Danse Macabre

I’ve packed for my New York trip. Well, really Mum packed. I was torn between wanting to be independent and knowing that she can pack much better than I can, and just wanting to remember how she does it so I can pack on the way home. I don’t have great ability to do things like packing that involve imagining how different objects would fit when stacked differently in a space. I’ve never seen it listed as an autism symptom, just like I’ve never seen a bad sense of direction as an autism symptom, but to me they fit logically with acknowledged autism deficits in body coordination and spatial awareness.

My mood has been up and down today. I’m really excited at the thought of seeing E, but also terrified of travelling: terrified of COVID disruptions (or simply being sent home from the airport with asymptomatic COVID), of cold weather (everyone has terrified me by saying New York is cold, but I’m not sure it’s that much colder than London right now), of problems travelling with a mask (I’m particularly worried that my usual anxiety at going through airport security combined with shallow breathing from wearing a mask will trigger some kind of panic attack), of having made some terrible mistake in booking my flights and apartment, of just being overwhelmed by EVERYTHING. At the moment, after a Skype call with E, the excitement is winning. I hope it stays that way for the next forty-eight hours!

***

On an autism forum I’ve joined, people have been discussing school days. Interestingly, a lot of people who responded had a very negative time at school, reporting poor academic achievement, friendlessness and bullying, too much noise and bustle and difficulties fitting in and following rules.

It does make a me feel a bit ‘not autistic enough’ that I did better at school than some. Some people did respond with similar experiences to me, namely good academic achievement, but social isolation and bullying. I went to a very big secondary school and I wonder how I managed to cope with it for seven years. Work wasn’t so bad, but lunch could be very busy. I used to find a quiet corner, with or without my friends. For much of my time there, I went to extra optional Jewish studies shiurim (religious classes) during lunch break, which got me away from the busy lunch halls and playgrounds. I don’t know how I came home after a long day followed by a long journey on buses and the Tube at rush hour and then did a couple of hours of homework. No wonder I was burnt out by sixteen! I was bullied too, although perhaps not severely; not as severely as some people are, anyway. And I had a couple of friends. I think the rules were a positive thing for me, they gave structure and boundaries, and protected me from other children. I couldn’t really understand why my peers wanted to break them so much. They couldn’t understand why they mattered to me.

As I’ve mentioned before, I’m very glad I had what Tony Attwood calls a ‘mentor friend,’ a neurotypical friend who to some extent guided me and even sheltered me from some of the worst aspects of school for an autistic child. This is my oldest friend, who I’m still in contact with.

***

I watched The Old Man in the Cave, a post-apocalyptic episode of The Twilight Zone. A lot of episodes of The Twilight Zone revolve around fears of nuclear war, one way or another, as does a lot of science fiction of the fifties and sixties e.g. Philip K. Dick’s stories from the era are full of it. It’s unsurprising, given how real a threat nuclear war was (e.g. the Cuban Missile Crisis), but I wonder if it’s more reassuring to depict the end of the world when it’s humans who have destroyed it. At least we had some agency.

Stories that deal with catastrophe through man-made pollution and global warming are common, but I suspect that we won’t be seeing a bunch of plague stories post-COVID (cf. Survivors, the 1970s post-apocalyptic series created by Dalek creator Terry Nation, although that was a lab leak plague, so some human agency). I don’t think people want to be reminded how puny we are in comparison with nature.

In the wake of the Black Death, European art became distinctly morbid. There were depictions of the danse macabre, showing the Grim Reaper dancing with people in the fields. Rich people were buried in two-level transi tombs, with a human form depicted on the top and a decayed skeleton underneath, often accompanied by cheery messages like, “I was like you. You will be like me.” It would probably be a good thing if we were humbled in this way by COVID, but I don’t honestly see it happening.

“The silence you hear is Mr Neddie Seagoon sitting and waiting”

Work was stressful as I spent nearly five hours inputting cheques for membership fees onto the system and then going to the bank to pay them all in, about fifty cheques in all plus some cash. J pointed out some mistakes in previous work, and I worry that working on this for so long with just one real break for lunch would lead to more errors. In addition, one of the cheques I took to the bank on Monday went missing. I think it was the bank’s error (I’m not sure how it could have been mine), but it worries me a bit, and I worry that today’s lot could easily have a mistake made by me as well by as the bank teller. One of the cheques had somehow got a bit sticky, and I worry that it will stick to another cheque and not be processed separately, which is probably what happened on Monday.

***

I went to shul (synagogue) for Minchah and Ma’ariv (Afternoon and Evening Services) at the shul in the building where I work. It was super-fast as usual. I suppose people davening (praying) in this shul during the week are mostly working and need to get back to work, but it’s far too fast for me and I’m still davening when the service is over. It’s hard to find a shul that davens at the right pace for me; sadly, I don’t think I’m going to find it in the United Synagogue.

***

I’m not going to shul this Shabbat (Sabbath) as I want to avoid COVID before my trip by isolating as much as possible, although my Dad will go to his shul. I had a close call today when I heard that the rabbi of the shul in the building where I work is isolating after getting COVID. I had seen him in shul (albeit from a distance) on Monday and don’t know if he was infected then. I did a test when I got home and it was negative, so hopefully I’ll be OK if I just avoid people between now and Tuesday (hence the title of this post, from The Goon Show: The Junk Affair, about sitting in silence and waiting).

I have some anxieties about travel, beyond getting asymptomatic COVID and being grounded, but I’m trying not to give in to catastrophisation. Wish me luck…

***

I admit I was too zonked after work to read this properly, but someone sent me to Temple Gradin’s article about good jobs for people on the autism spectrum. She did at least mention librarian (so I wasn’t in the wrong field entirely, I just went about it in completely the wrong way, albeit for reasons that were perhaps outside of my control). Many of the other jobs are IT/maths/technical jobs. Sometimes I feel like I got all the bad parts of autism and none of the good parts, skills with maths and computers. There are also some very low-grade jobs too. Gradin does say to opt for jobs where you have to sell your work, not your personality, which suggests I’m right to look at writing, copywriting and proof-reading, but I’ve never been able to build up the portfolio of work needed to get more work, and anything freelance requires a leap in the dark about how much to charge and how quickly I can promise to do things. I have no idea how long it should or would take me to proof-read a thesis, or how much to charge for doing so, or how to prove to someone I can do it when I’ve never done it before.

***

This article asks what holiness is. I’ve always struggled with this, perhaps surprisingly, given how religious I am. I’m not a mystic, so I’m not convinced it is a “metaphysical substance” that our souls can perceive. Although Judaism generally sees the holy as that which is ‘beyond’ or ‘set aside,’ with my religious existentialist leanings, I tend to see it as being ‘between’ — between human beings or between human beings and God. I think there was holiness at the food bank and the asylum seekers’ drop-in centre where I used to volunteer. In this regard I think of what Rabbi Sacks said about the holiest place in Judaism being the gap between the wings of the cherubs on the cover of the Ark of the Covenant, from where God’s voice emanated, to teach us that holiness is about between spaces, interactions, between people and God and between different people. Rabbi Sacks also used to talk about the importance of listening as a religious act. But if holiness is between human beings, then I’m very bad at accessing it, or being able to access it, given my autism and social anxiety, so I feel like I’ve defeated myself in a way. That said, I do feel something on Shabbat that I can’t describe, and that may be holiness; at least, I hope it is.

Still Drained

I slept through the morning again. Looking at my energy accounting record for yesterday, I was running a deficit again yesterday. I didn’t do a huge amount, but I didn’t do much relaxation either. I did a bit before bed, but that was probably too late at night, when I should really have been asleep. I do need to be online less and doing things that actually relax me.

I struggled through the day with low energy and mood, trying to do things. I went for a walk and wrote a devar Torah (Torah thought) that was nowhere near as good as I thought it would be when I had the idea for it a few weeks ago, and wrote some important emails. The other achievements were Mum cutting my hair and my checking which museums that I want to visit in New York are closed because of COVID. The Theodore Roosevelt Birthplace seems to be the only museum that is actually shut, perhaps because of the difficulty of socially distancing in an old house, but most of the other museums require, or at least recommend, advance ticket purchases, so E and I will have to plan which days we intend to go to which places. I feel a bit daunted, as I have no idea how my mood and energy levels will be, so planning days in advance seems like giving hostages to fortune, as if COVID hadn’t done enough of that already.

I didn’t do much else. My mood was brought down further by something family-related that happened that I don’t really want to go into here.

***

At the back of my mind all day was the ongoing Downing Street party scandal. I wrote two paragraphs about that yesterday and deleted them, telling myself it was too political for a blog that I try to keep apolitical. But I keep thinking about it and wondering if it would have happened whatever party was in power. There’s no way of telling, but I currently have a low opinion of all of them parties, and have done since about 2017. And weren’t there civil servants at this party as well as Conservatives? It’s all just sickening. The anarchist doctrine of “Don’t vote, it only encourages them” sometimes seems very true.

Paying Off the Deficit

I was completely drained when I woke up today, probably a result of doing so much yesterday. I’ve only been measuring my energy for “energy accounting” purposes for a week and a half, and already I’ve learnt that I run up massive energy deficits on work days that I spend non-work days paying off (hampering doing things like writing fiction on those days) and that not only does mindless internet procrastination not restore my energy levels, it actually drains them, particularly if I’m reading political or religious stuff — not even stuff that I necessarily disagree with, but seeing other people arguing drains me. I’m not sure how to stop that, as it’s a fairly compulsive bad habit that I’ve tried to stop in the past with things like setting myself limits regarding when I can be online or turning the computer off at a particular time in the evening. It doesn’t help that almost all my social life (blogging), and a lot of my interactions with E (WhatsApp, Skype) happen online or on my phone, which often leads to habitual internet usage. If my phone is on, it is very easy to open the internet, even if that was not my intention originally.

The energy deficits make me worry a bit about what might happen next week when I’m in New York. I already knew I would need downtime and some quieter days, but I worry about how much downtime I might need. It also makes me worry long-term about being able to run a home and have children, although it’s probably not healthy to think about that right now.

By coincidence/Providence, on my feed today I saw this post. I’m still looking for the perfect article on shutdowns, both for me and my family, but this was quite useful coming today. I do feel like I often have a shutdown after work, at least for an hour or so, but sometimes, like yesterday, for much of the evening and followed by an “emotional hangover” the next day (I was pleased to see that term in the post as I thought I was the only person who used it). I do wish there was an easy test to see if what I experience really is a shutdown, as it’s easy to blame myself for being weak or overreacting.

Because of this, I didn’t do much today, and most of what I did do was preparation for my New York trip. I went for a walk, read some information my airline provided about COVID tests and the like for the trip, and phoned my credit card company to tell them I would be making payments from the US and they shouldn’t worry that my card has been stolen. (Is this normal? My Dad gets me to do it every time I go abroad, but I’ve never seen anything on the website to suggest it’s something most people do.) I downloaded some radio comedy programmes to listen to on the flights as I have a feeling I will be too anxious, and too tired on the return flight, to read much, although I do not know why I think that. However, I’m having trouble getting my iPod to sync and am too tired to deal with it now (yes, I know most people use their phones. I’m very bad at upgrading stuff).

***

I did a little Torah study, about half an hour. As often happens after a shutdown or exhausted day, by the time I felt awake, it was too late to do anything, but I wanted to do some Torah study. I finished reading Tanakh (Hebrew Bible) from cover to cover, in order, in Hebrew (albeit struggling with the Aramaic chapters, of which I think there are nine). I had read Tanakh cover to cover before in English translation, and I had read each book of Tanakh in Hebrew, but not in the right order, but this was the first time I read through the whole of Tanakh in order in Hebrew. I’m not sure how long it took me, probably something like seven or eight years, as there were times when I stopped doing it for long periods when I was suffering depression or burnout, or when I was working a lot and it was not easy to read it on the train.

Traditionally, when finishing study of a Jewish religious book, you start the next volume straight away, so you’re always studying. I will be returning to Yehoshua (Joshua) at some point (I keep the Torah (Five Books of Moses) on a separate cycle, the annual Torah cycle), but after my trip to New York. This is because I ordered two of the Koren Maggid Studies in Tanakh books (Joshua and Judges) for me to collect from E’s apartment, as I haven’t been able to get hold of most of them in the UK lately, I assume because of COVID/supply chain issues. I could order them directly to the UK, but the shipping is prohibitive.

***

My diet (which wasn’t a big thing anyway, just trying to cut back a bit) has hit a bit of a block, as cutting back hasn’t shifted my weight, reinforcing my feeling that it’s all medication-related, which in turn makes it hard not to eat a bit of junk on days when I feel down or exhausted, like today.

“Only stupid Earth brains like yours would have been fooled.”

I struggled to sleep last night. I’m not sure why Sundays are becoming my night for insomnia. Work today was OK, quite busy, but not really anything worth reporting. I did some shopping on the way home.

I was wondering if I would be able to go to depression group on Zoom, but I didn’t make it. I was quite tired when I got home and then I had to cook dinner (macaroni cheese, one of my quick, emergency recipes) and by the time I’d done that, I was totally burnt out. Even eating dinner and watching The Twilight Zone didn’t help. I had to sit for a while in a dimly-lit, quiet bedroom until I got through the burnout/sensory overload/exhaustion (I’ve never been entirely sure if this counts as an autistic shutdown or not).

It was a shame to miss depression group, but I wasn’t 100% looking forward to it. I wasn’t sure how to tell people about my engagement. I get a bit overwhelmed when I share positive news like that and people want to congratulate me and ask questions. It also takes a lot of energy and will-power for E and I to run this relationship long-distance, and I’m not sure how people will react to that. It’s made harder by our respective issues, and the fact that we can unconsciously pick up each other’s anxieties, even if we don’t consciously share them. I spoke to my therapist a bit about this, and she stressed the need to make sure I’m only worrying about the things that worry me. In addition, E and I are really looking forward to spending more time together next week, COVID-permitting, but I’m still anxious about travelling with all the COVID-prevention requirements. So I was worried I would come across as negative, which is probably an occupational hazard in a depression group, but I still was nervous of seeming that way when I felt everyone would expect me to uncomplicatedly happy.

Even after all this, I was still feeling quite drained. I decided to eat ice cream (despite my half-hearted diet) watch some original series Doctor Who, as I needed something safe and familiar to vegetate in front of. I opted for The Moonbase, as it’s not very good, so I don’t feel bad about not watching with E, plus it’s a story with half its episodes missing and reconstructed with animation which means I definitely wouldn’t watch it with E, as I felt watching the reconstructed The Evil of the Daleks didn’t work out well (I might, however, suggest watching The Invasion at some point, two animated episodes out of eight notwithstanding).

The Moonbase is very silly, complete with sarcastic, gloating, supposedly-emotionless Cybermen, as in my title quote, and I’m enjoying it a lot. I watched two episodes, with two more to go. I’m not sure if I’ll watch tonight or tomorrow. I don’t know why I can find episodes of the original series silly and endearing, but episodes of the new series that are probably objectively the same or better just annoy me.

Ben and Polly are two of the great, overlooked companions in Doctor Who. I don’t agree with the argument that they worked with William Hartnell, their “Swinging Sixties” style contrasting with Hartnell’s Victorian amateur inventor vibe, but didn’t work with Patrick Troughton’s quiet anarchism. Jamie is also a great companion, but the production team’s fondness for him, and their desire to slimline the TARDIS crew, deprived us of something good. To be fair, three companions is too many, certainly after the slower and often more thoughtful stories of the first two seasons.

Exciting News and Energy Accounting

I got up before 10am (just)! I told myself I could have a doughnut if I got up by 10am twenty times in January. I guess the lure of a doughnut at the end of the month (despite my diet) is strong enough to break my usual desire to sleep in. (That’s not the exciting news, by the way.)

***

I booked tickets to New York to see E later this month! (That is the exciting news.) Because of the need to do pre-flight COVID tests; my inability to do said tests on Saturday (because of Shabbat) or Sunday (because the pharmacy I want to use is shut); my unwillingness to spend less than a week with E after travelling over 5,000km to see her; and the need to isolate on coming home until after another COVID test, my trip is going to require my taking two weeks off work, even though I’ll only be out of the country for nine and a bit days. This is rather a lot at our busy time of year. Fortunately, J is OK with it.

I did some research on COVID travel rules and restrictions. I feel more confident about them as they’ve become more familiar, although I still worry about going to get turned away at the airport for doing the wrong tests or having the wrong papers, or that I’ll get COVID and be stranded in New York for an extra fortnight. Getting COVID on the return flight doesn’t bother me so much, I’m less scared of COVID (I’m triple vaxxed) than I am of disruption to my plans and all that would entail, although it would be annoying to miss work just as my new contract starts.

***

I spoke to my rabbi mentor. He was happy that my life is going well (engagement to E, job made permanent, depression hasn’t come back despite it being winter, etc.). I did mention that I feel overwhelmed a lot of the time and that I’m struggling to get back in the shul (synagogue) habit post-COVID and that I am struggling to spend an hour a day in religious study as I was a few months ago. He felt that doing one hour of Torah study a day at my age was more than most people would manage (which made me feel vaguely bad that this was largely because I am unmarried, childless and only working part-time) and that doing less would be fine. He asked if there’s anything in my life that I could/would like to just drop and, aside from procrastinating, I said there wasn’t anything, which made me realise that most of the stuff in my life (work, prayer, Torah study, writing fiction, blogging, exercise) is important to me; I just have to work out how to balance it rather than cut anything out entirely.

On a related note, at the suggestion of someone from the National Autism Association forum, I watched a YouTube video on energy accounting by ‘Purple Ella’ (autistic content creator). To be honest, I’m still somewhat sceptical at my ability to get energy accounting to work, but she suggested just recording your activity and energy levels for a fortnight to work out what’s working well and what isn’t. This sounded like a good place to start.

Purple Ella also suggested energy accounting on a weekly basis as well as a daily one, in other words, not just making sure you balance your energy budget (intake vs. expenditure) over the course of a day, but also over the course of a week, taking extra relaxation time before or after a busy day. I do this a bit already, in terms of leaving recovery days after draining experiences, but it’s probably better to think in a weekly mindset as well as a daily one.

***

My revised article on religious OCD is up on the Jewish site. Which is good, but I need to figure out a way to get them to pay me for writing. It’s strange, I never really thought of myself as a confessional writer, but it’s definitely the way my writing has gone over the last decade. Confessional writing is different to novel writing, but I guess they both tap into the same level of emotions, or the novels I want to write do.

***

I’m watching The Twilight Zone episode The Incredible World of Horace Ford, about a man obsessed with his childhood. I could probably write a list of weirdo Twilight Zone characters who are probably on the autism spectrum. Just off the top of my head, there’s Ford, Mr Beavis (from the episode of the same name), the guy from the episode Miniature and probably several more if I thought about it properly. I’m not sure if it’s reassuring or not that they seem to avoid social conformity at the cost of living a ‘normal’ life.

Horace Ford clearly had a happier childhood than I did, as I’m not in much of a hurry to return to it. He has somehow managed to get himself married, which is strange as his wife is intelligent and attractive, yet appears to want to spend her life with a man who has a mental age of ten. His mother lives with them too, for added infantilisation. You can tell The Twilight Zone is pre-feminism, because apparently woman are falling over themselves to play housewife and mother to man-children. Although the guy from Miniature married an Edwardian doll, which probably is even less feminist.

A Hot Mess and a Dry Drunk

The expression “a hot mess” was one I learnt online. I don’t think it exists in British English. Our messes are apparently cold or lukewarm at best. But it’s pretty much how I feel right now.

I felt burnt out again today. It was a struggle to do anything. I managed to cook a very basic dinner (rice and lentils — the ‘cooking’ is mostly just letting it simmer away). I tried to phone Oxford University Press to find out whether an order I made online went through properly yesterday or not. It said it had initially, but then it said it hadn’t and I didn’t get a confirmation email. The order was nearly £60 after it had a discount on it, so I really don’t want to get it messed up. However, it seems they are shut for the holidays, which was not clear from the website.

I tried to book some airline tickets to see E. My Mum likes to go through every possible travel permutation to find the best deal. However, this type of process gives me autistic ‘too many options’ overload and I want to narrow the field to something I can cope with. This led to some tension, as I got stuck and needed her help, which meant doing it her way. There were some autistic communication issues too. Stress + autism = short temper, anxiety and rigid thinking. Mum did save me from making a huge mistake renting an Airbnb (accidentally booking a room rather than an apartment). I also have COVID travel bureaucracy anxiety (what if I forget to take a test?) and general travel anxiety (I have only travelled by myself once and, although I’ve travelled many times with my parents, I do not have a brilliant memory for what I have to do in an airport and they are generally overloading environments for someone on the spectrum). It’s weird to think that some people enjoy travelling and do it for fun, as their main hobby, even in COVID times. Weird.

I was all set to book flights, then I realised that, travelling on a Sunday (outward) and Monday (homeward) would make it hard or impossible to avoid taking COVID tests on Saturdays. So now I’m going to travel midweek, but I’ll need to find new flights. I just feel too stressed now to deal with this, and I don’t want to book anything while stressed in case I screw it up (not an unlikely scenario, sadly). I feel really stressed and just want to curl up and forget about the world (shutdown).

Other than that, I didn’t do much because I felt so burnt out. I didn’t write a devar Torah. I’m going to have to call this week a mental health week and not write one. I did ten minutes of Torah study, which I forced myself to do so that I had done some. I also did not get time to go for a walk. Aside from going to buy a mattress yesterday, I haven’t been out of the house since Sunday, which is not good for health, physical as well as psychological.

I felt dizzy while cooking again. I do need to try to see a doctor next week, if I can find a way to navigate the super long phone wait times, and then get an appointment that doesn’t clash with therapy or work.

I hope work tomorrow and having more structure to the day makes me feel better. I’m having dinner in the evening with my sister and brother-in-law, which should be good, but now is going to be stressful, as I’ll just want to come home and book flights. Possibly I should just wait until Saturday night or even Sunday, if it’s not more expensive to book for the same month of travel (I have no idea if this is the case).

I feel so overwhelmed with LIFE right now, living from day to day when I should be making longer-term plans, from travel next month to marriage and career and writing moves. Writing, finding an agent, applying for new jobs and learning to drive are probably going on the back burner for the next month (at least). And I don’t know how I’ll sleep tonight in this state.

I feel like I’m a dry drunk. I’m not currently clinically depressed, but it’s really easy to tip me over into anxiety and despair because I still have underlying issues and poor coping skills. And, for all that religion is such a big part of my life, I still struggle to really connect with God. If I didn’t have an understanding of God that transcended the purely experiential, I doubt I could stay religious, because I don’t feel God the way some people (apparently) do. And that saddens me, not least because I’m doing all the right things and have been for years, and it’s still not working.

Reality Bombs

I woke up at midday feeling exhausted. I didn’t think I’d done much yesterday to get so tired, but apparently I did. I do need to see a doctor about this, although I’m sceptical of what they might say. Autistic fatigue is not well known in medical circles, and there isn’t much idea of what helps deal with it. I lay in bed for half an hour feeling too exhausted to move, even though I knew how late it was. I’m not entirely sure how I finally managed to get up. I went back to bed after breakfast too. I just felt wiped out. Even bentsching, saying the grace after meals after lunch, which I normally would rattle through, was an effort. Likewise, reading a short devar Torah that would normally take five minutes was a painful effort to finish.

It got so bad that mid-afternoon I went to bed for forty minutes. I don’t think I dozed, but lying with my eyes shut in a darkening (as it was after sunset), quiet room did help me. As that’s my usual cure for autistic overload, it does make it seem that that was the problem, even though I didn’t really do much at all yesterday to make me overloaded.

I felt a lot better afterwards, but I’d lost most of the day. I did about forty minutes of Torah study and read over an article of mine that the Jewish website is publishing next week (see below), but that was all that I managed before dinner. I ate with my parents, as we usually do on Mondays, then joined the National Autistic Society forum because I thought it might be a way of connecting with other autistic people and asking advice, looking for moral support etc. In particular, I want to know more about autistic fatigue and coping strategies.

I ran out of time for novel research, novel writing, devar Torah writing, more Torah study or tzitzit tying. Sigh. It sometimes feels like things go on the ‘to do’ list faster than I can take things off it.

One other thing I did do was my ironing, while watching an awful not favourite episode of Doctor Who (Journey’s End). I am vaguely amused by the way Russell T Davies arbitrarily introduces magic ‘science’ to handwave his way out of trouble, then has to introduce more magic science to explain why the first handwave won’t work again to add the danger back (in this case why the Doctor can’t extend the TARDIS forcefield to protect himself against Daleks as in The Parting of the Ways). There’s a lot of plot handwaving here too, and posing of fake moral dilemmas for the Doctor. Logopolis is also overrated and not very good, but at least it had a more thoughtful take on the end of the universe. (Although Logopolis and Journey’s End end are so different, it’s hard to believe they come from the same programme. In a sense, they don’t.) Also, I am so sick of “Rose is special”; the Doctor shouldn’t have a favourite companion (and if he did, it should be one the ones the fans hate, like Dodo or Adric).

It has left me wanting to watch proper original series Doctor Who, but I don’t want to do that without E. I guess I could watch something that would be low down my list of stories to show her because most people think it’s rubbish, but I secretly love it (The Space Museum, The Invasion of Time and Delta and the Bannermen are all good examples).

***

I did find a useful page on the National Autistic Society website. The idea of energy accounting sounds good, if I can find an effective way to do it (including dealing with work and not guilt-tripping myself into doing more than I have energy for). It’s similar to spoon theory. I do feel that autistic fatigue is my primary problem at the moment. I’m just tired so much of the time. I probably don’t relax ‘properly’ either. I try to push myself too hard to do ‘useful’ things (work, exercise, Torah study, prayer), then crash and do endless internet browsing/procrastination, which is not actually restoring, just time-wasting. Sometimes it makes things worse, if it’s stuff in the news upsetting me. I know just listening to a comedy radio show on my headphones the way home from work seems to have helped a lot with my after-work recovery.

***

The Jewish website I wrote for previously are running a revised version of an article about religious OCD that I wrote some years ago for a geek website. It’s revised to bring it up-to-date and stress that I’m not still suffering with OCD. Despite saying that I’m better, I’ve had some OCD anxiety about getting takeaway later this week, in case the food is not packaged correctly for kosher takeaway. It’s not by any means the level anxiety I had a few years ago, but it is a reminder that the OCD thoughts never fully go away and I always have to be on my guard against them. Truly, the price of freedom from OCD is eternal vigilance.

Pause and Release

I don’t celebrate Christmas, so this time of year can feel a bit weird, particularly when Chanukah is early and long-over, as it was this year. Everything is shut and there’s a sense of almost hibernation, of pause and release combined with hope and nervousness about next year. I’m trying to savour the pause from paid work, although, as ever I am trying to keep busy with my own stuff such as Torah study and devar Torah, novel research and novel writing (yes, even though I have a ton of research still to do, yesterday I decided I could contain myself no more and put pen to paper, or fingers to word processor, and started writing my second novel), so there isn’t so much of a break. Then again, I don’t do total inactivity well.

I wanted to go for a run today, but I had several headrushes just moving around at home, so I decided a run would not be sensible, particularly as it was so damp out and my parents weren’t around to come looking for me if I collapsed somewhere. I went for a walk instead and Skyped E.

I did some novel research. I wanted to do some novel writing too, but got caught up in research and ran out of time, but it’s all relevant. Although I do wonder if the posters on the Jewish pornography addicts forum I was looking at would feel uncomfortable if they knew I was reading for research, and for a novel they probably would not feel able to read (because not Haredi as well as about sex), but I guess there’s no way of telling.

The big thing this week for me is waiting to see what new COVID regulations get added in tomorrow, so I can see if I can visit E in New York in January. We both really want to spend some time together, so I’m hoping travel is still reasonably possible.

***

I’m still tired (obviously — I’ve been tired much of the time for twenty years) and getting headrushes and light-headedness (fairly new, and possibly two distinct sensations). I probably should try to see a doctor, but I don’t want that to clash with New York, if I can go. I’m also dreading hanging on the telephone for hours.

On a similarly medical note, I started to apply for my provisional driving licence. I’m pretty sure I can meet the sight requirements wearing my glasses, and probably without them, but I’m not sure, and I don’t know how to check without having another eye test (I last had one a year ago, so I’m not due for a while). The problem is, it looks like at the moment, because of COVID, I would have to wear a mask while having driving lessons, which means my glasses would steam up, so I wouldn’t wear them — and I’m not sure my eyesight would be good enough then. I could, of course, concentrate on the written exam first, which might be a better idea anyway, in terms of having free time for it.

In the end I decided I will phone the optician on Wednesday and see if they can tell me, from my records, which category I’m in (able to drive with or without glasses) before I apply for the provisional licence. In the meantime, I should think about the written test. Although frankly the whole idea of learning to drive terrifies me. Like many people on the autism spectrum, I am bad at judging distance and speed and I’m also terrified of being overwhelmed or distracted (both very possible with autism) and having an accident. But I promised E that I would at least try to learn and certainly it makes sense for one of us to learn how to drive, and at this stage I’m the more obvious choice.

***

E and I are back to watching Doctor Who new series, season four. I watched The Stolen Earth today. I could write a negative review, but it’s easier just to point out that writer/showrunner Russell T Davies and I have radically different understandings of plot logic, verisimilitude, dialogue, humour, emotional drama, Doctor Who, David Tennant’s acting range and pretty much everything else and it’s a wonder that I liked any of his stuff at all. Sadly, from this stage until he leaves (at the end of a year of special episodes), everything is written or co-written by Davies, turning up all the parts of his writing that annoy me and forgetting about the stuff I liked. And now he’s coming back in two years. Oh, well. I’ve long-since realised that I don’t have much connection with contemporary TV Doctor Who.

***

As a couple of people have commented about them, I should probably explain about the password-protected posts that I’ve posted lately. I wrote them thinking I might post them for a small audience, but would see what E thought first, but once she had seen them, I didn’t feel a pressing urge to share them more widely. I don’t know if I’ll continue doing this. If I do want to share, I have the email addresses of the people I would want to share with, so I’ll let them know the password.

Shame and Guilt

Yesterday was a dull day at work. I didn’t have much to say, so I didn’t blog, although I spent somewhere between one and two hours writing a private post. It felt freeing and I don’t know if that was writing for just E and me, or writing about something I’ve never really written about before.

I did go into the Judaica shop in search of tzitzit and came away with tzitzit strings to tie myself (even though I said I wouldn’t do that any more — it turned out to be significantly cheaper) and an expensive book, which I want for novel research, but also want to read anyway (On Repentance by Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik, edited by Pinchas H. Pelli — the new edition). I’m not sure if this was sensible in retrospect.

I feel tired today, not hugely burnt out tired, but it’s hard to do anything. Maybe it is a bit burnt out, though, inasmuch as going for a walk was hard and studying Torah was hard. It’s hard to tell. I really feel that I need to speak to a doctor about this, the persistence of tiredness and lack of energy long after the low mood of depression has gone, as well as what seem to be occasional “blood rushing to the head”-type moments lately, particularly when climbing stairs. However, I’m scared of even trying to get an appointment at the moment, with COVID expanding queues and everything non-essential shutting for Christmas. I worry about not being taken seriously too; autistic fatigue (if that’s what it is) is not widely understood or accepted. And I suppose I’m vaguely scared of having some kind of undiagnosed physical issue, possibly blood pressure-related (I think I’ve historically had slightly low blood pressure).

I didn’t do much Torah study today, although I did finish my devar Torah for the week. It was a more speculative one. I somehow struggle to find the balance between the classic sources and my hiddushim, innovative interpretations. Maybe the ideal balance only exists in my head and I just dislike whatever I write.

I didn’t do much else either, I guess because of the lack of energy. I did a little novel research and then E and I went to a virtual class about the influence of Christian art on Medieval Jewish art. It was interesting and makes me want to learn more about art generally.

***

Doing more research about pornography addiction, I came across the idea (in Understanding and Treating Sex and Pornography Addiction by Paula Hall) that shame about sex or pornography addiction can actually feed the addiction, but guilt about it can help stop it. This is based on the idea that shame is about feeling you are flawed as a person, which is destructive and throws you back into the addiction, but guilt is about feeling an act you did was flawed, which leads you to want to stop doing that action.

I wonder if this applies to non-addictive shame and guilt. I feel a lot of shame comparing myself to my peers, especially at shul (synagogue) as well as school and university peers, for not having managed to meet the social expectations on clever or even average people my age (career, family, house, etc.). I also feel shame at shul for perceived inadequacy in prayer, Torah study and mitzvah performance. So this sucks me deeper into depression when I’m depressed, or low mood when not clinically depressed, and into lower self-esteem. If I focused on guilt for specific acts, this might be less all-consuming and more productive. It’s hard though. I get eaten up by shame very easily.

Coping Strategies

I got a rejection from another agent this morning, I think it’s the fastest rejection I’ve had (two days). I’m up to ‘B’ in the alphabetical list of agents I’m using. I guess when I get to ‘Z’ I’ll have to stop and hope my next book is better.

***

In better news, I had a Zoom talk with my oldest friend. He was really happy about my engagement and asked a lot of questions about E. I think I knew all the answers! My Dad does the same thing, asking lots of questions, and it makes me feel strange, that I apparently just focus on the present in the relationship and don’t ask so many questions about E’s family or personal history. I don’t know if that is an autistic thing or just a personal idiosyncrasy. I suspect the former; autistics are not known for their interest in small talk and inter-relationships (for comparison, my oldest friend immediately searched for mutual Facebook friends he has with E). I’m more focused on the life E and I are building together than the ones we used to have separately. Maybe that’s strange.

After that I went for a walk and had therapy, an extra session squeezed in because I was very anxious over the weekend. We spoke a lot about coping strategies, which I hadn’t really discussed with a therapist before, except in a CBT context, and, as I’ve said before, like a lot of autistic people, I struggle with CBT. I hope some of these alternative strategies will help.

They included:

  • Being mindful in the moment.
  • Mental filter: is this MY problem or am I absorbing someone else’s problem?
  • Writing.
  • Exercising.
  • Focusing on image of water flowing through me, washing away the worries.
  • Listing practical solutions and whether I can do them now – if not, put to one side.
  • Seeing problems as finite and definite.
  • Asking, “Am I frightening myself?”
  • Asking, “What can I do to calm/nourish myself?”
  • Remembering that worrying does not help!

I think they are a mixed bag of practical and more ‘symbolic’ strategies and I guess which ones are more useful will vary from person to person or perhaps from time to time. Certainly I can see some that I’m more willing to try than others. Some seem more of a starting point; being mindful in the moment is good, but I’m not sure how to achieve that at the best of times, let alone when anxiety is running crazy. We didn’t mention the worry tree, but I guess it’s related to the point about listing practical solutions and whether I can implement them now.

I printed off two copies of the list, one to go on my wardrobe door where I’ll see it and one to go with my siddur (prayerbook) on the grounds that blue tacking papers to my wardrobe door makes them visible at random moments for a while, but eventually they blend in and become part of the furniture, whereas if I have to move the sheet every time I daven (pray), I’ll be confronted with the list regularly. I also printed off a copy of the worry tree too, as I’ve lost my copy.

***

We don’t get as much interesting wildlife in our garden in this house compared with our old house (we moved six years ago), but lately we’ve had a green woodpecker with a red head. S/he was in the garden for quite a while today.

Super-Neurotypicals and Functional Autistics

I had to do the Very Scary Task today at work. It’s not so bad when I’m in the office, as J is around if I get stuck, but I still feel that I don’t 100% know what I’m doing. I do still find the phone calls draining and a bit scary. I also had to do another task that involved checking and editing details back and forth on two spreadsheet tabs and compared with a print out with teeny tiny print on it. It was not fun, and I have more to do on that on Wednesday (Wednesday rather than Thursday this week).

I was pretty exhausted/burnt out/punch drunk/whatever it is after work. There was a long wait for dinner, so I did some novel research, but by the time I got to dinner, I was too exhausted to answer Mum and Dad’s small talk questions in anything other than monosyllables. E thinks my parents are sort of super-neurotypicals, meaning more social, chatty and small talk-ey than most neurotypical people, let alone autistics. That may be true (Mum is an extrovert; Dad self-describes as an introvert, and he does need alone time, but I think he may be an ambivert or a very social, social introvert). It certainly feels like family dinners on Mondays tend to fall into a pattern of Dad throwing questions at me and me not knowing what to say, or having the energy to say it. There are autistic issues too e.g. Dad asked if the Tube was busy and I wasn’t sure what to say without a parameter of what a ‘normal’ Tube day is (pre- or post-COVID? Rush hour or off-peak?).

I would have liked to have done some more Torah study this evening, but my energy went into research instead.

***

I’m not sure that asking my therapist for an extra session tomorrow was such a good idea. To be fair, she chose to give it to me even though she is on holiday; I just said (honestly) that I couldn’t remember if she was on holiday this week or next week. I just feel that the anxiety I was feeling over the weekend has subsided somewhat.

***

I read this article on The Lehrhaus (Orthodox Jewish site, much more rigorous and intellectual than most), reading a couple of Talmudic narratives through an autistic lens (the author is on the spectrum). Even before I read it, I was excited to find something in the frum (religious Jewish) world about autism. I noticed that the author, Rabbanit Dr Shayne, gave her email in the biography section and decided I would email, less because I had anything to say about the article and more to reach out to another frum autistic. Working out what to say was hard, though. The author seems so confident and comfortable in her autistic identity, not to mention her rabbinical and secular educational qualifications. I often feel like some kind of awkward thing, barely functional in practical, educational, religious and social areas and barely recognisable as the excellent student I once was. She talks about the way autism “informs and deepens” our relationships with Judaism, but to me it feels like a fairly impenetrable barrier to ‘real’ Judaism.

***

OK, crashing now, TV…

“You silly, twisted boy, you.”

I emailed my therapist yesterday evening. We weren’t due to have a session this week, but I couldn’t remember if that was because we only meet every other week or if she is on holiday too. It turns out she is on holiday, but is fitting in a Skype session for me, which is very kind of her.

I wanted the session because I feel so overwhelmed at the moment. The lack of sunlight makes me depressed, I’m worried about E and anxious about various other things. I find it hard to know what to prioritise at the moment. Prioritising one thing means de-prioritising several others and they all seem important, except for relaxation (as opposed to mindless internet procrastination, which I seem to do a lot of) and novel-writing, which I suspect deep down are the things that keep me sane and which I have not done enough of lately.

I had anxiety dreams last night, and slept too long. The anxiety dreams were unique to my anxieties (about birds and safety pins) rather than classic “turning up for an exam you haven’t revised for then realising you’re naked and then your teeth start to fall out” type of anxiety dream. Yes, I probably did too much yesterday after Shabbat and I certainly stayed up too late. It was partly because E was anxious and I wanted to Skype her and partly because I was trying to cram as many chores as I could in.

The grimness of winter really hit me today, the lack of natural light even during what was notionally daytime (it was very overcast), my lack of energy (probably a mixture of my usual residual depression and/or autistic fatigue plus doing too much last night plus winter and wanting to hibernate), my distance from E. E and I just want to spend some time doing couple stuff and hanging out together, but there’s an ocean in between and a pandemic going on (you may have noticed).

I feel like I never developed good coping strategies for anxiety and depression — or wedding worries, long-distance relationship sadness and winter blues, as I have right now. My depression went away because it was driven, or had become driven, by undiagnosed autism; when the autism was diagnosed, it left. I don’t think it’s come back, but the last few days have made me aware of how finely-balanced I often am, and that I lack the skills to healthily comfort myself and cope with life. Worse, I feel I have bad coping strategies waiting in the wings, trying to tempt me to use them again. I am not sure why I’ve never really learnt good coping strategies. It’s partly that I’ve mostly done unstructured therapy, partly that my experiences with CBT, in individual therapy and groups, which is more structured and strategy-focused has mostly been a failure, perhaps unsurprisingly, given its low success rate with autistic sufferers. But any hope of getting autism-adapted CBT is three years away.

I also wonder if I should speak to a doctor about my tiredness and oversleeping. It seems to have persisted long past the end of the rest of my depression and I’m not sure if ‘autistic fatigue’ really covers it. The problem, or problems, are that autistic fatigue is poorly understood and not always acknowledged as a real thing; that my doctor’s surgery will try to stop me seeing a doctor I feel comfortable with; and, in any case, it seems irresponsible to take up the doctor’s time with something as relatively minor as this as we get hit by another wave of COVID and probably another lockdown. Even if I did decide to make an appointment, the wait times, both to speak to a receptionist and to be seen by a doctor, are probably unbearably massive. Even then, I feel there won’t be much the doctor would/could do other than send me for blood tests which will doubtless not show any physical symptoms — and then what?

In terms of achievement, I filled in some forms related to my job becoming permanent. I did some Torah study and pitched my novel to another agent. That was about all I managed. I Skyped E and we both felt frustrated about not being able to hug or do anything fun together. Sometimes 5,000km feels exactly like 5,000km.

It wasn’t good weather for running, and I was low on time and energy, so I went for a walk in the dark and fog. I continued listening to old BBC radio comedy while I was walking, this time The Goon Show. It was quite funny, but more dated than Hancock’s Half-Hour, or maybe my tastes have changed. Hancock is mostly character-based humour, which is perhaps more timeless than The Goon Show‘s reliance on surrealism, weird sound effects and running jokes; that it was occasionally racist doesn’t help.

The Road Goes Ever On

Perhaps inevitably after such a busy day yesterday, I crashed last night/this morning. I slept until after noon and woke up feeling very anxious, partly because of weird dreams about family bereavement and also about James Bond/explosions (I don’t like long build ups to explosions in action films). I spent most of last night and a chunk of today feeling like I’d been run over by a steamroller. Eleven hours sleep clearly didn’t help, or did too much.

I feel like I’ve been relying for the last couple of days a lot on the idea I posted the other week, about, “I’m not responsible for the first thought; I am responsible for the second” to deal with anxiety. Actually, it would probably also be good to think that, “My thoughts are not always my friends.”

On the plus side, I think E and I are both very aware that, given our mental health histories, having some difficult thoughts and feelings at the moment is inevitable, and we can accept and support each other in that (even if we are not always so good at accepting ourselves!). That makes me feel safer. It is hard to do this long-distance, when half the time we both know that we really just need a hug! No one has ever invented a good long-distance hug alternative, although Mark Zuckerberg is probably trying (anything to remove the humanity of humans).

My parents have now told all their (many) friends about E and me. A lot of people seem happy for us. My parents were excited today at the responses they got and couldn’t work out why I was so withdrawn this evening — a mixture of autistic fatigue (even autistic regression, horrible phrase), autistic difficulty processing and responding to other people’s emotions, and social anxiety, the feeling that my parents’ friends now expect things of me, even if only that I will have an exemplary happy marriage. I hope I do have an exemplary happy marriage, but it’s hard to be happy when it feels like dozens of people are staring at you, expecting you to be happy. Or it is for me, anyway.

Still, I am glad they are happy for us, and I am happy at getting engaged. I just feel this would be easier if people had more acceptance of atypical emotional responses. At least E understands it, which is the main thing.

***

E and I had a serious conversation about jobs and finances as we’re both worried about that aspect of our lives together. It’s hard to know what to do. It’s hard knowing that I’m not able to work full-time and might never be able to do so. Only 20% of autistic people are in work and while some of the 80% unemployed are probably much more severely autistic than me, not all are. It’s just very, very hard to find the right workplace with the right desired skillset. The National Autistic Society work with some employees to promote jobs for people on the spectrum, but they seem pretty “typically autistic” jobs with numbers or computing. I’m not sure how I could find writing work or the like. It’s also hard to tell if I really have blown my chances at librarianship or if I should keep applying for jobs in the sector. Some jobs I’ve been interviewed for have told me, “You weren’t right for this job, but if we advertise again, we’d like to see you,” while others have responded as if I’m a total idiot and probably lied about my qualifications. It’s scary to think that it might just be environment or mood that produced one outcome rather than the other.

***

I terms of actual achievements today, I cooked dinner (lentil dal — I forgot how easy the recipe is), emailed my shul (synagogue) to inform them of E and my engagement and revised my OCD article with a view to publication on the Jewish website (I’m still waiting for copyright clearance). I wrote a devar Torah that I’m not at all happy with, about a biblical mixed metaphor that has long interested me. I’m not sure I really got to grips with it. I found one interesting perspective, but didn’t develop it as I would have liked (I had an idea for development that didn’t go anywhere) and had to pad it out with a idea taking largely at random from Chabad.org. I spent forty minutes doing research for my second novel, which I want to spend more time focusing on (but I also want to focus on practising my cataloguing skills for work, sending my first novel to agents and exercising, so something’s going to get neglected).

Doing things did perhaps help me shake myself out of my drained state, although I tend to be at my best in the afternoon generally. It’s now after midnight and I finally feel alert, in a good mood, and ready to do things, posing the classic question of staying up late Doing Things or going to bed hoping tomorrow will be a better day. I stayed up a bit late and did a few things, which is probably falling between two stools.

***

This Unherd article predicts some kind of lockdown soon. It also says the omicron variant will be “on the level of a very bad flu season”, which I guess begs the question of whether we would/could/should lockdown for bad flu. The Evening Standard is claiming that “Omicron takes over in London” which annoys me because (a) I hate articles that anthropomorphise COVID, (b) it’s stupidly melodramatic and extreme and (c) it sounds like a plot synopsis of a Doctor Who episode (“While the Doctor and Romana are on Skaro, Omicron takes over in London”). Meanwhile, in Parliament, nearly one hundred backbench Conservative MPs rebelled against Government plans to move back towards lockdown yet again while still insisting there will be no Christmas lockdown.

I honestly don’t know what to think any more. As Andrea Leadsom said in Parliament earlier today, we don’t lockdown every year for flu. Flu lockdowns sound ridiculous to us. But I don’t want 50,000 people to die this winter (although I’m not sure how many excess deaths we’re talking about i.e. people who wouldn’t have died of something else). But I don’t want to ruin a generation of children’s chance of education or to self-destruct the economy either. I also don’t want to wear a mask all the time or to be stopped from visiting my fiancée in the new year, but I think those are basically foregone conclusions at the moment. I very much want COVID to end, but I’m still quite nervous of being indoors with unmasked people. I don’t trust people who think a “Zero COVID” policy is viable, but I trust the horse de-wormer quaffing antivaxxers even less. It is hard to know what to think. A predicted six week lockdown has gone on for nearly one year and nine months. I just want it to be over.

Put Your ******* iPhone Down and Listen to Me

I overslept today. I think my clock radio alarms (plural) didn’t go off. Luckily, I set another alarm, on my phone on the other side of the room (in case I turn off the clock radio alarms in my sleep as often happens). I rushed to get ready, but was slightly late leaving, although I got to work at a reasonable time. I’m slightly concerned that this may change if Transport for London goes into administration soon, as may happen. I think there’s currently a game of chicken going on between the Mayor of London and central government, particularly the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who is refusing to give any more money after having already given a lot. The computerised destination boards at the station weren’t working today and haven’t been for some weeks now and I wonder if they have been deliberately left unfixed as ‘leverage.’ The staff don’t announce which trains are leaving from which platform; you really have to take a train, hope it’s the next one leaving and then check when you get to the next station to see if it’s going on the right branch (the station is the end of the line, so all the trains are going south, but the line splits into two branches further down).

***

At work I was phoned by the autism hospital who said I’m on the list to be screened to see if I can have autism-approved CBT. The person who phoned me reassured me that, for people diagnosed by the hospital (as I was), screening is usually just a formality. Less reassuring was the next bit: being approved would lead to my case being sent to the CCG to get funding. If I get that, then I get on the waiting list — which is currently running with a thirty to thirty-six month wait! I’m sure this has been worsened by COVID, but it’s pretty horrific. I’m not 100% sure that the three years (or whatever) only starts at that late point. It’s possible that I misunderstood and have already started the three year wait. However, with the NHS it’s usually best to assume the worst-possible outcome (and lower expectations from there).

Between the NHS and the Tube, it’s tempting to say something about underfunded public corporations, and whether they could be fixed by spending sprees or privatisation or re-nationalisation of the already-privatised bits… I no longer know or care what the solution is, I just wish someone could SORT THINGS OUT.

***

I used my SAD light box at work. I felt a bit self-conscious with it, but I don’t really get time to use it at home on work days, and on non-work days I wake up late and am wary of using it late in case it stops me sleeping later. I’m still not sure it does much when I do use it. I didn’t feel depressed after using it today, but by evening I was utterly exhausted, the type of exhaustion I get from being autistically overloaded, and I struggled to really focus on things. I wanted to get away from the computer because computer stimulation doesn’t help when I feel like this, but also wanted to Skype E and to write this, both of which involve being on the computer.

I did skype E in the end, and it was good, despite some depressing topics of conversation (the likelihood of another COVID lockdown and the difficulty of raising children in an era of social media and online bullying). Speaking to E revives me rather than depleting me, which is good.

***

I’ve had a bit of reversal of my thoughts about the United Synagogue and potentially rejoining a US shul (synagogue) at some point in the future. I have nearly finished Rabbi Sacks and the Community We Built Together, which reprints some chapters from an (I think) out-of-print book by Rabbi Lord Sacks, where, to my surprise, the former head of the United Synagogue says that he never liked it growing up and only became a regular participant at a US shul when he became the rabbi of one. There are plenty of Haredi rabbis with communities in the US that would clearly never daven there if it wasn’t their job to do so, but I saw Rabbi Sacks as a solid US man. His reasons for disliking the US are similar to mine: US shuls are too large, too anonymous and too focused on the rabbi and the chazan (cantor) doing things and everyone else spectating. I’d add a lack of commitment to meaningful prayer and Torah study on behalf of many of the congregants and also chazanim who rush through the silent prayers and then drag out the prayers that they get to sing, even though the silent prayers are more important.

Rabbi Sacks’ change of mind came about when he realised that the US is essentially the only place in the whole world where shomer mitzvot Jews (Jews who keep the commandments) and non-shomer mitzvot Jews meet as equals in a religious context. He sees it as a fundamentally inclusive organisation (in a passage written long before “inclusive” became an over-used buzzword) that allows for growth through example as well as overt preaching.

So that made me wonder if maybe I have things to offer in such a situation, whereas I feel I don’t in an shomer mitzvot-Jews-only type of shul. A couple of blogs I follow have been writing about whether it’s better to be a small fish in a big pond or a big fish in a small pond. I tried to be a small fish in a big pond in many situations from university onwards, and I’m not sure where it got me. My biggest triumphs were mostly when I was a big fish in a small pond. I know Pirkei Avot says to be the tail of a lion rather than the head of a fox, but Pirkei Avot is unique in Talmudic literature in that it is seen as good advice rather than strict law; it’s not such a problem to decide it doesn’t apply to a particular situation (and it has various internal contradictions that we don’t try to iron out the way we do with other volumes of Talmud).

***

The Jewish website I applied to write for has clarified that they do want to publish the article I sent them (the one that has already been published elsewhere), but that they won’t pay me for it as they don’t pay for reprints. This does not encourage me to exert myself to investigate the copyright/reprint situation, bearing in mind I felt burnt out this evening, even though they want to post it next week. They did say I could pitch articles to them in the future and that they pay for articles, all of which is positive, although I’m not quite sure why they didn’t pay for my first article. Was it simply because I didn’t ask?

***

I should say something about COVID, but I don’t have anything to say except that I think we’re headed for another lockdown, I worry that we’re going to vaccinate enough people to get herd immunity without mandatory vaccinations (which make me uncomfortable even though I’m pro-vaccine) and that, unless we have a frank and taboo-busting discussion about exactly how many additional deaths we’re willing to accept per year in return for not living like prisoners and not letting our children grow up traumatised and uneducated, we’re going to be stuck here forever. Deaths per day in the UK are much lower than in the early days of the pandemic and in the peak earlier this year (after the bungled lockdowns around last Christmas). I feel there is a point where the costs of further lockdowns outweigh the benefits, but I’m not an epidemiologist or a medical statistician and feel inadequate to having an informed discussion without some help from government and media figures who don’t seem to want to have the conversation. At some point COVID is going to have to be treated like flu or pneumonia, a hazard of life that we take some precautions against, treat and take seriously, but don’t bend our society out of shape to avoid. I’m not sure what that point is, but we need to start discussing it rationally without people saying that one COVID death is too many or alternatively that the pandemic is a hoax.

***

Listening to A Steady Drip, Drip, Drip, an album by Sparks from 2020 that I got for Chanukah the other day. It’s very good. I’m not sure what it means that the song that resonated most with me so far is iPhone with its refrain, “Put your ******* iPhone down and listen to me.” So true, sadly. Although maybe I’m just fixated on iPhones to avoid thinking about all the various awful things I’ve mentioned in this post that I can do nothing about.

Thoughts on Work and Other Things

I had my phone meeting with the person from the neurodiverse work-support organisation (also called E). The organisation does offer interview practise, at £10 for half an hour, either a hypothetical interview with general questions or one where they ask specific questions based on the job description of a job I’m actually applying for. I might go down that route if I start finding lots more jobs to apply for, although I think I could get interview practise at a more local Jewish into work scheme, possibly for free (although I would probably make a donation if I got the job).

We spoke a bit about autism-suitable jobs. I mentioned my career path so far and that librarianship hasn’t turned out the way I hoped, either in terms of job availability, working part-time and the environment not always being autism-suitable. She felt that, if I’m looking for part-time work, then administration, particularly in the charity and non-profit sector, is a good place to look, so I said that that’s where I am at the moment. We spoke a bit about writing. I got a bit shy about talking about my writing experience and ambitions, I’m not sure why, but we did talk about trying to find voluntary work for one day a week at a local newspaper or similar publication just to get some experience to put on my CV, which sounds like a good idea. She said the organisation has contacts with a magazine about health and disability and she would look into finding work experience for me there, which would be a good thing, particularly if it’s remote, as she thinks it would be at the moment.

The call only lasted fifteen minutes, and I think the woman speaking to me felt a bit like she was short-changing me, as she apologised and asked if I had other questions, but I feel like I got some useful answer to get to the next step in my attempts to get more work life improved.

Afterwards I went for a walk while it was still light, or a bit light, as it was overcast and the sun was setting. I listened to incidental music from Blade Runner until I realised it was contributing to making me feel depressed (along with the weather) and switched to The Beatles. When I got home I drafted my devar Torah and cooked dinner, but found it hard to focus or get motivated. Winter evenings are always bad for motivation, and I find that, while I enjoy Chanukah a lot, lighting candles takes up a huge chunk of time in the early evening (setting up the lights, waiting for Mum and Dad to be ready, eating dinner together in front of the lights instead of eating while watching dinner…). Unfortunately, the early evening is a time when I am often trying to cram activities in before bed, or trying to relax; it’s also currently when I Skype E, because of the time-difference, so it was hard to cram things in.

***

I just came across the following factoid from an Office of National Statistics article about religion in the UK census data for 2011:

Volunteering was higher among those who identified as Jewish (44%), Buddhist (31%), “‘any other religion” (30%) or Christian (23%) than remaining religious groupings in England and Wales in 2016 to 2018.

I feel ridiculously proud of the Jewish community apparently volunteering significantly more than any other religious group in the country. (The groups counted in the census were ‘no religion’, Christian, Buddhist, Hindu, Jewish, Muslim, Sikh and ‘any other religion’.)

***

The Omicron Variant should be the title of a horror film from the fifties or sixties. Delta Variant is more of an action film, I feel.

***

E asked for a list of my favourite and least favourite Doctor Who stories.  As I don’t have a Doctor Who blog any more, I thought I would stick it here. Feel free to skip the rest of the post.

I’m putting the favourites on one list, because good new series Doctor Who episodes are broadly as good as original series ones to me, but I’m splitting the bad ones into two lists, as the original series ones are mostly boring and badly-made, whereas the new ones have a whole load of other fan embarrassment buttons to press, from overt stupidity to an overly-sexualised Doctor to (sadly) unconscious antisemitism (at least I hope it’s unconscious).

Also, I’m hugely indecisive and find that repeated viewings can reveal new sides to disliked stories, so the lists could change.

Favourites

  • The Mind Robber
  • The War Games
  • City of Death
  • Warriors’ Gate
  • The Caves of Androzani
  • Ghost Light
  • Human Nature/The Family of Blood
  • Heaven Sent

Least Favourites (Original Series)

  • The Celestial Toymaker
  • The Invisible Enemy (? I think I enjoyed this a bit more last time I saw it)
  • Underworld
  • Meglos
  • Arc of Infinity
  • Planet of Fire
  • The Twin Dilemma
  • Timelash

Least Favourites (New Series)

  • The Runaway Bride
  • Voyage of the Damned
  • The Doctor’s Daughter
  • The Stolen Earth/Journey’s End
  • The End of Time
  • Into the Dalek
  • Kill the Moon
  • The Husbands of River Song
  • Twice Upon a Time
  • The Witchfinders
  • Orphan  55

To honest, if I was rigorously consistent, I would add or remove various stories, but this is more intuitive than scientific.

Other observations: I really don’t like Christmas specials (four on the least favourite list).  I do apparently like stories with a reputation for being confusing (Warriors Gate, Ghost Light), and also stories set in some kind of void and/or bizarre realm outside the normal universe (The Mind Robber, Warriors’ Gate, Heaven Sent).  My choice of favourites is pretty catholic in terms of Doctors and styles, but surprisingly nothing from the years 1975-77, generally seen by fans as the programme’s Golden Age, although there were several stories from that era that narrowly missed a place on the favourites list, and it is an era I view positively on the whole. Patrick Troughton and Tom Baker are the only Doctors to get more than one story in the best list.

Long Division

I don’t have much to say, but I feel I need to offload a bit. Work was OK. I went to the bank, which I always like as it’s good to get out of the office (which I’m finding increasingly dark and claustrophobic as we head further into winter), even if it was cold outside. Coming home wasn’t fun though. I had my first proper Tube ‘packed like sardines’ crush since COVID started, and it wasn’t even rush hour. I don’t know how I managed to cope with this regularly for so much of my life despite my autism. No wonder I kept burning out! And now I have COVID fears about being stuck with a crowded carriage of people breathing on me. Mask compliance was perhaps a bit better than it has been for a while, but not like it was last winter. Everyone was wearing a mask in shul (synagogue) tonight, but it’s hard to feel confident about that when it feels such a retrograde step.

I have been pretty burnt out this evening. I had a good time with my family last night, but I had to ‘people’ all evening and then go to bed without much downtime. Then I had work today, the Tube crush and then eating dinner with my parents again, which is still ‘peopling.’ I desperately need some TV time. I did half an hour of Torah study on the train to work; I would have liked to have done some more, but I just don’t feel up to it.

Also, E and I are facing some big decisions, but we’re facing them together, which is good. We both feel anxious, though, and frustrated at being so far apart. I’m not saying more about this for now.

***

I laughed out loud a couple of times when I was listening to Hancock’s Half-Hour on my headphones while walking home from the station (despite it being a very dated episode in multiple ways). I’m glad it was dark and people couldn’t really see me as it would look pretty odd.

***

I watched yesterday’s Doctor Who. It was mostly quite good and I wasn’t going to comment here, but then there were some bits, small and, unfortunately, very big, that were very, very bad. So feel free to skip the rest of this post, unless you’re a fan, or you just want to see me angry.

I liked the Yaz/Dan/Professor Jericho stuff. It felt like proper Doctor Who, exciting, funny, mysterious and different. More please.

The Grand Serpent was nasty. Somehow he seemed to do more than Swarm and Azure, who look good, but, in my mind at least haven’t done much (they killed some abstract people in a somewhat abstract way), a big ‘show don’t tell’ violation. And I find myself guiltily thinking the programme is better without the Doctor being engaged in the main storyline — no slight on Jodie Whittaker, just on the general level of bombast that new series Doctors are supposed to exhibit in comparison with the original series (Yaz and Professor Jericho arguably both seemed more Doctorish in their plotline).

The mildly irritating stuff: the Ood mask was rubbish (eyes too big, tentacles too rubbery and the whole thing screaming ‘fake’). The story as a whole is sort of beginning to make sense, but some stuff just isn’t explained properly. And no upper class British general in the 1950s would use ‘task’ as a verb.

The small, but annoyingly awful bit: the in-joke vocal appearance by Lethbridge-Stewart. No one of his class and accent and paternal background (see Twice Upon a Time) rose through the ranks. He’d have gone to Sandhurst and trained as an officer from the start. And even if you take the latest dating for the UNIT stories of (our) 1970s, he must have risen through the ranks superfast to get from corporal to colonel in time for the dates to work. It’s even worse if you assume the scene takes place after The Web of Fear (as is also a possible reading) and he somehow got demoted from colonel and re-promoted. Sometimes one badly-thought through in-joke is not just unfunny, but actively annoying and undermines any good feeling the in-joke might have generated.

The very big and very awful bit (MASSIVE SPOILERS with spoiler space, although WordPress blocks might mess that up EDIT: it did mess it up, sorry):

We really didn’t need to meet the Doctor’s mother, even if she is her adopted mother. It was bad enough seeing this much of her past in The Timeless Children. Even Russell T Davies held back from overtly doing this (the woman in The End of Time is supposed to be his mother, but it isn’t actually stated on screen). It’s just a silly soap opera thing, particularly if it isn’t done for any reason other than the cliched ‘villain says the Doctor is “Just like me”; Doctor says, “No I’m not!”-parallelism.

There is an argument that the Doctor hasn’t had any real mystery since The War Games revealed his/her/their background back in 1969 (real world chronology), but this is taking it to a ridiculously self-obsessed extreme. Doctor Who isn’t fundamentally about the Doctor, it’s a show that takes the Doctor as a character and uses him/her/them to explore different environments and story styles. The problem is that the programme goes through cyclical periods of thinking that the show is absolutely about the Doctor and the Time Lords and now Division and obsessing over them until the programme can’t breathe under the weight of its own mythology. Then someone else comes along and hacks the whole thing back to basics, which is what needs to happen right now. I hope maybe the Flux will provide some way of resetting the whole universe, because I can’t see where we can go from here.

Now I feel like I need to watch some other TV to recover from the TV which upset me instead of calming me down.

Achievement

I don’t have much to say about this Shabbat (Sabbath), but I thought that I ought to note here that, as well as going to shul (synagogue) on Friday night, I also went for Minchah, Talmud shiur and Ma’ariv (Afternoon Prayers, religious class and Evening Prayers) today. Which is good, as I hadn’t been for ages. (And people had noticed and were surprised that I came this week, which made me feel a bit bad.) Shiur was in the main room, as usual, but the ‘fathers and children’ learning groups were going on in the same room. I guess it doesn’t bother anyone because this is what a Beit Midrash (study hall, including in a yeshiva/rabbinical seminary) is like, with lots of people learning in pairs or small groups, but I find it very autistically-unfriendly and struggled to concentrate.

***

I just watched the two-part Doctor Who story The Sontaran Stratagem/The Poison Sky as part of my new Doctor Who watching with E. There are a few things I could say about it, but most of them aren’t nice (and I’ve said them before elsewhere on the web) and I’m trying not to say not nice things about books and TV now I’m hoping/praying that my own scribblings will be reviewed somewhere some day.

That said, I do wonder why the Sontarans (militaristic potatoes) have been brought back so many times whereas their arch-enemies the Rutans (shape-shifting green jellyfish) have only been seen once, at least on TV Doctor Who. I find the Rutans much more interesting, to be honest. I guess the Sontarans are easier to do on a budget (masks and space armour) than giant jellyfish. I would like to see another Rutan story, or one in which we actually see the much-discussed Sontaran-Rutan War, said to have been waging for millennia.

I will also say that Luke Rattigan is a really annoying character, and not in a good way. And that Mark Zuckerberg is blatantly in league with evil space aliens (sorry, went a bit Meta there).

Good News/Bad News (Again)

The good news: the autism hospital called me back. It sounds like I’m the waiting list for autism-adapted CBT, but don’t have funding yet. I’m not sure what that means practically. What do I need to do to get therapy? The woman I spoke to, who doesn’t deal with the autism-adapted CBT any more, is going to email the woman who does deal with it and ask her to phone me back, which I hope she does. I’m just really pleased to finally have a moderately good NHS story!

***

On the downside, I realised I’ve made some mistakes with my novel submissions. I knew agents like novels to be double spaced, and my manuscript is double spaced. However, agents also like novels/sample chapters pasted into the body of the text, not sent as attachments. I didn’t realise until yesterday that the cutting and pasting was undoing the double spacing, due to the not-very-good webmail system I use for email (which I use now mainly because of the hassle of telling everyone I’ve changed my email, not that I really know that many people to tell). When I realised this, I sent the second submission yesterday from my secondary, gmail, account, which seemed to keep the double spacing when I pasted, but I forgot to change the email address in my personal details, so it refers to my primary email, not the one the document is coming from. I have to hope that this will be OK, or that now I’ve sorted it, it will be better moving forward. I guess it’s a learning curve, and that I will be using the gmail for professional purposes from now on.

***

My blood test results from the other week are all fine, but I’m conscious again that I’m a bit overweight. I know it’s largely due to tablets, but I’m going to have to try harder to lose some of it…

Running to Stand Still

I am still looking for agent for my novel. I submitted to two today. They are only the third and fourth agent I’ve sent to in last four weeks. I’m not sure why I’ve been going slowly; some of it is feeling that there are still a lot of things in my life that I need to deal with NOW (the treading water feeling that I am not progressing, just running to setand still). I have to prioritise, and it is easy to say that submitting my manuscript is not a high priority, which might not be correct.

Finding an agent and then a publisher is definitely a marathon, or a series of marathons, and not a sprint, but it is easy to get disheartened particularly when (a) I don’t have great self-esteem in general or belief in my writing ability, (b) I’m also looking for writing and other paid work and not getting anywhere and (c) I’m in a job where I frequently end up feeling incompetent and inadequate, which just undermines my self-esteem further.

***

Reading Orlando, there is a lot about Orlando struggling to fit in with the spirit of the literature of her age. Reading between the lines, I assume this is about author Virginia Woolf and her lover Vita Sackville-West (the model for Orlando) struggling to fit into the still-pervading atmosphere of Victorian conservatism and patriarchy in literature and society in the 1920s. Ironically, Orlando‘s gender-fluid and feminist themes mean that Orlando is very much in tune with twenty-first century Western literary mores, probably more so than Woolf could ever have dreamed. I am still hoping that the ‘diversity’ agenda that dominates contemporary publishing will work to my advantage, but so far as I can tell from the books that get the praise and the prizes, ‘diversity’ is primarily about being black, gay or trans (or all of the above), not disabled (autistic or depressed) and definitely not Orthodox Jewish. Which is a shame, as I feel that many people know rather less about Jews than they think they do, and that this ignorance leads to a lot of avoidable antisemitism.

(Don’t get me started on viewpoint diversity in publishing or elsewhere.)

***

I did a few other things today. I wrote my devar Torah in an hour. I felt like I was winging it. Sometimes reading the sedra (Torah portion) early in the week prompts an idea to talk about or sends me doing research in other books. Sometimes I already have an idea that I want to impart and look for a link in a sedra (Torah portion) where I can relate it. But today I was stumped for ideas and just thought about things I’d already heard about the sedra until I found one I felt I could write about for about 600 words. I think it’s OK, and I did try to write in a slightly different style to my usual one, with more of an arresting opening and a bit more inspirational than usual. This was partly to make my writing more attention-grabbing and purposeful, largely to nudge my style a bit closer towards that of the Jewish website I applied to write, to see if I can actually write in their style.

***

I phoned the autism hospital to try to get a number I can phone to find out if I’m on the waiting list for autism-adapted CBT. I phoned the person I spoke to last week who says she doesn’t deal with it any more. At the time I didn’t think to ask her for the details of whoever does deal with it and now I’m struggling to find out. I feel stupid about not doing this at the time, but I know autism + on-the-spot interpersonal interactions + telephones is not a good combination and I do end up thinking of things I should have said when I look back on these types of calls.

***

Overall, I did quite a bit today (I skyped E too, and went for a walk and did some shopping), but my ‘to do’ list is still so long, and I might have to submit to so many agents, that it can all seem very dispiriting at times.

Useful Phrases and Toxic Positivity (and Doctor Who)

Work today was mostly OK, except for a bit when I was on the phone to someone I often struggle to understand and then J started talking to me. I could not listen to both people and once and I heard nothing. At the time, I thought this was an autistic sensory or processing thing, but it’s probably something lots of people would struggle with it.

***

I’ve been thinking today about a couple of useful phrases for mental wellbeing. One was something I heard on an NHS group therapy thing I went to a few years ago. “I’m not responsible for the first thought, I am responsible for the second.” I can’t remember the exact context where I first heard this. I think it was mostly directed at self-esteem, as in I’m not responsible if a self-critical thought comes into my head, but I don’t have to follow it up with more. It’s good for dealing with those kinds of thoughts, but I use it with a lot of other difficult thoughts, particularly the type which, if dwelt upon, can push me towards pure O OCD (idolatrous thoughts, violent thoughts, sexual thoughts). I can just say that I’m not responsible for random thoughts that come into my head, so no guilt and catastrophising about being a terrible person for having such a thought, but also that I have the power not to dwell on them so I can move on, which is empowering.

The other phrase was something I learnt on a confidence and self-esteem course I did many years ago. I think some of the course veered towards toxic positivity, but one thing that was useful was the mantra, “It’s none of my business what other people think of me.” That’s actually quite powerful and I focused on it today after the telephone awkwardness. I do tend to think that a lot of people have negative thoughts about me (people who don’t know my issues/struggles, but who witness my social awkwardness), but I can at least try not to care about it.

***

Speaking of toxic positivity, I listened to a Normal Frum Women podcast on the subject yesterday. It was good, but I felt that they didn’t really get into the issue of toxic positivity in a Jewish religious setting. They spoke a bit about the sociological side of things, like mourning rituals creating time and space for sadness, but they didn’t really get into the theology. A lot of people would argue that Jews are supposed to be grateful and joyous all the time. This is an idea that is identified most strongly with Hasidism (particularly Breslov Hasidism), but can be found in other places too. This can be hard to accept or follow.

Part of the problem is that most of the sources dealing with joy and sadness date from before the development of modern psychology, so they don’t really distinguish sadness from clinical depression. Even accepting that, I think it is OK to say that sometimes the emphasis on joy and happiness isn’t always healthy or achievable, and that there is a place for sadness (they said this on the podcast, just not with religious sources). I used to know a Yeshivish rabbi who used to say that he was very glad that he isn’t a Breslov Hasid as he couldn’t be happy all the time. (It is also worth noting that Rebbe Nachman of Breslov was also far from being joyous all the time and quite possibly had bipolar disorder, so we shouldn’t feel bad about not living up to a standard even he didn’t reach.)

Beyond that, I think there is a sense that joy is not the same as happiness or positivity. Rabbi Lord Sacks z”tl wrote an essay on Kohelet (Ecclesiastes) in his Sukkot machzor (Tabernacles prayerbook). It’s a while since I read it, but I think he says that Kohelet is a book permeated with death and the sense of the shortness and futility of life, but it also has the word ‘joy’ more than any other book in Tanakh (The Hebrew Bible). The paradox is resolved because joy is not about always being happy and more about living in the moment and being grateful for what you do have, something that is compatible with feeling sadness from time to time.

***

Doctor Who thoughts, feel free to skip: I watched The Fires of Pompeii with E (long-distance). It’s a strange story, full of postmodern comedy, then it ends with the city being destroyed and loads of people dying. Doctor Who has done this before (the original series story The Myth Makers, about the fall of Troy, is very similar, tonally, although it’s hard to compare them directly as the older story no longer survives), but it seems weirdly awkward.

It seems like when Doctor Who, original or modern, does a historical story set within living memory, the writers and designers bust a gut to get every detail right and it’s all taken very seriously. No one is going to suggest the Montgomery Bus Boycott (Rosa) or the partition of India (Demons of the Punjab) were anything other than serious, tragic episodes, and while there is humour (e.g. the Doctor claiming to be Banksy in Rosa), it’s low-key and it doesn’t send up the period. Nothing like the Cockney Roman stallholder in The Fires of Pompeii.

If it’s set beyond living memory, however, suddenly the most outrageous errors (beyond artistic licence), anachronisms and silliness are permissible, even if it ends badly. The Witchfinders in particular sticks in my craw, for many reasons. Hence The Fires of Pompeii, an episode that mostly feels like Asterix… right up until the city gets destroyed. Weird.

There is a sense that, if no one in the audience can remember it, it’s ripe for comedy, which is a bit shocking for a programme that was originally supposed to teach children about history and to present the past on its own terms, as being as valid as the perspective of the present. Admittedly it wandered from this attitude very quickly, also in a story set in the ancient Roman Empire ending in catastrophe (the Fire of Rome in The Romans, a story very much in the same vein as The Fires of Pompeii). The Fires of Pompeii is far from being unique here, but the tragic nature of the climax, combined with the broadness of the comedy beforehand, make it particularly noticeable. I would like it if we could go back to really well-researched historical stories, but I suspect I’m in a minority here.

(Actually, I’ve just remembered Let’s Kill Hitler, a story that isn’t actually about killing Hitler, but does not exactly get to grips with the brutal reality of the Third Reich. It’s more about River Song trying to kill the Doctor, but I guess if I were inclined I could see it as more evidence of Jews not being considered a real oppressed minority in the eyes of the woke/BBC, although 2011 is a bit early for true wokeness. Anyway, as a general rule, my point still stands: recent tragedy: serious; further back: mockery.)

(Trivia point I noticed a while back: The War Games (1969) is closer in time to World War One (1914-1918) than Rosa (2018) is to the Montgomery Bus Boycott (1955-1956), yet it doesn’t feel that way.)

Autistic Regression, A Tail to Foxes, and More

You can’t become autistic. You’re either born on the autism spectrum or not. However, autistic people can mask their autistic traits, suppressing their desire to stim or forcing themselves to endure sensory overload, using their cognitive skills to engage in social interactions that allistics (non-autistics) do intuitively and so on. Sometimes they can mask so well and for so long that they don’t even know that they are autistic until it suddenly becomes to much and — BANG! — they start showing autistic symptoms because they’re too drained to mask any more. Hence adults appear to suddenly “become” autistic, to the surprise (and often horror) of family, friends and work colleagues. (This is kind of what happened to me, although not entirely.) This process of losing the ability to mask and “power through” disability has the rather brutal title of “autistic regression,” where people can lose skills (possibly permanently, although research into this is ongoing).

As well as coming at a time of autistic burnout, autistic regression can happen at any time as a result of autistic overload. One autistic person whose blog I read can lose the power of speech when she is very overloaded. I don’t lose speech totally, but when I’m overloaded I can become monosyllabic and irritably refuse to engage with anyone who tries to talk to me.

The last few days I seem to have been struggling with sensory sensitivity and I’m not sure why. Yesterday I was really overwhelmed by the smell of the mint in the chicken Mum cooked and served (I’m vegetarian on weekdays, so I didn’t taste it, which was a bit of a relief). Today the highlighter pen I was using at work had a smell that made me feel a little ill, even from a distance of a foot or more. I went into the shopping centre on the way home and there is a stall there that has some kind of flashing light thing that I usually tolerate or even like, but today it was just too overloading. I definitely am less able to tolerate sensory stuff at the end of a long work day, but I’m not sure why the mint was so overwhelming yesterday. It is a bit scary when this happens, when I suddenly seem to slip towards the less functional end of the autism spectrum.

***

Work was difficult today. There was an element of helping with the Very Scary Task. I also realised I had thrown away something that J wanted me to keep. To be fair, I think he said to throw it away, although there was probably a communication error. This has not stopped me being self-critical, although not as much as in the past. I also had a very difficult task, trying to reconcile four pairs of accounts. I sorted the first two pairs and am still on the third; I haven’t touched the fourth yet. It took me a while to work out how even to approach the third pair, but I got there in the end (hopefully).

***

I stayed for Minchah and Ma’ariv in the shul (synagogue) building where I work. The speed of davening (prayer) was incredibly fast as usual. I am used to the slower speed of my shul. I am trying to remember if the fast speed is typical for the United Synagogue. I think it was fast even for the US, but the average US speed is faster than my current shul.

I was thinking about this because I’ve been reflecting on the future and one day moving back to a US shul. I would not like to have a shul that davened as fast as the work shul as my main place to daven. However, I had reflected recently that I may feel more comfortable in a US environment where I am one of the more religiously learned and capable members, partly because there is less fear of being rejected, but mostly because I am more likely to engage with the community and do things (lead prayers, share my divrei Torah, give shiurim) if I feel there are few people in the community who can do these things. The Mishnah in Pirkei Avot says that it is better to be the tail of a lion than the head of a fox, but I think I’m more comfortable as a fox head. But should I be trying to be comfortable?

***

Tomorrow is going to be hectic, as my parents are going to the cremation of my Mum’s cousin, who died a week or two ago. She wasn’t religious; cremation is not allowed in Orthodox Judaism, nor is leaving a body unburied for so long without a good reason. For some reason this has disturbed me and I’m not sure why. To clarify, cremation is believed to cause great pain to the soul and that is why it disturbed me. What I don’t know is why this particular cremation upset me. I wasn’t close to the cousin (I think I only met her once) and I’ve had other relatives cremated without feeling the same way about them. But something about this has got to me, and I’ve been thinking about her periodically. Feeling that I want to do something, but there isn’t anything I can do. Maybe it feels worse because she has fallen out with her sister, who isn’t sitting shiva (mourning) for her.

The reality of Judaism in the twenty-first century is that frum (religious) Jews are a minority of a minority. This means that many frum Jews have non-frum relatives. The options are either to accept that you can’t control other people, even family, even your children; or to cut people who think or act differently to you out of your life. Some frum Jews do the latter quite ruthlessly and, to be fair, there are non-frum Jews who cut newly-frum relatives out of their lives. I made the choice many years ago to go down the “accept I can’t control other people” route. It’s hard sometimes, but I’m sure in my mind that it’s the best option, morally, religiously and pragmatically. It does sometimes lead to thoughts and feelings that have nowhere to go, though.

***

I am currently reading Orlando, which E gave me for my birthday. I wanted to read it as it’s her favourite book and I thought that as she is watching Doctor Who, I should do something in return. I’m finding it more readable than I expected. I didn’t have very clear expectations, but I guess I had an idea of Virginia Woolf as an austere litterateur and humourless political radical who wouldn’t believe in joking around until Patriarchy is destroyed. Actually, Orlando is pretty funny. However, I can see why Philip K. Dick described Woolf as someone who wrote about nothing at all, meaning that there isn’t much plot.

***

I listened to episodes of Hancock’s Half-Hour while walking to and from the station on work days this week. Hancock’s Half-Hour was a sitcom on the radio and later the TV in the fifties and early sixties. I grew up listening to it and recently bought what survives of the first radio series on CD (as with early Doctor Who and many, many other TV and radio programmes, not all of it survives). It is dated in places, but remarkably modern-sounding in others. It’s hard to listen to dialogue when walking along busy roads, but it has cheered up my walk home when exhausted at the end of the day this week and makes a change from music.

Kafkaesque

I woke up again at 7am after only having had about six hours of sleep. I thought about getting up, but six hours sleep didn’t seem enough, so I went back to sleep and, inevitably, slept through most of the morning. I think it’s weird that this keeps happening. Maybe my body is trying to tell me I really don’t need so much sleep, but I do find it hard to get by on six hours, so I wonder why I keep waking up after that amount, and why I sleep for so long afterwards if I don’t need it. I think I need to bite the bullet and get up at 7am or whenever I wake up and see what happens, but it’s hard to think like that when I’ve only just woken up and I only get a few seconds to decide what to do before I fall asleep again.

After I fell asleep again, I was having some weird bad dream when my Dad knocked on the door. I think I gasped audibly or even screamed, but I’m not sure.

***

When I filled in the job agency registration form yesterday, they asked for references. I gave two, but I thought I ticked (or tried to tick — it’s hard on a Word document) the box for not asking them for references yet. However, J texted me today to say he’s been asked for a reference. There isn’t much I can do about it now, and it’s probably not a bad thing that J knows that I’m looking for supplementary work especially as I’m still hoping he’ll make my current role permanent (technically I’m a freelance contractor even though I’ve been there for a year now). Still, it was a conversation I was hoping to push off for a bit.

***

More fun with bureaucracy: the autism hospital phoned me back, which surprised me a bit. The person I spoke to said that they need a referral form from the GP rather than a letter, which may be what the problem was. She said that she doesn’t deal with the autism-adapted CBT any more, but that she thought the people who do would have sent the form to the GP. I’m not sure that this has been done, although it’s hard to tell, because there is apparently a huge backlog of referrals that they are working through (I assume because of COVID). I didn’t think to ask for contact details for those people when I was on the phone (because I’m autistic and have issues with dealing with conversations, especially on the phone!). I phoned back afterwards to do so, but it went straight to voicemail. So I may be on the waiting list already, or I may not be, but I’m not sure how I find out for sure. Honestly, it’s like something out of Kafka.

***

I emailed my oldest friend. We haven’t Skyped for a while and I wondered how he was getting on. More selfishly (not exactly selfish, but focused on the self), as my relationship with E gets more serious, I feel I need to mention her to my friends, so it won’t be a shock (or too much of a shock) when we get engaged.

***

I had a positive therapy session, but in many ways my biggest breakthrough was outside therapy. It was in realising that, while I do not have good Talmud studying skills, I do have some good Midrash study skills. The Midrash is the rabbinic expansion of the biblical narrative, like fan fiction that explores the characters and themes of the original text. Midrash can be hard to understand, as it can be intensely symbolic, even surreal, but the meaning of the symbolism may be unique to the individual passage, so there isn’t a set of universally-applicable ‘keys’ to learn. There is a tendency in the Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) world to take Midrash very literally and to see the text as revealed by God in a straightforward way (similar to the Haredi understanding of Tanakh (Hebrew Bible)), but in the Modern Orthodox world, it is seen as more literary and authored by individual rabbis rather than an objective description of factual events.

I find this a lot easier to understand that legal arguments. Yesterday I went from being curious about a passage in the Torah to looking up some Midrashim (in translation), finding a relevant Midrash, being baffled about the meaning, figuring out what seemed a likely symbolic reading and linking that symbolic reading to an understanding of the wider narrative in the Torah that it related to and writing a devar Torah about this with a homiletic conclusion all in the space of an hour or so. I think not many people would have been able to do that, even if they could understand halakhic (legal) passages of Talmud easily. It’s really a creative process not a rational/logical one. You stare at it for a bit and either the meaning of the passage suddenly hits you or it doesn’t and you go to the next one. Certainly having experience in reading serious literature helps here. (In fairness, there were other Midrashim I looked at that I couldn’t understand.)

I would like to build wider Midrash study skills further, but that would require investing time on improving my rabbinic Hebrew and also investing money on buying some volumes of Midrash rather than relying on Sefaria.org (there isn’t much Midrash easily available in parallel Hebrew-English translation). It is something to keep in mind for the future.

***

My sister and brother-in-law came for dinner. I had warned my parents that I would probably be drained after therapy (I feel like I’m just expected to fall in with everyone else’s plans). I definitely got ‘peopled out’ partway through the evening, around the time I had to listen to the story of my parents’ recent holiday for the second time (the first was the Shabbat after they got home, but sister and BIL weren’t here then). Perhaps because I was drained, my inner filter switched off and I was — not rude exactly, but cheeky. I have to admit they are still here, and I just slipped away from the meal because I needed a break. Even though my sister, BIL and I have early starts tomorrow, the meal is still ongoing. It is getting rather late and I really want it to be over, not because it’s bad, but because I just need some downtime before bed. I should probably go back downstairs and rejoin everyone as I’ve been up here for quarter of an hour…

Blood Test Manoeuvres in the Dark

I had a blood test today at 11.20am. I booked it for earlier than usual (I would normally go for the afternoon) to force myself to get up earlier and get more out of the day. I did struggle to get up on time, and went back to bed for a while after I got home.

The blood test was in a room where the lights were off and the blinds half-drawn. I’m guessing the phlebotamist had a headache rather than there being some problem with the lights, but this is the NHS, so who knows? I was a little nervous of someone sticking needles in me in poor light. At least I didn’t seem to shake much, or maybe the phlebotamist didn’t notice in the dark.

More NHS fun: I phoned the autism hospital in the afternoon to try to find out what my GP needs to do to refer me for autism-adapted CBT, but there was no answer. I left a message, but am not hopeful of getting a response.

Other than that, my main task for today was to fill in registration forms for a job agency. I’ve been with them for a number of years, but apparently it’s been so long that I need to register again. This probably reflects badly on my ability to find permanent work, although I suppose it reflects equally badly on their ability to find permanent work for me.

That was very boring and I got sidetracked into reading politics stuff online, which initially reinforced the curmudgeonly feelings I had woken up with, but eventually turned into guilt and self-disgust for bothering to read this stuff. Honestly, I’d rather avoid politics. Sometimes I feel like I’m overwhelmed by political opinions and unable to process them rationally in the time available, so I swing into sudden anger or impulsive policy decisions that I disagree with later. Structural changes in journalism due to technological and social change, including the advent of social media, seem to have had a negative affect on the mainstream media, making it less researched and more clickbaity, less focused on telling us what happened and more focused on telling us what to think (or rather, feel) about what happened. I’m aware that this is not an original perspective by any means, and that it might even be a product of the situation it describes, which is a scary thought.

Even so, the banality of politics continues to annoy me. The local Labour Party sent a flier through the door the other day promising a “Stronger Future Together”. I’m not sure how the future can be stronger (or weaker, for that matter). Not that the Conservatives are any better, somehow winning a landslide with the vapid “Build Back Better” slogan in the last general election. You can take alliteration too far. Still, someone must have liked it, as Joe Biden stole it for his presidential campaign the next year. (Not the first time Biden has borrowed from British politicians. He withdrew from the Democratic primary race in 1987 partly for having plagiarised a famous speech by then Labour leader Neil Kinnock.)

(Don’t take the above paragraph too seriously, I’m just feeling cynical today.)

My mood did pick up after a while, although I wish I had not wasted so much time today as there was more I wanted to do.

I did work on my devar Torah for the week, but I struggled to find the source I wanted. I have a book called The Encyclopedia of Biblical Personalities. The name is somewhat misleading, as it mostly lists Midrashic (rabbinic) material on biblical characters rather than summarising the biblical narrative. It is a useful way of finding rabbinic perspectives on particular figures or locating specific Midrashim (rabbinic expansions of the biblical story), but I like to try and check the sources in full, as sometimes the passages are highly edited. However, I could not find the source even in Hebrew on online Jewish library Sefaria. This may be because the referencing in the book wasn’t accurate. I can use the source as quoted in the Encyclopedia, but I do feel vaguely guilty about doing so.

I think the devar Torah was OK though. This is a part of it:

There are a number of Hasidic tales that have a similar structure whereby a Hasid wants God to grant him wealth or health, not for its own sake, but so that he can study and pray more. However, the Rebbe tells him that God does not want his prayer, study or service, but rather He wants the struggle the Hasid has to endure, and the sighs that he makes, in his effort to serve God while still living as a human being with a need for sustenance and health.

I’ve written things along these lines, about God wanting effort rather than achievement, a number of times in my divrei Torah. I really hope I can start believing it!

Then and Now

I feel that sometimes bad things happen and I write about them, but when they get resolved, I forget to mention it. I think I forgot to mention that the ringing I had in my ears a while back stopped after a few days of steam inhalation. Similarly, I had a couple of recent days of emotional lowness and worried I was drifting into depression, but I mostly seem to have been OK since then, albeit with the caveat that my ‘normal’ mood is generally somewhat lower in the winter than the summer, and that I can dip into low mood for a while during a day in response to external events, or just being hungry or tired.

***

Yesterday I applied for the writing job I wrote about recently. That took much of my Sunday afternoon. I didn’t do much else. I went for a walk, skyped E, did some Torah study. That was about it.

Today at work I had to go to one of our other sites, which at least got me out of the office. I was absolutely exhausted when I got home (then had to make supper as Mum wasn’t feeling well). I couldn’t do the things I was hoping to do tonight, although planning to do anything after work is always risky. I worry how I will cope if I work more hours.

J pointed out that I’d made a fairly big mistake last week. It’s possible I just misheard what someone said to me over the phone. The more worrying interpretation is that my brain simply wasn’t working properly as I was trying to listen, write and think (and ‘people’ a bit, which is harder over the phone) all at the same time, while also trying not to give in to social anxiety. I guess Explanation 2 is just an elaborated version of Explanation 1. All of which makes me worry about my future in the workplace (any workplace). It’s hard to tell how annoyed/concerned J is about this, as he’s pretty laid back about everything and I can’t work out if that means this is OK or he’s angry, but chooses not to show it.

***

Lately I’ve been reading Rabbi Sacks and the Community We Built Together, a nicely put together (and surprisingly long) tribute book to Rabbi Lord Sacks published by the United Synagogue for his first yortzeit (death anniversary). The book is lavishly illustrated with photos of Rabbi Sacks taken at various events during his Chief Rabbinate. The Anglo-Jewish community is very small and I’ve already spotted a number of people I know in the photos with him.

Today I spotted my first girlfriend in one of the group photos. According to the caption, it was almost certainly taken while we were together. It was a bit of a shock, being reminded of my previous life. I was a different person back then. It did make me reflect, not for the first time, that E is really the best person for me. None of my other girlfriends/dates/crushes (not that there were many of the first two) came close to connecting with me, understanding me or caring for me as well as she does.

The downside of reminiscing is that part of me still struggles in the way I did back then with a lot of day-to-day tasks, and with sleep and energy levels, and I am not sure how to deal with that, because finding True Love apparently doesn’t magically stop you being autistic and socially anxious.

***

This week’s new Doctor Who episode was pretty much typical new Doctor Who. I was going to say something about the fact that I could barely understand it and none of it really resonated with me, but I keep coming back to the idea that the programme isn’t made for people like me (resolutely non-fashionable middle aged fans), it’s being made for a family audience and especially children of the twenty-first century. If it didn’t have the name Doctor Who I probably wouldn’t watch it and I probably wouldn’t care, but because it has the name on it, and because I’m emotionally invested in ‘Doctor Who‘ (whatever that means), I care.

It’s funny how much of my fan life has been spent trying to define the difference between the Doctor Who I like most and the Doctor Who I don’t like as much (or at all). There’s a fan joke that goes, “What’s the definition of a Doctor Who fan? Someone who hates Doctor Who” and, while I don’t think that’s entirely true, it does define a certain type of person, and certain part of most fans. We (i.e. fans) try to maintain that there’s just one big thing called Doctor Who, but really it’s made up of lots and lots of little bits and it’s OK to like some of it and not other parts without needing to explain yourself (he said, explaining himself).

***

I posted this on Margaret’s blog and thought it was probably better here than in a comment thread. It was responding to a meme about books being more lavish, detailed and beautiful than the films that are based on them. I wrote:

I don’t think that meme about the book vs. the movie/film is always true. I can think of a number of stories where the film is as good or better than the book, although to be fair, in some cases the book was written primarily as the first stage in writing the screenplay (e.g. 2001: A Space Odyssey and The Third Man). I think the meme discounts the artistry present in good direction, acting, cinematography and even design e.g. Blade Runner, which purely in plot terms is worse than Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, cutting out the subplots as well as over-simplifying plot and character, but the direction and design work add a whole level resulting in a film that feels like an immersive environment.

As a librarian, bibliophile and aspiring novelist, I feel vaguely treacherous for saying that the film can be better than the book, but I am a Dispassionate Truth-Speaker and will not lie!

The One with all the Writing Pitching and Job Hunting

I had a bad start to the day. I decided to let myself sleep in, which was probably a bad idea. I got woken up at 11.30am by the phone. It was someone phoning from a job agency. I thought it was a cold call and asked them to phone back this afternoon. It was only later that I remembered that I had made the appointment to speak to them and forgotten to put it in my diary. Then I fell asleep again for a couple more hours and the afternoon was a rush to fit things in. The call, when I had it, was OK, just confirming that I am looking for more work, either one day a week, to fit with my current job, or up to three days a week, which would involve leaving my current job, something I have mixed feelings about based on my current sense of my ability to function with the workplace, but probably a nettle that needs to be grasped at some point. This job agency has managed to get me one or two jobs in the past, one that was very good and I think another that was awful, albeit for reasons none of us could really have guessed (just how badly working in an open-plan office 9am-5pm would affect me given my autism, which had not been diagnosed back then). On the downside, I’m already registered with one agent at this agency, so I’m not expecting many more possible jobs, and I don’t think this agency has got me an interview for a year or more.

After that, I hurriedly sent my article pitch to a Jewish newspaper while I was feeling vaguely confident (or just efficient) about my ability to cope with work. Now I’m terrified of either a positive or a negative response. I think I just want to be forgotten. I also pitched my novel to another agent in the evening.

Dinner was a bit of a mess. I got back from my walk to realise that I didn’t have the courgettes I needed for vegetable couscous. I feel like my brain just isn’t working today. I didn’t feel up to going out again in the dark, and I thought the recipe would be OK without them.It tasted OK in the end, but it would have benefitted from the added colour and taste of the courgettes.

I did some other things. As my parents are away, I did some laundry (Dad usually does that). I spent half an hour writing a devar Torah. I wasn’t hugely happy with it, but I guess if I want to be a writer it’s good that I can spin out 500 words of something vaguely meaningful on the sedra easily. Not that I necessarily want to write Jewish stuff (or only Jewish stuff), but as a measure of my ability to write at length with time pressure.

I booked an initial meeting with Enna, an organisation that offers employment mentoring to neurodivergent people (help with CVs and interviews, help finding relevant jobs, help asking for adjustments in the workplace etc.). I have a half-hour meeting with them in a couple of weeks to see how they can help me. That meeting is free, but meetings after that have to be paid for (it’s not a charity), so I’ll need to get an idea of how much they might be able to help me and whether it’s likely to be value for money. I’ve had help with CVs before, but some interview practise might help. To be honest, I’ve had interview help too. It’s not that I don’t know what to do and more that I can’t do it in the moment. In particular, I struggle to know what to do when my mind goes totally blank in response to a question and I freeze up. In theory notes would help, but I’ve never really had sufficient brainpower to look at them in that situation.

***

I’m watching the Doctor Who story The Green Death with E. I’d forgotten how slow the first two episodes are. Fan Wisdom states that the ideal length for a Doctor Who story is four episodes, each twenty-five minutes long (or rather it stated that, until single episode, forty-five minute stories became the norm with the new series) and that all six part stories have two episodes of padding. I don’t think that’s necessarily true, but it is in the case of The Green Death. Then, at the end of episode two, as the real story starts, the giant maggots turn up. I’d forgotten how gross they look too. Anyone who thought that BBC special effects in the 1970s weren’t up to much should watch them. They even have functional mouths (and teeth, weirdly). For a generation of children, this is known as The One with the Maggots. Then just in case they hadn’t traumatised a nation of children enough, the next year they did it all over again, but with giant spiders (Planet of the Spiders). The giant spiders weren’t anywhere near as effective as the maggots, though. Apparently they had to make the spiders less scary because the BBC had an internal policy on spiders not being too scary on TV. I’m amused (and vaguely jealous) that the BBC in the 1970s had enough horror/science fiction/fantasy output to need a policy on spider-scariness.

Neither Here Nor There

I went to bed late last night, which was my fault, and then I struggled to fall asleep and to stay asleep, which was not my fault. I overslept a bit, but got to the office more or less on time despite train delays.

I got to leave work earlier than usual today, which was good, as it gave me more recovery time before depression group (see below). This was a double relief after having done some of the Very Scary Task again, although J will be handling most of it tomorrow.

I went to depression group on Zoom. I hadn’t been for ages as I find it too draining after work. I didn’t have much to say, as I didn’t want to talk too much about my situation with E (I’m still pretty private about it and don’t want to say anything until there’s something to say), but I also didn’t want to sound too negative from having had a few bad days in the last week or so. I was just glad that I went, as going has felt too much for some time now, and that I spoke, as I was somewhat anxious about speaking. The group will be restarting in-person meetings soon and I might try to go to them as well as, or instead of, Zooming in the future. The time demands are greater in person, as I have to get there by bus or get a lift from my parents and come home by bus, but I think it’s easier to speak in person (although this could be selective memory after eighteen months) and it feels less confusing blurring the boundaries between home and group by being in my room and in the group at the same time. As for the journey time, I find those transitions are actually important to me, being on the spectrum, to help me handle changing tasks and situations, particularly switching from peopling to be alone. Also, the day of the meeting is shifting to Tuesday, which suits my work schedule much better.

***

Although I said I don’t want to say anything until there’s something to say, E and I are having Serious Conversations about moving our relationship on. It’s hard to move things on while we have limited income, although we both are 100% committed to finding a way to do so, somehow. That’s where the conversations come in, to plan what to do. I think I unconsciously assumed that sorting my career out would happen at the same time as finding my relationship, but I guess there is no reason why they should have done so. I just spent so many years praying and fantasising that I would get over my depression and get a “real” job and get married… it’s hard to avoid seeing it all as one big thing, especially as the first time E and I dated was the highpoint of my working life (I can’t really say ‘career’).

This also ducks the question of whether I really am ‘over’ my depression; certainly depression group tonight reminded me that many people experience depression as cyclical, with periods of remission and relapse. This has certainly been my experience, and it is worrying when I think about the future. Winter has traditionally been a period of relapse for me, relapses that do not always depart with the arrival of spring. I certainly feel bored and somewhat anxious and down at work at the moment, but I think it’s just that the job is a bit boring and the premises dreary. In other ways it’s fine, and my mood at home is much better, at least if I make allowances for the time of the year. I hope this is the end of the cycles, but who knows?

First World Problems

(If I had a band, First World Problems could be my first album.)

My parents have gone for a few days in sunny (probably not that sunny) Bournemouth, so I’m home alone. I’m not sure how I feel about this. Aside from when they went to Ipswich for a few days earlier in the year, I haven’t been home alone since before COVID, so it still feels strange.

I wanted to go for a run today, but because I got up late, and because I prefer to do various tasks before I go for a run, knowing that I have a strong likelihood of getting an exercise headache afterwards, it was dark before I was able to go. I had a weird intuition that I shouldn’t run in the dark today. My parents never like me running in the dark, and, while I’ve done it before, running in the dark while the streets are full of piles of potentially slippery fallen leaves didn’t seem a good idea, especially when there was no one around to come looking for me. I do wonder how much I’ll be able to run in the winter if I stick to this plan. As it happens, I went for a walk instead, and it was drier and better-lit than I thought/expected (why did I think it had rained over the weekend when it hadn’t?), but I think I probably made the right decision regardless.

I didn’t do much else today aside from that walk. I cooked dinner (macaroni cheese, with enough pasta to go with a bought sauce tomorrow) and did some Torah study. I have no real ideas for my devar Torah at this stage; the story of Yaakov (Jacob), his wives and children in the household of Lavan is always one that seems bizarre and hard to understand, even understanding some of the history behind it (using maidservants to bear children for their barren mistresses who would then adopt the children by having them born while the maidservant sat on the mistress’ lap was a real practice in the ancient Middle East, strange though it seems to us now).

I’m thinking of stopping volunteering for a while. I feel very overwhelmed with my life at the moment. I’m not sure how much time it would free up, as I’m unlikely to get up that early without a reason, but it does leave me drained all day, from physical exertion and probably also from ‘peopling,’ so it might leave me with more of an afternoon, particularly on weeks where I don’t have therapy.

I feel that lately I’ve disagreed with people here and in real life about what my next move should be in life. Not big arguments, but I always doubt myself when people see things differently to me. Part of me says, “I’m the subject matter expert on my life, and I’ve researched what I want to do more than they have,” but part of me says, “I catastrophise from anxiety and I get stuck on particular ideas from autistic rigidity, so I should listen to other people.” Probably there is a medium to be struck somewhere.

***

Doctor Who was better than last week. Still a lot that didn’t seem to make much sense, and a lot I would have done differently, but it was broadly entertaining, although it was too long and I got fidgety.

I finished reading People of the Book:A Decade of Jewish Science Fiction and Fantasy too. It was pretty good overall, but the author biographies at the back are basically just lists of all the awards the writers have won, which I found intimidating when thinking of my own writing.

“O my prophetic soul”

Shabbat (the Sabbath) in the winter feels very different to Shabbat in the summer. It’s more of a struggle to get to shul in the winter, for one thing, although I somehow made it yesterday afternoon despite feeling exhausted. It was very crowded as we had a guest speaker. The singing and clapping felt like a wall of sound falling on me, but I coped. The drasha (religious talk) with a guest speaker was OK, but not amazing. I was worried there would be dancing, but there wasn’t, perhaps because the hall was full.

My parents were out for dinner so I ate alone and read my recently-purchased Doctor Who Magazine back-issue. I did some Torah study and recreational reading, probably too much of the former considering what E said. I have to shamefully admit I internalised her suggestion that I try to read more for fun instead of Torah study as another “Should” and promptly ignored it anyway. That said, I went to bed late because I was reading for fun, a story that turned out to be a ghost story with a dark ending (The Muldoon), probably not the best thing to read late at night. It was very well-written though and probably the best story so far in People of the Book (I only have one story left). There was one character, a young boy, who seemed to be high functioning autistic, although he wasn’t explicitly identified as such. The passage that resonated the most said, “‘Your brother’s only going to love a few people,’ my mother had told me once, after he’d slammed the door to his room in my face for the thousandth time so he could work on his chemistry set or read Ovid aloud to himself without me bothering him. ‘You’ll be one of them.‘” I feel like I owe my family an apology…

I slept late again today, got through lunch, then felt tired and went back to bed for a bit. Talmud shiur (religious class) restarted today and I could have finished lunch, rushed through Minchah (Afternoon Prayers) and seudah (the third Shabbat meal) and gone to it, but I just felt too drained. Instead I lay in bed (awake), davened Minchah, ate seudah and went back to bed again (again not sleeping). I did some Torah study after Shabbat finished and skyped my rabbi mentor.

***

The twenty-five year old back-issue of Doctor Who Magazine I’m reading is from July 1996, the month of my bar mitzvah. It is much better-preserved than most of my DWMs from that period or later. I suppose on some level I’ve always seen books and magazines as things to live with and wear to pieces from love, or maybe I’m just careless for a librarian.

1996 seems a lifetime ago, and also yesterday. The issue is the tribute issue for Jon Pertwee, the third Doctor (1970-74), who had died earlier in the year. It also had the first lot of letters about the 1996 Doctor Who TV Movie, which was broadcast in May. I haven’t read them properly yet, but I think they’re mostly positive. I’m not sure if there was censorship. I hated the TV Movie, which set a precedent for hating a lot of new Doctor Who in subsequent years, but in recent years I’ve gown more fond of it as a weird experiment and costly folly, and I was a bit annoyed that I couldn’t find the time to watch it with E when she was here as I had wanted.

***

Suzanne wrote about her modest dreams of a quiet autistic life seeming unachievable. I commented, “I feel similarly. I don’t have very ambitious fantasies (not quite the same as yours, but similar), but the cost of housing in the UK makes it hard. I’m thinking a lot about this as E and I try to work out a possible future together, but it’s hard, particularly not being able to hold down a full-time job. And then we would want to live in a reasonably large Jewish community which, in the UK at any rate, means living in very specific (not cheap) parts of London or possibly Manchester. It is difficult.”

It is hard. I’m not really anti-capitalist, although I am opposed to both monopoly capitalism and consumerism, but I think there is some kind of major socio-political upheaval starting, partly from technological change (social media), but also from a cost of living crisis for many people, particularly in terms of affordable housing. Not that I think the woke or populist figures have a better solution than the existing neo-liberal ones; I feel that if there is a solution, it’s not one anyone’s found until now.

***

I’m slightly in two minds about posting this, but here goes. I’ve been thinking, on and off, for some time now about writing about my afterlife beliefs here. I think they’re pretty Orthodox Jewish, but it’s hard to be sure as, even in the frum world, we don’t really talk about the afterlife much, particularly compared with Christianity and Islam, especially the fundamentalist varieties of both. It’s not a superstitious thing, Judaism is just a very present-centred religion. Contrary to Karl Marx (“the opium of the masses”), Judaism sees a divine mandate to focus on ending suffering in this world rather than seeing the next world as a consolation (although it is one).

I’ve been reading the essays at the back of Divrei Hayamim II: II Chronicles: A New Translation with a Commentary Anthologized from Talmudic, Midrashic and Rabbinic Sources, translation and commentary by Rabbi Moshe Eisemann. It’s an Artscroll book. Artscroll are a US Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) publishers noted these days for toeing the Haredi party line and avoiding anything remotely controversial, but I’ve found this book to be a bit more sophisticated than the stereotype, a bit more willing to push the boundaries a bit further than I expected Artscroll to do.

On page 361, I came across the following:

In the thought-world of the Sages, the World to Come is not a location, nor is it a time-frame. It is within every man. It is the deepest essence of his being, the spark of the Divine which defines him as an image of God, and which in normal circumstances remains inviolate and therefore indestructible in the face of sin. It is the locus of the ultimate mystery of life, where transience touches immortality. It is axiomatic in Rabbinic thought that sin my sully but never destroy that essential inner core of immortality; excepting only in the dreadful state which the Sages give the name of losing one’s portion in the World to Come.

This didn’t tell me much I didn’t already believe, but I think it sums up what I feel quite pithily and beautifully. That said, I’ve never really been sure of the boundaries of “losing one’s portion in the World to Come.” At school we were told it’s pretty much impossible to do that these days, although I’ve never been sure of how this was known and what the boundaries of “these days” is, nor whether it is only Jews who can’t lose their portion in the World to Come; I’m pretty sure none of my Jewish Studies teachers would have claimed that Saddam Hussein (to pick a prominent antisemite of my teenage years) has a portion in the World to Come. I am a little surprised to note that the Artscroll passage does at least speaks of the World to Come being within “every man” (read person; the book was published before sensitivity to gender in writing); I find frum Jews often seem to think on some level (possibly not entirely consciously) that the World to Come is primarily for Jews, even though the rabbinic sources say otherwise.

Opportunities, Missed and Otherwise

I am OK today. I am quite a bit down, but I’ve been used to that over the years. It’s a rush today because Shabbat starts at 4.10pm, but I wanted to note a few things briefly.

I’m hoping for a restful Shabbat (the Sabbath). My parents are out for dinner tonight, so I should have some time for recreational reading. E says I should read more for fun on Shabbat even if that means doing less Torah study and she may be right. Tomorrow Talmud shiur (religious class) at shul (synagogue) returns and I’d like to go, even though that means staying on for Ma’ariv (Evening Prayers) and then staying afterwards to help, where I feel I usually just get in the way, however hard I try to be helpful. But I’ll see how I feel tomorrow afternoon. It’s eighteen months since we’ve had this format for the shiur, because of COVID and because the timetable is different in the summer when Shabbat afternoons are very long compared with the winter when they’re very short.

There is an oneg being hosted by someone from my shul tonight. An oneg is a kind of Shabbat party where you sit around a table and there are snacks and soft drinks and alcohol, and people talk and sing religious songs and share divrei Torah. I used to try to force myself to these things to make friends. Usually I just sat there terrified, not speaking. Sometimes I stood outside crying at my social anxiety and social impairments and my inability to face my fears. I can’t really be bothered with that now, but I do wonder how else to make friends.

***

I found, lurking in my email inbox, an email from over a year ago from a job agency that helps people on the autism spectrum into work. I think I didn’t go down that path a year ago because I wasn’t diagnosed then, and because my current job appeared soon afterward. I might contact them again soon.

***

There’s a woman who keeps writing for Chabad.org about her fertility issues and the fact that she might never have children, and I want to read her articles, but I can’t, perhaps because they’re too close to home. Not that I have fertility issues per se, but that E and I worry that with all the mental health, neurological and financial issues that we have between us that we’ll never be able to support children, practically and financially. I guess that’s my main worry at the moment. I think E and I will be together, but I worry how we’ll cope, even without children.

***

I keep being drawn back to this interview with the late Rabbi Lord Sacks z”tl where the interviewer lists Rabbi Sacks’ achievements and asks if he ever failed anything and Rabbi Sacks bursts into laughter and says, “I nearly failed my first year in university. I nearly failed my second year in university. I was turned down for virtually every job that I applied for. Since I was a kid, I wanted to write a book. I started when I was 20 and I gave it every minute of spare time that I had. Even when Elaine and I went to a concert I would be writing notes during intervals or between movements during a symphony. Yet, I failed for 20 years! From 20 to 40 I had a whole huge file cabinet of books I started and never finished.” I heard another interview where he said that being a rabbi was his fourth career choice, after he failed at becoming an economist, an academic philosopher and a barrister (lawyer). So that gives me a little hope, because I’m nearly forty and I haven’t done anything with my life.

He also says, “I think all that goes with the affective dimension of Judaism, the emotional life, is being neglected…  I think we haven’t done enough with the affective dimension, and music is probably the most important… Cinema, too, isn’t used enough in this regard. I think we haven’t done enough with that to tell people what the life of faith does for you. I have so many stories that I think ought to be made into film. Stories of ordinary people I know who have done extraordinary things.”

He doesn’t talk about prose fiction, but I think it applies there too, particularly in terms of telling stories. Although the stories I want to tell are not necessarily ones he would want to tell. But I think/hope there is an audience out there, although not necessarily or purely a frum one or even Jewish one. I just hope I can convince the gatekeepers (agents, publishers, reviewers) of that.

I know I say things like this a lot, but, honestly, I have to keep saying it or otherwise I stop believing in it myself.

***

The reason the interview was posted is that it’s just over a year since Rabbi Sacks died. I still feel his loss acutely, even though I never really met him (although I was in the same room as him a few times). I wish I had had the opportunity, or made the opportunity, to speak to him — really to speak to him about my Jewish life, my creative life and my aspirations to unite them both. I struggle to understand my place in the world in general and Jewish world in particular. I don’t understand why God made me autistic, or what He wants from me. I feel he would have understood, and would have had good advice. It’s too late now.