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.