I’m having some trouble with OCD thoughts again, albeit on a very small scale at the moment.  I’m not sure where this has come from.  I can identify the immediate trigger, but I’m not sure why I’m back in OCD thought-territory when I thought I was doing so well in recovery.  I hope it’s just the stress of being ill and preparing to go on a trip that I’m anxious about after a month continually interrupted by Jewish festivals.  I’m trying to stay on top of the thoughts, but it’s hard.


I’m struggling a lot with procrastination over packing today.  I did pack, but slowly and it’s fairly clear to me it’s because I really don’t want to go on this trip, but it’s too late to back out now.  Shabbat (the Sabbath) and all the bar mitzvah stuff is likely to be tough on me and I just have to do the best I can and hope no one gets angry or upset if “the best I can do” doesn’t correspond to “what others want/expect me to do.”  I can’t get hold of my rabbi mentor to meet him while I’m there either, which is upsetting.  I go to Israel every few years and always meet with him, but this time it looks like it’s not going to happen.  I’m actually worried more than anything else, as he’s not usually this hard to get hold of.  I hope he’s OK.

After Shabbat, hopefully things will be a bit easier.  We’re in a hotel tomorrow night and some kind of youth hostel (??? it has not entirely been made clear to me, but I think my aunt and uncle are renting a youth hostel to put 75 or so people in it) for Shabbat, but then from Sunday onwards we’ll be renting an apartment and if the worse comes to the worse, I can spend the morning or even the day there while my parents go off and do tourist stuff.  I’ve got books, and the latest Doctor Who Magazine had a special promotion of eleven hour-plus long Doctor Who audiobooks that I downloaded, so I can be occupied.  It will be a bit of a waste, but at least I would have done the important family bit.  Unfortunately, I can’t always read much when I feel depressed, and reading a non-fiction popular science book may have been a strategic error, although I’m taking a short story collection and a novel as backup.  The flight may be hard.  Fortunately I’ve charged my iPod.  I wish the latest copy of The Jewish Review of Books had arrived as it should have done (I need to chase that when I get home).


I finally started reading the latest issue of Information Professional, the magazine of the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals (CILIP).  They send me this each month because I’m a member of CILIP (mostly to access their job vacancy listings) and I hate it.  The magazine just makes me feel so inadequate.  It’s full of librarians who are doing amazing, creative things with their libraries or who are doing lots of CPD (Continuing Professional Development) and becoming Chartered Librarians or whatever.  I don’t do CPD.  It’s hard enough for me to do a job, or look for a job, with all my issues without having to do unpaid extra work in my free time, just in order to keep up with a changing workplace.  I know this is the reality of the modern labour market, but I simply can’t keep up with the kind of CPD that my peers from university seem to be doing to stay in their well-paid, middle class, professional jobs.  Likewise, I can’t come up with amazing projects in my library (even if I had one), like the article I was reading today about a prison librarian who started a film club that became a massive successful project a famous actor and director getting involved.  That’s just not how my mind works.


(The next few paragraphs are a bit of a rant, so if you aren’t interested in politics, or rather with people who are fed up with politics, you might want to scroll down beyond the next row of asterisks.)

One advantage of going away is avoiding general election commentary for a week.  There will be enough of that when I get back.  Sometimes a political party does something that makes you think, “I could never vote for them ever again, or at least not without a fundamental change of personnel and ideology.”  The things is… all the parties have crossed that line for me in the last few years.  What do I do?  Do I abstain?  Do I say I’m an anarchist and don’t believe in government and The System?  (I actually have a bit of an anarchist streak, but not enough to usually consider seriously acting on it.)  Do I swallow my pride and vote to stop the antisemitic party getting in?  It is hard to tell.  I spoiled my ballot at the EU elections earlier this year, but I’m wary of doing that and handing Jeremy Corbyn a victory.

I was brought up to believe that I should always vote for someone, because people died to win me the vote (a somewhat specious argument; as Oscar Wilde pointed out in The Portrait of Mr. W.H., the fact that someone was willing to die for an idea does not, in itself, prove that it was a good idea).  But the last ten years or so have shown how little influence most people have on politics.  Your vote might bring to power people who share your ideas, but it’s just as likely to bring in a coalition (literally or figuratively) who do a little bit of what you want and a whole load of what you don’t want.  Even Brexit, formulated as an ‘in or out’ question looks like ending up as a compromise Brexit that annoys Remainers by formally leaving the EU without pleasing Brexiteers by staying in line with a lot of EU legislation like employment and environmental law.  That’s without the feeling many people have that MPs see themselves and not the voters as the ‘adults in the room,’ and place their own consciences ahead of what the public voted for.  This is possibly the right thing to do morally, but surely requiring more discussion before becoming part of our constitution.

Much of the problem is that we seem to be moving from a political system dominated by two parties with clear winners and one party in power at any time (like the USA) to a system with multiple parties of varying sizes, no clear winners and coalition governments (like much of Europe) so it could be that with time this will seem less frightening and we will find ways to make our voices heard (or just lapse into chaos like Italy).  It’s true that Brexit has been damaging and difficult precisely because the views of most MPs, of all parties, were so out of sync with a dangerously slender majority of the public, making clear decisions difficult and it could be that with Brexit dealt with (hopefully, one day, maybe) the political wounds will heal.  Who knows?  I just know I’m not the only person in the country, or the world, feeling politically powerless and unwilling to engage in the toxic debate that engulfs just about every opinion these days.  It’s much easier, and better for my mental health, to leave the big political questions to my supposed “betters,” the people who care about this stuff and want to argue it, and just focus on my own life, the bits I can actually affect and change.

In Britain we have a tradition of joke candidates.  In the 2017 general election, Lord Buckethead stood against then-Prime Minister Theresa May, just as he had stood against previous Conservative Prime Ministers Margaret Thatcher and John Major (albeit with different people inside the helmet each time).  Also standing against May was a man dressed as Elmo from Sesame Street, who I thought was a joke candidate, but was actually campaigning for child access rights for divorced fathers.  He got three votes, rather less than Lord Buckethead.

It did make me think that an official Muppet campaign could solve my political woes.  Who wouldn’t vote for the Muppet Party?  Their slogan could be, “Tired of useless muppets running the country?  Vote for the real Muppets.”  The Count from Sesame Street could be Chancellor of the Exchequer.  “I’m raising income tax 1%… 2%… 3%…”  Kermit the Frog could be Environment Secretary.  He could sing It’s Not Easy Being Green with Greta Thunberg.  The Cookie Monster could be Health Secretary.  He would make sure everyone has their five-a-day: chocolate chip cookie, digestive, garibaldi, bourbon, shortbread.  Fozzie Bear could be Foreign Secretary.  He could defuse volatile conflicts with bad jokes.  The Prime Minister would have to be someone with immense charisma and boundless self-confidence.  There’s only one possibility there: Miss Piggy.  If Donald Trump tries anything, she can karate chop him!  Kiii-yyaaaa!!!!!


Sigh.  My life still seems so unfocused and drifting, but sometimes – sometimes – it feels like things are moving forward or falling into place, just really, really, really slowly.  It’s like there are two big dramas, the one out there of Brexit and Trump and the economy and the Middle East and identity politics and a million other things and all the shouting and screaming and ranting that goes with all those things.  And then there’s the drama in here, in my head of me trying to sort out depression and OCD and social anxiety and autism and making friends and finding a religious community and sorting out my feelings for E. and a number of other things that I don’t talk about here.  And I can’t really do anything about the out there drama and I don’t really want to any more.  But the in here drama is maybe, possibly, slowly shifting, but it’s far too early to say where or how it’s shifting or what I can do to help it along.  It’s just frustrating that the out there drama tends to get in the way of the in here drama and trying to work that out.

Earlier today I thought I should be back in therapy, but now I don’t think that’s true.  I think I might have to go back to therapy one day, but for now there isn’t anything my therapist could tell me that I don’t already now.  I need to work things through somehow.  The only way I know to do that is writing, here and in the novel I’m working on.  Even that’s not a cure, but a catalyst for different thinking.  Maybe.  To be honest, I’m really not sure about this bit.  Writing has been disrupted a lot recently, by Yom Tov (Jewish festivals) and my cold and now my trip. Hopefully I can set aside some significant amount of time for writing my novel when I get back and we’ll see where that takes me.

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.

Alarums and Excursions

Well, one little excursion and a couple of small “alarum” bells.

I had a meeting with a charity that helps people with mental health issues into work.  I was referred to them by my NHS CBT therapist.  Most of the session was spent on form-filling and taking details, so I’m still not entirely sure how they can help me.  I’m going again in two weeks time and hopefully will get a clearer idea of what they can offer me.  I was offered help with job hunting motivation, which might be helpful, as I’m not feeling very motivated at the moment, but the sessions were on Friday afternoons, which is not good now that the clocks have gone back and Shabbat starts very early.

I had some communication issues there which may have been autism-related.  There are some questions that people ask me a lot about libraries that I do struggle to answer well.  This becomes a problem when I struggle to explain the type of work I want to do and the type of work environment I want to work in, as people are often unclear as to what librarians actually do these days.  I did at least manage to explain why librarian skills are not easily transferable to working in a bookshop (not the first time that one has come up).  I don’t know how much of this communication problem was autism making me struggle to communicate, particularly in a noisy, open-plan space, and how much was me struggling to understand the other person’s accent (which would also not have been made easier by noise and autistic issues).

The other things I did today were a bit of shopping, Skyping E. for about an hour (which was good) and thirty or forty minutes of Torah study.  I feel frustrated that I didn’t achieve much, but I don’t really have much energy at the moment between my cold (which is lingering and turning into a cough), depression (which I’m guessing is lurking in the background even though it’s been displaced from consciousness by physical illness) and the onset of winter, which tends to make me want to hibernate.  I have the type of depression that makes me want to hibernate generally, just to eat stodgy food and sleep and watch DVDs (OK, so bears don’t actually watch DVDs when they hibernate…), so winter just makes things worse.  I did want to watch some TV today, but ended up online and also doing more Torah study than I expected to do, which was good.


I mostly keep my religious OCD under control, but sometimes it threatens to flare up.  The OCD mostly focused on the Jewish dietary laws, particularly those requiring separation of meat and dairy products and utensils.  Usually these days I can spot what’s a real issue and what’s OCD, but today there was something I thought was probably OK, but wasn’t sure about.  It became a kind of meta-OCD question, where I moved from being anxious about whether the utensil in question was OK to being anxious whether I should ask the question or if that was giving in to the OCD.  It’s a problem, as giving in to the OCD fuels it, making it harder to resist next time.  In the end I did ask the question, but I am not sure that I did the right thing.  I haven’t heard back yet.


My Mum chased my autism referral as we were worried that it has been ten months since I was referred and I have not heard a date for my assessment yet.  The reply was that it takes twelve to eighteen months from the referral date, which was 18 January 2019, so we’re looking at an assessment sometime in the first half of 2020 which is a lot later than we were expecting (we were told eight months to a year and we thought the referral went through earlier, so we were expecting any time from September just gone to the end of this year).

I’m more realistic about the limitations of a publicly-funded health service than many people are, so I’m not furious about it being so late, although it is frustrating when my life feels on hold and I’m not sure how to understand my sense of identity, but I do wonder why they can’t be clearer about when it will be.  If X is a finite and known number of people in front of me in the queue, and if the Maudsley Hospital can do Y number of assessments a day, then X ÷ Y = Z, the number of working days until my assessment.  Call it the provisional date in case you want to cover sickness, unexpected emergencies etc.  It is possible that assessments are not on a first in, first out, basis but are triaged (I think this is the case, thinking about it), so the date would be approximate, but it would be something.  It would be good to know whether we’re talking January 2020 or June 2020.

My Mum has apparently gone with the triage option too, as she just sent an email asking for me to be seen ASAP, given my depression and the way that the uncertainty is making me more anxious and depressed.  It is true that I feel a lot of uncertainty, both over what I can do with my life and what it means for me if I’m on the spectrum and, especially, what it means if I’m not on the spectrum.  I’ve become convinced that I am on the spectrum, but given the whole story of my previous assessments, sometimes I worry that I’m not on the spectrum and I feel that if I’m not then I’m just a useless person who has totally failed at building a career and building relationships and friendships.


More books: I popped into a charity shop on the way home to look at their books and DVDs.  I do this sometimes to de-stress, as browsing through books calms me.  I thought of buying The Plot Against America by Philip Roth, which is a book I’ve wanted to read for a while and I could afford to pay £1 for it, but I have become worried about my habit of buying books faster than I can read them (usually second-hand and cheaply, as in this case, but it still seems a waste), and I feel the cumulative effect of my impulse/bargain purchasing does could add up while I’m unemployed.  Maybe that’s not such a worry as I once estimated my book spending amounted to about £1 a week, which isn’t much, but I feel I shouldn’t really be buying anything inessential at the moment.  I also thought the book would be a difficult, heavy, depressing read as it’s an alternate history story where Franklin Roosevelt is defeated in the US presidential election by Charles Lindburgh, the latter standing on an antisemitic, pro-Nazi, isolationist platform.  I was going to write a satirical joke here about the book and contemporary politics, but actually it’s all too depressing to joke about it.

Slightly Rambling Thoughts

I struggled with insomnia and early waking because of my cold.  I was feeling quite congested.  I got about six hours of sleep, which was reasonable.  I feel better than yesterday, but still unwell: I feel alternately hot and cold and am still congested and just feel tired.  I did get dressed, though, which I didn’t manage yesterday.

I told E. that when I feel physically ill, it somehow drowns out negative emotions.  Which is a somewhat scary thing to admit to and I guess explains why I’ve self-harmed when feeling very strong negative emotions, although I think it’s only a partial explanation (and I haven’t self-harmed for quite a long time).

Otherwise I haven’t done much today, which is perhaps unsurprising as I still feel quite ill physically and it’s hard to concentrate for long or to get the energy to do things.  I wrote a long email to E. and did half an hour of Torah study, but that was about it, aside from a couple of emails, one to family regarding the bar mitzvah and the other trying to get hold of my rabbi mentor to see if we can meet next week.  I’m slightly worried that he’s been hard to get hold of lately: worried that I won’t be able to see him and worried that something is wrong.


I finished watching The Vietnam War documentary I’ve been watching for the last month or more.  I discovered the version shown on the BBC in the UK was actually only half as long as the version broadcast on American PBS television.  I don’t think I could cope with that version, nine hours (ten fifty-five minute episodes) was emotional enough.  I did like that they took the story up to the present day with material about reconciliation and how the interviewees have coped since the war (the interviewees were deliberately ‘ordinary’ G.I.s and Vietnamese soldiers and civilians; they didn’t interview surviving high-profile decision makers like Henry Kissinger).

It left me subdued and wondering all the more about serious political issues: populism and elites, Brexit, Trump, the Middle East…  thoughts also fuelled by the Sunday papers and spending too long reading online.  I don’t have any solutions or really any profound thoughts except to share a feeling that things could get worse, but probably not in the way people are expecting them to get worse, if only because that’s what usually happens.  I suppose I value dialogue and empathy more than ‘no platforming’ and competitive victimhood (see this article about a leading white supremacist who renounced his beliefs as a result of being invited to a Shabbat dinner).

I want to say more, but I’m not sure I could put my feelings into words and I fear saying something that will antagonise or upset someone in a offense-taking society – not that I fear my readers are quick to take offence, but I find it’s easiest just not to talk politics with anyone.  I’d actually far sooner talk religion, not that I’m especially anxious to do that.

I do have this weird comparison table in my head with politics and religion, where both are basically untestable belief systems resting ultimately on personal faith and stemming largely from the values you were brought up with, tempered with experience.  Both can lead to unrealistic idealism, tribalism, violence and extremism; on a more moderate level, both can inspire people to become crushing monotonous bores.  Both have led to the production of much art, both good, bad and mediocre; and both can start an argument in an empty room.  Yet religion is tolerated at best in intellectual Western society and seen as fundamentally irrational while politics is seen as normal, rational and meaningful and absolutely unquestionable.  I find that odd.


Choices, choices.  I need to choose what book to read now, and what book to take with on holiday as a spare in case I finish the first one (alongside religious reading. I always take a lot of books on holiday.  As I’ve said before, my books and DVDs are my friends as much as entertainment or learning resources).  I’ve narrowed the very large field to three: The Father-Thing, the third volume of the complete short stories of Philip K. Dick; Wonderful Life, a book on natural history (the Burgess Shale fossils) by Stephen Jay Gould; and A Perfect Spy, John le Carré’s semi-autobiographical bildungsroman/thriller hybrid that I read nearly twenty years ago and feel is worth re-reading now I’m old enough to have actually experienced some of the feelings the main character has experienced (I mean friendship, love and betrayal, not being a secret agent).  I feel like reading le Carré, but I haven’t got the time to re-read all the George Smiley books again and this is one of the few non-Smiley books he’s written that I read and actually like; I’m not feeling brave enough to chance one I haven’t read.

One fiction (unread), one non-fiction (unread), one fiction (read).  Put like that, le Carré will probably go back on the backburner and I’ll take Dick and Gould.  I’m still not sure which to read first though.  Strangely, the Gould seems less intimidating and I am trying to alternate fiction and non-fiction which would push it to the front.  As the Dick is short stories, I could feasibly read both at the same time if necessary, although I try not to have too many recreational reading books on the go at once (unlike religious books where I read lots, for various reasons).

It does occur to me that if I had a life, I wouldn’t spend so much time focused on what I read and watch (and think and feel).  That is perhaps an uncharitable thought, but not necessarily untrue.


I’m not feeling well enough to do anything other than flop in front of the television this evening.  Despite all the stuff I was thinking of watching yesterday, last night I had a hankering to watch a particular Doctor Who story (Horror of Fang Rock), based on the tribute articles in the latest Doctor Who Magazine issue to it’s author, Terrance Dicks, who died recently.  Dicks is a special figure to many Doctor Who fans, myself included.  Not only was he a prolific writer and script editor for the series, he also novelised more than sixty stories from the original run of the show and for many children, myself included, these novels were a way of re-experiencing favourite stories when the originals were unavailable, initially because this was domestic video players came out, but later in my case because as a child my pocket money didn’t stretch to videos, but the school and public libraries had loads of the novels.

I was an avid reader even before I found the Doctor Who novelisations, so I can’t quite say the way many fans can that Terrance Dicks taught me to read, but he was a big part of my childhood.  Horror of Fang Rock isn’t my absolute favourite of the stories he wrote, but it is probably the best-written, an expertly constructed story blending character drama in a period setting with science fiction and family-friendly horror.  So that’s my evening!

The Dreaded Lurgy

I started writing a post yesterday, but abandoned it due to lack of time and feeling under the weather.  I possibly had some ideas worth returning to at some point.  I did some work on my novel (possibly finishing the first draft of the first chapter, but I’m not sure at this stage), but I went to shul (synagogue) in the evening feeling exhausted and looking forward to a restful Shabbat (Sabbath).

Unfortunately, by dinner time it was clear that I was coming down with a bad cold and I’ve spent most of the last day sneezing, struggling to breathe, feeling alternately hot and cold and get dizzy if I stand up for long.  I did a little bit of davening (prayer) and Torah, but somehow it’s easier to give myself time off for physical illness than mental illness, I don’t know why.  I spent the day in pyjamas, struggling to sleep or falling to sleep at the wrong time.  No volunteering for me tomorrow; I don’t want to infect the children.

I read an Agatha Christie novel, Sparkling Cyanide.  I knew I’d read it years ago, as I’ve read all the Christie novels I own, but couldn’t remember anything about it.  Of course, by the time I was thirty pages in, I could remember whodunit and most of the red herrings, but I stuck with it as I don’t like abandoning books mid-way and it was probably the sort of thing I needed to read.  Colonel Race is a forgettable detective compared to Poirot and Miss Marple, though.  Not sure what to read next, particularly as anything I start reading now has to be light enough (in both senses of the term) to read while ill and also to take on holiday.  I’m also not sure what TV to watch tonight.  Doctor Who would be the usual comfort viewing, but I feel like I’ve watched the original series a lot and the new series isn’t so comforting for me, for various reasons.  So, probably the last two episodes of The IT Crowd and/or The Avengers or maybe Star Trek: The Next Generation.

Family Values

I had a number of responses to my previous post, on the blog and via email.  I feel bad that I went into autistic ‘black and white thinking’ more, as I often do when people give me advice, and felt that it didn’t help.  The reality is that after I’ve had time to process it, I’m more able to decide what might help me now, what might help me down the line and what isn’t relevant to my situation, but I feel bad that I come across as too negative.

I’m also thinking that I should make more of an effort to get to depression group, which I haven’t done since it switched location to a less convenient site.  But it would be good to speak to people about depression again.  Unfortunately I can’t get to next week’s meeting.


Today was a slow day with depression and exhaustion.  I’m still recuperating from the Jewish festivals.  I did some chores and I worked on my novel a little today, writing for about an hour and a quarter in three small chunks as I couldn’t get a continuous period of time to work on it.  I wrote over a thousand words and dealt with a passage that was quite emotional for me, tapping in to difficult emotions that I’ve experienced in the past.  I’m not sure if writing is really therapy per se, but it does bring up difficult emotions, which may or may not be good.

I really should (that word again) go back to job hunting, but I couldn’t face it.  (I should be exercising too.)  I look at job listings and think, “I can’t do that.”  Now I wonder if that is also black and white thinking.  However, I had another job rejection today without even getting to the interview stage, so maybe I have the wrong skills and experience.  I’m volunteering again on Sunday, assuming I feel well enough, so I’ll try to gauge how comfortable I feel with the children there and how they seem with me, to help me think about working in a school, although I don’t feel very hopeful about it.


It’s weird how autism and depression symptoms can vary depending on how I’m feeling generally, and the way they interact.  When I was a child, I was sensitive to the feel of some fabrics.  In particular, I found wool and woolly clothes prickly and uncomfortable.  Over the years I’ve become more tolerant of them.  However, today I was wearing a sweatshirt, not even wool (it’s acrylic), but it felt so prickly and uncomfortable that I had to take it off, even though it hasn’t been uncomfortable in the past.  It seems likely that that is because I’m feeling very depressed and exhausted today and that reduces my ability to tolerate other symptoms of my conditions.


Shiur (religious class) tonight was good, but I did feel overwhelmed at the start by the sheer number of people (eleven) in a small room.  This may have contributed to eating more than I wanted to do, I’m not sure.

The key part of the shiur that I took home with me was the idea that we should not think of our yetzer hara (difficult to translate, but a person’s negative desires or an anthropomorphised version of their temptations) as being ourselves, in the sense of our actual identity.  In other words, you should not think “I’m a really angry person” even if you have anger issues.  I’m not sure that I’m explaining this well.  It did make me think about the discussion in the online mental health community about you not being your mental illness.  I’m not quite sure if this was what the rabbi had in mind, but it did make me feel that I possibly do over-identify with my yetzer hara and I probably do over-identify with my ‘issues’ in the sense of telling myself, “Oh, I can’t do X because I’m autistic” or “I’m useless at Y because I have depression.”

There was some debate after the shiur was formally over which I stayed for.  I felt a bit awkward, as I couldn’t really follow the cut and thrust of the debate and I suspect I would have done before I was depressed.  I was also too wary to mention the parallel with mental illness that I referred to above, even though I’ve told two of the people there that I suffer from depression and one of the others is a doctor.


Today’s anxiety: next week is my cousin’s bar mitzvah in Israel.  I’m already nervous for several reasons.  I always get nervous going to Israel, partly because I’m afraid of terrorism (although I’m not convinced that London is much safer these days), partly because of being in a country where I am not fluent in the language.  My Hebrew is probably better than I give myself credit for (even if I do mess up the verb conjugations), but I don’t really have confidence in speaking Hebrew.

Perhaps the biggest anxiety (aside from travelling around the country by myself to see my rabbi mentor, although that may not happen anyway as I can’t get hold of him) is the Shabbat (Sabbath) itself.  There will be something like seventy-five or a hundred people coming, to a youth hostel or kibbutz (I’m not sure which) that my uncle and aunt are hiring for Shabbat.  There will be big meals and, of course, my cousin (let’s call him C5 as he is the fifth of five siblings) will lein (chant from the Torah) in shul on Shabbat morning.

My worries are that it can be difficult to (for many people, not just me) to be with extended family for long periods because of personality clash (even if no one argues with me, if there is a family argument, as happens in many families, it will upset me) and that big, crowded events are not easy with depression, social anxiety and autism.  I was also asked to lead bentsching (grace after meals), singing in Hebrew, which worries me in case I shake.  Hebrew and singing are OK here as I’ve probably sung bentsching thousands of times in my life and, except for one little bit, everyone will join in anyway.  However, I was also offered the chance to make kiddush (the blessing over wine at the start of dinner and lunch on Shabbat), but I turned it down because I worried I would shake and spill the wine.  I’m worried that I’ll be so exhausted after Friday night that I’ll be too exhausted to get to shul for my cousin on Saturday morning; I might even be too tired to make it to lunch on time.

I thought all of that was enough to be worrying about, but apparently not.  My cousin’s grandfather (not the mutual grandfather, who is dead, the one on the other side of the family) has written a comic song about the family to be sung, or at least read, by the family at lunchtime.  To my surprise, my parents, sister and brother-in-law are going along with this.  I can not see myself doing this.  It’s alright for my uncle, aunt and cousins.  They’re mostly extroverts who thrive on being the centre of attention.  I really can’t see myself doing it.  But now I see myself as the only person not joining in.  I fear it will look bad, I’ll seem to be the spoilsport even before the effects of depression, social anxiety and autism kick in.  Plus, there’s always the feeling of, “I wish I could do that,” similar to what I feel when I see people lead services in shul, knowing that it is within the range of my Jewish knowledge and that I have done it in the past, but that it is beyond the range of my current confidence level.

It often happens that when I’m with extended family, there is an argument (either with me or that I witness) and I end up feeling, “What am I doing here?”  Feeling that I can’t cope, that no one in the family is on my wavelength, that I should just push myself harder to work through everything.  Sometimes depression, social anxiety and autism provides an excuse, sometimes it doesn’t.  When it was my other cousin’s (C4’s) bat mitzvah, I was supposed to go to be photographed with my family on the Sunday afterwards and I flat out refused because I was feeling so overwhelmed.  There wasn’t an argument, but my Mum really wanted me to go and was disappointed I didn’t.  I think I skipped the actual party too, but in that case the party for friends was separate from the small family meal on the Shabbat, so everyone felt that I’d gone to the main event.  Here there are two massive meals and I am very worried about getting through them.  I’m even worried if I made the right decision about bentsching.  I’ve got a week to think/worry about this…

Paging the Men in White Coats

My Mum has launched a new offensive in her attempts to try to find out when my autism assessment is going to be.  I don’t have the energy to do this, so I’m glad she is doing it, but I worry that we are getting caught up in NHS bureaucracy again.  The other day she was talking about trekking all the way to South London to go to the Maudsley Hospital, just to ask their receptionists when my appointment is, as they aren’t replying to emails or answering the phone.  I believe the Maudsley is the only NHS institution in the south of England that does autism assessments; there is a private clinic that does it, which we are investigating, but I vaguely recall looking into it years ago and that we would be talking thousands or even tens of thousands of pounds for a private assessment.

It would be good to know at least when the appointment is, if not to actually have it, as I do feel like my life has been on pause since last December when the charity Mencap did an informal autism screening for me which indicated that it was very likely that I’m on the spectrum after all (after having mixed messages from previous assessments and psychiatrists).  (Actually, my life was really on pause before then, since the job this time last year where I did very badly because of the noisy office atmosphere – that was when I became very clear in my mind that I’m on autism and have been misdiagnosed.)  Since then I’ve been wondering a lot about whether I’m in the right career, how I can fit into my community and what my life prospects are without really being sure what practical steps I can take to do anything about it or even knowing for sure where I fit in.

I have the fear hanging over me off being told I’m not autistic and trying to work out what that would mean, given my behaviour and ‘issues’ and how I would cope without any advice or further support.  By this stage, I feel there is something wrong with me more than “just” depression and social anxiety and autism seems the most likely candidate.  I’m not a psychiatrist, but I would be reluctant to take a negative diagnosis without some further explanation as to what is wrong with me.

Someone posted today on the autism WhatsApp group I’m on, saying they just got diagnosed today at the Maudsley Hospital.  I asked how long the process took; she said she couldn’t remember, but one to two years, mainly because her details kept getting sent to the wrong people (as a long-term NHS user, that doesn’t surprise me in the slightest).

People on the WhatsApp group were also talking about who they would tell about their diagnosis.  Very few people, was the answer.  This makes me feel bad that I want to tell lots of people, as a way of explaining away the fact that I feel my life has ended up as a failure compared with what might have been expected from someone who went to Oxford or someone who identifies strongly in the Orthodox Jewish community.  I probably have been using autism as a crutch for my low self-esteem, to explain my failures to myself, if no one else.  I don’t know how much of a bad thing that is.  When people say, “X is a crutch” they usually mean that’s a terrible thing and you shouldn’t need it, but I don’t know if that’s true.  Maybe you shouldn’t rely on it forever, but that doesn’t mean it’s not necessary at some point.  Would you take away the literal crutches of someone who had their leg amputated?


I wish I was still in therapy.  I have a lot of stuff that I want to talk about that I can’t mention here or to anyone else because it’s too embarrassing to me or is lashon hara (improper speech).  I’m wary of talking about other people too much here after losing friends over it.  I’m bottling things up inside of myself again which is never good, and it’s autumn, which is traditionally when my episodes of depression start or worsen.  I feel tired and run down and my eyes are itchy, which generally means I’m either coming down with a cold or I’ve been doing too much, despite feeling that I haven’t been doing very much at all objectively, but there it is.  I did do some shopping and wrote a devar Torah (Torah thought) for the first time in years, but I didn’t manage to go for a run or even a walk, nor did I feel up to working on my novel.


I’ve put on weight in recent years which is almost certainly a side-effect of clomipramine (as it started when I was put on it), but which is not good.  I’m overweight (although only slightly and I don’t really look particularly overweight).  I’m trying to cut back, but it’s really hard when I’ve had an awful depressing day and want to eat something small like a small piece of chocolate or a biscuit.  It’s hard to know where to draw the line.  I’ve tried asking my parents to put out less junk food on Shabbat to no avail.  At shiur it’s possibly got worse lately as the other people going to the shiur have started bringing even more food (which makes me feel bad, as when it’s my turn to bring, I can’t really afford to bring so much, being unemployed).

I don’t eat much junk food during the week, so little low hanging fruit to pick there, but I eat a little and could possibly cut to zero, frustrating though that would be on depressed days like today.  On Shabbat and Yom Tov (the Sabbath and festivals) I tend to over-eat.  I sometimes eat too much at shiur (religious class) too.  I’m not sure how much is boredom or anxiety (in social situations where there is food like shiur or kiddush), watching other people eat (particularly at shiur) or just the fact that junk food is out on Shabbat and Yom Tov in a way that it is not during the week in our house.  Maybe a mixture.  I also find it hard to draw the line with food that doesn’t come in discrete entities.  So I can eat just one biscuit or one slice of cake, but I find it harder to work out how many nuts, crisps, pretzels or chocolate nuts is sensible to eat.  Sometimes total abstinence seems easier than moderation (possibly autistic black and white thinking at work).

I’m trying to get more exercise, but that has been difficult with Yom Tov and now the days are getting shorter and the weather is getting colder and wetter, it’s not going to be easy to go out even without depression.


Well, now I feel too tired and depressed to read or write, but not tired enough to go bed.

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.

Jewish Existentialism (No, Don’t Run Away!)

I had a pretty typical Shabbat (Sabbath), except that a lot of it happened in the sukkah (thatched hut for the festival of Sukkot).  I got to shul (synagogue) last night and this morning (despite insomnia last night) as well as this afternoon.  I did get there late this morning as I went back to bed for a bit after breakfast, although as the service was very long maybe that was just as well.  My parents had a lot of friends over for kiddush (refreshments) in the sukkah after shul this morning, but I shluffed (napped) instead because I didn’t want to face twenty of my parents’ friends in a confined space.


Not a lot else happened.  I had some thoughts about not connecting with other Jews.  Some of it is being more modern or less mystical than others as I’ve said in the past.  But I think there is another difference of outlook.  A number of years ago I read a lot of Jewish religious existentialist writers (Orthodox and non-Orthodox, which admittedly is a hurdle for some people just to begin with).  Rebbe Nachman of Bratslav and the Kotzker Rebbe in the nineteenth century are sometimes identified as proto-existentialist, then twentieth century authors like Rav Soloveitchik, Emmanuel Levinas, Abraham Joshua Heschel, Emil Fackenheim, Franz Rosenzweig (I couldn’t understand a word he wrote, but his life is quite inspiring) and Martin Buber (I haven’t read his philosophy books, only his Hasidic anthologies).  Of living authors, it seems to me that Rabbi Lord Sacks has an religious existentialist bent, although I think he would probably rather not like the label.  I haven’t read these writers so much in the last few years (in large part due to trying to study more Talmud), but I’m still strongly influenced by them and think about them a lot.

I guess if I was to brainstorm words and phrases I would associate with Jewish religious existentialism it would include: faith and doubt; inner struggle; covenant; encounter; the Other; dialogue; existential loneliness; emotional intimacy; authenticity.  These are themes that come up a lot in this type of writing and they’re mostly ideas that matter a lot to me and which I think about a lot (a big part of my friendship with E. is how honest we are with each other, which I don’t really have with anyone else).  Stuff about confronting your inner self, encountering God, encountering other people and acknowledging their individuality, accepting doubt as a part of the religious experience and so on.  I guess these are big, difficult words for lots of people to deal with, particularly if they are used to a form of Judaism that ignores these topics.

There’s a famous endnote in Halakhic Man by Rav Soloveitchik (practically an essay in it’s own right, it goes on for about four pages) about how Judaism is not initially consoling and comforting, but is a long struggle with doubt, suffering and pain before you get to the consolation and I think a lot of people – good, religious people who are knowledgeable in Torah – would find that unacceptable or just unintelligible.  I think it speaks very much to a certain type of person with a certain type of life (Rav Soloveitchik had a difficult life as he came from a family of great Torah scholars, was recognised as an iluy (child prodigy) at a young age and only went to school for one year, being hot-housed by private tutors with little contact with children his own age, then breaking with family tradition by going to secular university in Berlin, while being different to many other students by maintaining Jewish practice all against the backdrop of the rise of Nazism; later on his father, brother and wife all died in the space of a month so you can see why he would become focused on struggle, suffering and existential loneliness.  Some of the other thinkers on my list have signs of clinical depression or bipolar disorder too).

So maybe that’s another reason why I feel out alone by myself.  It would suggest I really am a bit of an outlier.  I guess if I wanted to meet people who think the same way, the best way might be to watch for classes on any of the thinkers on my list above at the London School of Jewish Studies and go there.


I mentioned last week that I wanted to write a devar Torah (Torah thought) for my shul.  This would be something about 1,000 words long, with careful use to sources to avoid anything controversial and no chiddush (innovative interpretations) on my part.  The more I thought about it, the harder it seemed to accomplish it and I gave up.

Today I thought that I could at least try to get back to writing a devar Torah to relate to my parents on Shabbat on the parasha (weekly Torah reading).  Jews read through the whole of the Torah (in the narrow sense of the Five Books of Moses) every year and we’re just about to finish and restart the cycle, so it’s a good time to be thinking about this, especially as I just started reading Genesis: From Creation to Covenant (a Modern Orthodox book interpreting Genesis with traditional and literary critical methods of interpretation).  I actually have an idea for Shabbat Bereshit (next Saturday) already!  So this seems like a good idea.  I gave a devar Torah on every parasha for three or four years, usually my own chiddushim, until it became a struggle with depression.  Writing primarily for my parents allows me to use whatever sources I want and write my own opinions.

The more daring thought I had was whether I should share it with some friends from shul.  I mentioned recently that someone who attended my shul died a few weeks ago.  I’ve thought about him a bit because he wasn’t that much older than me and was one of very few other single people in my phase of life (let’s say over thirty and under fifty).  He had a WhatsApp group that many people from shul were on where he would post his divrei Torah each week and people were saying at the seudah (Shabbat meal) in his honour after his shloshim (month after death) that someone else should take over.  I don’t think I could cope with sending my ideas out to a large group, especially as I think he found ideas in classic sources rather than suggesting his own ideas, which is a somewhat scary thing in Orthodox world, but I’m tempted to email a couple of my friends with some of my divrei Torah and if it spreads, fine, and if it doesn’t spread, also fine.

I’m very undecided about the second bit, trying to send it to people in my community, but trying to get back into finding something new and interesting to say on the parasha each week might be a way to get me back into thinking creatively about Torah and engaging with it actively rather than passively as well as restoring some of my enthusiasm about Judaism.  Initially I’m just going to focus on writing something for my parents without sending it more widely (unless people want to see it here, but it’s not likely to be particularly mental health-focused), maybe sending to other people in a few weeks.


I feel I often post stuff here where I say, “I read X and it made me feel God hates me” or “I saw Y and it made me feel useless and stupid.”  I feel I should probably say that those things are more about me than the thing I read or saw.  I’m not sure that I always make that clear.  I think some people get angry on my behalf with whatever it is I read or saw, which is kind of you, but usually I know, on some level, that that isn’t what it’s saying and that I’m interpreting it wrongly.  I have a lot of self-hating mantras in my head that I start repeating to myself really easily on my blog.  Maybe I should try not to write things like that, or to make it more obvious that I’m aware I should challenge these thoughts.

Haveil Havelim

I was up late again and discovered I had a WhatsApp message from the rabbi asking me to come to Shacharit (Morning Service) on Hoshanah Rabbah (the seventh day of Sukkot, this Sunday).  I’m guessing he is worried we won’t get a minyan (prayer quorum) as we often struggle to get one on non-Shabbat/Yom Tov and some key minyan attendees are away.  I am also assuming that he messaged lots of people, not just me.  I hope he didn’t just message me.

I’ve only been to Shacharit on Hoshanah Rabbah once, when I was at university.  It’s a really long service with intense ritual (processing around the shul (synagogue) seven times with arbah minim and then beating willow branches).  Since then I haven’t managed to get up so early, plus I’ve been scared to go to a service I don’t really know my way around as usually I know what’s going on in shul.  The bottom line is that I’m unlikely to make it to Shacharit at 8.00am on a day sandwiched between two other days (Shabbat and Shmini Atzeret) that I would make more of an effort to go for.

It does make me wonder, though, if I should tell the rabbi about some of my issues.  Probably not just yet, but if he makes a habit of this, I might.


Rabbi Lord Sacks is still talking about Kohelet (Ecclesiastes).  He says that the individualism of Western society is leading to substance abuse, eating disorders, stress and mental illness, which may be true on a societal scale, but makes me feel guilty for being ill.  I probably am very self-centred, on some level at least.  The ‘mind-blindness’ aspect of autism can make it hard to work out what other people are thinking or what their needs are.  I don’t see myself as particularly consumerist or acquisitive and I try to give to others when I can, I just see myself as impaired in what I can do because of autistic empathy issues and low income.  I can’t find joy in the things Rabbi Sacks says Kohelet recommends: love/marriage, work, and living in the moment appreciating the simple things in life.  I don’t have a job or a relationship and my brain is often switched to ‘depressed’ even if I see a beautiful sunset or whatever.  I don’t blame Rabbi Sacks, because he is talking to a general audience, not the neurodivergent and the mentally ill, but it does make me feel a failure again and wonder if God hates me (if the Emeritus Chief Rabbi says I’m failing at life then presumably God agrees with him).

Whether I’m a product of a selfish, consumerist society or not, I feel very depressed today.  I had a religious/kashrut OCD worry that I sort of got under control, but now I’m caught between thinking it’s good that I controlled it and that it’s bad that it came up at all, plus I haven’t got it 100% under control.  (EDIT: actually, it’s not really under control. 😦  )

I don’t think I’m going to try to the rabbi’s oneg (Shabbat party thing) tonight.  I can’t face socialising, plus as I don’t drink, don’t know a lot of the tunes to the songs they sing and find the divrei Torah (Torah thoughts) at these things sometimes problematic and less than inspiring, the only thing there for me is the social aspect, which is often negated by social anxiety, and eating junk food, which I should really cut down on.  I think it’s going to be an effort just to get through Shabbat feeling like I do.

Square Peg, Meet Round Hole

I use this blog for daily private journaling as well as this public side.  The private journal is mostly just a list of things I did that day plus a note on how I felt and a link to that day’s public post, but yesterday I wrote a terse note about how I was interpreting my life: “Managed to do quite a lot, but frustrated that I couldn’t do more and that I procrastinated; this level of guilty may be unfair and counter-productive.” (Emphasis added.)  I know it doesn’t sound much, but it’s a big thing for me to note my guilt and suggest it might be misplaced.


I had a phone call with my CBT therapist.  It was just to check in and see that I haven’t relapsed in the three weeks since our last session so that she can discharge me.  My social anxiety is somewhat better, but my depression is worse.  She was somewhat concerned about this.  I wasn’t so worried, because I think my depression can’t be cured, only managed (although arguably at the moment I am not managing it well).  I think I’ve learnt some useful CBT tricks with this therapist for dealing with social anxiety and self-esteem, albeit that I still struggle in these areas.  However, the depression is bad, but I think it will always be bad, or at least much of the time.  Certainly CBT has not helped the depression much in the past and I would have mixed feelings about trying it again – it would feel like wasting everyone’s time and money, including my own.


I tried to start writing a devar Torah (Torah thought/essay), but rapidly realised that (a) the idea I was hoping to use wasn’t enough for a 1,000 word essay, (b) the idea had no particular point to it and (c) I would have to quote a Midrash from an unpublished manuscript quoted by Aviva Gottleib Zornberg and I wasn’t sure I could get away with unpublished manuscripts found by a modern, non-Haredi scholar (who also happens to be a woman, to make it more shocking).  Maybe one of those things, but not all three (manuscript; modern/non-Haredi; female).  The alternative is to write about the idea I wrote about yesterday, but I don’t know the original source for that idea and, again, I don’t think I could get away with quoting it in the name of a Modern Orthodox Rosh Yeshiva.  It’s a shame, as you could take the “children of Rachel = spirituality in physicality” idea and run with it looking at the way that the Yosef (Joseph) narrative in Bereshit (Genesis) mirrors Queen Esther’s story in Megillat Esther (Esther) – both Yosef and Mordechai (and presumably therefore Esther) were descendants of Rachel.  If you had room, you could then potentially talk about hester panim, the hiding of God’s presence in the latter story but not the former.

My life would be a lot easier and potentially happier if there was a more lively and engaged Modern Orthodoxy in this country in general and in my area in particular that I could engage with.


I do feel depressed today, partly because of the devar Torah disappointment, partly perhaps from finishing CBT and wondering if I should have tried to stay in therapy to work on the depression despite my reservations, or even just realising (again) that my depression is here to stay.  I’m also getting concerned that I still haven’t heard when my autism assessment is (I was referred in December with a waiting list of eight to twelve months).  My Mum emailed the hospital; no response.  The GP offered to check and I said yes; no response from the GP.  The charity that did my autism screening offered to check and I said yes; no response from the charity.  It’s getting a bit troubling.  I guess the wet, dark weather and the shrinking amount of daylight don’t help the depression either.


I spoke to my parents’ primary school teacher friend about volunteering as a Teaching Assistant.  Actually, my Mum spoke, as I was in full autistic ‘this is big and scary and is an implicit open question and I don’t know how to approach it’ lack of executive function mode.  She said she could probably get me voluntary TA work at the primary school she works in either a secular or limmudei kodesh (Jewish Studies) classes, but there is quite a long commute on the bus.  She thought she might be able to get me into a local Jewish primary school too, which would be better from a commute point of view, but she doesn’t know the school now it’s a state school run by a private company (rather than the state itself).

I’m terrified by the whole idea of working with children.  I really don’t know why so many people think I’m good with young children.  On the other hand, librarianship is not working for me at all, and if I do manage to make a career as a writer, it isn’t going to happen for a long time and I need to earn money in the meantime which means working in another sector, even if I volunteer to try that sector out first.  The fact that so many people (critical people, to be honest) have said I’m good with children must count for something, but, talking to my parents’ friend, I was just feeling that this is going to be yet another thing that I fail at.  By the end of the conversation (only a couple of minutes) I was feeling completely overwhelmed and worried that I was about to burst into tears.


I went to my Thursday shiur (religious class).  I feel very out of place now, but I don’t want to attract attention – and potentially discussion of my beliefs – by not going.  The hashkafa (religious philosophy) of the rabbi doesn’t really align with mine.  I don’t know why I used to tolerate that, but find it harder now, maybe because now I feel that the community isn’t right for me, or that I have gone back to reading the Rationalist Judaism blog (although I have big problems with that too).  It’s quite kabbalistic (mystical).  I feel like I’m hiding myself there.  Perhaps it wouldn’t be so bad if I did manage to write that devar Torah, but…  Still, I want to write a novel one day (not the one I’ve already started) about mysticism, religious rationalism and religious existentialism in Judaism/the Jewish community, so I guess it counts as research on that.

On the way to shiur I listened to a five minute devar Torah from Rabbi Lord Sacks on Kohelet (Ecclesiastes) which is read on the Shabbat of SukkotKohelet is all about the futility of life and how to give it meaning.  Rabbi Lord Sacks says that Kohelet sees meaning in joy, specifically the joy of honest work, the joy of marriage and the joy of being grateful and living in the moment.  I don’t have the first two; I try to be grateful and live in the moment, but somehow I struggle with it and never get any actual joy out of it.  I don’t know what to do.  Based on what I’ve seen him write elsewhere, I suspect Rabbi Sacks would say I should stop seeking joy and just focus on other people and it will come naturally, but social anxiety makes it impossible for me to come into contact with other people without becoming hugely focused on myself.

Tomorrow the rabbi of my shul is hosting an oneg (a sort of Sabbath party with alcohol, junk food, singing and divrei Torah/Torah thoughts) in his sukkah.  I struggle with these things.  When I was new to my shul, I tried to go to a couple and ended up standing outside literally crying with social anxiety.  I think I would probably get in the door now I feel somewhat more at home in the community, or at least more familiar with it, but I feel I don’t enjoy these things the way I should and I’ve got less chance of getting to shul on Shabbat (Saturday) morning if I go to the oneg, so I should think strategically and stay away.  That would all argue against going, but I feel I should try to be a part of the community and maybe one day I’ll enjoy something like a normal person would…  Life is hard.


I feel like a square peg in a round hole.  Some of it is being ‘modern’ in a moderate Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) community, but I think it’s deeper than that.  I don’t fit anywhere; moreover, I have to admit that there’s a part of me that actively sabotages fitting in anywhere.  I honestly think that part of my problem is that a part of me wants not to fit in anywhere and finds reasons why I don’t fit in whatever the situation is.  Reasons that no one could accept me if they knew the ‘real’ me.  Reasons to withdraw and stay away.  Call it Groucho Marx Syndrome: “I don’t want to belong to any club that will accept me as a member.”  In my shul I feel too modern, but when I go to Modern Orthodox shiurim, I feel that people aren’t frum (religious) enough.  I am not naive and I can bring kashas (questions based on contradictions and logical flaws) on Jewish philosophy, but I can bring kashas on Enlightenment and postmodern thought too, so I’m staying Jewish and frum.  I don’t have wisdom or understand the meaning of life or how to live it.  I’m not sure that I can even describe myself as a seeker of meaning or wisdom (perhaps.  I hope so).  I don’t know what I am, really and I don’t know who can accept me.


It feels like it’s just been a pointless, wasted day that should have been a fun Chol HaMoed day if I was a “normal” person, which I’m not.  I really need a day of nothing to recover from all the Yom Tovim (festivals), but I have more Yom Tov coming next week and then job hunting and then a trip to Israel that I’m dreading, then more job hunting… I just got an email for a training day for people considering changing career that I should (that word again) go to, but I can’t face it.  I wish I could access the hidden positive feelings I recently said I must have about God and Torah and Judaism, because right now they would be very useful, but they’re very hidden.  I try to connect, but I can’t.


I had weird dreams again last night, although I can only remember fragments: Boris Johnson, the London Underground, World War I (I think, but maybe World War II, or both) and giving away lots of my books to charity shops and then trying to buy them all back again because I regretted it.  Also raising someone else’s baby, and dying.  All life is here in my subconscious.  I wish I knew what it all means, or could access it in my writing.

The Bifurcated Jew

I went to bed far too late last night (gone 2.00am), but I needed to shower and watch some TV (The IT Crowd) to be able to sleep after the stress of the day.  The second-hand DVD turned out to have a fault; actually not a fault, but just gunk on it that came off quite easily once I realised what was happening, but that wasted another five or ten minutes.  Once I got to sleep, I slept for ten hours or more and woke feeling exhausted and depressed as usual.  I woke up to a busy house, with both my parents home as well as industrial cleaners which probably didn’t help things, both from the point of view of noise and of people, from both autistic and socially anxious points of view.  The downstairs toilet still smells pungent.  I’m not sure if it’s cleaner or air freshener.  Either way, I struggle to go in there.

It’s now Chol HaMoed, a term which defies literal translation, but refers to the ‘middle days’ in the long festivals of Sukkot (Tabernacles) and Pesach (Passover) where work is permitted under certain conditions, but it’s better to avoid “real” work if possible and enjoy the festival.  So I’m holding off job hunting (I didn’t really have a head for it after the intensity of the last few days anyway) and also holding off writing my novel, as I feel that if I want to build a career of a writer, I should treat it as work.

In terms of what I did do, I managed thirty-five minutes of Torah study in the sukkah, which was nice, even though I didn’t understand the page of Talmud I was studying at all and even though I really wanted to do an hour, but ran out of time and energy.  I went for a twenty-five minute run.  I would like to increase the distance I run (at the moment it’s somewhat over two miles), but I was exhausted by the end.  I got a bit of a headache afterwards, but not (as yet) a full-blown migraine.  (I seem to be criticising myself a lot for not achieving more rather than praising myself for managing anything considering how I felt when I woke up.)

Exercise is the sort of thing where it’s subjective as to whether it’s allowed on Chol HaMoed; you have to decide if it enhances your joy or diminishes it and only do things that are either joy-enhancing or absolutely necessary.  I decided jogging was OK, as was miniature Doctor Who model painting.  The latter didn’t turn out too well.  Some of my paints have congealed or separated and I’ve ruined a lot of my brushes, particularly the very fine ones, trying to clean oil-based paints in white spirit.  I’ve bought the paints over a number of years from different companies and some are water-based (and therefore easy to remove from brushes), but others aren’t.  (Things I destroy and have to replace regularly without knowing how I destroy them: paint brushes, earphones, shoe soles.)  My hand shakes too much for fine work anyway.  If I had the money, I should probably take the plunge and buy a whole set of water-based paints and fine brushes.  It would be a big outlay, but it would probably pay off if I do this frequently, although at the moment I’m an infrequent painter.  Part of the problem is that different companies produce different types of paint for hugely different prices and it’s not always easy to compare different colours, or tell what you are going to get, although comparison charts can be found online.

Anyway, I now have a rather messily-painted TARDIS that needs further work, a half-painted thirteenth Doctor (Jodie Whittaker) that needs a lot more work and a Davros that might be finished (I won’t know for sure until it dries, but it’s looking OK at the moment).


The mouse touchpad problem on my laptop is back after going away for a while.  Whenever I turn the computer on, it defaults to tap-to-click instead of left-button clicking, which is problematic for me as it’s too sensitive and thinks I’m tapping when I’m not intending to do so.  It’s weird, the setup isn’t even set to clicking and when I go to change it back to tapping, I don’t even get to the right screen before it sorts itself out.  It’s like it ‘forgets’ what to do and when I start to go to touchpad properties it suddenly ‘remembers.’  Weird.


I was thinking of blogging about something rather more abstract than usual and decided against it, but then I came across a rather old blog post that touched on the same subject, so here goes.

This post is talking about Modern Orthodox parents who send their eighteen year old children (males in the article; the situation for women is analogous, but not identical) to Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) yeshivot (rabbinical seminaries) on their gap year where they are exposed to a worldview that is at odds with the Modern Orthodox way of life their parents brought them up to have and end up studying (“learning”) permanently in yeshiva and kollel rather than coming home at the end of their gap year, going on to university and then to work.  They also end up cutting themselves off from wider Western culture (museums, galleries, novels, etc.) and sometimes from a family that is perceived as not frum (religious) enough.  This is opposed to a Modern Orthodox lifestyle that values Torah study, but sees work, not permanent Torah study as the focus of most people’s lives and sees positive worth in at least some non-Jewish culture.

The writer states that such students will either adopt their yeshiva‘s values wholesale or “the student can bifurcate his (or her) world – they can split their life into two pieces: when in Yeshiva, or around their teachers from school, they pay lip service to the school’s philosophy, they wear black and white, they live in line with what their teachers expect. However, outside of school, they live within the guidelines of their more open, modern background: they watch television and movies, listen to secular music, find (forbidden?) pleasure in their required readings for English Lit., and generally, enjoy other activities of which their school would not approve.”

This resonated somewhat with me.  For one thing, it is part of the reason I never went to yeshiva, a decision I still think about a lot and wonder if it was responsible for many of my issues or if going to yeshiva would just have made my issues worse.  When I was eighteen, I was unaware that there were Modern Orthodox yeshivot where this bifurcation would not be necessary.  The (Haredi) Jewish Studies teachers at my (Modern Orthodox) school assumed I would go to yeshiva and were surprised when I didn’t.  They never actually asked me about it or told me about the range of yeshivot on offer.  I suspect if I had asked they would have referred me to a kiruv yeshiva (yeshiva for people not raised religious) which would doubtless have been equally indoctrinating as the yeshivot referred to in the blog post.  Perhaps I’m wrong about that.  (As an aside, one of the teachers who expressed surprise or annoyance at my “getting away” without going to yeshiva goes to my shul sometimes, but I don’t think he remembers me.  Another turned out to be a friend of the new rabbi.)

That was not the main resonance.  I am more concerned that I live with this dissonance in my shul.  From the Shabbat dinner discussion a few weeks ago, I feel that not everyone in my shul considers themselves Haredi, although some certainly are and others aspire to be so.  Most, if not all, of the working age men in the community work rather than studying full-time in kollel.  Some people do not have televisions while others do and there are divergent thoughts on Zionism and perhaps also on conflicts with science.  On the other hand, I suspect many people see television and Western culture generally as a bidieved, something allowed of necessity, for relaxation, but having no intrinsic value.  This contrasts with the more positive view of Western culture put forward by Modern Orthodox thinkers past and present like Rav Hirsch, Rav Soloveitchik, Rav Lichtenstein and (lehavdil bein chayim lechayim) Rabbi Lord Sacks and which I personally follow.

A commenter to the post suggested that, “There’s another option: learn and pray among the Haredim while dressing acting and thinking the way you want. Not for the faint of heart. People will think you’re weird. But I suspect it won’t be as hard to find schools or shidduchim [‘dates,’ but used as a metonymy for ‘spouse’] for your kids as the confirmed would have you believe.”  This is basically what I do, phrased more positively.  But I’m not sure that the consequences are as benign as the commenter thinks.  I don’t know how weird people think I am and I don’t know how difficult it would be to get a religious school or yeshiva to accept my hypothetical children.  But I am struggling to find a wife and I’m not sure how much that is because of this.  Certainly no one in the community is setting me up with people, not even the members who have said I should marry.  Do they not know anyone suitable or do they think I’m too weird/atypical?  It is difficult to tell.

This blog post chimed with the idea I had been thinking of laying out here.  It is an idea I heard at a shiur (religious class) when I was in Oxford, ironically from Rabbi Shaya Karlinsky, a Rosh Yeshiva (Yeshiva Principal) from a Modern Orthodox yeshiva (I think one where several peers of mine from Oxford studied after finishing their degrees, I think somewhere where I would feel less bifurcated).  I won’t set out all the proof-texts and reasoning from the biblical text, but it sees Jewish history as having a tension between the descendants of Leah, whose task is to seek pure spirituality, and the descendants of Rachel, whose task is to make the physical spiritual.  This plays out across history, from Yehudah vs. Yosef (Judah vs. Joseph) in the Yosef narrative, to Shaul vs. David (Saul vs. David) later, to the split of the kingdom in two under Rechovoam and Yeruboam (Rehoboam and Jeroboam), finally playing out at the end of history with the two Messiahs, Mashiach ben Yosef and Mashiach ben David (where the two strands are reconciled, with Mashiach ben Yosef preparing for Mashiach ben David).  My chiddush (innovative opinion) is to see Haredi Judaism and Leah-type pure spirituality and Modern Orthodoxy as Rachel-type spirituality in physicality.  This gives me an idea of where my life should be focused and makes me feel less embattled (because the sons of Rachel were numerically far fewer than those of Leah) and it helps me to conceptualise the Haredi world in a way that makes me less angry and resentful of it, but it doesn’t help me decide what to do about my shul community.

The Real Me

It’s supposed to be a bad sign if it rains on Sukkot, the Jewish festival we’re partway through.  This is because we eat (and sleep, if you’re brave) in thatched huts in the garden to remember the Israelites living in portable huts in the wilderness.  So if it rains and we can’t do that, so it’s a sign of Divine displeasure.  I think this probably only applies in Israel, as rain at this time of year is rare there.  Unlike here in the UK, where it’s been raining quite a bit (my family in Israel were too hot to go outdoors…).

It’s tempting to use that to segue into the story of my last two days, but it wouldn’t be entirely accurate.  There were some not-so-good things, and those are uppermost in my mind at the moment for reasons that will become obvious, but I can see objectively that there were good things too.  For a change, I will do this topically rather than chronologically.

Shul (synagogue): I got to shul quite a lot: both evenings and this morning (I was about twenty minutes late this morning, on time for the others).  The services were OK, although I was clock-watching after a while this morning, which may have been more to do with anxiety about having guests for lunch afterwards (see below).  I did struggle with the shiurim (religious classes) between Mincha and Ma’ariv (Afternoon and Evening Service) both days.  They were halakhic (Jewish law-focused) and somewhat triggering of my religious OCD in terms of making me worry that we were not fulfilling the festival laws properly.  Moreover, seeing so many people from the community engaging with the discussion and answering questions while I felt confused and unable to follow the argument made me feel that I just can’t engage with perhaps the most important area of religious practice for an Orthodox Jewish man: Talmudic and halakhic study.  I realised Torah as taught at a high level for men is largely left-brain/logical (Talmudic and halakhah) not right-brain/creative.  I need the creative aggadic (narrative) side.  This is often neglected.  Although to be fair, the shiur I go to on Thursdays is less halakhic, but I don’t participate as much as I could due to lack of confidence.  I felt like the shiurim told me how to fulfil the mitzvot (commandments) of Sukkot, but didn’t explore why we do these specific things, the symbolism and meaning.  Although, if they had done that, they probably would have gone for a kabbalistic (Jewish mysticism) approach that I would find equally problematic…

I was left feeling that I will never feel useful in my community.  I’m too scared to lead davening (lead the service), if they even ask me again, and I can’t do Talmudic and halakhic study (when I came in for Mincha someone was sitting at the table with three Hebrew-only books open, tracing some arcane point of halakhah, and he’s not even one of the people I have down as a really good scholar!).  I am hoping to write a devar Torah (essay on the weekly Torah reading) for later in the year, if I can manage it and if they still have the slot open to anyone (the same guy writes it each week, but I think that’s because no one else volunteers rather than because he really wants to write 1,000 words every week).

Mum said I should focus on the positive, saying I connect to God in my shul, but I don’t really.  I don’t really connect to God anywhere at the moment.  I just like my shul because there’s no talking and not much chazzanut (cantorial singing) and the people are nice.

Sukkah (sitting in the hut in the garden): this was pretty successful.  We had dinner out there on the first night, which is the most important meal of the holiday to have there.  I had kiddush (the blessing over wine and snacks before lunch) on the first day, but then it started raining and we had to eat lunch inside; it actually stopped raining, but my parents didn’t want to go out and I didn’t argue as the rabbi had said that if you go inside because of the weather you don’t have to come out if it stops raining, although I wasn’t sure that applied as technically we hadn’t started lunch itself when the rain stopped.  We had most of dinner last night, hurriedly coming in when the heavens opened towards the end of the main course.  And we had lunch out there today.  So, a reasonable success there.

Mental health: not so good.  As mentioned above, I had some religious OCD regarding the sukkah and the arbah minim (branches and a really expensive citrus fruit held and shaken during the Sukkot shul services), worrying that I wasn’t following the laws properly.  That was partly due to the shiurim, but probably mostly due to myself.  This was disappointing, as the religious OCD has been under control lately.  There was quite a bit of depression, which was partly a result of the OCD, but maybe a cause of it too.

On Monday evening after dinner I lay down on my bed in semi-darkness for a long time, unable to move or do anything.  I was somewhat similar today after lunch, albeit with a more obvious cause (see below).  I wonder if this was an autistic shutdown.  I’ve mentioned that my autism was not diagnosed for a long time (technically is still undiagnosed) and one of the reasons is an absence of some traits, such as meltdowns (overloaded, emotional responses to sensory and/or emotional overload).  I don’t really understand shutdowns as well as meltdowns and they seem to be less accepted as legitimate autistic behaviour, but they do seem to suit my behavioural pattern better, but it could just be depression.  It’s sometimes hard to see where one of my issues ends and another begins.

Social: we had our neighbours over for lunch today.  I don’t really know them well, although I’ve known them for a number of years.  Some time ago my Dad wanted to set me up with their daughter (who also came today), which made the whole situation feel more awkward to me, as I don’t think she’s interested in me at all.  I coped, but I largely found the conversation overwhelming: loud and uninteresting (neurotypical small talk).  As I said, I had a bit of a shutdown afterwards and didn’t really get time to recover before shul and the shiur that left me feeling bad, which may have been strategically unwise, although I would have had to go to shul anyway as my tallit and machzor (prayershawl and festival prayer book) were still there.  I upset my parents by coming home from shul in a bit of a state and snapping at them.  Mum said they don’t like it when I come home from shul beating myself up, so now I’m beating myself up even more for upsetting them and beating myself up.

Sigh.  Sukkot is also known as Zman Simchateinu, the Time of our Joy.  It’s supposed to be the most joyous Jewish festival.  I could see the depression trap there a mile off, but I still kind of fell into it.  I tried to focus on the halakhic definition of joy, but that didn’t really work either.  Eating meat and wine – I don’t like meat much and I don’t drink alcohol because it’s a depressant and doesn’t go with my meds.  Sleeping more than usual – well, that’s a problem in itself.  Buying jewellery for one’s wife and sweets for one’s children – nooooooo.

Reading: I read a fair chunk of both Batman: Knightfall: Knightsend (graphic novel) and Doctor Who: The New Adventures: First Frontier (Doctor Who spin-off novel).  They were quite  good.  To be honest, if they were much better, it would probably have been wasted on me anyway.


I came home from shul today feeling useless, feeling that I can’t lead davening or “learn” Torah or do any of the Jewish stuff I should.  I felt I was a third-rate writer and failed librarian (if “failed librarian” is even a thing).  I sometimes feel that I want to win the Booker Prize just to prove myself to… I’m not sure who.  Myself, probably, or the people who bullied me at school (like they (a) remember me or (b) care about the Booker Prize).

It’s funny to come here after Yom Tov and see that I have positive feedback from people here…  It’s weird how people seem to like me more online than in real life.  Am I more “real” here when I have time to think and no pressure of being in a room with someone or do I fake it more here with time to think and draft and edit every comment I make?

This reminded me of a weird story.  Years and years ago there was a letter in Doctor Who Magazine from a teenager called Robert A. J. Newton who started a Doctor Who club at his school.  He got permission from the teachers to put up signs to advertise it.  For reasons that are too complicated to go into here, the society was called HABAFOM (don’t ask, it’s a very obscure Doctor Who reference).

He stuck up over seventy A5 sheets of paper with quotes from the series, intended to demonstrate that the programme is “poetic, brilliant and thought-provoking” only for them to be taken down by staff.  He went to the deputy head to ask why and was told off for putting up material that was, “radical, anti-establishment, contentious and occult” (I liked that so much that I had to look up the exact quote).  He responded that he had permission to advertise his Doctor Who club.  The deputy head said that if the quotes had been attributed to Doctor Who rather than the mysterious HABAFOM, it would have been OK as no one would have taken them seriously.

I feel a bit like this.  That online, people think I’m a good person and clever, but in real life I just come across as an idiot or a freak and can’t believe that I’m capable of good things and if I tried to show them who I am, it would alter their view of me, perhaps for the worst (if they find out I hold certain beliefs or opinions).  I don’t know.  Meg commented on a recent post to say that I’m the most religious person she knows, but I feel that if she knew some of the people I know, she would think that they’re much better than me more religious.

Maybe that’s not true.  I have a certain notoriety at my Thursday night shiur for once answering a question that the rabbi there bet £50 to charity that no one could answer, but I feel I have to live up to that.  CBT was supposed to make me feel that people do like me and find me interesting, and I can sort of see that, but at the same time it’s really difficult to hold on to those beliefs.  I guess the fact that I’m questioning this at all and not just assuming the worst about how everyone sees me online and in real life is some kind of improvement, in a way.


Sukkot lasts several more days, so more days with the sukkah and arbah minim, but it’s permissible to do some work on the next few days.  So, we shall see how the next few days go.

“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.

The Pseudonymous Rosh Yeshiva and Other Mysteries

I had upsetting dreams last night.  One was so bad when I woke up in the early hours I had to write it down so I didn’t forget it later, because I wanted to mention it here.  My notes don’t seem to really capture what I felt, though and in the light of day (literally) it doesn’t seem worth mentioning the dreams in full.  Suffice to say that one was about being useless as a university undergraduate (which is probably really about feeling useless at work, unless I’m genuinely still upset about not getting a first from Oxford nearly fifteen years on) and the second one was that no one would ever love me romantically (which is not entirely true as E. cares about me a lot even if it’s not clear how things could work out practically between us right now). The third dream was about not fitting in with Doctor Who fandom and fan culture generally (doubtless after my comments yesterday), although this dream was arguably more optimistic as I did sort of fit in, albeit bending some of my religious beliefs/practices and hoping neither frum (religious Orthodox Jewish) people nor fans would question me too carefully; it also had some arguably more positive bits about learning how to cope with my autistic traits as well as being able to help others, particularly children.

I suppose I do wonder how many people in the frum community are hiding parts of themselves, either minor misfitting beliefs or practices or much bigger ones (I know from the Jewish blogosphere that there are people who don’t believe in Judaism at all living very Orthodox lifestyles for family or social reasons).  I also wonder how many people with somewhat conservative political or cultural views are hiding in “woke” Doctor Who fandom, just talking about Doctor Who and keeping quiet about wider views.  I guess it would be easier to fit in if I went to conventions, as I imagine that Twitter conversations are much more political and contentious than in-person conversations.  But the thought of going to a convention does scare me somewhat.  I’d like to have more fan friends, but the thought of being with so many people is scary and I don’t have a particularly burning desire to meet people who worked on the programme or to buy rare merchandise, the other reason people go to conventions.  I think the focus of fandom has also moved now from specific Doctor Who conventions to general film/TV science fiction conventions, which interest me even less.


I mentioned my feeling over Yom Kippur that God loves me and that I can just do the best I can.  I forgot to mention that I realised that I probably do have a deeper connection to God and Judaism than just duty and obligation.  I don’t think I would do so much, at such cost to myself (financially, plus also in terms of time, precious concentration and mental energy, and the dramatic narrowing of my dating pool) unless it was deeper than that.  I’m not good at understanding my emotions, though.  It is hard to express what God, Torah and Yiddishkeit (“Jewish-ness”) mean to me.

I have more to say, but I just cut a chunk I wrote because I don’t want to get into it now as it’s too long and complicated.  I need to get ready for Shabbat (the Sabbath).  Just one thing I will note for now: this review makes the book look really interesting, both in itself and as a sign that maybe there are other people out there who want to read literature that deals with religious Jews in neither a critical or apologetic way, but just shows the complexity of the religious culture and the contemporary religious life for its own sake.  The book is apparently written under a pseudonym by a rosh yeshiva (head of a rabbinical seminary) who is clearly learned in Western literature and philosophy as well as Jewish Talmud.  I can’t find the publisher, A. B. Ruth, online, so it may be a self-published books (sometimes people disguise the fact a book is self-published like that).  So that’s somewhat more hopeful for my writing ambitions.

Low-Level Griping

I went to bed very late last night.  I stayed up late writing blog comments to people who I thought needed support, which was good, but I should have stopped myself doing it for so long.  Then, when I got to bed, I couldn’t sleep.  I felt really tired, but my mind was racing.  I was totally exhausted and depressed this morning and it was a real effort to get up and eat something.

As I’ve mentioned, this time of year is hard for religious Jews because there are so many Jewish holidays (another nine days of holidays and semi-holidays coming up soon!) one after the other.  In ancient times this was the end of the agricultural year in Israel, so it made sense to have our big religious season at this time, but it’s hard fitting in to the modern economy with deadlines and working with non-Jewish colleagues, particularly if you are in the academic sector (as I was) where this is the start of the new year.  And this year I’m going away for my cousin’s bar mitzvah in Israel soon afterwards, for added disruption!  I feel run ragged at the moment and we’re only halfway through.  It’s hard to keep up with job application emails (not that I’m hopeful of finding anything good at the moment anyway) and I’ve got a thick form to claim Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) that I haven’t even started, and when I’ve finished it I will have to have a meeting at the jobcentre to check it – that won’t happen until after I get back from Israel.  Then there’s the question of volunteering (and where: school or museum?).  And my poor novel is very neglected.  I’ve written about five pages since tearing up my first chapter (metaphorically) and re-starting.  I ordered some books on domestic abuse for research.  I hope my parents don’t notice and worry that something’s going on!

I’m making myself anxious just thinking about the stress of the next few weeks.


I’m feeling pretty down today.  I’m trying not to think about work or dating because when I do, I feel that I will not succeed in either.  I don’t seem to be able to make good decisions in either area.  I just found an amusing/depressing blog post about frum (religious Orthodox Jewish) dating, that women want to marry a great Torah scholar because they “unconsciously sublimate their desire for a sexually strong and virile man to a desire for a man who is intellectually strong and powerful… These men are not emaciated, unheroic weaklings, incapable of earning a living, dependent on their wives, in laws and parents for their daily bread. Not at all. Underneath their refined and modest exteriors are knights of Torah and princes of scholarship, engaged in the heroic undertaking of understanding the Talmud and its many commentaries.”  This is why I have zero chance of finding a wife in the frum world, because I can’t understand Talmud (I’m also unemployed, so no back-up plan of looking for someone who wants a breadwinner (“An earner not a learner” in the frum jargon)).

I did go to the barber, which I hate above most things, because I have tremor from my medication and it’s awkward if I shake while the barber wants me to hold still; beyond that, having a stranger invade my personal space and touch me is not something the autistic part of me likes at all.  I was OK there – I shook somewhat, but not noticeably – and bought a bunch of birthday cards for extended family (family birthdays and anniversaries tend to cluster around a couple of times in the year, so I buy a load of cards at once).

I helped my Dad with the sukkah, the thatched temporary hut in the garden that we eat our meals in during the festival of Sukkot (starts Sunday evening).  I always end up feeling slightly useless when helping with practical things.  I don’t know what I would do if my Dad didn’t do the bulk of the assembly.  OK, that’s not true, I could put up most of the sukkah, but there are some bits I would struggle with, particularly stuff that requires going up ladders, which I’m not always good at doing.  Plus, it started off some religious OCD-type worries about whether the sukkah is kosher (religiously acceptable).

I also filled in another application for a job at an Important Institution where I have applied for several previous jobs, all unsuccessfully.  It was a job in a library, but not strictly speaking requiring a librarianship qualification.  It sounds more like an admin-type job.  I applied anyway, although I hope it wouldn’t be a backwards step career-wise – if I even have a career any more, which is debatable.

I did about twenty-five minutes Torah study.  I would have liked to have done more, but I ran out of time and energy.  Likewise, no work on my novel today, which means it’s probably not going to be worked on until until after Simchat Torah as I don’t want to work on it during Chol HaMoed and tomorrow and Sunday are going to be busy with Shabbat/Yom Tov preparation (it would take to long to explain all the Jewish references here.  Just accept I can’t do non-essential work for a while because of festivals).


Mum saw me reading the latest Doctor Who Magazine and asked if they’re looking for writers.  I said, “Apparently not” rather more venomously than intended and she realised that I’d pitched to them and been rejected.  Oh dear.  I hate pitching, it’s hard to tell what editors are looking for, particularly if they don’t have style guidelines or give feedback.  I would have liked it if when I had said, “Would you like an article on X?” they had said, “No, but an article on Y would be good – can you write it?”  Or just some indication of what they were looking for.

I think with DWM, and other Doctor Who writing gigs, that the number of fan writers is very small and is interlinked on a “friends of friends” basis and the jobs just go to people who know the right people.  Why take a chance on a new writer, when you know half a dozen tried and tested writers who have been writing for the magazine for literally decades?  Fan writers all seem to have known each other for umpteen years.  When Doctor Who: The New Adventures novels were published in the nineties, that was notoriously incestuous, not deliberately, as Virgin Publishing (who published the books) had a laudable first-time author policy, but most of the writers seemed to know each other already through fanzines and conventions and encourage each other to submit (three of them worked in the same office!).  I’ve never really been part of organised fandom, although there have been times when I would have liked to have been.  I was always put off conventions by both the noise and people (because of my autism and social anxiety) and issues with kosher food and attending on Shabbat (Saturday).  There was a time when I was more involved in online fandom, but I drifted out of that when I went through a period of not liking the direction of the show on TV and when that changed I thought of coming back only to find online fandom had got really political and I didn’t feel comfortable or accepted any more.


This post is just low-level griping, even by my normal standards, but I’m too tired to edit or cut so PUBLISH and be damned.  I should go to bed, but I’m too tired to move.

“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.

Social Interactions and Being Too Hard on Myself

I’m a bit scared to write anything today as, looking at the responses I wrote to the comments on yesterday’s post, I’m worried I’m so negative that I’m going to scare everyone off.  Shabbat (the Sabbath) at least was quite good.  My sister and brother-in-law were here, which was fun, but made meals super-draining.  I woke up on time to go to shul (synagogue) this morning, but was too tired.  I kept thinking, “I’ll get up in five minutes” until I eventually fell asleep again.  This upset me, as I would have liked to have kept the shul-going momentum going, but as I struggled to go to shul in the afternoon maybe I was at the limit of my energy level anyway.


At shul this afternoon we had the siyum (celebration for finishing religious study) for communally studying three sedarim (orders) of the Mishnah in memory of someone who died last month.  This was the “learning” that I had mixed feelings about joining as I wanted to be part of the community, but felt I could not currently commit to any learning and also I don’t believe that studying Torah helps the dead anyway.  Listening to the eulogy was weird, though, as it could have been for me (quiet, sits at the back without saying much – plus, the unspoken thing, single and childless) except that I doubt so many people would turn out for me.  Nor do I send out a weekly devar Torah (Torah thought) the way this person did and, for all the rabbi said someone should take over, I don’t really want to do that.

At the siyum I also felt depressed by the number of people my age there with many children.  I don’t want to have seven or eight children as one or two couples in the community have, but lots of people my age have two or three.  I completely failed to successfully interact with any of the children sitting near me, which only reinforced my feelings about not being a teacher/teaching assistant.  Mind you, I largely failed to successfully interact with any of the adults too.  I’m pretty rubbish at social interactions, really.

A friend of mine just had a baby.  I’m really excited about this.  I can be pleased for people I know well who have children, it’s when I don’t really know anything about the people except that they’re my age and have children that it upsets me.  I don’t know why that is.  I suppose it depends on whether I can connect with them positively as friends or just as “parents.”


On my last post sarnhyman said that I’m too hard on myself.  S/he is not the first person to suggest that.  I suppose I’m reluctant to be less hard on myself because I feel I have lots of bad traits that I need to remove.  I feel that I shouldn’t have missed shul this morning.  I suppose if I hadn’t missed shul, I might have struggled to go in the afternoon (it was hard enough as it was).  Also, it’s debatable whether being hard on myself has ever really helped me improve.  I suppose I don’t know how to not be hard on myself.

There are a couple of areas of my life that I really struggle with all the time, but particularly at this time of the (Jewish) year when the focus is on teshuva (repentance) and growth.  One is arguing with my parents, as I mentioned the other day – not generally full blown rows (haven’t had one of those for ages, thankfully), just bickering and sarcasm, and snapping at each other unnecessarily.  There is another thing… I’m not sure whether to mention it, but I feel hugely guilty while also recognising that it’s a common thing to struggle with in the frum (religious Orthodox Jewish) world.  I guess there are some sins that no one would publicly admit to committing (e.g. breaking Shabbat), then there are others, like lashon hara (improper speech) that everyone feels able to say they struggle with and it would seem arrogant not to confess to doing, then there are some where everyone admits everyone struggles to some extent, but no one talks about how it impacts on them…  It’s very confusing to me.  It was something I always wanted to talk about in therapy, and sometimes I did, but we often got side-tracked and I feel that I don’t understand myself at all in this area.  I don’t know what to do about it, as I’ve been struggling with it for years.  Maybe talking about things just encourages them though, as is the general thought in the frum world.


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.

Anxiety and Martyrdom Complexes

I saw a psychiatrist today for review.  It was a new psychiatrist; I think the last one is off sick.  Whatever the reason, turnover on the NHS is high and I’ve seen loads of psychiatrists.  I did have one who I saw for several years, but she was the exception.  I mentioned to her that my depression has worsened in the last few weeks.  Neither of us felt that changing medication is an appropriate response at the moment as I’m almost on the highest dose of clomipramine (my main antidepressant) and cutting anything (I’m on three different psychiatric medications) just makes things worse.  We spoke a bit about the effect of unemployment on my mental state and she said she could potentially refer me to somewhere that could help, but we’re not doing that for the moment as it seems that there isn’t much they can offer that isn’t being offered by the two organisations I’m already in touch with.  I also spoke a little bit about being on the waiting list for autism diagnosis, but there isn’t much that can be done about that.

To be honest, I have these reviews every quarter or so and the main reason I go is so that if my mood suddenly gets worse (even worse than currently), I’m on the system and can see someone easily, rather than having to be referred again by my GP, which is a lot of hassle and also slow.  I feel somewhat guilty about wasting NHS resources, especially as one of the bloggers I follow was complaining about lack of NHS resources today, but, as I mentioned the other day, I feel that this is the system I’m in and it’s acceptable to make the most of it.  I do believe in public healthcare, but I think the centralised model of the NHS dates from an era of confidence in central planning that is now long past.  If you were building a public health infrastructure from scratch today, you would not build something like the NHS (as is often stated, the NHS is respected worldwide, but almost never imitated).

Plus, I do believe that with the best will in the world, the NHS will always be overstretched.  If something is free, the demand, economically speaking, is potentially infinite.  If someone was giving out free bars of chocolate, you would potentially take as much as you could, limited mainly by the room you have to store it and the expiry date.  People aren’t going to request chemotherapy without needing it, but potentially many treatments could be over-prescribed to people who want help, but don’t urgently need it (similar to the over-prescription issue with antibiotics).  If they had to pay for it directly, they probably would not get it, being deterred by even a nominal price, but they will take any help that is free.  In an egalitarian, free-at-point-of-use system, it is hard (legally as well as practically) to discriminate between people who urgently need help and those who could benefit from some help, but are not in urgent need.  There is some prioritising of the very needy on the NHS (I think at the discretion of the GP referring the patient, which makes it open to abuse or at least inconsistency), but if you do not need help very urgently you just go on the waiting list with a bunch of people who need help significantly, moderately and perhaps only slightly.

Beyond this,  psychiatry and psychotherapy are incredibly labour intensive (one patient per therapist per hour for therapy; three or four patients per psychiatrist per hour) and requires highly-trained (and therefore expensive) psychiatrists therapists.  Mental illness is common and even people with mild mental health issues could potentially benefit from therapy (to be honest, even some people without a diagnosable condition could benefit from therapy, if money was no object) .  The result is that mental healthcare is always going to be overstretched, until we find a way either to significantly improve human psychological resilience or overcome our limited resources.  It is, however, not politically correct to say this.  Everyone (I mean politicians and commentators of all stripes) buys into the idea that, if only there was more money and less wastage, the NHS would be fine.

The appointment was not particularly long, but I finished exhausted, which was perhaps not the best setup for what happened next…


I started to fill in the application form for the school teaching assistant position.  The form is ten pages long, and they still want a cover letter on top of that (to be fair, I don’t think the form has any sections not in standard job application forms; I’m just used to filling them in online where the length isn’t immediately obvious).  I got completely overwhelmed by anxiety and despair.  I feel both overqualified and under-qualified.  Overqualified, because they’re really not expecting someone with an MA to apply for this type of job (to be fair, if I did get the job, I would consider using it as a step towards becoming a qualified teacher).  Under-qualified because I have minimal experience with children and am considering this role primarily because other people think I’m good with children, which is not necessarily the best way to be going about things.  I don’t feel that I’m particularly good with children, although when I do have positive interactions with young children I do find that restoring rather than draining.  But I don’t have those types of interactions (or any interactions, really) all that often.  Plus, I’m not at all sure I could cope with a noisy classroom, autism-wise.  From that point of view special needs teaching, which is often one-on-one, might be better, but I don’t know how to get qualified for that or how to tell if I’m at all suited.

I really feel that this is a bad idea, but I don’t know what else to do about it, especially as everyone around me is saying that it is a brilliant idea.  The frustrating thing is that this job is literally around the corner from where I live.  My commute would be a walk of under ten minutes!  And it’s a Jewish school too.  I don’t know what to do.  I’m thinking of writing to the school I’m applying to and asking if I could volunteer as a teaching assistant for a couple of weeks and see how it goes.  My Mum has also suggested speaking to a friend of hers who is a primary school teacher (and who has apparently been saying for years that I would be a good Jewish primary school kodesh (Jewish studies) teacher).


Other stuff is going by the wayside to try and work on this application, and a couple of librarian applications.  “Other stuff” being applying for unemployment benefits and working on my novel.  This time of year is always crazy for religious Jews, with so many festivals in such a short space of time leading to cramming too much stuff (work and other essential activities and chores) into the other days, but I had hoped to make some progress with the novel.


I’m not sure whether to write this, as it concerns someone else as well as me, but it’s mainly to criticise myself.  I got annoyed with my Dad for something.  When I decided to contact the school to see if I can volunteer as a teaching assistant, he said I should phone them rather than email and I got annoyed with him.  Like many autistic people, I hate using the phone.  It makes me anxious and I get confused about what to say, when to say it and when and how to end the conversation.  My Dad knows I hate phoning, yet he continually tells me to phone people when I say I intend to email them.  I don’t know why he does this.  I know he says you get an immediate response on the phone, which is true, and that some people don’t answer emails, but email leaves you with a paper trail, which is also useful and the bottom line is that phoning panics me enough that I will procrastinate to extremes, whereas writing an email is (somewhat) less procrastination-inducing.

I just feel bad about getting annoyed with Dad and shouting at him as one of my three Jewish new year’s resolutions was to try to shout at my Dad less and get angry with him less often.  I used to get on well with him, but in the last few years, we clash more and more often. I think his personality has changed quite a bit in recent years and I don’t know why.  I have some ideas, but I can’t go into them here.  I also feel more assertive about saying I have issues from autism now that I have done a lot of reading on it and realise that some of my quirks/difficulties are well-known symptoms of autism, whether it is failing to follow implicit instructions or to take initiative, forgetting verbal instructions and being somewhat pedantic and literal (all points of conflict with Dad).

I know he isn’t going to change and that if I want to improve things, I need to change things myself, but I don’t know how, especially as autistic facial expressions and tone of voice have historically been responsible for me getting into arguments with all my family quite unintentionally i.e. people assume I’m angry when I’m not.  My resolution was to pause before responding to him, but it’s hard to remember that in the heat of the moment and obviously I completely failed to do it here.


One last thought: at shiur (religious class) today, the shiur rabbi was saying that, at this time of year (Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur/Jewish New Year and Day of Atonement) we should not ask for health, prosperity etc., which we might not use correctly, but rather to be able to serve God in a way without suffering/with health, prosperity etc., but with the emphasis on serving God, not the suffering-free life.  I have a horrid feeling that the reason I can’t deal with my issues is that, on some unconscious level, I don’t want to serve God without suffering, either from self-loathing or a martyrdom complex.

Employment Support

I’m in the process of setting up some employment support with two different charities.  This is potentially to discuss revising my CV, interview practice and (most important for me at the moment) broadening my search to other sectors.  I’m looking at two charities because I’m desperate for help and just applied where I could; I didn’t realise both would come through so quickly, although it will still be some weeks before I get seen.

The person I spoke to today from one charity raised the question of job benefits again.  I thought I wasn’t eligible for these as I have too many savings and have not been in employment long enough in the last two years to qualify based on amount of national insurance contributions.  Having looked at the Citizens’ Advice Bureau website again, I think the wording is ambiguous, but that having worked at all in the last two years and paid national insurance is enough, in which case it would be worth my applying for it.  I would feel better if I could check before applying, but the CAB phone line is perpetually engaged.

Other than that, it was a quiet day.  It was a minor Jewish fast day (Tzom Gedaliah).  I don’t fast on the minor fast days because of the medication I take, I only fast on Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement) next week, but I always cut back on fast days and feel subdued.  It didn’t help that I slept in late and then fell asleep again after breakfast and missed Shacharit (Morning Prayers) entirely, although I did walk to shul (synagogue) for Ma’ariv (Evening Prayers).  I applied for another job, at a charity where I applied for a similar job in the past (I think I interviewed OK for that job, which may be good).  I did half an hour of Torah study (not nearly as much as I would have liked).  I didn’t work on my novel, bar reading an article online for research.  I think the novel is going to be on hold for the next few weeks, until all the Yom Tovim (festivals) are over.

I’ve also allowed myself to be persuaded by various people (my parents, E., and other people via my parents) to apply for a teaching assistant job at a local Jewish school, on the grounds that this will give me the opportunity to see if I would want to be a teacher.  I’m rather nervous of not having the right experience.  Lots of people say I’m good with children, but I don’t always feel confident with them.  On the other hand, there is apparently a real lack of male staff in primary schools, especially Orthodox Jewish ones (where teaching older students is more prestigious), which may work to my advantage.  I didn’t have time to apply today, but I hope to apply tomorrow.

I also have an appointment with a psychiatrist tomorrow, another new one perhaps because of the high turnover of NHS staff.  I find these somewhat tedious, as I don’t think it’s a good idea to cut back my medication, but the psychiatrists never really suggest anything new, they just exhort me to get a job, socialise, sort out my sleep pattern and so on.  But I don’t really want to be discharged while my mood is so variable, given how difficult it is to get seen by a psychiatrist again once you have been discharged, so I try to keep being seen every few months just in case I really need to be seen at some point.  This is arguably playing the system, but the system is arguably set up so that you have to play it to survive.

Eat Pray Sleep (Love)

Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year) went well in the end.  Of the ten prayer services over Yom Tov and the period immediately before and after, I attended eight in full.  I missed most of Shacharit (Morning Prayers) both days, just hurriedly saying a little bit of them by myself.  I actually managed to wake up fairly early, around 8.00am both days, but I struggled to get up, particularly this morning when I was exhausted from yesterday.  I got to shul (synagogue) at 9.45am yesterday and around 10.45 or 11.00am today.  For reference, Rosh Hashanah Shacharit and Musaf (Morning and Additional Prayers) are REALLY long – my shul started at 7.45am both days and went on until 1.30pm today and 2.00pm yesterday.  I did manage to hear the shofar (blowing of the ram’s horn trumpet) in full both days.

Mood-wise, I was mostly OK, except for Sunday evening, when I was very depressed and despairing.  Yesterday and today I was OK, but a bit tired and overwhelmed at times, especially this evening when the shul was flooded.  There were enough dry bits of the room for us to be able to hold the service, but it probably added to my stress levels.  There was also an alarm ringing in the building much of today and yesterday.  Orthodox Jews won’t use electricity on Shabbat or Yom Tov (Sabbath or festivals) so we couldn’t turn it off.  That’s the kind of thing that is certain to set off autistic annoyance in me.  I think it was quiet enough that everyone else tuned it out.

After struggling on Sunday evening, I’ve been feeling a little more confident about having a good year and that God might have good things in store for me.  I’ve been feeling that writing is somehow my main mission in life, at least at the moment, and that writing fiction about “fringe Jews” (to use a phrase from a now-defunct blog, meaning Jews on the fringe of the community, in a variety of different ways) might be a useful and meaningful thing to do.  However, I don’t know what to do about many other issues in my life: how to earn money while writing before I can support myself (my parents and E. want me to consider teaching or being a teaching assistant; in some ways it’s tempting, but in other ways it’s scary) and my relationship with E. (emotionally/in terms of personality we seem a really good fit, but financially/practically there are issues and religiously we don’t fit well at all).  I also need to make a decision fairly soon about whether I will volunteer in a museum or as a teaching assistant; the former seems a better fit on the surface, but the latter is more likely to lead to a job.  On a job note: I had a call the other day from someone about job support.  I missed his call and it went to voicemail and I couldn’t really hear him.  He called several times over Yom Tov when obviously I could not answer.  I think he is from a mental health charity offering support into the workplace for people with mental health issues.

Shul took up most of the last two days.  There isn’t much downtime on Rosh Hashanah.  When not davening (praying) or eating I was mostly sleeping.  I read quite a lot of Batman to unwind as I didn’t have a head for The Elegant Universe (the popular physics book I’m reading).  I’m reading the Batman: Knightfall saga, a big epic storyline that ran over multiple comics in 1993 where Bruce Wayne is crippled and is replaced as Batman by Jean-Paul Valley/Azrael who turns out to be brainwashed, unstable and uber-violent, so Bruce Wayne (after being magically healed because this is comics) has to reclaim the title of Batman from him.  I’ve only read parts of it, as I don’t buy individual comics, only graphic novel collections and much of the saga was not collected into graphic novel form until a year ago.  The bits missed so far have not been so essential, but I do have an essential bit coming up soon that I’m looking forward to reading (the storyline where Bruce Wayne gets magically healed) .

I’m off to have a belated dinner now alongside an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation.  I’m thinking A Matter of Time (the episode where the Enterprise crew meet a time-travelling historian who claims to know their future, but is actually a criminal whose hints about future events are just bluff and guess work).  I fancy a trivial episode rather than something epic.  I’m too tired for epic this evening.