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.

Beating Myself Up

Today seems to have been a day for beating myself up. Most of the things below happened independently of each other, but all seem to have provoked me to beat myself up. I kind of take my low self-esteem for granted and don’t write about it much, but it is there a lot of the time, closely linked with social anxiety and autistic communication difficulties.

***

I was tired when I woke up this morning, but my mood was initially OK. I did spend too long online before getting dressed though. I don’t know why mornings are so hard. I went out to get my lithium blood test form and do some shopping and my mood dropped. I was somewhat self-critical and negative about the future. When I’m at home, I can feel OKish about where I am in my life: part-time work, single, living with my parents. But when I go out, I see other people and start to compare. Even if I’m not consciously comparing, I think I’m doing it unconsciously. I live in an area with a lot of Haredi (ultra-Orthodox Jewish) families, so I invariably see people ten years or more younger than me with children, which just makes me feel like I totally missed the boat regarding marriage and family.

I used to rate my mood each day out of ten, to track my progress. It occurs to me that maybe I should do that again to see how it fluctuates from day to day and even across the day. Today I felt bad compared to the last few days, but, trying to rate it objectively, I doubt my mood was less than 5/10, which is obviously much better than when it never rose above 3/10 even on a “better” day.

***

Someone at depression group last night spoke about people on the autism spectrum being good at noticing things and spotting patterns and discrepancies. This is an idea I struggle with. I have heard it often; I know the psychologist Simon Baron Cohen has published a book recently about autistic people being “pattern seekers” and therefore able to contribute to society in that way. I know some finance firms deliberately recruit people on the spectrum on the grounds that they can see patterns in the money markets better than neurotypical people.

I feel uncomfortable with that because I don’t know if I “pattern seek” at all; if I do, it’s not in a socially useful way. I do notice some things other people don’t. I stop suddenly in the street to look at an interesting insect and it’s hard for me to walk past writing without reading it, whether on a billboard, on a scrap of paper or leaflet on the street or on the newspaper of someone opposite me on the Tube. That might count as noticing things and seeking patterns, although it might just be that my interests are weird (which would also be typical for someone on the spectrum).

I can find patterns within the things I like. For instance, it excites me that David Bowie had a cameo appearance in the film Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me because it’s two things I like (David Bowie and Twin Peaks) meeting unexpectedly. However, I don’t feel I can do anything useful with this ability, if it even is an “ability.” I can’t do anything that other people can’t do and I don’t think I am particularly good at finding patterns in the abstract or noticing things. In fact, in many ways I’m very bad at noticing things. I notice immediately if anyone moves anything in my bedroom, because I jealously guard my own territory, but I don’t necessarily notice if my parents rearrange the furniture downstairs, because “their” territory doesn’t really interest me or register on my consciousness.

I guess I would like to find an area where my autism/Asperger’s gives me some kind of advantage, if only to feel better about myself, but it’s hard to think of one.

***

A related issue is that of analytical ability. People on the spectrum are often very analytical. I’m not and I’m not sure if I ever was, or if it was eroded by depression. I did well at school, including in science, so I must have had some analytical ability as a child and teenager. Somewhere along the line I lost it though. In particular, I’ve never been good at studying Talmud, whether Mishnah or Gemarah (Mishnah, the earlier part of the Talmud, is somewhat clearer and easier than Gemarah, the later part of the Talmud which analyzes the Mishnah), back from when I first encountered it in voluntary lunchtime lessons at school. This was one reason among several why I never went to yeshiva (rabbinical seminary). Why would I spend a year of my life in a foreign country studying texts I can’t understand and don’t enjoy?

The problem, as I was reminded today listening to a shiur (religious class) online while I cooked dinner, is that Talmudic study is considered the paramount religious activity in the frum (religious Jewish) world, at least for men. Tanakh study (biblical study), which is probably my favourite Torah activity, along with the study of Midrash (the rabbinic expansions of the biblical text, which function as both creative commentaries and non-literal ways of exploring theological and ethical topics). It is more intuitive and creative that Talmud study, which tends to be strongly based on logic, but is largely ignored for men, except in parts of the Religious Zionist world.

The shiur I listened to was poorly recorded and had lots of untranslated Hebrew, neither of which endeared it to me (to be fair, the fact that I was cooking at the same time probably didn’t help matters), but it was mostly about the importance of studying Torah for its own sake, which mostly means Talmud. Even when I study Tanakh, I’m not sure how much I’m studying to “know the mind of God” and how much just because I’m frum and it’s what I’m supposed to do, just as I don’t enjoy fasting on Yom Kippur, but I do it anyway.

It’s strange that I have a strong connection to a form of Judaism that I’m unable to really practice or enjoy. If you look at the major aspects of frum life, I can’t study Talmud and halakhah; I find it hard to connect to God with prayer, whether set prayers or spontaneous prayers (years ago I could connect this way, but I haven’t been able to for a long time, at least not consistently); I’m too socially anxious to really engage in communal activity or chessed (acts of kindness); I have failed to get married and start a family… I can’t do these things well or at all, no matter how hard I try, and I do not enjoy most of them (which admittedly is not a brilliant measure of anything, as I’m pretty anhedonic even when not actually depressed and struggle to enjoy anything, but certainly the idea of enjoying studying Torah and enjoying doing mitzvot are key ideas in Judaism). Yet I continue to try to be frum, and to beat myself up for not succeeding. I’m not sure what spiritual or psychological drive is pushing that. It’s like I want to set myself a target I can’t attain. I suppose that no other religion or philosophy of life seems to offer a better alternative to me, and I believe in God and the Torah, and want to connect to the Jewish people, my contemporaries and my ancestors. But it’s very hard to actually do it.

***

I also heard back from the Intimate Judaism sex therapist. I just cringed when the email came in, the way I always do when I reach out to people and they respond positively — yes, I mean positively; positive responses can be as shame-inducing as negative ones, with less reason. I guess I feel that I am not worth it, or that there will now be another stage of possible failure e.g. the sex therapist says that she can suggest shadchanim (matchmakers) who might be willing to work with me to find a spouse, which raises all the fears around dating and rejection there. Actually, even beyond a further stage of failure, I’m so used to being ignored that when people are nice to me, I panic and don’t know what to do, and don’t feel like I deserve it. I think across my life the times when I wanted the ground to swallow me up were as much for compliments and positive attention as for shame and negative attention.

Now I need to find the confidence to respond…

***

Where has WordPress moved the tags box to? Why do they keep changing things? EDIT: it’s back now. Maybe the page wasn’t loading properly.

Reassessments

I haven’t posted publicly recently because I’m dealing with some difficult thoughts and feelings that I didn’t want to express publicly, or even the semi-publicly of my anonymous blog. And I’m not going to write about those things here either. But I wanted to write about something else.

Since my autism diagnosis a month ago, everything seems different somehow. This seems nonsensical. I struggled to explain it to my rabbi mentor earlier today. I was pretty sure for the last few years that I was on the spectrum. I had been screened and found likely to be on the spectrum. The psychiatrist who assessed me said that it did look like I was on the spectrum. Getting the final diagnosis was in no way a surprise. And yet, I look at things differently since February 9th.

Things that I do or have done in the past take on a new significance. I look back at events from my childhood and adolescence or even more recently and say, “I was autistic when that happened.” Autism is a life-long condition, so obviously I had it at every point in my personal history, but it feels like I’m recognising and internalising it with regard to every bad memory I have. I’m not sure if this is good or bad. Sometimes it seems like a way of forgiving myself. Other times it seems more like a threat, that I was autistic then and now, so I could end up repeating that behaviour.

I find myself wondering if my life will ever get better. If I’ll get a full-time job, and an actual career, rather than a succession of jobs for a year or two. I wonder if I’ll get married and have children, if I could actually cope with those things and commit to them 100% with all my issues (it goes without saying that I don’t believe a person should get married or have a child without being 100% committed to them). If I’ll ever be financially independent. If I’ll ever feel really comfortable and active in a religious community. If life will ever seem like anything other than a prolonged exercise in damage limitation. I know that some people on the spectrum, at the “high functioning” end (if that phrase even means anything), do get these things, but lots of others don’t. The uncertainty is hard to deal with.

The Long Twilight Struggle

I struggled with burnout again on Friday, but forced myself to do my usual pre-Shabbat (Sabbath) chores, as well as thoroughly hoovering and dusting my room for Pesach, including moving my bed and bedside table to hoover under them (not my desk though – too heavy, and food is unlikely to get under it as the three exposed sides are flush with the floor). At least that’s out the way for now; I won’t eat food (other than water) in there now until after Pesach.

I embarrassed myself phoning the hospital about the report from my autism assessment. I had misunderstood when it would be available, which turns out not to be for another two or three weeks. I was very apologetic to the secretary for wasting her time, but I felt bad.

Shabbat (the Sabbath) went well. I went to shul (synagogue) on Friday night. We davened Kabbalat Shabbat (said some of the Evening Prayers) outside so that we could sing. It was good to sing, but very cold, even if Saturday was the first day of spring.

I got up earlier than usual on Saturday morning, although I went back to bed after breakfast and dozed for a bit. I napped in the afternoon too, which I didn’t want to do. I didn’t do much Torah study, partly because of napping, partly because when Shabbat went out I got an awful migraine that took hours to shift. I didn’t even feel up to saying all of the Ma’ariv (Evening) prayers; usually I somehow soldier on, but I skipped the after Shabbat verses of blessing because just reading made me feel like I was going to throw up. This is an improvement, as in the past I would carry on. The last time I had a bad headache when davening (praying) was on Simchat Torah, when bowing at the end of the Amidah prayer actually made me throw up. Perhaps I’m willing to make more excuses for myself now.

I spent much of the evening wrapped in my weighted blanket, watching Babylon 5 (hence the title of this post from one of the episodes, used in a rather humorously melodramatic way). The painkillers I took finally kicked in, along with the cool and soothe strip. I feel a bit tired now, but not particularly sleepy. I’m going to have something to eat (I need to take my antidepressants with food) and maybe go to bed. My room is freezing cold; I opened the windows wide before as I prefer to be cold if I have a migraine, but I wonder how I will fall asleep now.

***

I’ve been missing PIMOJ a lot lately. I realised that I experience this not as pining after her the way I pined after various crushes in my earlier life, but in worrying that she will lose interest in me, that I’m not good enough for her and so on. I’m not sure what to do about this. Hopefully we can meet after Pesach or maybe even during it. We had a text conversation tonight, a bit more in-depth than either of us has had the time or energy for this week, and we’re hoping to speak tomorrow.

***

It’s strange thinking that not only do I now have autism, but I have had autism all my life, even when I was a child doing well at school. It still seems a little strange how well I did at school compared with how badly I’ve done since then, but school was a strange micro-environment, plus “doing well” is relative, as I had undiagnosed depression and anxiety when I was in the sixth form and maybe earlier, and I struggled a lot socially, with bullying and (not) making friends. I would do a lot differently if I knew what I know now, but it’s too late. Still, the thought of being autistic and still doing well academically seems slightly jarring, even though many people on the spectrum are the same. I wish I could identify how I succeeded then and work out how to apply it now, but the answer seems to be to seek out opportunities for rote memorisation of lists and tasks, focus 100% on work with no social or romantic life, and concentrate very hard on doing what I’m told, which does not necessarily make for a healthy adult life.

I was looking over Shabbat at a new haggadah (Passover prayer book) commentary I just bought. It has open questions to stimulate discussion at the seder service. Many of them ask the participants to think about major life events. I keep coming back to my autism diagnosis for so many of these questions. I definitely haven’t worked it through yet.

***

I search for the truth, in what I suppose is a very old-fashioned way. I took a decision at some point, initially unconsciously, lately very consciously, not to cut out of my life people I disagreed with purely on matters of religion or politics. I feel that this is unusual. I try not to read material that is just supporting my views, although it’s hard to find the time to read things from “my” side let alone other opinions in depth, and naturally I prioritise material I think is going to be more accurate which correlates with material I agree with. But I do tend to try to work out what the other side thinks, more or less automatically, probably a hold-over from my university days, where my essays tended to sit on the fence and examine both sides of the issue without really being drawn to one over the other. Anyway, I feel that this behaviour is unusual and most people do not do this. I’m not sure what to think about this.

“To be more like people better than you”

(Title quote from Amateur Hour by Sparks)

Today was not good, although I suppose it could have been worse. But I felt overwhelmed (my new keyword) most of the day. I overslept this morning. Actually, I didn’t oversleep; I was awake, I was just too tired to get up and then suddenly it was half an hour later and I had to rush. On the way in to work I felt overwhelmed and anxious: about Pesach (Passover), about autism, my relationship, my life, and the guy opposite me on the Tube not wearing his mask so he could drink beer 9am. (I’m open to the idea of beer-drinking at 9am being OK for some people, but I don’t consider it sufficient reason to remove one’s mask.)

At work I made mistakes, and also discovered mistakes made earlier e.g. the stationery order I placed on Monday arrived and I discovered that I had ordered one ream of printer paper instead of one box as J, my line manager, had requested. There were other mistakes, and J noticed some of them. He didn’t say much about it, which is good, but also makes it hard for me to judge how satisfied he is with my work. I think there tends to be a programme running in my head all the time wondering about that.

At lunch J asked what book I was reading, the first time he’s shown any interest in my lunchtime reading. Perhaps because my interests were the focus of much childhood bullying, I tend to get really nervous about talking about my interests with anyone outside of narrow “boxes” – so I only feel comfortable talking about Doctor Who with people I know from fandom, only talk about Judaism with other frum (religious) Jews and so on. (Somehow the internet is OK to share and overshare all kinds of stuff, don’t ask me why.)

In the afternoon, J got me to start going through old papers from the office, the start of a long clear out. I tend to be a hoarder with my own papers and property, but if I’m not responsible for the articles in question, I end up wanting to throw everything away. I asked J about a lot of the papers and he told me to keep a lot of it, so I’m not sure how much autonomy I’ll actually have over this task. To be honest, I’m not terribly keen on having autonomy over other people’s things. I did throw away a load of invoices from before 2010 that were unlikely to be used again, but I do feel vaguely apprehensive thinking about it. Unfortunately, it was a dull task that did not use much of my brain and I got stuck in negative thoughts and feelings again and wondered if I am becoming depressed again.

My Mum said that I should tell J about the autism diagnosis. I’m reluctant to do so, partly I admit because J is a friend from before when he gave me the job. I mentioned above about compartmentalising things, and I’ve been reluctant to tell people from shul (synagogue) even about my depression history, let alone something like autism that is understood and accepted even less well than depression. If I do that, I would want to prepare what I would say about autism (if people ask me suddenly I tend to blank and struggle to articulate the symptoms, let alone how it affects me personally) as well as what adjustments, if any, I would want.

That was not the end of the day. The journey home was stressful, with a lot of traffic. I don’t know why sitting in traffic is stressful. A half-hour journey with heavy traffic seems more stressful than a forty-five minute with no traffic. So I came back pretty frazzled, only to be thrown into dealing with Pesach OCD stuff. I’m OK, I know things are OK and I’m not falling back into serious religious OCD, I’m just trying to stay calm and cope with things. My OCD is always worst when I’m hungry and tired and I was both of those things when I got home from work. It’s OK now.

PIMOJ haven’t been able to meet much recently, not that we can really go anywhere at the moment anyway because of lockdown. She is doing a full-time job with significant compulsory overtime two nights a week, plus she’s doing a degree and getting ready for Pesach. At least once the clocks go forward we can buy coffee or takeaway dinner after work and eat in a park, but at the moment it still gets dark too early. I know she’s not avoiding me, but I miss her and I still worry about the stress it puts on our relationship.

So, now I write, write, write, because it helps to get things out of my head and process them. I’m only writing on my blog, as I’ve put my novel on hold until I can show it to someone, which won’t be until after Pesach. To be honest, I’ve lost faith in it. I’d be tempted to start working on a different novel that I’ve been thinking about (is that writing bigamy? Or cheating?), but it requires significant research, both factual (details for the setting) and literary (reading other books in the genre) and I don’t have the time or headspace for that at the moment.

I feel too exhausted to do any Pesach preparation or further Torah study tonight. Yesterday, I said on my blog that I was going to watch more TV, but then felt too tired to actually do so, so I’m not going to do anything as reckless as say I’ll watch TV now. I feel tired, but I want to unwind more before I go to bed. I guess it’s a race to see if I can stay awake long enough to read or watch Babylon 5.

“The future lies this way”

I got up early again (9.20am, on a Sunday, is early for me), despite setting my alarm wrongly, so things are looking good on that score. I had dreamt about a kid who bullied me at school bullying me as an adult (or quasi-adult… in the dream, I mean). It made me wonder if a lot of my feelings of inadequacy around work and my life in general are about feeling I have to “show” the kids who bullied me at school that I’m competent, or fitting in with my childhood/adolescent feelings that one day I would succeed in some nebulous, undefined way and that that would be some kind of revenge or self-justification. It would be better to focus on what I want to be doing right now, for myself.

It was a busy day. I had a nice date with PIMOJ. We had to cut it short because we both had things to do afterwards, but it was still two and a half hours. We had a really good time though. It’s strange how two people who are, on the surface, opposites (quiet, reserved and pessimistic vs. ebullient and upbeat) are so alike in many other ways. I came home and had a difficult, but positive conversation with my parents, arranged an important and scary conversation with a rabbi I haven’t seen in fifteen years and always found a little intimidating (I’m cutting a lot of relevant information here that maybe one day I’ll be able to reveal in full), started getting stuff ready for the next stage of my autism assessment on Tuesday… and promptly threw up. Perhaps it was anxiety about all the things happening this week, especially the important and scary conversation with the rabbi. I’m kind of hoping it was, because I don’t want to have a bug.

I’ve spent the last couple of hours watching Doctor Who and slowly eating toast and sipping water, while intermittently dealing with texts from PIMOJ (who is worried about me) and the slightly intimidating rabbi (who I’ll call Rabbi B to distinguish him from all the other rabbis on this blog), setting up a Zoom meeting with me and PIMOJ for Tuesday (no, we’re not about to get married). I don’t feel sick any more, but I do feel a bit faint, despite all the toast and water, and I might be coming down with a temperature; at any rate, I keep feeling hot and then cold (my parents think this is just a side effect of being sick). I texted J to say I won’t come to work tomorrow. Even if I’m not infectious, I don’t want to go on the Tube with a lowered immune system, particularly not as I’m paid on a day to day basis anyway rather than having a contract.

***

When watching Doctor Who, I watched some of The Keeper of Traken and Logopolis, Tom Baker’s final two stories in the title role. Every couple of years I forget enough about these stories to think that they’re intelligent and brooding and I watch them again, alongside with Castrovalva, the next story in sequence, which forms a loose trilogy with them. And they are intelligent and brooding, in places, with a few good lines (including the title of this post). They’re also portentous, jargon-filled and incomprehensible in other places. Tom Baker is good, but has clearly had his wings clipped by the production team. But after a while I forget all that, and then I remember them as I feel they should be and watch them again… and then I remember.

I really liked Logopolis as a child, at least from the novelisation. I think I want to experience that version of the story, the version that appealed to a quiet and intelligent eight year child, rather than the version that makes the thirty-seven year old wannabe writer redraft the whole thing.

Overwhelmed and Teenaged Socialising

I stayed up (ridiculously) late again last night, even later than usual (2.00am). It was the usual thing of getting up late, feeling burnt out for much of the day and then trying to cram too much into the evening when I felt better. At least I don’t have so much to do today. The upshot was that I woke up later than usual and just as exhausted and struggled to get going. Perhaps fortunately, this week I’m working on Tuesday and Thursday instead of Monday and Thursday. I’m glad I am speaking to my psychiatrist on Thursday and will try to talk about chronic oversleeping and burnout. Although I’m not sure how the conversation is going to work, as it will be on video, but on my phone, at work – I’m going to have to ask to take some of my lunch break later when the call is scheduled.

After lunch I went out for quite a while doing shopping and errands in the local area and also a lot of fighting through crowds of children as school was just finishing. I like children, but lately part of me sees them as asymptomatic plague carriers.

I feel like I’m only just catching back up to where I was before the autumn Jewish holidays started, over two months ago. The festivals themselves, followed by the second lockdown and my new job have all made it hard to tackle the To Do List and left me drained. I’ve been feeling a bit down lately, but I don’t think that I would meet the clinical definition of depression. I certainly seem to be doing better than I usually am at this time of year, when the seasonal aspect of my depression would kick in.

***

I’m having a break from my novel for a bit. I haven’t decided for how long, but possibly until PIMOJ has read it. She wanted very much to read it. I tried to tell her that it’s still very unfinished, but she insisted. I am now wondering if it is too personal to show to her, which also makes me wonder if it is too personal for anyone to read.

I’m wondering a bit of lockdown hasn’t made our relationship a bit topsy-turvy. That we have engaged a lot more in text (email, text, instant messenger) than in person. In previous relationships, that would not have bothered me, but I feel my connection with PIMOJ is much better in person than in text.

***

A comment I left on a blog post about autism and group dynamics:

Very interesting. I think I would have eaten alone the whole time! I actually went on a week-long residential programme when I was about seventeen. It was intended for teenagers from state schools who were planning on applying to Oxford or Cambridge University.

On the first day, the attendees went into Cambridge. I stayed behind, as I’d gone with my school a few weeks previously. I now realise I missed a key bonding stage, but it’s taken me years to realise that. Instead, I remember phoning my Mum in a panic and saying I was not able to talk to anyone and that I wanted to come home. I did eat with the other students (the way the dining hall was arranged, I had to), but initially I went back to my room in the breaks between sessions. After a while someone must have told me that really I should be with the other students in the recreation room, as I went down there and joined in with the games of table tennis, but I found it hard to talk to people. I did what I usually do in these situations, which is to find a couple of people I feel reasonably “safe” with and stick around them, probably excessively.

To be fair, I did feel a bit more bonded with the group by the end of the week, but then all the students and teachers went down to the pub on the last night and I completely panicked. (I don’t know if it was the concept of going to a pub, which I’d never done before.) I stayed behind, unable to adequately explain even to myself why I couldn’t go with them. Twice people came back for me and tried to get me to join them and twice I said no. I hated myself for it, but I just could not do it. I guess this is the grey area where autistic social issues blend into social anxiety.

In retrospect, I handled the week badly, but compared with how I was functioning at school, I probably handled it well…

I would also add that I’ve found that the Jewish dietary laws significantly impede socialisation in situations like this (which is probably the point, at least in part). If everyone is eating together, then the fact that I’m eating somewhere else, or eating with them, but eating different food, marks me out as “different” even before I say anything. It also stops me tagging along when people are going to eat and just focusing on eating rather than speaking until I feel more comfortable in the group, which is a strategy I have used in Jewish environments.

Fear of Rejection (Mini-Post)

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

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

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

Mini-Post: Shabbat and Jealousy

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

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

Mini-Post: Venting/Worrying

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

“Everyone I know is lonely”

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

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

***

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

***

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

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

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

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

***

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

***

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

Plotting, and a Virtual Funeral

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

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

***

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

***

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

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

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

Quiet Shabbat

Someone is playing loud music outside at 10.30pm…

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

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

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

***

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

***

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

Post-Success Depression and Negative Self-Talk

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

***

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

***

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

***

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

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

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

***

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

***

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

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

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

“I was shot and found myself in 1983”

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

***

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

Bonus Post: Two Dreams (Guilt and Making Friends)

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

Repeat to Fade

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

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

***

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

***

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

***

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

***

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