Normalising Religious Struggle

Yesterday and today I listened to an episode of the Normal Frum Women podcast on Normalizing Religious Struggle. I thought it was a brave episode for opening up the whole idea of religious struggle, whereas usually in the Orthodox world people suppress any religious struggles they are having and don’t talk about them with others.

I did find it interesting that the podcast focused mainly on halakhic and sociological struggles, that is, practical struggles rooted in Jewish law or the Jewish community, rather than theological struggle. Maybe it’s because I’ve had a lot of theological struggles over the years (a while back I listed about a dozen different potential philosophical or textual arguments against God and Judaism, and I’ve wrestled with most of them in my time) or maybe it’s because when I joined the blogosphere around 2005/2006, there was a lot of fierce discussion of theological challenges, particularly evolutionary science (the fallout from the Slifkin Affair[1] was still, well, falling out) and Biblical Criticism (Higher Criticism; Lower Criticism didn’t seem to bother people as much).

Either way, it did make me wonder if people were too scared to voice doubts about the existence of God or the divine origin of the Torah in public or if people simply care more about a practical issue (how women should dress or how to clean vegetables of insects) than anything more abstract. Certainly the “how should women dress?” issue is probably on some level a proxy for deeper, and perhaps partially philosophical, discontent about women’s role in the Orthodox world. This was actually voiced by one woman on the podcast, a lawyer, who felt more respected for her intelligence and professionalism in her non-Jewish workplace than in the Orthodox community.

Despite this, it was a very brave topic to broach, so I thought I would talk about some of my own struggles.

My big halakhic struggle was around 2016-17 (I think… to be honest, that period of my life is a mess of anxiety and despair when I look back it). At this time, my religious OCD was at its height and the whole issue of kashrut, the dietary laws, particularly regarding separating dairy and meat, and the special Pesach (Passover) dietary laws became almost unmanageable to me in the volume and intensity of anxiety they threw at me. It wasn’t until I did exposure therapy that I began to realise that most of the conflicts were imaginary, inasmuch as the halakhic (Jewish law) issues I saw simply weren’t there. Until then, I was consumed almost constantly with anxiety that we (my parents and I) had treifed up (made religiously inedible) our kitchen. I asked almost daily questions of rabbis and the London Bet Din Kashrut Division question service (which was probably not intended to be used that way). Almost everything was OK, but I was terrified of having done the wrong thing, particularly with regard to Pesach (where, to be fair, we had done some things wrong in the past).

I felt that God would punish me for doing wrong, but I was also terrified of having some major fall-out with my parents where I wouldn’t eat in their home. The fear of argument with my parents is telling, as it seems likely that the OCD was largely triggered by our moving house when I didn’t want to move, as well as the fact that I was conscious of still living with my parents in my thirties due to my history mental of illness. (I did in fact move out at one point to try to get things under control.) The OCD made my already existent depression worse and for a while I was deeply depressed and struggling to have any kind of joy in my religious life (or any other aspect of my life, for that matter) and I viewed kashrut and Pesach with a mixture of dread and anger. For a while I became very angry and resentful of God and the calmer religious lives other people seemed to lead. Fortunately, I’m a lot better these days, although I have to be vigilant against falling back into bad habits of checking and questioning; even this week I’ve felt myself slipping slightly and needing to be strong.

My main problem nowadays is sociological rather than halakhic. I still struggle desperately to fit in to an Orthodox world that seems geared up for neurotypical, confident, healthy married couples, not an autistic, socially anxious and sometimes depressed older unmarried person. I would of course suffer in any neurotypical social environment, but the Orthodox world has a lot of specific stressors, from an approach to prayer and religious study that is often louder and more vocal than in other religions to a culture of intricate ritual even in interpersonal interactions. This is compounded by consciousness of being a ba’al teshuva (someone not raised religious who became religious later in life) and my regret at not having gone to yeshiva (rabbinical seminary), even though I doubt I would have been happy there.

Related to the last point is my consciousness of not being able to study Talmudic texts independently or even really to keep up in group discussion, even when I prepare in advance (which I do at least try to do). I do feel like there is something lacking almost in my masculinity, in Jewish terms, from my not being able to study Talmud, something which is only compounded by my failure (so far) to marry and procreate. The fact that I am (I think) reasonably good at understanding aggadic (non-legal) Jewish religious texts is a strange kind of consolation prize, as this skill is not rated highly in the Orthodox community, particularly among men. I used to be able to daven from the amud (lead services), but since moving communities, my social anxiety has kicked in there too and I try to avoid it, so that’s another area where I could have felt that I was fitting in, but don’t and instead seem passive and ‘useless’ (by the community’s standards).

The reality I have come to lately is that my problems are as much due to my faulty autistic brain wiring than the community itself. I struggled to feel accepted in online Doctor Who fandom too, a much more open and less rule-bound environment, so maybe it is too much to ask to feel accepted in the Orthodox Jewish world. As with my religious OCD, my fears are probably more imagined than real. I don’t know how other people at my shul (synagogue) view me, but lately I’ve become more open to the idea that they don’t hate me and think I’m an idiot, which I guess is progress.

A side-light on this comes from Yeshiva Days: Learning on the Lower East Side, Jonathan Boyarin’s ethnographic study of yeshiva study (“learning”) in a New York yeshiva, which I’ve been reading the last few days. Part of the interest for me is the way Boyarin negotiates his situation being, on the one hand, an ethnographer doing a study project and, on the other, being a Jew wanting to study Torah for its own sake (albeit by his own admission a Jew less Orthodox and strictly observant than the other people he meets at the yeshiva). It’s a kind of hokey cokey of being an insider and an outsider successively or even at the same time. I find it interesting that I understand and relate to my own community better through the eyes of ethnographers like Boyarin or Sarah Bunin Benor (Becoming Frum: How Newcomers Learn the Language and Culture of Orthodox Judaism) than I do in person. Maybe that’s the autism/Asperger’s again.

Ultimately, as the podcast stated, Judaism is ultimately a relationship, involving trade-offs and compromises. I’ve never got to the point with Judaism where I’ve walked out — not a trial separation and certainly not a divorce. I suppose that must count for something. Past theological issues notwithstanding, I think I have a deep level of faith in God and Torah that transcends any particular doubts or social awkwardness. The thought of not being Jewish in an Orthodox sense seems barely imaginable, even as I acknowledge that the vast majority of Jews, let alone non-Jews, are happy with living their lives that way. This is my identity in a very deep-seated and secure way, even if I can’t articulate it to others. In some ways, the inarticulacy is the proof of how embedded it is in my psyche; it’s deeper than words.

I feel uncomfortable with much of the discussion around intersectionality, but I feel that the last five months, since my autism/Asperger’s diagnosis, have led me to a re-examination of the “intersection” of my Jewish and autistic identities and a sense that, even if my behaviour and socialisation doesn’t meet the required standards of the community, it is at least the best I could do. Perhaps a better, if darker, image than ‘intersectionality’ is drawn from Kafka’s unfinished novel The Castle, which he said would end with the main character, K, being told on his deathbed, that his legal claim to live in the village was not recognised, yet he was permitted to live and work there, an image that combines acceptance and isolation at once.

[1] Rabbi Nosson Slifkin, as he then was, wrote three books on Torah/science controversies, including, but not limited to, creationism and apparent scientific errors in the Talmud. He only quoted accepted mainstream rabbinical sources. He largely accepted modern science and reinterpreted problematic statements in the Torah as metaphorical, and saw those in the Talmud as simply errors coming from the rabbis relying on the science of day rather than being based on a religious tradition that had to be accepted as revelation. This approach is based on major Jewish thinkers like Rambam (Moses Maimonides) and Rabbi S. R. Hirsch and initially gained cautious acceptance even in parts of the Haredi world (ultra-Orthodox), but eventually the books were banned by a number of prominent Haredi rabbis, causing a huge ruckus about both science and Torah and about the limits of rabbinic power that still thunders on in parts of the internet. In the early days of the Jewish blogosphere, where someone stood on the Slifkin controversy became an indicator of how Haredi or ‘modern’ they were.

***

As for today, the morning was taken up with volunteering for the food bank. We were short-staffed again (I guess some of the younger people are still leading summer camps and maybe others are on holiday), so I was glad I went. It was cooler this week and I didn’t get a migraine. I did have to shleppe a lot of stuff, especially as we didn’t seem to have the trolleys we usually use. The afternoon was mostly taken with writing this post, which may not have been the most productive use of my time, but helped me unwind a bit. I also spent an hour or so writing a glossary for the (nearly 100) Hebrew and Yiddish words and phrases used in my novel. I’m not sure how consistent and thorough I was. It’s really intended as a quick reference and not a detailed philological guide! Also, the word ‘Yiddishkeit‘ is really hard to define. But this means that my novel is pretty much ready to go out into the world and try to find an agent and a publisher!

I watched another episode of The Blue Planet and was struck by the penguins: ungainly and even comical on land; graceful and elegant in the water. There is probably a lesson in there about fitting in to your environment, although I’m not sure how it applies to me and shul.

I Lost My Heart to a Starship Trooper

I struggled to sleep again last night, although the temperature has dropped a bit. I’m not sure why I’m having trouble sleeping at the moment (trouble falling asleep; I have no trouble staying asleep, unfortunately!); maybe it’s connected with the slight uptick of anxiety and irrational (I think irrational) guilt I’ve had lately. Drinking hot chocolate seemed to help, and it’s far fewer calories than eating porridge, which I had been doing when insomniac. I think I’m adjusting to the sweetness, which may not be a good thing.

Work was pretty dull and I felt I was clock-watching even more than usual. I don’t know how people do dull office jobs 9.00am-5.00pm and five days a week. Part of the day was spent looking for invoices that we didn’t have, and which probably don’t exist, which is irrationally more frustrating than if I’d spent an identical amount of time and energy searching for invoices we do have.

I was surprisingly busy when I got home, doing some late research for my novel (see below), cooking dinner (plain pasta, I didn’t have that much energy) and trying to do more Torah study (I do some on the Tube into work), but being too tired to do much, and then feeling vaguely guilty about prioritising novel research over Torah, although I honestly thought there would be a period after dinner where I would feel more alert and less distracted for having eaten before the tiredness set in.

I told E yesterday that I’m vaguely anxious lately, and vaguely anxious about why I’m getting anxious, which I suppose is meta-anxiety (anxiety about anxiety).

***

I’m currently reading Yeshiva Days: Learning on the Lower East Side, an ethnographic study of a yeshiva (“rabbinical seminary” although many of the students are not intending to become rabbis, and certainly not communal rabbis) in New York by Jonathan Boyarin. It was supposed to plant ideas of incidents or anecdotes for my novel, but it’s not really the same type of institution my protagonist (I can’t really think of him as a ‘hero’ despite/because he’s based on me) attended. It is interesting to read, though.

It did make me wonder whether I misunderstood what yeshiva study involves somewhere along the line, although the institution in the book isn’t the type of yeshiva that I could have studied at, not least because it isn’t residential (the thought of communal living and shared dorms is hugely off-putting). Boyarin spends some time looking at the intersection between the yeshiva and popular culture. He says there are more references to popular culture than would have been the case at a more “right-wing” (=fundamentalist) yeshiva, but at the same time I think references are mainly to popular culture that people grew up with (either before becoming religious or when a child and allowed more freedom), rather than contemporary popular culture they might experience as an adult. In other words, it’s OK to have had access to popular culture, but not necessarily to have access to it now. I’ve noticed this in my shul (synagogue) too (the rabbi referenced Space 1999 this week!). I saw something similar on a blog years ago, where the blogger said that even in very fundamentalist communities where university was forbidden, it was OK, even celebrated, to have gone to university in the past, particularly if you got a prestigious qualification like medicine, just as long as you weren’t currently at or planning to go to university.

Watching Boyarin navigate the multiple levels of meaning and depth (religious, political, social, humorous) in the conversations at the yeshiva, I realise that maybe it’s not surprising that I struggle in similar situations. After all, Boyarin struggles at times, and he isn’t (I assume) on the autism spectrum. And when I say conversations, I don’t just mean the study conversations; even the casual bantering can work on multiple levels and require effort to keep up with it. (I have seen this at shul too.)

Reading the book, I’m brought back to what I think I’ve wanted since university, even if I haven’t always been able to articulate it: a chevra, a group of friends who I really connect with and can feel comfortable talking to and joking around with, like I used to have at school, where there were only about five people I could talk to (out of a school of 1,500), but I was completely unselfconscious with them. This is possibly not something I should be looking to replicate (even aside from Asperger’s/autism).

***

At least E knows what to say to me. Her verdict on Doctor Who: Rise of the Cybermen (new series, 2006): “that episode just sort of seemed like an inferior reworking of Genesis of the Daleks” (original series, 1975).😍

Shabbat Hazon and Tisha B’Av (Mood Diary, Not Another Religious Post)

Shabbat (the Sabbath) was OK, except that I did not manage to fall asleep until 3am on Friday night, possibly because of the heatwave, so I overslept and missed shul in the morning again.

I went to shul (synagogue) for Minchah (Afternoon Prayers) and Talmud shiur (religious class), then went again after seudah for a pre-Tisha B’Av drasha. It was good, but I felt self-conscious not just in a blue shirt, but no jacket or tie. I think I could have got away with no tie, but I should have worn a jacket. My parents said I would be too hot and I agreed, but deep down I knew that everyone in my shul would be wearing a jacket even if they took it off on reaching shul. Also, the rabbi had said something about my wearing a blue shirt during the Talmud shiur — not critical, but it made me feel self-conscious.

I didn’t have a low chair for Tisha B’Av and was planning on just sitting on the floor (Tisha B’Av is a day of mourning for the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem; in Judaism, sitting low down or on the floor is a sign of mourning). Someone lent me a low chair, but I didn’t want to use it. I’m not sure why. I was a little worried it was higher than permitted, but I think mainly I just felt too self-conscious by that stage: was he being friendly or did he think I was a total am ha’aretz? And my non-leather trainers (not wearing leather shoes is another mourning custom) weren’t particularly comfortable either, although that could have been from sitting on the floor. I also got confused too about when to wear a COVID mask, and realised that I gave my mother mistaken instructions regarding end of Shabbat ceremonies when Tisha B’Av starts immediately afterwards.

Along with this, I couldn’t really follow Eichah (The Book of Lamentations, read on Tisha B’Av). I don’t know why I’ve found it so hard to engage with it the last few years. I just can’t follow or connect. To be fair, I find the Hebrew quite hard to translate in my head, but even following along seems to be hard. I just can’t concentrate that much at 10pm, especially in a heatwave and while sitting on the floor (and feeling socially awkward). Then in my shul we do kinot (laments) to ourselves, really quickly rather than slowly and communally as in my old shul. I read some kinot in Hebrew without really connecting with the poetic Hebrew, so I switched to English (really the only time of the year where I say set prayers in English), but still ran out of time. I did the last kinah at home, in Hebrew, but looking at some of the English, which felt a bit better.

As usual after Shabbat when I’m in shul I helped to fold up the tablecloths, but I’m so bad at that that I feel I would be better off not helping, except that it feels wrong to just walk out without helping. I was reminded of something I said on Ashley’s blog last week about autistic people wanting to help, but actually just getting in the way.

I struggled to sleep again last night, because of the heatwave, because of creative thoughts I kept having that I kept getting up to write down, and perhaps because shul had left me feeling disquieted. Perhaps consequently I overslept today, and when I woke up, I was not able to get up for a long time. I felt utterly drained again, and perhaps somewhat depressed, and aware that I didn’t want to break my fast until halakhic midday, a little after 1pm. I missed Shacharit (Morning Prayers. I think I finally got up about 2.30pm, made havdalah (on tea) and had something to eat. I felt a bit better after that, but I did feel that I wasn’t quite in the right mindset for Tisha B’Av, but also that I was scared to get into that dark mindset. I read Hasidic Tales of the Holocaust for a bit (a book I’ve been reading only on Tisha B’Av; in about five years, I have not finished it yet, although I might try to finish the few remaining pages before next year) and listened to a Zoom talk on antisemitism via my shul. I also went to a Zoom shiur (religious class), again through my shul, but the organiser hit “Mute all” and forgot to unmute the speaker’s computer, so it was inaudible. Someone posted in the chat to say there was no sound, but it took a while for someone present at the shiur to notice and unmute it.

I feel like I don’t find Tisha B’Av as meaningful as I used to, and I don’t know why. Not fasting (because of the danger of fasting while taking lithium tablets) is probably a big part of it. Fasting used to make me ill (headache, nausea, sometimes vomiting), but not fasting feels like not really participating. I tended to avoid shul during the day even pre-COVID, because I don’t want to have to turn down a mitzvah because I’m not fasting. Plus, I often experience burnout after the night of Tisha B’Av from the shul experience (as much social anxiety as religious devotion this year, as I said above) and then crash on the morning and struggle to get up, especially as I try to fast until halakhic midday. Or maybe not being depressed means that Tisha B’Av is not the day that I most connect with emotionally any more, the one where I can easily get into the right state of mind. To be honest, I feel like as a general rule I’m not as connected to the festivals and fasts as I’d like to be, and I don’t know how to change that. I spend so much of holy days either worried about social interactions or sleeping and trying not to oversleep that religion struggles to get in there.

I did write a Tisha B’Av thought, on the suggestion of my rabbi mentor that it would make the day more meaningful for me. I wasn’t sure what to do with it, though. In the end I posted it here, although it’s not really a good match for my blog, but I don’t want to send it to my devar Torah mailing list as it doesn’t seem right for there either — maybe not quite frum (religious) enough and a bit too daring.

Carry That Weight

I went to bed ridiculously late last night. I’m not sure why; I don’t really have an excuse except bad time management and the fact that I generally prefer to go to bed late and get up late unless I have a good external reason not to do so. Still, I felt shockingly drained and burnt out when I woke up today, low mood and zero energy, and I’m not really sure why. I didn’t think I did that much yesterday, but maybe I did, or maybe I’ve just been pushing myself too hard cumulatively lately, to try to finish the latest draft of my novel so that E can read it and so that I can start looking for an agent and a publisher; trying to keep up with my shiurim (religious classes) and divrei Torah (Torah thoughts) as well as prayer and other Torah study; trying to exercise (which has almost dropped off the radar totally), to help around the house a bit and so on.

I listened to music to try to lift my mood a little and get energy. I feel bad about doing that in the Three Weeks of mourning when religious Jews are not supposed to listen to music. I know my rabbi mentor said it was OK, but part of me at least feels too functional to take advantage of that, and I have a lot of uncertainty about whether what I feel is “really” autistic burnout or what. Autistic burnout is a poorly-understood phenomenon, only recognised as a real thing by the psychiatric world about five years ago. But what I really want is to shave my itchy Three Weeks beard off, which is driving me crazy. But I will wait until Monday afternoon for that, as I’m supposed to.

E is really supportive, but we both feel frustrated about being on different continents and not knowing when that will end.

After lunch, I felt a little better. I drafted my devar Torah. It ended up not being what I intended, as the introduction grew too long and became the bulk of the piece, with an also longer-than-intended unrelated Tisha B’Av thought at the end. In fact, the whole thing took longer to write than I’d hoped, about an hour and a half. I spent half an hour or more working on my novel too, which wasn’t much, but I was reasonably pleased with what I had done. I Skyped E in the evening too, so it ended up being a better day than I expected when I woke up. I do usually manage to get to a point where I can do some things regardless of how tired/depressed/burnt out/whatever you want to call it that I feel when I wake up, I just wish I could move that point earlier in the day.

King David’s Anxious, Depressed Army

Today was a slowish day. I tried to recover a bit from the last week or so, which suddenly seemed very stressful and overwhelming, even though there was no obvious cause. I cooked dinner (vegetable curry), worked on my novel for an hour, went for a half-hour walk and went to online shiur (religious class). That was probably still doing a lot, but I feel a little better, although I’m still not going to volunteering tomorrow as I feel I need to rest a bit more. It’s too late to change my mind anyway, as they need to know who is coming in advance for security reasons.

The work on my novel was particularly frustrating as I changed a lengthy section into the present tense in the hope it would make it more immediate, but ended up changing it back to the past tense as I was worried it was off-putting and confusing. But I guess sometimes you get days like that, and at least I’m prepared to countenance radical rewrites if necessary.

While I was walking I started listening to a Normal Frum Women podcast* about ba’alei teshuva (Jews raised non-religious who became religious later in life). I haven’t heard the second half of the podcast yet, but there was some talk about the difficulties of navigating frum (religious) social settings where people can work out your religious, or non-religious, background by asking about what school you went to, what summer camp you went to (or youth movement in the UK) or which other Jews you know. I am familiar with these feelings. I did actually go to Jewish schools, but the secondary school I went to is not particularly religious (which I know sounds bizarre from an American point of view, but our religious school system is very different to theirs) and certainly I avoided the usual Jewish youth movements.

I feel that as a person on the autism spectrum, I have an additional problems with this even for the period after I became religious. I don’t know so many people in the communities that I have lived in or at school or university because I tend not to socialise so much or even talk to people. I know J has tried to play “Jewish Geography” with me, asking about people I might know from school or the community I grew up in, and usually I only knew those people as people I would recognise in the street, not people I talked to at all, and sometimes I don’t know them at all.

I also feel that religious life is supposed to go in life stages, or at least it does for most people: childhood, yeshiva/seminary, marriage, parenthood, grandparenthood and, increasingly, great-grandparenthood. Somehow I missed a number of those stages that I should have reached by now. If being a ba’al teshuva means not having the same childhood or yeshiva experiences, being on the spectrum means that I haven’t married or become a parent yet, even though I’m nearly thirty-eight. I do feel that I don’t fully fit into my shul community because of this. I tend not to go to communal social events because I feel out of place without a spouse and children at events that tend to be geared around families rather than individuals; I’ve noticed the small number of other “older singles” (I hate that phrase) and divorcees in the community also seem to avoid them too.

Incidentally, there isn’t really any communal support for high functioning autism in the Anglo-Jewish community, so far as I can tell. If you’re independently functional, you’re really left to find your own way in the community, difficult though it is to do that when you don’t have a brain built to handle interpersonal communication and relationships easily. Dating is an issue for me and doubtless for others, but also feeling that it’s OK not to want to marry and have children is not something that is really allowed for those who don’t want to go down that route. (There is an obvious halakhic issue in that Orthodox Jewish law requires men (at least) to try to get married and procreate, but I’m not going to address that now.)

I feel there are probably a lot of other people in a similar situation to me, even if they aren’t on the spectrum. I mean people who don’t quite fit into the community, who have missed the lifecycle stages and so on. I would like to reach out to some of them with my writing. I have noticed that the people I tend to connect with best online and often in person are those who are “broken” (I don’t mean this in a bad way — I apply it to myself too). The type of people where society might say that they aren’t quite normal. There’s a line about David (before he became king) that I’ve always found attractive, in 1 Shmuel 22.2 (I Samuel 22.2) about, “They gathered to him, every man who was in distress, every man who had a creditor and every man who was embittered of spirit, and he became their leader; there were about four hundred men with him.” I don’t think David’s band of warriors was literally made up of people with clinical anxiety and depression, but I don’t think it’s too extreme to see it as an army of outcasts. That is what it would have been, it’s just that different things make someone an outcast in the contemporary Jewish community as opposed to the iron age community of David’s era.

A flipside of this that I was also thinking about today is that I tend to idealise the frum community somewhat and assume that only I’m struggling with certain things. It’s easy to think that I’m the only person struggling with (for example) struggling to have kavannah in prayer (kavannah is literally ‘direction,’ is usually translated idiomatically as ‘concentration,’ but is perhaps best translated as ‘mindfulness’) or the only person struggling with understanding passages in the Talmud.

Obviously the more shameful something is, the less it is spoken about, which makes it harder to believe that lots of people struggle with it. It’s only really through listening to the Intimate Judaism podcast that I’ve learnt that lots of Orthodox Jewish teenage boys and men struggle with issues around masturbation and pornography, something that probably should have been obvious to me before (call me naive). Some things are not spoken about, hence my perhaps somewhat perverse desire to write books about these topics. I think fiction has an advantage of addressing a controversial topic at one remove which can be easier than writing non-fiction about it.

*Yes, I know I fail to meet one if not two of the qualifications for this podcast.

Arguments from Design

I’m in two minds about blogging today. I feel the need to offload a bit, but I am aware that I can’t actually say that much here about my job, plus I feel tired and want to get away from computer screens (although I was barely on the computer at all at work today).

Suffice to say I had to go somewhere by myself this morning for work without preparation, somewhere vaguely eerie to be by yourself if you haven’t been there much. I dealt with it OK, I think. To be honest, I was more worried about missing my bus stop than anything once I actually got there.

In the afternoon J and I went over the valuables I inventoried some time ago. Unfortunately, it was some months since I worked on this and I had forgotten some of what I had done. J was also critical of the way things had been assigned reference numbers in the past. I had not done this, I had just used the reference numbers provided, but I worried irrationally that he was annoyed with me too.

I didn’t feel autistically burnt out today, but I was exhausted by the time I got home. I read a novel for a while as I didn’t want to sit at my computer, but reading was a bit of a struggle. I really just wanted to vegetate, but I didn’t want to watch TV until later in the evening when I was really tired.

***

Lately I feel as if I’ve had OCD-type thoughts and catastrophising thoughts lurking at the fringes of my consciousness. I try not to give in to them, but the more I think about not thinking about them, the more I think about them. I’ve also noticed that over the years I’ve had varying level of discomfort about some things, like wearing shoes and watches, something I now associate with autistic sensory issues. It’s got worse recently, to the point where I regularly take my watch off while at work and put it in my pocket (possibly rendering wearing it redundant, although it’s easier to look at it quickly on my journey to work than getting my phone out of my pocket). I don’t take my shoes off at work, although sometimes I wish I could, but I do take them off at home. I’m not sure why this would suddenly get more difficult and intense, but I wonder if it’s part of a general feeling of being overloaded recently.

Speaking of which, I’m not going to volunteering this week. I do get a lot out of it, but I feel exhausted and can’t really face the early morning. I feel like I need to take some recuperation time. I feel a little bad, as I know they probably have fewer volunteers this week, but I feel that I need to look after myself to avoid more burnout.

***

I’m still watching The Blue Planet wildlife documentary. The undersea photography is as awe-inspiring as the sundry whales, sharks and other marine life. Watching nature reminds me of something my rabbi mentor once said to me, that two people can look at the night sky and say diametrically opposite things. One can say, “How can you look at that and not believe there is a God?” and the other can say, “How can you look at that and believe there is a God?” I guess you can say the same about the wonders of the plant and animal kingdoms, that some people see in them God’s handiwork and others just see nature. And it’s not even a creationism/evolution issue. I can accept evolution as a proof of God’s prowess. There’s a quote I think from Rav Hirsch in the nineteenth century that evolution proves God’s creative power more than separate individual creations, as all He did was create one single-celled creature and the principle of evolution and from that millions of species evolved. I think the point is that nature can point to God, but you have to be leaning that way in the first place. It doesn’t necessarily point there of itself.

For myself, I have always tended to find God more in the apparent vicissitudes of history, particularly Jewish history as well as my own personal history, and also in the depth of the Jewish tradition, as well as in human dignity and moral fortitude, but I’m aware that these don’t necessarily point to God of themselves either.

Dig A Pony

I’ve been feeling really drained all over the weekend, really drained and burnt out rather than just fatigued. On Friday I was drained even before I went to shul (synagogue). I was a bit late, for various reasons, and someone was sitting in my usual seat, which made me feel a bit uncomfortable. Then there was a lot of noise, clapping, thumping tables and so on during Kabbalat Shabbat. I’m not sure if there was more than usual or if I’m just worse at coping with it mid-autistic burnout. I thought a bit about leaving in the middle of the service, which I haven’t done for a long time, but I stuck with it until the end. I’m still not sure if that was the right decision.

I didn’t do much in the way of hitbodedut/spontaneous prayer at home in the evening, and I didn’t do any extra Torah study, I just read for a bit and went to bed about as early as is possible on a summer Friday, about midnight. Even so, I slept for thirteen hours, completely sleeping through the morning and missing shul. I slept for another hour and a half after lunch too, despite drinking coffee to try to stay awake as I was worried about not sleeping in the evening.

I did get to shul for Minchah (Afternoon Prayers) and Talmud shiur (religious class) afterwards. I struggled with external things again. This time the table where I usually sit was simply not there; I’m not sure where it was moved to. Then I was given Peticha (opening the Ark and taking out/putting back the Torah scrolls), but there were no tallitot (prayer shawls) and there was some confusion over who should do what as we come out of COVID regulations (should I take out the Sefer Torah and put it back or should the chazan etc.). I know this doesn’t sound like much, but with autism this kind of confusion and uncertainty can be a great deal, particularly if I’m already burnt out. I did cope with it, but I was drained again by the evening and read in my room after seudah (the third Shabbat meal) instead of playing a game with my parents.

Perhaps inevitably, I had insomnia after all that sleeping during the day, although I felt too tired to do anything useful. I ended up watching The Twilight Zone, which may not have been the best thing to watch, although it was a good episode – ten episodes in, I feel I’ve reached the type of eerie stories with a twist that I was expecting. I do admire the economy of storytelling needed to create characters and tell a whole story in just over twenty minutes, usually including establishing a fantastical premise, even if it sometimes seems like it could have done with another five or ten minutes to breathe.

Today I woke up drained again, too drained to do very much, certainly too drained to go for my usual Sunday run. I went for a walk instead, primarily to buy coffee, so I got some exercise. I relied on the heter (permission) to listen to music in the Three Weeks of mourning if you’re depressed. My rabbi mentor said it applies to autistic burnout too, but I’m not sure how to distinguish burnout from ordinary fatigue any more. There seem to be different views among people on the spectrum and researchers on whether burnout is just a long-term phenomenon (months or years), or if it can apply over a day or a number of days. My instinct is that it can be over a number of days, and that I’ve burnt myself out doing too much last week, so I let myself listen to the music to try and get myself to a normal state of mind, but it didn’t really help.

If anything, my mood slipped over the afternoon and now I feel drained and also somewhat depressed and lonely. Loneliness is more apparent than real as my parents are here (albeit absorbed in the football) and E has been texting during the day. I do miss E, though, and it’s frustrating not knowing when we will be able to see each other in person. Perhaps it’s harder to bear the uncertainty on a day like today when I don’t feel well.

I did a bit of Torah study in the early afternoon, but I didn’t feel up to doing any work on my novel. I would have liked to have done more Torah study, or just read a novel (I stopped awkwardly in the middle of a chapter of The Master and Margarita at lunchtime), but I was too drained to concentrate. I did go on a virtual tour of Jewish Rome (as in ancient Rome) which was booked for the afternoon, and I did enjoy it although my attention wandered by the end. E was supposed to come on the tour with me, but she had to duck out as she’s going to look after a friend who had surgery. She tried going at an earlier timeslot, but it didn’t work out; hopefully she’ll be able to watch a recording. After that I was exhausted and watched TV, The Twilight Zone and The Blue Planet, where, bizarrely, David Attenborough kept talking about “The twilight zone,” by which he meant the deep part of the ocean where there is almost no sunlight light.

It feels like I didn’t do as much as I wanted, but also that I probably did more than was wise, which just makes me feel that coping with autism is like navigating a maze in the dark while blindfolded. Just trying to feel myself along and often falling over. I’m just glad I have my parents and E to help me.

***

While I was listening to music this afternoon, The Beatles’ song Dig A Pony came on. It’s one of John Lennon’s “nonsense poetry” songs where the words don’t really mean anything and are just there for the sounds and rhythms. This lack of coherence seemed appropriate to how I feel today, or rather, how I am (or am not) thinking, hence it became this post’s title.

***

I’ve been thinking about my life again and trusting in God. For a long time trust in God seemed impossible. My life seemed dominated by bad decisions that I had made that had ruined everything. Now I feel that even if I had changed small things in my life (choice of school, not going to yeshiva), I probably would not have changed the outcome that much. It was determined too much by the big things. And if I had changed any of those big things, I would have been a totally different person. Maybe a better or happier person, but not me. And these days I have a degree of peace of mind in the thought of being me, certainly enough not to want to be someone else, at least not as much as I might have wanted to be in the past. So now I have some peace when I look back on my life and feel that it probably was for the best, and that it’s harder to totally derail my life than I thought it was.

(Not) Bad Day

My day got off to a bad start. I overslept and felt burnt out and struggled to get going. I just missed my train, then got on the wrong train (going on the wrong branch of the Northern Line), but didn’t realise until two stops after the lines diverged. Then I got lost in Euston Station trying to find the right branch and get to work. I was fifteen minutes late for work in the end, although fortunately J didn’t object (or say I was an idiot when I told him why I was late). Then I made a mistake writing a receipt.

At this stage I was ready to label today as a Bad Day, but I remembered something I heard a few days ago from Kayla Levin on the Normal Frum Women podcast (which I listen to sometimes despite not being a woman and possibly not being normal) about being wary of creating narratives that have no objective measure. In this case, I can’t objectively see a “Bad Day,” it’s just a label I put on a series of events that I could understand and narrate differently.

So I tried to see it just as an ordinary day with some bad things, and I think I did OK with that. It wasn’t a great day, it was a dull and boring day at work followed by a Doctor Who episode I’ve never liked (New Earth) and distractingly noisy neighbours when I Skyped E in the evening, but not necessarily a universally Bad Day. And I enjoyed Skyping E.

***

On my blog and other people’s blogs, I shy away from controversy, particularly politics. I keep quiet rather than voice opinions that I feel others may disagree with. Yet, when I think about the type of fiction I want to write, I think I’m increasingly drawn to things that might arouse controversy and even “cancellation.” I can’t work out if I’m actually a secret controversy-hound, or if everything nowadays is politicised and there are no “neutral” subjects any more. I guess I want to write about things that interest me, things that make me feel emotional (positive or negative emotions), and to deal with topics where I’m trying to work towards some kind of understanding of a complex situation. Often those things lead to things that are controversial.

Then this evening I read an article about diversity readers (people who read a manuscript to critique its portrayal of some kind of minority identity). I had already heard about this, but I can’t make up my mind if they’re positive or not. I can see the advantage of weeding out egregious errors and pointing out if someone has written something grossly offensive, but I worry about a drift towards banning writers from imagining what it’s like to be someone else, someone very different, which I think is an important part of being a writer, not to mention a reader of fiction. As Lionel Shriver said, this will end in the banning of all writing that isn’t autobiography, because we can never really know what other people think.

Looking at my own writing about a high-functioning autistic character, an autistic diversity reader might see my novel as not reflecting their experience… but it’s based on my unique experience of autism, mixed in with artistic licence and plot necessity. I haven’t captured all of my experiences, partly because I’m not a perfect writer, partly because it’s impossible to capture a complex life in 80,000 words. I’m sure my other characters are open to criticism from an identity politics point of view, and up to a point I would work with criticism, but beyond a certain point it’s my novel, my characters and my plot, not the diversity reader’s.

Just to show how difficult it is to present an “authorised” version of someone’s identity, when the film of Naomi Alderman’s Disobedience came out, set in the Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) community in the UK, a lot of online American Jewish commenters complained that the characters were constantly wishing mourners a “long life.” “Jews don’t do that,” they said. Except that wishing mourners a long life is a very established custom across the Anglo-Jewish community, from the frum (religious) to the very non-religious. It just wasn’t a Jewish custom they were aware of, because they were so focused on Judaism in America and maybe Israel representing the Jewish experience everywhere. An American Jewish diversity reader might have criticised Alderman for writing something that was true to her experience of Jewish life in the UK. I think this shows how difficult it is to judge whether a depiction of an individual or community is “acceptable.”

Hanging on the Telephone

I wasn’t going to blog today, despite things not being great, but they got worse in the last hour of work, although not hugely bad (trying not to catastrophise).

I woke up early this morning and couldn’t get back to sleep, then fell asleep and overslept. I had a weird dream, which I won’t go into here, which left me a bit unsure of what, if anything, my unconscious was trying to tell me — possibly something negative about myself, but probably just that I have mixed feelings about my religious community, and that I know someone in a position of religious influence who makes jokes that someone in his position should not make, both things I’ve known for a long time. Or maybe it was just a crazy dream that didn’t mean anything.

Work was slow today. It took three cups of coffee, a sandwich and two cups of tea for me to feel alert, by which time it was afternoon. But things were going OK until the last hour.

J has a habit of asking me to do something and then piling on more and more things. This can be a task (“Do X. And Y. And Z.”), but in this case was a phone call with more and more things to say. When he does this, I often don’t realise a long list is coming, so I’m not ready to write things down, then there’s a rush to try to catch up with him or to try to remember everything. I do need to feel more comfortable writing things down, as my memory and processing are not always good. This is undoubtedly an autistic executive function issue. Usually it’s not a huge problem as we’re in the same office so I can ask for clarification, but in this case it was a phone call and I couldn’t ask him for help. I got so flustered on the call, partly from the long list of things to say, and partly because I’m not good on the phone (autism again and social anxiety), that I was not sure if I had told the other person what they needed to do correctly. I also panicked and somehow convinced myself that I didn’t need to say the last thing on the list when it might have been helpful, not the first time I’ve done something like that.

My job isn’t hugely interesting, but I can do most of it after having been there for eight or nine months now (even given that my mind sometimes blanks and I suddenly can’t remember basic things). But I struggle with phone calls and don’t know what to do about them. J is trying to give me more experience with them, particularly this type of call, which I can’t explain here as it will make my job too obvious, but it’s something important that involves government bureaucracy and dealing with stressed, emotional people — not a good mix. But I worry that if the problem is autism, practise isn’t going to make the problem go away. It doesn’t help that there’s a key part of the journey of paperwork between government bureaucracy, our office and various other people that I just can’t get my head around properly, no matter how many times J explains it to me or I re-read my notes. I guess it’s because I haven’t been through it myself and it’s just too abstract for me at the moment. I suppose practise might help here.

I don’t know whether to say anything to J, or, if so, what. I don’t want to sound like I’m not suitable for the job, but I don’t want to monumentally mess something up down the line when I’m in the office without J.

***

On the way home, J had talk radio on as usual. It seemed a 50:50 split among those phoning or texting in between those who thought it insane and irresponsible that we are coming out of lockdown in just two weeks time (so soon!) and those who thought it insane and irresponsible that we were in lockdown for so many months in the first place (so long!). That’s democracy for you, I suppose. Like most issues nowadays, I have no real idea of what the right answer is and don’t feel myself knowledgeable enough to voice an opinion, but I will be glad if we can safely leave behind some aspects of lockdown, although public transport operators are already hinting at masks remaining compulsory regardless of the advice of central government.

***

I was pretty drained by the time I got home because of work, the phone call and the journey. I went for a walk in the hope that fresh air and time away from screens would help revive me. It didn’t, but it was worth exercising a bit. I did some Torah study and ate dinner with my parents. I had a long Skype call with E; apparently some screen time isn’t so draining!

***

A conversation on another platform (Livejournal) makes me wonder whether I left Doctor Who fandom as much because I don’t have time for it as because other fans seem to respond to the programme in very different ways to me these days, not to mention the politics I found on Twitter. I feel like time is a commodity I don’t have much of at the moment and I need to make room for more activities that are being crowded out, particularly fiction reading. I’m thinking of imposing – or trying to impose – some kind of time limit on my blogging and blog reading. I don’t want to give up on it completely, but I definitely need to get more time somehow and to stop idle procrastination. I’ve already become more selective in what posts I read. In the past I used to read all the posts by everyone I follow, whereas now I’m more willing to skip posts on busy days or if people are posting a lot. I enjoy encountering people online, but I enjoy encountering people in books too.

Busy Weekend

The last few days have been busy. I went to shul (synagogue). I felt thrown, and I don’t know why. Our rabbi was away, which I knew, although had forgotten, but another rabbi was there, a rather prestigious one who I thought had moved out of the area. I don’t know if it was an autistic thing, being thrown by a small change in plan, or my usual self-esteem issues, feeling that he could sense that I wasn’t frum (religious) “enough” somehow (from my non-white shirt?), even though he had his back to me for most of the service, but I felt awkward the whole time I was there. When I got home, I found myself sniping at my parents over dinner even though there was no good reason for that. Plus, I found myself overly-focused on an ongoing argument in the Anglo-Jewish community and wanting to write an angry letter to the Jewish Chronicle (which so far I have not done).

I woke up about 7.30am on Saturday morning. I should really have got up so I could go to shul, even though it was a little early, but I stayed in bed and wanted to fall asleep again and miss shul, which is what happened. I’m not sure why I felt like that, if it was a reaction to the previous evening. I did go to shul later, for Minchah (Afternoon Service) and Talmud shiur (religious class), which I followed a bit better than usual.

Today I overslept a bit and had to rush to get ready for dinner at my sister and brother-in-law’s house with them, my parents, my brother-in-law’s parents and his sister. It was inside, and technically an illegal number of people, which I felt bad about, but I also felt that I really had to go, particularly as they had got vegetarian food for me. I enjoyed it, but by 4.00pm, I was completely peopled out and spent the last hour or so catching up with blogs on my phone (I hadn’t really been online since Friday afternoon), even though I would normally consider it rude to sit at the table engrossed in my phone when everyone else is talking.

Other than that, I’ve just been depressed by reading about the Batley and Spen by-election, which seems to have had a lot of anti-Israel sentiment, alongside anti-Indian and anti-LGBT sentiment. Any election with George Galloway’s name on the ballot is going to involve a lot of excrement-throwing, but this seems particularly bad. Lots of traditional Labour voters were abstaining and I can’t say I blame them. Politics is too depressing for words at the moment.

I did manage to read most (although not quite all) of this week’s super-long double Torah portion today and still went for a run (I had a slight headache afterwards), so I guess it’s been a reasonably good and certainly very busy weekend. It’s not surprising I’m a little exhausted and in need of Doctor Who!

Inappropriate

I was slow to get going again this morning, although not surprised as I did quite a bit yesterday. As I messaged to E, I was probably feeling a little down and looking for a reason to justify feeling like that, as nothing that I felt vaguely upset about was really enough to make me feel down. They were just explanations after the event. I think I was probably just exhausted. I don’t always find it easy to tell the difference between depression and exhaustion (alexithymia), which is something I need to bear in mind in the future.

***

Shiur (religious class) was very good, except that right near the end someone asked a broad question about academic Biblical criticism that was only tangentially related to the topic of the shiur. It took the teacher five minutes to deal with the topic even in a brief way, as it was such a massive question and so unrelated to what she had been talking about, and it ate up the end of the shiur. I was left feeling that I hadn’t really heard or understood her final point, even though what I did process was fascinating and I would have liked to have heard more, or understood better.

Being on the spectrum, I’m not always good at sudden changes of topic and don’t like it when people ask irrelevant questions, which seems to happen a lot in shiurim. I’m not sure if Jews are particularly bad at sticking to the topic or if lots of people do this and I’m just around groups of Jews more than I’m around other groups of people.

I was also left with a feeling of perhaps inappropriate responsibility again (as happened last week), as the teacher suggested one (very good) book on biblical criticism that I have read, but I wasn’t sure whether it was appropriate to recommend one that I’m reading at the moment that also deals with biblical criticism from an Orthodox viewpoint. I wrote the name of the book in the chat section on Skype, but then felt that it wasn’t appropriate and didn’t send it. In retrospect, that might not have been the best thing to do.

***

I spent some time working on my novel, about an hour of redrafting, excluding procrastination. There wasn’t much procrastination compared with the past, which is especially good as redrafting is tiring and the chapter I was redrafting brings back a lot of negative memories, almost triggers.

I actually dreamt about one of my stories last night, not the novel I’m currently working on, but the one I’m jotting down ideas for as they percolate into my brain. I guess it shows I’m thinking about my writing a lot and taking it seriously.

I also feel a bit more reassured about being able to write about sensitive topics while remaining in the frum (religious) community from something I heard today. Ashley Blaker is a Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) comedian (I actually see him in real life sometimes as he lives in the same area as me) who has a comedy series coming up on BBC Radio 4. I heard a trailer for it today and it had a joke which was… surprising to hear from someone the Haredi community (about his teenage son trying to use the satnav to access PornHub). It occurred to me that Blaker gets away with a lot of stuff lightly making fun of Judaism, whereas I would not go that far. As far as I can tell, he doesn’t consider the Haredi community his audience, although he has performed in Modern Orthodox settings, so he can get away with a lot. I don’t really see the Haredi community as my audience either (people in the community tend not to read books written by outsiders or not approved by their rabbis), so I should be OK. Although I wouldn’t write about PornHub. Actually, there probably is a novel to be written about a frum man struggling with pornography addiction, having read several articles about this exact issue from the point of view of both the addict and his wife. I’ve felt that for some time. However, I don’t think I would have the knowledge, ability or guts to write it. I think it would take a lot of courage to write about that even from a secular point of view, let alone an Orthodox Jewish one. There are so many mines you could step on there…

Adulting Fears and Empathy Overloads

Today I slept a lot, had anxiety dreams (I don’t know why I still get anxiety dreams about breaking Shabbat when I’ve been shomer Shabbat for twenty years), woke up still feeling burnt out, as well as overwhelmed at the things to do in the next few days, in particular fitting Talmud study and writing my devar Torah around work, dinner with my family and therapy, as well as buying Dad a belated Father’s Day present, collecting my repeat prescription and hopefully continuing to work on my novel.

Once I got going, things got a bit easier and I began to work out when I could do things. I spent an hour redrafting my novel. There was some procrastination, but I actually did quite a lot, writing about five hundred words, although I’m not sure if I should necessarily be writing much more at this stage. I probably need to cut and rewrite as much as write more. I do need to force myself out of narrating and into showing, and hopefully the new bits helped do that. It also showed my protagonist’s interactions with his family a bit more, another of my main targets for this redraft.

I was a bit stuck for both ideas and time for my devar Torah this week and spent forty minutes or so revamping an old one from years ago and expanding it significantly. I’m not really happy with this, but I feel overwhelmed this week and it seemed the best thing to do.

I went for a walk and my mood went down a bit. The future seems scary sometimes. Even the good things, like building my relationship with E, will lead to scary things, like possibly changing communities or even countries or dealing with immigration law in the UK or US, buying a house, and other scary “adult” things. Then there are the things that are scary without any positives, like the fear that I might never being able to hold down a full-time job, while simultaneously not being eligible for compensatory state benefits. E and I have been told to stay in the present and not race ahead to the future, but it’s hard, particularly when (a) we’re both pessimists and worriers by nature and (b) the present is frustrating because we don’t know when we can spend time in the same country due to COVID travel restrictions.

E and I “went” to a Zoom shiur (religious class), the first of five on Devarim (Deuteronomy). It was very interesting, with a lot of information to grasp in a short period. One thing that happened that I found curious, not related to the content, was that the teacher had made a mistake on one of the handouts, mistranslating “eleventh month” as “twelfth month,” which had a knock-on effect to which month was being referred to. I noticed the mistake, both spotting the word and knowing that the month should be the eleventh one, but I didn’t say anything because I was too shy. The strange thing was that I became filled with a lot of anxiety lest someone else point it out and embarrass the teacher. Eventually someone did pick up on it, and I felt quite embarrassed for several minutes on the teacher’s behalf, as it were.

I know people think that autistic people don’t feel empathy; I think the reality is the reverse, that we feel a lot of empathy and can “pick up” other people’s emotions without really understanding them or being able to process them properly, which is what happened here.

Show Me the Way to Go Home

I don’t really want to write tonight, but I feel compelled. I’m exhausted, but I need to vent because my mind is running. Or part of it.

Work was OK. I did a bit of phoning people and messed up one phone call when I misunderstood something and may have to go back and sort it out later in the week. In the afternoon, I was just doing a lot of slow data entry.

By the time I got home, I was exhausted. I felt almost physically ill. This has happened to me a few times on work days lately and I’m not sure why. I associate it with the open-plan office job I had that left me in a state and made me sure that I was on the spectrum. I don’t know why this job is suddenly making me feel like that, with no obvious reasons. On days when I did a lot of phoning, I could understand it, but I only made a few calls today. I also don’t know if this is burnout or fatigue or what. It doesn’t feel like “just” being tired. It feels painful and dysfunctional.

My parents were out when I got home and I think that annoyed me on some level, because they hadn’t told me they would still be out, and then I felt bad for feeling annoyed, as I’m an adult and they don’t have to tell me. Even though I’m a socially anxious, introverted autistic, I guess I’ve just got used to there always being someone around when I want to vent over the last year and a half.

I was too exhausted to do very much other than eat and watch TV. Just feeling completely drained and ill. I decided I was not well enough to spend a couple of hours on Zoom for depression group. After dinner (with my parents — we’re getting back in the habit of eating dinner together on Mondays), I wanted to do more Torah study (ideally another chapter of Ezra in Hebrew, but at least a a bit more of To This Very Day: Fundamental Questions in Bible Study), having done about forty minutes on the Tube in to work in the morning, but my head hurt just thinking about it, so I watched more Babylon 5.

Babylon 5 is perhaps not the best thing to watch at the moment because (a) season five isn’t very good[1] and (b) Babylon 5 is largely structured around a series of wars, and at the moment wars are… not exactly triggering, but upsetting. I’m still processing a lot of thoughts about the Arab-Israeli Conflict, and antisemitism, and part of me wants to run away from that sort of thing and part of me thinks I shouldn’t run away. (Although the confluence of the two gives me a vague writing idea to think about, if I really don’t want to run away…) Nevertheless, I want to finish Babylon 5 so I can concentrate on my Doctor Who watching with E, and there’s not much left now.

It’s nearly 10.30pm now. Over five hours of not doing much has not improved how I feel. I’m just writing this quickly and posting. I will probably watch TV (something lighter, probably The Simpsons) to fill the time between Ma’ariv (Evening Prayers) and bed, as I don’t feel up to reading even something as light as James Bond. Strangely, I don’t think I would sleep if I went to bed at the moment. I’m too tense. I need to watch something to relax me.

***

A friend has reviewed my Doctor Who non-fiction book in a forthcoming fanzine (fan-produced magazine). I had drifted out of fandom, but I feel curious to know what he said, even though it will cost me £7 to find out. I just hope it’s positive…

***

OK, brain is just not working any more tonight…

***

[1]I have a lot I could say about season five and why it doesn’t work, which I won’t say here as it’s not a Babylon 5 blog, but I’ve never liked Byron and I could never work out why, but it struck me on this re-watch that he comes across as a cult leader rather than a revolutionary. It just makes me uncomfortable.

Prayer Mindsets

I went to bed late last night, as I didn’t think I would sleep, having forgotten to take my meds when I got home from the restaurant, plus I needed passive unwinding time in front of the TV. I watched Doctor Who (Bad Wolf and The Parting of the Ways), and felt myself frustrated by Russell T Davies’ writing style again. To be fair to him, some of it is just contemporary TV in general rather than him in particular, but I can put up with other writers more easily.

When I did get to bed, I remembered something I need to do today, but I was too tired to get up and write a note, which was a very bad idea, as if it’s not written down, I don’t remember it and now I can’t work out what it is. I think I figured it out in the end, but frustrated and worried me for much of the day.

I woke up very late and after breakfast was so tired I went back to bed (or laid on the bed, as it was hot). I’m not sure if I dozed; I think just lying in a cool (ish), quiet, dark room helped restore me after all the social interactions, social anxiety and sensory overload of yesterday. I felt a bit fatigued afterwards, but not burnt out. Unfortunately, it was 3.30pm by that stage and I was still in pyjamas.

I spent a while trying to track down the complete Hebrew original of a Midrash (rabbinic expansion of the biblical story) that I had only read in part for my devar Torah; when I finally found it, I couldn’t make much of the bits that I didn’t have the translation for, which was frustrating. Aside from that, I spent about half an hour starting to write my devar Torah. I’m glad to have got the bones of it down, although I need to work on it some more tomorrow. I am conscious that I could have done more if I hadn’t been burnt out, which is frustrating, but there isn’t a lot I can do about it.

I didn’t really have time to exercise today, and I thought it was too hot even for a walk.

After dinner it was cooler outdoors than in. I sat in the garden and worked on my novel. Making amendments after having finished a couple of drafts turns out to be like remodelling the bottom layers of a house of cards after I’ve finished it; one false move and everything collapses. That’s how it feels, anyway. I’m terrified of accidentally repeating myself or introducing a continuity error or just introducing a very obviously interpolated and out-of-place passage. When writing a new passage, I “merely” have to think up something interesting, original and true and write it down, but rewriting requires revisiting written (and half-forgotten) passages and restructuring them, keeping them doing what they were doing, but also fitting with my new writing.

***

One of my religious targets for this Jewish year was improving my kavannah, my concentration, or, better, mindfulness, in prayer, although I wasn’t really sure how to do this.

There is a kind of paradox in Jewish prayer, that if God is omniscient, omnipotent and benevolent, He knows what we need and supplies it, so what is the point of praying? There are many approaches to this. I once gave a shiur (religious talk) about just three of them. To summarise very briefly:

  1. Prayer is a process of building a relationship with God by asking Him for everything we need and telling Him all our thoughts. The content is less important than the interaction, which builds relationship. (Rebbe Nachman of Breslov)
  2. Prayer is a means of establishing a “covenantal community” which happens to include God as a member. Asking for things isn’t the point as much as establishing the community. (Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik, The Lonely Man of Faith)
  3. Prayer is a self-reflexive process of examining ourselves and whether we truly need the things we want and whether we will use them well. If we undergo the process correctly, we can become worthy of things that we did not deserve previously. (Rabbi Shimshon Raphael Hirsch, Horeb)

(1 and 2 are quite similar, except 1 is personal and 2 is communal, including other Jews. I’m not sure if Rav Soloveitchik views the covenantal community as being the local community or the entire Jewish people.)

The last week or two I have been trying to focus on one of these mindsets of prayer while saying the Amidah, the most important prayer and the centrepiece of every prayer service. It’s been an interesting experiment and it has definitely helped with kavannah. I’ve mostly been focusing on numbers 1 and 2, as 3 is more self-reflexive than I’ve felt up to lately and doesn’t really apply on Shabbat (when I have most time and energy for prayer) as Shabbat prayers are not petitionary, at least not to the same extent as weekday prayers.

Hanging on the Telephone

Work was difficult today. I spent an hour on an unusual task, which I can’t really talk about here, but most of the day was spent phoning people to chase fees. A lot of them had simply forgotten to pay and a few actually paid by credit card immediately, which was good, and others promised to send a cheque soon. Someone claimed to have posted a cheque two and a half weeks ago, but it hasn’t arrived, which I will have to follow up on Thursday. Some people have financial difficulties, which we try to be sympathetic to, but it’s obviously easier to do that if people are upfront about it, instead of just not paying and hoping we will go away.

Unfortunately, when I called the first person on my list I remembered too late that I had phoned her a few weeks ago and that she is immobile and with poor eyesight and has to wait until a relative can help her to pay. I was very apologetic about phoning her again, but I wish I had remembered in time and not phoned. Then I had one call where the person sounded… well, to be honest, she sounded like she had dementia (many of our members are elderly). I was trying to politely get off the call and ask J what to do, when suddenly she sounded more ‘with it’ and asked if she could pay by debit card. I said yes and she read all the right card details to me. So I’m not sure what happened there, but I do feel somewhat uneasy without knowing why.

I still have a lot more calls to make. I guess it’s good exposure therapy, as I struggle with phone calls both from social anxiety and autism/Asperger’s, but it is very draining.

I was exhausted after all of this, but I had arranged to meet my sister and brother-in-law for dinner, as my parents are away for a few days. I wanted to do some more Torah study before then (I’d done forty minutes on the Tube to work, but was aiming towards an hour), but, even after a shower, was still exhausted, so watched The Simpsons instead until it was time to go.

Dinner was good. We went to a new pizza restaurant near where we live (OK, fifteen minutes walk away. I consider that near). I was nervous, as I planned to tell my sister and BIL about me and E being back together and was nervous about how my sister might react. She was pleased for us, but I was nervous enough that I got indigestion. Also, the restaurant is literally opposite the place where my shul (synagogue) davens (prays) during the week. We don’t have our own premises and rent a small room in a shul above a shop during the week and a part of a primary school on Shabbat and Yom Tov (Sabbaths and festivals). Because of this, I saw half a dozen or more people I know walking past, which was a bit distracting (I also saw the Head of Informal Jewish Education from my secondary school days, looking greyer but otherwise unchanged a quarter of a century on).

Also, perhaps because of the exhaustion from work, I did not cope well with autistic sensory overload. I originally sat opposite a screen on which a football match on TV was being projected, but found it too distracting and had to sit on the other side of the table so I couldn’t see it (unlike the two young boys standing outside watching through the glass door until the manager chased them away). I found the loud “background” music uncomfortable as well. It is interesting/strange/frustrating how my tolerance for things like this can vary so dramatically depending on other factors like tiredness and anxiety.

Now I’m pretty exhausted. I would like to have another attempt at more Torah, but I can’t face it. It’s hard enough to face ten minutes of Ma’ariv (Evening Prayers) and another ten minutes of Hitbodedut (unstructured, spontaneous prayer) in my very hot bedroom. Technically, as I have the house to myself, I could try to find somewhere cooler, but (a) there is an idea about praying in the same place every day and (b) I am an autistic creature of habit.

I’m glad I have the house to myself tomorrow, as it will be nice to have space to myself for the first time in over a year, but I’m also vaguely worried, as I don’t always do that well by myself (I’m an autistic introvert, but the last few years have shown that I’m often better if there are one or two people around, as long as I don’t have to talk to them much). I’m tempted to eat ice cream. I’m trying to eat less junk (not that I ate much before except on Shabbat) and in particular to limit myself to ice cream no more than once a week, but it is hot and uncomfortable and I had a very stressful day, so I might reward myself with Ben and Jerry’s.

Unplugged

I had a crazy start to the day. I woke up at 5.30am and thought it was time to get up. It was with some difficulty that I realised that I could sleep for another hour and a half. Then I fell asleep and overslept, having some crazy dystopian dream. Then, after I got up, when I was davening (praying), a magpie sat on my window sill and looked like he (or she) was trying to come in. Fortunately, the window was shut, but I could not shoo him away, he just sat there staring at me. It was a bit disquieting.

The doctor phoned me at work (as arranged). I asked him to refer me for autism-adapted CBT, but he says the psychiatrist at the hospital where I was assessed is supposed to write to the CCG (funding body) to start the process. He said he will write to her to say she can do that. I worry about this bouncing around the NHS bureaucracy indefinitely.

I spent much of the day at work poring over spreadsheets, trying to track down payments that were listed as outstanding to see if they really were outstanding or if they had been paid and not been recorded properly. If they hadn’t been paid, I needed to write them off or phone to see if the debtor would pay. Fortunately I only had to phone once, as that was quite an awkward call.

I was pretty exhausted by the end, and my eyes felt strained from staring at spreadsheets. There wasn’t much traffic on the way home, but the conversation on the radio annoyed me. I don’t like to ask J to change it as he’s doing me a favour by giving me a lift. When I got home I sat and read in the garden for half an hour, which was wonderful. I really should try to be online less. It makes me much happier. I’m not really on social media much and don’t follow many political blogs, but even regular news sites are full of silly stories about “X is AWFUL and you should be REALLY ANGRY about it.”

I didn’t make it to Zoom depression group, as dinner was late and I was exhausted. I ate dinner outside with my parents. Afterwards, I went for a walk. I was still tired, but it was good to go out in the cool evening air and listen to the birds. It’s probably too late now for a really early night (I was watching Doctor Who followed by The Simpsons), but I hope to get to bed earlyish, as I’m pretty tired, albeit aware that a shower is likely to wake me up, but I won’t be able to sleep if I feel sweaty.

The Burnout Cycle

I had another bad “waking up burnt out” day. I’m not sure what can do about this. I think autistic burnout isn’t terribly well understood. Also, I haven’t really found much about people waking up burnt out rather than becoming burnt out during the day. I’m not sure how much my parents understand it either. I mean, they accept it, they aren’t calling me lazy, but I don’t think they understand it, or they see it as leftover from the depression — which, to be fair, was my understanding for a long time.

Because I was burnt out, I wasn’t up to phone the doctor for an appointment when they start taking appointments at 8.30am. Dad tried, but was number twenty-eight (!!!) in the queue after twenty minutes and gave up. My surgery only allows the booking of regular appointments at 8.30am; at that time, the phones get jammed with people trying to phone (as you can see). There aren’t any appointments later, except emergency ones (they question you and if you phone with a non-emergency, they won’t give you an appointment), and they don’t allow online booking any more, although they rarely used to release more than a handful of those appointments at a time either. Basically, my surgery makes it really hard to get an appointment, and has only made it harder since COVID. So I’m not sure what to do. After all, the GP wrote to me asking me to book an appointment (about my Asperger’s diagnosis)! And I do want to get on the (very long) waiting list for autism-adapted CBT, especially now I’m dating E (I’m hoping it will help my communication, although my communication with E is pretty good, all things considered).

I cooked dinner, which was my main achievement for the day, except that I had a teaspoon/tablespoon mix up and put too much spice in, although it tasted fine (which is odd, actually). I do this a lot and I don’t know why. I think it’s an executive function issue from trying to process the recipe and do various things at once, or maybe I just want to think that because it’s a stupid thing to keep doing. I guess that might explain why it is worse on a burnout day.

I wanted to get my books back from PIMOJ, but she was suddenly working late and couldn’t return them. She said I could pick them up later, but I was worried she would still be running late and I would have to wait, and I didn’t want to be out late with volunteering early tomorrow, plus I didn’t want to mess up my Dad’s evening as he offered me a lift (as the books are quite bulky and heavy to bring back on public transport). So that’s still hanging over me. E thinks my mood was lower today because I was expecting to see PIMOJ and she may be right. Now it’s hanging over me still, and will be for at least another week, given PIMOJ’s late working hours. I’m not sure what to do about this. I was wary of lending her my books for this reason, that I would need to get them back if we broke up.

I did try to sort the tallit (prayer shawl) issue. Hopefully I can get it fixed tomorrow, although it looks like it will cost a lot. I’m not sure if I’ve made the right decision; days like today are not the best for decision making.

I tried to work on my novel, but just felt gridlocked, unable to write anything. The main thing I did was work out what things could be fixed by adding small sections in to the existing text and what would need to be rewritten by going through the whole novel and making many small (or larger) changes. Eventually I decided that I was wasting my time trying to write today, that anything I wrote in this mood would be subpar anyway, so I went for a walk instead. I hoped that would help my mood. It did a little, but not much.

I felt a bit better after dinner and Doctor Who, although still very drained, something not helped by the heat. My bedroom faces west and gets very hot in the afternoons in summer, which has apparently now started. I guess it is June now.

***

I actually did some reading about autistic burnout, not least because I was having a rather burnt out day. There isn’t much research, as it’s only been recognised by psychologists for five or six years. There seems to be some discussion about what burnout entails: a lot of the writing is about severe burnout that can last weeks or months (which may have fed into, my depressive episodes), whereas I tend to experience a daily cycle of waking exhausted (I’m not sure why), slowly building up steam after lunch, having a reasonably productive afternoon and then sometimes crashing in the evening, in terms of energy and mood, particularly if I was at work or around people a lot in the day. Even if I don’t crash, it seems that the next morning is difficult; my sleep just isn’t refreshing. Maybe that’s something other than burnout? This article seems to be the closest to what I experience.

It would be such a relief to understand that I’m not lazy, I have a genuine struggle with mornings, work and socialising. I mean, my autism diagnosis has already helped with the latter two, but the first still seems a little mysterious and unexplained.

Feeling Good, Feeling Bad

I woke up late today, but I felt good, at least after breakfast and coffee had dispelled the waking burnout feeling. It does feel that in the last few months, since my Asperger’s diagnosis, or maybe even a little before, my life has begun fitting together in a way I never predicted. I think my relationship with my parents has improved over lockdown and Mum’s cancer, I have a part-time job that gives me time to write and my relationship with E is great, even if it is awkward being long-distance and not knowing when we can be together in person because of COVID. I don’t feel I deserve it, but I thank God it’s happened.

Today felt odd because it’s a bank holiday. If I’m not at work, and not busy with other things, it should be a Sunday or a Tuesday, but it’s neither! I struggled to email a friend who is having marriage problems. I think I mentioned her last week. I wasn’t sure what to say, even whether she wanted advice or just wanted to vent.

I phoned the Judaica shop about buying new tallit strings. This sounds trivial, but it takes a lot of courage for me as (a) I hate phoning because of social anxiety and autism and (b) I’m not even sure if they sell tallit strings or if they will tie them for me. Nevertheless, there was no answer again, which makes me wonder if they’re even open at the moment. I can borrow Dad’s tallit for now, but I would like to get it sorted.

I spent an hour working on my novel. Actually, I spent most of an hour procrastinating, but I did a bit of work on the novel. It’s always hard to come back to writing after a long break, and it’s hard to start a new chapter, let alone a new draft.

I then spent over an hour working on my devar Torah (Torah thought) for the week. I was mostly working on that and not procrastinating, but after two and a half hours sat in front of my computer, I was exhausted, as if I’d done a whole day’s work. I was going to go for a walk, but Mum and Dad wanted me to have tea with them in the garden. They were having scones and cream; I don’t like either, but they had bought me rugelach (chocolate pastries), so I decided I would be a good son and sit with them for a bit. Then I cooked dinner, as Mum had some other things to do, and listened to a short shiur (religious class) while doing so.

By this stage my mood had plummeted and I don’t know why. I get disconcerted that my mood can change so quickly and with so little reason. I was thinking about antisemitism, but I’m not sure if that triggered the low mood; I think the reverse may be true.

The thoughts were that in France the Chief Rabbi said many years ago that Jews in France shouldn’t wear the kippah (skullcap) because of the risk of violence, and now the German (!) government is saying that German Jews shouldn’t wear it either, and the US, which was supposed to be the safest diaspora country for Jews, has had loads of antisemitic attacks in the last few years which the authorities have done very little about. Statistically, I believe a Jew in the US is more likely to experience a hate crime than an African-American, but you wouldn’t know that from the media coverage. So I wonder how long it will be seen as safe to wear a kippah here. I’m not terribly anti-authority, but I hate people trying to stop me being religious, so I would want to wear it regardless. On the other hand, I’m a coward. At any rate, I’m glad I no longer work at the further education college where I had students making antisemitic remarks behind my back not quite out of earshot.

I went for a walk in the hope that would help my mood, but I just feel tired as well as depressed now, and my bedroom is hot and stuffy; I doubt sleep will be easy. I wish I knew how these low moods can appear out of nowhere. I guess it’s good that it’s the bad mood that seems to come out of nowhere, with the good (or at least not bad) as the default. In the past it would have been the other way around.

I feel too tired and depressed to write or read, so I’ll watch The Simpsons for a bit (season five of Babylon 5 is sufficiently not great (not bad exactly, but not great) enough for me not to want to watch two episodes in one day).

Weekend Thoughts

I’m catching up on the last few days here, as I decided not to post after Shabbat (the Sabbath) last night.

Over Friday night dinner, I told my parents that I’m back together with E. Fortunately, they were supportive, although I think Mum is a little more cautious than Dad, who is very enthusiastic. But they both said they look forward to meeting E when she comes to the UK to see me, which will hopefully be soon, but is COVID-dependent, obviously.

I went to bed at 12.30, which was reasonably early considering how late we eat dinner on Friday nights in the summer, when Shabbat and shul (synagogue) both start late, but I couldn’t sleep. I’m not sure if I was still tense from my conversation with my parents (which was rather nerve-wracking, as I was scared they would not approve) or if my room was just too hot. I thought a bit about a plan for a devar Torah (Torah thought) for this coming week and eventually I got up and read. I think I finally fell asleep some time between 2.00 and 3.00am. Unsurprisingly, I overslept and missed Shacharit (Morning Prayers) even though I had been hoping to go to shul again after last week.

I went for a walk after lunch, but still ended up napping in the afternoon. I woke up in time for Minchah (Afternoon Prayers) and my weekly Talmud shiur, which was focused on a difficult grammar-based passage of biblical analysis. It was a good Shabbat overall, insomnia and missing Shacharit notwithstanding.

This morning I had an interview with a PhD researcher doing research into how people on the autism spectrum cope with job interviews and how they can be made better for them. As this is an area where I’ve really struggled, I was happy to take part for free, but at the end I was told I would be paid by the university (£15), which is even better. One thing I found myself mentioning at the end of the interview which I hadn’t really thought of before was how social anxiety (which is often found with high functioning autism/Asperger’s) can feed into sensory or executive function/processing issues and make them worse than normal in an interview. For example, I do sometimes miss things people say because I don’t process it properly and have to ask them to repeat, but it seems to happen much more often in job interviews precisely because I’m so nervous.

I wasn’t up particularly early this morning, but I fell asleep for ninety minutes in the afternoon. I felt a lot better afterwards, but I worry I won’t sleep this evening. I also missed the chance to phone the Judaica shop again to see if they can repair my tallit (prayer shawl) although I’m not sure if they’re open because of COVID. Their opening hours have always seemed a bit arbitrary and prone to being shut at odd times even before COVID.

I went for a run, which was my main achievement of the day. It’s weird that, even though I run the same route, the distance recorded by my iPod varies a bit and I don’t always hit my 5km target. I’m not sure if some days I deviate more from the shortest route to avoid people on the pavement or if the distance calculation on my iPod isn’t accurate. I came back with a headache, unfortunately.

I still haven’t picked up work on my novel again. JewishYoungProfessional very kindly read the third draft, liked it and gave me some very useful constructive criticism, which is encouraging, and makes up for PIMOJ feeling so uncomfortable with it (something I’ve mostly erased from my memory, to the extent of thinking that JYP was the first person to read the whole manuscript). Because I fell asleep in the afternoon and because I had an exercise headache, I didn’t manage to make any progress on rewrites today.

Having a headache, I sat and vegetated in front of Doctor Who along with E (on different continents, but watching the same episodes). We are still watching the 2005 season, the first of the twenty-first century series, and we were watching the two part Aliens of London/World War III. It’s probably the most vulgar Doctor Who story ever, and, as E said, a story aimed very much at pre-pubescent boys (Doctor Who is usually pitched more at a family audience), but it’s a story I’ve learnt to accept on its own terms. It’s not the Invasion of the Bodysnatchers chiller or Yes Minister satire that I hoped it would be on transmission, but it is quite fun with a few genuinely scary moments, even if writer Russell T Davies is more interested in the characters than the mechanics of the plot (which is my probably biggest criticism of his writing across the five years he was showrunner/lead writer for the programme — he takes narrative short-cuts and hopes that we’re primarily invested in the characters and won’t care).

Bitachon; and Doctor Who (2005)

I won the jackpot with the post today: new shoes, a book, a DVD and, most importantly, a corrected Asperger’s diagnosis report and resources leaflet. I’m glad that’s sorted. The resources leaflet turned out not to be that helpful, given that I’ve been aware of my autism for a long time and have already discovered many of the resources and got beyond the “But what is autism?” stage, but I feel more comfortable now speaking to my GP next week and trying to get referred for autism-adapted CBT.

I had a reasonably busy day today, going to the dentist, going for a walk, doing some Torah study and having therapy as well as tackling a few odd chores. I did run out of time and energy to work on my writing, which frustrated me, but didn’t surprise me. I jotted down a couple of ideas for the next novel, though, and I feel that that’s developing well, probably better than the first novel, which I fear lacks a clear plot and suffers from a lack of supporting characters.

Therapy was good, although I didn’t have enough to talk about for an hour, which itself is an indication that things are going well for me at the moment. I spoke about feeling that I have more resilience than I have had in the past. I also don’t think I wonder if things in my past could have gone differently any more. I guess I’ve got to the stage of thinking that everything in my life really had happen the way it did, even if I can’t really articulate why I feel like that. Perhaps this is finally bitachon (trust in God) or just acceptance of my childhood and difficult adolescence. I do still wonder what people from my past think of me and whether they might find my recent Asperger’s article and think differently of me, but that’s not really a thought about changing the past so much as wanting people to think well of me and not to think I’m an antisocial weirdo.

In therapy we also spoke about telling my parents that I’m back with E, which I plan on doing this coming Shabbat, but am rather nervous about. I’m not sure how they will react. I think my Mum worries about me being in an unending on/off relationship with E, which to be fair is something I worry about sometimes, although less so now that I think we can move the relationship on.

One thing that came up in therapy is that I think my relationship with E is a lot better than my relationship with PIMOJ was. E and I connect on a variety of levels, whereas I don’t think PIMOJ and I really connected as anything other than friends. Certainly I was unable to feel comfortable opening up emotionally to PIMOJ, and she was unwilling or unable to open up to me. Despite that, I probably did need to go through my relationship with PIMOJ to appreciate how rare my connection with E is (that bitachon/acceptance thing again).

***

E and I are starting to watch Doctor Who “together”, i.e. in our separate houses on separate continents, but roughly at the same time, allowing for the time difference. We’re initially watching the twenty-first century version. I prefer the twentieth century version, but appreciate that there are many obstacles to it for contemporary viewers in terms of very different pacing, production values, writing and acting styles and so on, plus nearly 100 episodes of the twentieth century version are lost from the archives and unwatchable, so starting at episode one and going straight through doesn’t really work. That said, I may suggest slipping in some twentieth century Who later for context, and because I’m not sure I want to watch the twenty-first century version indefinitely without a break.

We started tonight with Rose, which is showing its age in places, but still feels a fairly tight and lean revival of the franchise. I do definitely struggle with Russell T Davies’ writing style even in his better episodes (Rose is more a middling one). I’m not sure if I dislike his style in general or just for Doctor Who. The other distracting thing was that I did keep thinking about the recent Noel Clarke sexual harassment allegations, which are.

Eating Out; and Self-Esteem

I got up late again, burnt out and depressed, the latter worsened by reading stuff about antisemitism and about Islamism. I feel that there isn’t much I can do about this and all the other bad stuff in the world. This is in diametric opposition to the “You can change the world!” attitude on social media and elsewhere. I feel the history of the last hundred years or so indicates that small groups can indeed change the world, but mostly if they’re well-organised and ruthless, like the Nazis and the Bolsheviks. I’m not sure that nice, contemplative, middle of the road people can do much.

Over lunch I watched a video about having a “growth mindset” rather than a “fixed mindset.” I was wary of this, because, like a lot of social psychology research, it’s questionable to say the least. Still, I thought it wouldn’t hurt to learn to think more flexibly, but the video didn’t really help with that. It was very basic and introductory and didn’t tell me a lot that I hadn’t heard from other places. I suppose we’re supposed to buy the presenter’s books to find out more.

I went for a walk and picked up my repeat prescription, and worked on my devar Torah for the week. It’s OK, but I think the ending needs work, although I needed a break from it after nearly an hour. Hopefully I’ll finish it off tomorrow or Thursday. I filled in an over-complicated contact form at Lulu.com to ask for help changing the price on my self-published non-fiction Doctor Who book. I want to change the price, which should be a simple matter, but the website says I need to finish the design stage before I can revise prices and I don’t know why it is seeing the design as unfinished. I got an automatic reply saying I don’t need an ISBN to sell my book on Lulu.com, which had nothing to do with my question! So I had to reply again, pasting my original complaint in. I worked a little bit on my (second) novel, but didn’t have much time before having to go out for dinner.

We (me, my parents, my sister and my brother-in-law) went to a restaurant for dinner. I hadn’t been out to eat in well over a year. The food was good (kosher Chinese). I was slightly worried about the lack of vegetarian choice. I only eat meat on Shabbat and Yom Tov (Sabbaths and festivals). Because of the prohibition of serving meat and dairy at the same meal, kosher restaurants serving meat have limited vegetarian options (no cheese or milk), plus culturally vegetarianism isn’t a big thing in frum (religious Jewish) circles. So there were only three vegetarian main dishes on the menu (which is actually two dishes more than this restaurant had last time I went there!) and it turned out that the one I wanted wasn’t available. Instead, I picked the “lettuce wrap” which turned out not to be any kind of wrap, but fried mixed vegetables on a bed of lettuce. It was good and more filling than I had expected, especially when combined with various side dishes (we all ordered one different side dish each and then shared them between us). I had ordered some vegetarian spring rolls too, as I wasn’t sure the lettuce would fill me up, but they were unnecessary, not that they went to waste. Dessert was good too, chocolate volcano.

However, the mask hygiene in the restaurant was not good. One waitress wore her mask properly; unfortunately one male waiter failed to cover his nose (is it purely ornamental?) and the other didn’t wear a mask at all. The chef came outside the kitchen at one point without a mask too. So that made me feel a little ill at ease. Kosher restaurants have a reputation for poor service; I hope we’re not going to have to add poor mask hygiene to that.

This also reminds me of a disgusting experience at a pizza restaurant in Tel Aviv years ago, where you could see into the kitchen from the restaurant and I saw the chef open a bag of pizza cheese by biting into it!

***

I’m still getting positive feedback for my article on having Asperger’s in the Orthodox community. It’s reassuring to have my writing praised, but some of the feedback that stays with me most strongly is from friends here on the blog who don’t know me in real life and said that I look normal or handsome in the photos on the article. I don’t think I have hugely awful body image (despite having low self-esteem about other parts of myself), but I’ve never thought of myself as particularly good-looking either, perhaps a legacy of terrible adolescent acne, and my unfortunate romantic history, or lack of it. I didn’t even go out on a date until I was twenty-seven. I assumed women simply weren’t attracted to me, but in retrospect I simply didn’t meet enough women and was too nervous and awkward when I did meet them.

***

On the subject of self-esteem, I’m re-reading Leaping Souls: Rabbi Menachem Mendel and the Spirit of Kotzk by Chaim Feinberg on the Kotzker Rebbe. I thought this passage (pp. 72-73), although long, was worth quoting in full (punctuation emended slightly for clarity):

One must never confuse lowness, coarse degradation, with the blessed light of humility. Ayin, spiritual self-effacement, does not mean spiritual emptiness. It is rather the rasha, the wicked man, who inwardly wallows in his own worthlessness:

Reb Mendel said: “Not only one who hates his fellow man is called a wicked person — one who hates himself is also called wicked.”

The good Jew, however, draws his esteem from God:

“It is proper for a man to believe that his deeds are important and beautiful in the eyes of God, for through this belief he will prepare more and more good deeds. But precisely the opposite is true if he believes he is far-off from God, that his deeds are unimportant to Him because they are not totally pure. Heaven forbid, but such a notion can lead to a total self-distancing from God, and this is exactly the advice of the evil inclination, the yetzer hara. About such a state of mind, King Solomon has said: ‘Do not be overly wicked.'”

Books and Thoughts

I couldn’t sleep last night and ended up only getting about five hours of sleep. I think I was excited from speaking to E! I somehow managed to get up more or less on time for work. Work was pretty dull. I spent a lot of time this morning searching through old records (computerised and ledgers) looking for information and then in the afternoon looking through old papers to see which could be thrown away. Not terribly interesting, but it pays, and lets me feel less guilty about spending time writing, not that I’ve worked on either novel much lately.

I decided not to go to virtual depression group tonight, partly as I was tired and didn’t have the energy — Zoom calls are draining, as is trying to be a good listener to others in distress. Not going was supposed to let me catch up on some chores after I ran out of time for them yesterday, and take some of the pressure off the next few days, which are busy, although the reality was that the chores took longer than expected and I was very tired, so I didn’t achieve much.

I received a letter from my GP’s surgery saying I should phone to discuss the results of my autism assessment. I hope this will be a chance to talk about being referred for autism-adapted CBT. However, I have to navigate the awful phone switchboard, which involves phoning at 8.30am for an appointment and spending ages waiting to get through. I don’t usually get up for 8.30am on non-work days! I can’t face doing it tomorrow; maybe Friday or next Tuesday. I also hope I can speak to my usual GP. Technically, the surgery doesn’t let you have your ‘own’ GP, you have to take the first appointment available. But, if I can find the confidence, I will try to say that I have one GP I’ve seen a lot about my autism and mental health issues and I really would like to speak to him. The worst that can happen is they say no.

I wanted to go for a walk and do some more Torah study after dinner, but I felt exhausted and it was raining heavily so I was not inclined to force myself to walk. I guess I feel lately that I can achieve some of the things I want in my life (relationship, work, writing, exercise, religious study, prayer), but not all of them, and that’s without going down the route of marriage and children (yet — E and I are both clear that we want these if we can cope with them). I guess I worry that I’ll never be able to balance all these things or that I’ll have to completely write some things out of my life if I want to be successful at others. Maybe no one can balance everything, and other people are just better bluffers than I am.

I somehow managed to do some more Torah study despite being rather tired. That done, I needed to fill the hours until bed. I’m about to start the fifth and final season of Babylon 5 in my re-watch. I don’t think season five is quite as bad as “everyone” says, but it is the weakest season by far, and the first half is definitely worse than the second. So I wasn’t in a hurry to watch it. The book I started reading at lunch is a serious introductory book on Islam and I didn’t feel up to returning to it. Fortunately, the second-hand James Bond omnibus book I ordered arrived today. (Although I feel that a “James Bond omnibus” is technically the double-decker Roger Moore drove in a car chase in Live and Let Die.) The omnibus book is slightly frustrating, as it contains the first two books of the loose “Blofeld” trilogy, but not the third, which is a slightly weird decision, plus the books are not printed in order of internal chronology, even though there is some continuity across the books. Still, I got five books I haven’t read (plus a sixth I’ve read, but didn’t own) for £5, so I can’t really complain. Very good condition too. I read for a while, until I felt too tired to carry on.

***

Lately I’ve been feeling a desire to post something deeper here than my usual daily updates. When things were not good for me, I felt I was expressing deep emotions and self-analysis, but now things are (thankfully) a lot better, I feel I don’t have much to say. Part of me would like to write about the things I think about, about antisemitism or Israel or Jewish theology, not in the abstract (I don’t want this to be a politics blog or a theology blog), but how my understanding of them affects my inner thoughts, feelings and worldview (if that isn’t terribly millennial and self-obsessed). However, I never seem to get around to it. I’m scared of writing anything about antisemitism or Israel, however bland and inoffensive, because just sticking those words in a post brings out the haters. Jewish theology has other problems. Partly it’s that I’m not sure that anyone would be interested, partly that there would be so much to explain just to make it intelligible to the lay reader that I’d write hundreds of words before even getting to what I want to say, plus I’m conscious that I have no formal training in theology, in either its rational philosophical or mystical kabbalistic forms, and I’m hardly an expert on Jewish thought. I would fear that I would be talking rubbish. So I stay quiet and bottle a lot of thoughts and feelings up inside of me out of fear and, I suppose, laziness.

Positive Shabbat

I have been trying not to turn on my laptop after Shabbat (the Sabbath), as it finishes so late at the moment (it finished after 10pm today, then there’s a longer Ma’ariv (Evening Service) afterwards and tidying up). However, I had a good day and didn’t want to wait until tomorrow to share.

I actually managed to get to shul (synagogue) for Shacharit (Morning Service) today, something I hadn’t managed for months if not years because of a mixture of autistic burnout, depression, social anxiety and fear of wearing a mask for three hours straight. I managed this despite a not very good night’s sleep, where I think I woke up every time I turned onto my left side, which is where I was vaccinated yesterday. I didn’t have any side-effects other than that, fortunately.

I was only about fifteen minutes late (it started at 9.00am), which would be early in some shuls, but most people arrive on time in mine. I was so busy worrying about other things that I forgot until I got there that I might get an aliyah (called to make the blessing over reading the Torah). I did in fact get one, but was OK with it, including navigating the revised COVID restrictions on what we can and can’t touch while there. I feel relieved that that’s out the way for a while and I can try to get back to regular Shabbat morning shul-going.

My kavannah (concentration/mindfulness) in prayer was pretty good and I found the whole experience much more meaningful than shul or davening (prayer) have been for quite a while.

The reason I went to shul was because I had been invited to lunch with friends, now that COVID restrictions have been lifted somewhat. Technically only six people are allowed; my host informed me that there would be seven and gave me the option to leave if I was uncomfortable. I was a bit uncomfortable, but felt that it was too late to leave, so I went. I wonder a bit that even someone as law-abiding as me has bent or even broken the COVID rules in minor ways a few times, so I guess it’s no surprise that less scrupulous people have totally disregarded them.

Lunch was good. This my first real social event since my autism/Asperger’s diagnosis. I wasn’t consciously thinking about it, but I think I felt a bit more open speaking to people, also helped by the fact that there was only one person there that I didn’t really know. Interestingly, I owned up to feeling challenged by halakhic (legal) passages in Talmud and to preferring aggadah (narrative) only for other people to agree with me, which surprised and reassured me a little.

I came home tired and read a novel for a bit before going back to shul for Minchah (Afternoon Service) and Talmud shiur (religious class), the latter of which I followed a bit better this week. I also noticed that the number of people who speak up a lot to ask or answer questions in the shiur is very small, maybe four or five people out of a dozen or more attendees, so maybe I’m not the only one who struggles to follow the thread without actively participating. I do wonder a bit how much Talmudic ability is innate or acquired. I suppose you would expect lawyers and other people with very analytical jobs to do well, but the person who speaks up the most is a shopkeeper. His two teenaged sons also have sharp Talmudic minds, so maybe there is a genetic element (I think he also has two other children who have left home, one who is not religious, so there are obviously a lot of factors at play).

By the time I got home, I was exhausted and had a headache, which perhaps was not surprising. I read a little, but felt too headachey. I had seudah shlishit (the third Shabbat meal) with my parents and that was it really. I would have liked to have gone back for Ma’ariv (Evening Service) and got a full house of Shabbat prayer services, so to speak, as I used to do, but I was too tired and headachey. Maybe next week. The headache did eventually go, and that has to be considered a successful day overall, part of a general upward trend over the last few months since my Asperger’s diagnosis, the occasional setback (like last week’s job interview) notwithstanding. I hope to continue my Shacharit shul attendance next Shabbat. Definitely the thing to do is keep up the momentum, as I know from experience that skipping a few weeks lets the social anxiety creep back in.

In Praise of Edward Jenner

I had my second vaccination today. I shook a bit again. I know this is just nerves and a side-effect of my psychiatric medication, but it is embarrassing, especially as the person giving the vaccine was worried and repeatedly asked if I was OK to go home or if I wanted to sit for a while. Of course, as soon as I was outside, I stopped shaking, because it’s the social anxiety aspect that is so triggering.

I was going to go for a walk afterwards, but it was very cold and windy and I had had to wait outside for quite a while as there is limited queuing space inside the pharmacy where I had the vaccination, and what space they did have was being used so people getting the Pfizer vaccine (I had AstraZeneca) could sit down for fifteen minutes afterwards. I’m hoping I don’t get any side-effects, but who knows?

I didn’t do much today other than get vaccinated and do my usual Shabbat chores. No writing and less than half an hour or so of Torah study. I may do a little more Torah study, although probably not much, as I want to go to bed early so I can get up early tomorrow, or as early as is possible when we can’t start dinner until nearly 9.00pm because of Shabbat coming in so late (it is nearly summer, as hard as that is to believe looking at the storm raging outside my window).

***

I had a call from the autism hospital after I emailed them again last night. They said I should have received a revised diagnostic report and leaflet by email. I checked and they had the right address. The guy tried to send it again, but I still haven’t got it. I receive email via Webmail for somewhat complicated reasons, and it sometimes has a sensitive spam filter, so that could be the problem. The guy who phoned said he would get a colleague to send the email from a different address in case that helps and that he’ll send a physical copy in the post today, so hopefully I will get the report and leaflet one way or another in the next week.

***

I hope to go to shul (synagogue) tomorrow morning and then on to friends for Shabbat lunch. This is all dependent on not having either autistic burnout or vaccination side-effects. I’m somewhat nervous, and a technical point about the laws of carrying on Shabbat in an area known as an eruv (which permits some forms of otherwise forbidden carrying) is causing me some confusion. I didn’t like to ask my rabbi mentor in Israel halakhic (Jewish law) questions while there was a war going on and my community rabbi is away on holiday. I tried contacting the halakhic question answering service provided by the umbrella body my shul belongs to, but they didn’t get back to me. I think I have a solution, but I’m not 100% happy about it. The whole thing is causing me more stress than it probably should. It gets tied up in a complicated way with the question of just how many prayer services I’m planning on going to tomorrow, which in turn ties into questions about social anxiety and autistic burnout.

With this as with so many other things, I wish my life didn’t have to make everything so complicated, but I guess that’s what living with a disability will do for you. It’s easy to forget that living with a disability is about living with a disability. The boring everyday living tasks don’t go away just because you’re dealing with an ongoing condition, you just have to use more energy and more time to get the same results. It’s not always possible to ask for adjustments, let alone get them.

I do hope I get to shul and the lunch, worries notwithstanding. I’m not hugely social, but it would be nice to socialise with someone other than my immediate family for a change.

***

Other worries: I have lots of confused thoughts about Israel and the ceasefire; antisemitism; and being Jewish at the moment, but I don’t really want to share anything political, and I don’t have time or energy to sit down and think about the more nebulous spiritual-type thoughts today.

I’m also worried about a long-distance friend who emailed me for the first time in months yesterday to say she’s having marital problems. I feel bad for her, but I don’t know what to say. I feel I once gave someone in a similar situation really bad advice (although I think it all turned out for the best in the end, fortunately). I want to be empathetic without giving advice as such, which is not always easy.

***

Burnt Out, MARCed and Geek Girls

I had a lot of anxiety this morning, including at one point worrying seriously that there was a suicide bomber at the Tube station. The fire alarm went at work and I was worried about some kind of antisemitic incident (antisemitic incidents have gone up 500% since the flare up in the Israeli/Palestinian conflict). Sometime around midday the anxiety switched over to depression and lethargy, although I tried to do a reasonable amount of work. I texted E more than I normally would at work. When I said I feel useless, she said I have a lot to share with the world, but my abilities don’t translate to being good at typical jobs, which I guess is good, although frustrating (and impoverishing). I do struggle to hold on to a sense of my own worth and abilities though. E thinks that one day I’ll see my autism as the source of my good traits as well as bad ones. I hope so.

The journey home was pretty awful. J’s satnav suggested a really roundabout way home. We went the usual way instead, and hit really bad traffic. The journey took an hour and a half where it usually takes an hour or less. I read articles on my phone out of boredom and ended up feeling carsick. Then I had to do some shopping and walked home, so I got home much later than usual.

By that time, I felt pretty burnt out. There was quite a lot I wanted to do (writing important emails, Torah study, Skyping E), but I couldn’t do anything before dinner. Then as I was finishing dinner my sister phoned. I think I sounded a bit vague, but even at the best of times I get thrown by last minute disruptions like sudden phone calls, and I’m still feel burnt out a lot, not having had enough alone time lately to really recover. Plus, I haven’t told my sister or my parents that I’m back together with E, which lends an air of furtiveness to things when I should really say, “Oh, I can’t talk for long, I’m speaking to E soon.”

In the end I spoke to E, did a tiny bit more Torah study and wrote some important emails, but I wish I could have done more, as usual.

I’m still daunted by the things I’ve got to do before I can really have a day off to recuperate properly. I’ve just cancelled an interview I was having with a psychology student to talk about my experience of autism as it affects me at job interviews for her PhD. That was supposed to be on Sunday, but Shabbat is turning into an anxiety-inducing peopling event and not recovery, and if I had the interview on Sunday, the burnout would run on to work on Monday, dinner at a restaurant (I vaguely remember those…) for Mum’s birthday on Tuesday, therapy on Wednesday, work on Thursday…

I also ran out of time for writing a devar Torah this week, which I feel a bit bad about.

***

I didn’t get the job I was interviewed for yesterday, but I got some positive feedback from the interviewers, which is good (assuming they weren’t just being polite). However, I feel bad, as I may have cheated in the cataloguing test. I was required to include the MARC21 numbers and indicators indicating different descriptive categories (title, author’s name etc.). Usually a cataloguer would look these up. It’s not something we’re expected to just know. In the past, when I’ve had cataloguing tests, I’ve been allowed to look them up online or in a book. The test didn’t say I could do this, but it also didn’t say it couldn’t. To cut a long story short, I was in such an anxious state when I sat the test that I couldn’t think how to ask about this and I was so convinced I was going to fail, and that I would turn down the job even if it was somehow offered to me because it’s too much for me, that I just looked up the MARC21 numbers online so that I didn’t look a complete idiot. Now I wonder how much of the positive feedback was really for me and how much for my false MARC-memory skills.

Related to this, on yesterday’s post, Ashley suggested I’m applying for too many interviews for jobs that I feel I couldn’t get and wouldn’t manage to do if I did get them. I do this to please my parents and the recruitment agency; the latter in particular I treat as if they are doing me a big favour by trying to get me jobs and not like they are going to receive commission if I get one (hence they try to get me to apply for unsuitable jobs like library assistant, even while asking me what my precise requirements are). I had pretty much come to the same conclusion myself, but I’m not sure how to have the conversation with my parents, let alone the agency. I’m not sure which conversation I’m dreading more, this one or the one about E.

***

My uncle sent me an article on the author Holly Smale who was diagnosed with autism in her late thirties (I would link to the article, but it’s behind The Times‘ paywall, which I was somehow able to bypass on my phone before, but can’t now). A lot of it resonated with me, particularly the quote that “high functioning” regarding autism is just a euphemism for “good at faking it.” I feel like that’s how I went undiagnosed for so long. Although I disagree that Smale would have been diagnosed younger if she was a boy. I know under-diagnosis of autistic women is a genuine issue, but being male is no guarantee of correct diagnosis. I’m the proud owner of a Y-chromosome, and I got missed too, mostly because, like the author, I was good at faking being reasonably normal (or as normal as a geeky child/teenager gets). I feel that being high functioning just set me up for failure later in life, when work and social tasks got harder, there was less support and I was burnt out from excessive masking.

It Never Stops

Nothing like going away from the internet for a few days to come back to a huge pile of stuff. I’m only reading selected posts that appeared while I was away or I would be here forever, sorry.

***

I didn’t get to shul (synagogue) on Sunday night. I just felt so burnt out, I literally could not go. I felt a bit bad, but I honestly don’t think I could have made it. I did manage to go on Monday and Tuesday night, and for some of the shiurim (religious classes) bookending the prayer services. I slept too much, including over three hours on Monday afternoon and I had a headache on Monday evening, but I was basically OK. Aside from shul and shiurim, I did some private Torah study and read a novel (a sort of spin-off from Doctor Who spin-offs, not very good, but I’m vaguely invested to see how it ends).

I thought the NHS had sent me my revised Asperger’s diagnosis report and leaflet of resources, yet when I opened the envelope after Yom Tov, I found no report and a leaflet of resources on ADHD rather than ASD (autism spectrum disorder). By this stage, it’s hard to ignore the feeling that the NHS is deliberately trolling me. I haven’t written or phoned back to complain yet (see below for why I ran out of “spoons” today).

***

Today I had my cataloguing test and interview. I floundered as usual in the interview, using the wrong words (which the interviewers then seized on to get me to elaborate on) and generally struggling to focus and say very much that was coherent. The cataloguing test was even worse. I haven’t been doing regular cataloguing for nearly four years and I really struggled with the test, especially as it seemed to require my remembering MARC21 numbers that I had never had to memorise before. The stupid thing is that the job sounded more attractive than it had in the job description in some ways, although it is also more client-facing than I thought, so it may be for the best that I did badly.

Mum says it was “one of those things,” that I didn’t get time to prepare. This is only partly true. I did get a little bit of time to prepare, but I was burnt out. Despite this, even if I had had more time, I’m pretty sure I would have flunked the cataloguing test.

We had workmen in today, which didn’t make things any easier. The house now smells of builder’s putty (I think), so I have to hold my breath when I go out of my room.

I didn’t mean to be bad-tempered after this, but I just wanted to be alone in my room to relax and was grumpy that I had things to do. When speaking to people, everything came out wrong, angry and sulky, even if I didn’t mean it to. Plus, little things went wrong, like the Tesco food delivery arriving twenty minutes early when I wasn’t ready. Being on the spectrum, quite small changes of plan on a good day can be frustrating; on a bad day they can trigger meltdowns. I don’t get full-fledged meltdowns the way some people on the spectrum do, but it can send me into a negative thought spiral of despair and anger. That didn’t quite happen, but it took a lot of mental energy to stay calm.

I went for a forty minute walk, which at least burned out some of the bad temper, or made me too tired to show it. I do feel pretty awful now though, but still unable to unpack the vague “badness” that I feel. Is it sadness, depression, guilt, self-criticism, frustration, anger (against who?) or something else?

I didn’t get much else done. It looks like I probably won’t write a devar Torah (Torah thought) this week, which is a shame, but I’m trying to avoid crashing. I have stuff to do every day from now until Monday inclusive, multiple things on most days, and most of them draining things. I may need to call off some things at the last minute, and I’m tempted to say no to something on Sunday to get some downtime.

I started watching Spectre (James Bond) over dinner because I needed mindless entertainment. I’ve stopped even though I’m not yet halfway through because I feel overwhelmed, without being able to define what I’m “overwhelmed” by. I’m not doing emotional self-awareness today. I will probably watch the rest before bed, at least with half an eye.

***

Every cloud has a silver lining. E has been super-supportive. I have my first social invitation of the post-COVID era, namely an invitation to friends for lunch on Shabbat (admittedly one of the busy, draining things). I plan to go, assuming I don’t have terrible side-effects from my second vaccination on Friday. And I managed to buy a second-hand omnibus edition of six James Bond novels for barely £5! Even accepting that I’ve already read one of them (Dr No), that still works out at £1 a book!

Interview Preparation and Burnout

I felt utterly burnt out and exhausted today. I guess I did go through quite a bit yesterday, more emotionally than in practical terms. I didn’t get up until something like 1pm today, and it was an effort to stay up. It was still two hours or more before I was dressed (admittedly I did have a long text conversation with E in there). My brain feels switched off. If it was running on Windows, it would be blue screened. Somehow I have three working days — three days curtailed by burnout and Shabbat and Yom Tov preparation — to prepare for my cataloguing test and interview on Wednesday.

I found a discrepancy between what the job agency are telling me about the job I’m applying for and what the job specification says. The latter says the job is full-time and permanent; the former says it is four days a week for four months. That’s a big difference. I guess it’s something to ask about at the interview, but it does have ramifications for whether I would take the job, although not in a clear cut way. I don’t think I could do full-time work (I’m not sure I can manage four days a week, let alone five); on the other hand, I’m not sure I want to walk away from my current job if I’m going to be job-hunting again in four months’ time, even if it would get me back into the library sector.

The job description is massive, and I worry how I could keep up with it, particularly open-ended professional development, including attending and presenting at conferences and seminars (that would assume this is permanent, of course). I still feel my cataloguing skills are very rusty. I haven’t really used them since 2018.

I tried to prepare for the interview, but didn’t manage much more than re-reading the job description, looking at the organisation’s (large) website and jotting down a couple of questions to ask. I procrastinated, and make myself depressed looking at the Jewish news sites.

I just felt physically ill today, so burnt out that I can’t go on. I just felt overwhelmed, by my life and by the world (and, yes, I know that there are far worse things going on in the world than in my body and my head, but I feel what I feel and knowing cognitively that other people are struggling much more does not change that or make me feel any better).

I was going to look over my notes of prepared answers for frequently-asked interview questions, but there seems no point as it won’t sink in. I really needed a mental health day, but the next week is going to be a crazy mix of interview stuff and religious stuff. My parents said to relax, that the job isn’t really right for me at this time, either as a four month stopgap or a year at full-time. I’m glad they realise that. It does take some of the pressure off.

I do worry that the job agency will say something at some point about how few jobs I’ve got with them (two short-term contracts, I think, in nearly three years) and see me as some kind of bad “investment” (bearing in mind that to the agency, I’m a product they’re selling, not a paying customer). But I guess I could feel just as justified in criticising them for the same reasons. Of course, I don’t want to turn up for an interview or a test and totally make a fool of myself because of my mental health and autism. But it wouldn’t be the first time I’ve done either of those things either.

In the end I did a tiny bit of preparation, but didn’t relax the way I wanted to (if it’s even possible for me to relax at the moment, the news being what it is).

Other than interview preparation, I went for a half-hour walk and proof-read and sent my devar Torah. I wanted to start on my devar Torah for next week, as I won’t have much time for it next week and I know roughly what I want to talk about, but I just wasn’t able to do so. I just felt awful.

I did Skype with E in the evening. We had a long chat, over an hour, and that really helped. We spoke a bit about my interview, but also about a lot of other things. Our conversations tend to range from the serious to the jokey. I feel so comfortable talking to her, it seems so special. There aren’t many people I can connect with like that. I feel really lucky that we’re trying to make this work again. Hopefully we can get it right this time.

Fraught Day

I was expecting today to be a normal, dull work day, but it turned out to be fraught. Running in the background all day was my worries for the escalating violence in Israel. I’m not going to write a political post because I think everyone already knows what they think, I just feel anxious about family in Israel (literal family and metaphorical family) and want it to be over. I checked the news a couple of times while at work, something I wouldn’t normally do. I hope and pray the violence doesn’t escalate further, but I worry that it’s reached the point of self-perpetuation.

Then, on the way home I texted my parents to say that J and I were going home by a different route and I was going through the suburb where my maternal grandparents lived (I think I saw their house, which was some way away from the road, behind some trees, but if I did, the front has been massively remodelled). Mum then told me she had spent the afternoon at the hospital, having had a bad reaction to new medication. (She has to take bone-strengthening medication because chemotherapy weakens the bones.) Mum is home and OK now, just very tired.

I was in work today, as you may have gathered. J asked me to change work days this week, which is why I moved therapy to yesterday. While at work, I was called by a job agency about a job I applied for a few weeks ago. I didn’t think they would look twice at my CV, as I didn’t have the specialist subject knowledge they wanted, but they want to interview me next week. They wanted to do Monday, but that’s the festival of Shavuot, so they’ve agreed to do it on Wednesday. I have to do a cataloguing test first. I’ve had a few cataloguing tests in recent years and have generally done badly at them. I feel I’m very rusty, but we’ll see how I do. I am terrified at the prospect of getting the job though, silly though that sounds. I worry I can’t do the cataloguing (although, if I pass the test, I guess that will prove I can), I worry about what it will involve, that I’ll have to work four days a week (twice as much as I’m currently doing), that I’ll have to work on Fridays in the winter when Shabbat starts early, that I won’t have time to write fiction… A lot of worries. I’m trying to stick to what I said with my therapist about staying in the present, but it’s not easy.

Also at work, I had a difficult phone call related to the new task J was training me to do. This involves talking to people who are in a difficult emotional situation and talking them through various tasks and getting personal details from them while not overwhelming them. (I don’t want to go into more detail as it will make where I work too obvious.) I had to do this suddenly and thinking on my feet, as the situation wasn’t exactly the type J trained me for. J was listening and said I handled it well, which is good.

So all in all it was a fairly nerve-wracking day. I’m trying to stay in the present, as I discussed with my therapist. I don’t think I’ve been doing too badly about that, all in all, but I am pretty exhausted now.

***

I’m rather apprehensive of the week ahead too. I have tomorrow, Friday and Sunday to prepare for my cataloguing test, prepare for my interview, sit my test (unless I have to sit it on Wednesday morning, immediately before the interview) and get ready for Shabbat (the Sabbath) and Yom Tov (festival), as well as trying to exercise and do Torah study (including Talmud preparation and maybe writing my devar Torah for next week as I will lose so much time to Yom Tov and interview stuff). Then there are Shabbat and Yom Tov, which are time off, but not always relaxing as they tend to involve a lot of shul (synagogue), Torah study and sleeping rather than recreational reading. I suppose I shall get through it somehow. Or I’ll flunk the test and the interview and that will be that. I could have done some preparation tonight, but I felt pretty punch drunk and not suited for anything more than TV.

***

My former landlady texted me to compliment me on my Asperger’s article and J initiated a long discussion about Asperger’s and related issues on the way home. I’m surprised about the positive feedback I’ve had. It’s strange, I’ve written things that have been published professionally or semi-professionally before, but I never really felt of my writing ability as a gift. But hearing how people have responded to my article makes me think that it is one, pretentious though that sounds. I used to think that literature couldn’t reach people the way the visual arts of music can. Art and music can cross the boundaries of language, unlike writing, but writing can explain things and share specific thoughts and thought processes in a way that more abstract arts can not.

***

This has been a fairly heavy post (albeit that some of it is positive even if it is scary), so time for something lighter: how I got back together with E!

E and I met via my blog back in 2018. We had two goes at long-distance dating which didn’t work out. When we broke up the second time, I decided that I wouldn’t date her again, as I was worried about ending up in an on/off relationship that never got resolved.

A few weeks ago, I started reading the anonymous blog of a Jewish woman who was becoming more religious. We had some comment conversations and seemed to connect and have similar outlooks and values as well as similar struggles. I did wonder vaguely (or not so vaguely) if one day we might date. She reminded me of E, but more spiritual and trying to be a better person. I actually wondered if it was E, but decided that coincidences like that only happen in romantic literature.

Then out of the blue I got an email from E saying that she was that anonymous blogger!

She was very apologetic about how things had been between us before and wanted to try again. I decided, based on her long email and her blog posts, that she seemed to have grown a lot and that dating her now would be different to dating the E that I dated in the past, to the extent that I felt my “No dating again” decision didn’t apply here. She is pursuing Orthodox Judaism for its own sake now, not just to fit in with me, and she’s done a lot of work on herself. I have also undergone changes, particularly my Asperger’s diagnosis and its positive knock-on effect on my self-esteem and understanding.

I think we are both nervous that this might not work, but the potential benefits seem to drastically outweigh the potential costs. We both have our difficulties and issues, but there seems to be tremendous potential for us to build something positive together.

I discussed this with my rabbi mentor and my therapist. The former felt that E and I have both matured a lot over the last nine months, while my therapist found it interesting that I liked E’s blog even without knowing it was her, which she felt showed a strong personality connection between us. So, we (E and I) are cautiously optimistic.

However, I have not told my family yet as I’m nervous of how they might respond. I guess I feel I want to have a bit more to tell them before I open up to them. I keep nearly letting it slip though — wanting to say, “I’m Skyping E in a minute” or “That reminds me of something E said…” I really am terrible at keeping secrets, let alone lying.

Reasons to be Cheerful

My main focus today was therapy. I didn’t have a lot to say, as things seem to be going well. The last week or so I have been fairly focused on the present rather than worrying about the future. I also seem to have coping strategies that help me to deal with things better than in the past, and my autism/Asperger’s diagnosis has made it easier for me to forgive myself for mistakes and quirks that would have upset me in the past. The two (coping mechanisms and forgiveness) go together, as a key coping mechanism is to know my limits and not force myself to go beyond them, even if part of me says I “should” be able to do so.

I mentioned in therapy that I have been reflecting recently that my life seems to be suddenly going a lot better. I’ve finally got my Asperger’s diagnosis (which seems to be the key turning point); I have a job I can manage which leaves me time to write; I have a core of online friends who read my blog and leave helpful comments (I’ve written blogs with no readers before, and writing does serve a purpose for me even without readers, but writing without an audience can be lonely); I am beginning to wonder if I am more accepted at shul (synagogue) than I thought previously; I have greater kavannah (concentration or mindfulness) in davening (prayer) than previously; I’m somewhat happier with the amount and content of Torah study I’m doing (an average of fifty to sixty minutes daily, with some Talmud study); and I’ve restarted volunteering. Best of all, E and I have got back together and think that this time we might be able to make the relationship work permanently.

The latter point is the thing I’ve been hinting at for the last week or so without explicitly stating, as I was curious to see what my therapist said before saying anything here. At the moment I haven’t told my parents or my sister, which I feel a little bad about, but I want to give the relationship a few weeks so that I can say it’s working before I tell them. This is because my Mum in particular was worried about E and I getting into an endless on/off relationship. To be fair, I worried about that too, but I think this time both of us have undergone significant changes and growth that make me feel a lot more positive about our future together now. There is much more to say about this (it’s quite a story), but I’m too drained from therapy tonight to write it, so you’ll just have to wait a little longer.

I’m always scared to say that things are going well, as it seems almost inevitable that they go wrong afterwards, but as my therapist and I discussed, the difference this time is that it’s as much about coping strategies and being able to stay in the present as about external things boosting my mood, which will hopefully enable me to stay well even when things go wrong, as something will eventually.

***

My boss, J, texted me to say that by chance, he had come across my article online. He liked it. I felt a little awkward, but it’s probably good that he saw it, although I’m glad I told him about my autism a couple of weeks ago so he wasn’t learning about it entirely from the article. The big question I’m wondering is whether anyone else from my shul has seen it and whether they will say anything when they see me on Shabbat. The site it was on is very well-known and read by a lot of people, so it’s entirely possible that some other people I know have seen it.

Cope/Not Cope/Cope?

Today felt stressful, although objectively not a lot happened. Actually, “objectively” is a bit of a weasel word there, as not a lot happened for a “normal” person. “Normal” in scare quotes because no one is “normal”; I mean that some people would have coped OK, but others, including, but not limited to people on the spectrum, would not, and I am one that did not.

The Tube is definitely more crowded in the mornings now, which is good inasmuch as it means things are opening up again, bad inasmuch as I’m afraid of infection. The person sitting next to me for several stops had a persistent (albeit mild-seeming) cough which worried me a bit. I did consider changing carriages, but I wasn’t sure of finding anywhere better to sit. He was at least wearing a mask correctly.

Work this morning was routine. In the afternoon, J asked me to phone some people who hadn’t paid their membership fees to remind them. Most of the calls were not answered, or had “number not available” messages. One was answered by someone who said she is seriously ill, immobile and has poor eyesight. I wasn’t sure how to respond and J was out of the office. I didn’t want to pressure her to pay, and thought that J wouldn’t want that either, but I didn’t want to leave the payment hanging indefinitely. She said she would pay over the phone, but struggled to read her credit card number. In the end I said she could leave paying until she can get a relative to help her make the payment, whether by cheque in the post or credit card over the phone. J was fine with that, but the call (which went on for ten or fifteen minutes) left me drained. I’m OK when I have a “script” to follow, but a call like that where I had to make a number of on the spot decisions, is extremely draining.

This was worsened by another call, where the person I called said they had already sent a cheque. On inspection, I had processed it this morning. I checked the database, and the payment had not been processed. I thought I had made a mistake and not processed it correctly (I have done this by mistake in the past) until I realised that none of the mornings’ payments had been processed. I didn’t think I could have forgotten to process all of the cheques. Fortunately, I then remembered that J and I had accidentally been logged into the database at the same time, which can mess up saving data, so I saved myself from unnecessary self-criticism.

Curiously enough, I feel I’m more confident using the phone at work. I have a role, so to speak, and it’s easier to write a script for myself. I was able to do that when I was doing library work too, although the number of scripts I had to have to hand was not always easy to manage. I certainly didn’t have the gnawing anxiety in the pit of the stomach that I would get if I had to make a phone call at home.

My final task for the day wasn’t emotionally/socially draining like the phone calls, but was difficult and I came home exhausted. The heavy traffic on the roads didn’t help, especially as J had a very political talk radio programme on in the car, and news of violence in Israel. When I got home, I just crashed and watched Babylon 5. I tried to do more Torah study, but felt ill and stopped, focusing on getting in a good state of mind for depression group later.

Unfortunately, I didn’t feel less exhausted as time went on. In fact, I started to feel light-headed, even after dinner, so I ended up missing depression group and vegetating in front of James Bond (Skyfall). I did eventually feel better. I don’t know what made me feel ill, if it was just a response to the emotions of the day, or if I’m coming down with something, but I did at least accept that it was OK to feel drained after the phone calls and that it wasn’t my “fault” or that I should have done “better,” which is progress.

I realise that I started this post saying that I didn’t cope, whereas the reality, now I read the post back, is that I did cope, even though I had to deal with stress and possibly psychosomatic light-headedness. It’s good that I can realise that I can actually cope.

***

Today was the second and final day of my shul’s (synagogue’s) fundraising campaign to raise money for new premises. I feel a bit bad as I couldn’t afford to contribute much (particularly compared to the millions of pounds needed, or even the tens of thousands being raised in this part of the campaign) and haven’t been trying to get friends and family to pay. Some of my friends are from shul so don’t need me to prompt them to give; the others are mostly non-religious and non-Jewish and I don’t feel comfortable asking for them to donate, although I’m not sure how much I would feel comfortable asking even if they were Orthodox and frum (religious Jewish). It’s not easy to ask people to donate money. I think most of the money has come from a very small number of presumably super-wealthy congregants and philanthropists/philanthropic trusts, which makes me feel like I can’t contribute much.

I do feel generally that I don’t contribute much to my shul. I don’t mean just or even primarily financially. I know I’m not in a position to donate much money anywhere right now. However, before I moved to this area, I was a regular shul-goer (two or even three times a day) and service-leader in my old shul, but now shul-going is hard because of social anxiety, more draining work and living further from the shul, and while I have led services a couple of times in this shul, I don’t feel at all comfortable doing it in this community which is more frum (religious) and which I still don’t feel completely comfortable in even after having attended for five years or so. It probably is true that my anxiety of not being “good enough” or “frum enough” for the shul means that I am discouraged from doing even what I could manage to do.

***

I had a lot of feedback about my article on Asperger’s/high functioning autism for the Jewish website. It’s all been positive, although I haven’t looked at the comments on the site yet. My friends and family have been very positive (my aunt said it showed “guts and integrity” while my Mum’s cousin said it moved her to tears). My sister’s sister-in-law was also very positive (her son just got diagnosed with Asperger’s) and I’ve only met her a couple of times, so that feels like a “real” person, not just someone close to me.

I’m doing what I always do when I’m praised, which is run away and hide. OK, in this instance there isn’t anywhere physically to run away to, but when I think about it, I feel embarrassed about the positive attention I’ve been getting. However, the main reason I haven’t responded to most of the comments and emails about this is simply that I didn’t feel well enough to do so earlier and now I’m tired and it’s late. Hopefully I’ll feel better tomorrow and reply then, but thank you everyone who left positive comments about the article (and my smile).

***

I’m getting annoyed by the anthropomorphism of COVID. Today I heard that it is “retreating,” but also that it might “bite back.” Perhaps people can’t cope with the idea of an abstract, indifferent problem and prefer some kind of sentient “enemy.”