Airport Anxiety

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

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

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

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

You are considered fully vaccinated…

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

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

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

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

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

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

Exhaustion and Leaving Home

On Thursday evening E was out for Thanksgiving, so we Skyped early, as soon as I got home from work, and for less time than usual. This did at least allow me more time for writing in the evening. I had a fairly unhurried evening and finished reading Accidental Presidents.

This didn’t stop me being completely exhausted again on Friday. I dreamt I was running late for Shabbat (the Sabbath), and when I woke up, I was. Tintin was in the dream too for some reason.

I dealt with an annoying NHS issue (yet another one). I had to phone to confirm that I would take the psychiatrist appointment they offered me, which would mean changing work days and probably missing volunteering that week, all because I was worried that if I didn’t take it, I would have to wait until February or later for another appointment. I also told them that I had noticed that both the letters they sent me recently had a letter for someone else at the bottom. It was actually another letter on another sheet, but I assume it was at the bottom of the file if it ended up on two different letters. At first they thought I was saying the letter was addressed to the wrong person and asked how I ended up with it, but I hope I clarified that my address was correct, they just added someone else’s details at the bottom, a breach of data protection. It’s like they haven’t got enough ways to mess stuff up in the natural order of things, so they have to invite new things to mess up. (They also spelt my very common first name wrong on both letters too, but I’ll graciously let that slide.) Now I’m worried they’re going to hold on to the words “mistake” and “address” and assume my address is wrong and send the letters somewhere else, probably to the person whose letter was sent with mine. That letter was about an appointment over a year ago, so goodness knows if that person heard in time. I’m imagining that letter and confidential information being sent out to random people for over a year now.

I did my pre-Shabbat chores in time and went to shul (synagogue). I was pretty exhausted by the time shul ended, but I waited for Dad and then walked home slowly with him and his friend, when I should have just gone home immediately. I was exhausted enough when I got home that I lay down for half an hour before dinner, which wasn’t particularly good. I did about an hour of heavy Torah study (Talmud and The Guide for the Perplexed), but it took more than an hour to do it, as I kept having to stop for breaks. Because of this, I had little time for recreational reading.

I started reading Science Fiction: The Best of 2001, an anthology I picked up in a second-hand bookshop last time I was in New York (that’s 2001 the year, not the Stanley Kubrick film/Arthur C. Clarke novel), but the first story was one of those stories that starts in mitten drinnen (that’s Yiddish for in medias res) with no indication of where or when the story is set, what all the technology mentioned does, who the protagonist is and so on. That’s not a problem per se, but I was too tired to cope with it, so I stopped after a couple of pages and had an earlyish night (with disturbing dreams).

Recent events have made me feel that I am (finally) ready to leave home. It’s just too much masking and coping with my parents’ conversation being so different to mine as some other things I won’t go into here. It occurred to me that some of my thoughts about being different and no one being interested in what I have to say come from growing up with my family as much as from school experiences. I seem to be able to talk to E and my friends OK.

I nearly fell asleep after lunch as I lay down for forty minutes or so. I probably would have fallen asleep had I not known that I had limited time to daven Minchah (say Afternoon Prayers) and eat seudah shlishit (the third Sabbath meal, which is very much a token thing at this time of year as it’s so soon after lunch). I did a little Torah study, but tried not to push myself too hard. That said, after Shabbat was over, I spent hours doing various chores, so I didn’t get time to relax again (or to write), although I do have less to worry about doing tomorrow now other than packing. I probably do prioritise doing chores and important-seeming things over relaxing, which is probably bad for autistic exhaustion. I do wonder what will happen if I can’t improve my energy levels after marriage.

I was going to write some reflections here on the medical and social models of disability and why I think they break down with autism, but I’m too tired now. It’s pretty much midnight, so I ought to go to bed.

More Shoulds

I woke up feeling depressed and self-critical again, although perhaps not as much as yesterday. E wants to try to help me feel less exhausted and depressed from activity, and I want to too, but I wonder if it’s possible. It depends if it’s from a sleep disorder (potentially treatable, although I’m not sure to what extent) or autistic exhaustion (not really treatable except through energy accounting, and I’ve mentioned my problems with that) or SAD (light therapy didn’t work so well in the past, but I’m trying again). It’s worrying. Reducing my meds might give me more energy, but might make my mood worse. Although I’m not sure how much I trust a psychiatrist regarding this, I plan to take the appointment offered to me in January (J let me switch work days) and I probably will ask to reduce clomipramine, but not to come off it completely.

On the Tube this morning I was sat opposite someone with a persistent, horrible cough. I changed carriage at the next station, but ended up in a carriage full of sniffers and coughers. I guess it’s winter. Did this worry me before COVID? I think so, but not so much. I was sat next to someone who sniffed the whole way this morning. It was probably just the warm air in the carriage after the colder air outside. I was less worried about catching something and more irritated by the noise.

My brain was not working well today. I missed out bits of very familiar tasks at work and found it hard to do any work. I did at least have various tasks in the morning, but I was just sorting old papers again in the afternoon, a job with no clear end in sight, and I’m not entirely sure I’m tackling it the best way.

I do wonder if changing job, if I pass the interview, would lead to renewed energy and motivation or if I would be just as miserable in a new places with new procedures to learn just as I was getting used to this job and its procedures.

I used my light box in the morning. It seemed to help a bit, although the effect disappeared soon after I switched it off.

I felt more self-criticism about writing. I think I need to JUST WRITE. I have written for four consecutive days this week, writing over 2,000 words in four hours or less. I have no idea how good it is and I feel guilty about leaving the other novel and writing this without a clear plan, like I’m cheating on my other, worthier, novel with a more fun, less serious one.

It’s hard to know if I “should” be writing or what I “should” be writing. I always feel obliged to try to do what God wants beyond what I want or what I think is right. This adds another layer of complexity to decision-making. I say “always”; that’s not quite true any more. Over the last five years or so, I’ve started to feel that some halakhahs are beyond me and that I can’t keep them now, or maybe ever, so I’m not trying. Then again, there probably aren’t many of these (listening to recorded women’s singing and hugging E are the ones that spring to mind). I should probably just not think about what God wants me to write and just write. At least I’m finding writing reviving rather than draining at the moment.

I miss E. At least I can see her in five days! However, we are worried that the government are going to crack down on immigration and arbitrarily refuse her visa request. I don’t think the migration crackdown will take effect that quickly, although E got scared by a Guardian headline that was probably just another attempt to make Suella Braverman look like a Fascist. Still, it’s a worry.

Calling Into the Void

After a good day yesterday, I’ve crashed again today, feeling exhausted, depressed and lacking in motivation. I feel really awful, probably a result of doing too much over the last couple of days (not that it felt like much), missing E, SAD, personal life news (see below) and real news (also see below). I’m not sure when I last felt this bad.

 I wish this wouldn’t happen. I guess it’s something you should just learn to live with, with an ongoing health condition, but I find it hard, even after all these years. I guess it doesn’t help that it isn’t clear whether it’s more down to autism or a sleep disorder.

I woke up at 10am and wanted to stay awake, but I must have fallen asleep again as the next thing I knew it was 11am and Dad wanted me to get up to help take in the Tesco order. I did that, and prayed a bit even though I was still in pyjamas as I didn’t have the energy to get dressed and knew it would be too late for Shacharit (Morning Prayers) if I waited until after breakfast. I had breakfast and messed about online, getting annoyed by how much of the internet is about hate. Even if it’s not actual hate speech, it’s people complaining about other people’s hate speech. At the moment I’m becoming more impressed with Chabad.org than with the other Jewish sites I follow, because, although it is too mystical for my tastes and has fewer articles that interest me, it rarely does an “Antisemites said X, how awful is that?”-type article of the kind that are common elsewhere, preferring to focus on meaningful Jewish content. I think this is a better response to antisemitism most of the time than “calling out” into the void.

At 12.30pm I got phoned by the job agency that sent me the job last week. Embarrassingly, I was still in my pyjamas, but I took the call anyway. I’ve got the interview, although I’m not sure when it will be, given that I’m away soon and that I work two days a week. I will go to the interview, although I’m not sure when I will prepare or if I even want the job. As I’ve said, it’s slightly less money for somewhat longer hours, but it would potentially be a job I enjoy and restart my library career, so I need to think carefully about it. It also just occurred to me that in my current job, because it’s for a Jewish organisation and is shut on Jewish festivals, I don’t need to take them out of my holiday time, which I would have to do in this job. So there’s a lot to consider, if I even get the job. Possibly this pushed my mood further down, although I was depressed before it.

I did eventually get up and manage to get dressed. I went for a walk and spent an hour or so writing. I’m not sure if this project is going well, and I’m trying not to think about it for now, or if I’m going about it the right way. Basically, I started my satirical novel without finishing the planning a few days ago, because I needed to write, but didn’t have a head for just sitting and planning with nothing to show for it. I’m not usually a “pantser” (a writer who writes by the seat of their pants i.e. without planning), so I’m not sure if this will be organic and natural or just a mess. It’s hard to judge comedy anyway.

I didn’t go to shul (synagogue) as I vaguely hoped to do and only managed about five minutes of Torah study, as I really am stuck in a black hole of despair today.

***

I phoned the psychiatric appointments line to try to change my psychiatrist appointment, which is supposed to be when I’m away. This is to replace the appointment that was supposed to be a few weeks ago, but was cancelled at the last minute with no explanation. I discovered I have a new appointment for 9 January, which I wanted to move, as I’m at work then, but the person on the phone said to change an appointment I had to phone back on a morning as “I don’t keep the diary, I’m just covering the phones.” Really efficient. My parents and E said it will be easier to change my work days that week rather than the appointment, which really shouldn’t be the case, but sadly is true. Moreover, if I try to move the appointment, I’m likely to get one in February and I would like to be seen by then, although if recent depressed days continue, I won’t be changing my medication anyway (the reason for the appointment).

***

On a theme of getting annoyed with public monopolies that other people seem to love, I wrote an angry email to the BBC complaining about their minimisation of violence against Israelis in their description of today’s twin bombings in Jerusalem as “rare” bomb attacks. My point was that this minimises the attacks and primes readers to see them as freak events, downplaying the two fatalities and pre-emptively implying that any Israeli response is an over-reaction. The reality is that over 2,000 attacks of varying kinds on Israelis have occurred so far this year, of which the BBC reported just thirteen (figures from CAMERA UK, who also stated “the BBC News website did not provide stand-alone or timely coverage of any of the 401 terror attacks – including three fatal ones – which took place during October. In contrast, a counter-terrorism operation in Schem (Nablus) was reported just hours after it concluded.”)

I doubt I’ll get a response. The Jewish Chronicle, which is running a major campaign against BBC bias in both domestic and foreign reporting of antisemitism and Israel, reports that complaints about Israel coverage can take up to a year to be answered by the BBC and are sometimes completely ignored, even though BBC guidelines say that all complaints should to responded to within ten days. I actually felt worse afterwards, like that calling into the void I mentioned earlier. The BBC have had enough criticism of their Israel/Jewish coverage for me to know that they won’t take my complaint seriously, and will remain entrenched in their narrative that Jews don’t belong in the Middle East and that the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict is a clear-cut case of alien colonists persecuting non-violent natives, rather than a complex, long-running conflict between two different indigenous peoples that has seen violence on both sides.

I’m worried about posting this publicly, as I don’t want to be drawn into arid arguments about Israel’s right to exist, but I’m too depressed and exhausted to start editing or posting privately.

Masks

I did quite a bit today: volunteering in the morning (I got there on time despite oversleeping again), I wrote a bit for my new writing project (which I’m not going to speak about for now as it may not work out), got my COVID booster and cooked dinner. I feel better today, partly because I wasn’t at work, but also because I did a reasonable amount of things and had some achievements without trying to do so much that I failed to do everything I wanted and felt bad about it (although I did plan to do a bit more than I managed).

I thought a lot about some blog comments I got yesterday. I don’t really get a sense of who regularly reads this other than the half-dozen or so regular commenters (I don’t really trust the “likes” button, as some people just “like” loads of blogs in the hope of getting people to like their blog and some people read, but don’t hit “like”). Every so often, I’ll get a comment from someone I haven’t heard from before or (in this case) who I didn’t realise reads this regularly and I’ll be a bit astonished that people are that interested in my writing. This is particularly true if they are remote from me, either geographically or in lifestyle or outlook.

Sometimes I feel that I have the ability to communicate with people with very different lives to me. I’m not sure how I do this, but I do seem to manage it in a way that a lot of frum (religious Jewish) people seem unwilling or unable to do. This reminded me of something Rabbi Sacks used to say, that if we (human beings) were completely different we would be unable to communicate, but if we were completely identical, we would have nothing to say. Our ability and desire to communicate therefore comes from having both commonalities and differences. This seems obvious, but we tend not to think about it.

It also made me think a bit about masks. Like many autistics, in real life, I mask i.e. hide my autistic traits and try to pass as “normal.” I don’t even think about it, and probably do it more than I am actually conscious of doing. Masking is generally seen as a bad thing in the autistic community, and certainly prolonged masking can lead to lack of authenticity, exhaustion and autistic burnout, but some masking is probably essential to human interaction in allistics (non-autistics) as well as autistics. It’s not polite to say every thought that comes through your head, or to behave in front of company the way you might by yourself.

The Aviva Gottleib Zornberg Torah essay I’ve been reading yesterday and today (for Toldot) dealt with masking. She quoted a number of famous writers about masks, but didn’t quote the person who immediately came to my mind, Oscar Wilde: “Give a man a mask and he will tell you the truth.” (The Picture of Dorian Gray) On my blog I’m masked most of all (I’m anonymous and can’t be seen) but I probably tell the truth more here than in most other places. Certainly I feel more authentic and more myself here than elsewhere.

The same essay also spoke about liminality, about being on the border or doorway between two places or experiences, which is definitely related to what I’m talking about here, about being able to move from one environment and set of people to another, which again is not something everyone can do. It reminded me of Janus, the Roman god of beginnings and doorways (among other things) who had two faces, one looking forwards and one looking back. Being two-faced is usually considered a bad thing, but, as with masking, it is probably necessary on some level to function in society.

I feel like I should do something with this ability to connect with people, but I’m not sure what (except for blogging). It seems strange even to think about being good at connecting with people when I’m so used to thinking about being bad at it.

***

I like that E and I are both so geeky that what started as a conversation about what to do when I’m in New York turned into both of us reading the same article about attempts to backbreed the aurochs (an extinct form of Eurasian cattle that has the dubious distinction of being the only animal mentioned in the Bible to have subsequently become extinct).

Survival of the Normalest

I woke up in a self-critical mood, remembering how much I messed things up in my further education job (although it was four years ago) and being critical of my blog writing (I wonder why anyone at all reads it) and my fiction writing. At the risk of name-dropping, Matthue Roth (My First Kafka) told me off once years ago for calling my own writing “bilge” on Hevria, saying I was insulting myself, my history and my thoughts. I feel like I don’t care about insulting them.

At lunchtime I managed to locate the Hevria post where we had this discussion. Interestingly, nearly five years ago, I was already agonising over the fact that I have ideas for stories, but am unable to empathise with my characters and write them well, getting inside their inner lives, because I’m “somewhat autistic [I was undiagnosed at that stage and nervous of staking claim to autism under false pretences] and alexithymic (unable to feel or describe emotions)”. I asked Matthue whether he thought someone who can’t get in touch with their emotions could write good fiction or poetry, but I don’t think he understood the question (maybe he couldn’t understand that some people don’t understand or feel their own emotions) and spoke more about characters who don’t have emotions, which wasn’t really what I meant.

I do wonder about that still, whether I can get inside anyone’s head enough to write well. I quoted to Matthue something George Orwell wrote, that Tolsoy’s characters are so detailed that you can imagine having a conversation with them, and that I can’t really imagine a conversation with any fictional character. I mean, I struggle to imagine conversations with real people let alone those that only live in my head!

E suggested leaving my novels for now and writing a short story. She’s probably right. I had an idea for a short story recently, but I neglected to write it down and now I can’t remember it.

***

Work was dull. I spent the morning looking for missing invoices and the afternoon struggling with a mail merge. It doesn’t get much more fun than that. I felt depressed and self-loathing all day and unsure why: my job? The thoughts about my writing? Winter sunlight issues (our office is particularly gloomy and badly-lit)? Everything? Who knows.

On the Tube home, half a carriage was filled with young boys, all “manspreading” and some with their feet on the seats. I contrasted their unthinking possession of the world around them with myself, constantly apologising for getting in the way and squeezing myself into corners.

LinkedIn tells me someone I was at university with is now a “Publisher, writer and researcher”. Wasn’t I supposed to be doing something like that? I see parents of autistic children writing on the autism forum and think, “Those children are struggling much more than I ever did as a child, why can’t I just get my life together? Surely it should be easier as an adult?” But I don’t think my functionality, such as it is, is down to my efforts, just to the grace of God.

***

The Aviva Gottleib Zornberg essay I’m reading on this week’s sedra (Torah portion) notes talks about “Isaac – in whom any obliteration of limits and distinctions rouses profound anxiety”. I’m not sure I see that in the Torah, but I do see it in myself, which is interesting, as I identify with Yitzchak (Isaac) more than any other Tanakh (Hebrew Bible) character, for reasons that are not completely clear to me. Later on in the essay she quotes the Zohar, that Yitzchak’s love for Esav (Esau) is not based on opposites attracting, but on similarities. She sees Esav as a proto-existentialist searching for meaning in a meaningless world, which also resonates with me, although I don’t identify with Esav much. (There were a lot of Hamlet quotations in the essay, actually.)

***

A blogger I respect who married in her early thirties (ancient, in her Yeshivish community) said that she only had a couple of criteria for a husband, but that she took “normality” as a given before those criteria came into effect. It made me wonder how many other frum (religious) women feel the same, and how many autistic people could pass the “normality” test, even with masking.

Given how much of the energy of the frum community is focused on finding a spouse, and how other interests and goals are postponed until after marriage, not least for fear they might scare off prospective partners, I wonder if the frum world is a sort of Darwinian “survival of the normalest” contest, where the people who can appear most normal find the best partners and bring up their children to be even more normal (conformist), breeding out more individuality with each generation. I am glad I am out of the dating game now (not that I was ever really in it in the frum world – the few women who were ever serious about me were not typical frum women themselves), but I worry about other autistic people stuck in it, and about what happens to a community that tries to breed all individuality and eccentricity out of itself.

Demons

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

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

***

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

***

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

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

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

Bits and Pieces

I think I’ve put on all the weight I lost over the last few months, perhaps even some more. I really don’t eat that much junk! I do get hungry late at night (when I should really be in bed) and eat cereal and sometimes I eat too much when I get home from work as dinner is almost always late in our house. It is hard to make myself go to bed hungry, or deny myself one biscuit or small piece of chocolate after a stressful day. I’m not sure what else I could do to reward myself. If we’re talking empty calories, I also eat a lot of prunes (which I’m sure have a lot of natural sugar), because it’s the only way I’ve found to combat the constipation caused by taking clomipramine (sorry if that’s TMI), another reason I’m anxious to reduce my meds.

***

I did the second night of the sleep study. I slept a lot more first night than the second because of work. That shouldn’t make any difference, as they’re just checking whether I stop breathing in my sleep, but I am vaguely nervous, especially given the problems I had with the questionnaire, which asked a lot of questions that I could not answer, either because they required a “bed-partner” who knew if I snore or referred to my experience of fatigue while driving, which I don’t do. I wrote a whole long covering email when I returned the questionnaire explaining the situation. I just hope someone takes note of it. I would really like an accurate to answer to the question of whether my disrupted sleep and constant tiredness is at least in part due to a sleep disorder.

***

Some thoughts about chatan (bridegroom) class from last night: I knew a lot of the material that I was being taught, and even spotted the teacher’s mistakes on a couple of occasions. I am generally too polite to point out other people’s mistakes, but maybe I should have done so here to show that I was pretty au fait with the material.

The topic was mostly standard Jewish texts on love and marriage. I felt that I was told that I should love E as much as I love self, which I already knew (it’s from the Talmud), but that I didn’t get much advice on how to do this. (If I was teaching the class, I would have referred to Rav Dessler’s idea that giving rather than receiving generates love.)

The teacher gave me a lift home. I felt embarrassed that I don’t drive. I don’t think he realised how old I am (forty next birthday), particularly as discussion of my university background and efforts to move into proofreading work made me sound as if I have joined the labour market relatively recently (and not because of years of depression and burnout). It’s not uncommon for Modern Orthodox Jews to meet their future spouse at university and get married soon after graduation and, as I mentioned the other day, I look a lot younger than I actually am. I also hid my MA, as I’m embarrassed about that too (the fact that it was not at a good university, that I had to struggle to get the degree and took three and a half years to do a degree that should have taken one year, and that my library career did not go anywhere afterwards).

On the plus side, the teacher is somewhat geeky and likes Doctor Who. Unlike me, he prefers the new series to the old. Like me, he thinks it has gone downhill lately. Unlike me, but like many other people, he thinks it’s too woke. I don’t really think it is that much more woke than it has been at other points in the past, and I don’t think being woke is necessarily a problem here. The problem is a lack of original, interesting, fun competently-written stories.

***

Today I’ve been struggling with having negative thoughts about other people and then obsessing over my thoughts and thinking I’m a bad person for not only thinking positive things about other people. I’m not sure where this has come from.

***

Work was a bit stressful. I had trouble with the very user unfriendly website we use for stationery orders. I also made some mistakes that were at least in part because J fired too much at me at once and I tried to multitask, which is something I do badly (autism).

I stayed for Minchah and Ma’ariv in the shul  (Afternoon and Evening Prayers in the synagogue).I got pretty overwhelmed by the noise and the people, and by thinking that not only does autism stop me functioning in the frum (religious) community, but no one even understands my problems because there are so few frum autistics (who I have come across, at least). I did think of posting something on the autism forum, but I’m not sure who would understand and it would just come across as bad mouthing my own community to people who know nothing about it and perhaps just reinforcing anti-Jewish/anti-religious sentiments.

I managed to do some shopping after work, but I’ve been pretty exhausted since I got home.

***

E and my therapist both said I should stop writing my novel for now, and, as a good Jewish boy, I know not to argue with my wife or my therapist (or my mother, but she doesn’t know what I’m writing). E encouraged me to work on the satirical novel I want to write in the meantime. I feel I should do research, but also that I don’t have the head for that with everything going on in my life right and now and that I should just jump in. How much can you research comedy anyway, even if it is satire? Unfortunately, while I feel confused and angry about much in the world, it’s hard to frame my confused and angry thoughts coherently in my head, let alone in a dystopian satirical novel. I also worry about the attitude (on the part of readers) of “If you disagree with X, then you must want Y instead” which isn’t necessarily true. I might satirise the extremes of X, but be absolutely in favour of it in moderation, but satire isn’t so good at reflecting that level of nuance, or the concept of moderation at all.

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wedding Fair

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Inspiring Jewish Books

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

***

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

Hard to narrow it down to just a few but:

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

Rav Soloveitchik: The Lonely Man of Faith

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

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

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

Abraham Joshua Heschel: A Passion for Truth

Rabbi Eliezer Berkovits’ essay: A Jewish Sexual Ethics

[End of passage from FB]

A few things that strike me from this list.

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

***

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

***

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

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

“The red-eyed scavengers are creeping”

I kept waking up this morning and not getting up. I don’t know why. This left me feeling bad when I finally did get up around midday. I don’t know how much is habit, tiredness, autistic comfort or something else. I did get woken up about 7am and kept awake for a while by the rain – not by the rain itself, but by something (I guess a gutter or something similar) that was dripping loudly and regularly and was driving my autistic brain crazy. But eventually I did get back to sleep.

I feel pretty bad today, very depressed. I felt like I was fighting back tears a lot of the day. I know it’s too early to say if I’m having a few bad days or relapsing into depression, SAD or autistic burnout, but I worry that I am, and how that will make things so hard for E. I’m trying to stay focused and in the present, but it’s hard when I just want to curl up and sleep. I’m supposed to be seeing a psychiatrist on the 15th of November to discuss cutting my meds, but it looks horribly like I may have to stay on them, and who knows when I’ll get to see a psychiatrist again on the NHS?

I went for a run, just to do something. I hadn’t been for a run in nearly two months. It was a poor run, but I knew it would be; I’m just glad I managed forty-five minutes and nearly 5.5km (far from continuous running, though). There was very loud music playing, I think Jewish rock. Then, suddenly, about five o’clock, the music stopped and a lot of frum (religious Jewish) parents appeared with children. I guess there was a big birthday party nearby. Seeing the children made me feel vaguely bad that if E and I manage to have children, we’re not going to be able to afford a lot of stuff for them. I know loving your children is more important than giving them toys or expensive holidays, but it’s sad for the children, who won’t appreciate that at a young age, and who will have to deal with the school bullies for not having the fashionable toys.

Now the noise is all Guy Fawkes Night fireworks. I guess I should be glad people are still celebrating it, as I thought everyone had switched to celebrating Halloween (not a major event in the UK when I was growing up), but it’s not necessarily good with an exercise headache and autistic reactions to loud noises. I tried to do some Torah study, but it just made my head hurt more. I will try to do a little before bed, if I can.

I still felt depressed after the run. While running, the line came into my head, “The red-eyed scavengers are creeping/ From Kentish Town and Golder’s Green” from T.S. Eliot’s A Cooking Egg (I got the quote a bit wrong, but corrected it here). I probably shouldn’t quote it, as it’s antisemitic. The “red-eyed scavengers” are almost certainly Jews (or “jews” as Eliot would have written it; as Rodger Kamenetz pointed out, Eliot repeatedly denied the Jews the dignity of a capital letter), as Kentish Town and Golders Green were (and Golders Green still is) very Jewish parts of London. Strangely, the material I’ve found about the poem online doesn’t mention this (you can be sure they would have pointed it out if he’d used a slur against various other minority groups). Even so, the line is powerful and I feel comfortable repurposing it to refer to the scavengers of depression, anxiety and OCD trying to creep in to my consciousness (or unconscious) when I’m exhausted. It’s an effort to keep them out, but if I make that effort, where will I get the energy needed to work, do household chores, fulfil religious obligations, write, exercise and so on? In short, how can I have a life if all my energy and brainpower goes on staying mentally healthy and vaguely functional?

***

It’s also harder and harder every day to function without E.

***

Responding to a comment from Adventuresofagradgirl (is this how you would like to be referred to here? Please let me know!) on my last post that God wants us to be good and to be happy and whether I write or not is secondary, I wrote:

I want to be good, but I feel I would find it easier to be good if I wasn’t on the spectrum. But presumably God dismissed that thought for some reason. I don’t know if God wants me to be happy, or how to achieve that. I worry that God wants me to write for some purpose, and if I don’t achieve it, that will be consider sinful or at least negative. But if I’m not supposed to write and devote time to it that should be spent on Torah study, volunteering, family, etc., that will also be considered sinful. It’s hard to know what to do or how other people navigate thoughts like this.

***

I want to post the following on the autism forum, at least the first point if not the second, but I lack the courage:

It’s over eighteen months since I was diagnosed autistic and I feel that I’m still processing what that means to me.

I still feel that autism is a disability to me rather than a difference and definitely not a “superpower.” My autistic traits are mild enough to be irritating and somewhat disabling, but don’t come with any benefits I’ve found yet. The only partial exception is my ability to spot errors of spelling and grammar. I would like to use this to work as freelance proof-reader, but I worry that that will involve a lot of skills I don’t have for networking and self-promotion. Autism is a drawback for those things. (My proof-reading skill doesn’t work so well in the office either, for some reason, and I make mistakes there.)

I want more than anything to write serious literary fiction, but I struggle with creating and motivating characters as well as using metaphorical language (I can understand non-literal language, but I seem to struggle to write it). I also think my writing tends to be overly-formal.

Also, unlike many people on this forum, I don’t feel that I’ve found my “tribe.” Autistic people seem to be too heterogeneous a group, and many of them too different from me, to be a group I can fully identify with. I dislike the term “intersectionality,” but my struggles seem to be primarily located at the intersection between autistic identity and Orthodox Jewish identity. I struggle with my autism particularly because I’m trying to live in Orthodox Jewish spaces, resulting in issues other autistics don’t have and I struggle with my Judaism because I’m practising it while struggling with autism, resulting in issues other Orthodox Jews don’t have.

Orthodox Jewish identity is fundamentally communal, whether regarding prayer (private, individual prayer is definitely considered inferior to communal prayer), religious study (which is ideally done in pairs and often in noisy, crowded rooms full of people arguing) and acts of kindness. As the title of an anthropological study of the shtetl (semi-autonomous Jewish towns in Eastern Europe before the Holocaust) notes, “Life is with People”. It is not clear what can be done in the community for people who struggle to be around other people. This is before taking into account that Jews are, culturally, often loud and social, sometimes intrusively so (a generalisation, obviously, but rooted in reality, I think).

Orthodox Judaism lags some years behind the trends in the secular Western world. It is still catching up on awareness of mental illness; it will probably be some years before people begin talking about provisions or adjustments and leniencies for the neurodivergent. I’m not sure where I go in the meantime.

***

Facebook has been good and bad today, with some angry spost I didn’t really understand and a question on the Orthodox Conundrum group about non-Jewish books that have spiritual value. I probably over-thought this, and also realised that while I think Hamlet and The Brothers Karamazov have spiritual worth, I don’t remember enough detail about either to really justify recommending them, which is sad (especially as I’ve read Hamlet twice, once without notes and once with, and seen it (on TV) twice). In the end I went  for The Lathe of Heaven by Ursula K. Le Guin (on the dangers of playing God) and Daniel Deronda by George Eliot. One plot thread is proto-Zionist, but it’s actually the other one, about a not-very-good person who’s made big mistakes trying to live a better life that is more spiritual (and more engaging, I thought).

There was political stuff (actually economic stuff) I wanted to disagree with on a blog, but I just didn’t feel up to getting in an argument. As I’ve said before, I think people rarely change their minds based on internet debate. I don’t like feeling people think I’m cruel or callous for decisions that are taken for pragmatic reasons when they know nothing about my thoughts, feelings or wider life (volunteering, charity, etc.). I do wish economics was a compulsory school subject, though.

It occurs to me that by avoiding discussion, I am perpetuating the problem, as well as potentially avoiding views that contradict my own and that may be true (although, to be fair, I do read some opposing views, I just don’t vocalise my responses. I think I’m probably better than most people about listening to the other side of the debate and being open to criticism of my own views). But I don’t really have the stamina to get into fights and there are not many places that I feel are safe for this kind of discussion.

***

I finished reading The Television Companion: The Unofficial and Unauthorised Guide to Doctor Who over Shabbat. It wasn’t bad, I just wish there could have been a more balanced presentation of late seventies Doctor Who.

On to Doctor Who: The Discontinuity Guide. In the introduction, the authors (Paul Cornell, who would go on to write for the revived TV series, plus Keith Topping and Martin Day) state, “We only mock Doctor Who because we are here to celebrate the fan way of watching television, a close attention to detail matched by a total willingness to take the mickey.” I feel that this doesn’t exist any more, or at least that I can’t find it. It’s possible that character limits on social media prevent such a complex way of engaging with a text.

Then a few lines later they state that calling stories with no name on screen by their official name on BBC paperwork rather than by the names common in fandom, “might be a mark of strict accuracy, but it could also be a sign of elitism” which, aside from referring to a now largely subsided fan argument of the nineties, shows that making something completely non-political into a angry and self-righteous political point for no good reason was happening even twenty-seven years ago.

Cause Without a Rebel

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

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

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

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

I really missed E a lot too.

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

***

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

***

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

“I think we are in rats’ alley/Where the dead men lost their bones”

I went to bed late last night. It’s hard having E in a time zone behind me, as it makes going to bed earlier hard, although I’m pretty good at staying up too late even without that and indeed was online late yesterday blogging and social media-ing. I wanted to watch an episode of The Avengers yesterday (I’d say the John Steed and Emma Peel Avengers to distinguish from Marvel, but I wanted to watch a Cathy Gale episode), but I ran out of time and ended up reading instead. I recently started Accidental Presidents, a non-fiction book about the eight men who succeeded to the American presidency via the vice-presidency when the elected incumbent died. It’s interesting and not particularly heavy-going, but it assumes a greater knowledge of nineteenth century American politics and history than I have, and the writing verges on the clichéd, with some weirdly anachronistic metaphors (e.g. saying President Tyler’s plans hit a “speed bump”). It probably wasn’t hugely relaxing to read at night, though.

Whether I did too much yesterday or didn’t relax enough or both or neither, I was exhausted this morning. I had to get out of bed at 10.30am to help with the Tesco order and stayed up afterwards to daven (pray) before the time for Morning Prayers was over (now an hour earlier due to the clocks going back). But my mind felt “scattered” and unfocused the way it does when I’m feeling exhausted, and my mood was low. I revised my plans for today, as I didn’t think I had the time or headspace to listen to the hour and a half shiur (religious class) from Aviva Gottleib Zornberg that I wanted to listen to today (the only one of the LSJS’ pre-Rosh Hashanah shiurim that I haven’t listened to yet).

I did manage half an hour or so of novel writing, but I found it hard to focus. I had therapy. It was a good session, but the sadness came back afterwards. I went for a walk and listened to some of a religious podcast in lieu of Torah study, which I really couldn’t face.

I still feel vaguely obliged to help people on the autism forum, and slightly guilty if I can’t. A teenage girl posted something there today, but I could barely understand it and I had no idea what to say to a troubled, possibly suicidal and psychotic (her words), teenage girl with a personality disorder that would help her. Admittedly it’s hard to know how to help someone whose post title is a string of swearwords directed at people trying to help her, but I still feel sad and vaguely guilty.

I’m also beating myself up for general social media use and difficulty knowing how to communicate with people online. I hope this is just another bad day and not the start of depression or SAD. 

***

People write about famous people with autism (supposedly) e.g. Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Steven Spielberg, Dan Ackroyd, Elon Musk, Alan Turing, Albert Einstein, Leonardo da Vinci and so on (to be honest, I find the historical attributions speculative at best and often fanciful. The fact that someone was clever and a bit eccentric doesn’t automatically mean they were neurodiverse). I find these lists difficult to read, as it suggests I could succeed like them. Which makes me feel that if I can’t succeed, it must be my fault, rather than because autism manifests differently in different people and they got lucky with traits that helped them do what they wanted to do, rather than holding them back.

Related: it occurred to me that many of the frum people I know who had mental health issues ended up not frum. I don’t know if there’s causation there or just correlation, and my survey is certainly not statistically significant, but it makes me feel good (that I stayed frum) and bad (that having mental health issues correlates with leaving the frum world and there’s no guarantee I will stay frum in the future, particularly if my depression comes back). I don’t really know enough Jewish people with autism to tell if there’s a correlation with leaving frumkeit there, but it wouldn’t surprise me.

  ***

Reading about the Israeli elections (the likely return of Netanyahu, the success of the far-right) just made me feel worse. I felt I should write something to say that Itamar Ben-Gvir and Betzalel Smotrich don’t represent me, as an Orthodox Jew and Zionist, but really I was too depressed to face up to it. I just felt awful.

***

It’s extra hard being away from E when I feel like this. I need hugs, really.

***

The good news: my sleep study apparatus (if that’s the right word) should be sent to me next week, so hopefully that will help me move forward with working out what (else) is wrong with me. It can take up to twelve weeks to get the results. And E’s other birthday present arrived today (I ordered her two books, but only one arrived last week). It really is coincidence that I keep buying E books that I would like to read as presents! Or rather, it’s less coincidence and more a reflection that we do have a lot of shared interests. She was pleased with the present, but she won’t get to read them for a while.

E and I also had a Zoom marriage class in the evening, which this week was about the structure of the Jewish wedding ceremony. I learnt a few things, which was good. I feel less depressed now, so maybe some of it was anxiety. I’m very tired though and going to bed soon. The class did make me marvel again at how allistic (non-autistic) people can often chat and make small talk so easily. Talk about super-powers…

Grief and Autistic Halakhah

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

***

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

***

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

More Disrupted Sleep, LinkedIn, and Ashley

Shabbat (the Sabbath) was OK. I felt ill on Friday evening and didn’t go to shul (synagogue). I was light-headed again and had a bit of a headache, but I think it was side-effects from the flu jab I had on Thursday rather than work stress.

Mum and Dad’s conversation at dinner exhausted me again. Their conversation is usually small talk, generally about work, shul, their friends or football. I don’t have much to say about most of that, but Dad was trying to bring me into the conversation again. I’m not sure why he’s started doing that recently. He doesn’t really get that I struggle to engage with this conversation and I don’t like being asked questions to which he already knows the answers to just to bring me in. I prefer just to tune out, but I probably shouldn’t say that. I don’t know why I’m struggling with this more now than in the past. It’s probably partly Dad trying to engage me, but also because I’m impatient to live with E and have conversations about things that interest both of us.

I guess dinner at the moment reminds me on some level of my childhood, when I was called an “intellectual elitist” for trying to have deeper conversations and using words no one else understood (I didn’t know they didn’t understand). It’s partly the familiar syndrome of university-educated children from families that have not had access to higher education ending up on a different level to their parents and struggling to communicate, but also the issue of children with autism communicating differently to their neurotypical families and also being intensely interested in certain subjects and boring people with constant talk about them as well as being less interested in, and able to engage in, small talk.

After this I was tired, but did some Torah study. I managed some Talmud study, which I was pleased with, especially as it was a new page (I study each page three times: the first is really to get myself familiar with the subject and vocabulary, on the second I begin to understand better and by the third I usually have a reasonable understanding, at least on a basic level). I re-read bits of Jewish Meditation by Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan, but it didn’t elaborate on the things I had heard about on a podcast last week.

After this, about 11pm, I fell asleep, fully dressed and on top of the bed. I slept until about 3.30am. This is a bad habit I seem to be getting into, as if my sleep wasn’t disrupted enough as it is. I got into my pyjamas, but decided I needed some relaxation time and read more of Flowers for Algernon before going to sleep again.

I slept through most of the morning, then fell asleep again after lunch. I got up in time for Minchah (Afternoon prayers) (at home, I didn’t go to shul). I probably won’t be able to sleep on Shabbat afternoons after the clocks go back tonight. I read The Guide for the Perplexed for a bit – the translator’s introduction; I still haven’t got to the actual text. After half an hour, this got too heavy-going, and the print was too small, so I switched to Judges: The Perils of Possession by Rabbi Michael Hattin, from the Maggid Koren Tanakh series.

After dinner I checked my blog list and heard that Ashley Peterson, frequent commenter here, had died (see below). This brought my mood down. When I had dinner, I tried to finish reading Flowers for Algernon, which was a bad choice for my mood, but I just wanted to finish it; I was saving some comedy for later in the evening which I will definitely watch before bed, as I feel very depressed now. Unfortunately, Mum had the TV on, which made it hard to read (alternating between Strictly Come Dancing and The Chase, which were about the most distracting things it could have been, but anything would have distracted me really). I did finish the book after dinner.

I saw a post on the autism forum this evening from someone who says he’s suicidal because he’s lonely and still a virgin and has (in his opinion) no chance of changing any of this. I don’t think he gave his age, but I guessed twenties from a few things he wrote. I wanted to write something sympathetic, because I’ve been there, but also I’m nearly forty and kind of married and still a virgin, so it was hard to be fully sympathetic, especially as I’ve been missing E a lot recently, and I really wanted to say that thinking you have no hope for anything good in your life because you’re a twenty-something virgin is not clear thinking. In the end, I didn’t write anything; I decided the post was just triggering me because of missing E and thinking about Ashley’s death. I don’t think I can really help; not tonight, anyway. Then I found another post on the same forum by a twenty-five year old threatening suicide because he’s still a virgin. I feel I should be able to say something, but anything I say would be coming from a particular religious context and personal history context and probably won’t be helpful. I do think Western society places too much emphasis on sex and being sexually attractive. I’m glad the forum is moderated and the moderator posted links to crisis lines and the like.

***

LinkedIn keeps sending me emails to “connect” (equivalent of friend, follow, etc.) with my first girlfriend. Apparently we have a mutual connection, although I’m not sure who. I have no desire to connect with her. She does not work in any field that I am likely to work in. We parted on reasonably good terms, but I have not seen or heard from her for nine years and have no desire to do so. But there is no button for “Do not ask me again,” or “Block,” just one for “Connect.”

Seeing her photo or even her name sparks a load of strange and difficult feelings whenever LinkedIn sends me an email trying to connect me with her. It reminds me that she trampled over my boundaries about physical contact in our relationship and refused to support me with my mental health struggles the way I supported her in hers. There is more to say, but don’t think I should in public.

I don’t use LinkedIn much (at all, really – I only have twenty-three contacts, which is why I’m surprised I can’t work out who is the link with first girlfriend), but will probably have to if I try to set up as a freelance proof-reader, so I want to get it sorted.

***

This evening, I’ve been thinking a lot about Ashley Peterson. I knew her online for several years; I’m not sure how many, exactly, but quite a long time. She was one of the most frequent commenters on my blog.

I noticed recently that she hadn’t commented on my blog for a while, or anywhere else that I had seen, and certainly she hadn’t posted on her own blog for a while. I thought about emailing her, but she had said in the past that she gets got annoyed when people chase up on her when she’s depressed, as she doesn’t didn’t like the attention. So I didn’t do anything. Then a few days ago, two other bloggers emailed me in the space of about half-an-hour to ask if I’d heard from her. I said I hadn’t. We were all worried by that stage, and I think we guessed what happened (she’d been open about her depression worsening and having suicidal ideation), but didn’t want to say what we were thinking. None of us knew what to do.

Then after Shabbat, I saw that her family had posted on her blog that she had died. I wasn’t surprised, but I wasn’t sure what I did feel. Sad. Maybe numb. Then, quite a lot later, anger, not at her, but at other things, particularly those commenters on the autism forum.

I haven’t told my parents, I’m not sure why. They don’t know Ashley, but I should tell them I’ll be sad for a while. I should tell them before I go to bed. I can’t tell E for a bit, as it’s still Shabbat in New York. I feel like I want to cry writing this, and part of my brain says that’s crazy, as I didn’t know her that well (she was very private and I wouldn’t claim to be one of her closest blogging friends), but I feel I miss her already.

I don’t think a friend of mine has died before. I’ve lost friends to arguments or (more usually) drifting apart, but not through death.

I was thinking about what Ashley meant to me and I remembered a quote from the theologian and civil rights and anti-war protestor Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, that “Spiritual freedom means: flattering no one, neither oneself nor the world; not being subservient to anyone, neither to the self nor to society.”

I had actually posted that on my blog once, and she liked it. That’s how I think of her: independent, honest and vocal in speaking her mind, especially in the cause of justice.

Overthinking Character Traits and Novel Research

This is another post salvaged from being eaten by WordPress by copying and pasting into a Word document and then back into WP. This sometimes ruins the formatting; I’m sorry if it does that, but I don’t have the time/energy to sort it. I got up early for volunteering. I really wanted to stay in bed, but I needed to go to health and safety training for volunteering. I struggled to work out if I was feeling well enough after yesterday, but decided I did. When I got to the bus stop, I received a text from the person who coordinates volunteering (I’ll call her N) saying that we should bring photo ID to get into the building for the health and safety talk (usually we’re in the garage and don’t need to go past security). In addition, it quickly became apparent that there were bus delays. Other people at volunteering who get the same bus think that they quietly run fewer buses during half-term week; I don’t know if that’s true, but we had the same trouble last time it was half-term too. I phoned my Mum to ask what she thought I should do and she suggested I walk back home and she would give me a lift (I was already going to be late at this stage). As I walked back, I felt lightheaded again. It did seem to be linked strongly to the ID/bus stress. In the end, I got to the training half an hour late, but once I was there, the lightheadedness stopped. Training and volunteering itself were fine (although I did wonder a bit if we really needed a whole hour to tell us how to pick boxes up from the floor safely), but I left before coffee. I thought there would be no coffee this week because people had had it during the health and safety training and decided I would just go home after finishing my usual tasks. The coordinator said there was going to be coffee, but autistic rigidity took over and I “couldn’t compute” the change of plan and went home without really understanding why. This behaviour is frustrating. Even when I do it, I can see myself doing it and know why I’m doing it, and still can’t change it. I felt lightheaded again on the way home, but on this occasion it may have been travel sickness from reading on the bus. *** I sorted the business with the fine for the late submission of my tax return. It turns out that my tax return was late. I feel stupid about this, although I know it’s not exactly my fault; people I thought I could trust told me the deadline was different to what it was. I do still feel like I’m The Autistic Person Who Can’t Cope With Life though. I guess the lesson is: don’t trust people, look everything up yourself. To be fair to myself, there was a whole complicated question about whether I even needed to submit a tax return for that tax year, owing to a complicated work situation, so I should forgive myself a bit. *** Afterwards, I worked on my novel for an hour or so for the first time in a couple of months. I didn’t write anything, just worked on my plan, as since I last worked on it, I’ve decided I need to make some big changes to parts of it (the plan). This took longer than expected and I haven’t finished it yet. This was partly due to procrastination, but also due to lightheadedness, possibly triggered by the stress of feeling that changing the plan is a bigger task than I anticipated. *** Lately I’ve been catching myself with a lot of negative self-talk and inner criticism. I can’t work out if I’m criticising myself more or if I am just more aware of it. Is it good or bad? Bad that I’m doing it more or good that I’m catching it and trying to stop the thoughts. I think I’ve been avoiding getting stuck in those thoughts, even with things like the tax return today. *** I’ve said that I feel I have disadvantages and problems from being autistic, but that I don’t have the positive traits that other autistics say they have. I still think this is mostly true, but I’m not sure if it’s completely true. I certainly do blame autism for some of my shortcomings. But I wonder if I’m reluctant to attribute my positive traits to autism for fear that that would mean they are no longer my achievements, but just flukes. My character trait that I value most strongly is my integrity. During years of burnout/depression where I didn’t have a job or a relationship or many friends, I did at least value my integrity and think that God would value it too. Some would say that that kind of integrity comes from an autistic rigidity and unwillingness to break rules. That may be true. Does that mean that my integrity is not my own achievement, or that God will not value it? There is a Jewish idea that God determines everything about a person except whether they will be good or bad. That would seem to indicate that my integrity is my own achievement, yet it does seem influenced (at least) by my autism. Is this just another element of the problem of free will? After all, everyone’s morality is influenced by their environment to some extent. How guilty is a kleptomaniac? Conversely, it’s much easier not to steal if you are not homeless and hungry. Does being autistic mean I’m a less good person because integrity comes more naturally to me or not? It’s tricky. *** One thing I’m dealing with, in the context of my novel about a pornography addict, is wondering whether, or how much, I need to engage with the academic discussion around whether pornography addiction is real, or if behavioural addictions in general are really addictions in the sense that substance addictions like alcoholism are. I feel like if I don’t do some research and put something into the novel that shows I’m aware of the controversy for and against, I will get called out, but I’m not sure how relevant it really is to the narrative. From my point of view, the fact that I’m writing about a pornography addict pretty much shows that I’m at least open to the idea that it’s an addiction. I also don’t know how much research is “enough.” I don’t want to do a psychology PhD just to write my story! But I also don’t want to be accused of pushing particular views or treatment modalities when that isn’t really my intention. This has come to my attention again since seeing a post on Facebook a while back shared by someone I respect, a couples therapist. The post she shared was written by different couples therapist and argued that pornography addiction isn’t a true addiction. Unfortunately, the author seemed to have his own axe to grind, essentially blaming wives of addicts for not being sexy enough for their husbands or nagging too much and so on. That’s not quite what they said, but they did basically say that sex addiction is rooted in relationship problems, which are usually two-way. This does not really fit with the blogs I’ve read from addicts and their partners, where root causes in childhood trauma and other negative experiences of the addict are taken for granted by both addicts and partners. It did seem a bit like the author is a couples therapist, so argued for a couples therapy intervention, whereas an addiction therapist would argue for an addiction intervention. I’m just scared that if I send my protagonist down the route of treatment modality X (probably an addiction/Sexaholics Anonymous modality, as from my research so far that seems to be where the recovering addicts I’ve encountered have come from), then I’ll be told that this is wrong and I should have opted for modality Y (e.g. couples therapy). But if I combine them (e.g. the protagonist wants one modality, his wife another), that could just seem incoherent. In a world where everything is politicised and books are judged for the negative emotions they “trigger” as much as their artistic content (“By writing about treatment X, I felt erased for following treatment Y”), it is hard to know what to do. Possibly I’m over-thinking this.

Burnout Fears

Today was an OK day at work, enlivened (if that’s the right word), by feeling particularly awful when I got home. I hope I can go to volunteering tomorrow. I posted the following on the autism forum:

I feel exhausted after work. OK, many people, ND and NT [neurodivergent and neurotypical] do. It often feels like autistic exhaustion and I can’t do anything else that day and sometimes not the next either (I work two days a week). But over the last few months (I’m not sure when exactly), “exhausted” has become light-headed, dizzy, faint and generally unwell, although articulating more precise symptoms than “unwell” is hard. Sometimes it persists into the next day.

Has anyone else experienced autistic exhaustion like this?

Unfortunately, there are a lot of other potential suspects to eliminate:

– dehydration (but it doesn’t always go after drinking).

– low blood sugar (but it doesn’t always go after eating).

– low blood pressure (I do have low blood pressure, but this doesn’t seem like a normal ‘standing up too fast’ headrush and lasts a long time).

– medication side-effects (entirely possible, but I haven’t changed meds for a while, so it seems strange that it would just start).

– sleep issues (I’m being investigated for a sleep disorder, so it could be tiredness related to that, although sometimes it persists after sleeping).

Thanks for helping!

[End of quote.]

I’m probably going to go to the GP about this, either this week or next week. I can’t decide how urgent it is. Some people suggested diabetes or iron deficiency. I think I was checked for iron deficiency a few months ago, but I don’t remember when I was last checked for diabetes (years ago I had a GP who would test me annually for reasons I could never understand). Unfortunately, the comment that resonated most with me was the person who said it sounded like her “stress” symptoms, which in retrospect seem a lot like autistic burnout to her (and to me when she related it).

I do not want to burnout again!!!

I struggled through my BA and MA because of depression which seems to have involved a burnout component, at the very least. I spent years unemployed and pretty much doing nothing because of it! This is not how I want to start my married life! Even aside from the fact that burnout is not really well-understood or even acknowledged by all of the medical establishment. I really hope this doesn’t mean I can’t work at all, or even not in the going out to work sense as opposed to working from home (although if I can find a way to work from home, that would obviously be better).

***

E and I had a Skype call, but both of us were feeling exhausted and ill. Long-distance is hard when you feel ill and can’t just curl up together.

I started a rewatch of The Evil of the Daleks, a seven episode Doctor Who story from 1967. Only one episode survives, but the missing episodes have been animated using off-air audio recordings of the missing episodes. I watched this with E in the spring, but as it was the first Doctor Who story we watched together, and the first animated reconstruction she had seen, I was rather nervous and focused on her reaction. The animation on these reconstructions is not exactly Pixar standard and takes some getting used to and I wasn’t sure if she was put off by it. I wanted to rewatch to focus on the episodes. As E’s mother is staying with her, we can’t really watch Doctor Who ‘together separately’ as we had been doing for a while, so I thought this was a good time to watch it, especially after feeling disappointed and confused by last night’s new episode.

Come Back Bill Hartnell, All is Forgiven

I went to bed at 1am, but somehow woke up before 8am and couldn’t get back to sleep. I guess it was because I slept so much during the day. Anyway, I got up early, which was good, as long as I’m not sleep deprived tomorrow (I’m likely to go to bed late tonight because I speak to E late because of the time difference. And also because there was a feature-length episode of Doctor Who on this evening). It was good to be up early and to daven more of Shacharit (say more of the Morning Prayers) than I usually manage.

I looked into the demand for a tax return for the tax year ending April 2021. From both the dates and the reference number, I’m pretty sure that this is the tax year for which I submitted a tax return less than a month ago on the HMRC website. I do have an email receipt for that form, but it doesn’t specify the year, it just says that a copy was received. I don’t have a copy of the form itself, because it was all online (the problem of the all-digital approach). I will have to phone on Tuesday and find out what is going on. Worryingly, the tax return I filled in doesn’t seem to be on the ‘track progress’ page. Why is bureaucracy such a pain?

My alexithymia post on the autism forum met with some positive responses. Someone said that they try to identify their emotions by “birdwatching”: noting all their physical traits and working out what emotions they would indicate. It did make me think that, having to deduce my own emotions logically or empirically, and do the same for other people’s emotions, which I also struggle to read, then it’s no wonder I find personal interactions so draining! I spent quite a while responding to the comments on that post and reading and contributing on some other interesting/relevant posts.

It was quite a busy day besides this: my sister and brother-in-law came for lunch, I went for a walk and did some Torah study. I thought maybe I should try to see what I enjoy, in terms of recent thoughts here about trying to understand myself and what I would like to do better, and I enjoyed the walk (listening to a podcast) and the Torah study. I didn’t really get any new insights, but I think I found some good questions to think about in the future. It’s that kind of engagement with Torah that I enjoy, rather than passive reading. This was the fairly quiet day I hoped for last week and didn’t think I was going to get (I don’t think I could do literally nothing all day). I wanted to do some writing too, but ran out of time.

***

As a rule, I don’t get into political discussions online, but I read a blog post on The Times of Israel about a panel discussion by a couple of academics about the rise of Hitler, which inevitably concluded that “OMG, the USA today is like Germany in 1933!!!!!!!” This angered me so much that I wrote 500 word comment, which I had to halve because of a word count limit in comments, pointing out how wrong this is (I’m not linking as I commented under my real name). I know I’m bound to be criticised, but I just could not stand such ridiculous alarmism. Saying “There was inflation in the 1920s, there’s inflation now, IT’S THE SAME”is just nonsense. The hyper-inflation of Germany in the early 20s was much worse than today’s inflation: prices in stores rose hourly and people’s life savings were wiped out over night. That’s not happening today.

I said more and would have said even more if the word count had been longer, but the bottom line is that the world is bad enough as it is without make-believing that it’s much worse. I recommended people read The Coming of the Third Reich by Richard J. Evans to learn what Weimar Germany was really like. There seems to be a certain type of person who loves to feel that the Fascists are at the door, and only they can save civilisation.

***

The rest is about Doctor Who, feel free to skip.

In the evening, the BBC Centenary special episode of Doctor Who was on. I feel that the BBC celebrating itself is rather arrogant. I’m not feeling particularly well-disposed to the BBC at the moment, not least because The Jewish Chronicle has just submitted a petition to Parliament asking for a parliamentary inquiry into reporting of Jews, antisemitism and Israel at the BBC,  but also from a broader feeling that the BBC, for all it plugs itself as “for everyone” is actually for a very particular subset of the population: middle class, centre-left, secular, probably Boomer, culturally bourgeois, with some quite rigid views while preening itself as tolerant and cosmopolitan.

Moreover, I’ve lost a lot of interest in new Doctor Who over the last couple of years as a result of some uninspired episodes. I don’t even care enough to hate it, it’s just there. It’s clearly not made for someone of my aesthetic tastes any more, and I can’t even be bothered to complain about David Tennant and Russell T Davies coming back. Some things are just inevitable.

I found tonight’s episode badly-plotted, confusing to the point of unintelligibility, focused on spectacle rather than content, and loud and sentimental, but that’s par for the course. I liked some of the references to the past, but thought the sheer number of them was overdoing things. I don’t think that any of the three new series era Doctor Who showrunners have particularly liked science fiction or shown much interest in science fiction-based stories, although Steven Moffatt was clearly fascinated by time-travel stories, and all three are long-term Doctor Who fans. This lack of interest in science fiction among the showrunners for the BBC’s flagship science fiction show perhaps seems strange to non-fans, but Doctor Who has never been a straightforward science fiction show, more a genre hybrid with science fiction trappings, and many of the most avid fans (and some of its past creatives) have little interest in the genre as a whole. Even so, some affinity in writers is useful, to put it mildly.

In the twentieth century, Doctor Who was made on a relatively low budget and prioritised plot and character over effects and spectacle. In the twenty-first century, that situation is reversed, perhaps inevitably, as the show competes with TV and film blockbusters in the CGI era, working on a much smaller budget than the likes of the Star Wars and Marvel franchises. Even so, some of the greatest episodes of the new series era have been relatively low key in terms of effects, and probably filmable fifty or sixty years ago without too much rewriting concentrating on character and suspense, not spectacle (e.g. Father’s Day, Human Nature/The Family of Blood, Blink, Midnight, The Doctor’s Wife, Heaven Sent, Rosa).

Chris Chibnall’s first season as showrunner was oddly low-key and had no absolute classics, although Rosa (about Rosa Parks) came close. But it had a number of stories that made me think, “I didn’t know Doctor Who could do that” and left me interested and hopeful for the future. But since then Chibnall has mostly focused on spectacle with only Flux: Village of the Angels really standing out in my memory, and having only seen it once, I’m not sure how much of that is my memory cheating. The scenes in the later episodes of Flux with Yaz, Dan and Professor Jericho having fun, clever, adventures left me wishing that the whole series could be like that, but now Doctor Who is made by fans, for fans and the series thinks that Time Lords, Daleks, Cybermen and the Master are inherently interesting on screen without doing anything interesting. This was how I reacted to the programme as a child, but then I grew up and found secondary layers of meaning. But, with a budget twentieth century Doctor Who producers could only dream of, twenty-first century Doctor Who doesn’t need to grow up, it can show us that Dalek-Cyberman-Master team up that the twentieth century version would never have dared show us (I guess The Five Doctors is the closest). The problem is for those of us who want something more, some original ideas rather than plot contrivances or eerie atmosphere rather than wall-to-wall explosions.

I feel I’ve written this review a lot over the last seventeen years, and I don’t want to upset or offend anyone, as I’ve got to a point where I realise this (Doctor Who, but popular culture generally) isn’t really made for me and I have to find my entertainment elsewhere or make it myself. I don’t privilege my opinion any more or feel any more that there’s some kind of “spirit of Doctor Who” that has been betrayed and that I am more in touch with it than other people. It’s just not really made for me any more, although I still watch out of a mixture of curiosity and hope. I feel better knowing this, less bitter and rejected.

Black Box

I did not have a good Shabbat (Sabbath). I felt too exhausted and ill to go to shul (synagogue). I feel exhausted from the Jewish festivals and that I’ve been on the go for months without a break (wedding, visa application, festivals and work disruption). Having dinner with my parents when drained can be difficult, as they make small talk the whole time and I often find it overwhelming, particularly if Dad starts asking me questions to try to “bring me into the conversation.” I haven’t really been able to explain to him that my brain is wired in a way that small talk is difficult and uninteresting for me.

After dinner I read the Chofetz Chaim on Pirkei Avot (Torah study) book for fifteen minutes and finished it, but then I fell asleep. I woke up around 2am. I was too tired to quickly get ready for bed and go back to sleep, which paradoxically meant that I began to wake up before I could get back to bed and I couldn’t sleep. I spent the next couple of hours reading, then fell asleep around 4am. Then I fell asleep again this afternoon, after lunch with my parents. Last Monday (Shmini Atzeret), they were out for lunch and I ate on my own, and I didn’t fall asleep afterwards, although I felt tired. I wonder if this is connected. I didn’t used to react like this. I feel like I’m becoming more autistic, which is impossible; more likely, I find it harder to mask and pass as allistic (non-autistic).

I felt very overwhelmed both when I woke up in the night and during the day today. I still felt tired and had loads of thoughts in my head about what I wanted to do, needed to do and so on. I managed very little Torah study and was glad that I managed to pray at all, although my kavannah (mindfulness in prayer) was rubbish.

After Shabbat, I looked at my existing To Do list, and the list of things that needed to go on the To Do list. Quite a lot of the existing tasks are long-term things related to the wedding that we can’t move forwards with until E gets her visa, so at least I don’t have to worry about them right now. There is still a lot to do, though, including sorting the whole tax situation from last week; booking at trip to New York; setting myself up as a proof-reader; and trying to get back into a regular pattern of exercising, novel researching and novel writing.

I miss E a lot too. Long-distance is hard.

***

I just posted the following on the autism forum, about the ‘Black Box’ that is the emotional part of my brain:

Does anyone else have alexithymia (difficulty understanding and describing their own emotions)? I do have emotions, but I often struggle to understand or describe them, especially if they’re subtle or conflicted. This has arguably been a problem when trying to access mental health services or even being aware of my slides into depression.

Some emotions are powerful enough to make their presence felt, particularly the terrible trio of depression, anxiety and despair, but others can be harder to feel. Even strong positive emotions can be hard to find; sometimes I have to look for practical evidence to prove that I really do love my family, because I’m not sure what I feel. A lot of the time I feel rather numb and blank, sometimes with a faint undertone of mild depression or mild anxiety.

My main way of processing emotions is through writing. I’ve written a journal-type blog most days since 2006 (excluding an eighteen month period where I stopped) and that helps me process the events of the day, as well as get feedback from my small, but supportive readership. This probably sounds strange, but sometimes I don’t really know how I feel about things until I write them down. I’ve tried private journaling, but somehow I need a sense of an audience, even a very small one, to give me the impetus to communicate. If I can’t write on one day for some reason, I tend to carry around all the thoughts of that day with me and feel a need to offload.

I write fiction to try to understand bigger emotions, including ones that I haven’t personally experienced. I’ve always read a lot too and I think that’s probably an attempt to learn about emotions, on some level. I guess I get that from TV and film too, although I find modern TV and film overwhelming in its amplified display of emotions sometimes, at least what I see of it (which isn’t much).

I would be interested to hear of anyone else who struggles with this, as it feels quite isolating sometimes, something that even other autistic people don’t experience. I would also like to know if anyone has tips or coping mechanisms.

***

Another thing I’ve been thinking about lately is how much my identity has become located at the intersection (to use an over-used and over-politicised, but useful, word) of autism and Orthodox Judaism. I feel like being autistic gives me struggles that allistic (non-autistic) Orthodox Jews don’t have, but being an Orthodox Jew gives me struggles that other autistic people don’t necessarily have, in terms of things I’ve described here about Judaism being such a social religion. I don’t know which I would consider my primary identity; I think both are pretty integral to who I am. I probably need to think about this some more to find practical solutions.

Precedented Times

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

***

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

What Do You Want?

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

Simchat Torah Mini-Post

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

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

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

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

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

Guilt, and Being

Shabbat (the Sabbath) was a bit of a battle with exhaustion and guilt. I was too exhausted for shul (synagogue) last night. I felt a bit better after dinner and did some Torah study, but went to bed late as a result (juggling pros and cons of doing things vs. relaxing is hard). I woke up about 7.40am, decided I wasn’t going to shul, felt guilty for not going to shul because I felt it was basically social anxiety keeping me away, decided to say a few of the morning prayers (Birkat HaShachar and the Shema), then felt totally exhausted by that five minutes of praying and wondered if it was exhaustion keeping me away from shul after all. Slept for a while longer, hurried to get dressed and eat breakfast in the sukkah (the hut in the garden that we eat in during the festival of Sukkot) before my parents’ friends came for Kiddush. Alternated praying and stopping to recuperate, because I was that exhausted. Felt guilty for not answering the door while praying when one of my parents’ friends was late. I really was praying, but if I hadn’t had social anxiety, I probably would have interrupted one of the less important prayers. I was just scared of having to speak to someone I didn’t know well. No one heard her and by the time I got the courage to go downstairs, she had gone. We had lunch in the sukkah, but it started raining, so we went in after the soup. Then it stopped raining and we stayed inside and I felt slightly guilty, although halakhically there is no need to go back out. I did have seudah (the third Shabbat meal, more of a snack at this time of year) in the sukkah, and dinner after Shabbat. I dozed in the afternoon, which is bad because (a) it will mess up my sleep further, (b) it reduced the Torah study and recreational reading I could do and (c) arguably I should have slept in the sukkah, but I think it was too cold even at 3.30 in the afternoon. So, more guilt.

I know that wasn’t terribly readable, but I wrote it as it seems to me, just one thing after another, most of them bringing guilt with them. Not relaxing at all. Although the nap in the afternoon was quite refreshing.

***

Lately, when I’ve been experiencing (what I think is) autistic exhaustion, I feel light-headed. It seems to have been getting worse, or maybe I just notice it more. I am not sure if this is a normal symptom, or if it is related to low blood pressure (which I think I also have). So little is known about autistic exhaustion. There is also the feeling that my brain is being squished, which I’m pretty sure is autistic exhaustion, although goodness knows what actually causes it (I’m assuming my brain isn’t actually being squished, and I’m doubtful that there are nerves inside it that would experience a sensation if it was being squished).

***

In other news, I miss E and winter is approaching with all that entails, and there are still another three days of Chol HaMoed and Yom Tov (semi-festival and festival days)!!!!!! And then straight into two consecutive days of work again afterwards. I don’t want to sound sacrilegious, but I am ready for a return to normal weeks with normal schedules I can cope with and where I know what to expect.

 ***

On Friday night, I read a short devar Torah from a blog that I had printed out before Shabbat. Written by Tanya White, an English Orthodox Jewish educator living in Israel, it presents Kohelet (Ecclesiastes) through the lens of the story of Kayin and Hevel (Cain and Abel), via a wordplay that doesn’t really work in translation (Hevel is the same word-root as “Hevel hahevelim” “Vanity of vanities” at the start of Kohelet).

The devar Torah drew on Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchiks’ The Lonely Man of Faith. This looks at the different creation narratives in the first and second chapters of Bereshit (Genesis) and posits two different modes of human nature, the “Majestic” (creating, controlling, dominating) and the “Covenantal” (contemplative, spiritual, being). White’s argument is that Kayin was Majestic and Hevel Covenantal. To Kayin, focused on having things, the experience of not-having (not having God’s approval for his sacrifice) was too much to bear and he killed his brother to destroy the feelings of finitude, inadequacy and “nothingness” provoked inside him by Hevel’s sacrifice being accepted while his was not.

Reading Kohelet and living in the sukkah is, according to White, a chance to contemplate and accept the “nothingness” in our lives. By this, I think she means that Sukkot reminds us that we really own nothing, that our lives are fragile and transient, even our houses and possessions are really shacks that could blow down and this is OK because God is in control, not us.

The reason I thought about this so much over Shabbat was it resonated with a discussion I’d been having with Angela (Best/Worst of Times blog and Letting Go of Me podcast)  about disability and not being able to do things we once could do or want to do (although we have different disabilities) and about living a life of meaning rather than doing. The devar Torah reminded me of the concept of covenantal living, just experiencing being, and the importance of living life in this way (although Rabbi Soloveitchik’s point was that we need to live both majestically and covenantally, not one or the other).

This in turn made me think of Eichah (Lamentations) 3.28: “Let him sit alone and be silent, for He has laid it upon him.” The Mishnah (Pirkei Avot 3.2) sees this as proof that, although Torah is ideally studied in pairs, even if a person studies alone, God will reward him. In a religion focused on doing, this is a support for just being and contemplating.

***

From another blog: “The Torah has no commandment ‘Be normal.’”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 ***

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

List A. Things I would be very good at:

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

List B. What I would be hopeless at:

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

***

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

Yom Tov Burnout

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

***

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

***

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

Family, Friends and Idols

My sister was here for Shabbat, without her husband. He’s in the USA for a family wedding, but her pregnancy is too advanced for her to fly, so she came to spend Shabbat with us instead of spending it alone. I worry that I kept staring at her bump; part of my mind doesn’t accept that it’s real and half-expects her to pull a football out from under her jumper. Shabbat was strangely like a Shabbat of years ago, with just the four of us (parents, sister, me). We had a very long dinner which mostly consisted of my Mum and my sister telling us about the very difficult days they had that day. It was fun, though, and I didn’t get too drained.

I ended up doing nearly an hour of Torah study afterwards, which I didn’t intend. I’m currently studying Sefer HaMadah, the first volume of the Mishnah Torah, the Jewish law code of Rambam (Hebrew acronym for Rabbi Moshe ben Maimon, generally known to the Western world as Maimonides). I’m studying it largely because I got it free from a pile of books that were going to be buried which I plundered (with permission) at volunteering. The book deals with the metaphysical foundations of the Torah, the laws of improving character, Torah study, idol worship and repentance.

I’m currently on the idol worship treatise and I’m wondering if it was a mistake as it’s triggering some religious OCD thoughts about idolatry. I think I worry more about idolatry, and am simply a lot more conscious of it, than most Orthodox Jews seem to be. Even in a post-Christian culture that hasn’t been pagan for a thousand years, there is idolatry in lots of places, from Beatles songs to Asterix books to all kinds of segulah nonsense in the Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) world, let alone more metaphorical idolatry (technically, putting any value ahead of God is idolatry, so the ultra-nationalism of parts of the Religious Zionist world or the “gadolatry” (veneration of elderly scholars) in the Haredi world could count).

It’s more literal idolatry that triggers the OCD, but I get interested in non-Jewish religion sometimes and want to learn about it, mainly as part of my interest in history, but I guess also from my tendency to want to ‘test’ my Jewish beliefs. I go to the British Museum a lot. Possibly I am a strange, conflicted person (browsing on the frum/no-longer-frum dialogue community I just joined makes me think that this is probably true, and some things E has said, although she put it more politely). However, I don’t like leaving books half-read, and I only have a few more pages of this section, so I will probably stick with it.

I went to bed rather late because of this. I woke up about 7.20am, got up to go to the toilet, said the Shema prayer (as I guessed, correctly, I would sleep through the time to say it) and went back to bed. I probably should have stayed up, but I wanted more than six hours sleep after a stressful week with several early starts.

After lunch I managed to stay awake and did some Talmud study, doing it more seriously than I have for a while, looking up Aramaic words I don’t know in the dictionary and quotations from Tanakh (Hebrew Bible) in the original source rather than relying on the translation and commentary. I did get quite tired after that, and haven’t done a lot else with the day except read A Wrinkle in Time and browsing on the frum/no-longer-frum dialogue community after Shabbat.

***

The FB group has inspired some thoughts in me, some of which probably are a bit OCD. I’ll need to watch that and check it doesn’t get out of control. I’m not sure that I made the right decision joining that FB group and am already wondering if I should leave. Now I’m inside the group and can read posts, I think it’s going to be triggering. I assumed it would be roughly equal numbers of frum and ex-frum people, but perhaps inevitably it’s most ex-frum. Most are polite, but I feel I don’t have to scroll far down the page for people being unnecessarily snarky about Judaism and assuming everyone has the beliefs and attitudes of the most Haredi (which presumably is what they grew up with).

I also find it strange reading people’s accounts of their doubts with Judaism growing as they researched various areas, leading ultimately to disbelief and leaving the community (or sometimes being stuck in it because of family ties). This prompts strange feelings in me, as I feel I had all those doubts at times, and sometimes still do have them, but that I was never convinced enough by them to leave. To borrow a phrase from Rabbi Lord Sacks z”tzl, I sometimes feel that I am a “lapsed atheist.” So many of my character traits, interests, experiences, friends, thoughts would seem to push me to atheism, but ultimately I still believe and live as a Jew, and think I have good reason to do so, and I think, peering through the alexithymia, on some level I find believing and living Jewishly to be true and meaningful for me. (I don’t know how to ‘sell’ this belief to others though.)

***

Speaking of the FB group, there was some discussion there about frum people often only having friends within the frum community and who cut off ties to friends or family who stop being religious. I find I’m the reverse: I seem to find it easier to make friends outside the frum community (including people who aren’t Jewish at all). I don’t know why this is the case, although I can think of several reasons:

Although as an autistic, I’m always ‘masking,’ I mask less with non-frum people because I’m not worried about being judged as ‘not frum enough.’

I find it easier to connect with people with a shared interest like Doctor Who, literature and writing or mental health blogging. Judaism could be a shared interest, but, again, I get scared to speak about it from impostor syndrome (or whatever you want to call it).

I have few friends, but that makes me value them more despite any differences of opinion.

I don’t try to force my beliefs down other people’s throats, so non-frum/non-Jewish people don’t feel threatened/bored/annoyed by me.

Living with less-frum family members has meant I had to learn how to navigate differences of practice from a young age (although my family tend to believe the same things I do. If anything, they’re probably more ‘fundamentalist’ as I have a fairly rationalistic approach to issues like Torah/science conflicts, Midrash, miracles, kabbalah and so on these days that they don’t necessarily share).

***

I have a lot to do tomorrow, getting ready for Sukkot (Jewish festival starting in the evening), so I should probably get to bed soon, although I don’t feel particularly tired.

That’s Me in the Corner

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

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

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

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

***

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

***

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

***

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

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