Pesach Preparation Begins in Earnest

Apologies for the rather unsnappy title, but nothing very exciting happened today.

I wasn’t tired last night as I slept so much in the day, so I stayed up late working on my novel, then when I went to bed I couldn’t sleep anyway, which may have been a self-fulfilling prophecy. The clocks went forward, so it was about 5am (British Summer Time) before I fell asleep. I then got up late and was in the middle of late lunch when my sister and brother-in-law made a surprise visit, which was nice, but threw me a bit as I had planned to help with Pesach (Passover) cleaning. I did a little, but my Dad did most of it. I don’t cope with changes of plan well, although I managed OK with this.

This time of year always makes me feel very dependent on my parents. I would struggle to prepare for Pesach on my own, although I would have less to clean and kasher if I was living away from my parents. I guess if E and I were living together, we would have to prioritise what was essential to clean and kasher and what we could leave. I don’t know if we could afford to have professional cleaners to deep-clean the house as my parents are having shortly, although we would probably be living in a small flat, not a big house. I would want to get the oven professionally cleaned if we were kashering it for Pesach use. All this does make me feel inadequate and ill-prepared for life.

I did do some Pesach cleaning after my sister and BIL were gone and then went for a brisk walk (no time for a run, sadly). I also prepared some stuff to read out at the Pesach seders. This year I’m reusing a lot of material from last year, as last year only my parents and I were at our seder last year (because of COVID), so most people won’t have heard it. I feel a bit lazy, but I also feel pressed for time and overwhelmed at the moment, so I’m using the old material.

My mood dipped in the evening, possibly from doing too much, possibly because I didn’t take any olanzapine yesterday. I will monitor my moods and see if I need to go up to 2.5mg every day instead of every other day. The mood dip wasn’t helped by seeing some stuff about antisemitism (classic antisemitic motifs passed off as “political activism” again). This type of thing annoys me, and really I should just ignore it, but it’s there. At least skyping E brought my mood back up again. I have let it get late as I tried to catch up with things this evening. I need to shower and go to bed to be up early for work tomorrow.

Monsters: Anxious, Insomniac, Green-Eyed and Antisemitic

At shul (synagogue) yesterday evening, they announced my engagement to E. Quite a few people wished me mazal tov and several wanted to talk a bit about E and me. Only one person seemed too inquisitive and unwilling to heed my hints that I didn’t want to talk about particular things (in this case, why E will probably be moving here rather than me moving to the US), which was probably a minor miracle, as people can sometimes be nosy. I think I was even a little bit pleased at the attention, although it did bring back some anxiety.

I was drained all day, but shul finished me off. I didn’t manage to do much Torah study in the evening, although I did a little.

I was pretty anxious over Shabbat, partly because of this, but also because I know E is struggling with anxiety too and it’s really hard not being able to be present physically for her. Over Shabbat I can’t even text or Skype. I just want to give her a hug! I decided that I want to go to the US as soon as possible in the new year. I was planning on going in January or February, but now I want to do it as early as possible (or safe). Unfortunately, the COVID news is not good. Today the Mayor of London declared COVID in London to be a “major incident,” (a term usually reserved for terrorist attacks) and the Netherlands went back into lockdown. A post-Christmas lockdown in the UK and/or US looks pretty likely, sadly, so I’ve no idea when I’ll be able to go to the States.

(As an aside, I feel like we’re only going to get out of this COVID situation with mandatory vaccinations to ensure herd immunity. I’m triple vaxxed, but I’m wary of giving any government that much control over people’s bodies. But the alternative seems to be endless lockdowns. COVID feels more and more like one of those horror film franchises that goes on until everyone’s sick of it (literally)).

Going back to Friday, I dozed after dinner, which was probably a mistake, as I had insomnia when I went to bed later. I had finished reading Gaudy Night and started People Love Dead Jews by Dara Horn. It’s a well-written, but depressing book about Jews and non-Jews. It’s about antisemitism, but also other ways people look at Jews. For example, the first chapter sees Anne Frank as being presented by the world as an innocent uniquely empowered to grant absolution to the non-Jewish world (Horn explicitly draws the parallel with Jesus) rather than engaging with her story and the complexities of her life and what she would have experienced in the death camps (the diary stops before then). She compares Anne Frank’s diary with diaries and memoirs written inside the death camps or afterwards by survivors which are more brutal in their lack of redemption, but which are not as well-known.

This essay reminded me of something I’ve thought of myself. As Horn says, most people have never met a Jew. This is pretty much inevitable given the small Jewish global population and the fact that it’s concentrated in just a few places. People think about Jews using the images in the wider culture, and with Jews I feel the religious imagery of Jesus and Judas as the most prominent Jews in the Christian story is very powerful, even in post-Christian Europe. The expectation is that Jews should be morally perfect and all-forgiving (again, see Anne Frank). If not, we must be the worst of all possible people. It’s very black and white. This turns up in the media a lot, news media and fiction (it appears several times in the works of John le Carre, for example).

I did feel some envy for Dara Horn, who seems to have the life as an academic and writer that I would have liked. It’s a futile thing to think about, but it’s there. I wonder what I would want more, the kudos of being an acclaimed writer, or simply the financial security it would bring E and me? Anyway, I try not to think like this, but it’s hard not to sometimes.

When Dara Horn got too depressing, I switched to Batman (Batman: The Dark Knight Detective Volume 5). I go in and out of Batman phases. I think relatively few Batman stories conform to what I want from a Batman story, which is primarily deduction, rather than endless fight scenes. These stories were woke, or the nineties equivalent thereof. I don’t really see a problem with being anti-pollution or in favour of helping disadvantaged schoolchildren, but a Batman story is a pretty blunt instrument to use to get that moral across, particularly when you only have twenty-two pages to do that and tell a story.

I did eventually fall asleep last night. Today I was drained. I skipped shul (synagogue) and shiur (religious class). I just didn’t feel up to it. I dozed in the afternoon, which was probably a bad move. Since then I’ve been doing the usual post-Shabbat tidying chores and other chores, as well as some Torah study. I Skyped E briefly, to check in with her and just to connect, really.

***

I still feel overwhelmed by everything that is going on in my life. I feel like I’ve been falling between two stools, sometimes trying to do too much and staying up late to do it, other times trying to get up early and get an earlier start on my days, but not really managing either of these consistently, and being burnt out too much of the time. I want to set myself a challenge of getting to bed earlier and getting up earlier, or at least trying to do so, but it’s hard to go to bed with so many things to do. I feel desperate to start work on my novel in earnest, and my Torah study seems to have dropped from about an hour a day to half an hour. Not for the first time, I feel like my religious life is bedieved, Hebrew for ‘after the event’ meaning, you shouldn’t do this in the first instance, but if you did it accidentally, it’s OK after the event. I would like to be living a more ideal religious life, but it doesn’t seem to be possible.

***

My therapist suggested trying some affirmations to stay focused on the here and now and avoid drifting into anxiety. I have had mixed results with these in the past. Years ago I had an occupational therapist (through a Jewish mental health charity) who printed and laminated some cards with affirmations for me. I tried to find them, but the only ones I found were “People have learnt from me” and “I am a well-respected person.” I’m not sure whether the second one is even true, and the first seems oddly specific, but maybe I need to have something specific rather than a general “I am worth it” statement that feels empty and meaningless.

Overwhelmed, and Overwhelmed Friend

I woke up drained again today. I had gone to bed early (for me) last night, but I’d done a lot during the day and I overslept and woke up late. I felt overwhelmed for much of day. I feel bad about this, even though I know I wouldn’t if I had a physical illness (actually, given how I behave when I have a migraine, I possibly would feel bad about the effects of physical illness). I just feel I could/should do more despite autistic fatigue or the remnants of depressive fatigue or whatever it is.

I had my flu jab today. I don’t usually get one, but the NHS still seems to consider my Mum as vulnerable and I was offered one as I live with her. It seemed sensible to take it. I shook a bit when I was injected. That happens a lot when I am injected or have a blood test. It’s anxiety, not about needles, but about shaking; fear of shaking ironically triggers shaking. In the past I would breathe deeply to calm myself, but with a mask on that makes things worse if anything. The nurse got a bit worried about me and insisted that I sit in the waiting room for a few minutes. I think she was worried I would faint.

I cooked dinner while trying to listen to a podcast E had been on for her job, but I struggled to multitask and abandoned the podcast after twenty minutes. I struggled during the afternoon and evening with intrusive thoughts about antisemitism (not helped by watching an episode of The Twilight Zone about a former SS officer being put on trial by the ghosts of the people he killed). I don’t know why I sometimes get focused on this and can’t stop thinking about it.

My other main achievement, aside from planning E’s trip here with her over Skype, was writing my devar Torah (Torah thought). I wanted to write something about the balance of universalism and particularism in Judaism, but I couldn’t work out what to say, so I wrote about Sarah’s handmaid Hagar, mostly taken from Erica Brown’s Return: Daily Inspiration for the Days of Awe. It was one of those divrei Torah that I’m less proud of, where I’m taking my ideas from one (credited) source, rather than mixing sources or adding my own ideas.

I decided not to go to volunteering tomorrow, as I feel like I’m still recovering from the Yom Tovim (festivals) and have not made any progress on finding an agent for my novel, which is my main task for tomorrow. I did spend a bit of time planning the second novel, so I guess that’s another achievement. I do still feel a bit overwhelmed. I’m trying to focus on the positives, namely that E will be here next week (God-willing, COVID-permitting) and also on my excitement at writing my second novel, although with all the planning and research I want to do, it will probably be a long time before I sit down to write it.

***

I’ve been emailing a friend who is also on the spectrum who I hadn’t communicated with for a while. She is struggling with her job. She has been working at home because of COVID, but her employers want her to return to the office. She feels that public transport during rush hour is more than she can bear and would have left the job earlier if COVID had not allowed her to work from home. She sounds very overwhelmed in many aspects of her life.

I don’t know what to do about this. I feel I should do something to help, but I don’t know what. Although she is working full-time and I am not, her autism is worse than mine in many ways. She is much more sensitive to noise and crowding and perhaps more rigid in her needs and her ability to find solutions. Also, English is not her first language and I struggle to understand her sometimes. She has already contacted AS Mentoring. I don’t know how I could help her and I’m wary of taking on her troubles and overwhelmed feelings in addition to my own, especially as she is not a close friend. I suppose if I had some idea of what might help her I could see if I could take on some of it, but I’m wary of giving her a blank cheque. But I feel really bad at not helping someone else on the spectrum.

***

If I go into the artists section of iTunes and click on the label for George Harrison, iTunes shows me a photo of John Lennon. I guess, it’s understandable that in 2021 someone working for a massive music related company can’t tell the difference between Harrison and Lennon; it’s not the like The Beatles are the most successful band in history or anything. I like to think it’s the ghost of Lennon trolling from beyond the grave.

The Nightmare

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

***

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

***

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

Tisha B’Av and The Trial of God

When I told him I was worried about how I would get through Tisha B’Av today, the saddest day in the Jewish calendar, he suggested that I write something relevant. I wasn’t sure whether it was entirely appropriate to paste it here, as really I think it will only speak to other religious Jews, who comprise some, but not all, of my audience. But I don’t feel comfortable sending it to my general devar Torah audience, so I’m posting here after all. Please don’t feel obliged to read.

The rabbi of my shul raised the question in his pre-Tisha B’Av drasha yesterday: if God is our Father, how could any father treat his children as the Jews have been treated through history, as we recall today on Tisha B’Av?  And really, we do not know the answer to this question, but we can investigate it.

On Tisha B’Av only three (really two and a half) books of Tanakh (Hebrew Bible) may be studied: Eichah/Lamentations; the bleak passages of Yirmiyah/Jeremiah (not the verses of consolation and redemption); and Iyov/JobIyov is the odd one out here.  Eichah and Yirmiyah deal with the destruction of the Temple and the exile of the Jewish people, so it is logical to read them on Tisha B‘Av when we recall this.  However, Iyov is a parable about suffering, a book that starts with moral certainties, but ends in questions, explicit and implicit.

One motif in Iyov is the concept of wanting to put God on trial, which is Iyov’s recurring fantasy.  This idea, buried in Jewish thought, resurfaced later.  A number of Hasidic stories retold in Martin Buber’s Tales of the Hasidim deal with this concept, typically involving a humble Jew who has suffered putting God on trial before a Bet Din (rabbinical court) headed by a prominent Hasidic rabbi, with the verdict going in his (the Jew’s) favour and, miraculously, his situation suddenly changing for the better.  These stories are perhaps a product of a period of relative stability in Jewish life in Eastern Europe.

Most famously, at Auschwitz during the Holocaust, Elie Wiesel witnessed God being put on trial for His role in the Holocaust by the inmates there.  He was found guilty.  After a long pause, the court dissolved so that those present could pray Ma’ariv (Evening Prayers).  Wiesel would later rework the experience into a play, The Trial of God, which would intimate that it is the Angel of Death who defends God, while human beings must accuse Him.

All of these stories are based on two apparently contradictory premises that are both held to be true in Jewish thought: the reality of God and the reality of human suffering.  The Mishnah teaches us that when two verses of the Torah appear to contradict each other, we search for a third verse that harmonises them.

Rabbi Lord Sacks z”tl remarked that in Greek philosophy truth is logical and universal.  If something is true in London at four o’clock on Wednesday afternoon, it is true in every place and every time.  Truth in Judaism, however, is chronological and dialogical, meaning it unfolds over time and through dialogue between different individuals who all have access to only a part of the truth.  So we can say that the reconciliation of these ideas of God and of suffering is still unfolding, through God’s intervention in the world, especially through the coming of Mashiach (the Messiah), who according to tradition is born on Tisha B’Av, and through the ongoing dialogue of Jewish study, particularly as we listen to the voices of people who were once marginalised.

Beyond this is another aspect of contradiction, which is that God is with us in our suffering.  This was also seen by Wiesel at Auschwitz, where a young boy was hanged by the Nazis, and one inmate shouted “Where is God now?” and Wiesel felt an inner voice inside him say, “He is here – He is hanging on this gallows.”  This is the understanding of God being with us even when it feels like He is not with us, or even that He is complicit in our suffering.  It was brought out strongly by the Piaseczno Rebbe, Rabbi Kalonymus Kalmish Shapira in his sermons from the Warsaw Ghetto, the sense that God is with us even as we suffer.  Again, this transcends logic, by adopting a viewpoint that unfolds over time and which has not yet unfolded to its full extent, to the point where it can be fully understood and instead we affirm it now as an act of faith, in the belief that one day it will be understood by reason too.

Rabbi Yekutiel Yehuda Halberstam was the Rabbi of Klausenburg.  He lost all his family and Hasidim in the Holocaust, yet afterwards he was able to declare, “The biggest miracle of all is the one that we, the survivors of the Holocaust, after all that we witnessed and lived through, still believe and have faith in the Almighty God, may His name be blessed.  This, my friends, is the miracle of miracles, the greatest miracle ever to have taken place.” 

Obsessive Thoughts, and Finding Your Mission

I had volunteering this morning. For some reason we were preparing fewer bags of food this week. The number varies from week to week (I’m not entirely sure why), but not usually this dramatically. There were also some leftover bags of non-perishable food, which further reduced the number we needed to get ready. The result was that I was finished before 10.00am, rather than between 10.30am and 11.00am as usual. I think there were other tasks I might have been able to help with, but I was not unhappy to leave earlier, as days when I do both volunteering and therapy are tiring and I was glad of the extra time to recover and do other things.

In the afternoon I tried to create a revised version of my Doctor Who book on Lulu.com so I could sell it at a lower price, but the system is still misbehaving, telling me I need to select a book size even though I already have done so. I emailed the helpdesk again, although I did not find their previous response particularly helpful. They emailed back to say that I can’t publish a new version of my book without starting from scratch (which admittedly wouldn’t be a huge problem, but still isn’t right) because since I published the book, they’ve changed the site. This is a bug, apparently. Hmm.

I worked on my novel for a little under an hour. I procrastinated, I didn’t make much progress and I’m not happy with what I did write, but I wrote something, which I guess is the important thing, just to keep hammering away at it.

***

Therapy was good. I spoke about my obsessive pure O OCD-type thoughts, which have got a bit worse in the last few days. I sometimes get intrusive violent thoughts. This leads to obsessive worrying that I could become violent or a murderer. I tend to worry in particular when I read news stories about rapists and serial killers and see similarities with myself (usually that they are loners with few/no relationships and friendships). I know it isn’t likely that I would hurt someone (I’m terrified of hurting people even verbally and unintentionally, let alone physically and intentionally), but it’s easy to get sucked into “How can I know for sure that I wouldn’t do that?”-type of thoughts, or even to think that if I have intrusive violent thoughts for long enough, I’ll somehow act on them by default. The thing to do with these thoughts is just not to pay any attention to them, although it’s very hard not listening to a voice in your head saying that if you aren’t careful, you’ll turn into Jack the Ripper.

In therapy today I realised that these thoughts aren’t all that different from the “Am I a bad person?” thoughts I get. It’s a more extreme form of “bad,” but the thought itself is not that different in nature. And I realised that I haven’t really got very far trying to prove to myself that I’m not a bad person (or a serial killer), so maybe I should just try not to respond to these thoughts. I noticed that I got to shul (synagogue) last week without really thinking about it much, rather than spending ages thinking that I had to go and worrying that I wouldn’t make it, so maybe ignoring obsessive thoughts is the way to go.

***

As well as Lulu.com, I’m angry at victim-blaming antisemitism, but what can you do? There’s a lot more of them than there are of us.

***

Looking for a particular quote for my devar Torah, I was looking at Rabbi Lord Sacks’ z”tl book To Heal a Fractured World. It ends with a two page list of reflections on an ethical life. A lot of this resonated with thoughts I’ve been having recently about trying to work out what I’m here on Earth for, what I can actually do with my life. I’m not going to quote all of it, but here is some of it:

I make no claims to wisdom, but this I have learned:

  • that each of us is here for a purpose;
  • that discerning that purpose takes time and honesty, knowledge of ourselves and knowledge of the world, but it is there to be discovered…
  • that where what we want to do meets what needs to be done, that is where God wants us to be;
  • that even the smallest good deed can change someone’s life…
  • that those who spend at least part of their lives in service of others are the most fulfilled and happiest people I know…
  • that each situation in which we find ourselves did not happen by accident: we are here, now, in this place, among these people, in these circumstances, so that we can do the act or say the word that will heal one of the fractures in the world…
  • that it is not the most wealthy or powerful or successful or self-important who make the greatest difference or engender the greatest love;
  • that pain and loneliness are forms of energy that can be transformed if we turn them outward, using them to recognize and redeem someone else’s pain or loneliness…
  • that we can make a difference, and it is only by making a difference that we redeem a life, lifting it from mere existence and endowing it with glory;
  • and that if we listen carefully enough — and listening is an art that requires long training and much humility — we will hear the voice of God in the human heart telling us that there is work to do and that he needs us.

***

E and I have been watching the 2005 season of Doctor Who, the first of the revived run. It’s strange to think that I was doing my undergraduate finals when these episodes were broadcast. I didn’t have a TV at Oxford, and the episodes were broadcast on Shabbat, so I couldn’t get myself invited to someone else’s room/house, so I only saw episodes one to three around the time of original transmission; the rest my parents taped for me and I binge-watched them after finals. It seems like yesterday. It also seems a lifetime ago.

It’s also strange that “new” Who has very nearly been around for more of my life than the original series. In fact, as I was eight when I discovered Doctor Who, for me the new Who era is longer than the era when I was a fan, but Doctor Who was not on TV regularly, even though that feels like the default for me.

***

I finished reading Moonraker (SPOILERS ahead!). I think prose James Bond is rather better than film Bond. Maybe that’s a bit unfair, as they are trying to do somewhat different things, although it takes a while to realise that. Prose Bond is not by any means realistic, but his actions have consequences; he’s not a superhero like film Bond. Here, Bond gets badly hurt and ends up in hospital. His detonation of an atomic bomb in the North Sea (to avoid it destroying London) leads to hundreds dead and missing and M worrying about the fall out, in all senses of the term. The “girl,” Gala Brand, is a capable undercover policewoman and she, rather than Bond, works out what the villain’s plan is and how to stop it. Most surprising of all, not only does Bond not have any real amorous encounters (one kiss is about it), Brand turns out to be engaged and chooses not to spend a month with Bond on the continent, but to get married to her fiance instead. I was impressed.

Strings Attached

I went to bed late and got up early for volunteering at the Jewish food bank, yet somehow seemed to function better this morning than on many later ones. Do I need a reason to get up, as volunteering provided today? Then again, I had a reason to get up early last Saturday (shul/synagogue) and I overslept. I feel I need to think carefully about my sleep pattern and maybe my sleep hygiene. I know I often turn my clock radio alarm off in my sleep; I wonder if I should put it across the room, although it’s not a tactic that has worked well for me in the past. I also have a problem on Shabbat, as I won’t use the clock radio alarm (a) in case I turn it off and (b) because if I don’t turn it off, as per Shabbat, it will sound all day and drive us all insane. I use my phone’s timer, but the alarm sound is pretty puny and easy to sleep through.

I got to volunteering a bit early, so I hung around outside and tried to make an appointment to see the doctor, as I am supposed to do regarding my Asperger’s diagnosis. I phoned at 8.28am and was told the surgery was not open for appointments. I tried again at 8.30am and was told I was behind more than thirty people in the phone queue. I appreciate there is a pandemic, but it does seem more difficult than it should be. Dad suggested to try again on my way to work tomorrow. It is possible to set the system to let you hang up and it will phone you back when you get near the front of the queue. I didn’t do that today as I knew the garage at volunteering has poor reception and I doubted I would be able to hear the call, but I could try doing it tomorrow, assuming I’m not underground on the way to work when they call.

Volunteering was good, but pretty exhausting. I do still feel that I end up looking stupid or annoying the organisers with too many “What should I do now? We’ve run out of crackers, what should I do?”-type questions that the other volunteers don’t ask. But I guess I’m doing it for free, so they can’t expect too much of me.

Afterwards I took my tallit to be repaired, but they wanted to charge me £13 for the new tzitzit strings and £20 for having them tied, which is about half the price of a new tallit in total. I bought the strings and had another go at tying them myself, hoping the new, and hence non-twisted, strings would be better than the reused ones. It seemed to go OK, although it took two attempts and I always worry with something like this that I’m doing something wrong. (Incidentally, there’s a video on how to tie tzitzit here.)

While I was in the Judaica bookshop, I used the £15 I had from having a completed loyalty card (literally a physical piece of cardboard with stamps on it, very Old School) to buy Faith Shattered and Restored: Judaism in the Postmodern Age by Rabbi Shagar. I have heard good things about Rav Shagar seriously addressing postmodern thought and applying it to Orthodox Judaism. I just hope I can understand it. Philosophy doesn’t always come easy to me. Rabbi Shagar (actually an acronym for his name, Rabbi Shimon Gershon Rosenberg) was supposed to be one of few Orthodox Jewish thinkers addressing postmodern thought until his death in 2007.

I spent some time in the afternoon working on my novel and was pleased to make progress, even if it only amounted to a few hundred words. Just getting back in the habit of writing it is good. I did some Torah study too, not so much in terms of time, but difficult Mishnah and Gemarah. I spoke to E too, so it was quite a busy day overall.

***

I’ve seen a part-time assistant school librarian job advertised. I don’t really want to apply for it, but I vaguely feel that I should. I think I need to speak to my parents about what type of jobs they are expecting me to apply for at the moment, if any (given that I am working).

***

I’ve been thinking about antisemitism all day again. When Rabbi Lord Sacks died last year, one of his daughters reflected that he would throw weighty questions at her while waiting for the kettle to boil and the example she gave was about how to end antisemitism. Part of me seems to think that I can succeed where Rabbi Sacks did not, even if I have to boil the kettle a few times. I think endlessly about antisemitism and have done for years, as if I can somehow succeed where generations of Jews have failed and end antisemitism, and bring peace to the Middle East as an encore.

I don’t really have the bravery to write about my thoughts. I doubt that they are particularly profound anyway. Judging by Tablet Magazine and The Times of Israel blogs, if they are in any way representative, lots of Jews, in Israel and the diaspora, are feeling “unsafe” right now and have been feeling that for quite a while, from before the latest round of Middle East violence. I don’t know how we change anything though. As Rabbi Sacks said elsewhere, Jews can’t end antisemitism. Only non-Jews can do that. But it feels like we can’t even communicate our fears without being mocked and attacked.

Feeling Good, Feeling Bad

I woke up late today, but I felt good, at least after breakfast and coffee had dispelled the waking burnout feeling. It does feel that in the last few months, since my Asperger’s diagnosis, or maybe even a little before, my life has begun fitting together in a way I never predicted. I think my relationship with my parents has improved over lockdown and Mum’s cancer, I have a part-time job that gives me time to write and my relationship with E is great, even if it is awkward being long-distance and not knowing when we can be together in person because of COVID. I don’t feel I deserve it, but I thank God it’s happened.

Today felt odd because it’s a bank holiday. If I’m not at work, and not busy with other things, it should be a Sunday or a Tuesday, but it’s neither! I struggled to email a friend who is having marriage problems. I think I mentioned her last week. I wasn’t sure what to say, even whether she wanted advice or just wanted to vent.

I phoned the Judaica shop about buying new tallit strings. This sounds trivial, but it takes a lot of courage for me as (a) I hate phoning because of social anxiety and autism and (b) I’m not even sure if they sell tallit strings or if they will tie them for me. Nevertheless, there was no answer again, which makes me wonder if they’re even open at the moment. I can borrow Dad’s tallit for now, but I would like to get it sorted.

I spent an hour working on my novel. Actually, I spent most of an hour procrastinating, but I did a bit of work on the novel. It’s always hard to come back to writing after a long break, and it’s hard to start a new chapter, let alone a new draft.

I then spent over an hour working on my devar Torah (Torah thought) for the week. I was mostly working on that and not procrastinating, but after two and a half hours sat in front of my computer, I was exhausted, as if I’d done a whole day’s work. I was going to go for a walk, but Mum and Dad wanted me to have tea with them in the garden. They were having scones and cream; I don’t like either, but they had bought me rugelach (chocolate pastries), so I decided I would be a good son and sit with them for a bit. Then I cooked dinner, as Mum had some other things to do, and listened to a short shiur (religious class) while doing so.

By this stage my mood had plummeted and I don’t know why. I get disconcerted that my mood can change so quickly and with so little reason. I was thinking about antisemitism, but I’m not sure if that triggered the low mood; I think the reverse may be true.

The thoughts were that in France the Chief Rabbi said many years ago that Jews in France shouldn’t wear the kippah (skullcap) because of the risk of violence, and now the German (!) government is saying that German Jews shouldn’t wear it either, and the US, which was supposed to be the safest diaspora country for Jews, has had loads of antisemitic attacks in the last few years which the authorities have done very little about. Statistically, I believe a Jew in the US is more likely to experience a hate crime than an African-American, but you wouldn’t know that from the media coverage. So I wonder how long it will be seen as safe to wear a kippah here. I’m not terribly anti-authority, but I hate people trying to stop me being religious, so I would want to wear it regardless. On the other hand, I’m a coward. At any rate, I’m glad I no longer work at the further education college where I had students making antisemitic remarks behind my back not quite out of earshot.

I went for a walk in the hope that would help my mood, but I just feel tired as well as depressed now, and my bedroom is hot and stuffy; I doubt sleep will be easy. I wish I knew how these low moods can appear out of nowhere. I guess it’s good that it’s the bad mood that seems to come out of nowhere, with the good (or at least not bad) as the default. In the past it would have been the other way around.

I feel too tired and depressed to write or read, so I’ll watch The Simpsons for a bit (season five of Babylon 5 is sufficiently not great (not bad exactly, but not great) enough for me not to want to watch two episodes in one day).

Knots

The day started badly with a number of minor irritants, the worse of which was somehow tearing off one of the fringes on my tallit (prayer shawl) – each corner is supposed to have four strings looped and knotted five times leaving eight strings hanging at the end, and I think I must have stood on one that was trailing and moved and — snap!

Work was OK, but was cut short today as J needed to go to a funeral (a distant relative). I think the work for me to do comes in to the office periodically through the day, so he can’t just give me a list of stuff to do in the morning, he has to keep giving things to me during the day as they appear or as he works on them, so when he leaves, I leave.

I got home early because of this, but spent a lot of time trying to tie the strings from an old pair of tzitzit (small prayer shawl undershirt) onto the tallit. I just got in a mess. A rabbi showed me how to tie tzitzit once and it seemed easy enough under his supervision, but every time I try to do it, I just get in a mess. It’s possible the problem is that I try to tie strings that have been used before and are all twisted and kinked. I think it’s going to be easier just to find a Judaica shop that will repair it, whatever the cost. I think I like the idea of being someone who can tie tzitzit more than the reality. Like, “Look, I’m frum! I can’t understand Talmud, I’m too socially anxious to lead services any more, I never kept up my leining, but I can tie tzitzit!”

Between the tzitzit and spending a lot of time today brooding about antisemitism and what (little) I can do about it (see below) I feel I wasted the day; it’s another day when I haven’t really sat down to do any work on my novel(s). Possibly I should have done that instead of going for a walk this evening; I just wanted to get out while the weather was good and exercise.

***

I’m still thinking a lot about Israel and the recent explosion of antisemitism, which is continuing even though the latest Gaza conflict is over. So many Jewish newspaper articles and blogs say that Jews must all speak up to defend ourselves in the court of public opinion. I feel like a coward, but I know if I write, I will get into arguments, and I don’t feel strong enough to cope with that. I’ve done it before and I’ve been hurt without changing anyone’s mind significantly (although I can’t deny that I had some effect). I’m told I’m a good writer, but I’ve never felt myself to be a good polemicist, and polemic is what is apparently wanted. Polemic makes me sick, and if I see anything too strident, I take the opposite position, even if it’s not something I would normally agree with. Even pro-Israel polemic makes me uncomfortable. I think Israel has a right to defend itself, but it isn’t beyond reproach. But there is no room for nuance any more.

Part of me wants to be a fearless truth-teller like George Orwell (one of my literary heroes, despite our political differences), but I also want to be liked, or at least not to be called a Nazi, and these things do not go together. I get upset about things and want to shout out, but then I worry about the consequences and stay quiet. It’s not a good combination. Orwell said that writers should be politically engaged, but shouldn’t tread the party line (any party line), but then Orwell never got involved in a flame war on Twitter.

Most of the Jewish blogs I read have not said much about this situation, and I wonder if this is wise or not. I feel that the number of Jews in the world is so small, and the negative stereotypes so embedded after two thousand years or more, that it is impossible to be heard. Some antisemitic pop stars and “influencers” apparently have more followers on Twitter or Instagram than the total number of Jews in the whole world, several times over, so it is hard to see how a few Jews can reach so many people. This is defeatist of me. If Judaism is about anything, it is about the ability of a small number of people to change the world. But just posting the I-word makes me anxious that I’m going to get abusive comments. Writers like Moshe Koppel and Ze’ev Maghen say that the correct response to antisemitism is to be a more engaged Jew, which is true, but hard to do when people are calling you a Nazi.

It would be nice to claim that my Jewish life is all quirky rituals like tying knots in tzitzit string, happy days like Shabbat and Yom Tov, and the search for meaning in prayer and Torah study, but it is also worry about my family and friends (literal and metaphorical) in Israel, it’s stuff getting shouted at me in the street, people throwing pennies at me, it’s wondering whether I should take my kippah off in public (as my uncle suggested yesterday). It’s worrying whether one day I’ll be one of those “Religious [read: Visible*] Jew Stabbed in the Street” news stories that never seem to trouble the non-Jewish press too much. It’s wondering whether I’m more likely to be attacked by skinheads or Guardian readers (spoiler warning: I think there are more Guardian readers than skinheads in the UK). It’s wondering where the next Holocaust will be: Israel, Europe or the US, or all at once.

*An article in one Jewish paper (before the latest violence) wondered how much the rate of antisemitic hate crime would rise if all Jews dressed like Orthodox Jews — in other words, if more secular Jews were visibly identifiable as Jews to non-Jews.

Eating Out; and Self-Esteem

I got up late again, burnt out and depressed, the latter worsened by reading stuff about antisemitism and about Islamism. I feel that there isn’t much I can do about this and all the other bad stuff in the world. This is in diametric opposition to the “You can change the world!” attitude on social media and elsewhere. I feel the history of the last hundred years or so indicates that small groups can indeed change the world, but mostly if they’re well-organised and ruthless, like the Nazis and the Bolsheviks. I’m not sure that nice, contemplative, middle of the road people can do much.

Over lunch I watched a video about having a “growth mindset” rather than a “fixed mindset.” I was wary of this, because, like a lot of social psychology research, it’s questionable to say the least. Still, I thought it wouldn’t hurt to learn to think more flexibly, but the video didn’t really help with that. It was very basic and introductory and didn’t tell me a lot that I hadn’t heard from other places. I suppose we’re supposed to buy the presenter’s books to find out more.

I went for a walk and picked up my repeat prescription, and worked on my devar Torah for the week. It’s OK, but I think the ending needs work, although I needed a break from it after nearly an hour. Hopefully I’ll finish it off tomorrow or Thursday. I filled in an over-complicated contact form at Lulu.com to ask for help changing the price on my self-published non-fiction Doctor Who book. I want to change the price, which should be a simple matter, but the website says I need to finish the design stage before I can revise prices and I don’t know why it is seeing the design as unfinished. I got an automatic reply saying I don’t need an ISBN to sell my book on Lulu.com, which had nothing to do with my question! So I had to reply again, pasting my original complaint in. I worked a little bit on my (second) novel, but didn’t have much time before having to go out for dinner.

We (me, my parents, my sister and my brother-in-law) went to a restaurant for dinner. I hadn’t been out to eat in well over a year. The food was good (kosher Chinese). I was slightly worried about the lack of vegetarian choice. I only eat meat on Shabbat and Yom Tov (Sabbaths and festivals). Because of the prohibition of serving meat and dairy at the same meal, kosher restaurants serving meat have limited vegetarian options (no cheese or milk), plus culturally vegetarianism isn’t a big thing in frum (religious Jewish) circles. So there were only three vegetarian main dishes on the menu (which is actually two dishes more than this restaurant had last time I went there!) and it turned out that the one I wanted wasn’t available. Instead, I picked the “lettuce wrap” which turned out not to be any kind of wrap, but fried mixed vegetables on a bed of lettuce. It was good and more filling than I had expected, especially when combined with various side dishes (we all ordered one different side dish each and then shared them between us). I had ordered some vegetarian spring rolls too, as I wasn’t sure the lettuce would fill me up, but they were unnecessary, not that they went to waste. Dessert was good too, chocolate volcano.

However, the mask hygiene in the restaurant was not good. One waitress wore her mask properly; unfortunately one male waiter failed to cover his nose (is it purely ornamental?) and the other didn’t wear a mask at all. The chef came outside the kitchen at one point without a mask too. So that made me feel a little ill at ease. Kosher restaurants have a reputation for poor service; I hope we’re not going to have to add poor mask hygiene to that.

This also reminds me of a disgusting experience at a pizza restaurant in Tel Aviv years ago, where you could see into the kitchen from the restaurant and I saw the chef open a bag of pizza cheese by biting into it!

***

I’m still getting positive feedback for my article on having Asperger’s in the Orthodox community. It’s reassuring to have my writing praised, but some of the feedback that stays with me most strongly is from friends here on the blog who don’t know me in real life and said that I look normal or handsome in the photos on the article. I don’t think I have hugely awful body image (despite having low self-esteem about other parts of myself), but I’ve never thought of myself as particularly good-looking either, perhaps a legacy of terrible adolescent acne, and my unfortunate romantic history, or lack of it. I didn’t even go out on a date until I was twenty-seven. I assumed women simply weren’t attracted to me, but in retrospect I simply didn’t meet enough women and was too nervous and awkward when I did meet them.

***

On the subject of self-esteem, I’m re-reading Leaping Souls: Rabbi Menachem Mendel and the Spirit of Kotzk by Chaim Feinberg on the Kotzker Rebbe. I thought this passage (pp. 72-73), although long, was worth quoting in full (punctuation emended slightly for clarity):

One must never confuse lowness, coarse degradation, with the blessed light of humility. Ayin, spiritual self-effacement, does not mean spiritual emptiness. It is rather the rasha, the wicked man, who inwardly wallows in his own worthlessness:

Reb Mendel said: “Not only one who hates his fellow man is called a wicked person — one who hates himself is also called wicked.”

The good Jew, however, draws his esteem from God:

“It is proper for a man to believe that his deeds are important and beautiful in the eyes of God, for through this belief he will prepare more and more good deeds. But precisely the opposite is true if he believes he is far-off from God, that his deeds are unimportant to Him because they are not totally pure. Heaven forbid, but such a notion can lead to a total self-distancing from God, and this is exactly the advice of the evil inclination, the yetzer hara. About such a state of mind, King Solomon has said: ‘Do not be overly wicked.'”

Books and Thoughts

I couldn’t sleep last night and ended up only getting about five hours of sleep. I think I was excited from speaking to E! I somehow managed to get up more or less on time for work. Work was pretty dull. I spent a lot of time this morning searching through old records (computerised and ledgers) looking for information and then in the afternoon looking through old papers to see which could be thrown away. Not terribly interesting, but it pays, and lets me feel less guilty about spending time writing, not that I’ve worked on either novel much lately.

I decided not to go to virtual depression group tonight, partly as I was tired and didn’t have the energy — Zoom calls are draining, as is trying to be a good listener to others in distress. Not going was supposed to let me catch up on some chores after I ran out of time for them yesterday, and take some of the pressure off the next few days, which are busy, although the reality was that the chores took longer than expected and I was very tired, so I didn’t achieve much.

I received a letter from my GP’s surgery saying I should phone to discuss the results of my autism assessment. I hope this will be a chance to talk about being referred for autism-adapted CBT. However, I have to navigate the awful phone switchboard, which involves phoning at 8.30am for an appointment and spending ages waiting to get through. I don’t usually get up for 8.30am on non-work days! I can’t face doing it tomorrow; maybe Friday or next Tuesday. I also hope I can speak to my usual GP. Technically, the surgery doesn’t let you have your ‘own’ GP, you have to take the first appointment available. But, if I can find the confidence, I will try to say that I have one GP I’ve seen a lot about my autism and mental health issues and I really would like to speak to him. The worst that can happen is they say no.

I wanted to go for a walk and do some more Torah study after dinner, but I felt exhausted and it was raining heavily so I was not inclined to force myself to walk. I guess I feel lately that I can achieve some of the things I want in my life (relationship, work, writing, exercise, religious study, prayer), but not all of them, and that’s without going down the route of marriage and children (yet — E and I are both clear that we want these if we can cope with them). I guess I worry that I’ll never be able to balance all these things or that I’ll have to completely write some things out of my life if I want to be successful at others. Maybe no one can balance everything, and other people are just better bluffers than I am.

I somehow managed to do some more Torah study despite being rather tired. That done, I needed to fill the hours until bed. I’m about to start the fifth and final season of Babylon 5 in my re-watch. I don’t think season five is quite as bad as “everyone” says, but it is the weakest season by far, and the first half is definitely worse than the second. So I wasn’t in a hurry to watch it. The book I started reading at lunch is a serious introductory book on Islam and I didn’t feel up to returning to it. Fortunately, the second-hand James Bond omnibus book I ordered arrived today. (Although I feel that a “James Bond omnibus” is technically the double-decker Roger Moore drove in a car chase in Live and Let Die.) The omnibus book is slightly frustrating, as it contains the first two books of the loose “Blofeld” trilogy, but not the third, which is a slightly weird decision, plus the books are not printed in order of internal chronology, even though there is some continuity across the books. Still, I got five books I haven’t read (plus a sixth I’ve read, but didn’t own) for £5, so I can’t really complain. Very good condition too. I read for a while, until I felt too tired to carry on.

***

Lately I’ve been feeling a desire to post something deeper here than my usual daily updates. When things were not good for me, I felt I was expressing deep emotions and self-analysis, but now things are (thankfully) a lot better, I feel I don’t have much to say. Part of me would like to write about the things I think about, about antisemitism or Israel or Jewish theology, not in the abstract (I don’t want this to be a politics blog or a theology blog), but how my understanding of them affects my inner thoughts, feelings and worldview (if that isn’t terribly millennial and self-obsessed). However, I never seem to get around to it. I’m scared of writing anything about antisemitism or Israel, however bland and inoffensive, because just sticking those words in a post brings out the haters. Jewish theology has other problems. Partly it’s that I’m not sure that anyone would be interested, partly that there would be so much to explain just to make it intelligible to the lay reader that I’d write hundreds of words before even getting to what I want to say, plus I’m conscious that I have no formal training in theology, in either its rational philosophical or mystical kabbalistic forms, and I’m hardly an expert on Jewish thought. I would fear that I would be talking rubbish. So I stay quiet and bottle a lot of thoughts and feelings up inside of me out of fear and, I suppose, laziness.

Weirdness Vibes

I woke up drained as usual. The news didn’t help; it’s full of bad news today. The news is always full of bad news, but today it hits a little closer to home: more than forty killed in a crush at the Meron Lag B’Omer celebrations in Israel, and a Doctor Who actor accused of sexual harassment and bullying. I did feel better once I got going and I’m glad it’s Lag B’Omer and I can listen to music when I want and not just when I’m struggling with depression, and that I’ve shaved. I used the hair clippers we bought for COVID haircuts rather than the beard-trimmer on my razor. It was not painful at all (usually it pulls at the hairs) and took less than ten minutes (it usually takes twenty or more). So some good has come out of lockdown.

***

I’m wondering if the Intimate Judaism sex therapist is going to be able to find a shachan (matchmaker) willing to work with me. I also wonder whether I will go to that shadchan if she finds one, at least in the near future. I feel I shouldn’t be dating so soon after PIMOJ (fair enough) and that I shouldn’t be dating until I build a career and “sort out” what my autism diagnosis means for me. But a career may (probably will) take years to build, and “sorting out” my diagnosis, whatever that means, is an ongoing process with no obvious end point. So I could end up postponing dating indefinitely, which looks a lot like procrastination and avoidance. I do need to work out if I can cope with a wife and children, being on the spectrum, but I have no idea how I test that out. It’s not like I can borrow some children for a few days. For what it’s worth, my rabbi mentor has mostly encouraged me to look for love despite work and mental health issues, even though this seems to go against the usual frum (religious Jewish) approach of sorting out your own issues before dating.

***

I went through a phase a few years ago of looking for stories of miracles people had experienced on websites like Hevria.com and Aish.com (setting aside for the moment the question of when a mere coincidence becomes a “miracle” — these were not things that subverted the laws of nature, but were just somewhat improbable coincidences). They are usually framed as, “I wasn’t religious, and I didn’t think I could become religious, but God did something amazing for me, so I became religious.” I think I used to read these things to get angry. (I think reading or watching things purely to get angry is more common than you might think, whether it’s conservative “clean up TV” campaigners or woke cancel culture.) I used to wonder why God wouldn’t help me. Was it because I became religious without miracles so He didn’t need to get my attention (which seemed unfair on me, like I should have held out for a better offer)? Was I particularly sinful? Did He hate me?

It comes to mind a bit when I read this article: ” I recently met a woman who went to a school with heavy amount of fear [of God] and guilt, and she confided in me that several years ago she and her friends would have so much fun mocking me and my positivity [about Judaism], but what she realized is that they were all actually jealous of my relationship to Hashem as it was so pure and sincere and not sullied with all the garbage theirs was.” I think this is partly why I used to get angry, not because I wanted miracles per se, but because I wanted a closer relationship with God, one that these people had achieved, even if it was jump started by a miracle/coincidence. Maybe this was why I didn’t connect with PIMOJ, because I couldn’t understand her close relationship with God and her constant positivity, to the extent that I didn’t feel able to share the more negative aspects of my life in our relationship, which resulted in it being a lie.

***

I find myself wondering if I’m trying to be miserable and negative at the moment, about my position in the frum world and about marriage. No one (parents, rabbi mentor) else seems to feel as negatively about my life as I do. I think I fret about the future to try to get other people to reassure me that it will be OK, but they never manage it. How could they? They can’t prove everything will turn out OK, and I’m still dealing with the ramifications of something going very wrong for my entire life up to this point (not being diagnosed as autistic), so my experience of life this far is that something fundamental will always be wrong that affects every aspect of my life negatively. Maybe I can try to feel positive that, now I’ve got my Asperger’s/autism diagnosis, I can (somehow) sort my life out. That said, I would want to have some kind of road map for “soring my life out” before I get my hopes up.

***

I did a few things today, Shabbat chores, Torah study, tried to begin to piece together a plan for my second/fall-back novel, went for a walk and picked up my prescription… just after I left the pharmacist, some kids on bikes passed me and shouted stuff at me. I didn’t really hear as I had music on my headphones, so I can’t be 100% sure they were shouting at me, but it wouldn’t be the first time if they were. It’s brought my mood down, whether they were shouting at me or not, because I do get shouted at even if it wasn’t happening this time. Sometimes it’s stuff because I’m Jewish, but sometimes people (usually kids) can intuit that I’m “different.” I give off weirdness vibes. It used to happen a lot at school. I went to Jewish schools, so there was no antisemitism (although I did get pushback from others kids as I became more religious, because most of the kids were not religious and probably felt threatened by my religiosity), but there was bullying for being clever and, I guess, for being different and vulnerable, because not all the clever kids were bullied, or not as much. And it wasn’t just kids in my class, even younger kids would sometimes shout stuff at me in the corridors.

It makes me feel negative about my ability to interact effectively meaningfully with people even now. They’re restarting the volunteering I was doing last year at the Jewish food bank. No one is rude to me there, but I worry I’m ineffectual and mess stuff up there and just generally seem weird and unapproachable. Ditto at shul (synagogue), although that’s less of an issue now the social side of it has been reduced. But random people shout stuff at me in the street periodically. It’s probably not coincidental that the three relationships I’ve had have been with people who ‘met’ me through writing (via a dating site or my blog) before we met in person. They had a chance to meet the competent Writing Me before the Weird In Person Me.

***

J is hosting a kiddush (refreshments after the service) at shul tomorrow for his daughter’s bat mitzvah. I’m not going, because of social anxiety. I haven’t told my parents, because I know they’ll say I should go. I feel bad, but I just don’t feel I can cope with it right now. This (social anxiety) is another reason not to date right now.

The Day that Got Away

It feels like today was a day that got away from me.

First, I missed volunteering. I overslept by about forty-five minutes (having dreamt that I couldn’t go to volunteer because I had a temperature and suspected COVID). I hurried to get ready and could still have got there at a reasonable time, but then I waited twenty-five minutes for a bus which did not arrive (it was supposed to be every eight minutes). At this point I went home to see if one of my parents could give me a lift, but I could see there was heavy rush hour traffic everywhere and it would take at least forty-five minutes to get to volunteering even if my parents were ready to take me straightaway. At that point I felt it wasn’t worth going, as I wouldn’t really be there very long, so I texted to apologise.

I feel bad for letting them down, especially as I texted about 8.15am to say I was late, but on my way, and then texted again nearly an hour later say I couldn’t make it at all. I do wonder if working and volunteering for three consecutive days is too much for me and that if I have to work on Tuesdays in the future, I should not volunteer on Wednesdays because I need it as a recuperation day after work.

In the afternoon I did some shopping, mostly for essentials, but I bought a book as a Chanukah present for PIMOJ. I felt a bit bad that I spent more than I’ve spent on my parents’ presents (and my sister hasn’t even told me what she wants yet). It was not easy to work out what to buy, as I feel I’m still learning who PIMOJ is, so I ended up buying a book I’m 99% sure she’ll like, but which was rather expensive. I thought that getting something she wanted was more important than staying within budget, but now my inner critical voice is saying that I need to spend more on my parents. At least I’m earning money again at the moment.

***

And then, in late afternoon, I read something online and I just exploded. The article wasn’t particularly surprising to someone who reads the Jewish press and Jewish websites and is aware of the way the world is going, but it set something off in me. When I wrote my political post a few weeks ago, Ashley said she was surprised it wasn’t a rant from the way I had spoken about it. Well, brace yourselves, because this is a rant. Feelings I’ve been suppressing for a long time can’t be suppressed any more…

Rabbi Lord Sacks used to say that antisemitism is a virus that mutates; whenever a strain becomes discredited in society (equivalent to immunisation), it mutates into a new form that is still considered acceptable. So when religion lost influence to science in the Enlightenment, the religious antisemitism of the Middle Ages was replaced with the pseudoscience of racial antisemitism. Now racial pseudoscience is discredited, antisemitism has become based on the idea of Jews collectively being major human rights abusers.

I would add: when antisemitism mutates, it mutates in such a way that the Jews are seen as the embodiment of whatever that society hates the most. So in an era of human rights sensitivity, Jews will be seen as the worst possible human rights abusers. Hence the constant analogies between Jews/Israelis and Nazis.

Antisemitism is not just a prejudice, it’s an entire worldview that sees the Jews as responsible for the woes of the world. Hence the fact that it is often propagated as conspiracy theories about covert Jewish power. It’s as hard to argue rationally against this approach as it was to convince Torquemada that Jews weren’t really Christ-killers or to convince Hitler that Jews weren’t really racially impure. How do you “rationally” prove that you’re not a baby-killer? Even to entertain the question opens the possibility that you are, in fact, a baby-killer, just not guilty of killing this particular baby.

The scariest trend I’ve noticed in antisemitism recently, which I haven’t seen anyone else write about yet, is the idea that Jews are not “real” Jews, but white people pretending to be Jews. Who the “real” Jews are isn’t always spelt out, but it’s usually implied to be black people or Muslims. Louis Farrakhan (Nation of Islam) has been peddling this for years, but it’s suddenly gone mainstream (e.g. here for the assertion that Black people are the “TRUE Children of Israel” and that therefore Jews are “LYING antisemites”). Although perhaps directly rooted in Arthur Koestler’s disproven theory that most Jews are actually Khazars (a people from Medieval Crimea), this is basically an outgrowth of supersessionism or replacement theology, the idea in classical Christianity and Islam that the Jews were once chosen, but have now been replaced, with the church/the ummah having taken over. However, the modern version gives this a twist for the identity politics era: the Jews were once persecuted (chosen, effectively, in a system that correlates virtue to suffering), but have now been replaced. Because, again, if human rights abusers are the worst possible people, and if white people are the worst possible human rights abusers, then Jews will be white, or even the whites of the whites (the people who exploit the exploiters), regardless of how they were seen in the past; they can’t be seen as good people. Therefore stripping Jews of their “appropriated” Jewish identities (something even Hitler didn’t do) will become virtuous. This terrifies me, terrifies me enough to write about it here despite my usual fears of starting an argument.

***

The feelings of anger and perhaps some fear that triggered the rant persisted for a while. I did some ironing while listening to a shiur (religious class). I’m not sure it was a good thing for me to listen to. It was a mussar-type (ethics/personal development) shiur about being breaking lethargy. It boiled down to being more efficient. I’m not terribly efficient, which is possibly in part an autistic executive function issue. I think it’s easy for me to get caught up in self-blame and low self-esteem when I focus too hard on efficiency, although the shiur presented beating yourself up for falling short as a good strategy to succeed (I don’t think it is, certainly not for me). I also think I need some creative mind-wandering times for my writing, even for divrei Torah (Torah thoughts).

The shiur was based on the writings of Rabbi Kalonymus Kalmish Shapira, the Piaseczno Rebbe. His idea of what a minimal amount of daily private Torah study for someone working (not in full-time yeshiva study) should be was two hours. I do not manage this. On the other hand, the rabbi giving the shiur went to the other extreme and said we should scale down to two minutes, which made me feel that most people are not studying privately if it can be reduced this much, but in pairs (chevruta) or in shiurim. I struggle with paired and group study. Either way, this just seemed to be provoking guilt. Similarly, the idea of celebrating when you achieve your aim sounded good, but I’m not sure I should be blaming myself if I do not succeed as was also suggested.

He also suggested writing a daily plan, which I do, but I fail to stick to very well, which is again probably autism. Also to set difficult goals and push yourself beyond your boundary. I feel I probably ought to be able to find a way to manage this, but I can’t.

I have drifted into total defeatism here, which may in part be hunger and tiredness, but either way, I didn’t get much out of the shiur.

It’s a shame, as the Piaseczno Rebbe‘s teachings have resonated with me in the past, but this just seem unsuited for me, given my autism and tendencies to low self-esteem and self-criticism. I feel there’s a focus on efficiency in the Orthodox world that is hard to live up to (Jewish Young Professional wrote about this here). Compared with some people on the spectrum, I’m pretty organised and efficient, but this type of thing just makes me feel inadequate.

***

I finished reading the novel The Naked Runner by Francis Clifford. It was pretty diverting, but I don’t really buy the premise that intelligence agencies would trick civilians into working for them in the way the book requires – not from scruples, but from practical reasons about training and ability.

***

I’m going to call time on this not very good (although not exactly awful) day. I’m going to post this, turn off my computer, and watch Doctor Who, if I can decide what to watch (the tyranny of choice… actually The Tyranny of Choice does actually sound like the title of a Doctor Who story!). Then go to bed and hope that tomorrow goes better. At any rate, I am spending part of the work day outside the office and have a call with my psychiatrist (hopefully… trying to set that up today was another problem which I haven’t got sorted), so at least tomorrow will be different even if it isn’t good.

The Much-Anticipated Politics Post

I’ve mentioned a few times about wanting to write something about politics, not in a party political way, but in the sense of my moral and political intuitions and how I feel nervous about talking about them to other people. This post probably isn’t perfect, but it’s a start and I think I should just post it by this stage, so here we go…

***

There’s a good quote I came across relatively recently: “if people seem slightly stupid, they’re probably just stupid. But if they seem colossally and inexplicably stupid, you probably differ in some kind of basic assumption so fundamental that you didn’t realize you were assuming it, and should poke at the issue until you figure it out.”

If you want, please consider what follows an explanation of my colossal and inexplicable stupidity…

Like a lot of diaspora Jews, I was raised in an environment that was at least mildly left-of-centre. There was a feeling growing up that one should vote Labour/socialist (arguably not the same thing when I came of age in the Blair years) or at the very least Liberal Democrat/liberal. (It’s weird that antisemites see Jews as monolithically conservative when the reality is that most diaspora Jews seem to be left-of-centre.) As I reached my teenage years, I was influenced by two things. One was studying economics at A-Level and feeling that socialism simply doesn’t work, although I was open to more moderate state intervention in the market. The other was the outbreak of the Second Intifada in 2000. I don’t want to make this about Israel, but I felt that the news coverage and response from politicians and NGOs was increasingly one-sided. I felt that in the space of the first decade or so of the twenty-first century the “narrative” moved from a position of “There are faults on both sides, but Israel is heavy-handed” (which is a debateable point, but not necessarily antisemitic) to the demonisation of Israel as a uniquely evil state and which implicitly has to have its very existence questioned. This is much closer to antisemitism, at least in a world where no other state has had its legitimacy questioned like this. This attitude had been present among the hard-left for decades, coming ultimately out of Soviet Bloc propaganda (the USSR backed the Arabs), but seeped into the media, NGOs and the moderate left, particularly on campuses, where the atmosphere is increasingly hostile to Jewish students, something not really reported in the mainstream media, although it’s been reported widely in the Jewish press and online. Given that Zionism and the State of Israel are a major part of my identity, as they are for most Jews, this felt like an assault on my sense of self and poisoned my view of much of the left and made it harder and harder to see myself as a part of it, even though the right was not particularly appealing.

Contrary to what many people on the left feel, I don’t think there’s anything intrinsic about contemporary progressive thought that makes prejudice less likely than among conservatives, it’s just that the prejudice expresses itself in different ways. In the nineteenth and early twentieth century, Jews became identified on the left with capitalism, building on earlier antisemitic ideas about Jewish wealth and power. That idea was suppressed after the Holocaust, but has gradually crept back in, initially under the guise of anti-Zionism, but, as was seen in the Labour Party under Jeremy Corbyn, classic antisemitic conspiracy theories and even Holocaust denial are passed around quite openly now on the hard-left.

I suppose I had pulled on a thread and gradually my beliefs began to unravel. This all happened slowly, over a decade or more of time, but I guess by about 2010 I became interested in hearing views I had never really considered before.

I think my views achieved a kind of stasis for a few years where I didn’t really identify with anything other than a vague centrism. Then came Brexit, the most seismic event in British politics in my lifetime. I described myself as a “reluctant Remainer.” I disliked aspects of the EU, especially its lack of direct democratic accountability, but felt being in was better than being out. Still, when Leave won, I thought that was that. In the months that followed, I was horrified to see people I admired, working to annul a democratic vote because they disagreed with it. There seemed to me to be a class element to this: middle class, university-educated Remainers trying to block working class Brexiteers. All the Remainer talk of gullible working class voters being “tricked” into voting Leave made it hard to avoid feeling there wasn’t a sense of entitlement buried under there stemming from access to higher education.

As I read more over the coming years, I realised this paralleled the white working class’ embrace of Donald Trump in the USA. I hated Donald Trump, but I increasingly felt he was the only prominent person who had noticed that in the move to identity politics based on race, gender and sexuality, working class and lower middle class people, some of them living close to the breadline, had been forgotten. Their incomes have stagnated for decades while the rich and university educated have got richer. I felt that Trump was manipulative and probably had limited real regard for these people; like a businessman, he saw an attractive market. All the same, he signalled a failure in the democratic process that was most pronounced in America, but present in other Western countries.

(I suppose, if you want to go down this route, that I’m part of the lower middle class “left behinds” – fifteen years after leaving university, I’ve never had a full-time job or owned a home. Of course, in my case it’s due to autism and mental illness rather than “elite over-production” (briefly, the idea that there are now more people with degrees than there are good jobs that require degrees, resulting in unemployment among people who are already in debt from university fees that they were told they would easily pay off once they started working). Even so, there is some resentment of the prosperous middle class that I try to repress, but probably is in there to some extent, I can’t deny it.)

All the same, I feel uncomfortable calling myself a “conservative.” I don’t agree with all conservative policies, for one thing. For another, I find conservative political parties worldwide fairly repulsive. What works on a local scale as communal help ends up on a national scale as strict needs-testing and rooting out of “undeserving” claimants, backed up by occasional jingoism. COVID in particular has shown the British Conservative Party as inefficient when faced with a new challenge, while Donald Trump has shamelessly ignored the science and tried to make it a partisan issue (although I don’t see Trump as a conservative in any meaningful sense).

Nevertheless, I believe in evolutionary change and tradition; in localism and third sector involvement in social care; I believe that many problems are not solvable, not by government and certainly not within one electoral cycle; I am suspicious of simplistic mono-causal explanations; I am strongly opposed to monopolies and big corporations, whether public or private-sector; and I feel excluded from identity politics, which often seems antisemitic, and which in any case I see as socially divisive. So all these thoughts would mark me out as a conservative, albeit a very particular kind of conservative, what in Britain is sometimes referred to as One Nation Conservatism for its vision of a mutually responsible national culture that transcends the divisions of class. I care about many of the issues progressives care about (poverty, discrimination and injustice, the environment), I just find their answers simplistic and often unworkable.

I’ve tried other ways of looking at the political spectrum. One recent UK survey identified seven types of political ideologies and I’m don’t fit any one of them, so that didn’t help. Other people look at “Somewheres” versus “Anywheres” – those rooted in a place and culture against cosmopolitans who value global living and policies. This has the advantage of explaining Brexit and Trump well; both appealed to parts of the established right (but not the neo-liberals), but also to parts of the working class that had not previously voted conservatively. But my “Somewhere” place doesn’t exist; inasmuch as I want to conserve somewhere, it’s a construct of Jewish identity that only exists on an abstract plane, not in a real place (not even Israel).

George Orwell divided the world into moralists and revolutionaries. Moralists think there is no point in reforming institutions while human nature is in need of reform; revolutionaries think the reverse. I suppose I would mostly be a moralist. More pertinently, Orwell also coined the phrase “Tory anarchist,” defined by the political theorist Peter Wilkin as “a form of cultural dissident, out of step with and in opposition to many features of the modern world” who has “respect for privacy and the liberty of individuals, a fear of the state and its expanding power over social life; a nostalgic and melancholy temper… ; criticism of social conformism; and a pervasive sense of pessimism about the fate of the modern world.”

This is a phrase I’ve taken to heart. I like it partly because it’s loosely defined and allows me to avoid pinning myself down, but also because it suggests to me (although perhaps not to other people) a kind of dynamic tension between opposing outlooks that I feel strongly, as opposed to a synthesis or compromise.

I suppose I think that there is no one way of running a society/economy. It’s all about what trade-offs you are willing to make. I’m not a libertarian, but the libertarian saying that “There’s no such thing as a free lunch” seems to me to be inherently true, but frequently ignored. You can trade off economic growth against economic redistribution or unemployment against employment laws and minimum wage legislation and so on. It depends if you think the gain is worth the cost. I think that’s entirely sensible behaviour. The problem is that politicians rarely frame the decisions in that way; they tend to try to mislead voters into thinking that you can have it all. I’m very much opposed to that kind of short-term, simplistic thinking, whether it comes from the left or the right. I do very much see politics as a pragmatic business of balancing different positives and negatives and I feel uncomfortable with people who see it in a very redemptive, almost messianic, way, about “saving the world.” I don’t think we can save the world, only God can do that. We can just try to make it marginally less awful.

Even though I’ve moved rightwards, a lot of my friends and family are more left-wing, particularly online. The library sector is very left-wing, unsurprisingly, being based on public sector and education sector employment. On the other hand, some people in the Orthodox Jewish community are far off to my right. I haven’t been able to work out if most Orthodox Jews are right-wing, or just the most vocal ones. I mostly walk away from fights that are impossible to win and let other people believe what they like. It does leave me feeling “They would hate me if they knew me,” which is not good for my self-esteem. I do feel a lot of the time that I have to hide my sense of self, which probably isn’t healthy for me. Hence, I want to write this, just so I can see what happens and whether I can afford to open up to the world a bit more.

Grade D

I’m feeling less burnt out today, which is good. I haven’t really given myself credit for not worrying too much about the job interview result. I’m actually more concerned about what happens if they give me the job, but want me to work full-time than if they reject me completely. I don’t think I’m ready to work full-time. To be honest, I have not been worrying much about it at all, although I’m not sure how much credit I can take for that, as it hasn’t been a conscious thing.

Well, literally seconds after writing this, I checked my emails and found I’ve been rejected from the job. Oh well. Back to the job hunt, and, on the plus side, the novel writing. Working full-time would have made that a lot harder. I haven’t worked on the novel for a couple of weeks because of Yom Tov (Jewish festivals) and focusing on job applications, so I’m excited to get back to it next week.

Edit again: I got interview feedback, and I did really badly. A mix of Cs and Ds, with a D overall. I used to be good at things. I was more or less a straight A student at school (I wasn’t so good at art and design and was awful and games/PE, but I was good at everything else). At Oxford I was average, but at least that was average out of a pool of high achievers. However, since leaving university, I’ve just been awful, and I don’t even interview well any more. I feel I can’t even judge myself accurately any more, if I thought I’d done well in that interview when I had done so poorly. I know I struggle to “think on my feet” and process and respond to spoken questions in real time, as well as struggling to speak confidently at interview and to deliver appropriate answers. I know I struggle to apply the STAR technique for interview responses (mention Situation Task Action and Result). I know all this is because of autism and social anxiety. And yet. And yet. I still feel useless.

I feel that writing is the only thing I can do well, but so far I have literally made only a few pounds from writing (£25 for writing an article on OCD for a geeky website and a few pounds from selling my self-published Doctor Who book to a couple of friends and family members). I’d like to say that “I know that I’m a good writer,” but I don’t. I hope that I’m a good writer, and I’ve had some positive feedback, but I’ve also struggled to market myself as a writer and monetise writing for myself. I also don’t know if my fiction writing is any good, as I’ve mostly written non-fiction stuff until now.

***

If I’m upset about one thing, it can “spill over” to something else. I subscribe to various library blogs in case they will with CPD (Continuing Professional Development). When Unorthodox (Netflix series about a woman from an ultra-Orthodox community who becomes secular) The New York Public Library blog had a list of books and DVDs about Jews who gave up traditional Judaism to become secular. The list didn’t include any books about people who try to combine traditional religion with modernity or anything positive about traditional Judaism at all. Now the library has a list of books on Native Americans… and they all look positive. No books about how stupid, backwards, superstitious, misogynistic (etc.) Native American culture is the way those books treated Orthodox Judaism. Why is Orthodox Judaism the only minority community/religion it’s OK to hate? People get away with it because there’s no shortage of Jews who feel that way, so they can play the “I’m not antisemitic, he’s Jewish and he said it” card.

***

Trying to focus on god things today: I ate in the sukkah. It was raining slightly and started raining more heavily just as I finished. It was nice to get out there one more time as I think it might be too wet tonight and tomorrow, and eating in the sukkah on Shmini Atzeret is not a straightforward mitzvah in any case.

PIMOJ was also really supportive about the job rejection and I’m beginning to feel that maybe she would support me even if she knew more about my “issues.”

I do feel a bit better. I’m trying to focus on Shabbat and Yom Tov. I’m apprehensive about going to shul (synagogue) later, but at least it will get me out of the house and out of this mindset.

Anxiety Again

I struggled to sleep again last night. I guess it’s my fault for napping for over two hours in the afternoon and then being up late on screens, messaging PIMOJ and watching Doctor Who before bed. The result was that I slept later than I wanted, which might also be post-Yom Tov burnout (not that I was doing much).

***

This morning brought a mysterious text message telling me that I have an appointment next Monday and I should call the team if I can not attend, but that I should “NOT REPLY TO THIS MESSAGE” (in capitals). Unfortunately, there was no indication of who the message was from or how I should contact the team, whoever they are, or even whether the appointment is by phone, Skype, Zoom or whatever. This seemed to me like NHS incompetence, probably connected with my mother’s appointment about my autism assessment on Monday. She phoned the hospital and, yes, it was for her. They didn’t have her mobile number, so they messaged me instead, which I guess makes a sort of sense, even if it could have been handled better. It did make me worried for while though.

***

I felt somewhat depressed and anxious on and off all afternoon and evening. I’m not sure how much was anxiety about the job interview and date tomorrow and how much was getting annoyed with “performative virtue” online, including from the professional body I belong to. The job interview worries me as I have never worked in the primary school sector before and have limited experience with children (for all that my Mum insists I have a natural ability with them) and I worry that my experiences in further education won’t be transferable. I’m not sure what I’ll say if they ask me specific questions about what I would do in certain situations. I suppose I should just tell myself I’m pushing myself outside of my comfort zone.

I guess the date could also be called pushing myself outside of my comfort zone. PIMOJ today encouraged me to share my negative feelings with her, but I worry that she’s so positive, she won’t put up with my depression and anxiety for long. I guess the only way to tell is to try, just as the only way to see if I’m capable of being a primary school librarian is to put myself up for the interview. I want to open up more to her, I’m just scared. Maybe it will be easier once we’ve actually met in the real world.

As for performative virtue, I wrote 400 words about politics, not fitting in and being anxious about antisemitism, but I don’t have the courage to post, not the first time this has happened (although I was quite proud of writing the phrase, “dialectical ping-pong”). I suppose one day I’ll post something before I think better of it and have to live with the consequences.

***

I thought going for a walk would help with my mood. It started raining heavily while I was walking, but I carried on as I thought the walk would do me good; I had hardly been out the house since Thursday. I did get soaked and lapsed back into depression on returning.

***

On to fear and anxiety of a different kind: I think I mentioned here a while back about wanting to watch the TV series Twin Peaks, but being worried about how gory and violent it might be. In the end I took the plunge and bought the DVDs having heard it wasn’t so gory, but when they arrived the other day, the packaging warned of “Very strong language, strong bloody violence, gore, sex, drug misuse”. I don’t care much about swearing or drugs and find sex on TV embarrassing more than anything, but I am nervous about violence and gore, which make me feel queasy. The most gory DVD in my collection up until now has been Blade Runner: The Final Cut, which is an excellent film, but one I have to fast-forward or look away from at a couple of points to avoid blood or other disturbing things. That said, I think the most disturbing thing I’ve seen on TV in recent years is Ken Burns’ excellent, but brutal documentary series on The Vietnam War; malevolent extra-dimensional beings are nothing compared to man’s inhumanity to man in the real world.

I think I probably will watch Twin Peaks (once I’ve finished Star Trek Voyager – I’ve got about half a dozen episodes of that left) – I’ve wanted to watch it for long enough and it now feels like some bizarre kind of endurance test I have to make myself go through with, but I probably will watch it with the lights on and the volume not too high, to stop it from being an overly-immersive experience, the opposite of how I usually like to watch TV.

***

Achievements: interview preparation (although I still feel unprepared, not really knowing what to expect regarding an interview from this sector); a half-hour walk; half an hour of Torah study (I would have liked to have done more, but as I averaged an hour for the last few days, maybe I shouldn’t beat myself up too much). It doesn’t feel like much, but I guess anxiety and depression eat up a huge amount of time. I did manage to eat both lunch and dinner in the sukkah, which ate up some more time, as it takes time to unlock the door into the garden, remove the sukkah‘s roof, wipe the table, carry food out the house and so on – I find meals in the sukkah take noticeably longer than meals inside.

I’m probably going to get an earlyish night, trying to sleep and not worry about the job interview or the date or whether PIMOJ will drop me as soon as she sees how fragile my mental health can really be. At any rate, by the time I post again, I should have a better idea about some of these things.

God is in the Details

I got up earlier again today, but not as early as I would have liked (10.20am rather than 9.00am or 9.30am), especially considering that I went to bed very early last night. I suppose it’s a sign of improvement that I’ve got up around then consistently this week, but it feels like I’m only part of the way there. I don’t know why getting up early has consistently been a problem for me for so many years, even when I’m feeling OK in terms of mood (and I’m not feeling consistently OK in terms of mood at the moment, but rather mostly OK with periods of anxiety or depression). Even before I was diagnosed depressed, I struggled to get up at a reasonable time on weekends and holidays when I was a teen, but it seemed normal then (I was a teenager and had to get up very early in the week to travel to school). It’s only in retrospect, when I look back and see other signs of mental illness, or at least strain, that it seems significant.

I did avoid looking at blogs before getting dressed, although I did check my emails. So I guess that is progress of a kind.

I spent about two hours filling in a job application that involved cutting and pasting a lot of stuff line by line from my CV into different boxes on a Word document. I hate this type of application above all others. Filling in the boxes on previous jobs and salary, I struggled to remember all my previous salaries, even the relatively recent ones and remembered that this kind of vagueness about practical, financial and “real” matters was the reason E. broke up with me first time around. I wish I was more able to focus on such things, like my Dad and my sister.

It’s not a problem with detail per se as I can remember detail from things that interest me (like Doctor Who and trivia). It’s more about interest and what seems important to me. I worry that it would put off people other than E. (e.g. PIMOJ) and that I won’t cope if I’m by myself one day. I also worry about my struggles with detail at work in recent years, which may represent a collapse of my confidence in my ability to work and interest in my career. My autism support group is going to talk about detail, and autistic fondness for it, in the next session. Maybe I’ll be confident enough to raise this issue there, my absorption in details in “irrelevant” things, and lack of interest in interest in things that seem unimportant to me, even if they are very important to other people.

I did not originally intend to spend two hours on this today, but in the end I decided I wanted to just get it out of the way, even if it left me without time to work on my novel today (which is what happened).

I was pretty exhausted afterwards. I went for a walk listening to classical music on my iPod, which helped restore me a bit. I realised I say I walk for half an hour most days when I don’t run, but it’s only really just sunk in that those walks are more than two kilometres, which is not insignificant. I guess I should give myself more credit. The walk was not entirely restoring as I had agitated thoughts about antisemitism (triggered by this article) and wondering if I’ll have to flee to Israel one day. That Israel seems to be a safer place for Jews than the UK or the USA is a big shift to how things felt when I was growing up.

The other achievement today was cheshbon nafesh (religious self-assessment for the last year). I felt I’ve had a reasonably positive year, but primarily because it was disrupted by COVID, which saved me from a lot of stress at work (or looking for work) and in shul (synagogue). My goals for the coming Jewish year seemed small, but I’ve been advised to aim low.

Actually, there were other achievements too today: I did some ironing and spent some time working on my devar Torah and doing other Torah study, although as usual I wished I could do more. But I didn’t have time or energy to work on my novel, which was the big disappointment.

Tisha B’Av in Auschwitz

Today I felt depressed and subdued, but it kind of goes with the territory, as it was Tisha B’Av the saddest day in the Jewish calendar, the day we’re supposed to be sad to mourn the destruction of the Temple as well as subsequent tragedies of Jewish history.  (It might sound surprising, but we’re not supposed to be sad most of the time.)  I read some more of Hasidic Tales of the Holocaust.  I’ve been reading this book for about five or six years, only on Tisha B’Av.  I can’t bear to read it on any other day, it’s too upsetting.  I hope to finish it in a couple of years.  Some of the stories did move me to tears, I admit, although I’m probably more sceptical about the supernatural than some of the people who related the stories.  I also went to some online shiurim (religious classes) via my shul (synagogue).

In the afternoon I went on a virtual tour of Auschwitz organised by a Jewish educational group.  (Thanks to Eliza for pointing me in their direction!)   I’ve never been there in person.  I feel vaguely uncomfortable about going to Holocaust sites, although I can see why it’s important for some people.  I discovered there’s not actually much there at Auschwitz any more, which I think I knew, but it had never really registered.  The Nazis destroyed the gas chambers and the crematoria to hide the evidence of the Holocaust.  I was surprised how big the site it was.

It was quite moving, but sometimes with Holocaust things I feel I’m not feeling what I “should” feel, maybe because most of my family did not directly experience it.  Perhaps it’s also hard in a way for me, being frum (religious).  With some secular Jews, their entire Jewish identity is built around the Holocaust and/or Israel; whereas I have so much more to my Jewish identity than that.  There is definitely a danger of being overly-obsessed with how Jews died rather than how they lived (to paraphrase Rabbi Lord Sacks*), but Tisha B’Av is a day to confront these memories.

I still would like to feel that I’m moving on somewhere as well as just focusing on the past.  It’s easier to focus on the Holocaust rather than the destruction of the Temple, because the former is more relatable.  There hasn’t been Judaism based around the Temple ritual for nearly 2,000 years, so it’s difficult to understand what it was like.  But the Holocaust isn’t much easier to focus on, although it has the human dimension, because it’s just unlike anything else.

(As an aside, it’s depressing doing a virtual Auschwitz tour and then after the fast was over going online to see the latest iterations of the “Jews are all rich, powerful, privileged and racist” stuff that’s been coming out in the last few weeks.)

In this respect the rabbi leading the virtual tour said something similar to what my shul (synagogue) rabbi said yesterday, about trying to find areas to grow.  I’ve already said here that I want to focus more on being present in the present and not obsessing over the past or worrying about the future.  That doesn’t sound a very Jewish or religious thing, but I think it is.  It’s connected with ideas like bitachon (trust in God) and kavannah (mindfulness, particularly in prayer).  But to do that, I need to be able to trust that God has my best interests at heart, even if painful things happen to me.  That’s hard on a day like today, when I confront the many tragedies of Jewish history, including the Holocaust.

It’s just an effort to focus on NOW with gratitude and mindfulness, not what I fear/hope will happen in the future.  I will try it for six or seven weeks until Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year) and see what happens.

***

I already mentioned I believe less in the supernatural than some Orthodox Jews, so I’m taking this with an Everest-sized mountain of salt, but at one of the shiurim today, the guest rabbi presenting told a story about a frum (religious) Jew who was in a coma four days with COVID and had a near-death experience.  He says that his soul was tried in Heaven and he discovered that although keeping all the mitzvot (commandments) are important, the afterlife primarily depends on loving other people and being kind.

As I say, I am sceptical about how true that story is, but it did make me think that while I agree that love and kindness are of the utmost importance (regardless of the afterlife), I struggle to show them the way I should.  I get irritable with my family.  I get annoyed by other people and although I don’t usually show it, I find it hard to love people sometimes (as Linus said in Peanuts, “I love mankind, it’s people I can’t stand!”).  I have a some inchoate anger and resentment towards the frum (Orthodox Jewish) community sometimes because of how I feel I’ve been treated, which I need to work through in a healthier way.  I want to be kind, but so often social anxiety stops me from acting on my kind impulses, or autism means that I can see someone is in need, but don’t know how to respond correctly.  My parents say I’m kind (usually when I say I have no assets to attract a potential spouse), but I guess they would.

I know this is turning into yet another “should” and another “beat myself up” session, so I don’t want to pursue it too far, but it has been on my mind this evening, thinking about how I could be more kind and loving in the future.

 

* What he actually said was that an educationalist complained to him that at Jewish schools, students “Learn about the Greeks and how they lived, and they learn about the Romans and how they lived, and they learn about the Jews and how they died.”  Both Rabbi Sacks and the educationalist felt that with a curriculum like this, it was no wonder so many Jews are just looking to escape from their Jewish identity through assimilation.

Shutdown

I feel quite depressed today, plus I’ve had some anxiety too.  I had a bit yesterday evening, and today it’s worse.  I’m not sure what triggered it exactly.  I’m pretty sure it’s stuff I’ve seen online as it restarted after being online this morning, but I’m not sure what triggered it exactly.  Tablet magazine ran three stories yesterday on antisemitism in left-wing/anti-racist/cancel culture circles, which was a lot even by their standards, so that contributed to it, but it started before then and I don’t know why it restarted this morning.  There’s the usual despair about being alone and unemployed forever too.  I’m not sure whether I should worry about dying alone and unloved or being killed by antisemites.  I suppose they aren’t mutually exclusive.

I feel I have some creeping ‘pure O’ OCD thoughts again lately.  Not the religious OCD so much as scrupulosity “am I a good person?  Maybe I’m secretly sexist/racist/whatever?” thoughts.  Sometimes my thoughts just seem horrible and polluted and I wonder where they even come from.

I want to be more positive, here and in general, but it’s hard.  While my worst fears haven’t fully come true, it would be untrue to say that none of my fears have ever materialised.  The best I can say is that worrying about being lonely in the future is just contributing to loneliness now, not that I think it realistic that I won’t be lonely in the future.  I wonder if I should try to write less here, to be less negative, but I feel I need to be able to vent somewhere and it’s easier in writing.

I tried to write my novel and just started crying without knowing why.  I went back to bed and wrapped myself in my duvet for autistic comfort for a bit, trying not to think about shoulds (“I should get a weighted blanket”) and then went into a bit of a shutdown (I’m not really sure if I experience autistic shutdowns as such, but I don’t know how else to describe what can happen to me when I’m exhausted and depressed).  Eventually I fell asleep, I’m not sure how long for.

I cooked dinner, because I had promised to, as Mum had chemo today so is too tired to cook.  I also worked on my devar Torah (Torah thought), because I really needed to get that more or less finished today.  I’m a bit happier with than yesterday, but not hugely so.  However, overall, this day has largely been a mental health day.  I haven’t been well enough to do much.  I could do some more work on the novel now I feel a bit better, but I’m wary of doing it, because this evening and tomorrow is Tisha B’Av, the Fast of 9th of Av, the saddest day in the Jewish year, when we lament the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem, the exile of the Jews from the Land of Israel and the many tragedies of Jewish history.  Pretty much anything enjoyable is prohibited, including (among other things) eating and drinking and Torah study.  I feel I need to relax a bit beforehand or I won’t get through it.  I won’t watch TV tomorrow and unlike Shabbat and Yom Tov (Sabbath and festivals), I won’t read fiction or graphic novels or anything fun.  So I feel that I should relax beforehand.  I’m a bit torn.

It can be hard to fill the day on Tisha B’Av; unlike Yom Kippur, there is a long afternoon to fill with no shul (synagogue) services.  I will be “attending” Zoom services tonight from my shul and hopefully some shiurim (religious classes) tomorrow, depending how I feel.  I have to eat, because I’m on lithium, but I will try to fast until halakhic midday tomorrow (the evening and morning are considered sadder than the afternoon, so it’s better to wait for then until breaking my fast).  I seem to get psychosomatic headaches on fast days as if I was dehydrated.  I don’t know why that happens.  I haven’t decided whether I will work on my novel.  Work is permitted, but “the righteous” are discouraged from doing it.  In the past, I’ve avoided work, but I can get sucked into a huge pit of dangerous despair that is going beyond what is required of the day.  Sometimes it feels like it’s getting harder each year; that each year of Tisha B’Av with clinical depression feels somehow cumulatively harder, like they carry over from one year to the next.  I don’t know what is causing that feeling.

Online Friends, Doctor Who and Anti-Psychiatry

I woke up late (there’s a story there, but too complicated and trivial to be worth relating) and rather depressed.  I felt a bit better after breakfast, but not great.  I felt depressed enough to listen to music while getting dressed, and intermittently during the day which I have been avoiding recently because of The Three Weeks of Jewish national mourning.  But I listened really quietly, because I’m still avoiding explaining to my parents that my rabbi mentor said it was OK to listen to music when I’m depressed.  I’m not sure why I feel self-conscious like that, because it’s hardly the most problematic thing I do when depressed.  Sleeping through the whole morning is worse, both Jewishly and pragmatically, as is becoming irritable and sniping at my parents.

Incidentally, I came across this post yesterday that shows it’s not just me who struggles at this time of the Jewish year.

***

I tried to work on my novel, but it was hard.  Aside from being upset by more antisemitism reported by The Jewish Chronicle (I probably shouldn’t read it), it was hard to engage with writing.  A new chapter is always hard, I think because I’ve been switching perspective in alternate chapters, so I need to change how I think each time, but this chapter needs to be handled sensitively (a woman fleeing her abusive rapist husband with her baby) and I was so caught up in my own negative feelings that I found it hard to enter into someone else’s and I didn’t want to write something inappropriate, so it was easiest not to write.  All this, plus a strong background level of depression and exhaustion.  Plus, I had therapy in the afternoon, which is normally when I do most of my writing.

Eventually I gave up and did a bit of Torah study for twenty minutes to fill the gap until therapy.  I don’t think I would have been able to do much more even without therapy, as I was feeling so depressed.  My main other achievement, after therapy, was to go for a walk.  It was raining lightly when I left, but I decided I needed the exercise.  Unfortunately it then rained heavily, but by the time I got home, it was easing up.

***

Therapy was good.  I shared that I’m trying not to worry about my parents’ mortality and instead to focus on gratitude that I have a good relationship with them and am able to spend so much time with them.

I also spoke about feeling dependent on online interactions.  A lot of my friends are online, certainly the ones I communicate with most regularly.  I like having online friendships, especially with people who also have struggles, and I think it’s good to have mutual support there, but I was worrying that I’ve become someone who is constantly checking his emails or blog reader for the “hit” of having a comment on my blog or a new post to read on someone else’s blog.  I’m going to try to limit myself to internet use only twice a day, when I get up and in the early evening.  My therapist is away for a few weeks now, so I’m going to be able to have a few weeks to practise that and get back to her about it.

I’m too tired after therapy to do much, so I mostly watched TV, aside from walking and eating dinner with my parents.

***

The Doctor Who bit with some general mental health bits:

I didn’t feel like watching more current Doctor Who after therapy, so watched some of my birthday present to myself, The Macra Terror.  This is a Doctor Who story from 1967 that, like nearly 100 episodes, is missing from the archives.  It was broadcast before commercial video recorders existed, but some fans taped the soundtrack of these episodes (basically put an old reel-to-reel tape recorder by the TV speaker while it was being broadcast) and that’s been used as the basis for an animated version.  There’s some discussion among fans as to whether animation is the best way of experiencing missing episodes, and certainly the animation is not Pixar standard, but at least it gives an idea of what the story was like.  I find watching the animations easier to follow than listening to the narrated soundtrack on CD.

The story has some interesting aspects from a mental health point of view (which is why I’m writing here rather than on my Doctor Who blog).  The toxic positivity and conformity of the futurist Colony came across well, with conformity enforced by peer pressure, brainwashing and hospitalisation for euphemistic “correction” with dissent being conflated with psychosis by the authorities, an effective depiction of the co-option of psychiatry by oppressive regimes.  One could interpret the story as being somewhat anti-psychiatry (in the R. D. Laing sense), in that the dissidents are treated as psychotic, but in fact are genuinely seeing something in society that everyone else has been brainwashed to deny, although given that this is Doctor Who, what they can see are giant crabs, rather than abstract oppression or power structures.

I don’t really agree with the anti-psychiatry movement in general.  I think medication and therapy are often helpful.  I think they may be right that one can suffer mental illness as a result of being aware of negative things in society, although I think there probably is a personal trigger too.  I also think the anti-psychiatry movement was too narrow and ideological in outlook (mostly Marxist, although Thomas Szazz was liberatarian).  I don’t share such a dogmatic outlook.  I’m sure my experience of antisemitism, which I do feel affects the ups and downs of my depression on a day to day basis (see above), even if it’s not a cause as such, would not be accepted as a legitimate society cause of my mental illness by the Marxists in the movement, given that an increasing amount of antisemitism is coming from the hard-left, who are in denial of it (see the latest Twitter incident).

Trying to Be Present in the Present

Today my mood has been OK when I’m busy doing things, but it drops pretty quickly when I’m not.  I especially low at the moment (see final section).

I feel sexually frustrated again, not the in obvious way, but just wishing that I was with someone I loved and could give to that way.  Also, to have that type of intimacy.  I think I’m generally a sensible, play it safe, type of person.  I don’t take risks.  I don’t drink or smoke and illegal drugs scare me.  Yet, for most of my adult life, I’ve found myself constantly wishing that I was in a relationship, even though I know that would not have been a sensible thing for me to do most of the time, given how much I’ve been struggling with mental illness since I was sixteen (at least).  I guess it’s loneliness and feeling that I’ve never been completely accepted and understood.  I felt that acceptance with E., until suddenly it wasn’t there, which was frightening.

I’m trying not to think like that (about wanting to be in a relationship), but it’s hard.  I guess it’s better to accept those feelings, and to sort of make space for them in my head, but to acknowledge that I shouldn’t be focusing on them right now.  It’s hard not to focus on them.  Lately my mood has been OK when I’m doing something, but then I stop and suddenly the depression and loneliness rush in.

We’re in the introspective time of year.  The Three Weeks of Mourning are introspective, thinking about what we’ve done wrong to contribute to the exile of the Jewish people and the destruction (or non-rebuilding) of the Temple in Jerusalem, then we go into Elul which is the month of introspection before Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year) and then we have the Ten Days of Repentance bookended by Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur (The Day of Atonement).  Even though this introspection is only really starting, I already feel that I know what to focus on this year.  I need to learn to be in the present and not worry about the future and to stop trying to predict it, because it’s impossible to predict accurately.

The Medieval Torah commentator Rashi says (on Devarim (Deuteronomy) 18.13): “‘You shall be wholehearted with HaShem Your God’: walk before him whole-heartedly, put your hope in Him and do not attempt to investigate the future, but whatever it may be that comes upon you accept it whole-heartedly, and then you shall be with Him and become His portion.” (translation via Sefaria, slightly modernised)

I think Rashi is quoting or paraphrasing the halakhic Midrash (I haven’t checked which).  It’s talking primarily about not engaging in soothsaying, divination and the like (that’s the context of the verse), but Rashi makes a wider homiletic point about having faith in the future and accepting whatever happens.

I’d like to have the mindful/present-centred mindset of not worrying about the future or feeling excessive guilt and shame about the past, but it’s hard.  I worry a lot, and when I think about my past, it almost always seems to lead to guilt or self-blame.  It would be so nice to think of myself married to someone who I love and who loved me, just as it would be nice to think of myself as making a career writing Jewish novels, but both seem so distant that they seem like I’m taunting myself rather than setting realistic goals.

I guess I feel scared because it seems like I’ve passed the point in my life where I could have the things I want in life.  I could still get married any time until I’m ancient, but if I want children (and I do) I have to either find a wife in the next few years or marry someone significantly younger than me.  I know people who have happy marriages who do have a big age gap, but I feel it’s not so likely for me.  Likewise with careers, it’s really hard to be building a career from nothing in my late thirties, especially as I am struggling with librarianship, but not confident enough in my writing ability and struggling to get started with that too.  If I built some kind of career and if I got married, then I think I could have some happiness even if I couldn’t have children, but I struggle to feel positive about being unemployed, single and living with my parents in the long-term.  And of course in the frum community almost everyone my age is married, just as most of my Oxford peers (that I still know of) have important jobs in law, politics, academia, the rabbinate or the like.  This is why I left Facebook, to try to stop myself from comparing myself to others.  I have to accept that my life is going to be very different to other people’s (including my sister’s), but it’s hard to do that when I don’t have a clear idea of what type of life I could realistically build.

***

I woke up early, about 7.15am.  Despite only having had four or five hours sleep (I went to bed late and then struggled to sleep, probably from sleeping too much in the day), I didn’t feel too tired, but I didn’t feel inclined to get up and just stayed wrapped up in my duvet.  It wasn’t a particularly sensible thing to do, as I eventually fell asleep again, for several hours and ended up getting up no earlier than usual.

Achievements: an hour and twenty minutes spent on the novel (admittedly with some procrastination).  I finished another chapter.  I’m up to 66,000 words, with two chapters left to go, so hopefully the word count will be OK.  There’s a lot to do in redrafting, though.  I see this taking at least four drafts, maybe more.

I also did forty-five minutes of Torah study, reading this coming Shabbat’Torah portion (Va’etchanan, my bar mitzvah portion).

I got changed to have a run, put insoles in my trainers to see if that makes them more cushioned and stops hurting my feet, and warmed up, but once I started running, I could feel my ankle hurting again.  Not badly, but I didn’t want to risk making it worse, so I decided not to run for a few days.  I went for a walk instead, which isn’t as good at sublimating negative feelings, but is better than nothing.

***

Sometimes it’s hard to know what to do or think.  Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about China persecuting the Uighurs, and also the Tibetans, Chinese Christians and adherents of Falun Gong, who are also being persecuted, but aren’t in the news.  I want to do something, but I don’t know what.  I feel very small and insignificant.  It’s hard even to talk about it without sounding like I’m making a point about some other issue.  The Jewish newspapers have been drawing parallels between the treatment of the Uighurs and the Holocaust, but it is hard to know what can be done.  There aren’t large numbers of refugees here that I could help in some practical way (I used to volunteer at a refugee drop-in centre, although it’s been shut from COVID), nor is escalated confrontation with China a promising option, when it could easily become a nuclear standoff that would destroy the planet.

***

The Doctor Who bit; also the antisemitism bit (skip if not interested):

Asking for the Doctor Who Series Twelve box set for my birthday looks more and more like it was a mistake.  I watched episode three, Orphan 55, which I hated first time around, in the hope that I would find something to like now I know what the bad bits are.  I didn’t.  In a word, awful.  In two words, really awful.

Unlike first viewing, I’m not completely sure that there’s an antisemitic bit.  There’s a montage of images of natural disasters and riots that includes a shot of fighter planes flying over Jerusalem, the only identifiable place in the sequence.  I feel it shows that BBC-types see “Israel” as a shorthand for “evil” in a way they wouldn’t with other countries.  At least, I hope it’s “Israel”; it’s possibly “Jews,” a thought not dispelled by the BBC’s low-key coverage of the weekend’s Twitter antisemitism storm compared  with the coverage of other forms of prejudice.

I told myself I wouldn’t write negative reviews any more, for various reasons, so I’m going to let it go rather than reviewing it on my Doctor Who blog, but I hope I get more out of the rest of the series or this will be a waste of time and money.  I think the series did get somewhat better as it went on.

The sad truth is that I’m enough of a completist that I still want to have every TV episode and that I will watch episodes at least twice because I know a first viewing sometimes obscures good points.  Experimental episodes in particular can improve on second viewing once you can see what they are trying to do, although very little of this series was experimental.  You can call that autistic obsession on my part if you want, and certainly the BBC makes a lot of money out of people like me.  Still, there are more expensive hobbies out there.  I’m just glad I don’t have the need to own every Doctor Who novel, audio drama, comic strip, computer game, etc. which would be an enormous drain of time as well as money.

“I Think It’s Going To Be A Long, Long Time”

I’ve been told in the past that I’m a very negative person, and I know it’s true.  I don’t think I complain as much as I used to, but I do feel very despairing about the future a lot of the time and that comes across when people try to help me or offer advice, particularly here.  I just feel like whenever someone suggests something to me that I could do to change my life, I’ve often done it before and it didn’t work.   I’ve been depressed for twenty years, I feel like I’ve tried most things.  Sometimes you have to keep trying something until it works, but it’s hard when it feels that nothing ever works.  Particularly when I sometimes feel like God is deliberately sabotaging everything I do for some mysterious purpose that I don’t even understand.

I told myself I would try to believe in myself more, but I don’t knowing how to do that.  How do you just start believing in yourself?  I don’t know how some people manage to reshape the world the way they want.

In terms of building a career as a writer, I’ve tried pitching article ideas to Jewish and geeky publications and sites in the past, but I haven’t found any interest so far.  I haven’t tried for some months, because I got disillusioned and then lockdown happened.  I don’t know if I’ve done it wrong or I just need to keep persevering or what.  I also need to send a copy of the book I self-published to Doctor Who Magazine to see if they will review it, or at least acknowledge it.

In terms of pitching articles, there aren’t that many Jewish sites or publications to try out for in the UK.  There are quite a lot of geeky ones, but my interest tends to be narrowly focused on Doctor Who and other classic British telefantasy; I don’t have much interest in gaming, superheroes or horror and even a lot of contemporary science fiction passes me by.  I know Doctor Who Magazine is being aimed at people half my age whose experience of the programme and fandom is very different to my own, so it doesn’t surprise me the editors don’t want me to write for it.  To be honest, I don’t look at much other fan stuff and I only glance at the Jewish papers.  I find them focused on cultural Jewishness more than religious Judaism and are at times hostile to Orthodox observance (we don’t get the Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) papers); I also find the quality of journalism and commentary poor in some of them lacking sometimes.  I’m wary of pitching to the Haredi newspapers because I don’t know them or their world, and I feel deeply uncomfortable writing for newspapers that won’t print pictures of women, which is the policy of most Haredi papers now, I think.

***

Trying to be positive about things, I’m trying hard not to get upset when I feel that my peers have achieved things and I have not, not to be upset when they get married and have children and so on.  I think I’ve improved in that area a little.  I am also trying to acknowledge and accept the Piaseczno Rebbe‘s (Rabbi Kalonymus Kalmish Shapira’s) idea in Sacred Fire that suffering does legitimate reduce our ability to pray and have faith in God and religious joy and not to beat myself up about lacking these things.

***

I couldn’t sleep last night.  I made two sleep hygiene mistakes that I thought I could get away with, but obviously couldn’t get away with one or the other or both.  One was that, after shiur (religious class), I needed “chill out”/decompression time in front of the TV just being passive, but I was wary of watching TV after 11pm in case it stopped me sleep, so I read instead, which was probably too active, intellectually, plus I made a bad choice of reading more of The Siege, which was full of depressing stuff about the Lebanese Civil War and Israel’s involvement in it.  I tried to balance this by eating ice cream as a treat for getting through shiur, but I suspect eating ice cream late at night wakes me up.  Whatever the reason, I was still awake at 2am.  I got up and ate porridge, the only way I can consume warm milk, as that helps me sleep, and watched Star Trek: Voyager.  I think I fell asleep around 3am.

***

I felt so depressed and self-critical after lunch today that I actually went back to bed and curled up in my duvet.  I had music on, but I think I drifted in and out of sleep for an hour or so (not because of not sleeping last night, as once I fell asleep, I slept for nine hours).  I felt very self-critical on getting up again, feeling I shouldn’t have gone back to bed and that I won’t do enough today as result.

I did eventually get up and force myself to do something.  As my weekly devar Torah (thought/essay on the weekly reading from the Five Books of Moses) has a looming deadline (tomorrow afternoon, to get it sent before Shabbat (the Sabbath) starts in Israel), I focused on that.  I was also aware I’d been apprehensive about it this week because I knew it would largely be a chiddush I had that I want to share.  A chiddush is an innovative interpretation of Torah.  This would seem to be paradoxical, as Torah is about revealed truth, not reasoned truth, but the idea is that the Torah is infinite, therefore there are always new interpretations to find.  (Admittedly that some people, mainly in the Haredi community, have an idea that all interpretations, including chiddushim, were revealed by God to Moses.)

However, I have noticed that, sociologically, people are very suspicious of chiddushim, particularly on aggadic (non-legal) passages.  While someone might feel very confident to give on an interpretation of a halakhic (legal) passage of Talmud in a chevruta or a shiur (paired study or class) and not mind if it’s new as long as it is well-reasoned, people rarely try to interpret aggadic passages, perhaps because there isn’t a clear “right” interpretation, unlike halakhic arguments.  I suspect this is related to the idea I have suggested in the past, that Jewish education for men is very “left-brain”/logical and not at all “right-brain”/creative.  Analysing halakhah is logical, but analysing narrative requires creativity and imagination.  This sociological situation is problematic for me as I’m a creative/associative thinker, not a logical one.  But I decided to stick an idea out there and see what happens.  I might even flag it up as a chiddush in my accompanying email and see what feedback I get.

***

I went for a run.  Halfway around it started raining, but I carried on.  My iPod has been telling me recently that my runs have been burning a lot of calories.  I’m not sure if that means I’m running faster or more consistently (not dropping into walking so much) or what.  So far I haven’t had an exercise migraine.  I think my mood did improve afterwards.

I did work on my novel for a bit after dinner and made a little progress, but gave up after a while as it was late and it clearly wasn’t going any further tonight.

***

I also felt upset and angry today that antisemitism seems to be so deeply embedded in parts of the far-left that an upswing of anti-racism protest and awareness actually leads to an increase of antisemitism, and that it’s largely been ignored by the mainstream media as it doesn’t fit their narrative.  But I don’t want to be political here, so I’ll move swiftly on…

***

I’m still worried about E., but convinced I shouldn’t contact her at the moment.  I wish we had a mutual friend so I could check she is OK.

***

Mum spoke to her oncologist.  The oncologist was OK with me going to shul (synagogue) services that are outside, but not inside, while Mum’s immunity is low.  I’m still wary, though.  I think the risk of rain and a move indoors is too high at the moment, plus I’m not convinced that my shul has the space to have thirty people in the small outside area available and still have good social distancing.  I am upset at missing my Talmud shiur though and worried about keeping up with them without knowing how far they got each week.

The Cat Who Walked By Himself

I feel like I’ve become rather misanthropic lately.  That without consciously choosing to do so, I’m retreating into a sulk.  Lockdown is being eased, but I want to stay in my room.  I see myself as too scared to try dating again, and I’m worried that one day I will not feel like that and I’ll get hurt again, as I always do.  Perhaps “fortunately” I see no point in trying to date while my financial position is so negative, and I see little chance of that changing any time soon.

As I’ve said before, consciously I say I want love, but deep down, what I unconsciously need is to accept that depression and autism mean that my life is going to be different to other people’s, that I will probably never be financially self-sufficient and that I will almost certainly not get successfully paired off, as well as never having many friends or fitting in to a community.  If I could accept that most of my life is going to be miserable, perhaps I could enjoy parts of it.  But I keep getting my hopes up that I can beat the odds, somehow, and then I get disappointed and hurt all over again.  Silly boy.

***

I’m still feeling super-lonely.  I feel sexually and romantically frustrated (is “romantically frustrated” a thing?  I want to love someone), but I’m lonely in a wider sense too.  I’m thinking about (not) fitting in, one of the well-worn themes of my inner monologue, let alone this blog.

I mostly don’t say anything about my mental health or autism away from this blog and similar blogs.  It’s just easier than dealing with embarrassment, confusion and sometimes stigma.  It’s easier to let people think I’m unusually dysfunctional than to admit what the issue is.

I don’t say much about my religion or politics either.  I worry that my religious and political views are sufficiently idiosyncratic to put off everyone who knows them, so I keep them fairly private.

I don’t mind talking about religion here, but I’m not sure why.  I suppose I don’t go into details about theology here, just say what “weird” stuff I do and how it affects me emotionally.  Sometimes strangers see that I’m Jewish and ask me questions in the street.  Strangely, I’m kind of OK with that.  At least they’re curious, not belligerent (I’ve had belligerence too, and attempted proselytisation).  The Jewish population of the UK is sufficiently small that it’s doubtful whether many people have ever met a Jew in many parts of the country, let alone a frum one, although in London that’s less likely.

I don’t like to pin down my views when talking to other religious Jews.  As Rabbi Lord Sacks said, Modern Orthodox Jews are a minority of a minority of a minority (Jews are about 0.02% of the world population; Orthodox Jews are about 10% of Jews; Modern Orthodox Jews are a small percentage  of Orthodox Jews).  I know I’m more “modern” in many ways than most frum (religious Orthodox) Jews.  Actually, I avoid talking about religion outside the community too, for fear of scorn from militant atheists, but sometimes I have to bring the subject up (usually at work) to ask for special dispensation e.g. not eating the same food as everyone else, leaving early on Fridays in the winter etc.

I don’t talk about my politics with anyone at all.  I talk politics a little bit with my parents, but somewhat abstractly.  They don’t know how I vote (which assumes I vote consistently…).  I don’t really fit with any party and I’m not sure that any ideology is an adequate model of a complex reality.  I dislike most politicians and activists these days.

I don’t like the current political atmosphere.  Too violent and opinionated on all sides; also pretentious.  “The best lack all conviction, while the worst/Are full of passionate intensity.”

My chosen professional sector is often more radical than I am (unsurprisingly, as most members are working in the public sector).  I know a lot of my friends, particularly my online friends, wouldn’t agree with me if they knew my views.  I left an autism WhatsApp group a while back because they were criticising a particular type of political viewpoint without it apparently occurring to them that people like that could be on the list, let alone that they might pass as “normal” people.

I get very angry about antisemitism, but mostly don’t say anything about that either, because it feels like almost no one outside the Jewish community really understands or cares, or is willing to listen.

I don’t like identity politics, which I find aggressive.  I prefer existentialist encounter and dialogue.

I just try to be kind and non-judgmental, and to really listen to people.

I change my mind quite a bit.  I like reading new ideas, if they’re argued well, and I try to be open-minded about things.  I get the impression that most people don’t do that.

I don’t mind having friends who have different views, but my experience is that fewer and fewer people are willing to do that (see here for the way acceptance of inter-political (progressive + conservative) marriage has declined even as acceptance for inter-racial and same-sex marriage has grown).  These days people seem to just want to hate people who are different (often in the name diversity, ironically) and mute or unfriend people with different views.  I just keep my head down and try to avoid arguments.  Life’s easier that way, but lonelier and scarier: I don’t feel accepted for who I am and I worry about slipping up and being rejected.  I sometimes wonder how many of my friends (particularly online) would ditch me if they knew what I really think about some things.

I do feel that there’s no one like me: religiously, politically, psychologically.  It was a relief to meet E., who was like me in many ways even if she wasn’t religious.  (Maybe we were too much alike; probably we were both too unstable.)

***

Today I just feel unlovable and unacceptable to anyone I might want to befriend me, date me or employ me.  I feel utterly useless in any context.  The only thing I feel vaguely good at is writing, and I don’t feel great at that.  I’ve certainly struggled to get paid for anything I’ve written.  It’s a long time since I’ve felt good at my job as a librarian, and I only intermittently see myself as a good son, brother, friend or good boyfriend/husband material.

***

Today’s achievements: a couple of library jobs have come up.  I’m was going to apply for both even though both are full-time, short-term jobs (both are maternity cover), where I really want a part-time, long-term job.  I would go for part-time short-term, but I’m not sure whether I would take a full-time job.  I don’t think I could cope, even for nine months.  If I got offered the job, I would probably ask to job share.

I spent twenty minutes trying to navigate a badly-designed website to apply for one job, only to eventually be told that it was open to internal candidates only.  (Then why was it advertised publicly?  I suspect it has to be, legally.)

With the other job I think there would be higher risk of COVID – or any infectious illness – for reasons I won’t go into here, and we’re still supposed to be shielding Mum who will have reduced immunity for some more months.  It is in any case a high stress, full-time job on multiple sites that could involve long travel times.  I really don’t feel I could do either job, but I feel under pressure (from myself as well as other people) to apply for whatever jobs are available, which at the moment is not many.  I would rather be working on my novel…

I’m not sure how long I spent dealing with job applications in total, but I didn’t actually write much of an application.  I just looked at job descriptions etc.

I did forty-five minutes Torah study, reading this week’s Torah portion, but I didn’t get much out of it and felt very stressed while I was doing it.  I would have liked to have done more, but did not have the time or energy.

I went for a thirty-five minute run; my pace was better than it has been for a while.  I didn’t get a migraine even though it was hot out; thank Heaven for small mercies.

I wanted to work on my novel after dinner, but I was too tired.  I realise that as we come out of lockdown, job applications are going to encroach on my writing time more and more.

We had a family Zoom meeting, me, my parents, my sister and brother-in-law and my aunt and uncle from Israel.  I hardly said anything again.  I’m pretty quiet even in in-person meetings, but on Zoom I just clam up completely.

***

I’ve made my blog find-able on search engines again.  My reasons for making it hidden (that I worried that I was saying too much about other people who might be identifiable) seemed less realistic, and so many people were finding it through my comments elsewhere on the blogosphere that it didn’t seem such an issue any more.  I thought about adding a contact form again so people can email me, but I’m more reluctant to do that.  I’ve made a couple of good friends through having that in the past (and ended up going out with E.), but I had a bad experience with it recently (not E.) and don’t know if I should do it again.

Of course, a few hours on and I already think it was a bad idea to make my blog fina-able and that I should switch it back to hidden again.  I can flip back and forth indefinitely, and probably will.

Today’s Difficulties

I’m still feeling very depressed, although perhaps marginally less than the last few days and less anxious.  Next week looks set to be difficult though.

If I’m religious, then I must feel that there must be some purpose to my life, but I have no idea of what it is or how to achieve it.  I don’t seem to be able to do very much.  I hope it’s something to do with writing, not least because it seems to be the only thing I can do well any more, but I am not certain that it is.

***

I did chores today, usual pre-Shabbat chores plus cleaning the oven, which didn’t come particularly clean.  Depression: The Curse of the Strong by Dr Tim Cantopher talks about the “hoover in the middle of the room” test.  The idea is that when recovering, you should not push yourself too hard; the sign of a healthy recovery is a hoover in the middle of the room because you took a break in the middle instead of pushing to do it all in one go and then burning out.  I’m not always good at this, but I’ve been trying to do it.  I am aware that Dr Cantopher intended it to be something done for a few weeks or months at most while anti-depressants kick in, but in my case, it’s ongoing, which is not easy.  I feel like I’m not able to function like most people.

I should dust my room, but I don’t have the energy to move all my ornaments/bric-a-brac/junk.  I have a load of stuff like mementos from places I’ve visited, mementos from places other people have visited and given to me and the war gaming miniatures I used to paint.  I don’t think many of them would pass the Marie Kondo “Does it spark joy?” test.  Most of the holiday mementos seem to come from another lifetime and the mementos from other people I only really keep to avoid offending them or out of a superstitious reluctance to throw away things associated with them, especially if they’re dead.  Some of the war gaming miniatures do spark joy, mainly the ones I painted as a teenager, which are done to a high standard; the more ones painted more recently are not as good, because of my tremor and perhaps loss of patience, which also brings me down a bit.  However, I’m not sure if they spark enough joy to justify being out on display as dust traps.

I feel I should be more minimalist, but I struggle with that.  I also probably have too many books and DVDs, but I’m reluctant to give them away or sell them and the events of this week have reinforced that.  The only TV programme I like that was “cancelled” is Fawlty Towers, but even regardless of political issues, appearances on streaming services are liable to change suddenly so I like to own things.

***

I’m feeling upset about antisemitism in the news today.  There’s a feeling that a lot of Jews have something bad happens in the news.  A feeling of, “Oh, when are we going to get blamed for that?”  Not if, but when.  Wars, recessions, revolutions, terrorist atrocities, even natural disasters get blamed on the Jews.  So it was probably inevitable that the Jews (in the form of Israel) would get blamed for racist police tactics in the USA and specifically for the death of George Floyd.  Meanwhile, in the last few days Jews have been physically attacked in the UK and the US (and also in Israel, although that doesn’t seem connected).  Depressing, but sadly none of it is surprising.

***

Not related to the last point, I feel the model I see on the media for dealing with suffering and inequality – the identity politics model – goes like this:

  1. Suffering occurs;
  2. The suffering person(s) angrily protest and “speak truth to power”;
  3. The person(s) causing the suffering “check their privilege” and make amends.

I’m not going to go into what I think about that as a political model, but it’s not what I want to see in my own life with my own suffering, partly because there aren’t really other people causing my suffering.  My own model, which is a more religious existentialist model is:

  1. Suffering occurs;
  2. The suffering person has a “dialogue” with other people;
  3. Mutual understanding and empathy occurs.

It’s hard to get that to happen, especially as my social anxiety stops me “encountering” (another religious existentialist word) other people away from the internet even before lockdown.  It is useful to have understanding and empathy here on my blog, but sometimes I wish I could “dialogue” with some of the people I know in real life.

***

Well, the illegal minyan (prayer meeting) next door is starting, which is a sign it is time for Shabbat so I should go.  (One of our neighbours was going to inform on them, but the police apparently ignored it.  I was hoping it would be like The Sweeney: “Get yer shtreimels on, you’re nicked!”)

The Problem of Suffering

There are some things going on in my life at the moment which I can’t blog about.  I just feel bad about a lot of things.  Defining “bad” is harder: probably sad, despairing, anxious, frustrated and guilty.  I just feel a lot of difficult feelings and it is hard to tease out what each one is.

***

I’m also still getting upset by the news, different thoughts and feelings, back and forth.  Worried that I’m not thinking the ‘right’ thing, that people would be angry with me if they knew what I thought.  Feeling that I can want to end racism and police brutality without particularly wanting to “end capitalism” (whatever that would even mean).  Wondering why, if Sir Keir Starmer is so opposed to prejudice that he will “take a knee” to oppose racism, that he spent three and a half years on the Labour front bench as the party became a safe haven for antisemites and Holocaust deniers without uttering a word of protest.  Then feeling guilty for “making everything Jewish.”  There’s more, but I don’t want to go there.

I try to tell myself that “It doesn’t matter what other people think.  That’s just their opinion.  I’m allowed to have my own opinions,” but still I feel the need to justify everything, argue everything back and forth in my head.

***

Achievements today: I blogged on my Doctor Who blog for the first time in ages, excluding an advert post for my book.  I spent an hour and a half working on my novel, or trying to, amidst difficult thoughts.  I went for a half-hour walk and cooked dinner.  I guess that’s quite a bit, although it is hard to see it as an achievement.

I went to a half-hour Zoom shiur given by the rabbi of my parents’ shul (synagogue).  It was on love of God and how to love God when things are difficult.  I’m not sure how helpful it was.  The idea was that if we are aware of God’s greatness and His wisdom, that should lead on naturally to love of Him.  I struggle with doing that.  It should also lead on to thinking that anything bad that happens must really be for the good.  I can understand that intellectually, but it’s really hard to internalise when so many things in my life seem so bad, or just so painful.  It’s not so much that I can’t accept that bad things might be good or necessary or that a benevolent God wouldn’t put me through them, it’s more that I feel I have nothing left to give any more.  I’ve used up all my energy coping with the last thirty-seven (nearly) years.  Everything just hurts too much for me to carry on.

Loneliness and Fitting In

I woke up feeling depressed and lonely again.  E. is concerned about my tendency to turn everything into guilt, that I assume that everything bad in my life is my fault and if I was a good person I could change it.  She thinks that this is not really the case.  She feels in particular that I shouldn’t feel guilty about not being emotionally connected to Judaism.  I guess it’s hard not to when Judaism presents a lot of things (perhaps most things) in moral terms and assumes that good people can change them, at least with the right tools.  It’s assumed that a person who wants a better relationship to God or Judaism can ‘fix’ that; it doesn’t take into account that my brain chemistry might prevent that, or say what I should do instead or how I should cope.

That said, I wonder if this is really guilt or if I’m misunderstanding my emotions again.  I don’t think what I see as guilt is really sadness, but maybe it’s loneliness or disconnection.  I was reading about domestic abuse again (see below) and came across the idea that abusive men express all their emotions as anger; I wonder if I express all my emotions as depression or guilt.  I don’t know if that idea even makes sense.  At the very least, alexithymia (difficulty understanding my own emotions) makes it hard to understand what I feel.

I’m worried about the future too.  I want lockdown to be over, but at the same time, that would shift my worries about career and relationship up a gear as I have to confront things again.  I’m already dreading the cataloguing test I have to do soon for a job application.

***

I’m also struggling with political thoughts that I don’t really want to write about here, worries about the situation across the Atlantic, worries about my participation in racist societies, but also about the much greater coverage of and sensitivity around racism by most people in the West compared with antisemitism.  Jews aren’t more likely than most people to be killed by the police, but they are more likely than many to experience violence.  In the USA, Jews are the victim of well over half religious hate crimes, far more than any other religious group.  I don’t feel this is a particularly appropriate time to talk about antisemitism.  We need to concentrate on racism right now.  The problem is that much of the world has shown that it never thinks the time is right to talk about antisemitism.

Mind you, I can get upset by little things, for instance, a letter in an old Jewish Chronicle criticising Orthodox rabbis unfairly.

I’m not sure how these thoughts would be classified.  They’re kind of on the boundary between depression and anxiety, with some anger, but not what people generally mean when they refer to those feelings in a psychotherapeutic context.

***

I spent an hour or more trying to work on my novel.  I wrote about 450 words, which was not bad, but not great either.  I procrastinated a lot, got upset about irrelevant things (see the paragraph above) then read abuse survivors’ accounts to try to get me back into the mindset of writing about abuse, but that just made me feel more miserable and made it harder to concentrate.

I tried to look at my notes from my librarianship MA on cataloguing in preparation for doing a cataloguing test some time this week or next for a job application.  It was hard to concentrate because I felt so depressed, and because I was aware that I probably know this stuff as well as I ever will.  I feel I probably know the stuff, I just have no confidence in my ability to show it.  I’ve really lost confidence in my ability to do librarian stuff in recent years.  It’s hard to remember that I once thought that I would be a good librarian, even a professional cataloguer.

***

I didn’t do much Torah study (about fifteen minutes).  I  wrote this rather long email to my rabbi mentor instead (slightly edited here):

I’m really struggling religiously lately.  It’s hard to daven and to learn Torah in particular. It also feels like I have no meaningful connection to HaShem [God] and to Torah much of the time. It’s hard to work out why. Or, there are many possible reasons:

– my depression/general mental health (which has got worse the last couple of weeks) – one rabbi once told me that I wouldn’t be able to connect emotionally to God and Torah until I recover, but it increasingly looks like there is no recovery for me, just being able to manage my condition better;

– resentment of simplistic theologies in the frum world that see working at Judaism and especially having bitachon [trust in God] as immediately positive results.  I think these are wrong, but they make part of my brain think, “God must be angry with me, or He would have healed me/got me a job/let me get married by now;

– feelings of despair regarding my life, relationship, career, etc. and feeling that I won’t be able to build anything because HaShem keep testing me by making me suffer and taking away what I’ve achieved;

– generally feeling like a social misfit in the frum world: the United Synagogue doesn’t take Torah and davening [prayer] seriously enough for me, in the Federation I feel like have to hide various beliefs and interests because they’re unacceptable, and the people at the London School of Jewish Studies are mostly a generation older than me. I felt in particular that my local shul has not always supported me well in terms of helping me be part of the community or regarding my mental health (as well as setting me up on shidduch dates [arranged blind dates]), although things had been a bit better at the start of the year and I felt that after four years, I was fitting in a little bit better… and then coronavirus came and disrupted even that.

Lately I wonder if I won’t fit in anywhere, ever. It seems everywhere I go, I feel that I don’t fit in, and I’m beginning to wonder if that’s just in my head, or from my autism. I really feel that I struggle to fit in and to follow the unspoken social codes, which is a classic autistic symptom. On the other hand, I’ve never had the kind of support that the frum world is said to provide to most people in need.

And underneath it all is the feeling of emptiness, loneliness, isolation.  Of feeling that HaShem is so far from me and indifferent to me, or that He will invalidate all my mitzvot on some technicality.  I feel I can’t connect with Him.  Sometimes I feel that I don’t know what it would be like to feel joy at all.  I saw something the other day about the need to have spiritual pleasure, but I’m not even able to have physical pleasure.

Sometimes I worry I’m frum more out of habit than anything else these days, which does not make me feel good. To be honest, the non-Orthodox/non-religious world is just as off-putting to me as the frum world, but I know E. finds aspects of the frum world difficult, especially the lack of appreciation of serious culture, and I find it hard to “sell” her the frum life when I feel so negative about it.

I do still enjoy Shabbat, even though I feel that is partly a relaxation thing as much as a spiritual one.  Occasionally I do see Torah that resonates, but it’s hard to build on it; likewise if I daven well one day.  I do enjoy writing my weekly divrei Torah [Torah thoughts], although I do experience that as a stress sometimes, and a drain on time for Torah study.

This is what I’ve been feeling.  Would it be possible to discuss it, by Skype or email, please?  I don’t know if there is an answer, but I feel I need to try something new.  I mean a new strategy to engage with my religious life.  It’s just so hard to keep going sometimes.

I’m not sure what I expect to get from it.  He can’t wave a magic wand and solve my troubles and we have spoken about this in the past.  I suspect if I was more confident in myself and worried less about what other people think of me, I would fit in to frum society better, and if I fitted in better socially, a lot of my lack of religious connection would go away.  But I’m not sure how to do that.

My Spiritual Overdraft

Last night, after I posted, I started feeling very depressed.  I hoped sleeping would help, but the depression has stayed with me since waking up today.  Last night I felt like big and small things are mixed together, as are my problems and those of the world, and it’s hard to distinguish them.  Very trivial things, like the fact that I’m accidentally reading the books in a Batman story arc in the wrong order, are mixed up with bigger things, like guilt for things I’ve done and with things going on in the world, like the riots in America.  Everything got mixed together.  Today it’s mostly settled down as a general sense of depression and perhaps loneliness.

Lately I’ve been trying to just sit with my negative thoughts rather than either fight them or wallow in them, but it’s hard.  It’s hard to even remember to do it, as it’s not how I am accustomed to treating these thoughts, and it’s certainly hard to do.

It’s one of those days when I’m not happy being myself, where I just feel guilty about everything I’ve ever done, I feel that everything was stupid or wrong and wonder why I can’t just act like a normal person.  Maybe a normal person would do the same things, but just not feel guilty.  I’m “shoulding” myself a lot, beating myself up for things I do, or don’t do.

It doesn’t help that stuff in the news makes me think that, as much structural problems in the economy or society, violence can be rooted in small acts of thoughtlessness that are treated as normal and not serious, like gossiping and losing one’s temper with close family (it’s not particularly politically correct to think like this.  Much easier to criticise Those People or That System instead).  I do these things, but I think they normalise selfishness, reduce empathy and create a bad atmosphere in society, although I’m hazy on how that leads to major things like murder and abuse.  They do seem serious to me.  Maybe I overthink things.

***

I did about half an hour of Torah study today.  I couldn’t really do more because of therapy and being exhausted from therapy afterwards.  Some of my reading was stuff online that made me feel that I’m a bad Jew.  This was on a website written by a rabbi who has become very popular writing about spirituality and personal growth, the areas where I feel lacking, so I hoped it might help.  However, it left me feeling that I don’t connect strongly and emotionally with God.  Well, I already knew that.  I don’t know how to become more spiritually developed and connect with God when I feel so depressed.  A rabbi I spoke to about this said I won’t be able to connect spiritually and feel spiritual joy until I’m over the depression, but in recent years the idea of not being depressed seems unlikely; I’m just trying to manage my mental illnesses.   I also don’t know how to connect with God and Judaism when so much of the frum (religious Orthodox Jewish) community seems opposed to people like me, at least the parts of it available for me to connect to.  Sometimes I wonder what is keeping me frum.  It can be hard to tell sometimes.

I possibly didn’t give the rabbi’s site a good enough chance, I felt uncomfortable with some sweeping statements he made and that prejudiced me against the gist of his writing.

Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz says somewhere something I would never dare to say, that the experience of many ba’alei teshuva (Jews raised non-religious who became religious later on) is like someone who married a wonderful person i.e. God, but who came along with a terrible family i.e. other Jews (Rav Steinsaltz is himself a ba’al teshuva).  I don’t think all frum Jews are bad people, far from it, but lately I feel stifled by the frum community and its attitudes and I don’t know what to do about it.  I wish I could move to a more Modern Orthodox community, but even then I know that some attitudes would probably remain.  Coming at a time when I also feel disconnected from HaShem (God) makes it difficult to stay frum sometimes and I think on some level I’m frum from habit at the moment, at least in part.  That’s not necessarily a huge problem; I think you can have a spiritual bank account and you can make some big withdrawals, maybe even have a managed overdraft for a while, if you already made some big deposits.  I think I did make those deposits in the past that can cover my current spending, I just can’t work out how to find the spiritual currency to get back into credit.

***

The good news today is that I wrote nearly 700 words of my novel in an hour, which was very good considering I was feeling very depressed.  I couldn’t write more because I had therapy and I always feel to tired to write after that.

In therapy we spoke about trying to accept the process of my critical thoughts rather than proving, disproving or fighting them (related to what I said above about trying to do this lately).  It’s hard.  We also spoke about the importance of acknowledging thoughts rather than repressing them.

The session ended awkwardly, though, as the screen froze and I wasn’t sure if the therapist was ending the session or not.  I texted to ask and waited a minute, but there was no reply, so I thought we were done and started something else, but then the therapist called back to say goodbye.  That sounds like a trivial interaction, but it disrupted the ‘back to reality’ feeling of the end of the therapy session.

Drifting Away

I had some religious OCD anxieties late last night, and then a night of confused dreams which also included some religious OCD imagery.  It’s probably just a sign of the emotional stress I’m under at the moment, although one dream focused strongly on the preparations for Pesach (Passover), which is now officially on the horizon, and which is always difficult enough even without Mum undergoing chemotherapy.

***

I seem to have lost the details of the boring, but part-time, admin job I was thinking of applying for, so I suppose that means I won’t apply for it, unless I see it advertised again.

***

I think I’ve worked out how the cover-maker works on Lulu.com, but I need some time to mess around with it before I finalise my design.  It doesn’t help that the cover-maker seems to be rather glitchy and hard to save and return to it later.  And I need to write a back cover blurb and author biography; having just tried, I realise they are going to take more time and energy than I expected.

***

My parents have been economising a bit.  A few weeks ago we went from two weekend newspapers to one (we stopped getting a daily paper years ago), and at the end of the month we will stop getting The Jewish Chronicle too.  To be honest, it just cements my drift away from politics lately.  The last few years have left me deeply disenchanted with politics in general and suspicious and critical of all the major parties.  I feel that I don’t have much of a voice and wouldn’t know what to say if I did, although I do still read a couple of news and political opinion sites, including the inevitable BBC News, for all its manifold faults.

As for The Jewish Chronicle, in recent years I really only paid attention to the religion and comment pages.  I will still be able to follow global, long-term trends in the Jewish community on Tablet.com and my beloved The Jewish Review of Books, although both tend to have a strongly American focus.  As for reading about antisemitism in our homegrown politicians and the ongoing Labour antisemitism issue… I suspect I’ll hear, one way or the other.  News like that has a habit of remorselessly tracking a person down.

I do feel that the print media are almost as bad as social media in trying to make me angry and upset about things that are often not worth getting angry and upset about and about which I can do little even if they are worth being upset about.  It is true that, without the Jewish community’s ongoing protests against Jeremy Corbyn and Labour party antisemitism, Labour might have done a lot better in the last election, so obviously you can have a voice if you can find enough like-minded people.  But I’m not good at finding like-minded people.

***

I’m still feeling bad about the friends I’ve lost in the last year or so.  It’s scary because often I could not see an obvious reason: the reasons given seemed like over-reactions, or paranoia.  In one case, I sensed a brittleness in an online blog friendship; comments sounded more aggressive than I intended, or were perceived as such and it seemed safer to drift away while still relatively friendly than to actually have a full-blown argument one day.  In other cases, I would have been happy to continue the friendship, but was told my actions crossed a line, even though the existence of that line was not always obvious to me, certainly not beforehand.

I feel bad because I’ve rarely lost friends in this way in the past, only through drifting away slowly and non-confrontationally.  To lose four in relatively rapid succession, in ways that felt outside my control, has shaken me a bit as I wonder if I could lose other friends suddenly and unexpectedly.  I try to be a good friend to other friends in need, but I don’t always know what to say or do.

***

Shabbat awaits…