Stress, and Political Narratives

I haven’t posted for a couple of days as not much happened. I’m trying to reduce my blogging. I started this blog as a mental health blog, and it became an autism blog. I feel that, as my mental health has improved (although it’s not perfect) and I’m getting more used to my autism diagnosis and what autistic life means for me, there is less to say, albeit with the caveat that whenever I’ve spoken about blogging less in the past, something has happened to push me back towards it.

Certainly today was a bit of a mental health-straining day. I woke up just before 7.00am. I lay in bed wondering whether I should get up, as I’m trying to force myself to get up if I wake up early (not with much success so far). Then I started thinking about E’s trip to the UK and got into a complete panic about whether we had booked the right COVID tests for her. It took me half an hour of searching online to confirm that we had booked the right tests. By that stage, I thought I should stay up. I had breakfast, but went back to bed afterwards, probably because I was still overwhelmed with anxiety that I had not discharged. Inevitably, I fell asleep again and woke up late. Then when I was davening (praying), I had intrusive OCD-type thoughts, albeit not with OCD levels of anxiety, but still some anxiety. I hope I’ll feel better once E is actually here safely.

At lunch time one of the circuit breakers went and kept switching off whenever we reset it, but we couldn’t see why. Then, a few hours later, we found a leak in the garage, which has probably got into the electrics somewhere. As a result, we’re going to have a plumber and an electrician here later in the week, which is not ideal consider E is staying with us, but there isn’t much we can do about it.

Other than that, things were pretty good. I gave my bedroom a thorough dust before E comes to stay, I did some Torah study and went for a run. I got an exercise headache again, but I did have the best pace I’d measured since May.

***

I’ve nearly finished The Righteous Mind. Jonathan Haidt argues that, “The human mind is a story processor, not a logic processor. Everyone loves a good story; every culture bathes its children in stories.” He quotes the psychologist Dan McAdams that people create “life narratives” to understand their lives. The narratives may not be objectively true, or at least not entirely, but that isn’t really the point. The point is to shape an understanding of the self and the world. Haidt brings this to explain why people who are predisposed to one sort of political worldview by genes or upbringing (yes, our political views are partly genetic, he argues) can end up with a very different worldview in the end, influenced by the narrative they create to explain their world.

This made a lot of sense to me, and helped me to understand the way my political views have evolved over time, particularly the way I started somewhat left-of-centre (probably in part because of my family and friends), but increasingly felt that “people like me” were not welcome on the left and drifted rightwards, even though I don’t strongly identify with all conservative ideas and especially conservative attitudes and parties, including on Haidt’s multi-polar six ‘flavour’ model of morality.

On a non-political level, it underlined to me that my improved mood in the last eight months or so is at least partly from having my autism diagnosis, which enabled me to create a new narrative about myself, one where I no longer perceive myself as a person repeatedly failing at simple tasks for no obvious reason, but as an autistic person doing my best with tasks that are not always suited for me. I think that more than anything has stopped me drifting back into depression (well, that and E).

That said, I think Haidt perhaps focuses a little too much on politics as ideology or values rather than pragmatic factors. I feel strongly about caring for other people (which Haidt sees as something liberals feel more than conservatives, although he says conservatives do feel it), it’s just that my experience of the NHS and the benefits system led me to believe that the state is often inefficient and even counter-productive when it tries to help people.

***

Ashley was asking how people chose their blog names and I thought some people here might like to see what I responded (slightly amended from what I posted there):

“Vision of the Night” is a quote from Job. I wanted to write a Jewish mental health blog (having blogged about mental health in a not very Jewish way previously) and was looking for something biblical and somewhat depressed-sounding, but not taken by other people. This was what I ended up with.

I find thinking of titles generally hard and titles for blogs more so (I mean the title of the blog, not the particular post). My most obscure blog title was one of my Doctor Who blogs, which was called “From Lime Grove to Beyond the Sun” which is a very obscure Doctor Who reference, Lime Grove Studios being where the earliest episodes of Doctor Who were filmed, and Beyond the Sun being an abandoned title for the story fans refer to as The Daleks. I think it sounds quite good as a title.

In case that wasn’t crazy enough, it had a subtitle for a while, “The blog for fans of Cliff, Lola, Biddy and the older man with a character twist” (the idea was I would change the subtitle periodically to something funny). Doctor Who doesn’t feature anyone called Cliff, Lola or Biddy. They were suggestions for characters in the early proposals and story guides from before the series was filmed; by the time of transmission, they had become Ian, Barbara, Susan as well as the Doctor (older man with character twist). I think I was trying to reach out to the cognoscenti, but it didn’t really work. I see it as very much part of my mindset of trying to write stuff that could have been in Doctor Who Magazine in the late nineties rather than what was actually going on in fandom at the time when the series had been revived and had suddenly become popular with people who were only vaguely aware that it had a history before 2005, let alone shown the obsessive background knowledge developed by fans who were around for the wilderness years when it wasn’t on TV.

Muddling Through

I overslept dramatically again, as I basically do every day when I don’t go out to work. Sigh. Anyway, I managed to put in two hours of very dull work from home work (data entry and sorting my predecessor’s emails – I think he never deleted an email, even spam, and had something like 2,500 emails from a five or so year period when I started). It was boring, but hopefully will take some pressure off tomorrow.

I’m still pretty stressed. As well as the two hours of work, I did a couple of small chores and I went to a virtual shiur (religious class), but I still need to do an hour and a half or two hours work tomorrow and I have a load of paperwork about benefits and bank accounts that have suddenly been thrown at me at this busy time of year. It’s like everyone decided, “Hey, Luftmentsch is stressed! Let’s throw him some pointless busywork too!” Then I had to change some plans at the last minute and I’m not sure how I avoided a meltdown. I went for a walk and tried to be mindful which helped a bit and then I had a Skype call with E and felt a lot better after that.

Even so, I feel pretty overstretched, which is not the best way to go into the busiest month of the year, especially when I want to get to shul (synagogue) so much, but am aware that shul attendance is the first thing to become impossible (because of burnout and social anxiety) when I’m stressed. I guess remembering what I discussed with the rabbi last week about being strategic in my shul attendance is important here, and my general attempts not to beat myself up about everything. To remember that God loves me and knows my struggles.

On the plus side, I feel this year that for the first time, as well as goals for the coming year, I can set long-term goals for the next five years, which is exciting and scary. The long-term goals are more life stages to try to move to, while the short-term goals are more to improve aspects of my character.

***

The virtual shiur was interesting. It was about teshuvah (repentance/returning to God/returning to ourselves) being as much an inner psychological process for mental health as an external one. Rabbi Dweck was wary of the approach to teshuvah that says, “Take on another mitzvah (commandment)” instead of looking inside at our inner drives. This is a realisation I’ve come to myself over the years, at least for my (not always mentally healthy) self, but it was good to have external validation. I felt the shiur could have been a bit deeper, maybe with more practical suggestions. Rabbi Dweck did suggest journaling and just being aware of oneself during day to day life, which is part of why I write here, to process and understand myself.

The shiur reinforced the feeling I’ve had for a while that the novel I want to write about a frum pornography addict isn’t actually primarily a story about sex or addiction, but one about teshuvah, although I can see that many people will not be able to look past the surface to that. There is a quote I came across from Rav Kook recently about teshuvah being a subject for poets and artists, which is similar to what I want my novel to be.

***

I did a COVID test for the first time. My shul (synagogue) wants everyone to do one before Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, the upcoming Jewish festivals. The first time I tried, I spilt some of the liquid, so I had to redo it. Then I’m not sure I got my tonsils properly with the swab. I just stuck the swab in until I wanted to gag, then repeated on the other side. I don’t like the way COVID is triggering OCD-type thoughts in me, less contamination thoughts than scrupulosity: “Am I doing it right?”-type thoughts. I still have guilt about hugging my ex-girlfriend (just hugging!) although it won’t stop me hugging E when she comes to visit. One site I found said that if you’re infected, swapping the uvula and perhaps even the cheeks will show up enough virus for a positive result, so hopefully I’m OK. I feel like this could turn into the COVID equivalent of kashering my sink for Pesach if I’m not careful, something I repeat and obsess about endlessly.

Damage Limitation

I feel burnt out again, unsurprisingly after yesterday. I feel like I’m in damage limitation mode at the moment and will be at least until J is back at work, if not until after all the Yom Tovim (Jewish festivals) are over. I’m going to try to relax tonight and tomorrow. I had chores to do before Shabbat (the Sabbath), but I tried not to do other things, although I did some Torah study. I would like to go to shul (synagogue) tonight, but as my cousin is staying with us for Shabbat, I’m not sure if I’ll go for Talmud shiur (religious class) and Minchah (Afternoon Prayers) tomorrow so I can spend more time with her instead.

In other news, my rabbi (my shul rabbi, not my rabbi mentor) said we could speak and that I should message him next week to arrange time. This is to tell him about my autism/Asperger’s and speak about my place in the community, although he doesn’t know that yet. I feel pretty anxious about it. It doesn’t help that I don’t know exactly what I want from the meeting, I just feel the need to open up to someone in the community so that I feel less alone and misunderstood.

***

In other other news, E and I have been watching the earliest Doctor Who episodes, from 1963 and 1964, and E is becoming a total fangirl. She is mostly enjoying it, but complaining about continuity errors in later stories. Having a girlfriend who was into Doctor Who was not one of my ‘essential needs’ in relationships, but it’s very good that it’s turned out that way. Otherwise, E and I have both been catastrophising about our relationship — not the relationship part, but the external things keeping us apart, like COVID and immigration law. But we both think we will be together in the end, somehow, if we can just hang on.

***

I wrote yesterday about having wanted to make friends online in the past, and it occurred to me afterwards that I do now have what I wanted on my blog, inasmuch as there are half a dozen or a dozen people who read most of my posts and leave friendly and helpful comments, which is what I really wanted from online interactions. So, thank you.

Adventures in Time and Space

I didn’t write yesterday. I was going to, but I realised I didn’t have much to say. I have less to say now my mental health situation is better and I’ve got my autism/Asperger’s diagnosis, plus I want to try to carve out some more time for recreational reading (which is also “learning how to be a writer of popular fiction” reading).

I’ve done some redrafting of my novel over the last two days (I was working this week on Wednesday rather than Thursday), completing three chapters, about fifty pages. If I keep up that pace, I’ll be finished by Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year, in September), although I don’t really want to make that a formal target in case I can’t keep up with it.

Other than that, things have been the normal mix of stuff. I feel a bit overwhelmed some of the time, mostly when I stop to think, but I’m doing some things, even if not always everything I want to do. I do still feel that I only have half a life though — working two or two and a half days a week (if you count voluntary work), but somehow still struggling to fit in the other things that I want to do that other people working full-time seem to manage. It’s also hard to have a long-distance relationship when we have literally no idea when we can even be in the same country. On the other hand, it is scary to think that E and I could be married in a couple of years — not scary in itself (OK a bit scary as it is a big decision and at least one of us will have to emigrate), but scary to wonder how we could cope with about one average income between the two of us. It does give me another reason to want to get my novel finished and to start to try to get it published, to see if I really can make writing a career, or at least a serious career-supplement, or not.

Watching Babylon 5 the other night, there was a line about, “There is no normal life, Michael. There’s just life,” and I guess that’s true. There isn’t a standard or normal form of life that everyone has that I’m diverging from, and I guess blogging shows me that lots of people are struggling with their lives and feeling that they aren’t coping well, even if they aren’t necessarily struggling with the same things as I am. It’s a little strange how some social media prompts people to “filter” (literally and metaphorically) and present a “perfect” view of their lives while blogging often seems to encourage people to tell the truth “warts and all.” I guess people who want to write usually have something to write about, often something negative that they want to get off their chest or find help and support for, whereas Facebook and Instagram allow to post photos of a fantasy “perfect” live.

***

In other E news, we’ve been continuing watching Doctor Who together (at the same time rather than in the same room), following the 2005 season with a couple of original series stories (first City of Death and now we’re halfway through Genesis of the Daleks), mostly because I was curious about how E would react to the original series, and I couldn’t really face watching the whole of the new series uninterrupted. E is getting really into it, which amuses me a lot. City of Death seemed to me a story with a similar atmosphere to the 2005 episodes, but, while E liked it, so far she prefers Genesis of the Daleks, which I was worried would seem overly-serious and cheap compared with more recent episodes.

In the past, I’ve been wary of sharing Doctor Who with non-fans, and tend to turn the conversation away from it if it comes up, being too jaded by years of mockery at school, when Doctor Who was off the air and distinctly unpopular, but I’m curious to see how E responds to more stories, both original and new. The current plan is to finish Genesis of the Daleks, watch The Mind Robber (another favourite of mine, but distinctly different to anything we’ve seen so far, both in content and production values) and then rejoin the new series with David Tennant’s first episodes.

***

I did get up earlier today, I’m not sure how, but I’d like to do it again, to get to shul (synagogue) tomorrow and to get a bit more time out of my non-work days in the future. I certainly got more done today than I expected.

***

I feel sufficiently jaded by politics not to react to this story (and picture) with anything more than curiosity as to why the Health Secretary has apparently adopted Tintin as his hairstyling guru. Next he’ll be turning up to the House of Commons in plus-fours and a small white dog.

I Blog Therefore I am

I haven’t blogged for a few days. There’s nothing wrong. Quite the reverse, really. Nothing really happened. When I was very depressed and had a lot of emotional stuff to offload, it was easy to blog every day — hard not to blog, in fact, as I wanted to process and off-load a lot of thoughts and feelings. But at the moment not a lot is happening, and I didn’t feel like writing very trivial stuff. I’m wondering if I should blog less, or maybe blog differently. I toyed again with the idea of writing more analytical posts about Judaism or antisemitism, but I think I’d rather use extra writing time on my novel (sorry). But we’ll see; previous attempts to blog less haven’t really worked. And whenever I say my life is dull and good, something goes wrong, so we’ll see what happens.

As for what happened, Thursday was dull. There were some negative things, but nothing really bad or worth going into. The highlight was Skyping E from the garden (I wasn’t sure the wifi would work out there). On Friday I did some chores, worked on my novel and went to shul (synagogue). I missed shul on Saturday morning, probably because I was up late reading Tanakh (Daniel, which is really hard to understand!), having earlier spent quite a while studying Talmud to prepare for the class on Shabbat (the Sabbath) — there seems to be a trade-off between studying Torah on Fridays and getting up in time for shul.

On Shabbat, I did the usual Shabbat things: spent time with my parents, went for a walk, slept too much, went to Talmud shiur (class) and found I’d prepared much more material than we got through, as we spent ages on a long Tosafot (Medieval commentary on the Talmud written over about 200 years by a group of rabbis in what’s now Northern France and Germany, plus one or two in England) — I don’t prepare Tosafot as I don’t have a translation and my Hebrew isn’t good enough. Plus, I mostly don’t understand Tosafot anyway. I played Scrabble in the evening and came second despite getting (I thought) some good words, “nodules” probably being the best of them. Unfortunately, a good word is not necessarily a high-scoring word, which depends on which letters you use. By largely staying off-line after Shabbat, I went to bed early for a summer Saturday evening i.e. 1am (bear in mind that Shabbat didn’t finish until after 10.30pm!), but couldn’t sleep, whether because I slept too much during the day or because I took my meds late.

As for today, I got up quite late after falling asleep so late (after 3am) . I spent a bit over an hour working on my novel, writing five or six hundred words, which is probably the most I’ve written in one session for some time, although I’m a bit uncertain of where this current passage is headed and whether it justifies it’s existence as a late addition to the end of the novel. Is it deepening the resolution or just padding out the end? It is hard to tell at this stage. It’s said that writers divide into two groups, planners (who plan out their stories in detail) and pants-ers who don’t and instead write by the seat of their pants (I assume that’s the etymology). I haven’t fitted easily into either category on this novel, planning the general flow, but improvising a lot of the details, but this bit is very much pants-ing, if that’s a word, which it isn’t.

Other than that, I Skyped E and did some Torah study and thought a bit about my devar Torah for the week. I didn’t do any exercise (run or walk) as it was too hot and I didn’t want to get an exercise migraine, as I was going to a Zoom talk/shiur in the evening. This was Rabbi Dr Sam Lebens talking about his new book on Jewish philosophy from an analytical philosophical perspective of examining the fundamental principles and axioms of Judaism i.e. given Judaism exists, what things are necessary to make these practices meaningful (not proving that God exists or that Judaism is true). It was very interesting. I’m in two minds about buying the book though. It sounds fascinating, but I’m not sure if I will understand it (I have a mixed record with philosophy), and it costs £75. We (people on the Zoom call) were given a 33% discount code, but that’s still £50, which is a lot of money to spend on a book I might not understand.

A couple of things I picked up from the talk that tempt me to buy the book: (1) this is very much a book about believing in a personal God and not an abstract “God of the philosophers”/Deism — I think sometimes my understanding of God becomes too abstract; (2) he mentioned in passing an idea from Chief Rabbi Jakobovits z”tl that God tells a different story through each individual’s life and through each community/group of people and that multiple communities can be “chosen” — something I’ve thought, and seen suggested in Rabbi Sacks z”tl and Rav Kook z”tl, but would like to see spelt out in more detail (Rabbi Sacks got in very hot water over a milder version of this in The Dignity of Difference); (3) the idea that the universe exists in mind of God, which I had heard, but not really advanced in a very serious philosophical way — I guess it appeals to me as a solipsism/Philip K. Dick fan, and also because it suggests that negative parts of my life might not be ‘real,’ which is probably a strange thing to think, but strangely reassuring, and I guess it ties in with Rabbi Lebens’ view (which he admitted was “wacky”) that not only can God redeem the future, He can redeem the past by changing history and will do so at some point.

Books and Thoughts

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

Reaching Out

Aside from over-thinking some things I’m worried about, today was a normal Sunday (and arguably even the over-thinking was normal for me). I spoke to my sister on the phone. I went for a run in the cold and rain; even aside from the weather, it was not a great run. Pesach has left me even more out of shape than before. I did about fifty-five minutes of Torah study, but it felt a lot longer; the combined sedrot (Torah readings) of Tazria and Metzora (Vayikra (Leviticus) 12-16) are probably the hardest to get anything out of from a contemporary perspective (admittedly a lot of Vayikra is in that category), and Tazria in particular is full of weird Hebrew terms that don’t appear elsewhere just to make understanding it even harder. I have to write a devar Torah about this soon…

My mood went down after my run. I’m not sure why. Eating dinner helped, but not hugely. I got stuck in a lot of negative thoughts and feelings. I did some activities my therapist suggested, to try to clarify for myself what I’m worried about and get my thoughts in order so that I can hopefully do something about these anxieties. That helped a bit, but not hugely.

***

It occurs to me that while I have come across a few Jewish/frum mental illness blogs over the years (albeit not many), I don’t think I’ve come across any Jewish high functioning autism blogs. I’m not quite sure what to make of this or what to do about it.

Searching online, it looks like there’s a Jewish Autism Trust, but that it’s run by and for parents of children or teenagers with autism, not high functioning adults with autism. I want to reach out somehow, but I’m not sure what exactly I would want. Maybe some kind of discussion forum for high functioning Jewish adults on the spectrum? I suspect there may be Facebook groups, which I think are what people use these days instead of forums and chatrooms. Or do I want to speak to neurotypicals in the community about the needs of people on the spectrum? Or both?

I just searched and found a couple of (non-Jewish) autism discussion forums. I’m wondering if these will be useful to me, helping me to reach out to other people in the same situation, or if they will be a huge drain on my time and resources if I get involved with them (or both).

Feeling Withdrawn

I didn’t write yesterday. I didn’t have much to say and just felt too tired in the evening after work, housework and doing some Pesach (Passover) stuff. I guess I’m also still processing things in the light of my autism diagnosis. I still don’t know what it means for me in terms of career, telling friends, telling my community and so on. Maybe I won’t know for some time, until after Pesach when I have more time to think.

I don’t have much to say today either. I don’t feel that I have much to say at the moment except for relatively mild Pesach anxiety, but the blog is my main social outlet, so I feel the need to post most days even if I don’t have much to say.

I had an OCD moment today when I worried that I had missed part of the freezer when I cleaning it for Pesach on Sunday and was about to clean it again before deciding that it was OCD and I shouldn’t give in to it. It’s good that I stopped myself.

I’m going to go to shul (synagogue) later today. Aside from Purim, this is the first time I’ve been in months, not considering the risk of COVID worth running for an normal Shabbat (Sabbath). I just feel drained right now and I don’t know why. I guess I’ve had a busy and emotional week, although it’s going to get worse before it gets better.

***

J gave me a lift home from work yesterday and had the radio on in the car. He listens to talk radio and they were talking about violence against women in the light of the Sarah Everard murder case (an ongoing murder investigation that has pushed COVID and the royal family off the front pages for the last few days).

In the light of this conversation, I’ve been trying to work out if it’s good or bad that my novel deals with domestic violence in the Jewish community (I know I’ve wondered about this here before; it does still worry me). I worry about being accused of appropriation. I don’t find appropriation a particularly helpful concept, but that isn’t really the point: I can be judged whether I agree with it or not. My thinking is that the number of Orthodox Jewish women willing and able to write about abuse is very small — able in terms of both skills and time, and willing in a community where saying anything provocative tends to be seen as risking jeopardising marriage chances (yours, your children’s, your grandchildren’s…), not least given the tiny size of the Orthodox community as a whole. My feeling from reading the anonymous website neshamas.com is that abuse and violence against women is a very real problem in the community, but also that almost no one is willing to talk about it publicly. I feel like I can’t be pushed much further out on the fringe than I already am and I feel that if I’m not willing to talk about it, maybe no one else will. But I worry about being patronising, or being whatever the feminist equivalent of a white saviour is.

Chief Rabbi Mirvis’ devar Torah email this week states, “Here, there is a call for us always to speak out; to try our utmost to neutralise the forces of persecution and never to be silent when we witness the suffering of others.” So I guess that means I’m doing the right thing.

No Screens

My vaccination this morning went OK. I got there on time and the long queue moved quite quickly, probably because a socially distanced queue looks a lot longer than it actually is. I was a bit overwhelmed on walking into the surgery, which was very busy, but my usual GP happened to be doing vaccinations today, saw me come in and said he would vaccinate me, which was helpful. I did shake a bit, which I know is a mixture or anxiety and olanzapine side effects, but which still upsets me a bit, although I’ve got a bit used to it after so many years. The jab itself was painless and only took a couple of seconds; in fact the whole process, from joining the queue to being outside the surgery again took only ten minutes. I’ve been critical of the NHS in the past, but they do seem to be managing this well.

Unfortunately, an hour later I was on the phone to the surgery again. I had tried to pick up my repeat prescription on the way home, but it had not arrived at the pharmacist. Having spoken to the pharmacist and the GP’s secretary, I’m not sure where the problem was, but I was going to run out of olanzapine tomorrow night and, because of Shabbat (the Sabbath), I needed the repeat prescription today. The GP’s secretary said she would pass the prescription request back to the doctors and I was able to collect the prescription from the pharmacist this afternoon before Shabbat started. I had been thinking about going to shul (synagogue) this evening, but held back for various reasons, which turned out reasonably well, as it would have been stressful getting the medication in time to go out again.

***

Reading this interesting article on online culture and the erosion of the difference between public and private space prompted a few thoughts:

  1. It’s weird to see two secular thinkers repeating something that a very Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) rabbi said about twenty years ago about the internet: that its chief danger is that it brings the outside in. When I first heard that (from the person the Haredi rabbi said it to in the early days of the internet), I thought it was ridiculously reactionary, but reading the article, I wonder if he had a point after all.
  2. The article made me thankful for Shabbat and reminded me of David’s recent post on the subject. As I commented over there, I regard the outlawing of electricity use on Shabbat as nothing short of providential. Even though electricity use does not intuitively violate any of the forbidden labours, as far as I’m aware, no major posek (decisor of Jewish law) permitted its use on Shabbat, albeit for different reasons, sometimes simply because it was not held to be fitting for the atmosphere of the day, or because it had become customary to avoid it. Although it may seem impossible to those who have never tried it, Shabbat without internet, TV, computers and phones creates an island of peace and reflection in the midst of the week, a time for building relationships with family and friends (pre-COVID, anyway), reading, thinking and generally living at a slow and gentle pace, not constantly stimulated and provoked in different ways. Inasmuch as I have any profound ideas about anything, I’m pretty sure that most of them come on Shabbat.
  3. In terms of online echo chambers, I’m glad that blogging about autism and mental health has brought me into contact with a group of people who cut across borders of politics, nationality, religion and gender. It can be discomfiting to meet people who think differently, but the alternative is a world made of hostile cliques. I recently deleted my barely-used Twitter account because I worried I was only interacting with people I thought I would agree with. Twitter as a whole seems to be designed for performative anger and self-righteous virtue signalling rather than open-minded discussion.

And now it’s nearly Shabbat so I’m going to shut down for twenty-five hours!

Burnout and Worry

I didn’t sleep well again. My weighted blanket became bunched up in one side of the duvet cover I put it in to keep it clean and I kept waking up feeling I wasn’t covered up as I wanted, but I was too tired and burnt out to get up and even out the duvet. I had crazy dreams (something about going to see Hermann Goering about something, possibly stopping the Nazis coming to power, or making sure they did come to power to preserve history… I think this was based on the science fiction novel The Simulacra that I read recently). I think I woke up intermittently across the morning, partly woken by building noise from next-door (or was that yesterday? The mornings blur together), but I didn’t feel able to stay awake and get up until very late and I was very burnt out again.

Burnout feels like more than ordinary “tired,” more like jetlag, or the type of tired you get if you’ve been up for thirty-six hours straight, just totally drained of energy and really impossible to do anything or think straight. It gets a bit better after breakfast, but generally not a lot better until after lunch, which implies to me there might be a blood sugar element (low blood sugar has always affected my mood negatively, since childhood). I’m not sure what the solution is, if there is one. For the moment I’m waiting anxiously for 9 March and the final part of my autism assessment before I make firm plans about my mental health.

I got a text this morning offering me a COVID vaccination at my GP, but I was asleep when it came through and by the time I phoned through to make the appointment, they were all taken. I’m actually glad, as the appointment would have been on a Saturday. Some rabbis are permitting getting vaccinated on Shabbat, but as I’m not a priority (I think I’m only being offered it at this stage because my Mum is still listed as vulnerable), I don’t mind waiting until the next appointment, which I’ve been told is Friday 5 March. I just hope I am awake when I get the next message and can respond in time.

I had a fairly busy day: I wrote my devar Torah for the week (although I have a bit to add that I thought of later) and was glad to link the sedra (weekly Torah reading) to Purim. I did a little Torah study too and went for a run. When I got home, I ate some crackers with salty butter out of curiosity to see if the salt would stop me getting a headache, wondering if lack of salt rather than dehydration is what causes my exercise migraines (dehydration seems unlikely, as I drink a lot). I didn’t get a headache immediately, but one seems to have set in now, over four hours later, although that may be because my parents turn the heating up so high.

***

There’s a joke about a great sage who wanted to know the meaning of life. He spent years studying texts: Tanakh, Talmud, Midrash, Kabbalah… Eventually he looked up from his books and said, “Life is good!” Then he paused for a moment, thought a bit longer and said, “But if life is so good… how come it’s so bad?”

I feel a bit like this. My life is objectively better than it’s been for at least two or three years. And yet, somehow I feel stressed a lot of the time. There is uncertainty. I don’t know if my job will continue long-term or if my novel will be published. I obviously don’t know what will happen with me and PIMOJ. I guess uncertainty about one’s career and relationship is going to lead to unsettled feelings, even if things are OK at the moment.

At the moment, PIMOJ and I still can’t see each other for another nearly two weeks because of the lockdown, which is proving very difficult and I certainly feel it’s putting a bit of strain on the relationship. I think my relationship with PIMOJ is different to my previous two relationships, in that PIMOJ and I are very different in personality and we have to consciously work harder on the relationship and to communicate effectively. I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing, but it means I have to engage in the relationship a lot more deliberately than I had to with previous relationships (not that I’ve been in many previous relationships), and that’s not easy when we can’t see each other.

Beyond this, I guess there are things I think about and worry about that I need to process, but which I don’t want to write here because they relate to other people who might not want me to write about them even anonymously. I need to find another way of processing them. I can talk in therapy, but that’s one hour a fortnight. I could try to switch back to once a week, but I’m not sure I will always have enough to say once a week; the amount of worry comes and goes. I speak to my rabbi mentor sometimes. I could try writing privately, as I occasionally do. I do feel that it’s better if I can write with an audience though. Aside from getting helpful comments, knowing I have an audience stops me drifting into catastrophising or self-pity. Just knowing that something will be read makes me careful to avoid that in a way that I fear is not the case in private writing.

Still, just as my intermittent low mood is not capital-D Depression, so my worries are not capital-A Anxiety, which is good.

OK, bed now, as my head hurts.

The Understudy

I didn’t have a very good night’s sleep. I used my new weighted blanket and it was good, but I wonder if it was warm enough as I kept waking up in the night. If I continue to have interrupted sleep, I may put a summer weight duvet over it and see how that is. I slept badly anyway through going to bed late and having slept too much in the afternoon, so it took me a long time to fall asleep. I had weird dreams, although none interesting enough to be worth sharing, and woke up late and burnt out so that I lay in bed a long time trying to get the strength to get up. I felt a bit better after breakfast, but I don’t usually feel 100% until after lunch, even on work days when I do manage to get up early.

I feel like I’m just trying to keep my head above the water at the moment. Some of it is the time of year, as I’ve mentioned, when the days are still short and cold and wet, but the anxiety about the spring Jewish festivals is growing. In addition, my sleep is still disrupted, I’m still worried about doing the wrong thing at work, I feel negative about my novel (vaguely wondering if I should give up on it and start a new one, although I don’t realistically feel that would be a good idea at this stage) and I miss PIMOJ in the lockdown. And, like pretty much everyone in the world, I’m sick of COVID and lockdowns in general, I just want life to be normal again (for all that I struggle with “normal”). PIMOJ is stressed about things in her life too, which only magnifies the problem.

I know other frum (religious) Jews don’t get so anxious about Jewish observance. They perform the mitzvot (commandments) to the best of their ability and that’s that. I don’t know how they get to that point. Some of it is probably being brought up frum from a young age (which I wasn’t) and some is feeling a strong level of community integration and support (which I don’t have).

I was feeling today that I’m an understudy in my own life, thrust onto the stage unprepared. Or, I’m a new actor playing the Doctor in Doctor Who, trying to play it my way, while keeping faith with my predecessors (i.e. other Jews, especially my ancestors).

I went for a run and while running I started thinking about the two questions Babylon 5 is built around, “Who are you?” and “What do you want?” I want to be a good Jew and a good writer. I’m not sure if that answers the “Who?” or “What?” question and I’m not sure how to achieve either of them. I feel like I should have better answers and more of a plan for achieving them now I’m in my late thirties.

After my run, though, I started thinking about gratitude, how grateful I am for supportive parents and a supportive sister, for a brother-in-law I get on with even though we’re quite different, for friends online and in person, for the fact that I’m in work with a tolerant boss, for the fact that I’m reasonably psychologically stable at the moment, and for the fact that I have a supportive girlfriend. I know not everyone has these things, and I’m grateful for them.

Last Wednesday, my therapist encouraged me to focus on “I can cope” as an affirmation. I’ve not found affirmations hugely useful in my recovery from mental illness, but this seemed fairly pithy and realistic. I know I can cope. I’ve coped with my mental health for years and I’ve had several reasonably good Purims and Pesachs, at least from a mental health point of view, since the ones that were my nadir (around 2015 and 2016). So I can cope – I just have to learn to believe it.

***

Other than that, it wasn’t much of a day. I did some Torah study (less than I wanted) and, as I said, I went for a run, but that was about it. I didn’t get to work on my novel. There are some changes I want to make to the current draft before I send it out for feedback and I don’t know when I will have time to make them. I guess I feel I wasted time, although given how I felt on waking, I probably shouldn’t blame myself too much, not that that has ever stopped me.

***

I feel I’ve put myself “out here” a bit more in my blog over the last few months, occasionally posting more potentially controversial political and religious things. I guess that means I have a certain degree of trust in the people who read and comment. I don’t want to post a huge amount of this type of stuff, I still see this as primarily a daily journal-type blog about surviving with autism and residual mental illness on a day-to-day level, but it’s interesting because it suggests I can put these feelings out here in some circumstances, bearing in mind that I tend to hide my thoughts about politics and religion in Real Life. I do still get the, “Oh, I shouldn’t have said that, what will people think of me?/what will they say?” feeling though, the desire to go back and edit or delete what I’ve written.

Fragment

Work today was unexceptional, except that J and I were halfway to his car after work when I realised I had left my rucksack behind in the office and we had to unlock and go back for it. I felt rather sheepish. I’m not sure how I did that.

***

Someone re-blogged my recent politics post. They gave me attribution, so it’s not plagiarism, and it was in the public domain but I feel vaguely uncomfortable about that particular post being reposted, particularly as it’s a blog that contains no new material, but just reblogs dozens of posts from autism blogs. I think it was probably well-intentioned, but I don’t know for sure.

***

I wrote a couple of paragraphs about Tunnel of Fear, the previously-missing episode of The Avengers that I watched tonight, until I decided it really belonged on my Doctor Who blog, even though it’s not Doctor Who, and early Avengers doesn’t feel like a spiritually similar programme in the way that the Diana Rigg seasons do. I hadn’t posted on that blog for ages. I thought I had given up on writing reviews of things. I suppose technically I still have, as I just wrote about it rather than actively reviewing it. I do feel these days I’d rather write my own stories than analyse or review other people’s.

Fear of Rejection (Mini-Post)

Last night (well, this morning, really), I dreamt about the friends who cut me off when I mentioned them on my blog in a way that they thought was critical, although that was not my intention. When I woke up, I wondered if my unconscious was telling me that my comments about PIMOJ yesterday could be seen as critical. She is unaware of the blog at the moment, but who knows what could happen in the future. I looked over the post today and was unsure, although the comments I received were positive about my conversation with her (i.e. positive about her as well as the interaction). So now I am confused. I feel I may make yesterday’s post private in a day or two to be on the safe side. My rabbi mentor once encouraged me not to mention anyone else on my blog, but I’m not sure how that’s really possible given that a major part of my struggles involves dealing with a social communication disorder, which means I struggle with interactions and need to write them down to process them, and it can help to have feedback from other people here.

I woke to find that PIMOJ had sent me several long messages continuing our conversation from yesterday. I did worry that this meant that she would reject me, but she also sent me messages saying that she is still here for me… It feels strange… I tend to assume if people disagree with me, that’s it, they will leave me, even though my (adult, as opposed to childhood) experience of that does not always fit entirely with that worldview.

I haven’t done much today other than get ready for Shabbat (the Sabbath). I feel so burnt out. I will try not to mind if I can’t do much Torah study over Shabbat, or if I can’t write my novel tomorrow evening after Shabbat. I feel I just need some recharging alone time with a novel (or classic Doctor Who after Shabbat) or whatever.

Blogging for Myself

When I started blogging, on some level at least I wanted to become internet famous. I’m not sure why exactly, as I’m fairly sure that fame would make me thoroughly miserable. Some of it was about wanting my voice to be heard, which on some level I still want, or I wouldn’t be trying to build a career as a writer. But I think a lot of it was to do with having mixed feelings about people I had been at university with. I started blogging less than a year after I came down from Oxford and I had a lot of confusing (to me) feelings of anger, frustration, loneliness, friendship and maybe love towards various people which I had failed to make known to anyone in person. I think I hoped in some way that I would become known through my writing (at the time I was too depressed to become known in any other way) and people would find out. I’m not really sure what I thought/hoped they would feel or do.

A small part of me still feels like this, but it’s mostly transferred itself to my novel-writing ambitions. I think I keep those feelings reasonably in perspective these days, although there probably is a part of me that at least sometimes wants people I know to intuit my life story and battles with depression and autism from my writing, which is a dangerous thing to hope. Still, this does mean that my blog writing is more for myself nowadays.

When I wanted to be internet famous, I never had many followers (or friends, as they were called on Livejournal). Paradoxically, in the last year or two, as I’ve decided I write primarily for myself, to record my activity, thoughts and feelings each day, I have gained more readers. I’m now approaching 500, which is a milestone I didn’t expect to reach. I know many of these followers are spammy and others don’t actually read anything, but quite a number ‘like’ and comment on posts. I now have what I wanted years ago, when I was in the pits of depression, which is a place where I can post how I feel honestly and people will be supportive. I don’t mean that to sound mercenary or manipulative. I’m not trying to provoke positive comments, I’m just aware that people usually leave them and grateful for that.

All of which is a long-winded way of saying that I know my posts have become more repetitive and less interesting as my mental health has stabilised somewhat, and that today’s post is probably tedious and certainly short (or it was, until I appended this introduction), so I’m sorry for that.

***

I spent the morning volunteering, packing food parcels, which was fine, but we ran out of vegetables, which was sad, as those people aren’t going to get as much as they should, although I think we made sure that everyone got something.

I tried to work on my devar Torah (Torah thought) after lunch. After thinking the last two weeks’ divrei Torah were too reliant on my own untested ideas, I think this one is based too much on other peoples’ thoughts. I can’t really win. In any case, I was very tired and struggled to think coherently and will need to finish it off tomorrow. If I get this tired after spending a morning volunteering, I worry how I will cope when I’m working two days a week as well. I successfully avoided Twitter during the afternoon, but ended up reading an old article from The Atlantic on the QAnon conspiracy theory, until I realised it was just making me fret about American society without being able to do anything, so I stopped reading. I do worry about a country that combines so many conspiracy theorists with so many guns – it’s not a good combination.

***

A couple of things about volunteering today: I was putting tea lights in little bags that would then be put in bigger bags to be distributed with food (the tea lights were to be used as Shabbat candles). It was a repetitive job and there were several of us doing it. A couple of the other volunteers started chatting while they were doing it. It was clear from their conversation that they I had never met before, and I marvelled at how easily the spoke to each other and made small talk. I feel like whenever I try to do that, people can notice that I’m reading from a mental “script” and that after two or three minutes, I run out of things to say or start repeating myself.

The person who runs the volunteering side of the organisation wanted me to do a particular task which I hadn’t done before. Then before I could do anything, she said I “looked lost” and gave me a different, easier, job to do instead. I think she probably made the right decision, but I am not sure what to think about the fact that my thoughts and emotions are very easy to read on my face, even though I was wearing a mask, whereas I can’t read other people’s emotions at all. I know it’s autism that stops me reading other people, but I feel that the fact that I’m so easy to read gives other people an unfair advantage!

I had some thoughts that could easily have slipped towards OCD, thoughts about taking responsibility for things that are not my responsibility and about COVID contamination, but I recognised these thoughts for what they were and kept them under control, which was good. Nietzsche described mental illness as being “fierce dogs in the cellar.” Lately the dogs have been fairly quiet for me, but today they were barking again. Not too loudly, but enough to remind me that they’re still there.

***

This year is the first since I was a very young child where I haven’t worn a poppy for the British Legion. Some years I had lost it by the time armistice day came around, but I always wore one at some point. I did give them a donation online this year, but because of lockdown I haven’t been out much and haven’t seen anyone collecting in the street or collection tins in shops. Beyond the actual donation, I like to wear it to show empathy with those killed or wounded in action or bereaved by war. I guess it’s something else that 2020 has forced on us.

Struggling Through

I had hoped to get up at 9am to give me lots of time to get ready for my autism support group Zoom call at 11am, but I overslept by three-quarters of an hour and had to rush. The meeting got off to a bad start with someone challenging the group agreement. The agreement says something about we have to respect each others’ opinions and he got annoyed saying some things are empirical facts and need to be challenged, which was possibly an autistic way of looking at the exact details of the agreement rather than the general gist of the thing. I don’t know why he suddenly got annoyed about this today when he’s been in previous meetings without saying this; maybe he recently got in an argument with a conspiracy theorist or something. This incident put me on edge and made it hard for me to focus on the meeting and really listen to other people and I kept being distracted and found it hard to concentrate, doing other things, which I feel is unfair to the people speaking and usually avoid. I should probably have just left early, especially as it was only on Zoom.

Afterwards, I felt exhausted and somewhat depressed. It was hard to do anything as I felt so drained, but I know tomorrow will be worse (early start, volunteering and therapy, plus a family Zoom call in the evening) so I felt the need to try to do some things. I had poor executive function, making plans and not sticking to them, which is an autistic trait probably worsened by tiredness. I also had anxious/depressed thoughts about not experiencing autism the same way other people in the group do, leading to doubts about whether I’m on the spectrum.

I somehow fought through the tiredness to work for an hour on my novel, although I didn’t get a lot done beyond finishing off and tidying up the bit I was working on yesterday. I did manage to go for a walk. I had some negative feelings while walking. I was thinking that I don’t particularly want, or feel able, to live the type of life I’m “supposed” to live according to general consumerist society or according to frum (religious Jewish) society, but it’s hard to work out what type of life I actually could lead and find fulfilling.

***

I spent the better part of an hour working on my devar Torah (Torah thought) for this week. This was despite the fact that I am reusing an old piece I wrote many years ago (I think about ten years ago). I just wanted to polish it a bit as well as bring the referencing in line with my usual standard (I don’t do Harvard referencing on something that seems so ephemeral and non-academic, but I do like to indicate where my sources came from). Even so, it took forty-five minutes or more to be happy with it.

***

Regarding telling PIMOJ about my blog, some commenters suggested not to do so. I think they’re probably right, but I do need to find a way to open up to her with more of my emotions. I possibly find it easier to speak to her in person than in text/instant messenger, which is unusual compared with previous relationships (perhaps because English isn’t her first language?), but because of COVID it’s hard to meet in person. We’re hoping to Skype on Thursday.

***

This post is being posted somewhat half-finished, as I just realised it’s 10pm and I need to be up in eight and a half hours so should get to bed soon.

Writer’s Woes

It’s been a slightly difficult day, a day when it was hard to do things. In some ways, I feel very “blocked;” in others, I’m making progress, of varying degrees. It’s hard to assess how it’s been overall. The good news first.

I’m going to be volunteering tomorrow morning, packing food packages for the vulnerable. Hopefully this will be every Wednesday morning until at least the end of the year. I will have to get up about 6.30am, as if I was going to work! However, it will be finished by 11.00am, so I should be home by lunchtime and able to take things easy in the afternoon. It is through a major Jewish organisation, the one that ran the asylum seekers’ drop-in centre where I used to volunteer until that was stopped by COVID. I just hope I can do what I’m supposed to do; at the drop-in centre, I came to feel that I was not doing much good, if not actually being a liability. I’ve heard autistic people say they just get in the way when people want them to help and I fear that describes my attempts to help too. I don’t know if it’s something about not being able to “read” a large group of people and follow implicit or unspoken instructions well enough to do what needs doing and not get in the way, but I seem to get stuck and get in the way, more so than if I’m just left to sort something out by myself.

PIMOJ is really positive about my volunteering, which is good, as I worry she will lose interest in me if I can’t find work, although she has shown no sign of that so far.

I did manage to get through to the psychiatrist’s secretary today, but there is no sign of a letter from the psychiatrist to the GP. The secretary said she would speak to the psychiatrist. I’m worried that I may have misunderstood something about changing lithium brands.

Other achievements: I tried to go for a run, but after changing and warming up, my foot started hurting. The pain didn’t go after a minute or two of running, so I decided not to risk pulling something and went home. I cooked dinner, but had an, um, culinary malfunction (too much salt fell into the pasta and changing the water didn’t help), so it was rather salty, less than ideal (or healthy), although still edible. I spent half an hour editing something I wrote here a while back into a devar Torah (Torah thought). It’s a bit shorter than what I usually write, but will probably be OK. I’d like to add 100 words to it, but I’m not sure that I will be able to do so. I tried to do some Torah study after that, but was too tired and a bit depressed and also anxious about tomorrow (this was late at night; I’m not narrating in chronological order).

The main thing I did this afternoon was some redrafting on my novel. It was one of those days when it’s really hard to write, and I was dealing one of the most autobiographical passages, and one that brings up difficult memories for me. I did more cutting than anything else. I cut a load of stuff as irrelevant and/or verbose and over-written, including one of the surreal interludes I wrote that I now think simply didn’t work, much as I like the idea of having them in theory. I think I only spent about forty-five minutes on working it, excluding procrastination time.

I feel a lot more negative about the last couple of chapters I’ve redrafted than I did about the first couple. I guess some days go like that, particularly as I had other things to do. It just makes me think that I’ve got a lot to learn and do if I want to be a writer, or even to get this book into a sellable shape. Sometimes it’s so hard to find the words to express what I think and feel. Do other writers feel like this sometimes, struggling to write anything at all? I guess I associate the “churn it out regardless” type of writing with people who write reams of genre fiction of little depth as opposed to more emotionally-real, thoughtful or experimental writing, but maybe that’s me being a literary snob. Part of me feels I should just give up, except that I feel that I have something to say and don’t know how not to say it any more. Plus, I’m beginning to doubt whether a career other than writing is really open to me any more.

A different problem about self-expression is the fact that I increasingly feel I need to write something here about politics – not policies and people, but how lonely and scared I feel at the moment. Scared that I’ll be rejected for what I think. Scared because there are people I respect who I fear don’t respect people like me. Writing something about it, however short or inadequate, has become a challenge I feel I need to meet regardless of the outcome, in the name of fighting social anxiety and self-censorship, but I’m lacking bravery or, today, time.

The other reason to write about politics is that I feel I’m running out of things to say, while still needing my blog as an outlet. I feel that at the moment things are OK, but there isn’t a lot that’s changing that I can comment on. I write this for myself, but I don’t really want to either bore or alienate my readers. I guess I don’t really know why anyone reads this, but I feel dependent on my blog commenters as part of my support network, alongside more traditional support like therapy, my parents and depression and autism support groups.

Who Killed Laura Palmer?

I wrote the first chunk of this yesterday, but the internet died when I was trying to send it and didn’t come back until after I’d gone to bed. As today is a “short” day i.e. Shabbat (the Jewish Sabbath) starts in the afternoon and I would have to post early, before that, it seemed easiest to just add to this post rather than post in the morning, then post briefly again in the afternoon.

Thursday

Today was another day when I made a plan and completely failed to stick to it. This is another occasion where I think, “If I’m autistic, then this (poor executive function) is understandable and expected, but if I’m not autistic, then I’m just useless.” This is probably not a compassionate train of thought, but I’m not sure what to change it to, particularly not knowing if I’m autistic or not.

I wrote my devar Torah (Torah thought) for the week. I find I tread a fine line with these divrei Torah between wanting to put forward my own ideas and explanations and wanting to look at those of other commentators, to engage with the tradition, and also because I know some people in the Orthodox community would rather see traditional sources than new ideas from someone who isn’t a rabbi. This week it was mostly my own ideas on a topic I hadn’t seen much about before (Chanoch (Enoch) the son of Cain, of Cain and Abel fame). That always makes me vaguely nervous about how people will respond. Then, after sending out the devar Torah I happened to look at the devar Torah I wrote this time last year, and I was arguing something very different, really something contradictory, from the same point! In Judaism there’s a surprising openness to interpretation of the Torah’s text in non-halakhic (non-legal) matters, so having two contradictory views isn’t necessarily a problem, but it made me wonder if I was jumping to conclusions, especially given that I wasn’t 100% confident that what I had written made complete sense. It’s too late to change it now though.

I Skyped my oldest friend, who I hadn’t seen for years – we didn’t fall out or anything, just both got busy with our lives. It was really good to speak to him again.

I found it hard to get back down to working on my novel after Skyping my friend. It is hard to “change gears” with autism, and the shift from social mode to work mode seems to be particularly hard. I did manage an hour or so in the end (I know, I said yesterday not to count time spent on things). I feel like I’m having a bit of a crisis of confidence in my work, but as I don’t feel ready to share it with anyone yet, I have to contain those feelings by myself for the moment.

One problem with writing something semi-autobiographical is that it can be upsetting to revisit bad experiences from the past, which is what happened today. The other fear, which I can push away for now, but not forever, is that people might realise the book is semi-autobiographical and make incorrect assumptions about which bits are autobiographical and which bits aren’t. This is less of a problem for a general readership and more for people who know me and might feel unfairly (or fairly) insulted or guess things I don’t want them to know.

I went for a dusk run, which was fun in the summer (later in the day, obviously), but seemed a bit miserable and damp today. It was a reasonably good run though. My iPod told me afterwards that it was my longest workout, timewise, which isn’t quite as positive as it sounds, as I’ve been running the same route for a while now, so it means I was running a bit slower, although looking at my jogging record, I’m not convinced there was a significant change. More positively, it was my first run in about five weeks, having been focused on Yom Tov (Jewish festivals) and job interview preparations as well as put off by bad weather. I had a slight headache afterwards that did come and go across the evening even after I’d taken medicine, which was irritating, but fortunately it was not a full-blown exercise migraine.

**

I’ve felt on and off for many months now that I want to write something about my political opinions here, less in terms of parties and policies and more about feeling fearful of sharing my opinions with people (online and in real life) in an increasingly turbulent and judgemental society. Also, I guess, to write about the non-religious aspects of Jewish identity, the “Israel, peoplehood and antisemitism” aspects which are as much about politics and ethnicity as religion and which have come to affect my general political views and how I feel in non-Jewish society. To write about how those fears of rejection fit with my general social anxiety and also with my feelings of not fitting in completely in my religious community, as well as my thoughts that maybe I’m not actually that weird and I’m just catastrophising and assuming the worst about other people and what they might think of me when they probably don’t care. I’m also concerned about the fact that our political culture (politicians, media, social media, right and left) has become dependent on manufactured outrage, performative virtue and competitive victimhood, which I can’t really cope with, but seem strangely addicted to. But every time I try to write about all of this, I panic and delete what I’ve written without completing it or else save it as a draft to be returned to later, but I never do. I’m not quite sure where I’m going with this, as I don’t really intend to write about it now, but maybe if I put this out there I’ll return to it one day when I feel braver (or angrier).

Friday

Today has been a busy day, mostly doing Shabbat preparation. I am going to shul (synagogue) later, which I am a little anxious about, but I’m more focused on feeling drained and wanting to curl up and needing to push through this until the evening.

I don’t have a lot else to say about today, so I’m going to talk about television again. I’m rapidly losing myself in the world of Twin Peaks. I’ve seen the first three episodes; the first was double-length. It’s a strange programme, pitched as a murder mystery that unfolds like a soap opera, but with increasingly supernatural elements and horror overtones alongside moments of mild surrealism. It has awkward silences, interruptions, eccentrics and eccentricities, and moments of pure incongruity and surrealism. In a weird way, it feels like being autistic, in the sense that I feel that ordinary social interactions for me do feel confused and confusing, taking turns that I can’t predict, people seem to do things I don’t understand and that seem irrational to me and I’m just left to deal with it. I guess that’s why I like weird TV drama; sometimes “realistic” drama feels a lot less like how I experience life than Twin Peaks or The Prisoner.

Weird Stuff

I was in a deep sleep this morning and had some weird dreams. In one I had to control a very disruptive child, while also doing some important professional tasks and I struggled to do both at once. Perhaps the disruptive child is my negativity, which needs to be allowed to “play” a little, but also not to derail my job search, novel work or dating PIMOJ.

In the other dream, I was at school and had handed in some English homework, but I hadn’t done it properly. We were supposed to read and analyse a novel and I had read and analysed a short story because I felt too depressed (I think) to read a novel. I was waiting to see what my teacher would say, fearing he would tell me off.

I think this represents some thoughts I had last night about not being able to write “properly” because I read eclectically across genres, but paradoxically also focusing on reading specific authors that I read in depth and repeatedly (Jorge Luis Borges, Franz Kafka, Philip K. Dick, John le Carré) rather than reading widely in a specific genre, as authors are “supposed” to do. This may be autistic, certainly sticking with favoured authors and re-reading them instead of reading something new seems somewhat autistic, not that that really makes a difference.

My current novel is mainstream fiction and I haven’t read much contemporary mainstream fiction since I stopped going to a book club a decade ago. My next novel I hope will be some weird merger of fantasy and/or science fiction with historical fiction and Jewish topics, possibly aimed at a Young Adult audience, and I don’t feel I read any of those genres enough and certainly not contemporary authors in those genres (it takes a long time for new authors to reach me, and for me to build up courage to read them). I would be willing to read a lot for research, although I don’t quite know where to start, plus I feel that although I would be advised to research, really I want my writing to be a bit weird and sui generis, deliberately not fitting with other authors.

I realised a while back that while I say I like science fiction, it isn’t really that simple. A lot of science fiction doesn’t interest me that much. I do watch and like programmes like Star Trek and Star Wars, but really my favourite stuff is in this weird zone (The Twilight Zone, if you like), where science fiction, fantasy, (mild) horror, surrealism and magic realism can meet, not necessarily all at once, but some of them. Authors like Borges, Kafka and Dick, and also Flann O’Brien and the Yiddish humourist Mendele Mocher-Seforim (Mendel the Book-Seller) are important to me and I think about them a lot. Also (perhaps more so) TV programmes like Doctor Who (particularly the original series), Saphire and Steel, The Prisoner, Life on Mars and Ashes to Ashes, Quatermass, bits of The Avengers and even Mr Benn and The Clangers which were aimed at very young children, but amuse me. Stories where the normal and the weird are mashed against each other like a collage. Absurdist-type stories taking place in black or white voids. Mr Benn was probably the gateway drug to that, when I was a very young child, the idea that he would put on a costume in a fancy dress shop and then when he walked out the changing room door, he was in another time and place, something relevant to how he was dressed, and would have an adventure.

***

Today I did some shopping and ended up arriving at Tesco the same time as the children were coming out of the primary school next to the supermarket. I’d get frustrated by all the people at the best of times, but I just felt viscerally uncomfortable being there and worried that I was going to catch COVID, although I did at least do what I had to do and panic and run away. It showed that I really have work to do before I’m going to be comfortable at shul (synagogue) or busier shops.

I painted the garden shed again for Mum and Dad as it needed a second coat. I wanted to do a lot of hoovering (the stairs need hoovering), but postponed it until tomorrow as I was too tired to do more physical work. I spent some time redrafting another chapter of my novel. I hoped it would take an hour. In the end it took nearly two, partly because it was long, but also because I interrupted it to look after Mum who was feeling sick (we think indigestion rather than anything to do with cancer treatment, but still worrying). My concentration was pretty good, though.

I listened to a shiur (religious class) while painting the shed, although I didn’t have the time I wanted to do further Torah study in the evening. I’m finding it hard to balance everything that I want in my life and wish I could get up earlier, but I don’t know how to change that short of having some external reason to get up like a job. PIMOJ is an occupational therapist and part of me wants to ask her advice, but a bigger part is worried of scaring her off if she knew just how late I get up and how long it takes me to get going in the mornings (she is very much a morning person).

***

New reasons to hate the WordPress block editor: unless I’m missing something, you can’t easily insert letters with accents, as in ‘John le Carré’. Please let me known if you know how to do this!

Love of God; Loss and Gain of Friends

Shabbat was good. I slept too much though: about ten hours at night and another two and a half after lunch. It meant I didn’t have time for much Torah study or recreational reading.

***

I had a thought about being loved by God. I used to say that I couldn’t believe that God loves me, then that I could accept God loves me intellectually, but not emotionally. I thought this was all tied up with suffering, mine and that of the world in general. I realised yesterday that that’s not the issue, or not the main issue. While I’m not sure how much I accept that God loves me, my real worry is that I won’t be able to cope with the future suffering he makes me go through, whether it’s physical pain or even greater loneliness (when my parents aren’t here). I worry that I won’t cope and (a) will be in extreme pain (physical or emotional) and (b) will stop being religious out of anger or despair. I’m not sure where to go with these thoughts right now.

***

I realised I’ve changed a lot of my social contacts in the last six months or so. I’ve lost touch with shul (synagogue) friends and acquaintances because of lockdown. I have not been in touch with E. properly since we broke up (although she tried to get back together with me, or at least to get back in contact, I did not think it was a good idea). I think there has been a high turnover of people reading my blog in the last six months to a year, with some people vanishing and others starting to read. I guess I find all the change a bit disconcerting (blame autism if you want). I’m still blaming myself for friends that I lost a couple of years ago (real life and online), which was at least partially my fault.

***

I was trying not to think about my novel over Shabbat, but a possible solution, or part solution, to the problem of the climax came into my head suddenly. It will take a lot of restructuring, but I’m open to that at this stage.

***

More Rav Kook: “Every person who feels within himself the depth of penitential remorse and the anxiety to mend his flaws — both those whose redress is within his reach and those he hopes to redress in time by the mercy of God — should include himself in the category of the righteous.” from The Lights of Penitence in Abraham Isaac Kook: The Lights of Penitence, The Moral Principles, Lights of Holiness, Essays, Letters, and Poems p.65

***

I don’t like to use the word “hate,” but can I just say how much I hate the new WordPress editor? I thought I would get used to it over time, but the more I use it, the worse it seems. I can’t work out how to get back to the classic editor (properly, not just for a particular block). I can only assume the new editor was developed by a mole for rival blog platform, trying to bring the company down from within; I can’t believe someone actually thought it was a good idea.

Online Friends, Doctor Who and Anti-Psychiatry

I woke up late (there’s a story there, but too complicated and trivial to be worth relating) and rather depressed.  I felt a bit better after breakfast, but not great.  I felt depressed enough to listen to music while getting dressed, and intermittently during the day which I have been avoiding recently because of The Three Weeks of Jewish national mourning.  But I listened really quietly, because I’m still avoiding explaining to my parents that my rabbi mentor said it was OK to listen to music when I’m depressed.  I’m not sure why I feel self-conscious like that, because it’s hardly the most problematic thing I do when depressed.  Sleeping through the whole morning is worse, both Jewishly and pragmatically, as is becoming irritable and sniping at my parents.

Incidentally, I came across this post yesterday that shows it’s not just me who struggles at this time of the Jewish year.

***

I tried to work on my novel, but it was hard.  Aside from being upset by more antisemitism reported by The Jewish Chronicle (I probably shouldn’t read it), it was hard to engage with writing.  A new chapter is always hard, I think because I’ve been switching perspective in alternate chapters, so I need to change how I think each time, but this chapter needs to be handled sensitively (a woman fleeing her abusive rapist husband with her baby) and I was so caught up in my own negative feelings that I found it hard to enter into someone else’s and I didn’t want to write something inappropriate, so it was easiest not to write.  All this, plus a strong background level of depression and exhaustion.  Plus, I had therapy in the afternoon, which is normally when I do most of my writing.

Eventually I gave up and did a bit of Torah study for twenty minutes to fill the gap until therapy.  I don’t think I would have been able to do much more even without therapy, as I was feeling so depressed.  My main other achievement, after therapy, was to go for a walk.  It was raining lightly when I left, but I decided I needed the exercise.  Unfortunately it then rained heavily, but by the time I got home, it was easing up.

***

Therapy was good.  I shared that I’m trying not to worry about my parents’ mortality and instead to focus on gratitude that I have a good relationship with them and am able to spend so much time with them.

I also spoke about feeling dependent on online interactions.  A lot of my friends are online, certainly the ones I communicate with most regularly.  I like having online friendships, especially with people who also have struggles, and I think it’s good to have mutual support there, but I was worrying that I’ve become someone who is constantly checking his emails or blog reader for the “hit” of having a comment on my blog or a new post to read on someone else’s blog.  I’m going to try to limit myself to internet use only twice a day, when I get up and in the early evening.  My therapist is away for a few weeks now, so I’m going to be able to have a few weeks to practise that and get back to her about it.

I’m too tired after therapy to do much, so I mostly watched TV, aside from walking and eating dinner with my parents.

***

The Doctor Who bit with some general mental health bits:

I didn’t feel like watching more current Doctor Who after therapy, so watched some of my birthday present to myself, The Macra Terror.  This is a Doctor Who story from 1967 that, like nearly 100 episodes, is missing from the archives.  It was broadcast before commercial video recorders existed, but some fans taped the soundtrack of these episodes (basically put an old reel-to-reel tape recorder by the TV speaker while it was being broadcast) and that’s been used as the basis for an animated version.  There’s some discussion among fans as to whether animation is the best way of experiencing missing episodes, and certainly the animation is not Pixar standard, but at least it gives an idea of what the story was like.  I find watching the animations easier to follow than listening to the narrated soundtrack on CD.

The story has some interesting aspects from a mental health point of view (which is why I’m writing here rather than on my Doctor Who blog).  The toxic positivity and conformity of the futurist Colony came across well, with conformity enforced by peer pressure, brainwashing and hospitalisation for euphemistic “correction” with dissent being conflated with psychosis by the authorities, an effective depiction of the co-option of psychiatry by oppressive regimes.  One could interpret the story as being somewhat anti-psychiatry (in the R. D. Laing sense), in that the dissidents are treated as psychotic, but in fact are genuinely seeing something in society that everyone else has been brainwashed to deny, although given that this is Doctor Who, what they can see are giant crabs, rather than abstract oppression or power structures.

I don’t really agree with the anti-psychiatry movement in general.  I think medication and therapy are often helpful.  I think they may be right that one can suffer mental illness as a result of being aware of negative things in society, although I think there probably is a personal trigger too.  I also think the anti-psychiatry movement was too narrow and ideological in outlook (mostly Marxist, although Thomas Szazz was liberatarian).  I don’t share such a dogmatic outlook.  I’m sure my experience of antisemitism, which I do feel affects the ups and downs of my depression on a day to day basis (see above), even if it’s not a cause as such, would not be accepted as a legitimate society cause of my mental illness by the Marxists in the movement, given that an increasing amount of antisemitism is coming from the hard-left, who are in denial of it (see the latest Twitter incident).

“I was shot and found myself in 1983”

Well, unlike Alex Drake in Ashes to Ashes, I wasn’t shot, but I did find myself in 1983 when I came into this world thirty-seven years ago.

My birthday got off to a bad start today.  Mum had a bad turn soon after I got up and we were worried about her for a while, although she’s fine now.

Then I tried to book my blood test, but failed because of COVID restrictions on where it can be done at the moment.  There’s a whole long story here that I won’t go into, but the short version is that I don’t know where I can have it done and am struggling to get hold of my psychiatrist to find out.  Typical NHS bureaucracy.  I know this sounds a trivial problem, and it is, but it leaves me feeling very flustered with social anxiety about asking people things and autistic confusion about new situations that I’m not prepared for, and being put through to receptionists who are short with me just leaves me feeling worse.

Also, on weighing myself, it looked like I hadn’t lost weight after all.

However, I was cheered up by getting a LOT of birthday messages here!  Thank you so much!  Also some messages from family during the day.  My ankle seems a lot better today too, although I need to work out what’s causing the pain to find a long-term solution.  Dad suggested insoles to cushion my feet more which might be a good first step.  That said, I did avoid going for a walk today to help it heal.

***

I did a bit of work on my novel, but between my problems phoning about my blood test, therapy, and decompressing from therapy afterwards, and then having family over for my birthday, I didn’t get much time today.  On the downside, I realised that when I sent Doctor Who Magazine a review copy of my Doctor Who book last week, I forgot to put my email address and phone number on the covering letter, although I did put my physical address.  I tell myself, I had never sent such a letter before, but it still annoys me that I make sloppy mistakes like that, even though I know it’s the kind of practical/interpersonal thing that you might expect someone on the autism spectrum to get wrong.

I guess it’s frustrating as I never had the organisational issues at school or university that might have flagged up autism.  I had a friend at school who was very intelligent, but also not at all organised and (to be honest) rather lazy.  He never did his homework or had the right books with him and only engaged with his studies inasmuch as they interested him.  He didn’t go to university when the rest of us did, but didn’t really do much in the way of career-building; I don’t even remember if he even had a job when I last saw him, back when I was still doing my BA.  My sister knows his sister and ran into him a few years back.  He had a girlfriend who was pregnant; I got the impression he still didn’t have much of career, maybe not even a job.  His parents always seemed super-permissive and content to just let him coast through life.  They were a wealthy family, so maybe he didn’t need to do any more than that to survive.

My point is that in many ways he fitted the autism stereotype a lot more than I do, the stereotype of intense interest in some topics, but complete uninterest in others and total disorganisation and lack of social savvy.  I never forgot my books, but perhaps that was only because I was super-careful to follow my routine of packing every evening before bed, checking against the timetable and my diary notes so that I didn’t forget anything and even checking my bag multiple times on the way in to school to see if I had forgotten anything (autism loves routines).   The further I get from the organised routine of school and, to a lesser extent, university, the more I make sloppy mistakes and end up blaming myself.  My parents help me with some stuff (I’ve mentioned my Dad helping me with money), but they don’t know anything about writing and publishing.  I just feel so useless and incompetent at times.  I try to tell myself it’s not my fault, but I worry that it is my fault and that when I have my assessment, I’m going to get told I’m not autistic, just useless.

***

Therapy was good.  We spoke about loneliness a lot.  I also went back and forth with guilt and anxiety about breaking up with E., which I guess is looking for validation on some level.  I spoke about not always being aware of when my inner critic is talking when I’m depressed and not being able to think of practical strategies to beat loneliness when I feel lonely.  The therapist suggested making some charts (I guess I could do flow charts) e.g. “If I feel depressed –> ask if it’s my inner critic talking” or “If I feel lonely –> email a friend /or –> phone Samaritans” rather than sit ruminating.  I will try to do that this week.

I spoke a bit about dating too.  The therapist did say that someone who could cope with my issues is probably going to be a very “special” and kind person, which is something I’ve thought about myself, even down to describing her as “special.”  How do I even find such a person?  According to stereotype, every frum guy is looking for a kind (and pretty) wife; it’s hard to see how I can stand out from the crowd, especially as, also according to stereotype, every frum woman (outside of the yeshiva world of full-time “learning”) is looking for guy who can support a family while taking prayer and Talmud study seriously, which is not exactly me right now.  It would probably also have to be someone who had some kind of issues of her own or the relationship would be unbalanced.  I don’t know how I could deliberately find such a relationship with someone with issues, other than wait and hope God will intervene.  I don’t think dating is going to happen again for me for a very long time…  That may be just as well, as I think I still have a lot of difficult feelings to work through regarding E.

***

As today was my birthday, my sister and brother-in-law came over and we had takeaway pizza in the garden, socially distanced, followed by chocolate cake and ice cream.  It was good, but I always end up feeling vaguely guilty that I get “peopled out” before anyone else gets tired.  I always seem to get fidgety a good hour before anyone else seems to.

Presents: Doctor Who: The Complete Twelfth Series DVD from my parents.  This was the 2020 series.  I know, I was lukewarm about the series when it was broadcast earlier this year, so why did I ask for it as a present?  (We don’t really do surprise presents in my family, we just tell each other what we would like.)  I admit I did have second thoughts about that.  To cut a long story short, I wasn’t sure what could be ordered because of COVID hitting my favourite online bookshop with supply issues.  I decided I would rather have something on the day than wait for months.  I also know I do often dislike new episodes of Doctor Who on first viewing and then like them a lot more on repeated viewing.  I think it’s something about the area where fannishness meets autism that means I need time to adjust to new ideas in my favourite programme.  I used to think the 2008 series was absolutely the worst series of Doctor Who ever; now I think that its second half in particular is a really exemplary run of episodes.  I didn’t think most of these episodes (the 2020 series) were bad, just so-so (except Orphan 55, which was pants and antisemitic).  As Peter Davison (the fifth Doctor) said, if a Doctor Who fan thinks an episode is “bad,” that means he “only” watches it thirty times.  If nothing else, reviewing the episodes for my Doctor Who blog ought to be fun; I deliberately didn’t review them on first viewing because I was worried I would be overly negative.  And there is still £10 or so in the budget to get one or two books when the supply chain restarts.

From my sister and brother-in-law, I got Minority Report, which is volume four of The Collected Stories of Philip K. Dick, one of my favourite authors.  (I have volumes one to three of the short stories already.)  Also, Muck by Dror Burstein, which is a sui generis modern re-telling of the biblical book of Jeremiah, a “comedy with apocalyptic stakes” that looks fun and also worth checking out if I want to write Jewish-themed fantasy and science fiction.  I guess it’s appropriate Three Weeks reading too.

Mum and Dad also gave me a MoonPig birthday card with my picture on it.  It’s not such a bad picture, which I saying something as I usually hate looking at pictures of myself.

I’m pretty tired and “peopled out” now.  I did some late night Torah study just now (about half an hour, not bad considering how late it is) and I ought to go to bed, but I feel I need to decompress a bit with TV or something to unwind from therapy and peopling.

***

There’s been a weird, intermittent humming sound from somewhere nearby today, which makes my bedroom sound eerily like the TARDIS.  I really would like to be able to take my room anywhere in time and space.  But probably not to 1983.

Blogs and Blogging

Today I felt very drained all day, not just until lunch time like most days.  I’ve been drifting in and out of feelings of depression.  It has been a long week, and I am looking forward to Shabbat.  I’m taking a few days off from my novel today and at the beginning of next week to take care of some admin-type stuff at home, including, hopefully, buying some ads on Amazon to advertise my self-published Doctor Who book.  I do not like Amazon and avoid buying from them, but they have a monopoly on book sales and it’s the easiest way to try to get some interest in my book.  So far, trying to set up a seller account has been difficult, thanks to unclear instructions and faulty links on the website.  It looks like a whole long process that I don’t have the time or headspace to work on today.

On Sunday we will hopefully be going to my sister and brother-in-law’s for socially distanced barbecue in the garden, although that’s looking less likely from a weather point of view.  If that goes ahead, that’s probably another day I will do little/nothing either on the novel or other chores.  I don’t want to pause the novel for more than a few days, though, for fear of losing momentum.  I want to finish a first draft by around Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year, this year starting in the evening of 18 September).  So I need to get those chores done quickly.

***

The depressed feelings today, when they come, are sometimes just what I think of as “depressive hibernation” feelings, the desire to eat lots of carbs and then curl up in bed and sleep for a few months (and, yes, I am aware that this is technically the middle of summer, although you wouldn’t necessarily know that from the weather in the UK recently), partly more coherent thoughts about my not having a “normal” life.  I think everyone’s definition of what a “normal” life is has been modified in the light of the last four or five months, but I’m still worrying that I won’t ever make friends, find a community I feel comfortable in, find a job and build a career, get married, and have children.

I’ve written about these thoughts a lot, so I’ll try not go on about them too much.  I know there’s a lot of catastrophising going on in my head about them, but looking at my adult life, it’s hard not to feel that the catastrophic, or at least the somewhat bad, did often happen.  The way my relationship with E. ended left me thinking that there’s no point even in looking for another relationship until I have some kind of job and a clearer career path (rather than vague aspirations, which is all I have right now), and am less depressed than I seem likely to be any time soon.  I thought someone with similar issues to me would understand me, and accept my issues more easily, but experience suggests that that is not necessarily the case, and that my issues would be off-putting for most women.  I know, I know, I don’t want to marry “most women,” I just want to marry one woman, but experience suggests that finding her will be even more of a needle in a haystack search for me than for most people.

***

I’ve been blogging, on one platform or another, since 2006 – not quite continuously, but for much of the period (I think I had eighteen months or two years off somewhere along the line – I think circa 2015-2017).  I realised yesterday that the way I use blogs, as a reader and a writer, has changed.  When I started, I wanted to use blogs to exchange information.  I wanted to put out information that I thought was interesting and useful and I wanted to read similar information, mostly about Judaism or Doctor Who.  I was also more open about discussing politics then.  I was quite ruthless in avoiding blogs that I thought were not interesting.  I didn’t really get the etiquette of “If someone friends you, you should friend them back” that prevailed on Livejournal at the time, which was probably why I had so few Livejournal friends.

Somewhere along the line, probably when I came back from my hiatus, I shifted, without really realising it.  I do still read many blogs for information, but I blog myself just to offload my thoughts about my life and “issues” (depression, autism, social anxiety, low self-esteem).  It doesn’t matter to me so much whether I have many followers, although I do greatly value comments.  Similarly, I’m more likely to follow people just because they seem like nice people and have similar “issues” and I think we might be able to offer each other moral support online even if I don’t think they are sharing particularly world-shattering information.  Blogging for me is increasingly about mutual support rather than exchanging information.  It probably indicates personal growth in terms of my autistic views of what constitutes meaningful conversation or friendship as well as my social anxiety.  (That said, even early on in my blogging career, I’ve been surprisingly open to meeting other bloggers in the real world.)

The main things holding me back from following people these days are (1) that I still can’t shake the feeling that I should read every post from someone I follow, even if it looks uninteresting, so I worry about being overwhelmed with posts to read and (2) I get put off by people who are very aggressive about their political views, even if it’s not a political blog (actually, especially as it’s not a political blog, as it seems unnecessary).  I don’t mind people who think differently to me and I like being exposed to different ideas, but I get upset when I see people making aggressive generalisations about what others think and feel, or just being aggressive in general.  I also feel uncomfortable if I feel like I’m being told to sign onto a bunch of unrelated ideas about the world just to read a blog.  I left an autism WhatsApp group on the night of the general election last year, because apparently some people on the group couldn’t believe that anyone on the group could have voted a particular way and I really have much time for that any more.

I feel like this is a problem in society, that growing numbers of people are unable to accept that intelligent, thinking people have different worldviews to them.  I think I possibly quoted the statistic that while people in the Western world are much more accepting of inter-racial relationships than a couple of generations ago, they are much less accepting of relationships with people of differing political views than they used to be.  That saddens me.  I follow people with different views to me, but I’m less and less tolerant of people being aggressive and unthinking.

Trying Not to Wallow

I’m trying not to wallow in loneliness and despair today.  I had some blog comments last night that I saw when I put on my computer this morning that cheered me up.  I’m grateful to everyone who comments – I appreciate comments a lot, even “I-don’t-know-what-to-say-so-hugs”-type comments.  It’s good to know that I’m not alone and that people are reading.  I usually forget to “like” comments, because I focus on replying to them, but it doesn’t mean I don’t value them.  I am trying to remember to “like” them more.

***

Today’s achievements: I finished and sent the job application I started yesterday (that took about fifty minutes).  I don’t think I’ll get the job, and I’m not sure if I want it, because it’s full-time and I don’t think I can cope with that.  It is also potentially at high risk of infection from COVID or other illnesses and I’m not sure that’s a good idea while Mum’s immune system is suppressed.

I spent a while working on my novel, writing 600 words in one hour or so.  I worry that it is possibly turning into the most boring novel ever written.  The part that is based on my own life feels constrained by what happened to me.  I have fictionalised a lot of details, but it still feels lifeless.  The main character is irritating (although this may be my self-loathing speaking, as he’s based on me).  I have a female protagonist who is too passive and boring.  The supporting characters are featureless and barely appear.  The writing lacks zest.  The whole thing is humourless.  I have a lot to fix in future drafts.

I don’t think I’m really cut out for writing “serious” literary fiction, which is what this is trying to be.  I want to pursue my ideas about time-travel and monsters, and historical figures like Shabbatai Tzvi and Jack the Ripper, but I also want to finish one project before I start a new one, so I’m tied to this novel for now, until I finish it or find it totally unworkable.  I also worry whether I could write prolonged fiction without the “scaffolding” of writing about my own experiences to provide some structure for the story.

As well as writing and applying for a job, I also cooked dinner (vegetable curry), which took longer than I would have liked and, for complicated reasons, made me think about E.  I think I made the right decision to break up with her, but I miss her as my friend as well as thinking that I won’t manage to find anyone else willing to see past my issues and baggage.  I might stay friends, after a break, but I’m worried we’ll drift back into dating in a crazy on-off relationship, which would be a very bad idea.

Since I was eighteen or so, I’ve usually had one close female friend, usually platonic and generally an email- or text-based friendship.  Sometimes I’ve wanted that friend to be my girlfriend (and for a few short periods that was the case), but that was usually disastrous.  Things have been better when the friend is safely off-limits, due to not being Jewish or being significantly older than me.  Then she is someone I can turn to for emotional support and practical advice, particularly about interpersonal stuff that I struggle with because of autism.

I guess I have a vacancy at the moment, but I can’t really see myself pursuing even platonic female friendship at the moment (even if I knew someone to befriend), partly because of the risk of it turning into something more, partly because I feel disinclined to open up to anyone at the moment.  Plus, most of those friendships ended badly, often because of me.  So I should resign myself to being alone.  I wish I did have someone to text during the day, though.

After dinner I went for a half-hour walk.  I ended up feeling morose.  I was on edge from watching Ashes to Ashes while eating dinner.  It was a good episode, but violent and bleak and left me feeling on edge and wary of something awful happening to me, even though it was broad daylight and there were still people around.  I thought about Ashley’s post for today, and whether I will ever be happy.  I feel that I probably won’t be happy, and I’m onto worrying about whether I will be comfortable.  I worry about being alone when my parents die.  I wouldn’t want to impose on my sister and brother-in-law by moving in with them.  I worry about dying alone, in pain, without dignity (possibly in my own excrement, like Stalin).  Will I be OK financially?  Will anyone still care about me?  It’s scary.

Even if I did somehow find meaning and happiness, would I just feel guilty?  A kind of survivor syndrome that I turned my life around when so many others can’t?  I already feel vaguely guilty that my childhood was not awful and abusive (even though I was bullied at school, and adolescence was rather lonely and miserable), given how many abuse survivors I’ve come across in the mental health community.

After the walk, I tried to “snap out” of my moroseness (which never works) and do some Torah study, as I had been too busy to do any earlier.  I was tired and depressed and my room is very hot and uncomfortable, so I didn’t get very far.  I spent nearly fifteen minutes on a mishnah which I felt that the Artscroll commentary made more difficult than it needed to be (I feel they do this a lot).  I had a look at ideas for my devar Torah for twenty minutes or more, which was a bit more fruitful, until my brain gave up with heat and fatigue, but I need to do a lot more work on it.  My divrei Torah have not come easily lately, which is frustrating.

The Wild Pomegranite quoted Rebbe Nachman of Breslov:

“Sometimes a person’s goals and desire for holiness are beyond his capabilities. Therefore, he must control himself. He must limit his yearnings and fulfill – simply – whatever service to God he is capable of in that moment. Then he must pray to be led on the proper path for his level by serving God with joy and simplicity.” (Likutei Halakhot, Bet Knesset 5:24)

I feel this describes me.  I want to move to higher levels of holiness in terms of kavannah (mindfulness) in prayer and mitzvot (commandments), more and deeper Torah study, doing some kind of meaningful work (ideally writing), and marrying and having children, but these are beyond my capabilities at the moment, which is frustrating for me.  It is difficult and frustrating to accept being at a much more “basic” level of service, especially as I’m only vaguely aware of what exactly that would entails.  Nevertheless, it is where I am.

It reminded me of this quote also from Rebbe Nachman that I’ve blogged before:

The main thing is this: It is forbidden to despair!  Even a simple man who cannot study at all, or one who finds himself in a place where he is unable to study, or the like, should in his very simplicity be strong in worship and in the fear of God…  Even he who stands on the very bottom rung, God forbid, or in the very depths of hell, may God protect us, should nevertheless not despair.  He should fulfil the Scripture: ‘Out of the belly of the deep I cried’ (Jonah 2:3), and be as strong as he can.  Even he will be able to return and receive the Torah’s sustenance, by means of the zaddiq [saintly person].  The main thing is to strengthen yourself whatever way you can, no matter how far you have fallen.  If you hold on even just the slightest bit, there is yet hope that you will return to God. (quoted in Arthur Green Tormented Master: The Life and Spiritual Quest of Rabbi Nahman of Bratslav  p. 264)

I wrote these paragraphs earlier in the post, above the paragraphs about today.  I cut and pasted them here to end the post on a positive note.  It feels vaguely wrong.  I feel I should try to be positive, but it seems dishonest to end on a positive note that I don’t feel.  The “happiness is a choice” people would say to cut and paste and it will make me happier.  I think happiness is not always a choice, and rearranging things does not always help.  Some people are just in pain, and are going to stay in pain, and there isn’t much they can do about it.  But I also want to acknowledge that even in pain, there can be hope.  Whichever one I finish on – pain or hope – will be stressed more.  Concluding on something is taking a stand in favour of it.  But I see the two, pain and hope, at the same time (like duck/rabbit illusion).  Pain/hope.  Hope/pain.  Pain/hope/pain/hope/pain/hope/pain/hope/pain/hope/pain/hope/pain/hope/pain/hope/pain/hope/pain/hope/pain/hope/pain/hope/pain/hope/pain/hope/pain/hope/pain/hope/pain/hope/pain/hope/pain/hope/pain/hope/pain/hope/pain/hope/pain/hope/pain/hope/pain/hope/pain/hope/pain/hope/pain/hope/pain/hope/pain/hope/pain/hope/pain/hope/pain/hope/pain/hope/pain/hope/pain/hope/pain/hope/pain/hope/pain/hope/pain/hope/pain/hope…

The Cat Who Walked By Himself

I feel like I’ve become rather misanthropic lately.  That without consciously choosing to do so, I’m retreating into a sulk.  Lockdown is being eased, but I want to stay in my room.  I see myself as too scared to try dating again, and I’m worried that one day I will not feel like that and I’ll get hurt again, as I always do.  Perhaps “fortunately” I see no point in trying to date while my financial position is so negative, and I see little chance of that changing any time soon.

As I’ve said before, consciously I say I want love, but deep down, what I unconsciously need is to accept that depression and autism mean that my life is going to be different to other people’s, that I will probably never be financially self-sufficient and that I will almost certainly not get successfully paired off, as well as never having many friends or fitting in to a community.  If I could accept that most of my life is going to be miserable, perhaps I could enjoy parts of it.  But I keep getting my hopes up that I can beat the odds, somehow, and then I get disappointed and hurt all over again.  Silly boy.

***

I’m still feeling super-lonely.  I feel sexually and romantically frustrated (is “romantically frustrated” a thing?  I want to love someone), but I’m lonely in a wider sense too.  I’m thinking about (not) fitting in, one of the well-worn themes of my inner monologue, let alone this blog.

I mostly don’t say anything about my mental health or autism away from this blog and similar blogs.  It’s just easier than dealing with embarrassment, confusion and sometimes stigma.  It’s easier to let people think I’m unusually dysfunctional than to admit what the issue is.

I don’t say much about my religion or politics either.  I worry that my religious and political views are sufficiently idiosyncratic to put off everyone who knows them, so I keep them fairly private.

I don’t mind talking about religion here, but I’m not sure why.  I suppose I don’t go into details about theology here, just say what “weird” stuff I do and how it affects me emotionally.  Sometimes strangers see that I’m Jewish and ask me questions in the street.  Strangely, I’m kind of OK with that.  At least they’re curious, not belligerent (I’ve had belligerence too, and attempted proselytisation).  The Jewish population of the UK is sufficiently small that it’s doubtful whether many people have ever met a Jew in many parts of the country, let alone a frum one, although in London that’s less likely.

I don’t like to pin down my views when talking to other religious Jews.  As Rabbi Lord Sacks said, Modern Orthodox Jews are a minority of a minority of a minority (Jews are about 0.02% of the world population; Orthodox Jews are about 10% of Jews; Modern Orthodox Jews are a small percentage  of Orthodox Jews).  I know I’m more “modern” in many ways than most frum (religious Orthodox) Jews.  Actually, I avoid talking about religion outside the community too, for fear of scorn from militant atheists, but sometimes I have to bring the subject up (usually at work) to ask for special dispensation e.g. not eating the same food as everyone else, leaving early on Fridays in the winter etc.

I don’t talk about my politics with anyone at all.  I talk politics a little bit with my parents, but somewhat abstractly.  They don’t know how I vote (which assumes I vote consistently…).  I don’t really fit with any party and I’m not sure that any ideology is an adequate model of a complex reality.  I dislike most politicians and activists these days.

I don’t like the current political atmosphere.  Too violent and opinionated on all sides; also pretentious.  “The best lack all conviction, while the worst/Are full of passionate intensity.”

My chosen professional sector is often more radical than I am (unsurprisingly, as most members are working in the public sector).  I know a lot of my friends, particularly my online friends, wouldn’t agree with me if they knew my views.  I left an autism WhatsApp group a while back because they were criticising a particular type of political viewpoint without it apparently occurring to them that people like that could be on the list, let alone that they might pass as “normal” people.

I get very angry about antisemitism, but mostly don’t say anything about that either, because it feels like almost no one outside the Jewish community really understands or cares, or is willing to listen.

I don’t like identity politics, which I find aggressive.  I prefer existentialist encounter and dialogue.

I just try to be kind and non-judgmental, and to really listen to people.

I change my mind quite a bit.  I like reading new ideas, if they’re argued well, and I try to be open-minded about things.  I get the impression that most people don’t do that.

I don’t mind having friends who have different views, but my experience is that fewer and fewer people are willing to do that (see here for the way acceptance of inter-political (progressive + conservative) marriage has declined even as acceptance for inter-racial and same-sex marriage has grown).  These days people seem to just want to hate people who are different (often in the name diversity, ironically) and mute or unfriend people with different views.  I just keep my head down and try to avoid arguments.  Life’s easier that way, but lonelier and scarier: I don’t feel accepted for who I am and I worry about slipping up and being rejected.  I sometimes wonder how many of my friends (particularly online) would ditch me if they knew what I really think about some things.

I do feel that there’s no one like me: religiously, politically, psychologically.  It was a relief to meet E., who was like me in many ways even if she wasn’t religious.  (Maybe we were too much alike; probably we were both too unstable.)

***

Today I just feel unlovable and unacceptable to anyone I might want to befriend me, date me or employ me.  I feel utterly useless in any context.  The only thing I feel vaguely good at is writing, and I don’t feel great at that.  I’ve certainly struggled to get paid for anything I’ve written.  It’s a long time since I’ve felt good at my job as a librarian, and I only intermittently see myself as a good son, brother, friend or good boyfriend/husband material.

***

Today’s achievements: a couple of library jobs have come up.  I’m was going to apply for both even though both are full-time, short-term jobs (both are maternity cover), where I really want a part-time, long-term job.  I would go for part-time short-term, but I’m not sure whether I would take a full-time job.  I don’t think I could cope, even for nine months.  If I got offered the job, I would probably ask to job share.

I spent twenty minutes trying to navigate a badly-designed website to apply for one job, only to eventually be told that it was open to internal candidates only.  (Then why was it advertised publicly?  I suspect it has to be, legally.)

With the other job I think there would be higher risk of COVID – or any infectious illness – for reasons I won’t go into here, and we’re still supposed to be shielding Mum who will have reduced immunity for some more months.  It is in any case a high stress, full-time job on multiple sites that could involve long travel times.  I really don’t feel I could do either job, but I feel under pressure (from myself as well as other people) to apply for whatever jobs are available, which at the moment is not many.  I would rather be working on my novel…

I’m not sure how long I spent dealing with job applications in total, but I didn’t actually write much of an application.  I just looked at job descriptions etc.

I did forty-five minutes Torah study, reading this week’s Torah portion, but I didn’t get much out of it and felt very stressed while I was doing it.  I would have liked to have done more, but did not have the time or energy.

I went for a thirty-five minute run; my pace was better than it has been for a while.  I didn’t get a migraine even though it was hot out; thank Heaven for small mercies.

I wanted to work on my novel after dinner, but I was too tired.  I realise that as we come out of lockdown, job applications are going to encroach on my writing time more and more.

We had a family Zoom meeting, me, my parents, my sister and brother-in-law and my aunt and uncle from Israel.  I hardly said anything again.  I’m pretty quiet even in in-person meetings, but on Zoom I just clam up completely.

***

I’ve made my blog find-able on search engines again.  My reasons for making it hidden (that I worried that I was saying too much about other people who might be identifiable) seemed less realistic, and so many people were finding it through my comments elsewhere on the blogosphere that it didn’t seem such an issue any more.  I thought about adding a contact form again so people can email me, but I’m more reluctant to do that.  I’ve made a couple of good friends through having that in the past (and ended up going out with E.), but I had a bad experience with it recently (not E.) and don’t know if I should do it again.

Of course, a few hours on and I already think it was a bad idea to make my blog fina-able and that I should switch it back to hidden again.  I can flip back and forth indefinitely, and probably will.

Today’s Difficulties

I’m still feeling very depressed, although perhaps marginally less than the last few days and less anxious.  Next week looks set to be difficult though.

If I’m religious, then I must feel that there must be some purpose to my life, but I have no idea of what it is or how to achieve it.  I don’t seem to be able to do very much.  I hope it’s something to do with writing, not least because it seems to be the only thing I can do well any more, but I am not certain that it is.

***

I did chores today, usual pre-Shabbat chores plus cleaning the oven, which didn’t come particularly clean.  Depression: The Curse of the Strong by Dr Tim Cantopher talks about the “hoover in the middle of the room” test.  The idea is that when recovering, you should not push yourself too hard; the sign of a healthy recovery is a hoover in the middle of the room because you took a break in the middle instead of pushing to do it all in one go and then burning out.  I’m not always good at this, but I’ve been trying to do it.  I am aware that Dr Cantopher intended it to be something done for a few weeks or months at most while anti-depressants kick in, but in my case, it’s ongoing, which is not easy.  I feel like I’m not able to function like most people.

I should dust my room, but I don’t have the energy to move all my ornaments/bric-a-brac/junk.  I have a load of stuff like mementos from places I’ve visited, mementos from places other people have visited and given to me and the war gaming miniatures I used to paint.  I don’t think many of them would pass the Marie Kondo “Does it spark joy?” test.  Most of the holiday mementos seem to come from another lifetime and the mementos from other people I only really keep to avoid offending them or out of a superstitious reluctance to throw away things associated with them, especially if they’re dead.  Some of the war gaming miniatures do spark joy, mainly the ones I painted as a teenager, which are done to a high standard; the more ones painted more recently are not as good, because of my tremor and perhaps loss of patience, which also brings me down a bit.  However, I’m not sure if they spark enough joy to justify being out on display as dust traps.

I feel I should be more minimalist, but I struggle with that.  I also probably have too many books and DVDs, but I’m reluctant to give them away or sell them and the events of this week have reinforced that.  The only TV programme I like that was “cancelled” is Fawlty Towers, but even regardless of political issues, appearances on streaming services are liable to change suddenly so I like to own things.

***

I’m feeling upset about antisemitism in the news today.  There’s a feeling that a lot of Jews have something bad happens in the news.  A feeling of, “Oh, when are we going to get blamed for that?”  Not if, but when.  Wars, recessions, revolutions, terrorist atrocities, even natural disasters get blamed on the Jews.  So it was probably inevitable that the Jews (in the form of Israel) would get blamed for racist police tactics in the USA and specifically for the death of George Floyd.  Meanwhile, in the last few days Jews have been physically attacked in the UK and the US (and also in Israel, although that doesn’t seem connected).  Depressing, but sadly none of it is surprising.

***

Not related to the last point, I feel the model I see on the media for dealing with suffering and inequality – the identity politics model – goes like this:

  1. Suffering occurs;
  2. The suffering person(s) angrily protest and “speak truth to power”;
  3. The person(s) causing the suffering “check their privilege” and make amends.

I’m not going to go into what I think about that as a political model, but it’s not what I want to see in my own life with my own suffering, partly because there aren’t really other people causing my suffering.  My own model, which is a more religious existentialist model is:

  1. Suffering occurs;
  2. The suffering person has a “dialogue” with other people;
  3. Mutual understanding and empathy occurs.

It’s hard to get that to happen, especially as my social anxiety stops me “encountering” (another religious existentialist word) other people away from the internet even before lockdown.  It is useful to have understanding and empathy here on my blog, but sometimes I wish I could “dialogue” with some of the people I know in real life.

***

Well, the illegal minyan (prayer meeting) next door is starting, which is a sign it is time for Shabbat so I should go.  (One of our neighbours was going to inform on them, but the police apparently ignored it.  I was hoping it would be like The Sweeney: “Get yer shtreimels on, you’re nicked!”)

Against a Sea of Troubles

I’m still feeling pretty bad, very depressed and anxious.  I feel like my life has unravelled and I don’t know what to do next.  I feel like I’ve lost so many people who mattered to me in the last year or two, and a lot of it has been my fault, albeit that I doubt I could have known it beforehand.  I suspect autistic difficulties reading people and situations is part of the problem, or maybe that’s just an excuse.  It doesn’t help that because there are so few people in my life, they take on disproportionate importance.  I don’t think that people whose blogs I read or who comment on my blog should really matter that much to me, but they do, because I have so few friends.  I feel withdrawn.  I want to hide in my room from the world.

I forced myself to do some things today: fifty minutes or so working on the novel (it felt like crawling over broken glass, but I did get a bit done), just over an hour working on my devar Torah (Torah thought) for the week, a thirty-five minute run.  I feel a little bit proud of getting the devar Torah written while I felt so bad, although it was mainly based on one book rather than several as I usually like to do.

I feel like I have tried everything you’re “supposed” to try for depression: therapy, CBT, medication, routine, volunteering, working, exercise, seeking social contacts, involvement in a religious community, creativity… nothing seems to work for very long and most of it doesn’t work at all.  It is hard to know what to do.  I’m hoping that a firm autism diagnosis will help, but I’m not sure how, and I could be two years away from such a diagnosis.  I’ve learnt a lot about myself over the years, but I’m not sure if I’m a better person, or a better Jew, as a result.  And self-knowledge is good, but also limited: it won’t buy you food or comfort you when you’re down.

I feel like my one remaining chance in life is to manage to make some kind of a career as  a professional writer, which is a big thing to ask of myself with almost no experience of professional writing and a few rejections already.  I feel I’ve pretty much failed at librarianship although I’m still looking for work in the sector.

I’m going to try to go easy with myself over the next few days.  I’ll try to do some Torah study tonight, but probably not much else.  Tomorrow I have my usual Friday pre-Shabbat chores and I told Mum I would clean the oven.  I will try to do some work on the novel on Friday and Sunday, but I won’t beat myself up if I don’t manage much.  Monday I have therapy and then a Zoom shiur (religious class) in the evening; I’m not planning on doing much else.

***

I don’t know who is still reading this, if anyone (I think maybe two or three people).  I wonder again if I should make it a private blog, but I worry that when I’ve tried that in the past, I ultimately end up stopping writing; it’s hard for me to write without some kind of implicit audience.  I’d be tempted to try password-protected posts, but in the past when I’ve tried them my experience is that no one is interested enough to log in, particularly as they don’t usually show up in blog reader feeds.  I do feel a bit exposed here at the moment, which is the whole point, in a sense, but also feels a bit dangerous sometimes.  I worry that I experience my life by writing about it, which probably isn’t healthy.

The Problem of Suffering

There are some things going on in my life at the moment which I can’t blog about.  I just feel bad about a lot of things.  Defining “bad” is harder: probably sad, despairing, anxious, frustrated and guilty.  I just feel a lot of difficult feelings and it is hard to tease out what each one is.

***

I’m also still getting upset by the news, different thoughts and feelings, back and forth.  Worried that I’m not thinking the ‘right’ thing, that people would be angry with me if they knew what I thought.  Feeling that I can want to end racism and police brutality without particularly wanting to “end capitalism” (whatever that would even mean).  Wondering why, if Sir Keir Starmer is so opposed to prejudice that he will “take a knee” to oppose racism, that he spent three and a half years on the Labour front bench as the party became a safe haven for antisemites and Holocaust deniers without uttering a word of protest.  Then feeling guilty for “making everything Jewish.”  There’s more, but I don’t want to go there.

I try to tell myself that “It doesn’t matter what other people think.  That’s just their opinion.  I’m allowed to have my own opinions,” but still I feel the need to justify everything, argue everything back and forth in my head.

***

Achievements today: I blogged on my Doctor Who blog for the first time in ages, excluding an advert post for my book.  I spent an hour and a half working on my novel, or trying to, amidst difficult thoughts.  I went for a half-hour walk and cooked dinner.  I guess that’s quite a bit, although it is hard to see it as an achievement.

I went to a half-hour Zoom shiur given by the rabbi of my parents’ shul (synagogue).  It was on love of God and how to love God when things are difficult.  I’m not sure how helpful it was.  The idea was that if we are aware of God’s greatness and His wisdom, that should lead on naturally to love of Him.  I struggle with doing that.  It should also lead on to thinking that anything bad that happens must really be for the good.  I can understand that intellectually, but it’s really hard to internalise when so many things in my life seem so bad, or just so painful.  It’s not so much that I can’t accept that bad things might be good or necessary or that a benevolent God wouldn’t put me through them, it’s more that I feel I have nothing left to give any more.  I’ve used up all my energy coping with the last thirty-seven (nearly) years.  Everything just hurts too much for me to carry on.

“It’s like watching a car crash in slow motion”

Thus spake Detective Inspector Drake in Ashes to Ashes, and it feels a lot like my life at the moment.

Lately I just want to withdraw.  I spent a lot of Shabbat in bed, wrapped in my duvet even when I wasn’t sleeping.  It’s a classic autistic self-comforting tactic.  I’ve been wanting to do it today too, although I’ve fought against the urge.

I’m scared to talk to anyone, even to blog or to read other blogs, for fear of getting into an argument.  There’s too much anger in the world at the moment.

I did at least manage to watch a talk between Rabbi Rafi Zarum (British, half Yemenite) and Rabbi Shais Rishon (American, black) about race and Judaism so I’m not totally running away from the world.  It was about as depressing as I expected (I’ve read some of Rabbi Rishon’s writing before so I knew what to expect; Rabbi Zarum apparently didn’t judging by his shocked reactions), although there was one funny joke.

Achievements: forced myself to work on my novel for an hour and wrote 650 words even thought I was too depressed to write anything today.  Went for a thirty-five minute run that was surprisingly good, although an exercise migraine set in hours later.  I tried to do some Torah study, but the migraine set in then and I only managed five minutes.  I haven’t felt well enough to daven Ma’ariv (say Evening Prayers) yet either.  Going to watch TV until hopefully the solpadeine kicks in, although I feel like I could throw up any time now.

***

I spoke to my rabbi mentor this morning.  I’m still processing the conversation.  He said that everyone in the frum (religious Orthodox Jewish) struggles with trying to feel inspired or to find meaning in Judaism and that I’m not the only person to struggle with the way the frum community can be narrow-minded or lacking in dynamism or inspiration.

This is all true, but I wonder where this leaves me.  I still feel that I have less meaning and inspiration going for me than a lot of religious Jews, and perhaps more frustration with the frum world than most frum Jews.  Sometimes (not all the time) lately it feels like I’m very close to walking out on the frum world and there are only a few things keeping me here.  If it were possible to be some kind of Jewish hermit, I probably would be one.  I guess I am one, in a way.

***

I know I have it easy compared to a lot of other people, but that doesn’t mean I’m not struggling.  A wise person once said, the worst thing that ever happened to you is still the worst thing that ever happened to you, even if even worse things have happened to other people.  While it’s true that a man who has had his legs eaten by an alligator should be grateful that he still has his life, arms, eyes, hearing etc. I’m not sure that makes it any easier to cope with the loss of legs.  I haven’t lost my legs, but I’ve never really got my life functioning properly and I feel that I’m running out of time to sort that, plus most of the time I feel too depressed, anxious and tired to do anything about it, not to mention too alone in the world (yes, despite family and friends).

***

OK, TV now, and trying hard not to throw up…

“Here comes your nineteenth nervous breakdown”

(I don’t like The Rolling Stones much, but Dad was just playing this and it seemed appropriate.)

I feel very depressed today, but quite not as much as yesterday.  I still feel alone somehow, even though I know people care about me.  I worry about my life, my future,  if I even have a future.  I just want to withdraw, from everything.  I’m still trying to accept and experience my feelings, but it’s hard when they are like this, so strong and overwhelmingly negative with no obvious truths to teach me.  I try to focus on E. and on my parents.  Maybe I’ve become over-reliant on this blog, and reading other people’s blogs.  Maybe it’s no substitute for real-life contact and friendships, not that real-life contact of any kind is easy at the moment.  I thought a bit about going cold turkey from blogs (mine and other people’s), but I don’t think I could do it.  I’m glad I’ve been in lockdown with my parents; I think we would all have gone crazy if I hadn’t been, particularly given Mum’s chemo.

I’m going to try to recuperate over Shabbat (the Sabbath).  Not to worry too much about prayer or Torah study (although it might be helpful to read a few more pages of Sacred Fire), just to read light things and try to relax.

***

I wrote the above in the early afternoon.  After that I managed to engage with the day a bit: I picked up my prescription, went for a walk, did my Shabbat chores, finished my devar Torah (Torah thought) and spent an hour or so working on my novel (only writing 400 words, but doing some research and planning, so pretty good overall) as well as having a quick Skype call with E.  I’m not sure how much this engagement was a cause or an effect of my mood picking up in the afternoon i.e. did I do things because I felt better or did I feel better because I did things?

The Long Dark Night of the Soul

I was hit by a thought today that surprised me.  Since blogging on WordPress, I have come across a lot of Christian mental health blogs.  Sometimes there’s a kind of conversion narrative of a fall from the world into a pit of suffering and despair (this is particularly the case when substance abuse features in the narrative), followed by the turn to religion and the feeling of grace and salvation, which leads to renewed success (if that’s the right word) in the battle with mental illness or addiction.

The surprising thing is that this kind of writing does not really exist in post-Biblical Judaism at all.  I mean very deeply personal introspection of the long, dark night of the soul and the religious journey from suffering to redemption.  Judaism is a non-missionary religion and the vast majority of Jews were born Jewish even if they did not have a religious upbringing, so it’s perhaps not surprising that there are so few literal conversion narrative, but there could be narratives of suffering and despair leading to faith and joy, but by and large there are not.

There are Tehillim and Iyov (Psalms and Job) in Tanakh (the Hebrew Bible).  In post-biblical literature there are some of Rebbe Nachman of Bratzlav’s teachings that deal (directly or indirectly with his suffering).  Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik deals a little with this in The Lonely Man of Faith and parts of Halakhic Man .  There are bits in the Sacred Fire of Rabbi Kalonymus Kalmish Shapira, the Piaseczno Rebbe where he approaches this, but his focus is not so much the personal journey as the communal experience of Nazi persecution.

I am not familiar enough with the Holocaust literature to see how that fits in.  I think you might find something there, but not quite the same as the Christian type, not least because of the presence of clear villain figures in the Nazis, not to mention the fact that many Jews lost their faith in the Holocaust rather than finding it.  I’m not sure that I would class the writings of Elie Wiesel, for example, in this category.  I don’t think it is really that personal, inner type of despair, rather the despair from being dehumanised by an outside force.

I don’t know the Medieval poetry of the paytanim (liturgical poets) to know whether they dealt with these feelings.  Possibly they did (they did right rather erotic love poetry, something airbrushed out of the biographies of some major figures).

I have a few Judaism and depression books which include personal narratives.  The Road to Resilience by Sherri Mendell is a fairly practical book about overcoming loss.  I remember very little of Healing from Despair by Elie Kaplan Spitz, although it probably is the closest to what I’m looking for, in that it deals with the author’s despair in detail (but by a Reform rabbi, not an Orthodox one, tellingly).  It might be worth me re-reading that soon.  Some of the personal stories in the anthology book Calling Out to You edited by Tehilla Edelman fit in this category at least partially, but as I recall the focus is more on the practical story of mental illness and recovery than the spiritual crisis.  Some are definitely what I have in mind e.g. “I had to unravel all of my preconceived notions about Hashem.  I used to think that G-d only loved me if I behaved.  The idea that Hashem loves me like a father didn’t work for me, because with a father like mine [abusive] it didn’t mean much.  I also didn’t understand how Hashem could let abuse happen to children, and I didn’t know if I could ever trust Him…  After much soul-searching, I came to believe that Hashem does care about me and that it doesn’t matter if I can’t call Him Father.” (From My Journey to Hashem through Depression and Addiction: Miriam’s Story in Calling Out to You.)

That’s about all I can think of, in a three thousand year tradition.

It’s worth comparing with the narratives I’ve seen written by people who became Orthodox Jews in adulthood, either non-Jews who converted to Judaism or ba’alei teshuva, non-religious Jews who became Orthodox.  These seem to be largely calm and peaceful narratives that start by laying out the writer’s initial antipathy to and/or ignorance of Orthodox Judaism, the story of how they encountered it close up for the first time, their experience of the beauty of Torah and mitzvot (commandments) and how they overcame a few sticking points (e.g. Torah/science conflict or gender and sexuality issues) to become devout Orthodox Jews.  There is occasionally tension with friends or family members who do not like the religious change, but there is no sense of suffering or trauma here, the dark night of the soul to which religion is the solution.  The truth is that if I was writing my own ba’al teshuva narrative, it would also be largely separate from my mental health journey, which did not really start in earnest until I was some way along my religious journey.

It’s just interesting that we don’t really have the vocabulary to express this kind of narrative.  I am experiencing that first-hand, in the difficulty I have expressing my inner religious life here and, fictionalised, in my novel.  I do not have a model to use.  It’s doubtful how much anyone could model themselves on Tehillim (Psalms) nowadays without falling into self-parody, let alone the difficult, complex poetry of Iyov (Job).  But there are few more recent models to look to.

I wonder if this is another reason why “leaving Orthodoxy” narratives, fictional and non-fictional, are so much more common than “joining Orthodoxy” narratives, as I have discussed here before.  It’s not really a genre that we promote (not that Orthodox Judaism encourages the writing of fiction or memoirs, or creative writing generally).

Doubtless part of the reason is that Christianity is a religion based on the personal salvation of the individual through the personal sacrifice of Jesus and mediated through the introspective writings of Paul in the New Testament.  Whereas Judaism is a communal/national religion based, at the very least, on creating communities based on love and mutual aid, building together to a nation state built, ideally, on love and compassion and eventually an example for a new world order built on love and compassion through monotheism.  There isn’t much room in that narrative for the individual’s long dark night of the soul.  It’s just not relevant.  It took some fairly unique circumstances to produce figures like Rebbe Nachman of Bratzlav or Rav Soloveitchik who can let us peek a little at what a kind of Jewish dark night of the soul literature might look like.

***

As for Yom Tov (the festival), it was OK, but I struggled to connect with the religious ideals of the festival (hence, in part, this post).  I prayed a lot, studied Torah a lot, ate a lot, slept a lot.  I had a lot of aches and pains from my workout on Wednesday.  I think I’ve pulled a lot of muscles in my arms, legs and torso.  I did still go for a couple of walks despite the pain.  I also woke up in the middle night with a migraine yesterday.  My mood was mostly OK, but dipped a bit this afternoon.  That’s about all there is to report, though, aside from continued irritation at the illegal minyan (prayer quorum) next door.  I think I’m getting a better idea of why that annoys me so much (aside from all the obvious reasons), but it’s too late to deal with that now and this is a long enough post already.