Today seems to have been an autism-focused day. I guess they all are, on some level, but this more than most.
In the morning, at work, the rabbi from my parents’ shul (synagogue) phoned the office and I answered. He didn’t recognise me, and in the past I might have pretended not to recognise him, but I identified myself to him, which I guess was a victory over social anxiety. However, afterwards I couldn’t stop thinking about this interaction, which probably took all of two minutes and had no negative aspects. It sort of “echoed” around in my head. I’ve heard other people on the spectrum describe similar experiences of mental perseveration.
In the afternoon, I mostly corrected other people’s mistakes for a change, instead of making my own. This was when I was searching for missing data on our database. A lot of it was there, just entered wrongly (typos or names from one column on the spreadsheet transposed with those in another when entered on the database). I was a bit relieved to see it’s not just me who makes mistakes. The errors date from about five years ago, so I have no idea who made them.
J was on a video call while I was doing this and I could not concentrate at all. I had to listen to music to blot out the talking. I didn’t really want to listen to music, as it was a somewhat complicated task and I only really listen to music when doing mindless tasks, but I needed to blot it out.
Then I went to Primark to return the clothes I bought last week, because I am not a size medium any more (thank you, psych meds). I was overwhelmed with the number of people in the shop, which I still can’t get used to. It took two years of lockdown and not seeing people for me to realise how difficult I find these environments. Now I wonder how I ever coped with them. It’s strange how I just coped with things, not realising how difficult I found it. The silly thing is that I feel somehow less entitled to call myself “autistic” or “struggling” than the autistic people who would have a meltdown in the shop, or just refuse to go in.
It wasn’t just the noise and crowds that was an issue. Like lots of people on the spectrum, I seem to have some proprioception issues i.e. difficulty being aware of where my body is at times and finding it hard to get out of other people’s way. I think this is partly behind the autistic phenomenon I have written here before about autistic people wanting to help with tasks, but just getting in the way of other people.
There was something on the autism forum too today about autistic brains working fast, faster than we can follow. I do feel like that at times, although not all the time. It seems to happen most when I hyperfocus on a train of thought that I like (often about Judaism or perhaps Doctor Who) or when I’m anxious and depressed about something. Certainly when autistically fatigued/exhausted/burnt out/whatever it’s called my thoughts become slow and almost physically painful.
In terms of consumerism, I’ve had mixed success the last few days. The Simpsons: The Complete Seventh Season DVD box set I bought second-hand on Music Magpie (second-hand DVD/CD website) turned out to be region 1, which means it won’t play on UK DVD players. I’m not sure why they were selling it, but I didn’t think to look at what region it was for when I ordered, so I can’t swear that it was advertised wrongly. I am trying to return it.
I’ve found some real bargains on Music Magpie, but also had some problems with damaged or incorrectly-sent goods. I feel I should stop using them, but the alternative is eBay, which I have used, but don’t really like, I’m not sure why. I don’t like bidding for stuff at auction, but you can get items to buy immediately. Nevertheless, I just somehow find the site awkward to use and the items often expensive. The other alternative is Amazon, but E and I are both boycotting them over their poor employee treatment and for driving small booksellers out of business as well as underpaying authors. We were boycotting them independently, before we met — a meet-boycott-cute.
The items I’ve been buying on Music Magpie are cheap (a few pounds for a CD or DVD box set), so I’m not at risk of losing much money, but complaining and returning items is a hassle, and I worry that after I’ve made a certain number of complaints they’ll assume I’m lying. They refund damaged goods priced under £5 without asking for the item to be returned, so technically someone could steal a lot of free stuff by buying cheap items and then complaining that they were damaged and asking for a refund without it ever being checked.
On the plus side, I found a copy of A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle in the free book box, one of those books I’ve always meant to read, but never have.
E and I have been watching the Doctor Who story The Robots of Death (1977). E was not impressed; I didn’t tell her fan wisdom sees it as a Classic, whatever that means. I see it as somewhere between Classic and E’s “ok”. It has one of my favourite Doctor Who put-downs: “You’re a classic example of the inverse ratio between the size of the mouth and the size of the brain.” I should warn you that I tried to use it on the bullies at school and it did not work as well as it did for Tom Baker. I don’t have that air of Bohemian cool.
I think I did too much yesterday, between work, an hour or so of Torah study (about half after I got home from work rather than on the train in to work), dinner with my parents and doing a load of holiday-related banking stuff. I only got half an hour or so to relax, excluding reading at lunch at work and on the Tube home (which is not entirely relaxing), watching an episode of The Twilight Zone (Ninety Years Without Slumbering, not the best, but not the worst either). Today I was exhausted and didn’t get up until after 1pm, much to my father’s exasperation.
I felt somewhat depressed all day. Some of it was probably autistic exhaustion. Even so, there is so much wrong with the world that I can’t do anything about (Ukraine, the genocide of the Uyghurs, the incompetence of our political class…). It’s easy to get fixated on that.
I also had another novel rejection. There isn’t much more to say about that.
In terms of what I did achieve, I wrote to the JobCentre about my benefits again. I think these should have been stopped ages ago because (A) they were only supposed to last a year; (B) I am now working and earning more than the permitted amount; and (C) my diagnosis has changed, and while I still experience the same difficulties with energy, concentration and motivation in the workplace, I think autism, unlike depression, is (wrongly) not considered a genuine impairment to working. I know it’s silly to look for trouble if they’re still willing to give me free money, but I worry about being arrested for benefit fraud, or at least about being made to pay money back (for all that the amount I receive is pretty small).
It was a struggle finding the paper trail, though. I think of myself as an organised person, but I increasingly realise that I’m not, and that my filing for important papers (savings, work, tax, benefits etc.) need a serious overhaul. It still has the semblance of order, but has grown out of hand through lack of attention. I keep far too much stuff, a problem I had as a librarian too. I ought to sort it before getting married, but it just feels like Yet Another Thing to do alongside work, submitting my novel, researching/writing my second novel, learning to drive, keeping up with household chores, Torah study, relaxation (which I’m beginning to accept I need to take more seriously if I’m going to live with autism) and so on.
In an attempt to find fat to trim, I’m trying to cut internet time to an hour and a half a day. That’s for blogging, reading blogs, reading news sites and general internet browsing, not for using the internet for a non-recreational purpose, such as internet banking or shopping. I’m doing this partly to free up time, partly because, in monitoring what contributed to autistic fatigue and what restored me from it, prolonged internet use emerged pretty quickly as something I do a lot, but which rapidly becomes draining rather than restoring.
It is too early to say if it is working, although I haven’t had great success with similar attempts in the past. I just need more time in the day. If nothing else, I would like to relax by reading more actual books instead of blogs and news sites (important though those are). It would help my attempts to be more productive if I didn’t tire so easily and need so much sleep, particularly after work (see my first paragraph). It’s hard to get through life as an adult with adult responsibilities when I seem to need eleven, twelve or even thirteen hours of sleep most nights.
Holiday: Sunday 23 January
By this stage, E and I had established a pattern where she would work during the morning (her work hours are flexible, but she wasn’t on holiday) and I would sleep in a bit and slowly go through my morning routine, then we would go out late morning or early afternoon. Nevertheless, I was still feeling very frustrated at how tired I can get.
We went to The Jewish Museum, which we both found found disappointing. There weren’t enough exhibits on display and the most interesting thing was a special exhibit containing a collection of netsuke, seventeenth century Japanese miniature carved statues, which was not what you would expect to find in a Jewish museum. The exhibition it was part of was about a wealthy Austrian-Jewish family that lost their property, including the netsuke, in the Holocaust and tried to get it back afterwards. As E said, it was sad they lost their property, but lots of people lost their lives in the Holocaust (the family all seemed to flee to safety when the Nazis took over, just leaving their possessions behind to be seized), and it was hard to be too concerned over them, especially as they still seemed to be very wealthy. Still, the netsuke were interesting, if not exactly what I would have gone to the museum for.
The funniest thing was the (expensive) museum shop, which had a fair bit of what can only be described as Ruth Bader Ginsburg fan memorabilia. There was an RBG children’s book, which reminded me of something I saw in the paper a while back, where a columnist was complaining that one of the biggest bookshops in London had no children’s books about Chanukah, but did instead have a selection of children’s books on woke heroines like Greta Thunberg, Kamala Harris and RBG. What, she wondered, would an English five year old, make of a book about an American politician or judge?
But my favourite item in the shop was an RBG chanukiah (Chanukah lamp), with six inch high mini-RBG brandishing a gavel at the person lighting the lamp. The lamps stood on blocks that spelt out “I DISSENT,” which was also the title of RBG children’s autobiography, apparently to make her seem an exciting rebel rather than an accepted part of the political order. We saw a woman with an RBG tote bag later in the week too, so there’s obviously a market for this sort of “merch” (I hate that word). Welcome to the era of politics-as-lifestyle (and lifestyle-as-politics).
Afterwards we went to Central Park again, then on to some bookstores, new and second-hand. I picked up a copy of Doctor Who and the Doomsday Weapon, the more excitingly-titled novelisation of the 1971 Doctor Who story Colony in Space. The Doctor Who novelisations are a subject of nostalgia in their own right for many fans, particularly older ones. I read the novelisations of most stories before I got a chance to see them and they were a huge part of my childhood. I do vaguely think sometimes about trying collect the complete set (I have about forty, only a quarter or so of the total). Doctor Who and the Doomsday Weapon, like many of the early novelisations (before they started churning them out mechanically) has ‘value added’ in terms of more detailed characterisation and world-building compared with the TV story, so it was enjoyable to read (on the plane home) even though I’ve got the TV version on DVD. It also shifts the focus from the Master’s attempt to steal the titular weapon to the human drama of the colony (despite the titles suggesting the opposite), which is probably an improvement. E read it too and was also impressed.
Some time after sunset I realised that I had forgotten to daven Minchah (say Afternoon Prayers), and now it was too late. I seem to do this once every winter. In the evening, we got takeaway dinner from a kosher Mexican restaurant. We were impressed by the food, less so by the refusal of the kitchen staff to wear masks. Eating in E’s apartment, I realised the rubber sole was falling off one of my walking boots, and it did indeed fall off before I left for home. Fortunately, the boot still had a leather and plastic sole underneath that protected my foot during the ten minute walk back to my apartment, in the falling snow.
Monday 24 January
We visited The Book Cellar, a nice second-hand bookshop, and I picked up three more books: Talmudic Images (which I’ve already blogged about), the second Harry Potter (after making sure it was an English edition and not one ‘translated’ into American English) and the first volume of Richard Evans’ three-volume non-fiction study of Nazi Germany. Including the Doctor Who book and two Jewish books I ordered to come to E’s apartment for me to collect (to avoid international postage), I was coming back with six more books than I left with! Fortunately, throwing away my walking boots gave me some more space in my suitcase… Even so, I was disappointed to have to leave the two-volume hardback Annotated Sherlock Holmes on the Book Cellar’s shelves.
In the afternoon, we went to The Museum of Modern Art. We enjoyed the galleries on the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, but struggled with the noise in the building, which came not from patrons, but from some extremely noisy art installations. I was also annoyed that the cloakroom was closed, inevitably because of COVID (?!), and I was not allowed to wear my rucksack and had to carry it around instead. Add in the usual mask discomfort and, again, we only stayed for a couple of hours whereas pre-COVID we might have stayed for longer.
In the evening we had dinner at a kosher pizza place with E’s mother, who was visiting New York. This seemed to go well. It was good to meet her in person. Afterwards E spent time with her mother while I went back to my apartment and started reading Talmudic Images and generally pottered about not feeling like doing much. This turned out to be a bad sign, an indication that I was rapidly running out of spoons.
I struggled to sleep last night. I’m not sure why Sundays are becoming my night for insomnia. Work today was OK, quite busy, but not really anything worth reporting. I did some shopping on the way home.
I was wondering if I would be able to go to depression group on Zoom, but I didn’t make it. I was quite tired when I got home and then I had to cook dinner (macaroni cheese, one of my quick, emergency recipes) and by the time I’d done that, I was totally burnt out. Even eating dinner and watching The Twilight Zone didn’t help. I had to sit for a while in a dimly-lit, quiet bedroom until I got through the burnout/sensory overload/exhaustion (I’ve never been entirely sure if this counts as an autistic shutdown or not).
It was a shame to miss depression group, but I wasn’t 100% looking forward to it. I wasn’t sure how to tell people about my engagement. I get a bit overwhelmed when I share positive news like that and people want to congratulate me and ask questions. It also takes a lot of energy and will-power for E and I to run this relationship long-distance, and I’m not sure how people will react to that. It’s made harder by our respective issues, and the fact that we can unconsciously pick up each other’s anxieties, even if we don’t consciously share them. I spoke to my therapist a bit about this, and she stressed the need to make sure I’m only worrying about the things that worry me. In addition, E and I are really looking forward to spending more time together next week, COVID-permitting, but I’m still anxious about travelling with all the COVID-prevention requirements. So I was worried I would come across as negative, which is probably an occupational hazard in a depression group, but I still was nervous of seeming that way when I felt everyone would expect me to uncomplicatedly happy.
Even after all this, I was still feeling quite drained. I decided to eat ice cream (despite my half-hearted diet) watch some original series Doctor Who, as I needed something safe and familiar to vegetate in front of. I opted for The Moonbase, as it’s not very good, so I don’t feel bad about not watching with E, plus it’s a story with half its episodes missing and reconstructed with animation which means I definitely wouldn’t watch it with E, as I felt watching the reconstructed The Evil of the Daleks didn’t work out well (I might, however, suggest watching The Invasion at some point, two animated episodes out of eight notwithstanding).
The Moonbase is very silly, complete with sarcastic, gloating, supposedly-emotionless Cybermen, as in my title quote, and I’m enjoying it a lot. I watched two episodes, with two more to go. I’m not sure if I’ll watch tonight or tomorrow. I don’t know why I can find episodes of the original series silly and endearing, but episodes of the new series that are probably objectively the same or better just annoy me.
Ben and Polly are two of the great, overlooked companions in Doctor Who. I don’t agree with the argument that they worked with William Hartnell, their “Swinging Sixties” style contrasting with Hartnell’s Victorian amateur inventor vibe, but didn’t work with Patrick Troughton’s quiet anarchism. Jamie is also a great companion, but the production team’s fondness for him, and their desire to slimline the TARDIS crew, deprived us of something good. To be fair, three companions is too many, certainly after the slower and often more thoughtful stories of the first two seasons.
The expression “a hot mess” was one I learnt online. I don’t think it exists in British English. Our messes are apparently cold or lukewarm at best. But it’s pretty much how I feel right now.
I felt burnt out again today. It was a struggle to do anything. I managed to cook a very basic dinner (rice and lentils — the ‘cooking’ is mostly just letting it simmer away). I tried to phone Oxford University Press to find out whether an order I made online went through properly yesterday or not. It said it had initially, but then it said it hadn’t and I didn’t get a confirmation email. The order was nearly £60 after it had a discount on it, so I really don’t want to get it messed up. However, it seems they are shut for the holidays, which was not clear from the website.
I tried to book some airline tickets to see E. My Mum likes to go through every possible travel permutation to find the best deal. However, this type of process gives me autistic ‘too many options’ overload and I want to narrow the field to something I can cope with. This led to some tension, as I got stuck and needed her help, which meant doing it her way. There were some autistic communication issues too. Stress + autism = short temper, anxiety and rigid thinking. Mum did save me from making a huge mistake renting an Airbnb (accidentally booking a room rather than an apartment). I also have COVID travel bureaucracy anxiety (what if I forget to take a test?) and general travel anxiety (I have only travelled by myself once and, although I’ve travelled many times with my parents, I do not have a brilliant memory for what I have to do in an airport and they are generally overloading environments for someone on the spectrum). It’s weird to think that some people enjoy travelling and do it for fun, as their main hobby, even in COVID times. Weird.
I was all set to book flights, then I realised that, travelling on a Sunday (outward) and Monday (homeward) would make it hard or impossible to avoid taking COVID tests on Saturdays. So now I’m going to travel midweek, but I’ll need to find new flights. I just feel too stressed now to deal with this, and I don’t want to book anything while stressed in case I screw it up (not an unlikely scenario, sadly). I feel really stressed and just want to curl up and forget about the world (shutdown).
Other than that, I didn’t do much because I felt so burnt out. I didn’t write a devar Torah. I’m going to have to call this week a mental health week and not write one. I did ten minutes of Torah study, which I forced myself to do so that I had done some. I also did not get time to go for a walk. Aside from going to buy a mattress yesterday, I haven’t been out of the house since Sunday, which is not good for health, physical as well as psychological.
I felt dizzy while cooking again. I do need to try to see a doctor next week, if I can find a way to navigate the super long phone wait times, and then get an appointment that doesn’t clash with therapy or work.
I hope work tomorrow and having more structure to the day makes me feel better. I’m having dinner in the evening with my sister and brother-in-law, which should be good, but now is going to be stressful, as I’ll just want to come home and book flights. Possibly I should just wait until Saturday night or even Sunday, if it’s not more expensive to book for the same month of travel (I have no idea if this is the case).
I feel so overwhelmed with LIFE right now, living from day to day when I should be making longer-term plans, from travel next month to marriage and career and writing moves. Writing, finding an agent, applying for new jobs and learning to drive are probably going on the back burner for the next month (at least). And I don’t know how I’ll sleep tonight in this state.
I feel like I’m a dry drunk. I’m not currently clinically depressed, but it’s really easy to tip me over into anxiety and despair because I still have underlying issues and poor coping skills. And, for all that religion is such a big part of my life, I still struggle to really connect with God. If I didn’t have an understanding of God that transcended the purely experiential, I doubt I could stay religious, because I don’t feel God the way some people (apparently) do. And that saddens me, not least because I’m doing all the right things and have been for years, and it’s still not working.
I struggled to sleep last night, and then massively overslept today (again). Then I felt wiped out in the afternoon, although I managed to go mattress shopping with my parents. (I was astounded as usual at the ease with which my parents can chat to the shop assistant. I can’t do this at all!)
I still feel like I’m struggling with all the stuff I’m supposed to do (generally, not just today), even without my near-permanent exhaustion. And I know that no one makes me do regular prayer and Torah study, or write a weekly devar Torah, or write novels and try to get them published and I could cut all these things from my life easily, except that it would be even smaller and less meaningful than it already is. I can accept that some of these things might have to be cut down or put on hold for a year or two as E and I move towards marriage. It doesn’t make it easier to decide what gets cut, and how much.
In terms of keeping up with writing while struggling to do other things, I’ve heard of “microwriting,” writing in tiny bursts of just a couple of minutes. I can see they would add up, but I feel that I need a longer period to really get in to some writing, so I’m not planning on microwriting my next novel.
I would like to do some “energy accounting” to balance my energy output and intake to try to stop the burnout. The hardest part of energy accounting is having no real knowledge of how much energy tasks require, or how much I get back from different types of relaxation, which makes it all seem like guesswork. Ashley suggested that factoring in more relaxation time might improve energy levels overall, and it might, but I feel I already have some relaxation and I’m wary of factoring too much. It’s hard to work out how much is “correct.” If I could swap procrastination time for relaxation time, that might work, but reducing procrastination time is difficult, as it creeps in when trying to do other things rather than being scheduled. I have been trying to turn to blogs and sites online that I want to read for novel research rather than the Jewish and news sites I usually turn to when looking to procrastinate, but spending ages reading about addiction probably isn’t the best thing to do for other reasons. (It’s also constantly expanding. I just discovered that Chabad.org has a whole section of their site, which I think is still the largest Jewish website in the world, for Jewish addicts of all descriptions.)
Aside from the mattress, I tried to write my devar Torah for the week, but was really stumped. It’s not even a ‘difficult’ sedra (Torah reading). I just couldn’t think what to say. I found a sermon in the Sacred Fire: Torah from the Years of Fury 1939-1942, the Holocaust sermons of Rabbi Kalonymus Kalmish Shapira, the Piasczno Rebbe that I will try to summarise and, if I feel up to it, add to. But I’m not sure if I’ll be able to add much, or when exactly I’m going to get the time or energy to do this.
I basically spent much of the day feeling exhausted and depressed (like clinical depression in intensity) and I don’t know why. Actually, I wonder if it’s because I’ve been off work for a few days. I think I do need the structure, even if it exhausts me.
I will try to relax tonight and tomorrow and again at the start of next week when I have another bank holiday-induced break. I think going to work on the Thursdays will probably be for the best.
I had a thought today. I mentioned I’ve been spending time recently reading things by frum (religious Jewish) addicts as novel research. An idea that comes up a bit and is supposed to be inspirational is: “If I avoid acting out, it will give HaShem (God) nachas.” Nachas ruach or nachat ruach is the Hebrew term for contentment; in Yiddish, nachas refers more to the reflected glory from your children or grandchildren doing something successful. The idea is that God is emotionally pleased when an addict chooses not to act out or that He is generally pleased when people overcome the temptation to sin, like a parent who is pleased when their child does something significant.
I feel uncomfortable with all of this. Rambam (Rabbi Moshe ben Maimon aka Moses Maimonides) says that God has no emotions, because if God had emotions, we could divide God into ‘God’ and ‘God’s emotion(s)’. This would disrupt God’s unity and is a big no-no from the point of view of Rambam’s Medieval rationalism. The most we can say is that the Torah anthropomorphises God, saying He is angry, joyful etc. because it’s the only way to understand something that is beyond human understanding (the nature of God). But God Himself is never angry, joyful etc.
I wonder if this is why I struggle with the idea that God loves me. Because I view it as a metaphor for something I can’t understand and not something literally true, as the addicts were suggesting. I would agree with Rambam that the mitzvot (commandments) were given for our benefit; keeping or not keeping them makes no difference to God, Who is eternal and unchanging no matter what we do.
I do feel that Rambam and other Medieval rationalists only appeal to a very limited number of people, I suppose very intellectual people who don’t need much emotional connection to Judaism, or at least can separate the emotional connection from the intellectual. My feeling, having mostly studied Rambam second-hand, is that he neglected the affective side of Judaism and wanted everything to come through the intellect. So he wants Jews not to believe, but to know via logical proof that God exists and, while he is very open to the idea that mitzvot teach us behaviour and positive character traits, he sees this teaching as happening in a very intellectual way, making us think about something, not through the mitzvah making us have a particular emotion (this is the source of my disagreement with him about animal sacrifice which he struggled with, whereas I see it as building on fairly straightforward emotions even if it’s not exactly to modern tastes). I feel that the Medieval rationalists were right, or more right than the kabbalists (mystics) (from my limited knowledge of Medieval rationalism and kabbalah). But I find it hard to live my religious life like that. It’s too dry and unemotional.
(Aside: I just ordered this book. Even with a 30% discount code, it cost A LOT, for a book that I’m worried I won’t understand. I spent eighteen months procrastinating over whether to get it. But I feel that some of the things I struggle with intellectually in Judaism could be eased a little by serious academic Jewish philosophy. I am, generally speaking, be willing to pay a lot of money to learn things that I think are true and meaningful.)
(Actually, while the credit card was processed, it really looks like something went wrong with the order, as I haven’t had a confirmation email, and my order history on the publisher’s site is empty. Something else to worry about and deal with…)
I am nervous about buying plane tickets to go to New York to visit E tomorrow (buy the tickets tomorrow, not go to New York tomorrow, obviously), which is super scary, but I will try to do it. It would be scary even without COVID and the need for PCR tests, but with COVID it’s even worse. But I’m going to do it!
My blog is back in “autistic disrupted sleep mode” again. I went to bed very late after post-Shabbat stuff (praying, tidying, writing fiction (or trying to), blogging, eating, relaxing in front of the TV, texting E) and then slept for eleven hours. I wish I knew why I do this, and why on work days and volunteering days I can get up after six or seven hours, sometimes fewer. It’s easy to call myself lazy, but I don’t think that’s it. I do seem to have a lot of autistic fatigue, and if I let it build up too long it threatens to turn into autistic burnout. But it’s a mystery as to how I coped when I was younger, in a very autism-unfriendly school, although maybe ‘coped’ is the wrong word, as by the time I was sixteen, I hit my first episode of what seemed at the time depression, but in retrospect may also have been autistic burnout too. I wonder now whether my episodes of depression were caused primarily by prolonged burnout (as well as autistic loneliness) rather than the depression being the main issue. It would explain why the depression was so treatment-resistant: it wasn’t the real problem. That said, I definitely have been deeply depressed at times, to the point of being suicidal, so it’s obviously a complex situation of autism and mental illness feeding off each other.
Inevitably, I feel bad about missing the morning, and not helping Dad much with the sukkah, the shack Jews build in the garden to live in (weather-dependent) during the festival of Sukkot, which is coming soon (Yom Kippur comes first, this week, but that has minimal practical preparation). I feel that if I could sort my sleep out, my life, my integration into the frum (religious Jewish) community, and my integration into the world of work would be so much better, with knock-on consequences, but I just don’t know how. When I feel down, I try to remind myself of the good things in my life, that my parents love me and E cares about me. It does help. RoBIN commented on a previous post that, for people on the spectrum, nothing can be taken for granted, and I do feel like that. I’m just trying to be happy for what I do have. Realistically, I need people I can be open with and who support me a lot more than I need a wide circle of friends or a satisfying and/or full-time job (although more money would be nice, if only for marriage/immigration reasons).
I helped my Dad a little with the sukkah, and to be fair it was the part he most needed help with. There’s still a lot to do on it, and he will need my help with that later in the week. I always feel awkward helping. I’m not good on ladders; I’m not scared of heights per se, but I don’t like feeling that I could fall, and the patio is rather uneven making the ladders wobble. I’m better with ladders indoors, maybe because the floor is more even, or maybe my brain thinks the carpet could somehow break my fall. I’m not great as a handyman either. The paternal side of my family is full of war heroes from both World Wars, sportsmen and handymen, but I didn’t inherit any of that (some of them were, perhaps surprisingly, also good with a needle and thread or sewing machine; like many Jewish recent-immigrant families, they worked in the clothing industry in London’s East End). In this, as in most things, I take after my mother’s side, who were not hugely masculine in this way.
My sister and brother-in-law came for tea, or late lunch in my case. I had cherry pie and coffee for maximum Twin Peaks fannishness (OK, I didn’t really have them because of Twin Peaks. I did really want them, but it amused me all the same). I joined in the conversation more than I usually do, probably because we were mostly comparing notes about our respective Rosh Hashanahs (experiences of) and Yom Kippurs (plans for). I do still find it draining to be around people for two hours, and wasn’t able to do much afterwards and my mood dropped quite a bit.
Other than that, I didn’t do much, just a little Torah study and a half-hour walk. No writing or running or any of several different chores I wanted to do. I Skyped E, which raised my mood quite a lot, but still left me tired. I just wish everything wasn’t so hard for me.
I watched some of the Doctor Who episode Gridlock. I’m not sure I have time to finish it tonight. It is not a particular favourite, although I don’t dislike it as much as I did on original transmission. There was one very good scene I had forgotten about. I think my problems with Russell T Davies’ time as showrunner are partly that he writes the Doctor as hugely bombastic and shouty, full of declaimed speeches about “This stops — TONIGHT!!!” (which, to be fair, Davies’ successors Steven Moffat and Chris Chibnall did/do too and may be a standard feature of modern science fiction/action storytelling), but primarily that he’s willing to sacrifice consistency of plot, characterisation or credibility for the sake of a shock moment, an emotional scene or a even cheap gag. This annoys me no end, but it might explain why his writing was so popular with the general audience, who don’t obsess over nuances of plot, character or pseudo-science the way fans do.
Another dull day at work, which I don’t mind so much, but it’s another day when I made what seemed to me like foolish mistakes and generally handled myself badly. I don’t know what to do about that. Whenever this happens, I start to self-blame and pretty soon I’m comparing myself to school or Oxford peers who are doing better than I am (or who I assume are doing better than I am). To be fair, I mostly kept that in check today, but it’s there in the background. I would like to be doing a job that I felt good at, doubly so if it was one that seemed socially-acceptable given my level of academic success and/or allowed me to support a family, or at least to support myself. Contrary to what your parents and teachers told you, success at school or even at university does not correlate exactly with financial, social or cultural success later in life.
It didn’t help that I only had about four hours of sleep last night as Yom Tov finished late and then I felt I needed to blog to process my thoughts about it and then watch TV to try to unwind a bit. Then I just couldn’t sleep. At least it’s not so hot today.
Ashley and Margaret commented on my previous post, about God moving away as I try to move closer to Him. Margaret’s comment reminded me of the comment I posted recently from the Kotzker Rebbe, that “the moments of labouring are the finding.” It’s strange how it’s easy to say that in the abstract, but not when confronted by my actual feelings of hollowness or even failure. I think I was happy after the first day of Yom Tov, despite my failure to get to shul (synagogue) for Shacharit (Morning Prayers) or even to pray at home at the correct time. However, I was upset more by the second day, when I was too burnt out to do much and missed shul in the morning completely. Perhaps I expect too much of myself. I wonder what other frum people manage, those without autistic burnout or social anxiety. From the outside, it looks like they mostly make it to shul early in the morning on Shabbat and Yom Tov (at the very least).
I guess related to this is the difference, as I said yesterday, between a punitive God and a loving God. This is, in part, the difference between God in the Written Torah (Tanakh, the Hebrew Bible) and God as presented in the Oral Torah (Midrash and Talmud). You can get into this very deeply, about the Written Torah coming from the side of din (strictness and justice) and the Oral Torah coming from the side of hesed (lovingkindness) and the fact that I generally tend to line up with din in numerous ways. I don’t really want to get so kabbalistic. But obviously there are these two different sides to God which we believe is a difference more apparent than real, because obviously we’re monotheists and not dualists (like the Gnostics or the Manicheans).
I can believe that a loving God exists, but it’s hard to feel that a loving God could love me. I know this is rooted in childhood experiences and my lack of self-love, but I don’t know how to move on from that. No one has given me practical steps I could do to love myself, let alone to believe that God loves me. Even so, I’m not sure how my inability to love myself corresponds to my inability to find meaning on festivals. Unless I expect too much from them. Similarly, why do I struggle to feel the kind of spiritual joy I feel I am ‘supposed’ to feel or that others seem to feel — is it my old friends anhedonia (inability to feel pleasure) and alexithymia (inability to recognise emotions) again? Or something else?
It’s uncomfortable to feel that I’m still held hostage by my autism (nature), as shown by my experiences at work today, and also by my formative years (nurture). I’m not sure what the solution is.
I feel torn between trying to find an agent for my novel, working on the short story I started recently or planning my next novel, but it’s too late to work on any of them (too late at night, not too late to ever work on them). I doubt I will have much time in the next couple of weeks given Yom Tov. Which is a shame, as I feel somewhat creatively-stifled at the moment. I also feel like a bad writer, and the only real cure for that is to write. But, it’s probably on hold for a while.
I’ve only got a short time to write, but I wanted to write something and try to process my feelings about Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year).
The background to Rosh Hashanah was a mini-heatwave that hit us unexpectedly. I was expecting it to be pleasant, but it was uncomfortably hot, which had an impact on my mood throughout. The other background is that I had asked to sit in the covered area outdoors, by the window of the shul (synagogue), intended for people who were unwilling or unable to sit indoors because of COVID anxiety or reduced immunity. The acoustics at the window were bad and I spent a lot of my time at shul round the corner by the door, where I could hear and see what was going on rather better.
I don’t really remember much special about the first night in shul. I think I did feel pretty positive, despite the poor acoustics. At home we ate the simanim, special symbolic foods eaten to symbolise a good new year. We have only been doing this for a couple of years and it still has novelty value. Even though it was late, I did some Torah study after dinner, as I hadn’t done much during the day and felt that I wanted to connect to God. I struggled to sleep that night, whether from the heat or the mixed feelings I had being at shul, feeling I was missing out by being outside, but also feeling that I would have a lot of COVID anxiety inside.
I woke up early the next morning, but struggled to get up, I think because of social anxiety rather than burnout, although maybe a bit of both. I find it hard to accept social anxiety as a legitimate excuse for missing shul, even though it happens a lot. I got to shul in time for the sermon and the blowing of the shofar, the ram’s horn trumpet. Even though I was very late, I still stayed for another three hours until the end of the service; Rosh Hashanah services are very long. I slipped into the shul standing just inside the doorway to hear the shofar, otherwise staying outside except when I was asked to open the Ark for Alenu. I felt I couldn’t really turn it down as I had come in for the shofar, and I think it was an hour to be asked for that particular prayer (where we bow on the floor, something we only do here and on Yom Kippur).
I napped after lunch, then went to shul for Minchah (Afternoon Prayers) and then on to the brook for Tashlich, then came home. I was getting a headache, which I managed to stop turning into a massive migraine with early intervention, but I felt drained and justified in my decision not to go back for Ma’ariv (Evening Prayers).
I didn’t sleep well again and I struggled to get up in the morning. I had the “flat battery” feeling where I just don’t have the energy to sit up, let alone get dressed and go to shul. I eventually managed to get up around lunchtime. I was upset to have missed shul, but not surprised to be so burnt out. I was too burnt out to catch up on prayers and I didn’t want to delay my parents’ lunch.
After lunch I was still tired, so I napped again before saying the Mussaf prayers. I read the Jewish Review of Books for a bit, then went to shul for Minchah. I somehow found the confidence to tell the rabbi I had missed the morning prayers and the shofar blowing and he arranged for someone to blow it for me before Minchah started. I was pleased, and surprised that I found the confidence to do it, but I felt so socially anxious about drawing attention to myself asking for this that I struggled to focus on the shofar, and later on the prayers for Minchah. I decided I did not have the energy left for the shiur (religious class) and Ma’ariv, so I went home.
J left the same time as I did and said he didn’t see me in the morning and asked if I was OK. I said I’d been unwell, but was OK now; I didn’t want to go into a big thing about autistic burnout in the street. He said if I’m unwell tomorrow not to force myself to come into work, which was nice.
On the whole Rosh Hashanah must be a success, as I got to shul quite a bit and heard the shofar both days. However, I feel kind of hollow and down now and I don’t know why. Some of it is lack of passive relaxation time or alone time. I’ve spent most of my waking hours the last two days with other people, at shul or at home. Beyond this, I suppose I just wonder if I’ll ever get back to being the person who can go to every single service and shiur during the festival.
I suppose I also always focus on the next goal rather than the one just completed. There’s a story about a Hasidic rabbi (I think the Maggid of Mezeritch; I don’t have time to check) who was asked by a Hasid why, whenever he tried to move closer to God, God seemed as far away as ever. The Maggid said that it’s like a father with a toddler. The father calls the child to him, who takes a few faltering steps towards him, but as he gets near, the father moves a few steps away and calls him again, and so on. This is frustrating for the child, but is how he learns to walk. Similarly, God moves further and further away to call us towards Him, but I don’t know how to deal with the lack of self-esteem that results from feeling I have not reached God and am as far away as ever.
I actually spent a lot of time over Rosh Hashanah thinking about what it would mean to accept that God loves me. I’m not sure I came to any great conclusions. I find it easier to see God as punitive than loving, at least towards me, and I’m not sure why or how to change that. I don’t see God as punitive in an abstract, theological sense, or towards other people, but I find it hard to believe He could love me unconditionally.
The other thing I thought about a bit over Yom Tov was abuse (child abuse, get withholding etc.) in the Jewish community. It’s been in the news again lately. I wonder how God can forgive us while it goes on. There isn’t really anything I can do about it, except write about it, which makes me want to get my novel published. On which note, a book I’d ordered, a guide to publishers, editors and literary agents, arrived today, which may help me to plan my next step.
OK, I’m off to get ready for tomorrow, and to see if I can have something to eat and fit in Midweek Twin Peaks before bed.
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.
(There’s a cliche in the UK about children watching Doctor Who from behind the sofa because it’s so scary, at least for a family programme. For Doctor Who fans, that’s kind of the litmus test of genuine terror.)
I didn’t blog yesterday as not much happened. Today I had weird dreams, overslept and went into a panic about Shabbat (the Sabbath) and the Yom Tovim (Jewish festivals) in the next few weeks. I did some work today. I’m working from home on Monday, but I worried about oversleeping and not working enough, so I thought I would do some work today and tomorrow, but it’s been a bit of a rush. I’m about to do a little bit more, although I won’t do much Torah study today. I might have to leave writing next week’s devar Torah (Torah thought) until Thursday evening. I usually like to have it almost finished by then, so I can just proof-read it and send it, as I’m usually tired from work, but I can’t see how I’m going to get the time. I do at least know what I’m going to say (unlike the week after).
I am going to the rabbi’s house tonight for dinner. I’m a bit nervous about this, although I surprised E by saying that I’m usually OK talking to rabbis without additional social anxiety from their position, just ordinary social anxiety of talking to anyone. I’m not sure why that is, probably because I’ve been talking to rabbis from a young age and I know they’re just people, usually with a corny sense of humour. Usually quite laidback too. I know some people who leave the frum (religious Jewish) community complain of strict upbringings (or abusive upbringings, which is something else entirely), but most frum people I know are laidback, often surprisingly so. I find it’s hard to get frum people to commit to things because they often have a “Whatever, we’ll work it out eventually” attitude. This always seems at odds with how I think religious people should behave, which is precise and even a little anxious. Maybe this is something to do with trusting in God that everything will work out. Or maybe it’s just my Yekkish background. Yekkes (German Jews) are stereotypically precise, punctilious, and the only Jews who are remotely punctual. I’m actually only one-eighth Yekkish, but I feel a strong affinity for the stereotype.
E found me an article on autistic burnout! It doesn’t say much I didn’t already know, but it’s useful to show family and it’s reassuring to be told that it’s “a thing.” It’s unclear on the thing I’m unclear on, which is the extent to which autistic burnout is a short-term thing triggered by a few hours of that can be alleviated by a few hours of rest and sleep or a long-term thing somewhat like depression that sets in after weeks or months of stress and can last indefinitely. My feeling is that it can be both, but I don’t think everyone agrees.
After I saw my rabbi and told him about my autism, I sent him the article I wrote about being autistic in the frum community. He really liked it and asked if I would like him to circulate it in the community. I’m not sure what I feel about that. I can see pros and cons. I don’t have time to list them in detail (maybe next week), but I can see big pros in starting a conversation about autism and neurodiversity in the local community and maybe finding some more understanding and support at shul (synagogue). On the other hand, telling literally everyone in shul seems scary and awkward, and I could end up defined as “that autistic guy,” at least for a few years until I become defined as “that frum author who writes a lot about sex.”
Today was one of those days that got away from me. I had therapy in the morning, which was good. Then I went to speak to my shul (synagogue) rabbi about my Asperger’s in the afternoon. The meeting went well. He was very understanding and supportive. We spoke a bit about being strategic in my shul attendance to handle burnout, maybe trying to go less often but more focused or to more inspiring services. I need to think about what that would mean in practical terms. We spoke a bit about social anxiety too, and wanting to challenge that, but in a safe way, and about COVID making that harder by adding a new layer of anxiety to social situations. He said I looked more animated than he had ever seen me before (we hadn’t really had a one-on-one conversation before).
When I got back from that I spent a while speaking to my parents about the meeting and some other things and then, unfortunately, wasting time. I wanted to do things, but couldn’t get down to anything. In the end I did some Torah study and spent half an hour on my short story, writing about 500 words, which was good. But other than that I haven’t done much, and I need to be up early for work tomorrow. I’ll watch the rest of the pilot episode of Twin Peaks before bed, which I started at dinner, but I don’t feel particularly sleepy. I probably should have taken time to relax after speaking to the rabbi instead of just procrastinating.
Shabbat (the Sabbath) was OK, with some struggling. Shul (synagogue) was difficult on Friday night. It smelt of paint (it’s being renovated). I got there a minute late, and struggled to find a seat because it was so crowded — not that many people, but the renovations mean we have very little space, especially with it still set up somewhat socially distanced. Then the gabbai asked me to move so that a father and son could sit together, because there weren’t two seats available next to each other. I moved and I could sort of see why he asked me (I think I was just the nearest person where moving one person would leave two seats next to each other), but it did feed my fear that single people are seen as less important than families. I shot off as soon as the service finished, even faster than I usually do.
Dinner with my parents and cousin 4 (henceforth C4) was fine. There were a couple of problems, but nothing that turned into an argument as I feared. I had almost all my Israeli family down as very noisy, and most of them are, but a couple are very quiet. I had never really seen C4 without the rest of the family before, so I didn’t really realise how quiet she is. I do struggle to connect with my cousins as well as I would like, partly because of the cultural differences I mentioned the other day, partly because of the age difference (C4 is still a teenager, and basically a different generation to me), partly I guess because of my difficulty connecting with anyone (autism).
I did some more Torah study after dinner and went to bed rather late. I woke up intermittently during the morning, but didn’t get up. I guess that was a mixture of burnout and social anxiety about going to shul again. I don’t know what to do about that. I don’t know how to work on the social anxiety about shul or my general struggles about getting up early. I can get up early for work, but when working from home last week I got up very late and had to work later than I intended, or split the work over two days. I wish I understood this dynamic better.
I forgot to take my morning medication and took it after lunch, which is unlike me.
I slept again after lunch. I think I fell asleep around 4.15pm; I was woken at 5.15pm by my pre-shiur (religious class) alarm, but I fell asleep again and/or just lay on the bed for another two hours, just too drained to do anything other than lie there and try to recover from a week of overload. It meant I didn’t really have much time today for Torah study or recreational reading (I did a bit of both last night, but not today).
I decided to skip Talmud shiur and shul so I could spend more time with C4. I wasn’t in much of a state to go anyway. Seudah (the third Shabbat meal) with my parents and C4 was fine and then suddenly Shabbat was over and C4 was going. I spent some time tidying up as Mum and Dad went to take C4 back to where she’s staying and then did some Torah study. I tried to get through what Talmud they would have done in shiur today, but it’s hard to judge (the rabbi tends to bring in a lot of comments from Tosafot, which I don’t have in translation) and I ran out of energy and brainpower. And I guess that was it. I hope I’m more alert tomorrow.
Now it’s gone midnight and I’m tired, but I don’t think I’ll sleep yet. I need to do something to unwind, probably watching TV as I don’t feel up to reading. Someone nearby is playing loud music again.
I feel very drained today, physically and emotionally. I woke up late, but then realised that my parents’ friend, who fixes their computers, was here doing something on my Dad’s computer. I didn’t want to be seen in pyjamas, but I didn’t have the energy to get dressed without breakfast and coffee, so I went back to bed. After a while he went, so I rushed to eat breakfast, get dressed and daven.
I’m worried about a few upcoming things. I’m working from home for the next fortnight as J is on holiday. The downside is that I may have to do the super-difficult and super-stressful job I occasionally have to do, as I can do it as easily from home as from the office, and J isn’t around to handle it. Whereas I would usually do it if it was necessary during office hours on Monday or Thursday, I’ve agreed with J that he can pass it on to me any day while he’s away except Shabbat (when the office is shut) or Wednesday (volunteering and therapy day). I am quite nervous about this.
My more immediate worry is the changes to the shul schedule from this week. Instead of davening Minchah (saying Afternoon Prayers) at 6.15pm followed by Talmud shiur (religious class), we are now davening Minchah some time before sunset followed by seudah shlishit (the Third Sabbath meal) including shiur and then Ma’ariv (Evening Prayers). The problem is that I won’t eat at the seudah at the moment because I’m still too scared of COVID, but I want to hear the shiur. This week I’m going to try to have my own seudah at home before Minchah, bring a book with to read while everyone else is having seudah, then sit with the seudah without eating during the shiur and stay on for Ma’ariv, but it will be awkward to sit (in a mask) and not eat. I’m also not sure I have the stamina to stay in shul for that long, although I guess it will be good practice for the coming Jewish festivals. I’m not going to push myself to go to shul for Shacharit (Morning Prayers) tomorrow, as one big, scary shul thing in a day is enough. To be honest, I feel so drained and down at the moment that it’s going to be an effort to go tonight, and the Friday night service is my favourite and definitely the least scary.
Speaking of the festivals, there’s the worry I get at this time of year with the Jewish autumn festival season around the corner, practical worries about coping with going to shul (synagogue) so much and so early, or oversleeping and missing services which makes me look to other shul-goers like I’m not very committed. There are also more spiritual worries about finding time and headspace for appropriate introspection and deciding where I can improve in the coming Jewish year, let alone how I manage that change. Then there’s the stress of the abbreviated work weeks in the festival time. I currently work at an Orthodox Jewish organisation, so I don’t have to worry about taking time off, but the other days in those weeks will be manic, trying to cram everything in.
I have other vague worries too, about my cousin coming over from Israel next week and how I fit in spending time with her, and whether E will be able to visit later in the year. It probably isn’t all too much if I break it down, but it seems like tidal wave of stuff is around the corner and just waiting to hit me (if a tidal wave can go around a corner). To be honest, lately I seem to get anxious about all kinds of things, even if there’s nothing specifically going on in my life. Yesterday, for example, I got hugely worried about the Arab-Israeli conflict with no obvious trigger and certainly nothing I can do to change that particular situation.
I tried to phone the secretary of the psychiatrist who assessed me for Asperger’s Syndrome to see if she has tried to refer me for autism-adapted CBT yet. There’s a whole procedure whereby the NHS has to assess whether I should get treatment or not. Realistically, I should get it now I have a diagnosis, but the psychiatrist and GP were arguing over who should actually write the letter to start the whole thing and I’m not sure if anything has happened yet, five months after my diagnosis. Unfortunately, the call went straight to voicemail both times I tried and I’m wondering if the secretary doesn’t work on Fridays.
My parents convinced me to withdraw from the job with the difficult commute. I think I was pushing myself to go through with it because I didn’t want to feel I was “chickening out” for the wrong reasons, because I didn’t think I could give the presentation they required. I am quite relieved to avoid the presentation though, not to mention the commute.
(Title quote from 99 Red Balloons by Nena. This post isn’t really about war, but it is about something new, exciting and scary.)
What I experienced last night reinforced my feelings that I experience something that isn’t straightforward fatigue in certain situations and which is probably linked to autism/Asperger’s even if I don’t have a proper name for it. It could be burnout or it could be a shutdown, both of which are commonly used terms for different autistic experiences and neither of which seem particularly well-understood or clearly defined, but it is something more than just fatigue.
Part of it is physical sensations that are hard to describe, but feeling like my brain is contracting in on itself is part of it. There can be more typical fatigued physical sensations too. I become rather monosyllabic in conversation with my parents and even gesture rather than speak on occasion. Even when texting E, I am used monosyllables. Yesterday, I browsed online a bit which I think is about wanting connection rather than boredom (and possibly about lacking the executive function to do something else), but I would not really be able to respond to anyone online or offline unless it was a loved one offering hugs. I wanted to watch TV yesterday, but had strong executive function issues picking what to watch. I really struggled to decide even though my choices were not that great. Eventually watching TV did help and I felt better after watching for an hour and a half or so — another indication that it isn’t tiredness or fatigue per se as I felt less burnt out/shutdown even though it was later in the evening when I would naturally feel more tired.
After yesterday I probably could have done with a mental health day, but I had a blood test booked for today, and as my Dad was playing golf, that entailed two long walks to and from the hospital, with some shopping added in. I went to the big Sainsbury’s for the first time in sixteen or seventeen months, having previously relied on deliveries or quick visits to smaller supermarkets. Tuesday is my day for cooking, so I had to do that too, as well as one other big, scary task (see the final section), and as I woke up late, that ate up much of the day. I didn’t do much Torah study as a result, which was frustrating.
I had a blood test today. It was OK, but I shook a bit again. I had tremor sometimes with blood tests even before COVID, but something about wearing a mask while having my blood taken seems to make it impossible not to shake, possibly because I can’t breathe easily.
I got an email asking me to a job interview. The interview is for a library job, the one where the application window was so narrow that we thought they wanted to give the job to an internal candidate already. I have reservations about the job, partly because I’ve lost confidence in my ability to work longer hours (three full days a week for this job) or to do a library job, partly because I’ve never worked in a library in this sector and am not sure what it would involve. I have to give a presentation, maximum ten minutes. I assume the minimum is seven or eight minutes. I tend to give short presentations that are made shorter by social anxiety making me gabble. The presentation is on something somewhat sector-specific and I think it will show up my ignorance.
When I applied for the job, I checked the commute on the Transport for London journey planner, and it was an hour and a half each way, which is difficult, but I’ve had longer commutes. But I just checked the route again, in more detail, and it involves a twenty minute and a twenty-five minute walk in both commutes! Even if my parents pick me up from the station on the way home, cutting twenty minutes off, that’s still well over an hour of walking a day which is tiring before I actually consider how tiring the work would be. My parents are at least understanding of my concerns about the travel, even though they don’t really share my worries about being able to do the job. So to say that I am cool about this is a bit of an understatement.
Saving the biggest news for last: I sent a query letter about my novel to an agent, along with the first three chapters of the novel (what they requested). I feel very nervous. I got an automatic response email saying the agent was just back from holiday and might take a while to get to me. This agent seemed a good fit in terms of genre and knowing about Jewish stuff, but I appreciate that, statistically, I probably will not get accepted by the first (or second, or third…) agent I apply to and that this may be a long haul. I am open to applying to several agents at once, which is what I have seen advised online, but it was so nerve-wracking to apply to the first one that I’ll probably wait until I hear back, one way or the other.
I don’t think I can quite believe that I took this step. I keep sending E texts saying “I WROTE A QUERY LETTER TO MY AGENT ABOUT MY NOVEL!!!!!!!”
I did too much today. Got up early for work. Torah study on the train. The usual spreadsheets in the morning. Most of the afternoon walking upstairs, standing up photocopying, walking back downstairs multiple times. I had ideas for my next writing project while I was doing this. More Torah study on the train home until I was too tired to continue. Postponed my shopping as it was pouring with rain and phoned Dad for a lift from the station instead. The real mistake was working on my novel query letter (to an agent) after work. I was home early and didn’t want to waste the time, but I really should have taken proper time out. Or maybe being on my computer at all was the mistake.
Now I feel utterly burnt out and unable to do anything. I want to vegetate in front of the TV, but in shutdown mode my brain can’t decide what to watch. Executive function is not functioning. The Twilight Zone, The Simpsons, The Avengers… overload, overload, overload… Going to turn the computer off belatedly and try not to use the phone.
I wrote a draft query letter for an agent about my novel. The process was pretty terrifying. I asked E for some advice as writing a query letter seems to be a very different skill to actually writing a novel, more like marketing and (self-)promotion than creative writing. I feel a bit like I’m writing a job application, and those have not always gone well for me, although I feel more confident submitting sample chapters than having an interview. E suggested a few changes and additions, which I hope to add later in the week, as I’m pretty exhausted now (see below).
I also made a couple of very small changes to my manuscript, rewriting a few of mentions of real-world things that could get me into copyright/product placement trouble of one kind or another.
That all took about an hour and a half, including some procrastination time. This was unfortunate, as today was another slow day with lack of energy and low mood, particularly on waking. I hope I am not drifting back into burnout or depression, although there’s really no way to tell at this stage. I went for a walk, but it left me more drained than reinvigorated. To be honest, I was more invigorated by spending an hour working on my (rather long) devar Torah (Torah thought) for the week, which was longer than I really predicted or intended. It’s on a topic that fascinates me, but which hardly ever gets asked in the frum (religious Jewish) world, namely, why was it so hard to stop the Israelites worshipping other gods?
I also read another chapter of the biblical book of Nehemiah; I have an idea why so many of the chapters of this book and that of Ezra are just long lists of names, but they are frustrating to read. I think people who haven’t read Tanakh (Hebrew Bible) assume it’s all like that, but mostly it isn’t, it’s mainly Bereshit (Genesis) and the last few books that are full of name-lists. Somehow takes longer to read the name-lists than ordinary narrative too, which seems counter-intuitive; I suspect my brain takes longer to process unfamiliar words like names, particularly as relatively few names in Tanakh are ever repeated. Apparently the idea of naming a child after an ancestor hadn’t taken root at that stage.
Shabbat (the Sabbath) was OK, except that I did not manage to fall asleep until 3am on Friday night, possibly because of the heatwave, so I overslept and missed shul in the morning again.
I went to shul (synagogue) for Minchah (Afternoon Prayers) and Talmud shiur (religious class), then went again after seudah for a pre-Tisha B’Av drasha. It was good, but I felt self-conscious not just in a blue shirt, but no jacket or tie. I think I could have got away with no tie, but I should have worn a jacket. My parents said I would be too hot and I agreed, but deep down I knew that everyone in my shul would be wearing a jacket even if they took it off on reaching shul. Also, the rabbi had said something about my wearing a blue shirt during the Talmud shiur — not critical, but it made me feel self-conscious.
I didn’t have a low chair for Tisha B’Av and was planning on just sitting on the floor (Tisha B’Av is a day of mourning for the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem; in Judaism, sitting low down or on the floor is a sign of mourning). Someone lent me a low chair, but I didn’t want to use it. I’m not sure why. I was a little worried it was higher than permitted, but I think mainly I just felt too self-conscious by that stage: was he being friendly or did he think I was a total am ha’aretz? And my non-leather trainers (not wearing leather shoes is another mourning custom) weren’t particularly comfortable either, although that could have been from sitting on the floor. I also got confused too about when to wear a COVID mask, and realised that I gave my mother mistaken instructions regarding end of Shabbat ceremonies when Tisha B’Av starts immediately afterwards.
Along with this, I couldn’t really follow Eichah (The Book of Lamentations, read on Tisha B’Av). I don’t know why I’ve found it so hard to engage with it the last few years. I just can’t follow or connect. To be fair, I find the Hebrew quite hard to translate in my head, but even following along seems to be hard. I just can’t concentrate that much at 10pm, especially in a heatwave and while sitting on the floor (and feeling socially awkward). Then in my shul we do kinot (laments) to ourselves, really quickly rather than slowly and communally as in my old shul. I read some kinot in Hebrew without really connecting with the poetic Hebrew, so I switched to English (really the only time of the year where I say set prayers in English), but still ran out of time. I did the last kinah at home, in Hebrew, but looking at some of the English, which felt a bit better.
As usual after Shabbat when I’m in shul I helped to fold up the tablecloths, but I’m so bad at that that I feel I would be better off not helping, except that it feels wrong to just walk out without helping. I was reminded of something I said on Ashley’s blog last week about autistic people wanting to help, but actually just getting in the way.
I struggled to sleep again last night, because of the heatwave, because of creative thoughts I kept having that I kept getting up to write down, and perhaps because shul had left me feeling disquieted. Perhaps consequently I overslept today, and when I woke up, I was not able to get up for a long time. I felt utterly drained again, and perhaps somewhat depressed, and aware that I didn’t want to break my fast until halakhic midday, a little after 1pm. I missed Shacharit (Morning Prayers. I think I finally got up about 2.30pm, made havdalah (on tea) and had something to eat. I felt a bit better after that, but I did feel that I wasn’t quite in the right mindset for Tisha B’Av, but also that I was scared to get into that dark mindset. I read Hasidic Tales of the Holocaust for a bit (a book I’ve been reading only on Tisha B’Av; in about five years, I have not finished it yet, although I might try to finish the few remaining pages before next year) and listened to a Zoom talk on antisemitism via my shul. I also went to a Zoom shiur (religious class), again through my shul, but the organiser hit “Mute all” and forgot to unmute the speaker’s computer, so it was inaudible. Someone posted in the chat to say there was no sound, but it took a while for someone present at the shiur to notice and unmute it.
I feel like I don’t find Tisha B’Av as meaningful as I used to, and I don’t know why. Not fasting (because of the danger of fasting while taking lithium tablets) is probably a big part of it. Fasting used to make me ill (headache, nausea, sometimes vomiting), but not fasting feels like not really participating. I tended to avoid shul during the day even pre-COVID, because I don’t want to have to turn down a mitzvah because I’m not fasting. Plus, I often experience burnout after the night of Tisha B’Av from the shul experience (as much social anxiety as religious devotion this year, as I said above) and then crash on the morning and struggle to get up, especially as I try to fast until halakhic midday. Or maybe not being depressed means that Tisha B’Av is not the day that I most connect with emotionally any more, the one where I can easily get into the right state of mind. To be honest, I feel like as a general rule I’m not as connected to the festivals and fasts as I’d like to be, and I don’t know how to change that. I spend so much of holy days either worried about social interactions or sleeping and trying not to oversleep that religion struggles to get in there.
I did write a Tisha B’Av thought, on the suggestion of my rabbi mentor that it would make the day more meaningful for me. I wasn’t sure what to do with it, though. In the end I posted it here, although it’s not really a good match for my blog, but I don’t want to send it to my devar Torah mailing list as it doesn’t seem right for there either — maybe not quite frum (religious) enough and a bit too daring.
I went to bed ridiculously late last night. I’m not sure why; I don’t really have an excuse except bad time management and the fact that I generally prefer to go to bed late and get up late unless I have a good external reason not to do so. Still, I felt shockingly drained and burnt out when I woke up today, low mood and zero energy, and I’m not really sure why. I didn’t think I did that much yesterday, but maybe I did, or maybe I’ve just been pushing myself too hard cumulatively lately, to try to finish the latest draft of my novel so that E can read it and so that I can start looking for an agent and a publisher; trying to keep up with my shiurim (religious classes) and divrei Torah (Torah thoughts) as well as prayer and other Torah study; trying to exercise (which has almost dropped off the radar totally), to help around the house a bit and so on.
I listened to music to try to lift my mood a little and get energy. I feel bad about doing that in the Three Weeks of mourning when religious Jews are not supposed to listen to music. I know my rabbi mentor said it was OK, but part of me at least feels too functional to take advantage of that, and I have a lot of uncertainty about whether what I feel is “really” autistic burnout or what. Autistic burnout is a poorly-understood phenomenon, only recognised as a real thing by the psychiatric world about five years ago. But what I really want is to shave my itchy Three Weeks beard off, which is driving me crazy. But I will wait until Monday afternoon for that, as I’m supposed to.
E is really supportive, but we both feel frustrated about being on different continents and not knowing when that will end.
After lunch, I felt a little better. I drafted my devar Torah. It ended up not being what I intended, as the introduction grew too long and became the bulk of the piece, with an also longer-than-intended unrelated Tisha B’Av thought at the end. In fact, the whole thing took longer to write than I’d hoped, about an hour and a half. I spent half an hour or more working on my novel too, which wasn’t much, but I was reasonably pleased with what I had done. I Skyped E in the evening too, so it ended up being a better day than I expected when I woke up. I do usually manage to get to a point where I can do some things regardless of how tired/depressed/burnt out/whatever you want to call it that I feel when I wake up, I just wish I could move that point earlier in the day.
I’m in two minds about blogging today. I feel the need to offload a bit, but I am aware that I can’t actually say that much here about my job, plus I feel tired and want to get away from computer screens (although I was barely on the computer at all at work today).
Suffice to say I had to go somewhere by myself this morning for work without preparation, somewhere vaguely eerie to be by yourself if you haven’t been there much. I dealt with it OK, I think. To be honest, I was more worried about missing my bus stop than anything once I actually got there.
In the afternoon J and I went over the valuables I inventoried some time ago. Unfortunately, it was some months since I worked on this and I had forgotten some of what I had done. J was also critical of the way things had been assigned reference numbers in the past. I had not done this, I had just used the reference numbers provided, but I worried irrationally that he was annoyed with me too.
I didn’t feel autistically burnt out today, but I was exhausted by the time I got home. I read a novel for a while as I didn’t want to sit at my computer, but reading was a bit of a struggle. I really just wanted to vegetate, but I didn’t want to watch TV until later in the evening when I was really tired.
Lately I feel as if I’ve had OCD-type thoughts and catastrophising thoughts lurking at the fringes of my consciousness. I try not to give in to them, but the more I think about not thinking about them, the more I think about them. I’ve also noticed that over the years I’ve had varying level of discomfort about some things, like wearing shoes and watches, something I now associate with autistic sensory issues. It’s got worse recently, to the point where I regularly take my watch off while at work and put it in my pocket (possibly rendering wearing it redundant, although it’s easier to look at it quickly on my journey to work than getting my phone out of my pocket). I don’t take my shoes off at work, although sometimes I wish I could, but I do take them off at home. I’m not sure why this would suddenly get more difficult and intense, but I wonder if it’s part of a general feeling of being overloaded recently.
Speaking of which, I’m not going to volunteering this week. I do get a lot out of it, but I feel exhausted and can’t really face the early morning. I feel like I need to take some recuperation time. I feel a little bad, as I know they probably have fewer volunteers this week, but I feel that I need to look after myself to avoid more burnout.
I’m still watching The Blue Planet wildlife documentary. The undersea photography is as awe-inspiring as the sundry whales, sharks and other marine life. Watching nature reminds me of something my rabbi mentor once said to me, that two people can look at the night sky and say diametrically opposite things. One can say, “How can you look at that and not believe there is a God?” and the other can say, “How can you look at that and believe there is a God?” I guess you can say the same about the wonders of the plant and animal kingdoms, that some people see in them God’s handiwork and others just see nature. And it’s not even a creationism/evolution issue. I can accept evolution as a proof of God’s prowess. There’s a quote I think from Rav Hirsch in the nineteenth century that evolution proves God’s creative power more than separate individual creations, as all He did was create one single-celled creature and the principle of evolution and from that millions of species evolved. I think the point is that nature can point to God, but you have to be leaning that way in the first place. It doesn’t necessarily point there of itself.
For myself, I have always tended to find God more in the apparent vicissitudes of history, particularly Jewish history as well as my own personal history, and also in the depth of the Jewish tradition, as well as in human dignity and moral fortitude, but I’m aware that these don’t necessarily point to God of themselves either.
I’ve been feeling really drained all over the weekend, really drained and burnt out rather than just fatigued. On Friday I was drained even before I went to shul (synagogue). I was a bit late, for various reasons, and someone was sitting in my usual seat, which made me feel a bit uncomfortable. Then there was a lot of noise, clapping, thumping tables and so on during Kabbalat Shabbat. I’m not sure if there was more than usual or if I’m just worse at coping with it mid-autistic burnout. I thought a bit about leaving in the middle of the service, which I haven’t done for a long time, but I stuck with it until the end. I’m still not sure if that was the right decision.
I didn’t do much in the way of hitbodedut/spontaneous prayer at home in the evening, and I didn’t do any extra Torah study, I just read for a bit and went to bed about as early as is possible on a summer Friday, about midnight. Even so, I slept for thirteen hours, completely sleeping through the morning and missing shul. I slept for another hour and a half after lunch too, despite drinking coffee to try to stay awake as I was worried about not sleeping in the evening.
I did get to shul for Minchah (Afternoon Prayers) and Talmud shiur (religious class) afterwards. I struggled with external things again. This time the table where I usually sit was simply not there; I’m not sure where it was moved to. Then I was given Peticha (opening the Ark and taking out/putting back the Torah scrolls), but there were no tallitot (prayer shawls) and there was some confusion over who should do what as we come out of COVID regulations (should I take out the Sefer Torah and put it back or should the chazan etc.). I know this doesn’t sound like much, but with autism this kind of confusion and uncertainty can be a great deal, particularly if I’m already burnt out. I did cope with it, but I was drained again by the evening and read in my room after seudah (the third Shabbat meal) instead of playing a game with my parents.
Perhaps inevitably, I had insomnia after all that sleeping during the day, although I felt too tired to do anything useful. I ended up watching The Twilight Zone, which may not have been the best thing to watch, although it was a good episode – ten episodes in, I feel I’ve reached the type of eerie stories with a twist that I was expecting. I do admire the economy of storytelling needed to create characters and tell a whole story in just over twenty minutes, usually including establishing a fantastical premise, even if it sometimes seems like it could have done with another five or ten minutes to breathe.
Today I woke up drained again, too drained to do very much, certainly too drained to go for my usual Sunday run. I went for a walk instead, primarily to buy coffee, so I got some exercise. I relied on the heter (permission) to listen to music in the Three Weeks of mourning if you’re depressed. My rabbi mentor said it applies to autistic burnout too, but I’m not sure how to distinguish burnout from ordinary fatigue any more. There seem to be different views among people on the spectrum and researchers on whether burnout is just a long-term phenomenon (months or years), or if it can apply over a day or a number of days. My instinct is that it can be over a number of days, and that I’ve burnt myself out doing too much last week, so I let myself listen to the music to try and get myself to a normal state of mind, but it didn’t really help.
If anything, my mood slipped over the afternoon and now I feel drained and also somewhat depressed and lonely. Loneliness is more apparent than real as my parents are here (albeit absorbed in the football) and E has been texting during the day. I do miss E, though, and it’s frustrating not knowing when we will be able to see each other in person. Perhaps it’s harder to bear the uncertainty on a day like today when I don’t feel well.
I did a bit of Torah study in the early afternoon, but I didn’t feel up to doing any work on my novel. I would have liked to have done more Torah study, or just read a novel (I stopped awkwardly in the middle of a chapter of The Master and Margarita at lunchtime), but I was too drained to concentrate. I did go on a virtual tour of Jewish Rome (as in ancient Rome) which was booked for the afternoon, and I did enjoy it although my attention wandered by the end. E was supposed to come on the tour with me, but she had to duck out as she’s going to look after a friend who had surgery. She tried going at an earlier timeslot, but it didn’t work out; hopefully she’ll be able to watch a recording. After that I was exhausted and watched TV, The Twilight Zone and The Blue Planet, where, bizarrely, David Attenborough kept talking about “The twilight zone,” by which he meant the deep part of the ocean where there is almost no sunlight light.
It feels like I didn’t do as much as I wanted, but also that I probably did more than was wise, which just makes me feel that coping with autism is like navigating a maze in the dark while blindfolded. Just trying to feel myself along and often falling over. I’m just glad I have my parents and E to help me.
While I was listening to music this afternoon, The Beatles’ song Dig A Pony came on. It’s one of John Lennon’s “nonsense poetry” songs where the words don’t really mean anything and are just there for the sounds and rhythms. This lack of coherence seemed appropriate to how I feel today, or rather, how I am (or am not) thinking, hence it became this post’s title.
I’ve been thinking about my life again and trusting in God. For a long time trust in God seemed impossible. My life seemed dominated by bad decisions that I had made that had ruined everything. Now I feel that even if I had changed small things in my life (choice of school, not going to yeshiva), I probably would not have changed the outcome that much. It was determined too much by the big things. And if I had changed any of those big things, I would have been a totally different person. Maybe a better or happier person, but not me. And these days I have a degree of peace of mind in the thought of being me, certainly enough not to want to be someone else, at least not as much as I might have wanted to be in the past. So now I have some peace when I look back on my life and feel that it probably was for the best, and that it’s harder to totally derail my life than I thought it was.
I feel burnt out today. Really burnt out, not just tired. I did a lot this week (as E reminded me… she’s a good girlfriend that way), possibly too much. I need a “battery life” indicator for my body! And brain, actually, as the burnout is mental as much as physical.
The easiest way to change this is probably to stop volunteering on therapy days, despite the fact that I do get something from volunteering — as much to do with social contact in a “safe” environment, and the satisfaction of seeing a task through to its conclusion as with the actual chessed (kindness) element, although that is there. But it is exhausting on the weeks when I have therapy afterwards in the afternoon. My therapist is away for six weeks, though, and soon after that everything will be disrupted by a month of Yom Tov (Jewish festivals), and by that stage they are hoping to move volunteering to a place that I probably can’t get to easily as I don’t drive, so it’s probably academic now anyway.
Whatever the reason, I got up after noon, missed even the late time for davening Shacharit (praying Morning Prayers), struggled to get dressed and do my pre-Shabbat (Sabbath) chores. I worked on redrafting my novel for about half an hour. I didn’t really have the energy or time to do more than that today. I got through another chapter, but I didn’t change much, and I can’t work out if that’s good or bad. Good that it’s in a reasonable state or bad that it’s not in a good state, but I can’t work out how to change it. I don’t really have much objectivity about it any more.
I did about half an hour of Torah study too, less than I wanted, but I was running out of time before Shabbat (in the summer, Friday night dinner is so late that there isn’t time for Torah study afterwards, especially if I want to try to get up early in the morning for shul (synagogue)). I finished reading Ezra, which isn’t really a whole book. Originally it and Nehemiah formed a single book, but it was divided by Christian publishers. They also split Shmuel (Samuel), Melakhim (Kings) and Divrei HaYamim (Chronicles) in two. I can understand splitting those books, as they’re all very long, but Ezra/Nehemiah together still isn’t particularly long, much shorter than books like Yeshayah (Isaiah) and Yechezkel (Ezekiel). I feel my Tanakh study is a bit cursory when I’m reading without some kind of commentary, so I’m glad the Koren Maggid book on Nehemiah arrived yesterday.
I watched more Twilight Zone. I like it, but it suffers from telling stories in twenty-two minutes, to allow for adverts. The stories have a beginning and an end, but not always a middle. In Escape Clause, a narcissistic hypochondriac sells his soul to the Devil in return for eternal life and youth, unless he chooses to die, which he assumes he never will. The Devil, of course, knows that sooner or later he will bore of eternal life and especially the absence of risk, and ask to die. But we don’t see him get bored, we just jump from him signing away his soul to throwing himself under a train to see if it will kill him (it doesn’t). It was a bit jarring. That was the most extreme case, but there are other stories it affected too. (The other problem with Escape Clause, of course, was that censorship in the 50s meant that they couldn’t talk about Hell, which made the decisions seem rather less significant than they should have done.)
I was slow to get going again this morning, although not surprised as I did quite a bit yesterday. As I messaged to E, I was probably feeling a little down and looking for a reason to justify feeling like that, as nothing that I felt vaguely upset about was really enough to make me feel down. They were just explanations after the event. I think I was probably just exhausted. I don’t always find it easy to tell the difference between depression and exhaustion (alexithymia), which is something I need to bear in mind in the future.
Shiur (religious class) was very good, except that right near the end someone asked a broad question about academic Biblical criticism that was only tangentially related to the topic of the shiur. It took the teacher five minutes to deal with the topic even in a brief way, as it was such a massive question and so unrelated to what she had been talking about, and it ate up the end of the shiur. I was left feeling that I hadn’t really heard or understood her final point, even though what I did process was fascinating and I would have liked to have heard more, or understood better.
Being on the spectrum, I’m not always good at sudden changes of topic and don’t like it when people ask irrelevant questions, which seems to happen a lot in shiurim. I’m not sure if Jews are particularly bad at sticking to the topic or if lots of people do this and I’m just around groups of Jews more than I’m around other groups of people.
I was also left with a feeling of perhaps inappropriate responsibility again (as happened last week), as the teacher suggested one (very good) book on biblical criticism that I have read, but I wasn’t sure whether it was appropriate to recommend one that I’m reading at the moment that also deals with biblical criticism from an Orthodox viewpoint. I wrote the name of the book in the chat section on Skype, but then felt that it wasn’t appropriate and didn’t send it. In retrospect, that might not have been the best thing to do.
I spent some time working on my novel, about an hour of redrafting, excluding procrastination. There wasn’t much procrastination compared with the past, which is especially good as redrafting is tiring and the chapter I was redrafting brings back a lot of negative memories, almost triggers.
I actually dreamt about one of my stories last night, not the novel I’m currently working on, but the one I’m jotting down ideas for as they percolate into my brain. I guess it shows I’m thinking about my writing a lot and taking it seriously.
I also feel a bit more reassured about being able to write about sensitive topics while remaining in the frum (religious) community from something I heard today. Ashley Blaker is a Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) comedian (I actually see him in real life sometimes as he lives in the same area as me) who has a comedy series coming up on BBC Radio 4. I heard a trailer for it today and it had a joke which was… surprising to hear from someone the Haredi community (about his teenage son trying to use the satnav to access PornHub). It occurred to me that Blaker gets away with a lot of stuff lightly making fun of Judaism, whereas I would not go that far. As far as I can tell, he doesn’t consider the Haredi community his audience, although he has performed in Modern Orthodox settings, so he can get away with a lot. I don’t really see the Haredi community as my audience either (people in the community tend not to read books written by outsiders or not approved by their rabbis), so I should be OK. Although I wouldn’t write about PornHub. Actually, there probably is a novel to be written about a frum man struggling with pornography addiction, having read several articles about this exact issue from the point of view of both the addict and his wife. I’ve felt that for some time. However, I don’t think I would have the knowledge, ability or guts to write it. I think it would take a lot of courage to write about that even from a secular point of view, let alone an Orthodox Jewish one. There are so many mines you could step on there…
Today I slept a lot, had anxiety dreams (I don’t know why I still get anxiety dreams about breaking Shabbat when I’ve been shomer Shabbat for twenty years), woke up still feeling burnt out, as well as overwhelmed at the things to do in the next few days, in particular fitting Talmud study and writing my devar Torah around work, dinner with my family and therapy, as well as buying Dad a belated Father’s Day present, collecting my repeat prescription and hopefully continuing to work on my novel.
Once I got going, things got a bit easier and I began to work out when I could do things. I spent an hour redrafting my novel. There was some procrastination, but I actually did quite a lot, writing about five hundred words, although I’m not sure if I should necessarily be writing much more at this stage. I probably need to cut and rewrite as much as write more. I do need to force myself out of narrating and into showing, and hopefully the new bits helped do that. It also showed my protagonist’s interactions with his family a bit more, another of my main targets for this redraft.
I was a bit stuck for both ideas and time for my devar Torah this week and spent forty minutes or so revamping an old one from years ago and expanding it significantly. I’m not really happy with this, but I feel overwhelmed this week and it seemed the best thing to do.
I went for a walk and my mood went down a bit. The future seems scary sometimes. Even the good things, like building my relationship with E, will lead to scary things, like possibly changing communities or even countries or dealing with immigration law in the UK or US, buying a house, and other scary “adult” things. Then there are the things that are scary without any positives, like the fear that I might never being able to hold down a full-time job, while simultaneously not being eligible for compensatory state benefits. E and I have been told to stay in the present and not race ahead to the future, but it’s hard, particularly when (a) we’re both pessimists and worriers by nature and (b) the present is frustrating because we don’t know when we can spend time in the same country due to COVID travel restrictions.
E and I “went” to a Zoom shiur (religious class), the first of five on Devarim (Deuteronomy). It was very interesting, with a lot of information to grasp in a short period. One thing that happened that I found curious, not related to the content, was that the teacher had made a mistake on one of the handouts, mistranslating “eleventh month” as “twelfth month,” which had a knock-on effect to which month was being referred to. I noticed the mistake, both spotting the word and knowing that the month should be the eleventh one, but I didn’t say anything because I was too shy. The strange thing was that I became filled with a lot of anxiety lest someone else point it out and embarrass the teacher. Eventually someone did pick up on it, and I felt quite embarrassed for several minutes on the teacher’s behalf, as it were.
I know people think that autistic people don’t feel empathy; I think the reality is the reverse, that we feel a lot of empathy and can “pick up” other people’s emotions without really understanding them or being able to process them properly, which is what happened here.
I don’t really want to write tonight, but I feel compelled. I’m exhausted, but I need to vent because my mind is running. Or part of it.
Work was OK. I did a bit of phoning people and messed up one phone call when I misunderstood something and may have to go back and sort it out later in the week. In the afternoon, I was just doing a lot of slow data entry.
By the time I got home, I was exhausted. I felt almost physically ill. This has happened to me a few times on work days lately and I’m not sure why. I associate it with the open-plan office job I had that left me in a state and made me sure that I was on the spectrum. I don’t know why this job is suddenly making me feel like that, with no obvious reasons. On days when I did a lot of phoning, I could understand it, but I only made a few calls today. I also don’t know if this is burnout or fatigue or what. It doesn’t feel like “just” being tired. It feels painful and dysfunctional.
My parents were out when I got home and I think that annoyed me on some level, because they hadn’t told me they would still be out, and then I felt bad for feeling annoyed, as I’m an adult and they don’t have to tell me. Even though I’m a socially anxious, introverted autistic, I guess I’ve just got used to there always being someone around when I want to vent over the last year and a half.
I was too exhausted to do very much other than eat and watch TV. Just feeling completely drained and ill. I decided I was not well enough to spend a couple of hours on Zoom for depression group. After dinner (with my parents — we’re getting back in the habit of eating dinner together on Mondays), I wanted to do more Torah study (ideally another chapter of Ezra in Hebrew, but at least a a bit more of To This Very Day: Fundamental Questions in Bible Study), having done about forty minutes on the Tube in to work in the morning, but my head hurt just thinking about it, so I watched more Babylon 5.
Babylon 5 is perhaps not the best thing to watch at the moment because (a) season five isn’t very good and (b) Babylon 5 is largely structured around a series of wars, and at the moment wars are… not exactly triggering, but upsetting. I’m still processing a lot of thoughts about the Arab-Israeli Conflict, and antisemitism, and part of me wants to run away from that sort of thing and part of me thinks I shouldn’t run away. (Although the confluence of the two gives me a vague writing idea to think about, if I really don’t want to run away…) Nevertheless, I want to finish Babylon 5 so I can concentrate on my Doctor Who watching with E, and there’s not much left now.
It’s nearly 10.30pm now. Over five hours of not doing much has not improved how I feel. I’m just writing this quickly and posting. I will probably watch TV (something lighter, probably The Simpsons) to fill the time between Ma’ariv (Evening Prayers) and bed, as I don’t feel up to reading even something as light as James Bond. Strangely, I don’t think I would sleep if I went to bed at the moment. I’m too tense. I need to watch something to relax me.
A friend has reviewed my Doctor Who non-fiction book in a forthcoming fanzine (fan-produced magazine). I had drifted out of fandom, but I feel curious to know what he said, even though it will cost me £7 to find out. I just hope it’s positive…
OK, brain is just not working any more tonight…
I have a lot I could say about season five and why it doesn’t work, which I won’t say here as it’s not a Babylon 5 blog, but I’ve never liked Byron and I could never work out why, but it struck me on this re-watch that he comes across as a cult leader rather than a revolutionary. It just makes me uncomfortable.
…which is what I have been trying to do, not terribly successfully, for the last three days.
I slept through most of the weekend. I slept through Saturday morning and missed shul (synagogue). I think I woke up for a few seconds around when I was supposed to get up, but not for long enough to actually get up. Then I woke around and 10.30am and went to the loo, but was too tired to stay up, especially as there was no chance of getting to shul before it would be over. Then I fell asleep again in the afternoon, for more than two hours. I did make it to shul on Friday night and Saturday afternoon, and to Talmud shiur (religious class), which was an effort. I didn’t manage much in the way of other Torah study. Unlike the last few weeks, I didn’t play a game with my parents after seudah (the third Sabbath meal) as I wanted to read, although really I think I would happily have fallen asleep again; it was an effort to stay awake. I went to bed late (as inevitably happens in the summer when Shabbat finishes after 10pm) and took about an hour to fall asleep. To be honest, I slept so much that I thought I would be awake much later.
The weather is pretty grim, which doesn’t help. From an uncomfortable heatwave the week or two, we have suddenly plunged into autumn: cold and wet with no sunlight.
I tried to work on my novel today, but my brain wasn’t really working. I looked over some of what I wrote last week and tried to read through the first chapter and rewrite where necessary, but I didn’t get terribly far. My brain just was not functioning and I procrastinated too much. I also think I’m reaching the point of diminishing returns with redrafting. I’m struggling to imagine it being ‘different’ to how it is now. Maybe that’s the brain fog, or maybe not. It’s hard to get excited about a fourth draft.
I managed a little Torah study, reading over this coming week’s sedra (Torah portion), but struggled to think of anything to write my devar Torah about. I did some ironing too, not terribly well, but I got it done as I think my parents wanted it done.
E and I had a Skype call. Our calls are going well, but it’s really frustrating that we can’t just “hang out” together when I’m having bad days like these. Not that I’ve ever been good at just “hanging out,” by myself, let alone with anyone else (hence all this activity today even though I felt bad).
I have a busy few days ahead of me: work tomorrow and Wednesday (rather than Thursday) because J moved his work day and I had to follow. That has led to therapy moving to Tuesday, the same day E and I start a Zoom class at the London School of Jewish Studies. Then my sister and brother-in-law are coming here for dinner with me and my parents on Wednesday. I hope I’m a bit less burnt out and can get through everything OK.
My father’s day card arrived on time, fortunately. Not much else to say about that, though. My sister and I didn’t have any ideas for presents. Dad asked for some aftershave, so I’ll have to see if I can go to Boots sometime this week. I’ve only been inside the shop a couple of times in the last year and a bit.
I’m letting the paid for domain name on my Doctor Who blog lapse when it comes up for renewal in a month. It was one of my attempts to manoeuvre myself into paid writing work and it didn’t work out, sadly. The Doctor Who writing world seems a bit of a closed shop. But it does make me think how badly I’ve done at getting paid writing work, and how risky it is to try to build a career as a writer. I’m lucky that I have my part-time admin job, and that my parents are supporting me, and that E isn’t pushing me to work more. It’s hard to see how I could do much more work at all, counting what writing I already do as work. I’m just tired so much of the time.
…or OK yesterday, but hopeless and burnt out today (quote from Don’t Get Me Wrong by The Pretenders). I probably did too much yesterday. I didn’t want to write a long, not to mention political, post, but I just had stuff in my head to let out. I stayed up too late writing it when I should really have been taking time out (or doing the ironing). The result is that today I feel drained and somewhat unwell. I didn’t pressure myself to work on my novel today, but I feel upset that I’ve lost valuable writing time. I also will at least try not to pressure myself to do a lot of Torah study. I’ve booked for shul (synagogue) tonight, tomorrow morning and tomorrow afternoon, but I think it’s likely that I’ll miss the morning service at least. I am still hoping to make it tonight.
I guess days like today are why it’s never been easy for me (and possibly mental health workers) to tell burnout from depression. I just feel drained physically with low mood. Whenever I think about the wider world, it just seems relentlessly negative.
I didn’t do very much other than my usual Friday pre-Shabbat chores, as well as twenty-five minutes of Torah study (all I could manage, and perhaps more than I should have done). I really just wanted to go to bed and wrap myself in my weighted blanket. I avoided doing this for most of the day, but eventually decided it would help, so I went back to bed for twenty minutes in the afternoon with no screens, music, etc., which helped a bit. I would have liked to do so much more (walk, ironing, work on my novel, more Torah study…), but I’m just trying to do what I can and try to get to shul later.
I watched an episode of Doctor Who to cheer myself up as well. I thought that now we’ve watched the first season of the new series, E might like to see a couple of older stories “together.” Plus, I admit, I couldn’t really face watching twelve seasons of the new series uninterrupted! We’ve started with City of Death from 1979, which is a very popular story with fans and one of my favourites, but I feel incredibly self-conscious, wondering what E makes of it and how it looks through modern eyes and compared with the modern version. She enjoyed the first two episodes at least, even though she enjoyed the 2005 season more, which is fair enough.
I went to bed late last night, as I didn’t think I would sleep, having forgotten to take my meds when I got home from the restaurant, plus I needed passive unwinding time in front of the TV. I watched Doctor Who (Bad Wolf and The Parting of the Ways), and felt myself frustrated by Russell T Davies’ writing style again. To be fair to him, some of it is just contemporary TV in general rather than him in particular, but I can put up with other writers more easily.
When I did get to bed, I remembered something I need to do today, but I was too tired to get up and write a note, which was a very bad idea, as if it’s not written down, I don’t remember it and now I can’t work out what it is. I think I figured it out in the end, but frustrated and worried me for much of the day.
I woke up very late and after breakfast was so tired I went back to bed (or laid on the bed, as it was hot). I’m not sure if I dozed; I think just lying in a cool (ish), quiet, dark room helped restore me after all the social interactions, social anxiety and sensory overload of yesterday. I felt a bit fatigued afterwards, but not burnt out. Unfortunately, it was 3.30pm by that stage and I was still in pyjamas.
I spent a while trying to track down the complete Hebrew original of a Midrash (rabbinic expansion of the biblical story) that I had only read in part for my devar Torah; when I finally found it, I couldn’t make much of the bits that I didn’t have the translation for, which was frustrating. Aside from that, I spent about half an hour starting to write my devar Torah. I’m glad to have got the bones of it down, although I need to work on it some more tomorrow. I am conscious that I could have done more if I hadn’t been burnt out, which is frustrating, but there isn’t a lot I can do about it.
I didn’t really have time to exercise today, and I thought it was too hot even for a walk.
After dinner it was cooler outdoors than in. I sat in the garden and worked on my novel. Making amendments after having finished a couple of drafts turns out to be like remodelling the bottom layers of a house of cards after I’ve finished it; one false move and everything collapses. That’s how it feels, anyway. I’m terrified of accidentally repeating myself or introducing a continuity error or just introducing a very obviously interpolated and out-of-place passage. When writing a new passage, I “merely” have to think up something interesting, original and true and write it down, but rewriting requires revisiting written (and half-forgotten) passages and restructuring them, keeping them doing what they were doing, but also fitting with my new writing.
One of my religious targets for this Jewish year was improving my kavannah, my concentration, or, better, mindfulness, in prayer, although I wasn’t really sure how to do this.
There is a kind of paradox in Jewish prayer, that if God is omniscient, omnipotent and benevolent, He knows what we need and supplies it, so what is the point of praying? There are many approaches to this. I once gave a shiur (religious talk) about just three of them. To summarise very briefly:
- Prayer is a process of building a relationship with God by asking Him for everything we need and telling Him all our thoughts. The content is less important than the interaction, which builds relationship. (Rebbe Nachman of Breslov)
- Prayer is a means of establishing a “covenantal community” which happens to include God as a member. Asking for things isn’t the point as much as establishing the community. (Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik, The Lonely Man of Faith)
- Prayer is a self-reflexive process of examining ourselves and whether we truly need the things we want and whether we will use them well. If we undergo the process correctly, we can become worthy of things that we did not deserve previously. (Rabbi Shimshon Raphael Hirsch, Horeb)
(1 and 2 are quite similar, except 1 is personal and 2 is communal, including other Jews. I’m not sure if Rav Soloveitchik views the covenantal community as being the local community or the entire Jewish people.)
The last week or two I have been trying to focus on one of these mindsets of prayer while saying the Amidah, the most important prayer and the centrepiece of every prayer service. It’s been an interesting experiment and it has definitely helped with kavannah. I’ve mostly been focusing on numbers 1 and 2, as 3 is more self-reflexive than I’ve felt up to lately and doesn’t really apply on Shabbat (when I have most time and energy for prayer) as Shabbat prayers are not petitionary, at least not to the same extent as weekday prayers.
Work was difficult today. I spent an hour on an unusual task, which I can’t really talk about here, but most of the day was spent phoning people to chase fees. A lot of them had simply forgotten to pay and a few actually paid by credit card immediately, which was good, and others promised to send a cheque soon. Someone claimed to have posted a cheque two and a half weeks ago, but it hasn’t arrived, which I will have to follow up on Thursday. Some people have financial difficulties, which we try to be sympathetic to, but it’s obviously easier to do that if people are upfront about it, instead of just not paying and hoping we will go away.
Unfortunately, when I called the first person on my list I remembered too late that I had phoned her a few weeks ago and that she is immobile and with poor eyesight and has to wait until a relative can help her to pay. I was very apologetic about phoning her again, but I wish I had remembered in time and not phoned. Then I had one call where the person sounded… well, to be honest, she sounded like she had dementia (many of our members are elderly). I was trying to politely get off the call and ask J what to do, when suddenly she sounded more ‘with it’ and asked if she could pay by debit card. I said yes and she read all the right card details to me. So I’m not sure what happened there, but I do feel somewhat uneasy without knowing why.
I still have a lot more calls to make. I guess it’s good exposure therapy, as I struggle with phone calls both from social anxiety and autism/Asperger’s, but it is very draining.
I was exhausted after all of this, but I had arranged to meet my sister and brother-in-law for dinner, as my parents are away for a few days. I wanted to do some more Torah study before then (I’d done forty minutes on the Tube to work, but was aiming towards an hour), but, even after a shower, was still exhausted, so watched The Simpsons instead until it was time to go.
Dinner was good. We went to a new pizza restaurant near where we live (OK, fifteen minutes walk away. I consider that near). I was nervous, as I planned to tell my sister and BIL about me and E being back together and was nervous about how my sister might react. She was pleased for us, but I was nervous enough that I got indigestion. Also, the restaurant is literally opposite the place where my shul (synagogue) davens (prays) during the week. We don’t have our own premises and rent a small room in a shul above a shop during the week and a part of a primary school on Shabbat and Yom Tov (Sabbaths and festivals). Because of this, I saw half a dozen or more people I know walking past, which was a bit distracting (I also saw the Head of Informal Jewish Education from my secondary school days, looking greyer but otherwise unchanged a quarter of a century on).
Also, perhaps because of the exhaustion from work, I did not cope well with autistic sensory overload. I originally sat opposite a screen on which a football match on TV was being projected, but found it too distracting and had to sit on the other side of the table so I couldn’t see it (unlike the two young boys standing outside watching through the glass door until the manager chased them away). I found the loud “background” music uncomfortable as well. It is interesting/strange/frustrating how my tolerance for things like this can vary so dramatically depending on other factors like tiredness and anxiety.
Now I’m pretty exhausted. I would like to have another attempt at more Torah, but I can’t face it. It’s hard enough to face ten minutes of Ma’ariv (Evening Prayers) and another ten minutes of Hitbodedut (unstructured, spontaneous prayer) in my very hot bedroom. Technically, as I have the house to myself, I could try to find somewhere cooler, but (a) there is an idea about praying in the same place every day and (b) I am an autistic creature of habit.
I’m glad I have the house to myself tomorrow, as it will be nice to have space to myself for the first time in over a year, but I’m also vaguely worried, as I don’t always do that well by myself (I’m an autistic introvert, but the last few years have shown that I’m often better if there are one or two people around, as long as I don’t have to talk to them much). I’m tempted to eat ice cream. I’m trying to eat less junk (not that I ate much before except on Shabbat) and in particular to limit myself to ice cream no more than once a week, but it is hot and uncomfortable and I had a very stressful day, so I might reward myself with Ben and Jerry’s.
I don’t have much to say today, which is good, because I don’t have much time to say it. I slept very late (after 1pm) and have been drained all day, whether that’s burn out or fatigue. I did my Shabbat (Sabbath) chores, but not a lot else. I didn’t have the time or brainpower for working on my novel. I went to the post office and did some shopping, but Dad gave me a lift as it was raining too much to walk and I wouldn’t have had the time for a long walk anyway.
I struggled through a very difficult chapter of the biblical book of Daniel for half an hour; “chapter” is not a precise measurement, but it took two or three times longer than it usually would for a passage that long. I’m not sure if that’s a reflection of my exhaustion, the difficulty of the passage (in terms of both language and concepts) or both. Daniel is definitely one of the harder biblical books to understand, even at a basic level, not least because half the book is written in Aramaic rather than Hebrew, although not the chapter I was studying.
I have booked to go to shul (synagogue) tonight, tomorrow morning and afternoon for prayers and Talmud class. I’m still reasonably confident about getting to the afternoon services, but I’m not sure that I’m going to manage to go tomorrow morning.
I feel that I’m doing as much as I can today (and, I hope, tomorrow), but it feels like that isn’t really very much.
Also, a glance at the Jewish Chronicle website has left me feeling anxious and unsafe, so I’m not in the best mindset for shul, but I have to go in a few minutes.