Playing the Autism Card

I somehow got up early, ate breakfast and did some things online, but felt depressed and went back to bed. I don’t think I fell asleep again, but I’m not sure; certainly I was in bed for over an hour. I hope these depressed feelings pass soon and don’t turn into another episode of clinical depression.

I did some work on my application for the Emerging Writers’ Programme I’m applying for. I’m not sure how well it’s going to be honest. I am playing the “autism” card as well as the “Orthodox insider” card, hinting that I might write an UnOrthodox-style anti-religious story when that is not my intention, while also talking about wanting to show the Orthodox in a realistic light, which can mean positive or negative, however the judges want to read it. I do mention God, though, and repentance, which might be a bad idea, but at least it’s a Unique Selling Point. It’s not like there are many contemporary literary authors writing about pornography addiction, or anything really, through the prism of repentance and encountering God.

It reminds me of an article in Tablet Magazine a while back about university bursaries and scholarships intended to go to disadvantaged teenagers going to middle-class teenagers who are taught by their (private) schools and their (middle-class) parents (probably working in academic, law or HR) how to write applications with the correct narrative, a narrative of, “I struggled against prejudice because I’m a member of minority X, but I triumphed over it because I’m strong, resilient and successful, therefore you should accept me both for reasons of diversity and because of my skills and capabilities in fighting oppression.” Less-privileged teenagers are not taught how to write this way and fail to get the money and places intended for them.

***

I went for a run, but ended up feeling light-headed, dizzy and slightly nauseous at times, even after my warm-up, let alone the run. I was slow and sluggish while running, with low stamina. I only managed to run for thirty minutes rather than my usual forty and got a headache when I got home. I wondered about this, and about other health issues on my mind lately.

I’ve mentioned that my cholesterol is slightly high. I looked on the NHS patient site and it looks like my cholesterol has been increasing for several years now (with one slight dip), which worries me as I certainly haven’t been steadily increasing the amount of cholesterol-heavy foods I eat. In fact, I rarely eat meat and especially not red meat and I’ve cut back my consumption of cheese (and eggs, although apparently that’s considered less of an issue now) so I’m not sure why my cholesterol continues to rise, unless it is a(nother) medication side-effect.

Then I have frequent issues with low energy and feeling “ill” in vague and undefined ways, particularly when tired after work or days out with E, plus I have problems sleeping too long and struggling to get up. I assumed these were medication side-effects and/or autistic exhaustion, but now I’m not sure. Also troubling is that several times recently I felt like I have nearly lost my balance and just stabilised myself in time, twice in the shower and a couple of times on the stairs.

Unfortunately, some of these issues cut across each other. When I got an exercise headache after running, I knew (or at least suspected) that eating crisps (for salt) would help, but crisps are hardly good for weight loss or cholesterol, so I put off eating them. It got to dinner time and I felt headachey, nauseous and my hand was shaking as I tried to drink my soup, so I ate a packet of crisps. Before I had even finished the packet, the headache was less intense, the nausea went and I stopped shaking. Sometimes I have these “salt-withdrawal” issues without having exercised first. I know salt issues can be related to taking lithium, which I do.

I think I should see my GP, even if it means waiting ages on the phone to get through to the receptionist and then playing the autism card again to get an in-person appointment and one with my preferred GP (currently appointments are supposed to be on the phone in the first instance and with the first GP available, not my preferred one). I will have to say that, being on the spectrum, I struggle with phone calls and new people, which is completely true, even if it feels a little disingenuous to say it.

***

Looking at my unpublished novel to find an excerpt to submit for the Emerging Writers’ Programme application, I’m struck by how many references there are to toilets in it. I didn’t mean to be vulgar, but since childhood I’ve been struck by how artificial it is that toilets, and toilet functions, aren’t mentioned in “realistic” fiction. My toilets appear for solid narrative reasons, not to gross people out (although one of them smells bad), but do seem somewhat unusual. I guess I’m aware of it because the toilet has long been an escape room for me when suffering from autistic overload in social spaces, which is how it appears in the novel.

***

I should probably mention that they announced the new Doctor in Doctor Who, Ncuti Gatwa. I can’t judge whether he’ll be any good, as I haven’t seen him in anything. As I mostly watch old TV, I generally don’t know new Doctors in advance, unless, like Peter Capaldi, they already appeared in the show as another character. But he’s the first new Doctor to be younger than I will be when his first episode airs (you know you’re getting older when the Doctors get younger). I still feel the Doctor should be older. I know I liked Matt Smith a lot, and I don’t dislike Peter Davison, but I still feel the Doctor should be played by someone over forty. I definitely feel David Tennant was too young (and too good-looking…) although that’s the least of my problems with the Tennant Doctor. Not for the first time, I feel returning showrunner Russell T Davies has a very different understanding of the show to me.

Other Planets

E and I went to Hampton Court Palace yesterday. We saw the palace and the gardens. I had been to the palace before, but nearly thirty years ago, and I don’t think I saw all of it then. I was surprised that the palace was still a royal residence in the eighteenth century; I was also annoyed that a famous TV historian who was once rude to a friend of mine (also a historian) featured prominently on the audio guide. The gardens were pleasant too, and full of tulips for the tulip festival, although not many other flowers were blooming yet. It was cold, as E and I had dressed for warmer weather.

After seeing the palace, we had time to kill before meeting a couple of my friends for dinner. We could either go home for about an hour or spend two hours in Golders Green. We couldn’t agree, so I went home to read a bit and E visited ethnic grocery shops in Golders Green, which would have bored me stiff. E and I have a lot in common, but I’m glad we don’t feel the need to be joined at the hip and do everything together.

We had dinner with a couple of friends of mine from university days. E liked them and I think they liked her, which was something of a relief overall.

Today I was not as burnt out as I feared I might be, but I overslept by more than half an hour and had to rush to work, although I wasn’t late. I was very tired all morning and drank a lot of coffee. It was a rather boring day, despite a trip to the bank, which I always enjoy. E met me at Sainsbury’s on the way home, which was nice. During the walk home and afterwards I felt less than 100% and was unsure why. I was exhausted from work and possibly also too hot, slightly dehydrated, hungry, lacking salt, or generally out of shape, or all of the above, and maybe something else. I do feel less fit and healthy lately and don’t really know why, beyond the general point that I’m slightly overweight and don’t exercise enough, although I walk quite a bit. I ought to get an app that records footsteps per day the way so many other people do. It’s hard to unpick medication weight-gain from eating too much weight gain, especially when medication seems to lead to eating too much.

***

E and I spoke a bit about autistic exhaustion. I think she is trying really hard to understand it, at least as much as anyone understands this mysterious and under-researched subject. I was really touched that she wants to understand this negative, but significant aspect of my life better.

***

How many years does it take for me to stop hating a Doctor Who episode and enjoy it? E and I watched The End of Time recently, which I hated on first transmission over Christmas/New Year 2009 and 2010. On re-viewing, I sort of grudgingly found parts of it somewhat amusing, although I still got annoyed at how silly and unplotted it seemed. Then tonight we watched the Paul McGann TV Movie from 1996 (the story with no name). I hated that on transmission, for the Doctor kissing Grace and for him being half-human. Now I can enjoy it. This isn’t new. Since the new series came along, the TV Movie has seemed less a desecration of Doctor Who and more a step towards the new series, albeit sometimes by showing what not to do. The Doctor-companion romance has become a semi-regular part of the format, to my continued annoyance. The half-human thing was quietly ignored, although Steven Moffat hinted that it might be true in Hell Bent.

One thing I noticed is that Grace is really a woman. Most female Doctor Who companions, old or new, are essentially written/presented as teenage girls, even if the character is supposed to be older (e.g. Jo, Sarah). I guess the other exceptions are Barbara (1963-1965), Liz (1970) and sort-of Romana (1978-1981), who was a 125 year old Time Lord, but was played somewhat girlishly by Mary Tamm and Lalla Ward (and, of course, for a Time Lord, 125 is just out of university). It’s probably not coincidence that Barbara’s time coincided with Verity Lambert’s time as producer, the only female producer on the original series. The absence of a really mature female companion in the new series is a pretty damning example of the way it’s not always more ‘modern’ and diverse, or necessarily more interested in telling stories about real characters than the original series.

I wonder if E thinks, “I finally meet the right guy and he’s from another planet” about me, as Grace said? “Another planet” being the UK, autism or the frum (religious Jewish) world, take your pick. (I am writing this mainly because I know she’ll read it!)

Exhaustion and Resilience

I had a long and boring day at work yesterday, then in the evening went to a customer-facing work thing for E’s job, as her plus one. It was OK, but I didn’t really say anything at all, even when I might reasonably have had something useful to say (explaining about Jewish religious customs to non-frum (non-religious) Jews). I did it because it seemed important to her that I went, even if I was not entirely sure what my role there was supposed to be.

I think it was the first time E has really seen how autism and social anxiety can shut me down in social settings. By the time we got home, I was struggling not to be in a bad mood (I think I probably snapped at my Mum a bit). E and I ate dinner and watched Doctor Who, and even though it was not a great episode (The End of Time part 2, David Tennant’s final episode in the title role), I felt a little better, but not much (dinner probably helped more than Doctor Who).

Then today I crashed, and although E tried to get me to wake up at 9am, I actually fell asleep afterwards, on and off until 1pm, feeling really burnt out and exhausted. After breakfast, I went back to bed for twenty minutes, cocooning myself in my duvet and weighted blanket until I realised I was just upsetting myself, thinking about antisemitism. Eventually I played the, “I can listen to music in the omer if I have autistic exhaustion” card to try to get dressed. I ate lunch before davening (praying), which I hate doing, but I had no choice, I just needed energy. I ate cheese on toast, which was probably a mistake given that I ate a lot of cheese over Pesach, have (marginally) high cholesterol and probably eat too much generally (although it was only an issue once I went on clomipramine), but I felt I needed a treat. I didn’t even like it that much, which made it all seem pointless.

I just feel tired and withdrawn, although I’m aware that to other people this probably looks like laziness and bad temper. I’m vaguely worried that this will just have added to E’s fears about my autistic dysfunctionality. Even if E is on the spectrum, she is a lot more functional in social settings and after draining days than I am. She was a bit surprised that I did nothing while she was out all day other than cook dinner.

***

I’ve been catching up with the Deep Meaningful Conversations podcast (formerly Normal Frum Women). They did an episode on resilience, where the guest was someone I do actually know in person, who is a frum research psychologist and has written a self-help book on resilience as a psychologist, but also from a Jewish perspective.

One thing she said was that venting is counter-productive; it can make us feel better in the short-term, but worse in the long-term. However, reframing the situation is a positive thing. I feel I mostly vent here, although the comments do help me to reframe things sometimes. It did make me wonder if I should blog less or try to complain less or something. She did also talk about the need to normalise experiences like mental illness, which does make me feel there may be a point to writing even a very negative post like this one. For what it’s worth, I am aware that my mood and energy will probably be better tomorrow, which is positive reframing, but I do worry that the burnout days will always be there, which will be bad for me and might scare off E. I’m also aware I’m likely to have some more burnout days before E goes back to the US.

I actually knew about the book and I had vaguely thought of buying it. I guess I held off because I feel I’ve read a lot of self-help books and I struggle to act on them and integrate their teachings without some kind of therapist to guide me. But I do actually have the email address of the author of this one! Not that I would bombard her with questions, but maybe it’s worth getting the book. Particularly as it seems there isn’t much “wrong” with me that can be diagnosed or “fixed” medically/therapeutically at the moment, just a propensity for autistic exhaustion, which perhaps greater resilience could help with, if only to keep me going on the down days. It does seem to be difficult to get hold, possibly already out of print even though it was only published last autumn. It was published in hardback, so maybe a paperback will come out one day.

“They think it’s Passover… It is now!”

I haven’t blogged what happened so far during Chol HaMoed (the intermediate days of the Pesach festival when work is permitted if necessary or contributing to the enjoyment of the festival). I was too busy and tired, and used my blogging energy for a password-protected post about Yom Tov that was more important. But I want to quickly catch up here.

For those who didn’t see the password-protected post, E and I mostly had a good Yom Tov, with interesting seders and E was OK meeting some my parents’ friends and family.

On Monday we (my parents, E and I) went to Cliveden, a National Trust stately home. The house is now a hotel, but we wandered around the grounds all afternoon. Thankfully, my parents left E and I to walk alone. E wanted to see bluebells, so we walked through the woodland until we found some big patches. We also walked around some of the more formal gardens on the site. It was the first time E and I really had proper alone time/date time since E came over last Tuesday and we both really enjoyed it.

In a second-hand bookshop on site, I found a Doctor Who book, The Television Companion: The Unofficial and Unauthorised Guide to Doctor Who. Despite the name, this is a reissued and expanded edition of the official BBC Television Companion issued a few years earlier. I was uncertain whether to buy it, as I had read the online version of the first edition, which was on the official BBC Doctor Who website, but in the end nostalgia for the Doctor Who of the wilderness years when it was off TV (1990-2004) won out (the first edition was published in 1998 and the revised edition I bought in 2003). I’m not sure how much extra material there is, but for £2, it was probably worth it.

Yesterday E and I went on a Pesach LSJS tour of the Egyptian galleries of the British Museum. It was fascinating and even though I knew some of what was said (I’ve done my own research on biblical archaeology), I learnt a lot. The rabbi taking it, Rabbi Zarum, spoke to me briefly. I’m not sure if he recognised me or not; I’ve been to a number of his shiurim (classes) in the past, but I tend not to say much and try to blend into the background. He asked me which shul (synagogue) I go to, which is a standard Orthodox Jewish conversational opening gambit, and I explained about going to [Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) shul] but probably transferring soon to a Modern Orthodox one because of E. I probably cut a strange figure as a quasi-Haredi Jew, wearing a Doctor Who t-shirt and holding hands with someone I’d just identified as not married to me. I feel my life would be easier if I just found my “tribe” or community and stuck there, but I seem to have this restless desire to fit into several very different communities at the same time. (Similarly today I think someone from my current shul saw me wearing a Beatles t-shirt and holding hands with E again.)

In the afternoon E and I went to the Stonehenge exhibition, also at the British Museum. This was interesting to me as I know very little about prehistoric society. However, I felt the exhibition lacked context and was confusingly laid out, with the order you were supposed to read the exhibits unclear and poor signage. There was also ambient noise (sound effects and music) that annoyed me after a while. This seems to be becoming a thing in modern museums and galleries. They are super-diversity aware, but apparently have a blind spot when it comes to sensory sensitivity.

Afterwards we walked around Bloomsbury for a little while, but we got a bit bored and a bit lost and came home. We watched Doctor Who in the evening, Planet of the Dead, which E enjoyed more than I did.

***

Today I was burnt out, perhaps unsurprisingly, given everything we had done (including walking well over 10,000 steps both days – more like 14,000 yesterday). E had to go out for work all day. I wanted to get up to see her off, but failed and slept through most of the morning. I got up when the Tesco food delivery arrived, but went back to bed afterwards. I had weird dreams, but not particularly memorable, except for wanting to move in the dream and not being able to, which I think is an unconscious desire to get up. I also dreamt about snakes, I’m not sure why. E and I are both concerned about this (the sleep/exhaustion, not the snakes). I still don’t know whether I should be looking for help from doctors, occupational therapists or someone else, or if it’s just autistic exhaustion and I have to just accept it, or find workarounds, or if serious energy accounting might help and how I could manage going on fun days out if I know I’ll run a massive energy deficit the next day. All I know is that the exhaustion is very real and not just me being lazy (although I don’t always remember that).

In the afternoon helped Dad with some chores and spent an hour working on my novel, writing about a thousand words, which was extremely good. It was hard, though. My mood definitely declined in the afternoon, despite the good work on my novel, and I felt depressed and frustrated, and missed E even though I knew I’d see her later. I had the usual feeling of wanting to just be able to get up early and do more during the day. It’s frustrating.

I can’t believe tomorrow is Yom Tov again! E and I will be out for dinner at friends of mine from shul. They are really nice people, but I’ve been masking somewhat around them (and everyone else from that shul) and I wonder what will happen when the meet E and possibly see there’s more to my personality and outlook on life than I’ve let on in the past. I also don’t know if anyone I don’t feel as comfortable with will be there.

Autistic Day

Today seems to have been an autism-focused day. I guess they all are, on some level, but this more than most.

In the morning, at work, the rabbi from my parents’ shul (synagogue) phoned the office and I answered. He didn’t recognise me, and in the past I might have pretended not to recognise him, but I identified myself to him, which I guess was a victory over social anxiety. However, afterwards I couldn’t stop thinking about this interaction, which probably took all of two minutes and had no negative aspects. It sort of “echoed” around in my head. I’ve heard other people on the spectrum describe similar experiences of mental perseveration.

In the afternoon, I mostly corrected other people’s mistakes for a change, instead of making my own. This was when I was searching for missing data on our database. A lot of it was there, just entered wrongly (typos or names from one column on the spreadsheet transposed with those in another when entered on the database). I was a bit relieved to see it’s not just me who makes mistakes. The errors date from about five years ago, so I have no idea who made them.

J was on a video call while I was doing this and I could not concentrate at all. I had to listen to music to blot out the talking. I didn’t really want to listen to music, as it was a somewhat complicated task and I only really listen to music when doing mindless tasks, but I needed to blot it out.

Then I went to Primark to return the clothes I bought last week, because I am not a size medium any more (thank you, psych meds). I was overwhelmed with the number of people in the shop, which I still can’t get used to. It took two years of lockdown and not seeing people for me to realise how difficult I find these environments. Now I wonder how I ever coped with them. It’s strange how I just coped with things, not realising how difficult I found it. The silly thing is that I feel somehow less entitled to call myself “autistic” or “struggling” than the autistic people who would have a meltdown in the shop, or just refuse to go in.

It wasn’t just the noise and crowds that was an issue. Like lots of people on the spectrum, I seem to have some proprioception issues i.e. difficulty being aware of where my body is at times and finding it hard to get out of other people’s way. I think this is partly behind the autistic phenomenon I have written here before about autistic people wanting to help with tasks, but just getting in the way of other people.

There was something on the autism forum too today about autistic brains working fast, faster than we can follow. I do feel like that at times, although not all the time. It seems to happen most when I hyperfocus on a train of thought that I like (often about Judaism or perhaps Doctor Who) or when I’m anxious and depressed about something. Certainly when autistically fatigued/exhausted/burnt out/whatever it’s called my thoughts become slow and almost physically painful.

***

In terms of consumerism, I’ve had mixed success the last few days. The Simpsons: The Complete Seventh Season DVD box set I bought second-hand on Music Magpie (second-hand DVD/CD website) turned out to be region 1, which means it won’t play on UK DVD players. I’m not sure why they were selling it, but I didn’t think to look at what region it was for when I ordered, so I can’t swear that it was advertised wrongly. I am trying to return it.

I’ve found some real bargains on Music Magpie, but also had some problems with damaged or incorrectly-sent goods. I feel I should stop using them, but the alternative is eBay, which I have used, but don’t really like, I’m not sure why. I don’t like bidding for stuff at auction, but you can get items to buy immediately. Nevertheless, I just somehow find the site awkward to use and the items often expensive. The other alternative is Amazon, but E and I are both boycotting them over their poor employee treatment and for driving small booksellers out of business as well as underpaying authors. We were boycotting them independently, before we met — a meet-boycott-cute.

The items I’ve been buying on Music Magpie are cheap (a few pounds for a CD or DVD box set), so I’m not at risk of losing much money, but complaining and returning items is a hassle, and I worry that after I’ve made a certain number of complaints they’ll assume I’m lying. They refund damaged goods priced under £5 without asking for the item to be returned, so technically someone could steal a lot of free stuff by buying cheap items and then complaining that they were damaged and asking for a refund without it ever being checked.

On the plus side, I found a copy of A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle in the free book box, one of those books I’ve always meant to read, but never have.

***

E and I have been watching the Doctor Who story The Robots of Death (1977). E was not impressed; I didn’t tell her fan wisdom sees it as a Classic, whatever that means. I see it as somewhere between Classic and E’s “ok”. It has one of my favourite Doctor Who put-downs: “You’re a classic example of the inverse ratio between the size of the mouth and the size of the brain.” I should warn you that I tried to use it on the bullies at school and it did not work as well as it did for Tom Baker. I don’t have that air of Bohemian cool.

Not a Number

Today was mostly OK, but I struggled with some autistic stuff. I hadn’t had much time so far this week for Torah study, and much of what I had done was preparation for the Pesach seders, so I read this week’s sedra (Torah portion) on the Tube, not something I like to do as (a) you are supposed to say the words audibly (even in a whisper) and (b) even with my slim volume of Vayikra (Leviticus) only in Hebrew (as opposed to all five books of the Pentateuch in Hebrew and English) and my pocket JPS English Bible, it’s awkward reading it on a Tube train. I really need a table. I haven’t been wearing a mask on the Tube lately, but I wore one today so people wouldn’t see my lips moving as I whispered the words. (Someone once told me that his brother did this without a mask, pre-COVID; halfway through the journey he could see out of the corner of his eye the man next to him texting “Some nutter is reading to himself next to me” on his phone.)

Work was slow and I made some mistakes and felt like an idiot (again). I spent much of the afternoon comparing a spreadsheet with a database to try to work out which entries have apparently vanished from the latter and why. I have more to do on this next week. It was very dull and I became bored and somewhat depressed, but at least I realised partway through that it was mindless enough that I could listen to music on my headphones, which cheered me up a bit.

J wanted me to drop a file off at the auditors on my way home and let me leave early to do so. On the way, I went shopping in Primark on Oxford Street. This would not have been an ideal choice even pre-COVID as it was hugely busy. I had been in busy shops since COVID, but usually ones I was familiar with. I’m not sure if this was literally my first new, busy shopping experience in two years (the airports were quite busy when I went to New York), but it was harder than I remembered and more draining. I just bought what I had come for and left as soon as possible.

There is the added element with Primark of guilt knowing that their clothes are not very ethically-sourced, but as I can’t afford to shop in more upmarket shops all the time, I’m not sure what else to do. Walking around naked isn’t very healthy.

I found the auditors alright, despite nearly losing both my kippah (skullcap) and glasses to the extremely strong wind, but hesitated outside. It was a converted house with two entry buzzers and I wasn’t sure which was the right one. I hesitated, wondering if I should text J, when the door opened and someone came out and I slipped inside. The sign for reception pointed to a shut door and I wondered if I should knock or open it or try to find out if this was reception for both offices when someone came up from behind me, saw our organisation’s logo on the folder and said, “Is that for X?” He seemed to be on the same team and told me to give it to the receptionist and told her to leave it on his chair. I hope that was the right thing to do. Only afterwards did I worry whether he was who he said he was, but he had got inside the office which he should only be able to do if he worked there (except that I managed it).

There was both social anxiety here and autistic ‘new environment’ anxiety, as in Primark. By the time I got on the Tube home, I realised my heart was racing and my adrenaline rushing. I’m pretty sure this was an abnormally strong reaction to this for me. I guess COVID and lockdown have left their mark.

I came home and responded to blog comments, but I rapidly felt burnt out and went to bed, not because I wanted to sleep, but just for the comfort of wrapping myself in duvet and weighted blanket. E wonders if I should deliberately do stuff in bed. I mean like read, write, blog and so on. She things I might find it easier to get up if I was going back shortly. She may be right. Churchill spent a lot of the war in bed in his room in the Cabinet War Rooms bunker, with advisors and Cabinet ministers coming to see him.

The other excitement today was that Mum kashered the ovens for Pesach (Passover). They were cleaned by the oven cleaner the other day and now heated to remove any trace of leaven food or ‘taste’. (The Jewish dietary laws assume that taste can be absorbed and emitted by porous materials. A lot of the dietary laws, both regular and Pesach, stem from this idea. I struggled with this in the past. It’s not totally crazy, as seasoning cast iron pans and aging whiskey in sherry casks both work on the same principle, but I do sometimes wonder if the rabbis had very sensitive palates to note such subtle tastes. Still, it’s the model we have and I think there’s value in sticking with established law regardless of personal opinion.)

***

I have been thinking a lot about The Prisoner lately. The Prisoner, for those who don’t know, was a “spy-fi” (espionage/science fiction hybrid) TV series from the late sixties. They only made seventeen episodes (there was a noughties remake/re-imagining that is not without merit, but is not as compulsive). It’s about a secret agent who resigns from his job, gets knocked out, and wakes up in a weird mini-society called The Village where people have numbers instead of names. He is Number 6, although, as he declares in the title sequence, “I am not a number, I am a free man!” He wants to find out who runs The Village (the unseen Number 1; day-to-day running is invested in the ever-changing Number 2s) and escape; the Village authorities want to find out why he resigned.

It starts as a thriller with slight fantastical and weird elements (e.g. the Rover weather balloons that smoother anyone trying to escape), but by the end becomes a surreal sixties ‘happening,’ complete with Beatles soundtrack. The surrealism and the deliberate obscurity of many of the episodes, particularly the final one, Fall Out, meant that interpretations of the series are legion (political, religious, psychological, postmodern, etc.). It was one of the first TV shows that cultural and media studies academics homed in on, unsurprisingly.

Former Doctor Who writer Gareth Roberts wrote an essay about The Village seeming more like Britain in the 2020s than the 1960s. That’s partly why I’ve been thinking about it. Certainly I thought today that the public announcements on the Tube, particularly the ones about mask-wearing, are very Village: officious, sanctimonious and pedantic, with an ostensible nod towards diversity while asking for conformity. But that’s only part of why I’ve been thinking about it.

Doctor Who has been my favourite TV programme since I discovered it aged eight, but when I was at Oxford and saw it for the first time, The Prisoner rapidly became the series that I identified most with. It’s a mirror for anyone who feels counter-cultural and under pressure to conform. At the time, I thought I was friendless and lonely, and stressed and eventually made depressed and suicidal by over-work. I now see I was mid-autistic burnout, struggling to fit in to an environment that I just did not understand with people who I wanted to connect with, but somehow could not.

I think autistic people would find a lot they recognise in The Prisoner. The whole idea of making people conform, that society runs better if everyone thinks and does the same thing, and the individualists who instinctively rebel against this mindset is really the source of the drama in The Prisoner, as well as in the lives of many autistics, particularly those diagnosed late and/or forced to act the way other people want instead of how they want, or how they need.

In the penultimate episode, Once Upon a Time, there’s a sequence where a hypnotised Prisoner is made to relive his schooldays. His “headmaster” (actually Number 2) has a speech that goes, “Society is the place where people exist together. That is civilisation. The lone wolf belongs to the wilderness. You must conform! It is my sworn duty to make you conform!” before beating him for disobedience. I quoted the speech here from memory; it made such an impression on me that I learnt it by heart.

One episode, Living in Harmony, is, bizarrely, a Western, with The Prisoner as a sheriff who chooses to get beaten up rather than violate his moral objections to carrying a gun. This idea of personal morals being more important than society’s rules, even at extreme personal cost, is another thing that probably resonates with many people on the spectrum (and off it, of course). Other things that might be familiar to autistics might include: the uncertainty that runs through the entire series about who you can trust and who is working for the authorities, analogous to navigating the school playground (and later the workplace) not being able to read body language, intonation, subtext and so on to tell if people are being friendly or bullying; the authorities’ hostility to questions, particularly those directed to the foundations of their society (“Questions are a burden to others, answers a prison for oneself” — another quote I learnt by heart); The Prisoner’s sense of alienation from the constant Village celebrations particularly in my favourite episode Dance of the Dead, where a fancy dress ball turns into an angry mob trying to tear him limb from limb; the sequence in A Change of Mind where The Prisoner is effectively ‘cancelled’ as the villagers shun him as an “unmutual” and refuse to engage with him for the sin of using his own gym equipment and then mocking the Village disciplinary procedures; and the general pervasive sense of paranoia, of one person against The System, of being seen as essentially, even ontologically wrong and made to be something you are not.

The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction suggests that “The series’ thesis may be that freedom is impossible, as is opting out.” This is something I feel strongly, and not just for autistic reasons.

I did not mean to write all of this! I went into autistic hyper-focus, and an hour had gone. I guess it shows how much it means to me. I should have a re-watch. I’ve lost track of the number of times I’ve seen it (a lot; the low number of episodes facilitates that). I don’t know if E would like it, though.

One day I’ll to go Portmeirion, the strange, real-life village/holiday resort in Wales where it was filmed (also the Doctor Who story The Masque of Mandragora, which E and I watched recently) and run along the beach shouting, “I am not a number, I am a free man!”

The Stressed Time of Year, Forum Discussions, and Culture in the Frum World

We’re in the busiest time of year, the weeks before Pesach (Passover), when we’re focused on preparations. Think Christmas plus spring cleaning, multiplied by ten (or a hundred). I tend to be OK during the day because I’m busy, but at night I feel stressed and anxious when I’m not doing things, but also lack significant relaxation time to unwind. Yesterday I cleaned the larder for Pesach, but I was too tired to continue to clean the Pesach worktops and sinks in the garage as I had intended. Afterwards, I had difficulty sleeping, being very agitated and anxious (fidgeting/stimming in bed, which is unlike me). I had taken olanzapine that night, but I wonder if it had not got into my bloodstream yet, given that I am taking it every other day at the moment.

Work was dull today and difficult on four hours of sleep, but I got through it. I did a little bit of writing when I got home and went to an online Pesach shiur (religious class). Which is a lot, on four hours sleep.

In between times, I was online. I was on the autism forum quite a bit. There are lots of people in distress there and I can only respond to some for reasons of time, emotional capacity, and knowing what to say without saying the wrong thing. I have some guilt for arbitrarily connecting more with some people than others. I have long had this feeling, that I should like everyone equally, which is not really possible (or Jewish; Judaism is about loving individuals for their individuality as opposed to agape). We just connect with some people more than others; it’s normal. Still, I feel bad that things like typos can influence whether I respond.

I am also less likely to respond to people who are very blunt about being depressed and suicidal and don’t give much of an opening to respond or seem open to conversation/suggestions from other commenters. I feel bad about this, as I’ve done my own share of self-focused blog writing/commenting when severely depressed, but I know that when I was in that mood, I really wanted to vent (or possibly to argue that my life would inevitably be awful) rather than be open to suggestions. I was trying to speak to someone in crisis just now, but I think another user was doing much better.

Elsewhere online, on a Jewish site, I saw an article by a woman I had a crush on years ago (she was the person who rejected me because I didn’t go to yeshiva, which pretty much made me despair of ever finding a frum wife). I don’t have any crush feelings for her now, but I feel an envious kind of feeling that I can’t get paid for my writing or do something with my life the way she seems to have done.

The article was on finding religious messages in popular culture, part of a series of articles on this site. I have argued this myself in the past (e.g. that Doctor Who has Jewish messages), but now I’m sceptical. I think most of it is the residual Judaism in the residual Christianity in now mostly-secular art and much of it is not really significant or profound enough to be worth mentioning. I think it’s OK to like popular culture, but I don’t think much of it is profound, religiously or otherwise.

The debate always seems to be organised around popular culture. There are obviously big things to discuss about religion in writers like Dostoyevski, Tolstoy, Graham Greene and so on, but they don’t get mentioned, possibly because they don’t lead to pat, “And this teaches us to do tikkun olam!” messages (this seems to be the main “Jewish” message of Doctor Who, that and questioning/learning). Years ago I found an article online by Rabbi Dr Alan Brill complaining that Orthodox culture is so bourgeois and unchallenging, and I agree (although I think most culture full stop is bourgeois and unchallenging, pretty much by definition). I know that this is one of E’s biggest reservations about joining the Orthodox world, the conformism and the lack of serious culture, and I share her reservations while not seeing any alternatives for myself.

Zzzzzzzzzz, OCD, and the Countdown to Pesach

I massively overslept again on Friday morning and woke up drained. I’m back to wondering counter-factuals like whether writing late at night after work costs too much the next day. I had some weird dreams that I’m not going to relate here, but shul (synagogue) stress and missing E figured. Also Purim anxiety — my unconscious tends to feed stuff into my dreams a couple of weeks after things have happened, for some reason.

I did my usual Shabbat chores and managed to carve out forty or fifty minutes to work on my novel, which was good, especially as it’s likely to be interrupted now for a few weeks because of Pesach (preparations then the festival) and E being here. In the evening, I went to my parents’ shul (synagogue) with Dad. Their usual chazzan (cantor) was leading the service. I’d forgotten just how much his style of davening (praying) does not fit with my tastes. Very loud and elongated, like opera; even the bits we’re supposed to read silently, he reads loud enough to be heard (and I was sitting near the back), which annoyed me immensely. But I guess we’re back to looking for perfect “unicorn shuls” again.

Dinner with my parents was pretty long, although mostly fun. I did some Torah study afterwards, but it meant I went to bed very late, without much time for recreational reading to relax after a busy day. Then I slept through the morning and napped again after lunch.

I think some of the oversleeping, or going back to bed, is an autistic sensory thing about feeling cozy and ‘held’ wrapped up in my duvet and now my weighted blanket. I’ve always slept wrapped up tight in my duvet, but when I became depressed in my teens and twenties, staying in bed became a way to avoid the world as well as feeling comfortable and held close (by the duvet/blanket). I do wonder if I can use this information somehow – get up and sit wrapped in my weighted blanket?

(It also occurs to me that E and I may need two duvets when we get married to stop me hogging it!)

When I napped this afternoon, I had a dream about my maternal grandparents that I found upsetting, although I’m not entirely sure why. To be honest, I can’t really remember it clearly any more, but I lay in bed for a while coming to terms with my feelings. Then it was time for Minchah (Afternoon Prayers) and Seudah Shlishit (the Third Sabbath Meal) so I didn’t have time for Torah study or recreational reading. It feels like I spent most of the day eating and sleeping with some davening and not a lot else. I would have liked to have gone for a walk as I haven’t had even mild exercise since Thursday.

Today was Rosh Chodesh (New Moon) of the month of Nisan. This is a hard time of year for me. Late winter is very hard, when I struggle from lack of sunlight, so passing the equinox and putting the clocks forward is somewhat helpful, albeit not so much of a difference at this stage. But then we go straight into Pesach preparations. Even if I can avoid religious OCD, it’s time-consuming and tiring, with little time for non-essential tasks like exercise, recreation or fiction writing. And this year E is coming, which makes me feel even more anxious. My brother-in-law found the way we do Pesach somewhat extreme the first time he came, so I worry what E will think. Still, as my Dad says, Pesach comes and goes. Every year it seems hard, but every year we manage it. We even managed it in 2020, when we were in lockdown and Mum was sick from chemotherapy.

***

I’m reading a book on OCD, not actually for my OCD issues, but there has been some useful stuff in there for me, reminding me that OCD thoughts never go away fully and their return at this time of year doesn’t mean I’m backsliding into OCD. What matters is how you deal with them, not whether you have them. Also, some useful stuff about grieving even during positive life events for “The Road Not Taken“. E and I are both very happy with each other, but I guess there’s stuff about us both that isn’t 100% what we would have chosen in an ideal world (which doesn’t exist!) that we need to grieve a bit. It reminds me of something in William Kolbrener’s Open-Minded Torah: Of Irony, Fundamentalism and Love where he talks about Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik’s idea that moods are simple and unipolar whereas emotions are complex and multidimensional. Judaism wants us to have emotions, not moods, hence our festivals contain sombre moments amidst the joy.

“Marry the freak”

I was looking today at websites for couples therapy for couples where one is autistic and one neurotypical. Some were fine, speaking about difficulties both partners might experience. Others were — I hesitate to throw around words like ‘ableist,’ and maybe this is partly my paranoia, but some definitely felt like, “Well, you could be in a relationship with an autistic person [or man, as female autism hasn’t really registered on most of these sites], but you should know that they won’t love you, care for you, or understand you and you’ll spend your entire life bending yourself out of shape to fit in with their crazy whims. And they probably won’t even want to have sex with you, at least not as often as you want or in the way you want. But, here are some resources if you do still want to marry the freak.” Obviously they didn’t literally say that, but it seemed to be the subtext.

E and I struggle with some things (particularly finances), but we’re both pretty good and communicating our needs and trying to meet each other’s needs (the couples therapy is to help with one very specific topic that we think we might need some objective support with). I know living together will be harder in some ways than living separately, but I’m not really worried about that. Of course, we’re wondering if E is on the spectrum too, which might make a difference.

***

I don’t think it was because of those therapy sites (although they didn’t help), but I’ve felt somewhat down all day. I’m still wondering if I should up my olanzapine dosage towards what it was previously. I was on 2.5mg twice a day; I’m now on 2.5mg every other evening, so one quarter of what I was on before. I should probably try to monitor that more rigorously and think about increasing to 2.5mg every day if necessary.

I realise that the last year and a bit have seen a number good things for me. I got my autism diagnosis, my family accepted my diagnosis and support me, I got engaged to E, my part-time job was made permanent. Still, I often feel overwhelmed at the thought of all the things I still want/need to do, in both the short and long term.

In the short-term, Pesach (Passover) is getting really close now and the tension is beginning to rise (I had a few Pesach OCD thoughts which I managed to keep under control so far). In the longer-term (in no particular order) I want to: organise a wedding; deal with my exhaustion/burnout/oversleeping/whatever it is so I can do more during the day; try to find a way to work more days in the week and earn more money; learn to drive; investigate whether E is neurodivergent; find a place in the Jewish community for E and me; and find the right balance of work/writing/religion/family/relaxation for me. And more.

There’s a lot of fear of the “will I ever get the life I want: wife, kids, some financial independence, friends, life balance?” Reading on the autism forum can be dispiriting, because, on the one hand, there are people who seem to have got their lives completely together, and I can’t seem to do that, but on the other hand there are parents with young children who are school-refusing or otherwise having extreme difficulty, and part of me thinks: “I could manage school. I was mostly fine at school (bar some bullying and loneliness), even though many people on the spectrum think that school is just Hell for autistics. I coped. So why can’t I cope now, when, in theory, I have more self-awareness and more control over my life?”

***

I did manage to submit my novel manuscript to two agencies and spent half an hour writing my next novel, so from a writing point of view it was quite good. I’m trying to use fewer Hebrew and Yiddish terms in my second novel than in my first one, as I worry that that has put agents off, but without them, dialogue for frum (religious Jewish) characters sounds ridiculously stilted and unrealistic. Imagine writing a teenage character, but not allowing yourself to use any contemporary slang in case people don’t understand; it’s a similar thing. It just sounds wrong.

I came across a literary agent today who is also a practising lawyer. Last week, I found an agent who is also a dentist (not sure if she’s practising though). Sometimes it feels like other people are living several lives, while I don’t even have one.

I used to feel that “good sense of humour” is a stupid thing to put on a dating profile, as it’s completely subjective and no one in the world thinks that they have a bad sense of humour, even if others disagree. I think “strong storytelling” is the literary agency equivalent. So many agents say they are looking for “strong storytelling.” Are there are lots of fiction writers thinking, “Well, I can’t tell a story at all, but I have beautiful prose”? Perhaps some, but many? I find it a profoundly unhelpful thing to ask for.

***

Other than that, I went for a walk and did some shopping, but didn’t accomplish much else other than some emails. I wanted to do more, but by the evening, I was drained and very low, bordering on depressed (by which I mean, if I felt like this consistently for two weeks, it would be diagnosed as depression). I thought of posting some of these thoughts on the autism forum to see what response it would get, but I’m scared to admit these complicated feelings about autistic people struggling more or less than I am. I’m also wary of talking about my religious practices and community there, because I don’t know what response I would get (I haven’t seen anyone else talk on there about religion, any religion). I’ve already asked about autistic burnout/exhaustion and no one really seems to have any solutions.

Idle Thoughts of an Idle Fellow

My shul (synagogue) is meeting in an cramped classroom (apparently — I haven’t actually seen it) some way away from my parents’ house for the next six months. As a result, I decided I would rather go to my parents’ shul this week. It was a bit surprising. There were more people there than attended my shul even pre-COVID, but the room is large and it didn’t feel over-crowded. There was more background noise than in my shul, the noise of a large crowd of people, but also some talking, which we don’t get at my shul, but there was no real clapping or thumping tables and I felt less overwhelmed than I have done in my shul for a while. This is possibly an indication that the United Synagogue has more to offer me than I thought, although the issues around the chazzan (cantor) and choir would emerge if I went more often (I dislike chazzanut (cantorial singing) as well as choral singing, and the chazzan at my parents’ shul is controversial even among people who do like chazzanut as he tends to drag things out with his singing). My ideal shul is probably some non-existent unicorn shul (a shul that exists no more than unicorns do, not a shul for unicorns to go to).

I did some Torah study over Shabbat, but slept too much. After lunch, I felt so tired that I had to lie down. I knew I should drink coffee and try to stay awake, but bed was too inviting. I don’t know how well I’ll sleep tonight, and I will lose an hour as the clocks go forward.

***

We turned on the news after Shabbat to see President Biden giving a speech that would have been denounced by the Left as “Fascist” and “warmongering” if delivered by George W. Bush or Ronald Reagan. I say this not to take sides, but just to point out another example of how topsy-turvy politics in the West in general and the USA in particular have become over the last ten years or so.

I sought refuge from The World in Pigs Have Wings, the P. G. Wodehouse novel I’m currently reading. It is about as far from the real world as you can get. It’s so light, it threatens to float towards the ceiling if you let go of it.

I was imagining it taking place in the inter-war era, but, checking the copyright page, I found it was first published in 1952. I always imagine Wodehouse as inter-war, but he started writing over a decade before World War I and continued into the 1970s. I think most people would associate him and his books with the high society of the twenties and thirties, regardless of when they actually appeared. It’s similar with Agatha Christie, who did indeed start writing in the twenties, but was also writing well into the seventies, but somehow carries the atmosphere and outlook of the the twenties and thirties into her later works so that they seem earlier.

***

I was sufficiently awake tonight from sleeping in the afternoon that I did half an hour of late-night novel writing. It wasn’t terribly productive, but it was something. My parents were actually asking me questions about my novels on Friday night. They asked about my finished novel and I struggled to explain what it is about. I think one failing of that novel is that I can’t really summarise it in one sentence. What editors and publishers refer to as a “logline pitch” (for reasons I do not understand). I said something about it being about an autistic young man in the frum community, trying to downplay the autobiographical aspects, which I’m now a bit worried about. I’m bad about talking about (a) myself, (b) things I’ve done and (c) things that matter to me at the best of times (except to E, strangely), so it is hard to cope with these questions.

Then my parents asked about the novel I just started writing: what was that one about? “You don’t want to know,” was all I could say. I couldn’t face discussing pornography-addicted rabbis with my parents at the Shabbat dinner table, not without advanced warning. I do think that, if I want to become a writer, and if I carry on writing in this vein, I’m going to need to do some careful thinking about talking to people about my writing. I don’t mean agents, editors and reviewers, but family, friends and other shul-goers. What I’ve written and planned so far is… not what people might expect me to write about.

***

I feel that I’m torn between part of me that feels the urge to Do Things and to be busy and productive all the time (as some commenters here have noticed), and another part that likes time to do nothing and think and contemplate and be mindful of the world. It is good to have time for that on Shabbat at least, without work, TV or internet.

In his book Yeshiva Days, anthropologist Jonathan Boyarin tries to present yeshiva (rabbinic seminary) study as anti-capitalist, because it’s done for no material reward. I think, like a lot of critics of capitalism, Boyarin misses the point that capitalism isn’t about money, but about utility, defined in economic terms as “the ability to satisfy want.” Yeshiva study seeks to maximise utility in the Next World (afterlife) by building up the biggest possible Heavenly reward through the most valuable action (in Yeshivish theology), studying Torah. It simply replaces earning money in this world with earning spiritual reward in the next. That is sort-of anti-capitalist, but not exactly.

I feel like I could present a theory of why I increasingly like wasting time, not doing much, and thinking about things that would explain it in capitalist or religious terms. I could say that it gives me time to think about topics I would like to write about, and get paid to write about (please God, one day…). Also, that taking time to let my thoughts percolate is when I have interesting insights in Jewish topics, so that it can be seen as Torah study. I’m not sure how much either of these theories are true, however. I think I just find the pace of the modern world overwhelming and seek escape (although it often involves escape into thoughts about the world that I am trying to escape). In this I am like many autistic people, and probably many non-autistic people. I just like to retreat into myself rather than external distractions (although I do that too). I do often feel guilty though, that I should be earning money and/or doing religiously-valuable tasks, or at least writing, and trying to sell, novels.

Not Quite Trivial

I wrote the post below yesterday and didn’t post it, because I thought it was too trivial, but in retrospect, it does capture a couple of aspects of how I feel right now that are worth sharing:

I struggled to get up at 6.30am for the third day in a row this morning and even went back to bed for a few minutes after breakfast, something I don’t usually do on work days. This suggests that maybe I’m not ready to work four days a week.

Work was dull, but OK. I went on a small shopping trip after work that mostly ended in failure (one of the shops I wanted to go to was shut and I ended up with only one of the four items I wanted). I had hoped to work on my novel when I got home, although I was wary of whether that would lead to burnout tomorrow. However, by the time I had waded through blog comment notifications, job emails, other emails, forum posts and a couple of blog posts, I was too tired and it was too late. I need a better way of handling this. Or a secretary. And that was without looking at news sites (although I did glance at one of the Jewish newspapers, which is as depressing as usual).

I would like to avoid the news entirely, but (a) that seems irresponsible; (b) that’s pretty much impossible if you have an inquiring mind and an internet connection; (c) that seems self-defeating when I am still thinking of writing a satirical novel at some point — satire needs raw material. So, I tentatively look at a few sites and try not to get too dragged in. Likewise, if I want to use the autism forum as a way of communicating with other autistics and building some kind of support framework, then I need to read and comment on the forum. I can’t just expect to post when I have a problem and get lots of understanding responses if I don’t support others.

That said, I do think I am struggling to engage with people on the autism forum and I’m not sure why. I haven’t really had the type of conversations I hoped I could have on it. It’s more one person posts a problem and other people post one-off responses with solutions or empathy, not one person posts something and starts a wide-ranging conversation. And some people don’t respond at all, which makes me wonder if I’ve said the wrong thing. Interestingly, there seem to be as many or even more women on the forum than men, which is against stereotype — although maybe not so much. The traditional stereotype was that only men were autistic; it is now known that women are autistic too, but are often more creative and less stereotypically “autistic” (obsessively interested in numbers and mechanical things, difficulty communicating, unable to mask, few displays of emotion) than men, so maybe they are more inclined to communicate emotionally in writing, or at all. I tend to connect more with what the women write than many of the men, which again is unsurprising as I tend to present more like a female autistic.

(Last paragraph added today.)

(End of post from yesterday)

Today I slept late, probably inevitably after such a busy few days. I helped Dad move stuff around from the fridges to begin Pesach (Passover) preparations and went out to buy Mum flowers for Mother’s Day. I even had a little time to work on my novel. I only managed about twenty minutes between the other tasks and the usual pre-Shabbat (Sabbath) chores, and Shabbat still starting not long after 6.00pm, but I think I need to focus on this kind of ‘micro-writing’ (maybe at the expense of blogging and blog commenting) if I’m to make any progress at all with my new novel in the next month, the busiest time of the Jewish year (the month before Pesach). I wrote nearly 300 words. Probably not great words, and some will probably be deleted at some point but at least I’m no longer presented with the dreaded blank sheet of paper.

Job Interview and Changing the Past

I was very early for my job interview today and hung around at the bus stop for twenty minutes, killing time. As my therapist suggested, I tried to use positive affirmations to get in a good state of mind, although I’ve never had much success with this. Telling myself, “I will do the best I can today; I don’t need to worry about tomorrow” helped a bit.

I feel I had my usual autistic problems in the interview: long pauses while I tried to process things and sentences that started confidently, but then trailed off as I realised I didn’t know what to say, or didn’t have as much to say as I thought, sometimes awkwardly ending on “and…” I had prepared notes and had them open, but when the questions came, I got focused on them and didn’t look at the notes. I made bland assertions rather than using the STAR method I’ve frequently been told to apply in interviews, where you talk about a Situation you were in, the Task involved, the Action you took and the Result. I find it hard to think of the concrete examples needed by the STAR method. I was also distracted by my surroundings, not lights or noises, but the very noticeboard on the wall behind the interviewers, with colourful animal photos, and a large photograph of a gorilla perched on the windowsill. Once I noticed that, it was hard to un-notice it (the weird opposite of the famous psychology experiment where subjects failed to notice a gorilla). I should add that neither wildlife nor photography have anything to do with this organisation’s purpose.

I think I answered most of the questions OK, but I got a bit stuck on being asked about a time when I gave excellent customer service. I have had this question before and I don’t like it. I had prepared an answer, but at the last moment, I felt that it wasn’t appropriate, and instead said that I always give the same excellent level of customer service to everyone (complete attention, politeness, etc.). It was not a great answer.

So, I don’t think I embarrassed myself, but I don’t think I did brilliantly either. I have had some help with interviews in the past, but nothing seems to really help once I get into one and my autistic brain is left to fend for itself.

***

When I got home, I wrote the full (800 word) synopsis that one literary agency were asking for. Looking at my manuscript, much of it makes me cringe, both in terms of quality and in terms of the parts that were based on my own life — there is much I would like to have done differently if I lived my life again. I felt initially that not enough happens in the novel too, although I feel that not enough happens in literary novels generally (I’m probably not supposed to say that). However, on looking at the novel as a whole, I think things do happen, they just start slowly, held up by stuff that mattered to me emotionally, but which probably isn’t necessary for the plot, but I don’t know how to change it now.

The agency seemed a bit picky in what they wanted, and on their submission guidelines they said they wanted the first five pages of the manuscript, but on the submission form itself they said they wanted the first twenty pages. I don’t think the agency will be a great fit, but having written the synopsis, I felt I ought to submit it.

***

I noticed today that although Transport for London are encouraging passengers to wear masks, none of the staff seem to wear them any more. It’s very hard to feel engaged in doing it any more.

***

Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about embarrassing events from my past, mostly from my childhood and teenage years. I was mostly well-behaved, but did misbehave occasionally. When I did, I was not usually caught, but somehow I feel I should have been. I’m not sure why I feel guilty for harmless actions from a quarter of a century ago, but I do. Then, as I wrote above, looking at my novel today made me think about the events that inspired it, which are bound up in regrets and self-recrimination from a bad time of my life. Curiously enough, Paula wrote today about regretting or not regretting past actions. As I said there, it’s hard to imagine changing the bad without changing the good, or at least the necessary, and the most significant things were often out of my hands anyway. I feel it’s counter-productive to have these thoughts, but it’s easy to get stuck in it.

Then today I was reading The Principles of Judaism were Rabbi Dr Samuel Lebens argues that God can and will rewrite history so nothing bad ever happened. (Or “hyper-happened” as he would say, as something bad happened, but God “hyper-will” change it so it didn’t.) I didn’t really agree with this, although it was hard to find the logical flaw. It just seems wrong. The book had some surprising propositions, but this was one I really struggled to accept.

I think I preferred the theodicy Rabbi Lebens quoted from Gabriel Citron (who I knew slightly years ago) that, from the afterlife, our suffering in this world will seem as insubstantial as a nightmare. This is closer to my thinking. I’m surprised Rabbi Lebens rejects it, saying “I don’t see much religious value in the skeptical possibility that we’re not really awake right now,” as it doesn’t seem all that different to Lebens’ suggestion earlier in the book that we’re just ideas in God’s mind.

Questions

I had another novel agent rejection. He said, “You have an interesting story to tell and there’s a lot to like about your approach. But in the end I’m afraid I didn’t come away quite fully convinced this was something I think I’d be able to represent successfully.” I’m confused by this. Is it the literary equivalent of “I like you, but only as a friend”? (I got that a lot too in the years before E.) It makes me wonder if agents are really put off by the Jewish nature of my novel and think they can’t represent it. If so, maybe I ought to seek out Jewish agents (how would I find them?), or apply to the one or two Jewish or Jewish-ish publishers I know.

***

I woke up this morning to a text telling me I could apply for a vaccine passport. As the text did not come from an NHS number (they always say “NHS”) and didn’t link to an NHS website, and as I already have the NHS COVID app, I concluded that this was a scam, probably asking for money for phishing for personal details. Things like this leave me a bit shaken though. Not to a huge extent, but I worry that I might fall for a scam one day, and just experiencing it makes me feel negative about the world.

***

At work J sent me to get a key cut. It was a special key, so I had to go on the bus to a particular hardware shop. He said that if it took up to an hour, I should just stay in the area and collect it, but if it took more than an hour, I should come back and he would collect it later. I was told it would take an hour, so I wandered around the area for a while. There wasn’t really time to go anywhere. There was a small park nearby, but I hadn’t brought a book to read, so I just wandered around listening to Eurythmics’ greatest hits on my headphones. So many shops have video screens in the windows now. I’m sure it contributes to autistic sensory overload.

Other than that, work left me feeling vaguely stupid again for not using my initiative or common sense, probably for no good reason, or only a mild reason. I vaguely recall that when I was a child, adults used to say I had intelligence, but not common sense. I’m not sure whether that is shorthand for autism or not.

***

Almost no one is wearing a mask on the Tube any more. I feel torn. The evidence for masks, particularly cloth ones, is not great, as I understand it. I suspect a lot of it is about wanting to feel one is doing something at a time when we couldn’t do anything. The college where I am having a job interview tomorrow still insists on masks in public spaces (I’m not sure what the define as ‘public’). Being autistic, I like clear rules, and the clash of different masking regulations (entirely voluntary/compulsory in places) is confusing to me. I fail to make up my own mind.

I am wearing a mask at the moment more to avoid panicking others than because I think it will help me, maybe because my Dad gets annoyed if people aren’t wearing masks. I wore one to shul (synagogue) over Purim, but took it off when I realised almost no one there was wearing one.

***

My ability to catastrophise about my job interview tomorrow is impeded by my inability to work out if I want the job or not. I feel like I’ll mess up the interview and still be faced with the difficult decision of taking the job or not, even though both of these things can not happen simultaneously.

I said to my parents that I feel I haven’t done well at a librarian job in the last five years. My Dad said this was untrue. I think it is largely true, although not entirely. I had a job that lasted one month in a shul library that went OK, although no one ever gave me real feedback on what I did, or even seemed to really look at it. I also, as my Dad said, did well at the job at a university library. However, as I said to him, it was not really a job for a professional librarian, although they advertised it as such, but a trainee; someone else at the institution asked if I was going to train as a librarian and was shocked that I was already qualified. Other than that, my only library work in the last five years was the further education job, which was not good at all, albeit mostly because I was in a terrible environment for an autistic person (because I didn’t know I was autistic at that stage).

I’m not sure how much of this negativity is low self-esteem and autistic rigidity and how much is real. Dad seemed to think a lot was rigidity, but I’m not convinced. I still remember how my boss at the further education job told me that I wasn’t doing as well as she expected. I don’t think I’d ever really disappointed anyone that much before.

I do feel my professional qualifications have withered over the intervening years and I’m depressed by the fact that I rarely get interviews for library jobs and when I do get them, I don’t seem to do well. I wish there was some kind of objective test I could take to see if I’m still a good librarian, like doing my MA coursework all over again (although I felt that, like job interviews, library MA coursework tested exam-passing skills as much as the skills I would use in the field). I feel that maybe I should look for a cataloguing course on CILIP, but I feel that my once-desired career as a cataloguer no longer excites me. I’m too scared that my concentration has gone and I make stupid mistakes. I don’t know if that’s due to autism-unfriendly environments or my own decline.

Someone on the autism forum was saying the other day that he has built a successful career for himself as a librarian and that he thinks that many of his colleagues are on the spectrum (diagnosed or otherwise) and that it’s an autistic-friendly career, so I feel particularly useless that I could never get this to work for me. I was dealt a bad hand in the early years of my career (and before, when I was doing my librarianship MA), having to deal with burnout, depression, social anxiety and OCD all while not actually knowing the root cause of everything, the fact that I am autistic, so maybe I shouldn’t be too hard on myself.

I guess I feel I’ve despaired of building a library career and am already focused on writing, which is even harder to get into (see above) or earn a living from. Except I don’t let myself write, because I enjoy it too much, so I prioritise everything else over it. To be honest, sticking in my current job and working hard at my writing would be the best thing for me, IF I could find a way to fight the autistic/medication-induced exhaustion and get some serious writing and submitting time in each week. But maybe even that is running away from librarianship because I feel I failed.

Less Anxious

I woke up late, but rather less anxious than the last few days, albeit somewhat anxious still. I guess this is unsurprising as I have a stressful week ahead of me. I’m glad to feel somewhat calmer than the last few days. I thought this was a good time to think about reducing medication and hopefully getting a grip on my sleep pattern before E and I get married, as that seemed to be some way off, but then the job interview came up, and the medication washout period stretched into Purim, and then Pesach came on the horizon, and suddenly everything seemed too much and I was catastrophising about the interview, E and me, and everything else, without any real reason.

I’m going to try to stick to 2.5mg of olanzapine every other day for now, but I’ll increase back to 2.5mg every day if I’m still anxious. I can even go back to what I was on before this started, 2.5mg twice a day, if I need to. I might try to speak to a GP tomorrow, but I’m sceptical (a) of my ability to get an appointment and (b) of their ability to help much with this. Once E and I are married and settled maybe I’ll try to find a private psychiatrist to do a proper medication review and see about possible reduction. I doubt I would be allowed to see one on the NHS at the moment.

***

I did some preparation for my interview on Wednesday. I feel OK with handling the day-to-day running of the collection; I basically did that in the past short-term when I was working at that library, when the then Head Librarian was on holiday or at conferences. The difficulty I feel is the administrative/bureaucratic, personnel management, fundraising and promotion aspects of the job, going to committee meetings, helping with the running of the wider institution and so on, which I have little or no experience of, and for which, the job description implies, I would have very little supervision and support, but for which I would be expected to do a lot. If I could handle it, it would be amazing for my career, but I worry I couldn’t handle it even without worries about my mental health and energy levels and how autism-friendly the environment would be.

E and I have reflected in the past that the skills needed to get a job are not necessarily those needed to be good at the job, and that’s doubly true on the spectrum. I feel like the skills needed for interviews are really not those that people on the autism spectrum tend to have. Interviews need an ability to predict what other people think, good and fast verbal processing, strong autobiographical memory and an ability to think on your feet. I have none of these skills. They are really not common for those of us on the spectrum. I can barely remember half the stuff it says I’ve done on my CV and answers to common interview questions.

For example, I’ve been told to use the acronym STAR when answering interview questions: mention Situation, Task, Achievement and Result when describing what you did. I find it hard to remember this under pressure, if I can even think of an instance that meets the interviewer’s question, a result of poor autobiographical memory and rigidity in interpreting questions.

Despite this, I did some interview preparation, although I struggled to concentrate and kept getting distracted, which was a sign of nerves. After that I went for a walk, which I haven’t done much recently. I tried to answer Ashley’s question about three things to tell someone just diagnosed with your condition. Maybe I’m still too close to my own diagnosis after a year, but I can’t think of anything useful. I know many autistics would say I should say that autism is a difference, not a disability, but it really doesn’t feel that way on days like today. I have above-average intelligence and good paper qualifications, but I’ve struggled the whole time with the world of work. Unless you’re good at numbers or computers, the outlook is not great. Likewise, I have not been good at romantic relationships, and, judging by the autism forum, I am not alone in this. Then there’s the fact that people on the spectrum are prone to many co-morbid issues like anxiety, OCD and depression.

***

On the plus side, I had a talk with my rabbi mentor, addressing some issues relating to Pesach (Passover). Since my Pesach OCD started, we’ve had a rule that I can only ask Pesach questions in the four weeks between Purim and Pesach. I usually have a long list of questions. I did have a few questions, but mostly I was thinking that they were OK and I just wanted to check my reasoning. It’s good that I feel more able to sit with these questions and to say that I think I’m right and they aren’t problematic. Ideally I wouldn’t need to double-check with my rabbi mentor, but it is helpful to see that I can reason these things through properly.

This year is a bit scarier than most because E will be here and I worry what she will think of the way we/I do things. I know my brother-in-law (also from a less frum background) was a bit overwhelmed when he first came to us for Pesach, and when he saw what my sister did in their home. I hope things are OK. I’m hopeful E will enjoy our sederim (ritual discussion of the exodus/meal, although the food is quite late in the day!). We run sederim that people of different religious backgrounds and knowledge levels seem to enjoy and get something out of. I admit I do quite a lot of the religious preparation for that, in terms of trying to find interesting ideas to go beyond the text of the hagaddah (seder prayer book).

I’m Going Slightly Mad

The short version: I’m really struggling and am putting myself back on olanzapine.

The long version: I went to shul (synagogue) last night. I wasn’t sure whether I felt up to it. It was probably a mistake, as I felt overwhelmed by the noise and banging. The rabbi “eulogised” (in inverted commas, as one is not supposed to eulogise on Shabbat, but that’s essentially what it was) Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky, the leader of the Yeshivish Haredi world (part of the ultra-Orthodox world), who died on Friday. It did underline to me that I never really fitted into the world where constant Torah study is seen as the ideal, nor do I feel I could ever have fitted. When I came home, I wished I hadn’t gone, but if I had gone, I doubtless would have felt I could have gone and been OK. These counter-factuals build up when I consider the week ahead.

I felt very anxious after dinner, and lay in bed for half an hour. I did some Torah study, but not a huge amount. I tried to be gentle with myself, particularly regarding autistic sensory things that I usually try to struggle through regardless e.g. Mum made chicken for dinner. Normally I would eat it, even though I dislike the taste, smell, texture, everything. However, when Mum offered me something else, I took it. After dinner I started reading a P. G. Wodehouse book, which is amusing enough, although I didn’t read much of it. It cheered me up a little.

I slept badly. I slept for a long time, but I woke up several times in the night, too anxious to get up. Today I was even more anxious. I slept for two hours after lunch. I went to bed and wrapped myself in my duvet and weighted blanket. I knew I would probably fall asleep, but I just needed it to self-soothe. I won’t sleep easily tonight as a result. I tried to do some Torah study, but felt too anxious.

The anxiety is multi-pronged. Some is OCD-type anxiety about Pesach, about which I now feel I have to completely control or E will be upset and think she can’t cope with me. Some is anxiety about my job interview this week, anxiety that I will make a fool of myself again, but also anxiety that I will get the job and make the wrong decision about whether to take it. I don’t know what the right decision would be, to choose a better, and more career-orientated job, but one which will leave me unemployed in a year, potentially with a mortgage, assuming I don’t burn out working four days a week, and knowing I won’t be able to write; or do I stay in my lower-paying, but steady and manageable job where I have an understanding boss and I could have time to write (at least if I didn’t feel so exhausted and overwhelmed all the time)? E and my parents say to wait and see what happens, which is probably correct, but it’s hard when I feel so anxious. Those counter-factuals build up again.

I’m anxious about E too. That we’ll never manage to get married. That maybe I’ll scare her off when she comes for Pesach.

There are two reasons why I dated her despite our religious differences, a negative and a positive reason. The negative reason was that most of the frum (religious) women I dated didn’t view me as acceptable (I didn’t go to yeshiva, I was “too worldly,” I was too depressed, I had nothing in common with them, there was no chemistry). Sometimes I dated people who were religious, but still differences would become apparent. There isn’t a thriving frum Modern Orthodox community in the UK, and I was not integrated enough into the Haredi one to get set up on dates, the only way to meet the opposite sex in that community. I don’t think many people outside the Haredi community in the UK take Judaism as seriously as I do, even the relatively frum ones.

The two women I did date seriously had religious differences with me, but the big reasons it didn’t work out with them had little to do with religion. The reasons were that the former did not respect my boundaries about what physical touch I was comfortable with (she was also losing her religion — just being on a certain level doesn’t mean you’ll stay there — but that wasn’t why we broke up) and the other lied to me about her family history and only told me the truth to make a point. The lack of success dating people on my religious level suggested that I would struggle to find anyone who is both on my religious level and compatible.

The positive reason, which is much more important, is that E understands me me more than anyone else I know and she cares about me more than anyone except my parents. And I understand and care about her, and I think I know how to care about her the way she wants, which is not insignificant as I don’t think I would know how to care for many people. We connect so well. I trust her completely not to trample on my boundaries and not to lie to me. I feel safe with her in a way that I don’t with anyone else. She says I talk to her differently to how I talk to other people, even my parents, that I’m much more open and “myself” with her. I just love her and want to be with her and I’m not coping well with the uncertainty of not knowing when that might be. I still feel overwhelmed about everything happening in my life right now and probably couldn’t cope if more was happening, but I just want to feel like there’s an end point in view.

I guess what I really want more than anything else right now is (a) to marry E and (b) to find a way to spend some serious time writing and trying to get published, to at least have a real go at achieving that. It seems hard sometimes to see what the right way to do those things is, particularly as the writing dream seems like a silly fantasy that I’ll never achieve and shouldn’t waste my life on. (E supports my writing, which again is not something to take for granted.)

The Babylon 5 episode Za’Ha’Dum ended the third season of the programme with the following voice-over, which sums up how I feel right now:

It was the end of the Earth year 2260, and the war had paused, suddenly and unexpectedly. All around us, it was as if the universe were holding its breath, waiting.  All of life can be broken down into moments of transition or moments of revelation. This had the feeling of both.

G’Quan wrote: ‘There is a greater darkness than the one we fight. It is the darkness of the soul that has lost its way. The war we fight is not against powers and principalities, it is against chaos and despair. Greater than the death of flesh is the death of hope, the death of dreams. Against this peril we can never surrender. The future is all around us, waiting in moments of transition, to be born in moments of revelation. No one knows the shape of that future, or where it will take us. We know only that it is always born in pain.

***

I felt a little better this evening, especially after eating and taking olanzapine, although I’m sure it’s far too early to have any real effect. I spent half an hour working on my novel plan, wearing ear plugs that failed to appreciably blot out the incredibly loud music coming from some — unpleasant person down the road. I think it might be a party. Despite the noise, I think I have the plan more or less where I want it and I’m ready to start writing properly, albeit alongside some further research and with the knowledge that my story will doubtless evolve as I write it.

Purim and Accepting My Feelings

I had insomnia again last night. Then I woke up at 8am and couldn’t get back to sleep (I didn’t have to get up until 9am). I feel like I’m in one of those Twilight Zone episodes where people get what they wish for and it all goes horribly wrong. “You want to sleep less? How would you like it if you couldn’t sleep at all?” Can’t I sleep a normal amount, seven or eight hours a night? No more, no less?

I lay in bed for an hour this morning feeling anxious about my interview next week. I’m not sure if I’m more anxious about making a fool of myself; being offered the job and not knowing if I should take it; or taking it and being out of my depth. Can I work four days a week? Should I take a one year job, knowing I’ll be unemployed and probably with a mortgage at the end of it? It’s hard and I don’t really know how to solve these problems. My gut says I should stick with my current job, which will still be there in a year, but I worry my gut is just scared of pressure and change. My parents and E say to just get through the interview before I worry about whether I should accept the job, which is probably true.

I went to a daytime Megillah (Book of Esther) reading at my parents’ shul (synagogue) again. It was a late morning one and, as I expected, somewhat quieter than yesterday’s reading. I was annoyed by someone sometimes (but not always) singing along with the reader, not exactly under his breath. He wasn’t even close to me! (Other than my Dad, there was no one really close to me.) I think even allistic (non-autistic) people would find that annoying; to me it was really distracting.

I think I heard everything, even when I stumbled over one of the bits we do read aloud (the ten sons of Haman, who all have long, difficult Persian names) and the rabbi re-started leining (reading) aloud before I had quite finished. This was the rabbi who waved at me yesterday. I actually asked him afterwards if what I did was OK which may not be good from an OCD perspective, as I shouldn’t check stuff, but I realised I feel more comfortable asking him questions than my own shul rabbi, which I guess is good if I’m thinking of asking him to marry me and E. I think she’ll like him, but it’s hard to know. I might try to introduce her to him when she comes here for Pesach (I’m not sure if I’ve mentioned before that she’s coming for Pesach).

I nearly cried twice today, once when the Jews were saved in the Megillah (why? It’s not like this was news to me) and once over my lunch/Purim seudah (feast), which was me eating beans on toast by myself. I guess it upsets me that I almost always eat Purim seudah on my own, as my parents usually work and I don’t have enough frum (religious) friends to get invited out much. I’m not sure why this upsets me so much, as I’ve eaten alone before on Shabbat (Sabbath) or even sometimes on Yom Tov (festival) when my parents have been invited to eat at their friends. Perhaps there’s something about Purim that means I want to celebrate it more gregariously. Hopefully I won’t be alone next year.

After that, I helped my Dad deliver mishloach manot (presents of food) to his friends. By the time we’d done that, I was pretty exhausted from the day. We live in a frum area, so outside all day had been kids in fancy dress (cute), cars blaring loud music (annoying) and, by 4pm, a couple of very drunk adult men. I was peopled out just being around so many people all day, even though I hadn’t had many actual interactions. The article someone posted here the other day about Purim on the spectrum was right; just the carnival wrongness of the day is draining if you’re on the spectrum, the not being sure of what will happen next or even who people are under the make up and fancy dress. Even though I’d eaten seudah already, I decided to have some Purim bread with my parents at their seudah, wearing my jester’s hat, which I hadn’t worn earlier as the cleaner was here.

I think some of the problem for me on Purim, and every Yom Tov really is the feeling that I need to internalise the message of the Yom Tov in a very tangible way and experience noticeable spiritual growth, not just doing the relevant mitzvot (commandments) and enjoying the day. I wonder how many Jews actually do this? Aside from super-tzadikim (saintly people)? I had a bit of a discussion along these lines with my rabbi mentor after last Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur (Jewish New Year and Day of Atonement). I got the impression that he didn’t think that many people do achieve this. I don’t know how many even care about achieving this.

Sometimes it feels that contemporary Judaism is full of messages that I’m supposed to take with a pinch of salt (like very Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) communities where iphones are banned, but everyone has them, but won’t admit to it), but I struggle to do that, perhaps because of autistic literalness. I guess it’s harder than most festivals on Purim because the theme of the day is so out of my comfort zone. The same applies to Simchat Torah, but I’ve largely stopped going to shul for that, whereas on Purim I still want to hear the Megillah, which means engaging more than praying/studying at home.

So did I have a good Purim overall? It wasn’t how I expected. I had intended to spend time watching TV to chill out, which I didn’t really do, as I helped Dad with his mishloach manot and then ate a second seudah with my parents for the company. But I did enjoy that time with my parents, and I did do all the mitzvot, which matters to me a lot, and I did get something from the Megillah readings. In a weird way, I think I even enjoyed dropping off the mishloach manot, at least to my parents’ friends who I know reasonably well. So I guess it was good even if it didn’t exactly feel good. I just wish I could feel and accept my positive feelings more, but then I guess I need to learn to understand and accept all my feelings better (alexithymia). It’s hard to know where to start with something like that, although my therapist might have some ideas. I think I’ve got a bit better at it over the years, but there’s still a long way to go.

Sick Day, and Purim Evening

I slept badly again, insomnia and early waking. I did some internet searching at 6.00am; my symptoms could be olanzapine withdrawal, but they could also be one of 165 (according to Web MD) other things, from hay fever (?!) to multiple sclerosis. Withdrawal seems increasingly likely, though. I felt OK at 6.30am, so decided to get up and try to go to work. Unfortunately, as I had breakfast (today was a Jewish fast day, but I can’t fast minor fasts on lithium tablets), I started feeling like I was burning up and feeling light-headed, so decided to call in sick and go back to bed.

I tried to speak to the doctor. The doctor’s phone line opens at 8.30am and gets jammed immediately. This was the case before COVID and it’s worse now. I phoned at 8.29 and it was still shut; at 8.31 and I was in a long queue. I got through to a receptionist about forty minutes later and all the appointments for today had gone. She gave me the number for the out of hours service, which opens at 6.30pm. Unfortunately, by the time I got back from shul (see below) at 8pm, they were shut again. I’m not sure what the point of an after hours service is, if it’s only open for an hour and a half after hours.

I slept for about five hours and woke up feeling somewhat better. I got into an autistic black and white thinking state thinking that I wouldn’t be able to hear the Megillah (Book of Esther) reading in shul (synagogue). I talked things over with my parents and decided that, if I still felt OK, I would go to their shul (synagogue) for it rather than mine, so I wouldn’t have to walk and so I could have support if I felt ill, albeit mainly the moral support of sitting next to Dad as there’s not much practical that anyone can do during the reading, which is supposed to be uninterrupted (except for the noise when the wicked Haman is mentioned).

Written at 8pm:

I just got back from the Megillah reading. I’m not sure if it was a good idea. I feel bad, physically and emotionally, but I might have felt bad anyway. My parents’ shul was noisier than mine would have been, which was bad for all kinds of reasons (the law of needing to hear every word, my autism, religious OCD, and withdrawal symptoms) but it was significantly faster too, which was good given that I spent the second half of the reading feeling very ill and wanting to leave. Plus, going with my Dad, I did get a lift.

I repeated a few words that I was pretty sure that I didn’t hear, but I didn’t repeat any of the words that I was unsure about, as (a) there were a lot of them and (b) I was worried about fuelling the OCD. I feel like I won’t know until I die and go to Olam HaBa (The Next World) how many times I correctly heard the Megillah in my life, but I guess you could say that about a lot of things.

There’s a saying in the Talmud that “Sometimes the Torah is upheld by breaking it.” It’s open to abuse, but it basically means sometimes you have to break the letter of the law to save the spirit of the law, or to support a more important law. In religious OCD treatment, it can mean not taking any extra precautions or corrections beyond those absolutely mandated by Jewish law (if that), which is what I tried to do.

I also feel that I pushed myself as far as I could given I have autism/Asperger’s, and then a bit further given I’m undergoing bad withdrawal, and I really could not have done more.

There are four mitzvot (commandments) on Purim: to hear every word of the Megillah twice, evening and morning (I’ve never really understood why twice); to give gifts of food or money to the poor; to give gifts of food to friends; and to eat a festive meal on the afternoon of Purim (i.e. tomorrow). To be honest, I’m not sure I do that well at any of them, as my meal is usually alone (or at work) as my parents usually work on Purim and I tend not to get invited out.

Purim is supposed to be a day of serving God with pure joy. Unfortunately, different people have different definitions of joy. I would rather watch Doctor Who with E. But we have a halakhic definition, about celebrating in a particular way, just like we have a halakhic definition for telling the story of the exodus from Egypt on Pesach or mourning on Tisha B’Av.

Other things: my parents’ rabbi waved at me in the shul, which is good, as he’s high on the list of rabbis who might marry E and me (of all the United Synagogue rabbis I know, I think he’s the one she would connect with best, although it’s hard to tell). And my Mum has been unwell this evening too. She fasted badly on the Fast of Esther and has not recovered now it’s Purim. We do seem to be struggling this year.

***

Lately I’ve had various letters from HMRC (the taxman) and the Jobcentre saying that my benefits have been stopped now I’m working. The worrying thing is that it looks like they were stopped retroactively, so I may have to pay back more than a year of benefits! The letters are typically clear as mud. Why can’t government employees speak good English? My Mum thinks it’s just a typo, but I’m worried I’m going to get some kind of demand soon.

***

I got called for interview for the maternity cover role I applied for at the place where I had my first job. It’s next Wednesday, which is before they were planning on closing applications, so I guess that means they like me. I really don’t feel up to it right now, and I have zero confidence in my ability to do library work currently. I worry they’ve called me early because they think I’m a good candidate and I’m going to disappoint, the way I’ve disappointed so many potential, and actual, employers in the past. I also worry about having the energy to cope with working essentially four days a week. The former point is partly low self-esteem, but the latter is more objective. I feel like this is yet another thing I have to worry about right now.

I just seem to have so much on my To Do list, alongside work, relationship and all my religious and other obligations (e.g. exercise, which I have definitely been neglecting lately) and the novels I want to write, but can’t make the time and energy for. As an example, for years I used to like to keep my email Inbox clean of unread (i.e. unresponded to) mail each evening. Occasionally I would leave something marked unread that I would need to deal with in the next few days. But for weeks now I’ve had multiple unread emails — not literally unread, but not dealt with. Some of it is avoidance, but a lot of it is just not getting around to things. On the advice of my rabbi mentor, I’ve cut back on my religious obligations (which I am not entirely happy about) and I haven’t written a devar Torah (Torah thought) this week or last week, but I still feel like I’m struggling. A lot of it is about exhaustion and not having the energy to do much more than the two days of paid work I’m currently doing plus my household chores.

***

In a vague attempt at drawing all this together, I’m going to turn off my computer in a moment, leaving a lot of unanswered emails, and eat hamantashen (Purim pastry — I’ve already had two slices of Purim challah – sweet Purim bread) and watch Doctor Who, sadly without E, but to try to feel physically and emotionally better so that I can go to a morning Megillah reading. I’ve given up on the idea of going for Shacharit (Morning Prayer) at 7.30am and will go to my parents’ shul again for 11am, where hopefully it will be less rowdy than today (there will be fewer people and the children will be in school — the Jewish schools open on Purim, as it’s not a day when work is forbidden, but have celebrations instead of lessons).

I guess I feel that I would like to be able to celebrate the Jewish festivals better, the way they are supposed to be celebrated, uniting joy and physical celebration with understanding and internalising deep spiritual meaning on an intellectual and especially an emotional level. I guess, given that I have trouble understanding my own emotions, it’s not surprising I struggle with this, even before factoring in the stuff about socialising, noise, OCD and so on.

Withdrawal, Virus, Or What?

I slept for twelve hours last night, then I think I drifted in and out of sleep for another two. I dreamt about the Nazis, which I guess is what I get for reading The Coming of the Third Reich. By the time I woke up properly, I was still feeling very drained and somewhat ill. I struggle to put into words what exactly I mean by “ill,” although it includes an uncomfortable awareness of my own body (I can’t put it more precisely than that) which I associate with autistic exhaustion (particularly the feeling that my brain is being squeezed) as well as feeling hot and bothered and generally not having the energy or inclination to do anything other than lying still. I also occasionally get muscle spasms or unwilled muscle tension. I’ve been shivering a bit too. I am not sure if this is autistic exhaustion from working on two hours of sleep yesterday, withdrawal from olanzapine, lack of vitamin D or something else.

This prompts the vague thoughts I’ve had recently wondering if I have some physical illness or condition draining my energy that has been overlooked because I’ve been focused on depression, autistic exhaustion and medication side-effects as causes, but I’m not sure how to take that forward. Obviously going to the GP would be a good start, although I’ll wait for the high doses vitamin D I’ve been prescribed to kick in and the withdrawal to hopefully pass, or I think the GP will just tell me to go home and wait for those things to happen first. My experience is that GPs do not react well to being presented with vague, “I feel sick and tired all the time” statements, so I am not feeling hugely optimistic about that.

I don’t have racing thoughts though. If anything sometimes they are slow and sluggish, as when I’m autistically exhausted. However, I did do a COVID test, just in case. It came back negative, but it was one of the ones where you have to swab your tonsils, which I’m not good at, so I worry I didn’t do it properly. I may just have picked up some kind of bug/virus.

***

It occurs to me that tomorrow night will be my first Purim knowing for sure that I’m on the autism spectrum. I was quite sure last year, but wasn’t officially diagnosed yet. Anyway, last Purim was a weird, COVID Purim, with few people in the Megillah reading (my shul (synagogue) did multiple small readings instead of one big one) and no young children allowed (usually there would be loads of kids around, mainly in fancy dress). The tzedaka (charity) collection was online only too (usually there would be lots of people with tins and buckets collecting for different charities). It was very, very strange and, even though it was in many ways an ideal autistic Purim for me, it just felt wrong. I’d like to find a small, quiet Megillah reading, but not if that means that other people can’t get their raucous reading or that children can’t hear the Megillah at all! Of course, if I feel like this tomorrow evening, I may not hear the Megillah anywhere after all.

***

I found this article quite useful. I need to be reminded periodically that I can be empathetic, polite, imaginative and creative, and not great at maths, and still be on the autism spectrum. To be fair, I was reasonably good at maths in school, in the top set and I got A* at GCSE, but I was never intuitively good at maths the way some of my schoolfriends were, and the way stereotypical autistic children are. Certainly my maths skills are rusty now.

***

I’ve nearly finished The Coming of the Third Reich. It’s been interesting, if depressing, reading, and I’d like to read Richard J. Evans’ two follow up books on Nazi Germany, although I imagine they’re even more depressing.

I found the book a cause of optimism and pessimism. Optimism, because we’ve been hearing since 2016 that our democracies are simmering hotbeds of extremism and racism “Just like Germany in the 20s and 30s.” Evans’ book, although written long before 2016, tacitly debunks this theory, by demonstrating that the democratic Weimar Republic was in a state of near-permanent crisis from its creation in 1918, in the closing days of World War I. It had no political legitimacy in the eyes of much of the population, being seen as at least indirectly imposed by the victorious Allies. Many people, including parts of the governing class, openly longed for a return to autocratic rule (which, again, had only just come to an end in 1918), either under a restored Kaiser or a military dictatorship. This number grew over time. The Republic suffered two major financial crises, a hyperinflation crisis in the early twenties that impoverished many and an unemployment crisis from 1929 that left a third of the workforce out of work. Moreover, throughout the period, political violence and, initially, assassination were rife. Most of the major political parties had large, armed paramilitary wings that used to get in regular fist-fights and sometimes gunfights with each other, not just extremist parties like the Nazis and the Communists, but even the moderate left-wing Social Democrats (the main supporters of Weimar democracy). These are not really present in the contemporary West. Sure, we can see what could be the seeds of something worse, and we certainly live in politically-polarised times, full of conspiracy theories on both right and left (often antisemitic, again like Germany) and occasional rioting. I certainly think it would be good if we could turn down the political temperature and debate more politely. But I think anyone who thinks we are literally like Germany in 1930 is either ignorant or disingenuous.

The pessimism, however, came from the fact that Evans presents the Nazis’ rise as — not inevitable, but lacking in clear points where meaningful and appropriate action could have been taken to stop them. Evans doesn’t really deal with counter-factuals, but he makes it sound like the Weimar Republic would have struggled a lot even in a better world than the one we got, and that after the Depression hit, some kind of autocratic military dictatorship was more or less inevitable, although not necessarily as brutal as the Nazi one.

He says of the Social Democrat Party in 1933 (again, the main support of the Weimar Republic):

In retrospect, its [the Social Democratic Party’s] chances of survival had been diminishing rapidly for nearly a year. Decisive in this context was its failure to mount any effective opposition to the Papen coup of 20 July 1932; if there had been any moment when it might have stood up for democracy, that was it. But it is easy to condemn its inaction with hindsight; few in the summer of 1932 could have realized that the amateurish and in many ways rather ludicrous government of Franz von Papen would give way little more than six months later to a regime whose extreme ruthlessness and total disregard for the law were difficult for decent, law-abiding democrats to grasp. In many ways, the labour movement leaders’ desire to avoid violence in July 1932 was thoroughly to their credit; they were not to know that their decision was to play a key role in opening the way to much greater violence later on.

In My Family

I realised I missed the first anniversary of my high-functioning autism/Asperger’s diagnosis a few days ago. I got the date wrong in my head (thought it was the 19th, but it was the 9th). It seems strange to think that it was only a year ago. I had been living with the suspicion of autism for some time, so maybe that makes the date of confirmation less significant somehow, but it was a major turning point in my life, and things have been better since then, even if still difficult in many ways.

I definitely feel that “high-functioning” autism is a misnomer. I think technically it just means that I don’t have any learning disabilities, but it gives people the impression that I am mostly OK and functional. I am high-functioning in some ways and at some times. But some tasks that are considered “simple” regularly defeat me (like basic conversation with people I don’t know very well) and being stressed, particularly being hungry, anxious, lonely or tired (what I call being HALTed) can sweep away my coping strategies and ability to mask and put me in a much worse state very quickly.

My cousin was diagnosed with high-functioning autism recently, although I only found out last night. It was a bit of a surprise, as we all thought he has ADHD, although I think a second diagnosis has not been ruled out. There’s a lot of neurodivergence (autism and ADHD, diagnosed and suspected) on that side of the family. I think out of me, my sister and my five cousins, it’s only my sister and maybe one cousin who present as neurotypical! My parents think that my grandfather (the common grandfather) was on the spectrum, so I guess that could explain it (autism and ADHD are often found in the same family, for reasons that aren’t really understood yet). It’s good inasmuch as at least it makes it easier to feel accepted, but I guess I worry a bit about how some of us will cope, especially those of us dealing with mental health issues on top of neurodiversity.

On a related note, I sent my email about Purim on the spectrum to my devar Torah group and got a positive response from one friend who I hadn’t previously told about my diagnosis. He said I was brave to open up about it.

***

I had racing thoughts again last night and couldn’t fall asleep until 5.00am, then woke up around midday feeling tired and a little sick, but with more subdued thoughts (because the racing thoughts have passed or because I was so tired? It’s not clear at this stage). I struggled all day with vague aches and pains as well as feeling run down and hot and bothered. They got worse rather than better as the day went on and I started feeling light-headed in the evening. I did a COVID test (not because of this, because my sister came over) and I was negative, so it’s not that. It could be from sleeping at the wrong time and probably having bad quality sleep or it could be physical withdrawal from the olanzapine, as I’ve only been off it for a couple of days. I’m leaning towards withdrawal as an explanation. I feel better at the moment, but I warned J that I might not be in tomorrow if I wake up feeling awful.

***

I spent a chunk of the day talking about financial things with my parents and sister. I’m not going into money matters here, but it was all positive and hopefully lets E and I move closer to getting married. I do feel uncomfortable discussing finances, though — whenever I discuss them, I feel like a child playing at being an adult, like I don’t really know how these things work and I can’t really understand them. E says I underestimate my practical skills a lot and that I’m a lot better at “adulting” (hate that word) than I give myself credit for. I really hope she’s right!

***

While I couldn’t sleep, I thought a lot about gratitude. The word ‘Jew’ essentially means ‘one who is thankful’. I’m grateful to my parents for their support over the years and I’m very, very grateful to E for caring about me so much and accepting me for who I am (even when I am HALTed and not coping). And I’m grateful for my readers here. I don’t have, and don’t want to have, thousands of readers. I have about nine or ten readers who read frequently and comment supportively and perceptively and I appreciate it so much, especially as I know some read and comment despite having a lot of issues of their own (and I also know that I don’t always have the time to comment on their blogs). I don’t know how I would cope without it, as I don’t really contact my non-blog friends very often (something I should probably work on, but that’s another story). I know I struggle with a lot of stuff online and try to avoid sites like Twitter, Facebook and Instagram as they just aren’t good for me, but I’m very glad to have this space to write and be read. (Also, without the blog, I would never have met E, who basically liked my writing so much she decided to marry me, but that’s a whole other story…)

Racing Thoughts

This is really just a brief note. Shabbat (the Sabbath) was OK, but I think coming off olanzapine has given me racing thoughts, poor concentration and insomnia (all inter-related). It’s not surprising as olanzapine is an anti-psychotic. I was prescribed it because it can help antidepressants work more effectively (for reasons that I think are poorly-understood medically), but also because I was having racing negative thoughts. My racing thoughts now aren’t negative (mostly about Judaism or E), but are stopping me getting on with my life and messing up my sleep even more than previously. I’ll give it another day or two to see if things settle down, but if they don’t, I’ll go back on, albeit probably on the lower dose (2.5mg once a day) I took for the last few weeks without problems rather than the slightly higher (although still low) dose I was on before I started coming off it (2.5mg twice a day).

Other than that, Shabbat was fine. I slept a little less than usual. I did quite a bit of Torah study, staying up quite late last night (this was probably a mistake, but also due to racing thoughts). I think I’m finding Talmud study a bit easier; maybe Rav Steinsaltz z”tzl was right that studying a large quantity of Talmud helps to build up the quality of study over time, even if you don’t initially understand much. However, I do worry that I’ve just hit an atypically easy few pages of Talmud and sooner or later it will get hard again. I was trying to read one side of a page a week, studying it once slowly with the full English commentary and then two more, faster, readings to revise, only reading the commentary if I can’t remember it. I’ve been going a bit slower for the last couple of weeks, though, as I’ve cut down my overall Torah study time as I try to readjust the balance of things in my life. I don’t read the unpunctuated and unvocalised traditional (Vilna Shas) page, but the vocalised, punctuated and broken into phrases version interspersed with the English translation in the Artscroll edition. I do try to have a good go at reading the Aramaic, though. My Aramaic is definitely improving, although it is still poor.

(I didn’t mean to write all of that. You see what I mean about racing thoughts.)

I didn’t want to read The Coming of the Third Reich over Shabbat, as it didn’t seem appropriate to read something so depressing, so I read The Twilight Zone Companion, which I got unexpectedly when I ordered a second-hand DVD of The Twilight Zone season one. It’s interesting enough, but could do with more detail in both production accounts and reviews. It does make me realise how much The Twilight Zone was fighting against the ultra-conservative social and institutional cultural forces in American society in the late fifties and early sixties, with strict limits not just on political commentary and satire, but on any kind of experimental or non-realistic drama. British TV of the time was much more free to experiment in comparison. I’m often critical of the current state of the BBC, but its mandate to challenge and provoke as well as to entertain meant that British TV was way ahead of the cultural curve in the fifties, sixties and seventies in comparison with American TV, and had a positive effect on commercial television too, which had to compete.

When I wrote about Purim and autism here the other day, someone pasted an article on the subject by a frum (religious Jewish) psychotherapist. I’m hoping to forward it to the family and friends on my devar Torah distribution list. Most of them know about me, but one or two don’t, so it’s a bit of a “coming out” as autistic. I hope it goes OK. I think it’s important to start these conversations about neurodivergence and mental illness (also treated in the article) in the frum community. I had the familiar quandary about defining myself as having “Asperger’s Syndrome” or “high-functioning autism.” I wish I didn’t have a syndrome that was discovered by a Nazi sympathiser.

I should probably go, because in the state of mind I’ve been in over the last couple of days, I could just sit here all night writing stuff that just comes into my head. So much for a “brief note.”

Trying to Move on from Exhaustion

I wanted to get up at 9.00am today, so I could get up, eat breakfast, get dressed and daven Shacharit (say Morning Prayers) in good time before my call with M, the occupational therapist at 11.00am. Inevitably, I got up at 10.00am (and went back to bed for a few minutes after breakfast). I did eat breakfast and get dressed, but I didn’t have time to daven. By this stage, davening Shacharit before starting my day, or at all, has become more of a vague aspiration than something I regularly achieve. It’s just not feasible for me right now and I have to just hope that God understands. I do put on tefillin every weekday, though, even if I have to do it for Minchah (Afternoon Prayers).

On the call, I wanted to know if M could suggest an OT I could work with to improve my energy levels and maybe to look at changes I can make to my work environment to improve concentration with autism, as I’m still making mistakes at work (albeit fewer).

I mentioned the vitamin D issue to her and she said that from her personal experience, vitamin D takes a long time to build up in the body, so she thought I should stay on the tablets for several more weeks before going back to the doctor.

She said I could apply for vocational support through the charity she works for, which would be occupational therapy-orientated, although not necessary with an occupational therapist, to work on fatigue management.  I would have to apply the normal way, though, as she no longer works in that area.  I’m a bit worried about applying given that I’m no longer depressed and they’re really a mental health charity (this was why I assumed she would just recommend someone outside the charity), although M seemed to think if I was feeling anxious about the work situation that would be OK.

She also suggested applying to Access to Work, which is a government scheme to help people with disabilities in the workplace.  She felt that they might fund me to get a work coach specialising in autism who could help look at how my workplace is structured to improve my energy and concentration.

She also suggested another autism charity, but they seem to be only for people in a borough I don’t live in.  It did occur to me that the autism/learning difficulty charity that did my autism screening a few years ago might be able to help, or point me to someone who can help.

I think this was all very helpful and hope to follow through in the next few days (or weeks, given that it’s Purim next week and these things will take time).

M was also really pleased that I’m engaged, having seen me at my worst.