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.

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The Demons of Self-Criticism, Doubt and Guilt

I’m being tormented by the demons of self-criticism, doubt and guilt today.  Wondering if those around me only pretend to like and support me out of kindness and pity, rather than genuine positive regard.  Wondering if I do anything in my life right.  Not just if I can get a job or sell some writing, but if I’m a good friend to anyone or do any genuine chessed (kindness).  E. says I’m a good friend to her (and she’s OK with me talking about her online in this way, so I feel comfortable saying that), so that’s something, but I wonder about other people.  I know I’ve had the problem at work in the past of thinking I’ve annoyed my boss and so staying out of her way and thereby not asking important questions and making much bigger mistakes, which is not good.

There’s a Jewish joke about two yeshiva bachurim (Jewish seminary students) who go for a walk in the woods and are mistaken for a bear and shot at.  They drop to the ground.  After a moment, one cautiously raises his head and says, “It appears we are still alive” and the other one responds, “And what is the evidence for this assertion?”  I know I’ve driven people away repeatedly asking, “What is the evidence for this assertion?” whenever anyone says I’m not stupid or useless or wicked, but I don’t know how to stop it.  I really am not convinced by the evidence that I’m not stupid or useless or wicked.

I’m second-guessing everything I put on my blog now.  The comments I made about interactions with people in shul (synagogue) yesterday seemed innocuous to me; I thought they might reflect badly on me, but not anyone else.  Now I wonder if that is true.  I went back and made that post private.  I worry about things I’ve said in the past, when I was sure this blog would remain anonymous.  Now I wonder if people will find out my identity one day.  Perhaps people will be able to go back and discover who I was writing about, or interpret comments that I thought were neutral or positive in a negative way.  Given that social anxiety and autistic social interaction difficulties are such a big part of my issues, I wonder if I can actually blog about how I feel without saying anything about people that might possibly be recognised and misinterpreted by other people.  I also wonder if I need to go back through the blog and purge a lot of posts.  I don’t think I’ve ever said anything that obvious or negative, but maybe I have.

The resultant depression from all this (or maybe it was a cause rather than a result) has led to a rather wasted day.  I struggled to do some interview preparation for Tuesday, but was really too depressed to focus on anything.  I only managed a few minutes of Torah study for the same reason.  I’m feeling so depressed, I’m not even worried about being unemployed or lonely forever – I just feel that my mood can’t get worse, even if my situation can.

My only real achievement was going to shul (synagogue) for Mincha and Ma’ariv (Afternoon and Evening Services).  I tried to arrive just as they were starting to avoid having to talk to anyone, but mistimed it and was late.  I felt horribly self-conscious and depressed the whole time I was there, even wanting to self-harm at one point, because I was feeling so self-loathing and tense (self-harm can be a release).  I wondered, not for the first time, what would happen if I appeared as visibly ill as I feel emotionally.  If I arrived at shul covered in blood, bruises and open wounds.

Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year) seems a long time ago, somehow, although it’s less than ten months ago.  I had hoped for a better year, a fresh start, but it didn’t really happen.  I’ve just drifted, drifted through jobs and job hunting and drifted through friendships and community life, as well as drifting through my own religious life.  I’ve struggled to take back control of my religious life, to try to get some joy and meaning out of it instead of just effort, but I haven’t really managed it.  I suppose I don’t feel as angry with HaShem (God) as I did then, which is good, but I don’t feel that I have any meaningfully close relationship with Him.  I still worry that His plan for me is just more suffering.  And I know people say that you have to expect Him to do good for you for it to happen.  I just expect Him to treat me as He has for the last twenty years.

I’ve lost friends this year and last year.  I feel sad about that.  I don’t have many to lose.  While I may have been responsible for losing this year’s friends, on some level, I wasn’t responsible last year (it was more that we drifted apart), but I still lost that friend however it happened.  I have another friend I haven’t seen for years and don’t know how to see him again, given how busy his life is.  I’m not on Facebook, so I tend to drift out of people’s lives, as they only publicise news on there.  I’m not sure how many children this friend has, whether he has had more since we last met.  I suppose I feel as if I’m drifting out of my friendships too.

Anxiety Central

Today is a bad day for anxiety and self-recrimination.  I discovered that the Oxford Doctor Who Society team did get to the quiz on Sunday.  I’m not sure how I missed them, although only one team member from Sunday was there when I went previously, so perhaps it’s not surprising that I didn’t recognise them.  And I had an acknowledgement email from one science fiction magazine (that I probably shouldn’t have mentioned by name – I have amended that) for my pitch, which is making me more anxious than any job interview.   I suppose it’s understandable that receiving a formal acknowledgement sets off anxiety, but I’m not sure why it sets off self-critical and self-loathing thoughts.  I feel that I just beat myself up for trying things even before I get rejected.  There is, I suppose, a hope that everything will work out this time – or that at least something will work out – coupled with a fear that, judging by past experience, it probably won’t work out.

I’m also struggling with irrational guilt.  I had a question about my job interview on Thursday and emailed the head of HR, but my Dad said I should have phoned.  He is right that it might have been quicker (assuming she was at her desk), but I hate using the phone.  Many autistic and socially anxious people feel the same.  The autistic time lag in processing and responding to conversations seems worse on the phone.  So I emailed, but felt guilty, which is the worst of both worlds.

One Jewish newspaper I wrote to for submission guidelines asked to see copies of my work.  As it’s a fairly religious newspaper, I didn’t want to send any Doctor Who/science fiction criticism.  However, this meant going even further back in time to when I had an article on antisemitism published on a site now absorbed into Tablet Magazine.  I feel awkward about this too, especially as, unlike yesterday, today I sent screenshots of the articles I had written on the sites as well as sending them as Word documents; then I realised afterwards that the sites might be considered inappropriate by a religious newspaper (nothing unsafe for work, just geeky stuff on one site and the fact that the other (a Jewish cultural site) had a “Sex & Love” column tab at the top of the screen).  Nor did I mention that one column was pseudonymous.  The newspaper said they’d keep my details on file and consider me on an ad hoc basis in the future, which I think was a polite brush-off.  Everything today seems to be triggering social anxiety and self-recrimination.

Also, it turns out that I have few copies of material I have had published online.  I guess a mixture of tidiness and low self-esteem regarding my writing have led me to delete much of my writing after posting it online or not to bother transferring it when I’ve upgraded computers.  This applies not just to material from my blog, but even stuff I’ve had published professionally or semi-professionally.  I just never thought I would want or need a copy of it ever again.  Silly of me.  I had to copy and paste stuff I’d written from the web.  There’s a lesson in there about self-esteem and confidence in my work.

I guess the outcome of all of this stuff in the last two paragraphs is a need for better curation of my work.  It probably doesn’t help that I have varied interests that I’ve written about in the past, while it’s only really in the last few months that I’ve been thinking seriously about a career as a writer, with the need to target consistent markets and build up a portfolio of work rather than just writing about anything I fancy and sending it wherever anyone will take it.

Other than that, the day was largely spent in interview preparation and a long phone call to some friends who are sitting shivah (Jewish mourning ritual).  I was glad I was able to phone them, but I find long phone calls draining at the best of times.  I did some Torah study for about forty-five minutes, but I felt quite tired and struggled to concentrate; then my mood plummeted in the late afternoon.  I went to shul (synagogue) in the evening despite these feelings.  I made sure to arrive exactly on time rather than early as the new rabbi has been making a point of speaking to everyone before the service and I didn’t feel like talking, but he wasn’t there (he only works part-time).

The optimism I felt a day or two ago is beginning to evaporate again as I feel lonely, unlovable and unemployable.  I keep thinking of ‘near-misses,’ women I have a lot in common with, but where there is one key difference that stops us turning the friendship into a relationship, or one key reason it wouldn’t work.  I ask myself if I should compromise, but I know that would not be a sensible idea for either of us.  And I worry that I’m not actually employable, that my mix of depression, social anxiety and autism makes it impossible for me to do a job, while not being severe enough for me to qualify for state benefits.  I’m not sure where I go from here.

This all sounds depressed and pessimistic again, when it shouldn’t be.  Nothing really bad has happened to me today.  My friends sitting shivah should be an example of how life can go badly wrong and how lucky I am in comparison.  But I just can’t feel any positive feelings.

Fever Pitch

I got two emails today that made me feel anxious.  The shadchan (matchmaker) from the values-based dating service got back to me and said she’s put me back in the system and I got an email from the assistant editor of a science fiction magazine saying that they don’t have formal submissions guidelines, but I can pitch ideas to them.  Both these things are terrifying me.  With regard to dating, I was hoping I’d somehow slipped through the cracks, to be honest.  I don’t feel up to dating right now despite my loneliness and despite what my parents and my rabbi mentor say.  However, this soon slipped from my mind as I focused on the other worry.

With regard to the science fiction magazine, it’s more complicated.  I googled the rumoured Blu-ray releases of TV science fiction for later this year as this magazine often ties articles to merchandise.  The rumoured releases aren’t confirmed yet, but they gave me an idea of some things to pitch.  It’s a start anyway.  I spent the afternoon and early evening brainstorming article ideas and writing a pitch based on them.  I do feel awkward that the clips (examples of my work) are all several years old, but I guess that’s what happens when one is starting out.

I do feel anxious writing the pitch.  It’s fear of rejection, but also social anxiety fear of drawing attention to myself and possibly looking stupid.  Or maybe even fear of moving on with my life.  I suppose a therapist would suggest I’m self-sabotaging out of fear of moving forward and that’s probably true on some level.  I’m trying to treat it as a learning curve and tell myself I will be rejected (at some point), but I can grow from rejections.

A flier sent out by my shul (synagogue) had a quote from Rabbi E. E. Dessler (twentieth century ethicist) who said, “When you have a true ambition for something, you will not give up hope.  Giving up hope is a sign that you are lacking in ambition to achieve that goal” so we shall see how much ambition I have.  I’m trying to believe that things could go well and that God could want this to work out for me, but it’s hard.

(It also feels deeply weird to be writing to someone whose opinions I’ve been reading in this very magazine since I was thirteen years old, but that’s a side issue.)

Merely Existing

Much of today it felt like it has never not rained and will never not rain.  I feel like that myself, like I have never not been depressed and never will not be depressed.  Given that I have been depressed almost all of my adult life, maybe that’s not surprising.  Still, lately I had been feeling a bit better, but apparently I still haven’t recovered from three days of Shabbat and Yom Tov (Sabbath and festival) earlier this week.  I had an answer to an email about writing professionally that has just made me think I will never be able to do it, will never be able to be functional in the world of work at all.  I also needed to decide if I wanted to go to a social thing on Sunday (Doctor Who quiz) without the friend who I thought might be going.  I decided that I would like to go, if I there is room for me on the team, as I enjoyed it the last time I went and it’s good to do something social that isn’t shul (synagogue) or support group, but it’s another anxiety.  Everything just feels too difficult right now.  I didn’t go to autism group tonight, as I couldn’t face it today, especially after the last time (last time I failed to talk to anyone and left after just fifteen minutes, feeling lonely and depressed).

I think by this stage it’s obvious that there is no quick fix, or even medium term fix, for my problems.  I don’t know how to survive in this world as an adult.  I got stuck somewhere in adolescence.  Or maybe I know how to survive, at a basic level (I haven’t actually tried to kill myself, despite coming very close sometimes, nor do I turn to substance abuse or the like to cope).  But I don’t know how to thrive, which I would define as functioning in a way that I enjoy, at least on some level, rather than merely existing.

I wanted today either to go to autism group or to get a haircut, but I didn’t feel up to either (I find haircuts very stressful for autistic and social anxiety reasons as well as having problems with shaking from medication side-effects).  I did manage to go for a twenty-five minute walk and to send some emails, as well as redrafting the final chapter of my Doctor Who book for half an hour or so.  It’s hard to know whether to be pleased with this or not.  I didn’t manage to do much today; on the other hand, I felt so depressed that I achieved far more than I thought I would when I woke up.  Is that good or bad?  Or both or neither?

I just want to be normal.  I want to have a meaningful career and a steady income.  I want to have a wife and children.  I want to have friends and a community.  I want to have a meaningful and enjoyable religious life, to love God and Torah and Judaism in an uncomplicated way, not a difficult and twisted one.  I would like to know, at the very least, why I can’t have these things, and how to cope without them.  They never taught us that at school.

***

Of course, there are different interpretations of ‘normal.’  I was thinking before about what ‘normal’ is for frum (religious Orthodox Jewish) men.  What I feel I should be like to fit in to a community and to be marryable.  These were my thoughts:

Charedi (ultra-Orthodox) man: should ideally spend all day in Talmud study, but if he has to work, should have first studied for many years in yeshiva and kollel (rabbinical seminary).  Should study Talmud for two or three hours a day with a chevruta (study partner).  Should daven (pray) with a minyan (community) three times a day.  Should want to have eight to ten children.  Should not own a TV and only use the internet for work.

Modern Orthodox man: should have a BA and if possible a higher degree.  Should have studied for many years in yeshiva before qualifying for a profession, preferably law, accountancy or medicine.  Should daven (pray) with a minyan (community) three times a day (unless he is a doctor).  Should study Talmud for about two hours a day, ideally with a chevruta.  Should want to have three or four children.  May own a TV, but doesn’t have time to watch it.

Religious Zionist man: similar to Modern Orthodox men, but should live in Israel and have served in the Israeli army, perhaps becoming a career soldier.  Is allowed to study Tanakh (Hebrew Bible) as well as Talmud because of its nationalistic overtones.  Should want five or six children.

I’m being somewhat facetious, but this is the image I have in my head of frum men.  I’m not sure how realistic this image is, but you can see why someone with depression, social anxiety and autism and everything those things entail in terms of energy, concentration, motivation, social communication issues and so on is going to struggle to compete and have feelings of low self-esteem reinforced.  I do wonder how I could find out if my image is accurate.  For what it’s worth, my rabbi mentor has a BA as well as smicha (rabbinic ordination), has worked in the rabbinate, the charity sector and now privately in business, has five children, but no TV.  I don’t know how he would define himself, but he’s closest to Modern Orthodox.

***

Career-wise, I was told today that I have an interview for a job I forgot I’d applied for next week.  I hope I feel somewhat better next week, as I’m in no state to prepare for an interview today.  Apparently the interview includes “a five minute presentation.”  It is not clear if they are presenting to me as part of the scheduled library tour before the interview, or if I am supposed to present to them, and if so, what about.

I had a positive response to some questions from one of my writing contacts about getting started.  I emailed someone else with similar questions.  I do feel very uncertain how to proceed.  It’s scary to think of starting out on this route, but, the interview next week notwithstanding, I’m struggling to build any kind of library career, let alone a mental health and autism-friendly one.  I try to focus just on the next step, but it’s hard not to think that I’m going to mess this up, just as I feel I’ve messed everything else up.

***

I finished reading Fatherland.  It was very good and not as depressing as I thought it would be, at least for the most part.  I don’t know what to read next, though.  I have a long list of books to read; actually, I have several long lists on Goodreads: Want to Read; To Read Non-Fiction; To Read Torah; Part Read to Finish; and Possibly to Read, as well as books I’ve read, but want to read again, particularly if I’m older and would understand them better now than when I first read them.  This is a product of a couple of factors: working in libraries for a number of years, I acquired a lot of cheap or free books, usually unwanted donations or withdrawn books; I often visit charity shops to look for bargains or just for retail therapy when depressed; on the other hand, because of the depression, I don’t often read the non-fiction or heavy fiction that sits on my shelves.  I want to read more non-fiction and classic fiction.  Even looking at my non-fiction list, there are lots that look interesting: Gershom Scholem on the history of Kabbalah, Orwell’s Homage to Catalonia (read in conjunction with an undergraduate level introduction to The Spanish Civil War), America During the Cold WarThe Islamist…  In addition, I’ve long meant to re-read Great Expectations which I suspect I would understand better, psychologically, than I did when I read it as a set text for GCSEs aged fourteen or fifteen.  I feel like a boy in a sweetshop, but also a boy who is aware that he might feel sick if he tries to eat too much i.e. I really might struggle with Dickens or non-fiction.

***

I just watch the Blake’s 7 episode that contained this line: “However much you might like to pretend you’re a loner, you’re not really.” (Terminal by Terry Nation).  Just going to leave that hanging there…

Difficult Day

Sometimes I try to say something meaningful about depression and autism here, even if it is only my personal, subjective experience of them.  Other days I just off-load.  Today is an off-loading day (sorry).  Actually, it’s more to update the handful of people following this blog regularly, as there isn’t even a lot to off-load, emotionally.

Today was not tangibly better than yesterday.  I still feel exhausted and depressed.  My main achievements were finishing a job application (which was fairly easy once I got down to it) and walking to and from the shops and going shopping.  This took an hour or so, but by the time I got home, I was feeling faint from exhaustion, so tired did it make me.  I didn’t get to shul (synagogue) as I had hoped either.  At times like these, I wonder how I am supposed to function ‘normally’ in the world.  Last time I checked, I do not qualify for disability benefits (although my psychiatrist thought otherwise last week, so I need to check), but I struggle to work even part-time; at the moment, it’s a struggle to apply for some jobs and do some chores.

I did manage half an hour of Talmud study, somehow (it was a surprisingly easy amud (page), fortunately) and ten minutes or more of other Torah study.

I tried to write some emails asking writer friends for advice about starting a paid writing career, but it was hard to engage my brain to ask meaningful, non-trivial questions.  I feel I need help quite desperately if I am to build a completely new career with very little knowledge and no contacts, but I don’t know what questions to ask.  Perhaps it’s the autistic thing of poor executive function: difficulty seeing the big picture rather than the details (I’m focused on what are probably minor points), difficulty coping with a blank sheet of paper (“Ask me anything!”  “Um…”) as well as social anxiety (“Why would they even respond to my questions anyway?”).  I need to find questions to ask, but I just want to scream “HELP!!!”  I was lucky that E. helped me a bit with writing the questions.  I’ve sent one load of questions off and hope to send some more in a day or two.

The good news is that I got positive results from the complaint emails I sent yesterday: a full refund on the DVD with the broken casing and a partial (50%) refund on the book with the damaged spine.

And that was it, really.  I watched two episodes of Blake’s 7, one awful (Moloch) and one okay (Death-Watch).  I’ve realised that from this point on, good Blake’s 7 episodes are going to be a minority.  I have one quite good episode from series three, but most of the fourth and final series was pants, to put it bluntly.  Maybe it was a mistake to decide to watch the whole series again.  I might interrupt it with the BBC Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy/Smiley’s People DVD that arrived the other day (the one with the broken case) and save Blake’s 7 for when I’m too tired or depressed to concentrate on George Smiley.

Three Day Eventing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bounded in a Nutshell

“I could be bounded in a nutshell, and count myself a king of infinite space, were it not that I have bad dreams.” Hamlet, William Shakespeare

I felt a huge amount of anger with HaShem (God) yesterday evening.  I’m just so lonely and feel so useless and I can’t see any way out.  It’s illogical to be angry with Him about my own failings, but I feel that if I wasn’t autistic and depressed, I wouldn’t be so lonely and isolated, which leads on to anger with Him for making me autistic (blame for the depression is more complicated).  I feel if I wasn’t autistic, I would be able to function in the frum (religious) world as He wants, but as it is, I can’t function.

I didn’t know how to process the anger, so I ended up hurting myself for the first time in a while.  I hit my legs with my fists while trying to talk to HaShem;  later I scratched myself slightly, but I’m not quite sure why I did that.  I have been fantasising about death again lately too, mainly just thinking that however bad things are here, one day I’ll be dead and unable to feel any more pain.

***

I’m still struggling with what to do about dating.  It still feels wrong, morally wrong, to date while I’m not just unemployed, but not even sure what I want to do with my life any more.  And I can’t face the thought of rejection and it seems there are so many reasons why someone would reject me (autistic, depressed, weird geeky interests, didn’t go to yeshiva or otherwise tick the appropriate frum boxes) even without being unemployed too.  Nor do I look forward to having to turn down someone I don’t feel is right for me.  And I’m wary of thinking that things will be better if I’m in a relationship (although it is true that I have felt better when I’ve been in a relationship in the past, even if I wasn’t “recovered”).

However, I just feel so lonely.  I feel like everyone has their partner except me.  This is blatantly untrue (a number of my friends are single), but reflects how I feel.  I feel that I am mostly self-contained.  I don’t need other people with me all the time.  I have solitary hobbies and even things like watching TV I prefer to do alone (I don’t like watching TV with other people because I don’t watch TV casually.  I don’t channel hop, I only watch things I want to watch and which I think are worth my time, but then I watch them with complete concentration and dislike noise and interruptions, particularly as the programmes I watch tend to be plot-heavy and reasonably complex to follow).  I should really be happy living alone as I’m an introvert and a bit of a loner.  But, as seen when my parents are away, when I’m actually alone, I do get more depressed, even though logically I should welcome being alone.  I do, on some level, need people around me, even if I don’t interact with them much.  I also need to be able to love and to feel loved and I’m rather starved of both of these things and have been much of my life.  My parents and my sister do care about me, but there are so difficulties in those relationships, most probably stemming from my autism and my having different “love languages” to my family.  We probably aren’t very good at showing love to each other in ways the other person can comprehend.

I try to cope with things and be self-contained (“If you are miserable alone, you will be miserable in a relationship” as everyone says), but I just feel so unbearably lonely and unloved that it’s impossible to escape the depression for long.

***

I saw the psychiatrist today.  It didn’t go well.  She focused on my unemployment, repeatedly telling me that I should get a job, which wasn’t terribly helpful.  She did suggest doing voluntary work, which is probably a good idea.  I didn’t feel like she was really listening, nor did I have the confidence to tell her that my depression and social anxiety are just as bad, if not worse, when I’m working, because of issues surrounding autism and mental illness in the workplace.  In fact, I haven’t told this psychiatrist about my autism at all, as the last one said that if I’ve been told I haven’t got it by the Maudsley Hospital, I don’t have it and that’s final.  As my GP has referred me for another assessment at the Maudsley, I’m not going to raise the issue again until I’ve had that assessment.

As well as sounding disappointed with me for not having a job, she sounded disappointed with me for not having friends.  I said I had “one or two” which is a simplification (I have two or three I’m in contact with regularly, but via text as they live elsewhere; I have one or two friends who live locally, but I usually only see them in shul (synagogue)).   I couldn’t really be bothered to explain as she didn’t seem interested and I was struggling to understand her accent; possibly she was struggling with mine too.  She asked if I am in a relationship; she didn’t really react when I said I’m not.  When she asked what I do when I’m not job hunting, I said I write a bit, which she misheard as “write a book” which is basically true so I didn’t correct her.

She asked if I have thoughts of self-harm or suicide and I said yes, because I have had them in the last couple of days, but she didn’t really seem to care as I said I wouldn’t act on the suicidal thoughts, which is probably true, and that I wouldn’t act on the self-harm thoughts, which was a lie because I did last night.  I don’t know why I lied; probably because it was very minor and I just wanted to get out of the appointment room.  I just didn’t feel comfortable opening up to her as she seemed to just want to process me quickly and get to the next patient and seemed to think that finding a job will be a panacea for me.

***

Today’s potential jobs: a school librarian maternity cover job (I don’t want to work in further education again after struggling previously); an “information assistant” that seems to be a library assistant role rather than an assistant librarian and has a lethal-looking commute; and a role billed as “knowledge librarian” but which also seems to be a library assistant role rather than a trained librarian role, judging from the lack of professional skills in the job description and which also requires SharePoint experience that I don’t have.  I was then reminded that I applied for a “knowledge librarian” role a few days ago; I think it was the same job as the job descriptions are similar, although it’s hard to be sure, as both jobs are advertised through different agencies and don’t state the name of the company that is advertising the job (this happens a lot and is very frustrating).

It is probably no wonder that I really want to do something else with my life, something I find more rewarding.  But, just as I don’t have the courage to start dating again, I don’t have the courage (or knowledge and perhaps the ability) to try to write professionally.

***

I feel like I’m coming down with a migraine, so the rest of the day is probably a wipe-out now.

Fouled Up

There was another shul (synagogue) engagement of someone around my age today, albeit this time a divorcee.  I think I once tried to ‘talk’ to her on a dating site (when I didn’t know she was from my shul), only for her to say that I was “too worldly” for her, which reinforced my feeling of having put myself in a position between two worlds (Modern Orthodox and Haredi (ultra-Orthodox)) where no one could be interested in me.  The feeling of “when is it my turn?” never seems to go away, despite my occasional feeling that getting married would not solve my problems and perhaps would worsen them.

In a comment on yesterday’s post, Ashley Leia said, “if you put off dating until you feel you are likeable/acceptable to a woman, but you don’t consider yourself likeable/acceptable full stop, and being unmarried reinforces the idea of being unlikeable/unacceptable, that seems like a vicious circle that’s never going to end. Why not let the potential dates decide for themselves?”

This is probably true, but hard for me to accept.  It just seems so ludicrous to think that anyone could ever love me.  Anyone wanting to marry me would basically be marrying my issues (autism, depression, unemployment and more) and I don’t think I have enough positives in my favour to counter-balance that.  I’m seriously not kind enough or rich enough or clever enough or good-looking enough or frum enough or whatever to be worth marrying in my own right.  So I would basically be marrying someone who wants to care for someone, which isn’t a healthy basis for a relationship.  I know people say you shouldn’t be dating if you don’t love yourself, which pretty much means I will never date again.

I also feel I have exactly as much chance of getting married by doing nothing proactive at all as I have by going to shadchanim, on dating sites or asking women out i.e. no chance at all.

Of course, if I did get married, I would still be depressed and have low self-esteem and my first girlfriend was probably right that I’m frigid (certainly I have autistic issues with touch and intimacy, both physical and emotional), so I could end up in a worse situation than I’m in now.

***

Am I punishing myself too much?  With dating, or rather, not dating, and other things?  I don’t know.  Probably.  There is definitely self-sabotage in not going to shadchanim and not going on dating websites, but there has probably also been self-sabotage in doing those things too, in going to shadchanim and on to dating sites when I didn’t feel ready as well as asking out women who had little in common with me and apparently didn’t like me much (which seems to be most of them).

I’ve had thoughts of self-harm again, yesterday and today.  I haven’t acted on them, at least, not physically, but I feel that, as I try to live my life on multiple levels (physical, spiritual, ethical) there are ways I can hurt myself that don’t involve physical harm, but which can be just as dangerous and lasting, if not more so, at least to someone who believes in the soul.  “For he who lives more life than one/More deaths than one must die.”  I don’t like myself very much.

It’s a number of years since I read The Brothers Karamazov, but there’s a bit in there I’ve been thinking of yesterday and today.  The Karamazovs are all hedonists and libertines except for Alyosha, who is an ascetic, but someone says that, even so, he’s still a Karamazov.  He still has the libertine streak, he just uses it for asceticism.  The idea is that one can be a hedonistic ascetic.  I’m not a hedonist and I’m not really an ascetic, but I do have an ascetic streak, but it’s probably more about punishing myself than withdrawing from the world.  Maybe I’m being too hard on myself again.  I think I probably do like to punish myself, on some level, but then I feel I deserve it.  Sometimes I feel like I want to list all my sins here so no one would read this any more.  When the depression is bad (like now), I just want to hurt myself, physically and perhaps also by shaming myself (I’m not sure if that’s a desire or a fear, maybe both).

I just feel my life isn’t a story that can end well for me.  It’s doubtful that I will ever manage a career, a relationship or a family.  It’s doubtful that my writing will be published (more than the little scraps that have been published).  I don’t perform mitzvot (commandments) or daven (pray) well or study much Torah.  So I’m not sure, without all those things, how my life could ever be worthwhile.  I just feel fouled up beyond all repair.

***

Someone elsewhere on the internet said that if people at my shul (synagogue) won’t accept me, they aren’t worthy of my time.  The problem is that I don’t know if people accept me or not, or where the boundaries of acceptable behaviour lie.  Plus, I don’t have a better community to go to, and you can’t be a frum Jew (certainly not a frum Jewish man) without having a community.  The silly thing is that lately, when I was feeling a bit better, I was beginning to believe people liked me.  I don’t know what I think now.  I also don’t know how much I think people like me because they don’t really know me; if they knew me better, they wouldn’t like me.

***

Otherwise today has been a slow day.  The summer seems to have evaporated and it’s another dreary grey English June day here.  I sent off another job application (for a Knowledge Librarian post at a large company), but all they wanted was my CV, no covering letter to adapt or long application form to fill it.  This was good, as the forms usually just cover the same information as the CV, but in different little boxes making cutting pasting fiddly.

Because I didn’t have any more jobs to apply for, I finished the first draft of the final chapter of my Doctor Who book.  I need to redraft it at some point and it might be worth re-watching some episodes again to help flesh the chapter out; at the same time, the book as a whole needs some serious pruning, so a fourth draft will probably be necessary when I get feedback from my friends.  It does feel never ending at times.  Still, I’m probably on target for my aim of finishing around Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year, in the autumn).

***

I just hate myself and my life, really.

Time’s Wingèd Chariot

A friend suggested an Orthodox shadchan (matchmaking service) to me (this one).  I had actually already heard of them – nearly used them, in fact, before using the values-based dating service.  I don’t think I should be dating right now, because of my unclear employment situation, not just being unemployed, but not even being sure I’m in the right career, wanting to try to be a writer, but being too scared to try and not really knowing how to go about it.  My parents and my rabbi mentor disagree with me and think I could be dating, but it just feels wrong to me.  Actually, if I asked any rabbi, they would almost certainly tell me I should be dating, because I’m not likely to get much better, mental health-wise,  marriage and children are mitzvot (commandments) and the right woman would overlook my mental health issues and unemployment because we would be soul-mates (really?!!).  I suppose I agree, up to a point, I just don’t believe there is a magic “right woman” out there for me and I can’t face opening up to women only to be rejected again and again.  Particularly as I can’t find a shadchan in the UK who deals with people with ‘issues’ like mine.  But I’m lonely.

It makes me wonder what women would think if I did turn up on a date without a job.  L. didn’t seem to care, but I think most women would.  In the Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) world it’s more common for men to date while not in employment, but that’s because people date while still in yeshiva (rabbinical seminary), and in some communities the man is expected to stay in yeshiva or kollel permanently, with the woman supporting the family while he studies.  I disagree with this behaviour and don’t particularly want to go down that path in a weird sort of secular way (being supported by my wife while I try to build a career).  And I really, really, really can’t imagine what type of woman would be interested in a depressed, autistic, unemployed frum-but-not-frum-enough geek.

But I do get really lonely.  Then again, dating just because I’m lonely isn’t necessarily the best idea either, although lots of people do it.

“But at my back I always hear/Time’s wingèd chariot hurrying near”.  I feel I should have got my life sorted out by now.  I should have dealt with my adolescent angst and my mental health issues, I should have got my autism diagnosis, I should have sorted my career and started a family already.  My peers at shul are all married with children and careers.  Assuming I marry someone my own age, it’s going to start getting harder to even have children soon.

***

I feel like my shul is trolling me.  Shortly after writing the above paragraphs, I saw they had sent out the text of a special prayer that I had never heard of before to say on Rosh Chodesh Sivan (tonight and tomorrow) to pray for one’s children to be righteous and that they should find righteous spouses from families of Torah scholars.  Seriously?!  You really want to rub in that I have no wife and children?!  For the sake of some obscure minhag (custom) that comes from just one seventeenth century kabbalist?  It’s an unfortunate coincidence that this should happen today, but it does reinforce the feeling that if you don’t have a spouse and children, there really is no room for you in a frum (religious Orthodox Jewish) community.  You are just too weird and unusual.  I shouldn’t get annoyed about this stuff, but it feels too much sometimes.  I don’t think it’s just my shul either.  I think any Orthodox community, Modern or Haredi, would assume everyone my age is married.

As if this wasn’t enough, another bad shul thing happened today.  I went to shul for Mincha and Ma’ariv (Afternoon and Evening Prayers).  I got there early and started reading Pirkei Avot to pass the time.  Suddenly I noticed out of the corner of my eye most of the people standing up and on some level I knew the new rabbi must have walked in (I’m very bad about standing up for rabbis, which is taken very seriously in the Haredi world).  I glanced up and saw him, but I just couldn’t stand up.  I don’t know why.  Maybe on some level I didn’t want to.  So I hoped it looked like I hadn’t seen him, but I was worried we had made eye contact when I looked up.  Then he started going around the shul talking to people.  I didn’t realise until he had almost got to me.  I stood up when he started talking to me, but I was so anxious my legs started shaking quite badly and I found it hard to stand upright.  I don’t know if he noticed.  Then he said something about he hoped I wasn’t working too hard and I had absolutely no idea what he was talking about.  I wasn’t sure if it was a joke or a genuine question or what.  My autism means I don’t always get jokes in casual conversation with people I’m not so familiar with, particularly if I’m nervous, and also that I can’t always tell when people are asking something out of politeness or if they really mean it.  So I wasn’t sure whether to say that I’m out of work or what.  Then, when davening (prayers) started, I suddenly had a fear that he thought I was in school and coming up to exams.  I’m nearly thirty-six, but I look a lot younger and have been mistaken for a sixth-former in the fairly recent past.  (I guess it’s better than looking older than my years.)  So, I have no idea how that interaction went.  I know it went badly, but I’m not sure just how badly.

The whole experience left me very anxious and agitated and unable to concentrate on davening.  During davening and afterwards I had violent agitated thoughts of having my throat slit or of maggots eating my rotting flesh.  It was horrible.  I started wondering why social interactions are so hard for me.  Not in the literal sense of having autism and social anxiety, but in a deeper, metaphysical way.  In Judaism there is a concept of middah keneged middah (measure for measure), that we get punished in the way we sinned, so I started wondering if I embarrass people in public (which is a very serious sin in Judaism).  I do tease my Dad and get annoyed with him more than I should and some of that may count as being in public, but it didn’t really seem to explain why I find it so hard to go through social situations (sometimes including just going shopping) without feeling embarrassed.  So, perhaps there is another reason, but I don’t know what it is.  I don’t know why I can’t just live an ordinary life like most people get to do.  Some Jews believe in gilgul neshamot (reincarnation).  I find that it raises more problems than it answers, but sometimes it’s tempting to believe I was just a horrible person in another life and that outweighs whatever it is I’m doing now.

***

I feel that I hate myself today.  I just feel that I hate everything about myself.  I’m not even sure why.  It’s probably just frustration with my life.  Sometimes I wish I believed in da’at Torah, the mystical clairvoyance that Haredi Jews believe their rabbis have that allows them to prophetically answer difficult life questions.  I wish I could believe someone could just tell me what to do with my life and then I could go and do it, or at least try to do it.  But I don’t think life works like that, certainly not my life, where I have to struggle for every little thing.  Plus there probably is some self-sabotage going on here, in dating and career.

But I’ve said all this before.  I wish I could break out of the loop my thoughts run around, but I don’t think that’s going to happen until someone either publishes me or marries me, neither of which seem very likely right now, and perhaps not even then.  I can’t believe I could meet someone like me through an Orthodox dating service anyway, and I certainly don’t believe I could meet someone in another way, so I’m stuck.  There just isn’t anyone like me (weird and dysfunctional).  I’m weird, crazy and lonely, I’m religious, but not enough.  When God made me, He made me too broken for anyone to match with me.

There’s a lot online about body image.  I don’t particularly struggle with that.  I don’t think I look great, but I don’t feel self-consciously ugly either most of the time.  But I don’t like myself as a person and I find it hard to believe that anyone else could like me either (I mean even as a friend, let alone for dating).  I don’t feel that I have any particularly good character traits and on the rare occasions people have said what they like about me, they tend to focus on my intelligence, which is problematic as (a) I don’t consider it a particularly strongly positive character trait (it’s not bad, but it’s not good like being kind or generous, it just is) and (b) my intelligence seems to have been negatively affected by my depression and I feel stupid a lot of the time these days, especially in social situations where social anxiety and autistic impairments kick in.

***

I didn’t have any jobs to apply for today, aside from a school librarian job I really don’t want, so I focused on my writing, managing to write much of the first draft of the final chapter of my Doctor Who book, covering the most recent episodes.  It feels a bit unsubstantial and I may have to rewatch some of those episodes before attempting a second draft.  I might try to get some feedback from friends first, though (I would like more feedback in general, if possible, if anyone else would like to volunteer).  Other than redrafting that chapter, the main thing to do now is to wait for feedback from friends I have shown chapters to and to decide whether to attempt a fourth draft or to submit it.  I think I probably will do at least one more draft.

Other than that, my only achievements today were going to shul, including walking there and back, and doing about an hour of Torah study.  I should be pleased with my writing, and on one level I am, but I always feel bad about prioritising writing over job hunting.  I wish I could get the courage to dedicate serious time to writing professionally, but I don’t have the guts.  Oh, and somehow I lost my to do list and I can’t remember what was on it.  I also watched a forgetable episode of Blake’s 7 (Volcano).  So not a great day in all.

More In Heaven and Earth

I was woken far too early by a large bee that was trapped between the blind and the window and was making a lot of noise.  I failed to prod it out the window and decided to stay up, open the main windows (I only had the small ones open) and wait for it to leave of its own accord while I had breakfast.

On waking I noticed something odd.  The photo of my maternal grandparents, which sits on the bookcase opposite my bed, was on my bedside table, on the other side of the room.  I’m sure I didn’t put it there.  I do believe in God, but I don’t believe He randomly moves my stuff around.  I don’t believe in demons, ghosts, reincarnation, astrology, the evil eye, clairvoyance and various other things that some of my coreligionists believe in.  I am sure there is a rational explanation.  I just don’t know what it is.  I suppose the most likely explanation is that I got up and moved it in my sleep, somehow, although I have no history of sleepwalking, even as a child.

I am rather disconcerted by this, but I will endeavour not to tell my parents.  Similar things have happened to my Dad and he reads great significance into them, hinting, although not quite explicitly saying, that he feels them to be messages of some kind from his late father, something which I do not feel comfortable with.  I have no wish to encourage thoughts like these.  Still, it is disconcerting.

***

I submitted the job application I’ve been working on all week, the one where there were a lot of vague open questions that my autistic brain struggled with, and others that indicated that they wanted more experience than I had and a greater commitment to CPD (continuing professional development) than I can manage at the moment.  You know you’re trying to bluff your way through something when you start an answer “I endeavour…”  I think I have zero chance of getting the job and I doubt it even counts as good experience, given how much I struggled with it.  I feel a bit of an idiot.

***

There’s a book I’m reading, one chapter each week on spirituality, based on the weekly parasha (Torah portion read in the synagogue).  I’m struggling with it.  I don’t like to give up on books, but I’m worried it’s having a negative effect on me.  I just can’t work out how to have the kind of dynamic spiritual life the author suggests, full of inspiration and natural highs, enthusiasm, love for God, love for others and more.  I know it’s the depression, but I don’t think there is ever going to not be depression there for me, at least on some level.  I don’t know how I can enjoy my religious life.  This is especially problematic as “going through the motions” religiously, doing stuff by rote is criticised in Judaism, both by this book and by other teachers (e.g. my hero the Kotzker Rebbe said something along the lines of, “Someone who studies Torah and is not moved by it, who sins and forgives himself, who prays today because he prayed yesterday – a completely wicked person is better than him!”).

I wonder if I will ever have the religious life I want.  I want to have religious joy, simcha shel mitzvah (the joy of fulfilling the commandments).  I want to enjoy studying Torah again.  I want to feel part of a community.  I want to build a bayit ne’eman beYisrael (faithful house in Israel, a metaphor for a religious home).  But I worry that I will never manage these things.  For one thing, it seems to be a catch-22: if I don’t have joy, I won’t be able to get motivated to study Torah or to pray enthusiastically and mindfully.  But if I don’t study Torah or pray enthusiastically, I won’t earn the joy of the commandments.  Even at a basic level, if I cut Torah study and prayer to the bare minimum, there’s no room for joy from them.  They’re just chores, quickly dealt with.  Similarly, I can’t become part of a community while I feel myself to be so spiritually impoverished, but I can’t grow spiritually without being part of a community; I suspect I can’t get married without being part of a community either (to get set up on dates), but I suspect if I ever become fully integrated to a community, it would be because of a wife who is able to navigate things better than I can.

***

A related realisation I’ve come to in recent years: probably the biggest argument against the existence of God, or at least the Jewish conception of God, is the existence of suffering.  Why would a benevolent, omnipotent, omniscient God allow so much undeserved suffering?  I think there are really only two possible answers: either there is no God (or at least not a benevolent, omnipotent, omniscient one) or suffering is the point.  Not that we’re made to suffer per se, but that suffering is a key part of what happens to us here, to stimulate character growth and empathy and to give us challenges to overcome.

But it’s hard to believe that all the time.  Some of it is subjective, feeling that I’ve suffered in my life more than other people.  This may be true, but it’s hard to tell as I don’t know everything others have been through or will go through, or what I will go through in the coming years.  But some of it is more objective (although still somewhat subjective), feeling that I can’t go on any more.  I feel tired a lot of the time, and not just depressive exhaustion.  I’m not suicidal, but I often feel I have exhausted everything life has to offer me and that I have no strength to go on any more.  I have no enthusiasm for Jewish life or for life in general.  I don’t really have any hopes or ambitions for the future, and the thought that one day I will be dead is still quite calming – that I won’t have to worry about things any more.  It doesn’t help that these days the world around me (in the news) just confuses and scares me, but even without that, I feel drained and negative.

I don’t know how to get more energy and motivation.  This is, believe it or not, a good day for me.  I don’t feel as depressed and lonely as I did earlier this week, when my parents were away.  I have some energy.  I finished a job application, did nearly an hour of Torah study and worked on my book for an hour or so as well as going for a twenty-five minute walk.  But even so, I feel a lack of enthusiasm, joy and meaning.  Even writing my book, which in the past was restoring, felt like a struggle, although I did manage to write a thousand words or so.

***

An aside: someone who goes to the shiur (religious class) I go to was absent last night.  Today the shul announced that he and his wife had a baby.  He is my age or perhaps slightly older.  I try to feel happy for people, but every time I hear of someone my age marrying or having a child, I seem to feel my life slipping away from me.

Stuckness

I realised I’ve hardly spoken to anyone in forty-eight hours, since my parents have been away.  Aside from a few words at autism group yesterday, and the What’sApp call with my Mum that went badly on Monday evening, that’s about it, unless you count saying “excuse me” as I tried to get past people on the Tube yesterday.  This is what happens when I’m left on my own.  I’m not even sure if I’m lonely, exactly.  Just lost inside my head.

Otherwise, it’s the same as usual: sleeping too much, impossible to get going when I wake up, loneliness, depression…  I tried to work on a job application, but it’s a struggle to deal with their rather precise questions, which seem to indicate that I don’t have the necessary experience.  Maybe I’ll have another go another day, if I feel better.

Given the trajectory of my life over the last five or ten years, I am beginning to believe things might get somewhat better for me and I’ll learn to manage my mental health issues and autism better.  However, I don’t think I’ll ever be totally free of them.  I’m uncertain as to whether I will ever build any kind of meaningful career for myself (as a librarian, writer or anything else) or whether I will manage it in time to save enough to support myself in old age or in case of other depression episodes.  Likewise, while I am trying to stay open to the idea of marrying “one day,” it is very hard to believe I will marry at an age when I will be able to have children.  I suppose it’s an improvement on how I used to be, when I felt I could never get any better, an idea that was supported by my lack of progress.

I suppose I should try to do something productive with my day.  It’s 6.45pm.  I’ve been awake for nearly six hours and I haven’t done anything except eat breakfast and lunch, get dressed, daven Mincha (say Afternoon Prayers) and try and fail to work on my job application (not to mention procrastinating a lot).  I would like to go for a walk, or work on one of my books or do some miniature painting or study Torah for a few minutes.  I don’t feel like I could really do any of them, let alone all of them, but I will try to go for a walk in a minute and see if that helps at all.

The Return of Colonel Runaway

I slept for about twelve hours again.  It’s quite awful, sleeping so long and waking more tired than I went to sleep, too tired to get up, but in many ways the worst of it is not being able to tell people, because it sounds luxurious and lazy.  It’s terrible.  I don’t have refreshing sleep, although as far as I can tell it’s not particularly interrupted (I must wake up enough to turn off my alarm, but I don’t consciously notice it).  I eventually get the strength to get up and eat breakfast, but it takes an hour or more after that to get the energy and motivation to get dressed.

I feel lethargic and depressed, like Sherlock Holmes after solving a difficult case.  Except I haven’t caught a murderer or found a missing treaty.  I haven’t really done anything for about a week and a half, except a bit of work on my Doctor Who book.  Is this still exhaustion from breaking up with L. and having two job interviews in a week?

Today not only did I get up too late to daven Shacharit (say morning prayers), as often happens, I even postponed Mincha (the Afternoon Service) until after lunch because I didn’t have the energy – I actually felt physically faint and weak.  I did try to fill in a job application, but I struggled to get the energy and concentration, plus they asked some quite detailed questions about types of tasks I’ve never done (e.g. designing and delivering information skills workshops) or things that I’ve never really thought about (e.g. the single most pressing issue for higher education).  Not for the first time, I wonder how most people can have full-time jobs and do CPD and have homes and families and have social lives and have hobbies all at the same time.  I can’t manage any of them.

It’s just a struggle to get through the day.  I was determined to get to autism group tonight, as I haven’t been for six months or more.  That’s where all my energy went.  It was a waste of time, though.  It was supposed to start at 6pm, but my experience is that no one gets there then.  I was aiming for 6.15, but because I miscalculated and my train was delayed, I didn’t get there until 6.45.  By this time, everyone was deep in conversation.  I had only seen one person there previously.  None of the people I was hoping to see, people I’ve ‘clicked’ with and been able to talk to in the past were there.  I sat on the fringes of conversations for a bit, trying to get in, but I wasn’t able to do so.  I’m very bad at that sort of thing.  One or two people said hi, but no one really spoke to me.  So far as I could tell, most of the people were talking about computer games.  I don’t play computer games.  And I was spacing out from the noise and struggling to hear properly (I’ve often wondered why a group for autistic people meets in such a busy, noisy place).  After fifteen minutes, I was desperate to leave.  The final straw was when the man and woman to my left who were talking to someone who hadn’t been before mentioned in passing that they were in a relationship and met through the group.  This provoked an inevitable comparison of myself to them, and the way I just can’t meet women who are interested in me.  So, I pretended my phone went off and left.

I am not proud of myself, not least because I wasted the extortionate cost of a Tube fare into London, and really wasted the whole day, because I could have tried harder to fill in the job application if I hadn’t left around 5.10pm.  To be fair, I was practically in tears on the Tube going to the group, so maybe I wasn’t in the best state of mind to start with.

Inevitably, I’m thinking again what a mess my life is and how I have not made anything of it.  Thinking that I’ve never really managed to fit into any community, be it academic, religious or fandom-based.  I didn’t fit in to the Jewish Society in Oxford, nor did I fit in with the other historians in my college (who seemed to be quite drink-and-party orientated, or maybe they just seemed that way in comparison to me, someone who went to bed at 11.00pm and tried to get up early even though he was a humanities student).  I fitted in a bit better to the Doctor Who Society, but had to miss a lot of their events because of Judaism (meals in non-kosher restaurants, location visits on Saturdays).  I don’t fit in to my shul (synagogue).  I despair of ever getting married.  I just can’t see it happening.  No one likes me that much and my lack of income is a serious issue.  I can’t build a career, I can’t live the type of religious life of community, prayer, religious study and mitzvah performance that I want.  I just can’t.  I don’t know how to try any more or who to turn to for help.  No one – I mean friends and family – seems to think things are so hopeless, but they don’t have any constructive suggestions other than to keep applying for jobs I don’t want and to go to shadchanim (matchmakers) to try to get set up with women even though I’m unemployed and not what any frum woman would be looking for.

OK, going to stop now because I’m just making myself feel more depressed.  One last thing: today I got the results of a routine blood test I had a couple of weeks ago: my lithium level is rather low.  The doctor didn’t query it, but I think it’s below the therapeutic range (I’ve long had issues trying to get my lithium level right on lithium tablets).  So maybe that’s why I’m struggling at the moment, if there weren’t enough other reasons.  I will try to mention it to the psychiatrist when I see her next week.

OK, Blake’s 7 and/or Doctor Who now.  I feel too depressed to do anything, but I’m going to force myself to watch something and not sit with my thoughts or aimlessly browse online.

You Can’t Win

My parents are away for a few days, starting this morning, and I have the house to myself.  This is good in some ways, but bad in others.  In particular, my loneliness gets worse when they’re away.  Even though I don’t talk to them that much, I seem to benefit from other people being in the house, which I guess sheds light on my desire to get married.  Of course, when they’re here, I get frustrated with them, particularly if I feel they’re treating me as a child.  It’s difficult being an adult living with my parents, especially as, to some extent, they have good reason for assuming I can’t cope by myself because of my high functioning autism and depression.  More on this below.

***

I felt very depressed again today and lacking in energy, motivation and concentration.  I really wasted the day sleeping as I struggled to sleep last night, then slept through the morning and dozed off again after breakfast.  I kept going back to lie on the bed because I feel so drained.  That was how I dozed off after breakfast.  I just have no energy for anything.  I felt as limp as a rag doll much of the day and didn’t feel able to do anything except type a bit.  I didn’t even feel able to read much, although my mood energy and concentration got a bit better in the late afternoon.  I don’t know why my mood has sunk recently.  It’s possible that the busy week I had two weeks ago, with a break-up and two stressful job interviews and then three job rejections (actually two rejections, plus belated feedback from a third) knocked me out and I have recovered, which feels a bit pathetic.  I feel I should (that word again) be better at recovering, but I can’t make myself better by beating myself up, sadly.

Well, all I managed to do today was go for a half hour walk and buy bananas, as well as ten minutes of Torah study.  I did find a new job to apply for, only to find that it seems I had wanted to apply for it in February, but the advert was taken down before I applied for it.  As I haven’t seen it advertised lately, I’m guessing they didn’t fill the post first time around or possibly they’re advertising for a similar, but non-identical role, so I decided to try again, but I got dismayed by the lengthy online application and request for evidence CPD and the like (with my issues it’s hard just to hold down a part-time job, let alone do CPD).  Other than that, the only productive thing I did was watch an episode of Doctor Who as research for my book.

***

My life seems to be about contingency planning right now.  What career can I build for myself given that I don’t seem to be able to build one in librarianship?  Will I manage to make one as a writer?  This is hard, especially as I don’t know anyone who could advise me and am not convinced that I am a good writer (albeit that my low number of blog followers may be due to my writing in a style that might fit better in a weekly magazine or newspaper column than a daily blog post and not necessarily a sign that I should not write book-length pieces).  What religious community should I go to, given that my current is not perfect, but might be the least-worst option for now, and how can I integrate if I can’t find a perfect fit?  What outlets can I find for my loneliness, my need to give and receive love and my sexuality, given that Jewish law and social anxiety seem to rule most options out?  I guess pets might be an option again, but I’ve gone off the idea a bit.

***

There’s a beautiful piece in the latest Jewish Review of Books that I read today, John J. Clayton reflecting on getting old with Parkinson’s Disease.  It would have caught my attention anyway, for being quite religious, which is unusual (admittedly not quite so unusual in the JRB than in a mainstream newspaper), but I found a lot of it seemed familiar to my situation, even though depression is a very different illness to Parkinson’s (although I do have medication-induced tremor at awkward times).  The sense of trying to stay positive and grateful when you can feel your strength, even your life dripping away.  Wanting to stay positive so other people will be able to praise your inner fortitude and gratitude when you’re gone, but really not feeling up to it.  The sense of life not going according to plan, the feeling of this isn’t supposed to happen.  I can’t shake the jealous feeling that somehow I lost my life, the feeling, as Clayton said, of being a ghost, of watching my peers live the life I wanted to live, that I felt I would/should live.

***

My Mum just called on What’sApp.  It didn’t go well.  I think the line was bad; at any rate either I couldn’t hear her properly or she was hesitating a lot.  I thought she couldn’t hear me and spoke louder, so she said I didn’t need to shout.  We both ended up getting annoyed with each other.  The underlying cause, of course, is that I’m nearly thirty-six and have lived alone before, but because of my “issues,” my parents feel the need to check up on me in a way that they don’t do to my (younger, married) sister.  And knowing that, on some level, I probably do need to be checked up on only makes it feel worse.  It doesn’t help that, because of my autism, I don’t like speaking on the phone generally and I especially don’t like sudden phone calls out of the blue, which disrupt my plans (even if, as tonight, I don’t really have concrete plans, they still make me worry how long the call will take, what I should say and so on) and feel like an invasion of my metaphorical space.  Now I feel angry and guilty, feeling worse for knowing that I don’t have a legitimate reason to get angry.  Plus, of course, the worry that “If some horrible holiday-related disaster happens to my parents, then the last time I spoke to them would be an argument” (rather than it being me grunting goodbye when I was basically asleep this morning).

Now I’m trying to work out if I’ve ever told my family any of the above, or if I’m just autistically assuming that they know it.  This has all come about because I was depressed yesterday and also because when they went away for a week in the winter, they didn’t tell me to phone, so I assumed they didn’t want to hear from me and stayed out of contact all week.  They assumed I would phone, but I didn’t.  I was depressed all week and I think they blamed themselves, although if they had phoned I would almost certainly have lied and said I was fine, because I’m not good at opening up about my emotions in person (as opposed to in writing), particularly with my parents, with whom I don’t always have a straightforward relationship.

I did text them to apologise, but I still feel bad.  I also feel bad (a different type of bad) about not being able to cope with basic social interactions because of my autism.

***

This post seems to be full of my pleading “issues” to explain why I do, or don’t do, the things people expect me to do.  This just makes me feel useless, even if it’s true.  I feel that if things had been even slightly different for me perhaps I could have turned my autistic traits into strengths rather than weaknesses and succeeded in the work sphere at least, even if not in my social/family/romantic life.  Maybe I will be able to turn things around, I just can’t see how.

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

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

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

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

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

Anyway, enough politics.

***

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

***

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“And I think it’s going to be a long, long time”

Lately I’ve been waking around 10am, getting up after a while, but spending hours eating breakfast and idly browsing online or going back to bed instead of getting dressed, because I don’t have the energy or motivation to get ready.  Listening to music, despite the omer, because depressed people are allowed to listen to music.  Fighting scary, violent thoughts about myself.

I had three potential jobs to apply for today.  None of them was very appealing, nor was I particularly likely to get them, but in the end I applied for a law research post rather than a law librarian or school librarian post.  That was a simple application (basically set up an online account with a job site and attach my CV), so I tried to apply for the other law librarian post, only to discover I had already applied and been rejected.  I’m not sure I can face the idea of school librarianship, so I’m leaving that for now.

I still haven’t dared raise the subject of reading some of my Doctor Who book with my fan friends.  I moved towards asking some, but haven’t done it yet, as they really do seem very busy and stressed with family crises.  I wish I knew more people I could ask.  I feel envious of books that have an acknowledgements announcement that goes on for three pages; how do they know so many people?  I’m not satisfied with the book, but don’t know how to move forwards with it.  I wrote some notes for a blog post for my Doctor Who blog the other day which, when I looked again the next day, turned out to be incoherent nonsense, which didn’t help my self-esteem.

***

On my last post, Ashley Leia asked me if fitting in is a prerequisite for acceptance.  I feel it is, but have trouble developing that thesis beyond getting bullied at school for being different.  In the conformist world of the frum (religious Orthodox Jewish) community, there can even be a religious imperative to not accepting the nonconformist, as people are encouraged to choose their friends carefully to make sure they are good influences.  That has never happened to me, but I’ve read online about people being ostracised or fearing ostracism for artistic endeavours, having the ‘wrong’ political opinions or accepting modern science and it scares me into preemptively disguising my beliefs and interests as well as my autism and depression.

There’s a paradox in the frum community in that many prominent rabbis have spoken of the need to cultivate one’s individuality (the Kotzker Rebbe said this a lot or, for a more modern perspective, see Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik’s essay Religious Styles in the collection Halakhic Morality: Essays on Ethics and Masorah, in which he says that as well as needing to perform the mitzvot (commandments), one must also develop a unique personal religious style), but the community as a whole seems to remain conformist.  Or maybe it only seems that way from the outside, because I don’t know enough people?  Perhaps I’m wrong.  I hope I’m wrong.  The general rule is that the more conservative the community, the more conformist.  In addition, people higher up the social scale can get away with more than other people, which I suppose is true in most cultures.  I know I’m at the bottom of the heap, so I keep schtum.

Of course, all human communities are conformist to some extent, that is where the feeling of kinship comes from.

As some of you may have seen me complain elsewhere, I feel a lack of clear role models for my boundary-breaking self, in both the Jewish and the non-Jewish community.  There are a lack of both real-life and fictional heroes who show you can be e.g. modern and religious, believing and questioning, frum and geeky and so on.  It is hard to orientate myself armed only with Chaim Potok novels.

Related to this is my relationship with HaShem (God), which has lately felt strained.  My davening (prayer) and hitbodedut (spontaneous prayer/meditation) have become very mechanical and routine.  My Torah study, when I do it, is as much about learning ancient languages as engaging with HaShem.  When I was very depressed, I sometimes used to feel very far from HaShem, but at other times I would feel close (there probably was some grandiosity here, perhaps almost psychotically so).  Now I feel distant, but I don’t feel yearning.  I don’t really feel anything.  I want to be religious, but I no longer feel that I know how, if I ever did.  I don’t know how to connect with people, which is necessary in Judaism as one finds God in community not in isolation, and this is problematic enough, but I if I can’t connect with people, I certainly can’t connect with HaShem.  On this note, it seems that most of the autistic people I’ve come across online or at autism group are not obviously religious.  I don’t really know what to do.

“I don’t want to belong to any club that will accept me as a member”

I’m feeling lost today.  Can’t concentrate on anything.  Slipping into daydream and fantasy, as I do when very depressed (and maybe when not depressed, I’m not sure).  We’re all the stars of the films of our lives, but I probably take that too literally.  Listless.  Feeling unable to do anything.  I’m worried that last week (two job interviews and a breakup) has pushed me a long way backwards.

Procrastinating.  Aimlessly browsing online, not reading anything.  Why is everything online so angry?  Isn’t anyone open to the idea that they might not be right, or at least that other people might also be right?  I know that when I feel like this, it’s companionship that I’m searching for rather than socio-political or cultural commentary, but I can’t find that online.  So I’m just wasting time.  I wish I had more real-life friends, and I wish they lived more locally, but it’s doubtful whether I would see them if they did.  I don’t even really have the confidence to talk to my shul (synagogue) friends at kiddush or seudah.  I don’t get to sit with them or I’m too shy to say anything or I assume that they don’t want to speak to me.  There was a message on the shul What’sApp about trying to organise a trip to see the Cairo Geniza collection at Cambridge.  This ticks almost all my boxes (Judaism, history, libraries), but I haven’t yet responded, because I don’t know the person’s phone number to respond (all posts on the What’sApp are via the shamash or the rabbi) and am too shy to ask around.

Similarly, I should stop procrastinating over asking my fan friends to look at my Doctor Who book and just ask them.  ‘m worried that they have too much on, but that they would say yes anyway and I would feel guilty.  Beyond that, it boils down to the fact that I like writing, but am less keen on showing people my writing or getting feedback on it.  Perhaps this is not so different from being too shy to speak to people, even my friends, at shul.  Then again, I’ve never had more than twenty likes on a blog post, so maybe almost no one is interested in my opinions after all.

***

I guess in my head there’s an unhealthy binary choice between “Being Myself” and “Fitting In”.  I don’t think, objectively, that most people sacrifice their inner selves to fit in, but at the same time, I probably should accept that, with my history of being bullied and ignored, and my strong, but unusual/autistic personality and interests, it is probably inevitable that I feel deeply ambivalent about fitting in anywhere.  I find it hard to believe anyone could accept me for who I am, so I hide myself (or hide my ‘self’) in any community.  That goes double for my shul where I’m aware that there are issues where I absolutely don’t agree with this community and never will, it’s just the least worst option currently available.  Probably if I was accepted somewhere, I would feel that I had sold out in some way. As a great man said, “I don’t want to belong to any club that will accept me as a member.”  (I just left a similar comment on this post on Hevria.)

I guess I just want someone to tell me that I’m a good person, but I don’t think I would believe them if they did.  I recently hit 300 followers on my blog, but I think a lot of them are spammy and I suspect (from my likes) that most of them aren’t actually reading it.  TL;DR is my middle name.

***

I somehow managed to apply for another job.  Nevertheless, I feel I should have done more today, and better.  I know I wrote a job application (although most of it was reused from an earlier one), I did some laundry and cooked dinner (a new recipe, Indian lentils and rice.  I burnt the rice) and went to shul for Mincha and Ma’ariv (Afternoon and Evening Services).  But all the same, I feel I should have worked on one of my books and done more Torah study and davened with more kavannah and written a better job application.  And not burnt the rice.  No, I know I should do more and better.  I’m not supposed to be seriously depressed and low functioning, I’m supposed to be moderately to mildly depressed and functional.

I use ‘should’ a lot and I’ve been told not to, but it seems to me that Judaism is a religion of ‘shoulds’ not choices or ‘maybes.’  In any case “I should not use shoulds” just becomes another ‘should.’

***

I finally got feedback from the academic librarianship job I was interviewed for a couple of weeks ago.  The said I had good answers and “a good deal of empathy in my answers”, which is positive, but also that I’m “reserved and quite serious” and lacking in personality; they also felt I was unable to understand the relative informality of the institution.  It was better feedback than that from the Very Important Organisation, but still a bit dispiriting.  I didn’t get the law librarian job either, but the feedback from that was much better; they said that I gave good examples and coped well even though I was nervous and that they would be willing to look at me again if another position in the library became vacant.

***

There’s a long article in The Economist’s 1843 Magazine about the struggles of gifted children that I empathised with.  Talk of loneliness and bullying sounds all too familiar, as do not being able to connect to other children and having intellectual development that runs far ahead of their (the gifted children’s) emotional development.  Sometimes I wonder what would have happened to me if I had gone to an educationally-selective school.  Would that have helped my socialisation?

The strange thing is, in a 5,000 word article that mentions intellectual precociousness, sensory sensitivity, anxiety and overthinking, poor social skills and social meltdowns, the words “high functioning autism” or “Asperger’s Syndrome” are not mentioned once.  No wonder I’ve struggled to get diagnosed.

***

I told my father that I asked the values-based dating service shadchan (matchmaker) not to look for anyone for me for a while.  I didn’t want to tell him, but he kept asking questions until I had to either tell him or lie outright and I’m not dishonest (I’m also a terrible liar).  I don’t think he thought it was a particularly good idea, which was why I hadn’t told him.  He seemed to think that if I hadn’t told the shadchan, she would have found someone else suitable for me very quickly, which I think is wishful thinking, bearing how long it took her to find L.  He also thinks someone could be interested in me even though I’m unemployed, which I think is unlikely, L. notwithstanding.  I also feel I need time out from dating to decide what I want to do with my career, whereas I think my parents are assuming I’m just looking for the right library job.

His concern does make me think that I’m running out of time to get married, certainly if I want to have children, but I think that anyway.  Nevertheless, I do get lonely and I do find myself wishing someone would drop out the sky and accept me the way E. did, but then even E. only managed to accept me for two months.

***
I had distressing violent thoughts of dying again today.  I don’t know what to do with them.

The Diogenes Club Shtiebel

I spent Shabbat (the Sabbath) struggling with social anxiety and autism.  It was the last official Shabbat in the community for both the rabbi and the assistant rabbi and their wives and there was to be a celebratory seudah shlishit (third Shabbat meal) in their honour.  On Friday night, after Lecha Dodi, people started circle-dancing.  I dislike this at the best of times.  Autistically, I dislike the enforced close proximity and having to hold hands with two strangers (or at least people I don’t know well).  Social anxiously, I feel self-conscious, that everyone is looking at me and judging me.  Depressively, I can rarely enter into the spirit of things and really enjoy it.  Plus, our shul (synagogue) isn’t always big enough for all the people, so the circle can be rather tight and uncomfortable.  Sometimes I force myself to join in with this, but after a tiring job interview on Friday and perhaps being somewhat disorientated by the layout of the shul being different to usual and, as a result, my not being able to sit with my friends, I just couldn’t face it, so I stood outside the circle with the mourners, feeling self-conscious.

In the morning I woke up on time to go to shul, which you may recall I’ve been trying to do for some weeks now, but then I remembered the previous night and couldn’t face the large numbers of people who would be there this week.  I went back to bed, which was a mistake, as I could have gone to a different shul or even stayed awake and davened (prayed) at home, but I was obviously too tired to think straight.  I did at least avoid napping after lunch by forcing myself to go for a walk.

The real test was in the afternoon.  Talmud shiur (class) passed fine, but then, because the school hall wish usually serves as the shul was being used for the seudah, we davened in a classroom, about eighty men squeezed into a room intended for thirty children.  I felt terrible.  I was just overwhelmed by the proximity to other people.  I managed to stay for the whole of Mincha (the Afternoon Service), although I didn’t really have a choice, as it would have been hard to push past dozens of people to get out.

I washed and went through to the seudah.  I tried to sit with my friends, but I wasn’t able to do so.  I made motzei and ate a bit, but I was feeling very uncomfortable.  There were probably around 120 people, including some young children, all making a lot of noise and crammed close together.  I wasn’t with anyone I knew and no one was talking to me and I did not feel confident to talk to anyone else.  To be honest, this is what usually happens at seudah: I just eat and sit silently and wait for the shiur to start, but I assumed there wouldn’t be a proper shiur here, just a few speeches.  I felt like I couldn’t cope and that I was being overwhelmed, so I decided to quietly bentsch to myself (which I know I shouldn’t do when there is a zimun, but I considered it a health matter) and go.  I went home and read and then went to my father’s shul for Ma’ariv (the Evening Service) even though I think they daven too fast and with too much talking because I couldn’t face the crowded classroom a second time.

Since I was screened for autism and found out that I am probably on the spectrum, I am more confident about avoiding social events if I feel they aren’t right for me.  I know I’m better off coming home when I feel OK than going and feeling terrible.  When I was a child, my parents told me to go to social events and to talk to people I didn’t know, on the grounds that eventually my shyness would go away and it would become easier to cope.  I now know that my brain is wired differently to most people and it will always be like that, however hard I try to make things different.  I feel less inclined to “force myself” to go to social things now.

Still, I wonder how to build a social life for myself.  I feel like I’m some kind of social diabetic.  If I socialise too much – and “too much” is really very little – I get overwhelmed and can’t cope.  But if I don’t socialise at all, I feel lonely and unloved.  It’s hard to find the right level.  Moreover, how can I meet friends, have a sense of community or find a wife (in a community where people are usually set up on dates by mutual friends or family) if I can’t bear to go to social events at shul?  I’ve been going to my shul for several years now and I still only have two or three friends and no one I can really open up to.  Certainly no one in my shul has ever tried to set me up on a date.

Even though I left feeling more positive than on some previous occasions when I have forced myself to attend events where I felt socially anxious and autistically overwhelmed, I was left with a vague sense of resentment and unfairness, a mixture of envy and hatred for all the frum men I saw in my community today who manage to do what I can’t do and socialise happily, with their laughter and their whisky and their sports conversations, not to mention their attractive wives and cute children, all the things I don’t have.  It’s bad of me to feel this mixture of envy and hatred with a dash of lust (for married women at that), but I do.  I beat myself up for it, but it doesn’t go away.  The loneliness it triggered has also led on to “crush” thoughts about someone (not from my shul, but who I’m very unlikely to meet again any time soon), despite my telling myself, and my shadchan (matchmaker) that I don’t want to date until I’ve sorted out my work situation.

A curious side-light on this: there is someone at my shul who irritates me.  I try not to be irritated, because it’s pointless and because it’s sinful, but it’s unavoidable sometimes.  This person always has to answer the questions in shiur and he talks over other people, even the assistant rabbi.  He doesn’t really seem to take much notice of other people’s conversation, but just focuses on what he wants to say.  I never thought much of it, but today he started a huge argument with the people setting up the seudah, saying that he couldn’t sit near a particular food because he can’t stand the smell and that they shouldn’t put it on the table near him.  He got incredibly, shockingly angry about it until someone calmed him down.  I found myself wondering if he was autistic himself (possibly undiagnosed).  It would explain his lack of awareness of social cues and the ‘taking turns’ aspect of conversation, as well as sensory issues (the smell of the food) and emotional management issues around them (getting angry might even have been a meltdown, although this was before the seudah started, so he couldn’t really have been overstimulated).  I thought this would help me to empathise with him, but I just got more annoyed with him.  I feel that I want to say, “You just walk blithely through life not noticing all the people around you who you’re snubbing, you expect people at the seudah to fit in with your needs and your wishes and you don’t care what happens.  You don’t even seem to realise that you are inconveniencing people.  You go to the shiur and enjoy it and enjoy showing off your knowledge, you go to seudah and enjoy it.  I go through life terrified I’m going to upset somebody, I rarely speak for fear of saying the wrong thing (upsetting someone or appearing stupid), I can’t cope with the seudah and have to leave early, yet I’m the one who can’t cope with the deep, powerful, terrifying emotions aroused inside me all the time, I’m the one who represses himself to avoid getting angry with people and takes it out by acting out on himself in different ways (thankfully I don’t self-harm often, but it has happened, and I beat myself up emotionally a lot and lapse into behaviours I’m not proud of like eating junk).”  I suppose it just seemed unfair, but then I don’t believe that life is fair, so I shouldn’t be surprised or complain, but it does upset me, the way I just can’t cope, but other people who may have similar issues somehow do cope, while most people don’t face these problems at all.

***

Despite all this stress, I did spend some time in hitbodedut prayer/meditation thinking about how my life is going.  I still don’t know what I could or should be doing with my life or my career, but I do feel that the law library job would not be right for me.  I just don’t think I could cope in that high-pressure, money-focused environment.  How I explain that to other people if I get offered the job is another question.

I do feel that I need to spend some (more) serious time working on my writing.  Rabbi Lord Sacks, Emeritus British Chief Rabbi says that “Where what we want to do meets what needs to be done, that is where God wants us to be.”  I only have a vague sense of what I want to do and what needs to be done (being a socially anxious autistic person means at times I have only a vague sense of other people’s needs), but at the moment I feel it’s pushing me towards writing.

I do feel that I am making progress in my life, albeit with glacial slowness.  I feel I understand myself a bit better than I did even a year ago: what I can do, what I could do, what I should do.  But it is hard; I’m crawling on my hands and knees in the dark, feeling my way forwards an inch at a time.

Existential Angst

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

***

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

Be Careful What You Wish For

Sometimes it feels that I do actually get almost everything I want, or think I want, if I wait long enough, but then it turns out not to be as good as I hoped.  In fact, it usually turns out to be painful.  That’s what happened with going to Oxford, being in a more frum (religious) community, getting a job with longer hours and more responsibility, dating and being published on a professionally.  It makes me wonder if I should really want anything (career, marriage, children) or is it just going to leave me longing for the days I was so depressed that I did nothing except sleep and watch TV (some people’s dream life, I suppose, although the reality was pretty awful).

Despite feeling that getting the things I want always goes wrong, it’s easy to envy other people, not so much for their money as their lives: the meaningful and sure career, the loving spouse or partner, the beautiful children, the meaningful religious life…  all “apparently” of course, as often the reality is different.  I suppose most people have to deal with suffering in the end, I’m just getting mine out the way first, although I’m worried that I’m just going to get a double serving.  And I’m not sure that everyone gets the same level of suffering.  The reward is proportional to the effort says the Mishnah.  Well, I hope so, although I’m not sure that suffering is the same as effort.  I don’t always feel that I’m putting in enough effort religiously, because I don’t always have the energy, motivation or concentration because of depression and perhaps because of laziness.

***

The job agency I have the interview through tomorrow sent me interview preparation advice.  I was concentrating so much on cataloguing preparation yesterday for the test that I hadn’t really thought about interview preparation.  It’s fair to say that I don’t usually do much of the interview preparation they suggest and am failing in ways I didn’t even recognise.  There’s some an element of autistic, “Why would I care about that?” (e.g. asking the interview panel about the office culture or why they like working there). There’s often a lot of feeling that I haven’t shown the desired competencies or experience and can’t do anything about that (usually accompanied by, “Why are they even calling me to interview?”) and some autistic “Well, I can’t read their minds well enough to guess what they will ask, so why bother?” and the equally autistic “I can’t describe what I would do, I just do it.”  There might also be an element of autistic hyperfocus on things that interest me, but poor concentration (worsened by depression) on things that don’t interest me.  There’s a fair bit of feeling that librarianship isn’t the right sector for me any more although I don’t know how I’d fair with an interview for a writing position.  I think part of the attraction of writing for me is that I can let my work speak for itself.  I suppose there is also the feeling that “Everything goes wrong for me so why am I even trying?”  And I don’t know why I would want tomorrow’s job other than I need the money and something to put on my CV.  Other things being equal (which they aren’t), why would I even want to work in a law library?

I suppose I don’t actually feel capable of getting and doing a job like most people.  There might be a bit of arrogance in there (“I’m above this”), but it’s mostly low self-esteem (“I can’t do this”) and the autistic feeling of, “I’m not like other people, I can’t function the way they can or in the environments they can.”  Not everyone with autism feels like that, obviously, so maybe it’s mostly low self-esteem.  I was supposed to be doing CBT to work on that, but the NHS seems to have forgotten me.  I tried chasing them, but I got fed up sending emails that were not answered and leaving answerphone messages that weren’t returned.

I tried to follow the agency’s preparation instructions, but I froze up.  The anxious/depressive “I can’t do this I can’t do this I can’t do this.”  Trying to describe how I dealt with a difficult situation (a question which, with variations, has come up a lot for me), I can’t think of anything they would think of as difficult that I handled well.  I can think of  things I’ve found difficult that neurotypicals would not find difficult, or that I handled badly, or at least not well from an interview point of view (trying established procedures or asking a colleague or superior for help would not be viewed positively by people looking for initiative and adaptability (not very autistic traits) and the fact that some of my decisions were over-ruled by superiors is not great either).  I don’t think I coped well with a difficult boss either; I don’t know how I would cope with difficult colleagues, as I’ve never had them, but I’m guessing it would be the same.

It’s hard to remember details from other jobs anyway.  I’ve twice been asked in the past about my favourite library management system and failed to give a good answer.  It’s the autistic/Sherlock Holmes “It doesn’t interest me so why should I bother to remember?” issue again.  I could give them a detailed answer comparing my favourite Doctor Who writers.

Looking at the company website terrified me, the sense of this being a massive multinational law firm and I couldn’t cope with such a large and pressured environment as the job spec stated.  When I applied for the job, I didn’t think I’d make it to interview, so I never thought I would really have to deal with this.  I was just trying to reassure the agency that I am genuinely looking for a job and putting myself forward for things.

I feel a bit like Icarus.  Once I was a high-flyer, but then I started falling, further than anyone had fallen before.  It’s very hard to know what to do when your wings have melted.  I suppose Icarus got what he wished for too.

***

Today I was feeling depressed even before the interview preparation email came through.  As usual, I woke late, struggled to get going and prayed a very minimal amount of Shacharit (morning prayers).  I cried a bit while doing so, I think more from frustration and perhaps despair as much as anything else.  I feel OKish now, but the depression and anxiety come and go.  This seems to be the “new normal” at the moment: bad mornings and days that are mostly good, but which have negative blips and low energy.

Tired of Life, But Afraid of Trying

Perhaps predictably, I woke feeling very drained and depressed today after the interview yesterday.  It didn’t help that I was woken up (and not early) by a phone call from the recruitment agency that have got me my interview on Friday.  The interview is now in the morning, not the afternoon, which is better for me in terms of having time to come home and relax a bit (and if necessary blog my experiences to offload) before Shabbat (the Sabbath), although I might have to miss my shiur (religious class) on Thursday night this week to have an early night.  I’m still terrified that I’m going to mess up the exam component of the interview.  I feel my interview experiences lately have not gone well and even the jobs I have managed to get have left me feeling that I’m under-performing, either in terms of not managing the tasks well or managing well, but in a role for which I am overqualified.

***

I was up late last night, partly because when I wanted to go to bed, I had an idea for a post for my Doctor Who blog (which I haven’t written on for months) that could be a bit controversial, although as only about three people read it, that’s not a huge worry (it’s on the programme’s diversity agenda, but not from the usual angles, either for or against).  I do feel it is something worth saying, which isn’t always my impression of my writing, including here.  I took some notes for it, but I didn’t really have the right mood or the time to write it today.  It could probably usefully wait until I’ve re-watched some more of the last series of Doctor Who.

***

My mood did improve as the day wore on, albeit that I could suddenly plunge back into depression if triggered.  I did some cataloguing practice and feel more confident than I did when I failed that cataloguing test last year.  I think I know how to use the indicators and sub-field codes reasonably well, I just need more confidence.  I think my bad performance in the test was partly due to depression or anxiety and partly to the type of test being different and potentially confusing (autism again?).  However, my concentration is appalling.  I hope it would be better in the test or at work.  Still, I managed two hours of cataloguing practice, a half hour walk (listening to a slightly gross In Our Time about parasitism), half an hour of Torah study and helping with the laundry, which is a lot more than I thought I would be able to manage when I woke up this morning.  I also managed to edit/redraft another chapter of my Doctor Who book (on the TV Movie, which reminded me of the quote referenced obliquely in this post’s title).  I still lost an hour of cataloguing practice from my plan, though.  My Dad is right: I really can’t stick to plans.

***

Regarding being triggered occasionally during the day: I think on some level I want to be triggered.  There are websites I’ve blocked because they’re triggering, usually political stuff or sites that discuss antisemitism or controversies within the Orthodox world or occasionally because the people involved in the site have upset me on a personal level.  However, I do frequently turn off the blocking software to visit these sites, which is counterproductive.  It doesn’t help that I don’t really have any sites that are meaningful for me to read and which are updated frequently enough to use them when I need a break from job hunting.  Or maybe the rush of righteous indignation is empowering, alerting or even enjoyable in some way.  Perhaps there’s even a kinship of outrage; they are outraged at this, I am outraged at this, therefore I am, on some level, like them and included with them, even if they don’t know of my existence.  The problem is that I can’t switch it off afterwards and end up brooding at how bad the world is.

It’s funny, being a sort-of member of two different cultures and not quite a full member of either.  I mean Orthodox Jewish society and secular Western society.  Both seem to me to have a lot of flaws, some quite serious, and sometimes I wonder how long either can survive without change, although change in a positive direction does not always seem likely.  But then, it could just be a product of me being on fringes looking in; maybe things seem more rational and sustainable from the inside.  It does seem sometimes that the world is going to a variety of Hells in a variety of handbaskets.  On the plus side, I can only die once; if the antisemitic terrorists get me, I can’t die of climate change, and so on.

***

I came across a blog post by someone I used to follow online, who I haven’t regularly followed for years.  She said she was once an “influencer” but now her time is mostly taken up with work and family, rather than writing, which is her dream (although her job is some kind of writing, I assume just not the type she had in mind).  Surprisingly, I find myself less envious of the work, spouse and children than of the idea of living my dream.  I can’t imagine seriously being able to do that.  I’m not even entirely sure what my dream actually is.  I assume writing on subjects that interest me (Doctor Who and classic British telefantasy; Judaism and antisemitism; mental health and autism).  I’m not sure how to monetise that.  Realistically, most people are probably not living their dreams and I’m not quite sure why I would be the exception.  Although being a professional writer does seem more slightly likely than getting married and having children.

It probably doesn’t help that I’m not ambitious.  There isn’t really much I want, or maybe there just isn’t much that I expect to get.  I’m not suicidal, but I am a bit world-weary.  The good things of this world seem to be outweighed by the bad, at least for me, and the good can only be gained by going through a lot of bad.  I’m not really convinced I have much in store for me in Olam HaBa (the Next World), but at least there is a possibility of the pain ending.  Also, significantly I always imagine the Next World, whether good or bad, as being alone.  I know most people who believe in life after death believe they will be reunited with dead friends or family and I suppose I’m open to the idea, but when I brood on it, I tend to think of myself alone with God and my thoughts, whether good or bad.  That feeling of “Oh, well at least I won’t be embarrassed in front of other people any more” is dangerously seductive to someone who has struggled to fit in and deal with social conventions all his life.  (I don’t know why I don’t think I’ll be embarrassed in front of God; perhaps because He knows all my sins and bad thoughts already.)

It probably would be good for me if I had more life-goals.  My Mum wanted to try to set me up a while back with the daughter of friends of hers, but I was reluctant because I knew she wanted a professional and I didn’t think I really fit the bill.  I suspect other women would think similarly.  But even beyond dating, more goals to root myself in this world would be useful.  Even having clearer writing goals might help.  I don’t have a dream income (I have absolutely no idea what a good income even is, as I’m pretty vague about money), dream house, dream car (don’t drive, no intention to learn in the near future)… I’m not even sure I have a particularly strong idea of my dream wife, despite laying out some criteria yesterday.  I’m just floating through life, fortunate enough to have parents who are willing and able to support me, trying to work through my ‘issues’ and get some kind of career/life, but totally uncertain about how to do it or what a successful result would look like.

High Anxiety

I had a job interview today at a Very Important Organisation.  The Very Important Organisation is so important that just going there for an interview is worth talking about, but also so important that it’s pretty much impossible to talk about it without giving away what it is, so I’m going to be silent here.  Suffice to say I nearly couldn’t find it, but got there on time in the end.  I thought I did OK in the interview because I only had a little autistic mental freeze, but the interview lasted about twenty-five minutes and at the start they said it would be forty-five minutes to an hour, maybe more, so I either aced it or did so badly they just wanted me out of there.

I started feeling anxious on the way home about whether I could actually do the job.  I became anxious about having to do cataloguing, even though it wasn’t on the job spec or the overview they gave me at the interview, because one of the interviewers said something about seeing it on my CV.  I’ve become paranoid about my cataloguing skills, feeling that I’m so rusty that maybe I should not say I can do it any more, but then what would I put on my CV?  I also asked if the job could be done as as job share, which did not go down well, so if I get it, I would probably have to do it full-time and I’m not sure I’m ready for that.

Later this afternoon I got a call from an agency offering me an interview and test (gulp) at a law firm (as a law librarian) this Friday.  I’ve never really seen myself as a law librarian, but I will go along and see what happens.  There is a test, details unknown, which terrifies me after messing up (or more accurately, being unable to complete) the last cataloguing test I did.  I worry that my skills are so rusty as to be useless.  It feels sometimes like interviews and tests exist just to further lower my self-esteem.

***

I broke up with L., if “broke up” is the right term when we’d only been on two dates.  I just didn’t think there was enough chemistry.

“Chemistry” seems such a stupid, intangible thing to break up over.  I can see that L. is kind and gentle and that maybe the fact we had both been through a lot of difficult times could help the relationship.  Moreover, in the past, I used to get annoyed when people broke up with me for a lack of chemistry.  In fact, I used to think I would date someone with no chemistry and see if it would develop, but now I realise just how important it is, even if it is undefinable.  I could see it was just never going to develop on its own, no matter how hard I tried to force it.  I feel sorry for L., as she is a nice person who has had a hard life, but marrying someone out of pity is not a good idea and she deserves better than that.

The scary thing is that for a week or so I convinced myself that the chemistry was there.  At the end of our first date, I was sure that L. was about to say she didn’t want to see me again and I was fine with that as I didn’t really feel anything, but to my surprise, she wanted to meet again and so I said yes to give it a chance.  Then for a week or so afterwards, in my mind I thought we were perfect for each other and were bound to get married eventually, but as soon as I turned up for our second date and met her in the flesh again that certainty evaporated immediately and I realised it was just fantasy.  I was projecting what I wanted out of the relationship onto her, not relating to her as a real person.

Breaking up does feel like the right decision, upsetting though it is to have to say that to someone (I’d never really broken up with anyone before, except one instance which was a semi-mutual thing; usually they break up with me).  I’ve also asked the dating service I met L. through not to set me up with anyone else for now, as I want to concentrate on my job hunt.  I think I have enough uncertainty and stress with that and my wait for an autism assessment without adding any more stress in.  My parents and (I think) my rabbi mentor seem to think I could be dating, but I just don’t think I can handle it right now, despite my loneliness.  Plus, being unemployed doesn’t make me terribly attractive.

***

Still, I think I have learnt a bit from the experience.  From my dating experience over the last couple of years, I feel that I’m looking for someone kind and intelligent, but who probably is already quite frum (religious).  I’ve dated non-frum women who said they would become frum for me, but I worry that that would make Judaism into a barrier, plus I want someone who is interested in active spiritual growth with me, not just doing something as a chore to make me happy.  I realise I’ve probably priced myself out of the market here, as someone frum might want a partner who went to yeshiva (rabbinical seminary) or who goes to shul (synagogue) or studies Talmud more often than I do.  Plus I also need someone who can accept my mental health situation and my financial situation, which is not going to be easy.  They also need to accept my geekery, which can be hard in general society, let alone frum society.

Put like that I wonder a bit if I made the right decision with L., but I think I did, although I may be single for a long time yet.  The relationship didn’t have any of the joy or excitement I associate with starting other relationships, which is not a promising start.

***

It’s hard to prise my feelings apart sometimes.  My Mum said yesterday that she thinks my depression is a lot better and when I say I’m depressed now I often mean I’m anxious.  There could be something in that.  I certainly seem more anxious than I was in the past.  Thinking about work/career, dating, marrying and having children or just the future in general does make me feel anxious at the moment because it all seems scarily open, but time is ticking on, as I said yesterday.

The Knot in My Stomach

I feel depressed and anxious, but there isn’t really much I can say right now.  There’s a lot I want to say, but it is going to have to wait a day.  However, I want to reach out, so I’m trying to find something to say.  This is the blogging equivalent of when I’m depressed and lonely and I go downstairs and hang around until my parents say something to me.

I had a knot of nausea in my stomach much of the day, struggling with anxiety, both dating anxiety and job interview anxiety.  It seems unfair to have both at the same time, but I guess life isn’t fair.  I don’t really want to talk about dating at the moment, but I looked again at the job description for my interview tomorrow and I wondered why they were even calling me to interview.  I only applied on the off chance, because I don’t have most of the experience they want.  I tried to prepare by imagining being asked “Tell me about a time you demonstrated attribute X”-type questions, but I really can’t imagine how I would do that for the things they want as I genuinely have not done them.  I suppose they have their reasons for calling me.  I’m trying to remember if I listed that I had a disability (depression and/or autism) which might have led to them calling me to tick the necessary diversity boxes rather than because they realistically think I could do the job.  I have mixed feelings about positive discrimination, but no one ever points out that it makes the candidates who succeed paranoid that they aren’t good enough and are just meeting a quota.  I do still worry that I wasn’t “really” Oxford material and I only got in to meet a quota of students from comprehensive schools.

I did manage to cook dinner for tonight and tomorrow.  I also went for a blood test (routine lithium level check which I need on my meds), which turned out to have been booked for tomorrow.  I’m not sure how I made that mistake.  Fortunately they squeezed me in today, although the receptionist gave me a stern talking to about the importance of checking appointment times carefully.  It was just one more thing going wrong.

I do wonder if I will ever get my life together, get a career and a home and a wife and children.  Be able to actually function as an independent adult and not be dependent on other people, their time and their money (and their patience).  Get some kind of religious life that seems meaningful to me, rather than flailing about trying to find meaning and purpose and not really finding them.  Everything seems so far away.  I try to tell myself that, viewed over the long-term, my life is definitely getting better.  My mood is better, my activity level is higher, my OCD largely under control.  I probably have more friends than ever before, albeit that I don’t really have much of a social life because most of my friends are long-distance and/or online friends.  It’s just that the improvements are glacially slow, occurring over a decade or more, so slow that it is hard to believe they are happening, and that it is hard to believe that they could continue to happen fast enough and for long enough for me to manage to marry young enough to have children (among other things).  I know I’ve said before that everyone laughs at me when I say I have a biological clock ticking, but (a) older men do have fertility issues, albeit not in the same ways as women and, more to the point, (b) I really can’t see a forty-something version of me dating twenty-something women to have a family.  Yes, I’ve heard all the stories of older men who marry younger women and produce happy families, I just can’t see it happening to me, not least because I expect the attraction of such men to young women is partly that they are rich and settled, and I can’t really imagine being either of those things.

I sometimes think that the worst thing in life is when we get what we want, and it turns out not to be good for us.  That’s what I’m brooding on now.  But it’s impossible not to want anything, unless you’re a complete tzadik (saint) or possibly a Buddhist.

Stressful Week Ahead

I don’t have much to say today.  Or rather I do, but I don’t feel that I should say it, so this is a bit of a placeholder post to check in with the people who I know read this regularly and to hint that there will probably be more stressful posts in the not too distant future.

I’m not currently in therapy and I use my blog as my main outlet for emotional release, so it’s hard when something is upsetting me that I don’t feel I should talk about here.  I know my blog isn’t truly anonymous (and it could potentially become totally non-anonymous if I ever publish material from it as I would like to do) and talking about people behind their back seems wrong even if it isn’t clear who they are.  But I am currently dealing with a difficult situation.  I think I know deep down what the answer is, but it’s painful, and not just to myself.  I hate to hurt someone else, even if I know that it is necessary (although I’m not completely sure that it is yet).  I’m trying to keep an open mind for now without over thinking things, but I’m not terribly good at either of those things.

This situation and my job interview on Tuesday between them are going to throw me out of my comfort zone and make the next week or two difficult.  I think I really just want to be safe or comfortable in my life, with a settled career, family and community, but I don’t have any of those things (I have family in the sense of my parents and sister, but not wife and children) and the effort to get them is a big struggle, often too hard for me to cope with, or so it seems.  I suppose God probably doesn’t want me/anyone to be too comfortable in this world, because we’re here to grow and growth generally doesn’t come from comfortable complacency, but I wish I could be a bit more comfortable.

What is more positive is that I’ve finished the third draft of another chapter of my Doctor Who book. I’ve got three more chapters to redraft, and I need to write one from scratch for the latest episodes.  The problem is that I still can’t get it to ‘sing’ the way I want.  It’s OK, but it’s not great and I’m not sure whether anyone would really want to publish it.  It’s very frustrating.  I have things to say, I just don’t seem to be able to write them the way I would like.  I know a few people seemed to like the blog posts I wrote that the book is based on, but I’m not sure whether anyone would pay good money for the book version, even if it is significantly longer (approximately twice the length with one and a half new chapters, if I finish the one I need to write from scratch).

The Guidebook to Depressed, Autistic Life

I feel rather frustrated today.  Most immediately, while I was davening Shacharit (praying the morning service), admittedly very late, my Dad phoned twice and my Mum phoned once in the space of five or ten minutes.  Although they do tend to phone me a lot when they’re out (Dad was shopping, Mum was at work), three phone calls in ten minutes is a bit excessive, so first I got annoyed, but then I started worrying that something was terribly wrong and they were desperately trying to get hold of me to give me bad news.  I wasn’t very anxious, but I was a little anxious.  It was all fine in the end, but it’s left me feeling a bit on edge.

I also feel frustrated about my work life.  I obviously don’t have a job at the moment and on one level that’s frustrating; on another level, it’s a relief, which is probably an indication that I’m in the wrong job or at least of how anxiety-provoking I find the world of work, I think primarily because of my autism.  I think my mood is better since I’ve been out of work, which is worrying.  I’ve been trying to allocate time to job hunting, working on my book(s) and doing various chores that need doing, either regular chores I’m supposed to help with like cooking or various one-off things that need doing, but I’m finding it hard.  I spend too much time feeling lonely or depressed and/or procrastinating.  I feel very sluggish and depressed for parts of the day (I would say morning, but I tend not to wake up until mid-morning), which takes a chunk of useful time out of my day.  Then I stay up late trying to catch up on things.  Even so, the list of chores is barely touched and I don’t spend as much time on my writing as I would like.  I would like to spend three hours on job hunting a day plus an hour on writing or chores, and time on Torah study, prayer and walking (for exercise) each day, but I’m struggling with that, especially as I get exhausted so easily (not to mention distracted, sadly).  Today I managed to finish a piece of writing and submit a job application, but the actual amount of time spent on those things was rather short.

On the plus side, I think the general trend in my mental health is upwards.  It’s hard to notice because I feel depressed most days, particularly on waking, but I’m definitely not where I was when I was at most worst (2003-ca2010) where I was barely functional, if that.  My functionality is obviously a lot better and I have held down a number of part-time jobs, of varying hours.  I think my mood is generally better than it was, even if it is bad some of the time most days and even if it tends to get worse when I’m working (even with jobs I’ve enjoyed, I find myself anxious and depressed on the way in to work, sometimes to the extent that I can’t read on the train).  I don’t think I will ever not be depressed, though.

I think progress for me now is about managing (rather than curing) my depression, social anxiety and autism, as well as managing my religious obligations and family and social lives.  It’s hard as there isn’t a guidebook.  I have to invent the rules and adapt them as things change.  I’m might never have a full-time job or structured career and I may well never live the ‘normal’ frum (religious) life that is expected in my community of davening with a minyan (community) three times a day, doing extensive Torah study each day and participating actively in the life of the community.  I may never get married and have children.  Sometimes that all seems OK, but sometimes it upsets me.  I don’t want people to think I’m a bad person or a bad Jew for not having a career, not davening with a minyan and so forth.  But I think it’s more that I don’t want myself to feel that I’m a bad person or a bad Jew.

My Song

I feel burnt out again today, which probably isn’t surprising after yesterday.  The good news for today is that I have an job interview next week at a Very Important Organisation.  HR were supposed to send me an email, but didn’t.  The first I heard was when I received an email from someone else in the organisation (I assume a librarian) adding additional information.  I still don’t have the HR invitation, so I hope I’m not missing important instructions.

I tried to write a piece of writing with deliberate grammatical errors that I can correct and put on my proofreading profile page as a portfolio to try to get proofreading work.  It proved harder than it looks.  I could make and correct the mistakes just fine, but I found it impossible to just write ‘something’ without any kind of idea of what to write.  Like platonic soup, platonic writing, writing that isn’t about anything, but which is just writing, turns out not to exist.  I wasted quite a bit of time trying to do that and procrastinating as I realised I wasn’t getting anywhere.  I tried taking a book review I wrote years ago and inserting mistakes, but that didn’t really work either.  So I switched to writing a job application for a law library job I don’t really want and won’t get, but I had zero enthusiasm for that either.

Eventually I gave up and went for a walk and to do some shopping.  By the time I got home from that, I was exhausted.  I hate not having energy, motivation and concentration any more.  The only thing I wanted to do was to write.  Actual writing, not writing pseudo-nonsense to show I can correct grammatical errors.  I feel that the only thing I can really do well is write about my feelings and experiences.  That’s the only thing I do that other people show much of an interest in.  I want to try to find a way to monetise that, but it’s scary.  Apart from the fact it’s a rather niche thing to be good at, with any creative job, there is always the fear (for me at any rate) that one day inspiration and talent will just dry up.  That’s not good for someone on the autism spectrum who doesn’t like uncertainty.  Although my autism means I don’t much like most workplaces, so there are advantages as well as drawbacks.

***

Ashley Leia wrote this post about not using the word “should.”  I have heard this before and always struggled with it, perhaps because of my religious beliefs.  I really think there are things I should and shouldn’t do.  However, a little later I was writing something about autism and I realised that actually a lot of my shoulds come from being autistic and having other people try to adjust my behaviour to neurotypical norms, particularly when I was a child: that I should make eye contact and I should have open body language and I shouldn’t stim and I should socialise even when I don’t want to and I should know how to have a conversation and I shouldn’t have to ask for help with basic everyday tasks. That’s actually quite scary, to see how much I’ve been made into a malfunctional neurotypical rather than a functional autistic person.

Maror Fressers

Unusually, I woke early and couldn’t get back to sleep, so I got up.  I didn’t get much of an early start on the day, as I frittered away some time listening to podcasts on politics and antisemitism as well as trying to get rid of emails.  I use a free email site for Oxford graduates, but really they intend you to move quickly from the free site to a paid upgrade.  I’m reluctant to do this, but I am fast running out of free space now my email folders are filling up with work- and job hunting-related emails, sometimes with huge attachments.  (It’s telling that it’s taken me fourteen years to get to this stage, whereas their business model presumably expects most people to get to it within a year or so of graduation.)  I am not quite sure what to do about this.  I have a free gmail account with a lot of free space which is associated with my other (non-anonymous) blog, but I know if I switch accounts, some of my friends will miss the email telling them to update their address books.  Then there is the hassle of changing my details on internet shopping sites and the like (I could lose some spam, though).

This was all procrastination as I knew I had to set up some online accounts to try to get some freelance proofreading/copy editing work.  I started to do that, but then I started getting anxious, worrying that I didn’t know the proper procedures for proofreading and would mess it up, not being sure what to put on my profile, worrying I wouldn’t get any work because I have no experience or positive reviews…  I wasn’t hugely anxious, but it was a struggle to work on my profile page.  It turned into a struggle between hope and anxiety/procrastination.  I did email a friend who proofreads to ask for help, although I felt very stupid.  Suddenly I felt like I didn’t have a clue what proofreaders and copy editors do, beyond the most general outline.

I could feel the worries spiralling out like fractals in a way that I am familiar with from my OCD, where each answer leads to another three questions.  Being autistic and fearing the unknown probably didn’t help either; I wanted to know and prepare for every eventuality.  Soon I was drifting into self-critical thoughts, thinking that I’m not good at anything, I’m not going to be able to get a job, even that no one really likes me, feeling incompetent and unskilled compared to other people advertising proofreading and copy editing…  I ended up feeling really depressed again and not sure what to do.

I did complete a profile for one site in the end.  I might go on a couple of others too.  My friend was also really helpful.  So that is all positive.  In other news, however, I got two job rejections, for the job I was interviewed for recently and for another one that I quite wanted.

***

This evening I went to my parents’ shul (synagogue) for a Yom Ha’atzmaut (Israeli Independence Day) event.  I enjoyed it to some extent, but not hugely.  There was a good magician, but I was terrified he would pick on me to come up on to the stage to help with his act.  I also felt swamped by the number of people, most of whom I didn’t know, and by the noise.  I slipped out during the raffle to get away from it all.  But I think the real reason I was subdued was that, with a small war in Israel over the weekend, the festivities seemed a bit hollow.  They just seemed to show how far we still have to go.  I thought a bit about this story about my hero, the Kotzker Rebbe (Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Kotzk, nineteenth century Hasidic rabbi).  I found the story here some time ago.  I edited it and tidied it up a little to read at the seder this year, although I didn’t have time to rewrite it totally into my “voice”:

One  year, the Kotzker Rebbe failed to pass out Maror [bitter herb, eaten at the seder in memory of the bitterness of the Egyptian slavery] to his family and those at the Seder.   The people around the table whispered to the Sochatchover Rebbe, the Kotzker Rebbe’s son in law, that he should remind the Kotzker to pass out Maror.   The Sochatchover in a light-hearted comment to the Kotzker Rebbe mentioned a disagreement in the Talmud whether Marror today is Rabbinic or Biblical.  The Sochatchover said to his father-in-law that I have a proof from the Rebbe that Maror is Rabbinic, because the Rebbe has not passed out the Maror.

The Kotzker responded to his son-in-law, you are correct and gave Maror to everyone.  Suddenly, the Kotzker declared in a loud voice, “Maror Fressers”, Maror Fressers translates into, People who indulge in Maror.  Due to the fear of the Rebbe everyone around the table scattered and only the Sochatchover remained.

After a while Reb Hersh Tomashover [the Rebbe’s gabbai, essentially his PA], came in the room and the Kotzker asked him, where is everyone.  Reb Hersh answered that the Rebbe chased them out of the house when the Rebbe screamed out, Maror Fressers.  The Kotzker replied that he did not mean the people around the table.

When the Kotzker screamed out Maror Fressers, he was praying to God.  Maror is bitterness and slavery and persecution.  Enough already.  It is time for Moshaich [the Messiah].  The Jews have suffered and suffered and suffered.   The Jews are constantly eating Maror and it is time for salvation.

Living in a Thomas the Tank Engine Dystopia

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

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

That is all I want to say about this.

***

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

***

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

***

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

Mental Health Day

I’m feeling quite depressed and overwhelmed today.  I have the feeling that I get when very depressed, that my brain has been removed and replaced with cotton wool.  I’m not sure how else to describe it.

I feel a bit anxious and catastrophising about dating, but more confused than anything.  But I’m reluctant to talk too much about that here either.  I don’t mind talking about my feelings about dating and relationships when I’m not seeing anyone, but somehow it seems wrong to do it when I’m actually dating.

I found another job to apply for, but I’m just feeling too depressed right now to tackle the application, especially as I’m not sure that I really have the skills they want.  I’m also feeling overwhelmed by things at home, both the long list of chores and other things that need doing as well as by the piles of unread books and graphic novels I want to get through.  I’m not reading a lot at the moment, thanks to a mixture of depressive poor concentration and motivation.  Unemployment also plays a part, as I read most while commuting, although in the last few months depression has reduced that too and sometimes I sit listening to music or just staring into space feeling anxious, depressed and/or exhausted.

I didn’t want to waste the day, so I worked on my Doctor Who book, passing up watching Blake’s 7 in favour of redrafting/editing the longest chapter and trimming about a thousand words.  I still worry that the book is over-length and doesn’t say enough new things.  I would like to send out copies of some chapters to friends to see what they think, but of the friends who I might send it to, two are thoroughly over-worked at the moment and another two are in the midst of a major family trauma, so I don’t like to ask any of them.  Another one is probably overworked, but I haven’t seen him for a number of years (although we have emailed a little) so asking for help out of the blue seems a bit much.  He’s a rabbi, so he’s probably over-worked too.  Pretty much all congregational rabbis are.

Of course, then I feel the pressure of having to watch Jodie Whittaker’s episodes again and write an analysis of them.  I know I will enjoy doing that, but I had been planning to spend a few weeks watching Blake’s 7 so it feels like something external disrupting my schedule.  I suppose there isn’t really a hurry, as the third draft is going much faster than I predicted, it’s just that the autistic part of me hates my plans being disrupted.  Still, it’s pretty obvious from this (by “this” I mean from not being able to job hunt or really feel like doing anything, but still being able to redraft and enjoy it on some level and even to pass up vegetating in front of the TV to do it) that I should be trying to find more ways to get paid for my writing as it’s the only thing in my life that I feel even vaguely good about.

Things Done Today

Things done today:

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

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

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