I’ve been feeling better today, although I still feel that I’ve got things to process and think about. I’ve actually been more social than I’ve been in a long time. I had a Skype call with my oldest friend. I had already told him about the autism diagnosis and we spoke about that a bit. He had had some (very different) long-term health issues when we were at school, and he felt there’s a difference between before and after diagnosis, even if you know that the diagnosis is coming; a switch from reading things and saying, “Is that me?” to saying “That is me.” It was good to catch up with him again. In recent years we haven’t seen each other so often for various reasons, but we still connect well. I did shake a little while talking though, which I found a bit strange and frustrating.
Then in the evening I went out with PIMOJ, largely because it was the first chance we had after lockdown. It was raining and windy and we couldn’t go anywhere because most of the lockdown restrictions are still in force, it’s only the ban on meeting people outdoors that has been lifted so far. So we walked around Golders Green in the rain and cold, but we had a good time. I think we were just glad to meet in person again after over two months. But “seeing” two people in a day is a big step for me.
Other than that I did a little Pesach cleaning and some Torah study and that was about all I had time for. While I was doing the Pesach cleaning I listened to the Tradition journal podcast tribute to Rabbi Lord Sacks z”tl. Not for the first time, I wished I could have spoken to him. I mean, really spoken to him, not just meet him at an event and say hello (as my father did, I think). On the podcast, Dr Daniel Rynhold spoke about the way Rabbi Sacks supported young people into positions of leadership in the Jewish community. It made me feel that I missed out, not just on the chance to meet him, but on the chance to have some kind of role in Orthodox Jewish life in this country. Jewish teenagers tend to join youth movements which gives them contacts and experience as they move into university, where they tend to become active on campus Jewish life and then on into adulthood in communities. I missed that because I was too withdrawn and scared of being bullied if I was around people my own age when I was a teenager. At university I knew people who were involved in the Jewish Society, but I felt it was mostly a social group and I didn’t know how to run social groups, so I didn’t get involved, to the anger of at least one person who thought I was being selfish and stand-offish. I didn’t even go to events much as I was scared of talking to people and didn’t think I would enjoy socialising with other people much anyway. The reality was I was mostly scared and uncertain: of myself, of other people, of what needed doing. Then my depression started and I was on a downward spiral that took over my life until I was on the way out from the “young person” label.
Speaking of community involvement, I have mentioned that my shul wants to buy its own premises, having rented space in other people’s institutions since the community was founded thirty years ago. I was supposed to get a fundraising brochure about it, which was not delivered, although I eventually got a pdf version that I squinted at on WhatsApp. I’m going to be phoned to ask how I can help. I’m not sure what they mean by “help” – is it a polite way of saying how much money can I give? The pdf brochure had a list of possible donations; the smallest is in four figures and most are in five or even six. The cheapest thing listed is that for £1,800 I could donate a cover for a lectern for the small Beis Hemedrash, which is about two orders of magnitude greater than I could afford. That’s if I want to get my name on something, of course. You can give less, but I think they will still want a heftier donation than I feel able to give. But my real worry is what if “help” actually means “do something”? A WhatsApp message from the shul yesterday said that they are looking for people to help with admin, fundraising and marketing. I guess I might be able to help with admin, but fundraising and marketing sound worryingly like talking to people, probably on the phone.
I don’t want to sound negative. I don’t have a problem with the shul trying to raise money for a good cause, and promising to slap someone’s name on a wall or bit of furniture is a time-tested way of doing that, even if it means that some people are in more of a position to give (and be seen to be giving) than others. If it comes to practical help, it’s a nice idea, I just worry that I’m at capacity already, even just working two days a week and trying to help at home. Plus, I worry that I have an ability to screw up even the simplest of tasks lately.
I appreciate that this sounds a lot like I sounded when I was at university and not helping the Jewish Society. Maybe the photos of people having fun at shul events in the brochure sent me back in time a couple of decades, the feeling that everyone fits in and has a good time except me. I don’t know. I have a few days to think about things before I have to have that phone call about how I can help. The hardest thing is that it’s my closest friend in shul who is going to be phoning me, which makes the whole thing ten times more awkward.
I’m back in “I hate the NHS” mode. I realised that the reason the doctor only prescribed half the only olanzapine I need is because he (or she – prescriptions can be done by anyone in the practice) misread the letter from the psychiatrist and thought I was on one tablet a day, not two. I know, there’s a global pandemic, doctors are super-busy and stressed. Even so, it’s annoying, and makes me wonder how many other, more serious, mistakes have been made by over-stretched medical staff during the pandemic – there must be a number of indirect COVID casualties as well as those actually killed by the virus.
I got my new glasses (and walked back in the cold and snow after getting them). I tried them on in Specsavers, including tilting my head to see if they slipped, and they seemed to be OK, but they seem to be slipping now, so I may have to go back at some point and get them adjusted. I’m just glad to have them for now.
I spent a bit over an hour on my novel and finished the third draft. It ended up at 79,766 words, slightly under the 80,000 I was aiming for. Now I need to find some people willing to read it and give me feedback. I’m not quite sure how to do this; I don’t have other writer friends where we can exchange work, and I don’t want to go to a writers’ group at the moment. I’m also terrified of negative feedback.
Given the snow this morning, I thought my walk back home from Specsavers would be my exercise for the day, but mid-afternoon I started feeling anxious and depressed for no obvious reason and, as it wasn’t snowing, and the earlier snow hadn’t settled, I went for a run, despite the fact that it was fast getting dark. I did 5K again and I had a better pace than I’ve had for a while too. I don’t mind running in the cold (it can be bracing) although I worry about pulling muscles despite doing a longer warm up and cool down than usual.
I did some Torah study too, although not quite up to the hour I was aiming for as I ran out of time and energy.
I came across an interview today, a religious Jew interviewing someone raised in the Orthodox world, but now outside it. The non-religious Jew says he warns religious Jews thinking of leaving because they don’t fit into the frum (religious) community that they may not fit into the secular world either; they may, in fact, be misfits who won’t fit in anywhere.
I have long suspected that this would be true of me. For all my struggles to fit in to the frum world, I can’t really see myself fitting in to the wider Western world easily either. I guess I’m a bit of a misfit, or even that not fitting in is a part of my psyche; I’ve begun to suspect that when I fit in somewhere, I self-sabotage to find a way to feel like a misfit.
On a related note, a while back I wrote about feeling myself to be a “Tory anarchist.” Lately the anarchist part is stronger. I have limited patience for big business or big government and just want to be left alone. Sometimes it’s easy to want to pull society to pieces and start again. I feel a lot of anger and resentment at the ruling class and I’m not sure where it’s coming from, from politics or from my inner self as it’s the class so many of my peers from Oxford now belong to, people in politics, academia, law, and other places I might have been had depression and autism not intervened. I feel like a class traitor sometimes.
I had a blood test this morning, my regular lithium level test. I had some slight tremor, which I often get at blood tests. I’m not scared of needles, but the fear of shaking actually causes shaking. It wasn’t too bad. I had a longish walk back.
In the afternoon I worked from home on the data collation again. I managed to finish it in under two hours, which was good, as J thought there was too much for me to get through in one day. I cooked dinner (chilli) and burnt it slightly, but it tasted OK.
I had my Tanakh shiur (Bible class) at the London School of Jewish Studies, on Yirmiyah (Jeremiah). I was able to participate in the chevruta (paired learning, although we were actually in groups of three) section this week, which was good. “Able to participate” both in the sense that the camera and microphone worked this week, unlike last week (I was on my Dad’s computer to be sure), and also in the sense of having the confidence to speak. I did also put something in the text chat facility right at the end recommending Dror Burstein’s novel Muck, which is a modern day version of Yirmiyah. I wasn’t sure if I was “allowed” to do that, or if anyone read it as it was right at the end, but I guess it was good I had the confidence to write it.
There’s not a lot else to report about today.
I saw this blog post about Rabbi Abraham Twerski, whose death I mentioned the other day. Granted that he came from a Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) rabbinic background where university education was rare, but seeing the precautions he was advised to take against his religious observance slipping when he was in medical school makes me wonder if I’m unusual for coming out of university religious. Well, I know I’m unusual. Religious observance (any religion) is, I think, lower in graduates than in the general population. Lots of people lose their religion at university or college, for whatever reason (doubts based on secular studies; peer pressure; temptations; away from home community; lack of time, etc.). I just didn’t really notice it at the time as I was mixing with people who were also frum (religious Jewish) at the Jewish Society albeit that my other social group, the Doctor Who Society was mostly non-religious and non-Jewish.
I tend not to give myself credit for things like this, but maybe I should. I think the chances of me getting to this point in my life and still being this religious were not that great, in terms of becoming religious as a teenager from a not fully observant background, getting through university and getting through major depression with my faith and practice intact, as well as my difficulties being accepted in the frum community from autism and social anxiety and feeling rejected in my attempts to marry someone frum. Probably on some level at least that is better than someone who has been enclosed in the Haredi world all his life and never really encountered anyone who thinks or acts differently from “normal” frum people.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock told Parliament today that there are “Eleven cases of mutations of concern in Bristol and thirty-two in Liverpool.” Life seems like a horror film at the moment, albeit a boring, slow-motion one. Although given how many governments are handling things, it’s less Quatermass and more Quite-a-mess.
When I started blogging, on some level at least I wanted to become internet famous. I’m not sure why exactly, as I’m fairly sure that fame would make me thoroughly miserable. Some of it was about wanting my voice to be heard, which on some level I still want, or I wouldn’t be trying to build a career as a writer. But I think a lot of it was to do with having mixed feelings about people I had been at university with. I started blogging less than a year after I came down from Oxford and I had a lot of confusing (to me) feelings of anger, frustration, loneliness, friendship and maybe love towards various people which I had failed to make known to anyone in person. I think I hoped in some way that I would become known through my writing (at the time I was too depressed to become known in any other way) and people would find out. I’m not really sure what I thought/hoped they would feel or do.
A small part of me still feels like this, but it’s mostly transferred itself to my novel-writing ambitions. I think I keep those feelings reasonably in perspective these days, although there probably is a part of me that at least sometimes wants people I know to intuit my life story and battles with depression and autism from my writing, which is a dangerous thing to hope. Still, this does mean that my blog writing is more for myself nowadays.
When I wanted to be internet famous, I never had many followers (or friends, as they were called on Livejournal). Paradoxically, in the last year or two, as I’ve decided I write primarily for myself, to record my activity, thoughts and feelings each day, I have gained more readers. I’m now approaching 500, which is a milestone I didn’t expect to reach. I know many of these followers are spammy and others don’t actually read anything, but quite a number ‘like’ and comment on posts. I now have what I wanted years ago, when I was in the pits of depression, which is a place where I can post how I feel honestly and people will be supportive. I don’t mean that to sound mercenary or manipulative. I’m not trying to provoke positive comments, I’m just aware that people usually leave them and grateful for that.
All of which is a long-winded way of saying that I know my posts have become more repetitive and less interesting as my mental health has stabilised somewhat, and that today’s post is probably tedious and certainly short (or it was, until I appended this introduction), so I’m sorry for that.
I spent the morning volunteering, packing food parcels, which was fine, but we ran out of vegetables, which was sad, as those people aren’t going to get as much as they should, although I think we made sure that everyone got something.
I tried to work on my devar Torah (Torah thought) after lunch. After thinking the last two weeks’ divrei Torah were too reliant on my own untested ideas, I think this one is based too much on other peoples’ thoughts. I can’t really win. In any case, I was very tired and struggled to think coherently and will need to finish it off tomorrow. If I get this tired after spending a morning volunteering, I worry how I will cope when I’m working two days a week as well. I successfully avoided Twitter during the afternoon, but ended up reading an old article from The Atlantic on the QAnon conspiracy theory, until I realised it was just making me fret about American society without being able to do anything, so I stopped reading. I do worry about a country that combines so many conspiracy theorists with so many guns – it’s not a good combination.
A couple of things about volunteering today: I was putting tea lights in little bags that would then be put in bigger bags to be distributed with food (the tea lights were to be used as Shabbat candles). It was a repetitive job and there were several of us doing it. A couple of the other volunteers started chatting while they were doing it. It was clear from their conversation that they I had never met before, and I marvelled at how easily the spoke to each other and made small talk. I feel like whenever I try to do that, people can notice that I’m reading from a mental “script” and that after two or three minutes, I run out of things to say or start repeating myself.
The person who runs the volunteering side of the organisation wanted me to do a particular task which I hadn’t done before. Then before I could do anything, she said I “looked lost” and gave me a different, easier, job to do instead. I think she probably made the right decision, but I am not sure what to think about the fact that my thoughts and emotions are very easy to read on my face, even though I was wearing a mask, whereas I can’t read other people’s emotions at all. I know it’s autism that stops me reading other people, but I feel that the fact that I’m so easy to read gives other people an unfair advantage!
I had some thoughts that could easily have slipped towards OCD, thoughts about taking responsibility for things that are not my responsibility and about COVID contamination, but I recognised these thoughts for what they were and kept them under control, which was good. Nietzsche described mental illness as being “fierce dogs in the cellar.” Lately the dogs have been fairly quiet for me, but today they were barking again. Not too loudly, but enough to remind me that they’re still there.
This year is the first since I was a very young child where I haven’t worn a poppy for the British Legion. Some years I had lost it by the time armistice day came around, but I always wore one at some point. I did give them a donation online this year, but because of lockdown I haven’t been out much and haven’t seen anyone collecting in the street or collection tins in shops. Beyond the actual donation, I like to wear it to show empathy with those killed or wounded in action or bereaved by war. I guess it’s something else that 2020 has forced on us.
I think I’m going to pause job-hunting for a bit, or at least scale it down. My new job will probably only last two or three months, so I do need to keep looking, but it’s not such an imminent thing that I’m willing/able to apply for jobs I’m less likely to want or get. So, for the moment I’m not applying for a very user-facing public library job that would have been hard with autism and social anxiety. I’m not sure what I’m doing about the cataloguing job at the institution where I did disastrously in the interview and exam for a similar job back in 2018.
I spent an hour trying to work on my novel. I proof-read half a chapter or so, but did not write much that was new. I got distracted a lot and I probably felt too depressed to do much that was useful – I’m not sure whether I made the right decision about not expanding some passages or cutting others. My brain is just not functioning today and I don’t know why, but I’m certainly less productive today than I was on Friday. Maybe I’m burnt out after a busy Friday and “peopling” yesterday (on Zoom rather than in person, but that can be more stressful). I’m now halfway through the second draft in terms of chapters, but probably much less than halfway in terms of time and work, as I know the latter chapters need a lot of redrafting to fix plot and character problems.
I wanted to go for a run, but my knee was hurting for a bit, so I went for a walk, but tried to walk further than usual, about five kilometres.
I did about forty-five minutes of Torah study; I wanted to do more, but I ended up going to my shul‘s (synagogue’s) Annual General Meeting on Zoom and felt I had to draw a line. I was in two minds about going to this given that I felt down, but PIMOJ is the Better Angel of My Nature and suggested I should go. I watched it without my webcam on, which is discouraged, but I did not feel up to being seen or having my room seen; plus, this way I could listen with one ear while eating dinner or working on other things. I don’t really like long-winded speeches at meetings; I’ve already noted the “Everything has been said, but not everyone has said it yet” aspect of meetings that drives me crazy.
There was a lot of praise for people who have helped the community in different ways, which is absolutely correct, but I always feel, “Well, I can’t help, there’s nothing I can do.” When I was at Oxford, someone actually got really annoyed with me for refusing to go on the Jewish Society (JSoc) committee. My feeling was that the JSoc was a social group to enable Jews to meet and socialise (and date) rather than a religious society and that I knew nothing about running a social group. Thus spake undiagnosed autism and social anxiety. This person got really annoyed with me though and felt I was being selfish in taking from the society and not giving back (actually, I wasn’t taking that much as I hardly attended any events, but that’s another question). I drew on this for my novel too. Of course, shul brings up feelings of religious inadequacy compared with other people, which I didn’t have so much at Oxford. On Zoom there is also the “I can see everyone my age has a lovely house and I live in my parents’ second bedroom” inadequacy feeling.
Then they started talking about financial donations, which weren’t an issue at university where we were all impoverished students, but which now set me aside from people with successful jobs.
Then the internet, which had been ropey for the first hour of the meeting completely packed up (I’ve been having internet trouble again on my laptop lately). I did eventually manage to log back in on my phone, which has a better connection, but I was feeling even less engaged.
There was some stuff about finances and fees that panicked me and I need to look into.
I guess my overall impression of the AGM was personal inadequacy and something approaching awe for mentally healthy neurotypicals who are able (a) to do stuff to help the community and (b) stay interested and engaged for the whole meeting. To be honest, if they were able to sit through the finance presentation and ask pertinent questions, they beat me (yes, I know probably a huge chunk of the community are accountants).
The meeting is still ongoing as of 10.10pm, but I think I’m going to have to call it a night or my head will explode and I won’t be able to sleep.
I don’t know why I feel depressed today. I’m worried about getting COVID on the commute to my new job or to volunteering. I’m worried about performing badly in the new job and letting my friend down. I’m worried about sharing an office all day with someone (is he going to expect me to talk? To eat lunch together? I like to read on my lunch break…). I guess some of it is wanting to move on with my life (career, writing, PIMOJ) and feeling constrained by external factors (mental health and autism, financial situation and more), which is frustrating. I wonder if I will ever achieve the goals I’ve set for myself. I do know that whether I build a career as a writer or a librarian or something else, it’s going to take years; likewise, getting married will take years, even if PIMOJ is The One, and sometimes that time scale feels very daunting. How am I going to do anything with my life if it takes years just to get to the start? I know, I have started already, but it’s hard to see what I’ve achieved so far. Even on a smaller scale, I don’t like waiting to start the new job; I want to dive in and get started, so that’s another cause of anxiety and depression.
I guess more prosaically I miss PIMOJ. Unlike my previous relationships, I think we communicate better in person than online, which is probably good overall, but bad during COVID. It’s a real shame we can’t meet in person very often. I think we are both serious about this relationship and want to move things forward, but are being held back, partly by COVID, but also by other things going on in each of our lives, like my autism and job situation and some things in PIMOJ’s life. In terms of feeling bad, there’s also some loneliness and touch hunger too today, and not knowing when that will change.
Joe Biden’s middle name is ‘Robinette.’ I’m not quite sure how I avoided knowing that until today. I have a weird fascination with the middle names of US Presidents, which are often very unusual, at least from a British point of view. I’m guessing that some Americans still do the Victorian thing, which my grandparents did with my uncle, of giving the mother’s maiden surname to the first son as a middle name.
I went to bed very early last night, but I slept for over twelve hours, so I got up late again this morning. I’m slightly embarrassed to say it, but I feel like I could have slept longer. I did feel drained and burnt out today, particularly in the morning and early afternoon. I’ve got to a point where I’m at least somewhat accepting that this is just what happens to me when I do things. Still, I wish I had more hours awake and alert.
I had a dream about being back at Oxford University. I was trying to get more time to do my work as I was depressed and autistic, but there was some kind of problem, I don’t know what. It may just have been that I did not have the courage to go to my tutor and explain. There were some people from my current shul (synagogue) there too for some reason. It’s pretty obvious that the dream was about feeling bad for needing support with my issues. I’ve never really got over that feeling of shame.
A librarian who turned me down for a job a while back saying my cataloguing wasn’t good enough has added me to his network on LinkedIn. I’ve never really got the hang of LinkedIn (like Facebook, but boring), but I reciprocated, because nowadays I mostly do if someone I vaguely know as a real person adds me (not random strangers). I’ve been on LinkedIn for years, but still haven’t got up to the thirty connections they say you should have for it to work well; a number of the connections I do have are family and friends in different sectors, not colleagues. It also reminds me of this cartoon.
PIMOJ and I were planning a date, when I realised it contravened COVID regulations (indoors with people outside my “bubble”). My sister and brother-in-law are our household’s “bubble,” so I can’t count PIMOJ as one. They (the regulations) are complicated enough now that I have to look them up as I don’t remember them. I think it will be a long, cold winter if we can’t meet indoors except in cafes and restaurants (where I don’t feel comfortable at the moment anyway). I was a bit nervous of mentioning this to PIMOJ in case it looked like I was backing out, but she was fine with it. When dating, I get so scared of being negative or just disagreeing in case; ironically, one date got angry with me because I was indecisive through fear of contradicting her, the opposite of what I intended. Dating in COVID is hard. Dating with low self-esteem and fear of rejection is harder. I need to learn that (a) PIMOJ seems to like me, other things being equal and (b) when it comes to values questions (like breaching lockdown or not), we’re usually on the same page. The latter is a somewhat unfamiliar place for me to be.
I started writing a new bit for my novel, plugging a plot-hole that I noticed. I wrote about 800 words in an hour, but feel I might be approaching the scene the wrong way and need to rewrite. As ever, I wanted to write more, but ran out of time. It can be hard to lead a full life when I only really have afternoons and evenings.
Other achievements today: I finished and sent my devar Torah (Torah thought) for the week. It was a little shorter than usual, but I couldn’t think of anything else to say and it seemed silly to pad it needlessly. I did some Torah study, albeit a disproportionate amount was spent tracing a reference in Rabbi Lord Sacks’ devar Torah to Ramban’s Torah commentary, but when I found it, I didn’t fully understand what Ramban was saying or why.
I went for a walk and did some shopping; I also failed to pick up my repeat prescription as the surgery has been slow in processing the pharmacy’s request (the lockdown procedure for requesting repeat prescriptions). I hope it’s ready before late afternoon tomorrow or I will run out over the weekend.
I did some ironing while watching Twin Peaks, which was a mistake, as Twin Peaks required atmosphere and concentration that were not possible while ironing. I find myself wanting to wallow in Twin Peaks. It has a unique atmosphere. Doctor Who is also capable of being mysterious, funny and scary in quick succession or even at the same time, but with Twin Peaks there is a sense of something else as well, I’m not sure what. Twin Peaks certainly has a sense of place which Doctor Who, by virtue of its time-space travelling format, does not, and Twin Peaks can have a greater sense of fear being aimed at an adult, post-watershed audience unlike Doctor Who, which has mostly been aimed at a family audience. There is something else, though, maybe a dreamlike atmosphere that I can’t pin down. Maybe Twin Peaks has a sense of fear that Doctor Who can’t have, because Doctor Who hasn’t really scared me since I was a child, whereas I know (from the classification warning on the DVD box) that Twin Peaks probably will have scenes that will scare or horrify me and I’m sitting on the edge of my seat in nervous anticipation.
Whatever the reason, I want to wallow it and binge-watch episodes, which is unusual for me, although not unknown. I don’t usually watch more than an hour of television in a day. I suppose the serial nature of the programme helps. When I watched Life on Mars and Ashes to Ashes earlier in the year, it was quite obvious that I was only going to get answers in the last episode of the season, if not the last episode of the programme as a whole, whereas here there are limited answers and more questions all the time.
I sat outside last night watching a DVD on my laptop. The weather was a little cooler. I couldn’t get my Star Trek Voyager DVD to play (my laptop DVD player is temperamental), so I watched Doctor Who instead. I started a re-watch of my favourite season, the 1978-1979 season, in my opinion the apogee of Doctor Who as science fantasy children’s series (thus, hated by fans who think Doctor Who is Serious Adult Drama… the fault line between fans who think Doctor Who is a children’s programme and those who think it is a Serious Adult Drama is one of the biggest in fandom). I felt quite happy watching it, despite the fact that I could hear my parents talking despite my earphones, that the security light kept coming on and shining in my eyes, and that the picture quality was not great (my screen needs cleaning and I kept seeing my reflection in it because of the ambient light). Normally when I watch TV, I try to immerse myself in it, but I was able to enjoy it without doing that 100%. I suppose it does show that I can be happy, and with quite small things. My Mum noticed I was smiling.
I had another unrestful night’s sleep. It’s a little cooler, but still too hot for me. There is a breeze, and around four o’clock the heavy rain we were forecast finally arrived, but only lasted a few minutes. It started raining heavily again just before seven, with thunder, to the extent I had to shut the windows, but, again, it didn’t last long. It’s still quite hot, with a bit of a cooling breeze, but very humid and I still feel quite uncomfortable. I can concentrate a little better than the last few days, but not brilliantly.
Last night I had the thought of logging on to JDate and seeing if there were many women my age and frumkeit (religiosity) level on there, but I couldn’t log on. I thought I still had a profile on there, but apparently not. I assume they delete profiles if they’re inactive for a long period of time as I don’t remember deleting it. I don’t think I could have used JDate since I met my first girlfriend on there in 2012. My experience at the time made me feel there weren’t enough frum (religious) enough women on the site for me, but maybe I would be willing to be more flexible on “frum enough” now. I think I probably have to be. It’s hard to tell what “frum enough” looks like, though, as I worry that I compromised too much when I was dating E. and that it would not have worked in the long-term.
JDate is probably better for me right now than its competitor, JWed. JWed, as its name implies, is a dating-for-marriage site, not a dating-for-dating site. It also asks users to categorise themselves religiously, offering them seven different types of Orthodox Jewish identities and several more non-Orthodox ones. Jews like pigeon-holing other Jews, you might have noticed. It also asks you to say how often you pray and study Torah, whether you wear tzitzit (ritual fringed garment) if you are a man and if you would cover your hair after marriage if you are a woman, all questions designed to further pigeon-hole religiously. These are supposed to be proxies to gauge religious devotion, but aren’t always in reality, but the problem of using them as such stretches far beyond the dating world, or even the frum world. JDate doesn’t quite offer such craziness, although if I recall correctly, it does still offer several different flavours of Orthodoxy (I doubt there are many Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) Jews on JDate though even if there is an option for them).
My main concerns with JDate are that I can’t afford to pay the monthly subscription; and that there are more men than women on dating sites, so women tend not to respond to men on dating sites unless they appear amazing. I do still have some concerns about not “dating for marriage.” However, my biggest concern is how to talk about my employment situation or about trying to be a writer in my profile without having sold much, and while worrying that I’m not going to be able to make much of a success of writing.
I feel that E., like my first girlfriend, thought that I was a good boyfriend, but also that my emotional neediness and unemployed status was a lot to cope with, and eventually was too much to cope with. I find it hard to believe anyone else could see past that permanently, not just for a few months until the novelty of having an attentive and listening boyfriend wore off.
There is also the practical problem, of course, of dating in the time of COVID and social distancing. This may be less of a problem now, as I think we can stop shielding Mum soon as her chemo is finished. We have to shield around the time of her surgery, but I think not when she has radiotherapy after that.
I wrote to my rabbi mentor about this today and I look forward to reading his response. Writing it down did make me think that some of my concerns were due to anxiety or even a kind of ‘pure O’ OCD, in terms of taking the morality an action very seriously, paying more attention to it than it needs, in moral terms. I think dating at this time is probably not against my values, although I’m not sure if it’s necessarily a product of those values at this time. Whether it’s sensible is another question.
Speaking of being a writer, I’m feeling pessimistic today. I finished If You Want to Write, the writing book I was currently reading. It was kind of hippie-ish (although written in the 1930s), all about doing what you want and finding your own truth, which is true, but the opposite is probably true too. I wasn’t surprised by this, as the book was recommended to me by a hippie-ish friend who I fell out with, someone who described himself as being all about empathy and compassion and then treated me quite badly. I don’t think I can internalise the “rules” of writing from the books I’m reading, not even this one, which just says to be honest (and is against genre fiction). I feel a great writer wouldn’t need to internalise rules, but a merely competent one probably does need to do so. I certainly feel my book could do with more structure and more vivid characters. But, as I’ve said before, I oscillate between thinking that there are no rules for literature and that there are rules for it, like any other skill, if only I could learn them.
I did half an hour of research for the novel, reading a rape survivor’s statement, which was understandably depressing. I struggle to see why some men find the concept of “consent” so difficult to grasp.
I also spent twenty minutes or so working on my list of things that I want to add or change in the next draft of my novel, so overall this was a reasonably productive day for the novel.
Other achievements: I spent an hour on my devar Torah (Torah thought), getting it mostly sorted to my satisfaction, although I had a vague sense of not having explained it clearly enough to myself, let alone anyone else. The sense that I sort of understand what I’m saying, but not quite perfectly. I spent another hour on Torah study, so it was quite a productive day from a religious point of view too.
It’s funny how my feelings writing my devar Torah every week mirror my feelings writing my Oxford tutorial essays: the initial blank incomprehension with nothing to write, the slow research and analysis, the gradual revelation of what I’m going to write, then the actual writing, followed by relief, but a feeling of not having really nailed it.
I also finished re-reading Healing from Despair: Choosing Wholeness in a Broken World. I didn’t get much from this except to recall that I didn’t like it much the first time I read it. I’m not entirely sure why I didn’t like it. I think maybe its use of biblical and historical models for healing from despair was too simplistic.
Incidentally, I have finished three books in two days, although as I was reading them concurrently and not consecutively, it’s not such a notable achievement.
Sometimes I just stand, staring into space, completely lost in thought. My parents invariably then ask if something’s wrong or what I’m doing. This completely breaks the chain of thought. (This happened today.) I’ve never been sure if this is “normal” behaviour or “autistic” behaviour or just a personal quirk. I do find it frustrating that I can’t just stand and think without someone thinking I’m ill. I guess if I get married, I’ll have to tell my wife to ignore me when I do this.
I still feel very depressed. I don’t know if this is about finishing the first draft of my novel or something else, something I don’t want to talk about here. If it is about my novel, I had something similar when I was doing my MA: I would struggle against depression to finish an assignment, but when I handed it in, instead of feeling positive, I would feel more depressed and often be unable to start the next assignment for weeks. It took me nearly three and a half years to finish a course that should have taken one academic year.
I was thinking of buying some more music and graphic novels and maybe some war gaming miniatures to paint (I don’t play war games any more, but sometimes I paint the models). Then I started thinking that this was retail therapy, and I felt more guilty about it, and just started procrastinating, which is a worse problem than retail therapy, at least with the relatively small sums of money I’m thinking of spending. In the end I bought two graphic novels, but am undecided as to whether to buy the miniatures. It would be good to do something that doesn’t involve thinking (I guess there’s running), but I feel depressed when comparing miniatures painted by me recently with the much better ones painted in my teens, before I had medication-related tremor, and perhaps when my concentration and will power were better.
I finished fiddling around with my iTunes playlists, which was good. I’ve been meaning to sort them out for a while now. That was my main achievement for the day, alongside my usual pre-Shabbat chores. I did a little Torah study, and I’ll probably do a bit more later, but it’s hard to do anything today. It’s partly depression and exhaustion, but also the heat and humidity, which are both high today and make me uncomfortable.
I had another weird dream about conflict with my religious community, where a bunch of thugs mobbed the car I was in when it pulled over (which for some reason was being driven by Hugo Drax, the villain of the James Bond film Moonraker) and then I realised they were frum men, with suits and fedoras, and then I recognised some of them from shul. That might be part of the reason why I woke up depressed and exhausted again.
I’m not sure why that conflict is on my mind when I haven’t had any real contact with the community for five months or so and am not likely to have any for another couple of months at least. Maybe that’s it, though. Maybe I’ve forgotten the good parts and the people I like and am only thinking about the negative. Certainly there’s a lot of social anxiety over going to shul (synagogue) again, wondering if I can remember what to do and how to behave (I mean behave socially more than religiously, although that too, I guess), as well as autistic anxiety about wearing masks and the changed layout of the shul being different and confusing. Shul has been reopened for a few weeks now, but I haven’t gone as we’re still shielding Mum as she’s immuno-suppressed and the risk is just too great.
Related to that, I don’t know when going to a shop is going to feel safe again. I’ve hardly been in any for months. The only one I really go to is the pharmacist, to collect my anti-depressants, but that’s awkward as not only is it often busy, but the post office is in the same shop, separated by a partition wall and that’s also often busy and people have to queue from the post office section into the pharmacist section. I’d like to go to the nearby charity shop to browse second-hand books and DVDs as I know that’s something that de-stresses me a bit, but I just don’t dare to.
I wrote in yesterday’s post about blaming my teenage/early twenties self for not being more social. After I turned off my computer, I remembered something I once said in therapy, that if I think of my very young self, say five or six years old or younger, I feel a great deal of love and compassion towards him, but I think of my somewhat older self (eight or ten years old and up) suddenly a whole load of negative feelings and internalised anger/aggression comes out about him (me) being too clever, aloof, irritating, an unintentional show-off, a Doctor Who obsessive to the exclusion of all else (even more than I am now…) and so on. I’m guessing this is because the difficulties of my childhood started when I was somewhat older and that’s the time that I internalised negative thoughts and feelings about myself. It is hard to know what to do with these thoughts.
I just heard that Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz died today (barukh dayan ha’emet). He was a great man. Among his many achievements was translating the Talmud into Modern Hebrew (most of the Talmud is written in Aramaic) and writing explanatory commentary, and then overseeing its translation into English and, I think, Russian. It’s not the only current English translation, but it is very accessible and while the Artscroll Talmud (its main competitor in English translation) is focused on the detail of halakhic (legal) debate and only uses traditional sources, the Steinsaltz one is more focused on basic comprehensibility and uses modern sources and photos (of plants, ancient artifacts, etc.) to illustrate the social and material context of the Talmud.
He wrote many other books too, including a few I own. I’m very fond of his book Simple Words and his translation of some of the stories of Rebbe Nachman of Bratzlav, again with commentary.
He was an important figure for me, not just because of the books that I have read, but also his attitude, being in some ways very traditional and Hasidic and in other ways very modern (he was originally a scientist before becoming a rabbi). I believe his yeshiva (rabbinical seminary) taught Jewish philosophy and creative writing alongside the traditional yeshiva Talmud curriculum. He once said, “An intellectual is not necessarily a university professor: he can also be a shoemaker. An intellectual is a person of boundless curiosity, who has the desire and the ability to discuss everything, and the spark that can make something new out of anything.” We can apply this to Rabbi Steinsaltz himself.
The Doctor: Where’s your optimism?
Romana: It opted out.
– Doctor Who: The Armageddon Factor by Bob Baker and Dave Martin
I seem to be stuck back in the habit of waking up late and depressed, even if I go to bed a bit earlier. I think some of the slump is finishing the first draft of my novel and contemplating the next mountain to climb, which is redrafting, which is looming and ominous, but which I can’t even get started on yet, as I want a short break so I can come to it fresh. Something else happened that I won’t go into here that brought me down too and is on my mind today. Plus, I had a weird, upsetting dream last night. I can’t remember the details, but it was about getting in trouble with my religious community for having the wrong religious beliefs/practices.
I looked at the chart I made for dealing with depression and, yes, some of this probably is my critical voice talking and maybe some “shoulds” and, yes, a lot of it is catastrophising. I don’t know what’s happening with my career or my writing, which is scary, and it’s hard not to catastrophise that.
There’s a lot of catastrophising about relationships too, feeling that I don’t have ways to meet someone. There are some ways, but I feel they all have drawbacks and most are unlikely to succeed. I also feel that I would have the best chance of building a relationship with someone who also has “issues,” but there’s no way of trying deliberately to meet such a person, certainly not within the frum (religious Jewish) community. There are actually shadchanim (matchmakers) in the USA who specialise in “sensitive shidduchim (matches)” where both parties have some kind of issue (not necessarily mental health), but I couldn’t get any to work with me, largely because I’m not in the US, but in one case because I’m too modern, religiously. Maybe it’s not sensible to think like that anyway; both my exes had issues and that was at least partly responsible for the failure of both relationships. Maybe I need someone very stable and kind, although what she would see in me is anyone’s guess.
I also worry that I won’t be able to have children, partly because my issues are too ever-present and exhausting to make it a good idea, particularly if I marry someone with similar issues; partly because, as I get older, having children means finding a wife significantly younger than me, which seems unlikely to happen. Some shadchanim and dating sites seem to divide the dating pool in two, under-forties and over-forties, the former being presumably for people who can have children, the latter for people who are too late, or who are assumed to already have children from a previous relationship and not to want more.
As I said, this is all catastrophising. My parents still think I’ll get married and have at least one child, which seems wildly optimistic to me. It’s hard to turn off the catastrophising voice though, particularly when there seems so little evidence against it. I need to focus on stuff in the present, as I was recently, but it seems hard today when I feel to depressed to concentrate on anything and when my mind just wanders down the path of least resistance, which is the path of catastrophising and wallowing in self-pity.
I try to tell myself that if God wants me to have a career and a wife and children then it will happen and if He doesn’t, it won’t, and there’s not much I can do about that… except that just reinforces the fear that he doesn’t want me to have those things and there’s nothing I can do about it. Certainly he hasn’t wanted me to have them so far. I don’t think belief in God is supposed to make me so fatalistic, certainly not Jewish belief, which is supposed to be proactive. We’re supposed to think that God wants the best for us, and if it doesn’t suit our desires or plans, that’s because we’re limited whereas He’s omniscient and knows what would be good for us better than we do. I just wish I knew what His plan is and had some idea if I would ever get there.
Do I even know what I want out of life? I’m not sure. Part of me suspects I wouldn’t be happy even in a loving relationship, that I’m just too negative and depressed a person to be happy for long. I don’t know what would make me happy or bring fulfilment to my life. Maybe I’ve hit on things like love and career as goals because they make other people happy and I assume they would make me happy too, but perhaps they would not.
Being frum, doing mitzvot (commandments) and studying Torah, which, according to rabbis, are what my soul wants to do and which should make me happy do very little for me. Does that make a bad Jew? Or are depression and low self-esteem just too corrosive to happiness for a frum life to make a difference? Nothing really seems to help conquer the sense of insecurity, loneliness and despair. Would it help if God Himself told me that He thought I was a good person and a good Jew? I’m not sure that it would at this stage.
I want to be grateful for the good things in my life, and I’ve been stating them each day for years, but somehow often I feel too lonely, anxious and despairing about the future to internalise that. I just end up feeling guilty for not being happier and more grateful. Maybe I’m just selfish and ungrateful, but I just feel like my psychological needs are not being met (as per Maslow) and I can’t fully function.
My therapist is away, and maybe that’s hard too. I share a lot of my life here on the blog, but not all of it. There’s some that seems too trivial, or too personal, or too shameful or perhaps too weird to share here. I’m not sure how much of that I would share with my therapist either, but some of it. Lately it’s also been hard to tell my parents when I feel depressed and to talk to them about things and I’m not sure why. I think on some level I feel I’ve let them down by being depressed for so long. I could phone Samaritans. I’m not suicidal, but the service is technically not just for people who are suicidal or even intensely depressed, but somehow I can’t bring myself to phone just to chat, perhaps because I can’t bring myself to open up to a stranger unless in serious need.
This week I’ve been writing letters to people who have upset me or aroused strong, difficult emotions in me. The letters are not intended to be sent, just to work my feelings through. I decided to write one to the frum community, which was a slightly flippant idea, but I thought I would see what came out, as I’ve been writing these letters in a fairly stream of consciousness way. I was quite surprised that it really didn’t go the way I expected, so I thought I’d share:
Dear frum community,
I tried so hard to fit in, but I never felt accepted. That’s my gut feeling. Is it true? I don’t know. I think people were willing to accept me at youth stuff at shul when I was a teenager, but I was too scared, and maybe a bit arrogant. Did I think I was better? Or smarter? Or did I just think I could not be friendly with someone who was not a geek? To be fair, I was carrying a lot of hurt, trauma and guilt, and that only got worse at Oxford, where people were also willing to accept, but I was too scared again.
Nowadays I’m terrified I’m too Modern, too “heretical,” too weird, too guilty to fit in, especially being single, childless, depressed and autistic. Is that your fault or mine? Neither really, it just is.
It’s true you do stuff that upsets me. The casual sexism and racism that exists [in the frum community]. The focus on ritual over ethics. The anti-gentile feeling. The lack of culture and imagination, the conflicts over science and sex and gender and work and Israel. But I think ultimately that’s not the point. The point is that I think I don’t deserve you and that I think you couldn’t cope with me.
Reading back this letter makes me think that if I look back at thirteen year old Bar Mitzvah Me, I see the me who tried going to the shul (synagogue) youth service, but who couldn’t talk to anyone there, and who was scared of being bullied, as some of the kids there went to his school and weren’t always nice to him and he couldn’t always tell if they were bullying him or not. The me who got fed up with no one talking to him even though he wouldn’t have known what to say if they had. The me who was being asked (which he understood as “pressured”) to lein (chant from the Torah) in the youth service because he “leined so well at his bar mitzvah,” but who was suffering from extreme stage fright post-bar mitzvah because he felt overwhelmed by praise that he didn’t think he deserved and who didn’t want to lein ever again. The me who was going to start feeling increasing guilt over the next few years about his family’s lax standards of Shabbat and kashrut observance, but not know how to change that, and who was soon going to start feeling a lot of guilt around sex, and not know how to change that either. And I suppose I should say that I want to hug him or tell him not to worry, but I just feel angry and want to shout, “Why couldn’t you just cope with it? Why couldn’t you just stick it out and make friends and become part of the community? And then maybe I wouldn’t be depressed and single and childless and lonely.” That’s not really very self-loving.
I could say the same about Oxford Me, which was probably the last chance I had to really turn things around. “Just talk to people! Just go to events, even if they bore you! Go on the Jewish Society committee, even though you hate the idea of doing so and you think you have no talents to bring to the table, and even though you think your tutorial work leaves you no time for things like this! Make the time! Ask girls out, even if you’re not sure they’re 100% compatible! Just do something!”
But even now I would make the same mistakes again, there just isn’t the social circle to make it in. Everyone’s got their friendship circle now, and usually their spouses and children (some I guess are on Spouse Number 2 by now). There aren’t organisations that cater for single frum people approaching forty (nebbukh). I wouldn’t be able to go anyway, for the same reason I didn’t go then. Getting angry with Past Mes is just getting angry with Present Me. I can’t even keep close friendships going any more. I don’t really have any close friends any more, and the only people I really open up to (aside from my blog) are my therapist and my rabbi mentor.
Achievements: some time finishing off my devar Torah (Torah thought) for the week (although I had some negative thoughts about that, about my divrei Torah not being worthwhile). I did a bit of Torah study. I read more of Healing from Despair too, which is a Jewish book, but the chapter I read had no religious content and was just about the author’s experience of feeling suicidal, which was probably not the best thing to read.
I did some chores and went for a walk. I basically did what I normally do, without two hours of writing my novel, so I feel a bit like I underachieved. The time I would normally spend on the novel was partly spent on procrastination, partly on fiddling around with playlists on iTunes, and writing this mammoth post.
I realised I was so busy complaining yesterday that I forgot to mention two bits of good news. One is that I will be getting Employment and Support Allowance (ESA – benefits, basically) for a year, assuming my employment position doesn’t change, which is something of a relief after all the hassle I went to in order to claim.
The second is a more positive thing that came out of the seder experience. I can’t remember exactly how it came about, but I realised that I could re-frame the narrative of my life in a more positive way. It possibly came from something by Rabbi Lord Sacks that I read out at seder about Moshe (Moses) using his speech immediately before the exodus (in Shemot/Exodus 12) to focus on the idea of how to tell the story to our children, which Rabbi Sacks used to talk about the idea of telling our own personal story in a way that supports us.
In the past I have cast the narrative of my life in a very negative way: school, Oxford, my MA, work, dating, religious growth, I have presented all of them in a very negative way, focusing on the difficult times I had and the lack of clear progression to where I wanted my life to be, in terms of marriage, career, community, a certain sort of religious life and so on.
I realise that there were some positives that came out of all of these things. For example, I tend to present Oxford as the worst time of my life, but I did get my BA in end, with a decent mark, and I made a number of friends that I’m still in contact with fifteen years on. And it was a worthwhile experience that I learnt from, even if it wasn’t often a happy one. I won’t bore you by going through the whole list of life events, but I can sort of see that I can do this positive re-framing for most of my life if I try hard enough.
I read Giles Fraser’s latest essay on UnHerd (here, but don’t bother to read the comments which are tedious “God does/doesn’t exist” arguments by people who have missed the point of the article… I already regret wishing that UnHerd had a comments section and they’ve only had it a few weeks). I find Fraser’s articles interesting and provocative for me, as much of his Christian theology resonates with me, and yet much of it seems utterly alien, from a Jewish point of view. Usually both at the same time.
The engagement with brokenness and vulnerability in Christianity as opposed to in secular liberalism is something Fraser has written about a lot. It makes me wonder how much this acceptance is present in Judaism. One would expect it to be present in Judaism, given how much of Jewish history has been written in tears of exile and persecution, but I’m not sure how much it does appear, at least not on a personal level. There is Iyov/Job, as Fraser says; there is some of Tehillim/Psalms. Perhaps you could count Eichah/Lamentations, but that’s really about national brokenness, not individual brokenness. Which is kind of my point. Judaism is a lot more about communal or national experiences than private and personal ones. Unsurprisingly, because Christianity is pitched as an individual quest for personal salvation, whereas Judaism is at heart a national quest to build a social utopia (even if many religious Jews appear to have forgotten that). That’s why (topically for this time of year) the key event of Christianity is Jesus dying on the cross, whereas the key event in Judaism is a nation of slaves leaving for freedom.
This can make Judaism a difficult source of support for someone dealing with private, personal pain as opposed to communal disaster. While there are plenty of Christian conversion stories along the lines of, “I was at rock bottom, but I opened the Bible/heard a preacher/accepted Jesus into my life and suddenly felt loved and accepted,” I don’t think I’ve ever heard a religious Jew offer a parallel story using Tanakh (the Hebrew Bible) or the Talmud, nor have I ever come across kiruv organisation (outreach organisations attempting to make non-religious Jews more religious) using such tactics. Kiruv organisations prefer a mixture of intellectual engagement with supposed proofs of the truth of Judaism, which are really a pretext to encourage people to experience celebrating Shabbat or going to Israel, particularly in a group.
(The reverse is true: I don’t think I’ve ever seen a Christian parallel to the outpouring of concern and love that Jews of all stripes and religious levels share when there is war or terrorism in Israel or antisemitism in the diaspora; many Western Christians seem utterly unaware of the persecution of their coreligionists in much of the Middle East, let alone upset by it, something that is simply unthinkable for the global Jewish community.)
I’m not familiar enough with the rabbinic literature, the Talmud and the Midrash, to know if there are many more stories of individual brokenness there. I can think of one or two. This one comes to mind (Talmud Brachot 5b, translation from the Steinsaltz edition via Sefaria – the bold text is direct translation of the original, the non-bold text is explanation):
The Gemara relates that Rabbi Elazar, another of Rabbi Yoḥanan’s students, fell ill. Rabbi Yoḥanan entered to visit him, and saw that he was lying in a dark room. Rabbi Yoḥanan exposed his arm, and light radiated from his flesh, filling the house. He saw that Rabbi Elazar was crying, and said to him: Why are you crying? Thinking that his crying was over the suffering that he endured throughout his life, Rabbi Yoḥanan attempted to comfort him: If you are weeping because you did not study as much Torah as you would have liked, we learned: One who brings a substantial sacrifice and one who brings a meager sacrifice have equal merit, as long as he directs his heart toward Heaven. If you are weeping because you lack sustenance and are unable to earn a livelihood, as Rabbi Elazar was, indeed, quite poor, not every person merits to eat off of two tables, one of wealth and one of Torah, so you need not bemoan the fact that you are not wealthy. If you are crying over children who have died, this is the bone of my tenth son, and suffering of that kind afflicts great people, and they are afflictions of love.
Rabbi Elazar said to Rabbi Yoḥanan: I am not crying over my misfortune, but rather, over this beauty of yours that will decompose in the earth, as Rabbi Yoḥanan’s beauty caused him to consider human mortality. Rabbi Yoḥanan said to him: Over this, it is certainly appropriate to weep. Both cried over the fleeting nature of beauty in the world and death that eventually overcomes all.
Meanwhile, Rabbi Yoḥanan said to him: Is your suffering dear to you? Rabbi Elazar said to him: I welcome neither this suffering nor its reward. Upon hearing this, Rabbi Yoḥanan said to him: Give me your hand. Rabbi Elazar gave him his hand, and Rabbi Yoḥanan stood him up and restored him to health.
Still, these type of stories do seem to be the relatively rare in Judaism and I do feel like I struggle for inspiration and guidance on how to connect with God through my suffering and depression. I think that’s why I’ve re-read Arthur Green’s biography of Rebbe Nachman of Bratzlav three times, because it deals extensively with his bouts of despair and self-criticism (possibly the result of bipolar disorder, undiagnosable and untreatable in the late eighteenth/early nineteenth centuries). Rebbe Nachman’s own stories are also important to me; they also deal a lot with longing and spiritual desire. Still, I would be interested in finding more sources of Jewish inspiration and acceptance of brokenness.
As for my day today, I did half an hour of Torah study and went for a half-hour walk. E. and I tried to do a virtual museum tour as an online date, but the picture resolution was poor, as was the navigation, and there wasn’t any text to explain what we were seeing. We found the experience disappointing and switched to a straightforward video date after a while. We spoke for over an hour and a half.
I found I was exhausted this evening, I think from the emotional stress of the last three days more than from my activity today. I would have liked to have done more Torah study, or to have written my devar Torah (Torah thought) for the week or to have worked on my short story, but I’m just too exhausted. I’m also intermittently anxious (OCD anxiety mainly, although some general anxiety) and depressed; anxiety and depression tend to worsen when I’m tired, as at the moment. I am going to turn off my computer and watch TV and read before bed, because I don’t feel I can do anything else, sadly. I’m just trying to stay afloat and not end up too exhausted and depressed tomorrow.
A question that is bothering me, but which I’m reluctant to ask more widely for fear of being misunderstood: what is the additional number of COVID-19 deaths? Because while over 100,000 people have died globally, a proportion of those, statistically speaking, would have died anyway from something. The people most likely to die from COVID-19 are also largely the people most likely to die in general (elderly, seriously ill, having compromised immune systems etc.). I would like to know what is the number of deaths so far over and above what we would expect for a normal first quarter of a year? I am not trying to be callous or to say that it doesn’t matter that they died as they would have died anyway. Obviously any death is a tragedy. I’m just curious to know what the global scale of COVID-19 is likely to be. Are we talking thousands more deaths, hundreds of thousands or (God forbid) millions? How does that compare with normal mortality rates?
I heard that when the ebola virus was at its worst in Africa, there was a sudden increase in deaths from malaria, because resources that would have been used in the fight against malaria were diverted to fight ebola, because it’s a “scarier” (or perhaps just less common) illness. I am wondering if anything like that could happen here.
I think they are legitimate questions, but I’m afraid they make me sound callous and uncaring. The autistic part of me has learnt that some genuine questions are off-putting emotionally to many people, however intellectually justified, just as the politically aware part of me is aware that people with strong political opinions generally see the world through the lens of their opinions and don’t always like questions that probe that too deeply or challenge their core assumptions.
The annoying computer problem I used to have, where the mouse touchpad would default to tapping mode whenever I turned the computer on and it would last until I went to turn it off, whereupon it would switch off before I got to the screen where I should have been able to turn it off, is back. I’m not sure what to do about that. It’s another step in the protracted decline of my laptop, but I’m hoping to, um, protract it some more as I can’t really afford to buy a new computer right now. If anyone knows how to deal with this, please let me know!
Shabbat (the Sabbath) was good, overall. Shul (synagogue) on Friday night was OK. I had dinner with my family, which is still overshadowed by Mum’s cancer diagnosis, then back to shul at 8.30pm for an evening learning event. There were twelve of us, including the rabbi running the event (not the regular shul rabbi). First was chevruta (paired) study of the key sources in the Talmud and later commentators and law codes. We spent about thirty or forty minutes coming to grips with these and then there was a short shiur (class) for fifteen or twenty minutes applying the principles from the texts. I was paired with one of my friends, to my relief, and we did OK going through the texts. We were on similar levels, I think, which made it better than these situations sometimes go with me, both in terms of confidence and thinking of things to say. It was a highly technical discussion of a point of law in the Jewish laws of property and damages, not the type of thing I usually like study, but I found it quite interesting. There was a short piece of aggadata (non-legal material, in this case narrative) in the midst of the halakhah (Jewish law) which made things a bit easier for me (about a caravan in the ancient Middle East that was being stalked by a lion, so every evening they left one of their donkeys for the lion in the hope that it would be satiated and not attack the caravan. It made me wonder what they did if they ran out of donkeys). Afterwards there was potato kugel (kugel is a kind of pudding that can be made of various things, sweet or savoury, but most often grated potato). This was the one week when we had potato kugel for dinner at home, but I would never turn down more. As I said to Dad, kugels are like buses, you wait ages and then two come along at once. I was glad to be socialising in a ‘safe’ environment in shul and was glad there were relatively few people there, so I did not get overwhelmed and also was visibly joining in and not merging into the background.
When we were sitting around eating kugel and drinking whisky (not me, but the other men) the rabbi quoted something (I didn’t catch where from) that said that doing a mitzvah against difficulty means the reward is one hundred-fold. He was thinking of all of us coming out in the cold, wet and wind at night, but I thought of my depression, social anxiety and autism. Even if “one hundred-fold” is rabbinic hyperbole, I felt that maybe I should cut myself some slack for trying to be a good Jew under difficult circumstances.
I didn’t push myself to get up early for shul this morning, but I did go back for Minchah, Talmud shiur and Ma’ariv (Afternoon Service, Talmud class and Evening Service). There was no one willing or able to lead Minchah so I was asked. I hadn’t done it for about five years, not since we came to this community. I have been more tuneful, but I don’t think I made any obvious mistakes aside from misunderstanding the rabbi about when to start on two occasions. I even coped with slowly reading the Aramaic passage recited when taking the Torah scroll out, although I felt that people were staring at me and mentally wondering why I didn’t restart. I shook with anxiety a little, but not as violently I did when leading weekday services at this shul previously, so maybe I’m becoming more confident with participating in this shul. I didn’t (thank G-d!) drop the Torah scroll from shaking as I was vaguely worried about.
My devar Torah (Torah thought) email that I shared with a slightly wider group of people before Shabbat this week also seems to have gone down well, so maybe I’m beginning to move outwards into the community again after a period of retrenchment and mental health struggle over the last five years.
Today is my parents’ wedding anniversary (before you ask, no, they didn’t deliberately go for a Valentine’s weekend wedding, it just ended up like that). They bought a very rich chocolate cake for dessert for Shabbat meals. They don’t normally do that for their anniversary, only for family birthdays, and I felt that it was partly a kind of reward because of the stressful few weeks we’ve had with Mum’s cancer diagnosis. It was really good cake, though, and we’ve still got quite a bit left.
After Shabbat, I did a bit more work on the bibliography for my non-fiction Doctor Who book. I got through a pile of books that came out between 1997 and 2006, basically from the point where Doctor Who seemed to be dead until the point where it had come back, but the new generation of fans had not quite arrived yet. It’s the Doctor Who fandom I heard about and tentatively joined in via Doctor Who Magazine (particularly the editorships of Gary Gillatt, Alan Barnes and Clayton Hickman), books like Doctor Who: From A to Z, Licence Denied and Doctor Who: The Book of Lists and later joined more fully in the Oxford University Doctor Who Society (Doc Soc) and its fanzine The Tides of Time. It was a slightly strange fandom, a place where on the one hand people would take the programme extremely seriously and write lengthy quasi-scholarly articles about themes or characterisation, and then five minutes later they would be completely taking the Mickey and making fun of the whole thing, sometimes even in the same article.
I suppose I was only ever really on the fringes of that fandom; the Doc Soc was my greatest involvement, and that was only a small society when I was there. In 2005 the programme came back on TV and completely changed the demographic of fandom; later the arrival of social media and Twitter would alter the way that fans communicated. I’m not really involved in fandom any more. I just read and comment on a couple of blogs run by people I consider friends as much as fellow fans. I still read Doctor Who Magazine (and tried to pitch to write for it, without success), but it feels very much like an ‘official’ piece of merchandise now and not the upmarket glossy quasi-fanzine it once aimed to be. You won’t see anyone criticise anything or lightly make fun of anything; in fact, they’re not even running reviews of the new episodes.
I’ve sometimes ventured onto Doctor Who Twitter, but I find it a bit scary: sometimes quick to take offense and rather political, plus I find Twitter in general a source of angst and time wasting and I try to avoid it. I’ve never been to a convention, either pre- or post-new series. Part of me would like to go, but part of me, particularly the autistic part of me, is scared stiff at the thought of it. I would like to find that kind of fan commentary/appreciation/gentle mockery that I used to find in the late nineties and early noughties, but I’m not sure it even exists any more, let alone where to find it. And I wish I had been a bit more involved in “my” fandom when it was thriving, even if I wasn’t in it now, although I suppose I was too young and socially anxious to get much more involved.
I wrote a long comment tonight about autism and my religious beliefs on MidWestAspie’s blog. I’ve decided to cross-post my comment here (cutting off a bit that is a not relevant and correcting a couple of typos) as it touches on some issues I’ve raised here, but never really spoken about at length:
Interesting post. I have heard other people on the spectrum say that their ASD made them leave their religious upbringing. I’m the reverse. I’m a religious Orthodox Jew and in the process of getting an ASD diagnosis (I’m pretty sure I’m on the spectrum, and have been told I am by mental health practitioners, but don’t have the bit of paper yet). I was raised traditional, but not fully religious and became a lot more religious in my teens and early twenties. I’ve never really felt a clash between those aspects of my self (ASD and Judaism).
My university background is in the humanities (history and then information management) rather than science, so maybe that’s made me more open to the idea that things exist, and can be shown to be likely to exist or to be a certain way, without our being able to “prove” that they exist like a scientific or mathematical proof. For example, I think Napoleon was defeated at Waterloo, but I can’t prove that in the way that a scientist can prove that e=mc2 or the way Decartes tried to prove that “I think therefore I am.” When I was in my twenties I went through a kind of religious crisis about this type of thing, but this was the position that I eventually came to. I think whether a system has meaning is not falsifiable in a Popperian sense. You can say that God is an unnecessary hypothesis, but if you find meaning in an idea or a practice, I think there is truth to that meaning even if the data it rests on is, in some sense, flawed (I’m not sure if I’m explaining this well).
OTOH, I have a quite existential approach to faith. A number of years ago I was reading a lot in Jewish religious existentialists (e.g. Rav Soloveitchik, Levinas, Heschel, Fackenheim, Buber) and am still very influenced by them. The emphasis on dialogue and encounter and ethics. I don’t feel much security from my faith in the way that you say your parents do and in the way that I see other people in my community react. I went through another religious crisis of a kind in recent years where I was sure that God hated me, but I eventually realised that I was just projecting my own low self-esteem. But I don’t feel that God is my Cosmic Buddy who will do what I ask, nor do I think much about the afterlife or reward or stuff like that. I talk to God, but I don’t expect Him to answer me in an immediate or overt way. I don’t expect my life to go well in this world just because I try to keep the Torah. Maybe it’s not part of my psychological make-up (or ASD), maybe it’s the pessimism that comes from two decades of mental illness, or maybe it’s just that Judaism is a very present-centred religion and we don’t talk much about Heaven or reward, even though we believe in them.
I’ve never had the type of religious experience you describe and I wouldn’t know what to do with it if I did. I absolutely don’t believe Judaism means giving up my responsibility. On the contrary, Judaism, and especially Jewish existentialism, means accepting a huge amount of responsibility. Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Kotzk, the nineteenth century proto-Jewish existentialist thinker, said, “The seeking is the finding” and that is how I relate to Judaism, it is an ongoing quest for me to find meaning in my life and in my people’s traditions, not a set of answers someone else is spoon-feeding me.
I know there are people in the Orthodox Jewish community who like being spoon-fed. I know that there are people who believe a lot of stuff I consider incorrect, silly or occasionally dangerous, whether its creationism or magical thinking (segulot) or whatever. And on my blog I write a lot about my trouble fitting in to my community and getting annoyed about things people believe or say. But the fact that other people believe things that I think are wrong doesn’t make me think that everything they believe must be wrong, if I find meaning in it. And I’m not bothered about other people finding meaning in their own traditions, because I believe that, as Rabbi Lord Sacks said (and got in trouble for saying with the ultra-Orthodox) God is bigger than religion and God speaks to people in different ways. I do believe the Torah to be a qualitatively different type of truth from other religions, but even if I felt that Judaism was exactly equal to other religious truths, there is a Burkean conservative aspect to my mind that makes me think there is meaning and goodness in following and maintaining the traditions, customs and festivals of one’s own people regardless of what others think or do.
There probably is more I could add to this, but it’s late and this post is too long already. I will say that there probably was a time, when I was in my teens or twenties, when, if my life had gone differently, I could perhaps have become an atheist, possibly even the aggressively militant type. I suppose I was lucky that I knew enough to convince myself that the militant atheists (Dawkins, Hitchens etc.) were overstating their case and didn’t really know much about Judaism from the inside. It does make my head hurt a bit wondering what might have been and what that would mean for me, but you drive yourself mad thinking like that.
I didn’t have any insomnia yesterday. I didn’t use my light box either. Hmm. As I mentioned in the comments the other day, there does seem to be a correlation between light box use and insomnia, but I’m not sure if there’s actually a connection. I’m going to have to record this over time and see what happens.
I woke up incredibly exhausted and depressed, which didn’t surprise me after yesterday, but was still a shame. I got woken up at 10.30am by a call from the GP’s surgery saying my medical certificate for benefits was ready for collection, although I don’t think I’m still eligible to use it now I have a job, even if it’s only two days a week. I was sufficiently tired that I feel asleep for another hour or more, and still woke up exhausted and depressed. Apparently oversleeping can leave you as exhausted as undersleeping, if that’s a word, but when I’m depressed I don’t naturally wake up at a sensible time, and usually sleep through alarms if I know I don’t have a major reason to get up (e.g. work).
I felt super-anxious about the new job. I think over the winter break I need to think carefully about what I’m going to do on my first day and how I can go about reorganising the library, albeit that it’s hard to tell having only had a brief look around. Breakfast, coffee and my light box have helped with the exhaustion and depression, at least to some extent.
Feelings of self-hatred kicked in around the afternoon. I managed to do a few things: shopping and collecting the medical certificate, writing my devar Torah (Torah thought) for the week, a few other chores. I was fighting depression and exhaustion. The darkness, cold and wet outside didn’t help. I had no time to work on my novel in the afternoon and by the evening I was feeling tense from going out (noise, people, cold streets and hot shops) and all the odd chores I was trying to cram in before shiur. I decided it was better to use the evening to relax after shiur than work on the novel. I did go to my Dad’s shul (synagogue) for Ma’ariv and then on to shiur. I’ve started to do that, as my Dad’s shul is in the same road as the shiur, right afterwards, so it makes sense, but I felt super-tense while I was sitting in shul.
I did feel better in shiur, even if I still felt a bit out of place religiously. The shiur was about the Jews in exile finding sparks of holiness in the world and radiating holiness out to the world and I while I agree with those sentiments, I think I probably interpret them very differently to the rather Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) rabbi giving the shiur. I want to write novels with strong Jewish themes for a mainstream audience and I think he would not see that as a particular priority for a frum (religious) Jew to do and I don’t think he’d really approve of my reading and watching so much non-Jewish literature and television. I did eat too much junk food there. Feeling tense, it was hard to marshal much willpower, particularly when everyone else was eating so much and there was so much food.
As I’ve said before, most of the year went fast, but December is creeping round slowly and it feels like Chanukah will never get here. In fact, I’m so used to Chanukah not being at the same time as Christmas that I keep feeling like it’s been and gone, or that it isn’t happening this year. That’s partly because my family has scaled down the present-giving now my sister and I are older, and I’m still not sure how many doughnuts I should eat given that I’m trying to lose weight. My sister and brother-in-law are coming round to my parents’ house for the last night and my second-eldest cousin with be here for a few days too. It will be weird for her being in the UK, because she’s Israeli and almost no one celebrates Christmas there.
It’s weird to actually be celebrating something while people are celebrating Christmas, because usually 25 December is just a bank holiday to me (I often find work to do dafka). Increasing numbers of Jews volunteer at hospitals, homeless shelters and the like to let the non-Jewish staff stay at home with their families, which is nice, but I never summon up the courage against social anxiety to do that. Or people go to Limmud, the big multi-denominational Jewish`educational conference that is always around this time (although not usually on the bank holidays), but I get scared off by the sheer numbers there, and the unknown in going for the first time (autism and social anxiety again).
Invisible Sun by The Police is a song I sometimes listen to while depressed, even though it’s fairly depressing, on one level, and usually I prefer lively music when I’m depressed. It’s about people living in war zones (primarily inspired by the Lebanese Civil War as song writer Stuart Copeland grew up in Beirut), but it has an optimistic edge because it’s about the “invisible sun” that helps people in awful situations keep going and gives hope for the future, which seems relevant to mental illness even if that wasn’t the intention. Plus at the moment the sun literally is invisible most of the time, hidden behind clouds and only shining for a couple of hours a day even when not cloudy.
I was going to write some political stuff, but I can’t face. I did observe myself, though, and it’s strange how, as a historian (my undergraduate degree was in Modern History, although “Modern” in the Oxford syllabus means “post-Roman”!) I can see that both sides in a debate can be partly right and partly wrong, but as soon as I look at modern debates, it’s easy to get caught up in the partisanship and wanting one side to be completely right and the other completely wrong. And I’m not even a particularly partisan person: I don’t consider myself a supporter of any party, let alone being a member of one, and I feel rather politically homeless at the moment.
I used my new SAD light this morning, although it’s too early to tell if it will do anything to my depression levels. My sister and brother-in-law came for lunch along with my second-cousins and their young children. I spent a lot of time playing with the children, particularly the eldest, who has some serious learning disabilities and sometimes needs more attention than the others. I think she liked me, as she kept coming up to me and trying to get me to hold her unicorn toy or walk around with her. I think I’m better with children in a one-on-one scenario than a group, which would suggest tutoring or special needs teaching rather then class teaching if I do choose to change career (which I am by no means sure about). They were all here for about three hours and I was completely peopled out by the end. I was struggling to stay around for the last half-hour, because I didn’t want to walk out as they were leaving, but it was hard to stay there. I managed to avoid my religious OCD fears of food being contaminated vis-à-vis the dietary laws too, which were very prevalent when less religious family members visited in the past.
After they left, I subscribed to a whole bunch of job alerts and different agencies. I also subscribed to loads of librarian blogs for CPD (Continuing Professional Development). I don’t know how I’ll find the time, energy or headspace to read, let alone internalise, these blogs, but at least I’ll see them now, even if I delete or ignore them. Subscribing to all those things took about an hour. I’m nervous about the amount of stuff that’s going to build up in my email inbox every day; sometimes it feels like I spend the whole day skimming emails and deleting them.
I still feel that I’m not really a good librarian and am worrying about how I will reorganise the Jewish library about which I’ve been asked to make suggestions for improvement. I’ve drawn up a basic proposal, but I really need another look at it before I can work out a detailed plan. I also need to state my salary; I’ve found some tables on the CILIP (Chartered Institute of Librarians and Information Professionals) website that will help, although it’s not easy to find an exact parallel role.
Other than that I did some long-overdue dusting. I knew I wouldn’t have much energy after seeing family, so I listened to an online shiur (religious class) while dusting to get some Torah study in painlessly. I should probably consider listening to shiurim for my Torah study more often on days when I’m too depressed to read much, except that I learn better from written texts than from lectures.
I also managed to work on my novel. I struggled to write at first, not least because my protagonist was going to an Oxford student ball, something I deliberately avoided in my time at Oxford more or less for the reasons why my protagonist hated it and ran away. I had to look online for some detail about what a student ball is actually like. My imagination was probably somewhat limited. I hope I haven’t made any schoolboy errors. After a while I finally got ‘in the zone’ on this book and the words started flowing. I wrote for about an hour and a quarter, writing about a thousand words. I stopped more because it was late than because I was tired. Hopefully this chapter is nearly finished, at least for a first draft, just needing proofreading and editing tomorrow.
I made myself feel depressed while working on the novel, inasmuch as it is somewhat autobiographical, and I was essentially channelling the feelings of loneliness and not fitting in that I had at Oxford and ever since, the desire to have friends and fit in, while feeling terrified of opening up to anyone for fear of how they would respond. The feelings of being weird and abnormal when I’m just different and neurodivergent.
I had a quick look for publishers who accept on spec submissions of non-fiction books on TV science fiction (niche I know) who might publish my non-fiction Doctor Who book. Most publishers seem to require manuscripts to be sent via an agent. I’m not sure it’s a good idea to look for an agent for a non-fiction work when I’m planning on writing more fiction than non-fiction in the future. This may be over-thinking things though. I still haven’t ruled out self-publishing although I dislike Amazon and don’t really want to use them, even though they’re the logical choice. I worry that my book doesn’t contain much original thought on Doctor Who anyway. I could be procrastinating over this too. I procrastinate a lot (you may have notice). Procrastinate Now! as the joke goes.
I know I went on a rant yesterday about politics. I feel very conflicted about politics at the moment. I know that civil society depends on people campaigning for change, I just feel disenfranchised and not sure what to do. There was an interview in The Jewish Chronicle with Ian Austin, the former Labour MP who resigned in protest over antisemitism in the party and is now telling people to vote Conservative to keep Labour out because of their antisemitism problem. I think he did the right thing, but I’m not sure it’s going to make any difference. There isn’t a party that represents what I think, and I’m terrified by what some of the parties are campaigning for, particularly Labour, which has gone in the space of just a few years from a moderate social democratic party to rabidly antisemitic crypto-Marxist one (maybe not so crypto). Challenged about antisemitism, the standard response seems to be, “We aren’t antisemitic, there genuinely is a massive international Jewish-capitalist conspiracy that controls all Western governments and owns all the banks and media.” All said with no trace of irony (English or otherwise). I just feel a huge dread of what’s going to happen to our country, and the world, in the coming years.
I’m not sure I can really comment on politics objectively at the moment. I read an article by someone I used to be friends with and my disagreement with elements of his politics blends into my upset at the way he treated me personally, which had nothing to do with politics, but showed up his desire for brotherly love and treating people kindly as a bit of a sham. I don’t know how much my annoyance with him is political and how much is personal. Probably a bit of both, as I don’t think I disagree with his politics enough to explain this much of a negative response. But I don’t know. Can we ever truly separate the political and the personal? Should we? I really don’t know.
I put Twitter back on my blocked sites list for now. I just needed to get away from it. I may go and network on there at some point, but not at the moment.
I feel that dread in my own life too. I just can’t seem to get out of the depressed rut. I know what I should be doing to work on my life and my career, it’s just so hard to do it. I still feel a lot of social anxiety even after CBT and that’s holding me back along with the depression itself.
I woke feeling very depressed again today. It took me more than two hours to get up, eat breakfast and get dressed. I kept going back to bed and it was impossible to have the energy to get going. I davened (prayed) after lunch rather than before because I didn’t have the energy earlier. I hope this does not become a habit. I had a bit of religious OCD today too, wondering if some frozen microwave food in our freezer was really kosher even though I was fairly sure my Mum had told me she I had bought it from a kosher shop. I worried that I was mis-remembering and checked with her (which I shouldn’t do). Now I’m worried that the kosher shop made a mistake. I know my kashrut OCD flares up when I’m under stress, so that’s a sign that I’m not doing well at the moment.
I’ve been sucked into online procrastination again. I’m trying to apply for benefits, but the form is so dense and off-putting (probably deliberately). I felt agitated and on the brink of tears. I would fill in one or two boxes and then feel overwhelmed (by what?) and stop because I want to cry. I feel that my life is a mess and there’s nothing I can do about it, that the world is a mess and there’s even less I can do about it. I don’t want to be on benefits, but I can’t see myself getting any kind of job while I’m in this state, but I need structure and activity… The form asks for when my illness started and I don’t know what to put. 2003? 2000? Who knows by this stage?
In the end I gave up on the form and went for a twenty-five minute run in the cold and dark instead, which exhausted me, but gave me some respite from my negative thoughts, although I worried about politics most of the time, when I wasn’t worrying that every shadowy passer-by was a mugger (7.30pm is well after dark at the moment). I was exhausted when I got home even after a shower and dinner, but I worked on my novel for thirty or forty minutes. My concentration was poor, but I got through a difficult scene. I also managed ten or fifteen minutes of Torah study. I ate a Magnum ice cream, partly as a reward for getting through a difficult day, partly to keep me awake long enough to do a bit of Torah study. I know this will probably put back any weight I might have lost jogging, but I don’t really care. I had to get through the day somehow.
I do feel like I’ve really tearing myself apart about a lot of things lately, some obviously trivial (like whether it would be a betrayal of my values to watch James Bond films), some genuinely worrying (the election). I strongly suspect the trivial and maybe even the serious worries are standing in for something else, or are a return of clinical anxiety, which I’ve never been good at identifying in myself.
Ashley Leia commented on my last post to say it must be exhausting hiding my life from my religious community, but I’ve been hiding all my life. At school it was hard to know which of my interests would be OK and which would be a target for the bullies, but Doctor Who was resolutely unfashionable; even at the more mature age of being an undergraduate, people stared at me in amazement or laughed when it emerged that I was a fan (this was before the relaunch of the programme and its return to popularity).
In terms of enjoyment, I’m wondering if I’m not enjoying things at the moment or if I’m just reading/watching/listening to the wrong things. Over the last few weeks I’ve listened to some Doctor Who audio books and audio dramas. A couple were good, but most weren’t. I’ve never been able to get into these audios and I’m not sure why. Some of it is probably difficulty concentrating on audio when I’m depressed, but I’ve been equivocal about these even when not depressed.
I’m also reading volume three of the complete short stories of Philip K. Dick. Dick is one of my favourite authors, but I’m struggling to connect with the stop/start pace of reading short stories and having to understand a new set of characters and a new world with each story (“new world” literally, given that these are science fiction stories) so I might switch to a novel.
On the other hand, I started watching The Prisoner again, for the umpteenth time. I don’t know if it’s autism, but I can watch my favourite things over and over without getting bored, but be really apprehensive about watching or reading anything new unless I’m very confident that I’m going to enjoy it and not be upset by it. Watching The Prisoner is probably a bit dangerous for me. For those who don’t know, The Prisoner was an espionage/science fiction series from the sixties. A British spy resigns from his job and wakes up in a strange Village where people are numbers. He wants to escape, the authorities want to find out why he resigned (that’s just the title sequence). They only made seventeen episodes, which, alongside star/co-creator/executive producer/sometime writer and director Patrick McGoohan’s significant input gives the whole thing an auteured feel unusual in British TV of that era.
The reason it’s dangerous for me is that it deals with issues of individuality, conformism, freedom and so on and I respond strongly to it, probably too strongly. While Doctor Who is my favourite TV series, The Prisoner is the one I connect to most emotionally. I discovered the series when I was at university, when I was at my most depressed, and in my head Oxford and the Village became one, as did the Prisoner’s loneliness and struggle for agency and my own. As with Kafka and Dick, the casual surrealism reflected the way I experience life, which often seems disturbing and illogical (this may be the result of autism, but maybe not). The final episode, which suggests the Prisoner may literally be his own worst enemy only adds to my emotional connection with it, as well as my self-hatred. The reading of The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction, that “The Prisoner who continues to resist brainwashing may have brainwashed himself into a prison of the mind. The series’ thesis may thus be that freedom is impossible, as is opting out” is something that resonates a lot with me. I do wonder if I’m my own worst enemy, and I do want to drop out of society while simultaneously seeing dropping out as both impossible and immoral.
I can see the Oxford parallels with the Village; in the years when I was too depressed to study or work, I could see parallels with the apparently endless therapeutic process and the byzantine bureaucracy of the benefits system; nowadays I can see the parallels with my position in the Jewish community, and the Jewish community’s position in the country. Watching the first episode, Arrival, tonight, what I noticed more than before is the way the Village infantilises people to make them placid and docile; there are real-world examples with the market and the state, but what resonated with me today was my illness infantilising me.
The Prisoner is a very fun series to watch, from a time when British TV could deal with serious issues in a popular way without becoming condescending or self-important and self-righteous, and was able to question its own values. There was a six-part American remake miniseries ten years that wasn’t nearly as fun, although it did have its good points. And that’s without getting into the non-political readings, that the Prisoner is dead and stuck in Purgatory or a cycle of reincarnations. It’s a series you can really immerse yourself in.
(And I haven’t even mentioned the enigmatic, silent, butler or the weird Rover weather balloon robot guards or the use of diegetic use of music or the jokes or the theme music or the way the Prisoner/McGoohan (never has it been easier to blur the lines between character and actor) loses it at someone or something in most episodes or the fact that it’s a TV programme with it’s own font or, or, or…)
Be seeing you!
My Mum has launched a new offensive in her attempts to try to find out when my autism assessment is going to be. I don’t have the energy to do this, so I’m glad she is doing it, but I worry that we are getting caught up in NHS bureaucracy again. The other day she was talking about trekking all the way to South London to go to the Maudsley Hospital, just to ask their receptionists when my appointment is, as they aren’t replying to emails or answering the phone. I believe the Maudsley is the only NHS institution in the south of England that does autism assessments; there is a private clinic that does it, which we are investigating, but I vaguely recall looking into it years ago and that we would be talking thousands or even tens of thousands of pounds for a private assessment.
It would be good to know at least when the appointment is, if not to actually have it, as I do feel like my life has been on pause since last December when the charity Mencap did an informal autism screening for me which indicated that it was very likely that I’m on the spectrum after all (after having mixed messages from previous assessments and psychiatrists). (Actually, my life was really on pause before then, since the job this time last year where I did very badly because of the noisy office atmosphere – that was when I became very clear in my mind that I’m on autism and have been misdiagnosed.) Since then I’ve been wondering a lot about whether I’m in the right career, how I can fit into my community and what my life prospects are without really being sure what practical steps I can take to do anything about it or even knowing for sure where I fit in.
I have the fear hanging over me off being told I’m not autistic and trying to work out what that would mean, given my behaviour and ‘issues’ and how I would cope without any advice or further support. By this stage, I feel there is something wrong with me more than “just” depression and social anxiety and autism seems the most likely candidate. I’m not a psychiatrist, but I would be reluctant to take a negative diagnosis without some further explanation as to what is wrong with me.
Someone posted today on the autism WhatsApp group I’m on, saying they just got diagnosed today at the Maudsley Hospital. I asked how long the process took; she said she couldn’t remember, but one to two years, mainly because her details kept getting sent to the wrong people (as a long-term NHS user, that doesn’t surprise me in the slightest).
People on the WhatsApp group were also talking about who they would tell about their diagnosis. Very few people, was the answer. This makes me feel bad that I want to tell lots of people, as a way of explaining away the fact that I feel my life has ended up as a failure compared with what might have been expected from someone who went to Oxford or someone who identifies strongly in the Orthodox Jewish community. I probably have been using autism as a crutch for my low self-esteem, to explain my failures to myself, if no one else. I don’t know how much of a bad thing that is. When people say, “X is a crutch” they usually mean that’s a terrible thing and you shouldn’t need it, but I don’t know if that’s true. Maybe you shouldn’t rely on it forever, but that doesn’t mean it’s not necessary at some point. Would you take away the literal crutches of someone who had their leg amputated?
I wish I was still in therapy. I have a lot of stuff that I want to talk about that I can’t mention here or to anyone else because it’s too embarrassing to me or is lashon hara (improper speech). I’m wary of talking about other people too much here after losing friends over it. I’m bottling things up inside of myself again which is never good, and it’s autumn, which is traditionally when my episodes of depression start or worsen. I feel tired and run down and my eyes are itchy, which generally means I’m either coming down with a cold or I’ve been doing too much, despite feeling that I haven’t been doing very much at all objectively, but there it is. I did do some shopping and wrote a devar Torah (Torah thought) for the first time in years, but I didn’t manage to go for a run or even a walk, nor did I feel up to working on my novel.
I’ve put on weight in recent years which is almost certainly a side-effect of clomipramine (as it started when I was put on it), but which is not good. I’m overweight (although only slightly and I don’t really look particularly overweight). I’m trying to cut back, but it’s really hard when I’ve had an awful depressing day and want to eat something small like a small piece of chocolate or a biscuit. It’s hard to know where to draw the line. I’ve tried asking my parents to put out less junk food on Shabbat to no avail. At shiur it’s possibly got worse lately as the other people going to the shiur have started bringing even more food (which makes me feel bad, as when it’s my turn to bring, I can’t really afford to bring so much, being unemployed).
I don’t eat much junk food during the week, so little low hanging fruit to pick there, but I eat a little and could possibly cut to zero, frustrating though that would be on depressed days like today. On Shabbat and Yom Tov (the Sabbath and festivals) I tend to over-eat. I sometimes eat too much at shiur (religious class) too. I’m not sure how much is boredom or anxiety (in social situations where there is food like shiur or kiddush), watching other people eat (particularly at shiur) or just the fact that junk food is out on Shabbat and Yom Tov in a way that it is not during the week in our house. Maybe a mixture. I also find it hard to draw the line with food that doesn’t come in discrete entities. So I can eat just one biscuit or one slice of cake, but I find it harder to work out how many nuts, crisps, pretzels or chocolate nuts is sensible to eat. Sometimes total abstinence seems easier than moderation (possibly autistic black and white thinking at work).
I’m trying to get more exercise, but that has been difficult with Yom Tov and now the days are getting shorter and the weather is getting colder and wetter, it’s not going to be easy to go out even without depression.
Well, now I feel too tired and depressed to read or write, but not tired enough to go bed.
I had upsetting dreams last night. One was so bad when I woke up in the early hours I had to write it down so I didn’t forget it later, because I wanted to mention it here. My notes don’t seem to really capture what I felt, though and in the light of day (literally) it doesn’t seem worth mentioning the dreams in full. Suffice to say that one was about being useless as a university undergraduate (which is probably really about feeling useless at work, unless I’m genuinely still upset about not getting a first from Oxford nearly fifteen years on) and the second one was that no one would ever love me romantically (which is not entirely true as E. cares about me a lot even if it’s not clear how things could work out practically between us right now). The third dream was about not fitting in with Doctor Who fandom and fan culture generally (doubtless after my comments yesterday), although this dream was arguably more optimistic as I did sort of fit in, albeit bending some of my religious beliefs/practices and hoping neither frum (religious Orthodox Jewish) people nor fans would question me too carefully; it also had some arguably more positive bits about learning how to cope with my autistic traits as well as being able to help others, particularly children.
I suppose I do wonder how many people in the frum community are hiding parts of themselves, either minor misfitting beliefs or practices or much bigger ones (I know from the Jewish blogosphere that there are people who don’t believe in Judaism at all living very Orthodox lifestyles for family or social reasons). I also wonder how many people with somewhat conservative political or cultural views are hiding in “woke” Doctor Who fandom, just talking about Doctor Who and keeping quiet about wider views. I guess it would be easier to fit in if I went to conventions, as I imagine that Twitter conversations are much more political and contentious than in-person conversations. But the thought of going to a convention does scare me somewhat. I’d like to have more fan friends, but the thought of being with so many people is scary and I don’t have a particularly burning desire to meet people who worked on the programme or to buy rare merchandise, the other reason people go to conventions. I think the focus of fandom has also moved now from specific Doctor Who conventions to general film/TV science fiction conventions, which interest me even less.
I mentioned my feeling over Yom Kippur that God loves me and that I can just do the best I can. I forgot to mention that I realised that I probably do have a deeper connection to God and Judaism than just duty and obligation. I don’t think I would do so much, at such cost to myself (financially, plus also in terms of time, precious concentration and mental energy, and the dramatic narrowing of my dating pool) unless it was deeper than that. I’m not good at understanding my emotions, though. It is hard to express what God, Torah and Yiddishkeit (“Jewish-ness”) mean to me.
I have more to say, but I just cut a chunk I wrote because I don’t want to get into it now as it’s too long and complicated. I need to get ready for Shabbat (the Sabbath). Just one thing I will note for now: this review makes the book look really interesting, both in itself and as a sign that maybe there are other people out there who want to read literature that deals with religious Jews in neither a critical or apologetic way, but just shows the complexity of the religious culture and the contemporary religious life for its own sake. The book is apparently written under a pseudonym by a rosh yeshiva (head of a rabbinical seminary) who is clearly learned in Western literature and philosophy as well as Jewish Talmud. I can’t find the publisher, A. B. Ruth, online, so it may be a self-published books (sometimes people disguise the fact a book is self-published like that). So that’s somewhat more hopeful for my writing ambitions.
Today is a bad day for anxiety and self-recrimination. I discovered that the Oxford Doctor Who Society team did get to the quiz on Sunday. I’m not sure how I missed them, although only one team member from Sunday was there when I went previously, so perhaps it’s not surprising that I didn’t recognise them. And I had an acknowledgement email from one science fiction magazine (that I probably shouldn’t have mentioned by name – I have amended that) for my pitch, which is making me more anxious than any job interview. I suppose it’s understandable that receiving a formal acknowledgement sets off anxiety, but I’m not sure why it sets off self-critical and self-loathing thoughts. I feel that I just beat myself up for trying things even before I get rejected. There is, I suppose, a hope that everything will work out this time – or that at least something will work out – coupled with a fear that, judging by past experience, it probably won’t work out.
I’m also struggling with irrational guilt. I had a question about my job interview on Thursday and emailed the head of HR, but my Dad said I should have phoned. He is right that it might have been quicker (assuming she was at her desk), but I hate using the phone. Many autistic and socially anxious people feel the same. The autistic time lag in processing and responding to conversations seems worse on the phone. So I emailed, but felt guilty, which is the worst of both worlds.
One Jewish newspaper I wrote to for submission guidelines asked to see copies of my work. As it’s a fairly religious newspaper, I didn’t want to send any Doctor Who/science fiction criticism. However, this meant going even further back in time to when I had an article on antisemitism published on a site now absorbed into Tablet Magazine. I feel awkward about this too, especially as, unlike yesterday, today I sent screenshots of the articles I had written on the sites as well as sending them as Word documents; then I realised afterwards that the sites might be considered inappropriate by a religious newspaper (nothing unsafe for work, just geeky stuff on one site and the fact that the other (a Jewish cultural site) had a “Sex & Love” column tab at the top of the screen). Nor did I mention that one column was pseudonymous. The newspaper said they’d keep my details on file and consider me on an ad hoc basis in the future, which I think was a polite brush-off. Everything today seems to be triggering social anxiety and self-recrimination.
Also, it turns out that I have few copies of material I have had published online. I guess a mixture of tidiness and low self-esteem regarding my writing have led me to delete much of my writing after posting it online or not to bother transferring it when I’ve upgraded computers. This applies not just to material from my blog, but even stuff I’ve had published professionally or semi-professionally. I just never thought I would want or need a copy of it ever again. Silly of me. I had to copy and paste stuff I’d written from the web. There’s a lesson in there about self-esteem and confidence in my work.
I guess the outcome of all of this stuff in the last two paragraphs is a need for better curation of my work. It probably doesn’t help that I have varied interests that I’ve written about in the past, while it’s only really in the last few months that I’ve been thinking seriously about a career as a writer, with the need to target consistent markets and build up a portfolio of work rather than just writing about anything I fancy and sending it wherever anyone will take it.
Other than that, the day was largely spent in interview preparation and a long phone call to some friends who are sitting shivah (Jewish mourning ritual). I was glad I was able to phone them, but I find long phone calls draining at the best of times. I did some Torah study for about forty-five minutes, but I felt quite tired and struggled to concentrate; then my mood plummeted in the late afternoon. I went to shul (synagogue) in the evening despite these feelings. I made sure to arrive exactly on time rather than early as the new rabbi has been making a point of speaking to everyone before the service and I didn’t feel like talking, but he wasn’t there (he only works part-time).
The optimism I felt a day or two ago is beginning to evaporate again as I feel lonely, unlovable and unemployable. I keep thinking of ‘near-misses,’ women I have a lot in common with, but where there is one key difference that stops us turning the friendship into a relationship, or one key reason it wouldn’t work. I ask myself if I should compromise, but I know that would not be a sensible idea for either of us. And I worry that I’m not actually employable, that my mix of depression, social anxiety and autism makes it impossible for me to do a job, while not being severe enough for me to qualify for state benefits. I’m not sure where I go from here.
This all sounds depressed and pessimistic again, when it shouldn’t be. Nothing really bad has happened to me today. My friends sitting shivah should be an example of how life can go badly wrong and how lucky I am in comparison. But I just can’t feel any positive feelings.
I sent off four emails to get submissions guidelines for different publications (three Jewish newspapers and a science fiction magazine). This was a way of testing the water for potentially submitting articles as a freelancer. I’m scared that I’ve said the wrong thing or written to the wrong person and will stop them ever employing me, but obviously saying nothing wasn’t going to lead to them employing me either. Later in the week I hope to buy some copies of some of the American Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) newspapers, which I don’t normally read, to see if I could write for them. I’m not sure if I could write for them, or if I would really want to do so, as the culture shock is quite big.
I started to wish Dad a happy father’s day and to thank him for being “a good Dad,” but realised this was damning with faint praise and switched mid-sentence to “great Dad,” but the resulting confusion sounded worse than if I’d said nothing. This is why I prefer writing to speaking. Similarly, I had an awkward, but necessary, conversation with my sister, but I think I will have to talk to her again about this (something I don’t want to go into here). I’m struggling with a halakhic (Jewish legal) matter arising from this, but can’t raise it with my rabbi mentor, as I sent him a couple of emails last week and he hasn’t responded, which usually means he’s very busy or has some kind of family crisis and I should leave him alone for a week or two. I don’t want to take this matter to other rabbis, as they lack his understanding of my family background and they may lack his insight in dealing with families where some members are more religious than others. So I feel a bit stuck.
I went to the Doctor Who pub quiz I went to a few months ago, with the Oxford University Doctor Who Society team… except that when I got to the pub, they weren’t there. I knew my friend (who is the only real contact I have with them nowadays) wasn’t going, but I’d been in contact with someone else who said they were going. But either a completely different group went to the one I was expecting from last time (possible, I suppose, as the society is much bigger and more active than it was in my day) or they changed their plans, perhaps because of traffic coming from Oxford. You can’t join the quiz late and you need two for a team, so there didn’t seem much point in staying. I did see a couple of other fans I knew from Oxford, but I was never close with them and wasn’t sure if they remembered me, so social anxiety won out and I came home.
On the way home I was feeling a mixture of anger and resignation. I think more resignation than anger. Why do things like this always happen to me? I did what I have been told to do since I was a child, I went out of my comfort zone, I put myself out there, I tried to make friends… and yet again I was disappointed again (and ripped off – Tube and bus fairs across London aren’t cheap). Am I cursed or something? That everything I do goes wrong. Am I being punished for something? For not going to see the Famous Rabbi yesterday? I try to accept that things can turn out well, that my suffering is a tikkun or a kapparah or something, but it just feels like God hates me and delights in making everything go wrong for me. Aish.com, Chabad.org and Hevria.com have very different outlooks, but they all seem to have the same basic idea that if you trust in God, He will basically do what you want. This is theologically immature, and they would probably deny it if you asked them, but it’s what posts like this and this seem to amount to, when I read them. Do what God wants, trust in Him and expect Him to help, and everything will turn out fine. But what if it doesn’t? What if you can’t expect God to help because of a lifetime of misery and loneliness? What if you don’t know if you’re doing what He wants? If you don’t know what He wants you to do?
Yesterday I was feeling a bit confident about writing, but today I have a feeling of stumbling through life (work, writing, family, friendships), making big mistakes and needing other people’s help. I doubt whether I could ever get anything published. I wish I could just be normal. I feel bad saying this, as I’ve got friends whose mother just died, so my problems seem insignificant in contrast… except they aren’t insignificant. Someone said, “the worst thing that’s ever happened to you is the worst thing that ever happened to you, regardless of its place in the continuum of bad things ever to happen to people.” Missing these people is not the worst thing that ever happened to me, but a life of misery and loneliness is and I don’t know how to change it.
I slept for about twelve hours again. It’s quite awful, sleeping so long and waking more tired than I went to sleep, too tired to get up, but in many ways the worst of it is not being able to tell people, because it sounds luxurious and lazy. It’s terrible. I don’t have refreshing sleep, although as far as I can tell it’s not particularly interrupted (I must wake up enough to turn off my alarm, but I don’t consciously notice it). I eventually get the strength to get up and eat breakfast, but it takes an hour or more after that to get the energy and motivation to get dressed.
I feel lethargic and depressed, like Sherlock Holmes after solving a difficult case. Except I haven’t caught a murderer or found a missing treaty. I haven’t really done anything for about a week and a half, except a bit of work on my Doctor Who book. Is this still exhaustion from breaking up with L. and having two job interviews in a week?
Today not only did I get up too late to daven Shacharit (say morning prayers), as often happens, I even postponed Mincha (the Afternoon Service) until after lunch because I didn’t have the energy – I actually felt physically faint and weak. I did try to fill in a job application, but I struggled to get the energy and concentration, plus they asked some quite detailed questions about types of tasks I’ve never done (e.g. designing and delivering information skills workshops) or things that I’ve never really thought about (e.g. the single most pressing issue for higher education). Not for the first time, I wonder how most people can have full-time jobs and do CPD and have homes and families and have social lives and have hobbies all at the same time. I can’t manage any of them.
It’s just a struggle to get through the day. I was determined to get to autism group tonight, as I haven’t been for six months or more. That’s where all my energy went. It was a waste of time, though. It was supposed to start at 6pm, but my experience is that no one gets there then. I was aiming for 6.15, but because I miscalculated and my train was delayed, I didn’t get there until 6.45. By this time, everyone was deep in conversation. I had only seen one person there previously. None of the people I was hoping to see, people I’ve ‘clicked’ with and been able to talk to in the past were there. I sat on the fringes of conversations for a bit, trying to get in, but I wasn’t able to do so. I’m very bad at that sort of thing. One or two people said hi, but no one really spoke to me. So far as I could tell, most of the people were talking about computer games. I don’t play computer games. And I was spacing out from the noise and struggling to hear properly (I’ve often wondered why a group for autistic people meets in such a busy, noisy place). After fifteen minutes, I was desperate to leave. The final straw was when the man and woman to my left who were talking to someone who hadn’t been before mentioned in passing that they were in a relationship and met through the group. This provoked an inevitable comparison of myself to them, and the way I just can’t meet women who are interested in me. So, I pretended my phone went off and left.
I am not proud of myself, not least because I wasted the extortionate cost of a Tube fare into London, and really wasted the whole day, because I could have tried harder to fill in the job application if I hadn’t left around 5.10pm. To be fair, I was practically in tears on the Tube going to the group, so maybe I wasn’t in the best state of mind to start with.
Inevitably, I’m thinking again what a mess my life is and how I have not made anything of it. Thinking that I’ve never really managed to fit into any community, be it academic, religious or fandom-based. I didn’t fit in to the Jewish Society in Oxford, nor did I fit in with the other historians in my college (who seemed to be quite drink-and-party orientated, or maybe they just seemed that way in comparison to me, someone who went to bed at 11.00pm and tried to get up early even though he was a humanities student). I fitted in a bit better to the Doctor Who Society, but had to miss a lot of their events because of Judaism (meals in non-kosher restaurants, location visits on Saturdays). I don’t fit in to my shul (synagogue). I despair of ever getting married. I just can’t see it happening. No one likes me that much and my lack of income is a serious issue. I can’t build a career, I can’t live the type of religious life of community, prayer, religious study and mitzvah performance that I want. I just can’t. I don’t know how to try any more or who to turn to for help. No one – I mean friends and family – seems to think things are so hopeless, but they don’t have any constructive suggestions other than to keep applying for jobs I don’t want and to go to shadchanim (matchmakers) to try to get set up with women even though I’m unemployed and not what any frum woman would be looking for.
OK, going to stop now because I’m just making myself feel more depressed. One last thing: today I got the results of a routine blood test I had a couple of weeks ago: my lithium level is rather low. The doctor didn’t query it, but I think it’s below the therapeutic range (I’ve long had issues trying to get my lithium level right on lithium tablets). So maybe that’s why I’m struggling at the moment, if there weren’t enough other reasons. I will try to mention it to the psychiatrist when I see her next week.
OK, Blake’s 7 and/or Doctor Who now. I feel too depressed to do anything, but I’m going to force myself to watch something and not sit with my thoughts or aimlessly browse online.
I feel depressed and anxious, but there isn’t really much I can say right now. There’s a lot I want to say, but it is going to have to wait a day. However, I want to reach out, so I’m trying to find something to say. This is the blogging equivalent of when I’m depressed and lonely and I go downstairs and hang around until my parents say something to me.
I had a knot of nausea in my stomach much of the day, struggling with anxiety, both dating anxiety and job interview anxiety. It seems unfair to have both at the same time, but I guess life isn’t fair. I don’t really want to talk about dating at the moment, but I looked again at the job description for my interview tomorrow and I wondered why they were even calling me to interview. I only applied on the off chance, because I don’t have most of the experience they want. I tried to prepare by imagining being asked “Tell me about a time you demonstrated attribute X”-type questions, but I really can’t imagine how I would do that for the things they want as I genuinely have not done them. I suppose they have their reasons for calling me. I’m trying to remember if I listed that I had a disability (depression and/or autism) which might have led to them calling me to tick the necessary diversity boxes rather than because they realistically think I could do the job. I have mixed feelings about positive discrimination, but no one ever points out that it makes the candidates who succeed paranoid that they aren’t good enough and are just meeting a quota. I do still worry that I wasn’t “really” Oxford material and I only got in to meet a quota of students from comprehensive schools.
I did manage to cook dinner for tonight and tomorrow. I also went for a blood test (routine lithium level check which I need on my meds), which turned out to have been booked for tomorrow. I’m not sure how I made that mistake. Fortunately they squeezed me in today, although the receptionist gave me a stern talking to about the importance of checking appointment times carefully. It was just one more thing going wrong.
I do wonder if I will ever get my life together, get a career and a home and a wife and children. Be able to actually function as an independent adult and not be dependent on other people, their time and their money (and their patience). Get some kind of religious life that seems meaningful to me, rather than flailing about trying to find meaning and purpose and not really finding them. Everything seems so far away. I try to tell myself that, viewed over the long-term, my life is definitely getting better. My mood is better, my activity level is higher, my OCD largely under control. I probably have more friends than ever before, albeit that I don’t really have much of a social life because most of my friends are long-distance and/or online friends. It’s just that the improvements are glacially slow, occurring over a decade or more, so slow that it is hard to believe they are happening, and that it is hard to believe that they could continue to happen fast enough and for long enough for me to manage to marry young enough to have children (among other things). I know I’ve said before that everyone laughs at me when I say I have a biological clock ticking, but (a) older men do have fertility issues, albeit not in the same ways as women and, more to the point, (b) I really can’t see a forty-something version of me dating twenty-something women to have a family. Yes, I’ve heard all the stories of older men who marry younger women and produce happy families, I just can’t see it happening to me, not least because I expect the attraction of such men to young women is partly that they are rich and settled, and I can’t really imagine being either of those things.
I sometimes think that the worst thing in life is when we get what we want, and it turns out not to be good for us. That’s what I’m brooding on now. But it’s impossible not to want anything, unless you’re a complete tzadik (saint) or possibly a Buddhist.
I’m not quite sure how coherent this is going to be, so bear with me. Perhaps I will come back tomorrow and add more. I’m feeling exhausted from a massively draining day; it would have been draining for anyone, but even more so with autism and depression. But I need to set things down so that I can sleep; as usual, I’m writing for myself as much as anyone else.
I struggled to sleep last night after helping with post-Pesach (Passover) tidying. I think I fell asleep around 4.00am. After five hours of sleep, I was up again to go to Oxford for the thirtieth anniversary party for the Doctor Who Society. When I was there it was the Oxford University Doctor Who Society, but I think it lost the university bit a few years ago when the proportion of students in the society dropped below the critical threshold. A lot of what happened to me at Oxford was fairly miserable and a previous trip back to the city a number of years ago left me upset, but the Doc Soc (as we called it then) was one of the few places I felt comfortable and accepted, so I wanted to make the effort to go and show my support. Plus I am a former president. I know I only did a term, but I still count!
When I arrived in Oxford I spiralled down quite quickly into depression. It doesn’t help that the bus station is right by my old college. My college was not the site of good times. I actually spent much of the day trying to avoid being anywhere I could see it and only consented to have it in my sight (from a distance) at the end of the day when I was feeling better. Wandering around the town, killing time before the party, I was just feeling that I didn’t belong in Oxford, that I messed up my time there, that the city was full of undergraduates having fun and I was lonely and miserable the whole time I was a student. I think I even wondered vaguely if should just turn around and go home.
I killed time for a bit until 2pm, when the party was due to start and eventually found the confidence to go in. The room was packed with people and, again, I started to wonder if I had made the right decision, immediately feeling rather overwhelmed and anxious.
I won’t give a blow by blow account of what happened, mainly because I can’t. Everything blurs together. I know I must have stayed feeling awkward and depressed for a bit, but gradually I loosened up and was able to speak to some friends from my Oxford days. After a while, I was able to get the confidence to speak to one or two people who I recognised from blogs I follow, which led on to being introduced to people who I knew from commenting on those blogs, even though I didn’t know that they were Oxford people too. I’m not quite sure how I managed to do that, but somehow I did. I actually managed to speak to quite a few people over the afternoon and mostly didn’t shake, although I was careful when pouring drinks. It helped that I was aware that this was an environment where people who are neurodivergent, eccentric or just plain different were more likely to be present and accepted than in other environments that I find myself in (work, shul (synagogue), dates). Someone said she saw me in the street on the way there and thought that I looked that I might be the type of person who would be going to the Doctor Who Society which amused me. I obviously look geeky even when not wearing my Doctor Who scarf (I decided that the ‘smart casual’ clothing instructions precluded both cosplay and Doctor Who t-shirts, although few other people felt the same way).
There were various events during the afternoon, including a talk on the history of the society by my friend M., a quiz (which my team did reasonably well at although I was inexplicably stricken by social anxiety when the time came to call out results and stayed silent) and various visual presentations that I should probably not go into too much detail about here.
It was a very enjoyable afternoon, but I was thoroughly exhausted by the end, especially as I stood for four hours as there weren’t enough chairs for the number of people. I managed to get back to London where my Dad picked me up from the station, but I found the journey home painful, as he was making small talk, which I find challenging at the best of times, but I was too ‘peopled out’ to really deal with it. I read the blog of a carer for a child with more severe autism than I have, and he (the child) apparently tries to stop people talking to him on the way home from school; I could see his point. I don’t have extreme sensory sensitivities, but sometimes light or noise can be really irritating, and when I need to crash and have ‘alone time’ it is painful to be dragged into conversation, especially small talk.
Then, when I got home, there was some post-Pesach religious OCD anxiety. I won’t go into details, but I still don’t know if I did the right thing about that. I was caught (as I usually am with these things) between what I felt was right in the abstract and what I felt I should do to avoid upsetting my parents. It does underline to me that even though my relationship with my parents is reasonably good at the moment (although it could/should be better and that it is at least partly my fault), there are just gulfs of understanding between us, usually neurotypical brain vs. autistic brain or mentally healthier brain vs. more mentally ill brain, but also sometimes religious gulfs. My parents are fairly religious, but sometimes there are just gaps in understanding or attitude to Judaism and halakhah (Jewish law). I don’t want to give examples and probably I shouldn’t really say any more. I suppose most people are not clones of their parents, even if they have a lot in common. It’s just hard to bridge the gaps sometimes.
So that was the most social day I’ve had in a very long time. People are probably expecting me to say I came home and crashed in front of Doctor Who, but I actually watched Blake’s 7 (Blake’s 7, I should probably say for those who don’t know, was Doctor Who‘s unofficial sister show in the late 70s and early 80s. There were no direct crossovers, but they shared a lot of actors, writers, directors, props, costumes etc.).
Tomorrow is my date with L. (arranged via the values-based dating agency), so I ought to go to bed and get some rest.
This is an insomnia post, a rather rambling post written to try to empty my mind of thoughts and to tire myself out. Apologies if it’s less focused that normal. I don’t feel in the least bit tired, but I have to be up reasonably early tomorrow to go to Oxford for The Doctor Who Society’s thirtieth anniversary. To be honest, I’m rather scared about going back to Oxford. I’ve only been to Oxford once since graduating and that ended with me feeling rather depressed about my time there, thinking of all the times I was lonely and suicidal in the city of dreaming spires and lost causes. And that’s just the city; I’m more nervous about seeing people I haven’t seen for over a decade (will they remember me? Will I seem like a failure?) and being in a room of people I don’t know. Plus, there will be one or two people there who are aware of my online persona, but who I have never met, so it’s scary to think of meeting them (I’ll be the guy in the skullcap). I worry about being a disappointment if we meet in person or discovering that they aren’t actually following me any more. But I have a fund of goodwill towards the Doc Soc (as we called it in my day; I think the current crop of undergrads call it Who Soc). A vastly disproportionate amount of the good times I had at Oxford (there were some) were spent there. I’m not sure I would go back for a JSoc (Jewish Society) event and I certainly don’t bother going back for college events.
It’s weird to think that my matriculation into Oxford was nearly eighteen years ago, half my lifetime. I hope I’ve changed and grown since then, at least in a positive way. It’s hard to tell. I know myself better, and I think I can deal with my emotional issues better. During my time at Oxford I was very depressed and almost certainly autistic, but I didn’t know how to cope with depression and I didn’t even think that I might be autistic. Now I do have the awareness to understand and cope with those things better, although there is still a lot of room for improvement. I do wish I had a clearer idea of where I’m going with my career and relationships, though. I think I really do want to try to build a career as a writer, but it’s hard to take the plunge and I don’t think it would help that I want to write about very varied topics (Doctor Who, Judaism, mental health, autism). As for relationships, I have a date with L. on Monday, but I’m trying not to think about it, as when I do I feel pessimistic. Blind dates are scary anyway and with this one we have the added complexity of knowing each other when we were younger and trying to look past that at where we are now.
Backtracking somewhat, the last two days of Pesach (Passover) were OK. No significant OCD, which was good, but I was quite depressed at times. I went to shul (synagogue) in the evenings and also Friday morning, but not Saturday morning. I wish I could get to shul more in the mornings, at least on Shabbat (the Sabbath) and Yom Yov (festivals), but I’m trying not to beat myself up for not going. Goodness knows what everyone else makes of my sporadic attendance. I suppose they think I’m not very frum (religious) or that I daven (pray) elsewhere. I know I shouldn’t care what other people think of me, but I do. Still, I got through a whole Pesach without a major OCD anxiety incident or an argument with my parents, so maybe things are looking up after all. Otherwise Yom Tov was the usual: davening, eating, sleeping, Torah study and reading a bit.
Yom Tov was overshadowed by scary events either side of it: the abduction and rape of a woman from my local area beforehand (she is Jewish, although not so far as I’m aware anyone I know or have a connection with although I may discover otherwise in the coming days – the Jewish community is small and interlinked) and then the shooting at a shul in California, which is scary and disturbing.
Well, I should probably have another go at sleeping, given that I need to be up in six and a half hours.
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.
Trigger warning: suicide
Also, rather long and involved, if that needs a warning
Well, that was an awful, awful day. The stupid thing is that nothing particularly bad even happened. I made some stupid mistakes at work and looked like an idiot in front of my line manager and her line manager, but it wasn’t anything really terrible. But it just sent me over the edge.
I woke up feeling depressed, which was not a good start. Already by the time I was on the way to work I was feeling that “I don’t deserve to live.” I felt I just couldn’t cope and wanted to die. There was a feeling of wanting to attract attention. People look down on people who hurt themselves as a cry for attention, but that seems to ignore the fact that sometimes there just aren’t the words to say how you feel.
At work I went very slowly, not deliberately, but I was just struggling to work and to feel that I could cope. Already by lunchtime I messaged E. to say I was having a lousy day, even though I could see that nothing bad had happened. By mid-afternoon I had embarrassed myself in front of my line manager and was locked in a vicious circle of feeling useless –> making mistakes –> feeling useless –> making mistakes. I felt like an idiot, which, as my brain helpfully reminded me, is from the Greek idios meaning private or on one’s own. I have been on my own for so long that I have turned into an idiot.
Also, my brain now sends me depressive self-hating thoughts in Greek…
Floundering, I felt that I should be doing menial work instead of my actual job, but then felt that I couldn’t actually do that either. I’m not suited for menial labour. I need intellectual work, but narrowly defined and without the need for special qualifications. I don’t think this work exists, unless I can find a way to get paid for my writing.
Feeling that I was unemployable did not cheer me up, unsurprisingly, and I started thinking about hurting myself again and about suicide. I felt that I wanted to die, more than anything. I texted E. to say that I was only holding on for family and friends, but really that was a lie. I was just holding on for my parents. It pains me to say it, but I was so far gone that the thought of my friends or even my sister might not have been enough to keep me going by themselves. Things just seemed so hopeless. It seems so impossible that my career could improve or that anyone could ever love me, especially without a good career (note the way that I see a career as valuable primarily to make me more marryable).
This cycle carried on for the rest of the afternoon. It’s hard now, hours later, now I’ve calmed down, to really describe how I felt. I know I’ve tried to write these thoughts down and blog them in the past, but it’s hard, because at the time there’s a tension and an agitation and my thoughts start racing, but I think not being able to communicate the thoughts makes them worse; once I can start to write them down, I can begin to see logical flaws in them and even the act of writing them down or speaking them through with someone (if I can see a therapist or phone Samaritans) can help to calm me down. But at work I was trying to plough on regardless with my job and that just increased the pressure and the agitation.
Eventually, the day finished and I could come home. Or so I thought. I was halfway to the station when I started having OCD thoughts about not having locked up the rare books store room properly. I tried to stay with the thoughts and go home, but it was too much for me and I went back to check. By that stage I could see that I was in a state. My blood sugar was probably very low and I was thinking all kinds of self-loathing thoughts, thinking that I should stop being frum (religious) if I want to get married. I thought that if I walked back to the station straight away I would end up in a terrible state, so after checking the rare books, I went to the staff room and ate all the food I had with me (an apple and a cereal bar), after which I felt somewhat better and went home.
I was still having difficult thoughts though. I don’t use profanity as a rule, but I’m ashamed to relate some of the things I was thinking. I was still thinking that I just wanted to die, that I would rather die than recover, because recovery seemed so impossible. Because Gehennom (the ‘bad’ afterlife in Judaism, but more like Purgatory than Hell) couldn’t be worse than how I felt. Because Gehennom lasts for only one year, and because at least in Gehennom I wouldn’t be humiliated in front of other people on a regular basis. Feeling really angry with God. Just furious. I can’t even remember everything I thought, it was so terrible and strong.
And the final insult, I returned home to a letter from the taxman (or taxwoman, in this case) informing me that, no, they made a mistake previously, I do really owe them another £60 from the last tax year. I don’t mind paying the money – well, I do, but it’s not the main irritant. It’s having yet another thing to sort out because other people screwed up. It’s not like our public services are doing much for me. Maybe I ought to phone the crisis team and demand my money’s worth.
I usually blog my day when I get in to offload, but I was too worried about what I would write if I went straight into it, so I forced myself to daven Ma’ariv (say the evening prayers), eat dinner and watch TV for a bit to calm down. I felt – I still feel – exhausted and somewhat in shock. I usually avoid caffeine in the evenings, but I drank some tea because I really did feel in shock. I watched some of The Quatermass Experiment (the live 2005 remake of the 1950s science fiction serial). Part of it was set in my place of work; I think they might even have filmed some of the non-live cutaway shots in the street I was walking down two hours earlier when I was having OCD thoughts, which was a bit unnerving.
I still feel exhausted and a bit in shock and my shoulder muscles are really tense, but my mood is better. I have a bit of a ‘coming down’ feel, except I’m coming down from something bad rather than good. Coming up, maybe. At least I’m home and safe in my room with my books and DVDs. I guess for an autistic person quiet, space, familiarity and special interests (books and DVDs) are all important (perhaps even all-important). I bought some chocolate (minstrels, one of my favourites) on the way home because I felt I needed to have some kind of reward for getting through the day in one piece, even if it won’t be help me lose weight.
When I’d calmed down a bit, I recalled the first time I was suicidal, in fact when I nearly took an overdose, when I was in my third year at Oxford. I sat down to take an overdose, but at the last instant changed my mind and phoned someone (a friend who wasn’t talking to me because she couldn’t cope with my being suicidal, but that’s another story). About a week later I casually mentioned this to the university counselling service counsellor I was seeing and she was astonished that I had neglected to mention this suicide attempt and that I didn’t think it was worth telling her. She asked me what my parents would think if I killed myself and I said they would be upset; she said they would be devastated.
I wonder now, over fifteen years on, whether this was autism, not the suicidality, but not thinking it was important enough to mention to my counsellor and only being able to express my parents’ grief in a partial and limited way. It’s like the way I downplayed my sister’s grief and my friends’ grief if I were to kill myself. It’s hard for me to conceptualise it and I don’t know how much is self-loathing (no one cares about me) and how much is autistic ‘mindblindness’ (not being able to imagine how other people feel generally).
This morning, while my thought processes were getting out of control, I thought that knowing that I’m probably autistic, I need to find adaptive solutions to my problems, accepting the reality of autism and probably also of some kind of permanent level of depression, at least in the background, rather than technical ‘tweaks’ of the kind I have been trying to make for years. The tweaks were sometimes successful (the occupational therapist I used to see probably made more positive changes to my life than anyone), but I really need to change the way I live to adapt to the reality of my situation, I just don’t know how. It’s possible – probable, even – that adaptive changes have been suggested by therapists and psychiatrists before now, but that I couldn’t implement them, perhaps partly because I hadn’t been diagnosed as autistic (technically I still haven’t been diagnosed, of course).
I don’t know what changes I could make, though. I’m already more or less accepting not going to shul (synagogue) on Shabbat (Saturday) mornings without trying to guilt-trip myself, which may or may not be a good thing; today I was wondering if I would make it to shul for the morning Megillah reading on Purim next week or if I just feel too overwhelmed to do that too. It seems to be easy to feel that I can’t do things with autism rather than that I can do things. Maybe I should be accepting that I can make it to shul. Should I just accept that I will never have a job I feel comfortable in, that I will never get married? It’s hard to know what is realistic, much too easy to try to do too much or too little.
When the depression was feeling bad earlier I wondered if I would find it easier to get married if I wasn’t frum. I couldn’t give up Shabbat and kashrut, but anything else would seem like fiddling at the margins. Should I be looking for non-frum women who are willing to compromise (as E. was)? I’m afraid of the tensions that might result and what sort of compromise I would have to make in return. But a non-frum woman would not care about my not davening with a minyan (community) or learning (studying Torah/Talmud) enough. I would date a frum woman with ‘issues’ although I would be nervous of how our issues would combine, particularly if she had mental health issues. However, a lot of ‘issues’ in the frum world are not things that I would consider issues at all (ba’alat teshuva or geyoret, parents divorced, siblings stopped being frum etc.) and I would be happy to date such a person.
On the other hand, lately I’ve felt my frumkeit slipping in little ways. Nothing big. I still believe in God (even if I’m angry with Him some of the time), keep kosher, keep Shabbat and so on. But I don’t beat myself up so much for missing davening or shul or Torah study and it’s getting harder and harder to avoid cultural stuff (books, TV, films, music) that feels treif and that I would previously have avoided. I don’t know where this is going though.
I got very/even more depressed after posting last night, and very lonely. There might have been anger in there too, I can’t remember. I should probably have phoned Samaritans, but I didn’t think of it and I didn’t have the energy. I eventually crawled into bed about 1.00am, slept for nine hours and had anxiety dreams I can only vaguely remember. I managed to get up fairly soon after I woke up this morning, but I rather than get dressed, daven (pray) and start the day, I sat around in my pyjamas reading. I feel bad about this, a bit, but not as much as I should.
It feels like I used to be clever and competent, at school and maybe even first year at university, but these days I’m just stupid. That’s probably not true. While depression probably does have an effect on my cognition, slowing me down and occasionally making me do stupid things, it’s more that I was high-functioning enough to cope at school, but as studying and later work became less about regurgitating information and more about thinking for myself, and as relationships (in the broadest sense) became less about structured play and more free-form, my autistic deficiencies in executive function and social interactions became more obvious. My low-powered current job means I don’t have to do much of that kind of thinking, so it suits me, but I can feel that I’m overqualified and should be doing something more demanding and higher paying, not to mention something that continues past the end of the month.
On my last post, Ashley Leia commented, “It seems like the effort you put into practicing your religion in spite of the various illness obstacles you’re faced with should “count”, if there is such a thing, as much as someone who’s fulfilling more commitments but without having to climb over barriers each and every day.” I responded, “I would hope so, and there are Jewish sources that would say so, but sometimes I wonder. Do I put “enough” effort in? Sometimes I feel I could do more. And sometimes it feels like good intentions are not enough, I have to actually do stuff.”
This was a slightly disingenuous answer. The Talmud has a long discussion on suffering in Brachot (the volume I’m studying at shul (synagogue)), in which there’s a discussion (Brachot 5b) of Rabbi Elazar being sick and Rabbi Yochanan visiting him. Rabbi Yochanan sees that Rabbi Elazar is crying and asks him why and rhetorically answers, “Why do you weep? Is it because you did not study enough Torah? Surely we learnt: The one who sacrifices much and the one who sacrifices little have the same merit, provided that the heart is directed to heaven. Is it perhaps lack of sustenance? Not everybody has the privilege to enjoy two tables [spiritual and physical success]. Is it perhaps because of [the lack of] children? This is the bone of my tenth son! [Rabbi Yochanan had ten sons who all predeceased him and he would comfort those who lost children by telling them how he coped.]” (Translation lazily copied from here, sorry, first and last square bracket comments by me.)
The interesting thing is that Rabbi Yochanan, in talking about not studying enough Torah, brings a proof-text about sacrifices; the sacrificial service is usually seen as having been replaced by prayer in the post-Temple era, not Torah study. So this would seem to indicate that the principle of “the one who does much and the one who does little are the same, provided the heart is directed to Heaven” applies to both prayer and Torah study.
This should cheer me up, but it doesn’t. I suppose I feel the little prayer and Torah study that I do, I do on autopilot, not with kavannah (mindfulness) and “directing my heart to Heaven”. I don’t feel that I have the connection with HaShem (God) that I would need for that. I also feel that, even if I can’t do as much as other people, I could do more than I currently do, if I just pushed myself harder, but somehow that never seems to work. I do feel that I “should” do more, that I’m not suffering “enough” to do the little I do. I still can’t accept that I do enough even if I accept that I can’t do as much as other people.
I suppose it comes back again to feeling that God hates me and that I can never be good enough for Him.
There is more to say about this, but my brain is in depressive shut-down today and just isn’t cooperating. Perhaps more after Shabbat.
My mental health group was a little better today. I didn’t really learn anything I didn’t already know, but it did make me decide to try to be better at catching my negative thinking, although I’m not quite sure how I’m supposed to do that in practical terms. I think I just have a mismatched personality to get on with most of these people, which is unfortunate, but there isn’t much I can do about it.
One person said something she said she feels inferior to people she was at university with who are all now running the country, which made me wonder if she was at Oxford like me, as that’s something I feel a lot. Usually I would have let that go, but I asked her afterwards and it turned out she went to Cambridge, so I was close. I’m glad I’m not the only Oxbridge person who feels like a failure, though.
Someone at the group said I’m intelligent. I get weirded out when people say that to me. I’ve hardly said anything on this course, having been too socially anxious and overwhelmed by the noise; how can people think I’m clever? Maybe I just give off ‘vibes.’ More prosaically, he probably overheard me tell the other person that I went to Oxford. He did say that if you’re high functioning and mentally ill, you don’t do fewer “stupid” things, you just realise that you’re behaving in a stupid way, but don’t still know how to change it. The course was supposed to help with that, but I’m not sure that it has…
Today’s bad news: my psychiatrist appointment at the end of the month has been moved to 6 June, despite the fact that I’ve already moved my work days around so that I could keep the appointment. I think it’s appalling the way the NHS treats patients like cattle. Yes, they’re short of money. But the charity sector is even more short of money, and they don’t treat people like this. Indeed, the private sector doesn’t have infinite funds and they also don’t treat people like this, despite the supposed “inhumanity” of treating people for “profit.” It doesn’t cost anything to treat patients like human beings. The NHS has messed me around like this so many times over the last seventeen years, costing me time, energy (which is precious to me) and, on occasion, money. But they have a virtual monopoly over healthcare in this country so they’re isn’t much anyone can do about it unless you happen to be super-rich and able to be seen privately (to be honest, when I was in psychodynamic psychotherapy my parents were paying for me to be seen privately, but we were only able to do this because we were fortunate to find someone who charged means-adjusted fees, which isn’t always possible). A lot of people don’t have health insurance because, in theory, you aren’t supposed to need it (or you pay it in your tax, depending how you want to look at it). And monopolies, whether in the private sector or the public sector, don’t have to care about bad customer service, because where else can you go?
Anyway, I calmed down and phoned to ask why my appointment had been changed. The psychiatrist is ill and they were assuming she won’t be back for months. They offered me an appointment with a different psychiatrist a week after the cancelled appointment. As I didn’t feel the previous one really listened to me, I was not upset about this, but the appointment they offered was on a day when I work, right in the middle of the day so I would have to take the whole day off and this was after having already changed one work day because of the cancelled appointment.
I decided to take the appointment for now and see what my line manager says next work; if the worst comes to the worst, I’ll cancel the new appointment and go in June. But it does reinforce my current feelings of fatalism over recovery and work. I have fallen back into pessimism after feeling better for a few days.
I have also booked for the networking class that is on the same day as the Jewish Book Week talk I’m going to. I suppose this is work-centric, but I’m terrified that I simply won’t be able to network even in practice settings (role-play). I hope I can relax enough in the afternoon to get to work the next day. I would really like to see a careers advisor who understands about autism and mental illness, but I’m not sure how to find one. I was told at the class today that I could raise work issues with my key worker, which I may try to do. To be honest, I’m only vaguely aware of what my key worker’s job description is and what things I can talk to her about, but I think she’s a social worker who is supposed to direct me to courses like the class and other mental health and social services in the area, so perhaps that will help. Reading this back, there are some positives in it, but I’m still in one of those depressive moods where everything just feels awful. I’ve given up on ‘recovering’ (whatever that means), but I want to achieve some degree of day-to-day functionality (work, family etc.). I just don’t know how.
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.
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.
Not a lot happened today. I was a wreck of anxiety and depression on the Tube into work and my line manager was late in, so I spent the first twenty minutes or at work so panicking and trying to work out what I was supposed to do, but once she turned up I calmed down and think I did OK, if perhaps a bit slow. She’s away on Thursday and her line manager, who is supposed to be the person I speak to if I’m stuck, is in meetings half the day, so that will be a test of how well I’m adapting. And then I’ll be halfway through my contract already!
Other than that there’s not a lot to say, except that I had another couple of autistic moments. Someone from the shul (synagogue) financial team wanted me to sort out my gift aid form (a way charities can claim tax revenue back from the government, but only from donors who were taxpayers themselves) and I replied speaking of calendar years when I should have been speaking of tax years, of course. Sometimes I astound myself at my unworldliness (that’s not good, by the way). More amusingly, my line manager was talking about one class I need to help prepare for having “students from different time periods.” I knew she meant students studying different time periods, but for a split-second part of my brain was thinking of time travellers coming to use the library.
Some quotes from the last few days, for me to ponder on as much as anything else:
Me (in a comment here about Google-stalking old acquaintances): Weirdly, more than I want to know what people are doing, I want people who came into my life to know just how hard my life has been. Perhaps the ones who hurt me, but mostly the ones who I potentially hurt (I don’t know if I did) or at least the ones who would have witnessed my craziness and freakishness. I wish they could just know that there are reasons for my being a freak (depression, autism), I wasn’t just some crazy weirdo who messed up their lives on a whim. – I’ve felt like this for years particularly regarding people who were around when the depression became unmanageable when I was doing my BA. I guess it just reflects how messed up I feel I am and how much I feel other people perceive this. I don’t know if they really do. I feel anyone who knew me at university in particular must think that I’m some kind of freak. I suppose it would be good not to think like this and try to move on, but it’s hard.
E.: Having autism doesn’t cancel out your good qualities. It just means you might express them differently. – I need to internalise this. I feel that autism and depression make me a freak (that word again), autism more so than depression, because depression is more common (I think) and somewhat more socially acceptable these days. It’s a struggle to think of myself as different rather than weird. I just hope I can find someone who sees that too (the quote from E. was in the context of a discussion about whether anyone would ever want to marry me).
Someone from well-being group: You can’t control the first thought, but you can control the second one. – This actually seemed really empowering to me. I wish I had heard it when my religious OCD was at it’s worst, but it’s something to remember if it flares up again. But also it can apply to other unwanted thoughts (anger, lust, self-hatred, etc.).