Completely Unprepared

Someone wrote a book on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur (Jewish New Year and Day of Atonement), called This is Real and You are Completely Unprepared. I haven’t read it, but it’s how I usually feel by this stage (a few hours before Yom Kippur), however much preparation I’ve done. I’ve been focusing on High Holidays reading in my Torah study for a couple of weeks, I’ve done a cheshbon nafesh (ethical/religious self-assessment) and spoken to my rabbi mentor, but it doesn’t feel enough. “Enough” is “enough to spend twenty-five hours living like an angel in the presence of God” so it’s quite a high bar to clear. Even without COVID, autistic fatigue and social anxiety making everything harder.

It’s customary on the day before Yom Kippur to apologise to everyone for any potential wrongdoings in the last year. It’s a custom I find increasingly unsatisfying, as it’s too brief to be meaningful. In any case, I’m aware that the people I’ve hurt most are the ones I can’t apologise to, usually because they aren’t in my life any more. Knowing that I mostly hurt them unintentionally doesn’t help much. According to Jewish tradition, you can’t be forgiven by God for sins against another person unless they forgive you first, which is difficult. In the Doctor Who episode A Town Called Mercy, an alien war criminal says that in his culture, to get to the afterlife, you have to climb a mountain carrying all the people you wronged. Sometimes I think about that and wonder how many people I would be carrying. The fact that I hurt most of them unintentionally, or at least not fully intentionally, does not really help.

Even so, if I upset or offended anyone here, I’m very sorry. It wasn’t intentional. Please forgive me.

I realised the other day that this new Jewish year is a make-or-break kind of year for me. That might be a bit melodramatic, but I do have a lot going on in terms of trying to make my job permanent (or to not get fired for my mistakes…), trying to find an agent and publisher for my novel, starting my second novel and, most of all, moving my relationship with E into uncharted territory in terms of building a real relationship involving accepting each others’ human imperfections and moving towards getting married, with all that implies in terms of stress, bureaucracy, immigration, new experiences, potential new community and so on. This would be scary for anyone, even without autistic fear of new situations.

So I feel I should be on top of things now, ready to pray for a fresh start, really after twenty years of failed adulthood. Instead, I find myself terrified into my ‘freeze’ response, just staring at the headlights of the oncoming twenty-five hour fast juggernaut without moving out of the way or doing anything productive. To be fair, I think a lot about repentance and improving myself during the year, so maybe that’s why it’s hard to get the energy for another intense day of repentance. “Intense” isn’t something I’m good at any more at the best of times.

I’m trying to focus on the idea of just being there. Not in a literal sense (I know I’m likely to miss a lot of shul tomorrow to autistic fatigue and dehydration headache), but to, in some sense, open myself to God and “answer” His call (“answer” being my new understanding of teshuvah, commonly translated as repentance). I’m not sure what that would involve though. Maybe I can’t know in advance, maybe it’s supposed to be spontaneous to be authentic (cf. Martin Buber).

I Thought the Apocalypse Would Be More Exciting

A history of sleep and fatigue for me goes something like this: when I was very young, I struggled to fall asleep at night. It always took me an hour. But I used to get up early (6.00am) and read before school. When I got to secondary school, I wanted to sleep later, but now I had a long commute and had to leave early, so I think I still got up before 7.00am. As I got to my teens, getting up on weekends and holidays became harder, and I went to shul (synagogue) a lot less as a result, which I felt vaguely bad about, but I wasn’t so religious then. When I got to the sixth form, I had a period when my sleep became very disrupted and I used to go to bed fully dressed when I got home from school, sleep for a couple of hours, get up, do my homework, then get changed into pyjamas and go to bed again. This was the beginning of my first episode of depression/burnout/whatever it was. My first year at university I was mostly OK getting up early (even though I was humanities student and didn’t really need to), but once the depression set in in my second year, I started sleeping about fourteen hours a day, or at least staying in bed that long once I counted hours of insomnia and other hours after sleep too drained and depressed to get up. I also felt constantly tired. I’ve never really felt in control of my sleep since then; every day is a struggle to get up. Ideally, I’d prefer to sleep in late and work late at night to catch up, but the worlds of work and Jewish ritual (Morning Prayers) don’t like that. I’m lucky that J still lets me come into work a little late (usually between 9.15 and 9.30am). I’m not constantly tired any more, but I do tire easily from physical activity, work, socialising or just being around people. I’m still tired a lot of the time.

Even so, today I’ve been especially drained. I struggled to get up and get dressed. I helped Dad with the sukkah (the portable ‘home’ for the festival of Sukkot which starts on Monday evening), which was physically tiring and involved going up ladders, which I don’t like doing. We got through it, but I was even more drained afterwards.

I didn’t really manage to do anything else, not even my usual Tuesday job of cooking dinner for the family. I did about twenty minutes of Torah study, Skyped E and that was about it. I feel useless again. I feel that work has got on top of me (I make mistakes and get exhausted) and now Yom Tov (Jewish festivals) is getting on top of me too.

I did manage to do my pre-Yom Kippur COVID test, to check I’m OK to go to shul. I’m sure this isn’t the kind of purity Tanakh (the Hebrew Bible) had in mind. I worry about not doing the test right. It’s easy to get to worrying about it in the way I worry about Pesach kashering. It’s hard to see if I really swab my tonsils properly or do various other stages correctly. I wonder if I’m an unconscious plague carrier, spreading disease by not being able to follow simple instructions.

Anyone who likes science fiction who was born in the second half of the twentieth century is aware that the twenty-first century hasn’t turned out the way science fiction predicted. No nuclear holocaust, but also no unified world government, cities on the moon, flying cars, jetpacks or interstellar travel. We have super-smart computers, but they’re used to organise marketing data based on social media likes for the benefit of multinational corporations rather than running the planet (no, wait, they are running the planet by organising data). The idea that everyone would be doing basic biochemical tests in their home in the twenty-first century is the sort of thing that would turn up in these stories, but somehow it feels neither cutting-edge nor even hugely dystopian, it’s just another minor inconvenience that just we have to deal with and which no one is quite sure that they’re doing correctly. Frankly, 2001: A Space Odyssey was a lot more exciting than this.

Fred Karno’s Army

We are Fred Karno’s Army, the ragtime infantry./We can not fight, we can not shoot;/No bleedin’ use are we./And when we get to Berlin, the Kaiser he will say:/Hoch! Hoch! Mein Gott! What a bloody awful lot/Are the British infantryBritish World War I trench song

***

Today felt pretty bad. In retrospect, it probably wasn’t. I only got about four hours of sleep, which was partly my fault and partly not, but it probably didn’t set me up for a good day. I experienced some anxiety on waking. There’s an idea I came across a few years ago about the acronym HALT: don’t do anything you might regret if you’re Hungry, Anxious, Lonely or Tired. When my religious OCD was bad around that time, I found that the times when my OCD anxiety felt worst were also the times when I was HALTed. So, I guess that lies underneath everything that happened today.

On the way to work, I decided it was probably a mistake to catalogue my every work mistake here, as it makes me focus on the negatives too much. I resolved not to do it today. But then at work I thought I’d made a couple of big mistakes. In the event, they probably weren’t such a big mistakes, and I possibly over-compensated. Still, I feel frustrated that I keep making mistakes, including repeating some mistakes multiple times, which indicates I’m not learning properly. My Dad is worried about this although my Mum thinks I’m just overwhelmed. I guess the problem is I find the work environment inherently overwhelming at the moment. I try to make lists of what to do when doing different tasks, but then I don’t consult them as I think it looks unprofessional. In any case, when I’m dealing with many cells in multiple spreadsheets at once, it can be easy to miss something.

I was pretty exhausted when I got home. I haven’t done much other than write this, watch TV, daven (pray) and eat dinner (with my parents, so I guess I get points for peopling while exhausted). I wanted to do more Torah study, but my brain is just switched off. After I’ve posted this I’ll probably give up for the evening and watch TV until bedtime. I don’t feel able to do anything else.

***

At lunch I started reading a memoir about autism in the workplace that I thought might give me some ideas for ways I can function better in my own workplace. I rapidly switched from reading to scanning, as it’s not very well-written. This surprised me a bit. It is self-published, but I read the author’s blog and she can write well-enough there. Maybe she struggled to move from focused blog posts to carrying narrative over a long period. Or maybe she wrote the memoir before she started blogging in earnest. The book is also lacking in explicit advice or suggestions about coping in the workplace, which is what I really wanted, although so far it’s mostly been dealing with the author’s university experience.

The other thing that annoyed me is that repeatedly the author thinks she’s going to be thrown off her college or university course due to some requirement for group work or group presentation that she doesn’t think she can cope with because of her autism and anxiety. Then the situation resolves because she gets adjustments from staff that allow her to stay on the course and she is relieved, but she never seems particularly grateful. She could have been grateful and just not recorded it in the memoir, but it rankled with me. Yes, disabled people are entitled to reasonable adjustments by law, but I feel that if someone goes out of their way to help you, you should be grateful, even if they were obliged to do it by law or institutional policy.

I skim-read it on the way home and I’m about a third of the way through now. I probably will stick with it, at least skimming it, just in case it’s helpful. It’s not terribly long or heavy-going, I just hoped it could help me more.

***

The other thing that annoyed me today was mask compliance. On the Tube, where mask wearing is compulsory, a majority wore masks, but a substantial minority, perhaps a third of passengers, did not. For comparison, in the shopping centre I went into on the way home, mask compliance was almost as good even though it was entirely voluntary there. When I got on the train this morning, one man was berating the woman opposite him for not wearing a mask (“This is my choice,” she insisted, although technically it wasn’t), but there were so many maskless people in the carriage, it seemed pointless to protest.

I wish that COVID would just go away or at least drop to an ‘acceptable’ level, like flu, but it won’t, and I take it too seriously to disregard precautions. Already the government is talking about possible future restrictions in case of a (likely) winter surge. Based on my experience today, I think if there’s another lockdown, people just won’t obey, American-style.

It can’t go on forever, can it? The Black Death, the Great Plague, Spanish Flu, all ended eventually, right? Right?

***

I’m thinking about purpose again, and writing, and whether my purpose is writing… I’m feeling vaguely more positive about my novel (my first one, the one I’m currently trying to find an agent for). I think it could benefit from a few changes and additions, but not another full redraft. It probably won’t take long, but only once I get down to it, which will probably not be until after all the Yom Tovim (Jewish festivals).

I came across this video clip today. I think I’ve seen it before. Certainly I’d heard Rabbi Sacks z”tl say similar things previously and had been thinking about them recently. It makes me hopeful that I can find a place in the world with my writing, but I still worry that it’s illusory and that I have nothing to offer the world and I won’t ever find my place in it (combined with worries about what type of Jewish community E and I could end up in, which is a whole other type of place to worry about finding).

Autistic Fatigue and Masculinity

My blog is back in “autistic disrupted sleep mode” again. I went to bed very late after post-Shabbat stuff (praying, tidying, writing fiction (or trying to), blogging, eating, relaxing in front of the TV, texting E) and then slept for eleven hours. I wish I knew why I do this, and why on work days and volunteering days I can get up after six or seven hours, sometimes fewer. It’s easy to call myself lazy, but I don’t think that’s it. I do seem to have a lot of autistic fatigue, and if I let it build up too long it threatens to turn into autistic burnout. But it’s a mystery as to how I coped when I was younger, in a very autism-unfriendly school, although maybe ‘coped’ is the wrong word, as by the time I was sixteen, I hit my first episode of what seemed at the time depression, but in retrospect may also have been autistic burnout too. I wonder now whether my episodes of depression were caused primarily by prolonged burnout (as well as autistic loneliness) rather than the depression being the main issue. It would explain why the depression was so treatment-resistant: it wasn’t the real problem. That said, I definitely have been deeply depressed at times, to the point of being suicidal, so it’s obviously a complex situation of autism and mental illness feeding off each other.

Inevitably, I feel bad about missing the morning, and not helping Dad much with the sukkah, the shack Jews build in the garden to live in (weather-dependent) during the festival of Sukkot, which is coming soon (Yom Kippur comes first, this week, but that has minimal practical preparation). I feel that if I could sort my sleep out, my life, my integration into the frum (religious Jewish) community, and my integration into the world of work would be so much better, with knock-on consequences, but I just don’t know how. When I feel down, I try to remind myself of the good things in my life, that my parents love me and E cares about me. It does help. RoBIN commented on a previous post that, for people on the spectrum, nothing can be taken for granted, and I do feel like that. I’m just trying to be happy for what I do have. Realistically, I need people I can be open with and who support me a lot more than I need a wide circle of friends or a satisfying and/or full-time job (although more money would be nice, if only for marriage/immigration reasons).

I helped my Dad a little with the sukkah, and to be fair it was the part he most needed help with. There’s still a lot to do on it, and he will need my help with that later in the week. I always feel awkward helping. I’m not good on ladders; I’m not scared of heights per se, but I don’t like feeling that I could fall, and the patio is rather uneven making the ladders wobble. I’m better with ladders indoors, maybe because the floor is more even, or maybe my brain thinks the carpet could somehow break my fall. I’m not great as a handyman either. The paternal side of my family is full of war heroes from both World Wars, sportsmen and handymen, but I didn’t inherit any of that (some of them were, perhaps surprisingly, also good with a needle and thread or sewing machine; like many Jewish recent-immigrant families, they worked in the clothing industry in London’s East End). In this, as in most things, I take after my mother’s side, who were not hugely masculine in this way.

My sister and brother-in-law came for tea, or late lunch in my case. I had cherry pie and coffee for maximum Twin Peaks fannishness (OK, I didn’t really have them because of Twin Peaks. I did really want them, but it amused me all the same). I joined in the conversation more than I usually do, probably because we were mostly comparing notes about our respective Rosh Hashanahs (experiences of) and Yom Kippurs (plans for). I do still find it draining to be around people for two hours, and wasn’t able to do much afterwards and my mood dropped quite a bit.

Other than that, I didn’t do much, just a little Torah study and a half-hour walk. No writing or running or any of several different chores I wanted to do. I Skyped E, which raised my mood quite a lot, but still left me tired. I just wish everything wasn’t so hard for me.

***

I watched some of the Doctor Who episode Gridlock. I’m not sure I have time to finish it tonight. It is not a particular favourite, although I don’t dislike it as much as I did on original transmission. There was one very good scene I had forgotten about. I think my problems with Russell T Davies’ time as showrunner are partly that he writes the Doctor as hugely bombastic and shouty, full of declaimed speeches about “This stops — TONIGHT!!!” (which, to be fair, Davies’ successors Steven Moffat and Chris Chibnall did/do too and may be a standard feature of modern science fiction/action storytelling), but primarily that he’s willing to sacrifice consistency of plot, characterisation or credibility for the sake of a shock moment, an emotional scene or a even cheap gag. This annoys me no end, but it might explain why his writing was so popular with the general audience, who don’t obsess over nuances of plot, character or pseudo-science the way fans do.

Writing About Writing

Just a small note about today. Shul (synagogue) was OK last night, but it’s still starting quite late on Friday evenings so I got to bed late and struggled to sleep when I did get there. I woke up at 8am this morning, but could not face shul without really knowing why. I fell asleep again, woke up around 10am and fell asleep yet again, and napped in the afternoon. I didn’t go to shul for Minchah (Afternoon Prayers). I’m not really sure why. Part of me felt “shul-ed out” after Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year), but I think there was more to it than that, hopefully not laziness. I feel a bit guilty now. After Shabbat (the Sabbath) I resolved to work on my writing. I added a few ideas for my next novel that came into my head over Shabbat to the document where I’m brainstorming it. I spent ten minutes on my short story before realising I was far too tired to do anything. It was nearly 10pm. Shabbat hadn’t finished until 8.15pm, then with Ma’ariv (Evening Prayers) and helping to tidy up I didn’t start writing until gone 9.30pm, which is probably too late to do much. I still feel vaguely guilty about that too.

I’m wondering again if my writing is good enough. Writing proceeds slowly, a few paragraphs at a time, partly because writing well is a slow process, partly because I’m fitting it in around work, family and religious obligations, as well as recurrent autistic fatigue. Self-criticism, however, runs constantly and at the speed of light. I keep reading other people’s writing and thinking mine isn’t as good. I worry that I was never able to fix the major flaw in my first novel, that the villain was too darker-than-dark for a realist novel. I keep throwing “shoulds” at myself (“I SHOULD write more often, I SHOULD read more often, I SHOULD read more current fiction, I SHOULD read more focused on the genres I want to write for, I SHOULD get on with submitting my manuscript). I’m trying not to put pressure on myself at this difficult time of the Jewish year, but it’s hard, especially as I want to try to build some kind of writing career to help E and I move our relationship on. I worry that I don’t have enough good ideas, or really know how to develop them. I worry that I don’t really know how to be a writer (what does that even mean?) and am just winging it. The world seems big and unforgiving sometimes. I suppose I shouldn’t be so hard on myself; at least one big piece of the puzzle of my next novel popped into my head over Shabbat, and I remembered it until I could record it afterwards.

At least I’m a bit more understanding of myself regarding inspiration. I used to think I could never be a writer as I didn’t have good ideas. Then I thought I did have ideas, but I didn’t have the patience or ability to sit and develop them. Eventually, I realised (unconsciously) that it was confidence as much as ability that was holding me back. I didn’t think I could write anything worthwhile, so I never really tried. Even so, staring at a blank Word document is hard. Finally, I realised that planning a novel isn’t something you can do in one go, or even in a sustained way over a number of days. Not for me, anyway. Just staring at the document for hour after hour doesn’t do much. I have to let stuff percolate in my head for weeks or months, ideas distilling one at a time, at odd moments, when I’m at work or in the shops.

I really want to write stuff that’s distinctive. I worry about just churning out bland stuff. I would hate to be that kind of writer. E asked me in the week why I like Twin Peaks, as she didn’t think it would appeal to me. I don’t think I answered well, but afterwards I thought that I like TV that’s distinctive and unique. Favourite programmes like Doctor Who, Twin Peaks, The Prisoner, Sapphire and Steel and The Avengers (in its Emma Peel heyday at least) are all really distinctive. You wouldn’t stumble across them while channel-hopping and struggle to work out what they were, even if you’d never seen that episode before. It’s true that a lot of them are science fiction, and I do like the genre, but somewhat generic SF things like Star Trek or Star Wars don’t live in my head in the same way. It’s the same with prose fiction. You can’t mistake a Kafka story or a Borges story or something by Philip K. Dick for something by someone else. I really want to develop that kind of distinctive voice in my writing.

Well, I guess I SHOULD go and eat something and go to bed, as it’s late and I haven’t taken my tablets yet. I SHOULD read, but I feel too tired and too down, so it’s probably TV for me.

A Few Thoughts

Just a few quick thoughts from today. I spoke to my rabbi mentor about my Yom Tov (Jewish festival) inspiration problem. He felt that most people are not that inspired by Yom Tov on a regular basis. We also spoke about the difficulty of repeating inspiration or spiritual joy from the first day on the second (the festivals are really supposed to be one day rather than two; the doubling is for complex historical reasons).

I listened to this shiur (religious class) about not being fearful of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur (Jewish New Year and Day of Atonement). The shiur is only about forty minutes; the rest of the time is for questions. I was not sure how good it would be, but I found it interesting, particularly to hear about working on yourself so that you can cope with negative feelings about God and life and coping with life in general as being a kind of teshuvah (repentance) even without doing anything regarding your religious level. This fitted in with Rabbi Dweck’s shiur last week and also one I heard from a rabbi and psychotherapist last year. I was also interested to hear that feeling suicidal, but not killing yourself, portrayed as being a kiddush hashem (sanctification of God’s name) on a par with being martyred to stay Jewish, and that this kiddush hashem continues constantly afterwards, even after the suicidal crisis has passed.

Otherwise it was an ordinary Friday: chores, a bit of shopping/walking and shul (synagogue) later. I managed to find forty minutes to work on my short story, which was good.

Nature and Nurture Vs. Me

Another dull day at work, which I don’t mind so much, but it’s another day when I made what seemed to me like foolish mistakes and generally handled myself badly. I don’t know what to do about that. Whenever this happens, I start to self-blame and pretty soon I’m comparing myself to school or Oxford peers who are doing better than I am (or who I assume are doing better than I am). To be fair, I mostly kept that in check today, but it’s there in the background. I would like to be doing a job that I felt good at, doubly so if it was one that seemed socially-acceptable given my level of academic success and/or allowed me to support a family, or at least to support myself. Contrary to what your parents and teachers told you, success at school or even at university does not correlate exactly with financial, social or cultural success later in life.

It didn’t help that I only had about four hours of sleep last night as Yom Tov finished late and then I felt I needed to blog to process my thoughts about it and then watch TV to try to unwind a bit. Then I just couldn’t sleep. At least it’s not so hot today.

***

Ashley and Margaret commented on my previous post, about God moving away as I try to move closer to Him. Margaret’s comment reminded me of the comment I posted recently from the Kotzker Rebbe, that “the moments of labouring are the finding.” It’s strange how it’s easy to say that in the abstract, but not when confronted by my actual feelings of hollowness or even failure. I think I was happy after the first day of Yom Tov, despite my failure to get to shul (synagogue) for Shacharit (Morning Prayers) or even to pray at home at the correct time. However, I was upset more by the second day, when I was too burnt out to do much and missed shul in the morning completely. Perhaps I expect too much of myself. I wonder what other frum people manage, those without autistic burnout or social anxiety. From the outside, it looks like they mostly make it to shul early in the morning on Shabbat and Yom Tov (at the very least).

I guess related to this is the difference, as I said yesterday, between a punitive God and a loving God. This is, in part, the difference between God in the Written Torah (Tanakh, the Hebrew Bible) and God as presented in the Oral Torah (Midrash and Talmud). You can get into this very deeply, about the Written Torah coming from the side of din (strictness and justice) and the Oral Torah coming from the side of hesed (lovingkindness) and the fact that I generally tend to line up with din in numerous ways. I don’t really want to get so kabbalistic. But obviously there are these two different sides to God which we believe is a difference more apparent than real, because obviously we’re monotheists and not dualists (like the Gnostics or the Manicheans).

I can believe that a loving God exists, but it’s hard to feel that a loving God could love me. I know this is rooted in childhood experiences and my lack of self-love, but I don’t know how to move on from that. No one has given me practical steps I could do to love myself, let alone to believe that God loves me. Even so, I’m not sure how my inability to love myself corresponds to my inability to find meaning on festivals. Unless I expect too much from them. Similarly, why do I struggle to feel the kind of spiritual joy I feel I am ‘supposed’ to feel or that others seem to feel — is it my old friends anhedonia (inability to feel pleasure) and alexithymia (inability to recognise emotions) again? Or something else?

It’s uncomfortable to feel that I’m still held hostage by my autism (nature), as shown by my experiences at work today, and also by my formative years (nurture). I’m not sure what the solution is.

***

I feel torn between trying to find an agent for my novel, working on the short story I started recently or planning my next novel, but it’s too late to work on any of them (too late at night, not too late to ever work on them). I doubt I will have much time in the next couple of weeks given Yom Tov. Which is a shame, as I feel somewhat creatively-stifled at the moment. I also feel like a bad writer, and the only real cure for that is to write. But, it’s probably on hold for a while.

Success but Hollow Inside

I’ve only got a short time to write, but I wanted to write something and try to process my feelings about Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year).

The background to Rosh Hashanah was a mini-heatwave that hit us unexpectedly. I was expecting it to be pleasant, but it was uncomfortably hot, which had an impact on my mood throughout. The other background is that I had asked to sit in the covered area outdoors, by the window of the shul (synagogue), intended for people who were unwilling or unable to sit indoors because of COVID anxiety or reduced immunity. The acoustics at the window were bad and I spent a lot of my time at shul round the corner by the door, where I could hear and see what was going on rather better.

I don’t really remember much special about the first night in shul. I think I did feel pretty positive, despite the poor acoustics. At home we ate the simanim, special symbolic foods eaten to symbolise a good new year. We have only been doing this for a couple of years and it still has novelty value. Even though it was late, I did some Torah study after dinner, as I hadn’t done much during the day and felt that I wanted to connect to God. I struggled to sleep that night, whether from the heat or the mixed feelings I had being at shul, feeling I was missing out by being outside, but also feeling that I would have a lot of COVID anxiety inside.

I woke up early the next morning, but struggled to get up, I think because of social anxiety rather than burnout, although maybe a bit of both. I find it hard to accept social anxiety as a legitimate excuse for missing shul, even though it happens a lot. I got to shul in time for the sermon and the blowing of the shofar, the ram’s horn trumpet. Even though I was very late, I still stayed for another three hours until the end of the service; Rosh Hashanah services are very long. I slipped into the shul standing just inside the doorway to hear the shofar, otherwise staying outside except when I was asked to open the Ark for Alenu. I felt I couldn’t really turn it down as I had come in for the shofar, and I think it was an hour to be asked for that particular prayer (where we bow on the floor, something we only do here and on Yom Kippur).

I napped after lunch, then went to shul for Minchah (Afternoon Prayers) and then on to the brook for Tashlich, then came home. I was getting a headache, which I managed to stop turning into a massive migraine with early intervention, but I felt drained and justified in my decision not to go back for Ma’ariv (Evening Prayers).

I didn’t sleep well again and I struggled to get up in the morning. I had the “flat battery” feeling where I just don’t have the energy to sit up, let alone get dressed and go to shul. I eventually managed to get up around lunchtime. I was upset to have missed shul, but not surprised to be so burnt out. I was too burnt out to catch up on prayers and I didn’t want to delay my parents’ lunch.

After lunch I was still tired, so I napped again before saying the Mussaf prayers. I read the Jewish Review of Books for a bit, then went to shul for Minchah. I somehow found the confidence to tell the rabbi I had missed the morning prayers and the shofar blowing and he arranged for someone to blow it for me before Minchah started. I was pleased, and surprised that I found the confidence to do it, but I felt so socially anxious about drawing attention to myself asking for this that I struggled to focus on the shofar, and later on the prayers for Minchah. I decided I did not have the energy left for the shiur (religious class) and Ma’ariv, so I went home.

J left the same time as I did and said he didn’t see me in the morning and asked if I was OK. I said I’d been unwell, but was OK now; I didn’t want to go into a big thing about autistic burnout in the street. He said if I’m unwell tomorrow not to force myself to come into work, which was nice.

On the whole Rosh Hashanah must be a success, as I got to shul quite a bit and heard the shofar both days. However, I feel kind of hollow and down now and I don’t know why. Some of it is lack of passive relaxation time or alone time. I’ve spent most of my waking hours the last two days with other people, at shul or at home. Beyond this, I suppose I just wonder if I’ll ever get back to being the person who can go to every single service and shiur during the festival.

I suppose I also always focus on the next goal rather than the one just completed. There’s a story about a Hasidic rabbi (I think the Maggid of Mezeritch; I don’t have time to check) who was asked by a Hasid why, whenever he tried to move closer to God, God seemed as far away as ever. The Maggid said that it’s like a father with a toddler. The father calls the child to him, who takes a few faltering steps towards him, but as he gets near, the father moves a few steps away and calls him again, and so on. This is frustrating for the child, but is how he learns to walk. Similarly, God moves further and further away to call us towards Him, but I don’t know how to deal with the lack of self-esteem that results from feeling I have not reached God and am as far away as ever.

I actually spent a lot of time over Rosh Hashanah thinking about what it would mean to accept that God loves me. I’m not sure I came to any great conclusions. I find it easier to see God as punitive than loving, at least towards me, and I’m not sure why or how to change that. I don’t see God as punitive in an abstract, theological sense, or towards other people, but I find it hard to believe He could love me unconditionally.

The other thing I thought about a bit over Yom Tov was abuse (child abuse, get withholding etc.) in the Jewish community. It’s been in the news again lately. I wonder how God can forgive us while it goes on. There isn’t really anything I can do about it, except write about it, which makes me want to get my novel published. On which note, a book I’d ordered, a guide to publishers, editors and literary agents, arrived today, which may help me to plan my next step.

OK, I’m off to get ready for tomorrow, and to see if I can have something to eat and fit in Midweek Twin Peaks before bed.

Last Day of the Year

I couldn’t sleep last night, possibly the result of eating ice cream late at night (it can give me a sugar rush, I think). It was a bad decision, but I felt that, after several difficult days, with several more to come, I needed a treat. About 3.00am, I decided to get up and do some work in the hope it would bore me to sleep. At the very least, I would wake up to less work in the morning. I did just under an hour of work at night and another hour today. All the bits I’ve done since Friday work out at roughly a full day for me, and I’ve also conveniently finished all the work I had to do at home, which I guess is a good way to finish the Jewish year.

I filled in the form for the Department of Work and Pensions about my benefits. I didn’t have the payslips they wanted as I’m freelance and invoice J every month. I hadn’t kept all the invoices either, which I should have done, because the taxman may want them. I found the last two. I wish I wasn’t so vague and clumsy about practical and financial things. I don’t know what I’d do without my Dad here, really. There are courses in personal finance and the like for people on the spectrum. I’ve always resisted going on them, because I felt I’m too high-functional, but maybe I’m not really.

In a few hours it will be the start of a new Jewish year, 5782. I like that Jewish year numbers are so big, even though the count was only started (retroactively) in the Middle Ages and I don’t believe that Adam and Chava (Eve) were created literally 5782 years ago tomorrow. Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year) is about crowning God as our King. This entails accepting that He knows what He’s doing with everything He does. To this end, I’m going to try not to worry about stuff over the next two days and accept everything He has planned for me for the next year, regardless of whether it’s what I want or expect. This includes trying not to worry about getting to shul, hearing the shofar, about talking to people or about walking in hours after the service has started and the like.

Shana tova – happy new year! May we all be signed and sealed for life, and a good life at that!

Muddling Through

I overslept dramatically again, as I basically do every day when I don’t go out to work. Sigh. Anyway, I managed to put in two hours of very dull work from home work (data entry and sorting my predecessor’s emails – I think he never deleted an email, even spam, and had something like 2,500 emails from a five or so year period when I started). It was boring, but hopefully will take some pressure off tomorrow.

I’m still pretty stressed. As well as the two hours of work, I did a couple of small chores and I went to a virtual shiur (religious class), but I still need to do an hour and a half or two hours work tomorrow and I have a load of paperwork about benefits and bank accounts that have suddenly been thrown at me at this busy time of year. It’s like everyone decided, “Hey, Luftmentsch is stressed! Let’s throw him some pointless busywork too!” Then I had to change some plans at the last minute and I’m not sure how I avoided a meltdown. I went for a walk and tried to be mindful which helped a bit and then I had a Skype call with E and felt a lot better after that.

Even so, I feel pretty overstretched, which is not the best way to go into the busiest month of the year, especially when I want to get to shul (synagogue) so much, but am aware that shul attendance is the first thing to become impossible (because of burnout and social anxiety) when I’m stressed. I guess remembering what I discussed with the rabbi last week about being strategic in my shul attendance is important here, and my general attempts not to beat myself up about everything. To remember that God loves me and knows my struggles.

On the plus side, I feel this year that for the first time, as well as goals for the coming year, I can set long-term goals for the next five years, which is exciting and scary. The long-term goals are more life stages to try to move to, while the short-term goals are more to improve aspects of my character.

***

The virtual shiur was interesting. It was about teshuvah (repentance/returning to God/returning to ourselves) being as much an inner psychological process for mental health as an external one. Rabbi Dweck was wary of the approach to teshuvah that says, “Take on another mitzvah (commandment)” instead of looking inside at our inner drives. This is a realisation I’ve come to myself over the years, at least for my (not always mentally healthy) self, but it was good to have external validation. I felt the shiur could have been a bit deeper, maybe with more practical suggestions. Rabbi Dweck did suggest journaling and just being aware of oneself during day to day life, which is part of why I write here, to process and understand myself.

The shiur reinforced the feeling I’ve had for a while that the novel I want to write about a frum pornography addict isn’t actually primarily a story about sex or addiction, but one about teshuvah, although I can see that many people will not be able to look past the surface to that. There is a quote I came across from Rav Kook recently about teshuvah being a subject for poets and artists, which is similar to what I want my novel to be.

***

I did a COVID test for the first time. My shul (synagogue) wants everyone to do one before Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, the upcoming Jewish festivals. The first time I tried, I spilt some of the liquid, so I had to redo it. Then I’m not sure I got my tonsils properly with the swab. I just stuck the swab in until I wanted to gag, then repeated on the other side. I don’t like the way COVID is triggering OCD-type thoughts in me, less contamination thoughts than scrupulosity: “Am I doing it right?”-type thoughts. I still have guilt about hugging my ex-girlfriend (just hugging!) although it won’t stop me hugging E when she comes to visit. One site I found said that if you’re infected, swapping the uvula and perhaps even the cheeks will show up enough virus for a positive result, so hopefully I’m OK. I feel like this could turn into the COVID equivalent of kashering my sink for Pesach if I’m not careful, something I repeat and obsess about endlessly.

Prejudice

I’m not sure what I feel about dinner with the rabbi yesterday. It was basically OK. I didn’t say much, but I did say a bit and mostly felt comfortable except when I spilt some water and then worried that I had tried to mop it up in a way that was not permitted on Shabbat, although I don’t know why I got this impression. On the downside, I felt some people were talking about non-Jews in a less-than-respectful way. This kind of casual racism in the frum (religious Jewish) world bothers a lot of people, including me, but it’s hard to know how to challenge it. A lot of Jews seem to have an attitude that Jews have been the victims of prejudice so often that we can’t perpetuate it, which is illogical (as illogical as the parallel view in the woke world that Jews can’t be the victims of real prejudice because many of them are pale-skinned).

It would annoy me in the abstract, but having had a lot of non-Jewish friends over the years, through Doctor Who fandom and the blogosphere, I take it somewhat personally. Plus, the Torah says that all human beings are made in the image of God, and human dignity is a fundamental Jewish value.

There was also some discussion at dinner over whether the mission in life of a Jew is just to study Torah or whether there is room for political engagement (or artistic endeavour, which wasn’t explicitly stated, but was hinted at). I said that it’s impossible to know what an individual’s mission in life is; for one person it might indeed be significant Torah study, but for another it might be something else. Fortunately, the rabbi agreed with me. I did not think to mention an idea I once heard that the descendants of Leah have the role of engaging in pure spirituality, whereas the descendants of Rachel have the role of bringing the spiritual into the physical world, although as I heard this from a Modern Orthodox Rosh Yeshivah, maybe it’s as well I didn’t.

It’s things like this (racism and narrow viewpoints) that make me feel that I will never fully fit into this community, even though it has many aspects I like and appreciate, such as good decorum (Orthodox shuls (synagogues) are notorious for talking during prayers and even Torah reading and for young children running in and out the whole time) and a davening (praying) pace that is neither too fast nor too slow for me, as well as an attitude to davening and Torah study that is serious and committed, but with humour and self-awareness as well as not supposing that everyone is at the same place religiously or working at improving the same practices and character traits. I wish I could find a shul with these positives, but a slightly more modern social attitude. It does seem that a strong sense of “us” can only be inculcated by demonising “them.” I feel that Torah wants us to disprove this, but most Jews are unable to meet the challenge, either with too weak a sense of Jewish identity or negative feelings about outsiders.

One thing I noticed was that when the rabbi blessed his children, as is the norm in the frum world on Shabbat, the rebbetzin (rabbi’s wife) blessed them too. I don’t think I’ve seen that in an Orthodox household before.

I got home very late. I spent a little time in Torah study, as I hadn’t done much in the day, concentrating on work. Then I read for a bit, as I was drained and needed some relaxation time before bed, but I was too tired to read for long. I couldn’t sleep when I got to bed, but I was too tired to get up and read and just lay there.

Inevitably, I struggled to get up this morning. I also napped after lunch and had to rush to get to shul for Talmud shiur (religious class). I hurried out of the house with no tie to save time and felt under-dressed in shul. Talmud shiur was OK, but I began to get a headache during Minchah (Afternoon Prayers). It wasn’t a bad one by any means and has mostly gone by now, but it’s left me feeling tired and, bizarrely, craving carbohydrates. I should do more Torah study and do my hitbodedut meditation/unstructured prayer before bed, but I don’t really feel I have the energy, although I don’t feel that I would fall asleep if I went to bed, so I’m uncertain what to do for the next hour or so.

Behind-the-Sofa Scary

(There’s a cliche in the UK about children watching Doctor Who from behind the sofa because it’s so scary, at least for a family programme. For Doctor Who fans, that’s kind of the litmus test of genuine terror.)

I didn’t blog yesterday as not much happened. Today I had weird dreams, overslept and went into a panic about Shabbat (the Sabbath) and the Yom Tovim (Jewish festivals) in the next few weeks. I did some work today. I’m working from home on Monday, but I worried about oversleeping and not working enough, so I thought I would do some work today and tomorrow, but it’s been a bit of a rush. I’m about to do a little bit more, although I won’t do much Torah study today. I might have to leave writing next week’s devar Torah (Torah thought) until Thursday evening. I usually like to have it almost finished by then, so I can just proof-read it and send it, as I’m usually tired from work, but I can’t see how I’m going to get the time. I do at least know what I’m going to say (unlike the week after).

I am going to the rabbi’s house tonight for dinner. I’m a bit nervous about this, although I surprised E by saying that I’m usually OK talking to rabbis without additional social anxiety from their position, just ordinary social anxiety of talking to anyone. I’m not sure why that is, probably because I’ve been talking to rabbis from a young age and I know they’re just people, usually with a corny sense of humour. Usually quite laidback too. I know some people who leave the frum (religious Jewish) community complain of strict upbringings (or abusive upbringings, which is something else entirely), but most frum people I know are laidback, often surprisingly so. I find it’s hard to get frum people to commit to things because they often have a “Whatever, we’ll work it out eventually” attitude. This always seems at odds with how I think religious people should behave, which is precise and even a little anxious. Maybe this is something to do with trusting in God that everything will work out. Or maybe it’s just my Yekkish background. Yekkes (German Jews) are stereotypically precise, punctilious, and the only Jews who are remotely punctual. I’m actually only one-eighth Yekkish, but I feel a strong affinity for the stereotype.

***

E found me an article on autistic burnout! It doesn’t say much I didn’t already know, but it’s useful to show family and it’s reassuring to be told that it’s “a thing.” It’s unclear on the thing I’m unclear on, which is the extent to which autistic burnout is a short-term thing triggered by a few hours of that can be alleviated by a few hours of rest and sleep or a long-term thing somewhat like depression that sets in after weeks or months of stress and can last indefinitely. My feeling is that it can be both, but I don’t think everyone agrees.

***

After I saw my rabbi and told him about my autism, I sent him the article I wrote about being autistic in the frum community. He really liked it and asked if I would like him to circulate it in the community. I’m not sure what I feel about that. I can see pros and cons. I don’t have time to list them in detail (maybe next week), but I can see big pros in starting a conversation about autism and neurodiversity in the local community and maybe finding some more understanding and support at shul (synagogue). On the other hand, telling literally everyone in shul seems scary and awkward, and I could end up defined as “that autistic guy,” at least for a few years until I become defined as “that frum author who writes a lot about sex.”

Talk with the Rabbi

Today was one of those days that got away from me. I had therapy in the morning, which was good. Then I went to speak to my shul (synagogue) rabbi about my Asperger’s in the afternoon. The meeting went well. He was very understanding and supportive. We spoke a bit about being strategic in my shul attendance to handle burnout, maybe trying to go less often but more focused or to more inspiring services. I need to think about what that would mean in practical terms. We spoke a bit about social anxiety too, and wanting to challenge that, but in a safe way, and about COVID making that harder by adding a new layer of anxiety to social situations. He said I looked more animated than he had ever seen me before (we hadn’t really had a one-on-one conversation before).

When I got back from that I spent a while speaking to my parents about the meeting and some other things and then, unfortunately, wasting time. I wanted to do things, but couldn’t get down to anything. In the end I did some Torah study and spent half an hour on my short story, writing about 500 words, which was good. But other than that I haven’t done much, and I need to be up early for work tomorrow. I’ll watch the rest of the pilot episode of Twin Peaks before bed, which I started at dinner, but I don’t feel particularly sleepy. I probably should have taken time to relax after speaking to the rabbi instead of just procrastinating.

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 YitzḼak 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.