s hard, partly from personality, partly, I guess for religious reasons.  These days, lots of frum (religious) Jews would say that it is good to be kind to yourself, particularly at times of stress, only to make small changes to your life at any one time and so on.  The problem for me is that, although I’m not an expert, I haven’t really come across these attitudes dating from more than two hundred and fifty years ago or so (from the rise of Hasidism) and in many ways they have only become mainstream accepted ideas in recent decades (since the rise of neo-Hasidism, the ba’al teshuva movement and the rise of popular psychology in the world generally).  I’m more open than most Orthodox Jews to the idea that Judaism changes over time, but my poor self-esteem makes me worry, what if this is a mistake God doesn’t want me to be kind to myself?  What if I’m really bad at judging what I should be pursuing in life and He will keep sending me pain and suffering until I turn my life upside down?  This is probably not true, but I have enough doubt to worry about things.

***

The Reference Guide to the Talmud arrived today.  I’m looking forward to using it in my Talmud study.  It explains a lot of Talmudic terminology.  As well as using legal terminology, the Talmud also employs a precise vocabulary, so the term used to introduce a counter-argument will tell you whether it is going to be an argument based on a contradictory text or one based purely on logic.   There are also grammatical guides to Aramaic (the language of most of the Talmud) and a section on historical background to the Talmudic era that I might read in full at some point, chronological tables of Talmudic rabbis, a diagram of the Second Temple, guides to Talmudic weights and measures and a guide to Rashi script (a type of calligraphic Hebrew script used primarily for commentaries on the Hebrew Bible or Talmud – I can mostly read Rashi script, but some of the letters are similar and I get confused occasionally).  This is all fascinating stuff to a history geek like me and I hope it will help with my studies, both to understand the language used and so to understand the arguments and also to provide the contextual information that my brain needs to understand and remember abstract legal thought.

***

On the way back from depression group, I started thinking about the final scene of the BBC adaptation of John le Carré’s Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy (not in the book).  George Smiley is with his estranged wife, Ann.  Smiley is able to unearth the traitor in MI6, but not to understand human beings, particularly not his wife.  “Poor George,” remarks Ann.  “Life’s such a puzzle to you, isn’t it?”  I felt like this tonight.  I can at least sometimes understand things, concepts, ideas, words, stories, histories like the Reference Guide to the Talmud… but I struggle to understand people at all.  I don’t know what people thought of me tonight, when I felt a bit overwhelmed.  For all my struggles with the Talmud, I suspect I find it easier to understand than people.

Post-Work Slump

I’m not sure what time I went to bed last night, probably some time between midnight and 1.00am, but I slept for hours and hours and then was too depressed, exhausted and anxious to get up.  I finally got up around 2.30pm, just as my Mum was coming home, having cancelled her post-work volunteering because she was ill.  I did feel better for eating cereal and drinking coffee, but of course by then the bulk of the day was gone.

I guess today’s depression/anxiety is mostly centred on work, some worry about a family issue that hopefully will come to a head tomorrow, and also whether E. and I will be able to move our relationship on, as well as general worries about my life as a whole, whether I will ever get it sorted out.  E. was feeling positive about us today, so I felt vaguely bad for being pessimistic (although I know she would say that I shouldn’t judge my feelings), not least because I know nothing has changed objectively since I was feeling positive a few days ago, it’s just that today I feel depressed so everything seems bad.  Plus, I wish she was around in person more than ever on days like today when I’m not able to say much via text but would like just to watch TV together.

I heard a good quote the other day, I can’t remember where, probably on a Jewish website: “Life is a test and most people fail because they try to copy others, not realising that they have a different question.”  It’s probably too wordy to be a truly great quote, but it does refer to what I’m struggling with in terms of thinking that I should doing what my peers are doing (career, family, community) when I that is not realistic and, so far as it is possible for me to tell, that does not seem to be God’s plan for me at the moment.  The problem is, I would like to be doing a lot of that stuff and don’t really see an alternative.  I don’t qualify for benefits (generalisation: I’m going to have to look into this again), so I basically have to have a career.  E. and I want to build a relationship that is more than a long-distance friendship, but I don’t know how – how in practical terms.  I want to have friends and community for my mental well-being, but the process of building those relationships is difficult and highly stressful for someone with social anxiety and autism (and someone not in exactly the right community anyway).  It is very difficult to see what I should do sometimes.

***

So, today I didn’t do very much, just sat around feeling exhausted, depressed and unable to do anything.  The trouble with the benefits system for the mentally ill (leaving aside the question of whether it’s too strictly enforced) is that it is set up for people with illnesses or disabilities that are both visible and the same every day.  If you’ve have a leg amputated, there are not going to be some days when you have both legs and some when you don’t.  Whereas with mental illness (and some physical illnesses), there can be days when you’re fine and so you get told you can work, and then there are some days when you just can’t function at all, but outsiders can’t see why that is.

What I did do was play nurse to my mother for a bit and cook dinner (although Tuesdays is my night to cook even if she is well).  I made macaroni cheese, because it’s a very easy recipe, one of two recipes that I can cook without reading the instructions, although it was far too salty.  I also spent a few minutes updating my CV and interview answer notes to include my experiences in work this year.

I struggled to do some Torah study.  I spent ten minutes reading a not-terribly-interesting or informative essay on The Lehrhaus.com.  I spent another ten minutes (just under) reading a chapter of Tehillim (Psalms), in this case chapter 24, which is very familiar to me as it appears a lot in the Jewish liturgy.  It can be interesting reading prayers as Torah study as I read them in a new way and notice things I don’t notice when davening (praying), but not today.  So about twenty minutes in total, which is not bad considering how I was feeling, but I felt that I had not got much out of it, as is often the case.

I tried to work on my novel, but it was hard and I got distracted by #AddAWordRuinABook on Twitter, my favourites being The Cat in the MAGA Hat and especially Catch-22 Diseases.  I looked at my own books in the search for inspiration to join in and thought of reading Murder on the Leyton Orient Express and its sequel, The Word for World is Nottingham Forrest (I should probably explain to non-UK resident readers that those are jokes on British football teams).  Also A Midsummer Night’s Freudian Dream, The Spy Who Came in From the Cold Storage, Flame War and Peace, Lady Windermere’s Fan ClubThe Crack House at Pooh Corner, Decorating a Study in Scarlet and Green Eggs and Hamlet (OK, that’s cheating slightly).  I would also like to see a film of The Marx Brothers Karamazov.  In non-fiction, there’s Plato’s Coffee Republic, A Brief History of Time Shares and The Blind Drunk Watchmaker although Star Trek fans might not appreciate The Selfish Gene Roddenberry.

Now I don’t feel tired, but should probably go to bed as it’s gone midnight.

***

My depression is sabotaging my diet.  I ate seconds at dinner, more because it was there and I was comfort eating than because I was hungry.  I didn’t eat ice cream yesterday, as I suggested I would, but I did eat Quality Street chocolates.  It’s hard to be on a diet when I’m this depressed.  I don’t generally comfort eat to a huge extent, but when I’m feeling so low it’s hard to feel I should ban myself completely from any junk food that might cheer me up for a few minutes, especially as my weight gain is primarily caused by medication rather than the amount of junk food I’m eating.

***

Another reason I’m depressed today: farewell Nicholas Parsons, alav hashalom (peace upon him), comedy’s greatest straight man, Just a Minute supremo and a fine Doctor Who guest actor.  He will be missed.

Crashing

I struggled with sleep again, mostly insomnia, but also waking a bit earlier than intended.  I got about five and a half hours in the end and dosed myself up on coffee this morning.  I got up extra-early because it was Rosh Chodesh (New Moon) and there was extra davening (prayers) although I only do I tiny amount of Shacharit (Morning Prayers) most days because of depression, excluding the days I’m too depressed to get up in time to daven Shacharit at all.

At work the people from the company who I wanted to speak to about setting up a library management system (LMS)/online catalogue (OPAC) phoned an hour early.  I was going to be super-ready for them, but because they phoned early the cleaner was hoovering in the library and I had to hurriedly find somewhere else to take the call, which probably didn’t seem very professional.  The call was short as they said what I expected: that the LMS/OPAC is really for larger libraries with larger budgets.

After that I made and laminated some signs for the library so that people can locate books now that I’ve moved things around a lot.  I also started looking at alternatives to the LMS and OPAC, using websites intended for individuals or small libraries to catalogue their collections for free or cheaply.  I think this is promising, although I’m not sure if we will be able to link easily to the institution’s website.  A bigger problem is that I doubt that either system can allow cataloguing in Hebrew, but I had a quick look around the library and I estimate the number of Hebrew (rather than bilingual) books is fairly small as a percentage of the whole library, so this may not be a big problem.  (EDIT: as I was writing I heard back that one of the sites does allow non-Latin alphabets, but the search function using them is not as thorough.)

The main issue is whether I have a job after this week.  I spoke to the benefactor who owns the library.  He seemed pleased with what I had done, but didn’t really look around or ask what I had actually been doing.  He said that he will only carry on paying for my salary if the institution as a whole contributes, so I’m currently waiting to hear what will happen.  I’m pessimistic as to whether they have the money or inclination to keep me on.  There isn’t any work to do on this phase of the plan (as opposed to if they keep me on to try to find a cataloguing solution), so at the moment I’m not going in on Wednesday.  The benefactor said to invoice for it anyway, which was nice.  I found the whole meeting awkward.  I was nervous and worried that I was incoherent.  I wasn’t entirely sure what he wanted to hear, and we were having the conversation while there was a shiur (religious class) going on across the room, so it was not under ideal conditions.

I feel pessimistic about the job and shouldn’t.  It is possible that the institution and the benefactor will come to an agreement about paying my salary.  Even if they don’t, I’ve had some good experience in writing proposals, planning, researching and executing a project unsupervised, as well as dealing with stakeholders and “difficult” library users (a classic interview question, so something to remember).

The pessimism has spread.  I feel more downbeat about my relationship with E. today, not the relationship itself, just whether we will ever manage to sort it out.  I still think we probably will, even if it takes years.  It’s hard to wait though and if we want children there’s a time limit (albeit not a very imminent one).  Although whether we could cope with children is yet another issue.

I am unsure whether I should try to go for Chartership (the next stage of librarianship).  I was going to try, but if I don’t have this job as experience, I’m not sure I will be able to complete the necessary amount of work in time and there is a fee just to start so I don’t really want to do that if I’m not going to get anywhere (annoyingly CILIP’s website doesn’t say how much the fee is).

I decided I couldn’t be bothered to return the defective second-hand CD I bought (case completely broken and a track I don’t even like doesn’t play properly, but it did download to iTunes so I can play it there).  Having spent well under £3 for it, including postage, it didn’t seem worth the bother and I could easily end up spending more to buy a replacement copy.  But it just feels like another thing going wrong.

Just to round the day off, I watched yesterday’s Doctor Who episode, which I didn’t watch on transmission because of the family dinner.  I thought it was awful.  A “laughing at” rather than “laughing with” episode.  And it could have been so good!  The ideas were potentially intriguing, if somewhat familiar from previous years.  Bear in mind that I quite like Arachnids in the UK, perhaps the Chibnall episode most like this*.  Meh.  I’m not enjoying this series at all, and I take no satisfaction in saying that, especially as I felt series eleven, while not great, was on the way to being something better and defended it against people who said it was “Too PC” or “boring history lessons.”  But everything that was interesting and innovative about that series seems to have been jettisoned and replaced with tired rehashes of Russell T Davies and Steven Moffat’s greatest hits.  (Although Heaven Sent and Hell Bent seem to have been forgotten as the Doctor is back to mere “thousands” of years old and Gallifrey is destroyed twice rather than three times, four if you count the novels.)

Doctor Who rant over!

***

Just generally speaking, today I feel that the world I live in is uncomfortable and just plain wrong, but as a student of history and a reader of science fiction, I’m not sure I know of any other worlds that are any better.  I feel that I just mess stuff up and that stuff I don’t mess up is messed up for me.

I’m not sure what to do with the evening, what’s left of it.  I’m too tired for extra Torah (I managed half an hour or so on the Tube in to work, but was too tired to do any on the way home) or work on my novel.  I might just watch Star Trek Voyager and hope it’s better than Doctor Who was, disloyal fan though that makes me feel.  I feel too depressed to do anything useful, and despairing about the future (work, E., life in general).  I’m not sure where this has suddenly come from.  I feel like I’m a bad person even though I don’t think I have evidence to substantiate that claim, or not enough to prove it to the extent that I feel.  I feel like I’m not going to keep this job or find a new one.  I feel that E. and I will never get things sorted no matter how hard we try.  I feel that my life never works out.  I have a physical health issue I won’t go into now (not hugely worrying, just irritating).  And I’ve just remembered there’s a super-scary thing happening this week that I’m really worried about that I can’t even write about here.

I just feel in a state suddenly.  I hate it when my mood suddenly plummets.  Somehow it seems my fault.  Like, I was OK (admittedly for a very poor definition of “OK”) a few minutes ago, so why can’t I stay OK like normal people?  OK isn’t even happy, just moderately OK for a bit.

My parents had a dinner party a few weeks ago and bought Ben and Jerry’s ice cream.  There’s been a load left in the freezer ever since and I haven’t eaten any because of my semi-diet.  E. said I had strong will-power.  That may change…

***

One amusing thing today: I read a news article too quickly and for a moment I thought that the Labour leadership frontrunner Sir Keir Starmer was advocating a system of government “built on the principle of feudalism.”  This seemed shocking and unlikely, but after the last five years I wasn’t ruling anything out as impossible.  Perhaps fortunately, on re-reading it turned out that I had misread “federalism.”  This is a shame, as I was hoping for a new career as a knight errant.

 

* Admittedly my favourite bit from that episode only happened in my head.  When the Doctor asks Robertson, “Are all your hotels built on repurposed sites?” he answers, “No, some of them are built on Native American graveyards.”  It’s my headcanon and I’m sticking to it.

“Hey, hey, I saved the world today”

Today was a difficult day.  I struggled at work, partly because of people using the library for work and for a shiur (religious class), making me feel self-conscious as I carried on with my work around  them and creating noise that was hard to tune out, which only got worse when the choir practise started in the next room.  I think that’s going to happen every other Monday afternoon and I’ll just have to put up with it.  As I’ve said, the library rates quite low in the institution’s priorities.  I’m not upset about that as it makes sense within those priorities, for reasons I can’t say without giving too much away about it, but it does make it hard for me with autistic noise issues.  That I find libraries frequently too noisy for me is one of my main pieces of evidence in favour of my being on the spectrum.

Beyond this, I felt a lot of depression and anxiety today, some about work and how I am doing with it and how I will do with the next step forward, which is going to involve talking to people (the horror!).  I did get a bit of a better idea about that next step though.  I want to do some research tomorrow (even though it’s not a work day – it will be easier at home), but it looks like WordPress has a plugin for a library management system for small libraries, which could be ideal for us, although I need to find out if it’s compatible with the institution’s website and how to install it, whether it’s something I could do myself or if I would need outside contractors (quite likely given that my IT skills, while competent, do not extend to coding and I’m only vaguely aware of what plugins are).

As well as all this, there was anxiety about my relationship with E.  We both feel we should bite the bullet and look for ways of moving our relationship on, but we’re both scared that doing that will wreck everything.  To be honest, I’m not even sure that I’m in the right place to be thinking about relationships given that my mood and energy levels fluctuate so much at the moment.  That said, our text conversation did show that we both think that relationships involve work and investment of time and energy and are not just about finding “The One,” which is a big thing that lots of people don’t understand.

We’re also both scared of self-sabotaging things.  I think we’re actually both scarily alike, once you take into account the religious differences (both Jewish, but I’m a lot more observant).  In terms of personality and, I think, core values, we’re not identical, but similar.  But dealing with religious differences and geographical distance and both of us having mental health issues and neither of us really earning enough to live on…  It does make it seem hard to build a relationship.  It doesn’t help that I overthink things and spent hours today trying to quantify how I feel about E. to see if I care “enough” which is probably not a sensible thing to do any day, let alone a day when I feel stressed, depressed and anxious.

I’m also anxious about something else that I can’t write about here.

On the plus side, Dad said he was pleased that I’m getting more responsibility in my new job, while CILIP (the Chartered Institute of Librarians and Information Professionals) got back to me to say I could try to apply for Chartership, which is scary, but also exciting, given that I read about people getting Chartership in the CILIP magazine and think, “I could never do that, only people who are really good at their career could do that.”  Chartership would mark me out as a better librarian and make me more employable as well as being a confidence boost, given that at the moment I rate my professional skills and ability low.

Also on the plus side, I did do a reasonable amount at work, even if I was sidetracked onto stuff I didn’t really want to deal with and am still not sure how well I am coping with the number of stakeholders and the amount of stake that they are holding (so to speak).  I did fifty minutes of Torah study on the Tube too, managing some on the way home as well as the way there (a Mishnah and a chunk of The Art of Biblical Poetry by Robert Alter, which I’m counting as Torah even though my rabbi probably wouldn’t) and walked to and from the station (twenty minutes each way).  I also spent an additional seven minutes reading a psalm once I was home (as study rather than prayer), so in terms of achievement it was a good day, even if it wasn’t so much in terms of mood.

***

On a previous post, Chaconia suggested that people at shul (synagogue) might see me as aloof.  This is something I do worry about.  When I was in counselling when I was at university (not the first time I was in counselling, but the first time I was actually able to talk to the counsellor), the counsellor suggested a dynamic whereby I get anxious of social contact and withdraw, but other people see this as holding myself aloof and respond by avoiding me, which fuels my anxiety and withdrawal in a vicious circle.  This was the first time a counsellor or therapist had re-framed my life in a way that brought sudden insight, so it’s stuck in my memory.  Realistically, it probably does still happen, especially now we know that high-functioning autism is probably a factor in there too, involving difficulty understanding and coping with social interactions.  I do hold back from people and they don’t know what’s going on in my head to know why I’m holding back.  It’s just hard to know what to do it, especially when, as I mentioned to Chaconia, I’ve told people at shul about my issues and the response has been mixed, sometimes silence, once negative remarks, although I think a couple of my friends at shul do now message me to check I’m OK if I miss a service or shiur that I normally would attend.  I’m not complaining, because I genuinely don’t know what sort of response I would like to get to my issues and what would help me to fit in and “come out of my shell” (to use a horrible phrase much used about me by adults when I was a child).

***
I “discovered” a song recently.  Actually, I rediscovered it, as I must have heard it years ago and it lodged in my head without knowing who sang it or what the lyrics really were.  Then it came on on a Spotify playlist the other day and I discovered the chorus lyrics really are, “Hey, hey, I saved the world today/Everybody’s happy now/The bad thing’s gone away/And everybody’s happy now/The good thing’s here to stay/Please let it stay” but the song (I Saved the World Today by Eurythmics) as a whole has a level of irony and desperation that I hadn’t noticed before and which seems relevant to the bad-yet-good day I had today, starting, “Monday finds you like a bomb/That’s been left ticking there too long” while the second verse talks about “a hurting thing inside/But I’ve got everything to hide”.  That was my day, anyway.

Acceptance

A few things were on my mind over Shabbat and afterwards.

One is whether my friends secretly hate me.  I know many of my friends think very differently to me regarding politics and religion.  I don’t judge them, but I wonder what they think about me.  A lot of people can be judgmental about religion and politics, particularly politics; in this country it’s assumed by a lot of people that anyone even slightly right of centre is just Evil and hates poor people and wants to exploit them.  I haven’t, for instance, mentioned my relief at the election result to those of my friends who think it’s terrible, because I know that while it was probably the least-worst outcome for me and the Jewish community, lots of other people think otherwise, and if they didn’t experience the fear of the last few months, they’re not going to understand the relief.  Nor am I going to give them a mini-tutorial in economics (I did A-Level Economics at school) and how that influences my voting, or explain how being on benefits and a long-term NHS user has influenced my views of state welfare (clue: it’s not the way it’s ‘supposed’ to have influenced me).

OK, my friends probably don’t hate me (I don’t think they’re two-faced), but do they think, “Luftmentsch, you’re a nice guy, but how does that fit with not voting for X” or “Luftmentsch, you’re really clever, so how come you believe in God?  And a really fundamentalist one at that?”  I’m not really one for debating with people.  If people feel differently to me, I’d rather change the subject to something we have in common than try to convince them or even explain my point of view (although I do get angry inside when I’m told how great the NHS is and how lucky I should feel to be in its caring hands).  I wonder if that’s the right thing to do.

***

One crazy thing that happened on Friday, which I ran out of time to blog, was that, when I fell asleep mid-morning (after a night of insomnia), my Dad went to get the medical certificate that I need to claim benefits only to be told that the doctor had not written it and it would be another ten working days.  Then, in the afternoon, someone phoned to offer me an appointment at the Jobcentre next week, which is pointless until I get the medical certificate.  The one time the state is actually efficient is the one time I could do with some stalling for time.  I had to turn down the appointment, and the woman I spoke to wasn’t authorised to offer me one in January, so I’ll have to spend nearly an hour on hold again in a couple of weeks to get approved again so that I can get another appointment somewhere down the line.

***

Despite having only had three and a half hours of sleep in the last thirty-five, I couldn’t sleep on Friday night, although unlike Thursday I did eventually fall asleep (and then slept through shul (synagogue again).  I sat up late reading Doctor Who: Ground Zero, the latest Doctor Who Magazine comic strip compilation, containing a story I’ve waited literally twenty-three years to read.  So that was good.

***

Three thoughts I’ve had lately that are positive:

  1. I feel somewhat more accepted at shul.  A few people do talk to me in a friendly way, even if I am not always sure how to respond, or how to deepen the friendship.  The two people I sit with were concerned that I was not there last week, when I was staying with my sister and brother-in-law.  Also, although I complain about being more “modern” in outlook than the rest of the shul, I think part of me does like being on the boundary between the more modern and ultra-Orthodox streams.  That said, I did chicken out of going to a shul social event tonight, because I can’t see myself being happy in such a setting (lots of families, tempting junk food, people just milling around and chatting rather than something more structured).
  2. I am beginning to accept that my writing is somewhat good and that it can improve.  Some of my favourite authors clearly developed over time, not always for the better and sometimes not in a straightforward way.  Likewise, some of my favourite authors were not deemed successes in their lifetime.  My first novel doesn’t have to be my best.
  3. I am beginning to accept that I am, on some level, a good Jew, or at least trying my best to be one.  I am trying not compare myself to other people as much as I used to.  To be honest, hearing about the success (regarding religious involvement/prayer/Torah study, finances, career, or family) of my peers doesn’t seem to bother me so much these days, perhaps because I’m so far behind them that it’s like I’m living in a parallel universe.  Success in my world and success in their world are just two completely different things and I can’t cross into their world and succeed like them.  It’s just not possible.  So, I try to succeed in my world.

Square Peg, Meet Round Hole

I use this blog for daily private journaling as well as this public side.  The private journal is mostly just a list of things I did that day plus a note on how I felt and a link to that day’s public post, but yesterday I wrote a terse note about how I was interpreting my life: “Managed to do quite a lot, but frustrated that I couldn’t do more and that I procrastinated; this level of guilty may be unfair and counter-productive.” (Emphasis added.)  I know it doesn’t sound much, but it’s a big thing for me to note my guilt and suggest it might be misplaced.

***

I had a phone call with my CBT therapist.  It was just to check in and see that I haven’t relapsed in the three weeks since our last session so that she can discharge me.  My social anxiety is somewhat better, but my depression is worse.  She was somewhat concerned about this.  I wasn’t so worried, because I think my depression can’t be cured, only managed (although arguably at the moment I am not managing it well).  I think I’ve learnt some useful CBT tricks with this therapist for dealing with social anxiety and self-esteem, albeit that I still struggle in these areas.  However, the depression is bad, but I think it will always be bad, or at least much of the time.  Certainly CBT has not helped the depression much in the past and I would have mixed feelings about trying it again – it would feel like wasting everyone’s time and money, including my own.

***

I tried to start writing a devar Torah (Torah thought/essay), but rapidly realised that (a) the idea I was hoping to use wasn’t enough for a 1,000 word essay, (b) the idea had no particular point to it and (c) I would have to quote a Midrash from an unpublished manuscript quoted by Aviva Gottleib Zornberg and I wasn’t sure I could get away with unpublished manuscripts found by a modern, non-Haredi scholar (who also happens to be a woman, to make it more shocking).  Maybe one of those things, but not all three (manuscript; modern/non-Haredi; female).  The alternative is to write about the idea I wrote about yesterday, but I don’t know the original source for that idea and, again, I don’t think I could get away with quoting it in the name of a Modern Orthodox Rosh Yeshiva.  It’s a shame, as you could take the “children of Rachel = spirituality in physicality” idea and run with it looking at the way that the Yosef (Joseph) narrative in Bereshit (Genesis) mirrors Queen Esther’s story in Megillat Esther (Esther) – both Yosef and Mordechai (and presumably therefore Esther) were descendants of Rachel.  If you had room, you could then potentially talk about hester panim, the hiding of God’s presence in the latter story but not the former.

My life would be a lot easier and potentially happier if there was a more lively and engaged Modern Orthodoxy in this country in general and in my area in particular that I could engage with.

***

I do feel depressed today, partly because of the devar Torah disappointment, partly perhaps from finishing CBT and wondering if I should have tried to stay in therapy to work on the depression despite my reservations, or even just realising (again) that my depression is here to stay.  I’m also getting concerned that I still haven’t heard when my autism assessment is (I was referred in December with a waiting list of eight to twelve months).  My Mum emailed the hospital; no response.  The GP offered to check and I said yes; no response from the GP.  The charity that did my autism screening offered to check and I said yes; no response from the charity.  It’s getting a bit troubling.  I guess the wet, dark weather and the shrinking amount of daylight don’t help the depression either.

***

I spoke to my parents’ primary school teacher friend about volunteering as a Teaching Assistant.  Actually, my Mum spoke, as I was in full autistic ‘this is big and scary and is an implicit open question and I don’t know how to approach it’ lack of executive function mode.  She said she could probably get me voluntary TA work at the primary school she works in either a secular or limmudei kodesh (Jewish Studies) classes, but there is quite a long commute on the bus.  She thought she might be able to get me into a local Jewish primary school too, which would be better from a commute point of view, but she doesn’t know the school now it’s a state school run by a private company (rather than the state itself).

I’m terrified by the whole idea of working with children.  I really don’t know why so many people think I’m good with young children.  On the other hand, librarianship is not working for me at all, and if I do manage to make a career as a writer, it isn’t going to happen for a long time and I need to earn money in the meantime which means working in another sector, even if I volunteer to try that sector out first.  The fact that so many people (critical people, to be honest) have said I’m good with children must count for something, but, talking to my parents’ friend, I was just feeling that this is going to be yet another thing that I fail at.  By the end of the conversation (only a couple of minutes) I was feeling completely overwhelmed and worried that I was about to burst into tears.

***

I went to my Thursday shiur (religious class).  I feel very out of place now, but I don’t want to attract attention – and potentially discussion of my beliefs – by not going.  The hashkafa (religious philosophy) of the rabbi doesn’t really align with mine.  I don’t know why I used to tolerate that, but find it harder now, maybe because now I feel that the community isn’t right for me, or that I have gone back to reading the Rationalist Judaism blog (although I have big problems with that too).  It’s quite kabbalistic (mystical).  I feel like I’m hiding myself there.  Perhaps it wouldn’t be so bad if I did manage to write that devar Torah, but…  Still, I want to write a novel one day (not the one I’ve already started) about mysticism, religious rationalism and religious existentialism in Judaism/the Jewish community, so I guess it counts as research on that.

On the way to shiur I listened to a five minute devar Torah from Rabbi Lord Sacks on Kohelet (Ecclesiastes) which is read on the Shabbat of SukkotKohelet is all about the futility of life and how to give it meaning.  Rabbi Lord Sacks says that Kohelet sees meaning in joy, specifically the joy of honest work, the joy of marriage and the joy of being grateful and living in the moment.  I don’t have the first two; I try to be grateful and live in the moment, but somehow I struggle with it and never get any actual joy out of it.  I don’t know what to do.  Based on what I’ve seen him write elsewhere, I suspect Rabbi Sacks would say I should stop seeking joy and just focus on other people and it will come naturally, but social anxiety makes it impossible for me to come into contact with other people without becoming hugely focused on myself.

Tomorrow the rabbi of my shul is hosting an oneg (a sort of Sabbath party with alcohol, junk food, singing and divrei Torah/Torah thoughts) in his sukkah.  I struggle with these things.  When I was new to my shul, I tried to go to a couple and ended up standing outside literally crying with social anxiety.  I think I would probably get in the door now I feel somewhat more at home in the community, or at least more familiar with it, but I feel I don’t enjoy these things the way I should and I’ve got less chance of getting to shul on Shabbat (Saturday) morning if I go to the oneg, so I should think strategically and stay away.  That would all argue against going, but I feel I should try to be a part of the community and maybe one day I’ll enjoy something like a normal person would…  Life is hard.

***

I feel like a square peg in a round hole.  Some of it is being ‘modern’ in a moderate Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) community, but I think it’s deeper than that.  I don’t fit anywhere; moreover, I have to admit that there’s a part of me that actively sabotages fitting in anywhere.  I honestly think that part of my problem is that a part of me wants not to fit in anywhere and finds reasons why I don’t fit in whatever the situation is.  Reasons that no one could accept me if they knew the ‘real’ me.  Reasons to withdraw and stay away.  Call it Groucho Marx Syndrome: “I don’t want to belong to any club that will accept me as a member.”  In my shul I feel too modern, but when I go to Modern Orthodox shiurim, I feel that people aren’t frum (religious) enough.  I am not naive and I can bring kashas (questions based on contradictions and logical flaws) on Jewish philosophy, but I can bring kashas on Enlightenment and postmodern thought too, so I’m staying Jewish and frum.  I don’t have wisdom or understand the meaning of life or how to live it.  I’m not sure that I can even describe myself as a seeker of meaning or wisdom (perhaps.  I hope so).  I don’t know what I am, really and I don’t know who can accept me.

***

It feels like it’s just been a pointless, wasted day that should have been a fun Chol HaMoed day if I was a “normal” person, which I’m not.  I really need a day of nothing to recover from all the Yom Tovim (festivals), but I have more Yom Tov coming next week and then job hunting and then a trip to Israel that I’m dreading, then more job hunting… I just got an email for a training day for people considering changing career that I should (that word again) go to, but I can’t face it.  I wish I could access the hidden positive feelings I recently said I must have about God and Torah and Judaism, because right now they would be very useful, but they’re very hidden.  I try to connect, but I can’t.

***

I had weird dreams again last night, although I can only remember fragments: Boris Johnson, the London Underground, World War I (I think, but maybe World War II, or both) and giving away lots of my books to charity shops and then trying to buy them all back again because I regretted it.  Also raising someone else’s baby, and dying.  All life is here in my subconscious.  I wish I knew what it all means, or could access it in my writing.

Social Interactions and Being Too Hard on Myself

I’m a bit scared to write anything today as, looking at the responses I wrote to the comments on yesterday’s post, I’m worried I’m so negative that I’m going to scare everyone off.  Shabbat (the Sabbath) at least was quite good.  My sister and brother-in-law were here, which was fun, but made meals super-draining.  I woke up on time to go to shul (synagogue) this morning, but was too tired.  I kept thinking, “I’ll get up in five minutes” until I eventually fell asleep again.  This upset me, as I would have liked to have kept the shul-going momentum going, but as I struggled to go to shul in the afternoon maybe I was at the limit of my energy level anyway.

***

At shul this afternoon we had the siyum (celebration for finishing religious study) for communally studying three sedarim (orders) of the Mishnah in memory of someone who died last month.  This was the “learning” that I had mixed feelings about joining as I wanted to be part of the community, but felt I could not currently commit to any learning and also I don’t believe that studying Torah helps the dead anyway.  Listening to the eulogy was weird, though, as it could have been for me (quiet, sits at the back without saying much – plus, the unspoken thing, single and childless) except that I doubt so many people would turn out for me.  Nor do I send out a weekly devar Torah (Torah thought) the way this person did and, for all the rabbi said someone should take over, I don’t really want to do that.

At the siyum I also felt depressed by the number of people my age there with many children.  I don’t want to have seven or eight children as one or two couples in the community have, but lots of people my age have two or three.  I completely failed to successfully interact with any of the children sitting near me, which only reinforced my feelings about not being a teacher/teaching assistant.  Mind you, I largely failed to successfully interact with any of the adults too.  I’m pretty rubbish at social interactions, really.

A friend of mine just had a baby.  I’m really excited about this.  I can be pleased for people I know well who have children, it’s when I don’t really know anything about the people except that they’re my age and have children that it upsets me.  I don’t know why that is.  I suppose it depends on whether I can connect with them positively as friends or just as “parents.”

***

On my last post sarnhyman said that I’m too hard on myself.  S/he is not the first person to suggest that.  I suppose I’m reluctant to be less hard on myself because I feel I have lots of bad traits that I need to remove.  I feel that I shouldn’t have missed shul this morning.  I suppose if I hadn’t missed shul, I might have struggled to go in the afternoon (it was hard enough as it was).  Also, it’s debatable whether being hard on myself has ever really helped me improve.  I suppose I don’t know how to not be hard on myself.

There are a couple of areas of my life that I really struggle with all the time, but particularly at this time of the (Jewish) year when the focus is on teshuva (repentance) and growth.  One is arguing with my parents, as I mentioned the other day – not generally full blown rows (haven’t had one of those for ages, thankfully), just bickering and sarcasm, and snapping at each other unnecessarily.  There is another thing… I’m not sure whether to mention it, but I feel hugely guilty while also recognising that it’s a common thing to struggle with in the frum (religious Orthodox Jewish) world.  I guess there are some sins that no one would publicly admit to committing (e.g. breaking Shabbat), then there are others, like lashon hara (improper speech) that everyone feels able to say they struggle with and it would seem arrogant not to confess to doing, then there are some where everyone admits everyone struggles to some extent, but no one talks about how it impacts on them…  It’s very confusing to me.  It was something I always wanted to talk about in therapy, and sometimes I did, but we often got side-tracked and I feel that I don’t understand myself at all in this area.  I don’t know what to do about it, as I’ve been struggling with it for years.  Maybe talking about things just encourages them though, as is the general thought in the frum world.

A Root Bearing Gall and Wormwood

The last Shabbat (Sabbath) of the Jewish year 5779 turned out to be as difficult as many of the previous ones.

To be fair, Friday night was quite good.  I coped with shul (synagogue) and even joined in the circle dancing after Lecha Dodi, albeit rather half-heartedly and more because I didn’t want to stand out than because I wanted to join in.  Then I went for dinner.  I was invited by one of the men I usually sit with in shul.  He had also invited the other person I sit with as well as the latter’s wife.  These are the people I feel most comfortable with in the shul, I guess I could call them friends, so it was a good evening.  Part of the conversation was about where on the spectrum between “Modern Orthodox” and “Haredi” (ultra-Orthodox) the shul is and where we see ourselves.  I probably had more I could have said than I felt confident saying, particularly when talking about placing figures like Rav Kook and Rabbi Lord Sacks on the frum (religious) spectrum, but I did join in and it was interesting to see that not everyone in the shul considers themselves Haredi.  So it’s not just me.  As an aside, I very much think it is a spectrum, not a binary distinction and someone can be Haredi in some ways and Modern in others and, in theory at least, there isn’t a huge need to pinpoint yourself at some precise spot on the spectrum.

I got home late, though.  I spent some time with my parents and then read for a while as I needed my “introvert time” to unwind from five or six hours of “peopling.”  I got to bed at 1.30am, which was very late, but then I could not sleep again.  I don’t really understand why I have this highly specific insomnia on Friday nights.  I think I eventually fell asleep around 4.00am, so unsurprisingly when I woke up at 8.00am for shul I didn’t have the energy to get up and go to shul, even though I wanted to.  I kept thinking, “I’ll just lie here another minute and then I’ll get up” but of course eventually I fell asleep again and missed shul.  I dozed for an hour after lunch too.  I decided to read downstairs rather than on my bed as I usually do to avoid falling asleep, but I just fell asleep on the sofa.

It was at shul in the afternoon that things took a turn for the worse.  Sitting in Gemarah shiur (Talmud class) I felt I didn’t really connect with the topic.  I had this vision of the hierarchy of status in the frum world.  At the top comes the great Torah (read: Talmud) scholars.  My brain doesn’t work like that and my depression stops me concentrating or being able to study, so I’m never going to be one of those.  Then come the people who organise the community.  I don’t have the necessary organisational and people skills because of autism and my depression prevents me from giving up that amount of time (my Dad used to do it in our old shul, I know how long it takes), so I’m never going to be one of those.  Then come people who regularly make up the minyan (prayer quorum); I used to do that in my old shul, but I can’t do it now because of social anxiety.  Then comes the people who spend ages davening with great kavannah (praying with great concentration); again, nixed by depression.  I’m not quite sure where I can find room to exist.  Even if I manage to write “Jewish” novels, the type of novels I want to write will almost make me hope that no one in my community reads them or goodness knows what will happen.  I want to write about people on the fringes of the community, survivors of domestic abuse, people who struggle to mix modernity and tradition (e.g. re: Creationism and evolution), false messiahs.  Not Artscroll stuff.

Then came seudah shlishit (the third Sabbath meal), which today was a siyuum for Shas Mishnayot (celebration for finishing religious study, in this case the whole of the Mishnah, the oldest part of the Talmud).  My shul has a thing where on Simchat Torah (Jewish festival at the end of the autumn new year festivals) people sign up to study a certain amount of Mishnah over the coming year, culminating in this siyuum before Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year).  I never participate in this, for various reasons, the biggest being that I feel I can’t commit to studying that much Torah while I’m this depressed.  So I felt out of place from the start and I forced myself to stay partly to be part of the community, partly to support my friend, who sponsored the siyuum in honour of his late mother.  A guest rabbi spoke about the importance of Torah study.  I suppose I should feel positive when he spoke about the reward for Torah study being for the effort rather than the amount “learnt” or level of comprehension, but I just felt inferior for not studying enough.  Could I study more?  I really don’t know, nor do I know how to find out.  I also always feel uncomfortable with the Hadran (prayer at the end of studying a section of Torah), where it says “We give thanks before You, HaShem our God and God of our fathers, for you gave us a share among those who sit in the study hall, and not among those who sit on street corners. For we arise early, and they arise early; we arise for words of Torah, and they arise for words of emptiness. We work, and they work; we work and receive a reward, and they work and do not receive a reward. We run, and they run; we run towards eternal life, and they run to a pit of desolation.”  I find the whole thing offensive to people who can’t study as well as to non-Jews, plus I imagine that I’m one of the ones running to the pit of desolation.  This was reinforced when, after the seudah, while we were waiting for Ma’ariv (Evening Prayers), I read a dvar Torah which basically said that Rabbi Moshe Feinstein (one of the most prominent Haredi rabbis of the twentieth century) said that someone who keeps Torah and mitzvot (commandments), but finds them hard is a “root that bears gall and wormwood” as he might become lax in his observance or his children will stop being religious because he won’t have passed true dedication on to them.  One has to find find Torah and mitzvot a source of happiness.  So obviously I’m a bad person.

The guest rabbi also spoke about the importance of being a teacher (he meant a Jewish studies teacher in a Jewish school).  I did wonder if I was meant to hear this, as my parents and E. have been encouraging me to think about teaching primary school children or at least being a teaching assistant.  I really don’t think I could do it, though, and wonder why so many people think otherwise.  Still, it would be a job and potentially I could be in a Jewish school and not have to worry about taking off Jewish holidays.

After Ma’ariv I helped tidy up a bit.  There was lots to do to get the ready for Rosh Hashanah, but I just couldn’t face it and fled, which was also bad.  The whole way home I was having difficult thoughts, not about suicide per se, but feeling that I would be better off dead, even if I end up in Gehennom  (the nearest thing to Hell in Judaism) as at least Gehennom only lasts a year and you can’t actually do anything else wrong while you’re  there, while here I’m constantly doing the wrong thing and incurring more punishment.  I thought about Rosh Hashanah being tomorrow and that I’m going to be written for a bad year again, I just know it, because I’ve had bad years almost every year I’ve been an adult, loneliness and depression, to the extent that I can’t imagine anything going right for me.  I can’t imagine getting a career I enjoy and am successful at (as a writer or anything else), I can’t imagine getting married (perhaps only one person has ever really cared for me romantically and that seems unlikely to ever work out for a whole host of reasons), I can’t imagine ever fully fitting in to a community (it wouldn’t be so hard if everyone was like the people I spent Friday night with, though).  I can’t ever see my life, or my religious life/Torah study and mitzvah performance being enjoyable or meaningful.  It just all seems so hopeless.

I came home in such a state that my parents said I looked awful and excused me from helping to tidy up as I didn’t look capable.  I suppose I should have something to eat.  It has taken me over an hour to write this, as I keep getting distracted, which may be depressive poor concentration, but I suspect is more procrastination to avoid facing up to what I’m writing here.  “Facing up” in two senses: the literal sense I’ve written here, that, rightly or wrongly, I feel that I’m in a no-win situation and I can’t fit in to the culture I want to be accepted in, nor can I live according to the values I want to live by; but also face up to the fact that deep down I know, or at least I suspect, that it’s not as obvious as I write, that I am trying to be a good Jew and that has to count for something with someone, but I can’t see how I can really be a good Jew when I seem to try so little and when I seem to get so little joy from it, when so many people say that having joy in it is the main thing.  I mean, I could have tried harder to get up and go to shul this morning, I could have tried harder to study Torah instead of sleep and read other things this afternoon, I could have tried harder to understand the Talmud shiur, I could have tried harder to help getting the shul ready this evening.  I feel somehow there is a trick that I could do to have joy at shul or studying Torah or at a religious social event like the siyuum, but I don’t know how to do it, so I will get punished.

OK, time out, time to eat a cheese bagel and watch The IT Crowd.

The Trouble with Tribes

I recently joined a WhatsApp group for high-functioning people on the autism spectrum.  The conversation today turned towards autism vs. neurotypicality (the condition of not having autism or any other neurological issues), with several people describing autism as a “superpower” and one person asserting that autistic people are superior to neurotypical people in terms of both cognitive abilities and morality (the example of The X-Men was used as an analogy).  I found the latter view rather insulting to neurotypicals.  As for autistic superpowers… well, good for you if that’s how you perceive your traits, but in my life they have only manifested as disabilities (still not being diagnosed officially doesn’t help).

I posted a comment saying I would rather be neurotypical as most of my problems (employment, socialising, dating, not fitting into religious community) seem to be rooted in my autism.  Someone responded with a whole series of long comments saying that I need to be more positive and if I try hard enough with socialising, dating (etc.) eventually my hard work should pay off.  It was also asserted that I should see other autistic people as “my tribe” and not worry any more about having to find people who understand me.

I don’t want to play the easily offended snowflake, but I found this whole conversation massively insulting and off-putting, from the suggestion that all neurotypicals are back-stabbing, greedy liars (some of my best friends are neurotypical…) to the idea that if I just tried harder in life, I would succeed.  I’ve been struggling for over thirty years (since I started school) with social interactions, for twenty years or so with depression.  This person does not know me at all, yet she assumes I can easily fix things by changing my attitude.  It’s actually my attitude that is the product of years of unsuccessful struggling to fit in to societies and cultures/sub-cultures that are not good fits for me.  I try so hard to persevere, and I don’t get anywhere.  (This could be an example of where what autistic people perceive as “radical honesty” is actually just tactlessness.)

And just because other people see the autistic community as their “tribe” doesn’t mean I automatically will.  I have other attributes, particularly religion, that mark me off from many people on the spectrum.  I don’t think I will ever fit easily in any one group.  I think I will always be flitting between different groups and the best I can hope for is limited acceptance in each one.

I know people say I should be more open with people in my religious community about the way my depression and social anxiety get in the way of things like shul (synagogue) attendance and Torah study, but this type of interaction is the kind of thing that scares me off being more open.  If people who share some of my issues don’t get it, what chance people who don’t have any of them?

***

I’ve just been a mess of depression, anxiety and repressed anger all day.  I’m not sure where the anger came from.  I think it was set off by the WhatsApp exchange above, but mutated into general feelings that I can never fit in, which I guess is still connected to the feelings above,  as well as to thoughts of not fitting in politically and culturally, feeling that I will never be accepted in secular Western culture.  I’m not sure how I got onto that train of thought, but it’s where I was all afternoon.  (I’m not sure if reading things like this is a cause or an effect of this.)  Then when I was out shopping I saw a bunch of frum (religious Jewish) mothers with children and the mothers all looked a lot younger than me.  I also got an email about an educational event over the festival of Sukkot in a few weeks that made me feel that my religious values don’t completely correspond with my community’s.  So I feel I don’t fit in to secular Western culture, but I don’t fit in to the frum counter-culture either (saying “frum counter-culture seems weird, but it is essentially a counter-culture even if it is conservative).

I just feel emotionally overwhelmed today, which is probably unsurprising when you consider that I’ve been up for eight hours and have spent most of them feeling depressed, anxious, agitated, angry and attacked.  I don’t know how much is me being over-sensitive and how much is genuinely worth being upset about (if anything is “worth” being upset about).  I hate that things like this happen to me when my depression is bad, that I have this vulnerability to… I’m not even sure what I’m vulnerable to.  Criticism, other people’s anger, feeling abandoned?

I just wrote the following comment on the Mental Health at Home blog and it seems relevant here:

<i>”The author explores the idea of needing someone who is “strong enough” to love her, and touches on concerns about having kids with a serious illness and medications that would need to be stopped. She also writes about how difficult it is when fellow Christians equate her illness with a lack of faith”</I>

I can share all these concerns. The latter is part of the reason I don’t really talk about my issues with anyone in my community. In the Jewish community it would be phrased differently, as abstract faith is less a part of Judaism than Christianity. In Judaism it would be, “You should <i>daven</i> [pray] harder” or “If you feel depressed, go and learn <i>Torah</i>” but it’s a similar thing.

The funny thing is, I’m not sure if anyone ever said anything like that to me in real life. Maybe once or twice, but not often, because I haven’t told many people. I think I’ve heard about stigma other people have experienced online and in books and articles and was so scared that I don’t ever dare to stick my neck out.

***

It’s Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year) in four days and I feel completely unprepared.  I’m not as unprepared as last year (when I seriously considered praying for God not to give me another year of life, in a reversal of the usual Rosh Hashanah prayers), but I still feel somewhat unready.  I suspect that my lapse into depression this week is a result of the coming month of Jewish festivals and my feeling of unpreparedness.  Paradoxically, I think the depression as per usual is setting me up to fail, making me too depressed and anxious to get to shul (synagogue) on time or at all, so that others notice my absence and judge me (or I feel that they’re judging me) or so I miss mitzvot (commandments) like hearing the shofar (ram’s horn trumpet blasts).  Then that will feed more depression and social anxiety for the later Yom Tovim (festivals) particularly Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement) and Simchat Torah (Rejoicing of the Torah), the latter of which I will almost certainly skip because it’s just too difficult for me to cope with.

I just feel I’ve lost another day to my out of control emotions.  Another day out of so many months and years, even decades, lost to my emotions and mental illnesses.  Then the fact that I’ve lost so much time feeds the depression even more.

***

Deep breath.  I’m going to post this now rather than later in the evening as per usual.  I’m going to forget about the emails I was supposed to write today and the charity appeals I wanted to donate to as well as the job adverts E. suggested I look at (sorry E.  Maybe later this week).  Tell myself I did make some scary phone calls and sent some emails (including one about volunteering at a museum).  Daven Ma’ariv (say the Evening Prayers – sorry, no midweek shul attendance this week), eat dinner, watch TV for a bit, try to feel a bit better and work on my novel for a while and do a little bit of Torah study before bed.

Thanks for reading.

Social Communication

I was very depressed today.  I couldn’t really do anything all day, other than cook dinner, but I had to go out in the evening as I’d booked to hear Aviva Gottleib Zornberg lecture at the London School of Jewish Studies and I wanted to hear her; she lectures there before Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year), but I’d always felt too depressed or too busy to go before now.  Her shiur (religious class) was really good, although slightly strangely was about Moshe (Moses) rather than Rosh Hashanah.  She focused on his speech impediment and how important it is that he talked to the Israelites despite it.  She felt it signified the fact that he felt more comfortable alone on the mountain with God than at the bottom with the people (not in an elitist way, in the sense of struggling to connect with people rather than the Infinite), and that his impediment was necessary for him to verbalise the feelings of the Israelite slaves who had no voice in their slavery.  It resonate with me a bit.  I’m not sure that I’m comfortable talking to God per se, but I don’t feel comfortable with people at all.  And part of the reason I’m so determined to try and write is to give voice to parts of society that are left voiceless: religious Jews in general Western society as well as marginal figures within the Jewish community (e.g. the mentally ill, victims of domestic violence, people with unconventional or unacceptable opinions).

***

Also on the subject of language, Rabbi Lord Sacks, in his WhatsApp Elul thought for the day today, referred to the anthropologist Malinowski who saw speech not as a way of transferring information, but as a way bonding regardless of content.  I think it’s this that I struggle with, being on the autism spectrum, the ability to talk to other when there isn’t actually anything that needs to be said and the conversation is just a way of creating or affirming social bonds.  I’ve just joined a new autism WhatsApp message group, and this was something that people were saying today, that people on the spectrum don’t know what to talk about and worry about saying the right thing, whereas neurotypical people do it instinctively.

***

I suppose this is also about words as bonding versus words as communication, but I’m struggling with something at the moment.  When I’m very depressed, I want to avoid politics and conflict, yet I also want to be well-informed.  There are some blogs I like that are partially or primarily political and I feel I should not read them, but also that I should read them.  In particular, I don’t want to be stuck in one of the echo chambers of which we hear so much these days (although I’m not sure they are entirely new; most people have long read newspapers they agree with), but sometimes people write things that I think is specious or poorly informed or a half-truth or just plain wrong and I don’t know what to do.  I don’t like to get into fights, so I usually let it go, but then it echos around in my head all day (“Someone is wrong on the internet!”).  But if I get dragged in to a fight, it’s a hundred times worse.  So I end up hiding my views and trying not to get involved, but I do carry it all around with me, which may be worse.

Good/Bad

I’m thinking of a joining a political party just so I can resign angrily from it.  It looks a lot of fun.

Meanwhile, back in the real world…

***

Friday night was good, Saturday less so.  There was circle dancing in shul during Kabbalat Shabbat (Friday night prayers) again and I didn’t feel able to join in again.  I was practically the only person not joining in (the only other person was the assistant gabbai who looked like he was doing stuff for the running of the service).  I don’t know why I just freeze up when this happens.  I know I find it uncomfortable, but it’s hard to work out why I find it uncomfortable (social anxiety, autism or depression?) or why sometimes I can join in and once or twice I’ve even enjoyed it (I had one Simchat Torah when I enjoyed the dancing…).  I just can’t do it.

(I tried to find video or even pictures of Jewish dancing because I don’t think I describe it very well.  There’s surprisingly little out there.  I did find one YouTube video, but it was at a wedding or bar mitzvah and rather more lively than the type of thing we have in shul, plus all the comments were rabidly antisemitic (“They’re dancing because they found a shekel…  No, they’re dancing because they tricked the USA into invading another country for them…”).  Even Wikipedia only has a few lines of text and a photo of Israeli, rather than frum, folk dancing.)

I got invited out at short notice to Shabbat (Sabbath) dinner by the person who sits next to me at shul (synagogue).  There were two other people there.  I was a bit apprehensive, but it went well.  I forced myself to participate in the conversation and try to initiate conversations when I was tempted to stay quiet.  I did the same thing at seudah (the third Sabbath meal in the synagogue) today.  That was all good.

At dinner someone said that he studies Torah all day on Friday and Shabbat and tries to do an hour of Torah study on other days (he’s semi-retired).  This surprised me a bit, as he’s teased at shul and shiur for spending hours and hours “learning” so I was surprised that his minimum for most days is something that’s not totally out of reach for me.  I used to do an hour or more of Torah study a day, before my depression got bad again (that’s going back several years).  I do occasionally manage it even now, but it’s usually more like half an hour or so, less when the depression is very bad.  Of course, most of what I “learn” isn’t Talmud, so it has less cachet in the frum (religious Orthodox Jewish) world.  I try not to care, but it’s difficult not to feel like a second-class citizen sometimes (twice in two days someone I don’t know well has decided to tell me just how much Talmud he’s studied lately).  I do make sure I do some Talmud study each week, though.

I couldn’t sleep again yesterday evening despite trying to take some time to relax when I got home.  After a while, I got up and started reading The Elegant Universe, a book on physics that I was given as a school prize, so you can guess how long it’s been on my shelves; long enough to go out of date, according to some of the reviews on Goodreads.  I’m trying to read more non-fiction at the moment.  I used to be fascinated by history, economics, physics, politics and so on, but then when I went to university I focused purely on my degree (history) and when I finished the depression made it hard to read non-fiction.  I want to try to get back into reading non-fiction, not least because of the big pile of unread books that have accumulated over the years (mostly bought cheap from charity shops and library sales).  At the moment I’m trying to alternate fiction and non-fiction books.

This morning I got up at 8am.  I wanted to stay up and go to shul, but then I remembered that I would probably be called to the Torah if I did that and I panicked and went back to bed.  I don’t know why I panicked; I’ve been called up enough times before.  I think some of it is that I have low blood sugar when I wake up, which always makes depressive and anxious thoughts much, much worse.  If I can figure out a way to get myself to get up and eat something straight away before deciding whether to go to shul, that might do the trick.  Maybe.  I don’t really know any more.  I felt guilty for not going to shul, and for going back to sleep until 2pm (my parents were out for lunch so didn’t get me up).  I did at least avoid falling asleep after lunch.  I try to tell myself I have issues and can’t compare myself to other people, but it’s hard when I’m conscious that everyone goes to shul on Shabbat mornings.

I did some Torah study in the afternoon and went to shul for Talmud shiur, Mincha (Afternoon Prayers) seudah and Ma’ariv (Evening Prayers).  As I said, I tried to talk a bit more to people at seudah.  I still felt a bit disconnected at shul although why I feel like that is harder to work out.  I have the feeling of not being good enough or not frum enough for these people and I can’t work out why I feel like that.  No one has said anything to me that should make me feel like that.  I do wish sometimes that I knew what other people think of me.  Perhaps it’s better than I fear.  Then again, perhaps it’s worse…

Speaking vs. Commenting

Just a quick observation as I have a busy day tomorrow: I had a normal Shabbat (Sabbath): insomnia on Friday night, oversleeping and missing shul (synagogue) this morning, sleeping and reading all afternoon, then shul in the evening BUT this time I tried to talk to people at shul during seudah (the meal between the Afternoon and Evening services) and to answer questions during the Talmud shiur (religious class).  I didn’t actually say anything, but I nearly did, which is better than in the past!  I still have a long way to go.

(EDIT: I just remembered that I did say something: the rabbi asked if I had gone on holiday this summer and rather than just saying “No” as I would normally do, I said “No, I’m going after the Yom Tovim (festivals later in the year) for a bar mitzvah” which is practically a whole speech compared to my normal silent self.  So that’s something.)

The funny thing is, I am slightly bolder about communicating with people online than in person – not much, but a bit.  And people online seem to think I say things that are intelligent, insightful or funny.  But it’s hard to accept that people in the real world might feel like that about anything I say.  I’m not sure what makes it easier to communicate in one way than the other, except that I don’t have to see people’s reactions online.  Or it could be that when I was a child I was bullied or told to be quiet when I expressed opinions in person, but didn’t have any online interactions (as the internet was still in its infancy), so I never “learnt” that my online opinions could be bad  That’s perhaps less likely as I do still have something of a filter online: I usually lurk on a site or blog for some time before commenting, and then only tentatively at first.

It’s something for me to think about anyway.  I’ve got a whole week to psyche myself up to talking at shul next Shabbat

Fitting In

For CBT I’m supposed to fill in questionnaires on my mood before each session to judge my progress.  I think my depression goes through long cycles that are longer than a week or a fortnight, while my mood can change quite a bit in a day, so I’m not sure how useful it is, but I suppose it is some kind of metric.  My mood varies, but I realised I don’t really tick the box for thinking I would be better off dead, even on my worse days whereas in the past I’ve believed that a lot.  I guess that is progress.

Today I feel drained and mildly depressed, but not too badly, I think.  It’s hard to tell; as I have noted in the past, I struggle sometimes to identify my emotions, and I suspect sometimes emotions and physical feelings can get mixed up.  That probably sounds weird, but my previous therapist (when I was in psychodynamic psychotherapy) spoke quite a bit about feeling emotions in different parts of one’s body.  I usually feel drained and depressed at the same time, so it’s easy to assume if I feel one, I feel the other too, but that may not be the case.

***

At CBT we repeated the experiment we tried a fortnight ago of me talking to a therapist (not my usual one) for a few minutes while my therapist filmed it on her phone; then we watched it so I could see how I appear when talking to other people.  The therapist I spoke also answered some questions on how I came across to her.  It seems I do not really come across to people as weird, despite my fears.  Also, when I talk about something I know about, I can become quite animated.  I had it drilled into me for years as a child that I am boring and no one wants to talk about what I want to talk about.  It’s hard to get past that and accept that people might find me interesting.

It’s doubly hard in the frum (religious Orthodox Jewish) community, where I’m never sure what is considered OK to talk about.  I mean, the rabbi was talking about The Omen last week!  But I never know what I can say.  I think an awareness of secular culture (even horror films) would be seen as different to being an obsessive Doctor Who fan, with the emphasis on obsessive, but I’m not sure how differently it would be seen.  I go to a ba’al teshuva shul (synagogue) meaning most people there were not raised religious, but came to it later in life, so people do have some understanding of secular culture.  Some people do have TVs and I think everyone has internet access (very Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) communities would not allow even that, or else would permit it for business use only).  The people who do have TVs are not necessarily the ones you might expect to have them.  But I think admitting to being an obsessive fan the way I am would be seen as at least a bit weird.  I mean, I’m probably a little bit weird in my fannishness even in the secular world.  I don’t mean that in a bad way, just that it probably is a bit caused by my autism rather than how most people would act, in terms of things perhaps like watching episodes multiple times even when I know them by heart, but especially things being able to list every Doctor Who story in order from memory (nearly 300 stories), and not only that, but being able to list showrunners, producers, script editors, writers and directors for many of them (new series personnel are harder to remember, either because of relative newness or the fact that I’m not as emotionally invested in the stories).

I feel that being a Doctor Who fan makes me weird in the frum world, but being frum makes me weird in the secular world, especially the fan world, which is perhaps one reason (among several) for me not going to conventions.  I don’t mind being a bit weird, but I worry I’m off-puttingly weird.  Doctor Who fandom has a lot of gay and transexual members and I worry that when people see my kippah (skullcap) they think I’m judging them when I’m not.

***

Yesterday I noted that I went jogging without getting a migraine.  Actually, I did get a migraine last night after turning off my computer, albeit delayed by a couple of hours after jogging and not as bad as recent ones.  I googled “migraine jogging” and it turns out that exercise can genuinely be a cause of migraines.  I don’t want to stop jogging, but I need to work out a way of avoiding this.  I’m pretty sure it’s not dehydration or the sun, but I’m not sure what else the trigger might be.

***

Yesterday I noted an article in the latest Doctor Who Magazine that seemed similar to my Doctor Who book.  Having now read it… basically it does in twenty pages, very superficially, something similar to what I did at great length in a whole book, except the DWM article only covers the original run of Doctor Who whereas I went up to the present.  More to the point, it was presented as a symposium of contemporary Doctor Who authors talking about their favourite classic series stories; apparently people want to hear what Steven Moffat or Peter Harness think about Earthshock more than what I think.  Which is logical in a way, but also frustrating, as I think my book is not just more detailed, but perhaps more willing to depart from established fan opinion.  A lot of that DWM article was predictable if you’ve been in fandom for years.

It’s just annoying to see stuff that I could write being published while the stuff I’ve actually written or pitched to write is ignored.  I wonder if some of it is my lack of experience and the fact that I’m not known in fan circles.  The circle of fans writing for DWM, writing non-fiction Doctor Who books and working on the DVD and Blu-Ray releases is small and perhaps a bit incestuous and maybe I am too much of an unknown quantity for anyone to want to take a chance on.  I think these things are often about who you know as much as what you know.

On which note, I submitted the book to a third publisher.  I’m running out of specialist Doctor Who publishers.  I’m not sure where I go if this doesn’t work out.  My Dad keeps saying, “Maybe the BBC will publish it.”  Skipping over the fact that BBC Books isn’t actually owned by the BBC (they have a minority share; the imprint is owned by Penguin), BBC Books doesn’t publish many Doctor Who books; those it does publish tend not to be analytical in the way my book is, and are very concentrated on the current TV programme, not 50+ years of history.  And I haven’t got a submission address for them.  I suspect they may not accept external submissions.  Who you know again.

***

Other than CBT and submitting my book, and looking (pessimistically) for further contact details for future submissions, I didn’t have much time to do things today.  I spent half an hour on Torah study and a bit of time on my novel, but that’s about it.  I do have a long (1,500 word) chapter-by-chapter plan of the novel now, although later chapters seem a bit light.  1,500 words sounds a lot, but actually some parts of the novel are still very sketchy in my head.  But I might start writing soon, and doing research for the chapters that aren’t really based on personal experience.

***

Some good news for the weekend: the Talmud shiur (religious class) that usually takes place in shul (synagogue) before Mincha (the Afternoon Service) on Shabbat (the Sabbath) has been moved into seudah shlishit (the third Sabbath meal), replacing the usual shiur at that time.  So there is now one shiur instead of two, which may be less tiring for me.  I’m not sure if this is a permanent arrangement or just for this week.

Hunting the Crowned Saxe-Coburg

The main thing that happened today was that I went to Buckingham Palace with my parents.  Sadly, I wasn’t getting a knighthood, but was just visiting the rooms that are open to the public.  It was very interesting, from a historical point of view, and I saw some interesting art, mostly seventeenth, eighteenth and nineteenth century.  We had booked to tour the gardens too, but couldn’t see them as they were flooded from this morning’s rain and unsafe.  I finished about forty minutes before my parents and had to hang around for them at the end, only to come home before them anyway.  It would have been better if it hadn’t been bookended with feeling very depressed and irritable before and afterwards, but at least I felt OK while I was there.

I did feel the anxious-autistic when we went through security, which panicked me for no reason I could really understand, beyond the scariness of being in a room with lots of people and not being sure of what would happen next.

On the way home I missed my iPod, when I felt too depressed to read on the Tube and when I went into the shopping centre too; I didn’t realise how much I rely on music to get me through crowded, busy, noisy spaces.

***

I feel that I’ve messed up my CBT homework for this fortnight.  I slept through Saturday morning shul (synagogue) twice the last fortnight, which I think was more depression than social anxiety, but it’s hard to tell.  I’m also supposed to talk to shop assistants, but I don’t know what to say, plus I haven’t been shopping much anyway.  I did try to go into Tesco and buy some chocolate this afternoon, intending to go to the manned tobacco/alcohol check out rather than the self-service as I usually do.  I was going to casually say that the weather has been crazy today to the cashier.  But when it came to it, I lost my nerve.  There just didn’t seem a logical point in the interaction for me to say something so unconnected.  Plus, when I was about to try to speak the shop assistant went off to help someone on the self-service tills; when he came back he was already asking if I wanted a receipt and it seemed weird to start a conversation then (“Yes, please, I would like a receipt and also the weather today is crazy.”)

Do people really talk about the weather with strangers or is that just something that happens on badly-written TV programmes?  I think a lot of the issue for me is autism rather than social anxiety.  It’s not just that I’m scared of being thought weird if I say something, I actually do not know what to say or when to say it.  Like a lot of autistic people, I view talking as being about exchanging information.  I don’t really get the social aspect of it, the element that is supposedly analogous to chimpanzees grooming each other.

I feel bad about this, as when I’ve been in CBT before, I’ve always tried to do my homework and if I failed it was usually because of finding it too hard to control my thoughts rather than just not knowing what to do.

I want to at least try to go to autism group tomorrow evening, despite what happened last time (when I left after fifteen minutes because I couldn’t talk to anybody), although I can’t stay late as I have a meeting about volunteering early on Wednesday morning (early for me, anyway).  If I feel up to it, I might try the “talking in a shop” experiment again tomorrow and/or on Wednesday, to try to do it as an experiment even if I do seem weird, just so that I have something to take to therapy.  Although buying a ton of chocolate is probably not a good idea given that I’m putting on weight from medication and a sedentary lifestyle.

The messed up chocolate experiment did prompt some negative self-evaluation thoughts (beating myself up, in non-therapy speak).  I did want to challenge them, but I didn’t have the forms with me to do that (CBT assumes you carry a lot of papers and forms around and fill them in, even if people are watching), so all in all it was a wasted opportunity.

***

I submitted my non-fiction Doctor Who book to another publisher, but I’m beginning to suspect that there isn’t much space for it in a crowded marketplace.  I fear that the bulk of the books in the fan non-fiction marketplace are either full of behind the scenes information or cultural studies theory and mine is neither of those; I suspect it seems like something that belongs in a fanzine (which is basically where it does belong).  This doesn’t raise my mood at all.

I spent an hour after that working on my novel.  I spent most of that hour looking at my plan, trying to see how the story flows, where it’s slow and can be cut, where I need to make sure I write at length, flagging up the main points of conflict to be included…  There’s a lot still to do before I can even start a first draft, but it seems to be going well.  I don’t think I’ve ever felt so in control of a piece of fiction writing before.  The fact that I have a 900 word plan indicates how much more depth it has than my previous attempts at writing fiction.  I want to try a more detailed plan before I start writing, at least of the early chapters, breaking each chapter down by major incident.

***

Otherwise, mood has been up and down all day.  Really down before and after Buckingham Palace; better while I was there.  I don’t know why I’m like this again, or, more to the point, how I stopped being like this for a bit, as “depressed” has been my default setting for twenty years or so.

Experiments in ‘Peopling’

Today was another better day.  I was still depressed in the morning, but I spent two hours working on my Doctor Who book in the early afternoon and got about halfway through tidying up the formatting and removing various sentence connector words and phrases that I felt I was overusing.  I’m hoping to finish it tomorrow, or the beginning of next week at the latest, depending on whether I have urgent job applications to write first.

Then I had CBT.  The CBT therapist felt it would be good to do an experiment on observing how I talk to other people, as this is a key area of social anxiety for me.  I had two short conversations with one of her colleagues, one structured (i.e. I knew in advance what I could talk about, in this case my Doctor Who book, which the therapist suggested because I feel embarrassed about liking Doctor Who), one unstructured and free-flowing.  My therapist recorded these conversations on her phone so we could watch them afterwards; we also got the other therapist to answer some questions afterwards about how she perceived me and how she felt the conversation went.

On one level this is obviously very artificial.  In fact, it felt weirdly like a shidduch date; (blind date in the religious Orthodox Jewish community).  The outcome was interesting.  I felt that I did have things to say once the conversation started, even though there was a long pause at the start of the unstructured conversation while I tried to find something to say.  My body language was somewhat closed (arm across chest, resting right hand on left forearm), but was more open than I expected.  I did try to make eye contact, even though I was afraid I would shake if I did.  I did actually shake a bit, but it wasn’t noticeable on the phone playback.  I realised that I do  have a tendency to talk quite fast when nervous and then to suddenly pause as my brain tries to catch up with my mouth and think of words to say.  The therapist I was talking to said I seemed nervous, but not awkward or weird and that I was interesting.

She also said she liked my hair, which I keep thinking about because I’ve been self-conscious about my hair since childhood.  I have very think, frizzy hair and I tend to let it grow a bit on the long side, not afro length, but not short, as I hate having my hair cut (a mixture of social anxiety and autistic discomfort), but I used to get bullied for having it long at school, and sometimes the girls would come and pat it, so I don’t really like it either way.  So I was glad that she liked it.

My therapist said that I would become less anxious the more I practise speaking to strangers.  I hope so.  My experience in the past has been that periodically I push myself to talk to people, but I feel that I am not doing well and fall back into social anxiety and solitude.  I think it is probably the case that I will never be completely confident talking to strangers.  My high functioning autism is always going to mean that I have to put extra effort in to the consciously thinking about conversations because I can’t intuitively tell what the right thing to say or do is in a given situation.  But this was positive overall.

The other issue, beyond autism, is whether the things I like to do and to talk about are acceptable in my religious community, which is a rather different question and one I really have to work out on my own somehow.  After today I do feel somewhat more confident in terms of thinking about shidduch dating, perhaps because I think I would be trying to date women who are more modern, although I’m not sure how I would meet them.  I do still feel uncomfortable at the thought of dating without a job (or a writing contract).

***

I feel subdued and tired now.  Shiur (religious class) left me feeling, not exactly depressed, but a little disquieted by a couple of things, but I don’t want to go into detail about them.  Sometimes I feel like I don’t really know what is going on in a particular social setting or what I should do or say or do.  I guess that’s autism again.  I also came away from shiur thinking that apparently I wasn’t born, as I always thought, in the month of strict justice, but in the month of great kindness.  It’s just that we (the Jewish people) haven’t yet made ourselves into the appropriate vessel for that kindness, so it overwhelms us and produces negative effects instead.  I’m not sure what this means for me or for my conception of myself as someone steeped in strict justice and negativity.

I also always seem to leave shiur feeling drained.  I guess it’s a lot of ‘peopling,’ in terms of being in a room full of people for an hour and not wanting to seem stupid or heretical, but also being aware that there is ‘banter.’  Unlike the twelfth Doctor, I am not opposed to banter, but I never know what to say and sometimes I don’t understand the jokes, or whether people are laughing at me or with me, or are laughing about something else entirely something that has nothing to do with me at all.

Green Eyed Monsters

That was another challenging Shabbat (Sabbath).

Friday night was OK.  The noise at shul (synagogue) wasn’t as bad as other recent weeks, which was just as well as I had a bit of a headache.  I just about managed to do one of my CBT homework challenges of wishing a stranger a “Gut Shabbos” in the street.  I got to bed reasonably early, at least for a summer Shabbat, around 12.30am and slept reasonably well.

The good news about Shabbat day was that I went to shul in the morning.  I woke up at 8.15am, but it took me a long time to get going as I stayed in bed or went back to bed after breakfast.  It was less from tiredness or even depression and more from anxiety and avoidance.  I didn’t want to go to shul.  However, I did go, arriving about 10.15am.  (Shul had started at 9.10, an experimentally later time than the usual 8.45am.)  No one stared at me when I was late.  Two people looked pleased to see me.  So this was all positive for my CBT experiment.

Things began to become more uncomfortable after the service.  The assistant gabbai again said that I should have been there earlier so they could have called me to the Torah.  They eventually called me at Mincha (Afternoon Service).  I was too shy to say, “I have some health issues and struggle to get here in the morning” even though my parents said I should say it.  I was also too shy to really talk to anyone at kiddush (refreshments) and just ate a load of cake and left after a few minutes.  All the men my age seemed to be carrying their babies on their shoulders.  With hindsight, I probably only noticed the ones with babies, but I left anyway.

As I was walking home, a very Haredi man with a silk kapote (frock coat), wearing his tallit (prayer shawl) came up to me and asked, “Who is the tzaddik (saintly person)?”  It took me a minute to realise he meant me.  I think I have heard the idiom before, it’s just a very polite way of asking a stranger his name (implying he is a good person), but it would probably have thrown me even without autism slow response time and social anxiety.  An awkward conversation ensued for a minute or so.

When I got home my parents were still at their shul.  I think I must have dozed off for an hour or even more.  I had a lie down after lunch too, but thankfully didn’t fall asleep then.  I spent the afternoon reading two Doctor Who novellas (short stories, really), one OK, one rather good and then a chunk of the latest Jewish Review of Books.  One interesting article further convinced me that if I really wanted to have a meaningful Jewish life and meet people like myself, I should make aliyah (move to Israel), but that isn’t likely to happen for many reasons, at least not in the foreseeable future.  The centre of gravity in Jewish life is shifting back to Israel for the first time for 2,000 years or more and there are some big, exciting religious and sociological shifts going on, but I’m not really in a position to benefit from them.

I could have done some Torah study, and felt a bit guilty that I didn’t, but I was worried that I wouldn’t cope with an evening of shiurim (religious classes) and prayer services in shul as well as ‘peopling’ at seudah shlishit (the third Shabbat meal) if I did that.  It was a judgement call and I’m not sure I made the right decision.  I probably could have gone for a walk too, although it was rather hot.

I went to shul for Talmud shiur, Mincha, seudah shlishit and Ma’ariv (evening prayers) as well as tidying up.  It was OK.  I was beginning to relax a bit and feel that maybe I was fitting in, for all that I was feeling guilty for not really talking to the people around me even when one person tried to talk to me (I didn’t know what to say) when something happened.  I can’t say what it is, but it shocked me a bit and made me think again, “Are these really my people?”

The difficult thing in life is that we can’t make other people conform to our wishes.  It would be easy if we could create our ideal partners, children, friends, communities, but people tend to have minds of their own.  The most we can do is be careful who we pick (although that doesn’t apply to family), but it’s sometimes a question of balancing good points X, Y and Z and against negative points A and B.  Sometimes it’s hard to know where to draw the line.

A couple of interesting things came out of the shiur at seudah.  There was talk about whether we can stop ourselves being jealous or coveting.  There was a nice definition of the difference between coveting and jealousy.  It took me years to understand the distinction; I wish I had heard this definition years ago: coveting is, “I want something like that thing you have”; jealousy is, “I think I should have that thing that you have and you shouldn’t have it.”  I don’t have a huge amount of trouble with jealousy, although sometimes it appears, but I do struggle with coveting, not so much for physical things (except when I have autism completism about series of books or DVDs), but mainly for friends, a wife, children and so on.  The life I feel I wish I had.  (I’m struggling with this right now – it’s hot and I’ve got the window open and I can hear my neighbours are in the garden planning their daughter’s wedding.  Their daughter who is not much more than half my age.  I can’t even really hear what they are saying, but it’s hard for me).

The rabbi spoke about the Mishnah in Pirkei Avot that we read today, that a person should set aside his or her will to do God’s will.  I wondered what I should be doing that God wants me to do.  I mean, there are lots of mitzvot (commandments) that I don’t do because of depression or social anxiety, but I wondered if there was anything in particular.  I don’t really know.  The thing I kept thinking of is that my rabbi mentor has said that I should be dating, and, even though I get into trouble when I ignore him, I’m still not dating.  I say that I can’t afford to go to a paid shadchan/dating site (which is sort of true and sort of not) and I just refuse to go to Rebbetzin D, the person my father’s shul‘s assistant rabbi’s wife suggested might be able to find a match for someone with depression.  Partly it’s fear of using the telephone and fear that I won’t be able to explain my whole story easily (I’m not good at explaining things verbally, another autistic trait).  I suppose I’m scared of rejection too, from Rebbetzin D (saying she can’t help or worse, that I have chutzpah for even thinking I should be dating when I’m such a mess) as much as from anyone I would be dating.  Also, I really can’t imagine anyone marrying someone with depression AND autism AND no job (not to mention all the points against me in the frum community), so it’s hard to try, although I know Ashley Leia has said I should let the women decide that.  I just feel too ashamed to date at the moment.

At Mincha we read chapter two of Pirkei Avot, which starts with the Mishnah that a person should do the thing that is honourable to himself and which brings him honour from others.  I think writing is honourable and it’s the only thing I ever seem to get praised for.  It’s still scary to think about doing it professionally.  It’s tempting to wish for the kind of miracle stories people on Hevria.com or Aish.com relate in their lives.  I suppose that’s coveting again.

One other good thing that came out of Shabbat is that I have been trying some grounding techniques for my CBT homework, to bring me back to the world when I feel depressed or anxious.  My therapist gave me a whole list of them.  I’ve been trying three: describing the room I’m in, which hasn’t really helped; feeling my chair (or similar), noticing the sensations, which has been quite good, mostly because autistically I like feeling pressure from pressing against surfaces and tend to do it when stressed anyway so it’s just a question of being more mindful of it; or telling myself something positive.  I didn’t think the last one would help, as I’ve not had much success with CBT mantras and the like in the past, but telling myself “I’m dealing with a lot of difficult things” seemed to help a bit.  At least I could believe “I’m dealing with a lot of difficult things” more than something like, “I’m a good person.”

Feeling Weird and Depressed

I’m supposed to go to shul tomorrow morning for CBT homework, but I’m really not sure that I’m going to make it.  I just feel too depressed in the mornings even without the social anxiety that I’m supposed to be challenging.  If I do go, I might cut down some of my evening shul-going, although I doubt I’ll cut it out completely.  It’s hard to know what to cut, though.

I’m still feeling a lot of anger and resentment about the frum (religious Orthodox Jewish) community.  I blame them for the fact that I’m still single and the fact that I don’t fit in to the community or have many frum friends (not that I have many non-frum friends either).  I feel that they’re trying to force me to think and behave a certain way.  I get angry and resentful, but after a while sometimes I think, “Well, I can’t really blame them for the fact that I don’t fit in.”  To be honest, I probably don’t even try to fit in that much, but it’s hard to try even the little bit that I do, such is the disempowering nature of depression, social anxiety and especially autism.  The problem is that I don’t know what I should actually do to fit in.  As someone on the spectrum, I do not have that knowledge that other people would have intuitively of how to fit in to a community.  I think even people who are not frum could do a better job than I do at talking to people at my shul and trying to fit in.

While beating myself up for blaming my community, I also feel bad about being so upset by people much younger than me getting engaged, but it is what I feel and I don’t know how to change that.  I try telling myself that other people being married doesn’t stop me getting married (it’s not like I’m going to marry a twenty year old) and that the world is miserable enough that it’s good that someone is happy even if it can’t be me, but I still feel like I’m going to be depressed and alone forever.  In my more depressed, but more self-aware moments, I feel like I wouldn’t be happy even in a relationship.  I doubt very much that any of my crushes would have worked out, nor the first woman I dated.  I think E. is the only person I’ve liked where things might have worked out with, except for the financial issue.  Which is a big thing and rather intrinsic to me at the moment.  I do feel that I missed the boat and there are no single women my age left, which isn’t true, but also sort of is, at least in the frum world, where really most people are married well before they turn thirty and most of the single people my age would be divorcées with children.  Not that I would even rule them out, but it would pose even more challenges to the huge pile I already have.

My CBT therapist is trying to get me to think that it is possible for me to get married, but I honestly believe that that, while possible, is hugely unlikely by this stage and that I’d be much better off trying to accept that I will be single and lonely for the near future and try to learn to cope with it.  I might get married one day, if I can sort my life out, but probably too late to have children, and far too far off for it to be much comfort now.  I can see myself getting married in my fifties, if I somehow get my life together and start a a career, rather than in my late thirties.

When I have thoughts like, “I’m weird, I’m never going to get married,” I’m supposed to challenge them, but I do believe that I am weird in my community.  Normal people get set up on shidduch dates by people who know them; I don’t.  I just don’t know enough frum people and/or those I do know don’t know women the right age and/or they simply aren’t interested in helping me.  Maybe that’s not weirdness per se, but it does make it hard to date when the usual means of dating is cut off from me.

I feel such a bad Jew.  I feel I should take responsibility for my actions and not blame other people.  I feel I should have a straightforward loving relationship with HaShem  (God) and Torah the way other people in my community seem to.  I feel I should care again.  I wish I could care again.  I wish I knew how to fit in.  But I can’t do any of these things.

I want to talk to my rabbi mentor about the community angst.  Maybe I’m worrying too much about being excluded if I share my thoughts.  I don’t know.  But I can’t get hold of him at the moment as he’s very busy and travelling a lot.

***

One of the job agencies I’m signed up for has sent me a library assistant role again.  I don’t really want to apply for it, because I’m over-qualified, plus it would be a lot of personal interaction and I’m not sure that I could cope.  But it would be a job and I really need a job.  I really want to focus on my writing, but I haven’t got the courage to say that to anyone.  Am I desperate enough to do a job I’m over-qualified for (again)?  I don’t know.  My parents feel this type of job might lead on to an assistant librarian job, but I’m inclined to think if anything it would be the reverse: that once I have this on my CV, I’ll be tainted forever and never get another librarian job.  But it’s so hard to find work that is within my experience level, let alone that I could do with depression and autism.

I’m trying to job hunt, but I’m practically in tears.  I can’t face any of the jobs available.  I just want to write.  I suppose really I don’t want to be here at all, but given that I am here, I just want to write.  One job advert is looking for someone “Enthusiastic and resilient” which is the exact opposite of what I am.  I applied for one job, wrote to ask for more information on a second and decided I didn’t have the skill set for a third.  This is what passes for productivity in my life at the moment, when I’m not writing.

Doing online job applications when wifi drops every two minutes isn’t much fun either.

***

Today is the first day of the Hebrew month of Av, the saddest month in the calendar (also, the yortzeit of Aharon).  Also my Hebrew birth month.  Apparently it’s supposed to be the happiest month in the year, but only when Mashiach (the Messiah) comes.  This is not much of a comfort to me.  I’m supposed to be mourning the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem, but it’s hard to focus on something I’ve never seen when I’m so caught up in my own troubles and when I already have a degree of anger at HaShem for my life.

***

In other news, I finished reading Gershom Scholem’s book on the history of Kabbalah (actually a compilation of his articles for the Encyclopedia Judaica on kabbalah, but also on the Shabbatean movement, which is hardly mainstream kabbalah.  Interesting, though).  It hasn’t made me more inclined to study kabbalah and I remain rather sceptical of its provenance and intrinsic monotheism.  I suppose that’s another thing to hide in shul (synagogue).

The real exciting news today is that police raided a cannabis farm down the road.  I didn’t see it, but I did see a bunch of bored looking police officers standing outside when I came back from CBT yesterday.  Who says suburbia is boring?

Challenges

It is significantly cooler today (currently 21 degrees where it was in the mid-thirties yesterday), but I still feel very uncomfortable.  I’m not sure how to tell if this is an autistic sensory overload thing or if everyone feels like this.  It’s pretty still outside, which makes it feel hotter.  I admit that I didn’t do much today because of the heat.  I did some CBT homework (see below) and my usual pre-Shabbat (Sabbath) chores, but I couldn’t face any job applications, especially as the jobs I could apply for are really for someone more senior and experienced than me, so it’s hard to feel that I could get them.  I did spend an hour working on my Doctor Who book and got another chapter sorted.  I’m halfway through the fourth draft now.

***

I did some CBT homework today, forcing myself to speak to the assistant in a charity shop to ask for something in the window.  I was so focused on the CBT social anxiety aspect that I probably bought some books I didn’t really need.  They are on high functioning autism.  One looks relevant, but the other is on autism in girls, so are probably less relevant, although they may help me to recognise useful childhood traits before my autism assessment, especially as I feel that in many ways I present as a woman with autism even though I’m a man, inasmuch as I have female-type traits (e.g. ability to “mask” and pass as neurotypical; interest in fantasy worlds as special interests rather than numbers or machines).

The CBT test was to see if I could ask for help without seeming incoherent.  As it happened, I did struggle to make myself understood and had to point out the book I wanted physically, but I suppose that teaches me that I can be incoherent without people thinking I’m weird or not being able to communicate at all.

The task for tonight is to shake hands with the rabbi after the service, something I have avoided doing for months for fear I would be nervous and incoherent or shake or that I would be asked a personal question and appear weird or non-frum.

Going less well is challenging my negative thoughts with objective evidence.  I think there is objective evidence that my negative thoughts are correct.  I feel that there is evidence that CBT might not work for me i.e. my mixed results trying it in the past.  I definitely feel there is objective evidence that I won’t get married: lots of autistic people struggle with relationships; ditto for people with long-term depression; I find it hard to talk to people; I avoid social situations; and I don’t know how to meet people like me (in terms of my personality, values and beliefs) within my community.  I suppose some people with autism do get married and I have had girlfriends, but ultimately they had issues with me (different religious levels and my low income).  I suppose a therapist would probably say to look outside the frum (religious Orthodox Jewish) community if I struggle to find a match within it e.g. at the online autism community, but I just can’t do that, so I’m not sure what to do.  I don’t even know if I should be pushing myself regarding dating while I’m unemployed (my parents and rabbi mentor say yes, but I haven’t been able to face it for months).

***

I’m going to try to be out of communication over much of the weekend.  Shabbat (the Sabbath) still finishes very late on Saturday night, but I need to be up early for volunteering on Sunday morning, so I’m going to try not turning my computer on at all on Saturday evening and just concentrating on getting to bed quickly.  This might not happen if something super-stressful (or even moderately stressful) happens over Shabbat and I need to off-load.  I will probably write something on Sunday, but if I’m tired from volunteering I should probably just crash in front of the TV for a couple of hours rather than spending that time blogging and going over everything in my head, but, again, if something stressful happens then I may need to off-load.

***

I’m not sure if I made the right decision to write about my novel project, as it is very early days still.  I feel if I write about it, I have to follow through with it, which gives me accountability, but if I don’t manage to get it to work, I feel even worse than I would otherwise do.  I was having “I can’t do this”-type thoughts this morning, which made me wonder if I’d made a mistake.  We shall see.

***

I’m still not sure whether to skip seudah (the third Sabbath meal, in the synagogue).  It would be less stressful for me and potentially less overloading, but as I would want to go to the prayer services either side of it, and as I would need to have a seudah at home instead, I’m not sure that there would be any benefit in rushing home, eating something quickly and rushing out again.  Maybe I should skip Talmud shiur this week instead, even though it is less stressful and more useful.  It’s easier to see that I overload myself with ‘peopling’ than it is to do something about it, especially while trying to challenge my social anxiety.

Plans, and Plans of Plans

It is still far too hot for comfort and I keep getting headaches.

I have a busy few days ahead.  I had CBT today and shiur (religious class) this evening.  I’m being interviewed tomorrow for a book on mental illness in the frum (religious Orthodox Jewish) world on Friday and possibly Skyping E. too.  I hope to go to shul (synagogue) over Shabbat (the Sabbath), but am thinking of cutting out something I usually attend (probably seudah and the second Shabbat shiur although the timing is awkward) to try to be less burnt out of Sunday.  Sunday is hopefully volunteering and depending on what time I get home I may be expected to put in an appearance at a lunch for my Dad’s cousins, most of whom I do not really know, only seeing them at intervals of years or even decades at funerals and shivas.  On Monday I have a meeting about different voluntary work.  Tuesday is the dentist, which I didn’t previously worry about, but now I do worry about shaking there.

I am feeling somewhat apprehensive about all of this, not so much any specific task or appointment (although some are difficult), but more the amount of stuff I’m doing in six days.

***

CBT today was draining.  We were doing thought challenging, but I found it hard to say why I feel so sure people will reject me.  I know a lot of it is childhood experiences, which the CBT approach isn’t terribly interested in.  I accept that.  But some of it is fears about owning up to beliefs or behaviours that would be seen as potentially heterodox (I won’t quite say heretical) in the Orthodox community, or fears about people outside the Jewish world seeing Judaism as patriarchal, homophobic, transphobic and racist/imperialist (this is in Doctor Who fandom and potentially depression and autism groups).  I feel these are very real fears, but I struggled to really make that understood.  Perhaps my fears are misguided.  I did admit to the therapist that I mostly haven’t tried to publicise my heterodox behaviours and ideas at shul, so I don’t know what would happen if I did.  I have heard of people having bad experiences in various non-Jewish environments, although, again, I haven’t experienced much directly myself (the antisemitism I have experienced has mostly been stuff shouted, or pennies thrown, by strangers on the street rather than people I knew better).  Likewise, I know frum (religious Orthodox Jewish) people who felt driven out of the frum world for various reasons, although not necessarily for things that parallel my issues.  So it is hard to know what would happen if I was more myself in different environments.

It’s also a lot easier to find reasons to challenge my thoughts in the abstract than it is to believe in or internalise alternatives, which is the main stumbling block I’ve had with CBT in the past.  It can all be very abstract whereas the fears feel very tangible.

What did come out of it that was useful was breaking down my “I am weird” thoughts.  Although the therapist was guiding me towards realising that I’m not weird, the thought I ended up with was that I am weird (albeit not as much as I thought), but that I like being weird.  I like being frum, and I like engaging with academic Jewish studies as well as traditional Torah, even if that sometimes leads to opinions I think are fine, but some people might not agree with (e.g. about the literal truth of Midrashim or the origins of the Zohar).  I like Doctor Who and classic British TV science fiction, I like writing and blogging, I like painting miniatures and I don’t care if these things are considered somewhat unusual and “niche” (as my sister says).

Anyway, I’ve been set some homework to try to push myself to do a few scary social things (shake hands with the rabbi after shul; ask for help in a shop; perhaps also leave a blog comment that is a little more opinionated than I would normally dare, probably about politics or something somewhat ‘dangerous’).  I don’t have to do all of these things and it occurred to me afterwards that with volunteering being this week, maybe I have taken on too much, but we shall see.

***

Late last night it was very hot and I didn’t feel at all tired, so I sat up late sketching out a plan for a novel.  It’s not really a plan so much as a plan of a plan, as I realised that there would be significant work still to do even at the planning stage.  However, I have an idea of where I want to go and a degree of confidence about my ability to get there, although I’m a lot more confident about one plot strand than the other.  I worked on it a bit more today.  Given that I feel so despondent  of finding paid work at the moment, it is good to think that I might be able to do something worthwhile.  My main priority at the moment is finishing my Doctor Who non-fiction book and I still hope to get a manuscript ready for submission in about three months.  But it’s good to have this simmering away on a back burner.

Dude, Where’s My Life?

I couldn’t sleep last night.  When we came home from the restaurant I blogged for a bit, then did my night routine, but even though I got to bed late, I couldn’t sleep.  Eventually I got up and ate porridge even though I wasn’t hungry in the hope that the warm milk would help me sleep.  I read for a while (about the false messiah Shabbetai Tzvi – while I knew about him, his story was even crazier than I thought.  I always feel sorry for him, as he probably suffered from bipolar disorder, but in the seventeenth century no one had any idea what that was, so he was just allowed to run riot with disastrous results) and eventually fell asleep.  I think, as with some Friday nights recently, doing something social (dinner with family) and then going to bed without taking time to really unwind stops me from sleeping.

The heat didn’t help either.  My bedroom turns into a blast furnace in the afternoons at the moment as the sun shines right through the main window all afternoon.  I have the blinds drawn to keep the sun out of my eyes; I’m not sure if that makes it better or worse.  It is still hot in my room by the time I go to bed.

***

I’m looking for proofreading work again.  Someone advertised for a proofreader on the website I’m on; within quarter of an hour they had five offers.  I’m not sure how I can compete with that as someone with no professional proofreading experience.  I pitched for one job, potentially a long-term post, but I’m not optimistic.  This took much longer than it should have done, because I felt overwhelmed and anxious about putting myself out there.

I struggled again to get an answer about whether I can claim benefits.  The government website had a dead link and I struggled to find the number of the Citizens [sic] Advice Bureau on their website; when I did find it and called, it was shut for the day, even though it was supposed to be open for another ten minutes.

I’m also struggling to work out which job, of a pile of unsuitable jobs, is the least unsuitable and most worth applying for.  It would be hard to tell even without executive function issues.  Scarily, it seems to make sense to apply for a library assistant job, even though I would be very over-qualified, it is very low pay and has very short hours (ten or twelve hours a week).  I’m beginning to think that I can’t actually do a librarian job and I should just accept that if I’m lucky I’m going to be stuck in an unskilled job forever.

I started to apply for the job, but I had to write about how I meet the job specification and I am ridiculously over-qualified (it requires five GCSEs and I have an MA) for a job that is just carting books around a library…  I couldn’t face it.  I spoke to my parents about it.  They think I should go for it.  I worry they think I’m just being difficult or precious and that I should apply for whatever work I can do.  Or perhaps I should try applying for a school librarian position, but I can’t see that going well, both from the point of view of my lack of experience and my previous sojourn in further education.

I applied for the library assistant job in the end and also for a law librarian post.  I’m hoping that the library assistant employers will see me as overqualified and not interview me, although I messed up a library assistant interview a few months ago so I’m possibly not that overqualified.  I did keep saying in the personal statement area that I’m a qualified librarian to try to ram the point home.  I feel such a screw up.

Similarly, my parents are trying to get me to do some voluntary work with a charity my sister’s in-laws are involved with.  I’ve been emailed with some information, but not enough to tell what I would be doing.  I want to email for more information, but they want me to phone.  Like a lot of autistic people, I hate using the phone.  I just get confused when I have to talk on the phone, even more so than I do in person.  I’ve seen other autistic people online say, “I have an issue with X because of autism, so I just avoid it and I don’t care what neurotypicals think/say.”  I wish I could be that forceful, but whenever autism comes up and I say something to other people, I end up feeling like I’m being weak, petty and precious again.  Maybe what other people think only hurts because I half believe I’m weak, petty and precious myself.  Would things be better with an autism diagnosis?  At least in terms of self-acceptance?  Who knows.

I know I’ve written in the past about not knowing what my mission in life is.  I now think it is something to do with writing, but I don’t know what exactly.  But I have to live, so I  have to try to find some dead-end job I can vaguely do to earn a crust and try to cram writing in during lunch, evenings and weekends.  When I’m writing, at least about things I know about, things actually make sense and seem achievable, which is not the case when I do pretty much anything else.  On that note: I finished another chapter of the fourth draft of my Doctor Who book today.

I probably did manage quite a few hours of “work” today, between the job application, the search for proofreading work and the work on my book, although only the latter is satisfying.  I also cooked dinner (very easy recipe because I didn’t have time) and went for a run – only twenty minutes as I got a bad headache again and this time was actually sick; I guess it really is too hot to run at the moment, but I needed to burn off my frustrations.  I don’t think I’ll run again until the heatwave is over, unless by some miracle I wake up at 5.00am one day.  I’m not sure whether I will do any Torah study today as a result of the headache, and I won’t be eating the spicy rice I cooked today.  I feel better now having spent time watching TV; I didn’t feel I could give Smiley’s People the attention it deserved, so deliberately picked a silly episode of The Avengers (Take Me To Your Leader).

***

This story probably doesn’t reflect well on me, but here goes: I have just met (online) someone frum (religious Orthodox Jewish), female and with mental health issues.  Naturally, I immediately started to wonder if we were compatible in other ways and would end up dating.  Googling, I discovered she is married.  A relationship created out of nothing and destroyed in an hour or so.  I live in a fantasy world.  Sometimes I feel pathetic.

I suppose if I do periodically meet women who are frum and have mental health issues it must be within the realms of possibility to meet someone who could match with me one day.  It is hard to keep believing that when most of the women I meet are not frum or not Jewish or not single or not accepting of mental health issues.  I just wish I didn’t jump from crush to crush with few things going beyond the crush stage.  If I’m going to be single long-term, I’d much rather not having crushes at all.  I find crushing a horrible, painful state, but I’ve been stuck in it for twenty years.

***

It’s not all doom and gloom: my other birthday presents arrived: the Maggid Studies in Tanakh volume on Bereshit/Genesis and volume three of the complete short fiction of Philip K. Dick.  I’ve got several of the Maggid Studies books on the Hebrew Bible and have mostly found them really useful (mixture of traditional and modern scholarship).  Philip K. Dick is one of my favourite authors and I have the first two volumes of this set already.

And today’s real world news makes me think there is hope for me as any clown can be a success in life (all it takes is the right schools and relatives…).  It’s given me a new game too: take a famous quotation from a previous Prime Minister, add the word “Dude” and see how instantly less intelligent and sophisticated it sounds e.g. “Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few dudes,” “You turn if you want to, the dude’s not for turning,” “Most of our dudes have never had it so good,” and so on.  Hours of fun.  I think my favourite is “It’s time to put up or shut up, dude” for the image it gives of a Bill and Ted remake with John Major and John Redwood in the lead roles.

Many Happy Returns

My birthday wasn’t as bad as I feared in the end.  I enjoyed Shabbat (Sabbath) meals that I had chosen (schnitzel, salt beef) and the stuff Mum added (potato kugel, breaded cauliflower).  I also realised that in gematria (the Hebrew system where letters are given numerical values used to compute mystical values and equivalences for concepts) thirty-six is twice eighteen which is the value of chai (life).  This is seen as significant and people often give charity (etc.) in multiples of eighteen/chai.  One shouldn’t look for signs, but this made me feel marginally better about heading towards my late thirties single and unemployed.

I’m struggling with shul (synagogue) during Kabbalat Shabbat (Friday night services).  There’s a lot of clapping and noise that I find uncomfortable.  There seems to have been more since the new rabbi came; possibly he’s encouraging it as he’s somewhat Hasidish (sorry, don’t know how to explain that without a long essay).  I feel that since I’ve become aware that I’m probably autistic, I’ve become less tolerant of noisy situations and I don’t know if I’m recognising discomfort I did not understand before or if it’s some kind of placebo effect (I believe nocebo is the negative version of a placebo).

I woke up on time to go to shul this morning and I didn’t even feel depressed or anxious, but I still didn’t make it.  I have to make a hierarchical list of difficult situations to expose myself to in order to challenge my social anxiety and low self-esteem behaviours for CBT and I decided that one of the ones at the top would be going to shul on Shabbat morning.  So then when I woke up and felt OK going without building up to it, I suddenly felt I shouldn’t go because I’ll mess up the list.  This is such a stupid reason that I feel it was probably social anxiety acting in a cryptic way.

Another thing on my list of challenges, potentially, is regarding dating, either to go to a paid shadchan (matchmaker) or to go to the person who someone suggested to my Dad might be able to help me date while depressed.  I’m still not sure if this is a sensible thing to do while unemployed, particularly not the paid shadchan, as I can see that being a potentially endless drain on my funds at a time when I have effectively zero income (I have yet to manage to sell any articles and feel quite despondent about it).  My parents and my rabbi mentor are very keen that I should be dating right now, and I am lonely, but I can’t imagine anyone wanting me when I have unemployment to add to all my other issues and it just seems like a distraction that could leave me feeling worse.  Plus, looking to get married without being able to support a family just seems wrong, even if it is normal in parts of the frum (religious Jewish) world.

I had a weird thought in shul.  I don’t really know how to conceptualise the afterlife (I believe it is so unlike this world that all suggestions are at best metaphors), but usually I don’t think of encountering other beings than God (which is telling in itself, from an autistic and socially anxious point of view, given that I am apparently quite happy at the thought of not meeting anyone I know ever again for all eternity), but it occurred to me that Jewish interpretations seem to suggest one might meet other righteous souls.  I started worry about people I knew years ago, at Oxford or school and whether they would want to “talk” to me, the ones I just drifted away from and the ones who fell out with me because they couldn’t cope with my depression and autism (my fault, I can be a bit much in person).  It was a weird thing to worry about.  This was triggered by the fact that I sometimes see people I was at school with in shul, and they show no sign of remembering me or wanting to talk to me, although to be fair I wasn’t really friends with them at school and I am actively hoping that they don’t talk to me because I don’t know what to say, so I’m probably giving off “Leave me alone” vibes, which I do a lot, both consciously and unconsciously.

Speaking of which, someone sitting opposite me at seudah tried to talk to me and I had no idea what to say.  If CBT is going to encourage me to talk to strangers more, I’m going to have to learn quickly how to have a conversation in small talk, because in thirty-six years I’ve never worked that out.

Abdications, Coronations

“I had to work through it, I had to crawl my way back.  I’m still not there, but I’m trying.  That kind of work, reclaiming life, it’s punishing and it’s relentless and it’s solitary.” Star Trek Discovery: The War Without, The War Within, Teleplay by : Gretchen J. Berg & Aaron Harberts

There’s a risk that this is becoming a dream diary.  I don’t remember my dreams very often, so I’m interested when I do, but I know other people’s dreams are not so interesting.  But this one seemed very significant, especially as I woke partway through and then continued the dream when I fell asleep again, so here goes:

The dream was about the abdication crisis in 1936, when King Edward VIII abdicated so he could marry a divorcee, and his brother, who thought himself unfit to rule, became King George VI.  Edward VIII has always seemed a weak character to me, someone who put his personal desires ahead of his duty, unlike his brother who became king despite not being prepared for it and who refused to be evacuated to safety in Canada during The Blitz, insisting on staying in danger with his subjects.  (Edward, on the other hand, was a Nazi sympathiser who would probably have pushed for a peaceful settlement with Germany in 1940 had he been king.)

In the dream I shifted between being different characters, first an onlooker, then possibly Edward before ending up as George.  I was watching the coronation in a Westminster Abbey that was (a) very small and (b) devoid of Christian symbols.  Then I was being crowned myself.  I didn’t feel myself fit to be crowned, but felt pushed into it by my family.  There were lots of other details too that I can’t really remember (some Doctor Who stuff in particular), but I think the main message of the dream is that I have to decide whether to take responsibility for my life.  Not that I can literally be a king, but that I have to decide whether I am going to be ruler of my life or be pushed around by events and my ‘issues’; also that sometimes we aren’t prepared for what life throws at us and we just have to get on with it with the British stiff upper lip.

Another significant detail is that when I was crowned, my family were not dressed appropriately (my Dad in particular was in t-shirt and shorts) and I just had to accept them as they are and stop wanting to change them.

It is easy to read all these things in a dream, but it’s a lot harder to put them into practice in my life.

***

In CBT today we spoke about my negative thoughts about work, relationships, self-esteem and socialising.  It occurred to me on the way home that a lot of the thoughts basically boiled down to being conscious of the way my autism affects me in my interactions and makes me think that people are judging me negatively for it, because I felt I was treated negatively for being autistic as a child, by other children, but more importantly by adults who were unaware of my autism, which was not diagnosed, and tried to make me conform more in different ways (not that I was terribly non-conformist as a child, I just didn’t always understand social niceties and did enjoy ‘normal’ things).  I’m not sure how I deal with that now.  The CBT therapist asked if I felt people still judge me and I said no, but I suppose I worry that they do; they wouldn’t if I was ‘normal’ but I’m so very weird that they will judge me, especially in the conformist world of Orthodox Judaism.  She did also say that it doesn’t matter even if they judge me, which might be a better approach for me to take.

An awkward moment: after we finished, I thought the therapist said to wait for her outside the admin office while she did something, but waiting outside I started to worry that I had misunderstood and so I left.  She emailed to say check I was OK as she was expecting me to wait.  Sigh.  This is the kind of thing where I judge myself and feel inadequate regarding communication.

Next week we move towards challenging my low self-esteem with different new behaviours.  Scary…

***

Speaking of which, today my shul (synagogue) had a trip to Cambridge to see the Cairo Geniza papers.  I didn’t go was because I was too shy to personal message the person who was organising it.  As it happened, I would have missed it anyway because of CBT, but I feel bad for missing it.

***

I had some other things that bothered or upset me today.  Some of it I can’t really talk about because it concerns other people, but suffice to say that I felt pretty inferior.

I’ve also read a lot about horrible antisemitic stuff going on globally the last few days, which is depressing beyond words, especially as so many people seem to genuinely believe that antisemitism is just something Jews make up to get sympathy and shut down criticism of Israel.  Apparently burning down synagogues in Germany is now considered a legitimate expression of criticism of the Israeli government.  And a lot more where that came from that I’ll spare you.

***

I’ve just sunk into a deep depression in the last hour or so.  I’m not sure if it was my sister visiting or if I ate too much junk at shiur (religious class) or what.  It could also be going from CBT to shiur without enough of a break.  Over-causation.  I should get ready for bed, except that I need to daven (pray), meditate/do my hitbodedut and do some Torah study first.

Procrastinate Now!

I was very depressed today.  I didn’t want to procrastinate by idle internet browsing (my usual procrastination technique), so I forced myself off the computer, but instead laid on my bed and dozed for an hour and a half instead.  Not good.  (Also, I’m having weird dreams lately.)

The thing I was really avoiding was making a dentist appointment.  I don’t even have an issue with going to the dentist (except for my medication side-effect tremor, which can be uncomfortable), it was actually talking to the receptionist that was hard, not least because I was conscious that I was supposed to see the dentist a few months ago, but forgot to make an appointment and was vaguely worried that they would say something (they didn’t).

I also applied for a mock interview from a Jewish charity that helps people into work, as I feel that I have not been interviewing confidently lately when I have gone for job interviews.  The thought of being critiqued is anxiety-provoking, but I have to go through with it.

I didn’t get the job I was interviewed for last week.  Maybe it is for the best; it was at a children’s charity and I would have been working a lot on material about bullying and child abuse that I would probably have found upsetting to work on all day long.

I applied for another job which has the right hours (three days a week, not Fridays), but isn’t really like anything I’ve done before, despite being an assistant librarian job.  Library jobs can be more varied than people think; this one is about manning the enquiry desk and collating reports on enquiries.  This sounds like it would involve a lot of scary social interactions, but I’m going for it anyway.

I had a bad day in terms of fitting in to my shul (synagogue) community.  I was wearing a new red polo shirt, but before I went to shul I was worried that some frum (religious) people won’t wear red, for reasons I’ve never really understood.  I wasn’t sure if this applied to men or just to women (see here).  I would wear it generally, but I was worried of advertising my “heterodoxy” (such as it is) or offending people, so I changed before shul.

Then in shul I found myself wondering at the way I hide myself from the community.  I hide the way that I am have potentially heterodox views, but I also hide things in the other direction (so to speak): I don’t own up to being able to lead services and having done that a lot before moving to this area, or to being able to write divrei Torah (although I’m not sure whether I could do it to the standard they would want), or to having some degree of Hebrew fluency (I’m not really fluent, but more so than most people even within Orthodoxy).  This came about because I was struggling with mixed feelings about whether I would be asked to lead the service or whether I should volunteer.  I’ve only been asked once in this shul (I was nervous and turned it down) which I’m sure is because they don’t know that I can do it.  The fact that I turned it down was probably taken as confirmation that I can’t do it.  As I’m thinking about self-esteem and pushing myself out of my comfort zone for CBT, it is something to think about.

Despite the procrastination and depression, I had a reasonable day, achievement-wise.  I applied for a job, finished redrafting and formatting another chapter of my Doctor Who book (pruning a thousand words along the way, which is good, but it took more than two hours rather than the one I was expecting/hoping for) and went to shul (synagogue).  Even so, when I was walking home from shul feeling reasonably good, I suddenly found myself thinking that I don’t want to be alive.  Not that I was suicidal, but just that I don’t feel that there is anything for me here.  It is good to be making progress with my Doctor Who book, though.  Depending on whether I think the chapter on the most recent episodes needs fleshing out after another viewing, I could potentially be finished and looking for a publisher by the end of the summer.

Hypothetical Questions

The house is sporty today.  Mum watched the tennis while Dad watched the cricket.  I should add that this is all on TV (although Dad is going to the cricket later in the week with my brother-in-law).  I have zero interest in cricket and tennis, or netball and formula one racing (which apparently were also on today).  I have zero interest in watching any sport.  I can sort of see the appeal of playing sport, but I’ve never really seen the appeal of watching other people play sport.  Maybe I’m just not competitive.

***

Ashley Leia said on my last post that I do a lot of peopling on Shabbat which I guess is true, although at the moment I’m so focused on the fact that I keep missing morning shul because of social anxiety that I don’t focus on how much other social interaction I have, especially as interactions with my parents feel like they shouldn’t count as draining.  They aren’t as stressful as other social interactions, but they are still draining on some level.  No wonder Sundays tend to be something of a depressive wash out (including today).

***

There was an article in the newspaper about “incels” – “involuntarily celibate” men who become angry and misogynistic.  Well, it could be that they become angry and misogynistic, but equally it could be anger issues and misogyny that keep them celibate.  They seem to have an entitled attitude that assumes that they should get to sleep with whoever they want to.  The thing is, some of the incels mentioned in the article have mental health issues or autism, which made the article resonate with me in a negative way.

I would not identify as an incel, but if I’m asked about my sexuality (which, generally speaking, I’m not), I would define as “celibate” because that does define me more than being heterosexual, at least in some ways.  Even though my celibacy is for both religious and emotional reasons, because I would not have sex outside marriage and because I couldn’t cope emotionally with being with anyone as a casual hookup, it is still part of how I see myself, as someone who, for whatever reason, is not currently seeking sex and struggles being in a wider (Western) culture that permits and, to some extent, expects casual sex as well as in an (Orthodox Jewish) culture that promotes and expects early marriage.

I’m glad I don’t get sucked into outwardly expressing anger about my loneliness or anything else.  I do sometimes fume inside my head about things (mostly antisemitism these days) and in the past I’ve drifted into angry suicidal thoughts (hoping to make people feel guilty for my death), but mostly I turn my anger inward as depression and low self-esteem, which isn’t any healthier but at least isn’t hurting anyone else (incels have been known to murder women).  But I can see that these men have a warped view of sex and relationships as being about taking rather than giving and, as I said, they assume they have a right to sleep with whoever they want.

I desperately want to find someone who I can give to, but with depression and autism I can only give in certain ways.  I certainly wouldn’t blame anyone for not wanting to be around me, either as a friend or as a partner.  I know I’m a lot to take, with all my issues.  I just worry that sooner or later everyone will leave me.

On this note, periodically someone will leave one or more comments on my blog, or even message me through my contact page, saying they like my blog and get a lot out of it.  And I feel pleased for a while.  And then I stop hearing from them.  If they were on my followers list, they disappear from it.  I know people stop following blogs all the time, for a whole variety of reasons, but this always leaves me worrying that I said or did something wrong, doubly so since falling out with the friends who didn’t like my blogging.  I worry I was too religious or too political or said something offensive without realising it.  I’ve had friendships that went like this too.  Possibly I’m overthinking this.  I just want to connect with people, really, and I worry that there’s something about me that stops that (it possibly starts with ‘a’ and ends with ‘utistic’).

It doesn’t help that I’m a great one for wondering “What if…?”  What if I had spoken to the woman I had a crush on (for any given crush)?  What if I had gone to yeshiva (rabbinical seminary)?  And so on.  E. asked me today what I thought my life would be like if I hadn’t become religious.  I think I would probably still be depressed, as the depression stems from autism and childhood experiences as much as anything.  I could see myself as a militantly anti-religious atheist, funnily enough.  I would have a wider dating pool if I didn’t restrict myself just to frum women, but I think I would still struggle to find a partner because of autism and social anxiety.  I would probably fit in better in Doctor Who fandom and maybe in academia; my social life at university would have been either slightly better or significantly worse for not having the Jewish Society to go to.  And if I was more settled in fandom or academia, peer pressure would probably drag my political beliefs further left.  Although I’m not sure it’s sensible to think about this too much, especially as there’s probably an element of chaos theory that makes such changes unpredictable.

***

The library job that I had a year ago (the one I left because they made the job more people-based and my boss said she didn’t think I could cope with it) is still advertising for my boss’ position.  I wonder if I made a mistake leaving that job, if things could have turned out so differently with a different boss.  I wonder if I could have done the new version of the job, as other jobs I have been applying for have been similarly people-based.  I suppose I’ll never know as they aren’t advertising any assistant librarian jobs and I wouldn’t apply for the senior librarian role.

***

My main tasks for today were setting up my new phone (mostly done, although the phone number won’t transfer from the old phone until tomorrow or possibly Tuesday) and reading for CBT.  The latter was largely about safety behaviours and saying that they can be counter-productive.  I agree with that, but I feel that some safety behaviours are necessary, particularly for my autism.  If I avoid going to parties because I’m socially anxious I can see that that would be potentially negative and counter-productive, but what if I avoid them because they make me feel uncomfortable because of sensory overload?  I have the same mixture of social anxiety and autism around Simchat Torah celebrations (which happens more frequently than my getting invited to parties).

CBT and phone took much longer than expected, so I didn’t get much else done other than going for a walk.  I was prepared to cook dinner, but apparently we’re ordering takeaway pizza.  I need to get away from screens for a bit, though, so I’m posting this now.

The Demons of Self-Criticism, Doubt and Guilt

I’m being tormented by the demons of self-criticism, doubt and guilt today.  Wondering if those around me only pretend to like and support me out of kindness and pity, rather than genuine positive regard.  Wondering if I do anything in my life right.  Not just if I can get a job or sell some writing, but if I’m a good friend to anyone or do any genuine chessed (kindness).  E. says I’m a good friend to her (and she’s OK with me talking about her online in this way, so I feel comfortable saying that), so that’s something, but I wonder about other people.  I know I’ve had the problem at work in the past of thinking I’ve annoyed my boss and so staying out of her way and thereby not asking important questions and making much bigger mistakes, which is not good.

There’s a Jewish joke about two yeshiva bachurim (Jewish seminary students) who go for a walk in the woods and are mistaken for a bear and shot at.  They drop to the ground.  After a moment, one cautiously raises his head and says, “It appears we are still alive” and the other one responds, “And what is the evidence for this assertion?”  I know I’ve driven people away repeatedly asking, “What is the evidence for this assertion?” whenever anyone says I’m not stupid or useless or wicked, but I don’t know how to stop it.  I really am not convinced by the evidence that I’m not stupid or useless or wicked.

I’m second-guessing everything I put on my blog now.  The comments I made about interactions with people in shul (synagogue) yesterday seemed innocuous to me; I thought they might reflect badly on me, but not anyone else.  Now I wonder if that is true.  I went back and made that post private.  I worry about things I’ve said in the past, when I was sure this blog would remain anonymous.  Now I wonder if people will find out my identity one day.  Perhaps people will be able to go back and discover who I was writing about, or interpret comments that I thought were neutral or positive in a negative way.  Given that social anxiety and autistic social interaction difficulties are such a big part of my issues, I wonder if I can actually blog about how I feel without saying anything about people that might possibly be recognised and misinterpreted by other people.  I also wonder if I need to go back through the blog and purge a lot of posts.  I don’t think I’ve ever said anything that obvious or negative, but maybe I have.

The resultant depression from all this (or maybe it was a cause rather than a result) has led to a rather wasted day.  I struggled to do some interview preparation for Tuesday, but was really too depressed to focus on anything.  I only managed a few minutes of Torah study for the same reason.  I’m feeling so depressed, I’m not even worried about being unemployed or lonely forever – I just feel that my mood can’t get worse, even if my situation can.

My only real achievement was going to shul (synagogue) for Mincha and Ma’ariv (Afternoon and Evening Services).  I tried to arrive just as they were starting to avoid having to talk to anyone, but mistimed it and was late.  I felt horribly self-conscious and depressed the whole time I was there, even wanting to self-harm at one point, because I was feeling so self-loathing and tense (self-harm can be a release).  I wondered, not for the first time, what would happen if I appeared as visibly ill as I feel emotionally.  If I arrived at shul covered in blood, bruises and open wounds.

Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year) seems a long time ago, somehow, although it’s less than ten months ago.  I had hoped for a better year, a fresh start, but it didn’t really happen.  I’ve just drifted, drifted through jobs and job hunting and drifted through friendships and community life, as well as drifting through my own religious life.  I’ve struggled to take back control of my religious life, to try to get some joy and meaning out of it instead of just effort, but I haven’t really managed it.  I suppose I don’t feel as angry with HaShem (God) as I did then, which is good, but I don’t feel that I have any meaningfully close relationship with Him.  I still worry that His plan for me is just more suffering.  And I know people say that you have to expect Him to do good for you for it to happen.  I just expect Him to treat me as He has for the last twenty years.

I’ve lost friends this year and last year.  I feel sad about that.  I don’t have many to lose.  While I may have been responsible for losing this year’s friends, on some level, I wasn’t responsible last year (it was more that we drifted apart), but I still lost that friend however it happened.  I have another friend I haven’t seen for years and don’t know how to see him again, given how busy his life is.  I’m not on Facebook, so I tend to drift out of people’s lives, as they only publicise news on there.  I’m not sure how many children this friend has, whether he has had more since we last met.  I suppose I feel as if I’m drifting out of my friendships too.

Withdrawing

I sometimes find reality too much to cope with.  When I was a child, I used to wonder if I was an actor in a futuristic soap opera and I was given drugs to make me hallucinate what (I thought) was happening to me so I would act realistically, but when I went to sleep I would wake up in the real world and live my real life.  I don’t think I ever believed that was literally true, but I obviously liked to play with the idea that I had a different life, somewhere.

I don’t think that I’m in a soap opera or hallucinating any more, but I there is definitely a solipsistic cast to my mind.  I think on some level I find it hard to believe that the real world ‘out there’ is as real as the one in my head, and I’m rather ashamed to admit that I probably struggle to believe that other people’s thoughts are as real as my own.  It probably stems from an autistic difficulty reading other people’s thoughts; if I can’t read them, it’s hard to take them into account.

I’ve had the stuffing knocked out of me in the last few days.  I did something that hurt some people I care about, although it was not my intention.  I don’t know how much is really my fault, but I blame myself.  At the same time, I feel that every few years, I fall out with good friends because they can’t cope with my mental health and autism situation, and I don’t know how much of that is my fault (as in, I could do things differently if I wanted to) and how much is just the way I am and I have to resign myself to the fact that either I have to keep my friends at arm’s length and not let them into my world or accept that my good friends will only last a couple of years before the inevitable overload, explosion and cutting themselves off from me.  Even with the therapist I saw for many years, there was more than one occasion when the therapeutic relationship broke down almost completely and I wasn’t sure whether to go on seeing her and she felt there was little point in her carrying on seeing me.  I do seem to be too much for most people to handle.

I worry that ‘knowing me’ and ‘liking me’ are mutually exclusive.  A few people manage both, but not many.  I know I sometimes come across as selfish and uncaring because of autism and depression.  This is not my intention, but I don’t always know how to act as I’m expected to act.  Yet I want to have close relationships, which require knowing and being known, as well as liking and being liked.  Am I doomed to be lonely forever?

This all makes me want to withdraw inside myself even more, cut off my contacts with people “for their own good, before I hurt them.”  Keep my existing friends distant.  Stop talking to my parents about my feelings.  Above all, stop blogging.  Except I can’t stop blogging, because the world in my head needs to be let out somehow.  Even so, part of me is feeling that I should abandon this blog and start a new one with no readers.  Do it differently – somehow – next time.  I doubt I will actually do that, but my thoughts at the moment are tending towards the self-critical.