“Rescue me before I fall into despair”

“More loneliness than any man could bear/Rescue me before I fall into despair.” – Message in a Bottle by The Police

A new issue of The Tides of Time, the fanzine of the Oxford University Doctor Who Society is out online.  It looks interesting, but I’m not sure how much I’ll read, as it has already provoked mixed feelings.  Partly this is from feeling that my time in the society has long gone.  The new issue, although containing many articles from people who have left or were never even there has little from people who were there when I was there.  Even the nickname of the society has changed from the Doc Soc (my generation) to Who Soc.  I’m very much out of the fandom loop, which is why (I assume) I missed the call for articles on Twitter.  Fandom today, as far as I can tell, largely takes place on Twitter and big, multi-fandom super-conventions like Comic-Con, neither of which are good environments for me, for different reasons.  Plus, modern fandom is so political, and these days I keep my politics to myself to keep myself safe, but it’s often different from (stereotypical) fan politics.  Add in that I didn’t much like the last series of Doctor Who, unlike the reviewers in the fanzine, and it’s hard to find common ground, and when I fail to find common ground with people, I read that, perhaps wrongly, as implicit criticism of my positions, and run off before people can attack me.  I feel like if I could have stayed in the loop, I could have promoted my book more (not in the fanzine, but online or in person), or would have had more friends to promote it to, but it’s rather pointless to go down that route now.  But there is a feeling of loneliness from having lost (or never had) these kinds of friendship networks.

Speaking of which, after I posted on Thursday, before Yom Tov, I realised what the nagging sense of melancholy was that I was experiencing: loneliness.  I feel that today, the feeling that I can’t connect with people.  That the attempt to live two lives, one religious (Orthodox Judaism) and one secular (Doctor Who fandom, and secular life in general) has failed, and that neither appreciates or respects the other.  E. has remarked that Orthodox society is often uncultured, which I can’t deny is true, to some extent at least.  It can be rather bourgeois.  I try to put up with it, but I worry that she won’t be able to.  I worry that I will just drive myself crazy trying to find people I can connect with, then running away from them when I find them because I think they must hate me really.  Hiding parts of my personality all the time.  This is basically what I have done for the last twenty years or so, since I went to university.  Kafka writes somewhere about someone chained with one chain to Heaven and with another to earth, so that he can’t move in either direction.  I feel a bit like that.

All that said, I have opted to renew the subscription on my Doctor Who blog for another year.  Just in case.  Now I need to find something to write on it, and the time to write it.

I am feeling lonely today though, ill at ease with myself and the world(s) around me, the one world I see on the news and in the papers and the other world I see on Jewish blogs.  I also feel depressed, which I suppose ties in with the loneliness and also with the world I see around me.  It’s scary to think that I could potentially be living in the USA in a few years time, looking at the stuff on the news.

I’m trying to practice “radical acceptance” of my parents’ quirks and foibles, accepting things that I can’t change.  It’s difficult.  It’s even harder to apply it to my neighbours’ behaviour.  The latter is very hard, because, as well as lockdown-breaching minyanim (prayer meetings), they had a noisy garden party with I think more than six guests (possibly six adult guests, but a load of children too), and not at all socially distanced.  From the conversation that drifted up, it sounded like one of the guests was trying to convince our neighbour to keep his minyan going after lockdown.  If they did that, I think I would alert the council to an unauthorised change of house use.  This has happened before with shtiebels (tiny synagogues in houses or above shops) that have been started without the necessary permissions.


I applied for a job a while back that was rather rashly advertised in lockdown.  They have now cancelled or possibly just postponed the interview stage, but have sent me a cataloguing exercise to complete.  I’ve glanced at it and gone into panic mode.  I have rather lost confidence in my cataloguing abilities, although they used to be good.  I feel like the gunslinger who has lost his nerve and with it his ability to sling guns quicker than other gunslingers, or at all.  I suppose failing at this at least avoids the face-to-face nature of the interview fail.


Other than that, it was a fairly ordinary locked-down day.  I spent about two hours working on my novel, writing just over 1,000 words and struggling against the noise from next door.  I went for a half hour walk and had my Skype Torah study session with E.

Mum cut my hair.  Most of it, anyway; I trimmed the sideburns.  I don’t think it had been cut since February (February 6, according to my private journal posts).  Mum did a good job, but I had to trim my sideburns, which I’d left long when I shaved off my omer beard, as they looked silly with shorter hair.  This is a shame, as I like having longish sideburns.


Towards evening, depression set in, and guilt.  I felt bad that I ate dinner separately to my parents so that I could watch TV.  I felt bad over something I had done repeatedly in the past, something forbidden by Judaism and sometimes seen negatively more widely.  Although maybe this guilt is a good thing, as I’ve been going back and forth in my mind about including this in my novel.  It probably is an issue worth bringing up (in the secular world, even more so the religious one), but I’m scared of how people will respond, whether they will judge me, boycott my book or ignore the other messages in it, about autism, mental health and abuse.

The Long Dark Night of the Soul

I was hit by a thought today that surprised me.  Since blogging on WordPress, I have come across a lot of Christian mental health blogs.  Sometimes there’s a kind of conversion narrative of a fall from the world into a pit of suffering and despair (this is particularly the case when substance abuse features in the narrative), followed by the turn to religion and the feeling of grace and salvation, which leads to renewed success (if that’s the right word) in the battle with mental illness or addiction.

The surprising thing is that this kind of writing does not really exist in post-Biblical Judaism at all.  I mean very deeply personal introspection of the long, dark night of the soul and the religious journey from suffering to redemption.  Judaism is a non-missionary religion and the vast majority of Jews were born Jewish even if they did not have a religious upbringing, so it’s perhaps not surprising that there are so few literal conversion narrative, but there could be narratives of suffering and despair leading to faith and joy, but by and large there are not.

There are Tehillim and Iyov (Psalms and Job) in Tanakh (the Hebrew Bible).  In post-biblical literature there are some of Rebbe Nachman of Bratzlav’s teachings that deal (directly or indirectly with his suffering).  Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik deals a little with this in The Lonely Man of Faith and parts of Halakhic Man .  There are bits in the Sacred Fire of Rabbi Kalonymus Kalmish Shapira, the Piaseczno Rebbe where he approaches this, but his focus is not so much the personal journey as the communal experience of Nazi persecution.

I am not familiar enough with the Holocaust literature to see how that fits in.  I think you might find something there, but not quite the same as the Christian type, not least because of the presence of clear villain figures in the Nazis, not to mention the fact that many Jews lost their faith in the Holocaust rather than finding it.  I’m not sure that I would class the writings of Elie Wiesel, for example, in this category.  I don’t think it is really that personal, inner type of despair, rather the despair from being dehumanised by an outside force.

I don’t know the Medieval poetry of the paytanim (liturgical poets) to know whether they dealt with these feelings.  Possibly they did (they did right rather erotic love poetry, something airbrushed out of the biographies of some major figures).

I have a few Judaism and depression books which include personal narratives.  The Road to Resilience by Sherri Mendell is a fairly practical book about overcoming loss.  I remember very little of Healing from Despair by Elie Kaplan Spitz, although it probably is the closest to what I’m looking for, in that it deals with the author’s despair in detail (but by a Reform rabbi, not an Orthodox one, tellingly).  It might be worth me re-reading that soon.  Some of the personal stories in the anthology book Calling Out to You edited by Tehilla Edelman fit in this category at least partially, but as I recall the focus is more on the practical story of mental illness and recovery than the spiritual crisis.  Some are definitely what I have in mind e.g. “I had to unravel all of my preconceived notions about Hashem.  I used to think that G-d only loved me if I behaved.  The idea that Hashem loves me like a father didn’t work for me, because with a father like mine [abusive] it didn’t mean much.  I also didn’t understand how Hashem could let abuse happen to children, and I didn’t know if I could ever trust Him…  After much soul-searching, I came to believe that Hashem does care about me and that it doesn’t matter if I can’t call Him Father.” (From My Journey to Hashem through Depression and Addiction: Miriam’s Story in Calling Out to You.)

That’s about all I can think of, in a three thousand year tradition.

It’s worth comparing with the narratives I’ve seen written by people who became Orthodox Jews in adulthood, either non-Jews who converted to Judaism or ba’alei teshuva, non-religious Jews who became Orthodox.  These seem to be largely calm and peaceful narratives that start by laying out the writer’s initial antipathy to and/or ignorance of Orthodox Judaism, the story of how they encountered it close up for the first time, their experience of the beauty of Torah and mitzvot (commandments) and how they overcame a few sticking points (e.g. Torah/science conflict or gender and sexuality issues) to become devout Orthodox Jews.  There is occasionally tension with friends or family members who do not like the religious change, but there is no sense of suffering or trauma here, the dark night of the soul to which religion is the solution.  The truth is that if I was writing my own ba’al teshuva narrative, it would also be largely separate from my mental health journey, which did not really start in earnest until I was some way along my religious journey.

It’s just interesting that we don’t really have the vocabulary to express this kind of narrative.  I am experiencing that first-hand, in the difficulty I have expressing my inner religious life here and, fictionalised, in my novel.  I do not have a model to use.  It’s doubtful how much anyone could model themselves on Tehillim (Psalms) nowadays without falling into self-parody, let alone the difficult, complex poetry of Iyov (Job).  But there are few more recent models to look to.

I wonder if this is another reason why “leaving Orthodoxy” narratives, fictional and non-fictional, are so much more common than “joining Orthodoxy” narratives, as I have discussed here before.  It’s not really a genre that we promote (not that Orthodox Judaism encourages the writing of fiction or memoirs, or creative writing generally).

Doubtless part of the reason is that Christianity is a religion based on the personal salvation of the individual through the personal sacrifice of Jesus and mediated through the introspective writings of Paul in the New Testament.  Whereas Judaism is a communal/national religion based, at the very least, on creating communities based on love and mutual aid, building together to a nation state built, ideally, on love and compassion and eventually an example for a new world order built on love and compassion through monotheism.  There isn’t much room in that narrative for the individual’s long dark night of the soul.  It’s just not relevant.  It took some fairly unique circumstances to produce figures like Rebbe Nachman of Bratzlav or Rav Soloveitchik who can let us peek a little at what a kind of Jewish dark night of the soul literature might look like.


As for Yom Tov (the festival), it was OK, but I struggled to connect with the religious ideals of the festival (hence, in part, this post).  I prayed a lot, studied Torah a lot, ate a lot, slept a lot.  I had a lot of aches and pains from my workout on Wednesday.  I think I’ve pulled a lot of muscles in my arms, legs and torso.  I did still go for a couple of walks despite the pain.  I also woke up in the middle night with a migraine yesterday.  My mood was mostly OK, but dipped a bit this afternoon.  That’s about all there is to report, though, aside from continued irritation at the illegal minyan (prayer quorum) next door.  I think I’m getting a better idea of why that annoys me so much (aside from all the obvious reasons), but it’s too late to deal with that now and this is a long enough post already.

Whatever “Normal” Is

It’s been suggested to me a couple of times that I’m a Highly Sensitive Person.  I’ve been resistant to this, partly because it seems unscientific (as far as I’m aware, it’s not in DSM5 or any other diagnostic manual), partly because I generally score less highly for autistic sensory sensitivity than for other autistic traits, and partly perhaps because I felt the term is open to abuse (it doesn’t help that the people who introduced me to the term eventually got angry with me in a way that I felt was a massive over-reaction on their part).

However, the term keeps coming up, so I looked today at some sites about Highly Sensitive People.  I do seem to have a lot of symptoms, even though those symptoms seem to vary from site to site, and often seem like possible symptoms of other underlying issues.  It does still seem like an untested idea.  Plus, I’m wary of adding another diagnosis to my list.  But maybe it’s true.

I just want to be “normal,” whatever that is.  Orthodox Judaism I suppose has a clearer definition of “normal” to the wider world, although I’m not sure that that was really an attraction to me.  The reverse, if anything; I was afraid of losing my individuality.  However, it turned out that I couldn’t cope with it anyway, at least not in the moderate Haredi world.  Either my depression, autism and social anxiety got in the way or I would have to give up too much stuff that was important to me, in terms of non-frum or non-Jewish friends, books and DVDs.  I still hope that one day I’ll find a Modern Orthodox shul that fits.

Talking of Jewish things, the festival of Shavuot (Pentecost, but nothing to do with the Christian Pentecost) starts tonight.  This has become a sort of favourite festival by default to me, as there are no special mitzvot (at least while the Temple remains un-re-built), so nothing triggers religious OCD, social anxiety or depression unlike almost all other Jewish festivals.

The custom is to stay up all night in shul (synagogue) studying Torah.  This can be fun, if interesting topics are chosen.  My shul seems to have a habit of alternating interesting and boring topics in different years (one year it was about the laws of separating mixtures on Shabbat (the Sabbath), which was about as interesting at 2.00 am as it sounds), and social anxiety can creep in at shul both in the study sessions, if I’m supposed to ask or answer questions, and especially in the refreshment breaks, where I don’t know who to talk to and generally stand around avoiding people.

Anyway, it’s irrelevant this year.  It’s just a custom, not a mitzvah (commandment) and a kabbalistic one at that (I’m not so into kabbalah) so I won’t be doing it at home alone, although plenty of people will.  I might stay up a bit after dinner studying, but not all night.  I feel a bit guilty about that, but I feel I don’t have the stamina to study all night by myself, without others to study with or to share interesting topics.  My shul did send an online booklet to be printed off before Yom Tov, but it was geared to children studying with parents and was also too Haredi for me (e.g. the potted biography of Medieval scholar Rabbeinu Asher said he was very opposed to secular study, especially philosophy, but the biography of Rambam (died a few decades before Rabbeinu Asher was born) didn’t say that he was very much in favour of secular study, including philosophy, which in his day included a lot of what we would call science).

My shul is doing a pre-Shavuot thing on Zoom before Yom Tov (the festival) starts, but I doubt I’ll go as it looks like it’s mainly for children and I don’t like group Zoom events.


Today I woke exhausted and depressed again, and also achy.  I think I didn’t do a good enough warm up for my workout yesterday, or maybe it’s a long time since I used those muscles.  I feel really fuzzy-headed too, as if I still haven’t recovered from Monday, even though it’s now Thursday.  I went for a half-hour walk and worked for about an hour on my novel, writing over 600 words.  I’d like to write more, but am not sure I have the time or the head for it.

I’m going to post now instead of right before Yom Tov, just in case I can get the dopamine hit of a comment or two before Shavuot starts.  I haven’t got much planned for later anyway, just my usual pre-Yom Tov chores (Shavuot requires little extra preparation) and plugging away at my novel for as long as I feel able or have time for, whichever is the shorter.

Hedgehog Concepts and Seeming Intimidating

I slept a lot last night.  I went to bed early (well, for me) and got up late.  I’m not sure if it helped.  I felt a bit depressed today, and very tired, which is normal for me, and fuzzy-headed, which may be due to the heat or depression.  I feel more frustrated than upset that I’m still paying for the good day I had on Monday.  I guess this is what depression and high-functioning autism look like, but I still find it frustrating.

I spent some time writing my novel.  I’m not sure how long.  I procrastinated a bit and struggled feeling fuzzy-headed and still quite frazzled, but I wrote over 700 words.  I also managed half an hour of Torah study.  I would have liked to have done more writing and Torah study, but, frankly, I was surprised I managed to do what I did, given how fuzzy-headed I felt.

It was too hot to run outside, so I stayed in and tried to do an aerobic exercise.  I hadn’t tried to do any for a couple of years (I’ve been jogging, when I’ve been exercising) and got very exhausted very quickly and did fairly pathetically.  Still, I did work up a sweat.


I’m struggling with social/religious feelings and thoughts again, angry thoughts about Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) Judaism.  A number of things I came across from the Haredi world today made me feel glad not to be Haredi.  Only one was a thing I was not previously aware of, but it was still annoying.  My life would be a lot easier if there was a local shul (synagogue) that met both my religious and social needs, but there isn’t.  This means that I feel a degree of disconnection and now even hostility to some of the values and educational resources of my shul.  It would probably also be easier if I could just “drink the kool-aid” about some things (about life in general, not just religion), but I seem to be resistant to that.  Not that there aren’t things I don’t agree with in the more modern parts of Orthodoxy, but there’s fewer of them.

Related to this, a while back I saw some articles on The Lehrhaus (here and here) that said that Modern Orthodoxy suffers from lack of a “Hedgehog Concept.”  I was unfamiliar with the Hedgehog Concept, but apparently it’s business jargon for a key core value, I assume from the Greek poet Archilochus’ saying that, “The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing.”  So the Hedgehog Concept of the Yeshivish/Litvish world (the part of the Orthodox world that came out of Early Modern Lithuania) is Torah study; that of the Hasidic world is devekut (mystic unity with God); that of Habad Lubavitch Hasidim is outreach (bringing non-religious Jews to greater observance); and that of Religious Zionism is settling the land of Israel.  These are things that all Jews in those communities can aim to achieve, to a greater or lesser extent (in some cases more by funding other people doing it than doing it themselves).

Modern Orthodoxy suffers from a lack of a Hedgehog Concept.  In theory, Modern Orthodoxy is about combining traditional practise and scholarship of Judaism with modern academic scholarship.  In reality, only a relatively small number of scholar-rabbis are able to do that.  This helps explain the lack of inspiration in my life, the lack of some kind of core to define and focus my religious experience.

In the articles, Gil Perl suggested Or Amim (A Light to the Peoples i.e. making God known in the world) as the Modern Orthodox Hedgehog Concept, which he says is “a charge to take the treasure chest of wisdom, guidance, and instruction that comprises our mesora [tradition], proudly place it on the proverbial table of global discussion, and help others, unfamiliar with it, to understand its content” (brackets added).  He goes on to state that this is not missionary and is compatible with pluralistic ideas of multiple truths, saying, “My mesora is my truth. The rhythms of halakhic life are my reality.  My calling is not to convince you of their certitude, but to humbly offer you a glimpse of their beauty.” (Emphasis added.)  This is at least something that I can do in my writing – or am already doing in my blogging (which, I realised today, I have been doing for fourteen years, although not without interruption).  Whether it will work as a Hedgehog Concept for me is another question.


A somewhat related thought that I had last night and which I returned to when I read Sadie/Blushy Ginger’s post this morning: do people find me intimidating?  I suspect that in real life I come across as either boring, serious and/or intense to a lot of people.  I know the rabbi who gives the weekly sedra shiur (religious class on the week’s Torah reading) I go to once said that he can’t read me and I just sit there and he doesn’t know what I think of what he’s saying.

Then of course there is the fact that my blog is very Jewish even though it doesn’t have many Jewish readers.  I worry that I have too much religious detail, which is off-putting, or that people who aren’t Jewish or aren’t religious or are atheists or whatever worry that I would have negative views of them and don’t like to comment.  (For what it’s worth, I think I’m a very tolerant and non-judgemental person and have non-Jewish friends.)  I guess this is the mirror of my “I’m not frum (religious) enough” fears in the Orthodox Jewish community.

It also has to be said that I sometimes go out of my way to give a negative impression of myself in my blogging, focusing on failures more than successes, holding up my errors and mistakes (see below) as if I’m daring people to reject me.  I used to hope people I knew would find my blog (this was when I was blogging with my real name) so that they would see what a mess I was and think, “OK, now I know why he is so weird, it’s not his fault, he’s just messed up.”


I’ve mentioned about being locked out of my non-anonymous Doctor Who blog I thought because I hadn’t paid pay the WordPress subscription last year.  Now they have offered me the chance to subscribe again, which implied I paid last year.  So I checked my bank statement, and I did in fact pay and forgot later.  I investigated, and I got locked out because I was using a an email address that I basically only used there (to keep it separate from this account, which is linked to my main email) and… I had typed the email in wrong once and it got stuck in the autofill, so I was using the wrong email address all the time.  I didn’t notice because there was only a full stop missing.  I am not proud of this.  I would like to blame depression and stress warping my brain, or autistic rigid thinking preventing me looking at options or social anxiety stopping me contacting WordPress to investigate, but I have to admit there’s an element of incompetence there too.

Once I regained access, I quickly whipped up a post publicising my non-fiction Doctor Who book with links to various websites where it’s being sold.  I’m tempted to renew the blog subscription, for the sake of £15, primarily so I can promote my non-fiction Doctor Who book there.

I just did a quick google search about advertising self-published books, and it seems a lot of people think it’s a waste of money, that the only way it’s effective is if you spend a lot on it.  Otherwise, the best way is through blogs and social media.  But I don’t really have any social media presence, and my blog has been in stasis for a year, and I never really got back into online Doctor Who fandom.  My experience is that online Doctor Who fandom these days is mostly on Twitter, which I have never got on with, rather than on blogs.

Unravelling the situation with my blog and writing the advert post took about half an hour today, but I think it was time well spent.  To be honest, I think I haven’t made any sales to anyone other than family and friends so far, so it would be good if I could sell just one copy to someone I don’t know in person (OK, one is an online friend I’ve only met once, but I’m still counting that as “in person”).


Late last night (about 1am), I was still wide awake, and feeling rather tense and agitated.  Yes, I’d forgotten to take my meds again.  I had something to eat and took them, but I couldn’t sleep, so I got up and looked for something calming to watch.  I decided on my childhood favourite, Mr Benn.  My sister bought me the DVD years ago.  This was a series of short cartoons from the early seventies about a man who tries on clothes from the fancy dress shop; when he wears them, he gets caught up in an adventure related to the type of clothes he’s wearing.  It’s for very young children, so the “adventure” is usually something simple, non-violent, and with a clear moral, like “Be grateful for what you have” or “Don’t cheat” (from the two episodes I watched last night).  That said, one proposed episode was never made, banned as politically subversive (Mr Benn becomes a convict and cheers the other convicts up by decorating the prison in bright colours).  The animation is extremely basic, often just still pictures, but I find the incidental music really haunting and atmospheric.  David McKee, who created and wrote all the episodes also did some of the animation too.  In the USA he’s best known for creating and drawing Elmer the Patchwork Elephant.  The series was probably the gateway drug that introduced me to classic British telefantasy.  Little did my parents realise what they were getting me into…

I didn’t fall asleep until about 3am or later.  I got woken up around 8.00am by the *cough cough* in the garden next door, but shut the windows and went back to sleep.  I was too depressed and exhausted to see much of the morning and the early afternoon.  I felt somewhat better after lunch, but still fragile and drained.

I did manage to write 500 words of my novel after lunch, my minimum daily target.  I somehow wrote that in under an hour, which was good, because I was too tired to carry on after that.  I felt pretty frazzled after yesterday.  After that I had therapy today because yesterday was bank holiday, but I was not really looking forward to doing it while drained.  I still “gushed forth” a flood of thoughts and feelings.  I spoke mainly about my interactions with my religious community.  My therapist noted that with autism it is much harder to judge the informal rules of a community as opposed to the formal ones, but autism can also create a greater desire for clear formal rules.  She also said some useful stuff about some people in the community being higher up the hierarchy and therefore able to make comments and jokes that would not be permitted to other people because they are risque mocking or e.g. the previous rabbi in my shul (synagogue) used to joke about the Moshe (Moses) grumbling about having to tell the Israelites about tefillin (“We have to strap leather boxes to our arms and heads during morning prayers”) which other people might not be able to do.  We also spoke about religious communities not always encouraging individuality and self-expression; I said that’s true, but that perhaps having something to kick against gives me a reason to write.  I would be much less likely to write a novel about a depressed, autistic person in the secular community because I think the Jewish nature of my novel is a new angle on the topic.

Just as I was writing this bit about community, there was a knock at the door and someone dropped off a box of chocolates and a packet of flowery paper napkins, from my shul.  Some people in the community have sponsored this for everyone in the community as a way of uniting us for the festival of Shavuot this week when we’re still in lockdown.  I’m slightly puzzled as to the significance of the paper napkins.

I was quite exhausted after therapy and spent longer decompressing than I would have liked.  Since childhood, I have always taken longer decompressing and moving from one activity to another than I would have liked.  I think it’s primarily an autistic trait, although it can probably be worsened by depression.  It’s one of the reasons I fail to stick to plans.  I was OK moving between lessons at school, possibly because there was an order to packing and unpacking my stuff and, as I went to a large school, there would be several minutes in the crush of getting to the next lesson and then waiting outside talking before the teacher came.

I was going to try to cook something for dinner, but as I was tired, I just cooked plain pasta to eat with bought sauce.  I did also manage to go for a half-hour walk and Skype E.  But other than that, I was too exhausted to do anything this evening.

Brushes with Criminality

Sigh. I was trying to write less about disrupted sleep here, but I got woken again at 8.15am by the illegal minyan (prayer meeting) in the garden next door, which now seems to be a fully-fledged, three times a day minyan – basically an open-air shul (synagogue).  I decided I was rested enough after seven hours of sleep to get up and get an early start on the day, and was glad they aren’t davening (praying) before 7.00am, as would be normal if people were going out to work.  Later this week is the festival of Shavuot (Pentecost), when it is customary to stay up all night studying Torah and pray at first light, so I have worries of being woken at 3.30am.  I can’t bring myself to inform on a minyan, however illegal, so I have to put up with it somehow.  I don’t want to sleep with my windows shut, because it makes the room stuffy and I worry about waking with a headache.

I will try not to mention the illegal minyan again, as it’s probably not good to make this type of thing well-known (chillul hashem); there’s been enough in the mainstream press about Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) Jews breaking lockdown here, in the US and especially in Israel.  But I can’t promise they won’t do something outrageous that I have to offload here.

Getting up early did at least mean that I davened a bit more of Shacharit (Morning Prayers) than usual, and at the proper time for once.  I also used some of that time gained to work on my novel, managing about an hour and a half in the morning. Quite a bit of that time went on research, but I wrote 600 words before lunch.  Overall I spent nearly two and a half hours on the novel today, despite doing several other things (see below), writing over a thousand words, which was very good.  So maybe some good will come of the illegal minyan after all, if it sorts out my disrupted sleep pattern.

I had a Skype call with my rabbi mentor.  Unfortunately, it was a short call and I did what I’ve been doing with therapy and have done in the past at depression group, which is just blurt out a huge load of stuff at the start, expressing a lot of thoughts and emotions that I’ve had lately, all in one go, like a tidal wave of anxious/depressive emotion.  My rabbi mentor felt that I was doing well at understanding and processing these feelings and thoughts, which is good, and he helped me with one or two specific matters.  I do feel a bit strange when I just blurt all this stuff out, though.  Slightly embarrassed, and vulnerable and exposed.  Exhausted too and even a bit shaken, which I suppose is unsurprising if I’m revealing a lot of private thoughts.

It was Mum’s birthday today.  We had a socially distanced tea in the garden with my sister and brother-in-law.  They were very nervous about getting close to Mum, so there was good social distancing.  It was good to see them again.  We’ve had some doorstep conversations, but nothing as long as this since before lockdown.  I think it’s getting harder to stick to lockdown; half lockdown is perhaps harder to maintain than full lockdown (that’s somewhat analogous to Jewish law where very difficult things are often psychologically easier to stick to than apparently trivial ones).  I know I’ve complained about people bending the rules, but I think Mum would have been really upset if she couldn’t have seen my sister, given that she starts the next bout of chemo tomorrow.  I tend to be very rule-abiding (I suspect that people on the autism spectrum tend to be either extremely rule-focused or totally anarchic) and I’m not sure what I would have done if I had been the person who lived outside the family home.

Then we had a more legitimately lockdown-approved Zoom talk with my Israeli family, but I found it draining after a while especially as it was a long call.  It left me somewhat peopled out, particularly after the tea with my sister and BIL.

As it was Mum’s birthday, we had takeaway and watched the Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) comedian Ashley Blaker’s latest show, which was posted online for people who paid.  Then I went for a walk in the gathering dusk, as I had been sitting all day and needed to stretch my legs.  I managed forty-five minutes of Torah study too, although it was a bit of a struggle not to feel bad about not making it up to an hour.

I decided to break my “no screens after 11pm” rule (which is much honoured in the breach anyway) as after such a busy day with so much peopling, I need a passive TV-watching break to avoid burn out tomorrow.


Two things that have left me thoughtful today:

  1. My rabbi mentor says he enjoys my weekly devar Torah (Torah thought).  OK.  My uncle said that he enjoys it to and has been forwarding it with some other divrei Torah to his friends from shul (synagogue).  I’m not quite sure what I think of that.
  2. Ashley Blaker told some really rude jokes in his act.  Jokes I won’t repeat here because I would blush.  This has made me ponder a lot more about what the rules are in the frum (religious Orthodox Jewish) community and who has the impunity to break them, given that he is very frum-looking (beard, dark suit, velvet kippah (skullcap), black hat).  It matters to me because I’m writing about sexual violence in my novel, which I feel is an important subject, but I wonder if that will get me a bad reputation (I would do it anyway, I think).  Is this one of those cases where if you ask the question, you’ll be told it’s forbidden, but if you have the chutzpah to just do it, you can get away with it?  Does the transient nature of a comedy show mean he can get away with more than in a permanent medium like print?  Unless people from his shul are in the audience, no one is going to know.  Is he assuming that any frum person who gets the sex jokes is going to have to pretend not to understand lest it become clear that they have dirty minds too?  Particularly given that part of the routine was about frum people being so naive that there are hilarious double entendres in the frum press apparently unnoticed.  Hmm.

Bits and Pieces

I watched an hour-long “based on a true story” drama, Murdered By My Boyfriend on BBC iPlayer. This was because I felt I was floundering with one thread of my novel, which deals with domestic abuse. I watched it for inspiration about handling such a plot line, although the type of abuse in my novel is somewhat different from the type in the TV programme. It did reassure me that I’m not totally on the wrong path, but it was difficult viewing and I could hardly watch it by the end. I stayed upset for quite a while afterwards.

I sometimes struggle to understand how people can deliberately hurt other people. That’s probably good for my moral development, but not so good for being a writer. It’s horrifying that every week in the UK, two women are murdered by their partners. If that was being done by a serial killer, or some kind of terrorist group, the papers would be full of it. Instead, it’s ignored.

I feel awkward writing about violence against women as a man. Like whatever the equivalent is of a ‘white saviour’ for feminists. But I became aware from both online accounts and what people said in group therapy and support groups that I’ve attended that the link between abuse (of all kinds) and mental illness is very strong, so it seemed worth talking about in a novel about mental illness. I also became aware that very few people in the frum (religious Orthodox Jewish) community are talking about it, for various reasons. Jewish Women’s Aid has posters in some Jewish shops and shuls (synagogues) and even had a billboard poster up at one point, but a while back they ran an advert in The Jewish Weekly with one woman’s story and there were complaints about how graphic it was in its description of sexual violence, which makes me feel there’s a 1950s atmosphere in parts of the community where some things are just not spoken about. Given that the number of people writing any fiction in the frum world is vanishingly small, it seemed important to talk about it.


I got woken up early by another morning minyan (prayer meeting) in the garden next door. Years ago I heard a definition of fundamentalism that has always stuck with me:

“If you’re absolutely certain that you’re making the proper decision, and what you’re doing is the right thing to do — it doesn’t matter if you hurt people in the process. You don’t even owe them an apology.”

I’m beginning to wonder if my next-door neighbours are meeting that definition of fundamentalism. To be honest, this has attitude little to do with religion and more to do with selfishness and entitlement (e.g. Donald Trump). It still annoys me though.


I don’t have so much to talk about today in terms of emotions and thoughts. There were some anxious and despairing thoughts at times, but I’m trying not to focus on them, although I’m still struggling to remember to greet them and sit with them.

I went for a reasonably good run, considering it was hotter than I expected. I did get a bit of an exercise migraine, although not too bad. E. and I had our weekly Torah study Skype chat, which was good.


I’m struggling with keeping up with the news at the moment, but “Is Cummings Going?” ought to be a headline somewhere.

Self-Hating Jew

Our Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) next-door neighbours held more socially distanced, but (I think) still lockdown-breaking, minyanim (prayer meetings) in their garden over Shabbat (the Sabbath) again. There was also some kind of gathering or party going on last night in the garden of the house behind us. They didn’t go in until 2am and made a lot of noise before then. Strangely, I got bothered more by the minyanim and couldn’t work out why, as the party seemed more antisocial (assuming they weren’t all from the same house, which is possible).

My eventual reasoning was that, despite being an Orthodox Jew myself, I’m carrying around a lot of anger and possibly other emotions around Orthodox Jews and my place in the frum (religious Orthodox Jewish) community, particularly around feeling that I never found my place in the community, that I have to hide who I really am or fear ostracism, as well as anger about people not being friendly or setting me up on shidduch dates when I was single. It’s something I might bring to therapy this week, although there is some other stuff I’d also like to talk about (I might have to prioritise). The anger and hatred is kind of weird. Jewish self-hatred is a real thing, but it’s usually associated with people right on the edge of the community, not people who are religious and integrated to the community (and I am integrated on some level).

I think it ties in with my view of God as punitive, or at least indifferent to me. I don’t believe God is punitive or indifferent to other people, just to me. It might be related to low self-esteem in general, or to my feelings of not fitting into the community. Not being a good enough Jew, which then leads to anger back at the community.


Otherwise it was a fairly normal Shabbat. I struggled to sleep again on Friday night. I’m not sure why. It seems to happen sometimes without cause, but this time it could have been the noise (although insomnia carried on for two hours after the noise stopped), the fact I drank some Diet Coke at dinner (I don’t know why I’ve got in the habit of doing this again, although I’m not convinced it really makes much difference) or the fact that I forgot to take my tablets until right before I went to bed. The latter is probably the key factor.

Because I couldn’t sleep, I lay in bed for quite a long time with my thoughts, which was not comfortable. I thought I was feeling more comfortable with my thoughts and in control of them lately, but obviously not. I can’t remember exactly what I was thinking, just that it was unpleasant. I did intermittently get up and read, a mixture of The Siege: The Saga of Israel and Zionism (which is really good) and Batman graphic novels.

I fell asleep around 4am and slept through the morning, being woken intermittently by the Shacharit minyan (Morning Prayer Service) next door and falling asleep again (I dreamt I wrote them an angry letter of complaint), then I slept for three more hours after lunch. Not good. I will struggle to sleep tonight. I did wake from my nap refreshed though, which was good as generally I don’t feel so refreshed from sleep, either night sleep or naps.

Other than that I just did some Torah study and ate with my parents. There’s not a lot else to report.

Building Characters

I spent the day wrestling with negative feelings of depression and despair. I would feel OK, and then something would set me off again. It has to be said, though, that my mood was mostly reasonably good and optimistic, particularly in the afternoon (mornings are still hard). That said, little things can bring me down.


Every year there is a “Forty Under Forty” list in The Jewish News listing the top forty communal leaders in the Jewish community under the age of forty, whether religious, political or cultural leaders. It’s a fairly horrible concept and I try to avoid it, as there are always people I know on the list, and it makes me feel like I’ve wasted my life while other people have built careers and made a difference to the world, particularly as I won’t be “under forty” for much longer. Looking at part of the list today (it’s always published in installments) I saw someone I knew, but I didn’t feel as jealous or despairing as I might have done in the past. Likewise, lately I don’t feel as jealous and lonely when people much younger than me get married or have children. And I don’t carry as much anger and resentment as I used to about my childhood and adolescence. I feel I’ve made a lot of progress in therapy dealing with my issues. And yet I can’t seem to permanently shake the depression, despair, loneliness and other negative feelings. I feel like I’ve done everything I should do to recover, but it still doesn’t help. Somehow it persists.


I keep checking my email, blog reader, WhatsApp… I know when I do this it’s a mixture of boredom and loneliness. Just wanting to connect with someone, but usually not finding anyone or, worse, making the wrong kind of connection, usually by seeing something that upsets me, typically by making me feel attacked.


I probably shouldn’t relate all my dreams here (the ones I can remember anyway) as other people’s dreams are not usually as interesting as they think they are, but I had a classic anxiety dream about being in my rabbi mentor’s yeshiva (rabbinical seminary) on the day he was taking his rabbinical exams and feeling that everyone was looking down on me for not being religious enough. I wonder what that could be about? Sometimes you don’t need to be Sigmund Freud to work it out. There was also some weirdly OCD stuff about trying to do the ritual hand washing on waking and before eating, but not being able to find a big enough cup.


I have a new webcam, which I ordered weeks ago, and which has finally arrived. So that’s good. I had been borrowing my Dad’s laptop for every Zoom or Skype interaction. In other ways I feel like I’m ready for lockdown to be over. I know, everyone else reached this point weeks, if not months, ago. But lockdown seemed to suit me: I didn’t have to meet people, there weren’t jobs to worry about applying for, I didn’t have to go anywhere or do anything, I had time to write. But I feel I probably should be trying to move my life on and get back in the habit of actually doing things other than writing, jogging, cooking and cleaning. Plus, it would be good to move towards moving my relationship with E. on. And seeing other people, actually going to shul (synagogue) and to physical shiurim (religious classes) would probably be good for me, not least because I feel like my social anxiety is getting worse while I avoid people. Online socialising isn’t working so well for me, as it’s just made me more dependent on likes and follows, behaviour which I thought I had grown out of, and, as I’ve said before, I struggle with Zoom calls – too many people, too many things happening at once, too easy to psychologically check out and refuse to interact with other people.


I felt blocked in my writing this week, so I emailed a writer friend to ask for advice. She recommended some books and also some exercises to try to clarify (to myself) who my characters are and what they want. I learnt two things from this. The first is that I have a weak idea of what my secondary hero wants or needs, which is probably why she has felt like the biggest weak link in the novel so far, too vaguely written to really cohere or stand out.

The second is… well, this is a slightly edited version of the character profile I created for the hero, who is kind of a fictionalised version of myself (I was going to say “Mary-Sue,” the fan term for a character who is a wish-fulfillment figure for the author, but this character is more an anti-Mary Sue, annoying, self-obsessed and useless).

  • Wants/needs: consciously wants love, acceptance.  Unconsciously needs to accept himself, his autism, his depression
  • Weakness: lack of self-knowledge
  • Obstacles that play to weaknesses/show growth: struggle in environments not designed for autistics; contemplate suicide because can’t cope with self.  Not upset with God or world, just with himself.  Can’t accept his autism/depression means that he needs to live differently to other people.
  • Choice: choose life or death, which is choosing to love himself
  • What he learns to achieve his goal: to choose life because even without God, he recognises his own uniqueness and worth.

I think it’s helped clarify my main character, but it’s certainly helped clarify my own needs. To be honest, “lack of self-knowledge” isn’t really my fault, but that of the character (who is really me some years ago, not me now). I understand myself, I just struggle to put what I’ve learnt in therapy and elsewhere into practice, hence the comment above about having addressed issues, but been unable to move on. Still, it was interesting to realise I still haven’t really accepted my depression and autism (the latter partly because it’s still undiagnosed) and my consequent need to live a different life to other people with different standards of success. For example, for me success might be maintaining reasonably positive mood over time, engaging on some level with my community and friends and getting some kind of job (which probably won’t be high-powered/high-stress) as opposed to having a dynamic career, getting married and having children, having lots of friends and taking some kind of community leadership position.

The Man Who Fell to Earth

(I’m trying the new WordPress editor, and having a slight autistic change freak out that it looks complicated (what are ‘blocks’?) and I can’t get it to work, and the old editor worked fine, so why did they change it?)

I woke up from strange dreams again, something about being in therapy, but not knowing what to say (a representation of my fears that I’m not ‘really’ depressed?), stuff about the reliability of the Bible (I even remembered this book in my dream), stuff about pigeons trying to fly in through a door to a balcony, but I couldn’t get too close to chase them away because there was no balcony, just a drop of several stories (I’ve never liked pigeons and in the summer I do worry about birds flying into the houses through the open windows). There was some stuff about university too, I think, probably the product of raking that over for my novel. And something about having a son and calling him Lemuel (‘Dedicated to God’ – maybe my unconscious is more certain of my religiosity than I am?).

I woke up depressed and self-loathing again. After breakfast and lunch I felt better though. I tried to work a bit on my novel and got bogged down again, so I looked at some advice a writer friend had sent me yesterday when I emailed to ask about writer’s block, which referred me to some books (that I ordered on Ebay) and Tweets (which I read).

I was doing OK until I read something religious that upset me. I’m not going to repeat it here, because I don’t want to seem so negative about frum (religious Orthodox Jewish culture), but it did make me feel that I will never fit in. This prompted a dip back into, “I can’t write, I’m never going to be a writer” angst, and I realised I had been sat at my computer for three hours reading, writing, thinking and, yes, procrastinating, and that I should probably take a break. I guess it’s good that I realised what was happening to me and acted on it.

(I did later manage half an hour or so of Torah study despite this.)

On my break, I went for a walk. While I was out, I had the intense feeling of alienation that I used to associate primarily with depression, but which I increasingly feel is due to autism, or maybe to autism and depression. The feeling of, “I don’t belong here, this isn’t the world I’m supposed to live in.” Feeling like I can never fit in and do the things a “normal” person is supposed to do, particularly career-wise. I’m worried today that I will never be a writer of any kind, let alone a fiction writer. There isn’t really anywhere to go with this line of thought, though. Either it will work out or it won’t. As I’m struggling to find other work, there aren’t a lot of other options out there other than persevering with my novel. Like most of the things I’m worried about at the moment, there is literally nothing at all I can really do about this beyond sticking at it.


I’m not sure what to do with kabbalah, Jewish mysticism. Mysticism has never meant much to me and part of me is a kind of Maimonidean religious rationalist, but in recent years I’ve become somewhat more interested in kabbalah as a way of thinking about God and about life that doesn’t necessarily require absolute literal belief in its tenets. Although my thoughts about this could change at any time (and I don’t agree at all with practical kabbalah, segulahs and other forms of magical thinking and magic).

I was aware of the idea of different souls leading to different personalities. According to Chabad.org there are seven types of soul (‘G-d’ is the Jewish way of deliberately spelling ‘God’ incorrectly so that the writing doesn’t have any sanctity):

Chesed (Kindness) — A soul whose service of G‑d is characterized by a calm and flowing love. This soul is also overflowing with love for his fellows.

Gevurah (Severity) – A soul who serves G‑d with awe and a flaming passion. This soul is also highly disciplined, with high expectations of himself and others.

Tiferet (Harmony) – The soul who has achieved a perfect synthesis of Kindness and Severity. This is accomplished through the study of Torah. Tiferet is also the source of the soul’s capacity for compassion.

Netzach (Perseverance) – A soul who is constantly battling and struggling, but is ultimately triumphant.

Hod (Humility) – The soul who exemplifies self-abnegation in favor of allowing itself to be overwhelmed by G‑d’s goodness.

Yesod (Foundation) – The soul whose unique talent is establishing giving relationships, intellectually or otherwise.

Malchut – (Royalty) The soul who serves its Creator in a majestic manner.

I only used to know about the first two and I thought that, inasmuch as this idea had any validity, I would come from Gevurah, which contains the idea of discipline and especially limits and boundaries, which seemed to sum up my restricted approach to life. But I am frankly not as disciplined as I once thought/hoped myself to be and now I wonder if I should see myself as coming from Netzach, the idea of conflict and struggle over my mental health being ongoing in my life since adolescence.

As I say, I’m not sure how much validity any of this has as a representation of the real world, but as a Jewish myth/thought system, maybe it would help me to re-frame my life to see conflict as part of my life and mission rather than something I should try to get through quickly in order to find my “real” mission. It would also be positive to see triumph as something innate in me (‘Netzach‘ means both ‘eternity’ and ‘victory’). Interestingly, this website associates Netzach with bitachon, trust in God, something I feel myself lacking.

Anyway, I’m going to stop now as you can really jump down the rabbit hole with kabbalistic stuff if you aren’t careful.

Hollow, Empty and Dead Inside

I didn’t have to go to the hospital with Mum today after all.  My parents discovered that a hotel near the hospital is renting out car park places, so Dad could park and go in to the appointment with Mum as her extra person.  That’s better for everyone, although I had a weird feeling of disappointment after having psyched myself up for it.


I woke up earlyish, but I’m not sure if that was due to thinking I had to be up early to go to the hospital or because our next door neighbour’s son was sitting in the garden listening to a Zoom shiur (religious class) really loudly, then was on a really loud chevruta (paired learning), far above my intellectual level and he’s only in his teens, so that probably brought my mood down early on.  (Why do Jews get so overexcited when “learning” and start shouting?  Or when talking, to be honest?)

Yesterday was burning agitation.  Today is quiet and still, but the stillness of depression and the grave, the stillness of nothing happening inside.  I didn’t do any real Torah study yesterday, because of depression and migraine, but I did spend forty minutes writing my devar Torah (Torah thought) which I hope should count for something.  I didn’t do my hitbodedut meditation/unstructured prayer either, but that has been perfunctory for quite a while.

I’m just feeling awful today, hollow and empty and dead inside.  I feel almost physically ill and struggle to do anything.  I wish E. was here, but part of me is saying that it can’t last (our relationship, I mean) and that I’ll be hurt sooner or later.  Yesterday we (E. and I) agreed to focus on the present and not to worry about the post-COVID world, which is too unpredictable, whether big things like the economy or personal things like our job prospects and our relationship.  But it’s easy to believe that everything will go wrong, same as it always does for me.  I feel I can’t do anything, that my life is not going anywhere.

I tried to work on my novel, but I struggled to write anything, either for the chapter I was working on or when I tried to jump ahead to the next chapter.  I ended up giving up and watching TV (Ashes to Ashes then Doctor Who).  I forced myself to go for a walk, although I didn’t really want to (because of the heat as well as the depression/exhaustion) and while I was walking my internal monologue/internal critic asked me, “Why don’t you just **** off and die?” and I didn’t have a good answer.  Most people with high functioning autism don’t manage to do paid work (despite being defined by the wider world as “high functioning”) and anecdotal evidence (at least) suggests they don’t manage to maintain relationships either, so I don’t know why I think I can buck either trend.

I had my online Zoom shiur (class) this evening.  I still feel I’m not going to learn a lot I don’t already know.  I did manage to speak up though, once.  It’s a shame I’m too socially anxious to share knowledge much that others might benefit from.  Selfish even, if I want to blame myself (I usually do).  I don’t know if it’s because I was on my Dad’s computer (the replacement webcam for my one still hasn’t arrived), but I just felt extra-awkward the whole time.  I just sat through the shiur thinking, “I am such a **** up” and that no one could ever like me and that my life will never get sorted out.  There was some fantasising about self-harm, which I haven’t done for a while.


I’m worried about a couple of blog friends who haven’t posted for a while, but I’m also worried that if I send them “Are you OK?” emails that will just put them in the awkward position of having to tell me that they’ve taken me off their friends lists.  I worry I’m too weird and depressing for people to cope with, let alone relate to.

I just discovered that some nasty comments from someone I had to mute on the blog were sitting in my trash folder on WordPress.  They had been there for several months unnoticed.  I had assumed that blocking bounced them back into the ether, but apparently they go into the trash folder and sit there.  I deleted them all, but it upset me even more, and the content of the comments reinforced my feeling of being useless and having no justification for being depressed.  It also makes me worried, as one of these comments was a reblog notification – the person reblogged my post, apparently to criticise and mock it.  It makes me wonder what other negative stuff this person has put out there about me.  Naturally, I assume I deserve it.


The Midrash in Sifra on last week’s sedraBehukotai, says there are seven stages of apostasy that lead on one to the other:

  1. Not studying Torah;
  2. Not performing commandments;
  3. Despising those who keep the commandments;
  4. Hating the sages who teach the commandments;
  5. Preventing others from observing the commandments;
  6. Denying that God gave the commandments;
  7. Denying the existence of God.

It’s hard to tell where I am.  I’m not studying much Torah.  I perform some commandments, but not others, some because of depression, some to compromise with E., some because I don’t have the strength any more.  I don’t “despise” anyone, but there’s aspects of the Orthodox world I don’t like, I don’t have much respect for sages who preach full-time yeshiva study and denigration of the wider world.  Sometimes I worry I’m heading for points six and seven.  Is this catastrophising again?  Possibly perfectionism too.  I have kashas (difficulties, questions) on Judaism, but I also have big kashas on the secular world of humanism, Enlightenment and postmodernism too.  Of course, my biggest kasha is on the world: how can I fit into it?

Quick, Let’s Drink a Million Cups of Tea While We Procrastinate

That title…  I think I’m clever and funny when really, I’m not.

I just feel inadequate today.

I was pretty exhausted last night after Skype therapy and Zoom shiur (religious class) and I went to bed early (for me at any rate – midnight) hoping I would get up earlier today, but I still slept very late.  I just feel so depressed and exhausted on waking.  Maybe it’s not surprising given that I had a very draining day yesterday.  I think a lot of the problem about waking tired is to do with low blood sugar, which has always affected me badly, although I don’t plan on getting up in the middle of the night to eat.

Even after breakfast and getting dressed, I still felt really depressed and exhausted.  Struggling to do anything.


I feel like I’ve sunk into some kind of religious crisis (again) without really realising how.  Rebbe Nachman of Bratzlav says that religious crises are inevitable and unending in this world; as soon as you achieve some kind of certainty about something, it brings with it a whole load of new unknowns for you to worry about (it’s not clear if the unknowns are completely new, or old ones on a deeper or more intense level).  I believe in God, but I find it harder and harder to connect to Him and to Torah and mitzvot (commandments).  I know a lot stems from not fitting in to a religious community for moral and practical support and also feeling like I’ve transgressed the community’s standards in ways that I’m not always sure about (as in, I’m not sure if I’ve transgressed them or not).  I’ve always felt alone, even in my religious practice, even when I was a more regular attendee at shul (synagogue).  I’ve always felt that in the final analysis, it came down to just me and God without other people really being involved.  That’s probably a horrible thing to say, but it ties in with my lack of friends, my difficulties communicating with my parents, the fact that I was single for most of my adult life and my fascination with solipsism and solipsistic fiction.

I guess now I feel that I have to “sell” Orthodox Judaism to E. or she won’t join me in it and I don’t know how to sell something I feel so increasingly equivocal about.  Depressive anhedonia is a big part of the problem too, more so than anything theological.  It’s hard to enjoy Judaism when I can’t enjoy anything, even things that are easier to enjoy.

Ashley Leia asked me on the last post if I felt that God causes my suffering.  I said yes.  Conceptually that doesn’t bother me so much. I came to the conclusion a while back that we aren’t here on Earth to be happy, but to grow, and growth often requires suffering as a stimulus, therefore suffering is to be accepted as part of the human condition in this world.  Nevertheless, I feel exhausted and not sure how to carry on sometimes. It just feels so overwhelming and unending. There is definitely a difference between accepting suffering intellectually and feeling emotionally accepting of it.  I can accept it intellectually (I know other people have it much worse than I do), but it’s hard to accept emotionally.  Hard to accept that I might always feel like this, that I’ve lost the life I thought I would have at this stage of life (career, wife, kids, community, self-love).  It’s hard to see so many other people apparently living that life with no idea if I will ever achieve it.


It doesn’t help that I’m feeling quite blocked with my writing at the moment.  I sit in front of the computer, drink a lot of tea, idly surf online and blog, but it’s a struggle to write anything for the novel.  I wonder if the story I’m trying to tell is too complicated for me, or if I’m cut out to be a writer at all.  Maybe it was absurd to think I could write about domestic abuse, a subject which I have not experienced directly.  All my writing about  it seems crass and ill-formed.


Religious crisis, low mood and writer’s block are probably connected with isolation.  I haven’t been on the depression group Zoom call for weeks as I get too tired after therapy now, which is on the same day.  E. and I haven’t spoken much for the last few days because of Shabbat and my shiur yesterday and E.’s workload, although we did speak today.  Some people who used to comment here haven’t done so for a while and nor have some bloggers I follow/am friends with posted on their blogs lately and I’m worried if everyone is OK, or if they’re angry with me and are avoiding me/have taken me off their friends’ list.  I guess I feel isolated.  I didn’t have much in the way of social contact even before lockdown, but I feel like I’m losing more of it.  My shul (synagogue) is doing another Zoom Kabbalat Shabbat service (beginning of the Friday evening service), but I found the last one awkward and uncomfortable, so I probably won’t do it again.  My parents are hoping to have my sister and brother-in-law over either socially distanced in the garden or via Zoom on Sunday to celebrate my Mum’s birthday, so hopefully that will help, although I’m nervous about even socially distanced meeting.


The Kotzker Rebbe spoke about the evil inclination stealing “the delicate chord of truth from your heart”.  After that, it no longer worries if you work or pray or study, because without the chord of truth, whatever you do is of no interest to him (i.e. it’s meaningless).  I feel like I lost the chord of truth a long time ago.


I’m just feeling today that I failed at everything.  I failed at being a good Jew.  I failed at being a good writer.  I failed at being a good blogger.  I worry that I’ve failed at being a good friend and boyfriend, and probably also at being a good son and brother.

I feel that other people I meet online have a reason to be mentally ill (often abuse or trauma of some kind), but I haven’t experienced anything bad, I’m just too useless to function properly.  I should get over myself.  Alternatively, they produce something with their pain, some art or something to help others, something that somehow justifies and explains what they endured.  I haven’t managed that either.

Part of me says that this is just my inner critical voice speaking, but it seems kind of reassuring to say that.  Much harder to confront the reality of having failed at everything I tried.

The sudden upswing of depression might also be because Mum has asked me to go with her to her oncologist appointment tomorrow.  Mum likes to have someone with her, as she gets overwhelmed sometimes and misses information.  Dad went to the first few meetings, then COVID-19 happened and non-patients were not allowed in the hospital.  Now one non-patient is allowed in “At their own risk” (which is a bit scary in itself).  Mum wants it to be me rather than Dad because he may not be able to park the car there (I’m not sure why) so will have to drop us off, go home, and come back to collect us later.

There is also some genuine fear about me and E., in that we know that we both have real anxieties about the relationship over things that we can’t do anything about at the moment and we have to just sit with those feelings and see what happens in the long term.


Achievements today: I cooked dinner (spicy rice and lentils), and spent forty minutes or so researching and writing my devar Torah (Torah thought) for the week.  It’s easier to write a devar Torah sometimes (like today) than it is to study Torah for some reason, perhaps to do with concentration and motivation.  I was also anxious that I would not find enough material for this weeks’ sedra (Bamidbar, focusing on the census of the Israelites in the wilderness – not easy to talk about) so was I trying out ideas and looking for sources when I found something.

I went for a run, which I hoped would help my mood, but I struggled to run, walking lots of the time, partly because of depression, but also because of the heat and, in the second half, an exercise migraine.  I had a lot of negative thoughts buzzing around my brain: that I’ve disappointed my parents and never given them any naches (reflected glory from children or grandchildren); that E. will realise sooner or later what a useless, pathetic, needy, screwed up boyfriend I am and leave me (she’s told me I’m catastrophising about this, but it was still what I was thinking); that I’ll probably die lonely, impoverished and unloved, maybe even homeless and living on the streets…  just a negative thought spiral.

I came back too exhausted and migrainey to think negative thoughts; post-migraine I tend to feel physically fragile, but emotionally OK (a rather extreme and counter-productive way of shifting a low mood).  However, the negative thoughts are already creeping back.  I need to daven Ma’ariv (say Evening Prayers) and I want to do a little Torah study if I can today, even if it’s only a few minutes.  I want to chill out in front of the TV for a bit, but it’s getting late and I’m not sure if that will just keep me awake later.


The rabbi from my shul WhatsApped me to check how I am, which was nice.  I do feel a bit more a part of the community when he does that.  I’m not quite sure what to say at the moment, though.


There aren’t many jobs being advertised at the moment, unsurprisingly, but I just got an advert for a “Cybrarian” which sounds (a) horribly like something out of Doctor Who*, (b) horribly like something from dot-com boom of the nineties and (c) like a overly-modern company where I would not fit into the corporate culture, particularly as they put “The ability to laugh at yourself” on the job description.  How do they interview for that?  I worry they make fun of you and then say, “What’s the matter?  Can’t you laugh at yourself?”  Mind you, they put “a profound love and passion for Technology [sic]” on the list too, which sounds even more disturbing, particularly as “Technology” was capitalised throughout the advert and job description.

* Which has given us Cyberman, Cybergun, Cybercontroller, Cybermat, Cyberplanner, Cyber-megatron bomb, Cyberleader, Cyberwar, Cyberbomb (“The most explosive devices in the universe!”), Cyberlieutenant, Cybermite, Cyberiad, Cyberium and Cyberdrone.

Religious Overtones

I felt a bit better today, at least once I managed to get up and get going.  I did give in to OCD compulsions before I ate breakfast.  Once I ate, I felt calmer though.  I feel better than I did yesterday at any rate.  It’s hard to tell when my thoughts are wonky, because what can I measure them with except other thoughts?  Philip K. Dick (one of my favourite authors) said at one point in his quest to discover if he was psychotic or religiously-inspired (or possibly having messages beamed into his head by aliens, or the CIA – all these were possibilities for him) “Either I’ve invented a whole new logic or, ahem, I’m not playing with a full deck.”  I feel like that sometimes.

I had early therapy today and then a shiur (religious class) over Zoom in the evening.  The timing pretty much made writing out of the question, even if I had felt less depressed.  I woke up early, but was depressed and fell asleep again.  By the time I managed to get up, get dressed, daven (pray) a bit and have lunch, there was less than an hour until therapy.


I went for a walk after therapy and got freaked out again at the number of people around.  I know this is an “You aren’t in traffic, you are traffic” situation and I’m just as much a part of the problem as anyone else.  Still, given Mum’s compromised immune system, I’m very afraid of bringing coronavirus in and I wonder if I should start taking my exercise indoors.  I know E. hasn’t left her apartment block for two months now.  I do think there’s a mental health benefit to going outdoors and I’m reluctant to lose it.


I’m still thinking about religious stuff.  Community stuff first:

This is a comment I left on a previous post that I thought worth adding here, as I don’t think I’ve said it in a post before:

I’m still hopeful about finding a Modern Orthodox shul [synagogue] in America if I marry E.  Unfortunately, in the UK, most people who go to MO [Modern Orthodox] shuls are not frum [religious] at all. They are just traditional [keep elements of Judaism, but not the entirety of Jewish law], and I find it hard to connect with them.  My parents’ shul is MO and is fairly frum as MO shuls go. I used to go there (and do go there sometimes in the week), but it’s a bad fit for so many reasons: too big, too much talking in services, a chazan [cantor] and a choir I can’t stand and, because it’s my parents’ shul, I have no identity of my own there, I’m just my parents’ son.

I didn’t add that that’s the only really local Modern Orthodox shul.  There is apparently one the other side of the town, but it would take me ages to walk there and one can’t go by car or public transport on Shabbat (the Sabbath), so everywhere has to be walking distance.


I’ve also been thinking more theological stuff.

I think my understanding of God is quite abstract.  To be honest, once you really get involved in Jewish theology or mysticism, God becomes pretty abstract.  Richard Dawkins’ “jealous angry God of the Old Testament,” as well as being an ancient antisemitic polemic, isn’t anything that educated Jews ever believed.  I’m wary of simplistic statements like, “God is love,” “God is life,” “God is existence,” “God is the Infinite,” “God is the Other,” but any of those would be nearer to what I believe in than The Angry Old Man in the Sky.

At the same time, we’re supposed to believe we can have a personal relationship with God, on some level, and that’s hard when I believe in something so abstract and impersonal even though I don’t think there’s any theological reason preventing it.  I just struggle to see it in my life.  I also struggle to connect with Someone who has made me suffer so much.  Even if I believe it’s for my ultimate good, it’s hard to connect when I’m just afraid that things will get worse “for my own good.”  It’s not that I don’t believe good can come of suffering, because I do, I just feel I can’t cope with any more of it.


I also wonder what will happen to the people I care about after death.  I don’t really care what happens to me, particularly as Judaism doesn’t believe in eternal damnation and non-existence doesn’t bother me conceptually.  Still, I wonder what will happen to my friends and family who aren’t frum or who even are atheists.

Judaism is pretty vague about the afterlife.  I won’t go through the theology, from the almost total lack of mention in Tanakh (the Hebrew Bible), to its importance in the Pharisee-Sadducee split, the six (actually seven) questions asked of souls in the afterlife in the Talmud,  “All Israel have a share in The World to Come,” “The righteous of the nations have a share in The World to Come,” the Rambam’s Thirteen Principles of Faith, and so on.  It’s just that people don’t discuss it much, certainly not compared with Christianity (and possibly also Islam).

Growing up, I got the impression that most people (or most Jews?  This was vague) has a share in the Next Work (“go to Heaven” in Christian-speak).  The previous rabbi at my shul seemed to think that almost no one has a share in the Next World.  Rabbi Lord Sacks got in trouble years ago for saying all religions are sources of valid truth for non-Jews.  I worry about friends and family who aren’t so religious, or religious at all.  It is hard to know what to believe about something that is so rarely explicitly addressed.  Jews don’t really do theology overtly, only disguised in mysticism or Midrash (narrative).  We just assume God will sort everything out in the end.  Maybe that’s the best approach.


Part of the shiur this evening was about Sefer Vayikra (The Book of Leviticus) being about how to have a personal relationship with God, but I felt that this was not developed so much.  It’s something for me to think about though – tzarich iyun (this requires investigation).


I spoke about some of these worries in therapy today.  I also spoke about the fact that Judaism teaches that everyone has their own mission and their own expectations of what they can do, but that it can be hard to do that when the community has a “one size fits all” approach and there is a fear of stigma, both from depression and autism and from not fitting in completely with Jewish law.  The therapist did say that regarding my relationship with, even if E. and I didn’t have differences about religion and a need to compromise there, there would be other things we needed to compromise about.


Just because I can’t avoid religion at the moment, the next Star Trek: Voyager episode I watched to relax after therapy involved one of the characters having a near-death experience and then deciding that the afterlife is a lie as he didn’t experience it.  This might have been more affecting if he had mentioned his religious beliefs at all over the last three and a half years.  Star Trek generally assumes that religion is something clever people and cultures grow out of sooner or later.

The Fall’s Gonna Kill You

I’m trying not to start every post writing about my sleep from the previous night, but there’s no denying that I went to bed late, slept badly, had weird dreams that upset me without being entirely sure why, and got up late, feeling depressed and exhausted. Whether that’s a symptom or a cause of what followed is not clear at this point.

I have a rush of thoughts in my head and I’m not sure I can put them all down, but they centre on Judaism and my relationship to it.  I don’t think Judaism provides much meaning to me, in a tangible everyday sense, rather than a more abstract theoretical one, and it certainly doesn’t provide much joy, although I do appreciate Shabbat (the Sabbath) even if I sleep through much of it.  It’s come to the fore lately because of my relationship to E. and the fear I have that I won’t be able to “sell” Orthodox Judaism to her if I don’t like it enough myself.  I feel that I can’t get by on autopilot any more as I’ve done for many years, but that if I don’t find a way of making it enjoyable for her, we won’t be able to get married and live together.  But I can’t leave Judaism either, because I really believe in it.  I mean, really believe.  Which I suppose must mean I get some meaning from it, even if I can’t describe how or why.

I enjoy Shabbat, as I said, which is just a wonderful sacred time away from the world.  I don’t always get meaning from Torah study, but I enjoy the “archaeological” side of studying ancient texts in foreign languages.  You decode the meaning of words and sometimes it’s something truly alien to the modern experience (of life, let alone religion), but sometimes a vivid image or idea hits you and there’s a connection across hundred s or even thousands of years between you and the author (whoever he really was).  I find that exciting.  Lately I’m getting something out of studying Sacred Fire, the sermons of Rabbi Kalonymous Kalmish Shapira in the Warsaw Ghetto during the Holocaust.  I know that’s not thousands of years ago, but (thankfully) it still seems a very different time, even though it’s technically still within living memory.  He seems to understand suffering in a way that few rabbinic sources I’ve read do, understands how it can destroy you from within and stop you keeping up with religious life, which is how I feel at the moment.

I don’t think that I get much else that’s tangible out of Judaism, though, certainly not from the social aspect, although I doubt I would fit in anywhere.  As I said in a comment on the last post, I think unconsciously I don’t want to fit in anywhere; at any rate, whenever I join a new community, I start thinking up reasons why they could never accept me, which causes me to hold back and not be accepted.  Possibly I should just wait until people actually reject me rather than preempting them.  I can’t imagine living a life without Judaism though.  Secularism, in both its Enlightenment and Postmodern guises just seems so hollow and meaningless, far more so than Orthodox Judaism.  But Orthodox Judaism as it is usually presented, in both its Modern Orthodox and Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) guises just seems impossible for someone with all my issues.

The previous rabbi at my shul (synagogue) said that one needs to separate the emotional religious questions from logical ones.  Not that one is right and the other wrong, but that emotional questions need emotional answers, not logical ones and vice versa.  From that point of view, I’m in need of emotional answers, not logical ones.  Similarly, my rabbi mentor told me that when he was training as a counsellor and Jewish student chaplain that he was taught that when presented with a question of faith to address the personal problem beneath it.  He said that at the time he thought that was really offensive (to assume that every question of faith is really hiding a personal problem), but as he became more experienced, he saw that there was some truth in it.

From that point of view, the personal problem is obvious.  It is well-known that the frum (religious Orthodox Jewish) community assumes every adult is married.  It is also true that being married “locks” a person into frumkeit (religious culture) by making it harder to drop out (because of the difficulties it would entail for the marriage).  Perhaps if I’d found a frum spouse in the UK I would have swallowed my reservations about the frum world(s) to get married, whether the lack of passion and religious commitment in the Modern Orthodox world or the numerous intellectual reservations I have about the Haredi worldview.  Maybe I would have lived with the cognitive dissonance in either world, locked in by my marriage.

But I was unable to find a spouse in the frum community, and then I ended up with E., who is not frum.  Now I feel pulled in two directions: I still have an intellectual commitment to frumkeit, but I struggle to have an emotional connection with it, and now I am aware that I could make E. and my life much easier and probably more fun by simply dropping a lot of frum commitments.  It is hard to know what to do.


I feel upset with myself for what I wrote in the comment to this post.  It was true, but I felt I shouldn’t have written it.  I shouldn’t involve other people in my issues (as if I haven’t done that already to E. and my family) and I shouldn’t voice my resentment at my failure to be frum.

I worry about not fitting in with people here online too, although if ever people have chosen to be around me based on my deepest inner thoughts, it’s on my blog.  I wonder what people make of me, whether they think I’m a good person, and whether I give a negative impression of Orthodox Judaism.  I hope I don’t present Judaism in a really bad way just because of my issues.


That’s pretty much where my brain was all day today.  Feeling that I’m a bad Jew and that the system is rigged against people like me, but that there’s nothing I can do about it, and worried about what it means for my relationship.  Feeling like a fraud and not sure what I should do or where I should go.

I tried to work on my novel for an hour and a half, but I was too distracted.  I procrastinated a lot and only wrote 200 words before giving up.  I felt that my writing isn’t going anywhere, not this book and quite possibly not any books.  Which is another reason E. shouldn’t date me, because I don’t bring anything to the relationship financially.  As well as my inability to function for prolonged periods of time, whether due to depression or autism.

I’m going to post this earlier than usual, because I need to dump these thoughts out of my head.  Then I’m going to go for a run and see if that helps my mood.

Anger and Resentment

I had a not so good Shabbat (Sabbath).  It wasn’t bad exactly, just not great.

Our Haredi (ultra-Orthodox Jewish) next door neighbours had a minyan (prayer quorum) in their garden again for all the Shabbat prayer services.  I got annoyed about this because I worry about whether it could expose Mum to coronavirus.  Last week some rabbis from the local community sent out some guidelines saying that now lockdown has lifted a little, garden minyanim are OK, but only if people stay in their own garden and just daven (pray) at the same time as their neighbours.  This on the other hand was ten men in one garden and it annoyed me a lot (plus there was the noise when I was trying to pray in my own room).  So that upset me.

I was tempted to write a load of angry stuff about Haredim, given that there have been a LOT of incidents of Haredi Jews breaking lockdown in the UK, US and Israel, some of which have got into the mainstream media as a result of the police breaking gatherings up.  I decided I shouldn’t stereotype, because some Haredi Jews are keeping lockdown, but not only have they got themselves a bad name, they’re giving other Jews a bad name too, which upsets me.

I guess I have a degree of anger and frustration over the frum (religious Orthodox Jewish) community (I’m deliberately blurring the line between Modern Orthodox and ultra-Orthodox there).  I felt that I wasn’t particularly well supported with my mental health or integrating into shuls (synagogues) and the wider community.  I don’t get many Shabbat meal invitations, as single people in the frum community normally do and certainly not many people tried to find me a wife they way the community “should” do for “normal” people. I know a lot of people with similar issues to me (“older” singles, depressed, ba’alei teshuva (became religious later in life), not accepting certain Haredi beliefs and practices) complain of being marginalised in the community.  I haven’t experienced that clearly, but it could be a factor.  I hang out sometimes on… not antiHaredi blogs per se, but blogs by people who see problems in the Haredi world that they want to change (or mock).  It’s easy to get sucked into a negative, critical attitude, particularly as I don’t really subscribe to a lot of things the Haredi world believes in.

On the other hand, I admit I feel like a square peg in a round hole not just here but in every community I try to fit into (e.g. Doctor Who fandom, group therapy).  I never feel like I fit and that’s probably at least partly my fault, or the fault of my social anxiety and high functioning autism.  “High functioning” can be a bit of a misnomer, as there can be plenty of situations, especially social situations, where I don’t function well at all.  I feel like it’s partly my fault and I should find a healthier way to work through my anger and resentment.  I worry that even if I find a Modern Orthodox community that is a better fit on paper, I still won’t be able to fit in and make friends.


I got a bit upset around seudah shlishit (the third Sabbath meal, so effectively dinner time) today.  Mum and Dad had accepted some food from friends during the week that I wouldn’t have accepted because of kashrut (Jewish dietary law) fears and there was a bit of discussion about what to do with some other food that was OK, but had a question mark on it for another reasons.  Things became a bit tense for minute.  We didn’t have an argument, but it made me think.  I used to look forward to leaving home so I could run my kosher kitchen the way I wanted.  The reality is that because of depression, I’m thirty-six and still live with my parents and their rules.  I have to compromise.  And I have to compromise with my sister’s rules when I go there.  And on one level that’s OK, because life is about compromise and only crazy fundamentalists are happy about riding roughshod over other people in the name of Absolute Truth.  But on another level, I feel envious of other people whose families all keep the same level of kashrut.  It must be so much easier on so many levels.


I couldn’t sleep last night.  I had finished the Doctor Who short story collection I had been reading and didn’t feel like engaging with the history book I just started, so I ended up reading a Batman graphic novel (Death and the Maidens).  It wasn’t a particularly good one, sadly.  I hadn’t read Batman for quite some time.  I got really into it for a while, then drifted out again.  I just started a re-read of a long arc that I had mixed feelings about first time around.

I did fall sleep this afternoon, so my sleep pattern is going to be messed up now, particularly as I’m having a lot of late-night, post-Shabbat screen time, offloading here and catching up on blogs posted today.  This might be a mistake.

Well, I should probably think about bed, as it’s long past midnight now.  I’m not sure how coherent this post is, either in the abstract or to anyone who doesn’t understand the intricacies of the Orthodox Jewish community, but it’s too late to work on it any more, so here goes…


I was thinking about the fact that my autism assessment has been delayed months by COVID-19 lockdown.  The NHS hadn’t given me an idea of when it would be even before lockdown (👏👏👏), but eighteen months was the likely amount.  It’s been on hold with lockdown so it will be eighteen months after things get back to normal, whenever that is.

My relationship with E. has been on hold too.  Not literally, as we’re still Skype dating, but we wanted to move it on.  E. was trying to come over here at some point this year so we could spend some time together.  Now we don’t know if that will happen until next year.  I’m still hopeful it might happen this year.  But our hopes of having a romantic time in the summer doing outdoors stuff like going to parks and outdoor attractions is looking less and less likely.  It’s more likely to be a wet and cold November or December (although if E. is her for Chanukah that might be nice, at least if she’s up for visiting my parents).


It was difficult to get going today.  I just struggled to do anything other than sit in front of my laptop in my pyjamas.  I wasn’t even reading anything, just flicking through pages, too depressed to get dressed.

Later, I had my windows open and could hear our neighbour’s teenage son “learning” Talmud with another boy, both speaking very fast, throwing concepts around in fluent Yeshivish (mixture of English, Hebrew, Yiddish and Aramaic, rather incomprehensible to anyone who hasn’t spent a lot of time with Orthodox Jews, or rather Orthodox Jewish men as it’s something acquired in the men-only environment of yeshiva (rabbinical seminary)).  I feel bad that I can’t study like that.  It’s not just that I can’t study Talmud like that, I can’t study any Jewish texts like that, in a chevruta (paired study).  I’m not sure how much is social anxiety about not wanting to seem stupid, how much autistic issues about thinking quickly on my feet and interacting with my study partner and how much just the way my brain functions.

I tell myself that I wouldn’t thrive in a community where only one, very narrow, form of knowledge is valued, not even Torah/Jewish studies in general, but just Talmud and really only the halakhic (legal) parts of Talmud.  That’s some consolation, but I still feel my life would be better on several levels if I could study and understand Talmud better (it would help with my thoughts for future novels).  It probably is true that, if I want to write reasonably literate novels with a Jewish background at least partially for a Jewish audience, then I have to be roughly where I am.  Any more frum (religious Orthodox Jewish) and I probably wouldn’t see writing as a worthwhile activity; any less frum and I wouldn’t have the inside knowledge to write about Judaism and Jewish life.  Still, I feel like I’m walking a weird tightrope sometimes, and I do sometimes wish I had spent a year in yeshiva (rabbinical seminary), even thought I probably would have found it awful from an autistic and social anxiety perspective.

I tried to work on my novel, but it was hard to focus for some reason.  It didn’t help that I was distracted by noise not only from the teenagers learning next door, but from ongoing building works somewhere nearby.  I’m not sure if they are supposed to be at work, but they have been for some days now, if not longer.  I got a load of emails too, which probably didn’t distract me so much as allow me to procrastinate more easily, but they didn’t help.  I did write about 500 words in an hour and a half or so, which isn’t too bad.  I’m glad when I’m just making progress.

I went for a walk, but I am still getting panicked by all the people outdoors and the difficulty of avoiding them.  I worry not so much for my own health, but for fear of infecting Mum with her compromised immunity.  However, I don’t think I should stay indoors all the time.  It’s difficult.  Maybe I should start doing some aerobics instead of/as well as running (which might be a good idea anyway, to use different muscles).


I’ve nearly finished Decalog 2, the Doctor Who short story collection I’m reading.  I’m getting a bit bored of re-reading Doctor Who novels, and re-reading in general.  I don’t have any unread novels that I feel like reading right now (generally they’re too heavy) and I’m trying not to mail order stuff during lockdown.  I fancy something a bit meatier anyway, so I’m looking at my non-fiction shelves, probably either The Islamist (Ed Hussein’s account of his experiences with radical Islam) or The Siege Connor Cruise O’Brien’s political history of the modern State of Israel.  The latter is dated (it was written in the mid-eighties), but had an intriguingly good review on The Jewish Review of Books a while back as still a valid and worthwhile work.

Either book would violate my “no heavy books in lockdown” but I’m getting a bit sick of just reading fluff to avoid upsetting myself.  I would probably balance with some Batman graphic novels for when I’m not feeling so intellectual.

Productive Day

In my rush to get to my Zoom shiur (religious class) last night I forgot to take my medication.  I remembered before bed, but it meant that I didn’t feel tired when I went to bed, despite it being late.  My default is basically insomnia, and if I fall asleep easily most nights nowadays, it’s because of my medication making me drowsy, something driven home when I forget to take it, to the extent that if I can’t sleep, the first thing I do is check if I took my meds.  I did eventually fall asleep after doing my usual insomnia trick of eating porridge as a way of eating warm milk (I don’t like the taste of ‘neat’ milk, and we don’t have hot chocolate), but I had to spend quite a long time in bed wrestling with agitated thoughts first.  Not necessarily ‘bad’ thoughts, but agitated ones that I couldn’t stop.

Today was reasonably productive.  I spent an hour and three quarters or so working on my novel.  Admittedly some of that was procrastination time, but I wrote 500 words and went over my plans for the current chapter and some of the later ones to make them more detailed and coherent so that I’m sure that the plot develops more smoothly and I’m not improvising important details.  I am beginning to get worried that this isn’t going to stretch to a full-length novel, at least not on the first draft.  Then again, I know I’ve got stuff to go back and add in the second draft, so maybe that’s not such a huge problem.

I worked on my devar Torah (Torah thought) for fifteen minutes and did fifty minutes of Torah study, which is the most I’ve managed to do on a weekday for a while.  I went for a half hour walk and was a bit frightened by the fact that more people seemed to be out now that the lockdown restrictions have been loosened a little.  I don’t blame them, but I was worried about carrying some kind of infection home to Mum, who has a low immune system at the moment from chemotherapy, and it was difficult to avoid everyone.  At one point I was walking in the middle of the road to avoid people on both pavements; even then I think I passed near to some people.

I would have liked to have made my novel writing time up to a round two hours, but I can’t deny that my day was fairly productive.  My mood was more variable.  It was mostly OK, but every so often I’d hit something that would trigger difficult (depressive, agitated, anxious) thoughts for a bit.  The subjects were typical for me: religion (theology and sociology of religion); politics; dating anxieties.  I think the thoughts mostly didn’t stay around too long, but I’m not sure how much that was due to me neither fighting nor wallowing in them.  I think I did wallow in them a bit, or at least some of them.  Well, maybe “wallow” is too harsh, but I wasn’t always able to welcome my thoughts, learn from them and dismiss them.  It’s hard to remember how to deal with these thoughts when they hit me.  Still, some of the stuff I was thinking of would have upset me all day in the past and that wasn’t the case today.  Nor did E. being too busy to Skype for long leave me worrying that she was about to dump me, as it probably would have done in the past.

I guess that was a pretty good day overall, even if that doesn’t make for the most interesting blog post.  Even Ashes to Ashes was reasonably good, even if it did rip off Edge of Darkness and have some whopping big plot holes (Gene and Alex get into a top secret military establishment with one forged pass between them; then Ray, Chris and Shaz get in with no ID at all.  Riiiiiight.  Possibly there was a cut scene somewhere).


My sister came over this morning while I was still asleep and left some stuff on the doorstep for us: cooked meat for Shabbat (Saturday) meals and, more importantly, chocolate rogelach (pastries).  I think she feels frustrated that she can’t really help with Mum’s cancer because of lockdown.


Mum asked me why I didn’t applaud the NHS as per usual.  The real answer is that I was busy and didn’t want to interrupt what I was doing, but also that it’s beginning to annoy me.  As I’ve mentioned before, my experience of the NHS (for mental health) has been so variable and sometimes so awful.  It seems disloyal to say that publicly now though.  I feel a bit like I’m the first person to stop applauding Stalin and now I’m going to be sent to the gulag as a traitor (I mean in relation to everyone else on the street, not Mum).  Then again,

Hypotheticals and Counter-Factuals

I was up late last night.  I mean, I’m up late every night, partly because depression makes me nocturnal and partly because having a girlfriend in a timezone five hours behind me makes for a lot of late night Skype calls, but I was up particularly late, partly writing my blog post (which shouldn’t have taken that long) and partly dealing with difficult emotions.  Watching an episode of Ashes to Ashes had triggered a lot of thoughts and feelings about could I have become a really bad person, like the villain in that episode (a sexually frustrated and religiously-motivated rapist and murderer), if my life had gone just a little bit differently.  Really there’s no end to counter-factual questions like that, because there’s no way to test which of our characteristics are innate and which are acquired, or even how much of each.  But depression (and, I guess, pure O OCD) love those kind of “Am I really a bad person?” questions, particularly if they can lead to me beating myself up for things I’ve never done and would never too.

I probably do ask myself these type of hypothetical questions too much.  I know I was asking here the other day about whether I would continue any Orthodox Jewish practice if I lost my belief, and I do often wonder if I was an atheist what my source of moral inspiration would be and so on.  Up to a point those questions are interesting, but once you go down the “How close am I to being a murderer?” route it’s more a sign of mental illness.

Then I realised (this is still late last night) that an invitation I had to a Zoom anniversary get-together for a shul (synagogue) friend’s thirtieth wedding anniversary (yes, my shul friends are mostly a lot older than me) was yesterday and not next Tuesday.  I was a bit upset to have missed it.  I wasn’t entirely looking forward to it, as I find Zoom events hard, but if I didn’t go I would have wanted to send a message beforehand to explain why I find them hard, rather than just not show up.  I sent an apologetic text today, but I still feel a bit upset.  I guess it is easy to lose track of time in lockdown.

I got woken up early in the morning, unfortunately by Mum being sick from chemo side effects.  I got her some water and she said she thought she was OK, so I went back to bed and then fell into a deep sleep for hours, waking up after midday, which was disappointing when I’ve been trying so hard lately to move my wake up time a bit earlier in the day.  It was almost the end of time for Shacharit (morning prayers), so I somehow managed to get dressed quickly and pray a little bit before breakfast, which I usually find impossible because I’m too drained and depressed until after eating cereal and drinking coffee.

I didn’t do as much as I would have liked today, partly because of that late start.  I spent a bit over half an hour working on my devar Torah (Torah thought) for the week, which might not have been the best use of time.  I’ve been trying to give my divrei Torah more definite conclusions.  The typical way most people would do this is either ending on a takeaway practical moral or personal development point or a quasi-prayer that the world should be redeemed soon.  I don’t really feel comfortable with either of those, but I feel like I should try them.  The topic for this week pretty much forced me down the “prayer for redemption” route this week, but I think generally I’d be happier with the “moral point” version.

I worked on my novel for a little while, but I didn’t do much.  That was partly due to starting late and finishing early (as I had a Zoom shiur (religious class) this evening), partly due to feeling a bit stuck.  I’m starting to write a new chapter, and that can be hard, and this time it’s 100% events from my research and imagination, not drawing from my personal experience except in the most general sense.  It doesn’t help that my confidence in this project is a bit reduced.  I don’t think it’s going to be amazing.  I am trying to stay confident that it might get published and speak to people, but I think there’s a limit to how good could be, and that’s difficult for a perfectionist like me.  In the end I wrote about three hundred words in an hour so, which I guess illustrates how productive I have been recently, that this now seems very substandard.

I also went for a walk for half an hour or so.  It has turned cold again.

In the late afternoon, my mood dipped.  I tried to accept the difficult feelings without fighting or giving in to them, but it was hard.  I was thinking that my life is so much better than it was a number of years ago, when my depression was a constant and unbearable thing, but I also reflected that I’m still struggling with my mood and especially with my engagement with the world (which is a combined depression/social anxiety/high functioning autism thing).  I no longer have the confidence in my ability to work as a librarian or cataloguer.  At the same time, I don’t yet have confidence in my ability to write professionally, and especially not in my ability to sell my writing to publishers, which stems from a mixture of low self-esteem and social anxiety, perhaps also some autistic social ineptitude.


As I mentioned, I had an online shiur (religious class) for an hour and a half on Zoom this evening.  The class was on Rashi (Hebrew acronym for Rabbi Shlomo ben Yitzchak), the most important biblical commentator.  I struggled with it.  I find Zoom classes very difficult.  Even in speaker view, where you see primarily just the person talking (as opposed to gallery view, where everyone on the call is visible at once) the picture changes too much for me and there is often too much extraneous noise.  I think a lot of people struggle with this even without autistic sensory overload issues.  I feel self-conscious moving even slightly knowing that I’m on everyone’s screens and my usual lack of confidence in answering questions was magnified.  I didn’t really say anything at all, even when we were in smaller groups.

It didn’t help that I think I seemed to be more familiar with the texts in question than most people there, so I knew a lot of the answers in advance, but not because I worked them out, just because I had encountered them previously, so I was reluctant to say anything.  I struggle to find the confidence to speak out in classes and shiurim in general, even though by this stage I know that I am often right, and that at the London School of Jewish Studies I’m usually one of the more knowledgeable people in the class, and my confidence could use the boost of being told I’m right sometimes (which is probably a horribly arrogant thing to say).

So, I’m slightly apprehensive about the other five classes in this course.  I’m also somewhat apprehensive about another Zoom shiur I’m booked for next Monday, but I think that will be a more traditional “one person talks and everyone listens” format; likewise a three session course I’m thinking of going to in a few weeks on meaning (I feel desperately in need of more meaning in my life).  Monday’s course might help me decide what to do about the meaning course, although my current thinking is that I should have skipped the Rashi course and done the other two shiurim/courses.  However, I have paid for the Rashi course, so I will try to get the most out of it.


Today was a hard day to get going again.  I had strange dreams, which I can’t remember now, and ended up waking up at 11am and lying in bed for nearly half an hour feeling too depressed to move.  I think the main reason was anxiety about the Zoom meeting I had scheduled with my shul (synagogue) rabbi.  It was a much-postponed meeting from before Pesach (Passover) where I was going to talk about Mum’s diagnosis and my fears of Pesach religious OCD, but then he got coronavirus and lockdown happened, and then Pesach happened, and we haven’t been able to speak until now (he was ill for quite a long while), when it isn’t so important to speak any more.  Nevertheless, I thought it was worth keeping the meeting just to keep lines of communication open, as anything could still happen in the near future.

The Zoom meeting turned out to be fine, we just chatted for twenty minutes about how I’ve been, how Mum and the family are, keeping routines in lockdown and so on.  I was inwardly glad that the rabbi also finds Zoom prayer services or shiurim (classes) difficult, so it’s not just me.  It was good to have a chat with someone other than family or E. for a change.  I know I struggle with community life sometimes, but I feel if I’m paying my dues (literally and metaphorically), it’s OK to take some of the benefits of belonging to a community in terms of pastoral care.

Other than that, I cooked dinner, read over the job application I worked on yesterday and sent it and did forty-five minutes of Torah study plus fifteen minutes working on my devar Torah (Torah thought) for the week.  I tried to go for a run, but I’ve had some aches and twinges in my legs recently, even when not running, and it felt like they were getting worse as I was running so I decided to stop after just over fifteen minutes.  I was a bit disappointed, as I do get a lot from running at the moment.  To make up for it a bit, I read over my previous novel chapter; it seemed OK for now, but I’m waiting to hear what E. thinks of it.


I’ve been trying in the last couple of days to accept my negative emotions without either fighting against them or wallowing in them.  Also to try to ensure that I’m not worrying or obsessing about things that aren’t in my control or even directly in my life – things like abstract questions like what will the world be like after coronavirus, but also looking at online debates that would have been upsetting to me in the past and just accepting the difficult thoughts prompted and moving on.  Getting upset because of other people arguing online, in the press or on TV has been an issue for me in the past, usually if people argue against my opinions, but sometimes just people arguing violently on a subject I’m neutral about because I dislike conflict.

I think I picked it up from this post and then my therapist said something similar in passing yesterday.  So far it’s been quite good, but I feel I haven’t really been tested with really strong and difficult thoughts/low mood days/situations yet.  We shall see.


It’s Lag BaOmer today, which is a very minor semi-festive day, but notable for marking the end of the semi-mourning period of the Omer (at least according to the custom I follow), so I have clean shaven again and am able to listen to music more loudly now or be seen out with headphones on without feeling I have to explain about people with depression being allowed to listen to music.

My Mum had got an invite to a Zoom Lag BaOmer celebration at our old shul (the one we used to go to five years, before we moved house) where Ashley Blaker was performing.  Blaker is a Haredi stand-up comedian and comedy producer.  We watched that at lunchtime.  It was very funny, although it felt somehow lacking without being able to hear the audience respond.  I’ve seen Blaker perform a couple of times (and sometimes seen him in the street as he lives around here) and actually have one of his CDs.  He’s very funny, but I guess he walks a line that might be described as “I can say it because I’m Jewish” – telling jokes about Jews that might sound antisemitic if a non-Jew said them e.g. “There’s nothing harder in entertainment than playing to a room full of Jews.  I was going to say ‘Hosting the Oscars,’ but that’s also basically playing to a room full of Jews.”  I found that really funny, but he’s also saying that (a) Jews are picky and critical and (b) Jews are disproportionately represented in Hollywood, which are not statements we would want non-Jews to make.

Most Jewish humour is at the expense of Jews and it’s interesting that we do that rather than mocking non-Jewish groups (I think Sigmund Freud wanted to write about this, but never got around to it).  I’ve come across some Jewish anti-Nazi, anti-KGB and anti-Czarist jokes, but far more Jewish self-mocking ones.  It’s interesting.  Anyway, this turned into a bit of tangent, but it interests me.  One of the books I’d like to write, but will probably never get around to, is on Jewish humour.

I’m in the middle of watching the third episode of Ashes to Ashes and it’s annoying me that it’s not as good as Life on Mars.  Some of it is that the main character, Alex, isn’t really working for me as a character yet, although Sam, the hero of Life on Mars didn’t work that well for me either, certainly not initially.  Alex seems so sure that she’s not really back in 1981 that she doesn’t seem to engage with any of the other characters properly.  She also spouts a lot of psychobabble that I find vaguely annoying despite being interested in psychology, so it’s no wonder the other characters hate her.

The real problem is that it’s set in Britain in the eighties, and hardly a scene goes by without the implication – or just as often the explicit statement – that Britain in the eighties was a horrible place with a horrible government that let a small number of rich people get richer at the expense of most of the population.  I don’t think that’s necessarily untrue, but it does seem a bizarre political fixation what’s supposed to be a fantasy crime drama.  Life on Mars had its political moments, but not hammered home like this.

It bugs me, because I’m a student of history, and I think governments and societies are rarely all good or all bad, and thirty years after Mrs Thatcher fell from power one would hope for some perspective.  And this is not atypical of drama dealing with the Thatcher era.  Last year the BBC showed a very good, very balanced, documentary series on Mrs Thatcher and her government (Thatcher: A Very British Revolution – still available on iPlayer and recommended).  I don’t know why a documentary can show there were good and bad things about Mrs Thatcher as a person and about her government, while dramatists can’t get any perspective.

Anyway, another tangent, sorry.


Tomorrow I have a Zoom shiur (religious class) at the London School of Jewish Studies, which I’m looking forward to, but also a bit nervous about, as I don’t feel entirely comfortable with Zoom.

Anhedonia and Resentment

Another struggling morning.  It’s so hard to get going.  I just feel so tired and depressed.  It’s also easier to get sucked into despair and loneliness (missing E. – not exactly the dictionary definition of loneliness, but it’s hard to think what else it is) than at any other point of the day, although I am be glad that nowadays there are times when I’m less likely to be sucked in to them.

I wrote a job application, mostly tidying up my CV and template cover letter.  I decided to leave it before sending it and have another look at it tomorrow, as I was quite depressed today and didn’t think I really concentrated on it well.  I ought to be able to do the job well, but I’ve completely lost confidence in my ability to do the job I was trained for to the extent that I don’t think I can do this job and on some level don’t want to get it.  Nevertheless, I intend to send it tomorrow.

Other stuff done today: therapy (see below), thirty minutes of Torah study, a thirty minute walk, and a Skype call with E.  I had an idea for my devar Torah (Torah thought) for this week, but it needs developing and I’m not sure where to take it.


Therapy today was useful.  We spoke a bit about grieving for parts of my life that I lost or never had (e.g. the stereotypical frum (religious Orthodox Jewish life)) rather than internalising them as a critical internal voice (e.g. “I’m useless because I’m not married).  We also spoke about the persecutor-victim-rescuer drama triangle, a relationship model where all three roles are unhealthy (“relationship” in this context means any relationship of people, not necessarily a romantic one).  I think a lot of my friendships/romantic/would-be romantic relationships in the past were victim-rescuer relationships, one way or the other, whereas with E. that’s not the case.  It’s a lot healthier; even though both of us have a lot of issues, we don’t really play the victim or rescuer, we support each other as equals and have good boundaries.


One thing I touched on in therapy was the feeling I have of God being critical and punitive, even though that’s not the type of theology I was brought up with or read nowadays.  It’s hard to see where that comes from except my general internal critical voice, which is hyperactive.

Related to that (which I didn’t discuss in therapy), is that I’m still struggling to emotionally connect with God or Judaism.  I was trying to work out earlier how much Jewish stuff I would still do if I knew there was no reward or punishment for it.  I would still keep Shabbat, because I feel that’s very positive for me in a very tangible way.  I would still study Torah, but maybe shift my focus (then again, maybe not).  Keeping kosher doesn’t bother me so I would keep that up.  I might reduce prayer.  It’s hard to tell.

Looking at the last paragraph, I looks like overall I would stick with most of Jewish practice: (Shabbat, Torah, kashrut and davening covers the bulk of daily Jewish practice for a non-married person.  I just wish it brought me more joy.  Is it the lack of connection to God that strips it of joy or is it the depressive anhedonia (inability to experience pleasure)?  Because obviously depending on what the cause is, the solution would be very different.  It’s not like there’s much joy in my life from other sources, so it could well be that I just don’t experience much joy or pleasure.

E. and I have been studying Pirkei Avot, the volume of Talmud that deals with ethics, together.  She keeps saying that while it’s interesting and some of it seems reasonable, it wouldn’t change her life.  I’m not sure if I can think of a single Jewish teaching that changed my life in that way.  I think it’s a cumulative effect of learning lots of things and doing lots of things that made me more religious.  Nevertheless, I am aware that a lot of my religious growth was driven by not wanting to be a hypocrite in picking and choosing elements of Jewish belief and practice, and that other people won’t necessarily feel the same need for consistency.  Indeed, outside of certain parts of the Orthodox Jewish community, pick and choose Judaism is the norm.

I would say that I doubt I could pass my religiosity to others because of that lack of joy and focus on integrity, but somehow I have influenced people around me to become more frum in some ways, even if not as much as me, so obviously I’m doing something right, I just don’t know what.


I do struggle with feelings of jealousy connected to anhedonia, feeling resentful and upset that other people can enjoy their lives whereas my enjoyment has been limited for the last twenty years and not that great even before that.  The most resentment and jealousy is over sex and over religion, people who enjoy their religious lives and find meaning and joy in it as well as friendship and community.

I don’t know why these two areas are the big sources of resentment for me.  I have never been a great traveller, but I don’t really resent people who do travel, perhaps because I was taken on a number of holidays in Europe as a child.  But I don’t resent people who have been to Asia or South America or other places I’ve never been to.  I don’t really resent people who can drink alcohol safely (which I’ve always been too scared to do) or who can drive (which I’ve also always been too scared to do).  I suppose I do feel resentful when there’s a party or social community event and I’m too depressed, autistic and socially awkward to attend.  Even so, sex and religion seem to be the big sources of resentment.  Or maybe I’m just confronted with them more often.


I was thinking crazy stuff today, at least before therapy.  I don’t know if I can put it in words, but I guess there were elements of catastrophising, self-blame, repressed anger and despair.  I tried to write the job application, but then I get sucked into procrastination online, and that triggered other thoughts and feelings (see the next paragraph).  I’m trying to notice when I’m catastrophising or self-blaming or worrying about stuff that is out of my control, or getting angry with people who I have now cut out of my life, but it can be hard to do that straight away.


I saw a comment online earlier that listed “severe depression” as being up there with drink, drugs, diseases, “several” divorces and domestic violence as the only things that would stop “Any eligible Orthodox Jewish man” meeting the proverbial “‘nice’ eligible Orthodox Jewish woman.”  Well, I did find a nice Jewish girl, fortunately, but I guess this is why I had to go outside of the frum community.  Still, “depression is as bad as domestic violence”… talk about stigma.  Reminds me of another article I saw years ago, on a secular website this time, that basically said if you have treatment-resistant depression, you’re never going to find a romantic partner, and that’s not fair, but life’s not fair, so deal with it.  It really was that blunt.


Boots has sold out of hair clippers.  I’m going to look like the abominable snowman by the time the barbers re-open.  At least I can shave again tomorrow.

Writing Fiction, Writing Autobiography

I struggled to get going again today.  I just felt completely drained.  I’m not sure how long I spent on my novel today.  I tried to write more of it, but managed only about two hundred words and hit a wall.  I decided that the chapter was finished and proofread it, but I’m open to the idea that that decision may be a result of depression and I will have more to add on another day.  Reading over it, some of the earlier parts of the chapter were definitely quite good, but it’s a mixed bag overall.  Again, the surreal interludes are both more enjoyable to write and seem to be better written on re-reading.  The chapter weighs in at just over 4,000 words, which is a little short.  To be honest, the novel as a whole is probably a little on the short side (it’s currently around 30,000 words, depending on whether or not I include the prologue), but I’m hoping the second draft will expand a bit.

To be honest, I’m struggling a bit to keep going with the novel at the moment.  In the abstract, I think it’s a story worth telling, but I’m not at all convinced that I’m telling it well plus I worry that the autobiographical bit is of no interest to anyone other than me; likewise that the character most like me is boring, irritating and self-obsessed.  Am I just projecting my low self-esteem?  Or is it true?  It’s upsetting to feel that my life story isn’t interesting to anyone else, let alone that I’m a boring, annoying drama queen.  At least I have some ideas for other novels that would be very different in style and content from the semi-autobiographical novel of character dealing with Big Issues that I’m currently writing.  If nothing else, writing this novel has convinced me that whatever future I may or may not have as a writer, it’s not as a writer of highbrow literary fiction, perhaps sadly, but perhaps fortunately.

It’s funny because Bryony Gordon has a new book out that was being promoted in the newspaper yesterday, and she’s written so much about her issues, and I find myself wondering how she’s managed to do that.  Admittedly her issues inspired her to do crazy, impulsive, hedonistic, dangerous things that were probably bad at the time, but led to good stories, whereas my issues tied me to a life of… not quite monkish abstinence, but very little actually happening, just a lot of sitting around feeling lonely and miserable.


I went for a run, which helped my mood a bit.  It was good running weather: dry, but cold.  I like the bracing feeling of running in the cold, like swimming in the sea in winter (not that I’ve ever tried that).  I Skyped E. too; we have a routine now of studying some of Pirkei Avot (the part of the Talmud dealing with ethics) on Sunday (at her suggestion, I should add – I’m not forcing religion on her!).  So I felt better after the run and Skyping E. although it is hard not knowing when we will be able to spend time together in person.

Audacity Towards Heaven

I started re-reading the Sacred Fire: Torah from the Years of Fury 1939-1942.  It’s a collection of sermons Rabbi Kalonymos Kalmish Shapira, the Piaseczno Rebbe, gave in the Warsaw Ghetto during the Holocaust.  He hid the papers, along with other writings of his, with other papers about life in the Ghetto hidden by the Oyneg Shabbos group who tried to record life in the Ghetto.  Rabbi Shapira was murdered by the Nazis, but after the War the papers were rediscovered and Rabbi Shapira’s books were published.

I’ve read the book before, but I read it as a sedra book i.e. all the sermons on one sedra or festival (it actually starts with Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year) in 1939 and not Shabbat Bereshit several weeks later) and then all the sermons on the next sedra to coincide with those points in the Jewish year.    So three sermons on Rosh Hashanah (1939, 1940 and 1941) and then three on Shabbat Shuva and so on.  I’m now reading it as a work of Holocaust theology in chronological order of delivery (1939, 1940, 1941, 1942).

Already in November 1939, Rabbi Shapira is voicing bold ideas.   For parashat Chayei Sarah he refers to the rabbinic tradition that Sarah died of shock when she heard that Avraham (Abraham) had nearly sacrificed their son, Yitzchak (Isaac) at God’s command:

The Torah may also be telling us that our mother Sarah, who took the binding of Isaac so much to heart that her soul flew out of her, died for the good of the Jewish people.  She died in order to show God that a Jew should not be expected to suffer unlimited levels of anguish.  Even though a person, with the mercy of God, survives and escapes death, nevertheless elements of his capability, his mind, and his spirit are forever broken and, as a result of his ordeal, lost to him.  In the final analysis, what difference does it make, whether all of me or part of me is killed?

Here we see rabbinic chutzpah klapei shmaya, audacity towards Heaven, protesting that human suffering is unfair.  What resonates with me is the image of being “forever broken” in mind and spirit and partly killed.  I have not suffered like those in the Warsaw Ghetto, but there is the fear that I can never be whole, particularly in terms of making up for the years (decades, really) of life lost to mental illness, in terms of lost experiences, love, career progress etc. and in terms of the scars left by what I thought and felt.


In other news, Shabbat (the Sabbath) was an ordinary lockdown Shabbat.  Eat, sleep, read, daven (pray), study Torah etc.  I didn’t go for a walk today, mostly because I slept too long in the afternoon.  That was it, really.

Matt Pritchett (“Matt”) is The Daily Telegraph‘s pocket cartoonist.  I think he’s wonderful.  We’re all big Matt fans in this house.  We bought Dad the Best of Matt 2019 book for Chanukah last year.  I flicked through it today and it’s still really funny, but it made me realise that we didn’t know how lucky we were when all we had to worry about was Brixit.  To think that we used to say, “If only Brexit was over and we could talk about something else…”

Another Day

I went to bed late last night.  I did a lot during the day, but then I got an exercise migraine after running and had dinner late, then Skyped E. for quite a long time.  I spent quite a while blogging and then finished watching the first episode of Life on Mars sequel Ashes to Ashes, which I felt shared some flaws with Doctor Who of the same time, but was broadly entertaining.  I got to bed very late and then struggled to get up today.  I was awake at 10am when I could hear my Mum sharing some bad news with Dad about a friend of theirs, but then I must have fallen asleep again as it was suddenly 11am.  I got up, but struggled to get going as usual.  I missed E. a lot.

I didn’t leave that comment on the blog where I was worried I had angered the blogger.  Someone else left a similar comment to what I intended to write, so I left it alone.

I went for a walk and collected my repeat prescription.  I did find myself faffing a bit at home and struggling to get down to work on my novel.  I tried to work at it for half an hour or so, but mostly felt too tired, both physically and intellectually.  I’m not so depressed in terms of mood; it’s slightly low, but it’s been worse, but I do feel very tired and end-of-week-ey.  I’m a little frustrated, but I did do a lot of writing during the week, so I’m going to try at least not to beat myself up so much about it.

I feel sometimes like my ideal work schedule (if I wasn’t so depressed and was working full days) would be something like 11.00am to 7.00pm each day rather than 9.00am til 5.00pm and also working an Israeli work week, Sunday to Thursday with Fridays for Shabbat (Sabbath) preparation.  I never get much done on Fridays other than Shabbat stuff.  If I do make it as a professional author, I think that is how I would organise my work days and weeks.


My shul (synagogue) rabbi got in touch to see how I’m doing and to ask if I still would like to speak on Zoom.  You may recall I was going to speak to him before Pesach (Passover) about my Pesach stress and Mum’s chemo, but then lockdown happened.  I said I would like to speak, although that was mostly out of politeness.  It seemed rude to say, “No, I’m fine now.”  We probably won’t speak for long.

He did say that he hasn’t seen me at the online Zoom shiurim (religious classes) he’s been running in lockdown and I wasn’t sure if he was asking if I was OK or if he wanted to interest me in joining some of the shiurim.  This is the type of interaction that throws me and I don’t really know what’s happening or how to respond, in particular how to say that none of the shiur topics really interested me and that I’ve been focused on my own private Torah study and also on trying to cope with lockdown and Mum being ill and trying to work a bit on my novel.

So far as I can tell, there seem to be two stereotypical lockdown experiences: either really manic struggling to cope or relaxed and having loads of free time.  I’m in between the two, but closer to the manic; I’ve done a lot of housework, cooking and exercise as well as working on my novel and I haven’t had lots of time sitting around downloading plays or Zooming shiurim, although I have booked some London School of Jewish Studies shiurim for the next few weeks now their term is restarting.  I think I prefer LSJS topics to shul ones, to be honest.

Are Friends Electric?

I got up a little later today, at 10.30am, but still before 11.00.  When I got up, I found myself struggling with difficult emotions that I couldn’t really put into words.  It’s hard when I can’t put things into words, as I can’t write about them or speak about them in therapy, although sometimes I try to take the feelings to therapy and the therapist or the therapy process helps me to find the words.

Dad took Mum to hospital for chemo soon after I got up.  He’s not allowed to stay there at the moment because of social distancing, so has to come home and then go out again to pick her up.  It meant both my parents were out for a while, which is not so common at the moment, at least not for more half an hour or so.  This can be good or bad.  I like the quiet, but maybe I need other people around on some level, particularly when I’m depressed.  I just moped around after breakfast and missed E.  Maybe that would have happened even if my parents were here.  It probably would, to be honest.


I did two hours of work on my novel, writing about fourteen hundred words,  which is probably a record for me in terms of amount of fiction written in one day (and also the length of this post… blogging is much easier than fiction writing).  I was mostly writing a surreal interlude.  These are easier for me to write than the realistic bits.  Writing something as autobiographical as this has locked me into realist narrative,  but I’m not really that comfortable with it.  It’s a shame, as I have two or three other ideas for realist, literary novels that I think could be really good, but I don’t think I could write them (yet?).  Fortunately, lately I’ve been having ideas for a non-realist book/series of books that I hope to work on when this novel is finished, although I’m keeping quiet about this for now…

In other activity, I spent ten minutes polishing off my devar Torah (Torah thought) for the week and half an hour on Torah study.  I did some serious textual study, Tehillim (Psalms) and Mishnah in Hebrew.  The Artscroll Mishnah commentary confuses me.  It goes into too much detail about what is in the Talmud Bavli and the Talmud Yerushalmi and the different commentaries and super-commentaries, the Rishonim and the Acharonim (the Medieval commentaries and post-Medieval commentaries).  I get completely confused and have no idea what the Mishnah is talking about when I probably could understand it on a basic level if it was simplified.  Sadly, the Kehati Mishnah which is much more succinct and guides you through the basic meaning of the Mishnah is now out of print and hard to get hold of and I don’t think Koren have an English language Mishnah yet, so I’m stuck with the Artscroll.

I ran for thirty-five minutes again, for the third time this week, which I haven’t managed for a very long time.  I was out at 8pm when everyone applauds the NHS.  It was amusing, feeling like I was finishing a marathon when I was only halfway through my run, but I was irritated by the number of people coming out of their drives and onto the pavement, making me either run in the road or risk coming close enough to get infected.  This only exacerbated my mixed feelings about the whole exercise (the NHS applause, not the run).  I realised that if anyone wants to be a populist dictator in this country, they shouldn’t whip up racial hatred, start a war or press for emergency powers – just present themselves as the champion of the NHS.  It worked for Tony Blair.

The problem is that despite a lot of activity, I still wish I had done more.  If I had got up earlier, or been less depressed when I did get up, I might have managed more Torah study or been able to go to bed earlier tonight.  If I hadn’t got an exercise migraine I might have managed a little more Torah study, or to talk to E. for longer…  It’s an unhelpful attitude, but it persists in me.  Nevertheless, I can see that this has been a very productive week.


I weighed 75kg this morning, nearly 12 stone.  Admittedly that was after breakfast (I’m really bad at remembering to weigh myself before breakfast.  I’m really bad at doing anything before breakfast, to be honest).  I know I need to lose weight, but it’s hard.  I do eat quite a bit of junk on Shabbat and I’m not entirely sure why my self-control deserts me then, but otherwise I limit myself to one unhealthy thing a day.  I try not to eat ice cream more than once a week, if not even less frequently (ice cream is my biggest comfort eating temptation, and is something we currently have loads of as Mum can eat it when chemo side-effects make it hard for her to eat more solid things).  But I feel it’s so hard to cut junk out entirely when I’m depressed, I just need something nice before I go to bed.  I tried cutting the calories different ways, eating less at lunch, but that didn’t work either, I just got really hungry in the late afternoon long before dinner (we usually eat quite late, which doesn’t help).  I already eat a lot of fruit and veg every day, so I can’t substitute them in to replace more fattening alternatives.  I do worry about being overweight and unhealthy, but I don’t know how to shift it – as far as I can tell, my weight gain is completely driven by my psychiatric medications, all of which have weight gain as a common side-effect, but I can’t come off them (I’ve tried).  I’m trying to exercise more too, but that can lead to weight gain, as muscle weighs more than fat.  I find it quite depressing.


Oh what tangled webs we weave…  I’ve mentioned about losing friends in the last few months.  One was someone whose blog I read.  We weren’t really friends, but I did comment there a lot.  Then I worried that I had said the wrong thing.  I felt my comments were becoming unintentionally combative because I was being upset (I won’t say ‘triggered’) by blog discussions of dating in the frum world.  I wasn’t trying to start a fight, but I worried it looked that way and wasn’t sure if my comments were ignored deliberately or just missed.  Then there was a reply to me that might have been angry or might not.

So, I resolved to stop reading and commenting, but I was weak, so I went back to reading and swore not to comment.  There was a post today with a religious question for which I think I have a helpful answer.  But I’m too scared to post.  I thought of posting under a different name, but worried that it could be identified as coming from me, possibly provoking further anger.  So, as of now, I haven’t commented, but it is frustrating when I think I could help.

The bottom line is that it was probably another online communication that I over-invested in and thought was friendlier than it actually was.  I used to think that my in-person social anxieties and awkwardnesses were mitigated online.  To some extent that’s true, but I think I do still have the ability to make people think I’m weird and rude.  I think I’ve upset people online before by not counting online friendships as “real” friendships, but to some extent it’s a defence strategy in a situation where I don’t know how much weight and significance the other person gives to interactions that mean a lot to me.


Related to the above: I have to say, writing a semi-autobiographical novel has really driven home how much other people might see me as a self-obsessed, moody, standoffish drama queen.  Not the type of person you would want to be friends with.  So much for “We’re all the heroes of our stories.”  I think I’m probably the irritating geeky character who gets killed off three quarters of the way through.

I did at least put “might see me as a self-obsessed (etc.)”.  In the past I would have been sure.

Avoidance, Esteem and Too Much Theology

I got up at 10am again today.  I tried to make it for 9.30, but I kept drifting in and out of sleep, having weird dreams.  I did go online before getting dressed though.  I try to tell myself I am a work in progress.  The problem is that, particularly early in the day, when I’m not doing anything, the depression rushes in.  It stops me getting started on my day and it can also creep in when I’m doing other things.  I felt pretty depressed while davening (praying) this morning, for instance, without an obvious trigger.

I had another day that got away from me, another autistic-bad-at-planning day when I made an over-enthusiastic plan and quickly drifted away from it.  Actually, it’s as much depression’s fault as autism’s, given that I would be OK for a bit and then suddenly hit by a wave of depression.  I feel like I use autism and depression to make excuses for myself, but then again maybe I just use them to blame myself in different ways.

I did manage about an hour and a half on my novel, just over a thousand words, battling procrastination and not really wanting to confront some of my less than stellar times at Oxford.  I would have liked to have written some more, but I could feel the kind of tension inside my skull that I associate with exhaustion and imminent burn out, so I stopped.  By that stage I had also drafted my devar Torah (Torah thought) for the week, done some hoovering to help with the housework, and been for a forty-five minute walk.  I did about twenty minutes of Torah study too.  So, not a bad day productivity-wise, even if I would like to do MORE all the time.


(The next paragraph or two gets a bit theological, so you might want to skip ahead.)

This evening is the start of my paternal grandfather’s yortzeit (death anniversary).  Usually my father would go to shul (synagogue) for Ma’ariv (Evening Prayers) and say the Mourner’s Kaddish prayer.  This has to be said with nine other men, and doing it on Zoom is not permitted.  Instead, we davened Ma’ariv on Zoom, with a whole bunch of Dad’s friends and some family, but without Kaddish (and one or two other things that can’t be said remotely).  Instead, following rabbinic advice, afterwards I read out and explained a Mishnah (the oldest part of the Talmud, the Jewish oral tradition).  I just read the most recent Mishnah in my ongoing study of Seder Zeraim, the order dealing with agricultural law, specifically Terumot chapter one, mishnah one, the volume dealing with the portion of the crop given to the priests in ancient times.  It’s really not the best thing to pick, but I wasn’t sure what else to do and picking another mishnah at random seemed a bit arbitrary.  At least it wasn’t a very complicated one to explain.  The idea is that by us studying the mishnah together my grandfather has prompted Torah study, which results in him attaining greater reward in Heaven.

My problem is that I struggle theologically with the idea that we can do anything meaningful to help the dead.  I see Kaddish as being primarily for the mourner, to reconnect with God after loss.  The idea that Torah study by a person’s descendants can help a dead person is only about a hundred and fifty years old, which is yesterday in Judaism.  Not ancient at all.  Even Mourner’s Kaddish “only” goes back about 1,000 years.  Before teaching the Mishnah on Zoom, I was supposed to say “May my grandfather’s  neshama (soul) have an aliyah (be elevated), but I really feel uncomfortable saying that, as I’m really not sure reward works that way.  I feel very uncomfortable with the idea, widespread in contemporary Orthodox Judaism, that we can transfer our merits around to anyone in need, living or dead.  I don’t believe reward (and punishment, for that matter) is something external.  As the former rabbi of my shul said, “Heaven isn’t a palace in the sky and if you do enough good things they give you the keys.”  Occasionally, we get material reward in this world, which is external, but usually reward is in the next world, where I believe it is a form of closeness to and understanding of God, a product of what we made our souls into in this world, not an external gift given to us by God.  As one rabbi said, it is like memory, and just as you can’t give your memories to someone else, you can’t give the connection you made with God from doing a mitzvah or studying Torah.

I think this is perfectly Orthodox, but I know that 99% of Orthodox Jews disagree with me, so it’s a(nother) thing I just keep quiet about.

Anyway, in my head I was teaching the mishnah in memory of my grandfather (to perpetuate his memory among the living), but I said something like “hopefully it will be an aliyah for his neshama.”  I felt I had to say it because people might have prompted me if I didn’t and partly just in case I’m wrong and it could do something for him.  But I feel vaguely dishonest and hypocritical.

I also felt a bit bad that I had written an explanation of the mishnah and just read it out.  When I do public speaking, I usually prefer to write notes and speak partially from memory rather than reading out, but I didn’t feel that I understood the mishnah well enough to do that.  At least I didn’t shake.

I didn’t stay for the lechaim (drink) afterwards as I don’t like Zoom and it sounded like the organised chaos of twenty or thirty people on Zoom at the same time, talking at the same time, shouting to be heard, and interrupting each other, plus, of course, I don’t drink.  Eventually my Dad’s friends left the call and it was just family.  I felt like I should have been there for more of the family call, but I needed to eat and unwind a bit.  Only a few hours earlier I was writing about my fictionalised younger self’s tendency to withdraw and not connect with people when the opportunity presented itself and then I was falling into the same patterns of avoidance.  I did eventually decide to go down and join in the rest of the call after I had eaten, so there is some progress since I was in my early twenties.


I have a folder where I save positive blog comments and emails that I’ve been sent.  I use them to cheer myself up and boost my self-esteem when it’s low.  The problem is that I don’t remember to look at them.  I used to have some printed out and blue tacked to my cupboards so I saw them.  Speaking about this to my new therapist on Monday, I decided that I should do that again.  I’ve been cutting and pasting some quotes from people and feel quite emotional… there’s a lot of people, most of whom I’ve never met in person, who seem to have positive things to say about me and my writing and I’m not entirely sure how to deal with that.  My mind is trying to make me beat myself up for losing contact with some of them, but I know that the way the online world works; long-term contacts are rare.  I’m more inclined to beat myself up about people who were once my friends, but who have fallen out with me, usually for reasons I do not fully understand or agree with.  I have thought about deleting these comments and emails in the past, but so far I have not done so.  Aside from it seeming a bit like a Stalinist rewriting of history to pretend that we were never friends, I like to remember that we were friends once, even if it didn’t last.  I’m not really a grudge-bearer.

Also, while looking in the folder, I found the first email E. ever sent me, which I thought I had lost forever, so that cheered me up.  It’s weird to think if she had never sent that email, both our lives would have gone on completely different paths.

More Lockdown

I got up just after 10am again today, although it was more of a struggle, and it’s still a big struggle against depression and exhaustion to actually get going after getting up.  I do feel a sort of societal moral pressure to have more of a morning, as if being a morning person is more respectable than a night owl, which is difficult for me as my depression always makes me nocturnal, a trend reinforced by having a girlfriend living in a time zone five hours behind me.  It doesn’t help that Judaism orientates a person towards being a morning person.  The evening prayers can be said any time during the night, but the morning prayers should really be said in the early hours of the morning.


In terms of activity, today I helped Dad clean the kitchen, did thirty-five minutes of Torah study and went for a thirty-five minute jog (a good one).  I might try to squeeze in a bit more Torah study before bed.  I cooked dinner, a new recipe suggested by E.  I had some trouble with it, so it took quite a while.  That ate into my writing time and I would not normally go jogging on a day when I was cooking too, as they I find both are time-consuming activities, inasmuch as they seem to expand and take more time than I allocate, however much time I leave for them.  However, I wanted to try to run three times a week and I don’t want to run tomorrow, as I’m doing a Zoom Ma’ariv/Mishnah thing in the evening with Dad for his father’s yortzeit (death anniversary) and I didn’t want to risk getting an exercise migraine (more on that tomorrow, I expect).  The result was that I didn’t do much work on my novel: about fifteen minutes on research, reading an article on controlling behaviour in relationships that I think I already looked at last year (I wish the BBC wouldn’t promote months-old articles on the front page of their news site), and half an hour or so of writing after dinner, but I was too tired to really do much, only adding a couple of hundred words and editing what I wrote yesterday.


I Skyped E.  We both miss each other a lot, but we’re running out of stuff to say to each other each day when every day is largely like the last.  Still, we’re talking every day, so it seems like we have a basic level of compatibility and ability to hold a conversation regardless of the circumstances, which is good.


My replacement copy of Life on Mars series two on DVD arrived on Saturday, but it also seems to stick.  So, I’m assuming it’s a problem from the manufacturer,  which may have affected series one too, although not as badly.  It’s still watchable, but it’s frustrating as the image freezes and it can be hard to restart it.  It certainly jerks you out of the world of the story.  It’s a shame, as it’s a very good series.  I hope the sequel series Ashes to Ashes isn’t similarly affected when I get to it.


Pointless euphemism of the day: I got an email from a contact at a job agency (not offering a job, just keeping in touch) and noticed for the first time that she’s a “Talent Attraction Consultant”.  Googling, it looks like this is a common thing and not just a quirk of the agency she works for.  I find this hilariously pretentious.

Lockdown Blues

I got up at 10.00am again.  I should probably feel more pleased with that than I actually am.  I’m not good at praising myself on achievements (I leave that to E.).  I still staggered around the house in a tired, depressed haze for an hour and a half afterwards, trying to wake up, and I went online before getting dressed, which is bad of me.


I’m still counting down to Lag B’Omer, when I can shave again and listen to music without feeling guilty, or worrying that my parents can hear (because I still haven’t told them that depressed people can listen to music, because…  I’m not really sure why, actually).  Only about a week left…

What I can’t count down to is the end of lockdown.  It’s beginning to get to me though, even though on the surface it hasn’t changed a whole lot about my life, except getting rid of job-hunting, which I hated anyway.  The deaths on TV seem pretty distant and far away, even though I know people (well, one person, a very close friend of my parents) who was hospitalised with what was probably COVID-19 complications and I know of someone else who died of it (my rabbi mentor’s grandmother, who I met once).

But I’m tired of going out of my way to avoid people when shopping or jogging and I’m tired of worrying about Mum getting COVID-19 with her reduced immune system.  I’m worried about E. being in her apartment by herself indefinitely.   I want to be in the same country as her, which can’t happen until lockdown is lifted in both the UK and the US, probably not for some time afterwards.  And I’m tired of shortages and not feeling like I can pop down the road to buy things, and the atmosphere of death and uncertainty.


I tried to work on my novel some more.  I managed just under nine hundred words in one hour and a half.  It’s hard to write when you feel as miserable as I did earlier today.  I want to add more humour to my writing, but I’m not sure how.  I think it needs it.  I’ve got a growing list of things to add in the redrafts, stylistic things as much as plot elements, and I’m not sure how I do that.  I suppose I shouldn’t expect myself to have everything done from the start, but I do anyway.

I did the writing before therapy.  After therapy I was in a much better mood, but I was tired and I didn’t want to overstretch myself by forcing myself to write more.  I’ve moved my appointment from 3.00pm to 4.00pm next week, which will hopefully give me more time to write before therapy and I can crash afterwards if necessary.


As mentioned above, I had Skype therapy with a new therapist.  She seemed nice, and asked whether I wanted her to prompt me when I paused for a long time.  Some therapists just let you sit there until you can think of something.  We spoke a bit about my relationship with E. and how it seems a gamble (in the therapist’s words), but also that it seems very positive.  In particular the therapist re-framed things from thinking about the big steps the relationship could lead to (marriage, emigration, being with someone on a different religious level) to focusing on the many smaller, manageable steps that I will have to take to get to that point which will make it easier.

I also cooked dinner (macaroni cheese) and went for a walk for forty-five minutes or so (including popping into the pharmacy to request a repeat prescription), so it was a busy day.  I managed ten minutes of Torah study before therapy.  I would have liked to have done more afterwards, but after attempting to do so for five or ten minutes decided I was too tired.

Sour Grapes?

I got to bed at 1.30am last night, which is late, but is pretty early for a motzei Shabbat (Saturday evening) in the summer, when Shabbat goes out late and it takes time to tidy up, blog what happened during the day and have something to eat and just generally shift from “Shabbat mode” to “weekday mode” and then to “bed mode.”  I didn’t fall asleep until after 2.30am, though.  I did, however, manage to get up at 10.00am this morning, although not 8.00am when I first woke up and tried, and failed, to get up.  The lack of sleep was perhaps partly due to ideas for a my novel, and now for a second novel (which I’m worried may be tasteless, but trying not to think about that for now).  The second novel is very different from the first, but I’m trying to focus on one at a time.

Despite this, I struggled with writing (the first novel) today.  I don’t know why, I just felt like I was wading through treacle.  I felt drained, despite getting up early.  I was not tired exactly, but it was hard to think.  I was stuck in part of the novel that doesn’t really relate to my life and which is a necessary, but not terribly interesting part of the story, and I felt I was just spinning my wheels, trying to get through it to get to the next bit, even if I radically rewrite it in the redrafts.  I think that’s the thing to do at the moment, just to press on and try to get the first draft finished as soon as possible and then see what work needs doing on it.

I probably wrote for about an hour and a half overall today, excluding lots of procrastination mixed in there.  I think I wrote around 700 words, finishing the chapter and then reading back the finished chapter.  I also did some restructuring of the chapter divisions in the plan for the book.  I felt that I would have liked to have done more.  I just feel negative about things today.  I guess there are always going to be good days and bad days.  The word count is about 26,000 which is pretty good.  I’ve been told an average novel is 80,000 to 100,000 words, so I’m about a third of the way there, which matches where I am in my outline for the book.

I went for a thirty-five minute run, but I was sluggish there too.  It was hard to get going, I was frequently short of breath and prone to aches and cramps.  Still, I did my usual length run.

I did about thirty minutes of Torah study by myself and another forty-five with E. on Skype.

Despite achieving quite a bit, I think depression and uncertainty about my writing blended into general depression and uncertainty about my life today.  It’s hard to be objective about things like my writing, my relationship, my position in the Jewish community… so many different things affect how I see those things.  Sometimes I get terrified that my life is going irretrievably down the toilet; other times I feel more optimistic; but it is hard to tell which is objectively correct, if either.  I wish everything didn’t have to be so hard for me.

In this regard, I’m glad I have therapy tomorrow, but I’m also very nervous about it.  What if the therapist tells me I’m living my life wrong?  OK, a therapist wouldn’t say that in so many words, but what if I’m left with the conclusion that I’m living it wrongly?  I can’t see any better alternatives.


When I was trying to write, but procrastinating, I read about the shidduch system, the system of arranged blind dates in the Orthodox community by which people date, the system that I felt rather failed me (although as I’m happy with E., it’s good that it failed me, but I still have some resentment and feel like a second-class citizen generally).  I don’t know why I keep looking for stuff that I disagree with about the Haredi world.  Maybe it’s a sour grapes feeling.  “Yeah, I may have failed to be a good Haredi Jew, but I don’t even want to be part of your dysfunctional society, so there!”

There are things I admire about the Haredi world: the close-knit supportive families forming close-knit supportive communities; the dedication to religion, Torah study and prayer.  Yet the good is often inseparable from the bad: the hostility to outsiders, the obscurantism, the conformism.  Unfortunately, if the demographic trends in the Jewish community continue, in a couple of generations most Jews will be Haredi.  The Modern Orthodox don’t really get a look in these projections, for all that they’re a prosperous and well-educated (generally and religiously) minority at the moment.

I’m not sure why I’ve written so much about this (most of which I cut before posting), or why I’m thinking about it so much at the moment.  There is a weird, “wanting to be accepted, but also not wanting to be accepted” feeling about it.


shul friend emailed to check on me, which was nice.  It’s moments like that make me feel more accepted into the community.  And I will finish on that positive note.

Very Short Post

I was going to be good and not go online after Shabbat (the Sabbath), but I needed to put my computer on to send an email and record some writing ideas, so I thought I would say hi.

The shul Zoom Kaballat Shabbat (synagogue Zoom Friday evening service) was not great.  I had a lot of social anxiety, worried people could see my room, worried people would think I had switched off my webcam when it simply doesn’t work for more than a minute or two, worried I could be heard even with my microphone muted, just generally worried…  They got everyone to mute their microphones, but it meant it didn’t sound particularly loud and “together,” if that makes sense.  I probably won’t do that again.  To be honest, I think using Zoom for more than three or four people just freaks me out and confuses me a bit and I’m not sure why (probably an autism thing).

I seem to wake up around 8am and go back to sleep because I worry I haven’t had enough sleep or simply feel too overwhelmed to start the day.  I think I need to try to get up then and stay up, somehow, as it would get me some more time in the day.

That was it, really.

Oh, I get emails from various library blogs for work reasons.  I opened my email after Shabbat and found that The New York Public Library blog has just posted a massive list of “raised Orthodox, rebelled, became secular” fiction and non-fiction to go with Unorthodox.  I know I said the other day that I don’t think there’s a massive conspiracy of publishers to promote leaving Orthodox Judaism and to silence people who join it, but it seemed a bit much not to put any books that present Orthodox Judaism in a positive light on the list, not even Chaim Potok’s The Chosen and its sequel The Promise or My Name is Asher Lev and its sequel The Gift of Asher Lev, both of which deal with people who defy the conventions of their Orthodox upbringing while not entirely burning their bridges with the community and still remaining fairly religious.

First of the Month and No Returns

It is somehow the first of May, and a third of the year has gone, much of it swallowed up by coronavirus.  I am not as far ahead on my novel as I would like to be, and have only had paid work for one month out of four, which is proportionately similar to 2019 (three months out of twelve).

I woke up early and tried hard to get up, but I didn’t manage it and actually ended up getting up slightly later than intended.  I tell myself I am a work in progress, but it isn’t always easy to believe.  Or at least, it isn’t always easy to see where I am progressing to.

I did nearly an hour and a half of work on my novel, writing more than 1,000 words.  I still feel that it’s going slowly.  Paradoxically, I am writing too fast, by which I mean that scenes that I feel in an ordinary novel would go on for several pages only take up one or two pages.  I am not sure why I can’t write at enough length, but some of it I suspect is the difficulty I have writing descriptive passages (which lots of people just skip anyway…) and sticking very strictly to stuff absolutely necessary to push the plot on and not show character detail or mood.  I hope to rectify some of this in the redrafting, but it’s a slow process.

I also spent fifteen minutes going over a Mishnah and taking notes for it so I can give a two minute talk on it over Zoom for my father’s friends on my grandfather’s yortzeit (death anniversary) next week.  This is to compensate for Dad not being able to say kaddish as would normally be the case if there were minyanim (services with prayer quora).  I feel uncomfortable doing stuff for the dead, and I do not feel I understand the Mishnah well enough to explain it properly, but I feel I should go through with it for the sake of my Dad and (I suppose, in some sense) my grandfather.

I Skyped E. for a quarter of an hour.  I was glad I did, as she was upset by things and needed to vent to me, but I guess the conversation reminded me just how much I’m betting on building my career as a novelist to support myself and a family, which seems pretty reckless at a time when no one is interested in publishing my writing (except apparently people who want me to write about things I know nothing about) and precious few interested in reading it.  If I don’t seem worried about this most of the time, it’s really because I’ve become resigned to being a failure on multiple levels, too messed up (insert more profane synonyms for “messed up”) to hold down a decent job or move my relationship on and doomed to be dependent on the beneficence of others for the foreseeable future (my parents, the state).  If all I needed to be a successful writer was determination and practise, I would be happier, but I also need skill, self-esteem, confidence and luck/divine intervention.

Every so often it occurs to me that some of my school teachers must have been younger than I am now, which freaks me out a little.  I never thought of them as young, yet they were holding down full-time jobs dealing with crazy teenage kids (admittedly my school was mostly well-behaved and not a jungle like some inner city state schools), presumably with private lives and families too.  And they seemed mature, even old, and authoritative.  Mind you, there are plenty of people my age with partners and careers and houses and, well, everything.  I try not to be jealous.  Actually, I’m not jealous, I just worry that I’ll never get myself sorted out.  Like I said, I tell myself I am a work in progress, but it isn’t always easy to believe.