“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.

Autism Assessment Tomorrow

I was in bed, drifting in and out of sleep, trying to wake up properly and dreaming about living in a dystopia with an even worse pandemic than ours, when I got woken by my phone ringing. It was the autism hospital, phoning me back from yesterday. They wanted to give me an appointment for tomorrow. I was not keen as (a) it was sudden and I didn’t have time to adjust and (b) tomorrow Shabbat (the Sabbath) starts just after 4.30pm, so it will be tight to get done on time. Nevertheless, I accepted the appointment, as there didn’t seem much choice – they didn’t have any appointments next week, so I’m guessing I’ve been given someone else’s cancellation.

I feel really anxious and upset about it, and I’m already catastrophising. I feel I don’t have time to prepare. Twenty-four hours notice is not good for someone on the spectrum! We don’t like sudden changes of plan at the best of times. Dad said maybe this will play to my favour and show how anxious I get when things happen at short notice, but I’m not sure it will come out.

Some of the panic is that I’m currently reading a memoir by a woman with high functioning autism in the hope this would help me understand and present my symptoms better and get diagnosed (I feel my symptoms are closer to the female model of autism, with better masking and use of social scripts to function in social situations as well as special interests that can be more imaginative than mechanical), but I obviously won’t finish that in time now. Also, over the past few years I have also prepared a ten or so page list of my symptoms and why I feel I’m on the spectrum to give them in the assessment meeting. That was immediately scuppered by COVID and not having an in-person assessment; now I can’t easily send it to them in advance. My parents said just to mention it in the meeting and see if they want me to email it, but I worry they won’t.

I worry that I can’t summarise an understanding of myself that I have built up slowly over the last three years in ninety minutes, with limited preparation time, and over Microsoft Teams – I’m not great on video conference technology at the best of times, and I know teams less well than Zoom or Skype, plus the internet connection trouble I’ve been having lately means I have to use my Dad’s computer, and I’ll have to load Teams onto it today.

I just feel negative about the whole experience already, which is not the best mindset to go into it. I can see it’s probably mostly catastrophising and that having more time wouldn’t necessarily help me, but it’s hard to feel that emotionally.

Oh, and it wouldn’t be complete without an NHS admin mess up. I was told on the phone the appointment was at 10.30am, but when I got the confirmation email, it said 9.30am. I emailed to confirm, but haven’t received a reply yet, and I the phone number was withheld…

I’m going really slowly today because of this, feeling quite depressed without really knowing why, aside from catastrophising. I finished my devar Torah for the week and went for a walk, but I haven’t really done anything else. I had a brief text conversation with PIMOJ (she generally can’t message at work) and she said being seen quickly is what I wanted, which is true, but somehow it seems too quick and I seem too unprepared. I’m not sure what I could/should do today, both in terms of autism assessment preparation and other things, hence posting this early in case anyone has any suggestions – by the time I check emails tomorrow, it will probably be too late.

Living the Life, and Intermittent Depression

I got up at 6.30am to go to volunteering. I got there on time. Unfortunately, the fresh fruit and vegetables we were supposed to be packing (for the needy) did not. We packed the dry and tinned food, toilet paper and so on, but when I left at 11.00am the fruit and veg had still not arrived, even though most of the food parcels had been sent on their way to their recipients. The delivery company blamed traffic. It must be disappointing to the recipients. Doing this has really made me appreciate how close some people live to the breadline, a fact I knew intellectually, but not emotionally before now.

I had some awkward autistic moments at volunteering, one big, embarrassing executive function malfunction and some minor communication difficulties, but I think I was mostly OK, even making a bit of small talk.

When I got home I was too tired to do very much. It’s strange how much two and a half hours of volunteering plus an early start takes out of me. I did a little Torah study (I had done some on the bus to volunteering, but wasn’t sure if it technically counted as “Torah” – the letters of Rav Kook and a psychological analysis of Iyov (Job)). I procrastinated a bit, and then it was time for therapy.

Therapy was good. I was awake, thanks to the power of coffee. This therapy is more about practical coping strategies than delving into my past, which is what I need right now. The therapist suggested spending time checking in with my thoughts to see if I am drifting into anxiety or depression, which for me is often about losing present-focus. I said that I’m already kind of doing that with my blog – when I read it through before posting I can sometimes see that I’m beating myself up unnecessarily or worrying or whatever. (I’m even doing that now as I proof-read, because I’m aware that I’ve got some more depressed thoughts coming up in a minute.) We (it’s not always obvious at the end of a session who suggested what) also had some practical ideas for interview practise and to see if there are exercises online to improve executive function. I did look for these, but they seem to mostly be things I’m already doing.

We had a family Zoom meeting in the evening, me, my parents, my sister and brother-in-law, uncle, aunt and five cousins (at different times). It was good, but I feel I don’t talk much when I’m around my extended family. Actually, that’s not quite true; I talk more when we’re present in person, but not on Zoom. We spoke a bit about different COVID regulations in Britain and Israel; when you compare different countries, a lot of it begins to seem arbitrary (not in the sense that it’s unnecessary, but that no one government seems to really know what to do).

I feel I’m not as close to my extended family as I would like. I guess it’s not surprising, as my uncle, aunt and eldest two cousins moved to Israel decades ago; the younger three cousins were born there. Mum and Dad go out there a lot, but I haven’t always gone with them. And I always feel that as the eldest of the seven cousins (I’m nine years older than my eldest cousin), I’m in this strange position of not quite being one of the adults, but not being one of the children either (this could be my epitaph). And life in Israel is very different to life in the UK. But I guess it is partly that I can’t always connect with other people, and why would my family be different? I count myself lucky that I have a good relationship with my parents and my sister. It would be easy to drift into autistic solitary seclusion. The fact that I live at home is obviously a help there, and I think COVID and Mum’s cancer has brought me closer to my parents.

***

While I was at volunteering, I got a phone call from the hospital that will be doing my autism assessment. I asked them to phone back when I was at home. They didn’t. I’m probably going to have to chase this.

***

I wrote a bit yesterday about not feeling able to live the sort of life I’m “supposed” to lead according to mainstream twenty-first century Western or frum (Jewish religious) standards. I’m trying to feel that my worth isn’t related to those standards, the standards of being rich and successful (mainstream) or studying a lot of Torah and being very involved in the community (frum) or being married and having children (mainstream and frum), but it’s hard. I suppose I don’t have some other standard of worth on which to measure myself in a positive way. I try to judge myself based on what I can do, but it’s hard to tell what that is sometimes. I try to be a good son, a good brother, a good friend, but it’s hard to tell if I am objectively those things. Likewise I try to be a good Jew, keep halakhah (Jewish law) and connect with God as much as I can, but, again, it often feels like I could do more and I don’t know how realistic that feeling is. Sometimes (often) I wish I could see myself objectively, as God or other people see me.

***

I’ve been feeling depressed on and off today and I don’t know why. I can see external triggers, like seeing a clip (on Twitter, inevitably) of Orthodox Jews showing support for Black Lives Matter at a BLM march being threatened by BLM supporters, and the comments this got on Twitter. But that’s superficial. I’m not sure why I feel down persistently over the last few days. It feels like a few weeks ago I felt better. Now… I don’t feel constantly bad, as I did from 2003 until a few years ago (I’m not sure when exactly), but there are down times, particularly today. Some is probably tiredness and hunger, and – if not boredom, then frustration and wanting escapism (see below for more on this). Some is frustration with dating in lockdown and wanting to be able to spend more time with PIMOJ, in different settings than just cold walks in parks. Some is the days getting shorter, which always sets me back. I guess I’m also having some doubts about my novel, about why I’m even trying to write a mainstream literary novel (because I want to tell my story and my story doesn’t involve time machines or monsters), whether I will ever get it in good enough shape that I want to share it with anyone else, let alone look for a publisher. I wonder if I will ever have a job again and what that would mean for me. Intermittently at least I feel dysfunctional (like when messing up at volunteering today). I guess I don’t know where my life is going. In some ways the surprising thing is that I’m still on a reasonably even keel. I can see that I have a lot of non-present-focused fears and recrimination here, it’s just hard to know how to bring back present-focus. Perhaps by going to bed?!

***

I was warned that Twin Peaks goes rapidly downhill in the second half of its second season, but I was not prepared for just how far down it goes and how quickly. Pretty much as soon as Laura Palmer’s murder is solved (the initial “hook” of the plot), the whole thing falls apart. The suspense, sense of danger and emotional depth is gone and without that the horror effects, soap operatic sub-plots and moments of surrealism just seem silly, camp and pointless. I’m invested enough in the series and the characters to keep watching, especially as I’ve heard it does pick up again at the very end of the season, but I don’t think I’ll be binge-watching three episodes in a day again. (Well, or so I thought. I was planning to watch a film this evening, but then I couldn’t decide which one and the family Zoom call went on longer than I expected so I ended up watching more Twin Peaks instead, and the episode was a little better than the one I watched earlier.)

Struggling Through

I had hoped to get up at 9am to give me lots of time to get ready for my autism support group Zoom call at 11am, but I overslept by three-quarters of an hour and had to rush. The meeting got off to a bad start with someone challenging the group agreement. The agreement says something about we have to respect each others’ opinions and he got annoyed saying some things are empirical facts and need to be challenged, which was possibly an autistic way of looking at the exact details of the agreement rather than the general gist of the thing. I don’t know why he suddenly got annoyed about this today when he’s been in previous meetings without saying this; maybe he recently got in an argument with a conspiracy theorist or something. This incident put me on edge and made it hard for me to focus on the meeting and really listen to other people and I kept being distracted and found it hard to concentrate, doing other things, which I feel is unfair to the people speaking and usually avoid. I should probably have just left early, especially as it was only on Zoom.

Afterwards, I felt exhausted and somewhat depressed. It was hard to do anything as I felt so drained, but I know tomorrow will be worse (early start, volunteering and therapy, plus a family Zoom call in the evening) so I felt the need to try to do some things. I had poor executive function, making plans and not sticking to them, which is an autistic trait probably worsened by tiredness. I also had anxious/depressed thoughts about not experiencing autism the same way other people in the group do, leading to doubts about whether I’m on the spectrum.

I somehow fought through the tiredness to work for an hour on my novel, although I didn’t get a lot done beyond finishing off and tidying up the bit I was working on yesterday. I did manage to go for a walk. I had some negative feelings while walking. I was thinking that I don’t particularly want, or feel able, to live the type of life I’m “supposed” to live according to general consumerist society or according to frum (religious Jewish) society, but it’s hard to work out what type of life I actually could lead and find fulfilling.

***

I spent the better part of an hour working on my devar Torah (Torah thought) for this week. This was despite the fact that I am reusing an old piece I wrote many years ago (I think about ten years ago). I just wanted to polish it a bit as well as bring the referencing in line with my usual standard (I don’t do Harvard referencing on something that seems so ephemeral and non-academic, but I do like to indicate where my sources came from). Even so, it took forty-five minutes or more to be happy with it.

***

Regarding telling PIMOJ about my blog, some commenters suggested not to do so. I think they’re probably right, but I do need to find a way to open up to her with more of my emotions. I possibly find it easier to speak to her in person than in text/instant messenger, which is unusual compared with previous relationships (perhaps because English isn’t her first language?), but because of COVID it’s hard to meet in person. We’re hoping to Skype on Thursday.

***

This post is being posted somewhat half-finished, as I just realised it’s 10pm and I need to be up in eight and a half hours so should get to bed soon.

Persistence and Hoarding

I spent some time applying for a job, or rather three similar jobs at the same institution for which there was only one application form. I have applied for several jobs at this institution before, but only once got an interview, which I felt went badly; realistically, I don’t think the institution is a good fit in terms of atmosphere and outlook. Nevertheless, I felt I should persevere, so I did. The institution’s application website had saved my previous applications, but mangled them somewhat and I struggled to deal with it. I also struggled to deal with the wide open topic questions asking for evidence of competency. I can’t work out if I struggle with these because of autism, or because I don’t have so much work experience, having been out of work for so much of my adult life or else in jobs where I tried to avoid certain demands or experiences out of autistic “new situation” anxiety and social anxiety.

I suspect that lots of autistic people would freeze on being given a vague topic like “Please provide evidence of how you have provided a positive and responsive student or customer service.” I resisted the temptation to say, “I didn’t punch the students even when they were really annoying.”

I have mentioned before that I worry that my library skills in areas like cataloguing and classification have gone rusty with disuse, but it occurs to me that my transferable skills like leadership and customer service are not in great shape any more either, if they ever were.

I also have a law library job and a school library job to apply for this week, but I’m pessimistic about my chances with either, given that I have no experience in either sector and have rarely been interviewed when applying in either sector. But I feel I have no other options.

***

I went for another twilight run, although twilight was, of course, much earlier today. It was pretty good, in terms of pace (which is what I tend to focus on), despite cramp and a headache that came and went all evening despite taking medicine (the headache was only a 5 for intensity, but an 8 for persistence – just kidding, I don’t really rate all my headaches). After that I went on a virtual tour of Jewish London (money raised going to charity). I knew a lot of what was said, but it was for good causes.

***

I notice I’ve spoken about persistence twice in this post, once in regard to persisting in applying for jobs and once in terms of persisting with a run (and later Torah study) despite a headache. I suspect persistence is one of my key traits. At least, people have told me so. Once I get started, I tend to persist in doing things even when they seem unlikely to work out, like that job application. It was only when I read the book Calling Out to You (about depression and anxiety from an Orthodox Jewish perspective – recommended) that I really began to accept that rather than beating myself up for not doing enough prayer, religious study and other religious activities when depressed, I should be proud for doing anything at all. The analogy used was, “If you have a headache, you wouldn’t expect to function religiously as if you did not have a headache.” Then I realised that not only do I try to live my life as if not depressed when depressed, but even when I have a bad migraine, I try to carry on with prayers as if I was feeling fine, actually making myself throw up the last time I had a very bad migraine by making myself pray. Possibly persistence, like other virtues, is a vice if carried to excess (like my recent decision to stop persisting with books I’m not enjoying). It is hard to remember to see it this way all the time, though.

***

I am by nature a bit of a hoarder, albeit not to an extreme where hoarding becomes a psychological problem. However, lately I’ve been contemplating a clear out of some things. I doubt I will get rid of enough stuff to feel Marie Kondo-style possession-free, but I might free up some space on my over-crowded bookshelves. I have over a thousand books and it’s unlikely that many of those are going to get re-read, or even read once in some cases. I’d like to get rid of some books and also some bits of bric-a-brac that I’ve accumulated, what my parents would refer to as shmey dreys (a Yiddish word I’ve only encountered outside my family here, with a completely different meaning given) and other Yiddish speakers would call tchotchkes (a word I’ve never heard in our family… I think we speak slightly strange Yiddish, perhaps a different regional dialect. It might also be relevant that all four of my grandparents were born in England and only my maternal grandfather spoke much Yiddish). Much of the bric-a-brac consists of mementoes of holidays I went on, or that other people brought me back from their holidays, but I’m not sure how many “spark joy” or make me think about good times particularly. Some I would keep, but maybe put away somewhere so I have the shelf-space and so it’s less of a dust trap. I might put some of the fantasy war gaming miniatures I’ve painted away too. I’m proud of them, but they do make dusting hard, and maybe there are too many of them to create a good impression.

As for books, it’s hard to work out what I won’t read again, particularly with novels. I know I’m unlikely to re-read murder mysteries, but that’s the type of thing I would like to lend to my children (if I have any) to tempt them to read more adult books when they are ready for more adult books. As for non-fiction, I’ve picked up a lot over the years, either free from the duplicate pile at one library where I worked or cheap from another library and from charity shops and the like. At one stage I wanted to build a personal library, but I think I’ve rather given up on that. Still, it seems a shame to give away classic books like Hobbes’ Leviathan or Plato’s Republic even though that’s not really where my interests lie any more. I’ve got some odd books on Jewish history too which might be useful if I write Jewish historical/time-travel novels as I’d like to do, but I suspect a lot have been superseded by more recent research and would have to be supplemented if not ignored.

My parents have also encouraged me not to throw away books or objects that were given to me as presents or books given as prizes for academic achievement at school or university. I have quite a few of these (*blushes*) and they make up a lot of the “unread, unlikely to read” pile. Bear in mind my parents still have several large packing boxes of toys that used to belong to me and my sister in the hope that they will one day have grandchildren who will play with them although I’m not sure how much children would want to play with old toys, even classics like Lego and my train set. I can see the point in holding on to some of these, but I think others would better go to a children’s charity.

I also have a lot of Doctor Who videos, even though I’ve replaced them all with DVDs by now. I was hoping that they might become valuable collectibles at some stage, but I’m not sure that they will. I would like to keep the sleeves even if I get rid of the tapes as, perhaps surprisingly, the Doctor Who video range often used specially commissioned painted art rather than just photos, even though the latter is much cheaper. The pictures produced were often very good and even when they switched to photoshopped photos, the covers were still quite attention-grabbing. I just can’t bring myself to throw them away, although if I disposed of the videos I could store the sleeves easily in a folder.

It’s something to think about anyway. It’s probably be good that I’m even thinking about such a clear out.

The Owls Are Not What They Seem

I went to volunteer this morning, packing food parcels to be donated to Jewish communities in London, for people who are either struggling to make ends meet or are unable to go shopping because of COVID. It was outside and rather cold. It was at least sheltered, but I got soaked in the rain going to and from there. I was glad I went, as it felt fulfilling. I did have to try not to overthink things though or take responsibility for things that were not in my control. I managed this despite not having had much sleep, as I couldn’t fall asleep last night, then I woke around 4.00am and struggled to get back to sleep. I had to phone Dad for a lift from the bus stop on the way home, as it was raining very heavily and my foot was still hurting if I walked on it.

I came home to a busy house. Now we aren’t shielding Mum any more, we’ve had various people in to sort things in the house. My parents’ friend who fixes computers came over in his capacity as computer-fixer rather than friend the other day to fix Mum’s computer; the handyman came yesterday and today, and we also had industrial cleaners in today giving the house the first deep clean since COVID. The bathroom stinks of chemicals and I feel uncomfortable in it at the moment. This all seems vaguely alien, given how diligently we shielded. I’m sure I’m not the only one struggling psychologically with the strange semi-lockdown rules; without thinking, I removed my mask on the bus for a minute while using the phone. In some ways, complete lockdown was easier than this; at least I knew what I could (not) do.

I felt pretty exhausted after lunch. I felt that I shouldn’t feel so exhausted, as all I was doing when volunteering was putting fruit and vegetables in carrier bags and then moving the carrier bags into piles and then into cars, but it did involve (1) peopling, (2) a new situation and (3) new people as well as (4) an early start and (5) wearing a mask almost non-stop for well over four hours, none of which are easy for me, doubly so in heavy rain, so I’m trying not to be too hard on myself. I tried to work on my novel, but only managed half an hour of research reading. Ended up idly browsing internet, mostly politics sites, making myself miserable. Probably looking for connection in the wrong places, or just procrastination. I managed to catch up on one or two outstanding chores and felt like I can finally catch my breath properly after a month of Yom Tov (Jewish festivals) followed by an intense week and a bit. I tried to get off the computer. I binge-watched three episodes of Twin Peaks. I don’t usually watch that much TV in one day. Now I’m too tired for anything other than bed and it’s not yet 10pm.

I did plan out a future devar Torah for a couple of weeks’ time – reading an article in the latest Jewish Review of Books hit me with inspiration and quickly checked some sources and typed out a plan that I like.

***

The professional body for librarians in this country is polling members on a new fees structure that could potentially see me paying a lot more for the same services I get now. The main benefit I get currently is the weekly job email and job website. I think I got my job in further education via the website. I get a monthly magazine, which generally doesn’t interest me much, except when it scares me into thinking that I’m a bad librarian because I’m not doing innovative things or doing CPD (Continual Professional Development). Other times it makes me feel that you have to have a certain set of socio-political views to be a librarian these days, and that I don’t have them, making me scared that I’ll get caught out one day. There are networks that people use to, well, network, but I’ve struggled to get involved. When I’m working, I don’t have the time and energy for CPD and networking; when I’m unemployed I’m too embarrassed, plus working or not I have social anxiety. However, letting my subscription lapse would feel like a final admission that I’m not going to make a career as a librarian, which somehow seems very final, even though I did actually let my membership lapse in the past and resume later when it was more convenient.

400 Word Post

I think I may have overdone things on Friday. I went to shul (synagogue), which was quite good, at least by COVID standards. We went out for Lecha Dodi so we could sing it, as currently singing is only permitted outside. I sat with one of my shul friends who I hadn’t really seen for months. I do find shul hard at the moment and it’s hard to tell why. I don’t like wearing a mask, I know, but somehow the lack of talking and atmosphere affects me in a way that I did not expect. It feels like I needed the social aspect of shul to be there in the background, even though I did not like being involved in it myself, and even though it sometimes fed my social anxiety.

I came home and we went straight into dinner, then I did some Torah study for an hour or so. I was going to read a novel before bed, but I was too tired to read more than a couple of pages. Maybe I needed more downtime, as I got a headache today that reduced the amount of Torah study I did this afternoon. I didn’t really do much today because of that, just half an hour of Torah study and prayers. I slept for an hour and a half after lunch, which I didn’t want to do, but I was too tired to fight against it.

I guess it’s not surprising if the headache is a physical symptom of burnout, as I was busy all week last week and Shabbat (the Sabbath/Saturday) was my first day off. Tomorrow is set to be busy too, with a date with PIMOJ and then home for a Zoom meeting with my shul community. The shul has never had premises of it’s own, currently renting spaces in other institutions. There is the possibility of buying some land that would enable us to have a custom-built building, but obviously finance is a big question for a small community like ours, hence the meeting. I’m not sure how much of it will interest me bearing in mind (a) financial stuff tends to go over my head and (b) settings don’t matter so much to me, but I felt I ought to show my face and take an interest to be part of the community.

Who Killed Laura Palmer?

I wrote the first chunk of this yesterday, but the internet died when I was trying to send it and didn’t come back until after I’d gone to bed. As today is a “short” day i.e. Shabbat (the Jewish Sabbath) starts in the afternoon and I would have to post early, before that, it seemed easiest to just add to this post rather than post in the morning, then post briefly again in the afternoon.

Thursday

Today was another day when I made a plan and completely failed to stick to it. This is another occasion where I think, “If I’m autistic, then this (poor executive function) is understandable and expected, but if I’m not autistic, then I’m just useless.” This is probably not a compassionate train of thought, but I’m not sure what to change it to, particularly not knowing if I’m autistic or not.

I wrote my devar Torah (Torah thought) for the week. I find I tread a fine line with these divrei Torah between wanting to put forward my own ideas and explanations and wanting to look at those of other commentators, to engage with the tradition, and also because I know some people in the Orthodox community would rather see traditional sources than new ideas from someone who isn’t a rabbi. This week it was mostly my own ideas on a topic I hadn’t seen much about before (Chanoch (Enoch) the son of Cain, of Cain and Abel fame). That always makes me vaguely nervous about how people will respond. Then, after sending out the devar Torah I happened to look at the devar Torah I wrote this time last year, and I was arguing something very different, really something contradictory, from the same point! In Judaism there’s a surprising openness to interpretation of the Torah’s text in non-halakhic (non-legal) matters, so having two contradictory views isn’t necessarily a problem, but it made me wonder if I was jumping to conclusions, especially given that I wasn’t 100% confident that what I had written made complete sense. It’s too late to change it now though.

I Skyped my oldest friend, who I hadn’t seen for years – we didn’t fall out or anything, just both got busy with our lives. It was really good to speak to him again.

I found it hard to get back down to working on my novel after Skyping my friend. It is hard to “change gears” with autism, and the shift from social mode to work mode seems to be particularly hard. I did manage an hour or so in the end (I know, I said yesterday not to count time spent on things). I feel like I’m having a bit of a crisis of confidence in my work, but as I don’t feel ready to share it with anyone yet, I have to contain those feelings by myself for the moment.

One problem with writing something semi-autobiographical is that it can be upsetting to revisit bad experiences from the past, which is what happened today. The other fear, which I can push away for now, but not forever, is that people might realise the book is semi-autobiographical and make incorrect assumptions about which bits are autobiographical and which bits aren’t. This is less of a problem for a general readership and more for people who know me and might feel unfairly (or fairly) insulted or guess things I don’t want them to know.

I went for a dusk run, which was fun in the summer (later in the day, obviously), but seemed a bit miserable and damp today. It was a reasonably good run though. My iPod told me afterwards that it was my longest workout, timewise, which isn’t quite as positive as it sounds, as I’ve been running the same route for a while now, so it means I was running a bit slower, although looking at my jogging record, I’m not convinced there was a significant change. More positively, it was my first run in about five weeks, having been focused on Yom Tov (Jewish festivals) and job interview preparations as well as put off by bad weather. I had a slight headache afterwards that did come and go across the evening even after I’d taken medicine, which was irritating, but fortunately it was not a full-blown exercise migraine.

**

I’ve felt on and off for many months now that I want to write something about my political opinions here, less in terms of parties and policies and more about feeling fearful of sharing my opinions with people (online and in real life) in an increasingly turbulent and judgemental society. Also, I guess, to write about the non-religious aspects of Jewish identity, the “Israel, peoplehood and antisemitism” aspects which are as much about politics and ethnicity as religion and which have come to affect my general political views and how I feel in non-Jewish society. To write about how those fears of rejection fit with my general social anxiety and also with my feelings of not fitting in completely in my religious community, as well as my thoughts that maybe I’m not actually that weird and I’m just catastrophising and assuming the worst about other people and what they might think of me when they probably don’t care. I’m also concerned about the fact that our political culture (politicians, media, social media, right and left) has become dependent on manufactured outrage, performative virtue and competitive victimhood, which I can’t really cope with, but seem strangely addicted to. But every time I try to write about all of this, I panic and delete what I’ve written without completing it or else save it as a draft to be returned to later, but I never do. I’m not quite sure where I’m going with this, as I don’t really intend to write about it now, but maybe if I put this out there I’ll return to it one day when I feel braver (or angrier).

Friday

Today has been a busy day, mostly doing Shabbat preparation. I am going to shul (synagogue) later, which I am a little anxious about, but I’m more focused on feeling drained and wanting to curl up and needing to push through this until the evening.

I don’t have a lot else to say about today, so I’m going to talk about television again. I’m rapidly losing myself in the world of Twin Peaks. I’ve seen the first three episodes; the first was double-length. It’s a strange programme, pitched as a murder mystery that unfolds like a soap opera, but with increasingly supernatural elements and horror overtones alongside moments of mild surrealism. It has awkward silences, interruptions, eccentrics and eccentricities, and moments of pure incongruity and surrealism. In a weird way, it feels like being autistic, in the sense that I feel that ordinary social interactions for me do feel confused and confusing, taking turns that I can’t predict, people seem to do things I don’t understand and that seem irrational to me and I’m just left to deal with it. I guess that’s why I like weird TV drama; sometimes “realistic” drama feels a lot less like how I experience life than Twin Peaks or The Prisoner.

Notes from a Quiet Yom Tov (Short Post)

Yom Tov (festival) was quiet. It feels odd not to have another Yom Tov on the horizon after a month of one after another. I went to shul (synagogue) on Friday evening. It was OK, but I still feel very anxious there and it’s hard to distinguish social anxiety from autistic “new situation” anxiety (mid-COVID). Wearing a mask for so long is uncomfortable too.

That was it, really. I stayed at home. We davened (prayed) and ate and slept. I did some Torah study. I had a migraine last night and threw up a little. I tried not to think about the job rejection; occasionally I had negative thoughts about my future and my apparent inability to get or hold down a job like a “normal” person. I dreamt about the boss from a previous job, one who I didn’t like and who said she was disappointed in me and my failure to learn the job as well or as fast as she expected. I dreamt about her being my teacher at school. I don’t remember much else of the dream, except that there were giant speaking dogs, for some reason.

I slept for two hours in the afternoon today, which I didn’t really want to do. Because of that, I’m probably too awake, or was until just now. Since Yom Tov ended, I’ve been going through emails and blog posts (so many build up in just two days), eating dinner and then polishing silver for my parents, trying to tire myself out. I’m watching the last episode of Star Trek Voyager. Voyager is not the greatest Star Trek series by any means, but somehow it’s been ideal pandemic viewing, unchallenging and reassuring with a strong family feel among the crew who seem to be able forgive each other for any misbehaviour.

Grade D

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

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

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

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

***

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

***

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

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

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

More Burn Out, and Fitting In

I still feel very drained today, perhaps more than yesterday in some ways, which may not be surprising given that I had to “people” a bit yesterday evening as well as making myself draft my devar Torah (Torah thought). Getting up was hard, getting dressed was hard, davening (praying) was hard, shaving was hard… everything today has been hard, really.

It does make me wonder about what I should do if I get the job I was interviewed for last week, but they want me to work full-time (it was a full-time position, but the online application form said that they were possibly open to flexible working, but at the interview they were unsure of that).

I forced myself to go for a half-hour walk and to finish off my devar Torah, but it was hard. I just want to shut down. The weather out was cold and I wore my anorak for the first time this autumn. On Saturday, Jews worldwide will start praying for rain, and summer will well and truly feel over (although it’s still warm and dry in some places with large Jewish populations e.g. Israel and parts of the USA).

I listened to an audio shiur (religious class) because I didn’t feel up to reading any Torah, but wanted to do some Torah study regardless. It made me feel a bit bad as it was on Simchat Torah (The Rejoicing of the Torah), the final festival of the Jewish autumn holiday cycle, which is this Sunday. It’s always a challenging day for me, as it’s celebrated by ecstatic (and often alcohol-fuelled) dancing with the Torah scrolls in shul (synagogue). Obviously that won’t be happening this year due to COVID, but usually I find it very hard: too much joy that I can’t connect with from depression, too much noise that I can’t cope with from autism, too much emphasis on being visible in front of others that I can’t cope with from social anxiety. Often I don’t go to shul for this at all, or I leave early (I have a whole semi-autobiographical scene about this day in the novel I’m writing). In the past I’ve judged myself negatively for not being able to fit in with this festival and I guess I still am doing that, on some level, as the shiur made me feel bad. One year or maybe two I did actually manage to really get into it, really dance and feel happy and connect, I don’t know how, but I’ve never been able to get back there since then.

***

I’ve been thinking recently a lot about fitting in. I guess even the Simchat Torah feeling is about fitting in, as I hate being in shul and seeing other people let go and dance and feel happy and not be able to do that. I wrote and then deleted some paragraphs here about religion and politics and not fitting in. The religious stuff I’ve mostly said before and if I cut it, it’s to avoid repeating myself (although I’ve picked up some new readers since then, so maybe there would be a point in repeating it). But as for the politics… I’ve been edging around the topic for months now, wanting to write something, drafting things, deleting them or cutting and pasting them out and saving them elsewhere. I know roughly what I want to write, but I’m scared of the consequences. It occurs to me that as the Very Important Institution where I was interviewed the other week might not want me writing political stuff, so maybe that’s another reason not to write, even anonymously here. I don’t know.

The essence of the matter is that I want to fit in, but am always scared of upsetting people by holding an opinion on religion or politics or anything that really matters, so I sit quietly and don’t say anything. I don’t know if I seem boring, but I do sometimes wish I could say more. But I’m scared of rejection and of conflict, so being quiet seems the easier option.

I know it’s a problem with dating PIMOJ. She’s so positive in outlook that I feel bad for feeling so negative all the time, but I’m scared to open up too much about my depression and autism. I’ve mentioned both to her, but downplayed the autism and really put the depression in the past tense, whereas it’s probably not over permanently. She asked me on our date why I became depressed, which was difficult to answer adequately in a way I felt comfortable with. I worry that she’s too positive for me and that her intense religiosity and constant mystical sense of God’s immanent presence is incompatible with my religious existentialist unending search for God and meaning in a universe of darkness and doubt. I want to open up and see how she reacts, and so far when I have opened up a bit, her reaction has been positive, but I’m just too scared. Maybe I need to force myself out to her by degrees.

***

That’s all I’ve got for today really. Brain is just not working properly. Off to watch Star Trek Voyager as I’m too depressed and drained to read the huge brick of a novel I tried to start yesterday and didn’t get far with (Dominion by C. J. Sansom, another “What if the Nazis won World War II?” alternative history novel).

I’m Only Sleeping

I didn’t sleep well last night again. I thought/hoped I would sleep better now the interview is out of the way, but obviously not. First I couldn’t get to sleep, although I felt incredibly tired. I think I didn’t have enough “introvert alone time” after “peopling” for so long. Then I woke up about 5.30am feeling anxious. I can’t even remember what I was anxious about, although I know it was connected with the other job interview, the one I had last week and haven’t heard back from yet where I wanted the job more than the job interview I had yesterday. I think I was worried about being able to take off Jewish festivals and “early Fridays” in the winter when Shabbat (the Jewish Sabbath) starts early. I did eventually fall asleep again, and slept through until gone 10.30am and still woke up exhausted and burnt out. I don’t know if it’s depression, autistic burnout or medication side-effects (or a combination of the three) that makes me so tired in the mornings, but it’s hard to know what I can do about it. I know this increasingly feels like a sleep/burnout blog, which I guess is good, as it means the depression is less of an issue during the day and my other autism and social anxiety symptoms are under control (albeit probably because I’m not doing much that is social), but I’m not sure how interesting it is for anyone else.

***

I try not to use the word “triggering” regarding myself, as I feel that it trivialises the term for people who really have c-PTSD (just as I don’t like people saying they’re “depressed” when they mean vaguely down, or they’re “OCD” when they mean they’re neat and tidy). Still, some things are more likely to upset me and start negative thoughts than others. These upsetting thoughts can be vaguely obsessional, in the correct sense this time of being hard to get rid of, spiralling in on themselves and making me anxious and agitated. These kinds of thoughts tend to come from newspapers, news sites and the dreaded Twitter (Twitter is a bit like swimming in raw sewage that occasionally tells a good joke). I’m most vulnerable to these types of thoughts when feeling burnt out and mildly depressed… but I’m more likely to encounter these things when procrastinating (online or leafing through the hardcopy newspapers at home) because I’m feeling burnt out and mildly depressed, as happened today. I actually coped OK with coming across them today and dismissed said thoughts reasonably easily, but it can be difficult sometimes.

I probably should delete my Twitter account, just as I deleted my Facebook account seven years ago, but I think I would still be able to see other people’s Tweets, which is the dangerous bit and I have vague thoughts that I could use my Twitter account to job hunt or join in with Doctor Who fandom, although if I avoided doing either of those two things during lockdown, the likelihood of doing them afterwards seems very remote.

***

Achievements: after a lot of procrastinating (see above about the risks of this) I wrote a first draft of this week’s devar Torah (Torah thought). I managed to write a thought for every week this year, excluding a couple of weeks when Yom Tov (festivals) fell on Saturday and the regular Torah reading was postponed. The thoughts were about 600 to 1,000 words long, which is longer than it sounds (for comparison, I think most of my blog posts are around 1,000 words), and I do try to do some research for them rather than just rely on secondary sources; even if I find something in a secondary source, I like to trace the reference back to the original source in the Talmud or the Midrash or whatever, if I can find it and if my Hebrew/Aramaic is up to it (Sefaria.org is a blessing).

I didn’t manage a lot else. The main thing was a half-hour walk. I did some Torah study – as yesterday, listening to a shiur (religious class) for fifty minutes or so as I was too depressed to read much. Even so, I struggled to concentrate and drifted in and out of it. I think I should consider listening to shiurim more on days when I feel depressed and/or burnt out, although I need to work out how to get shiurim from YU Torah Online on my phone or ipod.

Otherwise, I watched TV: another episode of The Civil War (after talking of gore here the other day, there were some graphic photographs of wounded soldiers that I couldn’t look at) and I’m about to watch Star Trek Voyager.

EDIT: I forgot to say, I had dinner in the sukkah with my parents and two of their friends. I feel more comfortable with these friends than with some others, but I still was really only eating with them so I could eat in the sukkah. It started raining heavily after a while and we all went in; fortunately I had just about finished my pizza and went upstairs.

Anxiety Again

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

***

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

***

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

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

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

***

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

***

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

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

***

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

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

“For the rain it raineth every day”

The first two days of Sukkot (the festival of Tabernacles, which is probably as meaningless to most people in English as in Hebrew) was a bit of a wash out. It rained heavily and almost constantly for two days. There were small lulls in the rain on Saturday afternoon, which meant we ate in the sukkah (the temporary hut in the garden where we are supposed to live during this festival) for Shabbat (Sabbath) lunch and I had seudah shlishit (the third Shabbat meal) there and a small meal out there just now, but otherwise we couldn’t go out there. The first two nights we said the minimum amount of prayers out there and ate a little bread to fulfil the mitzvah (commandment) of eating bread out there the first two nights, but it was far too wet to eat properly, which was a shame. I’m not sure how much we’re going to get out there during Chol HaMoed, the intermediate days of the festival, which start tonight and run until Friday evening. Hopefully it won’t rain all week. I guess it’s a reminder that, as comfortable as our lives are, we are still in exile; in Israel rain during Sukkot is a rare event.

The other main news is that I went to shul (synagogue) on Saturday afternoon for Minchah (Afternoon Prayers). I was very anxious about being back in a social setting, and that I didn’t know exactly what I was going into (the classic autistic fear). Everything was very different to the pre-COVID normal, with masks, social distancing, hand sanitiser, few people and all kinds of new regulations to reduce contact between people (e.g. everyone has to bring their own prayerbook and the furniture inside the shul has been reorientated from east-facing (facing Jerusalem) to south-facing to allow better social distancing). I had an aliyah (call to read from the Torah), which was also done in a new, very different way to avoid contact again. I accidentally touched something I should not have touched, whoops. It was OK, but I felt very anxious the whole time and I am not sure how much that is due to unfamiliarity and autism, how much to social anxiety, both of which may reduce with practise, and how much to health anxiety and fear of COVID. I felt very uncomfortable praying with a mask. I will try to go again once or twice a week, but I don’t think I will be a frequent attendee until after COVID, it’s just too uncomfortable and anxiety-provoking for me at the moment. Otherwise Yom Tov was the usual mix of meals with my parents, prayer, Torah study, reading and sleeping. It was too wet to go for walks.

Chol HaMoed is a strange time, neither fully Yom Tov (festival) or weekday. We can do work that would be forbidden on Yom Tov, but should only really do so if necessary for the enjoyment of the festival or if we would incur a significant loss if it was not done. What this means is that I can have my job interview on Tuesday and prepare for it tomorrow, but I feel uncomfortable about it, even without about the worrying busyness of Tuesday (job interview, followed by first ‘proper’ (in person) date with PIMOJ followed by dinner with my parents, sister and brother-in-law). I still think the job interview I had the other week, at the Very Important Institution, is more likely to lead to a job, or at least to one within my capabilities and meeting at least some of my mental health and autistic needs.

Praying for No Rain

Just a short bit today… I woke up early (by my standards, anyway) but with some anxiety buzzing about: about the job interview next week (for a different job than this week’s one) and whether I can actually do the job; about my date with PIMOJ next week; about going to shul tomorrow for the first time in six months or more; and about Sukkot (festival starting in a couple of hours) and whether the weather (raining heavily) will impede our enjoyment of this “outside” festival.

I’ve currently got the interview Tuesday morning on Zoom, then the date in the afternoon, then my sister and brother-in-law here is the evening, so I’m likely to crash on Wednesday. I feel more positive about the job than I did earlier, although I suspect I was not on their original list of interviewees and that someone pulled out leaving a vacancy, otherwise it’s very last minute, considering I sent the application in weeks ago. As for shul, I’m not really thinking about that. I’m trying with all these things to stay in the present, but it’s not always easy. It’s still raining though, and it’s forecast to continue all through the weekend. We don’t have to go in the sukkah (temporary outside dwelling) if it’s raining heavily, but it’s a shame not to be able to, as eating out there can be a lot of fun. Wet/indoors Sukkot ahead…

Suffering and Psychiatry

There is a price to a busy day like yesterday. I woke up in the middle of the night feeling really anxious, suddenly concerned that I would forget to tell the Department of Work and Pensions that I’m working (if I get the job) and shouldn’t be receiving benefits any more (the situation is actually more complicated than that, because my doctor’s note for the benefits states that I can work part-time, but not full-time, so a lot would depend on the nature of my contract). This led to catastrophising about going to jail for benefit fraud, but I didn’t want to write a note out of a superstitious fear that would “jinx” the job interview. I did write a note in the end, deciding piece of mind from the anxiety outweighed superstition.

***

I slept late, but when I awoke had to hurry as I had a video call with my psychiatrist. Annoyingly, the NHS expect you to log on ten minutes early (OK), but then play you awful lift muzak! Hands up who has no understanding of neurodiversity… There was also a recorded message that kept telling me to read the messages on the screen, even though there weren’t any.

The psychiatrist call itself was pretty good. She was pleased that I’ve been feeling better lately and said I looked a lot better. I told her about the job interview, but not about PIMOJ. The psychiatrist said that the brand of lithium I take is being discontinued, so I’ll have to switch to another brand, which is frustrating. Hopefully it will work just as well. She said I can try cutting back on my olanzapine and seeing if that makes a difference to my energy levels. If my mood gets worse, I can just resume the old dosage. I probably will do that, but not necessarily just yet, as in the past trying to come of olanzapine has led to significant mood changes and I think I would rather see if I’m going to be starting a new job and get started on it before doing anything. We both felt that the clomipramine should stay as it is, as it seems to be the most effective medication I’m on.

***

I helped Dad some more with setting up the sukkah, the portable shelter Jews eat in during the Sukkot festival (starting tomorrow night). I went shopping, initially going with my Dad to get the arbah minim (too complicated to explain, see here) then going to a Jewish bookshop and a charity shop to browse because I like browsing bookshops, but haven’t done it much lately because of COVID, as well as buying more vitamin D supplements from Boots. I still feel uncomfortable being around people in shops and did wonder if the browsing was a good idea. Mask compliance was very good, but social distancing and use of one way systems was not so good. I’m partially to blame here myself, but it’s not always easy to distance in a shop with narrow aisles or while queuing to pay.

I spent the rest of the afternoon/early evening sorting through emails and papers on my desk. It’s amazing how “Stuff” just builds up even without my apparently doing very much to generate it. I was too tired to do much and would have liked to unwind, but could not really relax feeling my desk and my inbox were disappearing under things.

***

I managed about forty-five minutes of Torah study; as usual, I wish I could have done more, but ran out of time and energy. Maybe it’s good that I always want to do more Torah study, even if sometimes I simply wish I could have got to a full hour. However, sometimes, like today, I wish I could spend more time exploring ancient and modern texts. The Talmud (I’m too tired to search for the reference, sorry) states that no one dies with even half his desires fulfilled. I realised that this applies to the righteous as well as ordinary people; the difference is that the righteous’ unfulfilled desires are spiritual rather than material. At least my desires here are spiritual.

In my ongoing (if sometimes intermittent) re-reading of Tanakh (the Hebrew Bible), I recently started Iyov (Job), to me one of the most challenging books of Tanakh. Alongside the biblical text, I started reading Job’s Illness: Loss, Grief and Integration: A Psychological Interpretation by a psychiatrist called Jack Kahn. It’s a study of the book that assumes that Job’s sufferings, while triggered by external events (the loss of his family and wealth) take on a psychological aspect based around depression, obsession and paranoia as seen in his speeches; his skin affliction is seen as psychosomatic. Job’s dialogues with his friends, with Elihu and finally with God enable him to reintegrate his personality and develop his psyche beyond his situation before his troubles started. “The vehicle by which his maturation is accomplished is, in fact, the very suffering which he undergoes.”

I’ve only read the introduction so far, so I’m not sure what the book will be like, but I’m intrigued by the premise and looking forward to reading it. I’m not sure if the author is Jewish (although Kahn is a Jewish name), but I’ve come across other Jewish quasi-psychological readings of Iyov that see the book as charting his growth from a religiosity based on fear of God and distance from other people to one based on love for both God and other people. I’m not sure if the book is still in print or easily available; I rescued my copy from the “duplicates/for sale” pile when I worked in a Jewish library. My copy also features some of William Blake’s illustrations to the biblical text.

***

Surprisingly, I got another job interview, this time for a school librarian position I applied for. I didn’t really expect to get this, as I have no experience of primary school librarianship. Unfortunately, the interview is next Tuesday and I have a date booked with PIMOJ and she has taken time off work, so I can’t cancel. I have emailed the school to ask if an alternative date is possible.

***

Speaking of the date, I’m worried and trying not to catastrophise. Try to stay in the present…

***

This short video from the National Autistic Society nicely illustrates the problems of dealing with a lot of questions/statements if you have autistic sensory overload and slower processing speed. This is how I feel in job interviews, or even just noisy kiddush halls.

Interview Preparation, Mostly

Sorry, that’s probably the least inspiring post title ever. Assuming anyone is still reading… work really does expand to fill the time available for its completion. I did not get to bed until after 2pm last night. I stayed up late because I was feeling dizzy and light-headed and started eating the wrong foods to deal with that. Despite this, I woke up early this morning (about 7.30am) and as I felt refreshed (for once), I got up.

I spent time during the day working on my presentation for my job interview tomorrow, practising reading it and making a PowerPoint slide to go with it. I’m still nervous about uploading this properly on Microsoft Teams tomorrow. I only made one slide, because I was worried about making things too technical for myself and providing opportunities for things to go wrong. I also helped Dad put up more of the sukkah (temporary dwelling in the garden where we will eat during the festival of Sukkot in a few days), went for a walk and did some Torah study (listening to a shiur (religious class) online as I was too tired to read).

Despite this, I found myself procrastinating, reading political articles online (which I really shouldn’t do as it just upsets me and makes me worry that if I ever get published, I’ll just as soon get cancelled) and just faffing. I suppose I was avoiding working on my presentation. I’m nervous about it, about delivering it, about the interview as a whole. I haven’t had a job interview since last December, and even that wasn’t a “proper” interview. My last one of those was… I’m actually not sure, probably over a year ago.

I’m nervous about being rejected and I’m nervous about getting the job. I haven’t worked since January and even that was pretty ad hoc, I haven’t worked in a formal setting since March 2019. I’m nervous that it’s technically a full-time job and, while they say they are open to considering part-time work or job shares, I worry that would jeopardise my chances of getting the job, but I’m even more nervous of working full-time. And I’m worried about having to tell them I have health issues to explain why I want to work part-time (I won’t say mental health issues) and I’m worried that if they do make me work full-time, I’ll need to ask to leave early on Friday afternoons in the winter to get home for Shabbat. I know all frum Jews in work do this (those who aren’t self-employed or working for frum Jews), but it still scares me. I hate to mark myself out from the crowd.

So, the bottom line is I probably could have done more today than I did, given how early I got up.

I don’t want to beat myself up too much, as I did do a couple of hours’ work on the presentation and a few other things, but I still feel unprepared in some ways and unsure whether I can do the job.

PIMOJ helped me prepare for the interview. She insisted on helping – I wouldn’t have roped her in to help at this early stage of our relationship. She is a very kind person. It was good, as it was only the second time we had Skyped (we have not met in person yet, Love in the Time of COVID), and it was good that there was definitely chemistry there even when talking about the interview. I had been a bit worried that maybe this was going to turn into a platonic friendship, but she sent me some flirty texts afterwards – not rude or anything, but clear that she wasn’t thinking of me as just a friend. Which is also good, but I’ve noticed some sort of guilt around finding a new relationship relatively soon after breaking up with E., a situation which already had guilt of its own. I really feel that I should never have got back with E. after she broke up with me the first time and should have kept our relationship as a friendship, that I was driven by emotions over rationality, but it is what it is (I hate that phrase). It’s just that every time I feel close to PIMOJ, a voice in my head says that I felt like this with E., and see how that turned out, and it’s all my fault. Sigh.

On Job Interviews and Autism

I’m feeling burnt out again. My brain has the “stuffed with cotton wool” feeling that I haven’t had for a while. I guess at this time of year, for religious Jews, things get rather fraught anyway, with so many Yom Tovim (festivals) in rapid succession. We had Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year) last week; on Sunday night and Monday is Yom Kippur (The Day of Atonement) and then at the end of the week is the start of the mammoth nine day festival of Sukkot (Tabernacles) and its semi-detached conclusion of Shemini Atzeret (the Eighth Day of Assembly) and Simchat Torah (the Rejoicing of the Torah). I’m not getting up at 5.30am for selichot (penitential prayers) at the moment as I “should” be doing; I can only imagine what state I would be in if I were. At least after Monday the festivals will be less psychologically intense, with a focus on joy rather than on repentance, even if there is still a lot to do practically, although I have the “threat” of going back to shul (synagogue) in COVID times hanging over me, which I still do not feel comfortable about.

Because of Shabbat and Yom Kippur, I only have one full day to prepare for my job interview, and maybe an hour or so squeezed in amidst preparation on Sunday. To be honest, today I don’t have much energy/will power for preparation. The interview schedule I was sent seems to indicate that they’re only going to ask questions about my presentation, but that seemed unlikely, unless there’s a second, more general, interview somewhere down the line, so I want to prepare for general questions. I feel that I’m not good at interviews any more. I had a lot of practise for them when I was at school, preparing for university applications, but I have gone rusty. With autism, it’s hard to respond to questions in speech and without pause to consider, as would be permitted with a written test, and sometimes I just stop for several seconds (or longer) as my brain tries to get in gear. Sometimes the question doesn’t even register properly first time around and I have to ask the interviewer to repeat it, another autistic trait. Other times I stumble over my words and don’t sound too coherent, plus there’s sometimes some thinking of good things to say after the interview is over. I don’t know why it’s thought that testing someone’s ability to think and speak on their feet is a good test for how they will behave in a job that is largely written. To be fair, when I’ve had tests of my cataloguing ability lately I’ve done badly with them too, which does my self-esteem no good either.

I just feel negative about stuff today: interview, work, dating… I’m trying not to think about anything important, as it all just seems impossible. Not thinking about things seems safer than being relentlessly negative.

Charlie Brown

The good news: Mum saw the oncologist today and he said that the cancer is completely gone, which is obviously very good. She will still have to have radiotherapy, and to continue to have regular injections of antibodies for a while, but the cancer itself is completely gone.

On to the less good…

I feel that I’m like Charlie Brown trying to kick the football and falling on his back every time. Every few years, my depression seems to shift for a bit, and I talk about being recovered, and then after a period of weeks or months, I fall back into depression again, usually in autumn. At least this time I didn’t say I was “recovered,” just that my depression was now mostly reactive to events going on around me rather than being rooted in my childhood experiences, which is probably true, but nevertheless, I still feel very depressed today.

I’m also feeling burnt out again. I struggled on with preparing my interview presentation, but it was hard work. I just wanted to curl up in bed. In terms of the stresses the depression is reacting to, I guess I’m worried about the interview next week, and what happens if I get the job, whether I can do it and whether I can cope with a masked commute every workday.

I also had problems setting up an account with Microsoft Teams, which I need for my interview on Wednesday. I set up an account and tried to log in, only to be told I couldn’t log in because I didn’t have an account. But when I tried to set up a new account, I was told I couldn’t because I already had an account. I was supposed to have an email that would let me use Teams, but I didn’t receive it for a while, and there wasn’t a helpdesk to complain to. I could somehow get through using the link the Very Important Institution sent me (they have already set the meeting up so I can get into the virtual waiting room), but I couldn’t open Teams from scratch. I was supposed to have a practice call with my sister, but it wouldn’t let me add her to my address book. Pressing the “accept” button on the notification email from her just opened another window with the same email notification, it didn’t actually add her to my address book. I did eventually get everything up and running, just about, but I’m pretty nervous about it working properly on Wednesday. The Doctor Who line about computers being very “sophisticated idiots” never seemed more true. Teams seems like it has a load of fancy features that get in the way and stop it from doing things that can more easily be done on Skype or Zoom. I did eventually manage a practice call with my sister, so I feel a bit more confident about it. It think that Microsoft really are the pits, though. The hollow thumping sound you can hear is the sound of me repeatedly hitting my head on my desk.

I’m also vaguely worried about my relationship with PIMOJ; it’s hard to tell what the relationship is like when we still haven’t met in person or even spoken long on Skype (Love in the Time of COVID), and when there are occasional communication problems from the fact that English isn’t her first language, and I’m not sure of her level of knowledge of English as well as of Hebrew and Yiddish. I don’t want to sound patronising to her by using simple language or explaining things, but I don’t want her to feel I’m showing off my knowledge or intimidating her with terms she doesn’t understand.

It also feels weird for me to be the less spiritual and perhaps also the less serious-minded person in a relationship and I’m not quite sure what to make of that, or about the fact that I don’t feel completely comfortable owning my negative feelings when I’m talking to her, as she’s so positive and I’m scared about how she would respond to me on a day like today when I just feel depressed. Again, it doesn’t help that we haven’t met in person; on instant messenger it’s hard to judge someone’s mood or level of empathy, even beyond my usual autistic struggles with that sort of perspective taking, especially given the language problem and the fact that there are often typos that just confuse the whole thing even further.

I don’t want to sound too negative, as I think PIMOJ meets a lot of my needs in terms of being intelligent, kind and religious and I also find her funny. I think there is chemistry there, even if instant messenger isn’t necessarily the best way of expressing it. I just wonder what will happen. I’m trying to stay in the present, but it isn’t always easy.

I don’t really want to talk about the relationship in detail here, but I don’t have anywhere else to talk about it, other than therapy for an hour a week. I also don’t know how much these worries are real or stem from feeling depressed today.

So, these are the thoughts that have been going through my head today. I guess I’m feeling rather overwhelmed, and I haven’t even mentioned that it’s going to be the most important day in the Jewish calendar on Sunday night and Monday (Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement), and I don’t feel able to go to shul (synagogue) for it because of fear of infection, discomfort with masks and general autistic uncertainty about what exactly happens at shul with COVID and the new normal.

***

I listened to an audio shiur (religious class) by Rabbi Yehoshua Engelman, who is a therapist as well as a rabbi, on building a mature relationship with God. In some ways it crystalised things I’ve been thinking recently, but which I had not been able to put into words. Ideas that God is not judging us on Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year) or Yom Kippur like a parent or teacher judges a young child and awarding reward and punishment, but that He is being curious and inviting us to enter into a dialogue with Him about why we’ve done the things we’ve done, good and bad, and How we relate to Him through those actions and how we can change and grow and become more authentic towards our inner selves.

I hope to think about this and bring it into my life. I struggle a lot to believe in a God who loves me (as opposed to a loving God – I believe God loves, but I don’t believe I’m worthy of His love). I want to build a relationship with Him, but it’s hard to know what to say, especially when I feel so tired so much of the time, and when I’ve spent so much of my adult life feeling anxious and depressed. I am trying to get away from the “angry old man in the sky” image of God which is poisonous, but sometimes I think I move too far in the direction of abstraction (Ein Sof, the kabbalistic term for the Infinite) and feel too distant from Him.

***

Achievements: some time spent on interview preparation, no idea how long. Downloaded Microsoft Teams and had a practice call with my sister. Went for a half-hour walk. Finished reading a book on writing character and viewpoint; I think I knew a lot of it instinctively from reading a lot, but I do vaguely feel like I’m a bad writer. I had a bit of a headache in the evening, which may have been stress or just because the heating came on for the first time, which often makes me a bit ill. I listened to a shiur and finished and sent my devar Torah for the week. I finished scanning the autism forms. So, I did quite a bit despite the burnout and low mood, but somehow it never feels “enough” which I guess is something to talk to God about.