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

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

***

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

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

***

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

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

***

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

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

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

***

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

***

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

***

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

Good News/Bad News (Again)

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

***

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

***

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

On and On and On

Today I’ve been up and down. I’m fine, I’m low, I’m fine, I want to cry, I’m fine… It’s hard to tell what triggered this, or maybe there are too many possible causes. Possible causes:

1) I haven’t had any response for my pitches to the Jewish newspaper, Jewish website or from the last couple of novel agents I submitted to. I haven’t had any time to submit to more agents. I don’t know what other websites or publications I might pitch to at the moment. This probably isn’t unusual and might not even mean that those publications/agents aren’t interested at this stage, but I’m finding the total radio silence unnerving. I’d like to hear something, even if it’s to say that I’m pitching the wrong way or to the wrong people.

2) I’m a bit upset that social anxiety seems to be winning in my life, at least at shul (see yesterday’s post) and a bit at work, inasmuch as I hope to avoid the Very Scary Task, although to be fair I’m not actively avoiding it. I would like to do autism-adapted CBT to work on this, but who knows when I will be able to do so?

3) I’m frustrated at not having much time for writing either, although I did spend some time on novel research last night. To be fair, part of my frustration is about being stuck in research and not writing mode.

Not everything is in limbo: I have E, and I have a job, even if it’s only two days a week. Being long-distance with E is hard now we’ve been in person, but it’s better than nothing. I also feel like I only get things when I’m at my wits’ end about them, and I’m not there yet with work and writing (or writing for work). I’m somewhat nervous about meeting E’s parents on Zoom later this week, but I have to do it sooner or later, and it’s better to do it sooner.

Otherwise it was a dull day: I got up a little earlier than usual, did some Torah study, went for a run, and Mum cut my hair. C’est tout.

***

Doctor Who was good (Village of the Angels), surprisingly so, although perhaps not so surprising given that it basically rehashed tried and tested set-pieces from other Weeping Angels stories. I feel there is only so much you can do with the Weeping Angels. I suspect it will turn out to be the best episode of the six part season story, as I’m expecting the concluding episodes to drift into technobabble and incoherence; already I feel I’m vague on anything to do with the ongoing storyline about the Flux and the villainous Swarm and Azure (good costumes, though) and more focused on the plotlines of individual episodes like the Sontarans in the Crimean War in episode two or the Village of the Angels tonight.

Kafkaesque

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

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

***

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

***

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

***

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

***

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

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

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

***

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

The Fire Sermon

I felt exhausted all day on Friday. Shul (synagogue) in the evening was OK. It seemed quieter than usual. I’m not sure why, possibly there were fewer people. There was a devar Torah that I didn’t like that much. It was based on a very mystical worldview that I didn’t really buy into, and an approach towards Midrash that I don’t really accept, taken to some very strange conclusions. The person who gave it (it’s a slot open to the community) asked if I understood it. I said yes, which is true, I understood it, I just didn’t agree with it. I still struggle to disagree with people, and I feel a more Maimonidean religious rationalist understanding wouldn’t go down well in my community.

I had dinner with some friends, which was nice. It was just four of us, so I wasn’t as overwhelmed as I feared I might be. When I got home I had a long chat with my parents about their holiday. I also had a treat: I read Eliot’s The Waste Land, which I hadn’t read for years. I suspect Eliot’s worldview and understanding of literature is about as far from fashionable as is possible at the moment, and I have never really been able to analyse and understand the poem, but I’ve always found it beautifully written. There are lines embedded in my memory.

I woke up about 7am and thought about getting up. I knew I wasn’t going to go to shul in the morning, as I thought I needed to recuperate after socialising yesterday, but I thought I should get up to try to sort out my sleep pattern, but I just couldn’t face it, and ended up sleeping again. I napped twice in the afternoon too, once briefly, but once for an hour (my parents were also asleep, and we all slept through the end of Shabbat). I had wanted to go to shul for Minchah (Afternoon Prayers) and Talmud shiur (religious class), but didn’t make it. It’s hard to unpick why; I think the napping is avoidance, driven by social anxiety and feelings of disconnection with the community. I had these before COVID, but the prolonged periods without shul, or with uncomfortable regulations, has just made them worse. I’m not sure what to do now. It presumably is something I could work on in autism-adjusted CBT, but I’m not even on the waiting list for that yet, with the GP currently refusing to apply to the CCG for funding. I need to phone the hospital to ask what I should tell the GP, but I feel (a) like I’m playing Piggy in the Middle, (b) that the GP should know and (c) that the hospital won’t be any more cooperative than the GP. I will try to phone the hospital during the week, if I have the time.

I might not have the time because I’m juggling several possibly job opportunities. I need to prepare for my meeting with the autism job agency; fill in various forms for the job agency that got me work in the past; apply for a job that I’m not helpful about (it’s full-time. I don’t think I can work full-time, but my parents tell me to apply and see if they’ll let me have a job-share. I am sceptical about this); and, most excitingly, the Jewish website that published my article a few months ago is advertising for staff writers. This seems about the most promising job opportunity I’ve had for a long time, so I’m applying there as my first priority. In the past I would have been either thinking I can’t write inspirational posts or link Jewish concepts to pop culture and the news (as is their style), or I would be thinking that, as my Jewish worldview doesn’t match the sites 100%, I shouldn’t write for them, but I’m mostly feeling positive,so I guess that’s good.

I’ve got Doctor Who: Voyage of the Damned on as I write. I wouldn’t usually watch TV and write (I can’t multitask), but it’s long and dull, but it’s the next episode on E and my new Who watch. It’s one of those episodes where I wonder how I can have such different views of Doctor Who, and storytelling, than Russell T Davies (although “You couldn’t even sink the Titanic!” was quite a good line). I hope there are people out there who like my type of stories (or writing).

The Bureaucracy Carousel

While I was in the Tower of London yesterday, I got a phone call from the Jobcentre saying they needed to speak to me. I didn’t want to speak there, obviously, so arranged to speak this morning, as E was working this morning. Unfortunately, I crashed last night/this morning and was still in pyjamas when they phoned.

Apparently I should have spoken to them when I applied for benefits last year, but they didn’t arrange that meeting, I assume because of COVID. Today they talked me through various things. Apparently the Benefits Office, which I had written to about my change in work status (starting working for J), isn’t the same as the Jobcentre. I think I should have written to both. Bureaucracy, etc. The takeaways, which didn’t surprise me, are that I should have told them about my job (like I said, I told the Benefits Office, but not the Jobcentre) and I should have told them about my diagnosis change. I think either could lead to them stopping my benefits. I didn’t want to say, “I’m not depressed” as in the past I’ve had months of remission and then a relapse just when I think I’m back to ‘normal,’ but obviously they want to stop my benefits as soon as I feel better. I can’t lie directly, so sort of waffled about being less depressed, but struggling in the workplace with my autism symptoms, which is true, but I don’t know if they’ll allow benefits for autism; they will almost certainly want a new letter from my GP. I have a meeting in person tomorrow, which I didn’t really want to do while E is here, but I didn’t feel I had much choice. So the bureaucracy carousel goes round. I won’t be surprised if they stop my benefits, and it’s not such an issue while I’m working for J, but I hope they don’t make me pay back the last few months’ benefits.

Speaking of the GP and bureaucracy, no sooner had I got off the phone to the benefits office than the GP’s secretary phoned about my referral for autism-adjusted CBT. She said that the GP does not know how to apply directly to the CCG for funding for my treatment and wants a letter from the hospital telling him what he should do. So, more delay and more phone calls while I try to get a letter from the hospital. Round and round the carousel goes…

It was a pain having to deal with this with E here, but fortunately she had a work meeting this morning, so we would not have been doing anything together anyway. I’m not going to blog everything we’ve done together, but over the last few days we’ve visited quite a few bookshops, new and second-hand, and have ended up with less money, but more books. I bought two James Bond books (You Only Live Twice and Octopussy and The Living Daylights), a Lord Peter Wimsey mystery (Gaudy Night) and a Jeeves and Wooster book (Pigs Have Wings), all second hand. I picked up a free copy of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone from the local book swap box too; perhaps surprisingly, I’ve never read or seen any of the Harry Potter books/films. A couple of books I ordered about sex and pornography addiction for research for my novel arrived recently too, so my attempt to keep the ‘to read’ pile to a manageable length has been set back a bit. E and my parents are getting on well and tonight she met my sister and brother-in-law, so that at least is a success.

Ego Depletion

I woke up about 8.40am today, got up to go to the toilet and then tried to stay up, but gave in too easily to tiredness and went back to bed. I finally got up around 12.00pm. I could have done with using an extra two or three hours time today, so I really regretted going back to bed. The problem is that my will power when tired first thing in the morning makes me behave uncharacteristically. Normally I am the type of person who will defer pleasure to focus on necessary, unpleasant tasks, sometimes to the point of discomfort or worse, but when I wake up, I mostly just want to sleep until the last possible moment. If I could work out how to make my sleep more refreshing, maybe this would change, but I am not sure how to do that.

I would have liked to have had more time to write a query letter to an agent, for example. However, the one I found on Friday, who dealt with Jewish-themed fiction, turned out to have retired from agenting to become a school teacher. I’m going to look for agents who deal with general literature, but if I can find one who deals with minority characters or settings, that might be helpful. Although diversity-orientated people tend to see Jews as “white” and not in anyway different to white Christian/atheist people, which is not helpful or realistic (just read my blog), but there you go.

As it is, I did a few chores today, including writing to my GP about my autism-adapted CBT referral. The surgery seems to have no email address, or not one they publicise, so I will have to physically post it through the door. I went for a run and came back with a headache, which further limited what I was able to do. I did about an hour of Torah study, with head aching too much to find much of interest for my devar Torah, and that was about it.

***

My parents both have what we all hope are heavy colds, but they went for COVID tests all the same, just in case. Mum works with vulnerable people, so it’s a reasonable precaution. I couldn’t have a free test, as I don’t have any symptoms, but I’m worried that if my parents do have COVID, I will have to have a test and will test positive despite being asymptomatic, which will disrupt E and my plans for her trip here soon. I guess I should hope that my parents just have colds.

Back to the NHS

I struggled to sleep again last night. I think I need to be strict about no screens after 10.30pm, except for texting E good night, but I’m not sure how much that would actually help, as I sometimes struggle to sleep on Friday night, when I haven’t been on screens for hours.

I waited for an hour at the doctor. I was about to ask the receptionist if I had been forgotten, when I got a text saying I had missed my appointment! I showed that to the receptionist who said she had checked me in when I arrived. I don’t know what happened, but somehow the doctor didn’t know that I was sitting in the waiting room. I probably have confirmation bias about the NHS being useless, but sometimes it’s hard not to feel it. Atypically for me, I didn’t have anything to read, as I’ve noticed lately I don’t read in waiting rooms any more, as I seem to have too much social anxiety. I’m not sure why this has suddenly come about. It’s possibly partly fear of the meeting itself and partly fear of being caught in the middle of reading something and creating some kind of social faux pas through carrying on reading.

When I saw the doctor, she couldn’t see anything wrong with my ears (which are still ringing and a little muffled), except my eardrums were “cloudy” (I think that was the word she used). She seemed pretty stuck for solutions. She said to do “steam inhalation” — basically breathe in steam from boiling water for five to ten minutes twice a day for two weeks and see if that clears the Eustachian tubes, which might be congested. (I think Eustachian Tubes sounds like a character from Victorian literature, probably an obese parson.)

The doctor hadn’t spoken to anyone about my autism-adapted CBT referral either. She seemed to be a relatively new and junior doctor, so I can see she didn’t want to do anything without knowing all the case history. Still, it’s frustrating. Technically the practice doesn’t let patients have a specific doctor that they always see, but I’ve usually tried to get one particular doctor if I can and he handled the previous round of discussion about the autism-adapted CBT, so Dad suggested writing to him. I don’t have an email address, but I could email the practice and mark it for his attention. Or even write an old-fashioned letter, address it to him and stick it in the letterbox. It’s better than just waiting and casting myself on the tender mercies of NHS bureaucracy again.

Other than that, it’s been a low-key day. I did some more work on my devar Torah and a couple of chores, notably investigating the UK and USA travel and testing requirements for E. I had therapy too, which was good, but I don’t want to say much about it here. Maybe I’ll say more about it tomorrow; I need to process a bit for now.

OK, going to watch Doctor Who and then inhale some steam…

“Real” Results

I went to bed early and slept for about fourteen hours (this was after only sleeping for about four hours the previous night). I woke feeling really refreshed in a way that I rarely am, but I had lost half the day. Granted, I was catching up from having abnormally low sleep the night before, but it does seem to suggest I need a lot more sleep than most people. I’m not sure how to get that sleep in a healthy way. Going to bed earlier would be a good start, of course, but when I sleep late, the temptation is to stay up late catching up with things I should have done in the day (as today).

I phoned the doctor’s surgery, to try to get an appointment about the ringing in my ears and my autism-adapted CBT referral. I had a phone appointment with a doctor (not one I’ve seen previously and I think new to the practice) a while later. She wants to see my ears, so I’m going for an in-person appointment tomorrow, which seems weird now as it’s so long since I’ve had a medical appointment in person. The doctor wasn’t sure what to do about my autism CBT referral and said she would talk to her colleagues. I hope she manages to do that before my appointment tomorrow morning. I have worries about the NHS bureaucracy doing its stuff and the GPs and the hospital each insisting that the other should write the referral and nothing happening while I run between them, trying to get one of them to do something.

I spent some time reading Jeff Herman’s Guide to Book Publishers, Editors & Literary Agents. It tried too hard to be funny and didn’t tell me much I didn’t already know about agents and query letters. I was hoping for help on writing the latter to attract the attention of the former. However, the book is mostly a list of literary agents, so might prove its worth yet, if I write to some of those and one takes my manuscript. ‘If’ is a big word. Anyway, I didn’t actually submit to any agents because I used my writing-related time reading this book. I feel a bit disappointed, as I wanted to send query letters to five agents today. Jeff Herman’s suggested sending to ten agents a month, so I feel I can catch up later in October.

I went for a walk. It was already getting dark at 6pm; a part of my brain thinks it is still August and not getting dark until closer to 9pm. It didn’t register that the nights were getting longer when I spent a month focused on Yom Tov (Jewish festivals). It didn’t help that I had got up very late so the world went into night mode before my brain was ready to do so.

Other than that I did a few other things: wrote most of my devar Torah (which went in a somewhat different direction to where I intended), cooked dinner and Skyped E. I did do quite a bit today, but I feel a little frustrated as (a) I could have done more if I had got up earlier and (b) the doctor’s appointment was left unresolved, I didn’t make much tangible progress with sending out more novel query letters, and my devar Torah isn’t quite finished, so it feels like nothing I did today led to a real result (yet), except, I suppose, for Skyping E, which doesn’t really have an ‘outcome’ as such, and cooking dinner, which did have a good result (macaroni cheese), but which only took twenty minutes or so, as if I feel it would only be worthwhile if I spent longer doing it. I guess I do pressure myself not just to do things, but to get very particular results from doing them.

“Well, I tell them there’s no problems/Only solutions”

I’m still haunted by the Very Scary Task. Although my work on it was already completed, the actual event I was organising happened today. My Dad woke me up early (not very early, but early for me), thinking I still had work to do on it. Then I got a call less than an hour before the VST was due to start which scared me into thinking something had gone wrong until I saw it was Mum. She couldn’t get to work because of traffic caused by people panic-buying petrol at all the petrol stations. (Panic-buying seems to be a persistent issue of recent years and I’m not sure how to stop it. Ministers going on TV saying, “Stop panic-buying” does very little and might even make it worse.) Anyway, that Very Scary Task must be over by now and no one phoned me up to complain, so hopefully it went OK.

***

The good Sukkot weather we’ve been having came to an end with heavy rain this morning, although the skies are clearer now. At least I got out there for lunch and dinner every day. Tomorrow we start praying for rain, which always feels like the ‘official’ start of autumn.

I think I’ve coped OK with the Yom Tovim (Jewish festivals). I coped with ‘peopling’ and general religious stress better than I expected, if anything, although I got to shul (synagogue) less than I would have liked. I plan to go to shul for Minchah and Ma’ariv (Afternoon and Evening Prayers) tonight and maybe for Minchah tomorrow, but not at all over Simchat Torah. I’ll just pray at home. It saddens me to have to just completely give up on a Jewish festival, but the alternative is to end up thoroughly overloaded and miserable.

Simchat Torah is just too stressful for me as someone with social anxiety and autism, with the raucous singing and dancing, not to mention the auctioning of honours in return for commitment to Talmud study, which just drives home to me how little Talmud study I do in comparison to some people, and my unwillingness to commit to much for fear that a mental health relapse will stop me meeting that commitment. The shul community tries to study the whole of the Mishnah, the oldest stratum of the Talmud, every year, with different people committing to study different chapters in return for different honours in the shul over Simchat Torah. The biggest honours are reserved for people who will study hundreds of pages of Talmud (Mishnah and Gemarah) over the coming year. While I prefer this system to those shuls that auction Simchat Torah honours in return for donations to the shul or to charity, it still makes me feel uncomfortable on multiple levels. It seems prideful and lacking in humility, as well as creating (or maintaining) a de facto hierarchy based on intelligence and study skills. Actually, the three very biggest honours are awarded to three people who have done things for the community, which I find preferable, although usually one of them is someone my age and I realise I will never get an honour like this, as I don’t have the ability or headspace to do community work. Although I think I would freak out if I was the centre of attention like that.

There was one year I did really get into Simchat Torah, and I’m not sure how I did it. I think my depression was in remission at the time and I was in a community where I felt more comfortable, the one I had grown up in, and there probably weren’t that many people there, as it was a declining community.

***

I finally got through to the Maudsley Hospital to try to find out where I am with autism-adjusted CBT. Apparently my GP should have referred me and applied for funding, instead of handing it back to the psychiatrist who assessed me, so I’ve just lost a couple of months and am still not on the waiting list. I don’t blame the GP, as NHS bureaucracy seems so convoluted that it doesn’t surprise me that even NHS doctors don’t know how to navigate it. I am so past surprised that this has happened. But now I have another reason to try to see my GP next week, if the NHS gatekeepers will deign to allow me an appointment (none were available online today).

***

I feel like I need a holiday. I’ve found the Yom Tovim draining and I didn’t get a real break over Chol HaMoed because of the VST. I haven’t had a proper holiday since the end of 2019, and, while I often find holidays stressful, at least on some level, COVID and a job that sometimes stresses me out more than I would like have left me longing for some kind of break, especially after such a disruptive month. I’ve got to get through the next month before E comes over. That’s probably the best kind of break for me, in that I don’t have to go anywhere, pack, travel, and do all the things that stress me as an autistic person going on holiday. Also the best kind of break in that it’s with E!

The Moments of Labouring are the Moments of Finding

I spent a lot of the day feeling down and vaguely depressed (not really in the clinical sense). Out walking, I gave way to depressive thoughts about politics and the state of the world, COVID and Afghanistan. On the one hand, who would have thought two years ago that the most divisive political question of the age would be, not Trump or Brexit, but vaccinations? And who would have thought the ending of the perpetual war in Afghanistan would be the source of so much misery? The latter bringing back comparisons with Vietnam.

I had a whole tirade in my head about Vietnam, Robert McNamara and technocratic government (the RAND Corporation etc.) and mission creep arguing against technocracy and big government versus COVID and vaccines arguing for it. I won’t go into the whole thing, as I suspect it’s not that coherent now I can set it out in black and white.

Suffice to say that I feel we’re in a double bind, morally bound to try to intervene in the world to improve it, but intellectually unable to do so in a safe and successful way (Hayek’s “Fatal Conceit,” the mistake belief that limited human intelligence and knowledge can change the world for the better). I am cursed to have the ethics of a moderate liberal and the intellect of a Burkean conservative: I think we should make the world better, but I don’t believe we have the ability to do so, except in incremental ways.

Anyway, I can’t work out if I’m vaguely depressed because the world is depressing, or I feel the world is depressing because I’m vaguely depressed. If the latter, why am I depressed (again, not in the clinical sense)? Am I just stressed after a difficult fortnight at work and looming religious festivals?

***

Other than that, I emailed the Maudsley Hospital to try to find out about my referral for autism-adapted CBT. (If anything is an argument in favour of Hayek and against technocracy, it’s NHS bureaucracy.) I wrote my devar Torah (Torah thought) for the week, unusually before reading the sedra (Torah portion), as the idea for what to write hit me suddenly on Friday night. I’d like to write one for next week this week too, as next Tuesday and Wednesday, when I usually write, will be Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year). However, I’m now working over the next two days (which is a whole story in itself, but I’m too tired now), so I’m not sure how I’ll fit it in.

I tried to go to an online discussion on Sefaria’s YouTube channel, where Dr Erica Brown was talking about her book for this time of the Jewish year, Return: Daily Inspiration for the Days of Awe, which I recently purchased. The discussion was marred by connection problems (at the speakers’ end) and after a quarter of an hour, it suddenly stopped, apparently abandoned by Sefaria, which was disappointing. They have apparently now recorded the interview and posted it as an ordinary YouTube video, so I’ll have to try to watch that at some point.

In the evening I Skyped E and had a discussion with my parents about some family stuff that is not for here. I feel vaguely anxious again, not quite as bad as I used to feel on Sunday evenings when I was at school, when I was dreading the week ahead, but was not sufficiently in touch with my emotions to realise that I felt like that, but still apprehensive of the week ahead.

***

I had been looking for a particular quote recently and suddenly came across it last week and wanted to blog it, but hadn’t had the chance. The quote is from the nineteenth century Hasidic rebbe Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Kotzk (the Kotzker Rebbe), but he is elucidating a passage in the Talmud. The Talmud (Megillah 6b) says, “Rabbi Yitzḥak said in the style of a previous passage: If a person says to you: I have labored and not found success, do not believe him. Similarly, if he says to you: I have not labored but nevertheless I have found success, do not believe him. If, however, he says to you: I have labored and I have found success, believe him.” (Translation from sefaria.org; bold indicates words literally in the original, ordinary font indicates words added in translation to elucidate). This passage raises a question, assuming we are talking about success in religious life (faith and Torah knowledge), as some people do genuinely search for God and Torah and not find them, and the Talmud seems to blame them for not trying hard enough.

The Kotzker says, “If you have laboured, even if you have not found, do not believe that you have not found. For the moments of labouring, they are the moments of finding. The search for knowledge, it itself is knowledge.” (The Sayings of Menahem Mendel of Kotsk edited Simcha Raz p.119) This opens the door to the concept of those who are ‘unconsciously religious,’ who live meaningful lives outside of organised religion or belief, yet touching on the transcendent and the kind. Moreover, it sees the religious life as an ongoing search or quest throughout life, not a matter that is easily settled one way or another, forever.

I find this attitude helpful because it moves the focus on the religious life from the end itself to the process towards that end, from actually being close to God constantly to the desire and attempt to be close to God. It moves it from the rare and ephemeral moments of connection to the attempt to achieve those moments in the midst of mundane events and activities. Likewise it can be read as being about religious study, about trying to understand rather than attaining understanding. In short, it means that Jewish achievement is about the effort to be Jewish rather than assuming that only perfect faith or superficial religious observance are the only signs of religious achievement.

It is a proto-existentialist attitude. Attitudes like this in his teachings mark the Kotzker as perhaps the first modern, Orthodox (not “Modern Orthodox”!) Jewish thinker, not in the sense of more Westernised nineteenth century figures like Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch and Rabbi David Zvi Hoffmann who combined Torah knowledge with secular university studies and awareness of wider trends in Western theology and Bible criticism, but rather “modern” in the sense of wrestling with existential doubt and a sense of human insignificance and the search for individuality and authenticity. (The key text here is A Passion for Truth, Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel’s comparative study of the Kotzker and his contemporary Soren Kierkegaard, the first Christian existentialist.)

“Am I a good person?” ‘Pure O’ OCD

I’m slightly wary of writing this in case it exacerbates a delicately-balanced situation, but here goes: lately I’ve been having thoughts that verge on ‘pure O’ OCD (obsessive thoughts without compulsions). These never completely went away before, but had been quiescent for a while. Lately, they’ve sprung up again. I’m not sure why, perhaps, perversely, a response to various things in my life going better (job, getting back together with E, progress on my novel, feelings of religious progress).

Pure O OCD can take many forms. It often manifests in ways centred on moral worth, one way or another, hence its other name of ‘scrupulosity.’ It can appear as doubt about moral or religious worth: “Am I a good person?” or “Do I really believe in God?” It can also manifest in other ways, particularly where a concern about moral worth shades into fear of performing immoral actions: “Am I a racist? Do I want to hurt people? Do I want to abuse children?”

I’ve been having thoughts like this recently. Actually, I’ve had them for years, but they might be more frequent and disturbing lately. I don’t think they meet the requirements for diagnosis with OCD, certainly in terms of distress. I do not feel hugely distressed the way my OCD distressed me in the past. I know this is my brain, not me. Nevertheless, it is hard to ignore the “Am I a bad person?” thoughts completely, especially when they are pushing on an open door inasmuch as I wonder about my moral life a lot anyway.

The other, related, thing I’ve been doing lately is ruminating on certain things I’ve done in the past that were less than morally perfect. I’m aware that, objectively, the misdeeds were minor. If we have a scale of bad deeds from 1 to 10 where 1 is a minor breach of traffic law, for example, and 10 is genocide, then these are a 3 at most, probably lower (small breaches of lockdown laws included). And they were a long time ago, some going back to adolescence. There also isn’t really anything that I can do to change what happened or rectify things. But I keep thinking about them.

Part of me wishes there was some kind of ritual I could do to atone, or in Jewish terms, to make a tikkun (rectification), to draw a line under the past. But then, wanting to do a ritual to remove obsessions is OCD, so it’s probably not a good idea.

Like I said, I don’t think this is pathological OCD, so I don’t want to go to a doctor or psychiatrist. I might talk to my therapist, as I’m seeing her anyway. I’m not hugely distressed by the thoughts, I just worry where they might lead. I would be tempted to do some exposure therapy, but I find exposure therapy for thoughts without compulsions tricky and would probably need a CBT therapist to help, which, as I said I don’t want to do, particularly as I don’t think I’m actually diagnosable. If anything, I would worry that focusing on my thoughts for exposure therapy would make things worse. But the situation is there, and it’s upsetting and worrying me a little.

Unplugged

I had a crazy start to the day. I woke up at 5.30am and thought it was time to get up. It was with some difficulty that I realised that I could sleep for another hour and a half. Then I fell asleep and overslept, having some crazy dystopian dream. Then, after I got up, when I was davening (praying), a magpie sat on my window sill and looked like he (or she) was trying to come in. Fortunately, the window was shut, but I could not shoo him away, he just sat there staring at me. It was a bit disquieting.

The doctor phoned me at work (as arranged). I asked him to refer me for autism-adapted CBT, but he says the psychiatrist at the hospital where I was assessed is supposed to write to the CCG (funding body) to start the process. He said he will write to her to say she can do that. I worry about this bouncing around the NHS bureaucracy indefinitely.

I spent much of the day at work poring over spreadsheets, trying to track down payments that were listed as outstanding to see if they really were outstanding or if they had been paid and not been recorded properly. If they hadn’t been paid, I needed to write them off or phone to see if the debtor would pay. Fortunately I only had to phone once, as that was quite an awkward call.

I was pretty exhausted by the end, and my eyes felt strained from staring at spreadsheets. There wasn’t much traffic on the way home, but the conversation on the radio annoyed me. I don’t like to ask J to change it as he’s doing me a favour by giving me a lift. When I got home I sat and read in the garden for half an hour, which was wonderful. I really should try to be online less. It makes me much happier. I’m not really on social media much and don’t follow many political blogs, but even regular news sites are full of silly stories about “X is AWFUL and you should be REALLY ANGRY about it.”

I didn’t make it to Zoom depression group, as dinner was late and I was exhausted. I ate dinner outside with my parents. Afterwards, I went for a walk. I was still tired, but it was good to go out in the cool evening air and listen to the birds. It’s probably too late now for a really early night (I was watching Doctor Who followed by The Simpsons), but I hope to get to bed earlyish, as I’m pretty tired, albeit aware that a shower is likely to wake me up, but I won’t be able to sleep if I feel sweaty.

Books and Thoughts

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

Season Finale

Most days are just “filler episode” days, but some days are “season finale” days, when dramatic and unexpected life-changing things can happen. Today was definitely a season finale, with a dramatic and unexpected (if not entirely surprising in hindsight) revelation, but I don’t really feel comfortable in going into detail here yet.

What did happen that wasn’t dramatic, unexpected or life-changing was going for my regular lithium level blood test. I had tremor again, as I always seem to have when having my blood taken these days. It seems to be worse since lockdown, as I can’t breathe deeply to calm myself while wearing a mask. I actually got a bit out of breath with the mask on and I think the phlebotomist was concerned; at any rate, he kept asking if I was OK. I can accept occasional tremor as one of the prices I pay for being on medication that helps with my mental health, but I do feel awkward and embarrassed, especially when it happens at the blood test, as the phlebotomist always assumes I’m scared of needles. I’m not, it’s just that being conscious of the need to sit still and not shake actually starts me shaking.

Oh, another NHS story: I got home to discover an email saying my appointment had been shifted from 2.40pm to 2.35pm. The email was sent at 2.31pm! Fortunately, I was there early (or on time, depending on how you look at it).

More NHS fun: I phoned the autism hospital again about getting my report corrected and the leaflet of resources. It turns out I had forgotten to email them about after my last phone call. Whoops. I could say that an autism hospital ought to know that autistic people have trouble processing verbal instructions, but really I should have written it down. I’ve sent that email now. Sometimes it’s not the NHS that’s at fault. I hope I get the corrected report and leaflet soon, as I’d like to get on the very long waiting list for autism-adapted CBT to (hopefully) help with my social interactions.

I submitted my article to Aish.com. I’ll have to wait and see what they think.

That was it, really. I walked back from my blood test, I cooked dinner and listened to some shiurim (religious class) while cooking. I worked on my devar Torah (Torah thought) for the week. I have a better idea of what I’m writing, imperfect though it is. It was a busy day, but to be honest, very little of what I’ve written about here registered. I was just thinking about the thing that I don’t want to share yet.

Tomorrow I have volunteering at the Jewish food bank for the first time in several months, as they think it’s safe enough now to let people volunteer together and not just in family bubbles.

Someone is WRONG on the Internet!

I was worried my burnout would continue to today, as sometimes happens, but I had one of those days after a very burnt out day where it’s as if the storm has exhausted itself and I feel fine.

The hospital phoned me back early in the morning about the issues I had with my autism diagnosis report. Hopefully, they will sort things soon. I do have to go back to my GP if I want to be referred for autism-adapted CBT. I’m a bit nervous about doing that, as my experience with CBT has not been great, but hopefully it will be better if I have autism-adapted CBT.

I sat down to finish the job application I was filling out yesterday, only to discover that I have none of the desirable, but not essential, criteria. Not one! As that was the main thing left to do, it was easy. I made a coffee for no reason! (Hot drinks help me think.) I don’t think I’ll get called to interview, but if I do, I asked to have the questions in advance because of my autism processing issues with spoken conversations. In my experience, potential employers refuse to do this, saying it is not fair on the other candidates. I can sort of see their point, but it does make things hard for me, because of difficulty processing verbal information, in addition to the problems I mentioned yesterday about autistic people struggling with open questions. I sit there trying to think of something to say. Sometimes I realise the question didn’t actually register in my brain and I have no idea what they just asked me. I have to ask them to repeat it or just bluff my way through. The only potential employer that let me see the questions in advance was, tellingly, an institute for the study of child psychology. One could get involved in a lengthy legal argument about what constitutes a “reasonable” disability adjustment here.

***

It’s funny how I different I am when I’m doing something I enjoy compared to when I’m doing something I don’t enjoy. I spent over two hours working on my devar Torah (Torah thought) with no breaks more than two or three minutes. I didn’t even notice the time going. I wasn’t happy with my initial idea for the devar Torah, so I thought I would look at Ramban’s (Hebrew acronym for Rabbi Moshe ben Nachman, thirteenth century biblical commentator) first comment on parashat Kedoshim, which was the starting point for my original idea. The comment turned out to be much longer and wider-ranging than I realised, taking me to a Midrash which led to a better idea for the devar Torah, but one that took a while to get on paper, picking up some stray comments from Rashi (Hebrew acronym for Rabbi Shlomo Yitzchaki, eleventh century biblical commentator) along the way. I didn’t even feel tired by the time I finished. It was one of the longest divrei Torah that I’ve written too. I don’t like to count my devar Torah as the entirety of my Torah study for a day, but I did here, because of how long I spent on it and because a lot of it was new to me.

Afterwards I postponed the chores I was supposed to do (I had thought the devar Torah would only take an hour, which it probably would have done if I stuck to my original idea) and went for a run, which was pretty good once I got going. No exercise migraine afterwards either, thankfully.

***

I have always been conflict-averse, but I find myself less willing than ever to contradict people or get into arguments online. Any arguments, even about trivial things, but certainly not about politics and religion. I would rather let them think that there are no counter-arguments to their views than to get into a debate with them. It doesn’t help that I can’t really distinguish between disagreement and personal dislike. I tend to assume that anyone who disagrees with me, dislikes me, although I know the reverse (which would be that I dislike people I disagree with) is untrue.

It doesn’t help that I no longer think that most people make up their minds on major topics based purely or perhaps even largely on data and logic. I think emotions, tribalism, peer pressure and habit are a big part of that (that’s not even necessarily a bad thing in and off itself, although I think in the current political climate, it’s been carried to a dangerous extreme). I don’t think I rate particularly highly as a polemicist either.

I suppose it’s rooted in my childhood, as things usually are. Being bullied for being different, but also certain childhood experiences that made me feel that disagreement would lead to people storming out of my life forever. Autistic issues distinguishing criticism from anger are probably also relevant. Paradoxically, it all may be related to my belief that it’s my fault if people don’t like me — I don’t want it to be my fault that someone doesn’t like me, so I minimise the likely points of contention (and also avoid people, because they can’t hate me if they can’t see me).

In a way it’s wrong of me, because someone might want to hear what I have to say and benefit from it, unlikely though that seems to me. And I suppose one would traditionally add something here about the need to fight for justice and progress and truth, and that all that is needed for evil to triumph is for good people to do nothing, and so on, but these days I feel pretty disenchanted about party politics generally.

I was thinking about what might happen if I do autism-adjusted CBT and look at my social anxiety (I did ordinary CBT for it two years ago, but it was not a great success for me). I could potentially have to push myself into situations where I contradicted people deliberately to see what happened. Maybe deliberately express my opinions online even if that seems likely to lead to arguments. It seems a terrifying idea, to be honest. I’d much rather not say anything and let others believe things that I think are factually wrong.

(The title of the post comes from this famous cartoon. It’s not how I feel at all. I just brood on things for days.)

Powerless To Be Born

I’ve had a fragment of poetry in my head lately. Searching online, it’s from Stanzas from the Grande Chartreuse by Matthew Arnold, a poem I don’t remember ever having read, although I have read Arnold’s Dover Beach, which is where I initially thought the line was from. It goes, “Wandering between two worlds, one dead/The other powerless to be born”. It sums up how I feel lately, in terms of my autism diagnosis, relationship breakdown and job situation.

I do think things can change. Ten years ago, I was twenty-seven. I had never had a paid job because of severe depression, was struggling with my Master’s degree again because of depression, had never been in a relationship or even gone on a date (actually, my first ever date was pretty much exactly ten years ago). I had largely put aside ideas of being on the spectrum after being assessed and told that I was not on the spectrum. I lived in a much smaller Jewish community and went to a shul (synagogue) that wasn’t an ideal match for me. I had occasional minor religious OCD, which would get a lot worse before I would get over it.

I still seem to struggle with low mood, even though I’m not sure I meet the diagnostic criteria for depression any more. And I’m still single and not in full-time work (or anywhere near), but I am in work and I have had enough relationships to think I’m not inherently unworthy of being in a relationship at least some of the time. And I’m diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome/high functioning autism, which has been a relief to finally have confirmed, despite all the difficulties that I have to deal with because of it. And I live in a much larger Jewish community and go to a shul that fits me better, even if it isn’t perfect. So things can change, just geologically slowly. Or that’s how it feels.

It’s strange that things seem so finely balanced between the good and the bad at the moment. I don’t really know what to think. I still hope to have some kind of career, in a meaningful sense, and not just isolated jobs. I’d like to be a professional writer, but that seems an unlikely thing to aim for, especially given my lack of success pitching articles to people. I hope to become financially self-sufficient at some point, unlikely though that sometimes seems. I really, really hope I have a relationship that works out at some point (where “working out” ideally means successful marriage and children, although I’m getting to the stage where I wouldn’t rule out getting married in my fifties or older, if that’s how long it takes for me to get my life together and meet the right person).

The thing is, there’s very little I can do at the moment to advance any of these things at the moment. I have to wait and hope it all works itself out somehow, which is scary. I should trust in God (PIMOJ would have said to trust in God), but, as I’ve mentioned before, although I believe in God and consider myself to live a frum (religious) life, I have a mental block around bitachon (trust in God). I believe that He does what He feels is best for me, but I fear that “what He feels is best for me,” will involve a lot of emotional pain and suffering, as it apparently did ten years ago.

***

I went to bed late last night and woke up late this morning. I think my sleep was disturbed, judging by the state of the sheets when I woke, but I don’t remember particularly disturbing dreams or anything like that. I had a lot to do today and didn’t really want to do any of it. I needed to phone the autism hospital about the mistakes they made in my diagnostic report; cook dinner; continue with my job application and start my devar Torah (Torah thought). Usually when I read the week’s Torah reading on Sunday, I get an idea of what I want to write about, but this week I had no idea. The double sedra (portion) had lots of mitzvot (commandments), but none really grabbed me as something I wanted to write about, except for one bit that was too similar to something I wrote about a couple of months ago.

However, I just felt depressed and burnt out. At 2.45pm, I was still in my pyjamas and hadn’t done anything since eating breakfast. I would get up, fiddle around on the computer for a bit, and go back to bed to feel lonely and depressed. I played the “I’m depressed and burnt out enough to listen to music in the omer” card, as my rabbi mentor said I could, but quietly, because I still don’t feel comfortable explaining that to my parents. I don’t know why I don’t feel comfortable explaining it.

I did eventually get dressed, somehow put on tallit and tefillin and davened Minchah (said the Afternoon Prayers) as I had missed Shacharit (Morning Prayers). I had lunch (watching The Simpsons to try to raise my mood a bit) and tried to Do Things. It was 4.30pm by this stage. I phoned the number my Mum has for the autism hospital (not the main switchboard, one of the secretaries’ work mobile number that she somehow got hold of and has been using as it’s more direct). There was no answer, but I left a message.

Dinner seemed the next priority, on the grounds that I could apply for the job tomorrow, but if I didn’t cook dinner, we’d all go hungry, especially as Mum was tired from treatment today. I listened to a twenty minute online shiur (religious class) while cooking, but it didn’t tell me much I didn’t already know. I’ve been unlucky picking shiurim that way lately. The idea was to listen to the shiur while cooking so that I could do some Torah study even if I was too burnt out and depressed to read anything afterwards.

I went for a walk after cooking dinner. I had a lot of thoughts and feelings that are hard to categorise, beyond noting they are negative. I’ve noticed that my thoughts become more visual when I feel depressed and agitated, snatches of images, and also negative feelings without thoughts (I’ve never agreed with the CBT idea that negative feelings are always caused by negative thoughts). I’m not sure I can put anything I was feeling into words, just feelings of being useless, of my novel being bad, of not contributing anything online, of wanting to withdraw from people, but also, I suppose, hoping they will follow me if I do. Wondering how many of my thoughts (about politics, religion, culture) are my own and how much are other people’s. Not in a psychotic “I think the government is beaming ideas into my head” sense, but just that we pick up stuff without really thinking from friends and family, colleagues, broadcast media, social media… I find it’s hard to really think about things and reach meaningful conclusions that are completely my own, or at least rigorously interrogated by me until I am sure they are true. Is that just me?

When I got home, I tried to force myself to work on the job application, even though the format — separate boxes to write in for every essential and desirable criterion — made it quite clear that I don’t have all the skills and experience they want. I persevered, but mostly because I felt my parents wanted me to. They say to apply for jobs I don’t meet the criteria for in the hope that I will (somehow) still be the best candidate (see what I mean about not coming to my own conclusions). I worry for the academic library sector if I’m the best candidate for this job. I don’t even know what terms like “synchronous and asynchronous library inductions” and “bibliometrics” mean, although I can guess. I am certainly not up-to-date with developments in higher education and copyright law, let alone in pedagogy. And I don’t think I have the “Ability to think innovatively and creatively to solve problems and improve services”.

Some of the jobs I see require so many skills that I feel daunted to compare the skills and experiences of those who I imagine are applying with my own. And these aren’t even particularly high-flying jobs! I just feel like I somehow picked up a library MA and library work experience by muddling through somehow and have been floundering ever since.

Not for the first time, I feel like the man in Kafka’s Parable of the Law (originally from The Trial, but also published as a separate story) who tries everything to get to the Law, but never makes it, even though the door he was at was only made for him, eventually dying on the threshold. I feel like I keep trying to get a job, get published, get married, make friends, and fit in to my community, but I can never quite do it. But I keep trying. I’m not sure if that’s perseverance or stupidity.

I feel that, as an autistic/Aspie, I struggle with applications and interviews. They tend to ask open questions, and autistic people do not fare well with open questions. We don’t know what to say. I know when I get a statement like write about “Experience of providing excellent support in an academic or research library” I should try to find concrete examples of things I’ve done in different jobs, but it’s hard to even think of examples, let alone relate them. I’m sure I have provided excellent support (OK, “more than just adequate support”), but I find it hard to work out what exactly they mean and think of examples where I’ve done it.

I spent about fifty minutes on the application, although technically a big chunk of that time was spent writing part of this blog post to vent my irritation. I went back and did another ten or fifteen minutes after dinner too, so it’s nearly completed.

I was just sitting down to dinner (and Babylon 5) when my phone rang. It was one of my shul (synagogue) friends phoning to ask about the fundraising for the new building. We had arranged it, but I forgot to put it in my diary, and if it’s not in my diary, I forget about it. I was probably somewhat incoherent, from being taken by surprise and from the subject matter, but I did not agree to make a bigger donation than I can afford, and I did not agree to set up a “team page” for my family (i.e. me) on the shul‘s forthcoming fundraising page. It was awkward doing this with my friend, but I think if it was anyone else, I would not have had the confidence to say no.

After dinner I worked on the job application a while longer, as I mentioned, and did another fifteen minutes of Torah study, but then I started to get tired and decided to call it a night.

For a day where part of me would have stayed in pyjamas, feeling lonely, depressed and burnt out, I did manage to do quite a few things. It’s easy to focus on the negative (I didn’t write my devar Torah, or do as much Torah study as I wanted; I didn’t finish the job application), but I managed quite a bit despite low mood and energy. I just wish life on the spectrum for me wasn’t just damage limitation, constantly running to get things done without any sense of purpose or direction (there’s a line from Babylon 5: Signs and Portents where Londo says “I want to stop running through my life like a man late for an appointment…afraid to look back, or to look forward.” He’s talking politically, about the decline of the Centauri Republic but that’s how I feel in my whole life). And I wish I didn’t still have such deep lows (whether I’m clinically depressed or not). And I wish I wasn’t lonely (although I’m probably less lonely than I was now I have an online support network to supplement my other support).

Anyway, this is a super-long post (really two posts in one), so thanks if you read to the end!

My Friends, and Other Animals

I went to bed at 10.30pm last night, which is early for me even for a work night. I was just completely exhausted, although I didn’t fall asleep straight away. I wonder if the emotional stress of the week is affecting me physically.

Work was a bit slow today and I was doing a mundane, repetitive task that gave me too much time for thought. I think I made the right decision breaking up with PIMOJ, but it sunk in that I think she was quite angry with me when we broke up. She doesn’t usually get angry, and she didn’t scream and shout, but I think she was angry about some things, although I’m not good at reading situations like that. I think in particular she felt that our being boyfriend and girlfriend meant more than I thought it did, inasmuch as I think she felt it was a significant commitment, almost like marriage, and that I should work on the relationship rather than breaking up. I agree that being boyfriend and girlfriend is serious and I was “dating for marriage” (in frum-speak), but I thought that what she wanted was so far from what I could offer, or be, that it would be wasting both the time and energy of both of us trying to get me to give or become it and would only end in more pain for both of us down the line. Plus, there were things she wanted that I thought were a bit unreasonable or at least not what I had signed on for.

But it made me think about other times people I liked and trusted got angry with me, perhaps unjustifiably. The worst was when I was at university and I managed to anger a friend by relying on her too much when I was depressed until she was no longer able to cope with me, a fact made more complicated by the fact that I had a huge unreciprocated crush on her. Nowadays I would not use someone else for support to the same extent (maybe partly why I was scared to open up to PIMOJ) and I know realise that having a crush on someone who you’re also offloading your darkest thoughts onto isn’t sensible. This is the type of situation where I really feel my autism and lack of social skills made me mess things up.

The other situation I handled badly was when I was close friends with two sisters who lived at the other end of the country. They read my blog (I knew they read it) and got angry when I mentioned that I was tired after phoning them when their mother died. I still don’t entirely see their point; I wasn’t blaming them for being tired, and people who read my blog regularly know I tire easily, especially after social contact. They read it as blame, however, and cut off contact with me.

It does make me wonder if I’m an accident waiting to happen, socially. It seems that most of my friendships stay in a sort of neutral space where we see each other socially every so often (usually six months to a year), but never really open up about personal things, just engage in light conversation. No risk, but no gain. Then there are the people I really open up to, often encountered in some kind of mental health safe space, such as depression group or the online mental health blogging community. Some of these fade away when their lives change or they move on, literally or figuratively, but there’s definitely a sub-set that get angry with me eventually. I wonder if it’s my fault and what I can do about it, or how it will affect future friendships or relationships.

***

Perhaps because of this, I’ve been thinking about getting pets again, to deal with loneliness in a safer way. It might also be a way of seeing if I might be able to cope with having children, to see if I can cope with being responsible for someone else, and for dealing with excrement and mess. I went down this path a number of years ago, almost psyching myself into getting guinea pigs, but I chickened out, mostly from social anxiety. I didn’t really know where to start in terms of thinking what to get and I frankly freaked out at the thought of talking to pet shop or rescue workers about animals, because I have zero experience. The only pets I’ve ever had were goldfish. I wasn’t even sure if I’d be able to hold the guinea pigs (I can be nervous with animals) and wasn’t sure if I could to hold them before buying them to see if I was confident with them. My parents weren’t keen on the idea of pets either. So all of that put me off, but given that I feel it’s not a good idea to date again for a while, having pets seems like a good idea again.

***

My autism assessment report arrived today. The diagnosis they have technically given me is “Asperger syndrome” [sic], which interested me as I didn’t think it was given as a separate diagnosis any more, being subsumed in autism spectrum disorder. Apparently it depends on which diagnostic manual is being used. In some ways, I prefer Asperger’s as a diagnosis as ASD covers such a range of people, from the non-verbal to the highest functioning. However, it was discovered a while back that Hans Asperger was involved in the Nazi euthanasia programme, and now I feel incredibly uncomfortable whenever the syndrome named after him is named. Which is a shame, because I used to like the term “Aspie.”

The report recommended that I have CBT, a type specially adapted for people on the spectrum (ordinary CBT tends not to work well for people on the spectrum, which is my personal experience). Unfortunately, there is a very long waiting list, and it is not clear how I ask to be put on it, whether I would have to go back to my GP or what — I suspect there is more NHS bureaucracy to manage. Also, I wasn’t sure what the CBT would actually be treating, exactly. Would it just be life skills?

The report also managed to have me down in places as a “woman”, “Ms [Luftmentsch]” and “she”. I am not sure how they managed to get so many typos misgendering me in there! Most of the time they did get my gender right, although I got thrown for a bit until I realised that with one exception the person they referred to as “Ms Luftmentsch” was my mother, not me. I would have expected them to say “Mrs Luftmentsch”.

There was supposed to be a leaflet about ASD resources included too. This was not included, so I need to phone tomorrow to complain. Why is it never easy with the NHS?

Other than that, it was weird to read the report. It’s strange to see myself analysed so dispassionately and at such length (twenty pages). It was actually uncomfortable in places. The descriptions of my poor social skills read like criticism, even though I knew they weren’t. One line in the report said that my Mum reported that I would not spontaneously share as a child, but would share happily if prompted to do so. Future girlfriends please note, I suppose.

***

Other than that, it was a slightly boring day. I did some miniature model painting when I got home while listening to some of the last series of Just A Minute, although I felt that I have too much tremor, and too little patience, to paint as well as I did as a teenager. I should probably stop comparing myself to my fourteen year old self and accept I just don’t paint as well.

Actually Autistic

I had the final autism assessment today.  I was told that I do meet the diagnostic criteria for high functioning autism (what used to be called Asperger’s Syndrome).  The psychiatrist spoke a bit about why she was diagnosing now when it had been missed when I was assessed back in 2006, mainly because I now had experience of difficulties in a work environment and also because some of the symptoms were put down to depression in 2006 whereas my depression is mostly gone now.

The psychiatrist also spoke briefly about help the hospital might be able to give me in the future in terms of specialist CBT. Ordinary CBT doesn’t work well for people on the spectrum, which is probably why I’ve struggled with it. That may help with social interactions. There is a one year waiting list though.

I’m also now eligible for legal support in the workplace from disability discrimination legislation (one of my main practical reasons for pursuing the assessment).

I was relieved when I got the diagnosis, but have also been feeling quite numb since then and in the last hour or so a bit sad without really understanding why I feel like this.  I guess it’s a big change to adapt to, even if I had suspected it and pursued it for several years now.  I’m going to take some time out today to process things. I guess adjusting to change is hard, even if it has been expected for some times.

I went for a walk after the assessment to try to process things, but I don’t think it helped much. I’m going to do what I don’t usually do and post this now and then maybe post something more considered this evening.

Another Busy Day

I woke up early today, at least by my usual standards.  I usually wake up in the early morning, but then I feel tired and usually fall asleep again until much later.  I decided the other day that I would try to force myself to stay up, which I managed today.  I was pretty tired (even though I had about seven hours of sleep), but I managed it.  I was OK once I drank coffee and I was glad to get an earlier start on the day and say the morning Shema and Amidah on time.

I did doze for half an hour in the afternoon though.

Achievements (although the above are really achievements too): I spent two hours on my novel and finished another chapter.  Only one more chapter to go!  I’m up to 72,000 words too, which is novel length, just about.  Hopefully the manuscript will grow a bit in redrafting.  The time taken to write each chapter seems to be becoming shorter too, even though they chapters are mostly the same length.  I have mixed feelings about the quality though.  Some of that is probably low self-esteem and it is just a first draft.  My English teacher used to say that a first draft is 99% of the work, and for non-fiction I would tend to agree, but I think writing fiction is more organic and individual and I need to redraft more, particularly as I’ve never written something this long before.

I did an hour of Torah study, much of it difficult Mishnah, which was good.

I also went for a half hour walk.  My ankle felt a bit strange when I woke up.  I’m not sure how to describe it – kind of weak and fragile.  It wasn’t painful, but I didn’t want to put too much weight on it.  I think something is wrong when I run, but I’m not sure if it’s my trainers or if I’m running incorrectly (it can happen).  I don’t really want to go shopping for new trainers at the moment because I’m avoiding shops except for essential items to shield Mum.  I could mail order, but my parents have put me off that by saying that returning them would be hard if they’re a bad fit.

I attended depression group online via Zoom.  I hadn’t attended for a while because I’ve been having therapy on Mondays and was too tired after that to go, but I’ve moved therapy to Wednesdays so that I can go again, plus my therapist is away this week anyway.  I mentioned my novel and people were really supportive, which was nice.

My mood was mostly good today, although it was drifting downwards when I dozed off in the afternoon, so maybe it was just as well that I fell asleep at that point.  My mood did dip slightly into self-recrimination and worry while walking, but mostly I was able to focus on the present.

Someone at depression group asked if I find it easier or harder online.  I find it harder, but I’m not sure why.  I think some of it is feeling that I’m being stared at by the camera the whole time, whereas in person I can see people are focusing on the person speaking, not me.  I also think there’s blurred boundaries when Zooming in from home (am I at home or in the group?) and less of a transition from home to group and back again and transitions are really important for people on the autism spectrum.  I find it hard to give people my full attention on Zoom, harder than in person, and I was getting fidgety by the end, which I know is autistic stimming and my way of trying to focus (rather than boredom), but I was glad that people couldn’t see that I was tapping my fingers because it might have looked rude.

I didn’t stick exactly to my limits on internet usage/email checking that I agreed with my therapist, but I did mostly stick to them and that does seem to help stay present-focused, not to compare myself with others so much and to avoid negative thoughts.  Actually, depression group can provoke comparing thoughts, a kind of procrustean bed where if they’re doing well, I feel I should be doing as well as they are, but if they aren’t doing well, I feel that I should be doing more things as I’m not so depressed.  I try not to think like that, but it’s not always easy.

I didn’t feel like I’d done much today, but writing it down I see that I have done quite a bit.

***

I made a mistake online.  Not a major one (it was less something I didn’t know and more something I phrased badly), but normally I would beat myself up about it, but I’m trying not to, which I guess is good.  With CBT for social anxiety, one technique is to make deliberate mistakes to become inured to them (one nineteenth/early twentieth century yeshiva (rabbinical seminary) used to get the students to do something similar, and there is an XKCD cartoon with a similar point…).  I did not do that when I did CBT for my social anxiety; as I think I’ve said, I don’t think I tried hard enough with CBT for social anxiety, although what I did seemed quite difficult at the time.

***

This passage in Healing from Despair: Choosing Wholeness in a Broken World (by Rabbi Elie Kaplan Spitz and Erica Shapiro Taylor) resonated with me: “A sensitive child, burdened by his natural physical desires and the emotional and intellectual demands he inherited… Rebbe Nachman entered into depressed periods throughout his life.”  My emotional and intellectual demands were not inherited, but came partly from social expectation and partly from my own inner drive for excellence, but otherwise it was very similar to my childhood and adolescence.

Two Years

Shabbat was good.  The usual mix of praying, studying Torah, eating, sleeping (too much) and reading.  I came last at Scrabble.  I had some rotten letters, far too many vowels.  I’m not very competitive, but I am getting annoyed that I’ve only won one game so far this summer.  There was some discussion as to whether ‘boxy’ (my word) is a word or not.  Our dictionary (Collins) says no, but now Shabbat is out, Merriam-Webster online says yes.  Maybe I’d have been better off with ‘oiled,’ but I couldn’t remember how many ‘L’s were in it.

I finished Sacred Fire: Torah from the Years of Fury, 1939-1942, kept up with weekly page of Talmud and read a bunch of Tehillim (Psalms) in Hebrew.  I didn’t do much recreational reading, just a little bit more of Muck, which is very good.  I didn’t go for a walk, partly because I slept and then wanted to study Torah and read, partly because it looked like rain.

***

Yesterday I realised it is nearly two years since I left my further education job (it’s nearly two years since I stopped working, although I was technically under contract for a couple of weeks in August when I was on holiday).  It feels much longer.  I think leaving may be the worst decision I ever made, and I’ve made some pretty bad ones.

For those of you who don’t remember or weren’t reading then, my initial contract was up.  I was not sure if it would be renewed, as everything in the library world, and the education world, is suffering from lack of funds.

I was offered a permanent contract, but my boss made it quite clear that she didn’t think I was handling the job as well as she expected.  The permanent contract was in many ways a new job, working all the time at the college’s secondary site (instead of once a week there and usually at the main site) where I would be expected to have much more contact with staff, talking to them, getting book recommendations from them and trying to get them to bring students to the library more often.  This terrified me given my social anxiety and the fact that the interpersonal aspects of the job so far had convinced me that I am autistic.  My boss had also made it clear that she felt that this interpersonal interaction side of the job was something I was particularly bad at.  I agreed, and decided to turn the job down, which seemed to astonish her, even though her vocal lack of confidence in my skills was a major factor in my turning it down.

If I’d realised how hard it would be to build a career or even to find a new job that is mostly backroom librarian stuff with minimal interpersonal interactions, maybe I would have taken that job.  Since then I’ve only worked for seven months in total out of twenty-three (not counting that August when I was paid, but not working).

I made a list of everything I’ve done in the last two years to try to work out if they were good or bad.  Aside from only seven months working, I had some interviews and tests and did badly in a lot of them, but not quite all (obviously two I did well in as I got the jobs).

I went on two dates with one person via a matchmaking site (not a success) and was in a long-distance relationship with E. for four or five months that also ended badly.

My mood (depression) has been extremely variable, and although I had some CBT last year for social anxiety, my social anxiety has got worse because of lockdown.  I also think I didn’t push myself hard enough with the CBT, although being restricted to ten sessions on the NHS didn’t help.

On the plus side, I finished my Doctor Who non-fiction book, but failed to get a publisher, or many readers when I self-published.  I have written most of the first draft of a novel.  This is the biggest thing in my life at the moment, aside from helping around the house now Mum has cancer.

My therapist, who I’d been seeing for years (seven?  Something like that) stopped seeing me in late 2018 because she said there was nothing else she could do for me.  That made me feel hopeless (not the first time mental health professionals have basically said that they can’t do anything for me as my issues are too difficult for them).  I started with a new therapist a few weeks ago.  She seems good, but I have seen so many therapists over the years, I see it as being more about letting off steam than being “cured” or one day having a “normal” life.

I still haven’t had an(other) autism assessment, despite being pushed towards it by the further education job and then by the following office job, which nearly drove me insane and made me realise my brain really isn’t wired like most people’s.

I made some new friends, mostly online, but quite a few friends have stopped talking to me, or I’ve stopped talking to them to prevent arguments (or from fear we would drift back into a relationship again in the case of E.).  I feel incredibly bad about this, but don’t know how to stop it happening again.

I think I had begun to fit in slightly better at shul (synagogue) and talk to one or two more people before lockdown.  I led services a couple of times too, but wonder if I should have done that (I had tremor issues again someone said I looked “like you were going to have a coronary”).  I still feel the community is not a perfect fit for me, but it’s the best on offer.  A few people know I have medical issues even if I haven’t told them the details, but I don’t always feel supported, although the rabbi has been messaging to check in regularly during lockdown, which is good.

Reading this back mostly makes me feel despairing, seeing how little has gone right in the last two years.  The plus side, I suppose, is that a lot happened, even if much of it was bad, so perhaps I should be hopeful that the next two years won’t be stagnant, even if I feel the chances of finding a job (let alone a good job), finding a girlfriend/wife or finding a publisher for my book all seem slim.

Socially Anxious Duckling

I dreamt about a duckling last night and woke up wondering feeling like the ugly duckling and wondering when I will turn into a swan…

My Dad tried to wake me up at 8.00am so I could phone the GP’s surgery, but I didn’t get up.  I think it was partly tiredness, but mostly social anxiety.  I don’t like it when my social anxiety is that extreme.  I definitely think I’ve gone backwards since lockdown started in terms of social anxiety.  At 10.00am my Mum gave up and phoned the doctor, but all the non-emergency appointments had gone by then.  Because of COVID, they’re only releasing appointments on a day to day basis, so we’ll have to phone again tomorrow.  I asked Dad to phone, as I don’t think I will manage to get up again.

My social anxiety has historically been a lot less of a problem than my depression (or my OCD, when it was at its height), but it has always been there.  It has tended to ebb and flow.  There was a time when I was able to lead services in shul (synagogue) and give drashot (religious talks).  I did lead services a couple of times this winter just gone, but I felt very anxious and only partly did it because I wanted to.  Part of me did it because I didn’t like to say no when I was asked, which is partly a social anxiety problem in itself.  I did some CBT last year, but in retrospect, I probably didn’t push myself hard enough with the exercises, plus on the NHS I only got ten sessions, which probably wasn’t enough.

Lockdown has made everything worse, because I’ve got used to just seeing my parents, and occasionally my sister and brother-in-law.  The thought of seeing other people, or talking on the phone, is suddenly more scary than in the past.  Plus, because of COVID, most places have new rules about masks and distancing, so almost everything has autistic “new situation” anxiety as well as social anxiety.  I need to do something about this, but it is hard to see what I can do while I still need to shield Mum and when my depression is the bigger impediment.  I might try to attend Zoom depression group meetings again.  I stopped because it was the same day as therapy and I was too tired for both, but my therapist is away soon.  Alternatively, my therapist says she is happy to change days if I want to go to depression group, and that might be sensible.

***

Home was noisy and busy today.  A few days after my Dad’s catalytic converter was stolen from his car for a second time, we got a note through the door from the police saying there was a burglary in a house in our road.  My parents became super-security conscious and we had various security devices fitted today.  I can see the point, but was worried about some electricity on Shabbat (the Sabbath) issues.  We did ask my parents’ rabbi about it some weeks ago and he said it was OK in certain circumstances.  It seems to be OK in our case, but this is the type of thing that can trigger my religious OCD to say, “But what if I’m not 100% certain it’s OK?”  I’m trying to sit with that doubt and not give in to it, just as I’ve been sitting with another, unrelated, issue where I wanted to ask a question of my rabbi mentor, but decided that deep down I know the answer and it would just be fuelling the OCD to ask.  It’s hard, though, because in the frum community one is expected to ask in the case of doubt, but treating OCD involves living with (some) doubt.

The gardener was here this morning too, so there was a lot of noise and a lot of people, albeit mostly outside (necessarily, because Mum is shielding).  I do vaguely wonder if we should have waited until after COVID, but I guess the criminals are still working.

***

Achievements: I split my writing time in two today.  It was hard to start the second session, but overall I was more productive than ever, writing about 1,700 words in two hours with relatively little idleness (some idleness is probably necessary for creativity, at least for me).

I watched a series of four short videos by Rabbi Meir Soloveitchik about Jewish survival as an argument for God.  I learnt a few things, but I already knew the gist of what he was saying.  It was more a history lecture than a religious one.  It was similar to a post I started writing, but am not sure whether to finish, about why I’m religious even though I find Judaism very difficult much of the time because of my autism, depression and social anxiety.   I wasn’t sure whether anyone would be interested in that, or whether it would offend anyone who isn’t Jewish.  Or if I really wanted to hold my beliefs up for comment, to be honest.

I went for a walk.  My mood dropped somewhat.  I seem to be OK if I’m doing something that engages my brain, but my mood gets worse when I’m not.  I saw someone who went to my school and who is now married with children and is a rabbi.  I’m not sure if I was because of that, but I ended up thinking about people I was at university with and wondering what they’re doing.  In particular, someone who I fell out with while I was there, which has gone into my novel.  It was originally a key event in the novel, although as the novel has grown organically, it’s not so important now, which is probably for the best.  I ended up feeling quite downbeat.  I listened to some music (using the heter (permission) for depressed people to listen to the music during the mourning period of the Three Weeks, which we are currently in), but it was not terribly cheerful music (Donnie and Losing My Religion) and probably made things worse.  I spent the first fifteen minutes or so trying not to listen to music, but in the end I decided I was feeling too depressed and it wasn’t worth it.

In the evening, I did a little bit of ironing and some more Torah study; I would have liked to have done more, but I was too tired, as ever.  I spent twenty minutes or so writing a review of a Doctor Who story from my birthday present box set, but I don’t think I can engage with Chris Chibnall’s view of the series enough to write particularly positive reviews.  If my review of Spyfall, which I did, on some level, enjoy, seems overly negative, I shudder to think what a review of Orphan 55 might look like.

***

I got sent an email advertising a job as a “lecturer in conservation of easel paintings.”  I have no idea why I got sent that.  If only I knew something about conserving easel paintings.  All I can think of is Thomas the Tank Engine: “Coughs and sneezels spread diseasels.”

“If you’re lonely you can talk to me”

I went to bed late, the usual post-Shabbat (Sabbath) in the summer issue of Shabbat finishing late, then davening (praying) and tidying up, off-loading my thoughts onto my blog and needing some time to decompress.  I watched the first episode of the Doctor Who story Warriors of the Deep, a story I used to hate, but now see some virtues in.  I don’t understand why fandom remembers Peter Davison as the “bland and boring” Doctor when he’s actually the energetic and sarcastic one.  OK, enough Doctor Who for now!

I struggled to sleep when I went to bed.  I think I fell asleep around 3.00am.  I woke up (for the second time) about 10.00am after the dreams I wrote about here.  The dreams, and thinking about them after waking, left me in a thoughtful mood, not depressed, but not as happy as when I woke up from the second dream.  It does seem easier to make friends in dreams than in real life.  Mind you, it seems easier to make friends online than in real life too.

My mood did go down again after a while, though, and I felt quite lonely again too.  Then around 12.30pm, I was hit by a sudden tidal wave of loneliness and despair which persisted for much of the day.  It’s not just despair and loneliness, but thinking I’m too weird to ever be in a lasting relationship.  “The most terrible poverty is loneliness and the feeling of being unloved.” (Mother Theresa)  I wonder if I will ever be happy and loved romantically… My parents love me, it’s true, and I know that’s something other people can’t take for granted and I try to be grateful for it.  Still, I feel romantic love is different and not replaceable with parents’ love.  Plus, lately I am struggling to express myself to my parents again.  It seems I go through phases of being close to them and then less close.  Maybe I don’t want to upset them by saying I’m depressed while Mum is ill.  Or maybe I don’t want to admit that sometimes I have begun to worry that I made a mistake breaking up with E.  I feel like I just need to be held.

I feel that I’m spiralling downwards into a pit of loneliness and despair at the moment and I don’t know what I can do about it.  I’m hoping that getting past my birthday, and past Tisha B’Av next week, will help, but who knows?

What I posted the other day (about God so to speak experiencing our suffering) no longer cheers me up as much as it did.  I have found this a lot.  CBT in particular seems to assume that if you can find one thought or affirmation that really raises your mood, that sorts out your depression or anxiety permanently.  You just have to repeat the magic phrase or affirmation.  Whereas I find that after a while, thoughts that raise my mood lose their potency somehow.  Like the Borg in Star Trek, the depression adapts to my shields and weapons (the thoughts or affirmations) and breaks through them.  I suppose I find other things to feel anxious or depressed about.  Or maybe mental health ruminations just aren’t logical and can’t be fought with logic.

***

I forced myself to apply for a job that came up.  Job adverts and related bumf is the most horribly, Orwellian, meaningless mass of jargon, cliché and meaningless phrases.  The public sector (where this job is) is, if anything, even worse than the private sector.  The purpose of the job is “contribute to the delivery of [institution’s] knowledge and library services”.  So the job of the assistant librarian is to deliver library services.  Someone thought that sentence was meaningful and non-obvious enough to be worth writing down.

Anyway, it’s another assistant librarian job that I feel I ought to be able to do, but worry that I can’t.  It’s also full-time, and I don’t think I could cope with that.  But I’m applying anyway, to show willing.  I forced myself to fill in the application, although if it’s so hard for me to fill in the application (and much of it was saved in the system from a previous application to a job at the same institution), I have no idea how I will manage the work.  Writing the application just makes me revisit all the jobs I messed up in the past.  I just feel so useless these days.

***

I went for a run and came back with a painful foot (left ankle and under the left arch) and an exercise headache (verging on migraine).  I think my trainers, which I bought last winter, are possibly not the best or don’t fit properly, as I keep getting minor pains in my feet, although this is the worst I’ve had.  I probably should have stopped halfway through the run when it started hurting, but I am stubborn and I wanted to see whether a slightly different route I was taking took my run over three miles (it did, with reasonable pace, foot notwithstanding.  It was over five kilometres too).  I felt I could cope with it.  This is what I do: I set myself a target, then I push myself to meet it, and when I feel I can’t cope, I still push on because I don’t want to admit failure (to myself as well as to others), and then I crash and hurt myself and can’t do anything for a period of time.  It’s a pattern that has repeated for years, usually with mental health, but sometimes with physical health.

Fortunately, after showering, eating and taking some solpadeine, both foot and head seem to be rather better, although both ache a little still.

I do seem to have lost some weight.  I think I’m now on the borders of being overweight rather than being clearly overweight.  This is pretty good, as clomipramine made me put on a lot of weight, but is a non-negotiable part of my treatment regimen as it’s the only anti-depressant that has ever done much for me long-term.

My mood has been a bit better since my run; still somewhat depressed and lonely, but not so much.

***

I managed some Torah study for an hour or so too, and brainstormed some ideas for this week’s devar Torah (Torah thought).  So I guess it was a fairly productive day even if I feel exhausted and slightly headachey.  I did watch the rest of Warriors of the Deep, and will probably watch an episode of Star Trek Voyager before bed.  That’s quite a lot of TV by my usual standards, but I feel I need to balance out the activity with mindless relaxation for my own mental health.

***

I’ll be thirty-seven in under an hour.  Thirty-seven isn’t such a big event as thirty or forty because humans use a base ten counting system and like round numbers, and thirty-seven isn’t evenly divisible by ten.  Still, it feels like I should have got my life together by now, that I should have a career or at least a job and a network of friends and a place in my religious community and some kind of relationship, maybe even children.  I looked up 37 on Wikipedia, but there weren’t any factoids that I could understand easily without having more maths knowledge than I have, except that it’s a prime number (which I already knew) and also normal body temperature in degrees Celsius and the atomic number of rubidium.  I worked out that the thirty-seventh Doctor Who story was The Tomb of the Cybermen, which I’ve always found over-rated.  I don’t know what this proves, except that I shouldn’t let one day out of 365 in the year (one out of 366 this year) have such power over me.

I’m not going to say that thirty-seven can’t be worse than thirty-six, because clearly it could be.  But I will say I’m going to hope for a better year.  In the immortal words of Delta and the Bannermen (going back to Doctor Who, sorry), “Here’s to the future/Love is the answer.”  (Also, “Can we have space buns and tea?”)

Negativity and Value

Shabbat (the Sabbath) was fairly low-key.  My Dad and I didn’t go to our reopened shuls (synagogues) because we were worried about shielding Mum, who has low immunity.  We were worried that even with social distancing, the risk of bringing home infection was high.  I was upset at missing my Talmud shiur (religious class) and tried to keep up with it at home by guessing how far they were likely to go.  This was the first time I had studied Gemarah (the later, more complex part of the Talmud) since the start of lockdown.  I went for a walk right after lunch, which meant that I didn’t fall into a deep sleep for hours as I’ve been doing recently after Shabbat lunches.  I did still end up in bed at times in the afternoon because I was feeling depressed and wanted to retreat a bit, but I don’t think I slept much, maybe dozed for ten or twenty minutes at most.  Hopefully my sleep won’t be so messed up tonight.

I beat my Dad at Scrabble (Mum didn’t feel well enough to play).  I thought I got a few good words; I was glad to get rid of both a difficult Z (zen) and a Q (quad).  I wasn’t sure if qi is allowed.  I think it is, but we don’t have an official Scrabble dictionary and then Dad used the square that I needed to do it – a shame, as it would have been on a triple word score.

The illegal minyan (prayer quorum) next door disappeared, but returned tonight for Ma’ariv (Evening Prayers) just when I thought it was gone for good.

***

I want to be less negative, but it’s hard to work out how.  Just before Shabbat, I wrote a list of negative attitudes that I have.  I found six, corresponding fairly obviously to a few CBT unhelpful thinking styles.  The problem is working on them.  I have tried CBT a few times for depression and self-esteem and it has never worked very well, perhaps because it generally does not work for people autism spectrum (I think there’s an adapted CBT for autistic people).

I think I do find it easier to reframe things than I did in the past, but I still do find it hard, and it still takes me a while to realise I can reframe thoughts.  Plus, I do feel that I have had an objectively difficult life since adolescence, which does make it hard to think that things will improve.  And “shoulds” are particularly hard to get rid of.  Orthodox Judaism is not about possibilities and values, but obligations, precisely defined obligations at that.  (If I was Reform, it would be a different issue.)  That’s a hard barrier to get around.

***

Somewhat related: when I see people living (apparently) successful and happy lives, it’s easy to get sucked into thinking that life should be joyous and feel inadequate for not having that type of life.  It’s only when I see other people who are suffering that I feel that life is a “vale of soul-making” (as Keats said) and feel that my life is meaningful for enduring mental illness and trying to support others with it.

***

I feel Western culture tends to put too much emphasis on individualism and not accepting help, and also on economic production as a indicator of worth.  It’s hard to feel that I’m worthwhile while unemployed “just” because I try to be kind, supportive and non-judgemental of others.  Even when I map out possible futures, the idea of earning money, as a librarian and/or writer comes up, as does marriage and children.  I want those things, but they may not be realisable for me.  But Western culture says without a job I’m not contributing much, just as Judaism says that without a family, I’m not “really” part of the community.

***

I have a nagging feeling that there were more thoughts that came up over Shabbat, when I couldn’t write them down, but I can’t remember them, and it’s late and I’m getting tired.  Hopefully I will remember them tomorrow, if they really existed.

Self-Critical Thoughts and Studying Torah

I’ve been feeling drained again today, and more depressed than the last few days.  Although CBT has never worked well for my depression and self-esteem, I started monitoring my self-critical thoughts and feelings today, just out of curiosity, to see how many I had.  I had about eleven self-critical negative thoughts (including one sudden self-critical feeling without a clear thought).  Six were before lunch and three were while walking, whereas there weren’t any while I was working on my novel (not even “I’m a bad writer” thoughts) and only one while cooking dinner, which suggests that distraction works well for me.  “I hate myself” or variants thereof was the most common type of thought by a long way.

That seemed quite a lot of self-critical thoughts considering that I had thought that my depression is currently only an issue in the morning and not later.  In fact, nearly half of these self-critical thoughts occurred after lunch.  It is also surprising considering that I thought my self-esteem was better these days.  On the plus side, I suspect that even a few years ago I would have been having a lot more self-critical thoughts.  Eleven was fairly manageable.

That said, my mood was persistently low all day without obvious negative thought triggers.  This is probably why I’ve never found CBT helpful for depression or self-esteem.  I had anhedonia today too; I was snacking on fruit mid-afternoon and it just seemed… not nice, even though it wasn’t off.  It was quite uncomfortable and I had to force myself to eat it as I was hungry.

***

I’m still feeling lonely.  I had a whole long section here that was me speaking about being lonely and thinking I will be single forever because of my issues and where I live in the world (in terms of Jewish community), but I cut it because I’ve said it before and will probably say it again.  And I wasn’t even supposed to be thinking about this until I had a job or some kind of income.

And I miss E.  I can see it wasn’t going to work out, but I miss her as a friend as much as a girlfriend.  We used to text a lot during the days, at least until a couple of weeks before we broke up.  Part of me wants to text again, but I’m worried about getting sucked back into a relationship.  I’ve always told myself not to get into on/off relationship situations.  I told myself not even to think about contacting E. until after my birthday (another three weeks away) to try to get over her.  But I wish I had someone to message with.

***

This article deals a bit with the question I have about how much Torah study I should do.  It notes that, theoretically, every adult Jewish man should spend every free moment studying Torah; the reality is that very few people could do that.  The article notes that “I suspect that expectations are very much a factor of one’s personal level of Torah accomplishment.”

The problem is I don’t know how much Torah study is right for me.  When I’m spending two hours writing a day and nine or ten hours sleeping a night (really) and an hour or two watching TV and reading (largely during meals, to be fair) and goodness knows how long procrastinating, doing thirty minutes to an hour of Torah study a day seems minimal… but it often does feel that I can’t do more.  It sounds strange, but an hour of writing for me is often easier than an hour of Torah study, even before you factor in energy levels that are lower than normal and sink faster than normal because of depression.  Plus, I see writing as the nearest thing to earning a livelihood in my life at the moment, in that I hope to be able to get my novel finished and published and earn royalties from it, so it seems important.  Today I was exhausted by dinner time and doing any Torah study at all seemed almost impossible.

Incidentally, that article mentions Rabbi Nehorai’s comment in Sanhedrin 99a which is the basis for the later literature, but does not quote it.  I looked it up and it says, “Rabbi Nehorai says: Anyone for whom it is possible to engage in Torah study and who nevertheless does not engage in its study is included in the category of: “Because he has despised the word of the Lord.”” (From the Koren Noé Talmud edition on Sefaria; bold text is literal translation, non-bold text is contextual explanation).  This makes it sound like a lot would depend on what “possible” means for any given person, in terms of time, energy and so on.

***

Achievements: I spent an hour and ten minutes proofreading the chapter I finished yesterday.  I’m more happy with it than I was, but I still think a section will have to be reworked significantly in redrafting.  I cooked dinner and went for a walk.

Torah study was hard, as I mentioned.  I thought doing it after dinner would be easier, as I would be refreshed, but I felt depressed and exhausted and my brain was just not working.  I spent fifteen minutes reading Tehillim (Psalms) in Hebrew and that was it.  I wanted to read some of Sacred Fire, but my brain was just not functioning any more.

That was it for today, really.  I just felt too exhausted and depressed to do much after that and watched TV, a Star Trek Voyager episode about depression and self-harm (Extreme Risk) that established the situation quite well, but resolved it far, far too easily, and the Doctor Who episode Time Heist to try to cheer myself up.

Therapy Hunting

I got up at 11.00am again today, although as with the last few days I struggled to get going.  I wasn’t feeling overtly depressed in the sense of despairing, but I did lack energy and motivation, which I guess is still depression of a kind.

I weighed myself for the first time since Pesach.  I have put on weight, but not much (half a kilo), which is a weird kind of victory.  I feel fat though.  Some of my clothes don’t fit so well (despite buying some larger ones a while back) and I know I’m two or three kilos overweight, which I haven’t been able to shift for years, since I was put on clomipramine.  I did go for a run again today.  I ran for most of the thirty-five minutes without going into a walk much, which was good.

I discovered that my self-published Doctor Who book is now available from Barnes and Noble as well as Lulu.com and Amazon UK.  I still can’t find it on Amazon US though.  I had an email from Lulu on Friday saying I should receive payment for the copies I’ve sold so far, but the money hasn’t reached my account yet.

I finished the short story I was writing and sent it to E. to see what she thinks.  E. and I Skyped again as we have been doing most days since the lockdown started.  I did twenty-five minutes of Torah study too, although I would have liked to have done more.

***

I spent nearly two hours looking for a therapist online.  I tried the questionnaire to find a therapist at welldoing.org.  The questionnaire had a long, long, looooong list of possible issues and I could easily have ticked six or seven that pertain to me, but I was only allowed to click three, so I went with depression, autism/Asperger’s and interpersonal relationships.  I hope the latter can cover my relationship with my Mum and need to come to terms with her mortality as well as my relationship with E. and understanding the changes that could entail in my life.  Autism isn’t exactly something I need to discuss in itself, but it informs my thoughts about my relationship with E. in particular and I would like to get someone who understands it if possible.  I think in many ways I’d prefer a therapist who understands autism to one who understands Orthodox Judaism, as I have a lot of experience explaining the latter to people, whereas autism is much harder to explain, especially as I feel like I don’t fully understand how it manifests in me.

Narrowing down the list of therapists is difficult, especially as I would be willing to do Skype sessions and would have to start with them.  I know it’s slightly weird to say this, but I have had male and female therapists/counsellors and I find it easier to open up to women than men (despite having had one positive male therapist and my rabbi mentor being male).  So I found myself biased in favour of women, even though that’s somewhat irrational.  Although a disproportionate amount of therapists and counsellors are female anyway.

Aside for checking BACP (British Association of Counselling and Psychotherapy) membership, so far I’ve narrowed down primarily by cost and partly by locality (just in case I ever want an in-person meeting post-COVID-19), and also by type of therapy.  I am quite clear that I don’t want CBT, as it has never helped me much (except with my OCD, but that’s a different type of CBT) and, having had a some psychodynamic therapy in the past (I think… therapists do not always make it clear) I was interested in trying a new approach.  I looked primarily at therapists offering existential therapy, although I know little about it.  I did this because of my interest in Jewish existentialist thinkers, although I’m not sure how much overlap there is (therapists would probably have heard of Martin Buber and maybe Emmanuel Levinas, but are less likely to have heard of other Jewish figures).  Existentialism generally focuses on issues like purpose, choice and authenticity, which obviously inform my thoughts on a lot of subjects I would like to address, like my relationship with E. and my attitude to my sexuality generally, my position in the wider world/working world and my relationship with the wider Jewish community (the latter two not issues I would bring to therapy per se, but which are likely to come up in passing).

Tomorrow I might try to find some other names and then narrow down the list to a few who I can email to ask for more information about their fees for unemployed people.  Most therapists seem to offer concessions for those in financial need, but I need to see if I would qualify and what the concession rates are.

***

Overall it was another good day and I’m glad to have made progress with the therapy hunt.  Now that Pesach (Passover) is over, I feel like I’m coping with lockdown quite well.  There are no jobs to apply for giving me time to help around the house and write and study Torah, although I probably procrastinate too much and I struggle with mornings and compensate by staying up late, which probably isn’t healthy.  E. and I have been able to Skype most days because of the greater flexibility she had when working from home which paradoxically may have been good for our relationship (not that I wanted her potential trip to the UK to be postponed).

Anxiety Mostly Contained

I did quite a lot today, although it was mostly Pesach (Passover) preparation, so not terribly interesting to record here.  I went shopping and extended my walk home a bit for exercise, although not for as long as I would have liked if I hadn’t had so many other things on today or been nervous about staying out with COVID-19.  I kashered the hob for Pesach, which basically involves boiling pots of water on each burner until it all gets really hot, then, when it’s cooled, covering the tops of the grates in aluminium foil.  I cooked some biscuits, almond macaroons, which spread too much and turned into two giant biscuits.  I think Mum cut them back into biscuit shape; from a baking point of view they were fine.  I cleaned the kitchen sink thoroughly to kasher it tomorrow and printed a load of signs so we can see where the Pesach and non-Pesach stuff is in the rearranged kitchen (then discovered we had some from last year).

I’ve been trying hard to fight the Pesach OCD that worries about the special dietary laws of the festival and the necessity of cooking not just different food, but in different utensils and with purged work surfaces, sinks, ovens and the like.  I’ve been trying hard not to give in if I want to physically check something multiple times; or email my rabbi mentor to check I’ve done something correctly; or to look up a detail that I know about, but want to double-check; or to ask my parents if they’ve washed their hands before touching Pesach food stuff…  It’s hard to do exposure therapy for Pesach OCD because unlike my ordinary kashrut OCD, where I was able to gradually expose myself to my irrational fears until the anxiety subsided, I’m not able to expose myself to Pesach OCD over a prolonged period of time.  I just have to sit with the anxiety and push through things despite it.  Dialing back the handwashing is harder, though, as Pesach and COVID-19 team up against me there and it usually feels like at least one of them mandates washing my hands in any given situation.  My hands are cracked, itchy and sometimes painful, but, to be honest, I’ve had worse Pesachs from a chapped hands point of view.

The other thing I had today was another depression group online meeting.  I found myself feeling very anxious during this meeting.  Some of it may have been residual anxiety from Pesach preparations, but I think a lot of it was social anxiety.  I can find the in-person depression groups challenging sometimes, but I find the online meetings so far much harder.  I’m fine Skyping E. one-to-one, and I’ve had one-to-one Skype therapy and meetings with my rabbi mentor, but a group meeting (and this was a slightly larger group than last time) seems to be exponentially harder.  I think I feel self-conscious with my picture on the screen, I don’t always talk loudly enough for the microphone to pick my voice up and the problems I have in sessions in terms of judging when I can speak and what to say somehow seems even more difficult to deal with online.  I still struggle with what I feel comfortable talking about and feel self-conscious of not expressing myself as clearly and as confidently as I would like.  I would like to continue going to these meetings as the lockdown continues, but I need to think about the best way of dealing with them.

It also occurred to me in the meeting that I’ve been completely focused on getting Pesach done despite COVID-19 and Mum’s cancer.  Soon, Pesach will be over, but the two Cs (as Mum calls them) will still be here and I will probably need to think of a new coping strategy or at least something else to occupy my time.

***

This post on trans-generational trauma was interesting.  I was interested because the case study is of a Holocaust survivor and his family.  My family had surprisingly little Holocaust connection, thankfully, although I’m sure every Jewish family suffered from institutionalised or persistent violence and persecution at some point.  I don’t think anything was passed down my family in that way, but perhaps because I take my Jewish identity very seriously I feel a sort of inchoate responsibility for the world in general and the Jewish people in particular and a desire to change things for the better without really knowing how, beyond a vague hope/fear that my suffering will somehow achieve some kind of vicarious atonement.

***

I feel a bit bad, as I just did give in to the OCD on a relatively minor thing, but I could see it spiralling out into something bigger (with OCD once you give in to one doubt or anxiety, it often snowballs into something much larger) and drew a line in the sand.  But it does indicate that I am too tired to function.  I will do a few minutes of Torah study as I haven’t done any today and don’t want to go a whole day without even five minutes, break my “No screens after 11pm” rule even further to relax a little for twenty minutes, and go to bed.

Coughs and Sneezes Spread Diseases

“You’re a loser, Joni, or whatever your name is, because you live in fear and that isn’t really living at all, is it?  Now, I don’t live in fear.  I’m alive.” – Life on Mars episode 1.4 by Ashley Pharoah

I woke up at 10am today and got up at 11am, which was good.  It was late, but earlier than recently.  In terms of activity, I tried to work on my novel for an hour after lunch.  I made a little progress, but struggled to write light, witty, flirty date dialogue unsurprisingly.  I’m not sure how I’m going to get through this chapter.  Hard work, I suppose.  I wrote about 250 words, which is half of my usual hourly target.  I spent a lot of time procrastinating and read a “long read” article on the BBC news website about the US government’s response to coronavirus when I should have been writing.

I felt very anxious and depressed today, which also didn’t help me to get in the writing zone.  I had less specific anxiety about coronavirus or Pesach (although a little about the former) and more general feelings of depression and anxiety.  I know from my past that anxiety about X can manifest as worrying about Y, even though X and Y are totally unrelated and X may be vastly more important and serious than Y.  Some of that may be happening here.  I do over-analyse myself, “What am I feeling?  Am I feeling the right thing?”  As if there’s a “right” thing to feel.

I’ve never had much success with mental health/CBT affirmations, but I’m trying to tell myself “My thoughts are not always my friends” which helped somewhat with controlling my religious OCD in the past.  The anxiety and depression fluctuated throughout the day, getting better after my run (see below), but by the evening I was feeling awful, just wanting to curl up and sleep while the world went away.  I had a brief Skype call with E., but I felt bad at being in a state, although I know she cares enough to want to see me when I feel like that.

***

I went on my Officially Sanctioned Single Daily Exercise Session (I went for a run).  I added a bit more distance to my usual run, which coincidentally took the time taken up to exactly thirty minutes, which is good.  Pace and stamina were pretty good too, at least by my recent standards.  There were a few people around, but most looked like they were exercising rather than going anywhere in particular.  The run did seem to help with the anxious thoughts, which is good to know for the future.

***

I joined in with a global simultaneous Jewish prayer meeting.  No Skype/Zoom connection, just thousands of people praying at the same time.  I stuck with the shorter list of Tehillim (Psalms) and prayers on the Orthodox Union website rather than the longer, more mystical list of prayers sent out by my rabbi (although that list confirmed my suspicions that Tehillim chapter 120 on the OU list should have read 121).

The other virtual community thing I did today was watch a live shiur (religious class) given by Rabbi Lord Sacks via YouTube.  I haven’t really been part of a streamed event like that before, so it was interesting to see the number of viewers grow.  There were about 770 by the end, which was good considering that it was only advertised today.  It’s weird how social isolation is bringing people together.  I then spent nearly an hour researching and writing my weekly devar Torah (Torah thought).  So it was a fairly solid day from a religious point of view.

***

Back to anxiety and depression…

Another of parents’ friends had another baby.  I just feel… It’s like other people have bad times – illness, bereavement, relationship breakdown, unemployment – and then after a while it goes and something good happens.  And with me, I have bad things, and they stick around, and eventually other bad things join them and I feel even worse.

Compared with the quote at the top, I do feel like I’m living in fear, of everything (illness, bereavement, relationship breakdown, unemployment), and it isn’t really living, but it’s all I’ve got.  Which leads to all the “Why is this happening to me?  Am I a bad person?  Does God hate me?” questions.

Anyway, I need to go, or I’ll miss my “No screens after 11pm” deadline.

“I am not a number, I am a free man!”

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Be seeing you!

Square Peg, Meet Round Hole

I use this blog for daily private journaling as well as this public side.  The private journal is mostly just a list of things I did that day plus a note on how I felt and a link to that day’s public post, but yesterday I wrote a terse note about how I was interpreting my life: “Managed to do quite a lot, but frustrated that I couldn’t do more and that I procrastinated; this level of guilty may be unfair and counter-productive.” (Emphasis added.)  I know it doesn’t sound much, but it’s a big thing for me to note my guilt and suggest it might be misplaced.

***

I had a phone call with my CBT therapist.  It was just to check in and see that I haven’t relapsed in the three weeks since our last session so that she can discharge me.  My social anxiety is somewhat better, but my depression is worse.  She was somewhat concerned about this.  I wasn’t so worried, because I think my depression can’t be cured, only managed (although arguably at the moment I am not managing it well).  I think I’ve learnt some useful CBT tricks with this therapist for dealing with social anxiety and self-esteem, albeit that I still struggle in these areas.  However, the depression is bad, but I think it will always be bad, or at least much of the time.  Certainly CBT has not helped the depression much in the past and I would have mixed feelings about trying it again – it would feel like wasting everyone’s time and money, including my own.

***

I tried to start writing a devar Torah (Torah thought/essay), but rapidly realised that (a) the idea I was hoping to use wasn’t enough for a 1,000 word essay, (b) the idea had no particular point to it and (c) I would have to quote a Midrash from an unpublished manuscript quoted by Aviva Gottleib Zornberg and I wasn’t sure I could get away with unpublished manuscripts found by a modern, non-Haredi scholar (who also happens to be a woman, to make it more shocking).  Maybe one of those things, but not all three (manuscript; modern/non-Haredi; female).  The alternative is to write about the idea I wrote about yesterday, but I don’t know the original source for that idea and, again, I don’t think I could get away with quoting it in the name of a Modern Orthodox Rosh Yeshiva.  It’s a shame, as you could take the “children of Rachel = spirituality in physicality” idea and run with it looking at the way that the Yosef (Joseph) narrative in Bereshit (Genesis) mirrors Queen Esther’s story in Megillat Esther (Esther) – both Yosef and Mordechai (and presumably therefore Esther) were descendants of Rachel.  If you had room, you could then potentially talk about hester panim, the hiding of God’s presence in the latter story but not the former.

My life would be a lot easier and potentially happier if there was a more lively and engaged Modern Orthodoxy in this country in general and in my area in particular that I could engage with.

***

I do feel depressed today, partly because of the devar Torah disappointment, partly perhaps from finishing CBT and wondering if I should have tried to stay in therapy to work on the depression despite my reservations, or even just realising (again) that my depression is here to stay.  I’m also getting concerned that I still haven’t heard when my autism assessment is (I was referred in December with a waiting list of eight to twelve months).  My Mum emailed the hospital; no response.  The GP offered to check and I said yes; no response from the GP.  The charity that did my autism screening offered to check and I said yes; no response from the charity.  It’s getting a bit troubling.  I guess the wet, dark weather and the shrinking amount of daylight don’t help the depression either.

***

I spoke to my parents’ primary school teacher friend about volunteering as a Teaching Assistant.  Actually, my Mum spoke, as I was in full autistic ‘this is big and scary and is an implicit open question and I don’t know how to approach it’ lack of executive function mode.  She said she could probably get me voluntary TA work at the primary school she works in either a secular or limmudei kodesh (Jewish Studies) classes, but there is quite a long commute on the bus.  She thought she might be able to get me into a local Jewish primary school too, which would be better from a commute point of view, but she doesn’t know the school now it’s a state school run by a private company (rather than the state itself).

I’m terrified by the whole idea of working with children.  I really don’t know why so many people think I’m good with young children.  On the other hand, librarianship is not working for me at all, and if I do manage to make a career as a writer, it isn’t going to happen for a long time and I need to earn money in the meantime which means working in another sector, even if I volunteer to try that sector out first.  The fact that so many people (critical people, to be honest) have said I’m good with children must count for something, but, talking to my parents’ friend, I was just feeling that this is going to be yet another thing that I fail at.  By the end of the conversation (only a couple of minutes) I was feeling completely overwhelmed and worried that I was about to burst into tears.

***

I went to my Thursday shiur (religious class).  I feel very out of place now, but I don’t want to attract attention – and potentially discussion of my beliefs – by not going.  The hashkafa (religious philosophy) of the rabbi doesn’t really align with mine.  I don’t know why I used to tolerate that, but find it harder now, maybe because now I feel that the community isn’t right for me, or that I have gone back to reading the Rationalist Judaism blog (although I have big problems with that too).  It’s quite kabbalistic (mystical).  I feel like I’m hiding myself there.  Perhaps it wouldn’t be so bad if I did manage to write that devar Torah, but…  Still, I want to write a novel one day (not the one I’ve already started) about mysticism, religious rationalism and religious existentialism in Judaism/the Jewish community, so I guess it counts as research on that.

On the way to shiur I listened to a five minute devar Torah from Rabbi Lord Sacks on Kohelet (Ecclesiastes) which is read on the Shabbat of SukkotKohelet is all about the futility of life and how to give it meaning.  Rabbi Lord Sacks says that Kohelet sees meaning in joy, specifically the joy of honest work, the joy of marriage and the joy of being grateful and living in the moment.  I don’t have the first two; I try to be grateful and live in the moment, but somehow I struggle with it and never get any actual joy out of it.  I don’t know what to do.  Based on what I’ve seen him write elsewhere, I suspect Rabbi Sacks would say I should stop seeking joy and just focus on other people and it will come naturally, but social anxiety makes it impossible for me to come into contact with other people without becoming hugely focused on myself.

Tomorrow the rabbi of my shul is hosting an oneg (a sort of Sabbath party with alcohol, junk food, singing and divrei Torah/Torah thoughts) in his sukkah.  I struggle with these things.  When I was new to my shul, I tried to go to a couple and ended up standing outside literally crying with social anxiety.  I think I would probably get in the door now I feel somewhat more at home in the community, or at least more familiar with it, but I feel I don’t enjoy these things the way I should and I’ve got less chance of getting to shul on Shabbat (Saturday) morning if I go to the oneg, so I should think strategically and stay away.  That would all argue against going, but I feel I should try to be a part of the community and maybe one day I’ll enjoy something like a normal person would…  Life is hard.

***

I feel like a square peg in a round hole.  Some of it is being ‘modern’ in a moderate Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) community, but I think it’s deeper than that.  I don’t fit anywhere; moreover, I have to admit that there’s a part of me that actively sabotages fitting in anywhere.  I honestly think that part of my problem is that a part of me wants not to fit in anywhere and finds reasons why I don’t fit in whatever the situation is.  Reasons that no one could accept me if they knew the ‘real’ me.  Reasons to withdraw and stay away.  Call it Groucho Marx Syndrome: “I don’t want to belong to any club that will accept me as a member.”  In my shul I feel too modern, but when I go to Modern Orthodox shiurim, I feel that people aren’t frum (religious) enough.  I am not naive and I can bring kashas (questions based on contradictions and logical flaws) on Jewish philosophy, but I can bring kashas on Enlightenment and postmodern thought too, so I’m staying Jewish and frum.  I don’t have wisdom or understand the meaning of life or how to live it.  I’m not sure that I can even describe myself as a seeker of meaning or wisdom (perhaps.  I hope so).  I don’t know what I am, really and I don’t know who can accept me.

***

It feels like it’s just been a pointless, wasted day that should have been a fun Chol HaMoed day if I was a “normal” person, which I’m not.  I really need a day of nothing to recover from all the Yom Tovim (festivals), but I have more Yom Tov coming next week and then job hunting and then a trip to Israel that I’m dreading, then more job hunting… I just got an email for a training day for people considering changing career that I should (that word again) go to, but I can’t face it.  I wish I could access the hidden positive feelings I recently said I must have about God and Torah and Judaism, because right now they would be very useful, but they’re very hidden.  I try to connect, but I can’t.

***

I had weird dreams again last night, although I can only remember fragments: Boris Johnson, the London Underground, World War I (I think, but maybe World War II, or both) and giving away lots of my books to charity shops and then trying to buy them all back again because I regretted it.  Also raising someone else’s baby, and dying.  All life is here in my subconscious.  I wish I knew what it all means, or could access it in my writing.