Fears for the Future

Lately I have a lot on my mind that I don’t want to share here, or at least not yet. This is hard, as I like to work things through in writing. I may try writing private posts. I’ve done that in the past. I find it helpful to work things through a little in writing to get inchoate thoughts and feelings into a shape where I can take them to therapy or to my rabbi mentor.

***

Shabbat was OK. I struggled a lot with burnout again which made it hard to do much. I wish I knew what burns me out so much. I didn’t get up until 1pm, although I woke briefly several times across the morning, as I was just too tired. Other than that, it was the usual mix of eating, sleeping, Torah study, prayer and recreational reading.

I had some negative or difficult thoughts over Shabbat, but I can’t remember about what, exactly. I have quite a few areas giving me difficulty at the moment, so it could be one of a number of things. I’ve been thinking about trusting God lately. PIMOJ gave me a book about it, and it’s annoying me a lot even though I’m not yet a quarter of the way through the book. I can accept intellectually that if God is benevolent and all-powerful, everything that will happen to me is for the best. I can even accept that bad things that happened for me are for the best, especially as some bad things seem to have led to good results down the line, something I can see now I’m heading for forty that I couldn’t see when I was in my teens and twenties. What is hard to accept is that I can be happy and confident that everything will be fine, as so much of my life was painful to experience and there is no guarantee that everything good will be painless (in fact, it is extremely unlikely to be painless) or even bearable. So often things are painful, and that scares me. It scares me on a personal level and it scares me on a national and global level. Like many Jews, I worry about a second Holocaust (admittedly my generation worries about this less than my parents and grandparents). I worry something will happen to me that will hurt terribly, physically and/or emotionally (I can probably handle emotional pain better than physical, but that’s a whole other post). And I worry a lot about something happening to me that is so painful and difficult that I lose my Jewish belief and practice. I know that’s a strange thing to worry about, or at least I’ve rarely heard anyone with strong faith worry that they will lose it – usually people only worry when they start to lose it, or so it seems. But I do worry about it.

***

I watched the Star Wars film Rogue One with my parents. I had seen it in the cinema. They tried to watch it a while back, having recorded it off the TV, only to discover the end hadn’t recorded. It was OK, but I felt disengaged remembering the ending as the characters and dialogue were not enough to engage me by themselves.

***

I tested my Babylon 5 DVDs. The season one to four box sets each have at least one disc that won’t play, usually more. The season five discs seem OKish, in that they all play, but one or two start by making some horrible clunking noises which make me think the DVD players is going to reject them, but they do eventually play. I think the cost of replacing them with second-hand DVDs from eBay is similar to the cost of paying to stream them. I’m not sure whether to buy seasons one to four or to assume that season five will stop working at some point and buy that too. I’m also still clueless as to what has happened to stop them working.

***

Googling to find details about Babylon 5 downloads, I found out that Mira Furlan (Delenn) died last month. It’s weird, loads of Babylon 5 cast members have died quite young. Furlan joins Michael O’Hare (Commander Sinclair), Andreas Katsulas (G’Kar), Jerry Doyle (Mr Garibaldi), Richard Biggs (Dr Franklin), Jeff Conaway (Zack Allan) and Stephen Furst (Vir) (I didn’t know about Furst either until checking the details on the list). Compare with Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, which was broadcast around the same time with a similar sized cast, but only one regular cast member has died to date. There were two married couples where both partners appeared in Babylon 5 too (Jerry Doyle and Andrea Thompson (Talia), and Bruce Boxleitner (Captain Sheridan) and Melissa Gilbert (Anna Sheridan)) and they both ended in divorce. I also just discovered that O’Hare left the programme after one season because of severe mental health issues. I don’t believe in curses, but it is vaguely eerie, although I imagine that statistically it’s not that odd, just one of those random clumpings of data that happen. It makes me feel a bit sad at any rate.

***

WordPress is showing this post to me in what looks like Times New Roman font, or some other font with serifs. I wonder if it’s going to post in Times New Roman. I used to like fonts with serifs, but I’ve gone off them since discovering that they decrease readability, particularly on screens.

Be Anything You Want To Be???

I woke up at 4.30am again and this time I couldn’t get back to sleep at all, although as I had gone to bed very early (10.30pm), I had still had about six hours of sleep, which is the absolute minimum I need to function. Despite that, I felt better than I had done all week, both emotionally and physically, and got up very early.

While davening Shacharit (saying Morning Prayers), I started to feel light-headed again, and when I had finished I went back to bed, and apparently feel asleep for three hours (interrupted by my parents briefly saying goodbye on their way to a routine hospital appointment), until I was woken by the cleaner arriving at midday, shortly before my parents. I was rather disorientated and unsure whether they had come back home or not, which confused things further.

As this indicates, I’m still getting hot flushes, light-headedness and tremor (more frequent and severe than my occasional social anxiety tremor) periodically through the day. I’ve gone back to thinking it’s a medication change side-effect, but who really knows at this stage? I feel rather confused and vaguely concerned.

***

In terms of activity, I managed a half-hour walk, an hour and a half of work on my novel and an hour or so of Torah study, as well as watching a film (Zootropolis) simultaneously with PIMOJ and then having a WhatsApp call afterwards.

***

Life can be an endless stream of self-doubt if you don’t have good self-esteem. I was worrying today if my divrei Torah (Torah thoughts) have declined in quality lately. No one has said that, but then I haven’t had much praise for them either. I suppose most people don’t give me any feedback at all and I wonder what they think or if they are even still reading.

Somewhat related to this, Zootropolis, like a lot of Hollywood films, was about the idea that you can do anything if you want it enough and try hard enough. (Presumably Hollywood pushes this line because it’s safer than saying the system is rigged against the little guy and the only alternative is refusal to join in and revolution.) I don’t think this idea (you can do anything you try) is true, and I think I have made myself very unwell and unhappy over the years trying to do things that are beyond my (autistic, depressed, socially anxious) capabilities. However, I can’t deny that I have managed to push myself to do things in the past that now terrify me (e.g. public speaking). I want to write novels, but I don’t know if I can realistically do this or if I’m wasting my time. It is difficult to know what to think about this.

Special Interests and American Pessimism

Shabbat (the Sabbath) was OK. As I mentioned on Friday, I didn’t go to shul (synagogue), as I thought the COVID risk was too high to be worth it. I spent quite a bit of time on Friday evening and Saturday afternoon in bed, not from tiredness, but anxiety and an autistic desire to wrap up in my duvet to self-soothe. I’ve never got around to buying a weighted blanket, but I did wonder what it would be like to have one. Maybe it would just encourage me to stay in bed…

I did some Torah study and I read a bit more of America During the Cold War, but not much. I confess my recreational reading was mostly Mistress of Chaos, the latest compilation of comic strips from Doctor Who Magazine. The comic strip is arguably better (more imaginative, better-written), and more in tune with what I think Doctor Who should be like, than the TV version is at the moment. This has happened in the past, when David Tennant was the Doctor. Scott Gray, currently the main writer and editor on the strip, is one of my favourite Doctor Who writers, even though he’s never worked on the TV version.

I tried to accept that I was going to end up doing self-soothing things like reading comic strips and curling up in bed given that I’m struggling with my mood as a result of coming off olanzapine at the same time as some very stressful stuff in my personal life and in the wider world. Even so, I feel I wish I had done things differently.

A friend emailed after Shabbat to say that she now has an official high-functioning autism diagnosis. She has also gone through quite a long process to get diagnosed, so hopefully I’ll get my diagnosis soon.

My sister phoned after Shabbat and we had a long chat, mostly me talking about all the stresses I’m under at the moment. We hadn’t really spoken for a while. Later I watched the film Mr Holmes with my parents, about an ailing, nonagenarian Sherlock Holmes, losing his memory and revisiting his last case to try to remember why he retired. It was a character drama rather than a crime story, a little slow, and dark near the end, but it was OK. Sir Ian McKellan was very good as the elderly Holmes, nicely distinguished from his sixty year old self in flashback. I’m pretty sure it contradicted the original stories in several places (Sherlock Holmes is another autistic special interest for me), but not too violently.

I feel a bit agitated now. I don’t think it was the film, just anxiety about major things in my life right now. I feel like I have a lot going on. Aside from being in the middle of the autism diagnosis process, I’m a bit more settled into my new job, but still learning the ropes and conscious that it might end soon. I don’t think I’ve fully adapted to losing two days a week to work; I’m still struggling to fit everything in. Then I’m working on my novel and trying to move on my relationship in difficult circumstances (lockdown), while, like everyone, my ability to cope with COVID is getting less and less. I still get annoyed with people who don’t wear masks properly, but I feel less judgmental of people who are not social distancing or isolating properly. It’s hard. If even a shy, autistic introvert like me is struggling now, I guess almost everyone must be.

There’s not a lot else to say. I impulse-bought a lot of second-hand CDs on sale a couple of weeks ago, which I’ve been listening to recently. One CD was scratched and unplayable and I’m waiting for a replacement, but the others were good. I’ve been listening a lot to ABBA lately. I never liked ABBA, but in the last month or two, I’ve become an enthusiastic convert. I use music mostly to cheer myself up or to motivate myself, so I like fast and upbeat music, and much of ABBA’s output fits here. I bought ABBA Gold (greatest hits), which was the broken CD, and More ABBA Gold (greatest hits volume 2), which wasn’t quite as good as the first one, but surprised me by still being very good.

***

I just commented on a friends’ blog to say, “The riots in the Capitol were pretty shocking. I used to wish I had been born in the USA, where the Modern Orthodox Jewish community is so much stronger than the UK. I wondered if I would marry someone from there and emigrate [I nearly did, as E was from the US]. Now I’m grateful that I’m nowhere near. I worry what will happen to a country where the political class is divided into two groups that each think the other is irredeemably evil, where the President can’t accept he lost the election and where there are more guns than people.” I really can’t see this ending well. Maybe not immediately, but a decade or two down the line. People say Trump is like Hitler, but my worry is more that Trump is someone like Karl Lueger and that someone much worse is waiting twenty years down the line.

On that cheery note — bed!

Another Overwhelmed Day

I slept too long again, with disturbing dreams, which I will try to keep short, as I know some people are bored by dreams. (Feel free to skip the rest of this paragraph if that’s you.) One, a rather disgusting one about maggots in a hotel bedroom, was apparently based on the James Bond novel I’m reading. The other was more interesting, about being in Theresa May’s government (!!!) in some way, but not being aware of my job title or role, or if I was a political appointee or in the Civil Service, or what level of seniority I had; I was rebuked for sitting towards the back of a group photograph when I was important enough to be in the front row. On a basic level, it reflects the fact that I’ve realised that I don’t actually know my proper job title in my new job, if I have one, as I didn’t have to apply for it in the usual way, I was just offered it informally by J. On a deeper level, I think it reflects fears that I don’t know what I’m doing with my life, or, more pertinently, what I should be doing with it (in terms of my divinely-mandated mission that I believe everyone has), and feeling that everyone around me is doing much better (in the dream, one old school friend was the Head of MI5).

***

I still felt overwhelmed today, and also burnt out and depressed, even a bit tearful, although I didn’t actually cry. Things are better with PIMOJ, but historically arguments and misunderstandings have generally happened for me shortly before breakups and it’s hard to escape feeling that that will happen again, even if I know rationally that all couples argue from time to time and it doesn’t necessarily presage problems. I’m not good at handling arguments in any context, for reasons going back to my childhood. I want to run off and avoid them, which I guess is what I have done here.

I also feel bad about missing volunteering today, especially as I was told that I informed them rather late last night (it was a late decision on my part). Plus there’s the usual winter overwhelm feelings from lack of sunlight and poor weather. I feel the need for time out for myself, and I’m not sure how to get it.

I felt like the unlovable autistic/depressive freak again today, which I hadn’t done for a while. I worry that PIMOJ and my personalities are too different for this to work, especially with my autistic issues, issues that make us very different, but also make it hard for me to communicate those differences. I know my autistic rigid thinking can be off-putting to people, particularly when combined with social anxiety and depressive negativity and catastrophising. I don’t know how to change this, or even if it’s possible.

I spoke about much of this in therapy. My therapist wondered if I was rushing too far ahead; she said I can just spend time with PIMOJ and learn about her without having to decide if she is compatible with me. This admittedly has not been helped by COVID, which has meant our relationship has largely been conducted over text and video rather than in person, and when in person has largely been in one or two environments (park and coffee shop). She (therapist) also said I should ask PIMOJ what she wants me to compromise on. She also reminded me to be compassionate to myself. I think I’m getting better at that (compassion), but it’s still hard to feel that I deserve it. The therapist also warned me about catastrophising and turning my fears into reality by assuming they are real.

I did feel a lot better after therapy, and also a text from PIMOJ saying that she can’t wait to see me in person at the weekend (we decided to change from a video meeting on Saturday evening to an in-person meeting on Sunday morning).

I didn’t really do much other than write my devar Torah and go to therapy on Zoom because I was feeling so burnt out and depressed.

***

In the evening, I watched Blade Runner 2049. I hadn’t seen it since I saw it in the cinema in 2017. It was good, but not as good as the original, although it’s a very different sort of film. I don’t have time to go into details on that, though.

What I did realise is that I struggle to concentrate for two and a half hours, both in terms of following the plot and physically sitting still. Maybe I am still somewhat depressed. At least I know why I keep watching original run Doctor Who stories when depressed: it comes in twenty-five minute chunks and I know all the stories backwards so it doesn’t matter if I tune out for a bit.

***

My rabbi mentor seems to think that writing about abuse in my novel is OK. He said that some people in the frum (religious) community will shy away from it, but many would appreciate the honesty. I hope so.

***

Chanukah starts tomorrow evening. On TV and in films, Chanukah always exactly corresponds with Christmas, but in reality it’s usually a bit earlier. Also, on TV and films Chanukah is the only Jewish festival, whereas in reality it’s one of about seven, and probably the least important, religiously.

In recent years Chanukah has been a time of stability and calm for me when all the other Jewish festivals were made difficult by mental illness (religious OCD, depression, social anxiety, excessive guilt etc.), but somehow it feels like it won’t be calm this year, with COVID in particular, as well as fears that I will not be well enough to get to work or volunteering and worries about dating.

***

J has said that if I need to take off time for health reasons, I can. I’m not quite sure why he said it, but it was after I took the psychiatrist’s call on my lunch break at work, saying it was “medical” so I guess he realises I have some kind of health issue. Even so, I don’t want to take off time if I can help it. The money is good, but I need the structure and self-esteem more than money, and I hate feeling that I’ve let people down, as with the volunteering today.

***

I haven’t been reading much recently. Actually that’s not true; I just finished Iyov (the biblical book of Job, in Hebrew) alongside Job’s Illness: Loss, Grief and Integration: A Psychological Interpretation and I’ve made my way through two-and-a-bit novels in the spy stories omnibus I’ve borrowed from my Dad. I guess I’m using a lot of my reading time for religious reading, particularly on the journey to work and on Shabbat (the Sabbath). I usually read at lunchtime, but at work I only have forty-five minutes for lunch, of which about fifteen minutes goes on Minchah (Afternoon Prayers). Even with the remaining half-hour, I feel self-conscious reading at my desk while J works through his lunch. I would normally read on the way home from work, but J has been giving me a lift in his car, so I can’t read then. I think I need to make more time for recreational reading, as it is important to me.

Accelerated Decrepitude

Shabbat was OK except that I slept too much again. I was going to go into more detail, but I’m actually too tired. I’m going to talk to my psychiatrist about it when I speak to her on Thursday.

I did a lot of Torah study on Friday (well over an hour), but feel drained today and only managed twenty-five minutes or so. I haven’t worked on my novel or done various other chores I hoped to do tonight either. I just feel tired. However, I don’t know what will happen if I go to bed, given how much I’ve slept today. I didn’t do much recreational reading either because of Torah study and tiredness. I thought I would read a novel for an hour before bed yesterday, but after about fifteen minutes I was so tired that it was pointless to carry on reading and I went straight to bed.

I tried to reduce the price on my self-published non-fiction Doctor Who book, but I it insisted that I couldn’t change the price until I finished designing the book, even though it was published months ago. It won’t tell me what it thinks is not finished and I don’t know how to find out. Weird. Strange how so many things I try to do go wrong in weird ways.

I didn’t feel able to do much tonight, so I re-watched Blade Runner, director Ridley Scott’s Final Cut of the 1982 film, from which I took my title quote. I don’t know how many times I’ve seen it now, probably four or five. I find it a hugely immersive experience, even on the small screen. I’m sure it’s more impressive in the cinema. The plot is fairly slight and overly-dependent on coincidences and contrivances (a lot of detail and sub-plots were removed from the novel on which it is based, Philip K. Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?), but the direction, design, cinematography and incidental music fuse into a comprehensive vision of a dystopian future rarely equalled in cinema.

On recent viewings I’ve found myself wondering about parallels between replicants and autistic people, as both are supposed to be empathy-deficient, but the comparison doesn’t really work. The replicants seem to have cognitive empathy (Roy Batty seems to be able to guess what Detective Deckard will do), but lack emotional empathy (they appear to have empathy for each other, but not for humans, not even J. F. Sebastian, who tried to help and befriend them). Whereas autistic people are the reverse, feeling emotional empathy for the suffering of others, but lacking the “perspective-taking” cognitive empathy needed to understand and predict what other people are doing and why. If anything, the replicants are like psychopaths, in the clinical sense (setting aside the philosophical questions of whether they were born like this or developed as a result of slavery and mistreatment).

Out of Spoons Error

I volunteered again today. I tried very hard not to feel stupid and useless. It’s probably not the best environment for someone on the autism spectrum, bearing in mind there are lots of people, we get verbal instructions (sometimes implicit ones) and need to use short-term memory and logical planning… It’s probably not surprising that I’m not always at my best. To be honest, the times I’ve felt most helpful have been when I’ve been given one repetitive job to do by myself for a prolonged period. I don’t mind if it’s incredibly boring, I just get into a pattern and think my own thoughts while mechanically putting tea lights in bags or whatever. I spoke a bit about this in therapy today and am now wondering if I should email in advance to volunteer for those kinds of jobs. It’s a bit scary to volunteer like that, even if I don’t say why that pattern of work suits me.

I also had a bad experience early on. I was supposed to bring some large cardboard boxes full of packets of granola down the outside fire escape staircase and into the car park. I was a bit worried about tripping down the stairs so I was going slowly to start with, but then I started feeling really faint and struggling to breathe in my mask and had to stop. I think it was primarily a blood pressure thing (my blood pressure used to be a little low), having to bend down to pick up these boxes. Wearing my mask definitely did not help, though, and I felt very faint and had to sit down outside without my mask for a few minutes to recover.

On the plus side, I do find volunteering rewarding and I think I do help. I certainly hope I don’t just get in the way. And someone I was at Oxford with who now works for the organisation that prepares the food packages was there today and I didn’t cycle down into self-criticism about not being where he is in life.

In the afternoon I wrote my devar Torah rather hurriedly. I hope it’s OK. I need to proof-read and send tomorrow. It’s frustrating not finishing things, but I didn’t want to write it all tomorrow. I tried to buy a wedding present for my closest shul (synagogue) friend’s daughter, but had problems getting it to deliver to their house rather than mine, so left that hanging over me too. Mum phoned John Lewis for me to find out what was happening; I did not have the spoons (energy). Again, I didn’t have envious thoughts of married people, which was positive.

I had a good therapy session this afternoon, but by early evening I was a bit grumpy and overwhelmed. I snapped at my Dad, which I shouldn’t have done, although I felt my point was justified if not my tone. I was buying my sister and brother-in-law an anniversary card online; Dad said I could change the font and colour and I said I was far too tired to care about that this time. It’s a question of spoons.

***

I am still feeling overwhelmed generally. I don’t think I’ve adjusted yet to going back to work, even if it is only two days a week. I suddenly have less time for writing, chores, religious obligations, exercise… I’m trying to do as much as I was doing, plus two days of work. It doesn’t really work. I did at least do some Torah study on the bus to volunteering.

***

Guilty pleasure time. I had intended to watch Blade Runner again this evening, in advance of watching Blade Runner 2049 in a week or two. But I was too exhausted and brain-not-working for something like that, so I ended up watching the James Bond film Moonraker again. Any James Bond film is a guilty pleasure for me, as I feel it’s not something a frum person “should” be watching (“should” again). But even among James Bond fans, Moonraker is considered awful. I don’t think it’s the worst Bond film by a long shot, although it probably is the silliest, not that I think that any Bond film is particularly ‘realistic.’

I could probably fill a paragraph or two on why I think Moonraker is actually a decent film, at least if you can accept a degree of silliness, but will just note Michael Lonsdale (who died recently) whose performance as villain Hugo Drax is arguably better than this film really deserved. There is definitely in my head a fruitful comparison of late seventies Bond to late seventies Doctor Who, both franchises indulging in greater humour to public acclaim, but receiving criticism from die-hard fans who complained that it was better in the sixties when it was “serious.” But I should probably not go too far down that route here, and not this late at night.

Inaugural

I had another difficult morning/early afternoon when I struggled to get up and get going because of depression and exhaustion.  My day was to be structured around two fixed points (not in the Doctor Who sense, I assume), Skyping E. and going, or trying to go, to the new rabbi’s inauguration at shul (synagogue).  In addition, I wanted to do some Torah study and my parents wanted me to do some chores; I wanted to watch Doctor Who after the inauguration, but was aware that it was an extra-long episode and I might not get the time.

Once I got going, I felt a bit better, as usual, but during the afternoon, while doing Torah study, I suddenly felt quite depressed again.  Admittedly the Torah portion for this week, which I was reading, is hard to get inspiration from, focusing on the design of the High Priest’s vestments and the inauguration ceremony for the Tabernacle (which involved more slaughtering of animals than the rabbi’s inauguration did).  I was glad to get through such a difficult sedra (portion) when not feeling great, particularly as I am going to have to spend much of my Torah study time this week researching an idea for this week’s devar Torah (Torah thought), which requires some research and thought, so I didn’t want to have to come back to finish this later.

***

The rabbi’s inauguration pretty good.  Some interesting speeches/drashas (religious homilies).  There were quite a lot of people there, packed into the relatively small hall.  Ma’ariv (the Evening Service) followed by the inauguration took about two hours.  There were cakes, drinks and whisky afterwards, but I decided sitting for two hours in a crowded hall counts as ‘peopling’ and two hours of peopling + loud music + a crowded room did not make for a situation I wanted to continue being in, even if the cakes were good (I couldn’t see clearly enough to tell) – plus I really wanted to eat dinner before moving on to sweet things.  Of course, as I sat at the back, near the door (in case I needed to leave during the inauguration) no one is going to realise I was there, but at least I felt that I was doing the right thing and being part of a community.  On the way home, I noticed I was getting the stomach cramps I’ve had intermittently lately, which I think are anxiety-related, so I probably did the right thing in getting out while the going was good, especially as the stomach cramps went after I got home.

I did have complex feelings about fitting in and not fitting in to the community.  Feeling like I was part of the community by being there, but also that I don’t fully subscribe to the community’s outlook, and I know that E. wouldn’t feel comfortable there and that if I had children I would probably not want them to be brought up with that outlook, or at least not without being exposed to other outlooks too.  It’s not so much that I disagree with major articles of faith as social and cultural assumptions and general worldview.

At the same time there were thoughts about what would have happened if I had become Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) or had gone to yeshiva (rabbinical seminary) after school and so on.  My life might have gone in a different way, but it is impossible to tell what way.  Sometimes I think I could have become a conforming Haredi Jew, perhaps with a more strained relationship with my parents, probably married with children.  Other times I think force-feeding could lead to vomiting, so to speak, and I would have stopped being frum (observant) entirely.  And I have no idea how my mental health issues would fit in here.

 

***

(The last bit is Doctor Who, but also some stuff on autism and popular culture if you want to skip to the last paragraph.)

So, Doctor Who, after being atypically good last week was back to being pants and not worth hurrying home for.  The plot thread I really liked last week turned out to be a throwaway thing that wasn’t very relevant.  I actually nearly gave up on the episode twenty minutes from the end, I was so uninterested, which I think is unprecedented.  It wasn’t even a car crash awful story like Timelash or Kill the Moon.  Just really boring and incoherent while trying to be pointlessly epic and definitive, as well as hitting a load of my dislike buttons.  Maybe one day I’ll review it properly for my semi-defunct Doctor Who blog, and doubtless the two people reading this who might be interested in more detail from me will discuss it on their own blogs soon enough and I will comment there.

For now I’ll just paste this comment I saw on Twitter (I broke my “No Twitter” rule briefly out of curiosity to see if anyone else was so dissatisfied): “Most of this series of Dr Who has given me the same sense of disorientation I had when reading most of the New Adventures – a feeling it’s made by & for people who see something very different in the programme to me. Which is fine I suppose, but for me just 😕”  (Hoping I got the right emoji there as I had to paste from another source.)  To be honest, I think it’s just that I dislike, on some level, much of post-1989 (original series) Doctor Who, and it’s just fluke that Steven Moffat provided enough bits I like to get past the usual dislike of New Who much of the time when he was showrunner.

Quite why I react so differently to pre-1990s Doctor Who and pre-1990s popular culture in general – to contemporary iterations is an interesting question I’ve never solved.  I basically like the stuff that was already old and unfashionable when I found it as a child in the 90s or later.  It’s not just nostalgia, as I have liked some new Doctor Who as well as old programmes like Sapphire and Steel and The Prisoner that I discovered when an adult.  I do genuinely believe that popular culture has changed in recent decades (as it always does) and is now less autism-friendly.  I think contemporary culture is much more information-dense and difficult to keep up with if you have slower processing time.  Likewise, the idea that everyone has to go on an Emotional Journey preferably involving love/sex is difficult if you struggle reading and understanding emotions and especially hard to empathise with if you are still a virgin.  There were emotional journeys in the past, but not always foregrounded so much (compare the original 1982 Blade Runner with Blade Runner 2049 from 2017.)  Things are also much bigger and more “epic” – I’m not really sure how to explain that if you don’t watch modern science fiction or superhero films and TV, but the hero has to be shown not just as competent, but superheroic and almost godlike, which I find pompous.  Plus there’s all the postmodern identity politics stuff which just irritates me.  But I still wonder why I like some things more than others.  I really liked Star Trek Discovery season one (looking forward to season two after I’ve finished Voyager), which was mostly up-to-date stylistically and appropriately diverse, but still managed to avoid hitting too many of my dislike buttons.

Jews, Diversity and Role Models in the Media

(This is really a continuation of my last post with added thoughts from the last few hours.)

I managed to get to the shiur (religious class) at the London School of Jewish Studies this evening, despite some social anxiety.  The class was interesting and despite my problems with concentration at the moment just flew by; I didn’t look at my watch once in an hour and a half.  Much of it was familiar to me, but I learnt some things and it was good to hear Torah that was coming from a slightly different perspective to what I’m used to hearing at shul (synagogue) and, one closer to my personal hashkafa (religious philosophy).

The audience was a bit depressing, though.  Out of maybe sixty or seventy people (I’m bad at estimating numbers) there were three or four people roughly my age; everyone else was my parents’ generation or older.  I think that’s a fairly accurate reflection of Modern Orthodoxy in this country.  The moderate Modern/Centrist Orthodoxy represented by the United Synagogue is polarising; some are becoming Charedi (ultra-Orthodox) (which I guess is what I have done, even if for practical rather than ideological reasons); the rest are just leaving – either leaving Judaism entirely or leaving Orthodoxy for Progressive Judaism or, more usually I think, simply not joining any kind of organised community.  All of which makes me worry about how I can meet people with a similar hashkafa to make friends and maybe to get married (one day, maybe, perhaps).

***

On my previous post, Ashley Leia suggested I was mistaken in complaining of antisemitism in this week’s Doctor Who, so I should probably clarify that I wasn’t suggesting the writers are consciously antisemitic, merely that they used a trope that has traditionally been used by Christian antisemitic (or anti-Jewish, if you want to split hairs over the difference between antisemitism and anti-Judaism) polemicists to attack Judaism (presenting Judaism as a religion of justice or even vengeance as against Christianity as a religion of love, even though Christianity’s commandments of love are quotations from Tanakh (the Hebrew Bible, what Christians call the Old Testament)).  This was unfortunate, particularly in a series that has trumpeted its own commitment to diversity, doubly so in the second episode this series to portray organised religion as primarily a force for division and persecution with few positive points.  It increasingly, uncomfortably, feels to me like “diversity” is often circumscribed (in Doctor Who and in Western culture in general) and that cultures that are truly alien to the writers’ (and most of the audience’s) worldviews, that is religious and traditional cultures, are met with criticism rather than acceptance, something that is only applied to “safe” cultures that do not threaten postmodern liberal values.  As Alan Verskin put it in a recent review in The Jewish Review of Books “Tolerating a culture because it is no different from your own is not a good test of toleration.”

The entirety of Verskin’s review, of a recent children’s fantasy novel dealing with Medieval Jewish history, may be of interest to some readers here, to people interested in fantasy and especially in diversity issues in fantastic and historical fiction.  Verskin also talks about realising “how remarkably few Jewish characters there are in books that are not expressly made and marketed for Jewish children (the exception being Holocaust literature, which, of course, is a different matter).”  I would say that if you are looking for specifically religious Jewish characters (not necessarily Orthodox, but with some meaningful connection to Jewish tradition, texts and practice), they are almost non-existent, whether in children’s fiction or adult fiction and whatever the medium, even in stories written by Jews.  Many years ago I read the Jewish science fiction and fantasy anthologies Wandering Stars and More Wandering Stars; the engagement with Jewish texts, traditions and substantive culture (not necessarily religious culture, but more than the odd Yiddishism or bagel) was limited in most of the stories, many of which saw Judaism as defined by antisemitism as much as by Jews and their culture (cf. Jean-Paul Sartre).

The main exceptions are books, film and TV from Israel, which, by their nature often have limited impact in other countries, both due to the language barrier and the fact that culture from small countries often struggles to penetrate foreign markets.  Sometimes one can find translated books or subtitled films, but it is not always possible.

I used to think that I didn’t need to see fictional characters who reflect my life experiences and thoughts, but lately I have found (partly thanks to all the talk of diversity in Western culture) that I do.  In the absence of figures like me, religious Jewish figures, I find myself drawn either to surrogates (I have alluded in the past to the article in European Judaism that the Doctor from Doctor Who, despite being an alien time-traveller, is in fact the most positively-portrayed Jew on British television, at least symbolically speaking) or to biblical, Midrashic or rabbinic figures.

There is definitely a danger in taking prophets and tzaddikim (saintly people), whether ancient or more modern, as my heroes, especially for someone such as myself with a poor sense of self and a perhaps permeable boundary between the real and the imaginary, not to mention a psyche given to extreme self-criticism, but with occasional counter-veiling moments of delusions of grandeur.  In particular, I look for figures who can model Jewish observance alongside mental health issues or neurodivergent traits.  I have already spoken a few times about the eighteenth and nineteenth century religious leaders, Rebbe Nachman of Bratslav and the Kotzker Rebbe and their importance for me as figures who combined active religious life with bouts of extreme (probably clinical) depression, self-criticism and/or withdrawal thus providing some kind of model for my own attempts at building a religious life despite my mental health issues.  Perhaps I will try to explore some of these role models and mentors in future posts.

“Quiet, you. I’ve been inside you. There’s not as much there as you think.”

I went to bed before 2.00am last night, but not by much.  I woke up late again, about 11.30, feeling lethargic and depressed, but unlike the last few days once I had managed to get up and eat some breakfast, I felt a lot better, so I decided I would go to see Blade Runner 2049 after all, despite my reservations (about my ability to concentrate, about the film making me depressed and about possible gore), primarily to try to get something positive out of this holiday other than a load of chores completed (most of which will have to be done again soon).

I tried to see it as a bit of an experiment regarding my tolerance for sensory stimulation.  I think I was mostly OK with loud noise, except when it was very loud and I could feel the vibrations.  But sudden loud noise was more problematic, not just explosions and gunshots, but people shouting and even a single note played on a piano in an echoey room.  They all made me jump and feel uncomfortable.

The film was also too gory for me, but I coped, mostly by avoiding looking at the screen during the violence.

Emotionally, I was mostly OK, but in the last fifteen minutes or so I started feeling quite lonely.  I don’t know if that was because loneliness was perhaps a theme of the film (the hero has a holographic girlfriend, presumably because as a replicant, he isn’t allowed a real one, but it could be that he just has “issues”), but in any case, going to the cinema or the theatre always makes me feel depressed and lonely particularly at the end, I’m not sure why (because there’s usually a love story?  Because people go to the cinema or theatre with their significant other?  Because the story in the film or play is neatly tied up, even if the ending is sad, whereas my life goes round in circles, on and on without getting better?  Or just because the actors get applauded for their work (literally in the theatre) and I feel no one notices me?).  I had noticed the depression before and know it’s something I just have to put up with in my very rare trips to the theatre or the cinema, but I don’t think I really registered the loneliness as something that happens until today.  But then on the bus on the way home I didn’t feel like reading and I wasn’t sure why, whether I was depressed or just wanted to rest my eyes, but listening to music I was suddenly on the verge of tears and was for some time afterwards.

Like the Doctor in Logopolis, I sometimes feel I should be running a tighter ship.  On the bus I was thinking that perhaps I should stop blogging, because it feels a bit like prostituting my deepest thoughts (well, some of them.  Most of them, if I’m being honest.  This is about as deep as it gets, sorry) for very little return.  I rarely get comments, although I love to get them (positive ones, anyway), but I think I offended the last person who commented, which wasn’t my intention.  I get a few likes on most posts, so I guess there are about a dozen people out there who get something out of what I write, although don’t ask me what.  I won’t stop, though.  I know I don’t have the self-control.  I’ve tried to stop confessional blogging in the past, but I always come back to it, unlike my other types of writing.  I’m obviously a very confessional person, at least online, which doesn’t fit at all with the image I would like to have of myself as someone self-contained and resilient.

This also makes me worry about relationships – that I’m too self-centred to cope with a proper relationship.  It’s easier to fantasise about what I would like to gain from a relationship than it is to think about what I can give.  Is that the same for everyone, I wonder, or is it just my romantic or even social inexperience?  Or am I just plain selfish?  I should have the evidence of my one previous relationship to disprove that (where my ex repeatedly told me that I was good at being there for her, better than she was at being there for me), but it’s hard to hold on to something like that when a holographic girlfriend seems like the only one who could be interested in me, and not be pushed away by my mental health issues and borderline autism and the solipsism they sometimes induce.

Words, Words, Words

It seems I can’t cope with being on holiday.  I feel very depressed again.  It’s hard to do anything.  I have a list of holiday chores.  Most of them should be relatively quick and easy: clean the flat, make some dinners at least partly from fresh ingredients (omelette tonight, more ambitiously lentil dal tomorrow), do more shopping, continue sorting out my finances, do some proper Torah study, sew two buttons on my trousers and various other things, but everything takes longer than it should because I just want to curl up in bed.  It’s hard even to watch a DVD (see below).  I spend time aimlessly surfing the net without really reading anything.

I was up late last night.  I told myself I was watching Blade Runner, but I actually watched less than an hour of it.  I kept stopping.  Partly, I kept wondering if Blade Runner is really about autistic people.  The plot is about Deckard, a detective (‘blade runner’) who hunts down rogue replicants, androids that are deemed non-human because they can’t feel emotions.  But, the subtext of the film suggests, this is wrong, factually and morally, and the replicants can learn to feel emotions and they shouldn’t be killed.  Similarly, people think autistic people can’t feel emotions whereas we simply struggle to understand and express them.  The replicants struggle to learn human emotions because although they are created as adults, they only have a lifespan of four years, so they are effectively adults learning emotions like children.  This is how I feel.  I feel not so much like a child, but like an adolescent, with my emotions and many of my life experiences (little romantic or work experience).  Maybe that’s reading too much into it.

(Also, did you notice I automatically used “we” for autistic people without qualifying it by saying that I don’t have a proper ASD diagnosis?  I guess I’ve been thinking of myself as autistic-but-misdiagnosed lately.)

It was also hard to concentrate on the film because I was angry with God for hurting good people, or letting them get hurt.  I argued with Him, pleaded with Him.  I don’t think He agrees with me.  Sometimes I think it would be easier if I didn’t believe in Him, but to me the world only makes sense with Him.  There’s too much that doesn’t add up for me without God and Torah and Judaism.  So, we’re kind of stuck with each other.

Anyway, I watched about half of Blade Runner until I was too tired to go on and finished watching it this afternoon, fast-forwarding through the gory bits.  I don’t think I’m going to see the sequel in the cinema, though.  I don’t feel up to living in that bleak future for three consecutive days.

Getting back to how I feel at the moment, there is a quote, attributed to various people, that goes, “The grand essentials to happiness in this life are something to do, someone to love, and something to hope for.”  I have something to do, inasmuch as I have a job, during term time, although it isn’t enough to make my mood much better.  I don’t have someone to love and I suspect I never will.  I want someone I can love and be tender with, and who will love me the same way.  I want to marry a sweet, girl-(geek)-next-door-type, but I can’t imagine one being interested in me.

And I feel like I have nothing to hope for.  I’ve struggled with mental illness certainly all my adult life, going back an indeterminate way into adolescence and maybe even childhood.  How can I hope for things to get better?  Things are a lot better than they were… and yet I am still very depressed most of the time.   I try to open up to people a little bit to make friends, but even on the rare occasions I can open up, people aren’t interested or I don’t know what to say or how to progress the friendship.  They don’t respond to me.  I spend much of the day aimlessly surfing the internet (do people still say that?), ostensibly searching for something interesting and thought-provoking or helpful to read, but really looking for connection, for someone who thinks like me (I’m not even talking romantically or even platonically now, just a think-piece author who shares my slightly unconventional views).  Or checking email endlessly hoping someone will get in touch or will like one of my posts (I’ve given up on hoping for comments).

I feel I should give up on dating.  I don’t feel ready for it.  I’ll probably never be ready for it.  I’m just too messed up for anyone to love.  And I know that (contrary to what I quoted my father as saying yesterday), if I’m not happy by myself, I won’t be happy with someone else.  Happiness comes from within, etc., but my ‘within’ is just loneliness and despair.  The problem is, my parents are supposed to be trying to set me up with the daughter of friends of theirs.  I should tell them not to, but somehow I can’t, I don’t know why.  Maybe it’s because my parents keep telling me how well I’ve been doing lately, how proud they are of me and I don’t want to disappoint them by telling them what a mess-up their son is (I haven’t phoned them today because I don’t want to tell them how bad I feel).  Or maybe I just hope being set up with someone who has experienced mental health issues would work, somehow, even though I suspect we don’t have much else in common.

Half the time I don’t have the energy to move.  I can’t get involved in anything.  Reading is just words, music is just noise.  I can’t write coherently.  I have things to do and no energy or motivation to do them.  I can’t use my holiday productively and I can’t use it to relax.  In a few days I will be back at work and desperate for another break.  I’ve only managed a few minutes of Torah study, yet I feel bad about not joining the Mishnah study scheme I mentioned the other day.

Later: I checked two eggs for kashrut purposes without slipping into OCD and then made and ate an omelette (it fell to pieces when I lifted it out of the frying pan and ended up being more like scrambled eggs).  I read a Jewish book for a few more minutes while the eggs were cooking.  I also submitted some mini sagas to Hevria earlier, the first writing I have sent for a major forum since my attempt to sell a Doctor Who article to Den of Geek failed.  I emailed my landlady about the bathroom door jamming and I sorted out the papers in my work folder, a task I was dreading but which only took about five minutes once I sat down to it.  I also set up a direct debit and a standing order to pay my shul (synagogue) fees and emailed a friend to try to organise a social thing, although I have got problems with the direct debit that I need to sort tomorrow.

So I have achieved a few things today, but not enough to consider this a productive holiday.  At the same time, I haven’t enjoyed myself enough (at all, actually) to consider this a refreshing break.  It’s like one long interminable Sunday afternoon, and a dark and wet autumn one at that.  I wish I had someone to talk to, just to chat with (I don’t mean phoning the Samaritans), but the only people I could phone are my parents and, as I said, I don’t want to tell them how I feel.  Anyway, it’s late now.  Sometimes I just feel lost.