Exhausted

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

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

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

***

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

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

Out of Spoons Error

I had weird religious anxiety dreams again last night, which perhaps fortunately I can’t remember in detail.  I periodically have anxiety dreams about not being able to fulfil halakhah (Jewish law).  It’s usually Shabbat (the Sabbath), but in this dream it was kashrut (the dietary laws).  Something about being at university at Oxford and some kind of food-related mix up at a social event.  My oldest friend, who I haven’t seen for years, was there.  There was another dream (or the same one?) about being with Islamic extremists and I’m not sure in retrospect if I was their prisoner or being friendly with them.  I have no idea what the latter part means.  The kashrut anxiety, and other Jewish anxiety dreams, probably reflect the fact that even after being notionally frum (religious) for fifteen years or more, I still struggle with religious observance at times, usually when faced with an obstacle that stops me fulfilling halakhah, particularly when I fear that someone I’m close to has an issue with something I do or don’t want to do.

***

I woke feeling very depressed again.  I feel that I’m not challenging my thoughts the way I should for CBT.  It’s hard to recognise triggering thoughts and remember to challenge them and then actually to be able to challenge them.  I can’t always perceive them.  Sometimes I seem to be depressed without obvious trigger thoughts, especially on waking.  This happens to me a lot, but according to CBT theory, as I understand it, it “shouldn’t” happen.  There should be a trigger thought because emotions are caused by thoughts (this is not my experience, really).  This is another reason I have struggled with CBT in the past.

Even if I do recognise negative thoughts, they often seem true, or at least true and not true at the same time and it is hard to know what to do with them.  I mean that I can see that I have little positive evidence for a thought like “I will never get married,” but at the same time it feels very real.  I do struggle with the CBT approach, perhaps because the thoughts in my head seem more real than the world outside it.  I think this week I’ve been repressing thoughts because it’s easier than challenging them, which sounds good, but the thoughts are still there, so to speak, below the surface and I’m not learning to challenge them.

***

A million minor inconveniences today: stained clothes, relatively new; shoes I’ve worn out; ongoing wifi problems that have been around for years, but have suddenly got worse, apparently as the result of a Windows update (I lose wifi every few minutes now and have to walk out into the hall to reconnect and I don’t know what to do about this); my beard, grown for the Jewish period of national mourning in the summer, itches like crazy and I long to shave it off, but have to keep it for another week and a half.  I just feel worn down by trivial things.

***

I tried to apply for another job, but I couldn’t face it.  Realistically, it’s too senior and I don’t have the right experience, but that’s not why I couldn’t face it.  I’ve applied for inappropriately senior jobs before, albeit mainly to feel I’m doing something and to be able to tell people I’m applying for jobs.  But I just feel too depressed to apply for anything.

I went for a fairly brisk walk, to collect my prescription from the GP’s surgery and take it to the pharmacy.  That seemed to help my mood, even if there was a frustrating amount of hanging around at the surgery and pharmacy.  Then I had a phone interview with someone who wanted to hear of experiences of mental illness in the Jewish community for a book she is writing.  It was hard to condense so much experience into just a few answers.

I felt somewhat better after all of this and had another go at the job application, which I finished, although it became clear I didn’t have anywhere near all the experience and skills they want.  I wanted to go to shul (I’m trying to go to a weekday service once a week and I haven’t been this week and tomorrow is a non-starter because of CBT and shiur), but in the end I didn’t have enough time and energy to do that and finish the job application.  It’s a lack of “spoons” situation again – I did have the energy, just about, but not at the right time.  Being nocturnal is problematic.  I have energy in the evening, when shops are shut and helplines are closed.  I sleep through mornings entirely and can be very depressed in the early afternoon until lunch (sometimes later).

***

Evening, and I lapsed back into depression.  I watched another episode of I Claudius over dinner.  I’m struggling with it more than I expected.  I can’t keep track of all the characters or follow the plotting and all the sex just makes me feel that I’ll be alone forever.  The decision to make it without any incidental music makes the whole thing feel strange and theatrical, and oddly unfinished from a contemporary viewpoint.  I don’t know if this is a cause or an effect of me depressing i.e. did watching it “trigger” me somehow or am I not enjoying it because I’m too depressed?  I hope it’s the latter.

Whatever the reason, my mind feels somehow ‘heavy’ as it does when the depression is bad.  I’m not sure how to describe the heaviness (in sixteen years I’m not sure that I have ever tried), but it equates to an almost physical sensation of fatigue in my head and a lack of concentration and motivation alongside low energy.  I don’t feel tired enough to sleep, though, just not to be able do anything.  I intended to study Torah after dinner, but did not manage more than a few minutes.  I think this will be the first week in some time when I have not at least read through a page of Talmud, although my shul‘s (synagogue’s) weekly Talmud shiur (religious class) has abandoned the idea of covering a whole page a week since the new rabbi came; now we just go through a few lines in detail.  I’m not sure which is better, but have been carrying on with a weekly page privately.

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.

Metaphysics, Loneliness and Doing OK

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

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

***

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

***

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

Still Feeling Like the Most Evil Person in the World

Warning: this is a stream of consciousness-type set of thoughts I had today, even more than usual.  It’s also really long.

I tried to apply for a job again, but I found it hard even to concentrate on reading the job description, let alone apply.  My eyes just glazed over and I couldn’t focus, literally as much as metaphorically.  In the end I sent in applications for two jobs at the same institution (one higher-ranking than the other).  I don’t really think I will get either of them, and I think a job agency has already submitted my CV for one of them.

***

I cooked dinner (I mean a proper meal from fresh ingredients) for the first time in months.  Hungarian ragout from a cookery book I got for my birthday in July and hadn’t yet used.  E. recommended the book.  Dinner tasted really good, but my feeling of triumph was undermined by feeling bad that I didn’t eat with my parents.  I was set to eat by myself and watch Sherlock when they asked if I was going to eat with them and I am autistically bad at last minute changes of plan.  I felt I should be more flexible.

***

The other thing I did today was going for a twenty minute brisk walk in the cold and dark and drizzle because I needed the exercise.  I kept thinking cheery thoughts like, “People like me shouldn’t exist.  There ought to be a law against it” and being glad my sister is married and hoping she has children so that my parents can be grandparents and generally feeling that I have let my parents down and not given them enough naches (reflected pride).

My Mum told me today that someone whose parents used to live down the road from us and who I was at primary school with, has moved to Peru (?!) and had a child.  This person had learning difficulties and, I think, quite serious behavioural problems when we were younger.  She also said that his brother, who was a couple of years below me at Oxford and who has held some high positions in the Israeli civil service service has just got engaged.  So I feel like a real under-achiever and failure again.

***

I did a search for ‘autistic shidduch‘ (blind date) and rapidly came across a post of my own and very little else that was relevant.  The number of resources for people with mental health issues in the Jewish community and in the frum (religious Orthodox Jewish) community is slowly increasing and stigma is slowly reducing.  However, I have not come across anything at all for people with high-functioning autism in the frum community (in the UK or elsewhere), yet there must be such people.  ‘Autism frum community’ didn’t turn up anything relevant, although search engines often read ‘frum‘ as a mis-spelling of ‘from’ and ignore it as a stop word.  (This was on duckduckgo.com which, unlike google, gives you a straightforward list of hits rather than adjusting it according to your previous searches.)

As I’ve said before, I think that you can go far with high-functioning autism in the frum community IF you’re male and IF you can make Talmud study your special interest (although there was some discussion of this idea here).  If  you do that then you will be seen as a great scholar for studying fifteen hours a day and your perhaps poor social and communication skills and lack of interest in money and material goods will be seen as evidence of extra piety.  Even stimming is considered normal if you can do it as shockling (swaying back and forth rhythmically during prayer or religious study).  If  you are recognised as a Talmid chacham (great scholar), you will be provided with a wife and an income and people who will take care of the practical side of your life so you can spend all day studying.  The problem arises if you are female or a man who is not good at Talmud study or any other type of Torah study.  Then it is much harder to find a place in the community.

***

Liora suggested I should write down an objective record of my religious growth, but I don’t know where to start.  I literally can not think of anything that I am doing well at the moment, certainly not where I’ve had growth over the last year or two.  The only thing in my life going better is that the religious OCD is more under control now than it was two years ago, and even that flares up a bit at times (like recently).

***

I wonder why anyone reads this blog.  It’s so boring and repetitive, and badly-written.  I only write it to try to shut up the monologue in my head, but it doesn’t work.  According to WordPress, I have 207 followers at the moment (although I think I have a few more following in other ways), but most of those are spam sites that I don’t weed out.  From my likes and comments I think there are ten or twenty people regularly reading what I write, which is ten or twenty more than I would have expected.  Maybe it’s like people staring at car crashes.

***

I’ve had this crazy idea lately that I should write a book titled Everything You Wanted to Know About Orthodox Jews, But Were Too Scared to Ask.  It was originally to be written for non-Jews, because frum (religious) Jews don’t generally explain themselves to non-Jews because Judaism is a non-missionary religion, but I often (well, sometimes) get random non-Jews coming up to me in the street and asking me stuff about Judaism.  But then I thought that maybe non-religious Jews (who, sadly, often know very little about their own heritage) might want to read something non-kiruv-ey (not trying to make non-religious Jews more religious) that was just factual and accessible and also covered non-religious/not only religious topics like “Where does Jewish humour come from?” and “Why do Jews care so much about Israel?”.  But then my mind starts throwing up all the difficulties, like, “I would have to go back to primary sources, the Talmud and the law codes, and my Hebrew (not to mention my Aramaic) isn’t good enough?” and “How can someone as wicked and flawed as me write a religious book?”  Possibly also, “I would write something not acceptable to my rabbi/community and suffer for it.”  Bear in mind I already worry about that with regard to the Doctor Who book I’m working on.  Just writing a book about a TV programme is problematic and I have little hope of hiding it from the community, as if I get published my parents will tell their friends, which include the assistant rabbi’s father, who will tell his son because I know how these people behave.  Still, at the moment it’s hard to believe it will actually get finished and published.  So then I think it is better that I don’t write the book and just hope that someone else does it.

To be honest, there are several books I’d like to write that I don’t think I’m ever going to write, on Judaism and on Doctor Who.  I just don’t seem to be able to get my act together with things, plus I’m still doing a lot of research for the book I’ve started writing.  Part of me wants to just try writing as my job rather than applying for jobs, but I’m too scared to do so.

***

My Dad is upset as it’s his mother’s yortzeit (death anniversary) today, plus tomorrow is the English date of her death; my sister’s mother in law is also having major surgery tomorrow.  In his mind the link is ominous.  I don’t really notice anniversaries that way and this is going to sound terrible, but I don’t get worried about other people the way the rest of my family do.  I feel a terrible person for saying that.  It may be autism (I rather hope it is, otherwise I’m a terrible person), but I don’t really know how to fix other people in my mind in order to worry about them as much as I worry about myself.  I’ve mentioned that I’m somewhat solipsistic in that the world in my head seems infinitely more real than the world of other people.  I struggle to make connections with people, even friends and family.  I suspect I would worry more if I had a wife or children, but it’s hard to be sure.  When I have a crush on someone, she does loom larger in my mind.

Dad wanted me to go to shul (synagogue) with him for Mincha and Ma’ariv (the Afternoon and Evening Services) when he went to say Kaddish, but he didn’t tell me and I had already davened Mincha because I got up too late to daven Shacharit (say the Morning Service) and so wanted to put my tefillin on at Mincha, which I would not do at shul as it would attract attention.  So I feel bad for not going, but on the other hand he didn’t ask me to come (he dropped a hint to Mum, who told me), so I also feel autistic and unable to read other people’s minds.  I feel like a ‘normal’ person would know he wants me to go, given that he usually does, and plan his day accordingly, but I didn’t, because I’m not good at thinking about other people.  This makes me feel like a bad person who is just using autism as an excuse for selfish behaviour.

However, I do have some empathy.  There was a terrorist shooting in Israel last week (the mainstream UK news typically ignored it).  A lot of people were injured, including a pregnant woman and her husband.  Her baby was born by emergency cesarean, but died after a couple of days.  I think the parents are still in hospital, the mother in a medically-induced coma.  This really upset me and I have been praying for the family, but it’s not something I keep thinking about the way I think about my loneliness and depression.  When I see it on a Jewish website or when it is time to pray for them, I feel upset and somewhat angry (at the terrorists and the mainstream global news media that ignores or downplays violence against Jews), but it’s not something I really focus on.  I don’t know if that also makes me a bad person.

***

I don’t even know if I really am autistic.  I’ve had so many conflicting diagnoses that I don’t think I’ll ever be 100% sure one way or the other.  Even in my screening two weeks ago I worry I said the wrong thing, emphasised the wrong traits, gave the wrong answers in the questionnaire, “wrong” in this context meaning things that don’t really apply to me and which I said to get an autism diagnosis.  I know enough about autism now to be able to distort the results even unconsciously.

***

I want to eat all the time at the moment.  I guess it’s comfort eating from depression or clomipramine-induced carbohydrate craving, another reason to want to change meds.  It’s not something I’ve really struggled with in the past, at least not to this extent.  It’s a real effort not to eat junk.  I was eating a lot of nuts and raisins, but then I thought they’re also fattening, so I’m trying not to do that, but when I’m depressed and anhedonic and not enjoying anything, it’s hard to cut out something I do enjoy.  However, I have ended up overweight lately and it isn’t doing anything for my self-esteem or belief that I might be able to date one day.

***

I followed someone on Twitter even though I’m trying not to use it any more.  And I did it mainly because she follows this blog, and I thought she might want to be nudged in the direction of my Doctor Who blog and couldn’t think how else to flag up its existence without betraying my Secret Identity.

Basically, I don’t understand half the stuff I do and I don’t know whether it’s autism, mental illness or me just being stupid and weird.  Currently, my mind is on me being stupid and weird.

***

I’m trying to do what Yolanda said and write something good about myself, but I can’t think of anything.  I really am a terrible person.

A Stranger in a Foreign Land

My mood’s just sunk despite eating.  I messed something up regarding kashrut (Jewish dietary laws).  I know it’s OK, but (a) I feel stupid and think it could have been problematic and (b) my religious OCD is looking for any excuse to start me worrying again.  Even so, I will probably email my rabbi mentor to double-check my reasoning was OK.

I feel like I don’t fit in anywhere.  Online Doctor Who fandom just demonstrates how little I fit in there, from my failure to use (and sometimes to understand) the fashionable slang or online writing style, to my political and religious differences.  On the other hand, I don’t fit in to my religious community either.  My political views are slightly unusual (not least in my dislike of party politics and desire to – gasp! – understand the complexity of an issue before coming to a conclusion about it and to listen to views of people on both/all sides) and my religious views are too (not quite true; in America I think I could find people who share my religious views, but they probably would not share my political ones).  These days I actually feel uncomfortable with politics and politically-minded people of all kinds for spreading anger and hatred and nothing good.

Ger hayiti be’eretz nachria – I have been a stranger in a foreign land.  I wish I could find my ‘home’ and my ‘tribe’.

I’ve started reading Arthur Green’s Tormented Master: The Life and Spiritual Quest of Rabbi Nahman of Bratslav again even though I’ve read it twice before.  At the moment I intend to read one or two pages a day and to think a bit about what I read; that way the book will take six months to a year to read (depending on whether I read one or two pages).  It’s a book that has always resonated with me, without my always being able to explain why.   Rebbe Nachman almost certainly did experience psychological issues of his own, including depressions, possible social anxiety (including shaking) and guilt and self-esteem issues.  Green avoids psychoanalysing, which is probably best with someone who has been dead for two hundred years, but he hints at bipolar disorder, which would seem to fit.

This passage from the introduction resonated (Green is talking about Rebbe Nachman’s use of Jewish texts and his “wild imaginative fantasies”:

“…one might say that here the entirety of Jewish tradition is being used in a wholly personal way, to a degree unknown previously.  The psychological complexities of the individual and the theological mysteries of the universe are intertwined to an extent that makes any attempt at separating them seem foolhardy.” (p. 4)

I feel that I do that myself a bit.  I respond to Jewish texts, particularly narrative ones, in a very personal way, as I do to Doctor Who and other classic science fiction TV series.  It’s hard to tell sometimes where the text ends and my understanding begins.  I can’t always express these thoughts, I experience them as mysterious, inchoate feelings and images.  I guess it ties in with the solipsistic fantasies that I’ve experienced since childhood, the feeling that I’m a microcosm of the universe, or even that what is in my head is the true or only universe, and the world is an illusion of some kind or at least secondary to my thoughts.

I don’t think any of this post paints me in a good light, but there you go.  I don’t think many people are reading this any more anyway.  I have over two hundred followers, but I think most are spammy (I’ve never removed any) and I’m not sure how many others are still reading.  Certainly only a handful of people comment on or “like” posts.  This is probably just as well.

I’m worried I’m going to be too depressed and socially anxious to make it to volunteering tomorrow, but I will try.  I missed it last month because of depression and don’t want to miss two on the trot.  So I should really think about bed, as it’s nearly half-past midnight, but I don’t feel tired (I said I slept too much), just agitated and self-critical.

Effort : Reward

The news is so depressing today.  Sometimes it’s hard to work out where my life ends and the world begins, they’re so awful.  I’m not sure if that even makes sense.  I mean… actually I don’t know what I mean.  I don’t think that the world is a product of my depressed mind (which would be solipsism and/or psychosis).  But I don’t quite mean that my depression is a product of the world (although on one level it is).  I guess I mean that they complement each other in a disturbing way.  That the world is bad enough to fit my mood, and my mood is bad enough to fit the world.

A few people have said that I should focus not on the religious stuff I don’t achieve, but on how much I’m achieving compared to the effort I put in and my abilities, taking into account depression, social anxiety, possible autism or social communication disorder and so on.  To be honest, this is a Jewish idea.  The Mishnah in Pirkei Avot says that the reward is proportional to the effort and I have heard from a couple of sources that the Chazon Ish (Rabbi Avraham Yeshaya Karelitz), one of the leading Orthodox rabbis and halakhicists of the twentieth century, would stand for someone with Down Syndrome out of respect because they are serving God on their level better than other people.  However, it’s hard for me to hold on to it, because I have no realistic understanding of what I should be able to achieve and how much effort I put in.  Sometimes I feel like I’m working flat out, putting in all the effort I can, but mostly it doesn’t feel like that.  I have no objective way of knowing, I can only compare myself with other people – my peers – who are doing so much more than me, even though I don’t know how much effort they put or how much effort they can put in.

I still feel very lonely.  It’s hard to work out what that loneliness is.  If I say I want to connect with someone, that feels OK, but if I say I want (to be blunt) to have sex with someone, that feels not OK, even though both Judaism and psychiatry recognise sex as a basic human need, and even though for me the desire for sex is connected to the desire for love and intimacy (I couldn’t be promiscuous, just from my personality).  Mind you, sometimes even saying I want to be loved feels selfish and wrong.  I should just love other people without expectation of return.  I find it hard to love people.  I guess it’s the autism, and the alexithymia.  It’s hard to understand what I feel.  E. said I was an “amazing boyfriend” but that still wasn’t good enough.  I don’t know how I could ever love someone properly, or have someone love me the way I need.

I’m supposed to go to volunteer at the asylum seekers drop-in centre (I can never work out if there should be an apostrophe in that – I would think so, but the organisers don’t seem to put one in) , but I don’t feel up to it.  I just want to go back to bed.  I’m still in my pyjamas at 11am, even though I need to leave in half an hour.

Lost in Thought

Shabbat (the Sabbath) was pretty awful.  I spent most of it asleep.  When I wasn’t asleep, I was lost in agitated thought, mostly about death.  I spent a long time last night lying on my bed after dinner, wanting to die.  I was thinking obsessively about the Talmud, where it lists seven people who have no share in Olam HaBa (the World to Come i.e. Heaven), but later says that some interpret that six of them (the six Jewish ones) will have a share in Olam HaBa.  This became hugely important to me.  I suppose I was thinking that if Yerovo’am, Achav and the rest have a share in Olam HaBa, then I would too, although my reasoning doesn’t strike myself as hugely convincing today.  I don’t really feel that HaShem (God) could love me.

At times like this I get lost in my thoughts and drift away from the world.  I guess it feeds my tendency towards solipsism.  The stuff going on in my head feels a lot more real  than stuff in the external world, which can’t be healthy.  That’s probably always been my problem, but particularly when things are bad.  It’s hard to remember that other people exist and that some of them care about me, because I just get caught in the labyrinth that is my thoughts, my books and my DVDs.  I’m really worried about starting my new job this week, because I have no idea how I’m going to give the right level of attention to it.  I guess when my mind is screaming “I want to die, I want to kill myself” the whole time, I end up focusing on that to survive.  My thoughts seem really loud sometimes.  Like they drown out everything else.  I don’t think other people can hear them, but somehow it wouldn’t surprise me if someone said that they could hear them.

The book I ordered on C-PTSD arrived, which was very quick.  I wanted to read the stuff in it on self-love.  I’m not sure when I’m going to get to read it, though.  I usually read on the train to/from work or on lunch, but I’m not sure I really want to be seen reading this in public.  Then again, I don’t really want my parents to see me reading it at home either.  It still feels wrong to even think that I might possibly have C-PTSD, as if I’m attacking my parents or laying claim to an illness that I have no right to (as with autism – I still wonder if I’m seizing that unfairly too).

Fear and Self-Loathing in North-West London

It was not a good Shabbos (Shabbat/Sabbath).  Over Friday night dinner, I spoke to my parents about my job situation for longer than I intended.  That at least went OK.  I think they understood where I was coming from more.  Mum was upset that I said in my blog post earlier in the week (I sent her the link and she read it) that they weren’t empathetic about my worries about my ability to do the job I’m being offered, saying they were just trying to get me to see the positive side because I have low self-esteem (more on which below).  The one really useful thing that came up was that someone (I think my Mum) suggested trying to find a careers adviser to find out what practical steps I should take regarding writing or researching.

I got to bed at a reasonable time, shortly after midnight, which is good for a midsummer Shabbat (when I don’t even get home from shul (synagogue) until 8.30pm followed by a three course dinner which takes a while even if we don’t stop between courses for said long conversation about my career).  But I slept through the whole morning, missing shul yet again, and, as my parents were out for lunch, I slept until gone 2.00pm, got up, forced myself to eat some cereal to try to get some energy, failed to get energy and went back to bed for a while.  I then slept for two or three hours after lunch, so I’m unlikely to sleep much tonight.  I think the combination of heat and depression was not good for me.  I also had weird dreams.  They were  too stream of consciousness-style to adequately describe, but they were clearly anxiety dreams, at least on some level, about being a writer/researcher focusing on Doctor Who, about my holiday in New York and fears of getting lost or being mugged and about my worries about the political situation in Israel.  One thing that probably doesn’t come across on this blog that maybe did on earlier ones (for the two people still following me from my first blog) is that I tend to take antisemitism and the Arab-Israeli conflict very seriously and act as if I could stop them, if only I could understand and explain them properly, which is flawed on many levels.  (There is a psychological term that I can’t remember for thinking that tragic global events are your fault, but that’s not quite what I mean.)

Speaking of which, I was reflecting that some people with depression get depersonalisation, where they feel like a detached observer of themselves.  I have had this in the past, occasionally tied in with possible psychotic mini-episodes (mini because only lasting a couple of seconds), but most often I get the reverse.  I guess that would solipsism, for want of a better word, where my sense of existence and my thought processes are so absorbing that it’s hard to really remember that the rest of the world exists.  I guess that would probably be an autistic thing as much as a depressive one.  My inner monologue is very “loud,”  for want of a better word, and I often want to compare it with that of other people, out of curiosity and a bit of arrogance as much as anything.  Am I more self-critical, self-aware, intellectual, profound than other people?  I don’t know.

Anyway, I got up so late and was so depressed and exhausted, that I missed Shacharit (the morning service) entirely and did a tiny bit of Musaf (the extra Shabbat service, normally said right after Shacharit) at 7.30pm, which is probably some kind of a record.  I did make it to shul in the evening for shiur (Talmud class) and Mincha, seudah, the other shiur and Ma’ariv (the afternoon service, the third Sabbath meal, another class and the evening service).  I felt pretty bad during, and probably as a result of, the second shiur.  I just feel so inadequate.

This feeling of inadequacy is usually partly because of my  career issues and single state (the fact that Talmud shiur was partly on why praying to have a good (=righteous, I guess/hope) wife is the most important thing anyone can pray for (according to one rabbi)) didn’t help.  However, today it was more about my moral and religious standing.  I just feel so wicked and reprehensible.  The other people at shul all seem to be more or less sorted religiously and working on very trivial aspects of their personality and divine service and I’m performing pretty much every major aveirah (sin) and missing out most of the positive mitzvot (commandments).  I feel everyone would be disgusted with me if they knew what I think and do.

I once asked my rabbi mentor (who knows most of my bad side) if he thinks I’m a good person/Jew, but his counselling training kicked in and he just turned the question around and asked me what type of person I think I am.  I just feel like such a lousy person.  E. said I had lots of good points, but they ultimately weren’t enough.  My Mum only came up with two good points that I have yesterday.  I think that’s probably stretching it a bit.  I don’t really feel that I have any good points, even on a secular ‘being a good person’ level, let alone a frum (religious) ‘keeping taryag mitzvot’ (all the commandments) level.  If I have not done anything absolutely awful (and I think I probably have, on balance), it’s only from lack of opportunity.

It’s funny, in a strange way.  I’ve never really known what I want to do on a career level or had any ambitions in that sense, but for years I’ve wanted to be a tzaddik (saintly person), but the more I try, the further away I realise I am.  Sadly, you can’t go to a careers advisor to learn how to be a tzaddik.  I guess you would have to go to yeshiva or to a rebbe.  I’m not sure that’s a guarantee of anything though, as I’ve seen some people who come out of yeshiva with flaws.

Ugh, this is turning into a silly rambling post.  Matthue Roth (author of several books I should read, but haven’t yet) once told me off on Hevria.com for calling my writing ‘bilge.’  But this post really is bilge.

Shul and More Social Anxiety

(My last public post got eight likes.  Not much, I know, but I think it’s a record for me.)

I’m just back from shiur (religious class) and I’m still trying to process what happened.  It triggered a lot of social anxiety.

First, everyone was sitting around noshing, drinking whisky and bantering (I’m not sure why whisky seems to be served at all these things; this is why I don’t believe the stereotype that Jews don’t drink).  I couldn’t do any of this because I’m trying not to eat junk food except on Shabbat (the Sabbath) because I’m putting on weight from my medication (which means I’ve cut out about the only simple pleasure I had left, hooray!), I don’t drink because alcohol is a depressant and I shouldn’t take it with my meds, but the real reason is that alcohol scares me and always has (same as I don’t drive because cars scare me) and I couldn’t banter because I was too shy and self-conscious.  At some point around this time I became (self-)conscious of being the only person in the room not married with children (not strictly true as one person is divorced, I think, but almost).  Also, I got very sweaty on the Tube today and didn’t have time to shower when I got home and so was feeling very self-conscious and glad no one was sitting too close to me… or maybe that was why no one was sitting too close to me…

Then during the shiur the assistant rabbi asked a question that he was sure no one would be able to answer.  He was so sure we wouldn’t be able to answer it, he promised to pay £50 to tzedaka (charity) if someone did.  I knew the answer.  So after that I felt bad, that maybe I had been showing off (cf. my recent comments about not knowing when I can show off) and I had cost him money and maybe I should have stayed silent.  And he made a big thing of me knowing things.  I feel inadequate when I assume people think I’m ignorant and stupid, but when I do show some knowledge, I just feel embarrassed.  The assistant rabbi apologised to me at the end, but I was having a small social anxiety panic and couldn’t actually hear what he was apologising for.  I guess he was worried he embarrassed me.  I just nodded and said I was fine, which is what I always do when people apologise to me, even when I’m not fine.

The point of the shiur turned out to be about wanting to reveal God to the world through all our actions and I felt that I used to want that, but nowadays I just want to get married, have kids and be happy.  This left me feeling even more depressed, inadequate and guilty.  Plus, talk of Olam HaBa (the Next World i.e. the afterlife) just makes me think again that I have no share in Olam HaBa.  I don’t really have any rational reason to believe this, beyond a general sense of guilt and shame about my life as well as guilt and shame about specific thoughts, words and deeds, plus an intuition that nothing good could ever happen to someone like me.  On the way home I wondered if I lived in another universe where I was really suffering and this world is the solipsistic fantasy life I have constructed to escape, but it would have to be a pretty awful ‘real’ life if this one is better.  Or maybe I just have a poor imagination.

I was actually feeling OK at work today, but I seem to have come right down now.

There’s another educational event at shul (synagogue) tomorrow evening.  I wanted to go, but I’m so burnt out from work that I think I’d better stay at home and read, or else I’m likely to burn out and miss shul on Saturday.  Tonight has just been the last straw.  There’s an oneg (Shabbat party thing) next week.  I don’t know if I’ll go to that.  I half promised myself that I wouldn’t go to any more of those, because I just sit there feeling socially awkward and miserable, not wanting to eat too much because of my weight, not drinking, sometimes not knowing the tunes to join in the singing.  There’s a guest speaker, but he’s a journalist and a lawyer and I’m not that interested in what he might say.  I had told myself that maybe I won’t force myself to go to shul social events if I go to more educational ones, but now I might be skipping tomorrow’s educational event anyway.  I’m torn between guilt for not going to these things and the awkwardness and anxiety that inevitably follows if I do go.  The depression comes either way.

In other news, I tried several times again to phone the rabbi about the date he was supposed to set up, twice during my lunch break and once after work in the hope that maybe he answers the phone during the daytime, but no answer.  I eventually left a message for him, but I did that during the week and he didn’t get back to me.  Judging favourably, he either has some major crisis or he’s lost his phone.  Either way, I emailed the person who originally tried to set me up on the date to see if she could at least tell the potential date that I’m interested, I just don’t know how to contact her (I was worried she might think I was ignoring her or had changed my mind about going out), but I haven’t heard anything back yet.  I have a suspicion that this is going to be yet another potential date that falls through.  I suppose I should just be thankful that people are trying to set me up on dates even if none of them work out.