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

***

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.

***

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.

***

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.

***

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.

Overload, But Good

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

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

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

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

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

Virtue Signalling

It’s been a slightly strange day, with a lot of emotions this evening in particular.  As usual, I’m writing as much to process and understand my thoughts for myself as I am to present them for other people.  So, apologies if this is less coherent than usual.  Also, apologies for the mammoth length, about twice as long as usual.  There’s a lot to say, and I feel I could probably write more if I had the time.

***

I’m only vaguely aware of my anxiety.  I think I mentioned that at the CBT assessment I had a few weeks ago, the result was that I was told that I have at least elements of anxiety as well as depression, but over the years I have not been so aware of the anxiety, other than social anxiety and, at times, OCD (which is an anxiety disorder).  This is despite the frequent comorbidity of anxiety with both depression and autism.  One therapist felt that the depression was so strong that it drowned out the anxiety except when the anxiety was itself very strong.  It’s also possible that I just haven’t noticed the anxiety because of alexithymia (difficulty identifying and understanding my emotions).  Certainly when my mental health issues first became identifiable, at school, I was feeling nauseous every morning on the way to school, but it was only years later that I realised that that was almost certainly anxiety rather than general feelings of being “emotionally low” (which was the non-diagnosis my doctor gave me at the time to try to avoid prescribing any medication).  At any rate, the anxiety this morning may have started as social anxiety about volunteering, but quickly spiralled into general catastrophising about other aspects of volunteering and my new job.

***

I volunteered at the asylum seekers drop-in centre again today.  As mentioned, I was feeling rather anxious about it beforehand, primarily because I wanted to slip out near the end to go to Mincha (the Afternoon service) in the shul (synagogue) (the drop-in centre is in the shul hall, not the main shul building) and I was worried about not knowing the code to the shul door and getting locked out (I should clarify that the drop-in centre is not in my shul, but another one some way away).

The format of the day is two hours of preparation for the asylum seekers, which I usually spend sorting donations of clothing, two hours with them, where they can get food, donations of clothing, nappies and toiletries and see professionals (varying according to who has been able to come, but usually lawyers and doctors, sometimes dentists or counsellors) and then a certain amount of tidying up afterwards.  I was initially sorting donations of clothing to start with and as is often the case, I felt more than a little awkward.  The clothing tends to come all mixed up and I’m not always good at separating male and female clothing or adult and children’s clothing.  Obviously there are some things that are clearly in one category or another, but others are less clear.  To be fair, other people struggle sometimes too, but I do not feel confident asking for help.  I also feel that the other volunteers are able to talk to each other more easily; I always feel like I have a sign on my forehead saying AUTISTIC-SOCIALLY ANXIOUS-DEPRESSED and that everyone can see how awkward I am.  This is probably my paranoia, but it feels real.

After that, when the asylum seekers came, I volunteered in the childcare area again.  There were a lot of children there today.  Thankfully there were quite a few volunteers, although many were older children themselves (the children of volunteers tend to help in the childcare area, probably because it’s more fun than helping adult asylum seekers sort through clothes and unused nappies.  That’s why I help there, anyway).  The autistic side of me I was quite overwhelmed by the amount of noise and things going on at times.  I tried to focus one level of attention on the children I was with at the time while I focused another level of attention on the childcare area as a whole, to check nothing dangerous/unpleasant was going on.  The children were well-behaved (actually, they almost always are well-behaved), although one boy has a habit of trying to take my glasses off me.  I spent a lot of time today looking after a toddler who kept trying to crawl over to where some of the older children were playing with a ball.  As I had visions of her getting trampled, I kept trying gently to encourage her away from them and at one point picked her up and carried her away, although I’m not confident carrying children and try to avoid it, as they can usually sense I’m anxious and sometimes start crying.

I realised, for all my parents say I’m good with children (and I’ll concede that on some levels I am good with children; I’m certainly patient with children and willing to play repetitious games for long periods), I don’t know how to talk to them.  If I recall correctly, one of the symptoms of autism spectrum disorders can be difficulty talking in age-appropriate ways and I do struggle to do that.  My instinct is to talk far too formally to them.  I usually suppress that instinct, but I don’t really know what to say instead and tend to ask very simple questions or distract them with toys.  (Bear in mind that most of the children at the drop-in centre are five or six at most, often much younger, although I’m not quite sure how that should affect how I talk to them.)  I’m struggling to put this into words, but when I see the other volunteers talk to the children they seem to do it much more naturally and age-appropriately.  To be fair, as I say, I do have the patience and stamina to spend two hours sitting on the floor drinking imaginary cups of ‘tea’ and waving teddy bears about, which the other volunteers tend not to do, going for breaks or changing activities.  I just point this out as another autism symptom I need to note before my assessment.

***

Another social thing I struggle with at volunteering is talking to the other volunteers.  I do know a few people by sight or even by name now and one volunteer I actually know from my previous shul, before I moved house.  But I find it hard to make conversation with them or to introduce myself to people I don’t know.  I’ve heard people say that volunteering is a good way for shy people to find a partner, but that hasn’t been my experience, partly because I’m the wrong age (most of the volunteers are ten or twenty years older than me), partly because I’m too shy and don’t really know what to say to women I don’t know.  I know the first time I went I did get talking to two sisters who seemed to be about my age, but I haven’t seen them since, sadly.

***

(Pause, change ends, eat oranges)

(I really did just eat an orange)

***

In the evening, after coming home for a much needed shower and Doctor Who break, I went for dinner with a couple of old friends from my university days at Oxford.  We get together every six months or so to catch up.  Our lives have gone in quite different ways, so it’s good that we still want to meet.  One of my friends is a political scientist working on migration and statelessness (a hot topic at the moment, obviously – she was recently in Mexico interviewing women on the caravan bound for the USA).  She spoke at length tonight about the plight of the stateless.  I had no idea that there are so many people in this category (an estimated fifteen million) nor the reasons for it.  I would have assumed they were mostly refugees, but apparently a lot are people who have simply failed to fill in the appropriate paperwork through suspicion of the authorities (e.g. Roma) or traditional lifestyles (e.g. migrant pastoral farmers), particularly when new states have been created in post-colonial territories or following the break up of states like Yugoslavia and the USSR.   They have now missed the appropriate deadlines for application for citizenship and fallen through the gaps in the bureaucratic systems and can’t work, marry or travel; they can’t even officially die.

I mentioned the asylum seekers drop-in centre.  I was pretty blatantly virtue signalling, but I wanted to find common ground with my friend.  I usually avoid politics as I feel my political views are a little unusual.  I suppose they aren’t monumentally weird; I’m not a Fascist or a Pantisocrat.  Realistically, I’m just a centrist with small-l liberal and small-c conservative aspects to my personality, but I have a fondness for George Orwell’s term ‘Tory Anarchist’, which to me reflects not a hyphenated identity, but a dialectical tension between the ordered and anarchic sides of my nature (it’s an anarchism rooted less in Bakunin and Kropotkin and more in the prophets and rabbis of ancient Israel, who had a deep-seated suspicion of governments, money, power, authority and militarism.  As Philip K. Dick said, the Jews have always fought for freedom).  Whatever the reason, I have an instinctive ability to take the opposite view of whoever is talking to me.  This is not from natural contrariness on my part, or not consciously.  I am naturally conflict-averse and long to avoid any kind of political quarrel.  But I seem doomed to offend everyone if I speak my mind.  My frum (religious) friends and acquaintances are likely to be conservative.  I don’t know, so I could be stereotyping, but Orthodox Jews tend to be conservative.  On the other hand, my other friends tend to be very liberal.  When I’m with the former, I feel liberal, even anarchist, but when I’m with the latter I feel super-conservative.

Today I did not feel super-conservative.  I was actually deeply moved by my friend’s account of the plight of the stateless.  In retrospect, I fear that there is very little that can be realistically done in the short to medium term, but I guess this is the conservative side of me speaking (progressives tend to see all problems as solvable; conservatives tend to see some problems as manageable at best).  In retrospect I can see why governments might be unwilling to award citizenship to literally millions of strangers from unstable parts of the world, sight unseen.  But I feel that dialectical tension again, because I want to do something to help.

Hence, my doing something I would not normally do and virtue signalling by bringing up my voluntary work.  I am not entirely sure what I was thinking, but I think I wanted to signal agreement and empathy for the people she has met, as well as tacit support, in broad, non-committal terms, for her goals (“tacit support, in broad, non-committal terms”… I even sound like Sir Humphrey Appleby.  Ugh).

***

On the way home I thought about my friends, and how I feel too liberal for some and too conservative for others.  I thought about my shul, and how the rabbi would probably not approve of my voluntary work at a centre for non-Jewish (often Muslim) asylum seekers, even though the shul that runs the centre is Orthodox.  I was in a Jewish part of London and, seeing the frum men and women, I thought as usual about wanting to have a frum wife, but in this context I wondered if it would be possible.  After all, I could end up with a wife who liked my friends, but not my shul, or one who my rabbi would accept, but my friends would loathe.  I remembered that E. was quite adamant about not being married by my rabbi when we were dating.  At volunteering, I wondered if I would ever meet someone right for me.  Sociologically, the Anglo-Jewish community is polarising into the Charedi (ultra-Orthodox) and the Jewishly unaffiliated and uninterested.  Even the United Synagogue middle-of-the-road types are generally not frum enough for me any more.

***

I sometimes feel like a man of far too many parts, unable to really fit in anywhere.  I want my wife to be someone I feel completely comfortable with and accepted by, but this seems impossible.  Granted, that’s partly because I feel so ill at ease with myself, but even if I did like myself, it seems impossible for anyone else to accept me.  And now I remember a friend who I opened up to a bit about my political thoughts who never responded to that email… did he simply overlook it or run out of time?  Or was he shunning my views?  He is at least still my friend, so he can’t have found them that obnoxious.

And, if it wasn’t nearly 2.00am, I could raise the Z word (‘Zionism’) which is a whole can of worms in itself.  But I should get to bed.

***

Sigh.  Writing this was supposed to help me calm down and sort out my thoughts before bed, but it has actually made me much more tense and anxious as well as more alert and not ready to sleep.  I wish I just could be a normal person, with normal, straightforward views, rather than trying to make myself an outlier in every community of which I could vaguely be considered a member.  And I wish I could accept that it’s possible for people to like me without their agreeing with every political, religious and cultural opinion I have.

It’s Normality, Jim, But Not As We Know It

My sister and BIL didn’t leave until 11.00pm last night.  Then I desperately needed some of what I term my ‘introvert time’ after four hours of socialising (albeit with family).  I blogged and then WhatsApped E. for a while (she was trying to convince me to write the book on Judaism I’ve spoken about recently) and watched Doctor Who for a bit and I didn’t get to bed until nearly 2.00am.  I probably should have ducked out of the WhatsApp conversation earlier to get to bed, but I didn’t want to interrupt it, because I am genuinely conflicted about writing this book and wanted to hear what E. had to say.  Despite going to bed so late, I woke up at 7.30am and rapidly spiralled into anxiety and OCD.  It seemed pointless to stay in bed feeling so anxious, so I got up even though I was still tired.  I calmed down a bit after breakfast, but by that stage I was up and awake and caffeinated, so it seemed a bit pointless to go back to bed.

The scary thing about OCD anxiety is that it can come back to haunt you later and even if you feel better, it’s easy to find yourself thinking, “Well, it seemed really scary and important then – maybe I should still be anxious now?  Maybe it’s my current, non-anxious, state of mind that’s ‘wrong?'”  I did that a bit, and had to try hard not to be sucked back down.

***

25 December is always a weird day for me, as it’s the day crazy religious stuff is going on and it’s not me doing it (Easter at least often coincides with Pesach (Passover), which trumps pretty much everything in the crazy religious festivals stakes).  In recent years, some Jews have started doing voluntary work at hospitals and the like so people who do celebrate can have time off with their families, which is a nice idea.  I thought about doing that this year, but procrastinated from social anxiety until it was too late for me to do anything about it.  Maybe next year.

***

Because I woke up early, I had time to do some more miniature painting this morning.  I’m making good progress, but the perfectionist in me wants the miniatures to look better than I’m realistically likely to get them.  The frustrating thing is knowing that I used to paint better in my teens, but that was before I had issues with shaking, and perhaps when I had more patience (because I had less depression, I assume).

***

The other creative thing I’ve been thinking about is the book people said I should write about Judaism.  I still don’t know if I could do it.  As I explore ideas, I feel I’m getting drawn in two directions, both of them wrong.  One is apologetics, defending what Orthodox Jews believe and writing about it in prescriptive, rather than descriptive, tones.  The other is producing a personal account of what Orthodox Judaism means to me.  I find that once I start thinking about ideas for what to write, I inevitably drift towards one or the other of these two forms.  There is arguably a time and a place for both of these things, the apologetic and the personal, but neither was what I was aiming for.  Indeed, those people who were potentially interested in what I had to write were interested because it was neither of these things, particularly not apologetics.  And both of these things would be more likely to bring me into conflict with people in my community than the purely descriptive.

To pick one obvious example, I don’t know how I could deal with the fact that many ultra-Orthodox Jews are Young Earth Creationists without wanting to stress that I’m not and I believe I have strong religious grounds for not being one… but that is a belief that, if publicised, could bring me into conflict with the rabbis at my shul.  They would probably be polite about it, but it’s not a conversation I’m in a hurry to have.  And that’s just one example!  There are all kinds of other hot button issues I would have to deal with if I wanted to deal realistically with the frum (religious Orthodox Jewish) world, from the nature of the soul to gender roles to Israeli politics.  I feel my mission in life, if I have one (and I’m reliably informed I do) probably involves writing, as it’s the only thing I seem to do even vaguely well, but I can’t see it being this.

***

I did at least go to shul (synagogue) with Dad for Mincha and Ma’ariv (the Afternoon and Evening services) even though the noise in the Beit Midrash was uncomfortable for me.  Noise issues, among other things, seem to have got worse as the possibility of autism has grown and I don’t know if I’m observing my discomfort more now that I have a category to put it in or actually feeling it more from psychosomatic reasons.  I think it’s the former, as I used to get really angry about noise in shul when I was a more regular shul-goer, but it’s hard to be sure.

***

I feel a bit bad tonight, because I think my Dad wanted to watch TV as a family tonight and I ducked it, partly because I wanted to watch something in particular, but I think on some level I didn’t want to do a quasi-social thing after yesterday (it doesn’t help that I don’t like watching TV with my parents because I say they talk too much, which they dispute.  There aren’t many programmes I watch, but I watch those programmes with obsessive intensity).  I try to give myself a break now that I know that I may be autistic, but on the other hand I probably do isolate myself too much. I’m in two minds about whether to go out with my parents and cousin on Thursday.

***

Still, on balance I would have to say it was a good day.  The depression flared up at odd moments, as did the anxiety about antisemitism, about which I can do almost nothing, and I think I had one or two moments of anxiety about my new job, but mostly I was OK and I did a surprising number of things, so I’m counting that as a victory.

Trying To Be Normal

I tried to phone Samaritans twice yesterday, but couldn’t get through.  The ringing phone was just making me feel more anxious and agitated, so I didn’t wait very long.  I guess they are busy and under-manned at this time of year.  A couple of friends saw my posts and texted/WhatsApped me, which made me feel a bit better.  Thank you to them and the people who commented here and emailed, although I only saw those messages this morning.  It’s good to feel that people do care about me, even if they live far away and can only stay in contact remotely.

I do wish I didn’t hate myself so much, but I feel I could not in all honesty hate myself less unless I was a better person and a better Jew, and I don’t know how to do that.

I just feel overwhelmed by the world, and by my life.  In my mind personal things (my self-hatred and despair) mix with Jewish worries (antisemitism) and global things (hate-based populism) and I can’t breathe or focus.  Everything feels like… if not my fault, then at least my responsibility to fix.  (I’m not sure I’m expressing this well, that’s not quite what I feel, but I can’t find the words.)  But I can’t.  I know I shouldn’t have to fix the world and that I can’t, but I feel I should.  I can’t even fix myself, but I feel I should be able to fix antisemitism.  I was still in my pyjamas at 1.15pm.  I don’t know how I can do that and still expect to be able to save the world.

I don’t know why my life feels so hard so much of the time.  I don’t think I deserve an easy life, but it’s getting so hard just to keep going.  It’s arguably not even objectively that hard (I’m not physically ill or in dire poverty), I just cope so badly at the moment.  I feel a bit pathetic that I can’t do things other people can manage easily.  It’s hard to give myself a break for being depressed and autistic and struggling with stuff that other people find easy.

***

In the end I did manage to go for a walk for half an hour (which was incredibly exhausting, as much as running used to be) and I spent some time painting my Doctor Who miniatures and trying to accept that they are going to take a while to paint (I tend to be impatient with big projects) and that they are not going to be perfect (I’m a perfectionist).  I’m glad that Peters Davison and Capaldi are both about 75% done, although Davison’s striped trousers are giving me difficulties and I don’t know where to draw the line (in both a literal and metaphorical sense).  But I also feel vaguely guilty for not doing something “worthwhile” with my time.

***

Liora suggested I try to assess my activity levels each day in a more objective way.  I tried to apply some numbers representing emotional energy expended to tasks I regularly do to work out how much energy I expend, although it’s hard to tell, as it can vary from day to day and even during days e.g. my walk to the station in the morning is a lot easier than the same walk home at the end of a working day, the difficulty of which can also vary according to how tiring the day was.

I worked out that a typical work day would involve expending a bit over 400 units.  The last few days, since I’ve been doing this, I’ve been expending 100-200 units a day, which is understandable given that I’m not working at the moment, if a little disappointing, but yesterday I only managed 65, but I was completely exhausted all day.  I’m not quite sure what this demonstrates.  I’ve been measuring my mood each day for years, but I’m not sure how useful that is either the way I do it, but I don’t really want to monitor my mood repeatedly across the day.

***

“Your unique contribution to the world is a very specific activity which you love and excel at” is today’s quote on Aish.com.  It sounds very sentimental and mushy, but I can see where it’s coming from.  However, I can’t think of anything I love and excel at and which seems like a worthwhile contribution to the world.  I feel like there’s no reason for me to be here at all.

I think occasionally of the book I mooted a few weeks ago, about Judaism aimed at non-Jews and/or non-religious Jews, but I can’t get round the problems.  I don’t feel qualified to write it without research in books in languages I can’t read fluently and without using a library I’m nervous of using given the criticism I received when I was volunteering there.  Plus, I can’t work out who the primary audience would be (the background and needs of non-Jews and non-religious Jews are not the same) or what my aim in writing would be or if I’m writing about the whole spectrum of Orthodox observance or just my views, in which case I would probably get into trouble with my community for various things… Whenever I have a new idea it ends up like that and I give up.  I probably don’t have enough self-confidence to write that book, although I’m still working on the Doctor Who one.

On a related note, I was surprised to get an email from the person who wrote the book I quoted here.  He said he was sorry if he upset me and that he didn’t mean to imply that the religious life is easy or that someone who struggles isn’t really religious.  He also said he read several of my posts and that I have a talent for writing.  A few people have said this to me, on the blog and elsewhere, but I’ve never had the confidence to really sit down and work out what I could do with my writing or known how to go about it.  Similarly, I’ve mentioned that my parents, my aunt and some people at the asylum seekers drop-in centre where I volunteer say that I’m good with children, but again, I don’t know how to do something with that beyond doing volunteering with them.

I feel a bit like my understanding of the world of work (or the world full stop) is rather like a child’s and I struggle to understand the mundane day-to-day tasks required in a job or how to apply myself to them.  This is not a positive thing by any means, but I don’t know how to deal with it.  I don’t know if it’s an autistic thing or a depressive thing or just me being strange and incompetent.

***

My cousin is staying with us for a few days from tonight.  She’s in her early twenties.  My first cousins all live in Israel, and life there is so different to life in any other Western country that it can be hard to connect sometimes.  For instance, she hasn’t gone to university yet (she’s hoping to go next year), but she has done a couple of years of military service.  I sometimes wonder how I would have coped with military service.  I think I would have ended up having a breakdown and getting discharged, even if I wasn’t on the front line.

My sister and brother-in-law came over for dinner and my cousin arrived afterwards.  We sat around talking for a long time and I did join in and enjoy, but I did get drained too and ate too much as I do when nervous and bored.  I was trying to find a polite way to slip away when my sister and BIL left.

It’s interesting that when I thought I didn’t enjoy social gatherings because of depression, introversion or social anxiety, I thought of that as a problem of mine, but now I think it’s autism, I feel a bit more understanding of myself.  I’m not sure whether that’s a good thing or not.  I feel I should try to work on myself to be more ‘normal’ (i.e. to pass better as neurotypical).

One autistic thing I noticed myself doing was switching off a bit when the conversation was about stuff I’m not interested in, which was quite a lot.  I struggle to concentrate on conversations about jobs, house renovations and people my family know who I don’t know.  Maybe this is also normal.  I don’t know.  I do feel guilty about it, as I expect people to listen to me.  But some people in my family talk in a way that seems rather autism unfriendly to me: lots of details about people and places I don’t know and struggle to picture given over too quickly.

Anxiety and Low Self-Esteem

(That’s possibly the most banal, least attention-grabbing title ever, but I’ve never been good at titles even at the best of times, and now is not the best of times.)

I went to bed really late last night, but couldn’t sleep, as I expected after having slept so much during the day.  I don’t drink milky drinks, so I ended up eating porridge at 2.00am when I wasn’t hungry as a way of having warm milk to sedate me.  It seemed to work.  I actually woke up earlier than I expected after all that, but was depressed and slow to get going and was half an hour late for volunteering at the asylum seekers drop-in centre (although volunteers come and go as they please, really, the advertised times notwithstanding).

Part of my lateness was avoidance as I was feeling very anxious about going.  Part of me wanted very much not to go, but I forced myself to get there somehow.  I wish I had the confidence/ability to talk to the other volunteers more, although there aren’t many people my age there (the two sisters I spoke to a bit the first time I went haven’t been there since, at least not when I’ve been).  I don’t know what to say in such circumstances, although a few people tried to speak to me, in a way that suggested that they remembered me from previous times.  Once again, I feel that if I had a proper autism diagnosis, I might get support with things like this, or at least might have had it had I been diagnosed as a child; but with no diagnosis and no real likelihood of getting one, it is difficult to know what to do.  I’m not even that confident any more that I am autistic, but I do feel that there’s something different about me (something wrong about me, if you want to be judgemental), something not like other people.  Whether that’s autism or social communication disorder or something else I don’t know, but it feels like there are more symptoms there than fit just depression and social anxiety.  I’ve never really fitted in anywhere.

I helped look after the children again at the drop-in centre and one of the other volunteers said I had a talent for it.  I think I sounded more shocked than was really polite.  People keep saying this to me and I don’t understand it at all.  I am patient with children, especially when playing the type of repetitive games that very young children like, but I never really know what to say to them, and I get nervous holding babies and young children.  One of the boys today was rather boisterous and kept trying to take my glasses and try them on himself.  He also came up behind me while I was sitting on the floor and put his arms around my neck and I couldn’t work out if he was being affectionate or trying to hurt me.

It does feel like nothing can shift my low self-esteem.  I should feel good about myself for helping a cause I feel strongly about, but I don’t, and I don’t feel good about myself for being told I’m good with children either.  I did at least get the confidence to go into the main shul (synagogue) building for Mincha and Ma’ariv (the afternoon and evening prayer services), which was harder than it would be for most people, having not been inside this shul before (the drop-in centre is in a separate building).  I had visions of not working out what room it was in (most shuls in my experience don’t go to the bother of opening up the main shul for weekday Mincha and Ma’ariv and hold those services in a smaller Beit Midrash (study room) or the like), but I did manage to ask someone.

Other anxiety has been floating around my interview on 5 December.  I’m not sure if I’m more nervous about embarrassing myself or somehow getting a job I’m convinced I can’t do.  Still, as I have forgotten what the job involves and can’t find the information about it online, the chances of my getting the job seem slim.  I’m terrified of shaking when I do my ten minute presentation, though, always assuming I can find something to say.

I have also been feeling anxious about Doctor Who.  I enjoyed last week’s episode, but apparently I was wrong to do so as it was supportive of Evil Capitalism.  The week before everyone else liked the episode, but I was upset (although not surprised) that the moral of the story was that wanting to preserve your culture is Wrong (I don’t think wanting to preserve your culture means hating other people’s cultures either; that’s a straw man argument).  I guess I feel this more as a Jew, because (a) our culture was nearly wiped out within living memory and is still arguably still on life support and (b) Westerners tend not to notice that often their “universalism” is often a promotion of their own values at the expense of other people’s (e.g. the whole assumption that kicks in at this time of year that everyone celebrates Christmas, which is supposedly a universal holiday rather than a particularist religious one, and one often used as a pretext for antisemitic violence EDIT: I mean in the past!  Not nowadays).  Plus, I suppose, everyone is talking about how good it is that Doctor Who has people from different under-represented groups – and it is, but there isn’t anyone like me there, or anywhere else really.  Jewish.  Religious.  Mentally ill.  Socially awkward (to be fair, the eleventh Doctor was sometimes awkward, when he wasn’t being a superhero and getting married).

So I’m now living in dread that all my online reviews are going to show my colours as an Evil Religious Capitalist Conservative Bad Person and everyone will hate me (including half the people reading this, although I suppose it would be a way to work out who actually reads this rubbish I write, by seeing who leaves my list of followers).  The irony is that I don’t really identify as a straightforward conservative and I don’t feel that I fit in with my co-religionists.  In fact, at volunteering, when I went to daven (pray) I silently compared the shul unfavourably with my usual community: the service was faster than my shul with a lot more talking.  My shul would have been slower and quieter… but my shul would not have put on a drop in centre for non-Jewish refugees.  I feel torn again between the Modern and ultra-Orthodox worlds.  I feel torn everywhere, really.  I don’t know how I find wholeness (wholeness = shalem = shalom = peace).

(I wrote this before watching Doctor Who, but have to now add that I didn’t like it for various reasons I have just spent an hour or more writing up on my other blog, but I was particularly annoyed at the inclusion of the antisemitic idea that “Love your neighbour” isn’t in the “Old Testament” when it is.)

I feel I ought to be good at something, but I don’t know what.  I’m pretty sure that if I was in school (I mean school school, not university/college that Americans call school) now, I would not do anywhere near as well as I did when I was younger.  Depression has made me stupid.  I struggle to grasp concepts I would once easily have understood.  I think I am not quite as well organised either, although maybe I’m wrong about that.  I don’t think I would be academically-gifted any more.  I’m not a particularly good librarian.  I don’t think I’m a particularly good writer.  I don’t know what I’m good at, really

I seem to spend much of my days assuming that everyone thinks I’m weird and that they get offended by me, without really having any solid evidence for it.  I don’t have any solid evidence against it though.  Someone said that being ignored is worse than being hated, and I think on some level I’d like to provoke people to hate me, just to get some kind of a reaction out of them, even if the reaction is simply them unfollowing me (is unfollowing a real word?  I suppose if ‘unfriend’ is…).  It’s better than being ignored, which is what most of my life has been, really, to the extent that if someone does show me positive attention, I panic and run away.

Why does it matter to me so much what other people think of me, particularly people who I don’t know?  It’s not like it takes much effort on other people’s behalf to follow me online; it’s not proof of friendship.  People seem to take friendship very frivolously; if I say I’m someone’s friend, it matters to me.  I might not do things differently, because of social anxiety and depression, but at a deep level I feel bound to them.  I would pray for them, which is about the most intimate thing I know, and something I’m reluctant to do willy-nilly.  I suppose I’m looking for friends who feel similarly strong things for me.

Frustrations

I’m writing on a break from the post-Shabbat (Sabbath) tidying up, which is exhausting, while also What’sApping my Mum (who is still in Israel), so this may be even less coherent than usual.

Shabbat was OK, but somewhat lonely.  I didn’t get into as much of a depressed/agitated state as I have sometimes in the past when spending Shabbat home alone, but this was probably because I spent most of it asleep.  I didn’t get to shul (synagogue) at all, which was frustrating, not least because I’m not sure how much was depressive exhaustion and how much was social anxiety, although why that should be worse when my parents are away is a mystery, as I go to a different shul to them.  Maybe when other people are around I feel I need to put more of an effort into trying to get out.

I went to bed early for Shabbat (before midnight) and slept for about thirteen hours or more; I then dozed for another two and a half hours after seudah shlishit (the third Shabbat meal), which was one reason I missed shiur (religious class) and Ma’ariv (the evening service).  Sleeping extra on Shabbat is a mitzvah (commandment), but I think one can take it too far.  I’m certainly worried I won’t sleep tonight, even though I need to be up early tomorrow to volunteer at the asylum seekers drop-in centre.

I’m already feeling somewhat anxious about volunteering – a vague sense that something will go wrong, or I will do something wrong, without really knowing what, and a fear that for one reason or another I won’t be able to slip out and into the main shul building for Mincha (the afternoon service), even though there isn’t really any reason why I shouldn’t be able to do so (the advantage of volunteering in an Orthodox shul).

I was also supposed to do some things tonight, particularly replying to an email from a friend that I’ve been putting off because it was very long and will take ages to reply to, which is wrong of me, as well as buying Chanukah presents for my family, which may not arrive in time.  It doesn’t look like any of this is going to happen, because of sleeping until 6.30pm and then being slow and depressed.  To be fair, I tried to buy the presents during the week, but was prevented by various issues with Amazon (who I usually try to avoid) and they may have to wait until my parents get home and can decide for themselves what they want to do.

I’m struggling a lot again with thoughts and feelings that I can’t put into words.  There’s a lot of religious stuff in my head at the moment that may not be healthy.  I wish my suffering could be some kind of tikkun (rectification) or kapparah (atonement) for myself or the Jewish people or the world, but I doubt it is the latter.  I suppose on some level it probably is a kapparah for myself, but it would be good to know what it is atoning for, so it seemed less arbitrary.  Really I want to help other people somehow in my suffering, but it seems unlikely that that is the case.

This may be part of what lay behind a dream I had last night.  I can’t remember the details, but in the dream there were two women I asked out in real life who had turned me down.  One (in real life) was someone I knew online who I thought I had connected with (another frum geek) and the other was someone I was at school with and then met years later through a Jewish mental health charity and became friends with for a while.  I thought she was flirting with me, but apparently I was wrong (she repeatedly said I was a “genius” and also that I would have “really cute children”).  Neither was interested in me; I still comment on the former’s blog, but the latter cut of all contact with me.

In the dream, the latter was talking to the former about her issues (in the real world she had bipolar disorder and had repeatedly been hospitalised as a suicide risk; she also had a history of anorexia).  I wanted to help too, but she kept refusing to speak when she was aware that I was listening, until I realised that she didn’t want my help and that the only way I could help her was to leave her alone (there was then a surreal sequence I can’t fully describe about a dead tortoise in the garden; no idea what that represents).

This seemed to be an unconscious articulation of the fact that I want to help people, but often can’t do it, either because of my own issues or because I don’t know how to help people because of my autistic symptoms.  In particular, I had been reflecting before going to bed, and not for the first time, how frustrating it is to me to see all the discussion on Jewish websites and newspapers about the need to re-engage young Jews with Judaism and Jewish culture and encourage the raising of Jewish children (assimilation is still running strong).  I want to have children and give them a strong grounding in Judaism and a love of Judaism and Jewish culture (not just the religion, but the wider cultural aspects), but it looks like I never will marry and have children.  This upsets me a lot.  I suppose if I had to rank what I most dislike about my various conditions, the actual depression and social anxiety would probably come in about third, because I’m used to coping with them (up to a point anyway).  First would be the loneliness, particularly the romantic/sexual loneliness and second would be the feeling that I will never have children, the feeling of being the end of the line, that the tradition will, in some sense, end with me (in a manner of speaking… I’m still hoping that my sister and cousins will have children, but who knows what will happen?).

OK, now I’ve brought my mood really far down, I guess I should try to finish tidying up and then have something to eat, do some Torah study (done none at all today, thanks to falling asleep this afternoon) and get to bed at a reasonable time.  Hopefully eating might help my mood a bit, as I may have low blood sugar again; I haven’t eaten anything for nearly six hours, nor have I drunk much.

“Nothing will come of nothing”

I didn’t go volunteering.  I just have no energy or concentration or motivation or anything, really.  I felt that I would not be able to look after children, let alone speak to adults and that I would be more of a liability than an asset.  I just feel so drained today.  My Mum wanted me to go.  She gave me the same talk about “forcing myself” to do social things that I’ve had since childhood.  I guess this is why I want some kind of diagnosis of autism or social communication disorder, so other people might understand me better.  Or, I guess, so that I would be more forgiving of myself, because I feel bad for not going.  I want to at least work on my Doctor Who book, but I haven’t got the energy or concentration for that either.  I tried watching TV, but even a comedy programme was triggering.  I feel that I should just go back to bed.  I’ve got nothing to say, but I want attention/sympathy/love/I-don’t-know-what-but-I-haven’t-got-it.

I’m going to force myself to go for a walk in a minute, although I don’t feel like it.  The only think I really feel like doing is sleeping.  Not even vegetating in front of the TV or eating junk.  Just tuning out of the world.  I haven’t been this bad in a long while and I wonder how I will get to work this week.

Effort : Reward

The news is so depressing today.  Sometimes it’s hard to work out where my life ends and the world begins, they’re so awful.  I’m not sure if that even makes sense.  I mean… actually I don’t know what I mean.  I don’t think that the world is a product of my depressed mind (which would be solipsism and/or psychosis).  But I don’t quite mean that my depression is a product of the world (although on one level it is).  I guess I mean that they complement each other in a disturbing way.  That the world is bad enough to fit my mood, and my mood is bad enough to fit the world.

A few people have said that I should focus not on the religious stuff I don’t achieve, but on how much I’m achieving compared to the effort I put in and my abilities, taking into account depression, social anxiety, possible autism or social communication disorder and so on.  To be honest, this is a Jewish idea.  The Mishnah in Pirkei Avot says that the reward is proportional to the effort and I have heard from a couple of sources that the Chazon Ish (Rabbi Avraham Yeshaya Karelitz), one of the leading Orthodox rabbis and halakhicists of the twentieth century, would stand for someone with Down Syndrome out of respect because they are serving God on their level better than other people.  However, it’s hard for me to hold on to it, because I have no realistic understanding of what I should be able to achieve and how much effort I put in.  Sometimes I feel like I’m working flat out, putting in all the effort I can, but mostly it doesn’t feel like that.  I have no objective way of knowing, I can only compare myself with other people – my peers – who are doing so much more than me, even though I don’t know how much effort they put or how much effort they can put in.

I still feel very lonely.  It’s hard to work out what that loneliness is.  If I say I want to connect with someone, that feels OK, but if I say I want (to be blunt) to have sex with someone, that feels not OK, even though both Judaism and psychiatry recognise sex as a basic human need, and even though for me the desire for sex is connected to the desire for love and intimacy (I couldn’t be promiscuous, just from my personality).  Mind you, sometimes even saying I want to be loved feels selfish and wrong.  I should just love other people without expectation of return.  I find it hard to love people.  I guess it’s the autism, and the alexithymia.  It’s hard to understand what I feel.  E. said I was an “amazing boyfriend” but that still wasn’t good enough.  I don’t know how I could ever love someone properly, or have someone love me the way I need.

I’m supposed to go to volunteer at the asylum seekers drop-in centre (I can never work out if there should be an apostrophe in that – I would think so, but the organisers don’t seem to put one in) , but I don’t feel up to it.  I just want to go back to bed.  I’m still in my pyjamas at 11am, even though I need to leave in half an hour.

Ramblings

Shabbat (the Sabbath) was OK, but this evening has been tough.  The shooting at a shul (synagogue) in America has really upset and depressed me (for what it’s worth, it’s already been knocked off the top story spot on BBC news online by a football club owner’s helicopter crash).  I keep going back to the news online, but I don’t know why.  It can only get worse.  I suppose I want to understand why someone would want to do something like that.

I had a waffley paragraph of political despair here, which I decided to cut (it wasn’t controversial, just rambling), but I do worry about the way the world is going, polarising between equally repulsive far-right and far-left views.  As a natural centrist (albeit with a bit of an anarchist streak), it is hard to feel comfortable in the world.

I guess it all does make going to volunteer at the asylum seekers drop-in centre tomorrow (today now) seem more important.  At least I’m helping people, and people who are different from me in terms of race and religion.  I just hope it makes a difference somehow, even a very small difference.

More banally finishing the job application for a major British public institution proved very difficult, although I’ve sent it off now.  I answered some questions badly and one I could not really answer at all.  I just fudged it.  I won’t even be called to interview, but it’s too late tonight to start another application somewhere else.  I don’t know if I’ll have time tomorrow, as I’m volunteering and I need to cook dinner when I get home as Mum and Dad are out (and, yes a new episode of Doctor Who is on in the evening).  And then I got a migraine that thankfully responded quickly to painkillers, but made me feel worse for a while and slowed down the job application writing.

I didn’t mention that I got a rejection this week for more or less the only job that I’ve applied for recently that I really wanted to get.

A friend emailed me out of the blue to see how I’m doing, which was nice, but on the whole I’m still feeling very lonely, although it’s hard to tease apart exactly what the loneliness is, how much is about friendship, love, sex, attention, empathy, support or what.  I’m thinking more and more seriously about getting a pet (guinea pigs at the moment) but I’m unsure.  Mum turned out to be open to the idea when I raised it, but Dad didn’t say anything.  My worries are that I read that they need really big cages ideally and I’m not sure how much space I have in my room.  Plus, given that I daven (pray) and study Torah in my bedroom, I would have to ask a halakhic question about whether that is permissible with guinea pig litter around.  But I don’t know if getting a pet is a good idea.  Would it help me and be a step on the road to finding a wife and kids or would it cement my life as a loner, the male equivalent of the Crazy Cat Lady?  Can pets even help someone who really wants a meaningful adult romantic relationship?

I still feel really confused about what is ‘wrong’ with me and whether I can ever get the help I need.  Even if I don’t have autism, I have a lot of the symptoms, yet because I don’t have a diagnosis, I can’t access any support services (not that I’m sure that there is much for adults on the spectrum – it seems to be mostly geared up to children).  Yolanda commented on a previous post to say that a diagnosis might help me to be kinder to myself.  I responded that I was thinking the exact same thing today, but that really my depression diagnosis should also allow me to be kinder to myself, but I still beat myself up for being depressed for so long, for not managing to do things I could do years ago (although I do other things I didn’t do then), for not managing as well as other people with mental health issues might be managing and so on.

Still, at least we get an extra hour tonight.  I wish that happened more often than once a year.  I don’t need material things much more than the basics (food, shelter, books and science fiction DVDs), but I wish people could buy me more time for Chanukah or my birthday.

In Loco Parentis

I had some anxiety about volunteering at the asylum seekers’ drop in centre (held at a shul (synagogue)) today, including anxiety dreams last night.  It went OK in the end, I think.  As with last time, I helped set out donations of second-hand clothes that guests (which is how we refer to the asylum seekers) can take and then helped look after the children’s play area.  The children were more of a handful than last time, partly because I was the only adult looking after them the whole time (a couple of adults came and went and a girl of about ten who was volunteering with her mother also helped; she was pretty mature for her age and was a good helper), partly because they had probably been indoors all weekend because of the weather and really needed to go outside to burn off some energy, but that’s not really possible in the shul hall where it takes place.  They weren’t badly behaved, just a bit boisterous, but as the afternoon went on it grew harder and harder to keep them in the corner of the hall where they were supposed to be playing and to stop them running round the whole hall and disrupting the conversations their parents were having with volunteer lawyers and medics.  At least the experience seems to be helping me to overcome the anxieties I have about being able to look after children without doing anything catastrophically wrong.  I am probably an over-cautious ‘parent,’ as I realised I was saying, “Careful” more than anything else.  That came partly from being conflict-averse and wanting to stop the children doing certain not-good things without actually saying “No” and telling them off, but it was partly from nervousness about what sort of activities were suitable for them; not having had much experience with children, I was really feeling my way through this as the afternoon went on.  I do feel that there should be clearer guidelines about what the adults looking after the children should be doing.  I had particular problems when they needed to go to the toilet, as I didn’t think it was appropriate for me to be alone with them at any point (a sad, but necessary reflection of the times we live in).

My rabbi mentor thinks that I should not be thinking about doing a PhD right now.  I know I probably rely too much on what other people say, but he is the wisest person I know and I always take his advice very seriously.  On the other hand, I have been thinking a lot about PhDs and about antisemitism.  It is a topic that excites me, if not exactly in a good way.  I do tend to have ideas that excite me and then get dropped as Real Life gets in the way or my interest just fizzles out or switches to something else.  It can be hard to tell what will stick long enough to get acted upon.

I currently would like to work on the following projects (given unlimited time, energy and resources):

  1. finishing my book on stylistic change in Doctor Who (second draft nearly finished);
  2. writing children’s stories based on the religious tales of Rebbe Nachman of Breslov;
  3. writing a book on Doctor Who comics;
  4. doing something to engage with and understand the topic of antisemitism, preferably something that can have a useful or practical outcome in terms of either helping Jews understand where antisemitism comes from and not internalise negative messages from it or to proactively challenge antisemitism in the wider world.

I would like to be working on any one of these and, in theory at least, the first three could eventually pay for themselves – in theory!  The reality is that they would probably only pay for themselves partially if at all.  Only the fourth option is one that could be funded in advance by some kind of research grant.  At the moment, the first option is the only one I’m actively working on and it’s probably better not to be working on too many things at once, especially as I realise that these four projects pull me in three or four very different directions (Doctor Who fandom; the frum (religious) Jewish community; academia and the general Jewish community).

A lot of people write on Hevria about the dangers of being a frustrated creative.  I thought I was a frustrated creative, but now I realise I’m a frustrated academic.  I want to analyse and understand existing things and explain them to others rather than create things for others to enjoy directly (it’s worth noting that I see my proposed children’s stories as effectively functioning as child-friendly commentaries to Rebbe Nachman’s stories as much as being original creations of my own).  As for what I analyse and understand, in many ways that’s less important than analysing something.  It could be Doctor Who or Judaism or antisemitism (or myself, on this blog).  But I think I need to be writing something serious and analytical and to feel that what I think matters to someone.

I have a couple of books to read here about antisemitism and am about to buy some more, so maybe that will help firm up my thoughts on the matter.

Well, my parents are off to sunny, er, Liverpool tomorrow for most  of the week, so I’ll have the whole house to myself for the first time in a long time, given that I’ve been living in a converted garage for the last two years.  It’s tempting to say that I’ll do something fun and/or productive, but based on past experience, I’ll probably be depressed and lonely and procrastinate, spending all my energy on necessary chores like cooking and shopping and not on useful things like job applications or working on my Doctor Who book.

Asylum

I volunteered today at an asylum seekers drop in centre run by an Orthodox Jewish shul (synagogue) organisation.  I was sorting donations of clothes and then looking after children in the play area.  I wanted to volunteer partly because I think it’s a good cause, particularly for Jews (Jews have been refugees enough times to know what it feels like and, to be blunt, the people using the service are likely to come from countries where Jews are not always held in great esteem, so it’s good to do something positive while identifying as Jewish, in an Orthodox shul), but also because I thought it was a way of working on my social anxiety.  I spoke a little bit to other volunteers, but I found it hard and there were times when I felt self-conscious when I thought that I had made a mistake, even a trivial one, or even when someone else thought that I had made a mistake when I had not.

It was good to play with the children.  I often find young children (pre-school and primary school) easier to be around that adults: they can be more accepting of people who don’t know all the social codes and rules (although when they don’t accept, they can be cruel) and it’s easy to make conversation with them: ask them what their teddy is called or what colour their jumper is.  Plus they have imagination and aren’t jaded by life, which is not always the case with adults, myself included – it’s good to be refreshed by them.  It got off to a bad start when someone passed me a baby and I picked him up badly (or possibly he was passed badly).  I get very nervous holding babies in particular because I worry about dropping them, so, again, this was something I wanted to work on and later a baby (the same one I think) got me to pick him up and seemed quite happy being held by me (although I was so nervous had some slight tremor in my legs), so I think that was a success overall.

I’ve been having weird anxiety dreams lately.  I won’t bore you with the details, but they were much more vivid and with a stronger narrative than my usual dreams (I usually do not remember my dreams and when I do they seem vague stream of consciousness impressions rather than narratives) and I woke up quite distressed.  On Saturday morning I woke up early enough that I could have gone to shul, but didn’t partly because I was distressed from a dream where my rabbi and/or community (I forget the details) disowned me because they found out I accept evolutionary theory.  It was vivid enough to trigger my social anxiety and keep me from going to shul, even though I was aware that it was just a dream.  It’s just another thing that underlined the fact that I don’t 100% fit in to the Jewish community.  I like the commitment to Torah and davening (prayer) and to Yiddishkeit (“Jewishness,” a somewhat wider term than ‘Judaism’) at my shul, which is probably moderately Haredi (ultra-Orthodox), but I find it insular sometimes (I suspect some people at my shul would not see helping Muslim refugees as a priority for time and money).  On the other hand, the more Modern Orthodox communities I grew up in and which run the drop in centre, while more open to the world, can be very lacking in serious commitment to Torah and davening.  It’s difficult to know where I fit in, even without my mental health and borderline autism making it harder for me to fit in and meet my obligations as a frum (religious) Jew.

I felt better last week than the week before, albeit still depressed at times and worried about my forthcoming trip to New York.  I wasn’t feeling suicidal any more, so I decided not to go to the doctor, while keeping the option in mind in case things get worse.  It probably wasn’t surprising I got so depressed; in the last few months I’ve lost my girlfriend, my job, my home and probably my therapist in rapid succession.  Part of me still feels weak and useless for being depressed, especially as I blame myself, on some level, for all four losses, and am not sure what I can do to move on.  Well, I know I need to get a new job before I can do anything else, but I’m struggling with that.

I feel a lot better for having volunteered today, for all that I struggled with moments of self-doubt and social anxiety at times.  Some people with depression and autism feel better with animals; with me, it seems to be small children.  I guess it’s the same feeling of freedom from social conventions, joy and cuteness.  I do feel utterly exhausted now, though, and I doubt I will be in a fit state to do much this evening.  I only hope I feel OK tomorrow, as I need to do some things for the holiday and move the bulk of my stuff from my flat to my parents’ house (my house now,  I guess) and deal with the huge pile of job search emails that have built up even over the weekend.

Top Priority

You know it’s a bad day, depression-wise, when putting on your shoes is too complex, energetic and difficult an action to manage.

Today was a wasted day.  I was supposed to do job hunting stuff, but all I managed was a few minutes of Torah study and a short walk to the shops, plus a cursory bit of davening (prayer).  I had to force myself to eat dinner and watch Doctor Who, I really just wanted to curl up in bed and withdraw from the world.

I’ve had a few thoughts:

  1. I think I need to go back to my parents’ home.  I’ve paid the rent at my flat for another month as I had to give a month’s notice, but at the moment I’m too lonely in the flat by myself, staying up too late and sleeping too late.  The noise (and sometimes smells) from the builders next door is disruptive too and the flat is uncomfortably hot too much of the time, especially as I can’t open the doors (the main means of ventilation) until I’m dressed, which is late, and I don’t like opening the front door while the builders are around.  Moving back in with my parents won’t solve all of that – and it will bring a load of new problems – but it might help with some of it.
  2. It was brought home to me how useless and self-hating I am at the moment and how off-putting that is to my friends and family, let alone women I might be interested in (not that I am right now).  I need to make recovery my top priority.  I just don’t have a clue how.
  3. I forced myself to walk to the shops to get milk, although I didn’t need any urgently.  It was a struggle.  I feel so unfit.  I need to make exercise my top priority, get back into running.  Being fitter will make me feel better.
  4. And getting a job, I need to make that my top priority too.  That would boost my self-esteem and income, which would be helpful.  It would also make me more attractive if I want to date again.
  5. And Jewish stuff should be my top priority too.  That would help me fit in to my community and make friends.  Making friends is a top priority for recovery.  And religion could give my life meaning, which is important for recovery.  And God said to do it, so it must be important and helpful.  So that should definitely be my top priority.
  6. And volunteering/helping others should be my top priority too.  Anyone who has read vaguely patronising stuff about depression knows that helping others is the best way to get better.

So, actually everything I was already trying and failing to do should be my top priority.  And I can barely get up and put some cereal in a bowl for breakfast.  About the only thing not my top priority is writing, which is about the only thing I enjoy and want to make a career from, although lately I don’t have the headspace for anything other than mental health blogging (I have a growing pile of notes for my book that I haven’t typed up yet).  No wonder I’ve spent the last few days feeling totally overwhelmed and in meltdown.  I honestly don’t know where to start, but I can’t do everything at once.

Also, I should stop reading the news, because it’s either terrifying stuff about geopolitics or banal stuff about untalented ‘celebrities’ who I have never heard of, often in articles using slang terms I don’t understand.  Sometimes it can be both types of article at the same time e.g. when an obscure reality TV star becomes most powerful man in the world.

I just feel wiped out.  I do feel that I won’t recover, find another job, fit in to my community, get married, have children… anything I want really.  This doesn’t seem like depressive catastrophisation, but a realistic assessment of the evidence.  People tell me otherwise, but they seem to be making an unrealistically positive assessment.  The history of the last fifteen or twenty years of my life seems to indicate otherwise to me.

I feel so ashamed of myself.  I feel that after fifteen or twenty years I should have moved on from this.  I feel people only tolerate me and my mental illnesses and my borderline (not even undiagnosed) autism up to a point and beyond that they treat me like I should have more control over my life.  But really I feel that I can’t do very much at all so much of the time. I feel if I can’t always convince my parents of this, how can I convince anyone else.  Sometimes I feel that people with physical illnesses aren’t treated like this, or with more serious mental illnesses.  Sometimes it seems a miracle to me that I can get through a day without even hurting myself, without trying to kill myself.  But it’s hard for other people to understand that.  I ‘only’ have depression, not a ‘real’ illness like cancer, or even a ‘real’ mental illness like bipolar disorder or schizophrenia, one where you’re behaviour is noticeably different.  I was pretty subdued, downbeat and lacking in self-esteem long before I was officially diagnosed with depression, hence my uncertainty as to whether I’ve been depressed for fifteen years or twenty or longer.  I feel so messed up today.  I just burst into tears watching Doctor Who.  Twice.  Admittedly it was The Day of the Doctor, but I have seen it before and knew what was coming.  I still cried a little when all the Doctors turned up and again when Tom Baker walked in.  Managed to laugh and cry then.  I’m such a wreck.