Overwhelmed

I had what I suppose were wish fulfilment dreams last night, first dreaming that I was James Bond and then (I think – it wasn’t so clear) that I was the Doctor from Doctor Who. I suppose I just want to feel capable, charismatic and worthwhile. My parents feel that I am capable and worthwhile, and PIMOJ seems to feel that too, but somehow that isn’t enough; part of me still wants to be Napoleon and conquer the world, not literally, but through some worthwhile act. The dreams were PG rated, but I still feel vaguely embarrassed about having had them, as they seem infantile things to dream, although not embarrassed enough to stop me sharing them with the world on my blog. They weren’t restful, though, as I woke up exhausted and burnt out after the first dream, fell asleep again and dreamed the second one and woke up exhausted again, but by then it was very late and I had to get up.

***

The main achievements of the day were (a) I helped Dad take down more the sukkah, wishing I was taller, stronger, and less prone to fearing that I’ll fall off ladders; and (b) I cooked Jewish-Ethiopian vegetable stew (wot), which I hadn’t cooked before. I was supposed to cook a half recipe, but then tried to adjust as it didn’t seem to have many filling ingredients, then I confused myself about how much to cook (this is when I feel incompetent and unable to do even basic tasks). Then it turned out that it was only supposed to be a side-dish, but I’d run out of time, so Mum defrosted some soya ersatz “meatballs” and cooked some rice to go with it. I also did some Torah study (not as much etc. etc.), but I haven’t really been out of the house, or at least off the property (I’ve been in the garden) for days, only partly because of the wet weather.

***

I felt rather overwhelmed today. I guess lots of religious Jews feel like that at this time of year, recovering from a month of religious festivals. I don’t have a paid job to catch up on, but I have chores that need doing, some of which have been pushed off for months because of lockdown, plus I have to find a new job. All of which is between me and what I want to do, which is work on my novel, something I felt too depressed to do today. I probably should schedule some novel time in over the next week or so and work on it even if I feel I should be doing something else, otherwise it will never get redrafted because naturally I put what I want to do at the bottom of the to do list.

Plus, this week I had depression group on Zoom yesterday, a Zoom panel discussion on autism and creativity/art today, a webinar on time management and Skype therapy tomorrow and a Skype call with my oldest friend (who I haven’t seen for several years) on Thursday. This would be busy for most people, even if they weren’t a semi-hermit like me (even pre-COVID, even more so with COVID). To hit this after a month of Yom Tov (festivals) really is too much. Of course, I didn’t think that when I booked all this stuff in.

Unlike many autistic people, I don’t get full-blown meltdowns, but when I’m stressed and overwhelmed I get sucked into a negative thought spiral of feeling overwhelmed, not being able to focus on the big picture, being unable to make even minor decisions, catastrophising and feeling everything is hopeless. Eventually it builds up and I have to be “talked down” by my parents, although it’s often the case that initially what they say just feels like another factor overwhelming me. This was what happened today, about my bank account, which is often a trigger for these things. My Dad and my sister read the financial papers and find good interest rates or whatever and persuade me to move my money around, but because I have a low (almost zero) income, it’s questionable whether it’s worth the hassle. Certainly it often leaves me confused about where my money is and what I should do with it. The problem is also that I have a tendency to do what authority figures in my life say, so I try to follow what Dad says while simultaneously confused, overwhelmed and vaguely resentful.

As I say, it’s often finance-related stuff that sets this off. I feel that I should be good at this sort of thing. I was good at maths at school, but somehow lost that with lack of practice. I did A-Level economics too, but that actually tells you very little about managing money, more about managing economies, which is not at all the same thing. I guess it’s not so much the maths but the details that I find overwhelming, the feeling of being overwhelmed on a sea of facts that are too many to be comprehended in their entirety in one go.

Shopping can also be overwhelming and I did that today too (online). Again, Mum was trying to get me to consider different stores and styles; I felt I had to impose boundaries on what I was going to look at, even if they were arbitrary, just to stop myself from getting overwhelmed. I can accept that I might lose a few pounds or not find the “perfect” style of shoe (whatever that would be) just to be able to get through the process.

As well as overwhelmed today, I feel burnt out and somewhat depressed. My mood is low, but it’s hard to tell why. I guess it comes from the burnt out and overwhelmed feelings.

***

In the evening I “attended” a Zoom panel discussion on autism and art. The three panellists, all women, were two autistic artists and an autistic writer/editor. I wasn’t sure if the (male) chair was also on the spectrum. I wondered if it was significant that all three panellists were female. It did make me feel somewhat “not good enough” about my writing, but I’m not sure why. Perhaps because the writer said that autistic writing is always very sensory, and I’m not good at describing sensory stuff which made me think I’m either not really autistic or not a good writer. There was an auction of art for charity afterwards, but I left before that.

***

I feel less overwhelmed now, but perhaps a bit lonely, I’m not sure (I’m not always good at understanding my own emotions, known as alexithymia). I feel that maybe PIMOJ is willing to support me despite my issues, but I’m still scared to open up about what I feel, partly because it’s led to rejection in the past, partly because I feel I misrepresented myself to her as no longer strongly depressed, when it looks like my apparent recovery was just seasonal (longer days and more sunlight in summer), partly I guess because I wonder how I will respond to her positivity on a depressed and overwhelmed day like today. But not saying anything just raises fears of the relationship collapsing through apathy (my apathy) so it’s a lose-lose situation.

We actually spoke a bit about this just now. We were talking about Sefer Iyov (The Book of Job) and somehow got onto it. She said that I should be open with her about when I actually want advice about something and when I just need to vent and she will try to respond appropriately, which is good of her. I do still worry about being too negative for her, though. And also that I think she’s far too good for me.

***

I’m thinking this evening… other autism sufferers seem to place a lot of emphasis on things like sensory sensitivity being their primary experience of autism or executive function issues or special interests or communication issues. I guess I feel that for me autism is… well, autism is literally from the Greek autos meaning self, the term ‘autism’ apparently meaning ‘morbid self-absorption’ (according to this etymology site anyway – I assume ‘morbid’ in the sense of ‘pathological’). That connects with the other aspects, particularly communication issues, but is also separate. I think autism for me is about being locked into my world – my brain – and being unable to connect with other people, lacking a vocabulary to describe what I feel and experience. I guess this is connecting to alexithymia, which I mentioned earlier, given that I don’t lack a vocabulary for describing emotions in the abstract, it’s labelling my own personal experiences that gives me the trouble. There’s a frequent feeling of being alone. I like being on my own a lot, but not always, I need a few good friends and I have spent most of my adult life wanting to be in a relationship and not knowing how to do that. Now I have it and I’m worried I’m going to mess it up.

Grade D

I’m feeling less burnt out today, which is good. I haven’t really given myself credit for not worrying too much about the job interview result. I’m actually more concerned about what happens if they give me the job, but want me to work full-time than if they reject me completely. I don’t think I’m ready to work full-time. To be honest, I have not been worrying much about it at all, although I’m not sure how much credit I can take for that, as it hasn’t been a conscious thing.

Well, literally seconds after writing this, I checked my emails and found I’ve been rejected from the job. Oh well. Back to the job hunt, and, on the plus side, the novel writing. Working full-time would have made that a lot harder. I haven’t worked on the novel for a couple of weeks because of Yom Tov (Jewish festivals) and focusing on job applications, so I’m excited to get back to it next week.

Edit again: I got interview feedback, and I did really badly. A mix of Cs and Ds, with a D overall. I used to be good at things. I was more or less a straight A student at school (I wasn’t so good at art and design and was awful and games/PE, but I was good at everything else). At Oxford I was average, but at least that was average out of a pool of high achievers. However, since leaving university, I’ve just been awful, and I don’t even interview well any more. I feel I can’t even judge myself accurately any more, if I thought I’d done well in that interview when I had done so poorly. I know I struggle to “think on my feet” and process and respond to spoken questions in real time, as well as struggling to speak confidently at interview and to deliver appropriate answers. I know I struggle to apply the STAR technique for interview responses (mention Situation Task Action and Result). I know all this is because of autism and social anxiety. And yet. And yet. I still feel useless.

I feel that writing is the only thing I can do well, but so far I have literally made only a few pounds from writing (£25 for writing an article on OCD for a geeky website and a few pounds from selling my self-published Doctor Who book to a couple of friends and family members). I’d like to say that “I know that I’m a good writer,” but I don’t. I hope that I’m a good writer, and I’ve had some positive feedback, but I’ve also struggled to market myself as a writer and monetise writing for myself. I also don’t know if my fiction writing is any good, as I’ve mostly written non-fiction stuff until now.

***

If I’m upset about one thing, it can “spill over” to something else. I subscribe to various library blogs in case they will with CPD (Continuing Professional Development). When Unorthodox (Netflix series about a woman from an ultra-Orthodox community who becomes secular) The New York Public Library blog had a list of books and DVDs about Jews who gave up traditional Judaism to become secular. The list didn’t include any books about people who try to combine traditional religion with modernity or anything positive about traditional Judaism at all. Now the library has a list of books on Native Americans… and they all look positive. No books about how stupid, backwards, superstitious, misogynistic (etc.) Native American culture is the way those books treated Orthodox Judaism. Why is Orthodox Judaism the only minority community/religion it’s OK to hate? People get away with it because there’s no shortage of Jews who feel that way, so they can play the “I’m not antisemitic, he’s Jewish and he said it” card.

***

Trying to focus on god things today: I ate in the sukkah. It was raining slightly and started raining more heavily just as I finished. It was nice to get out there one more time as I think it might be too wet tonight and tomorrow, and eating in the sukkah on Shmini Atzeret is not a straightforward mitzvah in any case.

PIMOJ was also really supportive about the job rejection and I’m beginning to feel that maybe she would support me even if she knew more about my “issues.”

I do feel a bit better. I’m trying to focus on Shabbat and Yom Tov. I’m apprehensive about going to shul (synagogue) later, but at least it will get me out of the house and out of this mindset.

Interview and Date

The interview (at a primary school for the position of school librarian) was OK, not great and not terrible. They asked a lot of questions, but the interview finished early, so maybe I wasn’t giving long enough and developed answers. I felt I floundered a bit. They asked the question about where I see myself in five years time, in career terms, which I hate, because I don’t really know where I’ll be in five years. I’m not someone with a career progression plan. They also asked if I would accept the job if they offered it today, which I did not like. It seemed a trick question; “No” is obviously the wrong answer, but “Yes” would not just be untrue, but perhaps seems over-eager, and might stop me asking for time to consider if I was offered the job. In the end saying I would ask for time to consider seemed the best option.

I had lunch (indoors rather than in the sukkah because of rain) and then it was time to go on my date with PIMOJ. I don’t really want to say much about it, partly because it was private and partly because although PIMOJ doesn’t know about my blog, I have a gut feeling she wouldn’t want me to write about her. We did seem to have good chemistry and were together for about three hours in all, for coffee and walking in the park. We seemed to have good chemistry and stuff in common – at least, important stuff like values.

It was a good afternoon, but I was very tired by the end. I was also a little worried about COVID. We had been together all afternoon, walking around near other people and in a (admittedly empty) cafe. There were also two Tube journeys on which not everyone was masked or socially distanced. I wasn’t wearing my mask while we were walking or in the cafe and I worry about how close I was to PIMOJ as well as to other passersby. I guess we can’t shield indefinitely; still, I feel vaguely worried, perhaps a bit hypochondriac, but perhaps those are real worries. Maybe I should have worn my mask more despite the discomfort and difficulty speaking, but it is too late now.

On the way home, I was phoned by the headmaster of the primary school. I hadn’t got the job. I wasn’t surprised, as I thought they would want someone with more experience in primary education.

My sister and brother-in-law were here for dinner, which was takeaway and in the sukkah. I don’t eat meat takeaway much nowadays as I only eat meat on Shabbat and Yom Tov (Sabbath and festivals). I decided Chol HaMoed (the intermediate, semi-festive days of the festival) count as sufficiently festive to allow me to eat meat. It was good, but after a couple of hours I was exhausted and unable to “people” much more. I slipped out for ten minutes or so, but it was still hard going back afterwards. When it was decided that it was too cold to stay in the sukkah, but sister and BIL stayed indoors for another cup of herbal tea, I decided I had to ask leave to… well, leave, or at least go upstairs and relax a bit.

It was a good day overall, the school rejection notwithstanding (I didn’t really expect to get the job anyway as I have no experience with primary school librarianship). I suspect I will feel vaguely apprehensive about COVID for a number of days though.

“For the rain it raineth every day”

The first two days of Sukkot (the festival of Tabernacles, which is probably as meaningless to most people in English as in Hebrew) was a bit of a wash out. It rained heavily and almost constantly for two days. There were small lulls in the rain on Saturday afternoon, which meant we ate in the sukkah (the temporary hut in the garden where we are supposed to live during this festival) for Shabbat (Sabbath) lunch and I had seudah shlishit (the third Shabbat meal) there and a small meal out there just now, but otherwise we couldn’t go out there. The first two nights we said the minimum amount of prayers out there and ate a little bread to fulfil the mitzvah (commandment) of eating bread out there the first two nights, but it was far too wet to eat properly, which was a shame. I’m not sure how much we’re going to get out there during Chol HaMoed, the intermediate days of the festival, which start tonight and run until Friday evening. Hopefully it won’t rain all week. I guess it’s a reminder that, as comfortable as our lives are, we are still in exile; in Israel rain during Sukkot is a rare event.

The other main news is that I went to shul (synagogue) on Saturday afternoon for Minchah (Afternoon Prayers). I was very anxious about being back in a social setting, and that I didn’t know exactly what I was going into (the classic autistic fear). Everything was very different to the pre-COVID normal, with masks, social distancing, hand sanitiser, few people and all kinds of new regulations to reduce contact between people (e.g. everyone has to bring their own prayerbook and the furniture inside the shul has been reorientated from east-facing (facing Jerusalem) to south-facing to allow better social distancing). I had an aliyah (call to read from the Torah), which was also done in a new, very different way to avoid contact again. I accidentally touched something I should not have touched, whoops. It was OK, but I felt very anxious the whole time and I am not sure how much that is due to unfamiliarity and autism, how much to social anxiety, both of which may reduce with practise, and how much to health anxiety and fear of COVID. I felt very uncomfortable praying with a mask. I will try to go again once or twice a week, but I don’t think I will be a frequent attendee until after COVID, it’s just too uncomfortable and anxiety-provoking for me at the moment. Otherwise Yom Tov was the usual mix of meals with my parents, prayer, Torah study, reading and sleeping. It was too wet to go for walks.

Chol HaMoed is a strange time, neither fully Yom Tov (festival) or weekday. We can do work that would be forbidden on Yom Tov, but should only really do so if necessary for the enjoyment of the festival or if we would incur a significant loss if it was not done. What this means is that I can have my job interview on Tuesday and prepare for it tomorrow, but I feel uncomfortable about it, even without about the worrying busyness of Tuesday (job interview, followed by first ‘proper’ (in person) date with PIMOJ followed by dinner with my parents, sister and brother-in-law). I still think the job interview I had the other week, at the Very Important Institution, is more likely to lead to a job, or at least to one within my capabilities and meeting at least some of my mental health and autistic needs.

Praying for No Rain

Just a short bit today… I woke up early (by my standards, anyway) but with some anxiety buzzing about: about the job interview next week (for a different job than this week’s one) and whether I can actually do the job; about my date with PIMOJ next week; about going to shul tomorrow for the first time in six months or more; and about Sukkot (festival starting in a couple of hours) and whether the weather (raining heavily) will impede our enjoyment of this “outside” festival.

I’ve currently got the interview Tuesday morning on Zoom, then the date in the afternoon, then my sister and brother-in-law here is the evening, so I’m likely to crash on Wednesday. I feel more positive about the job than I did earlier, although I suspect I was not on their original list of interviewees and that someone pulled out leaving a vacancy, otherwise it’s very last minute, considering I sent the application in weeks ago. As for shul, I’m not really thinking about that. I’m trying with all these things to stay in the present, but it’s not always easy. It’s still raining though, and it’s forecast to continue all through the weekend. We don’t have to go in the sukkah (temporary outside dwelling) if it’s raining heavily, but it’s a shame not to be able to, as eating out there can be a lot of fun. Wet/indoors Sukkot ahead…

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…

Dancers at the End of Yom Tov

The end of Yom Tov (festivals) went OK overall.  On Shimini Atzeret evening (Sunday night) I was feeling quite exhilarated about the thought of trying to write a weekly devar Torah (short Torah essay) again.  From feeling zero connection to what I have been “learning” (much as I dislike the Yeshivish word, “studying” doesn’t seem right in this context), suddenly I was finding, if not answers, then at least kashas (questions, textual difficulties) to pursue.  On Shimini Atzeret day I crashed a bit, perhaps unsurprisingly.  I had gone to bed really late because I was a bit agitated in a positive way (the kind of feeling that once had me wondering if I had bipolar disorder instead of unipolar depression, but apparently it’s not mania), but, as often happens, I crashed afterwards.  I struggled to get up again on Monday morning.

I went to shul (synagogue) in the evening, but was very anxious that I wouldn’t be able to slip away before the Simchat Torah festivities started.  I find Simchat Torah very hard.  We celebrate finishing and restarting the annual Torah reading by dancing with the Torah scrolls.  This is circle dancing, holding hands and going round and round.  I’ve never worked out why it makes me so uncomfortable, whether it’s depression (the party atmosphere), social anxiety (being visible to everyone), lack of confidence (not feeling able to dance) or autism (the noise and close proximity to people I don’t know well).  This is aside from my shul auctioning Simchat Torah honours in return for committing to study Torah in the coming year, which makes me feel bad for not being able to commit to anything, let alone the immense amount some people commit to.  Whatever reason, I find the day hard.  There were one or two years where I did manage to enter into the spirit of things and dance, but that was in a shul where I felt quite comfortable for reasons that are not likely to replicate themselves any time soon.  Usually I slip away before the dancing starts, but I feel bad about not even trying to dance.  On my way out, someone asked if I was going and I said yes and felt bad, but I don’t know how else to cope.  I’d like to enjoy Simchat Torah one day, but I don’t know how.

I came home to find my parents home.  I had expected Dad and maybe Mum to be at their own shul and I did a typical autistic thing of being completely put out by a minor change of plan and ended up arguing over my Dad about some petty thing.  Really we weren’t arguing about that, I was expressing my anger and frustration with myself for not being able to stay in shul and he was expressing his frustration that he can’t solve my problems.

I did manage to have dinner with my parents, slept for twelve hours or more and woke up feeling better than expected.  I missed shul during the day, but went back for Ma’ariv (the Evening Service).  We were waiting for a minyan (prayer quorum) and, as it was the closing minutes of Simchat Torah and the Tishrei holiday period, the rabbi started singing and dancing (this is what happens if you have a somewhat Hasidishe rabbi) and I allowed myself to get dragged into that even though it felt a little uncomfortable, so I did just about dance a bit on Simchat Torah.  I then helped take down the shul sukkahs and to take two of the Sifrei Torah (Torah scrolls) back to our weekday premises.  So I felt I did my bit to help, but I also felt a bit as if I was tidying up from a really great party that I had mostly missed, which seems a bit like the story of my life.

I helped my Dad begin to take down our sukkah too.  At least I felt that I had enjoyed using that one more.

***

On balance, I would have to say that it was a good Sukkot, and a good Tishrei generally.  I got to shul in the morning several times as well as the evenings.  I heard the shofar both days on Rosh Hashanah, I wasn’t too ill on Yom Kippur (although I did spend much of the day too drained to get out of bed) and, despite it being mid-October and expected to be wet, we had almost every lunch and dinner in the sukkah over Sukkot and Shmini Atzeret.  I just wish I could finish things more positively on Simchat Torah, and that I didn’t feel like I was so unfocused in my religious life, like I could/should be doing more in terms of davening (praying) with a minyan and with kavannah (mindfulness) as well as doing more, and deeper, Torah study.  It can be hard to see where I am growing, which is the point of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, as well as to see where my joy in being Jewish comes from, which is the point of Sukkot, Shmini Atzeret and Simchat Torah.

I noticed on the way home that someone down the road has their Christmas lights up already.  It somehow seems wrong that the Christians are putting up their Christmas lights before the Jews have finished taking their sukkot down.  There’s still two months before Christmas!  That’s like putting up your sukkah soon after Tisha B’Av!

***

A side-light on this (not Christmas decorations, I mean on religious focus): looking in Leaping Souls: Rabbi Menachem Mendel and the Spirit of Kotzk by Chaim Feinberg there is a story of a Hasid who came to the Kotzker Rebbe and complained that since coming to Kotzk, he has become fearful that his prayers and Torah study are blemished by secret self-interest and imperfections.  He is told by the Rebbe that maybe God doesn’t want his prayers or Torah study, but his heartfelt inner anguish and dissatisfaction with himself, his desire to be a better person (God wants the heart, according to the Talmud although that’s not quoted here).  I’ve heard similar stories with a number of Hasidic Rebbes.  I’m not sure if they’re reassuring or not.  It’s reassuring to think there might be a positive reason for feeling like this, but not reassuring to think I might feel like this for the rest of my life.

It’s not, I suppose, an attitude that would attract many modern people, who seem to like to be told that the religious life, done right, is easy and comfortable and that God can be your best friend who will help you out of any trouble if you just Believe.  I can’t imagine Aish or the JLE or any other kiruv organisation trying to win non-religious Jews to the religious life by telling them that God wants their inner anguish as they struggle to do the right thing, or even just to work out what the right thing is.  It speaks to me, though.  It speaks to the part of me that thinks that life is hard and if there is an all-powerful, benevolent God, then for some reason He doesn’t want us to be happy here, in which case this world is a vale of soul-making (as the thoroughly atheist John Keats put it), not one of happiness.  I can cope with soul-making.  It’s when people tell me that if only I was frum (religious) I would be happy that I get angry, because either I’m not doing religion properly or this is just untrue.  But a world of soul-making, where my inner anguish builds my soul into something beautiful… I can cope with that philosophically.  It is hard to live it every day, though.

***

After my Jewish existentialism post E. asked if I could recommend any books.  I did, but I hadn’t looked at the books for years and now I’m wondering how relevant they are.  This happens a lot when people ask me for advice, I end up panicking and second-guessing myself.  I’m not sure what exactly I’m catastrophising about there.  I’m not sure what the worst case scenario is that I’m worried about.

***

Speaking of books, I find myself doing an impression of Buridan’s Ass again, only with books instead of straw.  Buridan’s Ass is a thought experiment about a hungry donkey placed equidistantly between two identical piles of hay; unable to determine which haystack is “better,” he stands procrastinating between the two until he starves to death.  I find this unlikely, but I can’t choose what book to read out of my many unread novels, unread non-fiction books, novels to re-read, non-fiction books to re-read, and Doctor Who novels to re-read (which seem to be in a separate category, although I’m not quite sure why).  I could look on my Goodreads page to find the numbers to go with each category, but I’m a bit scared of how large they would be.  I have a lot of unread books; well, I have a lot of books period, and a proportion are going to be unread and, given that I’m a re-reader, lots of read books can revert to being quasi-unread (un-re-read) given time.

It doesn’t help that I can’t work out whether I could really get a lot out of re-reading heavy stuff Dickens or Dostoevsky or reading serious non-fiction at the moment, mental health-wise.  I don’t feel like reading much other than Agatha Christie, John le Carré and Doctor Who, but I’m not sure that that proves a lot.  I have an unread Philip K. Dick short story collection that I got for my birthday some months ago, one of my favourite authors, but somehow I can’t feel enthusiastic for a short story collection right now, the thought of keep having to start again rather than immersing myself in a world for a while…  I was in shul for the reading of Kohelet (Ecclesiastes) on Shabbat, which concludes that “of making many books there is no end and much study is a weariness of flesh” which is probably a lesson to me, although I’m not quite sure what.  Probably that I should stop writing and go to bed.

Jewish Existentialism (No, Don’t Run Away!)

I had a pretty typical Shabbat (Sabbath), except that a lot of it happened in the sukkah (thatched hut for the festival of Sukkot).  I got to shul (synagogue) last night and this morning (despite insomnia last night) as well as this afternoon.  I did get there late this morning as I went back to bed for a bit after breakfast, although as the service was very long maybe that was just as well.  My parents had a lot of friends over for kiddush (refreshments) in the sukkah after shul this morning, but I shluffed (napped) instead because I didn’t want to face twenty of my parents’ friends in a confined space.

***

Not a lot else happened.  I had some thoughts about not connecting with other Jews.  Some of it is being more modern or less mystical than others as I’ve said in the past.  But I think there is another difference of outlook.  A number of years ago I read a lot of Jewish religious existentialist writers (Orthodox and non-Orthodox, which admittedly is a hurdle for some people just to begin with).  Rebbe Nachman of Bratslav and the Kotzker Rebbe in the nineteenth century are sometimes identified as proto-existentialist, then twentieth century authors like Rav Soloveitchik, Emmanuel Levinas, Abraham Joshua Heschel, Emil Fackenheim, Franz Rosenzweig (I couldn’t understand a word he wrote, but his life is quite inspiring) and Martin Buber (I haven’t read his philosophy books, only his Hasidic anthologies).  Of living authors, it seems to me that Rabbi Lord Sacks has an religious existentialist bent, although I think he would probably rather not like the label.  I haven’t read these writers so much in the last few years (in large part due to trying to study more Talmud), but I’m still strongly influenced by them and think about them a lot.

I guess if I was to brainstorm words and phrases I would associate with Jewish religious existentialism it would include: faith and doubt; inner struggle; covenant; encounter; the Other; dialogue; existential loneliness; emotional intimacy; authenticity.  These are themes that come up a lot in this type of writing and they’re mostly ideas that matter a lot to me and which I think about a lot (a big part of my friendship with E. is how honest we are with each other, which I don’t really have with anyone else).  Stuff about confronting your inner self, encountering God, encountering other people and acknowledging their individuality, accepting doubt as a part of the religious experience and so on.  I guess these are big, difficult words for lots of people to deal with, particularly if they are used to a form of Judaism that ignores these topics.

There’s a famous endnote in Halakhic Man by Rav Soloveitchik (practically an essay in it’s own right, it goes on for about four pages) about how Judaism is not initially consoling and comforting, but is a long struggle with doubt, suffering and pain before you get to the consolation and I think a lot of people – good, religious people who are knowledgeable in Torah – would find that unacceptable or just unintelligible.  I think it speaks very much to a certain type of person with a certain type of life (Rav Soloveitchik had a difficult life as he came from a family of great Torah scholars, was recognised as an iluy (child prodigy) at a young age and only went to school for one year, being hot-housed by private tutors with little contact with children his own age, then breaking with family tradition by going to secular university in Berlin, while being different to many other students by maintaining Jewish practice all against the backdrop of the rise of Nazism; later on his father, brother and wife all died in the space of a month so you can see why he would become focused on struggle, suffering and existential loneliness.  Some of the other thinkers on my list have signs of clinical depression or bipolar disorder too).

So maybe that’s another reason why I feel out alone by myself.  It would suggest I really am a bit of an outlier.  I guess if I wanted to meet people who think the same way, the best way might be to watch for classes on any of the thinkers on my list above at the London School of Jewish Studies and go there.

***

I mentioned last week that I wanted to write a devar Torah (Torah thought) for my shul.  This would be something about 1,000 words long, with careful use to sources to avoid anything controversial and no chiddush (innovative interpretations) on my part.  The more I thought about it, the harder it seemed to accomplish it and I gave up.

Today I thought that I could at least try to get back to writing a devar Torah to relate to my parents on Shabbat on the parasha (weekly Torah reading).  Jews read through the whole of the Torah (in the narrow sense of the Five Books of Moses) every year and we’re just about to finish and restart the cycle, so it’s a good time to be thinking about this, especially as I just started reading Genesis: From Creation to Covenant (a Modern Orthodox book interpreting Genesis with traditional and literary critical methods of interpretation).  I actually have an idea for Shabbat Bereshit (next Saturday) already!  So this seems like a good idea.  I gave a devar Torah on every parasha for three or four years, usually my own chiddushim, until it became a struggle with depression.  Writing primarily for my parents allows me to use whatever sources I want and write my own opinions.

The more daring thought I had was whether I should share it with some friends from shul.  I mentioned recently that someone who attended my shul died a few weeks ago.  I’ve thought about him a bit because he wasn’t that much older than me and was one of very few other single people in my phase of life (let’s say over thirty and under fifty).  He had a WhatsApp group that many people from shul were on where he would post his divrei Torah each week and people were saying at the seudah (Shabbat meal) in his honour after his shloshim (month after death) that someone else should take over.  I don’t think I could cope with sending my ideas out to a large group, especially as I think he found ideas in classic sources rather than suggesting his own ideas, which is a somewhat scary thing in Orthodox world, but I’m tempted to email a couple of my friends with some of my divrei Torah and if it spreads, fine, and if it doesn’t spread, also fine.

I’m very undecided about the second bit, trying to send it to people in my community, but trying to get back into finding something new and interesting to say on the parasha each week might be a way to get me back into thinking creatively about Torah and engaging with it actively rather than passively as well as restoring some of my enthusiasm about Judaism.  Initially I’m just going to focus on writing something for my parents without sending it more widely (unless people want to see it here, but it’s not likely to be particularly mental health-focused), maybe sending to other people in a few weeks.

***

I feel I often post stuff here where I say, “I read X and it made me feel God hates me” or “I saw Y and it made me feel useless and stupid.”  I feel I should probably say that those things are more about me than the thing I read or saw.  I’m not sure that I always make that clear.  I think some people get angry on my behalf with whatever it is I read or saw, which is kind of you, but usually I know, on some level, that that isn’t what it’s saying and that I’m interpreting it wrongly.  I have a lot of self-hating mantras in my head that I start repeating to myself really easily on my blog.  Maybe I should try not to write things like that, or to make it more obvious that I’m aware I should challenge these thoughts.

Haveil Havelim

I was up late again and discovered I had a WhatsApp message from the rabbi asking me to come to Shacharit (Morning Service) on Hoshanah Rabbah (the seventh day of Sukkot, this Sunday).  I’m guessing he is worried we won’t get a minyan (prayer quorum) as we often struggle to get one on non-Shabbat/Yom Tov and some key minyan attendees are away.  I am also assuming that he messaged lots of people, not just me.  I hope he didn’t just message me.

I’ve only been to Shacharit on Hoshanah Rabbah once, when I was at university.  It’s a really long service with intense ritual (processing around the shul (synagogue) seven times with arbah minim and then beating willow branches).  Since then I haven’t managed to get up so early, plus I’ve been scared to go to a service I don’t really know my way around as usually I know what’s going on in shul.  The bottom line is that I’m unlikely to make it to Shacharit at 8.00am on a day sandwiched between two other days (Shabbat and Shmini Atzeret) that I would make more of an effort to go for.

It does make me wonder, though, if I should tell the rabbi about some of my issues.  Probably not just yet, but if he makes a habit of this, I might.

***

Rabbi Lord Sacks is still talking about Kohelet (Ecclesiastes).  He says that the individualism of Western society is leading to substance abuse, eating disorders, stress and mental illness, which may be true on a societal scale, but makes me feel guilty for being ill.  I probably am very self-centred, on some level at least.  The ‘mind-blindness’ aspect of autism can make it hard to work out what other people are thinking or what their needs are.  I don’t see myself as particularly consumerist or acquisitive and I try to give to others when I can, I just see myself as impaired in what I can do because of autistic empathy issues and low income.  I can’t find joy in the things Rabbi Sacks says Kohelet recommends: love/marriage, work, and living in the moment appreciating the simple things in life.  I don’t have a job or a relationship and my brain is often switched to ‘depressed’ even if I see a beautiful sunset or whatever.  I don’t blame Rabbi Sacks, because he is talking to a general audience, not the neurodivergent and the mentally ill, but it does make me feel a failure again and wonder if God hates me (if the Emeritus Chief Rabbi says I’m failing at life then presumably God agrees with him).

Whether I’m a product of a selfish, consumerist society or not, I feel very depressed today.  I had a religious/kashrut OCD worry that I sort of got under control, but now I’m caught between thinking it’s good that I controlled it and that it’s bad that it came up at all, plus I haven’t got it 100% under control.  (EDIT: actually, it’s not really under control. 😦  )

I don’t think I’m going to try to the rabbi’s oneg (Shabbat party thing) tonight.  I can’t face socialising, plus as I don’t drink, don’t know a lot of the tunes to the songs they sing and find the divrei Torah (Torah thoughts) at these things sometimes problematic and less than inspiring, the only thing there for me is the social aspect, which is often negated by social anxiety, and eating junk food, which I should really cut down on.  I think it’s going to be an effort just to get through Shabbat feeling like I do.

The Bifurcated Jew

I went to bed far too late last night (gone 2.00am), but I needed to shower and watch some TV (The IT Crowd) to be able to sleep after the stress of the day.  The second-hand DVD turned out to have a fault; actually not a fault, but just gunk on it that came off quite easily once I realised what was happening, but that wasted another five or ten minutes.  Once I got to sleep, I slept for ten hours or more and woke feeling exhausted and depressed as usual.  I woke up to a busy house, with both my parents home as well as industrial cleaners which probably didn’t help things, both from the point of view of noise and of people, from both autistic and socially anxious points of view.  The downstairs toilet still smells pungent.  I’m not sure if it’s cleaner or air freshener.  Either way, I struggle to go in there.

It’s now Chol HaMoed, a term which defies literal translation, but refers to the ‘middle days’ in the long festivals of Sukkot (Tabernacles) and Pesach (Passover) where work is permitted under certain conditions, but it’s better to avoid “real” work if possible and enjoy the festival.  So I’m holding off job hunting (I didn’t really have a head for it after the intensity of the last few days anyway) and also holding off writing my novel, as I feel that if I want to build a career of a writer, I should treat it as work.

In terms of what I did do, I managed thirty-five minutes of Torah study in the sukkah, which was nice, even though I didn’t understand the page of Talmud I was studying at all and even though I really wanted to do an hour, but ran out of time and energy.  I went for a twenty-five minute run.  I would like to increase the distance I run (at the moment it’s somewhat over two miles), but I was exhausted by the end.  I got a bit of a headache afterwards, but not (as yet) a full-blown migraine.  (I seem to be criticising myself a lot for not achieving more rather than praising myself for managing anything considering how I felt when I woke up.)

Exercise is the sort of thing where it’s subjective as to whether it’s allowed on Chol HaMoed; you have to decide if it enhances your joy or diminishes it and only do things that are either joy-enhancing or absolutely necessary.  I decided jogging was OK, as was miniature Doctor Who model painting.  The latter didn’t turn out too well.  Some of my paints have congealed or separated and I’ve ruined a lot of my brushes, particularly the very fine ones, trying to clean oil-based paints in white spirit.  I’ve bought the paints over a number of years from different companies and some are water-based (and therefore easy to remove from brushes), but others aren’t.  (Things I destroy and have to replace regularly without knowing how I destroy them: paint brushes, earphones, shoe soles.)  My hand shakes too much for fine work anyway.  If I had the money, I should probably take the plunge and buy a whole set of water-based paints and fine brushes.  It would be a big outlay, but it would probably pay off if I do this frequently, although at the moment I’m an infrequent painter.  Part of the problem is that different companies produce different types of paint for hugely different prices and it’s not always easy to compare different colours, or tell what you are going to get, although comparison charts can be found online.

Anyway, I now have a rather messily-painted TARDIS that needs further work, a half-painted thirteenth Doctor (Jodie Whittaker) that needs a lot more work and a Davros that might be finished (I won’t know for sure until it dries, but it’s looking OK at the moment).

***

The mouse touchpad problem on my laptop is back after going away for a while.  Whenever I turn the computer on, it defaults to tap-to-click instead of left-button clicking, which is problematic for me as it’s too sensitive and thinks I’m tapping when I’m not intending to do so.  It’s weird, the setup isn’t even set to clicking and when I go to change it back to tapping, I don’t even get to the right screen before it sorts itself out.  It’s like it ‘forgets’ what to do and when I start to go to touchpad properties it suddenly ‘remembers.’  Weird.

***

I was thinking of blogging about something rather more abstract than usual and decided against it, but then I came across a rather old blog post that touched on the same subject, so here goes.

This post is talking about Modern Orthodox parents who send their eighteen year old children (males in the article; the situation for women is analogous, but not identical) to Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) yeshivot (rabbinical seminaries) on their gap year where they are exposed to a worldview that is at odds with the Modern Orthodox way of life their parents brought them up to have and end up studying (“learning”) permanently in yeshiva and kollel rather than coming home at the end of their gap year, going on to university and then to work.  They also end up cutting themselves off from wider Western culture (museums, galleries, novels, etc.) and sometimes from a family that is perceived as not frum (religious) enough.  This is opposed to a Modern Orthodox lifestyle that values Torah study, but sees work, not permanent Torah study as the focus of most people’s lives and sees positive worth in at least some non-Jewish culture.

The writer states that such students will either adopt their yeshiva‘s values wholesale or “the student can bifurcate his (or her) world – they can split their life into two pieces: when in Yeshiva, or around their teachers from school, they pay lip service to the school’s philosophy, they wear black and white, they live in line with what their teachers expect. However, outside of school, they live within the guidelines of their more open, modern background: they watch television and movies, listen to secular music, find (forbidden?) pleasure in their required readings for English Lit., and generally, enjoy other activities of which their school would not approve.”

This resonated somewhat with me.  For one thing, it is part of the reason I never went to yeshiva, a decision I still think about a lot and wonder if it was responsible for many of my issues or if going to yeshiva would just have made my issues worse.  When I was eighteen, I was unaware that there were Modern Orthodox yeshivot where this bifurcation would not be necessary.  The (Haredi) Jewish Studies teachers at my (Modern Orthodox) school assumed I would go to yeshiva and were surprised when I didn’t.  They never actually asked me about it or told me about the range of yeshivot on offer.  I suspect if I had asked they would have referred me to a kiruv yeshiva (yeshiva for people not raised religious) which would doubtless have been equally indoctrinating as the yeshivot referred to in the blog post.  Perhaps I’m wrong about that.  (As an aside, one of the teachers who expressed surprise or annoyance at my “getting away” without going to yeshiva goes to my shul sometimes, but I don’t think he remembers me.  Another turned out to be a friend of the new rabbi.)

That was not the main resonance.  I am more concerned that I live with this dissonance in my shul.  From the Shabbat dinner discussion a few weeks ago, I feel that not everyone in my shul considers themselves Haredi, although some certainly are and others aspire to be so.  Most, if not all, of the working age men in the community work rather than studying full-time in kollel.  Some people do not have televisions while others do and there are divergent thoughts on Zionism and perhaps also on conflicts with science.  On the other hand, I suspect many people see television and Western culture generally as a bidieved, something allowed of necessity, for relaxation, but having no intrinsic value.  This contrasts with the more positive view of Western culture put forward by Modern Orthodox thinkers past and present like Rav Hirsch, Rav Soloveitchik, Rav Lichtenstein and (lehavdil bein chayim lechayim) Rabbi Lord Sacks and which I personally follow.

A commenter to the post suggested that, “There’s another option: learn and pray among the Haredim while dressing acting and thinking the way you want. Not for the faint of heart. People will think you’re weird. But I suspect it won’t be as hard to find schools or shidduchim [‘dates,’ but used as a metonymy for ‘spouse’] for your kids as the confirmed would have you believe.”  This is basically what I do, phrased more positively.  But I’m not sure that the consequences are as benign as the commenter thinks.  I don’t know how weird people think I am and I don’t know how difficult it would be to get a religious school or yeshiva to accept my hypothetical children.  But I am struggling to find a wife and I’m not sure how much that is because of this.  Certainly no one in the community is setting me up with people, not even the members who have said I should marry.  Do they not know anyone suitable or do they think I’m too weird/atypical?  It is difficult to tell.

This blog post chimed with the idea I had been thinking of laying out here.  It is an idea I heard at a shiur (religious class) when I was in Oxford, ironically from Rabbi Shaya Karlinsky, a Rosh Yeshiva (Yeshiva Principal) from a Modern Orthodox yeshiva (I think one where several peers of mine from Oxford studied after finishing their degrees, I think somewhere where I would feel less bifurcated).  I won’t set out all the proof-texts and reasoning from the biblical text, but it sees Jewish history as having a tension between the descendants of Leah, whose task is to seek pure spirituality, and the descendants of Rachel, whose task is to make the physical spiritual.  This plays out across history, from Yehudah vs. Yosef (Judah vs. Joseph) in the Yosef narrative, to Shaul vs. David (Saul vs. David) later, to the split of the kingdom in two under Rechovoam and Yeruboam (Rehoboam and Jeroboam), finally playing out at the end of history with the two Messiahs, Mashiach ben Yosef and Mashiach ben David (where the two strands are reconciled, with Mashiach ben Yosef preparing for Mashiach ben David).  My chiddush (innovative opinion) is to see Haredi Judaism and Leah-type pure spirituality and Modern Orthodoxy as Rachel-type spirituality in physicality.  This gives me an idea of where my life should be focused and makes me feel less embattled (because the sons of Rachel were numerically far fewer than those of Leah) and it helps me to conceptualise the Haredi world in a way that makes me less angry and resentful of it, but it doesn’t help me decide what to do about my shul community.

The Real Me

It’s supposed to be a bad sign if it rains on Sukkot, the Jewish festival we’re partway through.  This is because we eat (and sleep, if you’re brave) in thatched huts in the garden to remember the Israelites living in portable huts in the wilderness.  So if it rains and we can’t do that, so it’s a sign of Divine displeasure.  I think this probably only applies in Israel, as rain at this time of year is rare there.  Unlike here in the UK, where it’s been raining quite a bit (my family in Israel were too hot to go outdoors…).

It’s tempting to use that to segue into the story of my last two days, but it wouldn’t be entirely accurate.  There were some not-so-good things, and those are uppermost in my mind at the moment for reasons that will become obvious, but I can see objectively that there were good things too.  For a change, I will do this topically rather than chronologically.

Shul (synagogue): I got to shul quite a lot: both evenings and this morning (I was about twenty minutes late this morning, on time for the others).  The services were OK, although I was clock-watching after a while this morning, which may have been more to do with anxiety about having guests for lunch afterwards (see below).  I did struggle with the shiurim (religious classes) between Mincha and Ma’ariv (Afternoon and Evening Service) both days.  They were halakhic (Jewish law-focused) and somewhat triggering of my religious OCD in terms of making me worry that we were not fulfilling the festival laws properly.  Moreover, seeing so many people from the community engaging with the discussion and answering questions while I felt confused and unable to follow the argument made me feel that I just can’t engage with perhaps the most important area of religious practice for an Orthodox Jewish man: Talmudic and halakhic study.  I realised Torah as taught at a high level for men is largely left-brain/logical (Talmudic and halakhah) not right-brain/creative.  I need the creative aggadic (narrative) side.  This is often neglected.  Although to be fair, the shiur I go to on Thursdays is less halakhic, but I don’t participate as much as I could due to lack of confidence.  I felt like the shiurim told me how to fulfil the mitzvot (commandments) of Sukkot, but didn’t explore why we do these specific things, the symbolism and meaning.  Although, if they had done that, they probably would have gone for a kabbalistic (Jewish mysticism) approach that I would find equally problematic…

I was left feeling that I will never feel useful in my community.  I’m too scared to lead davening (lead the service), if they even ask me again, and I can’t do Talmudic and halakhic study (when I came in for Mincha someone was sitting at the table with three Hebrew-only books open, tracing some arcane point of halakhah, and he’s not even one of the people I have down as a really good scholar!).  I am hoping to write a devar Torah (essay on the weekly Torah reading) for later in the year, if I can manage it and if they still have the slot open to anyone (the same guy writes it each week, but I think that’s because no one else volunteers rather than because he really wants to write 1,000 words every week).

Mum said I should focus on the positive, saying I connect to God in my shul, but I don’t really.  I don’t really connect to God anywhere at the moment.  I just like my shul because there’s no talking and not much chazzanut (cantorial singing) and the people are nice.

Sukkah (sitting in the hut in the garden): this was pretty successful.  We had dinner out there on the first night, which is the most important meal of the holiday to have there.  I had kiddush (the blessing over wine and snacks before lunch) on the first day, but then it started raining and we had to eat lunch inside; it actually stopped raining, but my parents didn’t want to go out and I didn’t argue as the rabbi had said that if you go inside because of the weather you don’t have to come out if it stops raining, although I wasn’t sure that applied as technically we hadn’t started lunch itself when the rain stopped.  We had most of dinner last night, hurriedly coming in when the heavens opened towards the end of the main course.  And we had lunch out there today.  So, a reasonable success there.

Mental health: not so good.  As mentioned above, I had some religious OCD regarding the sukkah and the arbah minim (branches and a really expensive citrus fruit held and shaken during the Sukkot shul services), worrying that I wasn’t following the laws properly.  That was partly due to the shiurim, but probably mostly due to myself.  This was disappointing, as the religious OCD has been under control lately.  There was quite a bit of depression, which was partly a result of the OCD, but maybe a cause of it too.

On Monday evening after dinner I lay down on my bed in semi-darkness for a long time, unable to move or do anything.  I was somewhat similar today after lunch, albeit with a more obvious cause (see below).  I wonder if this was an autistic shutdown.  I’ve mentioned that my autism was not diagnosed for a long time (technically is still undiagnosed) and one of the reasons is an absence of some traits, such as meltdowns (overloaded, emotional responses to sensory and/or emotional overload).  I don’t really understand shutdowns as well as meltdowns and they seem to be less accepted as legitimate autistic behaviour, but they do seem to suit my behavioural pattern better, but it could just be depression.  It’s sometimes hard to see where one of my issues ends and another begins.

Social: we had our neighbours over for lunch today.  I don’t really know them well, although I’ve known them for a number of years.  Some time ago my Dad wanted to set me up with their daughter (who also came today), which made the whole situation feel more awkward to me, as I don’t think she’s interested in me at all.  I coped, but I largely found the conversation overwhelming: loud and uninteresting (neurotypical small talk).  As I said, I had a bit of a shutdown afterwards and didn’t really get time to recover before shul and the shiur that left me feeling bad, which may have been strategically unwise, although I would have had to go to shul anyway as my tallit and machzor (prayershawl and festival prayer book) were still there.  I upset my parents by coming home from shul in a bit of a state and snapping at them.  Mum said they don’t like it when I come home from shul beating myself up, so now I’m beating myself up even more for upsetting them and beating myself up.

Sigh.  Sukkot is also known as Zman Simchateinu, the Time of our Joy.  It’s supposed to be the most joyous Jewish festival.  I could see the depression trap there a mile off, but I still kind of fell into it.  I tried to focus on the halakhic definition of joy, but that didn’t really work either.  Eating meat and wine – I don’t like meat much and I don’t drink alcohol because it’s a depressant and doesn’t go with my meds.  Sleeping more than usual – well, that’s a problem in itself.  Buying jewellery for one’s wife and sweets for one’s children – nooooooo.

Reading: I read a fair chunk of both Batman: Knightfall: Knightsend (graphic novel) and Doctor Who: The New Adventures: First Frontier (Doctor Who spin-off novel).  They were quite  good.  To be honest, if they were much better, it would probably have been wasted on me anyway.

***

I came home from shul today feeling useless, feeling that I can’t lead davening or “learn” Torah or do any of the Jewish stuff I should.  I felt I was a third-rate writer and failed librarian (if “failed librarian” is even a thing).  I sometimes feel that I want to win the Booker Prize just to prove myself to… I’m not sure who.  Myself, probably, or the people who bullied me at school (like they (a) remember me or (b) care about the Booker Prize).

It’s funny to come here after Yom Tov and see that I have positive feedback from people here…  It’s weird how people seem to like me more online than in real life.  Am I more “real” here when I have time to think and no pressure of being in a room with someone or do I fake it more here with time to think and draft and edit every comment I make?

This reminded me of a weird story.  Years and years ago there was a letter in Doctor Who Magazine from a teenager called Robert A. J. Newton who started a Doctor Who club at his school.  He got permission from the teachers to put up signs to advertise it.  For reasons that are too complicated to go into here, the society was called HABAFOM (don’t ask, it’s a very obscure Doctor Who reference).

He stuck up over seventy A5 sheets of paper with quotes from the series, intended to demonstrate that the programme is “poetic, brilliant and thought-provoking” only for them to be taken down by staff.  He went to the deputy head to ask why and was told off for putting up material that was, “radical, anti-establishment, contentious and occult” (I liked that so much that I had to look up the exact quote).  He responded that he had permission to advertise his Doctor Who club.  The deputy head said that if the quotes had been attributed to Doctor Who rather than the mysterious HABAFOM, it would have been OK as no one would have taken them seriously.

I feel a bit like this.  That online, people think I’m a good person and clever, but in real life I just come across as an idiot or a freak and can’t believe that I’m capable of good things and if I tried to show them who I am, it would alter their view of me, perhaps for the worst (if they find out I hold certain beliefs or opinions).  I don’t know.  Meg commented on a recent post to say that I’m the most religious person she knows, but I feel that if she knew some of the people I know, she would think that they’re much better than me more religious.

Maybe that’s not true.  I have a certain notoriety at my Thursday night shiur for once answering a question that the rabbi there bet £50 to charity that no one could answer, but I feel I have to live up to that.  CBT was supposed to make me feel that people do like me and find me interesting, and I can sort of see that, but at the same time it’s really difficult to hold on to those beliefs.  I guess the fact that I’m questioning this at all and not just assuming the worst about how everyone sees me online and in real life is some kind of improvement, in a way.

***

Sukkot lasts several more days, so more days with the sukkah and arbah minim, but it’s permissible to do some work on the next few days.  So, we shall see how the next few days go.

“I’m dreaming of a dry Sukkos”

I’ll try to blog quickly, as it’s late, I haven’t eaten and I still have lots of stuff to do tonight.

I got up early this morning, but I still didn’t get to shul (synagogue).  I woke up around 8.00am, but must have drifted in and out of consciousness as suddenly it was 9.30.  I got up and ate some breakfast, but I was going slowly because I was tired and it was soon gone 10.00 and I was still in pyjamas.  I realised that by the time I got dressed and walked to shul the service would almost certainly be nearly finished (if there’s a Shabbat (Sabbath) between Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement) and Sukkot (Tabernacles), it’s a short service as the leining (Torah reading) is really short and everyone’s exhausted from all the festivals).  So, I stayed at home.  Unfortunately I fell asleep again for fifty minutes or so, and again after lunch.  Not good.  I hope I can sleep tonight.  I did do some Torah study in the afternoon though as well as going to Talmud shiur (class).

I did go back to shul in the afternoon, although there was a mix up over whether there was a seudah (the third Sabbath meal, between the Afternoon and Evening Services), so I ended up going home for a bit.  I stayed behind after Ma’ariv (Evening Service) to help put up the shul sukkah, the portable shack we eat in over the festival of Sukkot (starts tomorrow night).  I was glad to show my face as part of the community, but I fear I didn’t actually do very much.  I’m not tall or strong, I can’t tie knots and I couldn’t remember how the sukkah fitted together, so that removed me from most of the useful jobs.  Also, although I can be somewhat practical by myself, in a group, as I mentioned the other day, I end up overwhelmed by social anxiety worrying what everyone wants me to do and also struggling with autistic poor executive function and not knowing what would be useful.  I end up just getting in the way (apparently a common autistic trait).  I ended up holding the light and pointing it at people who were doing real work so they could see what they were doing, as I did last year.  Plus, I couldn’t tell if people were angry with me and I didn’t get all the jokes everyone was making, so I feel very autistic right now.

It rained while we were putting up the sukkah, which was not great.  This festival should really be observed in Israel and not Britain.  It looks set to be a wet Sukkot (hence the post title – Sukkos is the Ashkenazi (North European) pronunciation of the Modern Hebrew Sukkot).  Hopefully we will be able to eat in the sukkah a bit over the chag (festival).

On Friday night one of my friends in shul asked if I was OK as he didn’t think he saw me in shul on Yom Kippur.  I didn’t really want to get into stuff in front of loads of people, so I said I have some health issues and only made it for some of the day, but I’m thinking it might be a good idea to text him to let him know a bit more about my issues as he is one of my closest friends in shul.  I never really know how much to tell people about my issues.  Sometimes I feel it would be helpful if more people knew, but then I had a therapist who felt I hide behind my diagnoses sometimes.

I’m not sure if I’m going to be able to post tomorrow as things will be quite hectic getting ready for Yom Tov and then I’ll be offline until Tuesday evening.

Defining Success

Today felt like a waste, although this may have just been my negative self-perception.  I did a few things.  I helped Dad with the sukkah, the temporary booth/dwelling Jews eat in (and sleep in, in warmer climes) for a week during the festival of Sukkot (starting next week).  I tried to understand the Department of Work and Pensions’ byzantine and poorly-explained rules about employment benefits and printed off the twenty-three page long application form for New Style Employment and Support Allowance.  (Why is complaining about bureaucracy considered a conservative thing when it’s a major gatekeeper preventing the low-skilled from accessing state services?  It’s almost as if middle class progressives want to monopolise the benefits they can access for themselves…)  I procrastinated more about trying to work as a teaching assistant without coming to a conclusion.  I’m still terrified at the prospect of doing that, but don’t know what my other options are.

I went jogging for the first time nearly three weeks.  The run was average, but at least I burnt off some frustration or even aggression about not fitting in religiously/politically/culturally.  Even if it did come back later…  I had a bit of a headache a couple of hours after jogging, which was probably from exercise again, but at least it wasn’t a bad migraine.  It is frustrating getting exercise headaches when I’m already fighting against depression in my battle to get back into shape.

I worked on my novel for half an hour.  I didn’t write a huge amount and most of what I did write was expanding paragraphs I wrote previously rather than pushing on ahead, but it was good to work on it at all and I’ve basically written off this entire month (and a bit) for novel writing.  I know there is too much going on with Jewish festivals and then I’m going away for my cousin’s bar mitzvah.  Hopefully in November I will be able to begin writing in earnest.  I also managed about half an hour of Torah study, which was less than I intended, but quite good.  I thought this article was really interesting, although I suspect it is fairly meaningless to people who haven’t had a lot of exposure to frum (religious Orthodox Jewish) books or lectures on Yom Kippur.  It’s weird and somewhat frightening how things “everyone knows” so often turn out to be unsourced or based on misunderstandings of earlier sources.

Also for my novel, I bought a couple of books on abusive relationships for research.  This was probably extravagant as I should go to the library for research, but I thought it might be useful to have them on hand while writing.  I should definitely go to the library before buying any further research materials, though. When I was doing my undergraduate degree, I tended to buy one or two basic text books before the start of term as background reading and to have on hand whenever I wanted them, and then borrow the other books from the libraries as necessary, which is similar to what I’m doing here.  I suppose I am vaguely worried of being seen in public with books on abusive relationships…

***

I just posted this in response to StoicWannabe’s comment on my last post:

I don’t know what a realistic definition of success for me is. I’ve never seen money or status as success, but I do see not being dependent on my parents as success. I see a lot of religious observances as success, but I know I can’t meet them, in terms of mitzvot like Torah study, communal prayer, children etc., but also social things like fitting in to the community and having frum friends. I see connection with people as success, but somehow I get distracted from that or forget about it when I need to remember it, or else I don’t believe that I’ve achieved so many connections or I focus on the people I’ve lost touch with or who got angry with me. I do have a sense of wanting to do something that justifies my life and (although I’m somewhat ashamed to admit it) somehow gets back at everyone who bullied me as a child (even though I’m sure they’ve all forgotten me by now – I don’t even remember most of them clearly).

It is hard to think of a definition of success that is both attainable and meaningful in my current condition.

 

***

My laptop is getting old.  The casing is broken.  Its speed is still reasonable, but it develops other quirks.  The Wifi sometimes stops working, which seems to be the computer rather than the router, but it isn’t easy to tell; it’s better than it was a couple of months ago, when it was dropping all the time, but still isn’t perfect.  In the last few days it has developed a new quirk: suddenly turning on the ‘tap to click’ function on the mouse touchpad.  I hate this function, as I’m always accidentally clicking on stuff I don’t want to click on when it’s on, so this is really irritating for me.  I know how to turn it off again, but it’s frustrating to keep having to do it.  This happened to me once before, but I can’t remember how I solved the problem; possibly by reinstalling the touchpad, which I really don’t want to do (I hate having to do things like that, as I always worry about deleting software permanently).  Alternatively, I could use a physical mouse, but I don’t really want to as I don’t have much room on my desk.

***

Lately I seem to be finding places where I think I can fit in and open up to people, in real life or online, but then either discover that I don’t fit in as well as I thought or they aren’t as safe as I thought.  It’s happened with my depression group (I found it harder to connect with people and then they moved to another site that isn’t as easy for me to get to), autism group (there seemed to be different people each time and I found it hard to connect again), autism WhatsApp group (I’m just not connecting with them at all), various Jewish websites and blogs and a politics site.  I suppose that’s also what happened with my shul (synagogue), only in slow motion.  It makes me wonder if I’ll ever really connect with anyone, make friends or find a community.  Am I too picky in my needs?  Do I want everyone to be like me to be my friend?  That’s unlikely, given that the friends I do have are usually quite unlike me.  Some of the problem is a general problem of the internet, and the way that few people who use it seem to be able to disagree in a civil way, which always makes me uncomfortable.

I am glad that there are a few people here who comment a lot.  I find that helpful.  I’ve had blogs where no one at all was commenting, so it’s good to get some response.  Thanks for reading/commenting.

Sukkot 1 and 2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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