Sudden Sadnesses

It seems that I forgot to take my medication yesterday, morning and evening.  While I can believe I forgot the evening dose, as I was rushing to go to depression group, I’m a bit surprised I forgot the morning dose.  But it would explain why I was so anxious and despairing yesterday.  I do feel a lot better today.

It’s also worth noting that my parents are really proud of how well I’ve coped with things this week, the things I’ve written about here and the things I don’t think I should share yet, if at all.  They said that I’ve coped a lot better than they expected/feared.

There isn’t a lot left to say.  I was feeling OK today, but suddenly my mood will drop with no obvious trigger.  I feel quite sad at the moment, without really being sure why (possibly empathy for a friend whose family are going through a very tough time right now).  I hope I feel well enough later to get to shul (synagogue) tonight, because that is very important to me, even though I have been struggling with it lately.

Big events are happening in the geopolitical world and part of me would like to write about how that affects me emotionally, but I haven’t really got the time or, if I’m honest, the inclination.  Writing about my emotional response is likely to lead me sooner or later into writing about my political response, which I have no real wish to do.  Politics in general just seems so poisonous these days, although one can probably overstate it; I’m not convinced by arguments that global politics is as broken and dangerous as it was in the 1930s.

The Puzzle

I woke up feeling super-anxious.  I was diagnosed with anxiety a while back, but I’ve never been entirely convinced, as my general anxiety levels seem to fluctuate a lot and perhaps get “drowned out” by depression (as opposed to social anxiety, which I’m sure I have).  Today I felt super-anxious though: about my job, about my relationship with E., about her work situation, and about the big thing I can’t talk about here.  Trying to breathe and be mindful, I do feel a bit better.  But the worries creep back in.

Other things I’ve been doing are being irritable (got into a silly argument with my Dad) and blaming myself for something, anything.  Just feeling I’m a terrible person and everything is my fault, which I guess distracts from all the things that are not my fault and which are totally outside of my control.

I went to the dentist for a check up.  Everything was fine, except that I’ve somehow slightly chipped one of my teeth, I don’t know how.  But the discomfort when the dentist was scraping plaque off my teeth just reinforced my anxiety.

I tried to work on my novel and managed to do so for about half an hour, writing nearly 300 words, but I couldn’t concentrate.  I felt like my head was going to explode with all the things in it.  There’s so much I’m scared about.  A lot of this is inchoate feelings and some of it is things that maybe should not be voiced.  I texted my sister about some of this and she is feeling a lot calmer than I am although she is only worried about one of the things I’m worried about, albeit the biggest one.  I just don’t know what to say or where to begin.  It’s at times like this that I drift back to childhood, mentally, asking my parents for hugs, crying or taking refuge in favourite TV programmes.

I went depression group tonight.  Coincidentally, the shiur (religious class) I usually go to on Thursdays got cancelled tonight, so I don’t need to message the group, but it will happen sooner or later, so it would be good if I can think of a non-melodramatic way of admitting to going to depression group.  Depression group was helpful, but I came away wondering if I’d handled the interpersonal interactions well enough; in fact my autistic traits made concentration difficult at times and I felt a bit overwhelmed.

I’m trying to be kind to myself, but it’s hard, partly from personality, partly, I guess for religious reasons.  These days, lots of frum (religious) Jews would say that it is good to be kind to yourself, particularly at times of stress, only to make small changes to your life at any one time and so on.  The problem for me is that, although I’m not an expert, I haven’t really come across these attitudes dating from more than two hundred and fifty years ago or so (from the rise of Hasidism) and in many ways they have only become mainstream accepted ideas in recent decades (since the rise of neo-Hasidism, the ba’al teshuva movement and the rise of popular psychology in the world generally).  I’m more open than most Orthodox Jews to the idea that Judaism changes over time, but my poor self-esteem makes me worry, what if this is a mistake God doesn’t want me to be kind to myself?  What if I’m really bad at judging what I should be pursuing in life and He will keep sending me pain and suffering until I turn my life upside down?  This is probably not true, but I have enough doubt to worry about things.


The Reference Guide to the Talmud arrived today.  I’m looking forward to using it in my Talmud study.  It explains a lot of Talmudic terminology.  As well as using legal terminology, the Talmud also employs a precise vocabulary, so the term used to introduce a counter-argument will tell you whether it is going to be an argument based on a contradictory text or one based purely on logic.   There are also grammatical guides to Aramaic (the language of most of the Talmud) and a section on historical background to the Talmudic era that I might read in full at some point, chronological tables of Talmudic rabbis, a diagram of the Second Temple, guides to Talmudic weights and measures and a guide to Rashi script (a type of calligraphic Hebrew script used primarily for commentaries on the Hebrew Bible or Talmud – I can mostly read Rashi script, but some of the letters are similar and I get confused occasionally).  This is all fascinating stuff to a history geek like me and I hope it will help with my studies, both to understand the language used and so to understand the arguments and also to provide the contextual information that my brain needs to understand and remember abstract legal thought.


On the way back from depression group, I started thinking about the final scene of the BBC adaptation of John le Carré’s Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy (not in the book).  George Smiley is with his estranged wife, Ann.  Smiley is able to unearth the traitor in MI6, but not to understand human beings, particularly not his wife.  “Poor George,” remarks Ann.  “Life’s such a puzzle to you, isn’t it?”  I felt like this tonight.  I can at least sometimes understand things, concepts, ideas, words, stories, histories like the Reference Guide to the Talmud… but I struggle to understand people at all.  I don’t know what people thought of me tonight, when I felt a bit overwhelmed.  For all my struggles with the Talmud, I suspect I find it easier to understand than people.

Hello, I Must Be Going

After the dream I recounted in my last post, I fell asleep again and slept through the morning, which was sad, but probably inevitable as I had only had about four and a half hours sleep at that point, having stayed up late last night blogging and watching Fawlty Towers to relax as otherwise I felt I would struggle to sleep.  I watched The Waldorf Salad episode, and vaguely want someone to make a GIF of the bit where Basil Fawlty starts shouting “This is exactly how Nazi Germany started!” at hotel guests who have the temerity to complain about substandard service, and then use it when people on Twitter are throwing “Nazi” accusations around at people who clearly aren’t Nazis (you can see the clip here).

I felt better on waking than I did yesterday, although it was still a bit of a struggle to get myself to go out for a jog and my pace and stamina were pretty bad when I did go.  I procrastinated during the afternoon, although I did spend half an hour or so writing my devar Torah (Torah thought) for the week and did another fifteen minutes of Torah study.  I didn’t do much work on my novel, or anything else, because a big thing happened that I can’t talk about here, which disrupted things.   I guess it’s OK to accept that that is going to happen sometimes.


There are so many things in my head at the moment and I can’t write them down here: because they concern other people; because I don’t understand them enough to find the words; or because I get overwhelmed with other stuff, with day to day anxieties and despair (if there is such a thing as “day to day despair”).  In the last category comes thoughts about things like politics or the Jewish community, things I write about a bit where they intersect clearly with my emotions, but not on a deeper level about why these things are so upsetting to me.  I’d like to write about them, but I guess most of my “excess” writing energy (more than what I use for blogging “day to day despair”) goes on my novel and my weekly devar Torah rather than on these potentially more thoughtful pieces.  It would be nice to step back and look at the bigger picture here, to explain why I want to fit into the Orthodox Jewish community yet find it so hard, or why so much political comment these days upsets me.

Yet for the moment I look set to be overwhelmed with the “can’t blog because it concerns other people” type of feeling… a lot of stuff happened today and I haven’t processed it yet, and I usually would write here to process, but I can’t.  Ugh, I feel I’m becoming incoherent (I’m very tired, about to go to bed).


A reason to be very, very careful about what I write about other people is that I feel bad about some stuff I’ve written here before, stuff I shouldn’t have said and deleted almost immediately after posting, but anyone who is subscribed to this on email rather than blog reader would have seen the original version.  Mostly I try to be good about not saying stuff that’s personal or identifiable, but sometimes, particularly when I’m very depressed or angry, things can slip out.  There isn’t any thing that can be done about this and it worries me.  There’s a story about someone who gossiped about a famous rabbi, then felt guilty and told the rabbi what he’d done and asked what he could do to make amends.  The rabbi told him to cut a pillow open outdoors and let the wind scatter the feathers.  He did this and asked the rabbi what to do next, only to be told to gather the feathers, spreading gossip being like scattering feathers because you can’t undo the damage.  I feel bad about that.


I’ve been feeling morbid today.  Thinking about death, and the death of people close to me.  There is no answer to this, death is the only certainty we face.  The best we can do is try to live in the present and appreciate the people around us while we can, which I have been trying to do today.  It is hard though.


On a happier note, I watched the Marx Brothers film Animal Crackers with my Dad.  I’ve seen it many times before, but it was still funny.  It’s strange: it’s a profoundly dated film in terms of plot, character, direction, acting, design… and yet Groucho Marx seems very modern in both character and performance (I wonder how they got away with some of the jokes in 1930).  I suppose it shows how much modern comedy is still indebted to Groucho’s style ninety years on.  Harpo is sometimes modern, when not being awkwardly #metoo and chasing women around, Chico is occasionally modern, Zeppo not modern at all, but Groucho is modern, not all of the time, but a lot of it.


A big thing that I’d be interested to hear people’s opinion on before I make the decision: if I go to depression group tomorrow (Thursday), I will have to miss shiur (religious class).  I could message the shiur What’sApp group with a vague message that I’m busy or I could send them a message that “casually” mentions that I’m busy “at my depression support group.”  I’m wondering what sort of response the latter would get and whether it could be interpreted as melodramatic/attention-seeking.  The shiur rabbi and two people in the group know that I suffer from depression, but the others don’t, although I have vaguely mentioned health issues to one of them.

Symbolic Dream

I had a fairly vivid and memorable dream last night.

In the dream I was in a Jewish library that doubled as a shul (synagogue), like the one I was working in recently, but it was being used as a shul for a Shacharit (Morning Service) service while I was there.  There were copies of the Qu’ran and somehow building bridges to the Muslim community and fighting Islamophobia came into it, I’m not sure how exactly.  The rabbi of the shul was a very well-known rabbi who I greatly respect and whose books have influenced my thinking a lot (in real life I mean as well as the dream).  I didn’t think he knew me, but after he gave a vort (literally a word, i.e. a very short Torah thought), I commented to him on it and he announced my insight to the community and mentioned me by name.  Somehow an old acquaintance of mine who I have drifted away from in the real world was involved (in real life he is very involved in left-wing causes and anti-Islamophobia so it isn’t so surprising that my mind should make the association).  Then I was walking in to a different, secular, library where I was working or volunteering.  I was helping to sort the Tintin books and regretted that I couldn’t put them in the correct order without looking it up, whereas in real life I could probably more or less manage that.  There was also something about having a child and asking that rabbi to bless him, although I’m not sure if I had a child in the dream or if it was just an aspiration.  I woke up early, as if it was a work day, but refreshed and with a feeling of peace, although I did fall asleep again.

I feel that this is a very telling dream.  Some of it is about Trump’s Israel-Palestine “Peace Plan” which I feel is no such thing and is just about to legitimate a land-grab by the Israeli right.  It pains me to say this as a staunch Zionist and someone who thinks that the situation in the West Bank is more complex than the mainstream media represents, but I can’t think of any other outcome.  The dream was saying that it will be necessary for the Jewish community to build grassroots links with the Islamic community in the days ahead, although I’m not sure how that relates to me, and I’m not sure how many people in the Islamic community are willing to build bridges back.

The rabbi I respect is in favour of a land-for-peace deal and does interfaith work in reality, so could have appeared for that reason, but also has a connection to the library I was working at, although I did not meet him there.  Perhaps him knowing me in my dream is my unconscious saying that I did good work there even if it’s over now, hence also the feeling of satisfaction on waking.  Working in another, secular library afterwards could be my unconscious saying that I should be optimistic about finding new work.  The library being used as a shul for a service where I felt comfortable may be optimism about finding a shul where I can be fully accepted.  The child I thought about in the dream may be a feeling of optimism about building a relationship with E. and one day having children.

I don’t really see dreams as prophecies of the future, but even as a sign about my unconscious understanding of the present, this one seemed positive and I was not surprised to wake feeling refreshed even after only four and a half hours of sleep, although, as I say, I did fall asleep again.  There were some other details, but I’m not sure where they fit in.  But it did seem a positive dream, even if it seems to stem from negative events in my life and the world.

Post-Work Slump

I’m not sure what time I went to bed last night, probably some time between midnight and 1.00am, but I slept for hours and hours and then was too depressed, exhausted and anxious to get up.  I finally got up around 2.30pm, just as my Mum was coming home, having cancelled her post-work volunteering because she was ill.  I did feel better for eating cereal and drinking coffee, but of course by then the bulk of the day was gone.

I guess today’s depression/anxiety is mostly centred on work, some worry about a family issue that hopefully will come to a head tomorrow, and also whether E. and I will be able to move our relationship on, as well as general worries about my life as a whole, whether I will ever get it sorted out.  E. was feeling positive about us today, so I felt vaguely bad for being pessimistic (although I know she would say that I shouldn’t judge my feelings), not least because I know nothing has changed objectively since I was feeling positive a few days ago, it’s just that today I feel depressed so everything seems bad.  Plus, I wish she was around in person more than ever on days like today when I’m not able to say much via text but would like just to watch TV together.

I heard a good quote the other day, I can’t remember where, probably on a Jewish website: “Life is a test and most people fail because they try to copy others, not realising that they have a different question.”  It’s probably too wordy to be a truly great quote, but it does refer to what I’m struggling with in terms of thinking that I should doing what my peers are doing (career, family, community) when I that is not realistic and, so far as it is possible for me to tell, that does not seem to be God’s plan for me at the moment.  The problem is, I would like to be doing a lot of that stuff and don’t really see an alternative.  I don’t qualify for benefits (generalisation: I’m going to have to look into this again), so I basically have to have a career.  E. and I want to build a relationship that is more than a long-distance friendship, but I don’t know how – how in practical terms.  I want to have friends and community for my mental well-being, but the process of building those relationships is difficult and highly stressful for someone with social anxiety and autism (and someone not in exactly the right community anyway).  It is very difficult to see what I should do sometimes.


So, today I didn’t do very much, just sat around feeling exhausted, depressed and unable to do anything.  The trouble with the benefits system for the mentally ill (leaving aside the question of whether it’s too strictly enforced) is that it is set up for people with illnesses or disabilities that are both visible and the same every day.  If you’ve have a leg amputated, there are not going to be some days when you have both legs and some when you don’t.  Whereas with mental illness (and some physical illnesses), there can be days when you’re fine and so you get told you can work, and then there are some days when you just can’t function at all, but outsiders can’t see why that is.

What I did do was play nurse to my mother for a bit and cook dinner (although Tuesdays is my night to cook even if she is well).  I made macaroni cheese, because it’s a very easy recipe, one of two recipes that I can cook without reading the instructions, although it was far too salty.  I also spent a few minutes updating my CV and interview answer notes to include my experiences in work this year.

I struggled to do some Torah study.  I spent ten minutes reading a not-terribly-interesting or informative essay on The  I spent another ten minutes (just under) reading a chapter of Tehillim (Psalms), in this case chapter 24, which is very familiar to me as it appears a lot in the Jewish liturgy.  It can be interesting reading prayers as Torah study as I read them in a new way and notice things I don’t notice when davening (praying), but not today.  So about twenty minutes in total, which is not bad considering how I was feeling, but I felt that I had not got much out of it, as is often the case.

I tried to work on my novel, but it was hard and I got distracted by #AddAWordRuinABook on Twitter, my favourites being The Cat in the MAGA Hat and especially Catch-22 Diseases.  I looked at my own books in the search for inspiration to join in and thought of reading Murder on the Leyton Orient Express and its sequel, The Word for World is Nottingham Forrest (I should probably explain to non-UK resident readers that those are jokes on British football teams).  Also A Midsummer Night’s Freudian Dream, The Spy Who Came in From the Cold Storage, Flame War and Peace, Lady Windermere’s Fan ClubThe Crack House at Pooh Corner, Decorating a Study in Scarlet and Green Eggs and Hamlet (OK, that’s cheating slightly).  I would also like to see a film of The Marx Brothers Karamazov.  In non-fiction, there’s Plato’s Coffee Republic, A Brief History of Time Shares and The Blind Drunk Watchmaker although Star Trek fans might not appreciate The Selfish Gene Roddenberry.

Now I don’t feel tired, but should probably go to bed as it’s gone midnight.


My depression is sabotaging my diet.  I ate seconds at dinner, more because it was there and I was comfort eating than because I was hungry.  I didn’t eat ice cream yesterday, as I suggested I would, but I did eat Quality Street chocolates.  It’s hard to be on a diet when I’m this depressed.  I don’t generally comfort eat to a huge extent, but when I’m feeling so low it’s hard to feel I should ban myself completely from any junk food that might cheer me up for a few minutes, especially as my weight gain is primarily caused by medication rather than the amount of junk food I’m eating.


Another reason I’m depressed today: farewell Nicholas Parsons, alav hashalom (peace upon him), comedy’s greatest straight man, Just a Minute supremo and a fine Doctor Who guest actor.  He will be missed.


I struggled with sleep again, mostly insomnia, but also waking a bit earlier than intended.  I got about five and a half hours in the end and dosed myself up on coffee this morning.  I got up extra-early because it was Rosh Chodesh (New Moon) and there was extra davening (prayers) although I only do I tiny amount of Shacharit (Morning Prayers) most days because of depression, excluding the days I’m too depressed to get up in time to daven Shacharit at all.

At work the people from the company who I wanted to speak to about setting up a library management system (LMS)/online catalogue (OPAC) phoned an hour early.  I was going to be super-ready for them, but because they phoned early the cleaner was hoovering in the library and I had to hurriedly find somewhere else to take the call, which probably didn’t seem very professional.  The call was short as they said what I expected: that the LMS/OPAC is really for larger libraries with larger budgets.

After that I made and laminated some signs for the library so that people can locate books now that I’ve moved things around a lot.  I also started looking at alternatives to the LMS and OPAC, using websites intended for individuals or small libraries to catalogue their collections for free or cheaply.  I think this is promising, although I’m not sure if we will be able to link easily to the institution’s website.  A bigger problem is that I doubt that either system can allow cataloguing in Hebrew, but I had a quick look around the library and I estimate the number of Hebrew (rather than bilingual) books is fairly small as a percentage of the whole library, so this may not be a big problem.  (EDIT: as I was writing I heard back that one of the sites does allow non-Latin alphabets, but the search function using them is not as thorough.)

The main issue is whether I have a job after this week.  I spoke to the benefactor who owns the library.  He seemed pleased with what I had done, but didn’t really look around or ask what I had actually been doing.  He said that he will only carry on paying for my salary if the institution as a whole contributes, so I’m currently waiting to hear what will happen.  I’m pessimistic as to whether they have the money or inclination to keep me on.  There isn’t any work to do on this phase of the plan (as opposed to if they keep me on to try to find a cataloguing solution), so at the moment I’m not going in on Wednesday.  The benefactor said to invoice for it anyway, which was nice.  I found the whole meeting awkward.  I was nervous and worried that I was incoherent.  I wasn’t entirely sure what he wanted to hear, and we were having the conversation while there was a shiur (religious class) going on across the room, so it was not under ideal conditions.

I feel pessimistic about the job and shouldn’t.  It is possible that the institution and the benefactor will come to an agreement about paying my salary.  Even if they don’t, I’ve had some good experience in writing proposals, planning, researching and executing a project unsupervised, as well as dealing with stakeholders and “difficult” library users (a classic interview question, so something to remember).

The pessimism has spread.  I feel more downbeat about my relationship with E. today, not the relationship itself, just whether we will ever manage to sort it out.  I still think we probably will, even if it takes years.  It’s hard to wait though and if we want children there’s a time limit (albeit not a very imminent one).  Although whether we could cope with children is yet another issue.

I am unsure whether I should try to go for Chartership (the next stage of librarianship).  I was going to try, but if I don’t have this job as experience, I’m not sure I will be able to complete the necessary amount of work in time and there is a fee just to start so I don’t really want to do that if I’m not going to get anywhere (annoyingly CILIP’s website doesn’t say how much the fee is).

I decided I couldn’t be bothered to return the defective second-hand CD I bought (case completely broken and a track I don’t even like doesn’t play properly, but it did download to iTunes so I can play it there).  Having spent well under £3 for it, including postage, it didn’t seem worth the bother and I could easily end up spending more to buy a replacement copy.  But it just feels like another thing going wrong.

Just to round the day off, I watched yesterday’s Doctor Who episode, which I didn’t watch on transmission because of the family dinner.  I thought it was awful.  A “laughing at” rather than “laughing with” episode.  And it could have been so good!  The ideas were potentially intriguing, if somewhat familiar from previous years.  Bear in mind that I quite like Arachnids in the UK, perhaps the Chibnall episode most like this*.  Meh.  I’m not enjoying this series at all, and I take no satisfaction in saying that, especially as I felt series eleven, while not great, was on the way to being something better and defended it against people who said it was “Too PC” or “boring history lessons.”  But everything that was interesting and innovative about that series seems to have been jettisoned and replaced with tired rehashes of Russell T Davies and Steven Moffat’s greatest hits.  (Although Heaven Sent and Hell Bent seem to have been forgotten as the Doctor is back to mere “thousands” of years old and Gallifrey is destroyed twice rather than three times, four if you count the novels.)

Doctor Who rant over!


Just generally speaking, today I feel that the world I live in is uncomfortable and just plain wrong, but as a student of history and a reader of science fiction, I’m not sure I know of any other worlds that are any better.  I feel that I just mess stuff up and that stuff I don’t mess up is messed up for me.

I’m not sure what to do with the evening, what’s left of it.  I’m too tired for extra Torah (I managed half an hour or so on the Tube in to work, but was too tired to do any on the way home) or work on my novel.  I might just watch Star Trek Voyager and hope it’s better than Doctor Who was, disloyal fan though that makes me feel.  I feel too depressed to do anything useful, and despairing about the future (work, E., life in general).  I’m not sure where this has suddenly come from.  I feel like I’m a bad person even though I don’t think I have evidence to substantiate that claim, or not enough to prove it to the extent that I feel.  I feel like I’m not going to keep this job or find a new one.  I feel that E. and I will never get things sorted no matter how hard we try.  I feel that my life never works out.  I have a physical health issue I won’t go into now (not hugely worrying, just irritating).  And I’ve just remembered there’s a super-scary thing happening this week that I’m really worried about that I can’t even write about here.

I just feel in a state suddenly.  I hate it when my mood suddenly plummets.  Somehow it seems my fault.  Like, I was OK (admittedly for a very poor definition of “OK”) a few minutes ago, so why can’t I stay OK like normal people?  OK isn’t even happy, just moderately OK for a bit.

My parents had a dinner party a few weeks ago and bought Ben and Jerry’s ice cream.  There’s been a load left in the freezer ever since and I haven’t eaten any because of my semi-diet.  E. said I had strong will-power.  That may change…


One amusing thing today: I read a news article too quickly and for a moment I thought that the Labour leadership frontrunner Sir Keir Starmer was advocating a system of government “built on the principle of feudalism.”  This seemed shocking and unlikely, but after the last five years I wasn’t ruling anything out as impossible.  Perhaps fortunately, on re-reading it turned out that I had misread “federalism.”  This is a shame, as I was hoping for a new career as a knight errant.


* Admittedly my favourite bit from that episode only happened in my head.  When the Doctor asks Robertson, “Are all your hotels built on repurposed sites?” he answers, “No, some of them are built on Native American graveyards.”  It’s my headcanon and I’m sticking to it.


I was actually feeling happy last night.  I was thinking that I was glad that E. is in my life. Even if we never manage to move our relationship forward, I’m glad about where our relationship is now.  It feels weird to be even vaguely happy, it’s so rare in my life, doubly so to be happy about a less than ideal situation because I’m usually a worrier and a glass half empty person.

I went to bed about 1.00am, which wasn’t so bad considering how much I’d done in the evening.  But then I woke up at 7.00am and couldn’t get back to sleep.  After a while I was going to just get up and start the day early, but then fell back asleep and slept through until gone 1.00pm, which was not good and cost me my run today, admittedly partly because we went out for dinner tonight which affected what time I should eat lunch and when I needed to be ready to go out.  The main things I did today were forty-five minutes of Torah study, thirty-five minutes writing an email of support to a friend with religious OCD and go out for dinner with family to celebrate family birthdays, which was good, but has left me drained and needing introvert alone time, but unable to take any because I need to go to bed to get to work on time tomorrow for two important meetings.

Depression, depressive exhaustion and depression-disrupted sleep take a huge toll on my potential activity level.  I just can’t do as much as I would be able to do without depression, which is hard to accept when this is clearly how I’ve been all my adult life and how I will continue to be for a very long time, rather than it being a short-term illness that can be cured with medication and therapy (as depression is for some people).

I’ve bought some books lately.  It’s not such a problem given that I was earning some money this month, but some of them felt a bit like impulse buys, which I usually try to avoid.  It’s probably filling an internal void, although I’m not sure what.  I do feel like I’m using 100% of my energy at the moment even though I’m only working two days a week and doing a tiny bit of writing, exercising and Torah study in the remaining days and maybe the void comes there somehow.  I’ve mentioned before that I increasingly feel I can only plan for one major task a day, which seems pathetic, but it’s all I can manage.  There’s a lot more I want to do with my life which I just don’t have the energy/headspace for, from finishing my novel and moving on with becoming a Chartered librarian to moving my relationship with E. on to odd chores like backing up my iTunes account and joining the local public library (five years after moving here!  I am a bad librarian).

Tomorrow is set to be a scary day.  I have a phone meeting with the company that installs library management software (LMS) and online catalogues (OPACs) to see if they can help us.  The benefactor who owns the library is coming in at some point to see what I’ve done so far, say if he wants me to continue and set a budget for the LMS/OPAC installation project.  Somewhere after those things I will need to email the institution IT guy to try to give him a better idea of what I want to do with the LMS/OPAC project, and what aspects of it I need his help for.  A lot of peopling, particularly when it will probably be a late night because we’re out for dinner (family birthdays, two almost consecutive).  I think there will be a shiur (religious class) in the library at some point for added disruption.  There’s some scary stuff later in the week too.  Strangely, I’m not feeling too anxious about this, whether from confidence or exhaustion I don’t know.

A second-hand CD I bought turned out to be broken (damaged case, which I was tempted to accept, but I discovered the last track won’t play properly as well), so that I need to complain about that.  To be honest, if they offered me a refund I would accept, as the CD was really cheap and I don’t even like the last track much and it downloaded OK to iTunes which is where I listen to most of my music; it’s the principle of the thing really.  It’s just another thing to do, like sorting out self-publishing my book and investigating becoming a Chartered Librarian.  I have a long To Do List of non-work stuff and it’s hard to find time to do it.  And I only work two days a week!  I don’t know how I’d cope if I worked more.  At least I’m making progress with my novel.

The Real Me

Shabbat (the Sabbath) was much like other recent Shabbatot: a mixture of shul (synagogue) and home stuff.  The home stuff was OK; the shul stuff was mostly OK, but I still missed Shacharit (Morning Prayers) again due to social anxiety.  I think trying to “build up” to morning shul isn’t going to work because the problem is more complex than straightforward social anxiety.  On a fundamental level, I’m scared of rejection in this community, partly from my mental health issues and autism (cf. the person who was dismissive of my explanation for not attending shul), and partly because I know my religious level is not completely right.  At the moment I can put up with things, but I worry how people would react if the “real me” came out, either through sending out some of my devar Torah (Torah thought) emails to people and seeing how they react or through something bigger.

I could have put myself forward to lead Mincha (Afternoon Service) today because no one else was willing/able, but I was too scared and in the end they got someone else.  I think no one actually believes I could do it.  It would be nice to prove them wrong, but I am too worried about shaking.

A different, scarier, way that the real me could come out presented itself today.  There are weekly devar Torah sheets in shul.  One is a weekly halakhah (Jewish law) digest.  This week the topic was separation of genders.  This is a big difference between Modern Orthodox and Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) communities.  In Modern Orthodox communities there is division of men and women during prayer, but generally not in other events (Torah study events, shul social events, wedding parties etc.).  In Haredi communities gender segregation is the norm absolutely everywhere from fear that “immorality” will result from social contact.  If you get invited to dinner at someone’s house you will often find men at one end of the dining room table and women at the other, although this is not an absolute rule.

This halakhah sheet was very strict, probably more so than my shul, which can be a bit half-hearted, so at kiddush (refreshments after Shabbat morning service), men stand one side of the table and women on the other, but people talk across the table and not just to their spouse, which I find sillier than complete mingling.  I guess I worry what will happen if I get married.  I don’t really want a gender-segregated wedding, as I find it halakhically unnecessary and my friends and family would find it weird and disconcerting.  My understanding is that forty or fifty years ago even in the most ultra-Orthodox weddings there was mixed seating at the party and no one had an issue with it; the sexualisation of Western popular culture in the last half-century has prompted an extreme movement in the opposite direction in the Orthodox world and as is usually the case, both extremes are problematic and the best course is in the middle.  But then, would that mean that I couldn’t invite anyone from my shul to my wedding?

(Of course, first I need to sort out getting married…)

So that was Shabbat.  After Shabbat I spent about an hour working on my novel, with a bit of procrastination but not too much.  I wrote about 500 words again.  I spent some time researching self-publishing for my Doctor Who non-fiction book.  I’m now tempted to go with as I think it will be cheaper than IngramSpark, although it’s hard to guess how costs will mount up.  I’m worried that I have zero skill for graphic design (for the cover) and marketing, which will be major factors in making sales, but this has really turned into a vanity project and I just want to get it out there now.

And that’s about it for today.  Going to try to go to bed soon even though I don’t feel tired in the hope I might get up earlier tomorrow.

A Matter of Trust

I was catastrophising earlier and beating myself up for stuff that probably isn’t my fault.

I got an email from the IT guy at work in response to my email about installing an online library catalogue.  I thought I hadn’t explained things well and that he didn’t understand me at all and I started beating myself up for communicating badly.  Having calmed down and read the email again, I think he did understand some of what I was saying, but other things I didn’t explain well or didn’t think were relevant, or I haven’t even decided what we could do about them yet.  I’m still beating myself up a bit.  I decided to reply to him after Shabbat (the Sabbath) as I don’t have the headspace, time or energy to do so effectively now.

E. said I shouldn’t beat myself up for not feeling the “right” way about her.  She says there isn’t a “right” way to feel.  I guess I understand that, but I still worry about what will happen between us.  I’ve never been in a relationship for more than a few months, and even that was a one-off.  I don’t entirely know what long-term relationships feel like or involve.  I guess it’s scary because in the last week or so we’ve moved from “It would be great if we could get back together again one day” to “maybe we should be thinking in practical terms about what getting back together would involve and how to get there” which is exciting, but also scary.  But we had a little text talk earlier where she said I shouldn’t worry about this and we both said how much we trust each other.  My rabbi mentor says that, once you get past the initial chemistry, relationships are pretty much entirely about trust, and (in my limited experience) I think he’s right.

“When you open your heart/You can make a new start/When your crumbling world falls apart”

I’m stuck in post work exhaustion again.  I went to bed about 12.30am, which is reasonably good for me on a night when I don’t have work the next day, particularly as I was watching a long film which I kept pausing (I think because I was feeling overloaded, although I’m not entirely sure why beyond what I said yesterday about fast cutting in films and TV).  But I slept for twelve hours and woke up exhausted.  It was an effort to get up and eat some cereal and drink coffee.  The food and caffeine did eventually help a bit, but only up to a point.

I went back to bed after breakfast for a bit, from depression as much as exhaustion.  I thought about E.  I don’t get lonely any more, I just miss E.  I guess that’s telling.  I do worry we will never get our lives sorted out enough to be together, and I feel bad about that, because it’s much more my life that’s in a mess than hers.  I still worry that I’m not feeling the “right” emotions or “strong enough” emotions for her.  I am probably over-analysing again.  E. suggested today that we have some advantages in having got to know each other well as friends without trying to impress each other, which is true, and I think we have learnt that we have compatible personalities and core values.  It’s just that the practical aspects of our lives are so hard to align.  I’m not in a fit state to be dating.

I gave up on the idea of jogging again today.  I just had too much to do and too little energy, plus by late afternoon I started to develop a headache.  Likewise, I haven’t got any further with looking into self-publishing my non-fiction book.  I spent some time writing two work emails regarding setting up an online catalogue for the library.  I struggled to write the more technical one as I realised my ignorance in the technical side of library management systems and online catalogues, as well as my ignorance generally regarding the inner technological workings of the internet.  I’m reasonably confident that the IT person I emailed isn’t the person of the same name who bullied me at school as I found his LinkedIn page and the dates don’t quite fit (he must be a year or two older than me), which is something of a relief.

I forced myself to go to shul (synagogue) and shiur (religious class) even though I was feeling depressed and withdrawn and my headache had not gone when I left, although the pain killer I had taken soon kicked in.  In the event, the shiur dealt with the same question I had looked at for my devar Torah (Torah thought) this week, albeit taking it in a very different direction.  I found the focus on kabbalah (mysticism) confusing and I didn’t agree with some of the kabbalistic assumptions on which it was based.  I also ate a huge amount of junk food there.  I got into one of my comfort eating moods and just ate and ate.  I wish I’d had better self-control.  I find in places like shiur where there’s a huge amount of junk food and everyone is sitting around eating, it’s very hard to eat nothing at all, but surprisingly it’s even harder to eat just a little.  Total abstinence is easier than eating a little and when I reached for my first biscuit, thinking that would be the only one, I had already lost the battle.  Still, I did go there; at one point even that seemed unlikely.

I tried to work on my novel when I got home.  I was easily distracted and eventually became too tired to continue, but I did nearly an hour (including distractions) and wrote about 450 words, close to my target of 500.  I’m going to go to bed soon, although I want to finish the episode of Star Trek Voyager I was watching before, one of the irritating episodes where they meet some aliens with a religious belief and patronise them because the writers think that religion is silly and backwards, but can’t say so overtly.

Thoughts Before Crashing

I’ve almost finished phase one of the library work.  I should finish it next week, on schedule (which was lucky as I largely guessed how long it would take as I didn’t really have enough data).  I’ve got the library in a state where I could find a book on a given subject, although a few shelves could do with some further sorting into a precise order rather than a rough one.  The problem is, I doubt anyone else could find anything as issues like stakeholders wanting some books kept together, oversize books needing to go in particular places, some supposedly adjustable shelves not being adjustable and people feeling they can keep personal religious items (and whisky) in the library cupboards/shelves because it doubles as a shul (synagogue) mean that the layout is not entirely logical.  I hope to make some signs next week, if I can work out how to use the laminator.

I need to find out from the benefactor who owns the library (a) if he still wants me to work next month (I’m assuming he does, but I should check), and (b) what the budget is for setting up an online library catalogue.  I’d like to have some idea ahead of a phone meeting I have on Monday with someone from a company who might be able to install a system for us.  (I feel very grown up arranging meetings, something I haven’t really done before.)  I also need to email the person who runs the organisation’s website to find out whether the library catalogue will be compatible.  This could be awkward; he apparently went to the same school as I did.  There was someone with his name in my year and he bullied me persistently.  Not very severely, but enough that I hope it’s not him.  As both his first name and surname are common in the Jewish community, I’m going to hope he was in a different year and just has the same name as the bully.  Whoever he is, I think he’s become very Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) now so that could prompt all kinds of thoughts.


I managed about forty-five minutes of Torah study today, but was too tired to do much on the way home.  I did walk both to and from the station.  I think I’m losing weight.  I don’t weigh myself regularly enough, but when I have weighed myself, my weight has been fluctuating quite a bit and I wonder if the digital scales are accurate.  On the other hand, after several good days I gave into temptation tonight and ate three Quality Street chocolates.


The lack of a real lunch break at work is hard for me.  I get thirty minutes for lunch because the other half-hour goes on Mincha and Ma’ariv (Afternoon and Evening Services), which are currently at an awkward time mid-afternoon.  I don’t like to eat in the library because (a) you shouldn’t eat in libraries and (b) it’s also a shul and you shouldn’t really eat in shuls either (although Jews do).  That means I eat in the anteroom where there isn’t a table, so I sit with the sandwich I’m eating in one hand and the second sandwich in the other and find it hard to read.  I should really put the other sandwich on the side of the sink which is the nearest thing to a table there, but for some reason I never think of it.  By the time I’ve eaten (sandwiches and vegetables), I only have about ten minutes left of my lunch half-hour to read and break from work.  I suspect that some of the not reading isn’t anything to do with holding sandwiches and is more due to total exhaustion and need for no brain stimulation at all for a bit.  I get through the day, but I’m exhausted after work.  After dinner I sometimes get a burst of energy, but I’m a wreck the next day.


I had some energy after dinner, but decided not to work on my novel as I felt I needed the rest.  I watched Spectre, and have now watched all the Eon Bond films in order (but there’s a new one out later in the year).  Not that “in order” matters much when the continuity is usually minimal.  I discovered that I do still like James Bond films, but I don’t like the character of James Bond much except when he’s played by Roger Moore.  Likewise, I prefer 1970s-style silly adventure romps for all the family to modern Serious Drama Bond (I seriously believe that for its first half or even three-quarters, Moonraker is an enjoyable film if you don’t think about it too much).  Live and Let Die is my favourite (probably my favourite title song too), taking over from The Spy Who Loved Me, which was my childhood fave.

There’s a serious point here.  I’ve noticed for a while that I mostly watch films and TV from before I was born or at least before I was old.  The cut-off is probably somewhere around 1990.  It’s not a nostalgia thing, because a lot of these things I discovered as an adult (e.g. QuatermassThe PrisonerSapphire and Steel, Blake’s 7).  You can definitely find cultural changes that have happened in the last twenty or thirty years that partly explain it.  I certainly don’t like the way that culture is even more sexualised than previously with once-celibate characters like the Doctor, Sherlock Holmes and Mr Spock being given Significant Others.  But I wonder if there’s also a more technical answer, that my autistic brain doesn’t like the rapid pace and fast cutting of modern film and TV, finding it over-stimulating and hard to follow.  Spectre was cut slower than some other recent Bond films and I found it easier to follow, although I did still have to pause or rewind the exposition scenes to let my brain catch up.  I think I do tune out of the very fast action scenes.


And that’s it for another work day.  I’m crashing now, so should go to bed.  A friend has just written an email in some distress and I’m worried for her, but am in no state to reply in a helpful way so will have to hope that she can hold on until tomorrow.

Struggling to Understand my Emotions

I woke up feeling very depressed and lonely today.  Mum and Dad were both out for most of the day, which probably reinforced the loneliness; it’s strange how even an introvert loner like me gets used to waking in a house with at least one other person up and about.  I went back to bed for over an hour after breakfast because I was so depressed.  Work does seem to take a lot out of me.  I get through the work days OK and perhaps there is some adrenaline during them, as I sometimes have a burst of energy in the evening after work, but I’m a wreck the next day.

I decided not to go for a run, as it would take too much time.  After a lot of procrastination, I wrote an email to a company that installs software for library management systems and online catalogues to ask if they have a system that would be suitable for where I work and if they would be able to install it.  I always feel bad asking questions like this, like I should somehow know in more detail what’s on offer.  I also realise that sending this stuff to the “contact” box on the website is not ideal and I should have a personal contact somewhere.  Plus, I always feel guilty doing things like this by email when I can hear my Dad saying I should phone, although as has been noted by commenters here before, that’s not always the best approach and may be a product of generational divide or differing communication styles as much as by autism or social anxiety.

As well as not going for a run, I didn’t move further towards getting my non-fiction book self-published.  I did cook dinner (vegetarian kedgeree, the easiest recipe I know) and emailed a friend who is struggling with her own issues.  I also spent half an hour reviewing last week’s Talmud shiur (class).  It seemed to make more sense, although it’s taken me three or four attempts to get to this stage and I don’t know if I have the time/energy/concentration to do this regularly.  I also managed to work on my novel for half an hour.  I would have liked to have spent longer on it, but I wanted to get to bed reasonably early so stopped.  I hit my 500 word target comfortably, which was good.

I’ve been beating myself up for stupid things.  I worry I’ve upset someone with an innocent blog comment that I would not have made if I had known what the reaction would be, which I should really have guessed.  I worry about losing my friends.  It feels like it’s objectively true that my friendships seem to end eventually.  This is obviously true if one takes a long enough perspective, but that’s not terribly helpful.  I do have friends from university (over fifteen years ago) and one from school (albeit that we haven’t seen each other in years), but lately I’ve lost a lot of friends, sometimes my fault, on some level at least, and sometimes not, but it makes me worry that I can’t keep friends.  Lately I seem to be some sort of disaster area for social interactions.  I didn’t eat dinner with my parents either, because I wanted to eat, watch TV (to try to relax a bit) and then try to do some things I didn’t do during the day (to get some feeling of accomplishment) and the only way to do that was to eat while watching TV so I felt bad for not eating with them.

I worry about losing E. too, particularly as I don’t know how I keep losing friends to avoid doing it in the future.  I also worry that I don’t care about her enough, where “enough” is a problematically vague label to fit on an emotion that can’t be easily quantified, particularly when (a) I have always had trouble understanding my own emotions and (b) severe depression is warping my emotional life generally.  I suppose I care about E. enough so that she thinks I’m a good friend, which is probably all that’s needed at the moment.  I do worry that I can’t cope with people, though.  What if E. and I get married (halevi) and then we discover that I can’t cope with living with anyone other than my parents (who I cope with by hiding in my room most of the time)?  It’s good that we’re thinking of moving our relationship on, but I’m terrified of hurting E.  To be honest, if I can’t make things work with E., I very much doubt that I can make them work with anyone else.  I wish we could just date like “normal” people, with issues about religious difference, geographical distance or mental health issues.

I guess there I go talking about “normality” again, as if there is such a thing.  “Normal” and “should” are words I should (!) ban from my vocabulary.

Well, I “should” go to bed…

“Hey, hey, I saved the world today”

Today was a difficult day.  I struggled at work, partly because of people using the library for work and for a shiur (religious class), making me feel self-conscious as I carried on with my work around  them and creating noise that was hard to tune out, which only got worse when the choir practise started in the next room.  I think that’s going to happen every other Monday afternoon and I’ll just have to put up with it.  As I’ve said, the library rates quite low in the institution’s priorities.  I’m not upset about that as it makes sense within those priorities, for reasons I can’t say without giving too much away about it, but it does make it hard for me with autistic noise issues.  That I find libraries frequently too noisy for me is one of my main pieces of evidence in favour of my being on the spectrum.

Beyond this, I felt a lot of depression and anxiety today, some about work and how I am doing with it and how I will do with the next step forward, which is going to involve talking to people (the horror!).  I did get a bit of a better idea about that next step though.  I want to do some research tomorrow (even though it’s not a work day – it will be easier at home), but it looks like WordPress has a plugin for a library management system for small libraries, which could be ideal for us, although I need to find out if it’s compatible with the institution’s website and how to install it, whether it’s something I could do myself or if I would need outside contractors (quite likely given that my IT skills, while competent, do not extend to coding and I’m only vaguely aware of what plugins are).

As well as all this, there was anxiety about my relationship with E.  We both feel we should bite the bullet and look for ways of moving our relationship on, but we’re both scared that doing that will wreck everything.  To be honest, I’m not even sure that I’m in the right place to be thinking about relationships given that my mood and energy levels fluctuate so much at the moment.  That said, our text conversation did show that we both think that relationships involve work and investment of time and energy and are not just about finding “The One,” which is a big thing that lots of people don’t understand.

We’re also both scared of self-sabotaging things.  I think we’re actually both scarily alike, once you take into account the religious differences (both Jewish, but I’m a lot more observant).  In terms of personality and, I think, core values, we’re not identical, but similar.  But dealing with religious differences and geographical distance and both of us having mental health issues and neither of us really earning enough to live on…  It does make it seem hard to build a relationship.  It doesn’t help that I overthink things and spent hours today trying to quantify how I feel about E. to see if I care “enough” which is probably not a sensible thing to do any day, let alone a day when I feel stressed, depressed and anxious.

I’m also anxious about something else that I can’t write about here.

On the plus side, Dad said he was pleased that I’m getting more responsibility in my new job, while CILIP (the Chartered Institute of Librarians and Information Professionals) got back to me to say I could try to apply for Chartership, which is scary, but also exciting, given that I read about people getting Chartership in the CILIP magazine and think, “I could never do that, only people who are really good at their career could do that.”  Chartership would mark me out as a better librarian and make me more employable as well as being a confidence boost, given that at the moment I rate my professional skills and ability low.

Also on the plus side, I did do a reasonable amount at work, even if I was sidetracked onto stuff I didn’t really want to deal with and am still not sure how well I am coping with the number of stakeholders and the amount of stake that they are holding (so to speak).  I did fifty minutes of Torah study on the Tube too, managing some on the way home as well as the way there (a Mishnah and a chunk of The Art of Biblical Poetry by Robert Alter, which I’m counting as Torah even though my rabbi probably wouldn’t) and walked to and from the station (twenty minutes each way).  I also spent an additional seven minutes reading a psalm once I was home (as study rather than prayer), so in terms of achievement it was a good day, even if it wasn’t so much in terms of mood.


On a previous post, Chaconia suggested that people at shul (synagogue) might see me as aloof.  This is something I do worry about.  When I was in counselling when I was at university (not the first time I was in counselling, but the first time I was actually able to talk to the counsellor), the counsellor suggested a dynamic whereby I get anxious of social contact and withdraw, but other people see this as holding myself aloof and respond by avoiding me, which fuels my anxiety and withdrawal in a vicious circle.  This was the first time a counsellor or therapist had re-framed my life in a way that brought sudden insight, so it’s stuck in my memory.  Realistically, it probably does still happen, especially now we know that high-functioning autism is probably a factor in there too, involving difficulty understanding and coping with social interactions.  I do hold back from people and they don’t know what’s going on in my head to know why I’m holding back.  It’s just hard to know what to do it, especially when, as I mentioned to Chaconia, I’ve told people at shul about my issues and the response has been mixed, sometimes silence, once negative remarks, although I think a couple of my friends at shul do now message me to check I’m OK if I miss a service or shiur that I normally would attend.  I’m not complaining, because I genuinely don’t know what sort of response I would like to get to my issues and what would help me to fit in and “come out of my shell” (to use a horrible phrase much used about me by adults when I was a child).

I “discovered” a song recently.  Actually, I rediscovered it, as I must have heard it years ago and it lodged in my head without knowing who sang it or what the lyrics really were.  Then it came on on a Spotify playlist the other day and I discovered the chorus lyrics really are, “Hey, hey, I saved the world today/Everybody’s happy now/The bad thing’s gone away/And everybody’s happy now/The good thing’s here to stay/Please let it stay” but the song (I Saved the World Today by Eurythmics) as a whole has a level of irony and desperation that I hadn’t noticed before and which seems relevant to the bad-yet-good day I had today, starting, “Monday finds you like a bomb/That’s been left ticking there too long” while the second verse talks about “a hurting thing inside/But I’ve got everything to hide”.  That was my day, anyway.


I went to bed late and got up late again last night today.  I don’t regret going to bed late, as I stayed up Skyping E. because she was depressed.  But I slept for a long time again and when I got up it was already afternoon.  Eventually I came to enough to get dressed and daven (pray) and go for a run, but I got an exercise migraine when I got back, which stopped me doing as much as I would have liked today.

I did manage to do forty-five minutes of Torah study.  I’m trying out a new way of dividing my time for Torah study.  The weekly Torah (in the narrow sense of the Five Books of Moses) reading is divided into seven aliyot and I used to like to read one a day, so that I studied something from the Torah itself every day, but now that seems a bit counterproductive, as it only takes five or ten minutes to read most aliyot, so the actual time spent getting the place and getting into gear (so to speak) is disproportionate to the time actually spent studying.  More importantly, now I write a lengthy devar Torah (Torah thought) from scratch every week it makes sense to read the whole sedra (reading) early in the week to give me time to think about it and research ideas.  So I read the whole sedra today and will study other things over the rest of the week, although I think the sheer amount I want to do is probably too ambitious.

The other thing I’m doing is giving up on reading the Artscroll-published Tehillim (Psalms).  When I got it (a birthday present, but one I requested, I think when I was eighteen), I did not understand the Orthodox world and did not understand that every commentary has its own viewpoint and worldview.  I did not understand the real differences between the Modern Orthodox and ultra-Orthodox worldviews and did not know that I would eventually feel uncomfortable with Artscroll’s traditional approach, focusing on Medieval attempts at etymology and Midrashic readings, and that I would want a more conceptual approach, but one focused on the straightforward meaning of the text rather than homiletics, and that I would become sceptical of a lot of Medieval etymology.  I can still use the book for reference, and for the opening remarks giving an overview each psalm.  Hopefully moving away from the extensive commentary there means I can get back in the habit of reading significant amounts of NaKh (the post-Mosaic books of the Hebrew Bible) every week, as that is something that I enjoy more instead of getting bogged down in commentary that does not interest me.

I would also like to take some serious time working on the Talmud each week, revising what we studied in the previous Saturday’s shiur (class) and looking ahead to what we might study in the next one (although it’s hard to estimate how far we will get), trying to use the tabulating strategy I was taught to try to understand each sugya (section).  I’d like to get this book to help Talmudic language, although it’s proving hard to get hold of (I try not to use Amazon if I can avoid it, plus if they have such a long delivery date, it usually means there going to struggle to get it).  The Talmud uses language in a very precise way that can be hard to pick up without help.  It’s really supposed to be taught by a teacher rather than learnt from a book.  For example, the word used to introduce a counter-argument based on logical reasoning is different to the word used to introduce a counter-argument based on a superior proof-text.  The book I linked to describes what particular words and phrases denote beyond their literal senses.  To be fair, that’s the type of thing that the rabbi flags up to us in the shiur, but I know I will process that information better if I can see it written down.

I looked at some stuff online about self-publishing my non-fiction book about Doctor Who.  Some of the stuff I knew already as a librarian, but some I didn’t and in some places librarian practice differs significantly from bookseller practice (e.g. about capitalisation of titles).

I am not sure whether to go with IngramSpark or Lulu.  I went to a confidence course led by someone who used Lulu to print her books, which I guess is a recommendation, but on the downside Lulu’s costs are not clear because they vary according to the book’s length and requirements.  IngramSpark has clearer prices.  My gut instinct is to go with IngramSpark, but I’m not sure why I feel like that.

I also spent some time working on my novel, in two fifteen or twenty minute chunks.  I would have liked to have written for longer.  I’m slightly worried about writing in little sessions rather than longer ones, fearing it might make my writing disconnected, but with my headache and the other things I had to do today (listed above, plus cooking dinner, from a packet, as I had no time/energy for cooking from fresh ingredients) – it was not really possible to do anything more.  Despite the short amount of time, I wrote about 850 words which was extremely good.  I’m not sure if I’m writing more because I’m getting into the flow of the writing or because much of this section is autobiographical and does not require so much imagination, which is potentially a trap.

No Man Is an Island

… and that goes double for members of traditional communities, who find themselves with strong communal obligations, but not necessarily communal support.  To put it another way, I had a good Shabbat (Sabbath) on a personal level, but a not so good one on a communal level.

On the plus side, I did a chunk of Torah study and mostly followed the Talmud shiur (class) this week.  I had mild insomnia again, but I read quite a bit of the novel I’ve just started, Penguin Lost, the sequel to the novel Death and the Penguin, about a Ukrainian obituary writer and his pet penguin who get involved with the Russian Mafia.  I read the first book in the worst period of my life, the winter of 2003-04, when I was in Oxford, depressed, suicidal, feeling desperately lonely and unable to work, but my tutors wanted me to stick around to see if my antidepressants could kick in at some point (they didn’t).  I’m not sure why I decided to read it then, as it has comedic elements, but is dark.  The sequel came out fairly soon afterwards, but I didn’t get it, although I enjoyed the first book, as I didn’t feel like re-reading the first one in preparation.  I eventually decided that Death and the Penguin lingers in my memory much more strongly than books I’ve read far more recently, so I might as well just get the sequel and read it.  So far it’s good, but not as good as the first one, although I might be mis-remembering after sixteen years.

The other good things were not freaking out with religious OCD when someone did something that I would not have done, but which my rabbi mentor tells me is OK; and not being jealous of the person my age at shul (synagogue) whose eldest son was bar mitzvah.  I think I can see other people’s lives as just so ridiculously different to mine that there is no point even getting upset over the differences any more.  While it’s still possible that I’ll work full-time, get married and have kids some day, it’s clearly not happening any time soon.

On the downside…

As I mentioned, there was a bar mitzvah in shul over Shabbat so there were a lot of extra people on Friday night and I couldn’t sit in my regular seat or anywhere near it.  This is the type of thing that I used to think didn’t worry me in an autistic way, but I now realise actually does throw me, particularly if there are knock-on social anxiety implications.  In this case, I was sitting next to someone I didn’t know so well and was worried about who I would have to shake hands with and wish gut Shabbos to after the service.  After Lecha Dodi, there was circle dancing again and this time I left the room because I just couldn’t face it… and one of the bar mitzvah guests followed me out!  On one level, I was kind of glad that I was not the only person who couldn’t cope with the dancing, but I also worried that he would initiate conversation, particularly about why I wasn’t dancing, so I spent several minutes moving around the rest of the shul trying to avoid him, which probably seemed rude or just weird.  I did manage to shake hands with the rabbi and father of the bar mitzvah boy after the service and wished the latter mazal tov, which for a while looked far too difficult for me to manage.

Then on the way out the person with some authority in the shul who has criticised me for not going to Shacharit (Morning Service) on Shabbat and made light of my saying that I have health issues asked if I was going to come the next day as he would call me to say the brachot (blessings) over the Torah.  I muttered something noncommittal, but I’m sure it made me feel super-anxious on Shabbat morning and unable to get up despite waking up early for once.

When I went to shul for Mincha (Afternoon Service) this afternoon, no one was willing/able to lead the service.  I wanted to volunteer as I used to do it in my old shul, but I was too shy.  It was partly social anxiety, partly fear of shaking and partly the fact that there’s a big paragraph of Aramaic in Mincha in this shul that we didn’t say in my old shul and which I read really slowly because I don’t understand Aramaic and I was worried about delaying everyone.  I felt bad, because, as with the divrei Torah (Torah essays) that I write, but am too scared to share with my community, it feels like a waste of whatever talents God has given me, but I’m just too scared of messing everything up and/or getting rejected by people.  I don’t know if they would even believe I can lead Shabbat Mincha if I volunteered, so little have I shown myself able to do things in this shul.

Then, after Mincha, when we were sitting around waiting for the Talmud shiur to start, someone asked why I led weekday Mincha the other week when I visibly did not look like I wanted to do it.  I didn’t realise it was so obvious.  I don’t know if he actually saw me shaking, but it will make me feel more self-conscious about it next time.  The dislike is more because of the shaking than anything else.  If I could get rid of that, I would feel a lot better about leading services, although I doubt I would actively volunteer for them (not least because that always seems arrogant and wrong to me).  Unfortunately, the shaking is caused by my taking olanzapine.  Various psychiatrists have tried to cut out the olanzapine, because it’s difficult to see what it’s doing for me when I’m also on clomipramine and lithium, but every time we try, my mood plummets dangerously and I have to come back on it.  So I guess I won’t be comfortable leading services for some time yet.

I wish I was good at something religiously in a way that I could use to fit in to my shul community.  If I could daven from the amud (lead services), write divrei Torah that I felt comfortable sharing, participate in the Talmud shiur more actively (ask and answer questions) or even just get to more services (like Shabbat mornings) so that I was a very regular shul-goer, particularly on weekdays when they struggle for a minyan (prayer quorum) it would be a start.  It’s things like that that help someone get accepted in a new community.  I feel I don’t have anything to buy my way in with (so to speak).

Oh, and someone told the story about when the rabbi of the Thursday shiur bet a £50 gift to tzedaka (charity) that no one would know the answer to his question and I answered it correctly.  I almost wish I hadn’t answered, so much has that question followed me around for the last few years.  So, on the whole a mixed Shabbat.

Motzei Shabbat (Saturday evening) has been a bit better.  I came back to see that an issue that has been ticking away in the background for a week and a half is still ticking away and I don’t know where it’s going or what I can do about it.  It’s worrying.  I did at least work for forty-five minutes or so on my novel, procrastinating a bit at the beginning, but being quite productive once I got down to it and writing 600 words (613 to be exact, a number loaded with Jewish significance).  I then watched Quantum of Solace, which apparently has a reputation for being one of the worst James Bond films.  I think it lived up to its reputation.  I am vaguely nostalgic for it, though, as I saw it in the cinema (one of only three Bond films I’ve seen in the cinema) with a group of people from a Jewish mental health support group.  I even squeezed in a Skype call with E., so the evening was better than the day.

Anxiety and Inferiority

I had a difficult day today.  I did sort my iTunes problem and go for a walk to get a repeat prescription.  I also did fifteen minutes of brainstorming about the next step for the work library and went to shiur.  That was about it though.  I didn’t have time for working on my novel or looking into self-publishing my Doctor Who book.  A couple of things happened that made me anxious, even made me think of mortality (mine and that of those around me).  One I can’t talk about here and one I don’t think would be sensible to talk about here, but writing is my usual outlet for negative emotions, so it is hard to cope with them when I can’t write about them.  I don’t know how much here is anxiety and how much is real.  I hope these things will turn out to be nothing, but who knows.

Shiur was difficult again.  I’m trying not to obsess over it, because there is a sense of the problem being in my head and my tendency to compare myself to others.  I struggled to understand the shiur again and I suppose on some level I assumed that the others did understand it, even though the person who gave me a lift home said it was a difficult shiur.  Then I felt inferior to the people who are studying Daf Yomi (the daily page of Talmud) and also to the off-hand way people can talk about holiness and spirituality as if they find it in their lives every day.  Do many people really experience those things easily?  Or at all?  I feel like I am a weird exception, being a strongly believing and practising Jew who feels little positive emotional (as opposed to intellectual) connection to God, Torah and Judaism.  Is this the case?

I can see that I am at least possibly seeing things that aren’t there, assuming that lots of people are regularly studying Talmud when they might not be, assuming that people are understanding the shiur when they might not, assuming that people are living lives filled with religious meaning and purpose and connection to God, Torah and Judaism when they might not, but it’s still hard to switch off the voice that tells me that I’m weird, that I don’t fit into the Orthodox community, that I have no connection with God and so on.


Today got off to a stressful start when I checked the Transport for London website on waking and saw that there were severe delays on the Tube line I take to work.  I hurried out of the house as quickly as possible without even shaving (fortunately yesterday I was too depressed to shave until late in the afternoon, so I didn’t really look unshaven until late today).  I caught the bus, but halfway to work the bus got stuck in very bad traffic, so I got off again, walked to the nearest Tube station on an unaffected line and made it in to work half an hour late.  I was just relieved it wasn’t even later.  I took fifteen minutes for lunch instead of thirty (the other thirty minutes of my lunch hour are used on attendance at Minchah and Ma’ariv, Afternoon and Evening Prayers, held in the library) and will catch up the other fifteen minutes, probably tomorrow as I need to do some planning.

The planning is partly to deal with my continual Impostor Syndrome at work.  I worry that I’m not doing anything worthwhile for the library.  This is not entirely true, as it’s a lot neater and it will be easier to find books, but if it is to be a major resource for users, as the benefactor wants, it will need some serious further work, but I’m uncertain as to what is the best next step, as I’m so far out of my comfort/experience zone.  Certainly I think some retrospective cataloguing and reclassification of some books is necessary and this could entail lobbying for Microsoft Office to be added to the library laptop and possibly for online cataloguing software.  The latter seems to be what the benefactor wants, but I’m uncertain of what steps to take to get it and am still worried that the library is too small for that level of resource.

I have wider job worries too.  I am getting some enjoyment and satisfaction from this job, but the depression lingers and so far it has had lots of slow moments.  Will I ever find a job I really enjoy?  Does anyone?  Some people seem to; I think they’re rather lucky.

I did get through the day at work, although my mood was up and down, with some depression, particularly towards the end of the work day, when I was tired and hungry.  Then I came home and did forty-five minutes of work on my novel after dinner, writing a whopping 700 words.  I hope I can keep this up!


A further thought about not fitting in to communities: I begin to worry that I just look for reasons why I don’t fit in.  The community which my job serves is very different to my home religious community.  It’s more similar to my parents’, but still different in some ways.  Yet again I find (new) reasons why I wouldn’t fit in.  I think on some level I have a mental image of myself as a loner that is hard to break down and replace with something more functional.


I’m averaging a good night’s sleep – I slept for twelve hours last night after sleeping for only four the night before.  I would rather have it spread evenly though.  One of the things I hate most about depression is waking up more tired than I went to bed and spending an hour or more before I feel able to confront the day.

I worked on my weekly devar Torah (Torah thought) for nearly an hour and cooked dinner.  Other than that I didn’t do much except feel vaguely nervous about work, about which I still have something of an Impostor Syndrome.

I did something that felt somewhat against Jewish law and downloaded some music that I probably shouldn’t because it was sung by women.  In the Haredi world, it is Not Done for men to listen to women singing.  It is obviously not considered a problem by secular standards, and even in the Modern Orthodox world my rabbi mentor said most people only apply the law to live music and not recorded music.  I suspect it’s one of the things that has suddenly become a lot stricter in the last sixty years or so.  Haredi rabbis used to go to the opera.  Not all of them, but some prominent ones did, apparently (I don’t have documentary proof, but I’ve heard it from a few places I consider reliable).  I had been avoiding listening to female lead vocals in recent years, but over the last year I’ve been feeling so awful and struggling to keep going with my motivation in Judaism and, inevitably, I’ve slipped in a few areas, including this.

Anyway, I downloaded some music on iTunes, but it didn’t download properly and I just spent an hour and a half instant messaging the iTunes helpdesk.  I’m sure some people would say that this is A Sign that I’m not supposed to do this, but I can’t see how I can be on such a high level that it makes any difference to me.  I feel I’m not such a tzaddik (saintly person) that God should zap me (as the shiur rabbi would say) for such a trivial thing.

The guy on the helpdesk talked me through some things that changed which songs were or weren’t downloaded properly, but didn’t resolve the problem.  Then he told me to alter some stuff on my laptop that I had trouble doing because Windows is pants and while I was trying to work out what to do the helpdesk guy hung up on me.  I tried doing what he said anyway and it still didn’t help.  I am not sure what to do, as Apple have lousy customer support (why do people love Apple so much?).  I guess I will have to instant messenger someone again on Thursday.

I still feel like God is punishing me with this problem.  I also lost my novel writing time today because of it and will probably lose it again on Thursday if I have to do this again.  Writing is hard in my new job.  I thought not job hunting would lead to more novel writing, but so far I’ve been too tired to write on work days i.e. Mondays and Wednesdays, which I expected, but also too tired write much on Tuesdays and Thursdays because work tires me out so much, doubly so on Tuesdays because I have to cook dinner.  Fridays are a write-off  in the winter because Shabbat (the Sabbath) starts so early.  I can write a little on Saturday evening, but that time often gets swallowed by tidying up, by other chores I didn’t have time for in the week or by blogging any upsetting things that happened over Shabbat (upsetting things often seem to happen on Shabbat).  That just leaves Sundays for writing, which is ridiculous.

Now I feel super-tense, depressed and agitated from trying to solve the problem and failing, and thinking about having to do it again on Thursday, and not having time to write and thinking about my whole big ‘to do’ list that has sat untouched since I started this job.  The easiest thing to do with the music might be to wait until the invoice comes and refuse purchase stating there’s a problem, and then try to buy it again in a few weeks.  As for feeling tense, depressed and agitated, I don’t have an answer to that.  I started watching a Star Trek: Voyager episode, but it wasn’t terribly interesting.

At the back of my mind, I’m still thinking about two articles I read today, here and here (trigger warning for sexual abuse).  I’m glad I don’t belong to a very Haredi community like the one in the first article (the Tablet Magazine one), but a group of people from my shul (synagogue) went to the siyum in the second post (they wouldn’t have necessarily known about the politics there).  This type of thing makes me really angry.  On a personal level, I know I do stuff wrong, and it’s pretty much impossible for a single man my age not to do some stuff wrong regarding sex, but I don’t hurt other people despite my struggles.  I hate the idea that there have been so many cases of people able to get away with hurting other people because of the attitudes of parts of the frum community, attitudes that are suspicious of the non-Jewish police (or non-Orthodox police in Israel) and which automatically view people on the fringes of the community as being suspect especially when it’s their word against a rabbi or religious leader, particularly one with yichus (good lineage).  There isn’t anything I can do other than try to write books about people on the fringe of the frum community and hope that helps someone, so it’s frustrating when I can’t even do that.

I just feel awful right now and I don’t know how I will get to sleep while feeling so tense and depressed (to bring the post full circle).  Someone recently said that I’m not really ill and I haven’t really suffered anything, I’m just useless undependable.  E. and one of my other friends said not to listen to this person, but it’s hard not to sometimes.  At the moment, looking at how little I achieved today, I feel pretty useless.

Kosher Angst

I struggled to sleep again last night.  I got about four hours in the end.  I was surprisingly awake in the morning, but flagging by mid-afternoon and had to phone my Dad for a lift home from the Tube station after work as I was too tired to walk home.

Most of the day was OK, although I changed my plans for the library in a large-ish way which I hope wasn’t too much of an impulsive decision or one that will cost me support with library users.  I am still adapting to the environment and what is expected of me on the one hand and what resources are available on the other.  I need to take some time to think about long-term planning, probably away from the library as it’s hard to sit and plan there because of interruptions and not wanting to look like I’m just spending my time staring into space (I’m very happy to stand staring into space while thinking about things at home, but my parents always come and ask if I’m OK, which breaks the train of thought).

The benefactor who owns the library came in today for Minchah and Ma’ariv (Afternoon and Evening Prayers).  I tried to show him what I was doing, but I got the impression he thought it was fine and didn’t really want to be hands-on with it.  I guess that’s good, I just worry that I won’t be able to cope with being so self-directed.

I was going fairly well until after davening (prayers).  The last hour or so of the day was really hard.  By that stage I was very tired and my blood sugar had probably dropped.  I tend to snack on fruit during the day, but for various reasons that isn’t always easy at work.  I was dealing with some books that someone had bought or, more likely, donated to the library at some point by and about Chabad Lubavitch.  Chabad is an ultra-Orthodox Hasidic movement noted for kiruv (outreach), essentially trying to encourage/help non-religious Jews to become more religious.  They tend to provoke polarising reactions in other Jews and I have mixed feelings about them.  Some of the books were by Rabbi Shmuel (Shmuely) Boteach, who is an even more polarising figure.  You may have heard of him as he has a media presence far beyond any official position he’s ever held.  He even stood for Congress a few years back.  He was Chabad shaliach at Oxford.  A shaliach is an emissary; shluchim are a couple sent to a particular place to a place, generally a remote one with few Jewish amenities (shuls, kosher food etc.) to run Chabad kiruv there and provide services to Jews who live there or are passing through as travellers.  It’s usually a life-long commitment, but Rabbi Boteach outgrew Oxford and he left before I went up, but older students and community members still talked about him a lot during my time there, which shows how big a personality he is.

I flicked through his book, which was titled Moses of Oxford.  The title might give you an idea of why Rabbi Boteach is such a polarising figure.  (I have to flick through books to get an idea of where they belong in the library, but then I worry about reading too much and wasting time… this is a problem I have never resolved in all my years of librarianship.)  The book was a collection of essays he wrote, or possibly lectures/divrei Torah he delivered in Oxford.  There was quite a bit about sex.  This is one of Rabbi Boteach’s favourite topics.  He became quite notorious for writing books with titles like Kosher Sex and Kosher Adultery.  His argument is that pornography, masturbation and the general sexualisation of society are robbing us of true intimacy and eroticism within marriage.  His argument is not that sex is bad, so it should be limited to marriage, but rather that sex is great, but it only works in marriage.

It’s not an argument I’m particularly opposed to, inasmuch as I know anything about sex, being a thirty-six year old virgin, but that’s kind of the point: it just reminded me that there’s this big thing in life that almost everyone experiences and almost everyone enjoys (to the extent that not enjoying it is seen as a symptom of a problem of some kind) and I’m never likely to experience it.  From there on it was just a downward spiral into thinking that E. and I will never move our relationship on.  By this stage, the toxic cocktail of hunger, exhaustion and self-pity sent me towards general catastrophisation of my life.  Fortunately I was able to eat something on the way home and feel better.

Honestly, lately I’ve been feeling happier about my love life than I have felt for a long time.  E. cares about me more than anyone who isn’t an immediate blood relation ever has done and if anything I worry that I can’t reciprocate well enough, not that E. has ever complained (she says I’m a good friend).  And I’m glad she’s in my life even if our relationship remains platonic.  It’s just that every so often something makes me think about how much is missing from my life, sometimes sex, sometimes children, sometimes a more nebulous sense of contentment, meaning and stability, and then I wonder if I will ever be “normal.”  Even if my life comes together at some point, say in my forties, I wonder how I can keep going until then.  That’s something that applies to many, many more things than just sex, but sex is somehow emblematic of them all because it is so ubiquitous in secular Western society and covertly signalled in Jewish society with talk of producing children and grandchildren and the sanctity of marriage and the “Shabbat mitzvah.”


Anyway, I went home and crashed.  I wrote most of this post, but didn’t hit “publish” then watched a James Bond film, Die Another Day, because it was too early to go to bed, but I was too exhausted to do anything that required brainpower.  I struggled not to eat junk food and eventually succumbed to the big box of Quality Street that my parents opened.  Not eating any junk at all most days is hard when I have traditionally used small treats as a reward for getting through difficult depression days.  I did at least only eat one orange creme.  I’m the only person in the house who really likes cremes, so I’ve potentially got a whole stash down there.  Diet another day.

Die Another Day wasn’t great, but I was too tired to care.  I think I like James Bond for the “wrong” reasons.  The sex and violence doesn’t interest me much, but I like the laconic villains, the bad jokes, the gadgets and the lateral thinking problem solving, plus supporting actors like Desmond Llewelyn and Judi Dench.  My favourite Bond so far is Roger Moore, which I know makes me a Bad Fan to most Bond fans, but there you go.  I like the sillier (I would say fun) films of the seventies too.

Bedtime soon, I think.

Talmudic Angst (and Brief Doctor Who Angst)

Yesterday and today I find myself wondering if it is possible to be a good Orthodox Jew without studying Talmud.  At Talmud shiur (class) yesterday, I found it hard to follow the argument and obviously looked puzzled (or completely out of it) as the rabbi came up to me afterwards and asked if I followed it.  I’m ashamed to say that I was too embarrassed to admit that I followed very little and lied and said I understood most of it.

Today I read Did ‘Daf Yomi’ Make Me a Better Jew? in which non-religious literary critic Adam Kirsch reflects on whether studying the whole Talmud one page a day has made him a better Jew.  Somehow he got something out of it, even though he regards much of it as backward and obsolete in both practical and moral terms, whereas to me it is the word of God (at least in some sense).

There’s a rabbinic teaching somewhere that if you stop studying Torah, you go down a path that leads to denying God (the path is: 1) not dedicating yourselves to learning Torah; 2) stopping performing commandments; 3) be shunned by others who are devoted to Torah; 4) hating the rabbis who teach the Torah; 5) preventing others from doing the commandments; 6) denying the divine origin of the commandments; 7) denying the existence of God; taken from here; I can’t find the original source).  It’s pretty stark.  I do study Torah, but not what lots of people say I should study and I don’t dedicate myself to it as much as I used to.

Realistically, and although many in the Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) world would deny it, historically most Jews did not study Talmud.  Firstly, for 50% of the population (the women) Talmud was literally a closed book until the twentieth century, and in much of the Haredi community it still is where they are discouraged or explicitly forbidden to study it.  Then, in the past some Jews were illiterate.  I haven’t found literacy statistics for the Jewish community.  It was probably greater than the non-Jewish community, but I don’t know by how much; certainly not all adult male Jews were literate.  Even among adult Jewish men who did engage in regular Jewish study (and we have evidence of men quite low down the social hierarchy doing this), in many cases they would have studied Tanakh (Hebrew Bible) or Mishnah, the oldest and most straightforward part of the Talmud rather than the Gemarah, the more complex part of the Talmud and what most people mean when they say “Talmud.”  Nevertheless, as Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz pointed out in The Essential Talmud, Jewish communities that stopped studying the Talmud (usually as a result of bans and book burnings by the Medieval Christian Church) soon disappeared.

Part of me hopes to really study Talmud one day, somehow, even to do Daf Yomi, studying a page (both sides) a day for seven and a half years.  Another part of me says I’m crazy for thinking that: I find the legal discussions incomprehensible and boring.  The only parts I like are the aggadic (non-legal) bits, which are often sidelined in the contemporary frum (religious Orthodox Jewish) world.  (I would love to get a copy of an English translation of Ein Yaakov, which anthologises all the aggadic material in one volume, preferably alongside Ayin Ayah, Rav Kook’s commentary on it).

It doesn’t help that the traditional style of Talmud learning is not particularly suitable for me, either a paired discussion of the text or a class led by a teacher.  When discussing with another person my social anxiety and perhaps my autism leads me to clam up and not saying anything, while in a class situation I find it is hard to follow the thread of discussion trying to follow the text and the verbal discussion.  I follow written texts much more easily than spoken conversation, which could be autism again.  I did go to one class where we were taught to tabulate the different opinions under discussion and that was a helpful technique, but I am struggling to get back into doing that.  It is not always clear to me what the disagreement is about and therefore how to tabulate it.

Sometimes I’ve seen discussion that roots the legal discussion of the Talmud in philosophical disagreement and then I find it easier to engage with it, but not many people in the Orthodox world see it that way (this new book apparently does and I’d like to read it) and I don’t know how to study that way alone.

In fact, studying Talmud alone is very hard.  You really do need a teacher to teach you all the stuff that you need to know, but which is not explicit in the text, as the Talmud basically assumes that you have already studied the whole of the Talmud.  This is probably a deliberate way of stopping people studying outside the chain of teacher-student traditional transmission, keeping elements of the oral tradition that the Talmud was originally.

And yet other people in the shul (synagogue) Talmud shiur are able to engage with the text and to ask and even answer pertinent questions.  Some may have spent time studying in depth in yeshiva or elsewhere, but some I know have not.  I’m not stupid, yet somehow I can’t keep up.  It’s not like other shiurim where I know the answers or have good questions, but am too shy to speak up; here I genuinely don’t know what is going on a lot of the time.  Maybe some of it is the teaching.  When I was in the Talmud class where we tabulated the discussions, I participated a lot more.  But that class isn’t running any more.

Today I went over the passage we studied yesterday, trying to take notes and tabulate them, but I didn’t understand the text (even using the commentary) enough to produce coherent notes, let alone to tabulate them.  Actually, that’s a little unfair, as I think I did just about grasp the general argument being made, even if I couldn’t repeat and explain it to someone else (always a sign that something has not been truly learnt, in my experience).  But I did struggle with it.  I’m wondering if this book might help explain the structure of the Talmudic argument – the terminology the Talmud uses yields clues as to what it is saying, for example different language is used to introduce a challenge based on a contradictory older text compared with a challenge based on pure logic.

I definitely think there’s a “left-brain/right-brain” thing going on with Talmud study (for all one has to be careful about overly deterministic readings of brain hemispheres), that halakhah (Jewish law) is left-brain/logical while aggada (the non-legal parts of the Talmud, often narrative) is right-brain/creative.  I prefer studying the aggada and am much better at it then halakhah.  Unfortunately in the Talmud the halakhic passages far outnumber the aggadic and in frum society skill in understanding halakhah is far more prestigious than understanding aggada.  What puzzles me is why Orthodox Jewish culture is so overwhelmingly logical rather than creative – is it really just a matter of training your brain from a young age to study these texts in this way?  But then, how do many ba’alei teshuva (people raised secular who became religious late in life) manage to train themselves to think that way?  I suppose it would explain why so many Jews are lawyers or accountants.

Traditionally some men who couldn’t learn Talmud themselves supported Talmud scholars, either by making donations to yeshivas or to support yeshiva students or by sending their own sons to Jewish schools or yeshivas where they learn Talmud.  But I don’t have children and may never do so and I don’t have the money to donate to yeshivas.  What money I do have for charity, I prefer to give to those that support people in need directly rather than educational establishments and I’m very reluctant to sponsor the Haredi “learning not earning” yeshiva sector because it’s not an approach with which I agree.


I went for a run today, unfortunately not a particularly good one, but I was glad to get some exercise.  My mood does lift when I run, even though managing the transitions to and from running can take a lot of time, plus on some days, as today, I get an exercise headache.  I Skyped my rabbi mentor and, as I noted above, spent some time on Talmud study.  I tried to work on my novel, but struggled, although in an hour of writing-and-procrastinating I got close to my daily target of 500 words.  I’m not sure why I struggled.  I guess I had a mixture of headache, anxiety about work tomorrow, writing dredging up difficult memories of the past as well as trying to write dialogue and incidents that I’m not sure I can portray well.  The extent of the anxiety in the evening was a bit shocking and I’m not sure that it is all linked to work for reasons, although work is a big part of it.

I watched Doctor Who too which knocked my mood back even more.  Don’t worry, I’m not going to review it here, but I will say it was stupid, boring, incomprehensible and patronisingly “woke” without any redeeming features… and then they used an almost subliminal image of Jerusalem as a symbol of “war” in a montage supposed to show the end of the world, with no other identifiable locations that I could see.  War and eco-catastrophe are apparently Israel’s fault.  I seem to have heard that somewhere before.  After The Witchfinders “Jewish violence vs. Christian love” antisemitism (from the Doctor!) I begin to worry about Chris Chibnall.  In super-woke Chibnall Who, all minorities are good except Jews, who are not allowed to actually appear and have voice and agency and are just used as noises off to show us how bad people can be.  It wouldn’t be so bad if Chibnall could actually do his job and write and commission decent Doctor Who stories instead of clichéd, preachy drivel with no real characters or new ideas.  I mostly liked series eleven and defended it from people who said it was boring and politically correct, but the “new production team are just finding their feet” excuse is wearing a bit thin a third of the way through their second season.

Sunshine Blogger Award

I don’t have much to report today.  Shabbat was pretty normal with all the usual good and bad points.  When I checked my email after Shabbat was over I had some bad news that is troubling me.  My sister and brother-in-law popped in right after I had the bad news, so I wasn’t really able to give them much of my attention.  The bad news plus the sister and BIL visit ate up the time I wanted to use for working on my novel.  So there isn’t much to say tonight.

However, Oryx of The Easy Kill blog nominated me for the Sunshine Blogger Award!  Thank you!  My answers are below.


Rules for the award

  • Thank the person who nominated you and provide a link back to their blog so others can find them.
  • Answer the 11 questions asked by the blogger who nominated you.
  • Nominate 11 other bloggers and ask them 11 new questions.
  • Notify the nominees about it by commenting on one of their blog posts.
  • List the rules and display a Sunshine Blogger Award logo on your post and/or your blog site.

I’m not going to nominate anyone as only a few people read my blog and some of them don’t have blogs of their own, but anyone who is reading this can consider themselves nominated if they want (I like the blogs of every blogger who comments here).  I’ll post some questions at the end.

  1. Why did you start blogging? Did it meet up to your initial expectations?

I’ve been blogging on different platforms since 2006 (I think), so it’s not easy to remember!  I think I wanted to reach out to people.  At the time I was very depressed and unable to work and I was feeling very isolated socially and wanting to reach out to try to find people who understood me.

I think I probably had some unrealistic expectations about what could happen, in terms of the numbers of friends I could make and readers I could get, but I’ve made some good friends from it, some of whom are still reading this blog, so I think that counts as a success.

2. If you could choose one song/piece of music that describes who you are as a person, or that describes some very important part of yourself, which one would it be and why?

I tend to fixate on specific songs at specific times for reasons that aren’t always clear to me and then to suddenly transfer that attention to another song, but I think one song that resonates with me a lot is Does Everyone Stare by The Police, which is about a socially awkward man who is worried that he is alienating his girlfriend by being weird.  I can empathise with that.

3. What musical instrument do you play/ do you wish you could play/ do you like to hear the most?

I don’t play an instrument and have never really wanted to play one.  I don’t think there is one I like to hear more than any other either.

4. What is something you wish was common knowledge about your mental illness(es)?

For depression, I think that depression is not just about feeling upset, but also about being exhausted all the time.

I think high functioning autism is so misunderstood that almost any aspect could be more well-known, but I guess to clarify that it’s not a mental illness or learning disability, but a social communication and information processing disability and what that entails in terms of interactions with other people and seeming “weird” (which is too much for a short blog post!).

5. Where in the world do you wish you would have grown up and why?

Sometimes I wish I had grown up in New York or Israel, just because the Jewish communities there are so much larger and offer many more options for a Jewish lifestyle than are available in the UK.  But then I think of the downsides of living in those countries and think maybe I was better off growing up in the UK after all.

6. What do you think is an essential quality in a good friend?


7. What is your favourite way to relax?

Watching old episodes of Doctor Who and other classic British TV science fiction.

8. What funny thing happened to you/did you see happening recently?

I’m not sure I can think of anything off the top of my head.

9. Name one realistic goal you want to achieve in the next 5 years.

Finish writing my novel (and get it published, but that’s less realistic).

10. What colour/pattern is your bedroom wallpaper?

Pale blue.

11. What is your favourite dish? Do you like to make it yourself or do you like it best when someone in particular prepares it for you?

I don’t have a huge preference, but probably pizza, ideally cooked for me in a restaurant as frozen pizzas bought from the kosher supermarket never quite taste the same.


OK, on to the questions for whoever wants to be nominated:

  1. Do you have a favourite novel or author?  What do you like about them?
  2. What was your best subject at school?
  3. What is your biggest regret (that you feel comfortable sharing)?
  4. What is your favourite hobby?
  5. What was the last film you watched in the cinema?
  6. Are you a glass half-empty or half-full person?
  7. Did you ever have any pets?
  8. If you were having a very stressful day, what food or drink would you be most likely to reach for in the evening?
  9. Do you speak any other languages?
  10. What do you most wish other people knew about you?
  11. What is your ideal job?

What If… ?

I felt tired much of today.  I woke up around 10.00am and was lying in bed feeling exhausted when my Dad reminded me that I had a psychiatrist appointment that I had forgotten about.  I struggled to get dressed and go.  My Dad gave me a lift to the psychiatrist, but the twenty minute walk home afterwards was gruelling because I was so tired.  I suppose I could have phoned Dad for a lift, but I don’t like to ask for too many, plus I needed the exercise.  I was tired by the time I got home.

I’ve struggled to do much today.  I really want to sleep, but I felt that I shouldn’t for multiple reasons: I had to cook dinner and finish writing my devar Torah as well as going to shiur (religious class) later and I didn’t want to disrupt my sleep pattern even more.  Lately I’ve been going to my Dad’s shul (synagogue) for Ma’ariv (Evening Prayers) before shiur on Thursdays because they’re practically next door to each other and the times work, but today I felt too drained to do two “peopling” events, so I decided to stick to shiur.

I also managed to spend about half an hour working on my novel.  I wrote about 450 words, which was good, but I was dipping into very upsetting parts of my memory and psyche for my writing and after half an hour I felt far too depressed and tired to continue, although I would have liked to have written more.  When I told E., she felt it was a downside to writing a novel that draws so much on my personal experiences and mostly negative ones at that.  I agreed with her, but on reflection, while it is problematic in some ways, I think there are advantages.  I wouldn’t push someone with anxiety or PTSD to face their fears, but I think there are advantages to confronting your demons, if you can do it in a safe way.  Hiding behind trigger warnings and the like is ultimately a limiting existence.  Although I’m not sure if writing is the best therapy; I remember John Cleese saying in an interview that writing is therapeutic, but not very good therapy, which is why so many writers get stuck writing the same idea again and again.


More fun with the not-for-profit sector…  I had a meeting with my psychiatrist, which went well.  I said I’ve been feeling a lot better this week now I’ve got a new job and she was pleased with that.  She asked if I want to take anything for my anxiety, but I was reluctant to take more meds (I take three different psych meds already, all of which are multiple tablets some at multiple times of the day, plus three daily vitamin supplements).  She said I can see my GP if the anxiety gets bad and I change my mind.  I thought she was going to discharge me, but she offered me a review appointment in six months time, which I took just in case things don’t work out with my new job or for any other reason.  I always feel a bit bad taking these appointments when I might be fine, but it’s so hard to get back into the NHS system once you’ve been discharged that I usually take them when I can, which I guess in economic terms is a “perverse incentive” (when the system encourages you to do something that ought to be discouraged, in this case taking appointments that other people may need more than I do).

So that was positive.  The negative was hearing back from the charity that works with the NHS to get people with mental illnesses into work.  My case worker still wants me to sign papers and insists I have to sign them in person, and by tomorrow.  I got annoyed, but I’m basically a nice person so said I would sign them if she could meet me closer to my home than the office where I saw her (she had already suggested meeting in a coffee shop to sign).  It’s still a trip out of my way, but it’s not the end of the world and I won’t feel bad.


One thought I had today which is worth reflecting on and possibly expanding on in the future is that I realised that I tend to see all my mistakes as moral failings, even if they are morally neutral oversights or innocent errors (saying the wrong words, accidentally interrupting someone etc.).  If I can view simple mistakes as morally wrong, then it’s no wonder I magnify the moral enormity of genuine religious or moral failings.


On the way home I indulged in bad habits and went into a charity shop and bought a second-hand book.  I’m trying to cut down on my book buying as I have a stack of books to read, but most of those are heavy-going classic literature or non-fiction.  I am trying to get back into reading both of those, but I don’t think they will necessarily be suitable for work days, when I need something lighter to read on my lunch break and on the Tube on the way home (I’m trying to do Torah study during the trip there in the morning).  Plus, it was only £1.

The book, Dominion by C. J. Sansom, is a “what if the Nazis had won World War II?” alternate history.  There are rather a lot of these.  I actually own five of these now, I realise a little to my surprise, including one written before World War II had even started (it predicted what the Nazis would do if Appeasement failed to stop them); and that’s not counting two episodes of Star Trek that aren’t too far from the premise.  That’s probably not surprising, as a it’s a major and comparatively recent historical event where everyone agrees that the achieved outcome was better than most of the alternatives.  Still, it is a little surprising how relatively few other alternate history premise novels are films are out there in comparison.  There are more I think in books published for the science fiction market, but not so many mainstream ones, whereas there are a lot of mainstream “Hitler wins” novels.  Of the five I own, four (FatherlandDominion, Making History and Swastika Night) were published as mainstream novels, not specialist science fiction ones and the fifth, The Man in the High Castle, was I think originally published by a science fiction publisher, but my copy is the Penguin Modern Classics edition (so far as I know it’s the only Philip K. Dick novel to be published by that line, which is telling in itself) and of course now it’s a streamable TV series.  And that’s not counting ones I don’t own, like the Small Change series, the somewhat related The Plot Against America or the fake documentary film It Happened Here (all vaguely on my enormous ‘to read/watch’ list).

I realised I own a couple of other alternate history novels with other premises.  The novella Great Work of Time by John Crowley is a borderline time-travel/alternate history story focused on changing time to stop the British Empire falling.  It’s definitely worth a read if you like time-travel or alternate history stories.  Red Son is kind of a “what if the Communists had won the Cold  War?” story, albeit with the twist that they win because Superman lands in the Ukraine instead of Kansas.  Yes, it’s a Superman graphic novel, but an intelligent one and also worth a read.  And The Difference Engine by William Gibson and Bruce Sterling is a steam-punk speculation on what would have happened if the Victorians had developed computers.  Strangely, Doctor Who has dealt more with threats to change history than scenarios where history has already been changed in an alternative history sense, but the parallel universe thread in Inferno is basically a “Hitler wins” type scenario, while Turn Left was a very personal alternate timeline story with major changes to the fictional narrative spiralling out from a minor difference.

It’s strange that I would not have mentioned it alternate history as a subgenre that particularly interests me until now, but my bookshelves say otherwise.  Maybe it’s not surprising, as I guess alternate history is where my interests in history and science fiction dovetail.

The Fox and the Hedgehog

I should probably point something out before I start, because it’s going to colour how you see this post.  Jews tend to see each other as an extended family.  On the one hand, this strong in-group feeling leads to a lot of social capital in the form of charity, formal and informal social support and so on.  On the other hand, it seems to mean that some Jews think they have a right to interfere in other people’s business as if they were close relations.

With that in mind, I got to work today to find someone already in the library studying Talmud (or “learning” as he would probably say in Yeshivish).  He had been told there was going to be a new librarian and, on learning that I was he, asked about my educational background.  Oxford for my BA and an MA in Library and Information Management was not what he wanted to know.   No, he wanted to know where I learnt Talmud.  I told him that I didn’t, because the reality is too complicated and I didn’t think that I could give a more nuanced answer in the heat of the moment.  To be honest, I think my self-esteem about Talmud is so low that it didn’t really occur to me to say that I have actually done quite a bit of Talmudic study and also that there are other aspects of Judaism that are important.

He spoke to me about the library for a while.  I have to be careful what I say here, but he is something of a stakeholder in the institution, so I could not dismiss his views out of hand, but I disagreed with some of them.  He has, for instance, removed books from the library before because he did not think them suitable for a religious library.  In fact, he was quite keen on ditching all the Jewish history books and only keeping narrowly religious books.  All this despite the fact that he has no official standing to do that; as I say, he is a stakeholder, but a somewhat informal one.  He said some other things too that I won’t go into, but I think I will have to learn to manage him.  I may have to bow to him in some respects, though, because the thing I wanted to change that he absolutely does not want to change apparently has the rabbi’s permission.

There was much more to this conversation, but I should probably not say too much just in case it leaks out somehow.  I did try to work out afterwards if he was really looking down on me for not having gone to yeshiva/being a big Talmud student or if I was just paranoid (he has apparently studied the whole of the Talmud straight through four times).  I know I say here that I feel inadequate for not having gone to yeshiva or being able to “learn” by myself, but while this conversation reinforced those feelings, it also made me feel indignant at being dismissed.  The Greek poet Archilochus said, “the fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing.”  He may be a fox, but I’m a hedgehog.  I’m just not sure what the big thing I know is.

After that the day was quite straightforward, except there was a tea party for the elderly downstairs in the afternoon with a lot of loud music and noise.  I know the library is only a tiny part of the institution, but it was difficult to work with it.  Also, I’m still getting used to the idea that Minchah and Ma’ariv (Afternoon and Evening Prayer Services) are in the library in the middle of the afternoon.  On one level it suits me, as I would pray anyway, so it just makes it easier for me, but the autistic part of me that has difficulty dealing with transitions struggled today to get back into work mode afterwards for the last hour after being in a “people-ey” room for twenty minutes.

I had some general issues with classification and organising the library, but I think I’m doing OK with it so far.  I said to E. that I do kind of enjoy those kinds of librarian puzzles, working out which category books belong in, but I also worry about messing everything up somehow.  I think I would enjoy this job more if I wasn’t so worried about it.  I have mostly been OK at working out the content of the Hebrew language-only books, at least to get an idea of where they go (I have some reading Hebrew, but I’m far from fluent).

I do think I came home today with more energy than in some previous jobs, although that may partly be because the commute is less stressful (shorter, but also on a less busy part of the Tube where it’s easier to get a seat at rush hour).  I do find I get physically tired as I’m on my feet most of the day as I move books around the library.  Hopefully once I move on to cataloguing I will be able to sit more and it will be easier.  But I think so far things have not been so draining; with some previous jobs when I got home I would have to sit for ages until I felt energetic enough to deal with dinner.  I had hoped to work on my novel tonight, but by the time I had done some chores, spoken to my parents and my sister (who phoned) and eaten dinner, it was too late and I was too tired.  I did work on my devar Torah (Torah thought) for this week for twenty minutes, although I stopped with it half-written as I’m too tired, plus I still need to be up somewhat early tomorrow as I’m seeing my psychiatrist.


I think I went to bed quite early last night, but I can’t remember when.  I certainly slept late today, until gone 1.00pm.  Even when I got up, I was very drained.  Completely wiped out, really.  I guess it’s not surprising that I feel like this, considering how stressful yesterday was, more stressful than you realise, as something very stressful happened when I got home that I don’t want to blog about.  I’m trying not to beat myself up about it and just accept it for what it is.

I did a few chores.  I was too exhausted to go for a run, plus I don’t really exercise on Jewish fast days (as today was) even though I’m not allowed to actually fast most of them while I’m on lithium tablets.  I was too exhausted to do anything really.  I didn’t feel able to really engage with either of my main non-work projects, writing my novel and moving towards self-publishing my non-fiction Doctor Who book.  I’m just too tired.  I did fifteen minutes of Torah study and even that was a bit of a fluke.

I just feel numb really.  I feel a little bit anxious and depressed about a couple of things, including work tomorrow, but on the whole my brain isn’t functioning well enough for that.

I feel like I need to talk to someone, but I don’t know who.  I’m not in therapy and while my therapist said she would see me again if I wanted, she felt that we had done almost all we could in therapy and I needed more time in the world to learn to cope with everyday things.  In the past when I’ve been between therapists, I’ve spoken to my rabbi mentor, as he’s a trained counsellor as well as a rabbi, but lately it’s been hard to get hold of him.  He’s very busy.  I could go to my depression group, but that’s not so easy now it’s moved location and in any case the next meeting I can get to isn’t until the end of the month.  That really just leaves the Samaritans helpline.  I’m actually tempted to call them, but I will need to get my thoughts together first, so not tonight.


This seems trivial, but I’ve been thinking about it quite a bit: my Tube fare yesterday was a lot more than the Transport for London website led me to expect (I was going to make a comment about the inefficiency of state-run monopolies, but I’m too tired to care, plus I don’t think private monopolies are any better).  I need to decide how much I value the extra half-hour asleep in the morning or at home in the evening.  Right now, in the middle of winter, I think I would pay quite a bit for that extra hour or so a day.  Apparently as much as £6.40 a day, as I plan on using the Tube for the near future.

First Day Nerves

I slept badly last night.  I went to bed early, at 10.30pm, feeling very tired, but woke up once my light was out.  I think I finally fell asleep around 1.00am, having got up for a while and printed an alternative route to work, on the Tube rather than the bus, much quicker, but also more expensive.  Then I woke up around 4.30am and couldn’t get back to sleep.  I eventually decided that I might as well get up early so that I could use my SAD light before leaving.

By 6.30am (when I was planning to get up), I felt incredibly anxious and also rather guilty that I didn’t go back to the library a second, longer, look before suggesting what I could or couldn’t do for it.  Possibly I am expecting too much of myself here, given that I was doing that consultation work for free.  I did at least have time to check the Tube fees for the faster route, and it’s not that much more expensive than the bus.

I got to work on time.  Work was a bit crazy though.  I’m not sure what I can share here exactly.  I measured up the shelf space and calculated the approximate number of books in the collection.  I thought about the pros and cons of moving stuff around.  I won’t go into all of thought processes behind it, but there’s some ideas to balance about strict order versus ease of use bearing mind the users are not librarians or even academics.  I did a lot of tidying and eventually got three or four bookcases looking much more ordered than before.  I’m still not entirely sure where this is going and probably won’t for a while.

What did surprise me a bit was the number of people in the room during the day!  I can’t go into why this was so surprising without revealing too much about the institution, but there were a lot more people going in and out, or in and staying in, than I expected, and a lot more noise from elsewhere in the building than I expected too.  I also spoke to some of the people there and… again, it’s hard to know what I can say, but I think there will be more office politics here than I expected and also more stakeholders in the library than I expected, which is difficult as I’m not always the most savvy person with office politics and trying not to upset the stakeholders, but also recognising that one or two people are a lot more important stakeholders than some other people.

I did feel quite overwhelmed and tense and had an earlier lunch than I intended because I needed a break.  I discovered later that although no one had objected to me when I said I wanted to work from 9.30am to 5.30pm, this is not possible because the site shuts at 5.00pm.  In fact, the security guard started locking up the library about 4.50pm.  So I will have to work slightly earlier, but this should not be too much of a problem if I am going on the Tube, the quicker journey.  I did cope with the afternoon better and felt like I was making some kind of progress by the end, although I still have many questions in my mind about what I am going to do with the library once it’s more orderly.

My parents said I was “buzzing” when I came in.  They think I feel positive about the work and the responsibility.  I guess I am, on some level, even if I feel anxious too.  I also think that, working two days a week, there is work here for at least the better part of the year, which is good, assuming the benefactor wants the work done, and me to do it.


Part two of Doctor Who was OK, polished, but over-familiar and under-written.  I think I should go back to my idea of not reviewing new episodes on a first viewing, as it’s too easy to get caught up in the negatives.  Apologies to those to whom I promised to send a review.

“Nymph, in thy orisons/Be all my sins remembered”

I woke up feeling really depressed and anxious again.  I think I woke up about 11.00am, but I didn’t get up until after noon.  I am not entirely sure what I was doing in between; I think I must have just been lying there feeling awful.  I just feel a mess really, super-anxious and depressed about my new job, which I feel I’ve already messed up.  I’ve been having lots of anxiety dreams about it.  I worry that I should have gone back for a second look at the library before estimating how long the initial work will take, as it was really a guess.  I didn’t get a good enough look at it initially to tell.  I don’t even know how many books are there.  No one knows.  I need to take a tape measure tomorrow to estimate (the librarian’s rule of thumb is an average of thirty-three books per metre of shelving).

My life just seems a mess.  I wish I had something more interesting to blog about than the inside of my head, but I don’t.  That goes double for my first novel (I do have more interesting ideas for subsequent novels, but I’m not sure I will be able to get them to work.  Concentrate on the one that’s primarily my life history).

I had to rush out after lunch to get to the baker before it closed to buy sandwiches for when I go to work (it’s an Orthodox institution, so all food has to be rabbinically supervised, so I can’t bring my own sandwiches).  I felt very agitated on the way there, a lot of angry and self-loathing thoughts, fantasies of harming myself etc.  By the time I got home I was too exhausted to hurt myself, but also too exhausted to go for a run (I suppose I had a fairly brisk forty minute walk, albeit interrupted by five or ten minutes of shopping in the middle).  I want to write more of my novel, but I’m struggling to channel my thoughts the way I want or to express emotions (it’s hard to write about emotions when you have difficulty understanding one’s own emotions).  Matthue Roth (yes, I’m name-dropping, I used to have a somewhat famous internet friend) told me not to say my writing is “bilge” because it disrespects my history and my thoughts, but I don’t think my thoughts are worth respecting and I hate my history and wish it had never happened.  I just hate myself so much and I hate my life so much too, albeit for different reasons (my self for being a bad person and a loser, my life for being too painful for me to bear, although if I was less of a loser maybe I would be able to bear it the way other people with similar issues seem to bear their lives).

I’m sorry that I didn’t really reply very well to the comments on the last post.  I appreciate them, I’m just struggling to find words/energy/headspace for stuff at the moment.  I’m still not sure how people can tell from my self-obsessed writing here that I care for others, but I’ll let that go.

So today was mostly a write-off, aside from going out shopping.  I had one or two ideas for my novel, but I haven’t got the energy to write and I don’t know how those ideas will work out.  I thought my novel would be meticulously planned, but increasingly I’m just winging it and that seems, surprisingly, the only way I can write.

I just hate myself so much today.  I wish I had never been born because I can’t see what good I’m doing here.  Today is just marking time, trying to keep going.  I’m not even trying to write.  I did about three minutes of Torah study and a similar length of time working on my novel, just jotting down some ideas so I don’t forget them.  I’m going to watch TV in a bit, Star Trek Voyager and then tonight’s new Doctor Who episode (I hope it doesn’t bore me like last week’s did).

Running on Empty

That was a difficult Shabbat (Sabbath).  I didn’t really want to go to shul (synagogue) on Friday evening (afternoon really; Shabbat started at 3.48pm) because I just felt too tired and overloaded.  I forced myself to go and probably would have felt worse if I had missed it, but I didn’t get much out of it.  I don’t seem to get much out of shul any more, if I ever did.  The mini-shiur (class) in the middle was on an obscure halakhic (Jewish law) matter that is, I suspect, primarily a superstition that has crept into minor law codes, but which has been unearthed by Haredi scholars who are looking for more laws and assume that nothing external to Judaism could enter the halakhic process so it must all be authentic and meaningful.  If you’ve read the famous essay Rupture and Reconstruction by Rabbi Haym Soloveitchik you’ll know what I mean (the essay concludes “Zealous to continue traditional Judaism unimpaired, religious Jews seek to ground their new emerging spirituality less on a now unattainable intimacy with Him [God], than on an intimacy with His Will, avidly eliciting Its intricate demands and saturating their daily lives with Its exactions. Having lost the touch of His presence, they seek now solace in the pressure of His yoke.”).

I came home and got through dinner with my family, but then I went and lay on my bed in the dark for half an hour.  I’m never sure, when I do that, if it’s a type of autistic withdrawal from emotional overload or just depression.  I guess they could overlap.

I just felt all evening that I’m running on empty, religiously.  I suppose emotionally too, although I’m only realising that now.  I still believe in God, and the Divine origin of the Torah, and the importance and meaningfulness of halakhah and the mitzvot (commandments), but it’s a struggle to get motivated to do anything Jewish.  I try to daven (pray) and do some Torah study (more on this below), but it’s hard.  Perhaps it would be easier if someone external was congratulating me when I do these things, or perhaps that would just feel patronising and make it seem worse.  I don’t know.  I just feel I have nothing left to give.  I want to keep Shabbat (it’s currently the only truly meaningful or enjoyable Jewish practice in my life) and I wouldn’t do anything drastic like stopping keeping kashrut (the dietary laws), but davening and Torah study get harder and harder, as do mitzvot that aren’t particularly strongly embedded in my life, like not listening to women singing (I was just listening to Annie Lennox/Eurythmics) or not watching stuff that has a lot of sex and violence (my recent binging on James Bond films that I had seen for decades, although to be honest I’m not greatly fond of sex and violence in fiction generally… I like the Roger Moore Bond films because they’re all deliberately cartoonish and unreal).

I don’t think I’ve ever got much out of my religion.  I know my parents became more religious because they found adopting certain practices meaningful or enjoyable, but that’s never been my motivation.  I’ve enjoyed too little for that to motivate me.  I used to enjoy Torah study.  I suppose I still do, if it’s about something that interests me.  I’m enjoying the Maggid Koren series of literary critical books on Tanakh (Hebrew Bible).  In fact, I finished the volume on Bereshit (Genesis: From Creation to Covenant) over Shabbat.  But these days I rarely experience any kind of meaningful connection with God when I daven or “learn” (study Torah… it’s probably telling that I usually say “study Torah” rather than “learn” as most Orthodox Jews do).  I’ve largely stopped meditating.

I know we’re supposed to serve God because it’s the right thing to do, because we’re in His covenant, but we’re supposed to enjoy it as well.  Other Jews talk about what they get from Judaism, whether it’s intellectual stimulation from “learning” or connection from davening or meditation or the feeling of emotional support in the community, or the warmth of Jewish families…  Religious Jews will say that Judaism enables us to enjoy the physical world meaningfully rather than hedonistically over-indulge or ascetically abstain, but I don’t enjoy much generally (depressive anhedonia), have had to curtail my diet because of medication-led weight gain and, am not allowed to have sex because I’m not married, which I suspect is the main thing people are thinking of when they say that Jews are allowed to avoid physical stuff within boundaries.  I know we’re supposed to serve God as an end in itself, but it’s hard to keep going when I’m getting nothing in return, just on a simple practical need for refuelling.  All I can say is that depressive anhedonia means that not being frum would probably be just as miserable for me, so I might as well stick with Judaism in the hope that there is an afterlife and I get something there that I can’t get here.  Which is entirely the wrong attitude, for practical reasons as much as religious ones.

For a while I thought that at least I could model positive aspects of Judaism to non-Jews/non-religious Jews, but I don’t think that’s true any more.  If anything my recent bursts of religious OCD just present it in a bad light here.

The other thing that worried me over Shabbat is whether I actually care about anyone.  I know my parents care about me and my sister does and E. certainly cares about me, but I find it hard to know what I feel about other people.  My feelings are often a black box that I can’t easily access except with therapy or slowly writing stuff here.  I know some people think that this blog is self-indulgent navel-gazing, but really it’s a kind of archaeology, slowly trying to unearth and understand what I’m thinking and feeling at any given time.  I just happen to let other people read it too.  I’m not sure that I know exactly what “caring about someone” would feel like.  I worried that I didn’t care much about my cousins, but then when we were worried that my cousin had gone missing last Shabbat (which I think I downplayed here because by the time I could write she was home, but I was really worried at the time) I was very upset that something might have happened to her, so maybe I do care about people.

Asking myself “Would I do X for person Y?” to try to see how much I care about them doesn’t really help as I’ve conditioned myself to think that I should (my favourite word again) give anything, my life even, to help others, even though the reality is that if I had to go out of my way for most people, it would make me resentful, but some of that would be autistic annoyance at disruption.  If someone said, “Can you do something minor for me right away?” or “Can you do something major for me in a week’s time?” I would probably find the former harder, because I wouldn’t have time to plan for it and accept it, whereas the big thing I know is coming and can prepare for, practically and emotionally, which is much easier from an autistic point of view (my parents have never entirely grasped this, one reason we don’t see eye to eye lately).

I read a bit and went to bed earlyish even though I didn’t feel tired and had no intention of trying to go to shul in the morning.  Even so, I couldn’t sleep, so I got up and read some more.  I don’t know what time I fell asleep in the end.  Probably somewhere around 2.00am.

I slept through the morning again, struggled to get ready for lunch and then had to go back to bed for a bit afterwards, before eating seudah quickly and hurrying to shul.  I did somehow daven a bit at home and get to shul for shiur and Ma’ariv (Evening Service).  I only really did that because I have my little job tidying up the papers after Ma’ariv.  I didn’t really want to go to the shiur or the service.

The shiur was on Daf Yomi.  Daf Yomi is a thing whereby you study one page (that’s both sides of a page) of Talmud a day and you complete the whole Talmud in approximately seven and a half years.  It’s been going since the 1920s I think.  They just completed/re-started another cycle (in fact I think the re-start is tonight/Sunday), so it’s been in the air in the Jewish community recently.  In theory it allows ‘ordinary’ people to study the whole of the Talmud, although I’ve never been sure if the average person really understands that much Talmud in one go, even if they go to a shiur.  It would take me about an hour to study that much Talmud, but that would really just reading through it.  Serious comprehension would take longer, possibly indefinitely.  But apparently tens of thousands of people manage it, including growing numbers of women (although not in the Haredi world).

The rabbi spoke about making a set time each day to study Torah.  He said even doing five minutes, even two minutes, a day was OK if you genuinely could not do more, which reassured me a bit.  Unfortunately, he then undermined this by saying that we should all really do Daf Yomi, that Rav Moshe Feinstein (the leading Haredi posek (jurist) of the twentieth century) said that there’s a mitzvah to study the whole of the Talmud that can be fulfilled through Daf Yomi (I very much doubt any rabbi before the twentieth century would have said there’s a mitzvah for all men to study the whole of the Talmud; Talmud used to be for an intellectual/religious elite, not everyone) and that everyone should have a set time for studying Torah morning and evening even if they’re ill.  So that just fed a load of my fears about not doing enough and thinking that I will never be a good enough Jew and that even thought I’m ill, I should be doing a lot more study.

I’m home now, obviously, and back in weekday mode.  I still have these worries about running on empty religiously, and how much worse I might feel once I start work and have that drain on my resources, and whether I care about my parents or E., not to mention what caring for E. would/could/might one day actually entail and so on.

It was hard to do anything this evening.  I didn’t manage any proofreading, but I spent a bit of time working on my novel – a bit under an hour, and even less when you take out the procrastination time dotted inside that hour.  I did write over 600 words, which is better than my usual target of 500 per hour.  The procrastination just made me feel more depressed, seeing things online that upset me one way or another, not necessarily in ways that are easy to explain, but tied in with my weak sense of self and identity, and my isolation in the frum community.

Winter Friday Fragment

I struggled to fall asleep again last night.   I know the reason this time: I forgot to take my tablets until right before when I went to bed.  I ended up reading a chunk of A Perfect Spy, the novel I’m currently re-reading.  I read it when I was about seventeen, but thought it might benefit from a re-read now I’m more emotionally mature.  Also, I wanted to read some John le Carré and didn’t have the stamina for all the George Smiley books, and I don’t like most of the non-Smiley books of his that I’ve read, which limits my options.  I think re-reading has been a different experience, although I’m not sure how much that’s due to be older and how much to simply knowing how it ends.  I think the first time I read I initially viewed the protagonist/narrator as a hero, then revised that to an anti-hero, whereas now I just see him as a normal person messed up by his life (aren’t we all?).

I did eventually fall asleep around 2.00am again and slept through most of the morning.  I had to get up to answer the phone.  It was the NHS-linked charity that helps people with mental illness into employment.  I explained that I have a job now, but she said I have to come in and sign some paperwork (I think.  There was a lot of noise plus she has a thick accent that I can’t always understand on the phone).  I said I can’t do next week.  I didn’t go into detail, but I’m working on Monday and Wednesday, have a psychiatrist appointment on Thursday and can’t do Fridays at the moment because Shabbat starts early.  I could technically do Tuesday, but I thought I might need to crash after my first work day.  She said I really need to come in next week.  I stood firm.  She said she would have to speak to her manager.  I’m really not impressed, considering that I didn’t feel that their support was particularly useful to me.  I suppose I should be glad I stood firm, as I’m not always good at being assertive and saying no.  Now I’ve thought about it, maybe I should just ask her to email the documents to me.

Then I spent ages psyching myself up to phone the dentist to move my appointment (now on a work day because of my new job), only for them to be closed.  (It’s a frum practice, they shut early on winter Fridays.)

And now it’s nearly Shabbat.  Because of the bank holiday, it feels like this week didn’t happen, it was just all one long weekend.  But Shabbat is Shabbat, so here goes…


I feel that the worst part of the year starts with 2nd January.  The days are getting minutely longer, it is true, but up until now I’ve had Chanukah and the bank holiday season as something to look forward to and keep me going.  Now the coldest, snowiest part of winter is about to begin and there’s nothing to look forward to for months on end (and even then the first things are Purim and Pesach, the two Jewish festivals that are most difficult with social anxiety, autism and religious OCD).  There’s a feeling of the hard slog through the guts of winter beginning now, or at least on Monday with my new job.  Hopefully my light box will help a bit this year, although I’m not sure that I can use it on work days.


I think I’m going to scream next time someone talks about being on a “journey.”  I’m not talking about literal journeys, but emotional, religious or educational ones.  It’s become such a cliché.  When I was working in further education, my boss used to complain of the way the college spoke about students being on “learning journeys.”  “They aren’t on a journey, they’re in college!”  I’ve seen it used a lot by religious leaders and secular inspirational speakers.  I imagine politicians use it, but I don’t really pay much attention to what they say any more.  Journalists certainly do.  I know I’ve used it myself, mostly to reassure myself that I’m making some kind of progress with my life when I’ve missed all the life-cycle events that my peers have achieved in the last decade and a half.  Like all clichés, it gets used out of convenience, to stop us having to think of something new.  But new metaphors bring new insights, while clichés do our thinking for us, as George Orwell pointed out.  Maybe that should be my secular New Year’s resolution, to think of a new metaphor for life that isn’t a “journey.”


The best sentence I’ve seen online in a long time (from “Although these books contain some seemingly bizarre coincidences, they are not evidence that Donald Trump has access to a time machine.”  I’m glad we got that cleared up, I was worried for a moment there.  Let’s face it, if anyone was going to go back in time and try to become his own grandfather, it’s Donald Trump.


To business, such as it is: I went to bed early last night as I was feeling shattered, but I couldn’t sleep.  I didn’t fall asleep until nearly 2.00am, and then had the usual trouble waking up and getting up.  It’s frustrating.  I feel that this pattern is boring you as much as it’s worrying me by now.  I had weird dreams too, but I can’t really make much of what little I remember of the imagery, except that there was stuff about being in Oxford and staying up during the holidays to work, which I did in my final year (as well as my abortive penultimate year) because I was struggling so badly with work because of depression.  I’m not sure if that’s a disguised work anxiety or the result of going back over my Oxford experience for my novel.


I saw Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker today.  I get six free cinema tickets a year from my bank, (because they have lousy interest rates, so they need other tactics to keep customers) and usually I only use one or two.  I’m hoping to use more this year, although the ‘year’ started in mid-October and this is the first one I’ve used, so you can see how that intention is going.  I discovered that they cover VIP seats in 2D films as well as ordinary seats, so I picked a VIP seat, only to discover that VIP seats are not noticeably more comfortable than ordinary seats, they just have leather, or leather-effect, seat covers.  Then some kids or teenagers behind me talked through the beginning of the film.  I gave them a few minutes to quieten down, but when they didn’t, and one did nothing to stop his phone ringing, I moved elsewhere.  The cinema was two-thirds empty, so I found an empty spot easily enough, but I must have been annoyed with the kids to risk the “everyone staring at me” feeling of standing up in the middle of the film and walking several rows further forward to find a new seat.

I didn’t enjoy the film, finding it derivative.  The previous two episodes in the trilogy were also derivative, but I enjoyed them nevertheless, but this one was also confusing and boring, which are worse sins.  I do feel vaguely guilty that I criticised yesterday’s Doctor Who and now I’m criticising this, which makes me feel like I’m going back to being an troll, or at least one of those geeks who enjoys tearing the films and TV programmes he supposedly loves to pieces.  I don’t want to be like that, I want to like things, but I am honest about what I like.  I suppose it’s all relative; if I was going to write reviews of the Bond films I’ve been watching recently, I could write positive reviews of a number of fan-hated ones.  I think I have a general thing with big franchises and big fandoms of liking the “turkeys” and not always liking the “classics.”

That took up a big chunk of the afternoon (I slept through the morning), not least because I don’t have a local cinema so going to see a film always takes a while.  I did do a bit of Torah study, but that was about it.  Tomorrow will be a rush too (winter Friday).  Winter can be a killer like that.  The days just seem to shrivel up in the cold.

1 Down, 365 To Go

One day more or less down, at any rate…


I spent about forty minutes on Torah study and writing a devar Torah.  I went for a jog for twenty-five minutes.  I hadn’t set my iPod properly so I don’t know what my pace was, but I didn’t seem to be walking as much as recently, particularly in the second half of the run, which is usually the hardest bit.  I don’t seem to get exercise migraines any more either, which is good.  I did then counter this healthiness by eating a crumpet, which I hadn’t done for years.  I didn’t get any time to work on my novel, or the proofreading, which was a bit disappointing.  I did Skype E., which was good.

I do feel I have to structure my time quite carefully because of depression and perhaps also autism.  There’s a limit to what I can do during the day.  I see other people my age doing a lot more, juggling career, family, relationships, hobbies, sometimes religious commitments or volunteering and I can’t do that.  When I was in group therapy last year, one person there who had previously had a fairly high-profile job, says she just tries to do one thing a day now because she can’t cope with more.  That’s probably true of me, but I still haven’t accepted it.  The day I can accept it, my life will probably be a whole lot better, especially my religious life and my self-esteem.  I guess I’m partway there with my feeling of being in a parallel universe to my peers and not in competition with them and so not being resentful of their success, but there’s still quite a way to go.


Other than that, today saw the first episode of a new series of Doctor Who which wasn’t very good, but I’m reluctant to say more about it online for a number of reasons.  I have two blogs and have also looked at some online reviews, but I am wary of posting anything.  I am considering emailing my reviews to selected friends, which strikes me as a somewhat backward thing to do.  Maybe I should print it and snail mail it to their real addresses.  Or go fully retro and make a hard copy fanzine.