Out of Spoons Error

I volunteered again today. I tried very hard not to feel stupid and useless. It’s probably not the best environment for someone on the autism spectrum, bearing in mind there are lots of people, we get verbal instructions (sometimes implicit ones) and need to use short-term memory and logical planning… It’s probably not surprising that I’m not always at my best. To be honest, the times I’ve felt most helpful have been when I’ve been given one repetitive job to do by myself for a prolonged period. I don’t mind if it’s incredibly boring, I just get into a pattern and think my own thoughts while mechanically putting tea lights in bags or whatever. I spoke a bit about this in therapy today and am now wondering if I should email in advance to volunteer for those kinds of jobs. It’s a bit scary to volunteer like that, even if I don’t say why that pattern of work suits me.

I also had a bad experience early on. I was supposed to bring some large cardboard boxes full of packets of granola down the outside fire escape staircase and into the car park. I was a bit worried about tripping down the stairs so I was going slowly to start with, but then I started feeling really faint and struggling to breathe in my mask and had to stop. I think it was primarily a blood pressure thing (my blood pressure used to be a little low), having to bend down to pick up these boxes. Wearing my mask definitely did not help, though, and I felt very faint and had to sit down outside without my mask for a few minutes to recover.

On the plus side, I do find volunteering rewarding and I think I do help. I certainly hope I don’t just get in the way. And someone I was at Oxford with who now works for the organisation that prepares the food packages was there today and I didn’t cycle down into self-criticism about not being where he is in life.

In the afternoon I wrote my devar Torah rather hurriedly. I hope it’s OK. I need to proof-read and send tomorrow. It’s frustrating not finishing things, but I didn’t want to write it all tomorrow. I tried to buy a wedding present for my closest shul (synagogue) friend’s daughter, but had problems getting it to deliver to their house rather than mine, so left that hanging over me too. Mum phoned John Lewis for me to find out what was happening; I did not have the spoons (energy). Again, I didn’t have envious thoughts of married people, which was positive.

I had a good therapy session this afternoon, but by early evening I was a bit grumpy and overwhelmed. I snapped at my Dad, which I shouldn’t have done, although I felt my point was justified if not my tone. I was buying my sister and brother-in-law an anniversary card online; Dad said I could change the font and colour and I said I was far too tired to care about that this time. It’s a question of spoons.

***

I am still feeling overwhelmed generally. I don’t think I’ve adjusted yet to going back to work, even if it is only two days a week. I suddenly have less time for writing, chores, religious obligations, exercise… I’m trying to do as much as I was doing, plus two days of work. It doesn’t really work. I did at least do some Torah study on the bus to volunteering.

***

Guilty pleasure time. I had intended to watch Blade Runner again this evening, in advance of watching Blade Runner 2049 in a week or two. But I was too exhausted and brain-not-working for something like that, so I ended up watching the James Bond film Moonraker again. Any James Bond film is a guilty pleasure for me, as I feel it’s not something a frum person “should” be watching (“should” again). But even among James Bond fans, Moonraker is considered awful. I don’t think it’s the worst Bond film by a long shot, although it probably is the silliest, not that I think that any Bond film is particularly ‘realistic.’

I could probably fill a paragraph or two on why I think Moonraker is actually a decent film, at least if you can accept a degree of silliness, but will just note Michael Lonsdale (who died recently) whose performance as villain Hugo Drax is arguably better than this film really deserved. There is definitely in my head a fruitful comparison of late seventies Bond to late seventies Doctor Who, both franchises indulging in greater humour to public acclaim, but receiving criticism from die-hard fans who complained that it was better in the sixties when it was “serious.” But I should probably not go too far down that route here, and not this late at night.

Volunteering, Religion, Politics and Spies

I volunteered again today. I got up even earlier than I did last week, but still arrived a few minutes late. It’s not hugely awful as people do drift in, but I would like to be there on time. I just seem to be late leaving whatever time I get up for volunteering. It’s not so bad with volunteering, but I want to stay punctual for work, although J seems pretty laid back about things like that. I know my line manager in my job in further education said on my last day that she was impressed that, despite my mental health issues, I was present and punctual. Considering she almost never gave praise, I thought that was quite something.

I was tired after that and didn’t do much all afternoon. I had a long chat with my rabbi mentor, which was good. He’s pleased with the way my life is going at the moment. I had to pick up a prescription and accepted my Dad’s offer of a lift, even though the round trip walking is only fifteen minutes, as I just felt too tired.

The only other thing I did today was go to an online shiur (religious class) in the evening. This was not through my shul (synagogue) or the LSJS, where I usually go to shiurim. It was being given by the former rabbi of my shul, who no longer lives in the area. I knew he has interesting things to say, so I went even though I knew I would be tired. It was very interesting and has given me a lot to think about, primarily in terms of what he said, but also in terms of thoughts it sparked about the nature of the frum (religious Jewish) community. However, I’ve already posted something political today (see below, if you haven’t seen it already) and I think it’s asking for trouble to post about politics and religion on the same day, so I will leave it there for now.

***

I published the post about politics that I’ve been tinkering with for a while. I hope I don’t get flamed. I know from experience that writing anything that even mentions Israel is asking for abuse, hence my staying away from politics posts for a decade or more. But lately I’ve felt a bit more comfortable here, so I wanted to push myself a bit. Even so, I spent so long discussing my personal political history that the mental health bit ended up as an afterthought, which is not really ideal on a mental health blog.

***

Wanting to read a spy novel about a week and a half ago, I borrowed an omnibus book of four spy novels from my Dad. I’d read the first one, The Spy Who Came in From the Cold. It’s good, but I didn’t want to re-read it. The second was The Mask of Dimitrios by Eric Ambler. It was mostly good, but not really a spy novel; more a novel about criminals one of whom has moonlighted as a spy. The spy content was small. I wanted the type of book with detailed descriptions of spycraft like John le Carre, the kind not necessarily high in action, but high in detail, jargon, and internal politicking. This wasn’t the book I was looking for. It was pretty entertaining despite that, but I became less invested in the closing chapters, when the hero moved towards being an anti-hero; I struggle with books with anti-heroes. I’m not sure if that’s because I’m religious or because I have a rigid autistic moral sense (or both). I will probably carry on with the next book in the volume (The Naked Runner by Francis Clifford), although I had been switching between fiction and non-fiction books.

Blogging for Myself

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.

Ambushed By A Day

I went to bed early last night, but slept for twelve hours or more and got up around midday. Even after getting up I felt burnt out and went slowly. I didn’t even have much energy to be surprised or upset about the US election dragging on. It’s strange and frustrating how much volunteering burns me out, particularly as it’s more physical (moving crates of food, packing tins) than social (masks make it hard even for neurotypicals to chit-chat). I’m apprehensive of how I’m going to cope when I have a full work day after a volunteering day, as could happen soon. I guess I can push through these things when I have to, particularly when it’s not too frequent or intense, but there can be a psychological cost e.g. when I was working four consecutive days a week in a noisy open-plan office for three months, which was painful.

***

I saw a cataloguing job advertised at a university where I applied before, back in 2018. I went through the presentation I had to give badly, stumbled through the interview and then completely failed the exam I had to sit. I couldn’t answer anything, I just wrote on it that I was not well and had not been able to prepare properly and that I was sorry. I don’t know if I dare to apply again after that. I feel so rusty applying for cataloguing jobs and this one has bad associations, and they may recognise my name and throw my application out straight away.

***

My second autism appointment is booked for 20 November. Hopefully that will be when I get a firm diagnosis and find out what help the NHS can offer me.

***

I didn’t manage to do much today until late afternoon, then I tried to cram too much in. Aside from feeling burnt out all day, we had a cleaner here and a window-cleaner and I struggled with that as an invasion of space. I realise that because I already felt exhausted and down I felt this invasion of space acutely and that I would have been OK otherwise. Then I procrastinated a lot thinking about America, checking the BBC News website and looking at Twitter more than I should. I worry what will happen and what it will mean for the world. In the UK, social and political trends from the US as well as cultural ones tend to hit us a few years later and both countries have lost a lot of social capital as a result of the controversies and polarisation of the last few years. There may also have been some depression related to the job offer. Positive things can make me depressed if I feel unworthy or, in this case, if it leads to anxiety about not being able to perform as expected. I have that anxiety about all jobs now as a result of previous bad work experiences, but here I am extra-worried about letting my friend down and about managing to do admin work rather than library work.

Despite all this, I applied for a job, another school librarian job. It looked like a simple “CV and cover letter” application (I have stock CVs and cover letters on file), but after submitting them, there was a huge application form too. Why do companies insist on this (CV, cover letter, application form), when it’s basically the same information three times? Proof that HR personnel really are evil, I suppose (like “Catbert, Evil HR Director” in the Dilbert comic). They want to know everything too, including all time off for illness, which in my case is a lot. It was a really badly-designed form too (if you saved, it logged you out, then you had to wait for the system to email you a link to get back in). Then I left the form for a few minutes and it logged me out without saving my changes and without warning that it would do that. It also wouldn’t let me submit the form, because I wouldn’t state the “province” my previous job was in. We don’t have provinces in this country (must be imported software). I put London as both city and province to get past the thing.

The wretched thing took about two hours in the end. This is the type of thing that provokes my inner Patrick MacGoohan, co-creator, star, executive producer, sometimes writer and director and main creative force on 1960s “spi-fi” series The Prisoner, which pitted the unnamed, numbered Prisoner against the unstoppable bureaucracy of The Village where he was trapped – The Prisoner would regularly rail against intrusive bureaucracy and surveillance as well as smashing things. If he saw what our contemporary information culture was like, he might not have bothered trying to escape.

Filling in this type of form makes me feel bad that I have so many gaps on my CV and that so many of my jobs have been so short-term. I’ve only had one job for more than eighteen months. This form asks for my interests and extra-curricular activities too, which I feel is intrusive, and also outdated. I know people used to ask that as a standard question, but I thought it had fallen out of favour.

I had no time for working on my novel again as a result of all this. I wrote about half the first draft in the first lockdown; conversely, I think this lockdown is going to be spent on paid work and volunteering with little writing at all. I suppose it took Tolstoy eleven years to write War and Peace (I think) and I’ve only been working on my novel for a little under eighteen months.

I did redraft and send my devar Torah for the week. I’m not as happy with it as I was when I wrote it earlier in the week. I feel like my argument (for understanding a particular Midrash) is not as rigorous as it should be. PIMOJ picked up on one bit that I should have phrased differently (actually just one word), but it’s too late to change it now.

I didn’t get time for much Torah study in all of this, less than half an hour, mostly a shiur (religious class) I listened to while doing some ironing. I’m trying not to beat myself up about it as I had a hard day.

It was a hard day, even though I didn’t do much. Actually, reading this back, I did do quite a bit despite feeling bad (I fitted in a half-hour walk too). I just feel exhausted. Sometimes a day kind of ambushes me and it’s a struggle to get through it.

***

Lately I’ve been reading a high-functioning autism memoir by someone whose blog I read. It’s by an autistic woman, which I hoped might be helpful to me as in many ways my autism is more typically female than male. It’s been less useful than I hoped as she experienced very different things to me. She was probably better at masking socially than I am, and just had a different personality with knock-on social differences.

I’ve also been re-reading Doctor Who Magazine comic strips. Doctor Who is typically thought of as a TV series, but it’s been in virtually every medium from musical theatre to a story on the back of chocolate wrappers. The three media where it’s been most successful, outside TV, are novels, audio dramas and comic strips. The latter is definitely seen as the poor relation of the three among fans, but I much prefer the comics (at least the ones from Doctor Who Magazine), to the novels and audios. I’m about a third of the way through a re-read of the tenth Doctor comics, which were a high point for the strip (better than the TV stories of the time, in my humble opinion).

In terms of TV, I’m now onto Twin Peaks: The Return, the follow-up series to Twin Peaks. One episode in, it’s probably weirder and certainly gorier than the original series. I’m not sure whether I like it or not yet – I think some of it is weird for the sake of being weird, whereas the original felt like there was a logic there even if we couldn’t always see it. The first episode was largely not set in Twin Peaks and barely featured any characters from the original series, so it was a bit disorientating, which was probably deliberate, but it does feel like starting all over again, inasmuch as it took several episodes of the first series for me to understand who everyone was and what their relationships were to each other and now I’m being presented with another set of new characters.

Potential Job

I have a new potential job, at least short-term (I tried to do a US President joke here, but it was too silly and obvious to be worth it). The friend who recommended me for the job I had in January has now offered me some more work in the same institution. This would not be library work (unlike the January job), but admin work, but hopefully within my ability. It’s likely to be for a couple of months over the winter, two days a week, so I can still do my volunteering, apply for future jobs and work on my novel on other days. I would be classified as a key worker, although I don’t want to say why because to explain would compromise my anonymity, but this would mean I would be allowed to go into town to work. I could potentially do some of the work remotely, but at least initially I would have to go in to learn what I’m doing. This would mean travelling on the Tube during lockdown, which I’m a bit apprehensive about. But otherwise it’s good news.

Having been there before, there’s less “new situation” autism anxiety and I know some of the people already, and in any case not that many people will be around with lockdown in effect. I do worry about alienating a friend if I make mistakes or am generally inefficient though.

***

I volunteered this morning. I was a few minutes late, partly because when I woke up I felt dizzy and had to sit down for a few minutes. I also hurt my back while I was volunteering. Volunteering involves moving heavy boxes of tinned and boxed food and bending down to put tins and boxes into bags, so maybe this was not surprising. I am somewhat nervous about continuing to volunteer, as the bus I travel on has a lot of schoolchildren, not all of whom wear masks (to be fair, most do, which impressed me) and it is hard to social distance. However, they need the volunteers, and now it looks like I’ll be travelling on the Tube some days, it seems silly not to volunteer as well.

***

Having watched the first two TV series of Twin Peaks, I watched the prequel film Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me. I’m not sure what I think of it exactly. According to Wikipedia (because I’m autistic and read up on any TV series or book that interests me), most critics hated it on release, but it’s had some recent positive reassessment. I think I need to process it.

It was rather bleaker than the previous TV episodes (although the original run had ended very bleakly), albeit with a kind of redemptive ending. To be honest, it was 18 rated and I worried that I would find it too gory and unpleasant. I didn’t (apparently I have a higher tolerance of gore than I thought, although there were a couple of moments when I looked away), but I think I was on edge the whole time and didn’t really get into the mood of the piece. I had left the lights on; I usually watch TV in semi-darkness for atmosphere, but I wanted to stop myself getting sucked too far in and then frightened or disgusted.

I felt it avoided the prequel trap of just ticking boxes to get the characters to the point where the original story started. I mean, it did that, but it did more than that, in a way that I felt the Babylon 5 prequel did not. I was probably prepared, from reading reviews, for the fact that the film contained little of the humour that lightened the bleakness of the TV series. I think it will need another viewing (now I know where the scary and gory bits are) for me to really ‘get’ it. It seemed like the early episodes of Twin Peaks, which I found better than the later ones, unsurprisingly given the return of David Lynch as co-writer and director.

OK, enough Twin Peaks, this isn’t a Twin Peaks blog!

***

Other than that, not a lot happened. I volunteered, I got exhausted, came home, had the sudden interruption of the job offer, then watched Twin Peaks and listened to some online shiurim (religious classes). Now I’m very tired and headed to bed.

If We Ever Get Out of Here

Trapped inside these four walls,

Sent inside forever,

Never seeing no one

Nice again,

Like You,

Mama, you,

Mama, you.

If I ever get out of here

Thought of giving it all away

To a registered charity

All I need is a pint a day

If I ever get out of here

If we ever get out of here

Band on the Run by Paul McCartney and Wings

The extended quote from Band on the Run by Wings is indulgent, but expresses better than I can how I feel with the latest COVID restrictions just announced as coming in this week, as England (and I mean England, not the whole UK) goes back into full lockdown, albeit with schools, colleges and universities staying open this time.

***

Despite what I wrote yesterday, I didn’t come to any great insights or peace of mind over Shabbat about my autism diagnosis. I’m still too scared that I don’t have a 100% definite diagnosis yet (if you can ever have a 100% diagnosis of something as subjective as high-functioning autism), even if the psychiatrist did describe the rest of the process as “just dotting ‘i’s and crossing ‘t’s.” I think it’s probably something that will sink in more over time. My parents are hopeful that I will find more help in the workplace now. That may be true, but I need to find a job first, something that will be harder with the return to lockdown.

***

Shabbat (the Sabbath) was a normal semi-lockdown Shabbat. I went to shul (synagogue), ate with Mum and Dad, read, did Torah study etc. I was not intending to do so much Torah study after the assessment, but I got into it and did an hour or so on Friday and Saturday. I guess it shows that I do really enjoy Torah study when I feel able, particularly when I’m studying topics I’m interested in, which over Shabbat was Tanakh (Hebrew Bible), specifically Iyov (Job), which I’m now halfway through, as well as teachings from Rebbe Nachman of Bratlav and letters of Rav Kook.

Other than that, nothing really happened until after Shabbat. I had a list of chores to do, most notably getting ready the stuff that the psychiatrist wanted to see before my final assessment. This was interrupted by the news of the new lockdown. PIMOJ and I were supposed to be going on our third in-person date on Thursday, which is now out of the question. We’re hoping to have a hurried date tomorrow, although I’ll have to reorganise the call I had scheduled with my rabbi mentor. Technically I can still go to volunteer on Wednesdays (I think… the announcement is not completely clear to me), but I don’t drive and I’m not sure that I want to risk travelling on the buses with infections and the “R-number” rising. I was also due for a checkup at the dentist next week which has been delayed since the summer for various reasons. I don’t have a toothache, but I have always been good about dental checkups, so it feels worrying postponing it indefinitely. I guess I’ve been vaguely worried about my teeth since I had my first filling (at the age of thirty-six!) last year. My parents were also supposed to be going to the dentist soon, in Mum’s case for quite important reasons about seeing whether she can take a particular cancer drug she’s been prescribed. Then there is shul. I was just getting back into the habit of going regularly and now we’re not sure if places of worship will close down again.

Things feel grim. At least in the first lockdown the weather was good and the days were getting longer. This feels like a cold, dark, bleak time. The government are hoping to ease the lockdown by Christmas, but I worry it won’t happen. That may just be pessimism and negativity talking, though. I don’t celebrate Christmas, but I feel sad for those who do, especially the children. (Of course, we’ve gone through five Jewish festivals already this year with limited or no shul access or ability to meet friends and family.)

Living the Life, and Intermittent Depression

I got up at 6.30am to go to volunteering. I got there on time. Unfortunately, the fresh fruit and vegetables we were supposed to be packing (for the needy) did not. We packed the dry and tinned food, toilet paper and so on, but when I left at 11.00am the fruit and veg had still not arrived, even though most of the food parcels had been sent on their way to their recipients. The delivery company blamed traffic. It must be disappointing to the recipients. Doing this has really made me appreciate how close some people live to the breadline, a fact I knew intellectually, but not emotionally before now.

I had some awkward autistic moments at volunteering, one big, embarrassing executive function malfunction and some minor communication difficulties, but I think I was mostly OK, even making a bit of small talk.

When I got home I was too tired to do very much. It’s strange how much two and a half hours of volunteering plus an early start takes out of me. I did a little Torah study (I had done some on the bus to volunteering, but wasn’t sure if it technically counted as “Torah” – the letters of Rav Kook and a psychological analysis of Iyov (Job)). I procrastinated a bit, and then it was time for therapy.

Therapy was good. I was awake, thanks to the power of coffee. This therapy is more about practical coping strategies than delving into my past, which is what I need right now. The therapist suggested spending time checking in with my thoughts to see if I am drifting into anxiety or depression, which for me is often about losing present-focus. I said that I’m already kind of doing that with my blog – when I read it through before posting I can sometimes see that I’m beating myself up unnecessarily or worrying or whatever. (I’m even doing that now as I proof-read, because I’m aware that I’ve got some more depressed thoughts coming up in a minute.) We (it’s not always obvious at the end of a session who suggested what) also had some practical ideas for interview practise and to see if there are exercises online to improve executive function. I did look for these, but they seem to mostly be things I’m already doing.

We had a family Zoom meeting in the evening, me, my parents, my sister and brother-in-law, uncle, aunt and five cousins (at different times). It was good, but I feel I don’t talk much when I’m around my extended family. Actually, that’s not quite true; I talk more when we’re present in person, but not on Zoom. We spoke a bit about different COVID regulations in Britain and Israel; when you compare different countries, a lot of it begins to seem arbitrary (not in the sense that it’s unnecessary, but that no one government seems to really know what to do).

I feel I’m not as close to my extended family as I would like. I guess it’s not surprising, as my uncle, aunt and eldest two cousins moved to Israel decades ago; the younger three cousins were born there. Mum and Dad go out there a lot, but I haven’t always gone with them. And I always feel that as the eldest of the seven cousins (I’m nine years older than my eldest cousin), I’m in this strange position of not quite being one of the adults, but not being one of the children either (this could be my epitaph). And life in Israel is very different to life in the UK. But I guess it is partly that I can’t always connect with other people, and why would my family be different? I count myself lucky that I have a good relationship with my parents and my sister. It would be easy to drift into autistic solitary seclusion. The fact that I live at home is obviously a help there, and I think COVID and Mum’s cancer has brought me closer to my parents.

***

While I was at volunteering, I got a phone call from the hospital that will be doing my autism assessment. I asked them to phone back when I was at home. They didn’t. I’m probably going to have to chase this.

***

I wrote a bit yesterday about not feeling able to live the sort of life I’m “supposed” to lead according to mainstream twenty-first century Western or frum (Jewish religious) standards. I’m trying to feel that my worth isn’t related to those standards, the standards of being rich and successful (mainstream) or studying a lot of Torah and being very involved in the community (frum) or being married and having children (mainstream and frum), but it’s hard. I suppose I don’t have some other standard of worth on which to measure myself in a positive way. I try to judge myself based on what I can do, but it’s hard to tell what that is sometimes. I try to be a good son, a good brother, a good friend, but it’s hard to tell if I am objectively those things. Likewise I try to be a good Jew, keep halakhah (Jewish law) and connect with God as much as I can, but, again, it often feels like I could do more and I don’t know how realistic that feeling is. Sometimes (often) I wish I could see myself objectively, as God or other people see me.

***

I’ve been feeling depressed on and off today and I don’t know why. I can see external triggers, like seeing a clip (on Twitter, inevitably) of Orthodox Jews showing support for Black Lives Matter at a BLM march being threatened by BLM supporters, and the comments this got on Twitter. But that’s superficial. I’m not sure why I feel down persistently over the last few days. It feels like a few weeks ago I felt better. Now… I don’t feel constantly bad, as I did from 2003 until a few years ago (I’m not sure when exactly), but there are down times, particularly today. Some is probably tiredness and hunger, and – if not boredom, then frustration and wanting escapism (see below for more on this). Some is frustration with dating in lockdown and wanting to be able to spend more time with PIMOJ, in different settings than just cold walks in parks. Some is the days getting shorter, which always sets me back. I guess I’m also having some doubts about my novel, about why I’m even trying to write a mainstream literary novel (because I want to tell my story and my story doesn’t involve time machines or monsters), whether I will ever get it in good enough shape that I want to share it with anyone else, let alone look for a publisher. I wonder if I will ever have a job again and what that would mean for me. Intermittently at least I feel dysfunctional (like when messing up at volunteering today). I guess I don’t know where my life is going. In some ways the surprising thing is that I’m still on a reasonably even keel. I can see that I have a lot of non-present-focused fears and recrimination here, it’s just hard to know how to bring back present-focus. Perhaps by going to bed?!

***

I was warned that Twin Peaks goes rapidly downhill in the second half of its second season, but I was not prepared for just how far down it goes and how quickly. Pretty much as soon as Laura Palmer’s murder is solved (the initial “hook” of the plot), the whole thing falls apart. The suspense, sense of danger and emotional depth is gone and without that the horror effects, soap operatic sub-plots and moments of surrealism just seem silly, camp and pointless. I’m invested enough in the series and the characters to keep watching, especially as I’ve heard it does pick up again at the very end of the season, but I don’t think I’ll be binge-watching three episodes in a day again. (Well, or so I thought. I was planning to watch a film this evening, but then I couldn’t decide which one and the family Zoom call went on longer than I expected so I ended up watching more Twin Peaks instead, and the episode was a little better than the one I watched earlier.)

The Owls Are Not What They Seem

I went to volunteer this morning, packing food parcels to be donated to Jewish communities in London, for people who are either struggling to make ends meet or are unable to go shopping because of COVID. It was outside and rather cold. It was at least sheltered, but I got soaked in the rain going to and from there. I was glad I went, as it felt fulfilling. I did have to try not to overthink things though or take responsibility for things that were not in my control. I managed this despite not having had much sleep, as I couldn’t fall asleep last night, then I woke around 4.00am and struggled to get back to sleep. I had to phone Dad for a lift from the bus stop on the way home, as it was raining very heavily and my foot was still hurting if I walked on it.

I came home to a busy house. Now we aren’t shielding Mum any more, we’ve had various people in to sort things in the house. My parents’ friend who fixes computers came over in his capacity as computer-fixer rather than friend the other day to fix Mum’s computer; the handyman came yesterday and today, and we also had industrial cleaners in today giving the house the first deep clean since COVID. The bathroom stinks of chemicals and I feel uncomfortable in it at the moment. This all seems vaguely alien, given how diligently we shielded. I’m sure I’m not the only one struggling psychologically with the strange semi-lockdown rules; without thinking, I removed my mask on the bus for a minute while using the phone. In some ways, complete lockdown was easier than this; at least I knew what I could (not) do.

I felt pretty exhausted after lunch. I felt that I shouldn’t feel so exhausted, as all I was doing when volunteering was putting fruit and vegetables in carrier bags and then moving the carrier bags into piles and then into cars, but it did involve (1) peopling, (2) a new situation and (3) new people as well as (4) an early start and (5) wearing a mask almost non-stop for well over four hours, none of which are easy for me, doubly so in heavy rain, so I’m trying not to be too hard on myself. I tried to work on my novel, but only managed half an hour of research reading. Ended up idly browsing internet, mostly politics sites, making myself miserable. Probably looking for connection in the wrong places, or just procrastination. I managed to catch up on one or two outstanding chores and felt like I can finally catch my breath properly after a month of Yom Tov (Jewish festivals) followed by an intense week and a bit. I tried to get off the computer. I binge-watched three episodes of Twin Peaks. I don’t usually watch that much TV in one day. Now I’m too tired for anything other than bed and it’s not yet 10pm.

I did plan out a future devar Torah for a couple of weeks’ time – reading an article in the latest Jewish Review of Books hit me with inspiration and quickly checked some sources and typed out a plan that I like.

***

The professional body for librarians in this country is polling members on a new fees structure that could potentially see me paying a lot more for the same services I get now. The main benefit I get currently is the weekly job email and job website. I think I got my job in further education via the website. I get a monthly magazine, which generally doesn’t interest me much, except when it scares me into thinking that I’m a bad librarian because I’m not doing innovative things or doing CPD (Continual Professional Development). Other times it makes me feel that you have to have a certain set of socio-political views to be a librarian these days, and that I don’t have them, making me scared that I’ll get caught out one day. There are networks that people use to, well, network, but I’ve struggled to get involved. When I’m working, I don’t have the time and energy for CPD and networking; when I’m unemployed I’m too embarrassed, plus working or not I have social anxiety. However, letting my subscription lapse would feel like a final admission that I’m not going to make a career as a librarian, which somehow seems very final, even though I did actually let my membership lapse in the past and resume later when it was more convenient.

Writer’s Woes

It’s been a slightly difficult day, a day when it was hard to do things. In some ways, I feel very “blocked;” in others, I’m making progress, of varying degrees. It’s hard to assess how it’s been overall. The good news first.

I’m going to be volunteering tomorrow morning, packing food packages for the vulnerable. Hopefully this will be every Wednesday morning until at least the end of the year. I will have to get up about 6.30am, as if I was going to work! However, it will be finished by 11.00am, so I should be home by lunchtime and able to take things easy in the afternoon. It is through a major Jewish organisation, the one that ran the asylum seekers’ drop-in centre where I used to volunteer until that was stopped by COVID. I just hope I can do what I’m supposed to do; at the drop-in centre, I came to feel that I was not doing much good, if not actually being a liability. I’ve heard autistic people say they just get in the way when people want them to help and I fear that describes my attempts to help too. I don’t know if it’s something about not being able to “read” a large group of people and follow implicit or unspoken instructions well enough to do what needs doing and not get in the way, but I seem to get stuck and get in the way, more so than if I’m just left to sort something out by myself.

PIMOJ is really positive about my volunteering, which is good, as I worry she will lose interest in me if I can’t find work, although she has shown no sign of that so far.

I did manage to get through to the psychiatrist’s secretary today, but there is no sign of a letter from the psychiatrist to the GP. The secretary said she would speak to the psychiatrist. I’m worried that I may have misunderstood something about changing lithium brands.

Other achievements: I tried to go for a run, but after changing and warming up, my foot started hurting. The pain didn’t go after a minute or two of running, so I decided not to risk pulling something and went home. I cooked dinner, but had an, um, culinary malfunction (too much salt fell into the pasta and changing the water didn’t help), so it was rather salty, less than ideal (or healthy), although still edible. I spent half an hour editing something I wrote here a while back into a devar Torah (Torah thought). It’s a bit shorter than what I usually write, but will probably be OK. I’d like to add 100 words to it, but I’m not sure that I will be able to do so. I tried to do some Torah study after that, but was too tired and a bit depressed and also anxious about tomorrow (this was late at night; I’m not narrating in chronological order).

The main thing I did this afternoon was some redrafting on my novel. It was one of those days when it’s really hard to write, and I was dealing one of the most autobiographical passages, and one that brings up difficult memories for me. I did more cutting than anything else. I cut a load of stuff as irrelevant and/or verbose and over-written, including one of the surreal interludes I wrote that I now think simply didn’t work, much as I like the idea of having them in theory. I think I only spent about forty-five minutes on working it, excluding procrastination time.

I feel a lot more negative about the last couple of chapters I’ve redrafted than I did about the first couple. I guess some days go like that, particularly as I had other things to do. It just makes me think that I’ve got a lot to learn and do if I want to be a writer, or even to get this book into a sellable shape. Sometimes it’s so hard to find the words to express what I think and feel. Do other writers feel like this sometimes, struggling to write anything at all? I guess I associate the “churn it out regardless” type of writing with people who write reams of genre fiction of little depth as opposed to more emotionally-real, thoughtful or experimental writing, but maybe that’s me being a literary snob. Part of me feels I should just give up, except that I feel that I have something to say and don’t know how not to say it any more. Plus, I’m beginning to doubt whether a career other than writing is really open to me any more.

A different problem about self-expression is the fact that I increasingly feel I need to write something here about politics – not policies and people, but how lonely and scared I feel at the moment. Scared that I’ll be rejected for what I think. Scared because there are people I respect who I fear don’t respect people like me. Writing something about it, however short or inadequate, has become a challenge I feel I need to meet regardless of the outcome, in the name of fighting social anxiety and self-censorship, but I’m lacking bravery or, today, time.

The other reason to write about politics is that I feel I’m running out of things to say, while still needing my blog as an outlet. I feel that at the moment things are OK, but there isn’t a lot that’s changing that I can comment on. I write this for myself, but I don’t really want to either bore or alienate my readers. I guess I don’t really know why anyone reads this, but I feel dependent on my blog commenters as part of my support network, alongside more traditional support like therapy, my parents and depression and autism support groups.

Thinking Versus Feeling

Possibly I did too much yesterday, as I felt very depressed on waking again today and struggled to get up and get dressed.  I felt a bit lonely today, despite my parents being around, and I miss E.  We don’t know when we’ll get to see each other in person again, which in some ways is no different to before coronavirus, except that previously E. was supposed to be coming to the UK for work reasons and now that’s been postponed indefinitely.  I didn’t really feel like doing anything, but my parents were depending on me for dinner, especially as Mum was feeling quite ill today with chemo side-effects.

Even once I had worked through the initial depression, or some of it, I had quite a lot of anxiety.  Some of that was Pesach (Passover) related.  Some was listening to another Intimate Judaism podcast and worrying about my relationship with E., although there isn’t any rational reason to do so.  Worrying that our religious differences would be too big to bridge despite all the other similarities.  Wondering if we will ever get to move our relationship forward, and how.  Wondering when we will be on the same continent!

On the plus side, I dropped the parev (neither dairy nor meat, according to the kosher food laws) measuring spoon into the milchig (milk) sink and calmly rinsed it off and moved on rather than going into a religious OCD panic and emailing my rabbi mentor as would have happened a few years ago.

***

In terms of achievements, I cooked dinner (while listening to the podcast) and helped look after Mum who, as I say, was quite ill today.  I also went for a jog.  I jogged for longer than usual both in terms of time (another five minutes or more) and distance (over half a mile more) and my pace was reasonably good; I think it actually improved in the added bit as I got my second wind.  I did end up with an exercise migraine, though, and I hurt my foot somehow, although both feel better now.  I Skyped E. and did about twenty-five or thirty minutes of Torah study; I don’t seem to be able to do much more at the moment except on Shabbat (the Sabbath).

***

I feel a bit like I should be volunteering at the moment.  In a way I am, because I’m helping with housework and especially cooking now Mum is ill and we don’t have a cleaner.  Still, I feel I should do more for the wider community, but the sad truth is that I’m barely coping with everything I have to do as it is (in fact, I’m not doing stuff I would want to do, like write fiction) and the Pesach stress is only just starting; next week will be much harder.  It’s hard just to keep going at the moment with depression and anxiety.  The clinching argument, of course, is that volunteering would probably expose me to coronavirus and other contagious illnesses that we’re trying to keep away from Mum at the moment.

***

I watched a(nother) silly Star Trek Voyager episode where the ship was attacked by a virus that has grown to macroscopic size and is now a foot long and flies through the air attacking people with its stinger (?!).  Maybe coronavirus isn’t so bad.

***

Two religious thoughts I’ve been thinking about:

  1. Although a lot of Judaism is intellectual and text-focused, much of it is emotional and experiential, especially the festivals, none more so than Pesach with the symbolic foods we eat and the foods we deliberately don’t eat.  Given the problems I’ve historically had accessing and accepting my emotions, it is perhaps not surprising that I struggle with this.  On seder night, the first two nights of Pesach, when we tell the story of the exodus of the Israelites from Egypt and eat the symbolic foods of matzah (unleavened bread) and maror (bitter herbs) and drink the four cups of wine (grape juice in my case, because of medication interactions), I seem to end up thinking hard about the symbolism rather than emotionally connecting to it.  Possibly if I could stop thinking about things (things in general) and just experience them, my life, and especially my Jewish life, would be much better.  I need to focus less on thinking and more on feeling.

(An aside: the Kotzker Rebbe was once confronted by a Chabad Hasid who waxed lyrical on the Chabad mode of prayer, all emanations and unifications.  But where, said the Kotzker, is the pupik (literally the belly button), where are the emotional guts of the matter?)

2) I have historically struggled with bitachon, trust in God.  In particular, the idea that good can come of my long mental health history is something that I struggled to engage with emotionally, even if I could vaguely see it intellectually (that thinking-feeling dichotomy again).

Lately, as E. and I have tried to make our long-distance relationship work, I can sort of see how some negative or difficult things brought me to where I am now, where I’m in a relationship with her.  If I hadn’t been depressed, I would never have set up this blog and I would never have met E.  If I had been better integrated into the frum (religious Orthodox Jewish) community, I probably would not have contemplated being with E.  If I hadn’t struggled growing up with being more religious, or at least wanting to be more religious, than my parents were, I wouldn’t have learnt how to handle such conflicts in my relationship with E.  And so on.

Still, even though I can see that maybe there was a reason for all those things, I’m still terrified that things won’t work out for E. and me, that this is setting me up for another disappointment, the worst one yet.  I’m trying to trust, but it’s hard.

***

It’s also late.  My “No screens after 11pm” rule has been broken flagrantly this evening, but I am up late partly because I was being a good boyfriend and a good son, talking to E. and looking after my Mum, so I don’t feel too bad.  I am tired though, and hungry.  So hitting ‘Publish’ now.

Disconnections

I overslept this morning and was late for volunteering at the asylum seekers’ drop-in centre.  I had anxiety dreams about sitting exams, which seemed a dream association for my new job, which I’m worried about (you might have noticed).  Mind you, I was dreaming about carrying around an atom bomb, which doesn’t fit as neatly.  I think Hitler was in there somewhere too.  Anyway, I set my alarm for the wrong time and then I felt too tired and depressed to get up and stayed in bed for another hour.  I don’t think I wanted to go to volunteering at the asylum seekers drop-in centre any more than I want to start my new job.

I did get there in the end, albeit very late, after all the setting up.  I helped look after the children again, but felt redundant and useless much of the time.  I don’t think I’m good with children, no matter what my parents and my aunt say.  When it came to time to tidy up I had to tidy most of the toys by myself, which is a big task and we try to do it in a relatively short time, so stuff just gets shoved in boxes regardless of what it is, rather than being put away neatly in the right boxes (it doesn’t help that the bags and boxes we have aren’t really the right size or shape, they’re just things people had that got pressed into service).  I think the person who runs the drop-in centre felt that things should be packed away more neatly, and I would agree with that, it’s just difficult to do it by myself in the time available.  So I felt rather useless there too.  I left before moving the last few boxes into the garage where they are stored between sessions as my Dad was waiting for me outside and I felt that I was just messing stuff up (I already managed to break a plastic lid by stepping on it accidentally) plus I hadn’t had much lunch and moving heavy boxes was making me feel faint.

After that I had a break for an hour or two and then my sister and brother-in-law came over for Chanukah candle lighting and presents (and dinner).  We had five Chanukiot, so 45 lights (candles and oil) lit in total.  Dinner was good, but I struggle with family groups sometimes.  I don’t know why.  I guess because the conversation is usually fairly small talky, which I’m not good at; tonight a lot was about football, which does not interest me at all.  Often the discussion at family meals is about work or my parents’ friends and their families or people from my parents’ shul (synagogue) and I usually just zone out and concentrate on eating.

I drifted in and out of the conversation and I had a moment of anxiety about a kashrut (dietary law) issue, which may or may not be OCD.  I went upstairs once or twice as I felt a bit stifled – I wanted to shout to everyone to leave me alone at one point, which may be what the beginnings of an autistic meltdown feels like (I don’t generally have meltdowns, but given that there are a lot of autistic symptoms I used to think I didn’t have, but now realise I have in a subtle or unusual way, I wonder if that’s really the case).

I think I passed for OK most of the time even if I didn’t always feel OK.  My parents asked if I was OK and I lied and said I was, but they didn’t query it, so I guess I seemed OK.  I did enjoy some of the evening.  I probably did need more time to de-stress after volunteering before dinner and again after dinner before bed.  I did watch a Bond film, half after volunteering, half after dinner.  It was The Living Daylights, which I really liked as a child.  Looking at it again, it probably wasn’t the ideal thing to watch today, as I need escapism and this was a surprisingly down-to-earth thriller, the closest Bond comes to John le Carré.  This would usually be a good thing, but I think I needed escapist hokum more.  Here, the plot twists made my head hurt a bit, although I think I followed it in the end.

***

As an aside, It’s weird how autistic special interests work, inasmuch in the last six weeks or so I’ve suddenly got back into Bond films after fifteen or twenty years, but already I’ve filled my head with all kinds of Bond trivia (did you know that Q’s real name is Major Boothroyd?).  On the other hand, I completely forget important facts about my family and friends moments after they tell them to me.  I’m sure that one of the reason I have wide general knowledge is that it’s easy to find a Doctor Who link to so many things, so they stick in my memory that way.

***

I have been limiting myself to one doughnut a day during Chanukah to try to limit the weight gain; not that I would generally eat more than one doughnut a day, but occasionally on first or last night of Chanukah I might have two.  I had a chocolate doughtnut today (the type with the chocolate inside), but I was seriously tempted to have a mince pie too, to reward myself for getting through today in one piece.  (Mince pies are the only even vaguely Christmassy thing I do.)  So far I have resisted temptation, but it was hard sitting around the table with all this nosh and not eating, especially when I wasn’t so involved with the conversation.  Now I feel like I have post-sugar rush slump after the doughnut, but I may eat a mince pie tomorrow or on New Year’s Eve to reward myself for getting through today.

***

I’m struggling with meditation lately.  I used to do ten minutes a day of deep breathing meditation followed by ten minutes of hitbodedut meditation, which is a Jewish technique that is part meditation and part prayer, speaking to God extempore in the vernacular (where most Jewish prayer is a set text in Hebrew or occasionally Aramaic).  I find it hard to still my mind with breath meditation and I struggle to speak to God any more.  I’ve tried various combinations: all breathing, all hitbodedut, five minutes of each, as much as I feel like of each; but none of them really feels right any more.

Sometimes I wonder if I still believe in God or if I’m religious out of habit.  I think I do believe, but I feel that belief flows from actions rather than the reverse and I don’t do things like pray or learn (study Torah) or connect with a religious community enough, or enjoy them enough, to embed God in my life any more.  If you do lots of mitzvot (commandments), you will probably find yourself believing in God, whereas if you don’t do anything religious, you will probably lose what belief you had.  It’s not a hard and fast rule and it’s not hard to find exceptions, but it explains how a lot of people function much of the time.  But I don’t know how to cope with doing those things or making those connections when I’m so tired and depressed so much of the time, plus socially anxious and anhedonic (unable to feel pleasure).

Plus, it feels hard to thank God for things when I’m aware that so much in my life is hard, and hard to ask him for things when so often in the past the answer has been no.  I want to be Jewish, so I do Jewish things (mitzvot), but it’s hard to feel that God is there, if that’s even possible.  I know I have good things in my life, and I hope to write a bit about how my life has changed over the last decade in a future post for the new year, but there is still a lot that I’m struggling with and find it hard to see what good might come from things.

On the whole, I basically do believe in God.  I worry about infringements of Jewish law (as earlier with the religious OCD).  I don’t feel like a hypocrite for davening (praying) or studying Torah, but I do struggle to engage emotionally with God, Torah or mitzvot and I worry where that part of my life is headed if I carry on feeling like this and responding to my life in this way.

Childcare, and Low Self-Esteem at Work

I’m not sure what I’m feeling today.  I woke up feeling very tired and slightly ill, but I managed to get to volunteering, albeit very late.  Looking after the children today was very exhausting as there were lots of kids and almost no one supervising them.  Unfortunately there was some misbehaviour and I never know what to do about that.  I feel uncomfortable telling off other people’s children and half the time I didn’t see what happened anyway and it’s one kid’s word against the other’s (and “word” is stretching things as they often aren’t really verbal).  Then there’s the ethical issue of letting them take toys home with them: we do let them do this, but within reason: they can’t take too much, or stuff that’s too big, or stuff that’s really popular in the play area.  In other words, we have lots of teddy bears and they can take one home, but not the doll’s house.  It can be hard expressing this to a crying child or a parent who doesn’t speak English.  It can also be hard making decisions on borderline cases.

I came home exhausted, not least because my bus suddenly terminated earlier than the original destination on the front.  I think this happens when the bus is stuck in traffic and the bus driver will be doing overtime if he drives to the destination.  It’s very irritating whatever the reason.  I had a twenty or thirty minute walk home.  It took longer than I expected, otherwise I might have waited for another bus or rung my parents for a lift.

I’m not sure what to do with the rest of the day.  I planned my route for tomorrow and did about twenty minutes of Torah study.  My brain has switched off now and I feel too tired to work on my novel.  I suspect I will spend the evening vegetating.

I feel nervous about my interview tomorrow, not just the interview, but whether I will be able to essentially run a library from scratch by myself, which I think is what they are asking.  When I was in further education, my contract was to be extended on condition that I ran the library at our secondary campus largely by myself, and promoted it to staff and students.  I didn’t think I could do that and I felt that my line manager had made it clear that she didn’t think I could do it, so I turned it down, which was probably a mistake in retrospect; I’ve certainly gone for more than a year without a steady job because of it.  Strangely, my line manager was surprised I turned it down even after having expressed her scepticism of my abilities.  This makes me worry about this job, but I also worry about turning down jobs because of lack of self-confidence.

I tried to find some blogs or mailing lists about one person libraries (libraries run by a single librarian) for support, but I haven’t found any.  CILIP, the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals, has some online groups, divide mostly by region or specialism, but nothing I could find on one-person libraries or religious libraries.  I admit I haven’t been following these groups well enough to know if they are mainly top-down with people promoting CILIP conferences and books or bottom-up user-led discussion and support, although it looks mainly top-down (and on a social media-style feed, which annoys me a bit).  There’s also a thing for “connections” that looks a bit Facebook-style and scares me slightly.  I nearly connected with the further education college where I used to work, but then thought better of getting back in contact with my then-boss.

I have found some lists of general library blogs to work through.  I feel too tired and overwhelmed to look at them properly today.  The one I did look at looks like one of those things that makes me feel scared and inadequate because, unlike the writer, I have no real career plan or idea of where I want to go.  I don’t see my job as the main part of my life, but in our culture (whether you want to call it capitalist or consumerist or whatever) employers, and often employees, do feel that way.  Probably most people who achieve something at work feel that way.

I’m going to stop now because I feel as if my brain is imploding.

Low-Level Griping

I went to bed very late last night.  I stayed up late writing blog comments to people who I thought needed support, which was good, but I should have stopped myself doing it for so long.  Then, when I got to bed, I couldn’t sleep.  I felt really tired, but my mind was racing.  I was totally exhausted and depressed this morning and it was a real effort to get up and eat something.

As I’ve mentioned, this time of year is hard for religious Jews because there are so many Jewish holidays (another nine days of holidays and semi-holidays coming up soon!) one after the other.  In ancient times this was the end of the agricultural year in Israel, so it made sense to have our big religious season at this time, but it’s hard fitting in to the modern economy with deadlines and working with non-Jewish colleagues, particularly if you are in the academic sector (as I was) where this is the start of the new year.  And this year I’m going away for my cousin’s bar mitzvah in Israel soon afterwards, for added disruption!  I feel run ragged at the moment and we’re only halfway through.  It’s hard to keep up with job application emails (not that I’m hopeful of finding anything good at the moment anyway) and I’ve got a thick form to claim Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) that I haven’t even started, and when I’ve finished it I will have to have a meeting at the jobcentre to check it – that won’t happen until after I get back from Israel.  Then there’s the question of volunteering (and where: school or museum?).  And my poor novel is very neglected.  I’ve written about five pages since tearing up my first chapter (metaphorically) and re-starting.  I ordered some books on domestic abuse for research.  I hope my parents don’t notice and worry that something’s going on!

I’m making myself anxious just thinking about the stress of the next few weeks.

***

I’m feeling pretty down today.  I’m trying not to think about work or dating because when I do, I feel that I will not succeed in either.  I don’t seem to be able to make good decisions in either area.  I just found an amusing/depressing blog post about frum (religious Orthodox Jewish) dating, that women want to marry a great Torah scholar because they “unconsciously sublimate their desire for a sexually strong and virile man to a desire for a man who is intellectually strong and powerful… These men are not emaciated, unheroic weaklings, incapable of earning a living, dependent on their wives, in laws and parents for their daily bread. Not at all. Underneath their refined and modest exteriors are knights of Torah and princes of scholarship, engaged in the heroic undertaking of understanding the Talmud and its many commentaries.”  This is why I have zero chance of finding a wife in the frum world, because I can’t understand Talmud (I’m also unemployed, so no back-up plan of looking for someone who wants a breadwinner (“An earner not a learner” in the frum jargon)).

I did go to the barber, which I hate above most things, because I have tremor from my medication and it’s awkward if I shake while the barber wants me to hold still; beyond that, having a stranger invade my personal space and touch me is not something the autistic part of me likes at all.  I was OK there – I shook somewhat, but not noticeably – and bought a bunch of birthday cards for extended family (family birthdays and anniversaries tend to cluster around a couple of times in the year, so I buy a load of cards at once).

I helped my Dad with the sukkah, the thatched temporary hut in the garden that we eat our meals in during the festival of Sukkot (starts Sunday evening).  I always end up feeling slightly useless when helping with practical things.  I don’t know what I would do if my Dad didn’t do the bulk of the assembly.  OK, that’s not true, I could put up most of the sukkah, but there are some bits I would struggle with, particularly stuff that requires going up ladders, which I’m not always good at doing.  Plus, it started off some religious OCD-type worries about whether the sukkah is kosher (religiously acceptable).

I also filled in another application for a job at an Important Institution where I have applied for several previous jobs, all unsuccessfully.  It was a job in a library, but not strictly speaking requiring a librarianship qualification.  It sounds more like an admin-type job.  I applied anyway, although I hope it wouldn’t be a backwards step career-wise – if I even have a career any more, which is debatable.

I did about twenty-five minutes Torah study.  I would have liked to have done more, but I ran out of time and energy.  Likewise, no work on my novel today, which means it’s probably not going to be worked on until until after Simchat Torah as I don’t want to work on it during Chol HaMoed and tomorrow and Sunday are going to be busy with Shabbat/Yom Tov preparation (it would take to long to explain all the Jewish references here.  Just accept I can’t do non-essential work for a while because of festivals).

***

Mum saw me reading the latest Doctor Who Magazine and asked if they’re looking for writers.  I said, “Apparently not” rather more venomously than intended and she realised that I’d pitched to them and been rejected.  Oh dear.  I hate pitching, it’s hard to tell what editors are looking for, particularly if they don’t have style guidelines or give feedback.  I would have liked it if when I had said, “Would you like an article on X?” they had said, “No, but an article on Y would be good – can you write it?”  Or just some indication of what they were looking for.

I think with DWM, and other Doctor Who writing gigs, that the number of fan writers is very small and is interlinked on a “friends of friends” basis and the jobs just go to people who know the right people.  Why take a chance on a new writer, when you know half a dozen tried and tested writers who have been writing for the magazine for literally decades?  Fan writers all seem to have known each other for umpteen years.  When Doctor Who: The New Adventures novels were published in the nineties, that was notoriously incestuous, not deliberately, as Virgin Publishing (who published the books) had a laudable first-time author policy, but most of the writers seemed to know each other already through fanzines and conventions and encourage each other to submit (three of them worked in the same office!).  I’ve never really been part of organised fandom, although there have been times when I would have liked to have been.  I was always put off conventions by both the noise and people (because of my autism and social anxiety) and issues with kosher food and attending on Shabbat (Saturday).  There was a time when I was more involved in online fandom, but I drifted out of that when I went through a period of not liking the direction of the show on TV and when that changed I thought of coming back only to find online fandom had got really political and I didn’t feel comfortable or accepted any more.

***

This post is just low-level griping, even by my normal standards, but I’m too tired to edit or cut so PUBLISH and be damned.  I should go to bed, but I’m too tired to move.

Unsuitable for Children and Those of a Nervous Disposition

I slept badly last night, for various reasons, and woke up late for volunteering.  I felt exhausted and did not have much inclination to be around people, but I didn’t want to give in the depression, so I went anyway, albeit that I was very late and missed most of the setting up.  My Dad gave me a lift.  I feel bad at how much I rely on him for lifts.  I try to walk or take public transport, but he regularly offers lifts and sometimes it’s just much easier to accept, but that probably drives the difficult edge on our relationship, on some level.  I never learnt to drive.  I had all kinds of excuses, but it was basically anxiety at the thought of being in charge of a powerful, dangerous machine, now reinforced by the feeling that “I’m autistic and I can’t multi-task and I have poor spatial awareness, so I’ll never be able to drive safely” which is not a particularly helpful attitude.

Back to volunteering.  There were a lot more children in the creche area than there were adults supervising, which was awkward.  Hard to keep an eye on all of the children at once.  My Mum says I’m good with children, but I struggle sometimes to know how to talk to them, particularly if they’re upset or angry and particularly older and more active children.  I probably cope best with children who are like me at that age.  I also feel inhibited with other people’s children somehow, and with so many other people around.  I suppose I feel inhibited from being silly and messing around with the children with so many adults I don’t know around, which is not always the case when I’m with my second cousins and their children at home.

I hoped to go for a run when I got home, but I’m too tired to do anything.  Four hours after volunteering finished, I still feel utterly exhausted.  I did about fifteen minutes of Torah study on the bus home and I’ve eaten, showered, read some Batman, looked at a few blogs and davened (prayed), but that’s about all.  I’m just going to spent the evening in front of the TV, I think (my parents are going out).  Certainly no writing or job applications today.

Going back to children… I realised over Shabbat (the Sabbath) that if I want to have children, I probably have a narrow window to do so (assuming things don’t work out with E.).  I basically need to get married in the next four years.  If I’m looking to get married in the frum (religious Orthodox Jewish) world, it’s basically going to have to be through a professional shadchan (matchmaker) as I’m not being set up on dates by acquaintances (the usual method of meeting someone in the frum world), there aren’t any singles events (and I doubt I could cope with them if there were) and I don’t really want to try online dating again (perhaps wrongly).  So that means using a shadchan.  The shadchanim I’ve seen divide the dating pool into ‘older’ and ‘younger’ singles, with the dividing line at forty.  I guess they have to draw a line somewhere, but it seems a bit arbitrary.  A forty year old man could feasibly marry a thirty-eight year old woman and have children without it seeming icky.  In fact, a man who is exactly forty is not likely to find his match in the forty-plus group, as men tend to marry younger women.  The bottom line is that I’ve got just under four years before I go in the older pool and pretty much have to give up on hopes of having children.  Given my financial situation, I very much doubt I will be doing any dating any time soon, so I hear the sociological (rather than biological) clock ticking…

I’m trying to focus on what I have, but I’m always on such a tightrope between what I have and what I don’t have.  I have my physical health, but that reminds me that my mental health is poor.  My parents and sister and E. support me, but I feel rejected by my community (while also thinking that it’s really my fault, that I don’t put myself out there enough or make enough of an effort to get to know people).  I don’t have immediate financial problems as my parents are letting me live here for free, but I feel dependent and inadequate because of that and I can’t see myself becoming financially secure any time soon.  And I can’t see myself getting married and building a family while not financially secure and more mentally healthy, which in turn makes me more depressed, so it’s a vicious circle.  It’s hard.  All the Jewish (and other) inspirational sites and books say to focus on gratitude for the good that you have rather than what you don’t have and I try to do that.  Really I do.  However, it feels like I have to define things in a precise way to sound better than the are e.g. specifying that I have good physical health because I don’t have good health in the abstract in the way these books would normally encourage people to see themselves as healthy.  Every evening I thank God for a minimum of five things that happened that day, but so often I seem to be thanking Him that, when things went wrong, they didn’t go utterly disastrously wrong, or that even though I was really depressed, I still got stuff done.

Working on Myself, and On My Novel

As I’ve mentioned, we’re now into the Hebrew month of Elul, which is the introspection month before Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year) and Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement) in a few weeks’ time.  I’m signed up for a couple of daily ideas videos/talks for Elul and one idea that keeps coming up this year is the idea of mitzvot (commandments) that govern your relationship with yourself.

When I was growing up, I was always taught that there are two categories of mitzvot: those between me and God and those between me and other people.  An example of the former is eating only kosher food.  An example of the latter is not gossiping.  When I got older this idea of mitzvot between me and myself appeared, but I’ve rarely heard it dealt with until recently.  To be honest, this time last year I sat through a whole shiur (religious class) on this topic and still left wondering what an example of a mitzvah between me and myself is and how I can work on this area.

I know I do need to work on this area.  I know I have self-esteem issues, needless guilt issues and unnecessary shame.  I know that if I could accept myself more, I would feel more comfortable in my community and find it easier to make friends and to go to shul (synagogue) more often, so there would be wins in the categories of mitzvot between me and other people and between me and God too.  So it would be a win-win, but it’s hard to even begin to unravel what I should do, especially as I haven’t seen many people deal with it at length.  One article I found online suggested it’s about developing good character traits, but that’s still somewhat vague in terms of what the actual mitzvot concerned are.

***

I had my penultimate CBT session today.  My therapist suggested a couple of YouTube videos to watch about self-esteem and CBT.  I do wonder whether I will be able to continue using the techniques I was taught.  I feel as if I haven’t finished learning them all yet.  Still, I had some anxiety today and managed it better than I would have done in the past using techniques of grounding, postponing worry and putting things in perspective.  The therapist was enthusiastic about my volunteering in the museum, as it would give me an opportunity to practise talking to people in an environment where I am knowledgeable, so I guess I should try to pursue that, although it’s very scary.

One of the videos my therapist suggested I watch was a talk from Lizzie Velasquez, who is a woman with a rare genetic disorder (so rare only three people in the world are known to have it) that means she can’t put on weight (not “excessive weight” but any weight at all), which has obviously  affected her body shape and she was bullied a lot at school because of her appearance.  A video of her was put online by someone from her school claiming she was “The ugliest woman in the world” and was watched by nine million people, attracting all kinds of hateful comments, including people saying she should kill herself.  She was talking about how to take the negativity she has experienced and how she channelled it to push herself forward to achieve her goals in life.

I don’t always find “inspirational” stories that inspirational, but I found this quite inspiring.  I suppose I feel that if she isn’t letting herself be defined by her bullies, I don’t have to be defined by mine.  I do feel glad I was at school before social media, so I didn’t experience this kind of super-public online bullying.  The worst I had was when the school yearbook for GCSE (exams taken aged fifteen or sixteen) year, was banned by the teachers, which apparently was because the kids who wrote/edited it put in a lot of nasty stuff about myself and my friends, although I never found out what they said.

***

I read an article today by Howard Jacobson (having coincidentally just finished one of his novels yesterday) about finding his voice as a Jewish writer rather than trying to channel his literary heroes.  I feel that something similar has happened to me.  The books I read are mostly science fiction, murder mystery or nineteenth/early twentieth century classics.  I don’t have the type of logical, analytical mind to write a world-building science fiction novel or to plot a murder mystery story and, as Jacobson writes, trying to channel Dickens or Dostoyevsky isn’t really a sensible strategy these days.  I don’t read much contemporary literary fiction.  I did for a couple of years, when I was attending a book club, but I often struggled to engage with the books.  I thought it was me being an SF geek and not liking anything without a space ship, or at least a murder, but lately I’ve come to suspect that I often didn’t engage with the characters because there was no one like me, someone with mental health issues or from a religious Jewish background (I tended to connect more with stories set in religious cultures in other countries e.g. the devout Muslims in Afghanistan in Khaled Hosseini’s novels).  The breakthrough I’ve had just in the last few months is realising I can write stories about people like me, people with depression or high functioning autism, people caught on the fault-line between traditional Judaism and (post)modernity, people not sure where they fit in Western culture or outside it.  It’s quite exciting.

I spent about an hour working on my novel this evening – really too late in the day to achieve much, but I want to keep the momentum going.  I wrote a thousand words, which was good for (a) one hour and (b) 9.00pm.  I’m pleased with my progress so far, although it’s very early days still.

Fear of Being Accepted

I’ve been exhausted all day.  I’m not sure how depressed I’m feeling.  I struggle to understand my moods a lot of the time.  It’s always hard to tell what I feel when I’m not ultra-despairing.  I don’t think that I feel good or happy (I’m not sure that I really know what they would feel like), but I’m not sure if I feel mildly depressed or sort of neutral.  I did wake up with religious OCD anxieties about Pesach (Passover), which isn’t for another seven months.  This was partly the result something that happened recently, which I’m going to have to carefully sort out nearer the time, but I’ve been aware of the issue for a week or more and was able to shelve it for now; the fact that it’s suddenly leapt to the forefront of my thoughts is probably due to other stresses.  At least the anxieties mostly subsided during the day.

***

I got another job rejection today.  I did, however, finish painting my parents’ shed, assuming it dries evenly and doesn’t need a third coat (it seems OK so far).  It used up whatever energy I had left, but it was the first thing I’ve actually done to earn in the last five months.  Afterwards, I went to shul (synagogue) for Mincha and Ma’ariv (Afternoon and Evening prayers) afterwards, which may have been a tactical error as I was very tired.  I managed twenty or thirty minutes of Torah study, which was more than I expected given how tired I was after painting, but because of all of this I had no time or energy to work on my novel.

***

It was a day for finishing things in other ways too.  I finished reading J, a surprisingly bleak conclusion from a novelist (Howard Jacobson) who insists he’s “the Jewish Jane Austen.”  It’s a fairly laugh-free book, being about hatred and antisemitism.  I am not sure I agree with Jacobson’s idea of Jewish identity as being mostly intellectualism and contrariness.  I mean, that probably is a part of it, but he over-stresses it, here and in his non-fiction writings (in three separate essays, I’ve heard him say how disgusted he was with a rabbi and his family who invited him for Shabbat (Sabbath) dinner and spent the time talking about musicals rather than anything more intellectual which seems rather petty to me, going on about it so much).

I also finished reading a not-very-good Batman graphic novel (Bruce Wayne: Fugitive).  Jacobson doubtless would not approve (this does get to mental health in a minute, I promise!).  I went through a phase of reading a lot of Batman a few years back, off the back of the Christopher Nolan films.  I liked many of the storylines from the nineties, but found more recent stories became disturbingly sadistic, with a lot of real world-type violence (people being tortured with power tools etc.) that I found out of place in an essentially fantasy setting (Batman may not be as obviously fantasy as Superman or The Flash, but it is a comic about a man who dresses up as a bat to fight insane master-criminals.  I feel there’s quite a large of wish fulfillment fantasy in the premise).  Plus, Batman, who is supposed to be The World’s Greatest Detective, hardly does any detecting any more.  He just beats people up.  Yawn.  Watching the two Tim Burton Batman films a few weeks ago on a whim whet my appetite for the Dark Knight Detective, though, and I’m pondering what graphic novels to re-read from my collection or whether to try something new.

The reason I bring this up is that I realised I actually don’t like Batman much as a character any more.  I like the characters around him (many of whom have not be presented on screen in detail or at all) a lot more.  And I like the idea of Batman as someone who says he is a loner, but actually does have friends.  That was actually one point that was handled well in the graphic novel I was reading, where he upsets all his friends by going it alone, but they still stick around because they care about him.  I find that comforting, given that I am not good at making or, apparently, keeping my friends (having lost at least three over the last year and a bit).

***

Awkward: the Head of Employment for the charity I was volunteering for emailed to say he’s sorry I’m leaving and can he do anything to help?  My parents think he’s offering to help with my job search, given his job is helping people with developmental issues into work and that he knows about my autism.  I think he’s offering to help me stay at the charity somehow, which I’m not so keen on.  I don’t know how to politely ask the question, so I’ve agreed to meet and will see what he says at the meeting.

Also awkward: at my parents’ behest, I emailed a couple of job agencies who seem to have forgotten about me.  I hate doing stuff like that.

***

I’ve wanted to write something about my friendship with E. for a few days, but I wasn’t sure what to say.  I also wanted to get her permission (given my experience a few months back).

I guess it’s a slightly weird relationship.  The background is that we met online through my blog and live on different continents.  We dated long-distance for a couple of months, but then we broke up, but stayed friends, because E. couldn’t see things working out while we both had emotional issues and financial problems (which has only got worse since then now I don’t have a job at all).  But we still WhatsApp each other all the time.  We do basically act like we’re long-distance dating even though “officially” we’re not.

E. does sometimes say I should be trying to look for a frum (religious Orthodox Jewish) wife in the UK, but I can’t really see it happening.  Aside from my parents and my sister, I don’t think anyone cares for me like E. does and I think she understands me just as well as they do, maybe better in some ways.  Plus, as I’ve said many times, I really don’t fit into the frum community in the UK and can’t see myself meeting anyone or getting set up with anyone any time soon.

Lately we’ve both been open with each other that we’d like to date each other again, but we can’t see it working at the moment.  E. is scared of the financial/practical side of things (we can’t afford to support ourselves and neither of us is earning enough to be able to immigrate) and I’m scared that I’m so much more religious than E. (she said she would take on a lot of stuff if we got married, but I worry that that is not a good way to go about things, although lots of people do become frum that way).

Having been in therapy for so long in the past, I can put myself into the therapeutic mindset, and I just know that a good therapist would challenge this.  S/he would say, “Are you sure it’s just money/religion you’re worried about?”  Because I feel we probably are scared of the relationship on some level.  I’ve only had one girlfriend before and have been lonely most of my adult life.  E. has been through some difficult stuff too.  Maybe we’re both scared of rejection, and maybe we’re both even more scared of acceptance.  By which I mean, I’ve certainly got a strong self-image of being “not good enough” or “unlovable” and maybe E. is the same (she is in many ways the female me, which my first girlfriend really wasn’t).  It is quite scary to think of being loved romantically, if that hasn’t really happened to you in the past.

It is frustrating that we can’t take the relationship further because of our financial situation/my job situation and the fact that we live on different continents.  But I’m glad we do at least communicate so much.  E. is super-supportive and encouraging when I’m depressed or anxious.

***

Related to this, I was thinking about the forthcoming Jewish festivals and what I want for the Jewish new year.  I used to think I just needed to sort my mental health.  If God would deal with that, everything else would fall into place.  Now I realise that I need to daven (pray) for and work on so many things individually: mental health, career, community, friends, spouse…  It’s like there’s no end to the things I need.  I suppose, logically, or theologically, everyone needs to pray for all those things.  It’s just that most people would need to pray for them to be maintained, not to start from scratch, only needing one or two things.  However, I am trying not to get too depressed about things.  Trying to use the CBT techniques I’ve been taught.  Speaking of which, I have CBT tomorrow, so I should really get to bed…

On Quitting

I had an anxiety dream last night were I was sitting an exam on Doctor Who and couldn’t remember who the costume designers were.  I couldn’t get the locker where I’d deposited my valuables to lock and I left my pens in my rucksack.  The academic Doctor Who theme was probably my unconscious registering my fears that I won’t get any Doctor Who writing, including my book, published because I have no background in academic cultural/media studies and don’t use their jargon, but the presence of anxiety in the first place was surely more due to concern about volunteering today.

I got up late which was not a good start, or a good sign.  I did get to volunteering on time, more or less, but I found the environment noisy and chaotic again and I struggled with my autism.  When I say it was noisy and chaotic, I don’t mean that as an insult or complaint.  It’s in a warehouse where lots of young adults with issues of different kinds are being prepared for the workforce in a way that is necessarily somewhat more lax than the average workplace.  But that doesn’t make it any easier to cope with.  I did also feel uncomfortable with one of the jobs I was given today.  Again, the job was necessary and legitimate, but I just felt uncomfortable doing it because of my personality and background.  I worry that I overcompensated and carried it out too zealously.  In the end, I decided that I couldn’t cope with this any more and decided to quit (I did stay until the end of the day).  I did this by email after the day was over, so I will probably be scared to open my emails tomorrow.

I feel bad, because I don’t like quitting things.  In retrospect, it’s easy to think “I should give it another chance,” but when I was actually there, I felt very uncomfortable and at one point was worried that I was about to have a panic attack.  Perhaps I should have tried one more week, but to do that, I would have had to have gone to a long safeguarding training session tomorrow morning and it seemed a waste of time to do that for no reason.

I just feel bad that in the last year and a bit I have had four jobs, paid or voluntary, one which I really messed up, one (this one) which I couldn’t cope with, one which I left because I didn’t think I could cope with a changed job description (although I now sort of wish I had stayed and tried it) and only one that went really well.  I feel that my life went off the rails somewhere and I don’t know where.  I’m hoping a formal autism diagnosis might help, but it might not.

I am looking at another volunteering opportunity, at a museum.  This would involve a lot of talking to people, but would give me an opportunity to push against my social anxiety by talking about things I know about (history and Judaism) and would potentially be similar to an aspect of the job I had earlier in the year that went well, inasmuch as it would be talking about history and Judaism.  A lot of people have said over the years that when I talk about things I know and care about, I become a lot more animated.  However, I did shake a bit again when talking to people at the shiur (religious class) I went to this evening (see below), which makes me wonder how sensible it is.  My parents do want me to do some volunteering while I’m out of work and I’m not sure what my other options are at the moment.  I feel that I rushed into the volunteering opportunity I’ve just left and that was a mistake and now I’m rushing into something else, but I don’t know whether I have any other options.

***

I went to a shiur (religious class) at a Modern Orthodox educational establishment this evening.  I do try to go to shiurim at this place when I can, as the religious outlook is more similar to my own than at my shul (synagogue) and the shiurim are of a high standard, but when I go there I feel that (a) everyone is a lot older than me and (b) everyone seems to know everyone else.  I know that Jewish Geography means that basically all Jews know each other (not literally, but close enough), but I always feel that I’ve somehow I missed out and I’m the only person in the room who doesn’t know at least one other person there (actually I vaguely knew one person there, but not well enough to talk to him).

***

Possibly there could be some politics in the UK sometime soon.  Apparently.  I’m not really sure what I feel about this any more, except to note that I might have stop reading some blogs.  It’s not so much opinions I disagree with that are the problem and more opinions (even ones I actually agree with) that are forcefully argued with the implied or even overt implication that anyone who disagrees must be either stupid or evil.

The Pit of My Stomach

Today I spent somewhere between an hour and an hour and a half working on my novel and made good progress, writing over a thousand words for the first chapter.  I also cooked dinner and managed fifteen minutes of Torah study.  However, I didn’t manage to do more Torah study or to go for a walk, so I feel a bit disappointed.   I would have liked to write for longer too, although I ran out of both time and energy/brainpower.  It is hard to cope with the fact that even on days when I seem ‘well,’ my energy levels can be significantly lower than most people’s.  It makes thoughts about working or even volunteering that much harder.

I had an anxious feeling in the pit of my stomach earlier.  I’m pretty sure that it’s nerves about volunteering tomorrow.  I had a similar feeling every Sunday when I was at secondary school and university.  In those days I didn’t understand my feelings so well and was not entirely aware that it was anxiety.  I think I did and didn’t realise what it was; I knew I was not looking forward to the working week, but I don’t think I felt that I had Anxiety with a capital A.  I had the same feelings on the way to school every morning when I was in my mid to late teens, in retrospect the first sign that my mental health was not great, although we (me and my doctor) did spend fruitless time looking for physical causes of this and other symptoms (disrupted sleep, always the first symptom of any emotional upset in my life).

Despite this, I always insisted to adults that I liked school, mainly because I felt I was the sort of child who should like school.  I think I really did like school; it was just the other students who I didn’t like, mostly because many of them were so unpleasant to me.

I associate the anxious feelings particularly with dusk and evening in the autumn and winter, which I guess is where we are heading.  School and university were not limited to those times, but somehow Sundays in the summer were less anxiety-provoking because they were lighter.  I like autumn and winter in the abstract, but the lack of light and the miserable weather (discouraging exercising) contribute to lower mood every year.  Almost all my episodes of depression have started in the autumn or early winter and I worry that I can already feel the gains I’ve made in recent months slipping through my fingers as sunset gradually creeps earlier.

Plus, there are Jewish festivals that mark the big seasonal changes of the year that are difficult for me.  Pesach (Passover) at the start of spring can trigger OCD (although thankfully I was OK this year), while the many festivals in the month of Tishrei in the autumn can be difficult with depression, social anxiety, autism and, to a lesser extent, OCD again.  To be honest, Chanukah and Shavuot are the only Jewish festivals that aren’t difficult for me in some way because of my mental health or autism and it’s probably no coincidence that those are the ones with the fewest rituals to perform and the least emphasis on shul (synagogue) attendance.

I have an other, big, issue that is on my mind at the moment (in addition to my struggles to find work and a publisher for my Doctor Who book) so I really feel that the summer is over and, if I’m not careful, depression will be back.

Pootling Along

I didn’t write yesterday, which is unusual for me. The truth is, I have a couple of big things in my life right now that I don’t feel able to blog publicly.  One I won’t mention at all; for the other I will say that I went to my new volunteering yesterday, but I don’t think that it’s really right for me.  I don’t really want to say more than that publicly.  I’m going to try one more week and decide what I’m going to do.  I’m also looking for alternative voluntary work, hopefully more suitable.  (The current volunteering was picked more because it was a family-connected charity and because it was book-related.)

Between waking up late on the one hand and going to the theatre in the evening on the other, I didn’t do much today.  I spent an hour looking for a new volunteering opportunity in case I leave the current one and spent half an hour working on my novel, writing a few hundred words and then earmarking most of them to be deleted and replaced with showing rather than telling.  Two millimetres forward and one back.  This may be a long process…  I did about half an hour of Torah study too, but I wished I could have done more.  I wish I could have done more of everything, really.

I did record myself talking again for CBT, but I ran out of things to say about the two and a half minute mark.  I recorded myself standing there fidgeting nervously for another minute before giving up.  Recording myself has made my nervous stimming (stroking my face, playing with my hands) more obvious, but most autistic people will say that suppressing stimming just makes things worse, so I’m not sure what the practical takeaway point from this is.

***

I went to the theatre with my parents this evening, a belated birthday present.  We saw The Play That Goes Wrong, which was very funny.  It’s about, or rather, it purports to be, a disastrous amateur dramatics society production of a Golden Age-style murder mystery.  Lines are fluffed, words are mispronounced (I fear I will always think of ‘cyanide’ as “ky-a-niddy” from now on), cues are missed, props mislaid, actors playing dead visibly move, scenery collapses and several cast members are concussed and replaced with script-reading technical crew.  I was worried I would find it too silly or one-note, but I hardly stopped laughing the whole evening.

***

I have things I want to say about Brexit, serious, satirical, faux-naive and goodness knows what else.  But my views on Brexit are as complex as my general political views (I can’t see a fence without trying to sit on it) and I’m too scared of argument.  I dislike confrontation and many of my friends disagree with me politically, one way or another.  I value friendship over partisanship (I’m old-fashioned that way), but I’m not sure how many of my friends feel the same way, so – nothing here about Brexit, or any other politics.  There is a political blog I read, but I don’t comment there much either, as the debate is often not so much heated as inflamed.

What I will say is that I feel that my life is somewhat like Brexit at the moment (Brexified?), because of the things I alluded to, but could not write about, in the first paragraph.  I feel that I’m approaching a crossroads and there could be a brave new beginning or a disastrous apocalypse, or just possibly, things could somehow pootle along as before and I’ll muddle through without actually resolving anything.  Time will tell, I suppose, for me and the country…

Productive Day

I went to my new volunteering thing.  I had an induction and got shown how to do some things there, although there is still a lot that I have yet to be trained with.  It was very busy and noisy.  I couldn’t work out if it was objectively louder than when I first went there or if I was just bothered by it more today.  The noise means it may not be the right place for me, but I can only find out by trying it a few times.  I thought my library skills might be useful here, although I’m not sure that they will, and we have family connections to the charity involved, but these may not be the strongest reasons for going, especially if the environment isn’t right for me.

On the way home I fulfilled my CBT challenge of talking to a shop assistant, asking if he had a busy morning while I was paying.  He didn’t seem to think I was weird, but I’m not sure that I could do such things frequently.

***

I had a double rejection today, a rejection from a job I don’t even remember applying for and a rejection for my Doctor Who book from a second publisher.  I’m not sure what to do about that.  The fact that the latest Doctor Who Magazine (which arrived today) has some features that tread similar ground to my book might show that I have little that is new, but it might also suggest that there is an audience of new fans who are unaware of previous interpretations of the programme’s history or how the new series fits in with them.

I am not sure where my skills and interests should really be pointing me at the moment.  I don’t qualify for disability benefits and I have too much money saved to qualify for unemployment benefits, but I’m struggling to find work that I can actually do.  However, the nebulous and changeable nature of both autism and depression make it hard to explain to people why I can’t do things, either to formulate an alternative job search strategy or to apply for benefits.

***

I wasn’t really sure what to do this afternoon.  My mood has been up and down over the day, but mostly OK.  I felt drained by this morning, and there aren’t any jobs to apply for, except for a graduate trainee post that is really not intended for someone like me, but for someone who has just finished their librarianship MA or even is about to do it.  I managed an hour of Torah study (very good) and worked on my novel for another hour.  Although I’m still at the planning stage, it’s an incredible feeling, to see a world and characters come together that didn’t exist before I thought about them even if much of this book is drawn from my own experiences.  It’s scary to think that I’m going to have to revisit some very dark times of my life before this is done, but it is good to think that I might be able to get something positive out of them.  I also went for a run for twenty-five minutes, managing to keep running most of the time (I think I’m pacing myself better) and without getting a headache.  So fairly positive, all in all.

***

I watched the second episode of The Vietnam War earlier.  It’s very interesting, but also hugely depressing and I’m not sure if I should really be watching it.  Hmm.

You’re So Vain (You Probably Think This Blog Is About You)

The title is directed at myself, before anyone gets upset.

I feel pretty awful again.  Really depressed.  I couldn’t face applying for a law library job today, which are more or less the only viable jobs on my list to apply to at the moment.  I won’t be able to volunteer for a week or two at the new volunteering opportunity I was trying to set up because I procrastinated in responding to an email and now people are away on holiday.

I tried to work on my novel.  I’m doing a lot of planning as I’ve never written fiction at this length or complexity before.  It’s slow.  It’s hard to tell what’s good.  I also wonder if I should start writing, even if I throw it all away later, just to channel some of my enthusiasm and avoid going off the boil (so to speak).  The novel has an autobiographical element, but it’s stripped down in a way; I wanted to write about someone with all my issues, but there were just too many of them for it to be believable or to have space for a plot and other characters.  Actually, I genuinely nearly wrote it with only small roles for other characters, because when I think of things in my life, I genuinely think about my interests and issues long before I think of other people.  And they said I’m not autistic… (autism from autos, ‘self’ because of self-absorption.)  Still, I feel more enthusiastic about writing than about anything else.

I do wonder if it’s worth it.  I wonder if I’ll ever have anything substantial published professionally.  I wonder if I’ll be as successful as a writer as I was as a historian or librarian i.e. not very.  But I don’t have a lot of other options right now.

As I was writing this post, a rejection came in from the publisher I sent my non-fiction Doctor Who book to.  I will keep on submitting it, but it has knocked my already wobbly confidence.  Plus, I told myself I would only date again if I got a job or a book published, despite what my parents and my rabbi mentor said (that I should date right now).  I do get lonely, although these days I think marriage would be just as difficult for me as being single, whether I was living with my parents or not.

I’m struggling with CBT.  I’m supposed to get to shul (synagogue) tomorrow morning as part of my homework, but I suspect I will be too depressed.  I’m also supposed to be talking to strangers (e.g. shop assistants), but I haven’t, partly because of social anxiety (which is what it is supposed to deal with), but also because autism means I have no idea how to have a conversation.  I want to push myself to be more social, but I genuinely don’t know what I could say to someone, beyond a vague idea that British people make a lot of small talk about the weather.

I feel sickened by the anger in politics in general, online and especially online politics.  Treating ‘politics’ as a wide concept, not a narrow part-political one.  I like to hear people and make my own mind up about things.  I don’t have much time for “calling out” or aggressive posturing.  I should probably go and live in a cave or something.  I just want to hear people’s stories.  I realised that’s what the explosion of thoughts I’ve had lately about writing novels is about: telling stories, the stories that don’t get told, my own and other people who I can empathise with in some way (which is tricky with autism, which makes empathy difficult, but that’s another story – autistic empathy issues are arguably more about not knowing how to react to other people’s emotions rather than not feeling them, so not necessarily such a problem for a writer, but this is controversial).

I’m going to watch Doctor Who for the first time in ages to cheer myself up.  Star TrekBatman and The Avengers are all very good, but when I’m very depressed Doctor Who reaches parts other programmes can not reach.  I picked Warriors’ Gate, because I wanted Tom Baker and a surreal, disturbing environment.

Up/Down

I managed to get up at 10.00am on a day when I didn’t have an interview and managed to avoid going back to bed after breakfast, which is a kind of progress.  I spent a couple of hours writing my presentation for my job interview on Wednesday.  I went for a walk for forty minutes and wrote a pitch for my Doctor Who book and emailed it to a writer friend for feedback, as I’m worried I’m not writing effective pitches.  I also emailed about starting volunteering next week.

Mostly I’ve been feeling good today.  I did have lower mood and some anxiety when walking, which I think was triggered by having my daily CBT “worry time” then.  Otherwise, I’m still feeling that I won’t get a job, get published, get married etc., but have a sense of stoic indifference, feeling that I’m doing all I can for these things at the moment and it’s pointless to worry any more.

My mood did sink after dinner.  I’m not sure why.  I ate with my parents, so maybe it was the ‘peopling.’  Maybe I really can’t cope with being around people much, even my family (which is not good news for trying to get married).  Or maybe I was just exhausted from the day.  Which is also not so good, if three or four hours of activity leaves me burnt out.  Because of this drop in mood, I only managed about half an hour of Torah study when I had hoped to do more.

My real worry is that this feeling of OKness won’t last.  I mean, if it didn’t last a whole day, how will it last over weeks?  I’ve had periods of remission before and eventually the depression comes back.  At the moment I almost wish I was a little more anxious and depressed, as it would give me more to work with in CBT.  I feel I need the practice in challenging my negative thoughts and would like to do that while I’m still seeing a CBT therapist who can guide me rather than when I’m left to function on my own again.

***

I had another anxiety dream last night, but with more obvious sources of anxiety: sitting in shiur (religious class) worrying that I would have to admit to watching TV, and watching science fiction at that; plus also something about a religious OCD trigger that made me wake up with OCD anxiety.  Fortunately, I can keep my religious OCD under control most of the time nowadays, which is progress, so it didn’t bother me for long on waking.

Quiet Day

I looked in to a volunteer opportunity today.  I don’t want to say too much, but it’s at a charity for young people with learning disorders (including autism).  They sell books on Amazon Market Place, partly to raise money for the charity, partly to give the young people work experience in a safe environment.  It turned out to be a much more complex operation than I expected.  It looks like I will be able to volunteer there, subject to DBS checks (criminal record checks) for working with vulnerable people.  I’m quite looking forward to it as everyone seemed nice and it’s good to be working with books again.  As they deal with autism, I mentioned my own ongoing situation briefly, so it was good to get that in the open straight off.

When I got home I did some more work on my Doctor Who book, redrafting and reformatting the longest chapter.  I reworked some paragraphs and cut quite a bit, but I was disappointed that I only trimmed a thousand words overall, as I’m worried the book is over length.  I also noted that I overuse various words and phrases like “Nevertheless,” “However,” “It is noteworthy that…” and so on and I started trying to cut them ruthlessly, although in retrospect I hope the text still flows well.  Although I had told myself that the current draft would be the final one before submitting the text, it looks like I will have to do a quick polish (probably just a couple of hours) to standardise one or two aspects of the formatting as well as to try and do a find and replace on some of these phrases across all the chapters.  I’ve got another five chapters to redraft as well as this, so it will take me another couple of weeks, more if any promising jobs get advertised and I have to spend more time on job hunting.

And that was about it really.  I went for a walk, I did some Torah study and ate dinner with my parents (instead of in front of the TV).  My mood was reasonable most of the day (not so much on waking).  Not a lot else happened.

Plans, and Plans of Plans

It is still far too hot for comfort and I keep getting headaches.

I have a busy few days ahead.  I had CBT today and shiur (religious class) this evening.  I’m being interviewed tomorrow for a book on mental illness in the frum (religious Orthodox Jewish) world on Friday and possibly Skyping E. too.  I hope to go to shul (synagogue) over Shabbat (the Sabbath), but am thinking of cutting out something I usually attend (probably seudah and the second Shabbat shiur although the timing is awkward) to try to be less burnt out of Sunday.  Sunday is hopefully volunteering and depending on what time I get home I may be expected to put in an appearance at a lunch for my Dad’s cousins, most of whom I do not really know, only seeing them at intervals of years or even decades at funerals and shivas.  On Monday I have a meeting about different voluntary work.  Tuesday is the dentist, which I didn’t previously worry about, but now I do worry about shaking there.

I am feeling somewhat apprehensive about all of this, not so much any specific task or appointment (although some are difficult), but more the amount of stuff I’m doing in six days.

***

CBT today was draining.  We were doing thought challenging, but I found it hard to say why I feel so sure people will reject me.  I know a lot of it is childhood experiences, which the CBT approach isn’t terribly interested in.  I accept that.  But some of it is fears about owning up to beliefs or behaviours that would be seen as potentially heterodox (I won’t quite say heretical) in the Orthodox community, or fears about people outside the Jewish world seeing Judaism as patriarchal, homophobic, transphobic and racist/imperialist (this is in Doctor Who fandom and potentially depression and autism groups).  I feel these are very real fears, but I struggled to really make that understood.  Perhaps my fears are misguided.  I did admit to the therapist that I mostly haven’t tried to publicise my heterodox behaviours and ideas at shul, so I don’t know what would happen if I did.  I have heard of people having bad experiences in various non-Jewish environments, although, again, I haven’t experienced much directly myself (the antisemitism I have experienced has mostly been stuff shouted, or pennies thrown, by strangers on the street rather than people I knew better).  Likewise, I know frum (religious Orthodox Jewish) people who felt driven out of the frum world for various reasons, although not necessarily for things that parallel my issues.  So it is hard to know what would happen if I was more myself in different environments.

It’s also a lot easier to find reasons to challenge my thoughts in the abstract than it is to believe in or internalise alternatives, which is the main stumbling block I’ve had with CBT in the past.  It can all be very abstract whereas the fears feel very tangible.

What did come out of it that was useful was breaking down my “I am weird” thoughts.  Although the therapist was guiding me towards realising that I’m not weird, the thought I ended up with was that I am weird (albeit not as much as I thought), but that I like being weird.  I like being frum, and I like engaging with academic Jewish studies as well as traditional Torah, even if that sometimes leads to opinions I think are fine, but some people might not agree with (e.g. about the literal truth of Midrashim or the origins of the Zohar).  I like Doctor Who and classic British TV science fiction, I like writing and blogging, I like painting miniatures and I don’t care if these things are considered somewhat unusual and “niche” (as my sister says).

Anyway, I’ve been set some homework to try to push myself to do a few scary social things (shake hands with the rabbi after shul; ask for help in a shop; perhaps also leave a blog comment that is a little more opinionated than I would normally dare, probably about politics or something somewhat ‘dangerous’).  I don’t have to do all of these things and it occurred to me afterwards that with volunteering being this week, maybe I have taken on too much, but we shall see.

***

Late last night it was very hot and I didn’t feel at all tired, so I sat up late sketching out a plan for a novel.  It’s not really a plan so much as a plan of a plan, as I realised that there would be significant work still to do even at the planning stage.  However, I have an idea of where I want to go and a degree of confidence about my ability to get there, although I’m a lot more confident about one plot strand than the other.  I worked on it a bit more today.  Given that I feel so despondent  of finding paid work at the moment, it is good to think that I might be able to do something worthwhile.  My main priority at the moment is finishing my Doctor Who non-fiction book and I still hope to get a manuscript ready for submission in about three months.  But it’s good to have this simmering away on a back burner.

Like a Normal Neurotypical Person

The job agency who I asked to put me forward for a job are saying I don’t have the experience for it.  Which is true, I was just applying on the off-chance, but it’s depressing to think how few jobs I actually do have the experience and skills for and how many I’m just applying on the off-chance.  I also had another rejection without interview from a CV application.

When I say I’m looking for work, people often ask if there are many library jobs around.  Sometimes they voice the implicit question, “Aren’t all libraries being shut down or replaced by the internet?”  And I say there are jobs, which is true, but the reality is that a lot of those jobs require quite specific skills and experience, especially in the academic library sector, where I work.  I don’t often have those skills and experiences, for a variety of reasons e.g. the long period of time doing my MA resulting in skills going rusty; the depression and social anxiety stopping me keeping up with CPD; the depression resulting in my doing my MA at a university that was not really as good as I could have gone to.  I feel like I have got in a situation where I can’t get a job in my chosen field, but don’t know what else I could do, especially as I don’t feel that I could work in a normal open-plan office because of the autism.  Having had some jobs that were supposedly within my experience or even at a lower level, and then messed them up because of depression, social anxiety and autism, I feel pretty negative about my ability to hold down a job at all.  I am not sure who I can talk to about this.

I’m trying to pitch for proofreading work on PeoplePerHour.com, but all the proofreading jobs have already had a dozen or even several dozen pitches, and I can’t see why they would pick me, who has zero experience (on site and off it) in professional proofreading.  The proofreading jobs with fewer pitches generally turn out, on closer inspection, to be proofreading and translating jobs (why don’t they just say that upfront?).  I have a nightmare of taking on a freelance job and being too depressed to finish it and getting sued, or just doing the job wrongly because of depression brain and inexperience.

My Mum is very keen for me to do some voluntary work at a charity my sister’s in-laws are very involved with.  I don’t know what it involves, but it’s a charity that runs an online bookshop via Amazon Market Place.  The things I have heard about the role from my sister are not clear.  If it’s dealing with books it might be good for me, whereas if it’s personnel management I don’t think it would.  Even if I take the role, it will be unpaid and while it would be good to have something to do and put on my CV, I have limited time/energy which it would take away from job hunting and writing.  More than that, I suppose I feel that it would be a retrograde step back to when I couldn’t work at all because of my depression and was doing unpaid voluntary work at different places.  I asked my sister to put me in touch with the person who runs the bookshop and we’ll see what he says.

I asked her to pass on my email only, not phone.  Like many autistic people, I hate using the phone.  Part of me feels I should “Push myself” to do things I’m not comfortable with (as I was always told growing up); part of me thinks, “My brain is wired differently and I’m just not comfortable doing this.”  When I pushed myself as a child, the result was usually that I was more miserable and the supposed benefits of pushing myself to do new things (“It gets easier”) never materialised.

Dealing with bank paperwork today, I feel that I can’t cope with the simplest tasks and am utterly unsuited for life.  I’m not sure how realistic this feeling is, or what I can do about it.  Can you get life coaching for everything?  I don’t want to be selfish and self-obsessed.  I want to have a meaningful life that contributes to others.  I want to be part of a community and help other people out.  I want to take responsibility for my life rather than just live parasitically off other people and make excuses for my failure to achieve anything, but I can’t see how I can do that.  I don’t know how to change things regarding work, non-work chores or fitting in to the frum community.

***

I still feel burnt out.  Maybe E. and Ashley Leia are right about Shabbat (the Sabbath) being too much for me right now.  The problem is that I don’t know what to cut out.  I need to do some communal/social things and I would like to go to one Talmud shiur a week.  Plus, as I’ve said, one really has to go to Shabbat morning services to be fully considered a member of a community, make friends and, in my case, have any chance of being set up on a date with someone (not that that seems very likely in any case).

I feel very listless.  It’s hard to do anything, either to have the energy, motivation or concentration to do it.

***

I went out for dinner with my parents, sister and brother-in-law for my birthday.  We had a good time, but the restaurant was very noisy and I felt somewhat uncomfortable and found it hard to hear the conversation.  I do struggle sometimes with family meals because I struggle with “neurotypical conversation,” doubly so when I’m in a noisy restaurant and can’t really hear.  The food was good, though.  There was some talk about forthcoming or hoped for job interviews (not mine!), which made me think that, unlike others at the table, I have not “invested in my own professional development.”  I really am drifting through life.  I had a good time and left in a better mood than I’ve been for a while.

Also in the restaurant was the best Talmud teacher I’ve ever had, the only one who really made the Talmud make sense for me, but I was too shy to say anything to him; I don’t know if he saw or recognised me (he taught me about five years ago).

***

My birthday presents are coming in installments this year, which is quite nice.  Today’s gift, from my sister and brother-in-law, was the novel J by Howard Jacobson, which is a comic dystopian novel about antisemitism.  It sounds weird, but I enjoyed Jacobson’s The Finkler Question, which was about Jewish self-hatred and non-Jewish philosemitism and quite funny as well as serious (Jacobson would, I suspect, agree with Douglas Adams that the opposite of ‘funny’ is ‘not funny’ rather than ‘serious’… he’s certainly rightfully annoyed that the literary establishment overlooked him for years because he was pigeonholed as a ‘funny’ writer).

It struck me on the way home that a lot of non-fiction has been written in the last twenty years about the explosion of antisemitism in Europe, and to a lesser extent in the USA, in the last two decades (I mean, written in the Jewish press and community; comparatively little has been said in the non-Jewish community, which largely affected not to notice until the Labour Party antisemitism thing exploded), but hardly any fiction has been written about it.  I can’t believe Jacobson is the only novelist to have written about it, but I’m struggling to think of anyone else, which is really shocking.

***

My shul (synagogue) is organising a barbecue on Sunday.  It didn’t occur to me to go, partly because I don’t drive and wasn’t sure how I could get there, but partly because I wasn’t sure what I would do there.  I mean, I don’t talk to people at seudah or kiddush (if I’m there for kiddush), so why would I be able to talk to people at the barbecue?  Plus, I’m vegetarian except on Shabbat and Yom Tov and was unsure whether there would be any food for me.  Someone has now messaged me to offer me a lift if I’m going.  It never occurred to me to go and now I wonder if I’ve made a mistake.  I’ve committed to going to volunteering on Sunday now anyway, so I can’t change my mind, but I just wish I could do normal social things like a neurotypical person sometimes.

Small Achievements, God, and Star Trek

I didn’t get the job I was interviewed for last week, although I’d guessed that by now.  I applied for a copywriting job at a Jewish charity, but feel I’m unlikely to get it, as I don’t meet any of the requirements (all about copywriting experience)

I pitched an article to a Jewish newspaper.  I hate writing pitches.  It feels horrible to ask someone I don’t know, a propos of nothing in particular, to publish me.  Plus I worry that I’m making mistakes in the layout and form of the pitch itself that will prejudice an editor against me, but, while I’ve read up online about how to write a pitch, beyond a certain point one just has to work by trial and error.

Aside from the job application and the pitch, I managed a walk to do some shopping, twenty minutes or so of Talmud study and half an hour of fiction writing.  I should be pleased, but I just wish I had managed more.  I don’t know how good the fiction was.  It was harder than usual to concentrate, but I wrote about as much as usual for that amount of time, even though it was late (although my body clock is so far shifted at the moment that 9pm doesn’t feel particularly late).

***

During the tea break at depression group, I tend to browse the books in the group’s small library of depression-related books, mostly because I’m too shy and awkward to talk to other people.  Last week I flicked through Families and How to Survive Them by Robin Skynner and John Cleese.  I read a bit about religion and psychological development.  It said (as far as I can remember) that people are brought up as children with a sense of God as an Old Man in the Sky and religion as as set of rules for which people are rewarded if kept and punished if broken.  Many people stay at this level of understanding, but more sophisticated believers move on to more abstracted ideas about God being “love” or something similarly impersonal and the commandments being suggestions and God loving us even if we sin.

I wouldn’t make absolutely God abstract; I think on some level we are supposed to relate to Him as a person, but I think the understanding of both Jewish religious rationalist philosophy and kabbalah (mysticism) is fairly abstract (God as the Ayn-Sof, the Infinite) and distant from the Old Man in the Sky approach.  Likewise, while I think the mitzvot (commandments) should be understood as commandments, I think they are for our benefit rather than for God’s and the negative consequences of disobedience stem from moving away from a correct course of action more than God punishing us out of anger (if everyone steals, that society will collapse, not because God is punishing them, but because society depends on mutual respect and the safeguarding of property rights).  It’s interesting that the Zohar, the most important text of kabbalah, speaks of the mitzvot as “pieces of advice”.  So, I should be towards the more sophisticated end of the scale of belief.

And yet, despite this I really struggle to believe that God could love me, mostly because I don’t believe that anyone could love me, even without my faults, but certainly with them.  I really struggle with this, and with getting simcha shel mitzvah, joy from fulfilling the mitzvot.  I don’t really have any joy in my life, so perhaps it isn’t surprising that there isn’t any joy in my religious life (the previous rabbi at our shul (synagogue) said as much to me), but it is frustrating.  I envy other people who seem to have joy and meaning in their religious lives.  Of course, it is probably easier to believe in a loving God and a meaningful life if you have a steady income, settled career, loving spouse, happy and healthy children etc. than if you have none of those things.

***

I still feel bad about missing volunteering yesterday and am worried that, as with going to shul on Shabbat morning (which I’ve rarely managed over the last year), this is going to be another area where the social anxiety and depression win.  I probably do punish myself too much, but I feel I do a lot of objectively bad things and can only forgive so much by considering my mental health and autism.

Dad said I should start jogging again.  I don’t know when I last went jogging, but I’m pretty sure I haven’t done it since moving back in with my parents, so nearly a year.  The problem is I don’t have the time, the energy or the motivation at the moment and it’s hard to do it without any of those.  I have been going for a walk most days, which is something.

***

In news likely only to interest people who watch television programmes with spaceships in them, I ordered a copy of the first season of Star Trek: Discovery, the latest Star Trek series, which I haven’t seen as it was available for online streaming, but I don’t subscribe to any services.  I’m not even sure if that’s how streaming works, exactly.  I don’t watch much contemporary TV.  So, I waited for the DVD, which arrived today.  I procrastinated over getting it, as I’ve heard vaguely it’s “adult,” full of bad language, sex, violence and gore, and sure enough that’s what the DVD label says.  Hmm.  I hope I haven’t made a mistake.  I’m not sure why people assume adult = sex + violence + swearing.  Possibly one to watch with my finger hovering on the fast forward button.  I wonder if I should have bought Star Trek: Voyager instead.  I haven’t seen Voyager since I was at university (my Dad used to tape it for me during term time and I would binge watch over the holidays).  It was mostly not great, but was comfortable and familiar, which I suppose is why I didn’t give up on it the way I did on Enterprise, which was just dull.  I think I prefer comfortable and familiar to edgy and adult.

Anyway, there’s not much actually happening to me today, which is why I’ve spent a chunk this post talking about TV.  I just feel that nothing works out and am feeling depressed and lethargic.

Pushing Myself Too Hard?

I felt pretty depressed for much of today.  I had insomnia last night and didn’t fall asleep until 5.00am and so overslept this morning and woke up feeling exhausted and very depressed.  This led to me missing volunteering again, largely due to oversleeping and depression, but perhaps it is also avoidance of social situations that I no longer feel comfortable in, if I ever did, which makes me feel guilty, not least for letting people down.  It does feel that I can’t cope with much right now and job hunting and trying to take steps to sell my writing is pushing me to the limit and that shul (synagogue) and volunteering as well as support groups and socialising are being cut back as a result.  That’s not entirely true, as for about three of the last four weeks I’ve managed to get to one weekday minyan (prayer service) at shul, which is an improvement on recent months.  Still, the overall trend is to retreat inside myself.

I feel bad for letting the organisers of the drop in centre down and for running away (essentially).  As I mentioned in a comment on the last post, it was instilled in me from a young age that I shouldn’t run away from social situations, and the fact that I do run away a lot creates a lot of negative thoughts about myself.  Even though I know this approach is not helpful, I can’t get around the fact that it feels “wrong” and that I “should” be able to cope if I “try hard enough.”  Also, that if I do try “hard enough” one day something magical will happen and I will suddenly feel comfortable talking to strangers and being in crowds as supposedly happens to shy people who push themselves out of their comfort zone.

I did manage to do one chore I’d been putting off for ages and also went for a half hour walk, listening to some of an In Our Time podcast on Zeno’s Paradoxes, but that’s about all I’ve managed today.  I tried to do some Torah study, but didn’t manage very much, only about ten minutes.  I formatted the article I want to submit to a Jewish newspaper in accordance with these guidelines, but I’m aware that these are for (a) short stories, not articles and (b) possibly out of date (the content treats word processors as relatively new).  But I can’t find any other guidelines.  I hope to send the article off tomorrow, when I will hopefully feel well enough to draft a decent covering email.  I do feel like a child playing at being an adult and feel sure I will make stupid mistakes.

The article I’m trying to sell is about being understanding of people with mental illness who can’t do as much as other people, but I’m really bad at turning that advice on myself, even though I would never push another person the way I

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At 4.00am, when I couldn’t sleep, I suddenly felt really angry against the frum (religious Orthodox Jewish) community, feeling that I have been “cheated” of my place in it.  In theory the community is meritocratic, with positions of honour granted to brilliant scholars and people who sacrifice for the community, at least for men (women’s positions of honour seem to be more complicated, sociologically-speaking, and I don’t fully understand how it works).  I suppose I feel that if I was not depressed and autistic, or if I had gone to yeshiva (rabbinical seminary) or if I had been frum from birth instead of a ba’al teshuva (raised non-religious and became observant later in life), my life would have been different.  Of course, there is no knowing what could have happened if one starts going down this route, and the idea that I am somehow “owed” something by the community is disturbingly angry, entitled and perhaps even paranoid.  Still, this is what I was thinking at 4.00am.  I am not proud of it, but there it is.  I suppose it reflects what is going on in my mind at a deep, unconscious level.

It probably also reflects the idea that I feel I need to be a certain type of person not just to be respected in my community, but to get married.  I’m not sure how many people “deserve” to be in a relationship and have children or are “ready” for it.  How many frum people who get married at nineteen or twenty are objectively “ready”?  What does that even mean?  Regardless, I’m used to hearing things like “If you don’t like yourself single, you won’t like yourself in a relationship” or that one shouldn’t start a relationship if one has “issues.”  It becomes easy to feel that if I was somehow visibly, objectively “ready” to get married, I would find love, even that my community (which shows surprisingly little interest in marrying me off) would set me up on dates.

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Another thing I was thinking about early this morning was making my blog invitation only.  Lying in bed, I realised in my last post I had spoken about other people again, even though my rabbi mentor had really convinced me that I should not do so.  I think I’m good at not saying anything negative about identifiable people, although I do slip up from time to time, but my experiences of the last couple of weeks makes me wonder if I should say anything at all about other people.  Was the comment about the person who asked why I wasn’t at the social event too negative or identifiable?  It does not seem likely, but it does not meet the standard I was aiming for.  But I’m not sure how I could continue blogging with that standard.  I write about my negative feelings and my most negative feelings are often triggered by things other people say or do to me.  As I don’t think I can stop blogging, hiding it from the public seems to be the next best thing.

I briefly looked in to making the blog invitation only, but it looks rather complicated on WordPress compared to Livejournal (who thought I would be nostalgic for Livejournal…).  Also, my experience is if people can’t use their normal blog readers to read a blog, they stop reading it, however much they like it.  I might experiment with password-protected posts, which I have seen other people do, but even that is not ideal.  Essentially, I think there are about twenty people, so far as I can tell, who regularly read this blog (based on comments and likes) and I want to find a way to allow them to read easily while stopping other people, but I’m not sure there is an easy way of doing that.

Optimism/Pessimism

Today seems to be the first hot day of summer.  I’m not good with heat, particularly not the humid heat we have today.  I can’t really win, because I don’t mind the cold in autumn and winter, but I need more light than is available in the UK then.

I have a job interview tomorrow for a job that looks quite good.  There’s another job I applied for last week and one I want to apply for this week that also look quite good.  Which is all good, but scary.  Scary to think I could get a job and scary in a different way to think I might not get one.  Plus the scariness of the hours as some of the jobs are full-time and I’m not sure if I could cope with that right now and others are part-time, but require work on Fridays, which can be problematic in the winter when Shabbat (the Jewish Sabbath) starts mid-afternoon.  This is a problem most frum (religious) Jews have, but it’s easier to negotiate with a boss when you’re working a full week, rather than Friday being one of only three days in the office.

I’m having another day where just doing anything is an effort because I feel so depressed.  That’s not good when I need to do interview preparation, apply for a job, cook dinner, sort out bank paperwork…  I’d also like to write a short article on managing with chronic illness in the frum Jewish community and try to sell it to a Jewish newspaper, but I don’t know when I’ll have the time.  I suppose it’s good to be busy, but with depression at the same time, it can be a struggle.

What I am trying to do that takes no time, but quite a bit of effort, is to “thought stop” my worries, particularly about employment and marriage (or rather, the absence of both).  It’s hard when it feels logical to be worried, but I can see the worry does not actually help me, as it so rarely leads to positive action; if anything, the wallowing in despair stops me taking action and alienates those around me (as seen with my friends recently).  I’m trying even to feel hopeful that things could change for me, even though this seems like magical thinking (“The Law of Attraction” etc.) rather than reality.  I’m trying also to be at least open to the idea that God loves me, and that I’m not a terrible, useless, stupid person.  It’s hard.  It’s hard to know what’s realistic.  At the moment I don’t feel that I can write professionally, but I don’t know if that’s realistic or not.  And I keep remembering my friends telling me that I have a “whiny, self-obsessed blog” and I can’t stop it, even though I know it’s not helpful to think about it.

Another thing I need to decide on is whether I’m going to volunteer at the asylum seekers drop-in centre on Sunday.  I haven’t gone for a couple of sessions (it’s monthly).  I’ve become nervous about it.  I used to enjoy helping and looking after the children, but lately I’ve found it harder.  I feel awkward sorting the donations of clothes, feeling that I am confusing men’s and women’s garments as well as adult’s and children’s, but I’m embarrassed to ask anyone for help.  I thought volunteering would help me to meet people, but no one really talks to me, I’m too shy to talk to anyone else, and there’s no one my age there anyway (most are either older than me or teenagers/older children).  Few people are as frum as me either, so far as I can tell from clothing styles, although that’s not so much of an issue.  But the worst is that now there are so many children in the creche area that I feel totally overwhelmed.  It’s impossible to keep the children in the creche area and not running around the hall and onto the raised stage at the far end of the hall (which they love to escape to and go up – I have visions of them falling off) and they seem to be more disobedient lately (possibly because of competition for toys) and I struggle to control them.  Telling off other people’s children seems wrong and I lack the authority to do it.  I also struggle to engage with children over the age of seven or eight, which I suppose was the age where my own differences from other children started becoming obvious, although that may be rationalisation on my part.  So, I’m scared to go, but maybe that’s a reason why I should go, to confront my fears rather than running from them.  I seem to have done a lot of running away lately.

Crisis of Faith

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Volunteering, Peopling and Anxiety

I woke up feeling sluggish this morning and then felt depressed when it was time to go to volunteer at the asylum seeker’s drop-in centre.  I felt very anxious and depressed on the way there and unable to read on the bus.  Part of me wanted to turn back, and I nearly did leave once I got there, because I felt that I just was not coping or doing what was required of me.  I felt that I was not able to distinguish between male and female donated clothes, or children’s and adult’s clothes – not in all cases, but in some cases.  I also felt too shy to talk to anyone else.  But I stayed.  When the asylum seekers came, I helped look after the children, as I usually do.  At first I really struggled to do this too; it took about an hour for me to feel relaxed enough to really play with them.

It didn’t help that I’m not always sure exactly what to do, a combination of inexperience with children and the complexity of caring for other people’s children in an environment that requires safeguarding.  I never know whether we should tell the children off; one child hit another, I think by accident, but I wasn’t sure if I should tell him to apologise.  I probably should (although as he’s pretty non-verbal, I’m not sure it would have done any good).  Nor did I know what to do to the hurt child.  I felt autisticly unaware of what response he needed.  If it was my own child, I suppose I would have realised I should hug him eventually, but I wouldn’t hug anyone else’s child for safeguarding reasons and because I’m often autistically wary of some types of physical contact.  Furthermore, several of the toddlers have a habit of running off all the time and it is hard to keep them in the play area.  They like to play on the stairs leading up to the stage at the far end of the hall, which worries me, but, again, I never know if I’m allowed to pick them up and carry them away, so I tend to try to coax them back down, although I did repeatedly pick up one toddler who kept trying to leave the hall because it was the only way to stop him getting into trouble.

I did enjoy it in the end, but I really struggle to talk to the other volunteers or to connect with anyone (volunteer or asylum seeker) over the age of about four.

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The other thing that upset me at volunteering was realising that, even though the centre is organised by a Modern Orthodox organisation so far as I could tell from clues like how they were dressed (not to mention statistical probabilities), most of the people volunteering were not so frum (religious), whereas my more Charedi (ultra-Orthodox) shul (synagogue) would never organise charitable care for non-Jews.  It upsets me that things are so compartmentalised, that it seems impossible for one person or community to have a social conscience and also meticulous care for ritual commandments.  It makes me feel that it is no wonder that I struggle to find friends and a wife when there is nowhere in the Jewish community where I feel comfortable and able to be myself.

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I had a short time to recover before my sister and brother-in-law came over for dinner.  I struggled with this as I was still tired from volunteering, plus the conversation was mainly about my sister and BIL’s house renovations.  I don’t know if this doesn’t interest me because I have never owned a house, because of my personality or because of my autism, but whatever the reason, I was not very interested.  I tried to look interested for an hour and a half, but I was going to go upstairs when my parents started talking about the autism workshop they went to last week, so I thought I should stay around for that as I wanted to have a conversation with my sister about autism.  That was quite long, but useful.  It would have been better if the conversations had been the other way around, though, as now I’m exhausted from too much ‘peopling’ and need to unwind before I go to bed, but don’t have much time for Doctor Who as I need an early night as I have work tomorrow and am going to have to talk to a lot of students at the event/exhibition of rare books that we are running.  On which note I will have to leave you.