Rules You Never Told Me

Today was a “no spoons” sort of day…

1.15pm: I had weird dreams, woke up exhausted, depressed and OCD anxious, had breakfast, still felt exhausted and depressed, went back to sleep and woke up too late to daven Shacharit (say the morning prayers), none of which is good.  I still feel exhausted and depressed (I keep going back to bed), albeit less so and at least the OCD anxiety seems to have gone.  It’s probably good that I have work to focus on tomorrow.

It’s 1.15pm and I’m still not fully dressed.  Sitting half-dressed, feeling exhausted, lonely and overwhelmed.  Yesterday I thought that my ‘downs’ were at least better than they used to be, but today I’m not sure.  It’s probably that there’s more variation over a day than over several days, that I still dip as low as ever some days, but I get higher up every day too.  Right now I can’t do anything, though, just struggling to get dressed.  Spent a while lying in bed in a quiet dark room, which suggests I was overstimulated yesterday, even though I was only at the party for an hour.  (Of course, today it’s probably good that I’m due to watch more of Doctor Who: The Sensorites as it’s difficult to think of anything less stimulating!)  My Dad just said I’m “slow today” which doesn’t exactly help things.

2.40pm: After lunch and an episode of The Sensorites.  Still very depressed and drained.  Not sure what sort of targets would be realistic to set today.  I don’t want to waste the whole day, but not sure what I can do, given that I’ll feel worse if I set a target and fail to meet it.

2.45pm: Yuk.  Just came across this post online about why to study in yeshiva.  Reason number three is that your children won’t respect you if you don’t go, because you won’t be able to help them with their kodesh (Jewish studies) homework.  The number one reason, ahead of even getting spiritual inspiration or study skills, is that it will move you up in the “Jewish marriage market” and you won’t get “a great spouse and a beautiful family” without it (those are exact quotes from the article).  So, pretty much all my fears about no one frum (religious) enough for me wanting to marry me because I didn’t go to yeshiva are vindicated.  Because marriage is a market and the idea is to marry the “best” person (the most learned man, the prettiest woman (or the one with the richest father)), not the person who is right for you.  At least my rabbi mentor disagrees strongly with this viewpoint (and I wouldn’t want to marry someone Chabad anyway, and they wouldn’t want to marry me for more reasons than just that I didn’t go to yeshiva).

That said, I do sometimes wonder if I should have gone to yeshiva, if the experience might have helped me avoid depression or if I would just have been as lonely there as I was at university; or whether it would have helped me fit in to the frum community or if my autistic symptoms and social anxiety would just have been exacerbated in the noise of a beit midrash (study hall, where students debate loudly in pairs) or if the depression would have been exacerbated by the long working days (eight hours or more of study with few breaks and little recreation allowed, plus early starts and late finishes to mess up my sleep pattern) and the communal living with, I think, little opportunity for me to have the time I need alone (unless you go to a yeshiva that encourages meditation, but only Breslov and some Mussar yeshivot would do that).

E. says it’s a shame that I don’t have any distraction/procrastination sites that don’t end up upsetting me (usually about religion or politics) sooner or later.  I suspect the problem is more that I get upset really easily even when looking at stuff that shouldn’t be triggering.

3.10pm: struggling to work out what to do today.  I still haven’t put on tefillin or davened (prayed) yet today, so I really ought to do that.  I would also like to try to go for a walk, as I need exercise.  But I think doing my weekly Talmud study is out of the question, ditto cooking dinner or working on my mental health book.  I’m just too depressed and drained.

I got a letter from HMRC (the taxman).  They wrote to me some months ago saying I hadn’t paid enough tax in the last fiscal year (although I’ve no idea why, as I’m taxed PAYE) and that I owed them about £60.  When I queried this they said I still owed them a “small” amount of money (they didn’t say how much), but that I didn’t have to pay because the administrative costs in processing it were too great.  Today I received another letter from them saying I do have to pay the £60 after all, and I have to pay in less than three weeks.  I do not know what to do.

The money itself isn’t the issue.  I can pay £60.  I do feel like I’m having money extorted out of me and that there are other tax evaders and avoiders they should be focusing on, but I believe in a mixed market system of capitalism-plus-a-welfare-safety-net and I don’t really begrudge paying towards that, even though I feel I’m not really earning enough to justify treating me as one of society’s wealthy rather than needy.

However, I struggle to understand and deal with things like this and get panicked by them, which troubles me.  I don’t know whether it’s because of depression, autism, laziness, stupidity, or something else…  It’s worrying, because I wouldn’t know how to cope with these things without my father to help me.  I suppose it’s also a blow to my self-esteem, because tax demands feel like a ‘book learning’-type thing that I used to be good at, so it’s disappointing not to be able to cope.

I do wonder how I would cope at school these days, given that the depression seems to have eroded my intelligence and autism-masking skills.  I certainly don’t think I could get in to Oxford again if I was seventeen again.  Mind you, I suspect that even at the time my academic success was masking practical and social failure.  I was certainly often told that “For a clever boy, you can be very stupid sometimes.”  It’s just a shame I can’t remember what mishaps provoked that sentiment, as I’m sure it would be useful for my autism assessment.

Actually, I doubt I could lead shul (synagogue) services or give divrei Torah (Torah talks) as I did in my previous shul, although that may be as much to do with feeling inadequate in my new community as to the effects of the depression per se.

6.00pm:  A matchmaker from the values-based dating service I applied to last week got in touch to arrange to meet to discuss what I’m looking for in a wife.  I feel too depressed to think that it’s a good idea to respond at the moment.  I guess I’m scared to do it too.  I can’t see trying to have a relationship ending well in any circumstance.  There is the problem that anyone frum enough for me would probably think I’m not frum enough for her, while anyone who could accept my geeky interests and non-yeshiva education would probably not want to accept my level of religious commitment.  But beyond this, and arguably more problematically than it, I have the problem that I’m just too broken for anyone ‘normal’ to take and while I’ve dated women with issues of their own, that always ends in my getting hurt by them.  It’s so tempting to email the matchmaker and say that this was all a huge mistake and/or I’m too ill or to make some other excuse and duck out of this.


Things done today:

  • Got up and got dressed (eventually – it was a bad enough day for this to be worth noting);
  • davened twice;
  • blogged;
  • shaved (albeit very late);
  • ca10 minutes of Torah study;
  • twenty-five minute walk (fairly brisk, but with quite a lot of agitated thoughts);
  • cooked plain pasta for dinner for self and parents;
  • made lunch and packed for work tomorrow;
  • 5 minutes breathing meditation, ten minutes hitbodedut unstructured prayer/meditation;
  • showered;
  • watched TV to distract myself instead of some online procrastination (Doctor Who and The Avengers (the British John Steed and Mrs Peel Avengers).

Things not done today:

  • weekly Talmud study;
  • dealing with tax demand;
  • responding to dating service email;
  • doing more work on either/any of my books;
  • reading any more of The Dispossessed (really struggling to get into this book, even though I can see it’s objectively good.  Maybe it’s just not the right time).

Conforming and Job Hunting

I have essentially moved back in with my parents.  I had to give a month’s notice on the flat, so I’m technically still renting for another three and a bit weeks, but I was so lonely and depressed there, and the noise and smells from the building works next door were so disruptive, that I’ve moved a lot of my stuff back and am sleeping here.  If I’m not working, I don’t see the need to be woken up at 7.30am by builders.

I keep thinking about ways my life could have gone differently in all kinds of ways.  Just one example: I do wonder what would have happened if I had gone to yeshiva (rabbinical seminary) for a gap year the way I was ‘supposed’ to (i.e. the way the Jewish Studies teachers at my school expected me to do without ever saying anything to encourage me or help me choose one).  Eva said on one of my previous posts about this that I would have found yeshiva too extrovert and conformist.  I feel that that’s kind of the point, that it would have made me conform, so I actually fitted in to my religious community rather than sticking out from it (or, I suppose, pushed me into rebellion and secularism, although I don’t really see that as a positive).  Anyway, a more modern yeshiva might not have been so conformist.

I guess I feel that if I want to be accepted as part of the community, which includes being set up on dates with suitable women (if there are any left, which I very much doubt), I need to conform to the community’s rules: go to minyan more often, learn more Torah, especially Talmud, go to yeshiva, don’t have any unusual interests, dance on Simchat Torah even if I can’t stand it…  If I don’t conform, I can hardly be surprised when I have no close friends in the community and am not really noticed or helped.  I feel that I should have let myself be ‘brainwashed’ into conformity like so many of my peers when I was in my late teens/early twenties.  Then I would have a community, friends, a wife, children, things to talk about to them, like so many of my peers who I run into.  The self-esteem that comes from being accepted in a community and having friends and family around me.  If I had higher self-esteem, I probably would find it easier to get a job – plus I would probably have been like all the other frum men and got a boring job in accountancy or whatever rather than an unusual job with few prospects and difficulty being frum with it.  I might never have got depressed, or never realised that I was depressed (as I have probably been mildly depressed since my early teens).  Now I have my individuality, but I’m lonely and miserable and I hate myself.  I’m not sure that I got a good deal.

I don’t even know what frum (religious) men are allowed to be interested in.  When I try to listen in to other people’s conversations at shul (synagogue) or before shiur (religious class) starts, it’s usually about sport, sometimes about work or politics.  Occasionally about something religious.  That’s about it.  I guess they make ‘small talk’.  My Dad is big on small talk.  I find it confusing and irritating (one of my introvert/Aspie traits) and when he tries it on me, I find myself getting confused, bored and/or irritable very quickly.

Note: I wrote the previous two paragraphs before lunch.  A few hours later, I had been reminded of many of the negative aspects of conformity in parts of the Charedi (ultra-Orthodox) world, from opposition to secular studies, to anti-vaccine campaigning, to the ostracising of ‘outsiders’ and refusal to believe that ‘insiders’ (particularly rabbis) can have done wrong, even in the face of evidence and confessions.  So, maybe it’s not such a bad thing to be an outsider.  I guess really I would like it if there was a more vibrant Modern Orthodox movement in this country, as there is in Israel and the USA.  Here the centrist United Synagogue is rather stodgy and middle aged and, more to the point, it’s seats are largely filled by people whose relationship to Judaism is traditional and by rote at best, rather than passionately and diligently observant.  But moving to the US would be very difficult, as would moving to Israel, albeit for very different reasons.

I glanced through the latest magazine from CILIP, the Chartered Institute of Librarians and Information Professionals, of which I am a member.  It was filled with stuff about becoming a chartered librarian and going to CILIP conferences… all stuff I ought to be doing, but which I find scary from a low self-esteem and social anxiety/Aspie viewpoint (ditto for going to Doctor Who conventions, which might be good for my writing career).  Perhaps fortunately, I have just made an appointment with a career advisor for next month.  I suppose I should have been an academic, had I been rather more gifted and substantially less mentally ill.  I hate this whole business of selling myself, whether for a job or a relationship.  It’s hard to sell oneself when one loathes oneself.  I have discovered that LinkedIn can be as depressing as Facebook for seeing one’s peers doing much better than you, but I summoned up the courage to ‘connect’ with someone who I did my librarianship MA with, on the grounds that she was very clever and has probably done well in her career and therefore is a good contact to have.  I feel mercenary.

Anyway, I applied for a couple of jobs.  One I’m over-qualified for, the others under-qualified, but I decided to go with them anyway.  I’m not sure if there’s not a lot out there or if I’m just not looking in the right places, or taking too negative a view of my skills and abilities.  Someone said I’m not in control of my life, which is true.  I feel like a child so much of the time, a rather anxious and timid child with poor social skills and perhaps autism.  I don’t know how to take control of my life.  I’m sure it would solve a lot of my problems if I could (career, friendship, community, marriage).  But I just don’t know how one becomes an independent adult.  It’s as if, while I was always academically gifted, beyond a certain point I just failed to learn social skills and, later, career skills.  I wonder again if there’s any point in pursuing yet another autism assessment.  I don’t know.

Tu B’Av for Non-Jews

I don’t really have anything to say today, but I need to say something to someone and my parents are currently not around, so I blog instead.

I was very depressed on waking again.  I was going to enjoy being able to sleep a little later on a work day.  I was starting at 10.00am rather than 9.00am, but working on another campus so the commute was even longer than usual, but I should have been able to get up a little later, but I had missed one of my many alarms when resetting them last night, so I still got woken up at 6.05 (how it woke me today when I normally sleep through it is beyond me).

I was too depressed to do more than a cursory bit of Torah study on the train.  I had hoped that studying Mishnah would be easier than Gemarah, but it isn’t.  The Artscroll commentary doesn’t help, as rather than just explain the simple meaning of the text, it brings in every possible interpretation from the Gemarah and the Medieval and modern commentators, so that rather than understanding the Mishnah more, I understand it less, which surely can’t be right.  I read through literally pages of this stuff (admittedly not many pages) on the train every work day and understand almost nothing whatsoever of what I read.  I wonder if it’s a waste of time, but I feel I should be doing some kind of Torah study other than just the weekly sedra (without commentary) and that it ought to be something related to the Oral Torah, rather than just reading Jewish philosophy or Tanakh (Hebrew Bible) as I used to do.  Admittedly this is partly from feelings of guilt and inadequacy over never having gone to yeshiva and partly because I feel that a prospective frum wife is going to want a husband who knows at least some Gemarah.  Studying Mishnah seemed like a start (after attempts at going to Talmud shiurim (classes) that have never lasted longer than a year, due to factors out of my control), but it hasn’t worked.  I don’t know what else to do, and the Artscroll commentary is at least handily pocket-sized.  Sadly, Artscroll has cornered the market in Mishnayot; the more succinct Kehati is out of print, although I have the volume on Brachot (from one of my ex-dates, funnily enough.  One of the ones I still talk to).

I took the time on the train saved by not studying to finish something I started yesterday, doing a SWOT analysis of myself (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats) as well as comparing the pros and cons of working as a college librarian with working as a research librarian/researcher and writing a list of my current anxieties.  None of these lists told me anything I didn’t already know, though, which made me doubt the point of the exercise or if I was doing it right.  I tend not to be good at these kind of things.  By “these kind of things” I meant ‘blue sky thinking-type planning’, but I’m not particularly good at ‘self-awareness’ either.

Work was OK, a lot of dull scanning of books and then a lot of unexpected cataloguing with the usual fears of going too slowly and not doing enough balanced by fears of going too fast and making mistakes.  I have no idea if I’ve achieved the right sort of balance.  There was some strange confusion at one point about where the keys to the room we were working in were when I was the only person back from lunch that I don’t understand well enough to relate and it’s probably not very interesting either.  I don’t know why these things happen to me, though: do I attract strange incidents or do I simply fail to understand normal events in the world around me (Asperger’s/high functioning autism?)?  My boss and I left at 4.30pm, but two of my colleagues stayed on.  This led to further anxiety,  which was probably bordering on ‘pure O’ (obsession) OCD, on the way home, as I worried that I should have told them where I left the keys, although they were in plain sight on the desk.

Someone was playing music while we were working because most of the team were doing menial work while I was cataloguing.  Unfortunately, I can’t work with the radio on (Asperger’s again?), but I felt it was wrong to impose my views on everyone else, so I put up with it.  There were a lot of mushy Valentine’s dedications.  Up until that point I had somehow managed to remain largely in ignorance of Valentine’s Day this year, so it took me a bit by surprise.  I was cheered up a bit later when my non-biological sisters (friends who are like sisters) texted me with emoji flowers and teddy bears, which is the first time in thirty-four years that anyone has ever done anything for me on Valentine’s Day (although one year when I was at school I overheard a couple of girls planning to send me an anonymous card as a hilarious prank, but they didn’t do it).  I doubt I would do anything for Valentine’s Day even if I was in a relationship (it’s not very Jewish), but having every couple in the world advertise how blissfully happy they are to be in love (yeah, right) doesn’t do much for me right now.

Mind you, the radio news bulletins, which were full of children being murdered by their families, did not exactly cheer me up either.  To be honest, the news generally is depressing, either terrible things happening or the mundane lives of “celebrities” that I am supposed to care about.

Back to dating: my rabbi offered to talk to me about dating a few weeks ago and I still haven’t got back to him (this was after I asked if he knew a shadchan (matchmaker) who works with people with mental health issues; he didn’t just decide to offer me advice on  my private life).  To be honest, I’m not really sure what to say to him and have been procrastinating over it for some days now.  I’m not really sure what advice my rabbi can give me that would possibly apply in my unique situation.  On the other hand, I don’t want to be rude and I do want it to be known in the community that I’m looking to date as there’s an outside chance that someone will know someone right for me.  And there is still a lot I don’t know about dating in the frum (religious) community, which I have only really just started doing.

I feel despondent.  I’ve emailed ten shadchanim in the last couple of weeks.  Some didn’t respond or said they couldn’t help because they don’t deal with people with mental health issues or because they only work with people in the USA.  Two asked for my shidduch profile (dating profile), but didn’t respond after I sent it, all of which just reinforces my feeling that, between my mental health issues and my geeky interests, I’m just too weird for anyone to date.  I’m open to the idea that there are frum geeky women out there who could tolerate someone with mental health issues, but I don’t know how to meet them as they are surely being marginalised as much as I am.  I also feel lately that I’ve sunk deeply back into depression and anxiety and I shouldn’t even be thinking about dating, although my parents are still hopeful that finding the “right woman” will help me, if not recover, then at least feel a bit better and my rabbi mentor (not the shul rabbi mentioned above) seemed to think it was worth trying.  To be fair, do tend to feel better while dating, at least up until the point when I get told that my inamorata can’t cope with my depression/social anxiety/geekiness/etc.

I sank back into semi-suicidal thoughts on the way home.  I don’t particularly feel like killing myself, although this morning I was feeling bad enough to wonder if I should leave most of my meds at my parents’ house, a precaution I take when I feel very despairing.  I might do that soon, even though it will take a huge chunk out of my day to walk there and back and probably again on Sunday.  I don’t want to kill myself, I would rather find a way to be, if not happy, then at least content with my life, but I worry that I will sooner or later.  The main things stopping me are worries about my parents and fear of pain and of making a failed suicide attempt that leaves me in pain, but alive.  When I feel bad, it doesn’t usually occur to me that suicide is forbidden in Judaism.  I suppose I feel that I don’t have any share in Olam HaBa (the Next World) anyway and that things can’t get any worse, or perhaps I simply can’t think that abstractly when so depressed.  I worry that all it would take is one bad day or moment of weakness and I would just give up.

I don’t know how to deal with this long-term, as all the coping measures I have been told about are short-term (distract myself; stay alive for five minute increments; keep my meds elsewhere (although I can’t keep them all elsewhere, nor can I get rid of my kitchen knives); phone the Samaritans; go to my doctor, phone the NHS mental health crisis team or go to A&E (ha ha ha, anyone who has been suicidal in the UK can tell you how useless the NHS is at dealing with suicidal people.  Last time I phoned the crisis team, I was told that unless I was literally about to kill myself that very minute, they couldn’t do anything for me, no matter that I had been thinking of killing myself a few hours before and was worried I might do it again).  Other than that it’s just a case of sticking with therapy and medication, neither of which seems to do more in the long-term than maintain a level of barely tolerable despair, with occasional better periods lasting no more than six months.  I do at least have an appointment with my doctor for Friday week to talk about increasing the dosage of my clomipramine, although I expect that would make my weight gain even worse, which in turn just lowers my self-esteem.

For someone who didn’t have anything to write about, I seem to have written a lot, although I can’t imagine that any of it interests anyone.  It all seems fairly mundane, although I suppose I’m in a bad state when serious suicidal fears seem mundane.  I guess I should go and have dinner.

Social Anxiety in Shul and Shiur

“I really wish I was less of a thinking man/And more a fool who’s not afraid of rejection.” – Sleeping with the Television On, Billy Joel

On Shabbat (the Jewish Sabbath) I got to shul (synagogue) for Mincha and Ma’ariv (afternoon and evening services), but I missed Shacharit and Musaf (the morning and additional services), as  usually happens.  I used to think that this was caused by the depression making me oversleep (depression makes me tired and sleep longer), but I increasingly think that it is social anxiety that is holding me back from going to shul as much as I would like, particularly in the nineteen months since I moved to this community.  I am too nervous to go to shul, so I sleep late to avoid it.

As with my non-diagnosis of Asperger’s Syndrome, I do not have a diagnosis of social anxiety.  I get anxious in social situations, but apparently not severely enough to be diagnosed.  It should be said that that (non-)diagnosis came before I realized that I was experiencing panic attacks in social situations sometimes.  I experienced them for many years before I realized what they were just six months ago.  Basically, when I am very depressed and in shul (the main threatening social environment I go to), I sometimes feel very anxious and despairing, feeling like everyone is watching me, feeling that I just have to get out as quickly as possible.  Sometimes it is bad enough that I just leave early; there have even been occasions when I arrived and more or less immediately left.  This has been going on since I used to leave the Jewish Society Shabbat dinner early at university.  Now I understand that I am suffering panic attacks, I realize that this is the opposite of what I should be doing – I need to stay and sit out the anxiety rather than leave early.  I have not experienced an attack that severe since realizing this, however, so I do not know what would happen if I was really tempted to leave.

I find social anxiety particularly hard being Jewish because of the communal nature of the religion.  Activities like prayer and religious study that can be private in other religions are often communal in Judaism.  Men especially are expected to participate actively in the community.  Now, I have led religious services and given drashot (religious talks) in my old shul in the past; I don’t want to seem like I am paralyzed by social anxiety, because I am not.  I am shy, but I have overcome that shyness to do public speaking or to lead services.  But it is hard and I have avoided taking an active role in the community these last nineteen months, since moving, partly because of the depression and partly because of the feelings of indequacy that accompanied the change of community – I feel religiously inferior to many of the people in this community and feel that people are looking down on me and that at the very least I have nothing to contribute to the community.  Hence sleeping through shul, from the fear that if I go, I will commit some terrible faux pas and never be able to go back.  I get particulary worried about the eruv, the boundary within which it is permitted to carry in public on Shabbat, something normally forbidden.  I worry that I will make use of it in a shul where people do accept the eruv and do not carry, even though the shamash at the shul I go to announces that the eruv is up every Friday night, implying that people there do indeed use it.

I have just got back from my beginner’s Talmud shiur (class) where the social anxiety plays out in a slightly different way.  I am always reluctant to say anything in the shiur for fear of being wrong and seeming foolish, despite the fact that my thoughts are often correct or meaningful, if only I would have the confidence to ask and answer questions.  I did at least volunteer to read and translate aloud (despite the fact that making my way falteringly through poorly-understood Aramaic is not exactly easy with poor confidence), but I wish I could participate more, because I think I am just as good as the other people in the class.  I think it has less to do with my ability to handle Gemarah (the main part of the Talmud) and more to do with my perception of my place within frum (religious) society, feeling I am not frum enough and too ‘modern’ to be accepted in the community that I want to be part of.  I feel particularly ashamed that I did not spend a year or two studying in yeshiva (rabbinical seminary) as is the norm in the frum world (not just among men who want to be rabbis).  I actually took another beginner’s Talmud shiur a few years ago, at a Modern Orthodox institution and there within a few months I was asking and answering questions more freely; a couple of people, including the rabbi who took the shiur, even asked what yeshiva I went to, which made me feel like I had finally arrived!  However, that institution no longer offers that shiur, so instead I go to one at a more Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) kolel (adult education institution, usually full-time although this one is mostly for evening classes) and my fears about not being good enough/frum enough for other people come into play, just as with moving to a somewhat more Haredi shul.