I Have No Idea What to Call This Post And Don’t Have Time to Think About It (1.5 Hours to Shabbat)

I’ve had feedback from both the friends I wrote to about writing.  What they wrote seems really useful, but also daunting.  I suppose if it was easy, they wouldn’t have to pay people to do it.  I fee like I’m drowning in self-disbelief (is that a word?  The opposite of self-belief).  I struggle to see myself writing professionally.  Yet I want to write.  Writing feels like it’s the only thing I’m any good at.  (Despite having ended that last sentence with a preposition.)  And it’s restoring for me rather than draining, which is unlike most things.  I think I need to find a way to start small and build confidence.  The actual writing is less of a problem than finding the right market and submitting ideas and articles and coping with rejection, not to mention the social anxiety that stops me from making contact with publishers for fear of saying or doing the wrong thing.  I did try to pitch an idea to a geeky website once and didn’t even get a response.  I don’t know if the idea was bad or I just pitched it badly.

I do feel a certain excitement about the thought of writing professionally that I haven’t felt with librarianship for a while.  The other thing I take from the experience of writing these emails is that two people who have never met me in person and just know me from my writing took a lot of time to respond to my emails which indicates (a) that they think my writing is fairly good and (b) I must, on some level, be a likeable person.

I keep positive emails from friends and blog comments in an email folder.  Periodically I print them out, so I can see them at times when my computer is off.  I printed some out today as I wanted to see them over Yom Tov earlier in the week and thought I might want them over Shabbat (I don’t use my computer on Shabbat and Yom Tov).  That does help to boost my confidence a little, at least when I remember to read them.  In the past I’ve had them blue tacked to my wardrobe doors, but after a while I stopped noticing them.

I went for a haircut.  I shook.  I feel a bit upset about that, even though it’s not my fault.  The shaking is a medication side-effect, but it was worst when the barber moved my head about rather roughly, which suggests that it is related to social anxiety and autistic problems with being touched.

On a purely materialistic level, a new graphic novel I pre-ordered ages ago and the publication of which was then much delayed finally arrived today (The Clockwise War, the latest Doctor Who Magazine comic collection).  Doctor Who Magazine comics tend to read better in one or two sittings than a handful of pages a month, particularly when they have long and complicated story arcs like this one, so I’ve been looking forward to this.

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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…

Speaking a Dead Language

The usual post-Yom Tov (festival) depression has set in.  Actually, it is more accurate to define it as post-mass social interaction (i.e. interacting with lots of people at shul (synagogue) and elsewhere) depression.  I was not tired last night so I stayed up late blogging and unwinding from the stresses of the last three days, but inevitably slept late this morning and woke up utterly drained from the last few days.  I feel pessimistic about all my recent plans to write professionally and to date again.  I feel that I can’t write well, that I don’t know anything (except my own moods) well enough to write about at length, that no one would date me while I’m unemployed and so on.

It’s been a day of procrastination and feeling too drained and depressed to do anything.  I did send an email to the values-based dating service matchmaker saying I would like to date again if they find anyone (I had said I wanted to stop until I can find a job).  I hope that’s not a terrible idea.  It feels a bit like a terrible idea, despite what people have said to me, here and elsewhere.  I briefly started signing up for another dating service, but backtracked when I realised that the free membership was limited, while it didn’t say anywhere on the site how much the paid membership was.  I can’t really afford a hefty monthly fee at the moment, so that was more time/energy wasted.  I guess this is a way of ensuring that unemployed people don’t date.

I also went for a very short walk to do some shopping, which completely exhausted me, and I cooked dinner for myself and my parents (macaroni cheese, about the easiest recipe I know) which also exhausted me.  I somehow managed about twenty minutes of Torah study as well as writing letters of complaint about a couple of secondhand items that were advertised as “very good,” but arrived in a poor condition.  So this was not a totally wasted day, but it was not a productive one.

However, I did not have time, energy or mood/brainpower for a load of other things I hoped to get done today (write to a couple of friends asking for help starting to write professionally; proof-reading and submitting a job application; trying to get submission guides from various periodicals I’d like to write for; and studying the weekly page of Talmud for my shiur).  All those things will get postponed to later in the week, assuming I feel better.

In the meantime, I’m fighting the urge to eat junk food after all the junk, especially ice cream, I ate over Yom Tov (it is customary to eat dairy produce on Shavuot).  I’m wondering if I really have what it takes to write professionally, considering the small number of people reading my blog and the fact that I haven’t really written much professionally in the past and my autistic/socially anxious/low self-esteem difficulties with networking and pushing my work out there.  Actually, I wonder if I have what it takes to do anything meaningful at all.  I feel so useless so much of the time.

***

Doctor Who Magazine has been running a cosplay feature for some time now.  Cosplaying is when fans of something dress up as their favourite characters, often for conventions (because part of the point is being seen by people who get the reference).  Part of my mind thinks it is a pointless waste of time and money; another part thinks it looks a lot of fun; a third agrees it looks fun, but is too anxious for either cosplaying or going to conventions.  Broadly, the Jewish, fannish and autistic/mentally ill parts of my head, I suppose.  I did dress up as the Doctor for Purim, albeit in what a dedicated cosplayer would consider a very inaccurate costume (only the scarf was authentic; the rest was just a vague approximation of Tom Baker’s costume from stuff I had to hand).

I feel torn into pieces by the thoughts in my head.  I want to be frum, yet I lack energy and enthusiasm for Torah and mitzvot and sometimes I’m angry with God.  I like classic British telefantasy, but I worry it’s a trivial thing to waste my life on.  I love writing, but am scared to do anything with it.  I’d like to make friends with people like myself, but I’m terrified of rejection, so avoid places where I might meet people like myself (shulDoctor Who conventions).  I assume that the fact that I’m not a typical Orthodox Jew or typical Doctor Who fan makes me unlikeable by more conventional members of those communities, when it might be the reverse, at least for some people (maybe, possibly).  Anxiety and autism make me stay in my comfort zone when I might enjoy moving out of it (writing professionally, including doing serious research; going to conventions).

Sometimes it feels like being a frum geek is like knowing a nearly-extinct language, that there are nuances or connections in Jewish stuff or fan stuff that only I can see.  That’s fun on some level, but it’s also lonely.  I guess loneliness is fundamental to my life.  Perhaps surprisingly, I did have a couple of friends at school, but never many and sometimes they were all away or busy and I was left on my own.  Then at Oxford it grew to being one of the dominating emotions of my life and has never really gone away.  I don’t know if I could cope with having a partner, it would be so strange.  Maybe I would still feel lonely, and therefore guilty that my wife wasn’t enough for me.

This mental division might affect my writing.  It’s possible that what I want to write is not going to align very well with the readership of various periodicals.  I want to write something on chronic illness, especially depression and high functioning autism, in the Jewish community, but I worry that anything I write will be too frum (religious) for the Jewish Chronicle, but too irreligious for any of the frummer Jewish newspapers (which I don’t read anyway, so I would need to research style and tone.  Plus, I think on principle, I don’t want to write for newspapers that refuse to run pictures of women, as is the case with many Orthodox newspapers).

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.

Victimhood

I’ve mentioned that I’m using Rabbi Lord Sacks’ omer calendar, which has inspiring statements for each day of the omer.  Tonight’s statement was, “Never define yourself as a victim.  There is always a choice, and by exercising the strength to choose, we can rise above fate.”  This is something I have heard before from Rabbi Sacks and also from Viktor Frankl and Jordan Peterson.

I want to define myself by my choices, but it feels like so much of my life has not been created by my choices, but by my autism and my mental illnesses, so it becomes very easy to slip into a victim mentality (something encouraged by a wider culture that divides society into victims and oppressors with no middle ground).  I do want to stop defining myself as a victim, but it’s very hard and I’m not really sure how to do it.  What positive choices have I made?  It is hard to tell.  Again, if I compare myself with my peers, they seem to have successfully chosen career A or to marry person B or to have child C, or to be involved in their  shul or voluntary work or whatever they do.  I do have elements of that, but at a much lower level, with much less actual meaningful choice.  If I wasn’t depressed and autistic, I would be much freer to live my life as I would want.

I suppose Frankl in particular (Man’s Search for Meaning) would argue that I have the choice of how to respond to autism and depression, whether or not to define myself as a victim, but I’m not sure (or no one has ever revealed to me) what the alternative to victim status is while living a life that is (a) very far from what I want and (b) very far from what either the Jewish or Western communities present as a good or meaningful life.  I understand that I can possibly embrace my neurodivergence, but it’s hard to embrace the depression because the depression of its very nature pushes me towards a despairing/victim state of mind.  It’s like trying to cure diabetes by trying to mentally will a stable blood sugar level rather than regulating diet and taking insulin.  I feel I could only really choose how to respond to depression if I was cured, which is a paradox.

On a related note, during the shiur (class) during seudah (the third Shabbat meal) yesterday, the rabbi spoke of humility and that it is not about knowing our weaknesses, but rather knowing our strengths, acknowledging them as gifts from God and using them to help others.  This was an idea I had heard before, albeit not quite in those words, but I find it hard to identify my strengths and work out how to use them to help others.  This is perhaps partly due to low self-esteem.  People have told me that I write well, but I find that hard to believe and it is impossible to work out how to use that ability to help others.  I do want to write about mental health issues, Judaism and Doctor Who, but I find it hard to dedicate the time to it and I don’t have the confidence to take time out from my career (or job hunt, at the moment) to try writing professionally.  Not knowing the practical steps needed to get something published does not help either.

As an interesting sidelight on this, there’s a regular feature in Doctor Who Magazine where a Doctor Who celebrity is asked twenty randomly-selected interview questions from a box.  One of them asks which member of the opposite sex they would want to swap places with for a day.  I thought about this, and I realised there isn’t anyone of either sex that I would particularly want to swap places with.  I either lack imagination or at a very basic level I’m happy with who I am, I just wish I could be less depressed/lonely/inhibited/anxious/self-critical/etc.

***

I had some difficult thoughts and experiences over Shabbat (the Sabbath).  I mentioned on Friday someone I know from shiur who just had a child.  He was in shul (synagogue) on Friday night, but I was too anxious to wish him mazal tov.  I always get nervous doing things like that in case I’ve made a mistake and got the wrong person or the wrong life event.  I didn’t introduce myself to the new rabbi either, although he came and spoke to me on Shabbat afternoon.  It was bad of me not to do those things, but I don’t know how to force myself to do things like that, except by guilt-tripping myself.

I had some disturbed dreams that night and again when I dozed on Shabbat afternoon.  I don’t remember all the details, but there was a lot of darkness and I think violence; one was set in World War II, although it was drawn as much from Dad’s Army as from the reality of the war (and my unconscious got the dates wrong, perhaps to prolong it).  I woke up in time for shul in the morning, but again my social anxiety got the better of me and I went back to sleep, probably to avoid the new rabbi, at least on some level.  As a result, I ended up upset again at sleeping through so much of Shabbat (about eleven hours at night/morning and a three hour nap in the afternoon) and also about running away from things so much at the moment: shul, autism group last week and the farewell seudah for the previous rabbi and assistant rabbi a few weeks ago.

There were some more positive thoughts and experiences.  I liked the new rabbi’s style of delivering the weekly Talmud shiur (Talmud class).  It seemed a little more structured than the assistant rabbi’s style, with frequent recaps of what we had learnt.  He has extended the shiur by ten minutes, which was good too, giving more time for the page of Talmud, although we still did not quite finish it.  (Rabbis are often bad timekeepers, for some reason.  Actually, stereotype would suggest that all Jews are bad timekeepers, except for Yekkes (German Jews).  I’m only one-eighth Yekkish, but I conform to Yekkish stereotype: punctual, pedantic, detail-focused, obsessively honest.)  I also thought about making some small changes in my religious life and practices, dropping some non-obligatory things and making slight changes to try to have more kavannah (mindfulness) in prayer and to study more Torah, or at least to enjoy it more.

As usual after being in shul for so long (nearly three hours, counting two shiurimMincha, seudah, Ma’ariv and helping to tidy up) I was left drained.  I was thinking back to the person from shiur with the new baby.  At a baby boy’s brit (circumcision), we say, “Just as he has entered into the covenant, so may he enter into Torahchuppah (the wedding canopy) and good deeds.”  It makes it sound so natural for people, that one should just flow into Torah, marriage and good deeds, but it’s so hard for me to manage any of them.  I can’t do any of them ‘naturally,’ only with a lot of effort and focus; with marriage, not even then (plus there is an idea I heard from Chief Rabbi Mirvis, that “good deeds” comes after marriage in the prayer because the primary place for good deeds is to benefit your spouse, that marriage is holy because it offers so many opportunities for good deeds in a way not possible in other relationships, so I won’t ever really be able to do good deeds unless I marry).

***

I cancelled the paid part of my non-anonymous Doctor Who blog, downgrading to a free blog.  I hadn’t used it as much as I had intended, partly because I’ve decided that writing instant reviews of Doctor Who episodes isn’t really playing to my strengths as a writer (I tend to be quite polarised for or against something on first viewing and develop a more nuanced view after repeated viewing and discussion with others), partly because the time I thought I would spend re-posting old articles has been spent working on my Doctor Who book.  I may put old or even new articles up there at some point, but right now my priority is finishing the book.

***

Other than that, it’s been a ‘treading water’ type of day, running just to stay in the same place to paraphrase Lewis Carroll.  Aside from catching up with my blog for Shabbat, I went for a walk to buy ingredients to cook for dinner, and cooked them.  That’s it, really, aside from some Torah study, although I’m hoping to grab a bit of time to work on my Doctor Who book for half an hour or so before bed, so that I feel like I’ve accomplished something.

I don’t feel too depressed today, but I do feel lonely.  I keep having ‘crush’ type thoughts on someone I haven’t seen for four years and have never had the confidence to speak to.  I keep wondering if she’s seeing anyone.  I would probably have heard if she was married (married again, as she was divorced), the Jewish grapevine being what it is, but my parents do sometimes try to hide things like that from me in the believe it would depress me to know (it would, but not knowing causes problems too).  It’s stupid to think she could be interested in me, or that we would have anything in common, or that I could even speak to her (bearing in mind in twenty-five years I didn’t say a single word), but I suppose that is what loneliness does to me.  I should really try to focus on the real world and not the imaginary world that only exists in my head.  In the real world, I will probably never get married, I will probably be single and lonely forever, and I need to find ways of accepting that and not feeling like a victim because of it.

“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.

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).

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.

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).

Careers, Autistic Organisation, Yom HaShoah and the Half-Life of a Blog

A rather long and varied post today, as it’s been a long day.  Here goes…

I had a phone interview with someone from a recruitment agency that specialises in library and information roles.  It seemed to go OK, apart from her suggesting I change something on my CV that she found inadvertently misleading, which made me feel foolish.  I don’t know why I feel such an idiot when people point out my mistakes, especially as in this case I don’t think what I wrote really was misleading.  I always feel inadequate when talking about my work experience and I fear that people will ask about the gaps on my CV or somehow intuit that I’m wondering if I’m in the right career.  And of course any personal interaction brings fears that because of my autism I’m saying too much or too little or saying the wrong thing, things that neurotypical people would manage more intuitively than I can do.  To my relief she was actually positive when I said I was ideally looking for part-time work for health reasons, as she said that those roles can be hard to fill, as most people are looking for full-time work.  The jobs she wants to put me up for now are full-time, though.

The woman who interviewed me was nice, but I always find interviews stressful and I couldn’t do any real work immediately afterwards, just processed some emails and went for lunch to recover.  Even after lunch I was procrastinating and found it hard to get down to job hunting.  It doesn’t help that looking at job specs for corporate law librarian work doesn’t fill me with enthusiasm.  I’m really just applying for these on the off chance, without relevant experience or much interest.  I just want to feel like I’m doing something, and if I waited only for jobs that I was enthusiastic about, I feel I would be waiting a long time.

Filling in job applications is almost impossible.  I did fill in a couple of simple forms, but I should have done more.  (I know people say I use ‘should’ too much and should (ha ha) be more compassionate on my self, but it’s hard when I achieve so little.)  I wasn’t feeling so depressed today, but something about these applications makes me feel depressed and I procrastinate or feel like crying.  It doesn’t help that the application I’m currently filling in (for a job at the library of a major public sector organisation) is, realistically, for a job that is far above me (the salary is about £10,000 more than I’ve been earning), so I don’t have the experience and skills they are asking for, but having told myself to fill it in, it seems wrong to back out, so I stick with it, trying to find examples of my relevant professional skills.  (It doesn’t help that I don’t always have great recall for things that don’t interest me, like work.  If ever there’s a job application that requires knowing a lot of trivia about Doctor Who, I’ll cope much better.)  But I keep getting distracted by aimless internet browsing or reading Alex or Cul de Sac comics.  Maybe I should just accept that this isn’t the job for me and give up?  But I hate giving up on things.

***

I stopped working on my Doctor Who book for a couple of weeks because of Pesach, but I’ve returned to it now.  I redrafted two chapters this week.  It’s frustrating that somehow the prose doesn’t flow as I would like, although I’ve never liked reading my own writing.  I’m always surprised that so many people have said they like my writing.  Of course, it isn’t the kind of book one would buy for the style.

I worry that it’s overlong too.  I’ve cut it down, but it’s still slightly too long, at least according to this site (which admittedly is about novels, not this particularly niche brand of non-fiction).  I’m about halfway through the third draft and ideally I would like to send out chapters to a couple of friends to look at before I try the fourth draft (somehow I’ve got the idea in my head that four drafts is about right.  I think Terry Pratchett and Steven Moffat have both said something about doing four drafts).  However, I’m wary of asking people.  Partly it’s that I don’t always take criticism well (I tend to catastrophise and assume that my work is unbearably rubbish if someone makes even a constructive suggestion), but mostly it’s that I know everyone is busy and doesn’t have time to do unpaid consultancy work, especially as the friends who I think would be most willing to help have serious real-world concerns at the moment and I don’t want to bother them with this.  So I’m not sure what to do about that.

Nevertheless, I am generally pleased at how well it’s going and that I think I’ve managed to say some new things about classic Doctor Who, which is not easy given its age and the sheer volume of stuff that has been written about it over the years.

***

As well as procrastinating, I find it harder and harder to be organised.  At school I always had the right books, did my homework on time, went to the right lessons and so on, but since leaving the more rigid environment of school and having more control over my schedule and planning it, things have gradually got harder.  I think I’ve mentioned before that my Dad says I’m a terrible planner: I draw up detailed plans, but find it impossible to stick to them.  Similarly, I keep my desk and floor tidy, but I suspect this is often at a cost of just piling things in drawers or shoving papers in folders without necessarily knowing exactly where things are going; financial papers in particular are a struggle for me to organise and I’m often vague and uninterested about my finances and need advice and help from my father to deal with them.

I used to think there was nothing wrong with my planning ability per se, I just got distracted and procrastinated because of depression while depressive exhaustion made everything take longer than I expected, but I increasingly wonder if it’s an autistic executive function issue, that I just lack something in my brain that would help me stick to my plans or fully understand my finances.  Again, it would probably help if my day was spent largely on something I enjoyed or found meaningful, instead of applying for jobs I feel equivocal about.  I wonder if autistic rigid thinking and difficulty thinking laterally or creatively about problems is a factor too, if there might be a better way of organising my time/room that I can’t see because I’m too stuck in “This is how I’ve always done it, this is how I always have to do it.”

***

What is the half-life of a blog?  This is something I’ve been wondering lately.  I used to read a lot of Jewish blogs.  I think they had a positive role in teaching me Jewish social norms and frum (religious) language, something that, as someone with autism, I struggle to learn through observation and imitation as done by most children or ba’alei teshuva (people who are ethnically Jewish, but raised non-religious and who become frum in adulthood).  Nowadays I seem to come across fewer of them and many I used to follow are updated rarely or not at all.  I thought this blog would attract mainly Jewish readers and even used Jewish terms as metadata (‘tags’ to non-librarians) to try to attract them, but most of my readers, so far as I can tell, are not Jewish.  Have all the Jews left what used to be called the J-blogosphere (the Jewish blogosphere)?

I did an experiment and went to a blog I used to follow.  It’s long defunct, but had a very long and comprehensive blogroll (remember those?) of other Jewish blogs.  I picked a dozen or so at random and clicked the links.  Only two or three have been updated in the last five years or so and many were not accessible at all, although it’s not clear for how long they have been inaccessible.  A different blogroll shows more active blogs, but often specifically Jewish food blogs (although that may simply reflect the interests of the blogroll compiler).  I know E. is very involved in Jewish food blogging, so that’s obviously still an active area.

Has everyone else migrated to Facebook and Twitter?  There seem to still be lots of general blogs out there, so where did all the Jewish blogs go?  I know some forms of social media are more popular in some communities than others (e.g. I believe Twitter took off in the UK long before it reached the USA), so maybe that applies here too and people have just left Blogger (which was where most Jewish blogs were hosted) for Facebook or Twitter.  It’s a shame as I don’t like Twitter and Facebook and feel out of the loop.  There is a similar issue with online Doctor Who fandom being increasingly based on Facebook and Twitter, but I do at least still follow a couple of Doctor Who blogs and there are more out there that I know about that I don’t like/follow for one reason or another.

***

Most Jewish festivals and fasts are very old, but at this time of year, there are four days that have been created within living memory and which are therefore somewhat controversial, with many Charedi (ultra-Orthodox) Jews not observing and other Jews debating the best way of observing them.  These are Yom HaShoah, Yom HaZikaron, Yom Ha’Atzmaut and Yom Yerushalayim (Holocaust Day, Memorial Day, commemorating those who died as a result of war and terrorism in Israel, Israeli Independence Day and Jerusalem Day, celebrating the reunification of the city of Jerusalem).  My personal involvement in these days has varied over time.  My shul (synagogue) does not observe any of these days, but sometimes I go to events at my parents’ shul, which does observe them.

Tonight was the start of Yom HaShoah (Holocaust Day – distinct from International Holocaust Memorial Day in January, which is not a Jewish creation).  I went to my parents’ shul.  I was apprehensive about how I would cope, worried about being around a lot of people and having to listen to speakers for a prolonged period as much as with the subject matter, but I was mostly OK.  I did cry, but I stayed for the whole thing.  I did notice that I disassociated a bit inasmuch as I would sort of switch off from engaging directly with the speakers and start viewing the event as a historian or sociologist, thinking about how the Holocaust has been commemorated in different times and places and where the emphasis is placed or thinking about theological responses to the Holocaust and things like that.  I think I do that sometimes, particularly with large events like this where I feel uncomfortable.

Part of the event was a short talk about the Holocaust in Libya by a man who was there (albeit as a baby).  Libya was controlled by the Germans’ ally, Italy, during the early part of the war.  I’d always been led to believe that Italy’s involvement in the Holocaust was muted and half-hearted until the Nazis took control of the north of the country in about 1943, but I learnt there was a concentration camp in the Sahara desert for some Libyan Jews and others were sent to European death camps.  This was all news to me and I found it interesting.

Chad Gadya

I still feel that I am coming down with a cold.  I feel hot and bothered and exhausted.  I’m not sure how much is exhaustion and how much is a real virus.  I felt so exhausted and depressed that I got up late and was slow getting ready, so the original plan for the day, to go to The Jewish Museum with my Dad, was abandoned as we wouldn’t get our money’s worth out of the entrance fee.  We went to the British Museum instead, which is free, so we didn’t feel resentful of only going for an hour or two.  I felt a bit better while I was there, physically and emotionally.  It was probably just as well that I missed The Jewish Museum, as I wanted to see the Jews and Money exhibition; spending the afternoon looking at Nazi and Soviet propaganda of Jews as economic parasites might not have been the most enjoyable thing on Chol HaMoed (the intermediate days of Passover).  Instead, at the British Museum, I got to look at relics from ancient civilisations that tried to wipe out the Jews, but have long-since vanished while we’re still here: Egyptians, Assyrians, Greeks, which I think was appropriate for the Festival of Redemption.

***

I have a date with L. on Monday.  This is after therapy at lunch time and spending the previous day peopling in Oxford after two days of Yom Tov, so I hope I will not be burnt out and unable to interact before I even get there (remember to breathe).  I’m trying not to overthink it, but it’s hard.

I’m also trying not to overthink Pesach (Passover) OCD stuff.  The religious OCD has been a lot better this year (three days to go), but it’s hard to let go of some thoughts, silly though they seem.  The biggest fear is that the kosher supermarkets might have accidentally had forbidden chametz (leavened) produce and we bought it, which is really just punishing myself for not having checked the hechshers (rabbinic seals of approval).  Sometimes my OCD means “I don’t think I deserve for this to be OK.”

***

I watched The King’s Speech yesterday.  My Dad insisted on lending me the DVD ages ago, but I hadn’t got around to it as I wasn’t that interested.  I was wrong.  It was really good, but what surprised me was that it’s really about self-esteem and accepting who you are, or rather who God/fate/life wants you to be.  Accepting that you can grow and change.

One exchange resonated with me:

Bertie [the future George VI]: I’m not going to sit here warbling.

Lionel Logue [speech therapist]: You can with me.

Bertie: You’re peculiar.

Logue: I take that as a compliment.

I like being different.  Admittedly this is because I have a low opinion of both the consumerist, hedonist, godless rat-race mainstream Western world and the often narrow-minded, self-righteous, and sometimes also hypocritically consumerist frum (religious Orthodox Jewish) world.  I complain that I don’t fit in either, but deep down, I don’t really want to belong in either.  I like being different.  But it’s lonely and I have a history of being bullied and rejected for being different.  So I hide my eccentricities and interests and compartmentalise my life: Jewish stuff, work stuff, geeky stuff…  My oldest friend is much more open about being a geeky.  When we were at school, he would refer to geeky stuff in class work; now he talks about it in his sermons (he’s a non-Orthodox rabbi).  I wish I could be a little bolder in presenting the real me.

I suppose that’s why writing is so important to me, here and in the books I would like to write/am writing.  I want to get the Doctor Who book finished in a couple of months and send it out to publishers so I can start work in earnest on the Judaism/autism/depression misery memoir that seems potentially more worthwhile, worthwhile because it might help other people and worthwhile because I’ll be able to show the real me.

Wasting Time

I’m struggling today, with depression, OCD and irrational guilt.  The depression is probably from exhaustion as much as anything after the last three days.  I just have no energy and low mood without particular depressive thoughts.  Seder has disrupted my sleep pattern again.  I was up until 3.30am or so last night writing my blog, but also because I was not tired from sleeping during the day too much.  I slept until about 12.30pm today and then spent two and a half hours trying to get the energy to eat breakfast and get dressed.

The OCD is about kosher supermarkets, and whether all the food in them is kosher for Pesach if they aren’t rabbinically supervised.  It’s silly really, as I buy food from there during the rest of the year without feeling the need to check the hechshers (rabbinic seals of approval).  I just worry that we might have bought non-kosher for Pesach food by mistake.

The guilt is the silliest thing, because it’s not even primarily for things I have actually done.  I was reading Neshamas.com, a website for people within the frum (religious Orthodox Jewish) community where they can post anonymously about anything non-insulting.  People write really moving stuff on there about abuse, crises of faith, confusion about their sexuality and so on.  I was reading posts about abuse and marital rape and worrying that if I was married, I would be abusive, even though I have no evidence for that, and possibly some evidence against.  It’s silly, really.  I guess that’s low self-esteem, or more likely pure O OCD, which can make people feel guilty for things they haven’t done.  My CBT therapist said that people who have OCD thoughts about abuse are the least likely to actually be abusive.  Then I commented on some posts on Neshamas, but felt that I had said the wrong thing and might have made things worse and felt bad about that.  It’s hard to know what to do sometimes.

I guess I have some other guilt too today.  I’m not sure how justified it is.  Sometimes I just have to cope anyway I can.  So, for example, today I’m making an educated guess that I’m doing the right thing about the non-supervised, but kosher, supermarkets and carrying on eating food from there, assuming that the desire not to is just OCD.  But it’s hard to know that it’s right; it could be that I’m just trying to find an excuse to stop worrying.  Other things I know are wrong, but are hard to avoid e.g. being irritable when I’m depressed (although actually today I’m not particularly irritable, just exhausted).  Also, I feel that I should be preparing for my interview tomorrow or doing Torah study or something semi-productive, but it’s hard, but because I’ve got the interview tomorrow I can’t say I’m taking Chol HaMoed as holiday.

I don’t think I really want the job I’m up for tomorrow.  It’s similar to the job I did in further education, but with higher education students, which should be good, but I just remember how I messed up that job and how my boss thought I couldn’t cope.  There’s a job description the length of my arm and I just think, “How can I do this?”  I don’t know what I’ll say if I get asked why I want the job at the interview.  I don’t know where I see myself in five years either, the other question my Dad says gets asked a lot.  I don’t really feel able to cope with any kind of job that involves interactions with other people at the moment i.e. most of them.  I feel I could be a writer or a lighthouse keeper and that’s about it.  I feel I should take some positive steps towards becoming a writer, but I’m scared and taking on a career with no experience and no sure and steady income just because a few people have said I can write well.  I feel I should earn a lot of money first to subsidise myself for a couple of years while I try to write, but there isn’t much chance of that happening.

I guess I’m feeling lonely too.  I wish I could connect with someone, but it’s really hard.  I just feel awful, all burnt out and depressed, unable to do anything.  I did go for a twenty minute walk, but that’s about all I’ve done today.  I want to do some Torah study, but I don’t have the energy, concentration or really the motivation.  I suppose I could try to listen to a shiur (religious class) online for a bit.

I’m not particularly anxious, because the depression is so strong today that it drowns out the anxiety, but I’m vaguely worried about that OCD anxiety, about my exhausting my parents’ sympathy and patience for me, about my career, about dating L. (I don’t feel that anyone could love someone as messed up as I am) and so on.

I just feel like I want to cry right now.

***

One thing I forgot to talk about yesterday/last night regarding my seder was the idea that we are supposed to imagine that God redeemed us individually from Egypt.  The idea is that if the exodus had not occurred, we would still be slaves 3,000 years later, or at least that we would still have a slave mentality and not be able to live truly free lives.  I find this hard.  I found I could imagine being a slave and I could imagine HaShem (God) being with me in slavery and suffering, but it was very hard to see myself as actually freed.  I think I may have achieved it for a few seconds, but not for long.  I guess it’s good that I think that God is with me in my suffering, which I wouldn’t have thought a little while ago.

Chores, Jobs and Puddle-Ducks

I did a few chores yesterday, but spent some time procrastinating and putting off Pesach (Passover) chores number.  In the evening I went to depression group.  The Monday meetings (which I haven’t been going to for a while because of work commitments on Tuesday mornings) tend to have a speaker or theme for the first half.  Yesterday we were talking about hobbies and other ways that we distract from our mental health issues.  Lots of people shared some (very good) artwork, so I spoke about my blog and read part of a post out.  Although I had spent some time beforehand choosing a post, I didn’t really hit me until I read it how suicidal I sounded in the post; I think one person was quite worried about me.  A few people said it was very powerfully written and a couple of people asked for the URL to read it, so I may have picked up a few more readers.  I do feel a bit embarrassed thinking about it today.  I always get embarrassed when people congratulate me on my writing, plus I wonder if maybe I did pick a very negative post to read (it was the beginning of this post).

Today was split between Pesach preparations and writing a job application.  I was slow to get up and get going because I was feeling depressed, but I managed to do a few things in the afternoon.  I feel frustrated by not being able to do as much in a day as I used to be able to do because of the depression, although “used to be able” is now going back so far that it isn’t really helpful any more.  Plus, I think that even when I was younger I still got distracted.  It’s possible that I just set targets I could never reach or, as my Dad says, that I’m just bad at planning.  Someone from the therapy group I attended at The Network said she only puts one thing on her to do list each day now and, depressingly, I could see the appeal of that.  I usually try to do far more than I actually manage to do and end up making myself more depressed by failing to meet my plan.

***

I found out that I didn’t get the job I was interviewed for last week.  It was not surprising, given how long I have been waiting to hear and how badly I did at the interview.  I suppose I should just put it down to experience, but it reinforces my feelings about not being able to work.  Related to these fears, I spoke to someone from A S Mentoring today, an organisation that helps people with autism in the workplace.  They could potentially help me, but there is a quite steep charge for seeing them after a free trial meeting as well as a three month waiting list.  My Mum is in favour of going on the waiting list, while my father was more sceptical of whether they could help.  I’m not sure what to do.  It doesn’t help that I’m not sure what my support needs actually are.  A lot would depend on what job I end up in.  Some of my issues, like needing extra-long processing time when asked an open question, my difficulty changing tasks at short-notice or my preference for written instructions over verbal ones, would apply in many environments.  If I had an understanding boss, as I did in my last job, but not in an earlier one, that would make things easier.

***

I seem to be having disturbing dreams at the moment, perhaps because of my high anxiety levels.  A couple of nights ago was a Nineteen Eighty-Four dream which, perhaps fortunately, I didn’t really remember, I was just left with a vague impression of it.  Then last night I dreamt about terrorism, shootings and plane hijackings.  And Beatrix Potter’s Jemima Puddle-Duck.  Don’t laugh, it really upset me as a child (when the dogs eat her eggs).

Frustrations

I got to bed about 3.30am, which was rather ridiculous.  I had a horrible, gory nightmare that I won’t go into in detail, which was based on two accounts I read on Neshamas.com of women raped and abused by their husbands.  It makes me angry that some men are so evil and exploitative.

I want to have a wife and children I can love, but it doesn’t look like that’s going to work out – soon or at all?  I don’t know.  I guess it’s good that I’m even acknowledging that I might get married one day.  I’ve realised that accepting that I’m not going to get married isn’t going to work, because it doesn’t make me feel any less lonely.  I can only tell myself that if I get married, then my wife may will have been through some kind of stress or trauma, so I have to be strong for her.  This is probably a stupid thing to think, but it has been somewhat helpful in keeping me going, because I feel like I’m doing something for a reason/for someone else, rather than just trying to accept being unlovable and lonely indefinitely.

***

I feel a bit like I’m marking time until my autism assessment.  That I’m not really able to deal with finding a new job or dating until I know where I stand.  The thing is, there’s no guarantee I will be diagnosed.  After all, I’ve had two assessments that said I’m not autistic, and even if I understand myself and autism better now than I did then, it’s still possible that I won’t be… I nearly wrote ‘accepted,’ which is telling, but I meant ‘diagnosed.’  I’m not sure what would happen then, as by this stage I’m 90% sure I am on the spectrum and I would not really accept that I’m not autistic unless someone came up with an alternative diagnosis that described me even better.  But my assessment probably won’t come for another six months to a year, so I’m not sure what to do in the meantime.  It has to be said, though, that I’ve investigated other diagnosis options (e.g. bipolar disorder) over the years without success, so I may still not be diagnosed autistic.  I just feel there is something different about me, something that is more than ‘just’ depression, that how I think and act is noticeably different to other people, at least after you know what to look for.

***

I had my meeting at The Network, who provide group therapy and support.  There wasn’t much left to offer now I’ve done both their group therapy courses, with mixed success.  I was told that it’s good that I’m being proactive in job hunting and contacting support organisations like Remploy (who help disabled people into work) and A S Mentoring (who offer support in the workplace for people on the autism spectrum).  I was asked what I wanted from The Network, which in my experience is what mental health service providers ask when they can’t think of anything to offer themselves; if they still have options left they tend to suggest them themselves.  I said I couldn’t think of anything.  I wasn’t sure what they actually had left to offer, plus I’m autistically bad with open questions like that.

I cried on the bus home without really knowing why, although I did at least manage to do some Torah study too.  It was hard, as I was feeling too depressed to read.

***

When I got home I wanted to work on the job application I started the other day, but I couldn’t log into the site even though I was 90% sure I had the right password.  I requested a single-use password to login and change my password, but didn’t receive one.  I emailed for help, but by that stage it was after office hours, so I don’t hold out hope of being able to access it today.  Interviews are on the week beginning 8 April, so I’m guessing they want the applications in by the end of this week.  I won’t name the organisation, but it might just be a major institution whose incompetence has often been noted here in the past…  I remembered that the main section I had left was the box where I should write why I wanted to apply for the job and tried to draft a response from memory, but I would have liked to have seen the form again, especially as the job description that I have saved is very vague and I think there was a more detailed one behind the password firewall.

I did at least use the time to work on my Doctor Who book, redrafting chapter four, although I’m still frustrated by how little I’ve been able to cut and by the fact that, stylistically, it isn’t what I want it to be, but I can’t enunciate how or why.

Confessions of a Justified Sinner

I feel depressed and listless today.  I don’t know why, aside from the usual reason (depression).

My sister and brother-in-law came over for dinner, but I didn’t feel very social.  I was better once they arrived than I thought I would be, but dinner was mostly small talk, which I struggle with from an autistic point of view.  I get bored by the conversation and struggle to think of anything to say; when I do, I don’t always make myself heard.  I find the conversation draining especially as it seems to be very loud; I’ve noticed Mum and Dad are both getting a bit hard of hearing which may be why it seems to be so loud, but I find it draining.  I don’t know if other autistic people have coping strategies for this kind of thing.  I don’t want to be rude.  I try to take an interest in family members’ lives, especially big life events (my sister and brother-in-law are moving into their first real home together this week and my parents were talking about their recent holiday), but sometimes it gets too much for me.  I feel bad about this, but don’t know what I can do about it.

***

Purim is over now, so I should be in Pesach-preparation mode.  I usually find some interpretations of the exodus story or the haggadah to make the seder more interesting and not just a reading of the same text each year, but I have little enthusiasm for it this year.  It’s partly the depression and partly the – well, religious crisis is putting it too strongly, but lack of religious motivation I currently have, the feeling that I’m a bad person and can never change because God has stacked the deck against me with autism and depression.  Plus, last year I thought that no one actually appreciates what I say, except my Dad and maybe my sister.  I fear the other guests just want to get on to the meal and go home and that they tolerate me at best.  I don’t know if this is true.  I would love to go to a seder one year where there is a real discussion and I learn something, but I can’t see it happening any time soon.

***

I googled “how to deal with sexual frustration.”  Most of the pages assumed I was in a relationship I had got bored of and wanted to rekindle.  The ones that assumed singledom mostly suggested things that aren’t halakhically-acceptable.   Other than that, it just said sports or hobbies as displacement activities, neither of which have worked for me in the past and neither of which are really options at the moment, mainly because of depression leaving me drained.

Perhaps most people would have the confidence to date and if I was like them, I would be asking my parents to set me up with their friends’/neighbours’ children as they (my parents) want.  Certainly the daughter of my Mum’s friend whose profile I saw on a dating website has a couple of things in common with me.  But I’m too scared of rejection, too sure that no one could love someone as depressed, autistic and especially unemployed (or about to be unemployed) as me, especially as her dating profile specified that she wanted to marry a professional.  Maybe, as I implied yesterday, I’m scared to date for reasons beyond social anxiety, scared of losing independence or something, or just scared of yet more rejection.  Or maybe it’s just lack of self-esteem; confident people seem more able to blag their way to what they want, whether it’s a partner, a career or position and esteem within the community.

***

Out shopping today I felt very angry with God.  I know lots of autistic people would not change how they are and see autism as a difference and not a disability, but I keep thinking that so many of the bad things in my life would either not be present or would be easier to deal with if I was not autistic, or perhaps if my autism had been diagnosed earlier.  I might not be depressed, might not be single, might not be lonely, might not be unemployable, might not be so poorly socialised into my religious community… and so on, and so on.  Nor do I have the “autistic superpowers” some autistic people claim to have; I can sometimes go into hyperfocus, but I don’t have useful sensory sensitivity or a special interest that is socially useful or which makes me popular.  I suppose it’s crazy to go down the route of “what if,” but it’s hard not to when real life seems so stagnant.

I just keep asking why God would do this to me.  I’m open to the idea that God makes us suffer to grow or so that we learn to help others, but I can’t see how I can realistically help others when I’m in this state and as for growing, if anything, as earlier paragraphs might have indicated, I’m going backwards, getting less religious.  I guess if my emunah (faith) wasn’t so strong, I would seriously be contemplating going off the derekh (stopping being religious), I find my religious life so dull and sometimes painful and with such few positive aspects to it at the moment.  I just happen to believe that God exists and that this is how He wants me to live, for reasons I don’t understand.  I still worry that one day I will stop believing and doing and then all this effort will have been wasted.

***

There was an article in the Jewish Chronicle a few months ago about a charity in Israel that helps people with moderate learning disabilities, including non-high functioning autism, to get married.  They provide practical and emotional support for a couple with learning disabilities to learn to live together.  I think, how can it be possible for someone with more severe autism than me to get a job and get married, and yet my intelligence just seems to make it harder for me to find a job or a wife, for reasons that I don’t really understand.  It doesn’t help that I’m not sure what help I want/need at the moment.  A friend suggested A S Mentoring to me as being able to help with my employment needs, but having looked at their website, I’m not sure if they’re offering anything that could help me; I want to be more sure what I want before contacting them.  Similarly with dating, maybe if I had the confidence to date, a lot of the issues surrounding it would fall away, but I’m too scared of rejection to dare to ask to be set up with anyone or to ask someone out.

***

I did at least go shopping today and did about twenty minutes of Talmud study.  I also worked on my Doctor Who book for an hour and a half or so (albeit with distractions), sorting out the third draft of chapters two and three.  It’s quite good, but not great, but I’m not sure I really have the skills to make it better.

***

This bit is probably of limited interest to most of my readers, but I’m watching Quatermass, the fourth and final science fiction serial featuring Professor Quatermass, broadcast in the seventies, more than twenty years after the first three serials.  It’s a bleak story to watch while I’m feeling depressed (SPOILERS: pretty much all the sympathetic characters die horribly), but it is haunting and psychologically terrifying by turns, as well as reflective of the social unrest and stagflation of Britain in the seventies.  That things in real life never quite turned out as badly as they did in Quatermass might give hope that Brexit and populism might not lead to the end of civilisation as we know it.  (As an aside, and getting really far off the subject, Nigel Kneale is not often lumped together with John le Carré, but both share an outlook that might best be described as “Tory Anarchist” (to quote George Orwell), horrified by Soviet totalitarianism, but also disgusted by American capitalism, hoping for some kind of kinder, authentically British alternative, but resigned to Britain’s post-imperial decline.  There is definitely more to consider here e.g. the skill both writers have for creating a fictional world through dialogue and a few telling details. </autistic special interests>)

Insomnia Again

Like Ahashverosh, I can’t sleep, despite only having slept about six hours out of the last forty or so.  I forgot to take my tablets after shul (synagogue) this morning (yesterday morning I should say, really) and forgot to take them tonight as well after being out for dinner.  I finally took them about 1.00am, but they don’t seem to have made me sleepy yet.  They aren’t sleeping tablets, of course, but they usually make me tired (for much of the day, probably).  Here are a few thoughts that were going around my head while I was getting ready for bed and/or while I was lying in bed trying to sleep:

I feel that so much of my life over the last twenty years or so (the time that I’ve been depressed) has been trying to understand myself.  In therapy, on my blogs and, less healthy, in endless introspection and repetitive, circular thoughts.  Actually, it’s more that therapy and blogging are attempts to stop the repetitive thoughts and turn the circular thoughts into some kind of linear thought (linear, but going where?).  I don’t understand much of my life, but particularly about my social life, constantly complaining that I don’t have friends and a romantic partner, but also running away from them, finding social contact frightening and draining, but also exhilarating at times, wanting love and intimacy, but being terrified of them, experiencing aching loneliness as the constant backdrop of my life, wanting to escape it, but fearing there will be nothing left of me if I do.

The excitement of the potential autism diagnosis is that it explains so much of this mystery.  I constantly see more aspects of personality in a new light, more puzzles solved.  Hence the fear that I could be told (for the third time) that I’m not autistic and will have to start the search for meaning all over again.  For instance, I could understand that social anxiety made socialising with strangers hard, but I could never quite understand why socialising with friends left me drained even when I enjoyed it.  Now, of course, I realise that any kind of social contact, not to mention being in a public space like a restaurant or museum (popular places to socialise for me) is terribly draining for someone on the autism spectrum.

The other thing that I ruminate over (‘obsess over’ might be more accurate, in a borderline clinical sense) is my own sense of inadequacy and sinfulness.  This, I hasten to say, is not very Jewish.  Judaism has a reasonably positive view of human nature and a pragmatic approach to sin: it happens, we can use it to repent and grow.  But I obsess over my mistakes, beat myself up for falling into the same traps again and again, blame myself, devise plans for improvement that never work and so on.  Because ultimately my worst sins, the ones I beat myself up about the most, stem from that same aching loneliness, the chasm or void at the centre of my life or even at the centre of my soul.  My therapist has told me that I don’t do anything wrong by secular standards.  My rabbi mentor says I’m a good person with a one or two challenges.  I feel that some people at least would be understanding and sympathetic, that they would note the void in my life and say that it’s not unreasonable that a normal person would try to fill it, even in somewhat dysfunctional ways, that I could be doing much worse things instead.  And yet.  And yet.  I can’t shake the feeling of sinful inadequacy, even though that very feeling is part of the aching void, such that beating myself up makes me more likely to fall victim to the same emotions again and again.

Somewhat related to this: lately when lying in bed trying to sleep, I have found myself imagining a presence with me.  Not a religious feeling.  Imagining – in a non-sexual way – that I’m in bed with my wife and that she is speaking reassuringly to me, telling me that I’m doing well in coping with my issues, that I shouldn’t blame myself for falling, that she would still love and accept me despite my failures.  I am not sure what to make of this.  It’s good that I can voice some positive, supportive statements about myself now, even if I have to put them into someone else’s mouth to accept them.  But I worry about creating a fantasy life that I can’t escape from, that I am getting my hopes up by making myself believe I will find a supportive wife when I will possibly (probably?  I don’t know, it seems like that) not get married at all.  I worry that I’ve created a pliable fantasy partner who has no needs and just exists to boost my ego, which is very unhealthy.  And I still struggle to believe that God could think any of that positive stuff about me.

***

So, that’s what’s in my head tonight/this morning.  It’s 4.00am and I don’t feel remotely tired, perhaps just a little agitated.  Not quite sure what to do now.

Progress and Burn Out

Over Shabbat (the Sabbath) I thought quite a bit about the job I applied for on Friday, despite the fact that I shouldn’t think about work on Shabbat.  I got alternately excited and anxious.  It doesn’t help that the advert didn’t really give an idea of what the job would involve, except that it would be some kind of news-related writing in “a leading magazine” and that I would be based partly in an office and partly at home.  I assume it is for a Jewish magazine, given that they were advertising on an Orthodox Jewish mailing list, although I suppose that may not be the case.  I have no experience in journalism and so don’t think that I will get the job, but it was worth trying.  At any rate, the fact that I had to send out samples of my writing may lead on to something, somewhere at a later stage.  Although if it is a Jewish magazine, I may have blown my chances of selection with some very non-frum writing.

Of course, looking at the news, both mainstream and the Jewish newspapers, is a thoroughly depressing experience, so maybe I don’t want to be immersed in that for a living.  Or maybe writing would at least feel like I’m doing something to fight back against the darkness.  I don’t know.

***

I mentioned to my parents about the woman I blogged about the other day, a daughter of their friends, who Mum wanted to set me up with some time ago because she felt she would be understanding of mental health issues, but couldn’t because she was seeing someone else and who I now know is single again.  Mum was anxious to set me up with her ASAP, which I don’t think is particularly sensible, given that I’m probably going to be unemployed again in a fortnight.  But inevitably thoughts of getting the magazine job mixed in with thoughts of dating again, if I can find a steady income.  Dad suggested set me up with the daughter of our neighbours.  For my part, I can’t really see why anyone would want to date me, certainly while I am not working full-time, but really why anyone would want to date me at all, given all my issues, unless she had serious issues of her own.  This is probably a problematic attitude, but I don’t know how to change it.  So far my dating experience has been limited and difficult.  I think my parents only see my strengths and ignore the considerable drawbacks I have that someone dating me would have to be able to accept.  Perhaps I only see the drawbacks and not the strengths; at any rate, I find it hard to see why anyone would date me, let alone marry.

I do get lonely, though, and long for understanding and real intimacy (not just sex), which is something I have spent my life looking for, in friends and potentially a partner, but have only ever really achieved for short periods.  I felt some of that loneliness over Shabbat too.  It would be nice to be dating again, but I can’t see it really going anywhere until I have some kind of steady income.

***

I struggled at dinner last night.  As usually happens, my Mum spoke a lot about her work and my Dad spoke quite a bit about his shul (synagogue).  My parents are both very talkative and very neurotypically talkative at that, speaking small talk and about people they know, rather than about more abstract matters like the news or religious things.  I try to stay interested, but there are limits to the amount of neurotypical small-talk conversation I can do, trying to show an interest and be empathetic regarding people I do not know and will never meet.  I tried to make the right noises, but after an hour and a half or more, I unintentionally delivered a very forceful and emphatic “Right!” as if shutting down the conversation, which my parents found hilarious.  They laughed, but I was very drained by the whole dinner and conversation, perhaps because I was already drained from spending the day writing the job application and then being around people in shul.  It did make me realise that one workshop wasn’t really enough to brief my parents on all aspects of autistic behaviour, and that even if they understand me, on some level, behaviour (theirs and mine) still needs to be negotiated in a spirit of compromise.

***

I was so drained from all of this that, despite being in bed before midnight, when I woke up at 9.15am this morning, I felt too tired to get to shul and went back to sleep.  I feel very bad about this, as I really want to get back into the habit of going on Shabbat mornings, but I simply can’t find a strategy to help me to get there.

***

I struggled to concentrate at shiur (Talmud class) today.  I realised halfway through that, strange as it seemed to someone used to thriving academically, I struggle with Talmudic study and my autism may be partly to blame.  But I’m not sure what exactly the issue would be, why I can cope with most forms of study, but not Talmudic study.  I am still coming to terms with the idea of being developmentally behind my peers, which is not something that was really the case when I was a child, when poor social interactions were put down to shyness and the effects of bullying and academic success was interpreted as a sign that I was functioning well in all areas, which in retrospect was clearly not the case.

***

I’ve been thinking of going back to my psychodynamic psychotherapist.  I stopped seeing her to do some CBT on the NHS to work on my low self-esteem, but I’ve been waiting six months or more and I still have not seen anyone.  I’ve phoned and emailed to try to find out where I am on the waiting list, but no one answers or responds.  It’s terrible.  In the meantime, I’m plutzing (fretting) about my career (or lack thereof), my relationships (ditto), my relationship with my parents, my attempt to come to terms with the likelihood that I’m autistic and so on, as well as just generally feeling depressed and anxious a lot.  It would be very helpful to speak to someone who knows me, but who is not emotionally involved in my life again.

***

After more than an hour and a half of work after Shabbat this evening, I have finally completed the second draft of my Doctor Who non-fiction book.  I have mostly been tidying up the various chapters, standardising spelling and layout and so on.  Bear in mind that the book originated in a series of blog posts and has been six years in the making; some of my preferred spellings and stylistic choices had changed over that time and I needed to make sure everything was uniform.  Now I can start on the third draft, this time working on the writing style, which in some ways is the hardest thing.  The second draft, incidentally, weighs in at 113,200 words, which probably means it needs trimming a bit.  If I am due another period of unemployment, maybe I can spend some time working on the book.

The Elephants in the Room

I just feel overwhelmed today.  I should probably explain that this post was one of the ones I write piecemeal during the day, so it may be rambling and also vary widely from optimism to pessimism in successive paragraphs; I’m having a rather up and down day.  I can sort something out and be OK, but then the negative thoughts come back and I can’t cope again.

It’s Purim next week and I don’t feel ready.  And then it’s Pesach a month after that and I’m certainly not ready.  I mean, no one’s ready in practical terms at this stage, but I don’t feel emotionally ready.  Maybe no one is emotionally ready either, I don’t know.  I wish I knew what other people think and feel, not just about Pesach, but generally.  It’s part of my reason for blogging.  I know I write self-obsessed posts, but I have to write it to try to say what I feel, to understand it and to try to see if other people feel the same way, although it seems that most of them don’t.  I know that apparently lots of people have the type of thoughts that distress people with OCD, but they don’t get anxious and obsessive about them.  But no one talks about this.  I have ‘bad’ thoughts (violent thoughts, sexual thoughts, insulting thoughts) in my head all the time and I’m told that other people have the same thoughts, but no one ever mentions it.  That strikes me as bizarre.  How can people not mention this stuff?  Or feel guilty and ashamed (even if they are automatic and not acted on, it’s hard not to feel bad that they’re even in my head)?

***

I did something stupid last night.  I stayed up late working on my Doctor Who book (I’ve now finished the research and am working on tidying up the second draft a bit before starting the third draft).  About 1.00am when I was getting ready for bed, I was thinking about the conversation on my blog yesterday about relationships.  I remembered that last year (pretty much exactly a year ago, actually) I had been trying to find a shadchan (matchmaker) who would work with someone with depression in the UK, but I had no success.  However, my Dad asked the wife of the assistant rabbi at his shul (synagogue) and she suggested someone (I’ll call her Rebbetzin D).  I was going to phone her after Pesach, but then I started dating E. and so didn’t.  After E. broke up with me, I was too pessimistic about anyone ever wanting to marry me to do anything about dating again until recently.

Last night I thought about contacting her at some point soon to see if she could help me meet someone, but I was nervous, so I decided to see if her email address was online anywhere.  I found her LinkedIn page and looked on that to see if I could find an email address… and accidentally added her to my network (or whatever they call the equivalent of friending on LinkedIn).  The only way I could think of to salvage the situation was to take advantage of the facility to add a short note to the friend request.  Which I did, trying to explain my situation in under 300 characters.

I suppose if this was a hasgacha pratit (Divine Providence) story of the kind so beloved by Jewish websites, my mistake would result in her setting me up with someone who turned out to be my soulmate.  The reality is she accepted the request, but has not replied to the message, so far as I can tell (I’m not really good with LinkedIn).  I don’t know what to do now, whether it’s worth messaging again or phoning in a few weeks or just accepting that, like lots of other people I asked about trying to set a depressed person up with someone, she doesn’t know what to do or maybe thinks I shouldn’t actually be looking to get married.

I actually feel less depressed about this for the stupid mistake and more for the aspect of “Oh, there’s another thing I’ve tried that hasn’t worked.  How many options do I have left?  Anything?”  I just feel so hopeless.  That was my last option and it didn’t work.  I feel that I’m going to be alone and unloved forever.  Goodness knows what will happen when my parents aren’t able to support me (financially and emotionally).  I know I should be challenging these thoughts with CBT, but they seem real and not distorted.  I know I’m catastrophising, but I feel I’m also drawing “evidence-based conclusions” from past experience.  It’s not catastrophising to say I’m never going to win the lottery or be a billionaire.  Why is it catastrophising to say I’m going to be alone forever?

***

The plus side: this made me check my LinkedIn page for the first time in ages and realised it was really out of date.  Not just missing my current job, but the one before too.  I keep my CV up to date, but not my LinkedIn page, which is very twentieth century of me.  So I guess it’s good that I noticed.

I have jobs I could apply for, but I don’t want any of them, and don’t think I would get any of them, or could do any of them if I got them, so it’s hard to get motivated.

***

So, today I updated my LinkedIn page, browsed jobs online again and found nothing I felt competent to do, again.  I can’t tell how much is low self-esteem and how is that I’m genuinely not qualified for anything decent.  Looking at my CV and LinkedIn page, I realise just how over-qualified I am – on paper – for my current job, yet I feel I’m only just coping with it and could not manage anything more complicated or time-consuming.  I feel such a screw-up.

***

I just had an instant messenger conversation with an advisor at Remploy, the organisation for helping disabled people in the workplace.  They gave me some links, but I’m not sure that any of them offer what I actually want/need, careers advice about whether I’m in the right sector or if I have transferable skills that might be useful in a more comfortable sector, especially one where I can find part-time work more easily.  I feel I’m doing something wrong with work, but I don’t know what and I don’t know how to find out what I’m doing wrong, because I don’t know the right questions to ask or the person to ask them to.

This did, however, lead on to a longer and more useful instant messenger conversation at the National Careers Service.  The person there said that I’m doing the right sort of thing in my job search, which is good, but also means that if I’m struggling, there are no quick fixes.  But he suggested a couple of other specialist job sites to look at, including one for NHS jobs.  I knew that hospitals have libraries, but it seems there are more information management jobs in the NHS than I was aware of.  Similarly, I knew about civil service libraries (although I think most ministries have shut theirs now because of budget cuts), but there is a specialist civil service recruitment site which might be useful.

I feel I have some options for the future, but I feel my depression and autism are really stopping me finding anything suitable for me and making it difficult for me to pursue a career in a structured and focused way, or to find a job at the moment, while I can’t work full-time.  I don’t know what I can do about that.

***
Other people seem to know how to do useful things, and I feel that the only thing I can do is write about my feelings.  And I don’t even understand them properly, I write to try to understand them.  The world seems not to be set up for people like me to thrive in it.  I just seem to be a huge failure.  I’m not exactly suicidal, but I’m not sure what benefit there is to the world in my staying alive, except that I have a few family members and friends who care about me (although I don’t know why).  I’m such a screw-up.  No wonder hardly anyone wants to employ me and no one wants to date me.

***

I phoned the NHS about CBT again.  I’m on the waiting list for it, but I don’t know how long I will have to wait.  I keep phoning and leaving messages, but no one answers or replies.  In the meantime, I feel I need some kind of therapy.  I’m not entirely convinced CBT will work, although I was willing to give it another try, at least to work on my self-esteem issues, but I’m wondering if I should just go back to my (privately-funded) psychodynamic psychotherapist on the grounds that she would probably see me at short notice and I know I can talk to her.  My parents said I should wait a week now they’re back from holiday and see how I feel.

My parents also said that if I was lonely while I was away, I could have What’sApped them.  It genuinely did not occur to me to do this which is probably autistic rigidity of thought, although if questioned, I would probably have assumed that they were busy or else they would have phoned me, as they usually do (apparently my Mum didn’t want me to think she was over-protective, so she didn’t phone at all).

***

My life just seems a mess right now.  No career, no job (not the same thing), no relationship.  Few friends, but I feel I’m mishandling the friendships I do have as well as my relationships with my parents and sister.  I don’t turn to them (friends and family) for help, because I don’t want to overwhelm them, and my non-blogging friends don’t really know much about my mental health, but then there’s a barrier between us because it feels to me (although probably not to them) that my depression and autism are the huge twin elephants in the room.  It doesn’t help that I can’t really describe what I feel at all in speech and only imperfectly in writing, so non-blog-reading people are not getting me at my most eloquent about my issues and feelings.

I just feel that the whole of my life is just wrong and I don’t know where to start to fix it, let alone how to fix it.  Looking at this comment I left on Rivki Silver’s blog earlier today, I feel like a drama queen, but it also feels completely true.  I genuinely do not know how I change my employment situation or my social/romantic situation (lumping singleness and lack of close real-world friends together, although they are probably different).  And the helplessness and hopelessness is just killing me.  I’m pushing myself to the limits of what I’m comfortable with (in terms of social anxiety in particular) to further my career without getting anywhere.  I just don’t know what else I could do about dating either.  Contacting Rebbetzin D. was my last option.  I suppose I might hear from the values-based dating service one day or I could go back to online dating, but it seems a way to lose a lot of money without getting anywhere, and my sister does not approve of it.  And there are still professional shadchanim, although everyone seems to be sceptical of those.  And the issue is as much about getting women to date me after they meet me or hear my story than to get set up on dates in the first place.

Nearly Shabbat

15.00  Feeling terrible.  I should be getting ready for Shabbat or working on my books, but I can’t.  Want to go back to bed.  I wish I was dead.  I don’t know if I really think that.  I’m coming to realise that the feelings that I think are wanting love or sex might not be that at all, but something else (or something else tied up with wanting love and/or sex), so maybe feeling “I wish I was dead” is really something else too.  About loneliness or self-hatred, which is probably what the “wanting love/sex” feeling is too.

***

My sister wants to go out with me motzei Shabbat (Saturday evening), but I don’t really want to.  Maybe on Sunday, if it’s not a big thing, but not Saturday evening.  I don’t know though.  I don’t know and I don’t know how to say anything.  I’m just shut down (not in an autistic sense but actually maybe in an autistic sense; I don’t really understand melt-downs and shut downs and how they fit into my life).

***

Listening to Elton John sing Tiny Dancer over and over again.  Sometimes, particularly when I’m very depressed, I listen to the same song over and over (apparently even this is an autistic thing).  Usually there’s some kind of link from the lyrics to how I feel, but I think this is just about the music.  The song used to be triggering for me, for complicated reasons, but this seems to have worked as exposure therapy.

***

The assistant rabbi said yesterday that people who are frightened of getting drunk on Purim have no “inside”, because if you’ve got a real inside (inner world) there’s nothing in there to fear.  I’ve never been drunk, I don’t really drink at all and I’ve always been very scared of getting drunk and I’m glad depression and antidepressants give me reasons not to drink.  What does that say about me, and my “inside”?

***

16.45  Shabbat chores finished.  I should really have hoovered, at least the kitchen and my bedroom, but I don’t feel able.  I’m exhausted.  I’m not sure if I’m going to go to shul, I just feel exhausted (plus when I’m home alone I always feel nervous about going out with the Shabbat candles lit even though I’m only using tea lights).  No time to work on my books.  I guess this week was never going to be easy between networking course, work disruption and my parents being away.

***

This post is stupid.  My blog is stupid.  Why do people even read this?

Running Faster to Stand in the Same Place

I had the last session of my mental health class today.  I think part of the reason I was less excited about the class than the other people in the group, apart from feeling overwhelmed by the noise and the people, is that for many people in the group this was the first time that they had met people with the same issues as them, whereas I’ve been going to various support groups for several years now plus I have a network of friends with mental health issues built up through my blog, so it wasn’t such an eye-opening and validating experience for me.  It has at least got me thinking about CBT stuff again and trying to use it a bit while waiting for CBT on the NHS, which could take months, although I still feel a bit like CBT tries to place a little plaster on a wound that really requires many stitches.

A lot of people from the group are planning on meeting in the future.  I don’t know whether that will happen.  My experience of these things is that people always say they’ll stay in touch, but rarely do.  They have started a What’sApp group though.  I don’t know if I’ll go to the meet up, but I’ve been added to the What’sApp group.

***

Today I more or less resolved the mistake I was so worried about on Friday (definitely anxiety) and spoke to my rabbi mentor about a matter that had been troubling me recently (not mental health-related); he gave me some useful advice.

Less optimistically, I’ve been wading through job emails, but most of them are for things I’m under-qualified for (as if I didn’t feel inadequate already) or things I’m over-qualified for (as if I wasn’t worried enough already about many autistic people being underemployed, especially after one of my colleagues said I’m over-qualified for my current job) or require working on Saturdays.  I’m applying for full-time jobs because there aren’t many part-time jobs in my field (which surprised me a bit, as I thought librarianship was a job that lends itself easily to part-time work and jobshares); if I get further I will ask if working part-time is possible, although how many days I want to work is harder to work out.  I’m not convinced they would employ someone who isn’t willing to work the way they want though.  The other problem is working out how many days I should be working.  Two probably isn’t enough, four was too much (although that was a punishing environment anyway) so I suppose I should try three days.

***

I hoped to have an afternoon off after a stressful couple of days, but speaking to my rabbi mentor, dealing with job emails and other chores took up much of the time.  I wasn’t even applying for jobs, just reading job alerts and adding potential jobs to apply for to my spreadsheet of potential jobs.  As for the chores, they just seem to breed; I have a list and sometimes I can cross things off, but it grows faster than I can cut it down.  Similarly, I’m a neat person, but lately bits of paper have been appearing on my desk faster than I can get rid of them.  I shove some of them in the drawers, but that is just postponing the inevitable.  The worst breeders are emails, not so much rabbits as Tribbles (the Tribbles from Star Trek, it will be recalled, are cute balls of fur that can overrun a starship rapidly because they are born pregnant).

***

I did manage some work on my Doctor Who book (I hope to have second drafts of two more chapters finished by the weekend) and my mental health book.  Work on the latter consists of revisiting old blog posts and copying and pasting passages that look like they might still be coherent, meaningful and interesting out of context into a Word document.  I have a bunch of these on topics like depression, OCD, autism, the frum community and so on, about 25,000 words so far (that’s about a quarter of a book already and I’ve still got eighteen months of material to look at, even if I don’t use my old Livejournal), but I worry that I don’t have a clear shape in my head of what the book will look like.  I’m just experimenting at the moment, in my head and with my selections, on the various ways a book could look without really knowing what I’m doing.  I hope a clearer idea will materialise over time, but it might not.  It’s entirely possible that I won’t have a workable idea at the end of all of this.  Plus looking at old posts brings up bad memories sometimes or triggers feelings of loneliness and depression.

***

Lately there have definitely been some better days, in terms of mood at least and perhaps energy, although I still have bad days and even on ‘good’ days I can suddenly hit depression, self-loathing or OCD anxiety, sometimes with an obvious trigger and sometimes out of nowhere.  “Out of nowhere” might really be a physiological, rather than psychological, trigger, if I had a full understanding of myself: hunger or tiredness.  Exhaustion is a frequent presence too.  I think the improvement is mostly down to the arrival of spring (although apparently the cold and wet is due to come back by the end of the week) and feeling comfortable with my current job for the first time in a year or more, which makes it more unfortunate that my contract ends in a month’s time.

Recovery is, as I implied yesterday, more about finding coping strategies for surviving (a) in the world and (b) specifically in the Jewish community with autism, depression, social anxiety and occasional bouts of OCD.  I don’t think I’ll ever be ‘cured’ of my mental health issues and it’s impossible to ‘cure’ people of autism.  Some days the strategies work and some days they don’t.  On the days when they don’t work, there’s not a lot more I can do than struggle through work (or call in sick, but I very rarely do that these days) and come home and just vegetate in front of a Doctor Who/telefantasy DVD.

Realignments

I was quite depressed and very sluggish on waking and I had to go to my mental health class without having shaved, which I don’t like doing.  The class was OK, more CBT stuff really.  I still struggle with CBT, despite wanting to try it again for my low self-esteem.  It always seems so fake to challenge my negative thoughts when there seem to be so many objectively true reasons for me to worry about the state of my life.  One psychiatrist said I was too clever to be fooled by it.  But I took some blank sheets for setting out and challenging negative thoughts in the week ahead and will try to challenge my thoughts.  We did an example in the class, which happened to reflect my job fears, and then I privately tried another example with my dating fears.  To be honest, I was still quite pessimistic afterwards, but perhaps slightly less so than before.

***

Related to this, I phoned to try to find out how long I’m going to have to wait for CBT on the NHS to deal with my low self-esteem.  As with the last time I phoned a week or two ago, there was no answer (typical NHS efficiency and customer service).  This time I left a message, but I doubt anyone will get back to me.

***

While I was in my mental health class, my parents were down the road at a workshop for families of people with autism.  I think they understand me better now they have been to the workshop.  At any rate, they said they felt they could understand me more.  They also wondered if my maternal grandfather was on the spectrum.  I think it is impossible to tell at this distance, but I guess it would explain why, as I grew up (he died when I was nineteen) I felt that he was more on my wavelength than other family members.

***

Despite this, I feel a bit better about the world today.  Maybe it’s the possible political realignment in the air; as someone in the centre, I’ve felt stranded in recent years as the political world has polarised to the extremes of right and left.  On the other hand, the extremes aren’t going to just go away without a fight, and third parties and centrist parties tend to do badly in UK elections because of the way our voting system works, plus, as the BBC news website says, the cross-party nature of the new group could put off as many people as it attracts.

I once heard it said that conservatives believe that people are inherently bad and need laws and traditions to keep them in check, whereas progressives believe that people are inherently good and if they do bad things it’s because they’ve been corrupted by bad laws and traditions or other systemic social issues.  To be honest, I don’t really believe either of these things.  I don’t think people are really inherently good or bad.  They probably are closer to good than bad most of the time, but then there are times when almost anyone is capable of being bad, when they’re tired, hungry, angry or scared.  Maybe this is why I struggle to locate myself politically.  I don’t really feel tribal feelings for any one party and I haven’t for many years.

Anyway, enough politics!!!!

***

I finished another chapter of my Doctor Who book in second draft (or ‘revised second’ draft/draft 2.5).  I only added 400 words, which, considering I spent fourteen and a half hours watching Doctor Who for research seems like a poor return BUT I think the chapter would have definitely read as sub-par, hurried and lacking in detail in places compared with some of the later chapters had I not made the revisions, so I will continue on to draft 2.5 of the third chapter.  After that, and possibly some very slight work to chapter four, it’s a big jump ahead to chapter fourteen, the final one… unless I get forced to write a chapter on last year’s episodes, which I’d rather not do, as I don’t think I have the necessary distance from them or a sense of where the series is going at the moment, but I can see that a publisher might want it.

***

I’m very tired though.  I don’t know why my mental health group leaves me so tired when I get so little out of it, and largely feel too anxious and overwhelmed to participate (unlike the previous course, where I participated a lot).  I think I dozed off for a few minutes in the afternoon.  I did a few minor chores, but didn’t try to do too much and I’m trying not to feel like I wasted the day.  I’m a bit upset I didn’t really feel up to doing any real Torah study, but I was just too tired.

Weary, Stale, Flat and Unprofitable

I feel exhausted today.  Also, I’m quoting Hamlet for my title again, so I must be depressed.  I’m not sure why.  The meeting with the matchmaker yesterday was stressful, but I thought I had got over it.  I did some work on my books (the Doctor Who one and the mental health one) yesterday evening which I usually find restoring, although I procrastinated quite a bit over the mental health one, which might indicate that I should have just gone to bed.  Some of it was probably realising that the mental health book isn’t going to be a case of just stitching together old blog posts; it’s probably going to require significant new material.  Which is OK, aside from my usual lack of confidence in my own abilities, it just means it’s a bigger undertaking than I thought/hoped it might be.

Still, I slept for about nine hours and didn’t wake up too late today, but somehow I just can’t get going or focus today.  Some of it is that I feel a bit physically ill as if I’m coming down with a cold (although I spend a lot of time feeling like that without ever actually having a cold.  It’s true that depression can mimic the ‘coming down with something’ feeling indefinitely).  But I think the main issue is that I have some anxiety about rearranging work days for the moved psychiatrist appointment and for Purim.  If I give in, I’ll start to have the annual anxiety about Purim and Pesach too (tonight is Purim Katan, which means a month to Purim and two months and a day to Pesach, yikes – given how much winter depresses me, I think I’d welcome spring a lot more if it didn’t mean getting through Purim and Pesach again).

***

Meanwhile, I need to start serious job hunting again, as my contract expires in six weeks.  My sister told me that statistically men will apply for jobs that they only meet 60% of the criteria for, whereas most women will only apply if they meet 100% of the criteria.  I seem to be statistically female here, as I do the same thing.   I also struggle to apply for jobs where I would have to ask to work different hours, either because they want someone who will work on Saturdays or because I want to work part-time and they want someone full-time.  My parents and my sister say that I don’t lose anything by applying, but I guess I feel that I’m being ‘difficult’ again.  I’m not convinced that the perfect job, or anything approaching it, is actually out there, at least not for me.  I have so many, um, issues at the moment (need to work part-time, need to be in an autism-friendly environment, need to be able to take Shabbat and Yom Tov off, don’t cope well with pressure, and some of my professional work skills have gone rather rusty) that I struggle to imagine any employer wanting me.  Or me wanting any of the jobs: of the three job descriptions I was just looking at, one was in a law firm’s library (boring) and required working late on Fridays, into Shabbat, as well as a host of law library experience that I simply don’t have; one was so strangely worded that I’m not entirely sure what the job involves except that it, too, requires working on Friday nights and Saturdays; and the third requires a lot of precise skills for a short-term job and turned out to have been filled despite the job advert still being up.

Just looking at the job description and desired attributes on adverts makes me feel anxious and useless; I can’t really imagine being able to do anything.  My cataloguing skills have gone very rusty through disuse, as my job interview a few months ago showed.  I don’t keep up with CPD; it’s an effort just to work part-time, let alone to do unpaid “work” in my free time.  I quiver at the thought being required to show “problem-solving skills, interpersonal skills, teamwork, and ability to deliver work under pressure” and the like.  Strangely, I do actually seem to interview well, surprisingly given my autism and social anxiety, which is possibly an unexpected extra benefit of the Oxbridge interview training my school provided (it was a state school, but had a good record of getting students to Oxbridge, at least for a comprehensive school).  Half the time I don’t even understand what a job description wants, with silly bureaucratic-ese like “You will enjoy working to effect positive change” (I wanted a job where I could effect negative change, maybe in the oil industry or local government).  I wish they could write in plain English (maybe this is autism again).

***

You might tell from all this that I’m still lacking in self-esteem, with no sign of the CBT to help with it that I’ve been on the waiting list for since early December.  I struggle to think of anything I can do well.  I’m told I can write quite well, but I struggle to believe it, or to find a way of earning a living through it.  Some of my friends say I’m a good friend, but one can’t really live off that (the world would probably be a better place if we could).

***

The World of an Autistic, Dyslexic, with Depression and Spinal Problems wrote recently about the need to  have something to look forward to.  I’m struggling with that at the moment.  I mentioned about my growing anxieties at this time of year.  Plus so many of the things in my life at the moment I’m just trying to “get through”.  Watching Doctor Who, which is usually one of my favourite things, is a chore at the moment as I’m just doing it for research for my book without necessarily wanting to watch the episodes for themselves; I really want to just get it over with, so I can focus on redrafting, and watch other things on TV.  Likewise, reading The Dispossessed is just something I’m trying to do, even though I can see it’s a good novel; it’s just taken me too long and I’ve lost track of the characters,  not helped by everyone having made-up science fiction names.  There’s some hopefully-good-but-stressful things later in the year, which inspire hope and anxiety in equal measure, but nothing purely good or in the short to medium term.

***

Another classic autistic moment today when my Dad said that I could withdraw cash in the post office.  I thought he meant there was a cashpoint in there, but he meant for me to go to the counter with my debit card and withdraw that way.  I flatly refused to do this because I got so confused and panicked (I’m ashamed to say) until my Dad told me what to say.  Then there was another autistic moment as my Dad asked the attendant if it was true that the branch was being shut down soon; the actual meaningful part of the conversation lasted just a few seconds, but they carried on talking about the evils of management for a couple more minutes even though no new information was added and I wasn’t entirely sure they were really listening to each other.  This is neurotypical conversing and I can’t do it, and it’s really hard to network or make friends not being able to do it.

***

Later

Really upset.  I can’t explain why.  I’m not sure how much of that is depression (I’m too depressed to introspect and speak) and how much is autism (I don’t understand my emotions and can’t articulate them, at least not in person).  I spent a while trying to write a job application for a job I probably am not qualified for and definitely could not accept without negotiating different terms (unlikely to happen) because it is full-time and requires working evenings and Saturdays.  After a while, I thought I might be better off looking at the Remploy website and seeing what help they could offer me.  They have online advisors, but I don’t know what I want to ask.  My mind froze up and I was catastrophising and assuming nothing can help me.  I tried to ask my parents for help, but it all went horribly wrong for reasons I don’t understand, as it often does, and ended up with Mum apparently accusing me of wanting to do no work for the next year before I get an autism diagnosis when I just meant that legally I can’t legally claim support for autism yet, only depression.  I worry that I’m in the wrong career, but I don’t know who I can talk to about finding a more autism-friendly career or about improving my work skills and CPD.

I can write this down; why can’t I say it?  Is it autism again?  Or what?  I guess I want people to make choices for me, because I find decisions so hard.  That is autism.  My parents are going to a workshop for families of people with autism on Wednesday; I hope they might understand me better afterwards.

The other scary thing is that I go really quickly from “I have a problem” to “I want to kill myself.”  Just now having job difficulties made me feel depressed, and then when my Mum accused me of not wanting to work, I ran off to my room and just wanted to kill myself.  I have heard that this is a common autistic problem too, a lack of nuance in emotional responses, so you go from nothing to the most extreme reaction really quickly.

***

In Iyov (Job), Iyov has a repeated fantasy of suing God in a court of law, feeling if only he could do this, he would be vindicated as suffering unfairly.  I wonder if wanting to write my mental health book isn’t just an attempt at bring the world to account for being beastly to me.  That doesn’t reflect well on me, but more to the point, it isn’t going to happen.  There isn’t going to be a day when my family, friends, colleagues, line managers and peers apologise to me, even if they have really hurt me unfairly.

Toads

(My post titles become more elliptical as my mood goes down.  You can tell I’m not actually trying to attract readers.  The reference is to Philip Larkin, in case anyone cares.)

My mood has gone back down again, mostly because of my uncertain future.  I coped OK at work, but I overheard one conversation where my line manager’s line manager was advising some young people on a career in librarianship which made me realise (remember would be a better word) that I’m not actually doing anything to push my career on and wouldn’t know where to begin.  Then I had a meeting with my line manager where she said she’s pleased with my work, but reminded me that my contract expires in five weeks (which I took as a sign that it won’t be extended) and asked me where I would like to gain more experience while I’m here?  This offer is good in itself, but I did what I always do when faced with (a) an on the spot decision or (b) careers stuff in general: I froze and couldn’t think of anything (classic autistic executive function issues).

I did eventually say something reasonably positive, but I feel down overall.  I can’t seem to work out how to do something that I’m reasonably good at, enjoy at least a bit, and which doesn’t leave me a nervous wreck the whole time.  Because of depressive anhedonia, the only thing I even vaguely enjoy is writing and I don’t know how to get paid for that when I have no contacts, no confidence in my writing and a range of interests that is too wide in some ways and probably not deep enough in others.  I saw this post, which should be useful for me, but it just makes me feel panicked and confused.

Now twice I’ve been asked by different line managers in different jobs if I really want to be a librarian; my insistence that I do is becoming less and less convincing.  I don’t actually know what to do with my life or how to do it.  I just feel stuck.  I’m just waiting for someone to help me, because I do not feel capable of actually doing anything.  Twenty-two years of education (approximately, on and off) did not actually prepare me for the real world, not even the career-focused MA that was supposed to train me for a career.

I literally do not feel able to function in the real world, in terms of career, socialising, family or anything else important.  I admit I can function at a basic level (cooking, shopping, laundry, cleaning), but nothing harder than that.  I really feel that I want help with mental health and autism in the real world, but the courses I’ve been on that are supposed to help with those things didn’t tell me much I didn’t already know.  So either I know more than I think I know and need to learn how to apply it in practice or I’m not getting the help I need, possibly because of the difficulties of dealing with multiple diagnoses.

In addition, I have a meeting with a matchmaker on Sunday and I really don’t feel that I could possibly be attractive to anyone while I’m only working part-time and imminently about to be unemployed.  I feel guilty for even arranging to see the matchmaker, which is a bit silly.  I suppose I don’t have to go on dates, I could say my financial situation is problematic and could they keep me on file, but not actively set me up with anyone just now, but that is quite embarrassing to have to admit to.  I think I will have to do so, though, otherwise I’m only setting myself (and other people) up for heartache.

I’ve returned from shiur (religious class) feeling a little better, but I think this is tiredness rather than truly improved mood.  I struggle with the usual banter at shiur at the best of times, but I really wasn’t in the mood for it tonight, nor for the talk before and after of families (again) and the shul (synagogue) dinner tomorrow that I can’t go to because I missed the deadline (partly my fault, but partly because of poor marketing).  I did at least eat less junk food there than usual, but I’m fatalistic about losing weight while on clomipramine (I’ve put on a ton of weight since I started taking it), and I don’t think my GP or psychiatrist will let me come off it; they insist its working and the fact that I’ve felt somewhat better lately only strengthens their argument.  The weekend looks set to be difficult emotionally, between going to shul knowing many people will be staying for the meal and I won’t and the meeting with a matchmaker on Sunday (I already feel a fraud).  For now, I will go to bed, and hope that I feel better tomorrow.

I know I sound like a lazy, entitled child, but I genuinely feel completely lost and overwhelmed, unsure of what I’m actually capable of doing or how to do it.  The fact that I’m probably autistic means that I can’t actually do the thing that most people in this situation would do, which is network and talk to people.  I was thinking of going to a networking workshop, but it’s the same day as the Robert Alter talk I already booked to go to.  The talk isn’t until the evening, but I don’t think I can do the workshop and the talk  in one day and still have the energy to get to work the next day.  I hate the way my issues make me so pathetic and useless.

Appointments and More Disappointments

(Apologies for the contrived title, riffing on yesterday’s post’s title to show some sort of link or continuation.  It’s not even strictly accurate, as it’s questionable whether the events here really count as “appointments”, certainly not in the plural.  I’ve never been good at titles since my school days…)

I was hoping to go to my depression group tonight, but I didn’t go, not because of the snow (I was ready to risk an arduous journey home), but because I had a migraine this afternoon.  It started at work and I had to dash out of a meeting with my line manager because I thought I was going to throw up (luckily I didn’t, not least because the nearest toilet was on another floor).  The headache and nausea had more or less gone by the time I got home, but I still felt light-headed and shaky on my legs, so I decided that staying in was the best option even without snow.  For that reason I skipped the shiur (religious class) I would normally go to on Thursday evenings too.  It’s a shame I’m missing depression group, though, as I had quite a lot to talk about in terms of my autism screening and new job and was looking forward to venting some of my conflicted feelings about both of those things as well as telling my friends there that there has at least been some progress.  Hopefully I can go next month.

On the plus side, the outcome of the meeting at work was that my line manager is happy what I’m doing and is still sympathetic about the depression and autism.  I’m still not really looking too hard for new work, even though this job currently due to end in March, because I would rather stay here as long as possible and use the free days for mental health courses at The Network and working on my books.  I’m still torn between which book to work on primarily.  The Doctor Who book is further along (I’ve already largely done a second draft), but it will take time while I do more research before I can move to a third draft.  I’m still hoping to finish the whole thing by the autumn.  In the meantime, I don’t know whether to work on the ‘understanding Judaism for non-Jews’ book or the ‘Jewish mental health and autism’ book based on my blog.  The latter will probably win out, because it’s more important and because it’s easier at the moment as the first task is to look over two years worth of old blog posts for reusable material.  Possible first line: “My life has never been of much interest to me, but my inner life, my auto-analysis, has been of overwhelming interest to me since adolescence.”

Last night, after saying here that I wasn’t going to join the values-based dating service, I went and signed up for it.  I’ll have to meet with a matchmaker to discuss my values and those that I’m looking for in a wife, so I won’t be set up with any dates yet.  I don’t know how long that takes to happen and they do say that they won’t match you unless they find someone who seems to be a good match, values-wise, so nothing may come of it at all.  And of course finding someone with a values match doesn’t guarantee we have anything else in common, or that we have good chemistry, or that she can cope with my depression-autism-social-anxiety-low-income nexus.  But I guess it can’t hurt.  (Actually, it can hurt, but I’m risking it anyway.)

I was going to write about some political stuff that upset me today, but I got scared.  I was going to write why I got scared, but I got too scared to write that too.  Suffice to say that I don’t live in one of the echo chambers people say everyone is in these days, and I don’t necessarily believe what other people assume people like me believe.  I don’t think that makes me a bad person, but I know others will disagree, so I’m keeping quiet.  This saddens me.

Despite all this, I’m coping with today’s disappointments better than yesterday’s and I’m feeling fairly positive overall, hence this shorter than usual post.