COVID Purim (2)

There is an idea I heard the other day that Purim is the celebration of the end of the Jewish year. Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year) is in the autumn, but Pesach (Passover) in a month’s time is also the new year (we have about four different new years for different things…). So this is the celebration that we got through another year. It feels more like New Year’s Eve than the introspection and hours in shul (synagogue) of Rosh Hashanah.

This year, Purim also marks a year of COVID. During Purim last year, COVID was around, but no one was taking it seriously and a lot of people got sick. Some died. Now we’ve gone a complete circuit through the Jewish calendar with COVID. The thought of doing a second Pesach in lockdown in four weeks’ time is making me feel a bit queasy, but that’s where we are.

Despite struggling to fall asleep and waking several times in the night, I managed to get up at 6.30am for Shacharit (Morning Prayers) at shul (synagogue). We were divided into small groups in different parts of the building again for social distancing purposes. The Megillah reading was good and I didn’t have any worries about missing words.

After breakfast, Dad and I drove around the area giving friends (his and Mum’s as well as mine) mishloach manot (gifts of food). Then we had a rather hurried seudah (festive meal). By this stage I just wanted to crash. Between six hours interrupted sleep and autistic social burnout, I was pretty exhausted and just wanted to crash, even though this year’s Purim was very low key. I watched Babylon 5 for a bit, the season one finale Chrysalis. J. Michael Straczynski, the creator, executive producer and chief writer on Babylon 5 spoke about “Wham” episodes, the ones with major irreversible plot twists and the like. Chrysalis is the first Wham episode, chronologically, and feels like the first episode to be clearly part of a much bigger story even if you didn’t know about the projected five year narrative (which I didn’t on original transmission). Re-watching the series in order, it feels like the start of what I wanted to re-watch rather than just the introduction to the characters and set-up. Not that season one didn’t have some good episodes, because it did, but that they feel a bit disconnected from the plot that runs through series two to four (season five also feels a bit disconnected, but that’s another story). So that refreshed me a bit.

Now I’m trying to move into Shabbat mode, and trying to avoid the slightly hollow, “Did I really grow from this festival?” feeling that I get sometimes at the end of festivals. I don’t feel that I did grow, but then again I’m not sure if it would be noticeable if I had grown, least of all to me. I suspect that real personal growth, like real happiness, is something that happens when you aren’t staring at it, trying to will it into existence.

Burnout and Worry

I didn’t sleep well again. My weighted blanket became bunched up in one side of the duvet cover I put it in to keep it clean and I kept waking up feeling I wasn’t covered up as I wanted, but I was too tired and burnt out to get up and even out the duvet. I had crazy dreams (something about going to see Hermann Goering about something, possibly stopping the Nazis coming to power, or making sure they did come to power to preserve history… I think this was based on the science fiction novel The Simulacra that I read recently). I think I woke up intermittently across the morning, partly woken by building noise from next-door (or was that yesterday? The mornings blur together), but I didn’t feel able to stay awake and get up until very late and I was very burnt out again.

Burnout feels like more than ordinary “tired,” more like jetlag, or the type of tired you get if you’ve been up for thirty-six hours straight, just totally drained of energy and really impossible to do anything or think straight. It gets a bit better after breakfast, but generally not a lot better until after lunch, which implies to me there might be a blood sugar element (low blood sugar has always affected my mood negatively, since childhood). I’m not sure what the solution is, if there is one. For the moment I’m waiting anxiously for 9 March and the final part of my autism assessment before I make firm plans about my mental health.

I got a text this morning offering me a COVID vaccination at my GP, but I was asleep when it came through and by the time I phoned through to make the appointment, they were all taken. I’m actually glad, as the appointment would have been on a Saturday. Some rabbis are permitting getting vaccinated on Shabbat, but as I’m not a priority (I think I’m only being offered it at this stage because my Mum is still listed as vulnerable), I don’t mind waiting until the next appointment, which I’ve been told is Friday 5 March. I just hope I am awake when I get the next message and can respond in time.

I had a fairly busy day: I wrote my devar Torah for the week (although I have a bit to add that I thought of later) and was glad to link the sedra (weekly Torah reading) to Purim. I did a little Torah study too and went for a run. When I got home, I ate some crackers with salty butter out of curiosity to see if the salt would stop me getting a headache, wondering if lack of salt rather than dehydration is what causes my exercise migraines (dehydration seems unlikely, as I drink a lot). I didn’t get a headache immediately, but one seems to have set in now, over four hours later, although that may be because my parents turn the heating up so high.

***

There’s a joke about a great sage who wanted to know the meaning of life. He spent years studying texts: Tanakh, Talmud, Midrash, Kabbalah… Eventually he looked up from his books and said, “Life is good!” Then he paused for a moment, thought a bit longer and said, “But if life is so good… how come it’s so bad?”

I feel a bit like this. My life is objectively better than it’s been for at least two or three years. And yet, somehow I feel stressed a lot of the time. There is uncertainty. I don’t know if my job will continue long-term or if my novel will be published. I obviously don’t know what will happen with me and PIMOJ. I guess uncertainty about one’s career and relationship is going to lead to unsettled feelings, even if things are OK at the moment.

At the moment, PIMOJ and I still can’t see each other for another nearly two weeks because of the lockdown, which is proving very difficult and I certainly feel it’s putting a bit of strain on the relationship. I think my relationship with PIMOJ is different to my previous two relationships, in that PIMOJ and I are very different in personality and we have to consciously work harder on the relationship and to communicate effectively. I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing, but it means I have to engage in the relationship a lot more deliberately than I had to with previous relationships (not that I’ve been in many previous relationships), and that’s not easy when we can’t see each other.

Beyond this, I guess there are things I think about and worry about that I need to process, but which I don’t want to write here because they relate to other people who might not want me to write about them even anonymously. I need to find another way of processing them. I can talk in therapy, but that’s one hour a fortnight. I could try to switch back to once a week, but I’m not sure I will always have enough to say once a week; the amount of worry comes and goes. I speak to my rabbi mentor sometimes. I could try writing privately, as I occasionally do. I do feel that it’s better if I can write with an audience though. Aside from getting helpful comments, knowing I have an audience stops me drifting into catastrophising or self-pity. Just knowing that something will be read makes me careful to avoid that in a way that I fear is not the case in private writing.

Still, just as my intermittent low mood is not capital-D Depression, so my worries are not capital-A Anxiety, which is good.

OK, bed now, as my head hurts.

Rants (Redacted and Otherwise)

More NHS woes. I wrote a rant here, but then deleted it. I had to make a lot of phone calls and still didn’t get my olanzapine. Mum did some more phoning for me (I was peopled out after the calls I made, and in autistic black-and-white thinking mode) and it looks like I should be able to get the olanzapine tomorrow, but I won’t feel happy until I’ve actually collected it. And I feel vaguely bad that in the end I dropped out before the crucial final call and my Mum got the answer I wanted for me.

It occurs to me that the NHS is less different to the US free market system than the NHS’s defenders admit. In the USA, treatment is triaged largely based on wealth. In the NHS, it’s triaged based on blind luck, location and the confidence and ability to navigate bureaucracy. I strongly suspect that, other than luck, those factors work more in favour of the educated middle classes than other people.

***

Other than that, today was OK. I overslept a little, rushed and caught up the time, but then spent too long davening (praying) and was a few minutes later than usual for work, although I don’t have an official start time. J was leaving early today, so I was allowed to finish early too; add in another trip to the bank, and I wasn’t actually in the office that long. I did a little more work on my novel in the evening, which may have been a mistake as I was tired and doing other things, but I wanted to have something to show for leaving work early other than all those phone calls to the NHS that went nowhere. I somehow managed to fit in some Torah and speaking to PIMOJ too. I’m not quite sure how I fitted everything in; I feel exhausted now and it’s rather late. I’m glad it’s nearly Shabbat as I’m likely to be burnt out tomorrow.

***

Second rant: today I’ve been pondering the difficult of the mitzvah (commandment) of loving my neighbour, when so many of my Haredi (ultra-Orthodox Jewish) neighbours (literal neighbours as well as metaphorical ones) are breaking the lockdown. I blogged last summer about the illegal minyan (prayer service) happening three times a day in our next-door neighbours’ garden. That’s stopped since the places of worship reopened, and they did at least make a vague show of social distancing, but you can still see loads of Haredi children going to school every weekday. I appreciate that Haredi households can have eight kids crowded in one house with few or even no computers or internet phones, not good conditions for home schooling. Even so, the numbers of children still going to school seems troubling. And that’s without mentioning the large weddings still going on, reported in the (non-Haredi) Jewish press. Or the jaw-droppingly awful super-spreader event like the wedding of a Hasidic rebbe’s son in America that had hundreds or even thousands guests from across the world, or the funerals for Haredi rabbis that had tens of thousands of mourners.

It’s very hard, in these cases, to feel at all loving towards people who are living in a different reality and/or who feel no obligation at all to anyone outside of their narrow community, not just in terms of COVID, but also in terms of giving the Jewish community as a whole a bad press and providing openings for antisemites everywhere (“Jews spread plague” is a libel that has been around for centuries, baselessly until now). Bear in mind that the Haredi community comprises only about 10% of the global Jewish population, but is easily the most visible part of it, and the part that non-Jews see as most authentically Jewish. Newspaper articles about Jews are invariably illustrated with pictures of bearded Hasidic men, even if the article has little to do with Hasidim in particular.

I find myself wondering what figures like Rav Kook and Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev, notable for their love for all Jews, would think or do. It’s hard to feel respect for people’s (genuine) dedication to prayer and Torah study when they are blatantly ignoring the commandments to follow the secular law of the country, preserve life and not give the Jewish God and Judaism a bad name. In fact, even thinking about trying to feel love for them just provokes the opposite, more anger and hatred. But God wants us to love idiots and scoundrels as well as pious people.

***

I’ve broken my iPod headphones (earbuds) again. I can’t seem to get them to last more than six months. I get a lot of use out of them (almost daily), but I feel they should last longer. I wonder if they aren’t built to be worn primarily while walking and jogging, or if I wind them too tightly or violently when putting them away. I can be heavy-handed with things.

***

PIMOJ and I watched WandaVision separately “together.” It was odd. I like odd, but I’m not sure what it was trying to do. Having looked briefly at the Wikipedia page (trying not to get spoilered), I think it is supposed to imitate TV from different decades, but it felt like the line between pastiching bad TV and actually being bad TV is a thin one.

Not Losing My Religion

I had a blood test this morning, my regular lithium level test. I had some slight tremor, which I often get at blood tests. I’m not scared of needles, but the fear of shaking actually causes shaking. It wasn’t too bad. I had a longish walk back.

In the afternoon I worked from home on the data collation again. I managed to finish it in under two hours, which was good, as J thought there was too much for me to get through in one day. I cooked dinner (chilli) and burnt it slightly, but it tasted OK.

I had my Tanakh shiur (Bible class) at the London School of Jewish Studies, on Yirmiyah (Jeremiah). I was able to participate in the chevruta (paired learning, although we were actually in groups of three) section this week, which was good. “Able to participate” both in the sense that the camera and microphone worked this week, unlike last week (I was on my Dad’s computer to be sure), and also in the sense of having the confidence to speak. I did also put something in the text chat facility right at the end recommending Dror Burstein’s novel Muck, which is a modern day version of Yirmiyah. I wasn’t sure if I was “allowed” to do that, or if anyone read it as it was right at the end, but I guess it was good I had the confidence to write it.

There’s not a lot else to report about today.

***

I saw this blog post about Rabbi Abraham Twerski, whose death I mentioned the other day. Granted that he came from a Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) rabbinic background where university education was rare, but seeing the precautions he was advised to take against his religious observance slipping when he was in medical school makes me wonder if I’m unusual for coming out of university religious. Well, I know I’m unusual. Religious observance (any religion) is, I think, lower in graduates than in the general population. Lots of people lose their religion at university or college, for whatever reason (doubts based on secular studies; peer pressure; temptations; away from home community; lack of time, etc.). I just didn’t really notice it at the time as I was mixing with people who were also frum (religious Jewish) at the Jewish Society albeit that my other social group, the Doctor Who Society was mostly non-religious and non-Jewish.

I tend not to give myself credit for things like this, but maybe I should. I think the chances of me getting to this point in my life and still being this religious were not that great, in terms of becoming religious as a teenager from a not fully observant background, getting through university and getting through major depression with my faith and practice intact, as well as my difficulties being accepted in the frum community from autism and social anxiety and feeling rejected in my attempts to marry someone frum. Probably on some level at least that is better than someone who has been enclosed in the Haredi world all his life and never really encountered anyone who thinks or acts differently from “normal” frum people.

***

Health Secretary Matt Hancock told Parliament today that there are “Eleven cases of mutations of concern in Bristol and thirty-two in Liverpool.” Life seems like a horror film at the moment, albeit a boring, slow-motion one. Although given how many governments are handling things, it’s less Quatermass and more Quite-a-mess.

Work from Home

I was working from home today. I wanted to get up early, not as early as if I was commuting, but still early. I failed. I overslept and got up after 11.00am. Whoops. I’m going to have to work tomorrow to catch up, which in some ways suits me, although it means postponing work on my novel again.

My work transcribing data turns out to be GDPR-compliant after all as data protection only applies to the living and not the dead, so it’s permitted to collect data about them (typical “living privilege”). This is something of a relief to me. When I was transcribing the data in the office last week, I was fine. I managed to concentrate even though it was boring. Today, at home, it just seems impossible and I can’t concentrate for more than five minutes at a time. Maybe it’s something about being in my room, or maybe it’s a cumulative effect. I listened to some classical music while doing it, which helped a bit, but not much. Besides being boring, it’s also depressing going through so much funeral data.

I don’t know if it was bored or immersion in funeral data, but I felt quite depressed this afternoon too; work was a struggle because of depressive poor concentration and executive function issues as well as boredom. I felt like I wanted to cry too.

I realise I’m nearly a year late to the “working from home is awful” pity party, but this is the first time I’ve ever worked from home for a paid job, unless you count my parents paying me to paint the shed.

Anyway, I managed to work on it for a bit over three hours and I got through approximately half the data J gave me. As he wasn’t expecting me to complete all of it, if I do another two or three hours tomorrow and finish most or all of the remainder, that seems quite reasonable for a day’s equivalent work.

Fun fact about transcribing funeral data onto an Excel spreadsheet: if you aren’t careful, Excel turns birthdates from the 1920s into the 2020s and you end up with people died nearly a hundred years ago, but haven’t been born yet.

***

No exercise today because of trying to get through work, and limited Torah study for the same reason, although I did spend fifty minutes writing my devar Torah for the week. I can’t really win with this; if (as I did this week) I focus on my thoughts inspired by something in the sedra (weekly Torah portion), I worry that I’m not engaging with the texts, particularly the secondary sources, enough, but if I’ve mostly taken it from secondary sources, I worry that I’m just parroting other people’s ideas.

***

More NHS fun and games. I was on hold for twenty-five minutes, trying to speak to my GP’s receptionist, only to find that the psychiatrist has not written yet about my medication change (going back to olanzapine). I phoned the psychiatrist’s secretary, but the psychiatrist doesn’t work on Mondays or Tuesdays, so it’s questionable whether anything will happen before Wednesday. I only have enough olanzapine to last until Saturday, so I’m worried about running out if the psychiatrist does not inform the doctor of the change promptly or if there’s a hold-up at the pharmacist.

Also NHS: my sister got vaccinated today, as she’s NHS staff (but not front-line). As my brother-in-law may have had a vaccine a while back as part of a clinical trial (he hasn’t been told if he had the vaccine or a placebo), I could be the only person in my close family not to have been vaccinated yet.

***

I’m pretty fed up with lockdown and left a miserable comment on a friend’s blog saying that even as an autistic introvert with social anxiety who self-isolated before it was cool, I have had enough of not seeing friends and family, of avoiding shops and public places and of mask wearing. Even so, I saw a news email with the subject “New variant spreads” and for a moment part of my mind thought it was about new varieties of jam…

Trust and Control

I slept badly again last night, waking up in the night and struggling to get back to sleep. I’ve taken a bigger pillow and wonder if that will help. As a result, I was very tired at work in the morning and had to drink coffee to stay awake. I don’t like it when I feel I’m drifting off at work. The work was a bit depressing too. Aside from dealing with subscription payments, I was processing death records for this year and came across one for someone ten years younger than me with bipolar disorder who had committed suicide. This really upset me and I’m not entirely sure why, just a feeling that I wish I could have done something to help her, not that I ever met her. Then PIMOJ texted to say she was upset because of a suicide in her workplace and it seemed like it was catching.

I went to the bank in the afternoon, which probably left me too much time to think and brood while I walked there and back and spent a long time queuing. I think I’ve been less anxious today, but a lot more depressed.

J gave me a lift home again and the conversation on the radio was all about the UK COVID death toll reaching 100,000, so it was a pretty bleak day all round.

I had a shiur (religious class) in the evening on Zoom, perhaps appropriately on Yishayahu (Isaiah), the chief prophet of hope. This was interesting. I knew some of it, but not all of it. I tried to psyche myself up for the bit where we broke into smaller groups to discuss a passage, but my microphone took that moment to break, although I suppose it was interesting to observe other people doing group work from a distance, as it were, and see I’m not necessarily as bad at it compared with other people as I thought.

***

I worry a bit whether I could do a full days’ work at the moment. At the moment, J is letting me come in forty-five minutes or so late so I can avoid the Tube at rush hour because of COVID, and we finish work around 4pm. I only take forty-five minutes for lunch, but even so, that makes for a day that’s not much more than five hours long. Which is nice, but I worry if I’ll ever have the stamina for full working days again.

***

I had a thought about bitachon, trust in God. I find this very hard. I believe in a benevolent God Who wants the best for His creation, but I also believe that sometimes the best option is still something very painful to undergo. But I realised today that a lot of my problem is about control, specifically about accepting that I don’t have very much control over my life, which is scary. I probably have rather less control over my life than many people, certainly people of my age, class and educational level, because of my autism and mental health issues and chequered work history.

It’s easy to tell myself that I can somehow control my career or my romantic life or my mental health by thinking about them (which mostly means being despairing or anxious about them), but really I can’t. I have no idea if I’ll ever get married, to PIMOJ or to anyone else; or whether I’ll build any kind of a career as a writer or a librarian; or how I will support myself when my parents aren’t here; or umpteen other things. That’s very scary, to give up that degree of control. I guess it could be liberating. People with a lot of bitachon (e.g. PIMOJ) seem to live very liberated, carefree lives. But I find it terrifying.

Surprisingly Busy Day

I had a dream over Shabbat about being put in herem (excommunicated) because some rabbis took exception to my novel. This is not likely to happen in reality for many reasons, but I think it does reflect fear of negative reviews of the “Why do they always say bad things about the Orthodox community? Why can’t they see the good in the community?” kind (I’m thinking of one Jewish site in particular here). I can sort of see their point. It’s possible that I haven’t seen as much of the good side of the community as other people despite my having spent my life inside it, to varying degrees. And I feel uncomfortable with people who say things like, “I can only speak my truth,” but beyond a certain point, everything else is impossible, and my experience of the frum (religious Jewish, and in this case, Orthodox) community has been complicated at best – partly my own fault, but I think that’s reflected in the novel too.

***

Just before I was due to go for my COVID test this morning, it started snowing heavily. Dad took me in the snow storm, but when we arrived, the drive-in tests were cancelled as unsafe. I’m not currently planning to book another one; if I still feel bad on Tuesday, I’ll try to get in contact with my psychiatrist and see what she says. I feel a lot better today, with no light-headedness or hot flushes and only brief tremor, although some restless legs, which suggests that the symptoms were from starting haloperidol. I’m still suffering some anxiety (see below) which may be from stopping olanzapine.

***

I spent some time working on my novel. I’m not sure how much I did, somewhere over an hour, without much procrastination once I got down to it. I read two chapters and made some minor changes, finally getting through the 80,000 word barrier.

I went on a rather long Zoom call with my parents, sister and brother-in-law because it was my sister’s birthday yesterday and my Dad’s tomorrow. As I’ve mentioned before, I find Zoom hard at the best of times and struggled through it, but even when my sister and BIL are around in person I have a tendency to drift out of the conversation a lot. I tend to feel that the conversation is either small talky or about “adulting” and that I can’t really join in. I feel rather stuck in immaturity sometimes as a result of autism and mental illness. The restless legs were hard to control by the end of the call too.

I did some work on my devar Torah for the week and some general Torah study. I didn’t get any exercise today because of the snow. I spoke to my rabbi mentor and realised I’ve been procrastinating about some things that really I need to confront. Not major things, thankfully, but I tend to get anxious about things as if they were major. I tried to help Dad when he accidentally deleted a load of email folders, but I couldn’t work out what he’d done or how. I suspect they haven’t been deleted, but hidden somewhere, but I’ve no idea where. I’m not terribly good at Outlook because I only use it at work.

***

I had some anxiety in the evening after having been OK for most of the day. This was probably in part the general tendency for my anxiety to get worse in the evenings and partly from watching The Sandbaggers (1970s/80s espionage drama) which tends to end in downbeat ways, in this case with a likeable character turning out to be a double agent and committing suicide to avoid shaming his family. I like the series a lot, but it’s probably just as well that I only have five episodes left.

***

J suggested I switch work days this week to give the snow a chance to clear before I go in to work, so I’ll be working on Tuesday instead of tomorrow. I was secretly relieved, as I didn’t really want to go in to work in the snow, but was reluctant to suggest changing days after having missed a day off sick last week.

COVID Test, Reading, TV

I’m still not feeling great. My sister and my Mum have been badgering me for days to get a COVID test despite my not having any COVID symptoms. My symptoms are hot flushes, restless legs, tremor and occasional light-headedness, none of which are really COVID symptoms, plus neither my parents nor J have come down with anything despite being around me last week when I was ill. However, my sister’s mother-in-law apparently had mild COVID for days thinking it was just a cold until she got tested, so my sister has really been badgering me to get tested in case I have undiagnosed COVID, even though I’m worried about wasting NHS resources and, well, lying about my symptoms to get a test (integrity is a core value for me, so lying is painful). Anyway, I’m going to a drive-in test tomorrow morning. My Dad volunteered to take me (I don’t drive).

There’s not a lot else to say. I read a lot over Shabbat, not so much in terms of pages, but in terms of books. I finished Morality and America During the Cold War, read more of Ruth: From Alienation to Monarchy and started The Garden of Emunah (book on faith PIMOJ gave me) and The Simulacra (Philip K. Dick novel).

After Shabbat, I watched another episode of The Mandalorian (Sanctuary). It was quite good, but I was distracted by the fact that the plot was basically the same of the Doctor Who episode The Girl Who Died (outsiders train villagers to beat better-armed marauders), but tonally, the two were completely different. The Doctor Who episode was mostly comic, with a tragic bit and an open ending. The Mandalorian episode was like every other Mandalorian episode i.e. like Star Wars, flashy, but unemotional. (I have realised that I notice more about story structure now I write myself.)

Integrity

I spent too much of Shabbat (the Sabbath) in bed again, curled up in the duvet because it calms me, although I wasn’t conscious of feeling anxious, but perhaps I was feeling overwhelmed. I couldn’t sleep last night because I took my medication late and once I did fall asleep, I didn’t get up until midday again. I did quite a bit of Torah study and recreational reading on Friday night and today. I’m getting fed up with all the non-fiction I’m reading at the moment and want to read a novel, but also don’t want to abandon anything half-read. Hopefully I’ll finish Morality or America During the Cold War soon.

After Shabbat I helped tidy up and did some more Torah reading. I hoped to work on my novel, but I felt ill again: a headache, feeling hot (although I don’t think I have a temperature), nauseous, runny nose… I don’t think it’s COVID, but I think fear of COVID might turn me into a hypochondriac. I did feel better after making myself eat some toast and was able to eat enough to take my psych meds. The headache did seem to respond to paracetamol and a kool and soothe strip and once the headache was gone everything else seemed to go, so it seems that it was just a migraine.

I wanted to watch something fairly mindless as I recovered from the migraine, so opted to watch Wonder Woman (the film, not the TV series) with my parents. It was not a good choice, as I found it fairly incoherent and dull. I think superhero films are one of those things I think I “should” like (as a geek), but actually don’t.

***

Last night I had a dream that, while not a recurring dream as such, is a recurring dream scenario, where I’m put in some situation where I have to break Shabbat. I don’t know why I still dream about this when I’ve been keeping Shabbat for about two decades, about as long as the period before I kept it. I clearly still have anxiety about being forced to break it.

***

As I mentioned, I’m still reading Rabbi Lord Sacks’ Morality. He speaks about victim culture and is critical of it, saying it makes people look backward, and look for someone to blame. Inspired by Viktor Frankl and other Holocaust survivors, he advocates looking forwards for new challenges. I think this is true, or at any rate reflects my own experiences. I feel like I’ve only been able to move on from my mental health issues and my anger (not quite the right word, but I’m not sure what else it could be) about being on the autism spectrum in the last eighteen months or so, since feeling I could write. Before that, I had a period when I felt that I could be a librarian, but as that ran into difficulty, the depression and frustration came back. I worry what will happen if my writing doesn’t find an audience.

I guess I admire resilience rather than victimhood. By resilience I mean just carrying on, somehow, even at a level that would not be considered “normal” in the mainstream world. I admire people who can keep going without losing their integrity. Sometimes that’s the only thing you can hold onto. I think integrity in general is a much under-valued virtue these days. Maybe that’s why I have nightmares about breaking Shabbat; it would be a betrayal of my values and integrity.

Minor Trials and Tribulations

Today seemed quite busy. I slept badly again, struggling to fall asleep and then struggling to get out of bed. Today was Rosh Chodesh (New Moon) I managed to get up a little earlier to say some of the extra prayers, although I’m still saying a much-reduced Shacharit (Morning Service).

I spent the morning at work processing cheques people have sent in to pay fees. I think I had a few moments of autistic executive function block where my mind went blank and I didn’t know what I was doing and possibly I didn’t save data properly. I think/hope that I caught all of those. I intended to check all of them at the end, but checking forty-six payments seemed excessive (not to mention likely to send me back down the path of OCD compulsive checking), so I checked three or four random accounts and the data was always saved properly, so hopefully it was all OK. Later I processed a credit card payment over the phone and made a mistake, but the payment still went through when it probably shouldn’t have done. I put the wrong name on the card because I was confused by a woman paying on behalf of her mother. Hopefully that won’t be a mess that I need to sort out next week. Other than that, the main diversion was another trip to the bank to pay in the cheques. The cashier looked at the big pile of cheques and said I obviously hadn’t done any banking for a while. “Not since Monday” was my response. Almost everyone pays their annual fees in January, so we have to pay a lot of cheques in, although J says more people are paying by phone or online this year, which is easier for us.

J and I left work early today and despite going a different route home to avoid traffic, I had time this evening to finish and send my devar Torah (Torah thought) and work on my novel for twenty minutes or so.

I spoke to PIMOJ for an hour. She wanted to call on WhatsApp, which was fine, but I didn’t realise my phone hadn’t connected to the wifi properly when I came home, so I used 80% of my data for the next month (it just refreshed a few days ago). Not good. It’s not disastrous, as I don’t generally use much data, but it is frustrating.

PIMOJ bought me chocolate, which she sent in the post. I feel a bit apprehensive about the amount of gifts she gives me. They’re mostly small things, but I don’t really express affection that way and I wonder how she wants me to express affection to her. I wouldn’t know what presents to buy her and it wouldn’t really occur to me to do so without prompting. I’d say it’s an autistic thing, but it’s probably a male thing. Possibly PIMOJ and I need to talk about “love languages” (if you believe in love languages), but we already had one serious conversation today and it’s probably just as well we didn’t have another. At least we were on the same page about the serious conversation we did have.

I got given a confectionary package from my shul (synagogue) today too. Do they think I’m still shielding? I’m not sure, and I’m not sure who to ask/tell. It was probably a bit unfortunate that it came today as I sent off the email asking for a shul fee reduction given my employment/financial situation.

But certainly dieting with this much junk food around will be hard!

***

My glasses broke last night. I’m not sure how. The arm came off the little hinge. I suspect it’s either really easy to fix, or completely impossible and I need a new pair. Dad tried to take them in to Specsavers today. In ordinary times, it would be a simple thing, but because of COVID you have to get an appointment just to speak to someone about a broken pair of glasses and they forgot to phone him back. I wore my spare pair of glasses to work, but they have an old prescription. They were OK, but after a day wearing them, I think my eyes were getting strained, so I took them off. I generally only get new glasses when my prescription changes; then I take the older pair as an imperfect spare. I rarely need to use my spare glasses and even then usually for only a day or two, so it’s not usually a problem, but of course COVID makes everything a problem.

***

From my devar Torah (Torah thought) for this week:

Finally, Rashi tells us that sometimes Moshe [Moses] is put before Aharon [Aaron] and sometimes Aharon is put before Moshe to teach us that they were equal.[1]  This is puzzling, as we know that Moshe was the greatest prophet, so how could Aharon be his equal?  According to Rav Moshe Feinstein, Aharon was equal to Moshe in two senses.  First, that Moshe would not have succeeded without him, so his participation, like Moshe’s, was essential even if Moshe was greater.  Second, Aharon achieved the maximum of his potential, just like Moshe.  Although Moshe’s achievement in absolute terms was greater, both brothers achieved 100% of their potential and are equal in God’s eyes, as He judges success by the proportion of a person’s mission that is achieved and not the amount achieved in absolute terms.[2]


[1] Rashi Commentary to Shemot 6.26

[2] Quoted in Rabbi Nosson Scherman ed, The Stone Edition Chumash: The Torah: Haftaros and Five Megillos with a Commentary Anthologized from the Rabbinic Writings

This idea, about achievement being relative to a person’s potential in God’s eyes rather than an absolute value, is not a new idea to me. So why it is so hard to accept?

***

The pharmacy I use is one of the six in the country that are providing COVID vaccinations. It’s just been on the TV news because the minister in charge of vaccine roll-out was there today. Selfishly, I am vaguely worried about whether this (the vaccinations, not the minister or the news) will have any impact on how fast and easily I can collect my monthly repeat prescriptions, particularly as I have one that needs collection on Monday.

***

None of what I have written here is serious, but it has all left me pretty exhausted. I’m going to do a bit more Torah study, then watch Doctor Who for a bit and go to bed.

Time Travel

I feel somewhat better today. I don’t know if I was distracted from depression and anxiety by being at work. I had autistic executive function issues with tasks where I had to fill in multiple spreadsheets at the same time and I kept losing the place or forgetting which spreadsheets I was supposed to use. This was made worse by having to deal with people phoning to make credit card payments where I had to drop everything and sort out the credit card payment and then afterwards try to remember what I was doing before the phone rang. I am slowly learning what all the spreadsheets do, which makes it easier to work out what goes where, but I still forget things sometimes. I made a couple of mistakes that I caught; I hope there weren’t any that I didn’t catch.

I was at least proud of myself for answering the phone. I hate doing that (anxiety), so it was a big thing.

I went to the bank too. The nearest branch, about fifteen or twenty minutes away, is closed because of COVID. The second-nearest was just a little bit up the road from the nearest one, but had a long queue, so I was out of the office for about an hour. I didn’t get lost this time.

That was it, really. I’m not feeling particularly depressed or anxious, just tired. When I was getting dressed this morning, I had an image in my head from Twin Peaks: The Return, where one character removes her face off to reveal a murky darkness broken by a bright grin. I’m not quite sure why this image was in my head. Did I feel like that this morning? It’s possible. Certainly there have been times in my life where I would have felt like that, but I don’t feel like that right now. It’s possible that being at work helped me today, in which case we’ll have to see what happens tomorrow when I’m at home (cooking dinner and hopefully working on my novel).

I do feel confused about my relationship, but I’m not sure what to do that. I think we were probably moving too fast. Our relationship faces a number of unusual challenges, and the pandemic is one of then. We can’t really move things on at the moment. I think we need to slow down for a bit, but also to spend time together, which we can’t really do right now because of the lockdown.

Other than work, I went to a shiur (religious class) in the evening. It was a bit late and I struggled to concentrate. It was more a mussar (ethical self-development) shiur than anything else, about keeping going if you fail in an area of personal growth. Discussions like this always make me feel weird, as I tend to put other people on a pedestal and assume everyone is doing amazingly and only I am struggling with all my middot (character traits). I still suspect that I have worse traits than everyone really, even if they struggle in the same area. Someone asked a question at the end about how to get non-religious Jews engaged religiously when there is so much they could enjoy in Judaism. The rabbi didn’t want to answer the question in the shiur, as it was a bit off-topic, but I did wonder a bit about whether there’s a way that I could enjoy Judaism more. I can enjoy and find meaning in mitzvot (commandments), Torah study and prayer on Shabbat (the Sabbath), but it seems hard to get that during the week.

I’m not sure what to do now. I’m tired, but not sleepy. I feel I should do something to unwind to help me sleep, but I don’t know what. I’m tired enough that I just sent my sister a text meant for PIMOJ, fortunately just asking how her evening was going.

***

I realised recently that I would rather have a time machine than a spaceship. (I appreciate that this decision is unlikely to have many practical ramifications.) I have felt for a long time that I don’t belong in this time. It’s partly having “old-fashioned” interests in terms of books and TV, partly feeling my politics are not a great fit for any party currently around (although I revise my political views fairly frequently – I get the impression that most people don’t), partly feeling my general worldview (religious, cultural) is different. Not necessarily out-dated, just different. I’ve never got on well with contemporary slang and trends.

I used to feel that studying history (my BA is in history) gave me access to information about the past that allowed me to understand the present better than most people. Now I’m not sure that that’s true. In fact, I suspect it’s not true. I don’t think I really understand the world particularly well. If I have an advantage, it’s only knowing that I don’t understand it, and maybe being aware that the world is more complicated than most people suppose.

Still, I feel adrift in time, looking for a society that works for me, people that I can communicate with. I want to write about a Jewish time traveller, hopefully when I’ve finished my current novel.

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!

Quick Post

I feel I need to write, but I only have a few minutes before having to shower for Shabbat (the Sabbath). I’m not going to shul (synagogue) this week as I’m too worried about COVID. The new lockdown has worried me, especially as we found out that Mum still has slightly reduced immunity. I know I’m going to work on the Tube (I’m a key worker, technically), but I don’t want to take unnecessary risks. I’m not seeing PIMOJ this week for the same reason, which I think she was a bit upset about. I’m upset too, but I don’t want to break the rules. I’m not sure what I’m going to do about volunteering, as they have changed the rules for volunteers to make it safer, and I’m not sure how they apply to me – I need time to read them again.

I feel a bit calmer today, mostly because I know none of the things that trouble me will be happening directly over Shabbat. I spoke to my rabbi mentor too, which was helpful. It wasn’t so much that he said anything new as that he validated some of my fears as understandable, but also validated my hopes that I was doing the right thing and should stick with it. Other people have said this, but I really needed his rabbinic approval rather than approval from my parents or therapist. He suggested a coping strategy for now as well.

That said, while getting ready for Shabbat some anxieties returned. I wonder if I’m being punished, or why God seems to put me in so many difficult situations. Situations which I feel someone frum (religious Jewish) should not have got in somehow. To be honest, I struggle to understand how to function in the frum community, not in terms of religious practise, but in terms of socialisation. Know what to do and say informally, when it’s not a matter of Jewish law. Knowing how to be accepted, how to present myself, what interests are allowed and so on.

OK, out of time now. See you in twenty-five hours.

Feeling Anxious

I’d like to be able to start a post without talking about my sleep pattern, but it seems to be a big part of my life at the moment, so here goes. I went to bed about 12.00pm. I wasn’t sure if I would sleep or not. Being sick can make you sleepy, but I had done nothing all evening since being sick except watch TV, so I didn’t feel particularly tired. I couldn’t sleep. I’m not sure if it was a lack of tiredness or the constant agitated thoughts about the Zoom meeting on Tuesday evening Rabbi B. Eventually I got up and watched some more Doctor Who to calm myself down. I did actually enjoy the second half of Logopolis more than the first, although that may be because it was 1.00am and my standards were not as high. I did eventually fall asleep around 2.00am, but slept through the morning again, which I was hoping to stop doing. I guess it was not entirely unexpected, given the evening I had (being sick, but also having a difficult conversation with my parents and arranging the call with Rabbi B). What did upset me a little was waking up with some religious OCD thoughts, which had not really bothered me for some time. I was a little surprised to experience them, although I know there’s always a risk of the religious OCD coming back at times of stress and exhaustion. They did at least go after I’d eaten breakfast – low blood sugar also exacerbates OCD for me.

After breakfast I felt better, but also a bit down and lethargic. It was hard to do very much. I guess it’s not surprising, given that I had been very sick less than twenty-four hours previously. At lunch I opened the box of vegetables that I was eating with PIMOJ yesterday and saw that the leftover cucumber had gone off. It was completely mouldy and furry. So I suspect I was sick from food poisoning from eating gone off cucumber. I knew it was a little past its best, but it still looked edible yesterday. Obviously not.

I was pleased to get thoughtful messages from PIMOJ, but also a message from J asking how I was, which was nice. He said I could do some work from home one day this week, putting 300 invoices in envelopes, stamping and posting them. I think I can do that on Wednesday, hopefully working around my therapy in the afternoon. I had already decided I was going to skip volunteering this week as I have too many stressful things even without being sick. I’m a bit upset at letting them down, but I need to look after my mental health. I skipped depression group tonight too, as I didn’t feel I had enough stamina to spend a long time on Zoom, as well as not feeling able to speak about the things that most concern me. I feel a bit bad about missing it again, but I feel that I need to focus on the autism assessment, meeting with the rabbi and paid work this week.

I spent an hour or so in the early evening working on my novel. Once I got into it, it flowed quite well for a while and I wrote 500 words, but around seven o’clock I suddenly became very anxious. It was a feeling of nausea and apprehension rather than specific voiced fears, but I suspect the meeting with Rabbi B tomorrow evening is at the root of it, and maybe also the autism assessment tomorrow afternoon.

I guess the Rabbi B fear is wondering what he will think of me, feeling that I’ve done something in good faith and on the advice of my rabbi mentor, but which on the face of it appears bad to someone from an Orthodox Jewish background. Although my rabbi mentor got in touch with Rabbi B before I made contact with him, I’m not sure how much of my story he told him. I guess below that is guilt, which probably isn’t justified. Beyond this, when I knew Rabbi B when I was at university, I felt that I was constantly embarrassing myself in front of him and looking like a freak or an idiot (for reasons I would now identify as being down to autism or social anxiety) and wondered what he thought about me…

Other than that, I didn’t achieve much. I didn’t go for a walk (I actually only just realised that I didn’t go out all day). I did some Torah study and preparation for my devar Torah, but wasn’t satisfied that I’d done enough, nor was I satisfied with my preparation. I may have to start from scratch, but it’s much too late to do that now.

I got distracted this evening reading stuff online that only left me upset, frustrated, guilty and uncertain of things, but I don’t really want to go into it here. Now it’s nearly midnight and I should go to bed as I have a busy day tomorrow (autism assessment, Rabbi B), but I feel very tense and unsleepy. And I haven’t even mentioned my thoughts about Lockdown 3: The Mutant Strain.

***

I was voicing my anxieties to PIMOJ and she was trying to calm me down. Then I watched the first episode of the Doctor Who story Castrovalva and saw the same scenario play out as the composed Nyssa tried to calm down the panicking Tegan, saying that panicking doesn’t achieve anything and so on. To be honest, there’s an element of geeky Adric about me too, and I’ve long suspected that I don’t appreciate Peter Davison’s Doctor as much as I should because he’s the Doctor who’s most like me (polite, but given to moments of panic and ultimately not that good at being the Doctor, with fatal consequences). Suddenly my future life seems like Season Nineteen of Doctor Who… I guess there are worse things it could be, although I hope it’s more Kinda than Earthshock.

***

I commented on someone else’s blog today to say that I’ve only been paid for one piece of writing, although I have done some professional or at least semi-professional writing for free. This, it occurred to me afterwards, is not true any more, as I have sold a couple of copies of my non-fiction Doctor Who book, and while so far only friends and family have bought copies, at least two people have read and enjoyed it (my oldest friend and my sister’s nephew). It’s a bit frightening how my mind can keep positive memories and thoughts away from me when I need it.

The Worst Possible Prediction for 2021

This has definitely become a sleep blog… Last night I couldn’t sleep, and then woke up early and couldn’t get back to sleep. Possibly the room was too cold, unless coming off olanzapine is already having an effect. I got just under six hours sleep, which isn’t bad, even if it contrasts weirdly with the eleven or twelve hours I’ve been getting the previous few nights.

The Tube was empty this morning. Tottenham Court Road Station was utterly deserted at 9.00am. I’ve seen busier stations in the middle of the night. New Year’s Eve in a plague city. Work was quiet and we left before 4pm. The roads were empty. That said, people have been firing off fireworks since 6.00pm, and non-stop for the last three quarters of an hour or so, which undermines the “plague city” feeling a bit. Are people that optimistic about 2021? Or are they symbolically blowing up 2020?

In late 1945, George Orwell said he would make the worst possible prediction for 1946: the new year would be just like the old one. (I would have thought 1945 was a good year overall, with the most destructive conflict in human history ending, but I suppose there was the arrival of the atom bomb which terrified everyone more than we remember, and the fact that Britain finished the war more or less bankrupt, with food shortages that lasted for years afterwards.) I suppose I feel a bit like that.

My 2020, as I’ve noted before, was better than a lot of people’s and I feel vaguely embarrassed about that. Mum got cancer, but she was cured too. I self-published a non-fiction book (I might even have sold copies to people I don’t know if I had the money to pay for advertising on Amazon) and wrote a hefty chunk of my first novel. I ended up in a relationship which didn’t work out, but afterwards in one that so far is working out. I worked in January, was unemployed for most of the year (which turned out for the best as I was able to help Mum) and then found some kind of work at the end of the year. It’s not ideal and I don’t know how long it will last, but it’s a job, which is precious at the moment. To be honest, finding a job in COVID times feels like Yitzchak (Isaac) sowing and reaping a hundredfold during a famine.

The Talmud says “Let the old year and its curses go out, and let the new year and its blessings come in!” That’s talking about Jewish New Year, but I’ve been thinking about it recently. I don’t believe things are magically going to get better in 2021, but hopefully they will get marginally better, even if it’s just the beginning of the end of the pandemic. Who knows?

I don’t usually celebrate New Years Eve. My parents usually go to friends, but they obviously couldn’t do that this year, so we bought takeaway and played board games: The London Game, which involves travelling around London on the Tube getting to various destinations, and Schools Out! which involves travelling around school, collecting books. To be honest, they were similar, although the former had an element of skill (which I lacked) and the latter was mostly luck. Dad won both. We had a good time.

I feel a bit peopled out now and slightly down, so I’m probably going to go to bed soon.

Draining Day

Today was the last of my semi-holiday days, as J is still off work isolating (back tomorrow) and there was no volunteering this week. However, I feel tense and am running late, and did not manage to do everything I wanted to do.

I slept far too long again last night, with bad dreams that I don’t remember (thus sparing you the details). I finally got the letter from the psychiatrist about changing medication yesterday, so I reduced the dosage of my olanzapine today. We’ll see how that affects both sleep and mood. Obviously I want sleep to improve and mood to stay the same (good), but we’ll see. I’m on three different drugs that increase tiredness (and weight-gain), so changing one may not do enough, and the others seem too important and useful to change. I don’t think I’m far enough in my recovery to stop my meds entirely, and maybe I never will be. I do want to have a morning though, to have more hours in the day; to daven Shacharit (say Morning Prayers) at the proper time, maybe even at shul (synagogue) post-COVID; to align my body clock more with PIMOJ’s (she’s early to bed and very early to rise); to be less fearful of oversleeping when I have work or volunteering… I’m fed up with being quasi-nocturnal, really, especially in the winter when I don’t get enough daylight.

It’s strange… feeling that I want to hibernate at this time of year is not new, but feeling physically tired without feeling particularly emotionally low is new. I’m not quite sure what to make of it. To be honest, despite having slept through the morning, I wanted to go back to bed after breakfast, although I didn’t.

***

I tried to work on my novel, but my brain was basically doing what my body did this morning: retreating into hibernate mode with the bedclothes over its head. The main thing I did was delete 90% of what I wrote yesterday as it wasn’t working. As for what I did write… I sat in front of the document for an hour or so, of which about twenty or thirty minutes was productive. I wrote 300 words, leaving me 100 words behind where I was before I deleted yesterday’s work. I managed to use the word “gastronome.” I guess I’m quantifying my life again to try to “prove” to myself that I’m doing things…

***

I went for a walk and did some shopping, and I wrote my devar Torah – in the end, I did write a new one rather than reusing an old one. I did a little Torah study beyond the devar Torah, finishing Emmanuel Levinas’ Nine Talmudic Readings. I did not understand all of it, but what I did understand made me want to read more Levinas, at least his writings on Judaism and perhaps some of his more general ethical writings. His sense of a responsibility that precedes contracts, precedes even freedom and itself is necessary for it to exist is rather lacking in the world around us.

***

My uncle, in Israel, has had the COVID vaccine. He’s the first person I know personally to get it, at least that I know of – I can think of some people I know who should have had it, or should get it soon, but I haven’t heard that they have yet. I guess that’s the advantage for my uncle of living in small country (the entire population of Israel is about the same as that of Greater London, something not usually made clear in news coverage).

Meanwhile, our new cleaner refused to wear her mask properly (nose uncovered) on the grounds that she couldn’t breathe properly. This led to mild anxiety that she’s infected us. I don’t think she’s coming again, although for reasons unrelated to COVID precautions.

***

The COVID anxiety has subsided, but I’ve had bits of stress building up in the last hour or two, as I need to get ready for work tomorrow and feel that I haven’t done everything I want to do, and also that tomorrow is going to be busy. At least I can see that stress is not depression or anxiety.

“Prediction is difficult, particularly about the future”

I had mixed feelings about an online article on autism and left a comment, even though I don’t usually comment on that particular site (it’s mostly politics articles, and while the articles are interesting, the comments are often angry and lacking nuance). I’m not linking to it as I had to post the comment under my real name. I said that the difference between “high functioning” and “severe” autism is not always clear-cut, that I was extremely high functioning in the structured environment of school and got to a very good university, but I struggled there and even more since then. That I’m thirty-seven and have never had a full-time job or a relationship that lasted more than a few months, nor have I ever built my friendship network the way I would have liked (although I do have some friends, albeit many online). That like a lot of people on the spectrum I’ve spent much of my life struggling with mental health issues. I don’t consider myself to have “autistic superpowers” and I worry about how I will cope with the world when my parents aren’t here to help me.

In retrospect I’m not sure if I should have posted it. The line between “sharing experiences” and “self-pity” can be a fine one for me and I’ve crossed it many times in the past, usually when feeling upset and left behind by life or by my peers. That said, and very much to my surprise, within a couple of hours it had become the comment with the most upvotes on that article, and by a considerable margin, so I suppose some people thought it was a worthwhile contribution.

***

My main achievements for the day were cooking dinner (lentil dal and rice) and going for a run, the latter rather later than I wanted, after dark, as I made sure to cook dinner first in case I got an exercise migraine. I don’t think I was unusually short of breath, so perhaps the recent shortness of breath is a mask side-effect after all. I did come back with a headache though. I didn’t feel up to doing much Torah study with a headache, so I listened to an online shiur (religious class) rather than read Torah. I’m trying to listen to shiurim more, particularly on days when I feel depressed, tired or otherwise unable to read Torah. I do see shiurim as somewhat second-best, though, as I internalise ideas much easier in written form than spoken, not to mention that I feel that written information is “denser” than spoken i.e. I will come across more new ideas in an hour of reading than an hour of listening to a shiur. I’m not sure how true that feeling is.

***

My line manager, J, texted me to say that he is self-isolating after coming into contact with someone with COVID at our shul (synagogue), I assume/hope not at a service where I was present, as I haven’t heard anything. He has been going to shul a lot more than me in the pandemic, so it’s quite likely that that’s the case. So, no work this Thursday, or next Monday, which is bank holiday anyway.

***

I phoned my psychiatrist’s secretary to chase the letter I was supposed to have about changing medication to make me less tired. The secretary says that she was not told to write a letter and that she will have to speak to the psychiatrist, so another NHS error. I’m worried that this won’t be resolved until the new year. We ❤ NHS.

***

The Economist does a “world next year” publication at the end of each year. I’m amused that they’re still doing one for 2021, even though I’m pretty sure their 2020 edition failed to predict the pandemic, which dominated every aspect of the year, even more than either Brexit and the US election (which had its own surprises, such as Trump increasing his vote in absolute terms, but still losing). The BLM protests in the USA were unprecedented in their size, and the fact that they spread to other countries and no one predicted that. No one guessed that Israel would normalise relations with a slew of Arab countries either. “Prediction is difficult, particularly about the future” is a saying attributed to many different people, but it’s very true whoever said it.

I wish journalists would stick to reporting facts rather than trying to seem super-clever by predicting the future. Unfortunately, it’s cheap copy – it’s much cheaper to sit at your desk guessing what might happen instead of going out and asking people what did happen. No one remembers the failed predictions, so there’s no downside to it from the journalists’ point of view. It also means people you don’t like don’t actually have to do bad things for you to be able to criticise them, it just has to be possible for them to do bad things at some point in the future.

For example, at one point this summer, there were four different articles on the BBC’s Middle East news page saying that Israel was going to annex the Jordan Valley and asking if this would start a war. In the event, Israel didn’t annex the Jordan Valley, and the idea that it might looks like a bit of diplomatic maneuvering to get the Emirates/Bahrain peace deal. The BBC never retracted anything. It never does. About the same time, there was a skirmish on the Indo-Chinese border in which several soldiers were killed, which potentially could have started a war between the two most populous countries in the world, both nuclear-armed. It barely registered in Western news media. There’s a lot of ways you could understand this, none of them good.

(Coincidentally, I just came across a load of newspaper clippings on Twitter showing senior US politicians and health experts (not just Trump and, yes, including Democrats) saying in February that COVID wasn’t a serious problem and that people should celebrate Chinese New Year in big crowds as normal.)

Date and Memorial Service

I got up early to go for a walk with PIMOJ in Golders Green. Although PIMOJ is adventurous and likes doing new things, she seems quite comfortable doing things repeatedly too, which is useful as autism doesn’t like novelty much, and because there isn’t much to do in the winter with COVID shutting everything down. We had a good time and opened up to each other a bit, I think. It definitely seems that there’s some “opposites attract” with us, admiring the other’s traits that we don’t have.

After walking for a while, I began to feel a bit faint and short of breath and had to sit down for a few minutes. I was perhaps dressed a little over-warmly for the weather. Later, walking up the stairs at the Tube station with my mask on, I felt short of breath again. I have been slightly short of breath at volunteering lately, again with a mask, although I wasn’t wearing a mask when I had to sit down. It is hard to breath with a mask, but I guess it’s also something to mention to the GP.

In the afternoon I worked on my devar Torah (Torah thought) for well over an hour, which was more than I expected, especially as it is still not finished. It is uses more sources than usual, and is also more creative, making me rather nervous about presenting it, worried that I have got carried away with my essential idea, that Rambam’s (Maimonides’) moral categories of “balanced” sage and “pious” saint are two complementary models of religious leadership, the former for times of stability and the later for times of crisis; and that Yehudah (Judah) and Yosef (Joseph) are, if not models of the two, then at least incline towards them. I wish I had more time or ability to bounce this idea off people and see what they think before sending it out into the world.

I then spent half an hour reading a book on domestic abuse in the Jewish community as research for my novel. Then in the evening I had a Zoom shiur (religious class) at the London School of Jewish Studies. Actually, it wasn’t exactly a class. It was supposed to be the launch of Rabbi Lord Sacks’ latest book, except he passed away a few weeks ago, so it was part book launch, part memorial service. They had thirteen Jewish educators who were, in different ways, Rabbi Sacks’ students, speaking about him and his ideas.

I found it quite moving and at times difficult to watch. There were a lot of mixed feelings, some of which I have noted before. There was the feeling of loss about Rabbi Sacks’ death, and the feeling that I will never get to speak to him, and that maybe I could have spoken to him if I had tried hard enough, but what would I have said?

There was also the feeling of inadequacy I have at LSJS events, that I should get on with these people, that they are on my wavelength and must have a similar worldview, but I’m always too shy to speak up at classes, whether to ask or answer questions or volunteer ideas, so no one there really knows me. Also that many of these educators are not that much older than me, but I have not done anything with my life the way they have (PhDs, rabbinic ordination, written books etc.). I wonder how I can rectify this, and I don’t really know.

One teaching today impressed me so much as relevant here that I wrote it down so I could quote it correctly. Tanya White was speaking about suffering. Rabbi Sacks, inspired by Viktor Frankl, and said that suffering is inevitable, but that “Healing comes when we refuse the self-definition of victimhood,” that we can choose our response to suffering. It strikes me that this is hard today in a time of competitive victimhood; we have to consciously choose not to define ourselves as victims, but to find a more positive and proactive way of understanding ourselves.

Driven To Tiers

So, on we go to Tier 4 (in COVID restriction regulations), the COVID equivalent of “It goes up to eleven.” Apparently, I can still meet one person from not in my household if we meet outside, which means PIMOJ and I can still go out tomorrow, which is good, but Mum and Dad were hoping to have dinner in my sister’s garden later in the week, which is now forbidden.

I can’t actually remember much of what happened over Shabbat (the Sabbath). I was really tired on Friday, but forced myself to do my usual chores and get to shul (synagogue) on time. I still don’t like shul with COVID restrictions, but it’s good to go once a week. I read a lot, a lot of religious reading and some recreational reading, mostly Doctor Who Magazine, the current issue and also the twenty-four year old back issue I bought recently. I enjoyed the back issue a lot; the current one, more moderately. I read a bit of the book I’m reading at the moment, America During the Cold War, a reader on American history in the Cold War era, but I’ve been struggling to get into it so far.

I did have a dream that upset me a bit. I can’t remember the details now, and I wouldn’t go into them if I could, but it was bringing up things I’ve been feeling guilty about recently. Ashley asked recently if I think all my dreams are trying to tell me something; this is a good example of one that I do not think is telling me something, but is just processing recent thoughts and conversations, but it was still uncomfortable to wake up from.

As with the last few weeks, I intended to stay up reading, but got tired around 11.15pm and went to bed. I slept until 7.00am, when I decided I was still tired and would doze for another hour. I then slept for another five hours, and then napped for half an hour in the afternoon. This is beginning to feel wrong to me. I seem to be tired so much of the time, and to be sleeping so long, and it’s hard to see it as being part of my depression when my mood is so much better. I don’t remember being this tired while depressed for a long time (when I was very depressed I was hiding in bed as much as sleeping in it). I suppose it could be my medication, but in 2018, when I was very depressed, but on these meds, I was working four days a week at times, which I could not manage now (admittedly sometimes I had to dose myself up on coffee to avoid falling asleep at the desk).

I’m beginning to wonder if I have some other illness such as chronic fatigue syndrome, but am scared to investigate for fear of being a hypochondriac or diagnosis-shopping, and Occam’s Razor would suggest the medication is the issue. Something does feel “wrong” though, even though it’s hard to quantify what “wrong” is. How does one measure and quantify fatigue? And compare with fatigue of years ago?

My parents suggested trying to get a phone appointment with the GP this week, which I will try to do, but I do feel like a hypochondriac, even though something feels wrong and I am the expert on how I feel.

Everyone In The Country Is Maladjusted

A few years from now, the President of the USA will be an android and his entire government a fraud. Everyone in the country is maladjusted. Doesn’t seem possible, does it?

This is the beginning of the back cover blurb from my Chanukah present tonight, The Simulacra by Philip K. Dick. The novel was published in 1964, although the blurb dates from 2004. Even so, 2004 seems an age ago, when there was still a clear distinction between satire and reality.

***

Today was tiring. It started last night. I went to bed really early (10.30pm) because I was exhausted. About 4.45am, I was woken up by my Mum. Dad was taking her to the hospital because of what she thought was an allergic reaction, but which turned out to be cellulitis (bacterial infection). She has been struggling with this for a while now, mistakenly thinking it was an allergic reaction to her cancer-treatment dressing, so it’s good that it’s finally diagnosed and treated (anti-biotics). Still, she spent half the night in the hospital; I think Dad spent it in the car, because COVID means only patients are allowed into the hospital.

***

At work, J asked me to go to the bank and do some shopping. The bank and shop were local, but I managed to get lost several times and the whole trip took an hour and a quarter. This was in a very well-known part of Central London, albeit one I haven’t been to so much in recent years. More embarrassingly, it was where I was for a while with PIMOJ yesterday. I don’t think a poor sense of direction is usually considered a symptom of autism, but it would make sense to me if it is – I wonder if the sense of direction is in a similar part of the brain to the part with poor spatial awareness in autism. They seem similar to me, although I’m obviously not a neuroscientist. J didn’t seem to mind that I took so long, but I felt embarrassed. I had also pulled a muscle in my leg walking with PIMOJ yesterday, and that hurt more as a result of all the walking.

The afternoon went quickly. Without giving too much away about where I work, there was, before COVID, a regular minyan (prayer service) on the premises. They restarted it yesterday or today and I went along today, which was good, the first time I’d been to a weekday prayer service since I’m not sure when, probably February or even January. It was masked and socially distanced, but we sang Ma’oz Tzur when we lit Chanukah candles, which we should not have done. I don’t think we’ll be allowed to have a minyan on Thursday as London will have gone back into Tier 3 (which is basically strict lockdown again) by then. I don’t know whether my home shul will be allowed to run Shabbat services this week, but I suspect not. It feels like we are in a third lockdown.

Tonight’s donut: I haven’t decided yet, let alone eaten, but I’m leaning towards jam again. Sometimes you can’t improve on the classic version.

Date and Zoom Chanukah

I know I get fixated on my sleep here, I guess because it’s the most tangible area where I still struggle, so I’ll just note that, thanks to insomnia and early waking, I only got about five hours of sleep last night before my date with PIMOJ today, admittedly after a day in which I had slept far too much.

The date itself went very well. We spent several hours walking around Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens. It was raining much of the time, but we had a good time, even though a miscommunication meant PIMOJ was expecting me to bring food for both of us, whereas I thought we were each bringing just for ourselves, so we both ended up sharing one bagel and some vegetables. PIMOJ put her arm through mine a lot, which was nice, but felt a bit weird. I have never really done that with anyone before. Physical contact still prompts elements of guilt for me, for both religious and COVID reasons, and even without that, new physical sensations can be difficult on the autism spectrum.

We exchanged Chanukah gifts. I was glad I got PIMOJ a book I think she will really like, as she gave me chocolates and two books, which took me aback a bit. PIMOJ said she wants to see me in person more often, and that, and one or two other things, made me think that she’s serious about me. She said communicating via text is not always easy for us, especially as English isn’t her first language, which is true. Also, I find that I can’t always tell when she’s joking. I know that’s a typical autistic trait, but 90% of the time it’s not a problem for me, but with PIMOJ it frequently is an issue (hence the food mix-up). So trying to meet more regularly, despite COVID and the weather, seems to be the way forward. She also said that she doesn’t want me to compromise on anything, so I’m not sure where I got that idea from.

I came home exhausted, unsurprisingly. I was surprised to find donuts and chocolates left for me by my shul (synagogue) and a refund of money from a communal institution who I had paid twice, the result of a direct debit or standing order that was paid despite not showing up on my list of regular payments in my bank account. The latter will require further investigation to find out why it’s not showing.

My parents and I did a Zoom Chanukah candle lighting with my uncle and aunt in Israel, along with cousins 3 and 5. Singing in tune over a Zoom connection was not easy. We sat around talking afterwards. I didn’t really say anything. I don’t say much when I’m with my extended family in person and I never feel comfortable and able to talk at these kinds of Zoom meetings, and I was already quite drained, so I was a bit relieved when the battery on Mum’s laptop ran out after nearly an hour and brought the meeting to an end.

Tonight’s donut ended up being a chocolate-filled one again, although I honestly don’t only eat chocolate donuts! They didn’t have the iced type I wanted. The chocolate-filled one was nice though.

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.

Lockdown Working, and Going Slooooowly

The first day of my new job went quite well. The train was relatively empty at 9.00am. There were still a lot of people on it, but we could sit with at least one empty seat between us and everyone wore masks. Also, I’m pleased that London Underground has put up signs reminding people that some disabilities are invisible, but I found their “Be Kind” signs a bit patronising.

Once arrived at work, I was in an office with my friend/line manager (who I will refer to as J for convenience). It was a small office and although we were socially distanced most of the time, at times we were not. The work he had me doing today was mostly checking data, comparing hardcopy records with the database and noting discrepancies. I got through about three-quarters of the data today, which was faster than he expected. I hope that doesn’t mean I’ve been sloppy. I was trying to be careful, and the office was mostly quiet, which hopefully means my concentration will be better than the previous data-entry jobs where I struggled with noise and interactions with others. I also hope that it doesn’t mean that the job won’t last long. J said he would look for other work for me when I finish this. He said there is work to be done migrating data from an existing database to Access, but I’m not sure if I’ll be able to do that, although I was trained in using Access many years ago.

I felt awkward at lunch, as J just ate at his desk and seemed to keep working except when he went off to pray. I stopped for lunch, but felt too awkward too read my novel in the office as I would normally do to recharge during lunch. I ended up not taking a full hour because I was just sitting there messing around on my phone. My Dad says I should query this, or say that I need a full hour, which is already making me feel anxious. Part of me feels I shouldn’t ask for a full lunch as I’m already coming in to work an hour late (to avoid the Tube in rush hour with COVID) and probably leaving half an hour early most days (as J offered me a lift home and implied he always would, and he likes to leave around 4.30pm to beat the rush hour traffic). I can’t leave the office later, as we were the last ones out and I don’t want the responsibility of locking up. On the other hand, if J seems to be OK with this, maybe I shouldn’t argue. He seems to have an attitude of working towards the job rather than the clock.

As I said, J gave me a lift home as he lives near me. I sat in the back to socially distance, but I felt a bit uncomfortable, although I’m sure it’s safer than the Tube would have been at rush hour.

I was pleased that J did not talk much in the office, so I wasn’t distracted or too socially anxious. He did put the radio on in the car on the way home and then talked over it, so that I couldn’t hear and concentrate on either him or the radio. I probably should have said something, but I thought it would be rude. As he seemed to be making neurotypical small talk, I just made “Yes, right”-type noises and tried not to worry too much if I couldn’t hear everything.

On the whole I think it went well. It’s not a terribly interesting job and it’s not where my career should be going, but it keeps me occupied, plugs a gap on my CV and earns me some money at a time when the whole world is struggling, not just me.

***

I went to a Hasidut chaburah on Zoom via my shul (synagogue). I’m not sure how to translate chaburah. I guess it’s more informal than a shiur (religious class). The word is etymologically related to the idea of fellowship, of people getting together to work on their personality traits together, in this case via Hasidut, specifically the teachings of the Hasidic Rebbe of Piaseczno. To be honest, I was probably too tired to get much from it, and talks about character traits just tend to make me feel useless and bad, full of bad traits, but I was interested to hear the rabbi say that we are not our character traits, because I tend to identify overly with my character traits, especially the negative ones. I tend to struggle to identify myself away from my thoughts and traits.

***

I’m mostly feeling OK now, just very tired. But I do feel a bit daunted. Things are going reasonably well for me at the moment, but I’m daunted by how long it will be before anything can come to fruition. The job I just started is not going to be a career. It probably won’t last more than two or three months. I don’t know where I go with my career after that. My novel is progressing, but I blow hot and cold as to whether it is any good. I think it will be a year or so before I feel able to share any of it with anyone else (OK, strictly speaking E saw some early chapters, but I’m not in contact with her any more and I think she was biased as we were dating at the time).

Above all, things are going well with PIMOJ, but we can’t even see each other properly because of lockdown. I think things are good, but it’s hard to be sure when we get to spend such little time together. She’s not like me at all in terms of personality, but we have a lot of core values in common. I do feel that I can’t always communicate with her so well via text and I’m not completely sure why, given that I usually find text easier although, as I’ve said in the past, if we do communicate better in person, that’s better for our long-term relationship prospects (I’ve also said that the fact that English isn’t her first language probably complicates things). For various reasons this is not going to be a typical ultra-Orthodox-style whirlwind romance (in the Haredi/ultra-Orthodox world, people will typically go on six or eight dates at most before deciding to marry someone). Even conservatively, if not much goes wrong, it’s going to be several years before we could think about getting married (and we’re both religious, so my thirty-seven years of celibacy are set to continue indefinitely).

***

I know I’ve vacillated back and forth here about posting something about my politics, wanting to write something from a social anxiety point of view as anything else i.e. about feeling isolated in certain gatherings rather than advocating X, Y and Z. I actually wrote a long post which has been sitting in my drafts folder for a while now. I want to add a bit to it, but perhaps I’ll post it later this week, assuming I don’t lose my nerve.

I often seem to be in situations where most people don’t share my beliefs, whether political or religious (religiously, I’ve shared Rabbi Lord Sacks’ z”tl notion that Modern Orthodox Jews are a minority or a minority of a minority). This is often uncomfortable, but it does mean that I can’t take anything for granted, I have to articulate what I believe and why constantly, at least to myself if not to other people. That’s probably a worthwhile exercise to undertake regardless of what you believe.

***

Vague Anxieties

It occurred to me today that the clocks went forward two weeks ago and my mood has stayed reasonably good. Usually if my mood slowly improves in the summer, it quickly sinks back to depression in the winter. There’s a lot of winter still to come, and days when I work are harder because of more lack of sunlight (I hate leaving before sunrise and coming home long after sunset, with most of the time in-between indoors and poorly lit) but I feel cautiously optimistic about this.

I went for a walk today to do some shopping. Unfortunately, I could not find this magazine. It was supposed to be out last Wednesday, but doesn’t seem to be available online or in shops. I worry it sold out before reaching the shops, which can occasionally happen with much-wanted merchandise.

I did not get for a run today, partly because I had to go shopping and partly because the weather was poor. Currently sunset is around 4pm, which means (given that I get up late), I have to interrupt my afternoon to go running, which isn’t always practical, especially as I know there’s a reasonable chance of an exercise migraine disrupting the rest of the day afterwards.

I spent two hours working on my novel, which was pretty good. I got through a lot without having to make many changes, and am now long past the halfway mark in the second draft, but I’m likely to slow down now, as I head towards the climax, which I want to significantly rewrite. I managed an hour or so of Torah study too, so it was a fairly full day.

I need to go to bed soon as I start my new job tomorrow. It feels strange to be going to a completely new job, but in a place I’ve worked before. I’m nervous about using public transport during COVID lockdown as well as about the job, my ability to do it and whether I’ll let my friend down, but I’ve said all this before.

Things with PIMOJ feel a bit strange too, with COVID making getting to see each other and know each other difficult and also knowing that there’s a limit to how far we can move this on for some time even without COVID. It’s also unusual for me that I feel more comfortable with her in person than in text. I actually struggle to be more open and spontaneous in text, which was not the case with previous relationships. I hope that’s not a bad sign, especially as I do still struggle to talk a bit in person. I think she’s probably more talkative than I am generally, and certainly more spontaneous. She doesn’t like Skype, so we really need to be able to meet in person again, which we can’t do. Although I’m probably worrying about this to avoid worrying about tomorrow, which is not healthy so BED.

Sleeping, Walking, Writing

I went to bed early (for me, anyway), slept for twelve hours and woke up feeling burnt out again. By the time I got up the cleaner was here, but I was too tired to get dressed before going down for breakfast, so she saw that I was in pyjamas and dressing gown at midday. I suppose this could make me feel decadent, but mostly makes me feel lazy and useless. Then I ended up going back to bed for a bit, although I didn’t sleep. I just felt completely drained.

I can see that staying in bed so long might make me more tired, but I don’t usually wake up naturally after eight or nine hours. Even if I set an alarm, I don’t really wake up properly before I’ve turned it off in my sleep. An alarm on the other side of the room I just sleep through. Perhaps irrationally, it annoys me that I can’t work out if this is depressive burnout or autistic burnout. If depressive, why is it persisting when most of my other symptoms have gone? It’s it’s autistic, then why was I not like this as a child? I went to school every day without a problem until I was sixteen, when the depression started. Did I just have more energy or resilience then? It does make me worry about starting work next week; I hope I don’t have to cancel volunteering because it’s too much to do volunteering and therapy one day, then work the next.

I went for a walk even though it was a bit of a struggle because of exhaustion. It wasn’t terribly long, but I went slowly, because of exhaustion and because PIMOJ asked me to take some photos so she could see where I was going. That was quite a nice thing to do “together”, but stopping and starting probably neutralised the exercise aspect. I’m also not terribly good (or, to be fair, experienced) at taking photos with my phone. Still, it was a nice thing to do. I think PIMOJ would be good at getting me to do little things like that to bond or to decrease my depression (the whole photo thing came about because I said I was feeling depressed today and she said to go on a walk and then added to take photos so she could see where I’m going). I guess my fear is that sometimes I want to withdraw to my Fortress of Solitude and work things through or just sit with my emotions rather than being cheered up. Sometimes that’s the right decision for me; other times I do actually need to be cheered up (like today). I think it may take us a while to work out how to tell which is which.

I don’t know whether it was the walk or the fact that my mood usually peaks in the afternoon/early evening, but I managed to do an hour of work on my novel (admittedly with procrastination) and finished my devar Torah for the week.With the devar Torah, after saying yesterday I wasn’t satisfied with it, I actually feel happier with it now, feeling I’ve got a reasonable balance between primary sources, secondary sources and my own interpretations. Strangely, with the novel I currently feel happier with the plot thread I’ve invented from scratch than with the part that is rooted in my own experiences (and which was the original idea for the novel). The truth may be stranger than fiction, but fiction is better structured and probably more interesting. Also, I don’t really like the character based on me very much, which speaks volumes about my self-esteem.

This cartoon sums up a problem I’d already noticed in my novel. When I started writing a little over a year ago, I wrote an internal timeline of events (it’s a coming of age story that takes place over several years and I wanted to make sure that I didn’t accidentally have one character living through more time than the others by writing “a few months passed” too often), but I didn’t explicitly tie it to specific dates so that the book could be read as “roughly in the present” for a number of years. Then suddenly a massive, dramatic change to how we live occurred and I wonder if I should explicitly date it to be before COVID, otherwise the chronology doesn’t work. But then I worry it will feel almost like a period piece when (if?) we get to the other side of COVID.

***

I got an invitation, or a virtual invitation, to a wedding. It’s the daughter of one of my shul friends who is getting married. She is significantly younger than me as my friend is quite a bit older than me (a number of my friends are significantly older than me. I’m not sure if it speaks to my maturity or autism or something else). I’m glad I’m getting better at dealing with “older single in the frum (religious Orthodox Jewish) community” element of my life. It’s still a bit difficult to get my head around it. I sit with my friend at shul (synagogue) and have been invited for Shabbat and Yom Tov (Sabbath and festival) meals on a number of occasions, so I do know him and his family quite well. It just feels strange to be going to a wedding for someone so much younger than me, and a Zoom wedding at that. I’m not quite sure what the protocol is regarding presents. I would struggle to go if it was an in-person wedding with noise and strangers (autism and social anxiety), but the fact that it’s over Zoom and just the ceremony makes that easier at least although I’m not sure how it will fit with my new job.

***

From a pamphlet of quotations from Rebbe Nachman of Breslov that PIMOJ gave me: “Whatever one is enduring, one must muster the inner strength, as the verse says, “If I ascend to the heavens, there You are, and if I make my bed in hell, here You are,” because even in the depths of hell one can become close to God, for He is there also.” (originally from Lekutey Moharan)

Stalemate

I struggled to get up again this morning. I felt like my sleep was not at all refreshing, which is not unusual for me, but this time seemed particularly bad. I had weird dreams, which I can’t really remember, but I think shul (synagogue) was part of it, so I probably feel guilty for leaving the online AGM early or am just feeling again that I don’t fit in and that everyone else is doing “better” than me in life, whatever that means. To be honest, I probably would have stayed in bed longer, but I knew I had a dentist’s appointment at 2pm and wanted to get up and have lunch first.

I felt rather depressed for much of the day. I’m catastrophising a bit, worried that things won’t work with PIMOJ or in my new job, and that I’ll let my friend down in the latter. The slow pace things are going with PIMOJ is probably good overall, as I don’t think either of us has much relationship experience, but it is frustrating.

I was also worried about the dentist, partly because I’ve been nervous about it since having my first filling a year or so ago, partly because it’s a dentist I haven’t been to before and there’s a lot of autistic “new situation” anxiety there. In the end, I was fine. I have receding gums because I brush too hard, but otherwise fine. I’m not sure how to stop brushing so hard; this is not the first time I’ve been warned about it. There was some slight tremor, but not much.

I went for a walk for about an hour. I have usually been walking for half an hour most days when I don’t run, but I think I should try to increase it a bit as it’s going to become harder to run now the days are shorter, the weather wetter and I’ll be working two days a week. That said, in retrospect, I wonder if walking too long exhausted me and brought my mood down as my mood seemed even worse in the afternoon, the opposite of what usually happens.

I spent an hour or so on my novel. I procrastinated quite a bit. I’m struggling with redrafting. I feel like I’ve lost all ability to judge the quality of my writing, so I have no idea what to change as it seems equally good/bad. Actually, what it seems like most of the time is just indifferent. Also, actually fixing stuff is a lot harder than realising that just spotting that something needs fixing!

While redrafting, I kept getting distracted by tinkering with a draft blog post I’ve got saved about politics that I may never get the courage to post. Eventually I gave up working on either novel or post as I clearly wasn’t getting anywhere and I wanted to be in a reasonable state of mind for Zoom depression group in the evening.

I only managed about fifteen minutes of Torah study, which upsets me a little, but there you go. Realistically, I probably did too much yesterday, especially that overlong AGM, and am suffering burnout today.

At depression group I had the courage to go first (no one ever wants to go first). I spoke about my anxieties about my new job and COVID Tube travel as well as my autism assessment. I didn’t speak about PIMOJ again. I don’t know why. I think I struggle to share with the group the way other people can, particularly on Zoom; I think when we met in person pre-COVID I shared more. I suppose it’s harder to feel a rapport and sense any kind of empathy over Zoom. I certainly find it harder just to speak and listen on Zoom. There’s a function to turn off your camera; I wish there was a function to turn off everyone else’s cameras when I speak as I find the movement (and, on speaker view, the cutting between cameras if someone hasn’t muted themselves) distracting.

I’m trying to focus on the present, otherwise I slip back into depression and self-criticism. I find myself missing PIMOJ and wondering how much of that is genuine and how much is just loneliness. I hope it’s genuine, but it’s probably too early to say. We’ve only been in contact for two months.

I also find myself feeling “touch hunger,” the need to be held. I feel this a lot lately. Hugging my parents helps a bit, but not completely and lately I’ve found it hard to hug my parents, I don’t know why. I guess I just feel withdrawn. As someone on the autistic spectrum, and as an Orthodox Jewish man who tries to keep the laws about not having affectionate physical contact with unrelated women, touch is doubly difficult for me even without COVID. PIMOJ and I hugged on our last date and I don’t really regret it, even though both Jewish law and COVID regulations forbade it. It is hard to know what to do sometimes. I feel like I did what I had to do, even though it’s probably objectively wrong from a variety of viewpoints. Just don’t tell my rabbi or the police (although the idea of being fined for hugging my date is amusing). I know this probably sounds strange from a secular perspective, where sexual contact is assumed to be the norm even in the under age, but for me just hugging is a big, guilt-inducing thing.

I guess today, and other recent days, feels like stalemate, with nothing moving. I’m aware that things are going to change from next week when I start work again. I just hope things change for the better.

***

I’m watching Twin Peaks: The Return, the sequel series to Twin Peaks. I’m in the middle of episode four of eighteen. I don’t think it’s as good as the initial series, or at least the initial series was until they solved the murder of Laura Palmer (halfway through the second season). The original series had a strong hook (the murder), interesting characters and an intense sense of place (Twin Peaks and the surrounding forest). With this background, the style was allowed to flow naturally into a strange and wonderful mash-up of police procedural, soap opera, paranormal horror story and surreal comedy. The Return feels all over the place: no focus of plot or place, no interesting characters. It feels like the only character we’ve really seen at length is Agent Cooper, and he’s done nothing except wander around in a daze, repeating words other people say.

In the original series the weirdness felt like it had an underlying logic that we could not understand. In The Return, it feels like weird things happen because this is Twin Peaks. Rather than juggling different genres expertly, it’s hard to find any genre for it. I can see why they wanted to avoid simply rehashing the original series and do something new, but I think they over-compensated. I’m sufficiently invested in the series to watch more, primarily in the hope that Agent Cooper’s consciousness returns and rejoins his body, but I doubt I would be interested if I hadn’t seen the original series.

Feeling Slightly Useless

I think I’m going to pause job-hunting for a bit, or at least scale it down. My new job will probably only last two or three months, so I do need to keep looking, but it’s not such an imminent thing that I’m willing/able to apply for jobs I’m less likely to want or get. So, for the moment I’m not applying for a very user-facing public library job that would have been hard with autism and social anxiety. I’m not sure what I’m doing about the cataloguing job at the institution where I did disastrously in the interview and exam for a similar job back in 2018.

***

I spent an hour trying to work on my novel. I proof-read half a chapter or so, but did not write much that was new. I got distracted a lot and I probably felt too depressed to do much that was useful – I’m not sure whether I made the right decision about not expanding some passages or cutting others. My brain is just not functioning today and I don’t know why, but I’m certainly less productive today than I was on Friday. Maybe I’m burnt out after a busy Friday and “peopling” yesterday (on Zoom rather than in person, but that can be more stressful). I’m now halfway through the second draft in terms of chapters, but probably much less than halfway in terms of time and work, as I know the latter chapters need a lot of redrafting to fix plot and character problems.

***

I wanted to go for a run, but my knee was hurting for a bit, so I went for a walk, but tried to walk further than usual, about five kilometres.

I did about forty-five minutes of Torah study; I wanted to do more, but I ended up going to my shul‘s (synagogue’s) Annual General Meeting on Zoom and felt I had to draw a line. I was in two minds about going to this given that I felt down, but PIMOJ is the Better Angel of My Nature and suggested I should go. I watched it without my webcam on, which is discouraged, but I did not feel up to being seen or having my room seen; plus, this way I could listen with one ear while eating dinner or working on other things. I don’t really like long-winded speeches at meetings; I’ve already noted the “Everything has been said, but not everyone has said it yet” aspect of meetings that drives me crazy.

There was a lot of praise for people who have helped the community in different ways, which is absolutely correct, but I always feel, “Well, I can’t help, there’s nothing I can do.” When I was at Oxford, someone actually got really annoyed with me for refusing to go on the Jewish Society (JSoc) committee. My feeling was that the JSoc was a social group to enable Jews to meet and socialise (and date) rather than a religious society and that I knew nothing about running a social group. Thus spake undiagnosed autism and social anxiety. This person got really annoyed with me though and felt I was being selfish in taking from the society and not giving back (actually, I wasn’t taking that much as I hardly attended any events, but that’s another question). I drew on this for my novel too. Of course, shul brings up feelings of religious inadequacy compared with other people, which I didn’t have so much at Oxford. On Zoom there is also the “I can see everyone my age has a lovely house and I live in my parents’ second bedroom” inadequacy feeling.

Then they started talking about financial donations, which weren’t an issue at university where we were all impoverished students, but which now set me aside from people with successful jobs.

Then the internet, which had been ropey for the first hour of the meeting completely packed up (I’ve been having internet trouble again on my laptop lately). I did eventually manage to log back in on my phone, which has a better connection, but I was feeling even less engaged.

There was some stuff about finances and fees that panicked me and I need to look into.

I guess my overall impression of the AGM was personal inadequacy and something approaching awe for mentally healthy neurotypicals who are able (a) to do stuff to help the community and (b) stay interested and engaged for the whole meeting. To be honest, if they were able to sit through the finance presentation and ask pertinent questions, they beat me (yes, I know probably a huge chunk of the community are accountants).

The meeting is still ongoing as of 10.10pm, but I think I’m going to have to call it a night or my head will explode and I won’t be able to sleep.

***

I don’t know why I feel depressed today. I’m worried about getting COVID on the commute to my new job or to volunteering. I’m worried about performing badly in the new job and letting my friend down. I’m worried about sharing an office all day with someone (is he going to expect me to talk? To eat lunch together? I like to read on my lunch break…). I guess some of it is wanting to move on with my life (career, writing, PIMOJ) and feeling constrained by external factors (mental health and autism, financial situation and more), which is frustrating. I wonder if I will ever achieve the goals I’ve set for myself. I do know that whether I build a career as a writer or a librarian or something else, it’s going to take years; likewise, getting married will take years, even if PIMOJ is The One, and sometimes that time scale feels very daunting. How am I going to do anything with my life if it takes years just to get to the start? I know, I have started already, but it’s hard to see what I’ve achieved so far. Even on a smaller scale, I don’t like waiting to start the new job; I want to dive in and get started, so that’s another cause of anxiety and depression.

I guess more prosaically I miss PIMOJ. Unlike my previous relationships, I think we communicate better in person than online, which is probably good overall, but bad during COVID. It’s a real shame we can’t meet in person very often. I think we are both serious about this relationship and want to move things forward, but are being held back, partly by COVID, but also by other things going on in each of our lives, like my autism and job situation and some things in PIMOJ’s life. In terms of feeling bad, there’s also some loneliness and touch hunger too today, and not knowing when that will change.

***

Joe Biden’s middle name is ‘Robinette.’ I’m not quite sure how I avoided knowing that until today. I have a weird fascination with the middle names of US Presidents, which are often very unusual, at least from a British point of view. I’m guessing that some Americans still do the Victorian thing, which my grandparents did with my uncle, of giving the mother’s maiden surname to the first son as a middle name.

If We Ever Get Out of Here

Trapped inside these four walls,

Sent inside forever,

Never seeing no one

Nice again,

Like You,

Mama, you,

Mama, you.

If I ever get out of here

Thought of giving it all away

To a registered charity

All I need is a pint a day

If I ever get out of here

If we ever get out of here

Band on the Run by Paul McCartney and Wings

The extended quote from Band on the Run by Wings is indulgent, but expresses better than I can how I feel with the latest COVID restrictions just announced as coming in this week, as England (and I mean England, not the whole UK) goes back into full lockdown, albeit with schools, colleges and universities staying open this time.

***

Despite what I wrote yesterday, I didn’t come to any great insights or peace of mind over Shabbat about my autism diagnosis. I’m still too scared that I don’t have a 100% definite diagnosis yet (if you can ever have a 100% diagnosis of something as subjective as high-functioning autism), even if the psychiatrist did describe the rest of the process as “just dotting ‘i’s and crossing ‘t’s.” I think it’s probably something that will sink in more over time. My parents are hopeful that I will find more help in the workplace now. That may be true, but I need to find a job first, something that will be harder with the return to lockdown.

***

Shabbat (the Sabbath) was a normal semi-lockdown Shabbat. I went to shul (synagogue), ate with Mum and Dad, read, did Torah study etc. I was not intending to do so much Torah study after the assessment, but I got into it and did an hour or so on Friday and Saturday. I guess it shows that I do really enjoy Torah study when I feel able, particularly when I’m studying topics I’m interested in, which over Shabbat was Tanakh (Hebrew Bible), specifically Iyov (Job), which I’m now halfway through, as well as teachings from Rebbe Nachman of Bratlav and letters of Rav Kook.

Other than that, nothing really happened until after Shabbat. I had a list of chores to do, most notably getting ready the stuff that the psychiatrist wanted to see before my final assessment. This was interrupted by the news of the new lockdown. PIMOJ and I were supposed to be going on our third in-person date on Thursday, which is now out of the question. We’re hoping to have a hurried date tomorrow, although I’ll have to reorganise the call I had scheduled with my rabbi mentor. Technically I can still go to volunteer on Wednesdays (I think… the announcement is not completely clear to me), but I don’t drive and I’m not sure that I want to risk travelling on the buses with infections and the “R-number” rising. I was also due for a checkup at the dentist next week which has been delayed since the summer for various reasons. I don’t have a toothache, but I have always been good about dental checkups, so it feels worrying postponing it indefinitely. I guess I’ve been vaguely worried about my teeth since I had my first filling (at the age of thirty-six!) last year. My parents were also supposed to be going to the dentist soon, in Mum’s case for quite important reasons about seeing whether she can take a particular cancer drug she’s been prescribed. Then there is shul. I was just getting back into the habit of going regularly and now we’re not sure if places of worship will close down again.

Things feel grim. At least in the first lockdown the weather was good and the days were getting longer. This feels like a cold, dark, bleak time. The government are hoping to ease the lockdown by Christmas, but I worry it won’t happen. That may just be pessimism and negativity talking, though. I don’t celebrate Christmas, but I feel sad for those who do, especially the children. (Of course, we’ve gone through five Jewish festivals already this year with limited or no shul access or ability to meet friends and family.)

The Boy in the Bubble

I went to bed very early last night, but I slept for over twelve hours, so I got up late again this morning. I’m slightly embarrassed to say it, but I feel like I could have slept longer. I did feel drained and burnt out today, particularly in the morning and early afternoon. I’ve got to a point where I’m at least somewhat accepting that this is just what happens to me when I do things. Still, I wish I had more hours awake and alert.

I had a dream about being back at Oxford University. I was trying to get more time to do my work as I was depressed and autistic, but there was some kind of problem, I don’t know what. It may just have been that I did not have the courage to go to my tutor and explain. There were some people from my current shul (synagogue) there too for some reason. It’s pretty obvious that the dream was about feeling bad for needing support with my issues. I’ve never really got over that feeling of shame.

***

A librarian who turned me down for a job a while back saying my cataloguing wasn’t good enough has added me to his network on LinkedIn. I’ve never really got the hang of LinkedIn (like Facebook, but boring), but I reciprocated, because nowadays I mostly do if someone I vaguely know as a real person adds me (not random strangers). I’ve been on LinkedIn for years, but still haven’t got up to the thirty connections they say you should have for it to work well; a number of the connections I do have are family and friends in different sectors, not colleagues. It also reminds me of this cartoon.

***

PIMOJ and I were planning a date, when I realised it contravened COVID regulations (indoors with people outside my “bubble”). My sister and brother-in-law are our household’s “bubble,” so I can’t count PIMOJ as one. They (the regulations) are complicated enough now that I have to look them up as I don’t remember them. I think it will be a long, cold winter if we can’t meet indoors except in cafes and restaurants (where I don’t feel comfortable at the moment anyway). I was a bit nervous of mentioning this to PIMOJ in case it looked like I was backing out, but she was fine with it. When dating, I get so scared of being negative or just disagreeing in case; ironically, one date got angry with me because I was indecisive through fear of contradicting her, the opposite of what I intended. Dating in COVID is hard. Dating with low self-esteem and fear of rejection is harder. I need to learn that (a) PIMOJ seems to like me, other things being equal and (b) when it comes to values questions (like breaching lockdown or not), we’re usually on the same page. The latter is a somewhat unfamiliar place for me to be.

***

I started writing a new bit for my novel, plugging a plot-hole that I noticed. I wrote about 800 words in an hour, but feel I might be approaching the scene the wrong way and need to rewrite. As ever, I wanted to write more, but ran out of time. It can be hard to lead a full life when I only really have afternoons and evenings.

***

Other achievements today: I finished and sent my devar Torah (Torah thought) for the week. It was a little shorter than usual, but I couldn’t think of anything else to say and it seemed silly to pad it needlessly. I did some Torah study, albeit a disproportionate amount was spent tracing a reference in Rabbi Lord Sacks’ devar Torah to Ramban’s Torah commentary, but when I found it, I didn’t fully understand what Ramban was saying or why.

I went for a walk and did some shopping; I also failed to pick up my repeat prescription as the surgery has been slow in processing the pharmacy’s request (the lockdown procedure for requesting repeat prescriptions). I hope it’s ready before late afternoon tomorrow or I will run out over the weekend.

I did some ironing while watching Twin Peaks, which was a mistake, as Twin Peaks required atmosphere and concentration that were not possible while ironing. I find myself wanting to wallow in Twin Peaks. It has a unique atmosphere. Doctor Who is also capable of being mysterious, funny and scary in quick succession or even at the same time, but with Twin Peaks there is a sense of something else as well, I’m not sure what. Twin Peaks certainly has a sense of place which Doctor Who, by virtue of its time-space travelling format, does not, and Twin Peaks can have a greater sense of fear being aimed at an adult, post-watershed audience unlike Doctor Who, which has mostly been aimed at a family audience. There is something else, though, maybe a dreamlike atmosphere that I can’t pin down. Maybe Twin Peaks has a sense of fear that Doctor Who can’t have, because Doctor Who hasn’t really scared me since I was a child, whereas I know (from the classification warning on the DVD box) that Twin Peaks probably will have scenes that will scare or horrify me and I’m sitting on the edge of my seat in nervous anticipation.

Whatever the reason, I want to wallow it and binge-watch episodes, which is unusual for me, although not unknown. I don’t usually watch more than an hour of television in a day. I suppose the serial nature of the programme helps. When I watched Life on Mars and Ashes to Ashes earlier in the year, it was quite obvious that I was only going to get answers in the last episode of the season, if not the last episode of the programme as a whole, whereas here there are limited answers and more questions all the time.

400 Word Post

I think I may have overdone things on Friday. I went to shul (synagogue), which was quite good, at least by COVID standards. We went out for Lecha Dodi so we could sing it, as currently singing is only permitted outside. I sat with one of my shul friends who I hadn’t really seen for months. I do find shul hard at the moment and it’s hard to tell why. I don’t like wearing a mask, I know, but somehow the lack of talking and atmosphere affects me in a way that I did not expect. It feels like I needed the social aspect of shul to be there in the background, even though I did not like being involved in it myself, and even though it sometimes fed my social anxiety.

I came home and we went straight into dinner, then I did some Torah study for an hour or so. I was going to read a novel before bed, but I was too tired to read more than a couple of pages. Maybe I needed more downtime, as I got a headache today that reduced the amount of Torah study I did this afternoon. I didn’t really do much today because of that, just half an hour of Torah study and prayers. I slept for an hour and a half after lunch, which I didn’t want to do, but I was too tired to fight against it.

I guess it’s not surprising if the headache is a physical symptom of burnout, as I was busy all week last week and Shabbat (the Sabbath/Saturday) was my first day off. Tomorrow is set to be busy too, with a date with PIMOJ and then home for a Zoom meeting with my shul community. The shul has never had premises of it’s own, currently renting spaces in other institutions. There is the possibility of buying some land that would enable us to have a custom-built building, but obviously finance is a big question for a small community like ours, hence the meeting. I’m not sure how much of it will interest me bearing in mind (a) financial stuff tends to go over my head and (b) settings don’t matter so much to me, but I felt I ought to show my face and take an interest to be part of the community.