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.

Notes from a Quiet Yom Tov (Short Post)

Yom Tov (festival) was quiet. It feels odd not to have another Yom Tov on the horizon after a month of one after another. I went to shul (synagogue) on Friday evening. It was OK, but I still feel very anxious there and it’s hard to distinguish social anxiety from autistic “new situation” anxiety (mid-COVID). Wearing a mask for so long is uncomfortable too.

That was it, really. I stayed at home. We davened (prayed) and ate and slept. I did some Torah study. I had a migraine last night and threw up a little. I tried not to think about the job rejection; occasionally I had negative thoughts about my future and my apparent inability to get or hold down a job like a “normal” person. I dreamt about the boss from a previous job, one who I didn’t like and who said she was disappointed in me and my failure to learn the job as well or as fast as she expected. I dreamt about her being my teacher at school. I don’t remember much else of the dream, except that there were giant speaking dogs, for some reason.

I slept for two hours in the afternoon today, which I didn’t really want to do. Because of that, I’m probably too awake, or was until just now. Since Yom Tov ended, I’ve been going through emails and blog posts (so many build up in just two days), eating dinner and then polishing silver for my parents, trying to tire myself out. I’m watching the last episode of Star Trek Voyager. Voyager is not the greatest Star Trek series by any means, but somehow it’s been ideal pandemic viewing, unchallenging and reassuring with a strong family feel among the crew who seem to be able forgive each other for any misbehaviour.

Interview and Date

The interview (at a primary school for the position of school librarian) was OK, not great and not terrible. They asked a lot of questions, but the interview finished early, so maybe I wasn’t giving long enough and developed answers. I felt I floundered a bit. They asked the question about where I see myself in five years time, in career terms, which I hate, because I don’t really know where I’ll be in five years. I’m not someone with a career progression plan. They also asked if I would accept the job if they offered it today, which I did not like. It seemed a trick question; “No” is obviously the wrong answer, but “Yes” would not just be untrue, but perhaps seems over-eager, and might stop me asking for time to consider if I was offered the job. In the end saying I would ask for time to consider seemed the best option.

I had lunch (indoors rather than in the sukkah because of rain) and then it was time to go on my date with PIMOJ. I don’t really want to say much about it, partly because it was private and partly because although PIMOJ doesn’t know about my blog, I have a gut feeling she wouldn’t want me to write about her. We did seem to have good chemistry and were together for about three hours in all, for coffee and walking in the park. We seemed to have good chemistry and stuff in common – at least, important stuff like values.

It was a good afternoon, but I was very tired by the end. I was also a little worried about COVID. We had been together all afternoon, walking around near other people and in a (admittedly empty) cafe. There were also two Tube journeys on which not everyone was masked or socially distanced. I wasn’t wearing my mask while we were walking or in the cafe and I worry about how close I was to PIMOJ as well as to other passersby. I guess we can’t shield indefinitely; still, I feel vaguely worried, perhaps a bit hypochondriac, but perhaps those are real worries. Maybe I should have worn my mask more despite the discomfort and difficulty speaking, but it is too late now.

On the way home, I was phoned by the headmaster of the primary school. I hadn’t got the job. I wasn’t surprised, as I thought they would want someone with more experience in primary education.

My sister and brother-in-law were here for dinner, which was takeaway and in the sukkah. I don’t eat meat takeaway much nowadays as I only eat meat on Shabbat and Yom Tov (Sabbath and festivals). I decided Chol HaMoed (the intermediate, semi-festive days of the festival) count as sufficiently festive to allow me to eat meat. It was good, but after a couple of hours I was exhausted and unable to “people” much more. I slipped out for ten minutes or so, but it was still hard going back afterwards. When it was decided that it was too cold to stay in the sukkah, but sister and BIL stayed indoors for another cup of herbal tea, I decided I had to ask leave to… well, leave, or at least go upstairs and relax a bit.

It was a good day overall, the school rejection notwithstanding (I didn’t really expect to get the job anyway as I have no experience with primary school librarianship). I suspect I will feel vaguely apprehensive about COVID for a number of days though.

Suffering and Psychiatry

There is a price to a busy day like yesterday. I woke up in the middle of the night feeling really anxious, suddenly concerned that I would forget to tell the Department of Work and Pensions that I’m working (if I get the job) and shouldn’t be receiving benefits any more (the situation is actually more complicated than that, because my doctor’s note for the benefits states that I can work part-time, but not full-time, so a lot would depend on the nature of my contract). This led to catastrophising about going to jail for benefit fraud, but I didn’t want to write a note out of a superstitious fear that would “jinx” the job interview. I did write a note in the end, deciding piece of mind from the anxiety outweighed superstition.

***

I slept late, but when I awoke had to hurry as I had a video call with my psychiatrist. Annoyingly, the NHS expect you to log on ten minutes early (OK), but then play you awful lift muzak! Hands up who has no understanding of neurodiversity… There was also a recorded message that kept telling me to read the messages on the screen, even though there weren’t any.

The psychiatrist call itself was pretty good. She was pleased that I’ve been feeling better lately and said I looked a lot better. I told her about the job interview, but not about PIMOJ. The psychiatrist said that the brand of lithium I take is being discontinued, so I’ll have to switch to another brand, which is frustrating. Hopefully it will work just as well. She said I can try cutting back on my olanzapine and seeing if that makes a difference to my energy levels. If my mood gets worse, I can just resume the old dosage. I probably will do that, but not necessarily just yet, as in the past trying to come of olanzapine has led to significant mood changes and I think I would rather see if I’m going to be starting a new job and get started on it before doing anything. We both felt that the clomipramine should stay as it is, as it seems to be the most effective medication I’m on.

***

I helped Dad some more with setting up the sukkah, the portable shelter Jews eat in during the Sukkot festival (starting tomorrow night). I went shopping, initially going with my Dad to get the arbah minim (too complicated to explain, see here) then going to a Jewish bookshop and a charity shop to browse because I like browsing bookshops, but haven’t done it much lately because of COVID, as well as buying more vitamin D supplements from Boots. I still feel uncomfortable being around people in shops and did wonder if the browsing was a good idea. Mask compliance was very good, but social distancing and use of one way systems was not so good. I’m partially to blame here myself, but it’s not always easy to distance in a shop with narrow aisles or while queuing to pay.

I spent the rest of the afternoon/early evening sorting through emails and papers on my desk. It’s amazing how “Stuff” just builds up even without my apparently doing very much to generate it. I was too tired to do much and would have liked to unwind, but could not really relax feeling my desk and my inbox were disappearing under things.

***

I managed about forty-five minutes of Torah study; as usual, I wish I could have done more, but ran out of time and energy. Maybe it’s good that I always want to do more Torah study, even if sometimes I simply wish I could have got to a full hour. However, sometimes, like today, I wish I could spend more time exploring ancient and modern texts. The Talmud (I’m too tired to search for the reference, sorry) states that no one dies with even half his desires fulfilled. I realised that this applies to the righteous as well as ordinary people; the difference is that the righteous’ unfulfilled desires are spiritual rather than material. At least my desires here are spiritual.

In my ongoing (if sometimes intermittent) re-reading of Tanakh (the Hebrew Bible), I recently started Iyov (Job), to me one of the most challenging books of Tanakh. Alongside the biblical text, I started reading Job’s Illness: Loss, Grief and Integration: A Psychological Interpretation by a psychiatrist called Jack Kahn. It’s a study of the book that assumes that Job’s sufferings, while triggered by external events (the loss of his family and wealth) take on a psychological aspect based around depression, obsession and paranoia as seen in his speeches; his skin affliction is seen as psychosomatic. Job’s dialogues with his friends, with Elihu and finally with God enable him to reintegrate his personality and develop his psyche beyond his situation before his troubles started. “The vehicle by which his maturation is accomplished is, in fact, the very suffering which he undergoes.”

I’ve only read the introduction so far, so I’m not sure what the book will be like, but I’m intrigued by the premise and looking forward to reading it. I’m not sure if the author is Jewish (although Kahn is a Jewish name), but I’ve come across other Jewish quasi-psychological readings of Iyov that see the book as charting his growth from a religiosity based on fear of God and distance from other people to one based on love for both God and other people. I’m not sure if the book is still in print or easily available; I rescued my copy from the “duplicates/for sale” pile when I worked in a Jewish library. My copy also features some of William Blake’s illustrations to the biblical text.

***

Surprisingly, I got another job interview, this time for a school librarian position I applied for. I didn’t really expect to get this, as I have no experience of primary school librarianship. Unfortunately, the interview is next Tuesday and I have a date booked with PIMOJ and she has taken time off work, so I can’t cancel. I have emailed the school to ask if an alternative date is possible.

***

Speaking of the date, I’m worried and trying not to catastrophise. Try to stay in the present…

***

This short video from the National Autistic Society nicely illustrates the problems of dealing with a lot of questions/statements if you have autistic sensory overload and slower processing speed. This is how I feel in job interviews, or even just noisy kiddush halls.

On Job Interviews and Autism

I’m feeling burnt out again. My brain has the “stuffed with cotton wool” feeling that I haven’t had for a while. I guess at this time of year, for religious Jews, things get rather fraught anyway, with so many Yom Tovim (festivals) in rapid succession. We had Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year) last week; on Sunday night and Monday is Yom Kippur (The Day of Atonement) and then at the end of the week is the start of the mammoth nine day festival of Sukkot (Tabernacles) and its semi-detached conclusion of Shemini Atzeret (the Eighth Day of Assembly) and Simchat Torah (the Rejoicing of the Torah). I’m not getting up at 5.30am for selichot (penitential prayers) at the moment as I “should” be doing; I can only imagine what state I would be in if I were. At least after Monday the festivals will be less psychologically intense, with a focus on joy rather than on repentance, even if there is still a lot to do practically, although I have the “threat” of going back to shul (synagogue) in COVID times hanging over me, which I still do not feel comfortable about.

Because of Shabbat and Yom Kippur, I only have one full day to prepare for my job interview, and maybe an hour or so squeezed in amidst preparation on Sunday. To be honest, today I don’t have much energy/will power for preparation. The interview schedule I was sent seems to indicate that they’re only going to ask questions about my presentation, but that seemed unlikely, unless there’s a second, more general, interview somewhere down the line, so I want to prepare for general questions. I feel that I’m not good at interviews any more. I had a lot of practise for them when I was at school, preparing for university applications, but I have gone rusty. With autism, it’s hard to respond to questions in speech and without pause to consider, as would be permitted with a written test, and sometimes I just stop for several seconds (or longer) as my brain tries to get in gear. Sometimes the question doesn’t even register properly first time around and I have to ask the interviewer to repeat it, another autistic trait. Other times I stumble over my words and don’t sound too coherent, plus there’s sometimes some thinking of good things to say after the interview is over. I don’t know why it’s thought that testing someone’s ability to think and speak on their feet is a good test for how they will behave in a job that is largely written. To be fair, when I’ve had tests of my cataloguing ability lately I’ve done badly with them too, which does my self-esteem no good either.

I just feel negative about stuff today: interview, work, dating… I’m trying not to think about anything important, as it all just seems impossible. Not thinking about things seems safer than being relentlessly negative.

Autism Questionnaires

I wanted to get up at 9.00am to give me lots of time to get ready for my autism group at 11.00am, but I overslept (again) and had to rush. Even then I went to the group unshaven, which always frustrates me. The group was good (on sensory issues), but I always feel I don’t meet the exact same profile as other people, which makes me worry about not being on the spectrum. I think my sensory issues are subtle and not always noticeable to or understood by me, let alone other people. I have also always been good at masking and avoiding things, so again I don’t necessarily notice them as autistic sensory issues. Ironically, I had to shut the windows to block out the noise of someone mowing their lawn, a sensory issue that threatened to distract me from the meeting about sensory issues. I also find that even with a five minute break in the middle, I can’t concentrate for two hours and end up getting fidgety and looking at other things online in the last half-hour or so.

I felt completely exhausted after this, even after breaking for a long lunch. I forced myself to work on the questionnaires that the autism hospital sent me (in a classic piece of NHS inefficiency, they didn’t say where to send them when completed. My Mum phoned and discovered they should not go to the most intuitive place). There were some obviously autism-related questions and also questionnaires about general mental health and what I guessed was ADHD and maybe some other things they might want to rule out. I worry about not showing enough autism symptoms, now or in the past (being imaginative seems to work against me, the stereotype being that autistic people are not imaginative). I think the reality is that I masked well and that I use my imagination (reading and TV as well as writing) to try to understand people and situations that confuse me in real life, but I have a poor visual imagination; I have little sense of what the characters in the novel I’m writing look like, even if I can work out how they act. I was pleased that there were questions on my employment history, which I feel ought to set off some kind of alarm bell, even if I’m not sure what exactly. I didn’t have any of the reasons suggested for difficulty in the workplace, which were things like problems taking orders or frequent lateness or disorganisation, but I did have a load of my own issues, like difficulty with social interactions and problems multitasking and changing tasks. I was pleased that some of the questions seemed to be looking for autistic behaviour that is not one of the “classic” impairments, as well as asking about masking behaviour – I’ve felt penalised in the past for deliberately modifying my behaviour and body language (etc.) to fit in e.g. forcing myself to make eye contact even though I hate doing it, not talking about my special interests except with others who share them etc.

(One of the questionnaires was called HADS, which is funny to Doctor Who fans, but no one else.)

The forms took about two and a half hours to complete. Add two hours for the autism group, some time writing my devar Torah (which I didn’t intend to do) and a little Torah study and a half an hour walk, interrupted briefly by tashlich (a water-side ceremony I postponed from Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year) on Sunday so I could avoid COVID crowds) and I didn’t have much time or energy for other things. The walk to the stream was bizarre; it was not far away at all, but somewhere I haven’t been much at all in recent months to the extent that it all seemed strange and alien.

I’ve been feeling vaguely down today, vaguely depressed and anxious. I’m not sure why. To be honest, there probably are too many possible causes: an afternoon of form-filling would depress anyone and an imminent job interview for which I am not yet prepared would make anyone anxious. Then there is the fact that the days are noticeably shorter now (it was dark at half-past seven) and the nervousness around my autism assessment, and my new relationship (if it even counts as a relationship yet, which it probably doesn’t)… I just hope I’m not going to relapse into deep depression.

As for tomorrow, I have therapy. Before then, I want to rewrite my interview presentation to talk about the work I was doing at the beginning of the year rather than a project from two years ago, as I think I showed more initiative and have more scope for talking about what I would have done differently if circumstances permitted, plus I simply remember more of the more recent event.

Oversleeping and Social Anxiety

I am feeling somewhat self-critical today. As often happens, I woke up about 8.00am to go to the toilet and wanted to stay up, but ended up going back to bed again and sleeping for another couple of hours. I feel really bad when I do this, and it happens quite a lot, as if I had minimal self-control and will-power, which I know is not the case. It’s just that I get overwhelmed with exhaustion and maybe some mild depression (and, probably, habit too, I admit) and just feel that I have to get back to bed ASAP. PIMOJ has taken to sending me Skype messages on her way to work, around 8.00am, and sometimes I wake up enough to hear the phone ping, and I want to message her back, but I’m just too tired and end up replying at 11.00am or later and feeling embarrassed. This has been a problem for years and years, through different medications and therapies and occupational therapy. Sometimes I have made progress on it during periods of remission from depression (there was a period six years ago or so when I was getting to early morning services in shul (synagogue) three or four times a week), but whenever the depression comes back, it knocks me right back to square one and it’s a struggle to get my sleep pattern sorted out all over again even if, as at the moment, depression isn’t a huge problem in any other aspect of my life. The only thing that works is scheduling stuff to do in the morning, but it has to be an external thing like work or a psychiatrist appointment; if it’s something I just want to do like getting an early start on the day, it won’t happen.

As a side-light on this, I forgot to take my evening dose of anti-depressants until nearly midnight last night and I suddenly had a lot of energy in the evening. My meds definitely do make me tired and slow me down, but I don’t think I can be so sure of being over the depression to ask to come off them completely, given that in the past that has always made my symptoms get much worse very quickly, and given that autumn is traditionally the time of year where my mood dips as the days shorten and the weather worsens.

***

I find not only do I hate wearing a mask, I realised that I hate that other people are wearing them too. Partly it’s that there’s a part of my brain that says, “Mask in a hospital = doctor or nurse; mask in the high street = bank robber,” but beyond that it’s a feeling that I find it hard enough to understand body language and facial expressions as it is (being autistic) without having the lower half of the face completely covered and voice muffled.

***

Ugh, I don’t want to finish the Jewish year on a bad note!

Good things #1: someone came to the door today while I was davening Shacharit (saying Morning Prayers). My parents were at the hospital again. I got to the end of the Amidah (the most important prayer) and hurriedly removed my tefillin and tallit (the prayer boxes and prayer shawl worn by men for weekday morning prayers) and rushed downstairs. It was someone from my shul (synagogue) bringing a small gift to those of us who are shielding and won’t make it to shul over Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year, starting tonight). I was grateful, but also feeling hugely embarrassed that I had kept him waiting; I also didn’t want to admit I was davening as it was long past the ideal time for morning prayers. I think he thought I had been in the toilet. I also realised I was wearing a bright red polo shirt, which I tend not to wear when I think I might meet people from shul, as some Orthodox Jews avoid wearing red (more women than men, admittedly). So I felt hugely embarrassed and socially awkward, but it was nice to be thought of. Then I got further flustered and wished him the greeting that is really for Yom Kippur in two weeks’ time rather than for Rosh Hashanah. Because of all this I had a big rush of social anxiety, it took me a while to feel comfortable again, but I suppose there was no harm done and it was nice to be thought of.

Good thing #2: I finished Rav Kook’s The Lights of Penitence yesterday. It was very difficult to understand in parts, very mystical, and as with all mysticism, I wonder where it comes from and how much is authentic, but it was also a very moving and inspiring book and helped me perhaps to conceptualise my life differently, to think of teshuva (penitence) as something ongoing and lifelong rather than a hurdle that I should have overcome by now, and also to see teshuva as something leading to growth and joy rather than being fixated on my negative traits and deeds. Definitely something to re-read before Rosh Hashanah in future years, Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur being times to focus on teshuva and growth.

Good thing #3: I emailed a bunch of friends to wish them shana tova (good new year) and my oldest friend, who I haven’t seen in person for years, emailed back to say we should have a virtual coffee soon. I was pleased, as I had thought the same thing, but hadn’t really dared to suggest it, as he’s a communal rabbi and I know they’re busy pretty much 24/7. So hopefully we’ll be able to do that in a few weeks.

***

So ends the Jewish year 5780. It was pretty bad in parts, but my family made it through OK in the end. I’m hoping for a better 5781 though. Shanah tovah – have a good new year!

Weird Stuff

I was in a deep sleep this morning and had some weird dreams. In one I had to control a very disruptive child, while also doing some important professional tasks and I struggled to do both at once. Perhaps the disruptive child is my negativity, which needs to be allowed to “play” a little, but also not to derail my job search, novel work or dating PIMOJ.

In the other dream, I was at school and had handed in some English homework, but I hadn’t done it properly. We were supposed to read and analyse a novel and I had read and analysed a short story because I felt too depressed (I think) to read a novel. I was waiting to see what my teacher would say, fearing he would tell me off.

I think this represents some thoughts I had last night about not being able to write “properly” because I read eclectically across genres, but paradoxically also focusing on reading specific authors that I read in depth and repeatedly (Jorge Luis Borges, Franz Kafka, Philip K. Dick, John le Carré) rather than reading widely in a specific genre, as authors are “supposed” to do. This may be autistic, certainly sticking with favoured authors and re-reading them instead of reading something new seems somewhat autistic, not that that really makes a difference.

My current novel is mainstream fiction and I haven’t read much contemporary mainstream fiction since I stopped going to a book club a decade ago. My next novel I hope will be some weird merger of fantasy and/or science fiction with historical fiction and Jewish topics, possibly aimed at a Young Adult audience, and I don’t feel I read any of those genres enough and certainly not contemporary authors in those genres (it takes a long time for new authors to reach me, and for me to build up courage to read them). I would be willing to read a lot for research, although I don’t quite know where to start, plus I feel that although I would be advised to research, really I want my writing to be a bit weird and sui generis, deliberately not fitting with other authors.

I realised a while back that while I say I like science fiction, it isn’t really that simple. A lot of science fiction doesn’t interest me that much. I do watch and like programmes like Star Trek and Star Wars, but really my favourite stuff is in this weird zone (The Twilight Zone, if you like), where science fiction, fantasy, (mild) horror, surrealism and magic realism can meet, not necessarily all at once, but some of them. Authors like Borges, Kafka and Dick, and also Flann O’Brien and the Yiddish humourist Mendele Mocher-Seforim (Mendel the Book-Seller) are important to me and I think about them a lot. Also (perhaps more so) TV programmes like Doctor Who (particularly the original series), Saphire and Steel, The Prisoner, Life on Mars and Ashes to Ashes, Quatermass, bits of The Avengers and even Mr Benn and The Clangers which were aimed at very young children, but amuse me. Stories where the normal and the weird are mashed against each other like a collage. Absurdist-type stories taking place in black or white voids. Mr Benn was probably the gateway drug to that, when I was a very young child, the idea that he would put on a costume in a fancy dress shop and then when he walked out the changing room door, he was in another time and place, something relevant to how he was dressed, and would have an adventure.

***

Today I did some shopping and ended up arriving at Tesco the same time as the children were coming out of the primary school next to the supermarket. I’d get frustrated by all the people at the best of times, but I just felt viscerally uncomfortable being there and worried that I was going to catch COVID, although I did at least do what I had to do and panic and run away. It showed that I really have work to do before I’m going to be comfortable at shul (synagogue) or busier shops.

I painted the garden shed again for Mum and Dad as it needed a second coat. I wanted to do a lot of hoovering (the stairs need hoovering), but postponed it until tomorrow as I was too tired to do more physical work. I spent some time redrafting another chapter of my novel. I hoped it would take an hour. In the end it took nearly two, partly because it was long, but also because I interrupted it to look after Mum who was feeling sick (we think indigestion rather than anything to do with cancer treatment, but still worrying). My concentration was pretty good, though.

I listened to a shiur (religious class) while painting the shed, although I didn’t have the time I wanted to do further Torah study in the evening. I’m finding it hard to balance everything that I want in my life and wish I could get up earlier, but I don’t know how to change that short of having some external reason to get up like a job. PIMOJ is an occupational therapist and part of me wants to ask her advice, but a bigger part is worried of scaring her off if she knew just how late I get up and how long it takes me to get going in the mornings (she is very much a morning person).

***

New reasons to hate the WordPress block editor: unless I’m missing something, you can’t easily insert letters with accents, as in ‘John le Carré’. Please let me known if you know how to do this!

Anxiety, Romance and Masks

Things are going well, but I still feel a little anxious, although less so today. I spoke a lot about this in therapy today. Things with PIMOJ are going better than I expected, but I worry they won’t work out. PIMOJ is a lot more positive than me, and a lot more active in her life, and I worry she’ll find me negative and lazy (among other things). I’m trying just to sit with the anxiety rather than give in to it and worry, but it’s not always easy. Anxiety can sneak up on you when you’re looking the wrong way.

It could be several years before we overcome the obstacles in the way of the relationship (including, but not exclusively, my lack of income). I guess the difference between me and PIMOJ is that she thinks it might take just a few years whereas I think it could take quite a few years. I guess it’s a difference of presentation rather than substance, and I’m trying to look at it her way, but it’s hard sometimes. I guess I worry how I will get through things sometimes, and the psychological barrier of realising that I’ll probably be over forty before I can marry (PIMOJ is younger than me and potentially would be in her thirties still). Mind you, regardless of what happens romantically, I feel like I’ll probably be over forty before I really feel myself started in a career, whether writing or librarianship. I feel a bit like God is telling me I can have everything I want BUT I have to trust that He will deliver in His own time. Still, it’s good to have found someone who seems so caring and religious when I thought I was going to have to compromise on those things, and if PIMOJ can’t get me to trust God then no one can.

***

When does discomfort become exemption? I hate wearing a mask. I find it hugely uncomfortable. I have a friend, also on the autism spectrum, who has an exemption card because she literally can not wear a mask. It’s just impossibly uncomfortable for her. Do I find it difficult because I’m autistic or because everyone finds it uncomfortable? How long can I wear one for? I’m OK wearing it for half and a hour or so, but I’m dreading going to shul (synagogue) with one or commuting into London. It is hard to know what to do. At the moment I’m trying to comply, out of courtesy to others and to avoid attracting negative attention. Still, I wonder how long I’ll be able to bear it, as the new normal becomes as busy and demanding as pre-COVID, but with masks and other difficulties. But I don’t think I could bear to get a exemption card, particularly before being formally diagnosed, so I would just avoid situations that require masks (which I’m basically already doing).

***

I missed a phone call, and then found I had an email from someone from shul (synagogue) asking me to call him back. I struggled with social anxiety, but I called him back and found out that he wanted to check that we’re still shielding Mum on Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year, this weekend) as the shul is sending a small gift (I’m guessing some kind of food, probably sweet) to people who are shielding and unable to attend services.

I thought this was really nice. I know I don’t always feel 100% comfortable in my shul, but they are friendly and welcoming and the community is small enough that I get noticed even if I don’t really say anything. The thing I was really pleased about was phoning him back with minimal procrastination, which was hard given that my social anxiety has worsened lately.

I also went to Tesco today to challenge the anxiety around shopping at the moment. It was OK, but it was a small Tesco and I couldn’t find reasons to stay there for more than a few minutes. I’m hoping to spend as long or longer in a shop or shops tomorrow.

Striving

It’s September. “Harvest has passed, summer is gone, but we have not been saved.” (Yirmiyah/Jeremiah 8.20) COVID is still with us and I still feel uncomfortable being near other people or entering a shop, as I had to do today. The autumn Jewish festivals are approaching and I feel unprepared for those too, uncertain of whether I will even feel comfortable setting foot in my shul (synagogue), given the risk of infection and the discomfort of having to wear a mask.

***

I got up at 10.15am again, which is good, but I wish I could get up an hour earlier (at least). I guess I wish I was a morning person when I’m really not one, but 10.15 seems very late, even if I’ve got up later. I did feel too tired to get dressed straight after breakfast and ended up reading online (including a depressing article on Minneapolis in Tablet Magazine, which probably wasn’t the best thing to read) while the coffee slowly kicked in. Again, this was a bad habit I wanted to kick, but haven’t managed to do so yet. I am probably trying to change too much of my life at the moment without enough of a plan; when I do a cheshbon nafesh (moral/religious self-assessment) later this week in preparation for Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year), I should try to set myself some realistic goals.

***

I was sent an email on high functioning autism and social interactions. This was as a result of the autism support group Zoom meeting last week. There was a list of attractive qualities in friends or partners often found in people on the spectrum. One was “detail orientated.” This is one of the things autistic people are known for, at least in stereotype, the trainspotter-type with an encyclopaedic and detailed knowledge of some very arcane topic, as well as the ability to focus on very mundane and repetitive tasks.

I wonder if I still have that detail orientation. I feel I used to have it, but I don’t any more, except I suppose about Doctor Who. As I’ve said before, in the last few years I feel I’ve lost my ability to focus on details when cataloguing or in the practise exam work I was doing the last few days. I don’t know what has caused this change. Maybe just a loss of confidence, maybe something more troubling.

I spoke about this a bit on the depression group Zoom call. People said that I should try to do things and see if that will bring my confidence back up, which I know is sensible, I’m just not sure how to go about it. I think that unemployment, and my previous unsuccessful jobs, have sapped my self-confidence about work just as lockdown and isolation have worsened my social anxiety and lack of self-confidence about socialising.

***

“The fact that a person is always prone to stumble, to deviate from justice and morality, does not discredit his perfection, since the basis of his perfection is the constant striving and the desire for perfection.” From The Lights of Penitence in Abraham Isaac Kook: The Lights of Penitence, The Moral Principles, Lights of Holiness, Essays, Letters, and Poems, emphasis added.

***

I finished The Islamist and moved on to the latest Jewish Review of Books. I find that the JRB covers all aspects of the Jewish experience: religion, history, Israel, culture and so on in a fairly balanced way not easy with a civilisation 3,000 years old and spread across the entire globe, but I feel it does ascribe slightly out-sized importance to various “classic” twentieth century American Jewish writers and critics. People like Philip Roth, Saul Bellow and Lionel Trilling. This issue we got five pages on Philip Roth, which seemed excessive (articles in the JRB are usually two to four pages long); for comparison, last issue the Bible only got three pages. I’m being slightly facetious, but I do think there is sometimes an excessive focus on twentieth century American literature, although as it’s mostly an American publication, maybe there’s more desire for Philip Roth than (I don’t know) Mendele Mocher-Seforim, Rav Saadia Gaon, or Jewish society in eighteenth century Poland.

***

Achievements: I worked on my novel and finished reading through the book as a whole for the first time. There’s a lot I want to change and it’s hard to assess my own work, but it’s not as awful as it might have been. I think there are some good bits in there, or bits that could be good with more work. I also went for a walk and did shopping. I spent an hour and a half cooking dinner, which was a bit longer than I wanted. I only did half an hour of Torah study, but I did finish reading Mishlei (The Book of Proverbs) in Hebrew, a couple of weeks earlier than I expected. I went to depression group via Zoom too. I had some trouble with my connection which made it somewhat frustrating, especially as other people had connection problems too.

Guilt

Shabbat was OK. There was all the usual stuff: praying, eating, sleeping, Torah study and recreational reading (mostly The Islamist and the latest Doctor Who Magazine, my subscription to which I am contemplating cancelling. I have contemplated cancelling it every couple of years since about 2003, but this time I’m really not sure what’s stopping me).

The afternoon was hard. I was reading The Lights of Penitence by Rav Kook (in the volume Abraham Isaac Kook: The Lights of Penitence, The Moral Principles, Lights of Holiness, Essays, Letters, and Poems) and came across a passage that talks about someone who feels pervaded by sin, immoral, uneducated, distant from God, and “stirred by dark and sinister passions that revolt him.” I thought, “This is me.” Unfortunately, the passage goes on to say that penitence will cure this and all healing and acceptance. Nothing about what happens if a person does teshuva (repentance) and feels just as wicked as before.

If I recall correctly, Rav Soloveitchik says something similar about repentance curing self-criticism in Halakhic Man, so that’s the two greatest “Modern Orthodox” rabbis, of very different outlook and temperament, agreeing that teshuva should remove self-hatred and needless guilt. I don’t know how to feel that. No wonder that in recent years Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur (Jewish New Year and the Day of Atonement, the holidays of judgment and repentance) have been hard for me and I struggle to get to shul (synagogue). Of course, this year I have decided not to go for Rosh Hashanah at least because I’m so worried about COVID and passing it on to Mum (who has surgery a week before Rosh Hashanah). I haven’t had to decide what I’m doing about Yom Kippur yet.

The guilt is pervasive and multifaceted. Some of it is feeling disconnected from God, which I’ve felt for a long time. Feeling that I don’t pray well enough, don’t study Torah enough, don’t connect enough. Feeling that I don’t have enough spirituality or meaning in my life. I don’t have much of either. But I also have guilt around my sexuality. Feeling that it’s pretty much impossible to get to the age thirty-seven as an unmarried virgin without having infringed on some at least some of the Jewish sexual laws, but as no one talks about it, I feel that maybe it is just me. Maybe I could do better. Maybe other people do manage to do better.

So, I spent the afternoon somewhat depressed because of this. I was initially upset to have napped for an hour and a half after lunch, but when I started to feel depressed, I was glad to have escaped being trapped in my head for a while. Despite Shabbat finishing nearly two hours earlier than at the height of summer, it’s still hard to get through when depressed.

I worry what PIMOJ (as sarnhyman has suggested I dub the Person I’m Messaging On JDate) would make of this. I’ve told her about my depression, but presented it in the past tense. Well, I thought I was mostly over it and now it was just reactive to things in my life, not an ongoing presence. I should have remembered that whenever I declare my depression over, it returns. PIMOJ works in mental health and I don’t know how that would shape her reaction to me. I want to open up to her about some things, but I’m scared. I want to get to know her better and get to a stage where we can both be more open, but I don’t know how to do that or how to judge when we’ve got there.

It’s not just the persistence of depression, but also the fact that she comes across in her messages as an ebullient person and one with a deep and sincere ahavat Shamayim (love of God). I had hoped some of that would rub off on me, but now I feel it’s more likely that I’ll scare her off. That she wouldn’t want to be with someone so quiet and downbeat, and intermittently (at least) depressed.

***

I just found this quote from Rav Kook, from The Lights of Holiness further on in the same volume:

The greater the person, the more he must seek to discover himself. The deep levels of his soul remain concealed from him so that he needs to be alone frequently, to elevate his imagination, to deepen his thought, to liberate his mind. Finally his soul will reveal itself to him by radiating some of its light upon him.

Anxiety and Autism

…which sounds like some kind of weird Jane Austen spoof.

I’ve been having trouble with sleep this week, trouble falling asleep or waking up in the middle of the night.  Last night I went to bed early again as I was very tired, too tired to relax after the virtual museum tour I went on (I find Zoom events draining).  I thought I would be OK, but I woke up some time after 3.00am and couldn’t get back to sleep again.  I ate porridge (warm milk helps me sleep, but I don’t like drinking warm milk, hence eating porridge) and watched Doctor Who for a bit to unwind, but neither helped.  I went back to bed, but tossed and turned without falling asleep again.  I tried to stay in the present, but when you can’t sleep at 5.00am, it’s hard not to get sucked into worries.  Eventually, at about 6.30am, I decided to get up, despite feeling tired on only three or four hours of sleep.

A lot of the anxiety I’m experiencing at the moment is about dating.  I’ve been messaging someone on JDate.  I’m always scared to get my hopes up (for anything, not just dating) in case something goes wrong.  So many things could go wrong.  So I get sucked back into catastrophising.  I’m trying very hard not to do that, but rather to stay in the present, so I’m not going to say much more here for now, other than I’m pleased with what’s happening, but also anxious about whether good things can happen to me.

I have other anxieties too.  I’ve got the exam next week for the job I want (and apparently it’s not 100% sure that I’ll even get to the exam stage – today this is less clear than yesterday).  I know it’s normal to be anxious before a job application exam, normal to be nervous when contemplating a new job and normal to be nervous when messaging someone new on a dating site.  So everything is normal.   But I still feel anxious.  Like I say, I’m trying to stay in the present and tell myself that, one way or another, this won’t last indefinitely.  That probably sooner or later I will get a job, whether it’s this one or not.  That I do have some good qualities to offer a prospective partner.  And so on.  Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t.

***

Because of my complicated history with my autism diagnosis (being assessed and told I don’t have it, then going into the world of work and not coping at all, for reasons that sounded a lot like autism, then having a preliminary screening that suggests I do have it, and waiting and waiting for an assessment that could still be a year or even two away), I sometimes wonder if maybe I’m not on the autism spectrum and I’m just incompetent.  Then other days I do things that are so classically autistic that I wonder how it could ever have been missed.

Today I had a blood test (routine to check my lithium level because of my medication) and I planned to do some shopping afterwards.  My Dad gave me a lift to the hospital.  As I was about to get out of the car, he asked me to get some soap, and without thinking I went into classic autistic rigid thinking, saying I couldn’t do that because he hadn’t told me early enough for me to put it on my shopping list and why was he springing it on me suddenly?  Even as I was saying it, I could see it was an over-reaction and that it was the autism talking, but the scary thing is in the moment, it was hard to change it and back down and say I could do it.

I had some tremor when I had my blood taken.  I have tremor as a medication side-effect when I get anxious.  I get a little anxious about blood tests anyway (anxiety about possible tremor, ironically, rather than the needle), but I think COVID made things worse, because of the discomfort of wearing a mask and the “new situation” aspect of the hospital being socially distanced – autism again.  I was uncomfortable doing shopping for the same reason: my mask and confusion about the social distancing rules in the shopping centre, which I hadn’t been to since lockdown started.  I was also apprehensive about people standing close to me (everyone had masks, but I’m not convinced masks stop COVID being transmitted).  I got a bit agitated in Boots too.  I think it was a build up of autistic triggers.  The fact that they had changed the packaging on the vitamins I was trying to buy just threw me further – again, autism doesn’t like change.  Normally I wouldn’t care about a small change like that, but I think the fact that I was already agitated meant that it was just another factor.  Still, I guess it’s more evidence to put in my big document on my autism symptoms to take to my assessment, when I finally get it.

***

Otherwise it was a boring day, mostly doing odd bits of jobs: bits of housework, a bit on my novel, a bit on my devar Torah (Torah thought), a bit of Torah study.  Lots of bits.  I forced myself through the day until dinner and now I’m too tired to do anything so am off to bed soon.

***

As this is a shorter than usual post, and as it touches on some issues I’ve raised in the last few days about trusting God, I will post my devar Torah for this week in a minute, for those who are interested.

Post-Success Depression and Negative Self-Talk

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

***

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

***

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

***

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

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

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

***

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

***

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

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

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

Exciting News

I woke up later this morning than the last few days, feeling really drained and quite depressed, even after breakfast and coffee, which usually helps somewhat.  I hope I haven’t been pushing myself too hard the last few days.  As I’ve said before, it’s frustrating that “pushing myself too hard” for me is not really pushing myself all that hard compared with other people.  I try not to compare myself to others, but I worry what it means for the possibility of having a “normal” life, with a career, marriage, children, friends and community – all those things are very draining!  Whereas the last few days I’ve been quite enthusiastic about greeting the day, today I just wanted to go back to bed and wrap myself in my duvet.  I did eventually get going, but felt sluggish and depressed in the morning and early afternoon.

I made myself work on my novel for half an hour when I didn’t feel much like it.  I proof-read the chapter I was working on yesterday and was reasonably happy with it, which means (drumroll)… I finished the first draft of the novel!  It weighed in at just under 75,000 words, which I think is reasonable, certainly for a first draft.

There’s still a lot to do, a lot I want to change.  I have three pages-worth of things I want to change, including some incidents I want to add in and characters I want to develop or change as well as more general things like adding more humour.  I might pause for a few weeks and come back to it with fresh eyes.  I want to read some books about writing in the meantime to see if they might help with some things.

That cheered me up a little and I managed to work on my devar Torah for an hour and do some additional Torah study as well as a few chores around the house.

I did another 5K run.  It took about forty minutes.  I saw two Jewish wedding parties in houses that I passed.  I’m guessing they were weddings, but lots of frum people going to particular houses in good clothes.  I’ll assume they were all legal and above board.  The reason is that today is Tu B’Av, sometimes referred to as the Jewish Valentine’s Day (although there isn’t much of a resemblance), which was once a happy day when women would dance and try to attract husbands.  It hasn’t really been a festival for about two thousand years, but it has a vestigial presence, part of which is that it’s considered an auspicious day to get married (spoiler alert: it’s not in itself a guarantee of a happy, lasting marriage).  I was mostly OK about it this year, but seeing the wedding parties did make me think of being single forever again.  Fortunately, the thoughts did not last long; ditto for thoughts I had earlier in the run I had been thinking about not fitting in to different social groups I am or have been part of.

I came back with a headache, but fortunately it went very quickly once I took solpadeine.

***

I phoned a hospital about my regular lithium level blood test.  I didn’t phone the one I usually go to, but one my Mum goes to sometimes, because I thought my usual hospital was only dealing with urgent tests at the moment.  I wanted to check I could have my regular lithium monitoring blood test there despite COVID.  My social anxiety makes things like that hard at the best of times and it’s harder than ever now lockdown has atrophied my social skills.

Once I got off the call, I discovered that my local hospital has apparently reopened, so I’m going to try to get the blood test done there as it will be more convenient.  But I did at least push myself a bit with the social anxiety.

***

I finished re-watching this year’s series of Doctor Who last night.  Despite my intentions, I only reviewed the first story on my Doctor Who blog.  I just didn’t have anything interesting to say about it.  I’m not upset that I got the DVD for my birthday, as I enjoyed most of the episodes, on some level.  Some actually improved now I knew where they were going (Fugitive of the Judoon and especially The Haunting of Villa Diodata, which went from nowhere to probably my favourite episode of the year), although one or two went down in my estimation (Praxeus) and I still have no idea what writer/showrunner Chris Chibnall thought he was doing with The Timeless Children (not just the “retcon,” the whole episode).

It does make me feel, not for the first time, that modern Doctor Who isn’t really for me in the way the original series (1963-1989) is, which is why I’m not reviewing the stories on my Doctor Who blog.   I want that blog to be mostly positive, in the hope I can use it as a springboard for professional writing work (it hasn’t worked so far).  I don’t engage with the new series in the same way as the old, even when I enjoy it.  I’m not sure why that is.  I did write some paragraphs probing the reasons for that, as they are somewhat tangentially related to autism and mental health, but I think probably does depart from the focus of this blog, so I got rid of them.

Whatever the reason, at the moment I’m looking forward to the animations of missing episodes from the sixties a lot more than to new episodes – my copy of The Faceless Ones arrived today , and Fury from the Deep is out in a few weeks!

***

Why does Spotify keep playing me adverts for joining the army reserves?  What is their algorithm telling them about me and my interests?

Day of Achievements

I’ve felt a bit better the last few days.  Maybe it’s being past my birthdays, English and Hebrew, and being past Tisha B’Av.  Being able to shave and listen to music again cheers me up in itself.  I’m not sure I’m applying for the right jobs, but it feels appropriate to be looking, and I’m making progress on my novel.  Of course, when things go better for a few days, then I start to worry that they’ll get worse again.  There is a fear that the further I get off the ground, the more painful it’s going to be when I fall down again.  I’m trying to stay positive and remember that I have made progress.  My life has a cycle of depressive episodes and better periods and maybe that will never fully go away, but the depressive episodes, though long and painful, are not as bad as they used to be.  I’m not where I was fifteen years ago, when the thought of having even a part-time job or writing a novel or ever being in a relationship would have seemed absurd.  Nor have I been seriously suicidal in a long time.

***

Achievements: I had my best-ever novel writing day, writing 2,750 words in about two hours!  It was a somewhat exciting bit, which makes me think my narrative flows better when I’m writing action rather than character bits (“action” in the sense of “stuff happening” rather than “fights and chases” although there was a bit of that here as one of my characters fled her abusive husband).  I’m nearly finished the penultimate chapter.  I’m just about OK on the word count.

I had a Skype call with my rabbi mentor.  He offered to speak to me when I was feeling very depressed the other week, but I feel somewhat better now I’m past my birthday and Tisha B’Av so I didn’t have a huge amount to say.  We spoke a bit about my novel and about writing letters you don’t intend to send to voice feelings and get them off your chest (see below).  He sounded stressed about work stuff.  I’m worrying a bit about him now, but am wary of asking for too many details in case I seem pushy.

I went for a run for forty minutes, about three miles or five kilometres.  It wasn’t a great run, probably because I hadn’t been running in the last two weeks and because it was quite hot out.  I also started to get an exercise migraine halfway through, which did not help, although I did stick with it.  Possibly I’m pushing myself too much with this at the moment, as I have a tendency to push through when feeling pain in my feet or getting a migraine.  My foot was mostly OK, but was a bit uncomfortable in the last five minutes or so.  Putting inner soles in my trainers seems to have helped a bit, but I probably do need new trainers.  I’m scared to go out shopping at the moment, though, and I’m not sure if it’s sensible to mail order them.

I managed about an hour of Torah study and brainstormed some ideas for this week’s devar Torah (Torah thought).  Also had some thoughts about the problem of suffering as presented in Kohelet (Ecclesiastes) as compared with Iyov (Job) that I want to mull over some more and maybe share here or elsewhere.

I wrote a letter (NOT to be sent) to our next-door neighbour, saying why I was so upset about the illegal minyanim (prayer meetings) he held in lockdown.  This was to voice and process my feelings.  I might try writing one to E. tomorrow about our breakup.

As this post is short, I spent some time working on another post that I’ve been writing recently, which I hope to post shortly (tonight or tomorrow).

I think I managed to stay reasonably in the present and not spend too much time worrying about the future or recriminating about the past.  I think my kavannah (mindfulness in prayer) has been better the last few days, which I think is related to this.  I think trying to limit my internet use helps.   It breaks me out of the search for instant gratification and dopamine hits that I can get locked into when looking for things to read or the wait for blog comments.  It also stops me feeling the whole time that I want to connect with people, but am unable to do so easily.  I didn’t quite make the target of only looking at emails and blogs twice a day today, but was close, although I have excluded necessary internet use for job applications and research for my novel from that limit.

***

Achievements of another kind: there were two “mazal tov” notices from my shul (synagogue) today: the wife of someone I know slightly had a baby and the daughter of my closest friend in shul got engaged.    I felt genuine happiness for my friend and was pretty good about not having depressed “I’m never going to get married and have kids” thoughts, even though the daughter who got engaged is about twelve years younger than me, which would normally prompt, “I’m on the shelf and there are no women left for me to marry” thoughts.

Socially Anxious Duckling

I dreamt about a duckling last night and woke up wondering feeling like the ugly duckling and wondering when I will turn into a swan…

My Dad tried to wake me up at 8.00am so I could phone the GP’s surgery, but I didn’t get up.  I think it was partly tiredness, but mostly social anxiety.  I don’t like it when my social anxiety is that extreme.  I definitely think I’ve gone backwards since lockdown started in terms of social anxiety.  At 10.00am my Mum gave up and phoned the doctor, but all the non-emergency appointments had gone by then.  Because of COVID, they’re only releasing appointments on a day to day basis, so we’ll have to phone again tomorrow.  I asked Dad to phone, as I don’t think I will manage to get up again.

My social anxiety has historically been a lot less of a problem than my depression (or my OCD, when it was at its height), but it has always been there.  It has tended to ebb and flow.  There was a time when I was able to lead services in shul (synagogue) and give drashot (religious talks).  I did lead services a couple of times this winter just gone, but I felt very anxious and only partly did it because I wanted to.  Part of me did it because I didn’t like to say no when I was asked, which is partly a social anxiety problem in itself.  I did some CBT last year, but in retrospect, I probably didn’t push myself hard enough with the exercises, plus on the NHS I only got ten sessions, which probably wasn’t enough.

Lockdown has made everything worse, because I’ve got used to just seeing my parents, and occasionally my sister and brother-in-law.  The thought of seeing other people, or talking on the phone, is suddenly more scary than in the past.  Plus, because of COVID, most places have new rules about masks and distancing, so almost everything has autistic “new situation” anxiety as well as social anxiety.  I need to do something about this, but it is hard to see what I can do while I still need to shield Mum and when my depression is the bigger impediment.  I might try to attend Zoom depression group meetings again.  I stopped because it was the same day as therapy and I was too tired for both, but my therapist is away soon.  Alternatively, my therapist says she is happy to change days if I want to go to depression group, and that might be sensible.

***

Home was noisy and busy today.  A few days after my Dad’s catalytic converter was stolen from his car for a second time, we got a note through the door from the police saying there was a burglary in a house in our road.  My parents became super-security conscious and we had various security devices fitted today.  I can see the point, but was worried about some electricity on Shabbat (the Sabbath) issues.  We did ask my parents’ rabbi about it some weeks ago and he said it was OK in certain circumstances.  It seems to be OK in our case, but this is the type of thing that can trigger my religious OCD to say, “But what if I’m not 100% certain it’s OK?”  I’m trying to sit with that doubt and not give in to it, just as I’ve been sitting with another, unrelated, issue where I wanted to ask a question of my rabbi mentor, but decided that deep down I know the answer and it would just be fuelling the OCD to ask.  It’s hard, though, because in the frum community one is expected to ask in the case of doubt, but treating OCD involves living with (some) doubt.

The gardener was here this morning too, so there was a lot of noise and a lot of people, albeit mostly outside (necessarily, because Mum is shielding).  I do vaguely wonder if we should have waited until after COVID, but I guess the criminals are still working.

***

Achievements: I split my writing time in two today.  It was hard to start the second session, but overall I was more productive than ever, writing about 1,700 words in two hours with relatively little idleness (some idleness is probably necessary for creativity, at least for me).

I watched a series of four short videos by Rabbi Meir Soloveitchik about Jewish survival as an argument for God.  I learnt a few things, but I already knew the gist of what he was saying.  It was more a history lecture than a religious one.  It was similar to a post I started writing, but am not sure whether to finish, about why I’m religious even though I find Judaism very difficult much of the time because of my autism, depression and social anxiety.   I wasn’t sure whether anyone would be interested in that, or whether it would offend anyone who isn’t Jewish.  Or if I really wanted to hold my beliefs up for comment, to be honest.

I went for a walk.  My mood dropped somewhat.  I seem to be OK if I’m doing something that engages my brain, but my mood gets worse when I’m not.  I saw someone who went to my school and who is now married with children and is a rabbi.  I’m not sure if I was because of that, but I ended up thinking about people I was at university with and wondering what they’re doing.  In particular, someone who I fell out with while I was there, which has gone into my novel.  It was originally a key event in the novel, although as the novel has grown organically, it’s not so important now, which is probably for the best.  I ended up feeling quite downbeat.  I listened to some music (using the heter (permission) for depressed people to listen to the music during the mourning period of the Three Weeks, which we are currently in), but it was not terribly cheerful music (Donnie and Losing My Religion) and probably made things worse.  I spent the first fifteen minutes or so trying not to listen to music, but in the end I decided I was feeling too depressed and it wasn’t worth it.

In the evening, I did a little bit of ironing and some more Torah study; I would have liked to have done more, but I was too tired, as ever.  I spent twenty minutes or so writing a review of a Doctor Who story from my birthday present box set, but I don’t think I can engage with Chris Chibnall’s view of the series enough to write particularly positive reviews.  If my review of Spyfall, which I did, on some level, enjoy, seems overly negative, I shudder to think what a review of Orphan 55 might look like.

***

I got sent an email advertising a job as a “lecturer in conservation of easel paintings.”  I have no idea why I got sent that.  If only I knew something about conserving easel paintings.  All I can think of is Thomas the Tank Engine: “Coughs and sneezels spread diseasels.”

Telephone Anxiety

I had to make a couple of phone calls, both medical-related.  One to my psychiatrist try to resolve the question of where I can have my blood test at the moment because most hospitals are either not doing blood tests at all or are only doing urgent ones; the alternative is to travel to a hospital quite some way away.  The other call to the GP because I have a suspicious mole on my back that I’ve just noticed – itchy and I think new, although it’s hard to tell, as I have a lot of skin blemishes.  I’ve had two moles removed in the past and they were fine, but it’s more anxiety-provoking now with Mum being treated for cancer and with COVID disrupting everything, leading to autistic “new thing” anxiety.

I was experiencing very strong social anxiety before phoning.  I generally would experience that before phoning anyway, but it seemed worse than usual.  I really think lockdown has set me back regarding social anxiety.

I spoke to the psychiatrist’s secretary.  She went to speak to the psychiatrist and phoned me back to say I could have the blood test done in September, which was what the GP originally wanted.  Hopefully things will have changed a bit by then.

As for the GP, I was on hold for a long time and then was told that non-emergency appointments are only dealt with at 8.30am.  I suppose I could have known that, as that was sort-of the pre-COVID system (new appointments were only released at 8.30am and 6.30pm, which is a really awful system on so many levels, particularly when dealing with people who may not be keeping straightforward hours), but it wasn’t clear from the surgery website.

It feels like almost every interaction I have with GP reception staff ends with me feeling stupid.  That’s an exaggeration, but does it happen a lot.  I think a lot of the receptionists at the practice are just bad-tempered and I internalise their mood and turn it against myself.  I do dread contacting the surgery now, which is not good.  It took a huge effort to phone today; I can’t imagine how it will feel tomorrow.  The doctors are really nice there, so I don’t want to change practice, but getting past the “gatekeepers” can be a challenge.  They mess up prescriptions and the like a lot too.  Coincidentally, a friend posted on his blog to say that even pre-COVID, a lot of doctors’ receptionists seemed to be trying to stop anyone from seeing a doctor, which is sadly my experience too.

***

Aside from the hour or more that I spent doing that, it was a good day.  (It didn’t take me an hour to phone, but it took a long time to psyche myself up to doing it and to calm myself down afterwards.)

I worked on my novel for about an hour and three quarters.  The writing flowed easily for the first hour, but the second part was harder, and I ended up procrastinating online.  I think I should try to split my writing time into two chunks with a break in-between in the future.  I did write well over 1,000 words, which was good.  I did another fifteen minutes or so after dinner too, to get up to two full hours, which was also good.

I went for a walk after that.  I found I was ruminating on being single and the fact that my therapist said that I should widen my dating pool to include less religious women as otherwise I was likely to struggle to find someone kind and understanding enough to cope with all my issues.  This may be true, but I have noticed that, since breaking up with E., who was a lot less religious than me, some (not all) of my religious anxieties have reduced.  I feel a lot less of a sense of inner conflict about how religious I am/should be.  So I’m a bit wary of dating someone else less religious.   That said, frum (religious Orthodox Jewish) women seem not to like me at all, so maybe I’ll have to date non-frum women.

I found I was sinking into despair about this and quite consciously tried to change my thoughts to think about my devar Torah (Torah thought) for the week.  I wrote that when I got home, or at least I wrote a draft.  As is usually the case, I’m not brilliantly happy with it.  In particular, there was one Midrash (rabbinic expansion of the biblical text) that I think I interpreted correctly, but superficially; I felt there were depths to it that I could not reach.  Then I quoted the Medieval commentator Rashi, but couldn’t find his source; the references given didn’t seem to be correct.  It’s frustrating, but at 500 – 1000 words a week, my divrei Torah are never going to be exhaustive, so I shouldn’t feel too bad.

My partial regret for the day is only managing twenty minutes of Torah study, but that is in addition to spending an hour or so researching and writing my devar Torah, so that’s really not bad for one day.

Depression, Divrei Torah and Shopping in Partial Lockdown

I had a weird dream about my maternal grandparents last night.  They were doing decorating or something and then my grandma dropped dead (after doing a flip while dressed as a dog, rather improbably).  I had to call for an ambulance and for my Mum and somehow ended up locked out of the house and unable to unlock the front door while Muppets (actual Muppets, from The Muppet Show) crowded me and put me off.  It was a pretty weird dream, but I think it’s an attempt to process feelings about my parents’ mortality after Mum being ill on Sunday and her cancer in general (it was her parents in the dream).

Perhaps because of this, I felt pretty depressed on waking.  Or maybe I just did too much yesterday.  Plus, it was a fast day today in Judaism, one of the sadder days of the year, which always brings me down, even though I’m not allowed to fast on most of them any more because I’m on lithium.  I usually at least don’t brush my teeth on fast days as a small gesture, but I forgot and did that.  It’s hard to stay in the fast day state of mind when not actually fasting.  Similarly, in previous years I would have drunk just water today, but I drank tea and coffee and I doubt I would have got through the day easily without them.  The longer my depression goes on, the harder I find it to get into the mindset of the “sad” days of the Jewish calendar.  I guess I just feel that I’m depressed all the time and I’m struggling to get to normality even on a sadder day.

I did have depressed feelings about the future on waking.  The usual thoughts that I won’t ever get married, or probably even be in a relationship again, rooted in fears that I will not find another job, which seems to be necessary to find a girlfriend, and that I will  not get over the depression, which would also be good to get rid of before dating.  My unemployment may be fixable.  I hope it is, at any rate.  My depression I suspect is here to stay, on some level at least.

I wrote a lot more about this, but deleted it, as I don’t want to wallow in depression again.  I know I have made progress with the depression over the years and I’m certainly not as bad as I was circa 2003 to 2008 or even later, but it’s still a struggle and I don’t know what my improvement is down to, which makes me worry that I will relapse somehow.  Medication is certainly part of the improvement.  Maybe a certain amount of occupational therapy in terms of keeping active.  Psychotherapy has helped me understand myself a lot better and to deal with some short term problems, but I’m not sure it’s really helped me resolve much in the long term.  It is certainly helpful to talk to a therapist on a week-by-week basis to vent, but I’m not sure how much it helps in the long term.

***

Achievements: despite feeling very depressed, I spent two hours or so working on my novel, fairly absorbed and “in flow.”  I finished another chapter and did some reorganising of the plan for the last few chapters.  Once I started work, the depression feelings did subside quite a bit.  I am concerned that I don’t quite have enough plot left to generate the 13,000 or so words I need to make this acceptable even as a short novel.

I had to do some shopping and wanted to go further afield than I’ve been for a while.  There are basically two places to shop around here: a small parade of shops less than ten minutes’ walk away, and a big high street and shopping centre about fifteen or twenty minutes away.  I hadn’t gone further than the “less than ten minutes away” shops since lockdown started and felt I should push myself to go further, plus the thing I needed was more likely to be in the shops on the high street.

So, I set out.  The weather was horrible, but I saw it as exposure therapy as much as anything, as I’ve been worried about how I will adapt to “normal” post-lockdown life.  I wore a mask when I arrived at the shops, and then wore it home.  I was OK, albeit annoyed that it was often not possible to distance myself from other people as I would have liked.  I went into the Judaica shop too, which was a bit of a reward for getting down there, but I didn’t buy anything.  I still find masks uncomfortable.  I think I will still avoid the shops unless absolutely necessary, at least while Mum is immunosuppressed.

I also wrote my devar Torah (Torah thought) for the week.  I realised I’ve never really written about these here in detail.  These thoughts are short essays, typically 800 to 1,000 words on the week’s Torah reading.  I started writing them at the start of the Torah reading cycle last autumn, initially just to read aloud to my parents at the Shabbat (Sabbath) dinner table, but I now send them to a few friends and family too.  I do feel the pressure of the weekly deadline sometimes, but it can be quite a rewarding experience to think about the text, look at commentaries, and set out some ideas about it.

I’m slightly curious to look back over the ten months or so and see what themes emerge.  Even without doing that, I know there are some writers I quote a lot.  It’s pretty much inevitable that anyone writing on the Torah portion in the mainstream Jewish tradition is going to quote Rashi and Ramban (the two greatest Medieval Torah commentators) a lot.  More personal is my looking to the Kotzker Rebbe and (lehavdil bein chaim lechaim) Rabbi Lord Sacks a lot for inspiration.

One theme that I know has come up a lot, including this week, is the concept of individuality in Judaism, the idea that we all have a unique outlook on life and that this is, or should be, a theme of Jewish life over and above the conformist nature of a community.  The idea that God sees our individuality and that therefore we should strive ourselves to see and accept individuality, and that leaders in particular should do this.  I’m sure on some level it’s from feeling that I am not always accepted as an individual that I feel the need to stress these ideas, but that does not make them less valid or true.

***

From Sacred Fire: Torah from the Years of Fury 1939-1942 by Rabbi Kalonymus Kalmish Shapira, the Piaseczno Rebbe (emphasis added):

Moses was the most humble person ever to walk the earth.  He was constantly asking himself, “Who am I?  And how can I possibly… ?”  So God said to him, “It is not true that you are not fit, and it is not true that you have faults and blemishes, God forbid.  Your self-doubting is itself a form of worship, the type of worship that illuminates the world, coming as it does through a chain of causality from the name of God that is the future.”  It comes from the name of God, EHYE — “I will be.”  When a person feels that there is nothing worth looking at in his heart, but says, “I am nothing right now, but from now on I will try to be something,” his worship takes on the aspect of God’s Name, EHYE — I will be.  It draws out a reciprocal promise of EHYE — I will be.

Depressed, Lonely and Shielding

Chaconia mentioned that I have a habit of quantifying my depression into minutes or hours of activity, numbers of negative thoughts and so on.  I had noticed this, at least to some extent, but it doesn’t seem unhelpful so I’ve never challenged it.  If anything, it shows me most days that I do more than I would otherwise subjectively believe.  Nevertheless, I wonder if it’s connected to the fears of losing control that I wrote about last week.  That if I stopped monitoring myself, I would become out of control somehow, probably through inactivity.

***

I felt very so depressed and exhausted again today.  I’m not sure why I’ve been feeling worse the last few days.  It could be the break up, but I thought I was over that.  Maybe I’m not.  It wouldn’t be surprising if I wasn’t, as while it only lasted a few months (a) we had been together before and (b) it very intense both emotionally and in the amount of time we spent Skyping.  I also feel that lockdown is getting to me a bit, but I’m also very worried about what the end of lockdown means for me, in terms of applying for jobs again, but also in terms of other activities such as shul (synagogue).

***

My shul sent out an email the other day regarding services coming out of lockdown, but I didn’t get it.  I chased it and got it today.  They are limiting services to thirty people, outside when weather permits, with masks and bringing your own siddur (prayer book), tallit (prayer shawl) etc.  I have very mixed feelings about it.  Part of me would like to get back to the routine of shul, not least to challenge my social anxiety, which has probably got worse over the last four months without me pushing against my urge to run away from people and events.  There is also the fact that the social element of shul may help my mood (or worsen it).

On the other hand, I feel I don’t get much out of shul, certainly not at the moment, and maybe I should leave it to other people who get more out of it.  I would be sorry to miss Talmud shiur, which is resuming on Shabbat (Saturday), especially as that can be hard to catch up on subsequently, so if I miss a few weeks now I may never catch up (I would like to finish even one masechta (volume) of Talmud once as whenever I go to a shiur, we never complete one).  My big reservation is whether it would be dangerous for Mum if Dad and I to go back to shul.  We are still supposed to shield her until 31 July and even after then her immune system will be weak.  The government guidelines are that shielded people should not go to places of worship, but they don’t say anything about other members of the household.  My Mum has a meeting with the oncologist tomorrow and has promised to raise the question.

***

I found writing really difficult today.  My difficulty writing is not helped by the fact that I’m writing a novel with two different viewpoints, and whose characters do not intersect directly in the middle of the novel.  This has proved unexpectedly difficult to write.  Every time I alternate viewpoints, which happens with most new chapters, I struggle to get back into the head and situation of the main character of that chapter.

I went for a walk to try to jump start my brain.  I wrote for a short while when I returned, but still struggled.  Then I had to have dinner and get ready for shiur (religious class) on Zoom.

While out walking I had a lot of rapid images going through my head.  Autistic people often think in images rather than words.  I usually think in a mixture of the two, but when I’m feeling agitated the images become faster and more vivid, some times distressingly so.  Today’s images were not distressing, but they were rapid and agitated.

***

My therapist suggested getting in contact with friends to ease my loneliness.  The problem (aside from lockdown) is a lack of friends to contact, at least away from the blogosphere.  I emailed two friends, one of whom has already replied.  I’m not convinced email contact alone will do much to alleviate loneliness, and even without lockdown, it’s hard to see people, as so many of my friends are long-distance.  It is good to hear from other people though, and to get outside my own head for a bit.

I wish I had some way of contacting other religious Jews who are struggling religiously.  Ideally on a message board or mailing list or similar, probably not in person as I’m not good at that and we would probably all want to be anonymous.  I feel like I’m still struggling with being a good Jew, even though breaking up with E. reduced some of the cognitive dissonance I think I was under.

These thoughts were triggered by looking at the Beyond BT website again, which I shouldn’t do as it makes me feel inadequate, as no one there seems to have the same struggles I do.  When the Jewish blogosphere was more active years ago, there used to be “OTD” blogs (OTD = off the derekh (road) = people becoming non-religious) blogs, but they are not what I want.  Those were mainly for people with issues with Torah and science or Bible criticism.  I just struggle to have positive feelings about my religious life because of depressive anhedonia (inability to feel pleasure) and because I struggle to find meaning in my pain, which leads me to feel God must hate me to make me suffer so much pain with no obvious meaning.  I don’t really have much of a spiritual life at all, as distinct from a religious one.  I don’t think I’m a very spiritual person at the best of times, even without depression and anhedonia.  Maybe I’m being unfair to myself.

***

Zoom shiur was OK this week.  I participated rather more than usual, although the flipside was making more mistakes.  That was the last in that run of shiurim (on Rashi), although I have one more week of my Monday shiur (on meaning).

***

You may remember my Dad’s car’s catalytic converter was stolen a while back, right at the start of lockdown.  Now someone has stolen the replacement!  It’s unlikely to be the same thief, as the first time it was taken from the hospital car park and this time it was taken from our front drive.  It’s quite expensive to replace and needs to be fitted by a mechanic, so this is a huge expense and hassle.  Apparently they’re very easy to steal and very valuable, so there’s a lot of incentive for thieves.  They’ve damaged the car too.  This is very frustrating and we’re all angry about it.

Masked

I possibly did too much yesterday as I feel really drained today.  Also despairing about the future (career, writing, marriage, family), which I was trying not to give in to.

***

I had to go to the pharmacist to request a repeat prescription.  Perhaps surprisingly, I wore a mask for the first time in the pandemic.  I haven’t gone on public transport since lockdown started, which is the only place masks are compulsory in the UK.  It has become an accepted thing to wear them in shops in recent weeks, but I haven’t been going shopping either.  I was very anxious and apprehensive about it, stupidly so.  Some of it was worrying that it would be uncomfortable or that I would inadvertently spread germs taking it off wrongly or adjusting it.  I guess it also feels wrong not to show the shop assistant my face when we’re talking.  However, I think much of the anxiety was autistic issues about doing something new.  I remember years ago I went to an art gallery in Tel Aviv and there was an art installation there that was made of some kind of dangerous material and you had to wear a mask to go inside the room.  I just completely freaked out about that and refused to go in and I couldn’t work out why, I just felt stupid and useless.  I guess it’s an autism thing, although I’m not sure if the issue was fear of discomfort or of new experiences.

Once I put the mask on, I did feel very uncomfortable, both from the actual touch on my face and from the smell of it.  It made my glasses steam up too.  I cut my walk short partly because I couldn’t cope with it, but also because it was cold out (despite having recently been unbearably hot) and because I was exhausted from therapy.

***

I had a difficult therapy session.  It was difficult because I was speaking about difficult subjects, particularly my feelings of lack of control over future events and fear of never having a job or getting married.  This led to a lot of uncomfortable physical tension in my body while speaking.  We spoke about my tendency to catastrophise being a way of coping with uncertainty by fearing the worst instead of being open to uncertainty, but my therapist said that it’s a form of hurting myself by going to the worst possible outcome, strengthening my inner critical voice.  We also spoke about being more accepting of my physicality/physical nature and she gave me some tips for dealing with feelings of physical tension.

My therapist also spoke about dealing with loneliness by reconnecting with friends.  The problem with that is that I don’t have many friends, not least because I’ve lost so many in the last couple of years.  This is at least partly my fault, which makes me fearful of alienating more people.  I can try to email a couple this week and check in with them and see how their lockdown is going.

***

I spent two hours working on my novel.  I wrote 550 words, finishing a chapter and then proofreading it, but I was very tired while doing some of the proofreading and will probably have another look at it tomorrow.  I’ve written about 53,000 words in total so far.  I’ll need to get to at least 70,000 words, ideally 80,000 to 100,000, for a complete novel.  I have the rest of the chapters planned out, but I worry I haven’t got enough incident to sustain 30,000 more words.

I also somehow did forty minutes of Torah study when I was feeling exhausted.  This was good, but I hope I have not overdone things as I’m absolutely shattered now.  I’m going to chill out with Doctor Who for a bit (Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS)/

Trying Not to Wallow

I’m trying not to wallow in loneliness and despair today.  I had some blog comments last night that I saw when I put on my computer this morning that cheered me up.  I’m grateful to everyone who comments – I appreciate comments a lot, even “I-don’t-know-what-to-say-so-hugs”-type comments.  It’s good to know that I’m not alone and that people are reading.  I usually forget to “like” comments, because I focus on replying to them, but it doesn’t mean I don’t value them.  I am trying to remember to “like” them more.

***

Today’s achievements: I finished and sent the job application I started yesterday (that took about fifty minutes).  I don’t think I’ll get the job, and I’m not sure if I want it, because it’s full-time and I don’t think I can cope with that.  It is also potentially at high risk of infection from COVID or other illnesses and I’m not sure that’s a good idea while Mum’s immune system is suppressed.

I spent a while working on my novel, writing 600 words in one hour or so.  I worry that it is possibly turning into the most boring novel ever written.  The part that is based on my own life feels constrained by what happened to me.  I have fictionalised a lot of details, but it still feels lifeless.  The main character is irritating (although this may be my self-loathing speaking, as he’s based on me).  I have a female protagonist who is too passive and boring.  The supporting characters are featureless and barely appear.  The writing lacks zest.  The whole thing is humourless.  I have a lot to fix in future drafts.

I don’t think I’m really cut out for writing “serious” literary fiction, which is what this is trying to be.  I want to pursue my ideas about time-travel and monsters, and historical figures like Shabbatai Tzvi and Jack the Ripper, but I also want to finish one project before I start a new one, so I’m tied to this novel for now, until I finish it or find it totally unworkable.  I also worry whether I could write prolonged fiction without the “scaffolding” of writing about my own experiences to provide some structure for the story.

As well as writing and applying for a job, I also cooked dinner (vegetable curry), which took longer than I would have liked and, for complicated reasons, made me think about E.  I think I made the right decision to break up with her, but I miss her as my friend as well as thinking that I won’t manage to find anyone else willing to see past my issues and baggage.  I might stay friends, after a break, but I’m worried we’ll drift back into dating in a crazy on-off relationship, which would be a very bad idea.

Since I was eighteen or so, I’ve usually had one close female friend, usually platonic and generally an email- or text-based friendship.  Sometimes I’ve wanted that friend to be my girlfriend (and for a few short periods that was the case), but that was usually disastrous.  Things have been better when the friend is safely off-limits, due to not being Jewish or being significantly older than me.  Then she is someone I can turn to for emotional support and practical advice, particularly about interpersonal stuff that I struggle with because of autism.

I guess I have a vacancy at the moment, but I can’t really see myself pursuing even platonic female friendship at the moment (even if I knew someone to befriend), partly because of the risk of it turning into something more, partly because I feel disinclined to open up to anyone at the moment.  Plus, most of those friendships ended badly, often because of me.  So I should resign myself to being alone.  I wish I did have someone to text during the day, though.

After dinner I went for a half-hour walk.  I ended up feeling morose.  I was on edge from watching Ashes to Ashes while eating dinner.  It was a good episode, but violent and bleak and left me feeling on edge and wary of something awful happening to me, even though it was broad daylight and there were still people around.  I thought about Ashley’s post for today, and whether I will ever be happy.  I feel that I probably won’t be happy, and I’m onto worrying about whether I will be comfortable.  I worry about being alone when my parents die.  I wouldn’t want to impose on my sister and brother-in-law by moving in with them.  I worry about dying alone, in pain, without dignity (possibly in my own excrement, like Stalin).  Will I be OK financially?  Will anyone still care about me?  It’s scary.

Even if I did somehow find meaning and happiness, would I just feel guilty?  A kind of survivor syndrome that I turned my life around when so many others can’t?  I already feel vaguely guilty that my childhood was not awful and abusive (even though I was bullied at school, and adolescence was rather lonely and miserable), given how many abuse survivors I’ve come across in the mental health community.

After the walk, I tried to “snap out” of my moroseness (which never works) and do some Torah study, as I had been too busy to do any earlier.  I was tired and depressed and my room is very hot and uncomfortable, so I didn’t get very far.  I spent nearly fifteen minutes on a mishnah which I felt that the Artscroll commentary made more difficult than it needed to be (I feel they do this a lot).  I had a look at ideas for my devar Torah for twenty minutes or more, which was a bit more fruitful, until my brain gave up with heat and fatigue, but I need to do a lot more work on it.  My divrei Torah have not come easily lately, which is frustrating.

The Wild Pomegranite quoted Rebbe Nachman of Breslov:

“Sometimes a person’s goals and desire for holiness are beyond his capabilities. Therefore, he must control himself. He must limit his yearnings and fulfill – simply – whatever service to God he is capable of in that moment. Then he must pray to be led on the proper path for his level by serving God with joy and simplicity.” (Likutei Halakhot, Bet Knesset 5:24)

I feel this describes me.  I want to move to higher levels of holiness in terms of kavannah (mindfulness) in prayer and mitzvot (commandments), more and deeper Torah study, doing some kind of meaningful work (ideally writing), and marrying and having children, but these are beyond my capabilities at the moment, which is frustrating for me.  It is difficult and frustrating to accept being at a much more “basic” level of service, especially as I’m only vaguely aware of what exactly that would entails.  Nevertheless, it is where I am.

It reminded me of this quote also from Rebbe Nachman that I’ve blogged before:

The main thing is this: It is forbidden to despair!  Even a simple man who cannot study at all, or one who finds himself in a place where he is unable to study, or the like, should in his very simplicity be strong in worship and in the fear of God…  Even he who stands on the very bottom rung, God forbid, or in the very depths of hell, may God protect us, should nevertheless not despair.  He should fulfil the Scripture: ‘Out of the belly of the deep I cried’ (Jonah 2:3), and be as strong as he can.  Even he will be able to return and receive the Torah’s sustenance, by means of the zaddiq [saintly person].  The main thing is to strengthen yourself whatever way you can, no matter how far you have fallen.  If you hold on even just the slightest bit, there is yet hope that you will return to God. (quoted in Arthur Green Tormented Master: The Life and Spiritual Quest of Rabbi Nahman of Bratslav  p. 264)

I wrote these paragraphs earlier in the post, above the paragraphs about today.  I cut and pasted them here to end the post on a positive note.  It feels vaguely wrong.  I feel I should try to be positive, but it seems dishonest to end on a positive note that I don’t feel.  The “happiness is a choice” people would say to cut and paste and it will make me happier.  I think happiness is not always a choice, and rearranging things does not always help.  Some people are just in pain, and are going to stay in pain, and there isn’t much they can do about it.  But I also want to acknowledge that even in pain, there can be hope.  Whichever one I finish on – pain or hope – will be stressed more.  Concluding on something is taking a stand in favour of it.  But I see the two, pain and hope, at the same time (like duck/rabbit illusion).  Pain/hope.  Hope/pain.  Pain/hope/pain/hope/pain/hope/pain/hope/pain/hope/pain/hope/pain/hope/pain/hope/pain/hope/pain/hope/pain/hope/pain/hope/pain/hope/pain/hope/pain/hope/pain/hope/pain/hope/pain/hope/pain/hope/pain/hope/pain/hope/pain/hope/pain/hope/pain/hope/pain/hope/pain/hope/pain/hope/pain/hope/pain/hope/pain/hope/pain/hope/pain/hope/pain/hope/pain/hope/pain/hope/pain/hope/pain/hope/pain/hope/pain/hope/pain/hope/pain/hope…

“Your love gives me such a thrill/But your love won’t pay my bills/I want money/That’s what I want”

(Please forgive the frivolous title.  I hate thinking up titles every day.  It is vaguely relevant to some of what I’ve written.)

I felt depressed and exhausted on waking again today, and lonely.  In terms of exhaustion and depression, maybe I did too much yesterday.  It seems that even a half-day for an ordinary person wears me out.  Or maybe my break-up just hit me again.  I did feel better in the afternoon.

This is what I have been thinking about in terms of loneliness.  Supposedly the Orthodox world has a “shidduch crisis” or a “dating crisis” of single Orthodox Jews who can’t get married.  There is a lot of discussion on Jewish websites and newspapers about (a) whether the shidduch crisis actually exists and (b) if it does exist, what is responsible for it (generally phrased as, “Whose fault is it?”)?  You can google for more information, if you dare (it’s a rabbit hole you may never return from).

I’m not sure the shidduch crisis actually exists, and I’m not sure that any of the proposed explanations for it hold water, but a lot of people seem to think that there is such a crisis and generally the crux problem is supposed to be, for variously suggested reasons, a surplus of single women over single men.  Supposedly this means that the men get to pick and choose between women, which results in them never committing and always looking for a “better” woman than the one they have currently been set up with.  Meanwhile the women end up being urged to “settle” for sub-standard men because of their ticking biological clocks.

At the time when we were friends rather than dating, E. said that her experience was that frum (religious Orthodox Jewish) single women in their thirties are all desperate to get married and have children and so will “settle” for anyone who can be a father, including me.  See, for example, the woman, who tellingly signs herself “Pretty Desperate”, who is asking here about dating someone with a stable mental illness (the whole letter is a really sign of how narrow-minded the Orthodox world of dating can be, with the writer considering herself on the shelf at age twenty-eight!)  I’m not sure that I really want to be a live-in sperm donor, but it depresses me that no one is even willing to “settle” for me.  I think I would be a good husband, aside from the fact that I’m unlikely to ever earn enough to support a family solo.  I’m honest, kind and gentle and probably a better listener than most men, even if things said to me verbally don’t always stick in my memory because of autistic processing issues.  Nevertheless, I can see that my “issues,” my finances and my general geekiness would put most frum women (and many women generally) off.  It’s sad.

It occurs to me that although the frum community sets marriage as a universal standard, it also writes off whole classes of people and gives them little support in finding a spouse (converts, ba’alei teshuva (people raised non-religious who became religious later in life), people with physical and mental health issues, divorcees and children of divorcees all spring to mind).  I’m not sure how these people find mates, if they somehow attract each other as the more eligible candidates pair off and leave the field or if they remain unmarried.  I think the USA there are some shachanim (matchmakers) who specialise in helping people with “sensitive” issues to find their spouses.  Meaning, if you have issues you will be matched with someone with similar issues, which in some ways is logical, in other ways is crazy and is also basically eugenics (similarly, at the other end of the spectrum, rabbinic families also interbreed, selecting for intelligence).

These thoughts were distracting me today as I tried to write my novel.  The fears, and the loneliness and sexual frustration, won’t go away.  If someone could tell me, “You will get married and have children, but not for another five years,” I could get on with my life in the meantime, but as it is I constantly worry about things, I suppose in the hope that some great idea about how to find and keep a mate will come to me that I haven’t had in the last twenty years or so.

(Have I really been single and lonely for twenty years, with just a couple of little gaps?  No wonder I’m so depressed.)

***

I suppose related to this is the fact that not only is loneliness rarely mentioned in frum society (where it is assumed that most adults are happily married), but sexual frustration (within or outside marriage) is never mentioned, not least because of the understanding that no one should talk about sex.  It is only listening to the Intimate Judaism podcast recently that I’ve realised that other people also struggle with celibacy in a culture where the only legitimate sex is within marriage, and even then only at certain times.  I am at least not having forbidden pre-marital sex as some “older singles” apparently do according to the sex therapist on Intimate Judaism.  Even so, there’s a lot of guilt around sex and sexual thoughts and behaviours for me and I worry about the guilt poisoning my sex life if I ever do manage to get married.  The guilt around sex for me probably doesn’t help me when dating, giving me more reasons to feel inadequate compared to my date, even beyond my general feelings of inadequacies when compared to frum Jews.  I feel too ashamed to think anyone could accept me with my not-always-fully-repressed sexuality, even if they got past all the other issues.

I spoke about this a bit with my therapist this week, about thinking and doing stuff sexually that, as a frum Jew, I shouldn’t.  I can’t remember her exact words, but it was along the lines of accepting my sexuality as natural, having compassion on myself and realising I’m in a difficult situation that Orthodox Judaism was not really designed for.  It’s difficult though.  I wish I could just turn my lust off.

***

Achievements today: I did an hour and a half to two hours of novel writing, about 900 words.  The exact amount is hard to estimate because of procrastination time.  I was pleased to get to 900 words and reached a sensible point to stop, so I did.  It was hard to write with all of those lonely, despairing thoughts, but I try to force myself through those thoughts and feelings and do some writing five or six days a week.  If I want to be a professional or semi-professional writer, I need to be able to work every working day, even if I’m having a lousy time with depression.

I did thirty-five minutes of Torah study.  It’s hard to get up to an hour a day at the moment except over Shabbat.  I’m not sure why.  I wanted to do more, but procrastinated and ran out of time and got too tired.  I should prioritise Torah study more, but I also want to prioritise writing, exercising and helping around the house.  I can’t prioritise everything all at once.  Sigh.

I went for a half hour walk.  I also did some ironing.  I would be a good house husband, I can clean, cook, launder and iron as well as shop for groceries.  However, my sewing is lousy.  Half the time I can’t even thread the needle.

I had a Zoom call with a bunch of friends from my university days.  We meet up once or twice a year to catch up on what we’ve been doing since we last met.  One had had COVID and nearly been hospitalised (she was triaged and judged well enough to cope at home).  I always feel vaguely awkward that they’ve moved on with their lives in a way that I haven’t.  All have good careers and one is married with a baby.  I did impress them by saying I’m working on a novel.  When I set it was partly set in Oxford, I had to reassure them it wasn’t a roman à clef and they don’t have to worry about being in it.  In fact, this isn’t quite true, as part of the novel is based heavily on my experiences with another person, not in this group, although by this stage in the writing process a lot of details have been changed or invented.  The person I’m thinking of would probably see certain resemblances, but I don’t think anyone else will.

I didn’t get the job for which I did a cataloguing test a couple of weeks ago.  I asked for feedback on the test, although I’m nervous of what it might say.

***

I wrote the following about my experience of depression on Kacha’s blog and thought I would copy it to here as it’s a useful summary of how I experience depression now and in the past.  I think depression will always be around for me most days, but I am able to control it more than I used to do.  I find it hard to ever see myself living a “normal” or “full” life though:

I had a period of many years when the depression was a constant daily phenomenon. Then I started to experience periods of remission for some months, mixed with periods of depression. I still feel very depressed for some time every day (usually in the mornings), and still sometimes have to take a mental health day every so often. However, I am able to do quite a few things during the day most days now, even if it is not like working a nine to five job plus having family and social commitments, which is what I think of as a “full” life.

I think activity helps. Once I can start doing things, that can push the depression away, although events during the day (usually things I see or read or hear) can trigger it again.

I would add that I’m glad I’m not at the stage I was at from 2003 to circa 2008 (or possibly later) when I was not able to work at all, or from 2008 to 2017 or so when extreme depression was common on many days even when I was working a fairly full week.  I think clomipramine, which I was put on after a mental health crisis in late 2017 has done a lot for me in that regard, as well as the occupational therapy of work, then job hunting (awful though that is) and, now, trying to write books.