Checking In

Feeling utterly drained and despairing today.  Today everything feels like wading through treacle.  I think “peopling” at depression group was just too much for me yesterday, even with Mum giving me a lift both there and back again (she insisted on the latter, saying that if I caught a cold waiting for the bus home it would be problematic for her starting chemotherapy next week).  This is not good for what is still a winter Friday with fairly early-starting Shabbat (before 5.30pm).  Added to my usual chores, my parents asked me to hoover downstairs and I really needed to hoover my bedroom too.  I wanted to do some Torah study, particularly to prepare for tomorrow’s Talmud class, but my brain just isn’t working, so I’ve ended up watching Star Trek Voyager instead, which might not be sensible, but seems the best chance of getting though the day.

I’m going out for dinner to one of the people I sit with at shul (synagogue), along with the other person who sits with us and his wife.  The dinner should be OK, if I have the energy, as these are the people I feel most comfortable with in the community and two of them (the two men) have some idea of my issues.  Still, it is hard to do anything, let alone “peopling” again when I feel like this.

Not Understanding Myself

I had insomnia last night.  I realised just before going to bed that I’d forgotten to take my evening meds, which was doubtless why I was alert enough to work on my devar Torah (Torah thought) for two hours after dinner.  My meds aren’t sleeping tablets, but they do make me drowsy and I struggle to fall asleep without them.  I think I eventually fell asleep around 4.00am.  So it was even less of a surprise than usual that I woke exhausted and depressed again.

The weekly job email from CILIP (The Chartered Institute of Librarians and Information Professionals) comes out on Thursdays.  I found one job that’s potentially worth applying for, but that was all.  It’s easy to feel disheartened when there seem to be so few jobs that fit my skills, experiences and especially my needs for a safe, calm environment with few people and the ability to work only two or three days a week.

I emailed the therapist I used to see if I could see her again.  She says that she doesn’t think she can help me any more and that if I want more therapy I should look for a new therapist who might offer something new.  On one level, I can see that might be valid (I was with this therapist for something like eight years, which is a long time, particularly when there isn’t much of an improvement), but looking for a new therapist from scratch is scary, particularly given that the family finances are worse off than they were a few years ago, and the old therapist was probably charging less than a new one would charge.  The finance problem is partly because my father now only works part-time (my Mum has worked part-time for years), with the added complication that it looks like my Mum’s paid sick leave is going to be a lot less than we had hoped.

In the past in this situation I would have been very despairing.  That’s not how I feel, but that’s probably because I haven’t been in therapy for a year or so, so I know I’m coping on some level.  I do feel that it’s hard to unpick my emotions at the moment and understand them and that I would like to talk to a therapist, but I’m daunted by the thought of finding one, let alone one in the right and geographical area and price bracket.  At the moment I feel “depressed” and “anxious,” but am struggling to define and understand my emotions in more detail.  As someone who has become perhaps over-reliant on such therapeutic analysis, it is scary and difficult.  I know I’ve focused a lot on the forthcoming Jewish festivals of Purim and Pesach and the stress and mental health triggers around them as a target for worry, but maybe this is another case where what I overtly worry about is a proxy for something more nebulous and undefined, in this case issues about coping as an adult without my parents and the whole concept that my parents will die one day and I will be left alone, which connects with other issues (my autism assessment and benefits troubles; my relationship with E.; my relationships with my other family members).

I struggled a bit at depression group because of that.  I didn’t feel I understand myself well enough at the moment to say much that was meaningful.  Perhaps because of that, I felt that people asked a lot of questions to prompt me and I ended up with my conversation drifting in the direction of the questions.  It’s a criticism of myself rather than anyone else, but not really even of myself.  I simply didn’t know what to say and as nature abhors a vacuum, people guided me to say something.  Maybe I should have just signalled that we could move on.

I worry that some of my responses made me seem uncaring and incompetent, although it was really my autism that was the issue.  People asked how my family are coping and I didn’t really know, because autism means I can’t intuit how people are feeling unless they tell me, and it also means I don’t necessary think to ask people how they are feeling, certainly beyond the “how is your day going?” level.  I did ask my Mum how she was most days when she was first diagnosed, but I fell out of the habit.  I was also asked where my Mum is going to be treated and I couldn’t remember because my autism means I don’t remember a lot of stuff that my brain doesn’t label as important, and it has a different system of ranking importance to most people.  It doesn’t rank the name of the hospital as important, because I’m not going to have to go there myself, let alone go there alone, and I don’t have a special interest in hospitals, so my brain is quite happy just knowing that Mum is going to The Hospital without caring about which hospital it is (actually, it’s several hospitals for several treatments – that much did travel into my brain).

It’s a shame, as I wanted to go to depression group, but I don’t think I really had anything to say about how I’m feeling and I felt tense from being around people a lot of the time.

Shiur (religious class) got cancelled so I didn’t have to tell anyone that I was missing it to go to depression group.  This happened last time I was going to miss shiur for depression group too.  E. wondered if it was a sign that I shouldn’t tell anyone.  I’m not superstitious like that, but I wonder if the maths is against it.  Of the people in the WhatsApp group, three know a little bit about my depression, one knows I have some illness but not what it is and three I don’t think know anything. There are another two people who go who aren’t on WhatsApp so won’t see it.  It’s possible that the small numbers involved make this not worth worrying about.

I can see that if a lot of people at shiur and shul (synagogue) knew about my issues and were understanding that could lead to a big improvement in my life and in my relationship and comfort level with the community.  However, if they were not understanding then the reverse could happen.  Two of the people who know do seem to worry if I’m not in shul or shiur when normally I would be, which may be because they’re aware of the issues.  Other people don’t say anything.  So far no one who knows has said anything negative.  It is a bit of a conundrum.

“I am not an entity, I am an individual!”

I managed to push through my usual depression and exhaustion on waking to do a few things.  I moved closer to publication with my self-published book.  It’s technically available through now, but I’m not publicising it until it’s available through retailers.  That won’t be until I approve the proof copy, which is in the process of being printed and sent to me from the US.  I had to fill in a form in relation to taxes on my profits (ha ha), to certify that I’m not a US taxpayer.  I was pleased that I am classified as an “individual” and not an “entity,” hence the Prisoner-esque post title.

I managed to do a lot of work on my devar Torah (Torah thought) for this week too.  I did some work on it in the afternoon and then I ended up staying up late working on it after dinner, for nearly two hours straight.  I didn’t intend to do so much, but I ended up hyperfocusing and suddenly it was two hours later.  It’s interesting that I can get the energy and concentration for that when I can’t for job hunting.  It makes me wonder if I’m looking for work in the right places, although I have no intention of becoming a rabbi.

In fact, I applied for no jobs at all today because I did not have the time or energy during the day.  I would not have stayed up until midnight doing job applications after dinner as I did working on my devar Torah, which makes me feel somewhat guilty.  Admittedly the reason I stayed up late was partly because I have a lot of shopping to do in the day tomorrow and then I’m probably going to depression group in the evening, so I needed to get the devar Torah done today rather than tomorrow.  I probably would not have stayed up so late otherwise, although it is true that when I’m depressed I become nocturnal, because my mood is so much better in the afternoon and evening than the morning.  It does show where my mind is, which, sadly, is in the autistic zone where I can hyperfocus on my interests and get bored of dull things like earning a living.

I did do some other things.  I went to my shul (synagogue) for the first time on a weekday in ages.  It was so long since I had been to the weekday premises that I had forgotten the door code, although that was partly because I have been davening (praying) at other shuls for various reasons, so it wasn’t as bad as it appeared.  I walked to and from shul too, so that was two twenty minute walks, good given that I’ve done no exercise all week.

As I said, tomorrow I may well go to depression group, despite the consequent late night, as I feel I need to talk.  I also emailed my therapist today to see if I could have some sessions in the near future.  I am trying to summon the courage to message the shiur (religious class) What’sApp group tomorrow and say that I’m missing shiur specifically “to go to my depression support group” rather than just saying I can’t make it without giving a reason as I have always done in the past.  To be honest, I feel scared that it’s just a weird thing to say beyond any mental health stigma (this is Britain where we don’t talk about emotions, and shiur is an all-male environment).  So, we shall see.

Mum had another test today and a pre-meeting about chemotherapy, which starts next week.


Today was the start of the Jewish month of Adar, the month of joy.  The Talmud says that when Adar starts, we increase in joy, at the coming festival of Purim in the middle of the month, which celebrates the Jews escaping genocide in the time of Queen Esther, and in anticipation of the further joy of the month afterwards, Nissan, the month of the redemption from Egypt and according to tradition the month when the Messiah will come (unless he comes at a different time…  It’s complicated).  In the past I’ve written negative things about the difficulty of feeling depressed at this time of year and the truth is I did feel quite depressed, exhausted and anxious today, not least with Mum’s pre-chemo meeting, but, in a manner of speaking, I’m exhausted and depressed about feeling exhausted and depressed and just want to get on with other stuff, so I’m just trying to get on with things.

Still Burnt Out

I’m still feeling burnt out from Sunday.  It can take me a while to recuperate from busy days, and Sunday was very busy.  I had the usual struggles to get up and get going with depression and exhaustion.  The depression and exhaustion stayed for most of the day and there were intermittent worries about the future (near and immediate).  Although the depression and exhaustion they fluctuated, at times they felt worse than yesterday rather than better.  I think I’ve had this before, when I’m exhausted for several days and the second day is worse than the first.  I wonder what the reason is.

I tried to do some things, although it was still like wading through quicksand.  I did some Torah study, although not as much as I would have liked.  I read The Art of Biblical Poetry for about twenty-five minutes and had a cursory look over the content of last Shabbat‘s Talmud shiur (religious class) again as I’m supposed to do on my not-very-closely-followed weekly Torah study schedule.  I also cooked dinner.  I’m not entirely sure when I’m going to work on this week’s Torah thought, as I don’t really know what I’m going to say and I’m running out of time to research.  I don’t want to skip a week just as I’ve been trying to get people to read it.


I tried to get hold of my rabbi mentor, but he’s super-busy and then away.  I hope to speak to him at some point fairly soon.  It made me wonder if I should try to book a few sessions with my old therapist, as there’s a lot going on in my head at the moment: Mum’s cancer; my relationship with E. (which is good, but working out how we move it on is terrifying); my unemployment and fears it will be permanent; the stress of the coming Jewish festivals; and probably more stuff I can’t think of now…

I spoke to my parents about it, to check there was money available to pay her.  They felt it was worth booking a few sessions.  Mum said she has been worried about me lately, which made me feel bad, but I’m not entirely sure what “bad” is here.  I wasn’t exactly guilty or ashamed, but somehow it felt wrong for her to be worrying about me at the moment when she’s the one with the tumour.


I haven’t worked on my novel for a couple of weeks.  I’ve been focusing my creative energy on getting my non-fiction Doctor Who book published.  I feel that the novel is not going exactly the way I want, but it’s hard to work out why.  Related to this is a decrease in confidence and excitement about writing fiction.  Some is my natural tendency to self-criticism and the way depression blunts excitement and energy.  Some is that I am still at the beginning of learning how to write a novel and, realistically, some of it is probably quite bad, or at least unpolished.

However, I think some of it is that my tastes tend to be quite stylised and/or surreal.  Authors like Franz Kafka, Jorge Luis Borges and Philip K. Dick or TV programmes like Doctor WhoThe Prisoner and Sapphire and Steel.  I suppose some of it is experiencing the world as strange and threatening because of autism and mental illness, so I want to see that reflected in fiction, but some of it is just admiring art that has a strong vision e.g. Blade Runner and 2001: A Space Odyssey, which are strange in parts, but also create very clear worlds that are very different to our own even in the more “normal” parts.

That’s not really where my novel is or where any of the ideas I have for future novels are and I wonder why I’m writing things that aren’t exactly what I want to read.  That may be inevitable.  My novel and my ideas for future novels are really about Jewish fiction that is meaningfully about religious Jews, our lives, our thoughts, our beliefs and hopes.  Few contemporary authors are interested in the Jewish community in that way.

My novel so far is very realistic, although I have a more surreal dream sequence planned for a later chapter, but I wonder if I should try to expand on that style if I can do it without it being too jarring.  I intended to do that when I started writing, to try to reflect the way I perceive the world as strange, illogical and frightening sometimes, but it has been hard to do, partly because the times when I see the world as frightening and strange are usually when I’m too depressed to write; even if I’m writing, I feel I don’t have the vocabulary or skills to put into words what I feel, even here, let alone in fiction.  On the other hand, I worry about scaring people off if my book, which appears initially like a standard love triangle with added mental illness and Jewish colour, suddenly goes off into The Third Policeman territory (to pick a very good novel, in my opinion, that wasn’t published in the author’s lifetime because it was so surreal and sinister, although it’s probably on my mind because it seemed to be referenced by Ascension of the Cybermen, last Sunday’s Doctor Who episode).

I worry that the book isn’t Jewish enough or fannish enough either, but maybe a little goes a long way there too.


Speaking of fannish stuff, I’m feeling a bit of buyer’s remorse with Star Trek Voyager.  I’m halfway through series two and while there have been few truly awful episodes, there haven’t been any great ones.  Most series of Star Trek take a while to get going and season two of Voyager is apparently considered proverbially bad, so I’m hoping things will pick up once we get to season three (of seven).  But it is a bit of a struggle to watch at the moment when I’m looking for something light and fast-paced.  I might watch some Doctor Who or The Avengers before bed, as I need cheering up and feel too depressed and exhausted to read.

I don’t have buyer’s remorse about reading the graphic novel V for Vendetta as I borrowed it from the library, but I do have mixed feelings about it.  It’s written by Alan Moore, who is one of the biggest names in comics, and drawn by David Lloyd.  It’s a dystopian story of an anarchist rebelling against a future Fascist UK government (future when the comic was written, but past now, which makes it feel like like a weird alternate timeline that would not have been the effect at the time of publication).  The atmosphere is good, what I have termed ‘austeritypunk’ (after the ‘cyberpunk’ and ‘steampunk’ sub-genres), by which I mean a future that evokes the imagery, technology and fashions of the 1940s and 50s.  It’s diverting and evocative, but I don’t entirely believe the world-building or the characterisation and I feel the hero/anti-hero is let off to easily for doing terrible things.  Plus, the art, while appropriately bleak, is confusing – I struggle to tell the characters apart, and the dialogue doesn’t always help.  This all contrasts unfavourably with Moore’s previous graphic novel Watchmen, which was much better in every way.

I feel it would reward a second reading and maybe be better and certainly easier to read, but it’s also so grim that I’m not sure that I can bear to read it again.


There were a few flowers in bloom in the garden last week.  There are a lot more today.  The days are a little longer, albeit that they are still short.  Spring is on the way, and on the whole that’s a good thing, despite some nervousness about the spring festivals of Purim and Pesach.  It is true that when the stress and potential religious OCD hazards of Pesach swing around, the days will be a bit longer and brighter and I will hopefully be able to draw strength from that that I can’t access now.  I stopped using my SAD light box for a few days, but maybe that was a mistake; I might use it again tomorrow.  It’s not spring yet.

Nearly Lost Day

As expected, I felt burnt out today after everything I did yesterday and all the “peopling.”  I slept late and struggled to get up when I did wake up, then struggled to get going.  I had a long and deep text conversation with E. which left us both feeling very happy about the way our relationship works and our communication and shared values.

After lunch I looked at job adverts again.  So many institutions and companies advertise themselves as “A fast-paced environment.”  I’m not really able to cope with more than a moderately-paced environment, and even that only part-time.  There weren’t any jobs I was wild about, but I would have liked to have tried to apply for something, but in the event I felt too depressed and exhausted.

I did manage to do some Torah study.  We’re up to the first of several weeks of Torah readings about the building of the Tabernacle, the portable Temple in the wilderness, a very difficult narrative for us moderns to get anything from – and I’ve committed myself to write about it each week, which is scary.  I also managed to cook plain pasta for dinner.  I didn’t feel up to doing anything else.

I cooked dinner because we had another family issue.  Nothing too serious this time, but I think we all feel that things are hard right now and it’s easy to catastrophise and assume that “Everything is going wrong!”  In a strange way, I think we’ll feel better once Mum’s chemotherapy starts, as events will be moving on and we’ll have a better idea of how much our lives are going to be disrupted over the next year.  At the moment I have stomach pains which I’ve had periodically for some weeks now and which I think are a stress issue, although my parents want me to go to the doctor and I’m half convinced they’re right, but the surgery makes it really hard to get an appointment.


I’ve been wondering lately why my depression and social anxiety are so entrenched, particularly the depression.  Reading mental health blogs, there are people who suffered serious abuse and the like who are doing better than me.  The only explanation I have for my depression and why it feels so treatment-resistant is that I might have high functioning autism that somehow went undiagnosed twice already.  It feels like autism alone is not enough to make me like this, which leads on to feeling that I’m weak and lazy.  To be fair, I think I probably am on the autism spectrum, but I still wonder why some people on the spectrum manage to live normal or even gifted lives and I can’t.  Certainly I realise that my life would be a lot easier if I was good with numbers like so many successful autistic people are.  In my experience many high functioning autistic people work in IT/computer programming, accountancy and banking; some companies in these sectors actively seek out autistic workers because they fit so well.

On the positive side, I feel hugely grateful for having E. in my life.  She accepts so much in my life that is negative and off-putting to most people.  Still, there is so much uncertainty and frustration in our relationship – frustration at being on different continents and not knowing when or how we will be able to move our relationship to the next level.  In some ways it would be easier if we knew we could get married in X number of years, even if X was a fairly large number, but not know if we’ll ever get to that stage is frustrating.

Still, I feel hugely grateful for how kind and understanding E. is.  I don’t think I’ve ever felt this grateful for anything before.  I don’t know what I would do if she wasn’t in my life.  And I’m glad that we have the communication skills and have built up enough trust to make this weird long-distance, slow-motion relationship work despite all the uncertainty and “issues” that we both have.  Paradoxically, the fact we both have issues is probably part of the key to the relationship working, as it means the relationship is reciprocal, not just one person giving and one taking, and because it means that we each know what the other is going through.


One last thing on the subject of gratitude: I saw this week’s Doctor Who one day late (it was too late to watch it when I got in yesterday) and enjoyed it.  It was far from perfect, but good, at least until the cliff-hanger, which gave me bad memories of Army of Ghosts/Doomsday.  So I’m grateful for that too.

Peopling and Ancient Historians

I woke up feeling very anxious.  The anxiety was mostly centred on my relationship with E.,  feeling that it’s really special, but worried that external things will stop us ever moving it on.  To be honest, I think I was really worried about other things, but was fixating on that instead.  I find that I do that sometimes, feel anxious about one thing, but focus on an entirely different anxiety, perhaps because it feels “safer” somehow or more manageable.

I went to my second cousin’s house with a bunch of family (my parents, sister and brother-in-law; my Mum’s cousin and her husband; two of my second cousins, their spouses and children).  I hadn’t been to their house before, which I suppose made me a bit anxious, and certainly I was worried how I would feel with so many people and what I would say.  I was also a bit worried about what would happen if I didn’t eat anything there, as my kashrut standards are different to my extended family’s.

In the event I didn’t eat anything, which felt a bit awkward and made me feel a bit self-conscious, but no one seemed to get offended.  I spoke to my cousin and a bit to his wife, but I struggle to talk to the adults sometimes, even though I know them fairly well (I was at school with these two second-cousins and we tend to meet a couple of times a year).  I played with the children a lot, especially the eldest, who has learning disabilities and is fairly non-verbal with us, although apparently she is now using more words with her parents and grandparents.  I suppose I feel a kind of connection with her, even though my autistic social communication impairments are very different to her learning disabilities.

I stayed for about three hours, but I was pretty exhausted by the end.  I had planned to leave after a minimum of one hour, so it was an impressive achievement, but I was exhausted by the end and practically dragging my parents out of the door, especially as I was hungry and knew I was going out again later and would have to recuperate first.


I spent a couple of hours relaxing and eating dinner before going out again to the London School of Jewish Studies.  I was rather tired and peopled out, but I was determined to go as I wanted to hear the speaker, Rabbi Joshua Berman on the historical accuracy of Tanakh (the Hebrew Bible) and to buy his new book Ani Maamin: Biblical Criticism, Historical Truth, and the Thirteen Principles of Faith.  I would have eagerly devoured his book some years ago, when I was struggling with the concept of historical accuracy and Tanakh.  Nowadays I’ve found a lot of my answers and an approach that works for me, but his lecture re-framed some things I sort of knew, but not entirely and gave a kind of rabbinic imprimatur to some ideas.  I think his book, which is obviously much more wide ranging than his forty-five minute lecture, answers some further questions of mine and I look forward to reading it in the near future (I bought a copy and he signed it).

There were a few people my age there, but most people were my parents’ age or older, as is usually the case at the LSJS.  I saw someone I was at university with, but he didn’t see me.  More surprising was seeing someone from my shul and his wife, someone I see as rather Haredi (ultra-Orthodox).  I was sort of hoping he would see me, but I don’t think he did.  I didn’t go to talk to him after the lecture because I entered the scrum to buy a copy of the book.  I’d like to get the courage to say I saw him when I next see him, just to see if it breaks the ice, but I don’t know if I’ll have the courage to do so.  I guess it’s a lesson in not making assumptions about others, particularly people at my shul.  It’s not the first time I’ve been caught out like that.

I did feel quite tense during the lecture, partly because it was in a packed room, so I literally didn’t have much space to spread out in (and all the anxiety from social interaction and people), but also because I knew I wanted to buy the book afterwards, and although I had emailed last week to reserve a copy, I did not know what the procedure would be to go and get a copy and get it signed.  I was also somewhat socially anxious about getting the book signed, but I think the anxiety over whether I would get a copy came from an autistic anxiety about unknown situations.  It’s the type of thing that bothers me, but not in a debilitating sense, so I haven’t mentioned it in autism assessments in the past, but intend to do so in the future.

The content of the lecture is perhaps of some interest to some readers here; if not, you can skip the rest of the post.  Obviously I can’t summarise a forty-five minute lecture plus question and answer session in one blog post, but this is what I took from it.

He started by saying that biblical and rabbinic (Medieval) Hebrew has no words for “history,” “fact” or “fiction.”  While moderns like us assume that good history is factual, based on research, with no additions and certainly no moral sermonising and is intended rather to inform about the past, to ancient and Medieval audiences, good history told the gist of a known tradition, but with additions at the discretion of the author, the aim being less to accurately describe the past and more to relate traditions in a morally uplifting way.  He contrasted the descriptions of the death of King Shaul (Saul) in the biblical book of Shmuel (Samuel) with the post-biblical Josephus and how Josephus took the bare bones of the biblical story and completely changed the tone and details for the sake of his own meta-narrative (a term Rabbi Berman did not use, which I bring up because as someone with a BA in History and, at one point, an interest in questions of historiography, I was aware that Rabbi Berman was simplifying some complex ideas here).  We assume that if an author departs from fact, then he is writing fiction, but to ancient audiences all that mattered was the essential truth of the narrative, not the factual detail (again, there is probably a lot more that could be said here).  Then he looked at a passage from Yehoshua (Joshua) where the Caananite prostitute Rachav alludes to four of the first five ten commandments in an apparently off-the-cuff piece of dialogue (I wasn’t totally convinced about two of the commandments being alluded to).  Rabbi Berman suggested that this dialogue was contrived and unlikely, and that it was more likely that the dialogue was inserted to make a wider point: that Rachav was a good person who helped the Israelites and that the Israelites were right to spare her.  Ancient audiences would have seen learning this underlying truth as the key thing, not whether the dialogue was accurate and rendered only from primary sources.

In the question and answer session, various points were raised, including what this means for the unique status of the Torah if it is stylistically ancient and includes laws from codes like the Hammurabi Code.  Rabbi Berman quoted Rav Kook’s answer, which I’ve heard before, that God if a general Torah principle was encapsulated in a known and practised non-Jewish law, then at times that would be included in the Torah; he said (which I did not know) that many of the Medieval commentators see Temple ritual as based in some ways on non-Jewish ritual.  There is a general principle, that I was already familiar with, that the Torah speaks the language of man, which he stressed meant that there is no “Divine Esperanto” that God could speak to be understood in the same way by ancients and moderns.  The reality is we understand texts differently.  What is universal is the message of the Torah not its language.

This points up a deeper problem that one questioner raised, that Rabbi Berman was assuming a “core” Divine historical truth clothed in sometimes invented detail by prophetic authors.  As one questioner seemed to be saying, how do we know that the core is true?  Or what do we do if it seems not to be true?  Rabbi Berman’s approach explains details that are apparently contradicted by other biblical or non-biblical texts, but not entire narratives.  I felt Rabbi Berman didn’t really deal with this, although it was somewhat outside the topic of the lecture and potentially a topic in its own right.  I’m not sure if Rabbi Berman’s book deals with this (On the Reliability of the Old Testament by K. A. Kitchen and Israel in Egypt: The Evidence for the Authenticity of the Exodus Tradition by James K. Hoffmeier are books I found useful here).

Overall it was an interesting lecture and worth forcing myself out for, particularly to get the book.

Unglamorous Success

Shabbat (the Sabbath) was a success, in an unglamorous sort of way.  I went to shul (synagogue) last night as usual and forced myself to shake hands with the rabbi afterwards as I think I chickened out of doing it last week.  I walked back with an elderly gentleman who lives further down our road.  I’ve walked home with him before, but neither of us is really into small talk, so the walk is rather quiet.  In the past that made me feel self-conscious and awkward, but last night I seemed to be OK with it, which seemed to be a social anxiety victory.

Dinner conversation was largely about my Mum’s illness and treatment.  I was OK, up until the point when I wasn’t and started feeling sad and anxious.  I’m not sure how much was worry about her per se and how much about how stressful the next few weeks, and the upcoming festivals of Purim and Pesach, are going to be and the fear that they will trigger depression and religious OCD.

I overslept in the morning again, but I’ve given up trying to go to shul in the mornings at the moment.  I was annoyed to doze for an hour after lunch, though, as it might stop me sleeping this evening.

I went to shul this afternoon for services and Talmud shiur (religious class) even though I felt a bit depressed and anxious.  I’ve felt a bit more comfortable and accepted at shul the last week or two, especially as I’m following Talmud shiur better (I prepare beforehand and revise afterwards) and as I’ve led services a couple of times.

I am wondering if I should speak to the new rabbi about some of my issues, at shul and in general.  My main reason is because Pesach might prompt religious OCD, in which case it would be good to have someone locally who can determine if a problem is real or in my head, as my rabbi mentor tends not to pick up his emails on Chol HaMoed (the intermediate days of the festival) and obviously will be out of contact on Yom Tov itself.  I don’t know if the new rabbi has much mental health experience, although it was something that people raised when the community was looking for a rabbi.  If I am going to speak to him, it would be good to do so in advance rather than in the rush immediately before Pesach.

I spent an hour and a quarter tonight working on my non-fiction Doctor Who book’s jacket.  I think I’ve got the hang of the cover designer on, although I still find it awkward in pages.  I’m not sure if that’s my ignorance or genuine design flaws.  I find my back cover blurb lacks punch and my biography seems perfunctory (I grew up reading The New Adventures series of Doctor Who spin-off novels where the authors often seemed in a competition to come up with most bizarre and comic biographies).  I’ve sent it to my sister (who works in marketing) and I might send it to E.  I feel slightly sick just using marketing hyperbole, like describing my book as “essential” when it’s clearly not literally essential in the way that water and food are essential.  I don’t have much of an eye for graphic design either and I’m limited by copyright law in terms of the images I could use (I decided not to use any).

I have a busy day tomorrow: a family get together at lunch time and a lecture by Rabbi Joshua Berman on historical accuracy in Tanakh (Hebrew Bible) in the evening which I’m looking forward to.  So I should probably have something to eat and go to bed, given that it’s already 10.00pm.

Drifting Away

I had some religious OCD anxieties late last night, and then a night of confused dreams which also included some religious OCD imagery.  It’s probably just a sign of the emotional stress I’m under at the moment, although one dream focused strongly on the preparations for Pesach (Passover), which is now officially on the horizon, and which is always difficult enough even without Mum undergoing chemotherapy.


I seem to have lost the details of the boring, but part-time, admin job I was thinking of applying for, so I suppose that means I won’t apply for it, unless I see it advertised again.


I think I’ve worked out how the cover-maker works on, but I need some time to mess around with it before I finalise my design.  It doesn’t help that the cover-maker seems to be rather glitchy and hard to save and return to it later.  And I need to write a back cover blurb and author biography; having just tried, I realise they are going to take more time and energy than I expected.


My parents have been economising a bit.  A few weeks ago we went from two weekend newspapers to one (we stopped getting a daily paper years ago), and at the end of the month we will stop getting The Jewish Chronicle too.  To be honest, it just cements my drift away from politics lately.  The last few years have left me deeply disenchanted with politics in general and suspicious and critical of all the major parties.  I feel that I don’t have much of a voice and wouldn’t know what to say if I did, although I do still read a couple of news and political opinion sites, including the inevitable BBC News, for all its manifold faults.

As for The Jewish Chronicle, in recent years I really only paid attention to the religion and comment pages.  I will still be able to follow global, long-term trends in the Jewish community on and my beloved The Jewish Review of Books, although both tend to have a strongly American focus.  As for reading about antisemitism in our homegrown politicians and the ongoing Labour antisemitism issue… I suspect I’ll hear, one way or the other.  News like that has a habit of remorselessly tracking a person down.

I do feel that the print media are almost as bad as social media in trying to make me angry and upset about things that are often not worth getting angry and upset about and about which I can do little even if they are worth being upset about.  It is true that, without the Jewish community’s ongoing protests against Jeremy Corbyn and Labour party antisemitism, Labour might have done a lot better in the last election, so obviously you can have a voice if you can find enough like-minded people.  But I’m not good at finding like-minded people.


I’m still feeling bad about the friends I’ve lost in the last year or so.  It’s scary because often I could not see an obvious reason: the reasons given seemed like over-reactions, or paranoia.  In one case, I sensed a brittleness in an online blog friendship; comments sounded more aggressive than I intended, or were perceived as such and it seemed safer to drift away while still relatively friendly than to actually have a full-blown argument one day.  In other cases, I would have been happy to continue the friendship, but was told my actions crossed a line, even though the existence of that line was not always obvious to me, certainly not beforehand.

I feel bad because I’ve rarely lost friends in this way in the past, only through drifting away slowly and non-confrontationally.  To lose four in relatively rapid succession, in ways that felt outside my control, has shaken me a bit as I wonder if I could lose other friends suddenly and unexpectedly.  I try to be a good friend to other friends in need, but I don’t always know what to say or do.


Shabbat awaits…

Update (Job Hunt, Devar Torah, Dating, Diet)

Today was frustrating.  I spent a couple of hours on a job application.  The personal statement really made it clear that I had only about half the skills and experiences required, but I carried on anyway, I’m not sure why.  It was also one of those applications where you can’t put any details that identify you in the personal statement for fear of nepotism or prejudice.  In one previous application, that meant not naming any of my previous employers and using stilted sentence constructions like “In one previous job I was able to…  and in another I did…”  I wasn’t sure if they wanted that here or not, so there’s a 50% chance I screwed up with that bit even regardless of the content of what I wrote.

I did see another interesting-looking job, which I will probably apply for next week, but, again, the more I read up on it, the less suitable it seems.  Am I being overly picky?  Or lacking self-esteem?  I definitely think I have autistic issues with coping with recruitment jargon, answering open questions and finding useful examples from my entire work history (even though “my entire work history” is only about a decade, even counting voluntary work).

I did see a job advertised that wasn’t a librarian job, or anything like it, just an admin job.  It looked insanely boring (managing the debit cards students use on a campus), but the salary was OK (although not great), but it was two and a half days a week, whereas all the library jobs I see are full-time, sometimes with evenings or weekends thrown in.  It does seem silly to apply for a job based on the hours rather than the job itself, but I feel pretty desperate.


I’m not particularly happy with this week’s devar Torah (Torah thought) either, but that’s probably mostly social anxiety at writing for a wider audience (now nine people, seven on email and my parents in person over the Shabbat dinner table).  I like to write about things that interest me, which often means going to topics that other people might avoid.  My devar Torah this week was on why biblical law permits slavery, even though it attempts to ameliorate it, when the narrative of the Torah seems to be against it.  My answer, that societies change over time and that God wanted us to grow to a level where slavery no longer existed, feels worryingly “Reform” even though it’s based on ideas from major Jewish scholars (Rabbi Lord Sacks, Rav Soloveitchik and Rambam/Maimonides).


The more positive side of today was Skyping E., although we’re both frustrated that all we can do at the moment is talk to each other, rather than go on dates.  Still, it was good to speak, especially as I’m really busy on Sunday and probably won’t be able to Skype then.


I struggled to eat less for lunch to diet, but then got super-hungry in the afternoon and had to snack on kosher pot noodle or I wouldn’t have been able to concentrate on my job application.  Some days you just can’t win.

Born Too Late

Mum has a treatment plan, a mixture of two types of chemotherapy plus antibodies, then surgery and then radiotherapy starting 3 March.  There isn’t really a lot I can do at this stage.  I’m not sure what I feel about this.  I probably need time to process it.


I’m still struggling with job applications, submitting in another one today.  I wonder lately whether I’m aiming for jobs that are just beyond my level, because of my depression, social anxiety and high functioning autism.  I keep seeing library assistant jobs being advertised (one agency keeps trying to put me up for them and I was even interviewed for one) and wonder if it was a mistake to get my MA and train as a librarian.  It was certainly a difficult process with depression that took three times longer than it should have done.  Part of me thinks I should just have become a library assistant.  The work would be less challenging and I would doubtless be bored and there would still be social interactions to deal with and the salary would be a lot lower (although any salary is greater than being unemployed and ineligible for benefits).  But maybe I would have been able to work three or four days a week or even full-time.  Once I go down that route, though, it will be hard to go back to where I am now.  Maybe I’m beating myself up again.  Someone with my education and intellect should be able to do something more skilled and intellectual, but somehow I can’t find the right work or keep it.

Sometimes I just feel like I want some omniscient being to come and tell me what I Should be doing with my life, because I don’t have a clue.

I once joked to one of my friends (who comments here sometimes) that we were born too late and in the wrong class; we really have the mindset for financially-independent Victorian gentlemen scholars, pursuing research in obscure topics without having to worry about funding or teaching or anything modern scholars have to worry about.  Certainly retreat to an ivory tower seems more tempting, but more distant, than ever, looking at the world and politics as well as my life.

As I said, I did fill in another job application today, for a library and research position at a charity, but I think I don’t have the skills in statistical research and summarising complex information that they require.  I have applied for two jobs at this charity in the past; for one I was rejected outright, for the other I got called to interview, but did not get through it; in particular, I don’t think I did well on the summarising test, which is a more technical skill than it seems on the surface.  Looking at the job specification, there are jargon-ey phrases which, if phrased differently, might prompt memories of similar work in my employment history, but faced with such general terms (“Proven ability to deliver and contribute to the development of high quality user-focused information services”) my autistic brain draws a blank as the statement is too vague and abstract to prompt any “I’ve done that!” thoughts.  This happens to me a lot with job applications.  In the end I met eight of the ten criteria on the person specification, but I’m not sure that I demonstrated that I met the criteria well, and the two I was missing were very important.


I’m nervous about my devar Torah (Torah thought) for this week.  First I thought I wouldn’t be able to write it, or that it would be incoherent.  Now I’m more confident I can write it (I have nearly 500 words written and a bit to add later or tomorrow), but I worry that I’ve got a chiddush, a new argument.  This sounds good, but I told myself I would not write new ideas any more, because in the Orthodox community people don’t seem to like them unless you’re an important, well-known rabbi, and even then innovative readings of halakhic (legal) debates are preferred to narrative interpretations or philosophical ideas.  My idea sits on the intersection between halakhah and philosophy.  And now I have a number of new people reading it who I worry might reject me on some level.  Or just tell me I’m being stupid.  OK, my family and friends are unlikely to tell me I’m being stupid, but they might tell me my argument is weak or confused.


Calling anyone who has used for self-publishing!

Aside from the job application, devar Torah and procrastinating, my main achievement today was working on my non-fiction Doctor Who book.  I uploaded the file as a pdf, but I couldn’t check if the fonts were embedded properly without Adobe Acrobat, which I don’t have. was said it wouldn’t print fonts 6 pt or smaller; I had a few footnotes at 8 pt which for some reason Lulu thought were at 6 pt, but I decided to take a chance and keep them in, given that they really are above 6 pt and given that I didn’t want to have to sort the pagination out yet again.

I struggled with Lulu’s cover wizard for a bit.  I’m not sure I really have the right software to use it.  For some reason, it is pushing the last letters of the title off the cover.  Change the font or move the text box are the obvious solutions, but I can’t work out how to do either.  So far as I can tell, font is fixed, but different colour covers use different fonts and/or different font sizes.  Weird, but true.  Now I can get a font size that fits, but it’s with an ugly beige colour cover.  I think this may be step 1 and the next step will allow me to change font size or text location?  OK, I’m giving up for tonight now.


I watched a not-so-good episode of Star Trek Voyager today, notable for the fact that while it was ostensibly about Commander Chakotay’s desire to leave behind the Native American traditions of his family and then to return to them later in life, it seemed to me a lot like a familiar story of a young Jew who finds Judaism stifling, obscurantist and particularistic, but finds his way back to it, to some extent, in middle age, particularly after the death of a parent.  So, I found author Michael Piller on Wikipedia and, lo!, he was Jewish.  Of course, it’s a familiar pattern from many cultures intersecting with modernity, but it hit Jews harder than many, for a variety of reasons.  It’s sad though that you can tell stories about Jews on TV… provided they aren’t actually Jews.  As Cynthia Ozick said, “Jews are not metaphors”.  (The full quote is, “Jews are not metaphors – not for poets, not for novelists, not for theologians, not for murderers, and never for anti-Semites…”)


I gave in and ate ice cream.  It’s hard not to eat junk at all when I feel so depressed and anxious.  When I feel bad, it’s hard to tell myself that I shouldn’t do something that will make me feel a bit better even if just for a few minutes.  This is especially true as I don’t binge, but clomipramine means everything goes straight to my waistline.

The Duck-Billed Platypus

I was woken by a phone call from one of the job agencies I wrote to yesterday.  I had left the date I finished my last job off my CV, initially because I was hoping the job would be extended, but later because I forgot that I had not added it in.  For someone who wants to work in a job requiring high attention to detail, I can be worryingly absentminded.  And,  yes, I know it’s probably at least partially due to the depression, but still, it worries me.

I have found a couple of different jobs to apply for today, one reasonably local, although it looks from the job description that the statement that the job is “part-time” actually means that it’s “full-time, but term time only” which I’ve almost done before (four days a week, term time only), but which was very draining and not what I’m looking for ideally.  I would like to work fourteen to twenty-one hours a week.  There is quite a bit of interaction with staff and students in that job too, and the delivery of information literacy programmes, which is somewhat scary, although I could probably manage it.  I still hope there’s a better job for me out there, but I feel that if there is, I’m not able to find it.

Regardless, I fought procrastination to try to complete the application for that job.  It required thirteen separate supporting mini-statements to demonstrate my knowledge and skills.  I think what it really demonstrated is that I don’t have all the knowledge and skills they want, but I tried to complete the application, pausing when my post-exercise migraine got too bad.  I did manage to come back to it later, but it didn’t help that the first question was about CPD (professional development) which I’m very bad at – if I can’t work full-time, I certainly can’t work and do CPD as well.  I completed the application, so have at least achieved that, but doubt I will even get an interview.

It’s hard to find jobs where I fit, where I have the right level of skills and experience and not too little (or, occasionally, too much); where I can work the hours my health needs and can take time off for Jewish festivals; and where the environment is right for all my “issues.”  On paper I can think of library environments that would be right for me, but somehow there are few of them in practice.

Some of my problem in finding work is probably autistic black and white thinking: I struggle to think around the questions at interview or in an online application about my knowledge and skills, to find creative ways of showing that I do in fact possess the required knowledge and skills.  I think I present very narrow and literal answers that make my skillset seem smaller.  Similarly, I suffer from autistic difficulties with open questions: my tendency is to respond in short summary sentences rather than to elaborate, because I struggle to work out what the reader would want to know and to find relative material out of an entire life’s worth of experiences.


I made a couple of small edits to my non-fiction book, hopefully the last major change to the body of the work.  I also added a copyright page and adjusted the contents page to deal with the changes.  I got confused about putting a publisher’s address.  I don’t really want my personal address in the public domain, but I still dream of a real publisher wanting to publish my book if it’s some kind of self-published success (it occasionally happens).  Plus at the moment I think I have an ISBN through Lulu (the self-publishing site I’m using) and I’m not sure how that affects publication.  Possibly this is all naive of me and ignorant of how (self-)publishing works.  At the moment there is no publisher’s address and I don’t know how anyone who read the book could get hold of me.  Anyway, I’m nearly at the stage of uploading the document and moving from the content of the book to the cover.  I hope to get it finished in the next few weeks.


I feel I didn’t do as much today as I would have liked, although I did quite a bit: I went for a run and filled in that application despite an exercise migraine and I made those changes to my book.  I just feel that I could have done more if I hadn’t had a migraine and (if I’m being honest) if I hadn’t procrastinated so much.  I also managed half an hour of Torah study, mostly Talmud, which I think I even got a basic grasp of, which was good.


I read some blog posts today about a controversy in the Orthodox Jewish world (the posts are here, here and – much older – here, but I doubt they are easily comprehensible without knowledge of Jewish theology and recent controversies).  They are pushing me towards a realisation of something I’ve sort-of known for a while, that the gap between Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) Jews on the one hand and secular and Progressive Jews on the other is a gap between pre-modern and modern ways of understanding the world, in terms not just of science, but scholarship in general.  Modern scholarship is dispassionate, evidence-based, without preconceptions (at least in theory, although the postmoderns would disagree), sceptical and unwilling to accord automatic respect to people or ideas whereas the traditional world view is faith-based, ideally based on love and awe for the material studied and earlier scholars, credulous (at least to certain types of material and certain types of authors) and supposed to give certain answers.  And somewhere in between are the Modern Orthodox Jews (of whom I count myself one) who are trying to use modern scholarship, but also hold on to the core (at least) of traditional belief and practice. Like the duck-billed platypus, we are not quite one thing or another, no wonder the rest of the Jewish world doesn’t know what to do with us.  It’s hard to study Torah in both traditional and modern ways even alternately; it’s probably impossible to study both ways simultaneously.  Prayer on the other hand, probably requires throwing oneself entirely into a pre-modern mindset; you can’t acknowledge God as one possible hypothesis out of several.  So in the Modern Orthodox world we have to oscillate between mindsets, which perhaps leads to a certain jaded cynicism about Judaism and a lack of the passion found in the Haredi world.

This is my struggle at shul (synagogue): that most people there seem to have a pre-modern mindset about Torah (even if they have degrees and jobs in the secular world) and I don’t.  Actually, it could be that others are also more modern, but, like me, too scared to admit it (I learnt from Ashley Leia the idea of pluralistic ignorance).

There is probably more to say about this, but it’s late.


I had a dream about E., although she wasn’t actually in it.  In the dream I was feeling angry that my sister, who is younger than me, was already married and I was not.  I wouldn’t say that I feel angry about that in real life, but I am aware of it.  I had a crush on E. in the dream, but I hadn’t told her how I felt (actually, in reality it was more like she told me) and I was just feeling frustrated that I had this crush that I couldn’t resolve.  There was more to the dream than that, but I can’t remember the details.  I woke up feeling slightly distressed by the dream, but also glad that, despite all the practical difficulties surrounding my relationship with E., at least we’ve moved it on further than that.

Perhaps as a result of this, I was thinking today how much my life has changed in the last two years or so.  At the start of 2018 I was working in further education, was living away from home and was single.  I’ve had another three jobs since then, have moved back in with my parents and have had a long-distance relationship twice (with E. both times).  And now I’m learning to deal with Mum’s cancer, which is difficult to adjust to, both as a sign of my parents’ mortality and because the family dynamic for so many years has been based on the idea that I’m the “sick” family member; now I’m going to have to adopt some care-giving attitudes and activities.  I have also, in this period, more or less finished putting together a non-fiction book for self-publication and am working on a novel.  Oh, and my sister got married just before the period in question.  I get on well with my brother-in-law and his family, which is a relief.

Some of this is good, some bad and some indifferent, but I guess it shows how unpredictable life is.  On 1 January 2018, I could have predicted very little of this (except my sister’s marriage, which had happened a month previously).  So, I’m trying to be hopeful that things can turn around in unexpected ways in the next two or three years, hopefully good things like Mum recovering, my building some kind of a career and E. and I managing to find a way to make our relationship work in-person.

Wiped Out

I woke up at 10.00am feeling OK, except for a sore neck, but somehow I feel asleep again and when I woke up after 12.30pm, I was very depressed and exhausted, although my neck didn’t hurt any more.

I intended to have a run before lunch, but I was too depressed and exhausted to get going, still being in my pyjamas at 3.00pm.  I had a What’sApp chat with E., which at least raised my mood enough to get dressed and have lunch, although I postponed davening (praying) until after lunch, which I don’t like and usually manage to avoid doing.  I wanted to get at least a bit of exercise, so I went for a half hour walk in the cold while it was still just about light.

I emailed some job agencies yesterday to say I’m looking for work again and one emailed me back with something.  I had already seen the job on a job email and hadn’t applied yet as it is full-time, which I don’t feel up to doing, and requires experience with serials management, which I don’t have.  But I thought I should at least go for it and see what happens, so I asked them to put my CV forward.  Of course, I’m now worrying that I’ll have to work on Purim and Pesach and have problems with Shabbat starting early on Fridays and so on, not to mention working full-time or nearly full-time…  I know, I should get the job before I worry about how I will cope with it.

The other major achievement today was finishing the bibliography for my non-fiction Doctor Who book.  It ended up about 100 items, which seems OK for a select bibliography, especially considering I did little research as such, I just drew on nearly thirty years of experience obsessing about Doctor Who and tried retroactively to remember where I’d seen facts years before.  I also spent twenty-five minutes on Torah study, reading The Art of Biblical Poetry, which was a lot given how bad I was feeling.

“Sunday’s on the phone to Monday”

I managed to get up a little earlier today than usual (around 10.20am, which is still late by most people’s standards), which was good.  It poured with rain all day, so no run today.

I felt really lethargic today and a bit depressed, becoming very depressed in the evening.  It was a struggle to do anything.  I guess I did a lot over the last couple of days.  Pushing myself to do new things always brings some more anxiety in its wake.  I worry that I won’t be able to keep up with my weekly divrei Torah (Torah thoughts) or to keep them up to a high standard.  I shall really have to just wait and see, which is the hard thing.

I did at least manage to do some more work on my Doctor Who book’s bibliography.  I’m grateful for the Index that Doctor Who Magazine recently produced to the magazine’s first forty years (1979-2019).  It must have saved me some extended rooting in back issues trying to locate half-remembered articles.  I spent an hour and a quarter on the bibliography, finishing the references to magazine articles.  I’ve still got to add in a few references to DVDs and websites, but I hope to finish it in the next couple of days and be able to resume formatting the book for publication.

I also spent fifty minutes or more reading this week’s sedra (Torah portion), which was a very complicated, largely legal section with some linguistically-challenging bits, bearing in mind that I’m reading in Hebrew, and that Orthodox Bibles tend to translate according to accepted Jewish law, which is not always the literal meaning, so putting together the literal, legal and sometimes idiomatic readings can be a challenge.  I felt mentally exhausted by the time I had finished.

I also spent somewhere between one and two hours cooking vegetable curry for dinner.  I hadn’t cooked curry for ages.  So I suppose I have managed quite a bit today, but still it feels that there is more to do, and more that I Should do.


The institution I was working at in January never got back to me about extending my contract.  I’ve been job hunting again and today I emailed a couple of job agencies to tell them I’m looking for work again.  I’m somewhat concerned about the lack of librarian jobs around at the moment.  Most of the ones I have seen are full-time and/or the other side of London.  I’m still surprised how few part-time librarian jobs are available generally, as I thought it would be a sector that encouraged such flexibility.

I need to think of alternative jobs.  My Mum is still encouraging me to look at primary school teacher/teaching assistant roles, on the grounds that I’m “good with children” although I don’t feel that I’m that good with children, particularly when their parents aren’t around.  She did suggest volunteering to read with children in schools to get experience.  Someone from the OCD support group I went to when my OCD was at its worst did that.  It’s a possibility.  I do feel somewhat stuck despite all the job search help/careers advice I’ve had, which doesn’t do much for my self-esteem.  It’s not that I can’t find anything as much as the feeling that I’m still looking for the wrong job or in the wrong places, but don’t know how to change things.


My digital scales said my weight was up to 77.3kg this morning, which seemed a big increase even with the comfort eating I’ve done over the last week or two.  My parents’ mechanical scales said 75kg, which seemed a lot more reasonable.  If my digital scales are faulty, it would explain a lot about why my weight seems to have fluctuated wildly lately.  I would definitely prefer to be 75kg to being 77.3kg!  Although I feel so depressed that comfort eating may follow before bed, even though I know I should resist.  Actually, experience indicates that eating lots of ice cream (my comfort food of choice) will probably make my mood worse, so I really should resist.


Doctor Who was not good again.  This whole series seems to have turned into a prolonged exercise in missing the point, like someone read a lot of articles about Doctor Who online and tried to write some episodes without ever having actually seen the programme.


I’m just feeling depressed and alone now.  I wrote some further thoughts, but cut them as too personal and too… I don’t know what.  Incoherent, possibly.

Maybe I did too much over the last few days, although it doesn’t feel like I’ve done much; if this is “too much” how will I ever manage anything?

I miss E. too.  Long-distance relationships are hard, especially when it feels like there are so many practical barriers to us ever being together.

I should probably go to bed, or at least move towards going to bed…

Successful Shabbat

Shabbat (the Sabbath) was good, overall.  Shul (synagogue) on Friday night was OK.  I had dinner with my family, which is still overshadowed by Mum’s cancer diagnosis, then back to shul at 8.30pm for an evening learning event.  There were twelve of us, including the rabbi running the event (not the regular shul rabbi).  First was chevruta (paired) study of the key sources in the Talmud and later commentators and law codes.  We spent about thirty or forty minutes coming to grips with these and then there was a short shiur (class) for fifteen or twenty minutes applying the principles from the texts.  I was paired with one of my friends, to my relief, and we did OK going through the texts.  We were on similar levels, I think, which made it better than these situations sometimes go with me, both in terms of confidence and thinking of things to say.  It was a highly technical discussion of a point of law in the Jewish laws of property and damages, not the type of thing I usually like study, but I found it quite interesting.  There was a short piece of aggadata (non-legal material, in this case narrative) in the midst of the halakhah (Jewish law) which made things a bit easier for me (about a caravan in the ancient Middle East that was being stalked by a lion, so every evening they left one of their donkeys for the lion in the hope that it would be satiated and not attack the caravan.  It made me wonder what they did if they ran out of donkeys).  Afterwards there was potato kugel (kugel is a kind of pudding that can be made of various things, sweet or savoury, but most often grated potato).  This was the one week when we had potato kugel for dinner at home, but I would never turn down more.  As I said to Dad, kugels are like buses, you wait ages and then two come along at once.  I was glad to be socialising in a ‘safe’ environment in shul and was glad there were relatively few people there, so I did not get overwhelmed and also was visibly joining in and not merging into the background.

When we were sitting around eating kugel and drinking whisky (not me, but the other men) the rabbi quoted something (I didn’t catch where from) that said that doing a mitzvah against difficulty means the reward is one hundred-fold.  He was thinking of all of us coming out in the cold, wet and wind at night, but I thought of my depression, social anxiety and autism.  Even if “one hundred-fold” is rabbinic hyperbole, I felt that maybe I should cut myself some slack for trying to be a good Jew under difficult circumstances.

I didn’t push myself to get up early for shul this morning, but I did go back for Minchah, Talmud shiur and Ma’ariv (Afternoon Service, Talmud class and Evening Service).  There was no one willing or able to lead Minchah so I was asked.  I hadn’t done it for about five  years, not since we came to this community.  I have been more tuneful, but I don’t think I made any obvious mistakes aside from misunderstanding the rabbi about when to start on two occasions.  I even coped with slowly reading the Aramaic passage recited when taking the Torah scroll out, although I felt that people were staring at me and mentally wondering why I didn’t restart.  I shook with anxiety a little, but not as violently I did when leading weekday services at this shul previously, so maybe I’m becoming more confident with participating in this shul.  I didn’t (thank G-d!) drop the Torah scroll from shaking as I was vaguely worried about.

My devar Torah (Torah thought) email that I shared with a slightly wider group of people before Shabbat this week also seems to have gone down well, so maybe I’m beginning to move outwards into the community again after a period of retrenchment and mental health struggle over the last five years.


Today is my parents’ wedding anniversary (before you ask, no, they didn’t deliberately go for a Valentine’s weekend wedding, it just ended up like that).  They bought a very rich chocolate cake for dessert for Shabbat meals.  They don’t normally do that for their anniversary, only for family birthdays, and I felt that it was partly a kind of reward because of the stressful few weeks we’ve had with Mum’s cancer diagnosis.  It was really good cake, though, and we’ve still got quite a bit left.


After Shabbat, I did a bit more work on the bibliography for my non-fiction Doctor Who book.  I got through a pile of books that came out between 1997 and 2006, basically from the point where Doctor Who seemed to be dead until the point where it had come back, but the new generation of fans had not quite arrived yet.  It’s the Doctor Who fandom I heard about and tentatively joined in via Doctor Who Magazine (particularly the editorships of Gary Gillatt, Alan Barnes and Clayton Hickman), books like Doctor Who: From A to ZLicence Denied and Doctor Who: The Book of Lists and later joined more fully in the Oxford University Doctor Who Society (Doc Soc) and its fanzine The Tides of Time.  It was a slightly strange fandom, a place where on the one hand people would take the programme extremely seriously and write lengthy quasi-scholarly articles about themes or characterisation, and then five minutes later they would be completely taking the Mickey and making fun of the whole thing, sometimes even in the same article.

I suppose I was only ever really on the fringes of that fandom; the Doc Soc was my greatest involvement, and that was only a small society when I was there.  In 2005 the programme came back on TV and completely changed the demographic of fandom; later the arrival of social media and Twitter would alter the way that fans communicated.  I’m not really involved in fandom any more.  I just read and comment on a couple of blogs run by people I consider friends as much as fellow fans.  I still read Doctor Who Magazine (and tried to pitch to write for it, without success), but it feels very much like an ‘official’ piece of merchandise now and not the upmarket glossy quasi-fanzine it once aimed to be.  You won’t see anyone criticise anything or lightly make fun of anything; in fact, they’re not even running reviews of the new episodes.

I’ve sometimes ventured onto Doctor Who Twitter, but I find it a bit scary: sometimes quick to take offense and rather political, plus I find Twitter in general a source of angst and time wasting and I try to avoid it.  I’ve never been to a convention, either pre- or post-new series.  Part of me would like to go, but part of me, particularly the autistic part of me, is scared stiff at the thought of it.  I would like to find that kind of fan commentary/appreciation/gentle mockery that I used to find in the late nineties and early noughties, but I’m not sure it even exists any more, let alone where to find it.  And I wish I had been a bit more involved in “my” fandom when it was thriving, even if I wasn’t in it now, although I suppose I was too young and socially anxious to get much more involved.


I wrote a long comment tonight about autism and my religious beliefs on MidWestAspie’s blog.  I’ve decided to cross-post my comment here (cutting off a bit that is a not relevant and correcting a couple of typos) as it touches on some issues I’ve raised here, but never really spoken about at length:

Interesting post. I have heard other people on the spectrum say that their ASD made them leave their religious upbringing. I’m the reverse. I’m a religious Orthodox Jew and in the process of getting an ASD diagnosis (I’m pretty sure I’m on the spectrum, and have been told I am by mental health practitioners, but don’t have the bit of paper yet). I was raised traditional, but not fully religious and became a lot more religious in my teens and early twenties. I’ve never really felt a clash between those aspects of my self (ASD and Judaism).

My university background is in the humanities (history and then information management) rather than science, so maybe that’s made me more open to the idea that things exist, and can be shown to be likely to exist or to be a certain way, without our being able to “prove” that they exist like a scientific or mathematical proof. For example, I think Napoleon was defeated at Waterloo, but I can’t prove that in the way that a scientist can prove that e=mc2 or the way Decartes tried to prove that “I think therefore I am.” When I was in my twenties I went through a kind of religious crisis about this type of thing, but this was the position that I eventually came to. I think whether a system has meaning is not falsifiable in a Popperian sense. You can say that God is an unnecessary hypothesis, but if you find meaning in an idea or a practice, I think there is truth to that meaning even if the data it rests on is, in some sense, flawed (I’m not sure if I’m explaining this well).

OTOH, I have a quite existential approach to faith. A number of years ago I was reading a lot in Jewish religious existentialists (e.g. Rav Soloveitchik, Levinas, Heschel, Fackenheim, Buber) and am still very influenced by them. The emphasis on dialogue and encounter and ethics. I don’t feel much security from my faith in the way that you say your parents do and in the way that I see other people in my community react. I went through another religious crisis of a kind in recent years where I was sure that God hated me, but I eventually realised that I was just projecting my own low self-esteem. But I don’t feel that God is my Cosmic Buddy who will do what I ask, nor do I think much about the afterlife or reward or stuff like that. I talk to God, but I don’t expect Him to answer me in an immediate or overt way. I don’t expect my life to go well in this world just because I try to keep the Torah. Maybe it’s not part of my psychological make-up (or ASD), maybe it’s the pessimism that comes from two decades of mental illness, or maybe it’s just that Judaism is a very present-centred religion and we don’t talk much about Heaven or reward, even though we believe in them.

I’ve never had the type of religious experience you describe and I wouldn’t know what to do with it if I did. I absolutely don’t believe Judaism means giving up my responsibility. On the contrary, Judaism, and especially Jewish existentialism, means accepting a huge amount of responsibility. Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Kotzk, the nineteenth century proto-Jewish existentialist thinker, said, “The seeking is the finding” and that is how I relate to Judaism, it is an ongoing quest for me to find meaning in my life and in my people’s traditions, not a set of answers someone else is spoon-feeding me.

I know there are people in the Orthodox Jewish community who like being spoon-fed. I know that there are people who believe a lot of stuff I consider incorrect, silly or occasionally dangerous, whether its creationism or magical thinking (segulot) or whatever. And on my blog I write a lot about my trouble fitting in to my community and getting annoyed about things people believe or say. But the fact that other people believe things that I think are wrong doesn’t make me think that everything they believe must be wrong, if I find meaning in it. And I’m not bothered about other people finding meaning in their own traditions, because I believe that, as Rabbi Lord Sacks said (and got in trouble for saying with the ultra-Orthodox) God is bigger than religion and God speaks to people in different ways. I do believe the Torah to be a qualitatively different type of truth from other religions, but even if I felt that Judaism was exactly equal to other religious truths, there is a Burkean conservative aspect to my mind that makes me think there is meaning and goodness in following and maintaining the traditions, customs and festivals of one’s own people regardless of what others think or do.

There probably is more I could add to this, but it’s late and this post is too long already.  I will say that there probably was a time, when I was in my teens or twenties, when, if my life had gone differently, I could perhaps have become an atheist, possibly even the aggressively militant type.  I suppose I was lucky that I knew enough to convince myself that the militant atheists (Dawkins, Hitchens etc.) were overstating their case and didn’t really know much about Judaism from the inside.  It does make my head hurt a bit wondering what might have been and what that would mean for me, but you drive yourself mad thinking like that.

The Voice of Conscience

I’ve been thinking about my attitude to self-care.  I struggle to think that self-care is OK for me.  I feel reluctant to be lenient on myself as I feel like I don’t do enough as it is, whether in comparison to others or comparison to my own standards.  However, I do have a lot of “issues” that most people don’t have, with major impacts on my own life experiences, such as work, friendships, relationships and community.  I’m slowly coming round to the idea that I can’t always expect the same as other people from myself or even what I used to expect from myself before I was depressed (which is such a long time ago that I hardly ever compare myself to how I was then).  Nevertheless, I do feel that that kind of attitude is a slippery slope to becoming a bad person, that I should do more for my parents (even before my Mum’s cancer), that I could get a job that I could do if I tried hard enough and so on.  It is hard to find the balance.

Yesterday Ashley Leia commented to the extent that I’m confusing my conscience with my inner critic.  If I understood her correctly, she felt that I could silence the inner critic without abandoning my conscience.  This made me pause as I’d never thought of it in those terms before.  On reflection, I do feel that I tend to rely on my inner critic for judgment about my life as much as my conscience.  The voice of my conscience possibly seems very weak and faint, which seems a bizarre thing to say for someone who takes his ethical life very seriously and thinks about it a lot, but I think I do rely on the inner critic, or on the heteronomous (externally imposed) voice of halakhah (Jewish law) rather than my morally autonomous sense of conscience.  Usually when I’m conflicted about what the moral thing to do is in a situation, I decide I should do very easily, but I worry about conflict with other people (usually family members or community members) who want me to do something else.  Perhaps I’m not analysing myself correctly, but it’s rare that I’m faced with two different outcomes and have to decide at length which is more moral or religiously acceptable.

My morality must seem very black and white to outsiders, which perhaps is quite normal for someone on the autistic spectrum, but it does not fit with the fact that I try to be non-judgemental and to see multiple sides of moral dilemmas, even when halakhah gives an unambiguous answer.  So, Judaism is fairly (although not absolutely) anti-abortion, yet I have a good friend who has had two abortions, and that does not affect how I relate to her.  I don’t know how I can see moral complexity in the abstract and be very forgiving of other people, yet be very regimented and strict on myself.

I guess with my depression in particular I struggle to make allowances for myself given that it’s been going on so long.  For example, I feel that, after over seventeen years, I ought to be better at mornings than I am (generally I sleep through most of them unless there’s something I absolutely must be up for).  Also as I do not have a clear high functioning autism diagnosis, so I feel that I shouldn’t play the autism card (so to speak) too much, even though it clearly explains a lot about me.


I did eventually get out and do various chores: collected a repeat prescription, bought an anniversary card for my uncle and aunt and went to the library and got my library card.  The library seems quite nice, not a huge selection of novels that interested me, but a lot of graphic novels, which is good as I like reading graphic novels, but they’re hugely expensive, even second-hand, and feel like a bit of a waste of money unless you’re going to re-read them a lot as they can be read in a couple of hours.  I borrowed V for Vendetta, which I’d been meaning to read for ages, but don’t think I’m going to enjoy enough to buy.

The chores took longer than expected and I didn’t get much else done, just a little work on my bibliography and restarting my spreadsheet of jobs I could apply for (nothing particularly interesting or relevant at the moment and I’m definitely struggling to find part-time work as opposed to full-time).


The shiur (religious class) today was on honouring parents.  It just reminded me how lacking I am in this area and that I need to work on it.  The next year is pretty much going to force me to work on it.  I suppose, trying to observe my thoughts and feelings this evening, that this is an area where conscience and self-criticism are intertwined and hard to distinguish.

I ate a lot of junk at shiur again.  I think some of it is that I tend to need fidget when I’m listening to someone.  It’s an autistic stimming thing.  I think I eat at shiur to give me something to do with my hands and perhaps also to distract myself from my self-consciousness in front of other people.  Likewise, when I read or watch TV at home, I tend to eat.  If I’m reading for work, as I often have to do when cataloguing, I fidget with a pen or pencil.  That’s also part of the reason why I eat more junk on Shabbat (the Sabbath) – because I’m reading a lot, but limited in what I can touch and play with.


Another scary thing: I think I’ve mentioned that since the annual Torah reading cycle restarted a few months ago, I have been writing a devar Torah (Torah thought) each week for my parents and I’ve been emailing it to my sister and E.  I’ve been struggling for a while with wanting to send it to some other friends from shul, but not feeling confident to do so.  It’s fear of rejection if they don’t want to read it, but also fear that they will object if I quote a non-traditional source (which I guess is another kind of rejection).  Perhaps there is also a fear of success, which tends to haunt me when things are going right: the feeling that I don’t deserve to succeed and that I will be punished.  I discussed it with my rabbi mentor who said I should go for it (and asked if I could add him to the list too).  So, I just messaged two shul friends to see if they’re interested in being added to the mailing list and so far one has said yes.  It’s scary, but exciting.

Mum’s Results

My Mum got her test results today.  The good news is that the cancer hasn’t spread beyond where they already knew it is (breast and lymph) and that it is treatable.  The bad news is that treatment (chemotherapy, surgery and radiotherapy) will take about a year, including recovery, so 2020 looks like being a stressful year for all of us.  We don’t have a proper treatment plan yet, so I’m assuming that is only a rough plan; I’m not sure exactly how that would differ from an official treatment plan.

This is a side of the NHS I’m not used to seeing: fast, friendly and effective.  I think Mum even has a support nurse who she can turn to with questions and for emotional support.  It’s scary how different mental healthcare provision is from cancer treatment.  I’m not sure why mental healthcare is so under-resourced, whether it’s stigma and public apathy or simply the fact that mental healthcare is very labour-intensive.  Psychotherapy in particular can go on for years with no clear end in sight, making mental health a potentially bottomless pit for funding.

The prognosis seems to be good, but it’s scary to be suddenly confronted with my parents’ mortality.  I’ve never entirely been independent from them because of my depression (and, perhaps, on some level, because of the autism) and I’ve worried in the abstract in the past about how I would cope without them, but this makes it all more real.  I’m also wondering how it will alter the family dynamic.  I’m used to being the only person who is ill and now that will change, which is likely to be disconcerting to all of us, at the very least.

My sister and brother-in-law came over in the evening to eat dinner and discuss my Mum’s treatment.  We had a reasonably good time, despite the conversation being initially very serious.


I seem to be struggling with sleep even more than usual since Mum has been ill.  I’ve gone from sleeping ten hours a night to twelve hours, and I wake feeling exhausted and depressed enough that I would probably sleep more, or at least stay in bed longer, if Dad didn’t insist that I get up.  I know it’s not surprising, as sleeping more is always the first sign of depression in me and the last thing to improve (I haven’t really had a fully healthy sleep pattern since my teens), but it is frustrating.  It’s pushing me into a more nocturnal life, as I stay up late because I’m not tired and because I want to accomplish some of the things I didn’t manage during the day, but that probably just perpetuates the problem.

Although I felt a bit better after breakfast, I still struggled to get dressed and start the day.  Perhaps that was inevitable given that Mum had her big appointment.  Maybe I was unconsciously trying to push it off somehow.  Even after lunch I felt listless and unwilling to do anything.  I tried to practise self-care, turn down the Shoulds and so on, but it’s hard.  I still struggle to turn off the Shoulds and the self-criticism for fear of turning into a bad person.  I don’t think genuinely bad people are much bothered by self-criticism and I’m worried that if I stop criticising myself, I will turn into a bad person.

I did manage to do a few things.  I signed up for my local public library on their website, which I had neglected to do since we moved here.  I stopped using my public library when I went to university because I didn’t want to risk losing public library books by taking them up to Oxford, and then I got out of the public library habit because I got into the charity shop habit.  I can be possessive about books anyway and buying books for £1 from charity shops reinforced that and created an expanding To Read pile that I felt I should address before borrowing other books.  Still, if I’m going to be unemployed for a while, it makes sense to join the library, particularly if I need to do research for writing projects.  Plus, I’ve come to accept that a lot of the books on my To Read pile are going to stay there indefinitely; when I’m depressed (and it seems I will be depressed for the foreseeable future), I’m not realistically going to read The Iliad or heavy non-fiction or to re-read books like Great Expectations and Crime and Punishment, much as part of me would like to.

I felt too distracted to do much that was useful today, at least until Mum phoned after her appointment.  I spent some time working on my bibliography, but was easily distracted.  I managed to write up about fifteen references.  I’m now about halfway through the bibliography, but some of the remaining references will require a lot of work to locate, and to find out how to reference properly (I need to check how to reference DVD production subtitles and supporting features).  I’m hoping to get it finished by the end of next week.


Chaconia commented to say that I might still be eligible for ESA (benefits), but I’m feeling quite confused by the whole situation.  I should probably find some time to sit down and work out how many National Insurance credits I have, if I’m still getting them and if there are any benefits I might be eligible for.  I find the government benefits website rather confusing to navigate, perhaps deliberately.


As if knowing I would need cheering up, my Doctor Who sonic screwdrivers arrived moments after Mum and Dad got home.  They are pleasingly chunky and usable, with sound effects and, in some cases, lights and extendable parts.  I suspect that the ones seen on TV more recently were designed with merchandising opportunities in mind, for collectors and cosplayers (people who dress up as fictional characters) as much as for children.  I suppose now I officially count as a cosplayer myself, if my Tom Baker/fourth Doctor scarf didn’t already qualify me.  To be honest, three of the six screwdrivers in the set are virtually identical to each other, but the other three are all very different designs, so I’m glad I spent the extra £10 to buy the set rather than just buying the fourth Doctor one and maybe spending more to buy another one somewhere down the line.  I showed them to my family after dinner and everyone was impressed, although I haven’t told anyone exactly how much they cost – at nearly £40 it was rather more than I am usually willing to pay for a fairly frivolous purchase and an impulsive one at that, but given that I don’t usually spend that much money on things, I think I can be forgiven one frivolous expense at a time of emotional stress.  It is making me rather more excited about Purim, which was the purpose of the exercise, although there’s another month to go.

Good Stuff, Not So Good Stuff

Good news and bad news on waking.  The bad news was that I had slept for twelve hours and still woke up feeling terrible, tired and depressed.  I had also lost the entire morning and some of the afternoon.

The good news, or at least better news, was that I have lost some weight again.  My weight is almost at the lowest since I started keeping a proper record of it two months ago.  I’m still technically overweight, but not as much.  This despite comfort eating in the last week or two due to stress and anxiety about Mum’s cancer, work and my relationship with E. (which is going fine, but I worry my “issues” will make it impossible to move the relationship on).  It is hard to understand my yoyoing weight (or even my “Wyoming weight” as the WordPress spellchecker prefers); it seems to go up and down with little relation to diet and exercise, although maybe that’s due to insufficient record-keeping.

I went for a run, which was not a particularly good run, but I was struggling against depression and exhaustion (it was only an hour since I’d got up for the second time today) as well as sunlight in my eyes and wind that was often against me.  I did about half an hour of Torah study, plus a chunk of research for this week’s devar Torah, which I probably should not have been doing today, but sometimes I go into a panic about not being able to locate sources or to find sources that support my understanding of Midrashim and the like.

I cooked dinner again, kedgeree for my parents and vegetarian kedgeree (kedgeree minus the fish) for myself, one of my easy “stand-by” recipes that I can cook quickly and without needing a recipe.  My parents were pleased because I’ve cooked dinner on three consecutive nights.  I suspect I will be doing this a lot in the coming months and I’m OK with that, it lets me feel that I’m doing something useful.

I didn’t do any job applications, although there is only one job I’ve seen advertised at the moment that I’m even vaguely attracted by (temporary cataloguing librarian, but full-time and only for two months).

I spent over an hour working on my bibliography for my non-fiction Doctor Who book and made some good progress.  Despite this, I get frustrated by mistakes and omissions in my notes and, more worryingly, mistakes in the bibliography as I put it together (missing commas are important in something as structured as a bibliography).  That said, lately I do seem to be beating myself up about stuff that isn’t my fault a lot, although it’s hard to tell if it’s more than usual, as I do it a lot generally.

And that’s it for today, really!

The Craziest Fanboy Thing I’ve Done

Mum had tests today to see if the cancer has spread, which rather casts everything you’re about to read below into sharp relief, but I need to vent here to avoid going on about it to my parents.  We hope to get the results on Wednesday.  I’m suddenly feeling very worried.  Cancer in one place is scary enough, but now I’m worried that it’s already spread without any obvious signs so far.  I know this is just worrying, but it’s still scary and hard to dismiss as “hypothetical, therefore not worth worrying about.”


Today has been disappointing.  I sent an email about work last Thursday, trying to see if my contract at the place where I was working in January would be extended, but so far answer came there none.

I played Bureaucracy! again and lost.  I went to my meeting at the Jobcentre about benefits, only to discover that I have to have been in work continuously for two years and to have paid National Insurance (NI) during them.  I had received mixed messages about this.  Also, my doctor’s letter was not an official “fit note.”  The person I was speaking to insisted on sending the form in, saying I could post the fit note later in the week, but as I’ll have to pay £25, I’m not sure I’ll bother.  It’s frustrating that I fall between the gaps of different benefits, but that’s how it is at the moment.

I nearly burst into tears on the way home from the Jobcentre.  I just felt frustrated about benefits and worried about Mum.  I procrastinated for much of the day.  The positive things I did were half an hour of Torah study, a long Skype call with E. and a longish conversation with my parents about Mum’s tests and my benefits.  I also cooked dinner (macaroni cheese, one of my standby easy recipes).  That’s not nothing (if you’ll pardon the double negative), they were successes on a difficult day, but as always I am left with the feeling that I should do more.  E. is super-supportive of me and says not to beat myself up about what I can or can’t do and that the right job is out there for me, but I am aware that the biggest obstacle to our being together at the moment is my inability to get even a part-time job.

I spent an hour and a quarter this evening working on my Doctor Who book’s bibliography, confusing myself where the bibliographical referencing rules diverge from the similar, but not identical, library cataloguing ones.  The About Time books about Doctor Who have given me a lot of frustration over the years, so it’s probably not surprising that they continued to frustrate here, with publishing information hidden at the back rather than on the title or copyright page and much confusion as to Lawrence Miles’ contribution to the revised edition of volume 3 as well as Lars Pearson on volume 6 and Dorothy Ail on volume 7 (I tentatively put them all down as authors).  It did at least remind me that I haven’t produced a copyright page for my own book.

To be fair, the About Time books at their peak were very good, despite their flaws and despite the fact that they later became too frustrating for me to read (I gave up after volume 8; I don’t think my friends lasted that long).  Along with the Doctor Who Magazine articles by the likes of Philip MacDonald, Alan Barnes and Gareth Roberts, they made me want to write seriously about Doctor Who and television science fiction in general, so it feels appropriate to reference them.

The fact remains that I have about eighty-five more references to write up, so I’m going to be doing this for a while.  Some of the references are basically already written in my notes and just need checking or slight alterations.  For other references, I was clearly writing rely on my own memory of the vast amount of non-fiction Doctor Who material that I’ve read over the years (autistic special interest!) and just wrote a brief note to remind me that I needed to reference “DVD Remembrance of the Daleks cut scene” or “Marc Platt interview – Light as a recording angel”.  Occasionally I’ve set myself fact-checking tasks too (“DWM archive Space Museum Spooner remove humour?”).  An analogy: I’m generally a tidy person, but I achieve this partly by tidying as I go, but also by shoving stuff that I’m too busy/depressed to deal with into drawers or cupboards and leaving it for Another Time.  This is the equivalent of what I’ve done with the references, and Another Time has now become Right Now.


In better news, this anthology of books by Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan arrived today, second-hand and slightly battered, but readable.  I actually already own one of the books, but it was easiest to buy it again to get the two books I did want (The Infinite Light and If You Were God).  Rabbi Kaplan is an interesting figure.  He came from a non-religious background and according to Wikipedia was expelled from school as a teenager for bad behaviour.  He then became a research physicist and later an Orthodox rabbi.  He wrote or translated a ton of books, mostly aimed at non-religious Jews and bringing them to observance, at a time when few people in the Orthodox world was writing for non-religious Jews or involved in kiruv (outreach to get non-religious Jews to become religious).  Then he died suddenly at the age of forty, leaving a widow and ten children, which was very sad.


I usually do retail therapy by buying books or DVDs, usually cheap from charity shops.  However, monster anxiety ends up with a monster purchase…  Last night I was thinking about how I’m going to get through the coming weeks.  I’m worried about Mum, I’m worried about being unemployed and I’m already dreading the Jewish festival of Purim, where people wear fancy dress and there is a general carnival atmosphere, difficult with depression and social anxiety (there are religious OCD issues with the festival too).  I thought of dressing as the fourth Doctor again, doubly so when I’m not always clear on what is acceptable in my community.  I have a proper fourth Doctor scarf, knitted for me by another fan friend.  I don’t really have any more of the costume, but with my big coat and borrowing my Dad’s hat, it creates the right silhouette, a kind of impressionistic “What I Would Wear If I Was the Fourth Doctor” effect.  Tom Baker’s costume changed regularly anyway while keeping the same basic idea of big coat and long scarf.

And then I thought, why not, to make it more fun this year, buy a replica sonic screwdriver, the Doctor’s favourite plot device space tool?  I knew they were commercially available, but I didn’t know how much they cost.  I discovered that a fourth Doctor sonic screwdriver would set me back nearly £30, but for another £10, I could get a set of six old and new series replica sonics.  And, yes, I gave in and bought it.  I can’t even say it will have resale value if I’m buying them to use, given that merchandise loses value the moment you open the box.

This does at least mean that if I want to change costumes and spend part or all of Purim in a less conspicuous costume, I can wear my purple pinstripe suit, which doesn’t look a million miles from the tenth Doctor’s brown pinstripe suit, along with my Converse trainers (which I hate; I have no idea how David Tennant wore them for days on end) and be an impressionistic “What I Would Wear If I Was the Tenth Doctor” complete with the (different) correct sonic, but look to outsiders much the same as any frum person in a suit.  This could be useful if I get invited to a Purim seudah (meal).  There is also, I suppose, a kind of symmetry in dressing up as my most and least favourite Doctors, although it does worryingly suggest that I might end up trying to cosplay all thirteen (or fourteen.  Or fifteen.  Or sixteen.  Or…) Doctors over time.  Which means eventually having to deal with That Coat.

I threw in a yoyo too for £1, because if you’re going to do a thing, you have to do it properly (jelly babies, or kosher equivalents, won’t be allowed in the shul though).

This is the craziest fanboy thing I’ve done in a long while, unless you count writing a 100,000 word non-fiction book about Doctor Who.

Anyway, I hope not to be spending more money on retail therapy in the near future.

Anxiety and Peopling; and Judaism as Counter-Culture

Feeling depressed and anxious today.  I felt tired and didn’t really want to do anything.  I was worried about my Mum, who has tests tomorrow, and about my benefits interview which is also tomorrow and whether my doctor’s not from nearly two months ago is still valid.  I’m also worried about my writing.  E. is enjoying my novel, but says one of the narrators is a lot more fleshed out than the other.  I was worried about this, as one is basically me and the other has elements of me, but also elements I’m trying to create.  Naturally the former is a lot more realistic.  I’ve already written about my surprise at being a more intuitive “let the characters/situation take over” writer than a detailed planner; now I suspect I am also a serious redrafter.  I had an English teacher at school who would say that the first draft is 99% of the work and I always believed that (former Doctor Who showrunner Steven Moffat has said something similar), but I’m sure the first draft of this book is just going to be the basic skeleton; if it’s ever any good, that’s going to come together in the redrafting.

My main achievements today: dusting my room and completing another five references for my bibliography.  I went to the theatre in the evening with my parents, sister and brother-in-law to see Eric and Little Ern, essentially a tribute act to Morecambe and Wise (note to non-UK readers: extremely popular British comedians in the sixties and seventies, still repeated a lot on TV).  I found the first half very funny despite the slightly restricted view from where I was sitting.  I struggled through the second half as my anxieties had come back.  My parents, sister and BIL went for coffee afterwards and part of me wanted to go with, but I just felt too drained and in need of alone time and unable to be in an environment with other people any more.  I think we were all glad to have a good laugh before my Mum’s treatment really begins tomorrow, and I think my parents would have liked it if I could have gone to coffee for that reason, but I just couldn’t face it.


“I’m still quite socially awkward.”  I did quite enjoy Doctor Who tonight, despite the cancer stuff (it didn’t upset me, but I’m worried about my parents watching it, probably in several weeks time knowing them), although I felt a bit that I was enjoying it out of a feeling of obligation because there were a lot of tropes I usually like, rather than because I was actually enjoying it.  Possibly I was over-thinking it.  The mental health stuff did make me feel that if that police officer had bet me that my life would be better in three years time in any time from 2003 until 2017, she would have lost the bet (and don’t police officers always patrol in pairs?).


Now, post-Doctor Who and post-everything else today I just feel exhausted and depressed and a bit anxious.  I feel that E. is so much better to me than I deserve.  I worry that we’ll never be able to work out the practical problems in our relationship.  Just feeling hugely worried about tomorrow, and all the scary things in the weeks and months ahead (Mum, benefits, work, writing, community, PurimPesach…).  There is more to say, but I can’t find the words, and I need to go to bed to be up in nine hours.


Written earlier:

I’m trying to crack my Twitter habit (not really enough to say “addiction,” especially as I only lurk and don’t post or comment).  It’s easy to fall into the habit of procrastinating on there, and there is some rewarding content, but too much that is depressing or just trying to get me angry about things that aren’t worth getting angry about.

Speaking of Twitter, I’ve been thinking today about TV presenter Philip Schofield coming out as gay.  I wonder what would happen if a TV presenter or celebrity announced they were converting to Orthodox Judaism, and not to get married to a Jew, but simply out of genuine belief in God and Torah, and that this was going to have a massive impact on the work they did, the days they would be available for work, the food they ate and so on.  I don’t think there would be abuse as such (unless they mentioned Israel or the Labour Party), but I think there would be a lot of confusion and bewilderment on Twitter and in the newspapers and maybe some mild mockery in the way that Gwyneth Paltrow’s eccentric New Age beliefs and practises are mocked.  I can’t imagine anyone saying it was something to “celebrate.”  Not just with Judaism, but with traditional religion in general.  It does indicate where the boundaries of ‘normal’ are in our culture these days.

The only person I can think of like this is The Big Bang Theory actress Mayim Bialik, who is an Orthodox Jew, although not a convert, but she isn’t really famous outside of a narrow section of the internet where she admittedly has a strong following among Modern Orthodox Jews, particularly geeky MO women (Bialik was a research scientist before going into acting and is an Orthodox feminist so is a role model to a wide range of people).

In fact, just think of the number of traditionally religious characters you see on TV or film, and how many of those are positive and how many negative.  Those of you who see me engage online in Doctor Who fandom will realise this is something that bothers me increasingly and is part of the reason I’ve started writing fiction again, to create the characters who are like me and who don’t get seen anywhere else.

There is more to be said here that I may pick up in a post I’ve been struggling with conflicted thoughts about writing lately…

SAD, References and Eminent Victorians

This is always the worst time of year for me.  February may get more daylight than December, but it’s four months or more since we had a reasonable amount of daylight and the cumulative effect of deprivation is getting to me, even with my SAD light box.  I also have chapped hands and lips, despite using moisturiser and lip balm, although they aren’t as badly affected as they have been in the past.  I want winter to end, even though I’m aware that the end of winter brings with it the Jewish festivals of Purim and Pesach, with all their attendant difficulties of religious OCD and social anxiety, as well as sometimes depression, not to mention the usual stress of Pesach preparation (seriously, Christmas has nothing on Pesach).  It’s going to be super-hard this year, as Mum will probably in the midst of cancer treatment.  Still, like it or not, Monday is Tu B’Shvat, a very minor Jewish holiday (not really a holiday at all) that nevertheless signals the start of spring, at least in Israel.  Purim and Pesach are coming…  and so is spring, if I can hold out long enough.


I had a Shabbat (Sabbath) struggling with Shoulds.  I struggled to get to shul (synagogue) on Friday and Saturday evenings.  I felt this was probably a good Should, as staying at home would be giving in to social anxiety and depression and make going again next week harder.  I didn’t push myself to go to shul on Saturday morning though and let myself eat a lot of junk food, which I regret a bit now.  I drank too much Diet Coke on Friday night too, which may have been why I didn’t sleep.   After lunch today I was tired and a bit depressed and did the autistic thing I sometimes do of going back to bed and wrapping the duvet around me because it feels reassuring (I think that’s why I do that.  It’s not always easy to tell).  Inevitably, I fell asleep, although it was not my intention, and when I woke I had to eat seudah shlishit (the third Shabbat meal) in a hurry and was still late for shul.

More troublingly, I accidentally broke Shabbat twice, which was not good.  One was too complicated to explain here and maybe not such a problem, but the other problem was that the phone woke me up this morning and my brain thought it was Friday and I answered it before realising my mistake, thinking it might be about my benefits appointment on Monday.  It wasn’t even important, just cold-calling, ambulance-chasing lawyers, “Have you been in an accident that wasn’t your fault?”  I’m not generally in favour of banning lots of things, but I wish someone would ban them.  Anyway, I felt bad about breaking Shabbat even if it was accidental.

I was given the honour of gelilah at Minchah (wrapping up the Torah scroll and putting its decorations back on it after the Torah reading in the Afternoon Service), which made me feel a bit that I was receiving some kind Divine approbation after all the stuff in the previous paragraph, but I don’t believe that worldly honour is a sign of Divine approval; one can find honoured people who are not at all worthy.  Hmm.


After Shabbat, I spent twenty-five minutes finishing another chapter of my novel, which I was glad to do.  I’m still unsure how good it is, but E. has liked what she has read so far (not this chapter yet).  I also spent some time (not sure how long) working on the bibliography for my Doctor Who book.  While I was writing the book I had wavered as to whether I would produce a bibliography, with the result that my note-taking for one was fairly shoddy, I’m sad to say, as a librarian and a historian.  Some references are just a title or a description, because I know my Doctor Who books and magazines well enough that I expected my future self (which is now my current self…) to be able to locate them and create proper references later if necessary without much bother.  That plan now looks slightly stupid as I’m faced with digging through piles and piles of magazines to find particular articles.  I do know where most things are, at least roughly, it’s just a pain to dig them out, especially as I have to move my bedside cabinet just to get to them.  Later on I think I realised this was stupid and started constructing proper references that can just be cut and pasted in.

I started with a couple of these more finished references.  The first to be polished and included in the bibliography happened by a nice coincidence to be an article by a friend who sometimes comments here.  More problematic was trying to create references for some pages on the BBC website that turn out not to exist any more.  I did get worried, as these were references to actual archival documentation that the BBC had scanned and put up, I think to celebrate Doctor Who‘s fiftieth anniversary in 2013 and really should be referenced.  Obviously they had been deemed obsolete and deleted from the BBC website some time in the last year or two (not for the first time in Doctor Who‘s history).  Fortunately, I managed to find preserved versions of all the pages via the Internet Archive.  I was pleased with this, not least because I had never managed to find anything on that site before.  So in the end I got five references done, which is the daily target I have set myself.

I’m not sure whether I could/should produce a reference for every single televised Doctor Who story (nearly 300, depending on how you define “story”), on whatever format I own it, not to mention other series where I’ve referenced them (e.g. the Cathy Gale episodes of The Avengers in a discussion of Sara Kingdom).  I mean, I should, but I’m going to be here FOREVER if I do and, given that it’s aimed at the fan market rather than the academic market, maybe there’s no need.  Can something this obvious be taken as a given?  Hmm…  Suggestions on a postcard (or comment) please!


I’m re-reading The Lion and the Unicorn: Gladstone vs. Disraeli on the two titanic figures of mid-nineteenth century British politics.  I had been thinking about re-reading it for a while, as I couldn’t remember much about it, but Brexit and the prospect of major political realignment in this country and perhaps elsewhere pushed it up my reading list as I wanted to read about the previous realignment that happened after the repeal of the Corn Laws fractured the Tory Party with the Whigs, radicals and free trade Tories becoming the Liberal Party and the Conservative Party formed out of the protectionist Tory rump.  I’m not sure if “It reads like a novel” is always a compliment for a history book, but in this case it is.  A very interesting and readable account of Victorian politics.

So far I don’t find either Gladstone or Disraeli particularly likeable: Gladstone was a prig and bore and emotionally constipated even by Victorian standards; Disraeli on the other hand was a cynical opportunist.  I find Gladstone easier to empathise with, though, as many of his flaws are my own: he also tended to see everything as a question of principle (once resigning from the Cabinet on a point of principle so trivial that everyone thought he had just destroyed his career for no good reason, but then voting in support of the legislation he had just resigned to oppose apparently because he thought he shouldn’t vote against his party), struggled with human contact and beat himself up endlessly about fairly normal aspects of sexuality.  Again, hmm.

More Shoulds

Mum had a blood test today and has more tests next week.  I suppose this is the beginning of six months or so of stress and disruption for all of us, but especially her.  My parents have funerals to go to tomorrow and on Sunday.  The one tomorrow is for someone from our old shul (synagogue) who was in his eighties so it’s sad, but not tragic.  The Sunday one is for the sister of a friend of theirs, from cancer, which is probably going to be very emotionally-charged for them, as she must have been about the same age as Mum.

As for me, my main achievements today were to have a haircut, which I hate, but I didn’t shake much at all.  I had two twenty-five minute walks there and back again, which were surprisingly tiring, but I suppose the exercise was good for me.  I also managed to unlock the microwave after the cleaner accidentally set the child-proof lock (ovens and microwaves have child-proof locks now?  Obviously it’s only by luck that I escaped childhood physically unscathed) and found instructions to delete the last page number, and only the last page number, from my non-fiction Doctor Who book (Ashley Leia: it was almost what you suggested, but there was an extra step needed on Word).

I fiddled around a bit more with the formatting of the Doctor Who book and decided that I really do need to write the reference list, even if most of the readers (both of them) don’t read it.  I currently have about 100 references to write up.  Some are more or less written, but for others I just have an article name and maybe an issue number and will have to pull specific copies of Doctor Who Magazine out of the five piles on my shelves containing a total of over 300 back issues of that esteemed periodical.  I’m pretty bad at constructing Harvard references without looking the format up each time too (I am a bad librarian), so that will take a while.  I still hope to finish this phase in a few weeks and get on to uploading my completed book to  I really want to get the book on sale by the start of spring.

In the meantime, I need to ensure my novel is not totally neglected, as I stopped in the middle of a chapter.  I wanted to do a bit of work on that this evening, but by the time I had finished what I wanted to do to my Doctor Who book and written to the benefactor of the library where I was working last month to ask if there is any news regarding extending my contract there, it was too late and I was too tired.  Maybe I will be able to find some time tomorrow before Shabbat (the Sabbath), but I’m not sure I will have the time or the energy.  Shabbat comes in earlier now we are over a month from the winter solstice, but it is still very early (we anthropomorphise Shabbat and talk about it (or her, the Shabbat Queen, if you’re very kabbalistic) “coming in” and “going out” rather than “starting” and “finishing”).

I went to my Dad’s shul (synagogue) for Ma’ariv (Evening Service) and then on to shiur (religious class) afterwards.  Shiur was difficult this evening.  I ate far too much junk food.  I don’t know why I lose control there so much lately.  There’s usually a lot out and everyone else there eats a lot too, which makes it harder to resist.  I felt a bit depressed.  Then about halfway through, there was a knock at the door.  I wasn’t sure whether I should go and see if it was someone for the shiur (although we weren’t expecting anyone else) as it would interrupt the shiur.  Usually the rabbi’s wife or children would answer so we wouldn’t have to disrupt the shiur.  After a minute or two, the rabbi told me to go and see who it was as I was nearest the door, so I called that one wrong.  He said if it isn’t anyone for shiur, I should just say there’s no one in.  I got to the door.  It was a boy of about twelve.  I realised I didn’t have a clue what to say, exactly.  I don’t know if this is autism or social anxiety, but I just could not think of anything to say.  I mumbled something about no one being in.  I thought he might be collecting tzedaka (charity), as it’s quite common in frum (religious Jewish) areas like this for older children to go out collecting for different charities or or looking for sponsorship for fund-raising activities.  I got into a panic, because I wasn’t sure if I should tell him to come back later so the rabbi could give him something or what.  I had forgotten that I had my wallet with me and could have given him something (even though as a rule I don’t give at the door, for various reasons, but many frum people will give something to all Jewish tzedaka collectors, even if it’s only a pound or two).  So I came back feeling even more depressed, anxious and self-critical and failed to really concentrate on the rest of the shiur which made the whole thing seem rather pointless.

Which brings me to “Shoulds.”  I had a lot of Shoulds at shiur this evening: what I Should eat, what I Should say, what I Should do.  I’m wondering how to deal with all the Shoulds in my life.  A lot of them seem really important.  For instance, today I’m beating myself up over not doing enough to help at home, and how that will have to change now that Mum is ill.  In other cases, stronger Shoulds could be a good thing, like if I could break my habit of looking at Twitter when procrastinating because it just angers or upsets me sooner or later and doesn’t help with my job search at all.  (I would like to engage with the lighter element of the Doctor Who fan community on Twitter, but I’m aware that a lot of it is stridently political and there isn’t much of a way to separate wheat from chaff.  I block Twitter from my browser, but then I turn it off and look anyway.  Of course, it’s a huge time-waster too and I don’t think I really want to get sucked any further into it.)

One of my friends at shiur asked me if I’m doing Daf Yomi, the daily study of one page (two sides) of Talmud to cover the whole thing in seven and a half years, which has just started a new cycle.  I said I’m not, as I didn’t think I could commit to it, which is true, but I felt vaguely guilty, probably because part of me already thinks I Should be doing it.  It’s an example of “mission creep” in the Orthodox community: something that was once the preserve of an intellectual elite (Talmud study) becomes the norm for most adult men, then one particular way of fulfilling that norm (Daf Yomi) increasingly becomes standard.   Daf Yomi as an idea is only about 100 years old.  Traditionally few Jewish men studied Talmud or went to yeshiva (rabbinical college), and the yeshivot focused (and I think largely still focus) on a small number of masechtot (volumes of Talmud), traditionally I think the volumes on marriage law and tort and criminal law, because these are the most complex and therefore the ones that “sharpen the mind” the most.  Studying the whole Talmud wasn’t really seen as an imperative for most people.

It’s hard to pick out the real Shoulds from the unnecessary ones in a community where there are a lot of Shoulds flying about and they are all seen as equally necessary.  Maybe I could talk to my rabbi mentor about it, but I’m worried that if I ask him something like this his counsellor training will kick in and he will try to get me to work out for myself what I should be doing.  As I see it, there are the absolutely non-negotiable Shoulds, like keeping Shabbat and kashrut; there are the ones I can try to do, but shouldn’t beat myself up if I don’t succeed, like daily davening, Torah study and trying not to lose my temper with my parents; and there are the ones that really I don’t need to think about at all at the moment, like Daf Yomi.  But it’s hard to tell what’s what.  I tell myself that a lot of stuff goes in the “try, but don’t worry” pile, but when I don’t succeed, I feel like it was really in the non-negotiable pile after all and feel guilty.  It’s hard to know what to do about that.

Bad News, and Shoulds

At lunchtime I had bad news: that my Mum had been called to the hospital to get test results from last week (this is what I have been worried about, but not talking about here lately).

My Mum’s diagnosis was what we’ve been fearing for a couple of weeks, namely breast cancer.  My pessimism prepared me for this, but it still seemed like a shock and a worry.  The doctor said it’s “very treatable” which is good, but still scary.  Living with my parents means I can take on some of the burden of cooking and housework.

I just feel wiped out by all the anxiety I had yesterday and today.  Now I just feel numb and surprisingly shocked (more on general anxiety levels below).  I know that this is “very treatable,” that my parents have lots of friends who have survived cancer, as did my paternal grandfather (in his eighties!) and my sister’s mother-in-law.  Still, it is a worry as there is always the risk of the unexpected and certainly family life will be hugely disrupted for the next six months.


I was just about to go for a run when my Dad said my Mum had been called back to the hospital.  I still went, because I didn’t want to give in to anxiety, but my stamina was poor probably because I was worried.  I was glad that I was able to go.  I was also able to clean the microwave for her as she requested while she was out.  I managed half an hour of Torah study too.   So the day was not totally consumed by the test results, but obviously they drowned out the more positive aspects.

I spent over an hour after dinner fiddling with my non-fiction Doctor Who to self-publish it.  I couldn’t work out how to convert a Word document to a pdf (I can’t open the zip files recommends, even looking up how to open zip files without WinZip online) or how to delete the page number on the last page so that it meets distribution requirements.  I tried following these instructions, but all that did was weird things to the formatting of the other pages (so far as I could tell it seemed to be fiddling with the margins of the pages so that more text pages were needed for the same content so that if page 431 was the last page initially, suddenly there would be another ten pages and I was deleting the number on the wrong page; at any rate, if I tried deleting the last page number (441 now), all the page numbers disappeared).

I don’t know why simple stuff just always goes wrong for me.  I’ve had this “knack” of having stuff spontaneously go wrong for me since I was a young child, when my birthday and Chanukah presents would invariably be broken and have to be taken back to the shop.  Sometimes I feel cursed (not that I believe in such things).  It does seem that everything I touch goes wrong sometimes (analogous to the Pauli Effect).

I’m not sure what I’m going to do with the book.  It’s tempting to just abandon it, but I’ve invested goodness knows how many hours in it so that I need to keep trying, but I’m neglecting my novel, which has a chance (albeit not a very big one) of being sold commercially.


I decided to pause watching Star Trek Voyager for a day or two to watch Doctor Who as it’s better at cheering me up.  I decided I wanted to watch something no more than four episodes (old-style twenty-five minute episodes) long, more silly than serious and not a favourite (which would feel wasted while mood is low and concentration is poor).  I also decided on something with Jon Pertwee as the Doctor.  I’m not sure why I decided on that as he’s not a particular favourite.  Perhaps he’s a reassuring presence (let’s face it, he’s the Doctor you’d want to be with in a crisis) or perhaps I just wanted to watch something in that weird zone between seriousness and camp which so much Doctor Who sits in, but especially the Doctor Who of his era.  I ended up watching episode one of The Three Doctors, but I don’t know if I will watch the rest of it tonight as I intended.  I’m just drifting downwards into an abyss of depression, anxiety, nihilistic despair and self-loathing and don’t feel able to do much to get myself out of it.  I ate junk food yesterday (ice cream) and will probably do so again today, especially as Mum bought us Cadbury’s Creme Eggs a few days ago and I haven’t eaten mine yet.  Goodbye diet.  I drank Diet Coke today too, which I normally only do on Shabbat and at Thursday shiur when the water runs out.  The caffeine probably wasn’t good with anxiety and needing to sleep soon.


I woke up feeling super-anxious again like yesterday.  I felt a lot better after breakfast, but the anxiety restarted once Mum got called to the hospital at midday.  After that there was a mixture of anxiety and numbness, with some despair.  I feel like I’ve messed up my life and, whether it’s my fault or not, everything I touch seems to get ruined beyond repair: writing, career, friendships, relationships, even my religious life, which shouldn’t be susceptible to such entropy without neglect or wilful destruction.

I think anxiety for me can be linked to the “Shoulds” in my life that Ashley Leia commented about yesterday.  I tend to be most anxious when I think I’m in a situation where I have to break Jewish law or do something I see as unethical, particularly where I feel the only alternative is an argument with someone I’m close to, like my parents.  The problem is that I tend to view a lot of problems as fundamentally about morals or halakhah (Jewish law), even if it arguably isn’t the case.  Or perhaps I’m sensitive to aspects of morality that maybe most people are not sensitive to.  Obviously it is the nature of Orthodox Judaism to stress rules and ethics, but other people don’t seem to feel the same tension as I do, which may be because they are more settled within the community and have less issues in conforming to it and/or are less worried about alienating outsiders by practising Judaism.  (Of course, some people are able to compartmentalise their lives and strictly keep ritual law while massively neglecting ethical teachings, as many recent scandals have shown.)

Autistic black-and-white thinking can be an issue for me here too, assuming that my perspective is correct in all particulars when it may be only partially correct or even totally incorrect.  Likewise assuming that if my perspective is correct then my proposed actions must be correct too, which may also be incorrect (cf. Greta Thunberg).

For what it’s worth (and I’m not rating my opinion as being worth very much at the moment), I think I have been slightly less Should-focused lately, in terms of letting myself do various things that I wouldn’t do in the past.  It still is hard to accept that some things do not have to be Shoulds, though.  Incidentally, I write the word with a capital S here to show how important my Shoulds seem, but really they feel like SHOULDS – hugely important and demanding attention.

“Living’s in the way we die”

I had weird and disturbing dreams again last night, which set me up for a difficult day.  One was quite upsetting, where I was indoors, possibly in some kind of school.  There was a war going on around me, but I was scared and just hid under some school laboratory-style workbenches while other people around me were heroic .  There was also another, more surreal, dream.  I don’t remember much about it, but there was a bit where my Dad and I were sitting in the car and a purple cockatoo was perched on the side and trying to recite poetry while my Dad kept hitting it and knocking it off in a flurry of purple feathers.  Very strange.  My Dad is not usually cruel to animals, I should stress!  I wish I knew what the cowardice dream was about, although maybe it’s just the obvious: that I don’t think of myself as at all brave or competent.  As if to reinforce this, I then overslept, missed my various alarms and had to rush to be in time for my Skype call with my rabbi mentor.


I had a good chat with my rabbi mentor, albeit that there really wasn’t much he could say.  I had emailed to ask if we could chat on the day I forgot to take my medication and so went super-anxious; since then, although I felt somewhat anxious about a number of things, I was also aware that there isn’t much I can do about any of them at this stage; I have to just wait and see what happens.  He did say that getting back together with E. is a good thing.

Unfortunately, I slumped back into depression and anxiety again with a vengeance after lunch.  Sometimes life just seems like an endless list of things to worry about, with the worst possible outcome happening sooner or later, not least because everyone I know and care about will die one day, if I wait long enough.  It’s easy to get sucked into negative thinking about careers, friendships, my relationship with E., my relationships with my family and so on, assuming everything will, or at least could, go wrong sooner or later.  I don’t want to go down that path, but it is scarily attractive on days when many things do not seem to be anchored firmly.

I had several heavy conversations today, with my rabbi mentor, with E. and with my parents and overall they’ve left me feeling as anxious as I was before them.  Life just seems so big and scary so much of the time, and I never seem to get a hold of it the way someone with my privileges (in both the traditional and identity politics senses) should do.  However hard I try, I never quite get a grip on my career, or my community and friendships, or my relationships with family or romantic partners.  I feel I have in many ways been dealt a bad hand, but in other ways it seems more like I’ve squandered my considerable blessings.  And even if I have been dealt a bad hand, what’s the point of complaining?  I’ve never heard of anyone who turned their life around by complaining.  Today I just feel full of anxiety that everything will go wrong, and that there’s nothing I can do about it, which is a horrible, defeatist feeling and liable to be a self-fulfilling prophecy.

When I was cooking dinner, it all became overwhelming again and I’m surprised I managed to get dinner done at all, let alone that I managed a tricky recipe (bean burgers) about the best I’ve ever managed it.  My life – everything – just seems so hopeless sometimes.  I feel like everything will go wrong, no matter what I do.  I got into another negative thought spiral.  I tried to eat something (kosher pot noodle, seriously not healthy, but I wanted carbs fast), which helped a little and let me finish cooking, but the negative thoughts soon came back again once I’d finished.

While cooking, I felt that I just can’t function in this world, that I belong on another planet.  That’s a fairly common feeling among people on the spectrum; unfortunately, unemployment, failed relationships and persistent mental illness are also common on the spectrum.  I feel that if I can’t manage a career, or a relationship, where am I going to find meaning and purpose in my life?  Religion is an obvious alternative that appeals to many people who also feel marginalised by society, but lately I’ve been struggling with that too, feeling like I’m just going through the motions.  I believe, but Judaism is so much more about doing than believing and right now doing anything is an effort and yields few immediate rewards the way it does for some frum (religious) people.  To be fair, E. said the other day that she’s impressed by the way I keep with even a bit of prayer and religious study each day when I feel so awful (this is what I mean when I say she’s amazing to me).

Then, perhaps because I got so caught up in myself, I forgot to daven Minchah (say Afternoon Prayers).  I seem to do this once a year, at some point in the winter.  If I’d remembered ten minutes earlier today, I would have been OK.  Technically if I could, and possibly should, have said a “catch-up” Amidah (the main prayer) after the Amidah of Ma’ariv (the Evening Service), but I was too depressed and exhausted to feel able to do that.


The title of the post, “Living’s in the way we die“, is the only lyric from a James Bond film theme that makes me think of a Hasidic story (I assume coincidentally): that when Rebbe Simcha Bunim of Peshischa lay dying, he comforted his wife, saying his entire life had been a preparation for this moment.  I find it a slightly morbid thought, but also a reassuring one, that death can be a meaningful crescendo to a life well-lived rather than a meaningless extinction.

That said, it’s worrying how easily I can slip into thinking, “Oh well, I’ll be dead one day” for reassurance about many of my problems, even when I’m not actively suicidal (which I haven’t been for a couple of years).  It’s kind of the depressive version of “It will all be the same in a hundred years” which my maternal grandparents used to say a lot.  I just find it really hard to find positives to hold onto.  It’s hard to believe that I could build a career as a librarian or a novelist, get married, have children or fit into the Jewish community; on the other hand, it is absolutely certain that one day I will die, and somehow focusing on that seems less likely to lead to disappointment rather than keep trying to improve my life and constantly being knocked back.


I’m sorry, this whole post is monumentally depressing.  I hope things will feel better tomorrow, but, frankly, who knows?  I just feel so lost and adrift in my life.

Playing “Bureaucracy!” Again

I had weird dreams again, about being framed for a crime I didn’t commit by the KGB (some of my family believed them) and pursued by a tiger that was owned by the Thursday night shiur (religious class) rabbi.  I think it was all one dream that switched back and forth between the two threads.  I guess I feel like I’m being hunted at the moment, albeit by life rather than by spies and tigers.

My main achievement today was phoning about New Style Employment and Support Allowance (benefits).  They have really awful muzak, even by the standards of awful phone muzak for big businesses or state institutions.  It has a sort of flushing noise!  Who thinks that muzak is a good idea?  As Lily Tomlin said, “I worry that the person who thought up muzak might be thinking up something else.”  I got through after over half-hour, only to be told that if I haven’t worked continuously for the last two years, I am not eligible because I won’t have paid enough National Insurance (NI).  This did not seem like what I was told when I phoned a couple of months ago, but I wasn’t sure what to do other than hang up and double check my payments online.  I went back to the HMRC (Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs, which sounds like something out of a book on seventeenth century smugglers, but is actually the UK tax office) website and found that I do have full NI payments for the last two years even though I was not working continuously.  I’m not sure how I have them, but I do.  So – phone again and eventually got through and the person on the end of the phone passed my details to my local Jobcentre, who will phone within a week (hopefully) to offer me an appointment to look at my form.  Some of this does seem like a job-creation scheme for Department of Work and Pensions staff.

I would like to claim for Personal Independence Payment (PIP) too, which is supposed to be intended for people with long-term illness or disability, but I know from experience the claim form is geared up to people with visible, consistent illnesses or disabilities, not mental illnesses that come and go, or can be overcome up to a point with a great deal of effort.  “I have no arms and need someone to cook for me” is OK; “I have no energy so it takes me three hours to cook a basic dinner, sometimes, but not always” is not OK.

I get wary of complaining too much about benefits or public services, because I’m aware that the demand on them is potentially infinite, while the limits on what they can do are very real and not to be overcome simply by raising taxes (or borrowing) to increase spending.  Nor would I want to just live off benefits.  Still, it is frustrating that my parents have contributed their share of tax all their working lives, and I’ve even contributed a little, but they are left to support me unaided because my issues fall in the gaps between recognised symptoms and behaviour.

I did at least move ahead with the formatting of my Doctor Who non-fiction book while on hold.  The main decision left to make is whether to include a formal bibliography of the stuff I read while preparing the book.  My instinct is not to do so, not least because of the time it would take to prepare one, although I have prepared notes for making one.  I was vaguely hoping that I would produce something that could potentially appeal to cultural studies students as well as fans, but lack of knowledge of/agreement with critical theory makes me incline to aim this primarily at the fan market, especially as there are a number of more formal books out there now.  I probably should really write something about the current series too, but (a) I’m not enjoying it and really don’t feel up to sounding positive about it, but don’t want to end the book on a downer and (b) keeping a book about an ongoing TV programme up-to-date is a potentially never-ending task.  Bear in mind that when I started the blog posts that the book grew out of, Matt Smith was still the Doctor.  I really I want to focus my creative efforts on my novel now.

Also while on hold, I had a clear-out of my email, so it was not totally wasted time.  I then tried to get a doctor’s appointment about the stomach cramps I’ve had lately (which I had thought were a side-effect of medication, but am increasingly thinking may be a stress/anxiety symptom), but the surgery didn’t release any appointments online.  I don’t know why the surgery make it so difficult to get an appointment, but, again, this is symptom of a national problem partly caused by free-at-point-of-use services and no one wants to talk seriously about what can be done about that.  The easiest way to get an appointment at my surgery is to phone at 8.30am when the surgery opens, which effectively amounts to a barrier to getting an appointment for many depressed people who are too depressed to get up early.   My parents have often made appointments for me in the past, but I feel embarrassed about that.

The surgery also has a policy that you are a patient of the surgery, not a particularly doctor, and they make it hard for you to consistently make appointments with the same doctor.  If you make an appointment by phone, you can’t choose your doctor at all, only whether you want a male or female doctor or have no preference.  If you book online, you potentially have a chance to find a particular doctor, but there is still a large element of luck in which doctors have available appointments.  This is problematic if you have very personal problems and want to see a trusted GP, or at least someone familiar.  I particularly would like to see my usual GP in case this is a stress or anxiety issue, as he knows my very long and involved case history, but it’s not hard to think of other examples of people who might want to see a familiar doctor, particularly in cases of mental health or sexual health.  I don’t like throwing around words like “ableism” but this does seem not thought through particularly well, even though I can see they might want to avoid a situation where different doctors have very different caseloads.

My mood was mostly OK, perhaps because I spent so much of it on hold, feeling frustrated by that rather than anything more serious as well as having my negative thoughts crowded out of my head by muzak.  I did have sudden moments of sadnessa nd despair though, particularly when in need of food.

I managed about thirty-five minutes of Torah study before feeling too exhausted to continue, which is good, although I only did so much because my reading of Tehillim (Psalms) reached chapter 27, which is very familiar from the liturgy, as we read it twice a day for nearly two months of the year, so there were perhaps fewer difficult words to deal with.


I overslept again, had weird dreams that were disturbing, but too confused to relate and I struggled to get going, feeling too drained and depressed.  Feeling tearful at times and not sure why.

I was still beating myself up about things as I tried to eat breakfast and get dressed, albeit different things recently.  I feel like I’m cycling through different negative emotions lately: anxiety, despair, now guilt.  At the moment negative thoughts are sort of blocked out by a stomach ache that I’ve had on and off for a couple of weeks.  I think it’s a medication side-effect, but want to try to get an appointment with a doctor to check, if I can manage to get one (they usually get taken really fast when released at 8.30am (when I’m asleep anyway) and 6.30pm).

I went for a run, did forty-five minutes of Torah study, Skyped E. for an hour and a half or so and spoke to my sister on the phone for ten or fifteen minutes.  I also started to work on self-publishing my non-fiction Doctor Who book (remembering to stress that it’s “unofficial and unauthorised” on the title page so I don’t hear from the BBC’s lawyers).  It looks a bit harder than I was expecting.  Also, it seems that the formatting guidelines I’ve been following for pitching stuff are out of date (is this why I’m having such trouble selling my writing?).  If anyone knows of good online submission layout guidelines, I’d be grateful! requires the entire book as a single document in a pdf.  I spent nearly an hour and a half late at night (yes, I’m still quasi-nocturnal) copying and pasting chapters saved as separate files into a single document and then adjusting the font.  I’ve still got some stuff to do to take away the notation I thought I should use for layout and italics when submitting to publishers.  I also need to add a few sentences to explain that the book went to press too early to cover 2020’s episodes (I’m too busy with my novel to return to the Doctor Who book for long enough to significantly revise the final chapter).  I’m also publishing as “Initials, Surname” rather than “First name, Surname” to distinguish this non-fiction Doctor Who writing from anything else I might ever publish (hopefully, one day) and might not want to see associated with self-published work in a different genre.

I guess that’s quite a bit done, even if much of it was later than I should really have been working.  I wish I felt more satisfaction and pride in achieving things like this, rather than just blaming myself for not managing more.  I guess that takes me back to guilt and self-recrimination.


I finished Penguin Lost last  night.  It was good, but not as good as Death and the Penguin, although maybe after over fifteen years my memory of the earlier book is wonky.  Slightly weird ending though.

I’m glad to say I enjoyed Doctor Who today, even though I didn’t understand it all (I was going to say it made very little sense, but I’ll give it the benefit of the doubt) and I still have no idea where the plot-device antidote came from.

Xeno’s Chapter

Things are quiet.  I’m bored.  Who wants a referendum on leaving NATO?

Just kidding!  (I hope.)

Seriously, Shabbat (the Sabbath) actually was quite quiet, but that was good after this stressful week.  I am still struggling to get motivated to go to shul (synagogue) on Friday and Saturday afternoons.  I woke up in time to go to shul this morning, but decided I couldn’t face it and went back to sleep.  I think a lot of it is to do with not feeling like I fit in and being worried that if I say the wrong thing, I’ll be… not thrown out, but perhaps pushed to the fringe of the community (or the fringe of the fringe, because I feel I’m on the fringe now).  If I feel that uncertain about being there even on Friday and Saturday afternoons, where I do quite enjoy the services, it’s no wonder that the service I already struggle with is impossible to get motivated to go to.

Similarly, I thought of sending some friends my weekly devar Torah emails and then thought better of it when I thought of basing some upcoming essays on controversial rabbis or ideas.  This happened during my weekly Friday night insomnia, which I now think is anxiety-related, like my pre-work insomnia.

I did have a better time doing Torah study, managing about an hour and twenty minutes on Friday (very good), and mostly having the time/energy/patience to do it properly i.e. read Tanakh (Hebrew Bible) in Hebrew, study Talmud in Aramaic, look up words I didn’t know in the dictionary or the Reference Guide to the Talmud, take time to think about things and so on.  I do get much more out of Torah study when I do it this way, but I don’t always have the time, energy or patience to do it, and certainly I can’t take several thick books on the Tube with me.

My mood was rather better having remembered to take my tablets, but I’m still worried about a lot of stuff, including my relationship with E. (although, as she said, we’ve got to a stage where not trying to be together is as scary as trying.  We care about each other too much by this stage for “It’s complicated, let’s give up” to be a pain-free option) and the other thing I can’t blog about.  I’m not so worried about work, mostly because I’ve become hugely pessimistic about my job prospects and can see myself stuck doing odd jobs on short-term contracts with long gaps of unemployment in between for the rest of my life.

I do need to move on with applying for benefits now I know I can work part-time and still claim ESA.


There’s a lot of noise from downstairs.  A charity my Mum is involved in does a quiz at home each year, basically a supper quiz where you get a group of friends together in a house and fill in the answers online, allowing the charity to save on overheads and have many more tables than would be possible in an ordinary supper quiz.  My parents always host a table.  I used to join in, but I can’t always cope with the people and the noise (they usually have fifteen to twenty people, all talking at once) and, anyway, to make googling the answers harder, the questions are mostly lateral thinking rather than general knowledge and I’m no good at those.  They gave me some unanswered questions and I answered one of them, so I guess I’m good for something, although I felt vaguely that I was cheating.


I struggled to work on my novel.  It was hard, given the noise from downstairs and the fact that my brain does not want to engage with the current chapter, which is based to some degree on the most difficult time of my life; like Xeno’s Paradox, I work on it and work on it, but only seem to get halfway there.  I worked for about an hour, but a lot of that was spent on procrastination.  I try to tell myself that my mind is working at those moments, ticking over in the background, but I’m not sure that it is.  I did at least almost meet my 500 word target.

I tried to work after dinner too, but I felt too depressed.  Guilt-tripping myself for the times I slipped up and wrote things here that I shouldn’t have written about my parents.  Stuff that should have gone into therapy or not been said at all, that I wrote down here.  And I invariably went back afterwards and deleted it, but anyone subscribing to my blog by email would have seen it.  I’m a terrible person sometimes.  I try to be a good person, but I don’t manage it, and I feel awful for those slips.

I tried watching Star Trek Voyager over dinner, hoping to come back to my writing refreshed, but it was one of those episodes focused on a character we’ve never seen before, which can be hard to get into, and about a Big Moral Dilemma, which was arguably too big to be dealt with in a forty-three episode in which several cast members are made up to look like aliens.  So my mood was, if anything, worse, and I didn’t feel like writing any more.

Ugh, I should write off the rest of the evening.  Watch TV, something more fun than the Voyager episode.  The Avengers or something (Avengers or New Avengers).