Rebel Rebel

I’m not sure where I am today, emotionally. I had two big things going on, the pandemic and the autism assessment. Now there’s a third, potentially even bigger, and I am not coping well. I don’t want to talk about it here yet. Or rather I do want to talk about it, but I’m not sure that I should, so I won’t for now. Suffice to say that I went to bed late last night because I was dealing with a lot of anxious and self-critical thoughts. Then I couldn’t sleep, probably because I was over-tired and hadn’t done anything to relax. Then I overslept this morning and didn’t want to get up because of the anxiety. I eventually got up because my phone was ringing, but I didn’t get there in time and whoever they were, they didn’t leave a message and I didn’t recognise the number. Hopefully it was just a cold caller, but I worry it might have been something about the autism assessment, although I know it’s unlikely that they would contact me within twenty-four hours of the last assessment.

I’ve felt lately that I was getting ahold of my life, that I was making progress with work and writing and my relationship, that I was moving towards some kind of definitive autism diagnosis, and that I was feeling like depression and mental illness, while not “cured” (I don’t know that I will ever be “cured”), are less prominent in my life. I was even wondering if I should carry on blogging here, or blogging so regularly. What is the point of a mental health blog if my mental health is reasonable?

And then, WHAM! To be honest, I knew this would happen for some time, it just happened faster than I thought it would, and it hit me harder than I expected. I still can’t talk about what is actually happening except in the vaguest of terms, but I’ve been in a state of anxiety since the weekend, and I’m not sure if it’s going to change any time soon. I guess I’m just psychologically vulnerable to mental illness at times of stress, the way some people have reduced immunity and vulnerability to physical illness.

I was able to talk about it a lot in therapy today. We ended up speaking a lot about ideas of community, individuality, conformity and so on and particularly how these apply in the Orthodox Jewish community.

I spoke about feeling a burden at the moment, a bag full of guilt and critical voices from the community and who knows what else. I want to put the bag down, if only to breathe, but I can’t, I have to keep carrying it up the hill. How much of this is actually real (real guilt, real people criticising me) and how much is just in my head is hard to tell. I do feel, on some level, like I’m responsible for the world and that I’m judged to the minutest level of detail, in a way that no one (or no one other than a total tzaddik (saint)) is judged.

My therapist suggested there was anger there too, which is correct, but I’ve never known what to do with anger other than repress it, which is not good in the long-run and arguably leads to depression. I think in the summer, when our Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) neighbours were having lockdown-breaching prayer services in their garden three times a day, I wrote a letter, with no intention of sending it, saying how angry they made me. I think that helped somewhat, but my current anger seems too nebulous and undirected at the moment for that to be a viable strategy.

More surprisingly, I found myself suggesting that maybe on some level I like or need the friction with my community. I’m not entirely sure why I said this, but I suspect that I noted that I’ve spent two decades or more trying to be an Orthodox Jew and to “fit in” to the Orthodox community, but I’ve also spent two decades or more complaining (quietly) about the conformism, narrow-mindedness and bourgeois mentality that often operates in the Orthodox community, trying to not to be socialised out of my geekiness, my non-Jewish friends, the books I read. I guess I have a “can’t live with it, can’t live without it” attitude to the Orthodox world.

I can see it with my novel. Sometimes I’m terrified about the backlash I might face for suggesting that domestic abuse exists in the Orthodox community and that the autistic and mentally ill are not well-catered for there, but other times I will admit to myself that I hope there is some controversy, that it “shakes things up a bit.”

It’s hard to come to terms with this, as I was a well-behaved child and I was the absolute most well-behaved, non-rebellious teenager imaginable. But here I am, worrying that I’m going to bring the Temple crashing down around me, Shimshon (Samson) style, without really wanting to do it, just feeling driven to it by loneliness and desperation, the longing for a place where I can be accepted by people who aren’t like me. I feel I should (“should” again) be able not to care what people think about me, but somehow I can’t.

I told PIMOJ I was anxious and she called. It was a difficult conversation, not least because it was late and I didn’t really want to speak, but I felt I should as she was concerned about me. It really did become apparent that there is a psychological difference between us, that she doesn’t care who does or doesn’t like her, whereas I want to be liked and accepted, something that I don’t think she really understood. I don’t think she understood why it matters to me if other Orthodox Jews reject me. I don’t think I really understand why it matters to me, to be honest. My life would be a lot easier if I didn’t care who liked me, but I find myself unable to find the switch to turn it off.

***

There was no volunteering today, but I was supposed to be doing some work from home and I got up later than I intended for that. I got the work done (stuffing envelopes and stamping them) as well as having therapy, but I didn’t get out for a walk. Add in the call from PIMOJ and I ran out of time for more than five minutes of Torah study, although I did write my devar Torah for the week and liked it more than I expected. It’s going to be another late night. I don’t know if I’ll have time to relax before I go to bed again so sleeplessness is likely.

***

When I started this job, the Department of Work and Pensions said I was OK working part-time and still receiving some benefits. Now they’ve written to ask for more details about the work. I accept that I probably earn too much to justify the benefits, I just wish they would make their minds up. I do wonder whether other government departments and bodies (e.g. the Treasury, the Foreign Office) are as useless and bureaucratic as the DWP and the NHS. It’s easy to look at the lockdown mess and think that they are.

Suffering and Psychiatry

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

***

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

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

***

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

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

***

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

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

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

***

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

***

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

***

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

Autism and Depression in the Workplace and More on Meaning

I dreamt about doing my A-Levels (equivalent of High School) and struggling with self-organisation because of my high functioning autism.  In reality, I was OK academically/organisationally at A-Level.  It was socially where I was beginning to struggle, as I couldn’t cope with more complex forms of adolescent friendship compared with childhood friendship, or with the greater levels of freedom I was being given.  Drink, drugs and sex scared me a lot; maybe it’s appropriate that they did, but they didn’t seem to scare my peers.  In reality, it was only when I got to the world of work, much delayed by depression, that my autistic issues became really noticeable.  I woke up with 17 Again by Eurythmics in my head (I sincerely hope I am never seventeen again).  I wanted to go back to sleep, as I had only slept for seven hours (I generally sleep much more because of depression), but it was too hot, so I got up.

I sleep badly when it’s hot anyway, partly from the heat, partly perhaps because I usually wrap myself up in a duvet, one of my more autistic traits, and I can’t do that when it’s too hot.  I’ve wrapped myself up in my duvet like a cocoon since I was a child.  I suppose it makes me feel secure.  When I was a child, I had an idea that if burglars broke into the house and stabbed me, the duvet would protect me.  I’m not sure if I really believed this, nor do I know if I really thought I was living in a production of Richard III and was likely to be stabbed by housebreakers.  I do feel more secure wrapped in my duvet though.  They sell weighted duvets now for people on the spectrum.  I’ve thought about getting one.

***

I got a weird response from the place I applied for a job the other day.  They said they have had a lot of responses; also that the library is small, but that they will get back to me.  I think they were saying they don’t want a trained librarian, just someone who will do admin for books, but it seemed an odd way of saying it.  Am I hoping I get the job or not?  I don’t know.  It would be good to have some income and structure, and the esteem that comes from work, in other people’s eyes if not my own.  On the other hand, I like having time to write when I’m most productive (afternoon/early evening) and working five afternoons a week was not my preferred part-time structure.  I would prefer two or three full days a week, giving me time to recover from work days as well as time to write on non-work days.

***

I got a letter saying my benefits have gone up as they now don’t think I’m able to work at the moment (although I understand I’m still allowed to look for low-paying part-time work).  Previously the benefits were lower because I was expected to be looking for work.  I’m not complaining, but I’m not sure why they’ve suddenly made this change, which makes me worry it’s a mistake and I will have to pay the money back, so I’m scared to spend any of it.  It’s not like the Department of Work and Pensions don’t have form with that sort of thing.  I would be generally suspicious of any government body giving away free money, to be honest.

***

I watched Rabbi Rafi Zarum of the London School of Jewish Studies interview Rabbi Yehoshua Engelman who is a rabbi who became a psychotherapist.  They spoke about meaning and the danger of religion making people do things because they have to do it rather than because it’s an authentic expression of what they want to do.  Rabbi Engelman reminded me of some thoughts I’ve had about framing doing religious things that I don’t really want to do as, “I’m doing it because I’m in a relationship with God” rather than “I’m doing it because God said so,” which is perhaps a subtle difference, but an important one.  It’s about prioritising the aspects of Judaism that I have chosen to be present in, on some level, (having a relationship with God) over the dry ritualistic aspects (doing as I’m told).  Even if the outcome is the same, the mindset is very different.  Just as I do things that I think are pointless or counterproductive sometimes because my parents want me to do them and I value keeping the relationship more than I value my freedom not to do that thing, so I do things that God wants me to do for the sake of my relationship with Him rather than because I worry that I will “get zapped” (as they would say in my shiur (religious class)).

***

A paragraph from my novel sums up how I felt struggling with depression and high functioning autism in the workplace:

I have always worked hard and achieved despite my troubles.  Now there is no correlation between effort and achievement; I do my best, but it is not good enough, I can not function as I am supposed to do, there are problems I can not solve without requesting help.

I still feel like this sometimes.  I am sure it would be worse if I was in work rather than job hunting.  It felt like that at times in all the jobs I have had, except perhaps the first one, but some were particularly bad.

Writing this chapter is probably what triggered the autism dream last night.

***

Achievements today: two hours on my novel, almost exactly 1,000 words.  I could have done a little more, but it’s so hot, and I’m tired from Shabbat chores and need a passive TV break before Shabbat.

First of the Month and No Returns

It is somehow the first of May, and a third of the year has gone, much of it swallowed up by coronavirus.  I am not as far ahead on my novel as I would like to be, and have only had paid work for one month out of four, which is proportionately similar to 2019 (three months out of twelve).

I woke up early and tried hard to get up, but I didn’t manage it and actually ended up getting up slightly later than intended.  I tell myself I am a work in progress, but it isn’t always easy to believe.  Or at least, it isn’t always easy to see where I am progressing to.

I did nearly an hour and a half of work on my novel, writing more than 1,000 words.  I still feel that it’s going slowly.  Paradoxically, I am writing too fast, by which I mean that scenes that I feel in an ordinary novel would go on for several pages only take up one or two pages.  I am not sure why I can’t write at enough length, but some of it I suspect is the difficulty I have writing descriptive passages (which lots of people just skip anyway…) and sticking very strictly to stuff absolutely necessary to push the plot on and not show character detail or mood.  I hope to rectify some of this in the redrafting, but it’s a slow process.

I also spent fifteen minutes going over a Mishnah and taking notes for it so I can give a two minute talk on it over Zoom for my father’s friends on my grandfather’s yortzeit (death anniversary) next week.  This is to compensate for Dad not being able to say kaddish as would normally be the case if there were minyanim (services with prayer quora).  I feel uncomfortable doing stuff for the dead, and I do not feel I understand the Mishnah well enough to explain it properly, but I feel I should go through with it for the sake of my Dad and (I suppose, in some sense) my grandfather.

I Skyped E. for a quarter of an hour.  I was glad I did, as she was upset by things and needed to vent to me, but I guess the conversation reminded me just how much I’m betting on building my career as a novelist to support myself and a family, which seems pretty reckless at a time when no one is interested in publishing my writing (except apparently people who want me to write about things I know nothing about) and precious few interested in reading it.  If I don’t seem worried about this most of the time, it’s really because I’ve become resigned to being a failure on multiple levels, too messed up (insert more profane synonyms for “messed up”) to hold down a decent job or move my relationship on and doomed to be dependent on the beneficence of others for the foreseeable future (my parents, the state).  If all I needed to be a successful writer was determination and practise, I would be happier, but I also need skill, self-esteem, confidence and luck/divine intervention.

Every so often it occurs to me that some of my school teachers must have been younger than I am now, which freaks me out a little.  I never thought of them as young, yet they were holding down full-time jobs dealing with crazy teenage kids (admittedly my school was mostly well-behaved and not a jungle like some inner city state schools), presumably with private lives and families too.  And they seemed mature, even old, and authoritative.  Mind you, there are plenty of people my age with partners and careers and houses and, well, everything.  I try not to be jealous.  Actually, I’m not jealous, I just worry that I’ll never get myself sorted out.  Like I said, I tell myself I am a work in progress, but it isn’t always easy to believe.

Re-framing and Brokenness

I realised I was so busy complaining yesterday that I forgot to mention two bits of good news.  One is that I will be getting Employment and Support Allowance (ESA – benefits, basically) for a year, assuming my employment position doesn’t change, which is something of a relief after all the hassle I went to in order to claim.

The second is a more positive thing that came out of the seder experience.  I can’t remember exactly how it came about, but I realised that I could re-frame the narrative of my life in a more positive way.  It possibly came from something by Rabbi Lord Sacks that I read out at seder about Moshe (Moses) using his speech immediately before the exodus (in Shemot/Exodus 12) to focus on the idea of how to tell the story to our children, which Rabbi Sacks used to talk about the idea of telling our own personal story in a way that supports us.

In the past I have cast the narrative of my life in a very negative way: school, Oxford, my MA, work, dating, religious growth, I have presented all of them in a very negative way, focusing on the difficult times I had and the lack of clear progression to where I wanted my life to be, in terms of marriage, career, community, a certain sort of religious life and so on.

I realise that there were some positives that came out of all of these things.  For example, I tend to present Oxford as the worst time of my life, but I did get my BA in end, with a decent mark, and I made a number of friends that I’m still in contact with fifteen years on.  And it was a worthwhile experience that I learnt from, even if it wasn’t often a happy one.  I won’t bore you by going through the whole list of life events, but I can sort of see that I can do this positive re-framing for most of my life if I try hard enough.

***

I read Giles Fraser’s latest essay on UnHerd (here, but don’t bother to read the comments which are tedious “God does/doesn’t exist” arguments by people who have missed the point of the article…  I already regret wishing that UnHerd had a comments section and they’ve only had it a few weeks).  I find Fraser’s articles interesting and provocative for me, as much of his Christian theology resonates with me, and yet much of it seems utterly alien, from a Jewish point of view.  Usually both at the same time.

The engagement with brokenness and vulnerability in Christianity as opposed to in secular liberalism is something Fraser has written about a lot.  It makes me wonder how much this acceptance is present in Judaism.  One would expect it to be present in Judaism, given how much of Jewish history has been written in tears of exile and persecution, but I’m not sure how much it does appear, at least not on a personal level.  There is Iyov/Job, as Fraser says; there is some of Tehillim/Psalms.  Perhaps you could count Eichah/Lamentations, but that’s really about national brokenness, not individual brokenness.  Which is kind of my point.  Judaism is a lot more about communal or national experiences than private and personal ones.  Unsurprisingly, because Christianity is pitched as an individual quest for personal salvation, whereas Judaism is at heart a national quest to build a social utopia (even if many religious Jews appear to have forgotten that).  That’s why (topically for this time of year) the key event of Christianity is Jesus dying on the cross, whereas the key event in Judaism is a nation of slaves leaving for freedom.

This can make Judaism a difficult source of support for someone dealing with private, personal pain as opposed to communal disaster.  While there are plenty of Christian conversion stories along the lines of, “I was at rock bottom, but I opened the Bible/heard a preacher/accepted Jesus into my life and suddenly felt loved and accepted,” I don’t think I’ve ever heard a religious Jew offer a parallel story using Tanakh (the Hebrew Bible) or the Talmud, nor have I ever come across kiruv organisation (outreach organisations attempting to make non-religious Jews more religious) using such tactics.  Kiruv organisations prefer a mixture of intellectual engagement with supposed proofs of the truth of Judaism, which are really a pretext to encourage people to experience celebrating Shabbat or going to Israel, particularly in a group.

(The reverse is true: I don’t think I’ve ever seen a Christian parallel to the outpouring of concern and love that Jews of all stripes and religious levels share when there is war or terrorism in Israel or antisemitism in the diaspora; many Western Christians seem utterly unaware of the persecution of their coreligionists in much of the Middle East, let alone upset by it, something that is simply unthinkable for the global Jewish community.)

I’m not familiar enough with the rabbinic literature, the Talmud and the Midrash, to know if there are many more stories of individual brokenness there.  I can think of one or two.  This one comes to mind (Talmud Brachot 5b, translation from the Steinsaltz edition via Sefaria – the bold text is direct translation of the original, the non-bold text is explanation):

The Gemara relates that Rabbi Elazar, another of Rabbi Yoḥanan’s students, fell ill. Rabbi Yoḥanan entered to visit him, and saw that he was lying in a dark room. Rabbi Yoḥanan exposed his arm, and light radiated from his flesh, filling the house. He saw that Rabbi Elazar was crying, and said to him: Why are you crying? Thinking that his crying was over the suffering that he endured throughout his life, Rabbi Yoḥanan attempted to comfort him: If you are weeping because you did not study as much Torah as you would have liked, we learned: One who brings a substantial sacrifice and one who brings a meager sacrifice have equal merit, as long as he directs his heart toward Heaven. If you are weeping because you lack sustenance and are unable to earn a livelihood, as Rabbi Elazar was, indeed, quite poor, not every person merits to eat off of two tables, one of wealth and one of Torah, so you need not bemoan the fact that you are not wealthy. If you are crying over children who have died, this is the bone of my tenth son, and suffering of that kind afflicts great people, and they are afflictions of love.

Rabbi Elazar said to Rabbi Yoḥanan: I am not crying over my misfortune, but rather, over this beauty of yours that will decompose in the earth, as Rabbi Yoḥanan’s beauty caused him to consider human mortality. Rabbi Yoḥanan said to him: Over this, it is certainly appropriate to weep. Both cried over the fleeting nature of beauty in the world and death that eventually overcomes all.

Meanwhile, Rabbi Yoḥanan said to him: Is your suffering dear to you? Rabbi Elazar said to him: I welcome neither this suffering nor its reward. Upon hearing this, Rabbi Yoḥanan said to him: Give me your hand. Rabbi Elazar gave him his hand, and Rabbi Yoḥanan stood him up and restored him to health.

Still, these type of stories do seem to be the relatively rare in Judaism and I do feel like I struggle for inspiration and guidance on how to connect with God through my suffering and depression.  I think that’s why I’ve re-read Arthur Green’s biography of Rebbe Nachman of Bratzlav three times, because it deals extensively with his bouts of despair and self-criticism (possibly the result of bipolar disorder, undiagnosable and untreatable in the late eighteenth/early nineteenth centuries).  Rebbe Nachman’s own stories are also important to me; they also deal a lot with longing and spiritual desire.  Still, I would be interested in finding more sources of Jewish inspiration and acceptance of brokenness.

***

As for my day today, I did half an hour of Torah study and went for a half-hour walk.  E. and I tried to do a virtual museum tour as an online date, but the picture resolution was poor, as was the navigation, and there wasn’t any text to explain what we were seeing.  We found the experience disappointing and switched to a straightforward video date after a while.  We spoke for over an hour and a half.

I found I was exhausted this evening, I think from the emotional stress of the last three days more than from my activity today.  I would have liked to have done more Torah study, or to have written my devar Torah (Torah thought) for the week or to have worked on my short story, but I’m just too exhausted.  I’m also intermittently anxious (OCD anxiety mainly, although some general anxiety) and depressed; anxiety and depression tend to worsen when I’m tired, as at the moment.  I am going to turn off my computer and watch TV and read before bed, because I don’t feel I can do anything else, sadly.  I’m just trying to stay afloat and not end up too exhausted and depressed tomorrow.

***

A question that is bothering me, but which I’m reluctant to ask more widely for fear of being misunderstood: what is the additional number of COVID-19 deaths?  Because while over 100,000 people have died globally, a proportion of those, statistically speaking, would have died anyway from something.  The people most likely to die from COVID-19 are also largely the people most likely to die in general (elderly, seriously ill, having compromised immune systems etc.).  I would like to know what is the number of deaths so far over and above what we would expect for a normal first quarter of a year?  I am not trying to be callous or to say that it doesn’t matter that they died as they would have died anyway.  Obviously any death is a tragedy.  I’m just curious to know what the global scale of COVID-19 is likely to be.  Are we talking thousands more deaths, hundreds of thousands or (God forbid) millions?  How does that compare with normal mortality rates?

I heard that when the ebola virus was at its worst in Africa, there was a sudden increase in deaths from malaria, because resources that would have been used in the fight against malaria were diverted to fight ebola, because it’s a “scarier” (or perhaps just less common) illness.  I am wondering if anything like that could happen here.

I think they are legitimate questions, but I’m afraid they make me sound callous and uncaring.  The autistic part of me has learnt that some genuine questions are off-putting emotionally to many people, however intellectually justified, just as the politically aware part of me is aware that people with strong political opinions generally see the world through the lens of their opinions and don’t always like questions that probe that too deeply or challenge their core assumptions.

***

The annoying computer problem I used to have, where the mouse touchpad would default to tapping mode whenever I turned the computer on and it would last until I went to turn it off, whereupon it would switch off before I got to the screen where I should have been able to turn it off, is back.  I’m not sure what to do about that.  It’s another step in the protracted decline of my laptop, but I’m hoping to, um, protract it some more as I can’t really afford to buy a new computer right now.  If anyone knows how to deal with this, please let me know!

Love in the Time of Coronavirus

I’ve been sucked into more anxiety about coronavirus/COVID-19.  Shuls (synagogues) are closing down for the indefinite future, which is scary.  Even the Nazis couldn’t stop Jews praying together, but apparently coronavirus can.  Now I’m having all kinds of fears about the next few weeks, the run up to Pesach, perhaps the most intensive Jewish festival in terms of preparation.  It’s like Christmas on steroids, in terms not just of cooking, but cleaning and kashering (removing all trace of food and taste from utensils, sinks, ovens etc. usually using intense heat).

What if I get COVID-19 and can’t kasher our kitchen for Pesach?  Will that cause problems?  What if Mum gets it and can’t cook (I can do some of the cooking, but I don’t know how to cook meat)?  How will we have a seder if some of us (meaning, my family) have it and some of us don’t?  And, of course, the underlying worry, what if Mum gets it with her immune system suppressed?  That’s probably the root fear at the moment.  There isn’t much I can do about any of this, really.  I know on the “worry tree,” this would all be hypothetical.  Except it doesn’t feel hypothetical, it feels very real, particularly when this is the only subject on the news.

***

Margaret commented the other day to say that she envied me my faith.  It’s strange, because I don’t feel like I have strong faith and haven’t for a long time.  I mean, I believe, but in Judaism there’s a difference between emunah, belief that God exists on the one hand, and bitachon, trust that God will protect, on the other.  I struggle a lot with bitachon.  There is just so much bad stuff in the world, and there has been so much bad stuff in my life.  On some level I do believe that God is in control and that everything is for the best, but it’s hard to see that in the world around me sometimes.  And I don’t like easy answers about “everything will turn out for the best” because it seems a betrayal of my experience and the experiences of millions of others who suffered.

There’s a joke about a rabbi who spends years searching for the meaning of life, studying TorahTanakh, Midrash, Mishnah, Gemarah, Kabbalah, Hasidut, Mussar, everything Jewish, and at the ends, after years of searching he sits up and says, “Life is good.”  And then he pauses and thinks and says, “But if life is good… how come it’s so bad?”  That’s probably a very Jewish joke.  To say that everything is good and some things are bad.  That’s a line we actually see in our holy texts and even in halakhah (Jewish law).  That’s the twist at the end of Iyov (Job), that God is in control… but it’s Iyov who questioned God’s justice who is vindicated by God, not his friends who mouthed platitudes about everything being for the best.  Iyov was true to our experience of the world and the greatness of God; he didn’t cut God down to size to fit our preconceptions.

That’s also the meaning of an interesting halakhah.  If something good happens, we say one blessing to thank God for it.  If something bad happens, we say a different blessing, to accept God’s decree.  So the Talmud asks, what do you do if something happens which is bad now, but will be good later (the example is a flood, which destroys this year’s crop, but deposits sediment that will fertilise next year’s crop and make it grow better) and it says we say the “bad thing” blessing, because that’s our experience now.  When the Messiah comes, we will say the “good thing” blessing all the time, because we’ll see the good that is present in the bad, but now we’re not there yet, we have to recognise the bad and not deny it.

Jews do think that there’s no contradiction in saying (A) A benevolent, omnipotent God controls the universe for the good and (B) Many things in the universe seem, to our subjective experience, bad, even very bad.  I know since I got back together with E. that a lot of things that seemed bad in the past now seem like they happened for a reason, to get us both together.  So maybe we’ll look back on this one day and understand it.  But for now, a lot of things seem bad, and it’s enough of a struggle just to see the bad and accept it as from God without trying to find the deeper meaning.

Ugh, I’m not sure where I’m going with this any more.  Sorry, that turned into a bit of a ramble.

***

I’m still trapped in a nocturnal cycle, which is not good.  I stayed up late yesterday doing Torah study and working on my novel, then watching TV to unwind a bit before bed.  I think I need a ‘no screens after 11pm rule’ as it can be hard to sleep afterward TV or computer use – not always, but sometimes, which makes me take a chance too often.  I wanted to get up earlier today as I knew the doctor was phoning (a phone appointment I made before coronavirus made the surgery switch entirely to distance appointments) and wanted to be dressed and ready beforehand, but I was very depressed and exhausted as usual on waking at 10am and stayed in bed drifting in and out of sleep until 11.45am.  I felt better after eating something, which makes me wonder if there’s a better way of dealing with this, but I was still in pyjamas when the doctor phoned.  I used to feel bad about taking phone calls in my pyjamas, but over the years it’s become normal.  In a way it’s good that I’ve adjusted somewhat to my illnesses and issues, but in other ways it feels bad, like I should be pushing myself more.

The doctor wrote me a new medical certificate.  He sent me a copy on my phone that I could print, but, of course, he hasn’t signed it, because it’s online, and now I’m worried what the Department of Work and Pensions will say.  I’m sure that the doctor has written medical certificates online before, but I still worry.  More troubling than this, I can’t get the form to download or print properly and I can’t work out why.  It won’t download on my phone nor will it download or print on my laptop or my Dad’s laptop.  I need to speak to the surgery tomorrow.

I also asked the doctor about the stomach cramps I’ve been experiencing and he felt that as they were intermittent and becoming less frequent they weren’t anything to worry about.

The rest of the day was another day of functioning, but not thriving, with moments of strong depression.   It took me about two hours to cook dinner.  Partly this was because I was listening to a podcast (Giles Fraser talking to Rabbi Lord Sacks on Unherd) and am bad at multitasking and stop cooking to listen at times, but partly it was because I was overwhelmed emotionally a couple of times.

I spent some time on my devar Torah (Torah thought) for this week.  I was hoping to get this done quickly and use some time later in the week for preparing divrei Torah for the Pesach sederim, but it took me an hour and twenty minutes, although I did at least learn more than I knew when I started writing and researching.  Sefaria.org is an amazing site for out of copyright Jewish texts in Hebrew and Aramaic and also sometimes in translation, although I’ve been warned that not all the translations are accurate.

That was about all I managed to do today.  I wanted to work on my novel too, but decided it was too late and I was too tired.  I’m not going to reach my “no screens after 11pm” target tonight, but I might get off my laptop shortly after 11.00 if I don’t work on my novel, then finish the episode of Star Trek Voyager I’m halfway through some time before midnight.

***

My parents’ copy of my non-fiction Doctor Who book arrived today.  Dad asked me to sign it, insisting me it should not just be “To Mum and Dad, with love,” but something personal.  I’m pretty bad at this sort of writing.  My birthday cards usually just say “Dear X, happy birthday!  Have a great day!  Love Luftmentsch”.  I need to think of something.  My parents do watch Doctor Who, but they aren’t avid fans, so in-jokes like “Happy times and places!” aren’t going to work.

***

To explain about the title, I thought it was a good title, but I don’t really have anything to say here at the moment about me and E. (yes, it’s going fine, no I don’t want to jinx it by speaking to much about it, or violate her confidence or our privacy).  But I thought it was a good title, so it’s staying even though it doesn’t relate at all to the contents of the post.  Think of it in the tradition of Doctor Who titles that bear little relation to the episodes they grace, like Coronas of the Sun (not Coronaviruses of the Sun).

***

Second Gear

I didn’t feel overtly so depressed or anxious today, but I felt emotionally run down.  It was not always easy to concentrate or get motivated to do anything.  I did manage to do some stuff (see below), but it was an uphill struggle.  I wasn’t necessarily consciously thinking about Mum’s cancer or my employment and benefits issues or my relationship with E., but I think they were probably there on an unconscious or semi-conscious way.  This is especially the case given that Mum starts chemo tomorrow, given that I filled in a form about my benefits situation and why I don’t have a medical certificate yet and given that I listened to a podcast about how people with different religious levels can be in a relationship together.

***

I did do a few things.  I cleared out some old papers in my top desk drawer.  I tend to be tidy, but also to stay tidy by shoving stuff in cupboards or drawers until they get really messy.  I was looking for papers about my benefits situation, but found some other important papers I had more or less forgotten about, including the form to claim money I paid into a pension fund when I was in regular work in 2017-18.  I had held off from taking the money in the hope that I would be in regular employment again soon and could pay the money directly into a new pension fund, but now it’s looking more like I should take the cash while I can and stick it in bank somewhere, not that interest rates are good for savers right now.  I also found some papers and leaflets about therapy from a much earlier therapy-hunting period that I thought I had somewhere, but wasn’t sure where.  These might be useful when I have the headspace to deal with that.

***

I still have abdominal pain.  I think it’s just anxiety, but I should probably talk to the doctor about it when I speak to him about my medical certificate.

***

I tried to work on my novel for an hour or so.  I felt very blocked until I started to write an unplanned 500 word semi-surreal, semi-religious fantasy dream sequence, which flowed straight out.  I had planned a fantasy interlude for when my narrator’s mental illness is at its height in a later chapter, but it seems to have “leaked out.”  I worry that my book is too straight-laced for me to write well, given that I tend not to be so interested in very straight realistic fiction, but I fear that a more magic realist perspective won’t sell and will jar in a novel about mental illness, autism and domestic abuse.

***

I went to shul (synagogue) for a mini-shiur (religious class) and Ma’ariv (Evening Prayers).  I want to get back to going to shul a couple of times during the week.  On my walk to and from shul, I listened to another Intimate Judaism podcast, this time on marriages where one spouse becomes more or less religious than the other.  It was talking more about marriages where both partners started more or less on the same level religiously and then one changes and becomes more or less religious, whereas E. and I have gone into our relationship knowing that we do and believe different things and will probably continue to do so indefinitely.  It was scary on one level, because there is obviously a lot of scope for argument and bitterness, but it was reassuring inasmuch as the rabbi and relationship therapist on the podcast felt that a couple who accept that the other person is different and where the communication is good should be able to navigate a lot of such issues, and E. and I do have very good communication and acceptance of our differences.

***

Just in case we didn’t have enough stress, the legal dispute my Dad is involved in has reached the courts.  Dad was in an accident a few years ago where his car and a motorbike collided at a turning (I blame myself a bit, as he had only come out to give me a lift home from the station).  It was hard to tell who was responsible, but no one seemed to be hurt and the damage to the car and bike was relatively minor.  We phoned for an ambulance for the motorcyclist, but she insisted she was fine and cancelled it.

Some time later, she launched a claim for damages, claiming she’s had health problems ever since.  It’s not impossible, but it did feel a bit like some ambulance-chasing lawyers are helping her make a quick buck out of ailments that may or may not be a consequence of an accident that may or may not be our fault.  Well, not a quick buck as the case has rumbled on for years, but some money at any rate.

The case reaches court next Thursday.  The lawyers are offering to settle out of court.  Mum wants to fight it, but Dad isn’t sure.  I’m inclined to agree with Dad; Dad’s insurance premiums have already gone up, so why waste the time and energy fighting this while Mum is very ill and the rest of us are feeling stressed and suffering minor ailments when the insurance company can take the hit instead?  This is the type of court case that only benefits the lawyers.

It reminds me of something W. S. Gilbert said, about if someone stops you in the street and demands your watch, punch him on the nose and walk on (I fear this would lead to assault charges nowadays…), but if someone threatens to take you to court to get your watch, just hand it over and consider that you’ve got off lightly.

***

I’m about to post on my Doctor Who blog for the first time in a very long time.  It is good to get it going again.  I’d like to post there more often, but I’m glad not to be writing a review of each story on transmission, as that becomes a bit of a conveyor belt of instant emotion (often shock and upset, at any rate if you’re a fan like me who tends towards the possessive of things he loves and pessimistic about change) that considered thought would challenge.  I don’t know if I’ll go through with the plan I had years ago of posting selected old blog posts and reviews of mine there, a plan that got disrupted when I started moving more urgently to completing my Doctor Who book and then to start work on my novel.

Caught in the Tentacles

I feel caught in the tentacles of bureaucracy.  I requested an updated medical certificate for my benefits.  The surgery told me to book a telephone appointment with a doctor.  I looked online; they have none available.  If I booked on the automatic booking system on the phone, I wouldn’t be able to choose which doctor I got (I would like to speak to the one who wrote the original medical certificate) so I phoned, got through the long list of automated options, and managed to speak to a receptionist.  My doctor isn’t available until the 17th, which is quite long to keep the Department of Work and Pensions waiting, but I feel at the moment it is better to stick with the doctor who knows how serious my symptoms are if I want to get a sympathetic hearing from the DWP.

I did struggle with social anxiety to make that appointment, so I should probably feel glad about that.  I do feel that I’m just getting tied up in other people’s bureaucratic knots when I had to finish my job application, cook dinner and work on my devar Torah for the week, as well as wanting to get back into working on my novel and exercising (I haven’t been for a run for ages).  Now I’ll probably need to write an interim covering letter to the DWP to explain why the medical certificate is being delayed…

I finished and sent another job application, but I feel like I’m just not hitting the mark with these things any more, if I ever was.  The frustrating thing is that I can’t work out why I’m missing the target.

I cooked dinner, which took ages.  Vegetable curry is not the most technically difficult recipe I know, but cauliflower takes ages to check for insects as per Orthodox Jewish practice, plus the curry itself takes a while to cook.  I successfully fought a couple of religious OCD thoughts.  I think I don’t note and congratulate myself for fighting this enough; I say when I struggle with the OCD, but fail to note that this is a relatively rare occurrence now.  One of the things they teach you in CBT for OCD is that you will continue to have OCD thoughts in recovery, because everyone has OCD thoughts.  The difference is whether you give in to the thoughts and obsess about them or ignore them.

I listened to a couple of installments of the Intimate Judaism podcast while cooking.  It’s basically an Orthodox rabbi and an sex therapist talking about sexuality and intimacy issues in the frum (religious Orthodox Jewish) community, in a sensitive and insightful way, not a cringey one.  I could have done with something like this when I was in my teens or twenties.  Still, at least it’s here now I’m navigating having a girlfriend again.

I have stomach cramps and sensitivity around my abdomen again.  This has happened intermittently for a couple of months now.  At first I thought it was constipation (which I’ve struggled with since I was put on clomipramine), but lately I’ve been wondering if it’s a stress reaction, as it doesn’t seem to correlate obviously with anything else (although I haven’t been keeping records, so this is just what it seems to me).  It started a bit before Mum was diagnosed with cancer, I think, but I had been feeling stressed about unemployment for some time before Mum was diagnosed.  And of course my relationship with E. moved back to being a romantic relationship rather than a platonic one around the same time.  That was a very positive change that I’m very glad happened, but I find any change difficult (an autistic trait) and this one entails confronting the difficulties of a long-distance relationship so it would not be surprising if it manifested psychosomatically alongside the other stressors.

I did some Torah study and devar Torah (Torah thought) preparation at the same time by listening to an online shiur (class) by a rabbi whose blog I used to read (he rarely posts there now, sadly, as his posts were good), which was interesting.  The shiur was on the parallels between the stories of Yosef (Joseph), Daniel and Esther.

I did some chores, but I didn’t get any further with my novel.  I just ran out of time and energy, which is frustrating.

***
I watched episode one of the original series Doctor Who story The Awakening yesterday.  It is a reminder that slightly incoherent Doctor Who is not a new phenomenon.  Still, I find it easier to connect to something like this than to some recent episodes.  I’m not sure how much is nostalgia and how much something else.

The Return of the Indefatigable

Bureaucracy! is never defeated, merely subdued temporarily.  Today I got a letter from the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) saying that my medical certificate has expired and I need a new one.  If I want to keep receiving benefits (which I have not received at all yet) I am to send them the new one by 28 February i.e. three days before this letter arrived.  I am not entirely sure what I am supposed to do, given that the medical certificate I had before was apparently not a proper medical certificate.  I wish they didn’t have to make things so difficult for people who are already struggling with life.  This is one reason why I’ve become so sceptical of people who think that the state can and should take on so responsibility for so many aspects of life, because I don’t think it’s managing with what it’s got already.

***

Mum had a tube put in her arm today under local anaesthetic to prepare for her chemo later in the week.  Perhaps because of this, I suddenly felt really depressed this afternoon.  I think it’s a mixture of worrying about her and worrying about myself (whether I’ll ever get another job and what will become of me and E.).  My Dad has had a backache for two weeks now.  It’s not dangerous, but it’s left him in a lot of pain.  Both my parents being ill at the same time has just reinforced the “facing my parents’ mortality” thoughts and everything that entails, in terms of worrying about them dying and worrying about how I would cope without them (emotionally and materially, given that I can’t currently support myself).  I felt bad that Mum sorted out dinner as I was doing a job application, which had only taken so long because of depressive oversleeping and procrastination.  Then we heard that the son of my parents’ friends (who is younger than me), who has been fighting leukemia for years and years, is not doing well in his current battle, which just made me feel more depressed and morbid.

***

I spent about an hour and a half on the job application (including procrastination time, sadly).  I filled in all the basic “name, address, education, previous jobs” stuff, but I still need to write the actual “why I would be good at this job” bit tomorrow.

I tried to work on my novel for about half an hour.  I procrastinated a lot, but wrote about 350 words.  I realise that my mind is working while I’m procrastinating and there’s no real point beating myself up about not concentrating (within limits).  Unfortunately after about thirty minutes, I realised I was getting tired and the quality of my writing was deteriorating, so I gave up.

I spent ten or fifteen minutes revising Saturday’s Talmud shiur (class).  I didn’t understand it much better this time around.  I spent nearly another thirty minutes on other Torah study.

Other than that, I went to the doctor’s surgery to ask about getting a new medical certificate (which is a twenty minute walk each way, plus a lot of time waiting in the queue at the surgery).  While walking, I listened to a podcast that E. suggested I listen to about sexuality intended for religious Orthodox Jews.  I listened to the first podcast in the series and will probably listen to some of the others.  I wish I could have heard it years ago, as it probably would have helped me not internalise some of the guilt that I’ve internalised about my sexuality.

The post title was intended to refer to bureaucracy, although I suppose it could apply to me.  I’m not sure what I feel about that.

Good/Bad (Mostly Good)

More bureaucracy weirdness.  I got a letter last week saying that my doctor’s certificate was about to run out.  As I had been told I wasn’t going to be eligible for benefits, and as the letter telling me the certificate was about to run out was dated after the time it said the certificate would run out (classic Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) incompetence) I just shoved it in a drawer and forgot about it.  Now I’ve received a letter saying that I am going to be getting Employment Support Allowance for a year.  Despite being told that my doctor’s certificate was not correct and then being told it was out of date, as well as being told that I don’t have the right amount of NI contributions.  All very strange, but I’m not going to complain – but similarly if it somehow doesn’t materialise, I won’t be surprised either.  Hopefully by the time it runs out next year I’ll have a better idea of where I stand with my autism diagnosis and whether that leaves me eligible for anything, although I suspect I’m too high functioning.   I seem to be too high functioning to claim much for depression too, especially as the assessment forms are geared towards physical disability.  I swear the DWP live on another planet though.  Their communication skills are appalling.

***

Friday night was good, given how exhausted I was.  I got through shul (synagogue) OK, even joining the circle dance in Kaballat Shabbat.  I do find it awkward holding hands with other people, plus the room, full of chairs and tables, isn’t really laid out for that kind of thing and we get a bit squashed in (the “dance” is more of an awkward walk around the room).

I went to Shabbat dinner at one of my shul friends’ flat and enjoyed it.  I think I joined in the conversation more than I used to.  My friend and the other friend there are on the mailing list for my weekly devar Torah (Torah thought) email and I was persuaded to read it aloud at the table (he had printed it off in advance).  I only shook very slightly, interestingly when I was self-conscious, either about something that I had written (referencing a non-religious Bible critic) or just about shaking.  There were a couple of awkward moments, when I was asked how my parents were and I didn’t want to lie, but wasn’t sure how much to say, and when one of my friends suddenly asked me apropos of nothing in particular, if I had ever thought of writing a book.  I was rather astonished and I think I lapsed into incoherence before saying I’ve been published in a couple of places and am writing a novel.  I didn’t mention the Doctor Who book, partly because I wasn’t sure what frum (religious) people would say about a book about television, but also because I feel even for a non-frum audience, it’s a strange thing to admit to.  I mean, I don’t know how many hours I’ve spent on that book in the last seven years.  A lot.  It does seem slightly odd to invest so much time in a family TV programme for such little return.

I got home about 10.00pm, spoke to my parents for a bit and did some Torah study, although the Talmud I was trying to prepare just confused me.  I couldn’t sleep and stayed up late reading Alex cartoons.  I missed shul again this morning and fell asleep after lunch.  I don’t want to sleep so much, but heavy Shabbat lunch makes me so drowsy that I just want to wrap myself in my duvet (a classic autistic habit I’ve had since childhood) and inevitably I drift off after a few minutes.  When I woke up I finished re-reading The Art of Biblical Poetry and went to shul, where I was baffled by the Talmud shiur (I could not understand it easier with a group at 6.00pm than I had by myself at 10.30pm the previous night).  I managed to speak to the person I saw at the shiur (class) I went to last week, which I wouldn’t have done in the past.  I also told an (I hope) amusing anecdote to people in the car on the way home when my friend offered me a lift, which I also would not have done in the past.  So I guess Shabbat was more good than bad.

***

I got a couple of job rejections in the last few days.  I have nothing to say about this any more, so I will resort to emoji.  😦

***

I’m planning on going to the rabbi’s inauguration ceremony at shul tomorrow, but fortunately I didn’t need to book so I won’t feel bad if I don’t feel up to it.  To be honest, I expect it will be a bunch of long speeches and then refreshments where I’ll find it awkward to talk to anyone.  I suspect I will spend the whole evening longing to go back home and watch tomorrow’s Doctor Who series finale (the first episode I’ve been anxious to watch in some weeks, thanks to a quite good and intriguing first half last week).  Nevertheless, given my patchy shul attendance, I feel I should show my face if I can, even if I don’t last the entire evening (although walking out in front of the various dignitaries could be awkward.  I should try to get a seat near the door).

The Craziest Fanboy Thing I’ve Done

Mum had tests today to see if the cancer has spread, which rather casts everything you’re about to read below into sharp relief, but I need to vent here to avoid going on about it to my parents.  We hope to get the results on Wednesday.  I’m suddenly feeling very worried.  Cancer in one place is scary enough, but now I’m worried that it’s already spread without any obvious signs so far.  I know this is just worrying, but it’s still scary and hard to dismiss as “hypothetical, therefore not worth worrying about.”

***

Today has been disappointing.  I sent an email about work last Thursday, trying to see if my contract at the place where I was working in January would be extended, but so far answer came there none.

I played Bureaucracy! again and lost.  I went to my meeting at the Jobcentre about benefits, only to discover that I have to have been in work continuously for two years and to have paid National Insurance (NI) during them.  I had received mixed messages about this.  Also, my doctor’s letter was not an official “fit note.”  The person I was speaking to insisted on sending the form in, saying I could post the fit note later in the week, but as I’ll have to pay £25, I’m not sure I’ll bother.  It’s frustrating that I fall between the gaps of different benefits, but that’s how it is at the moment.

I nearly burst into tears on the way home from the Jobcentre.  I just felt frustrated about benefits and worried about Mum.  I procrastinated for much of the day.  The positive things I did were half an hour of Torah study, a long Skype call with E. and a longish conversation with my parents about Mum’s tests and my benefits.  I also cooked dinner (macaroni cheese, one of my standby easy recipes).  That’s not nothing (if you’ll pardon the double negative), they were successes on a difficult day, but as always I am left with the feeling that I should do more.  E. is super-supportive of me and says not to beat myself up about what I can or can’t do and that the right job is out there for me, but I am aware that the biggest obstacle to our being together at the moment is my inability to get even a part-time job.

I spent an hour and a quarter this evening working on my Doctor Who book’s bibliography, confusing myself where the bibliographical referencing rules diverge from the similar, but not identical, library cataloguing ones.  The About Time books about Doctor Who have given me a lot of frustration over the years, so it’s probably not surprising that they continued to frustrate here, with publishing information hidden at the back rather than on the title or copyright page and much confusion as to Lawrence Miles’ contribution to the revised edition of volume 3 as well as Lars Pearson on volume 6 and Dorothy Ail on volume 7 (I tentatively put them all down as authors).  It did at least remind me that I haven’t produced a copyright page for my own book.

To be fair, the About Time books at their peak were very good, despite their flaws and despite the fact that they later became too frustrating for me to read (I gave up after volume 8; I don’t think my friends lasted that long).  Along with the Doctor Who Magazine articles by the likes of Philip MacDonald, Alan Barnes and Gareth Roberts, they made me want to write seriously about Doctor Who and television science fiction in general, so it feels appropriate to reference them.

The fact remains that I have about eighty-five more references to write up, so I’m going to be doing this for a while.  Some of the references are basically already written in my notes and just need checking or slight alterations.  For other references, I was clearly writing rely on my own memory of the vast amount of non-fiction Doctor Who material that I’ve read over the years (autistic special interest!) and just wrote a brief note to remind me that I needed to reference “DVD Remembrance of the Daleks cut scene” or “Marc Platt interview – Light as a recording angel”.  Occasionally I’ve set myself fact-checking tasks too (“DWM archive Space Museum Spooner remove humour?”).  An analogy: I’m generally a tidy person, but I achieve this partly by tidying as I go, but also by shoving stuff that I’m too busy/depressed to deal with into drawers or cupboards and leaving it for Another Time.  This is the equivalent of what I’ve done with the references, and Another Time has now become Right Now.

***

In better news, this anthology of books by Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan arrived today, second-hand and slightly battered, but readable.  I actually already own one of the books, but it was easiest to buy it again to get the two books I did want (The Infinite Light and If You Were God).  Rabbi Kaplan is an interesting figure.  He came from a non-religious background and according to Wikipedia was expelled from school as a teenager for bad behaviour.  He then became a research physicist and later an Orthodox rabbi.  He wrote or translated a ton of books, mostly aimed at non-religious Jews and bringing them to observance, at a time when few people in the Orthodox world was writing for non-religious Jews or involved in kiruv (outreach to get non-religious Jews to become religious).  Then he died suddenly at the age of forty, leaving a widow and ten children, which was very sad.

***

I usually do retail therapy by buying books or DVDs, usually cheap from charity shops.  However, monster anxiety ends up with a monster purchase…  Last night I was thinking about how I’m going to get through the coming weeks.  I’m worried about Mum, I’m worried about being unemployed and I’m already dreading the Jewish festival of Purim, where people wear fancy dress and there is a general carnival atmosphere, difficult with depression and social anxiety (there are religious OCD issues with the festival too).  I thought of dressing as the fourth Doctor again, doubly so when I’m not always clear on what is acceptable in my community.  I have a proper fourth Doctor scarf, knitted for me by another fan friend.  I don’t really have any more of the costume, but with my big coat and borrowing my Dad’s hat, it creates the right silhouette, a kind of impressionistic “What I Would Wear If I Was the Fourth Doctor” effect.  Tom Baker’s costume changed regularly anyway while keeping the same basic idea of big coat and long scarf.

And then I thought, why not, to make it more fun this year, buy a replica sonic screwdriver, the Doctor’s favourite plot device space tool?  I knew they were commercially available, but I didn’t know how much they cost.  I discovered that a fourth Doctor sonic screwdriver would set me back nearly £30, but for another £10, I could get a set of six old and new series replica sonics.  And, yes, I gave in and bought it.  I can’t even say it will have resale value if I’m buying them to use, given that merchandise loses value the moment you open the box.

This does at least mean that if I want to change costumes and spend part or all of Purim in a less conspicuous costume, I can wear my purple pinstripe suit, which doesn’t look a million miles from the tenth Doctor’s brown pinstripe suit, along with my Converse trainers (which I hate; I have no idea how David Tennant wore them for days on end) and be an impressionistic “What I Would Wear If I Was the Tenth Doctor” complete with the (different) correct sonic, but look to outsiders much the same as any frum person in a suit.  This could be useful if I get invited to a Purim seudah (meal).  There is also, I suppose, a kind of symmetry in dressing up as my most and least favourite Doctors, although it does worryingly suggest that I might end up trying to cosplay all thirteen (or fourteen.  Or fifteen.  Or sixteen.  Or…) Doctors over time.  Which means eventually having to deal with That Coat.

I threw in a yoyo too for £1, because if you’re going to do a thing, you have to do it properly (jelly babies, or kosher equivalents, won’t be allowed in the shul though).

This is the craziest fanboy thing I’ve done in a long while, unless you count writing a 100,000 word non-fiction book about Doctor Who.

Anyway, I hope not to be spending more money on retail therapy in the near future.

Anxiety and Peopling; and Judaism as Counter-Culture

Feeling depressed and anxious today.  I felt tired and didn’t really want to do anything.  I was worried about my Mum, who has tests tomorrow, and about my benefits interview which is also tomorrow and whether my doctor’s not from nearly two months ago is still valid.  I’m also worried about my writing.  E. is enjoying my novel, but says one of the narrators is a lot more fleshed out than the other.  I was worried about this, as one is basically me and the other has elements of me, but also elements I’m trying to create.  Naturally the former is a lot more realistic.  I’ve already written about my surprise at being a more intuitive “let the characters/situation take over” writer than a detailed planner; now I suspect I am also a serious redrafter.  I had an English teacher at school who would say that the first draft is 99% of the work and I always believed that (former Doctor Who showrunner Steven Moffat has said something similar), but I’m sure the first draft of this book is just going to be the basic skeleton; if it’s ever any good, that’s going to come together in the redrafting.

My main achievements today: dusting my room and completing another five references for my bibliography.  I went to the theatre in the evening with my parents, sister and brother-in-law to see Eric and Little Ern, essentially a tribute act to Morecambe and Wise (note to non-UK readers: extremely popular British comedians in the sixties and seventies, still repeated a lot on TV).  I found the first half very funny despite the slightly restricted view from where I was sitting.  I struggled through the second half as my anxieties had come back.  My parents, sister and BIL went for coffee afterwards and part of me wanted to go with, but I just felt too drained and in need of alone time and unable to be in an environment with other people any more.  I think we were all glad to have a good laugh before my Mum’s treatment really begins tomorrow, and I think my parents would have liked it if I could have gone to coffee for that reason, but I just couldn’t face it.

***

“I’m still quite socially awkward.”  I did quite enjoy Doctor Who tonight, despite the cancer stuff (it didn’t upset me, but I’m worried about my parents watching it, probably in several weeks time knowing them), although I felt a bit that I was enjoying it out of a feeling of obligation because there were a lot of tropes I usually like, rather than because I was actually enjoying it.  Possibly I was over-thinking it.  The mental health stuff did make me feel that if that police officer had bet me that my life would be better in three years time in any time from 2003 until 2017, she would have lost the bet (and don’t police officers always patrol in pairs?).

***

Now, post-Doctor Who and post-everything else today I just feel exhausted and depressed and a bit anxious.  I feel that E. is so much better to me than I deserve.  I worry that we’ll never be able to work out the practical problems in our relationship.  Just feeling hugely worried about tomorrow, and all the scary things in the weeks and months ahead (Mum, benefits, work, writing, community, PurimPesach…).  There is more to say, but I can’t find the words, and I need to go to bed to be up in nine hours.

***

Written earlier:

I’m trying to crack my Twitter habit (not really enough to say “addiction,” especially as I only lurk and don’t post or comment).  It’s easy to fall into the habit of procrastinating on there, and there is some rewarding content, but too much that is depressing or just trying to get me angry about things that aren’t worth getting angry about.

Speaking of Twitter, I’ve been thinking today about TV presenter Philip Schofield coming out as gay.  I wonder what would happen if a TV presenter or celebrity announced they were converting to Orthodox Judaism, and not to get married to a Jew, but simply out of genuine belief in God and Torah, and that this was going to have a massive impact on the work they did, the days they would be available for work, the food they ate and so on.  I don’t think there would be abuse as such (unless they mentioned Israel or the Labour Party), but I think there would be a lot of confusion and bewilderment on Twitter and in the newspapers and maybe some mild mockery in the way that Gwyneth Paltrow’s eccentric New Age beliefs and practises are mocked.  I can’t imagine anyone saying it was something to “celebrate.”  Not just with Judaism, but with traditional religion in general.  It does indicate where the boundaries of ‘normal’ are in our culture these days.

The only person I can think of like this is The Big Bang Theory actress Mayim Bialik, who is an Orthodox Jew, although not a convert, but she isn’t really famous outside of a narrow section of the internet where she admittedly has a strong following among Modern Orthodox Jews, particularly geeky MO women (Bialik was a research scientist before going into acting and is an Orthodox feminist so is a role model to a wide range of people).

In fact, just think of the number of traditionally religious characters you see on TV or film, and how many of those are positive and how many negative.  Those of you who see me engage online in Doctor Who fandom will realise this is something that bothers me increasingly and is part of the reason I’ve started writing fiction again, to create the characters who are like me and who don’t get seen anywhere else.

There is more to be said here that I may pick up in a post I’ve been struggling with conflicted thoughts about writing lately…

Playing “Bureaucracy!” Again

I had weird dreams again, about being framed for a crime I didn’t commit by the KGB (some of my family believed them) and pursued by a tiger that was owned by the Thursday night shiur (religious class) rabbi.  I think it was all one dream that switched back and forth between the two threads.  I guess I feel like I’m being hunted at the moment, albeit by life rather than by spies and tigers.

My main achievement today was phoning about New Style Employment and Support Allowance (benefits).  They have really awful muzak, even by the standards of awful phone muzak for big businesses or state institutions.  It has a sort of flushing noise!  Who thinks that muzak is a good idea?  As Lily Tomlin said, “I worry that the person who thought up muzak might be thinking up something else.”  I got through after over half-hour, only to be told that if I haven’t worked continuously for the last two years, I am not eligible because I won’t have paid enough National Insurance (NI).  This did not seem like what I was told when I phoned a couple of months ago, but I wasn’t sure what to do other than hang up and double check my payments online.  I went back to the HMRC (Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs, which sounds like something out of a book on seventeenth century smugglers, but is actually the UK tax office) website and found that I do have full NI payments for the last two years even though I was not working continuously.  I’m not sure how I have them, but I do.  So – phone again and eventually got through and the person on the end of the phone passed my details to my local Jobcentre, who will phone within a week (hopefully) to offer me an appointment to look at my form.  Some of this does seem like a job-creation scheme for Department of Work and Pensions staff.

I would like to claim for Personal Independence Payment (PIP) too, which is supposed to be intended for people with long-term illness or disability, but I know from experience the claim form is geared up to people with visible, consistent illnesses or disabilities, not mental illnesses that come and go, or can be overcome up to a point with a great deal of effort.  “I have no arms and need someone to cook for me” is OK; “I have no energy so it takes me three hours to cook a basic dinner, sometimes, but not always” is not OK.

I get wary of complaining too much about benefits or public services, because I’m aware that the demand on them is potentially infinite, while the limits on what they can do are very real and not to be overcome simply by raising taxes (or borrowing) to increase spending.  Nor would I want to just live off benefits.  Still, it is frustrating that my parents have contributed their share of tax all their working lives, and I’ve even contributed a little, but they are left to support me unaided because my issues fall in the gaps between recognised symptoms and behaviour.

I did at least move ahead with the formatting of my Doctor Who non-fiction book while on hold.  The main decision left to make is whether to include a formal bibliography of the stuff I read while preparing the book.  My instinct is not to do so, not least because of the time it would take to prepare one, although I have prepared notes for making one.  I was vaguely hoping that I would produce something that could potentially appeal to cultural studies students as well as fans, but lack of knowledge of/agreement with critical theory makes me incline to aim this primarily at the fan market, especially as there are a number of more formal books out there now.  I probably should really write something about the current series too, but (a) I’m not enjoying it and really don’t feel up to sounding positive about it, but don’t want to end the book on a downer and (b) keeping a book about an ongoing TV programme up-to-date is a potentially never-ending task.  Bear in mind that when I started the blog posts that the book grew out of, Matt Smith was still the Doctor.  I really I want to focus my creative efforts on my novel now.

Also while on hold, I had a clear-out of my email, so it was not totally wasted time.  I then tried to get a doctor’s appointment about the stomach cramps I’ve had lately (which I had thought were a side-effect of medication, but am increasingly thinking may be a stress/anxiety symptom), but the surgery didn’t release any appointments online.  I don’t know why the surgery make it so difficult to get an appointment, but, again, this is symptom of a national problem partly caused by free-at-point-of-use services and no one wants to talk seriously about what can be done about that.  The easiest way to get an appointment at my surgery is to phone at 8.30am when the surgery opens, which effectively amounts to a barrier to getting an appointment for many depressed people who are too depressed to get up early.   My parents have often made appointments for me in the past, but I feel embarrassed about that.

The surgery also has a policy that you are a patient of the surgery, not a particularly doctor, and they make it hard for you to consistently make appointments with the same doctor.  If you make an appointment by phone, you can’t choose your doctor at all, only whether you want a male or female doctor or have no preference.  If you book online, you potentially have a chance to find a particular doctor, but there is still a large element of luck in which doctors have available appointments.  This is problematic if you have very personal problems and want to see a trusted GP, or at least someone familiar.  I particularly would like to see my usual GP in case this is a stress or anxiety issue, as he knows my very long and involved case history, but it’s not hard to think of other examples of people who might want to see a familiar doctor, particularly in cases of mental health or sexual health.  I don’t like throwing around words like “ableism” but this does seem not thought through particularly well, even though I can see they might want to avoid a situation where different doctors have very different caseloads.

My mood was mostly OK, perhaps because I spent so much of it on hold, feeling frustrated by that rather than anything more serious as well as having my negative thoughts crowded out of my head by muzak.  I did have sudden moments of sadnessa nd despair though, particularly when in need of food.

I managed about thirty-five minutes of Torah study before feeling too exhausted to continue, which is good, although I only did so much because my reading of Tehillim (Psalms) reached chapter 27, which is very familiar from the liturgy, as we read it twice a day for nearly two months of the year, so there were perhaps fewer difficult words to deal with.

Post-Work Slump

I’m not sure what time I went to bed last night, probably some time between midnight and 1.00am, but I slept for hours and hours and then was too depressed, exhausted and anxious to get up.  I finally got up around 2.30pm, just as my Mum was coming home, having cancelled her post-work volunteering because she was ill.  I did feel better for eating cereal and drinking coffee, but of course by then the bulk of the day was gone.

I guess today’s depression/anxiety is mostly centred on work, some worry about a family issue that hopefully will come to a head tomorrow, and also whether E. and I will be able to move our relationship on, as well as general worries about my life as a whole, whether I will ever get it sorted out.  E. was feeling positive about us today, so I felt vaguely bad for being pessimistic (although I know she would say that I shouldn’t judge my feelings), not least because I know nothing has changed objectively since I was feeling positive a few days ago, it’s just that today I feel depressed so everything seems bad.  Plus, I wish she was around in person more than ever on days like today when I’m not able to say much via text but would like just to watch TV together.

I heard a good quote the other day, I can’t remember where, probably on a Jewish website: “Life is a test and most people fail because they try to copy others, not realising that they have a different question.”  It’s probably too wordy to be a truly great quote, but it does refer to what I’m struggling with in terms of thinking that I should doing what my peers are doing (career, family, community) when I that is not realistic and, so far as it is possible for me to tell, that does not seem to be God’s plan for me at the moment.  The problem is, I would like to be doing a lot of that stuff and don’t really see an alternative.  I don’t qualify for benefits (generalisation: I’m going to have to look into this again), so I basically have to have a career.  E. and I want to build a relationship that is more than a long-distance friendship, but I don’t know how – how in practical terms.  I want to have friends and community for my mental well-being, but the process of building those relationships is difficult and highly stressful for someone with social anxiety and autism (and someone not in exactly the right community anyway).  It is very difficult to see what I should do sometimes.

***

So, today I didn’t do very much, just sat around feeling exhausted, depressed and unable to do anything.  The trouble with the benefits system for the mentally ill (leaving aside the question of whether it’s too strictly enforced) is that it is set up for people with illnesses or disabilities that are both visible and the same every day.  If you’ve have a leg amputated, there are not going to be some days when you have both legs and some when you don’t.  Whereas with mental illness (and some physical illnesses), there can be days when you’re fine and so you get told you can work, and then there are some days when you just can’t function at all, but outsiders can’t see why that is.

What I did do was play nurse to my mother for a bit and cook dinner (although Tuesdays is my night to cook even if she is well).  I made macaroni cheese, because it’s a very easy recipe, one of two recipes that I can cook without reading the instructions, although it was far too salty.  I also spent a few minutes updating my CV and interview answer notes to include my experiences in work this year.

I struggled to do some Torah study.  I spent ten minutes reading a not-terribly-interesting or informative essay on The Lehrhaus.com.  I spent another ten minutes (just under) reading a chapter of Tehillim (Psalms), in this case chapter 24, which is very familiar to me as it appears a lot in the Jewish liturgy.  It can be interesting reading prayers as Torah study as I read them in a new way and notice things I don’t notice when davening (praying), but not today.  So about twenty minutes in total, which is not bad considering how I was feeling, but I felt that I had not got much out of it, as is often the case.

I tried to work on my novel, but it was hard and I got distracted by #AddAWordRuinABook on Twitter, my favourites being The Cat in the MAGA Hat and especially Catch-22 Diseases.  I looked at my own books in the search for inspiration to join in and thought of reading Murder on the Leyton Orient Express and its sequel, The Word for World is Nottingham Forrest (I should probably explain to non-UK resident readers that those are jokes on British football teams).  Also A Midsummer Night’s Freudian Dream, The Spy Who Came in From the Cold Storage, Flame War and Peace, Lady Windermere’s Fan ClubThe Crack House at Pooh Corner, Decorating a Study in Scarlet and Green Eggs and Hamlet (OK, that’s cheating slightly).  I would also like to see a film of The Marx Brothers Karamazov.  In non-fiction, there’s Plato’s Coffee Republic, A Brief History of Time Shares and The Blind Drunk Watchmaker although Star Trek fans might not appreciate The Selfish Gene Roddenberry.

Now I don’t feel tired, but should probably go to bed as it’s gone midnight.

***

My depression is sabotaging my diet.  I ate seconds at dinner, more because it was there and I was comfort eating than because I was hungry.  I didn’t eat ice cream yesterday, as I suggested I would, but I did eat Quality Street chocolates.  It’s hard to be on a diet when I’m this depressed.  I don’t generally comfort eat to a huge extent, but when I’m feeling so low it’s hard to feel I should ban myself completely from any junk food that might cheer me up for a few minutes, especially as my weight gain is primarily caused by medication rather than the amount of junk food I’m eating.

***

Another reason I’m depressed today: farewell Nicholas Parsons, alav hashalom (peace upon him), comedy’s greatest straight man, Just a Minute supremo and a fine Doctor Who guest actor.  He will be missed.

The Last Political Post (Hopefully)

… for a while at any rate, I hope, although who knows given the unprecedented times we’ve lived in since 2010 (there was a cartoon a while back, I think by “Matt” (my favourite political cartoonist) of someone saying, “Sometimes I wish we could go back to living in precedented times”).

***

I didn’t sleep all night.  I’ve never stayed up all night watching election coverage and I didn’t last night.  The election filled me with a weird mixture of dread and ennui; I had no intention of staying up for a blow-by-blow account.  Better to go to sleep and wake up to the result, for good or for bad.  I watched James Bond in the evening and went to bed before 1.00am, cheered slightly by the exit polls, but I couldn’t sleep.  I don’t know if it was too much caffeine (I didn’t think I’d had that much), ‘blue light’ from watching the TV before bed, anxiety about the election result or simply straightforward insomnia.  I got up around 2.00am and watched a few minutes of the election coverage, but mostly finished reading the latest Jewish Review of Books.  I tried to sleep again, but eventually gave up and put on the radio just as Liberal Democrat leader Jo Swinson lost her seat.  I lay in bed listening and messaging E. about the election and other stuff, mostly my novel (thank you, time difference).  Eventually I decided to give up on sleeping and get up.

I’m likely to spend today running on coffee until we get to Shabbat, maybe nap after shul (synagogue) before dinner and then get to sleep properly after dinner, around 9.00pm.

***

I seem to have lost nearly 1kg in a week or so.  I hope I can keep this up.  I’m not sure how much weight it is actually feasible for me to lose, given that my weight gain was driven by medication.  Apparently my lifestyle counts as “active” too, particularly if I can continue running twice a week.

***

So, to business…  I’m glad Labour did not win the election, although I’m concerned that Jeremy Corbyn wants to remain leader for the foreseeable future (he’s going to Leave, but also to Remain); I’m worried he wants to ensure a successor he approves of, which is likely to mean another hardline left-wing antisemite e.g. John McDonnell.  I’m still worried that there may be antisemitic violence in revenge against the Jewish community, especially over Shabbat, and the job of detoxifying the party is going to be very hard; the battle is won, but not the war.

In general terms, while I don’t want to write about my politics here in party political terms, but while I’m relieved we kept out the crypto-Marxists, I’m still worried about how we bring the country back together after being so fractured, both by Brexit and by lack of social cohesion (which is not necessarily the same as social or economic inequality).  I do think a strong opposition is important for democracy, and we don’t have that – arguably we haven’t had any strong parties for some time now.  Hopefully that will begin to change.  Certainly it seems likely that all the parties will engage in soul-searching and change, either to capitalise on the new working class Brexit vote (Conservatives) or to prevent another defeat (Labour, Liberal Democrats).  The Conservative Party has a history of periodically radically changing its outlook and policies to win new groups of voters, sometimes making surprising lurches to the centre ground (I don’t know whether that’s democracy or organised hypocrisy); whether they can and will do this again is an open question.  Interesting times, I guess, whatever happens.

I did feel sorry for Luciana Berger not winning the seat she was contesting for the Liberal Democrats, as she suffered a lot of antisemitism when she was in the Labour Party.  I guess that’s politics; no one gets a pity vote.  If she’s stepping down from party politics, I hope she considers some kind of role in the wider Jewish community, where she has found a lot of support.

Someone shouted “Terrorist!  IRA!” or words to that effect at terrorist apologist and Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell when his result was being read out, which partially makes up for my being too shy to say anything assertive to the Labour canvasser on our doorstep.

***

The above was written in the early hours.  I worked on my novel for a bit, then fell asleep for over three hours, woke up with little time before Shabbat and everyone running late, panic, so I don’t have time to mention the TWO new obstacles to my getting ESA that have arisen in the last hour.  Must dash, Shabbat shalom!

Let’s Play “Bureaucracy!”

I felt depressed and really drained today without knowing why and even eating and sitting in front of my SAD lamp didn’t help much.  The year has passed really quickly, but the end is lingering; I can’t quite believe it’s December, but given that it is December, I can’t believe we’re not even halfway through it yet.  I feel a bit like I’m stuck in Narnia under the White Witch at the moment, always winter and never Christmas, or Chanukah.  Last year was the same.

I’m longing for the Christmas break, not because I celebrate it (I don’t), but because the job alerts and applications and workshops and meetings with employment advisers will stop for a bit and I will be able to spend time on relaxation and hobbies as well as my novel without feeling guilty.  I’m also longing for Chanukah, which is particularly late this year, starting on the night of 22 December, officially the first day of winter, although it’s felt wintry for weeks now.  On TV and in films, Chanukah is always at the same time as Christmas, but in reality it’s usually earlier.  Chanukah is a favourite festival not because we get presents, but because there are few rituals to trigger religious OCD (just lighting candles and a few extra prayers) and sitting with my family in front of the candles is peaceful, even if eating latkes and doughnuts is not going to be good for my weight and cholesterol.

I spent an hour trying to book an appointment about applying for sick benefits.  I spent a long time phoning the wrong numbers and then a long time on hold.  When I finally got through I was asked a load of questions to see if I qualify for benefits.  I was asked if I’m signed off work; I said I can only work part-time and asked if I still qualify.  The person I was talking to didn’t say whether I qualify, but implied that I wouldn’t and asked if I have a medical certificate.  I am still waiting for my certificate, so I don’t know what it will say.  It’s possible there is no such thing as being signed off only to part-time work and the doctor will not agree to write the certificate.  However, I could not face waiting another hour on hold next week waiting to get back to this stage, so I insisted that I have a certificate coming and made the appointment, thinking I can always cancel it later and if I turn up to the appointment and get turned away and told working part-time stops me getting benefits, then at least I will have tried.  My instinct is that I am not going to qualify for benefits, and that they only give these benefits to people who can’t work at all.  In theory there are other benefits I could apply for, but I’m not disabled “enough” for them or I have too many savings.  Still, I should at least get an in-person appointment with a real human being who can tell me if there are any benefits I might qualify for.  However, I am not hopeful.

I had another bad NHS moment.  When I last saw my psychiatrist, I think in October, she said she wanted to see me again in three months and I should hear about an appointment.  Not having heard anything about an appointment in early January, I phoned to find that I do not have an appointment.  The receptionist said she will ask the psychiatrist if she wants to see me again and then phone me back.  I know the NHS and I know it is by no means certain that the receptionist will speak to the psychiatrist or that the message will be delivered back to me.  Again, I am not hopeful, but what alternative do I have?  To be honest, I think there is little the psychiatrist can do for me at the moment anyway.

I had to phone the dentist too to make a routine check-up appointment, but first it was engaged and then there was no answer; possibly they had gone home as it was nearly 5pm.  I hate making phone calls and it exhausts me, and I didn’t even get all my calls finished as I still have the call to the dentist hanging over me for tomorrow or Thursday.

I did go to my shiur and also managed to squeeze in about forty minutes of work on my novel, writing nearly 500 words, completely reworking a passage I wrote the other day and was unhappy with, so it wasn’t a totally wasted day.

Achievements and a Rant

I spent an hour trying to work on my novel, but mostly procrastinated and only managed 275 words.  I feel like I’m in a writing rut today.  I probably need to delete the last couple of paragraphs, back up and start this bit again.  This happens sometimes and I guess it’s normal, but it is frustrating.

I managed thirty-five minutes of Torah study and a twenty-five minute run.  I want to run for longer periods, but I just don’t seem to have the stamina at the moment.  The way I run I end up passing my house every thirteen minutes or so, and while I wanted to carry on after the twenty-five minute mark I just could not go any further.  Running after dark doesn’t help, as my body wants to sleep (OK, it feels like that all day) and I have to be extra careful of puddles and fallen branches on the badly-lit and uneven pavements.  So far I haven’t got an exercise migraine, although I do have a slight headache.  I do still feel very tired even though I finished my run a couple of hours ago and have eaten dinner since then.

The other main task for today was checking I’d correctly filled in the benefits form that I started weeks ago.  I have to say I had forgotten about the benefits form after my holiday and then feeling extra-depressed afterwards and then by the potential new job, but I’m going to book an appointment at a JobCentre – the next step – in case I don’t get the new job.

I didn’t have the time or energy for any job hunting.  It doesn’t help that the only suitable job I could apply for at the moment is in Stratford, which is very far away and would be another killer commute.

My mood was mostly OK apart from some political worries (see below), so maybe my light box is helping after all.

***

As part of the BBC’s “neutral” election coverage, I saw this headline on their website “Working in the NHS ‘feels sometimes unbearable’“.   I feel in the interests of balance I should be allowed to write an article called “Using the NHS feels sometimes unbearable”.  I actually feel myself getting quite upset and angry at the whole “We ♥ the NHS” meme, which has gone into overdrive this election, because it doesn’t correspond with my own lived experience.  I have had good doctors, psychiatrists, therapists etc. who have gone the extra mile for me, but I have also had lousy ones who have wasted my limited resources of time, money and energy and made me feel like dirt, but I’m not allowed to say anything about that because it doesn’t fit with society’s narrative: that the NHS is full of “angels” who can’t do their job because the politicians won’t give them enough money and wrap them in red tape.

Economically speaking, if a service, particularly an expensive service, is provided for free, demand will always outstrip supply.  It’s just a basic economic truth.  I believe state-provided healthcare is necessary, but our debate about the best way to resource it should start from the reality that it will never be anywhere near perfect rather than pretending that there’s a magic solution somewhere out there, whether more money, internal markets or reorganisation of management.

Sorry, for a non-political blog, I’ve had a lot of politics lately, and this one isn’t even about antisemitism!  But I do feel that my personal experience of mental health treatment in this country is not reflected in the public discourse because it doesn’t fit a predictable ‘narrative’ which makes me feel uncomfortable, like my experience isn’t as ‘real’ somehow.

I’ll be very glad when this election is over.  As I’ve said before, the choice before us is frankly unenviable, with a multitude of parties and candidates all of whom are spectacularly awful, but for different reasons.  One cartoon had a pollster ask “Who are you voting against?” which seems all too realistic to me.  If it weren’t for the antisemitism issue, I’d be tempted to abstain, as I can’t see anything good coming from it.  And I’m still very, very scared that there’s going to be antisemitic violence if Labour win on Thursday… and even more antisemitic violence if they lose.  I’ve only been this worried about antisemitic violence when there have been wars or major terrorism campaigns against Israel  – and that was worries about violence in Israel, not spillover violence here.  It’s a very scary time to be Jewish in the UK, and all the more scary for the fact that so few people outside the Jewish community recognise that fear.

***
On a more fun note, I’m in the middle of watching From Russia with Love.  Where Dr No (which I watched last night) definitely felt like a James Bond film that was lacking a few elements of the formula, From Russia with Love feels like a typical, if not slightly slow spy film that just happens to have James Bond in it for some reason.  Not at all what we think of as a Bond Film.

Another Difficult Day

I’m feeling really depressed again.  I went to bed really late (gone 2.00am) because I had a small burst of energy and not-feeling-awful and did a load of stuff (working on my novel, Torah study, enquiring about a job).  I then slept for ten hours and woke up feeling exhausted and depressed again.  I’m concerned about managing to get to my “second career” conference on Wednesday, especially as I’ll be out late on Tuesday at shiur.

I spend ages procrastinating online, probably because I want to connect with people and to read interesting ideas, but I’m too scared to actually reach out to people or get scared off by the abusive commentariat on “free for all” sites like Twitter, so I read intelligent sites that don’t have comment sections like Unherd and Tablet Magazine.  I don’t know if I’d be willing to interact about religion; the Jewish blogosphere seems to have mostly died or moved to Facebook, so it’s somewhat academic.  I read some mental health blogs and sometimes feel I can connect, but mostly I end up posting here on what was described as my “whiny, self-obsessed blog.”

I went back to bed for an hour after breakfast.  I do this quite a bit.  I tend to think of it as being a depressed thing about not wanting to face the day, but I think it’s also an autistic thing.  Like a lot of people on the spectrum, I like feeling wrapped up tight in my duvet and find that comforting and reassuring.  I think going back to bed in the daytime lets me do that as an autistic comforting thing as well as just withdrawing from the day.  I did just manage to daven Mincha (say Afternoon Prayers) in time (the sunset deadline was 4.07pm today).  This looks set to be another winter where I barely see the sun.

***

I finished the benefits form I was filling in.  It was easier than I expected, as I don’t have to list my medical condition at the moment.  There’s another questionnaire for that later.  I’m dreading that one already.  It’s so hard to make clear how my life is impacted by depression.  If I say “I’m always tired, I can’t get up in the morning, I have negative thoughts about myself and the world, I have no energy, I can’t concentrate, I have no motivation to work…” well, almost everyone feels like that about work.  The difference is that I feel like this on days when I don’t work too, but they don’t ask about that and they certainly don’t pay you benefits for not being able to relax.

Now I need an appointment at a Jobcentre to go through the form and see if I’ll be allowed [sic] to go further with the application.  I also need an appointment with my doctor to get a medical certificate/sick note.  I don’t have one of these as I’ve been out of work for so long, and in my last two jobs I either didn’t mention my illness and hid it (not good, it probably made me worse) or had an informal conversation with my super-understanding boss (I wish that job had lasted longer than three months, but there wasn’t the budget to make it permanent).

***

Over dinner I spoke to my parents again about tutoring.  Yesterday they spoke to one of their friends who tutors teenagers for maths and who may be able to give me some ideas about tutoring.  I’m worried I’m going to essentially have to study again to do it.  I could probably do English language and literature without too much effort; a lot of it is about spelling, grammar, paragraphing, structuring an argument, creative writing and so on that you either know or you don’t.  I could read up on a few set texts; to be honest, as I’ll be marking and giving feedback, not writing the answers myself, I probably won’t need to know the texts that well.  Tutoring history would be harder though, despite it being my BA subject because my BA was a long time ago and, in any case, history is so vast that one can study a lot of history and still have significant gaps.  When I did A-Levels, the curriculum my class did focused on nineteenth century British domestic social change (public health, public education, female franchise etc.) and post-Napoleonic European political history down to World War II, although everything post World War I seemed a bit rushed, or maybe I just wanted to focus on the earlier section.  I just looked up contemporary curricula, and they can cover different periods, with stuff I haven’t learnt either at A-Level or university; to be honest, I’m not sure how much I can remember of what I have studied.  How much detail would I have to remember and how much would it be a case of making sure that my students can structure their answers properly and respond to gobbets of text in the appropriate way?  I’m not sure.

***
Scrolling through my WhatsApp contacts, I see I still have details for someone who I dated years ago and who dumped me pretty darn quickly when I told her I had mental health issues.  Her userpic is now a wedding photo, and her husband looks super-frum (black hat), which makes me wonder why she was willing to date someone like me.  I mean, it’s good for her that she’s married and in a way it proves that she wasn’t right for me, but I’m not sure what it leaves me feeling.  Not really envious and despairing the way it once would because I’ve given up most hope of getting married.  I think E. is the only person who could accept me, and possibly one of very few people who I could accept, but that doesn’t look like going anywhere any time soon and I’m not even going to bother looking for anyone else while I’m unemployed and this depressed.  I just wish I could cope with things better in the meantime.  I mean cope with loneliness and celibacy and worrying what will happen when my parents aren’t here to look after me, particularly if I never work full-time (or learn to drive, a bigger thing than most people realise, or remember from their teenage days).

***

I did manage to work on my novel for about an hour.  It was admittedly interrupted by online procrastination and blog commenting, but I wrote about 500 words, which is my target for one hour.  I also managed about thirty or thirty-five minutes of Torah study.  This all seemed impossible when I woke up today, as I struggled to get going and when I had lunch and tried to do things in the afternoon.  I guess this is positive, but I wonder if I do not push myself too hard sometimes, ridiculous though it seems to say that.

“I am not a number, I am a free man!”

I know I went on a rant yesterday about politics.  I feel very conflicted about politics at the moment.  I know that civil society depends on people campaigning for change, I just feel disenfranchised and not sure what to do.  There was an interview in The Jewish Chronicle with Ian Austin, the former Labour MP who resigned in protest over antisemitism in the party and is now telling people to vote Conservative to keep Labour out because of their antisemitism problem.  I think he did the right thing, but I’m not sure it’s going to make any difference.  There isn’t a party that represents what I think, and I’m terrified by what some of the parties are campaigning for, particularly Labour, which has gone in the space of just a few years from a moderate social democratic party to rabidly antisemitic crypto-Marxist one (maybe not so crypto).  Challenged about antisemitism, the standard response seems to be, “We aren’t antisemitic, there genuinely is a massive international Jewish-capitalist conspiracy that controls all Western governments and owns all the banks and media.”  All said with no trace of irony (English or otherwise).  I just feel a huge dread of what’s going to happen to our country, and the world, in the coming years.

I’m not sure I can really comment on politics objectively at the moment.  I read an article by someone I used to be friends with and my disagreement with elements of his politics blends into my upset at the way he treated me personally, which had nothing to do with politics, but showed up his desire for brotherly love and treating people kindly as a bit of a sham.  I don’t know how much my annoyance with him is political and how much is personal.  Probably a bit of both, as I don’t think I disagree with his politics enough to explain this much of a negative response.  But I don’t know.  Can we ever truly separate the political and the personal?  Should we?  I really don’t know.

I put Twitter back on my blocked sites list for now.  I just needed to get away from it.  I may go and network on there at some point, but not at the moment.

***

I feel that dread in my own life too.  I just can’t seem to get out of the depressed rut.  I know what I should be doing to work on my life and my career, it’s just so hard to do it.  I still feel a lot of social anxiety even after CBT and that’s holding me back along with the depression itself.

I woke feeling very depressed again today.  It took me more than two hours to get up, eat breakfast and get dressed.  I kept going back to bed and it was impossible to have the energy to get going.  I davened (prayed) after lunch rather than before because I didn’t have the energy earlier.  I hope this does not become a habit.  I had a bit of religious OCD today too, wondering if some frozen microwave food in our freezer was really kosher even though I was fairly sure my Mum had told me she I had bought it from a kosher shop.  I worried that I was mis-remembering and checked with her (which I shouldn’t do).  Now I’m worried that the kosher shop made a mistake.  I know my kashrut OCD flares up when I’m under stress, so that’s a sign that I’m not doing well at the moment.

I’ve been sucked into online procrastination again.  I’m trying to apply for benefits, but the form is so dense and off-putting (probably deliberately).  I felt agitated and on the brink of tears.  I would fill in one or two boxes and then feel overwhelmed (by what?) and stop because I want to cry.  I feel that my life is a mess and there’s nothing I can do about it, that the world is a mess and there’s even less I can do about it.  I don’t want to be on benefits, but I can’t see myself getting any kind of job while I’m in this state, but I need structure and activity…  The form asks for when my illness started and I don’t know what to put.  2003?  2000?  Who knows by this stage?

In the end I gave up on the form and went for a twenty-five minute run in the cold and dark instead, which exhausted me, but gave me some respite from my negative thoughts, although I worried about politics most of the time, when I wasn’t worrying that every shadowy passer-by was a mugger (7.30pm is well after dark at the moment).  I was exhausted when I got home even after a shower and dinner, but I worked on my novel for thirty or forty minutes.  My concentration was poor, but I got through a difficult scene.  I also managed ten or fifteen minutes of Torah study.  I ate a Magnum ice cream, partly as a reward for getting through a difficult day, partly to keep me awake long enough to do a bit of Torah study.  I know this will probably put back any weight I might have lost jogging, but I don’t really care.  I had to get through the day somehow.

I do feel like I’ve really tearing myself apart about a lot of things lately, some obviously trivial (like whether it would be a betrayal of my values to watch James Bond films), some genuinely worrying (the election).  I strongly suspect the trivial and maybe even the serious worries are standing in for something else, or are a return of clinical anxiety, which I’ve never been good at identifying in myself.

***

Ashley Leia commented on my last post to say it must be exhausting hiding my life from my religious community, but I’ve been hiding all my life.  At school it was hard to know which of my interests would be OK and which would be a target for the bullies, but Doctor Who was resolutely unfashionable; even at the more mature age of being an undergraduate, people stared at me in amazement or laughed when it emerged that I was a fan (this was before the relaunch of the programme and its return to popularity).

***

In terms of enjoyment, I’m wondering if I’m not enjoying things at the moment or if I’m just reading/watching/listening to the wrong things.  Over the last few weeks I’ve listened to some Doctor Who audio books and audio dramas.  A couple were good, but most weren’t.  I’ve never been able to get into these audios and I’m not sure why.  Some of it is probably difficulty concentrating on audio when I’m depressed, but I’ve been equivocal about these even when not depressed.

I’m also reading volume three of the complete short stories of Philip K. Dick.  Dick is one of my favourite authors, but I’m struggling to connect with the stop/start pace of reading short stories and having to understand a new set of characters and a new world with each story (“new world” literally, given that these are science fiction stories) so I might switch to a novel.

On the other hand, I started watching The Prisoner again, for the umpteenth time.  I don’t know if it’s autism, but I can watch my favourite things over and over without getting bored, but be really apprehensive about watching or reading anything new unless I’m very confident that I’m going to enjoy it and not be upset by it.  Watching The Prisoner is probably a bit dangerous for me.  For those who don’t know, The Prisoner was an espionage/science fiction series from the sixties.  A British spy resigns from his job and wakes up in a strange Village where people are numbers.  He wants to escape, the authorities want to find out why he resigned (that’s just the title sequence).  They only made seventeen episodes, which, alongside star/co-creator/executive producer/sometime writer and director Patrick McGoohan’s significant input gives the whole thing an auteured feel unusual in British TV of that era.

The reason it’s dangerous for me is that it deals with issues of individuality, conformism, freedom and so on and I respond strongly to it, probably too strongly.  While Doctor Who is my favourite TV series, The Prisoner is the one I connect to most emotionally.  I discovered the series when I was at university, when I was at my most depressed, and in my head Oxford and the Village became one, as did the Prisoner’s loneliness and struggle for agency and my own.  As with Kafka and Dick, the casual surrealism reflected the way I experience life, which often seems disturbing and illogical (this may be the result of autism, but maybe not).  The final episode, which suggests the Prisoner may literally be his own worst enemy only adds to my emotional connection with it, as well as my self-hatred.  The reading of The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction, that “The Prisoner who continues to resist brainwashing may have brainwashed himself into a prison of the mind.  The series’ thesis may thus be that freedom is impossible, as is opting out” is something that resonates a lot with me.  I do wonder if I’m my own worst enemy, and I do want to drop out of society while simultaneously seeing dropping out as both impossible and immoral.

I can see the Oxford parallels with the Village; in the years when I was too depressed to study or work, I could see parallels with the apparently endless therapeutic process and the byzantine bureaucracy of the benefits system; nowadays I can see the parallels with my position in the Jewish community, and the Jewish community’s position in the country.  Watching the first episode, Arrival, tonight, what I noticed more than before is the way the Village infantilises people to make them placid and docile; there are real-world examples with the market and the state, but what resonated with me today was my illness infantilising me.

The Prisoner is a very fun series to watch, from a time when British TV could deal with serious issues in a popular way without becoming condescending or self-important and self-righteous, and was able to question its own values.  There was a six-part American remake miniseries ten years that wasn’t nearly as fun, although it did have its good points.  And that’s without getting into the non-political readings, that the Prisoner is dead and stuck in Purgatory or a cycle of reincarnations.  It’s a series you can really immerse yourself in.

(And I haven’t even mentioned the enigmatic, silent, butler or the weird Rover weather balloon robot guards or the use of diegetic use of music or the jokes or the theme music or the way the Prisoner/McGoohan (never has it been easier to blur the lines between character and actor) loses it at someone or something in most episodes or the fact that it’s a TV programme with it’s own font or, or, or…)

Be seeing you!

Kill Your Darlings (not your Daleks)

I’m feeling awful again today.  I got up late and kept going back to bed.  I knew it would be hard coming back from holiday, but I didn’t realise just how far backwards I would go.  I know I need structure, but I’m worried about the stuff I have coming up in the next week or two.  I worry about even managing to get to these things on time (I’m basically nocturnal at the moment) let alone get through them.

I’ve got a meeting with a careers charity on Friday, a different one to the one I saw on Monday, not a specifically autism/mental health one, to talk about alternative careers and interview practice, but I’m worried I’m not going to say much and it’s mostly going to be me being told I’m doing everything wrong (that’s how the previous meeting there felt, a bit).  Then it’s going to be hectic to get home in good time before Shabbat.  Then next week I have a day long seminar thing on building a second career (I never really built the first one…).  I just got an email about it; it’s a series of talks over the day, but apparently “Morning and afternoon refreshments, together with lunch, are complimentary, and an important networking part of the day.”  Scary.  I might try to stay for refreshments, but, even aside from kashrut questions (the charity running the seminar is Jewish, but not religious, so it might not be kosher enough for me), I think I will need to get away from everyone for an hour if I am to have any hope of staying in the talks for the whole day.  Oh, and weirdly one of the speakers is the rabbi who was my shul rabbi growing up; he eventually quit the rabbinate and went into finance in which capacity he’s speaking.

***

I’m struggling with concentration and motivation again.  It’s hard to feel that I could be working in this state, yet I feel I should.  I discussed this with someone else online today, that I feel I should be working, even if part-time.  It’s partly that I don’t like being dependent on my parents, partly social expectation, part genuine feeling that I want to do something meaningful with my life.  Plus, although I’m going to have another go at applying for benefits, I doubt very much that I would qualify for sickness benefits.  I’m too functional.  It’s very difficult to claim benefits for mental illness as the system is essentially based around physical incapacity.  If you can see and walk and don’t need constant care it’s difficult to meet the burden of proof for being disabled.  I’m sceptical of whether I will get unemployment benefits, but I need to try and apply while I’m still in a period where I worked significantly in the last two tax years.

***

I did manage to do a few things.  I went for a walk and picked up my blood test form for my next blood test (I have them every three months on lithium tablets).  At the doctor’s surgery I saw someone I dated a number of years ago who dumped me as soon as I said I had mental health issues.  She lives locally, so I run into her from time to time although we haven’t spoken; I’m not sure if I’m good at hiding or she’s good at pretending not to see me.  (I suppose I’m pretending not to see her, really.)

I wrote a devar Torah (Torah thought) for Shabbat (the Sabbath), which took an hour, but I was pretty exhausted afterwards.  I did the slightly naughty rabbinic trick of writing about what I wanted to write about and tying it in to the parasha (weekly Torah reading).  Actually, that’s not entirely true; it’s more that I thought there was a link, and there was, but then when I sat down to write it, the link wasn’t as strong as I thought, but I carried on anyway.  I tried to work on my novel for an hour too and wrote a bit, but then decided that my narrator was acting out of character and the incident should happen later in the chapter, in a different context and perhaps a different way.  So I’m left with a shorter chapter than I started with, and a fragment to be reworked later.  But it’s too late to work on that tonight.  I need to find a way of getting more time to work on my novel, but it’s hard when I’m expected to make job hunting my “job” and still fit in chores, exercise and the like as well as coping with poor concentration and motivation.

***

I mentioned the other day about unfollowing a blog because the blogger said something that I felt was dismissive about mental illness and didn’t respond to my polite response.  Well, she just responded today and said she thought she had responded at the time, but her comment didn’t post properly and she only just realised.  I believe her, because I’ve been reading her blog for years and she’s never struck me as the type of person to casually lie or act rudely, and if she didn’t want to respond at all, why respond now?  (She can’t see that I unfollowed her because she posts on Blogger and it doesn’t show that I was following her on WordPress.)  But I’m undecided about following the blog again as I feel I do seem to end up with differences of opinion with her a lot.  But then again, maybe it’s good for me to see that I can open up to someone with very different opinions to my own, and disagree, and we still stay friends.  In the past we have often disagreed on matters “safely.”  That’s something I do struggle to accept; I usually keep quiet about differences for fear of rejection.

***

It’s also been a day when I’ve wandered into political stuff online again, which just depresses me beyond measure.  The flare-up of fighting in Israel depresses and worries me too; I was within range of some of the 360 rockets fired from Gaza just a few days ago.  Cousin 3 lives in the south of Israel, which is the most dangerous place for rockets.  It’s scary.

Speaking of which, some photos from my trip.

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Yam Kinneret/Sea of Galilee

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View from Bental towards Mt. Hermon and Syria

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Talmudic-era village, Katzrin

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Talmudic-era synagogue, Katzrin

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Goats! Katzrin

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Arbel National Park. I wish I could go to wilderness more often

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Sunset on Kinneret/Sea of Galilee

Low-Level Griping

I went to bed very late last night.  I stayed up late writing blog comments to people who I thought needed support, which was good, but I should have stopped myself doing it for so long.  Then, when I got to bed, I couldn’t sleep.  I felt really tired, but my mind was racing.  I was totally exhausted and depressed this morning and it was a real effort to get up and eat something.

As I’ve mentioned, this time of year is hard for religious Jews because there are so many Jewish holidays (another nine days of holidays and semi-holidays coming up soon!) one after the other.  In ancient times this was the end of the agricultural year in Israel, so it made sense to have our big religious season at this time, but it’s hard fitting in to the modern economy with deadlines and working with non-Jewish colleagues, particularly if you are in the academic sector (as I was) where this is the start of the new year.  And this year I’m going away for my cousin’s bar mitzvah in Israel soon afterwards, for added disruption!  I feel run ragged at the moment and we’re only halfway through.  It’s hard to keep up with job application emails (not that I’m hopeful of finding anything good at the moment anyway) and I’ve got a thick form to claim Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) that I haven’t even started, and when I’ve finished it I will have to have a meeting at the jobcentre to check it – that won’t happen until after I get back from Israel.  Then there’s the question of volunteering (and where: school or museum?).  And my poor novel is very neglected.  I’ve written about five pages since tearing up my first chapter (metaphorically) and re-starting.  I ordered some books on domestic abuse for research.  I hope my parents don’t notice and worry that something’s going on!

I’m making myself anxious just thinking about the stress of the next few weeks.

***

I’m feeling pretty down today.  I’m trying not to think about work or dating because when I do, I feel that I will not succeed in either.  I don’t seem to be able to make good decisions in either area.  I just found an amusing/depressing blog post about frum (religious Orthodox Jewish) dating, that women want to marry a great Torah scholar because they “unconsciously sublimate their desire for a sexually strong and virile man to a desire for a man who is intellectually strong and powerful… These men are not emaciated, unheroic weaklings, incapable of earning a living, dependent on their wives, in laws and parents for their daily bread. Not at all. Underneath their refined and modest exteriors are knights of Torah and princes of scholarship, engaged in the heroic undertaking of understanding the Talmud and its many commentaries.”  This is why I have zero chance of finding a wife in the frum world, because I can’t understand Talmud (I’m also unemployed, so no back-up plan of looking for someone who wants a breadwinner (“An earner not a learner” in the frum jargon)).

I did go to the barber, which I hate above most things, because I have tremor from my medication and it’s awkward if I shake while the barber wants me to hold still; beyond that, having a stranger invade my personal space and touch me is not something the autistic part of me likes at all.  I was OK there – I shook somewhat, but not noticeably – and bought a bunch of birthday cards for extended family (family birthdays and anniversaries tend to cluster around a couple of times in the year, so I buy a load of cards at once).

I helped my Dad with the sukkah, the thatched temporary hut in the garden that we eat our meals in during the festival of Sukkot (starts Sunday evening).  I always end up feeling slightly useless when helping with practical things.  I don’t know what I would do if my Dad didn’t do the bulk of the assembly.  OK, that’s not true, I could put up most of the sukkah, but there are some bits I would struggle with, particularly stuff that requires going up ladders, which I’m not always good at doing.  Plus, it started off some religious OCD-type worries about whether the sukkah is kosher (religiously acceptable).

I also filled in another application for a job at an Important Institution where I have applied for several previous jobs, all unsuccessfully.  It was a job in a library, but not strictly speaking requiring a librarianship qualification.  It sounds more like an admin-type job.  I applied anyway, although I hope it wouldn’t be a backwards step career-wise – if I even have a career any more, which is debatable.

I did about twenty-five minutes Torah study.  I would have liked to have done more, but I ran out of time and energy.  Likewise, no work on my novel today, which means it’s probably not going to be worked on until until after Simchat Torah as I don’t want to work on it during Chol HaMoed and tomorrow and Sunday are going to be busy with Shabbat/Yom Tov preparation (it would take to long to explain all the Jewish references here.  Just accept I can’t do non-essential work for a while because of festivals).

***

Mum saw me reading the latest Doctor Who Magazine and asked if they’re looking for writers.  I said, “Apparently not” rather more venomously than intended and she realised that I’d pitched to them and been rejected.  Oh dear.  I hate pitching, it’s hard to tell what editors are looking for, particularly if they don’t have style guidelines or give feedback.  I would have liked it if when I had said, “Would you like an article on X?” they had said, “No, but an article on Y would be good – can you write it?”  Or just some indication of what they were looking for.

I think with DWM, and other Doctor Who writing gigs, that the number of fan writers is very small and is interlinked on a “friends of friends” basis and the jobs just go to people who know the right people.  Why take a chance on a new writer, when you know half a dozen tried and tested writers who have been writing for the magazine for literally decades?  Fan writers all seem to have known each other for umpteen years.  When Doctor Who: The New Adventures novels were published in the nineties, that was notoriously incestuous, not deliberately, as Virgin Publishing (who published the books) had a laudable first-time author policy, but most of the writers seemed to know each other already through fanzines and conventions and encourage each other to submit (three of them worked in the same office!).  I’ve never really been part of organised fandom, although there have been times when I would have liked to have been.  I was always put off conventions by both the noise and people (because of my autism and social anxiety) and issues with kosher food and attending on Shabbat (Saturday).  There was a time when I was more involved in online fandom, but I drifted out of that when I went through a period of not liking the direction of the show on TV and when that changed I thought of coming back only to find online fandom had got really political and I didn’t feel comfortable or accepted any more.

***

This post is just low-level griping, even by my normal standards, but I’m too tired to edit or cut so PUBLISH and be damned.  I should go to bed, but I’m too tired to move.

Defining Success

Today felt like a waste, although this may have just been my negative self-perception.  I did a few things.  I helped Dad with the sukkah, the temporary booth/dwelling Jews eat in (and sleep in, in warmer climes) for a week during the festival of Sukkot (starting next week).  I tried to understand the Department of Work and Pensions’ byzantine and poorly-explained rules about employment benefits and printed off the twenty-three page long application form for New Style Employment and Support Allowance.  (Why is complaining about bureaucracy considered a conservative thing when it’s a major gatekeeper preventing the low-skilled from accessing state services?  It’s almost as if middle class progressives want to monopolise the benefits they can access for themselves…)  I procrastinated more about trying to work as a teaching assistant without coming to a conclusion.  I’m still terrified at the prospect of doing that, but don’t know what my other options are.

I went jogging for the first time nearly three weeks.  The run was average, but at least I burnt off some frustration or even aggression about not fitting in religiously/politically/culturally.  Even if it did come back later…  I had a bit of a headache a couple of hours after jogging, which was probably from exercise again, but at least it wasn’t a bad migraine.  It is frustrating getting exercise headaches when I’m already fighting against depression in my battle to get back into shape.

I worked on my novel for half an hour.  I didn’t write a huge amount and most of what I did write was expanding paragraphs I wrote previously rather than pushing on ahead, but it was good to work on it at all and I’ve basically written off this entire month (and a bit) for novel writing.  I know there is too much going on with Jewish festivals and then I’m going away for my cousin’s bar mitzvah.  Hopefully in November I will be able to begin writing in earnest.  I also managed about half an hour of Torah study, which was less than I intended, but quite good.  I thought this article was really interesting, although I suspect it is fairly meaningless to people who haven’t had a lot of exposure to frum (religious Orthodox Jewish) books or lectures on Yom Kippur.  It’s weird and somewhat frightening how things “everyone knows” so often turn out to be unsourced or based on misunderstandings of earlier sources.

Also for my novel, I bought a couple of books on abusive relationships for research.  This was probably extravagant as I should go to the library for research, but I thought it might be useful to have them on hand while writing.  I should definitely go to the library before buying any further research materials, though. When I was doing my undergraduate degree, I tended to buy one or two basic text books before the start of term as background reading and to have on hand whenever I wanted them, and then borrow the other books from the libraries as necessary, which is similar to what I’m doing here.  I suppose I am vaguely worried of being seen in public with books on abusive relationships…

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I just posted this in response to StoicWannabe’s comment on my last post:

I don’t know what a realistic definition of success for me is. I’ve never seen money or status as success, but I do see not being dependent on my parents as success. I see a lot of religious observances as success, but I know I can’t meet them, in terms of mitzvot like Torah study, communal prayer, children etc., but also social things like fitting in to the community and having frum friends. I see connection with people as success, but somehow I get distracted from that or forget about it when I need to remember it, or else I don’t believe that I’ve achieved so many connections or I focus on the people I’ve lost touch with or who got angry with me. I do have a sense of wanting to do something that justifies my life and (although I’m somewhat ashamed to admit it) somehow gets back at everyone who bullied me as a child (even though I’m sure they’ve all forgotten me by now – I don’t even remember most of them clearly).

It is hard to think of a definition of success that is both attainable and meaningful in my current condition.

 

***

My laptop is getting old.  The casing is broken.  Its speed is still reasonable, but it develops other quirks.  The Wifi sometimes stops working, which seems to be the computer rather than the router, but it isn’t easy to tell; it’s better than it was a couple of months ago, when it was dropping all the time, but still isn’t perfect.  In the last few days it has developed a new quirk: suddenly turning on the ‘tap to click’ function on the mouse touchpad.  I hate this function, as I’m always accidentally clicking on stuff I don’t want to click on when it’s on, so this is really irritating for me.  I know how to turn it off again, but it’s frustrating to keep having to do it.  This happened to me once before, but I can’t remember how I solved the problem; possibly by reinstalling the touchpad, which I really don’t want to do (I hate having to do things like that, as I always worry about deleting software permanently).  Alternatively, I could use a physical mouse, but I don’t really want to as I don’t have much room on my desk.

***

Lately I seem to be finding places where I think I can fit in and open up to people, in real life or online, but then either discover that I don’t fit in as well as I thought or they aren’t as safe as I thought.  It’s happened with my depression group (I found it harder to connect with people and then they moved to another site that isn’t as easy for me to get to), autism group (there seemed to be different people each time and I found it hard to connect again), autism WhatsApp group (I’m just not connecting with them at all), various Jewish websites and blogs and a politics site.  I suppose that’s also what happened with my shul (synagogue), only in slow motion.  It makes me wonder if I’ll ever really connect with anyone, make friends or find a community.  Am I too picky in my needs?  Do I want everyone to be like me to be my friend?  That’s unlikely, given that the friends I do have are usually quite unlike me.  Some of the problem is a general problem of the internet, and the way that few people who use it seem to be able to disagree in a civil way, which always makes me uncomfortable.

I am glad that there are a few people here who comment a lot.  I find that helpful.  I’ve had blogs where no one at all was commenting, so it’s good to get some response.  Thanks for reading/commenting.

Employment Support

I’m in the process of setting up some employment support with two different charities.  This is potentially to discuss revising my CV, interview practice and (most important for me at the moment) broadening my search to other sectors.  I’m looking at two charities because I’m desperate for help and just applied where I could; I didn’t realise both would come through so quickly, although it will still be some weeks before I get seen.

The person I spoke to today from one charity raised the question of job benefits again.  I thought I wasn’t eligible for these as I have too many savings and have not been in employment long enough in the last two years to qualify based on amount of national insurance contributions.  Having looked at the Citizens’ Advice Bureau website again, I think the wording is ambiguous, but that having worked at all in the last two years and paid national insurance is enough, in which case it would be worth my applying for it.  I would feel better if I could check before applying, but the CAB phone line is perpetually engaged.

Other than that, it was a quiet day.  It was a minor Jewish fast day (Tzom Gedaliah).  I don’t fast on the minor fast days because of the medication I take, I only fast on Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement) next week, but I always cut back on fast days and feel subdued.  It didn’t help that I slept in late and then fell asleep again after breakfast and missed Shacharit (Morning Prayers) entirely, although I did walk to shul (synagogue) for Ma’ariv (Evening Prayers).  I applied for another job, at a charity where I applied for a similar job in the past (I think I interviewed OK for that job, which may be good).  I did half an hour of Torah study (not nearly as much as I would have liked).  I didn’t work on my novel, bar reading an article online for research.  I think the novel is going to be on hold for the next few weeks, until all the Yom Tovim (festivals) are over.

I’ve also allowed myself to be persuaded by various people (my parents, E., and other people via my parents) to apply for a teaching assistant job at a local Jewish school, on the grounds that this will give me the opportunity to see if I would want to be a teacher.  I’m rather nervous of not having the right experience.  Lots of people say I’m good with children, but I don’t always feel confident with them.  On the other hand, there is apparently a real lack of male staff in primary schools, especially Orthodox Jewish ones (where teaching older students is more prestigious), which may work to my advantage.  I didn’t have time to apply today, but I hope to apply tomorrow.

I also have an appointment with a psychiatrist tomorrow, another new one perhaps because of the high turnover of NHS staff.  I find these somewhat tedious, as I don’t think it’s a good idea to cut back my medication, but the psychiatrists never really suggest anything new, they just exhort me to get a job, socialise, sort out my sleep pattern and so on.  But I don’t really want to be discharged while my mood is so variable, given how difficult it is to get seen by a psychiatrist again once you have been discharged, so I try to keep being seen every few months just in case I really need to be seen at some point.  This is arguably playing the system, but the system is arguably set up so that you have to play it to survive.