Warning: this is another long post. The short version is I miss E a lot and feel miserable without her, and (unrelated point) I also feel miserable trying to ‘pass’ in societies or sub-cultures I don’t feel I belong in. The long version…
I woke up feeling bad. I’m not exactly sure what “bad” means here, which I guess is the interoception issue again (difficulty understanding my body’s signals). Exhausted, maybe a bit achey and just generally wanting to withdraw from the world. I thought I was just tired, but it stayed after breakfast and coffee. I actually went back to bed for a few minutes after breakfast, but forced myself to get up again, even though I didn’t really want to, so I could daven Shacharit (say Morning Prayers) before halakhic midday (which is almost the same as secular midday at the moment). I felt awful when davening, again, it’s hard to say how, but both physically and emotionally uncomfortable. The emotional side is easier to describe: it was one of those times when my memory decides to show me a blooper reel of all my worst mistakes, which are generally bad social interactions. I try to be kind to myself and tell myself that I have autism and social anxiety, and that for most of my life the autism was undiagnosed, so it’s not surprising I messed up a lot of social interactions over the years, but I still end up feeling useless and pathetic (I guess the pathetic is as much because of the autism as despite it).
I miss E a lot. Really A LOT. Mum thinks that my mysterious illness feelings are just missing E and worrying about when she will get her visa, which may be true. After lunch, the physical discomfort subsided, but I felt really depressed, and lonely (when my parents went out). I had the feeling of agitated (anxious?) depression that feels like desperation. I’m not really sure what to call it.
I tried to finish my proofreading profile on the freelance site. This involved looking at other proofreaders’ pages and trying to work out was a reasonable price/word count/speed combination to offer. This led to monumental procrastination to avoid both anxiety and decision-making (autistic executive function issues? Possibly). Also a lot of agitated pacing. People seem to be charging relatively large sums of money for small-seeming amounts of work, which makes me wonder if this is going to be more difficult than I’m expecting it to be. I worry about screwing this up and getting thrown off the platform (or worse), which I can see is catastrophising, but that doesn’t make it seem better.
I got the profile mostly sorted, but there was a FORTY MINUTE English test (US English) that I needed to pass to be allowed to call myself a proofreader on the site! I went for a twenty-five minute walk in the cold, dark and rain, which helped me calm down a bit, then I did the test, even though my computer was playing up a bit. I did in about fifteen minutes and got 95%. I was annoyed not to get 100% as it was very easy and repetitive. I don’t know which questions I got wrong. I think a couple were awkwardly phrased and I wonder if it was one of those. They were all multiple choice questions, usually involving picking the correct word to go in a sentence or the correctly punctuated sentence out of four options, but I felt some answers had two correct answers, although sometimes one was arguably more obscure than the other. I can’t remember all the problematic questions, but one was about whether a film won “awards” or “the awards” and I felt both answers could be right depending on context.
I wonder if I’ll get any clients. I feel like my profile was less engaging than other ones I saw on the site, but I wasn’t sure what to say, especially as I don’t have much experience yet. I feel that my writing style is overly formal and feels dated to most people. I don’t know if that’s autism; it may be.
There was a thread on the autism forum about whether it’s better for autistic people to work a nine to five job or be self-employed, given that the later requires a lot of extra stuff (networking, admin, taxes). Both ended up seeming pretty awful. At the moment, it looks like the best-case scenario is that I end up doing both. Hmm.
I had little time, energy or brainpower after that for Torah study. I tried to do a few minutes, but struggled to concentrate. It doesn’t help all my Torah study at the moment is from fairly heavy-going books or in Hebrew. I was still agitated and pacing.
Mum said I’ve been down a lot lately and I have been. I am going to go back to keeping a daily mood record for a bit to check how many days I’m depressed. I feel I haven’t been depressed for many consecutive days, but depression just needs to be over a majority of days in two weeks. That said, I feel I’m never going to get off my meds if I keep getting depressed again, even if it is SAD that should rectify in a few months. Three months is a long time, though…
My procrastination while trying to finish the profile involved messing around on the Orthodox Conundrum Facebook group, reading old posts and feeling that I’m never going to fit in to the Orthodox community, even the Modern Orthodox community, although also thinking that the Anglo-Jewish Modern Orthodox community is very different to the American and Israeli Modern Orthodox communities (or equivalent) and so direct comparison of what would be acceptable or successful between them is not helpful.
I’ve been thinking a bit lately about masking. In the autistic community, masking involves suppressing autistic behaviour that is not considered “normal” in the allistic (non-autistic) world. This can include stimming (repetitive motions intended to soothe and aid concentration), inappropriate eye contact (too much, too little) and body language, excessive conversation about special interests as well as behaviour or reactions that show the anxiety and confusion many autistics feel in social interactions. Masking can also involve using pre-planned “social scripts” to navigate social situations in “acceptable” ways. Too much masking is thought to lead to autistic exhaustion and autistic burnout, as well as hiding a person’s identity from others.
I felt that I don’t mask much, but on reflection I think I do. I don’t stim much, but I try not to do it in public. I avoid talking about my interests for fear of the response it will get. I don’t show my social anxiety, I try to consciously control my eye contact and body language, and I use social scripts a lot to manage conversations with people (I was going to say with “strangers,” but actually I do it with my family too).
It occurred to me that I deal with another layer on top of this because of my intersecting identities. Code-switching is the linguistic term from changing from one language or dialect to another. It’s a fairly neutral term for a phenomenon that anyone who is bilingual or belongs to some kind of minority experiences, although if you google it, you would get the impression that it only happens when ethnic minorities in white majority Anglophone countries are made to change their language to standard English by the white majority. To be clear, it can happen in an oppressive way (between classes and with regional dialects as well as between races, which isn’t really recognised by the articles I saw), but it can also be a fairly inevitable product of cross-cultural contact.
As a Jew, even more so as an Orthodox Jew, I code-switch all the time (typically, the internet doesn’t acknowledge this). What you get on the blog is roughly the amount of Hebrew or Yiddish in my internal monologue (more likely a bit less than I would use). In situations with lots of non-Jews, I would use no Hebrew or Yiddish, even if that meant using weird (to me) English translations (“Tabernacles” “Ecclesiastes”). With my family and friends, I would probably use language similar to the blog, but with very frum (religious) Jews, I would use more Hebrew and Yiddish. It’s a balancing act and one that I feel quite conscious of.
What is really hard for me is constantly masking or code-switching in other ways too, if not literally in the sense of words used, then in terms of identities and ways of looking at the world. There is literal code-switching between British English and American English because I know so many Americans online. I hide my autistic and mentally ill traits from most people. And I hide my Doctor Who fandom from lots of people too: I hide it in the frum world because I fear it’s too secular (even in the Modern Orthodox world, which is open to TV, I fear my interest is too intense) and also because I grew up as a fan when Doctor Who was incredibly unpopular and I would be regularly mocked for liking it, so I don’t like talking to outsiders about it. On the other hand, with other fans I would talk in much more detailed ways about particular stories, plot points, writers, script editors and so on.
I feel like I’m masking and code-switching all the time and it feels really hard to cope at the moment. It’s hard at work, because it’s uncomfortable and probably contributes to my feelings of exhaustion and some of my stupid errors. It’s hard in the frum world, because that feels like a much more conformist and judgmental community generally and the consequences of making even a small mistake feel potentially much greater than a comparable mistake in another community, although this could be my paranoia.
That said, I don’t know how much I want to unmask. The assumption in the autism world is that masking is bad, but I feel that everyone masks to some extent (we don’t go around telling everyone our deepest feelings or talking/singing to ourselves in public even if we might in private). But I do feel that I need to mask less even if I still mask a bit.
I would like to share this somewhere, but I don’t know where. The autism community would know about autistic masking and probably not care that much about the Jewish stuff. I think it should be more known in the frum community, but I don’t really have a suitable place to share it. As an aside, lately I do feel that I have some kind of message, but I don’t know who it’s for or what it is and I won’t know until I’ve said it. I watched a YouTube lecture about autism recently where the researcher giving the lecture said she used autistic blogs in her research. I did email her to ask if she wanted to use mine, or could suggest someone who might, but she hasn’t got back to me yet (it was right before Christmas).
While researching the above, I came across this book and wonder if it could help? (I know it says it’s aimed at autistic women and girls. The assumption is that women are better at masking than men, which is a generalisation at best.) I am wary, as I do tend to buy self-help books and then struggle to implement them unguided. And I’m wary that it uses CBT, as CBT tends not to work on autistics, although it could be autism-adjusted CBT (in which case they should say so).
 I’m actually not sure how intense my interest in Doctor Who is any more. I’ve largely lost interest in the new series and contemporary fandom, but I probably am still obsessive about the original series, if I can find anywhere to indulge that very specific obsession.