Airport Anxiety

I woke up about 10am, very tired, but I somehow managed to get up, and stay up, which was good, as on past experience I could easily have slept for another two hours. I really hope I get this sleep disorder diagnosed soon!

It was a very grim and overcast day today, with lots of rain. We had to turn the lights on before 2pm, which made everything feel later than it actually was.

I did most of my packing (although there’s a bit more to do tomorrow, once I’ve finished with my rucksack for work) and tried to get documents ready for my trip. Virgin have an online thing where you can fill out paperwork and upload proof of vaccination to save time at the airport. Supposedly, anyway. My experience is that they make you go through it again at the airport. I wasn’t going to upload proof of vaccination, as I know they check it again, and I find doing anything technical on my phone a pain, but in the end I had a go to try reduce anxiety, but failed, because they rejected my vaccination on the grounds that the “manufacturer is not accepted” and I have no idea why. I hope it was just a glitch.

I can’t work out if they’ve rejected the vaccine or the NHS COVID app or the pdf I downloaded from the COVID app. In terms of vaccines, I’ve had two Astra-Zenecas, one Moderna booster and, last week, a Pfizer booster, all of which are accepted. The only thing I can think of is that my last booster was less than fourteen days ago and I’m worried they will stop me even though I should still be covered by the one before that. The CDC says:

You are considered fully vaccinated…

  • 2 weeks (14 days) after your second dose of an accepted 2-dose series…

If you don’t meet these requirements, you are NOT considered fully vaccinated. A booster dose is not needed to meet this requirement.

This sort of implies that as long as I’m two weeks after the second dose of my initial vaccine I should be OK regardless of my booster situation, but I’m still worried. Bureaucrats, particularly immigration ones are not noted for their flexibility of mind and tolerance of error and confusion.

(Before anyone says just don’t show them the documentation for the booster, my experience is that they get me to open the NHS app on my phone and then take it from me and flip through it themselves.)

The email says that if I think the rejection is mistaken, I can go through this again at the airport, but it’s extra stress for someone who finds airports stressful and anxiety-provoking at the best of times.  I am now having worries about going into full autistic not understanding/coping mode at the airport and not being understood…

Anyway, I wasted a lot of time and energy on that and made myself very anxious. I ran out of time to go for a run, although it was raining so I probably wouldn’t have gone anyway. I did go for a walk (in the rain) and did some Torah study as well as the packing, so I did quite a bit, I just wish that travel didn’t have to be so anxiety-provoking even without COVID. It’s the unfamiliar, sensory overload and lots of strangers in my personal space and the need to communicate with scary officials, not things I manage well, plus the risk of migraine.

Demons

I feel rather down today. Shabbat (the Sabbath) started OK. The good news I had yesterday was a job agency wanting to put my name forward for a librarian job. I need to update my CV and say yes. So that put me in a good mindset. I coped with shul (synagogue) despite the SHOUTING chazzan (cantor). I did some Torah study, including Talmud study after dinner, but ran out of time to do much recreational reading.

Today was much worse. Mum and Dad were out for lunch, which inevitably meant my getting up and getting dressed even later than usual. I spent a lot of time today in bed with the duvet and weighted blanket wrapped around me, trying to feel calm and comforted. I had lunch by myself, which was fine (I read about the last days of Franklin Roosevelt and the surprising unpreparedness of Harry Truman in Accidental Presidents), but across the day as a whole, my mood went down, with some loneliness, low mood (depression-low, although hopefully not lasting long enough to be depression) and missing E and fear that I’m not going to get that good new job as I haven’t worked in the library sector properly for years and have all kinds of gaps on my CV. I didn’t do much Torah study, and then Shabbat was over just after 5pm. And I have a headache that is resisting medication.

***

After Shabbat, I checked email and worried I’d upset someone with my political views. I would much rather hide my thoughts than express myself and risk upsetting people with different views. I suspect this is not considered acceptable these days of extreme individualism and self-expression, but maybe it would be better if more people did it. However, I see things that are wrong in the world, and I want to protest. I don’t really think most people can actually change the world (another unacceptable view), so I’d rather keep my friends, but there is a “demon” inside me (metaphorically; I’m neither a kabbalist nor a psychotic) that makes me want to write “edgy” or “provocative” things in whichever community I find myself, whether sexual material in the Orthodox world or anti-woke material in the wider UK mediascape where the Left does indeed have a monopoly on satire. Not that I really think of myself as “right-wing” (ugh) or even “conservative” in the way most people use the term. Maybe I just want to be sui generis. Either way, if I write anything I feel I’ll offend people. But I desperately need to write and am suffering from not being able to do so right now!

(As an aside, I had a friend at secondary school who was very clever, but also very lazy and badly behaved. He loved to mock or joke around. In retrospect, he may have been neurodiverse himself. I suddenly find myself wondering if this is how he felt, wanting to say stuff just because “Everyone” says you shouldn’t say it?)

There is a further problem that my satirical novel is not really ready to start writing yet. It probably needs a whole new plot (I haven’t had either time or courage to look at my notes). I may need to do research, although I’m in two minds about that. It’s not going to be detailed, realistic satire like Yes Minister and Yes Prime Minister, but dystopian-science fiction-black comedy, inspired by things like Nineteen Eighty-Four, Brave New World, Gulliver’s Travels, lots of Philip K. Dick novels, maybe the Blade Runner films, Brazil (the Terry Gilliam film), V for Vendetta (the style, but not the content), The Prisoner and Doctor Who stories like The Macra Terror, The Happiness Patrol and The Beast Below.

***

My biggest negative thought recently (going on for some weeks now, but particularly the last two days), is feeling that my autism has stopped me from being socialised into the frum (religious Jewish) community. There’s a LOT I could say here, but I’ll mention that autism, and related social anxiety stemming from autism-related bullying, made me skip all the experiences that socialise teenagers in the Anglo-Jewish community into the Jewish and frum worlds:  shul youth services, youth movements, Israel tour and yeshivah (not going to yeshivah was because of a whole bunch of reasons mostly unrelated to autism, but I think autism would have made it damaging for me if I had gone). I then had a weird relationship with the Jewish Society at university, until my breakdown/burnout when I moved away from it. I then struggled to find a way into the community as a young adult (twenties and thirties) dealing with depression, social anxiety and undiagnosed autism, feeling that I wasn’t able to talk to people at social events and increasingly reluctant to try.

I’ve never had many frum friends, although I have a couple. I find it hard to socialise at Kiddush and other community social events, because there’s too much background noise so I can’t hear words properly. I used to leave kiddush after five minutes or so; then someone criticised me for that, and for not going to shul much in the morning (which is due to social anxiety and possibly a sleep disorder). Then COVID hit, and I got my autism diagnosis. Whether it’s an effect of COVID and being isolated for so long, or of being diagnosed and more conscious of my needs, or just of getting older (there is anecdotal evidence undiagnosed autistics’ tolerance for noise and people declines with age), I now find being in big rooms with lots of people (or even just a few people) being noisy very difficult and am less inclined to put myself into those situations. But it’s hard to be part of the frum world without going to shul regularly, particularly for a man.

Lately, I find it harder and harder to go to shul, because of the noise and people. I think this fuels my social anxiety. There have been times during my burnout when I’ve stopped going to shul completely, which I suspect was autism-influenced, although it was before my diagnosis. Of course, there was a period of several years when I went to shul daily, or several times a day, led services and gave drashot (Torah classes) and I would like to move back towards being in that place, but I think it was the result of a number of circumstances that are hard to replicate now. I wish I could make lightning strike twice in this area, but I’m not sure how.

I honestly don’t know what I could do to make things better for me, though. I spoke to a rabbi about it over a year ago and I think he was frustrated that I didn’t have any practical suggestions for change, but I find it hard to think what would make things easier for me, let alone how to make them materialise.

I would like to post this somewhere, but I don’t know where. I think the autism forum would not understand it, and might use it to make anti-religious points. I don’t know if it’s appropriate to post it to the Orthodox Conundrum group. The Jewish autism groups I belong to are small and don’t post much, and I haven’t really introduced myself on them, so I’m scared what the result would be of posting out of the blue.

***

This doesn’t really fit anywhere in this post, but Virgin Atlantic got back to me and I don’t think they can offer me any help at the airport beyond the sunflower “invisible disabilities” lanyard and their own invisible disabilities sign. Again, I want things to be different, and maybe they could be, but if I can’t articulate them, they won’t happen.

***

I feel like I wasted the whole evening writing this post, and I still didn’t really express what I want to say. It’s horrible not really knowing what I feel half the time, let alone being able to put it into words (when I’m supposedly hyper-literate and good with words).

Sigh. Politics is a bore, autism is a bore, writing is not a bore, but feeling impelled to write things that I am more than a little suspicious of myself is a bore. And headaches are a bore.

Going to watch Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life for a bit, then interrupt and try to do some of the chores I set for myself to do tonight and which I haven’t started yet, if I can, then finish the film and try not to go to bed too late.

Therapy, A Cat, and Growing Up in the 1980s

I started my sleep study last night. I had to wear a sensor on my finger and stick another one to my neck (it was wireless). The instructions for the neck sensor were on the phone that came with it and not on paper (I thought they had forgotten to send it to me). I didn’t sleep so well and I think I woke up a few times in the night, probably because I was worried I would knock the sensor off, although it stayed in place all night.

I did spend some time working on a profile for myself as a freelance proofreader and researched what fees I could charge. I still feel nervous about this, but I’m getting closer to it.

In therapy, I spoke about the negative feelings that I think working on my novel is prompting inside me (inchoate feelings of guilt and anxiety, mostly around sex). E thought I should put my novel on hold until we’re married. My therapist agreed, suggesting I put it in a box for now (metaphorically) as engaging with ideas around sex is just “re-traumatising” me and triggering feelings of guilt and anxiety when I work on novel. (I’m not sure I would have described these feelings as “trauma,” but I’ll put that aside for now.)

My therapist also suggested that I label as “undermining” my thoughts of guilt and anxiety rather than paying attention to them. We spoke about focusing on “empowering” voices about the love, good communication and so on that E and I have in our relationship instead.

In the evening I had chatan (bridegroom) religious class. I’m not sure it was a good idea to agree to do this in person the night before work. I’m not going to write about the class itself, as I’m still processing thoughts from it. I will say I found it hard to concentrate at times, at first from the heavy rain falling on the skylight ceiling, then from tiredness, and also from the cat that was walking in and out all the time. At one point she jumped on the table, stood in front of me and stared into my eyes as if she was trying to work out who I was and what I was doing in her house.

***

This was a comment I posted on the autism forum in a discussion about whether it is better to live as an autistic person now or in 1980 that I thought might be of interest:

As someone a bit younger (I think) than other commenters here, I’m finding this interesting.

I was born in the early eighties, so not born online, but computers, and then the internet, slowly crept into my life in my teens.

Things are mostly better now, certainly in my personal life, but partly because of technological change. I wouldn’t have met my wife without the internet, or managed a long-distance relationship without Skype or Zoom. And, while I’ve never really felt I “found my tribe,” I have made good friends online and am a lot less isolated than I would be without it. Blogging has been good for me to process my emotions, but private journaling never worked for me; it’s the interactions with readers that help me to write. Plus, like Shardovan [another commenter on the thread] said [of himself], I was probably “born old” and wouldn’t have fitted in whenever I was born (most of the music and TV I like are from the 60s and 70s, and the books I read tend to be even older!).

Also, although it came too late for me, it’s good that high-functioning autism is picked up now whereas there was really no awareness of it when I was at school (hence I didn’t get diagnosed until years later).

The downsides are the total sensory overload from omnipresent “devices” nowadays not to mention video adverts in shop windows and on the streets and even more noise. I find this makes me very uncomfortable, more so as I get older, and I’m not sure how much is my resistance to it declining and how much is that there are just more noises and moving pictures now. Sometimes I would like to live in a quieter era. As an Orthodox Jew, I don’t use computers, TV, phones etc. on the Sabbath and it’s very calming, but I still end up back on them straight afterwards (the downside of having most of my social life online, and of my wife being stuck in the US until her visa arrives).

Sometimes I wonder what it would have been like being a teenager in the era of social media. Would I have made friends online more easily than I managed at school? Or would the kids who bullied me at school just bully me at home via Facebook? It’s scary to think about. The secondary school I attended has had three student suicides in the last five years or so, which terrifies me.

Weird Thoughts

I feel pretty overwhelmed today. Yesterday was rather stressful, but I’d hoped to do a lot more in the afternoon than I managed. I now have two To Do lists: my ongoing, long-term To Do list with things like wedding preparation, novel writing/submitting and trying to set up as a proof-reader, and my short-term To Do list from yesterday, which realistically is going to take a couple of days to get through. I feel miserable about this.

I know that getting married, moving house, and changing career are all typically overwhelming and that I’m trying to do all three in the space of a few months, while juggling autism, social anxiety and a possible sleep disorder plus working on a novel with another one I want to substantially rewrite when I get time (!) and plans for a third. Even so, I feel overwhelmed and more than a little inadequate.

I guess I feel like I’m in a hurry. E and I are in a hurry to get married by now, and I want to make progress with starting as a proof-reader (as we will need the money) and with my writing (as I want to get my thoughts out of my head, and at times at least feel that that would be a good thing for other people too). Plus, I’m nearly forty, I feel I should have something to show for four decades on this planet.

***

Work was hard too. Two of the other people in the building really don’t get on. It’s technically nothing to do with us, but one comes in periodically to vent to J. Today we had both of them in at different times, one threatening to resign. I’m not good at being around strong emotions like that. There are also building works going on which meant that there was a lot of noise (machine noise, but also frequent effing from the builders) and strange smells. Not good for autistics.

Some other stuff happened at work that was stressful, but I can’t really go into it publicly.

I somehow got a voicemail with no record of a missed call. It was the psychiatrist’s secretary saying my appointment tomorrow (about trying to reduce some of my meds) is cancelled. No explanation, typical NHS. They have booked me in for the earliest next appointment, which is 2 December, but I’ll be in New York, so I need to phone and get a new one. I’m going to volunteering tomorrow instead. I thought of staying home and trying to work through the short-term To Do list, but realistically I will just oversleep, so I might as well volunteer and do something useful and still start on the To Do list around 2pm.

When I got home, the apparatus for my sleep study had arrived. Unfortunately, they had not sent all the instructions, so I can’t start that tonight. I blamed the NHS, but, on inspection, I think this is contracted out.

***

Lately I feel that I’ve been having a lot of negative memories. They’re usually memories of stuff I’ve done wrong, from minor things no one except me noticed to times when my boss in my further education job got really annoyed with me. I can’t work out if this is new or if I’ve just become aware of it. I know I’ve had it in the past, but my subjective impression is that it got better for a bit and is now getting worse again. I haven’t had this so much recently, but sometimes the memories feel very intense, and I have the vague and irrational feeling that somehow I could re-enter that point in my life. (I don’t think this is anything to do with PTSD flashbacks, if only because having PTSD about being told off by my boss or misbehaving at school makes no sense.)

I’ve also been feeling more aware lately that other people are individuals with their own thoughts and feelings. I feel like this especially when I’m in a crowd. It inspires awe and also a bit of fear. One of my favourite Jewish teachings is that, when seeing a crowd of 600,000 or more Jews, we say a blessing thanking God who “knows secrets,” i.e. the secret thoughts of each individual. I find it interesting that when faced with a crowd we emphasise the individuality of everyone in it, not the size of the crowd as a whole. The Talmud says that, just as the people in the crowd have different faces, so they have different thoughts. The Kotzker Rebbe emphasised this by stating just as it doesn’t bother you that their faces are different to your own, it shouldn’t bother you that their thoughts are different.

It can be hard to do this, to think about other people being individuals without being bothered. I tend to assume that people with different thoughts would reject me. I personally can accept mutually opposing truths, even pride myself on my ability to “contain” different beliefs in a detached way, seeing multiple perspectives on a complex religious or political reality, but I worry other people can’t accept my beliefs if they disagree. I’m not sure how rational this is. People can be very judgmental and intolerant, but also most people are not going to want to analyse all your religious, political and cultural beliefs before deciding whether they like you.

Wedding Fair

I went to shul (synagogue) on Friday night. I’m trying to get there early, as I got fed up of always being late, and am trying to ‘centre’ and calm myself before services these days (this generally doesn’t work if I’m in a shul, as everyone is talking loudly until right up to the start of the service). On the way in, I saw Rabbi L, the rabbi of the shul, and the rabbi E and I have asked to marry us. He said he would like to catch up with me, then said something else I didn’t hear as he was walking away from me. This left me with mild anxiety throughout the service that he would want to talk to me afterwards. He dashed off after the service, so I emailed him today with details of where we are with the visa and wedding situation. Hopefully this was all he wanted.

I had some anxiety in general over Shabbat because of things going on at home. I am really ready to move out and live with E, scary though that sounds when I’ve spent most of my life either living at home or in the sheltered environment of Oxford. The exception was about two years where I lived by myself, but I used to go home for Shabbat (Sabbath) most weeks, so it wasn’t entirely independent.

I slept too much again and had a slight headache after Shabbat, so I didn’t do as much stuff as I’d wanted to do on Saturday night.

Today I went to a Jewish wedding and bar/bat mitzvah fair with my parents. When we got into the hotel where it was being held, I was immediately hit by the loud music.  A DJ or singer was advertising himself very loudly. I wish someone had told him to turn it down. My whole experience there was overload, from the music, the people, the expectation to speak and my lack of knowledge of organising or even going to parties. My parents did most of the talking, not least because I could barely hear anything or think of even basic stuff to say. This was good, because I don’t know what would have happened if I’d gone by myself (I would probably have just picked up some business cards and left without talking to anyone), but bad because I think people wondered why I wasn’t much/anything. I was wearing my invisible disability sunflower lanyard, so maybe people thought I was deaf or had some other issue (I mean, I did have another issue). My parents are organising an anniversary party for themselves, so they did have a reason to be there independently of me.

It was worth going overall, but it made me wonder how I went so many years without being diagnosed autistic. I guess I used to think that I didn’t like loud music because I didn’t like the genre of music or music in general, or that I didn’t like busy places because of social anxiety rather because of sensory overload. My parents and I spoke about my uncle’s wedding, when I was six. I really hated the party and for decades afterwards everyone assumed I was in a foul mood and determined to make everyone’s life miserable. Now of course we know that I was probably suffering social and sensory overload, as well as confusion about what happens at parties and frustration from not knowing when it would end. At my sister’s wedding in 2017, we were prepared and made sure there was a quiet room for me to go to when it got too much.

Someone at the fair thought that I was still at university! This was because of my Oxford-related email address (not an actual university one, but it looks like it). I guess I was flattered that I look twenty years younger than I am. It’s thought that autistic people often look young; it’s speculated that we show our emotions on our faces much less than allistics (non-autistics), so we don’t wrinkle as much.

I went for a run when I got home and got an exercise headache again. Between the headache and the fair, I didn’t do much else, although I did have a longer-than-usual Skype call with E, talking largely about wedding plans. I only managed a little over ten minutes of Torah study, which is disappointing. I did no work on my novel aside from a few minutes of research reading, and few of the long list of chores I wanted to get through today.

I tried to see if I could get help at the airport when I go to New York because of my autism, but I couldn’t find anything for autism, only for physical disabilities. I was looking for help navigating the airport with sensory overload, sometimes leading to difficulties hearing what staff are saying, as someone on the autism forum says he manages to get help (of course, he may have a physical disability too for all I know).

It’s got very late, but I feel I need to watch some TV to unwind after an overloading day, otherwise I won’t sleep and/or will be in a bad state tomorrow.

Inspiring Jewish Books

Late last night I was very hungry and couldn’t stop being hungry, no matter what I ate. This occasionally happens to me and I don’t know why. I had hoped to get an earlyish night, but I couldn’t because I was eating. Inevitably, I struggled to get up early this morning, the third consecutive early morning (some people do this every day).

At work I had to make phone calls asking people for outstanding payments again. The more I did, the easier it got, as per exposure therapy, up until the point where I ended up with an extremely angry person who said we hadn’t sent her an invoice. She shouted at me a lot. I got quite upset, but stayed on the call until J (who was on a different call on the other line) signalled to me that I should tell her he would call her back.

Afterwards, it occurred to me that maybe I forgot to send her the invoice. There was no invoice in my sent mail folder. Perhaps I had sent it in the snail mail and it got lost in the post, but perhaps I had just forgotten to send it. To be fair to myself, she did admit she booked the event through a third party, which is not what people are supposed to do (they are supposed to call us directly), and they apparently did not make the charges clear to her either. So perhaps it was not my fault. But as, after this, I got confused when I had to multitask through several things at once, it’s not hard to believe that something similar happened.

On the plus side, after dinner I managed an extra half-hour of Torah study (in addition to the half-hour I did on the train in to work) and fifteen or twenty minutes of novel research. Then I got a really weird response to a comment I left on a FB post. I honestly don’t understand what it’s saying, whether it’s broadly agreeing with me, disagreeing with me, arguing with me, something else entirely. No idea.

***

A while back, the Tube started displaying posters saying that non-consensual touching or staring is sexual harassment and will be prosecuted. This resulted in a degree of ridicule, with people saying that the police often refuse to investigate serious crimes, even rape, because they say they don’t have the resources to do so, so are they really going to prosecute people for staring on the Tube?

Today I saw a Tube poster calling on passengers to intervene if they see sexual harassment. There was a disclaimer about only intervening if you can do so safely, which just introduced an element of mixed messaging and confusion. When I told E, she suggested that, in the absence of more funding, perhaps the police were starting a deliberate policy of encouraging vigilantism. I guess we’ll soon be having amateur Sherlock Holmes-types crawling over murder scenes while the actual forensic police officers fill in paperwork.

I have often wondered about this idea of intervening if I were to see some kind of harassment (sexual, racial, homophobic, transphobic). I see stories about harassment in the news and wonder what I would do if I saw that happening. Regardless of what the poster says, I am disinclined to do anything. I can see that sort of confrontation escalating very quickly and ending in my getting hit or stabbed. Unlike America, it’s unlikely that I would get shot, but the number of stabbings keeps rising and no one seems to know what to do about it.

***

On the Orthodox Conundrum Facebook page, Rabbi Kahn asked for twentieth and twenty-first century Jewish books that have inspired us. This is what I wrote (reformatted for WP):

Hard to narrow it down to just a few but:

Rabbi Lord Sacks: many things, I’ll name Radical Then, Radical Now and the Torah commentary essays.

Rav Soloveitchik: The Lonely Man of Faith

Rabbi Michael Rosen: The Quest for Authenticity: The Thought of Reb Simhah Bunim

Chaim Feinberg: Leaping Souls: Rabbi Menachem Mendel and the Spirit of Kotzk

Arthur Green: Tormented Master: The Life and Spiritual Quest of Rabbi Nahman of Bratslav

Abraham Joshua Heschel: A Passion for Truth

Rabbi Eliezer Berkovits’ essay: A Jewish Sexual Ethics

[End of passage from FB]

A few things that strike me from this list.

  1. In a list of books from the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, I picked four books about nineteenth century rabbis. I’m not sure what this says about me. Possibly that I can’t answer a question in a straightforward way.
  2. Out of eight books and essays, three are wholly or partly about the Kotzker Rebbe (Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Kotzk). I was thinking about my autistic special interests the other day and trying to work out what are autistic special interests and what are just interests. I felt Judaism probably isn’t a special interest, but the Kotzker probably is. This list seems to confirm that.
  3. Pretty much every text on this list is by or about someone who is considered a Jewish religious existentialist or proto-existentialist (I don’t think Rabbi Berkovits is, but in the essay he talks about Martin Buber and I-Thou encounters, so that probably counts on some level).
  4. I am a virgin, yet I picked an essay on sexual ethics as one of the most inspirational to me, and I wasn’t trying to be funny, sarcastic, clever or anything like that. That essay has really shaped how I view sexuality and what I would like it to be for me when E and I get married, and even by extension how to have meaningful non-sexual relationships.

Franklin Roosevelt, Pitt the Younger, Orpheus, Abraham and Me

At work, J sent me to get some spare keys cut (the ones I couldn’t get cut last week). I found somewhere that would cut them, but for more than he was expecting. I wasn’t sure if J was back in the office or still in shul (synagogue). Logically, I should have phoned, but social anxiety, phone anxiety, executive function issues around making an on the spot decision and conflicting ideas about showing initiative versus asking permission resulted in my getting the keys cut, then retroactively texting to check if that was OK, which was not a good way of handling it.

On the way to get the keys cut, I passed Franklin Roosevelt’s statue in Grosvenor Square, although only from behind (I couldn’t justify the detour to look at the front). There are six US Presidents with statues in London: Lincoln, Franklin Roosevelt, Eisenhower, Kennedy, Reagan and George Washington (the latter of which I think is pretty broadminded of us, all things considered). E and I might try to do a walk to visit all six in one day. But not on a wet November day.

I passed Pitt the Younger’s statue in Hanover Square too. There was a seagull on his head. He deserved better.

***

I feel like I get “friend crushes” on people when I think I would like to be their friend, online or in person. I am generally no better at managing these than I was at managing my real crushes in my single days. I don’t know what to do about this.

***

I was thinking today about Orpheus in the Underworld, and how I similarly think that if I do one thing wrong, I will lose E forever. I mean one thing wrong religiously, that God will punish me by taking her away from me, rather than that I will scare her off. I’m pretty sure she’s seen most of my negative side by now. There is also a fear of losing any reward I might have earned in the Next World by doing something wrong here, probably something fundamental about my life’s priorities e.g. writing if I’m not supposed to write; not writing if I am supposed to write; or not involving myself enough in the community.

I was also thinking, inevitably for the week of parashat Vayeira, of the Akeidah, Avraham (Abraham) being told to sacrifice Yitzchak (Isaac). I’ve worried a lot over the years that, even if I get my life sorted, or just a bit better, at some point God will want me to sacrifice it all for Him. I have never been able to get away from this fear, even though I vaguely intuit that if I asked a rabbi, he would say it’s a ridiculous fear. I think of people who lost everything in the Holocaust, even though that may not be a sensible comparison.

This is probably all over-thinking, but I can’t stop doing it.

***

Thinking about conversations here about whether God will “make allowances” for my autism and mental health issues made me wonder if I assume that if the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) insist I can work (as they do) then (1) I have no legitimate reason not to work or even to struggle and (2) that God will be as strict as the notoriously strict DWP when assessing my life.

I have also noted that I am uncomfortable with the “ableism” discourse that sees autism as a difference rather than a disability and blames all of autistic people’s struggles on “ableist” neurotypical society. There are several things I find uncomfortable with this, but for now I will just note that I feel (and I think social psychology evidence supports me) that responsibility is healthier than a culture of victimhood, just as gratitude is healthier than privilege-checking. Nevertheless, I do fall into the mindset of victimhood at times.

I am not sure if seeing myself as disabled rather than different or a victim of ableism is part of this victim mentality or not.

***

As an example of my victim mentality, someone I’m following on Facebook posted about the nasty things her peers wrote about her in her yearbook when she was fifteen and was an undiagnosed autistic. I posted the following comment, but now I worry it was too self-pitying and passive aggressive. I find social interactions hard, even with other autistic people, even online. I probably am passive aggressive when faced with autistic people who are “living their best possible life,” or something even vaguely approximating it, doubly so when they’re significantly younger than me and have a lot more “best possible life” to look forward to than I do.

Yearbooks are an American thing we don’t have in the UK, but when I finished GCSEs (age 15-16), my peers wanted to do it anyway because of Hollywood. The teachers stopped them, supposedly because those making the yearbook wrote nasty things about me and my geeky friends (I don’t know what they wrote, just that it was nasty). After A-Levels (age 17-18), they had another go and this time got it published, but I don’t know what they wrote, as I didn’t want to waste my money buying books about people I had no desire to remember. I’d love to say I’m living the sort of joyous, meaningful life that is the best form of revenge, but, sadly, I’m not, but I’m glad that you are!

Cause Without a Rebel

There’s been some anxiety hanging around over the last few days, partly around social media use and whether I should try to make friends on it, if I just make a fool of myself trying to connect with people, if we’ll argue about politics and so on. When I went back on Facebook, I intended to use it mainly for groups to avoid this kind of drama, but I guess inevitably as I get to know people in groups, I will want to connect with them outside the groups.

Another worry is that I feel I want to get to a place where my life is ‘sorted’ and stable, at least for a while, but that may never happen. At least I have E, even if she is on another continent at the moment, but I want my life to be stable so our life together will be stable and easier for her, but I think we both have too many ‘issues’ for that. I just feel that E is having to sacrifice so much for me that I just want to make things easier for her.

Shabbat (the Sabbath) was OK, but not great. I got to shul on Friday night for the first time in a couple of weeks. I was feeling somewhat down, not literally clinical depression, but colloquially depressed. I spent a lot of time in bed, as usual, not just at night/morning, but after shul (synagogue) on Friday night and again after breakfast this morning and twice in the afternoon. Going to bed was more seeking autistic sensory comfort than from tiredness; I wrap myself in my duvet and/or weighted blanket and/or curl up in the foetal position and it calms me down.

I spent a lot of time (in bed and outside it) thinking about autism, disability, autistic superpowers and whether I would be better off without being autistic and this probably contributed to the depressed feeling. I know I’ve written about this before, but I just can’t share the view that autism is merely a difference or even a strength and that the only struggles from being autistic come from the supposed “ableism” of society. In the end, I concluded there were too many variables to meaningfully describe what my life would be like without autism, and that God clearly wants me to be autistic. Even so, without knowing what my mission in life is, what He wants me to accomplish by being autistic, it is hard to work out if my focus should be on paid work, writing or religious obligations.

I really missed E a lot too.

Other than that, I ate far too many pretzels (the little kind) and probably too many biscuits (although not nearly as many as the pretzels) and had a very mild, but persistent headache intermittently from Friday night until an hour or so ago.

After Shabbat, I discovered I had a begging letter from the University of Oxford again, this time from the History Faculty (my BA was in History). I get them every so often, because even Oxford, the oldest university in the English-speaking world and one of the most prestigious and highly-rated, has money trouble (within reason. A lot of the colleges are vast landowners and completely loaded). To be fair, the cause they wanted to raise money for is worthwhile (to increase access for students from poor backgrounds), but I had a miserable time at Oxford and prefer to send my money (a) elsewhere and (b) to causes that are more ‘life and death’ e.g. food for refugees or those on the breadline. But getting these begging letters just reminds me that I went to Oxford and I should therefore now be a super-successful, super-rich hot-shot lawyer, politician or high-ranking civil servant and not a poor, part-time office administrator. It’s sad that, so many years after making me more miserable than I have ever been in my life (I very nearly attempted suicide), Oxford is still making me miserable.

Other than that, I’ve spent too long this evening writing this post and reading autistic forum and autistic relationship FB group posts, and I’m not entirely sure why. Something about trying to connect with people and understand myself as well as deal with fears that being autistic means not being able to manage relationships. I don’t think this is the case, but it’s disturbing to read, on two different forums (fora!), two different people talking about essentially being verbally and emotionally abused by their autistic partner, who says everything they do wrong is down to autism and therefore (they argue) beyond reproach.

On one forum someone wrote about getting meltdowns from, “seeing everything in great details, hearing every minute sound at the same level, pretending to be happy when inside they are dying and not liking the fake people surrounding them, smelling everything that each person has used in bodycare/fragrance/hair products etc, feeling exhausted from the pointless chat about weekends to a point where disassociation happens, feeling like people training you are talking but you can’t hear it because you feel so stressed and in shock that your mind cannot connect” and more. I’ve experienced some of this, but I don’t really get meltdowns. Very rarely I get panic attacks that probably verge on meltdowns, but I haven’t had one since knowing more about autism to be sure.

I wonder why I don’t get meltdowns when so many autistic people do. Not that I want them, but not getting them reinforces the feelings I still occasionally get that I’m not “really” autistic, or that I’m not autistic “enough” to justify the work and social problems I have. Maybe I’m just good at masking and then end up burnt out. I do get shutdowns, but, again, not as bad as some people get.

***

A couple of thoughts from things I’ve been reading/listening to lately:

Both a devar Torah (Torah thought) I read from Rabbi Lord Sacks z”tzl and an Orthodox Conundrum podcast about Rav Shagar z”tzl spoke about parents and the need to differentiate from them, and then later to realise how much you have in common with them and how much you are indebted to them.

As a teenager, I never really tried to rebel. I just spent all my time in my room, working and driving myself to a breakdown/burnout. But I didn’t have much in common with my parents either. Now I find it can be hard to find common ground with them. Some of this is living at home into my late thirties, some is being autistic with allistic (non-autistic) parents and some is me having classic “first generation to go to university” differences from them. Some is probably my being more religious and more Jewishly-educated, which often creates a dynamic where my parents look to me for Jewish education and halakhic (Jewish law) guidance. There’s a Jewish saying that when a parent teaches a child, both laugh, but when a child teaches a parent, both cry, and I feel that a bit sometimes. I’m not sure how to explain it to anyone who hasn’t experienced it. I had a psychiatrist who said that I never really bonded with my parents as a child and therefore could not rebel as a teenager, and now I can’t separate properly from them which is probably true. It’s only with marrying E that I’m really trying to move away from home. I did live in my own flat for two years when my OCD was bad, but I deliberately lived within walking distance of my parents’ house and I used to come home for Shabbat. I don’t know what I can do about this at this stage.

***

On the same Orthodox Conundrum podcast, R’ Zachary Truboff spoke about Rav Shagar thinking that the problem with Orthodoxy is that it’s Orthodox: i.e. that, as a society, it’s driven by what other Orthodox people think is appropriate, not by what God wants. He said there are things that are against halakhah and ethics that do not lead to people getting thrown out of the Orthodox community (he didn’t say what, but tax and benefits fraud spring to mind). He didn’t mention, but could have, that there are things that aren’t violations of halakhah or ethics, but which can get you thrown out of the community all the same (this varies from one community to another, but in some communities for a teenager to talk to someone of the opposite might fall in this category, or even refusing to marry a particular person in some communities). I think this is my biggest struggle with the Orthodox community. Aside from the moral aspects of this, being on the autism spectrum means I’m OK with clear rules (halakhah), but bad at intuiting, let alone following, unspoken social conventions.

***

Anyway, my parents are noisily watching No Time to Die, the latest James Bond film, in the room below me, which is a bit distracting as I can hear incidental music and bangs. I wasn’t tempted to re-watch it with them, as, while technically accomplished, I found the film overlong, confusing and too sad. James Bond isn’t supposed to be sad! I much prefer the supposedly “silly” Roger Moore films. I could probably find ten reasons why the much-maligned Moonraker is a great film, not in “so bad it’s good,” but actually good.

Always Winter and Never —

I’ve mentioned before about not being in touch with my emotions. Today I’m not even that sure how the day went. Either a good day in which quite a few stressful things happened, or a stressful day in which nothing really bad happened.

J wasn’t in the office today. He’d picked today to drive to one of our other sites, but it turned out there were floods from the heavy rain and he couldn’t get in, so he went home and worked from there. I go in on the Tube, so it didn’t affect me. There wasn’t a lot to do, so I ended up phoning people who hadn’t paid their membership fees yet. It led to some awkward calls, although no one got angry with me (which has happened once or twice) and I did get two credit card payments and a couple of other people promising to pay soon, including someone who didn’t realise she’d cancelled the standing order to us, thinking it was going to somewhere else.

It got a bit lonely in the office by myself. I felt overwhelmed by the afternoon, which might have been the phoning or the several cups of tea I’d drunk. I probably drink too much caffeine at work, given I have low-level anxiety much of the time there. I have a cup of coffee at home over breakfast, a second when I get to the office, and sometimes a third if I feel really tired. Then a cup of tea for lunch and three or four more during the afternoon to keep myself going. I could drink decaf tea, but I sometimes find it tastes funny to me, plus part of me feels I need the caffeine, even if it makes me anxious.

I usually struggle with winter, but I feel much worse than I usually do at this stage. We’re still in the midst of autumn, let alone actual winter (in my head, winter starts in December) and already I feel I can’t cope. I miss E a lot. We’re not likely to get married before spring, which makes it (spring) seem impossibly distant. Winter usually feels like it won’t ever end, especially once we get past Chanukah and the bank holiday season and it feels like endless January followed by interminable February. Starting chatan and kallah (groom and bride) classes yesterday should be a step forward, but somehow it doesn’t feel that way. I guess I still can’t believe I found someone who wants to marry me, with all that entails and feel it will somehow go wrong, because “obviously” I can’t be happy.

At the moment we’re waiting nervously for E’s visa. There shouldn’t be any issues, but that doesn’t mean there won’t be any, especially given the Home Office is not the most efficient (or compassionate) organisation, and it’s under stress with Ukrainian refugees and the stuff in the news about over-crowding in refugee centres. At least I have my trip to New York at the end of the month to look forward to, even if there may be a very long wait until we can see each other again afterwards (I couldn’t go later in the year for fear I would miss my sister’s baby being born).

***

Yesterday in therapy I somehow got on to the subject of wanting to share controversial political views with people online. I say I don’t want to do it, then I seem to seek out people who don’t share my views and read what they post online as if I’m daring myself to disagree. (I didn’t say this in therapy, but another view comes to mind, which is that I’m trying to “collect” online friends with all sorts of different views to my own to prove to myself how tolerant and broadminded I am. I hope this isn’t true, because it’s basically using people for my own ends.)

I mentioned that earlier this year, I got annoyed about an antisemitic news story and wrote a two or three page satirical squib, a dystopian satire, to let off steam. It started connected strongly to the news story, but grew to take in a lot of other stuff I don’t like. E loved it and said I should expand it to a novel and for a while I did think about it, but I was already working on my current novel and decided to leave it for now. I am collecting ideas for it, though, and I would like to have a go at it at some point.

The fact that I was working on a different novel (although not far enough to absolutely have to stick with it) was a good reason to leave it for now, but I was also scared. I was scared that I wouldn’t be able to keep being funny for 80,000 words. I’m learning tricks to jump-start narrative and character development in my writing when I get blocked, but I don’t know how to do it for humour. I guess I feel there is no way of doing it for humour: you’re either funny or you’re not. And I worry I’m not. I know this is the voice of the school bullies, and, as my therapist said, a bunch of teenage boys are probably not the best arbiters of whether something is really funny. But it’s hard to turn that voice off.

A bigger worry is offending people or upsetting people. I would really like to write a Swiftian satire parodying everything I hate about the modern world and that’s bound to upset people in our intolerant and cancelling age.

My therapist asked if there was an image that summed up my thoughts about creativity and putting controversial or satirical ideas out there and immediately I thought of the traditional sign for the theatre, with two masks, one smiling for comedy and one miserable for tragedy. It’s like I’m only allowed to use the tragic one (actually, tragedy can be comic e.g. Hamlet). The therapist suggested satire as a bridge between tragedy and other forms of comedy. It’s an interesting idea to play with, but I’m not sure where it will take me.

 ***

Doctor Who time: E and I are watching The Invasion (1968). It’s ahead of its time in that it’s about an evil Big Tech genius who wants to take over the world – so far, so 2022 – but it’s of its time in that the focus is on innovative hardware, not software (as it would have been in the eighties or nineties) or algorithms (as it would be now).

There’s a weirdness about some Doctor Who stories of the late sixties, in that the Doctor (a time-traveller from a super-advanced civilisation) doesn’t like computers. It’s never made entirely clear why, but it seems to be on the spurious (to us) grounds that they’re inhuman and inauthentic, stifling true creativity and humanity. The Ice Warriors is the story where this really comes to the fore, but it appears in others too, including this one. It’s where the programme shows its roots as primarily Romantic and concerned with emotional authenticity rather than scientific progress per se. This is why the Cybermen are the most frequently-appearing foe in this era, as they represent technology without humanity.

Although my main takeaway so far is that the music and sound effects in this story are really good. Sixties Doctor Who was more about the sound effects than the visual effects, with the late sixties stories blurring the lines between incidental music, sound effects and ambient atmospheres. This story has a score that sounds like a Western and sound effects that sound unearthly.

Grief and Autistic Halakhah

Being away from E seems to be getting harder and harder. It feels just as bad as when my loneliness was at it’s worst, except focused on one person rather than an abstract desire for a relationship. Hopefully her visa will come soon…

***

I’m still thinking about Ashley, but not quite so much, although I don’t know how much of that was being distracted by other stressors. I’m reluctant to say much here, as it feels vaguely like I’m appropriating pain that should really belong to her family. I felt some other guilt too. I’m not sure I can remember all of it, but some of it was feeling guilty that I’ve been more affected by Ashley’s death than those of my grandparents. I feel that that’s wrong, that the death of my grandparents should have affected me more. The two aren’t exactly comparable, though. My grandparents were quite old, mostly in their eighties. It was sad when they died, but it didn’t have the tragic aspect of young death, or suicide.

Another factor is that, in a strange way, I feel I didn’t know all my grandparents in an adult way, in the way I knew Ashley, even though I was sixteen when the first of my grandparents to die passed away and had known them all my life. They were just there, like my parents.

My paternal grandmother died when I was sixteen and about the same time my maternal grandmother was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s (the symptoms had been there for quite a while, but from this point on it became very noticeable). I feel like I didn’t know them as an adult, only as a child. I remember my paternal grandmother as very anxious and I didn’t really understand why (or is that an adult interpretation? Did I just accept it at the time?). I think I would better understand her depression, anxiety and agoraphobia (all unspoken of at the time) now.

I felt that I was only beginning to get to know my maternal grandfather when he died when I was nineteen, a few months after my maternal grandmother. I felt like he had begun to talk to me more as an adult in the last few years and suddenly that stopped. I did know my paternal grandfather rather better as he died when I was nearly twenty-seven. But I think in retrospect it’s my maternal grandfather I think of more often. Since my autism diagnosis, my parents have speculated that he was on the spectrum too, so maybe that explains why he felt more comfortable talking to me than his children about his past.

Episodes of depression/burnout followed in the months after the deaths of my grandparents, but in retrospect, I’m not sure that there was a causal link, except perhaps the death of my maternal grandfather, as the depression really did follow in just a few weeks. The others were more spaced out.

Another factor is that, when most of my grandparents died, I was still very emotionally immature. I know I write about my feelings most days now, but in my teens and twenties, I really didn’t understand what I felt and couldn’t put it into words, even more so than nowadays. It’s taken years of therapy and, I suppose, blogging, to get to a point where I can begin to understand what’s going on in my head.

Anyway, I managed to get an appointment with my therapist for this week, so hopefully it will help to be able to talk about these feelings.

***

Away from this, further guilt came when J said that I asked for three days off later this year to go to New York to see E, but I only had two days of holiday left. I felt bad about this, although I think the confusion came because he’s rounded down my number of holiday days, given that my contract didn’t start until February whereas the holiday year started in January. Even so, I felt vaguely bad for not realising. I made loads of these terms of work mistakes at my job in further education and still feel embarrassed. I think HR must have hated me. Taking one day less holiday doesn’t affect my plans, I will just have to work the day before I fly instead of packing.

***

J sent me to Selfridges to try to get some duplicate keys cut. Selfridges seemed more crowded than I was comfortable with (although probably less crowded than it should have been, less than two months before Christmas; I guess people are not spending on luxuries). I had one of those moments when I think that everyone I see is a human being with their own thoughts and emotions and I freak out a bit. I don’t know why this happens. Aside from the crowd, the muzak drove me crazy. Different parts of the store were playing different music and I could hear bits of different songs at once in painful aural mush. I don’t think this is an autism thing so much as a ‘having taste’ thing. When I finally found the key-cutting stall, I struggled to hear the assistant over the shoe repair machinery, but they didn’t have the right size blank keys to cut the new ones. I will probably have to go elsewhere on Thursday

The whole experience left me feeling overwhelmed and near to tears. I feel like I used to be able to cope with experiences like this (I used to commute into town on the Tube and buses every school day at rush hour!), but no longer can. Some of it may be getting older (it is a recognised phenomenon that autistic people become less able to cope with sensory overload and less able to mask their autistic symptoms as they get older), but I wonder if COVID lockdown has eroded my tolerance for these things, along with boosting my social anxiety? Or if I recognise the overwhelm more since my diagnosis.

Similarly, when I stayed after work for Minchah and Ma’ariv at the shul (Afternoon and Evening Prayers at the synagogue), I felt overwhelmed even though there were only fifteen or so people in the Beit Midrash (not a huge room, but not tiny either). Is this social anxiety or autistic overwhelm?

I was still feeling overwhelmed when I got home, but not light-headed, perhaps because I ate an apple in the office mid-afternoon and a cereal bar after Ma’ariv. I used to eat on the way home from work, but COVID has scared me off eating on the Tube.

***

Between Minchah and Ma’ariv, the rabbi quickly taught a halakhah (Jewish law). What it was isn’t relevant, but he took the mundane nature of the halakhah in question as an example for halakhah (in the wider sense of the Jewish legal system) being all-encompassing and supportive no matter what happens, that it “has our back” in his words.

I did not feel 100% comfortable with this. I do not feel that halakhah always has my back. I feel that there’s a lot I should be doing, according to halakhah, that I can’t cope with right now or perhaps ever because of my social anxiety and autism. I feel I would need an “autistic halakkah” to help me.

A while back I heard that Rabbi Yoni Rosensweig has set up an institute to try to train more rabbis in mental health awareness so that they will be able to respond to people with mental illness more effectively. He has also published a book of answers to halakhic questions regarding mental illness. I feel that someone needs to do the same thing for neurodiversity.

***

The other day Suzanne said that my life is interesting. My immediate thought was that my life isn’t interesting, so it must just be the way I write about it. Then I realised that I was in a low self-esteem double bind: either my life is interesting or my writing is interesting! I’m not sure what I think about this (just kidding).

Precedented Times

I had a guilt dream last night about missing shul (synagogue) on Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement). As I had a migraine this year, I feel it was unjustified, although previous years are more ambiguous. Although arguably I shouldn’t be beating myself up for autistic exhaustion and social anxiety.

I got up early, but procrastinated, ran late and had to cut my curtailed Shacharit davening (Morning Prayers) even shorter. I woke up in a thunderstorm and was not happy about having to walk to the station in it. The thunder had stopped by the time I set out, but it was still raining heavily and the commute to work was uncomfortably wet.

It was a boring day without much going on. I sorted a lot of papers and wondered why I’m not better at this, given that I’m a librarian and should know how to organise data. On reflection, I thought that I’m not an archivist and what I’m doing is more like archival work than librarianship, even if both do involve organising bits of paper. Although I’m not sure it’s really archival work either. To be honest, I would really need to be a solicitor to know what to do with lots of legal documents and copies of documents. I worry about throwing away something important, then I worry that I’m just shuffling bits of paper from one box or shelf to another without getting rid of anything or really producing an ordered set of papers.

I keep coming home from work feeling physically ill. I was worried about walking home as I was feeling quite light-headed, but decided to be independent and try, which turned out OK, but might not have done. I think part of the problem is being unwilling to eat on the Tube on the way home post-COVID.

To try to deal with the anxious thoughts in my head, I started drawing up a long To Do list. This is in addition to the long one I already had, most of which is marginally less urgent at the moment. Sigh.

***

At work, there’s a room with inspirational quotes on the wall from Rabbi Lord Sacks z”tzl. One I saw today says that Judaism is not a religion of private communion of the soul with God, but of the life we build together. This is similar to something I said the other week (I may have been quoting unconsciously). It does make me wonder what happens, in a social-based religion, if you have a neurological disability that stops you connecting and communicating socially. I mean what happens from God’s point of view – does He give some kind of dispensation? How much stuff would a person be excused from? A number of famous rabbis are supposed to have stood up respectfully for people with severe intellectual disabilities, saying that they are serving God better, on their level, than those famous rabbis were. Likewise, blind people are exempt from many mitzvot (commandments) as it was traditionally hard for them to fulfil them with their disability. But where would you draw the line? I have social deficits, but I’m not the equivalent of blind or severely impaired, so how much leeway would I get? I know what happens from a practical point of view: all too often you end up getting left behind by the community.

***

Speaking of Rabbi Sacks, I reflected that if you look at my divrei Torah, and possibly my blog, the two biggest influences on my hashkafah (religious philosophy) are Rabbi Sacks and the Kotzker Rebbe  (Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Kotzk). They’re the thinkers I quote most often. I feel like Rabbi Sacks is the Maimonidean philosopher: calm, balanced, focused on moderation and building society. Whereas the Kotzker is the Romantic, the individualist and anti-establishment rebel, the radical pushing himself to the brink in his quest for truth and the authentic self. Possibly they don’t go together very well. Emotionally, I’m closer to the Kotzker, who may have had bipolar disorder and/or social phobia (undiagnosed as he died in 1859) and certainly spent the last nineteen years of his life not leaving his study, although current research suggests he wasn’t as self-isolated as was once thought.

The Kotzker is someone many people quote, but few people are interested in emulating. I wonder sometimes what he would have made of me, really what either of them would have made of me. I was in the same room as Rabbi Sacks on a couple of occasions, but never spoke to him, which I now regret, although I have no idea what I would have said or what kind of conversation might have resulted. I do feel a kind of inner tension represented by these two different religious guiding lights. I think there’s a similar dissonance in my political views too. I think I probably am someone torn apart by different intellectual currents and competing ideas and approaches to life.

***

I started reading Flowers for Algernon. I’ve known about it for years, but I didn’t want to read it, as I thought it sounded too sad. Then I thought that, as a famous science fiction novel, I “Should” read it, if I want to think of myself as a science fiction fan (I’m honestly not sure that I do, but that’s a subject for another time) so bought a second-hand copy for £1 in a charity shop, but it has sat on my shelf for many years, as I couldn’t bring myself to start it. Then I thought that, as I’m thinking a lot about my childhood and teenage years and my struggles to fit in with undiagnosed high-functioning autism/Asperger’s, maybe it would help. It might help with my feeling of having a much higher level of intellectual maturity than emotional maturity (which admittedly is probably less pronounced now than at any time since adolescence – after all, I’m managing a long-distance marriage at the moment). So, I started it the other day.

I have some qualms about the presentation of learning disabilities and the usual problem in fiction like this where intelligence is confused with knowledge, so someone whose intelligence is augmented suddenly becomes more literate, knowledgeable and worldly, which would not necessarily happen. Charlie is supposedly reading a lot of serious books very quickly, but even setting aside the time factor, to be reading Dostoyevski and the like so soon after being functionally illiterate would require a lot of mental scaffolding. I could also question whether the “illiterate” language of the early sections is how an actual functionally illiterate person would write (admittedly I’m only aware of this because it was a plot point in an Inspector Morse novel). I admit most of these flaws are necessary to get the plot moving and produce something readable; ultimately, it’s a novel, not a documentary.

So far, it’s made me think about bullying. It turns out that being bullied for not being clever feels pretty much the same as being bullied for being too clever by half; the taunts are different, but the feeling is the same. I’m glad I had some friends as a child, and I was probably lucky that my naivety wasn’t abused as much as it might have been.

The book makes me worry a bit about having children, though. I’ve been worrying about this lately anyway, as Adventuresofagradgirl commented on one of my recent posts asking what I thought about the likelihood of E and I having a child with autism, either moderate like myself or severe, which is a possibility at least, given that I’m on the spectrum and E has a number of autistic traits. We have discussed it a bit, as we do both want children (although this further assumes a lot of things we don’t know yet about our fertility and ability to cope with life). We are fairly positive about our chances of having high-functioning children, certainly with early intervention. I have met (online) a number of autistic parents, and most of them don’t have severely autistic children, but then, as I’ve said here before, “high-functioning” is a fluid and unhelpful term; people can function in some situations, or in some mindsets, and not in others. So it’s been lurking in the background as something I’d like to ignore, but shouldn’t.

Other than that, the book makes me feel sorry for myself, although I find it hard to say why exactly. While I haven’t suddenly gained intelligence, I have gained insight into myself in the last eighteen months and, like Charlie, I’m still applying that to my personal history and current social interactions.

***

I didn’t really want to talk politics, but I feel I have to say something. In September 2019, which seems like a lifetime ago, but was only about three years ago, The Daily Telegraph’s pocket cartoonist, Matt Pritchard, drew a cartoon of a man saying that “Sometimes I wish we could go back to living in precedented times.” And that was just during Brexit and Trump’s impeachment! We didn’t know how lucky we were! That was before the COVID, the Capitol Riot, Partygate, Ukraine, the death of the Queen and Liz Truss’ forty-four day premiership![1] And the possible return of Boris — it’s like a zombie film![2] I definitely want to go back to precedented times. Is Sir Keir Starmer the dull, charisma-free, nonentity Britain needs to drift aimlessly back to normality?

[1] The brief Truss administration also saw a situation where, for an “unprecedented” first time, none the four great offices of state (Prime Minister, Chancellor of the Exchequer, Foreign Secretary, Home Secretary) were held by a white man (white woman, black man, another black man, Asian woman). Strangely, the press is not terribly interested in this. Diversity doesn’t count when Tories do it.

[2] Boris, Trump, Netanyahu – why do none of these leaders know how to make a graceful exit?

What Do You Want?

I struggled with sleeping again last night. I couldn’t sleep, then had to get up early for work. J sent me to get some food for a meeting tomorrow, including kosher sandwiches. Apparently a couple of supermarkets in the West End have them. I duly went to these and couldn’t get the sandwiches. I did get some drinks and crisps, which turned out to be so heavy that the bag I was carrying them in tore and I had to carry them awkwardly in my arms. J thinks it is possible that Selfridges had the sandwiches and I didn’t look in the right place (they aren’t with the other sandwiches, apparently), which led me to feel self-critical, as I had had that thought after I left the shop, but decided not to go back and look again.

As well as that, I managed to walk in an area that was cordoned off for building works. I’m not quite sure how I managed to do that, or why I thought it was a pedestrian walkway and not cordoned off. Things went downhill from there, as I started to feel very overwhelmed by the numbers of people, not just the crowds, but thinking that these are all individuals with their own thoughts, feelings, likes and dislikes… It’s quite an overwhelming thought to have. I tried to shut out some of the noise with music (silence might have been better, but wasn’t an option as the street was so busy), but the headphones I found to replace the ones that broke last week are not very effective. I haven’t had a panic attack for years, and I don’t generally have meltdowns (which are technically just intense panic attacks), but I felt like I was on the verge of one. I didn’t have one in the end, although not due to anything I did to prevent it. I just got lucky.

Just to cap it all off, I got home to discover that HMRC (the taxman) has fined me £100 for not filling in a tax return for the tax year ending April 2021. I didn’t send a tax return for the very good reason that I was unemployed for half the year and then working varying amounts in the remaining months and, even counting the benefits I was receiving that I’ve subsequently been told to pay back (even though I told them NOT to pay them to me in the first place as I was working), I was still earning less than the minimum needed to pay tax. But I’ll need to work out exactly what I earned for that year, including the benefits and bank account interest. More likely is that the tax return I filled for the tax year ending April of this year has made some jobsworth pen-pusher at HMRC decide that I must have earned the same amount the previous tax year. I don’t really swear, but I want to award lots of choice four-letter words to him (or her).

This does make me worry about how efficient the Home Office will be with E’s visa application. There’s no logical reason why one would impact the other, but I’ve had such a hard time lately with the HMRC (who recently paid me rather more than £100 that they had wrongly taken from me) and the Department of Work and Pensions (the benefits overpay issue) that I am pessimistic about any government department functioning efficiently.

I felt physically ill from the stress of the day, coming in the midst of other recent stresses. I was physically exhausted, light-headed and headachey. Eating and drinking didn’t help. Mum suggested drinking orange juice, and it did seem to help, so maybe my potassium/lithium levels were out of whack. Really I should have taken time out to chill without computer or phone, but I had so much to do, so when I got home I went online and started dealing with the tax thing and blogging.

I did feel a lot better after dinner, Doctor Who and Skyping E, so that’s good. I am a bit nervous about coping with tomorrow, though.

***

The worry that I was going to have a panic attack earlier fits with how I’ve been feeling lately: overwhelmed and at times very sad without really understanding why, as well as intensely missing E. These feelings generally do not always long, but I worry about drifting back into clinical depression or burnout (I’m not sure the two are easily distinguishable for me), especially as my previous episodes of depression mostly started in the autumn, as the days grow shorter and the weather less pleasant.

Alexithymia (difficulty recognising and understanding my own emotions) makes it harder to tell what my general emotional state is, because intense negative feelings are easier to recognise, thus potentially making my emotional state seem worse than it really is.

An additional problem with alexithymia that I’ve only just really noticed is in recognising emotions related to my religious experience. If I can recognise depression, anxiety and loneliness more easily than joy, love and equanimity, it’s no surprise that I find the former more than the latter in my religious experience. Does that mean my religious experience is overwhelmingly negative? I don’t think so, but more because I can’t see how I could have stuck with it for so long if it had been negative. But the question, which has been nagging at me for years, but is more urgent now I’m starting my own family, is how to increase the joy, love and equanimity and make it more tangible.

A question I’ve never really asked myself in a religious context is, “What do I want to do?” I don’t really know how to answer this question at this stage. Until now I’ve tried to do what the halakhah (Jewish law) requires, sometimes being overwhelmed by temptation or mental health and neurodiversity issues and sometimes compromising to fit in with my parents. What I want hasn’t really come into it much, or doesn’t feel like it has. I wonder, if I searched myself, if I would find that it has been there, but subtextually, disguised as other questions.

Also, I have never really understood how people can be so certain about what God thinks: “God will punish X” or “God will forgive Y.” Heinrich Heine said on his deathbed that, “God will forgive me. It’s His job.” Heine had done some bad things and I wouldn’t have been so sanguine in his position. Would I go to the other extreme and assume that God would want to punish me? It is hard to tell. When my religious OCD was bad, I was more focused on the awfulness of breaking halakhah in itself rather than punishment, but a part of me also took it as read that I would have no share in the next world.

(There is a specific question here that I’m thinking about, but I’m not sure I should discuss it here, and I certainly don’t have the time today.)

***

When I got my invisible disability lanyard for the airport, Mum mentioned that her friend, who usually travels with a disabled family member (either her mother, who has dementia, or her daughter, who has CFS and severe depression), lets the airport authorities know in advance and gets fast-tracked through the airport. She (Mum, not the friend) felt I should do the same. I felt uncomfortable with this idea, primarily because I didn’t feel my problems are “bad enough” to do that and felt that it would almost be dishonest to do so.

Today I saw someone on the autism forum say that he does this. This is someone I see as much more capable than myself, as he was in regular employment as a research scientist for decades, has been married for many years and has two adult children. So I am slowly considering that this may be an “acceptable” thing for me to do, although I don’t know if I’ll feel ready when I hopefully go to New York to see E later this year.

No Man’s Land

The last two days were the end of the Jewish autumn festival season. I went to shul (synagogue) for Shmini Atzeret evening, but not subsequently. I felt stuck in No Man’s Land. I wasn’t doing weekday things, but I wasn’t going to shul, so it didn’t feel fully like Yom Tov (festival). I didn’t feel great, emotionally. I had some anxiety and guilt, not to a huge extent, but some. I missed E a lot and had a lot of thoughts and feelings that I guess are related to loneliness, about wanting to be part of a friendship group and not really knowing how to do it. I had a headache last night which didn’t help; I went to bed late, but then the headache started and got worse lying down, so I stayed up even later reading until the paracetamol I took kicked in.

Since Yom Tov finished a couple of hours ago my mood has got worse. There may be some anxiety about work tomorrow. I helped Dad started to take down the sukkah (although there’s still a lot to do). I had a lot of self-critical thoughts doing that and I’m not really sure where they came from, although I have a few ideas.

Because I wasn’t doing much else, I read a lot over the last two days, both religious and secular. I started The Guide for the Perplexed by Rambam (Maimonides), but haven’t finished the translator’s introduction yet. The translation is by Michael Friedländer and was made in 1881. The introduction is more critical of Rambam than a contemporary Orthodox translation would be, which is interesting (Friedländer was the Principal of Jews’ College, the Orthodox rabbinical college in the UK that eventually became the London School of Jewish Studies), but the print is tiny! I don’t think I could read it for long periods without a break. I also started the new annual Torah cycle, which always seems more exciting than when we’re stuck in the middle of Vayikra (Leviticus). Reading Bereshit (the first reading of the Torah, from the start of Genesis), I had an idea that is potentially worth expanding into a devar Torah (Torah thought), but I doubt I’ll get the time or energy this week. In terms of secular reading, I finished You Only Live Twice and read a lot of the latest Doctor Who Magazine.

Going back to religious reading, I also read more of the book of thoughts from the Chofetz Chaim (Rabbi Yisrael Meir Kagan) on Pirkei Avot (the volume of Talmud dealing with ethics). This book and its companion volume on the festivals are very “fire and brimstone,” which surprised me a bit. The Chofetz Chaim died less than a hundred years ago and it seems a little strange for his writing to seem so dated. To be fair he was very old when he died and was born in the 1838, which must have influenced his worldview. Even so, it feels like somewhere in the last generation or two there’s been a big change in the focus of “inspirational” religious material in the Orthodox world from, “You’re going to die and be punished, or even be punished before you die, so make sure you do what God wants” to “God loves you and just wants to do good things for you, so just make an effort to build a connection with Him so He can reward you.” It’s strange.

E and I have discussed it a lot. Is it the effect of the Holocaust, of the ba’al teshuvah (return to Orthodoxy) movement, of pop psychology and self-help culture, of the mainstreaming of 60s counter-culture? I don’t know. But when we do our parashah (weekly Torah reading) discussion each week, we often feel that the Torah is a “hard sell” to modern audiences. Obviously the Torah is 3,000 years old and we probably shouldn’t expect a text originally understood by Bronze Age tribes to resonate in a straightforward way with Millennials (not that either E or I are Millenials…), but for someone who lived just about within living memory to seem so dated is more surprising. For comparison, other authors who published in the year the Chofetz Chaim died include George Orwell, Agatha Christie, Dorothy L. Sayers, C.S. Lewis, W. B. Yeats, James Thurber, P. G. Wodehouse and H.P. Lovecraft. To be fair, the Chofetz Chaim lived in pre-Holocaust Eastern Europe, which was a world which doesn’t really exist any more, and which was not directly comparable to the Western Europe or American East Coast of the same era, but it’s a mistake to think that that world was so different to ours. There were plenty of non-religious Jews there too.

Simchat Torah Mini-Post

I feel just about OK coping with another two days of Yom Tov (festival), but overwhelmed when thinking about another work week disrupted by Yom Tov, with consecutive days working (and, yes,I know most people work consecutive days, but it makes me ill).

Someone posted on the Orthodox Conundrum about women being reduced to spectators in many Orthodox shuls (synagogues) on Simchat Torah. I agreed with the post, but also feel marginalised for different reasons, so I commented:

I agree. I’ve been to Orthodox shuls where women dance behind a mechitza, with a sefer Torah, and would like to see it as the norm.

If we’re going down the inclusivity route, as an autistic man with social anxiety, I find Simchat Torah a total nightmare. Generally I’m too paralysed with sensory overload and social anxiety to participate in any meaningful way and either stand watching, beating myself up about my inability to overcome my own disabilities, or I go home before the hakafot start. There was only really one year in my adult life when I really managed to participate in Simchat Torah. In recent years, I just don’t go to shul at all on that day as it’s too difficult for me. Definitely my least-favourite chag (along with Purim).

I was quite nervous about commenting, as I hadn’t commented in the group before. The comment got a like from Rabbi Kahn, who runs the group, and “hugging heart emoji” from the original poster, plus another one from someone else. I don’t know what that emoji means, exactly, but I guess it’s something like empathy/hugs. E thinks it’s a ‘care’ emoji.

Fred Karno’s Army (Super-Long Autism Post)

The last two days were pretty tough. We’re currently in Chol HaMoed, the intermediate days of the Sukkot festival, where work is permitted if necessary, but advised against. J is taking the days off, but I went in to work yesterday and today because I want to save my holiday days so that I can go to New York to visit E in a few weeks. As with the first days of Sukkot, we are still eating meals in the sukkah, a booth representing the booths the Israelites dwelt in in the wilderness, and, by extension, trust in God.

On Wednesday, I got up extra early, said extra Shacharit (Morning Service) prayers (although still skipped a lot), ate breakfast in the sukkah, went to work, ate lunch in the work sukkah, felt lonely, down and exhausted (I think it was just myself and the security guard in the building; I might have heard one more person around, but I’m not sure) and came home not feeling well. I had dinner with my parents in our sukkah, felt overwhelmed by Dad’s attempts to get me to join in the conversation (I don’t have selective mutism, but I do go quiet and communicate mostly in monosyllables, grunts and nods sometimes…), eventually watched Doctor Who, Skyped E and went to bed.

Today was worse. I woke up feeling exhausted. I’m not used to working two days running, pathetic though that sounds (especially as I don’t quite work full days either). I got dressed, but decided I was too exhausted to daven (pray) before eating breakfast and struggled with the removable roof over the sukkah, realising too late that I wasn’t opening it properly. I had breakfast, davened, left for work a bit late, somehow did a little Torah study on the train and got to work not-too-late, but glad that J wasn’t in today to see it. I worked slowly, feeling numb and sluggish. The security guard wouldn’t take off the roof of the sukkah, as he thought it was going to rain again (it didn’t), so I ate part of my lunch (raw vegetables and an apple), but not my sandwich, thus at least observing the letter of the law of not eating bread outside a sukkah during Sukkot, but becoming very hungry (and somewhat sick from drinking tea on an emptyish stomach).

I had a boring afternoon enlivened by self-loathing after someone phoned to pay membership fees. Phone calls automatically come in on the phone extension on J’s desk. First I couldn’t transfer the call to my own desk as I was using the wrong extension number, so I ended up taking the call at J’s desk. Then I panicked and couldn’t find the account of the person who phoned on J’s computer to tell him how much he owed or work out where anything was on there, even though it should have been easy. I just went into autistic-and-socially-anxious brain freeze. He said he’d phone back next week, so J is bound to hear about it.

The incident left me feeling useless. If I wanted to forgive myself, there were reasons I struggled, but I should really have been able to cope by now (nearly two years in the job, albeit at only two days a week). A few minutes later, I did successfully transfer a call to my desk and take a credit card payment, but I still felt that I took too long and sounded like an idiot.

The plus side was not having had to do the Very Scary Task this week when it seemed likely that I would.

I ate my sandwich in our sukkah after I got home, read James Bond and felt better. I thought I would blog and wrote most of this post, hoping I could relax afterwards, but it was a mistake. Dinner was late, and I had to eat with my parents and their friends if I wanted to sit in the sukkah. I knew this and still made the bad decision to blog instead of watching Doctor Who. Honestly, it’s like I have some kind of neurological issue that makes me make bad decisions…

So then I had to “people” and mask and generally act like a neurotypical human being with four other people (that’s a lot!), three of whom don’t understand me at all and one who sort of gets it, but not always and only from the outside. I don’t mean that in a critical way, but it’s true. Anyway, my pizza was good, but I ate too fast, partly from hunger (it was half an hour later than the agreed start time, which I thought was late already), partly from autistic exhaustion and partly just because I didn’t want to be there. I think I was communicating with “Leave me alone” autistic body language and speech as they didn’t really try to talk to me. But it was OK. I ate quickly and went in, watched Doctor Who and Skyped E.

 ***

Sometimes I doubt whether I have autism. I thought my diagnosis would at least mean the end of those doubts, but apparently not, as so many people on the autism forum sound “more” autistic, whatever that means, even the ones who seem to be doing better than me. I wonder if there was some mistake, if I’m just a useless person, not a neurodivergent one. Today should have refuted these doubts, but didn’t, or not entirely, not the phone issues or the sound of the cleaner hoovering being painful to me. Normally I would cope with the hoover, but if I’m already struggling with autistic exhaustion, my tolerance level is much lower. I know you can’t become “more autistic,” but that’s how I feel when suffering autistic exhaustion. That’s what they don’t tell you about autism, how changeable, even arbitrary, it can be.

The other day I saw something on the National Autistic Society website about autistic exhaustion being caused partly by having to meet other people’s expectations. I can believe it. That’s why work is so stressful for me. There are specific tasks I struggle with, like phone calls and the Very Scary Task, but most of the work is routine, if boring, paperwork and spreadsheet work. But it’s having to be masked all the time, trying to ‘pass’ as ‘normal,’ even though I’m probably not even that weird a lot of the time (I don’t know. Ask E) and even though the number of people in the building is small. On the plus side, maybe this is a positive sign regarding E and I having children. I was worried about the extra exhaustion, but I don’t think I bother masking with young children (why bother? They don’t), so maybe it would be OK. I mean, the childcare would be exhausting, I know, but I wouldn’t have to factor in extra masking issues (I don’t mask with E, that’s why she’s so special).

***

I mentioned recently about so many people on the autism forum, myself included, wanting help, and no one actually saying what help would be useful. I feel that my ideal form of help would be for someone to follow me around for a few weeks and suggest workarounds for things I struggle with. (After I realised this, someone suggested I apply to Access for Work for a work coach. I’m not sure if that would be exactly this thing I want, or something enormously different and probably useless and annoying.)

I have spoken to some autism workplace advisors in the past. I can’t really remember much of what they said, although I have notes somewhere, but I struggled to apply what they said to my specific work environment (classic autistic issue) and often they didn’t know my own training and skills (how many people have suggested to me that I move from librarianship into archival work when they have totally different methodologies and rules? They just both happen to involve preserving bits of paper).

Suzanne recently differentiated between “people who can get things done” and “people who can make things happen.” In her words:

I think I can best explain the difference by considering various tasks in the operation of a warehouse that distributes donated food to food banks.

List A. Things I would be very good at:

  • Checking in a delivery against the pack list and noting shortages, overages, incorrect items, and damages
  • Updating inventory in the database and running reports
  • Picking and packing orders

List B. What I would be hopeless at:

  • Finding sources of funding
  • Negotiating deals and agreements
  • Recruiting and managing staff and volunteers

List A is about getting things done. List B is about making things happen.

Although she didn’t say it explicitly, List A/getting things done is autism-friendly. List B/making things happen, isn’t. I thought librarianship would be mostly List A/getting things done and maybe it was and maybe some of it still is (cataloguing), but I struggled to keep the job that was more List A, ended up in a super-autism-unfriendly job (albeit mainly for sensory/social reasons) that was still broadly List A and in the end felt out of my depth when they tried to change it to a List A/B hybrid and I left it. I hoped I would find something similar, but quieter, but it seems like so much library work is List B/making things happen.

This feeling was reinforced by the magazine I used to get from CILIP (The Chartered Institute of Librarians and Information Professionals), which, aside from going super-woke, seemed to be all about library management and soft skills stuff for dealing with other librarians and library users, not for maintaining collections of books. Not that it shouldn’t be like that, necessarily, just that it doesn’t fit my skill-set. It was only reading Suzanne’s list that this really clicked with me. Also, I had hoped librarianship would offer lots of opportunities for part-time work or job shares, but, sadly, I was wrong about that too, and as this week has shown, I simply can’t work full-time, or anything approaching it.

I’ve had some job interviews, but rarely got further. Job interviews are terrible ordeals for autistics anyway, and irrelevant to my skill-set, like making a blind man go over an obstacle course just to get a job that involves sitting at a desk, answering the phone. Then I stopped getting interviews. Now my library career is on hold, but I think it’s basically over. My skills must be pretty atrophied, which is probably why the interviews dried up. My CV looks awful anyway, massive gaps between jobs and almost as many jobs out of my sector as in it.

(Incidentally, my voluntary work at the food bank is very List A.)

***

The other thing I would really like help with is energy accounting. This is supposed to involve working out what gives you energy and what drains your energy, then making sure that the latter does not exceed the former. All well and good, but it’s hard to quantify energy gain and use, particularly as so many factors can affect them. I have more energy in the summer than the winter. I come home from work with energy in the summer; I just want to drop in the winter, even though it’s the same time of day and I’ve done the same work. If I’m dealing with tiredness, hunger or strong emotions (the latter of which I often can’t interpret or even notice properly), energy is lost faster, which means that energy loss can be exponential: the more tired I am, the faster I get tired. Some things drain and energise in different ways: writing drains mental energy, but energises through allowing creativity. Being around people usually drains (except E), but how much it drains depends on who it is and how the conversation goes. Sometimes it can energise a bit too. Shul can provide spiritual invigoration and social energy drain. And so on. It just seems so complicated, and arbitrary.

Surroundings can drain energy too. The world is increasingly busy and full of moving images and noise. There are video screens everywhere: shop windows, bus stops, phone screens out of the corner of my eye on the Tube. And so much noise, admittedly worse in town. And everything is so fast. I know people have been complaining about life being too loud, too bright and too fast for two hundred years, but it feels worse even than when I was growing up in the eighties and nineties (just pre-computers/internet – we eventually got both, but were late adopters).

I spend too much time on my own phone and laptop. I say it’s because the internet is my social pipeline, and it is, but much of it is procrastination with no meaningful social connection. I know I can’t stop it, but I want to at least try to be more mindful of what I’m doing. Even so, it probably contributes to my energy drain and discomfort. Shabbat and Yom Tov (Sabbath and festivals), when I don’t use my phone or computer, feels so much better and more natural. I wish I had the will-power to bring some of that into the week.

***

It’s not just autistic self-doubt: lately I’ve been having writerly self-doubt too. I wonder how I will write characters when I have autism and alexithymia (inability to recognise or understand my own emotions). Until now I’ve been working on a mixture of my own experiences, things I’ve read about (real people or fictional characters), and sort of “reasoning out” what someone might logically feel in a situation (as if feelings are logical!), but this seems inadequate.

Further, while, unlike some autistics, I can understand metaphor and idiom, I struggle to deploy them in my writing. I have also read (on Wikipedia, so it must be true) that people with alexithymia lack imagination (and have boring dreams). Both of these things (imagination and dreams) seem to be true for me. I read science fiction and fantasy, but struggle to imagine my own non-realistic scenarios, instead turning to stories from the newspapers and blogosphere and wondering what I or people I know would do in such a situation. This seems ‘wrong,’ although logically there is no such thing (logic again – as the Doctor said (The Wheel in Space), “Logic… merely enables one to be wrong with authority”).

I wonder again if I want to write for the wrong reason? I enjoy the process of writing, of nurturing ideas and finding words, or at least sometimes I do (I don’t think any writer enjoys it all the time). But I feel I want – not fame, exactly, but to be taken seriously. I know I’ve written about this before. I want to prove myself to people in my past who have probably forgotten all about me. And I want to prove myself to myself. Relatedly, I also want to somehow use my writing as a magic vehicle to ask for forgiveness from various people I’ve hurt (hurt mostly through being autistic, so if I write about autism, they might read it and intuit that I’m writing about myself, and about them, and that I’m apologising. There’s a lot of maybes here).

Beyond this, I think the “being taken seriously” thing is partly because not only did I vaguely think I would be an academic, but I spent the happier parts of my adult life among clever people, probably not that much cleverer than me, but who were allowed to develop themselves intellectually in a healthy way without breakdown or burnout. They were in academia or other intellectual roles that were interesting and meaningful to them.

Is intelligence or wisdom any more praiseworthy or less arbitrary than physical attractiveness? Yirmiyah (Jeremiah) says otherwise (9.22-23). I don’t feel the need to prove my attractiveness, so why my intelligence, knowledge or wisdom? It’s mostly a product of genes, upbringing and schooling and while I played a part in that, a lot of it was out of my control. Yet somehow I feel the need to prove myself, and that it would somehow be good for me if I did prove my worth to my satisfaction.

***

I’m watching Doctor Who to de-stress. The Androids of Tara is one of those late seventies stories so hated by fandom on original transmission for largely spurious reasons. I really like it. It’s not deep, but it’s a lot of fun. Meanwhile, one of my few remaining fan friends posted a lengthy analysis today of the trailer for the next episode of contemporary Doctor Who, the final episode for Jodie Whittaker and a part of the BBC centenary celebrations.

I watched the trailer. It seemed like most twenty-first century Doctor Who: fast, flashy and over-stuffed, but it was twenty-three seconds long, I’m not going to voice an opinion of the ninety minute special it was taken from based on it. I’m not particularly excited about contemporary Doctor Who, or, indeed 100 years of the BBC. I prefer twentieth century Doctor Who, even if I know what’s coming next. Or maybe that’s the point. Maybe, with autism encouraging a love of routine and a fear of uncertainty, knowing in advance what all the bad bits are is reassuring (“bad bits” as in upsetting plot developments and “bad bits” as in badly written/made). I know what to expect and can prepare. That would explain why twenty-first century Doctor Who seems to improve with age for me. I hated the 2007 season (David Tennant’s second) at the time, but now I see it as a high point of the new series, if not of all time (even though I still dislike certain elements. Especially The Lazarus Experiment).

***

I was going to explain about Fred Karno’s Army, but this is nearly 3,000 words and I’m too tired. I just mean that I feel like a ramshackle amateur under fire. Google it for the historical context.

Yom Tov Burnout

The last two days were the first two days of Sukkot, the Jewish festival where we live in temporary huts in the garden to experience the transient nature of life and the security of trust in God. In theory, anyway; in the UK it can be a struggle with the elements to stay out there. I find it hilarious when I see Israelis, and some Americans, complaining that their sukkot are too hot to stay in. Cold and wet is more normal here.

On the plus side, we ate dinner and lunch out in the sukkah every day and this afternoon it was warm enough that I sat out there for a while studying Torah (although it was getting a bit on the cold side). I also got to shul (synagogue) for two sets of Minchah and Ma’ariv (Afternoon and Evening Prayers).

Unfortunately, there were some downsides too. The biggest is Yom Tov (festival) burnout, about two thirds of the way through the autumn festival season. The next few days are semi-festival (although I have to work) and then next Monday and Tuesday are full festivals again, although I will be deliberately avoiding shul during Simchat Torah on Monday night and Tuesday (only Purim rivals it as the most autism-unfriendly festival). I feel exhausted, and spending so much time with my parents hasn’t helped (no offence intended to them, but I need more downtime alone). Not only do I have to do this again next week (plus Shabbat (the Sabbath) in between, when my parents have invited people for Kiddush after the morning service), but I have to work for the next two days (and risk doing the Very Scary Task without J being around to hand-hold), and get up extra-early for extra prayers and to eat breakfast in the sukkah, and I will probably have to eat dinner with my parents and their friends on Thursday. This is not going to be a fun, stress-free few days.

I also have been eating very unhealthily, from the point of view of sugar as well as cholesterol. So far, so Yom Tov. I have chapped hands again from sitting out in the cold, I think I struggled breathing while asleep again, and I’ve had a lot of, probably irrational, guilt feelings the last few days over all sorts of things, particularly not going to shul in the mornings and not going to a Kiddush in my parents’ friends’ sukkah even though I knew a friend I haven’t seen for years (pre-COVID) would be there. Also irrational things like guilt over the content of dreams I’ve been having (no, not sexual, but weird and upsetting). I can’t work out if the guilt is religious OCD, low self-esteem, both or neither. It’s hard to tell.

I do think I need to work on my social anxiety, which has got worse because of the COVID lockdowns, as a matter of urgency, but I’m not sure how. CBT, the main treatment for social anxiety, tends not to work for autistics. I’m technically on the waiting list for autism-adjusted CBT on the NHS, but who knows if that will ever materialise? I think it’s pretty much impossible to get autism-adjusted CBT privately, although I haven’t looked. CBT did work for me for OCD, where it was mostly exposure therapy and it didn’t matter whether I believed the cognitions, so maybe it would work again. I did have CBT for social anxiety a few months before COVID, and it didn’t help much, but I think that was partly due to the short number of sessions and my failure to really push myself hard enough and keep pushing myself with the exposures to social situations. But it just joins the huge amount of things going on in my life right now or soon: the wedding and flat-hunting, trying to write one novel and sell another or possibly re-write it, setting myself up in business as a proof-reader, learning to drive… I feel overwhelmed just writing the list!

***

I feel pretty anxious about tomorrow. I’m likely to be somewhat sleep-deprived, as I don’t know if I’ll sleep well tonight (I often don’t after Shabbat or Yom Tov) and, as I said, I have to be up extra early for extra prayers tomorrow, then off to the office where I need to speak to the security guard (who I worry doesn’t like me) about using the shul sukkah for my lunch and where I may have to do the Very Scary Task without J being around and where I certainly will be in the office by myself , which gets lonely. The office also has little in the way of natural light and that alone sets me in a bad mood for six months of the year. And then I have to do it all over again the next day. J has already told me what my first task tomorrow is and mentioned I should do it straight away, so now I’m worried about messing that up, forgetting to do it or getting in late and not doing it in time…

***

On top of all this, I miss E a lot. I thought that it would be easier being celibate in a relationship than being single, and just as easy being engaged as in a relationship, especially long-distance, which shows what I know. Even regardless of sex, I just want to spend time with her. Pretty much everything I’ve written about in this post, good and bad, would be better in a context of us living together.

***

A weird thought I had in a shiur (religious class) yesterday: being autistic, I can’t understand other people easily, what they’re thinking and feeling, especially about me (cf. the security who worry doesn’t like me). How can I even hope to understand what God thinks or feels about me? Where “thinks” and “feels” are metaphors at best for something beyond my comprehension.

That’s Me in the Corner

I had therapy today for the first time in about two months, since before my civil wedding. We spoke about quite a few things, including the wedding. One of the big ones was alexithymia and struggling to find and understand my emotions. We spoke a bit about just trying to recognise emotions and sit with them, rather than necessarily doing anything with/to them.

At the same time, we spoke about the Gestalt Cycle. As I understood this, the idea is that we have cycles where our emotions can lead on to actions (among other things). Googling it, I’m not sure I understood correctly, but that’s what I took from it.

It was interesting to me that emotion is linked to action in that way. In Judaism, there’s an argument that ritual actions should coincide with or even provoke emotions. The Medieval commentators and philosophers wondered how Judaism can command emotions (love God with all your heart, soul and might; love your neighbour as yourself; don’t covet etc.). One approach is that actions stimulate emotions so acting lovingly (etc.) can induce that emotion even if you don’t feel it initially (I don’t claim that this will always work, and I can say from experience if you already have strong emotions in the opposite direction, it probably won’t work at all).

Possibly, if I want to feel more Jewishly, I just have to open myself up to the religious actions I’m doing. I went through a phase a while back of trying to focus more on the words when davening (praying) and the feeling of joy and amazement when saying brachot (blessings) (cf. Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel). I somehow fell out of the habit (I think when things got stressful before the civil wedding and then Yom Tov), but I could try to get back into that mindset. Not to over-think ritual and prayer, but step back and observe the emotions it induces.

***

My therapist also spoke a bit about integrating the autistic part of myself. This was in a context of saying that I think there’s still a part of me that is trying to “bargain” not to be autistic, or to have had a better autistic experience, rather than accepting that I am autistic and I had the childhood, adolescence and early adulthood that I had, difficult though much of it was. My therapist anthropomorphised it as a child who is sitting in the corner and not fully accepted. I’m not sure what to do with that thought at this stage.

***

We also spoke about the fact that, because I only work for two days in the week, even though I’ve been working there for nearly two years, it’s the equivalent of less than a year working full-time, so it’s no surprise I’m still learning how the office works. This came up because I was saying that it’s when I fully understand a process and why we do things a particular way that I consistently start doing it correctly (albeit that I can still make mistakes when my attention wanders, which happens too often). If I’m just doing something because J said so, I’m likely to make mistakes based on faulty processing or misunderstanding.

***

I joined a Facebook group for dialogue between frum (religious Jewish, although in this context, specifically Orthodox and possibly Haredi/ultra-Orthodox) and OTD (“Off the Derekh” – off the correct path, i.e. not frum, not a phrase I like using generally) Jews. I have no idea if this is going to be an environment where I can connect with open-minded people (presumably anyone joining such a group is more open-minded than most, but maybe not) or if it’s just going to be one huge argument. It’s frustrating that most FB groups are private and you can’t get an idea of what the group is like before joining. I can always leave if it gets too much. So far it seems most people are polite, but a few are less so, although they probably think they’re engaging in radical honesty rather than being rude.

I’ve joined five FB groups now, with two more still pending. Since joining, two of these groups have done a “Hello to new members” post, listing new members by name, and in both groups, they missed off my name. I was too shy socially anxious to say anything.  Honestly, this kind of thing has been happening to me since I was a young child, both “if anything can go wrong, it will” and, more troublingly, being completely ignored in social situations. I was assuming that I get ignored in person because I’m so quiet and skulk near the back of groups, not talking to anyone, but it seems that it happens online too, when I’m not even expected to have done anything, just to have my name added to a list automatically.

A Tribe of Two

I feel I wasted a lot of the day. I helped Dad put up the sukkah (the temporary hut/dwelling in the garden where we will live (in reality, eat) for the Sukkot festival starting next Sunday evening) today. It’s not finished, but we have some time still. But doing that made me worry about how E and I will cope with living together and running a household when both of us have mental health issues, diagnosed or possible neurodivergence and low energy (from possible sleep disorders or something else). I worry a lot about how we will cope with having kids. We both want to have kids, but it’s hard to work out if we could cope, and for fertility reasons, we can’t really push the decision off in the hope our physical and emotional health improves.

Whether because of these worries or because of autistic exhaustion, I lacked energy and motivation today. I procrastinated a bit, then did some Torah study. I wanted to go for a run, but I started getting a headache. Then I thought about going for a walk, but the headache started turning to a migraine. The headache did go eventually, but by that stage the day was over, aside from skyping E in the evening.

***

I was thinking of my mental illness history in the past tense, then realised I still have social anxiety. Why do I always downgrade my social anxiety, as if it’s not as real or powerful (in a negative way) as my depression and OCD were? I’ve stood in the street crying on occasion because I couldn’t get past it to go somewhere. That’s a big, ongoing issue. Yet I don’t pay it attention. I’ve only once made a serious attempt to get help for it by itself, rather than alongside (and playing second-fiddle) to other issues (actually two attempts, but the second attempt is by this stage a vague hope that the NHS will provide autism-adapted CBT at some point in the future). I act as if it’s not much more than shyness, when it really is, especially since COVID (although the standing in the street crying was pre-COVID).

***

I’m still struggling with what I want to do with Facebook. I still haven’t friended most of my real-world friends. I’m not entirely sure what is motivating this. Perhaps I can’t face being reminded how different our lives are, or risking reading about their politics. FB has suggested a couple of school peers to me, but not many. I’ve only friended one friend so far, so the algorithm has little to work with there. The peers I have come across have mostly had their accounts set to Friends Only (or whatever it’s called), so I can’t play the “Compare and Despair” game (as someone on the autism forum put it).

I’ve tried to join some groups for hobbies i.e. Doctor Who and other telefantasy (not that anyone says ‘telefantasy’ nowadays). I struggled to find my ‘ideal’ Doctor Who group, one which posts regularly, but not too often (I think three or four times a week to once or twice a day is the range I’m looking for), with discussion of episodes/ideas from the programme, especially the classic series of Doctor Who, and no obligation to adore the current episodes/show-runner, although not tedious hating either. Most groups are private, so I can’t see them. From the few public groups I’ve seen, and from the blurb when I search, most groups post far too often (10+ times a day is common), are largely new series-focused for Doctor Who and feature a lot of random pictures, memes and merchandise/convention news and little discussion. I miss the days of the fan blogosphere, where people actually discussed stuff (albeit that discussion would get tagged with the annoying phrase ‘meta’).

In the end I joined three groups (one for classic Doctor Who, one for The Prisoner and one for general British cult TV). I can always leave if they’re unsuitable. I guess I feel that if I’m going to waste time online, it might as well be doing something fun. My WordPress blog feed has slowly, but surely been drying up since COVID started and I get the impression other people’s have too, so I’m looking elsewhere for online time-wasting.

***

Related to this is the issue of “finding my tribe,” which I have spoken about before. I suspect part of my current issues is wanting to find some kind of community I feel comfortable with, even if only online. Many people on the autism forum claim to have “found their tribe” there, but I struggle to do so, if only because there seems to be little ongoing group discussion or interaction. There basically seem to be three types of posts there: introductory posts; posts from relatively high functioning adults asking about specific problems; and parents of young children with autism or suspected autism (often not high-functioning) asking with specific problems or questions about assessment. There isn’t the kind of general posts or ‘chattiness’ I expected, maybe inherently, given the way autism manifests, or given the way forums are structured. I suspect I will find similar issues with FB groups, including the one I want to set up. Also, my experience of autism is so related to my (real or perceived?) struggles fitting into the Jewish community that I fear that it is hard for people to relate to me and vice versa.

There’s a saying in the autism community that, “If you’ve met one person with autism, then you’ve met one person with autism,” the idea being that autistics are a very diverse group and certainly autism manifests in surprisingly different ways. So maybe it’s not a surprise that I connect with some people on the forum and not others. We probably shame some genetic differences from the mainstream, but that’s arguably not enough to build friendships and community on.

Looking at other places where people like me find their tribe, I don’t know why I think I would have lots of things in common with other Doctor Who fans, as that’s arguably even less of a real connection, although strangely I have managed to find people on my wavelength in fan circles in the past (excluding my religious beliefs and practices, though), whether in the real world in the Oxford University Doctor Who Society or on the (now largely defunct) Livejournal Doctor Who community.

I would think that Orthodox Jews would be a more homogenous group and more likely to share my outlook. After all, Orthodoxy involves commitment to beliefs and practices that are far outside the secular norm in the contemporary Western world. Even so, there are vast differences of personality, interests, outlook and so on, which, again, is probably not unexpected.

Kafka said something along the lines of he didn’t know why people expect him to have things in common with other Jews when he had little in common with himself. I feel the same way. Sometimes my interests and worldview seem to come from several different people, so broad-ranging are they (I suspect some of my opinions are actually contradictory, if I looked at them dispassionately enough), so it’s not surprising I can’t find anyone who shares them. In many ways the surprising thing is that I do have so much in common with E (despite our religious differences). Maybe we are a tribe of two? I guess it’s better than a tribe of one.

I suspect it’s more realistic to look for individual friendships in different communities, living a compartmentalised life. This is frustrating in some ways (and not at all how we are encouraged to live these days), but is probably more realistic than expecting one group of people to meet all my social/emotional/religious needs.

***

While I’m venting, there is another issue I have with the autistic community. A lot of people in it seem to have a kind of ‘reverse ableism’ whereby neurotypicals (by which they seem to mean allistics (non-autistics) most of the time, even though the two words are not by any means synonymous) are treated as a single unit who all think and act the same way, behaviour usually contrasted negatively with supposed autistic logic and calm (I think some autistics are indeed very logical, but others are just single-minded and can’t see alternatives to their own opinions, which they mistake for irrefutable logic — I have definitely done this in the past. As for calm, someone rightly said that autistics are the noisiest quiet people). This really annoys me, especially as many of my friends and family are not autistic and I am able to get along with them and don’t particularly like seeing them portrayed as universally irrational, noisy, extrovert, uncaring, deceitful, malicious and so on when this is clearly not the case.

You do sometimes find a similar anti-gentile prejudice in Jews (although not so often or so bitterly, in my experience), so perhaps any marginalised and persecuted minority will develop such a sense of superiority as a defence, but it isn’t necessary or attractive, in my opinion.

A related issue, which, again, I have fallen foul of myself in the past, is complaining, often in a very political way, about the lack of support for adult autistics without making clear what support they would actually want. I have done this, and I still feel I would like support of some kind, but if you asked me what support I would like and gave me a government budget of X million pounds for it, I would struggle to suggest what would help me. Judging by the way other people on the forum complain about a lack of support in vague terms (“There is no support for adult autistics”) and not specific ones, (“I would like more widely-available autism-adapted CBT,” for example, or some kind of specific skill/coping strategy training) I suspect I’m not the only one who has fallen into this trap.

I’m not actually sure what help I need. My feeling of, “I don’t understand people or the world” isn’t really something specific enough for someone to help me with. Things like sensory issues can manifest in such different ways in different people that it’s hard to see what type of support could realistically be available for everyone, while social skill training is sometimes dismissed as forcing autistics to fit into an allistic world. Arguably there should be more research on skills and coping strategies for autistics, but that would take a long time to come through as something that autistics could be taught.

(I realise the last few paragraphs lead me open to accusations of being a “self-hating autistic.)

Rosh Hashanah

I should really get to bed soon, but I wanted to quickly write a few things about Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year).

I got to shul (synagogue) multiple times, including for the shofar both mornings, although I got to shul long after the start of the very long Rosh Hashanah morning service. I felt a bit overwhelmed by the large numbers in shul on the first evening, but was OK with the number of people, although I suspect to some extent I just focused on myself, my machzor (prayerbook) and the chazan (cantor) and tried not to think about the other people. I was mostly OK with the choir and the chazanut (cantorial singing), preferring to sit with Dad in the known quantity of the main shul despite these things (choir and chazan) rather than go by myself into unknown the parallel service, even though they finished a lot earlier without them. I mostly think I made the right decision, but I was annoyed by the amount of talking, which I’m not used to from my shul. Still, overall I felt comfortable at being back in the United Synagogue. I do wish people wouldn’t talk during the service, though.

I felt too tired to go back this evening for Minchah and Ma’ariv (Afternoon and Evening Services), which means my machzor and, more importantly, my tallit (prayershawl) is still in shul, so I’ll have to borrow Dad’s tomorrow morning (Dad has two talletot, one in shul and one at home).

I didn’t do much Torah study, although I went to the shiur (religious class) between Minchah and Ma’ariv yesterday. I did finish the ‘Chofetz Chaim on the festivals’ book.

I remembered there’s one type of therapy system (I can’t remember which) that talks about moving towards or away from values instead of abstract goals. For some reason that I’m not entirely sure about, I feel vaguely uncomfortable with moving towards values, but wondered if it would work to feel I’m moving towards God. I’ll have to see how that goes.

The main difficulty over Yom Tov, aside from missing E, was that my lips and especially hands have got quite chapped. I’m not quite sure how this happened, as it feels like it was summer five minutes ago, but apparently it’s not any more. Anyway, that was/is a bit uncomfortable. My left hand in particular has quite a lot of little cuts on it, which are surprisingly painful.

EDIT: I finally set up my new Facebook account. I haven’t set up a profile or found friends (or “friends”) or anything yet, as I don’t have time, but I wanted to do something towards setting up the group for people on the margins of the frum community. I did try to set my relationship status to married to E, but couldn’t work out how (isn’t FB supposed to be intuitive?) and ran out of time as I have to be up early for work tomorrow.

A Shulchan Aruch for the Mentally Ill and Neurodivergent

I was very exhausted yesterday, and had suddenly realised it was closer to Shabbat than I thought, but I managed to speak to E briefly before Shabbat started in the UK. We’re hoping to have a longer conversation tomorrow, but I’m worried about how I’ll manage it if there’s a lot to do for Yom Tov (festival). But if I can’t, we’ll have barely spoken for a week, from our last long call on Wednesday evening until this coming Wednesday evening, because of Yom Tov. And this pattern will repeat for three out of the next four weeks. Being long-distance is hard, at Yom Tov doubly so, and that’s not even counting the stress of doing Yom Tov without each other.

I didn’t go to shul (synagogue) after this. I was just too wiped out and feeling physically ill from exhaustion. I did daven (pray) at home, without much energy or enthusiasm. I did some Torah study after dinner, which may have been a mistake, I’m not sure. I just want to finish some of the books I’m reading (see below).

I had weird dreams last night, including my least-favourite ex-boss (the one who basically told me that I wasn’t as good at my job as she expected and that she didn’t really have confidence in me) refusing to acknowledge my existence. Also something I can’t really remember about crocodiles. I ended up sleeping after lunch, too. I didn’t really want to, as I knew it would just mess my sleep pattern up even more, but I struggled through lunch with my parents and then basically went to autistic shutdown mode, curled up in the foetal position in bed with my eyes shut. Inevitably, I eventually fell asleep, but I think it was more about trying to reboot myself after a couple of hours of listening to my parents talk than actually needing sleep. Then I went back to bed briefly in the early evening, but didn’t sleep. I didn’t go to the shiva (house of mourning) for my parents’ friends’ son. I felt too burnt out. It was probably just as well, as it was very busy. I will try to email them tomorrow.

It’s hard to unpick the autism, social anxiety and sleep disorder from each other to work out what is really keeping me away from shul. There may also be an element of SAD now to make things even more difficult, which hopefully won’t turn into full depression. It’s hard to know where to start. So many people on the autism forum also struggle with exhaustion and fatigue. None of us really know how to cope. The medical community seems baffled or perhaps uninterested.

(By coincidence, someone just shared this story about autistic fatigue on the autism group.)

I worry what it will be like when E and I are married. Will it be easier living with someone more on my wavelength and autism-friendly? Will I be able to work more? Will that make me more tired? (I assume so.) Will we be able to have kids? How will I cope with that? Kids are not autism-friendly, even/especially autistic kids (autistic kids are a possibility given how much neurodiversity (diagnosed and undiagnosed) that there seems to be in both E and my families).

Somewhat related, I feel that this Rosh Hashanah/Yom Kippur, I should work on forgiving myself. It just feels wrong even writing this, but I have beaten myself up so much over the years for things that were not within my control to change completely, or at all: depression, social anxiety, OCD, autism, alexithymia, exhaustion and sleep-disruption. (Also: being a heterosexual male with a normal sex drive, trying to be celibate, but that’s a whole other post.)

I don’t know how much I’m going to get to shul over the coming Yom Tovim (festivals), if I’m going to hear the shofar (ram’s horn trumpet) on Rosh Hashanah, and it’s tempting to beat myself up about it in advance. I don’t think that will achieve much, but it’s easy to feel I don’t deserve forgiveness, that if I just pressure myself harder to have more energy, better sleep, a more positive mindset (etc.) that I need to study more Torah and fulfil more mitzvot (commandments), that will somehow happen. Even though it hasn’t worked for decades.

I feel someone should write a Shulchan Aruch for the Mentally Ill and Neurodivergent, to try to set out ways of living Jewishly with these issues and how they affect halakhic (Jewish legal) observance (the Shulchan Aruch is the primary Jewish code of law). In Israel, a rabbi has set up some kind of institute to teach more rabbis how to handle halakhic questions regarding people with mental illness. This is positive, but I would like someone to do it for the neurodivergent too. Unfortunately, Orthodox Judaism tends to lag ten years or so behind the secular West regarding social issues and we are only just beginning to deal with mental health, so we probably won’t catch up to neurodivergence for another ten years.

***

On the subject of beating myself up, I felt recently that I hadn’t finished any books for a while and was upset about that. Actually, it’s not that long since I finished A Guide for the Perplexed and Faith Without Fear (is it really less than a month since I was in New York and getting married?), but even setting them aside, I realised that I’ve been reading really big books lately. I’m on page 623 (of 712 pages of main text) of The Third Reich in Power 1933-1939, page 427 (of 712 or so pages) of The Television Companion: The Unofficial and Unauthorised Guide to Doctor Who and page 491 (of 528) of Lamentations: Faith in a Turbulent World. These are mostly heavy-going books (not the Doctor Who one, except inasmuch as I get annoyed with some of the views expressed in it, particularly hatred for late seventies Who) and I’m finally getting near the end of most of them. It’s been a long journey through them, but I would have read several novels or shorter religious works in the same time (I did read some, actually), so I should probably beat myself up less about that. I do definitely want to tear through some light novels soon, though.

***

Shana tova tikatev vetichatem! May you be written and sealed for a good new year!

“…an almost Proustian display of modern Existentialist football…”

(Title quote from one of the Monty Python sketches I think about periodically, which happened to be in the episode I watched earlier, about a pretentious football commentator interviewing a monosyllabic footballer. It’s not really relevant, I just think it’s funny.)

There’s a lot I want to say, but I am totally exhausted, and overwhelmed with things to do. However, as I’m too exhausted to do much now, I’ll try to blog at least some of the things on my mind.

I flippantly remarked on Angela’s blog the other day that I’ve been tired for decades. I felt somewhat bad about it afterwards, as that was a post about tiredness through serious physical illness, but I’m not sure that tiredness from depression, autistic exhaustion and a sleep disorder is really less “real” or worthy of note. At any rate, I struggled to sleep again last night, although not so badly as some nights, and then struggled to get going in the morning, only to discover that while I was asleep, E had asked me to send her a particular document needed for the visa again, as I had forgotten to sign it. To be honest, I hadn’t forgotten, so much as not realised I need to do it (yes, classic autistic, “If you don’t explicitly ask for it, he won’t realise he needs to do it”). This delayed me a little, but I cut my usual truncated Shacharit (Morning Prayers) even shorter and got to work on time.

Work was exceedingly dull and I found some mistakes I had made weeks ago that at least went unnoticed by my boss. I listened to podcasts while sorting through papers then felt guilty that I had decreased my efficiency, although I’m not at all sure that that was the case, as the task is dull, but also difficult, as most of the papers I’m dealing with at the moment are legal or financial, but also twenty years or more old. They should be ripe for throwing away, but I worry that my legal and financial ignorance will lead me to throw away something we need. At the moment, I’m just trying to produce a general list of what everything is.

***

I have a tendency to take the world’s troubles on my shoulders, at least sometimes. Lately I’ve been feeling concern for lonely people on the autism forum, abuse survivors and current victims in the Jewish community, as well as continuing sadness and perhaps anger at God for my parents’ friends’ late son. I do worry sometimes that abusers and gett refusers (men who refuse to give their wives the religious divorce they want) in the frum (religious Jewish) community will find a loophole to the Next World via their Torah study and communal involvement and somehow evade punishment. This is irrational, as I don’t believe God is as easily deceived, or has His values as warped, as the frum community sometimes is and, in any case, I believe spiritual punishment is inherent in the action in ways that are too complicated for me to explain now; you can’t avoid Divine punishment any more than you can avoid being in your own body. But I do think about it a lot.

***

I came across the idea a number of years ago that lots of frum people want to fast-forward through this time of year, the Jewish autumn festival season. For them it’s a time of painful self-examination and guilt. It is that for me too, with added autistic exhaustion and peopling, social anxiety, low self-esteem and disordered sleep issues, not to mention autistic issues with work routine changes and overload from working more intensively. I could also say that their guilt over sins is excessive and misplaced, whereas mine is logical and deserved, but I’m not going to go there (which is probably a good sign in and of itself). I feel like that now, with all the extra overwhelm of my life at the moment too, but today for the first time I felt frustrated that I haven’t worked on my novel for weeks because I’ve been focused on my wedding and E’s visa application. I’m glad, as I wondered if I had given up on writing. However, I still doubt I will have time to put pen to paper (or word processor) for another month.

One extra thing that is hard at this time of year is having alexithymia, difficulty noticing and understanding my own emotions. It’s hard to be sure I love and am in awe of God and that I love Torah, or that I have joy in the festivals and in being Jewish when I struggle to notice love for my family, let alone a being I can’t see and Who is the source of everything bad that ever happened to me as well as everything good. Mostly I try to “deduce” my emotions by my actions, which I guess must mean I feel something positive about God if I do all this religious stuff.

Related to this is my feelings about the frum community. On an Orthodox Conundrum podcast I listened to today, they spoke about the importance of being part of a community for spiritual growth. I’ve never really had this, at least not in the way they meant. Someone on the autism forum the other day suggested that while I say I want to be part of a community, I also seem to have negative feelings about it (I said making friends in the community seemed “terrifying and impossible”). I don’t really have an answer this.

***

I suspect the answer to all of the above is to “Let go and let God,” as the 12 Step movement says, but I’ve never been very good at that. It’s hard to “Let go and let God” when you can’t work out how much you trust God.

***

Good things that happened today:

E sent the visa application off, despite consistent issues with the third-party website.

I was told I can keep paying reduced shul (synagogue) membership fees because I’m on a low salary. I feel vaguely guilty about this and don’t know why, although as I have been paying money to a shul I haven’t been attending, and as I will continue doing this for some months more, I feel the shul is still getting a good deal.

My birthday present from E, The Hidden Order of Intimacy: Reflections on the Book of Leviticus by Aviva Gottleib Zornberg finally arrived. The delay, I should say, was on the part of Foyles Bookshop, not E. Zornberg has written several deep books on Tanakh (Hebrew Bible), mixing traditional commentary with ideas from Western philosophy and literature and psychology. She’s very good, but no one expected her to write about the almost entirely legal and purity-focused Vayikra (Leviticus). So I am curious to read it, but will wait until it comes around on the annual Torah cycle next spring.

Also arriving today was the latest Jewish Review of Books (finally) and Doctor Who: The Dis-Continuity Guide. Actually, the latter came yesterday, but it seemed inappropriate to write about it on such a sad day. Then today I went into the charity shop and found a load of interesting-looking books. I already owned a couple of them, perhaps fortunately, but I did buy a copy of Yehudah HaLevi’s Medieval Jewish anti-philosophical philosophical work, The Kuzari for £2, which goes nicely with the Guide for the Perplexed I got for free a few months ago.

Yes, my plan to avoid getting new books until I work my way down the To Read pile is going well. Wait a minute…

Overwhelmed

I wrote the following long post on the autism forum. I’m too exhausted to write a long forum post and a long blog post, so I’m just going to copy and paste. Much of this is probably familiar to regular readers, but it’s a handy summary of how I’ve been feeling for the last few weeks and why things are probably not going to get any better any time soon.

I’ve been feeling very overwhelmed lately. The background is that at the end of August, I went to New York for my civil wedding (my wife is from the USA). After one day of married life, I had to come back to the UK alone, so that she can apply for a spouse visa to come to the UK. She can’t come to the UK until she gets that. For religious reasons, we won’t live together until we have a second, religious, wedding (in the UK, hopefully early next year). At the moment, I’m still living with my parents, with my wife on another continent for the foreseeable future, which I guess would be difficult even for an NT. I’m certainly finding it very hard.

Then, when I got home from the US I had a lot of disruption: extended family staying with us, then my parents going away, which left me in the house by myself, which was good in some ways, but stressful in others. And now I’m a few days away from the autumn Jewish festival season (I’m an Orthodox Jew) which, again, is stressful even for Jewish NTs without social anxiety (which I have too) who don’t care about work/schedule disruption, having to go to crowded religious events, peopling and so on. Also, despite being a festival season, parts are quite sombre and focused on personal growth, which, with my low self-esteem, I tend to apply to myself as guilt and shame rather than anything healthier

 So, there is a lot going on, and three weeks on, I feel I haven’t processed my wedding yet; but then eighteen months on from my Asperger’s diagnosis, I feel increasingly I haven’t fully processed that either. In terms of the Kubler-Ross model for dealing with grief (my grief over the NT life I won’t have), I worry I’m stuck on “bargaining” for the NT life I thought I was going to get, or the next best thing (“If only I wasn’t autistic… If only I was diagnosed younger… If only I was good with numbers or could get a job related to my special interests…”). I’m not proud of this, I’d like to see the positives in my diagnosis, but I feel I missed all the useful autistic skills and just got some relatively mild sensory issues, some worse executive functioning issues, and a lot of social/inter-personal difficulties that I disguise with masking so no one can see how desperate I feel so much of the time, how much I’m just pretending that I’m doing OK in social situations.

I’m rejoicing to be getting married to the most supportive woman in the world, but I worry about how we will make ends meet or cope with practical things (she has her own “issues” too, including possible ASD that we aren’t sure whether to investigate further). I don’t want to let her down, even though she’s not pressuring me. I have a job, two days a week. It frustrates me, as I’m over-qualified for it, but still constantly make stupid mistakes. I’m not sure if that’s because of ASD or (ahem) boredom and incompetence on my part. It’s humbling to feel like I’m failing all the time, but also to feel that I can’t do anything better at the moment. Once we’ve made progress with the immigration issues, I’d like to try to get some supplementary work as a proof-reader and maybe a copy-editor, working from home. I have most of the skills, but getting clients is scary. Proof-reading is potentially an autistic skill, but networking and marketing myself is definitely an NT skill.

Plus, I want so much to be more integrated into the Orthodox Jewish community that I’m on the fringes of. I’ve been better-integrated at times in the past, but a lot of other things in my life had to be in the right place for that to happen, and right now they aren’t. Not only did COVID push me away from communal involvement, but it has strengthened my social anxiety, and the type of religious involvement (going to synagogue, going to religious classes (not on Zoom)) I could cope with at least some of the time a few years ago is currently a real effort, and often too much for me. The thought of actually making more friends in the community seems terrifying and impossible.

Unfortunately, the Orthodox Jewish community tends to lag somewhat behind the rest of the Western world on social issues. I feel we’re currently having the conversations about mental health that the wider Western world was having ten years ago; neurodiversity is going to take another ten years to seriously get on people’s radar. Possibly I’m being overly-pessimistic here. I hope so.

It just all seems too much stuff happening at once and I don’t really know what to do except try to hold on. I’m also on a break from therapy for a couple of months various reasons, which has not come at a good time, as everything feels so huge and overwhelming and I really need to talk to someone dispassionate. Ridiculously, given how long this is, there is more I could say, but I will stop here for now. Thanks for reading!

(End of autism forum post.)

Option B

I woke up late. I didn’t feel bad, but I was in one of those moods where I felt disinclined to do anything. I suppose this is a normal part of the human condition, but I always feel I should be super-motivated to do things, especially as I have so much on my To Do list, particularly with Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year) a week away.

I watched little snippets of the Queen’s funeral. I didn’t watch the ceremony. I thought there might be halakhic problems with watching a church service (although the Chief Rabbi was there), but also the little bits I saw produced a feeling of disconnection. It reminded me of Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik’s understanding of different religions as different covenantal communities with different ways of understanding the Divine, and that beyond a certain point those experiences are untranslatable. I did watch bits of the journey of the coffin to Windsor Castle. It didn’t move me as much as the last few days did. The pageantry was interesting to watch, but I didn’t find it particularly moving. I suppose I react more to the raw emotion of the public mourning than to pomp and pageantry.

I listened to another one of the LSJS shiurim (religious classes) from yesterday, by Dr Tanya White. This one caught my attention by talking about our lives being bedieved, or, as Dr White paraphrased it, “Option B.” This caught my attention because lately I’ve thought about my life as bedieved (even used that term) inasmuch as I feel I should “ideally” be high-achieving in my career (or at least have something I could describe as a career, or even a job I feel I do well rather than making so many mistakes); that I should be davening (praying) more, and with a minyan (community), and doing longer and more “serious” Torah study (whatever that might mean); and that I should be integrated to the frum (religious Jewish) community and that I should even be giving back to it somehow (probably involving leading prayer services or giving shiurim). I also feel I need to rely on many leniencies in my religious life, particularly for autism and mental illness. I used to think that I would eventually “graduate” to a more stringent religious lifestyle, but that seems unlikely to happen now, and I’m not sure I would want it any more, or be able to cope with it. I suppose I thought I would eventually graduate to a better career and a greater level of religious community involvement at some stage. Maybe those things will still happen. I did have a greater level of religious community involvement a number of years ago, but in a community where I grew up and felt more comfortable and at home than I do currently.

Anyway, the idea in the shiur was that the Option B existence is the norm for humanity. Dr White said that God never explains the suffering of the righteous in Tanakh (Hebrew Bible) because it is unnecessary for us to understand it in this world. Our job is to make the world better, not to understand it (Rabbi Lord Sacks z”tzl wrote about this too). Searching for this understanding was in fact the sin of Adam and Chava (Eve), that they wanted to be like God, understanding good and evil (i.e. why they happen). This sin pushed mankind to a reality where hard work and patience become necessary as opposed to the immediacy of Eden, as well as the need to cultivate an inner self distinct from external appearances.

She also spoke of Kayin (Cain) as wanting to know why his sacrifice was rejected when God instead presented him with a choice of making his situation better or being drawn to negativity. This unfortunately reminded me of my thinking about all my peers who are doing better than me in life.

Tying into this somewhat, I felt intermittently overwhelmed today.  I have a lot going on at the moment and I’m not sure what the immediate triggers were. I guess I’ve been thinking a lot about the forthcoming festivals and my attempt/failure to integrate into the frum community. Judaism is a social-based “religion,” in fact it does not really see itself as a religion at all, but the attempt of a nation to build a model society. The question for me is how then can I integrate into it with a social communication disorder that impairs my interactions with other people and social anxiety that pushes me away from social settings?

Beyond this is the big question on my mind at the moment, and really since I got my Asperger’s/autism diagnosis, is what am I supposed to do with it? How does it relate to the religious meaning of my life? Is it just an extra obstacle to overcome (or fail to overcome) or is there something more to it? I guess related to this is the question of self-esteem and how much I should value my achievements in life, particularly religious ones, whether I should see them as extra valuable because of the extra effort involved or less valuable because of the lower outcomes compared with other people such as my peers at school and Oxford. Put like that, it seems I should value them more, but it’s hard to quantify them and say, “Oh, I go to shul once or twice a week, but that’s the equivalent of going (say) four or five times a week as I’m battling with social anxiety, autistic exhaustion and autistic sensory overload from the chazan’s shouting.”

It doesn’t help that I’m going a long time without therapy. First I was in New York, now my therapist is away, and then October will be full of Yom Tovim and working on other days than my usual ones to catch up for them, so it’s doubtful that we will be able to have any sessions (unless perhaps she can do some on a Friday morning, but I don’t think she works on Fridays).

I feel this post hasn’t really expressed what I was trying to say, but it’s nearly 11.00pm and I have work tomorrow, so I need to post it now.

Shabbat and Lying-in-State

Shabbat (the Sabbath) was a normal Shabbat. In other words, I’m still struggling with sleep and social anxiety around shul (synagogue). I did go to shul on Friday night. I’ve decided the chazzan (cantor), who is notorious for SHOUTING when he sings during the service, is not terribly autism-friendly. I don’t like being shouted out, particularly not in what is supposed to be music. It’s unlikely that I will be going to this shul after E and I get married, except when we stay with my parents, so it’s not a huge problem, but it’s irritating for now.

On the way home, one of my father’s acquaintances (I’ll call him Fred) saw us and waited for us to catch up with him. He wished me mazal tov on my civil wedding and said his daughter lives in New York. After we got home, Dad said to me, “Did you not want to talk to Fred?” I had no idea what he meant. Apparently, Fred had been standing on my Dad’s right and after he spoke to me, I moved away from him and walked on my Dad’s left. I should also have known that his comment about his daughter was an opening conversational gambit inviting discussion of New York. I realised none of this until it was pointed out to me, and I doubt I would really notice in the future. This is what happens operating on a mixture of autism and social anxiety. I hope Fred was not offended.

Otherwise Shabbat was the usual mix of eating, davening (praying) and Torah study. Because Mum and Dad were away this week and didn’t want to cook on Friday, we ordered food from a kosher restaurant. It was delivered on Friday morning and we just heated it on our hot plate for Shabbat. It was very nice, but the portions were incredibly large. We had intended to eat it on Friday night only, but it lasted for Shabbat lunch too.

Despite being ‘leftovers,’ lunch was large enough that I didn’t even try not to sleep it off afterwards. I slept for about three hours, with disturbing dreams (I had different disturbing dreams last night too). Part of the problem was waking with bright light in my eyes from the window as I didn’t draw the curtains, which just makes me scrunch up my eyes and eventually fall asleep again. (It also gives me dreams where I experience uncomfortably bright light in my eyes.) But when I finally woke up properly, it felt like I had been buried alive and was climbing out of a grave, soil in my throat choking me and felt like I was panting for breath when I finally awoke, which I suppose may be more evidence of sleep/breathing issues.

***

I read more of Lamentations: Faith in a Turbulent World, the commentary on Eichah (Lamentations), which I’ve been reading since around the Fast of Av nearly two months ago. For a short book of Tanakh (Hebrew Bible), it’s a very long commentary. I just passed page 400, but I still have more than a hundred pages to go. To be honest, part of me is tempted to stop for a break, and I probably will a bit this week, as I will want to listen to the shiurim (religious classes) at the London School of Jewish Studies’ study day tomorrow, listening to some live tomorrow and to the recording of others during the next week or two.  However, I worry that if I stop for too long, it will be impossible to start again, as it’s pretty bleak and heavy-going, although thorough and enlightening. I know Eichah better than many books of Nakh (the post-Mosaic Bible books) because it’s read every year on the  Fast of Av, but the book has made me appreciate it as a much more complex and literary text than I thought.

***

Other book-related news: after my post here the other week about the book Doctor Who: The Dis-Continuity Guide from the 1990s, I found a copy going for £1.99 on eBay. On a whim, I bid for it, not really expecting to get it, as I don’t think I’ve ever won an eBay auction before, or, if I have, only once. However, no one else even bid, so I got it for £5.34 including postage, which was pretty good when other copies on the site seem to be asking for something in the region of £40 (although this may be why those copies aren’t selling). Of course, it will probably disappoint my memories, but it’s good nostalgia. I really must stop buying books though, even ones I want that are going cheap.

***

I watched some of the Queen’s lying-in-state on TV on BBC Parliament after Shabbat. My parents put it on after Shabbat. I think they’ve been watching it for days. I haven’t, and I only really watched because I was in the room, but I did stick around for the changing of the guard, which was interesting to watch. My Dad is right that no one does this kind of ceremonial better than the British. Even though I’m not a terribly enthusiastic royalist, I kind of wish I could go there, but I’m not spending twenty-four hours queuing.

A lot of people were crossing themselves in front of the Queen’s coffin too. I know I got negative commentary about this when I said it before, but I find that religion has been routed from the public sphere so completely in this country that any kind of display of religion [1] seems counter-cultural, and reassuring to members of other religious minorities too small even to gain this level of recognition (e.g. Orthodox Jews like me). I remember Rabbi Lord Sacks discussing this on a podcast with Anglican priest Giles Fraser, that as a Jew he was grateful for the Church of England for keeping some kind of religion vaguely on the public radar in an otherwise very secular country. (I suspect some of my American readers, even the non-religious ones, don’t realise just how secular the UK generally is, established church notwithstanding.)

There probably is a lot to say about the intersection of religion and culture in ceremonial like this, the way this would feel inherently religious even without the large crucifix at the Queen’s head and other religious iconography, the way that the secular world simply does not seem to be able to handle something as weighty as the finality of death in this way. This is paradoxical, as atheists and agnostics ought to see death as more final than religious believers who believe in an afterlife, but somehow that belief adds to the finality for the religious, while the atheists avoid it with “celebrations of life.” But celebrating inherently subverts the seriousness of death, which is not celebratory.

Even beyond death, religion has a sense of the serious that is lacking in our constantly-moving, consumerist world. In Westminster Hall, people stand still or move slowly, which seems bizarre. I think of Philip Larkin’s poem Church Going (Larkin was not at all religious), “A serious house on serious earth it is”.

Moreover, the guards in uniforms with faces averted display the kind of selfless (or self-less) absorption in ritual, process and community that the Western world has abandoned in its constant quest for individual self-expression and independence. It’s a kind of selflessness and communal identification that I want so much to attain in my own religious practise and life, but which I self-sabotage and pull away from at the same time, too independent, too afraid of losing myself, to fully throw myself in, or perhaps just too autistic, socially inept and socially anxious to actually achieve it.

[1] Actual religion not quasi-religious secular displays of emotion like clapping for the NHS during the lockdown or kneeling during the national anthem at sports matches to express inchoate anti-racism.

Immigration Woes, Religious Growth on the Autism Spectrum and Performative Judaism

Most of today was spent scanning documents for E’s visa application and sending them to her. I didn’t have much time for anything else, although I cleaned the kitchen a bit as we haven’t got a cleaner coming this week.

I phoned the building society to try to get a printout of my savings account statement for the last year. I couldn’t get it to show as a pdf through online banking and a screen shot wasn’t good enough for the Home Office (for E’s visa). The woman I spoke to said that my account was for a book, not individual statements. This sent me into autistic/socially anxious panic, as I was pretty sure I didn’t have an account book, and I hung up.  I decided it would be easier to sort out in person, so I walked to the building society, wearing my invisible disability lanyard (just in case), which may have helped.  They said they would print my statement, but first one cashier and then the other had printer problems.  I thought I would have to come back another day or go to another branch (which would also have to be another day), but at the last moment they managed to print what I wanted.

I later discovered the printout only has the last four digits of my account number, which I suppose is for security reasons. I hope the Home Office still accept it. E and I are both terrified concerning every little detail that is not 100% the way they want or which we just had to work out on our own initiative. We are sure they will use this to refuse the visa application. E says what if the Home Office website is like Tanakh (Hebrew Bible) and we need the Immigration Talmud to understand it properly because its literal meaning is deceptive? It’s a frightening thought. Likewise concerning the problems I had with the benefits I was mistakenly paid, which the Home Office will see from the bank statements they are making me submit. I wrote a whole piece for them explaining what happened and that it was not my fault, but we’re still terrified that the Home Office will think I’m some kind of benefits fraudster and assume that E is the same and refuse her visa. I hate bureaucracy.

Then I came home and tried to phone to confirm the psychiatrist appointment I’ve been sent. Once again, the call went to the answerphone even though the office was supposed to be open. I got annoyed about this, particularly as I wasn’t sure that it’s the right number to call, although the only other phone numbers on the letter were the crisis team and the “smoking cessation” line (?!), and it certainly isn’t either of those. I worried they would cancel my appointment because I haven’t confirmed on a number they haven’t given me. The answerphone gave another number, so I called that, only to be told that I should have phoned the first number! I said I left a message on the answerphone and the receptionist said that would be fine, but who knows with the NHS? I would say I need the NHS Talmud too, but I suspect it exists as an oral tradition only.

There was a Mussar (Jewish ethical development movement) yeshivah (rabbinical seminary) in the early twentieth century where students were sent to do stupid tasks, such as going into a hardware shop and asking for milk, so that people would get annoyed with them, in the process teaching them that self-esteem comes from within, not from other people.  I feel that, with autism and social anxiety, most of my social interactions that aren’t with a small, select group of people feel like that. It hasn’t done much for my self-esteem, though.

I feel I haven’t really adapted to post-depression/burnout life or to ‘normal’ life with autism, a suspected sleep disorder and social anxiety. In particular, I ignored my social anxiety in the past as it seemed insignificant compared to my depression and OCD, but now they’re under control, it feels like a real impediment. I did CBT for it on the NHS, but I only had ten sessions and didn’t push myself hard enough or sustain the effort afterwards. Then COVID came along and knocked back what progress I had made.

I wonder what I should be doing right now in terms of growth i.e. dealing with autism and social anxiety and also growing as a person and growing religiously (this being the time of year when we think about these things in the Jewish world). I just got married and usually someone who just got married would be told to focus on that relationship for the first year, but it looks like half or more of our first year will be spent on different continents. More generally, I don’t know enough autistic or socially anxious adults in the Orthodox community (with or without significant sleep and energy issues) to try to gauge what is typical or even possible behaviour from someone in my situation.

In particular, trying to assess my relationship with God, as one Jewish site suggested, is hard. Being on the spectrum, I find it hard to assess my relationships with people who are actually communicating with me, let alone those who aren’t. I know I have a good relationship with E, but that’s partly because I can judge interactions, like how we resolve disagreements, and partly because she explicitly tells me that she thinks we have a good relationship. I’m sorry, I’m autistic, I find it hard to read these things without being told. With God, I have to intuit how He feels about me with really no evidence at all, and it’s all too easy for that to be distorted by low self-esteem. I’m not really a person who has a “sense” of God’s presence in their life and I find it hard to really know what that would feel like, although I perhaps have felt it at very specific points in my life.

***

On a somewhat related note, I’ve read/listened to some things about Judaism and feminism in the last few days. I don’t want to get into that debate, but I find it interesting that they present Judaism as primarily performative, not contemplative. In other words, Judaism is something you do (study, lead religious services, lein), rather than something you think about or contemplate. Women’s exclusion from Orthodox Judaism is seen as stemming from exclusion from doing certain things and can be rectified by letting them do those things.

Judaism is primarily a performative/action-based religion rather than a contemplative/faith-based religion like Christianity or Buddhism. That has certain advantages (setting aside the issue of gender segregation for the moment), but it arguably does lead to the marginalisation of those in the community who, for whatever reason, can’t do Jewish things (whereas fundamentalist Christianity leads to the marginalisation of those who, for whatever reason, can’t believe Christian things, which is a whole other set of issues). When it comes to feminism, we frame the argument around what women are allowed to do and who is allowing, or not allowing, them to do it, but I’m interested in people who aren’t able to do for pragmatic rather than societal/halakhic reasons and what happens to them. Do they just leave? Or get excluded, or at least demoted to second-class status? I want to start my Facebook group to find out!

There is an idea of meditation in Judaism (Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan z”tzl wrote three books on it, one of which I have), but it’s not very prominent except in the Breslov Hasidic community. (I’ve tried meditating, but struggle with it currently.)

The thing that I keep thinking about in this context is a story I haven’t seen in the original (I saw it paraphrased in Rabbi Dr Avraham Twerksi’s book Let Us Make Man). I think it comes originally from the Jerusalem Talmud. The story is that Rabbi Eliezer ben Hyrcanus, who was one of the leading sages of the Talmudic era, was severely ill and all his students came to visit him. They tried to cheer him up by saying what a great Torah teacher he was and he just got more depressed because he knew he was not going to recover enough to teach again. Then Rabbi Akiva said, “Suffering can be precious” (as a way of developing character and earning spiritual reward), which caught his attention because accepting suffering was something he could do in his passive state. I feel that kind of intellectual/contemplative, even passive, approach of “Suffering can be precious,” is generally not discussed in contemporary Orthodox Judaism. Rather, people in crisis are pushed to do more, even if that’s not really feasible for them.

Thoughts on an Autumn Shabbat

It seems like it was only a few days ago that we were in the middle of a summer heatwave and now suddenly it’s autumn and wet and cold, or at least colder. I think I experience a rise in my anxiety levels at this time of year, despite no longer being in the academic world; apparently, this is common, although the cause is unknown. In my case, the imminence of the Jewish autumn festivals is probably a part of it, but the longer nights are a part too.

Shabbat (the Sabbath) was peaceful, although I still feel somewhat stressed and anxious about the week(s) ahead. I didn’t feel well enough to go to shul (synagogue). I was too exhausted. I slept a lot, as I usually do, and felt bad for not staying up when I got up to go to the toilet at 8am. This is far from the first time this has happened. I’m not sure if I go back to bed because of continuing tiredness, an autistic comfort desire to wrap myself in my duvet and weighted blanket, or, on Shabbat, social anxiety about going to shul if I get up. Possibly all three. It is hard to work on it if I don’t know what causes it — or maybe it’s not. Maybe I have to just tell myself to be strong and stay up. I don’t know how to do that, though, and, as I’ve said before, my shul-based social anxiety has definitely got worse over the last few years because of COVID. I still think lockdown was the right decision, but the hidden costs continue to mount up.

I am also developing a theory that napping is more restful for me than sleeping for a long time. If I do have sleep apnoea, it tends to be worse when lying on one’s back or front. I go to bed sleeping on my side, but I move when I sleep. My hypothesis is that when I nap, I don’t move; only if I’m sleeping for several hours do I move. Hence, short afternoon naps are refreshing, even after having slept for twelve hours (and woken up exhausted), and sleeping for five or six hours before work is not too bad, but sleeping a full night leads to a negative loop of sleeping, turning over, being unable to breathe and waking more tired than I went to bed. As a hypothesis, it probably requires more research, although I’m not sure how at the moment.

Other than that I read quite a bit, Jewish things and The Third Reich in Power, and also Asterix the Gaul when I wasn’t quite ready to sleep yet, but was too tired for more Nazis, abusive rabbis, annoying characters being tortured by Islamists or anything else I’ve been reading about lately.

I didn’t really do a lot else other than sleep, read and eat. Just try to stay in the calm of Shabbat, away from wedding bureaucracy, work stress and the death of the Queen. I find myself getting more emotionally involved in the latter than I expected. I used to be a republican, then when I became more conservative (or, more accurately, realised that I was already conservative, and that it’s OK to be a unique kind of conservative that has very little in common with any actual conservative political parties), I developed a sort of abstract constitutional monarchism for coldly intellectual reasons, but none of the emotional attachment to flesh-and-blood royals I see in people on TV and, indeed, in my family (many of whom self-describe as socialists, but also strong monarchists. This is more common in the UK than you might think).

I’ve never really bothered watching royal stuff on TV, whether the Queen’s jubilees or various royal funerals, but I find myself watching now, at least the clips on the news if not the live coverage. Apart from wanting to show respect for the Queen’s immense hard work and dedication to duty, some of it is curiosity watching clips of the late Queen and now the King talking about religion and the Church of England, of which they both were/are head. I know this will seem strange to my American readers (which is most of them), but it’s almost unheard of these days for someone in public life in the UK to talk about God. The data from last year’s census about religion has not been released yet, but it’s expected to show “No religious belief” as the largest single religious descriptor. Most politicians are not religious and have no interest in presenting themselves as such. The few who are religious downplay it e.g. Tony Blair, who is a religious Christian, but whose Press Secretary and Spokesman Alastair Campbell would remind (or reprimand) him, “We don’t do God!” Similarly, Gordon Brown and Theresa May are both the children of clergymen, but rarely speak about religion. It’s really a relief to see traditional Judeo-Christian religion being spoken of on British TV as something other than backward, oppressive and irrational.

The King also seems more human somehow, a pain in his eyes that might be the sudden loss of his mother a year after the death of his father, but seemed to me more than that, a maturity that comes only from having made mistakes and experienced the painful consequences of them, which I suppose I don’t really associate with royals (having to live with the consequences of their actions).

I didn’t mean to write all this! I guess it made an impact on me. What I meant to write about was reaching the conclusion lately that I really have to go back on Facebook and try to see if there are groups for people on the fringes of the Orthodox Jewish community who want to be a part of it, but can’t manage to do so, for whatever reason. Then either to join them if they exist or set one up if they don’t. This seems pretty daunting, as I’m only vaguely aware of how Facebook groups work (they didn’t have them when I was on Facebook a decade ago) and doing social-related stuff isn’t my forte. But I do feel there are people out there looking for support.

There probably is more to say, but it’s long gone midnight, and while I’m not tired (too much daytime sleep), I should probably wind down for the night and watch Doctor Who (The Ribos Operation — atypical and underrated character-based story).

Not Functioning

I feel completely burnt out today. I had some not very restful sleep with a strange and slightly disturbing dream. I’m struggling to do anything, although I’m trying to do my pre-Shabbat chores and some visa document scanning/printing. I feel almost physically ill with exhaustion. I lay down in a dim room for half an hour just now which helped, although I’m still not sure if I’ll go to shul (synagogue) tonight.

I discovered that the guy I spoke to yesterday from the building society, who supposedly told me how to print an official PDF statement from my online account, was wrong, or the site isn’t working properly. Either way, I can’t get what I need for the visa, so I’ll have to phone the local branch next week and collect it in person, if I can explain myself adequately, which I worry about after the difficult phone calls yesterday. I hate doing stuff over the phone and in person. I feel like I really can’t cope with those when I’m burnt out and at the end of my tether. (Awareness of my autism has definitely sapped my self-confidence.)

I’m also worried about E’s visa application being rejected for some trivial reason or other. This fear has been worsened by the realisation that I have to declare the benefit money I was mistakenly paid by the Department of Work and Pensions (they continued paying me benefits after I repeatedly told them I was now earning too much to qualify) as it will be visible on the bank statements requested, so I can’t deny it or even just omit it. Incompetent bureaucrats.

I worry how E and I would cope with having children, given our low energy levels (for different reasons). Hopefully E’s energy will return soon, but I worry that she has long COVID. As for myself, I am wondering if I should pay for a private sleep study to get some idea of whether I really do have a sleep disorder, but private medical care is so rare here that I’m not entirely sure how I would do it. I did google and found somewhere that looks possible, but I have not had time yet to investigate how reliable it is. To be honest, I feel that, if nothing else, I need to know I have a real issue to stop feeling guilty for having missed so much shul (synagogue) over the years, although, as I can get up for work, realistically social anxiety is probably a factor there too, combined with my feelings of not fitting in to the frum (religious Jewish) community. That feeling of guilt is always bad at this time of year, both because of the emphasis on growth and repentance and the many long shul services over the festivals with much greater than usual attendance, including the special mitzvah (commandment) of hearing the shofar (ram’s horn trumpet) on Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year).

T-Minus One

I was woken up too early by my work alarm, which I’d forgotten to turn off. I didn’t feel too tired, but went back to sleep, then overslept and felt tired. I’m beginning to feel I have to sleep for several hours for my sleep disorder to kick in. It seems that I sleep quite rigidly on my side for a few hours and am fine, but then I turn over and probably start having problems breathing. This would explain why it’s easier to get up on work days, when I tend to sleep less, or why I can be refreshed from a two hour nap more than a whole night’s sleep. This is all speculation, but if it’s true, maybe I should sleep less at night and nap during the day.

I woke up (second time) quite anxious and in “stay in bed to avoid the world” mode. I’m worried about my trip, not seeing E, but the practical things like keeping Shabbat in a non-kosher hotel and getting up early most mornings. Also the fact that my hotel is significantly further from E than the airbnb I stayed at in January. My anxiety ebbed and flowed during the day, but I stayed pretty nervous. Maybe that’s normal, as I’m doing some things that are relatively anxiety-provoking in general (travelling, with COVID around; getting married; spending time with my in-laws who I still don’t really know) or for someone on the spectrum (travelling alone, staying in a hotel for the first time in years). I just want to fast forward through the next twenty-four hours until I’m settled in New York, or, more accurately, the next X months until E and I are fully married and living together.

I tried to cope with anxiety by trying to focus on doing just one thing, then the next thing, and so on. I spent a lot of the day packing. It took a long time because I would be anxious or get distracted or both. I did also go for a walk. I didn’t really do any Torah study, unless you count listening to half an Orthodox Conundrum podcast on mental illness and halakhah (Jewish law). That was about it for the day.

I am probably taking too many books with me: two novels (one serious, one lighter), two Jewish books for Torah study (again, one heavier than the other) as well as When Rabbis Abuse because I thought I could make some progress with it on the long flight out (probably not on the night flight home, but maybe). Also my siddur (prayerbook), the latest Doctor Who Magazine and a couple of printed out articles from the internet (I dislike reading long things online). That’s probably a lot for eight and a bit days, but I like to have some choice of reading material in general and particularly on the flight, as I struggle to read one thing for eight hours solid.

Well, this time tomorrow, all going to plan, I will be in New York. This time next week, all going to plan, I will be civilly married. The other good news for the day is that E’s Jewish and single status has been certified by the Beth Din (rabbinical court) of America. They spelt her name wrong, though, so we have to get that corrected before we send it on to the London Beth Din. Once we’ve done that, we can move on with aspects of the religious wedding, although we won’t be able to really make progress until E gets her spouse visa from the Home Office, which could be another six months after the civil wedding next week.

I’m not sure when I’ll be posting again. I might do so during the next week, but if I do, I will be posting from my phone and I have fat fingers, so any post will probably be shorter and less accurate than usual.

Existential Spirituality

I wonder sometimes about my spiritual life. I feel I have more of a religious life than a spiritual one. I would like to have a more spiritual life, but it’s hard to know where to start, especially from inside a major religion — where do you go when you’re already where you’re supposed to be, and don’t want to leave, but aren’t fully fulfilled? I want more spirituality, not less Judaism. Further, I find ‘spirituality’ a vague and unhelpful term, and Hebrew words like ruchniut aren’t any better.

I used to read a lot of Jewish religious existentialists (not all Orthodox). I found Jewish existentialism an approach that resonated with me more than many approaches in the Orthodox world, so out of curiosity, I searched online for stuff on existentialist spirituality, despite knowing that secular existentialism is very different to religious existentialism.

I found an article on existential spirituality in psychotherapy the other day that says the following:

There are four primary existential ways of being-in-the-world. They include:

  1. Umwelt: Being-with-nature or the physical world.
  2. Mitwelt: Being-with-others or the social world.
  3. Eigenwelt: Being-with-oneself or the world of the self.
  4. Uberwelt: Being-with-the-spiritual or over world.

Boss (1963), Binswanger (1963), and May et al. (1958) described the first three of these existential ways of being. van Deurzen (1988) added the fourth.

I do struggle with several of these areas. I’m able to experience nature well when I’m in a natural setting, but I struggle to find one in the suburbs. It might be good for me to walk more often in a little area of land left wild at the edge of the nearby park (although it only takes five or ten minutes to walk the length of it).

Skipping number two for the moment, I am a lot more OK at being with myself than before. I still have low self-esteem, something worsened by autism-induced mishaps, and some social anxiety and catastrophising, but I’m mostly comfortable being inside my head. I feel positive about my sense of integrity, which ties into my Jewish practice as I practise Judaism less to feel “positive” or “spiritual” in the moment and more because overall I have a feeling of integrity and rightness from acting in accordance with my religious beliefs and as part of a three thousand year old community.

The really hard areas are two and four. I think being with others is very important (this is perhaps the biggest thing I take from Jewish existentialism), and it does help me when I find a way I can interact with others well, but finding that way can be hard. I definitely missed volunteering the last couple of weeks when it was on a break and I felt depressed until it restarted yesterday. The downside is that I feel depressed and burnt out today, which may be cause and effect or may be coincidence.

The fact that I go to shul (synagogue) a lot less than I did seven or eight years ago is probably a negative here too, from a social point of view as much as anything. Communal prayer does create social bonds. In recent years I have gone to shul a lot less, as a result of sleep disruption, social anxiety, changing communities and then COVID. I’m now totally out of the habit of regular shul attendance and struggling to get back into it.

I think my marriage to E might be the biggest positive change I can make here. Following the Talmud, I see marriage as the primary model of a loving relationship (the Talmud sees “Love your neighbour as yourself” applying particularly to marriage) and I think the intimacy (emotional as well as physical) there will help me feel more spiritually-fulfilled. I think already our emotional intimacy has led me to feel better in this way. It is hard at the moment, though, when we are so far apart and know it will be so long until we get married. E said it feels like we should be married now and our current status is a weird aberration, and I agree with her. E also thinks that God wants us to marry so I can help her be more religious and so she can help me to have more fun, which may be true too.

Connecting with God directly is harder. I struggle to connect with God through Torah study, except on occasions when I suddenly gain some new insight. That doesn’t happen often, but maybe I have to do a lot of study to provide “scaffolding” for those moments of connection. But often it’s easy to forget God while studying Torah and just focus on the text as a text. Possibly I should try to get back to reading something inspirational or about personal growth every day.

I have improved my kavannah (mindfulness) in prayer lately, but even then it can be hard to concentrate on God. I can focus on God or on the words of the prayer, but it’s hard to focus on both at once.

I guess a lot of the problem is the subjectivity of what constitutes a spiritual experience or a connection with an invisible God. Maybe I’m trying to over-analyse.

***

I got a phone call from A, the person who seems to be a middleman between me and the psychiatrist. He turned out to be a psychiatric nurse. He said that before my medication was reviewed by the psychiatrist with a view to reducing it, could I tell him what happened about the autism assessment I was referred for in 2019, as they had no further information. I was pretty shocked he didn’t know about my diagnosis. In fact, I don’t think he even knew I was referred for an autism assessment, as he thought it might have been for ADHD (the hospital assesses for both). I offered to scan the report and send it to them, which was fortunate as he said he could write to the GP, but that would take weeks (!). You would think that an advantage of a single, national healthcare provider would be some kind of shared data base, at least within the locality. Honestly, this service is just so useless.

***

I was going to go for a pre-wedding haircut after this, but it started raining really heavily and I decided to go after work tomorrow instead. It’s still quite hot and I think the rain and heat/humidity combination along with the disruption to my plans brought my mood down. I am nervous of having my hair cut by a stranger again. I’ve always found haircuts intrusive, probably for autistic reasons about personal space and sensory stimuli, but for many years now I’ve had tremor in some social situations and haircuts are a major trigger, indeed, they were the first trigger when it started. I hope it doesn’t happen tomorrow.

I forgot to go to shul (I want to go on Wednesday evenings), although I wouldn’t really have had much time to spare. Instead, I submitted my first novel to two more agents, both UK-based. I’m trying to focus on UK agents at the moment. One is Jewish, but is super-influential and well-connected, so I probably won’t be accepted by him. To be honest, I suspect all the agencies on the list I’m using are too big for me and that I need some small boutique agency. E disagrees with me here; I hope she’s right.

***

I got sent £3.34 from Lulu.com, which means someone bought my non-fiction Doctor Who book!

“What’s so interesting about an ox?”

I really struggled to get up today, feeling utterly drained and self-critical (it goes without saying I got up really late, as it was a non-work/volunteering day — no volunteering this week for the summer holiday). The fact that another heatwave seems to have started probably didn’t help. Even if I can sleep when it’s hot, I tend not to sleep well (or, even less well than usual). Dad was watching the news when I went down for breakfast, so I got to see the latest on the Conservative Party leadership contest (“Tax cuts will fix everything in our broken society”) and Donald Trump being raided by the FBI, which is the least surprising “unexpected” story ever (I would not be surprised if he eventually goes out in a hail of bullets). None of this helped my mood much. I did manage to get dressed in about ten minutes to just about say some of Shacharit (Morning Prayers) while it was still time, which was good, and unexpected.

I waited over an hour at the dentist, as there was a child (I think) who needed emergency treatment. I was OK with that, although I had nothing to read, and the waiting room would probably have been too noisy for me to read anyway (radio, child playing videos on a phone without headphones). I think the dentist said I shouldn’t have gone to the dentist until I had two separate instances of pain, but possibly she was just saying that she wouldn’t extract the tooth for just one instance of pain. She said the gum was inflamed and cleaned it out, and suggested I rinse after meals with salt water to keep it clean, but that was about it.

Because of the long wait, I lost a lot of time. I tried to do some Torah study while cooking to save some time, but I struggled to find an appropriate shiur (class) to listen to. I ended up listening to a short ten minute thing and then some more Orthodox Judaism, which was interesting, but more pedagogy than actual Torah study. There was more discussion about teaching Talmud to schoolchildren, which made me think maybe I know some more things than I thought, not so much in terms of facts, but concepts, like knowing some of the history of the Talmud and the way it uses particular topics to discuss general concepts.

Rabbi Yakov Horowitz spoke about speaking to a meeting of three hundred (I think) Haredi single mothers who wanted to understand their sons’ schoolwork (Haredi women are generally not taught Talmud). One woman asked why her son is always talking about oxen. I was already aware that the Talmud uses four different types of dangerous items (foot, ox, pit and fire) as shorthand for various ways of causing damage, so I felt somewhat ahead of the game here. It was also good to hear a Haredi rabbi admit that one hundred years ago, only the top one per cent of Jewish schoolboys would have even gone to yeshivah and studied Talmud. Again, I knew that already, but it’s not really admitted to in the Haredi world. I recently saw someone arguing that while most Jewish men in pre-war Eastern Europe did have to work, they dreamt of spending all their time studying Tosfos (Tosfos, or Tosafot in the Modern Hebrew pronunciation I use, is a collective Medieval commentary on the Talmud, even more complicated and difficult than the Talmud itself). I can’t prove that this is untrue (I don’t have access to the dreams and fantasies of every Jewish man in pre-war Eastern Europe), but it seems unlikely given the social and economic situation of the time. Study was important to people even quite low down the social scale, but of much less challenging texts, and it seems unlikely that all Jewish men wanted to spend as long as possible in religious study.

I tried to phone the United Synagogue Marriage Authorisation Department to get the paperwork to move on the religious marriage. I got the answerphone, as I did when I phoned last week, which worried me a bit. I will try again…

The other thing I did was spend an hour or so working on my novel. I feel a bit bad about writing instead of studying Torah, but I tell myself writing is my livelihood, even though it actually isn’t, I’m just hoping it will contribute to it one day. I did make myself do a few minutes of Torah study on this week’s sedra (Torah reading), which happens to be my bar mitzvah portion (although I no longer remember how to lein it — I got so much praise for my bar mitzvah leining that I freaked out with social anxiety and refused to lein again, except when my parents forced me to lein haftorah for my sister’s bat mitzvah).

There are other things I would like to write about, but I am tired and between struggling to get up and get going this morning and the wait at the dentist, I am out of time.