Three Day Eventing

I’ll try to keep this brief, as it’s gone 11.30pm as I sit down to write (nearly 12.30am now I’m proof-reading), but it’s been a packed “three day event” (as my parents refer to Shabbat (the Sabbath) and two days of Yom Tov (festival) consecutively).  My sleep pattern has been thoroughly messed up by Tikkun Leil (staying up all night studying Torah) and long afternoon naps, so I doubt I’ll get to sleep soon anyway.

I got to some of the “learning” events (Orthodox Jews tend to refer to Torah study as “learning” because of a quirk of Yiddish; I think it makes it sound misleadingly basic).  Some were definitely better than others.  I was glad to do Tikkun Leil, as I mentioned, even though the topic (what Torah subjects should one be studying) was something liable to make me feel religiously inadequate.  The big inadequacy-making event was today, however, when a whole bunch of local shuls (synagogues) got together at my parents’ shul for two hour study fest.  I couldn’t find a chevruta (study partner) from my shul, so the Rosh Kollel paired me up with someone who turned out to be a nice guy, but far ahead of me in Talmudic studies.  He just raced through the set texts, through the Gemara and Rashi and on to other Rishonim and Acharonim (Medieval and modern commentators).  I could barely follow any of it.  For one thing, the sheer number of people in the hall meant that my autistic brain was overwhelmed with noise and half the time I couldn’t even hear my study partner.  Even when I could, I struggled to think of anything to say, which I suspect/hope is an autistic executive function issue, the same thing that makes me stop and ask for more time to think in job interviews.  My brain just doesn’t work that fast.  Then add in the social element of chevruta learning, the fact that not only do I have to engage the part of my brain that deals with Talmud, but I have to engage the part that deals with social interactions too, and it’s all too much for me, even without the fact that my partner had a natural flair for Talmudic study and just tore through everything.  I used to have this problem with paired or group learning in school, too, so it’s not a problem unique to religious study for me.

Then there was a shiur (lecture) that was supposed to clarify the sources, but just left me more confused; it didn’t help that I could barely hear it.  Then there were songs I didn’t know and by the time we got to the end, I was wondering if my Judaism is really the same as that of everyone else in the hall.  There were a couple of people I was at school with in the hall, people who were not my intellectual equals at school, but who have become rabbis and can “learn” properly.  I can’t really study Talmud, although I try a little.  I mostly study Tanakh (Hebrew Bible) and theology for Torah study.  No self-respecting yeshiva bochur (rabbinical seminary student) wastes time studying Nakh (the non-Mosaic books of the Bible) (unless they’re at a Religious Zionist yeshiva) or theology.  My theology shelf is full of suspect people like Rabbi Sacks, Rav Steinsaltz and Rabbi Eliezer Berkovits, let alone outright non-Orthodox and unacceptable thinkers like Abraham Joshua Heschel and Emil Fackenheim.  (Rav Soloveitchik just about gets a pass because he was a halakhicist and has yichus (great ancestors)).

Fortunately, the Rosh Kollel in his closing address spoke about the concept of kiddush hashem, sanctifying God’s name by being a good person publicly or even privately abstaining from temptation because of God’s command rather than from fear of being caught.  So I felt maybe I can do something as a Jew.  It is depressing, though.  I am struggling to be Jewish at the moment, simply because I can’t engage with texts and enjoy Jewish life the way I am supposed to do, because of depression and autism.

The good stuff: as well as getting to these study events, I stayed at shul for Shacharit (Morning prayers) after Tikkun Leil; I also – somehow, do not ask me how – got up this morning for shul.  I still got there very late (shul started at 8.45am; I turned up around 10.00am and struggled to get a seat as it was packed), but I got there.  Hopefully I will make it again on Shabbat.  I did feel a bit more comfortable being in the shul than I have done recently (admittedly this was before the upsetting study session today).

I read a lot, both my novel (Fatherland by Robert Harris, thankfully not as depressing as a ‘what if Hitler won?’ alternate universe-Holocaust-murder mystery-thriller could be) and Tanakh.  I finished reading Nevi’im, the Prophets.  I’ve read Tanakh through from the first page to the last in English and I’ve read every individual book in Hebrew (I struggled with the Aramaic bits), but not in the right order, as I alternated ‘easy’ and ‘hard’ books (‘easy’ and ‘hard’ in terms of prose vs. poetry and early vs. late Hebrew).  For several years, I’ve been reading through Tanakh in Hebrew and in order, sometimes with commentaries.  It’s taken a long time because (a) it’s long and (b) it’s longer if you add in commentaries and (c) it’s really hard to read a language that isn’t your first language if you’re very depressed, especially if it’s in archaic poetry.  I’ve gone through periods of months when I just haven’t read anything.  So this was a milestone.  I can’t remember how long it’s taken me to get through Nevi’im, probably four or five years.  Hopefully it won’t take as long to get through Ketuvim, the third and final section of Tanakh, but realistically it will take as long or longer, as I have more commentaries to read plus significant numbers of Aramaic chapters as well as some of the most complex poetry in Tanakh.

I had a difficult discussion with my parents on the first night of Yom Tov over dinner, just before I went to shul for the Tikkun Leil.  We got on to my career and my struggles with finding a library job.  They encouraged me to try to sell some of my writing.  Like, now, not in months or years when I think I’ve finally got something good enough.  I went into autistic/depressive black and white “It’s impossible” mode and actually ran off to my bedroom and lay in bed in the dark fully dressed for a few minutes, which I guess might be a form of autistic shutdown, albeit from emotional overload rather than sensory overload (I do this kind of running away a lot when I’m emotional; I’m not sure if it’s really the same as the types of shutdowns other autistic people experience).  Still, I did calm down after a few minutes and finish the conversation with my parents as well as getting to Tikkun Leil (it looked for a minute like I would just go to bed and stay there).

I realised I have a couple of contacts I can email for advice about starting to write professionally.  I can also write to the Jewish newspapers and see if they have submission guides.  Perhaps also Doctor Who Magazine, although lately they don’t run the kind of analytical articles I could write.  I have a couple of ideas for articles about mental health and autism in the Jewish community for the mainstream (non-religious) Jewish newspapers – they publish quite a bit about mental health, although really the articles need to be more in the frum (religious) newspapers, but I don’t know if I have the right contacts for that or if they would print anything on mental health and autism, especially articles saying that people with mental illness or autism might not function in the community the way they “should” (e.g. my experiences above).  So, hopefully this week I can send some emails and try to work out what I can write.  I am nervous about approaching people for help.  I always am, I guess because at school showing signs of weakness was a fatal mistake, and also because I feel, “Why should anyone help me?  Why would they think I’m worth helping?”  Plus there’s the element of “All beginnings are difficult” (as the Talmud says).

I also came across a passage in a book that resonated with me.  It was a short piece, just a couple of paragraphs, in an anthology of essays on Judaism.  It was by Rabbi Dr Abraham Twerski, who is a Hasidic rabbi and practising psychiatrist in the USA who has written extensively on Judaism and mental health issues.  It was just a short thing saying that some people go out of their way to give others the benefit of the doubt, but beat themselves up about every little mistake and that this is not a positive behaviour and that we should be realistic with ourselves.  So, it seemed significant that I “happened” to come across that passage over the long weekend.

So, that was Shabbat and Yom Tov.  It was probably objectively quite good, but it’s hard for me to feel positive feelings, while the negative ones (like the study session today) are overwhelming.  Some of that is the nature of depression, of course.  I realise I haven’t explicitly spoken about depression in this post, only autism and low self-esteem, but it’s always there, in the background, poisoning my mood and warping my view of myself and my life.  Now I need to have something to eat, watch some Blake’s 7 and go to bed.

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Crisis of Faith

I didn’t want to post much tonight, as Shabbat (the Sabbath) finished late and I’m going to go to bed late as it is and doubtless will struggle to sleep, given how much I slept over Shabbat (yes, I failed to make it to shul (synagogue) this morning again and dozed in the afternoon for about three hours too).  Tomorrow I hope to be volunteering, although “hope” is a somewhat tricky word there as “dread” might be nearer the mark.  I feel I ought to go, but like almost everything else in my life at the moment, I’ve lost confidence in my ability to actually do it properly.  Then in the evening I’m out for dinner with my family to celebrate my Mum’s birthday.  So I may not have the time/energy to post much tomorrow either, so I wanted to get a few thoughts down, for myself as much as anyone else.

Shabbat was difficult with a lot of depression and difficult thoughts.  I can’t remember all of them, but they were pessimistic thoughts about the future of Western society and frum (religious Jewish) society as well as my place in them, or rather my inability to find a place in either of them.  It sometimes feels like a race to see whether postmodern Western society or Orthodox Jewish society will self-destruct first.  Do I really want to be a part of either?  Lately I feel I just want to go off and be a hermit somewhere, but that’s not a very Jewish thing to want to do.  I have to existed somewhere and I’m not introverted and autistic enough to be able to cut other people out of my life completely.

I realised today that I’m going through a crisis of faith again, albeit a strange one.  I make it my third: years ago (probably around 2008, I’m not sure) I had a ‘traditional’ crisis of faith, not being sure what I believed, wanting proof for the existence of God and so on.  Then, over the last couple of years, particularly when my religious OCD was bad, I believed in God, but couldn’t believe that He loved me.  Now I can sort of believe that God loves me, but I don’t believe I can find a community that is right for me, that has the right balance between tradition and modernity, that takes Torah study and prayer seriously, but is also open to the (post)modern world, doesn’t stereotype non-Jews and non-religious Jews and doesn’t turn wicked people into heroes for political reasons.  It’s very difficult.

A Jew can’t be a Jew without a community.  That’s one of the major differences between Judaism and some other religions.  So I feel stuck.  I just feel that I stick out wherever I go and don’t fit in.  It doesn’t help that I don’t understand the nuances of social interactions because of autism, so I don’t know when some things are allowed.  For example, my shul isn’t Zionist, but some people are quite open about their Zionism and that seems to be OK, beyond a little teasing.  I don’t really understand it.  It’s hard to know what I have to do/believe and what is optional.

It doesn’t help that I don’t do the things a good Jewish man is supposed to do.  Between them, autism, depression and social anxiety keep me away from shul a lot and mean I study a lot less Torah than I should.  Similarly, I struggle to understand Talmudic study.  At shiur (religious class) today the topic was a very technical halakhic (Jewish law) topic and people were asking all kinds of kashas (high-level questions based on finding logical or conceptual flaws in a halakhic argument).  Meanwhile, I struggled to keep up.  I don’t know why so many people seem to be able to do this and I can’t.  I don’t know how many of them have spent significant time in yeshiva (rabbinical seminary) or studying Talmud with a chevruta (study partner) to learn this.  I assume most did not go to Jewish schools where they would have learnt it at a young age, although their children do.  But I just fell behind very quickly.

And, of course, I’m not married and I don’t have children, which is both a cause and an effect of my dislocation from the community.  In a community where almost every adult is married, not being married locks me out from a lot of social interactions, including some that might help me get married (given the strict gender segregation at most shul events).

The interesting thing about my earlier crises of faith (the ones I mentioned above) is that I never resolved them.  I never proved that God exists beyond all doubt or that God loves me.  They just stopped being important after a while.  I either learnt to live with the uncertainty, or they just stopped mattering.  Maybe one day this will stop mattering too.

This was supposed to be a short post just to announce what I was thinking, but it has become much longer, so I’ll leave this here.  There is, of course, much more to be said and I will probably return to this topic in the coming days.

Standing on the Margins

I’ve been up and down again today.  I slept late again, after insomnia last night, which turned out to be because I’d forgotten to take my meds (I fell asleep around 3am, after taking them).  At times today I’ve been OK, but I tried doing some Torah study earlier and started crying.  I still feel very depressed.  There wasn’t an obvious trigger.

I did manage about half an hour of Torah study in the end.  It feels too little, particularly after what I wrote yesterday about “toiling” in Torah study in order to learn anything, but I just don’t feel able to do any more.  Am I being lazy?  Or beating myself up too much?  I don’t know.  My rational brain says I can force myself to do more, but the emotional side of me feels overloaded and unable to go on.  My self-esteem generally is low and I feel that I’m just not doing enough of anything at the moment: I didn’t job hunt today or do much Torah study or work on my books (except for watching Doctor Who: Demons of the Punjab for research for my book; I did work out why I don’t really like it, but that’s not entirely relevant to either this post or the book, although it was oddly mirrored by Michael Weingrad’s article today on Game of Thrones for the Jewish Review of Books).  All I did, aside from that half-hour of Torah study was a few Shabbat chores and some dusting, plus I’m hoping to go to shul (synagogue) in an hour.

I feel jealous of people who love Torah study, particularly men who love, and are good at, Talmudic study.  It must make being frum (religious Orthodox Jewish) so much easier and more enjoyable, just as it seems easier to be extrovert, and especially neurotypical, in such a community-based religion.  The assistant rabbi was speaking last night of spending hours studying with his chevruta (study partner), tearing just a few lines of Talmudic text to pieces and putting back together again in myriad ways until the understand it, and how disgusted he feels afterwards with the simplified “for dummies” explanations in the Artscroll Talmud edition commentary.  I can’t even understand the Artscroll explanations and I certainly can’t function with a chevruta, which is supposed to be the ideal Jewish way to study.

It’s funny, I tend to assume that I have no share in Olam HaBa (the World to Come i.e. Heaven).  Partly it’s that I can’t imagine anything that good happening to me (everything in my life goes wrong sooner or later, usually sooner), but also our images of Heaven – the Heavenly yeshiva where everyone studies Torah with HaShem (God), the great banquet, the circle dance around HaShem – they are all communal images.  True they are only metaphors, there isn’t a literal yeshiva, feast or dance in Heaven, but whenever I try to imagine myself in the images, it’s just awful.  I can’t study yeshiva-style, I get overloaded by the noise and the people and am too shy to say anything even if I understand the subject matter.  I hate parties and avoid them; when I do I’m left standing by the fringes (which I read the other day is what happens if you earn a not-so-good place in Olam HaBa).  And, as I noted recently, I hate circle dancing (not that I like any other type either); again, I leave early on Simchat Torah to avoid it.  I feel that Olam HaBa, if by some miracle I find myself there, will probably turn out to be like a shul Shabbat (Sabbath) dinner: I’ll feel uninspired and lonely while everyone else is having a great time, connecting with HaShem and bonding with their friends and family.

I feel more than ever that I want a frum wife who could help me grow religiously, but there’s zero chance of anyone frum wanting to go out with me.  The last two women I dated were not frum.  I don’t even know how I would even meet someone frum, and I’m sure she would not be interested in me.  My parents just feed my fantasy that I could only marry someone whose previous relationships were severely dysfunctional or abusive by suggesting that I’ll meet someone who isn’t interested in a ‘typical’ frum guy because of a bad previous experience, but I can’t see why she would not want to meet someone frum and a nice person.  Unless she isn’t interested in being frum at all, in which case I still wouldn’t be suitable.  If I make up extreme examples of reasons why no one would marry me, my parents produce equally bizarre and unlikely examples of women who might be interested in me.  I’m not convinced by them.

I’ve been using dysfunctional coping strategies for dealing with difficult feelings.  Doubtless this will include eating too much junk over Shabbat (the Sabbath).  I feel sinful (not for eating, for other things), but feeling sinful just makes it worse because I’m even more likely to react in a dysfunctional way out of guilt, low self-esteem and self-loathing.

“You should never have your best trousers on when you go out to fight for freedom and truth”

Today is Lag B’Omer and the end of the mourning period part of the Omer, at least according to the minhag (custom) I follow, so I’m clean-shaven again and can listen to music without worrying about anyone asking why I’m doing it (even though my rabbi mentor told me that people suffering from depression can listen to music, I feel uncomfortable about my parents or anyone from my shul (synagogue) catching me doing it).  Shaving again does lift my mood somewhat; at least I’m not so itchy.  Still, it’s always seemed a slightly weird day to celebrate, especially as I don’t actually believe Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai wrote The Zohar, which is ostensibly the main cause for celebration, and another difference between me and my community (although I just read that the connection between Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai’s death and the celebrations is very recent – as in Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai lived in the second century, but the connection was only made in the seventeenth or eighteenth).

The other thing happening today is the most pointless election in the history of British democracy, elections to the European Parliament, an organisation we were supposed to have left weeks ago and which we may still, in some sense at least, leave, or at least lose our voting rights in (which would probably be worse than either fully leaving or not leaving at all).  It’s basically being used as a protest vote by everyone annoyed with either the government or the opposition, which is pretty much everyone in the country.

I was always brought up to believe that there I have a moral duty to vote at every election, however pointless it might seem because “people died to win you the vote.”  Ignoring the fact that this is arguably a weird version of the sunk cost fallacy and that, as Oscar Wilde wrote in The Portrait of Mr W.H., the fact that someone died for an idea does not make it true, I’ve always stuck to that, but today I can’t.  I just can’t bring myself to vote for any of the parties.  Not the Conservatives, with their incompetence and infighting, not the Lib Dems and Change UK with their insistence on overturning the referendum result (I voted remain, but I think that overturning the referendum will be far worse for our democracy than leaving the EU even without a deal), and certainly not for the gang of Marxist antisemites running the Labour Party or the racist neo-Nazis of UKIP.  I can’t bring myself to vote for the Brexit Party either, so I spoilt my ballot by writing pretty much what I wrote here only more succinctly.

I feel really bad about it, like I done something not so much wrong as sacrilegious.  Like I’ve somehow offended against the spirit of democracy and if Britain ends up as a dictatorship, it will be my fault (whereas in reality I felt I was making the only gesture I could reasonably make towards saving British democracy, if that’s not pretentious).

Anyway, enough politics.

***

I had a sudden burst of religious OCD, worrying about some kashrut issues.  I’m not quite sure where this came from all of a sudden.  I know that OCD thoughts never go away fully and one has to be vigilant not to give in to the compulsions or checking that goes with them, but I’m not sure why they have suddenly flared up today.  I checked the first one with my rabbi mentor, but when the second thought came, I realised I was falling back into checking and (so far) resisted asking the question.  In OCD, as in politics, the price of freedom is eternal vigilance.

***

Dayenu is a song from the Pesach seder.  After describing the Egyptian slavery and exodus, we sing “If [God] had brought us out of Egypt, but not wrought justice on them, it would have been enough.  If He had wrought justice on them, but not on their gods, it would have been enough.”  And so on, for fifteen verses, saying how even if God had not done everything he did for us, but only some of it, we would still be grateful (it’s fun to sing, though).

I realised I do a kind of reverse dayenu.  “If I was only a geek and not autistic, it would be enough (to stop me getting married or building a career).  If I was only autistic and not depressed, it would be enough.”  And so on.  I need to find a way to stop doing this.  It may be entirely true that I am not going to build a career or get married, but endlessly repeating my mantra (as my therapist used to say) doesn’t make anything better and probably makes things worse.  I probably do something similar regarding fitting in to my community; I did that again today after reading something on a frum site online that I really disagreed with and feeling that I will never be accepted in the community, but don’t fit in in secular Western society either.

***

Speaking of which, shiur was difficult again.  First there was my stupidity: someone who goes passed me on the way there and offered me a lift, which I took out of politeness, even though I was literally just down the road from the assistant rabbi’s house.  He saved me all of two minutes.  Then I somehow ended up trying to get out the car while the engine was possibly still going and certainly before the handbreak was on.  I just get so nervous around people that I end up doing stupid things.

Then I had another “Is this really the right community for me?” moment, when I just do not believe some of the things the assistant rabbi was says; I don’t believe Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai wrote the Zohar and I don’t believe that all aggadata (non-legal material in the Talmud, but in this case specifically narratives about biblical characters and sages of the Talmudic era) literally happened.  That’s a relatively minor point on one level, because I do believe that these narratives, whether they happened or not, were written and preserved because they are meaningful, but I just feel like a dissident or a spy in a hostile country sometimes, where if I’m not careful I’ll slip and be ostracised.

But what really upset me was the substance of the shiur, which was about our ability to understand Torah being proportionate to our effort (in a supernatural way i.e. the reward is disproportionately greater than the amount of toil, as a reward from HaShem) and that toiling in Torah study is a goal in itself.  I feel I just don’t understand anything, certainly not Talmud, but I don’t feel I can toil any more.  I know I hardly do any Torah study at the moment, it’s just so hard when I often feel depressed and I’m trying to learn how to juggle mental illness and working/job hunting, and chores and community stuff and davening (prayer), which I still haven’t learnt after a couple of years of working several days a week (when I actually have a job).  Maybe I could/should do more.  I’ve been trying to do more just the last few days.  But I never really understand Talmud, no matter how hard I try.  I can understand Jewish philosophy sometimes, but that’s not considered important or particularly worthwhile.  But I can’t understand Mishnah and Gemarah and it’s hard to make the effort to try.  Even with Tanakh (Hebrew Bible), which I used to love, it’s hard to really connect and find anything meaningful (and, again, it’s not really considered meaningful study for an adult male).  I used to find a chiddush of my own on the sedra (innovative comment of my own devising on the weekly Torah portion).  I think I did that every week for about four years, but then the depression intervened and my inspiration dried up and I couldn’t think of anything.  I haven’t been able to get back into it.

I just feel so separate from God, it’s hard to make the effort to study, particularly when I don’t understand and often can’t connect it to anything in my life.  There’s so little meaning in my life, and I have so little drive to do anything, other than perhaps to write.  Maybe I’ve just got lazy.  When I was too depressed to work, I studied Torah every day (OK I did skip a bit in 2003-04), often for an hour, I think.  Nowadays I’m struggling to do half an hour.  When the depression is bad, even five or ten minutes can be hard.  So maybe it is my fault.  Maybe I’m just lazy or maybe I just don’t care any more.  I don’t know.  I’m just blaming myself more now, which isn’t going to help me make a positive change, like doing more Torah study.

This all made me think of the Gemarah (Shabbat 31a) about the six questions you get asked after death.  Supposedly when you die, you get asked six questions by the Heavenly Court.  They are:

  1. Were you honest in your business dealings?
  2. Did you fix times for Torah learning?
  3. Did you engage in procreation?
  4. Did you hope for salvation?
  5. Did you engage in the dialectics of wisdom?
  6. Did you (intellectually) differentiate between one thing and another?

However, this only helps you if you have awe of HaShem.

This is before getting judged for all your deeds.  This builds up a sort of character profile of whether you had the right life philosophy before they examine all your deeds.  Also, the whole thing – questions, court etc. – is deeply metaphorical and not literally what happens, which is probably beyond our comprehension.)

Of these, questions two, five and six are all about Torah study, so I’m pretty much stuffed there.  (Apparently the Vilna Gaon saw all six as allusions to the six orders of the Mishnah, so they’re all about Torah study.)  I’m obviously not going to succeed with number three either.  I don’t know if I hope for salvation enough.  I very much doubt that I have enough awe of HaShem.  I don’t really think about Him much.

I do feel, sometimes, what is the point of my even being Jewish?  Because I’m so bad at it.  I don’t learn enough and I don’t daven enough, or with kavannah (mindfulness) or with a minyan (community), I don’t do chessed (kindness) or any of the things I should do.  I don’t connect with God.  I don’t have a worthwhile job.  I don’t live in Israel.  I don’t really know why I’m here.

There was probably more I wanted to say, but I’ve just descended down into depression and self-loathing again, after being OK most of the day (albeit not achieving very much either).  I want to eat ice cream, but I shouldn’t (that word again) given that I ate junk at the shiur and will doubtless eat a huge amount of junk over Shabbat, but this has just upset me.  And now I’ve spent an hour writing this when I should be winding down for the night.

I really am a bad advert for Orthodox Judaism.  Please don’t judge all frum (religious) Jews by me.

Existential Angst

I had another job interview today, at a very large law firm for a law librarian-type job.  I left my self lots of time to get there, which was lucky as I struggled to find their offices and wandered around a bit until I found them.  I’m not sure if the fault was Transport for London’s online directions or inadequate signage in central London.  I still got there early, though.  Then on the way home, I accidentally went into Farringdon mainline station instead of Farringdon Underground station, a mistake that seems to have cost me £2.40 just to go through the ticket barriers (which accepted my oyster card (Underground ticket)).  The signage is all done in the same font as the Underground signage, which is confusing.

There was a test before the interview, which was on proofreading and cataloguing, plus a trickier question about how I would respond to a problematic library user.  I was glad that I practised my cataloguing this week.  I was also glad that I prepared more thoroughly than in the past for the interview, as they threw twenty or thirty questions at me for an hour, which is a more intense interview than I’ve had since I applied to Oxford (not that I’ve had many job interviews, but you get the idea).  I had a sense of doing OK, but perhaps not great, but I’m a very bad judge of these things.  I think, like dating, chemistry with the office culture is important, and also how good the other candidates are (maybe also like dating).

I’m not sure if I would take the job.  I’m guessing the salary would be decent and the offices are very swish, as you would expect, but I don’t know that I’m ready, in terms of my psychological health, to work full-time even without the fact that the job description expects overtime, plus there may be a problem with Shabbat i.e. Friday afternoons in the winter, but also from a comment in the interview occasional Saturday work might be required too.  But even beyond that, I think the corporate culture at a place like this might not be right for me.  I find the idea of working somewhere that exists primarily to make money vaguely unsettling.  I’ve only worked somewhere like that once, on a short contract, and I didn’t like it (admittedly a lot of other things were wrong there too).  Even writing a book on Doctor Who seems more socially useful: people would hopefully enjoy the book, whereas spending my time helping lawyers to trace legal precedents to help big companies make deals seems… not quite my kind of thing.  I’m not an anti-capitalist by any means, I am just really uncertain that it’s where I would like to invest my energies, which, after all, are rather limited at the moment.  I feel like a precious snowflake saying that, but I’m not sure I would be happy in a job that was both high-pressured and not socially useful in any obvious kind of way.

I suppose the real trouble is that, deep down, I want to at least try to make a career as a writer of some description, I’m just scared and don’t know how to start.  I picture myself at the school swimming pool, standing on the side in my swimming trunks, trying to get the courage to jump into the freezing water…  Lately I’ve been interviewed for or considered librarianship jobs in academia, law and the civil service, and they all make me feel inadequate.  I know that, in theory, with my BA I should have been able to at least try to get jobs in any of those areas, either as a librarian or as an actual academic/lawyer/civil servant.  And I didn’t, because I was scared and didn’t believe in myself (granted I never wanted to be a lawyer, I just know that some huge proportion of Jews go into law).  And now I’m trying to work out what I do believe in my ability to do.

***

The assistant rabbi in his shiur (religious class) the last couple of weeks has spoken a lot about kedusha (holiness) and the importance of having it in our lives, but also the difficulty of obtaining it.  He says we can keep the whole of Jewish law, but even then we might not obtain kedusha because it is ultimately a gift from God; we have to prepare ourselves for it (do the mitzvot (commandments) and work on our characters), but we might not get it.

I do wonder if I am making any attempt to find kedusha in my life.  So much of the time at the moment I feel like I’m just going through the motions with davening (prayer), Torah study, mitzvot…  I know it’s hard to feel engaged with depression and the resultant poor concentration and motivation and I know feeling engaged can trick you into thinking you’ve got holiness when it’s just pleasure/joy/ego.  Even so, I feel there ought to be more to my religious life, but when I try to learn more/better or daven more/better, I just hit a barrier.  I know the barrier is probably depression or sometimes social anxiety, but I feel I should be able to get through it somehow.

I’m not sure I really know what kedusha is anyway, beyond thinking I don’t have it (I assume I would know it if I felt it, although that may simply not be true).  I haven’t read much Jewish philosophy lately, but a number of years ago I was quite into Jewish religious existentialist philosophy: Rav Soloveitchik, Emmanuel Levinas, Abraham Joshua Heschel, Emil Fackenheim, Franz Rosenzweig (couldn’t understand a word of him), Martin Buber’s Tales of the Hasidim…  A key idea in Jewish existentialism is that kedusha is found in relationships, in our interactions with others as much as ritual.  There is also emphasis on the longing for HaShem (God) and the feeling of distance from him (Rav Soloveitchik’s The Lonely Man of Faith is a key text here; also Arthur Green’s reading of Rabbi Nachman of Breslov and his Tales).  I know the longing, but I feel that I experience it less than I did when the depression was at its worst.  Has recovery (however partial and limited) made me less religious and God-aware?  It’s a scary thought.  My autism and social anxiety make it hard for me to find HaShem in personal interactions, although I try when I volunteer at the asylum seekers drop-in centre.  I try to reach out to people who are struggling online and find some satisfaction in doing that, although I worry about saying the wrong thing and think I have done so in the past.

***

Today has left me feeling exhausted.  I will try to go to shul (synagogue) tonight, but I doubt I will make it for tomorrow morning.  I will try to go to the seudah shlishit (third meal) being held as a farewell for the rabbi, the assistant rabbi and their wives, although with my shiurMincha and Ma’ariv (Afternoon and Evening services) it will last for about three and a half hours, which is a lot of ‘peopling’ particularly if I’m feeling exhausted.  Other than that, I will try to relax after a very stressful week, whilst musing in the background on what to do if I am offered either of the two jobs I was interviewed for this week.

Things Done Today

Things done today:

  1. Tried, for the third day running, to apply for a job at a particular institution, struggled to describe how I meet the criteria, procrastinated, decided the job is at too high a level for my experience and gave up both disappointed and relieved;
  2. Spoke to my rabbi mentor, a conversation in which I felt I did not really express myself clearly or describe my anxieties;
  3. Wrote a blog post that somehow got out of hand and turned much more political than I usually feel comfortable posting here;
  4. Did about thirty minutes of Torah study;
  5. Went for a fairly brisk thirty-five minute (or so) walk;
  6. Redrafted another chapter of my Doctor Who book, the first chapter in this draft about which I haven’t had a vague sense of unease.

I feel that today was frustrating, although I can see I did some good things, especially points four to six.  I just feel that I should be able to do more, the background level of mild depression notwithstanding.  There are so many little (and big) chores that I need to do that just get pushed away constantly, so many religious and family obligations that I feel I’m not meeting and I wish I had more time to spend on my writing.  Or maybe it’s that I wish I could give myself permission to spend more time on my writing.  I’m not sure that “redrafting” is quite the right word for what I’m doing with the text of my book either; I’m deleting material and making slight changes, but, so far, nothing very significant.  That’s probably a sign I’m either doing very well or missing something very wrong.

The DVD of the latest series of Doctor Who arrived, which I wanted anyway, but bought more urgently when I realised I probably should write a chapter on it for my book.  I think that it’s too early to really judge this new era, but I suspect a publisher would want me to make the book as up-to-date as possible and any new fans attracted to the programme by Jodie Whittaker will want something on her Doctor.  Plus, omitting it leaves me open to the accusation that I don’t see the female Doctor as ‘real’ Doctor Who, which is not the case.  I am still on the lookout for a cheap copy of Resolution to bring my collection of TV Who up to date, although I suspect I will have to fork out the full price if I want it in the next month or two.  £13.99 for an hour of so-so TV seems a bit much.  I think it’s still on iPlayer, but I’m a completist (arguably I get what I deserve if that’s the case, but that’s an argument for another time).

More Variations on a Theme of Pesach Anxiety

I’m glad I’m not in my FE job today, as I would doubtless have been caught in the climate change protests in the Docklands, which I really wouldn’t need when there is Pesach stuff to be done.  I don’t know why the protesters are bothering anyway; no one is going to catastrophise about climate change when we’re all too busy catastrophising about Brexit…

***

I’m sleeping really badly at the moment.  It takes me a couple of hours to fall asleep, and then I sleep through the whole morning.  This is not good with Pesach stuff to do.  I don’t think I’m consciously lying awake thinking about Pesach, but I’m sure that’s the reason for the insomnia.

***

Our usual kosher butchers were out of shank bones (symbolising the Pesach lamb on the seder plate), but I remembered another, small kosher butcher my parents had forgotten about.  I went down today and they still had so I feel like I have Officially Saved Pesach.  (No one else feels thinks I Saved Pesach, but it’s my story and I’m sticking to it.)

***

kashered the hob for Pesach.  I had some problems with this, which I won’t go into, but I did make a hurried Skype call to my rabbi mentor in the middle to check some things, which I wouldn’t normally do.  But I think I did it OK.  I’m not feeling OCD anxious about it.

***

I felt really stressed and anxious this afternoon, less OCD anxiety about preparing for Pesach wrongly and more general anxiety about leaving everything to the last minute because much of the preparation requires help from my parents (either because it’s a two-person job or because I don’t know where things are) or can only take place after certain things have happened which my parents want to leave until later, so I’m waiting for them and plutzing and worrying how I will sleep tonight and how I will do everything tomorrow night and how I will sleep tomorrow night and how I will get up early on Friday morning and how I will do everything on Friday…  It doesn’t help that I tend to view small mistakes or setbacks as catastrophic, or at least as signalling that bigger mistakes are to come, which is not always the case.  I don’t usually have big meltdowns the way some autistic people do, but I probably do experience small ones, when I get overwhelmed by a mixture of anxiety, stress, tiredness and helplessness, usually because of things that are out of my control.  I felt that building inside of me earlier and I managed suppress it by going for a brisk walk and so far we haven’t had a major Pesach argument this year, but it’s hard.  I think I am coping OK overall, although I’m wary of saying anything for superstitious reasons that I’m afraid it will all go wrong if I mention it.

I guess that as with many of my issues (in life in general), a lot boils down to living with my parents and having to play by their rules where their rules are not good for me with depression, anxiety, OCD and autism (autism likes to know when things will happen, anxiety likes not to leave things to the last minute, depression, autism and OCD all need lots of sleep).  I really should not be living with my parents aged thirty-five.

I do feel bad that, because of preparation, I haven’t had much time for Torah study or to go to shul.  Although I suspect that men who can keep up with Torah study and shul at this time of year are either super-organised or are exempted from much of the cleaning and kashering by their wives (or even forcibly expelled from the house by their wives for the duration).

***

So now half our kitchen is Pesachdik and half is still chametz.  My rabbi mentor says that this is the most dangerous time of year, when it’s easiest to mix up chametz and Pesachdik.  I agree, and it’s doubly hard with religious OCD.  I guess if you want to know what it’s like, the comparison would be to take someone with germ contamination OCD and dump a load of raw sewage in her kitchen and expect her to just carry on as if it wasn’t there.  Not going to happen.

Forty-six hours to go…

***

Looking at this inventory for self-stigma of mental illness, I think I have quite a bit of self-stigma about my mental health, especially if I include the autism too.  I know autism isn’t a mental illness, but just rephrasing the questions to be about autism gets similar results for me.  I knew I had poor self-esteem, but I didn’t realise how much I see myself as inadequate because of mental illness and autism until I was agreeing with statements like “I feel inferior to others who don’t have a mental illness/autism” or “I can’t contribute anything to society because I have a mental illness/autism”.  Even statements that I don’t actually agree with cognitively or about others, I intuitively agree with about myself e.g. “Mentally ill people shouldn’t get married” which I don’t believe for other people, but I do feel that I shouldn’t get married, or at least that I won’t be able to.

Things Fall Apart

Just feeling awful today, depressed and exhausted, and I’ve got so much to do.  I had anxiety dreams last night about Pesach and, bizarrely, my MA.  I feel exhausted, perhaps from the intense emotions and agitation yesterday.  The books on depression and anxiety don’t tell you just how tiring they can be.  Suicidal thoughts in particular can be utterly draining and I’m guessing that’s why I feel so exhausted today.  I can’t really face job-hunting at the moment, which will make things worse in the long-run.  I’m just glad I’m not working today.  I just wanted to watch TV, but I needed to go out and get a prescription and was supposed speak to someone from The Network (who run the group therapy/courses I did recently) and do various things for family, although the person from the Network never phoned (the public sector is so lousy at this sort of thing).  I’ve got a huge pile of emails too, mostly job alerts for jobs that are of no interest and which I don’t think I can do.  I’d like to work on my Doctor Who book, which is a more achievable task, because I enjoy it more and because at the moment I’m just tidying up the second draft by standardising spelling and layout, which I can do while feeling bad, but I feel bad about doing that when I ‘should’ be job-hunting.  I don’t know whether I will get any of these things done.  I fell asleep for an hour after lunch, which I guess is a sign I was tired, although I slept for nine hours last night.  I couldn’t really afford to lose the time, though.

***

I woke to find an email about the my university’s Doctor Who Society’s anniversary party.  I was hoping to go to this, but I realise now I’m probably not going to be able to do so, as it falls in the Jewish national mourning period after Pesach.  I thought I could justify going if it was just to socialise and watch Doctor Who, but I think it’s more of a party party, which doesn’t seem right for me to go to.  I was already missing the dinner, for kashrut reasons.  I enjoyed going there more than anything else at university, but even then I missed out on social trips to restaurants and location trips that were always on Saturdays for the sake of people who had early lectures on Monday morning.  I know Jewish law is supposed to reduce social and romantic involvements between Jews and non-Jews and even between frum (religious) and non-frum Jews, and up to a point, I accept that, but it’s hard when you have limited social and romantic possibilities, and people within the frum community aren’t always the most friendly or just aren’t on my wavelength.

I try not to perform mitzvot (commandments) in expectation of reward, but sometimes when I look at everything I’ve sacrificed to be frum, and what I may have to sacrifice to stay frum, it’s hard not to feel that I want something in return.  Worse, I feel that deserve something in return, which is very wrong of me.

***

Lately I’ve felt my religious observance slipping a little as I noted in yesterday’s post.  Nothing big, just little things.  Some of it might not even be bad, like beating myself up less for davening (praying) in a less ideal way or not at all and for studying less Torah.  Sometimes it’s hard to care when one feels so depressed.  If I’m thinking about suicide, which is virtually the biggest no-no in Judaism, then nothing else seems that important, doubly so if I don’t think I’ve got any reward coming to me.

At any rate, today it was hard to “learn” Torah (as the Orthodox say) and I didn’t really manage much.  As an Orthodox Jewish man, I’m supposed to think that I exist to “learn,” particularly Gemarah (the main part of the Talmud).  I’m supposed to do it day and night, at every free opportunity.  It’s supposed to give meaning to my life and be more important than all other mitzvot (commandments) and acts of chessed (kindness); as the saying goes, when we pray, we speak to God, but when we “learn,” God speaks to us, which is supposed to be more amazing – thinking God’s thoughts and in some sense joining with Him (this is why it is seen as meaningful even if you don’t understand what you are studying or if it is aspects of Jewish law no longer practised).  This may have been the case for me once.  I used to study for an hour or more a day, even though I was very depressed, but that was when I wasn’t working or was working less, and it gave some kind of meaning to my life, to my illness.  But nowadays I do at most twenty to thirty minutes, sometimes just five minutes, although I feel I should still study as much as I used to on days when I don’t work.  However, it’s hard to care from depressive lack of energy, concentration and motivation and because it doesn’t speak to me any more.  I know the Talmud says that that’s my fault (“If  it is empty, it is from you”).    I don’t like the atmosphere so much at parsha shiur (Torah class) either, too boisterous and masculine, but that’s a slightly different issue.

I’ve always struggled with learning halakhah (Jewish law) and Talmud, but I used to enjoy other aspects of Jewish study, Tanakh (Hebrew Bible) and Jewish philosophy, but lately I don’t (to be honest, “lately” is probably for a year or more).  Some of it is depression making it hard to concentrate, engage with things and enjoy things, but I was “learning” more when I was more depressed than I am now.  Some of it is the feeling of rejection I have from God and from the Orthodox world.  It’s hard to engage with them.  Some of it is doubtless repressed guilt and wanting to isolate myself, not to mention envy of people who spend longer in study and get something out of it (e.g. the semi-retired person at my shiur who studies Talmud for something like four hours a day and loves it).

***

It’s not just hard to be a frum Jew without studying Torah, it’s hard to be a frum Jew without a spouse and children and that might be another reason I’m slipping.  There are push and pull factors with families that keep a person frum.  The push factor is that shuls are centred around families and if you have a family it’s much easier to fit in.  You have something to talk to other people about after shul (school, bar/bat mitzvahs, weddings, grandchildren, great-grandchildren) and you can go to family-centred social events without feeling out of place (I’ve mentioned in the past that I rarely see the few other single people at my shul attend social events).  The pull factor is that if you have a family, it’s harder to stop being religious, because it can lead to conflict with your spouse and because you don’t want to negatively affect your children’s marriage prospects by leaving the community, which would be seen as reflecting badly on them.  I have heard that unscrupulous kiruv professionals try to get new ba’alei teshuva (people who are ethnically Jewish, but raised non-religious) married as soon as possible to ‘lock them in’ to a frum lifestyle.

I heard of frum “older” singles (“older” in inverted commas because it means over the age of about twenty-five in the frum community) get criticised for being “picky” or being patronised or given unwanted advice.  I guess I’m lucky that I’m invisible enough in the frum world to mostly avoid that sort of thing, but that brings the drawback that no one is actually setting me up on dates, when being set up by a third party is the main way of dating in the frum world.  I would be terrified to go to singles events and there aren’t many of them advertised anyway (apparently it’s too dangerous to let large numbers of single men and women talk to each other, even with a view to getting married).  I’ve thought recently of trying internet dating sites again, but no one really responded to me on them, plus I have heard that, like job applications (something else I’m bad at), it’s a numbers game: you need to message hundreds of women to get a handful of responses and one date.  There simply aren’t enough women of anything approaching my particular level of frumkeit (religiosity) in the UK for that to work (even ignoring whether I’m in a strange place between Modern and ultra-Orthodoxy).

***

Sometimes I feel like I just want to be held, but I’m sufficiently self-aware to question that.  My first girlfriend thought I was frigid and I fear she was right.  I could ask my parents for hugs, but I usually don’t, but then again that relationship is difficult at the moment in some ways.  I worry that I wouldn’t cope with a relationship if I actually had one.

Depressive Thoughts

(A stupid, pointless title, but I’m feeling awful.)

Last night after I blogged my mood went down quite rapidly.  I felt like I had been going flat out all week with networking workshop, Jewish Book Week, work two consecutive days and my parents away.  I just fell back into despair and lethargy and crawled into bed at midnight hoping I would wake feeling better or at least more alert.

However, I had strange dreams in the night.  First I was on the Tube and ended up helping a doctor who was helping a pregnant woman who I thought was a nun, but looked, in retrospect, like she was wearing a hijab.  I was aware that she had cut herself off from her community by getting pregnant, but I felt sorry for her.  I was worried about not getting home in time for Shabbat (the Sabbath), but was assured by the doctor that it didn’t start until 7.30pm (in reality, that won’t happen until the clocks go forward).  Then things shifted and I was in some sort of classroom (although I think I and the friends/other people with me were all adults).  A huge and intimidating man, about twice my height, stocky and with a long, thick beard was trying to test me on reading Hebrew aloud; I stumbled on this, but couldn’t convince him that this was due to social anxiety stopping me reading confidently rather than poor Hebrew literacy.  We started to daven (pray) the Friday evening service, but the intimidating teacher told us to skip Kabbalat Shabbat as it was too late.  At which point I woke up, I think.

I am not entirely sure what any of this means, although I can see that it was an anxiety dream (which may be why my sleep was not restful) with some obvious allusions: the pregnant “Muslim nun” rejected by her community represents my fears of being rejected by the frum (religious) world for being too worldly, but also by Doctor Who fandom for being too religious (she was still a nun even after presumably breaking her vow of chastity); more prosaically, the motif of being late for Shabbat reflects my fears that I’ll run late tomorrow getting ready for Shabbat by myself, plus I do still get occasional anxiety dreams about breaking Shabbat even though I’ve been shomer Shabbat, at least at a basic level, for half my life.

***

It was fortunate that I woke up when I did, as I had slept for eleven hours, dramatically oversleeping and having to rush out and skip both shaving and davening (praying) to get to my psychiatrist appointment on time, both of which I hate missing.  The radio was on in the waiting room and I found it irritating.  I don’t know why all NHS and social services waiting rooms seem to have TV or radio on these days.  I find it really annoying and it’s not terribly autistic-friendly.  It was a new psychiatrist as the one I saw last time is ill.  The appointment was OK, but I felt that I was just a statistic on the waiting list being processed.  She didn’t ask about my case history or the causes of my problems and didn’t seem terribly aware that I’ve been depressed without cure for most of the last sixteen years or more.  Maybe she didn’t know.  I didn’t say anything about autism, because the last psychiatrist was dismissive of it, saying I’d already been assessed and told I was not autistic.  My GP has sent my autism referral through and I’m on the (very long) waiting list, so there didn’t seem any point talking to this psychiatrist about it at this stage, although I did get vaguely upset when she said that social contact will get easier the more I practise it.  For a neurotypical person, maybe, not for someone whose brain isn’t wired to understand people.  The psychiatrist was also a bit blasé about my work issues, saying I would find part-time work easily.  I didn’t ask for a medication change, as the clomipramine seems to work a bit, sometimes, even though it still leaves me quite depressed and has led to a lot of weight gain.  I don’t think it’s particularly sensible to mess around with medication while I’m working if I can help it anyway.  I have another appointment for three months time, so I’ll see what happens and maybe ask to change things then.

***

In the afternoon I did not do much, but was busy with my job application spreadsheet, which I keep up to date, even though I have not actually applied for anything for weeks and have missed a lot of deadlines, alongside a few other chores.  I was hoping to work on one or both of my books too, but I didn’t get the chance again.  I’m so busy just surviving from day to day that I don’t have time for anything more future-orientated, whether writing books or job hunting.  I didn’t actually achieve much today, but I didn’t really relax and get the rest I need either.  Maybe I will be able to rest over Shabbat, but who knows?

***

Looking at job adverts again today brings back my work worries.  I know I’m over-qualified for my job, which is not too difficult, and although there are harder elements (choosing appropriate material for exhibitions is difficult but interesting, although it would help if I knew the collection better, but my background in history has been very useful here and won me praise from my line manager).  But the whole reason I like my job is because it’s not pushing me too hard right now, when I am struggling with self-esteem and energy and motivation issues as well as confusion about whether I’m autistic and how I should live my life if I am, as well as how to manage my mental health (with or without autism).  I don’t know what to do.

***

The work worries bleed into relationship worries, because I don’t think anyone will date me until I’m working much closer to full-time.  I know that I could still get married at some point, but it seems a long way off, which in turn makes having children (which I really want to do and think about a lot) less likely.  But it’s the loneliness that is so hard, and difficult to survive.  It’s probably loneliness more than anything that has triggered my suicidal times, even if it gets mixed up with despair and hard to isolate.  I don’t know how to survive the ten or twenty (or thirty or forty) years that I might have to wait until I’m functional enough to look for love and to meet someone who can see past my considerable dysfunctionality and all the baggage and drawbacks I come with.

I just wish I had people to talk to who understood me.  It’s been hard to talk to my parents lately, which is probably my fault.  I get irritable and sarcastic when I’m depressed, not to mention focused on catastrophising.  But my parents don’t entirely understand depression or autism entirely, although their understanding is greater than some people’s.  That’s not their fault, but it makes it hard.

I have friends who understand depression and autism and care about me, but they don’t live locally and I can only communicate via text and email, which is better than nothing, but also lacks something somehow, even to a socially anxious and avoidant person like me.  My local friends don’t really know so much about my issues, for various reasons, again, largely my fault.

I just wish there was someone in my life who cared about me and understood me and I could see regularly (and feel comfortable seeing regularly).  I know I depend too much on other people for my self-esteem, but I don’t know how to change that and I get annoyed by people who aren’t lonely telling me I have to love myself before anyone else can love me.  I could just as easily state that other people have to show me I’m worthy of love before I can love myself, because I don’t see myself as worthy.

***

On a related note, my sister phoned tonight to see how I’m getting on without my parents.  I struggled a bit to deal with the call.  I find that usually happens when she phones me.  I thought it was because she usually interrupts dinner/Doctor Who, but I wonder if it’s an autistic predictability thing and I would cope better if she told me in advance that she was planning to phone at a particular time on a particular day.  Still, I think she takes better care of me than I would be able to do if our roles were reversed.  Maybe I couldn’t cope with someone in my life who cared about me and understood me.

***

About 8pm, I was watching Doctor Who and noticed that I was crying.  I thought it was odd, as I didn’t consciously feel depressed.  Then about twenty minutes later, I realised I was depressed, painfully depressed and sad.  It’s strange how out of touch I am with my emotions.

***

I read a davar Torah (Torah insight) sent out by my shul (synagogue) for Rosh Chodesh Adar II (New Moon) upset me.  I felt I was being attacked and to some extent deserved to be attacked.  I don’t really know what ‘spirituality’ or ‘Jewish spirituality’ means any more, if I ever did.  I try to study some Torah every day and pray at least a bit of the three daily prayer services (although I often miss Shacharit on non-work days like today).  I want to be a good Jew, but I don’t really connect with HaShem (God) or Torah much these days emotionally.  I certainly can’t find “authentic spiritual joy” for Purim.  It’s just a struggle to get through Purim in one piece.  I want to be a good Jew, but it’s hard enough trying to perform the mitzvot (commandments) in my situation without worrying about kavannah (mindfulness), spirituality, meaning or connection to HaShem.

Then shiur (religious class) tonight was about genuine joy being connecting to HaShem via Torah, but we get distracted by false pleasures.  This might reinforce my feeling that I’m depressed because I’m a bad person and God hates me, which I hadn’t felt quite so much recently.  I think I might have missed the point of the shiur, though, or wilfully misinterpreted it to make myself feel bad.

Whether I misinterpreted things or not, I feel that I’m a bad person and a bad Jew who doesn’t connect with HaShem through davening, mitzvot and especially not through Torah and who is wasting his life on meaningless transitory pleasures like Doctor Who and writing (despite this I am still thinking of cosplaying (dressing up as a fictional character) the fourth Doctor for Purim, but I might not have the guts to do it).

So much of Jewish religiosity is tied up with community, which is problematic for me because of social anxiety and low self-esteem (it’s feeling that people would reject me  if they knew the real me that keeps me away more than actual experience of rejection), and with family, which is difficult for me because my parents don’t connect with Judaism in the same way as me and because when Jews say “family” they primarily mean spouse and children (maybe most non-Jews think like that too).

The silly thing is that I really believe intellectually, I just can’t connect emotionally with my religion, perhaps through depression (or autism?).

***

I can’t believe anyone reads this rubbish I write.  I shouldn’t write it, but I need to vent and here you go.  I suppose it’s better than hurting myself, at least assuming it isn’t just a very clever and complicated way of hurting myself, which might in fact be the case.

Busyness, Loneliness and Jewish Studiousness

I didn’t have work today, having gone in on Monday instead, so I got to sleep in.  I actually slept for something like eleven hours and finally woke feeling refreshed.  I don’t know why I need to sleep so long; I used to assume it was the depression making me exhausted, but it may also be the effort of masking depression and autism in social situations and at work.  I started sleeping longer at weekends when I was a teenager, which is probably fairly common, but that was also the time I first started showing symptoms of depression and when school perhaps started becoming harder from an autistic point of view, as the nature of friendship changed and became less about playing together and more about sharing emotions.

The downside of sleeping in is that doing everything I wanted to do today became harder, especially as I was feeling a bit down, or at least sluggish (it’s not always easy for me to tell the difference between the ‘low mood’ and ‘low energy’ aspects of depression, which I guess is alexithymia again).  I probably wanted to do too much anyway, but as I said yesterday, chores have a habit of breeding.  I needed to get a haircut and buy an anniversary card for my uncle and aunt, catch up on this week’s Talmud study, speak to Remploy about career’s advice and workplace support options for someone with depression and autism and a few smaller things.  I also wanted to get through some more Doctor Who episodes for research (not relaxation, as it’s become a chore at times to do it, although I enjoyed the much-maligned The Gunfighters). 

I managed everything except speaking to Remploy, which was good, especially as I can now put aside the second drafts of another two Doctor Who book chapters.  I shook quite a bit while having my hair cut, which wasn’t good.  I’m trying hard not to beat myself up about not getting everything done.  As I said, I probably wanted to do too much anyway.  The problem is I hate having my haircut and I was nervous about having to contact Remploy so the urge to procrastinate is there, along with the fear that I was procrastinating even if I wasn’t.  Of course, the reason I’m so sluggish today is probably at least in part because I did quite a bit yesterday, so to some extent there’s a trade off.  I will see if I can speak to Remploy before I go into Shabbat mode tomorrow afternoon.

***

I try to push myself sometimes to read things that are out of my usual comfort zone, so I’m reading 13 Minutes, a thriller about teenage girls and their cliques and bitchiness.  It’s been making me think of my school days, which were miserable, but I realise from the book that a lot of what was going on went over my head.  I just wasn’t aware of a lot of stuff in terms of interpersonal dynamics (friends, lovers, enemies).  I don’t know if that was autism or just being out of the loop, if the two aren’t really the same thing.  I certainly wasn’t really aware of my peers having sex like the characters in the book.

Now, of course, I think about it too much.  I feel that there’s a huge part of life I’m locked out of.  I don’t know why I fixate on that.  I’m not a great traveller, but I don’t feel that I’m missing out much there.  I don’t touch drugs or alcohol, but I don’t feel that I’m missing out on them.  Maybe because I long for intimacy more than sex per se and feel I’ve never or rarely experienced the kind of closeness I want with people.  Or because from a frum point of view, sex is bad until you get married, when it’s good, which makes it harder to write off.  My frum peers have lots of children by this point.  I hope I get rewarded for my abstemiousness at some point, but I worry that I won’t.  It’s not like I really had a choice; I couldn’t have sex even if I wanted, women have never exactly thrown themselves at me.  Tehillim/Psalms asks God to store our tears in a flask and record them as a sign that He is with us.  It can be hard to feel that my suffering is somehow preserved for a meaningful goal, though.

***

On a more positive note, I mentioned doing the weekly Talmud study above and while I still feel that I understand very little of the actual arguments of which the Talmud is mostly comprised, I think I am slowly learning key words and logical terms.  In the long run, that’s probably more important than actually understanding the arguments.

In the last few days I’ve felt more confident in my own Jewish knowledge in general, at least compared with other ba’alei teshuva (people ethnically Jewish but raised non-religious who became religious later on in life), which is a positive thing given that many of the people in my shul are ba’alei teshuva.  I feel that I probably do know a lot compared to the average ba’al teshuva, although most of the time I’m too scared to reveal my knowledge.  I also feel that I have more of a sense of an underlying philosophy of Judaism than many Jews have.  I feel like a ba’alat teshuva or geyoret (convert to Judaism) might accept me as a husband, although there is still a feeling that she would be ‘settling’ for me in the absence of someone better and that a frum (religious) from birth Jewish woman wouldn’t accept me.  I don’t know whether this is true.

***

Related to this, I do feel today that someone might want to marry me; the problem is finding a job to support a family/make myself more attractive and in working out how to actually meet women, given that I’m not integrated into the frum community enough to get set up on dates.  Plus, as I said, I do still have the nagging sense that if someone did marry me, she would be ‘settling’ for me, not marrying me because she really wants me in the first instance, although for a while today even that feeling disappeared.  But there’s no telling what I will think tomorrow.

“You’ve won it once. Now you’ll have to go out there and win it again.”

I’m very tired after a difficult few days (with more stress to come in the next few days), so I’m just listing a few things from today with one slightly longer reflection.

I had a disturbing dream last night.  I even know what inspired it: an episode of Jonathan Creek, although why my unconscious mind waited a month since I watched the episode before forcing it on me is a mystery.  Perhaps because of this, I woke tired and struggled through the early morning.

***

I had to fight my religious OCD last night and today.  It’s generally under control, but I know that I can easily slip back into it, particularly when tired, stressed, hungry or depressed, so I have to keep on fighting, which can be draining when combined with my other issues.

***

I had some success using CBT techniques to ignore or challenge negative thoughts about myself (thoughts that my colleague hated me and my insistence on precisely following security procedure with the rare books).

***

One of my other colleagues congratulated me on my book choices for yesterday’s exhibition saying they were powerful and she was still thinking about them.

***

I had a migraine by the time I finished work again.  I’m not sure why I keep getting them lately.  It may be because I work so long without breaks.  I worked for three hours without much of a break this morning and four hours after lunch, with one or two toilet breaks, but no food breaks and little or no water because of the fact that I’m not supposed to bring food or drink near the rare books.  This was after deciding that the basement was too hot to work in and taking the books up to the office despite the extra time taken in the hope I wouldn’t get a headache from the heat.  Then again, one of the migraines was not at work, so I could be seeing patterns where there are none.  I felt so bad that when the working day finished I stayed in the staff room for a long time because I was worried that I would throw up on a hot and crowded Tube train.  Eventually I felt well enough to come home, by which time the Tube was less crowded and I got a seat easily, but I had to walk home from the station as my parents had gone out.

***

I listened to/watched three of the four episodes of The Celestial Toymaker today “listened” because 97 episodes of 1960s Doctor Who survive only as off-air audio recordings made by fans in the days before home video.  Listening at least meant that I could do something when I was in the staff room with a migraine.  The Celestial Toymaker is one of my least favourite stories, but I found a nugget of new insight for my book, so it was worth it.

***

The more likely it seems that I’m on the autistic spectrum, the easier it gets to “forgive” myself for not having the lifestyle I “should” have (career, spouse, children) or the religious life I “should” have (career, spouse, children again; plus daven (pray) more often, at greater length, with greater kavannah (mindfulness) and with a minyan (community); study more Torah, especially more Talmud; and improve my character traits more).  I don’t know why depression on its own was not enough to make me forgive myself, but somehow with autism, depression, social anxiety and occasional OCD, I feel I have a “reason” to be where I am.

I do feel a bit like I have to constantly reinvent the wheel every day, though.  Every day I have to learn how to cope and be Jewish with autism and depression.  The fact that I managed it yesterday is no guarantee that I can manage it again today.  The quote that came into my head today, even though I don’t like football, was England manager Alf Ramsey to the team before extra time in the 1966 World Cup final: “You’ve won it once. Now you’ll have to go out there and win it again.”  That’s how it feels, that every day I have to learn how to win, how to be me, how to be depressed and autistic and Jewish and survive, and then the next day I have to do it all over again.

Pessimism

Shabbat (the Sabbath) was difficult at times.  I had forgotten until I arrived at shul (synagogue) that the shul was having their communal dinner this week, the one I wanted to go to, but missed out on due to not realising when the application deadline was (partly my fault, partly the shul‘s fault for sending the publicity out at the last minute).  That made me feel a bit upset, especially when I realised that a neurotypical person might have followed my parents’ advice and emailed the admin office to ask if I could come if someone cancelled or if they could squeeze one more person in (there have to be some advantages to being one of the few single people in the shul).  However, I was too socially anxious and caught up in autistic black and white thinking (“It is past the deadline therefore there is nothing I can do”) to do any of this.

***

I had a long conversation with my parents over dinner about where my life is at the moment.  I can’t remember many of the details, but they were a lot more optimistic about my meeting with a matchmaker tomorrow than I am.  I feel deceitful and manipulative even arranging the meeting, as I don’t feel there is any realistic chance I can marry any time in the near to medium future.  I believe in God and Torah, but I struggle to believe that there I have a bashert (soulmate) out there who will see the good in me and be able to cope with the many, many difficulties that someone would encounter in a relationship with me, from my low/soon to be non-existent income to depressive low moods, socially anxious withdrawal and autistic empathy issues.  My parents’ insistence that someone might want me was not convincing, unless you somehow assume that all other frum (religious Orthodox Jewish) men are really unpleasant and unmarryable (they aren’t) or that someone would marry me just because she wants a child and needs someone, anyone, as a father (I can’t see that ending well).  E. was more into me than anyone I’ve ever dated (not admittedly a high hurdle to clear), but she couldn’t cope with me for more than two months, so I really can’t see anyone else tolerating me.  To be honest, if it was ‘just’ a question of depression, social anxiety and autism, I might still have hope, but my low income and uncertain career path is just too much for me to expect anyone to deal with, given that I want to have children and would be looking for a woman who wants to have children and children require lots of money.

***

I wanted to try to go to shul this morning and I actually woke up at 9.00am (shul starts at 8.45, but I would consider getting there by 10.00am a victory at the moment), but I fell asleep again before I could get up.  When I got to shul for shiur (Talmud class) this evening, I realised I had only read half of this week’s page of Talmud.  To be honest, I don’t think I understood any less than usual.  I really struggle to understand Talmudic logic.  Aren’t autistic people supposed to be good at detail?

***

On the way home from shul this evening it really hit me that I don’t belong anywhere in the Jewish world, at least not as it is in the UK.  I was thinking about the upcoming festival of Purim, where people wear fancy dress.  One of my friends dared me last year to wear my Doctor Who scarf, but I was too scared.  I’m trying to get the confidence to do it this year, but I’m not sure I’m going to manage it.

Charedi (ultra-Orthodox) communities like the one I belong to advocate keeping clear of most of the world outside the community.  I shouldn’t read biblical archaeology or secular literature or watch Doctor Who, because it’s all likely to raise questions and temptations and plant bad ideas in my head.  I don’t believe questions are resolved by running away from them or by giving them easy answers.  Likewise, most Charedi Jews (to be honest most religious Jews in general) avoid non-Jews and non-religious Jews outside of work situations.  Again, they’re seen as potentially tempting and corrupting.  But I need to go to my support groups for my mental health and if people there are in trouble, I will try to help them.  Likewise, with people who read my blog.  And I like talking to people about Doctor Who and I feel bad that I have not been able to do that much in recent years and want to get to situations where I can do this again, which means going into non-Jewish environments where many people’s ethics are going to be different to my own.  I feel that I know who I am and what my values are, but I do realise that my worldview has potentially been changed (“corrupted” if you want) from my interactions outside the community.

More Modern communities might be more understanding of these things, but I don’t think there are many Modern Orthodox communities in this country where most people are frum (rather than ‘traditional’, but not shomer mitzvot/keeping the commandments) and take davening (prayer) and Torah study seriously.  Certainly that’s not been my experience.  In my parents’ shul, which is virtually the only Modern shul I could realistically go to for the foreseeable future, there is too much talking during the services, too much chazanut and choral singing, too many people in general, too many people who aren’t frum and a rather cliquey and unfriendly feel to the community.  I didn’t fit in there at all when I used to go, even without the problem that there I was just seen as an extension of my father, not a person in my own right.

I would like to find a community that takes Torah and davening seriously, but is also friendly and open to the outside world and ideas from the humanities and sciences as well as popular culture and which doesn’t look down on non-Jews.  I don’t think such a place really exists in this country.  I do sometimes go to shiurim at the London School of Jewish Studies and they do have the right hashkafa (religious philosophy) for me.  The trouble is, everyone there is my parents’ age or older.  It’s depressing.  I feel that wherever I am, I’m hiding or stifling part of myself.

I know I’ve said most of this a lot in the past, I just need to vent at the unfairness of it.  If I was in America or Israel I wouldn’t have to twist myself to fit into one of a small number of boxes.  If I was well enough to be able to get a job and live by myself I would perhaps consider emigration, but it’s not realistic to do so now.

***

The other scary thought that I had on the way home is that it is a month to Purim, and from Purim another month to Pesach.  I will doubtless write more nearer the time, but these are the hardest, scariest two festivals for me, in terms of triggering OCD, depression, autistic triggers, everything.  Plus, I need to go in to work late on Purim, but I’m scared to ask for the time off after the whole situation I blogged yesterday about my psychiatrist appointment (I hate the NHS).

***

Tonight I’m drifting from one task to another without really finishing anything.  I had a pile of emails that arrived during Shabbat to sort through and most were job alerts i.e. scary stuff.  I think even though I knew there was little or no realistic chance of my job being extended past March, I was in denial about it and was hoping I would somehow stay in this job, which is the one I’ve been most comfortable in since leaving my first job in 2017.  I feel pretty pessimistic about finding anything remotely as good any time soon.

Self-Acceptance

I’m not sure why I’m so obsessed with writing about how much sleep I get.  I’m not obsessed with chronicling other aspects of my life tangentially related to my mental health, such as exercise or diet.  Maybe because it’s an index of normality: eight or nine hours good quality sleep = good, anything more or less or bad quality = depression.  Sleep is always the first thing to go wrong when an episode of depression starts and the last thing to improve.

Be that as it may, I went to bed too late last night (I had a burst of energy after dinner and stayed up blogging and writing emails), slept too much, but had poor quality sleep with strange dreams again (not sure why I’m having so many lately; I don’t usually remember my dreams) and woke up with a slight headache to discover the gas man was just arriving to service our boiler.  Which is in the kitchen.  So I had to be visible while getting breakfast ready while in pyjamas and dressing gown, which makes me feel self-conscious, but I was feeling too tired and depressed to get dressed before eating, as is usually the case (according to strict halakhah (Jewish law) one should always get dressed and pray before eating, but I almost never feel well enough to do that).

Dad and the gas engineer were having a very neurotypical small talk conversation.  Part of me wonders why I can’t manage to do that and another part thinks I would go out of my mind with boredom if I could do it.

***

I went back to bed after breakfast.  Normally that’s something I would try to avoid, usually by being online, but I’ve now blocked most of my procrastination/distraction sites as triggering in one way or another, so in the absence of energy to do anything productive, I ended up going back to bed.  It was good to just lie in the semi-darkness, not being stimulated by anything other than birdsong and the ticking of the clock, even if I did feel guilty (and lonely.  Being in bed by myself makes me feel lonely, even though I’ve never actually shared a bed with anyone; even as a child although my parents would let me fall asleep in their bed if I was upset by a nightmare or thunderstorm, they would carry me out once I fell asleep.  But I can imagine what it must feel like).

Staying too long in bed, it occurs to me, might not just be about exhaustion, laziness, running away from the world or any of the other labels I rightly or wrongly ascribe to it.  My world divides into concentric circles of safety and danger.  Some are probably in flux depending on my experiences (e.g. shul (synagogue), which sometimes feels safe and sometimes feels very dangerous), but my home is safe, my bedroom is very safe and my bed is safest of all.

***

My job search has become very cursory.  I really want to stay in my current job, even though a job that only employs me two days a week is, on a purely financial level, not very satisfactory, even if they do extend my contract past March.  But I feel comfortable in the role demanded of me, which was not the case in my last two jobs, and I get on well with my boss (again, unlike the last two jobs) and the time off to recover, go on mental health courses and work on my writing is useful, even if recently I have been too exhausted and depressed to make much use of the writing time.  But I feel I should still be job hunting for my parents’ sake.  After all, they are supporting me financially.

***

New insights continue to come from my autism identification.  I thought that I don’t have the problems some autistic people have with executive function (planning and decision making).  I acknowledge that I’ve always been indecisive and prefer to have limited choices or even to have someone else make decisions for me.  Sometimes I completely seize up when someone offers me a choice and I don’t know what to say or how to decide, to the point where this is visible to other people (one date got really annoyed with me for this, fuelling my ‘no one could ever love me’ thoughts).  It has taken a long time for me to realise that this could be autism.

More surprising is to realise that I’m not that good at planning.  I make lots of lists and plans, but, since my mid-teens (before severe depression), I’ve had a habit of drifting away from plans once I’ve made them, sometimes within minutes.  I regularly and dramatically underestimate how long it will take me to complete tasks and the amount of energy and concentration that will be expended by them and I let myself procrastinate and get distracted by things if I am not that interested in what I should be doing.  I guess it’s one of those things that is hard to judge, though, because lots of people aren’t good at plans or are easily distracted without being autistic and some of it is that on some level I still assume I have non-depressed reserves of energy even though I’ve been depressed for seventeen-plus years.

Similarly, I always thought that I didn’t have autistic meltdowns, but reading up on them, I think I might, but that they don’t manifest primarily as screaming or physically lashing out, but as crying, catastrophising and asking excessively for reassurance from other people.  I think I tended to interpret these as panic attacks or worsening of depression rather than as meltdowns, but perhaps I have been mistaken.  I probably have also got in the habit of avoiding situations that I find triggering or leaving when things become difficult, which is good, but makes it hard to know how I would react if pushed further.

I think I may have had more explosive meltdowns when I was younger, but I learnt pretty early on that there were other people around me who could shout a lot louder and longer than I could and that explosive anger is just too dangerous, so over time I had fewer angry-type meltdowns and more anxious ones, or just repressed my feelings so that they turned into depression and OCD, what this site calls “implosive” rather than “explosive” meltdowns (“Visible symptoms of this may include withdrawing from communication, hiding, self-harming, curling up in a ball, rocking intensely and may make random sounds and noises to drown out the world around them” – withdrawal, self-harm, crying, curling up in a ball all sound familiar, perhaps also acting out in other ways that would only be obvious to myself).

Past examples might be the crying and catastrophising that I assumed were panic attacks  (again, this site calls meltdowns a form of panic attack) when I went to stay with my first girlfriend’s family for the first time and the occasions when I stood outside social events at shul crying because I felt too overwhelmed to go inside.  Perhaps also the strange feeling, that I assumed at the time was a straightforward panic attack, that I had on the London Underground a few months ago when, after having to suddenly change my usual travel route to work because of a station closure, and while in a big, stimulating crowd of commuters, I felt emotionally overwhelmed while trying to walk up a stationary escalator at Kings Cross Tube station and for a few moments was worried I was going to be so overwhelmed with anxiety and despair that I would not be able to move any further up or get back down to the bottom either.  A similar situation occurred a few minutes later in a very uncomfortable crowd on the platform where I started worrying that I was going to fall under the train and felt a similar unbearable rush of anxiety and feeling overwhelmed.

This might even explain the unexpressed anger and agitation that appears as racing thoughts, often slightly paranoid, self-loathing, or furious at other people, that can appear after social overload, including in positive situations but particularly in negative ones.  This used to happen to me a lot at the Jewish Society when I was at university, where I wanted to fit in and make friends, but found it painfully hard to do so; once depression was added to the mix, I would often leave Shabbat meals early and walk very briskly around Oxford for an hour thinking how angry I was at myself and everyone else, sometimes even mentally composing aggressive suicide notes, until I would finally arrive back home and collapse exhausted onto the bed.

At any rate, it is worth looking out for similar behaviour in the future.

(I would welcome feedback on meltdowns from other people on the spectrum, as it’s the part of autism I understand the least and have greatest difficulty identifying with.)

***

I think I’m learning slowly – very slowly – that I’m autistic and that’s OK.  It was one thing to think I was autistic, but quite a different thing to be able to accept and make allowances for myself.  This is the case even though I still don’t have a diagnosis and I worry what would happen to my self-image if I was told yet again that I’m not on the spectrum.  I’m even being more accepting of some of my religious ‘failings’ (not davening (praying) with a minyan (community) or with kavannah (mindfulness); not liking Purim and Simchat Torah, etc.), even the ones that are due to depression and social anxiety as much as autism.

It’s funny that I never felt that depression or social anxiety were valid reasons for being ‘this way’ but that autism is valid.   I suppose autism explains oddities of my personality that aren’t explicable by depression or social anxiety or were present even when everything else is OK, from the indecisiveness mentioned above to difficulties with eye contact, body language and reading emotions (in other people and myself) to the fact that when I was a child I used to like making Lego models as per the instructions rather than experimenting with my own designs (although I did make Lego Daleks of my own design because my Doctor Who special interest trumps everything).

***

I wrote a not-quite-angry letter written to HMRC querying why they are now pressing me for money they told me I didn’t have to pay months ago.  I also found directions to my course on Friday and emailed the matchmaker from the values dating service.  I have mixed thoughts about how sensible dating is for me right now, although it’s hard to imagine a time when it would ever be substantially easier.  I also read this week’s Talmud page in advance of Shabbat’s shiur (and failed to understand it).  i didn’t have time for much work on my books, but spending a long time writing my thoughts on poor executive function and meltdowns here was really helpful in understanding myself and could be useful for my mental health/misery memoir book, which is all good.  Even so, I didn’t do everything I wanted or planned, and not just because I had a headache, which is frustrating, albeit another demonstration of impaired executive function.

***

I try not to be political here, but I have to say this or my head will explode: every time I see or hear the words “Donald Tusk” on the news, I have a vision of a Babar-type elephant with big tusks, dressed in a suit, standing on his hind legs and carrying a briefcase.  This has bothered me for years.

Virtuous Circles

22 Shevat: Yortzeit of the Kotzker Rebbe

I’m still feeling quite good.  I’m waiting for the depression to come back, as it always does, but I’m trying to enjoy it while it lasts.  It’s interesting that my desire and ability to study Torah and to daven (pray) with kavannah (mindfulness) grows when my mood is better.  There probably is a virtuous circle of good mood –> more engaged with Judaism –> better mood.

***

I want to work on my books on non-(paid) work days (Mondays and Wednesdays; Fridays, at least when Shabbat starts later in the day; and potentially Sundays when I don’t volunteer.  Maybe also Saturday evening after Shabbat in the winter, although that’s hard).  I actually feel like a child in a sweetshop, getting to write about my special interests: Judaism, Doctor Who and mental health (OK, analysing my own psyche).  It’s just difficult to know where to start.  A while back I said I wanted to get paid for writing about my special interests; I’ve got some way still to go for that, but at least I can set aside some time aside in the hope that one day I will get paid for at least one of them.

Unfortunately after having gone to well-being group (see below), done some chores and spoken to my rabbi mentor (again, below) today, I was too tired to do much writing, but I did twenty minutes or so of working on the structure of the Jewish book.  I oscillated between excitement at writing and anxiety at the scale of the task and whether my book would be distinctive or well-written enough to compete in the marketplace.

***

I had the last session of well-being group today.  We looked at how far we have come and how to continue to grow.  It was a bit disappointing for me.  I have achieved things since starting the group, not least that I’m now working again two days a week; smaller, but potentially longer-lasting achievements include getting back into meditating daily and finding an affirmation that works for me when my thoughts get out of control, one that handily works for depression, OCD and social anxiety.  However, I feel there is so much more to do.  In particular, I haven’t been to shul (synagogue) on Shabbat (Saturday) morning for a year or more.  I don’t know how to get to that goal.  I can’t see a way to break it down to smaller steps as we have spoken about in the group.  I think part of the problem is that there is so much anxiety, guilt and self-loathing around where I fit in the frum (religious Orthodox Jewish) community that I don’t really want to go to shul.  On Friday afternoons and Shabbat afternoons I go from habit or I can psych myself up to go if I have to, but on Saturday mornings the temptation to sleep through my alarms is too strong.  I’m not sure what to do about this.  I need to find a way to build up to it in small steps, but I can’t think of any.

We also spoke about self-care in well-being group.  Everyone else seemed to think they don’t do enough, whereas I suspect I do too much, but it doesn’t really help me to cope better.

***

I have an appointment with the psychiatrist booked for 28 February.  This was booked before I was working, so is on a Thursday.  As I only work two days a week, it seemed a bit much to ask for a morning off to go, so I just tried to book a replacement appointment on a Monday, Wednesday or Friday, only to be told that the earliest free appointment is in May!  This is ridiculous.  To be fair, in this instance, unlike some (many) previous problems I’ve had with the NHS, this isn’t really their fault.  It’s basic economics that zero price means infinite demand, in theory.  Obviously there isn’t going to be literally infinite demand for psychiatric services, but demand is still going to far outstrip supply no matter how well the NHS is funded.  It’s still pretty awful service, though.  At least the receptionist was polite and apologetic, which isn’t always the case (something less justifiable by hard economics).

***

I spoke to my rabbi mentor about some of my recent experiences.  He said I sounded very positive and that my book ideas sounded interesting.  He was a bit concerned that my Jewish book idea sounded too much like this book, but I see mine as being less academic and more about explaining Judaism from the point of view of questions non-Jews actually ask me, based on how we appear to outsiders, rather than the things you would need to know to do a degree in Jewish Studies or Comparative Religion.  So, less on the history of Jewish theology and more on why we wear strange clothes and use unusual words when ostensibly speaking English.  But it might be worth trying to get hold of a copy of that book and one or two others before I get too involved in the project to nudge it in a different direction.

My rabbi mentor was also supportive of my decision to try dating again.  He agreed with me that there probably won’t be a time when I’m not dealing with my mental health on some level, so waiting until I’m “better” is pointless.  He felt that when I was in a relationship with E. that had a positive effect on my mood and that even going through relationship breakups has been a learning experience for me, so that it was worth trying again.

Writing this post, I wonder if dating will give me an incentive to go to shul on Shabbat mornings again?  Not for practical reasons so much as so I don’t have to explain to dates why I don’t go.

***

I emailed one of my colleagues from my further education job.  He replied saying they were just wondering where I was working now.  I always feel funny when people say they were talking about me.  It’s not paranoia, but a sense of, “Wow, people actually remember me when I’m not in the room.”

Overload, But Good

I need to write about my day for my private journal, so I may as well write it here; you read about the bad days, so I guess you should see the good ones too.

I got up quite early (for a Sunday), but struggled with exhaustion.  I did eventually get going.  I went to volunteer at the asylum seekers drop-in centre (I still think there should be an apostrophe in that, but it’s how they spell it).  I deliberately arrived over an hour late because I knew I had a busy day and I wouldn’t be able to cope with four hours plus of volunteering.

At first I felt completely out of place.  Even after volunteering there for several months, I don’t feel that I know anyone well enough to say anything deeper than “Hi, how are you?”  I struggled with sorting piles of clothes (I can’t always easily tell men’s from women’s or adults’ from children’s… to be fair, I’m not the only person there with this problem).  When the asylum seekers arrived, I went to volunteer in the creche area as I usually do, but at first I found it difficult to connect with the children; there were other volunteers there who seemed to find it much easier to connect with them.  I actually thought about coming home, but after a while there were so many children there that they really needed me to help, plus I found it easier to play with some of the younger (pre-school) children, who seemed to like me.  There was one little baby there in particular who happened to share my first name who seemed to feel very comfortable with me; at one point he tried to feed me his half-eaten biscuit, which was cute and slightly gross at the same time!

I then came home and vegetated in front of Doctor Who for an hour and a half to regain some energy (not exactly relaxing, though, as I’m watching as research for my Doctor Who book) before going out to dinner with my family.  It was my sister and my father’s birthdays last week and this was the celebration at the local kosher Chinese restaurant (my sister’s favourite).  I was limited in my food choices as I’m vegetarian during the week (I only eat meat and fish on Shabbat (the Sabbath) and Yom Tov (Jewish festivals)) and the restaurant had limited vegetarian options.  Kosher meat restaurants have limited vegetarian options as a rule and I’m not entirely sure why.  I suppose not being allowed to serve cheese or milk (because of kosher laws preventing meat and dairy in the same meal) limits them, but you can still do things with tofu or soya; this restaurant had one tofu side dish only, which is frustrating.  I did have vegetarian spring rolls, vegetarian dim sum, various vegetable, rice, noodle and tofu side dishes (as a family we ordered five different side dishes, all meat free, and shared them around) and hot chocolate cake and parev (non-dairy) ice cream.  We had a good time, but I struggled with the noise in the restaurant, which was somewhat uncomfortable for me.  It’s strange that it’s only in the last few years, since I’ve learnt about autism and sensory overload, that I’ve realised how uncomfortable I can feel in noisy places.  I suppose one needs to know a concept and have a name for it before one can identify it.  Before then, I probably just put uncomfortable feelings down to introversion, social anxiety or depression or just went home in a bad mood without knowing why.

I ought to go to bed now, as I have the last session of my well-being group tomorrow and I’m likely to be exhausted.  I’d like to do some work on one or more of the three books I am writing/would like to write if I have the energy.  Still, today was a positive experience after a difficult start, which is good.  I even got some Torah study in there at some point.

Snatching Defeat from the Jaws of Victory

I had dreams last night about being autistic and whether that was ‘really’ a disability, although my unconscious mind got the terms wrong.  Perhaps unsurprisingly after that I woke up really depressed this morning and I was fighting back the tears as I had breakfast and got dressed, although the thought of being at work without my boss on what is only my fourth working day would probably have done that even without the dreams.  Yet again I couldn’t read on the Tube into work as I was too anxious and depressed.  I was worried that I was about to have a panic attack walking through the rush hour crowd at the station, but managed to stay calm with deep breathing.

Work, once I got there, was pretty good, though.  I coped with my line manager being out of the office and did a lot of the work she left for me even though she had forgotten that I had a meeting that I needed to go to another building outside the main campus.  She wasn’t expecting me to do all the work today anyway; she left too much in case I got stuck and couldn’t finish something.  I actually felt that I was enjoying work a bit today, which isn’t something I’ve felt for a while.  Higher education seems to be calmer than further education.  It’s frustrating to handle rare books without being able to peek at them (the books in the store are wrapped in paper); I feel a bit like an intellectual eunuch.  I’m sitting in on a class next week, though, so I should be able to see some of them then.  (When the books go out of the library, there have to be two people with them so that in case of emergency one stays with the books while the other goes for help, so I get to be the second person next week.)  I even started having ideas for things to show in the exhibition I’m supposed to be helping to plan.

I had some OCD worries about whether I had locked up the rare books store properly, but I fought it and resisted going down to check.  Slightly worse was a wobble I had when my line manager’s line manager was talking to a new library volunteer in the office.  She’s a librarianship student at the university and I was a bit envious of her and her clear career plan, given the improvised and only sporadically successful nature of mine (if I can really be said to have a career plan at all), doubly so as the university where I now work is the one that was first choice for my librarianship MA, but they weren’t accommodating of my mental health issues so I went to a much worse university where various things went wrong for me.

I also had an awkward moment when I went to the off-site meeting, as I wasn’t sure if the woman who looked like she was waiting to meet me was the person I was meeting or not.  She looked similarly unsure if I was the person she was meeting.  Very awkward.  Then I went into autism overload and was unable to say anything other than “Yes” “Right” and “Thank you” while she spoke to me.

Shiur (religious class) this evening was more difficult.  It is harder for me when there are a lot of people there, especially now the rabbi has new, wider, arm chairs in his dining room, which are comfortable, but made me feel a little as if the people next to me were invading my space a bit.  Some people made some jokes at the beginning that I thought were a bit rude and tasteless and show how, if you are secure in the community, you can take liberties, but I would never feel so secure (not that I would tell rude or sexist jokes, but I hide my hobbies, interests and beliefs for fear of being considered unacceptable).  Before the shiur started people were talking about their wives and the shiur concluded with the assistant rabbi talking about the Gemarah that says that matching husband and wife is like splitting the sea which underlined my single state.

The assistant rabbi also said that we should have a clear plan of where we want to go this year and in coming years spiritually and we should be planning on a week-by-week basis to get to that goal, which made me feel bad, because I don’t have spiritual goals any more.  My spiritual goal for this year is to get to Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement) without trying to kill myself, or at least to try to improve my mental health a little.  I don’t have any wider goals.  I’d say I have a goal to get a full-time job and get married (both of which I think are spiritual goals), but I don’t think either is feasible any time in the next few years.  As for davening (praying) more with a minyan (prayer quorum) or with more kavannah (mindfulness) or studying more Torah, I don’t think these would be feasible goals even if I cared that much about them, but I’ve been so worn down by my illness that I don’t really care any more.  I’m such a rasha (wicked person), but there you go, I have no energy left even to beat myself up about being a rasha.  This train of thought makes me lose the desire to write that book about Judaism, because who wants to read (or should read) what a rasha says about Judaism?

Plus the assistant rabbi’s baby started crying near the end and he didn’t hear and his wife didn’t hear.  It felt wrong to interrupt to say something, but I really can’t bear hearing children crying, so I felt helpless, upset and confused.  Eventually the rabbi’s wife heard and calmed the baby.

I have no idea if I’m out to dinner tomorrow night, which is also scary.  You might recall that at shul (synagogue) last week I was invited to someone’s for dinner, but the person said he would phone me to confirm.  I still haven’t heard anything.  I think I’m probably still invited (assuming he hasn’t forgotten to tell his wife, which is possible) because frum culture is very laid back like that about times and invitations, which drives me crazy because I’m autistic and need to plan and can’t make last minute changes (and I’m also one eighth Yekkish – the Yekkes (German Jews) are the exception and are stereotypically pedantic and obsessive about punctuality) .

Anyway, now I’ve brought my self down after having a good day, so I’m going to meditate (breathing meditation and hitbodedut spontaneous prayer/meditation) and shower, watch Star Trek and go to bed, trying to focus on the good parts of the day and not the anxieties and failures.

“It will all be the same in a hundred years”

I spent an hour or more after Shabbat (the Sabbath) working on my presentation for my interview.  Actually, I spent an hour occasionally jotting down ideas, but mostly panicking and procrastinating on Twitter (which I should never have joined – I don’t use it effectively to promote my blog, which was the whole purpose of being on it, although it’s probably just as well my recent blog posts haven’t had much of an audience, so out of touch am I with accepted fan wisdom.  Although it was weird to see a former Doctor Who script writer retweet a (non-Who, political) Tweet by a friend of my sister… small world).  I have something of an idea of the structure of the presentation and a few ideas, but it’s going to need a lot of work before Wednesday.  If the interview goes badly, at least it will be useful evidence for when I have my interview at The Network on Thursday (for employment support with mental health issues) and Barnet Mencap on Friday (for autism screening).

Shabbat itself was more of a struggle.  Friday night was good: I spent time feeling actually frum (religious) for once: I went to shul (synagogue), spent time on Torah study, reading Tanakh in Hebrew and looking up commentaries and Midrashim and things, at least to some extent.  I spent too much time after shul, but before dinner, lying on my bed tired and then I struggled to sleep when I went to bed properly, but on the whole I felt OK and I started re-reading The Transmigration of Timothy Archer, Philip K. Dick’s last and in some ways most beautiful book (I’m not quite sure why The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction thought it was the work of a “finished writer”).

Today was a lot harder.  I slept through the morning again and didn’t go to shul.  This upsets me, but I don’t know how to change it.  Dealing with social anxiety there is just too far down on my list of priorities at the moment, below dealing with less scary social anxiety situations, dealing with low self-esteem and finding a job I can actually do.

Then when I got up, there was stuff going on at home which I can’t talk about here, but which really brought me down.  I know I sound really open and honest here, but what you see is not all of me.  You see a lot of me, but nowhere near all, both in terms of how I feel now and what affects that, and what started all this (my mental health issues) in the first place.  And it’s very frustrating not being able to talk about that, especially now I’m not currently in therapy.  And then after Shabbat we had some more bad news, which I also can’t share here for different reasons, so that was also worrying and upsetting.

I did get to shul for Talmud shiur (Talmud class) (a really weird sugya (argument) about whether the souls of the dead know what happens in our world; after giving arguments back and forth, the Gemarah basically concludes that we just don’t know, which is rather frustrating) and Ma’ariv (the evening service).  The assistant rabbi asked if I was OK as I missed shiur on Thursday and I wasn’t sure whether to say I was at depression group.  Maybe next time there’s a clash (which won’t be until late January now), I should just message the shiur What’sApp group and instead of saying vaguely that I’m not able to come to shiur, as I usually do when I go to depression group instead, I should openly say I’m going to my depression support group.  At least then it forces me to be more open, but who knows how people will react.  (The shiur What’sApp group is very small, about six or eight members, the people I am most friendly with at shul.)

Good news: I have received that money I was owed from my shul and I’ve been taken back of the security rota.

I have a scarily busy, or just scary, week ahead: on Monday I should find out if I’m getting CBT on the NHS; on Wednesday I have my job interview (presentation; interview; cataloguing test); on Thursday I have my meeting at The Network about employment support and on Friday I’ve got my autism screening.  I’ve asked both my parents to come along to this.  Strictly speaking, they only need one parent, but I have wondered since my last assessment whether my Mum unconsciously tries to present me in a ‘good’ i.e. neurotypical light.  I guess it can’t hurt to have Dad there too even if that’s not the case.  And of course, Chanukah is in the background all week, although it will only be tricky on Friday, which will be a rush to get ready and light Chanukah lights after my screening and before Shabbat, which will start around 3.40pm.

I’ve been thinking recently about what my maternal grandparents used to say to me a lot, “It will all be the same in a hundred years.”  I’ve come across a similar quote from former British Prime Minister Arthur Balfour, “Nothing matters very much and most things don’t matter at all.”  I’ve been thinking about this with regard to the centenary of the end of World War I and with regard to Brexit, but also with regard to my own life.  I think some things do matter on a global scale and some things don’t, but it’s hard to tell what’s what sometimes.  Realistically, World War I did matter, and matters now one hundred years on, but realistically a lot of what I do won’t matter, now or in a century.  (Don’t ask me where Brexit fits in!)  Of course, from a religious point of view, everything matters, but I am not sure that that is the healthiest way to think about things when I’m stuck deeply in anxiety and despair.  It’s like Rebbe Simcha Bunim of Peshischa saying:

Everyone must have two pockets, with a note in each pocket, so that he or she can reach into the one or the other, depending on the need.  When feeling lowly and depressed, discouraged or disconsolate, one should reach into the right pocket, and, there, find the words: “For my sake was the world created.”  But when feeling high and mighty one should reach into the left pocket, and find the words: “I am but dust and ashes.”

(The former quote is from the Talmud, the latter Bereshit/Genesis 18.27.)

Maybe it’s good to think that things don’t matter if one is in danger of overthinking things and turning into an anxious mess.

Reflections

I seem to be in the habit of long days (Sunday evening until Thursday afternoon), going to bed at 11pm and getting up at 6.20am and trying to pack my day with work and whatever Torah study and prayer I can manage, and shorter days (extended weekends from Thursday evening until Sunday afternoon), going to bed any time after midnight and sleeping for ten to twelve hours and trying to do more Torah study and prayer, as well as household chores, than I can manage on work days, but generally feeling too burnt out to do very much.  Long work days are filled with intense depression and I think also anxiety (although it can be hard to tell — alexithymia again) at work, but the fear of missing work and getting in trouble keeps me going somehow.  Weekend days have less intense emotions, at least most of the time, but also a general feeling of lassitude and difficulty in getting motivated to do anything, even though I have lots to do, just not as obviously urgent as on work days, or at least things that won’t lead to immediate conflict if I miss it or am late.  Consequently, I don’t have time for hobbies (working much on my Doctor Who book and blog, cooking, jogging, painting miniatures) and I still don’t have much energy for prayer or Torah study.  Often the lack of time on the Tube that I can use to read Mishnayot means I do less on non-work days, while I usually sleep through Shacharit (morning prayers) on these days although I do at least get to a couple of shiurim (classes) which I can’t seem to manage on work nights and I tend to get shul (synagogue) at some point on Shabbat (the Sabbath) which I don’t manage at all on work days.  This routine is not healthy, but I don’t know how else to get through the week right now.

I don’t think it’s particularly feasible for me to be thinking about dating while my mental health is so unbalanced and my income stream (such as it is) is about to be cut off in five weeks when my contract ends, but I’m still quite lonely (although I’ve been worse) and I wish I had a wife and children to love and share my life with.  I suspect I’m a more affectionate person than I’ve ever really had the chance to demonstrate, if I could find the right woman.

Other than general lassitude (and consciousness that it’s getting close to Shabbat, which starts about 5.40pm today), I feel some social anxiety and inadequacy.  I feel that my boss must surely regret hiring me and that the people at my shul (synagogue) community might look down on me; even if they don’t, I look down on myself for not davening (praying) or studying Torah as much or as well as they do.

Further to what I wrote yesterday about finding something I can do well, my Mum is trying to encourage me to consider retraining as a primary school teacher, specifically limudei kodesh (Jewish studies) in a Jewish school.  I’m not convinced that I’m as good with children as she thinks, though, or that I could handle working full-time in a school.  Also, the thought of being in charge of a whole class of children terrifies me; I get nervous enough looking after a handful at the asylum seekers drop-in centre, and their parents are only in the next room.

I tried to phone a local private therapy centre (the ones who were supposed to phone me back last week, but didn’t) about CBT for low self-esteem and social anxiety.  It was a struggle with my social anxiety just to make the call about treating my social anxiety (!), but they were shut anyway (they may shut early on Fridays because I think the practice owner is Jewish and frum (religious) although I don’t think all the staff are).  I shall have to try earlier next week, but I was just too exhausted to phone earlier today.

Thoughts from Rebbe Nachman

The Empty Chair: Finding Hope and Joy: Timeless Wisdom from a Hasidic Master, Rebbe Nachman of Breslov, aside from having the type of title that gives a cataloguer like me a headache, is a collection of short thoughts from Rebbe Nachman of Breslov (1772-1810), who is very important to me.  I’m slightly suspicious of the book, as most of the thoughts seem to be sentences taken from much longer teachings and I wonder what the full context was, but I’ve read the book twice and flicked through it many times.  I’m currently reading two pages a day.  Each page has one or maybe two thoughts on it, so reading them take mere seconds, but I was hoping I might connect with Torah here when I seem unable to do it in other books.  To be honest, nothing much has clicked, until today.  These were today’s quotes:

Go carefully: Spiritual growth must proceed slowly and steadily.  Too often we want to improve ourselves and our relationships so quickly that we make ourselves frustrated and confused.

Never insist that everything go exactly your way, even in matters spiritual.

Believe that none of the effort that you put into coming closer to God is ever wasted – even if in the end you don’t achieve what you are striving for.

These spoke to me.  I have a tendency to push myself too fast, although at the moment I don’t feel like I’m going anywhere at all.  And I do want things to go my way spiritually, even if not in other ways (although I really want them to go my way there too I suppose).  But I think it’s the last one that resonates most.  I wonder sometimes if the effort I have put into trying to be frum (religious) was worth it – not that I really want to be non-religious, but that I feel I haven’t achieved any kind of spiritual growth at all.  I hope it is not wasted.  Certainly in this world I don’t feel that it has led directly to good results, except inasmuch as it might have prevented me from adopting elements of secular Western millennial society that I might have adopted and been the worse for, but even then I’m not sure what the practical outcome would have been, whether I would have done those things if I had had the option.  I just hope the effort I put in was justified, given how much of my life I’ve dedicated to it.  It’s not about reward so much as feeling that I haven’t wasted my life on an impossible dream.  That I’ve managed to do something with my life, because at the moment most of the time it doesn’t seem that way.

Overthinking

The office was quieter today and I was more productive.  I finished the leftover work from yesterday, did my work for today and finished early enough to ask my boss for more work, so I think I redeemed myself.

I just had dinner with my parents, sister and brother-in-law.  I was depleted enough that I didn’t really want to socialise, but I was good and stayed even though it was draining and even though I may not get the relaxation time I desperately need if I am to be functional tomorrow.  Routine won in the end as I had to make my lunch and start getting ready for bed.  I’m not sure if that’s autistic routine or genuinely necessary routine as I’m starting to second-guess myself (more on that in a minute).  I did struggle at times, though; socialising is never easy for me, even with people I feel comfortable with.

I’ve started reading The Complete Guide to Asperger’s Syndrome by Tony Attwood, on the recommendation of someone from my autism support group.  I haven’t got very far, but already I’m having mixed feelings.  Some of it seems very familiar and I’ve taken a lot of notes of things to write down and show at my assessment, if I go for one.  On the other hand, a lot is unfamiliar, or is stressed more than I feel it, reminding me that if I am autistic, I’m very much at the high-functioning end, which in turn (a) makes me feel guilty for being so dysfunctional (in the sense that other people are worse off than me so I shouldn’t complain and in the sense that I “should” function better) and (b) makes me suspect that a putative third assessment will be as ambiguous as the first two assessments.  I’m now scrutinising and questioning my actions more than I probably should, trying to work out what is autistic and what is neurotypical.  I find myself wondering what I would think or do if I don’t get diagnosed (again), how I would square another non-diagnosis with the mental health professionals and friends who think I am on the spectrum.  Do I just want to be autistic for some perverse reason?  Do I think it makes me more interesting?  That it makes concrete the distance I feel from society?  Makes my unipolar depression somehow less mundane, even sexier?  I suppose I need to remind myself that regardless of what the professionals say, I genuinely do struggle with a lot of basic social interaction, over and beyond my mental health issues.  At my depression support group, during the tea break, very depressed people are able to make small talk with each other; it’s only me standing there, feeling too shy, confused and awkward to talk to anyone, unless someone comes and tries to rescue me by starting a conversation, which I usually engage in rather awkwardly.

That reminds me of a passage I read in the book today.  It says that people with high-functioning autism sometimes “avidly observe and intellectually analyze social behaviour” and interact successfully based on imitation and a rehearsed social script.  This sounds like me.  It is apparently more common in girls with autism than boys (I noticed a while back that I behave like a girl with autism more than a boy with it.  Autism in girls seems to be under-diagnosed, perhaps because girls are socialised differently or are better at deliberately compensating for problems.)  The result is that signs of difficulty in interactions may not be noticed by a professional during a short diagnostic assessment.  This sounds like me.  I believe can ‘pass’ as neurotypical up to a point; every week I manage several short conversations with neurotypicals at work, shul and shiur, but if the conversation goes on for more than a couple of minutes, I run out of “script” and start to panic, both at what I should say and how to respond to what they might say to me.  It’s at this point that things can start to go wrong, as I become so focused on my anxiety that I can’t concentrate on their side of the conversation, or even hear it properly.

The other thing I thought about today was my religious life and how much I’m struggling with it.  I feel I’m going through a crisis of faith, albeit a strange one: I believe in God, I just don’t believe in myself.  I have minimal motivation for prayer (set or spontaneous/hitbodedut) or religious study.  Prayer seems pointless, as God always seems to turn my requests down, or at least the important ones.  I suppose He knows best, but then I wonder why I bother saying anything.  I know there are reasons to pray – I gave a shiur (class) years ago on approaches to prayer and why we should pray, given that God knows everything and is benevolent, which would seem to render prayer immaterial.  I know, but I don’t feel.  Similarly my mind has little space or ability to deal with the agricultural laws of the shmittah (sabbatical) year (the Mishnah I’m currently trying to study), the laws of prayer (the Gemarah my shul is studying communally) or even the prophecies of Hoshea (Hosea, the book of Nakh (the post-Mosaic books of the Hebrew Bible) that I’m trying to re-read).  I’m slightly more involved in the weekly Torah reading, but not much (we’re currently in the early chapters of Bereshit/Genesis).  I don’t know what type of study would pique my interest at the moment and still be something that I can study from a practical (energy/motivation/concentration) point of view.  It’s very tempting to give up and take the extra time for myself, for sleep or relaxation.  I suppose it counts for something that I’m still trying to stick with prayer and Torah study, although I’m not sure what it counts for or says about me.

The K is for Kindred

Work is still hard.  It’s very depleting.  I don’t know if it’s the noisy, open plan nature of the office (worse today with a demo of striking Uber drivers outside – their UK headquarters is apparently in the next office block), the fact that I push myself without taking breaks as I would like and probably need, or the boring and repetitive nature of the task, but I struggle with exhaustion the whole time and on through the evening.  I take frequent drink breaks and toilet breaks (the toilet is at least quiet and sometimes I stay there a minute or two longer than I strictly need), but I still get badly depleted by the end of the day.

I went to bed later than I wanted to last night, but I was feeling really tense and felt I had to watch some Doctor Who to relax or I would not sleep.  I still had an anxiety dream, partly about religious OCD-type stuff, partly about the woman I dated two summers ago.  We broke up on good terms (she tried to set me up with someone else a few months later), but she couldn’t cope with my social anxiety (although that was not the only reason we weren’t suited) and the dream made me somewhat anxious and ruminative about dating, especially as there were other anxiety-provoking elements (the OCD imagery and thinking someone was about to attack me in the dream).  I woke up early, but a bit tense and unable to get back to sleep, although it was almost time to wake up anyway.

The dream was probably in part because my Dad wants to talk to a Modern Orthodox rabbi he knows about getting me set up on dates with Modern Orthodox women (a better bet than the more Haredi/ultra-Orthodox women I suspect I would be set up with if I followed the advice of people from my shul), but I’m not sure I can see the point right now.  It seems logical to wait until I’ve had a psychiatric review and some CBT for my low self-esteem and social anxiety.  Part of me can’t see the point of dating at all, because I always end up alone and miserable.  The OCD elements in the dream, which I don’t really remember in detail now, were probably because I’m struggling with my religious OCD in eating at work.  I’ve mostly kept it under control, but I can see how easily I could spiral back down.  The negative side-effect is that I’m the only person on the team who never offers to make tea or coffee for the other team members; I feel bad about it, but I would never cope with handling the non-kosher mugs.  I can’t explain this to them, though.

Part of the reason for the depletion at work is the autism and social anxiety.  So much of the time I feel like a small child trapped in a world he doesn’t understand and can’t cope with.  I feel that my autism has gone undiagnosed because I have learnt coping strategies and workarounds that make me look neurotypical to outsiders, but deep down I struggle to learn and remember what truly neurotypical people intuit automatically.  I feel I have a vast algorithm in my head about how to interact with other people that I have to consult for almost every interpersonal interaction.  Doubtless it started as a simple flow diagram when I was a baby (“Is someone cooing over me? –> Yes –> smile at them”), but with every new situation I find myself in, new branches of questions and answers have been welded on until it takes far too long to navigate a way through it and find quick answers, leaving me unsure what to say or do far too much.  I feel it was only through being in safe, familiar environments (school, academia or at home depressed) that I survived up until now; now in a work environment, I am just not coping.  It was the same in my previous job, so it’s not just this job that is the issue.

***

I’ve been struggling to do my hitbodedut for some time now.  Hitbodedut is considered a form of Jewish meditation, although it’s more like prayer: talking to God spontaneously in the vernacular (not set prayers in Hebrew).  On Friday  nights (Shabbat), perhaps when I’m more relaxed, I sometimes get overwhelmed with thoughts and just lie on my bed crying.  On other nights I just can’t think of anything to say at all.  I just sit there and my mind wanders to other things.  Sometimes I can’t face it at all and just skip it, despite feeling it really helped with the depression in earlier years.  Sometimes I feel angry with God, which is OK in Judaism, but I can’t express it and feel guilty despite knowing it’s OK.  To be honest, all prayer and Torah study is hard, bordering on impossible at the moment, but hitbodedut is hardest, whether because it’s not obligatory or because it brings me face to face with my deepest thoughts and fears.

***

I’m re-reading Philip K. Dick’s VALIS books (Radio Free Albemuth, VALISThe Divine Invasion and The Transmigration of Timothy Archer).  It probably wasn’t a sensible idea.  In 1974 Dick, who was probably pretty unstable already (he thought God had given him the answers to a high school exam and by this stage had drug issues) had what was probably a psychotic episode, but which he interpreted as communication from a gnostic saviour deity.  Except when he thought it was a message from aliens.  Or that he was inadvertently eavesdropping on a Soviet experiment in telepathy.  One of them, anyway, if not all three.  He spent the rest of his life trying to work through and understand what happened to him, both in his “non-fictional” Exegesis and in his final novels.

The novels are related more by theme than by plot.  I’m currently re-reading Valis, which in many ways is the craziest of all of them (Dick is two characters/narrators in the novel, the sane Philip Dick and the unstable Horselover Fat (Horselover = Philip in Greek, Fat = Dick in German).  There’s an amazing evocation of what it feels like to realise that you are losing your sanity and how the twisted ‘logic’ of mental illness works which is both moving and funny and perhaps helps me to understand myself, but to get there you have to read through pages of insane theology about occluded gods and saviours and living knowledge and the Black Iron Prison.  Reading it, I wonder if this is how I sound to my blog readers.  I don’t mean about my religious beliefs, but my self-perception and what I write about my mental health issues and experiences.  When I say, completely honestly, that I think that I will never get married, that I feel that I am very wicked and that God hates me and that, no matter how much good I do and how much evil I avoid, I won’t have any Olam HaBa (Heaven) and how this world feels more like Gehennom (Hell/Purgatory) than Olam HaZeh (the physical world), when I say all that, do people just switch off or even laugh, as people might at Dick/Fat’s Exegesis?  It’s a scary thought.  I know my parents just switch off when I say I’m never going to find someone to love me, because they don’t think it’s true, and someone whose blog I read told me not to predict what God is going to do by assuming I will be single forever.  It’s frustrating when what seems obviously true to me is unintelligible to everyone else and as a result they see me as funny or stupid when I really feel despairing and lonely and in need of empathy.

The other thought I have is to wonder whether this blog is my Exegesis.  I certainly invest a lot of time in it the way Dick invested a lot of time in his Exegesis.  I haven’t read the actual Exegesis, only the extracts in VALIS, and I don’t really want to read it for several reasons, but the published version is nearly a thousand pages and apparently that only represents about a tenth of what Dick wrote.  I don’t know how many pages I’ve blogged over the years, at the four blogs I have, at different times, had (not all were mental health blogs, though).  But it must be a significant amount, given that most of my posts are a thousand words or more.  It’s a horrible image, in a way, writing and writing and writing from early in the morning until late into the night (on days when I’m not at work, I often start a blog post in the morning and add to it throughout the day before posting in the evening; this post was started just before 6.00am, but that was the result of unusual circumstances (waking up from a disturbing dream)).  So much cogitation, so little concrete growth or recovery to show for it!  I suppose I do understand myself a lot better than I did twelve years ago, when I started blogging, but I don’t know how much of that is from blogging and how much from therapy (and growing up).  It’s a disturbing thought, anyway.

The Final Hours

I think my particularly bad day, depression-wise, on Friday was a result of forgetting to take my lithium on Thursday evening (so it does do something).  The last couple of days have been better, but somewhat listless.  I’m trying to gather my resources for the final Yom Tov (festival) of the Jewish autumn holiday season.

Friday evening was difficult.  My sister, her husband and his sister were here, but the atmosphere was subdued.  I don’t want to go into details, as I don’t know if they would want it online, but my sister’s in-laws are going through a serious health crisis, so there was a heavy cloud over the evening as we were all worried, particularly my brother-in-law and his sister.

I was up late yesterday evening, which was not my intention.  I wanted to catch up on some emails after Shabbat (the Sabbath), which have been neglected lately because of Yom Tov and inter-Yom Tov busyness at work.  In particular, I wanted to respond to an acquaintance who wrote to say that she thinks that she is on the autistic spectrum and wonders if I might be too.  That was a difficult email to write, as I wasn’t sure how much I wanted to reveal.  I opened up a bit about my autism non-diagnosis and mental health issues, but I refrained from mentioning the blog (at this stage).  But I obviously found it hard to write, as I kept letting myself get distracted with aimless internet surfing.  The result was a very late night (I think I got to bed around 3.00am) and a late start today.  I feel depressed and drained.  Just getting dressed was a tremendous effort.

I’ve neglected my non-depression writing of late, partly due to the job change and Yom Tovim.  I wanted to write a Doctor Who blog post today and even wrote the first paragraph, but I just feel too drained.  I hope it wasn’t a mistake paying for a professional (advert-free) blog to use to promote my Doctor Who writing, because I have hardly posted anything on it so far.

I am trying to get back into the habit of regularly studying Nakh, the post-Mosaic books of the Hebrew Bible.  It is hard, as I tend to do much of my Torah study on the train, and taking a big Tanakh (Bible) along with the smaller JPS English-only Bible (because the translation is sometimes more accurate, particularly with obscure words) is impossible, even without the heavy Brown-Driver-Briggs biblical Hebrew dictionary.  I do sometimes find it somewhat restoring, rather than draining (as Talmud is), although I do not know how much is down to being inspired by the subject matter or how much due to the literary qualities of the poetry and prose and how much just from the challenge of translating and understanding an ancient language.

We are headed for the last forty-eight hours of the month long Jewish holiday season.  I can cope with Shmini Atzeret as there aren’t really any special mitzvot or practices, but Simchat Torah is very hard for me.  I suspect it’s a nightmare for anyone with introversion, depression, social anxiety or autism, let alone all of them.  It’s mostly celebrated through ecstatic (alcohol-fuelled) dancing with the Torah scrolls in shul (synagogue) to celebrate completing the annual cycle of reading the Torah.  Once or twice, when the depression has been in remission, I have given myself over to it and those experiences were liberating, but mostly I just feel overwhelmed by noise and embarrassment and not wanting to be there, feeling a Bad Jew and a failure as a human being for not joining in, even for not feeling able to join in.  Standing on the sidelines watching everyone else dancing reminds me of how many things there are that other people enjoy that I can’t experience because of my depression, anhedonia and social anxiety: simple everyday things like happiness, love, friendship, community, family (people dance with their children or grandchildren), simcha shel mitzvah (joy of performing the commandments),religious meaning, love of Torah, even just whisky…

Even worse, at my current shul they auction off honours at the start of the service.  I had heard of honours being auctioned on Simchat Torah in return for gifts to tzedaka (charity) or to the shul, but until last year I had not seen them auctioned off for ‘learning’ (Torah study).  The idea is to get the whole community to study the whole of the Mishnah each year, so Simchat Torah honours are auctioned off for a number of chapters of the Mishnah and sometimes for pages of Talmud.

I don’t like this for a couple of reasons.  At the moment I can’t commit to much in the way of Torah study because of my depression.  Last year the bidding started at thirty chapters of Mishnah; I’m not sure that I managed that number over the last year (I think I managed about twenty-nine).  Plus I’m working my way through the Mishnah in order, whereas people seemed to be assigned Mishnayot based on the number of chapters they bid for, so I would probably get some other section to what I am currently studying.  Plus, as I’ve said before, I’m really sensitive about how much Torah study I do and the fact that I never went to yeshiva and can’t really study Talmud independently, so this is very anxiety- and inferiority-provoking for me (from that point of view, bidding in terms of study is more equitable than bidding in monetary donations, but still creates a hierarchy of high-achievers and under-achievers, and I’m very much in the second category).  In any case, I object to advertising how much Torah study I do and I don’t even want the honours on offer (mostly reading stuff out or carrying the Torah scrolls in the dancing).

So, I had decided to skip Simchat Torah this year, although I’m undecided about how much to skip: leave before the dancing starts or miss Ma’ariv (the evening service) too?  Or don’t even go for Mincha on Shmini Atzeret?  I’m not sure, and it will partly depend how depressed I feel and when they do the auctioning.  The problem is that the three biggest honours (chatan Torahchattan Bereshit and the person called to the Torah with all the community’s children), which are not auctioned, but given to three people who have done a lot for the community, are going to friends of mine.  I feel I ought to go to support them, but I just can’t face it.  My Dad said to email them to apologise, but I can’t face admitting to all my issues (one knows a bit about my issues, one knows that I have some health problems, but not that they are mental health problems and one doesn’t know why I’m mysteriously absent from shul for long periods at all).  So, this will be a more difficult Simchat Torah than most.  I hope I can just quietly slip away after Shmini Atzeret Mincha, but I have a feeling that it won’t be that easy.

Shame

I went to the doctor about my medication.  He prescribed 10mg tablets, but was wary of giving me a lot given that I was feeling suicidal last week.  He prescribed for two weeks (upping the dosage to 80mg twice a day, to avoid having to split a tablet), to get me through the holiday and gave me a post-dated prescription for another two weeks that I can’t get until I come back.  However, the chemist has now run out of the 10mg tablets.  I should have enough to get through the holiday, when I add in the tablets I’ve already got, but I don’t know what will happen if they still don’t have any when I get back.  Taking twenty-four tablets a day is going to be a pain, but going cold turkey from the only antidepressant that has ever been really effective for me will be worse.

I go to New York on Sunday.  I may be able to see some friends other than E. when I’m in New York, but it’s not clear.  They’ve left it to the last minute and are squeezing me in at the end of the trip, if I’m lucky.  I hope I can get WiFi there, as all my arrangements are going to have to be via WhatsApp.

I’m just thinking depressed stuff about not having friends, God hating me and so on.  I was going to write about it, but I’ve written it before and I don’t know how true it is.  I mean, people probably don’t hate me.  Even the friends who don’t get in touch (which is most of them) probably just forget about me rather than hating me, especially as I don’t use Facebook.  My oldest friend forgot to tell me about the birth of both his daughters because I’m not on Facebook.  I heard through my sister.  I haven’t seen him in years now.  I guess he’s always busy now he’s a rabbi.  But it does seem that I have a history of being friends with unreliable people who stand me up or don’t get in contact.  At least E. and my non-biological sisters contact me and respond when I contact them.  For years I didn’t have any friends like that.

I feel the frum (religious) world I feel can be cliquey.  People have their friendship groups and it’s hard to join, even aside from my issues about talking to strangers.  I think people often make new friends through mutual friends, so it’s hard for me to as I don’t have many frum friends.  Nor do I go to shul (synagogue) much to meet people that way, and I don’t have children to meet people through their school.  I guess also people don’t know what to do with single people in the frum world, at least over the age of twenty-three or so.  I guess if you invite them to meals, you have to invite two, to balance the numbers (because everyone else is there with a spouse), so it’s easier not to invite them.  People aren’t rude to me about my being single, but I’ve heard other people complain they are, which also scares me off from trying to make friends a bit and makes me even more ashamed to be single, which I guess is silly as I won’t get set up on dates if I don’t try to socialise more.  That said, I’m more scared about being rejected for being not frum enough and being geeky.  A lot of frum people only socialise with people on the same level of frumkeit.  I’m weird in having non-frum and non-Jewish friends (I sometimes wonder what would happen if I do get married and all my friends get to be in the same room as each other.  I’m not sure how they would react).  I feel too weird to fit into the frum world and am ashamed of my geeky interests and try to hide them as much as possible from other frum people, although I feel anxious about sharing my geekiness and Doctor Who fandom with anyone really, a legacy of childhood bullying.  Now I’m unemployed too, so that’s a whole new measure of shame (actually, I’m technically still under contract for another three weeks or so).

I don’t really enjoy anything in the world and I haven’t since I was a teenager.  I don’t care much about food, I don’t drink, I’ve never taken drugs or smoked, I don’t travel much.  I don’t enjoy my religious life, I get no simchah shel mitzvah (joy in the commandments).  I envy the people who enjoy Torah study and are refreshed by davening (prayer); they are just chores to me most of the time.  I don’t get much enjoyment from music.  I get a bit of pleasure from books and my favourite TV programmes, but perhaps not as much as other people seem to get.  I don’t get hyper about new Doctor Who episodes the way some fans do, and probably not just because I prefer the original series.  I don’t even binge watch really.  Even when I’m very depressed, it’s very rare for me to watch more than an hour or an hour and a half of TV in a day.  I can’t spend a whole afternoon and evening watching TV the way my mum and my sister can, I just feel too guilty for wasting my time.  The same goes for reading, although when I’m depressed it’s hard to read for long anyway.  Someone at my shul only seems to enjoy three things: Talmud study, his family and whisky, but he is a very happy person with these three things.  I just have anhedonia and can’t enjoy anything.

The only joy and pleasure I really want is to love and be loved, and it seems that is denied me.  I really want to talk about my childhood and the root causes of my issues here, but I can’t for various reasons.  I just feel that I have never experienced love in an uncomplicated, healthy way since I was four or five years old.  All the authority figures in my life have made love conditional or just ignored me.  Because of this, I just assume that HaShem (God) is the same, that His love for me needs to be earned, and whatever I do won’t be good enough to earn it.  So He punishes me by withholding the one thing I want, to love and be loved by a gentle, kind woman, and by making me depressed and socially anxious all the time.  People tell me HaShem doesn’t hate me, but it definitely seems that way looking at my life, especially when I compare to that of many other people.  I know shouldn’t compare, but it’s hard.

My oldest friend, who I mentioned above, has had big issues in his life, but he always bounces back.  When I had to take time out from university in my final year, I never fully recovered and I struggled through my final year with severe depression and loneliness.  When he had to take a year out, he recovered within a few weeks, spent the rest of his year off in paid employment, then went back to university and finished his degree.  He got paid to train as a rabbi and was assured of a job.  I try not to envy him, but it’s hard.  We grew up together and everyone compared us, because we were inseparable until we were thirteen or so and we looked somewhat alike (except that he was much taller, stronger and more striking with red hair).  But, like the two identical goats from the ancient Yom Kippur service, our fates since then have been very different.

Mind you, it’s not just him I compare myself against.  One of the friends I might possibly see in New York just had an article published in my beloved Jewish Review of Books.  I feel I should be doing things like that.  He’s had several books published.  I feel so inadequate compared to both of these friends, and to most of my friends.  Maybe that’s why I find it so hard to form friendships, because I’m ashamed of myself compared to most people.  It would explain why my close friendships are with people who are also struggling, and why they sometimes end when they get their lives together again.

I know I can’t tell what will happen in the future, my life may improve (I don’t want his life to get worse.  I don’t want to take away other people’s blessings, just to have some for myself).  But it doesn’t feel like it could after all these years, especially as I don’t know why HaShem would suddenly decide to bless me when I’m such a wicked person and when He seems to hate me so much.

I don’t feel I’m asking much out of life from HaShem: the mental health to fulfil and enjoy the mitzvot (commandments) like a good Jew, someone to love who really loves me and understands and accepts me, and with whom I can have happy and healthy children, and enough money to pay the bills and save a little for my old age.  A few friends who can accept me.  But it seems even that is too much and I don’t know why.  I feel like since childhood I’ve been told (by actions and sometimes explicitly in words) that I’m useless, I’m not good enough, I’m not deserving of love.  I’ve had to work twice as hard as everyone else to get any kind of recognition or support and even then I’m constantly told that I’m not doing well enough, I’m not trying hard enough, even though I’m trying my best with minimal energy, concentration, motivation, mental health…

I know I have to love and accept myself before anyone else will love and accept me, but (a) I have heard of lucky people who were loved without loving themselves and were healed as a result and (b) I don’t know how to love myself when it has been drilled into me that I’m useless and reprehensible and deservedly hated by almost everyone and by HaShem.  Even reading this post back it just seems clichéd, pointless and badly written, like every other post on my blog.

Less Mediocre

I wrote a piece last week called Mediocrity in which I basically had a go at myself for being inadequate.  E. rightly said I was being too hard on myself (have I mentioned how amazing my girlfriend is?).  The funny thing is that that article had been at the back of my mind for some time without my having the time to write it.  It was unfortunate that the day I did have the time I was feeling quite depressed.

What I intended to say was less to beat myself up for not achieving things and more to say that I feel a bit more comfortable lately with not being amazing.  I know that I fall far short of what many (most? all?) men in my community are doing in terms of prayer (frequency; mindfulness during it; with a community) and religious study (amount; complexity; studying Talmud), but I am slowly learning to accept that I am me and I do struggle with these things and I probably always will.  HaShem (God) has, for whatever reason, decided to give me these mental health and developmental issues (depression, social anxiety, religious OCD, borderline autism) and they do have a major impact on my life.  Even on good days (and lately I have at least had some good days – have I mentioned that I have an amazing girlfriend?) it’s a struggle to do a lot of things ‘normal’ people take for granted, not just religious things, but going to work, making dinner, shopping, cleaning the flat and so on.  I am slowly trying not to beat myself up so much about all this.

At the start of this Jewish year, nine months ago, I made three resolutions for the coming year: study a Mishnah every day; say the first paragraph of Shema, the first paragraph of the Amidah and the first paragraph of bentsching with kavannah (mindfulness); and work on my depression and social anxiety.  I haven’t really managed any of these, but I have done bits.  I study a Mishnah on the commute to work every work day, but generally not at the weekends and holidays (although sometimes I study other things).  I daven (pray) those prayers with kavannah sometimes, but not always, perhaps not often.  I have done a little work on my social anxiety, but not much and nothing on the depression other than staying in therapy and on my meds.  I think most of the improvement in my mood has come from upping the dose of my meds and finding someone who really likes and supports me (have I mentioned that I have an amazing girlfriend?).

Even at the time, I thought that three targets was too many, but I didn’t know how to prioritise.  I think for the last three months of the year, I will quietly drop the first and last targets (although I’m not giving up on Mishnah study completely; I will do it when I feel able, but I think E. was right to suggest I should prioritise things I enjoy more in my religious study.  I will try to stick with going to my Talmud shiur once a week and at least trying to keep up with the reading for it).  I will just stick with the davening target, as I usually say those prayers anyway, so it isn’t an extra time commitment (or a very slight one in terms of taking a bit more time over it; I won’t pressure myself to do it so well in the mornings when I’m usually running late) and it may have benefits beyond the spiritual, using it as a kind of mindfulness as I have tried in the past.  Perhaps if I can make some improvements there, I will feel a bit better as a person and as a Jew.

There is another side to this, which I’m a bit wary of raising, as it takes me towards lashon hara (malicious speech) territory, but lately I’ve noticed recently various frum (religious) people behaving in a way that I would not and which I do not think is entirely appropriate.  While I don’t want to judge them, it probably is good for me to be reminded that mitzvot bein adam leMakom (ritual commandments) are only part of the picture and mitzvot bein adam lechavero (ethical interpersonal commandments) and just being a mentsch (good person) are a big part of Judaism too and that I can try to succeed here, inasmuch as social anxiety lets me, even if I can’t always manage to succeed in other areas.

“I’m fuzzy on the whole good/bad thing”

I had a difficult Shabbat (Sabbath).  I struggled to get to shul (synagogue) on Friday evening.  I just felt too depressed and socially anxious.  I got into a whole load of social anxiety about my kippah (skullcap).  To understand this, you have to understand that in the Orthodox world, one’s style of kippah is often a signal of religious and even political identity, but I just wear things I like without worrying too much about what others think (or trying not to).  I was wearing the kippah my aunt and uncle bought me a few weeks ago, a very large, white crocheted one, which is the style associated with the Religious Zionist movement (with which I do not entirely identify).  I was worried that by wearing this, the rabbis of the shul, who I suspect are non- or anti-Zionist, would think negatively of me.  In the end, I didn’t go up to them after the service to shake hands and wish them a “Gut Shabbes.”  I haven’t done this for about two months, because of social anxiety, so the kippah was not the sole issue here, but it was a contributory factor.  It’s difficult to be frum sometimes when frum people seem determined to make it much harder to fit in that it should be.  Being frum is definitely a lot more than just “Read these books and keep these laws.”  There’s a lot of social etiquette that isn’t written down anywhere and newcomers are expected to learn as they go along, which is probably difficult even if you aren’t borderline autistic and have problems reading and learning social cues.

I spent most of Shabbat wrestling with upsetting thoughts.  I put on a brave face during meals, but before and afterwards I spent a lot of time in bed, feeling overwhelmed.  (It didn’t help that my room was so dark with just the dim Shabbos lamp for company.)  I spent a lot of time thinking about the people on Hevria.com who insist that if you promise to serve HaShem (God), all kinds of miracles will immediately come your way, and thinking as this doesn’t happen to me, HaShem must hate me.  I spent a lot of time thinking about dictators and serial killers and trying to work out if I was better than they were.  Probably, but it’s hard to be sure.  I couldn’t sleep at night, so I had lots of time to lie awake thinking about this.  The insomnia was probably because I forgot to take my medication, which doesn’t do very much except knock me out at night.  To be fair, as I’ve said in the past, it probably does turn ‘unbearable suicidal depression with zero functionality’ into ‘slightly more bearable non-suicidal depression with enough functionality to do boring things like go to work, but not actually enjoy myself or get a life.’  Which I guess is something.  But not much when it’s 2.30am and I’m lying in bed trying to work out who is worse: Jack the Ripper, Hitler or me?  OK, that’s a slight exaggeration, as by 2.30am I’d given up on trying to sleep and was reading about Harold Macmillan and the Cuban Missile Crisis, which probably wasn’t the best thing to make me fall asleep, but was at least more interesting than proving to myself that God really hates me and I won’t have any share in Olam HaBa (the next world i.e. Heaven) for the umpteenth time.  There is a part of me that thinks that this is probably exaggeration and I can’t really be that bad, but whenever I try to look at things calmly and assess how good I am more objectively, the answer always seems to come out that I’m the most evil person ever (or one of them, at any rate) and I can’t find the mistake in my workings.

The other thing I was thinking about was whether I’m the last person from my school year to lose his/her virginity.  Why this seemed so important to me is beyond me, but I do feel inadequate even though I don’t know for sure it’s true (although it’s very likely to be true).  I do feel that I’m not an adult for being perennially single, not fitting in to a frum community and only working part-time in a fairly lowly job (even when I’m not worried about being fired because of some depression-, social anxiety- or Asperger’s-related incident).  I do think I’m going to be the last one from my school year to die, but that’s mostly because I have a feeling I’m going to end up like the Wandering Jew, Flying Dutchman or Ancient Mariner and just end up going on in loneliness and misery long after everyone I know has shuffled off this mortal coil.  This is as irrational as the whole ‘I’m worse than Hitler’ thing, but it feels emotionally true nonetheless.  I do feel so much older than everyone else, even though a lot of my friends are chronologically older than me.  I feel like I’ve been here for centuries.  The world does not improve with age.

I did a little bit of Torah study on Friday night and I got to shul for Ma’ariv (the evening service), but not Mincha (the afternoon service), but I missed shul today.  In fact, I missed Shacharit and Musaf (the morning and additional services) entirely and did truncated versions of Mincha and Ma’ariv at home because I didn’t have the energy to do the whole thing.  I didn’t even have the energy to feel particularly guilty about this.  I do wonder if I should be thinking about dating in this state, though, partly as I’m sure anyone frum enough for me to want to date would want someone more committed to davening and Torah illnesses notwithstanding and partly because I don’t really feel in a good enough state to worry about it.  I haven’t sent my shidduch profile off yet, so I suppose I can always back out.

I had a list of chores to do after Shabbat finished this evening, but most of them had to wait as I had to help with preparations for my room at my parents’ house being redecorated this week.  I’m a bit grumpy about this, as I don’t really want it decorated and resent the work I’m having to put in to get it ready, and the much bigger hassle of putting the books (nearly 1,000, excluding the 150 or so downstairs and another 50 or so in the flat) and DVDs (a couple of hundred) back in the right order in a few weeks’ time.  I’m sufficiently autistic that the upheaval itself depresses me and I only live there one day a week now, as does the thought of books going back in the wrong order and me not noticing.  I suppose in a few weeks time it will look better when I’m there, which will be nice, but I’m not sure that the cost/benefit trade off is really in my favour; as with my sister’s wedding and as with work, it’s another stressful, mental health-triggering thing that I have to do more than I want to do and I have to just get through it as best as I can.

Vices

Some days I merely hate myself.  Some days I can even forget about myself for a while, usually at work, or while watching Doctor Who.

Other days I hate, loathe, detest and despise myself.

Today is in the latter category.

My grandfather used to tease me, saying I was too good, that I had no vices.  He was wrong, although to be fair, none of my vices are illegal or particularly extreme and certainly they are all common, even (especially) the ones I don’t want to talk about her.

I sleep too much, particularly when depressed.  I hurt myself sometimes.  I am self-critical.  I find it hard to keep up with my self-imposed targets for prayer and religious study.  I avoid things that make me socially anxious rather than confronting them.  I go on too much about my issues.  I procrastinate.  I want to be loved, but I get too scared to take the steps to find someone who might love me and let me love her.  When I’m lonely, it’s too easy to fall into fantasy and avoid reality, both pleasant fantasies and also unpleasant fantasies, suicidal ones or simply self-loathing ones that make me out to be worse than I actually am.

I did most of these over Shabbat and in the hours afterwards, as well as other things that I won’t go into.  It’s easy to convince myself that I’m a bad person.  I’m certainly acting contrary to halakhah (Jewish law) in numerous respects (e.g. missing shul due to depressive oversleeping and socially anxious avoidance).  It’s particularly hard at the moment to keep up with davening (prayer) and studying Torah – it’s hard to try to connect with a God who I’m convinced hates me and turns down all my requests.  I haven’t done any Torah study yet today; I did a bit amount yesterday, but almost none on Thursday.  It’s very hard to get the energy to daven at the right time, particularly in the morning.  It’s hard to carry on generally.  I thought I was losing my faith, but I’m not, it’s just hard to get the energy together to start on davening or Torah study.  I’m just too depressed, but I’m afraid of going backwards in my recovery (which is arguably not a recovery; for all that I’m still a lot better than I was this time last year, I’m a lot worse than I was in the spring and early summer).

My parents and my non-biological sisters are encouraging me to go to a different shadchan (matchmaker) after the one who didn’t get back to me.  I’m tempted, but all the frum (religious Jewish) books/websites/teachers say don’t date when suffering from serious illness.  Wait until you’re over it.  Particularly for mental illness, which can change your whole persona.  Except that I don’t think I’m ever going to be ‘over’ my depression.  It’s just a question of trying to manage it.  And at the moment I don’t feel like I’m managing it well.

I just feel I have so many marks against me when dating, that it’s not even worth trying.  I have depression.  I have social anxiety.  I may be on the autistic spectrum and even if I’m not, I have a lot of autistic traits.  I still get occasional flare-ups of OCD (religious OCD and pure O).  I don’t daven or learn Torah enough.  I didn’t go to yeshiva (rabbinical seminary).  I’m too sarcastic and irritable at times.  I’m needy and emotional.  I’m extremely introverted.  I procrastinate.  I have other vices.  I can’t see why someone would go out with me.  I have nothing really in my favour, except that I’m not violent, which isn’t very much.  I should just give up, but I’m so lonely.  I really hope there’s someone out there who I can connect with, in a way that I don’t really connect with my parents or my friends.  Someone really on my wavelength.  Someone willing to make space in her life for me.  Someone I can communicate with without the autistic communication difficulties I get into with my parents, or the fact that I can only see most of my friends for short periods at long intervals for fear of running out of things to say.  That’s probably asking too much, though.  Everything seems to be asking too much.

I probably will sign on the matchmaking site I’ve identified later in the week, although I want to talk to my rabbi mentor about it first.  I feel like I’m signing up under false pretences i.e. that I am a psychologically healthy, normal, attractive person when I’m not.  It all seems very pointless, but I suppose I need to go through the motions.  The site offers various matchmakers; I read their mini-biographies and found one studying counselling and psychotherapy, so I hope she will be more understanding of my situation.  It’s a fairly arbitrary choice, as all the matchmakers have access to the same database of clients.

I don’t really know how to end this post.  I guess I’m just complaining about my issues (another one of my vices).  I wish I was the super-adept frum Jew I want to be.  Tonight I was supposed to go to shul, study some Torah, do various chores and get an early night.  I missed shul, struggled to daven at home, have done no Torah study, no chores, am unlikely to get to bed early (and unlikely to sleep, given how much I slept over Shabbat) and will probably have to postpone most of tonight’s chores to tomorrow, making tomorrow even more of a rush than it should be.  I’ve only started my ‘holiday’ and already I’m behind on my chores, and very lonely and depressed.  I feel like I’m just rambling.  This post probably needs editing and re-ordering, or deleting, but I’m too fed up and tired.