Busy But Anxious

I wrote this yesterday, but for some reason it didn’t publish properly and went to my saved drafts instead.  I’m posting it here with one addition at the end.

I fear these posts are becoming repetitive, or even more repetitive than usual.  Each day is much the same as the one before at the moment, except for different Pesach (Passover) preparations.  That said, I’m struggling with a lot of anxiety today, more than usual, which isn’t so surprising as a lot of anxiety-triggering things happened.  On the plus side, that meant that I was doing a lot despite being anxious.

I discussed with Mum and Dad whether the oven cleaner should still come later in the week to clean it for Pesach.  We generally get him to come to clean the oven before we kasher it (clean and heat it up, basically) for Pesach use.  I was surprised he was still working and felt it was a bad idea for him to come while Mum is vulnerable from chemo, which was a kind of health anxiety, but anxiety for Mum’s health rather than mine.  My parents initially wanted him to come, but I managed to talk them around, probably because I think none of us really wanted him to come, we just thought that everyone else wanted it and were going along with it.  We won’t get the oven as clean as he would, but I think the risk of Mum getting coronavirus or even something else like the flu is too high to be worth it.  Nevertheless, my anxiety level shot up when my parents said that he should come and didn’t subside when we decided he wouldn’t.

Then I cleaned the sinks in the garage today, the ones we use for Pesach (Passover).  This involved confronting a lot of religious OCD fears about “contamination” (to use a non-Jewish, OCD word) of Pesach surfaces and utensils with crumbs of leaven food, forbidden on Pesach.  The fear wasn’t totally imaginary, as we do occasionally put non-Pesach food down out there during the year, but the reality wasn’t as bad as I feared.  This type of religious OCD anxiety is going to be present for the next week and a half at least, until Pesach starts.

I went to the pharmacist to try to request a repeat prescription under the new system, whereby repeat prescriptions are requested via the pharmacist, not the surgery.  I’m not sure if this is because of coronavirus as they were planning to change the system around now anyway.  I was going to a different chemist to the one I usually use.  This chemist has opened recently, some time before the coronavirus hit (which is either exceptionally good timing or exceptionally bad timing).  This brought up autistic anxieties about doing new things and not knowing what to expect, as well as social anxiety about talking to new people.  There was some confusion about whether I was registered correctly (I think the doctor’s surgery hadn’t set it up properly), but I got it sorted in the end.  I walked straight home as I thought it was about to rain, but it didn’t, so I could have gone for a longer walk for exercise.

I dusted and hoovered my bedroom for Pesach (no food in there now until after Pesach!) as well as hoovering the upstairs hall and spare bedroom.  This took a couple of hours to do thoroughly, especially as I moved my bed and bedside table to hoover underneath them, as I’ve found crumbs there before.  I decided against moving my desk, although I’ve done it in the past.  I didn’t have enough time or energy, and it’s unlikely that any crumbs of significant size could get underneath it.

I joined an online session of my depression group via Zoom.  I’d used Zoom before, but usually for one-to-one conversations and I found the way the main picture shifted from person to person as different people spoke somewhat distracting.  Also, I found it strange to go straight from home life to the meeting without an intervening journey.  Since I began exploring whether I’m on the autistic spectrum I’ve noticed certain autistic traits I have that I hadn’t noticed before, and this idea of difficulty with transitions is a well-known autistic trait that I hadn’t noticed so much in myself before now.  I did find it just as draining as a regular meeting and as hard to concentrate by the second half.  I somehow found it harder to speak than usual, but I’m not sure why.  That may have been less due to the technology and more because I’m coping better with isolation than some other people (partly, of course, because I live with two other people, not on my own, and because I’ve been busy with chores and Pesach preparation) and I vaguely felt that I shouldn’t complain.

I’m also reluctant to speak about my relationship with E. in meetings and I’m not sure why; I know a couple of people from the group read my blog, and I’m fine with that, so I don’t know why I don’t feel comfortable talking about the relationship with others.  Maybe it’s not wanting to go into the whole story of how we ended up together, which is quite complicated or maybe it’s magical thinking and the fear that if I talk about the relationship something will go wrong with it.

I also managed five minutes of seder preparation today and ten minutes of Torah study.  I’d like to do more Torah study before bed, but I’m flagging and don’t know if I will get the time.  It was a busy day and I mostly was OK from a depression point of view.  Anxiety was a lot higher, but I mostly pushed through and did what I had to do.  I do need some downtime now, though, even if it means breaking my “No screens after 11pm” rule a bit.  EDIT: in the end I decided it was too late to watch TV and read for a bit, but ended up struggling to sleep anyway because I felt too tense.

“Sicklied o’er with the pale cast of thought”

Today was another day where I struggled to get going because of depression.  I spoke to my rabbi mentor just before lunch; afterwards I went shopping and took a long route home to get some exercise.  I had hoped to walk for half an hour, but it ended up being fifteen or twenty minutes because it was so cold and I didn’t have coat and gloves.

I did some Pesach cleaning and cooked dinner (bean burgers, which stuck together a bit better this time as I used an egg to bind them on my Mum’s suggestion).  Shopping plus walk plus cleaning the freezer plus cooking in rapid succession left me completely exhausted by dinner time.  I wanted to eat quickly and then work on the short story I’m writing and/or do some Torah study and preparation of divrei Torah (Torah thoughts) to say at the Pesach seder, but I felt too exhausted to do anything other than vegetate in front of the TV and try to get in a state where I felt well enough to Skype E. as arranged at 10pm.  I did about half an hour of Torah study, mostly after talking to E.  I wanted to do more, and to do seder preparation, but I was too exhausted and ran out of time (as it is I’m posting this long after my “No screens after 11pm” deadline).

***

I was watching Life on Mars, where Sam, Gene and Annie are being held hostage and discuss the moments of their lives that they want to relive if they die.  I realise I can’t really think of happy moments of my life, because I coloured all of them with guilt, embarrassment, shame, self-criticism or inadequacy of one kind or another.  When I passed my BA I was furious as I felt that I should have got a first; it took me a long time to accept that I was so depressed that passing at all was an achievement, let alone getting a 2.1.  When I passed my MA I was primarily relieved that my ordeal was over, although I think I felt a bit of happiness.  I graduated in absentia both times.  The BA would have been difficult, as Oxford graduations are generally on Saturdays, but I missed the MA graduation from social anxiety, autism and general annoyance at my university; probably from low self-esteem and desire to punish myself too.  In retrospect I regret that a bit.  I doubt I’ll ever graduate ‘properly’ from anything now.

***

This time of year is always a bit strange, the month between Purim and Pesach.  It’s spring at last, the world is waking up again and the days are getting longer and I get more energy and less of the seasonal aspect of my depression, but that extra time and energy gets spent on Pesach preparation rather than anything else, there is anxiety about Pesach (even without coronavirus and Mum’s cancer) and I have less time to spend on writing and exercise.  I don’t know if I’ll have time to go for a run this week or next week, even though I think I really need it.  Ditto for writing and for finding some divrei Torah for this week’s sedra (Torah reading) and for seder.

***

Stuff is feeding my religious OCD.  I saw something on the website of the umbrella organisation my shul (synagogue) is part of saying ideally I should not kasher my oven for Pesach, but have a dedicated Pesach oven in the garage (or wherever) for use at this time of year.  That would be nice, but it isn’t practical (for health and safety reasons).  The reality is that people in the shtetl (the Jewish towns and villages of Central and Eastern Europe in the pre-Holocaust era) didn’t have two ovens.  They kashered a lot more utensils used during the year for chametz (leaven) than we do nowadays.  Go back far enough and people didn’t have an oven in their house at all; the whole village went to the baker each day to bake their bread, or to bake their matzah at Pesach.

On the other hand, my rabbi mentor has given me some extremely lenient instructions about Pesach to prevent my OCD getting out of control, and I’m struggling to accept them.  I just feel like I’m doing something wrong.

Community and Outsiders (My Frum Dating History)

I ended up with a copy of the magazine for the umbrella organisation that my shul is part of.  It got pushed through our door, as it usually does; I’m not sure if it’s targeted at me or they just distribute it widely around here to try to drum up trade.  There was an article that really made clear to me why I haven’t been able to adapt to my moderate Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) shul fully and especially why I failed to find a partner in that community.

The article was about the circumstances in which you can reveal negative information about someone else to a third party they are dating, according to the laws prohibiting gossip except in case of significant danger to another.  Apparently you can only do it if the person (a) has an illness, disability or fertility issue that they haven’t disclosed (and this includes if several people in their family have had the same genetic disease, even if they have no symptoms of it; (b) if they have heretical ideas or have significantly broken Jewish law; and (c) if they are “immoral.”  This was left tantalisingly vague, probably deliberately.  There are some Jewish communities where a man saying hello to his sister’s best friend in the street would be seen as hugely provocative and immoral.

I had two thoughts about this.  One, while people should disclose illness and disability to their potential life-partner, and while someone in a religious community intent on marrying someone within that community, but who is also contemplating leaving that community should disclose that to that potential life-partner too, nobody else other than the two people dating really has any business getting involved in either of those situations.  As for the “immorality” situation, that’s hugely more complex, not least because of the way the definition of “immorality” can vary from community to community and person to person (“I think you should know that I saw your male date say “hello” to a woman in the street!”), but I’m not really sure that there’s even a requirement for the people dating to admit to this unless they think it’s likely to have an impact on their future life together somehow (basing myself on something Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz said here as well as something my rabbi mentor said – although don’t take my thoughts as psak (a Jewish legal ruling)).

The other thought was realising why I was never realistically going to get married in this community.  When I joined the community, I was aware it was less modern than my theological outlook, but also that it had many advantages in terms of passion for prayer and Torah study and friendliness, which are not always present in other communities.  I think if I had been set up with someone from the community or a similar community and married her, I would have integrated into the community, especially if my wife was more attuned to the standards of the community or was more of a “normal” Haredi maidel (young woman).

That didn’t happen, though, and I think it’s clear why: my mental health issues would have pushed me to the bottom of the pile (I had one date dump me as soon as she found out about my depression, and she was a healthcare professional!), my bookshelves groan with dubious literature (from a Haredi point of view), both fiction and non-fiction, I never went to yeshiva (rabbinical seminary) and I have a number of female friends (mostly online, but one or two in person), which would be seen as extremely suspect if it was widely known.

I don’t bring this up to berate my lack of a community that really suits me.  I’ve done that before, and it’s frustrating, but I don’t see the need to go over it again, especially as I’m dating E. now and I’m a bit more hopeful that we will one day find a more modern community that suits us both (more likely in the USA than here).

My point is rather about community in general.  I’ve come to realise that the closeness of traditional religious communities, the kindnesses and support, is, on some level, not despite, but because of the judgemental attitudes, nosiness, ostracising of nonconformity and negative views of outsiders.  It is because the boundaries between ‘in’ and ‘out’ are policed so effectively and, sometimes, brutally, that people feel that they can trust the other members of the community, that they have all passed a rigorous test in being Our Sort of Person.  That’s why there are Haredi communities where people trust their rabbis more than the doctors and governmental health officers regarding how to respond to coronavirus (not my community, I hasten to add). I’m not the type of person who can easily pass tests like that, though, in any sort of community.  I like to investigate different ways of thinking and explore different attitudes, and I exist too much on the dividing line between ‘modern’ and ‘traditional’ rather than on one side or the other.

It’s worth reflecting on as, while I don’t want to talk about politics here, I feel that the extreme individualism that has characterised British and American society since the sixties, and especially since the eighties, is drawing to an end, and some kind of more communitarian outlook is likely.  That’s probably a good thing, but it does make me wonder who is going to decide who gets to police the boundaries and according to what criteria e.g. trial by Twitter, which is the secular equivalent of this sort of boundary policing.

***

I had was a restful Shabbat (Sabbath).  No illegal minyan (prayer quorum) next-door.  It could have been a pre-coronavirus Shabbat if it weren’t for the absence of shul (synagogue).  I read quite a bit.  I didn’t have insomnia on Friday night, but I did wake up around 4.30am and couldn’t get back to sleep until around 6.00am.  I started reading Ani Maamin: Biblical Criticism, Historical Truth, and the Thirteen Principles of Faith by Rabbi Joshua Berman, the book I bought when I heard Rabbi Berman speak a month or two ago.  I’m also reading another Doctor Who novel and a short book on the Russian Revolution, but after I finish I think I’m going to stick to light fiction rather than serious fiction or non-fiction until the health crisis is over (not counting Jewish reading/Torah study).  I’m too stressed for heavy recreational reading.

Don’t Stand So Close to Me

I had vague feelings of anxiety and some depression today, but not as intense as in recent days.  My sister phoned and I spoke to her for a while.  She and her husband seem to be doing OK, although he is worried about his job security.  It’s scary.  Mum is more or less OK today, but she had a bad spell for a few minutes.  We know that the second day after chemo is often worse for people than the first day, so tomorrow will probably be worse than today.

I did my usual pre-Shabbat (Sabbath) chores, as well as some extras to help around the house.  I wanted to work on my novel, but by the time I had done my chores, it was late and I felt exhausted.  I went for a walk and, while walking, had an idea for a short story that I might write.  I don’t want to get diverted from my novel, but with coronavirus, Mum and everything else, I can’t get into the right headspace for the novel at the moment, and I want to write something darker and stranger and, I guess, shorter to prove to myself that I can still write.

I was pleased by the story in the Jewish Chronicle about the Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) rabbi who shut down a shteibel (small synagogue) and beit midrash (study hall) that was still open despite the lockdown, throwing people out while calling them crazy and murderers.  It’s good to see that some people in the Haredi world are taking the pandemic seriously.  Kol hakavod (well done) to him.  I hope my next-door neighbours have learnt the lesson.  I guess I’ll find out shortly.

I hope I’m OK over Shabbat.  I feel the end of the week “I need Shabbat” feeling strongly today.  I’m looking forward to reading, both Torah and recreational reading.

And that’s it, really.

Here Comes Nisan/Do Do Do Do/Here Comes Nisan/And I Say/It’s Alright

I feel really depressed today.  On the verge of tears.  Mum had her second chemo session today.  Is that related?  Or is it coronavirus anxiety, or just bog standard depression?  Who knows.  And to think, just a few weeks ago, “going viral” was considered a good thing.

Today is Rosh Chodesh (New Moon) of the month of Nisan, which means it’s two weeks until Pesach (Passover).  To be honest, by this stage I just want to get on with it.  With the arrival of Nisan, we stop saying Tachanun (penitential prayers) because this is the month of redemption.  It’s supposed to be a happy month.  I always struggle with that with depression, but it’s weird that everyone is struggling this year.  It doesn’t feel like a time of redemption for anyone.

I feel bad that coronavirus has hardly altered my routine.  There aren’t many jobs to apply for.  Other than that I’m still trying to help my parents around the house, care for my Mum (inasmuch as she needs it at the moment) and work on my novel.  Write a devar Torah every week, do my usual daily routine of prayer and Torah study.  Try to exercise most days.  If anything, I’m probably exercising more than I was, although that’s more due to the weather and the lack of jobs to apply for than government injunctions to exercise daily despite the virus.

I tried to work on my novel, but kept getting distracted, first by procrastination, then by external events, like Mum coming home from chemo and the Tesco delivery man arriving (he stood very far back as I unpacked the food into the house.  No toilet paper available either).  I eventually forced myself to do an hour or so of work on it, and despite procrastination, I managed a little over my daily five hundred word target.  I’m still struggling to write convincing dating dialogue and activities.  I don’t have much experience here.

Other than that, I Skyped E. and went for a half-hour walk; I would have liked to have gone for a run, but I was too tired and depressed.  I watched a very rubbishy episode of Star Trek Voyager (Warlord) while finishing polishing the silverware.

I did join in the eight o’clock doorway/window NHS applause, but I went stopped after a minute or so, partly because I was cold standing in the doorway, but partly because my feelings about the NHS are so mixed based on the treatment I’ve had in the NHS mental health system.  I wrote a big paragraph here and cut it, because I didn’t want to sound so negative at this time.  Suffice to say I did applaud and I do appreciate the efforts of NHS personnel to defeat COVID-19, as well as my Mum’s cancer care.  I just wish it was more universal.

***

Aside from watching the rubbish Voyager episode, I watched more of Life on Mars.  It was the silliest episode so far (Sam, Gene and Annie go undercover running a pub), but is still giving me Writer’s Envy.  Life on Mars is really the type of thing I want to write, but can’t manage to write, and, anyway, someone else already wrote it.  Over a decade ago.  Sigh.  I would like to put more surreal/absurdist/solipsistic stuff into my novel, but I’m not sure that I know how, or that anyone will read it if I do.  E. told me to “Go big or go home,” but I don’t feel that I can quite do either.

It’s frustrating, what I want to write is stuff that exists on the borderline between realism and surrealism, where the boundary becomes permeable, but not totally crossed into Alice in Wonderland nonsense, but that’s not a popular place to go.  The Philip K. Dick/The Prisoner Twilight Zone, where the real and the surreal flick back and forth.  Plus, while I do have ideas, for this novel and for possible future ones, they are relatively straightforward.

***

I am not sure how to kill the time before bed.  I don’t feel tired enough for a very early night.  I don’t want to spend the evening being depressed online, so I’m going to turn my computer off in a minute.  I have hardly done any Torah study today, but I don’t feel up to doing any more, except listening to a short devar Torah Rabbi Lord Sacks posted to WhatsApp today.  Nor do I feel like can read even the light Doctor Who novel I’m reading currently.  I will probably watch another DVD, maybe The New Avengers.  I just feel rubbish, in all senses of the word – ill/depressed, but also a failure.  I try to tell myself I’m not, that my parents care about me, that E. cares about me, but I worry I don’t care about them enough back, that I let everyone down in the end…  “My thoughts are not always my friends.”  Indeed.

***

I got a WhatsApp message from my shul, apparently written by a bunch of frum (religious Orthodox Jewish) doctors, saying that the frum community has been disproportionately hit by coronavirus because people are holding private minyans (prayer gatherings) and other gatherings.  I don’t know if there’s been anything here like there has been in New York and parts of Israel, where I think people got arrested for attending large weddings, or issued instructions to wedding guests not to take photos lest they be prosecuted.  Whether this will stop the private minyan next door I do not know.  They haven’t held a minyan since Sunday, but it’s possible they can’t get one during the week because people are still working, although where they are working is another question.  I guess I’ll find out tomorrow evening.

Coughs and Sneezes Spread Diseases

“You’re a loser, Joni, or whatever your name is, because you live in fear and that isn’t really living at all, is it?  Now, I don’t live in fear.  I’m alive.” – Life on Mars episode 1.4 by Ashley Pharoah

I woke up at 10am today and got up at 11am, which was good.  It was late, but earlier than recently.  In terms of activity, I tried to work on my novel for an hour after lunch.  I made a little progress, but struggled to write light, witty, flirty date dialogue unsurprisingly.  I’m not sure how I’m going to get through this chapter.  Hard work, I suppose.  I wrote about 250 words, which is half of my usual hourly target.  I spent a lot of time procrastinating and read a “long read” article on the BBC news website about the US government’s response to coronavirus when I should have been writing.

I felt very anxious and depressed today, which also didn’t help me to get in the writing zone.  I had less specific anxiety about coronavirus or Pesach (although a little about the former) and more general feelings of depression and anxiety.  I know from my past that anxiety about X can manifest as worrying about Y, even though X and Y are totally unrelated and X may be vastly more important and serious than Y.  Some of that may be happening here.  I do over-analyse myself, “What am I feeling?  Am I feeling the right thing?”  As if there’s a “right” thing to feel.

I’ve never had much success with mental health/CBT affirmations, but I’m trying to tell myself “My thoughts are not always my friends” which helped somewhat with controlling my religious OCD in the past.  The anxiety and depression fluctuated throughout the day, getting better after my run (see below), but by the evening I was feeling awful, just wanting to curl up and sleep while the world went away.  I had a brief Skype call with E., but I felt bad at being in a state, although I know she cares enough to want to see me when I feel like that.

***

I went on my Officially Sanctioned Single Daily Exercise Session (I went for a run).  I added a bit more distance to my usual run, which coincidentally took the time taken up to exactly thirty minutes, which is good.  Pace and stamina were pretty good too, at least by my recent standards.  There were a few people around, but most looked like they were exercising rather than going anywhere in particular.  The run did seem to help with the anxious thoughts, which is good to know for the future.

***

I joined in with a global simultaneous Jewish prayer meeting.  No Skype/Zoom connection, just thousands of people praying at the same time.  I stuck with the shorter list of Tehillim (Psalms) and prayers on the Orthodox Union website rather than the longer, more mystical list of prayers sent out by my rabbi (although that list confirmed my suspicions that Tehillim chapter 120 on the OU list should have read 121).

The other virtual community thing I did today was watch a live shiur (religious class) given by Rabbi Lord Sacks via YouTube.  I haven’t really been part of a streamed event like that before, so it was interesting to see the number of viewers grow.  There were about 770 by the end, which was good considering that it was only advertised today.  It’s weird how social isolation is bringing people together.  I then spent nearly an hour researching and writing my weekly devar Torah (Torah thought).  So it was a fairly solid day from a religious point of view.

***

Back to anxiety and depression…

Another of parents’ friends had another baby.  I just feel… It’s like other people have bad times – illness, bereavement, relationship breakdown, unemployment – and then after a while it goes and something good happens.  And with me, I have bad things, and they stick around, and eventually other bad things join them and I feel even worse.

Compared with the quote at the top, I do feel like I’m living in fear, of everything (illness, bereavement, relationship breakdown, unemployment), and it isn’t really living, but it’s all I’ve got.  Which leads to all the “Why is this happening to me?  Am I a bad person?  Does God hate me?” questions.

Anyway, I need to go, or I’ll miss my “No screens after 11pm” deadline.

Panic Buying

I got a text from my shul (synagogue) chairman this morning, checking I was OK and offering to help if I needed anything.  I thought that was really nice and made me feel that I’m more accepted at shul than I thought.

I used to wonder how people would cope – how I would cope – with a war or other disaster.  It’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking that our society has become too selfish and narcissistic to make sacrifices and would fall into anarchy or just lethargy at the first sign of trouble.  I guess so far that’s mostly been proved wrong.  There are exceptions (someone set fire to a car parked outside the house of an aunt of a friend of mine and this story is disturbing), but mostly people seem to have done a lot to help others, albeit that there is still some laxity about social isolation.

***

I turned off all my screens by about 11.30pm last night (bar wishing E. good night right before I went to bed) and was in bed by 12.40am, which, sad to say, is early for me.  I still struggled with exhaustion to get up in the morning, but I got up around 11am.  I also got dressed and davened (prayed) before turning on my computer.  I did, however, go back to bed for fifteen minutes after breakfast.  It was still hard to find the stamina to face the day.

After that, today was a mostly good day.  My rabbi mentor has reassured me about some stuff, including about not needing taking apart the oven fan when doing Pesach (Passover) cleaning/kashuring.  I went for my blood test, walking there and back (thirty-five minutes each way), which made me feel awkward.  Where I live there was hardly anyone around, but there were still quite a few people on the high street and I couldn’t always keep two metres distant.  That’s made me vaguely anxious.  Then three nights in a row now, I’ve been feeling really uncomfortably hot around dinner time and worried I’m getting a fever… then realised my parents have the central heating up too high again.  My desire to have the house cooler than my Mum wants is an ongoing issue, but it’s never been as anxiety-provoking.

I cooked dinner and listened to some online shiurim on my walk and while cooking, then I polished more of the silver after dinner, so I did quite a bit plus I Skyped E. for an hour.  I feel tired now though.  I tried to push through the tiredness and work on my novel, but I ended up procrastinating.  Then I was suddenly overwhelmed by sadness, which I think is just an emotional response to the stresses of the last few days.  So, I decided to push my novel off again.  To be honest, I think it’s unlikely that I will make much progress before Pesach, which is now only two weeks away.

***

The other thing I did today was give in to panic buying in the geekiest possible way.  The DVD of Life on Mars season two arrived today, prompting fears that if online retailers are closed down like real-world ones, I could be stuck in isolation for weeks wanting to watch the concluding series Ashes to Ashes, but unable to purchase it.  So, I panic bought all three seasons on DVD for rather more than I would have usually spent.  It worked out at £2 an episode, which is a few pence more than watching via Amazon Video (I don’t use any video on demand services; if there’s something I want to see, I usually buy the DVD cheap second-hand).

***

Albert Uderzo, co-creator of Asterix, died.  His death was not coronavirus-related.  I used to read Asterix a lot as a child, although unlike some childhood reading habits, I never got back into it as an adult.  I may try re-reading when I’ve finished The Complete Peanuts.  I still remember a lot of the silly names in the English translation (Getafix the druid, Unhygienix the fishmonger, Romans with names like Crismus Bonus and Gluteus Maximus).  The sky may fall on our heads tomorrow, but fortunately tomorrow never comes.

Lockdown

It looks like Mum’s cancer isn’t one of the ones requiring twelve week isolation, which is good.

I went for a half-hour walk and posted my medical certificate for benefits, which arrived from the doctor today.  I’m not sure when I should hear if I still qualify for ESA.  I’m going to try to take exercise most days, either walking or jogging.  While walking, I listened to an Intimate Judaism podcast on sexual abuse and halakhah (Jewish law) that turned out to be somewhat relevant to my novel, although that was not my original reason for listening.

Afterwards, I spent thirty-five minutes working on things to say at the sederim over Pesach (Passover), editing some essays by Rabbi Lord Sacks down to get the relevant points and writing a mini-devar Torah (Torah thought) about having sederim at the time of coronavirus.

The approach to Pesach is one of the times of the year when Jewish charities send out appeals.  It’s horrible to look at where I am this year and see that I have little to give and so many people in need, particularly with the damage coronavirus is inflicting on the economy, particularly for people on low income jobs.  I have to think hard about where money would be best spent, which is horrible.  I hate not being able to give more.

***

The above was written before the lockdown announcement.  I walked in while that was on the news.  I found it quite frightening.  I had a whole bunch of thoughts go through my head, perhaps not all rational: should I still go to my blood test tomorrow?  Will we get all the Pesach food we still need (particularly romaine lettuce for maror, the bitter herbs for the sederim)?  Will we be OK cleaning and kashering our ovens without disassembling the fan?  How will I cope going months on end without a haircut?  I have very thick frizzy hair, I could be a ball of fuzz by the time the barbers open again.  I had some vague worries about exercise even though one period of outdoor exercise a day is still permitted.  Some of my worries were more “out there”  – worrying if I would get arrested while walking to and from my blood test tomorrow, which isn’t that likely, but autistic fear of change + social anxiety = crazy fears.  I do wonder how my parents feel about indefinite separation from my sister.

The announcement completely threw me, even though it’s not unexpected and it took me a while to come back to normal.  My stomach cramps have come back, looking more psychosomatic than ever.  Autism doesn’t like change and uncertainty, and change and uncertainty is what we will have for the next few months/year.  It’s hard to know what to do.  In a strange way, Pesach might be a bit easier than in a non-lockdown state.  It is a principal of Jewish law that “ones Rachmana patrei” “The Merciful One exempts the coerced from punishment” i.e. if we try to do the right thing and are prevented by external events, it doesn’t matter.  Perhaps I will feel less psychological pressure even as we feel greater physical difficulty?  On this note, the London Beit Din (rabbinical court) sent out a list of food items that would normally require special Pesach supervision, but which this year they are permitting without supervision.  I think milk was the main one that might affect us, although Mum thinks we live in an area with enough Jewish shops that we should get some, even if we have to buy it just one or two pints each day.

I’m still telling myself stupid jokes to keep going.  On hearing that weddings and baptisms are to be stopped, but funerals permitted, I said, “That’s good, I was afraid I would be late for my own funeral!”  I guess it’s gallows humour.  My parents laughed.  I keep feeling really hot and worrying that I’m coming down with a fever, then realising that my parents have the central heating up high again.

The thought that occurred to me is that we’re going to end up like E. M. Forster’s The Machine Stops, all living underground in isolation.  We will all go separately when we go, as Tom Lehrer might have sung.

***

I didn’t get time to do much after the lockdown announcement.  I polished some of the silverware while watching Star Trek Voyager.  It’s another day when I’ve prioritised health, Pesach and helping around the home over writing.  I did actually try to do half an hour of writing, but I ran out of concentration after fifteen minutes and decided it was better to get off the computer as close as possible to 11pm than to carry on trying to write.

COVID-19 Anxieties

It feels like every couple of days some new terrifying aspect of our New Normal Coronavirus/COVID-19 Life hits me.  I left this comment on a friends’ blog earlier today:

Two week stockpiling is difficult. We keep a lot of food in the freezers generally, but probably not a balanced diet for two weeks. Unfortunately, with Passover coming up and its special dietary laws, we should be running down stocks of ordinary food and laying in stocks of Passover food. We’ve mostly done the latter, but should really be running things down more rather than stocking up for the meantime. Meanwhile, it looks like Mum might have to self-isolate for twelve weeks because she has cancer. We aren’t sure what the rest of us will have to do in that time. Obviously, we can’t stock three months’ worth of food (even Mum’s Jewish Mother Syndrome would admit defeat there) and would have to rely on outside help if we’re all expected to self-isolate for that long.

It is scary.  I don’t have a clue if we have the right stocks for this kind of thing and I’m pretty sure we don’t have enough of them.  Bread, for example, only lasts about a week in our house and has to be repurchased weekly (and that’s not even challot for Shabbat, the sweet, fluffy loaves eaten on the Sabbath that are generally sold only on Thursday or Friday).  Milk doesn’t last long either.  We do sometimes freeze bread and milk (although I think defrosted milk is horribly watery), but we’re clearing spaces in our freezer for Pesach (Passover) food.  I don’t know what to do.  We do have quite a bit of toilet paper at least as Dad generally insists on having a lot in the house even without COVID-19 and panic buying.

As I mentioned before, my parents do at least have lots of local friends in their shul (synagogue) community, and I have a few, so we could probably find help if we need it, plus we could always ask the rabbis to help organise something for us.  This is, some would say, exactly the type of situation that close-knit religious communities are supposed to help with.  I just feel bad about asking for help when we can’t reciprocate.  I feel that because of my “issues” I’m always taking and never giving, even without coronavirus, and that doesn’t feel good.

I’m worried if I should even be hugging my Mum right now.  I don’t think she could cope with three months of total isolation while she’s going through so much difficult emotional and physical stuff.  I did speak to Mum about this.  She thinks it’s only people with specific cancers or advanced cancers who are going to be told to self-isolate for twelve weeks and she’s hopeful that she wouldn’t be in that group, as breast cancer is regarded as highly treatable and her specific cancer is not so far advanced.  I hope she is right.  It is a difficult situation for anyone in it.

***

I’m just feeling overwhelmed with coronavirus and Pesach and I have been struggling to find time for things like exercise and working on my novel.  My rabbi said to use the time we are isolated wisely.  He even suggested writing a book (although I imagine he meant a book of Torah thoughts rather than a novel as in my case), but I don’t know how people find the time/energy.  Admittedly most people are probably not struggling with depression and a mother with cancer.

My hands are getting chapped from washing so much.  I tend to get chapped hands in the winter anyway, even while moisturising, but I think they will get worse before they get better.  My hands aren’t as badly chapped as has happened in the past (thank you Aveeno Skin Relief), but they hurt a bit and that’s going to get worse as we get closer to Pesach and I start washing my hands all the time as I go from chametz (normal food) to Pesach food and preparations (although at least it will be hygienic).  Maybe there’s an element of stress there too – Mum is prone to stress-related eczema.  I don’t get that so much, but I remember before my BA finals I came out in skin problems on my feet.  (It’s ironic that just a few weeks ago I thought I was washing my hands too much from fear of ritual food contamination/religious OCD and wondered if I should be consciously trying to wash my hands less frequently as exposure therapy.)

***
People were davening (praying) en masse in the garden next door again today.  I’m really not sure what to do about it.  E. thinks I should say something, but the consensus among commenters here was against it.  I’m just terrified one of them will have COVID-19 and spread it somehow to Mum.  Actually, forget COVID-19, if any of them had any kind of airborne virus, even the common cold, and infected Mum that could be really bad.  But I’m not sure if that’s something one can say.

***

Stuff done today: half hour jog, an hour of Torah study, Skype E. for an hour, sorted out some kind of timetable for the next three weeks until Pesach.  Not very much, to be honest, but today was a bit of a lost day for all of us here, particularly for me after getting so exhausted shopping late last night.  I didn’t make my “No screens after 11pm” rule again, but I hope to have them all off soon after 11.30pm, which would be my best night so far (excluding Shabbat).

Disequilibrium

I thought that I wouldn’t have anything to say today, as usually post-Shabbat (post-Sabbath) posts are about shul (synagogue) and social anxiety, and shul has been shut down by coronavirus.  However…

I had to daven (pray) at home over Shabbat as all the United Synagogue and Federation shuls have been closed by coronavirus (the United Synagogue is the main Modern Orthodox organisation in the country and the Federation is a large moderate Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) organisation.  My parents’ shul is United Synagogue and mine is Federation).  The US and Fed said to close the shuls and NOT to form private minyanim (prayer groups) in houses.

While I was davening last night, I could hear people intoning outside.  I looked out my window and our next door neighbours have got a minyan in their garden, spaced out so no one is less than two metres from anyone else.  I got quite worried and angry about that.  I felt it would be easy for one of these people to pass something to my neighbours’ children (my neighbours have a big Hasidic family with several young children) who could pass it in the street to us.  I can’t work out how realistic that fear is, whether I should tell them that Mum has cancer and that I worry they are putting her life at risk.

I don’t want to wheel out all the negative stereotypes about Haredim and especially Hasidim (that they are meticulous about ritual law, but don’t care about secular law, or good manners to people outside the community etc.), but I do feel upset and worried about it and unsure what to do.  It seems wrong to ask them not to daven, and I’m not even sure what the infection risk realistically is, but it worries me, especially if they do this every Shabbat or even every day.

***

On a related note, it was just said on the news that cancer patients could be told to self-isolate for twelve weeks.  This is scary.  A whole load of questions came into my head: will it just be Mum or will Dad and I have to stay indoors full-time too?  Could I go for a run?  Can I apply for jobs?  (If there are any.)  Would the cleaner be allowed to come?  Will the man who cleans our oven each year before Pesach (Passover) be allowed to come?

The latter is a major worry for me.  It’s hard to explain.  Basically, for the special Pesach dietary laws, the oven has to be cleaned thoroughly (preferably with chemical cleaners that will render any leftover food crumbs inedible) and then heated for an hour at the maximum temperature.  We could do this without the oven man, although he uses extra-strong chemicals, which feel extra-reassuring for my religious OCD, but he also removes, cleans and replaces the oven’s fan, which we could not do.  Now, a few years ago, it looked like he wouldn’t be able to come one year and we asked my parents’ rabbi what to do.  He said he has asked a dayan (religious court judge i.e. a super-senior rabbi) what to do and that cleaning the fan is not strictly necessary, but I know I would find it stressful and triggering not to do it and would feel that I’m eating non-kosher for Pesach food.

I feel like it’s taken me years to get to stage where I’m comfortable with what we do for Pesach and my parents are comfortable with what I’m doing, and suddenly this equilibrium we’ve all struggled to build is going to be disrupted.  And even beyond the religious OCD, the autism does not do well with sudden massive changes to routine if we are housebound for three months (let’s not even ask the question of how many extra months coronavirus is going to add to the waiting list for my autism assessment).

***

Other than that it was an ordinary Shabbat: insomnia on Friday night, late sleeping on Saturday morning and an accidental two hour doze in the afternoon meaning I’m not tired at 1.00am.  I’m trying not to beat myself up about my sleep pattern at the moment and just accept it.  I read quite a bit: a chunk of the Doctor Who novel I’m reading, a couple of chapters of Tehillim (Psalms) in Hebrew and a bit of one of Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan’s books about God, the soul and the afterlife, If You Were God.  Jews strangely don’t talk about these subjects much, so it’s useful to check in and see that what I believe is broadly what I’m supposed to believe.

After Shabbat Dad and I went to a big kosher supermarket in Golders Green to get some of the things we couldn’t get last week at our small local kosher supermarket.  The roads were empty.  There was a queue outside the shop, but this was just to limit the number of people in the store at any time, not to contain panic buying.  A few things had sold out, but we got most of what we wanted.  There were free plastic gloves.  My Dad took a pair, but from what I heard they don’t do very much, so I didn’t, but then I regretted it a bit (what if Mum gets something? etc.).  I did use a wipe to wipe the trolley grip.  The number of people inside wasn’t too overwhelming, but I found the muzak really annoying.

I was naughty in that I got irritated with my Dad and was sarcastic.  I’m trying not to do this so much, but it’s hard, because we don’t communicate very well at the moment.  We don’t shout or whatever, but our communication styles are different.  His long-winded, detailed and repetitive way of talking confuses me (autism brain is not always good at dealing with irrelevant details), while he doesn’t like me interrupting him to ask him to get to the point.  There can also be issues where we disagree both see things in a different, but very black-and-white way (again, autism) and argue until something breaks the deadlock.  Anyway, when I get annoyed with my parents I tend to get sarcastic (which I generally don’t do with other people), which isn’t good.  I’m trying to work on it, but it’s hard.  Then Dad hit me in the face when we were emptying the trolley.  This was an accident, but I probably deserved it.  It didn’t really hurt, but I was a bit stunned.

Then I came home exhausted and have monumentally failed at my “No screens after 11pm” rule, given that it is nearly 1.00am and I am still on the computer plus I intend to finish watching the episode of Star Trek Voyager I started watching earlier before I go to bed.  Given my messed up sleep in the last twenty-four hours and the psychological stress I’m under and the need for relaxation, I’m not sure I could do much better, realistically.

Mental Health Under Stress

I had weird dreams last night that I can’t really put into words here, both because they were too personal and also too incoherent and stream-of-consciousness for me to really put them in words at all.  I did my usual thing of drifting in and out of consciousness in the morning, waking up enough to feel I should get up, but feeling too tired and depressed to do so.  I eventually got up when the phone rang, although whoever it was rang off before I could answer.  I somehow managed to stay up after that.

***

Shabbat (the Sabbath) is going to be weird without shul (synagogue).  Orthodox Jewish law is that the ideal for men is to pray three times a day with a community (the Afternoon and Evening Services are usually recited consecutively in the summer so you only need to go out once).  There have been times in my life when I’ve been going to shul two or three times a day, but there have been other times when depression or social anxiety has intervened and I’ve gone far less often.  There were periods when I wasn’t going at all.  Now, everyone is in that situation of not going.  Strangely, I find that I’m missing shul, even though my weekday attendance in recent years has been patchy.  It’s always harder to get back into going after a period of being away because avoidance stokes social anxiety and I worry a bit about what this will do to me when we get to the other side.  I’m glad I’m with my parents for Shabbat as Shabbat alone can get lonely, and I’m sorry for people who will have to experience that this week.  That’s another thing I’ve experienced from depression and social anxiety that the world is experiencing because of COVID-19.

Speaking of Shabbat, I spoke yesterday of not having an emotional connection to it.  On reflection, that’s probably not true.  I definitely feel something on Shabbat, something positive.  Shabbat has a different feel to the rest of the week.  I can’t put it explain it to you if you’ve never experienced it, but it is something I feel at some point each Shabbat and it’s a good feeling.  I just can’t exactly put a name to it, which is perhaps not surprising, given that I have alexithymia, difficulty understanding and processing my own emotions.

***

I remembered one of my rules for OCD, which is that if I’m embarrassed to ask a question, it’s probably OCD and not something real.  I was reminded of this by wanting to ask my rabbi mentor something last night and thinking that I would have to explain that I can see it’s a silly question… so I eventually realised, if it’s a silly question, why am I asking it?

Social anxiety hasn’t been such an issue lately, given that I’ve only really been around my parents because of COVID-19, but I did have some when phoning my GP’s surgery to ask about my medical certificate (the copy they sent me via text wouldn’t download or print properly).  I got vaguely worried that I would be told not to bother with such a trivial thing at a time of medical crisis, but they didn’t say that.

I still have quite a bit of general anxiety, the same worries as before, about my parents getting sick, especially my Mum, and how the situation will impact on our Pesach preparations even if we all stay healthy.  I’m trying not to worry, difficult though that is.  To remember to tell myself it’s OK to be worried, scared, stressed or depressed and that this is an unprecedented event for everyone.

The Great Matzah Panic of 2020

I got up marginally earlier today!  I know that’s not such an exciting thing to report for most people, but given how much I’ve been struggling with sleep recently it seems important to me.

Mum actually came in at something like 9.30am to tell me that my sister had phoned to report doing Pesach (Passover) shopping and the kosher supermarket was packed with people panic buying for Pesach.  (I’m not quite sure why she felt this was worth waking me up for.)  I then slept intermittently, dreaming about Pesach and, for some reason, the allied bombing of Dresden in 1945 (perhaps not as weird as it sounds, as there is a family story about that which makes it prominent in my mind, although not particularly at the moment) before waking up again around 11.15am and getting up soon thereafter.  I did actually feel a bit better than I usually do on getting up and even just managed to do some of my morning prayers while it was still morning, whereas lately I’ve been too depressed and exhausted to pray before the afternoon.

I was pretty worried about the Pesach food shopping.  We managed to dissuade Mum from doing it.  Dad and I should really have gone ASAP, but Dad had to take Mum to a scan and another meeting with the oncologist and then I had a skype meeting set up with my rabbi mentor, so we couldn’t get out until mid-afternoon.  Normally lack of food wouldn’t be such a problem, but for Pesach the Jewish dietary rules are stricter and everything has to be produced under special conditions so we can’t just pull food from the freezers (yes, we have five freezers.  Yes, I feel that is excessive.  Yes, Mum feels she doesn’t have enough freezer space and could really do with another one.  Yes, Jewish mothers do show their love for their family through cooking a lot.  Plus at the moment we have a freezer that is almost entirely full of apple desserts because we had a bumper crop from our apple tree last year and Mum was baking faster than we could eat).

Dad and I spent an exhausting two hours out shopping, much of it in the smallish kosher supermarket.  Not everything had arrived yet, but some things had already sold out.  There weren’t many matzahs left, with no Rakusen’s or Aviv brand matzahs at all, which was a bit shocking.  We managed to find substitutes, although we later found loads of Rakusen’s matzahs in Sainsbury’s and bought some there, so we now have a ton of matzahs.  I feel vaguely bad about this in case other people can’t find any.  I am slightly concerned about the food we still need to find, although most of it is not essential and/or has to be bought nearer the time because it spoils.  When we popped into Sainsbury’s afterwards, was almost totally empty of fruit and vegetables, just a few cucumbers and cooking apples, and, bizarrely, a crate of pomegranates.

I did have some slight religious OCD in that the kosher supermarket was set out part for Pesach, part for ordinary food and the demarcation was not always obvious.  I think I checked for “Kosher for Pesach” seals on everything we bought in the shop, but I got worried that I missed something and I went to the garage, where all the Pesach food currently is, and checked again.  I knew that this was giving in to the religious OCD on some level, but it was hard to resist.  At least I stopped myself from checking the meat Dad bought without me and I just relied on the fact that he asked in the butcher what was Pesachdik.  It is easy to slip back into OCD modes of thought at this time of year and I have to try to be vigilant against it, while not beating myself up when I give in.  Certainly the OCD flare up happened at a time when I had several of the HALT (Hungry, Anxious, Lonely, Tired) indicators.

***

I wouldn’t be so worried about the coronavirus situation if it wasn’t for (1) Mum being at high risk of complications and (2) worry about how we will manage Pesach if we are ill or in self-isolation.  My big worries at the moment are (i) if Mum gets coronavirus; (ii) if our oven cleaner has to cancel our pre-Pesach clean due to illness or anything else, which would make kashering it for Pesach much harder; (iii) the stores run out of horseradish and romaine lettuce for marror, the bitter herb eaten at the Pesach seder.   I can see that (iii) is potentially a situation where we do our best and have to trust that God understands; (ii) is more problematic, but probably not insoluble; but (i) is obviously much more scary and frightening as well as largely out of our control.

Once Pesach is out the way I hope I will feel a bit less anxious, although Mum will obviously still be a high risk for many months.  Listening to Rabbi Lord Sacks interviewed online and reading Mary Harrington’s article on UnHerd today makes me think that I’m lucky to already live in a close-knit local community rather than to need to build one from scratch as per Harrington’s article.  Even though I don’t feel fully integrated into the Jewish community, I can think of a couple of people locally who I could call on if my parents and I were housebound, and certainly my parents have lots of local friends who would help us.  Not being allowed to drive on Shabbat (the Sabbath) is one of those Jewish laws that has positive unexpected consequences, in that Orthodox Jews all live in walking distance of a synagogue and hence of other community members, which isn’t necessarily the case in non-Orthodox synagogues or other places of worship.

***

I went to an online shiur (religious class) on Zoom that my rabbi was giving about what to do when self-isolating from a religious perspective.  To be honest, I didn’t learn that much; years of depression meant I’m quite familiar with which parts of the prayer services can be said privately and which can only be said with a community.

I feel I should have some kind of religious response to coronavirus, but I don’t.  I feel the same emotional disconnection I feel on Shabbat (the Sabbath) and Yom Tov (festivals), where if I try, I can engage somewhat intellectually with the meaning of the day, but not emotionally.  I’ve heard different people suggest different possible religious reasons for this crisis, from lack of community to a lack of personal connection to God to climate change, and nothing really resonates that much with me.  Plus, while I do believe everything happens for a reason, I’m sceptical about how much of that reason we can intuit and understand in this world, especially in the short term.  It’s easy to project one’s own personal gripes about the world or the community and say that that is the reason for this.  Rabbis are suggesting pray more intensely, say Tehillim (Psalms), study Torah and give tzedaka (charity), but that’s kind of the rabbinical equivalent of the doctor saying eat five portions of fruit and vegetables a day, avoid sugar, and take regular exercise, something that is applicable to everyone at every time and a useful fallback for emergencies rather than something unique to this crisis.

If anything, I feel gratitude to God: gratitude that we live in a time when we have the medical and communications technology to make our lives continue in some way, gratitude for living in a part of the world where central government can stay in charge despite this crisis without falling into anarchy, gratitude that I’m not likely to starve any time in the near future, gratitude that I have my parents still and that we should manage to have some kind of Pesach, even if it’s a weird and subdued one (the oncologist said that my sister and brother-in-law should not stay with us for Pesach, although they are allowed to visit for a couple of hours one day in chol hamoed).

I should probably add that all the rabbinical responses I’ve seen to coronavirus have stressed the importance of staying healthy and obeying government medical guidelines and said that halakhah (Jewish law) mandates staying safe and healthy and that doing so overrules most mitzvot (commandments).  I was pleased that most of these responses have also stressed our responsibility to pray for non-Jews to be healed and protected too.

***

The Further Education library where I used to work is advertising for a senior librarian.  I’m not sure if this means my ex-boss has left or if she was higher than senior librarian in the restructuring and they’re looking for someone below her.  Part of me wants to apply, part of me thinks I would be crazy to do so, considering it was not a good environment for me, and this is a more skilled/responsible job.  As someone on the autistic spectrum and with social anxiety, it was hard for me to deal with noisy teenagers, people with poor English language skills and being expected to change tasks quickly and deal with problems as they arose, and I can only imagine this being worse in a senior librarian position rather than an assistant librarian one, as I was before.

It feels weird to be worrying about work rather than Mum or coronavirus.

***

I was eating dinner and watching Life on Mars earlier when my Mum came into my room and shoved her phone under my nose.  I thought she was trying to show me a video; it took a minute to realise it was a video conference with most of my Israeli family.  I wasn’t really sure what to say or do and after waving I made an excuse and left.  This is the kind of situation where I feel that autism affects me as social communication disorder in that I struggle to know how to react in social situations and get overwhelmed, doubly so if, as in this case, it’s a situation I’m thrust into unexpectedly without preparation.  Social anxiety doesn’t help in here either.  I guess that hasn’t happened so much recently because self-isolation has removed some of those interactions from my life.

***

I’m going to violate my “no screens after 11pm” rule because I’m completely exhausted from today and need to relax after two hours of shopping and a long period of time on Skype and Zoom by finishing watching the Life on Mars episode I started before.  I also want to try to do a little Torah study before winding down the for the night, even if it’s only ten or fifteen minutes.  I feel this post has turned into a general dumping ground for every anxiety I had today and I hope it wasn’t too negative or boring.  I should probably try to get some relaxation time before bed.

The Masque of COVID-19

It’s probably no surprise to every one that more and more stuff is shutting down: doctor’s surgery, shul (synagogue), depression group…  Shiur is potentially continuing, but online via video conference software.  It makes me realise that I wasn’t quite as socially isolated as I assumed I was.  I suddenly remembered that I hadn’t emailed one of my American email friends for a couple of months and wanted to check how her baby is getting on.  I’m struggling to stop touching my face, though, as that’s the main form of autistic ‘stimming’ that I do to keep calm.

It seems weirdly like the world is slowing down to my pace.  Now almost everyone is stuck at home all the time.  No schools, no religious services, no public recreation, shopping for essentials only.  No inessential medical care.  It’s just occurred to me that I have no idea if the blood test I’m supposed to have next week is still going ahead.  It’s not immediately essential, but if I delay and my lithium level has shifted, that’s potentially life-threatening.  I wish I’d thought to ask my doctor yesterday.  I will have to try to phone tomorrow.

It’s scary how things can collapse so quickly… although it’s also remembering that in Western countries at least, it’s unlikely that law and order, government etc. will collapse, which is a good thing.  A recession is pretty much certain, but hopefully the economy won’t completely collapse in a Venezualan way.  It’s still scary though, especially as The Spectator‘s daily politics email is suggesting some kind of compulsory lockdown looms for London.  I don’t know if we would be too far out in the suburbs for that to affect us.

I should probably stop reading the news (again), as it’s too scary and makes me anxious about getting through the next few weeks/months.  (Apparently Chinese newspapers are suggesting limiting coronavirus news to 40% of the information one receives, which still seems like a lot, although I’m not sure if reading old Doctor Who novels and Snoopy comics counts as “information” in this context.)

***

Back in what passes for the real world, I’m still struggling with mornings; today even managing to get up, eat and drink coffee didn’t fully lifted my mood or given me energy.  I’m trying not to beat myself up about all of this, as it doesn’t achieve anything, and if I had a physical illness that made it hard to get up and get going I wouldn’t beat myself up, but somehow even after so many years of this, I still think I ought to be able to force myself to get up earlier, or to get dressed faster, or just to be more efficient even when I feel lousy.  After that, I’m OK during most of the day, but I’ll get ambushed by sadness or worry at points.  Or guilt, for doing something dangerous, reckless and immoral like rubbing my nose.

***

In terms of achievements, I spent half an hour researching ideas to bring to the table for the seder at Pesach (the Pesach (Passover) seder is the meal where we retell the story of the Exodus from Egypt.  There is a set text, but I like to add some new ideas each time).  I did think of doing more, but I felt it was better to mix seder preparation with ordinary Torah study over a couple of weeks.  I’ve earmarked some stuff as I came across it during the year anyway, so it’s mostly a case of writing summaries of longer ideas and perhaps finding a few ideas in a haggadah (seder book) at some point.  I also spent twenty minutes on general Torah study; I hope to take that up to half an hour before bedtime.

I also went for a run.  My stamina was not great, but it’s good to keep active.  I had a Skype chat with E., which was good, although we both feel frustrated that we won’t be in the same country for months.  I explained to E. about the Three Day Week in the seventies, which made me feel older than I actually am (I wasn’t around in the seventies!).

My Doctor Who book is now available for sale on Amazon UK and US!  There’s even a look inside preview.  I sent off an application to have my Goodreads page registered as a Goodreads author, which I can do now my Doctor Who book is up on Goodreads and Amazon.  I also ordered a copy of my book to send to Doctor Who Magazine as a review copy.  It’s unlikely much will come of that as, in a crowded marketplace, pretty much no non-official merchandise gets reviewed there any more, but I felt it was worth gambling about £10 on.

On a related note, apparently Amazon are not restocking books due to COVID-19.  I don’t know how that will affect me, as my book is essentially print on demand.  If anything, it might push people direct to the publisher at Lulu.com, where I get to keep a bigger profit as Lulu take a tiny slice compared with Amazon’s chunk.

***

I’ve complained about the reception staff at my doctor’s surgery before, but today they impressed me.  They phoned to ask if they should post me my medical certificate as I can’t pick it up (I hadn’t told them about the problem printing it, so either lots of people have problems or the doctor made a mistake in saying I wouldn’t need to come in to get it).  They also informed me of the new system for collecting prescriptions, whereby I have to go directly to the chemist, who will request the prescription from the surgery, who then send it back.  I nominated a new chemist that is much more local than Boots, who I was using previously.

***

In terms of distractions, I’m enjoying Life on Mars rather more than Star Trek Voyager and rationing the former in regard to the latter.  Life on Mars is really my type of thing: clever, funny, slightly scary, and weird.  I’m trying not to beat myself up for not watching it on first airing; at any rate, if I had watched it then, it wouldn’t cheer me up to discover it now.  There’s a moral there, somewhere.  Voyager is OK, but I remember almost none of the episodes, even though I must have seen most of them at least once in the past, which is telling – I’ve remembered much more of Star Trek: The Next Generation and Deep Space Nine when revisiting them on DVD.

That said, I haven’t watched any TV today and do not intend to, due to my “no TV after 11pm” rule (which I’ve failed at again, as it’s 11.30pm already, but I’m trying to minimise late night TV).

I’m also re-reading The Also People, a Doctor Who spin-off novel from the 90s.  I used to read loads of these as a teenager and was never entirely happy with them.  I remembered this one as being fun and light, which it is in comparison with some of The New Adventures (the umbrella name for one of the ranges of Doctor Who novels), but I’d forgotten how confusing the books’ internal continuity could get if you weren’t reading all the novels, in order, and also how annoying I found their conception of the Doctor, presenting him as a ruthless, manipulative quasi-superbeing.  This was not without precedent in the television series, but at the time I did feel as if many of the novels were an exercise in missing the point of the programme, not unlike my feelings about this year’s Doctor Who TV episodes, albeit for slightly different reasons.  Of course, as with this year’s episodes, for a large chunk of the audience, this was not a mistake at all, but genuine quality.  Fandom sometimes feels like a conglomeration of people who all like the same TV series, but for wildly different and sometimes contradictory reasons.  At least this novel isn’t too depressing, and is well-written (I recently showed E. the latest chapter of my novel and she praised a few bits; it occurred to me afterwards that they were really in the style of the better New Adventures).  For some reason my copy is falling to pieces physically, which upsets me a bit, as I didn’t think I’d treated it badly.

Love in the Time of Coronavirus

I’ve been sucked into more anxiety about coronavirus/COVID-19.  Shuls (synagogues) are closing down for the indefinite future, which is scary.  Even the Nazis couldn’t stop Jews praying together, but apparently coronavirus can.  Now I’m having all kinds of fears about the next few weeks, the run up to Pesach, perhaps the most intensive Jewish festival in terms of preparation.  It’s like Christmas on steroids, in terms not just of cooking, but cleaning and kashering (removing all trace of food and taste from utensils, sinks, ovens etc. usually using intense heat).

What if I get COVID-19 and can’t kasher our kitchen for Pesach?  Will that cause problems?  What if Mum gets it and can’t cook (I can do some of the cooking, but I don’t know how to cook meat)?  How will we have a seder if some of us (meaning, my family) have it and some of us don’t?  And, of course, the underlying worry, what if Mum gets it with her immune system suppressed?  That’s probably the root fear at the moment.  There isn’t much I can do about any of this, really.  I know on the “worry tree,” this would all be hypothetical.  Except it doesn’t feel hypothetical, it feels very real, particularly when this is the only subject on the news.

***

Margaret commented the other day to say that she envied me my faith.  It’s strange, because I don’t feel like I have strong faith and haven’t for a long time.  I mean, I believe, but in Judaism there’s a difference between emunah, belief that God exists on the one hand, and bitachon, trust that God will protect, on the other.  I struggle a lot with bitachon.  There is just so much bad stuff in the world, and there has been so much bad stuff in my life.  On some level I do believe that God is in control and that everything is for the best, but it’s hard to see that in the world around me sometimes.  And I don’t like easy answers about “everything will turn out for the best” because it seems a betrayal of my experience and the experiences of millions of others who suffered.

There’s a joke about a rabbi who spends years searching for the meaning of life, studying TorahTanakh, Midrash, Mishnah, Gemarah, Kabbalah, Hasidut, Mussar, everything Jewish, and at the ends, after years of searching he sits up and says, “Life is good.”  And then he pauses and thinks and says, “But if life is good… how come it’s so bad?”  That’s probably a very Jewish joke.  To say that everything is good and some things are bad.  That’s a line we actually see in our holy texts and even in halakhah (Jewish law).  That’s the twist at the end of Iyov (Job), that God is in control… but it’s Iyov who questioned God’s justice who is vindicated by God, not his friends who mouthed platitudes about everything being for the best.  Iyov was true to our experience of the world and the greatness of God; he didn’t cut God down to size to fit our preconceptions.

That’s also the meaning of an interesting halakhah.  If something good happens, we say one blessing to thank God for it.  If something bad happens, we say a different blessing, to accept God’s decree.  So the Talmud asks, what do you do if something happens which is bad now, but will be good later (the example is a flood, which destroys this year’s crop, but deposits sediment that will fertilise next year’s crop and make it grow better) and it says we say the “bad thing” blessing, because that’s our experience now.  When the Messiah comes, we will say the “good thing” blessing all the time, because we’ll see the good that is present in the bad, but now we’re not there yet, we have to recognise the bad and not deny it.

Jews do think that there’s no contradiction in saying (A) A benevolent, omnipotent God controls the universe for the good and (B) Many things in the universe seem, to our subjective experience, bad, even very bad.  I know since I got back together with E. that a lot of things that seemed bad in the past now seem like they happened for a reason, to get us both together.  So maybe we’ll look back on this one day and understand it.  But for now, a lot of things seem bad, and it’s enough of a struggle just to see the bad and accept it as from God without trying to find the deeper meaning.

Ugh, I’m not sure where I’m going with this any more.  Sorry, that turned into a bit of a ramble.

***

I’m still trapped in a nocturnal cycle, which is not good.  I stayed up late yesterday doing Torah study and working on my novel, then watching TV to unwind a bit before bed.  I think I need a ‘no screens after 11pm rule’ as it can be hard to sleep afterward TV or computer use – not always, but sometimes, which makes me take a chance too often.  I wanted to get up earlier today as I knew the doctor was phoning (a phone appointment I made before coronavirus made the surgery switch entirely to distance appointments) and wanted to be dressed and ready beforehand, but I was very depressed and exhausted as usual on waking at 10am and stayed in bed drifting in and out of sleep until 11.45am.  I felt better after eating something, which makes me wonder if there’s a better way of dealing with this, but I was still in pyjamas when the doctor phoned.  I used to feel bad about taking phone calls in my pyjamas, but over the years it’s become normal.  In a way it’s good that I’ve adjusted somewhat to my illnesses and issues, but in other ways it feels bad, like I should be pushing myself more.

The doctor wrote me a new medical certificate.  He sent me a copy on my phone that I could print, but, of course, he hasn’t signed it, because it’s online, and now I’m worried what the Department of Work and Pensions will say.  I’m sure that the doctor has written medical certificates online before, but I still worry.  More troubling than this, I can’t get the form to download or print properly and I can’t work out why.  It won’t download on my phone nor will it download or print on my laptop or my Dad’s laptop.  I need to speak to the surgery tomorrow.

I also asked the doctor about the stomach cramps I’ve been experiencing and he felt that as they were intermittent and becoming less frequent they weren’t anything to worry about.

The rest of the day was another day of functioning, but not thriving, with moments of strong depression.   It took me about two hours to cook dinner.  Partly this was because I was listening to a podcast (Giles Fraser talking to Rabbi Lord Sacks on Unherd) and am bad at multitasking and stop cooking to listen at times, but partly it was because I was overwhelmed emotionally a couple of times.

I spent some time on my devar Torah (Torah thought) for this week.  I was hoping to get this done quickly and use some time later in the week for preparing divrei Torah for the Pesach sederim, but it took me an hour and twenty minutes, although I did at least learn more than I knew when I started writing and researching.  Sefaria.org is an amazing site for out of copyright Jewish texts in Hebrew and Aramaic and also sometimes in translation, although I’ve been warned that not all the translations are accurate.

That was about all I managed to do today.  I wanted to work on my novel too, but decided it was too late and I was too tired.  I’m not going to reach my “no screens after 11pm” target tonight, but I might get off my laptop shortly after 11.00 if I don’t work on my novel, then finish the episode of Star Trek Voyager I’m halfway through some time before midnight.

***

My parents’ copy of my non-fiction Doctor Who book arrived today.  Dad asked me to sign it, insisting me it should not just be “To Mum and Dad, with love,” but something personal.  I’m pretty bad at this sort of writing.  My birthday cards usually just say “Dear X, happy birthday!  Have a great day!  Love Luftmentsch”.  I need to think of something.  My parents do watch Doctor Who, but they aren’t avid fans, so in-jokes like “Happy times and places!” aren’t going to work.

***

To explain about the title, I thought it was a good title, but I don’t really have anything to say here at the moment about me and E. (yes, it’s going fine, no I don’t want to jinx it by speaking to much about it, or violate her confidence or our privacy).  But I thought it was a good title, so it’s staying even though it doesn’t relate at all to the contents of the post.  Think of it in the tradition of Doctor Who titles that bear little relation to the episodes they grace, like Coronas of the Sun (not Coronaviruses of the Sun).

***

Functioning

I had my usual struggle to wake up and get up from depression and exhaustion.  I felt a bit better after eating breakfast and drinking coffee, but then suddenly my mood went down again and I had to have lunch before davening (praying), which I rarely do.  I then fell asleep for an hour after lunch (and still before davening), which was absolutely not my intention and I had to rush to get a run in at sunset.  I would have liked to have got out earlier, in the daylight.  This is how I am most days.  Once I get going, my mood seems to be OK most of the time, but then suddenly it will drop for a bit.

I did manage to do a few more things.  I wrote a long email to my rabbi mentor with questions about Pesach.  I can see that most of them are probably religious OCD which makes me feel more confident about noticing which issues are ‘real’ and which are OCD, but at the same time I know that if I had the confidence not to ask at all and not feel that I was doing something risky, that would be even better, from the point of view of challening the OCD (and the point of view of not giving my rabbi mentor needless work).  I deliberately held back on one question which I thought I was OK with, but now think I need to talk through.  This time of year can be such a struggle.

I did spend over an hour working on my novel, a bit of time on proofreading the last bit I wrote, but nearly an hour on looking over the plan for the rest of the novel.  It’s more detailed than I remembered and I’m pleased with the general direction and more energised to be working on it than I have been recently, although that will have to wait until tomorrow now.  I also spent half an hour on Torah study (although I would have liked to have done more).  I spent half of that on Mishnah (the oldest stratum of the Talmud), finishing a masechta (volume) for the first time in ages (Masechet Shevi’it) and the other half on If You Were God, Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan’s book on suffering and miracles and why God allows the former and rarely the latter.

It’s frustrating that even when other things are equal, I’m just about functioning rather than thriving, only able to do a few hours of work (or job hunting, or writing) a week and then when something else happens, whether expected like Pesach (Passover) or unexpected like coronavirus, it becomes harder and harder to keep going.  Am I always going to be like this?  It’s frightening to think that I might be.  I feel such a burden on my parents and potentially on E.

I’m watching Life on Mars for the first time.  The programme is about a contemporary detective who is hit by a car and wakes up back in 1973, unable to tell if he has genuinely travelled in time, if he is in a coma and is dreaming everything that happens or if he’s dead and this is the afterlife.  I’m catching up with it fourteen years later because I rarely watch new TV in case I don’t like it, which is probably some kind of autistic issue.  I’m only an episode and a half in, but I’m empathising with Detective Sam Tyler.  Like him, I feel like I’m in a society that I sort of know, but where I miss all the nuances, the social mores, the slang, the unstated conventions.  I find it hard to enter into the mentality of those around me and feel that I don’t fit in.  I don’t talk to the Test Card girl, but I do talk to someone who I can only communicate with via electronic media of different kinds.  Although E. is a much better girlfriend than the Test Card girl would be.

Worries about coronavirus come and go.  I was thinking of going to see Rabbi Lord Sacks speak in a few weeks, but now I’m wary of going to large gatherings for fear of bringing infection back to Mum.  I suspect that the talk will be cancelled, by the organisation running it if not by the government, but I worry about going to shul (synagogue) and the like.  I keep making up stupid coronavirus jokes, which is probably some kind of anxious response e.g. I’ve got an illness that makes me continually sing like Frank Sinatra or Matt Monro.  I’ve got croonervirus.  (Sorry.)

I Self-Isolated Before It Was Cool

The main task for today was to help with cleaning a fridge and freezer for Pesach (Passover).  It felt good to actually start Pesach preparations rather than just worrying about them.  It was exhausting, and sitting on the floor to clean the freezer left me feeling light-headed, but I was glad to get it done.  Other than that, I did some Torah study and Skyped E.  That was more or less it, but it was all cumulatively quite tiring.

I got a text late last night from the rabbi asking if our meeting today could move from a physical meeting to a phone meeting and from the morning to the afternoon.  I agreed, but it meant that I got up late again.  I phoned him in the afternoon, but the call went straight to voicemail, which I used as an excuse to email rather than phone, which is probably bad of me, on some level, if only for giving in to social anxiety.  I wrote him an email, but before I could send he texted me to apologise and say he’s been ill in bed all day.

I feel like I’m oscillating between careless indifference to coronavirus and paranoia, albeit more for my parents than myself.  My Dad is happy that he’s not classified as elderly according to government guidelines, but Mum, while younger than Dad, is obviously vulnerable because of her chemotherapy and we’re trying to persuade her to self-isolate, although she’s worried about getting cabin fever being indoors for four months.  To be honest, I think we were probably all at risk of cabin fever even before coronavirus.  I’m unemployed, both my parents work only part-time, from home in Dad’s case.  We probably spend much too much time sitting around, getting on each others’ nerves.  It could be a sitcom.  The One Foot in the Grave similarities are not lost on us.  I should explain that One Foot in the Grave was a sitcom about an irascible old man with too much time on his hands and his wife.  It was very well written.  Unlike, say, Fawlty Towers, you could see why the main characters stayed together.  They didn’t just drive each other nuts.

I discovered that while my Doctor Who book is available from Amazon UK, it is not available from Amazon US, which I assume is why it didn’t appear on Goodreads until Ashley Leia kindly added it.  I’m not sure why this is the case or if it will appear on Amazon US at some point.  I found myself looking at all the official and unofficial Doctor Who non-fiction on Blackwell’s, the academic bookseller, and felt vaguely depressed.  If a committed fan like me hasn’t heard of half these books because there are so many, and all of them look rather more professionally published, then I’m not sure what chance I have at finding readers.  Still, as vanity projects go, it was fun and I like having a physical book that I wrote to flick through; so much more satisfying than blog posts.  And the experience has definitely been worthwhile; I know I have the stamina to write a book now, so my novel doesn’t seem so daunting.

***

The WordPress reader today suggested that I might want to read about “Astrology, Zombies, Robots” which does sound like the prompt for a writing competition, or the tagline for a summer blockbuster.

Writer’s Angst

I wasn’t going to blog today.  Not very much worth recording happened over Shabbat (the Sabbath).  I have to up early (OK, not early, but early for me) tomorrow to speak to my rabbi (which I’m nervous about).  But I am having difficult thoughts about my novel.

E. likes what I’ve written so far, but the more I think about it, the less happy I feel about it.  The novel is a novel of character about a bunch of characters in their twenties, religious Jews who meet at Oxford.  The bits I’ve written so far are largely about a depressed, high functioning autistic Orthodox Jewish Doctor Who fan (write about what you know).  Later there will be stuff from more outside my comfort zone about an abusive relationship.  Strangely, I feel more looking forward to that than what I’m writing now.  I feel that what I’ve written so is not the type of book I would read, and that just seems wrong.  Wrong as in it won’t be good if I’m writing against my inclination.  I wouldn’t generally read novels of character like this unless there was another point of interest for me, but I do sometimes read books simply for featuring mental illness, autism, or Orthodox Judaism (I’m unaware of books about Doctor Who fans).  Probably not as much as I should do to write a book like this, but then there aren’t so many books about these types of characters.  I don’t think I can relate easily to characters in modern novels of character.

The problem really is that the type of books I read, and TV programmes I watch, tell very different stories to the one I’m trying to tell not to mention the ideas I’ve had ideas about for future books.  That’s partly because people aren’t writing so much fiction about the mentally ill and almost none is written about the Orthodox world.  In the latter camp was Chaim Potok, who I like, and some recent Israeli films and TV, but not much else.  I haven’t seen Shtisel, the Israeli Netflix drama about a Haredi family, but David Aaronovitch wrote a hugely patronising column in the Jewish Chronicle a while back about watching it and discovering that Orthodox Jews actually have feelings like normal human beings; if nothing else, that shows how unrepresented the Orthodox world is in fiction.

As for what I do read and watch… well, looking at my bookshelves, and focusing on things that I would like to write like rather than read (I like golden age detective novels, but doubt I could ever write one), in books there’s Chaim Potok, as I mentioned.  Jorge Luis Borges, Franz Kafka and Philip K. Dick are my favourite novelists.  I like Ursula K. le Guin a lot, and The Third Policeman by Flann O’Brien is a book I’ve been thinking about a lot recently.  Umberto Eco’s The Name of the Rose and Ted Chiang’s short stories are probably also books that I would like to be influenced by.

Looking at TV, it becomes even clearer that I like weird stuff.  Not necessarily straightforward science fiction or fantasy though.  I guess I like the point where realism and science fiction/fantasy blend in to each other.  A lot of Doctor Who falls here, as do the Emma Peel episodes of The AvengersThe Prisoner and Sapphire and Steel.  Jonathan Creek isn’t science fiction or fantasy at all, but has a similar atmosphere – and we’re definitely talking atmosphere more than genre (Doctor Who is definitely about atmosphere and not about genre purity).

The reason I’m writing this is that tonight I started watching Life on Mars, which for a bunch of reasons (most of which boiling down to “I’m autistic and scared of doing new things in case I don’t like them”) I didn’t watch when it originally aired in 2006 and the first episode was very much the kind of thing I’d like to do, not in terms of genre (police procedurals don’t interest me that much), but in terms of jumping between ‘realist’ and ‘surreal/possibly fantasy’ threads or images.  But I don’t think that would really fit into the novel as I’ve started to write it.  But maybe that just means I’ve taken a wrong turning and need to go back and start again.

A side-light on that: E. thinks that the protagonist’s Jewish identity isn’t strong enough, in terms of what he feels rather than does.  This is probably reflective of my own feelings of being stuck in Orthodopraxy (Jewish observance) rather than passionate observance.  It’s hard to write about other people’s feelings when I have a condition that makes it hard for me to understand my own feelings, let alone other people’s.

I will carry on writing for now.  I want to get a first draft finished by the end of the year.  (I think I was originally aiming for the end of the Jewish year in the autumn, but that doesn’t look so likely at the moment.)  I will still aim for that.  Once I have a complete draft, I can think about what works and what doesn’t, maybe ask some other people’s opinions, although I’m wary of doing that.  I’m not even sure if it was a good idea to show E. what I have shown her, but I felt I needed encouragement.

“One wonders how your race has survived having so much ‘fun'”

It was struggle to get up again with depression and exhaustion.  I somehow managed it.  I’m not quite sure how I did it.

***

Physically, Mum seems not to have a cold, which is good, but Dad is reporting a cough and general run down feelings.  I worry that we will be in lock-down by the end of the week.  I’m not worried about myself or Dad, but Mum’s immune system is weakened by the chemotherapy, making her vulnerable.  My shul (synagogue) has cancelled the kiddush (refreshments after the service) and is advising people who are sick to stay away, but my Dad’s shul has not done anything like that.

***

My Doctor Who book has a page on Amazon!  You can’t buy the book yet (it’s listed as “Currently Unavailable”), but you can see where it will be soon, hopefully.  (And, yes, I know, E., Amazon is Evil.  But still!)  Nothing on Goodreads yet, though, even though the book list on Goodreads is linked to Amazon.  But it’s a start.  It cheered my parents up a bit if nothing else (Mum wasn’t well enough to go in to work today).

***

I spent half an hour working on my novel.  It was OK, but I’m still not sure about the quality of what I’m writing and where it’s going.  I tell myself it’s a first draft and try to ignore the voices I’ve written about before who say that a first draft is 99% of the final draft.

***

I watched an episode of Star Trek Voyager that focused on the Vulcan Tuvok.  As with the half-Vulcan Mr Spock from the original series of Star Trek, Tuvok has no emotions.  Amanda J. Harrington (I think) wrote about high functioning autistics often wanting to think of themselves as logical, emotionless Vulcans, but actually being highly emotional, albeit perhaps repressing some of those emotions (can’t seem to find the exact quote; this is the nearest one).  People on the spectrum may aspire to logicality, but rarely get there (I haven’t seen much of The Big Bang Theory, but I would say Sheldon fits here).  It definitely applies to me.  I remember my therapist asking why I feel the need to justify all my actions logically.

I have, over time, slowly learnt that emotions are just as much a part of me, and are as necessary for decision making, as logic.  I have also recognised that I experience emotions more than I realised, particularly depression, anxiety, fear, despair, loneliness and other negative emotions that can feel like my default settings due to over-familiarity rather than transient feelings that are passing through me.

I have also learnt that Judaism, when experienced properly, is a system that integrates logic, emotion and physicality.  It’s sad that contemporary Orthodox Judaism largely focuses on the logical, in the form of Talmudic and halakhic (legal) study and ignores the creative aspect of aggadatta (the non-legal portions of the Talmud and other texts of the Jewish oral tradition).  I find aggadic thinking more rewarding for myself, easier to understand and to teach to others and to apply for life.  My divrei Torah (Torah thoughts) tend to focus on aggadic material.  I also think it is a shame that Orthodox Judaism has such a problem with the physical aspects of life when Tanakh (Hebrew Bible) and the Talmud have a much more accepting approach to the physical.

I feel there is still a lot for me to do to integrate my personality, particularly the religious parts of me.  My emotions still scare and frustrate me, while I am still capable of self-deluding sophistry while convinced that I am being logical.  Similarly, I find the more physical aspects of life to be often a struggle on multiple levels.

There is, as ever, more to say here, but Shabbat approaches and I must go…

This is the Way the World Ends/Not with a Bang, But With a Toilet Paper Shortage

Today was another day where I was too depressed to get up until late.  Then I had to rush to get dressed, daven (pray) and make my lunch before the cleaner came, because my parents wanted her to start in the kitchen, so I needed to be out of there.  After that I went to get my repeat prescription and do some other shopping and errands.  These were only moderately successful, partly due to panic buying, although some of what I had been sent for arguably counted as “panic buying” too.  (I think panic buying is a Prisoner’s Dilemma-type game where it’s in everyone’s interests for no one to panic buy, but once someone starts then everyone has to do it to keep up.)  At the doctor’s surgery to collect my prescription and blood test form, I did query whether the blood test was a fasting one after the confusion last time.  This may not sound like much, but it took a big struggle with social anxiety.  I was told to wait twenty to thirty minutes at Boots for my prescription to be made up.  It actually took about forty-five minutes.  I filled in most of the time with those other chores, but I came home exhausted at five o’clock, having been out for two hours, nearly twice as long as expected.  This put me in a bad, stressed, mood and I was rather terse with everyone even though I was trying to be helpful.

***

I did go to shiur (religious class) despite feeling stressed and rushed.  The pre-shiur conversation was largely on coronovirus as one of the attendees is a doctor.  I found it quite a distressing conversation, given that Mum has reduced immunity and appears to be coming down with a cold, but was too shy to say anything.  I couldn’t find a polite way to say, “My Mum has cancer and this conversation is freaking me out.”

***

One thing that did occur to me is to wonder whether said doctor attendee is a Creationist, as per most Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) Jews, and various people at the shul (synagogue), including former rabbis.  He seems pretty religious and is very into kabbalah (Jewish mysticism).  Yet on some level as a doctor he is dealing with evolution in a practical way, in terms of things we were discussing about immunity, resistance and so on.

In my experience, on the whole, Orthodox Jews do not have the negativity towards science that has, I think, historically been found in some fundamentalist Christian communities.  Although many Haredi Jews do not go to university at all, those who do generally study science subjects because, with the exception of a few topics, sciences are seen as “safer” than humanities subjects that can involve things like “dangerous” philosophical ideas, the relativising of religious experiences in different communities or frank discussions of sexuality.  Developments in medical technology are seen as positive.  Developments in communications technology are seen more ambiguously; some Haredi rabbis have tried banning TV as well non-business internet use and I think a few have tried to ban the internet completely (good luck with that), but others have embraced it as a something that at least has some positives.  Haredi organisations like Chabad and Aish have a strong online presence.  And yet, Haredi communities as a matter of dogma have to dispute evolutionary biology and parts of geology and cosmology.  Rabbi Natan Slifkin (whose books were banned in the Haredi world for advocating a non-literal reading of the opening of Genesis and for saying that the Talmud is not always scientifically accurate) has pointed out that Christian fundamentalists have created a whole pseudoscience, “Creation Science” to justify their ideas (saying that dinosaurs co-existed with humans until they were wiped out in Noah’s flood etc.), whereas Jewish Creationists just get embarrassed if you bring the matter up and try to change the subject.  I find this fascinating, on a sociological level and not always easy to relate to.

***

E. sent me some helpful comments on my latest novel chapter.  It’s hard to stay upbeat about it, though, as I doubt myself a lot.  I can see that bits are good, but other bits… not so good at all.  This article made me feel that just as I can’t run very well, certainly not enough to run a marathon, I’m not going to get a novel published either, which probably wasn’t what the article writer intended.  When I saw the post title, I was hoping more for some practical tips on writing (or running).

E. and I Skyped again, for an hour.  We both think we should Skype more often.  We have been doing it about once a week, and we think it should be two or three times a week.  It’s just a question of finding time given the time difference and different commitments we have.

***

I can see that I did quite a bit today, but I get frustrated that days that do not actually involve very much on paper can just completely knock me for six, whether as a result of depression, social anxiety or autism.  The boundaries between those things (depression, social anxiety and autism) are not always clear, at least in practice, and they do interact with each other.  Despite knowing that I get affected like this, I feel bad that I only managed a few hours of productive activity today and that I didn’t manage any novel-writing or job applications, although it is questionable whether there are even any jobs suitable for me out there at the moment.

Achievements

I felt totally exhausted on waking today, which probably isn’t surprising after the last couple of days.  It was a real struggle to get up, eat and get dressed.  I did manage it eventually.

In terms of achievements today, I worked on this week’s devar Torah (Torah thought) for nearly an hour, although I still have a bit to do tomorrow.  I spent thirty-five minutes working on my novel.  I also went for a run.  I am not sure how well I ran as I didn’t set my iPod to record it properly, which is frustrating as I would like to know.  I seemed to get out of breath and drop into a walk quite a bit early on, but then get back into running and run for longer periods, although in no recent runs have I been running as well as I was last summer, when I was hardly lapsing into a walk at all.  I’m not sure what’s behind that, weather, depression or something else.

I was very tired in the evening after my run and for a while I had some strong negative thoughts (self-critical and religious OCD), unsurprisingly as I had all four HALT warnings going (Hungry, Anxious, Lonely and Tired, although Anxious was as much an effect as a cause).  I guess I’ve been lonely all day without realising it.  I’ve been checking my blog readers a lot, although I don’t subscribe to many so there have been few updates.  I think this checking tends to be from loneliness (wanting to connect with people) as much as from boredom and procrastination.  There probably is an element of habit in it too.

I did feel a lot better after dinner, although still tired.  I spent another fifteen minutes on my novel. I also emailed the shul (synagogue) rabbi to ask if we can meet.  He suggested Sunday morning.  I feel slightly awkward about it, as I don’t have much to actually ask him, aside from asking if he knows any frum (religious Orthodox Jewish) therapists, it’s more to let him know a bit about my situation in case the OCD is bad before or during Pesach (Passover) or if something happens with Mum.  Still, rabbis are supposed to give pastoral care, and I’m paying a lot for my shul fees, considering I’m unemployed, so I might as well get my money’s worth.  (Whether I should ask for reduced fees is a whole other issue.  I probably should, but I’m ashamed to ask.)

Speaking of which, I’m not sure whether I absolutely need a frum therapist or simply one who has had frum patients and/or some awareness of Judaism.  The latter might be easier to find.  It probably would make some aspects of treatment easier, but then again it might make others harder.

***

A side light on Purim: I mentioned I stayed for dinner after Megillah reading at shul (synagogue) on Monday evening.  The meal was not gender-segregated and I sat with the person I sit with in shul, plus his wife and adult daughter.  I find the extremes of gender segregation in the Orthodox world off-putting at times (not always), but what I really find difficult in my shul is the confusion, in that there is usually gender segregation, but not always, and I can’t work out what the rule is that governs it, if there is one.  It’s not like some shuls where mixed seating would never, under any circumstances, happen, but it only happens occasionally and I can’t work out why.  I guess as someone on the autistic spectrum I like clear rules, especially for nebulous social interactions, and the absence of one is confusing.

Purim, Dried Fruit, and Upholding the Torah by Breaking It

I was shattered after shul (synagogue) last night and went to bed early (for me), before midnight.  And then I couldn’t sleep.  I tried eating porridge (the only way I’ll consume warm milk), I tried watching Doctor Who (in case I hadn’t relaxed properly after serious “peopling”).  I think I eventually fell asleep about 3am.  And then I had to get up at 6.30am for shul again.  I think I spent most of the day going on caffeine.

A while back I heard the acronym HALT: don’t do anything if you’re Hungry, Angry, Lonely or Tired.  I heard this regarding depression, but replace Angry with Anxious, and this is a good descriptor of the conditions that trigger my OCD.  I think I hit all four in shul listening to the Megillah (Book of Esther) today.  I was hungry as I was good and didn’t eat beforehand (as per halakhah, Jewish law); Anxious because of the fear I wouldn’t hear all the words of the Megillah; Lonely-ish (OK, I was worried people were judging me, which isn’t quite loneliness, but is not fitting in); and Tired (actually not so tired.  The coffee must have been strong).  From that point of view, it was probably good that I didn’t repeat any words I was worried I might have missed.  There isn’t so much noise in early morning readings as people have already done it last night and some are going to work, but there were a lot of coughs.  I was worried about a couple of words, but forced myself not to repeat because I was not sure that I missed a word and was worried that repeating words would be a downward spiral so I should only do it if I was sure I missed a word.

I tried my best, and that will have to be enough.  It feels somehow wrong to say this.  “Sometimes the Torah is upheld by breaking it” is a Talmudic dictum that I’ve seen applied to religious OCD.  Sometimes you have to risk making a mistake to get out of the OCD downward spiral.  Once I got home and ate breakfast I was more confident that I had heard the Megillah correctly.  It occurs to me that Purim Megillah readings will probably always be difficult for me and it’s just about pushing through without giving in to the OCD.

People don’t really dress up in costumes for morning Megillah readings, except for young children.  I wore my pinstripe suit and converse trainers and secretly went as the David Tennant incarnation of the Doctor, after more overtly doing the Tom Baker version last night.

I went to shul for Mincha (Afternoon Prayers) even though I was exhausted and hungry and really wanted to eat and vegetate in front of the TV, not walk for twenty minutes to shul, daven (pray) and then walk back again.  But I did it, although I didn’t feel as good about it as perhaps I should have felt.  When I got home, exhausted, I had my seudah (Purim meal), which is another Purim mitzvah (commandment).  It was OK.  I had salt beef, which I hadn’t had for a while.  My parents were out, so I was alone.  I wished it could be more, but I don’t know how it could have been, realistically, at least not without making a lot of work for myself cooking a lot of food or trying to find an invitation which would probably have been with people I didn’t feel comfortable with.  It’s a Purim mitzvah to get drunk, or to drink more than usual, but I didn’t do that because I worry what would happen if I got drunk.

I was given some mishloach manot (gifts of food, another Purim mitzvah), from my parents, but also from one of the people I sit with in shul, which was unexpected and very nice, particularly a big box of dried fruits.

By the time I finished seudah I was exhausted again.  I dozed for an hour and felt a lot better.  The shul WhatsApp group can usually only be posted to by the rabbi and committee, but it’s now a tradition that on Purim it’s open to anyone in the community to post banter and jokes.  There were a slew of coronavirus jokes (and others) in the afternoon, but then people started posting photos of their seudahs and I felt the need to bail in the interests of not suffering jealousy and envy (currently there was a morbidly serious conversation about coronavirus mortality compared with flu and car crashes).

It wasn’t a bad Purim overall.  There was some anxiety, but depression was mostly kept at bay and autistic symptoms were about as good as they could be for a festival that it is about as autism unfriendly as they come.  I think it seemed a let down because I’ve had a couple of good Purims in recent years and last year’s was particularly good.  I think I seem to be alternating good and not so good ones in different years.  None were as bad as the one about four years ago when I ended up in a complete state with religious OCD, so there is progress.

Post-Purim I ate dinner with Mum and Dad and decided I felt up to working on my novel.  I did that for about fifty minutes (650 words and flowing well, very good).  I Skyped E. after that for a while, but had to stop as it was getting late.  And now I should be thinking about bed.

Shammai’s Tefillin and Tom Baker’s Scarf

I had a weird dream last night.  The background to it is a conversation I had with E. about my Jewish identity.  E. is worried that I sacrifice a lot for Jewish law without getting much in return in terms of meaning or joy.   I agreed that I should do something about this.  What I will do is probably going to take a lot of time here over the coming weeks and months.

Last night I had a dream.  A little old man with a long rabbinical beard, who was some kind of father-figure was trying to get me to put on different tefillin, the leather boxes containing parchments with Bible verses on them that Orthodox Jewish men wear during weekday morning prayer services.  In reality, there are two types; most people wear “Rashi tefillin” but some people also wear “Rabbeinu Tam tefillin” named after the eleventh century sage Rashi and his grandson Rabbeinu Tam, who interpreted the commandment differently and put the verses in different orders.  In my dream, this rabbinic debate was projected backwards a thousand years to Hillel and Shammai, the Jewish leaders in the first century BCE.  Based on their legal rulings and stories about them, Hillel has a reputation for being lenient and kind, while Shammai is seen as strict and critical.  I have long felt Shammai to have an unfairly bad reputation (I’m still talking in real life) and in the dream I was pleased that the old man was trying to get me to wear Shammai tefillin.  There was a deep identification with Shammai as someone who had an approach that resonated with me personally and that set me apart from other people with a more liberal (if that’s the right word) approach.

As time went on, though, it stopped being so clear-cut.  I can’t remember the details, but other people (I think my mother and others) tried to get me to stop wearing the Shammai tefillin.  I myself began to have doubts about whether I really connected with him any more and if that was the appropriate outlook for me to have.  I can’t remember how the dream ended, but it does seem to be a sign from my unconscious that I’ve identified with the stricter aspects of my religion and for a while took a degree of pride in the dedication that needed, but it’s not working out well for me any more and I need to find something more positive to identify with.

***

I felt at a loose end today.  I just wanted to get on with Purim, but I had to wait.  I didn’t want to waste the day, but I didn’t want to do a lot and go into Purim drained and in a bad mood.  I did a little Torah study and spent an hour working on my novel.  I felt blocked, but I managed to write about 600 words.  At the moment I’m just trying to press on as quickly as possible, to get something, anything, down on paper so I don’t lose momentum or lose confidence in my ability to write.  I realise I’m going to have to do a lot of redrafting, so I just want to write something to get started.  I feel like the book I’m writing might need some significant changes, but I’m not sure what or how to do it and I’m hoping having a finished draft will help.  I feel like I don’t have such a clear model of the book in my head any more.  I ordered the first series of Life on Mars (which I have never seen, perhaps surprisingly) to look at  how it shifts to surreal interludes in an otherwise realistic story, which I hope will help with inspiration for my story and what I want to do.

I would have liked to have done more today, but by late afternoon some Purim anxiety and depression was setting in and, as I said, I was worried about overstretching myself and going in to Purim more anxious and depressed than I needed to be.

***

Shul was reasonably good in the end.  To understand the next bit, you have to understand that Jews read the Megillah (The Book of Esther) twice (in Hebrew) on Purim, evening and morning, and that, from an Orthodox perspective, one must hear every word on both occasions (the only time we have such a strict rule about a recitation).  Paradoxically, we also encourage children (and adults) to make noise at the name of the villain Haman, who wanted to wipe out the Jews.  So you have a situation where you have to be very quiet or very noisy and shift easily between the two.  When my OCD was at its worst I used to worry that I had missed words or, worse, that the reader had made a mistake and only I had noticed.  The noise is not always easy with autism either and the fact that it’s considered a child-friendly festival and there are lots of kids going in and out.

I carried a lot of anxiety to today’s reading because of that, but I was mostly OK.  I think I heard every word and I told myself if I didn’t, I had done all I could reasonably do.  My second line of  defence, if I thought I had messed up and needed to go to hear it again somewhere else, would have been to tell myself that going to a later reading would just be giving in to the OCD and I would probably come out doubtful again, but I didn’t go that far.  I did wonder if the reader had pronounced a word wrong, but I told myself that the rabbi and gabbaim on the bimah have the job of checking, not me, and they could hear better as they were next to him.

There seemed to be more noise than in recent years, but I coped OK.  There was a really noisy, stroppy kid in front of me, but his father took him out early on, which I was glad for; not all parents would have been so considerate.   I dressed up in my Tom Baker/Doctor Who scarf again, with my sonic screwdriver but no one got (or admitted to getting) the reference.  There were some pop cultural costumes, mostly Harry Potter and Star Wars.

After the service, there was a lot of milling around.  There was supposed to be food and then a “bubble show” for the children (it basically looked like people blowing really big soap bubbles), but it took ages to reorganise the room for food.  I wanted to help, but in these situations I tend to mill about helplessly and get in the way unless someone gives me something very specific to do, which I think is another classic autism trait, but I still feel bad about it.  I ate two jacket potatoes, but am still hungry.  There were no hamantaschen, the pastries traditionally eaten on Purim.  I will have some more dinner in a minute, and definitely some hamantaschen.

***

Mum had another scan today.  It looks like the nodule they were worried about is on the known tumour itself, which we gathered was positive, as these things go.  She had some bleeding from the PICC line, the tube inserted in her arm for the chemotherapy, which apparently is normal.  As she went to the hospital to ask about that today, she doesn’t need to go back tomorrow to get the PICC line cleaned as arranged.

***

I saw an interesting devar Torah (Torah thought) from Rabbi Lord Sacks about the Jewish festival of PurimPurim is the supreme Jewish festival of joy.  The Purim story, as recorded in the Book of Esther, is about the Vizier of the Persian Empire wanting to wipe out the Jews, but his plans were thwarted through the intervention of Queen Esther and Mordechai.  As Rabbi Sacks says, this should be a festival of relief at best, not joy, so why do we celebrate so ecstatically?  His answer is as follows:

There are two kinds of joy. There’s expressive joy, the joy you experience and communicate because that’s how you feel. But there’s also therapeutic joy, the joy you will yourself to feel in order to protect yourself against negative emotions. And when we rejoice on Purim, on this festival which is actually the festival about antisemitism, we are saying something very important. “We will not be intimidated. We will not be traumatised. We will not be defined by our enemies. We will live with the threats and even laugh at them because what we can laugh at, we cannot be held captive by.” And that therefore is really what the joy of Purim is about. It’s about surviving, and beyond that, thriving, even as we walk through the valley of the shadow of death. It’s a way of saying, “I will eat and I will drink and I will celebrate and I will not let dark clouds enter my mind or my heart.”

This resonated a lot today.  We are trying not to be intimated by Mum’s cancer and to carry on as normal as best we can.  Likewise, I try to function with all my issues on the most difficult Jewish festival (OK, joint most difficult with Simchat Torah, but I don’t really need to stay for all of that).  I wonder if I can experience that joy even in the midst of depression.  There is, I suppose, something almost Nietzschean about it, about willing yourself to experience joy in the face of death (“That which does not kill me only makes me stronger”).

***

I need to be up early for the second Megillah reading tomorrow, but I’m probably going to watch some TV before bed as I need to unwind.  I still feel quite tense.  I feel like watching Doctor Who, but I’m procrastinating over which story to watch.  I feel like something with Tom Baker after just being dressed as him.  I’m thinking The Robots of Death, which I find a bit over-rated by fans, but has the kind of detailed science fictional world-building that the BBC used to do well in the seventies, on Doctor Who and Blake’s 7, but doesn’t seem to be able to do any more, being fixated on the “emotional journeys” of the characters instead.

Sales

I sold my first two copies of my Doctor Who book today!  To fan friends.  Very exciting.  It’s weird to think people are willing to pay good money to read my ideas.  I’m planning to send a review copy to Doctor Who Magazine when the book is available through mainstream bookshops (at the moment it’s only available through Lulu.com) in the hope they will review it, although there’s so much official merchandise out there that I doubt they’ll promote unofficial stuff.  There is, of course, the fear that no one will like it…

I sent out an email to some family and friends promoting the book too.  I feel a bit awkward that my sister pointed out a typo that I’d missed on the back cover yesterday, but I don’t think it’s worth going to the expense of changing it now, particularly as it probably won’t sell in actual shops, only online.

I spoke to my rabbi mentor for twenty minutes or so.  We spoke a bit about my mood going up and down a lot at the moment and he said that would be normal with my Mum being ill even without the additional stresses I have from depression, unemployment, Jewish festivals etc.  I did say that if I was going to be unemployed, it’s good that it’s now, when I can at least use that time to help look after Mum, do cooking and prepare for Pesach (Passover).  We spoke a bit about coming to terms with my parents’ mortality.  On some level it seems wrong to say that, as Mum’s prognosis is good, but it is the first time either of my parents have had such a serious illness.  I do feel I’m grieving, in a strange way, because rather than ruminating obsessively about Mum’s illness (which is how I usually experience anxiety), I go about my usual business and then suddenly I remember that Mum is ill and that one day she won’t be here and feel depressed, which in my experience is more like grief, when I find I suddenly remember someone who died.  I’m not quite sure what I’m grieving, though.  I suppose it could be the childlike sense of feeling I could trust my parents to be there for me forever.

I went for a run for the first time in three weeks.  The delay was because of a combination of poor weather; family, and other, events; and low mood.  Hopefully now the days are getting longer it will be easier to go out in the daytime even on days when I need to do other things too.  My pace was not great, but I was glad to get out.  I did feel quite exhausted and somewhat shaky on returning and ended up eating fruit and then a kosher pot noodle (as it was too early for dinner), so probably put back on whatever weight I had lost.  Still, it felt good to get out and burn off some energy through exercise rather than in anxiety and rumination.

I had a exercise migraine in the evening, which made my late Skype call with E. difficult.  We ended up having a fairly serious conversation, which wasn’t ideal, but we did manage to navigate it well.  We do have good communication, which is probably essential when we are separated geographically and are coming from different places religiously (although our other values are similar).

I did manage over an hour of Torah study after my run, but before the migraine got bad.  I was slightly surprised at my stamina.

I still have a migraine, so this is going to be a truncated post.  I am probably going to watch TV (not sure what, probably The Avengers; something light) until I go to bed as I don’t feel well enough to do anything else, but don’t feel sleepy.  I suppose it will distract me from being anxious about Purim, which starts tomorrow evening and about which I am somewhat apprehensive, primarily for the social aspect, but also somewhat for fears that my religious OCD will get out of control.

Pogo Stick

Today was another up and down day.  I coped with shul (synagogue) last night.  I enjoyed dinner with Mum and Dad.  I spent quite a bit of time on Torah study afterwards, including trying to prep for today’s Talmud shiur (class) after dinner at 10pm when my brain was just not working.  When I got to bed, I couldn’t sleep, so I stayed up until 3am reading Doctor Who Magazine (some pretty good articles this month.  I just wish I had enjoyed the last series as much as the people writing in to the letters page appeared to do).

I woke up several times across the morning, but felt too depressed to get up and go to shul, or even just to get up.

I dozed after lunch again and when I woke up I again felt too depressed to want to go to shul Mincha (Afternoon Service), but forced myself to go anyway.  I probably got there late semi-deliberately to avoid being asked to lead the service.  I actually quite enjoyed Talmud shiur, although I was inwardly relieved when the rabbi admitted that even he had struggled with the sugya (discussion) in question.  It was so opaque and discursive that I’m not even going to try to summarise it here.  Talmud study is definitely better when I prep a day or so beforehand and review it a day or so afterwards, although that obviously makes a bigger time investment per page.

My sister and brother-in-law came over after Shabbat (Sabbath), mostly to see Mum post-chemo.  As my sister uses the Tube every weekday, she was wary of infecting Mum with something – not necessarily coronovirus, but some kind of virus that she might be incubating.  We had a good time, although I slipped away for a bit after a while.

Speaking of which, the coronavirus news coverage reminds me of the Tomato Flu episode of Broken News, particularly the bit where Pip Torrens warns of symptoms including “hot or cold sweats; hot or cold aches; sweaty acheyness; runny or sweaty or achey nose; tiredness; a sense of slight confusion; blinking; passing water; and, of course in extreme cases, death.”

I saw this comment in the Jewish Chronicle comparing the Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu with the first Prime Minister, David Ben-Gurion: While the Netanyahus have racked up huge bills at the expense of the Israeli taxpayer, Ben-Gurion’s greatest financial vice was his propensity to buy too many…books.”  I felt that I have something in common with him.  A few years ago I actually went to his apartment in Tel Aviv, which is a museum now, preserved as he had it, and there are books everywhere, on all kinds of topics: lots on Judaism and Jewish history, but also a lot on the sciences too, I think even on relatively obscure subjects like geology, and to my surprise a copy of The Zohar, the primary book of Jewish mysticism (Ben-Gurion was an atheist and secularist, albeit like many early Zionists he was a keen amateur Bible scholar).

Abandonment Mini-Post

Watching Star Trek Voyager last night helped me unwind a bit, but my negative self-criticism came back minutes after it finished.  I went to bed and managed to fall asleep (I was worried I would stay awake ruminating), but could not get up at 11.00am as I had hoped again and just lay in bed feeling depressed until my Mum came in at 12.00pm, which gave me a burst of adrenaline to get up; even then, it actually took my Dad coming in ten minutes later to actually get me up and I didn’t feel anything like OK until after I had eaten and had coffee.

I’m feeling really depressed today.  It’s hard to do anything – I have no energy or motivation.  Doing Shabbat (Sabbath) preparation chores, I kept having to stop to rest e.g. after I’d hoovered half my room I had to stop before hoovering the other half. I don’t know why I feel like this, whether it’s Mum (see below for the latest update) or not being invited to a seudah (festive meal) for Purim (Jewish festival Monday night and Tuesday) or just general end-of-the-week tiredness.  I keep thinking about being alone: worrying that no one will read my blog (there are only about ten people left) or my books…  I guess, realistically, all of those symptoms could just as plausibly stem from being ignored by my shul friends for Purim as from worrying that my Mum will (God forbid) die; it’s abandonment issues either way and I’ve always been lousy at dealing with that.  At least E. says she won’t leave me, and the people still reading my blog seem to be persistent, and comment, which I prefer to likes or hits (I know my blog is pretty repetitive, and I say it’s really just for myself, but I would find it hard to write if literally no one was reading).

***

My Mum had some more problems with the NHS about the scan she should have done before she started chemo.  I think she got it sorted in the end, but it is stressful for her.

Ups, Downs, Social Anxiety and Perfectionism

Mum’s first chemo session went well, aside from being kept waiting for an hour.  Unfortunately, Dad’s car was not functioning well on the way home and he thinks someone has stolen the catalytic converter (there is apparently a black market for them), which is both inconvenient and costly, especially as Mum’s car also needs repair work.  It never rains, but it pours (which is what is happening outside today too).

The other issue is that Mum got a letter today saying she has another nodule (I’m not quite sure what to call it) and needs a further scan, which she was told she should have before chemo, although as the letter only arrived today, this was not very helpful.  Another typical NHS screw-up.

***

I tried to get up by 11.00am today, which doesn’t sound very impressive, but I still couldn’t make it.  I did the thing of dreaming I had got up instead, which is always doubly frustrating when you really have to get up.  When I did get up at 11.45am, I felt incredibly drained and unable to do anything other than eat breakfast and check emails and blogs (which I was also trying not to do before getting dressed – failed again).  I’m trying not to beat myself up about all of this, because it doesn’t really help, but part of me feels that if I don’t beat myself up about stuff, I won’t change.  Not that beating myself up has a great track record of inspiring change.

I used my SAD light box which I haven’t used for a few days.  It’s hard to tell if it helped.

One good thing that happened to today was the delivery of a parcel addressed to me.  I was puzzled by what it could be, but on opening was “surprised and delighted” to see it was my non-fiction Doctor Who book, arriving rather earlier than I expected.  It is pleasingly hefty.  I feel vaguely annoyed that I decided to credit it to [my first initials] [my surname] rather than [my first name] [my surname], which would be more satisfying to see on the cover, but I wanted to distinguish it from the fiction I hope to publish one day and the initials does make it seem slightly more serious for a non-fiction work somehow.

I gave my Doctor Who blog url on the blurb on the back, but that seems to be hard to out of commission (see below).  I’m not entirely happy with the cover either, but I’m no graphic designer.  I am vaguely worried that my bibliographic strategy (providing a comprehensive bibliography at the end, but only citing references in text for substantial use or direct quotation to balance between the popular and academic modes) was not good enough, but I think/hope that’s just anxiety (although part of me is worried about being sued for plagiarism).  I spotted a reference that got left off the bibliography, but that was an example I cited in the text at least; I’ve also spotted an incorrect italicisation, but that’s probably the price I pay for self-publishing and doing my own proof-reading.  This is probably self-blame trying to sabotage a good event again.

There is a temptation to revise and reprint with self-published books, but there’s a very real price on that in terms of having to pay for proof copies, not to mention the fact that I deliberately rushed the final stages through to get it finished around the time the latest series of Doctor Who was finishing.  As a result, I approved it for distribution, so it should be available through bookshops and websites in six to eight weeks, if chosen (Lulu.com seem a bit vague on how this works exactly), although I would prefer sales through Lulu.com, as I get a higher proportion of the price.

I went for a walk in the pouring rain to get some stuff I needed for Purim (upcoming Jewish festival on Monday night and Tuesday) and came back with a slight headache and feeling generally run down, although with depression I feel like that most days.  We’re all super-paranoid about colds and flu at the moment, not because of coronavirus, but because of Mum’s weakened immune system.  I hope I won’t need to self-isolate (although if I do have to, then I will agree with the man in this cartoon).

***
As for my struggles with my Doctor Who blog yesterday, it seems that WordPress are another high tech company that doesn’t do customer support, instead outsourcing to a free (for them) user discussion forum.  I tried to post a comment there to ask how I re-access my blog, only to be told that I was not allowed to post what I had written.  I do not know why I was not allowed or how to change it to something I am allowed to post.  I had been quite impressed with WordPress compared with other blog platforms I’ve used over the years (Blogger, Livejournal), but this is pretty rubbish behaviour.

***

I went to shul (synagogue) and then on to shiur (religious class) and ate a load of chocolate cranberries.  I didn’t eat biscuits, but that was mainly because they were down the other end of the table and I was too socially anxious to ask anyone to pass them down.

I wasn’t sure what to make of the shiur, which was not a good fit for my worldview, being very kabbalistic (mystical) and Haredi (ultra-Orthodox, although ‘insular’ is more the word here).  It ratcheted my pre-Purim nerves up a bit – not the religious OCD I’m worried about, more the sense that I can’t connect emotionally with Purim and grow from it, as we are supposed to connect with and grow from it.  This is the same for me with pretty much every single other Jewish festival and Jewish ritual which I do on some level by rote, but it feels worse here, perhaps because Purim is a day most people connect to, or think they have connected to (religiously-sanctioned drunkenness perhaps confuses the matter).  Sometimes I think it’s lucky that I believe so strongly and have a certain amount of cognitive engagement with Judaism, as I’m clearly not practising Judaism because of any meaning or joy I get directly from mitzvot.  Actually, that’s not entirely true, as I get something from Shabbat, difficult though it is to define what, and I do occasionally do some Jewish study that really appeals, but again, it’s mostly a cognitive process for me, I don’t know how to move things to the emotional and practical spheres.  I’m not sure how I’m supposed to encourage E. to think that what I do is worth doing when I struggle to explain even why I do it.

It also looks like I’m not being invited out for the Purim seudah (Purim festive meal) as I was last year.  Perhaps it’s for the best that I keep Mum and Dad company this year, if they’re around (I vaguely recall that they got invited out and accepted depending on chemo side-effects).  It wouldn’t feel bad had I not been invited out for the first time last year and enjoyed myself.  In the frum (religious Orthodox Jewish) community it’s generally considered OK to invite yourself to other people’s meals and events unless you know good reasons not to, but I don’t have the courage.  The one time I tried to invite myself to someone else’s meal, it ended badly and the social anxiety is too strong to try it again.  Another mismatch between my values and those of the wider community.  Purim is supposed to be such a day of joy and ahavat Yisrael (love of other Jews) that’s it a struggle to be alone.

Call for (Technical) Help

I mentioned in my last post about being about to post to my Doctor Who blog.  Well, it seems I can’t.  It was a paid account, but because I’m unemployed, I let the annual fee lapse.  I assumed that people would simply start to see adverts and maybe I would have to change the url at some point, but in fact I can’t log in to the site and WordPress is claiming not to know the email address I’m 99% sure I associated with it (different to the one associated with this site, because that was the only way I could see that WordPress would separate this anonymous site from the Doctor Who one under my real name).

If anyone knows how I go about reactivating that site (which I’ve already mentioned in my new Doctor Who book) I would be grateful to know, otherwise I’ll have to email tomorrow.

Second Gear

I didn’t feel overtly so depressed or anxious today, but I felt emotionally run down.  It was not always easy to concentrate or get motivated to do anything.  I did manage to do some stuff (see below), but it was an uphill struggle.  I wasn’t necessarily consciously thinking about Mum’s cancer or my employment and benefits issues or my relationship with E., but I think they were probably there on an unconscious or semi-conscious way.  This is especially the case given that Mum starts chemo tomorrow, given that I filled in a form about my benefits situation and why I don’t have a medical certificate yet and given that I listened to a podcast about how people with different religious levels can be in a relationship together.

***

I did do a few things.  I cleared out some old papers in my top desk drawer.  I tend to be tidy, but also to stay tidy by shoving stuff in cupboards or drawers until they get really messy.  I was looking for papers about my benefits situation, but found some other important papers I had more or less forgotten about, including the form to claim money I paid into a pension fund when I was in regular work in 2017-18.  I had held off from taking the money in the hope that I would be in regular employment again soon and could pay the money directly into a new pension fund, but now it’s looking more like I should take the cash while I can and stick it in bank somewhere, not that interest rates are good for savers right now.  I also found some papers and leaflets about therapy from a much earlier therapy-hunting period that I thought I had somewhere, but wasn’t sure where.  These might be useful when I have the headspace to deal with that.

***

I still have abdominal pain.  I think it’s just anxiety, but I should probably talk to the doctor about it when I speak to him about my medical certificate.

***

I tried to work on my novel for an hour or so.  I felt very blocked until I started to write an unplanned 500 word semi-surreal, semi-religious fantasy dream sequence, which flowed straight out.  I had planned a fantasy interlude for when my narrator’s mental illness is at its height in a later chapter, but it seems to have “leaked out.”  I worry that my book is too straight-laced for me to write well, given that I tend not to be so interested in very straight realistic fiction, but I fear that a more magic realist perspective won’t sell and will jar in a novel about mental illness, autism and domestic abuse.

***

I went to shul (synagogue) for a mini-shiur (religious class) and Ma’ariv (Evening Prayers).  I want to get back to going to shul a couple of times during the week.  On my walk to and from shul, I listened to another Intimate Judaism podcast, this time on marriages where one spouse becomes more or less religious than the other.  It was talking more about marriages where both partners started more or less on the same level religiously and then one changes and becomes more or less religious, whereas E. and I have gone into our relationship knowing that we do and believe different things and will probably continue to do so indefinitely.  It was scary on one level, because there is obviously a lot of scope for argument and bitterness, but it was reassuring inasmuch as the rabbi and relationship therapist on the podcast felt that a couple who accept that the other person is different and where the communication is good should be able to navigate a lot of such issues, and E. and I do have very good communication and acceptance of our differences.

***

Just in case we didn’t have enough stress, the legal dispute my Dad is involved in has reached the courts.  Dad was in an accident a few years ago where his car and a motorbike collided at a turning (I blame myself a bit, as he had only come out to give me a lift home from the station).  It was hard to tell who was responsible, but no one seemed to be hurt and the damage to the car and bike was relatively minor.  We phoned for an ambulance for the motorcyclist, but she insisted she was fine and cancelled it.

Some time later, she launched a claim for damages, claiming she’s had health problems ever since.  It’s not impossible, but it did feel a bit like some ambulance-chasing lawyers are helping her make a quick buck out of ailments that may or may not be a consequence of an accident that may or may not be our fault.  Well, not a quick buck as the case has rumbled on for years, but some money at any rate.

The case reaches court next Thursday.  The lawyers are offering to settle out of court.  Mum wants to fight it, but Dad isn’t sure.  I’m inclined to agree with Dad; Dad’s insurance premiums have already gone up, so why waste the time and energy fighting this while Mum is very ill and the rest of us are feeling stressed and suffering minor ailments when the insurance company can take the hit instead?  This is the type of court case that only benefits the lawyers.

It reminds me of something W. S. Gilbert said, about if someone stops you in the street and demands your watch, punch him on the nose and walk on (I fear this would lead to assault charges nowadays…), but if someone threatens to take you to court to get your watch, just hand it over and consider that you’ve got off lightly.

***

I’m about to post on my Doctor Who blog for the first time in a very long time.  It is good to get it going again.  I’d like to post there more often, but I’m glad not to be writing a review of each story on transmission, as that becomes a bit of a conveyor belt of instant emotion (often shock and upset, at any rate if you’re a fan like me who tends towards the possessive of things he loves and pessimistic about change) that considered thought would challenge.  I don’t know if I’ll go through with the plan I had years ago of posting selected old blog posts and reviews of mine there, a plan that got disrupted when I started moving more urgently to completing my Doctor Who book and then to start work on my novel.

Caught in the Tentacles

I feel caught in the tentacles of bureaucracy.  I requested an updated medical certificate for my benefits.  The surgery told me to book a telephone appointment with a doctor.  I looked online; they have none available.  If I booked on the automatic booking system on the phone, I wouldn’t be able to choose which doctor I got (I would like to speak to the one who wrote the original medical certificate) so I phoned, got through the long list of automated options, and managed to speak to a receptionist.  My doctor isn’t available until the 17th, which is quite long to keep the Department of Work and Pensions waiting, but I feel at the moment it is better to stick with the doctor who knows how serious my symptoms are if I want to get a sympathetic hearing from the DWP.

I did struggle with social anxiety to make that appointment, so I should probably feel glad about that.  I do feel that I’m just getting tied up in other people’s bureaucratic knots when I had to finish my job application, cook dinner and work on my devar Torah for the week, as well as wanting to get back into working on my novel and exercising (I haven’t been for a run for ages).  Now I’ll probably need to write an interim covering letter to the DWP to explain why the medical certificate is being delayed…

I finished and sent another job application, but I feel like I’m just not hitting the mark with these things any more, if I ever was.  The frustrating thing is that I can’t work out why I’m missing the target.

I cooked dinner, which took ages.  Vegetable curry is not the most technically difficult recipe I know, but cauliflower takes ages to check for insects as per Orthodox Jewish practice, plus the curry itself takes a while to cook.  I successfully fought a couple of religious OCD thoughts.  I think I don’t note and congratulate myself for fighting this enough; I say when I struggle with the OCD, but fail to note that this is a relatively rare occurrence now.  One of the things they teach you in CBT for OCD is that you will continue to have OCD thoughts in recovery, because everyone has OCD thoughts.  The difference is whether you give in to the thoughts and obsess about them or ignore them.

I listened to a couple of installments of the Intimate Judaism podcast while cooking.  It’s basically an Orthodox rabbi and an sex therapist talking about sexuality and intimacy issues in the frum (religious Orthodox Jewish) community, in a sensitive and insightful way, not a cringey one.  I could have done with something like this when I was in my teens or twenties.  Still, at least it’s here now I’m navigating having a girlfriend again.

I have stomach cramps and sensitivity around my abdomen again.  This has happened intermittently for a couple of months now.  At first I thought it was constipation (which I’ve struggled with since I was put on clomipramine), but lately I’ve been wondering if it’s a stress reaction, as it doesn’t seem to correlate obviously with anything else (although I haven’t been keeping records, so this is just what it seems to me).  It started a bit before Mum was diagnosed with cancer, I think, but I had been feeling stressed about unemployment for some time before Mum was diagnosed.  And of course my relationship with E. moved back to being a romantic relationship rather than a platonic one around the same time.  That was a very positive change that I’m very glad happened, but I find any change difficult (an autistic trait) and this one entails confronting the difficulties of a long-distance relationship so it would not be surprising if it manifested psychosomatically alongside the other stressors.

I did some Torah study and devar Torah (Torah thought) preparation at the same time by listening to an online shiur (class) by a rabbi whose blog I used to read (he rarely posts there now, sadly, as his posts were good), which was interesting.  The shiur was on the parallels between the stories of Yosef (Joseph), Daniel and Esther.

I did some chores, but I didn’t get any further with my novel.  I just ran out of time and energy, which is frustrating.

***
I watched episode one of the original series Doctor Who story The Awakening yesterday.  It is a reminder that slightly incoherent Doctor Who is not a new phenomenon.  Still, I find it easier to connect to something like this than to some recent episodes.  I’m not sure how much is nostalgia and how much something else.

The Return of the Indefatigable

Bureaucracy! is never defeated, merely subdued temporarily.  Today I got a letter from the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) saying that my medical certificate has expired and I need a new one.  If I want to keep receiving benefits (which I have not received at all yet) I am to send them the new one by 28 February i.e. three days before this letter arrived.  I am not entirely sure what I am supposed to do, given that the medical certificate I had before was apparently not a proper medical certificate.  I wish they didn’t have to make things so difficult for people who are already struggling with life.  This is one reason why I’ve become so sceptical of people who think that the state can and should take on so responsibility for so many aspects of life, because I don’t think it’s managing with what it’s got already.

***

Mum had a tube put in her arm today under local anaesthetic to prepare for her chemo later in the week.  Perhaps because of this, I suddenly felt really depressed this afternoon.  I think it’s a mixture of worrying about her and worrying about myself (whether I’ll ever get another job and what will become of me and E.).  My Dad has had a backache for two weeks now.  It’s not dangerous, but it’s left him in a lot of pain.  Both my parents being ill at the same time has just reinforced the “facing my parents’ mortality” thoughts and everything that entails, in terms of worrying about them dying and worrying about how I would cope without them (emotionally and materially, given that I can’t currently support myself).  I felt bad that Mum sorted out dinner as I was doing a job application, which had only taken so long because of depressive oversleeping and procrastination.  Then we heard that the son of my parents’ friends (who is younger than me), who has been fighting leukemia for years and years, is not doing well in his current battle, which just made me feel more depressed and morbid.

***

I spent about an hour and a half on the job application (including procrastination time, sadly).  I filled in all the basic “name, address, education, previous jobs” stuff, but I still need to write the actual “why I would be good at this job” bit tomorrow.

I tried to work on my novel for about half an hour.  I procrastinated a lot, but wrote about 350 words.  I realise that my mind is working while I’m procrastinating and there’s no real point beating myself up about not concentrating (within limits).  Unfortunately after about thirty minutes, I realised I was getting tired and the quality of my writing was deteriorating, so I gave up.

I spent ten or fifteen minutes revising Saturday’s Talmud shiur (class).  I didn’t understand it much better this time around.  I spent nearly another thirty minutes on other Torah study.

Other than that, I went to the doctor’s surgery to ask about getting a new medical certificate (which is a twenty minute walk each way, plus a lot of time waiting in the queue at the surgery).  While walking, I listened to a podcast that E. suggested I listen to about sexuality intended for religious Orthodox Jews.  I listened to the first podcast in the series and will probably listen to some of the others.  I wish I could have heard it years ago, as it probably would have helped me not internalise some of the guilt that I’ve internalised about my sexuality.

The post title was intended to refer to bureaucracy, although I suppose it could apply to me.  I’m not sure what I feel about that.