Just Checking In

The busiest day of the year was… busy. I got to shul (synagogue) in time in the morning for Shacharit (Morning Prayers) and the siyum (feast (although in this case mostly Pesachdik cake and crisps) on finishing a unit of Torah study) that allowed me to avoid having to fast today as a firstborn. This was the first time I’ve done communal eating in two years. It felt a little odd.

I managed to do my usual pre-Pesach chores OK, despite spilling Weetabix crumbs on the covered-for-Pesach worktop. I felt a bit on edge/alert all day for Pesach issues, but mostly kept my anxiety under control, only text my rabbi mentor to ask questions twice, only one of which was really justified (I knew I handled the spilt Weetabix correctly, but everyone else thinking it was a huge problem fed my anxiety made me second-guess myself). But it was pretty good. Overall, so I’ve asked my rabbi mentor a lot fewer questions than usual in the run-up to Pesach, and my general anxiety level has been much lower than usual.

I went for a lie-down around midday, as I’d had only six hours of sleep the night before, and only five the night before that. When I got up after half an hour or so, I had the beginnings of a headache, combined with light-headedness and nausea, that has come and gone all afternoon, notwithstanding medication. I’m probably going to skip shul tonight as a result and just try to be in a good mindset for the seder. I’m going to lie down and relax for a bit now beforehand. I am looking forward to having seder with E! It’s a shame my sister and brother-in-law couldn’t be here though.

Less Anxious

I went to bed earlyish (for me), but woke at 4.20am. It took me a while to work out that it was actually still night and I didn’t have to get up for work. Then I realised that I had a headache. I got up and took some tablets, tried to go back to bed, realised lying down was making the headache worse and got up to read. I had some Pesach OCD thoughts and inadvertently woke Mum up, which turned out to be good (she said), because she realised that the soup she had left cooking overnight in the slow cooker was evaporating. When the headache had gone an hour later, I tried to go to sleep, but it was almost time to get up.

Work was dull. There isn’t a lot more to say about it than that. The task I’m doing is tedious and I’m not sure how necessary. It would be OK if I was doing an hour or so on that as well as other tasks, but there wasn’t a lot else to do today.

Despite the slight OCD thoughts, my Pesach OCD/anxiety was mostly under control until I got home. To be fair, it wasn’t hugely out of control. I really needed some time to relax, and I did stop to snack for a bit, but I couldn’t really unwind as I was too conscious of everything I need to do this evening. Tonight heralds the start of what I think of as the busiest twenty-four hours of the Jewish year, starting with my least-favourite Pesach task, kashering the kitchen sink.

In the end, the kashering actually went OK. Kashering involves cleaning the sink, leaving it for twenty-four hours, then pouring boiling water over it, then cold water. The pouring has to be within a few seconds of the kettle boiling, and the sink has to get covered from an area within a radius of an inch or to of where the spout of water hits the metal. In the past, this was a huge trigger of OCD anxiety. I don’t have the time to look for past posts; trust me, it was awful. But I did it well this year, quite quickly, with relatively little spillage over countertops and floor, fairly confident that I was doing OK in terms of getting enough of the sink and within the time limits. I did worry a bit when I had finished if I had missed one side of the sink, but I decided not to give in to OCD anxiety by redoing, especially as Dad was pretty sure I’d done it and my rabbi mentor says that technically, you only need to hit 51% of the sink for it to be kashered. I’m not sure how much I was doing it better and how much was that, with less anxiety around, I was not seeing non-existent problems. Using only 1 litre of water in the kettle each time is definitely better than a full kettle (it can take 2 litres): it boils faster and is easier to manipulate.

In terms of relaxing, the novel I’m reading, Last and First Men by Olaf Stapledon, while interesting, is uninvolving. A history of the human race over two billion years, it doesn’t really have a plot or characters, as I think I’ve mentioned before. It’s interesting, and I want to finish it, but once I’ve put it down, it’s hard to get in the mindset to pick it up again. I may read something more engaging alongside it.

On the plus side, my iPod has apparently survived its ordeal in the washing machine with nothing more than a slightly damaged screen, so things are definitely looking positive overall as we enter the final, and most hectic, stretch of Pesach preparations.

Autistic Day

Today seems to have been an autism-focused day. I guess they all are, on some level, but this more than most.

In the morning, at work, the rabbi from my parents’ shul (synagogue) phoned the office and I answered. He didn’t recognise me, and in the past I might have pretended not to recognise him, but I identified myself to him, which I guess was a victory over social anxiety. However, afterwards I couldn’t stop thinking about this interaction, which probably took all of two minutes and had no negative aspects. It sort of “echoed” around in my head. I’ve heard other people on the spectrum describe similar experiences of mental perseveration.

In the afternoon, I mostly corrected other people’s mistakes for a change, instead of making my own. This was when I was searching for missing data on our database. A lot of it was there, just entered wrongly (typos or names from one column on the spreadsheet transposed with those in another when entered on the database). I was a bit relieved to see it’s not just me who makes mistakes. The errors date from about five years ago, so I have no idea who made them.

J was on a video call while I was doing this and I could not concentrate at all. I had to listen to music to blot out the talking. I didn’t really want to listen to music, as it was a somewhat complicated task and I only really listen to music when doing mindless tasks, but I needed to blot it out.

Then I went to Primark to return the clothes I bought last week, because I am not a size medium any more (thank you, psych meds). I was overwhelmed with the number of people in the shop, which I still can’t get used to. It took two years of lockdown and not seeing people for me to realise how difficult I find these environments. Now I wonder how I ever coped with them. It’s strange how I just coped with things, not realising how difficult I found it. The silly thing is that I feel somehow less entitled to call myself “autistic” or “struggling” than the autistic people who would have a meltdown in the shop, or just refuse to go in.

It wasn’t just the noise and crowds that was an issue. Like lots of people on the spectrum, I seem to have some proprioception issues i.e. difficulty being aware of where my body is at times and finding it hard to get out of other people’s way. I think this is partly behind the autistic phenomenon I have written here before about autistic people wanting to help with tasks, but just getting in the way of other people.

There was something on the autism forum too today about autistic brains working fast, faster than we can follow. I do feel like that at times, although not all the time. It seems to happen most when I hyperfocus on a train of thought that I like (often about Judaism or perhaps Doctor Who) or when I’m anxious and depressed about something. Certainly when autistically fatigued/exhausted/burnt out/whatever it’s called my thoughts become slow and almost physically painful.

***

In terms of consumerism, I’ve had mixed success the last few days. The Simpsons: The Complete Seventh Season DVD box set I bought second-hand on Music Magpie (second-hand DVD/CD website) turned out to be region 1, which means it won’t play on UK DVD players. I’m not sure why they were selling it, but I didn’t think to look at what region it was for when I ordered, so I can’t swear that it was advertised wrongly. I am trying to return it.

I’ve found some real bargains on Music Magpie, but also had some problems with damaged or incorrectly-sent goods. I feel I should stop using them, but the alternative is eBay, which I have used, but don’t really like, I’m not sure why. I don’t like bidding for stuff at auction, but you can get items to buy immediately. Nevertheless, I just somehow find the site awkward to use and the items often expensive. The other alternative is Amazon, but E and I are both boycotting them over their poor employee treatment and for driving small booksellers out of business as well as underpaying authors. We were boycotting them independently, before we met — a meet-boycott-cute.

The items I’ve been buying on Music Magpie are cheap (a few pounds for a CD or DVD box set), so I’m not at risk of losing much money, but complaining and returning items is a hassle, and I worry that after I’ve made a certain number of complaints they’ll assume I’m lying. They refund damaged goods priced under £5 without asking for the item to be returned, so technically someone could steal a lot of free stuff by buying cheap items and then complaining that they were damaged and asking for a refund without it ever being checked.

On the plus side, I found a copy of A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle in the free book box, one of those books I’ve always meant to read, but never have.

***

E and I have been watching the Doctor Who story The Robots of Death (1977). E was not impressed; I didn’t tell her fan wisdom sees it as a Classic, whatever that means. I see it as somewhere between Classic and E’s “ok”. It has one of my favourite Doctor Who put-downs: “You’re a classic example of the inverse ratio between the size of the mouth and the size of the brain.” I should warn you that I tried to use it on the bullies at school and it did not work as well as it did for Tom Baker. I don’t have that air of Bohemian cool.

Anxiety and Possible Shutdown

I didn’t want to write tonight, but I need to offload/process some thoughts before bed.

On Friday I woke up really drained, more or less physically ill and couldn’t do much until mid-afternoon. The afternoon was mostly taken up with pre-Shabbat (Sabbath) chores and a quick trip to the chemist. I went to my parents’ shul (synagogue) inn the evening. I had agitated thoughts there and later about antisemitism and the recent terrorist attacks in Israel. The thoughts were very intense and I couldn’t shut them off. This used to happen to me a lot when my depression was bad. It happens less now, but still sometimes. I guess it was worsened this time by worry about Pesach (Passover) preparations this week ahead of us (basically the busiest, most stressful week of the year) and a family illness that I won’t talk about on an open post.

Now the clocks have gone forward, dinner on Friday is late, meaning by the time we finished eating it was very late. I hadn’t had time/energy to do more than a few minutes of Torah study before Shabbat. I wanted to do some because I needed to connect with something Jewish, but this kept me up very late. I read fiction briefly after that, but not for long, partly because it was very late, partly because the book I’m reading, Olaf Stapledon’s Last and First Men, is interesting, but not a page-turner that I want to keep returning to.

It’s a science fiction history of the human race stretching millions of years into the future. Of course, it reflects the fears of the time it was written (1930 I think) more than current ones, but parts of it resonate. However there are no real characters to engage with; it’s written as a history book, and one with a broad scope and focus on social and even evolutionary change over thousands or millions of years. It makes it hard to get into. It’s not something I’m desperate to return to when I stop reading.

I also really disagree with the author’s cosmopolitanism, although writing why would take longer than I have to write tonight. It does feed in to why I stopped feeling part of the progressive left, while not feeling part of the political right either. The brief answer is that I think religious and national cultures are not something extraneous to us that can be removed, but something intrinsic in our upbringings that for many people forms part of their makeup even if they reject it. For various reasons (including the Reformation, Enlightenment and two World Wars), some Westerners over the last century or two have found it easier to detach religion and, to a lesser extent national culture from their lives, but it’s much more embedded in people (including me) from other cultures or even from other cultures in the West e.g. the American South. There is a lot more to say, but I’ve set a timer so I only write for thirty minutes tonight.

I slept late, as usual. I didn’t want to sleep after lunch, as I thought it would stop me sleeping tonight, plus I wanted to read and do more Torah study. To this end I went for a walk straight after lunch and when I got home I drank a cup of coffee, in the hope that activity and caffeine would help me stay awake. They did not. I slept for an hour and then spent another hour and twenty minutes in bed, too tired to move or even open my eyes. I wondered if this was an autistic shutdown. I thought of asking on the autism forum, but I’m wary of saying too much about Jewish stuff, and this situation really happens only on Shabbat and Yom Tov (festivals) and I’m not sure how that factors in. I might post a question there tomorrow.

After I woke up, I looked at the haggadah (Passover seder/ritual meal prayerbook) for twenty minutes or so, mostly at the commentary in the haggadah I bought last year. It has questions to ask to prompt debate as well as more detailed exposition. I always feel bad that we don’t discuss things much at seder. I read out ideas, but there is no give and take, and being on the spectrum, I struggle to know how to facilitate such debate. It’s hard on me, as I end up being the only one who doesn’t learn anything on the seder, because it’s just me reading things out (I don’t want to sound arrogant, but I’m usually the most Jewishly-educated person at our seder by a considerable margin). I hope the questions might help. I’ll just ask one or two a night this year and see how they go and maybe choose more next year. I would have liked to have spent more time on this, but I ran out of time.

There was one other thing that upset me a bit, but I don’t really want to write it on an open post and I’m not sure that I should write it at all. I’m also nearly out of the thirty minutes I gave myself to write this. Maybe I’ll post it on a password-protected post at some point, as it’s a long-term issue.

Not a Number

Today was mostly OK, but I struggled with some autistic stuff. I hadn’t had much time so far this week for Torah study, and much of what I had done was preparation for the Pesach seders, so I read this week’s sedra (Torah portion) on the Tube, not something I like to do as (a) you are supposed to say the words audibly (even in a whisper) and (b) even with my slim volume of Vayikra (Leviticus) only in Hebrew (as opposed to all five books of the Pentateuch in Hebrew and English) and my pocket JPS English Bible, it’s awkward reading it on a Tube train. I really need a table. I haven’t been wearing a mask on the Tube lately, but I wore one today so people wouldn’t see my lips moving as I whispered the words. (Someone once told me that his brother did this without a mask, pre-COVID; halfway through the journey he could see out of the corner of his eye the man next to him texting “Some nutter is reading to himself next to me” on his phone.)

Work was slow and I made some mistakes and felt like an idiot (again). I spent much of the afternoon comparing a spreadsheet with a database to try to work out which entries have apparently vanished from the latter and why. I have more to do on this next week. It was very dull and I became bored and somewhat depressed, but at least I realised partway through that it was mindless enough that I could listen to music on my headphones, which cheered me up a bit.

J wanted me to drop a file off at the auditors on my way home and let me leave early to do so. On the way, I went shopping in Primark on Oxford Street. This would not have been an ideal choice even pre-COVID as it was hugely busy. I had been in busy shops since COVID, but usually ones I was familiar with. I’m not sure if this was literally my first new, busy shopping experience in two years (the airports were quite busy when I went to New York), but it was harder than I remembered and more draining. I just bought what I had come for and left as soon as possible.

There is the added element with Primark of guilt knowing that their clothes are not very ethically-sourced, but as I can’t afford to shop in more upmarket shops all the time, I’m not sure what else to do. Walking around naked isn’t very healthy.

I found the auditors alright, despite nearly losing both my kippah (skullcap) and glasses to the extremely strong wind, but hesitated outside. It was a converted house with two entry buzzers and I wasn’t sure which was the right one. I hesitated, wondering if I should text J, when the door opened and someone came out and I slipped inside. The sign for reception pointed to a shut door and I wondered if I should knock or open it or try to find out if this was reception for both offices when someone came up from behind me, saw our organisation’s logo on the folder and said, “Is that for X?” He seemed to be on the same team and told me to give it to the receptionist and told her to leave it on his chair. I hope that was the right thing to do. Only afterwards did I worry whether he was who he said he was, but he had got inside the office which he should only be able to do if he worked there (except that I managed it).

There was both social anxiety here and autistic ‘new environment’ anxiety, as in Primark. By the time I got on the Tube home, I realised my heart was racing and my adrenaline rushing. I’m pretty sure this was an abnormally strong reaction to this for me. I guess COVID and lockdown have left their mark.

I came home and responded to blog comments, but I rapidly felt burnt out and went to bed, not because I wanted to sleep, but just for the comfort of wrapping myself in duvet and weighted blanket. E wonders if I should deliberately do stuff in bed. I mean like read, write, blog and so on. She things I might find it easier to get up if I was going back shortly. She may be right. Churchill spent a lot of the war in bed in his room in the Cabinet War Rooms bunker, with advisors and Cabinet ministers coming to see him.

The other excitement today was that Mum kashered the ovens for Pesach (Passover). They were cleaned by the oven cleaner the other day and now heated to remove any trace of leaven food or ‘taste’. (The Jewish dietary laws assume that taste can be absorbed and emitted by porous materials. A lot of the dietary laws, both regular and Pesach, stem from this idea. I struggled with this in the past. It’s not totally crazy, as seasoning cast iron pans and aging whiskey in sherry casks both work on the same principle, but I do sometimes wonder if the rabbis had very sensitive palates to note such subtle tastes. Still, it’s the model we have and I think there’s value in sticking with established law regardless of personal opinion.)

***

I have been thinking a lot about The Prisoner lately. The Prisoner, for those who don’t know, was a “spy-fi” (espionage/science fiction hybrid) TV series from the late sixties. They only made seventeen episodes (there was a noughties remake/re-imagining that is not without merit, but is not as compulsive). It’s about a secret agent who resigns from his job, gets knocked out, and wakes up in a weird mini-society called The Village where people have numbers instead of names. He is Number 6, although, as he declares in the title sequence, “I am not a number, I am a free man!” He wants to find out who runs The Village (the unseen Number 1; day-to-day running is invested in the ever-changing Number 2s) and escape; the Village authorities want to find out why he resigned.

It starts as a thriller with slight fantastical and weird elements (e.g. the Rover weather balloons that smoother anyone trying to escape), but by the end becomes a surreal sixties ‘happening,’ complete with Beatles soundtrack. The surrealism and the deliberate obscurity of many of the episodes, particularly the final one, Fall Out, meant that interpretations of the series are legion (political, religious, psychological, postmodern, etc.). It was one of the first TV shows that cultural and media studies academics homed in on, unsurprisingly.

Former Doctor Who writer Gareth Roberts wrote an essay about The Village seeming more like Britain in the 2020s than the 1960s. That’s partly why I’ve been thinking about it. Certainly I thought today that the public announcements on the Tube, particularly the ones about mask-wearing, are very Village: officious, sanctimonious and pedantic, with an ostensible nod towards diversity while asking for conformity. But that’s only part of why I’ve been thinking about it.

Doctor Who has been my favourite TV programme since I discovered it aged eight, but when I was at Oxford and saw it for the first time, The Prisoner rapidly became the series that I identified most with. It’s a mirror for anyone who feels counter-cultural and under pressure to conform. At the time, I thought I was friendless and lonely, and stressed and eventually made depressed and suicidal by over-work. I now see I was mid-autistic burnout, struggling to fit in to an environment that I just did not understand with people who I wanted to connect with, but somehow could not.

I think autistic people would find a lot they recognise in The Prisoner. The whole idea of making people conform, that society runs better if everyone thinks and does the same thing, and the individualists who instinctively rebel against this mindset is really the source of the drama in The Prisoner, as well as in the lives of many autistics, particularly those diagnosed late and/or forced to act the way other people want instead of how they want, or how they need.

In the penultimate episode, Once Upon a Time, there’s a sequence where a hypnotised Prisoner is made to relive his schooldays. His “headmaster” (actually Number 2) has a speech that goes, “Society is the place where people exist together. That is civilisation. The lone wolf belongs to the wilderness. You must conform! It is my sworn duty to make you conform!” before beating him for disobedience. I quoted the speech here from memory; it made such an impression on me that I learnt it by heart.

One episode, Living in Harmony, is, bizarrely, a Western, with The Prisoner as a sheriff who chooses to get beaten up rather than violate his moral objections to carrying a gun. This idea of personal morals being more important than society’s rules, even at extreme personal cost, is another thing that probably resonates with many people on the spectrum (and off it, of course). Other things that might be familiar to autistics might include: the uncertainty that runs through the entire series about who you can trust and who is working for the authorities, analogous to navigating the school playground (and later the workplace) not being able to read body language, intonation, subtext and so on to tell if people are being friendly or bullying; the authorities’ hostility to questions, particularly those directed to the foundations of their society (“Questions are a burden to others, answers a prison for oneself” — another quote I learnt by heart); The Prisoner’s sense of alienation from the constant Village celebrations particularly in my favourite episode Dance of the Dead, where a fancy dress ball turns into an angry mob trying to tear him limb from limb; the sequence in A Change of Mind where The Prisoner is effectively ‘cancelled’ as the villagers shun him as an “unmutual” and refuse to engage with him for the sin of using his own gym equipment and then mocking the Village disciplinary procedures; and the general pervasive sense of paranoia, of one person against The System, of being seen as essentially, even ontologically wrong and made to be something you are not.

The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction suggests that “The series’ thesis may be that freedom is impossible, as is opting out.” This is something I feel strongly, and not just for autistic reasons.

I did not mean to write all of this! I went into autistic hyper-focus, and an hour had gone. I guess it shows how much it means to me. I should have a re-watch. I’ve lost track of the number of times I’ve seen it (a lot; the low number of episodes facilitates that). I don’t know if E would like it, though.

One day I’ll to go Portmeirion, the strange, real-life village/holiday resort in Wales where it was filmed (also the Doctor Who story The Masque of Mandragora, which E and I watched recently) and run along the beach shouting, “I am not a number, I am a free man!”

The Stressed Time of Year, Forum Discussions, and Culture in the Frum World

We’re in the busiest time of year, the weeks before Pesach (Passover), when we’re focused on preparations. Think Christmas plus spring cleaning, multiplied by ten (or a hundred). I tend to be OK during the day because I’m busy, but at night I feel stressed and anxious when I’m not doing things, but also lack significant relaxation time to unwind. Yesterday I cleaned the larder for Pesach, but I was too tired to continue to clean the Pesach worktops and sinks in the garage as I had intended. Afterwards, I had difficulty sleeping, being very agitated and anxious (fidgeting/stimming in bed, which is unlike me). I had taken olanzapine that night, but I wonder if it had not got into my bloodstream yet, given that I am taking it every other day at the moment.

Work was dull today and difficult on four hours of sleep, but I got through it. I did a little bit of writing when I got home and went to an online Pesach shiur (religious class). Which is a lot, on four hours sleep.

In between times, I was online. I was on the autism forum quite a bit. There are lots of people in distress there and I can only respond to some for reasons of time, emotional capacity, and knowing what to say without saying the wrong thing. I have some guilt for arbitrarily connecting more with some people than others. I have long had this feeling, that I should like everyone equally, which is not really possible (or Jewish; Judaism is about loving individuals for their individuality as opposed to agape). We just connect with some people more than others; it’s normal. Still, I feel bad that things like typos can influence whether I respond.

I am also less likely to respond to people who are very blunt about being depressed and suicidal and don’t give much of an opening to respond or seem open to conversation/suggestions from other commenters. I feel bad about this, as I’ve done my own share of self-focused blog writing/commenting when severely depressed, but I know that when I was in that mood, I really wanted to vent (or possibly to argue that my life would inevitably be awful) rather than be open to suggestions. I was trying to speak to someone in crisis just now, but I think another user was doing much better.

Elsewhere online, on a Jewish site, I saw an article by a woman I had a crush on years ago (she was the person who rejected me because I didn’t go to yeshiva, which pretty much made me despair of ever finding a frum wife). I don’t have any crush feelings for her now, but I feel an envious kind of feeling that I can’t get paid for my writing or do something with my life the way she seems to have done.

The article was on finding religious messages in popular culture, part of a series of articles on this site. I have argued this myself in the past (e.g. that Doctor Who has Jewish messages), but now I’m sceptical. I think most of it is the residual Judaism in the residual Christianity in now mostly-secular art and much of it is not really significant or profound enough to be worth mentioning. I think it’s OK to like popular culture, but I don’t think much of it is profound, religiously or otherwise.

The debate always seems to be organised around popular culture. There are obviously big things to discuss about religion in writers like Dostoyevski, Tolstoy, Graham Greene and so on, but they don’t get mentioned, possibly because they don’t lead to pat, “And this teaches us to do tikkun olam!” messages (this seems to be the main “Jewish” message of Doctor Who, that and questioning/learning). Years ago I found an article online by Rabbi Dr Alan Brill complaining that Orthodox culture is so bourgeois and unchallenging, and I agree (although I think most culture full stop is bourgeois and unchallenging, pretty much by definition). I know that this is one of E’s biggest reservations about joining the Orthodox world, the conformism and the lack of serious culture, and I share her reservations while not seeing any alternatives for myself.

Checking In

I struggled to sleep again last night. It was probably from being on screens too late, but after forty or fifty minutes in bed, I had some racing thoughts so took olanzapine (it was one of my ‘off’ days for olanzapine — at the moment I take every other day). It seemed to help, but maybe I was just exhausted by that point and would have fallen asleep anyway. I will try to monitor my mood and sleep and compare against olanzapine use to see if I need to return to taking it daily.

It snowed on the way to work this morning. I felt annoyed about it, until I saw a boy of about eight absolutely delighted to be out in it. It woke me up a bit to the beauty of it.

Work was a bit crazy, but I can’t write much about it here. I can say that I had an issue with a simple task that I struggled with. I had about fifteen Excel spreadsheets, all bar one with two tabs (the exception was slightly more complicated, but it doesn’t really matter here). I had to compare some statistics on the tabs and bring them up to date, then print one tab once and the other three times for each of the spreadsheets. I struggled hugely with this, forgetting to update the statistics and printing sheets too often, partly from executive function issues with changing task and partly because I kept forgetting that if I set the printer to print a document three times, it would not default back to printing once the next time I printed. I felt a bit guilty about that, although wasting twenty or thirty sheets of paper (at most) is hardly the biggest crime, but more than guilty I felt a bit stupid and incompetent. I am also worried whether I have actually performed the task properly, and may need to double-check on Monday.

I picked a bit of anger from other people today, on my blog list and the autism forum. I got a bit upset and had some quasi-anxious ruminations, but then I remembered something my therapist said about being careful not to pick up other people’s anger or anxiety, to ask myself, “Is this my problem? Do I need to be concerned about it?” That did help me to distance myself from it a bit.

I was pretty tired when I got home, but E wanted to Skype earlier than usual, so we spoke before dinner rather than later. I struggled with lack of energy in the early evening, but around 10.00pm, I suddenly had energy and concentration, so I spent nearly an hour working on my novel. It was pretty productive (over 600 words) and seemed to flow relatively easily. I haven’t checked against my previous manuscript, but the prose style seems somehow freer to me, less stilted and Victorian, more like my blog than my previous fiction. Not that I literally write fiction like a Victorian, but I feel my first novel in particular seemed a bit stilted and artificial to me.

***

I finished re-watching Twin Peaks yesterday. I was originally planning to watch one episode a week, but I sped up a while back so I would finish long before I got married.

Twin Peaks‘ third season, broadcast twenty-five years after the original run finished, seemed somewhat better second time around. The plot made more sense overall, and the weird, surreal bits seemed deliberately bizarre rather than just incoherent. And the final scene is strange and haunting as well as tantalisingly unresolved. It is a bit frustrating if you were expecting more of the same of the first two seasons, or even the prequel film, but if you can accept that it’s a very different beast only tangentially related, that most of the earlier characters are seen briefly if at all, and that although Kyle MacLachlan is in it quite a bit, he’s mostly not really playing the same character as before, then it’s an interesting addition, certainly adding a lot more overt symbolism and mystery, if you like that sort of thing.

And now I ought to go to bed before I ruin my sleep pattern again…

Less Anxious

I woke up late, but rather less anxious than the last few days, albeit somewhat anxious still. I guess this is unsurprising as I have a stressful week ahead of me. I’m glad to feel somewhat calmer than the last few days. I thought this was a good time to think about reducing medication and hopefully getting a grip on my sleep pattern before E and I get married, as that seemed to be some way off, but then the job interview came up, and the medication washout period stretched into Purim, and then Pesach came on the horizon, and suddenly everything seemed too much and I was catastrophising about the interview, E and me, and everything else, without any real reason.

I’m going to try to stick to 2.5mg of olanzapine every other day for now, but I’ll increase back to 2.5mg every day if I’m still anxious. I can even go back to what I was on before this started, 2.5mg twice a day, if I need to. I might try to speak to a GP tomorrow, but I’m sceptical (a) of my ability to get an appointment and (b) of their ability to help much with this. Once E and I are married and settled maybe I’ll try to find a private psychiatrist to do a proper medication review and see about possible reduction. I doubt I would be allowed to see one on the NHS at the moment.

***

I did some preparation for my interview on Wednesday. I feel OK with handling the day-to-day running of the collection; I basically did that in the past short-term when I was working at that library, when the then Head Librarian was on holiday or at conferences. The difficulty I feel is the administrative/bureaucratic, personnel management, fundraising and promotion aspects of the job, going to committee meetings, helping with the running of the wider institution and so on, which I have little or no experience of, and for which, the job description implies, I would have very little supervision and support, but for which I would be expected to do a lot. If I could handle it, it would be amazing for my career, but I worry I couldn’t handle it even without worries about my mental health and energy levels and how autism-friendly the environment would be.

E and I have reflected in the past that the skills needed to get a job are not necessarily those needed to be good at the job, and that’s doubly true on the spectrum. I feel like the skills needed for interviews are really not those that people on the autism spectrum tend to have. Interviews need an ability to predict what other people think, good and fast verbal processing, strong autobiographical memory and an ability to think on your feet. I have none of these skills. They are really not common for those of us on the spectrum. I can barely remember half the stuff it says I’ve done on my CV and answers to common interview questions.

For example, I’ve been told to use the acronym STAR when answering interview questions: mention Situation, Task, Achievement and Result when describing what you did. I find it hard to remember this under pressure, if I can even think of an instance that meets the interviewer’s question, a result of poor autobiographical memory and rigidity in interpreting questions.

Despite this, I did some interview preparation, although I struggled to concentrate and kept getting distracted, which was a sign of nerves. After that I went for a walk, which I haven’t done much recently. I tried to answer Ashley’s question about three things to tell someone just diagnosed with your condition. Maybe I’m still too close to my own diagnosis after a year, but I can’t think of anything useful. I know many autistics would say I should say that autism is a difference, not a disability, but it really doesn’t feel that way on days like today. I have above-average intelligence and good paper qualifications, but I’ve struggled the whole time with the world of work. Unless you’re good at numbers or computers, the outlook is not great. Likewise, I have not been good at romantic relationships, and, judging by the autism forum, I am not alone in this. Then there’s the fact that people on the spectrum are prone to many co-morbid issues like anxiety, OCD and depression.

***

On the plus side, I had a talk with my rabbi mentor, addressing some issues relating to Pesach (Passover). Since my Pesach OCD started, we’ve had a rule that I can only ask Pesach questions in the four weeks between Purim and Pesach. I usually have a long list of questions. I did have a few questions, but mostly I was thinking that they were OK and I just wanted to check my reasoning. It’s good that I feel more able to sit with these questions and to say that I think I’m right and they aren’t problematic. Ideally I wouldn’t need to double-check with my rabbi mentor, but it is helpful to see that I can reason these things through properly.

This year is a bit scarier than most because E will be here and I worry what she will think of the way we/I do things. I know my brother-in-law (also from a less frum background) was a bit overwhelmed when he first came to us for Pesach, and when he saw what my sister did in their home. I hope things are OK. I’m hopeful E will enjoy our sederim (ritual discussion of the exodus/meal, although the food is quite late in the day!). We run sederim that people of different religious backgrounds and knowledge levels seem to enjoy and get something out of. I admit I do quite a lot of the religious preparation for that, in terms of trying to find interesting ideas to go beyond the text of the hagaddah (seder prayer book).

I’m Going Slightly Mad

The short version: I’m really struggling and am putting myself back on olanzapine.

The long version: I went to shul (synagogue) last night. I wasn’t sure whether I felt up to it. It was probably a mistake, as I felt overwhelmed by the noise and banging. The rabbi “eulogised” (in inverted commas, as one is not supposed to eulogise on Shabbat, but that’s essentially what it was) Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky, the leader of the Yeshivish Haredi world (part of the ultra-Orthodox world), who died on Friday. It did underline to me that I never really fitted into the world where constant Torah study is seen as the ideal, nor do I feel I could ever have fitted. When I came home, I wished I hadn’t gone, but if I had gone, I doubtless would have felt I could have gone and been OK. These counter-factuals build up when I consider the week ahead.

I felt very anxious after dinner, and lay in bed for half an hour. I did some Torah study, but not a huge amount. I tried to be gentle with myself, particularly regarding autistic sensory things that I usually try to struggle through regardless e.g. Mum made chicken for dinner. Normally I would eat it, even though I dislike the taste, smell, texture, everything. However, when Mum offered me something else, I took it. After dinner I started reading a P. G. Wodehouse book, which is amusing enough, although I didn’t read much of it. It cheered me up a little.

I slept badly. I slept for a long time, but I woke up several times in the night, too anxious to get up. Today I was even more anxious. I slept for two hours after lunch. I went to bed and wrapped myself in my duvet and weighted blanket. I knew I would probably fall asleep, but I just needed it to self-soothe. I won’t sleep easily tonight as a result. I tried to do some Torah study, but felt too anxious.

The anxiety is multi-pronged. Some is OCD-type anxiety about Pesach, about which I now feel I have to completely control or E will be upset and think she can’t cope with me. Some is anxiety about my job interview this week, anxiety that I will make a fool of myself again, but also anxiety that I will get the job and make the wrong decision about whether to take it. I don’t know what the right decision would be, to choose a better, and more career-orientated job, but one which will leave me unemployed in a year, potentially with a mortgage, assuming I don’t burn out working four days a week, and knowing I won’t be able to write; or do I stay in my lower-paying, but steady and manageable job where I have an understanding boss and I could have time to write (at least if I didn’t feel so exhausted and overwhelmed all the time)? E and my parents say to wait and see what happens, which is probably correct, but it’s hard when I feel so anxious. Those counter-factuals build up again.

I’m anxious about E too. That we’ll never manage to get married. That maybe I’ll scare her off when she comes for Pesach.

There are two reasons why I dated her despite our religious differences, a negative and a positive reason. The negative reason was that most of the frum (religious) women I dated didn’t view me as acceptable (I didn’t go to yeshiva, I was “too worldly,” I was too depressed, I had nothing in common with them, there was no chemistry). Sometimes I dated people who were religious, but still differences would become apparent. There isn’t a thriving frum Modern Orthodox community in the UK, and I was not integrated enough into the Haredi one to get set up on dates, the only way to meet the opposite sex in that community. I don’t think many people outside the Haredi community in the UK take Judaism as seriously as I do, even the relatively frum ones.

The two women I did date seriously had religious differences with me, but the big reasons it didn’t work out with them had little to do with religion. The reasons were that the former did not respect my boundaries about what physical touch I was comfortable with (she was also losing her religion — just being on a certain level doesn’t mean you’ll stay there — but that wasn’t why we broke up) and the other lied to me about her family history and only told me the truth to make a point. The lack of success dating people on my religious level suggested that I would struggle to find anyone who is both on my religious level and compatible.

The positive reason, which is much more important, is that E understands me me more than anyone else I know and she cares about me more than anyone except my parents. And I understand and care about her, and I think I know how to care about her the way she wants, which is not insignificant as I don’t think I would know how to care for many people. We connect so well. I trust her completely not to trample on my boundaries and not to lie to me. I feel safe with her in a way that I don’t with anyone else. She says I talk to her differently to how I talk to other people, even my parents, that I’m much more open and “myself” with her. I just love her and want to be with her and I’m not coping well with the uncertainty of not knowing when that might be. I still feel overwhelmed about everything happening in my life right now and probably couldn’t cope if more was happening, but I just want to feel like there’s an end point in view.

I guess what I really want more than anything else right now is (a) to marry E and (b) to find a way to spend some serious time writing and trying to get published, to at least have a real go at achieving that. It seems hard sometimes to see what the right way to do those things is, particularly as the writing dream seems like a silly fantasy that I’ll never achieve and shouldn’t waste my life on. (E supports my writing, which again is not something to take for granted.)

The Babylon 5 episode Za’Ha’Dum ended the third season of the programme with the following voice-over, which sums up how I feel right now:

It was the end of the Earth year 2260, and the war had paused, suddenly and unexpectedly. All around us, it was as if the universe were holding its breath, waiting.  All of life can be broken down into moments of transition or moments of revelation. This had the feeling of both.

G’Quan wrote: ‘There is a greater darkness than the one we fight. It is the darkness of the soul that has lost its way. The war we fight is not against powers and principalities, it is against chaos and despair. Greater than the death of flesh is the death of hope, the death of dreams. Against this peril we can never surrender. The future is all around us, waiting in moments of transition, to be born in moments of revelation. No one knows the shape of that future, or where it will take us. We know only that it is always born in pain.

***

I felt a little better this evening, especially after eating and taking olanzapine, although I’m sure it’s far too early to have any real effect. I spent half an hour working on my novel plan, wearing ear plugs that failed to appreciably blot out the incredibly loud music coming from some — unpleasant person down the road. I think it might be a party. Despite the noise, I think I have the plan more or less where I want it and I’m ready to start writing properly, albeit alongside some further research and with the knowledge that my story will doubtless evolve as I write it.

“Cold turkey has got me on the run”

I didn’t have insomnia last night, which was good. I woke up a bit earlier than usual this morning too. Unfortunately, I didn’t get up for hours (and eventually fell back to sleep) because I was feeling really strong anxiety. Once I actually got up, the anxiety subsided somewhat, but it was really hard to get up. Maybe the olanzapine was reducing my anxiety without my really realising it? I remember the morning anxiety feelings from when my religious OCD was bad. It was pretty terrible. I am going to see how I am over the weekend, but I might try to talk to a doctor on Monday (if the surgery gatekeepers deign to allow me…). I felt the ‘hot and bothered’ feelings again too, which is presumably withdrawal again.

J wants me to work on Tuesday instead of Monday next week. I was supposed to have therapy on Tuesday as my therapist can’t do Wednesday this week. I felt paralysed with anxiety not knowing what to do. My Dad said I have to go to work, which deep down I knew. J is a very understanding boss, but he does sometimes throw changes to what day I work at me at very short notice, as if I don’t actually do much on my non-work days, although I guess he doesn’t know that I’m in therapy. I emailed my therapist, and she thinks she can fit me in on Monday or Friday, which is good.

I’m also desperate to move things on with E, but nothing will happen until she comes over here for Pesach. At least that’s only a month away. On the downside — Pesach is only a month away! That’s anxiety-provoking too! I hope staying eases some of the anxieties E feels about taking on so much religious stuff. I said she should talk to my parents about living with me, as they aren’t as religious as I am. It is scary and I do understand what she feels. I feel it a bit myself, especially on an anxious day like today. Unfortunately, E’s medical insurance wouldn’t let her see a psychiatrist about changing her meds. She’s still trying to resolve that.

I wanted to work on my novel, but I ran out of time, partly because of anxiety. I’m doubtful that I will get time after Shabbat tomorrow, and now we’re in the run-up to Pesach (Passover), with all the time-eating preparation that implies. I just feel such pressure to change my life in so many ways at the moment, to make time for things from more paid work to more writing and submitting writing. I find it hard to work out where to start, everything seems interconnected; to change one thing, you have to change everything else first. I need to start looking for more support after my phone call with my occupational therapist last week. This week was lost to withdrawal and Purim. At least the weather is more spring-like.

I’m going to try to go to shul (synagogue), especially as it’s the last week in our current premises and I doubt I’ll go again for six months (to the interim premises), until the new premises are open. I don’t really want to ‘people’ any more after yesterday. I feel I shouldn’t give in to anxiety and autism, although the people on the autism community would perhaps disagree. Then again, if I fight my nature to work, I guess I should fight it in other ways. I feel like people send me mixed signals about which parts of my personality I should be fighting and which accepting. As someone with poor self-knowledge, esteem and confidence, it’s very confusing.

Purim and Accepting My Feelings

I had insomnia again last night. Then I woke up at 8am and couldn’t get back to sleep (I didn’t have to get up until 9am). I feel like I’m in one of those Twilight Zone episodes where people get what they wish for and it all goes horribly wrong. “You want to sleep less? How would you like it if you couldn’t sleep at all?” Can’t I sleep a normal amount, seven or eight hours a night? No more, no less?

I lay in bed for an hour this morning feeling anxious about my interview next week. I’m not sure if I’m more anxious about making a fool of myself; being offered the job and not knowing if I should take it; or taking it and being out of my depth. Can I work four days a week? Should I take a one year job, knowing I’ll be unemployed and probably with a mortgage at the end of it? It’s hard and I don’t really know how to solve these problems. My gut says I should stick with my current job, which will still be there in a year, but I worry my gut is just scared of pressure and change. My parents and E say to just get through the interview before I worry about whether I should accept the job, which is probably true.

I went to a daytime Megillah (Book of Esther) reading at my parents’ shul (synagogue) again. It was a late morning one and, as I expected, somewhat quieter than yesterday’s reading. I was annoyed by someone sometimes (but not always) singing along with the reader, not exactly under his breath. He wasn’t even close to me! (Other than my Dad, there was no one really close to me.) I think even allistic (non-autistic) people would find that annoying; to me it was really distracting.

I think I heard everything, even when I stumbled over one of the bits we do read aloud (the ten sons of Haman, who all have long, difficult Persian names) and the rabbi re-started leining (reading) aloud before I had quite finished. This was the rabbi who waved at me yesterday. I actually asked him afterwards if what I did was OK which may not be good from an OCD perspective, as I shouldn’t check stuff, but I realised I feel more comfortable asking him questions than my own shul rabbi, which I guess is good if I’m thinking of asking him to marry me and E. I think she’ll like him, but it’s hard to know. I might try to introduce her to him when she comes here for Pesach (I’m not sure if I’ve mentioned before that she’s coming for Pesach).

I nearly cried twice today, once when the Jews were saved in the Megillah (why? It’s not like this was news to me) and once over my lunch/Purim seudah (feast), which was me eating beans on toast by myself. I guess it upsets me that I almost always eat Purim seudah on my own, as my parents usually work and I don’t have enough frum (religious) friends to get invited out much. I’m not sure why this upsets me so much, as I’ve eaten alone before on Shabbat (Sabbath) or even sometimes on Yom Tov (festival) when my parents have been invited to eat at their friends. Perhaps there’s something about Purim that means I want to celebrate it more gregariously. Hopefully I won’t be alone next year.

After that, I helped my Dad deliver mishloach manot (presents of food) to his friends. By the time we’d done that, I was pretty exhausted from the day. We live in a frum area, so outside all day had been kids in fancy dress (cute), cars blaring loud music (annoying) and, by 4pm, a couple of very drunk adult men. I was peopled out just being around so many people all day, even though I hadn’t had many actual interactions. The article someone posted here the other day about Purim on the spectrum was right; just the carnival wrongness of the day is draining if you’re on the spectrum, the not being sure of what will happen next or even who people are under the make up and fancy dress. Even though I’d eaten seudah already, I decided to have some Purim bread with my parents at their seudah, wearing my jester’s hat, which I hadn’t worn earlier as the cleaner was here.

I think some of the problem for me on Purim, and every Yom Tov really is the feeling that I need to internalise the message of the Yom Tov in a very tangible way and experience noticeable spiritual growth, not just doing the relevant mitzvot (commandments) and enjoying the day. I wonder how many Jews actually do this? Aside from super-tzadikim (saintly people)? I had a bit of a discussion along these lines with my rabbi mentor after last Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur (Jewish New Year and Day of Atonement). I got the impression that he didn’t think that many people do achieve this. I don’t know how many even care about achieving this.

Sometimes it feels that contemporary Judaism is full of messages that I’m supposed to take with a pinch of salt (like very Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) communities where iphones are banned, but everyone has them, but won’t admit to it), but I struggle to do that, perhaps because of autistic literalness. I guess it’s harder than most festivals on Purim because the theme of the day is so out of my comfort zone. The same applies to Simchat Torah, but I’ve largely stopped going to shul for that, whereas on Purim I still want to hear the Megillah, which means engaging more than praying/studying at home.

So did I have a good Purim overall? It wasn’t how I expected. I had intended to spend time watching TV to chill out, which I didn’t really do, as I helped Dad with his mishloach manot and then ate a second seudah with my parents for the company. But I did enjoy that time with my parents, and I did do all the mitzvot, which matters to me a lot, and I did get something from the Megillah readings. In a weird way, I think I even enjoyed dropping off the mishloach manot, at least to my parents’ friends who I know reasonably well. So I guess it was good even if it didn’t exactly feel good. I just wish I could feel and accept my positive feelings more, but then I guess I need to learn to understand and accept all my feelings better (alexithymia). It’s hard to know where to start with something like that, although my therapist might have some ideas. I think I’ve got a bit better at it over the years, but there’s still a long way to go.

Sick Day, and Purim Evening

I slept badly again, insomnia and early waking. I did some internet searching at 6.00am; my symptoms could be olanzapine withdrawal, but they could also be one of 165 (according to Web MD) other things, from hay fever (?!) to multiple sclerosis. Withdrawal seems increasingly likely, though. I felt OK at 6.30am, so decided to get up and try to go to work. Unfortunately, as I had breakfast (today was a Jewish fast day, but I can’t fast minor fasts on lithium tablets), I started feeling like I was burning up and feeling light-headed, so decided to call in sick and go back to bed.

I tried to speak to the doctor. The doctor’s phone line opens at 8.30am and gets jammed immediately. This was the case before COVID and it’s worse now. I phoned at 8.29 and it was still shut; at 8.31 and I was in a long queue. I got through to a receptionist about forty minutes later and all the appointments for today had gone. She gave me the number for the out of hours service, which opens at 6.30pm. Unfortunately, by the time I got back from shul (see below) at 8pm, they were shut again. I’m not sure what the point of an after hours service is, if it’s only open for an hour and a half after hours.

I slept for about five hours and woke up feeling somewhat better. I got into an autistic black and white thinking state thinking that I wouldn’t be able to hear the Megillah (Book of Esther) reading in shul (synagogue). I talked things over with my parents and decided that, if I still felt OK, I would go to their shul (synagogue) for it rather than mine, so I wouldn’t have to walk and so I could have support if I felt ill, albeit mainly the moral support of sitting next to Dad as there’s not much practical that anyone can do during the reading, which is supposed to be uninterrupted (except for the noise when the wicked Haman is mentioned).

Written at 8pm:

I just got back from the Megillah reading. I’m not sure if it was a good idea. I feel bad, physically and emotionally, but I might have felt bad anyway. My parents’ shul was noisier than mine would have been, which was bad for all kinds of reasons (the law of needing to hear every word, my autism, religious OCD, and withdrawal symptoms) but it was significantly faster too, which was good given that I spent the second half of the reading feeling very ill and wanting to leave. Plus, going with my Dad, I did get a lift.

I repeated a few words that I was pretty sure that I didn’t hear, but I didn’t repeat any of the words that I was unsure about, as (a) there were a lot of them and (b) I was worried about fuelling the OCD. I feel like I won’t know until I die and go to Olam HaBa (The Next World) how many times I correctly heard the Megillah in my life, but I guess you could say that about a lot of things.

There’s a saying in the Talmud that “Sometimes the Torah is upheld by breaking it.” It’s open to abuse, but it basically means sometimes you have to break the letter of the law to save the spirit of the law, or to support a more important law. In religious OCD treatment, it can mean not taking any extra precautions or corrections beyond those absolutely mandated by Jewish law (if that), which is what I tried to do.

I also feel that I pushed myself as far as I could given I have autism/Asperger’s, and then a bit further given I’m undergoing bad withdrawal, and I really could not have done more.

There are four mitzvot (commandments) on Purim: to hear every word of the Megillah twice, evening and morning (I’ve never really understood why twice); to give gifts of food or money to the poor; to give gifts of food to friends; and to eat a festive meal on the afternoon of Purim (i.e. tomorrow). To be honest, I’m not sure I do that well at any of them, as my meal is usually alone (or at work) as my parents usually work on Purim and I tend not to get invited out.

Purim is supposed to be a day of serving God with pure joy. Unfortunately, different people have different definitions of joy. I would rather watch Doctor Who with E. But we have a halakhic definition, about celebrating in a particular way, just like we have a halakhic definition for telling the story of the exodus from Egypt on Pesach or mourning on Tisha B’Av.

Other things: my parents’ rabbi waved at me in the shul, which is good, as he’s high on the list of rabbis who might marry E and me (of all the United Synagogue rabbis I know, I think he’s the one she would connect with best, although it’s hard to tell). And my Mum has been unwell this evening too. She fasted badly on the Fast of Esther and has not recovered now it’s Purim. We do seem to be struggling this year.

***

Lately I’ve had various letters from HMRC (the taxman) and the Jobcentre saying that my benefits have been stopped now I’m working. The worrying thing is that it looks like they were stopped retroactively, so I may have to pay back more than a year of benefits! The letters are typically clear as mud. Why can’t government employees speak good English? My Mum thinks it’s just a typo, but I’m worried I’m going to get some kind of demand soon.

***

I got called for interview for the maternity cover role I applied for at the place where I had my first job. It’s next Wednesday, which is before they were planning on closing applications, so I guess that means they like me. I really don’t feel up to it right now, and I have zero confidence in my ability to do library work currently. I worry they’ve called me early because they think I’m a good candidate and I’m going to disappoint, the way I’ve disappointed so many potential, and actual, employers in the past. I also worry about having the energy to cope with working essentially four days a week. The former point is partly low self-esteem, but the latter is more objective. I feel like this is yet another thing I have to worry about right now.

I just seem to have so much on my To Do list, alongside work, relationship and all my religious and other obligations (e.g. exercise, which I have definitely been neglecting lately) and the novels I want to write, but can’t make the time and energy for. As an example, for years I used to like to keep my email Inbox clean of unread (i.e. unresponded to) mail each evening. Occasionally I would leave something marked unread that I would need to deal with in the next few days. But for weeks now I’ve had multiple unread emails — not literally unread, but not dealt with. Some of it is avoidance, but a lot of it is just not getting around to things. On the advice of my rabbi mentor, I’ve cut back on my religious obligations (which I am not entirely happy about) and I haven’t written a devar Torah (Torah thought) this week or last week, but I still feel like I’m struggling. A lot of it is about exhaustion and not having the energy to do much more than the two days of paid work I’m currently doing plus my household chores.

***

In a vague attempt at drawing all this together, I’m going to turn off my computer in a moment, leaving a lot of unanswered emails, and eat hamantashen (Purim pastry — I’ve already had two slices of Purim challah – sweet Purim bread) and watch Doctor Who, sadly without E, but to try to feel physically and emotionally better so that I can go to a morning Megillah reading. I’ve given up on the idea of going for Shacharit (Morning Prayer) at 7.30am and will go to my parents’ shul again for 11am, where hopefully it will be less rowdy than today (there will be fewer people and the children will be in school — the Jewish schools open on Purim, as it’s not a day when work is forbidden, but have celebrations instead of lessons).

I guess I feel that I would like to be able to celebrate the Jewish festivals better, the way they are supposed to be celebrated, uniting joy and physical celebration with understanding and internalising deep spiritual meaning on an intellectual and especially an emotional level. I guess, given that I have trouble understanding my own emotions, it’s not surprising I struggle with this, even before factoring in the stuff about socialising, noise, OCD and so on.

Sleep-Deprived

Last night I had insomnia from racing thoughts, aches and pains, and feeling alternately hot and cold. I think they are withdrawal symptoms from coming off the olanzapine, but the racing thoughts might be a sign that I still have agitated thoughts that I need to control with medication. I just have to see how things develop. Eventually I fell asleep, but I woke up after two or three hours, could not get back to sleep. Perhaps surprisingly, I felt mostly OK when I got up. My thoughts seemed “fast,” so to speak, but not racing. My concentration was a little impaired from the thoughts and the lack of sleep, but I seemed OK on the whole, so I went to work. I was a bit late, but I’d texted J beforehand to explain and he was understanding.

I got through the day despite struggling with tiredness and, in the afternoon, more aches and pains. The day passed slowly and I nearly went home mid-afternoon, because I was feeling worse, but I managed to get the energy to keep going despite everything.

I’m worried about the rest of this week, particularly the (super-autism-unfriendly) Jewish festival of Purim on Wednesday night and Thursday. I was going to write my worries here to offload, as I usually do, but it occurred to me that maybe that just makes them worse and I should just do my best and try to accept whatever happens. So here goes.

***

When I woke up this morning I thought I had an idea for an article to pitch to the Jewish website I’ve written for before that I’d been thinking about when my thoughts were racing at night. I didn’t have time to write it down before work and now I can’t work out what it was. I feel I have an opening, then a bit for about three-quarters of the way through, but I can’t link those two passages or work out what the conclusion was supposed to be. It is possible that my thoughts were racing so much, and I was so tired this morning, that I didn’t actually have any more of the article than that, and it only seemed like a really good idea because I was too tired to think straight and see that it was only half a good idea. Either way, it’s frustrating.

***

I’ve been thinking a bit about my recently-diagnosed-with-autism cousin. He’s not really like me at all. (His elder brother is a lot more like me, but my parents think he’s on the spectrum too.) So then I started wondering if I would be more like him if various negative events hadn’t happened when I was a child, or if my parents were more like his parents. But there really is no end to those thoughts once you start down that route. I guess the root of this is my fear that I wouldn’t be diagnosed, which still sometimes raises it’s head as a fear that I’m not “really” autistic, just useless. Also, my attempts to try to find the boundaries between my autism and my personality, which is probably not possible.

***

I think I should go to bed, although it’s not yet 9.30pm. I don’t actually feel that tired; I’ve gone through the tiredness, and I’m wondering if I should watch TV for a little to unwind, but I think I will probably just go to bed and hope I fall asleep once I get in there.

The Square Root of Infinity

Shabbat (the Sabbath) was in the normal pattern for the last few months. I went to shul (synagogue) and got a bit overwhelmed by all the clapping and banging on tables. I’m sure it didn’t used to be this bad, but maybe it was easier to cope when the room was larger and more spaced, even though there were more people? That said, I think there has been objectively more clapping since we got a more Hasidishe rabbi about a year before COVID started. Before that, fewer people clapped and hit the tables, and they didn’t clap or hit as loudly.

I didn’t go to shiur (religious class) again, although I did quite a bit of Talmud study at home. My Talmud study is probably completely out of sync with the shiur by now. I’m not actually sure where they’re up to. I was ahead of them, but then I stopped for a few weeks when I went to America. But I’m trying to do one page (single side) every week or so, going over it three times, whereas they go through more slowly, looking at the commentaries of Rashi and Tosafot, which I don’t tackle in the absence of a translation. I feel that I’m understanding it a little bit better than I was. That said, I had the insight a while back that Talmud study is not meant to teach you halakhah (Jewish law), but to teach you to think like a rabbi, to compare and analyse rabbinic sources and to learn how to connect orally-transmitted laws to the written Torah. I’m not sure that it’s working for me there, although I’m not sure how many people it does work for in that way.

I had trouble sleeping on Friday night and again on Saturday night, so maybe it is not just nights before work where I have trouble sleeping. I wonder if it might be related to my medication reduction, but I think it was happening before then.

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Today did not start well: I overslept, slept through my phone ringing, which turned out to be a work-related phone call (which I wouldn’t have had the answer to anyway) and woke with some anxiety (albeit fairly mild). On Friday I had a burst of creativity, of ideas for a potential satirical novel (see below). This flood of inspiration started before Shabbat and continued into Shabbat, although I was trying not to think about it then, as it wasn’t appropriate. I wrote down a lot of ideas last night and laid out some kind of rudimentary plot outline. I wonder if this exhaustion is a consequence of that creativity? Usually I associate exhaustion with actually doing something, not just thinking about it, but it’s hard to see what else it could be.

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I emailed the occupational therapist I saw a number of years ago to see if she can recommend someone who can work with me on fatigue management and maybe thinking about why I make so many mistakes at work. I did a quick online search and there are OTs out there in London who work with people with Asperger’s/high functioning autism, although I’m not sure how many work with adults.

***

I had an idea for satirical novel recently. On Friday (and to a lesser extent over the whole weekend), I had a burst of inspiration about it. I don’t intend to work on it right now, but perhaps as the next project, although I will continue to note ideas and maybe to slowly evolve plot and characters.

I am terrified of being ‘cancelled’ because of it as, while it satirises many things, it focuses on ‘wokeness’ and performative forms of politicised morality. Although it is more likely that I would simply not find an agent or a publisher who will touch it, as the publishing industry is very woke. E asked me if I would rather be cancelled or never do anything worth being cancelled for. I guess that makes sense. I would rather be cancelled than censor myself.

What I really wanted to do was just not to write about politics and fly under the radar, but obviously my unconscious disagreed. Orwell wrote that writers have to be honest, and not swayed by public opinion, political expediency or state censorship, which I guess is true, but the thought of losing friends upsets me more. I don’t mind having friends with different political outlooks, but I fear some of my friends wouldn’t want to associate with me if they knew some of my thoughts, which aren’t even particularly extreme, but the world is so polarised that even slight deviations are punishable. I feel the world divides at the moment into those who take offence at everything and those who vanish to avoid saying anything controversial. I don’t want to take offence at everything, but I am beginning to feel that vanishing is not much fun either, even if it’s my instinct.

I don’t really see myself as a satirist or a polemicist, and my impulse is to run away from controversy. But maybe that’s why part of me is pushing me towards this. Like wanting to go bungee jumping or skydiving. Live dangerously, not something I’ve ever done until now. And it does trouble me that not only does our society no longer have any shared values, we can’t even agree on basic facts any more. Where would you even go to find impartial facts? Not the supposedly-impartial BBC, nor the self-proclaimed fact checkers (who fact checks the fact checkers?). It’s troubling. How can a society function when there are two (or more) different sets of basic facts? And maybe neither are correct. It’s not that one group is saying 2+2=4 and the other says 2+2=5. It’s more like one group says 2+2=5 and the other says 2+2= the square root of infinity.