Frazzled

Late last night (about 1am), I was still wide awake, and feeling rather tense and agitated.  Yes, I’d forgotten to take my meds again.  I had something to eat and took them, but I couldn’t sleep, so I got up and looked for something calming to watch.  I decided on my childhood favourite, Mr Benn.  My sister bought me the DVD years ago.  This was a series of short cartoons from the early seventies about a man who tries on clothes from the fancy dress shop; when he wears them, he gets caught up in an adventure related to the type of clothes he’s wearing.  It’s for very young children, so the “adventure” is usually something simple, non-violent, and with a clear moral, like “Be grateful for what you have” or “Don’t cheat” (from the two episodes I watched last night).  That said, one proposed episode was never made, banned as politically subversive (Mr Benn becomes a convict and cheers the other convicts up by decorating the prison in bright colours).  The animation is extremely basic, often just still pictures, but I find the incidental music really haunting and atmospheric.  David McKee, who created and wrote all the episodes also did some of the animation too.  In the USA he’s best known for creating and drawing Elmer the Patchwork Elephant.  The series was probably the gateway drug that introduced me to classic British telefantasy.  Little did my parents realise what they were getting me into…

I didn’t fall asleep until about 3am or later.  I got woken up around 8.00am by the *cough cough* in the garden next door, but shut the windows and went back to sleep.  I was too depressed and exhausted to see much of the morning and the early afternoon.  I felt somewhat better after lunch, but still fragile and drained.

I did manage to write 500 words of my novel after lunch, my minimum daily target.  I somehow wrote that in under an hour, which was good, because I was too tired to carry on after that.  I felt pretty frazzled after yesterday.  After that I had therapy today because yesterday was bank holiday, but I was not really looking forward to doing it while drained.  I still “gushed forth” a flood of thoughts and feelings.  I spoke mainly about my interactions with my religious community.  My therapist noted that with autism it is much harder to judge the informal rules of a community as opposed to the formal ones, but autism can also create a greater desire for clear formal rules.  She also said some useful stuff about some people in the community being higher up the hierarchy and therefore able to make comments and jokes that would not be permitted to other people because they are risque mocking or e.g. the previous rabbi in my shul (synagogue) used to joke about the Moshe (Moses) grumbling about having to tell the Israelites about tefillin (“We have to strap leather boxes to our arms and heads during morning prayers”) which other people might not be able to do.  We also spoke about religious communities not always encouraging individuality and self-expression; I said that’s true, but that perhaps having something to kick against gives me a reason to write.  I would be much less likely to write a novel about a depressed, autistic person in the secular community because I think the Jewish nature of my novel is a new angle on the topic.

Just as I was writing this bit about community, there was a knock at the door and someone dropped off a box of chocolates and a packet of flowery paper napkins, from my shul.  Some people in the community have sponsored this for everyone in the community as a way of uniting us for the festival of Shavuot this week when we’re still in lockdown.  I’m slightly puzzled as to the significance of the paper napkins.

I was quite exhausted after therapy and spent longer decompressing than I would have liked.  Since childhood, I have always taken longer decompressing and moving from one activity to another than I would have liked.  I think it’s primarily an autistic trait, although it can probably be worsened by depression.  It’s one of the reasons I fail to stick to plans.  I was OK moving between lessons at school, possibly because there was an order to packing and unpacking my stuff and, as I went to a large school, there would be several minutes in the crush of getting to the next lesson and then waiting outside talking before the teacher came.

I was going to try to cook something for dinner, but as I was tired, I just cooked plain pasta to eat with bought sauce.  I did also manage to go for a half-hour walk and Skype E.  But other than that, I was too exhausted to do anything this evening.

Self-Hating Jew

Our Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) next-door neighbours held more socially distanced, but (I think) still lockdown-breaking, minyanim (prayer meetings) in their garden over Shabbat (the Sabbath) again. There was also some kind of gathering or party going on last night in the garden of the house behind us. They didn’t go in until 2am and made a lot of noise before then. Strangely, I got bothered more by the minyanim and couldn’t work out why, as the party seemed more antisocial (assuming they weren’t all from the same house, which is possible).

My eventual reasoning was that, despite being an Orthodox Jew myself, I’m carrying around a lot of anger and possibly other emotions around Orthodox Jews and my place in the frum (religious Orthodox Jewish) community, particularly around feeling that I never found my place in the community, that I have to hide who I really am or fear ostracism, as well as anger about people not being friendly or setting me up on shidduch dates when I was single. It’s something I might bring to therapy this week, although there is some other stuff I’d also like to talk about (I might have to prioritise). The anger and hatred is kind of weird. Jewish self-hatred is a real thing, but it’s usually associated with people right on the edge of the community, not people who are religious and integrated to the community (and I am integrated on some level).

I think it ties in with my view of God as punitive, or at least indifferent to me. I don’t believe God is punitive or indifferent to other people, just to me. It might be related to low self-esteem in general, or to my feelings of not fitting into the community. Not being a good enough Jew, which then leads to anger back at the community.

***

Otherwise it was a fairly normal Shabbat. I struggled to sleep again on Friday night. I’m not sure why. It seems to happen sometimes without cause, but this time it could have been the noise (although insomnia carried on for two hours after the noise stopped), the fact I drank some Diet Coke at dinner (I don’t know why I’ve got in the habit of doing this again, although I’m not convinced it really makes much difference) or the fact that I forgot to take my tablets until right before I went to bed. The latter is probably the key factor.

Because I couldn’t sleep, I lay in bed for quite a long time with my thoughts, which was not comfortable. I thought I was feeling more comfortable with my thoughts and in control of them lately, but obviously not. I can’t remember exactly what I was thinking, just that it was unpleasant. I did intermittently get up and read, a mixture of The Siege: The Saga of Israel and Zionism (which is really good) and Batman graphic novels.

I fell asleep around 4am and slept through the morning, being woken intermittently by the Shacharit minyan (Morning Prayer Service) next door and falling asleep again (I dreamt I wrote them an angry letter of complaint), then I slept for three more hours after lunch. Not good. I will struggle to sleep tonight. I did wake from my nap refreshed though, which was good as generally I don’t feel so refreshed from sleep, either night sleep or naps.

Other than that I just did some Torah study and ate with my parents. There’s not a lot else to report.

Anhedonia and Resentment

Another struggling morning.  It’s so hard to get going.  I just feel so tired and depressed.  It’s also easier to get sucked into despair and loneliness (missing E. – not exactly the dictionary definition of loneliness, but it’s hard to think what else it is) than at any other point of the day, although I am be glad that nowadays there are times when I’m less likely to be sucked in to them.

I wrote a job application, mostly tidying up my CV and template cover letter.  I decided to leave it before sending it and have another look at it tomorrow, as I was quite depressed today and didn’t think I really concentrated on it well.  I ought to be able to do the job well, but I’ve completely lost confidence in my ability to do the job I was trained for to the extent that I don’t think I can do this job and on some level don’t want to get it.  Nevertheless, I intend to send it tomorrow.

Other stuff done today: therapy (see below), thirty minutes of Torah study, a thirty minute walk, and a Skype call with E.  I had an idea for my devar Torah (Torah thought) for this week, but it needs developing and I’m not sure where to take it.

***

Therapy today was useful.  We spoke a bit about grieving for parts of my life that I lost or never had (e.g. the stereotypical frum (religious Orthodox Jewish life)) rather than internalising them as a critical internal voice (e.g. “I’m useless because I’m not married).  We also spoke about the persecutor-victim-rescuer drama triangle, a relationship model where all three roles are unhealthy (“relationship” in this context means any relationship of people, not necessarily a romantic one).  I think a lot of my friendships/romantic/would-be romantic relationships in the past were victim-rescuer relationships, one way or the other, whereas with E. that’s not the case.  It’s a lot healthier; even though both of us have a lot of issues, we don’t really play the victim or rescuer, we support each other as equals and have good boundaries.

***

One thing I touched on in therapy was the feeling I have of God being critical and punitive, even though that’s not the type of theology I was brought up with or read nowadays.  It’s hard to see where that comes from except my general internal critical voice, which is hyperactive.

Related to that (which I didn’t discuss in therapy), is that I’m still struggling to emotionally connect with God or Judaism.  I was trying to work out earlier how much Jewish stuff I would still do if I knew there was no reward or punishment for it.  I would still keep Shabbat, because I feel that’s very positive for me in a very tangible way.  I would still study Torah, but maybe shift my focus (then again, maybe not).  Keeping kosher doesn’t bother me so I would keep that up.  I might reduce prayer.  It’s hard to tell.

Looking at the last paragraph, I looks like overall I would stick with most of Jewish practice: (Shabbat, Torah, kashrut and davening covers the bulk of daily Jewish practice for a non-married person.  I just wish it brought me more joy.  Is it the lack of connection to God that strips it of joy or is it the depressive anhedonia (inability to experience pleasure)?  Because obviously depending on what the cause is, the solution would be very different.  It’s not like there’s much joy in my life from other sources, so it could well be that I just don’t experience much joy or pleasure.

E. and I have been studying Pirkei Avot, the volume of Talmud that deals with ethics, together.  She keeps saying that while it’s interesting and some of it seems reasonable, it wouldn’t change her life.  I’m not sure if I can think of a single Jewish teaching that changed my life in that way.  I think it’s a cumulative effect of learning lots of things and doing lots of things that made me more religious.  Nevertheless, I am aware that a lot of my religious growth was driven by not wanting to be a hypocrite in picking and choosing elements of Jewish belief and practice, and that other people won’t necessarily feel the same need for consistency.  Indeed, outside of certain parts of the Orthodox Jewish community, pick and choose Judaism is the norm.

I would say that I doubt I could pass my religiosity to others because of that lack of joy and focus on integrity, but somehow I have influenced people around me to become more frum in some ways, even if not as much as me, so obviously I’m doing something right, I just don’t know what.

***

I do struggle with feelings of jealousy connected to anhedonia, feeling resentful and upset that other people can enjoy their lives whereas my enjoyment has been limited for the last twenty years and not that great even before that.  The most resentment and jealousy is over sex and over religion, people who enjoy their religious lives and find meaning and joy in it as well as friendship and community.

I don’t know why these two areas are the big sources of resentment for me.  I have never been a great traveller, but I don’t really resent people who do travel, perhaps because I was taken on a number of holidays in Europe as a child.  But I don’t resent people who have been to Asia or South America or other places I’ve never been to.  I don’t really resent people who can drink alcohol safely (which I’ve always been too scared to do) or who can drive (which I’ve also always been too scared to do).  I suppose I do feel resentful when there’s a party or social community event and I’m too depressed, autistic and socially awkward to attend.  Even so, sex and religion seem to be the big sources of resentment.  Or maybe I’m just confronted with them more often.

***

I was thinking crazy stuff today, at least before therapy.  I don’t know if I can put it in words, but I guess there were elements of catastrophising, self-blame, repressed anger and despair.  I tried to write the job application, but then I get sucked into procrastination online, and that triggered other thoughts and feelings (see the next paragraph).  I’m trying to notice when I’m catastrophising or self-blaming or worrying about stuff that is out of my control, or getting angry with people who I have now cut out of my life, but it can be hard to do that straight away.

***

I saw a comment online earlier that listed “severe depression” as being up there with drink, drugs, diseases, “several” divorces and domestic violence as the only things that would stop “Any eligible Orthodox Jewish man” meeting the proverbial “‘nice’ eligible Orthodox Jewish woman.”  Well, I did find a nice Jewish girl, fortunately, but I guess this is why I had to go outside of the frum community.  Still, “depression is as bad as domestic violence”… talk about stigma.  Reminds me of another article I saw years ago, on a secular website this time, that basically said if you have treatment-resistant depression, you’re never going to find a romantic partner, and that’s not fair, but life’s not fair, so deal with it.  It really was that blunt.

***

Boots has sold out of hair clippers.  I’m going to look like the abominable snowman by the time the barbers re-open.  At least I can shave again tomorrow.

Are Friends Electric?

I got up a little later today, at 10.30am, but still before 11.00.  When I got up, I found myself struggling with difficult emotions that I couldn’t really put into words.  It’s hard when I can’t put things into words, as I can’t write about them or speak about them in therapy, although sometimes I try to take the feelings to therapy and the therapist or the therapy process helps me to find the words.

Dad took Mum to hospital for chemo soon after I got up.  He’s not allowed to stay there at the moment because of social distancing, so has to come home and then go out again to pick her up.  It meant both my parents were out for a while, which is not so common at the moment, at least not for more half an hour or so.  This can be good or bad.  I like the quiet, but maybe I need other people around on some level, particularly when I’m depressed.  I just moped around after breakfast and missed E.  Maybe that would have happened even if my parents were here.  It probably would, to be honest.

***

I did two hours of work on my novel, writing about fourteen hundred words,  which is probably a record for me in terms of amount of fiction written in one day (and also the length of this post… blogging is much easier than fiction writing).  I was mostly writing a surreal interlude.  These are easier for me to write than the realistic bits.  Writing something as autobiographical as this has locked me into realist narrative,  but I’m not really that comfortable with it.  It’s a shame, as I have two or three other ideas for realist, literary novels that I think could be really good, but I don’t think I could write them (yet?).  Fortunately, lately I’ve been having ideas for a non-realist book/series of books that I hope to work on when this novel is finished, although I’m keeping quiet about this for now…

In other activity, I spent ten minutes polishing off my devar Torah (Torah thought) for the week and half an hour on Torah study.  I did some serious textual study, Tehillim (Psalms) and Mishnah in Hebrew.  The Artscroll Mishnah commentary confuses me.  It goes into too much detail about what is in the Talmud Bavli and the Talmud Yerushalmi and the different commentaries and super-commentaries, the Rishonim and the Acharonim (the Medieval commentaries and post-Medieval commentaries).  I get completely confused and have no idea what the Mishnah is talking about when I probably could understand it on a basic level if it was simplified.  Sadly, the Kehati Mishnah which is much more succinct and guides you through the basic meaning of the Mishnah is now out of print and hard to get hold of and I don’t think Koren have an English language Mishnah yet, so I’m stuck with the Artscroll.

I ran for thirty-five minutes again, for the third time this week, which I haven’t managed for a very long time.  I was out at 8pm when everyone applauds the NHS.  It was amusing, feeling like I was finishing a marathon when I was only halfway through my run, but I was irritated by the number of people coming out of their drives and onto the pavement, making me either run in the road or risk coming close enough to get infected.  This only exacerbated my mixed feelings about the whole exercise (the NHS applause, not the run).  I realised that if anyone wants to be a populist dictator in this country, they shouldn’t whip up racial hatred, start a war or press for emergency powers – just present themselves as the champion of the NHS.  It worked for Tony Blair.

The problem is that despite a lot of activity, I still wish I had done more.  If I had got up earlier, or been less depressed when I did get up, I might have managed more Torah study or been able to go to bed earlier tonight.  If I hadn’t got an exercise migraine I might have managed a little more Torah study, or to talk to E. for longer…  It’s an unhelpful attitude, but it persists in me.  Nevertheless, I can see that this has been a very productive week.

***

I weighed 75kg this morning, nearly 12 stone.  Admittedly that was after breakfast (I’m really bad at remembering to weigh myself before breakfast.  I’m really bad at doing anything before breakfast, to be honest).  I know I need to lose weight, but it’s hard.  I do eat quite a bit of junk on Shabbat and I’m not entirely sure why my self-control deserts me then, but otherwise I limit myself to one unhealthy thing a day.  I try not to eat ice cream more than once a week, if not even less frequently (ice cream is my biggest comfort eating temptation, and is something we currently have loads of as Mum can eat it when chemo side-effects make it hard for her to eat more solid things).  But I feel it’s so hard to cut junk out entirely when I’m depressed, I just need something nice before I go to bed.  I tried cutting the calories different ways, eating less at lunch, but that didn’t work either, I just got really hungry in the late afternoon long before dinner (we usually eat quite late, which doesn’t help).  I already eat a lot of fruit and veg every day, so I can’t substitute them in to replace more fattening alternatives.  I do worry about being overweight and unhealthy, but I don’t know how to shift it – as far as I can tell, my weight gain is completely driven by my psychiatric medications, all of which have weight gain as a common side-effect, but I can’t come off them (I’ve tried).  I’m trying to exercise more too, but that can lead to weight gain, as muscle weighs more than fat.  I find it quite depressing.

***

Oh what tangled webs we weave…  I’ve mentioned about losing friends in the last few months.  One was someone whose blog I read.  We weren’t really friends, but I did comment there a lot.  Then I worried that I had said the wrong thing.  I felt my comments were becoming unintentionally combative because I was being upset (I won’t say ‘triggered’) by blog discussions of dating in the frum world.  I wasn’t trying to start a fight, but I worried it looked that way and wasn’t sure if my comments were ignored deliberately or just missed.  Then there was a reply to me that might have been angry or might not.

So, I resolved to stop reading and commenting, but I was weak, so I went back to reading and swore not to comment.  There was a post today with a religious question for which I think I have a helpful answer.  But I’m too scared to post.  I thought of posting under a different name, but worried that it could be identified as coming from me, possibly provoking further anger.  So, as of now, I haven’t commented, but it is frustrating when I think I could help.

The bottom line is that it was probably another online communication that I over-invested in and thought was friendlier than it actually was.  I used to think that my in-person social anxieties and awkwardnesses were mitigated online.  To some extent that’s true, but I think I do still have the ability to make people think I’m weird and rude.  I think I’ve upset people online before by not counting online friendships as “real” friendships, but to some extent it’s a defence strategy in a situation where I don’t know how much weight and significance the other person gives to interactions that mean a lot to me.

***

Related to the above: I have to say, writing a semi-autobiographical novel has really driven home how much other people might see me as a self-obsessed, moody, standoffish drama queen.  Not the type of person you would want to be friends with.  So much for “We’re all the heroes of our stories.”  I think I’m probably the irritating geeky character who gets killed off three quarters of the way through.

I did at least put “might see me as a self-obsessed (etc.)”.  In the past I would have been sure.

Lockdown Blues

I got up at 10.00am again.  I should probably feel more pleased with that than I actually am.  I’m not good at praising myself on achievements (I leave that to E.).  I still staggered around the house in a tired, depressed haze for an hour and a half afterwards, trying to wake up, and I went online before getting dressed, which is bad of me.

***

I’m still counting down to Lag B’Omer, when I can shave again and listen to music without feeling guilty, or worrying that my parents can hear (because I still haven’t told them that depressed people can listen to music, because…  I’m not really sure why, actually).  Only about a week left…

What I can’t count down to is the end of lockdown.  It’s beginning to get to me though, even though on the surface it hasn’t changed a whole lot about my life, except getting rid of job-hunting, which I hated anyway.  The deaths on TV seem pretty distant and far away, even though I know people (well, one person, a very close friend of my parents) who was hospitalised with what was probably COVID-19 complications and I know of someone else who died of it (my rabbi mentor’s grandmother, who I met once).

But I’m tired of going out of my way to avoid people when shopping or jogging and I’m tired of worrying about Mum getting COVID-19 with her reduced immune system.  I’m worried about E. being in her apartment by herself indefinitely.   I want to be in the same country as her, which can’t happen until lockdown is lifted in both the UK and the US, probably not for some time afterwards.  And I’m tired of shortages and not feeling like I can pop down the road to buy things, and the atmosphere of death and uncertainty.

***

I tried to work on my novel some more.  I managed just under nine hundred words in one hour and a half.  It’s hard to write when you feel as miserable as I did earlier today.  I want to add more humour to my writing, but I’m not sure how.  I think it needs it.  I’ve got a growing list of things to add in the redrafts, stylistic things as much as plot elements, and I’m not sure how I do that.  I suppose I shouldn’t expect myself to have everything done from the start, but I do anyway.

I did the writing before therapy.  After therapy I was in a much better mood, but I was tired and I didn’t want to overstretch myself by forcing myself to write more.  I’ve moved my appointment from 3.00pm to 4.00pm next week, which will hopefully give me more time to write before therapy and I can crash afterwards if necessary.

***

As mentioned above, I had Skype therapy with a new therapist.  She seemed nice, and asked whether I wanted her to prompt me when I paused for a long time.  Some therapists just let you sit there until you can think of something.  We spoke a bit about my relationship with E. and how it seems a gamble (in the therapist’s words), but also that it seems very positive.  In particular the therapist re-framed things from thinking about the big steps the relationship could lead to (marriage, emigration, being with someone on a different religious level) to focusing on the many smaller, manageable steps that I will have to take to get to that point which will make it easier.

I also cooked dinner (macaroni cheese) and went for a walk for forty-five minutes or so (including popping into the pharmacy to request a repeat prescription), so it was a busy day.  I managed ten minutes of Torah study before therapy.  I would have liked to have done more afterwards, but after attempting to do so for five or ten minutes decided I was too tired.

Sour Grapes?

I got to bed at 1.30am last night, which is late, but is pretty early for a motzei Shabbat (Saturday evening) in the summer, when Shabbat goes out late and it takes time to tidy up, blog what happened during the day and have something to eat and just generally shift from “Shabbat mode” to “weekday mode” and then to “bed mode.”  I didn’t fall asleep until after 2.30am, though.  I did, however, manage to get up at 10.00am this morning, although not 8.00am when I first woke up and tried, and failed, to get up.  The lack of sleep was perhaps partly due to ideas for a my novel, and now for a second novel (which I’m worried may be tasteless, but trying not to think about that for now).  The second novel is very different from the first, but I’m trying to focus on one at a time.

Despite this, I struggled with writing (the first novel) today.  I don’t know why, I just felt like I was wading through treacle.  I felt drained, despite getting up early.  I was not tired exactly, but it was hard to think.  I was stuck in part of the novel that doesn’t really relate to my life and which is a necessary, but not terribly interesting part of the story, and I felt I was just spinning my wheels, trying to get through it to get to the next bit, even if I radically rewrite it in the redrafts.  I think that’s the thing to do at the moment, just to press on and try to get the first draft finished as soon as possible and then see what work needs doing on it.

I probably wrote for about an hour and a half overall today, excluding lots of procrastination mixed in there.  I think I wrote around 700 words, finishing the chapter and then reading back the finished chapter.  I also did some restructuring of the chapter divisions in the plan for the book.  I felt that I would have liked to have done more.  I just feel negative about things today.  I guess there are always going to be good days and bad days.  The word count is about 26,000 which is pretty good.  I’ve been told an average novel is 80,000 to 100,000 words, so I’m about a third of the way there, which matches where I am in my outline for the book.

I went for a thirty-five minute run, but I was sluggish there too.  It was hard to get going, I was frequently short of breath and prone to aches and cramps.  Still, I did my usual length run.

I did about thirty minutes of Torah study by myself and another forty-five with E. on Skype.

Despite achieving quite a bit, I think depression and uncertainty about my writing blended into general depression and uncertainty about my life today.  It’s hard to be objective about things like my writing, my relationship, my position in the Jewish community… so many different things affect how I see those things.  Sometimes I get terrified that my life is going irretrievably down the toilet; other times I feel more optimistic; but it is hard to tell which is objectively correct, if either.  I wish everything didn’t have to be so hard for me.

In this regard, I’m glad I have therapy tomorrow, but I’m also very nervous about it.  What if the therapist tells me I’m living my life wrong?  OK, a therapist wouldn’t say that in so many words, but what if I’m left with the conclusion that I’m living it wrongly?  I can’t see any better alternatives.

***

When I was trying to write, but procrastinating, I read about the shidduch system, the system of arranged blind dates in the Orthodox community by which people date, the system that I felt rather failed me (although as I’m happy with E., it’s good that it failed me, but I still have some resentment and feel like a second-class citizen generally).  I don’t know why I keep looking for stuff that I disagree with about the Haredi world.  Maybe it’s a sour grapes feeling.  “Yeah, I may have failed to be a good Haredi Jew, but I don’t even want to be part of your dysfunctional society, so there!”

There are things I admire about the Haredi world: the close-knit supportive families forming close-knit supportive communities; the dedication to religion, Torah study and prayer.  Yet the good is often inseparable from the bad: the hostility to outsiders, the obscurantism, the conformism.  Unfortunately, if the demographic trends in the Jewish community continue, in a couple of generations most Jews will be Haredi.  The Modern Orthodox don’t really get a look in these projections, for all that they’re a prosperous and well-educated (generally and religiously) minority at the moment.

I’m not sure why I’ve written so much about this (most of which I cut before posting), or why I’m thinking about it so much at the moment.  There is a weird, “wanting to be accepted, but also not wanting to be accepted” feeling about it.

***

shul friend emailed to check on me, which was nice.  It’s moments like that make me feel more accepted into the community.  And I will finish on that positive note.

Napoleon

I had a weird dream about Napoleon.  Maybe I want to conquer the world.  Actually, I know I want to conquer the world.  I just wouldn’t know what to do with it afterwards.

***

I felt really apathetic today.  It’s easy to get sucked into depression, thinking nothing can change, even getting sucked into “I don’t want to be here” (meaning, “I don’t want to be alive, here in this world,” although not actively suicidal) type thoughts.  I have to remind myself that I want to build my relationship with E., that I want to write my novel, that I have friends and family who care about me…  It’s hard on mornings like today, when I’ve overslept and feel drained and exhausted and a bit lonely and wish E. was here and can’t face the day and am worrying how I will write my devar Torah (Torah thought) for this week and a whole bunch of other things…  Even after lunch the feelings didn’t go.  I had to force myself to do things when I really just wanted to vegetate.

I probably do have a negative tendency to seek not just perfection in myself, but brilliance.  In other words, not just to avoid errors, but to produce things (blog posts, stories, divrei Torah) that are outstanding.  This is probably just setting myself up to fail on two counts, because no one can be perfect all the time and no one can be brilliant all the time.  It occurs to me that the last year or two I have slowly been coming round to the idea that I’m never going to be a tzaddik (saint) and stopping trying to meet certain halakhic (Jewish legal) requirements that I simply don’t think are achievable for me at the moment, and possibly not ever.  I think I still want to be a serious literary novelist, but I don’t know if I have it in me or how to go about it.  Like I said, I want to be Napoleon, I want to conquer the world.

I did at least spend nearly two hours drafting my devar Torah.  It was very draining on one level, as I did a bit of research online, tracking down resources about honouring, or not honouring, abusive parents, but I was glad to get it done, although I still need to proofread it tomorrow.  I decided that I felt well enough after all that to go for a run, which was OK, but complicated by social isolating; I had to cross the road a lot to avoid people and at one point got stuck on a traffic island in the middle of the road, avoiding two dogs and owners on both sides of the road (although I would avoid dogs when running even without COVID-19).

I also joined in some of a Skype call with my parents and Israeli family.  I was a bit reluctant, as I get annoyed that it’s always assumed that I will join in with family stuff whenever it suits everyone else.  I know I’m the person least likely to have anything else going on, but it does annoy me.  I do have some kind of life.  To be fair, my sister couldn’t make it at all because it was short notice, so it’s not just me.  Anyway, I joined in.  It was a bit crazy, but not as much as I had feared.  My Israeli family are mostly extroverts and like being in the limelight; there’s a fair amount of diagnosed or presumed ADD/ADHD, so it can get pretty loud and distracting, which I don’t find easy either in person or on Zoom.  It did eat a chunk of my novel-writing time, though, thus further encouraging my nocturnal habits.

I suppose I feel vaguely resentful of losing quality writing time.  I worked on my novel for a bit, but late at night when I was tired.  I gave up at 10pm.  I was just too tired.  I lost track of how much I wrote today, but it wasn’t much.  It’s not my family’s fault, but it’s not my own fault either.  It’s not my own fault that I’m still depressed in mornings, that my devar Torah sometimes seems a big commitment (I didn’t mean to spend nearly two hours on it today), that exercise seems to eat up more time than it should with changing and showering, warming up and cooling down.  I wish I could be a normal person managing seven productive hours a day, plus family/social time, plus exercise time, plus religious time.

***

I got an email from the editor of a Doctor Who book I contributed to years ago, asking me if I want to write for a book on The X-Files.  I don’t know anything about The X-Files.  I wanted to try to get into it a few years ago, but reading about it online convinced me it was too scary for my tastes (I’m a wimp).  Said editor asks me to write for books on subjects I don’t know enough about every so often.  I wanted to be part of the second Doctor Who book he edited, but he didn’t ask me and I didn’t hear about it until all the slots were taken (so my Fear Her appreciation will have to go unnoticed by the world).  I pitched my Doctor Who book to the same publisher and got rejected.  There’s a moral there somewhere.  Speaking of which, the money for my Doctor Who book sales finally arrived in my bank account today.  I hope I get some more; right now I haven’t sold a copy to anyone not known to me personally.

I have a Skype therapy session booked for Monday with a new therapist…

Scenes from a Depressed Day

In no particular order…

I managed to get up at 11am, but somehow the morning depression, exhaustion, apathy, or whatever it is didn’t go away after breakfast or even after lunch.  I just felt heavy and unable to do anything all day.  Possibly I did too much yesterday, which upsets me, as it reinforces my feeling that I will never have a full-time job and a real life, or even a job as a writer and a real life.

After lunch I spent half an hour aimlessly browsing online and then went back to bed for forty-five minutes, some of the time listening to music, some not.  I just felt too exhausted to do anything.  Really burnt out, overloaded, shutdown, whatever you want to call it.

Eventually I forced myself to get up again and sort out the emails in my inbox (I don’t like it to get too full, preferring to file stuff in endless folders or delete).  It was a mundane and boring task, but necessary, and I felt a bit better for having done it.

I tried to work on my novel, but I just got overwhelmed.  I’m not sure how long I spent on it.  I was procrastinating online a lot.  I think I did write a three or four hundred words, but I’m not sure.  It was frustrating.  I feel like by working on it a lot yesterday, I paid a price today.  This is what always happens to me: even if I can achieve something one day, I pay a price for it in depression and exhaustion the next, so I can never achieve very much of anything.  I didn’t manage to do much else at all today.  I just gave up and watched a two-part Star Trek Voyager story (Scorpion).  I did literally five minutes of Torah study, just so I had done some today and that was it.  I didn’t go for a run or a walk because I didn’t feel up to and it rained most of the day anyway.

Whenever I have a day like this, the scary thing is not knowing how long it will last.  Not knowing if it will be just a day or if it will be a new episode of depression or a new depth of an existing depression.  I don’t have an answer to that yet.

***

I found the money I received from my Doctor Who book.  It was sitting in my paypal account.  I’m having trouble transferring it to my bank account, because nothing is ever simple for me.

***

The other day I finished the Doctor Who short story collection I was reading.  Then I started re-reading Martian Time-Slip by Philip K. Dick.  Dick is one of my all-time favourite authors, but when I first read Martian Time-Slip I was nonplussed by it.  It’s considered one of his best novels, so I thought I should give it another go now it’s a decade or so since I read it, but after ten pages I realised I didn’t actually care about it and gave up.  This is a big thing for me, because I never give up on books, and E. thinks I waste my time reading stuff I’m not enjoying as a result.

Instead I started re-reading Decalog 2, another Doctor Who short story collection.  When I was reading lots of Doctor Who books, in the nineties, I felt that Doctor Who short story collections had less cachet than full-length novels among fans and I was never sure why.  It’s true that some short stories attempt to compress a hundred minute TV story into thirty pages, but then some novels try to expand one into 350 pages.  At least short story collections can have a diversity of styles and genres; Doctor Who‘s variety and experimental nature is one of the things I like most about it, and that’s reflected more in short story collections than novels.

***

I posted this comment on Rivki Silver’s blog: “Lockdown hasn’t been so different for me, now Pesach’s over… I’ve been unemployed for most of the last year, so sitting at home all day isn’t unusual. I live with my parents, so I’m not by myself. Mum is having chemotherapy, so I’ve been doing more cooking. But lockdown has been noticeable more in food shortages than anything else. I feel a bit like I’ve avoided the problems other people have… and a bit like I’ve been living with them for years already.”  I hadn’t put that thought into words before, but I think that’s been at the back of my mind for a while, the feeling that, on the one hand, I’ve got off lucky, but on the other, I’ve been coping with loneliness, anxiety, depression and isolation for years longer than most people.

Elsewhere on the net, I mentioned the short story I wrote to Rebecca Klempner on her blog and she said I should submit it for publication.  That thought had not occurred to me.  My gut instinct is that it isn’t good enough, it’s not clear where I could even think of getting it published and I haven’t got a head for the practicalities of publication at the moment.  Maybe I’m being too negative.  I don’t know.  I honestly don’t know where I could even think of submitting it.

***

Regarding the therapy question, the fourth therapist got back to me.  She’s only working on Fridays at the moment.  That’s not so good for me in the summer and very difficult if I’m still in therapy in the winter.  Having checked how easy it is to get to the therapists post-lockdown if I want to see them in person and having my parents say that my gut instinct about the pushy-seeming therapist is not something to be dismissed and that trying a new therapist might be a good idea, it looks like I’ll be going with the first therapist who got back to me.  She does integrative, gestalt and existential therapies.  I don’t know very much about those approaches, but I thought it might be worth trying something other than psychodynamic.  I’m still nervous about choosing.  I don’t know why this seems a huge and final decision when the reality is that if I don’t connect with the therapist I choose, it won’t be hard to cancel and find another.

***

Tonight is the start of Yom Ha’atzmaut, Israeli Independence Day.  Different communities act differently on this day, depending on whether they’re Zionist, non-Zionist or anti-Zionist.  There’s a lot of different permutations in terms of celebratory prayers added in or sombre prayers omitted (I know an amusing joke about this, but it would take too long to explain).  My shul (synagogue) usually does nothing, but is having a shiur (religious class) this year; I assume the change is due to the new rabbi.  Normally I would go to my parents’ shul which does celebrate, but not this year.  I can’t remember what extra prayers they would add in to Ma’ariv (the Evening Service).  I did what I could remember and felt able to do in my very depressed and exhausted state.

Busy Busy Busy

I did the usual today: got up late, did some shopping (panicking a little about social distancing not being observed/observable), walked a bit, cooked dinner while listening to Intimate Judaism, did nearly an hour of Torah study (very good), tried to work on my novel…  Most of that was successful, but there was no rice in Tesco and after walking, cooking and Torah-ing I was too tired to do more than twenty minutes or so of work on my novel and only wrote about 150 words.

I felt really tired by about 7pm and decided not to attend online depression group as I just felt too tired to “people.”  Depression group can be draining for me even at the best of times, doubly so on Zoom.  When I feel really exhausted and burnt out, I get this sensation of heaviness in my brain, like a dull ache, and it’s hard to think or speak to people or to do anything really other than vegetate in front of the TV or internet or lie down.  I won’t necessarily sleep, because it’s a different kind of fatigue, not so much a physical tiredness as an emotional/psychological one.  If it’s very bad, I end up in a state that I think is somewhat similar to autistic shutdown, just not doing anything.  That’s how I used to get after work in environments that were overwhelming from an autistic point of view; I would come home and just crash in front of my laptop, just browsing online or writing my blog to offload some of the thoughts.

After dinner, I felt a lot better and managed to spend rather more than an hour working on my novel (that’s more than an additional hour, excluding the work I did earlier in the day).  Overall I wrote nearly 1,000 words today, albeit that one huge chunk of text I wrote I later realised needs to be cut and then pasted back in quite a bit later in the chapter.  I did eat ice cream (cornetto) for dessert at dinner.  I’m not sure whether that contributed to feeling more energised.  It would be good to know.

I Skyped E. too this evening, so it was a busy day in all.  I was feeling good about things, but then I upset my Mum without intending to do so or really being aware that I was doing it, and now my mood has come down again.

***

I heard back from another therapist.  Of the four I contacted, one didn’t get back to me, one charges £40 a session and two charge £30.  Of those, one is the male therapist I feel vaguely worried about because (a) he’s male and I feel that I find female therapists easier to talk to (although I’m not sure how true that is or if it’s just a feeling); (b) he’s a psychodynamic therapist and I had a vague idea about trying a new approach; and (c) he sounded a bit pushy on the phone (which is very much an impulsive prejudice on my part).  So it’s almost the other one by default, but I’m worried about making a decision that way and so am procrastinating again.  (I also have a gut feeling the “default” therapist might be Jewish.  That’s totally unscientific and I wouldn’t bet on it being accurate, especially as I’m always telling my Dad not to make assumptions like this, but it might be true.  That would probably be good, but maybe not.)

Struggling

I did not have a good morning.  I was woken at 10am by my phone ringing, but I didn’t recognise the number.  I assumed it was another therapist phoning me after yesterday.  I couldn’t face that having just woken up so I let it go to voicemail.  I feel asleep again, but had an upsetting dream and woke up before 11am, but was too depressed and exhausted to get up until I was forced to do so again, this time by a knock on the front door.  I knew that Dad was praying and Mum had gone back to bed because she was feeling very ill from chemo side-effects, so I had to answer it (it was the postman delivering new headphones I had ordered and which came in a ridiculously large box).  I tried to stay up and get dressed and I did at least manage to stay up, but I only got half dressed before deciding I had to eat before I could do anything else.

When I checked my emails I saw that another therapist emailed me, but she didn’t answer any my question about fees, just asked if I’d like to phone to speak or book an appointment, which makes me vaguely wonder if she’s going to be sensitive enough to social anxiety and autism issues.  I then checked my voicemail and saw that that voicemail message was from the same therapist who emailed.  Now I’ve heard from three of the four therapists I messaged.  I do feel uncertain what to do at the moment.  The voicemail therapist did seem less pushy than the one who phoned yesterday, but maybe that was because I didn’t answer the phone and so didn’t get put on the spot.

I struggled through the day with low energy, concentration and motivation.  I drank coffee mid-afternoon to wake myself up, which is rare for me.  I usually only drink coffee in the morning and tea in the afternoon.  I had a Skype call with E.  She is also struggling.  I guess with Mum and E. both struggling today, it probably isn’t surprised that I was upset too, as I was worried about them both.  I was lucky in the end that Mum felt better in the afternoon, so I didn’t have to do the Shabbat cooking as I was initially expecting to have to do.  I would have struggled to do that and speak to E.

I ran out of time, energy and concentration for novel writing, but I did post my short story on a password protected post, so that was one achievement, aside from my usual pre-Shabbat chores and helping to deal with the big Tesco delivery that arrived while I was finishing lunch.

On the plus side, the Amazon Marketplace seller I contacted has offered to replace the broken Life on Mars DVD box set I had, which is good.

Autism and Gear Shifting

I’m still getting up at 11am, which is late, but earlier than previously, but getting going is proving much harder.  I have so little energy and motivation, even after breakfast.  I try to avoid going on my computer before getting dressed, but then I just check emails and blogs on my phone.  It’s especially hard at the moment, as I’m not listening to music because of the Jewish semi-mourning period of the Omer, when we don’t listen to music, even though music helps to motivate me.  To be honest, there is a heter (permission) for depressed people to listen to music in the Omer, and I do use that heter at times, but primarily when my mood is low, not when I’m lacking energy, which is silly because lack of energy is just as much a symptom of depression as low mood.

***

I spoke to my rabbi mentor today.  He was glad things are going well between me and E.  I opened up about some of my fears about the relationship, not specific fears so much of a sense that something will go wrong, that something always goes wrong for me and that God wants to continually test me rather than let me be happy.  We spoke about this in the context of my difficulties with bitachon (trust in God) and my tendency to worry in general and also about the way that in the last week or two I’ve been trying to re-frame my understanding of my life to see that it can be seen as a series of achievements and positive events and not only as failures and negative events.

Unfortunately, after speaking to my rabbi mentor, I lost focus.  I meant to continue my search for a therapist, but ended up drifting into researching and writing my devar Torah (Torah thought) for the week, which was not exactly intentional.  I have at least nearly finished it now, although it needs some polish and I need to look something up.

It’s interesting, I think that since my teens I’ve had problems shifting tasks.  Once I’ve done one thing, it can be hard to change and go into a different task.  It’s only relatively recently that I’ve learnt that this is a classic autistic trait.  Although I can be a fairly driven person, and at university before depression I was quite capable of working long days, including working late into the night even with no work due the next day, since my teens (at least – I can’t really remember earlier) I’ve had this problem with procrastination, getting down to work and changing tasks – things that involve “changing gears” from one mode to another.  Strangely, it never affected me at school.  I don’t know if that was willpower or if I used the routine and mini-break of “pack books and stationery; dismissed from class; leave classroom; walk to next class; wait for teacher (talk to friends); file into classroom; unpack books and stationery” to end one task and reboot.  I did struggle with attention for my homework at weekends (I know all teenagers do, but still), so maybe that routine and movement to a new location really did help.  I’m not sure how I could replicate it though.

I struggled with this in the work world, particularly manning the issue desk when I was working in a further education library, as I would be doing some work, then get interrupted by someone borrowing a book; go back to work, then get interrupted by someone needing help finding something or with the photocopier and so on and I really struggled with that.  When someone turned up to talk to me, I would often go completely blank for a second, as if my brain was literally rebooting.  I think my line manager noticed and that was why she was dissatisfied with my work.

And then I stopped to write this (to get it out of my head) instead of Getting On With Things…

***

I did eventually get on with the therapy hunt.  I still feel pretty overwhelmed by it and think the names I’ve picked out are almost totally random.  OK, not totally random, but still fairly random and arbitrary; likewise my decision not to look any more for now.  I picked four names from the nine or so I’d found to email about prices (specifically if they offer concessions to the unemployed, as otherwise I can’t afford it) and availability.

I also went for a longish walk with some shopping and listened to another Intimate Judaism installment and was feeling somewhat more focused in the evening.  I had planned to do more therapy hunting after dinner, but while eating I was watching Life on Mars and now the DVDs are jamming on the laptop DVD player as well as the TV one and they crashed the DVD drive.  I wonder if it’s some kind of fault from the factory, although there are what may be scratches on the discs.  I guess this is the downside of buying cheap second-hand DVDs online.  I’m going to have to return them and buy replacements.  Annoyingly, I managed to get these very cheaply, but the copies currently available on Amazon are more expensive..

***

I mentioned that I’ve been writing a short story lately.  I finished it and I’m thinking of putting it in a password-protected post so that some people here could read it.  If you’re interested in reading it, please comment on this post and I will post it on a locked post and email you the password.  I would give the to anyone who comments regularly and maybe also to some people who ‘like’ my posts a lot, but don’t comment, if I think they’re real people and not spammers.

Therapy Hunting

I got up at 11.00am again today, although as with the last few days I struggled to get going.  I wasn’t feeling overtly depressed in the sense of despairing, but I did lack energy and motivation, which I guess is still depression of a kind.

I weighed myself for the first time since Pesach.  I have put on weight, but not much (half a kilo), which is a weird kind of victory.  I feel fat though.  Some of my clothes don’t fit so well (despite buying some larger ones a while back) and I know I’m two or three kilos overweight, which I haven’t been able to shift for years, since I was put on clomipramine.  I did go for a run again today.  I ran for most of the thirty-five minutes without going into a walk much, which was good.

I discovered that my self-published Doctor Who book is now available from Barnes and Noble as well as Lulu.com and Amazon UK.  I still can’t find it on Amazon US though.  I had an email from Lulu on Friday saying I should receive payment for the copies I’ve sold so far, but the money hasn’t reached my account yet.

I finished the short story I was writing and sent it to E. to see what she thinks.  E. and I Skyped again as we have been doing most days since the lockdown started.  I did twenty-five minutes of Torah study too, although I would have liked to have done more.

***

I spent nearly two hours looking for a therapist online.  I tried the questionnaire to find a therapist at welldoing.org.  The questionnaire had a long, long, looooong list of possible issues and I could easily have ticked six or seven that pertain to me, but I was only allowed to click three, so I went with depression, autism/Asperger’s and interpersonal relationships.  I hope the latter can cover my relationship with my Mum and need to come to terms with her mortality as well as my relationship with E. and understanding the changes that could entail in my life.  Autism isn’t exactly something I need to discuss in itself, but it informs my thoughts about my relationship with E. in particular and I would like to get someone who understands it if possible.  I think in many ways I’d prefer a therapist who understands autism to one who understands Orthodox Judaism, as I have a lot of experience explaining the latter to people, whereas autism is much harder to explain, especially as I feel like I don’t fully understand how it manifests in me.

Narrowing down the list of therapists is difficult, especially as I would be willing to do Skype sessions and would have to start with them.  I know it’s slightly weird to say this, but I have had male and female therapists/counsellors and I find it easier to open up to women than men (despite having had one positive male therapist and my rabbi mentor being male).  So I found myself biased in favour of women, even though that’s somewhat irrational.  Although a disproportionate amount of therapists and counsellors are female anyway.

Aside for checking BACP (British Association of Counselling and Psychotherapy) membership, so far I’ve narrowed down primarily by cost and partly by locality (just in case I ever want an in-person meeting post-COVID-19), and also by type of therapy.  I am quite clear that I don’t want CBT, as it has never helped me much (except with my OCD, but that’s a different type of CBT) and, having had a some psychodynamic therapy in the past (I think… therapists do not always make it clear) I was interested in trying a new approach.  I looked primarily at therapists offering existential therapy, although I know little about it.  I did this because of my interest in Jewish existentialist thinkers, although I’m not sure how much overlap there is (therapists would probably have heard of Martin Buber and maybe Emmanuel Levinas, but are less likely to have heard of other Jewish figures).  Existentialism generally focuses on issues like purpose, choice and authenticity, which obviously inform my thoughts on a lot of subjects I would like to address, like my relationship with E. and my attitude to my sexuality generally, my position in the wider world/working world and my relationship with the wider Jewish community (the latter two not issues I would bring to therapy per se, but which are likely to come up in passing).

Tomorrow I might try to find some other names and then narrow down the list to a few who I can email to ask for more information about their fees for unemployed people.  Most therapists seem to offer concessions for those in financial need, but I need to see if I would qualify and what the concession rates are.

***

Overall it was another good day and I’m glad to have made progress with the therapy hunt.  Now that Pesach (Passover) is over, I feel like I’m coping with lockdown quite well.  There are no jobs to apply for giving me time to help around the house and write and study Torah, although I probably procrastinate too much and I struggle with mornings and compensate by staying up late, which probably isn’t healthy.  E. and I have been able to Skype most days because of the greater flexibility she had when working from home which paradoxically may have been good for our relationship (not that I wanted her potential trip to the UK to be postponed).

Light a Candle

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

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

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

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

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

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

Victories

I had a number of  victories today: I got up before 11am (just).  I got a text this morning from one of my shul (synagogue) friends, checking that my parents and I are OK (he knows about Mum), which was nice, although it was only later in the day that I discovered that I hadn’t sent my devar Torah (Torah thought) properly on Friday, which was probably why he was concerned.

I did an hour or more of Torah study, a very difficult double sedra (weekly Torah reading), Tazria and Metzora (Leviticus 12-15), difficult in terms of length; repetitive and technical language; comprehension (in terms of simple understanding as well as deeper spiritual understanding); and lack of immediate relevance, concerning complex rules of ritual purity and impurity that have largely not been a practical part of Judaism for nearly 2,000 years.  At the back of my mind I was also trying to think of things I can say about this for my devar Torah later this week.

I spent over an hour (quite a bit over an hour) working on my short story.  I wrote 1,300 words, finishing the first draft.  I’m quite pleased with it, although I can see a lot of flaws, most of all the ending, which is the hardest thing in stories like this.  I don’t want to go into too much detail, though, as I might post the story in a locked post in the near future.  I also went for a fairly decent run and had a long Skype chat with E.

Overall it was definitely a good day.  I didn’t want to add a “but,” but… I do feel there’s a tension inside me that could easily explode into despair, anxiety, self-loathing, guilt and all the rest.  I already feel some anxiety and obsessive thinking creeping in.  Going for a run helped a bit, but I’m not sure for how long.  Hence my task for tomorrow is to take steps towards finding a reputable qualified therapist in the UK who sees people over Skype, is currently taking on clients and (the really tricky bit) is within my limited price range (my previous therapist used to charge some clients on low income below the market rate).  On the other hand, I don’t anticipate this being open-ended therapy (although I know how easily it can turn into that), so I potentially could afford more than with my previous therapist.

***

More adventures in malfunctioning technology.  The laptop touchpad issue seems to have provisionally sorted itself since the latest Microsoft updates downloaded last night, but my second-hand Life on Mars DVDs are not playing properly, with pictures freezing and pixelating at times.  At first I suspected damage to the discs, but damage to three discs in two separate box sets seemed unlikely, and one seems to play on my laptop fine (I neglected to note where the others stuck).  My video/DVD player is ancient (not least in having a video player), so it wouldn’t surprise me if it’s on the way out, but I can watch on my laptop for now.  Star Trek Voyager appears to play fine.

Groundhog Shabbat

Today was difficult.  I woke up and had a weird Groundhog Day moment when I realised it was Shabbat (the Sabbath) again.  Too many days lately have been ShabbatYom Tov (festival), Erev Shabbat and Erev Yom Tov (day before Shabbat or Yom Tov).  I just want some normal days, where I can write and Skype E. and go jogging and vegetate in front of the TV.

I was quite drained over Shabbat and didn’t do a lot of the stuff I would normally do.  I went for a walk and I did a bit of Torah study, but not as much as I would usually have done.  I have finished re-reading the first fifty Psalms in Hebrew, which makes me exactly a third of the way through the book, but it’s taken me a very long time to get here (about ten months, I calculate with help from Goodreads).  I did a bit of recreational reading too, but not a huge amount.  I slept a lot again.

I feel even more than before that I need to speak to a therapist.  I have a lot to process about the changes in my life: Mum’s illness, getting back together with E., continuing unemployment and the fact that I’ve dropped a mental health coping strategy without really having considered what the emotional side-effects would be.  I mean, I was right to stop it, as it was very negative, but I’m not sure how well I’m coping.  There’s probably a lot to say in therapy about my relationship with my parents, which I’ve spoken about before, but not regarding confronting their mortality, which has only just become a non-theoretical issue.  Likewise about my sexuality – I’ve spoken a lot about it in therapy in the past, but I probably did not say everything I needed to say or work through everything, and suddenly it’s more relevant than at most times in the past.  I mean about the way being single in a community that only permits sex after marriage forced me to repress my sexuality for so long, with a concomitant build up of guilt, shame and who knows what else, as well as interactions with other emotions and thoughts.  I’m not expressing myself clearly here, and that’s partly deliberate, but partly not – I don’t really know what to say about this other than things feel so difficult so much of the time.

Tonight I’m feeling listless again, and lonely.  It’s frustrating that my girlfriend lives on the other side of the world, although I worry I would mess things up somehow if she was here.  I’m in two minds about watching TV tonight.  It’s after 11pm, so I shouldn’t, but I need to relax and I feel too depressed and lacking in concentration to read.  I’m not likely to sleep soon anyway, given how much I’ve slept today.

I feel the interest of these posts is diminishing, if there ever was an interest to other people (apparently there was, but I find it hard to believe).  I’m just trying to dump my thoughts so I can move on from the evening and towards sleep.  I feel unless lockdown ends soon (which it won’t), even I am going to run out of things to blog, just endless lists of runs and books read and self-criticism about not enough Torah study.

I hope to use some of the energy that would have been spent on writing long blog posts on fiction writing.  I want to finish the short story I’m working on and then move on to the novel, away from the dull, but necessary bit I’m writing and onto the more interesting/disturbing stuff, although as I’ve said before, the novel isn’t exactly the type of thing I read, or want to write, but it makes sense to start with something semi-autobiographical.  I have so many images in my head so much of the time, but forming them into stories is really hard.  I suspect that most of them are pilfered from other books/TV/films/comic strips, but talent borrows while genius steals.

Listless

Today I just feel exhausted and depressed, a bit anxious.  I would like to be vegetating in front of the TV.  What I don’t want to do is be preparing for another bout of DVD-free Shabbat, but that’s where I am today.  I could really have done with a few more days before Shabbat.  I’ve done some TV watching anyway.  I don’t really feel up to writing or Torah study today, not even writing here.  I just want to crash.

***

I increasingly feel like I really need to see a therapist again.  I just feel a bit of a mess.  Some of that is post-Pesach mental hangover, but I feel I also need some help to process some emotions to do with Mum’s cancer, and to do with my relationship with E, which is good, but hard to process because taking me into completely new territory on multiple levels.  I think I want to stay in lockdown, on some level, because it stops me needing to engage with my life.

Second Gear

I didn’t feel overtly so depressed or anxious today, but I felt emotionally run down.  It was not always easy to concentrate or get motivated to do anything.  I did manage to do some stuff (see below), but it was an uphill struggle.  I wasn’t necessarily consciously thinking about Mum’s cancer or my employment and benefits issues or my relationship with E., but I think they were probably there on an unconscious or semi-conscious way.  This is especially the case given that Mum starts chemo tomorrow, given that I filled in a form about my benefits situation and why I don’t have a medical certificate yet and given that I listened to a podcast about how people with different religious levels can be in a relationship together.

***

I did do a few things.  I cleared out some old papers in my top desk drawer.  I tend to be tidy, but also to stay tidy by shoving stuff in cupboards or drawers until they get really messy.  I was looking for papers about my benefits situation, but found some other important papers I had more or less forgotten about, including the form to claim money I paid into a pension fund when I was in regular work in 2017-18.  I had held off from taking the money in the hope that I would be in regular employment again soon and could pay the money directly into a new pension fund, but now it’s looking more like I should take the cash while I can and stick it in bank somewhere, not that interest rates are good for savers right now.  I also found some papers and leaflets about therapy from a much earlier therapy-hunting period that I thought I had somewhere, but wasn’t sure where.  These might be useful when I have the headspace to deal with that.

***

I still have abdominal pain.  I think it’s just anxiety, but I should probably talk to the doctor about it when I speak to him about my medical certificate.

***

I tried to work on my novel for an hour or so.  I felt very blocked until I started to write an unplanned 500 word semi-surreal, semi-religious fantasy dream sequence, which flowed straight out.  I had planned a fantasy interlude for when my narrator’s mental illness is at its height in a later chapter, but it seems to have “leaked out.”  I worry that my book is too straight-laced for me to write well, given that I tend not to be so interested in very straight realistic fiction, but I fear that a more magic realist perspective won’t sell and will jar in a novel about mental illness, autism and domestic abuse.

***

I went to shul (synagogue) for a mini-shiur (religious class) and Ma’ariv (Evening Prayers).  I want to get back to going to shul a couple of times during the week.  On my walk to and from shul, I listened to another Intimate Judaism podcast, this time on marriages where one spouse becomes more or less religious than the other.  It was talking more about marriages where both partners started more or less on the same level religiously and then one changes and becomes more or less religious, whereas E. and I have gone into our relationship knowing that we do and believe different things and will probably continue to do so indefinitely.  It was scary on one level, because there is obviously a lot of scope for argument and bitterness, but it was reassuring inasmuch as the rabbi and relationship therapist on the podcast felt that a couple who accept that the other person is different and where the communication is good should be able to navigate a lot of such issues, and E. and I do have very good communication and acceptance of our differences.

***

Just in case we didn’t have enough stress, the legal dispute my Dad is involved in has reached the courts.  Dad was in an accident a few years ago where his car and a motorbike collided at a turning (I blame myself a bit, as he had only come out to give me a lift home from the station).  It was hard to tell who was responsible, but no one seemed to be hurt and the damage to the car and bike was relatively minor.  We phoned for an ambulance for the motorcyclist, but she insisted she was fine and cancelled it.

Some time later, she launched a claim for damages, claiming she’s had health problems ever since.  It’s not impossible, but it did feel a bit like some ambulance-chasing lawyers are helping her make a quick buck out of ailments that may or may not be a consequence of an accident that may or may not be our fault.  Well, not a quick buck as the case has rumbled on for years, but some money at any rate.

The case reaches court next Thursday.  The lawyers are offering to settle out of court.  Mum wants to fight it, but Dad isn’t sure.  I’m inclined to agree with Dad; Dad’s insurance premiums have already gone up, so why waste the time and energy fighting this while Mum is very ill and the rest of us are feeling stressed and suffering minor ailments when the insurance company can take the hit instead?  This is the type of court case that only benefits the lawyers.

It reminds me of something W. S. Gilbert said, about if someone stops you in the street and demands your watch, punch him on the nose and walk on (I fear this would lead to assault charges nowadays…), but if someone threatens to take you to court to get your watch, just hand it over and consider that you’ve got off lightly.

***

I’m about to post on my Doctor Who blog for the first time in a very long time.  It is good to get it going again.  I’d like to post there more often, but I’m glad not to be writing a review of each story on transmission, as that becomes a bit of a conveyor belt of instant emotion (often shock and upset, at any rate if you’re a fan like me who tends towards the possessive of things he loves and pessimistic about change) that considered thought would challenge.  I don’t know if I’ll go through with the plan I had years ago of posting selected old blog posts and reviews of mine there, a plan that got disrupted when I started moving more urgently to completing my Doctor Who book and then to start work on my novel.

Not Understanding Myself

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I am not an entity, I am an individual!”

I managed to push through my usual depression and exhaustion on waking to do a few things.  I moved closer to publication with my self-published book.  It’s technically available through Lulu.com now, but I’m not publicising it until it’s available through retailers.  That won’t be until I approve the proof copy, which is in the process of being printed and sent to me from the US.  I had to fill in a form in relation to taxes on my profits (ha ha), to certify that I’m not a US taxpayer.  I was pleased that I am classified as an “individual” and not an “entity,” hence the Prisoner-esque post title.

I managed to do a lot of work on my devar Torah (Torah thought) for this week too.  I did some work on it in the afternoon and then I ended up staying up late working on it after dinner, for nearly two hours straight.  I didn’t intend to do so much, but I ended up hyperfocusing and suddenly it was two hours later.  It’s interesting that I can get the energy and concentration for that when I can’t for job hunting.  It makes me wonder if I’m looking for work in the right places, although I have no intention of becoming a rabbi.

In fact, I applied for no jobs at all today because I did not have the time or energy during the day.  I would not have stayed up until midnight doing job applications after dinner as I did working on my devar Torah, which makes me feel somewhat guilty.  Admittedly the reason I stayed up late was partly because I have a lot of shopping to do in the day tomorrow and then I’m probably going to depression group in the evening, so I needed to get the devar Torah done today rather than tomorrow.  I probably would not have stayed up so late otherwise, although it is true that when I’m depressed I become nocturnal, because my mood is so much better in the afternoon and evening than the morning.  It does show where my mind is, which, sadly, is in the autistic zone where I can hyperfocus on my interests and get bored of dull things like earning a living.

I did do some other things.  I went to my shul (synagogue) for the first time on a weekday in ages.  It was so long since I had been to the weekday premises that I had forgotten the door code, although that was partly because I have been davening (praying) at other shuls for various reasons, so it wasn’t as bad as it appeared.  I walked to and from shul too, so that was two twenty minute walks, good given that I’ve done no exercise all week.

As I said, tomorrow I may well go to depression group, despite the consequent late night, as I feel I need to talk.  I also emailed my therapist today to see if I could have some sessions in the near future.  I am trying to summon the courage to message the shiur (religious class) What’sApp group tomorrow and say that I’m missing shiur specifically “to go to my depression support group” rather than just saying I can’t make it without giving a reason as I have always done in the past.  To be honest, I feel scared that it’s just a weird thing to say beyond any mental health stigma (this is Britain where we don’t talk about emotions, and shiur is an all-male environment).  So, we shall see.

Mum had another test today and a pre-meeting about chemotherapy, which starts next week.

***

Today was the start of the Jewish month of Adar, the month of joy.  The Talmud says that when Adar starts, we increase in joy, at the coming festival of Purim in the middle of the month, which celebrates the Jews escaping genocide in the time of Queen Esther, and in anticipation of the further joy of the month afterwards, Nissan, the month of the redemption from Egypt and according to tradition the month when the Messiah will come (unless he comes at a different time…  It’s complicated).  In the past I’ve written negative things about the difficulty of feeling depressed at this time of year and the truth is I did feel quite depressed, exhausted and anxious today, not least with Mum’s pre-chemo meeting, but, in a manner of speaking, I’m exhausted and depressed about feeling exhausted and depressed and just want to get on with other stuff, so I’m just trying to get on with things.

Still Burnt Out

I’m still feeling burnt out from Sunday.  It can take me a while to recuperate from busy days, and Sunday was very busy.  I had the usual struggles to get up and get going with depression and exhaustion.  The depression and exhaustion stayed for most of the day and there were intermittent worries about the future (near and immediate).  Although the depression and exhaustion they fluctuated, at times they felt worse than yesterday rather than better.  I think I’ve had this before, when I’m exhausted for several days and the second day is worse than the first.  I wonder what the reason is.

I tried to do some things, although it was still like wading through quicksand.  I did some Torah study, although not as much as I would have liked.  I read The Art of Biblical Poetry for about twenty-five minutes and had a cursory look over the content of last Shabbat‘s Talmud shiur (religious class) again as I’m supposed to do on my not-very-closely-followed weekly Torah study schedule.  I also cooked dinner.  I’m not entirely sure when I’m going to work on this week’s Torah thought, as I don’t really know what I’m going to say and I’m running out of time to research.  I don’t want to skip a week just as I’ve been trying to get people to read it.

***

I tried to get hold of my rabbi mentor, but he’s super-busy and then away.  I hope to speak to him at some point fairly soon.  It made me wonder if I should try to book a few sessions with my old therapist, as there’s a lot going on in my head at the moment: Mum’s cancer; my relationship with E. (which is good, but working out how we move it on is terrifying); my unemployment and fears it will be permanent; the stress of the coming Jewish festivals; and probably more stuff I can’t think of now…

I spoke to my parents about it, to check there was money available to pay her.  They felt it was worth booking a few sessions.  Mum said she has been worried about me lately, which made me feel bad, but I’m not entirely sure what “bad” is here.  I wasn’t exactly guilty or ashamed, but somehow it felt wrong for her to be worrying about me at the moment when she’s the one with the tumour.

***

I haven’t worked on my novel for a couple of weeks.  I’ve been focusing my creative energy on getting my non-fiction Doctor Who book published.  I feel that the novel is not going exactly the way I want, but it’s hard to work out why.  Related to this is a decrease in confidence and excitement about writing fiction.  Some is my natural tendency to self-criticism and the way depression blunts excitement and energy.  Some is that I am still at the beginning of learning how to write a novel and, realistically, some of it is probably quite bad, or at least unpolished.

However, I think some of it is that my tastes tend to be quite stylised and/or surreal.  Authors like Franz Kafka, Jorge Luis Borges and Philip K. Dick or TV programmes like Doctor WhoThe Prisoner and Sapphire and Steel.  I suppose some of it is experiencing the world as strange and threatening because of autism and mental illness, so I want to see that reflected in fiction, but some of it is just admiring art that has a strong vision e.g. Blade Runner and 2001: A Space Odyssey, which are strange in parts, but also create very clear worlds that are very different to our own even in the more “normal” parts.

That’s not really where my novel is or where any of the ideas I have for future novels are and I wonder why I’m writing things that aren’t exactly what I want to read.  That may be inevitable.  My novel and my ideas for future novels are really about Jewish fiction that is meaningfully about religious Jews, our lives, our thoughts, our beliefs and hopes.  Few contemporary authors are interested in the Jewish community in that way.

My novel so far is very realistic, although I have a more surreal dream sequence planned for a later chapter, but I wonder if I should try to expand on that style if I can do it without it being too jarring.  I intended to do that when I started writing, to try to reflect the way I perceive the world as strange, illogical and frightening sometimes, but it has been hard to do, partly because the times when I see the world as frightening and strange are usually when I’m too depressed to write; even if I’m writing, I feel I don’t have the vocabulary or skills to put into words what I feel, even here, let alone in fiction.  On the other hand, I worry about scaring people off if my book, which appears initially like a standard love triangle with added mental illness and Jewish colour, suddenly goes off into The Third Policeman territory (to pick a very good novel, in my opinion, that wasn’t published in the author’s lifetime because it was so surreal and sinister, although it’s probably on my mind because it seemed to be referenced by Ascension of the Cybermen, last Sunday’s Doctor Who episode).

I worry that the book isn’t Jewish enough or fannish enough either, but maybe a little goes a long way there too.

***

Speaking of fannish stuff, I’m feeling a bit of buyer’s remorse with Star Trek Voyager.  I’m halfway through series two and while there have been few truly awful episodes, there haven’t been any great ones.  Most series of Star Trek take a while to get going and season two of Voyager is apparently considered proverbially bad, so I’m hoping things will pick up once we get to season three (of seven).  But it is a bit of a struggle to watch at the moment when I’m looking for something light and fast-paced.  I might watch some Doctor Who or The Avengers before bed, as I need cheering up and feel too depressed and exhausted to read.

I don’t have buyer’s remorse about reading the graphic novel V for Vendetta as I borrowed it from the library, but I do have mixed feelings about it.  It’s written by Alan Moore, who is one of the biggest names in comics, and drawn by David Lloyd.  It’s a dystopian story of an anarchist rebelling against a future Fascist UK government (future when the comic was written, but past now, which makes it feel like like a weird alternate timeline that would not have been the effect at the time of publication).  The atmosphere is good, what I have termed ‘austeritypunk’ (after the ‘cyberpunk’ and ‘steampunk’ sub-genres), by which I mean a future that evokes the imagery, technology and fashions of the 1940s and 50s.  It’s diverting and evocative, but I don’t entirely believe the world-building or the characterisation and I feel the hero/anti-hero is let off to easily for doing terrible things.  Plus, the art, while appropriately bleak, is confusing – I struggle to tell the characters apart, and the dialogue doesn’t always help.  This all contrasts unfavourably with Moore’s previous graphic novel Watchmen, which was much better in every way.

I feel it would reward a second reading and maybe be better and certainly easier to read, but it’s also so grim that I’m not sure that I can bear to read it again.

***

There were a few flowers in bloom in the garden last week.  There are a lot more today.  The days are a little longer, albeit that they are still short.  Spring is on the way, and on the whole that’s a good thing, despite some nervousness about the spring festivals of Purim and Pesach.  It is true that when the stress and potential religious OCD hazards of Pesach swing around, the days will be a bit longer and brighter and I will hopefully be able to draw strength from that that I can’t access now.  I stopped using my SAD light box for a few days, but maybe that was a mistake; I might use it again tomorrow.  It’s not spring yet.

Mum’s Results

My Mum got her test results today.  The good news is that the cancer hasn’t spread beyond where they already knew it is (breast and lymph) and that it is treatable.  The bad news is that treatment (chemotherapy, surgery and radiotherapy) will take about a year, including recovery, so 2020 looks like being a stressful year for all of us.  We don’t have a proper treatment plan yet, so I’m assuming that is only a rough plan; I’m not sure exactly how that would differ from an official treatment plan.

This is a side of the NHS I’m not used to seeing: fast, friendly and effective.  I think Mum even has a support nurse who she can turn to with questions and for emotional support.  It’s scary how different mental healthcare provision is from cancer treatment.  I’m not sure why mental healthcare is so under-resourced, whether it’s stigma and public apathy or simply the fact that mental healthcare is very labour-intensive.  Psychotherapy in particular can go on for years with no clear end in sight, making mental health a potentially bottomless pit for funding.

The prognosis seems to be good, but it’s scary to be suddenly confronted with my parents’ mortality.  I’ve never entirely been independent from them because of my depression (and, perhaps, on some level, because of the autism) and I’ve worried in the abstract in the past about how I would cope without them, but this makes it all more real.  I’m also wondering how it will alter the family dynamic.  I’m used to being the only person who is ill and now that will change, which is likely to be disconcerting to all of us, at the very least.

My sister and brother-in-law came over in the evening to eat dinner and discuss my Mum’s treatment.  We had a reasonably good time, despite the conversation being initially very serious.

***

I seem to be struggling with sleep even more than usual since Mum has been ill.  I’ve gone from sleeping ten hours a night to twelve hours, and I wake feeling exhausted and depressed enough that I would probably sleep more, or at least stay in bed longer, if Dad didn’t insist that I get up.  I know it’s not surprising, as sleeping more is always the first sign of depression in me and the last thing to improve (I haven’t really had a fully healthy sleep pattern since my teens), but it is frustrating.  It’s pushing me into a more nocturnal life, as I stay up late because I’m not tired and because I want to accomplish some of the things I didn’t manage during the day, but that probably just perpetuates the problem.

Although I felt a bit better after breakfast, I still struggled to get dressed and start the day.  Perhaps that was inevitable given that Mum had her big appointment.  Maybe I was unconsciously trying to push it off somehow.  Even after lunch I felt listless and unwilling to do anything.  I tried to practise self-care, turn down the Shoulds and so on, but it’s hard.  I still struggle to turn off the Shoulds and the self-criticism for fear of turning into a bad person.  I don’t think genuinely bad people are much bothered by self-criticism and I’m worried that if I stop criticising myself, I will turn into a bad person.

I did manage to do a few things.  I signed up for my local public library on their website, which I had neglected to do since we moved here.  I stopped using my public library when I went to university because I didn’t want to risk losing public library books by taking them up to Oxford, and then I got out of the public library habit because I got into the charity shop habit.  I can be possessive about books anyway and buying books for £1 from charity shops reinforced that and created an expanding To Read pile that I felt I should address before borrowing other books.  Still, if I’m going to be unemployed for a while, it makes sense to join the library, particularly if I need to do research for writing projects.  Plus, I’ve come to accept that a lot of the books on my To Read pile are going to stay there indefinitely; when I’m depressed (and it seems I will be depressed for the foreseeable future), I’m not realistically going to read The Iliad or heavy non-fiction or to re-read books like Great Expectations and Crime and Punishment, much as part of me would like to.

I felt too distracted to do much that was useful today, at least until Mum phoned after her appointment.  I spent some time working on my bibliography, but was easily distracted.  I managed to write up about fifteen references.  I’m now about halfway through the bibliography, but some of the remaining references will require a lot of work to locate, and to find out how to reference properly (I need to check how to reference DVD production subtitles and supporting features).  I’m hoping to get it finished by the end of next week.

***

Chaconia commented to say that I might still be eligible for ESA (benefits), but I’m feeling quite confused by the whole situation.  I should probably find some time to sit down and work out how many National Insurance credits I have, if I’m still getting them and if there are any benefits I might be eligible for.  I find the government benefits website rather confusing to navigate, perhaps deliberately.

***

As if knowing I would need cheering up, my Doctor Who sonic screwdrivers arrived moments after Mum and Dad got home.  They are pleasingly chunky and usable, with sound effects and, in some cases, lights and extendable parts.  I suspect that the ones seen on TV more recently were designed with merchandising opportunities in mind, for collectors and cosplayers (people who dress up as fictional characters) as much as for children.  I suppose now I officially count as a cosplayer myself, if my Tom Baker/fourth Doctor scarf didn’t already qualify me.  To be honest, three of the six screwdrivers in the set are virtually identical to each other, but the other three are all very different designs, so I’m glad I spent the extra £10 to buy the set rather than just buying the fourth Doctor one and maybe spending more to buy another one somewhere down the line.  I showed them to my family after dinner and everyone was impressed, although I haven’t told anyone exactly how much they cost – at nearly £40 it was rather more than I am usually willing to pay for a fairly frivolous purchase and an impulsive one at that, but given that I don’t usually spend that much money on things, I think I can be forgiven one frivolous expense at a time of emotional stress.  It is making me rather more excited about Purim, which was the purpose of the exercise, although there’s another month to go.

Numb

I think I went to bed quite early last night, but I can’t remember when.  I certainly slept late today, until gone 1.00pm.  Even when I got up, I was very drained.  Completely wiped out, really.  I guess it’s not surprising that I feel like this, considering how stressful yesterday was, more stressful than you realise, as something very stressful happened when I got home that I don’t want to blog about.  I’m trying not to beat myself up about it and just accept it for what it is.

I did a few chores.  I was too exhausted to go for a run, plus I don’t really exercise on Jewish fast days (as today was) even though I’m not allowed to actually fast most of them while I’m on lithium tablets.  I was too exhausted to do anything really.  I didn’t feel able to really engage with either of my main non-work projects, writing my novel and moving towards self-publishing my non-fiction Doctor Who book.  I’m just too tired.  I did fifteen minutes of Torah study and even that was a bit of a fluke.

I just feel numb really.  I feel a little bit anxious and depressed about a couple of things, including work tomorrow, but on the whole my brain isn’t functioning well enough for that.

I feel like I need to talk to someone, but I don’t know who.  I’m not in therapy and while my therapist said she would see me again if I wanted, she felt that we had done almost all we could in therapy and I needed more time in the world to learn to cope with everyday things.  In the past when I’ve been between therapists, I’ve spoken to my rabbi mentor, as he’s a trained counsellor as well as a rabbi, but lately it’s been hard to get hold of him.  He’s very busy.  I could go to my depression group, but that’s not so easy now it’s moved location and in any case the next meeting I can get to isn’t until the end of the month.  That really just leaves the Samaritans helpline.  I’m actually tempted to call them, but I will need to get my thoughts together first, so not tonight.

***

This seems trivial, but I’ve been thinking about it quite a bit: my Tube fare yesterday was a lot more than the Transport for London website led me to expect (I was going to make a comment about the inefficiency of state-run monopolies, but I’m too tired to care, plus I don’t think private monopolies are any better).  I need to decide how much I value the extra half-hour asleep in the morning or at home in the evening.  Right now, in the middle of winter, I think I would pay quite a bit for that extra hour or so a day.  Apparently as much as £6.40 a day, as I plan on using the Tube for the near future.

Muppets

I’m having some trouble with OCD thoughts again, albeit on a very small scale at the moment.  I’m not sure where this has come from.  I can identify the immediate trigger, but I’m not sure why I’m back in OCD thought-territory when I thought I was doing so well in recovery.  I hope it’s just the stress of being ill and preparing to go on a trip that I’m anxious about after a month continually interrupted by Jewish festivals.  I’m trying to stay on top of the thoughts, but it’s hard.

***

I’m struggling a lot with procrastination over packing today.  I did pack, but slowly and it’s fairly clear to me it’s because I really don’t want to go on this trip, but it’s too late to back out now.  Shabbat (the Sabbath) and all the bar mitzvah stuff is likely to be tough on me and I just have to do the best I can and hope no one gets angry or upset if “the best I can do” doesn’t correspond to “what others want/expect me to do.”  I can’t get hold of my rabbi mentor to meet him while I’m there either, which is upsetting.  I go to Israel every few years and always meet with him, but this time it looks like it’s not going to happen.  I’m actually worried more than anything else, as he’s not usually this hard to get hold of.  I hope he’s OK.

After Shabbat, hopefully things will be a bit easier.  We’re in a hotel tomorrow night and some kind of youth hostel (??? it has not entirely been made clear to me, but I think my aunt and uncle are renting a youth hostel to put 75 or so people in it) for Shabbat, but then from Sunday onwards we’ll be renting an apartment and if the worse comes to the worse, I can spend the morning or even the day there while my parents go off and do tourist stuff.  I’ve got books, and the latest Doctor Who Magazine had a special promotion of eleven hour-plus long Doctor Who audiobooks that I downloaded, so I can be occupied.  It will be a bit of a waste, but at least I would have done the important family bit.  Unfortunately, I can’t always read much when I feel depressed, and reading a non-fiction popular science book may have been a strategic error, although I’m taking a short story collection and a novel as backup.  The flight may be hard.  Fortunately I’ve charged my iPod.  I wish the latest copy of The Jewish Review of Books had arrived as it should have done (I need to chase that when I get home).

***

I finally started reading the latest issue of Information Professional, the magazine of the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals (CILIP).  They send me this each month because I’m a member of CILIP (mostly to access their job vacancy listings) and I hate it.  The magazine just makes me feel so inadequate.  It’s full of librarians who are doing amazing, creative things with their libraries or who are doing lots of CPD (Continuing Professional Development) and becoming Chartered Librarians or whatever.  I don’t do CPD.  It’s hard enough for me to do a job, or look for a job, with all my issues without having to do unpaid extra work in my free time, just in order to keep up with a changing workplace.  I know this is the reality of the modern labour market, but I simply can’t keep up with the kind of CPD that my peers from university seem to be doing to stay in their well-paid, middle class, professional jobs.  Likewise, I can’t come up with amazing projects in my library (even if I had one), like the article I was reading today about a prison librarian who started a film club that became a massive successful project a famous actor and director getting involved.  That’s just not how my mind works.

***

(The next few paragraphs are a bit of a rant, so if you aren’t interested in politics, or rather with people who are fed up with politics, you might want to scroll down beyond the next row of asterisks.)

One advantage of going away is avoiding general election commentary for a week.  There will be enough of that when I get back.  Sometimes a political party does something that makes you think, “I could never vote for them ever again, or at least not without a fundamental change of personnel and ideology.”  The things is… all the parties have crossed that line for me in the last few years.  What do I do?  Do I abstain?  Do I say I’m an anarchist and don’t believe in government and The System?  (I actually have a bit of an anarchist streak, but not enough to usually consider seriously acting on it.)  Do I swallow my pride and vote to stop the antisemitic party getting in?  It is hard to tell.  I spoiled my ballot at the EU elections earlier this year, but I’m wary of doing that and handing Jeremy Corbyn a victory.

I was brought up to believe that I should always vote for someone, because people died to win me the vote (a somewhat specious argument; as Oscar Wilde pointed out in The Portrait of Mr. W.H., the fact that someone was willing to die for an idea does not, in itself, prove that it was a good idea).  But the last ten years or so have shown how little influence most people have on politics.  Your vote might bring to power people who share your ideas, but it’s just as likely to bring in a coalition (literally or figuratively) who do a little bit of what you want and a whole load of what you don’t want.  Even Brexit, formulated as an ‘in or out’ question looks like ending up as a compromise Brexit that annoys Remainers by formally leaving the EU without pleasing Brexiteers by staying in line with a lot of EU legislation like employment and environmental law.  That’s without the feeling many people have that MPs see themselves and not the voters as the ‘adults in the room,’ and place their own consciences ahead of what the public voted for.  This is possibly the right thing to do morally, but surely requiring more discussion before becoming part of our constitution.

Much of the problem is that we seem to be moving from a political system dominated by two parties with clear winners and one party in power at any time (like the USA) to a system with multiple parties of varying sizes, no clear winners and coalition governments (like much of Europe) so it could be that with time this will seem less frightening and we will find ways to make our voices heard (or just lapse into chaos like Italy).  It’s true that Brexit has been damaging and difficult precisely because the views of most MPs, of all parties, were so out of sync with a dangerously slender majority of the public, making clear decisions difficult and it could be that with Brexit dealt with (hopefully, one day, maybe) the political wounds will heal.  Who knows?  I just know I’m not the only person in the country, or the world, feeling politically powerless and unwilling to engage in the toxic debate that engulfs just about every opinion these days.  It’s much easier, and better for my mental health, to leave the big political questions to my supposed “betters,” the people who care about this stuff and want to argue it, and just focus on my own life, the bits I can actually affect and change.

In Britain we have a tradition of joke candidates.  In the 2017 general election, Lord Buckethead stood against then-Prime Minister Theresa May, just as he had stood against previous Conservative Prime Ministers Margaret Thatcher and John Major (albeit with different people inside the helmet each time).  Also standing against May was a man dressed as Elmo from Sesame Street, who I thought was a joke candidate, but was actually campaigning for child access rights for divorced fathers.  He got three votes, rather less than Lord Buckethead.

It did make me think that an official Muppet campaign could solve my political woes.  Who wouldn’t vote for the Muppet Party?  Their slogan could be, “Tired of useless muppets running the country?  Vote for the real Muppets.”  The Count from Sesame Street could be Chancellor of the Exchequer.  “I’m raising income tax 1%… 2%… 3%…”  Kermit the Frog could be Environment Secretary.  He could sing It’s Not Easy Being Green with Greta Thunberg.  The Cookie Monster could be Health Secretary.  He would make sure everyone has their five-a-day: chocolate chip cookie, digestive, garibaldi, bourbon, shortbread.  Fozzie Bear could be Foreign Secretary.  He could defuse volatile conflicts with bad jokes.  The Prime Minister would have to be someone with immense charisma and boundless self-confidence.  There’s only one possibility there: Miss Piggy.  If Donald Trump tries anything, she can karate chop him!  Kiii-yyaaaa!!!!!

***

Sigh.  My life still seems so unfocused and drifting, but sometimes – sometimes – it feels like things are moving forward or falling into place, just really, really, really slowly.  It’s like there are two big dramas, the one out there of Brexit and Trump and the economy and the Middle East and identity politics and a million other things and all the shouting and screaming and ranting that goes with all those things.  And then there’s the drama in here, in my head of me trying to sort out depression and OCD and social anxiety and autism and making friends and finding a religious community and sorting out my feelings for E. and a number of other things that I don’t talk about here.  And I can’t really do anything about the out there drama and I don’t really want to any more.  But the in here drama is maybe, possibly, slowly shifting, but it’s far too early to say where or how it’s shifting or what I can do to help it along.  It’s just frustrating that the out there drama tends to get in the way of the in here drama and trying to work that out.

Earlier today I thought I should be back in therapy, but now I don’t think that’s true.  I think I might have to go back to therapy one day, but for now there isn’t anything my therapist could tell me that I don’t already now.  I need to work things through somehow.  The only way I know to do that is writing, here and in the novel I’m working on.  Even that’s not a cure, but a catalyst for different thinking.  Maybe.  To be honest, I’m really not sure about this bit.  Writing has been disrupted a lot recently, by Yom Tov (Jewish festivals) and my cold and now my trip. Hopefully I can set aside some significant amount of time for writing my novel when I get back and we’ll see where that takes me.

Paging the Men in White Coats

My Mum has launched a new offensive in her attempts to try to find out when my autism assessment is going to be.  I don’t have the energy to do this, so I’m glad she is doing it, but I worry that we are getting caught up in NHS bureaucracy again.  The other day she was talking about trekking all the way to South London to go to the Maudsley Hospital, just to ask their receptionists when my appointment is, as they aren’t replying to emails or answering the phone.  I believe the Maudsley is the only NHS institution in the south of England that does autism assessments; there is a private clinic that does it, which we are investigating, but I vaguely recall looking into it years ago and that we would be talking thousands or even tens of thousands of pounds for a private assessment.

It would be good to know at least when the appointment is, if not to actually have it, as I do feel like my life has been on pause since last December when the charity Mencap did an informal autism screening for me which indicated that it was very likely that I’m on the spectrum after all (after having mixed messages from previous assessments and psychiatrists).  (Actually, my life was really on pause before then, since the job this time last year where I did very badly because of the noisy office atmosphere – that was when I became very clear in my mind that I’m on autism and have been misdiagnosed.)  Since then I’ve been wondering a lot about whether I’m in the right career, how I can fit into my community and what my life prospects are without really being sure what practical steps I can take to do anything about it or even knowing for sure where I fit in.

I have the fear hanging over me off being told I’m not autistic and trying to work out what that would mean, given my behaviour and ‘issues’ and how I would cope without any advice or further support.  By this stage, I feel there is something wrong with me more than “just” depression and social anxiety and autism seems the most likely candidate.  I’m not a psychiatrist, but I would be reluctant to take a negative diagnosis without some further explanation as to what is wrong with me.

Someone posted today on the autism WhatsApp group I’m on, saying they just got diagnosed today at the Maudsley Hospital.  I asked how long the process took; she said she couldn’t remember, but one to two years, mainly because her details kept getting sent to the wrong people (as a long-term NHS user, that doesn’t surprise me in the slightest).

People on the WhatsApp group were also talking about who they would tell about their diagnosis.  Very few people, was the answer.  This makes me feel bad that I want to tell lots of people, as a way of explaining away the fact that I feel my life has ended up as a failure compared with what might have been expected from someone who went to Oxford or someone who identifies strongly in the Orthodox Jewish community.  I probably have been using autism as a crutch for my low self-esteem, to explain my failures to myself, if no one else.  I don’t know how much of a bad thing that is.  When people say, “X is a crutch” they usually mean that’s a terrible thing and you shouldn’t need it, but I don’t know if that’s true.  Maybe you shouldn’t rely on it forever, but that doesn’t mean it’s not necessary at some point.  Would you take away the literal crutches of someone who had their leg amputated?

***

I wish I was still in therapy.  I have a lot of stuff that I want to talk about that I can’t mention here or to anyone else because it’s too embarrassing to me or is lashon hara (improper speech).  I’m wary of talking about other people too much here after losing friends over it.  I’m bottling things up inside of myself again which is never good, and it’s autumn, which is traditionally when my episodes of depression start or worsen.  I feel tired and run down and my eyes are itchy, which generally means I’m either coming down with a cold or I’ve been doing too much, despite feeling that I haven’t been doing very much at all objectively, but there it is.  I did do some shopping and wrote a devar Torah (Torah thought) for the first time in years, but I didn’t manage to go for a run or even a walk, nor did I feel up to working on my novel.

***

I’ve put on weight in recent years which is almost certainly a side-effect of clomipramine (as it started when I was put on it), but which is not good.  I’m overweight (although only slightly and I don’t really look particularly overweight).  I’m trying to cut back, but it’s really hard when I’ve had an awful depressing day and want to eat something small like a small piece of chocolate or a biscuit.  It’s hard to know where to draw the line.  I’ve tried asking my parents to put out less junk food on Shabbat to no avail.  At shiur it’s possibly got worse lately as the other people going to the shiur have started bringing even more food (which makes me feel bad, as when it’s my turn to bring, I can’t really afford to bring so much, being unemployed).

I don’t eat much junk food during the week, so little low hanging fruit to pick there, but I eat a little and could possibly cut to zero, frustrating though that would be on depressed days like today.  On Shabbat and Yom Tov (the Sabbath and festivals) I tend to over-eat.  I sometimes eat too much at shiur (religious class) too.  I’m not sure how much is boredom or anxiety (in social situations where there is food like shiur or kiddush), watching other people eat (particularly at shiur) or just the fact that junk food is out on Shabbat and Yom Tov in a way that it is not during the week in our house.  Maybe a mixture.  I also find it hard to draw the line with food that doesn’t come in discrete entities.  So I can eat just one biscuit or one slice of cake, but I find it harder to work out how many nuts, crisps, pretzels or chocolate nuts is sensible to eat.  Sometimes total abstinence seems easier than moderation (possibly autistic black and white thinking at work).

I’m trying to get more exercise, but that has been difficult with Yom Tov and now the days are getting shorter and the weather is getting colder and wetter, it’s not going to be easy to go out even without depression.

***

Well, now I feel too tired and depressed to read or write, but not tired enough to go bed.

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.

Living in a Thomas the Tank Engine Dystopia

I haven’t written for a few days.  You may have heard that there was a flare up of violence in Israel.  700 rockets were fired at Israel from Gaza in 48 hours, with four Israeli civilians killed.  Like many diaspora Jews, I feel a strong connection to Israel, doubly so as I have family there (my cousin spent Sunday running in and out of bomb shelters).  For all the in-fighting in the Jewish community, Jews see each other as family and come together when one is attacked, more so, as far as I can tell, than is done by other religious or ethnic minority communities.  It’s an intuitive thing for us.

I don’t really want to write about the conflict here, because I don’t want to get dragged into a political discussion about the rights and wrongs of the situation, nor do I want antisemitic trolling, which has happened to me in the past.  Yet there is no denying that antisemitism and Jew-hatred, let alone Jew-killing makes my mood plummet, and I felt it would be dishonest not to acknowledge that here on my blog, where I am usually open about my feelings.  It’s frightening that my mental health and well-being as well as my physical safety is under constant threat from outsiders who I have no control over, but that is the daily reality of being Jewish.  So I was stuck feeling that the one thing I had to write about was the one thing I didn’t want to write about.

That is all I want to say about this.

***

I had a one-off therapy session yesterday, my first in some months.  I felt a bit sheepish afterwards because, as my therapist said, there isn’t much that therapy can do for me right now.  She said I have ongoing life-struggles (getting an autism diagnosis; job hunting/wondering if I’m in the right career; dating), but I seem to be coping with them OK.  She said I need a friend to mull things over with rather than a therapist at the moment, which is probably true.  I feel a bit sheepish about this, but perhaps I had to go through a therapy session to realise I don’t really need it at the moment.

***

My sleep is still disrupted.  I’m getting to bed a little earlier than I was, but I still sleep through most of the morning and sometimes, as today, I wake up feeling so exhausted and depressed that I can’t get up for an hour.  Cereal and coffee helps, but I have to get up to eat them, which is the hard part.  I’m fed up of living like this – sleeping too long, at the wrong time, being too exhausted and depressed to do as much as I would like during the day, procrastinating when I should be doing things – but it is hard to change things.  I do just enough to avoid the total collapse that would lead to outside intervention, but I’m only doing the bare essentials; I have a long to do list that isn’t getting attacked.  I actually went back to bed after breakfast today.  I didn’t sleep, but I just felt too drained to do anything, even to get dressed.

***

I eventually managed to send off another job application, but, again, I don’t feel that I really have the necessary skills and I think that was reflected in my answers to the questions on the application, which were waffley and not really reflective of the experience needed.  The second interview for the job I was interviewed for during Pesach is on Thursday and I haven’t been called for that either, so it looks like I haven’t got that, although I suppose they could still call tomorrow.

After the job application (which only took about forty minutes to finish), I went for a walk and to do some shopping for an hour or so, but when I came back I was exhausted.  I did manage to hoover my room, which needed doing, but took longer than I would have liked due to low energy and the hoover not working properly.  I hate that I get tired so easily and manage to do so little.  I wanted to start work on a small writing project I recently agreed to work on for Ashley Leia, but after all this and my struggles complaining to the council (see below), I ran out of time and energy.  I did at least manage about twenty-five minutes of Torah study after dinner.

Looking at this, I did achieve things, and I did perhaps achieve more than I have managed on some days recently.  It’s just hard to let myself feel proud of my achievements instead of attacking myself for not managing more.  I think it is a bad idea to predicate one’s happiness on having more money or power or fame, but I’ve somehow got stuck with the idea that my worth in life is predicated on the amount of things I do.  To some extent this is supported by Judaism, which makes looking at it differently difficult, but Judaism speaks of giving one’s best effort, even if that does not result in much of a practical result, whereas I want to achieve a certain (dangerously undefined) amount without taking into account how hard I try or how difficult it is for me to achieve things because of my ‘issues.’  Perhaps I should call it The Really Useful Engine Fallacy, after the online theory (picked up by various print newspapers on a slow news day) that the Thomas the Tank Engine books are set in a brutal dystopia where one’s value depends on one’s ability to work and be a “really useful engine”*.

* This is going way off the topic, but looking for articles on that theory led me to this page where a commenter said “I think both worlds [Thomas the Tank Engine and Star Trek] are relatable to a certain kind of person because they both depict worlds where your value doesn’t come from navigating social hierarchies, but from simply loving what you are doing.”  Is it too much to say that “a certain kind of person” is “an autistic person”?  Because it fits the rest of the statement.  I did love Thomas as a child and I still do like Star Trek, although I prefer Doctor Who, which is more anarchic, because I’m a rebel (a bit).

***

I did also try to send a complaint to the council about the fact that they have stopped the household food waste recycling service they used to run.  I’ve been meaning to do this for months and had not got around to it.  The decision is bad enough for the environment even without the fact that they did not inform the public that it was happening; I’m sure we aren’t the only household who continued using expensive compostable bin liners for food waste after they had switched to burying it in landfill.

They don’t make it easy to find the relevant address to write to, as they funnel you to specific online reporting forms and if you can’t find one that’s relevant it is hard to find a general address to write to.  I tried to set up an account with them, which they recommend doing to send a complaint, but the website wouldn’t accept a password from me, even though I met the rather stringent criteria given (eight characters, letters, numbers, upper case, lower case, some special characters!).  In the end I had to use a different form to complain without setting up an account.

The form referred to me as a “customer” which annoyed me.  I’m not hugely anti-capitalism (reading about Thomas the Tank Engine as a capitalist dystopia notwithstanding), but I don’t think all our interactions can be reduced to the market, and this is one of them.  I’m a resident (not technically a ratepayer, but my parents are), not a customer.

The whole thing left me feeling as if the machinery of government in this country is in the hands of uninterested technocrats who think they know better than the electorate, but that surely is just my paranoia…

***

I’m still worried about dating.  I feel no one could ever love me or live with me, so I should stop seeing L. for her own good.  But when I reflect on that, it doesn’t seem so logical, though.  “My thoughts are not always my friends.”  I can see that there would be some difficulties if we were in a relationship, but I can also see how we could possibly balance each other out in a positive way, if I don’t panic and inadvertently sabotage the relationship.

I guess I can’t see anything in my life turning out well, though.  Certainly not in the next year or two.  I try to focus on the improvements I’ve made to my life, but they seem equivocal.  I’ve had jobs… but nothing lasting or that I feel I’ve done well.  I’ve dated… but never built a lasting relationship.  My shul (synagogue) attendance and Torah study fluctuate wildly.  It’s hard to see things suddenly turning around.

Still, I’ve just set up a date with L. for Sunday.  We’re going to picnic in a park in central London.  I’m hoping it won’t rain.  The weather forecast is dry, but you can never tell in this country…

Rearranging the Deckchairs on the Titanic

Talking to my parents at dinner last night was difficult.  I was really too drained to really put up with so much small talk and there was a bit of friction with my father over my inability to deal with small talk and his preference for it.  I was agitated and anxious last night, then slept a lot.  I could have got up in time for shul (synagogue) this morning, but was too tired, so went back to sleep, which I guess is an improvement from being too socially anxious to go (maybe).  I had lunch by myself as my parents were at friends, late because I overslept and cold because the hot plate (the only way we can heat up food on Shabbat (the Sabbath)) was on a timeswitch and had turned off because I was eating so late.  I dozed off after lunch too, so now I’m awake.

I can’t remember all my anxious thoughts last night, but I think they basically boiled down to: I used to worry I would never get over the depression and I would never get married, while I now worry that I will never even learn to manage the depression; never learn to manage my autism; never build a career; never even have a job I can cope with; never be able to support myself independently of my parents; never do an acceptable amount of daily davening and Torah study (prayer and religious study); never be accepted in my religious community; and, because of all of the above, I would never get married.  I don’t know where to start working on eight major, interconnected worries.  There is also a worry that that the cumulative effect of all of this would be that I stop being religious, but that seems somewhat less likely than the other worries.  I guess getting an autism diagnosis is the first step, but that depends on the vagaries of the NHS waiting list and whether I can convince the psychiatrist this time that I really am autistic.

***

I wonder how much I want to get married.  Consciously I want it a lot, but I wonder if I’m unconsciously afraid of rejection/effort/loss of freedom/something else and self-sabotaging, hence avoiding ways of dating (dating sites, professional shadchanim (matchmakers), my parents’ efforts to set me up with their friends’ children).  I tell myself no one could love me at the moment while I’m depressed and about to be unemployed, but maybe I should be more active in seeking dates and see what the women think.  Put like that, it sounds almost rational, but I think it’s disingenuous to present myself as ready to date when I’m a psychological and financial mess.  But maybe that’s just an excuse.  Maybe I can’t cope with the idea of dating.

I guess it applies to non-romantic social contact too.  I want to connect, but I don’t know how (autism) and I’m scared of rejection (social anxiety).  I don’t know how to live with loneliness and isolation, but I don’t know how to move on from it.

I guess this is where psychodynamic therapy comes in ahead of CBT.  CBT assumes we just need to clarify our thoughts so we can think the right things, whereas psychodynamic therapy deals with internal conflicts where we are actually torn about what the ‘right’ thing to think is.  So maybe it’s good that I might be able to see my psychodynamic therapist at the end of April, whereas my wait for CBT is indefinite.

***

I wasn’t tired this evening, unsurprisingly, so I spent some time tidying my desk drawers (although avoiding the bottom one, which has various Jewish papers in, which should really be buried at some point).  This is what the title of this post is referring to (not the government’s Brexit strategy).  There were various papers from the job I had last year, the one that I really messed up, as well as a lot about pensions, which is something else that worries me (I don’t have one, and I know I should, but I don’t earn enough money.  I worry what will happen to me).  I found something from CILIP (the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals), which I belong to largely in order to try to convince myself I’m a professional with a career and not a child trapped in an adult’s body/life.

I used to think of myself as an organised person, but along with my ability to plan (Dad: “You’re a terrible planner!”), I fear that this is more apparent than real i.e. I was organised when I didn’t have a busy enough life to produce much to organise.  My “organising” tends to involve shoving bits of paper from my desk in to drawers, and then periodically I clear the drawers by shoving the paper in ring binders.  Tidying ring binders happens very rarely, every few years, and tends to involve throwing a lot of stuff away.  I suppose tidying drawers happens every few months, but I  keep the top of my desk tidy most of the time, which creates the illusion of organisation, albeit that a pile of ring binders and papers mostly related to my writing projects has taken up residence on one side, which I tolerate on the grounds that they are at least meaningful projects that might bring in income one day and are more likely to be worked on if in view.

I also found a psychiatrist’s letter announcing that I was free of another episode of depression, which is vaguely depressing.  It shows I do come out of these episodes, but the time out of depression lasts a couple of months, whereas the episodes of depression themselves last a couple of years and I never have enough time in between to really build up my life.

Insomnia Again

Like Ahashverosh, I can’t sleep, despite only having slept about six hours out of the last forty or so.  I forgot to take my tablets after shul (synagogue) this morning (yesterday morning I should say, really) and forgot to take them tonight as well after being out for dinner.  I finally took them about 1.00am, but they don’t seem to have made me sleepy yet.  They aren’t sleeping tablets, of course, but they usually make me tired (for much of the day, probably).  Here are a few thoughts that were going around my head while I was getting ready for bed and/or while I was lying in bed trying to sleep:

I feel that so much of my life over the last twenty years or so (the time that I’ve been depressed) has been trying to understand myself.  In therapy, on my blogs and, less healthy, in endless introspection and repetitive, circular thoughts.  Actually, it’s more that therapy and blogging are attempts to stop the repetitive thoughts and turn the circular thoughts into some kind of linear thought (linear, but going where?).  I don’t understand much of my life, but particularly about my social life, constantly complaining that I don’t have friends and a romantic partner, but also running away from them, finding social contact frightening and draining, but also exhilarating at times, wanting love and intimacy, but being terrified of them, experiencing aching loneliness as the constant backdrop of my life, wanting to escape it, but fearing there will be nothing left of me if I do.

The excitement of the potential autism diagnosis is that it explains so much of this mystery.  I constantly see more aspects of personality in a new light, more puzzles solved.  Hence the fear that I could be told (for the third time) that I’m not autistic and will have to start the search for meaning all over again.  For instance, I could understand that social anxiety made socialising with strangers hard, but I could never quite understand why socialising with friends left me drained even when I enjoyed it.  Now, of course, I realise that any kind of social contact, not to mention being in a public space like a restaurant or museum (popular places to socialise for me) is terribly draining for someone on the autism spectrum.

The other thing that I ruminate over (‘obsess over’ might be more accurate, in a borderline clinical sense) is my own sense of inadequacy and sinfulness.  This, I hasten to say, is not very Jewish.  Judaism has a reasonably positive view of human nature and a pragmatic approach to sin: it happens, we can use it to repent and grow.  But I obsess over my mistakes, beat myself up for falling into the same traps again and again, blame myself, devise plans for improvement that never work and so on.  Because ultimately my worst sins, the ones I beat myself up about the most, stem from that same aching loneliness, the chasm or void at the centre of my life or even at the centre of my soul.  My therapist has told me that I don’t do anything wrong by secular standards.  My rabbi mentor says I’m a good person with a one or two challenges.  I feel that some people at least would be understanding and sympathetic, that they would note the void in my life and say that it’s not unreasonable that a normal person would try to fill it, even in somewhat dysfunctional ways, that I could be doing much worse things instead.  And yet.  And yet.  I can’t shake the feeling of sinful inadequacy, even though that very feeling is part of the aching void, such that beating myself up makes me more likely to fall victim to the same emotions again and again.

Somewhat related to this: lately when lying in bed trying to sleep, I have found myself imagining a presence with me.  Not a religious feeling.  Imagining – in a non-sexual way – that I’m in bed with my wife and that she is speaking reassuringly to me, telling me that I’m doing well in coping with my issues, that I shouldn’t blame myself for falling, that she would still love and accept me despite my failures.  I am not sure what to make of this.  It’s good that I can voice some positive, supportive statements about myself now, even if I have to put them into someone else’s mouth to accept them.  But I worry about creating a fantasy life that I can’t escape from, that I am getting my hopes up by making myself believe I will find a supportive wife when I will possibly (probably?  I don’t know, it seems like that) not get married at all.  I worry that I’ve created a pliable fantasy partner who has no needs and just exists to boost my ego, which is very unhealthy.  And I still struggle to believe that God could think any of that positive stuff about me.

***

So, that’s what’s in my head tonight/this morning.  It’s 4.00am and I don’t feel remotely tired, perhaps just a little agitated.  Not quite sure what to do now.

Progress and Burn Out

Over Shabbat (the Sabbath) I thought quite a bit about the job I applied for on Friday, despite the fact that I shouldn’t think about work on Shabbat.  I got alternately excited and anxious.  It doesn’t help that the advert didn’t really give an idea of what the job would involve, except that it would be some kind of news-related writing in “a leading magazine” and that I would be based partly in an office and partly at home.  I assume it is for a Jewish magazine, given that they were advertising on an Orthodox Jewish mailing list, although I suppose that may not be the case.  I have no experience in journalism and so don’t think that I will get the job, but it was worth trying.  At any rate, the fact that I had to send out samples of my writing may lead on to something, somewhere at a later stage.  Although if it is a Jewish magazine, I may have blown my chances of selection with some very non-frum writing.

Of course, looking at the news, both mainstream and the Jewish newspapers, is a thoroughly depressing experience, so maybe I don’t want to be immersed in that for a living.  Or maybe writing would at least feel like I’m doing something to fight back against the darkness.  I don’t know.

***

I mentioned to my parents about the woman I blogged about the other day, a daughter of their friends, who Mum wanted to set me up with some time ago because she felt she would be understanding of mental health issues, but couldn’t because she was seeing someone else and who I now know is single again.  Mum was anxious to set me up with her ASAP, which I don’t think is particularly sensible, given that I’m probably going to be unemployed again in a fortnight.  But inevitably thoughts of getting the magazine job mixed in with thoughts of dating again, if I can find a steady income.  Dad suggested set me up with the daughter of our neighbours.  For my part, I can’t really see why anyone would want to date me, certainly while I am not working full-time, but really why anyone would want to date me at all, given all my issues, unless she had serious issues of her own.  This is probably a problematic attitude, but I don’t know how to change it.  So far my dating experience has been limited and difficult.  I think my parents only see my strengths and ignore the considerable drawbacks I have that someone dating me would have to be able to accept.  Perhaps I only see the drawbacks and not the strengths; at any rate, I find it hard to see why anyone would date me, let alone marry.

I do get lonely, though, and long for understanding and real intimacy (not just sex), which is something I have spent my life looking for, in friends and potentially a partner, but have only ever really achieved for short periods.  I felt some of that loneliness over Shabbat too.  It would be nice to be dating again, but I can’t see it really going anywhere until I have some kind of steady income.

***

I struggled at dinner last night.  As usually happens, my Mum spoke a lot about her work and my Dad spoke quite a bit about his shul (synagogue).  My parents are both very talkative and very neurotypically talkative at that, speaking small talk and about people they know, rather than about more abstract matters like the news or religious things.  I try to stay interested, but there are limits to the amount of neurotypical small-talk conversation I can do, trying to show an interest and be empathetic regarding people I do not know and will never meet.  I tried to make the right noises, but after an hour and a half or more, I unintentionally delivered a very forceful and emphatic “Right!” as if shutting down the conversation, which my parents found hilarious.  They laughed, but I was very drained by the whole dinner and conversation, perhaps because I was already drained from spending the day writing the job application and then being around people in shul.  It did make me realise that one workshop wasn’t really enough to brief my parents on all aspects of autistic behaviour, and that even if they understand me, on some level, behaviour (theirs and mine) still needs to be negotiated in a spirit of compromise.

***

I was so drained from all of this that, despite being in bed before midnight, when I woke up at 9.15am this morning, I felt too tired to get to shul and went back to sleep.  I feel very bad about this, as I really want to get back into the habit of going on Shabbat mornings, but I simply can’t find a strategy to help me to get there.

***

I struggled to concentrate at shiur (Talmud class) today.  I realised halfway through that, strange as it seemed to someone used to thriving academically, I struggle with Talmudic study and my autism may be partly to blame.  But I’m not sure what exactly the issue would be, why I can cope with most forms of study, but not Talmudic study.  I am still coming to terms with the idea of being developmentally behind my peers, which is not something that was really the case when I was a child, when poor social interactions were put down to shyness and the effects of bullying and academic success was interpreted as a sign that I was functioning well in all areas, which in retrospect was clearly not the case.

***

I’ve been thinking of going back to my psychodynamic psychotherapist.  I stopped seeing her to do some CBT on the NHS to work on my low self-esteem, but I’ve been waiting six months or more and I still have not seen anyone.  I’ve phoned and emailed to try to find out where I am on the waiting list, but no one answers or responds.  It’s terrible.  In the meantime, I’m plutzing (fretting) about my career (or lack thereof), my relationships (ditto), my relationship with my parents, my attempt to come to terms with the likelihood that I’m autistic and so on, as well as just generally feeling depressed and anxious a lot.  It would be very helpful to speak to someone who knows me, but who is not emotionally involved in my life again.

***

After more than an hour and a half of work after Shabbat this evening, I have finally completed the second draft of my Doctor Who non-fiction book.  I have mostly been tidying up the various chapters, standardising spelling and layout and so on.  Bear in mind that the book originated in a series of blog posts and has been six years in the making; some of my preferred spellings and stylistic choices had changed over that time and I needed to make sure everything was uniform.  Now I can start on the third draft, this time working on the writing style, which in some ways is the hardest thing.  The second draft, incidentally, weighs in at 113,200 words, which probably means it needs trimming a bit.  If I am due another period of unemployment, maybe I can spend some time working on the book.

The Elephants in the Room

I just feel overwhelmed today.  I should probably explain that this post was one of the ones I write piecemeal during the day, so it may be rambling and also vary widely from optimism to pessimism in successive paragraphs; I’m having a rather up and down day.  I can sort something out and be OK, but then the negative thoughts come back and I can’t cope again.

It’s Purim next week and I don’t feel ready.  And then it’s Pesach a month after that and I’m certainly not ready.  I mean, no one’s ready in practical terms at this stage, but I don’t feel emotionally ready.  Maybe no one is emotionally ready either, I don’t know.  I wish I knew what other people think and feel, not just about Pesach, but generally.  It’s part of my reason for blogging.  I know I write self-obsessed posts, but I have to write it to try to say what I feel, to understand it and to try to see if other people feel the same way, although it seems that most of them don’t.  I know that apparently lots of people have the type of thoughts that distress people with OCD, but they don’t get anxious and obsessive about them.  But no one talks about this.  I have ‘bad’ thoughts (violent thoughts, sexual thoughts, insulting thoughts) in my head all the time and I’m told that other people have the same thoughts, but no one ever mentions it.  That strikes me as bizarre.  How can people not mention this stuff?  Or feel guilty and ashamed (even if they are automatic and not acted on, it’s hard not to feel bad that they’re even in my head)?

***

I did something stupid last night.  I stayed up late working on my Doctor Who book (I’ve now finished the research and am working on tidying up the second draft a bit before starting the third draft).  About 1.00am when I was getting ready for bed, I was thinking about the conversation on my blog yesterday about relationships.  I remembered that last year (pretty much exactly a year ago, actually) I had been trying to find a shadchan (matchmaker) who would work with someone with depression in the UK, but I had no success.  However, my Dad asked the wife of the assistant rabbi at his shul (synagogue) and she suggested someone (I’ll call her Rebbetzin D).  I was going to phone her after Pesach, but then I started dating E. and so didn’t.  After E. broke up with me, I was too pessimistic about anyone ever wanting to marry me to do anything about dating again until recently.

Last night I thought about contacting her at some point soon to see if she could help me meet someone, but I was nervous, so I decided to see if her email address was online anywhere.  I found her LinkedIn page and looked on that to see if I could find an email address… and accidentally added her to my network (or whatever they call the equivalent of friending on LinkedIn).  The only way I could think of to salvage the situation was to take advantage of the facility to add a short note to the friend request.  Which I did, trying to explain my situation in under 300 characters.

I suppose if this was a hasgacha pratit (Divine Providence) story of the kind so beloved by Jewish websites, my mistake would result in her setting me up with someone who turned out to be my soulmate.  The reality is she accepted the request, but has not replied to the message, so far as I can tell (I’m not really good with LinkedIn).  I don’t know what to do now, whether it’s worth messaging again or phoning in a few weeks or just accepting that, like lots of other people I asked about trying to set a depressed person up with someone, she doesn’t know what to do or maybe thinks I shouldn’t actually be looking to get married.

I actually feel less depressed about this for the stupid mistake and more for the aspect of “Oh, there’s another thing I’ve tried that hasn’t worked.  How many options do I have left?  Anything?”  I just feel so hopeless.  That was my last option and it didn’t work.  I feel that I’m going to be alone and unloved forever.  Goodness knows what will happen when my parents aren’t able to support me (financially and emotionally).  I know I should be challenging these thoughts with CBT, but they seem real and not distorted.  I know I’m catastrophising, but I feel I’m also drawing “evidence-based conclusions” from past experience.  It’s not catastrophising to say I’m never going to win the lottery or be a billionaire.  Why is it catastrophising to say I’m going to be alone forever?

***

The plus side: this made me check my LinkedIn page for the first time in ages and realised it was really out of date.  Not just missing my current job, but the one before too.  I keep my CV up to date, but not my LinkedIn page, which is very twentieth century of me.  So I guess it’s good that I noticed.

I have jobs I could apply for, but I don’t want any of them, and don’t think I would get any of them, or could do any of them if I got them, so it’s hard to get motivated.

***

So, today I updated my LinkedIn page, browsed jobs online again and found nothing I felt competent to do, again.  I can’t tell how much is low self-esteem and how is that I’m genuinely not qualified for anything decent.  Looking at my CV and LinkedIn page, I realise just how over-qualified I am – on paper – for my current job, yet I feel I’m only just coping with it and could not manage anything more complicated or time-consuming.  I feel such a screw-up.

***

I just had an instant messenger conversation with an advisor at Remploy, the organisation for helping disabled people in the workplace.  They gave me some links, but I’m not sure that any of them offer what I actually want/need, careers advice about whether I’m in the right sector or if I have transferable skills that might be useful in a more comfortable sector, especially one where I can find part-time work more easily.  I feel I’m doing something wrong with work, but I don’t know what and I don’t know how to find out what I’m doing wrong, because I don’t know the right questions to ask or the person to ask them to.

This did, however, lead on to a longer and more useful instant messenger conversation at the National Careers Service.  The person there said that I’m doing the right sort of thing in my job search, which is good, but also means that if I’m struggling, there are no quick fixes.  But he suggested a couple of other specialist job sites to look at, including one for NHS jobs.  I knew that hospitals have libraries, but it seems there are more information management jobs in the NHS than I was aware of.  Similarly, I knew about civil service libraries (although I think most ministries have shut theirs now because of budget cuts), but there is a specialist civil service recruitment site which might be useful.

I feel I have some options for the future, but I feel my depression and autism are really stopping me finding anything suitable for me and making it difficult for me to pursue a career in a structured and focused way, or to find a job at the moment, while I can’t work full-time.  I don’t know what I can do about that.

***
Other people seem to know how to do useful things, and I feel that the only thing I can do is write about my feelings.  And I don’t even understand them properly, I write to try to understand them.  The world seems not to be set up for people like me to thrive in it.  I just seem to be a huge failure.  I’m not exactly suicidal, but I’m not sure what benefit there is to the world in my staying alive, except that I have a few family members and friends who care about me (although I don’t know why).  I’m such a screw-up.  No wonder hardly anyone wants to employ me and no one wants to date me.

***

I phoned the NHS about CBT again.  I’m on the waiting list for it, but I don’t know how long I will have to wait.  I keep phoning and leaving messages, but no one answers or replies.  In the meantime, I feel I need some kind of therapy.  I’m not entirely convinced CBT will work, although I was willing to give it another try, at least to work on my self-esteem issues, but I’m wondering if I should just go back to my (privately-funded) psychodynamic psychotherapist on the grounds that she would probably see me at short notice and I know I can talk to her.  My parents said I should wait a week now they’re back from holiday and see how I feel.

My parents also said that if I was lonely while I was away, I could have What’sApped them.  It genuinely did not occur to me to do this which is probably autistic rigidity of thought, although if questioned, I would probably have assumed that they were busy or else they would have phoned me, as they usually do (apparently my Mum didn’t want me to think she was over-protective, so she didn’t phone at all).

***

My life just seems a mess right now.  No career, no job (not the same thing), no relationship.  Few friends, but I feel I’m mishandling the friendships I do have as well as my relationships with my parents and sister.  I don’t turn to them (friends and family) for help, because I don’t want to overwhelm them, and my non-blogging friends don’t really know much about my mental health, but then there’s a barrier between us because it feels to me (although probably not to them) that my depression and autism are the huge twin elephants in the room.  It doesn’t help that I can’t really describe what I feel at all in speech and only imperfectly in writing, so non-blog-reading people are not getting me at my most eloquent about my issues and feelings.

I just feel that the whole of my life is just wrong and I don’t know where to start to fix it, let alone how to fix it.  Looking at this comment I left on Rivki Silver’s blog earlier today, I feel like a drama queen, but it also feels completely true.  I genuinely do not know how I change my employment situation or my social/romantic situation (lumping singleness and lack of close real-world friends together, although they are probably different).  And the helplessness and hopelessness is just killing me.  I’m pushing myself to the limits of what I’m comfortable with (in terms of social anxiety in particular) to further my career without getting anywhere.  I just don’t know what else I could do about dating either.  Contacting Rebbetzin D. was my last option.  I suppose I might hear from the values-based dating service one day or I could go back to online dating, but it seems a way to lose a lot of money without getting anywhere, and my sister does not approve of it.  And there are still professional shadchanim, although everyone seems to be sceptical of those.  And the issue is as much about getting women to date me after they meet me or hear my story than to get set up on dates in the first place.