Be Anything You Want To Be???

I woke up at 4.30am again and this time I couldn’t get back to sleep at all, although as I had gone to bed very early (10.30pm), I had still had about six hours of sleep, which is the absolute minimum I need to function. Despite that, I felt better than I had done all week, both emotionally and physically, and got up very early.

While davening Shacharit (saying Morning Prayers), I started to feel light-headed again, and when I had finished I went back to bed, and apparently feel asleep for three hours (interrupted by my parents briefly saying goodbye on their way to a routine hospital appointment), until I was woken by the cleaner arriving at midday, shortly before my parents. I was rather disorientated and unsure whether they had come back home or not, which confused things further.

As this indicates, I’m still getting hot flushes, light-headedness and tremor (more frequent and severe than my occasional social anxiety tremor) periodically through the day. I’ve gone back to thinking it’s a medication change side-effect, but who really knows at this stage? I feel rather confused and vaguely concerned.

***

In terms of activity, I managed a half-hour walk, an hour and a half of work on my novel and an hour or so of Torah study, as well as watching a film (Zootropolis) simultaneously with PIMOJ and then having a WhatsApp call afterwards.

***

Life can be an endless stream of self-doubt if you don’t have good self-esteem. I was worrying today if my divrei Torah (Torah thoughts) have declined in quality lately. No one has said that, but then I haven’t had much praise for them either. I suppose most people don’t give me any feedback at all and I wonder what they think or if they are even still reading.

Somewhat related to this, Zootropolis, like a lot of Hollywood films, was about the idea that you can do anything if you want it enough and try hard enough. (Presumably Hollywood pushes this line because it’s safer than saying the system is rigged against the little guy and the only alternative is refusal to join in and revolution.) I don’t think this idea (you can do anything you try) is true, and I think I have made myself very unwell and unhappy over the years trying to do things that are beyond my (autistic, depressed, socially anxious) capabilities. However, I can’t deny that I have managed to push myself to do things in the past that now terrify me (e.g. public speaking). I want to write novels, but I don’t know if I can realistically do this or if I’m wasting my time. It is difficult to know what to think about this.

Lurgy

I woke up in the night again, but not for long. I still woke up feeling very tired, after disturbing dreams, and a bit anxious, although not as much as the last few days. I thought I would have to scale back my plans for the next week or two and try to be kind to myself while I adapt to the new medication.

I went for a walk for half an hour before therapy, which I thought was important even though the weather was awful. I had therapy and spoke about some difficult stuff, but it felt good to get it off my chest. I was a lot less anxious afterwards. I did some Torah study and worked on my devar Torah for the week.

By the evening, I was worried that my symptoms were increasingly physical and not like anxiety, particularly change in temperature (hot and cold) and light-headedness. I don’t seem to have a temperature, but I don’t feel well and don’t think that it’s a good idea to go to work tomorrow. Even if I’m not infectious and am able to work, I’m not sure I want to be exposing myself to COVID (or anything else on the Tube) in this state. I’ve texted my boss to say that I don’t think I can come in as I honestly don’t feel that I’m in a state to get much work done. Unfortunately, I’ve already had one sick day this month, although I’m technically a freelance contractor, which makes my situation a little easier.

***

My shul (synagogue) agreed to my paying reduced fees for a while, which is something of a relief.

More Anxiety

I slept badly again, waking up in the middle of the night. I actually slept in two blocs of five hours, which shouldn’t be bad, but somehow with a gap in the middle felt incomplete. Plus, I woke feeling very anxious, which I think was about my appointment at the optician, although I had some mildly disturbing dreams too. Autism hates the unknown, and I didn’t know how my appointment would go under COVID. Even not knowing if I was going to be left standing outside for a long time before they let me in made me nervous. Of course, some of it could be the general anxiety I’ve had lately, and the usual burnout after work and depression group.

I had managed to mostly cut out the cereal I was eating before bed, on the grounds that I was rarely genuinely hungry and it had just become habitual, but I’ve been eating porridge when I wake up in the night to help me get back to sleep. This is because warm milk helps me sleep, but I dislike the taste of milk by itself. I suppose I could try to get some cocoa or something, but aside from the fact that I’ve never had it so don’t know if I like it, I’m not sure it would have less calories than porridge. I tend to sweet the porridge with sultanas, which is better than sugar, but probably still quite calorific. More problematic, from a diet point of view, was the ton of ice cream I ate last night to reward myself for getting through a difficult day at work and depression group with anxiety…

***

I had sick-in-the-pit-of-my-stomach anxious nausea all day, as well as well as feeling myself to be in agitated in “fight or flight” mode. It’s unusual for me to have anxiety for so long without an obvious cause and I don’t know how to cope. I might look online. In the past I’ve been so depressed that I was actively suicidal and while I wouldn’t say that was better than this, over time I evolved coping strategies for depression. This feels very new and alien and I don’t know what to do about it. I’m pretty sure it’s a medication change issue.

***

I had my eyes tested and chose new glasses. I shook quite a bit while the optician was testing my eyes, although she said it didn’t matter. I’m not sure how much was anxiety and how much the usual I-shouldn’t-shake-so-I-worry-about-it-until-I-start-shaking tremor I get in situations like this (eye test, dentist, doctor, barber, etc.). More awkward was when I attempted to pay. My first credit card was rejected by the machine. I’m not sure why. With my second (debit) card I forgot the PIN and only remembered it after I was locked out of it. And I couldn’t remember the PIN for the third card at all. I’m not sure how much of this was the result of anxiety and how much is because when I buy stuff in person (which I haven’t done much recently), it’s usually under £30 and I can buy it without needing to type in my PIN, so I’ve just forgotten it. Fortunately, my Mum was also having her eyes tested, so I just had to wait for her to finish and she laid out and I paid back. It was very embarrassing though. I felt pretty useless and immature.

The other unhelpful thing I did today was buy a vitamin D supplement without realising that it was considerably higher dosage than Boots usually sell (75 micrograms rather than 10 micrograms). I almost certainly don’t get anywhere near enough vitamin D (mostly indoors, mostly covered up even in the summer), but I’m not sure if 75 micrograms is still too much. The NHS site would seem to indicate that it’s OK. I might phone 111 (NHS non-emergency helpline) later to double-check.

***

I didn’t work on my novel today or do much in the way of Torah study because the anxiety feelings were too strong, plus the eye test and cooking dinner (cashew nut casserole) took up a lot of time. I did get an idea of what I’m doing for my devar Torah this week which I can hopefully write up tomorrow.

***

I listened to the first episode of the Normal Frum Women podcast, even though I am not a woman and am probably not normal. It was quite useful for my understanding of myself vis-a-vis the frum (religious Jewish) world. They quoted psychotherapist Elisheva Liss as saying that rather than asking if we are “normal” we should ask if we are causing harm or distress and, if not, we shouldn’t worry about what we do. Other people being judgemental is not considered causing distress. This makes a lot of sense, although it’s hard to do something that other people in your community will consider “wrong” even if you know you are not harming anyone.

I think my problems with fitting into my shul (synagogue) community come partly from not always being sure of the community’s values, not least because it is a community with some more modern elements and some more Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) elements. For instance, I know some people do have TVs and others do not and it is hard to know what the “official” line on TVs is. (I’ve also noticed in recent years that some people who won’t own a TV do stream on Netflix and the like, something that I don’t fully understand.)

More contentiously, I know that many (all?) people in my community would not approve if they saw me walking arm in arm with PIMOJ, and that does make me a little nervous. However, I feel that I’ve only stayed frum in the last few years by making compromises to my preserve my sanity. This mostly involved bending rules rather than breaking them, but I break the rule about touching women who aren’t relatives for PIMOJ because I just can’t cope any more, and I feel that people who haven’t got to their late thirties without a “legitimate” physical relationship (i.e. marriage) don’t really get to judge me here. It’s break the rules in a small way to stay sane and keep the “bigger picture.”

On a related note, I found this article about passing, intended from an autistic POV (although it is written by a religious Jewish autistic woman). I feel the need to pass, both as neurotypical and mentally healthy in the world in general, and as “normal” in frum world. However, the effort involved can be pretty soul destroying as the article noted. I would like not to feel that need all the time.

High Anxiety

I had sleep trouble again last night, going to bed early, but waking around 3.30am and not being able to get back to sleep until 5.00am. I got to work on time, but I was a bit tired. Worse, I was rather anxious. This was particularly the case when I had to wear my mask, on the Tube to work and when I went to the bank and the post office. Wearing a mask can feel very constricting and suffocating at the best of times, and I was wondering what would happen on the Tube if I suddenly needed to breathe fresh air. I didn’t actually have a panic attack, but I feel vaguely apprehensive about mask situations in the near future.

Other than that I had some anxiety about work and about PIMOJ, but was mostly OK, except for feelings of physical discomfort and aching in my limbs, and also in my teeth/gums, like my teeth are being scraped at the dentist. At one point I was shaking somewhat and unable to type accurately. I just checked the haloperidol leaflet; agitation is a possible side-effect, but anxiety is not, so maybe that’s “just” anxiety from everything going on in my life (work, relationship, autism assessment) and the world at large (COVID) and perhaps the olanzapine was keeping it at bay.

I got home from work very early and tried to work on my novel. I managed about half an hour, but I didn’t do very much other than correct some passages that had been initially written in the first person and then mostly, but not entirely, switched to the third person. I got through another chapter, but I feel very much like I need external criticism (dread word!) as I can’t judge it objectively.

I tried to do some extra Torah study as I hadn’t done much on the Tube into work, because when I felt anxious, I switched to listening to music. I didn’t have much time though because I prioritised working on my novel and going to Zoom depression group. I read some interesting things in Rabbi Sacks’ Morality, but I feel too tired to engage with it now.

Depression group was draining, as I think it always is, but worthwhile. I find the second half more draining than the first and really should volunteer to speak in the first half more often. I spoke about PIMOJ for the first time, really in an off-hand way. I’m still not sure what I feel comfortable sharing about the relationship there – or here, for that matter. It’s hard to know what I feel comfortable sharing, especially in the somewhat artificial environment of Zoom (as opposed to in-person meetings).

Vague Apprehensions

I woke up earlyish, but struggled to get up again and eventually fell asleep again (twice). I don’t think of myself as someone with poor impulse control or a lot of laziness, but getting out of bed, and staying out of bed, is hard and I can’t work out why.

I spent an hour and a quarter working on my novel. I was actually quite focused, first on research, then on writing, but I don’t feel that I got much done in terms of words written on the page. I think I’ve written all I can write for now and need some external feedback. I’m going to try to read through and redraft once more and then hopefully try to find people who can read and respond.

I felt rather anxious this afternoon and I’m not sure why. Some of it was about my novel. Some was probably about my relationship with PIMOJ. I think a lot of it was about work and whether I processed all the cheques properly last week or if someone will write angrily if we ask for payment that has already been made.

I also felt some minor physical discomfort today too. It’s hard to describe, aside from a slightly runny nose (which might be a minor cold), but I guess it’s a kind of tension in my limbs. I wonder if it’s the new haloperidol.

I spoke to my rabbi mentor, which helped with the anxiety a bit. It helped to put into words that I’m trying to accept that some days will be more productive than others, that I won’t always exercise, study Torah or write as much as I would like every day and so on and that it’s about trying to balance these things over a number of days.

Mum cut my hair, and then I was on a Zoom call this evening with my parents and most of my Israeli family. I stuck with it for over an hour, but then I had to leave. I struggle with these meetings. I find it harder to speak than when I’m with people in person, and also harder to be heard when I do speak, plus I find it all very noisy and draining (admittedly my family are rather noisy, and there are a lot of us on these calls).

I feel like I didn’t accomplish much today, although I suppose I did, just not as much as I wanted in terms of writing and exercise. I need to take some time out before bed for TV to decompress from everything that happened today, especially the noisy Zoom call. I feel a bit tense and uncomfortable in general, and vaguely apprehensive about a lot of things that are going to happen in the next few weeks.

Where Have All the Good Times Gone?

I woke up a few times in the morning and even got up briefly, but didn’t manage to stay up and awake. I just felt too burnt out and depressed. I eventually got up after midday – not good. And I went back to bed after breakfast, which is worse. I still felt drained and low after lunch, which usually boosts my mood. PIMOJ said to focus on taking one step at a time and not worry about tomorrow, which is true, but I still felt like I’ve gone backwards.

I actually got woken up earlier by the phone ringing, but it was a number I didn’t recognise and I didn’t feel able to deal with it, so I didn’t accept the call. Later, I got called by an almost identical number. It was a recorded message saying my National Insurance number was compromised and I was going to be investigated by the police. It sounded like a scam (similar to these), so I hung up. There are very bad people out there in the world.

I struggled to do anything until mid-afternoon. I went for a walk and requested a repeat prescription; cooked dinner (vegetable curry); and bought birthday cards for my Dad and my sister, also a present for Dad (my sister hasn’t told me what she would like yet… we don’t really do surprise presents in this family, although I think my Mum would like to).

I spent about five minutes on research for my devar Torah (Torah thought) for this week. This was probably not enough time, but I have an idea of what to write and spent another five minutes sketching out a plan. I wish I had a lot more time to invest in my divrei Torah than the hour or two a week I usually manage, most of which is spent on writing rather than researching. It would be good to have more resources too (books and Hebrew reading ability). I did some other Torah study too, but ran out of time for working on my novel, which frustrated me, as I feel I’ve been neglecting it since starting my job and that I’m running out of momentum with it, which worries me a bit.

I also submitted a comment online to support my synagogue’s attempt to get planning permission for a new site, which is exciting, but also makes me worry about the semi-detached relationship I seem to have to the community, something that will be worsened if it moves to the other side of the local area (it would be about a twenty minute walk, maybe a little longer, as opposed to currently a ten minute walk). I had been putting off writing the comment for a week and a half, so it was good to get it done.

***

I feel like I’ve gone back to a hand-to-mouth existence, in terms of time, energy and mood, never quite having the time or energy for everything. I’m still hopeful that coming off olanzapine will improve my sleep and get me two to four hours more awake most days, but it might not, if my over-sleeping is caused by depression not medication. There’s also no guarantee the haloperidol will work as a replacement, especially as I have a history of poor responses to antidepressant medication.

The biggest new drains on my time and energy in the last few months have been my new job and my new relationship, but I’m not willing to give up either, so I will just have to squeeze out time for working on my novel where I can. It could be that the winter lack of sunlight and poor weather is having an effect on me too.

In the meantime I find myself feeling a ridiculous amount of unnecessary anxiety about what TV to watch every evening. I’m not entirely sure where these thoughts came from.

***

People on the autism spectrum are supposed to be good at spotting patterns. Supposedly, there’s an entire autistic unit of the Israeli Military Intelligence because of this ability. I think I have that ability on some level, but the patterns I spot aren’t necessarily useful ones. I noticed lately three songs I’ve been listening to that could be taken as referring to mainline London train stations (Waterloo Sunset by The Kinks, which actually is about Waterloo Station; Victoria, also by The Kinks, and Waterloo by ABBA). I’m good at memorising bits of trivia for quizzes, but not really at anything useful. I’m not sure what I’m trying to say here.

Time Travel

I feel somewhat better today. I don’t know if I was distracted from depression and anxiety by being at work. I had autistic executive function issues with tasks where I had to fill in multiple spreadsheets at the same time and I kept losing the place or forgetting which spreadsheets I was supposed to use. This was made worse by having to deal with people phoning to make credit card payments where I had to drop everything and sort out the credit card payment and then afterwards try to remember what I was doing before the phone rang. I am slowly learning what all the spreadsheets do, which makes it easier to work out what goes where, but I still forget things sometimes. I made a couple of mistakes that I caught; I hope there weren’t any that I didn’t catch.

I was at least proud of myself for answering the phone. I hate doing that (anxiety), so it was a big thing.

I went to the bank too. The nearest branch, about fifteen or twenty minutes away, is closed because of COVID. The second-nearest was just a little bit up the road from the nearest one, but had a long queue, so I was out of the office for about an hour. I didn’t get lost this time.

That was it, really. I’m not feeling particularly depressed or anxious, just tired. When I was getting dressed this morning, I had an image in my head from Twin Peaks: The Return, where one character removes her face off to reveal a murky darkness broken by a bright grin. I’m not quite sure why this image was in my head. Did I feel like that this morning? It’s possible. Certainly there have been times in my life where I would have felt like that, but I don’t feel like that right now. It’s possible that being at work helped me today, in which case we’ll have to see what happens tomorrow when I’m at home (cooking dinner and hopefully working on my novel).

I do feel confused about my relationship, but I’m not sure what to do that. I think we were probably moving too fast. Our relationship faces a number of unusual challenges, and the pandemic is one of then. We can’t really move things on at the moment. I think we need to slow down for a bit, but also to spend time together, which we can’t really do right now because of the lockdown.

Other than work, I went to a shiur (religious class) in the evening. It was a bit late and I struggled to concentrate. It was more a mussar (ethical self-development) shiur than anything else, about keeping going if you fail in an area of personal growth. Discussions like this always make me feel weird, as I tend to put other people on a pedestal and assume everyone is doing amazingly and only I am struggling with all my middot (character traits). I still suspect that I have worse traits than everyone really, even if they struggle in the same area. Someone asked a question at the end about how to get non-religious Jews engaged religiously when there is so much they could enjoy in Judaism. The rabbi didn’t want to answer the question in the shiur, as it was a bit off-topic, but I did wonder a bit about whether there’s a way that I could enjoy Judaism more. I can enjoy and find meaning in mitzvot (commandments), Torah study and prayer on Shabbat (the Sabbath), but it seems hard to get that during the week.

I’m not sure what to do now. I’m tired, but not sleepy. I feel I should do something to unwind to help me sleep, but I don’t know what. I’m tired enough that I just sent my sister a text meant for PIMOJ, fortunately just asking how her evening was going.

***

I realised recently that I would rather have a time machine than a spaceship. (I appreciate that this decision is unlikely to have many practical ramifications.) I have felt for a long time that I don’t belong in this time. It’s partly having “old-fashioned” interests in terms of books and TV, partly feeling my politics are not a great fit for any party currently around (although I revise my political views fairly frequently – I get the impression that most people don’t), partly feeling my general worldview (religious, cultural) is different. Not necessarily out-dated, just different. I’ve never got on well with contemporary slang and trends.

I used to feel that studying history (my BA is in history) gave me access to information about the past that allowed me to understand the present better than most people. Now I’m not sure that that’s true. In fact, I suspect it’s not true. I don’t think I really understand the world particularly well. If I have an advantage, it’s only knowing that I don’t understand it, and maybe being aware that the world is more complicated than most people suppose.

Still, I feel adrift in time, looking for a society that works for me, people that I can communicate with. I want to write about a Jewish time traveller, hopefully when I’ve finished my current novel.

Thinking/Worrying

Another day that got away from me…

I think my negative self-talk is back. I think it went away, or more likely reduced without entirely going away, over the last few weeks as I felt more stable, but it seems to be back again now. Some “I’m useless, I hate myself” thoughts, and guilt feelings that are objectively probably out of proportion to anything I might have done, but it’s hard to be sure.

In Morality, Rabbi Lord Sacks says that Maslow and Rogers, the psychologists who did more than anyone to put self-esteem at the centre of healthy psychology, actually both went off the idea late in life. Maslow did research that suggested that people with high self-esteem were more likely to take advantage of other people in various ways, while Rogers switched from self-esteem to self-discipline as a key character trait of psychologists he wanted to employ at his institute. Although I think there is probably room for me to have more self-esteem without ending up taking advantage of other people.

***

I went to bed very late last night, feeling a bit agitated. I slept through the morning again and struggled to get going, despite knowing that I had a lot I wanted to do today. I just feel that my life is a mess and don’t know how to change it. I feel like I try to do the right thing, but God constantly puts me in situations where I can’t. I know that sounds like excuses, but I don’t know how else to describe what happens to me. I know when I choose to do something that is perhaps against Jewish law or Jewish ethics and I know when I feel pushed into something by events or feeling overwhelmed.

I went back to bed after breakfast. This was after 1pm because I got up so late. I just couldn’t face the day. It took ages to get dressed. I had too many negative thoughts about myself and my future. I wonder if I will ever get my life in order, whatever that might mean (career, family, feeling at peace with myself on some level etc.). Just paralysed thinking/worrying.

I guess this is olanzapine withdrawal. Unfortunately, I’m not sure when I’m going to be able to get haloperidol (the replacement mood stabiliser); hopefully by the end of the week, but I’m at the mercy of the NHS bureaucracy.

***

I made myself work on my novel for an hour as leaving it alone was just worrying me. I actually wrote nearly 1,000 words, without much procrastination, which I guess shows I can write fluently if I know what I’m doing and it’s not too emotionally draining for me (this bit wasn’t autobiographical or dark). Then I went for a walk. I replied to some emails too and filled in a form for the Department of Work and Pensions about my benefits (which I think are about to be stopped now I’m in work, even though it’s only part-time work). I guess I did quite a bit (I fitted in a brief call with PIMOJ and a little bit of Torah study too), but not as much as I would have liked.

***

I had fluctuating depression and anxiety during the day. I know it’s partly triggered by coming off the olanzapine, but I feel I have real things to worry about too. At the moment I’m mainly worried about my relationship with PIMOJ for various reasons I can’t really discuss here. It’s hard to know what to think about it sometimes, there are so many different thoughts and feelings, so much that could go wrong. I want to live in the present with it, but that’s hard when COVID is restricting what we can do in the present so much.

PIMOJ wants me to live in the present too (she very much does this) and to accept that God loves me and thinks I’m good enough, but I have a lot of psychological resistance to these ideas. She suggested I should try to see the spiritual beyond the physical. I don’t know if it’s depression or autism or low self-esteem or just me, but I find that hard. Almost impossible, really. It’s the type of thing that makes me wonder if I’m really cut out to be frum (religious Jewish). Or if PIMOJ is right for me. I try to tell myself I thought we were good for each other last week and it’s just olanzapine withdrawal that is making me doubt it now, but it’s hard to believe sometimes. She is very different to me in outlook, very positive and spiritual. I don’t think she understands my depressions and anxieties at all, they’re completely alien to her. Do I need her to understand? I’m not sure. I wonder what it would be like if we were living together and I had a few days like the last few days. I’m in full-blown, “I’m going to be lonely and miserable forever” mode today, even though I know that in the worst case scenario I can go back on olanzapine and be tired all the time and over-weight, but less miserable. I’m telling myself not to make any major decisions until I’m stable, but it’s easy to catastrophise.

***

I have a list of birthdays and anniversaries for family and friends and I copy the dates into my diary each year, alongside reminders of when to buy cards where relevant (yes, I prefer dead tree format despite the effort). Looking at the list today, I see so many friends I am no longer friends with, mostly because they got angry with me, often for reasons I did not understand. Sometimes there were complicated romantic feelings going on in one or other direction. It makes me sceptical of my ability to manage friendships, let alone relationships.

***

I can see that my unhelpful coping strategies are back. At the very least, I’m unable to reduce my junk food intake soon or eating cereal late at night. Not that I eat so much junk in absolute terms, but my medication means whatever I eat goes straight to my waist, and it’s hard to keep up with exercise (a) while working, (b) in the winter and (c) in lockdown.

***

I’m struggling with relaxation at the moment. America During the Cold War is interesting (especially to see how much of our contemporary political crisis parallels that of the 1970s), but is proving a slow read as I’m not really in the mood for non-fiction at the moment. I am trying to decide whether to switch to fiction. Similarly, The Sandbaggers on DVD is excellent, but dark and even nihilistic, so I’ve been watching Doctor Who instead recently. I re-watched The God Complex today – an under-rated story, in my opinion, with a positive presentation of religion that is rare for TV nowadays, let alone Doctor Who.

Special Interests and American Pessimism

Shabbat (the Sabbath) was OK. As I mentioned on Friday, I didn’t go to shul (synagogue), as I thought the COVID risk was too high to be worth it. I spent quite a bit of time on Friday evening and Saturday afternoon in bed, not from tiredness, but anxiety and an autistic desire to wrap up in my duvet to self-soothe. I’ve never got around to buying a weighted blanket, but I did wonder what it would be like to have one. Maybe it would just encourage me to stay in bed…

I did some Torah study and I read a bit more of America During the Cold War, but not much. I confess my recreational reading was mostly Mistress of Chaos, the latest compilation of comic strips from Doctor Who Magazine. The comic strip is arguably better (more imaginative, better-written), and more in tune with what I think Doctor Who should be like, than the TV version is at the moment. This has happened in the past, when David Tennant was the Doctor. Scott Gray, currently the main writer and editor on the strip, is one of my favourite Doctor Who writers, even though he’s never worked on the TV version.

I tried to accept that I was going to end up doing self-soothing things like reading comic strips and curling up in bed given that I’m struggling with my mood as a result of coming off olanzapine at the same time as some very stressful stuff in my personal life and in the wider world. Even so, I feel I wish I had done things differently.

A friend emailed after Shabbat to say that she now has an official high-functioning autism diagnosis. She has also gone through quite a long process to get diagnosed, so hopefully I’ll get my diagnosis soon.

My sister phoned after Shabbat and we had a long chat, mostly me talking about all the stresses I’m under at the moment. We hadn’t really spoken for a while. Later I watched the film Mr Holmes with my parents, about an ailing, nonagenarian Sherlock Holmes, losing his memory and revisiting his last case to try to remember why he retired. It was a character drama rather than a crime story, a little slow, and dark near the end, but it was OK. Sir Ian McKellan was very good as the elderly Holmes, nicely distinguished from his sixty year old self in flashback. I’m pretty sure it contradicted the original stories in several places (Sherlock Holmes is another autistic special interest for me), but not too violently.

I feel a bit agitated now. I don’t think it was the film, just anxiety about major things in my life right now. I feel like I have a lot going on. Aside from being in the middle of the autism diagnosis process, I’m a bit more settled into my new job, but still learning the ropes and conscious that it might end soon. I don’t think I’ve fully adapted to losing two days a week to work; I’m still struggling to fit everything in. Then I’m working on my novel and trying to move on my relationship in difficult circumstances (lockdown), while, like everyone, my ability to cope with COVID is getting less and less. I still get annoyed with people who don’t wear masks properly, but I feel less judgmental of people who are not social distancing or isolating properly. It’s hard. If even a shy, autistic introvert like me is struggling now, I guess almost everyone must be.

There’s not a lot else to say. I impulse-bought a lot of second-hand CDs on sale a couple of weeks ago, which I’ve been listening to recently. One CD was scratched and unplayable and I’m waiting for a replacement, but the others were good. I’ve been listening a lot to ABBA lately. I never liked ABBA, but in the last month or two, I’ve become an enthusiastic convert. I use music mostly to cheer myself up or to motivate myself, so I like fast and upbeat music, and much of ABBA’s output fits here. I bought ABBA Gold (greatest hits), which was the broken CD, and More ABBA Gold (greatest hits volume 2), which wasn’t quite as good as the first one, but surprised me by still being very good.

***

I just commented on a friends’ blog to say, “The riots in the Capitol were pretty shocking. I used to wish I had been born in the USA, where the Modern Orthodox Jewish community is so much stronger than the UK. I wondered if I would marry someone from there and emigrate [I nearly did, as E was from the US]. Now I’m grateful that I’m nowhere near. I worry what will happen to a country where the political class is divided into two groups that each think the other is irredeemably evil, where the President can’t accept he lost the election and where there are more guns than people.” I really can’t see this ending well. Maybe not immediately, but a decade or two down the line. People say Trump is like Hitler, but my worry is more that Trump is someone like Karl Lueger and that someone much worse is waiting twenty years down the line.

On that cheery note — bed!

Quick Post

I feel I need to write, but I only have a few minutes before having to shower for Shabbat (the Sabbath). I’m not going to shul (synagogue) this week as I’m too worried about COVID. The new lockdown has worried me, especially as we found out that Mum still has slightly reduced immunity. I know I’m going to work on the Tube (I’m a key worker, technically), but I don’t want to take unnecessary risks. I’m not seeing PIMOJ this week for the same reason, which I think she was a bit upset about. I’m upset too, but I don’t want to break the rules. I’m not sure what I’m going to do about volunteering, as they have changed the rules for volunteers to make it safer, and I’m not sure how they apply to me – I need time to read them again.

I feel a bit calmer today, mostly because I know none of the things that trouble me will be happening directly over Shabbat. I spoke to my rabbi mentor too, which was helpful. It wasn’t so much that he said anything new as that he validated some of my fears as understandable, but also validated my hopes that I was doing the right thing and should stick with it. Other people have said this, but I really needed his rabbinic approval rather than approval from my parents or therapist. He suggested a coping strategy for now as well.

That said, while getting ready for Shabbat some anxieties returned. I wonder if I’m being punished, or why God seems to put me in so many difficult situations. Situations which I feel someone frum (religious Jewish) should not have got in somehow. To be honest, I struggle to understand how to function in the frum community, not in terms of religious practise, but in terms of socialisation. Know what to do and say informally, when it’s not a matter of Jewish law. Knowing how to be accepted, how to present myself, what interests are allowed and so on.

OK, out of time now. See you in twenty-five hours.

More Anxiety

Wow, I feared that when the American Empire started to go, it wouldn’t go peacefully, but I didn’t expect a mob bearing the Confederate Flag storming Capitol Hill just yet. Crazy. Mind you, I was reading about the protests of the 1960s on my lunch break (civil rights, anti-war) and I think the scale and perhaps also the intensity of unrest greater then than now. It’s just that Twitter and 24 hour news coverage make it more visible now. Compare Capitol Hill with rioters storming the Pentagon in 1967. On the other hand, civil rights and Vietnam bubbled away for years, so who knows how things will look in 2030? The culture of the sixties was definitely better though.

Back here in London…

I had a lot of anxiety again today. I am going through an anxious time, but it occurred to me that I’m coming off olanzapine, which is probably making the anxiety worse. This morning on the Tube in to work, I was too anxious to do much Torah study as I usually do. I tried to practise mindful acceptance of my anxiety and guilt feelings. It helped a bit. The anxiety went away a bit during the morning as I was busy at work, but came back in the afternoon as there wasn’t much for me to do. Sometimes it felt like borderline religious OCD (anxiety that I’ve done/will do something religiously wrong). This leads to a feeling that everything I do to try and move my life on (careers, relationships) just provokes guilt for not being perfect. I try to tell myself it’s irrational guilt, but the slightest mishap (and mishaps are inevitable) just sets me to thinking that I’m being punished by God and that worse is in store for me. I am not sure how to cure myself of this dynamic.

I think I tend to see life very much in black and white terms (which is a classic autistic perspective), but specifically in black and white moral terms. It’s a kind of scrupulosity (religious OCD) whereby I want to be morally perfect and see any moral imperfection as heinous. This leads to things like me applying for jobs that are not right for me because I feel “ought” to do so. My moral integrity and honesty is a big part of my self-esteem (insofar as I have much self-esteem), so it’s hard to challenge it.

Similarly, in terms of dating, I’ve partly internalised a frum (religious Jewish) model of dating which sees the dating process in extremely moralised and black and white terms (e.g. avoiding platonic friendships with the opposite sex; no dating before being ready to marry, in terms of having a settled career and mental health; pre-screening dates to only date people with shared values; avoiding long-term relationships before marriage). I do this even though this model has not worked for me. This leads me to feel that everything I do in dating is wrong and that my dating difficulties are a punishment from God. However, I am not sufficiently integrated into the frum community to really be able to date that way even if I wanted to do so.

Both PIMOJ and my therapist struggled to understand yesterday how I can feel that I’ve never fitted into or been accepted by the Orthodox world and yet still want to be a part of it. I’m not sure that I have the answer to this question myself. I believe in Orthodox Judaism, even if I’m not really able to live the right sort of life, practically, that would enable me to function in the community. That’s the best answer I have. I know that many people would, if not consciously then at least unconsciously, change their beliefs for ones that fitted better with a possible or desirable lifestyle. That has just never happened with me, for whatever reason.

***

As a side-note on black and white morality, I’ve encountered quite a number of rabbis over the years who claimed to be very badly behaved in their youth. I’m not quite sure what to make of this. Are they exaggerating to try to connect with young people? Does a disobedient, questioning, cast of mind lend itself well to Talmudic study? Probably. Can the uncontrollable energy of the boisterous child be focused into the superhuman amounts of emotional energy needed by the congregational rabbi? Possibly. Sometimes I feel weirdly that if only I had been worse-behaved at school, I might be in a much better situation today. It will be weird if I go to Heaven and they tell me that I was too well-behaved to earn much reward.

***

Speaking of which, PIMOJ and I streamed (separately) Soul, the latest Pixar film, about a musician who dies, but wants to come back to Earth, and is set to mentor a soul that is resisting being born. It was amusing enough, but I found it hard to concentrate on and triggered a lot of uncomfortable thoughts about my not enjoying life or having a clear purpose (I want to be a writer, but worry I won’t make it). I couldn’t really explain to PIMOJ that I want to enjoy the small moments of life, but all too often I can’t, and I can’t will that enjoyment into being, particularly not if it’s still an element of depression.

Rebel Rebel

I’m not sure where I am today, emotionally. I had two big things going on, the pandemic and the autism assessment. Now there’s a third, potentially even bigger, and I am not coping well. I don’t want to talk about it here yet. Or rather I do want to talk about it, but I’m not sure that I should, so I won’t for now. Suffice to say that I went to bed late last night because I was dealing with a lot of anxious and self-critical thoughts. Then I couldn’t sleep, probably because I was over-tired and hadn’t done anything to relax. Then I overslept this morning and didn’t want to get up because of the anxiety. I eventually got up because my phone was ringing, but I didn’t get there in time and whoever they were, they didn’t leave a message and I didn’t recognise the number. Hopefully it was just a cold caller, but I worry it might have been something about the autism assessment, although I know it’s unlikely that they would contact me within twenty-four hours of the last assessment.

I’ve felt lately that I was getting ahold of my life, that I was making progress with work and writing and my relationship, that I was moving towards some kind of definitive autism diagnosis, and that I was feeling like depression and mental illness, while not “cured” (I don’t know that I will ever be “cured”), are less prominent in my life. I was even wondering if I should carry on blogging here, or blogging so regularly. What is the point of a mental health blog if my mental health is reasonable?

And then, WHAM! To be honest, I knew this would happen for some time, it just happened faster than I thought it would, and it hit me harder than I expected. I still can’t talk about what is actually happening except in the vaguest of terms, but I’ve been in a state of anxiety since the weekend, and I’m not sure if it’s going to change any time soon. I guess I’m just psychologically vulnerable to mental illness at times of stress, the way some people have reduced immunity and vulnerability to physical illness.

I was able to talk about it a lot in therapy today. We ended up speaking a lot about ideas of community, individuality, conformity and so on and particularly how these apply in the Orthodox Jewish community.

I spoke about feeling a burden at the moment, a bag full of guilt and critical voices from the community and who knows what else. I want to put the bag down, if only to breathe, but I can’t, I have to keep carrying it up the hill. How much of this is actually real (real guilt, real people criticising me) and how much is just in my head is hard to tell. I do feel, on some level, like I’m responsible for the world and that I’m judged to the minutest level of detail, in a way that no one (or no one other than a total tzaddik (saint)) is judged.

My therapist suggested there was anger there too, which is correct, but I’ve never known what to do with anger other than repress it, which is not good in the long-run and arguably leads to depression. I think in the summer, when our Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) neighbours were having lockdown-breaching prayer services in their garden three times a day, I wrote a letter, with no intention of sending it, saying how angry they made me. I think that helped somewhat, but my current anger seems too nebulous and undirected at the moment for that to be a viable strategy.

More surprisingly, I found myself suggesting that maybe on some level I like or need the friction with my community. I’m not entirely sure why I said this, but I suspect that I noted that I’ve spent two decades or more trying to be an Orthodox Jew and to “fit in” to the Orthodox community, but I’ve also spent two decades or more complaining (quietly) about the conformism, narrow-mindedness and bourgeois mentality that often operates in the Orthodox community, trying to not to be socialised out of my geekiness, my non-Jewish friends, the books I read. I guess I have a “can’t live with it, can’t live without it” attitude to the Orthodox world.

I can see it with my novel. Sometimes I’m terrified about the backlash I might face for suggesting that domestic abuse exists in the Orthodox community and that the autistic and mentally ill are not well-catered for there, but other times I will admit to myself that I hope there is some controversy, that it “shakes things up a bit.”

It’s hard to come to terms with this, as I was a well-behaved child and I was the absolute most well-behaved, non-rebellious teenager imaginable. But here I am, worrying that I’m going to bring the Temple crashing down around me, Shimshon (Samson) style, without really wanting to do it, just feeling driven to it by loneliness and desperation, the longing for a place where I can be accepted by people who aren’t like me. I feel I should (“should” again) be able not to care what people think about me, but somehow I can’t.

I told PIMOJ I was anxious and she called. It was a difficult conversation, not least because it was late and I didn’t really want to speak, but I felt I should as she was concerned about me. It really did become apparent that there is a psychological difference between us, that she doesn’t care who does or doesn’t like her, whereas I want to be liked and accepted, something that I don’t think she really understood. I don’t think she understood why it matters to me if other Orthodox Jews reject me. I don’t think I really understand why it matters to me, to be honest. My life would be a lot easier if I didn’t care who liked me, but I find myself unable to find the switch to turn it off.

***

There was no volunteering today, but I was supposed to be doing some work from home and I got up later than I intended for that. I got the work done (stuffing envelopes and stamping them) as well as having therapy, but I didn’t get out for a walk. Add in the call from PIMOJ and I ran out of time for more than five minutes of Torah study, although I did write my devar Torah for the week and liked it more than I expected. It’s going to be another late night. I don’t know if I’ll have time to relax before I go to bed again so sleeplessness is likely.

***

When I started this job, the Department of Work and Pensions said I was OK working part-time and still receiving some benefits. Now they’ve written to ask for more details about the work. I accept that I probably earn too much to justify the benefits, I just wish they would make their minds up. I do wonder whether other government departments and bodies (e.g. the Treasury, the Foreign Office) are as useless and bureaucratic as the DWP and the NHS. It’s easy to look at the lockdown mess and think that they are.

Feeling Anxious

I’d like to be able to start a post without talking about my sleep pattern, but it seems to be a big part of my life at the moment, so here goes. I went to bed about 12.00pm. I wasn’t sure if I would sleep or not. Being sick can make you sleepy, but I had done nothing all evening since being sick except watch TV, so I didn’t feel particularly tired. I couldn’t sleep. I’m not sure if it was a lack of tiredness or the constant agitated thoughts about the Zoom meeting on Tuesday evening Rabbi B. Eventually I got up and watched some more Doctor Who to calm myself down. I did actually enjoy the second half of Logopolis more than the first, although that may be because it was 1.00am and my standards were not as high. I did eventually fall asleep around 2.00am, but slept through the morning again, which I was hoping to stop doing. I guess it was not entirely unexpected, given the evening I had (being sick, but also having a difficult conversation with my parents and arranging the call with Rabbi B). What did upset me a little was waking up with some religious OCD thoughts, which had not really bothered me for some time. I was a little surprised to experience them, although I know there’s always a risk of the religious OCD coming back at times of stress and exhaustion. They did at least go after I’d eaten breakfast – low blood sugar also exacerbates OCD for me.

After breakfast I felt better, but also a bit down and lethargic. It was hard to do very much. I guess it’s not surprising, given that I had been very sick less than twenty-four hours previously. At lunch I opened the box of vegetables that I was eating with PIMOJ yesterday and saw that the leftover cucumber had gone off. It was completely mouldy and furry. So I suspect I was sick from food poisoning from eating gone off cucumber. I knew it was a little past its best, but it still looked edible yesterday. Obviously not.

I was pleased to get thoughtful messages from PIMOJ, but also a message from J asking how I was, which was nice. He said I could do some work from home one day this week, putting 300 invoices in envelopes, stamping and posting them. I think I can do that on Wednesday, hopefully working around my therapy in the afternoon. I had already decided I was going to skip volunteering this week as I have too many stressful things even without being sick. I’m a bit upset at letting them down, but I need to look after my mental health. I skipped depression group tonight too, as I didn’t feel I had enough stamina to spend a long time on Zoom, as well as not feeling able to speak about the things that most concern me. I feel a bit bad about missing it again, but I feel that I need to focus on the autism assessment, meeting with the rabbi and paid work this week.

I spent an hour or so in the early evening working on my novel. Once I got into it, it flowed quite well for a while and I wrote 500 words, but around seven o’clock I suddenly became very anxious. It was a feeling of nausea and apprehension rather than specific voiced fears, but I suspect the meeting with Rabbi B tomorrow evening is at the root of it, and maybe also the autism assessment tomorrow afternoon.

I guess the Rabbi B fear is wondering what he will think of me, feeling that I’ve done something in good faith and on the advice of my rabbi mentor, but which on the face of it appears bad to someone from an Orthodox Jewish background. Although my rabbi mentor got in touch with Rabbi B before I made contact with him, I’m not sure how much of my story he told him. I guess below that is guilt, which probably isn’t justified. Beyond this, when I knew Rabbi B when I was at university, I felt that I was constantly embarrassing myself in front of him and looking like a freak or an idiot (for reasons I would now identify as being down to autism or social anxiety) and wondered what he thought about me…

Other than that, I didn’t achieve much. I didn’t go for a walk (I actually only just realised that I didn’t go out all day). I did some Torah study and preparation for my devar Torah, but wasn’t satisfied that I’d done enough, nor was I satisfied with my preparation. I may have to start from scratch, but it’s much too late to do that now.

I got distracted this evening reading stuff online that only left me upset, frustrated, guilty and uncertain of things, but I don’t really want to go into it here. Now it’s nearly midnight and I should go to bed as I have a busy day tomorrow (autism assessment, Rabbi B), but I feel very tense and unsleepy. And I haven’t even mentioned my thoughts about Lockdown 3: The Mutant Strain.

***

I was voicing my anxieties to PIMOJ and she was trying to calm me down. Then I watched the first episode of the Doctor Who story Castrovalva and saw the same scenario play out as the composed Nyssa tried to calm down the panicking Tegan, saying that panicking doesn’t achieve anything and so on. To be honest, there’s an element of geeky Adric about me too, and I’ve long suspected that I don’t appreciate Peter Davison’s Doctor as much as I should because he’s the Doctor who’s most like me (polite, but given to moments of panic and ultimately not that good at being the Doctor, with fatal consequences). Suddenly my future life seems like Season Nineteen of Doctor Who… I guess there are worse things it could be, although I hope it’s more Kinda than Earthshock.

***

I commented on someone else’s blog today to say that I’ve only been paid for one piece of writing, although I have done some professional or at least semi-professional writing for free. This, it occurred to me afterwards, is not true any more, as I have sold a couple of copies of my non-fiction Doctor Who book, and while so far only friends and family have bought copies, at least two people have read and enjoyed it (my oldest friend and my sister’s nephew). It’s a bit frightening how my mind can keep positive memories and thoughts away from me when I need it.

Dribs and Drabs of Inspiration

This seems like a hypersomnia blog far more than it’s a mental health blog these days. Anyway, I slept for nearly twelve hours again last night and woke feeling more tired than I went to bed. I only got up because I was embarrassed that my parents would find me in bed after midday.

I tried to work on my novel. I find it hard to get down to a new draft (the third draft). I opened the document and promptly started idly looking at news sites online. This kind of procrastination can actually be fruitful for me, as sometimes putting my brain in ‘idle’ for a few minutes can kick-start creativity, but that clearly wasn’t happening today. I knew I needed to write a new chapter near the beginning the book about my secondary character, to make her more prominent early on and develop her character, but I couldn’t think what kind of content will be suitable. It’s not exactly padding, but it’s going to be serving character rather than plot.

After a while I went for a run (forty minutes/5K, in the cold and dark) while my thoughts simmered in the background. I had a thought while running that got me a little bit further, and then another thought hit later in the evening to extend that, but I think this chapter is going to be tough. It needs to be written, though. I think the tendency of inspiration to come in dribs and drabs at odd moments is frustrating for me as someone who tends to measure my activity level somewhat obsessively to see the progress or otherwise of my mental health recovery.

I did some Torah study when I got home, and I didn’t get an exercise migraine, which was good. I did feel a general sense of frustration today about struggling to move my life on, particularly in terms of career.

I had a brief bit of anxiety in the evening, fears about my relationship with PIMOJ, that it won’t work out. I tried not to listen to the fears, but it’s not always easy, particularly as I know there is an obstacle for us to surmount that I won’t discuss here. This was probably triggered or worsened by watching the last episode of the first season of The Sandbaggers where the romantic relationship between two of the main characters is ended in the most brutal and permanent way. It was a good episode, in terms of writing and acting, but I think The Sandbaggers is too bleak to binge watch. It needs to be interspersed with lighter TV.

Hyperfocus, Procrastination and Spies

I was able to spend longer on Shacharit (morning prayers) yesterday and got a lot out of it. I wanted to do the same today, but struggled to get up and get going again, feeling tired after yesterday. I’m glad the emotional symptoms of depression are largely (although not entirely) gone, but I wish the physical symptoms (oversleeping, lack of energy) would go too as they really stop me living the life I want to live. I struggle to understand why one has gone and not the other (autistic burnout is a possible explanation, or partial explanation). That said, I did get up a bit earlier than I had been even on work days, and spent a bit longer on Shacharit, even if not as much as I would have liked.

I felt very tired on the train into work and was unable to do much Torah study. It was hard enough to stay awake, and it took two cups of coffee at work (after an earlier one at breakfast) to wake up enough to work adequately.

Work was OK. I was doing something that was not, in the abstract, particularly interesting, but I got involved in it. I know I feel negative sometimes about the presentation of high-functioning autism as a positive thing, but maybe I do have the ability to focus on things that are not so interesting. I do still worry about making mistakes. I feel that I am less meticulous than I used to be, and I don’t know why. It occurred to me today that maybe my anxiety about making mistakes is actually causing me to make mistakes.

I did also realise that procrastination for me is more about anxiety than boredom. When I started the task, I was daunted by it and worried that I would mess it up and I was easily distracted, but as I got hold of what I had to do, it became easier to focus on it.

***

I dreamt last night that I was with one of my shul (synagogue) friends and realised he was abusing his wife and children. I woke up feeling guilty that I could think that about him even on an unconscious level (he’s a nice person and I’m sure he treats his family well), but I also tried to work out what my mind was trying to tell me. My best guess is that I’ve had a break for a couple of weeks from my novel, which deals with themes of domestic abuse, and my unconscious is sending me a message to get back to work.

***

I seem to be on a spy kick at the moment. James Bond, writing about John le Carré yesterday and now I’m watching one of my Chanukah presents, the DVD of The Sandbaggers. This is a 1970s TV spy drama. I heard about it years ago, but only got around to checking it out now. It’s my sort of spy drama, low on violence and action, but with lots of politics (Cold War geopolitics, but also internal politics in Whitehall), jargon and strong characterisation. I’ve only seen the first two episodes, but they were very good.

That makes three strong “new” (to me) TV series I’ve seen this year: Life on Mars/Ashes to Ashes, Twin Peaks and now The Sandbaggers. I’ve also dated two women and found a job, (re-)started volunteering and got to a much more stable place of mental health. Dare I say it, I think my 2020 has actually been better than most people’s. Even the biggest personal shock/worry – Mum’s cancer – turned out alright (cured), albeit with the usual caveats about worrying about cancer returning.

Celibacy

Despite my worries, I managed to get up early for volunteering and got there on time. It was fine. A couple of people asked if I was OK as I haven’t been for a fortnight, which was nice. I’m always amazed when people notice I’m absent. Someone donated fresh jam donuts for the volunteers and I had one. Possibly my waistband says I shouldn’t have. I still feel that I make mistakes and do stupid things there, although it’s more that what seems logical to me doesn’t always seem logical to other people and vice versa for various (autistic?) reasons. Sometimes it’s probably poor executive function or me not processing spoken instructions properly, but other times it can be me applying rules over-rigidly. Then again, maybe I’m being perfectionist and looking to autism to excuse behaviours that don’t really require excusing (again).

I was pretty exhausted in the afternoon and didn’t do very much other than a few minor chores. I intended to listen a shiur (religious class) that I missed, but it wasn’t up online. I did some other Torah study, but it was just bits and pieces, little audio vorts (short religious ideas) and articles in a religious magazine. I couldn’t face anything heavier. I did a little bit of ironing and thought about trying to force myself to do more chores, but I was worried about being burnt out tomorrow when I have work. I wish I knew why I still get so tired so easily even with the mood aspect of depression being rather easier than in the past. I just read and watched DVDs. I had been eating dinner in front of the Chanukah candles this week, but at dinner today I was drained and couldn’t face eating dinner alone with noise from my parents’ TV and ended up eating in my room, which was also alone and with TV, but at least it was my TV.

Reading this back, I see I actually did quite a lot, but I still feel guilty about not doing “enough” and not having “enough” energy considering I’m not depressed “any more”. There probably are imaginary standards of “normality” and “mentally ill” here that aren’t helpful to me.

***

I saw the next two paragraphs a few days ago on Elisheva Liss’ Jewish mental health blog. The bit I’m about to quote actually isn’t the main point of the post, but is the part that is pertinent to me and set me thinking.

As a woman, I don’t pretend to understand what it’s like for a young man to grow up in a society where extra-vaginal ejaculation is forbidden, especially in such stark contrast to the permissive sexual norms of the broader secular culture. I see the struggle, the emotional and sexual complexity involved…

What I do know, is that from the onset of puberty at anywhere from around ages 9-14, until marriage, which doesn’t happen until at least the ages of 18-22, boys are expected to both not have sex and to try not to ejaculate. I’m fairly certain that the majority are unable to completely refrain from any masturbation, fantasy, or ejaculation during these hormonal and turbulent developmental years. The way they navigate this challenge often impacts their self-concept and adult relationships. Some repress developing libido and disassociate from their sexual selves. Others split, embracing one conscious, religious identity, and another secret sexual life, often involving pornography and sexual experimentation. Still others recognize that the ideal they are presented with might be unrealistic for them, and try to limit sexual behavior, while allowing for and forgiving their human needs.

This isn’t really spoken about in the frum (religious Jewish world). I’m conscious of not wanting to reveal my entire life history online, but also of wanting to talk about this for reasons that are not entirely clear to me. (I’ve tried speaking about it in therapy, but I feel that writing this has made me realise there’s a lot more to say there.) My background is that I was brought up traditional, but not fully Torah observant and gradually became more observant in my teens. At the same time, I went to a co-educational (Modern Orthodox Jewish) school and eventually became interested in girls when I was about sixteen (I was a late developer, which I definitely think was a blessing). I also had sex education, at home and at school, but it was pretty functional. It was not the Haredi minimal or no sex education, but it focused on the biological “How do we make babies?” side of things. It was a long time before anyone ever really spoken to me about the emotional side of things, and probably most of the conversations I have had about dating and sex have been in therapy.

The problem with this is, being (probably) on the autism spectrum, I do not always pick things up easily if they aren’t explicitly spelt out to me, particularly regarding social interactions. No one ever said anything about masturbation, but somehow I intuited that it was wrong, and that sexual fantasy was likely to lead to it. Pornography was a lot harder to access when I was a teenager than it is these days, but there was already a lot of quasi-pornographic imagery in society; I think the infamous Wonderbra “Hello Boys” billboard advert (the one that supposedly caused numerous car crashes from men looking at the model’s cleavage and not at the road) came out shortly before I hit puberty, and there was a lot of similar adverts around and, anyway, you shouldn’t underestimate what sexually-frustrated teenage boys can find arousing (illustrations of Dark Elf warrior women in the Warhammer rule book…).

Being autistic, depressed and socially anxious did not make it easy to find girlfriends, or to work out how to find girlfriends (to this day, my few relationships have been either via dating websites or from the other person making the first move). During my time at school, I hardly spoke to girls, except a bit to my best friend’s girlfriend. In retrospect I wish I had, as looking back I see that there were intelligent, gentle girls in my year and even in my social group, and maybe my life would have gone differently if I’d just tried to talk to them, not necessarily to date, but just to get practise socialising with women, but I was too shy to really speak to them. I had a huge crush on one girl throughout my time in the sixth form (equivalent of high school, broadly), but was rarely able to speak to her and when I did, I think she was bored and embarrassed by me.

I did manage to build female platonic friendships at university, but that backfired when I asked one out. I was twenty, and it was the first time I had ever done that. She wasn’t interested and it ended badly.

I didn’t actually go on a date until I was twenty-seven. I’m now thirty-seven and still a virgin and unmarried. I don’t have any particular animus about the Jewish “no sex before marriage” rule, as I know that, emotionally, I couldn’t cope with casual sex anyway. I’m sure some people can, and chafe at the rule, but I know I can’t. I have just slowly begun another relationship, but there are reasons, that I won’t go into here, that mean that it will be years before we can get married, should we decide to do so, so I’m stuck with celibacy for now.

I can’t really put into words the huge amount of frustration, fascination, confusion, envy, guilt and even anger I feel around sex and celibacy. There is also fear, but I wrote about that on Hevria a number of years ago. (That’s aside from the worry that I have so much anxiety around sex that I’ll never be able to have a genuine healthy sexual relationship, even if I get married.) As a frum Jew, I’m not supposed to talk about it; as someone somewhat internet-savvy, I’m worried about being branded a misogynist “Incel” just for raising the topic. I’ve spoken about it in therapy quite a lot, and in more detail than I will go into here, but somehow I feel that I’ve never got to the bottom of it. I’ve barely spoken about it with my current therapist, even though I’ve been seeing her for over seven months. I don’t have the words. I’m not sure if that’s because of my upbringing or my issues.

From adolescence onwards, I’ve had a huge amount of guilt and shame around my sexual thoughts and feelings. For many years I tried to repress them and mostly failed. I’m not sure if it is really feasible to repress sexual thoughts and feelings long-term; it’s certainly not possible if one is at all engaged in hyper-sexualised Western society. Sometimes I can see why Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) Jews try to avoid Western society entirely, but I know that’s not my path.

One of the reasons I didn’t go to yeshiva (rabbinical seminary) between school and university as many people expected to was because of feelings of guilt around sex and the belief (which I now realise was completely mistaken) that I was the only frum or would-be frum teenage boy struggling with it. Admittedly there were half a dozen other reasons I didn’t go to yeshiva, but that decision had massive repercussions for the rest of my life, down to today, including why I feel so unmarriable in the frum community. I already had low self-esteem and a tendency to over-intellectualise things, and that and the added sexual guilt probably triggered an emotional downward spiral that fed in to my depression. It may not be coincidental (although it has only occurred to me writing this) that my first episode of depression followed about six months after the start of my first “real” crush (by which I mean the first one where I actively thought and fantasised about her all the time when she wasn’t around, rather than simply feeling vaguely anxious and attracted when I saw her).

Sometimes I feel that it’s eating away my insides. I feel that, at thirty-seven, I should not be desperate to have sex, and certainly I know it’s a bad idea to get married just to have sex. I wonder if I will ever be “ready,” emotionally. I can’t shake the feeling that middle aged sex (which is all that’s left for me) is dull and perfunctory and that if I was going to ever enjoy sex, it would have happened before now. I know this isn’t true, but it’s another lie the media perpetuates, and I can’t shake free of it.

Another thing I’ve never really got to the bottom of is whether I really want sex, or just (“just”?) intimacy. To be honest, I probably want both, and that’s probably healthy; I don’t think secular society, which says you can have healthy sex without intimacy, is particularly well-adjusted in that way. But if I absolutely had to choose, I think I would choose emotional intimacy over sex. I think that’s my absolute desire in many areas: marriage, yes, but also I want a few close friends (rather than many distant ones) and my conception of Heaven is an intimate closeness with God and perhaps with loved ones. But a successful, intimate marriage is the one I want most of all. Although I don’t feel myself particularly successful at achieving intimacy in those other areas either. I think I’m a very lonely person, and have been since my teens. Again, I can blame autism, depression and social anxiety, but I’m not sure how helpful that is.

I’m not sure what I want in writing this. I think a lot of it is about recognition. That I think I’m carrying some kind of burden by following Jewish law in this area, and especially doing it while more open to the sexualised Western culture than some parts of the community. I think it’s the best – or least worst – option for me right now, for a host of halakhic (Jewish legal), emotional and moral reasons, but it’s still a burden and one I hope I will put down one day, but fear that I will be carrying it for a long time. And somehow I want that acknowledged, which it isn’t, not by hyper-sexualised Western society or by the frum world, where most people are married by twenty-five. In some ways I don’t mind that many non-religious would not understand why I’m doing this, but I feel that I would like people in the frum community to understand the strain of long-term celibacy for “older singles,” beyond issues like loneliness, not fitting into the community etc. (not that those are particularly well-appreciated).

Actually, I’m not sure how much is recognition from society and how much is recognition by myself. That I really want to hear (ideally from God, but at least from someone frum who knows me well and who I respect) that I’m a good person, that I’ve done well in staying a virgin all these years, despite my failure to be 100% Torah observant in other areas of sexuality.

***

Today’s donuts: jam (very fresh) at volunteering.

Grief and Nostalgia

I felt very drained on Friday and struggled to get up and get going in time for Shabbat (the Sabbath). Shabbat started earlier on Friday than any other day in the year, at 3.36pm. I went to shul (synagogue), but felt uncomfortable there. I’m not sure why; there were elements of mask discomfort and social anxiety. I probably have not adapted to the social distancing and other COVID safety measures, and Kabbalat Shabbat without communal singing is a rather sad and subdued affair.

In the evening, I spent quite a while on Torah study, reading the essay on Shir HaShirim (Song of Songs) and love in Judaism by Rabbi Lord Sacks z”tl in his Pesach Machzor (Passover Prayerbook) as well as the first chapter of Shir HaShirim with Rabbi Sacks’ commentary in the same book. I found it all rather moving and it felt a bit like one of the religious experiences I often want to have, but never manage. I did also feel grief about Rabbi Sacks’ recent death. I’d often wondered if I would get a chance to have a conversation with him one day and it suddenly hit me that that would never happen now and I felt a stab of grief.

I did some recreational reading too. When I got back from shul, feeling very drained and slightly depressed, I spent half an hour reading my recent purchase, Doctor Who Magazine #242 from August 1996 (the issue before I started reading regularly). I’m rather more excited about it than I am about the current issue of DWM, which seems less analytical and also less joyful. Or maybe modern DWM readers and writers just get excited about different things to me. At £3 including postage, my old DWM was cheaper too. It’s weird to think that this is a new thing that dates from my adolescence. I have a horrible feeling I’m going to start hunting eBay for DWM back issues, at least for the rest of Gary Gillatt’s time as editor. Nostalgia is as good as it used to be.

Friday’s Chanukah donut: chocolate-filled.

***

Today was a normal Saturday. I slept too much again. I actually woke up about 7.15am, but it was so dark outside that I couldn’t face getting up and ended up falling asleep again. I wish I could find a way out of this sleep disturbance. When I was awake, I davened (prayerd) and we had the usual Shabbat meals. The evening was mostly filled with Torah study.

I haven’t eaten today’s donut yet, but it will be chocolate-iced. I also had a kosher mince pie, which is as close as I get to celebrating Christmas.

Finding My Tribe, and People With Logical, But Annoyingly-Argued Views

I woke up in the middle of the night last night and struggled to get back to sleep. I think I’m still feeling overwhelmed, with some anxiety and depression that may be heading back to clinical levels with the winter and the persistence of COVID. I’m not settled into my new job, and I’m worried about my relationship with PIMOJ, and one or two other things, and there’s still COVID… Still, my devar Torah (Torah thought) this week was on God not letting us retire from life and have it easy when there is work to be done here in this world.

I didn’t do much at work. J took me with him when he went out in the morning; I’d love to say where we went, as it would strike you as unusual and perhaps a little Gothic, but I probably shouldn’t, for reasons of anonymity. The afternoon was largely spent trying to work out why Dropbox wasn’t working for either of us (on Monday it was just me who had a problem). I felt vaguely guilty about this, as my Dropbox stopped working first, despite knowing that I have no rational reason to feel guilty. Then J said we should leave early, I guess because there was little that we could do without Dropbox. I did at least speak to the helpdesk on the phone. Like many autistic and/or social anxious people, I hate the telephone and find it harder than any other form of interaction, so it was good that I made myself do that even if I didn’t get an answer.

Other than that, today I managed about half an hour of Torah study, which was a little disappointing, and finished off my devar Torah for the week. I find that during Chanukah (which started tonight) a large part of my evening is preparing and spent lighting “candles” (I use oil lights, although Mum uses candles, but we still call them candles for some reason), sitting around the candles with family and eating dinner near them (which is not obligatory, but is nice), so it eats into Torah time and relaxation time. Despite that, it is an oasis of calm when winter is beginning to bite. Tonight’s donut: jam.

***

It occurred to me that I’ve spent years trying to find my “tribe,” the way you see people write about finding their “tribe” (usually counter-cultural in some way, from LGBTQ to fandom to the Liberal Democrats). I’ve never found it. Over time I’ve tried and hoped that Orthodox Jews, Doctor Who fans, Oxonians, autistics or depressives might be my tribe, but none of them really are. I realised today I was hoping to find a group that was uniformly thoughtful, introspective and intelligent; probably also cultured and witty. None of them are that, obviously. It’s too much to ask one group to be all that. Maybe the point is to stop trying to find people who are like me, and to concentrate on finding people who can accept me. I’m not sure where to start, though.

***

My shul (synagogue) fees are going up. I’ve been paying full price even though I’ve been out of work for most of the last two years, and have only been working two days a week when I have been working. I’m not quite sure why I didn’t ask to have my fees reduced; maybe shame at admitting my employment situation. Now the fees have gone up and I feel I need to ask for a reduction, but I worry they’ll say, “But if you paid when you were unemployed, why can’t you pay when you’re working?” Also, the contact details if you want to talk about a reduction is phone number only. As I said, like many autistic people, I hate the telephone and find it harder than any other form of interaction and it’s making an awkward and difficult interaction much worse.

***

There ought to be a term for an argument that you feel is logically sound, but which you reject because of the pompous, sanctimonious way it’s put forward. I experienced this twice today. While on our work excursion, J had the radio on in the car and A Well-Known Talk Radio Host was talking ranting about Brexit. I am agnostic, if not downright confused, about Brexit these days. I think the economic and geopolitical arguments favour Remain, while the domestic political arguments (sovereignty) favours Leave, as well as the democratic need to see the referendum result through. So I am at least open to the idea that Brexit will cause major economic problems in three weeks’ time. But the Host seemed so self-righteous and gloating in his delivery that he really annoyed me, especially as I felt he was putting up so many straw men, he could open a scarecrow factory.

Then in the afternoon, I confess I was bored enough to look at Twitter on the way home, and George Takei (Mr Sulu from the original Star Trek) had tweeted that vaccine refusal is “not living up to the ideals of Star Trek.” I am completely in favour of vaccination. However, it seems a little ridiculous for an actor to use a TV show he used to be in as an argument in favour of what is an entirely medical decision. I’ve seen similar things in online Doctor Who fandom too, people with the wrong opinions being told that they are “against the ideals of the Doctor” or whatever. I’ve seen some debate online as to whether these people really derive their personal values and ethics from a TV show or if the programme just resonates with already-held beliefs. I hope it’s the latter, but I worry.

“Hate is always foolish, but love is always wise”

Things are better with PIMOJ. We texted a bit. I said I was worried that she was disgusted with me because of my book. She said I shouldn’t assume what she thinks, which is true, but I still don’t know whether or not she is disgusted with me. I think we both want to make this work, but are too scared of what the other thinks. We’re going to Skype at the weekend and we agreed not to “mind read” each other. Although I nearly set everything off again when I misunderstood a joke she made and took it literally….

I just feel a mess of depression and anxiety at the moment, and also slightly paranoid, reading texts and emails (not just PIMOJ’s) as critical and attacking even when the probably aren’t. I think I can cope with PIMOJ ending things better than I can cope with people being angry with me.

***

I was thinking of going to go to a CILIP (library professional organisation) talk on Zoom today, something I don’t normally do. I’m bad at CPD (continual professional development) and I vaguely wanted to change that. But I can’t face it today. I’m going to skip volunteering tomorrow too. I feel bad about it, but I think if I get up early to volunteer I will struggle to be fully present for therapy in the afternoon and will struggle to get to work on Thursday, and therapy and work are more important.

***

I didn’t do much else today. I felt pretty bad. I tried to write my devar Torah for the week. I wrote a detailed plan, which hopefully I can expand fairly easily. I didn’t cook, even though I normally do on Tuesdays, and the only way I could manage to study some Torah was to listen to a couple of five minute mini-shiurim (religious classes). I went for a walk and did a few chores.

The other big thing that happened was that I was checking my bank statements when I found a couple of suspicious payments out. They might be innocent mistakes or things I had forgotten, but I had to spend time trying to check them and writing to people to work out what they are. I still haven’t worked out what they actually are. I’m waiting for replies to some emails I sent about them. There’s also a weird payment in to my account, which I’m completely uncertain about.

I did have another go at trying to change the price of my non-fiction self-published Doctor Who book. It still says I have to change something on the design page, but won’t tell me what, despite my having actually completed and published the book. I think it wants me to create a new front cover, but I’m not sure. It doesn’t seem to have the “wizard” for making a cover anymore, which is problematic for me. It seems pretty stupid that I can’t just change the price, especially as I didn’t put it on the cover. I did at least remove the embarrassing typo from the back cover blurb.

***

Yesterday and today I re-watched Peter Capaldi’s sort-of swansong in Doctor Who, World Enough and Time and The Doctor Falls. I didn’t watch the epilogue, Twice Upon A Time, except for the regeneration scene, because in my head Twice Upon A Time didn’t happen. I don’t know why I wanted to watch something so downbeat when I was feeling bad, although it is a very good story. I guess it has a redemptive edge. Doctor Who has an advantage of many other series in that it can repeatedly kill off the main character, and have it be a “real” permanent death, but also keep the programme running. Regeneration stories have the potential to be the best stories (two make it into my all-time favourite stories list, and this one isn’t far off). I suppose it’s cathartic watching a heroic death.

I think lately Capaldi has overtaken Matt Smith as my favourite new series Doctor, despite being inconsistently written for his first year. He’s kind of the autistic Doctor, with his index cards to remind him of social niceties, and his habit of being very blunt and to the point. Also that he thinks he’s very rational when he’s actually very emotional (or is that just me?).

Overwhelmed and Teenaged Socialising

I stayed up (ridiculously) late again last night, even later than usual (2.00am). It was the usual thing of getting up late, feeling burnt out for much of the day and then trying to cram too much into the evening when I felt better. At least I don’t have so much to do today. The upshot was that I woke up later than usual and just as exhausted and struggled to get going. Perhaps fortunately, this week I’m working on Tuesday and Thursday instead of Monday and Thursday. I’m glad I am speaking to my psychiatrist on Thursday and will try to talk about chronic oversleeping and burnout. Although I’m not sure how the conversation is going to work, as it will be on video, but on my phone, at work – I’m going to have to ask to take some of my lunch break later when the call is scheduled.

After lunch I went out for quite a while doing shopping and errands in the local area and also a lot of fighting through crowds of children as school was just finishing. I like children, but lately part of me sees them as asymptomatic plague carriers.

I feel like I’m only just catching back up to where I was before the autumn Jewish holidays started, over two months ago. The festivals themselves, followed by the second lockdown and my new job have all made it hard to tackle the To Do List and left me drained. I’ve been feeling a bit down lately, but I don’t think that I would meet the clinical definition of depression. I certainly seem to be doing better than I usually am at this time of year, when the seasonal aspect of my depression would kick in.

***

I’m having a break from my novel for a bit. I haven’t decided for how long, but possibly until PIMOJ has read it. She wanted very much to read it. I tried to tell her that it’s still very unfinished, but she insisted. I am now wondering if it is too personal to show to her, which also makes me wonder if it is too personal for anyone to read.

I’m wondering a bit of lockdown hasn’t made our relationship a bit topsy-turvy. That we have engaged a lot more in text (email, text, instant messenger) than in person. In previous relationships, that would not have bothered me, but I feel my connection with PIMOJ is much better in person than in text.

***

A comment I left on a blog post about autism and group dynamics:

Very interesting. I think I would have eaten alone the whole time! I actually went on a week-long residential programme when I was about seventeen. It was intended for teenagers from state schools who were planning on applying to Oxford or Cambridge University.

On the first day, the attendees went into Cambridge. I stayed behind, as I’d gone with my school a few weeks previously. I now realise I missed a key bonding stage, but it’s taken me years to realise that. Instead, I remember phoning my Mum in a panic and saying I was not able to talk to anyone and that I wanted to come home. I did eat with the other students (the way the dining hall was arranged, I had to), but initially I went back to my room in the breaks between sessions. After a while someone must have told me that really I should be with the other students in the recreation room, as I went down there and joined in with the games of table tennis, but I found it hard to talk to people. I did what I usually do in these situations, which is to find a couple of people I feel reasonably “safe” with and stick around them, probably excessively.

To be fair, I did feel a bit more bonded with the group by the end of the week, but then all the students and teachers went down to the pub on the last night and I completely panicked. (I don’t know if it was the concept of going to a pub, which I’d never done before.) I stayed behind, unable to adequately explain even to myself why I couldn’t go with them. Twice people came back for me and tried to get me to join them and twice I said no. I hated myself for it, but I just could not do it. I guess this is the grey area where autistic social issues blend into social anxiety.

In retrospect, I handled the week badly, but compared with how I was functioning at school, I probably handled it well…

I would also add that I’ve found that the Jewish dietary laws significantly impede socialisation in situations like this (which is probably the point, at least in part). If everyone is eating together, then the fact that I’m eating somewhere else, or eating with them, but eating different food, marks me out as “different” even before I say anything. It also stops me tagging along when people are going to eat and just focusing on eating rather than speaking until I feel more comfortable in the group, which is a strategy I have used in Jewish environments.

Microsoft Woes, Writer’s Woes

Work was OK this morning, somewhat harder in the afternoon. I slightly misunderstood one of J’s instructions and will have to do something again. More seriously, I attempted to use Microsoft Access and found that I could remember very little about it. I had to take one module in it as part of my librarianship MA. We (the students) all hated that module and thought it irrelevant to library work. It probably is irrelevant to library work; what I’m doing here is administrative. To be fair to myself, what I was trying to do was not something I had been taught anyway (importing data from Excel). I am likely to have to try this again at some point, and I don’t look forward to doing so.

The struggle with Access brought my mood down. I started having very intense thoughts about Twin Peaks. When I’m depressed or agitated, I can have very intense thoughts that sort of block out my perception of what is going on around me because I’m so focused on my thoughts. They are usually negative thoughts or feelings like despair, anxiety or anger (or a mixture of those), but sometimes they can be intense memories of things I’ve seen on TV, my special interests… I’m not sure how to describe it, it’s almost like being in a TV programme rather than watching it (given that my special interests tend to be TV programmes). I assume this is some weird autistic thing because it’s about emotional regulation and special interests, but who knows, maybe it’s something else entirely. With so much of my life I wonder whether my experiences are “normal” or if they are unique to me, or unique to people with depression or autism.

J gave me a lift home again, so I arrived reasonably early and fresh and decided to work on my novel for a bit. In the event, I didn’t get that much done, so maybe it was not such a good idea. I’m still worried about the quality of my writing. I wonder why an autistic person would choose to write a novel of character. Is it a way of trying to understand myself and others? I also wonder if it was a mistake to write about domestic abuse and rape. Men writing about rape is often not good. It is also hard to do justice to survivors’ emotions and yet also to pay attention to the narrative needs of plot and the sense of an ending. I don’t want to cheapen the former for the sake of the latter, yet the narrative shapes events towards an end that probably would not happen, or not this way, in real life.

***

I’m watching the Doctor Who episode The Woman Who Fell to Earth. I think I’m in a minority of one in preferring Jodie Whittaker’s first year (2018) to her second (2020). I felt the stories were more surprising, in terms of going in unexpected directions. They were small-scale, but I prefer chamber pieces to epics in Doctor Who (although the 2018 season could have done with one or two epics for variety and weight). The 2020 season went all-out with epics and mostly it did not seem surprising or interesting to me, even with major continuity changes and surprises. Even when there were surprises in terms of the series’ ongoing narrative and continuity, there were fewer moments when I felt “I don’t know what is going on or where this is going.” Ascension of the Cybermen had the interpolated “Ireland” bits and Can You Hear Me? had the animated bit and maybe one or two other things, but the major twist of the season (unexpected Doctors) had been done twice before (The Name of the Doctor/The Day of the Doctor and, yes, The Trial of a Time Lord). Compare that with the 2018, where The Woman Who Fell to Earth, Rosa, Demons of the Punjab and It Takes You Away all felt disconcerting and unexpected in different ways and made me feel like the soul of Doctor Who was regenerating, in a good way. I seem to recall that even my least favourite story of the season, The Witchfinders, which I disliked on multiple levels, had some interesting cinematography.

Épater Le Bourgeois

Work was fine. I finished the data checking and did a load of filing. My Dad said I looked happy when I came home, which partly may be the result of a truncated working day (six hours plus a forty-five minute lunch) and J giving me a lift home instead of commuting on the Tube, but is probably also from feeling that I achieved something practical and from being in a non-hostile, reasonably autism-friendly environment. I did come home feeling OK and not exhausted, which hasn’t really happened in a work environment for many years.

I got home reasonably early and for a while was hoping to work on my novel for a bit, but I started answering emails and responding to blog comments and suddenly it was an hour later. I did finish and send my devar Torah; did a little bit of Torah study, as I had done some on the Tube in to work, but not much; and did some ironing, so it wasn’t a wasted evening, but I felt that I didn’t get 100% out of it. This is possibly me being too self-critical.

***

I mentioned that last night I went to a virtual shiur (religious class). The rabbi said that given how hair-splittingly legalistic Judaism is (not his words, but not that far off), we would expect great Jewish leaders to be “bland and boring” (those were his words), yet they have vivid personalities. I thought about this. I can think of great Jewish religious leaders who did have vivid personalities. However, I also sometimes feel that contemporary Orthodox society can feel monolithic. That anyone who doesn’t fit the mould leaves, or gets thrown out. (I also don’t know if contemporary Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) leaders fit the “vivid personalities” model, but I’m prepared to admit there that I don’t know them well enough to pass judgement.)

I’ve been thinking about this today. I don’t have any great answers. Orthodox society probably is monolithic. This is partly from overt religious conformism, but more because it’s mostly middle class. Orthodox families are talking about the same things non-religious middle class families talk about. Maybe not TV and popular culture (at least not at the Haredi end of the spectrum), but politics and house prices and which are the best schools to send their kids to and where they’re going on holiday and so on. Middle class people in general are not always noted for being daringly original and avant-garde. It’s why “bourgeois” is a term of abuse, particularly in artistic circles (for all that many artists are also middle class, much of their work is about épater les bourgeois). After a while it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy: people start to feel that they have to leave if they think differently almost without pausing to see what is actually available. The creatives assume religion is conformist and meaningless; the religious establishment assumes that art and individuality are dangerous (which is true) and unnecessary (which is not true).

For me, part of the attraction of figures like Rebbe Nachman of Breslov (late eighteenth/early nineteenth century) and the Kotzker Rebbe (nineteenth century) is their willingness to shock the conventional religious and social pieties of their day while remaining fully Torah observant. As for today… I don’t know. I’ve met some unconventional Orthodox figures. I would like to meet more, although it’s hard to know how. For a while, Hevria.com was a place to “meet” creative frum (religious Jewish) people, but the conversations moved from the website to Facebook, and I won’t use Facebook, and I think they started focusing on in-person events instead of online content which is fine if you live in New York or Israel, but I don’t. Someone there really upset me too, on a very personal level, and that tainted it for me.

Of course, it has also occurred to me lately that maybe the reason I never fit in wherever I go is not because the sub-cultures I try to identify with are flawed, but because I have some kind of self-sabotaging fear of fitting in and conforming and start looking for reasons to feel like an outsider as well as an anxious fear of rejection that pre-empts future rejection by not getting connected in the first place.

***

According to my friend, who knows these things, this special Doctor Who magazine has sold out twice from the publisher’s website and once from a general magazine site. Science fiction shop Forbidden Planet seems to have sold out too. All this in the space of a week. Actually, as I’ve been looking since before it was published, I suspect it sold out largely from pre-orders. Certainly the publisher’s website seemed to sell out more or less immediately. I’m probably going to have to resign myself to not getting hold of it.

***

I’ve got four episodes of Twin Peaks: The Return left. It picked up around the halfway point, with the various plot strands coming together, which in turn helped me to figure out who on Earth all the new characters were, how they related to each other and what they were doing. I will probably have to watch it at least once more to really understand it. I have discovered that I’m not as squeamish for screen gore as I thought, coping with some on-screen nastiness, although I prefer the original series were the gore (and sex and swearing) was mostly implicit. I feel vaguely bourgeois for saying that (see above). I do believe gore (and sex and swearing) can be dramatically justified, but not everything here seemed to pass that test, although some did. It’s hard, something I have struggled with in my writing, not gore per se, but violence, sex and swearing. It’s hard to tell when less is more sometimes. Just this week I cut something from my novel (sexual rather than violent) because I felt it was a distraction, but the novel features sexual violence that I think is necessary to be true to the subject (domestic abuse).

The Much-Anticipated Politics Post

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Humdrum

Mum phoned about the mysterious autism appointment. It turned out it’s not for her. For a moment it looked like they had moved my second appointment, but it’s not that either. It doesn’t seem to have been booked properly at all, they just sent a reminder for a non-existent appointment! So, nothing to worry about there. NHS incompetence, etc.

On a related note, I heard today from a friend who is also in the midst of an autism assessment; hers has been very different to mine. I can think of a few reasons why that might be the case, as he life situation is rather different.

I overslept again today, although burnout was at least expected after my first day in my new job yesterday. I struggled to get up, get going and to do anything. I feel exhausted and frustrated today, frustrated by how tired I get and the diminished life I have a result of losing time sleeping and doing things slowly. Still, given that I don’t seem to be able to change it, I need to adapt to it, or at least not to beat myself up for not managing to do more. I’m slowly getting better at that, I think (or hope).

I didn’t get a chance to work on my novel today or to go for a run, and I wonder how I will juggle work, writing, religious obligations, dating (in a lockdown), exercise and family obligations in the coming weeks. Certainly I feel overwhelmed today. It’s also problematic that I often get a migraine after running, which means I want to leave it until the end of the day, but at the moment sunset is around 4pm, which is not the end of the day. This leaves me with a choice of either potentially losing a lot of time after an early run if I do get a migraine or having to run in the dark. The area around here is safe, but I do worry about slipping, particularly at this time of year with lots of wet leaves on the pavements, or about being hit by a car when crossing roads.

I did manage to go for a half hour walk. I would have liked to have gone for a longer one, but I was too tired, had too much to do and the weather was not great. Mum cut my hair afterwards. Then I cooked dinner – macaroni cheese, one of my easy stand-by recipes for days when I’m short of time or energy. I listened to a half-hour shiur (religious class) while doing that, simply as a way of getting some Torah study done today. This was because I knew I also needed to write most of my devar Torah for the week today as tomorrow is very busy and I’m now working on Thursdays. Fortunately, I knew what I wanted to say and didn’t have to research much, although I did find one very useful article that added some depth. Still, it does all take time.

I was feeling rather depressed and a bit anxious earlier. I think the activity of the afternoon/evening has distracted me from those feelings somewhat, which I suppose indicates that they were not clinical depression and anxiety. I just hope I cope over the coming weeks as I get used to working again and as we move into the heart of winter.

Lockdown Working, and Going Slooooowly

The first day of my new job went quite well. The train was relatively empty at 9.00am. There were still a lot of people on it, but we could sit with at least one empty seat between us and everyone wore masks. Also, I’m pleased that London Underground has put up signs reminding people that some disabilities are invisible, but I found their “Be Kind” signs a bit patronising.

Once arrived at work, I was in an office with my friend/line manager (who I will refer to as J for convenience). It was a small office and although we were socially distanced most of the time, at times we were not. The work he had me doing today was mostly checking data, comparing hardcopy records with the database and noting discrepancies. I got through about three-quarters of the data today, which was faster than he expected. I hope that doesn’t mean I’ve been sloppy. I was trying to be careful, and the office was mostly quiet, which hopefully means my concentration will be better than the previous data-entry jobs where I struggled with noise and interactions with others. I also hope that it doesn’t mean that the job won’t last long. J said he would look for other work for me when I finish this. He said there is work to be done migrating data from an existing database to Access, but I’m not sure if I’ll be able to do that, although I was trained in using Access many years ago.

I felt awkward at lunch, as J just ate at his desk and seemed to keep working except when he went off to pray. I stopped for lunch, but felt too awkward too read my novel in the office as I would normally do to recharge during lunch. I ended up not taking a full hour because I was just sitting there messing around on my phone. My Dad says I should query this, or say that I need a full hour, which is already making me feel anxious. Part of me feels I shouldn’t ask for a full lunch as I’m already coming in to work an hour late (to avoid the Tube in rush hour with COVID) and probably leaving half an hour early most days (as J offered me a lift home and implied he always would, and he likes to leave around 4.30pm to beat the rush hour traffic). I can’t leave the office later, as we were the last ones out and I don’t want the responsibility of locking up. On the other hand, if J seems to be OK with this, maybe I shouldn’t argue. He seems to have an attitude of working towards the job rather than the clock.

As I said, J gave me a lift home as he lives near me. I sat in the back to socially distance, but I felt a bit uncomfortable, although I’m sure it’s safer than the Tube would have been at rush hour.

I was pleased that J did not talk much in the office, so I wasn’t distracted or too socially anxious. He did put the radio on in the car on the way home and then talked over it, so that I couldn’t hear and concentrate on either him or the radio. I probably should have said something, but I thought it would be rude. As he seemed to be making neurotypical small talk, I just made “Yes, right”-type noises and tried not to worry too much if I couldn’t hear everything.

On the whole I think it went well. It’s not a terribly interesting job and it’s not where my career should be going, but it keeps me occupied, plugs a gap on my CV and earns me some money at a time when the whole world is struggling, not just me.

***

I went to a Hasidut chaburah on Zoom via my shul (synagogue). I’m not sure how to translate chaburah. I guess it’s more informal than a shiur (religious class). The word is etymologically related to the idea of fellowship, of people getting together to work on their personality traits together, in this case via Hasidut, specifically the teachings of the Hasidic Rebbe of Piaseczno. To be honest, I was probably too tired to get much from it, and talks about character traits just tend to make me feel useless and bad, full of bad traits, but I was interested to hear the rabbi say that we are not our character traits, because I tend to identify overly with my character traits, especially the negative ones. I tend to struggle to identify myself away from my thoughts and traits.

***

I’m mostly feeling OK now, just very tired. But I do feel a bit daunted. Things are going reasonably well for me at the moment, but I’m daunted by how long it will be before anything can come to fruition. The job I just started is not going to be a career. It probably won’t last more than two or three months. I don’t know where I go with my career after that. My novel is progressing, but I blow hot and cold as to whether it is any good. I think it will be a year or so before I feel able to share any of it with anyone else (OK, strictly speaking E saw some early chapters, but I’m not in contact with her any more and I think she was biased as we were dating at the time).

Above all, things are going well with PIMOJ, but we can’t even see each other properly because of lockdown. I think things are good, but it’s hard to be sure when we get to spend such little time together. She’s not like me at all in terms of personality, but we have a lot of core values in common. I do feel that I can’t always communicate with her so well via text and I’m not completely sure why, given that I usually find text easier although, as I’ve said in the past, if we do communicate better in person, that’s better for our long-term relationship prospects (I’ve also said that the fact that English isn’t her first language probably complicates things). For various reasons this is not going to be a typical ultra-Orthodox-style whirlwind romance (in the Haredi/ultra-Orthodox world, people will typically go on six or eight dates at most before deciding to marry someone). Even conservatively, if not much goes wrong, it’s going to be several years before we could think about getting married (and we’re both religious, so my thirty-seven years of celibacy are set to continue indefinitely).

***

I know I’ve vacillated back and forth here about posting something about my politics, wanting to write something from a social anxiety point of view as anything else i.e. about feeling isolated in certain gatherings rather than advocating X, Y and Z. I actually wrote a long post which has been sitting in my drafts folder for a while now. I want to add a bit to it, but perhaps I’ll post it later this week, assuming I don’t lose my nerve.

I often seem to be in situations where most people don’t share my beliefs, whether political or religious (religiously, I’ve shared Rabbi Lord Sacks’ z”tl notion that Modern Orthodox Jews are a minority or a minority of a minority). This is often uncomfortable, but it does mean that I can’t take anything for granted, I have to articulate what I believe and why constantly, at least to myself if not to other people. That’s probably a worthwhile exercise to undertake regardless of what you believe.

***

Blogging for Myself

When I started blogging, on some level at least I wanted to become internet famous. I’m not sure why exactly, as I’m fairly sure that fame would make me thoroughly miserable. Some of it was about wanting my voice to be heard, which on some level I still want, or I wouldn’t be trying to build a career as a writer. But I think a lot of it was to do with having mixed feelings about people I had been at university with. I started blogging less than a year after I came down from Oxford and I had a lot of confusing (to me) feelings of anger, frustration, loneliness, friendship and maybe love towards various people which I had failed to make known to anyone in person. I think I hoped in some way that I would become known through my writing (at the time I was too depressed to become known in any other way) and people would find out. I’m not really sure what I thought/hoped they would feel or do.

A small part of me still feels like this, but it’s mostly transferred itself to my novel-writing ambitions. I think I keep those feelings reasonably in perspective these days, although there probably is a part of me that at least sometimes wants people I know to intuit my life story and battles with depression and autism from my writing, which is a dangerous thing to hope. Still, this does mean that my blog writing is more for myself nowadays.

When I wanted to be internet famous, I never had many followers (or friends, as they were called on Livejournal). Paradoxically, in the last year or two, as I’ve decided I write primarily for myself, to record my activity, thoughts and feelings each day, I have gained more readers. I’m now approaching 500, which is a milestone I didn’t expect to reach. I know many of these followers are spammy and others don’t actually read anything, but quite a number ‘like’ and comment on posts. I now have what I wanted years ago, when I was in the pits of depression, which is a place where I can post how I feel honestly and people will be supportive. I don’t mean that to sound mercenary or manipulative. I’m not trying to provoke positive comments, I’m just aware that people usually leave them and grateful for that.

All of which is a long-winded way of saying that I know my posts have become more repetitive and less interesting as my mental health has stabilised somewhat, and that today’s post is probably tedious and certainly short (or it was, until I appended this introduction), so I’m sorry for that.

***

I spent the morning volunteering, packing food parcels, which was fine, but we ran out of vegetables, which was sad, as those people aren’t going to get as much as they should, although I think we made sure that everyone got something.

I tried to work on my devar Torah (Torah thought) after lunch. After thinking the last two weeks’ divrei Torah were too reliant on my own untested ideas, I think this one is based too much on other peoples’ thoughts. I can’t really win. In any case, I was very tired and struggled to think coherently and will need to finish it off tomorrow. If I get this tired after spending a morning volunteering, I worry how I will cope when I’m working two days a week as well. I successfully avoided Twitter during the afternoon, but ended up reading an old article from The Atlantic on the QAnon conspiracy theory, until I realised it was just making me fret about American society without being able to do anything, so I stopped reading. I do worry about a country that combines so many conspiracy theorists with so many guns – it’s not a good combination.

***

A couple of things about volunteering today: I was putting tea lights in little bags that would then be put in bigger bags to be distributed with food (the tea lights were to be used as Shabbat candles). It was a repetitive job and there were several of us doing it. A couple of the other volunteers started chatting while they were doing it. It was clear from their conversation that they I had never met before, and I marvelled at how easily the spoke to each other and made small talk. I feel like whenever I try to do that, people can notice that I’m reading from a mental “script” and that after two or three minutes, I run out of things to say or start repeating myself.

The person who runs the volunteering side of the organisation wanted me to do a particular task which I hadn’t done before. Then before I could do anything, she said I “looked lost” and gave me a different, easier, job to do instead. I think she probably made the right decision, but I am not sure what to think about the fact that my thoughts and emotions are very easy to read on my face, even though I was wearing a mask, whereas I can’t read other people’s emotions at all. I know it’s autism that stops me reading other people, but I feel that the fact that I’m so easy to read gives other people an unfair advantage!

I had some thoughts that could easily have slipped towards OCD, thoughts about taking responsibility for things that are not my responsibility and about COVID contamination, but I recognised these thoughts for what they were and kept them under control, which was good. Nietzsche described mental illness as being “fierce dogs in the cellar.” Lately the dogs have been fairly quiet for me, but today they were barking again. Not too loudly, but enough to remind me that they’re still there.

***

This year is the first since I was a very young child where I haven’t worn a poppy for the British Legion. Some years I had lost it by the time armistice day came around, but I always wore one at some point. I did give them a donation online this year, but because of lockdown I haven’t been out much and haven’t seen anyone collecting in the street or collection tins in shops. Beyond the actual donation, I like to wear it to show empathy with those killed or wounded in action or bereaved by war. I guess it’s something else that 2020 has forced on us.

Stalemate

I struggled to get up again this morning. I felt like my sleep was not at all refreshing, which is not unusual for me, but this time seemed particularly bad. I had weird dreams, which I can’t really remember, but I think shul (synagogue) was part of it, so I probably feel guilty for leaving the online AGM early or am just feeling again that I don’t fit in and that everyone else is doing “better” than me in life, whatever that means. To be honest, I probably would have stayed in bed longer, but I knew I had a dentist’s appointment at 2pm and wanted to get up and have lunch first.

I felt rather depressed for much of the day. I’m catastrophising a bit, worried that things won’t work with PIMOJ or in my new job, and that I’ll let my friend down in the latter. The slow pace things are going with PIMOJ is probably good overall, as I don’t think either of us has much relationship experience, but it is frustrating.

I was also worried about the dentist, partly because I’ve been nervous about it since having my first filling a year or so ago, partly because it’s a dentist I haven’t been to before and there’s a lot of autistic “new situation” anxiety there. In the end, I was fine. I have receding gums because I brush too hard, but otherwise fine. I’m not sure how to stop brushing so hard; this is not the first time I’ve been warned about it. There was some slight tremor, but not much.

I went for a walk for about an hour. I have usually been walking for half an hour most days when I don’t run, but I think I should try to increase it a bit as it’s going to become harder to run now the days are shorter, the weather wetter and I’ll be working two days a week. That said, in retrospect, I wonder if walking too long exhausted me and brought my mood down as my mood seemed even worse in the afternoon, the opposite of what usually happens.

I spent an hour or so on my novel. I procrastinated quite a bit. I’m struggling with redrafting. I feel like I’ve lost all ability to judge the quality of my writing, so I have no idea what to change as it seems equally good/bad. Actually, what it seems like most of the time is just indifferent. Also, actually fixing stuff is a lot harder than realising that just spotting that something needs fixing!

While redrafting, I kept getting distracted by tinkering with a draft blog post I’ve got saved about politics that I may never get the courage to post. Eventually I gave up working on either novel or post as I clearly wasn’t getting anywhere and I wanted to be in a reasonable state of mind for Zoom depression group in the evening.

I only managed about fifteen minutes of Torah study, which upsets me a little, but there you go. Realistically, I probably did too much yesterday, especially that overlong AGM, and am suffering burnout today.

At depression group I had the courage to go first (no one ever wants to go first). I spoke about my anxieties about my new job and COVID Tube travel as well as my autism assessment. I didn’t speak about PIMOJ again. I don’t know why. I think I struggle to share with the group the way other people can, particularly on Zoom; I think when we met in person pre-COVID I shared more. I suppose it’s harder to feel a rapport and sense any kind of empathy over Zoom. I certainly find it harder just to speak and listen on Zoom. There’s a function to turn off your camera; I wish there was a function to turn off everyone else’s cameras when I speak as I find the movement (and, on speaker view, the cutting between cameras if someone hasn’t muted themselves) distracting.

I’m trying to focus on the present, otherwise I slip back into depression and self-criticism. I find myself missing PIMOJ and wondering how much of that is genuine and how much is just loneliness. I hope it’s genuine, but it’s probably too early to say. We’ve only been in contact for two months.

I also find myself feeling “touch hunger,” the need to be held. I feel this a lot lately. Hugging my parents helps a bit, but not completely and lately I’ve found it hard to hug my parents, I don’t know why. I guess I just feel withdrawn. As someone on the autistic spectrum, and as an Orthodox Jewish man who tries to keep the laws about not having affectionate physical contact with unrelated women, touch is doubly difficult for me even without COVID. PIMOJ and I hugged on our last date and I don’t really regret it, even though both Jewish law and COVID regulations forbade it. It is hard to know what to do sometimes. I feel like I did what I had to do, even though it’s probably objectively wrong from a variety of viewpoints. Just don’t tell my rabbi or the police (although the idea of being fined for hugging my date is amusing). I know this probably sounds strange from a secular perspective, where sexual contact is assumed to be the norm even in the under age, but for me just hugging is a big, guilt-inducing thing.

I guess today, and other recent days, feels like stalemate, with nothing moving. I’m aware that things are going to change from next week when I start work again. I just hope things change for the better.

***

I’m watching Twin Peaks: The Return, the sequel series to Twin Peaks. I’m in the middle of episode four of eighteen. I don’t think it’s as good as the initial series, or at least the initial series was until they solved the murder of Laura Palmer (halfway through the second season). The original series had a strong hook (the murder), interesting characters and an intense sense of place (Twin Peaks and the surrounding forest). With this background, the style was allowed to flow naturally into a strange and wonderful mash-up of police procedural, soap opera, paranormal horror story and surreal comedy. The Return feels all over the place: no focus of plot or place, no interesting characters. It feels like the only character we’ve really seen at length is Agent Cooper, and he’s done nothing except wander around in a daze, repeating words other people say.

In the original series the weirdness felt like it had an underlying logic that we could not understand. In The Return, it feels like weird things happen because this is Twin Peaks. Rather than juggling different genres expertly, it’s hard to find any genre for it. I can see why they wanted to avoid simply rehashing the original series and do something new, but I think they over-compensated. I’m sufficiently invested in the series to watch more, primarily in the hope that Agent Cooper’s consciousness returns and rejoins his body, but I doubt I would be interested if I hadn’t seen the original series.

Rabbi Sacks, and Comparing Myself to Friends

I know, there’s been an election in America. That’s not what I want to write about. Shortly after Shabbat (the Sabbath) finished, the Anglo-Jewish community heard that Rabbi Lord Sacks, the Emeritus Chief Rabbi, had died. I still feel shocked and am struggling to process things. I never met him personally (although I’ve been in the same room as him a couple of times), but I own ten of his books, and that’s excluding his prayer books (siddur, five machzorim and hagaddah). I’ve read far too many of his divrei Torah (Torah thoughts) to count over the years as a long-term subscriber to his email essays and updates. Just this year, I’ve seen him speak live online several times on video during lockdown. I quote him a lot in my own divrei Torah. I knew he had cancer, but I had no idea that it was this far advanced.

Rabbi Sacks was a major influence on my thought. He was really the first rabbi who showed me that it’s possible to belong to both Orthodox Jewish society and wider Western culture, not just as a bidieved (exceptional, after-the-event circumstance), but as a deliberate choice. The Jewish community in the UK is very small, about 400,000 people, I believe the smallest mainstream religious community in the UK, but we have a much bigger societal presence than that. It’s not by any means entirely due to Rabbi Sacks, but his eloquence and media presence ensured that he was an ambassador for the community on the wider stage. I suspect the community under-rated him in his lifetime, partly due to a few controversies he was in, and also because his ability to explain difficult ideas from Judaism and Western philosophy in an accessible way made him sound less intelligent and original than he was; he was never a ‘difficult’ read in the way that e.g. Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik was.

To lose Rabbi Sacks and Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz within a few months of each other is a massive loss to global the Jewish community in general and the Centrist or Modern Orthodox community in particular. Barukh dayan ha’emet.

***

My second, and hopefully final, autism assessment appointment has been delayed until 2 December. I’m not quite sure why. It’s a little frustrating, but I feel OK about it. At least the NHS warned me in advance this time.

***

As for how I’ve been, I got up earlier than usual on Friday and managed to get in more than an hour of work on my novel before Shabbat. It was slow going, re-reading and editing, and my heart wasn’t really in it, but I slogged on.

I think my parents thought I was fairly grumpy on Friday night. To be honest, they were right. I didn’t mean to sound grumpy, but everything I said came out wrong, when I was able to do more than grunt and shrug. I’m not always good at understanding or even spotting my emotions, so if they hadn’t told me, I probably wouldn’t have noticed. They asked if I was anxious about anything and I initially said no, but after a while I realised that I have a new job, where I’m worried about letting a friend down and about travelling on public transport during lockdown and catching COVID, and even beyond that I’m worried about juggling work, Torah study, writing my weekly devar Torah and working on my novel as well as looking for further work for when this finishes, so it’s not surprising that I am a bit anxious.

***

I finished reading the anthology of writings by Rav Kook that I’ve been reading for some weeks now (The Lights of Penitence, the Moral Principles, Lights of Holiness, Essays, Letters and Poems). This post has already been dominated by Jewish stuff/rabbis, so I will not say much, just that, although I had read some of Rav Kook’s writings before, I had not realised his enormous relevance to the contemporary world. In a world where we are encouraged to think in terms of binary opposites (religion OR science; the individual OR the community; tradition OR modernity; nationalism OR universalism), Rav Kook says, “No, God is bigger than that, God is big enough for both, and more.” Essential reading.

***

After Shabbat I had a Zoom call with a bunch of friends from my Oxford days. We tend to meet up every six months or so and are now doing it on Zoom because of COVID. I enjoy seeing them, even virtually, but I sometimes end up feeling a bit negative about myself as I’m the only one without a good job (university lecturer/writer and two lawyers, although one is a law teacher at the moment) and one had his baby daughter with him on the call for a while. I thought I was over this kind of looking over my shoulder and comparing myself to others, but obviously not.

I mentioned about my novel to them the last time we spoke, really to have something to say and not to sound pathetic for being long-term unemployed, but I feel really uncomfortable talking about it and I’m not sure why. It’s partly that I never like talking about myself, but I think also that I’ve told people that the novel is semi-autobiographical, which it is, but now I’m trying to walk that back because (a) a lot of it is NOT autobiographical and (b) I don’t want people assuming that certain bits are autobiographical when they are not (or, in some instances, when they are, but I don’t want to make that public. In particular, I’m vaguely worried about someone I used to know realising one of the characters was originally based on her, even though I’ve now developed her beyond that).

I wanted to do some work on my novel tonight, but after the Zoom call and dinner, it was too late, plus I’ve been thinking about Rabbi Sacks and wanting to write this post.

Ambushed By A Day

I went to bed early last night, but slept for twelve hours or more and got up around midday. Even after getting up I felt burnt out and went slowly. I didn’t even have much energy to be surprised or upset about the US election dragging on. It’s strange and frustrating how much volunteering burns me out, particularly as it’s more physical (moving crates of food, packing tins) than social (masks make it hard even for neurotypicals to chit-chat). I’m apprehensive of how I’m going to cope when I have a full work day after a volunteering day, as could happen soon. I guess I can push through these things when I have to, particularly when it’s not too frequent or intense, but there can be a psychological cost e.g. when I was working four consecutive days a week in a noisy open-plan office for three months, which was painful.

***

I saw a cataloguing job advertised at a university where I applied before, back in 2018. I went through the presentation I had to give badly, stumbled through the interview and then completely failed the exam I had to sit. I couldn’t answer anything, I just wrote on it that I was not well and had not been able to prepare properly and that I was sorry. I don’t know if I dare to apply again after that. I feel so rusty applying for cataloguing jobs and this one has bad associations, and they may recognise my name and throw my application out straight away.

***

My second autism appointment is booked for 20 November. Hopefully that will be when I get a firm diagnosis and find out what help the NHS can offer me.

***

I didn’t manage to do much today until late afternoon, then I tried to cram too much in. Aside from feeling burnt out all day, we had a cleaner here and a window-cleaner and I struggled with that as an invasion of space. I realise that because I already felt exhausted and down I felt this invasion of space acutely and that I would have been OK otherwise. Then I procrastinated a lot thinking about America, checking the BBC News website and looking at Twitter more than I should. I worry what will happen and what it will mean for the world. In the UK, social and political trends from the US as well as cultural ones tend to hit us a few years later and both countries have lost a lot of social capital as a result of the controversies and polarisation of the last few years. There may also have been some depression related to the job offer. Positive things can make me depressed if I feel unworthy or, in this case, if it leads to anxiety about not being able to perform as expected. I have that anxiety about all jobs now as a result of previous bad work experiences, but here I am extra-worried about letting my friend down and about managing to do admin work rather than library work.

Despite all this, I applied for a job, another school librarian job. It looked like a simple “CV and cover letter” application (I have stock CVs and cover letters on file), but after submitting them, there was a huge application form too. Why do companies insist on this (CV, cover letter, application form), when it’s basically the same information three times? Proof that HR personnel really are evil, I suppose (like “Catbert, Evil HR Director” in the Dilbert comic). They want to know everything too, including all time off for illness, which in my case is a lot. It was a really badly-designed form too (if you saved, it logged you out, then you had to wait for the system to email you a link to get back in). Then I left the form for a few minutes and it logged me out without saving my changes and without warning that it would do that. It also wouldn’t let me submit the form, because I wouldn’t state the “province” my previous job was in. We don’t have provinces in this country (must be imported software). I put London as both city and province to get past the thing.

The wretched thing took about two hours in the end. This is the type of thing that provokes my inner Patrick MacGoohan, co-creator, star, executive producer, sometimes writer and director and main creative force on 1960s “spi-fi” series The Prisoner, which pitted the unnamed, numbered Prisoner against the unstoppable bureaucracy of The Village where he was trapped – The Prisoner would regularly rail against intrusive bureaucracy and surveillance as well as smashing things. If he saw what our contemporary information culture was like, he might not have bothered trying to escape.

Filling in this type of form makes me feel bad that I have so many gaps on my CV and that so many of my jobs have been so short-term. I’ve only had one job for more than eighteen months. This form asks for my interests and extra-curricular activities too, which I feel is intrusive, and also outdated. I know people used to ask that as a standard question, but I thought it had fallen out of favour.

I had no time for working on my novel again as a result of all this. I wrote about half the first draft in the first lockdown; conversely, I think this lockdown is going to be spent on paid work and volunteering with little writing at all. I suppose it took Tolstoy eleven years to write War and Peace (I think) and I’ve only been working on my novel for a little under eighteen months.

I did redraft and send my devar Torah for the week. I’m not as happy with it as I was when I wrote it earlier in the week. I feel like my argument (for understanding a particular Midrash) is not as rigorous as it should be. PIMOJ picked up on one bit that I should have phrased differently (actually just one word), but it’s too late to change it now.

I didn’t get time for much Torah study in all of this, less than half an hour, mostly a shiur (religious class) I listened to while doing some ironing. I’m trying not to beat myself up about it as I had a hard day.

It was a hard day, even though I didn’t do much. Actually, reading this back, I did do quite a bit despite feeling bad (I fitted in a half-hour walk too). I just feel exhausted. Sometimes a day kind of ambushes me and it’s a struggle to get through it.

***

Lately I’ve been reading a high-functioning autism memoir by someone whose blog I read. It’s by an autistic woman, which I hoped might be helpful to me as in many ways my autism is more typically female than male. It’s been less useful than I hoped as she experienced very different things to me. She was probably better at masking socially than I am, and just had a different personality with knock-on social differences.

I’ve also been re-reading Doctor Who Magazine comic strips. Doctor Who is typically thought of as a TV series, but it’s been in virtually every medium from musical theatre to a story on the back of chocolate wrappers. The three media where it’s been most successful, outside TV, are novels, audio dramas and comic strips. The latter is definitely seen as the poor relation of the three among fans, but I much prefer the comics (at least the ones from Doctor Who Magazine), to the novels and audios. I’m about a third of the way through a re-read of the tenth Doctor comics, which were a high point for the strip (better than the TV stories of the time, in my humble opinion).

In terms of TV, I’m now onto Twin Peaks: The Return, the follow-up series to Twin Peaks. One episode in, it’s probably weirder and certainly gorier than the original series. I’m not sure whether I like it or not yet – I think some of it is weird for the sake of being weird, whereas the original felt like there was a logic there even if we couldn’t always see it. The first episode was largely not set in Twin Peaks and barely featured any characters from the original series, so it was a bit disorientating, which was probably deliberate, but it does feel like starting all over again, inasmuch as it took several episodes of the first series for me to understand who everyone was and what their relationships were to each other and now I’m being presented with another set of new characters.

3 Shopping Days to Lockdown

When my alarm went off at 9.00am (I usually set an alarm, even though I often turn it off in my sleep when it goes off), I actually thought I would get up. My mind felt reasonably alert, but my body was just too drained and burnt out after yesterday and I couldn’t get up and I fell asleep again after a few minutes. I didn’t end up getting up for another two hours, which was not good. The vaguely ill feeling I had yesterday has gone, fortunately, but I do feel drained. I’ve become better at seeing this as a symptom of autism (social burnout) rather than a sign of weakness, even before my assessment, but it is frustrating.

I think I had a dream about my novel and suddenly getting an idea for a much better novel that I had all planned out in my head and not knowing whether to switch to work on it. It’s sort of reflective of where I am at the moment, inasmuch as I worry that my mainstream novel is not working and I should switch to an idea I’ve had for a series of Jewish fantasy novels. I’m not actually going to switch at the moment as I don’t like leaving things half-finished and I want to see this project through. I also know that many authors have doubts when sitting down to extensive redrafting, so I shouldn’t set too much store by them at this stage. Nevertheless, I do wonder if the mainstream novel is going to be readable, let alone sellable.

Since writing the above, I read something, a blog post about sexual harassment. Although this is not the same as my novel (which is about domestic abuse in the Orthodox community, culminating in marital rape), it was similar enough that it made me think that I have a mission to write this book to the best of my ability and try to get it published.

***

I bought the new trainers I’ve been meaning to buy for a while. Hopefully these will support my arches better when running. My Dad took me to a big retail park with a number of warehouse-sized shops, including a sportswear shop. I wouldn’t have been able to get there easily on public transport, so I was grateful for the lift. On the other hand, when I shopping with my parents, I tend to let them take over. I guess it’s lack of confidence and social anxiety as well as a sense that I don’t know what I’m doing. Dad felt that in the past I had been sold over-priced and unsuitable running shoes by asking the shop assistants what shoes they would recommend for running. Dad said instead to go for a well-known brand (he said Nike), find some I like and then ask the assistant if they’re suitable for running. I’m not sure this is necessarily a better strategy, but I tried it and have black Nike trainers now. Hopefully they will be better for running than the previous ones.

***

My other real achievement (aside from scanning my autism assessment from 2006 to send to the psychiatrist doing my current assessment) was writing my devar Torah for this week. I am reasonably, but not completely, happy with it. It has more of a moral or even slightly polemical point than usual.

I also attended (on Zoom) a shiur (religious class) at my shul (synagogue). I was attracted by the fact that it was based on the teachings of Rabbi Kalonymus Kalmish Shapira, the early twentieth century Hasidic rebbe and Holocaust martyr. I read his book Sacred Fire a few months ago and was very moved; I quoted a few times here ideas about suffering and God’s empathy.

A few points I took from the shiur were that hinukh (education) should be about revealing the potential of the student; that we should aim for nothing less than spiritual greatness in our lives and not accept mediocrity; that we should daven (pray) as much as we are able, which sometimes might be less than other times (this was important to me as I can’t always daven properly due to depression and burnout) and to focus in prayer on consciousness of standing before God; and that we should be human and eat, drink and rejoice with our friends. The element that I struggled with was the injunctions to avoid sadness and worry; it is hard to tell what to do when these become pathological depression and anxiety.