Fear of Rejection (Mini-Post)

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

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

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

Mini-Post: Shabbat and Jealousy

I don’t have much to say today. I mostly avoided worrying about my autism assessment over Shabbat. I did sleep too much though. I went to bed earlyish, slept for twelve hours and then had two half-hour naps in the afternoon. Not good. I am beginning to worry about this. I did quite a bit of Torah study yesterday, but not much today because of napping and because after Shabbat PIMOJ and I watched a film (Inside Out) “together separately” i.e. at the same time, but in different places. Then we Skyped afterwards.

One thing I did struggle with a bit was leafing through an old Jewish Chronicle from a month or so ago and seeing a big article about a schoolfriend/peer of mine. His life ran parallel to mine for many years and in some ways has the life I thought I would have. I knew he is a historian now and has written books (I catalogued one in a previous job), but somehow seeing the latest one promoted with an interview in the Jewish Chronicle raised thoughts about the way our lives had gone. Still, I think I managed not to drift into envy, jealousy, bitterness, frustration, self-criticism or the like. I do wish I had a clearer idea of where my life is going though, and whether I’ll manage to do anything worthwhile with it.

Mini-Post: Venting/Worrying

I didn’t intend to write today, but I need to vent. I had another round of wild goose chases with the NHS. To cut a very long story short, I had a text that seemed to be changing the time of my psychiatrist appointment in December, but which seems in reality to refer to a meeting about my autism assessment which we were not actually told about previously. The appointment is also probably intended for my Mum rather than me. We still have not got to the bottom of it (the NHS being unable to organise the proverbial drinking party in a brewery), but just the thought that the Maudsley Hospital (which does the autism assessments) want to talk to Mum again has raised all kinds of fears about not “really” being autistic – or worse, that they will want to confirm my childhood behaviour with her, but she won’t remember or will say I didn’t exhibit certain autistic behaviours because I masked them so well that she never noticed them or because they were low-key and dismissed as personal idiosyncrasies and forgotten over time, it being well over twenty years since I could really be classed as a child. We don’t really have time to investigate further today because Shabbat starts soon, so I’m likely to worry all over the weekend.

“Everyone I know is lonely”

My Mum had a phone appointment today for my autism assessment. I’m a bit worried… I’m pretty sure I’m on the spectrum, and that’s why I struggle with some things like job interviews. It’s hard for my parents to remember thirty years ago or more, but part of the diagnosis is based on how I was as a child, so I may not get the diagnosis I think I need. I think I learnt to mask from a young age, and as a child I was quiet, well-behaved and self-contained, so adults generally left me alone and focused on more needy/vocal children. I have noted before that I have a presentation of autism that has more in common with autistic women than men (particularly masking and finding strategies to “pass” as neurotypical in conversation and life in general, and being more imaginative and creative than autistic stereotype) – unfortunately, autism in women is arguably under-diagnosed because it doesn’t seem like “classic” autism, and I suspect the psychiatrists will be even less receptive to finding “female” autism in me.

Ironically, while she was doing that, I had a classic autistic moment. I was helping Dad take down the sukkah, or some of it, and he said, “Go up the ladder,” which I did – without moving it to where it needed to be first. Classic autistic literalism. The thing is, things like this can seem autistic, but they can also just seem absent-minded or eccentric. When I was younger, my parents viewed me through the “absent-minded” lens (my Mum even used to call me her “Absent-Minded Professor”). Now I see myself more through the autism lens. Maybe I’m wrong to do so. I guess I’ll find out soon; usually the appointment with the suspected autistic person is within six weeks of the appointment with the parent/guardian, but lately they’re doing them faster online so I should get an appointment soon.

***

I opened up to PIMOJ about some of this (autism and also depression) and she’s been really supportive, but I can’t shake the fears that one day it will be too much for her and she will walk off, particularly if I can’t find a job soon. I guess because that has happened to me before.

***

Other than that, today felt like trench warfare: a lot of noise, but not much movement (possibly watching The American Civil War triggered that – trench warfare is more associated with World War I, but it was actually first used in The American Civil War). I’m struggling with the disappearance of daylight as days get shorter and cloudier; it is probably time to start using my light box again. I helped Dad with the sukkah, as I said, and spent quite some time catching up on emails, including one to a potential voluntary opportunity (more in a few days, hopefully, when I hear back from them). Other than that, I felt too tired to do much. Post-Yom Tov (festival) burnout, I guess. I spent a lot of time writing and answering emails. I feel like anyone who has a white-collar job spends a huge chunk of the day treading water answering emails, although technically none of these were about paid employment.

No time or energy for a walk, and it was too wet. Mum suddenly felt ill about 6.00pm, so I hurriedly made dinner – just plain pasta with a bought sauce as I was short of time and energy. Part of the lack of time was because I wanted to go to depression group on Zoom, which I did, although I always feel curiously uncertain as to what to say and how coherent I sound. It’s good to have somewhere I can admit to difficult feelings. I spoke about the job interviews and feelings of inferiority and wanting my autism diagnosis to reassure myself, but not about the worry that PIMOJ would not cope with my issues.

I didn’t have time to do any further job hunting today. I have four jobs to apply for on my job spreadsheet, but two are for school librarian positions and I feel reluctant to apply for them given that I was rejected from the other school librarian position for lack of relevant experience. One is a law library position which raises the same experience issues, plus that would, I imagine, be a very fast-paced, high-pressure environment. The other job, a research support librarian position at a major museum, scares me in terms of the responsibility involved and my fears about my skillset.

I didn’t feel up to doing much Torah study so listened on an online shiur (religious class) on the goal of life. To be honest, it didn’t tell me much I hadn’t heard before from similar shiurim and books. Another problem with these types of class is that they tell you that true pleasure is eternal pleasure i.e. pursuing eternal, meaningful things like prayer and Torah study, but I can end up feeling despondent because depressive anhedonia means I don’t always enjoy spiritual things any more than narrowly material things, sometimes less so. Still, that was half an hour of Torah study that I probably wouldn’t have managed if I was still narrowly focused on reading religious texts for my Torah study.

***

I feel upset that so many people I know seem to be struggling right now (hence the title quote, from the Police song O My God). Some of that is COVID, but some, I guess, is that life really is hard for a lot of people. There’s a pithy rhyming quote, I think from Oliver Goldsmith (eighteenth century English poet) that I have been trying to locate again for some time now without coming across it, about how small are the elements of human suffering that can be relieved by governments and kings. I guess that is an unfashionable and conservative view nowadays, where we are supposed to think that the state could and should solve every problem and that social justice is best dealt out in real-time on Twitter, but a lot of people I know are struggling with anxiety, depression, loneliness, autism, not fitting in, arguments with family, sometimes abuse… There can be a material aspect to these things, and sometimes governments can help, but it’s not always the main problem or the key to addressing things. Thank God, I’m not struggling financially because my family are looking after me, but my problems are still very real. It’s hard enough for government to try to secure access to the essentials of life, without factoring in that happiness or sadness are often driven by non-tangible factors, and that dependency on others, especially an impersonal state, can be a strong driver of low self-esteem and depression… I just felt on the brink of tears by dinner time today, thinking about things.

***

I noticed something interesting when I went to shul (synagogue) last week. Obviously masks are compulsory there and a couple of children had dinosaur masks on, so far as I could tell from a distance. I found this interesting, as our previous rabbi was a Creationist and I assumed that most of the congregation were too and I was in a minority for not being one. Moreover, the father of the boys wearing the masks is very religious and involved. Of course, it could be that these are children and no one minds; still, it made me think maybe I’m not as unusual as I thought and I don’t have to feel as constrained as I do to hide my thoughts.

Plotting, and a Virtual Funeral

Well, I did it. I got up at 9.30am today. I know that doesn’t sound much, but it’s a big thing to me. Usually I feel depressed in the morning and sleep for hours. I did check emails after breakfast before getting dressed, but I didn’t read blogs. I didn’t really do a huge amount in the morning as I was tired. I sent some emails and sorted out my inbox and sent box, which had got overgrown again. That was it, really

I felt tired again today, and a bit down. I think I’m not always good at differentiating between depression and exhaustion, but today I think I had both. It occurred to me that the reason I always seem to be tired might be from autistic burnout. I know there’s a problem in getting diagnosed in that I didn’t have many very obvious symptoms as a child, including burnout. I did used to like to get up early (6.00am) and play or read when the house was quiet because everyone else was asleep. I do wonder why I wasn’t so burnt out at primary school or the first few years of secondary school. I do worry about this, that I have autism symptoms now, but not obviously as a child. I think I was just good at masking and conforming, but it makes it hard to get a diagnosis now.

***

I spent an hour in the afternoon working on my novel, looking at the plot. I think I know the areas that need work, although one area (the climax) requires quite a bit of thought. The problem is that I know logically what should happen from a storytelling point of view, but I worry that it neuters my female secondary character and makes her dependent on the male primary character to save her, as well as negating her trauma too easily. Of course we expect secondary characters to be saved by primary characters, but it wasn’t what I intended, as I wanted to avoid such a paternalistic conclusion. I wanted two roughly equal characters, but the way I’ve written it isn’t so balanced. Now I’ve got a primary character who doesn’t really have a proper climax to his story and a secondary character who does have a proper climax to her story, but it should connect back to the primary character and it doesn’t. I will have a lot to fix in revisions. That’s not necessarily a problem, except that I don’t trust myself to be able to think up a solution. This is what I hate about writing, the waiting on inspiration, which I guess is a kind of thinking (inspiration doesn’t come out of the blue, but out of thought).

***

I went to a Zoom levoyah (funeral) for the woman who taught my at kindergarten. She also gave me tuition in exam technique when I was somewhat older. She was a family friend, so I used to run in to her periodically or my parents would update me about her. She was an important person in my early life and did a lot to nurture me and ensured I started school already knowing the English and Hebrew alphabets and basic sums, as well as enjoying learning. Whenever my parents saw her, she wanted to know how my sister and I were doing. I’m sure she would be pleased I’m working on a novel.

It was not easy to hear the eulogies or to follow the prayers on Zoom (funeral prayers are not always in regular prayer books), particularly as the service was outside because of COVID. I haven’t been to that many funerals anyway, so I’m not 100% sure of the structure of the service. The whole thing left me feeling much more emotional than I expected, but I had to rush straight to Shabbat preparation afterwards, so I didn’t really have time to process anything.

I guess that’s where I’ve been this afternoon: doing pre-Shabbat chores, thinking about my novel and feeling upset from the funeral. Wishing I had more time to think today, wishing I didn’t feel so overloaded emotionally. I guess Zoom funerals can be draining from an autistic point of view as much as real-world funerals; if I have trouble understanding and processing emotions, it’s not going to magically be easier just because it’s over a screen.

Quiet Shabbat

Someone is playing loud music outside at 10.30pm…

Shabbat was pretty good. No insomnia this week. I woke up at 9ish and said the Shema (the most important morning prayer, which at the moment should be said by 9.30ish). I wanted to stay awake, but was tempted to wrap myself in my duvet to self-comfort and fell asleep BUT I woke up in time for the later deadline for saying the Shacharit Amidah (second most important morning prayer), so I’m counting this morning as a win as usually I don’t manage those at all. I didn’t doze this afternoon either (read, studied Torah and went for a walk), so I might go to sleep at a reasonable time tonight (if the music stops).

I mentioned to my parents my theory that my depression is now mostly autistic burnout after doing too much and they agreed. They said they’d thought that for a while, but hadn’t known how I would react if they said anything. I definitely still have odd days when I hit clinically depressed-type lows when burnt out, but I don’t think they stick around long enough to be classified as clinical depression (which should last two weeks). I look forward to hearing what my therapist says about this on Tuesday. (For what it’s worth, I think I still do have things to bring to therapy at the moment.) I do still struggle with mornings, although as my Dad said, none of us in the family are morning people (actually my sister is now, but only since she married a morning person).

That was it, really, aside from some dating anxiety. I seem to be able to keep a lid on it during the day, but it explodes in the evening for some reason. I’m excited to be messaging the person I’m messaging and so far things seem good, we seem to be connecting well, but I’m just terrified some unsolvable problem will open up somewhere down the line. I know, it’s been LESS THAN ONE WEEK that we’ve been messaging each other, I really shouldn’t be worrying that far ahead. But I do jump ahead when thinking about dating. I get so terrified of rejection, or of losing someone who I have come to care about, that I worry about it from the off, which is not good on multiple levels.

***

Speaking of JDate, I got an amusing message from someone who does not think we are a match but who recognised me from primary school! I have to say I don’t recognise her, but I suspect her hair in her profile picture is not her natural colour or style. In any case, I don’t really remember most of the girls from primary school, I didn’t really speak to them much at that age. I mean, I didn’t speak to most of the boys, let alone the girls.

***

I mentioned that I’ve been reading Mishlei (Proverbs in Tanakh, the Hebrew Bible) and that I’ve struggled in the past with its rather rigid theology that good is always rewarded and evil punished in this world, which is not what I see. It’s fair to say that many of the proverbs do read like that, but some don’t. I found one I liked over Shabbat: “The way of a man may be torturous and strange/Though his actions are blameless and proper.” (21.8, The JPS Bible translation). I like that. I don’t know if my life is bad, but it does feel torturous and strange at times, so it’s good that I don’t have to blame myself for that. Also, the Hebrew word translated as ‘torturous’ is ‘hafakhpakh,’ which is a good word to say aloud (the ‘kh’ is a guttural like in the Scottish ‘loch’).

Post-Success Depression and Negative Self-Talk

I still feel very depressed.  I don’t know if this is about finishing the first draft of my novel or something else, something I don’t want to talk about here.  If it is about my novel, I had something similar when I was doing my MA: I would struggle against depression to finish an assignment, but when I handed it in, instead of feeling positive, I would feel more depressed and often be unable to start the next assignment for weeks.  It took me nearly three and a half years to finish a course that should have taken one academic year.

***

I was thinking of buying some more music and graphic novels and maybe some war gaming miniatures to paint (I don’t play war games any more, but sometimes I paint the models).  Then I started thinking that this was retail therapy, and I felt more guilty about it, and just started procrastinating, which is a worse problem than retail therapy, at least with the relatively small sums of money I’m thinking of spending.  In the end I bought two graphic novels, but am undecided as to whether to buy the miniatures.  It would be good to do something that doesn’t involve thinking (I guess there’s running), but I feel depressed when comparing miniatures painted by me recently with the much better ones painted in my teens, before I had medication-related tremor, and perhaps when my concentration and will power were better.

***

I finished fiddling around with my iTunes playlists, which was good.  I’ve been meaning to sort them out for a while now.  That was my main achievement for the day, alongside my usual pre-Shabbat chores.  I did a little Torah study, and I’ll probably do a bit more later, but it’s hard to do anything today.  It’s partly depression and exhaustion, but also the heat and humidity, which are both high today and make me uncomfortable.

***

I had another weird dream about conflict with my religious community, where a bunch of thugs mobbed the car I was in when it pulled over (which for some reason was being driven by Hugo Drax, the villain of the James Bond film Moonraker) and then I realised they were frum men, with suits and fedoras, and then I recognised some of them from shul.  That might be part of the reason why I woke up depressed and exhausted again.

I’m not sure why that conflict is on my mind when I haven’t had any real contact with the community for five months or so and am not likely to have any for another couple of months at least.  Maybe that’s it, though.  Maybe I’ve forgotten the good parts and the people I like and am only thinking about the negative.  Certainly there’s a lot of social anxiety over going to shul (synagogue) again, wondering if I can remember what to do and how to behave (I mean behave socially more than religiously, although that too, I guess), as well as autistic anxiety about wearing masks and the changed layout of the shul being different and confusing.  Shul has been reopened for a few weeks now, but I haven’t gone as we’re still shielding Mum as she’s immuno-suppressed and the risk is just too great.

Related to that, I don’t know when going to a shop is going to feel safe again.  I’ve hardly been in any for months.  The only one I really go to is the pharmacist, to collect my anti-depressants, but that’s awkward as not only is it often busy, but the post office is in the same shop, separated by a partition wall and that’s also often busy and people have to queue from the post office section into the pharmacist section.  I’d like to go to the nearby charity shop to browse second-hand books and DVDs as I know that’s something that de-stresses me a bit, but I just don’t dare to.

***

I wrote in yesterday’s post about blaming my teenage/early twenties self for not being more social.  After I turned off my computer, I remembered something I once said in therapy, that if I think of my very young self, say five or six years old or younger, I feel a great deal of love and compassion towards him, but I think of my somewhat older self (eight or ten years old and up) suddenly a whole load of negative feelings and internalised anger/aggression comes out about him (me) being too clever, aloof, irritating, an unintentional show-off, a Doctor Who obsessive to the exclusion of all else (even more than I am now…) and so on.  I’m guessing this is because the difficulties of my childhood started when I was somewhat older and that’s the time that I internalised negative thoughts and feelings about myself.  It is hard to know what to do with these thoughts.

***

I just heard that Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz died today (barukh dayan ha’emet).  He was a great man.  Among his many achievements was translating the Talmud into Modern Hebrew (most of the Talmud is written in Aramaic) and writing explanatory commentary, and then overseeing its translation into English and, I think, Russian.  It’s not the only current English translation, but it is very accessible and while the Artscroll Talmud (its main competitor in English translation) is focused on the detail of halakhic (legal) debate and only uses traditional sources, the Steinsaltz one is more focused on basic comprehensibility and uses modern sources and photos (of plants, ancient artifacts, etc.) to illustrate the social and material context of the Talmud.

He wrote many other books too, including a few I own.  I’m very fond of his book Simple Words and his translation of some of the stories of Rebbe Nachman of Bratzlav, again with commentary.

He was an important figure for me, not just because of the books that I have read, but also his attitude, being in some ways very traditional and Hasidic and in other ways very modern (he was originally a scientist before becoming a rabbi).  I believe his yeshiva (rabbinical seminary) taught Jewish philosophy and creative writing alongside the traditional yeshiva Talmud curriculum.  He once said, “An intellectual is not necessarily a university professor: he can also be a shoemaker.  An intellectual is a person of boundless curiosity, who has the desire and the ability to discuss everything, and the spark that can make something new out of anything.”  We can apply this to Rabbi Steinsaltz himself.

“I was shot and found myself in 1983”

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

***

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

Bonus Post: Two Dreams (Guilt and Making Friends)

This is quite long and I know some people find other people’s dreams boring, so I put them in a separate post.  You can skip it if you want.  I’ll try to post my usual update later.

I had two dreams last night.  In the first dream, I had been part of some kind of big armed robbery (!) before the dream started, masterminded by a boss from a former real world job (I won’t say which one, just in case).  I had had a minor role as some kind of look out or something similar.  The mastermind was trying to get us together to do an even bigger robbery, one in which it was more likely someone would get killed.  I didn’t want to do this, nor did several of the other people who were involved in the first one, but the mastermind was blackmailing us, saying if we didn’t cooperate, she would tell the police about our involvement in the first robbery.  I decided I couldn’t cope with the guilt and was going to tell my parents and my rabbi mentor what I had done, even if I ended up going to jail.  I was less worried about jail and more feeling guilty that I had let my parents and rabbi mentor down by doing such a bad thing.

I woke up feeling upset and guilty.  It took me a moment to realise it was a dream and I hadn’t really done such a bad thing against my values.  This was probably triggered by revisiting the job where I had that boss for my novel, where I felt I had been incompetent at times (incompetent, not criminal!) but I don’t know why I exaggerated it to that extent.  I suppose it shows how awkward I’ve found the workplace over the last couple of years (when I’ve actually had a job to go to).

***

In the second dream I was in some kind of residential scheme for people with “issues.”  I think I was still a teenager.  Some of the other teenagers there were people I was at school with, but others weren’t.  I was leaving a day early for some reason.  I wanted to stay in touch, but wasn’t sure how to leave my email address.  I wanted to give it to one of the people running the programme (who were all nuns, for some reason) to pass on, but first I couldn’t find any blank paper as all the pads had scrawls on them, and then my pen wouldn’t write — the ink just sat in a blob, like mercury.  Then the nun wasn’t sure about giving my email to women, in case they misunderstood, but then some of the women came in and wanted my email address.  Then I woke up.

I think the second dream was about a residential scheme I did for a week when I was sixteen, for students from state schools who wanted to apply to Oxbridge.  We did a one week course with other people thinking of studying the same subject to get an idea of what studying at Oxbridge is like.  I struggled with it initially.  I nearly came home after the first night because I felt so homesick and lonely.  I did eventually connect a bit with the other students, but on the last night they went to the pub with the teachers and I stayed in the building.  I don’t know why.  I just couldn’t go.  They even came back to get me, but I couldn’t face it.  I was so angry with myself for not going, but I just couldn’t manage it.  I guess it was social anxiety and not being used to being accepted in a group.  Maybe some autistic stuff about feeling I can’t understand other people properly.  I don’t know what they thought about me.  I think they tried to stay in contact together as a group for a bit afterwards, but I didn’t manage that either.  I feel quite bad writing this, as they were friendly and I couldn’t cope with that.  I feel like I let them down.  So I think my dream was about what if this had gone better.  What if I could connect with people better.

One of the students there in the dream was someone I was at school with, but struggled to understand.  I was a bit wary of him, for reasons I did not really understand.  He was clever, but not geeky.  He was very left-wing, much further than I was then, let alone now, and rather anti-Zionistic at a Jewish school where everyone was Zionist; I’m not sure if I knew that at the time though.  I suppose I couldn’t find common ground to connect with him; it didn’t help that I didn’t really know him or have classes with him, he was just a friend of some of my friends, and I found those situations hard.  In the dream I knew of all this, but I still got on with him regardless.

I woke up feeling happy and rested, even though I had slept for less then I usually do and I decided to get up.

Repeat to Fade

It’s been business as usual: depressed, lonely, touch hungry.  Beating myself up about things that probably aren’t in my control, and neglecting things that are.  I’m pessimistic about the future, but trying not to think about it too much.  I feel that autism is at the root of my issues (depression, work issues, relationship issues, friendship issues, community issues, maybe even God issues — see below) and that’s not something I can ever “cure.”  The most I can do is get taught workarounds for it.  While even workarounds would be something, I feel that autism set me up to fail from the moment I was born.  Will I ever get a career (librarianship or writing)?  Will anyone ever really be able to love me romantically?  Will I ever be able to build the type of friendships and community life I want?  It all seems terribly unlikely.

I also worry about not being diagnosed a third time when I feel so sure I’m on the spectrum.  What future would that give me?  Would it mean that I’m not on the spectrum and my issues are just in my head i.e. I’m just useless?  Would it mean no career, no relationship, no life?  It would certainly mean no NHS help, although I’m not quite sure what they can offer anyway.

***

Yesterday was one month since I broke up with E.  It was the right thing to do, but I haven’t got back in touch with her from fear that if I do that, we’ll end up together again.  Sometimes I feel like I shouldn’t have broken up.  There’s a feeling of, “Even if it wasn’t perfect, I’m not likely to get any better offers.”  It is hard to know what to do with lonely feelings when there is no outlet.

***

I tried to work on my novel, but it was hard to get in the right mindset.  I needed to write something related to a big mistake I made at work once, and I procrastinated because I didn’t want to revisit it in my memory.  I made slow progress, but I did get through the difficult bit.  It seemed like it wasn’t such a big mistake in retrospect once I confronted it.  I am still worried about not having quite enough plot to last to the minimum word count.

***

Good things: my parents have bought a chocolate fudge cake as it’s my birthday next week.  There’s a huge chocolate swirl thing on the top.  This has cheered me up a little.  Even then there was a problem, in that Dad ordered a square cake and they gave a round, which is smaller because there are no corners (the price is the same, so the square is better value for money).  I wouldn’t have noticed if Dad hadn’t pointed it out to me.  But I’m trying not to let that bother me.

The post also bought half of an indulgent “birthday present” I bought for myself a few days ago: an animated Doctor Who story from years ago on DVD (The Infinite Quest).  It’s aimed more at children than most Doctor Who (it was an animated segment on the children’s spin off Totally Doctor Who), but I was curious to see it again and found a cheap copy on Music Magpie (one of the “anything other than Amazon” sites I’ve taken to using).  To be honest, it wasn’t not great, much more obviously aimed at children than the average Doctor Who story, but it was diverting.

***

I was not abused as a child, but there were some things that happened to me which therapists have said could be trauma, and which could have stopped me believing that adult authority figures really cared about me and/or would protect me.  I’ve also known that this is the probable cause of my difficulty in trusting God and accepting He loves me, God being another authority figure in essence.

The problem with knowing this is it hasn’t really taken me anywhere.  I guess in a book or TV programme, this would be big revelation to the main character and they would suddenly achieve catharsis and closure and move on with their lives.  In reality, it’s something I’ve known for years, even decades, but I still feel depressed and I still feel, at least some of the time, that God hates me and is out to punish me for real or imagined sins.

What I did find myself wondering today, and don’t really have time to explore further before Shabbat, is where my autism fits in.  I didn’t know about high functioning autism as a child (the diagnosis didn’t even exist back then), but I was conscious of being an outsider both at home and especially at school, that people found me weird and didn’t like me.  Do I assume that God is also going to find me weird and unlikeable?  Maybe.

The mystics (in Judaism and other religions) teach that God is in everyone and everything as well as being beyond everything (panentheism, as distinct from pantheism where God is everything without having a transcendent Being beyond everything).  Therefore it’s impossible for something to exist without God knowing and understanding it.  Therefore God can’t find me weird and unlikeable.  But I resist this, partly because I’ve never felt fully comfortable with mysticism and kabbalah, but partly — I don’t know what, just resistance to the idea that God loves me.  That I can’t be that good.  I don’t know.  (Of course, a rationalist like Rambam would find the idea of God being in everything heretical nonsense.  Maybe that’s why I struggle to accept it.)

***

I’ve noticed I’ve started using Oxford commas in my writing recently, despite being pretty set against them in the past.  I’m not sure why this is.

Ghost in the Machine

I thought on waking that, although I still felt quite depressed today, I was not as paralysingly depressed and exhausted as the last couple of days, but soon my mood dipped down again.

The supermarket delivery came an hour early this morning, while Mum and Dad were still at the hospital for Mum’s chemo.  I was still in pyjamas as I wasn’t expecting them yet.  I didn’t even have my dressing gown on.  I know, realistically, I’m not the only person in pyjamas at 11am during lockdown, but it’s still embarrassing, not least because I’m aware it could easily have happened outside lockdown given my disrupted sleep pattern.

I’m still struggling with bank account stuff.  I feel bad for saying it, but it is making feel completely overwhelmed.  I’m not sure if that’s depression or autism or what.  I did start to make progress with it, but then their website crashed and seemed to be not working generally, rather just for me, and I had to give up.

I did manage to go out to post Doctor Who Magazine a review copy of my book.  I would like them to review it, but I’m not so hopeful.  They basically only review official merchandise these days, and there’s so much of that that they only review a fraction of it.  I did at least overcome the autistic anxiety of going to a new place as I hadn’t used this post office before.  I am also hopeful that Doctor Who Magazine might at least mention my book on the merchandise news page.

I did spend an hour putting together a devar Torah (Torah thought) for this week.  I was relieved to get it done, as I was not sure I had anything to say, but I felt I was over-reliant on secondary sources this week, particularly Nehama Leibowitz’s Studies in Bamidbar Numbers and some badly-referenced Midrashim in the Artscroll Stone Edition Chumash.  I guess it can’t be great every week.  It did bring me a bit out of my low mood, which was good.  I wanted to do some more Torah study later on, but didn’t manage more than a few minutes.

As I was having trouble with the building society site, I used the time for working on my novel.  As is often the case when starting a new chapter, I struggled to get into it, but eventually managed an hour or so of work and about 400 words, which was not bad considering how depressed I felt.  The depression may have helped channel my narrator’s frustrations.

I went for a run too.  It wasn’t great, but wasn’t bad considering that I was very depressed and I hurt my foot somehow halfway through.  I think it helped my mood a bit as I felt a bit better afterwards.  I think I have lost some body fat in the last few months, which is good.

***

We’re in the annual Jewish national mourning period known as The Three Weeks, where frum (religious Orthodox Jewish) men don’t shave.  One week in and my beard is itchy, and it’s worse when wearing a mask I discovered today.  I wonder if compulsory masks will end the hipster stylised facial hair that’s become common in the last decade or so?

***

I guess part of what I find so frustrating about not being married is not just the celibacy, but not being able to talk about what I feel about being celibate.  There is, supposedly, a “shidduch crisis” in the frum (religious Orthodox Jewish) world where, for reasons that are debated, there may be a surplus of unmarried frum women over frum men.  There is supposed to be a similar, but somewhat different, “singles crisis” in the wider Jewish community of a surplus of unmarried women (not frum) who want to marry a Jew over Jewish men who want to marry a Jewish woman.  And there is, apparently, a different crisis entirely of single men in the secular world who can’t find partners, again for contested reasons.

What bothers me about all of this (aside from the obvious fact that despite there being a two-fold shortage of Jewish men, I still can’t find a partner, which makes me feel useless beyond all repair), is that no one talks much about what this means emotionally.  There’s a lot of of talk about “fixing the shidduch crisis” in the frum world i.e. making matches, but not about the emotional fall out of being single.  In the wider world the only people talking about it are violent and misogynistic “Incels,” who I wouldn’t want to associate with.  I tried to talk about it a bit in my novel, but perhaps I shied away from the full extent of it.  Or maybe I don’t even have the vocabulary to talk about something that is so hidden and repressed.  Maybe that’s something to fix in the redrafting, if I can find the right words.

Then the Star Trek: Voyager episode I watched today was not helpful.  Ensign Kim fell in love with an alien and was given an official reprimand for breaching protocol.  Almost every iteration of Star Trek has one character who is persistently unlucky in love.  In Voyager, it’s Harry Kim.  After spending the first season or two pining after his fiancée on the other side of the galaxy, he fell in love with a succession of unobtainable women: a hologram, a cyborg, “the wrong twin” (one who didn’t like him, unlike her sister, who he didn’t like) and now an alien from a xenophobic race.  Later, if I recall correctly, he falls in love with a reanimated corpse (um, yeah).  The character feels like a virgin, even though he isn’t.

I feel I have a certain amount in common with him, as I suspect that I too tend to fall for unobtainable women.  Or maybe they’re all unobtainable for me?  The first woman I asked out, insisting that we did not have much in common, said that if I liked myself more, I would like someone who I had more in common with.  The reality is that I’m not sure there is such a person, or what difference it would make.  I suppose E. and I had a lot in common, although we had some big things not in common (particularly religion).  It still wasn’t enough to keep us together.  Maybe in some ways we had too much in common, in terms of needyness and low income.

Ensign Kim’s formal reprimand was unfair, though.  Star Trek characters are always having flings with aliens with no repercussions.  Captain Kirk and Commander Riker slept their way around the Alpha Quadrant without so much as a warning.  As Commander Chakotay said, Captain Janeway was being strict with Harry because he always kept to the rules in the past.  I feel like that a lot – not regarding sex, but generally.  When I was a child, I felt that my observance of the rules was never noticed by authority figures, but I was too scared to break them.  Lately I feel like God is punishing me more than most people because He expects more from me, although it’s hard to tell what He expects me to do differently, or how I should do it.  I do feel at times that my loneliness and single state is somehow a punishment for something, although I know that’s not particularly logical.

***

A different type of loneliness: Rabbi Lord Sacks’ Torah email this week is a eulogy for his teacher, Rabbi Nahum Rabinovitch, who died recently.  He speaks movingly of the idea of the teacher in Judaism.  “In Judaism, study is life itself, and study without a teacher is impossible.  Teachers give us more than knowledge; they give us life.” (Emphasis in original)  When I think about whether I made a mistake in not going to yeshiva (rabbinical seminary) for a gap year, the actual content I would have learnt is only third on my list of regrets.  My bigger regrets are not “learning how to learn” and not having come into contact with great Torah scholars who I would have learnt from, from their personalities as much as their lessons.  There’s a wonderful essay by Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik (in the book Halakhic Morality) where he says that the content of Judaism can be learnt from books, but each person also has to develop their own unique “religious style” which can not be taught, only aroused within them by watching a great teacher.

My rabbi mentor is of course a teacher to me, but only in an ad hoc way.  He has never been in the position of formal teacher to me in any long-term way.  I am lucky that he has set aside so much time for me over the years, but it is not the same as being at a yeshiva with teachers.  I have learnt from teachers in books: Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Kotzk, Rav Soloveitchik, Rav Kook and (lehavdil bein chayim le chayim) Rabbi Sacks himself and Rabbi Steinsaltz (among others).  Still, I feel book learning from dead or distant rabbis is not good enough, just as my Talmudic studies seem too small and low-level and my general Torah studies disconnected and lacking focus.

I do not know what to do about this.

***

Another line in Rabbi Sacks’ essay resonated for different reasons.  “Early on, he said to me, ‘Don’t be surprised if only six people in the world understand what you are trying to do.'”  I feel like that sometimes when contemplating my own writing, what I write now and what I want to write.  Maybe I’m being arrogant.  I would prefer to say that I’m doing what all good writers should do – writing for myself – and I know from experience that I have unusual tastes.

***

I keep coming back to the feeling that everything just seems so difficult and endless.  I was feeling earlier today that I should be glad that I’m hurtling unstoppably towards death because life just seems so painful and meaningless.  Lonely and painful.  I don’t know what I really enjoy or find meaningful any more, except writing, but even then I struggle to get anything published or to get any money from it.  I just feel so pessimistic about my life ever being good.  My childhood had problems, but could have been a lot worse had I not had one really good friend, but from adolescence to adulthood, my life has pretty much never been good.  It’s hard to hold out on a hope that things will go back to how they were when I eight years old.

Negativity and Meaning

I felt quite depressed again today.  Dad took Mum to her appointment with the surgeon and then for a socially distanced visit to my sister’s house, so I had the house to myself for a bit, which I like.  It’s nice to have personal space, not that we get in each others’ way very much (I’m usually in my bedroom, my parents in the lounge or office).  I did feel very depressed and lonely, trying not to catastrophise my thoughts about the future into complete despair (about marriage, children, having my writing “cancelled,” etc.).

I tried to work on my novel before therapy, but really I just wanted to cry.  I did, eventually get down to it and wrote quite a bit.  It was a violent scene, and although that was hard on one level, because domestic violence is pretty draining to write, I did find the actual writing flowed more than recently.  I definitely think that mainstream literary fiction is not 100% right for me (although I intend to finish the book) and I should be writing science fiction/fantasy adventure or something similar in the future.  It’s bits like that that have been easiest to write.

Therapy was difficult and very draining.  We spoke a lot about family and childhood.  Also about Mum’s illness and being increasingly conscious of my parents’ mortality.  I mentioned what Ashley has said about my having lots of “shoulds” and we worked a bit on finding alternative thoughts.  I don’t like replacing “should” with “could” because I feel I could do just about anything so saying, “I could do X” doesn’t help me make decisions, especially as it makes it hard to see how urgent or important a task is.  So we’re trying with phrases like “I would like to do this because…” or “This is in line with my values because…”  I like the latter, because sometimes I do things I don’t enjoy because it’s in line with my values e.g. prayer (which is not always enjoyable or uplifting, although it can be) and housework.  I’m also writing some questions to identify when I’m being self-critical e.g. “Is this my critical voice?” and “Would I talk to someone else like this?”

I often go for a walk after therapy, but I felt too tired today, especially as I knew I had shiur (religious class) later.  The shiur was on meaning, the last of three shiurim on the topic.  The first was on what meaning is; the second was on whether a person has to be religious to have meaning; and this one was on how can we make our lives more meaningful.  The shiurim were given by Dr Tamra Wright and Rabbi Dr Michael Harris.

The shiur this week was not so much a religious shiur as a talk on philosophy and positive psychology, but it was interesting.  Some points I took from it:

  • The optimal level for a meaningful element in your life is not always the maximal one.  In other words, if praying is meaningful for me, that doesn’t mean that praying 24/7 would be the most meaningful level of prayer.
  • Meaningful events/things can be small, not major life-changing things.
  • Recognising meaning or value that is already present is important.  Even increasing this recognition a little is good even without recognising the good perfectly.  (All of the above points taken from a book by the Israeli philosopher Iddo Landau.)
  • Writing a gratitude journal of things that went well and why they happened helps make life meaningful.  I already list things that I’m grateful for, but I don’t write it down or write why they happened.  Maybe I should change that.  Writing why they happened is supposed to show your agency more clearly.
  • One can have a flourishing, meaningful  life even without a cheerful disposition via pro-social emotions (e.g. compassion), engagement, relationships, a sense of something greater than me and achievement.
  • Spirituality is independent of religion (I knew that) and is “a sense of a close personal relationship to God (or nature or the universe or whatever term each person used for higher power) and a vital source of daily guidance. (From work by Lisa Miller)  This is associated with meaning.  I’m not sure how much I have this.  I struggle to feel a close personal relationship with God, although I believe in Him.  I suppose He is a source of daily guidance for me inasmuch as I try to live according to Jewish law and values, but I’m not sure that that was quite what was meant.
  • George Vaillant identified six tasks of adult development.  They’re too long to list here, but I’m not sure I’ve achieved any of them yet, maybe not even “identity” fully (separation from parents), which I should have managed by now.  The only one I might have achieved is “Becoming a keeper of the meaning – role of ‘wise judge’; impartial; conservation, preservation, passing on traditions.”  Because I’m more Jewishly observant and knowledgeable than my immediate family, they look to me for religious guidance.
  • Vaillant also says that self-worth is a dead end and meaning is found in thinking of ourselves less.  I find this hard.  I have noted my rather solipsistic self-absorption, which is perhaps partly from autism (after all, the name “autism” is about being self-contained), partly from social anxiety (not reaching out to others) and partly by temperament (tendency to ruminate).

Speaking of which, I did not really interact in the discussion because I was feeling too socially anxious.  Sigh.  I need to think about how to add some of those meaning-techniques to my life.

Autism and Depression in the Workplace and More on Meaning

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

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

***

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

***

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

***

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

***

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

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

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

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

***

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

Building Characters

I spent the day wrestling with negative feelings of depression and despair. I would feel OK, and then something would set me off again. It has to be said, though, that my mood was mostly reasonably good and optimistic, particularly in the afternoon (mornings are still hard). That said, little things can bring me down.

***

Every year there is a “Forty Under Forty” list in The Jewish News listing the top forty communal leaders in the Jewish community under the age of forty, whether religious, political or cultural leaders. It’s a fairly horrible concept and I try to avoid it, as there are always people I know on the list, and it makes me feel like I’ve wasted my life while other people have built careers and made a difference to the world, particularly as I won’t be “under forty” for much longer. Looking at part of the list today (it’s always published in installments) I saw someone I knew, but I didn’t feel as jealous or despairing as I might have done in the past. Likewise, lately I don’t feel as jealous and lonely when people much younger than me get married or have children. And I don’t carry as much anger and resentment as I used to about my childhood and adolescence. I feel I’ve made a lot of progress in therapy dealing with my issues. And yet I can’t seem to permanently shake the depression, despair, loneliness and other negative feelings. I feel like I’ve done everything I should do to recover, but it still doesn’t help. Somehow it persists.

***

I keep checking my email, blog reader, WhatsApp… I know when I do this it’s a mixture of boredom and loneliness. Just wanting to connect with someone, but usually not finding anyone or, worse, making the wrong kind of connection, usually by seeing something that upsets me, typically by making me feel attacked.

***

I probably shouldn’t relate all my dreams here (the ones I can remember anyway) as other people’s dreams are not usually as interesting as they think they are, but I had a classic anxiety dream about being in my rabbi mentor’s yeshiva (rabbinical seminary) on the day he was taking his rabbinical exams and feeling that everyone was looking down on me for not being religious enough. I wonder what that could be about? Sometimes you don’t need to be Sigmund Freud to work it out. There was also some weirdly OCD stuff about trying to do the ritual hand washing on waking and before eating, but not being able to find a big enough cup.

***

I have a new webcam, which I ordered weeks ago, and which has finally arrived. So that’s good. I had been borrowing my Dad’s laptop for every Zoom or Skype interaction. In other ways I feel like I’m ready for lockdown to be over. I know, everyone else reached this point weeks, if not months, ago. But lockdown seemed to suit me: I didn’t have to meet people, there weren’t jobs to worry about applying for, I didn’t have to go anywhere or do anything, I had time to write. But I feel I probably should be trying to move my life on and get back in the habit of actually doing things other than writing, jogging, cooking and cleaning. Plus, it would be good to move towards moving my relationship with E. on. And seeing other people, actually going to shul (synagogue) and to physical shiurim (religious classes) would probably be good for me, not least because I feel like my social anxiety is getting worse while I avoid people. Online socialising isn’t working so well for me, as it’s just made me more dependent on likes and follows, behaviour which I thought I had grown out of, and, as I’ve said before, I struggle with Zoom calls – too many people, too many things happening at once, too easy to psychologically check out and refuse to interact with other people.

***

I felt blocked in my writing this week, so I emailed a writer friend to ask for advice. She recommended some books and also some exercises to try to clarify (to myself) who my characters are and what they want. I learnt two things from this. The first is that I have a weak idea of what my secondary hero wants or needs, which is probably why she has felt like the biggest weak link in the novel so far, too vaguely written to really cohere or stand out.

The second is… well, this is a slightly edited version of the character profile I created for the hero, who is kind of a fictionalised version of myself (I was going to say “Mary-Sue,” the fan term for a character who is a wish-fulfillment figure for the author, but this character is more an anti-Mary Sue, annoying, self-obsessed and useless).

  • Wants/needs: consciously wants love, acceptance.  Unconsciously needs to accept himself, his autism, his depression
  • Weakness: lack of self-knowledge
  • Obstacles that play to weaknesses/show growth: struggle in environments not designed for autistics; contemplate suicide because can’t cope with self.  Not upset with God or world, just with himself.  Can’t accept his autism/depression means that he needs to live differently to other people.
  • Choice: choose life or death, which is choosing to love himself
  • What he learns to achieve his goal: to choose life because even without God, he recognises his own uniqueness and worth.

I think it’s helped clarify my main character, but it’s certainly helped clarify my own needs. To be honest, “lack of self-knowledge” isn’t really my fault, but that of the character (who is really me some years ago, not me now). I understand myself, I just struggle to put what I’ve learnt in therapy and elsewhere into practice, hence the comment above about having addressed issues, but been unable to move on. Still, it was interesting to realise I still haven’t really accepted my depression and autism (the latter partly because it’s still undiagnosed) and my consequent need to live a different life to other people with different standards of success. For example, for me success might be maintaining reasonably positive mood over time, engaging on some level with my community and friends and getting some kind of job (which probably won’t be high-powered/high-stress) as opposed to having a dynamic career, getting married and having children, having lots of friends and taking some kind of community leadership position.

First of the Month and No Returns

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thoughts Before Crashing

I’ve almost finished phase one of the library work.  I should finish it next week, on schedule (which was lucky as I largely guessed how long it would take as I didn’t really have enough data).  I’ve got the library in a state where I could find a book on a given subject, although a few shelves could do with some further sorting into a precise order rather than a rough one.  The problem is, I doubt anyone else could find anything as issues like stakeholders wanting some books kept together, oversize books needing to go in particular places, some supposedly adjustable shelves not being adjustable and people feeling they can keep personal religious items (and whisky) in the library cupboards/shelves because it doubles as a shul (synagogue) mean that the layout is not entirely logical.  I hope to make some signs next week, if I can work out how to use the laminator.

I need to find out from the benefactor who owns the library (a) if he still wants me to work next month (I’m assuming he does, but I should check), and (b) what the budget is for setting up an online library catalogue.  I’d like to have some idea ahead of a phone meeting I have on Monday with someone from a company who might be able to install a system for us.  (I feel very grown up arranging meetings, something I haven’t really done before.)  I also need to email the person who runs the organisation’s website to find out whether the library catalogue will be compatible.  This could be awkward; he apparently went to the same school as I did.  There was someone with his name in my year and he bullied me persistently.  Not very severely, but enough that I hope it’s not him.  As both his first name and surname are common in the Jewish community, I’m going to hope he was in a different year and just has the same name as the bully.  Whoever he is, I think he’s become very Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) now so that could prompt all kinds of thoughts.

***

I managed about forty-five minutes of Torah study today, but was too tired to do much on the way home.  I did walk both to and from the station.  I think I’m losing weight.  I don’t weigh myself regularly enough, but when I have weighed myself, my weight has been fluctuating quite a bit and I wonder if the digital scales are accurate.  On the other hand, after several good days I gave into temptation tonight and ate three Quality Street chocolates.

***

The lack of a real lunch break at work is hard for me.  I get thirty minutes for lunch because the other half-hour goes on Mincha and Ma’ariv (Afternoon and Evening Services), which are currently at an awkward time mid-afternoon.  I don’t like to eat in the library because (a) you shouldn’t eat in libraries and (b) it’s also a shul and you shouldn’t really eat in shuls either (although Jews do).  That means I eat in the anteroom where there isn’t a table, so I sit with the sandwich I’m eating in one hand and the second sandwich in the other and find it hard to read.  I should really put the other sandwich on the side of the sink which is the nearest thing to a table there, but for some reason I never think of it.  By the time I’ve eaten (sandwiches and vegetables), I only have about ten minutes left of my lunch half-hour to read and break from work.  I suspect that some of the not reading isn’t anything to do with holding sandwiches and is more due to total exhaustion and need for no brain stimulation at all for a bit.  I get through the day, but I’m exhausted after work.  After dinner I sometimes get a burst of energy, but I’m a wreck the next day.

***

I had some energy after dinner, but decided not to work on my novel as I felt I needed the rest.  I watched Spectre, and have now watched all the Eon Bond films in order (but there’s a new one out later in the year).  Not that “in order” matters much when the continuity is usually minimal.  I discovered that I do still like James Bond films, but I don’t like the character of James Bond much except when he’s played by Roger Moore.  Likewise, I prefer 1970s-style silly adventure romps for all the family to modern Serious Drama Bond (I seriously believe that for its first half or even three-quarters, Moonraker is an enjoyable film if you don’t think about it too much).  Live and Let Die is my favourite (probably my favourite title song too), taking over from The Spy Who Loved Me, which was my childhood fave.

There’s a serious point here.  I’ve noticed for a while that I mostly watch films and TV from before I was born or at least before I was old.  The cut-off is probably somewhere around 1990.  It’s not a nostalgia thing, because a lot of these things I discovered as an adult (e.g. QuatermassThe PrisonerSapphire and Steel, Blake’s 7).  You can definitely find cultural changes that have happened in the last twenty or thirty years that partly explain it.  I certainly don’t like the way that culture is even more sexualised than previously with once-celibate characters like the Doctor, Sherlock Holmes and Mr Spock being given Significant Others.  But I wonder if there’s also a more technical answer, that my autistic brain doesn’t like the rapid pace and fast cutting of modern film and TV, finding it over-stimulating and hard to follow.  Spectre was cut slower than some other recent Bond films and I found it easier to follow, although I did still have to pause or rewind the exposition scenes to let my brain catch up.  I think I do tune out of the very fast action scenes.

***

And that’s it for another work day.  I’m crashing now, so should go to bed.  A friend has just written an email in some distress and I’m worried for her, but am in no state to reply in a helpful way so will have to hope that she can hold on until tomorrow.

Quick Update

Not much to report today.  I decided I was too tired to go for a run.  I wrote my devar Torah (Torah thought) for this week and was pretty pleased to get something fairly coherent out of an idea that I was not initially sure was going to work.  I did some more research on domestic abuse for my novel, which is depressing, but I have a better idea of plot for the second half of the novel now.  I did some miniature painting, hopefully finishing the thirteenth Doctor, Davros and the TARDIS, but sometimes I find bits I’ve missed or done badly later.  I think I’m going to rest my painting for a bit so I can concentrate more on my novel.  To be honest, I get frustrated that my painting nowadays isn’t as good as when I was a teenager.  That’s partly due to my tremor and partly, I’m somewhat ashamed to admit, to lack of patience.  There’s a limit to how much time and energy I’m willing to invest in a hobby like this now; maybe that’s depression, or just growing up.  Maybe tomorrow or next week I’ll post a pic spammy post with my latest miniatures alongside some from my teenage years for comparison.

And that was it really. My parents were out most of the day, coming back in time to light Chanukah candles; one of my cousins from Israel arrived a little later.  I don’t “do” Christmas and there wasn’t anything I wanted to watch on TV.  I started watching the Bond film For Your Eyes Only, but it was dull and uninvolving so I stopped halfway and will probably finish it tomorrow.  A nice, quiet day.

Good News

I got the job I was hoping to get!  The one at the Jewish institution (although not paid by it – technically I will be paid by a benefactor who owns the library and loans it to the institution).  I don’t want to go into details, as it would be hard to anonymise, but I’ve got work two days a week in January, potentially with more work afterwards.  I worry I came across as somewhat confused and ill-prepared on the phone (I had not been home long and was making lunch when the phone rang), but hopefully I wasn’t too bad.  There are still things to discuss about the second phase of the work (after January); I think I do not entirely agree with the benefactor who owns the library, but as he is employing me he gets the final say.  I just hope I can deliver it.  I’ve never done something like this before, essentially create and run a whole library by myself.  I hope there is actually enough to do, as my brief visit was not long enough to really get a feel for the place and the work.  I’m excited, but also very nervous and feeling a bit of an imposter.

***

The interview workshop today was not great.  I think I know a lot of job stuff by this stage, it is just hard to implement it.  We did some pair work practising interview questions and I did not cope well, stumbled and made mistakes and then dried up under pressure.  Not good.  It didn’t help that my pair kept asking questions that an interviewer probably would not ask and which I didn’t want to answer, like explaining the big gap on my CV (from depression) or – well, I was going to say something rude there, but suffice to say he asked a lot of questions that rubbed me up the wrong way.  To be fair, he was significantly younger than me and pursuing a vocational career path rather than an academic one, so it was always going to be a struggle to find things in common.

I noticed when I was younger that when I had to do paired or group work at school, I would always get stuck with students who didn’t work and then I would have to do all the work for the group or else nothing would happen.  In retrospect, I wonder if the problem is me.  That seems to be the common denominator.  Perhaps I’m a drag on the team spirit and don’t encourage people to work.  I suppose I don’t know what to say and my social anxiety stops me saying anything from fear of saying the wrong thing or encouraging work for fear of seeming swotty.  I’m alright on teams where everyone has a clearly defined role and especially where I go off and do my bit and meet up with everyone else afterwards, but it seems I can’t cope with activities where I have to sit with one or two other people and cooperate/talk.

***

I spoke to Dad’s computer repair man on the phone and he suggested something that might help (USB wifi adapter to replace the one built into my ancient laptop), so hopefully that will help.

***

After all of the above I felt exhausted.  I had to struggle to do some necessary chores and to write a confirmatory email about the job, not helped by the fact that I can only get wifi sitting at the bottom of the stairs.  By 7.00pm I was feeling pretty exhausted and ready to crash, so that was about it for the day.  I did about ten or fifteen minutes of Torah study earlier and I had twenty minutes tonight when I felt a little less tired and began researching for my novel (domestic abuse, not the most cheery subject), but I was basically on the go for most of the day.  I watched a DVD and that was about it.  So much for my plans to watch less TV and read more to improve my sleep hygiene; I doubt I can read a prose novel when I feel like this.

I’ve had a lot of anxiety and imposter syndrome feelings this evening, some OCD anxiety and some worries about whether I will cope with the new job and whether my plans are good enough.  I should probably get an early night.  I’m expecting to crash tomorrow.  I have some jobs to do, like collecting my repeat prescription and the wifi adapter and writing my devar Torah (Torah thought) for the week, but I don’t plan on doing job hunting or anything stressful.

Salvaging

I did manage to salvage some of the day after my last post.  I went for a haircut, which is one of my absolute least favourite things (because I don’t like being touched by strangers or spoken to when I can’t escape and because of my tremor issue).  I wrote a letter to my doctor requesting a medical certificate for my depression so that I can try to apply for benefits, and I handed the letter in at the surgery.  I walked quite a bit.  I did twenty-five minutes of Torah study and worked for fifty minutes on my novel, mostly redrafting what I had already written of the chapter I’m working on because I wasn’t happy with the way it was going.  I also cooked some plain pasta for dinner, to go with bought sauce.

As well as all of this, I watched most of the James Bond film Goldfinger.  I will probably finish it before bed.  I’ve watched three films in three days, which is unusual for me.  It’s partly that winter makes me want to hibernate, but also that I really need escapism right now, from the election and from my life.  Some of the things that turned me off James Bond years ago now seem like virtues: Bond’s smug complacency and amorality, meaning there are no major moral dilemmas; the improbable plots; the mindless action.  It’s an escape from my own reality.  James Bond never lies in bed feeling too depressed to get up in the morning, just as James Bond wouldn’t take and cr*p from antisemites.

I have all eight of these 8 Signs of Autism Spectrum Disorder in Women that are Often Missed.  I don’t feel myself to be particularly feminine, but I know that women with autism are often able to mask their symptoms, particularly those around socialising and learning body language and eye contact.  Like many masking women on the spectrum, I have learnt to consciously control my eye contact and body language, at least to some extent, as well as writing “scripts” or “algorithms” for appropriate social behaviour and conversation, which I can not cope with intuitively.  This has, I think, impeded my diagnosis.  As that list suggested, I became a workaholic in my teens partly from low self-esteem (thinking I had to work super-hard to pass my exams), but probably also on some unconscious (?) level to avoid socialising, particularly at university.  I also have trouble at social gatherings where I don’t have a clear role.  I could socialise when I was a child and socialising meant playing a game together with some kind of rules (or plot if it was more imaginative play), but when I got to my teens and suddenly people were just “hanging out” I did not know how to cope with that at all.  I still struggle with these things.  I do sometimes think about helping in the kitchen or tidying, but I tend not to know what to do and invariably just get in the way.  I had most of the different eight autism symptoms here too, but it’s not a list that spoke to me so much, although I am definitely very territorial and don’t like people in my room and I do tend to do things one at a time in the order I want to do them and get annoyed if told to do them in a different order.

“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!

Wanting to Curl Up and Escape the World

Shabbat (the Sabbath) was a bit of a curate’s egg (I wish I could think of a less clichéd metaphor for something good and bad).

Dinner at the rabbi’s house mostly went OK.  I spoke a bit and had a good time, albeit that I was very nervous about saying or doing the wrong thing.  There were quite a lot of people there, other congregants and their children and the rabbi’s youngest children.  I was the only person there over the age of eighteen who was unmarried.  Someone started talking about getting married young and saying that it is better for everyone to marry as young as possible.  The rabbi, possibly being sensitive to me, said that it’s not always in our hands.  People can be tactless sometimes.  It was good to get to know the new rabbi a bit better and to be known by him.  I would feel more confident approaching him with a question in the future, especially a mental health-related one.  I do worry the rabbi thinks I’m deaf, though.  Every time he speaks to me, my brain does the autistic/socially anxious thing of thinking “OH NO SOMEONE IS SPEAKING TO ME!!!!!” so loudly (so to speak) that I can’t concentrate on what he’s actually saying and have to ask him to repeat himself.  It turns out that the rabbi knows one of the rabbis who taught me at school, who was as responsible as anyone for my becoming frum (religious), which was a nice coincidence.

I got home about a quarter to midnight, which was rather late.  I spoke to my parents for a while, then read for a bit and went to bed at 1.00am.  Unfortunately, I had super-insomnia.  I lay in bed for a bit, read (popular physics) for a bit, lay in bed again, got a migraine, got up again because the migraine hurt too much lying down…  I think I eventually fell asleep around 5.30am.  I decided not to go to shul (synagogue) on two and a half hours of sleep and slept in despite my determination to get to shul on Shabbat mornings again.

This afternoon I read a whole bunch of things, the physics book again (The Elegant Universe), The Spiritual Revolution of Rav Kook and Batman.  I feel a bit like I read anything provided it’s geeky on some level (I feel Rav Kook is geeky, but I’m not sure I could explain why.  Maybe he’s not so much geeky as individualistic; there aren’t many Hasidic rabbis who accept evolution and write about the need for Jewish creativity).

Shul this afternoon was OK until the second shiur (religious class).  There was a guest speaker, a Rosh Yeshiva (head of a rabbinical seminary).  He spoke about a verse from this week’s parasha (Torah reading).  Talking about the many terrible things that would happen to the Israelites if they didn’t follow the Torah, it says, “Because you did not serve HaShem your God with happiness and gladness of heart when you had an abundance of everything.” (Devarim/Deut. 28.47)  The Kotzker Rebbe (who probably suffered from bipolar depression) interprets this as “You were happy and glad not to serve HaShem your God when you had an abundance of everything”, but the Rosh Yeshiva translated the way most commentators do, which is the straightforward way of understanding the verse: “God gave you an abundance of everything, and you served Him, but not with happiness and gladness of heart.”  Given that I don’t get much joy out of mitzvot and Torah study because of depression and not fitting into the community, this is bad news for me.  I do mitzvot, but I don’t have happiness and gladness of heart when I do them, so it looks like I might as well not bother for all the good it’s doing anyone.

My heart lifted a bit when the Rosh Yeshiva asked, what is the button we can use to turn on our happiness and gladness of heart when performing mitzvot?  Sadly, his answer was to focus on the reward we will get in Olam HaBa (the Next World).  I’ve already mentioned that I don’t think I’m going to get any reward in the next world.  Aside from feeling that I haven’t done anything worth rewarding, I’m so used to everything going wrong for me, that somehow I feel that even there, it won’t go well for me.  Somehow there will be a loophole and I won’t get anything.  I know that this is illogical and heretical and theologically stupid, but I can’t imagine things ever going that well for me.

Anyway, as I’ve said before, the traditional metaphors for Olam HaBa mayke it sound like a big party for the righteous or a big yeshiva.  I know it’s not literally either of these things, but that is how it is always described.  Neither of these suits me, as I’m equally scared and uncomfortable with parties and yeshiva-style study.  Too many people, too much noise in both cases, and not enough that interests me or speaks to my unique interests and personality.  I can’t cope.  I guess in Olam HaBa I wouldn’t have autism or social anxiety, but then it’s hard to imagine being me without them.  Anyway, what would I say to my ancestors or the great tzadikim (saintly figures)?  I can’t imagine anyone being particularly proud of me, either my immediate ancestors or the tzadikim of Tanakh (the Hebrew Bible).  What would Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov (Abraham, Isaac and Jacob) say to me?  Plus, one is supposed to be with the other half of one’s soul, one’s spouse, which wouldn’t work out for me either, if I die unmarried, as seems likely.

Speaking of yeshivas reminds me that in the first shiur today, the weekly Talmud shiur, I knew a number of answers to the questions and had an (I thought) perceptive question/comment to make, but I was too shy to say any of these things aloud.  There is someone there who always has to answer every question and make some comment; I wish I was a little bit more like him and he was a little bit more like me.  CBT has taught me that I should be more confident speaking out, but it is still as hard as ever to actually do so.

***

My parents are talking to me about a career change.  I’ve been thinking on these lines anyway.  I can’t support myself writing (yet?  Or ever?) so I need part-time work in some other field.  Don’t have a clue what I could do though.  I may need some more careers advice.

There’s an article in a frum magazine that I was looking at today that interviews frum people with non-typical jobs (a disproportionate number of frum men work as lawyers, doctors and accountants; the women are generally teachers, or therapists of some description I think (psychotherapist, physiotherapists or occupational therapists).  They interviewed someone I was at school with who is now a data scientist.  That fits the type of person she was at school.  I really feel I missed the bus somewhere on my way from school, that all the other clever, well-behaved children became important professionals with interesting, well-paid jobs and families and I got stuck in limbo somewhere with nothing at all.

***

Now I need to eat something.  I feel I should watch TV to distract myself from wallowing in misery, but I don’t really have the desire to watch anything in particular.  I just want to curl up somewhere and ignore the world.  I joined an autism WhatsApp group last week and just belatedly entered a conversation on employment (belatedly as I didn’t use my phone during Shabbat, so I missed the conversation earlier) and now I’m suddenly regretting opening up to strangers about being unemployed.

I, Claudius?

People half my age are getting married in the frum (religious Orthodox Jewish) community.  I think the daughter of our neighbour just got engaged (there’s a party going on there at the moment and I can’t think what anyone would be celebrating on an evening in The Three Weeks except a vort (engagement)), and certainly the son of someone from shiur (religious class) just got engaged today.  Both must be in their early twenties at most, perhaps even late teens.  It is hard to feel happy for them, although I try.  I just feel that I really missed that boat.  I feel simmering resentment and loneliness, which is irrational (it’s not like they’re the reason I’m not married) and unpleasant.  I try to feel happy, but I can’t.  I’m expected to feel happy for everyone else, but never for myself.  It’s not like anyone is even trying to set me up with anyone.  This is why I feel resentful when people praise the closeness and supportiveness of the frum community.  It never seems to support me.

I know I’m supposed to challenge my negative thoughts for CBT, including my “I’ll never get married” thoughts, but the evidence in favour of being single forever seems a lot stronger than the evidence against, even though I doubt I could convince my CBT therapist, not least because one needs a detailed understanding of the frum community to understand just how broken I would be considered, which my therapist doesn’t have.  Women in the frum community could reasonably expect me to pray with a congregation and study Torah a lot more than I do as well and any woman wanting a family would require a more substantial income (or any income).  More than this, my experiences with my friends – those who have stayed friends and those who have given up on me, often angrily – has shown me that only someone with issues similar to me own and who is willing to see me as a source of support for herself as well as being someone she would have to support could bear to be with me for a prolonged period.  This seems unlikely to happen, based on past experience, and even if it did, it is doubtful that two people with serious issues could afford to marry each other.

***

A theme of today has been, “What is weird?”  At CBT I spoke about feeling weird while doing my CBT homework (asking for help in a shop and shaking hands with and talking to the rabbi after shul (synagogue)).  I felt somewhat weird doing the first of these (because the shop assistant didn’t understand what I wanted) and perhaps the second too (because I felt I wasn’t responding to him the right way).  My CBT therapist felt that the other people involved would probably not have seen me as weird.  She said my homework in coming weeks will involve doing things that will deliberately make me seem weird, so that I can see it is nothing to worry about.  This reminds me of the yeshiva in nineteenth century Lithuania that used to send its bachurim on foolish errands, like asking for eggs in a hardware shop, to teach them not to care what other people think about them.

I’m not sure how I feel about this.  When I’m in therapy, it seems fairly logical that I’m not particularly weird and that other people are mostly too preoccupied with their own stuff to care about me or even to really notice me.  Also that I have no objective evidence that I will never get a job or get married.  But outside of therapy I feel objectively weird and that my autism makes me objectively weird.  Plus, it seems there is a lot of evidence that I will be unemployed and single forever, but that my therapist disallows it because it is (I admit) somewhat circumstantial rather than full-blown logical PROOF that would stand up in court.  Who cares if it stands up in court?  It’s enough to make me miserable even if it is circumstantial.

Maybe it even feels like a choice: I can get over the depression with CBT or I can be diagnosed as autistic (and therefore objectively acknowledged as weird), but not both.  I want to get over the depression, but I feel I am on the spectrum and should be diagnosed as such.  Does that make me weird?

The therapist had a better point saying that worrying about being unemployed and single doesn’t actually achieve anything and is pointless.

When I was growing up, a lot of people said I was weird, some to my face.  It became part of my self-image.  Even people who did not call me weird directly (e.g. adult authority figures) tried to socialise me out of behaviour that I would now consider normal autistic behaviour, making me feel that if I was “just myself” I would be seen as weird by everyone and I would have to change to fit in.

However, all this said, I still feel that I am objectively weird, at least within my community.  I think it is objectively weird in the community to accept evolution and an old universe, to think the Zohar was not written by Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai, to watch Doctor Who and especially to care about it enough to write a book about it.  Some of these things might be permissible privately, on a small scale, but doing/believing all of them is pushing things.  For example, I remember a shiur a few years ago where there was an argument of sorts between the rabbi and some of the congregants over whether tzedaka (charity) should only be given to Jews or to non-Jews too.  I felt that people disagreed a bit here, although the rabbi was pretty adamant in his view, but to dissent on other things, or too many things, was not right.  I don’t know how to explain this to my therapist.

***

Related to this, I just watched episode three of I Claudius.  I’m enjoying it more now that Claudius is an adult in the main part of the story and not just the framing narrative.  I empathise with Claudius, who stutters, twitches and limps as well as seeming clumsy and stupid.  He is advised to continue doing this to avoid seeming like a threat in the literally murderous imperial court of Rome.  I don’t do all of those things, but I empathise with being the outsider who is seen as weird and unmarryable.  At the end of the episode, he gets married.  As he and his bride stand up to be blessed by the priest, everyone bursts out laughing at the fact that she towers over him.  I could hardly watch it, it felt so painful and real to me.

Abdications, Coronations

“I had to work through it, I had to crawl my way back.  I’m still not there, but I’m trying.  That kind of work, reclaiming life, it’s punishing and it’s relentless and it’s solitary.” Star Trek Discovery: The War Without, The War Within, Teleplay by : Gretchen J. Berg & Aaron Harberts

There’s a risk that this is becoming a dream diary.  I don’t remember my dreams very often, so I’m interested when I do, but I know other people’s dreams are not so interesting.  But this one seemed very significant, especially as I woke partway through and then continued the dream when I fell asleep again, so here goes:

The dream was about the abdication crisis in 1936, when King Edward VIII abdicated so he could marry a divorcee, and his brother, who thought himself unfit to rule, became King George VI.  Edward VIII has always seemed a weak character to me, someone who put his personal desires ahead of his duty, unlike his brother who became king despite not being prepared for it and who refused to be evacuated to safety in Canada during The Blitz, insisting on staying in danger with his subjects.  (Edward, on the other hand, was a Nazi sympathiser who would probably have pushed for a peaceful settlement with Germany in 1940 had he been king.)

In the dream I shifted between being different characters, first an onlooker, then possibly Edward before ending up as George.  I was watching the coronation in a Westminster Abbey that was (a) very small and (b) devoid of Christian symbols.  Then I was being crowned myself.  I didn’t feel myself fit to be crowned, but felt pushed into it by my family.  There were lots of other details too that I can’t really remember (some Doctor Who stuff in particular), but I think the main message of the dream is that I have to decide whether to take responsibility for my life.  Not that I can literally be a king, but that I have to decide whether I am going to be ruler of my life or be pushed around by events and my ‘issues’; also that sometimes we aren’t prepared for what life throws at us and we just have to get on with it with the British stiff upper lip.

Another significant detail is that when I was crowned, my family were not dressed appropriately (my Dad in particular was in t-shirt and shorts) and I just had to accept them as they are and stop wanting to change them.

It is easy to read all these things in a dream, but it’s a lot harder to put them into practice in my life.

***

In CBT today we spoke about my negative thoughts about work, relationships, self-esteem and socialising.  It occurred to me on the way home that a lot of the thoughts basically boiled down to being conscious of the way my autism affects me in my interactions and makes me think that people are judging me negatively for it, because I felt I was treated negatively for being autistic as a child, by other children, but more importantly by adults who were unaware of my autism, which was not diagnosed, and tried to make me conform more in different ways (not that I was terribly non-conformist as a child, I just didn’t always understand social niceties and did enjoy ‘normal’ things).  I’m not sure how I deal with that now.  The CBT therapist asked if I felt people still judge me and I said no, but I suppose I worry that they do; they wouldn’t if I was ‘normal’ but I’m so very weird that they will judge me, especially in the conformist world of Orthodox Judaism.  She did also say that it doesn’t matter even if they judge me, which might be a better approach for me to take.

An awkward moment: after we finished, I thought the therapist said to wait for her outside the admin office while she did something, but waiting outside I started to worry that I had misunderstood and so I left.  She emailed to say check I was OK as she was expecting me to wait.  Sigh.  This is the kind of thing where I judge myself and feel inadequate regarding communication.

Next week we move towards challenging my low self-esteem with different new behaviours.  Scary…

***

Speaking of which, today my shul (synagogue) had a trip to Cambridge to see the Cairo Geniza papers.  I didn’t go was because I was too shy to personal message the person who was organising it.  As it happened, I would have missed it anyway because of CBT, but I feel bad for missing it.

***

I had some other things that bothered or upset me today.  Some of it I can’t really talk about because it concerns other people, but suffice to say that I felt pretty inferior.

I’ve also read a lot about horrible antisemitic stuff going on globally the last few days, which is depressing beyond words, especially as so many people seem to genuinely believe that antisemitism is just something Jews make up to get sympathy and shut down criticism of Israel.  Apparently burning down synagogues in Germany is now considered a legitimate expression of criticism of the Israeli government.  And a lot more where that came from that I’ll spare you.

***

I’ve just sunk into a deep depression in the last hour or so.  I’m not sure if it was my sister visiting or if I ate too much junk at shiur (religious class) or what.  It could also be going from CBT to shiur without enough of a break.  Over-causation.  I should get ready for bed, except that I need to daven (pray), meditate/do my hitbodedut and do some Torah study first.

“Staying alive too complicated for you?”

The quote in the title comes from the final episode of Blake’s 7, which I watched again tonight.  Sometimes, too often lately, I feel as if it’s me (rather than Blake’s erstwhile revolutionaries) who is being surrounded by gas masked soldiers in black uniforms with no escape.  Staying alive does feel too complicated a lot of the time, not in the sense of being suicidal, but just in being overwhelmed by all the things I’m expected to do.  Today only partly fits that mould, though, as there was some positive in the negative.

***

I have an appointment for CBT on the NHS on Thursday.  I’m hoping to work on my self-esteem, as I’ve tried CBT for depression in the past without success.  I’m hoping raising my self-esteem will correct some of the depression, which seems to be rooted at least partially in self-hatred.

I was asked if I was OK seeing a female therapist and I said yes.  Now I wonder why.  I was really worried about having to wait much longer if I said no (I’ve been on the waiting list for seven or eight months).  There is an issue with being alone with someone of the opposite sex under Jewish law (something in the news a while back because the US Vice-President Pence won’t meet women alone either).  It usually isn’t an issue with medical appointments, as it is assumed a health professional will not act improperly and in any case doesn’t have the time because of other patients, but this does not apply with therapist for various reasons.  Usually it’s OK in a place like a hospital (where I’ll be seen) because other people can theoretically come in or because the doors have windows so it’s not considered secluded.  I hope that’s the case here.  The thing is, I find I don’t care that much, a sign of the way may religious observance seems to be slipping slightly around the edges lately.

The other mistake I may have made is going for an appointment at 4.00pm instead of 6.30pm.  I thought that the 4.00pm one would give me more time to go home, eat and unwind a bit before shiur (religious class) at 8.10pm (downtime is important because of depression and autism), but if I get a job soon, that might be problematic.  I’ll just have to wait and see. CBT should only last ten weeks or so anyway.

I filled in some questionnaires for the therapist, about depression and anxiety and how they affect my life.  I’ve been depressed for so long, and filled in so many of these forms, that it is hard to tell if I am answering accurately for the last two weeks rather than the last sixteen years.  I think my depression has eased a little over time, but my anxiety has worsened a little, probably because the improvement in my depression means I’m now involved more in work and social situations, so I have more things to be anxious about.  I hope I answered reasonably accurately.  The anxiety feelings in particular I found hard to stick a value on.

***

I pushed through social anxiety to phone the Citizens’ Advice Bureau to ask about benefits, given that I’m unemployed and depressed.  I struggled to hear at times because it was in a noisy call centre, and at one point I thought the person I was talking to was speaking when it was in fact someone else in the call centre.

I discovered that I’m probably not eligible for any government aid.  Although I’m unemployed, I can’t claim Universal Credit (which has replaced Jobseeker’s Allowance) because my savings are too large.  I might be eligible for Personal Independence Payment (PIP) because of the depression, but I’m not hopeful: I was on Disability Living Allowance (DLA), and when that was replaced by PIP, I was reassessed and was told my depression does not affect me enough to let me claim PIP.  PIP, like DLA before it, is basically set up for physical illness or disability rather than mental illness and it’s very hard to prove that you are “ill enough” to qualify with an invisible illness, especially a mental illness.  People who know me can see that I struggle with work and certainly I feel burnt out when working a lot, but it’s hard to say exactly why I feel burnt out or to prove or quantify it.

My politics are complicated these days, but I do appreciate that governments have limited means and, potentially at least, infinite demands made on them and I appreciate the advantages of helping people into work, for the sick and disabled as much as for the economy.  I also realise that I have a fairly comfortable, privileged, middle class existence, at least as far as externals go, and that there are more deserving people than me in the country, let alone the world.  Nevertheless, it is frustrating when the fact that my parents and grandparents (who were not hugely rich) saved money for me rather than spending it prevents me claiming assistance; likewise when the fact that I push myself to try and work somewhat counts against me.

***

Aside from that phone call, my main tasks today were cooking dinner (I over-salted the rice and let it spill over) and retying my tzitzit (ritual fringed garment Orthodox Jewish men wear).  I’ve done this before and on paper it’s easy: just alternate a certain number of double knots and loops of string, but I got into a complete tangled mess of string with it and gave up.  Tzitzit only cost about £6 so wasting more than an hour on it seemed stupid, even if I am short of money.  I feel bad about getting into such a mess about something that (a) is objectively easy and (b) I’ve done before (albeit only once or twice).  I don’t know what went wrong.  It just reinforces my feeling about not being good at practical things.  Trouble tying knots can apparently be another autism symptom.  I was no good at knots in the scouts.  I was actually pretty bad at everything in the scouts (don’t like being away from home, had trouble making friends), but I kept going.  I think I felt I ought to like it, even though I actually didn’t.

I didn’t manage to apply for any jobs today.  I did manage to do some Torah study and went to shul (synagogue) and worked on my fiction.  I’m not sure if the balance here is positive or negative.  I’m up to 3,000 words on my fiction, which seems pretty good, albeit tiny in comparison to what an actual novel should be (70,000 – 110,000 words, apparently).  I do have some idea of where this might go, but it is scary.  I haven’t shown it to anyone yet.  When I have a chapter completed in draft (which hopefully will be soon), I will probably show E. and see what she thinks.

I often disagree with Melanie Phillips, but while writing today I found this old newspaper column (behind a paywall) on writing fiction and a lot of it sounded familiar: “For as long as I can remember, I believed some people had the gift of writing creatively while others did not and that I was without doubt in the latter category. So the disjointed fragments of stories and characters that swirled around in my head stayed there” and “It also requires trust that these things will survive being exposed to the light of day. For it leaves you vulnerable to being mocked or rubbished over what may be crucial to your sense of self. Imagination is very revealing.”  I’d say doubly so when my writing is consciously semi-autobiographical.

***

I’m struggling still with the question of being loved by God.  Lots of people would say that God loves us unconditionally, but then I wonder if that means that he loves Hitler unconditionally.  This seems to be a no-win question: either He does love Hitler unconditionally, in which case does it really mean very much to be loved by Him?; or He doesn’t love Hitler unconditionally, in which case there is a point at which one stops being lovable and I worry where that point is and whether I have crossed it.  One could perhaps answer the first question by contrasting God’s love and His justice.  I’m not enough of a philosopher or kabbalist to work out what that would mean.  Possibly that one is loved unconditionally on one level, but that one is loved for one’s deeds on another level, which could combine the worst of both outcomes (feeling that love is meaningless, but that there is also a line where it stops).

I used to think that I was at least good at not speaking lashon hara (improper speech about other people), but the last few weeks have made me feel that I share too much publicly here for that to be the case.  I don’t feel that I have any good points any more.

***

Related to that, I keep thinking about my ex-friends saying I have a “whiney, self-obsessed blog” and worrying that they’re right.  I am self-obsessed.  Whether it’s a result of autism or loneliness, I do struggle to believe that the world outside of my head is as real as the world inside it.  I suppose that’s why it’s hard to believe that the outside world could be pleasant, when my interior world seems so unpleasant.

***

An article on finding part-time work suggests asking those around me to look out for suitable jobs for me.  This sounds awfully like frum (religious Jewish) dating.  If I can’t get anyone to set me up with a wife, I’m’not sure I’ll have more success getting them to set me up with a job…

Not Sure What This Says About Me…

I can’t sleep.  This thought is rattling around my head and I need to get it down.  I’ve hinted at it in the past, but it seems very stark and clear at the moment and I want to put it down.

When I was at school, there was a girl in my year who always smiled at me and said hello, using my name.  I didn’t really know why she did this and was probably vaguely suspicious that I was the butt of some unseen joke (I was bullied a lot at school and it made me suspicious of people outside my small friendship circle).  We didn’t have any lessons together and I wasn’t entirely sure how she even knew my name (I don’t know how I knew hers).  It’s only really in the last few weeks that I’ve realised, twenty years after the event, that the reason she always smiled at me and said hello was because she liked me.  Not necessarily in a teenage crush way (but maybe), but in a friendly, platonic way.

I don’t know what it says about me that it’s taken me twenty years to work this out.  I suppose I can blame that on autism and mind-blindness.  Now I can’t stop wondering what might have happened if I had realise this at the time.  I feel that in some sense I let her down, that I should at least have stopped and talked to her, not that I would have known what to say.  I wonder what would have happened if I had done that.

Speaking a Dead Language

The usual post-Yom Tov (festival) depression has set in.  Actually, it is more accurate to define it as post-mass social interaction (i.e. interacting with lots of people at shul (synagogue) and elsewhere) depression.  I was not tired last night so I stayed up late blogging and unwinding from the stresses of the last three days, but inevitably slept late this morning and woke up utterly drained from the last few days.  I feel pessimistic about all my recent plans to write professionally and to date again.  I feel that I can’t write well, that I don’t know anything (except my own moods) well enough to write about at length, that no one would date me while I’m unemployed and so on.

It’s been a day of procrastination and feeling too drained and depressed to do anything.  I did send an email to the values-based dating service matchmaker saying I would like to date again if they find anyone (I had said I wanted to stop until I can find a job).  I hope that’s not a terrible idea.  It feels a bit like a terrible idea, despite what people have said to me, here and elsewhere.  I briefly started signing up for another dating service, but backtracked when I realised that the free membership was limited, while it didn’t say anywhere on the site how much the paid membership was.  I can’t really afford a hefty monthly fee at the moment, so that was more time/energy wasted.  I guess this is a way of ensuring that unemployed people don’t date.

I also went for a very short walk to do some shopping, which completely exhausted me, and I cooked dinner for myself and my parents (macaroni cheese, about the easiest recipe I know) which also exhausted me.  I somehow managed about twenty minutes of Torah study as well as writing letters of complaint about a couple of secondhand items that were advertised as “very good,” but arrived in a poor condition.  So this was not a totally wasted day, but it was not a productive one.

However, I did not have time, energy or mood/brainpower for a load of other things I hoped to get done today (write to a couple of friends asking for help starting to write professionally; proof-reading and submitting a job application; trying to get submission guides from various periodicals I’d like to write for; and studying the weekly page of Talmud for my shiur).  All those things will get postponed to later in the week, assuming I feel better.

In the meantime, I’m fighting the urge to eat junk food after all the junk, especially ice cream, I ate over Yom Tov (it is customary to eat dairy produce on Shavuot).  I’m wondering if I really have what it takes to write professionally, considering the small number of people reading my blog and the fact that I haven’t really written much professionally in the past and my autistic/socially anxious/low self-esteem difficulties with networking and pushing my work out there.  Actually, I wonder if I have what it takes to do anything meaningful at all.  I feel so useless so much of the time.

***

Doctor Who Magazine has been running a cosplay feature for some time now.  Cosplaying is when fans of something dress up as their favourite characters, often for conventions (because part of the point is being seen by people who get the reference).  Part of my mind thinks it is a pointless waste of time and money; another part thinks it looks a lot of fun; a third agrees it looks fun, but is too anxious for either cosplaying or going to conventions.  Broadly, the Jewish, fannish and autistic/mentally ill parts of my head, I suppose.  I did dress up as the Doctor for Purim, albeit in what a dedicated cosplayer would consider a very inaccurate costume (only the scarf was authentic; the rest was just a vague approximation of Tom Baker’s costume from stuff I had to hand).

I feel torn into pieces by the thoughts in my head.  I want to be frum, yet I lack energy and enthusiasm for Torah and mitzvot and sometimes I’m angry with God.  I like classic British telefantasy, but I worry it’s a trivial thing to waste my life on.  I love writing, but am scared to do anything with it.  I’d like to make friends with people like myself, but I’m terrified of rejection, so avoid places where I might meet people like myself (shulDoctor Who conventions).  I assume that the fact that I’m not a typical Orthodox Jew or typical Doctor Who fan makes me unlikeable by more conventional members of those communities, when it might be the reverse, at least for some people (maybe, possibly).  Anxiety and autism make me stay in my comfort zone when I might enjoy moving out of it (writing professionally, including doing serious research; going to conventions).

Sometimes it feels like being a frum geek is like knowing a nearly-extinct language, that there are nuances or connections in Jewish stuff or fan stuff that only I can see.  That’s fun on some level, but it’s also lonely.  I guess loneliness is fundamental to my life.  Perhaps surprisingly, I did have a couple of friends at school, but never many and sometimes they were all away or busy and I was left on my own.  Then at Oxford it grew to being one of the dominating emotions of my life and has never really gone away.  I don’t know if I could cope with having a partner, it would be so strange.  Maybe I would still feel lonely, and therefore guilty that my wife wasn’t enough for me.

This mental division might affect my writing.  It’s possible that what I want to write is not going to align very well with the readership of various periodicals.  I want to write something on chronic illness, especially depression and high functioning autism, in the Jewish community, but I worry that anything I write will be too frum (religious) for the Jewish Chronicle, but too irreligious for any of the frummer Jewish newspapers (which I don’t read anyway, so I would need to research style and tone.  Plus, I think on principle, I don’t want to write for newspapers that refuse to run pictures of women, as is the case with many Orthodox newspapers).

“I don’t want to belong to any club that will accept me as a member”

I’m feeling lost today.  Can’t concentrate on anything.  Slipping into daydream and fantasy, as I do when very depressed (and maybe when not depressed, I’m not sure).  We’re all the stars of the films of our lives, but I probably take that too literally.  Listless.  Feeling unable to do anything.  I’m worried that last week (two job interviews and a breakup) has pushed me a long way backwards.

Procrastinating.  Aimlessly browsing online, not reading anything.  Why is everything online so angry?  Isn’t anyone open to the idea that they might not be right, or at least that other people might also be right?  I know that when I feel like this, it’s companionship that I’m searching for rather than socio-political or cultural commentary, but I can’t find that online.  So I’m just wasting time.  I wish I had more real-life friends, and I wish they lived more locally, but it’s doubtful whether I would see them if they did.  I don’t even really have the confidence to talk to my shul (synagogue) friends at kiddush or seudah.  I don’t get to sit with them or I’m too shy to say anything or I assume that they don’t want to speak to me.  There was a message on the shul What’sApp about trying to organise a trip to see the Cairo Geniza collection at Cambridge.  This ticks almost all my boxes (Judaism, history, libraries), but I haven’t yet responded, because I don’t know the person’s phone number to respond (all posts on the What’sApp are via the shamash or the rabbi) and am too shy to ask around.

Similarly, I should stop procrastinating over asking my fan friends to look at my Doctor Who book and just ask them.  ‘m worried that they have too much on, but that they would say yes anyway and I would feel guilty.  Beyond that, it boils down to the fact that I like writing, but am less keen on showing people my writing or getting feedback on it.  Perhaps this is not so different from being too shy to speak to people, even my friends, at shul.  Then again, I’ve never had more than twenty likes on a blog post, so maybe almost no one is interested in my opinions after all.

***

I guess in my head there’s an unhealthy binary choice between “Being Myself” and “Fitting In”.  I don’t think, objectively, that most people sacrifice their inner selves to fit in, but at the same time, I probably should accept that, with my history of being bullied and ignored, and my strong, but unusual/autistic personality and interests, it is probably inevitable that I feel deeply ambivalent about fitting in anywhere.  I find it hard to believe anyone could accept me for who I am, so I hide myself (or hide my ‘self’) in any community.  That goes double for my shul where I’m aware that there are issues where I absolutely don’t agree with this community and never will, it’s just the least worst option currently available.  Probably if I was accepted somewhere, I would feel that I had sold out in some way. As a great man said, “I don’t want to belong to any club that will accept me as a member.”  (I just left a similar comment on this post on Hevria.)

I guess I just want someone to tell me that I’m a good person, but I don’t think I would believe them if they did.  I recently hit 300 followers on my blog, but I think a lot of them are spammy and I suspect (from my likes) that most of them aren’t actually reading it.  TL;DR is my middle name.

***

I somehow managed to apply for another job.  Nevertheless, I feel I should have done more today, and better.  I know I wrote a job application (although most of it was reused from an earlier one), I did some laundry and cooked dinner (a new recipe, Indian lentils and rice.  I burnt the rice) and went to shul for Mincha and Ma’ariv (Afternoon and Evening Services).  But all the same, I feel I should have worked on one of my books and done more Torah study and davened with more kavannah and written a better job application.  And not burnt the rice.  No, I know I should do more and better.  I’m not supposed to be seriously depressed and low functioning, I’m supposed to be moderately to mildly depressed and functional.

I use ‘should’ a lot and I’ve been told not to, but it seems to me that Judaism is a religion of ‘shoulds’ not choices or ‘maybes.’  In any case “I should not use shoulds” just becomes another ‘should.’

***

I finally got feedback from the academic librarianship job I was interviewed for a couple of weeks ago.  The said I had good answers and “a good deal of empathy in my answers”, which is positive, but also that I’m “reserved and quite serious” and lacking in personality; they also felt I was unable to understand the relative informality of the institution.  It was better feedback than that from the Very Important Organisation, but still a bit dispiriting.  I didn’t get the law librarian job either, but the feedback from that was much better; they said that I gave good examples and coped well even though I was nervous and that they would be willing to look at me again if another position in the library became vacant.

***

There’s a long article in The Economist’s 1843 Magazine about the struggles of gifted children that I empathised with.  Talk of loneliness and bullying sounds all too familiar, as do not being able to connect to other children and having intellectual development that runs far ahead of their (the gifted children’s) emotional development.  Sometimes I wonder what would have happened to me if I had gone to an educationally-selective school.  Would that have helped my socialisation?

The strange thing is, in a 5,000 word article that mentions intellectual precociousness, sensory sensitivity, anxiety and overthinking, poor social skills and social meltdowns, the words “high functioning autism” or “Asperger’s Syndrome” are not mentioned once.  No wonder I’ve struggled to get diagnosed.

***

I told my father that I asked the values-based dating service shadchan (matchmaker) not to look for anyone for me for a while.  I didn’t want to tell him, but he kept asking questions until I had to either tell him or lie outright and I’m not dishonest (I’m also a terrible liar).  I don’t think he thought it was a particularly good idea, which was why I hadn’t told him.  He seemed to think that if I hadn’t told the shadchan, she would have found someone else suitable for me very quickly, which I think is wishful thinking, bearing how long it took her to find L.  He also thinks someone could be interested in me even though I’m unemployed, which I think is unlikely, L. notwithstanding.  I also feel I need time out from dating to decide what I want to do with my career, whereas I think my parents are assuming I’m just looking for the right library job.

His concern does make me think that I’m running out of time to get married, certainly if I want to have children, but I think that anyway.  Nevertheless, I do get lonely and I do find myself wishing someone would drop out the sky and accept me the way E. did, but then even E. only managed to accept me for two months.

***
I had distressing violent thoughts of dying again today.  I don’t know what to do with them.

On Being Liked

Last night I was still thinking about the Doctor Who Society anniversary party after I posted about it.  One thing that came to mind, which has also come to mind a bit with some people from shul (synagogue) lately, is that some people seemed to actually like me.  This is a big thing for me to get my head around.  At school I thought only a handful of geeky kids liked me.  At university I was quite reluctant to describe anyone as my friend, as I only saw them at society events (Doctor Who Society or Jewish Society) and thought that they didn’t want to see me outside that.  Then for a long time when my depression was bad I thought, on some level at least, that people were only really my friend out of pity, because they were sorry for the state I was in.  So it’s been quite a shock recently (I mean over the last few months) to realise that some people seem to actually like me for who I am, even if they are aware of my mental health issues and the way I feel I don’t always quite fit in the communities I would like to belong to (Jewish community, Doctor Who fan community).  I’m still not quite sure how to process this.

***

Another thing I’m trying to process is my date with L.  I don’t really want to say too much about it as I don’t feel it’s appropriate to talk too much about dating while I’m actually going out with someone.  I don’t really know what to think, but that’s quite normal for me after a first date, particularly if it’s a blind date.  I guess L. in many ways is not the type of woman I have dated before or assumed I would marry, which may be a good thing, but I need time to process it.  We decided to go on another date, though (L. brought the subject up as I was going to wait, having been told in the past that I’m too quick to ask for another date).

Rabbi Lord Sacks has produced a calendar of thoughts, one per day for the omer (the period when we count the days between Pesach and Shavuot (Passover and Pentecost)).  I suppose it’s a kind of advent calendar, but with inspirational thoughts instead of chocolates.  One recent one stated that “Next time you meet someone radically unlike you, try seeing difference not as a threat but as an enlarging, possibility-creating gift.”  So I’m trying to see possibilities rather than worries.  But I am of course worrying and over-thinking everything, as usual.

Pain

I feel bad today, but I can’t work out what ‘bad’ means.  I guess it means ‘depressed.’  I’m struggling to understand my feelings again.  I did feel close to tears at times.  Earlier I was virtually crying, except that I couldn’t quite manage it.  I should feel anxious, about Pesach and about working late tomorrow (I’m going in at 1pm and working until 9pm to help with a public evening event, which will mean – gulp! – talking to strangers) and I do feel a bit anxious about these things, but I’m not sure that that’s what I am really feeling.  For much of the day I just wanted to curl up in a ball and ignore the world, really.  That’s more depression than anxiety, although, looking at the news, maybe it’s a rational response to the world (cf. Catch-22).  At any rate, it’s hard to do anything today.

I feel guilty, too, because I make myself out to be a better person here than I actually am.  I confess a lot here, but I can’t quite bring myself to confess everything.  So people think I’m better than I actually am.  I feel bad about that.  I suppose I have the idea that if everyone knew all my faults and accepted them, maybe I could accept them myself or forgive myself or something.  Or maybe I just feel bad that that people think I’m a good person when… well, in the past I would have said “when I’m not a good person,” but today I feel more that it should be “when I’m not such a good person,” which I suppose is an improvement of a kind.

***

I did look for extra cataloguing training on the CILIP (Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals) website, but I couldn’t find anything current.  I tried to sign up to some education and research mailing lists on JISCMail, but got panicked by the sheer numbers of lists there and the obscure areas they deal with (A forum on Hoshin Kanri [?]; Huddersfield Consortium College Libraries; Hull Geochemistry and Geobiology; Historians of Women Religious of Britain and Ireland – that’s just some of the Hs).  I signed up to a higher education list in the end and thought I would see how that goes before I decide whether to sign up for any more.  I’m not very good at CPD, or anything connected with my career, really.

***

My self-perception has really altered in the last year.  I used to think that I would be good at a job if I could find the right one, that depression was the main obstacle to my building a career, that one day the right combination of therapy, medication and activity/occupational therapy might – might! – help me deal with my depression, that I was an organised person and so on.  Now I have this huge thing called ‘autism’ looming over me as a potential diagnosis.  In some ways that’s good, because it leaves open the door to hoping that one day I will find the ‘right’ way to work and to live in order to have a career and potentially a family with my mental health issues managed at the root rather than just treating the symptoms, but in the meantime I am struggling to know who I am, what I could/should be doing about my career and relationships (relationships with family and friends as well as romantic relationships), how I can live and what I can expect of myself in my religious life.  I guess it’s no wonder I feel depressed, exhausted and confused so much of the time.

I wish I could have some kind of careers advice session, except not just about my career, but about the whole of my life, that someone would tell me what kind of career would suit me, where I fit in with the Jewish community, what type of woman I should be trying to date and how to meet her, how to cope with everyday life…  A S Mentoring might be able to help with some of that, but I’m not sure how to formulate the questions I need to ask yet, as well as being nervous about asking for help and embarrassed that I seem to need to rely on charities (mental health (JAMI) and autism (A S Mentoring, Mencap)) all the time when I feel I should be able to do things for myself.  Plus, I feel somethings are harder because I have more than one issue.  Autism and depression can interact in different ways and it’s not always clear which is predominating at any given time e.g. when should I try to push through exhaustion on the grounds that it’s just a symptom of depression and when should I accept it as a sign that I’m overstimulated and need quiet and rest.

I did fill in the online form for A S Mentoring, so that’s something positive I’ve done today.

***

Other than that, I didn’t do much today.  I went for a forty minute walk in the sunshine, which was good.  I started to apply for another job, but it was hard to overcome the depression.  This one is listed as a librarian role, but from the qualifications they are looking for, I think it’s another job where a librarian would be over-qualified and that it’s really a glorified library assistant role.  I tried to fill the online form in, but kept lapsing back into despair.  I find this whole process so tedious and I’m terrified that while I have the skills to write job applications and I apparently interview well, I’m actually incapable of holding down a real job.

***

This article is very true.  It would have been pretty much impossible for me to have had support for autism at school, certainly at primary school, as high-functioning autism/Asperger’s Syndrome wasn’t recognised until the year I started secondary school; when I was a child, if you were verbal, you weren’t autistic, end of story.  Even so, I think my parents and teachers were aware that things weren’t right in some way and that I was a target for bullies (but usually different bullies; I wasn’t usually consistently targeted by the same people, which made stopping it hard, especially when it was kids I didn’t know from other years shouting stuff at me in corridors when we passed) and was lacking in confidence, but that wasn’t considered special needs.  My Mum tried to get me to see the school counsellor, but handled it badly and just upset me and my form tutor once told me I needed to… I can’t remember his exact words, but he basically told me I was working too much and needed to develop my life outside of work .  But the general view was that my grades were good, so I was doing well, even if I wasn’t socially integrated, especially as I don’t get meltdowns or stim in a very obvious way or have other external symptoms of autism.

I suppose I was also lucky, going to a Jewish school, that there were voluntary shiurim (religious classes) to go to at lunchtimes, so I didn’t have to spend them in the playground.  On days when there weren’t shiurim I could be quite lonely and miserable if I got separated from my small circle of friends (e.g. they were at music practice or we got split up in the lunch hall crowd), which happened quite frequently.  I do wonder if I would be in the emotional/psychological state I’m in today (depression, social anxiety) if more support had been available when I was growing up, but I guess that way madness lies.

***

I keep having mini revelations about my autism.  I used to think I was a bad writer because I don’t use much metaphorical language, not in my blogs and non-fictional writing, but also not very much when I was writing fiction or poetry.  Now I realise that that could be autism.  I don’t struggle with non-literal language the way some autistic people do, but I don’t use it much and I’m very aware of, and irritated by, clichéd language, which often consists of tired metaphors that are just taken for granted and not even used as metaphors any more.

***

I looked at some articles on Neshamas, which I hadn’t done for ages.  I don’t know why, because I could have guessed it would be upsetting.  I suppose I was lonely and I just wanted to connect with people who feel as awful as I do, even if it’s just by reading what they wrote.  I read stuff written by women who are being abused/raped by their husbands.  It makes me angry and upset that this happens.  But also, it makes me think that I do have something to offer in a relationship, in terms of not actually being abusive.  But then after a moment it somehow seems inadequate.  That those women deserve better than the men who are abusing them, but that they would also deserve better than me.  That I wouldn’t be able to meet anyone’s needs, I just wouldn’t hurt her.  That I’m objectifying women just by wanting to be in a relationship with someone, even though I just want to be able to give to someone.

It’s possible that I’m not thinking straight about something here, but it’s hard to tell what.

Progress and Burn Out

Over Shabbat (the Sabbath) I thought quite a bit about the job I applied for on Friday, despite the fact that I shouldn’t think about work on Shabbat.  I got alternately excited and anxious.  It doesn’t help that the advert didn’t really give an idea of what the job would involve, except that it would be some kind of news-related writing in “a leading magazine” and that I would be based partly in an office and partly at home.  I assume it is for a Jewish magazine, given that they were advertising on an Orthodox Jewish mailing list, although I suppose that may not be the case.  I have no experience in journalism and so don’t think that I will get the job, but it was worth trying.  At any rate, the fact that I had to send out samples of my writing may lead on to something, somewhere at a later stage.  Although if it is a Jewish magazine, I may have blown my chances of selection with some very non-frum writing.

Of course, looking at the news, both mainstream and the Jewish newspapers, is a thoroughly depressing experience, so maybe I don’t want to be immersed in that for a living.  Or maybe writing would at least feel like I’m doing something to fight back against the darkness.  I don’t know.

***

I mentioned to my parents about the woman I blogged about the other day, a daughter of their friends, who Mum wanted to set me up with some time ago because she felt she would be understanding of mental health issues, but couldn’t because she was seeing someone else and who I now know is single again.  Mum was anxious to set me up with her ASAP, which I don’t think is particularly sensible, given that I’m probably going to be unemployed again in a fortnight.  But inevitably thoughts of getting the magazine job mixed in with thoughts of dating again, if I can find a steady income.  Dad suggested set me up with the daughter of our neighbours.  For my part, I can’t really see why anyone would want to date me, certainly while I am not working full-time, but really why anyone would want to date me at all, given all my issues, unless she had serious issues of her own.  This is probably a problematic attitude, but I don’t know how to change it.  So far my dating experience has been limited and difficult.  I think my parents only see my strengths and ignore the considerable drawbacks I have that someone dating me would have to be able to accept.  Perhaps I only see the drawbacks and not the strengths; at any rate, I find it hard to see why anyone would date me, let alone marry.

I do get lonely, though, and long for understanding and real intimacy (not just sex), which is something I have spent my life looking for, in friends and potentially a partner, but have only ever really achieved for short periods.  I felt some of that loneliness over Shabbat too.  It would be nice to be dating again, but I can’t see it really going anywhere until I have some kind of steady income.

***

I struggled at dinner last night.  As usually happens, my Mum spoke a lot about her work and my Dad spoke quite a bit about his shul (synagogue).  My parents are both very talkative and very neurotypically talkative at that, speaking small talk and about people they know, rather than about more abstract matters like the news or religious things.  I try to stay interested, but there are limits to the amount of neurotypical small-talk conversation I can do, trying to show an interest and be empathetic regarding people I do not know and will never meet.  I tried to make the right noises, but after an hour and a half or more, I unintentionally delivered a very forceful and emphatic “Right!” as if shutting down the conversation, which my parents found hilarious.  They laughed, but I was very drained by the whole dinner and conversation, perhaps because I was already drained from spending the day writing the job application and then being around people in shul.  It did make me realise that one workshop wasn’t really enough to brief my parents on all aspects of autistic behaviour, and that even if they understand me, on some level, behaviour (theirs and mine) still needs to be negotiated in a spirit of compromise.

***

I was so drained from all of this that, despite being in bed before midnight, when I woke up at 9.15am this morning, I felt too tired to get to shul and went back to sleep.  I feel very bad about this, as I really want to get back into the habit of going on Shabbat mornings, but I simply can’t find a strategy to help me to get there.

***

I struggled to concentrate at shiur (Talmud class) today.  I realised halfway through that, strange as it seemed to someone used to thriving academically, I struggle with Talmudic study and my autism may be partly to blame.  But I’m not sure what exactly the issue would be, why I can cope with most forms of study, but not Talmudic study.  I am still coming to terms with the idea of being developmentally behind my peers, which is not something that was really the case when I was a child, when poor social interactions were put down to shyness and the effects of bullying and academic success was interpreted as a sign that I was functioning well in all areas, which in retrospect was clearly not the case.

***

I’ve been thinking of going back to my psychodynamic psychotherapist.  I stopped seeing her to do some CBT on the NHS to work on my low self-esteem, but I’ve been waiting six months or more and I still have not seen anyone.  I’ve phoned and emailed to try to find out where I am on the waiting list, but no one answers or responds.  It’s terrible.  In the meantime, I’m plutzing (fretting) about my career (or lack thereof), my relationships (ditto), my relationship with my parents, my attempt to come to terms with the likelihood that I’m autistic and so on, as well as just generally feeling depressed and anxious a lot.  It would be very helpful to speak to someone who knows me, but who is not emotionally involved in my life again.

***

After more than an hour and a half of work after Shabbat this evening, I have finally completed the second draft of my Doctor Who non-fiction book.  I have mostly been tidying up the various chapters, standardising spelling and layout and so on.  Bear in mind that the book originated in a series of blog posts and has been six years in the making; some of my preferred spellings and stylistic choices had changed over that time and I needed to make sure everything was uniform.  Now I can start on the third draft, this time working on the writing style, which in some ways is the hardest thing.  The second draft, incidentally, weighs in at 113,200 words, which probably means it needs trimming a bit.  If I am due another period of unemployment, maybe I can spend some time working on the book.