Answering

It’s the last day of August, which seems unbelievable. The year has dragged with regard to COVID, but in other ways it has sped past. It is also Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year) next week, which also seem unbelievable. Rosh Hashanah is very rarely this early in the solar year (the Jewish lunar calendar moves about with regard to the solar calendar).

The Jewish year has been good for me on the whole. I feel a bit bad about that, when COVID has made it so terrible for so many people. But it’s good that I’m back together with E, that I’m working, albeit part-time (all I can cope with), and that I finished my novel. I just feel a lot of gratitude at where my life is, albeit coupled with a desire for help in moving it on to the next level (which would be marrying E and monetising my writing at least by getting my novel published).

Despite this, my mood today has been up and down, largely because of more boring data entry work and nervousness about speaking to my shul (synagogue) rabbi about my autism/Asperger’s (yes, that’s happening). I have tried to hold on to the good things, like Skyping E.

***

I listened to the Jewish educator Erica Brown speak about her book on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, Return: Daily Inspiration for the Days of Awe. She spoke about the difficulty of translating ‘teshuva,’ which means ‘penitence,’ which sounds rather heavy. It can also mean ‘returning’ and that’s a common translation in frum (religious) circles, but she prefers ‘recovery,’ having worked with addicts.

It occurred to me when listening to this that teshuva also means ‘answer’ in Hebrew. Perhaps our teshuva is an answer to God. What is the question? Perhaps the primordial question that God asked Adam and Chava (Eve) in the Garden of Eden: “Where are you?” (Bereshit/Genesis 3.9) The Midrash sees this as a question designed to tease out a repenting/returning/recovering/answering response from Adam and Chava, but instead they blamed other people and refused to take responsibility for their actions. At this time of year we can ‘answer’ God realistically about our lives.

Erica Brown talked about the importance of not focusing solely on the negatives in our lives, but also on the positives, asking ourselves what we are doing right morally and religiously. I think I have grown and improved in some ways over the year, although I won’t go into that here. I have also come to feel confident that my life should be with E, and that I should also be trying to write fiction professionally, tough though it will probably be to get published. This was reinforced by listening to the latest Intimate Judaism podcast, where they were talking about the way sex is spoken about at yeshiva (rabbinical seminary) and sem (women’s seminary) and whether there is a rape culture, a hookup culture or a generally unhealthy sexual culture in these places, and how the frum (religious) community should be encouraging young adults to view their burgeoning sexuality.

The podcast made me desperate to write my idea for a novel about a pornography-addicted rabbi. This is probably not what Talli Rosenbaum and Rabbi Scott Kahn intended as a response to their podcast, nor what Erica Brown intended as a positive to focus for the coming year, but that’s where I am at the moment. I need to get some books on pornography addiction as background reading before I can go any further with planning (I know Joshua Shea sometimes reads this so – yes, your books are on the top of my list!) which I probably won’t do until after all the Yom Tovim (Jewish festivals). I have a short story to work on until then, but I hope I can find the time to write between work, therapy, Yom Tov and general religious practice (Torah study, prayer). It’s a busy time of the year for religious Jews.

At any rate, I feel that writing is my current ‘answer’ to God, that I want to move on with my relationship and my writing, but that I need a lot of divine help.

Dirges in the Dark

I wrote most of this during the day, when I was feeling quite down. I’m posting it just as a record of my emotions, and that I can come out of slumps better than I used to be able to do.

I feel down today, even somewhat depressed. I’ve been a bit self-critical and I’ve been catastrophising a lot. I don’t know why I feel like this suddenly. I guess there are reasons. There’s family members struggling with things; COVID is getting to me, and making me worry when E and I will be able to meet again; I’m stressed about the coming Yom Tovim (Jewish festivals); and I’m probably a bit hurt still from my novel rejection and wondering what my next step is, trying to process that now my intense two weeks covering for J at work is over. So I guess there is over-causation, if anything. Still, I thought I was getting better at emotional regulation and dealing with the down days. I still struggle to understand my own emotions a lot of the time, which doesn’t make dealing with them any easier.

As there has often been a seasonal element to my depression, it could be that as the days get shorter and the weather colder and more inclement (not that we had a particularly hot or dry summer!) I am still going to get more down/mildly depressed, despite no longer suffering general depression. Or maybe it’s my worries about getting through the next few weeks.

I missed E a lot and worried about how we can move our relationship on. There are so many obstacles: COVID, long-distance, finances, dealing with our separate ‘issues’… I worry that more will appear as we progress and can already catastrophise some into existence if I’m not careful. In terms of COVID, it’s not at all clear that the UK will still be allowing visitors from the US over the next couple of months. I worry that the US will become some kind of permanent plague zone that Europeans avoid contact with, like something out of a zombie film, and the type of Americans that refuse to get vaccinated won’t care because they have zero interest in the outside world anyway.

Another possibility is envy, sadly. I’m just feeling the “Will I ever make anything of my life? Will I become a successful writer? (Will I actually get the energy/headspace to write anything else?) How did I become such a professional failure when I did so well at school?” feeling again looking at more successful peers or even younger contemporaries. To quote Crusade, the abortive spin-off from Babylon 5, “When Mozart was my age, he was dead.” I don’t want to be Mozart, or the literary equivalent, but I do want to be able to at least help support E and myself and hopefully even children one day. I’d also like to write something that I can be proud of, something clever, idiosyncratic and unique like the stories I love like The Prisoner, Twin Peaks, The Third Policeman or Ubik. But at the moment I’m too focused on getting through the next couple of weeks to write much, and today everything feels such an effort.

A while back E sent me the link to this Instagram post, saying that there’s a need for my writing in the Jewish community. I look at it periodically when I need encouragement about my writing, but I guess today it just makes me think, “There are already Jewish creatives, why would anyone want to read my writing? I can’t write nearly well enough to capture the conflict between tradition and modernity. My writing’s too humdrum for the secular market and too negative for the religious market. And I don’t know how to get an agent.” And so on, back into catastrophisation.

I managed about three hours of work today, which is probably a minor miracle and I shouldn’t be surprised I can’t write too. Today is a bank holiday (public holiday), but I agreed with J to do a day’s work, split over today and tomorrow. I didn’t really want to do it, but I wanted to show willing, given that I want J to make my job permanent, and I’m aware I won’t work much in September because of Yom Tov (Jewish festivals) and hopefully I’ll want time off in October if E comes here.

I went for a run. It wasn’t very good, but I was just glad to get out, as I felt like going back to bed. I think it did help shift my mood, as did speaking to E in the evening. I feel OK now.

***

It doesn’t look like I’m going to be able to speak to the rabbi about my autism before Yom Tov, which is vaguely annoying, but he’s been away and then I had that not good time when I was covering for J and now it’s nearly Yom Tov. Maybe I can try to speak to him before Sukkot at least.

***

Last night I had a dream that seems somewhat relevant. I was watching some Hasidic men dance. They tried to drag me into the dance, but I didn’t want to join in; however, I didn’t want to go away either, I wanted to watch.

When I awoke, it made me think of Otto Rank, Freud’s pupil who postulated that life divides into the fear of life (fear of individuation) and fear of death (fear of absorption and losing individuality). I want to watch the dance (connect), but I am afraid to join in the mass of dancers (lose individuality). It’s probably about me and the Orthodox Jewish community, my inability to find my place in it and my uncertainty about where E and I will feel comfortable.

***

There seems to be a lot of drunken partying/arguing/fighting going on in someone’s back garden with a lot of noise reaching us despite the lateness of the hour (gone 11pm). It might be a long night…

The Moments of Labouring are the Moments of Finding

I spent a lot of the day feeling down and vaguely depressed (not really in the clinical sense). Out walking, I gave way to depressive thoughts about politics and the state of the world, COVID and Afghanistan. On the one hand, who would have thought two years ago that the most divisive political question of the age would be, not Trump or Brexit, but vaccinations? And who would have thought the ending of the perpetual war in Afghanistan would be the source of so much misery? The latter bringing back comparisons with Vietnam.

I had a whole tirade in my head about Vietnam, Robert McNamara and technocratic government (the RAND Corporation etc.) and mission creep arguing against technocracy and big government versus COVID and vaccines arguing for it. I won’t go into the whole thing, as I suspect it’s not that coherent now I can set it out in black and white.

Suffice to say that I feel we’re in a double bind, morally bound to try to intervene in the world to improve it, but intellectually unable to do so in a safe and successful way (Hayek’s “Fatal Conceit,” the mistake belief that limited human intelligence and knowledge can change the world for the better). I am cursed to have the ethics of a moderate liberal and the intellect of a Burkean conservative: I think we should make the world better, but I don’t believe we have the ability to do so, except in incremental ways.

Anyway, I can’t work out if I’m vaguely depressed because the world is depressing, or I feel the world is depressing because I’m vaguely depressed. If the latter, why am I depressed (again, not in the clinical sense)? Am I just stressed after a difficult fortnight at work and looming religious festivals?

***

Other than that, I emailed the Maudsley Hospital to try to find out about my referral for autism-adapted CBT. (If anything is an argument in favour of Hayek and against technocracy, it’s NHS bureaucracy.) I wrote my devar Torah (Torah thought) for the week, unusually before reading the sedra (Torah portion), as the idea for what to write hit me suddenly on Friday night. I’d like to write one for next week this week too, as next Tuesday and Wednesday, when I usually write, will be Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year). However, I’m now working over the next two days (which is a whole story in itself, but I’m too tired now), so I’m not sure how I’ll fit it in.

I tried to go to an online discussion on Sefaria’s YouTube channel, where Dr Erica Brown was talking about her book for this time of the Jewish year, Return: Daily Inspiration for the Days of Awe, which I recently purchased. The discussion was marred by connection problems (at the speakers’ end) and after a quarter of an hour, it suddenly stopped, apparently abandoned by Sefaria, which was disappointing. They have apparently now recorded the interview and posted it as an ordinary YouTube video, so I’ll have to try to watch that at some point.

In the evening I Skyped E and had a discussion with my parents about some family stuff that is not for here. I feel vaguely anxious again, not quite as bad as I used to feel on Sunday evenings when I was at school, when I was dreading the week ahead, but was not sufficiently in touch with my emotions to realise that I felt like that, but still apprehensive of the week ahead.

***

I had been looking for a particular quote recently and suddenly came across it last week and wanted to blog it, but hadn’t had the chance. The quote is from the nineteenth century Hasidic rebbe Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Kotzk (the Kotzker Rebbe), but he is elucidating a passage in the Talmud. The Talmud (Megillah 6b) says, “Rabbi Yitzḥak said in the style of a previous passage: If a person says to you: I have labored and not found success, do not believe him. Similarly, if he says to you: I have not labored but nevertheless I have found success, do not believe him. If, however, he says to you: I have labored and I have found success, believe him.” (Translation from sefaria.org; bold indicates words literally in the original, ordinary font indicates words added in translation to elucidate). This passage raises a question, assuming we are talking about success in religious life (faith and Torah knowledge), as some people do genuinely search for God and Torah and not find them, and the Talmud seems to blame them for not trying hard enough.

The Kotzker says, “If you have laboured, even if you have not found, do not believe that you have not found. For the moments of labouring, they are the moments of finding. The search for knowledge, it itself is knowledge.” (The Sayings of Menahem Mendel of Kotsk edited Simcha Raz p.119) This opens the door to the concept of those who are ‘unconsciously religious,’ who live meaningful lives outside of organised religion or belief, yet touching on the transcendent and the kind. Moreover, it sees the religious life as an ongoing search or quest throughout life, not a matter that is easily settled one way or another, forever.

I find this attitude helpful because it moves the focus on the religious life from the end itself to the process towards that end, from actually being close to God constantly to the desire and attempt to be close to God. It moves it from the rare and ephemeral moments of connection to the attempt to achieve those moments in the midst of mundane events and activities. Likewise it can be read as being about religious study, about trying to understand rather than attaining understanding. In short, it means that Jewish achievement is about the effort to be Jewish rather than assuming that only perfect faith or superficial religious observance are the only signs of religious achievement.

It is a proto-existentialist attitude. Attitudes like this in his teachings mark the Kotzker as perhaps the first modern, Orthodox (not “Modern Orthodox”!) Jewish thinker, not in the sense of more Westernised nineteenth century figures like Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch and Rabbi David Zvi Hoffmann who combined Torah knowledge with secular university studies and awareness of wider trends in Western theology and Bible criticism, but rather “modern” in the sense of wrestling with existential doubt and a sense of human insignificance and the search for individuality and authenticity. (The key text here is A Passion for Truth, Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel’s comparative study of the Kotzker and his contemporary Soren Kierkegaard, the first Christian existentialist.)

Ennui

It’s gone 10.30pm and I’m far too awake. Shabbat (the Sabbath) was not great. I guess it can’t be good every week. I got to shul (synagogue) early on Friday night, but someone had already taken “my” seat. It’s not really my seat as we don’t have set seats, but most people usually sit in the same place. Anyway, someone had put a bookrest and tallit bag in my place, but wasn’t sitting there, and didn’t sit there for the entire service. It was quite rude to do that when space is at a premium, as we are still somewhat socially distanced and we’ve lost a chunk of the room now the school we rent it from have renovated it. I probably should have just sat there, but (a) I was too social anxious and (b) I thought I knew whose tallit bag it was, and he’s someone I’ve seen explode angrily at people over trivial things, so I wanted to steer clear. I went into autistic rigid thinking and couldn’t work out where to sit, so I just sat in the row behind, but I think I sat in the seat usually taken by someone who sits with his son-in-law. I was davening (praying) when he came in so I couldn’t offer to move, but I felt a bit bad about that too.

Then I became aware that I was the only person wearing a face mask. Even the doctor who usually wears one had stopped. I felt too nervous to remove it, but I felt like I stood out wearing it. So that wasn’t fun.

Dinner was fine, but I struggled to sleep and got up and read for a bit, a Philip K. Dick story that was better than the last one, but still quite bleak (A Little Something for Us Tempunauts).

I slept through the morning again. As often happens, I woke up early enough that I could have gone to shul, but felt overwhelmed with whatever it is that overwhelms me (social anxiety? Depression? Ennui? I don’t know) and fell asleep again. (This blog sometimes seems to revolve largely around poor sleep and social anxiety.) I fell asleep after lunch too, and the alarm I have set to wake me at 5.15pm for Talmud shiur (religious class) and shul didn’t wake me. I woke an hour later and had to hurry to get out in time.

Shiur was OK. I didn’t wear a mask for shiur or Minchah (Afternoon Prayers). I’m not sure how I feel about that. I got an aliyah (called to say the blessings over the Torah), which was nice, although it was a bleak passage, literally fire and brimstone.

I came home and we had rather late seudah shlishit (the third Sabbath meal). It’s ideally supposed to be started before sunset, but it was halfway between sunset and nightfall by the time we ate, which I felt bad about, although I couldn’t have done anything differently as I was in shul. I seem to have felt vaguely bad about things that weren’t really in my control quite a bit this Shabbat.

Now I feel drained, but not sleepy, and somewhat down for no obvious reason. I will probably watch TV for a bit as I don’t really feel like reading. More ennui, I guess. I’ve had some weird dreams lately that aren’t worth recording, but which make me wonder if I’m anxious (well, I’ve been consciously anxious lately) or unconsciously trying to work something through. I hope I can do all the things I want to do this week, as it seems a bit overwhelming (speaking to my shul rabbi and my rabbi mentor, having therapy, working). Anyway, finis.

The Curses of COVID

I set an early alarm because I had a vague magical thinking fear that J would call me to do the Very Scary Task again early today. In the event he did not, thankfully, and I fell asleep again after turning my alarm off. It’s interesting how much magical thinking I’ve had around the VST this week. I don’t usually think of myself as a superstitious or magical thinking person, but I can’t deny the evidence of my own thoughts.

It’s been a fairly tough couple of weeks covering for J and working from home and I’m aware that it’s going to continue to be tough for a while, albeit for varying reasons. Next week I hope to ‘come out’ as autistic to my shul (synagogue) rabbi. I’ve prepared notes of what to say, but I really have no idea how it will go or even what I really expect or hope from the meeting. Then, for unrelated reasons, I’ve been invited to his house for Shabbat (Sabbath) dinner next Friday. I accepted, but only afterwards did I wonder how safe it would be, COVIDly. I mean, the government COVID regulations permit it, but I wonder if I’m being reckless. It’s hard to tell. But the real thing worrying me about it is the usual social anxiety stuff.

E was surprised that I don’t get extra-socially anxious with rabbis than I do with other frum (religious) people. To be honest, I think I’m nervous enough with ‘ordinary’ frum people that there isn’t anywhere else for the anxiety to go, plus I feel I’ve had exposure therapy with rabbis over the years. I have eleven Orthodox rabbis’ phone numbers on my phone (a minyan and a spare), so I do have experience with talking to them. They don’t intimidate me the way they do to some people.

If I get through that, then we’re into the autumn Yom Tovim (Jewish festivals), but I’m trying not to worry about that now, albeit that I’m starting religious preparations for Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year).

This week in shul we read the Torah portion of Ki Tavo (I admit I’m not that likely to get there for this in person). This contains the curses that will befall the Jews if they break their covenant with God. The Talmud says we always read this a couple of weeks before Rosh Hashanah so we can say, “Let the old year with its curses end, and the let the new year with its blessings begin.” I think we’re all looking forward to new blessings after eighteen months of COVID curses, although COVID doesn’t look to be vanishing any time soon.

E and I have both taken COVID very seriously, mostly followed regulations and are both double vaxxed; still, we’re both sick of it and want to get back to normal life, life without masks, travel restrictions and noisy social media arguments about masks and vaccines. We wondered last night how long it can carry on for like this and whether governments are secretly aiming for zero COVID deaths, which seems as unachievable and flawed a target as zero flu deaths. I don’t think the UK or US governments are aiming for this, although the New Zealand government seems to be doing so; I think it’s only possible in a small, sparsely-populated and out of the way country. However, I’ve heard people (experts and callers) on the radio who seem to really want zero COVID deaths. One expert even seemed to want zero COVID infections, on the grounds that infection, even in the young and vaccinated, can lead to long COVID and long COVID is debilitating, therefore the government should aim at eradicating it, presumably like smallpox and bubonic plague. This seems as crazy as vaccine refusal, albeit in the opposite direction.

Sometimes it’s hard to imagine ever getting back to normal. It just goes on and on. I still feel nervous at shul, one of only three or four people still wearing masks now they are no longer mandatory. At the moment E is worried about being able to come and visit me, in terms of fear that the USA might be put on the UK’s red list and Americans banned from entry, and at the moment I couldn’t visit her, because direct travel from the UK is banned, and also because I’ve had the AZ vaccine, which the USA still hasn’t recognised (all of which strikes me as a bit rich, considering how poor vaccine uptake has been in the US; please get your own house in order before criticising others). We just want to spend some time together this calendar year! Is it too much to ask? Sigh. At least we have Skype.

***

My shul is still bringing Shabbat in early, at 6.25pm today, so I didn’t have much time to do things, considering I slept late and struggled to get going. I did my usual pre-Shabbat chores and spent some time on my cheshbon nafesh, my self-reflection on the previous Jewish year. I didn’t get time to work on the short story I planned yesterday or to do much in the way of Torah study. The latter doesn’t bother me much, as I can catch up while I wait for my father to daven (pray) tonight, as his shul isn’t starting until 7.35pm.

***

I just wrote this comment on Ashley’s blog: “My self-esteem has been pretty low since adolescence, maybe earlier. Getting my autism diagnosis earlier this year has really helped, though, inasmuch as I can now see myself as an autistic person who is trying hard with some success rather than a neurotypical person who is frequently failing for no obvious reason.” I don’t think there’s really anything to add to that.

***

I read a Philip K. Dick short story last night that was extraordinarily misogynistic and generally misanthropic (Cadbury, the Beaver who Lacked). It rather made me regret my decision to read rather than just watching TV. Dick had issues with women, to put it mildly (he was married five times). His last completed novel, The Transmigration of Timothy Archer, has a female narrator who is a likeable and interesting character, but most of his other female characters are not, to put it mildly. Still, I wasn’t quite prepared for just how negative the short story would be.

Fifteen Minute Blog Post

I wasn’t planning on writing today as I didn’t think I had anything to say, but I find I need to set pen to paper, metaphorically, before I can go to bed. I will try to write and post in fifteen minutes or less.

I was working from home again today. I didn’t have to do the Very Scary Task again, it was just paperwork and data entry today. I’m still hoping the VST doesn’t appear tomorrow. I had done an hour of work in advance on Tuesday because I knew it would be so hard (because it’s boring rather than difficult), but somehow I still ended up working longer than I intended. One reason, although not the whole explanation, is that I did work a bit extra because I had a strange phone call, which I won’t go into here, which left me puzzling over whether I said the right thing. I talked it through with my parents and I didn’t count this as work time, although it probably was. In terms of the phone call, this is probably another instance where I can say that I may not have acted perfectly, but I acted with integrity according to the best of my ability.

I haven’t written much fiction lately, concentrating on getting my novel ready to find an agent and then on work. I had a story idea and developed it when I went for a walk, then spent half an hour writing a plan (this, for a story that I initially thought I would try to improvise, without planning. I’m not a meticulous advance planner-type writer, but I’m not an improvising “pantser” either). I’m not sure when I will write it; the next few weeks will be hectic with the Yom Tovim (Jewish festival). The original idea was to write a story with something of the atmosphere of Twin Peaks, but a Jewish setting. Even before I wrote the plan down, it had moved a long way from that, which I guess is good.

I Skyped E. We had a fairly serious talk. At least we can talk about serious things rather than just ignoring it like some couples. Nevertheless, I feel pretty drained after doing so much ‘serious’ stuff today though, and also watching an episode of The Simpsons that was about Homer thinking he was a failure because of his inability to hold down a job to support his family. The Simpsons aside it was a good day, perhaps the best work from home one I’ve had, and probably the last for a while.

Written in sixteen minutes!

Mid-Week Twin Peaks

I woke up late, drained, but not particularly anxious, which was good. No one contacted me about the ending of the Very Scary Task today, so I guess it went OK, otherwise someone would have phoned in anger or dismay or J would have texted to say something. So that’s good. I did have a bit of a headache after lunch, which may have been a delayed stress response. J contacted me after lunch to say I may well have to do the Very Scary Task again tomorrow, which is stressful, but hopefully won’t be made more stressful by bureaucratic mistakes outside of my control as the previous one was.

***

I had therapy for the first time in a month or so as my therapist has been away. It was good, although I don’t really want to say much about it here, except we spoke a bit about acting with integrity, which is one of my core values. We spoke about thinking (with regard to work and elsewhere) that “I acted with integrity and did the best I can; I can’t blame myself for external factors or how other people reacted.” That was helpful and I will try to keep it in mind in the future, including tomorrow.

***

I mentioned on here a few days ago that I wanted to do a Twin Peaks re-watch, but didn’t want to disrupt watching Doctor Who with E, and also that I was aware that there are periods with Twin Peaks when it gets into a rut of silliness or being bizarre to the point of incoherence and that those episodes are hard to watch in one go. So I’ve come to the conclusion that I will watch one episode a week, on Wednesdays, as I’m usually at volunteering and/or therapy on Wednesdays and am exhausted by the evening and just vegetate in front of TV, so I can watch both Twin Peaks and Doctor Who. I wanted to come up with a snappy title, probably with alliteration (I’m not sure why, as I’m doing this alone), but the best I could come up with was “Mid-Week Twin Peaks” which is a rhyme, but not a very good one. If you count the feature film prequel Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me, there are forty-nine episodes of Twin Peaks, so this should take me about a year.

Today I watched Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me. As a prequel, it adds more to the original story than the Babylon 5 prequel In the Beginning did, inasmuch as the latter doesn’t do much more than show what the original series said had happened, whereas Fire Walk with Me is interesting even if you know how Laura Palmer died from the original Twin Peaks. I’m not sure why it has such a bad reputation, although the likes of Kim Newman and Mark Kermode have pushed for positive reassessment.

It’s a sometimes disturbing film about a disturbing subject (abuse), and the surreal elements don’t really detract from that. I like that there is redemption at the end, with the dead Laura appearing in the red room (Twin Peaks‘ Heaven/Hell/Purgatory) and crying tears of joy as she becomes an angel. The film lacks humour compared with the original series and probably doesn’t have as much of a sense of place (actually the opening section which isn’t in the town of Twin Peaks probably has more of a sense of place), but I found the balance of surreal moments amidst mostly realistic drama good. There probably is some truth in the criticism that Laura Palmer isn’t enough of a character to fully hold the film together. In the original series, the late Laura was as much a symbol as a character and we don’t learn much more about her here than we already knew, that she had been abused since she was twelve and has turned to alcohol, drugs and casual sex to cope. Nevertheless, I found it intense and compelling.

(I don’t intend on doing an episode-by-episode review, I just wanted to write a few thoughts as I didn’t have much else to say today.)

The Existential Threat

The Very Scary Task today had different people angry with me, or in my direction. Trying to help Person 1, I inadvertently annoyed Person 2. Sometimes I find it difficult to know what to do. I’m glad this is only a small part of my job, as it’s not really very suitable for someone on the autism spectrum with social anxiety and low self-esteem. By 10.00am, I was pretty much ready to crawl back into bed and cry, but couldn’t. I didn’t have anyone to vent to either, as Dad was davening (praying), Mum was on her way to work, E was asleep (stupid time difference) and I didn’t want to tell J that in trying to appease Person 1, I had annoyed Person 2, and still failed to get an answer that would mollify 1. Then the call to Person 1 that I was dreading went fine, to my surprise.

I did eventually get it all sorted just after lunch, but even that was not the end of my anxiety which manifested as more of an OCD-type anxiety, doubting whether I had organised the VST properly and making me want to phone everyone back and re-confirm what is supposed to happen tomorrow. I didn’t do that, as it would annoy everyone and I giving in to anxiety just fuels the self-doubting, but I felt anxious much of the day. I went for a walk hoping that would help, but I just catastrophised more.

I told J before he went away that I can’t work tomorrow as I have another commitment (therapy, although I did not say that). It’s just as well I do, as I could not do this job for three days running. I would be an anxious mess. I do worry a bit about what kind of job I can do, as so many seem impossible for autistic reasons: too much interpersonal interaction, workplace too noisy, needs too much multitasking or switching tasks. I miss social cues and then anxiety kicks in and I annoy people by looking for reassurance or not knowing when to leave them alone. There aren’t really reasonable adjustments I can ask for regarding not accidentally annoying other people in the workplace.

I’m not the kind of person who is good with numbers or computers, to pick the most stereotypical autistic jobs. At least this job is mostly OK. Even doing the Very Scary Task in the office isn’t so bad, as J is around to advise or take over if I get stuck. But doing it without him, from home, is too draining, and I couldn’t handle a third week of it. Also, I would like the chance to start some kind of career where I can earn realistic amounts of money to live on, but that doesn’t seem likely working part-time with limited capabilities.

I know that I need to be less dependent on other people for my self-esteem needs, but no one has ever told me how to do that. It’s not like I have an “Need of Esteem of Others for Self-Esteem” dial that I can set to “Low.” I’m not good taking the at initiative either. Neither of these things are good in the workplace, or in general.

****

I did the one hour of work I set aside from yesterday, as I thought the VST would take an hour or so today. Then I did an hour of work in advance for Thursday, so I won’t have to force myself through a six hour day when I may already be exhausted from this week (the advantage of working from home).

Other than work and a walk, I cooked dinner, drafted my devar Torah and did a little extra Torah study, but really I spent the day wrestling with anxiety and just trying to function. I guess it’s good that I managed all that with such high anxiety levels. The title of this post refers to the Sparks song The Existential Threat which came to mind today. I’d pick a verse, but almost all of them seem relevant (it’s a good song about anxiety). It’s good that I don’t often lose days to mental illness like this any more, but it is frightening when it suddenly reappears. It reminds me how thin the ice I’m skating on sometimes feels.

On the plus side, when I went for a walk, I was catastrophising, but it struck me that there are four people who will stick by me no matter what (E, my parents and my sister), plus my rabbi mentor who gives me more time than I really deserve. I feel this makes me luckier than a lot of people.

***

This will probably sound weird, but I feel more afraid of other people than God. By this I mean that I trust God to understand why I do the things I do, and how powerless I feel over my life sometimes, and that whatever He puts me through is in that context, but I worry that other people will not understand and will do I-don’t-know-what in response. I would much rather face God on Judgement Day than a jury of my peers. This is why I worry so much about doing things wrong at work, the fear that I would never be able to convince anyone that I acted in good faith and to the best of my abilities.

Einstein’s Theory of Working From Home Relativity

I was somewhere on the borderland between sleep and wakefulness a little before 10am today when my phone rang (realistically, I was probably mostly in sleep). As I guessed before answering, it was J asking me to do the Very Scary Task (VST) again. I did not (could not) know when I would be asked to do it, but I guessed it probably would happen once more (at least) before J gets back from holiday and goes back to covering the out of hours calls (although this technically was not out of hours; J had given me flexibility to start and finish work later this week, but 10am on a Monday is usually work time for me).

I spent much of the day dealing with the VST. It possibly got a little easier, but I was still given to anxiety, self-criticism and feelings of being overwhelmed, particularly when someone was checking the details of an email address with me over the phone and I got flustered (as I had two different email addresses on different sheets) and he ended up shouting at me. Without going into too many details, the people we’re working for with the VST are going through a major negative life event, so it isn’t surprising if they shout sometimes. I’ve seen J take a lot worse over the phone in the office. Even so, it was upsetting.

About the same time I checked my personal email and got my first novel rejection email from a literary agent. I know that pitching a novel is like looking for a job or a spouse: almost no one gets it right on the first go and some people spend years looking in vain. Nevertheless, I experienced a feeling of shock and numbness like loss.

In the aftermath of both these things (the shouting and the rejection), I felt numb and unable do things. I crashed. I didn’t stop working, but for a while I was not able to do much. I wasn’t sure whether to phone anyone about the VST, or who to phone. I wanted to go into autistic shutdown mode, but I couldn’t, as I had hours of work left to do, but I didn’t know what to do or if I had done anything wrong. I kept going. I’m not sure how. I guess I just had to. I kept making phone calls, albeit somewhat slowly, and everything sort of slotted into place. I do still need to get up early tomorrow to work on the VST.

I’m not going to volunteering on Wednesday, so hopefully I can sleep a bit later, unless I have to do this all over again. I told J I couldn’t help on Wednesday (because I have therapy), but I’m a bit nervous that somehow I’ll have to anyway.

I wonder if I am too eager to please people in this role (or generally). I fear I try to hard to be nice to everyone, which sometimes makes me duck difficult conversations or confrontations. I feel that people can manipulate me into doing things for them easily — in today’s case, getting me to confirm a provisional time for something when it’s not 100% confirmed, even though J advised to leave it to later. I didn’t even consciously intend to do it, I just ended up in a situation where I said I would phone for options and then phone back, even though I should have phoned for options and left it until tomorrow. Sigh. At least I did stress it was a provisional time so if someone makes arrangements based on it, it’s not my fault. Not entirely my fault anyway.

Einstein says time flows differently on work from home. I got up before 10am, I seemed to spend all day working, yet work seemed to extend indefinitely… but by 6pm I still had an hour to do, which I’m leaving for tomorrow as I’ll need it for finishing the Very Scary Task. I am probably over-generous to the company when it comes to counting time spent working, leaving out time spent thinking about what to say on phone calls (which I think of as procrastination) or having short breaks.

***

I didn’t have much time or energy for other things. I went for a walk after work which helped destress a little, although I still feel pretty stressed. I didn’t have time or energy to write, not even to type up some ideas I had for the plan of my next novel. I only managed fifteen minutes of Torah study too, and didn’t touch the cheshbon nafesh (inner self-analysis) I wanted to do as part of my Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year) preparation. I wanted to finish the short story I was reading at lunch before I go to bed, but I feel too tired to read. I feel pretty much completely done in and just want to crawl into bed, although I know from experience that if I don’t do something relaxing for a little while, I will just lie in bed feeling anxious.

***

Given that I’ve had a stressful week with work, I was glad to be able to buy this book. I read the author’s blog and I’ve wanted to read the book for a while, but it’s only published through Amazon, and Amazon are evil and I don’t use them. But I found a second-hand copy on World of Books. Hopefully it will give me some ideas about coping with autism in the workplace, as I feel like I’m struggling with that right now. Although now I feel bad that the author won’t get any money because I bought it second-hand, whereas if I bought new through Amazon, she would (admittedly she would not get very much as Evil Amazon would take most of it).

***

Looking at lists of Victorian names at work, I came across Trespoles Myers. Myers I understand, but Trespoles looks like random letters thrown together. You get a lot of duplicated names too, like Moses Moses, Nathan Nathan or Abraham Abrahams. The Victorians had a different sense of humour to us. I can imagine some of these people reading Catch-22 and thinking, “Major Major? What’s funny about that?”

Stuckness, and Television

I feel vaguely anxious and stressed. I’m not really sure why or maybe there’s over-causation. I’m worried about another week when J is away, when I’ll be struggling to get up early and do the only, boring, task I can do from home, and when I might have to do the Very Scary Task again. I’m worried about speaking to my rabbi soon about my autism/Asperger’s, and extra worried as I don’t actually know when would be a good time to speak to him. I’m just focused on getting through this coming week. I’m worried about the upcoming Yom Tovim (Jewish festivals), with all they entail in terms of disruption to my routine, working longer or harder to catch up afterwards and time in shul (with a mask, but around people who won’t be masked) as well as the introspection these festivals entail. I haven’t yet done a cheshbon nafesh, an assessment of how my spiritual progress over the last year. I was supposed to do it today, but ran out of time. And at the back of my mind are vague worries about E’s trip to the UK and other obstacles to our getting together, although those worries are pretty swamped by more imminent ones, which I guess is good, in a weird way. Also at the back of my mind is an awareness that I haven’t done any creative writing lately, except for jotting down book ideas haphazardly as they occur to me. I don’t think I’m going to have much time or energy for that soon either.

I have a feeling of stuckness with a lot of things: COVID, getting to move my relationship with E on, my novel(s), work… Just contemplating my cheshbon nafesh I can see things have moved on since this time last year (I’m working a bit, I’ve finished my novel and I’m in a serious relationship with someone who is more suited to me than my previous relationship), but it’s hard to remember that sometimes.

***

Things done today: Torah study for just under an hour; went to collect my new suit; was going to go for a run, switched to starting my cheshbon nafesh when it started raining, then went for a run when the rain stopped. It wasn’t a great run. I had poor stamina and had to walk a lot, and for the first few minutes I felt so unbearably awful that I thought I was going to have to give up, but I managed forty minutes and just under 5K and I did run a bit better after a while. My mood was better afterwards, even if I spent a lot of the run worrying about the state of the world and about my family.

***

I have other anxieties. When I’m worried about something that I can’t do much about, I sometimes fixate on other things, often books I want to read or DVDs I want to watch or re-watch. Lately I’ve been wanting to re-watch Twin Peaks, even though I only watched it less than a year ago and know that a lot of it is not that good, but it’s structured in a way that makes it hard to focus on just the good bits. The soap opera-style plotlines make it hard to skip whole episodes without it losing coherence. I’m also aware that I’m watching Doctor Who with E and that I’ve also recently bought The Twilight Zone: The Complete Series (I’m partway through season two) and The Simpsons season three. I feel I should finish these first, without really having a good reason why. After all, they won’t go off, and I have no qualms about reading or re-reading novels with more recent (or less recent) purchases waiting. Perhaps more pertinently I feel I shouldn’t watch so much TV (not that I watch much more than an hour or an hour and a quarter a day) and that I should read more (even though I often watch TV when too tired to read or when in a bad state mental health-wise).

The “reading not watching” question is interesting. I enjoy reading, and, as an aspiring writer, I read to learn how to write as well as for enjoyment. My favourite writers, as I’ve mentioned, are Franz Kafka (who I hardly ever re-read, as a counsellor once told me not to read him when depressed and I find it hard not to do what authority figures say – I don’t consciously do this, but I do unconsciously), Jorge Luis Borges and Philip K. Dick (who probably shouldn’t be read by the mentally ill for a whole other reason). These writers have entered my mind in way that few others have, but I’ve been affected in a similar way by television series such as Doctor Who, The Prisoner, Twin Peaks and Sapphire and Steel. The writing is important in all of these, sometimes compensating for low budget, sometimes providing or supporting a sense of menace or surrealism that would be incoherent or silly with visual cues alone.

I’ve never really understood the criticism that TV encourages passivity. While many viewers are passive, I don’t think serious fans of a TV programme watch passively, however they respond to it: analysis (what tends to be dubbed ‘meta’ these days), fanfic (writing their own fiction with the characters and setting), cosplay (dressing up as characters) and so on. Fans respond in different, personal, ways, but they are not passive. Maybe it’s because I encountered Doctor Who largely through novelisations at first, and then original novels, so it’s always been on the boundary between TV and prose for me. At any rate, I watch attentively, looking at structure and characterisation, and as much as I would like to write like Jorge Luis Borges or Franz Kafka, I would like to write like Robert Holmes, P. J. Hammond or Steven Moffat (not with all Moffat’s “battle of the sexes” stuff though).

More Damage Limitation

Shabbat (the Sabbath) was OK, with some struggling. Shul (synagogue) was difficult on Friday night. It smelt of paint (it’s being renovated). I got there a minute late, and struggled to find a seat because it was so crowded — not that many people, but the renovations mean we have very little space, especially with it still set up somewhat socially distanced. Then the gabbai asked me to move so that a father and son could sit together, because there weren’t two seats available next to each other. I moved and I could sort of see why he asked me (I think I was just the nearest person where moving one person would leave two seats next to each other), but it did feed my fear that single people are seen as less important than families. I shot off as soon as the service finished, even faster than I usually do.

Dinner with my parents and cousin 4 (henceforth C4) was fine. There were a couple of problems, but nothing that turned into an argument as I feared. I had almost all my Israeli family down as very noisy, and most of them are, but a couple are very quiet. I had never really seen C4 without the rest of the family before, so I didn’t really realise how quiet she is. I do struggle to connect with my cousins as well as I would like, partly because of the cultural differences I mentioned the other day, partly because of the age difference (C4 is still a teenager, and basically a different generation to me), partly I guess because of my difficulty connecting with anyone (autism).

I did some more Torah study after dinner and went to bed rather late. I woke up intermittently during the morning, but didn’t get up. I guess that was a mixture of burnout and social anxiety about going to shul again. I don’t know what to do about that. I don’t know how to work on the social anxiety about shul or my general struggles about getting up early. I can get up early for work, but when working from home last week I got up very late and had to work later than I intended, or split the work over two days. I wish I understood this dynamic better.

I forgot to take my morning medication and took it after lunch, which is unlike me.

I slept again after lunch. I think I fell asleep around 4.15pm; I was woken at 5.15pm by my pre-shiur (religious class) alarm, but I fell asleep again and/or just lay on the bed for another two hours, just too drained to do anything other than lie there and try to recover from a week of overload. It meant I didn’t really have much time today for Torah study or recreational reading (I did a bit of both last night, but not today).

I decided to skip Talmud shiur and shul so I could spend more time with C4. I wasn’t in much of a state to go anyway. Seudah (the third Shabbat meal) with my parents and C4 was fine and then suddenly Shabbat was over and C4 was going. I spent some time tidying up as Mum and Dad went to take C4 back to where she’s staying and then did some Torah study. I tried to get through what Talmud they would have done in shiur today, but it’s hard to judge (the rabbi tends to bring in a lot of comments from Tosafot, which I don’t have in translation) and I ran out of energy and brainpower. And I guess that was it. I hope I’m more alert tomorrow.

Now it’s gone midnight and I’m tired, but I don’t think I’ll sleep yet. I need to do something to unwind, probably watching TV as I don’t feel up to reading. Someone nearby is playing loud music again.

Damage Limitation

I feel burnt out again, unsurprisingly after yesterday. I feel like I’m in damage limitation mode at the moment and will be at least until J is back at work, if not until after all the Yom Tovim (Jewish festivals) are over. I’m going to try to relax tonight and tomorrow. I had chores to do before Shabbat (the Sabbath), but I tried not to do other things, although I did some Torah study. I would like to go to shul (synagogue) tonight, but as my cousin is staying with us for Shabbat, I’m not sure if I’ll go for Talmud shiur (religious class) and Minchah (Afternoon Prayers) tomorrow so I can spend more time with her instead.

In other news, my rabbi (my shul rabbi, not my rabbi mentor) said we could speak and that I should message him next week to arrange time. This is to tell him about my autism/Asperger’s and speak about my place in the community, although he doesn’t know that yet. I feel pretty anxious about it. It doesn’t help that I don’t know exactly what I want from the meeting, I just feel the need to open up to someone in the community so that I feel less alone and misunderstood.

***

In other other news, E and I have been watching the earliest Doctor Who episodes, from 1963 and 1964, and E is becoming a total fangirl. She is mostly enjoying it, but complaining about continuity errors in later stories. Having a girlfriend who was into Doctor Who was not one of my ‘essential needs’ in relationships, but it’s very good that it’s turned out that way. Otherwise, E and I have both been catastrophising about our relationship — not the relationship part, but the external things keeping us apart, like COVID and immigration law. But we both think we will be together in the end, somehow, if we can just hang on.

***

I wrote yesterday about having wanted to make friends online in the past, and it occurred to me afterwards that I do now have what I wanted on my blog, inasmuch as there are half a dozen or a dozen people who read most of my posts and leave friendly and helpful comments, which is what I really wanted from online interactions. So, thank you.

Work, Music, Friends

Work from home is making me exhausted and depressed.

I slept badly last night. I woke up about 5.30am after disturbing dreams, full of anxiety about work and the Very Scary Task (I should probably think of a better name for that here). I realised I had forgotten to tell someone something and that was worrying me. I got up and drank hot chocolate and read Philip K. Dick (We Can Remember It for You Wholesale) for a while, which calmed me down a bit. I went back to bed, but as I was trying to fall asleep, J texted me at 6.30am to check some details. I guess he assumed I get up early for Shacharit (Morning Prayers). I went back to sleep, but didn’t sleep well, with more disturbing dreams. My alarm went at 9.20am and I probably would have fallen asleep again were it not for more work texts (not from J this time). I had breakfast and sent a text to resolve the problem of forgetting to tell someone something, but then J messaged me with another query. It wasn’t hard to resolve, but the whole process of this task is all quite nerve-wracking. I hope I don’t have to do this again next week — or for some time longer, really. Unfortunately, there is no way of knowing in advance, and the odds are I will have to do it again next week.

I was very nervous of something going wrong with the Very Scary Task, but no one phoned me with a problem, so I guess it went OK. The main work for today, the data entry, was more tedious than ever. I found it hard to concentrate and I could not work out if that was related to Very Scary Task anxiety; being tired from yesterday and not sleeping well; or just the cumulative effect of doing this boring task for days on end.

I wanted to listen to music while doing the data entry, but I wasn’t sure what. Not the loud rock I usually listen to, because I needed to concentrate. I found some chazanut (Jewish liturgical music) CDs that belong to my parents and thought listening to Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur music might get me in the appropriate mindset for those coming festivals, but I discovered that I dislike traditional chazanut as much when listened to as music as I do when listening to it in shul (synagogue). It’s all very emotional and wailing and loud and dragged out… I know some people feel the music and chazanut helps them to pray more intently, but I always get the feeling that the chazan just wants to show off and I would rather spend my time and energy focused on my private personal prayers. Maybe that’s why I struggle with going to shul; it’s certainly why I go to a shul where the focus is very much on personal prayers without much chazanut.

In the end I listened to incidental music from Twin Peaks. Similarly, on Monday I listened to incidental music from Blade Runner while I did the data entry. Incidental music isn’t as intrusive as other music, and evokes the atmosphere of enjoyable TV or film while I’m doing a boring task.

***

Towards the end of work, I started feeling very negative about myself, wondering why I’m doing basic data entry tasks of the kind that would normally be done by an intern when I’m in my late thirties and not being able to work full-time. It got mixed in with thoughts about the Jewish cultural website I wrote about yesterday, some resentment that many of the writers there have gone on to write professionally, or were already professional writers and got a boost, whereas for a long time I wanted to write for them, but wasn’t able to. (I did write a couple of guest posts eventually.) I also felt that a lot of the writers seemed to have mental health issues, but also managed to have families, careers, religious lives, community involvement and creative outlets and I never worked out how they did all of it. In the end, I became a sort of self-loathing troll, posting comments that attacked not others, but myself and wallowed in the misery of so much of my adult life.

I thought I had put the site behind me (it’s pretty much defunct now), but I realise I have such a mixture of thoughts about it. I thought, or at least hoped, I could make real friends there, I had a kind of “friendship crush” on so many of the writers, wanted to be noticed by them and converse with them in the comments. I made a couple of online friends I still sometimes connect with, including one who has been a bit of a writing mentor to me, but those were other commenters, not the writers. But then I remember that once I wrote a comment about being pretty suicidal and a bunch of the writers wrote messages to support me, so I guess they were friendly. I never quite worked out if they wrote it because they like me as an individual or if they just saw “A person is in trouble, we should help!” and it didn’t really matter who I was. Maybe it doesn’t matter.

E found my blog through my comments there, I think, so I guess that’s one tangible positive that came out of it for me.

Thinking about this also makes me realise that I’ve been so focused lately on getting my manuscript ready to try to find an agent, and brainstorming ideas for future projects, that I haven’t actually done any creative writing in ages, even though I have an idea for a short story. I would like to write it, but with the possibility of another week of crazy work next week and then the autumn Yom Tovim (Jewish religious festivals), I’m not sure when I’ll have the time.

***

Aside from work, I went for a walk and did some shopping, which was where the negative thoughts got worse. I finished my devar Torah and skyped E and did a few minutes of Torah study, but that was about it. E is still the biggest positive in my life, even on stressful days.

***

The results from my recent blood test show my lithium level is slightly down. The results say it’s OK, but I thought 0.68 was sub-therapeutic. It might explain why my mood has been down a bit lately. My cholesterol is still a little high, but I don’t seem to be able to shift that much. I know, I should cut cheese, butter and eggs out of my life completely, but I can’t face it. I don’t eat much butter or eggs as it is, and I slashed my cheese consumption and, at the moment, can’t face cutting it further. I hope this doesn’t come back to haunt me one day.

Very Scary

I feel stressed. I guess some of it is the usual mid-summer “I haven’t had therapy for weeks because my therapist is on holiday” feeling. Some of it is worry about the upcoming Yom Tovim (festivals) and the soul-searching that accompanies them. Some of it is worrying about whether E will be able to visit the UK this year. Then there was working from home yesterday, which was more intense than I expected/hoped. I woke up this morning very drained and somewhat low and went back to bed after breakfast… at which point J phoned. He wanted me to do the Very Scary Task I sometimes have to do. I was taken by surprise and asked if it could wait an hour, and he said not really and that he would do it. I felt very bad about this, as he is on holiday and I had said I would cover, so I hurriedly changed out of pyjamas and phoned him back to say I could take over. I think I did OK, but it’s quite a bit of phoning. Hopefully it will get easier with practise. There still will be more to do, as the task will have to carry on for some time as other people do things and I have to coordinate.

I know I’m late to the Working From Home party, but I am really not enjoying it. It exacerbates my usual problems with getting up and while I don’t have the problems some people have with motivation during the day (or not to the same extent), I find the blurring of boundaries between work and home uncomfortable, particularly with the Very Scary Task, which involves dealing with difficult topics that I don’t want to bring into my bedroom. Possibly I should make the calls from another room tomorrow, if I can find one that is quiet. With this task in particular I also dislike the uncertainty: not knowing when exactly I will have to phone or who I will have to speak to or even how many times this task will come up in the next week and a half.

I am going to skip volunteering tomorrow, even though I may not be able to go for a while afterwards as I have therapy next week and the Yom Tovim start afterwards. It will let me take over the Very Scary Task from J (I had told him I couldn’t do Wednesdays), which might get me back in his good books after panicking and running away today. It will also give me some time to catch up on other tasks that I think I will not get done today.

Possibly feeling emboldened by my success with the Very Scary Task, I tried to phone the autism hospital again to find out where my application for autism-adapted CBT has got to. I got the psychiatrist’s secretary’s answerphone again. I left a message, as she doesn’t seem to be contactable otherwise.

I had dinner with my parents, sister, brother-in-law and cousin (cousin 4) who is over for Israel on a busman’s holiday, essentially childminding. I wasn’t really in the mood initially, being exhausted from the day, but I did feel more comfortable after a while. I do find it hard to relate to my cousins sometimes. There’s the age difference. I’m the eldest of all the cousins, nine years older than my eldest cousin and over twenty years older than the youngest. Then there’s the culture shock. Jewish life in Israel is very different to Jewish life anywhere in the diaspora. Jewish life in Israel exists naturally, without effort, whereas in the diaspora Jewish identity has to be created consciously or it lapses into assimilation. But life in Israel is also different to life in any other Western country; no other Western country exists in a state of permanent existential war. But there are personality differences too. My Israeli family tend to be relaxed and impulsive by temperament, while my immediate family and I are not.

I did have a good time with my family (and another ‘piece’ of my next novel ‘puzzle’ clicked into place), but I am feeling very drained now. I have not gone for a walk today or done any Torah study yet (although I did spend half an hour working on my devar Torah). I would like to do a little Torah study and relax for a bit before bed, but I’m conscious that I’m likely to be phoned at 9am with the next stage of the Very Scary Task — or even if not at 9.00am, if left to my own devices I will sleep until 11.00am or 12.00pm, and the Very Scary Task will almost certainly be looking for me before that.

Meanwhile the days are getting noticeably shorter, a sure sign that autumn is on the way, with all that entails both in terms of festivals and the return of gloomy weather and lack of sunlight (not that this summer has been particularly sunny). There is a feeling of the summer, such as it was, in terms of weather and COVID, is drawing to a close.

There But For the Grace of God?

I was working from home today, as J is on holiday. Perhaps surprisingly after a year and a half of COVID, this was only the second time I have ever done paid work from home (the first time was last November or December, when J gave me 300 invoices to put in 300 envelopes and 300 stamps to stick on them — it took several hours!). I have two tasks to work on over the next fortnight. One requires accessing a desktop computer in the office remotely. Unfortunately, it looks like Windows downloaded some updates over the weekend and rebooted the computer, so the remote access software has been disconnected. The only way to reconnect it is to go back into the office. Sigh. The other job, data entry via an online database, is accessible from home and will keep me going for a while yet, but I was hoping to alternate two boring jobs to at least provide some small bit of variety. Now I’ll have to focus on one task over the next two weeks and the other in the office afterwards.

I overslept quite dramatically this morning and then I think I must have napped after I got up, which meant I lost most of the morning. I felt bad about this. I don’t know why I can only get up early if I absolutely have to do so and otherwise sleep through alarms. We’ve been working six hour days in the office under COVID, but I only managed five today. By 7.30pm I was too tired to continue working so I will catch up the extra hour tomorrow. To be honest, splitting the day is probably good for alleviating boredom, but not so good if I want a free day to relax and work on my writing.

I did at least add 116 records to the database.

Otherwise, I’ve mostly been worrying. I’m worrying about whether E will be allowed to travel to the UK while the delta variant continues to spread in the USA. The only thing spreading more like wildfire than delta are the actual wildfires (sorry to Californian readers). I also worry that I won’t be able to go to the USA, as I have the AstraZeneca vaccine, which the USA still has not recognised. I feel that they should concentrate on getting more of their population double vaccinated with any vaccine before engaging in vaccine nationalism.

Other than that, I’ve been generally down. The world is depressing again: COVID, Afghanistan, Haiti… I’ve been thinking a lot about Incels since the shooting in Plymouth last week, wondering if I would have fallen down the Incel rabbit hole if my life had gone slightly differently. It’s different now I’m in a relationship that is hopefully moving towards marriage (albeit slowly thanks to COVID), but I do still feel vaguely — inadequate? or just different? for being a virgin at thirty-eight (and not in a monastery).

I feel like I’ve done OK in not basing my self-esteem on money, material goods, power or fame (not that I have any of them either…), but I have a self-esteem need for social interaction: I want to get married, and I want to have a few friends I feel I close to. I want to feel that I matter to people, that they miss me when I’m not around (E definitely misses me!). As goals go, it’s not inherently unethical or unrewarding, it being generally agreed that positive relationships, of whatever kind, are rewarding in a way that money (for example) is not, but I feel I would have been a lot happier over the last twenty years if I didn’t need other people for my self-esteem needs.

Am I being too hard on myself? There have been times, particularly in the long period before I even went on a date (I didn’t get to go on a date until I was twenty-seven) when I had a lot of loneliness and inchoate anger about being single. However, I never saw myself as entitled to a partner nor was I angry with women, individually or collectively. I was just angry with my lot in life. I do wonder how many Incels are really angry (and how many of those are potentially violent) and how many are just very lonely and ashamed about being single in a world that puts romantic and sexual imagery everywhere, but seems to make it harder and harder to meet people in person (even pre-COVID), and where schoolchildren are taught how to have safe sex by law, but not how to build lasting relationships.

***

I possibly made a mistake in watching the last episode of The Blue Planet over dinner. I’ve got half the episode left, as I wanted to do some Torah study before my brain switched off from exhaustion, and I don’t think a wildlife documentary was really relaxing enough for me today. I did at least manage to squeeze a walk in, and did about forty minutes of Torah study, although not as much as I would have liked.

Busier Than I Think

I woke up earlyish (9.00am), probably because I slept so much yesterday. I actually managed to get up, albeit partly because I worried that if I stayed in bed, I would just feel anxious. I spent some time writing some notes about the way autism affects me at shul (synagogue) and in my religious community so that I can speak to my communal rabbi when he gets back from holiday later this week. I’m not really happy with what I’ve written, but it’s a start and I still have time to talk about it with my parents (I already spoke to E), although probably not with my therapist, who is on holiday until next week.

I also spent some time typing up my notes on my “pornography-addicted rabbi” novel idea. Notebooks are good for jotting ideas down, but Word documents are better for moving things around and ordering them. At the moment I have some characters and vague story ideas, but no real plot. Well, I have an idea of where I want to go, but not how I get there. I’m already scared of what publishing such a story would mean for me as a member of the frum (religious Jewish) community, whether there would be any backlash like the backlash around Unorthodox and My Unorthodox Life. I don’t intend the book to be anti-religious (if anything the reverse, but I can see that some people might not see that). However, this seems the best way (well, a way, maybe not the best way) to talk about issues around sex and gender, and around addiction and mental health, in the frum community.

I guess this has become an ‘aspiring writer’ blog, now that it’s not exactly a ‘mental illness blog’ or a ‘fighting for an autism diagnosis’ blog. I probably shouldn’t say much about ongoing projects, but I find it hard to keep total radio silence. If I speak about my projects, I feel I have to follow through with them. I can’t chicken out of writing a novel I’ve ‘trailed’ here. I probably also should call myself a ‘writer’ rather than an ‘aspiring writer,’ but I still feel that I’m not there yet.

***

Despite this, and having also gone for a run, done over an hour of Torah study and Skyped E, I have a vague feeling of not having done enough, and of having procrastinated online (despite my attempt to limit my internet use at the moment) instead of actually relaxing. I really do need to talk to my therapist about this.

“I could be bounded in a nutshell, and count myself a king of infinite space, were it not that I have bad dreams”

Shabbat (the Sabbath) was a mixed bag, and, again, I find I need to break my rule, or at least aspiration, about not going online after Shabbat in the summer as I need to blog to get some of my thoughts out of my head.

On Friday night we davened (prayer) outside again. This seemed at odds with the shul‘s (synagogue’s) policy of no longer keeping COVID protocols in place, now that it is legal not to do so (unlike my parents’ shul, which still has a lot of safeguards in place, and is even apparently adding more). This was pleasant for me, as I would wear a mask inside, but felt no need to do so outside. The reason may have been that we do not own the building where we daven, which is usually a school. The hall where we daven is currently being significantly remodelled, which is going to make services difficult, particularly the Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur festival services next month. I am not sure what the shul will do. We raised funds to buy our own premises earlier this year, but I think we do not have planning permission to build yet, and even when we do, the building project is estimated to take eighteen months.

I did not sleep particularly well last night and had some strange dreams, partly focused on some silly thing I did when I was ten. I don’t know why I carry around guilt from two decades ago, when I wasn’t even an adult. It did leave me in a negative state of mind, and I stayed in bed because I felt anxious and self-critical. When I did finally get up, I was carrying other guilt, which I don’t want to go into here, for various reasons, but which was equally irrational.

I slept for three hours after lunch, which was not sensible, as I will probably struggle to sleep tonight. Even then, I only woke up because I set an alarm before Shabbat. I’m not sure how long I would have slept if I had awakened naturally.

I nearly didn’t get back to shul, as I had a lot of social anxiety. I more or less forced myself out of the house and down to shul. The hall, now I saw it properly, looked very different as a result of the ongoing building works. About a third of the hall has already been partitioned off, and even in the area still accessible to us, some tables were missing. This was somewhat upsetting to my autistic mind.

After Minchah (Afternoon Prayers), the seudah shlishit (third Sabbath meal) was held in a classroom. I didn’t want to go and eat, but I did want to attend the Talmud shiur (religious class) that would be held partway through the seudah. I stayed in the hall and read for a bit, but then thought that they were about to start the shiur, so went and found the classroom. I felt awkward sitting there and not eating, but I did get to hear the shiur. I’m not sure how well I followed it, but I would have followed it even less had I not prepared in advance yesterday.

One thing I noticed was a couple of people addressing me by name and trying to make small talk with me. It always surprises me when people know me or want to talk to me. I suppose I’ve had so many bad social interactions, so many communities of one kind or another (shul, school, scouts, university, workplace) where I’ve felt I haven’t been accepted or didn’t fit in (or was even bullied) and just stood around “being autistic” and not really being able to talk to people that I’m still amazed when people know my name and want to talk to me. I don’t know how to progress this to make friends though.

I don’t know how rational my COVID fears are. I travel on public transport (with a mask) to get to work or volunteering, and shul is probably no less safe than that. Is it safe enough not to wear a mask, or to eat? I don’t know. According to the government, it’s fine, but I don’t feel safe. Is this sensible caution or the beginnings of health anxiety/OCD?

I feel a bit down now, and vaguely headachey. I probably need something to eat, and to shower (it’s got hot again) relax a bit before bed.

Worries

I feel very drained today, physically and emotionally. I woke up late, but then realised that my parents’ friend, who fixes their computers, was here doing something on my Dad’s computer. I didn’t want to be seen in pyjamas, but I didn’t have the energy to get dressed without breakfast and coffee, so I went back to bed. After a while he went, so I rushed to eat breakfast, get dressed and daven.

I’m worried about a few upcoming things. I’m working from home for the next fortnight as J is on holiday. The downside is that I may have to do the super-difficult and super-stressful job I occasionally have to do, as I can do it as easily from home as from the office, and J isn’t around to handle it. Whereas I would usually do it if it was necessary during office hours on Monday or Thursday, I’ve agreed with J that he can pass it on to me any day while he’s away except Shabbat (when the office is shut) or Wednesday (volunteering and therapy day). I am quite nervous about this.

My more immediate worry is the changes to the shul schedule from this week. Instead of davening Minchah (saying Afternoon Prayers) at 6.15pm followed by Talmud shiur (religious class), we are now davening Minchah some time before sunset followed by seudah shlishit (the Third Sabbath meal) including shiur and then Ma’ariv (Evening Prayers). The problem is that I won’t eat at the seudah at the moment because I’m still too scared of COVID, but I want to hear the shiur. This week I’m going to try to have my own seudah at home before Minchah, bring a book with to read while everyone else is having seudah, then sit with the seudah without eating during the shiur and stay on for Ma’ariv, but it will be awkward to sit (in a mask) and not eat. I’m also not sure I have the stamina to stay in shul for that long, although I guess it will be good practice for the coming Jewish festivals. I’m not going to push myself to go to shul for Shacharit (Morning Prayers) tomorrow, as one big, scary shul thing in a day is enough. To be honest, I feel so drained and down at the moment that it’s going to be an effort to go tonight, and the Friday night service is my favourite and definitely the least scary.

Speaking of the festivals, there’s the worry I get at this time of year with the Jewish autumn festival season around the corner, practical worries about coping with going to shul (synagogue) so much and so early, or oversleeping and missing services which makes me look to other shul-goers like I’m not very committed. There are also more spiritual worries about finding time and headspace for appropriate introspection and deciding where I can improve in the coming Jewish year, let alone how I manage that change. Then there’s the stress of the abbreviated work weeks in the festival time. I currently work at an Orthodox Jewish organisation, so I don’t have to worry about taking time off, but the other days in those weeks will be manic, trying to cram everything in.

I have other vague worries too, about my cousin coming over from Israel next week and how I fit in spending time with her, and whether E will be able to visit later in the year. It probably isn’t all too much if I break it down, but it seems like tidal wave of stuff is around the corner and just waiting to hit me (if a tidal wave can go around a corner). To be honest, lately I seem to get anxious about all kinds of things, even if there’s nothing specifically going on in my life. Yesterday, for example, I got hugely worried about the Arab-Israeli conflict with no obvious trigger and certainly nothing I can do to change that particular situation.

***

I tried to phone the secretary of the psychiatrist who assessed me for Asperger’s Syndrome to see if she has tried to refer me for autism-adapted CBT yet. There’s a whole procedure whereby the NHS has to assess whether I should get treatment or not. Realistically, I should get it now I have a diagnosis, but the psychiatrist and GP were arguing over who should actually write the letter to start the whole thing and I’m not sure if anything has happened yet, five months after my diagnosis. Unfortunately, the call went straight to voicemail both times I tried and I’m wondering if the secretary doesn’t work on Fridays.

***

My parents convinced me to withdraw from the job with the difficult commute. I think I was pushing myself to go through with it because I didn’t want to feel I was “chickening out” for the wrong reasons, because I didn’t think I could give the presentation they required. I am quite relieved to avoid the presentation though, not to mention the commute.

Bad at Doing Nothing

I wanted to have an ‘off’ day as I’ve been feeling very stressed lately, building up to my shutdown (or whatever it was) on Monday. E also suggested I should do relaxing things, and I agreed with her, but, when I faced an ’empty’ day, I found the thought terrifying, which was interesting. I wanted to work on my next novel or do something useful like polishing the silver for my parents. I guess I could have worked on my presentation for the job interview that I may or may not attend.

I’ve already noticed that I find it hard to give myself ‘permission’ to read recreationally for long periods, rather just in small bursts during lunch or while travelling, and while I do watch TV most days, I usually do that while doing something else at the same time, even if just eating dinner or doing my pre-bedtime relaxation exercises, or at least have the ‘excuse’ of feeling too tired to do anything else. Not that I spend my whole time being ‘productive,’ far from it, but I spend time procrastinating online when it would be better to focus on work and then relax ‘properly’ at the end of the day. But even before the internet, I would procrastinate, not doing homework while I skimmed ahead in whatever novel I was reading, before going back to read it ‘properly.’ I’ve intermittently thought of setting time limits on my internet browsing, but that feels like more ‘rules,’ and in any case, I struggle to stick to it, because I suspect that procrastination in my case is a mixture of poor autistic executive function and (at least pre-E) loneliness.

I feel that I’m lazy, because I’m not particularly driven to do paid work, but at the same time I do feel pressure to ‘do things’ every day, as well as a different, more complex and deeper-rooted desire to write (blog, novel, devar Torah) and to read about things in the world around me. It’s hard just to do nothing. I used to think that was because lots of negative thoughts about myself would tumble out, but I’m now wondering if it’s simply because I interpret inactivity as ‘wrong.’ Even on Shabbat (the Sabbath) I find it hard to read for fun rather than to study Torah, although on Shabbat I can lose myself in thought for ages, albeit with a religious focus rather than just relaxing.

Hmm, there are a lot of ‘rules’ in the above passage about how I ‘should’ work and relax. I wonder if I should bring this up with my therapist when she gets back from her holiday.

Despite wanting to relax, I needed to write my devar Torah for the week as I wouldn’t have time tomorrow. I spent a little over an hour on that. It was not one of my most inspired divrei Torah. Sometimes a question or idea leaps out of me from the text of the week’s sedra (weekly Torah reading) and sometimes I find something in the sedra that lets me speak about a subject I want to talk about for other reasons (this can be somewhat contrived sometimes). But this week I was just stuck and had to look for ideas in the books of divrei Torah I own. The one I wrote was based largely on one of Nehama Leibowitz’s Studies in Devarim Deuteronomy.

I did postpone two scary phone calls I need to make. However, I still spent time complaining about a faulty second-hand DVD. The latter made me think about reconsidering the amount of second-hand DVDs I buy, but most of them are really cheap and probably 90% of them play fine, so I think they’re worth the risk. I also tried on two pairs of shoes and then tried to return the pair that didn’t fit, which ran into problems because of a mendacious returns information and incompatible technology. I’m not sure what to do about that. Given that I don’t like shopping, and hate returning things, these might not have been the best things to do on a supposedly relaxing day.

Other than that, I went for a walk and watched TV: The Blue Planet and Doctor Who. I don’t feel that I did much positive to relax overall, whatever that would mean, particularly as the episode of Doctor Who is not a favourite (see below). I feel in the evening in particular I was rushing around trying to do various things (returns, making lunch for tomorrow) and somehow the day just got away from me again, as it usually does on ‘quiet’ days. Plus I feel on the verge of worrying about various religious things I haven’t done, as we come closer to Rosh Hashanah and indeed to this week’s Talmud shiur (religious class). Maybe I need to be busy or do absolutely nothing at all, but not just a few ‘essential’ things.

***

Watching new Doctor Who season two (2006) with E brought us to Doomsday today, an episode which I hated on original transmission. This was unlike the rest of the season, which I liked a lot, but now don’t. Time has some equalised everything and now I think that the season is the least challenging (although probably not exactly the worst) of Russell T Davies’ four seasons as showrunner. The season in general and Doomsday in particular seem bombastic, sentimental and derivative (secret paramilitary organisations stealing alien tech were old hat even in 2006), but not totally unengaging.

Perhaps it’s autism, but familiarity often breeds not contempt, but cosiness and acceptance for me. While I’m never going to understand the people who see Doomsday as one of the greatest episodes ever, I found myself — not enjoying Doomsday hugely, but finding it reassuring and, as I said, cosy. “Cosy” is usually meant as abuse from the type of Doctor Who fan who insists the programme is Serious Adult Drama, but I don’t really believe that and tend to see cosiness as a strength, and something present in more stories than the Serious Adult Drama (SAD) Fan would think. Like other stories I once hated, it has turned into something I can occasionally tolerate and find “moments of charm” in, if not exactly love it.

E seems to have liked the “Daleks vs. Cybermen” aspect, something the original series was never allowed to do, as Dalek creator Terry Nation didn’t want to risk devaluing the Daleks by pitting them against an enemy they couldn’t defeat (other than the Doctor). I’ve always found it gimmicky, but I guess it was going to happen sooner or later.

Next up is a return to a certain junk yard in London 1963 as we watch Doctor Who‘s earliest episodes (at E’s request), episodes I will probably prefer to the 2006 vintage despite having last watched them a few months ago.

“This is what we’ve waited for! This is it boys! This is war!”

(Title quote from 99 Red Balloons by Nena. This post isn’t really about war, but it is about something new, exciting and scary.)

***

What I experienced last night reinforced my feelings that I experience something that isn’t straightforward fatigue in certain situations and which is probably linked to autism/Asperger’s even if I don’t have a proper name for it. It could be burnout or it could be a shutdown, both of which are commonly used terms for different autistic experiences and neither of which seem particularly well-understood or clearly defined, but it is something more than just fatigue.

Part of it is physical sensations that are hard to describe, but feeling like my brain is contracting in on itself is part of it. There can be more typical fatigued physical sensations too. I become rather monosyllabic in conversation with my parents and even gesture rather than speak on occasion. Even when texting E, I am used monosyllables. Yesterday, I browsed online a bit which I think is about wanting connection rather than boredom (and possibly about lacking the executive function to do something else), but I would not really be able to respond to anyone online or offline unless it was a loved one offering hugs. I wanted to watch TV yesterday, but had strong executive function issues picking what to watch. I really struggled to decide even though my choices were not that great. Eventually watching TV did help and I felt better after watching for an hour and a half or so — another indication that it isn’t tiredness or fatigue per se as I felt less burnt out/shutdown even though it was later in the evening when I would naturally feel more tired.

After yesterday I probably could have done with a mental health day, but I had a blood test booked for today, and as my Dad was playing golf, that entailed two long walks to and from the hospital, with some shopping added in. I went to the big Sainsbury’s for the first time in sixteen or seventeen months, having previously relied on deliveries or quick visits to smaller supermarkets. Tuesday is my day for cooking, so I had to do that too, as well as one other big, scary task (see the final section), and as I woke up late, that ate up much of the day. I didn’t do much Torah study as a result, which was frustrating.

***

I had a blood test today. It was OK, but I shook a bit again. I had tremor sometimes with blood tests even before COVID, but something about wearing a mask while having my blood taken seems to make it impossible not to shake, possibly because I can’t breathe easily.

***

I got an email asking me to a job interview. The interview is for a library job, the one where the application window was so narrow that we thought they wanted to give the job to an internal candidate already. I have reservations about the job, partly because I’ve lost confidence in my ability to work longer hours (three full days a week for this job) or to do a library job, partly because I’ve never worked in a library in this sector and am not sure what it would involve. I have to give a presentation, maximum ten minutes. I assume the minimum is seven or eight minutes. I tend to give short presentations that are made shorter by social anxiety making me gabble. The presentation is on something somewhat sector-specific and I think it will show up my ignorance.

When I applied for the job, I checked the commute on the Transport for London journey planner, and it was an hour and a half each way, which is difficult, but I’ve had longer commutes. But I just checked the route again, in more detail, and it involves a twenty minute and a twenty-five minute walk in both commutes! Even if my parents pick me up from the station on the way home, cutting twenty minutes off, that’s still well over an hour of walking a day which is tiring before I actually consider how tiring the work would be. My parents are at least understanding of my concerns about the travel, even though they don’t really share my worries about being able to do the job. So to say that I am cool about this is a bit of an understatement.

***

Saving the biggest news for last: I sent a query letter about my novel to an agent, along with the first three chapters of the novel (what they requested). I feel very nervous. I got an automatic response email saying the agent was just back from holiday and might take a while to get to me. This agent seemed a good fit in terms of genre and knowing about Jewish stuff, but I appreciate that, statistically, I probably will not get accepted by the first (or second, or third…) agent I apply to and that this may be a long haul. I am open to applying to several agents at once, which is what I have seen advised online, but it was so nerve-wracking to apply to the first one that I’ll probably wait until I hear back, one way or the other.

I don’t think I can quite believe that I took this step. I keep sending E texts saying “I WROTE A QUERY LETTER TO MY AGENT ABOUT MY NOVEL!!!!!!!”

Did Too Much (Fragment)

I did too much today. Got up early for work. Torah study on the train. The usual spreadsheets in the morning. Most of the afternoon walking upstairs, standing up photocopying, walking back downstairs multiple times. I had ideas for my next writing project while I was doing this. More Torah study on the train home until I was too tired to continue. Postponed my shopping as it was pouring with rain and phoned Dad for a lift from the station instead. The real mistake was working on my novel query letter (to an agent) after work. I was home early and didn’t want to waste the time, but I really should have taken proper time out. Or maybe being on my computer at all was the mistake.

Now I feel utterly burnt out and unable to do anything. I want to vegetate in front of the TV, but in shutdown mode my brain can’t decide what to watch. Executive function is not functioning. The Twilight Zone, The Simpsons, The Avengers… overload, overload, overload… Going to turn the computer off belatedly and try not to use the phone.

Just Coping

I struggled to sleep with the noise from the party outside last night. I actually tried to sleep in my sister’s old room, but I found the mattress uncomfortable, there was too much light from the streetlight outside and from downstairs (Mum routinely stays up watching TV until the small hours), and the room made odd noises of the kind pipes make at night. Eventually the music from outside stopped and I went back to my room, falling asleep around 3am.

***

I’ve put aside We Need to Talk About Kevin for now. I’m vaguely upset that I can’t seem to read heavy books any more, and there’s an element of “It was a present so I should read it” thing, but I’m not sure that I’ve ever read anything quite like this before. In the end I was worried that the book’s relentlessly negative view of relationships and parenting would have some kind of bad influence on me, so I thought it was best to put it aside. Fortunately, the other books I got for my birthday don’t look so intimidating.

***

I went to buy a suit. I was going with my Dad, as he needed new trousers and I feel I’m a poor judge of fashion and fit, and I was worried about going into socially anxious/autistic shut-down mode and not communicating what I needed to the shop assistant. My Mum decided to come too, which was probably too many people. I think the shop assistant thought I was much younger than I am, or maybe my parents are just more forceful personalities than me, as I felt that I was not really the dominant person choosing the suit, even though I would be the one wearing it. I swung into autistic ‘too many people’ mode instead, just feeling there was too much noise and too many people giving me orders about what to wear and which way to stand so they could see it better. I felt self-conscious of how much weight I’ve put on with clomipramine and I felt really uncomfortable when the assistant was trying to see how well the suit fit and to make alterations. It’s wasn’t a #MeToo situation or anything like that, but I feel really uncomfortable with strangers getting into my personal space. Because of this I shook slightly, which made everything even worse. I drifted into a vaguely passive aggressive bad mood afterwards, which was not good.

When we got home, my sister popped in for tea, which I was dreading, but somehow it got me out of my bad mood. I went for a run even though it was getting late and that did help burn off some of the negative feelings I was carrying around, although I also ended up with a persistent headache, albeit not at migraine level. I spoke to E, which was good too; it’s good that we connect in so many ways, and bring out the best in each other, although I don’t really want to say more here.

***

I feel that I don’t have much to say today, but I want to say something. So apologies if this post doesn’t really say anything. I feel like little things are stressing me out a lot at the moment, and there are some big things coming up soon, and if I can’t cope with the little things, how will I cope with the big ones? Will I fall back into depression? But I probably will cope somehow, I just feel I should be doing more with my life than just coping. I’d like to be actually thriving, but it seems impossible, even aside from the ongoing effects of COVID.

Noise

I’m writing after Shabbat (the Sabbath) again, to offload from a rather stressful (and ongoing) day. The ongoing bit is the people in the house behind us and to the left, who are having a party with loud music again. It’s currently 11.30pm and they haven’t turned it down. My Dad thinks they are students. I’m slightly sceptical, as we aren’t anywhere near a university or college let alone in a student area (it’s mostly families around here), but it would explain why they have loud parties regularly. I’m pretty angry with them, but have no real way of venting. I’ve got all the windows shut, which I don’t like to do even in the middle of winter, let alone August, but I can still hear the music through the double glazing.

***

I had a Skype call with my rabbi mentor on Friday. We spoke a bit about my current feeling of being overwhelmed and how to break my worries into smaller chunks, and also that, although I’m not doing much that’s particularly scary (except submitting my novel manuscript), a lot of things are going to happen in the next couple of months, and the cumulative effect is difficult, particularly with the autumn Yom Tov (festival) cycle starting in a month from tomorrow.

We also spoke a bit about how much Torah study I do. Although I haven’t been monitoring closely lately, I think I’m still averaging about fifty minutes a day, including some weekly Talmud study. My rabbi mentor said something to me about Talmud study that I don’t think I should repeat, but it did make me feel that maybe I am doing enough.

I woke up at 6.30am this morning and struggled with my conscience about getting up. It was far too early for shul (synagogue), but I wondered if I should try to stay awake so I could go. I fell asleep again, woke up when I thought I heard someone at the door, delivering my Twilight Zone box set, I guessed, although when I got downstairs, there was no one there. At some point I should have got up and stayed up, but I fell asleep again. It looks like social anxiety is taking over and stopping me getting to shul in the mornings again. I thought I’d made progress there, but the cost of liberty is eternal vigilance, and social anxiety exposure.

I don’t usually relate dreams unless I feel they are either very amusing or insightful. I think this is a bit of both: one of the occasions when I drifted back to sleep this morning, I dreamt I was back at school and rehearsing the lead in Hamlet. I’ve never really wanted to act, but I’ve long had an interest in Shakespeare’s great Dane, seeing parallels with myself (clever, moody, doesn’t have many real friends, messed up love life (OK that’s not relevant to me any more, but it was for a long time) and complicated relationships with his parents), although nowadays I don’t see him as a particularly positive figure. I’ve read Hamlet twice, once with notes, and I’ve seen two productions on TV/DVD, although never in the theatre. Anyway, I think dreaming of Hamlet was my unconscious’ way of chiding me for procrastinating about getting up for shul and falling asleep instead. I’m not sure why the dream seemed to focus on Hamlet’s death and my being stabbed, with a hidden pouch of fake blood to soak through my doublet, which would probably be excessively gory for a school production. Sherlock Holmes (another literary figure I identify with) was involved too, trying to solve the Elsinore murders. To be honest, Holmes would probably have made a better job of it than Hamlet did.

I did make it to shul for Minchah (Afternoon Prayers), although it was a struggle, given how wet and miserable it was outdoors and that I didn’t really want to be around people. I stayed for Talmud shiur too and followed some of it, although we covered more material than I had prepared, which is almost unprecedented.

My parents invited their friends who live down the road for seudah shlishit (the third Sabbath meal). They are friendly, but very loud and talkative. I mean, they talk a lot, and loudly. Even the son, who is also on the spectrum, was talkative and loud. They were already here when I got home from shul. They were looking at my birthday cards, which are still up downstairs; I was glad I had removed the card from E with a very personal message.

I ate seudah with them, but slipped away after dessert while everyone sat around talking. Conversation was about school experiences (the son on the spectrum had a very different experience to me), COVID and the Olympics, none of which interested me. I went upstairs and read a bit, although not for very long as Shabbat was nearly over, and there was a lot of noise from outside (see above).

My Dad wanted me to lead bentsching (grace after meals) which I did, and then to make havdalah (prayer at the end of Shabbat), which I also did, but found myself getting annoyed. I think I was just drained from so much peopling and so much noise. I know my Dad doesn’t read Hebrew well, so likes me to lead any prayers when his friends are around, but I guess I feel a bit taken for granted. I mean, I’m already struggling just to handle his friends being there when I don’t want to be around people, without feeling obliged to ‘perform.’

Now I feel somewhat down and headachey. I’d like to watch The Twilight Zone, but the noise from outside is not conducive to the right atmosphere, so I’ll probably watch The Simpsons, which doesn’t need atmosphere. I don’t feel tired as I slept so much (morning and napped again after lunch).

We Need to Talk About We Need to Talk About Kevin

Work was dull, painfully dull, but I guess that’s OK. I’m still sorting through my predecessor’s 2,000+ emails in his inbox to weed out the obviously irrelevant and spammy. Then in the afternoon I had a lot of trouble trying to make changes to our new database, probably a result of bugs rather than anything I’m doing, but I’m not 100% sure. Anyway, it was dull, but dull is OK. I practically counted the minutes until leaving, but ideas for my next writing project percolated up while I was in dull. There was one brief interlude of non-dull, going to inspect the building’s basement, owned by the organisation I work for, but leased to the business next door. It hasn’t been used since COVID started and J wanted to check it was OK and took me along too, which was good as (aside giving me a break from dull), it shows that he’s planning on having me around for the foreseeable future, although I’m still technically freelance and employed on a day-to-day basis.

***

I’m not sure whether to continue reading We Need to Talk About Kevin. I’m not quite a third of the way through. I knew it would be dark; it’s narrated by the mother of a school shooter. But it’s also written with a lot of metaphor and simile. It’s made me feel self-conscious about how little I use metaphorical language in my writing. My Dad says I “don’t waste a word,” which I guess is the positive way of looking at it. The language and the subject matter combined are making it very heavy-going, even if I can see that it’s objectively well-written and more daring than most novels that deal with tired tropes. “School shooters and the mothers who couldn’t love them even as babies” isn’t exactly up there with “Boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy finds girl again” in the familiar plot stakes. It’s also hard to see where this is going. On page 130 Kevin is still a baby, but we know what he’s going to do, and that his mother doesn’t think he has any reason for doing it other than nihilistic rage at the universe, so I’m wondering what reading the next 345 pages will add.

The other thing is that reading Eva Khatchadourian’s second thoughts about having children is raising currently unanswerable questions about having children myself. E and I both want to have children, but we worry that it won’t be possible, or at least not responsible. We’re two people with the combined salary of about one well-off person, so it’s going to be hard to live together (probably impossible without parental assistance, which is uncomfortable to acknowledge) even without having extra mouths to feed. We each come with a shedload of pre-existing “issues” of our own as well as almost permanent fatigue for reasons we don’t really understand — again, not a great situation to mix in a baby or a toddler (or teenager). The sad thing is, we would both probably make good parents if we can only find a way through all of this before the biological clock chimes.

***

I finished the first season of The Twilight Zone. It was pretty good, although I was surprised by how many comedy episodes there were, most of which weren’t that funny. I preferred the eerie stories to the more overtly science fictional, which surprises me a little. I think I like ghost stories, but have mostly avoided them until now from a dislike to sudden shocks and gore, which are really more horror than ghost stories.

I think my favourite episodes were The Hitch-Hiker (about a woman haunted by a hitch-hiker who always appears ahead of her) and Mirror Image (about a woman encountering her double at a bus station). Judgment Night and Third from the Sun were also very good.

It turned out cheaper to buy the box set of seasons one to five new than to buy seasons two to five second-hand, even taking into account that I had bought season one already, so I’ll probably be staying in The Twilight Zone for a while, especially as the episodes are short so I can fit one in alongside an episode of Doctor Who with E and still not watch too much more than an hour of TV.

Books, Sacred and Secular

I wrote a draft query letter for an agent about my novel. The process was pretty terrifying. I asked E for some advice as writing a query letter seems to be a very different skill to actually writing a novel, more like marketing and (self-)promotion than creative writing. I feel a bit like I’m writing a job application, and those have not always gone well for me, although I feel more confident submitting sample chapters than having an interview. E suggested a few changes and additions, which I hope to add later in the week, as I’m pretty exhausted now (see below).

I also made a couple of very small changes to my manuscript, rewriting a few of mentions of real-world things that could get me into copyright/product placement trouble of one kind or another.

That all took about an hour and a half, including some procrastination time. This was unfortunate, as today was another slow day with lack of energy and low mood, particularly on waking. I hope I am not drifting back into burnout or depression, although there’s really no way to tell at this stage. I went for a walk, but it left me more drained than reinvigorated. To be honest, I was more invigorated by spending an hour working on my (rather long) devar Torah (Torah thought) for the week, which was longer than I really predicted or intended. It’s on a topic that fascinates me, but which hardly ever gets asked in the frum (religious Jewish) world, namely, why was it so hard to stop the Israelites worshipping other gods?

I also read another chapter of the biblical book of Nehemiah; I have an idea why so many of the chapters of this book and that of Ezra are just long lists of names, but they are frustrating to read. I think people who haven’t read Tanakh (Hebrew Bible) assume it’s all like that, but mostly it isn’t, it’s mainly Bereshit (Genesis) and the last few books that are full of name-lists. Somehow takes longer to read the name-lists than ordinary narrative too, which seems counter-intuitive; I suspect my brain takes longer to process unfamiliar words like names, particularly as relatively few names in Tanakh are ever repeated. Apparently the idea of naming a child after an ancestor hadn’t taken root at that stage.

Odd Thoughts of an Odd Fellow

I didn’t have a great day today. I overslept, although I rushed and wasn’t particularly late for work. At work I made mistakes, or had mistakes from last week pointed out to me. Work was dull and I was glad that I don’t have to work full 9am – 5pm days in this job. I do about 9.15am – 3.45pm, and I wonder how I would cope if I had to do full days. I drank a lot of caffeine to keep going, although, perhaps worryingly, I’m not sure it was that much more than usual: three coffees, a few teas and some coke zero that J had leftover from his lunchtime meeting. I don’t normally drink fizzy drinks during the week, but I felt I needed something to try to lift my mood a little.

***

It’s weird that I am reluctant to call myself a writer. I’ve written a self-published non-fiction book, an as-yet-unpublished novel, about thirteen years’ worth of blog posts (which I conservatively estimate at around three million words, probably rather more), a few short stories, a bunch of poems and various reviews and articles (not to mention divrei Torah). Yet I feel that because I haven’t been paid more than a few pounds (£25 for an article and probably about £50 in book sales, mostly to people I know in real life) that I’m not “really” a writer.

***

I thought today that I’m impossible to satisfy. I find secular Western society too individualistic, but frum (religious Jewish) society stiflingly conformist. Is there a middle ground? In the Talmud, Hillel said, “If I am not for myself, who will be for me? But if I am just for myself, what am I? And if not now, when?” (Avot 1.15) It’s surprisingly hard to put into practice.

***

I watched a mostly humorous episode of The Twilight Zone yesterday. Mr Bevis is, according to the narration, an “oddball” (he may be on the spectrum, but let’s not go there). He dresses a bit like Matt Smith as the Doctor, with a bow tie and jacket. He likes weird things like zither music, crafting model ships, driving a clapped-out thirty year old car, correcting other people’s grammar, and stuffed animals (I couldn’t work out if this meant soft toys or dead animals stuffed by taxidermists. I think the latter). He likes to play with children, but not in a creepy way, because this is 1960. He also has a racist clock, but we’ll set that aside for now.

Mr Bevis loses his job, and indeed has failed to stay in any job for more than six months since he was demobbed at the end of World War II. Not only did he lose his job, he also lost his apartment and his car on the same day. Fortunately, his guardian angel intervened to rectify this — but at a cost of making Mr Bevis lose all his personality quirks and special interests. Because this is television, Mr Bevis decides that he would rather be himself and unemployed, homeless and motor-less, than be someone else with a job, apartment and car.

I thought that this was relevant to me. I also like odd things, or things that other people seem to think are odd, or at least things that don’t fit together properly. Lots of people like Bible study, old TV science fiction or glam rock, but not usually all of them at the same time. But they matter to me. And maybe that’s OK, even if I don’t have a guardian angel.

(I also couldn’t work out why Mr Bevis is trying to get office work he’s clearly unsuited for when he should be a primary school teacher – likes children, corrects grammar, good at crafts. And this is the sixties, so he won’t be forced to do endless paperwork and continual assessment. He really needs to see a good careers advisor.)

“It’s a lot like playing the violin/You cannot start off to be Yehudi Menuhin”

I guess I’m having a day when I feel overwhelmed by the world and unable to cope. I’ve got a lot to do, although realistically not much of it needs to be done today, but I still feel overwhelmed.

I woke up very late feeling depressed again, or pseudo-depressed, as I’m not “supposed” to be clinically depressed at the moment. I wasn’t sure whether to be glad I don’t have work today (J wanted me to come in tomorrow instead of today) or if I would have felt better if I’d had to force myself to go into work, which would at least have provided distraction. I think a lot of it is nervousness about submitting my manuscript, and also about getting through a pile of other chores I need to do.

Strangely, I think positive changes can make me depressed. Change is scary for anyone, doubly so on the spectrum, so even things like finishing my novel can trigger depression. It’s even possible that E’s plans to come to the UK in October (the “exciting thing” I hinted at last week) could push me downwards in the short-term, even though I’m very excited about it. It’s just that anything out of the ordinary can be difficult for me.

I looked at some websites I’d been recommended to see which ones would help with looking for a literary agent. It seems particularly scary. I do actually know which agent I would like to submit my novel to first, but one site suggested sending submissions to ten to twenty agents at a time! That is, frankly, terrifying. Just the thought of contacting twenty strangers in one go, even without them judging my writing! It said I should also find similar novels to compare mine to in my cover letter, but I’m not sure that there are any, depending on how you define what my novel is “about,” and I’m not really sure how to find them. Also “Read my novel because it’s a bit like another novel” seems really shallow to me, although I can see why an agent might be more willing to look at “A book that’s a twenty-first century Chaim Potok novel, that would appeal to people who watched Unorthodox and Shtisel” than some random novel that turned up in their inbox unannounced. I do think my tendency to read eclectically and not particularly modern books, will probably hamper me here, as I’m not sure what parallels to draw. The Chaim Potok parallel is probably stronger than anything more recent (Potok died in 2002). My novel is definitely closer in style to Potok than Unorthodox.

The problem is compounded by my novel being thematically rich/unfocused (depending how generous you want to be), inasmuch as it has themes of Jewish identity, autistic identity and domestic abuse. I’m not sure how to promote all angles (anyone who knows books about domestic abuse in particular would be a help here!).

I did manage a few tasks: went for a walk, did a few minutes of Talmud study (reviewing material from Saturday’s class) and cooked dinner (and ate with my parents, so peopling). I did some online clothes shopping too. So I guess that was all good. On the other hand, I can’t face doing substantial Torah study or going to depression group online or really doing anything this evening other than watching TV, so things seem a bit negative.

The Nightmare

I feel bad today, what I would term “depressed” if it continued for a period of days. At the moment I’m just thinking/hoping it’s a one-off bad day, perhaps a result of a somewhat negative Shabbat. I have felt a bit overstretched recently, particularly at work, even though I’m not really doing that much. I feel like the famous Fuseli picture of The Nightmare, with the horrible imp thing squatting on the woman’s chest. I feel as if there’s something heavy sitting on my shoulders, and I have the old feeling that someone replaced my brain with cotton wool while I was sleeping. I hope this isn’t the start of another episode of depression.

My parents went to a lechaim (drinks) for the son of friends who just got engaged. He’s about ten years younger than me. I’m glad I have E so I won’t fixate on this as I would have in the past.

Because of all of this, I’ve postponed reducing my olanzapine for a few days, just in case.

E is being supportive, but it’s hard for us to be so far apart when one or other of us has our periodic ‘downs.’ It makes me worry how we would cope if we had children to deal with too, or how we are going to get to a work/financial situation where we can afford to have children when neither of us can work full-time. I wish we could just have a chill out day together, although I’m very bad at chilling out. Even today, feeling bad, I spent an hour on Torah study, half an hour sorting out bank statements and emails and went for a run. The run was, perhaps unsurprisingly, not very good, with poor stamina and a lot of walking, but at least I was running for the first time in month (thanks to family get-togethers and Jewish fasts, as well as bad weather).

I spoke to E in the evening. I had a bit of an exercise headache and she was really tired, but we had an interesting and fun chat regardless and my mood was rather better afterwards, which is very positive.

***

Why do I fixate on antisemitism when I feel depressed? I don’t know, but I have done so for years. I still can’t get over the fact that “#HitlerWasRight” was trending on Twitter earlier this year, during the conflict between Israel and Hamas. I assume it’s defended as, “Not antisemitic, just critical of Israel,” which is how antisemitism is usually normalised these days. How is supporting the Holocaust not antisemitic? Or the convoy of cars that toured Jewish parts of London with the drivers shouting “Fuck the Jews and rape their daughters!”

I suppose that I feel that I should be able to “fix” things somehow, but, of course, I can’t. It’s pointless to complain. The people who need to hear it won’t listen.

***

I’m reading We Need to Talk About Kevin, which probably isn’t the best thing to be reading right now, in terms of being down, as it’s about a high school shooter, told from the point of view of his mother. It’s well-written and involving, but also dark and heavy. Although the thing I’ve really noticed is how many metaphors and similes author Lionel Shriver uses. I hardly use any in my writing, I know, something which I put down to somewhat autistic language use. I also don’t write long descriptions. My Dad said the other day that I don’t waste a word in my writing, which is the positive way of looking at it, although I’m vaguely worried about publishers equating interesting metaphors with good writing, even in prose.

***

Otherwise I guess things are OK. I’m not into the Olympics, but my parents have been fascinated by dressage, BMX biking and skateboarding; I joked that Dad should take up the latter. I didn’t even know that skateboarding is a sport, let alone that it is Olympic-standard.

The Great Partnership

I have been trying not to go online after Shabbat (the Sabbath) goes out late in the summer (“goes out” is a metaphor for finishing, as Shabbat is anthropomorphised as a person, the Shabbat Queen or Shabbat Bride). However, I didn’t have a great Shabbat and feel the need to offload.

Shul (synagogue) last night was difficult. The previous rabbi, who took a position abroad some years ago, was visiting and the shul was packed with people who wanted to see him. I felt very uncomfortable, both for COVID reasons (even fewer people seemed to be wearing masks this week, as it’s no longer mandatory) and autism/social anxiety reasons. I just felt overwhelmed by the number of people, their proximity to me, and the noise from clapping and banging on tables when previous rabbi led a very noisy and enthusiastic Kabbalat Shabbat service. I felt uncomfortable and I left quickly once the service finished, hoping that previous rabbi didn’t recognise me with my mask on and no glasses, as I didn’t feel able to speak to him.

I spoke to my parents about some important stuff over dinner. The talk went well. I’ll elaborate on some of this below.

This morning I actually woke up early. I got up and said the Shema, perhaps the most important Jewish prayer, which is to be said early in the morning and again at night; I usually say the morning one far too late. But after I said it, I went back to bed. I’m not sure what my thought process was, but I’m pretty sure social anxiety and avoidance was part of it — I didn’t want to go to shul after what happened yesterday. I did think about getting up and just staying at home, but somehow drifted off to sleep again. This meant that I missed when a friend of mine who is visiting her parents in the area knocked on the door. I haven’t seen her since my sister’s wedding nearly four years ago (she is a close friend of my sister and a more casual friend of mine, but I rarely see her now she lives in Manchester).

I had lunch by myself, as my parents were at a friends’ house. I don’t mind that. I read a bit of the latest Doctor Who Magazine (which, despite its flaws, I’m probably going to keep subscribing to). I slept after lunch, which wasn’t particularly sensible, as I don’t feel tired now.

Shul for Minchah (Afternoon Prayers) was still a bit distressing, but not as bad as last night. I mostly followed the Talmud shiur (religious class) afterwards. I fell into a slight depression afterwards. I’m not sure why I feel down and slightly agitated. I probably need to do something relaxing, like watch TV before bed, as Shabbat was so stressful. The book I just started reading, We Need to Talk about Kevin, about a school shooter, is not exactly light reading either.

***

Of the things I spoke to my parents about last night, one is about changing my medication slightly. When I last saw my psychiatrist, she gave me a road map to reduce my olanzapine dose. This would hopefully help me be a bit more awake and lose some weight, without the rapid fall back into depression that happens when I try to come off it completely. However, the last few days I’ve felt somewhat stressed and overwhelmed, culminating in this not very good Shabbat, so I feel nervous of fiddling around with my meds, which often goes badly for me. I’m not sure what I’ll do now; maybe wait a week or so and see how I feel.

I also spoke to my parents about telling my community rabbi about my autism/Asperger’s in the run up to the autumn festival cycle (September this year), which is always extremely difficult. They agreed with me that it would be good to talk to him and suggested that I encourage him to read the article I had published online about being high functioning autistic in the Orthodox community, although I feel I need to make some kind of clear request of him rather than just dump all my negative thoughts on him and walk off. I’ve got some time to decide, as he’s going away on holiday this week.

***

A thought I’ve been wrestling with literally all Shabbat (it came to me in shul on Friday night):

Rabbi Lord Sacks z”tl, in his book on science and religion, The Great Partnership: God, Science and the Search for Meaning, writes the following:

The story I am about to tell concerns the human mind’s ability to do two quite different things. One is to break things down into their constituent parts and see how they mesh and interact. The other is to join things together so that they tell a story, and to join people together so that they form relationships. The best example of the first is science; of the second, religion.

Science takes things apart to see how they work. Religion puts things together to see what they mean.

My first thought about this is, that while it’s probably true in general, halakhic study is a lot more like the first approach than the second. As Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik wrote in his classic work Halakhic Man, the scholar of Talmud and Halakhah (Jewish Law), which he dubs “Halakhic Man,” has as much in common with the secular scientist or philosopher (Cognitive Man) than with the mystical religious (Homo Religiosus). Halakhic study is very much about breaking things — laws, concepts, actions — into their parts and analysing them. It’s not really about telling stories or forming relationships, let alone spirituality or homiletics.

The Talmud does not just contain halakhah. A substantial minority of it is aggadah, non-legal material, much of it narrative. However, Orthodox society has come to focus on halakhah as the main topic of study for Jewish men. I believe in some yeshivot (rabbinical seminaries), students are advised to skip the aggadic passages.

I’m not really sure where I’m going with this, though, beyond noting that my divrei Torah (Torah thoughts are rarely halakhic and more about crafting, if not a narrative, then some kind of homiletic argument. Most divrei Torah are like that, but other people (communal rabbis, certainly) seem to be able to do that and still understand halakhic argument.

I’m not sure where I’m going with this, and I’ve been on my computer for an hour (admittedly not writing the whole time) and it’s midnight, so I’ll leave things there for now. I guess it’s just about my feeling of not having a place in the Orthodox community. I wish I had asked Rabbi Sacks about this (somehow) while he was still alive.