Yom Kippur

I nearly forgot to blog about today, I was so busy instant messaging PIMOJ after breaking my fast (which is good). Yom Kippur was strange, but I guess it was strange for almost every Jew this year. I didn’t go to shul at all as I’m still wary about infection risks. I’m hoping to go over Sukkot (next week), but Dad isn’t planning on going until after Mum has finished radiotherapy, saying he is worried about falling ill (from COVID or anything else) and not being able to drive her to her appointments (Mum can’t drive at the moment because she’s still recovering from surgery and has limited use of her arm).

Yom Kippur is the only biblical fast day in Judaism and the only one I’m allowed to fast on while on lithium. My medication gets disrupted, as I take the first dose early, before the fast starts (before 6.00pm yesterday) and then skip the morning dose entirely. As a result, I became very tired in the evening and dozed off as soon as I finished davening (praying) last night, slept for two and a half hours, woke up, did some Torah study and recreational reading, struggled to fall asleep again, then slept for something like ten hours or more and struggled to get up and get going without being able to eat breakfast, which I usually rely on to kick-start my day.

I lay in bed for quite a long time (I think several hours), feeling too faint and drained to get up, but apparently not tired enough to fall asleep again. I tried to think about teshuva (repentance), but my mind kept coming back to the idea that I am getting better (as a person/Jew, I mean, not necessarily mental health-wise) and that, considering what I’ve been through, it’s quite amazing that I do still believe in God and am still frum (religious). I’ve met autistic people who have left religion, lots of mentally ill people who have left it, plus there are “older singles” in the frum community who leave the community in their thirties feeling, regardless of God, that the community has no place for them at that age without a spouse and children.

Once I got going I davened, going through the set liturgy of confession as well as my own private one (the idea is that Jews confess a set liturgy in the plural as a sign of collective responsibility which covers everything anyone might have done at a basic level; I then add in specific things that I’ve done and want to atone for, but not everyone does this). I did feel I have room for growth, obviously, but I still felt that I’m doing well. Which I guess is good, although I’m not sure how much it was in the spirit of the day. I wrote the other day of a shiur (religious class) I heard the other day from the psychotherapist Rabbi Yehoshua Engelman, where he spoke about the importance of having a mature and honest dialogue with God about our relationship to Him and how we feel honestly about the mitzvot (commandments) and why we are meeting them or not meeting them, rather than expecting to get a list of praise/blame like a school report, so I guess it was in that spirit.

As I said, I did eventually get up and get dressed and davened some of the prayers, albeit that some can’t be said without a minyan (prayer quorum) and others I was too late for. My parents and I mostly davened together in the dining room though, which we haven’t done until now in lockdown (I usually daven in my bedroom) and it was nice to sing some bits together; we also read Yonah (Jonah), the haftarah (reading from the prophets) for Yom Kippur afternoon together, which was nice.

So, although I was not really conscious for most of it, that was a fairly meaningful Yom Kippur. I didn’t even get ill for once. No headache at all and just some dizziness when standing in the afternoon.

Charlie Brown

The good news: Mum saw the oncologist today and he said that the cancer is completely gone, which is obviously very good. She will still have to have radiotherapy, and to continue to have regular injections of antibodies for a while, but the cancer itself is completely gone.

On to the less good…

I feel that I’m like Charlie Brown trying to kick the football and falling on his back every time. Every few years, my depression seems to shift for a bit, and I talk about being recovered, and then after a period of weeks or months, I fall back into depression again, usually in autumn. At least this time I didn’t say I was “recovered,” just that my depression was now mostly reactive to events going on around me rather than being rooted in my childhood experiences, which is probably true, but nevertheless, I still feel very depressed today.

I’m also feeling burnt out again. I struggled on with preparing my interview presentation, but it was hard work. I just wanted to curl up in bed. In terms of the stresses the depression is reacting to, I guess I’m worried about the interview next week, and what happens if I get the job, whether I can do it and whether I can cope with a masked commute every workday.

I also had problems setting up an account with Microsoft Teams, which I need for my interview on Wednesday. I set up an account and tried to log in, only to be told I couldn’t log in because I didn’t have an account. But when I tried to set up a new account, I was told I couldn’t because I already had an account. I was supposed to have an email that would let me use Teams, but I didn’t receive it for a while, and there wasn’t a helpdesk to complain to. I could somehow get through using the link the Very Important Institution sent me (they have already set the meeting up so I can get into the virtual waiting room), but I couldn’t open Teams from scratch. I was supposed to have a practice call with my sister, but it wouldn’t let me add her to my address book. Pressing the “accept” button on the notification email from her just opened another window with the same email notification, it didn’t actually add her to my address book. I did eventually get everything up and running, just about, but I’m pretty nervous about it working properly on Wednesday. The Doctor Who line about computers being very “sophisticated idiots” never seemed more true. Teams seems like it has a load of fancy features that get in the way and stop it from doing things that can more easily be done on Skype or Zoom. I did eventually manage a practice call with my sister, so I feel a bit more confident about it. It think that Microsoft really are the pits, though. The hollow thumping sound you can hear is the sound of me repeatedly hitting my head on my desk.

I’m also vaguely worried about my relationship with PIMOJ; it’s hard to tell what the relationship is like when we still haven’t met in person or even spoken long on Skype (Love in the Time of COVID), and when there are occasional communication problems from the fact that English isn’t her first language, and I’m not sure of her level of knowledge of English as well as of Hebrew and Yiddish. I don’t want to sound patronising to her by using simple language or explaining things, but I don’t want her to feel I’m showing off my knowledge or intimidating her with terms she doesn’t understand.

It also feels weird for me to be the less spiritual and perhaps also the less serious-minded person in a relationship and I’m not quite sure what to make of that, or about the fact that I don’t feel completely comfortable owning my negative feelings when I’m talking to her, as she’s so positive and I’m scared about how she would respond to me on a day like today when I just feel depressed. Again, it doesn’t help that we haven’t met in person; on instant messenger it’s hard to judge someone’s mood or level of empathy, even beyond my usual autistic struggles with that sort of perspective taking, especially given the language problem and the fact that there are often typos that just confuse the whole thing even further.

I don’t want to sound too negative, as I think PIMOJ meets a lot of my needs in terms of being intelligent, kind and religious and I also find her funny. I think there is chemistry there, even if instant messenger isn’t necessarily the best way of expressing it. I just wonder what will happen. I’m trying to stay in the present, but it isn’t always easy.

I don’t really want to talk about the relationship in detail here, but I don’t have anywhere else to talk about it, other than therapy for an hour a week. I also don’t know how much these worries are real or stem from feeling depressed today.

So, these are the thoughts that have been going through my head today. I guess I’m feeling rather overwhelmed, and I haven’t even mentioned that it’s going to be the most important day in the Jewish calendar on Sunday night and Monday (Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement), and I don’t feel able to go to shul (synagogue) for it because of fear of infection, discomfort with masks and general autistic uncertainty about what exactly happens at shul with COVID and the new normal.

***

I listened to an audio shiur (religious class) by Rabbi Yehoshua Engelman, who is a therapist as well as a rabbi, on building a mature relationship with God. In some ways it crystalised things I’ve been thinking recently, but which I had not been able to put into words. Ideas that God is not judging us on Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year) or Yom Kippur like a parent or teacher judges a young child and awarding reward and punishment, but that He is being curious and inviting us to enter into a dialogue with Him about why we’ve done the things we’ve done, good and bad, and How we relate to Him through those actions and how we can change and grow and become more authentic towards our inner selves.

I hope to think about this and bring it into my life. I struggle a lot to believe in a God who loves me (as opposed to a loving God – I believe God loves, but I don’t believe I’m worthy of His love). I want to build a relationship with Him, but it’s hard to know what to say, especially when I feel so tired so much of the time, and when I’ve spent so much of my adult life feeling anxious and depressed. I am trying to get away from the “angry old man in the sky” image of God which is poisonous, but sometimes I think I move too far in the direction of abstraction (Ein Sof, the kabbalistic term for the Infinite) and feel too distant from Him.

***

Achievements: some time spent on interview preparation, no idea how long. Downloaded Microsoft Teams and had a practice call with my sister. Went for a half-hour walk. Finished reading a book on writing character and viewpoint; I think I knew a lot of it instinctively from reading a lot, but I do vaguely feel like I’m a bad writer. I had a bit of a headache in the evening, which may have been stress or just because the heating came on for the first time, which often makes me a bit ill. I listened to a shiur and finished and sent my devar Torah for the week. I finished scanning the autism forms. So, I did quite a bit despite the burnout and low mood, but somehow it never feels “enough” which I guess is something to talk to God about.

Mostly Jewish Stuff

I went (on Zoom) to a day long pre-High Holy Days education event at the London School of Jewish Studies. I’m not going to relate in detail all the talks, because it would take too long, but here a few highlights.

The first, given my Gila Fine, was about a story in the Talmud about God asking the High Priest, Rabbi Yishmael, to bless him. Rabbi Yishmael blessed God that His mercy should overcome His anger and God indicates His approval for this blessing. This led into a discussion about God in Judaism not being an unmoving (in all senses of the word) omniscient, omnipotent, omni-benevolent being of Greek philosophy, but as emotional, vulnerable and wanting our love (I would say, presenting Himself as emotional, vulnerable and wanting our love – I can’t completely lose the Greek omni belief, I’m too much of a Maimonidean). This was related to the idea that the image of God in the Talmud is softer and gentler than in Tanakh (the Hebrew Bible), which I’ve noticed before myself and wondered about. Fine didn’t say why this is the case. I may email her later, as she gave us her email to ask further questions. I feel the softer presentation of God in the Talmud (Oral Law) may be connected to the mystical idea of the Oral Law showing God’s aspect of love and the Written Law (Hebrew Bible) showing His aspect of justice. Or possibly there’s a historical explanation about the Talmud being largely exilic and the Torah being largely pre-exilic (she did speak about Rabbi Yishmael potentially being the last High Priest before the destruction of the Temple, in which case the story has added pathos). Anyway, this was helpful to me in trying to find a healthier understanding of God.

Rabbi Lord Sacks spoke about the approaching festivals in lockdown as opposed to being in synagogue with a large community, singing together. The standout quote to me was, “The most important thing is not to be afraid to be silent in the presence of God.”

Rabbi Joe Wolfson spoke of using Kayin (Cain) and Yishmael (Ishmael) as unlikely models for teshuva (repentance), unlikely because they are not normally seen as positive role models and also because their repentance was not complete. Kayin represents teshuva as beginning a conversation with God (when he asks if his sin is too great to bear) and Yishmael represents teshuva as being about where we are now, not past or future selves (based on the Midrash where the angels tell God to let the lost and dehydrated Yishmael die because he will be wicked and his descendants will oppress the Jews, but God lets him live because he is righteous at the moment). The former makes me feel better about repentance being a process rather than an event, and something that starts just with speaking to God.

There were more shiurim, but I’m too tired even to summarise all of them; I may share some more ideas tomorrow.

***

My sister and brother-in-law came over at lunchtime, mainly to see my Mum. I saw them for a few minutes between talks. They had bought another copy of my Doctor Who book, to give to their nephew (brother-in-law’s brother’s son), who is an avid Doctor Who fan, and they wanted me to sign it, which I did. I worry it’s a bit too analytical for him (I forget how old he is, I think he’s about ten). Maybe he’ll read it when he gets older, if he’s still a fan.

I managed to squeeze a walk in between talks too, so it was a long and busy day, but good, interesting and thought-provoking.

My mood was mainly good, but with a bit of a dip in the early evening. There was a reason for this, but I’m too tired to go into it now; maybe later in the week.

Guilt

Shabbat was OK. There was all the usual stuff: praying, eating, sleeping, Torah study and recreational reading (mostly The Islamist and the latest Doctor Who Magazine, my subscription to which I am contemplating cancelling. I have contemplated cancelling it every couple of years since about 2003, but this time I’m really not sure what’s stopping me).

The afternoon was hard. I was reading The Lights of Penitence by Rav Kook (in the volume Abraham Isaac Kook: The Lights of Penitence, The Moral Principles, Lights of Holiness, Essays, Letters, and Poems) and came across a passage that talks about someone who feels pervaded by sin, immoral, uneducated, distant from God, and “stirred by dark and sinister passions that revolt him.” I thought, “This is me.” Unfortunately, the passage goes on to say that penitence will cure this and all healing and acceptance. Nothing about what happens if a person does teshuva (repentance) and feels just as wicked as before.

If I recall correctly, Rav Soloveitchik says something similar about repentance curing self-criticism in Halakhic Man, so that’s the two greatest “Modern Orthodox” rabbis, of very different outlook and temperament, agreeing that teshuva should remove self-hatred and needless guilt. I don’t know how to feel that. No wonder that in recent years Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur (Jewish New Year and the Day of Atonement, the holidays of judgment and repentance) have been hard for me and I struggle to get to shul (synagogue). Of course, this year I have decided not to go for Rosh Hashanah at least because I’m so worried about COVID and passing it on to Mum (who has surgery a week before Rosh Hashanah). I haven’t had to decide what I’m doing about Yom Kippur yet.

The guilt is pervasive and multifaceted. Some of it is feeling disconnected from God, which I’ve felt for a long time. Feeling that I don’t pray well enough, don’t study Torah enough, don’t connect enough. Feeling that I don’t have enough spirituality or meaning in my life. I don’t have much of either. But I also have guilt around my sexuality. Feeling that it’s pretty much impossible to get to the age thirty-seven as an unmarried virgin without having infringed on some at least some of the Jewish sexual laws, but as no one talks about it, I feel that maybe it is just me. Maybe I could do better. Maybe other people do manage to do better.

So, I spent the afternoon somewhat depressed because of this. I was initially upset to have napped for an hour and a half after lunch, but when I started to feel depressed, I was glad to have escaped being trapped in my head for a while. Despite Shabbat finishing nearly two hours earlier than at the height of summer, it’s still hard to get through when depressed.

I worry what PIMOJ (as sarnhyman has suggested I dub the Person I’m Messaging On JDate) would make of this. I’ve told her about my depression, but presented it in the past tense. Well, I thought I was mostly over it and now it was just reactive to things in my life, not an ongoing presence. I should have remembered that whenever I declare my depression over, it returns. PIMOJ works in mental health and I don’t know how that would shape her reaction to me. I want to open up to her about some things, but I’m scared. I want to get to know her better and get to a stage where we can both be more open, but I don’t know how to do that or how to judge when we’ve got there.

It’s not just the persistence of depression, but also the fact that she comes across in her messages as an ebullient person and one with a deep and sincere ahavat Shamayim (love of God). I had hoped some of that would rub off on me, but now I feel it’s more likely that I’ll scare her off. That she wouldn’t want to be with someone so quiet and downbeat, and intermittently (at least) depressed.

***

I just found this quote from Rav Kook, from The Lights of Holiness further on in the same volume:

The greater the person, the more he must seek to discover himself. The deep levels of his soul remain concealed from him so that he needs to be alone frequently, to elevate his imagination, to deepen his thought, to liberate his mind. Finally his soul will reveal itself to him by radiating some of its light upon him.

Friends, Real and Imaginary; Learned Helplessness; and the OCD Rabbit Hole

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.

Dancers at the End of Yom Tov

The end of Yom Tov (festivals) went OK overall.  On Shimini Atzeret evening (Sunday night) I was feeling quite exhilarated about the thought of trying to write a weekly devar Torah (short Torah essay) again.  From feeling zero connection to what I have been “learning” (much as I dislike the Yeshivish word, “studying” doesn’t seem right in this context), suddenly I was finding, if not answers, then at least kashas (questions, textual difficulties) to pursue.  On Shimini Atzeret day I crashed a bit, perhaps unsurprisingly.  I had gone to bed really late because I was a bit agitated in a positive way (the kind of feeling that once had me wondering if I had bipolar disorder instead of unipolar depression, but apparently it’s not mania), but, as often happens, I crashed afterwards.  I struggled to get up again on Monday morning.

I went to shul (synagogue) in the evening, but was very anxious that I wouldn’t be able to slip away before the Simchat Torah festivities started.  I find Simchat Torah very hard.  We celebrate finishing and restarting the annual Torah reading by dancing with the Torah scrolls.  This is circle dancing, holding hands and going round and round.  I’ve never worked out why it makes me so uncomfortable, whether it’s depression (the party atmosphere), social anxiety (being visible to everyone), lack of confidence (not feeling able to dance) or autism (the noise and close proximity to people I don’t know well).  This is aside from my shul auctioning Simchat Torah honours in return for committing to study Torah in the coming year, which makes me feel bad for not being able to commit to anything, let alone the immense amount some people commit to.  Whatever reason, I find the day hard.  There were one or two years where I did manage to enter into the spirit of things and dance, but that was in a shul where I felt quite comfortable for reasons that are not likely to replicate themselves any time soon.  Usually I slip away before the dancing starts, but I feel bad about not even trying to dance.  On my way out, someone asked if I was going and I said yes and felt bad, but I don’t know how else to cope.  I’d like to enjoy Simchat Torah one day, but I don’t know how.

I came home to find my parents home.  I had expected Dad and maybe Mum to be at their own shul and I did a typical autistic thing of being completely put out by a minor change of plan and ended up arguing over my Dad about some petty thing.  Really we weren’t arguing about that, I was expressing my anger and frustration with myself for not being able to stay in shul and he was expressing his frustration that he can’t solve my problems.

I did manage to have dinner with my parents, slept for twelve hours or more and woke up feeling better than expected.  I missed shul during the day, but went back for Ma’ariv (the Evening Service).  We were waiting for a minyan (prayer quorum) and, as it was the closing minutes of Simchat Torah and the Tishrei holiday period, the rabbi started singing and dancing (this is what happens if you have a somewhat Hasidishe rabbi) and I allowed myself to get dragged into that even though it felt a little uncomfortable, so I did just about dance a bit on Simchat Torah.  I then helped take down the shul sukkahs and to take two of the Sifrei Torah (Torah scrolls) back to our weekday premises.  So I felt I did my bit to help, but I also felt a bit as if I was tidying up from a really great party that I had mostly missed, which seems a bit like the story of my life.

I helped my Dad begin to take down our sukkah too.  At least I felt that I had enjoyed using that one more.

***

On balance, I would have to say that it was a good Sukkot, and a good Tishrei generally.  I got to shul in the morning several times as well as the evenings.  I heard the shofar both days on Rosh Hashanah, I wasn’t too ill on Yom Kippur (although I did spend much of the day too drained to get out of bed) and, despite it being mid-October and expected to be wet, we had almost every lunch and dinner in the sukkah over Sukkot and Shmini Atzeret.  I just wish I could finish things more positively on Simchat Torah, and that I didn’t feel like I was so unfocused in my religious life, like I could/should be doing more in terms of davening (praying) with a minyan and with kavannah (mindfulness) as well as doing more, and deeper, Torah study.  It can be hard to see where I am growing, which is the point of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, as well as to see where my joy in being Jewish comes from, which is the point of Sukkot, Shmini Atzeret and Simchat Torah.

I noticed on the way home that someone down the road has their Christmas lights up already.  It somehow seems wrong that the Christians are putting up their Christmas lights before the Jews have finished taking their sukkot down.  There’s still two months before Christmas!  That’s like putting up your sukkah soon after Tisha B’Av!

***

A side-light on this (not Christmas decorations, I mean on religious focus): looking in Leaping Souls: Rabbi Menachem Mendel and the Spirit of Kotzk by Chaim Feinberg there is a story of a Hasid who came to the Kotzker Rebbe and complained that since coming to Kotzk, he has become fearful that his prayers and Torah study are blemished by secret self-interest and imperfections.  He is told by the Rebbe that maybe God doesn’t want his prayers or Torah study, but his heartfelt inner anguish and dissatisfaction with himself, his desire to be a better person (God wants the heart, according to the Talmud although that’s not quoted here).  I’ve heard similar stories with a number of Hasidic Rebbes.  I’m not sure if they’re reassuring or not.  It’s reassuring to think there might be a positive reason for feeling like this, but not reassuring to think I might feel like this for the rest of my life.

It’s not, I suppose, an attitude that would attract many modern people, who seem to like to be told that the religious life, done right, is easy and comfortable and that God can be your best friend who will help you out of any trouble if you just Believe.  I can’t imagine Aish or the JLE or any other kiruv organisation trying to win non-religious Jews to the religious life by telling them that God wants their inner anguish as they struggle to do the right thing, or even just to work out what the right thing is.  It speaks to me, though.  It speaks to the part of me that thinks that life is hard and if there is an all-powerful, benevolent God, then for some reason He doesn’t want us to be happy here, in which case this world is a vale of soul-making (as the thoroughly atheist John Keats put it), not one of happiness.  I can cope with soul-making.  It’s when people tell me that if only I was frum (religious) I would be happy that I get angry, because either I’m not doing religion properly or this is just untrue.  But a world of soul-making, where my inner anguish builds my soul into something beautiful… I can cope with that philosophically.  It is hard to live it every day, though.

***

After my Jewish existentialism post E. asked if I could recommend any books.  I did, but I hadn’t looked at the books for years and now I’m wondering how relevant they are.  This happens a lot when people ask me for advice, I end up panicking and second-guessing myself.  I’m not sure what exactly I’m catastrophising about there.  I’m not sure what the worst case scenario is that I’m worried about.

***

Speaking of books, I find myself doing an impression of Buridan’s Ass again, only with books instead of straw.  Buridan’s Ass is a thought experiment about a hungry donkey placed equidistantly between two identical piles of hay; unable to determine which haystack is “better,” he stands procrastinating between the two until he starves to death.  I find this unlikely, but I can’t choose what book to read out of my many unread novels, unread non-fiction books, novels to re-read, non-fiction books to re-read, and Doctor Who novels to re-read (which seem to be in a separate category, although I’m not quite sure why).  I could look on my Goodreads page to find the numbers to go with each category, but I’m a bit scared of how large they would be.  I have a lot of unread books; well, I have a lot of books period, and a proportion are going to be unread and, given that I’m a re-reader, lots of read books can revert to being quasi-unread (un-re-read) given time.

It doesn’t help that I can’t work out whether I could really get a lot out of re-reading heavy stuff Dickens or Dostoevsky or reading serious non-fiction at the moment, mental health-wise.  I don’t feel like reading much other than Agatha Christie, John le Carré and Doctor Who, but I’m not sure that that proves a lot.  I have an unread Philip K. Dick short story collection that I got for my birthday some months ago, one of my favourite authors, but somehow I can’t feel enthusiastic for a short story collection right now, the thought of keep having to start again rather than immersing myself in a world for a while…  I was in shul for the reading of Kohelet (Ecclesiastes) on Shabbat, which concludes that “of making many books there is no end and much study is a weariness of flesh” which is probably a lesson to me, although I’m not quite sure what.  Probably that I should stop writing and go to bed.

“I’m dreaming of a dry Sukkos”

I’ll try to blog quickly, as it’s late, I haven’t eaten and I still have lots of stuff to do tonight.

I got up early this morning, but I still didn’t get to shul (synagogue).  I woke up around 8.00am, but must have drifted in and out of consciousness as suddenly it was 9.30.  I got up and ate some breakfast, but I was going slowly because I was tired and it was soon gone 10.00 and I was still in pyjamas.  I realised that by the time I got dressed and walked to shul the service would almost certainly be nearly finished (if there’s a Shabbat (Sabbath) between Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement) and Sukkot (Tabernacles), it’s a short service as the leining (Torah reading) is really short and everyone’s exhausted from all the festivals).  So, I stayed at home.  Unfortunately I fell asleep again for fifty minutes or so, and again after lunch.  Not good.  I hope I can sleep tonight.  I did do some Torah study in the afternoon though as well as going to Talmud shiur (class).

I did go back to shul in the afternoon, although there was a mix up over whether there was a seudah (the third Sabbath meal, between the Afternoon and Evening Services), so I ended up going home for a bit.  I stayed behind after Ma’ariv (Evening Service) to help put up the shul sukkah, the portable shack we eat in over the festival of Sukkot (starts tomorrow night).  I was glad to show my face as part of the community, but I fear I didn’t actually do very much.  I’m not tall or strong, I can’t tie knots and I couldn’t remember how the sukkah fitted together, so that removed me from most of the useful jobs.  Also, although I can be somewhat practical by myself, in a group, as I mentioned the other day, I end up overwhelmed by social anxiety worrying what everyone wants me to do and also struggling with autistic poor executive function and not knowing what would be useful.  I end up just getting in the way (apparently a common autistic trait).  I ended up holding the light and pointing it at people who were doing real work so they could see what they were doing, as I did last year.  Plus, I couldn’t tell if people were angry with me and I didn’t get all the jokes everyone was making, so I feel very autistic right now.

It rained while we were putting up the sukkah, which was not great.  This festival should really be observed in Israel and not Britain.  It looks set to be a wet Sukkot (hence the post title – Sukkos is the Ashkenazi (North European) pronunciation of the Modern Hebrew Sukkot).  Hopefully we will be able to eat in the sukkah a bit over the chag (festival).

On Friday night one of my friends in shul asked if I was OK as he didn’t think he saw me in shul on Yom Kippur.  I didn’t really want to get into stuff in front of loads of people, so I said I have some health issues and only made it for some of the day, but I’m thinking it might be a good idea to text him to let him know a bit more about my issues as he is one of my closest friends in shul.  I never really know how much to tell people about my issues.  Sometimes I feel it would be helpful if more people knew, but then I had a therapist who felt I hide behind my diagnoses sometimes.

I’m not sure if I’m going to be able to post tomorrow as things will be quite hectic getting ready for Yom Tov and then I’ll be offline until Tuesday evening.

“It’s been a funny sort of day”

…if you’ll excuse the Open All Hours quote, as I don’t know how else to describe my Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement).

On the down side, I missed the whole of shul (synagogue) this morning and early afternoon.  On Yom Kippur we stay in shul for several hours in the evening (yesterday) then from 8.00am or so until after nightfall (between 7.30 and 8.30pm or so, depending on the time of year) with only a short break mid-afternoon (dependent on how quickly we’ve got through the prayers and whether we need to pad out or hurry up to finish at nightfall).  In theory.  This is all possible because we fast totally (no food or drink at all except for life-threatening circumstances) all day (actually longer than twenty-four hours – it usually ends up about twenty-five and a half).

What actually happened to me this year (as last year) was that I went to the evening service yesterday and managed to get reasonably into the spirit of it, emotionally, but then struggled to sleep at night.  I did eventually fall asleep, but as expected, when I woke up this morning I was completely exhausted from yesterday, plus I had very low blood sugar.  On a normal day I would get up and eat breakfast and drink some coffee and slowly begin to feel a bit better, but that was out today, so I ended up spending the whole morning in bed.  I think I managed to get up around 2.00pm, but it was hard and I kept going back to bed because I was so exhausted and probably also depressed (the exhaustion was overwhelming enough to be dominant).

I eventually managed to stay up and get dressed, getting to shul around 3.15pm, only to discover that the community was going on a break.  I prayed to myself for a bit, then read some of the commentary in the machzor (festival prayer book).  The service restarted at 3.50pm, but I spent a lot of time in the next couple of hours standing outside as it was very hot inside and needed fresh air.  I usually get a bad headache from fasting on Yom Kippur and sometimes throw up, but to my surprise I was OK today.  I was able to stay inside and join in enthusiastically with Neilah (the fifth and final Yom Kippur service – Yom Kippur is unique in having five prayer services rather than three (weekdays) or four (Sabbath and other festivals)), which is rare for me as usually I feel too ill.

So that was a negative that turned into a positive.  The other negatives were a bit of religious OCD thinking that I more or less talked myself through, but which did make me feel bad for a while, and the fact that I was too tired to go back to shul after breaking my fast to help tidy up as I had hoped to do.  I just felt too exhausted again.  I feel bad that when they ask for volunteers for these things, it’s always the same people who join in, albeit that I am often one of them and probably shouldn’t feel too bad.

On the plus side, aside from missing most of shul, I did have some positive experiences.  I felt as if something inside me shifted, not a conventional religious experience (still haven’t had one of those), but a change of perspective.  When I got up today, I was thinking, “What if I do believe that God loves me and I’m too scared to accept what that would say about me [that I’m a good person, so I assume that God hates me]?”  My thoughts immediately became very depressed and self-critical.  I was in therapy for long enough to realise that a sudden dip in mood is often a sign of being on the right track and confronting myself with something my unconscious doesn’t want to hear!

Then later I was standing outside during Mincha (The Afternoon Service) trying to cool down.  I can’t remember what my exact train of thought was, but I think it was something about feeling inadequate compared to other people and then I just thought that I can only do the best I can manage with my issues/background/life.

I know from experience moments like this are not always enduring.  Probably I will go back to thinking that God hates me and that I should behave as a “normal” frum (religious Orthodox Jewish) person (pray with a community three times a day; study a significant amount of Torah, preferably Talmud, every day) regardless of my issues.  Even if don’t go back to that negative view permanently, I probably will go back to it intermittently.  Nevertheless, it was good to feel somewhat comfortable with my religious identity for a few hours and to know that having got to that point of realisation, it may be easier to get back to it in the future.

Then I came back home to break my fast and heard of the attack on the shul in Halle, Germany.  It’s sad that my immediate response wasn’t shock or tragedy, but just to wonder if it was “neo-Nazis or Islamists?” so normal do these things seem to have become again (it seems to have been neo-Nazis in this case).  I was also depressed to see ethnic cleansing in Syria on the news, which is also not surprising as it has been on the cards for some days now.

Career Moves

I can admit now that I did manage to do a few things yesterday, even though it felt like a wasted day, but the result was total exhaustion and depression today.  I got up late even by my standards today (12.30pm) and felt so depressed and exhausted that I was still in pyjamas at 2.00pm, admittedly partly from reading too much stuff online.  Reading a blog post by a friend about the semi-academic book he has published about Doctor Who made me feel a bit useless in not being published and wondering if I ever will be published as well as feeling bad that I couldn’t cope with academia.

***

Ashley Leia encouraged me to focus on my values rather than “success.”  I’m very familiar with values-focus from frum (religious Orthodox Jewish) dating books and articles.  In theory it’s a good fit with Judaism, which is values-focused rather than achievement-focused we’re told that “God desires the heart” and that “the reward is according to the effort” rather than objective achievements.  But I’m not sure what happens when I don’t live up to my values, as frequently happens.

On Yom Kippur (starting tomorrow evening, yikes), Jews confess their sins (to God, not to a human).  There’s a set text that covers all possible categories of sin, and it’s all in the plural because there’s a degree of collective social responsibility; also so if you whisper too loudly and anyone overhears you they don’t know which sins you’re really guilty of.  Still, I list specific sins I’ve done to add in privately.  The list is reasonably short and certainly a lot of stuff on it is a result of my illness rather than intentional sins.  On the other hand, there’s stuff that I’m deeply ashamed of that I do frequently, the whole year round and which is hard to blame fully on my issues.  So I’m not sure where that leaves me, values-wise.  I feel that I often fall short of my core values.

***

I did very little in the end today.  I just felt too depressed.  I tried to write an email to ask for work experience as a teaching assistant, but I procrastinated over it a lot.  I got something down, but then my Mum said that her friend (who has been saying for ages that I should be a Jewish Studies teacher in a Jewish primary school) knows the deputy headteacher at a local Jewish primary school and can talk to her, which might be a better way of going making contact, but it will have to wait until after all the Yom Tovim (festivals).

The whole idea terrifies me and I’m really not sure that it’s the right thing for me to do.  In fact, the idea of building a new career while I’m struggling to build another as a writer seems silly.  I know I have to earn money before I finish writing my novel, but it seems bizarre to be cultivating two completely different careers at the same time, one I want and one I don’t want.  But the whole “writing stuff for money” aspect of my writing career isn’t working out.  Writing isn’t a problem; getting paid for it is.

I felt a bit better after dinner, so I decided to use what little time and energy I had on writing my novel rather than on Torah study (having managed fifteen minutes or so of Torah study today).  I spent about forty minutes on it.  It seemed to be flowing well, but I only wrote four hundred words, which was a bit disappointing.  The low word count was perhaps because I’m introducing the characters and am having to spend a lot of time deciding what people and buildings look like and describing them, not things I’m good at (when I read a book, I usually don’t have a clear idea of how the characters look except in rare occasions when I “cast” someone as a character, either a famous actor or someone I know in real life).  I’m also struggling to work out when to use and translate a Hebrew or Yiddish word and when to use it untranslated and hope the reader refers to the glossary I’m hoping to include at the back.  I am glad to be working on the novel, though.

***

I wrote a big thing here about not fitting in sociologically as much as neurotypically, but I deleted it because it was too schematised.  Still, it is true that when I read the news I often feel disconnected to the world.  Not just political views, but the worldview that underlies them and says what is newsworthy.  But I don’t fit into the frum (religious Orthodox Jewish) world properly either.  I guess that’s why I want to write about people like me, because books/films/TV like that is in short supply, but also why I worry that books about people like me won’t sell.  The secular people won’t connect with them, but a lot of the frum people won’t connect with them either.  I also worry that if I write about (for example) a frum Jew with depression, people (frum and not frum) will read stuff into it and think that I’m saying that Judaism/the frum community causes depression or that coping with depression is worse in the frum community than elsewhere (in someways it might be, but that’s not really the point I’m making).

***

When anxiety meets social anxiety…  I wanted to make a donation to my shul‘s Yomim Noraim tzedaka appeal (my synagogue’s High Holy Days charity appeal).  The bank account number is different to the one to which I pay my membership fees.  OK, so they have a separate account for regular expenses and charity fundraising.  That’s sensible.  But the sort codes are different too, which means it’s at a different bank.  This probably isn’t particularly bizarre, but I’ve gone into a small panic wondering if my membership fees are going to the right place.

My parents say (a) if I wasn’t paying my fees, they would be chasing me and (b) email for clarification if I’m not sure, but I don’t want to appear an idiot by emailing.  So now the anxiety of “Am I paying the right account?” is clashing with the social anxiety of “I don’t want to look like an idiot by asking if I’m paying the right account.”  It’s not hard to think of reasons they might have two bank accounts with two different banks (e.g. to keep the account paperwork more clearly distinct; or because when the second account was opened, another bank was offering better terms), but I still worry.  I know they changed accounts for their main account some time back, but I thought I sorted all that out correctly.

***

Tomorrow evening is the start of Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement), the holiest day in the Jewish calendar, and the only fast day I’m actually allowed to fast on.  I’m feeling somewhat apprehensive, both of the emotion of the day (awe, repentance, my difficult feelings about God at the moment) and the fact that fasting makes me quite ill (I usually feel faint and nauseous and get a headache by late afternoon; occasionally I actually throw up).  The illness is probably not due to caffeine withdrawal, as it happened even at times of my life when I was drinking little caffeine, but I probably should have cut back a bit recently.  Too late now.  The problem is more likely to be dehydration; I try to drink more in the day before the fast, but end up just going to the toilet a lot in the early hours of the fast.  I doubt I will have time to post tomorrow before the fast starts, so I’ll see you on the other side.

Defining Success

Today felt like a waste, although this may have just been my negative self-perception.  I did a few things.  I helped Dad with the sukkah, the temporary booth/dwelling Jews eat in (and sleep in, in warmer climes) for a week during the festival of Sukkot (starting next week).  I tried to understand the Department of Work and Pensions’ byzantine and poorly-explained rules about employment benefits and printed off the twenty-three page long application form for New Style Employment and Support Allowance.  (Why is complaining about bureaucracy considered a conservative thing when it’s a major gatekeeper preventing the low-skilled from accessing state services?  It’s almost as if middle class progressives want to monopolise the benefits they can access for themselves…)  I procrastinated more about trying to work as a teaching assistant without coming to a conclusion.  I’m still terrified at the prospect of doing that, but don’t know what my other options are.

I went jogging for the first time nearly three weeks.  The run was average, but at least I burnt off some frustration or even aggression about not fitting in religiously/politically/culturally.  Even if it did come back later…  I had a bit of a headache a couple of hours after jogging, which was probably from exercise again, but at least it wasn’t a bad migraine.  It is frustrating getting exercise headaches when I’m already fighting against depression in my battle to get back into shape.

I worked on my novel for half an hour.  I didn’t write a huge amount and most of what I did write was expanding paragraphs I wrote previously rather than pushing on ahead, but it was good to work on it at all and I’ve basically written off this entire month (and a bit) for novel writing.  I know there is too much going on with Jewish festivals and then I’m going away for my cousin’s bar mitzvah.  Hopefully in November I will be able to begin writing in earnest.  I also managed about half an hour of Torah study, which was less than I intended, but quite good.  I thought this article was really interesting, although I suspect it is fairly meaningless to people who haven’t had a lot of exposure to frum (religious Orthodox Jewish) books or lectures on Yom Kippur.  It’s weird and somewhat frightening how things “everyone knows” so often turn out to be unsourced or based on misunderstandings of earlier sources.

Also for my novel, I bought a couple of books on abusive relationships for research.  This was probably extravagant as I should go to the library for research, but I thought it might be useful to have them on hand while writing.  I should definitely go to the library before buying any further research materials, though. When I was doing my undergraduate degree, I tended to buy one or two basic text books before the start of term as background reading and to have on hand whenever I wanted them, and then borrow the other books from the libraries as necessary, which is similar to what I’m doing here.  I suppose I am vaguely worried of being seen in public with books on abusive relationships…

***

I just posted this in response to StoicWannabe’s comment on my last post:

I don’t know what a realistic definition of success for me is. I’ve never seen money or status as success, but I do see not being dependent on my parents as success. I see a lot of religious observances as success, but I know I can’t meet them, in terms of mitzvot like Torah study, communal prayer, children etc., but also social things like fitting in to the community and having frum friends. I see connection with people as success, but somehow I get distracted from that or forget about it when I need to remember it, or else I don’t believe that I’ve achieved so many connections or I focus on the people I’ve lost touch with or who got angry with me. I do have a sense of wanting to do something that justifies my life and (although I’m somewhat ashamed to admit it) somehow gets back at everyone who bullied me as a child (even though I’m sure they’ve all forgotten me by now – I don’t even remember most of them clearly).

It is hard to think of a definition of success that is both attainable and meaningful in my current condition.

 

***

My laptop is getting old.  The casing is broken.  Its speed is still reasonable, but it develops other quirks.  The Wifi sometimes stops working, which seems to be the computer rather than the router, but it isn’t easy to tell; it’s better than it was a couple of months ago, when it was dropping all the time, but still isn’t perfect.  In the last few days it has developed a new quirk: suddenly turning on the ‘tap to click’ function on the mouse touchpad.  I hate this function, as I’m always accidentally clicking on stuff I don’t want to click on when it’s on, so this is really irritating for me.  I know how to turn it off again, but it’s frustrating to keep having to do it.  This happened to me once before, but I can’t remember how I solved the problem; possibly by reinstalling the touchpad, which I really don’t want to do (I hate having to do things like that, as I always worry about deleting software permanently).  Alternatively, I could use a physical mouse, but I don’t really want to as I don’t have much room on my desk.

***

Lately I seem to be finding places where I think I can fit in and open up to people, in real life or online, but then either discover that I don’t fit in as well as I thought or they aren’t as safe as I thought.  It’s happened with my depression group (I found it harder to connect with people and then they moved to another site that isn’t as easy for me to get to), autism group (there seemed to be different people each time and I found it hard to connect again), autism WhatsApp group (I’m just not connecting with them at all), various Jewish websites and blogs and a politics site.  I suppose that’s also what happened with my shul (synagogue), only in slow motion.  It makes me wonder if I’ll ever really connect with anyone, make friends or find a community.  Am I too picky in my needs?  Do I want everyone to be like me to be my friend?  That’s unlikely, given that the friends I do have are usually quite unlike me.  Some of the problem is a general problem of the internet, and the way that few people who use it seem to be able to disagree in a civil way, which always makes me uncomfortable.

I am glad that there are a few people here who comment a lot.  I find that helpful.  I’ve had blogs where no one at all was commenting, so it’s good to get some response.  Thanks for reading/commenting.

Down

I’m struggling today, depressed and exhausted.  This is one of the days when everything seems too much.  I would take time out, but I need to get ready for Shabbat (the Sabbath) and I feel I should at least try to do some career stuff.  I’m worrying about working as a teaching assistant, with legitimate fears and OCD anxieties.  I’m feeling I just can’t work, I can’t date, I won’t get married and have a family, I can’t sort out the situation with E.  I read something today, on one of the few Doctor Who fan blogs I read, by someone who used her involvement with fandom to become a full-time writer and artist.  Why have I never been able to use my interests to further my writing career that way?  Am I just not talented enough?

Today’s Den of Geek Geeks Against Loneliness post has brought up recent feelings about having invisible illnesses and conditions (depression, social anxiety, autism).  Sometimes I wish people in shul who see me coming in late or not at all knew more about my struggles.  Likewise for the peers, or, now, people younger than me, who have moved on in life with careers and families and can see that I’ve essentially been stuck in my early twenties for ten or fifteen years.

I don’t know how I’m going to sort my life out.  I feel like I need help with revitalising my career, but I don’t trust what anyone is telling me, mostly because they’re telling me either to get jobs that I’ve already been looking for and not succeeded in finding or winning (writing, editing, researching) or because they tell me I could be a teacher.  I’m terrified to try that out without experience (and I’m terrified of getting experience).  I don’t know why so many people believe I’m good with children when I don’t believe it, and don’t really know how to test the hypothesis.  Even asking to do work experience/volunteering at a school is scary.  I really want to be a writer, but that’s not going so well either…

Likewise, I feel I can’t sort my dating situation without finding a job.  I still feel there are pros and cons about being with E., but I can’t see anyone else (a) caring for me as much as she does or (b) tolerating me being so close to E. while in a relationship with someone else.  But I don’t want to break off my friendship with E.  And that’s beyond the problem of my not being set up with frum (religious Orthodox Jewish) women the way most frum people meet their spouse.

Not sure if I’m going to try to go to shul (synagogue) tomorrow morning.  Maybe I should try to save my energy for Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement) next week.  On the other hand, maybe it would be useful to keep up the momentum of shul-going.  They’re having a seudah shlishit (third Sabbath meal) in memory of a not-very-old unmarried man from the community who died suddenly a month ago (the one everyone was studying Mishnah for and I wasn’t sure whether to join in).  This brought up a lot of feelings about what would happen if I die without wife and children, would anyone in the community notice or care?

I didn’t do any Talmud study this week, for the second week running.  I don’t want to get out of the habit.  There isn’t a Talmud shiur (class) this week, which means I stay ahead of the congregation, but that I can’t even use that as a bit of Talmud study this week.

I just feel such a failure today.  That I’ve let everyone down.  Even the positive blog comments and quotes from friends that I put on my door lately make me feel guilty, that everyone has confidence in me and an inflated idea of what I can achieve and I just repeatedly let them down.  I feel that I can’t sort my mental health out, can’t sort my career out, can’t sort my relationships with my family out, can’t sort my relationship with E. and with dating in general out, that I’ve messed up my religious life again…  Every year I go through Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur and hope I get forgiven by God and then immediately afterwards I slip back again…  No wonder I dislike myself so much.

(Not Quite) Losing My Religion

I filled in another application for a job I feel unqualified to do, let alone likely to get.  I feel that my MA left me unprepared for life ‘in the field’ as a librarian.  I am not entirely sure why this is the case.  Did I not do enough work?  Was the teaching sub-standard (those of you who have been following me on different platforms for many years may remember that all of us taking the course were concerned about this at the time)?  Or were my work experience and first job too specialised, at a small library that was not involved in many of the types of activities that I am expected to manage at larger libraries?  Or am I just not good enough?  I certainly didn’t expect so many jobs to require Saturday working, although that’s probably part of a shift in recent years towards longer opening hours in academic libraries, in some places moving towards 24/7 opening.

***

Something I was thinking of last night, and which came up again by “coincidence” (many religious Jews believe there is no such thing as coincidence) again today here (final paragraph): there is a concept in Judaism that if you regret your good deeds, they can get wiped out and you don’t get rewarded for them.  This makes me uneasy, because while I don’t exactly regret being Jewish, sometimes when I have been struggling with religious OCD or now when I’m still struggling with the way depression, autism and social anxiety affect my religious involvement, I do sometimes sort of wish I had never become frum (religious).  It would make my life so much easier, particularly in terms of career, relationships and managing social anxiety/fitting in/dealing with potential social disapproval.

I usually feel guilty and regret my regret (so to speak) almost immediately.  Nevertheless, it is easy to feel that I’m struggling in this world and, despite what reward I might be earning in the next world, the idea of going off the derekh (stopping being religious) seems possible.  I would be punished for that and I wonder if in that case it would have been better not to have been religious in the first place, as would arguably be the case.  In Jewish law, in that situation I would arguably be considered a tinok she’nishboh (Jewish child kidnapped and raised by non-Jews, widely applied by rabbinic authorities to children raised secular).  Although I was raised traditional, keeping some aspects of Judaism, I was not exposed to the fullness of Jewish life until later.  It is doubtful that I would be held as culpable for breaking halakhah (Jewish law) to the same extent as I would be now if I went off the derekh.

I’ve seen other ba’alei teshuva (Jews raised non-religious who became religious later in life) who are struggling with Jewish observance be advised to tap in to the positive feelings that they had about Judaism when they first became religious, but that doesn’t work for me.  I was raised traditional and knew about Jewish law from a young age.  I didn’t exactly “discover” it the way some Jews do.  Nor did I fall in love with it.  I started to become frum from a feeling of duty, obligation and responsibility (aged twelve!).  I didn’t have a honeymoon period of falling in love with the religion.  I don’t think I’ve ever had those strong, positive feelings about Judaism, only abstract, intellectual agreement.  By the time I started keeping Shabbat (the Sabbath), for example, it wasn’t an amazing thing to add on to my life, so much as a way of assuaging years of guilt for not keeping it (and a source of conflict with other family members).  I don’t know what feelings of love and joy I have to tap into.

I have mentioned before that one rabbi said I won’t experience any simcha shel mitzvah (joy in performing the commandments) until I am cured of my mental health issues, which seems unlikely to ever happen.  My rabbi mentor said I should be able to find some simcha shel mitzvah nonetheless, which just makes me feel guilty for not doing so.

***

I went on a pre-Yom Tov (festival) spending spree.  I bought a religious book that I’m hoping will help with finding meaning in the very long Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur (Jewish New Year and Day of Atonement) prayers.  Alongside this, I bought a couple of Batman graphic novels, as the Yom Tovim will probably provide many opportunities when I need a quick break, but don’t have time/energy/concentration to read prose.  I also bought The IT Crowd complete DVD set (slightly surreal British sitcom), as, while I don’t watch DVDs on Shabbat and Yom Tov, when Yom Tov is finished, I’m left with evenings when I can watch TV, but don’t necessarily have time to watch anything long and these episodes are only twenty-five minutes long, which might be useful.  The problem is that I don’t currently have any income at all and while I have savings I can dip into occasionally, I don’t want to use them up.  However, I do need to buy new things sometimes, even luxuries like books and DVDs.

Triggers and Case Histories

(I’m experimenting with a timed post here.  I’m writing it on Sunday night, but it should post while I’m at work on Monday morning, so I’ve written it as if it were written on Monday.  So “yesterday” is Sunday not Saturday.)

I submitted a job application for a cataloguing yesterday.  I feel pessimistic about it, but I keep changing how I feel pessimistic.  Sometimes I feel my application will be rejected; other times I feel I’ll get the job, but won’t be able to do it.  I have completely lost whatever confidence in my professional abilities that I might once have had.

I spoke to my rabbi mentor yesterday.  I think I sounded more upbeat than I feel.  He said a lot of frum (religious Orthodox Jewish) people feel far from God, struggle get in the right mood for Yom Tov (sombre for Yom Kippur, joyous for Simchat Torah) and that lots of people feel they don’t fit in to the community.  But I feel a bit as if I hadn’t expressed myself well or helped him engage with what I was trying to say.  I know it’s hard for everyone to engage with Yom Tov (a while back I posted here a quote from Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik, one of  the greatest rabbinic thinkers and Jewish philosophers of the twentieth century, where he said that even he sometimes feels “cold” on Rosh Hashanah morning and has to get himself in the right frame of mind), but I feel that it’s harder for me, although I can’t quantify that or prove it.  I feel that I don’t fit in to the community at all, as shown by my difficulties making friends and talking to people.  I feel that I am having a kind of crisis of faith, as although I believe in God strongly and although I can accept intellectually that one day I might find meaning and purpose in my life/struggles (the two seem largely the same to me and have for decades), I can’t feel that at all emotionally.  What I feel emotionally oscillates between a cool disengagement and lack of desire to daven (pray) or study Torah, and a raging anger at God for letting my life be like this (depressed, anxious, lonely) for so long.  Then I feel guilty that I feel like this, not because it’s sacrilegious, but because other people have it so much worse and I should feel angry for them.

Speaking of not fitting in to communities, yesterday evening I was feeling fine, packing for work, when suddenly I got hit by intense despair and perhaps some anxiety.  This time at least I could work out the chain of thoughts that led to it.  It went: looking at Doctor Who stuff online –> thinking I should try again to be more involved in fandom as it would be fun and good to do something social that isn’t shul- or mental health/autism-related –> a lot of Doctor Who fans are very left-wing and into identity politics –> they’ll hate me because currently left-wing people in the UK are insisting that Jews make up antisemitism for political reasons –> vertiginous despair and loneliness, maybe some anxiety.  I’m not sure how I can cope when even positive thoughts (Doctor Who was really good tonight) can be so triggering.

In attempting to get an appointment with a psychiatrist on the NHS, I was told I could also apply to IAPT (Improving Access to Psychological Therapies) for help.  I’m not quite sure what they can offer me, but I feel I might as well try.  I summarised my condition on the online application form:

I suffer from treatment-resistant depression. I have consistently low mood and despair as well as occasional suicidal thoughts. Very occasionally I self-harm.  This has continued despite medication and talking therapies for fifteen to twenty years. Although I am able to work four days a week, I find work exhausting and struggle to get through the days. I often spontaneously start crying at work for no obvious reason and I struggle to work through intense depression, despair and anxiety. I lack energy and motivation most of the time and on days when I don’t work, I sleep up to twelve hours a day.

I also have social anxiety which may stem from high functioning autism and/or complex trauma. I find it difficult to know how to initiate and continue conversations and to read unspoken social cues. I struggle to make friends and to cope with social situations and avoid social situations as much as possible.

I also have extremely low self-esteem and struggle with negative, critical thoughts about myself as well as intense guilt and shame.

It seems somehow bland and clinical to see it written down like that.  Do I think it sounds whiny and pathetic or is that just the critical inner voice again?  I probably should have put more about my history with medication and therapy (that was supposed to go in a different box, but the drop-down menu wasn’t working properly), although my experience with these questionnaires is that no one reads them, least of all the person who actually assesses you for the service.  And summarising fifteen or twenty years of personal history in 2000 characters is not easy, nor is opening up about your deepest thoughts to anonymous strangers (so not at all like blogging…).  I shall have to wait and see what comes of it.

The Day of the Great Fast

I really ought to go to bed, as I have to be up early for work, but I need to write to process the day.

Today was Yom Kippur, the holiest day in the Jewish year.  It’s the only fast day I’m allowed to fast on given my current medication.  I don’t fast well, never have done (most of my family don’t either), which always makes the day problematic.  I secretly envy people who can get through the day without so much as a headache, spend the whole time davening (praying) intently in shul (synagogue) and still be in good spirits by the end.

Yesterday night (Jewish festivals start in the evening) was pretty good.  I went to shul and I remember that I had a fairly moving experience, although I don’t remember the details.  I know I felt very, very angry with HaShem (God) at the start.  I have heard that expressing anger at HaShem in prayer is permitted because prayer is supposed to be authentic, that Chana’s (Hannah’s) paradigmatic prayer in Tanakh (the Hebrew Bible) which is the model of all Jewish prayer, was an angry prayer according to the rabbis.  I think after a few minutes it turned into intense sadness and perhaps also anxiety about what kind of a new year I might have.

I was tired afterwards and went to bed at 11.00pm.  Unfortunately, I slept for something like fifteen hours.  I spent the morning drifting in and out of sleep with bizarre dreams (meeting an old friend who promptly treifed up our kitchen; being attacked by gorillas in the garden, who turned out to be people dressed as gorillas; and, most strangely, being a Cabinet minister in John Major’s government.  God alone knows what any of those dreams mean, particularly the last one (which was chronologically first)).  When I was awake, I felt too drained, depressed and anxious to get up.  I could tell that I had low blood sugar.  I knew that all I needed was a glass of water, a bowl of cereal and a wash, but all these things are forbidden on Yom Kippur.  I think for the first time I was tempted to eat on Yom Kippur (fasting on Yom Kippur is one of the most widely-accepted Jewish laws.  Even people who do nothing religious all year fast on Yom Kippur).  I didn’t, but I’m slightly worried by how tempted I felt.  Maybe I’m just judging myself harshly.  I don’t think there was a serious chance that I would have eaten something, but it was strange that the thought even entered my head.

Eventually I got up and went to shul.  I arrived at about 4.30pm; Mincha (the afternoon service) had just started.  I struggled through the next four hours or so.  At times I felt so faint and frail that I had to sit down because I was afraid I would fall over if I stayed up, even in parts of the service where one is supposed to stand.  On the plus side, I didn’t get a bad headache and most of the time I didn’t feel like I was actually going to throw up, so that’s actually an improvement on most years.  But I did feel terrible for missing most of the day, even though I know I was too depressed to get through it.  I know I would have felt less depressed if I had eaten, but I also know that my priorities were right (fasting is a biblical commandment and outweighs the rabbinic commandment of set prayer), but somehow this doesn’t make me feel better.

The rabbi in his drasha (sermon) before Ne’ila (the fifth and final Yom Kippur service – only on Yom Kippur do we pray so many times in one day) spoke of not being an mediocre Jew.  The idea is that ten days ago on Rosh Hashanah we could be judged as righteous, wicked or in between, but on Yom Kippur HaShem takes all the in-betweens and reassigns them to one side or the other.  From now on, we’re all righteous or wicked, spiritually alive or spiritually dead.  No compromises.

The rabbi spoke about taking on one area to improve in, religiously, in the coming year.  I had already decided I was going to focus on curtailing my negative self-perception, ending my “internal critic” as the C-PTSD book I’m reading puts it, or talking lashon hara (malicious speech) about myself as I think of it, to try and make it sound religious and therefore more important to deal with, to encourage me not to back off from it.  (The Chafetz Chaim (Rabbi Yisrael Meir HaKohen) spent his life campaigning against lashon hara and he said it’s forbidden to speak maliciously about yourself too – there’s an amusing story about this which sadly I don’t have time to share now).  I still feel I should do something more overtly ‘religious’ like commit to davening  with a minyan more, or with more kavannah (mindfulness) or saying more of Shacharit (morning service) or studying more Torah… I feel lacking in so many crucial areas, and knowing that it’s largely due to my emotional/mental health issues doesn’t make me feel any better.  But I feel that I’ve put off dealing with my low self-esteem for years and that’s probably why I haven’t succeeded at dealing with these other emotional issues.

The rabbi also spoke about the need to do something that is a kiddush HaShem (sanctification of God’s name – something that makes people think positively about Jews, Judaism and the Jewish conception of God).  I don’t know that I really do that, and I’m not sure that dealing with my negative self-talk will really help with that, but I don’t think I can prioritise that today.

After Yom Tov I checked my emails and saw that the CBT therapist who I saw about my OCD and who I emailed to ask if she could help me with my self-esteem and social anxiety isn’t taking on any more clients right now, so I’ll have to find another option.  I’ve got one potential idea, but I need to make some inquiries.

I never know what one is supposed to wish other people after Yom Kippur.  It seems strange to wish shana tova (good new year) now the new year period is officially over and we’re moving towards Sukkot, but it also seems anticlimactic to wish people shavua tov (good new week), particularly as the week is nearly over.  Technically you can wish people Shabbat shalom (peaceful Sabbath) from Wednesday onwards, but that always seems strange.  Still, whatever it is you’re supposed to have at the moment, I wish you a good one.

Messed Up

I have a somewhat strange relationship with anxiety.  On the one hand, I have had a number of psychological assessments over the years and I often surprised the psychologists at how little anxiety I registered on their questionnaires, considering how strongly depression registered (the two usually go hand-in-hand).  On the other hand, I am no stranger to the gnawing feeling of dread about the future.  When I was at school and university, I used to feel particularly nauseous on Sunday evenings, dreading the coming week, and first thing in the mornings.  It was the latter that brought my mental health problems to light for the first time.  I went to the doctor complaining of disrupted sleep and inexplicable nausea during the day, especially on the way to school.  It turned out, after a number of physical tests had drawn a blank, to probably be my first major depressive episode with anxiety explaining the nausea, although this was not diagnosed at the time.

One therapist suggested that the depression was so strong that it ‘drowned out’ the anxiety except at certain points when the anxiety was very strong.  That may be true, although I think it may also be the case that the anxiety had been present for so long that I stopped noticing it, at least the morning/Sunday evening type of anxiety, and/or that as far as possible I dealt with the anxiety by avoidance, particularly in the years 2005-2008 or so, when I simply stopped functioning and spent all my time in my bedroom, reading and blogging online and watching Doctor Who, only going out for meetings with psychiatrists or therapists, being too depressed to work.

Sometimes the anxiety shades into pure O OCD, where I go from worrying that I’ll be fired to obsessing that I’m going to do something that would get me fired even though I know it to be wrong and have no conscious intention of doing it.  OCD is classified as an anxiety disorder (although apparently this has recently changed in DSM-V, but not ICD 10), so I guess that isn’t surprising.  At other times the anxiety would catastrophise into despair, where I would stop worrying that something bad would happen and just assume it would happen and feel depressed as if it already had happened, particularly regarding careers, dating and recovery.

***

I was a drama queen on someone’s blog again yesterday.  I wish I didn’t do this.  It was about the coming Yom Tovim (Jewish festivals) and setting targets for growth over them and in the Jewish new year.  I just feel that I can’t cope with any of that right now, that I’ve got a lot of anger and resentment issues with God and I can’t cope with the idea of making him my King (which is what Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year) is all about) or asking for forgiveness (Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement)).  I feel, if anything, that He should be asking me to forgive Him for everything that He’s done to me over the last twenty years, but then I feel bad for feeling that.  I’m hopefully speaking to my rabbi mentor on Sunday, but I’m not sure how much of this I will be able to bring up.

***

I just feel tired a lot of the time.  Physically tired and tired of life.  I’ve felt like this on and off for many years.  I just feel that my life is not good, that I don’t enjoy it or have meaning or purpose, or feel that I’m doing anything useful with it.  I feel I have no reason to want to stay alive.

I feel confused too.  I don’t know where my life is going.  I have ideas for what I could do, but I don’t know how feasible they are or whether I would actually enjoy them.  The world frightens me, both on a personal level and, increasingly, on a social/political level.  This doesn’t feel like my world, but I don’t think it ever was.  I don’t know what’s going to happen with me and E. and I’m not sure I really know what I want to happen or what would be sensible.  To be honest, I don’t know what I feel about HaShem (God) either.  It’s easy to say that I hate Him and am angry with Him, but I’m not sure that that’s an accurate picture of what I feel, at least not all the time.  I don’t know if this is alexithymia (difficulty feeling and understanding emotions) again.  It’s hard to know what I feel about HaShem.  I feel strongly that He exists and is omniscient, omnipotent and benevolent.  I’m not doubting in that sense (and I have had times of doubt in the past, so I know what I’m talking about).  But I find it hard to believe that He cares about me and even think that He hates me, which I guess means that I think that I deserve to be hated.

I just wish I could sort out my life somehow, but I’m not sure what a ‘sorted out’ life would look like.

***

Just further to what I wrote here over the last few days, I did a tiny bit of reading on complex PTSD.  I did seem to have quite a few of the symptoms and certainly there was an ongoing situation in my childhood that seems to my unprofessional mind to be potentially traumatic, but in my mind I would not feel confident at all to say I’m a sufferer.  I suppose I feel that I have so many issues that have not been ‘officially’ diagnosed (autism being the big one, as I have had repeated and conflicting diagnoses, but also I was never officially diagnosed with OCD or social anxiety, even though both seem very likely) that I am wary of adding any others, especially as my therapist feels I have a tendency to want to be The Most Mentally Ill Person in the World.  So, I’ll probably shelve that for now, but it is at the back of my mind.

***

I just got back from shopping.  This led to several bad things: the realisation that even walking briskly for five or ten minutes exhausts me; the discovery that there is a supply problem with my antidepressants again, leading me to suspect that they are no longer being produced; and suicidal thoughts.  In just over a week, Jews all over the world are going to be literally praying for their lives, hoping for a good new year, a year of life, and part of me just wants to die.  I do not want to be here any more.  I feel that I’m a disappointment to everyone and that it would be no different if I was never born.  I’m just holding on because a few people care about me, which I don’t understand, but I don’t want to upset them, and because I’m a coward and scared of making a failed suicide attempt and ending up physically damaged, but still alive and depressed.  I don’t feel I have any real hope for the future.  I’ve been depressed for so long now, it’s impossible to believe things can get better.  In fact, I think things will probably get worse.  I just screw everything up.

People tell me I have to stop comparing myself to other people and to learn self-love, but no one tells me how to achieve these things.  I don’t feel I deserve to love myself, I don’t understand how other people could love me, I don’t believe that HaShem loves me and I don’t know how to love myself without becoming even more wicked than I already am, because I’ll just end up ignoring or justifying all the bad things I do.  I don’t know what the way forward from this is.

(I’m not sure how much of the last two paragraphs is true.  It feels true, but it also feels true that there’s part of me that doesn’t want to die, although it’s pretty confused about why, as it’s not much more hopeful for the future.)

Missing a Plan

I was expecting to be burnt out and oversleep after volunteering yesterday, so I was surprised to wake up and get up before 9.30am.  However,  I turned out to be exhausted in a more subtle way.  I was OK doing basic tasks, but tasks requiring brainpower or needing to force my way through poor motivation (such as applying for jobs I don’t want and don’t think I could get e.g. today’s application for a law librarian post that said that experience of a law firm was essential, which I don’t have) were much harder and I even went back to bed for a bit after lunch.  It’s hard to sound enthusiastic about such jobs.  I did manage to fill in a job application, but as I had to do little for this one other than make slight changes to my CV and template cover letter (I wish all applications were so easy), it doesn’t feel a great achievement – it probably only took me about an hour when I’m aiming to do three hours of ‘work’ on job hunting a day.  Still, I had to save some energy for shopping and cooking as my parents are away.

I was going to post this as a comment on this blog post, but I decided I was drama queening again and only posted a shorter comment, so here is the longer version: I haven’t done a cheshbon nafesh (self-appraisal) yet this year and it’s looking like I might not do one for the first time in twelve years or more.  I failed miserably at last year’s targets.  I’m dreading Yom Tov (Jewish festivals) and I’m not sure how much time I’m going to be in shul (synagogue) for due to depression, social anxiety.

More to the point, I feel really angry with HaShem (God) for the way my life has gone.  I acknowledge that I’ve made some bad choices, but mostly I feel I was set up to fail and even a highly competent person (which I am not) would not succeed with the mental health and other issues I’ve been given from childhood onwards.  I have no simcha shel mitzvah (joy in performing the commandments) and have realised I never really have had any.  I’ve asked rabbis about this and been told that I won’t have any until I’m not depressed (which is scary as I don’t think I’m ever not going to be depressed) or that I should be able to get a bit (which just makes me feel a terrible person for not having any as if I’m deliberately stopping myself enjoying my religious life). I feel like I can’t actually do this any more without getting something back from it, selfish and wicked though that is i.e. I know I should be frum (religious) lishmah (for its own sake), but I’m just not that good a Jew.  I don’t think that most frum people are doing what they do 100% lishmah and not because they enjoy or get satisfaction from Shabbat, Torah study, davening (prayer) etc. at least a bit of the time.  Halakhically, there is nothing wrong with enjoying one’s religious life, quite the reverse.

I don’t feel particularly accepted in the frum world and part of me wonders if I really do want to be accepted there.  So, at the moment I’m basically sulking in my room (having left my job recently) and I worry that I’m going to do that over Yom Tov as well and just not go to shul.  I ask myself why should I apologise to HaShem when surely He has plenty to apologise to me for (making me depressed and lonely all my adult life for starters).  I feel like He hates me and spends all His time trying to make me miserable and I don’t know why.  I feel bad just thinking that let alone typing it, and I wasn’t really conscious of it until I wrote it just now, but I think it’s true (I mean, it’s true that I feel He should apologise, not that I think that an objective observer would say He should apologise. I haven’t gone that far yet).  It’s hard to do a realistic cheshbon nafesh coming from this place, where at least part of me feels unable to take responsibility for my actions, rightly or wrongly.  I know I recently quoted Rabbi Lord Sacks as saying that we can see ourselves as victims or we can take responsibility for our lives and he made it very clear that the latter is better, but I genuinely do not know how I can honestly take responsibility for things that seem to have been largely out of my control.  Nor do I feel able to make positive changes to my life.  I feel zero motivation to actually do mitzvot, except that I know I’ll be hit by guilt if I skip anything or do sins.

An analogy: I’ve put on a lot of weight since being put on clomipramine and it doesn’t seem to bear much relation to what I’m eating.  I’ve tried cutting back, but when I’m this anhedonic (unable to feel pleasure) it’s difficult to stop doing one of the few things I enjoy, to the point where it’s hard to care about my weight or health sometimes.  I haven’t gone completely over-the-top in eating, but I just ate a load of corn chips as a mid-afternoon snack more because it was too hard to resist rather than from real desire and that isn’t something I would have done in the past.  Likewise with my religious life, it’s getting harder and harder to motivate myself to follow those 613 dos and don’ts.  Concentrating on reward and punishment or the meaning of life and Jewish history or what HaShem wants from me is difficult when concentrating on anything is hard and it feels like HaShem is trying to hurt me.   It just seems so pointless to expend so much effort on a religion that I’m not good at and which gives me no satisfaction, joy, sense of community, meaning or purpose.

Rationally, cognitively, intellectually, theologically – whatever you want to call it – when I’m using my intellect, I don’t think that HaShem really hates me.  I’m not sure that He really hates anyone.  But I feel emotionally that He hates me, because He hurts me so much.  I know I’m supposed to assume it will be for the best in the end, but it’s hard to accept that anything good can come of this, particularly as my low self-esteem means I don’t think I’m getting any reward in the next world for everything I’ve suffered here.  Even when I say HaShem doesn’t hate anyone, part of me feels I should make an exception for very evil people like Hitler and then I’m off wondering if maybe I’m that evil.

Coming up to Rosh Hashanah without having done that cheshbon nafesh, I do feel that my life lacks focus and drive.  I’ve never really found my mission in life, the thing that is uniquely me, that I can do indefinitely without becoming depleted and that would make a positive difference to the world.  I thought it might be librarianship for a while, but now that looks unlikely.  Perhaps because of that lack of focus and joy, my relationships (in the broadest sense) and my everyday Jewish practice have to bear a huge burden of providing meaning and satisfaction which perhaps they could never realistically bear.

Well, it took just eight hours for me to start having suicidal thoughts after my parents left on holiday.  I don’t feel seriously suicidal, inasmuch as it’s possible to have non-serious suicidal thoughts.  I just feel that I don’t want to be here and no one would be worse off if I wasn’t here.  The people from my Thursday night shiur (religious class) are having a collection for the assistant rabbi, who gives the shiur, as his wife just had a baby daughter.  This just reinforces my feeling that only people with spouses and children really count in the frum community, even though that isn’t the intention.  Also the suggested donation seemed quite a lot to me, given that I’m unemployed, but I don’t like to ask for special treatment or for financial help from my parents, although I’m sure I would get either if I asked.  I have got an invitation for dinner on second day Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year) today, so I’m not feeling totally unwanted, but I do feel on the fringes of the frum community right now.

I feel that there must be some secret to being frum that I’m missing.  I’ve seen people I was at school with who were perhaps not the cleverest or the most academic or the most well-behaved students suddenly become super-frum and, in some cases, get smichah (rabbinic ordination) and I wish I knew what the secret was.  It seems like I was academic and well-behaved enough for me to get on well in the frum world, but somehow it hasn’t worked out like that.  My inability to study Talmud, or even to really want to study it, is a massive liability in a community built around Talmudic study (at least for men) and my social anxiety makes community life in general and daily communal prayer difficult.  And then of course there’s the way that my mental health issues and my ‘weirdness’/geekiness/possible autism make me feel alone and uncomfortable around most frum people and make it hard for me to date, even though marriage is, if not the passport into the frum community, then at least the proof that you are a mature and responsible adult (even if you’re only nineteen).