I slept too late again, and woke up slightly disturbed from having nightmares about Brexit, a gunman on the London Underground, and being chased by a Tyrannosaurus Rex. I’m not sure what was the most scary. I don’t think it was Brexit, so at least now if/when Brexit ever happens, I can say, “Well, at least this is better than being chased by a Tyrannosaurus Rex.” I still feel somewhat ill from my cold and have a very sore throat and a nasty cough. I also feel rather depressed. It’s probably no surprise that I didn’t get much done again today.
I struggled to start packing today. A lot of stuff will have to be packed tomorrow or Thursday morning because I still need it (razor, book I’m reading etc.), but I wanted to get my clothes packed today. I’m so depressed and tired that what happened was I would procrastinate, eventually look at my list of things to pack, get out all the shirts I need and put them on the bed, stop, procrastinate, look at my list again, get out all the socks I need and put them on the bed, stop and procrastinate again… and so on. My Mum helped quite a bit. I tell myself that she’s better at folding clothes neatly and with the spatial reasoning needed to pack efficiently, but this is really learned helplessness on my part and I should challenge it. It’s just hard to have to challenge myself on so many fronts for such a prolonged period.
I tried to write a devar Torah (Torah thought) for this week’s parasha (Torah reading), but the idea I had didn’t work out and I don’t have the time or energy to work on it or look for other ideas. I’m sad about this (it’s only the second week of my renewed attempts to write a weekly devar Torah!), but given my physical and mental health and the fact I’m going away, it’s the only realistic option at the moment. I do have an idea for next week, assuming that doesn’t collapse on inspection, but it will be a bit late.
I’m still worried about the family bar mitzvah over the weekend, but there isn’t much that I’m worried about that I can share in public. I guess I just have to try my best to get through the next five or six days. After that things will hopefully be a bit easier, although I imagine I won’t be completely comfortable until back home at the end of next week.
This evening marks the start of the Jewish month of Marcheshvan, famous for being the only Jewish month with no special religious days or obligations (more or less true, if you say we have to do teshuva in Elul). It’s supposed to be the time when we ‘bed in’ the resolutions and behaviours we promised to start on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur (Jewish New Year and Day of Atonement) a few weeks ago and meet the challenges of living a religiously meaningful life without special days away from ordinary life. It usually comes to me as a welcome break of normality after all the autumn Yom Tovim (festivals), but of course this year I have my cousin’s bar mitzvah, so normality is further postponed, by which time we will be far into autumn and the depression-feeding dark, wet and cold.
Today I’m wondering how much I really want or need real-life friends. Meg said on my last post that I have blog friends, which is true. I guess I’m just reluctant to call blog friends “friends” because I’m scared that you (collective you) wouldn’t feel the same way about me or that online friendships won’t last as long or satisfy. My experience is that, while most friendships are limited to a period of time when two people have certain things in common, which can easily change, that’s even more true of blog friendships. I don’t want to feel that I’ve lost a friend every time someone unfollows me or stops blogging. And with online friends, conversations can happen so slowly, because of time differences and being away from computers and the slow way that people reveal things about themselves on blogs. Plus some people are chattier in blog comments than others; some I like having long conversation threads, but lots of people seem to prefer not to continue conversations past one or two comments.
However, I do seem to cope with online friends a lot better than real-life ones. I have a couple of friends at shul (although I’m only really beginning to acknowledge that, yes, they do like me and are real friends and I can open up to them a bit) and a couple of university friends who I see once every six months or so and one really long-term friend from primary school who I haven’t seen in years, but we email occasionally. On the other hand, I’ve had a lot of online friends over the last twelve years or so and I tend to be better at communicating via email or WhatsApp than in person, but it’s easy to fall out of touch when they stop blogging or migrate to a different platform. There is also the risk of argument when a discussion gets out of hand, which happens more online than in person because of the greater scope for misunderstanding when people are writing fast, but that can happen anywhere, really.
Then there’s E., who I’m in constant touch with via WhatsApp, although I guess we both admit that’s a slightly strange relationship in terms of being clearly more than “just” friends, but not explicitly romantic at the moment because we both know that it couldn’t work where we both are emotionally/financially/geographically right now.
Lately I’d been thinking of watching the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode Hollow Pursuits (yes, this does get back to friends in a minute). It’s about Reg Barclay, a shy, bumbling, crewman on the Enterprise who lacks both confidence and ability and who the regular characters don’t like, but need to work with. He tends to withdraw into the virtual reality environment of the holodeck, where he lives out his fantasies of answering back his male superiors and romancing the female ones. He says that “people that I create in there [the holodeck] are more real to me than anyone I meet out here [in reality]”.
I knew from previous viewings that watching this episode would be difficult and uncomfortable because the shy, incompetent and mocked Barclay is closer to what I would be if I lived in the Star Trek universe than any of the other characters, who all seem to have been top in their class at Star Fleet Academy as well as being a sports champion or brilliant musician in their spare time as well as being boundlessly self-confident. But I figured that if I want to watch it, maybe my unconscious is trying to tell me something, plus I’m somewhat wary of the modern idea that we should always run from anything likely to trigger us, so I watched the episode again today.
As I expected, I was uncomfortable at times. Barclay is a lot like me. I think he’s shy and lacking in self-esteem rather than autistic, but watching him bumbling through work meetings unsure what to say and not speaking particularly coherently is like watching myself at work, or at least how I fear I have come across in at least some of my jobs. Then there is his fantasy life on the holodeck, the life that is more real to him than his real life. I have mentioned before that my books and DVDs are like friends to me, which is one reason I will read or watch stuff repeatedly even when I know it off by heart. Like many autistic people, there are fictional worlds I can immerse myself in and know intimately and fictional characters who are like friends to me, while I struggle to understand the real world or to make friends with real people.
Internet/long-distance friends are somewhere between the two categories of real and fictional friends – not that they aren’t real, but that I don’t have to respond to them in real time, which gives me time to stop and think about what to say rather than having to respond on the spot which I find so hard, plus those friendships are usually primarily via text of some kind (blog comments, emails, WhatsApp messages) which allows me to redraft and edit before sending and sometimes even afterwards. This is much easier for me than communicating with people in person, so it’s probably not surprising that most of my friends are online even if that doesn’t mean they aren’t real.
I mentioned yesterday having asked my rabbi a question that I thought was probably religious OCD talking, but wasn’t sure. Today, early on, when I was waiting for an answer, I thought it was probably OK, as I had felt yesterday after sending the question. Then when he responded and said it was OK, I seized on one aspect of the answer and started to question that and doubt all over again.
This is how the OCD troll works: if you feed it, it comes back stronger. If I say “If X happened, is Y OK?” and the rabbi says, “Yes,” then I don’t accept that the situation is OK, I start to worry that X didn’t really happen after all. I’m going to be strong and not ask the question again, or ask follow-up questions to try to resolve the doubts; I’m going to accept the situation is probably OK with a good enough degree of probability for me to feel that I am meeting my religious obligations. But it’s a scary reminder of the way that, for me at least, mental illness is, at best, managed, but not cured; it can come back when I’m weak and vulnerable. It doesn’t take much to push me down the rabbit hole again.