Therapy, A Cat, and Growing Up in the 1980s

I started my sleep study last night. I had to wear a sensor on my finger and stick another one to my neck (it was wireless). The instructions for the neck sensor were on the phone that came with it and not on paper (I thought they had forgotten to send it to me). I didn’t sleep so well and I think I woke up a few times in the night, probably because I was worried I would knock the sensor off, although it stayed in place all night.

I did spend some time working on a profile for myself as a freelance proofreader and researched what fees I could charge. I still feel nervous about this, but I’m getting closer to it.

In therapy, I spoke about the negative feelings that I think working on my novel is prompting inside me (inchoate feelings of guilt and anxiety, mostly around sex). E thought I should put my novel on hold until we’re married. My therapist agreed, suggesting I put it in a box for now (metaphorically) as engaging with ideas around sex is just “re-traumatising” me and triggering feelings of guilt and anxiety when I work on novel. (I’m not sure I would have described these feelings as “trauma,” but I’ll put that aside for now.)

My therapist also suggested that I label as “undermining” my thoughts of guilt and anxiety rather than paying attention to them. We spoke about focusing on “empowering” voices about the love, good communication and so on that E and I have in our relationship instead.

In the evening I had chatan (bridegroom) religious class. I’m not sure it was a good idea to agree to do this in person the night before work. I’m not going to write about the class itself, as I’m still processing thoughts from it. I will say I found it hard to concentrate at times, at first from the heavy rain falling on the skylight ceiling, then from tiredness, and also from the cat that was walking in and out all the time. At one point she jumped on the table, stood in front of me and stared into my eyes as if she was trying to work out who I was and what I was doing in her house.

***

This was a comment I posted on the autism forum in a discussion about whether it is better to live as an autistic person now or in 1980 that I thought might be of interest:

As someone a bit younger (I think) than other commenters here, I’m finding this interesting.

I was born in the early eighties, so not born online, but computers, and then the internet, slowly crept into my life in my teens.

Things are mostly better now, certainly in my personal life, but partly because of technological change. I wouldn’t have met my wife without the internet, or managed a long-distance relationship without Skype or Zoom. And, while I’ve never really felt I “found my tribe,” I have made good friends online and am a lot less isolated than I would be without it. Blogging has been good for me to process my emotions, but private journaling never worked for me; it’s the interactions with readers that help me to write. Plus, like Shardovan [another commenter on the thread] said [of himself], I was probably “born old” and wouldn’t have fitted in whenever I was born (most of the music and TV I like are from the 60s and 70s, and the books I read tend to be even older!).

Also, although it came too late for me, it’s good that high-functioning autism is picked up now whereas there was really no awareness of it when I was at school (hence I didn’t get diagnosed until years later).

The downsides are the total sensory overload from omnipresent “devices” nowadays not to mention video adverts in shop windows and on the streets and even more noise. I find this makes me very uncomfortable, more so as I get older, and I’m not sure how much is my resistance to it declining and how much is that there are just more noises and moving pictures now. Sometimes I would like to live in a quieter era. As an Orthodox Jew, I don’t use computers, TV, phones etc. on the Sabbath and it’s very calming, but I still end up back on them straight afterwards (the downside of having most of my social life online, and of my wife being stuck in the US until her visa arrives).

Sometimes I wonder what it would have been like being a teenager in the era of social media. Would I have made friends online more easily than I managed at school? Or would the kids who bullied me at school just bully me at home via Facebook? It’s scary to think about. The secondary school I attended has had three student suicides in the last five years or so, which terrifies me.

More Disrupted Sleep, LinkedIn, and Ashley

Shabbat (the Sabbath) was OK. I felt ill on Friday evening and didn’t go to shul (synagogue). I was light-headed again and had a bit of a headache, but I think it was side-effects from the flu jab I had on Thursday rather than work stress.

Mum and Dad’s conversation at dinner exhausted me again. Their conversation is usually small talk, generally about work, shul, their friends or football. I don’t have much to say about most of that, but Dad was trying to bring me into the conversation again. I’m not sure why he’s started doing that recently. He doesn’t really get that I struggle to engage with this conversation and I don’t like being asked questions to which he already knows the answers to just to bring me in. I prefer just to tune out, but I probably shouldn’t say that. I don’t know why I’m struggling with this more now than in the past. It’s probably partly Dad trying to engage me, but also because I’m impatient to live with E and have conversations about things that interest both of us.

I guess dinner at the moment reminds me on some level of my childhood, when I was called an “intellectual elitist” for trying to have deeper conversations and using words no one else understood (I didn’t know they didn’t understand). It’s partly the familiar syndrome of university-educated children from families that have not had access to higher education ending up on a different level to their parents and struggling to communicate, but also the issue of children with autism communicating differently to their neurotypical families and also being intensely interested in certain subjects and boring people with constant talk about them as well as being less interested in, and able to engage in, small talk.

After this I was tired, but did some Torah study. I managed some Talmud study, which I was pleased with, especially as it was a new page (I study each page three times: the first is really to get myself familiar with the subject and vocabulary, on the second I begin to understand better and by the third I usually have a reasonable understanding, at least on a basic level). I re-read bits of Jewish Meditation by Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan, but it didn’t elaborate on the things I had heard about on a podcast last week.

After this, about 11pm, I fell asleep, fully dressed and on top of the bed. I slept until about 3.30am. This is a bad habit I seem to be getting into, as if my sleep wasn’t disrupted enough as it is. I got into my pyjamas, but decided I needed some relaxation time and read more of Flowers for Algernon before going to sleep again.

I slept through most of the morning, then fell asleep again after lunch. I got up in time for Minchah (Afternoon prayers) (at home, I didn’t go to shul). I probably won’t be able to sleep on Shabbat afternoons after the clocks go back tonight. I read The Guide for the Perplexed for a bit – the translator’s introduction; I still haven’t got to the actual text. After half an hour, this got too heavy-going, and the print was too small, so I switched to Judges: The Perils of Possession by Rabbi Michael Hattin, from the Maggid Koren Tanakh series.

After dinner I checked my blog list and heard that Ashley Peterson, frequent commenter here, had died (see below). This brought my mood down. When I had dinner, I tried to finish reading Flowers for Algernon, which was a bad choice for my mood, but I just wanted to finish it; I was saving some comedy for later in the evening which I will definitely watch before bed, as I feel very depressed now. Unfortunately, Mum had the TV on, which made it hard to read (alternating between Strictly Come Dancing and The Chase, which were about the most distracting things it could have been, but anything would have distracted me really). I did finish the book after dinner.

I saw a post on the autism forum this evening from someone who says he’s suicidal because he’s lonely and still a virgin and has (in his opinion) no chance of changing any of this. I don’t think he gave his age, but I guessed twenties from a few things he wrote. I wanted to write something sympathetic, because I’ve been there, but also I’m nearly forty and kind of married and still a virgin, so it was hard to be fully sympathetic, especially as I’ve been missing E a lot recently, and I really wanted to say that thinking you have no hope for anything good in your life because you’re a twenty-something virgin is not clear thinking. In the end, I didn’t write anything; I decided the post was just triggering me because of missing E and thinking about Ashley’s death. I don’t think I can really help; not tonight, anyway. Then I found another post on the same forum by a twenty-five year old threatening suicide because he’s still a virgin. I feel I should be able to say something, but anything I say would be coming from a particular religious context and personal history context and probably won’t be helpful. I do think Western society places too much emphasis on sex and being sexually attractive. I’m glad the forum is moderated and the moderator posted links to crisis lines and the like.

***

LinkedIn keeps sending me emails to “connect” (equivalent of friend, follow, etc.) with my first girlfriend. Apparently we have a mutual connection, although I’m not sure who. I have no desire to connect with her. She does not work in any field that I am likely to work in. We parted on reasonably good terms, but I have not seen or heard from her for nine years and have no desire to do so. But there is no button for “Do not ask me again,” or “Block,” just one for “Connect.”

Seeing her photo or even her name sparks a load of strange and difficult feelings whenever LinkedIn sends me an email trying to connect me with her. It reminds me that she trampled over my boundaries about physical contact in our relationship and refused to support me with my mental health struggles the way I supported her in hers. There is more to say, but don’t think I should in public.

I don’t use LinkedIn much (at all, really – I only have twenty-three contacts, which is why I’m surprised I can’t work out who is the link with first girlfriend), but will probably have to if I try to set up as a freelance proof-reader, so I want to get it sorted.

***

This evening, I’ve been thinking a lot about Ashley Peterson. I knew her online for several years; I’m not sure how many, exactly, but quite a long time. She was one of the most frequent commenters on my blog.

I noticed recently that she hadn’t commented on my blog for a while, or anywhere else that I had seen, and certainly she hadn’t posted on her own blog for a while. I thought about emailing her, but she had said in the past that she gets got annoyed when people chase up on her when she’s depressed, as she doesn’t didn’t like the attention. So I didn’t do anything. Then a few days ago, two other bloggers emailed me in the space of about half-an-hour to ask if I’d heard from her. I said I hadn’t. We were all worried by that stage, and I think we guessed what happened (she’d been open about her depression worsening and having suicidal ideation), but didn’t want to say what we were thinking. None of us knew what to do.

Then after Shabbat, I saw that her family had posted on her blog that she had died. I wasn’t surprised, but I wasn’t sure what I did feel. Sad. Maybe numb. Then, quite a lot later, anger, not at her, but at other things, particularly those commenters on the autism forum.

I haven’t told my parents, I’m not sure why. They don’t know Ashley, but I should tell them I’ll be sad for a while. I should tell them before I go to bed. I can’t tell E for a bit, as it’s still Shabbat in New York. I feel like I want to cry writing this, and part of my brain says that’s crazy, as I didn’t know her that well (she was very private and I wouldn’t claim to be one of her closest blogging friends), but I feel I miss her already.

I don’t think a friend of mine has died before. I’ve lost friends to arguments or (more usually) drifting apart, but not through death.

I was thinking about what Ashley meant to me and I remembered a quote from the theologian and civil rights and anti-war protestor Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, that “Spiritual freedom means: flattering no one, neither oneself nor the world; not being subservient to anyone, neither to the self nor to society.”

I had actually posted that on my blog once, and she liked it. That’s how I think of her: independent, honest and vocal in speaking her mind, especially in the cause of justice.

Precedented Times

I had a guilt dream last night about missing shul (synagogue) on Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement). As I had a migraine this year, I feel it was unjustified, although previous years are more ambiguous. Although arguably I shouldn’t be beating myself up for autistic exhaustion and social anxiety.

I got up early, but procrastinated, ran late and had to cut my curtailed Shacharit davening (Morning Prayers) even shorter. I woke up in a thunderstorm and was not happy about having to walk to the station in it. The thunder had stopped by the time I set out, but it was still raining heavily and the commute to work was uncomfortably wet.

It was a boring day without much going on. I sorted a lot of papers and wondered why I’m not better at this, given that I’m a librarian and should know how to organise data. On reflection, I thought that I’m not an archivist and what I’m doing is more like archival work than librarianship, even if both do involve organising bits of paper. Although I’m not sure it’s really archival work either. To be honest, I would really need to be a solicitor to know what to do with lots of legal documents and copies of documents. I worry about throwing away something important, then I worry that I’m just shuffling bits of paper from one box or shelf to another without getting rid of anything or really producing an ordered set of papers.

I keep coming home from work feeling physically ill. I was worried about walking home as I was feeling quite light-headed, but decided to be independent and try, which turned out OK, but might not have done. I think part of the problem is being unwilling to eat on the Tube on the way home post-COVID.

To try to deal with the anxious thoughts in my head, I started drawing up a long To Do list. This is in addition to the long one I already had, most of which is marginally less urgent at the moment. Sigh.

***

At work, there’s a room with inspirational quotes on the wall from Rabbi Lord Sacks z”tzl. One I saw today says that Judaism is not a religion of private communion of the soul with God, but of the life we build together. This is similar to something I said the other week (I may have been quoting unconsciously). It does make me wonder what happens, in a social-based religion, if you have a neurological disability that stops you connecting and communicating socially. I mean what happens from God’s point of view – does He give some kind of dispensation? How much stuff would a person be excused from? A number of famous rabbis are supposed to have stood up respectfully for people with severe intellectual disabilities, saying that they are serving God better, on their level, than those famous rabbis were. Likewise, blind people are exempt from many mitzvot (commandments) as it was traditionally hard for them to fulfil them with their disability. But where would you draw the line? I have social deficits, but I’m not the equivalent of blind or severely impaired, so how much leeway would I get? I know what happens from a practical point of view: all too often you end up getting left behind by the community.

***

Speaking of Rabbi Sacks, I reflected that if you look at my divrei Torah, and possibly my blog, the two biggest influences on my hashkafah (religious philosophy) are Rabbi Sacks and the Kotzker Rebbe  (Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Kotzk). They’re the thinkers I quote most often. I feel like Rabbi Sacks is the Maimonidean philosopher: calm, balanced, focused on moderation and building society. Whereas the Kotzker is the Romantic, the individualist and anti-establishment rebel, the radical pushing himself to the brink in his quest for truth and the authentic self. Possibly they don’t go together very well. Emotionally, I’m closer to the Kotzker, who may have had bipolar disorder and/or social phobia (undiagnosed as he died in 1859) and certainly spent the last nineteen years of his life not leaving his study, although current research suggests he wasn’t as self-isolated as was once thought.

The Kotzker is someone many people quote, but few people are interested in emulating. I wonder sometimes what he would have made of me, really what either of them would have made of me. I was in the same room as Rabbi Sacks on a couple of occasions, but never spoke to him, which I now regret, although I have no idea what I would have said or what kind of conversation might have resulted. I do feel a kind of inner tension represented by these two different religious guiding lights. I think there’s a similar dissonance in my political views too. I think I probably am someone torn apart by different intellectual currents and competing ideas and approaches to life.

***

I started reading Flowers for Algernon. I’ve known about it for years, but I didn’t want to read it, as I thought it sounded too sad. Then I thought that, as a famous science fiction novel, I “Should” read it, if I want to think of myself as a science fiction fan (I’m honestly not sure that I do, but that’s a subject for another time) so bought a second-hand copy for £1 in a charity shop, but it has sat on my shelf for many years, as I couldn’t bring myself to start it. Then I thought that, as I’m thinking a lot about my childhood and teenage years and my struggles to fit in with undiagnosed high-functioning autism/Asperger’s, maybe it would help. It might help with my feeling of having a much higher level of intellectual maturity than emotional maturity (which admittedly is probably less pronounced now than at any time since adolescence – after all, I’m managing a long-distance marriage at the moment). So, I started it the other day.

I have some qualms about the presentation of learning disabilities and the usual problem in fiction like this where intelligence is confused with knowledge, so someone whose intelligence is augmented suddenly becomes more literate, knowledgeable and worldly, which would not necessarily happen. Charlie is supposedly reading a lot of serious books very quickly, but even setting aside the time factor, to be reading Dostoyevski and the like so soon after being functionally illiterate would require a lot of mental scaffolding. I could also question whether the “illiterate” language of the early sections is how an actual functionally illiterate person would write (admittedly I’m only aware of this because it was a plot point in an Inspector Morse novel). I admit most of these flaws are necessary to get the plot moving and produce something readable; ultimately, it’s a novel, not a documentary.

So far, it’s made me think about bullying. It turns out that being bullied for not being clever feels pretty much the same as being bullied for being too clever by half; the taunts are different, but the feeling is the same. I’m glad I had some friends as a child, and I was probably lucky that my naivety wasn’t abused as much as it might have been.

The book makes me worry a bit about having children, though. I’ve been worrying about this lately anyway, as Adventuresofagradgirl commented on one of my recent posts asking what I thought about the likelihood of E and I having a child with autism, either moderate like myself or severe, which is a possibility at least, given that I’m on the spectrum and E has a number of autistic traits. We have discussed it a bit, as we do both want children (although this further assumes a lot of things we don’t know yet about our fertility and ability to cope with life). We are fairly positive about our chances of having high-functioning children, certainly with early intervention. I have met (online) a number of autistic parents, and most of them don’t have severely autistic children, but then, as I’ve said here before, “high-functioning” is a fluid and unhelpful term; people can function in some situations, or in some mindsets, and not in others. So it’s been lurking in the background as something I’d like to ignore, but shouldn’t.

Other than that, the book makes me feel sorry for myself, although I find it hard to say why exactly. While I haven’t suddenly gained intelligence, I have gained insight into myself in the last eighteen months and, like Charlie, I’m still applying that to my personal history and current social interactions.

***

I didn’t really want to talk politics, but I feel I have to say something. In September 2019, which seems like a lifetime ago, but was only about three years ago, The Daily Telegraph’s pocket cartoonist, Matt Pritchard, drew a cartoon of a man saying that “Sometimes I wish we could go back to living in precedented times.” And that was just during Brexit and Trump’s impeachment! We didn’t know how lucky we were! That was before the COVID, the Capitol Riot, Partygate, Ukraine, the death of the Queen and Liz Truss’ forty-four day premiership![1] And the possible return of Boris — it’s like a zombie film![2] I definitely want to go back to precedented times. Is Sir Keir Starmer the dull, charisma-free, nonentity Britain needs to drift aimlessly back to normality?

[1] The brief Truss administration also saw a situation where, for an “unprecedented” first time, none the four great offices of state (Prime Minister, Chancellor of the Exchequer, Foreign Secretary, Home Secretary) were held by a white man (white woman, black man, another black man, Asian woman). Strangely, the press is not terribly interested in this. Diversity doesn’t count when Tories do it.

[2] Boris, Trump, Netanyahu – why do none of these leaders know how to make a graceful exit?

After the Event

I miss E.   I feel this a lot.  To my surprise, living on different continents turned out to be a lot harder now we’re legally married, even though I think of the religious wedding, which we haven’t had yet, as the main wedding, not the civil one last week.  Even if the civil wedding was just a piece of paper, it’s changed the dynamic of the relationship forever.  I’m not sure if this proves or disproves the various rabbis and religious teachers I’ve heard over the years say that marriage is different to living together even if it is just a piece of paper.  It does feel different, but they presumably meant that a religious wedding performed by a rabbi was not just a piece of paper, not a civil one performed the City Clerk of New York.

I struggled at work for other reasons too.  I texted E that “I feel pretty awful, physically as well as emotionally.”  Then I was worried she would panic and texted that I felt, “Not awful awful, but not great, overloaded, exhausted, sleep-deprived, peopled out, nearly burnt out awful.”  Then I stayed late after work to phone my bank and building society to get statements on headed paper to submit to the Home Office for E’s visa.  This was a whole complicated thing that took forty-five minutes, but fortunately for you, I’m too tired to go into it now.

***

I had a slightly awkward goodbye to my aunt and uncle last night.  I was incredibly tired and just wanted to go to bed (I had in fact been getting into bed when I remembered they were leaving very early in the morning and I wouldn’t see them), but they wanted to talk.  That was awkward in itself, but my aunt asked if I was OK hugging.  I wasn’t, but I didn’t manage to express the mixture of religious and autistic reasons why not. She was OK with it, but I still felt guilty as, if I’m OK hugging E, surely I should not observe the rules of shomrei negiah (not touching women I’m not closely related to by blood or marriage – an aunt by marriage isn’t close enough) at all?  But I don’t feel like that, although explaining why is hard.  It’s also hard to separate religious reasons for not touching from autistic reasons, which are just as significant. It doesn’t help that my relationships with so many of my relatives are complex and hard to describe and fitting physical contact into them is even harder.

I actually was late getting up this morning because I thought I heard my uncle and aunt still up and couldn’t face peopling at 6.30am.  Eventually I had to get up for work and discovered they had long gone.

***

JYP said that, “holding yourself to an expectation about work based on school performance from a decade or two ago is not going to help you in any way.”  This is true, but I think my perseverating over my childhood success and current failure is a way of trying to grieve the life I thought I would have and which I do not have due to my autism.  I think this is part of the “bargaining” phase of the Elizabeth Kubler-Ross grief model.  I can’t change the fact that I’m autistic, or that I was bullied at school, that I was lonely and depressed at Oxford, that I haven’t built a career, and that I messed up various friendships, all because of autism, so I toy with the idea of somehow living in a different past to make it better for myself.

***

As long-term readers have probably noticed, I worry a lot that I’m not a good Jew, in part because of my various health and brain-wiring issues. I worry about this more at this time of year, in the run up to Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur (Jewish New Year and Day of Atonement).  Maybe I have reasonable excuses for my behaviour, but it’s still not the ideal state, and that’s hard to deal with.  It’s easy to compare myself to other frum (religious) people who seem to be doing much better. I spend all year struggling so hard to live my Jewish life, and then it gets to the month Elul (the current month, immediately before these festivals) and suddenly I’m supposed to give 110% (even before the immense practical effort needed to get through the festivals).

It’s hard. I usually end up looking for reassurance around this time of year. I try to focus on what I am doing despite the effort involved. Rebbe Nachman of Breslov said to look for “good points,” in your personality and history, even if only one or two things that are good about you so that you don’t give up on yourself.

I feel like I have spent my life telling myself I will live the frum life I want when I leave home, when I’m over depression, when I have a ‘proper’ job, when I sort my sleep issues, when I’m married… Along the way I ended up a different Jewish life, maybe better, maybe worse, maybe just different.  I feel like it’s the Torah of bedieved, meaning “after the event.”  Often there is a halakhic (Jewish legal) ruling that in the first instance do X, but if that’s not possible, or if you did Y instead of X for some reason, bedieved, after the event, that’s OK.  I feel that everything I do is bedieved, OK after the event, but far from ideal.

On the other hand, if I hadn’t led this after the event life, maybe my family and E would not have been moved to become more religious, and certainly it would have been harder to stay on good terms with them.  Maybe the after the event of kashrut or Shabbat is the in the first instance of honouring parents and ensuring domestic harmony.  Life is complicated.

***

I find to my surprise that I have things to say about the queen, alehah hashalom, but not the energy or wherewithal to write them.  This blog is less a record of my interesting (or possibly interesting) thoughts and more an attempt to structure and process my life to try to make sense of it.

How to Destupidify myself?

I didn’t have work today, J having switched my days this week.  This was probably for the best, as I slept a long time after all the stuff I was doing yesterday (tax return, visa form).  The house was almost empty when I woke up, just me and Dad.  I know that’s the usual number of people on a weekday, but after so many being around for the last few days, it felt empty.  Dad made some enquiries on my behalf about changing shul (synagogue) membership to get married by my parents’ rabbi. We don’t have to change it for a while.  When we do change, I think we get a year of free membership in any shul in the United Synagogue, so it’s worth not changing that until nearer the time, although Dad feels I should continue with membership of my current shul until then “just in case” (this is him being morbid, meaning so that I’m not left without burial membership anywhere for a number of months, just in case I drop dead suddenly). I’ll go to my parents’ shul for the Yom Tovim (festivals) as my shul will be in its new premises, twice as far away. If I wasn’t getting married, or was getting married there, I might have still gone there, but it seems silly when I won’t be going there much longer anyway.

Today was mostly spent on the tax return (which was a real headache, but which I still need to spend some time on, despite having spent about three hours on it already) and scanning documents for E’s visa application.  I didn’t manage much of the latter, as the tax return left me exhausted. I did get a walk in, which I didn’t manage yesterday, but I only did a few minutes of Torah study, compared with more yesterday.

I miss E a lot and I know she misses me.  It’s hard being apart for so long when we already feel married.

I did manage to phone about pre-marriage classes for E and myself, which is positive, especially as I had a lot of social anxiety about the call beforehand.

***

As I mentioned, I’ve been filling in my tax return.  It seems really difficult.  I feel like, “I’m autistic, I’m supposed to be good with numbers and methodical; I am (or at least I was) a librarian, which is also supposed to make me methodical; so why do I always struggle to find the documents I need, and to find the right figures on the documents once I’ve got them?”  The papers aren’t even in that much of a mess, they’re actually organised reasonably well, but somehow the piece of paper I need isn’t ever where it should be.  And I’m not that good with numbers.  Even at school, where I got good grades in maths and even did A-level physics, I wasn’t intuitively good with numbers the way some of my geeky friends were.  Maths was always a second language I could translate into in my head, but not intuitively think in.

Doing things like this just leaves me confused as I go from document to document.  I have to keep reminding myself which tax year I’m doing this for, otherwise I’ll forget and enter the wrong data.  Just to confuse myself further, midway through the last tax year, I switched from being a freelance contractor to a permanent staff member, although still doing the same job in the same institution.

I just feel incompetent these days.  At school, I was a high achiever, academically (socially was another story), but I think I survived by putting myself in a protective bubble for fourteen years, memorising vast amounts of data and filtering out the real world (noise, smells, social interactions, bullies, eventually even out-of-school-activities and almost everything other than work in the end).  My good memory for trivia stood me in good stead in exams, but after that, I had to go into university and then into the world, and suddenly critical thinking skills, analytical skills, problem-solving skills, flexibility and creativity were all more important than just being able to remember lots of facts or even remembering other people’s arguments.

I have two degrees, but I work two days a week in a low-skill job which I am over-qualified for, but in which I still regularly make big mistakes.  The mistakes are probably partly out of boredom, but also from having to work on multiple documents at once or just my inability to remember things nowadays.  My mistakes fuel my low self-esteem, which in turn probably causes more mistakes as I assume I will fail.  I feel like somewhere along the line, after years of autistic burnout and mental illness, I just got stupid and I don’t know how to destupidify myself.  Sadly, I think anecdotal evidence indicates that prolonged autistic burnout, and prolonged bouts of mental illness, can both lead to a decline in cognitive ability.  It now looks like I have a sleep disorder too, so I can throw sleep deprivation into the mix too.

***

Liz Truss is the new Prime Minister.  I don’t really have any thoughts about this, except that it cements my feeling that I can’t vote for any current political party.  I think I dreamt about Gladstone last night, although I don’t remember the details.   I do feel the world in general has a terrible crisis of leadership at the moment, although realistically great leaders only come around every quarter-century or so.

The Civil Wedding

Work today was dull and very quiet as J wasn’t in the office. I did get to go to the bank. I went into the charity shop on the way home from work (despite having acquired several new books in New York) and bought a copy of the third Harry Potter book for £1, which was good. Otherwise, things are quiet although my uncle is coming to stay for the weekend, and my aunt for a whole week, which I’m slightly nervous about, as I really feel I need a quiet pause after my civil wedding New York trip and before the many, many things I still have to do in the near future. Regardless, I don’t have much to say about today, so I will write up my New York trip/wedding.

Tuesday 23 August

I flew to New York. I got through the check in and security at Heathrow Airport in the morning, but found the whole experience very overwhelming. The crowds, the noise, the invasiveness of security checks, the difficulties I had communicating with staff because of sensory overload and processing issues… I decided that before my next trip I will buy a “invisible disability” lanyard [I’ve just checked and these are actually called hidden disability lanyards]. It has no legal status and may not do much, but it might alert the staff to the fact that I might look lost or overwhelmed, need to be spoken to patiently and clearly or need instructions repeated. It’s kind of depressing that I’m that disabled, though, and that not everyone will recognise it. I would probably only wear it at the airport and similar places; I can cope with everyday shopping and the like.

I texted my parents to tell them this, and in the resulting WhatsApp conversation, “invisible disability lanyard” became “invisibility lanyard” (I guess because of autocorrect), which I think I would like more.

I had some awkward interactions on the plane too, an awkward attempt to get past a stewardess in a narrow aisle where I panicked and asked if I could squeeze past her instead of just waiting for her to go past me, and an Israeli guy who asked me about kosher food in Hebrew without my being able to hear what he was saying over the plane noise, or to understand more than a few words of what I did hear of his Hebrew or to know what his personal kashrut standards are to judge whether he would eat the food or not. Beyond that, I was masked (although it was not compulsory and few other people were), which just made things worse as it was impossible to smile and seem open and friendly.

To my surprise, I got through immigration quickly. When I went in January, the immigration officer seemed suspicious of me, and I got flustered and struggled to remember things (autism lanyard needed again). This time the officer seemed bored and uninterested in me, which I suppose was good. I didn’t get a headache on the plane, perhaps because I bought a lot of water at the airport, but I did feel sick in the taxi to the hotel. I listened to ABBA to drown out the loop of TV adverts being played in the taxi and tried to shut my eyes to avoid seeing the little TV (why are video screens everywhere these days? Really not good for those of us who get overloaded easily), although looking out the window too much worsened the travel sickness.

When I got to the hotel I had a nice view over the East River and one of the bridges as well as the streets far below. I was on the fourteenth floor (actually the thirteenth, but not labelled as such) and at that height even New York traffic seemed peaceful. I met with E, who was still too sick from COVID to come to meet me at the airport, and we did some shopping and went for dinner at a pita place (well, I had dinner; she wasn’t hungry). There was a Modern Orthodox-looking guy there who I guessed was the owner and a Haredi-looking one who seemed like the mashgiach (kashrut supervisor). They had an argument and I really thought they were going to start trading blows, but they pulled back from the brink, at least while we were there. I got to bed about 11.30pm, which seemed early, but to me it was 4.30am BST.

Wednesday 24 August

I slept badly. The pillow was uncomfortable, the air conditioning was too loud and I woke with a slight headache that lasted intermittently all day. E and I tried to go to The Book Cellar, a nice second-hand bookshop, but it was shut all week. Then we tried to go to the Metropolitan Museum, but it turned out to be shut on Wednesdays. By this time E was feeling unwell and my headache was getting worse, so we went to E’s apartment, ate takeaway pizza and watched Doctor Who.

Thursday 25 August

This was another headachey day. I had insomnia in the night as well as a headache and woke at 5.50am feeling very hot. I had to get up early, but not that early, but I couldn’t get back to sleep.

We went to the Office of the City Clerk/Marriage Bureau to get our wedding licence, and I felt really happy. I had seen the civil wedding merely as a legal technicality, but from this point I was really excited about it. After getting the licence E and I wandered around the nearby area, which was Chinatown. It was interesting looking at the Chinese shops, including live lobsters and crabs. We moved into more of a hipster area where we knew there was a kosher pickle shop (yes, a shop that sells only pickled vegetables) and an adjoining kosher pickle restaurant (yes, all the items on the menu involve pickled vegetables). We ate there on my last trip too and liked it. You wouldn’t want to eat there every day, but it was fun. We had lunch, on the way passing the only yeshivah (rabbinical seminary) left on the Lower East Side, which I think was Rabbi Moshe Feinstein’s yeshivah, and we browsed a second-hand bookshop (yes, we both like bookshops a lot).

We went to an open air rooftop Italian restaurant for dinner (E still only eats outdoors in restaurants). It was nice and my ravioli was good, but the portions were small and my headache had got quite bad and was threatening to turn into a full-blown migraine, so we went back to E’s apartment and watched Doctor Who again. After a while I went back to my hotel room. The headache was easing, but I pottered around the room without really doing anything until late as I often do when recovering from a headache.

Friday and Saturday 27 August

On Friday I massively overslept, perhaps unsurprisingly. E and I did Shabbat (Sabbath) food shopping and not much else, aside from just hanging out together. We spent most of Shabbat together too. We had bought some sushi. Due to a misunderstanding between us about what constitutes a “roll” of sushi (one little morsel or a whole bunch of them together before cutting — I admit that I was incorrect here), we ended up with a LOT of sushi, but it was very nice. We read a lot and talked. I didn’t get a headache, which I suspect was because I didn’t wear my tzitzit (fringed under-garment religious Jewish men wear) and undershirt (tzitzit should not be worn directly against the skin). I did get a bit of a stomach ache in the evening, though.

Sunday 28 August

I had a weird dream that I was in school with one of my science teachers. I had forgotten my books or homework and felt I needed to apologise as I used to be efficient, but was now diagnosed autistic so I couldn’t be efficient any more. There is, I suspect, a lot to unpack here about my feelings of incompetence currently contrasted with my high achievement at school, my feelings that that incompetence is permanent despite my history of academic success, and my desire to apologise to people, now and in the past, for my actions and especially for my autism.

After I got up, E and I went shopping, but E was soon overwhelmed with COVID exhaustion, so we went back to her apartment and I read while she worked. In the evening, her parents arrived in New York and came to see us. I had only met her mother briefly before this and I only knew her father from Zoom. I tried to speak more than I usually do, but I’m not sure how well I managed. I feel that I’m more than a little like her father, which I hope is good.

Monday 29 August — The Civil Wedding

Monday was the big day. E and I went to the Office of the City Clerk/Marriage Bureau again to get married! Because of continuing COVID provisions, only one person was allowed in with us (as the witness), so E’s mother came in and her father waited outside (my parents decided not to come due to Mum’s heart attack). We had a long wait, then filled in some more paperwork, then waited again, in the wrong place (either because we were misinformed or because it was so noisy that we could not hear the correct information) before being summoned into a secular chapel.

The chapel was a fairly empty room with a sofa and a lectern fitted with an anti-COVID screen. E and I vowed to love and cherish each other, which I was pleased about, as vows and saying “I do” are not part of the traditional Jewish wedding service. The service lasted about one minute. There is video footage E’s mother recorded of E bouncing up and down with joy and me smiling and standing a bit rigidly before hugging. This quickly went around the family WhatsApp groups; apparently one of my cousins said I looked really happy, but like I didn’t know what to do. This was pretty much true. I’m glad I realised I was happy, as alexithymia means I often have to deduce my emotions from my actions, but I’ve been able to recognise happiness for the last few days.

Then, instead of enjoying the day, we had to wait some more to get an extended marriage certificate, and then go to another building to get that notarised, as the British Home Office requires a more detailed marriage certificate than is usually issued by the State of New York (possibly I’m getting some of the legal terms wrong here, but you get the idea). When we got the certificate notarised, the queue for the notary was next to the queue for divorce papers, which was somewhat sobering, the secular equivalent of the Jewish custom of breaking a glass at a wedding. We possibly also need an apostille, which is apparently another certificate so that the Home Office will accept the marriage certificate. However, it was not clear if we need this and it would entail a wait of several weeks, so we decided to leave that for now.

I spent most of the day just following E, as she was much more on top of what we needed to do, plus I couldn’t really hear anything in the Marriage Bureau because it was so noisy and I was having sensory overload and processing issues again. I’m glad the actual wedding was quiet.

On the way back to E’s apartment, we passed a free bookshelf, and I picked up a graphic novel called everyone’s a aliebn when ur a aliebn too (sic) by jomny sun (sic). It’s a good day when a free book isn’t remotely the most exciting or joyous thing that happens.

In the evening, we went for dinner with some of E’s friends and family. I was nervous about doing something so social with so many people I didn’t know (eight people, plus E’s parents who I don’t know that well). However, I had a really good time. I tried to speak a bit, admittedly with mixed success. But it was very enjoyable. Everyone seemed very nice and welcoming. Slightly surreally, one person asked me to explain what A-levels and O-levels are, as he watches a lot of Inspector Morse and apparently the terms come up a lot.

E and I watched some more Doctor Who afterwards, which was a nice end to the day.

Tuesday 30 August

Tuesday was a somewhat sad day, as I had to return home. To mitigate it somewhat, we went to the now-open Book Cellar. I bought five books for $10 (actually $10.07, but they waived the change), one for E and four for myself. The four I bought myself were a science fiction short story anthology, a warped-but-readable copy of James Bond novel Live and Let Die (a bargain at $1 due to the warping, probably the result of water-damage), a copy of Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel’s Man is Not Alone and a hardback book on the eight vice-presidents of the United States who became president as a result of their predecessor dying. The latter was another bargain: $1 for a hardback, and a signed one at that[1]. The shop assistant was rather sad that someone gave away a signed copy; that it ended up on the $1 clearance shelf was adding insult to injury. I had wanted to read up on American history, plus I have a weird interest in politicians who end up in power unexpectedly due to death, scandal or political machinations ending the career of their predecessors, so this was really a good find.

E and I hung out together until it was time for me to go. We were both sad at having to leave so soon, but, given that I have limited holiday time and we don’t know when E will get her visa to come to the UK, it made sense to save some of my holiday days for another visit later in the year. JFK seemed even busier than Heathrow and security was a bit of a nightmare, including sniffer dogs (searching for drugs or explosives? I wondered). After getting past security, I listed to my playlist of James Bond music, which made mass transit, economy-class travel seem much more exciting than it actually is. Then I nearly missed the flight because I was confused about when I should board.

The plane sat on the tarmac on the runway for about an hour before we took off. I’m not sure why. The outward plane had been delayed too, caught up the time, nearly landed, then flew off again because of something on the runway. It makes me worry a bit about JFK airport. I read the everyone’s a aliebn book in the hour of waiting. I have mixed feelings. It wants to a be a twenty-first century The Little Prince, but it’s not as good. It’s a bit twee. There’s a lot about the importance of love, friendship, creativity and self-expression, as you would expect from this type of book, but there’s nothing more. I don’t know if that’s a problem I have with the book or the culture that produced it. And the ‘cute’ incorrect spelling becomes annoying very quickly (my brain just autocorrected everything after a while).

It was a night flight. I can’t sleep on planes, so I read until I was too tired and then rested and, in desperation, watched an episode of The Big Bang Theory, which was even less funny than I remembered (I feel the series presents a very selective and somewhat negative view of people with Asperger’s, even though none of the characters officially has it). My parents met me at the station, I struggled through a day of jet lag without falling asleep, and that’s pretty much it.

E and I feel really weird now. We feel that we should be together now, but we aren’t, and we don’t have even a vague idea of when we will be together again. I probably feel weirder than E, as I’m back with my parents and feeling very much not like a mature and married man and more like an autistic man-child again. Nevertheless, we’re both really happy to have got this far. There probably is much more to say about processing the emotions of the civil wedding and all it entails (which I have only just begun doing, realistically) and I might write more over the coming days, but it’s 1am and I should be getting to bed.

[1] Signed by the author and not one of the presidents, sadly.

Feeling Super-Autistic (and Not in a Good Way)

I’m worried about E as she’s testing negative for COVID now, but still struggles to breathe sometimes and feels tired all the time. It’s frustrating being in another country at this time. I’m glad I’ll be with her in a few days. We both really hope she doesn’t have long COVID.

I woke up feeling really exhausted after yesterday. I did quite a lot yesterday, work, then transport issues on the way home, then I had my first professional haircut in two and a half years, which reminded me how much I find haircuts an intrusion of my personal space, and I was worried about E. Today I woke up very late, struggled to get up, then went back to bed after breakfast as I felt so shattered, physically and emotionally. I was glad that it was cool enough to use my weighted blanket again, but maybe it was too tempting after a long break with just a duvet cover or no covering at all. Staying in bed, wrapped in my blanket, is classic shutdown, exhaustion-recovery behaviour for me.

I got confused about which days I was taking as holiday. I’d asked to have from this coming Tuesday onwards, but thought I’d said from Monday (which might have been more sensible, although I’m still doing an odd Thursday on 1 September). J gave me the time, but I feel stupid (I arguably should have stuck with working on Monday, but it’s too late now). I know it’s arguably another executive function thing that autistic people are bad at, but I was fine at being organised and prepared at school (it was some of my friends who struggled), but somehow I just can’t do it any more. I don’t know if there’s something about the workplace rather than school that makes it harder (the fact that I’ve internalised the message that I can’t work effectively here, perhaps) or if, as sometimes happens, I was able to mask and use workarounds (such as writing reminders) at school, but now I’ve reached a point where I can’t even do that any more without exhausting myself. You can’t get “more autistic” as you get older, but you can suddenly stop being able to mask and “conform” to neurotypical standards. It’s just another thing that makes me feel I’m just not cut out for this world, the “adult” world of work. It doesn’t help much to know “We would expect someone like you to struggle with X” if it still means that you struggle with X, particularly if you struggle a lot more with just X.

Incidentally, there’s some talk today on the autism forum about the longer you try to mask, the worse your burnout is when it comes, and the harder it is to come back from it. That’s probably true, and I burnt out about age twenty, not in my thirties or forties like some of the people there. I still haven’t managed to get back on track after my burnout, and now I wonder what ‘on track’ would look like. Autism is definitely a marathon, not a sprint.

I’m not going to shul (synagogue) today. I was not sure whether to risk picking up COVID (or any other illness) right before my trip, but now I just feel exhausted and unable to cope. I don’t know why, but autistic exhaustion often feels like low blood sugar or even low blood pressure for me, faint and light-headed. I don’t know if this is an alexithymia thing, with my body being confused about what I’m actually feeling or if there are actual physical effects in this way.

It’s mostly the thought of E and our imminent wedding (Phase 1) that is keeping me going. Even if most of my life is a mess, I did at least get an amazing fiancée! I just hope I can find a way to earn more money and get more energy (which might not entirely be an autism thing, as a sleep disorder seems increasingly probable) before we get married, or at least soon after. Although from our on/off relationship history I know that she’s decided that she wants to be with me regardless of how much I earn or what I can do, it would be good not to be struggling, financially and practically, especially if we have a child.

Social Interactions

I started to write this post yesterday and ran out of time and energy, as I had a busy day.

Sunday

I had a night of disrupted sleep largely due, I suspect, to the heat.  I struggled to fall asleep, then woke about 6.00am or 7.00am, worried about the blog post I had posted before I went to bed, whether it was too proud, too graphic or even fully true.  I cut a couple of paragraphs and went back to bed, but I was not sure I should have posted second half of the post at all and later removed it completely.  I’m still not sure what was right or wrong in this situation.  It’s hard to be one of the first people to talk about a controversial subject in a particular community. I wrote a long thing in this post that was related and cut that too (but saved it in Word, just in case).

After going back to bed, as I had only had three or four hours of sleep, I slept until noon, which was not good.  Along the way, I had a dream which underlined to me how really scared I am of making a single mistake, so that I never achieve anything.  This is depressing, but I don’t know how to change.   I guess the CBT approach would talk about making deliberate mistakes to get accustomed to them.  I do have a CBT book aimed at teenagers with social anxiety that has a picture of The Person Who Never Made a Mistake.  It’s a blank frame.  I take the point, but it’s still hard to avoid thinking that people aren’t waiting to laugh at me mess stuff up after my childhood bullying experiences.

I’m scared of praise too.   It was getting so much praise for leining (chanting from the Torah) at my bar mitzvah that scared me off doing it again.

***

My sister and brother-in-law came over for tea.  As usual, I struggle to keep up with the five-way (or four-way, as I hardly spoke) conversation.  It has been noted that, for autistic people, the difficulty of keeping up with conversation seems to increase exponentially with the number of people involved.  I would have liked some food, but no one provided any, and I wasn’t sure whether that was deliberate, and, anyway, I’m supposed to be on something vaguely resembling a diet, so I didn’t say anything or get any.

I haven’t mentioned until now that my sister is pregnant, and it is now beginning to show visibly.  My brother-in-law was speaking about his leining (of my bar mitzvah sedra, which somehow made it harder).  I was glad that my civil wedding is soon so that I had something to feel proud of.  By this stage I am used to my (younger) sister being rather ahead of me in life stages. My sister was excited for my civil wedding, but I didn’t realise how much until Mum and Dad told me, as I am not good at reading faces, so I felt a bit bad about that.

Otherwise it was a fairly busy day, with novel writing, wedding paperwork, a little Torah (less than I would have liked), a walk and cooking dinner (very quickly, macaroni cheese).

E and I had a fairly emotional conversation in the evening, in the sense of anxious (not angry).  We’re both worried about some things connected with the wedding, particularly the risk of COVID interfering (E still has COVID at the moment) and are just frustrated that we’re ready to move ahead and immigration bureaucracy is going to freeze us up for months.  We just want to be married.  We finished calmer, but I went to bed a bit emotional and not relaxed.

***

Monday

My recent pattern of sleeping in a heatwave seems to be to struggle to sleep from the heat, then to wake up in the early hours when it cools off.  I really need a duvet to sleep well and lately I’m sleeping under an empty duvet cover or nothing at all.  I feel haven’t slept well for weeks.  I got about for and a half hours sleep.  I am definitely becoming aware of not breathing when wake up.

I struggled at work.  I was in the office by myself for much of the day.  I’m not sure if that was good or bad.  Work was mostly dull and my brain was not working properly to do very much.  I listened to an Orthodox Conundrum podcast on the way to work and while doing boring photocopying and felt bad that I’m not doing anything as socially useful as helping agunot (women whose husbands refuse to grant them a religious divorce) like the woman in the podcast. I had some more frustration at being away from E. I came home feeling more than a little ill. Dinner helped, but Skyping E again helped more. We are good for each other. And on that note, bed.

“What’s so interesting about an ox?”

I really struggled to get up today, feeling utterly drained and self-critical (it goes without saying I got up really late, as it was a non-work/volunteering day — no volunteering this week for the summer holiday). The fact that another heatwave seems to have started probably didn’t help. Even if I can sleep when it’s hot, I tend not to sleep well (or, even less well than usual). Dad was watching the news when I went down for breakfast, so I got to see the latest on the Conservative Party leadership contest (“Tax cuts will fix everything in our broken society”) and Donald Trump being raided by the FBI, which is the least surprising “unexpected” story ever (I would not be surprised if he eventually goes out in a hail of bullets). None of this helped my mood much. I did manage to get dressed in about ten minutes to just about say some of Shacharit (Morning Prayers) while it was still time, which was good, and unexpected.

I waited over an hour at the dentist, as there was a child (I think) who needed emergency treatment. I was OK with that, although I had nothing to read, and the waiting room would probably have been too noisy for me to read anyway (radio, child playing videos on a phone without headphones). I think the dentist said I shouldn’t have gone to the dentist until I had two separate instances of pain, but possibly she was just saying that she wouldn’t extract the tooth for just one instance of pain. She said the gum was inflamed and cleaned it out, and suggested I rinse after meals with salt water to keep it clean, but that was about it.

Because of the long wait, I lost a lot of time. I tried to do some Torah study while cooking to save some time, but I struggled to find an appropriate shiur (class) to listen to. I ended up listening to a short ten minute thing and then some more Orthodox Judaism, which was interesting, but more pedagogy than actual Torah study. There was more discussion about teaching Talmud to schoolchildren, which made me think maybe I know some more things than I thought, not so much in terms of facts, but concepts, like knowing some of the history of the Talmud and the way it uses particular topics to discuss general concepts.

Rabbi Yakov Horowitz spoke about speaking to a meeting of three hundred (I think) Haredi single mothers who wanted to understand their sons’ schoolwork (Haredi women are generally not taught Talmud). One woman asked why her son is always talking about oxen. I was already aware that the Talmud uses four different types of dangerous items (foot, ox, pit and fire) as shorthand for various ways of causing damage, so I felt somewhat ahead of the game here. It was also good to hear a Haredi rabbi admit that one hundred years ago, only the top one per cent of Jewish schoolboys would have even gone to yeshivah and studied Talmud. Again, I knew that already, but it’s not really admitted to in the Haredi world. I recently saw someone arguing that while most Jewish men in pre-war Eastern Europe did have to work, they dreamt of spending all their time studying Tosfos (Tosfos, or Tosafot in the Modern Hebrew pronunciation I use, is a collective Medieval commentary on the Talmud, even more complicated and difficult than the Talmud itself). I can’t prove that this is untrue (I don’t have access to the dreams and fantasies of every Jewish man in pre-war Eastern Europe), but it seems unlikely given the social and economic situation of the time. Study was important to people even quite low down the social scale, but of much less challenging texts, and it seems unlikely that all Jewish men wanted to spend as long as possible in religious study.

I tried to phone the United Synagogue Marriage Authorisation Department to get the paperwork to move on the religious marriage. I got the answerphone, as I did when I phoned last week, which worried me a bit. I will try again…

The other thing I did was spend an hour or so working on my novel. I feel a bit bad about writing instead of studying Torah, but I tell myself writing is my livelihood, even though it actually isn’t, I’m just hoping it will contribute to it one day. I did make myself do a few minutes of Torah study on this week’s sedra (Torah reading), which happens to be my bar mitzvah portion (although I no longer remember how to lein it — I got so much praise for my bar mitzvah leining that I freaked out with social anxiety and refused to lein again, except when my parents forced me to lein haftorah for my sister’s bat mitzvah).

There are other things I would like to write about, but I am tired and between struggling to get up and get going this morning and the wait at the dentist, I am out of time.

“You’re so sheer you’re so chic/Teenage rebel of the week”

The most important news: E booked a civil wedding ceremony for us, on 29 August! It’s a big moment. Even though we won’t live together until we have the chuppah (Jewish wedding), it’s a moment of commitment in that we would be a couple in the eyes of US and UK law, as well as allowing us to start the process of getting E a spouse visa to live in the UK.

I do feel impatient for the chuppah (religious wedding). I just feel I’m ready to be married now and it’s frustrating that we’ll have to wait many more months (depending on Home Office bureaucracy).

***

I was feeling a bit overwhelmed by life this morning. I had some post-Tisha B’Av thoughts about wanting to do something useful in the world and not being sure what. I do still think helping people who find themselves on the fringes of the frum (religious Jewish) community would be a good place to start, if I can work out what to do. As Rabbi Tarfon said in the Mishnah, “The work is not yours to finish, but neither are you free to desist from it.” (Pirkei Avot 2.16)

It’s funny that this blog started as a mental health blog, then became a “moving towards autism/Asperger’s diagnosis” blog, then an “adjusting to autism/Asperger’s diagnosis” blog. Now it seems to be becoming an “I’m on the fringes of the frum community and don’t know what to do” blog. I guess that’s where my thoughts are nowadays.

***

Somewhat related, I read this article on religious abuse (possibly of interest to some of my readers, but it’s possibly triggering and contains a lot of untranslated Hebrew). It’s weird that I essentially have the mindset of a survivor of religious abuse without actually having suffered religious abuse. I tend to see God as distant and punitive, waiting to punish me. Actually, I only think He is like this towards me. I think He’s loving and forgiving towards everyone else.

I know this comes from various difficult childhood experiences with authority which I then project onto God. I don’t know if any of them are clinically describable as “trauma.” I’ve had therapists refer to them as “traumatic,” but that might have been in a colloquial sense rather than a clinical one. (If this was in therapy, my therapist would probably be asking me why it matters whether it was a clinical term or not and why I rely on authority figures (e.g. parents, rabbi mentor, therapists, God) for validation more than on my understanding of my own feelings, the feelings that I actually feel and that no one else has direct access to. I guess I feel that nowadays “trauma” is a politically-loaded term and only certain people get to use it.) Unfortunately, knowing what the experiences were that left me with this mindset does not equate to being able to change the mindset.

At the root of this is religious perfectionism. I feel I have to get my religious life 100% right or it’s not worth anything. Moreover, there are no exemptions or mitigating circumstances based on my neurodiversity, mental illness, possible physical illness, distance from the community and so on. As I’ve said before, frum Jews who do not have access to the community and its social support structure tend not to stay frum very long. I’ve had limited access (although not none at all) to this social support structure for years, alongside all those extra difficulties, and I’m still, on some level, here. But I struggle to give myself credit for that.

I believe God judges everyone on their own level, based on their background, education, experiences, strengths, weaknesses and so on. Yet it is hard to see what level I’m on. I can find the major decision points of my life, but I find it impossible to judge whether I could have chosen differently or what the consequences would have been if I had chosen differently. It also seems a lot easier to judge how things might have been for a neurotypical, mentally healthy person who took that decision (there are plenty of examples to draw from), but it’s harder to work out how I would have fared in those circumstances.

I guess I want to believe in a loving God, but it seems somehow too good to be true. Or a way of aggrandising myself and excusing my deficiencies and failures. I feel uncomfortable with people who cut God to fit their own conceptions of divinity, religion or ethics.

***

I was listening to Rabbi Yakov Horowitz talk on the Orthodox Conundrum, and he said the skills that helped him as an adult, as an educator, Rosh Yeshivah, and child safeguarding advocate, i.e. boundless energy and a lot of chutzpah, did not stand him in good stead at school when he was required to sit and obey instructions. He likes to reassure parents and students that “eighth grade” (which I think is more year nine (thirteen to fourteen) in the UK — I get confused when Americans assume everyone in the world has the same grade system) does not last forever. I feel like I’m the reverse, that I was really good at school when my life consisted of memorising and regurgitating large amounts of information, but it turns out that real life is not like that and I don’t have a useful skillset for it. My parents want me to go on the quiz show The Chase, and I probably do have more skills for doing well in general knowledge quizzes than for holding down an actual useful job.

***

I submitted my first novel to two more agents. It’s slow work, first weeding out the agencies that are totally wrong, then finding the best agent to submit to out of a list of agents in an agency. They have some blurb about what books they like, but there’s an element of pot luck. One agent said she wanted characters that she would want to hang out with. Great, so it’s not enough that I don’t know how to get people to want to hang out with me, but now I need to get them to want to hang out with my characters too! Not that this is adolescent or anything…

More seriously, I’m working from a list of American agents, and I wonder if I should try to find a list of UK agents, on the grounds that some agents may not want someone from abroad. I did search online and found a couple of lists quite quickly, but I’d have to do some research to check they’re reliable and up-to-date. I think they are mostly big agencies too, and I have a gut feeling (that may be completely wrong) that I should be looking for a smaller agency. I’m in the middle of the ‘J’s in the American alphabetical list and my tendency to want to finish things makes me want to stick with it to ‘Z,’ but, realistically, it’s probably worth trying some British agencies first.

To be honest, I think the novel I’m working will be better than the first novel, if I can finish it, which makes it hard to try to ‘sell’ the first one when I’m more excited about the second. Although I feel I have a weird, stodgy, overly formal, almost nineteenth century, style of writing. I feel that this should be an autism thing, but I’m not sure that it actually is. I’ve also read a lot of nineteenth century novels and not nearly enough contemporary ones. I feel it applies to my blog posts too, you may or may not agree.

***

I think I should cut down my reading/listening to stuff about abuse. It was becoming somewhat obsessive lately, and I think it was triggering some OCD-type thoughts. I think I’ve mentioned that I’ve noticed an increase in obsessive-type thoughts lately, not really frequent or intense enough to count as OCD, but still worrying. I suspect wedding anxiety is part of the problem, perhaps also Mum’s illness earlier in the year. I know the abuse research was partly for my novel, but I think I can put it aside for now.

Emotional Vampire

Sorry, WordPress has eaten this post again, and I don’t have time to fix the probable formatting problems of salvaging it. Yesterday I overslept, the beginning of a day marked with incipient signs of autistic exhaustion. I skipped even more of Shacharit (Morning Prayers) than I usually do and wondered when I would get to see someone about my sleep issues. Work was pretty dull. In the morning I was mostly locating and copying dividend statements for the auditors without really understanding the financial reports I was searching through. I hope I found everything I needed. The afternoon was spent sorting through old papers to see what could be thrown away. I found letters from the then Chief Rabbi and his successor, and two letters from fathers of schoolfriends of mine (both Reform rabbis). On way home I felt burnt out. I had the “brain being squashed” feeling again. Apparently volunteering + headache + work + peopling + work again + heatwave = autistic exhaustion very quickly. I was exhausted at home. I spent half an hour or so doing non-screen time reading, which helped a bit even if the subject matter was heavy (The Third Reich in Power). After dinner, I submitted my novel to two agents in the space of twenty or thirty minutes. I’m getting quicker as I’m getting more experienced, although that hasn’t led to more interest, just more rejections. I spoke to E afterwards, but eventually I crashed. I can’t remember when I went to bed exactly, but I must have slept for over twelve hours, despite setting alarms and Dad trying to get me up. I feel tired and numb now, but more functional, and my brain doesn’t feel like it’s being squeezed. It is hard to do anything, though. I went for a walk, even though that meant I couldn’t work on my novel today (and I probably won’t on Sunday either, as I’m busy). I wanted to be out in nature, which is impossible where I live, but there’s a little strip of wasteland and woodland at the edge of the local park, so I went walking there. I listened to an Intimate Judaism podcast about sex and guilt, which did make me feel like I was, on some level, thinking about my novel, doing Torah study and getting out to look after my physical and emotional health, at least on some level. Aside from writing this post, the only other thing I’ve done today is my usual pre-Shabbat chores. I feel a need to move on with my life, particularly with marrying E and with my writing. Marrying E is moving on OK at the moment, even if it’s frustrating that bureaucracy is going to make it a prolonged process, but I want to move faster with my novel. It’s partly feeling I have something to say, and that my subject matter is going to be taken by other writers if I don’t write quickly. But some of it is feeling “I need to earn money as a writer to help support the family when E and I marry.” Days like today, when I just feel overwhelmed and unable to do much, are a reminder that I have a disability and that my life is not where I want it to be, will not be there for a while longer, and it may never be there, which is frustrating and scary. That said, I have kind of reached a point lately where, at least some of the time, I feel less resentful of having lost half my life to depression/autistic burnout/whatever it was. I don’t look positively at those times, but I feel I needed to go through something like that if I want to write about people on the margins of the frum (religious Jewish) world, and I feel I wasn’t ready to get married then, despite being painfully lonely and not having any real legitimate option in the frum world for dealing with loneliness and sexual frustration. I have a lot more maturity, understanding of myself, and ability to give in a relationship than I had even a couple of years ago. I feel less resentful of God for putting me through all this. Of course, if I believe in an omnipotent God, then I have to believe He could have achieved all this a less painful way, and I do struggle to consciously accept that this was the best way to achieve these goals, especially when so many other people reach this stage without similar levels of pain. Ultimately, I think everyone suffers, sooner or later (except perhaps some exceptionally wicked people who God lets enjoy this world so they won’t experience the next one), and it’s pointless to complain who suffers more or less. It’s hard sometimes, but the alternative is basically self-defeating. *** I had another couple of books arrive over the last two days. They were ostensibly bought for research for my novel, but I’m not sure how helpful they will actually be. Really, I was curious about them, but needed to justify reading them to myself. The books are The Pornography Industry: What Everyone Needs to Know by Shira Tarrant and When Rabbis Abuse: Power, Gender and Status in the Dynamics of Sexual Abuse by Elana Sztokman. For some time now I’ve been reading On Repentance, a collection of shiurim (religious lectures) given by Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik before Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur (New Year and Day of Atonement), and reconstructed from notes by Rabbi Pinchas Peli. I’ve been struggling in places, not because of the text, but because it’s hard to know what to do with the optimistic view of a forgiving God when I’m aware that there are people, often very prominent people, in the frum community who are abusive and others who defend and protect them, and I don’t feel these people should be forgiven. I worry how the community as a whole will achieve forgiveness for allowing this situation to exist. I think about this sometimes when davening (praying), but it really crystallised around the idea of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, after listening to Haredi activist Yehudis Fletcher describe her abuse by Todros Grynhaus, a rabbi and schoolteacher, and how, at a time when she was trying to make the community aware of the danger he posed, she was marginalised while he was asked to lead the prayer services on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur in a shul (synagogue) despite the allegations she had made against him. I do worry why I’ve got so interested in abuse, and writing about abuse. I was never abused (I was bullied a lot at school, but it was largely name-calling and not anything physical. I don’t know if it would be considered emotional abuse). I have known survivors, and abusers, but I think it’s more the experience of marginalisation that I empathise with, albeit for different reasons (autism and mental illness) and want to do something about. But I worry that I become a kind of emotional vampire, sucking up other people’s sorrow for benefit.

Self-Recrimination

I was tired even by my standards this morning. I struggled to get up and I think I fell asleep on the bus to volunteering. I think the heat has made my usual sleep issues (whatever they are) worse. I was worried that I would struggle with volunteering because I was so tired, but I actually felt OK, perhaps because I was on my feet the whole time. It did come out that I’m on psychiatric medication, which was slightly uncomfortable, but I feel like I have a load of issues that I have to accept will come out periodically with people I’m not close enough to in order to feel completely comfortable with them hearing it. And I came away with loot! There were too many vegetables and they wouldn’t last until next week, so I took some potatoes and carrots.

More excitingly, there was a big pile of religious books to be buried if no longer wanted (holy books are buried in Judaism), or to be thrown away if they were less holy. I asked if I could take some, and no one minded if I took one or two. Or ten. I’m not joking, I really took ten, as they were free and just going to be buried or even thrown away if I didn’t take them. Admittedly some I only took because they were free, but I was pleased to get a one volume translation of Rambam/Maimonides The Guide for the Perplexed (I don’t know if I’ll read it from cover to cover, but it’s good to have for reference), the The Hafetz Hayyim on Pirkey Avoth (not how I would transliterate, but anyway…) and Challenge: Torah Views on Science and Its Problems (quite a well-known Modern Orthodox book from the seventies). One of the books I ordered for novel research was at home when I got there too, which was good.

(Unfortunately, once I got home I discovered that I now have about 1,275 books and no space to store them in, particularly the Jewish ones, which can’t be stacked horizontally like the novels, for various reasons.)

I seemed to spend half the afternoon dealing with odd chores (adding the books to Goodreads and finding space for them; dealing with and filing a bunch of tax and financial letters) just to get to the point where I could do things for my trip to New York for E and my civil wedding in August. I then discovered that the airline had not sent me a confirmation email for the flights I booked on Sunday. I did eventually manage to retrieve the information, but it shocks me a bit how naive/clueless I can be; it had registered that they hadn’t sent anything, but I vaguely thought they would given time. Yes, I know executive function issues in autistics can mean that problems register on an abstract level, but don’t lead to the “Do this to fix it” thought that neurotypicals get and that’s probably more the case for me than I realise. I’m still not sure what the problem was, but I did get an email in the end, and then managed to find a hotel at a reasonable price.

My mood did go down a bit when confronted with all this, but it’s comforting that one feared obstacle after another has been surmounted or just melted away.

I wanted to do some Torah study, but I had a headache and Skyped E. I hopefully will do a few minutes before bed, but not much. The heat just feels really oppressive and it’s hard to do anything, particularly after a busy day and poor sleep last night. E and I spoke about the wedding, and I had a longer-than-intended discussion with my parents afterwards. Discussing in the heat and tiredness was not easy. I think I need to write my delayed password-protected post to process and understand my thoughts about the wedding.

***

I’ve been feeling some self-recrimination lately. A lot of it is wanting to explain myself to people, to explain how my autism affected me when I was younger. I think there are people who tried to befriend me who I ran away from; certainly there are people who tried to get me more involved in adolescent/university Jewish social/religious groups who I ran away from. I think some of the kids who bullied me at school did so because they misread my social anxiety as intellectual snobbery or worse. And there was the horrible situation I got into at university with the female friend I had a crush on where I overloaded her with my troubles until she stopped talking to me; I basically destroyed the friendship, or at least I partially did it. Sometimes I wish I could have my time again and be the somewhat more socially-functional person I am now, but back when I was a teenager. Or just to tell people that I’m on the spectrum and that’s why my reactions are weird (not neurotypical).

I’m particularly struggling with talking to my Dad. It’s at least partly my fault. We don’t communicate very well any more. I would like to say more, but don’t want to do it on a public post. This has been going on for years and getting worse. I’ve spoken to my therapist, but I really don’t know what to do about it. I blame myself and tell myself to be more patient, but I can’t seem to train myself to behave differently.

Favourite Authors and More

Sorry, WordPress has messed up the formatting of this post and I don’t have time to fix it before Shabbat. I have the usual Friday exhaustion feelings. I woke up feeling exhausted and only really felt functional after lunch. I feel bad that I do relatively little paid work during the week and still get so tired. I do things on my non-work days, of course, (volunteering, novel writing, stuff around the house), but it doesn’t feel ‘enough’ to justify this exhaustion. I  still wonder if this is an depression/antidepressant side-effect issue, an autistic exhaustion issue or some kind of sleep issue. Today the doctors at the sleep clinic were supposed to decide if and how they should help me, so hopefully I’ll hear something there soon, as I do increasingly feel this is a sleep issue that I could have dealt with ages ago if I’d realised. I know my GP felt that waking up as tired/more tired than I went to bed most days sounds more like a poor quality sleep issue than anything else. *** The “something will stop E and I getting married” anxieties are lower today, but when I got up I had some of the the “I’m going to be pushing forty when I get married, and that’s far too old to learn how to have sex, and how to enjoy it, and to help E enjoy it, so why I am I even trying?” thoughts. This is probably the voice of the kids who bullied me at school, the ones who thought it would be hilarious to send me a prank love note or Valentine’s Card on the grounds that no one could possibly fancy me in real life.  I have to tell myself that I don’t care what they think, and that I love E, and being intimate with her will be amazing regardless of how technically “proficient” I am, and that middle aged and older people do still have, and enjoy having, sex, regardless of what the media says. I don’t want to overstress the anxiety, because it’s mostly under control.  It can flare up for a short while, but generally not for long. I have some coping strategies now, and some hard-copy reminders of those strategies in case the anxiety is so intense that I forget to use them. I know many people have much more intense and long-lasting anxiety than that (I’ve had that in the past), but it is frustrating when I want to concentrate on moving on to marriage and being able to say to myself, “This IS going to happen, everything will be fine.”  I guess I just have to keep telling myself that until I fully believe it. *** A lot of my worries lately (lately? My whole life!) have been about trying to find or to make a place for myself in the world — the frum (religious Jewish) world and the wider world. I used to think I had to magically find an appropriate place for myself; now, it feels more like I have to make one, but that perhaps I can succeed. Franz Kafka is one of my three favourite fiction authors, along with Jorge Luis Borges and Philip K. Dick. I don’t re-read him as much as the others (actually, lately I re-read a lot less in general, to try to get through my ‘To Read’ pile), but he made a big impression on me. His unfinished novel, The Castle (apparently the German title can mean with The Castle or The Key) is about a Land Surveyor who is summoned to a castle, but when he gets to the village that surrounds it, no one knows who he is or believes he has been summoned, and he isn’t allowed into the castle. The novel breaks off partway through, but apparently we know that Kafka intended it to end with the Land Surveyor, on his deathbed, being given temporary leave to remain in the village. It’s a bittersweet ending, implying that we can make room for ourselves in the world, but not necessarily as much as we would want or when we want. I think of it a lot when I think about making a place for myself in the world, and the frum world. Interestingly, when I applied to be on the emerging writers’ programme, the application form asked for me to write about my favourite authors. I said that my three favourite authors didn’t really influence my writing directly. I wrote instead about being inspired by Chaim Potok (writing about Orthodox Jews) and George Orwell (his essays, rather than his novels, and his clear prose style rather than the content). However, I think there is some influence from Kafka and Dick, and to a lesser extent Borges, in that they wrote about ordinary people caught up in strange and disturbing situations, as I do, it’s just that their situations are more fantastic/science fictional whereas mine are more realistic. But the effect I’m aiming for is probably the same, to show people that the world can be strange and threatening. *** I find myself more shocked my the assassination of Japan’s former Prime Minister, Shinzo Abe, than by the recent shooting in the US, even though I can’t claim to follow Japanese politics closely. It’s got to a stage where American shootings are no longer shocking, sadly; upsetting and anger-provoking, but not shocking. But violent crime is rare in Japan and it feels as if something serious has changed for the worse in the world if something like this can happen there. *** The rest of this post is about Doctor Who, so feel free to skip if that’s of no interest. Incidentally, E says I get really animated when I talk about Doctor Who in real life, so it’s a probably a good thing that she finds that endearing and not offputtingly geeky. E and I have been watching classic Doctor Who again, this time from the 1970 season, Jon Pertwee’s first in the title role. It’s a season I rate highly, so I’m glad that E is enjoying it so far. It’s a strange season in some ways, a lot less humorous and whimsical than most Doctor Who, past and present, and more adult, not in a sex and violence sense, but in the sense of more complex characters and themes that ask difficult questions. While I hesitate to call any Doctor Who ‘realistic,’ it does have more of a sense of verisimilitude than most. Watching Doctor Who and the Silurians in a post-COVID world undermines some of that verisimilitude — the whole plot thread about “Oh no, there’s a terrible plague! Oh good, we’ve cured it in a couple of hours!” seems unrealistic now (I mean, I didn’t find it realistic in the past, but now it just seems laughable). That said, the scenes of dozens of people dropping dead in Central London are pretty harrowing for what was still largely seen as a children’s programme at the time. I’m glad that COVID never came to that. E suggested that Dr Lawrence, the paranoid director of a nuclear research centre who is convinced that the plague is a hoax to remove him from his position, is the original anti-vaxxer, and it’s hard to disagree with that. He comes to an appropriately nasty end.

How I Broke the Shidduch System

I’m still thinking about dealing with Impostor Syndrome and with other people’s success (two slightly different topics, but related)(also, I tried to link to Ashley’s Impostor Syndrome post when I wrote about it yesterday, but WordPress ate the link somehow — sorry Ashley!).

I want to think, “I’m trying to live according to my values: to support E and my family emotionally; to be kind and empathetic to others; to try to connect with God and Torah; to try to connect with the Jewish community across time and space; to be thoughtful and curious and honest; to be creative sometimes; and to focus on personal growth; and if I don’t always succeed, at least I succeed sometimes.”[1] Still, it is hard to think about that a lot of the time. I don’t really want to be super-rich, but I do worry about how E and I will make ends meet basically relying on one and a bit wages between the two of us, without relying on our parents. And, as I said the other day, part of me would like my opinion to be taken seriously in the Jewish community (or even more widely). I’m not proud of that thought and I don’t really think it’s a good character trait to have, but it’s there.

I hope this feeling might go away. I used to be very caught up in self-pity and that’s reduced (although not entirely vanished) since being diagnosed autistic, getting a permanent job and getting engaged. Maybe the desire to be taken seriously by others will subside at some point too if I can deal with whatever’s prompting it, probably a feeling of not being taken seriously, and even being ignored and bullied, as a child, as well as low self-esteem generally.

[1] Sadly, my biggest failure is probably being kind and empathetic to my parents. I know it’s hard to live with your parents when you’re pushing forty. And I know my parents have their own character traits and issues that make it hard to live with them sometimes, and that sometimes those things are a particularly bad fit with my autistic needs/disabilities. But I still I feel I should do better. I want to say more about this, but I’ve never worked out how to write about the situation without going into lashon hara (improper speech) and dishonouring parents territory. Maybe it will be easier once I move out.

***

I watched a YouTube video of family therapist Elisheva Liss being interviewed by Rabbi Efrem Goldberg and his wife Yocheved. From what Liss said on her weekly newsletter, I thought it would be about narrative therapy. However, I must have misunderstood, as they spoke mainly about shidduchim (the whole system of arranged dating in the Orthodox Jewish world) and marriage. I probably would not have listened to the whole thing if I realised that they would not be talking about narrative therapy.

I used to think I was too defective for the shidduch system to work for me, but maybe it’s more the case that the shidduch system is too defective to work for me. I’m not sure. It’s true that in the end I met E away from the system, and that E would never have been in the system in the first place. And I am aware that most shadchanim (matchmakers) and rabbis would throw their hands up in despair about E and me, with both of us having some ongoing psychological issues, neither of us earning very much money, and both of us on somewhat different religious levels. I do worry about those things a bit, although less so since we got engaged, but ultimately it’s just the two of us in this relationship/marriage and we arguably have skills that many twenty-somethings in the shidduch system don’t have in terms of self-knowledge and values-awareness; knowledge of each other from dating together so long; honest communication; willingness to compromise; and just general maturity. Not that I would say that I am particularly mature, but I have to believe that I can’t have got to (nearly) thirty-nine without picking up some maturity and life-skills I didn’t have at twenty-four. To be honest, E and I both need someone who understands and accepts us, with all our issues, more than we need someone on the same religious level. I know that thinking that probably would not be accepted in much of the frum world, but then it’s probably why I couldn’t find a partner in the frum shidduch-dating world.

***

I did a bit of novel writing today, but I struggled with procrastination. I’ve been writing quite a lot lately and maybe need a break for a day or two (more than just Shabbat). I’d like to finish reading over this chapter first. I thought I would do that today, but E asked me to help her with an important wedding thing that rightly took priority. That left me feeling a bit anxious. We are making progress with this wedding, but sometimes it feels that for every worry we knock on the head, another one emerges. I can’t go into details, but it did remind me of something Rabbi Lord Sacks z”tzl once said, that everyone thinks a moral dilemma is a choice between something right and something wrong, but it’s not; a moral dilemma is a choice between two things that are both right and you can only pick one, or two things that are wrong, but you have to pick one i.e. a situation in which there can be no perfect response. As a perfectionist, this sort of situation makes me anxious and stressed.

Chances of Rejection

I had a surprisingly busy day today. The scariest thing was phoning Rabbi B to move E and my wedding forward, but he didn’t answer the phone. I left a voice message asking him to phone me back, but I don’t know if he will. If he does, it will probably be tomorrow morning at work (his voicemail message says he works Monday to Wednesday and Thursday mornings), which may be a bit awkward. The situation is frustrating and I don’t know how to push it forward at the moment.

I do feel optimistic about getting married, but there’s a nagging fear that I’m going to get stuck in some kind of Waiting for Godot situation of constantly moving towards getting married, but never quite getting there.

***

Ashley gave me permission to quote the following discussion which we had on the comments section of her blog:

Luftmentsch: My question about CBT for social anxiety, which I haven’t really seen answered or even posed anywhere, is what if people really would reject you if they knew you better? What if you really are doing things that are considered socially unacceptable in your sub-culture? I feel this in particular in the frum world, but also in other places too, that some of my actions or beliefs would be socially unacceptable if people knew about them. It’s why I hide so much of my life, even on my blog.

Ashley: Regarding being unacceptable, I think CBT would probably consider a few things:

-How balanced is the thought? There probably are some people who will find what you think/do to be unacceptable, but are you overestimating the probability?

-Have you tested the belief? If it’s something that you’re expecting, then you’re already carrying that burden around with you. Testing it at least clears up some of the hypotheticals so you can make decisions based on what’s actually happening rather than what might happen.

-Is the behaviour associated with the belief serving you? Even if it is true that some people will reject you as being socially unacceptable; is hiding much of your life an acceptable price to pay to reduce the odds of that? To use a simpler example, traffic accidents are common, and you can greatly reduce the risk of being hit by a car by never leaving your house, but the pros of living your life without being housebound likely offset the risk of stepping outside.

Luftmentsch: Regarding my current, Haredi shul:

1) It’s very hard to tell how balanced some of the thoughts are. It can be hard to tell what people really believe, as opposed to what the rabbi tells them to believe, and I often find it hard to gauge what things are acceptable anyway. The previous rabbi of my shul was a surprisingly erudite person in many ways, but he was also a creationist who always the referred to the Enlightenment as “the ironically-named Enlightenment.” I’m not a creationist and I have a more positive view of the Enlightenment. Did other people in the community agree with me or with him? It is very hard to tell. Which brings me to

2) it’s hard to test without knowing what the consequences would be of being right (that people would disagree). Would they reject me? Throw me out of the community? I don’t know. I never had the guts to risk it.

3) Before E and I started dating again, I guess the price seemed worth it. I hoped people at shul would set me up with a “nice frum girl.” Over time, it became clear that I probably wouldn’t connect well with someone that my shul considered appropriately frum, if there even were any women my age still unmarried, and that no one had any intention of setting me up anyway (my paranoia said they had already sussed me out as an social and ideological deviant and were trying to keep me on the fringes of the community and especially away from single frum women). It still seemed worth staying, as I preferred praying there to any of the alternatives. But now I’m leaving to marry E, I find it more tiresome, particularly as the shul building works mean I’m not around the community anyway and find it harder to connect with them any more.

The Modern Orthodox community should be more welcoming, but I’m still scared to test things. Evolution and secular studies would be OK there, but I find it hard to tell what level of cultural involvement is permitted.

But I struggle even outside the frum community. I’m wary of showing off any breadth of knowledge to most people because I was bullied so much for it as a child. I can say I haven’t tested it with adults, but (a) I kind of did, because adults didn’t like me showing knowledge either when I was a child and (b) it’s hard to do the tests having failed them once, even if I might get different results now. And I don’t dare talk politics anywhere, in my experience most people I know have different thoughts and, as I don’t care that much about politics, it’s safer not to say anything than to out myself as different and see what response I get.

I could probably safely talk more about Doctor Who, given that it’s more popular now than when I grew up, but being bullied for liking it as a child has scarred me for life and stops me mentioning it to anyone now. I guess I like it being “mine” too.

(Of course, if my novel gets finished and published, it’s going to be boundary-pushing in a big way even in the Modern Orthodox world, and I’m not really happy about that.)

Ashley: I can definitely see how bullying would have a major impact.

It seems like it would be very difficult, if not impossible, to ever feel accepted anywhere while keeping a lot of things actively hidden, as any apparent signs of acceptance could easily be dismissed as contingent on continuing to hide the things that feel unacceptable.

Luftmentsch: That is pretty much how it has actually been for the past thirty or so years, except with a few trusted people e.g. E. I would like to challenge it, but the risk of losing the few friends and connections I do have always seems too great.

(End of quotes)

I would add to this discussion that the effects of childhood bullying and some other childhood stuff (which I don’t discuss here, but have spoken about in therapy) has left me feeling pretty broken and unlovable, like I can only be accepted if I pretend not to be myself, or even just efface myself, just don’t say anything, just sit there and try to be invisible. Autism probably just makes this worse. It is hard to know how to challenge this when the risks of losing the few friends and the little social standing in the frum community that I do have seems so great (although apparently I believe my muse justifies taking even greater risks, which I don’t understand at all).

The partial exception to this is my blog, where I’m a lot more open about my thoughts, although I still largely avoid politics. I feel more confident that my friends here accept the different facets of my personality, and my character flaws, although I think it took me quite a while to feel like that. Also, I met E through my blog and that was probably a big reason why I was able to open up to her and connect to her more than to other people. I do feel completely accepted and unconditionally loved by E and able to tell her almost anything (I’m not sure it’s healthy to tell even your spouse literally everything).

Egos and Alternatives

I volunteered at the Jewish food bank for the first time in a year or more. I had stopped going because getting up early an extra day in the week was draining me, and volunteering on therapy days was also exhausting. However, the volunteering starts later now and is on a different day, so it seemed a good idea to try it again, not least to see if it could get me up earlier another day in the week. I did still struggle to get up at 8am, even after eight hours of sleep, which suggests to me that there is something wrong with my sleep, whether it’s medication or something else. But the point here is that I made it there on time.

Some of the paid staff were the same as when I volunteered previously, although most of the volunteers were different, I suppose because it’s on a different day, plus food bank volunteering is on multiple days now, so some people may go to those other days. A couple of the paid workers I knew were pleased to see me, which always disorientates me. It’s a long time since I was bullied at school, but my default still seems to be to assume that people are going to be indifferent to me at best, hostile at worse, and when that doesn’t happen, I am surprised, which is sad, I suppose.

Unlike many autistic people, I don’t usually have problems understanding humour, but I did do a kind of mental double-take a couple of times this morning when people said something and it took me a second to realise it was a joke. I guess it’s the unfamiliar people and lack of context of their lives as it seems to happen more at volunteering than elsewhere.

I possibly left early. The advert for volunteers said 10.30am to 1.30pm, but when I emailed, I was told 10.30am to 12 noon. At midday we had finished what we were doing and one volunteer left and others were getting coffees, so I thought it was over, but in retrospect maybe it was just a break. I said goodbye, but maybe people thought I needed to leave early. I’ll have to see what happens next week. To be honest, it was tiring work, and I had a fairly long journey home, so it wasn’t such a bad thing I left when I did, especially as I had been drinking water to avoid dehydration and there is no toilet there.

In the afternoon, I worked on my novel, finishing Chapter Two and starting Chapter Three. I spent an hour and three-quarters on it; I would have liked to make it up to the round two hours, but I could feel my brain had checked out and decided against forcing myself to write a few more, sub-standard, paragraphs, especially as I wanted to go to shiur (religious class) later.

***

Rabbi B (who isn’t the Rabbi B I mentioned having to see over a year ago, when I was dating PIMOJ) still hasn’t got back to me about E and my wedding. I wonder if he’s away. I found his phone number online. It’s the next extension to the person who gave me his email, which makes me think that (a) he wasn’t in the office when I called last week or she would have put me through to him and (b) she may not know when he will be around, or she would have got me to phone him. These may be an unwarranted assumptions though. Either way, I suppose I will have to make a phone call tomorrow, to Rabbi B’s extension and, if he doesn’t answer, to the person who gave me his email to ask what I should do. Have I mentioned that I hate the phone? E and I just want a way through the wedding bureaucracy, Jewish and immigration!

***

George Orwell wrote that people write for four reasons: (1) “Sheer egoism. Desire to seem clever, to be talked about, to be remembered after death, to get your own back on grown-ups who snubbed you in childhood, etc., etc.”; (2) aesthetic enthusiasm for words or the beauty of the world; (3) desire to preserve certain ideas for posterity; (4) political purpose, to change the world and people’s opinions. To be honest, I think egoism is the main reason for me, to want to show that I’m worth paying attention to, after all the people in my childhood who told me, directly or indirectly, that I wasn’t. I’m trying to care less about that, as it’s a pretty stupid reason to do anything. I shouldn’t rely on other people for my self-esteem, and, anyway, lately I’ve come to the conclusion that my thoughts are changeable (not in a good way, in an inconsistent, irrational way) and generally not particularly profound (but neither are most other people’s).

***

Another thing I’m trying not to do is to think about how my life could have gone differently. There are so many Sliding Doors (or Turn Left) possibilities: if I hadn’t been bullied, if I had gone to a different school, if I had been diagnosed autistic earlier, if I hadn’t gone to Oxford, if I hadn’t trained as a librarian, if I had coped differently in various library jobs, if I hadn’t made such a fool of myself in the further education library job, and on, and on, and on…

It’s pointless to think like this without knowing where my life is headed. Sometimes I feel that everything bad that happened to me was necessary to get the experience to write (I’m not great at imagining emotional states I haven’t experienced, I need to tap into something I’ve felt or that I’ve read by someone who did feel it). If I hadn’t been through the negative experiences I’ve been through, I wouldn’t want to write the books I want to write, which I believe in, even if agents and publishers don’t (so far). If I didn’t feel not-quite-connected to the Jewish community, I wouldn’t have had those negative experiences, and perhaps I wouldn’t have had the guts to write about things the community prefers not to talk about. And if I had a more conventionally Orthodox fiancee, she probably wouldn’t have been supportive of my writing in the way E is (PIMOJ was pretty horrified by my first novel, and that was tame compared to the one I’m working on now). But this all assumes that I’m “supposed” to be a writer, which may also seem untrue in ten years time.

Sometimes you just have to accept that life is the way it is and there isn’t much we can do about it. It’s hard though.

“Marry the freak”

I was looking today at websites for couples therapy for couples where one is autistic and one neurotypical. Some were fine, speaking about difficulties both partners might experience. Others were — I hesitate to throw around words like ‘ableist,’ and maybe this is partly my paranoia, but some definitely felt like, “Well, you could be in a relationship with an autistic person [or man, as female autism hasn’t really registered on most of these sites], but you should know that they won’t love you, care for you, or understand you and you’ll spend your entire life bending yourself out of shape to fit in with their crazy whims. And they probably won’t even want to have sex with you, at least not as often as you want or in the way you want. But, here are some resources if you do still want to marry the freak.” Obviously they didn’t literally say that, but it seemed to be the subtext.

E and I struggle with some things (particularly finances), but we’re both pretty good and communicating our needs and trying to meet each other’s needs (the couples therapy is to help with one very specific topic that we think we might need some objective support with). I know living together will be harder in some ways than living separately, but I’m not really worried about that. Of course, we’re wondering if E is on the spectrum too, which might make a difference.

***

I don’t think it was because of those therapy sites (although they didn’t help), but I’ve felt somewhat down all day. I’m still wondering if I should up my olanzapine dosage towards what it was previously. I was on 2.5mg twice a day; I’m now on 2.5mg every other evening, so one quarter of what I was on before. I should probably try to monitor that more rigorously and think about increasing to 2.5mg every day if necessary.

I realise that the last year and a bit have seen a number good things for me. I got my autism diagnosis, my family accepted my diagnosis and support me, I got engaged to E, my part-time job was made permanent. Still, I often feel overwhelmed at the thought of all the things I still want/need to do, in both the short and long term.

In the short-term, Pesach (Passover) is getting really close now and the tension is beginning to rise (I had a few Pesach OCD thoughts which I managed to keep under control so far). In the longer-term (in no particular order) I want to: organise a wedding; deal with my exhaustion/burnout/oversleeping/whatever it is so I can do more during the day; try to find a way to work more days in the week and earn more money; learn to drive; investigate whether E is neurodivergent; find a place in the Jewish community for E and me; and find the right balance of work/writing/religion/family/relaxation for me. And more.

There’s a lot of fear of the “will I ever get the life I want: wife, kids, some financial independence, friends, life balance?” Reading on the autism forum can be dispiriting, because, on the one hand, there are people who seem to have got their lives completely together, and I can’t seem to do that, but on the other hand there are parents with young children who are school-refusing or otherwise having extreme difficulty, and part of me thinks: “I could manage school. I was mostly fine at school (bar some bullying and loneliness), even though many people on the spectrum think that school is just Hell for autistics. I coped. So why can’t I cope now, when, in theory, I have more self-awareness and more control over my life?”

***

I did manage to submit my novel manuscript to two agencies and spent half an hour writing my next novel, so from a writing point of view it was quite good. I’m trying to use fewer Hebrew and Yiddish terms in my second novel than in my first one, as I worry that that has put agents off, but without them, dialogue for frum (religious Jewish) characters sounds ridiculously stilted and unrealistic. Imagine writing a teenage character, but not allowing yourself to use any contemporary slang in case people don’t understand; it’s a similar thing. It just sounds wrong.

I came across a literary agent today who is also a practising lawyer. Last week, I found an agent who is also a dentist (not sure if she’s practising though). Sometimes it feels like other people are living several lives, while I don’t even have one.

I used to feel that “good sense of humour” is a stupid thing to put on a dating profile, as it’s completely subjective and no one in the world thinks that they have a bad sense of humour, even if others disagree. I think “strong storytelling” is the literary agency equivalent. So many agents say they are looking for “strong storytelling.” Are there are lots of fiction writers thinking, “Well, I can’t tell a story at all, but I have beautiful prose”? Perhaps some, but many? I find it a profoundly unhelpful thing to ask for.

***

Other than that, I went for a walk and did some shopping, but didn’t accomplish much else other than some emails. I wanted to do more, but by the evening, I was drained and very low, bordering on depressed (by which I mean, if I felt like this consistently for two weeks, it would be diagnosed as depression). I thought of posting some of these thoughts on the autism forum to see what response it would get, but I’m scared to admit these complicated feelings about autistic people struggling more or less than I am. I’m also wary of talking about my religious practices and community there, because I don’t know what response I would get (I haven’t seen anyone else talk on there about religion, any religion). I’ve already asked about autistic burnout/exhaustion and no one really seems to have any solutions.

“Nothing you can do but you can learn how to be you in time”

I picked the title of the post, from The Beatles’ All You Need is Love before Shabbat, as I’ve been listening to The Beatles a lot lately. Except that over Shabbat things went downhill and alternative titles could be I’m Only Sleeping, I’ll Cry Instead or I’m a Loser. Also The Long and Winding Road, but I find that a maudlin and annoying song.

***

I felt drained on Friday. I’m not sure if it was more physical or emotional/psychological. I had a busy week, and a busy day on Thursday, but I also had an emotionally-draining week, being home alone and missing E. I am not sure whether occupational therapy or Access to Work help will be able to help me with any of this, if I can’t tell where it’s coming from, if it’s physical or emotional. I did the chores I needed to do to get ready for Shabbat (the Sabbath). I didn’t think I would go to shul (synagogue) as I was tired, but then I felt a bit better right before Shabbat, so I went after all.

This turned out not to be the best decision. I was worried people would ask if E and I had set a date for the wedding yet. My closest friend at shul has asked me this twice already. I was slightly relieved that he wasn’t there, but the rabbi asked me (I guess he assumes he’ll be mesader kiddushin (officiating)). It just reminds me that E and I are currently in limbo, engaged, but with no real idea when we’ll get married. Maybe I find this harder than E because of social expectation, that in frum (religious Jewish) circles marriages usually take place within a couple of months of engagements (we got engaged three months ago). I think I would want to move things on even if that wasn’t the case. Unusually for me, I just want to leap in to married life while E is the one who is more cautious and wants to check we both have enough energy and can earn enough money whereas I feel there’s no real way of knowing how we will both react to living together until it happens (one of the weird things about our relationship for me is that I’m the optimistic one, relatively speaking, although I guess we both overthink things).

There was dancing in shul too, as we’ve just begun the super-happy month of Adar II (“When Adar begins, we increase in joy”). No one tried to get me to dance this time, but it reminded me that Purim is in two weeks and Pesach in six weeks, with all the anxieties and potential mental health triggers those two festivals involve.

On the way home, I kept thinking that the kids who bullied me at school had won. I had always assumed that I would get my own back on them (so to speak), by having an amazing post-school life because of my incredible intelligence and diligence (these both turned out to be really over-estimated), but actually my life since school has mostly been awful, lonely, depressed and unsuccessful, with occasional short periods of vague competence.

I don’t know why the kids bullied me. My parents thought they were jealous of my academic success. I think they saw me as an easy target. In retrospect, some might have genuinely mistaken my autism and social anxiety for some kind of deliberate snub. It was hard to avoid thinking that they were right: I am a freak and I’m not going to have a good or happy life. Whatever the cause, they were not helpful thoughts. I’m not really sure what triggered them, but they bothered me obsessively all evening, until I focused on the few things I am proud of having done in my life, such as teaching people Torah. That helped me set those thoughts aside.

I do wonder why I just can’t ever be happy. Things have got better for me over the last year or so and maybe they will continue to improve, but somehow it feels like things have to peak and decline now. It feels like things could only go well for me when they were going badly for the rest of the world (COVID), and now COVID is ending it’s back to normal (bad) for me.

The rest of Friday night was OK. Mostly reading and Torah study. I read a bit of The Coming of the Third Reich, but it didn’t really seem appropriate for Shabbat (when one should try to feel positive) so I mostly read Doctor Who Magazine, but that frustrated me, because I feel I should be writing articles on the best Fifth Doctor comic strips (etc.). I’ve tried pitching article ideas and offering my writing services to DWM before, but they aren’t interested. I’m not sure if I pitched wrongly or they don’t like my writing style or what. Fifteen years ago, I was hopeful that my fanzine/internet fan writings would get me work from them, but it never did. I don’t know how they find their new generation of writers. The convention circuit or Doctor Who fan Twitter or some other outlet I don’t use.

***

I woke up at 7.30am this morning. I didn’t feel tired, but I thought it was too early to get up, especially as I hadn’t gone to bed until nearly 1am, and went back to bed, which turned out to be a mistake as, of course, I slept through the morning. I woke up the second time with a neck ache that I still have and a bunch of self-recriminatory thoughts, which I also still have. My mood was low and I struggled to do any Torah study. I worry I’ll never be well enough/energetic enough for E.

***

I don’t speak lashon hara (gossip) much, so it tends to stick in my mind when I do. When I was at university, two students got married in term-time. The man had graduated the previous year, but the woman was in her final year when they got married. I couldn’t understand why they didn’t wait until she finished her finals and opined to this extent to a friend. It was wrong of me, although in retrospect, if that’s the worst lashon hara I ever speak, I’m probably not doing too badly. I have wondered in the past if my largely non-existent love-life was Divine payback for this. Now I wondered if it was delaying my marriage. I guess this comes from the Talmudic/Midrashic approach that views even trivial misdeeds as potentially the cause of significant suffering in this world, to avoid suffering in the next world. I don’t know what I could do about it now. I tried internet searching for those people, but I can’t find them.

***

I mentioned I’ve been listening to The Beatles a lot recently. I had never bought their early albums as I don’t like them so much, but the completist bug got to me and I bought a whole bunch of albums very cheaply second-hand. I got five albums for about £17. (I’m still waiting for With the Beatles.) Listening to them, (a) their early songs are much better than I remembered, but (b) even so, they weren’t so good at the start. I guess it’s heartening to me to think that my first few novels don’t have to be my best…

***

This post seems rambling and self-obsessed even by my usual standards. Thanks if you got this far.

Danse Macabre

I’ve packed for my New York trip. Well, really Mum packed. I was torn between wanting to be independent and knowing that she can pack much better than I can, and just wanting to remember how she does it so I can pack on the way home. I don’t have great ability to do things like packing that involve imagining how different objects would fit when stacked differently in a space. I’ve never seen it listed as an autism symptom, just like I’ve never seen a bad sense of direction as an autism symptom, but to me they fit logically with acknowledged autism deficits in body coordination and spatial awareness.

My mood has been up and down today. I’m really excited at the thought of seeing E, but also terrified of travelling: terrified of COVID disruptions (or simply being sent home from the airport with asymptomatic COVID), of cold weather (everyone has terrified me by saying New York is cold, but I’m not sure it’s that much colder than London right now), of problems travelling with a mask (I’m particularly worried that my usual anxiety at going through airport security combined with shallow breathing from wearing a mask will trigger some kind of panic attack), of having made some terrible mistake in booking my flights and apartment, of just being overwhelmed by EVERYTHING. At the moment, after a Skype call with E, the excitement is winning. I hope it stays that way for the next forty-eight hours!

***

On an autism forum I’ve joined, people have been discussing school days. Interestingly, a lot of people who responded had a very negative time at school, reporting poor academic achievement, friendlessness and bullying, too much noise and bustle and difficulties fitting in and following rules.

It does make a me feel a bit ‘not autistic enough’ that I did better at school than some. Some people did respond with similar experiences to me, namely good academic achievement, but social isolation and bullying. I went to a very big secondary school and I wonder how I managed to cope with it for seven years. Work wasn’t so bad, but lunch could be very busy. I used to find a quiet corner, with or without my friends. For much of my time there, I went to extra optional Jewish studies shiurim (religious classes) during lunch break, which got me away from the busy lunch halls and playgrounds. I don’t know how I came home after a long day followed by a long journey on buses and the Tube at rush hour and then did a couple of hours of homework. No wonder I was burnt out by sixteen! I was bullied too, although perhaps not severely; not as severely as some people are, anyway. And I had a couple of friends. I think the rules were a positive thing for me, they gave structure and boundaries, and protected me from other children. I couldn’t really understand why my peers wanted to break them so much. They couldn’t understand why they mattered to me.

As I’ve mentioned before, I’m very glad I had what Tony Attwood calls a ‘mentor friend,’ a neurotypical friend who to some extent guided me and even sheltered me from some of the worst aspects of school for an autistic child. This is my oldest friend, who I’m still in contact with.

***

I watched The Old Man in the Cave, a post-apocalyptic episode of The Twilight Zone. A lot of episodes of The Twilight Zone revolve around fears of nuclear war, one way or another, as does a lot of science fiction of the fifties and sixties e.g. Philip K. Dick’s stories from the era are full of it. It’s unsurprising, given how real a threat nuclear war was (e.g. the Cuban Missile Crisis), but I wonder if it’s more reassuring to depict the end of the world when it’s humans who have destroyed it. At least we had some agency.

Stories that deal with catastrophe through man-made pollution and global warming are common, but I suspect that we won’t be seeing a bunch of plague stories post-COVID (cf. Survivors, the 1970s post-apocalyptic series created by Dalek creator Terry Nation, although that was a lab leak plague, so some human agency). I don’t think people want to be reminded how puny we are in comparison with nature.

In the wake of the Black Death, European art became distinctly morbid. There were depictions of the danse macabre, showing the Grim Reaper dancing with people in the fields. Rich people were buried in two-level transi tombs, with a human form depicted on the top and a decayed skeleton underneath, often accompanied by cheery messages like, “I was like you. You will be like me.” It would probably be a good thing if we were humbled in this way by COVID, but I don’t honestly see it happening.

Post-Shabbat Blues

Shabbat (the Sabbath) was tranquil on the surface, but I think it pointed out hidden tensions in my mind and I feel quite drained and low now.

I went to shul (synagogue) on Friday night. When I got home, I had quite a long talk with my parents about the cremation they had been to for my Mum’s cousin. I hadn’t really been able to speak to them about it before, as they only got back from it an hour or so before Shabbat and I was busy showering and getting ready for Shabbat. There was something Mum said that I won’t talk about here that I think I need to spend some time internalising, maybe in therapy.

***

Mum told me that my oldest friend was in one of the Jewish newspapers. I had emailed him last week as I hadn’t heard from him for ages. He hasn’t got back to me yet. I struggled with some thoughts again. I’m pleased that he’s doing well with his life, but sometimes it seems like our lives were so similar in primary school and the early years of secondary school and then we grew apart as we got older, although we never fell out or lost touch, just went in different directions. The fact that I’m not on social media probably doesn’t help us stay in touch, as I think he uses Facebook quite a bit for life announcements.

I try really hard these days not to feel jealous of other people’s lives, when they seem to be doing much better than me, and a lot of the time I succeed, but my oldest friend is ultra-hard given how parallel our lives once were. We even looked alike, except that he was a lot taller – people assumed he was my older brother. I kept thinking of the two identical goats for Yom Kippur (The Day of Atonement) in ancient times, the one for God and the other thrown off the cliff (the origin of the word ‘scapegoat’). I think I was the one who got thrown off the cliff.

After a bit of time on Friday night I got to a point of relative equanimity about this, but then I dreamt about my friend last night, so it’s obviously still bothering me unconsciously.

***

The other dream I had last night was about Rabbi Sacks. I feel like I’m still grieving him, and grieving the guidance I feel he could have given me about my life if I’d been able to engineer a situation where I met him. If I could have had the confidence to go to some events where he was, or if I had been in a Jewish youth movement especially as a youth leaders, or a leader at the university Jewish Society, as so many prominent people in the Modern Orthodox community were. But I was terrified of most people my own age as a teenager because of being bullied at school and perhaps also because autism meant I simply couldn’t communicate easily with them and understand unspoken communication. The result was that I avoided most group social stuff until it was too late. By the time I was in my late twenties or thirties and wanted to meet people, they were all married and settling down.

I should probably stop going on about this. I’m not sure how I can grieve someone I never met and only knew through his writing, which I still have.

***

After lunch I could have had seudah (the Third Sabbath meal) and gone to shul for Minchah (Afternoon Prayers), Talmud shiur (religious class) and Ma’ariv (Evening Prayers), but I went to bed for a bit and then davened (prayed) at home, and did Talmud study at home after Shabbat. I’m not sure why I did this, but it’s definitely an anxiety thing, probably fear of being asked to lead Minchah in shul as the second Minchah has few people and fewer who are willing/able to lead the service. I struggle to keep up in shiur and I feel uncomfortable helping to tidy up after Ma’ariv; I always feel I just get in everyone’s way and I don’t know how to help (I’ve mentioned before Amanda Harrington’s idea about people on the spectrum wanting to help, but just getting in the way). There’s probably some common or garden social anxiety too. It’s also hard to go out on Shabbat when it’s cold and overcast; it’s harder when the event I’m going to inspires so many negative feelings.

I feel like I’ve gone backwards over COVID time and the social anxiety that used to be around Shabbat morning prayers has spread to the afternoon too. Lately I’ve given up even trying to go in the mornings.

***

I finished reading The Quest for Authenticity: The Thought of Reb Simhah Bunim by Rabbi Michael Rosen, about the rabbis of Przysucha (pronounced Peshischa) and Kotzk. It’s a book that clearly resonates with me as this was the third or fourth time I’ve read it in thirteen years.

In the closing pages of the appendices (p. 355-356), Rabbi Rosen writes:

Yet with all its concern for the people, it must be said that the average Jew would not have found his place in Przysucha. The Kotzker might have been more strident, but the value system of Przysucha by definition excluded the Jew who did not want to think deeply, who did not want to extend himself, who wanted neither the agony nor the ecstasy, but who just wanted to identify and feel heimish (at home). There was no place in Przysucha for the Jew who simply wanted to pay his dues to the religious party, as it were, without being forced to ask the question, “But why?”…

By its very nature, membership or identification with a group entails some personal compromise. Przysucha was strongly opposed to such compromise. Thus its very nature entailed a dilemma, and perhaps the seeds of its end. However, for many of those who have a reflective personality, the quest for authenticity must have been almost irresistible.

I think I’ve been very reluctant to make real or apparent compromises over the years, hence my resistance to so many groups where perhaps I might have made friends and been accepted if I’d just let my guard down and gone. I also feel that nowadays most of the Jewish community is closer to the “feeling heimish” end of the Jewish spectrum than the “quest for authenticity” end. Maybe, post-Enlightenment and post-Holocaust, heimish is the most we can hope for from the community as a whole. Or maybe it was ever thus. Or maybe organised yeshiva (rabbinical seminary) and sem (women’s seminary) study for young people provides a mechanism for some people to grow and develop, although I’m not convinced that this is always the case from what I’ve heard. Ironically, it is the sense of authenticity and fear of dropping my guard that contributed to my not going to yeshiva (as well as my not being a youth/Jewish Society leader), although there were other reasons too.

***

There’s a lot of negativity in this post. I don’t really feel negative, just a bit down. I mostly feel cautiously positive these days, but I guess there’s a lot of anxiety and fear below the surface about the fact that I’m still trying to get my life together. I can see the next step or two, but not beyond that, and that’s scary when you’re nearly forty, only working part-time and, in some sense, disabled, and want to settle down and try to start a family.

Twice Exceptional

Yesterday was fairly ordinary. I submitted my manuscript to another agent, went for a run and Skyped E. I got an exercise headache again. I didn’t blog because there didn’t seem much need for it.

Today was more difficult. I had some OCD-type anxiety in the morning and again this evening. I had vague anxiety and intermittent vaguely low mood across the day. It’s hard for me to understand my feelings sometimes (often), but I felt some gloom and lethargy, albeit that that’s probably usual for me when I’m at work. Work was OK, though, not too many mistakes.

I came home determined to work on my novel(s). I did manage about half an hour of work on them, doing some research for my second novel and also trying to track down the publisher and agent of someone who has written an award-winning Young Adult novel that is Jewish-themed (frum), but aimed at a general audience. I am tempted to submit my first novel to the agency, and maybe the publisher, although I’ve been warned to be wary of approaching publishers directly even when they permit it.

I would have liked to have done more, but it wasn’t really possible for reasons I can’t go into here. I did some Torah study too and ate dinner with my parents (we try to eat together on Mondays) so it was pretty productive. I’m too tired to read now, so will probably vegetate in front of the TV. I guess there is always a price (although I did read quite a bit on my commute and during my lunch break).

***

There was Minchah and Ma’ariv (Afternoon and Evening Prayers) in the shul (synagogue) where my workplace is housed this afternoon and I went, my first weekday prayer service in quite a while. The rabbi asked if I wanted to lead Minchah and I turned him down pretty much instinctively from social anxiety. I wish I had had the confidence to lead the service, as I’d like to find that talent again. Also, the people who did lead the service were too fast. I like Goldilocks davening (praying): not too fast and not too slow. Unfortunately, davening at this shul is, as J says, “Nusach Einstein: davening at the speed of light.”

***

I’m in the middle of a Norman Frum Women podcast episode where they are talking to a psychiatrist about parenting neurodivergent children. I’m finding it interesting, not least from hearing the parents’ perspective, although my neurodivergence was undiagnosed when I was a child, so my parents didn’t deal with it in the same way. (I was walking while listening to this and so could not take detailed notes, so any mistakes are mine not theirs.)

There was an interesting functional definition of neurodivergence as being about having a brain that accumulates excess stress in everyday situations. There was a stress on the idea of neurodivergent disability being environmental (I think ‘situational’ might be a slightly better word), in that it manifests in a particular set of circumstances, but not others. I can cope with noise and people being in my space sometimes, but then throw in a day of work stress or my HALT triggers (being Hungry, Anxious, Lonely or Tired) and suddenly I’m not coping (that’s my example, not theirs, again in case of errors).

I was particularly interested to hear about “twice exceptional” children: children who are exceptional in being neurodivergent, but also exceptional in terms of being clever and often also well-behaved (which sounded like it could be a bad thing if they’re avoiding testing boundaries for the wrong reasons). These twice exceptional children can find it hard to get support in school, because everyone assumes they’re doing well. This definitely resonated with my school experiences, although realistically I’m not sure what help was actually available for me twenty-plus years ago when high-functioning autism was even less well-understood than it is now.

There was a positive note about adult neurodivergents often finding a “better fit” for their lives once they no longer have the artificial and stressful environment of school. I think there is some survivorship bias here, as the psychiatrist seemed to be judging based on some of her academic mentors/supervisors who she thinks are on the spectrum. I would suggest there are a lot more people on the spectrum who aren’t in high-powered academic jobs. Certainly I feel that the kind of life that would work for me is not one that is really on the table at the moment, if ever. I’m really only functioning with any kind of independence because a lot of people (my parents, E, J) are not making the demands of me at home or in the workplace that would perhaps normally be expected of a thirty-something with two degrees. I would like to build some kind of career of a writer, either full-time or with a small amount of part-time office work, but I have no idea if I’m going to be able to do so; my steps so far have been extremely faltering and rarely successful. I don’t mean this as a criticism, just my viewpoint.

I would be interested in a follow-up episode on adult neurodivergence in the frum (religious Jewish) community. Although maybe Normal Frum Women isn’t the best place for that, as there is a lot to say about men. The frum community makes considerable demands on both men and women. Men are more forced to do particular things at particular times (especially communal prayer) and are forced into noisy, crowded communal spaces like shuls and batei midrash (study halls). Women are encouraged/expected to support large and often noisy and messy families, so I can see there would be problems for neurodivergent women too. It would be interesting to hear how other autistic or otherwise neurodivergent people, male or female, manage it. I’ve struggled to find a place for myself communally, in shul and “learning” (adult education) and lately I feel as if I’m detaching myself from my current community. If anything, COVID has only accelerated this trend, by adding health anxiety to already existent social anxiety and showing me that I can survive well enough without communal prayer or Torah study. I’m not sure if our shul has got louder in recent since we got a more Hasidish rabbi about a year before COVID, but I am definitely struggling with the noise more since lockdown. By noise I mean clapping and thumping tables during Kabbalat Shabbat, rather than talking (there is very little of that at least). There is also occasional dancing, which I can’t cope with at all.

***

Yesterday saw the start of the new series of Doctor Who, structured as one big, six episode story. It was vaguely diverting, but I think twenty-first century Doctor Who isn’t really for me. I used to think it was due to things like pop cultural references, sexualising the Doctor/companion relationship, and hyper-sexual characters like Captain Jack and River Song, but even without all these things, I struggled to get involved. I just find it fast, loud, melodramatic, self-important and portentous in a way the twentieth century version was not (OK, the twentieth century version was melodramatic, I’ll give you that). I think it’s a charge you can level at a lot of popular culture e.g. superhero films, the Daniel Craig Bond films and so on.

I wouldn’t say it’s bad, just that it’s not for me. But I watch, perhaps out of loyalty or nostalgia, and I’ll probably give it a second viewing at some point, because re-watching when I know where the bad bits are helps me to find more good bits. Possibly I’m the epitome of the obsessive self-hating (or insane) fan. Even so, I’m glad the second-hand back-issue of Doctor Who Magazine from 1996 that I ordered arrived today. The issue is a tribute to third Doctor actor Jon Pertwee, tying in with the fact that I’m about to introduce E to him via one of his most memorable stories, The Green Death.

Alexander the Great and Me

I’m still feeling overwhelmed. I had hoped for a quiet Shabbat (Sabbath) and one where I wouldn’t need/want to blog much afterwards, so I could use the Saturday evening for chores, writing or relaxation. I did have a fairly quiet Shabbat, but it brought up a lot of thoughts, not all of which I’m recording here.

I went to shul (synagogue) on Friday night, but not today. I felt in shul that I’m drifting away from the community. I stopped going to shul so much when I moved from my old community in 2016, partly because of social anxiety about attending a new shul and then because I changed jobs in 2017 and was working longer hours. By the time that job finished in 2018, I was back in depression for a while. COVID has pushed me further from regular attendance. I’m out of the habit, and I no longer feel the connection to my community that I once felt.

In a way this is good, as I can’t see E feeling comfortable in my current community. I think E would prefer a United Synagogue community. The problem is, I would not feel fully comfortable. Nothing like the US (United Synagogue) really exists in the USA or Israel. It’s a type of community where the official hashkafah (worldview) is Modern Orthodox, but many of the rabbis are Haredi (ultra-Orthodox), while most congregants are not particularly religious and don’t keep Shabbat or kashrut (the dietary laws), to the extent that I would not feel comfortable eating at their houses. It leads to a weird type of community where a core of congregants can be very religiously knowledgeable and involved, while most aren’t interested at all and see shul as a social or traditional thing more than a religious one. In the past, I’ve been one of those very knowledgeable and involved people. I guess it gave me a role, but I didn’t have many friends, although that was at least partly because there were so few people my age in that community. I wanted to be in a frummer (more religious) community, one where people cared about davening (prayer) and Torah study as my previous shul struggled to get a weekday minyan (prayer quorum) and had few shiurim (religious classes). In reality I feel (perhaps not accurately) that I’ve struggled to be accepted in a frummer community, so maybe I would be better in a US shul. However, the local US shul (my parents’ one) is not right for me, too large and impersonal and too many people who know my parents and think of me as my parents’ son rather than a person in my own right.

After shul was dinner. I spent some time after dinner doing Torah study (quite a lot, about an hour and a half, I think) and also reading Jonathan Haidt’s The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion — very interesting so far, with the caveat that social psychology as a discipline has a replication problem (i.e. famous experiments have not yielded the same results when repeated by other researchers).

I went to bed late, but couldn’t sleep. Eventually I read a Doctor Who graphic novel for a bit as I didn’t have a head for more Righteous Mind. While I was lying in bed, I had the following thought. I only recently heard the term “rainbow baby” for a child born after a miscarriage or stillbirth. I don’t know if it’s a new term or American English or if I just hadn’t heard it. It occurred to me that my Dad is a “rainbow baby.” His mother had five miscarriages before he was born, which is a lot. Then he was three weeks late and a breech birth; he had to be delivered by emergency caesarean at a time when this was still somewhat dangerous. Perhaps unsurprisingly, given that he was basically a miracle child, his parents doted on him. They were kind and gentle people anyway, but I think that made it impossible for him to do wrong in their eyes. He was very close to both his parents, but especially his father. It occurred to me that I am wary of having positive self-regard in case I become “narcissistic” or “selfish.” Yet my father has a strong positive self-regard from his stable and loving childhood, but he’s a very generous and caring person and not at all narcissistic. I’m not sure what conclusion to draw from this, exactly, but it made me think.

Today was a pretty normal Shabbat. It feels like an autumn/winter Shabbat both with bad weather and Shabbat finishing earlier. I did some Torah study and reading. I wanted to stay awake after lunch and drank coffee to help, but I still dozed for a while. Eating a heavy lunch just makes me tired these days and maybe I have to accept that. I just hope I don’t have insomnia again tonight.

I struggled all day with wanting to work on my novel, which obviously I could not do on Shabbat, but even after Shabbat, I’m not sure where to make my first move, so to speak. I really want to start writing it, for reasons that are probably wrong. I think it’s a story worth telling, but I think I also want to use it to help understand and process my emotions and personal history, which may or may not be a good idea. I think I have a lot of research and planning to do before I write, but I’m burning up inside; just the idea of this novel has triggered so many thoughts connected with parts of my life that I’ve repressed as well as childhood — I don’t want to say “trauma,” as it wasn’t the type of trauma other people I’ve met have carried, but therapists have presented it to me as traumatic, at least in the colloquial sense. Maybe I need to take this to therapy first, before I do anything with it.

With my previous novel (which I have to keep reminding myself is not yet published and I need to make sure I don’t forget to keep looking for an agent and a publisher just because that bit involves too much rejection), I had some support in building on my own experiences, which I have a bit here, but nowhere near as much. I guess I feel excited and nervous about this project at the same time, like Alexander the Great when he woke up one morning and said to himself, “You know what might be a good idea? Conquering THE ENTIRE KNOWN WORLD!”[1] And then I think what that will entail, and how long it will take, and that no one will pay me until after it’s all finished, and that writing about sex and porn addiction in the frum community might lead to people making all kinds of assumptions about me, and I think, “Do I really want to do this?” Yes, I do, but it’s still scary.

I bought some books I want for research tonight. One was for research, but also touches on the area of “trauma,” or pseudo-trauma, in my own history that I wanted to confront. I also cleared out my email inbox, which wasn’t directly relevant to my writing project, but was something I needed to do, and I set some goals for this week, which may need refining, but hopefully will get me doing chores AND looking for agents AND doing research without overloading me. I won’t be going to volunteering this week, though, as I need time to focus on myself after Yom Tov. So I think I’ve made a good start on things, but it’s gone midnight now and I ought to be thinking about winding down for the night.

[1] Or, if you prefer The Pinky and the Brain: “What are we going to do tonight, Brain?” “The same thing we do every night, Pinky: try to take over the world!!!!!”

Autistic Fatigue and Masculinity

My blog is back in “autistic disrupted sleep mode” again. I went to bed very late after post-Shabbat stuff (praying, tidying, writing fiction (or trying to), blogging, eating, relaxing in front of the TV, texting E) and then slept for eleven hours. I wish I knew why I do this, and why on work days and volunteering days I can get up after six or seven hours, sometimes fewer. It’s easy to call myself lazy, but I don’t think that’s it. I do seem to have a lot of autistic fatigue, and if I let it build up too long it threatens to turn into autistic burnout. But it’s a mystery as to how I coped when I was younger, in a very autism-unfriendly school, although maybe ‘coped’ is the wrong word, as by the time I was sixteen, I hit my first episode of what seemed at the time depression, but in retrospect may also have been autistic burnout too. I wonder now whether my episodes of depression were caused primarily by prolonged burnout (as well as autistic loneliness) rather than the depression being the main issue. It would explain why the depression was so treatment-resistant: it wasn’t the real problem. That said, I definitely have been deeply depressed at times, to the point of being suicidal, so it’s obviously a complex situation of autism and mental illness feeding off each other.

Inevitably, I feel bad about missing the morning, and not helping Dad much with the sukkah, the shack Jews build in the garden to live in (weather-dependent) during the festival of Sukkot, which is coming soon (Yom Kippur comes first, this week, but that has minimal practical preparation). I feel that if I could sort my sleep out, my life, my integration into the frum (religious Jewish) community, and my integration into the world of work would be so much better, with knock-on consequences, but I just don’t know how. When I feel down, I try to remind myself of the good things in my life, that my parents love me and E cares about me. It does help. RoBIN commented on a previous post that, for people on the spectrum, nothing can be taken for granted, and I do feel like that. I’m just trying to be happy for what I do have. Realistically, I need people I can be open with and who support me a lot more than I need a wide circle of friends or a satisfying and/or full-time job (although more money would be nice, if only for marriage/immigration reasons).

I helped my Dad a little with the sukkah, and to be fair it was the part he most needed help with. There’s still a lot to do on it, and he will need my help with that later in the week. I always feel awkward helping. I’m not good on ladders; I’m not scared of heights per se, but I don’t like feeling that I could fall, and the patio is rather uneven making the ladders wobble. I’m better with ladders indoors, maybe because the floor is more even, or maybe my brain thinks the carpet could somehow break my fall. I’m not great as a handyman either. The paternal side of my family is full of war heroes from both World Wars, sportsmen and handymen, but I didn’t inherit any of that (some of them were, perhaps surprisingly, also good with a needle and thread or sewing machine; like many Jewish recent-immigrant families, they worked in the clothing industry in London’s East End). In this, as in most things, I take after my mother’s side, who were not hugely masculine in this way.

My sister and brother-in-law came for tea, or late lunch in my case. I had cherry pie and coffee for maximum Twin Peaks fannishness (OK, I didn’t really have them because of Twin Peaks. I did really want them, but it amused me all the same). I joined in the conversation more than I usually do, probably because we were mostly comparing notes about our respective Rosh Hashanahs (experiences of) and Yom Kippurs (plans for). I do still find it draining to be around people for two hours, and wasn’t able to do much afterwards and my mood dropped quite a bit.

Other than that, I didn’t do much, just a little Torah study and a half-hour walk. No writing or running or any of several different chores I wanted to do. I Skyped E, which raised my mood quite a lot, but still left me tired. I just wish everything wasn’t so hard for me.

***

I watched some of the Doctor Who episode Gridlock. I’m not sure I have time to finish it tonight. It is not a particular favourite, although I don’t dislike it as much as I did on original transmission. There was one very good scene I had forgotten about. I think my problems with Russell T Davies’ time as showrunner are partly that he writes the Doctor as hugely bombastic and shouty, full of declaimed speeches about “This stops — TONIGHT!!!” (which, to be fair, Davies’ successors Steven Moffat and Chris Chibnall did/do too and may be a standard feature of modern science fiction/action storytelling), but primarily that he’s willing to sacrifice consistency of plot, characterisation or credibility for the sake of a shock moment, an emotional scene or a even cheap gag. This annoys me no end, but it might explain why his writing was so popular with the general audience, who don’t obsess over nuances of plot, character or pseudo-science the way fans do.

“I could be bounded in a nutshell, and count myself a king of infinite space, were it not that I have bad dreams”

Shabbat (the Sabbath) was a mixed bag, and, again, I find I need to break my rule, or at least aspiration, about not going online after Shabbat in the summer as I need to blog to get some of my thoughts out of my head.

On Friday night we davened (prayer) outside again. This seemed at odds with the shul‘s (synagogue’s) policy of no longer keeping COVID protocols in place, now that it is legal not to do so (unlike my parents’ shul, which still has a lot of safeguards in place, and is even apparently adding more). This was pleasant for me, as I would wear a mask inside, but felt no need to do so outside. The reason may have been that we do not own the building where we daven, which is usually a school. The hall where we daven is currently being significantly remodelled, which is going to make services difficult, particularly the Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur festival services next month. I am not sure what the shul will do. We raised funds to buy our own premises earlier this year, but I think we do not have planning permission to build yet, and even when we do, the building project is estimated to take eighteen months.

I did not sleep particularly well last night and had some strange dreams, partly focused on some silly thing I did when I was ten. I don’t know why I carry around guilt from two decades ago, when I wasn’t even an adult. It did leave me in a negative state of mind, and I stayed in bed because I felt anxious and self-critical. When I did finally get up, I was carrying other guilt, which I don’t want to go into here, for various reasons, but which was equally irrational.

I slept for three hours after lunch, which was not sensible, as I will probably struggle to sleep tonight. Even then, I only woke up because I set an alarm before Shabbat. I’m not sure how long I would have slept if I had awakened naturally.

I nearly didn’t get back to shul, as I had a lot of social anxiety. I more or less forced myself out of the house and down to shul. The hall, now I saw it properly, looked very different as a result of the ongoing building works. About a third of the hall has already been partitioned off, and even in the area still accessible to us, some tables were missing. This was somewhat upsetting to my autistic mind.

After Minchah (Afternoon Prayers), the seudah shlishit (third Sabbath meal) was held in a classroom. I didn’t want to go and eat, but I did want to attend the Talmud shiur (religious class) that would be held partway through the seudah. I stayed in the hall and read for a bit, but then thought that they were about to start the shiur, so went and found the classroom. I felt awkward sitting there and not eating, but I did get to hear the shiur. I’m not sure how well I followed it, but I would have followed it even less had I not prepared in advance yesterday.

One thing I noticed was a couple of people addressing me by name and trying to make small talk with me. It always surprises me when people know me or want to talk to me. I suppose I’ve had so many bad social interactions, so many communities of one kind or another (shul, school, scouts, university, workplace) where I’ve felt I haven’t been accepted or didn’t fit in (or was even bullied) and just stood around “being autistic” and not really being able to talk to people that I’m still amazed when people know my name and want to talk to me. I don’t know how to progress this to make friends though.

I don’t know how rational my COVID fears are. I travel on public transport (with a mask) to get to work or volunteering, and shul is probably no less safe than that. Is it safe enough not to wear a mask, or to eat? I don’t know. According to the government, it’s fine, but I don’t feel safe. Is this sensible caution or the beginnings of health anxiety/OCD?

I feel a bit down now, and vaguely headachey. I probably need something to eat, and to shower (it’s got hot again) relax a bit before bed.

Bitachon; and Doctor Who (2005)

I won the jackpot with the post today: new shoes, a book, a DVD and, most importantly, a corrected Asperger’s diagnosis report and resources leaflet. I’m glad that’s sorted. The resources leaflet turned out not to be that helpful, given that I’ve been aware of my autism for a long time and have already discovered many of the resources and got beyond the “But what is autism?” stage, but I feel more comfortable now speaking to my GP next week and trying to get referred for autism-adapted CBT.

I had a reasonably busy day today, going to the dentist, going for a walk, doing some Torah study and having therapy as well as tackling a few odd chores. I did run out of time and energy to work on my writing, which frustrated me, but didn’t surprise me. I jotted down a couple of ideas for the next novel, though, and I feel that that’s developing well, probably better than the first novel, which I fear lacks a clear plot and suffers from a lack of supporting characters.

Therapy was good, although I didn’t have enough to talk about for an hour, which itself is an indication that things are going well for me at the moment. I spoke about feeling that I have more resilience than I have had in the past. I also don’t think I wonder if things in my past could have gone differently any more. I guess I’ve got to the stage of thinking that everything in my life really had happen the way it did, even if I can’t really articulate why I feel like that. Perhaps this is finally bitachon (trust in God) or just acceptance of my childhood and difficult adolescence. I do still wonder what people from my past think of me and whether they might find my recent Asperger’s article and think differently of me, but that’s not really a thought about changing the past so much as wanting people to think well of me and not to think I’m an antisocial weirdo.

In therapy we also spoke about telling my parents that I’m back with E, which I plan on doing this coming Shabbat, but am rather nervous about. I’m not sure how they will react. I think my Mum worries about me being in an unending on/off relationship with E, which to be fair is something I worry about sometimes, although less so now that I think we can move the relationship on.

One thing that came up in therapy is that I think my relationship with E is a lot better than my relationship with PIMOJ was. E and I connect on a variety of levels, whereas I don’t think PIMOJ and I really connected as anything other than friends. Certainly I was unable to feel comfortable opening up emotionally to PIMOJ, and she was unwilling or unable to open up to me. Despite that, I probably did need to go through my relationship with PIMOJ to appreciate how rare my connection with E is (that bitachon/acceptance thing again).

***

E and I are starting to watch Doctor Who “together”, i.e. in our separate houses on separate continents, but roughly at the same time, allowing for the time difference. We’re initially watching the twenty-first century version. I prefer the twentieth century version, but appreciate that there are many obstacles to it for contemporary viewers in terms of very different pacing, production values, writing and acting styles and so on, plus nearly 100 episodes of the twentieth century version are lost from the archives and unwatchable, so starting at episode one and going straight through doesn’t really work. That said, I may suggest slipping in some twentieth century Who later for context, and because I’m not sure I want to watch the twenty-first century version indefinitely without a break.

We started tonight with Rose, which is showing its age in places, but still feels a fairly tight and lean revival of the franchise. I do definitely struggle with Russell T Davies’ writing style even in his better episodes (Rose is more a middling one). I’m not sure if I dislike his style in general or just for Doctor Who. The other distracting thing was that I did keep thinking about the recent Noel Clarke sexual harassment allegations, which are.

Fear of Living, Fear of Dying

We have local elections next week. An election for the Mayor of London and a by-election to replace a local councillor who died. I didn’t want to go to a polling station in the pandemic, so I have a postal vote and need to send it soon. I don’t know who to vote for. I still feel pretty annoyed about all the parties. If I’m a “Tory anarchist” (as George Orwell wrote), lately the anarchist part is dominant. I’m pretty angry at the moment with political parties of all stripes, and big business, especially Big Tech.

Local government, including the London Mayor, doesn’t really have much power in the UK, so the whole election seems pretty pointless. I don’t know who my local councillors are or have much of a sense of what they do. I did know the one who died, sort of, but only because he was well-known in the local Jewish community, and because he was the solicitor who acted for the people my parents bought their house from in the sale. As for the Mayor, in theory he has powers about a range of things, but I only really have a sense of him as the person who decides if the Tube fares go up. Most people just use local elections as a glorified opinion poll on whichever party is in power in central government.

In the last European elections, mid–Brexit, I spoiled my ballot and wrote abusive comments by the candidates’ names, the only time I have done this, because I was so angry that the parties could not get their act together to sort Brexit out, to the extent that we were having European Parliament elections while trying to leave the EU. I didn’t even have particularly strong views about Brexit, I just wanted to get it over with and get back to reality. When the last general election happened, I was still angry and voted mainly to keep Jeremy Corbyn out than because I was impressed with anything anyone else was offering. Now I’m mainly apathetic. I don’t think there’s one party that represents what I think, not even close. I don’t even think I have the energy to spoil my ballot.

I was brought up to take voting seriously because “people died to get you the vote” (which is actually a really stupid reason to do anything). And I think people should take voting and politics seriously, it’s just very hard to admire the current crop of politicians, and hard to feel that anyone listens to people like me at the moment. I’m not even sure what I would say if someone was listening.

Ugh, I didn’t mean to write 400 words on politics, I just feel annoyed and confused.

***

Other than that, it was a quiet day. I had therapy, I drafted my devar Torah (pretty much on autopilot, it’s not one I’m particularly proud of) and looked over the next Talmud section before shiur (religious class) on Shabbat. I didn’t go for a walk as it rained a lot and I was too drained to walk in the rain after therapy. I feel like I’m doing a lot of what I want to be doing… but I haven’t done any fiction writing for about two months! The friend who said she would read my novel said to wait until after Pesach, so I waited until then, but then I got cold feet about sending it to her as I wasn’t sure if she wanted to be paid, or how enthusiastic she was about reading it. I didn’t want her to do it out of some kind of sense of obligation. Now JYP is reading it, but I feel I ought to try to write something else to keep the writing habit going while I’m waiting, but I don’t know what. I have an idea for another novel, but I’m not sure it’s sensible to start it yet. I’m not sure what will happen to my work, exercise and Torah study regime when I try to factor in an hour or two of fiction writing a day, but we’ll see.

***

In therapy we spoke about being in the present rather than falling into anxiety about future careers and future relationships (or the lack of either). I said that I feel I missed some developmental stages when I was a teenager. Because I was autistic, but didn’t know it, and because I’d been bullied a lot, I withdrew into myself. Autism made me fear change and the unknown, and being bullied made me fear other people my age (I still struggle to feel comfortable with older children or teenagers). I didn’t go to youth groups the way most Jewish teenagers do. I didn’t date or party or do any kind of leadership or personal growth activity. A bunch of my friends went backpacking in Europe the summer after we finished school and I was originally going with them, but fairly early on in the planning I stage I panicked and backed out of it.

Now I find I need to go through the adolescent maturation stage, twenty years too late, regarding finding what I like to do and what I can do, career, friendships, relationships and so on. This was when my therapist spoke about staying in the present and not trying to worry about the “What ifs?” of career and relationships. To focus on being satisfied with the work I do and not worrying about how it will lead to a career, and to focus on making a connection with someone and not worrying about whether we will get married. I do feel like the clock is ticking on both things, though.

I didn’t mention this in therapy, but a while back I heard about Otto Rank, who was a student of Sigmund Freud. Unlike Freud, he saw the human psyche as being driven by two fears, the fear of living and the fear of dying. Rather than their literal meanings, he saw the fear of living as being the fear of individuation and separation, and the fear of dying as the fear of being absorbed into the collective. I tend to bounce between these two quite violently, wanting to individuate and be different from other people, particularly in a religious community that I find quite conformist, but I also want acceptance in the community, close friends and a romantic relationship, which involve, or seem to involve, making at least some concessions to the expectations of other people. What I want more than anything is to be fully accepted, with all my “issues” and geeky quirks and complicated history, but I’m scared of making myself vulnerable enough to discover whether anyone could accept me.

The email I received from Intimate Judaism yesterday said that they don’t have time to answer every email sent to them, but my “sense of isolation” was very apparent in the email I sent them and they wanted to respond. I guess it seems a bit strange to see that written down. I am a lonely person and have been so since my teens (if not earlier), but it’s just a kind of constant background noise for me. I do have a ‘loneliness’ tag on my blog, but I think I use it much less frequently than tags for ‘depression’, ‘autism’ and ‘anxiety’.

I wrote a whole essay for Hevria years ago on loneliness, where I think I said that the term obscures the fact that there are different kinds of loneliness. Someone can have family and yet still lack friends, for example. I myself have family and a few friends, especially online, but have few in-person friends (which I instinctively feel I would like, even if I can’t express why) and also lack anyone for my romantic/sexual side. I also, as I said, want to feel completely known and accepted. Above all, I feel that I want God to accept me, as only He can really know me, but I want to be accepted by human beings too, even though I’m hiding much of myself from them, even here.

***

I’m currently bearded, because of the omer, the period between Pesach (Passover) and Shavuot (Pentecost), part of which is observed as a time of national mourning, involving not holding celebrations, listening to music, cutting hair or shaving. I feel really self-conscious seeing myself bearded on Skype and Zoom calls. It just looks wrong. I kept looking at myself rather than my therapist on my Zoom therapy call today. Plus, people ask me why I’m growing a beard; “I’m not growing a beard, I’m just not shaving” is a confusing response. It itches too. At least I can shave it off on Friday.