Just Checking In

The busiest day of the year was… busy. I got to shul (synagogue) in time in the morning for Shacharit (Morning Prayers) and the siyum (feast (although in this case mostly Pesachdik cake and crisps) on finishing a unit of Torah study) that allowed me to avoid having to fast today as a firstborn. This was the first time I’ve done communal eating in two years. It felt a little odd.

I managed to do my usual pre-Pesach chores OK, despite spilling Weetabix crumbs on the covered-for-Pesach worktop. I felt a bit on edge/alert all day for Pesach issues, but mostly kept my anxiety under control, only text my rabbi mentor to ask questions twice, only one of which was really justified (I knew I handled the spilt Weetabix correctly, but everyone else thinking it was a huge problem fed my anxiety made me second-guess myself). But it was pretty good. Overall, so I’ve asked my rabbi mentor a lot fewer questions than usual in the run-up to Pesach, and my general anxiety level has been much lower than usual.

I went for a lie-down around midday, as I’d had only six hours of sleep the night before, and only five the night before that. When I got up after half an hour or so, I had the beginnings of a headache, combined with light-headedness and nausea, that has come and gone all afternoon, notwithstanding medication. I’m probably going to skip shul tonight as a result and just try to be in a good mindset for the seder. I’m going to lie down and relax for a bit now beforehand. I am looking forward to having seder with E! It’s a shame my sister and brother-in-law couldn’t be here though.

In the Future, Everyone Will Be Cancelled for Fifteen Minutes

Work was difficult today, chasing people for money they owe and arguing about whether we had been paid or not. Not fun.

On the walk to and from the station, I listened to another Deep Meaningful Conversations podcast (formerly Normal Frum Women). It was the first time I was disappointed in one of their podcasts. It was on frum (religious Jewish) finances, and I hoped to hear how to manage a large family on a small income (possibly single income, as in “learning” families the husband studies Talmud all day, and in “earning” families men work, but women are often stay at home mothers), but there weren’t many helpful tips.

The guest (whose name I forget) spoke about the importance of discussing finances with your spouse and children, which is true, but I would have liked more practical tips. She focused a lot on the need to apply your religious values to your spending or saving, and kept saying that bringing spirituality into your spending will “bring Mashiach” (the Messiah) (I think she is Chabad). I appreciate where she’s coming from, but I find messianism off-putting in a practical context. I think a lot of problems in the Jewish world today stem from too much messianism.

The discussion also left me brooding on the small shortfall in E and my finances that my Dad and I identified when budgeting, but couldn’t quite resolve. Then I realised we hadn’t budgeted for giving any tzedakah (charity), which would make the shortfall more complicated. According to Jewish law, one should aim to give 10% of post-tax disposable income to charity (shul (synagogue) fees and religious education can count towards this) and I have tried to do this over the years when possible, although as I’ve been dependent on others, it often has not been possible. It probably won’t be possible for E and me either, which upsets me a bit and makes me wonder how we can decide how much we can afford to give.

The other thing that this makes me wonder is if I’m overly cynical for a frum person. I find it hard to mouth the platitudes about God providing, every baby coming with a purse and so on, or to find significance in the miracle stories people tell (I’m not talking about biblical stories, but supposedly contemporary urban myths). I guess it takes me back to the question of whether everyone in the frum community is living amazingly spiritually-focused lives or are just trying to pass as someone living such a life by saying certain things.

***

On the podcast, someone referred to “The days of blogging” in the past tense. I do think there are fewer blogs than there used to be. I certainly come across fewer Jewish or Doctor Who blogs. However, I don’t think blogging is quite over yet.

There was also talk on the podcast of doing what God wants me to do. I struggle with this. Sometimes I feel that writing is what God wants me to do, but I think I felt like that about librarianship too. Not exactly that it was what God wanted me to do, but that it was what I should be doing. That didn’t turn out well, so I feel wary of staking so much of my self-esteem and hope for the future on writing professionally.

I did manage forty-five minutes of novel writing when I got home. It’s much easier to feel awake at 6pm when it’s still light outside now the clocks have gone forward. I would have liked to have got to an hour, but dinner was ready and I was too tired afterwards. I have pretty much got to my first thousand words (I’m actually on something like 993), which makes me feel a bit better.

I am still nervous about the content of what I want to write. E said that if I write about a pornography-addicted rabbi I’ll be cancelled in the frum world and if I follow it with an anti-woke political satire, I’ll be cancelled in the secular world too. This is probably true, but I’m trying not to think about it. As Andy Warhol nearly said, in the future, everyone will be cancelled for fifteen minutes. Sometimes I wonder if I’ll end up in a situation where the only people who will talk to me, in the real world and online, will be E and my close blood relations.

None of this makes me think seriously of not writing what I want to write, though. Going back to what God wants me to write, Rabbi Nachman of Breslov said that a rebbe who won’t go to Gehennom [Hell] to save his hasidim isn’t a true rebbe. I feel I have to at least try to go and rescue people or no one will. If it’s in Gehennom — well, at least I know the territory.

***

I didn’t wear a mask on the Tube on the way home. I was tired and couldn’t really face it, and it seemed pointless if no one else on the Tube was wearing one (my understanding is that some masks help a bit, but more to stop infected people spreading COVID than to stop uninfected people catching it, so it is only helpful if most people are doing it). I did feel somewhat anxious and “wrong” (immoral), but I was mostly OK. I feel like we need to come out of the pandemic.

I haven’t told my parents that I didn’t wear my mask, and inasmuch as I feel immoral for not wearing one, it is probably because my parents are very COVID-cautious, particularly my father (although they have been to the theatre a couple of times). I did argue with my Dad a bit about this on Shabbat. He was complaining that only about twenty people out of a hundred or more were wearing masks in shul on Friday night (I’m not sure there were even twenty). I said that the pandemic was over. He said there were three million new cases last week (checking, this seems to be wrong, and by an order of magnitude). I asked how many people actually died of COVID last week? And how many new cases of flu were there last week?

Really you can keep this debate going indefinitely on both sides. I worry that it’s hard to tell where sensible behaviour during the pandemic shades into health anxiety post-pandemic.

***

When I was feeling down the other week, I mentioned leaving a comment on the autism forum that the original commenter didn’t reply to, and I wondered if I had offended him, as he replied to the other comments. He did reply to me today, so I feel better now.

Job Interview and Changing the Past

I was very early for my job interview today and hung around at the bus stop for twenty minutes, killing time. As my therapist suggested, I tried to use positive affirmations to get in a good state of mind, although I’ve never had much success with this. Telling myself, “I will do the best I can today; I don’t need to worry about tomorrow” helped a bit.

I feel I had my usual autistic problems in the interview: long pauses while I tried to process things and sentences that started confidently, but then trailed off as I realised I didn’t know what to say, or didn’t have as much to say as I thought, sometimes awkwardly ending on “and…” I had prepared notes and had them open, but when the questions came, I got focused on them and didn’t look at the notes. I made bland assertions rather than using the STAR method I’ve frequently been told to apply in interviews, where you talk about a Situation you were in, the Task involved, the Action you took and the Result. I find it hard to think of the concrete examples needed by the STAR method. I was also distracted by my surroundings, not lights or noises, but the very noticeboard on the wall behind the interviewers, with colourful animal photos, and a large photograph of a gorilla perched on the windowsill. Once I noticed that, it was hard to un-notice it (the weird opposite of the famous psychology experiment where subjects failed to notice a gorilla). I should add that neither wildlife nor photography have anything to do with this organisation’s purpose.

I think I answered most of the questions OK, but I got a bit stuck on being asked about a time when I gave excellent customer service. I have had this question before and I don’t like it. I had prepared an answer, but at the last moment, I felt that it wasn’t appropriate, and instead said that I always give the same excellent level of customer service to everyone (complete attention, politeness, etc.). It was not a great answer.

So, I don’t think I embarrassed myself, but I don’t think I did brilliantly either. I have had some help with interviews in the past, but nothing seems to really help once I get into one and my autistic brain is left to fend for itself.

***

When I got home, I wrote the full (800 word) synopsis that one literary agency were asking for. Looking at my manuscript, much of it makes me cringe, both in terms of quality and in terms of the parts that were based on my own life — there is much I would like to have done differently if I lived my life again. I felt initially that not enough happens in the novel too, although I feel that not enough happens in literary novels generally (I’m probably not supposed to say that). However, on looking at the novel as a whole, I think things do happen, they just start slowly, held up by stuff that mattered to me emotionally, but which probably isn’t necessary for the plot, but I don’t know how to change it now.

The agency seemed a bit picky in what they wanted, and on their submission guidelines they said they wanted the first five pages of the manuscript, but on the submission form itself they said they wanted the first twenty pages. I don’t think the agency will be a great fit, but having written the synopsis, I felt I ought to submit it.

***

I noticed today that although Transport for London are encouraging passengers to wear masks, none of the staff seem to wear them any more. It’s very hard to feel engaged in doing it any more.

***

Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about embarrassing events from my past, mostly from my childhood and teenage years. I was mostly well-behaved, but did misbehave occasionally. When I did, I was not usually caught, but somehow I feel I should have been. I’m not sure why I feel guilty for harmless actions from a quarter of a century ago, but I do. Then, as I wrote above, looking at my novel today made me think about the events that inspired it, which are bound up in regrets and self-recrimination from a bad time of my life. Curiously enough, Paula wrote today about regretting or not regretting past actions. As I said there, it’s hard to imagine changing the bad without changing the good, or at least the necessary, and the most significant things were often out of my hands anyway. I feel it’s counter-productive to have these thoughts, but it’s easy to get stuck in it.

Then today I was reading The Principles of Judaism were Rabbi Dr Samuel Lebens argues that God can and will rewrite history so nothing bad ever happened. (Or “hyper-happened” as he would say, as something bad happened, but God “hyper-will” change it so it didn’t.) I didn’t really agree with this, although it was hard to find the logical flaw. It just seems wrong. The book had some surprising propositions, but this was one I really struggled to accept.

I think I preferred the theodicy Rabbi Lebens quoted from Gabriel Citron (who I knew slightly years ago) that, from the afterlife, our suffering in this world will seem as insubstantial as a nightmare. This is closer to my thinking. I’m surprised Rabbi Lebens rejects it, saying “I don’t see much religious value in the skeptical possibility that we’re not really awake right now,” as it doesn’t seem all that different to Lebens’ suggestion earlier in the book that we’re just ideas in God’s mind.

Questions

I had another novel agent rejection. He said, “You have an interesting story to tell and there’s a lot to like about your approach. But in the end I’m afraid I didn’t come away quite fully convinced this was something I think I’d be able to represent successfully.” I’m confused by this. Is it the literary equivalent of “I like you, but only as a friend”? (I got that a lot too in the years before E.) It makes me wonder if agents are really put off by the Jewish nature of my novel and think they can’t represent it. If so, maybe I ought to seek out Jewish agents (how would I find them?), or apply to the one or two Jewish or Jewish-ish publishers I know.

***

I woke up this morning to a text telling me I could apply for a vaccine passport. As the text did not come from an NHS number (they always say “NHS”) and didn’t link to an NHS website, and as I already have the NHS COVID app, I concluded that this was a scam, probably asking for money for phishing for personal details. Things like this leave me a bit shaken though. Not to a huge extent, but I worry that I might fall for a scam one day, and just experiencing it makes me feel negative about the world.

***

At work J sent me to get a key cut. It was a special key, so I had to go on the bus to a particular hardware shop. He said that if it took up to an hour, I should just stay in the area and collect it, but if it took more than an hour, I should come back and he would collect it later. I was told it would take an hour, so I wandered around the area for a while. There wasn’t really time to go anywhere. There was a small park nearby, but I hadn’t brought a book to read, so I just wandered around listening to Eurythmics’ greatest hits on my headphones. So many shops have video screens in the windows now. I’m sure it contributes to autistic sensory overload.

Other than that, work left me feeling vaguely stupid again for not using my initiative or common sense, probably for no good reason, or only a mild reason. I vaguely recall that when I was a child, adults used to say I had intelligence, but not common sense. I’m not sure whether that is shorthand for autism or not.

***

Almost no one is wearing a mask on the Tube any more. I feel torn. The evidence for masks, particularly cloth ones, is not great, as I understand it. I suspect a lot of it is about wanting to feel one is doing something at a time when we couldn’t do anything. The college where I am having a job interview tomorrow still insists on masks in public spaces (I’m not sure what the define as ‘public’). Being autistic, I like clear rules, and the clash of different masking regulations (entirely voluntary/compulsory in places) is confusing to me. I fail to make up my own mind.

I am wearing a mask at the moment more to avoid panicking others than because I think it will help me, maybe because my Dad gets annoyed if people aren’t wearing masks. I wore one to shul (synagogue) over Purim, but took it off when I realised almost no one there was wearing one.

***

My ability to catastrophise about my job interview tomorrow is impeded by my inability to work out if I want the job or not. I feel like I’ll mess up the interview and still be faced with the difficult decision of taking the job or not, even though both of these things can not happen simultaneously.

I said to my parents that I feel I haven’t done well at a librarian job in the last five years. My Dad said this was untrue. I think it is largely true, although not entirely. I had a job that lasted one month in a shul library that went OK, although no one ever gave me real feedback on what I did, or even seemed to really look at it. I also, as my Dad said, did well at the job at a university library. However, as I said to him, it was not really a job for a professional librarian, although they advertised it as such, but a trainee; someone else at the institution asked if I was going to train as a librarian and was shocked that I was already qualified. Other than that, my only library work in the last five years was the further education job, which was not good at all, albeit mostly because I was in a terrible environment for an autistic person (because I didn’t know I was autistic at that stage).

I’m not sure how much of this negativity is low self-esteem and autistic rigidity and how much is real. Dad seemed to think a lot was rigidity, but I’m not convinced. I still remember how my boss at the further education job told me that I wasn’t doing as well as she expected. I don’t think I’d ever really disappointed anyone that much before.

I do feel my professional qualifications have withered over the intervening years and I’m depressed by the fact that I rarely get interviews for library jobs and when I do get them, I don’t seem to do well. I wish there was some kind of objective test I could take to see if I’m still a good librarian, like doing my MA coursework all over again (although I felt that, like job interviews, library MA coursework tested exam-passing skills as much as the skills I would use in the field). I feel that maybe I should look for a cataloguing course on CILIP, but I feel that my once-desired career as a cataloguer no longer excites me. I’m too scared that my concentration has gone and I make stupid mistakes. I don’t know if that’s due to autism-unfriendly environments or my own decline.

Someone on the autism forum was saying the other day that he has built a successful career for himself as a librarian and that he thinks that many of his colleagues are on the spectrum (diagnosed or otherwise) and that it’s an autistic-friendly career, so I feel particularly useless that I could never get this to work for me. I was dealt a bad hand in the early years of my career (and before, when I was doing my librarianship MA), having to deal with burnout, depression, social anxiety and OCD all while not actually knowing the root cause of everything, the fact that I am autistic, so maybe I shouldn’t be too hard on myself.

I guess I feel I’ve despaired of building a library career and am already focused on writing, which is even harder to get into (see above) or earn a living from. Except I don’t let myself write, because I enjoy it too much, so I prioritise everything else over it. To be honest, sticking in my current job and working hard at my writing would be the best thing for me, IF I could find a way to fight the autistic/medication-induced exhaustion and get some serious writing and submitting time in each week. But maybe even that is running away from librarianship because I feel I failed.

Withdrawal, Virus, Or What?

I slept for twelve hours last night, then I think I drifted in and out of sleep for another two. I dreamt about the Nazis, which I guess is what I get for reading The Coming of the Third Reich. By the time I woke up properly, I was still feeling very drained and somewhat ill. I struggle to put into words what exactly I mean by “ill,” although it includes an uncomfortable awareness of my own body (I can’t put it more precisely than that) which I associate with autistic exhaustion (particularly the feeling that my brain is being squeezed) as well as feeling hot and bothered and generally not having the energy or inclination to do anything other than lying still. I also occasionally get muscle spasms or unwilled muscle tension. I’ve been shivering a bit too. I am not sure if this is autistic exhaustion from working on two hours of sleep yesterday, withdrawal from olanzapine, lack of vitamin D or something else.

This prompts the vague thoughts I’ve had recently wondering if I have some physical illness or condition draining my energy that has been overlooked because I’ve been focused on depression, autistic exhaustion and medication side-effects as causes, but I’m not sure how to take that forward. Obviously going to the GP would be a good start, although I’ll wait for the high doses vitamin D I’ve been prescribed to kick in and the withdrawal to hopefully pass, or I think the GP will just tell me to go home and wait for those things to happen first. My experience is that GPs do not react well to being presented with vague, “I feel sick and tired all the time” statements, so I am not feeling hugely optimistic about that.

I don’t have racing thoughts though. If anything sometimes they are slow and sluggish, as when I’m autistically exhausted. However, I did do a COVID test, just in case. It came back negative, but it was one of the ones where you have to swab your tonsils, which I’m not good at, so I worry I didn’t do it properly. I may just have picked up some kind of bug/virus.

***

It occurs to me that tomorrow night will be my first Purim knowing for sure that I’m on the autism spectrum. I was quite sure last year, but wasn’t officially diagnosed yet. Anyway, last Purim was a weird, COVID Purim, with few people in the Megillah reading (my shul (synagogue) did multiple small readings instead of one big one) and no young children allowed (usually there would be loads of kids around, mainly in fancy dress). The tzedaka (charity) collection was online only too (usually there would be lots of people with tins and buckets collecting for different charities). It was very, very strange and, even though it was in many ways an ideal autistic Purim for me, it just felt wrong. I’d like to find a small, quiet Megillah reading, but not if that means that other people can’t get their raucous reading or that children can’t hear the Megillah at all! Of course, if I feel like this tomorrow evening, I may not hear the Megillah anywhere after all.

***

I found this article quite useful. I need to be reminded periodically that I can be empathetic, polite, imaginative and creative, and not great at maths, and still be on the autism spectrum. To be fair, I was reasonably good at maths in school, in the top set and I got A* at GCSE, but I was never intuitively good at maths the way some of my schoolfriends were, and the way stereotypical autistic children are. Certainly my maths skills are rusty now.

***

I’ve nearly finished The Coming of the Third Reich. It’s been interesting, if depressing, reading, and I’d like to read Richard J. Evans’ two follow up books on Nazi Germany, although I imagine they’re even more depressing.

I found the book a cause of optimism and pessimism. Optimism, because we’ve been hearing since 2016 that our democracies are simmering hotbeds of extremism and racism “Just like Germany in the 20s and 30s.” Evans’ book, although written long before 2016, tacitly debunks this theory, by demonstrating that the democratic Weimar Republic was in a state of near-permanent crisis from its creation in 1918, in the closing days of World War I. It had no political legitimacy in the eyes of much of the population, being seen as at least indirectly imposed by the victorious Allies. Many people, including parts of the governing class, openly longed for a return to autocratic rule (which, again, had only just come to an end in 1918), either under a restored Kaiser or a military dictatorship. This number grew over time. The Republic suffered two major financial crises, a hyperinflation crisis in the early twenties that impoverished many and an unemployment crisis from 1929 that left a third of the workforce out of work. Moreover, throughout the period, political violence and, initially, assassination were rife. Most of the major political parties had large, armed paramilitary wings that used to get in regular fist-fights and sometimes gunfights with each other, not just extremist parties like the Nazis and the Communists, but even the moderate left-wing Social Democrats (the main supporters of Weimar democracy). These are not really present in the contemporary West. Sure, we can see what could be the seeds of something worse, and we certainly live in politically-polarised times, full of conspiracy theories on both right and left (often antisemitic, again like Germany) and occasional rioting. I certainly think it would be good if we could turn down the political temperature and debate more politely. But I think anyone who thinks we are literally like Germany in 1930 is either ignorant or disingenuous.

The pessimism, however, came from the fact that Evans presents the Nazis’ rise as — not inevitable, but lacking in clear points where meaningful and appropriate action could have been taken to stop them. Evans doesn’t really deal with counter-factuals, but he makes it sound like the Weimar Republic would have struggled a lot even in a better world than the one we got, and that after the Depression hit, some kind of autocratic military dictatorship was more or less inevitable, although not necessarily as brutal as the Nazi one.

He says of the Social Democrat Party in 1933 (again, the main support of the Weimar Republic):

In retrospect, its [the Social Democratic Party’s] chances of survival had been diminishing rapidly for nearly a year. Decisive in this context was its failure to mount any effective opposition to the Papen coup of 20 July 1932; if there had been any moment when it might have stood up for democracy, that was it. But it is easy to condemn its inaction with hindsight; few in the summer of 1932 could have realized that the amateurish and in many ways rather ludicrous government of Franz von Papen would give way little more than six months later to a regime whose extreme ruthlessness and total disregard for the law were difficult for decent, law-abiding democrats to grasp. In many ways, the labour movement leaders’ desire to avoid violence in July 1932 was thoroughly to their credit; they were not to know that their decision was to play a key role in opening the way to much greater violence later on.

Brief Update

J tested positive for COVID today. After he told me, I tested myself and I’m still negative, but tomorrow I’ll be going to work by myself really for the first time in this job (J will email me work to do) and I am somewhat nervous about that, particularly if I have to do the Very Scary Task again. I’ve worked from home without J a couple of times, but that was somewhat more limited (although I did the VST, so not so limited).

***

I finished sorting those papers. I feel a lot more organised now. I always knew where my paperwork was, but it would have been harder to locate the exact paper I wanted and the folders were overfilled with out of date papers, particularly bank statements from ten or even twenty years ago. But a lot of it is psychological, seeing neatly-organised folders rather than ones bursting at the seams. I do now have a huge pile of paper to shred, but that’s a relatively easy job I can do over a number of days.

The other thing I did today was go for a run, but my pace was poor, with lots of walking. I have hardly run this year and it shows.

I have a lot of other things I would like to blog about, but it’s late and I’m very tired. Maybe later in the week…

Looking in All the Right and Wrong Places

I think I did too much yesterday, between work, an hour or so of Torah study (about half after I got home from work rather than on the train in to work), dinner with my parents and doing a load of holiday-related banking stuff. I only got half an hour or so to relax, excluding reading at lunch at work and on the Tube home (which is not entirely relaxing), watching an episode of The Twilight Zone (Ninety Years Without Slumbering, not the best, but not the worst either). Today I was exhausted and didn’t get up until after 1pm, much to my father’s exasperation.

I felt somewhat depressed all day. Some of it was probably autistic exhaustion. Even so, there is so much wrong with the world that I can’t do anything about (Ukraine, the genocide of the Uyghurs, the incompetence of our political class…). It’s easy to get fixated on that.

I also had another novel rejection. There isn’t much more to say about that.

In terms of what I did achieve, I wrote to the JobCentre about my benefits again. I think these should have been stopped ages ago because (A) they were only supposed to last a year; (B) I am now working and earning more than the permitted amount; and (C) my diagnosis has changed, and while I still experience the same difficulties with energy, concentration and motivation in the workplace, I think autism, unlike depression, is (wrongly) not considered a genuine impairment to working. I know it’s silly to look for trouble if they’re still willing to give me free money, but I worry about being arrested for benefit fraud, or at least about being made to pay money back (for all that the amount I receive is pretty small).

It was a struggle finding the paper trail, though. I think of myself as an organised person, but I increasingly realise that I’m not, and that my filing for important papers (savings, work, tax, benefits etc.) need a serious overhaul. It still has the semblance of order, but has grown out of hand through lack of attention. I keep far too much stuff, a problem I had as a librarian too. I ought to sort it before getting married, but it just feels like Yet Another Thing to do alongside work, submitting my novel, researching/writing my second novel, learning to drive, keeping up with household chores, Torah study, relaxation (which I’m beginning to accept I need to take more seriously if I’m going to live with autism) and so on.

In an attempt to find fat to trim, I’m trying to cut internet time to an hour and a half a day. That’s for blogging, reading blogs, reading news sites and general internet browsing, not for using the internet for a non-recreational purpose, such as internet banking or shopping. I’m doing this partly to free up time, partly because, in monitoring what contributed to autistic fatigue and what restored me from it, prolonged internet use emerged pretty quickly as something I do a lot, but which rapidly becomes draining rather than restoring.

It is too early to say if it is working, although I haven’t had great success with similar attempts in the past. I just need more time in the day. If nothing else, I would like to relax by reading more actual books instead of blogs and news sites (important though those are). It would help my attempts to be more productive if I didn’t tire so easily and need so much sleep, particularly after work (see my first paragraph). It’s hard to get through life as an adult with adult responsibilities when I seem to need eleven, twelve or even thirteen hours of sleep most nights.

***

Holiday: Sunday 23 January

By this stage, E and I had established a pattern where she would work during the morning (her work hours are flexible, but she wasn’t on holiday) and I would sleep in a bit and slowly go through my morning routine, then we would go out late morning or early afternoon. Nevertheless, I was still feeling very frustrated at how tired I can get.

We went to The Jewish Museum, which we both found found disappointing. There weren’t enough exhibits on display and the most interesting thing was a special exhibit containing a collection of netsuke, seventeenth century Japanese miniature carved statues, which was not what you would expect to find in a Jewish museum. The exhibition it was part of was about a wealthy Austrian-Jewish family that lost their property, including the netsuke, in the Holocaust and tried to get it back afterwards. As E said, it was sad they lost their property, but lots of people lost their lives in the Holocaust (the family all seemed to flee to safety when the Nazis took over, just leaving their possessions behind to be seized), and it was hard to be too concerned over them, especially as they still seemed to be very wealthy. Still, the netsuke were interesting, if not exactly what I would have gone to the museum for.

The funniest thing was the (expensive) museum shop, which had a fair bit of what can only be described as Ruth Bader Ginsburg fan memorabilia. There was an RBG children’s book, which reminded me of something I saw in the paper a while back, where a columnist was complaining that one of the biggest bookshops in London had no children’s books about Chanukah, but did instead have a selection of children’s books on woke heroines like Greta Thunberg, Kamala Harris and RBG. What, she wondered, would an English five year old, make of a book about an American politician or judge?

But my favourite item in the shop was an RBG chanukiah (Chanukah lamp), with six inch high mini-RBG brandishing a gavel at the person lighting the lamp. The lamps stood on blocks that spelt out “I DISSENT,” which was also the title of RBG children’s autobiography, apparently to make her seem an exciting rebel rather than an accepted part of the political order. We saw a woman with an RBG tote bag later in the week too, so there’s obviously a market for this sort of “merch” (I hate that word). Welcome to the era of politics-as-lifestyle (and lifestyle-as-politics).

Afterwards we went to Central Park again, then on to some bookstores, new and second-hand. I picked up a copy of Doctor Who and the Doomsday Weapon, the more excitingly-titled novelisation of the 1971 Doctor Who story Colony in Space. The Doctor Who novelisations are a subject of nostalgia in their own right for many fans, particularly older ones. I read the novelisations of most stories before I got a chance to see them and they were a huge part of my childhood. I do vaguely think sometimes about trying collect the complete set (I have about forty, only a quarter or so of the total). Doctor Who and the Doomsday Weapon, like many of the early novelisations (before they started churning them out mechanically) has ‘value added’ in terms of more detailed characterisation and world-building compared with the TV story, so it was enjoyable to read (on the plane home) even though I’ve got the TV version on DVD. It also shifts the focus from the Master’s attempt to steal the titular weapon to the human drama of the colony (despite the titles suggesting the opposite), which is probably an improvement. E read it too and was also impressed.

Some time after sunset I realised that I had forgotten to daven Minchah (say Afternoon Prayers), and now it was too late. I seem to do this once every winter. In the evening, we got takeaway dinner from a kosher Mexican restaurant. We were impressed by the food, less so by the refusal of the kitchen staff to wear masks. Eating in E’s apartment, I realised the rubber sole was falling off one of my walking boots, and it did indeed fall off before I left for home. Fortunately, the boot still had a leather and plastic sole underneath that protected my foot during the ten minute walk back to my apartment, in the falling snow.

Monday 24 January

We visited The Book Cellar, a nice second-hand bookshop, and I picked up three more books: Talmudic Images (which I’ve already blogged about), the second Harry Potter (after making sure it was an English edition and not one ‘translated’ into American English) and the first volume of Richard Evans’ three-volume non-fiction study of Nazi Germany. Including the Doctor Who book and two Jewish books I ordered to come to E’s apartment for me to collect (to avoid international postage), I was coming back with six more books than I left with! Fortunately, throwing away my walking boots gave me some more space in my suitcase… Even so, I was disappointed to have to leave the two-volume hardback Annotated Sherlock Holmes on the Book Cellar’s shelves.

In the afternoon, we went to The Museum of Modern Art. We enjoyed the galleries on the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, but struggled with the noise in the building, which came not from patrons, but from some extremely noisy art installations. I was also annoyed that the cloakroom was closed, inevitably because of COVID (?!), and I was not allowed to wear my rucksack and had to carry it around instead. Add in the usual mask discomfort and, again, we only stayed for a couple of hours whereas pre-COVID we might have stayed for longer.

In the evening we had dinner at a kosher pizza place with E’s mother, who was visiting New York. This seemed to go well. It was good to meet her in person. Afterwards E spent time with her mother while I went back to my apartment and started reading Talmudic Images and generally pottered about not feeling like doing much. This turned out to be a bad sign, an indication that I was rapidly running out of spoons.

Work Keys, and Burning Out on Holiday

On the way into work, I got in a panic about not having completed a tax return, until my Mum pointed out that the return would be for the 2020-2021 financial year, where it’s unlikely I earnt enough (even including benefits) to pay tax, rather than the 2021-2022 financial year, where I probably will have to pay tax. However, I spent some time worrying about it before she pointed it out, and I do need to check the figures.

When I got into work, J told me I had made a mistake before going on holiday. Some people send in record books with their membership fees, which is supposed to be a way of recording how much they have paid. I am always worried that I will absent-mindedly send their cheques back with the books. It turns out that I did do that a few weeks ago. At least J wasn’t angry, but I feel embarrassed about these kind of executive function errors, even though I know they come with the autistic territory. We are not using the record books in the coming year, so I do at least have limited opportunities to make this mistake again.

J asked me to take a photo of some forms and send them to two contractors, which I did, but then realised I was charged by my phone company for sending media texts; I should have WhatsApped them (which I wasn’t sure I could do, but I now think I can).

Other than that there was a lot of basic admin work and a trip to the bank, which does break up the day. It was my last day as a contractor; tomorrow I become a permanent member of staff! Because of this, J gave me an electronic fob key for the front door, so I’ll be able to get in even if the security guard isn’t at his desk, although I need to get the key activated (or something technical) first.

I went to the shul (synagogue) in the building for Minchah and Ma’ariv (Afternoon and Evening services). No one wanted to lead the services. I sort of wanted to take the initiative, but held back because of social anxiety; fear that I would start shaking (which is a medication side-effect, but triggered by social anxiety and shortness of breath when masked); and fear that I would lead the prayers too slowly. I can not daven (pray) as fast as most people in this shul, and I would not daven that fast even if I could, as I think it’s insulting to God to speak to Him like that. I know most people at this minyan are taking time out from work and need to get back quickly, but I feel an extra two minutes would not hurt. But I worry what response I would get.

It is funny how some services seem to have ‘prestige’ and others don’t. People will fight for the right to lead some services (e.g. Kabbalat Shabbat (Friday evening), Mussaf (additional prayer service on Sabbaths and festivals), leining (Torah reading) and haftarah (reading from the prophets)), however those same people will fight not to have to lead weekday services, which seem to be seen as unimportant, probably because they are chanted rather than sung ‘properly’ and because relatively little skill is required to lead them compared with the more ‘prestigious’ services. You need to be able to read Hebrew reasonably well, but you don’t have to be able to sing, or memorise the vocalisation and musical notation of a passage.

***

Holiday: Thursday 20 January

E and I went to the Metropolitan Museum for a couple of hours, looking mainly at the Ancient Egyptian and Medieval Art galleries. It was fascinating and there was a lot to see, but we both got uncomfortable in our masks and I felt that I was tiring easily (which may have been due to masking, cold weather, autism and/or who knows what else). We ate lunch in Central Park (or I did; E doesn’t really eat lunch) and went for a bit of a walk around it, but it was uncomfortably cold and I was starting to get a headache (again), so we went back to E’s apartment so she could work and I read. It was nice just being in the same room, to be honest.

We had dinner at an Italian restaurant, in a COVID ‘outdoor’ seating area, a hut with a raised roof to let the air circulate, essentially a secular sukkah. I got them to turn the music down as it was giving me painful sensory overload. Sometimes I surprise myself (in this case regarding my confidence and ability to speak up for myself).

When we went out on this day, E noticed that the lockbox I was supposed to store the keys in at the end of my holiday had disappeared. It was fortunate that she noticed this, as I was able to get the landlord to buy a new one in time, otherwise my plans for my last day could have gone dramatically wrong. Sometimes it does feel like God is looking out for me (see also: having a free seat next to me on both plane journeys).

Friday 21 January

I felt pretty exhausted on this day. It led me to feel that, because of my autism, I can only do one thing per day, at most. This disappoints me, particularly after the packed holidays that my parents used to take me on as a child. I know E finds my lack of stamina hard to deal with too, but I don’t know what I can do to boost it.

Because of lack of stamina and exhaustion, I didn’t do much on this day, mostly just shopping for Shabbat, although Shabbat started so early I wouldn’t have managed much else anyway. My mood slumped at lunchtime and I’m not sure why.

E came over to my apartment for Shabbat dinner, although we didn’t get what we really wanted (sushi) and ended up making bad decisions about alternatives due to feeling stressed and overloaded (sensory overload and social overload).

Saturday 22 January

This was a chill out day, with E in my apartment for much of it. I had been enjoying being in an Airbnb, but from this point on, I began to find it a little creepy, like there was a ghost haunting the flat, by which I mean the presence of the landlord, who usually lived there when not abroad. I had amused myself making Sherlock Holmes-type deductions about her from her books and the newspaper clippings on the fridge, but I began to feel an impostor, like she wouldn’t want me to be there if she knew me (this was partly political, feeling that she wouldn’t agree with me politically and would think me a bad person). Things were made worse when we dripped some wax on a chair when making havdalah (ritual at end of the Sabbath involving a multi-wicked candle). She was OK about it, but I felt she ought to be angrier, even though the ‘house manual’ provided did not say anything about not lighting candles (contrary to what she said).

More practically, the bed was uncomfortable for me: the mattress too soft, the pillows too thin and the cushion I used to try to raise my head was the wrong shape and too hard, as it was a beanbag cushion. Perhaps as a result of this, I had weird dreams all week.

After the Holiday; The Holiday Retrospect

I think the Talmud says it takes three days to recover from a journey (this had practical halakhic (legal) consequences in Talmudic times that don’t apply any more). A journey in Talmudic times was obviously likely to be longer, more difficult and more dangerous that the one I’ve got back from, but I still feel exhausted. To my surprise, I found the energy to go to shul (synagogue) on Friday night, albeit somewhat late. I sat at the back and didn’t talk to anyone after the service. I didn’t really want to socialise. I was probably exhausted at dinner and everything I said seemed to come out sounding more angry than I intended. I napped for an hour and a half after dinner and consequently couldn’t sleep at night. I might still be running on Eastern Standard Time instead of Greenwich Mean Time.

Today was mostly spent sleeping and doing Torah study again. I didn’t feel up to going to shul or shiur (religious class), which did not surprise me, as it’s such a struggle to go at the moment (post-COVID) even without jet lag and travel stress. After Shabbat, and helping to tidy up, I didn’t do much except plough through some emails and write this.

***

I argued with Dad about COVID restrictions. I said I might not wear a mask to shul in future, which he thought was risky. I said that I’m triple-vaxxed so COVID is unlikely to be like more than a bout of flu for me, and I accept the risk of catching flu every year. My sister currently has COVID and says it feels like a bad cold. To be honest, I vacillate on this. Sometimes I do feel that we have to accept COVID as being like flu and live with it; other times I worry about going to places with no masks. I think my father is similarly confused; he went to the theatre (masked) with Mum while I was away, which I am currently very reluctant to do, even though I travel on the Tube a couple of times a week. I find it hard to work out a consistent level of COVID safety that satisfies me, as so much depends on habit (I’m used to using the Tube in the pandemic by now; I’m not used to going to the theatre or cinema), media influence (if I’ve been reading articles for or against greater opening up) and peer pressure (including the negative peer pressure of masking to allow myself to look down on anti-maskers).

***

Over Shabbat I finished reading Talmudic Images, a series of short biographical essays on leading figures in the Talmud by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz that I bought and started reading in New York. I find it has given me more of a grasp of the chronology of the Talmud and how it fits together, particularly for the post-Mishnaic period. Perhaps strangely for someone on the spectrum, I find it easier to understand abstract arguments if I understand a little of the people proposing them. This approach was controversial with the Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) world, though; one of the reasons why Rabbi Steinsaltz’s Talmud translation/commentary was rejected by that community was the (much shorter) biographical sketches he provided there of leading Talmudic figures. Rabbi Steinsaltz’s willingness to state that great rabbis had human flaws, and his suggestion that their personalities and worldviews might have influenced their halakhic (legal) reasoning are seen as incorrect and even immoral in the Haredi world, which prefers to see great rabbis as perfect saints operating in a universe of pure logic and reason.

***

Holiday: Tuesday 18 January: Coming to America

I arrived at the airport only to feel rather overwhelmed by the number of people and the confusion about what I had to do. Airports are not the most autism-friendly places. I managed to check in at the automated check in point and then drop off my luggage and get my COVID vaccination and test details checked. A baby in a parallel queue started waving to me; I waved back at her, but felt sad that she couldn’t see me smile because of my mask. As humans are social beings, and communication is through body language as much as speech, mask-wearing is not a cost-free option.

I got through security OK and eventually onto the plane. I was lucky enough to have a free seat next to me on both the way out and the way back, despite both planes being nearly full. This made me feel more comfortable and less crammed in. One of the air stewardesses looked and sounded exactly like Jodie Whittaker (the current Doctor Who), at least as far as I could tell with her mask on.

I did get a headache on the flight which approached being a migraine. It probably kicked in about three-quarters of the way through the flight. I’m not sure if I was dehydrated, as the amount of liquid they give you on an eight hour flight is minimal and I forgot to buy a bottle of water after clearing security, or if it’s a form of travel sickness, as I got a migraine last time I travelled abroad too. A quick internet search shows that aeroplane headaches are apparently a thing lots of people suffer. I hope this isn’t going to be a regular feature of air travel for me. I took some painkillers, but they didn’t help much.

I passed the time with reading The Psychology of Time Travel (very good science fiction mystery novel), listening to the Intimate Judaism podcast and, listening to episodes of The Goon Show and Round the Horne. When the headache became too bad to read I tried watching a wildlife documentary on the in-flight entertainment console, but it had a rather more sadistic focus on the brutal death of young chicks than I felt able to deal with in my headache-weakened state, so I gave up and watched The Simpsons. From what I’ve seen, recent episodes are not as funny as the early episodes, but they are still amusing compared with most comedy on TV.

I met E at the airport without any trouble, but my headache was worsened by the long taxi journey to the apartment I was renting, and I was glad I didn’t throw up in the cab. E and I were both driven quietly crazy by the cab’s audio system, which seemed to be playing the same half-dozen adverts over and over and over. When we arrived, we found the lockbox that was supposed to contain the apartment keys open and the keys missing. We were about to find a cafe where we could try to message the landlord when I remembered she had a cleaner and thought that she might be in there. I buzzed the apartment to find that, yes, the cleaner was running late and still up there.

I was more intimidated than I thought I would be by the loft bed (a sort of bunkbed for grown-ups), but someone had made the bed on a mattress on the floor instead, so I didn’t have to climb up every evening. I was also intimidated by the copper kettle, to be boiled on the gas stove. I was terrified of breaking it somehow, so simply refused to drink hot drinks in my apartment. I also realised that American toilet paper is awful, far too thin and flimsy.

When my headache felt better, E and I ventured out for dinner. We went to a kosher pizza restaurant relatively close by and ordered one pizza to take away for the two of us. I was worried if this would be enough, but when it arrived, it was big enough for two. We ate in my apartment, after which E left me so I could have an earlyish night.

Take Me Back to Dear Old Blighty

I am back in the UK! I had a really good time with E in New York. I hope to blog it soon, but probably over a number of days, alongside my usual posts. I hope this doesn’t make the narrative like one of those ‘difficult’ novels that start consecutive chapters at A (the beginning of the story) and B (the midpoint of the story) and then alternate between the the two plotlines so the odd-numbered chapters tell you how the characters got from A to B, while the even-numbered chapters tell you how they got from B to C (the end of the story). (There was a Doctor Who novel like this, Eye of Heaven. It was pretty good, but no one could work out why the author wrote it that way.)

My flight home was somewhat stressful, with problems getting my COVID passenger locator form displayed to staff on my phone and delays when another flight was cancelled and their passengers passed on to us. I had a night flight and didn’t sleep, as I can’t sleep on planes; I didn’t have a particularly good or healthy breakfast either.

When I got home, I had lunch and unpacked a bit. Then I had a nap, intending to sleep for an hour and a half, but actually sleeping for three hours. Since then I’ve been unpacking and dealing with the email backlog. I should probably go to bed soon.

I did a COVID test when I woke up and it was negative (I always feel a ‘negative’ result should mean a bad result, but negative as in no COVID), so that was good.

“And I would fly 3,400 miles…”

I passed my pre-flight COVID antigen test, so I’m officially able to fly to New York tomorrow! I’m largely packed, except for some things that have to go in at the last minute. Today was largely taken up with the antigen test, scanning COVID-related documents for travel, and checking in. Everything seems to take so long, doubly so with COVID.

Looking at American money is exciting, although the coins and notes seem less interesting than British ones. The coins are all circular, and almost all the pictures are of former Presidents (and Alexander Hamilton). We have writers, scientists and social reformers on ours, plus Winston Churchill. Although with American coins, you can at least speculate on who will be cancelled next (Andrew Jackson is my guess, although James Polk is a possibility too).

I’m not sure if I’m going to be able to blog over the next week and a bit. If I do, it will be on my phone, so I’ll probably have to keep it short and there will may be more typos.

***

I finished reading The Impossible Office? The History of the British Prime Minister, in time to read something lighter (in all senses of the term) on holiday. It was good, but sometimes awkwardly written, perhaps a result of being credited to “Anthony Seldon with Jonathan Meakin and Illias Thomas”, which made me wonder how it was written, if Seldon did the writing and Meakin and Thomas extra research. It did feel a bit ‘written by committee’ in places.

The book ends with a rather bleak assessment of Prime Ministerial job and life prospects after leaving power. In Britain, with no maximum term limits, Prime Ministers usually leave involuntarily, rejected by the electorate, deposed by their own party, or suffering from serious and sometimes fatal illness. The book states:

The job should carry a health warning. Seven have died in office, and five dead [sic] within a year of leaving, with a further three within three years. Within ten years, half were dead. Given how young many were, it’s not a great prospect. Remarkably few achieve what they hoped. Most leave involuntarily… Many experienced pain earlier in their lives: one study suggests two thirds in office between 1812 and 1940 lost a parent in childhood, and asks whether their quest for power and prestige was motivated by protection against emptiness and insignificance. (p. 335)

Seldon goes on to list Prime Ministers who lost children, particularly during the World Wars (Herbert Asquith lost his son in the First World War, a war he had taken the country into), but also to AIDS. Several had children who developed addiction or serious mental illness. Despite infant mortality being low these days, two twenty-first century Prime Ministers, Gordon Brown and David Cameron, lost children in infancy.

It’s sobering stuff. I’ve long thought that the way that terms like ‘privilege’ are bandied about these days ignores the myriad ways that people can suffer and endure pain, not all of which can easily be given politicised labels or filed away neatly.

Late/Early Post

I’m not sure if this is a late post for Saturday night or an early one for Sunday night.

My holiday seems to have taken over my life right now, and not in a good way.

Shabbat (the Sabbath) was quiet. I didn’t go to shul (synagogue) to minimise my risk of contracting COVID in the days before my flight.

After Shabbat I intended to do some trip-planning and printing of documents, as well as getting a birthday card for my sister. The planning and printing took hours, far longer than expected, and resulted in worries about whether I was getting the right COVID tests before and after the trip. I didn’t have time for getting a card. I think I was still doing holiday stuff midnight. I was stressed and tired, but not sleepy (too stressed). I watched The Simpsons for a bit and got to bed around 2am.

I woke up four hours later with a headache and feeling nauseous. I took some tablets, used a kool and soothe strip and sat up reading. I’m trying to finish The Impossible Office? The History of the British Prime Minister before my trip (or the end of Boris Johnson’s premiership, whichever is the sooner…). I’m not taking it with, as it’s a big, heavy hardback, and I’d rather not have to come back to it for the last twenty or thirty pages after a break. At 7am I tried going back to bed, but felt ill lying down, so I got up again. I did some more checking about the COVID test (see below)

***

My big worry is the COVID test before leaving. My Dad has asked in a local pharmacy and they say they do COVID antigen testing. I’ve been pushing my search engine skills to the limit, trying to check if they’re a government-approved COVID tester. It looks like the pharmacy rents part of the building to Medicspot, who are a government-approved COVID tester, but it’s not 100% clear and it’s panicking me. I have at least confirmed that I can get a self-test kit from Boots pharmacy chain for the return trip test.

The whole situation is difficult. The government’s list is not user-friendly, and it’s hard to be sure that other information online is up-to-date.

I’m still worried that a test will reveal asymptomatic COVID and keep me grounded in the UK, or I’ll catch COVID and get stranded in New York, but I just have to keep planning and getting ready on the assumption/hope that everything will go fine.

***

Since getting up early, as well as checking for COVID tests, I’ve bought my sister a card, so that’s something out of the way at least. My headache seems to be coming back though. I should start packing soon, but I ought to take some more painkillers first.

“The silence you hear is Mr Neddie Seagoon sitting and waiting”

Work was stressful as I spent nearly five hours inputting cheques for membership fees onto the system and then going to the bank to pay them all in, about fifty cheques in all plus some cash. J pointed out some mistakes in previous work, and I worry that working on this for so long with just one real break for lunch would lead to more errors. In addition, one of the cheques I took to the bank on Monday went missing. I think it was the bank’s error (I’m not sure how it could have been mine), but it worries me a bit, and I worry that today’s lot could easily have a mistake made by me as well by as the bank teller. One of the cheques had somehow got a bit sticky, and I worry that it will stick to another cheque and not be processed separately, which is probably what happened on Monday.

***

I went to shul (synagogue) for Minchah and Ma’ariv (Afternoon and Evening Services) at the shul in the building where I work. It was super-fast as usual. I suppose people davening (praying) in this shul during the week are mostly working and need to get back to work, but it’s far too fast for me and I’m still davening when the service is over. It’s hard to find a shul that davens at the right pace for me; sadly, I don’t think I’m going to find it in the United Synagogue.

***

I’m not going to shul this Shabbat (Sabbath) as I want to avoid COVID before my trip by isolating as much as possible, although my Dad will go to his shul. I had a close call today when I heard that the rabbi of the shul in the building where I work is isolating after getting COVID. I had seen him in shul (albeit from a distance) on Monday and don’t know if he was infected then. I did a test when I got home and it was negative, so hopefully I’ll be OK if I just avoid people between now and Tuesday (hence the title of this post, from The Goon Show: The Junk Affair, about sitting in silence and waiting).

I have some anxieties about travel, beyond getting asymptomatic COVID and being grounded, but I’m trying not to give in to catastrophisation. Wish me luck…

***

I admit I was too zonked after work to read this properly, but someone sent me to Temple Gradin’s article about good jobs for people on the autism spectrum. She did at least mention librarian (so I wasn’t in the wrong field entirely, I just went about it in completely the wrong way, albeit for reasons that were perhaps outside of my control). Many of the other jobs are IT/maths/technical jobs. Sometimes I feel like I got all the bad parts of autism and none of the good parts, skills with maths and computers. There are also some very low-grade jobs too. Gradin does say to opt for jobs where you have to sell your work, not your personality, which suggests I’m right to look at writing, copywriting and proof-reading, but I’ve never been able to build up the portfolio of work needed to get more work, and anything freelance requires a leap in the dark about how much to charge and how quickly I can promise to do things. I have no idea how long it should or would take me to proof-read a thesis, or how much to charge for doing so, or how to prove to someone I can do it when I’ve never done it before.

***

This article asks what holiness is. I’ve always struggled with this, perhaps surprisingly, given how religious I am. I’m not a mystic, so I’m not convinced it is a “metaphysical substance” that our souls can perceive. Although Judaism generally sees the holy as that which is ‘beyond’ or ‘set aside,’ with my religious existentialist leanings, I tend to see it as being ‘between’ — between human beings or between human beings and God. I think there was holiness at the food bank and the asylum seekers’ drop-in centre where I used to volunteer. In this regard I think of what Rabbi Sacks said about the holiest place in Judaism being the gap between the wings of the cherubs on the cover of the Ark of the Covenant, from where God’s voice emanated, to teach us that holiness is about between spaces, interactions, between people and God and between different people. Rabbi Sacks also used to talk about the importance of listening as a religious act. But if holiness is between human beings, then I’m very bad at accessing it, or being able to access it, given my autism and social anxiety, so I feel like I’ve defeated myself in a way. That said, I do feel something on Shabbat that I can’t describe, and that may be holiness; at least, I hope it is.

More Anxieties

I’ve been so focused on holiday stuff lately that Shabbat (the Sabbath) felt like something of a pause. I went to shul on Friday night and had some COVID anxiety. I might have had it anyway, but the windows and doors, which had usually been left open since COVID started, were mostly shut because of the cold, and that made it worse. I didn’t go back today, which may be COVID anxiety-related or that may be a way of rationalising something I wouldn’t do anyway, as I haven’t been to shul on Saturday afternoon much since the clocks went back. But I am worried of catching COVID and not being able to fly to the USA next week. Perhaps strangely, my biggest fear is getting asymptomatic COVID and not being able to go despite feeling fine, which somehow seems worse that not being able to go because I’m too ill to get out of bed.

I’m also wary of going to shul in case people ask when my wedding will be (this has already happened to me once, from someone who I thought would not do it). I guess the norm in the frum (religious Jewish) world is for a gap of six weeks to three or four months or so from engagement to wedding, although I admit this is partly guesswork on my part, as I haven’t known anyone frum enough to watch the process play out for them. The reality is that E and I are hoping to get married sometime this year (as in 2022, not Jewish year), but probably later rather than sooner. E has some anxiety issues that we want to work on first, to make sure they really are anxiety in the psychological sense and not misgivings about us, so we’re dealing with that in various ways, including my forthcoming trip. We probably won’t start organising the wedding until the spring. But I don’t really want to say that to people

I had some slight anxiety myself today, probably because I forgot to take my morning meds. The anxiety focused on my trip, mostly about practical things about my trip, particularly getting mugged. My mind associates New York with muggers, although I think statistically it is about as crime-free/crime-ridden as London these days. Possibly I’ve read too much Batman. I did get mugged in London several years ago, on a quiet suburban street, in broad daylight, round the corner from where I lived at the time, which probably is a lesson that the things we worry about are not exactly the things that happen. But mostly I was OK today, which is a good sign, showing that I’m not as dependent on my antidepressants as in the past.

E and I both have some COVID anxieties about restaurants too, and that came up today too. I have eaten in restaurants in the UK since COVID started, but not often and generally preferring those establishments that were not full or that allowed outside eating (before winter set in). I think E and I may have to play our eating out by ear, or eat a lot of takeaway, which would be a shame, but this is going to be an unusual trip and a learning curve in so many ways. The important thing for me is to see (and hug) E and make her feel less anxious, rather than to have an amazing holiday in terms of food and sightseeing.

I drank a cup of coffee at seudah shlishit (the Third Sabbath meal, although really a snack at this time of year, when Shabbat finishes a little after 5pm) and that stopped me falling asleep in the afternoon as I have done too much lately. I did some Talmud study instead. That said, it is 11.30pm and I am not in the slightest bit tired, so I probably still slept too much.

I’m still recording energy intake and expenditure to do some energy allocating/budgeting. I want to do it for a while longer before I make any decisions, and allocating numerical values to show how much various activities drain or energise me is a bit arbitrary, but already I’ve noticed massive energy deficits on weekdays, particularly on workdays, but even to some extent on other weekdays. No wonder I always feel tired. I feel I ‘balance the books’ more over Shabbat, but at a cost of limited shul attendance and perhaps less Torah study than I would have liked.

More On Energy Allocation

I didn’t blog yesterday as nothing much happened. I was off work as it was a bank holiday. I went in to the office today. I missed my stop on the Tube as I was engrossed in my reading. This was good, in a way, as I was reading Mishnah (the oldest stratum of the Talmud) and was surprised that I got so involved in it that I missed my stop.

Work itself was boring. I spent about three and a half hours stuffing invoices into envelopes and then putting stamps on them. I couldn’t listen to music, as I had forgotten to charge my iPod and wanted to leave what battery it had left for the journey home. For variety, I had to take a few credit card payments over the phone, which I still find awkward, but it is getting less scary with experience. I spent a little bit of time on the large statistics-collating task I started last week, which wasn’t as fearsome as it first seemed, although there is a lot to do, including the hardest bits.

There was some bad mask compliance on the Tube. Most people are actually wearing masks, but the few who aren’t are sometimes overly-conspicuous or downright stupid, like the woman today not wearing her mask so she could speak on the phone, but with her hand over her mouth, or the guy last week who not only was not wearing a mask, but was also picking his nose (gross!).

I was exhausted/burnt out/whatever it is by the time I got home. I’ve been trying to allocate values showing how much each activity drains or replenishes my energy and just from one working day I can see better how draining work is for me, even with the reduced hours I’m doing and even without taking into account commuting and going to the shul in the building for Minchah and Ma’ariv (Afternoon and Evening Prayers) after work. Interestingly, going online to catch up on emails and blogs as soon as I get in (well, after I’ve spoken to my parents, anyway) was definitely draining rather than replenishing today, which surprised me a bit. I’m not sure how to cut or reduce that without falling behind on things, but it does look like a seriously bad idea. Last summer I sometimes came home and sat in the garden and read a book for half an hour before going online, which might be a sensible habit to get back into, albeit indoors until the weather improves.

***

For the last few days I’ve been going through cycles of higher and lower anxiety. I get anxious about my trip to New York, then I do research on whatever it is I’m anxious about or move forward with booking things and I feel less anxious until the next thing comes up to worry about.

In terms of trip planning, I thought finding an Airbnb near E would be easier and cheaper than finding a kosher or Shabbat-compliant hotel. This may not have been true, I’m not sure. I tried looking on Airbnb, but struggled to get a sense of what was close to E. My sense of geography is not great regarding places I’ve been to, let alone places I’ve only seen on a map, plus Airbnb will only give the rough location until you confirm you are going. E helped me find somewhere that looked reasonable and I booked it. I’m very worried about COVID ruining this, but hopefully I’ll be in New York in two weeks!

It will be good to spend time with E and to be able to do couple things again. Dating long-distance is hard, and dating long-distance with mental health issues and neurodiversity to factor in is extra-hard, but I think ultimately it could make our relationship stronger in the long-term. Certainly we have an ability to talk to each other very honestly and openly about our feelings and come away feeling closer to each other, and I know that’s a massively important and powerful thing to have in a relationship, especially given that I’m autistic and not always good at emotional and interpersonal things. I’m excited about my holiday and seeing E, albeit also scared to acknowledge that excitement lest it somehow jinx things through C*V*D.

Exciting News and Energy Accounting

I got up before 10am (just)! I told myself I could have a doughnut if I got up by 10am twenty times in January. I guess the lure of a doughnut at the end of the month (despite my diet) is strong enough to break my usual desire to sleep in. (That’s not the exciting news, by the way.)

***

I booked tickets to New York to see E later this month! (That is the exciting news.) Because of the need to do pre-flight COVID tests; my inability to do said tests on Saturday (because of Shabbat) or Sunday (because the pharmacy I want to use is shut); my unwillingness to spend less than a week with E after travelling over 5,000km to see her; and the need to isolate on coming home until after another COVID test, my trip is going to require my taking two weeks off work, even though I’ll only be out of the country for nine and a bit days. This is rather a lot at our busy time of year. Fortunately, J is OK with it.

I did some research on COVID travel rules and restrictions. I feel more confident about them as they’ve become more familiar, although I still worry about going to get turned away at the airport for doing the wrong tests or having the wrong papers, or that I’ll get COVID and be stranded in New York for an extra fortnight. Getting COVID on the return flight doesn’t bother me so much, I’m less scared of COVID (I’m triple vaxxed) than I am of disruption to my plans and all that would entail, although it would be annoying to miss work just as my new contract starts.

***

I spoke to my rabbi mentor. He was happy that my life is going well (engagement to E, job made permanent, depression hasn’t come back despite it being winter, etc.). I did mention that I feel overwhelmed a lot of the time and that I’m struggling to get back in the shul (synagogue) habit post-COVID and that I am struggling to spend an hour a day in religious study as I was a few months ago. He felt that doing one hour of Torah study a day at my age was more than most people would manage (which made me feel vaguely bad that this was largely because I am unmarried, childless and only working part-time) and that doing less would be fine. He asked if there’s anything in my life that I could/would like to just drop and, aside from procrastinating, I said there wasn’t anything, which made me realise that most of the stuff in my life (work, prayer, Torah study, writing fiction, blogging, exercise) is important to me; I just have to work out how to balance it rather than cut anything out entirely.

On a related note, at the suggestion of someone from the National Autism Association forum, I watched a YouTube video on energy accounting by ‘Purple Ella’ (autistic content creator). To be honest, I’m still somewhat sceptical at my ability to get energy accounting to work, but she suggested just recording your activity and energy levels for a fortnight to work out what’s working well and what isn’t. This sounded like a good place to start.

Purple Ella also suggested energy accounting on a weekly basis as well as a daily one, in other words, not just making sure you balance your energy budget (intake vs. expenditure) over the course of a day, but also over the course of a week, taking extra relaxation time before or after a busy day. I do this a bit already, in terms of leaving recovery days after draining experiences, but it’s probably better to think in a weekly mindset as well as a daily one.

***

My revised article on religious OCD is up on the Jewish site. Which is good, but I need to figure out a way to get them to pay me for writing. It’s strange, I never really thought of myself as a confessional writer, but it’s definitely the way my writing has gone over the last decade. Confessional writing is different to novel writing, but I guess they both tap into the same level of emotions, or the novels I want to write do.

***

I’m watching The Twilight Zone episode The Incredible World of Horace Ford, about a man obsessed with his childhood. I could probably write a list of weirdo Twilight Zone characters who are probably on the autism spectrum. Just off the top of my head, there’s Ford, Mr Beavis (from the episode of the same name), the guy from the episode Miniature and probably several more if I thought about it properly. I’m not sure if it’s reassuring or not that they seem to avoid social conformity at the cost of living a ‘normal’ life.

Horace Ford clearly had a happier childhood than I did, as I’m not in much of a hurry to return to it. He has somehow managed to get himself married, which is strange as his wife is intelligent and attractive, yet appears to want to spend her life with a man who has a mental age of ten. His mother lives with them too, for added infantilisation. You can tell The Twilight Zone is pre-feminism, because apparently woman are falling over themselves to play housewife and mother to man-children. Although the guy from Miniature married an Edwardian doll, which probably is even less feminist.

Good Year for the Roses

As Elvis Costello so nearly sang, “It’s a good year for the Roses/Also the Cohens and the Goldbergs…” I don’t really do Gregorian New Years, I focus on Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year) in the autumn, but I have been feeling a bit more introspective than usual the last few days. 2021 was, in many ways, and for many people, an awful year, but for me there were many positives (autism diagnosis, getting back with E, getting engaged, having my job made permanent, getting to a stage where I felt able to start submitting my novel manuscript to agents, having an idea for my second novel) in amidst the continuing COVID awfulness. I am ready for COVID to be over now, though.

Shabbat (the Sabbath) was unexciting. I got to shul (synagogue) on Friday night, but not on Saturday. COVID has made shul attendance so much harder than it was before, and social anxiety had already made it patchy before COVID. One person asked if I had set a date yet for the wedding. I said that COVID is making wedding planning hard, which is true, but E and I have agreed not to start planning at least until I’ve been out there. We just want to spend some more time doing couple stuff before we plan the wedding, given how little time we’ve been able to spend together in person, thanks to COVID.

I did some Torah study, and finished reading Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, largely due to a bout of insomnia on Friday night. It held my attention, and I can see why children like it so much, but I’m not quite sure why it was so popular with adults. I’m feel like I’m too old to believe ten year olds know better than adults what to do in a crisis, and the book is permeated by the ethos of all the main characters being the best in the school at something, as if we won’t empathise with normal people, a motif that was annoying in Star Trek too. I probably will read the other books in the series, but I’m not rushing out to get them all right now.

I am hoping to get to bed by midnight and up by 10am (on non-work days, obviously I get up earlier on those). This is not a New Year’s Resolution as such, just something I wanted to do and 1 January was a good time to start. I seem to have blown the midnight idea tonight though. If I can manage to get up and go to bed earlier, I will reward myself with doughnuts, despite my somewhat half-hearted diet.

***

Doctor Who today was not great. I think it was supposed to be a comedy thriller, but I didn’t find it funny. Repeatedly saying “Daleks are not [fill in the blank]” does not count as comedy. The premise was intriguing, but the story did not develop enough, nor the characters. I said I wouldn’t write any more negative reviews, but I don’t know what else to say. It wasn’t bad, just underwhelming, and the waste of a good idea.

And Yaz has fallen in love with the Doctor! Why do they keep doing this? In the original series, the companion never fell in love with the Doctor (even when the actress did and that bled through to the performances). And only once did he fall in love with someone or anyone else fell in love with him, and that was in the first season, before they really decided what the parameters of the programme were. Since the 1996 TV Movie, we’ve had Grace, Rose, Martha, Amy, River Song, Queen Elizabeth I, Clara (according to Madam Vastra), perhaps Bill (according to Twice Upon a Time) and now Yaz, plus Idris/the TARDIS. Why? It is really not why I’m watching. If I wanted to watch a romance, I would watch a romance. As far as I’m aware (Paula?) romance stories don’t generally feature random time-travellers or aliens just in case someone wants that (I’m not counting The Time-Traveller’s Wife), so why should Doctor Who feature numerous repetitive love stories? Love stories that we know won’t go anywhere, because the nature of the format is that the Doctor isn’t going to settle down somewhere. Or is it just me? Possibly. As I’ve said before, I don’t think modern Doctor Who is bad so much as totally out of sync with my taste, and the things I like from the original series.

A Hot Mess and a Dry Drunk

The expression “a hot mess” was one I learnt online. I don’t think it exists in British English. Our messes are apparently cold or lukewarm at best. But it’s pretty much how I feel right now.

I felt burnt out again today. It was a struggle to do anything. I managed to cook a very basic dinner (rice and lentils — the ‘cooking’ is mostly just letting it simmer away). I tried to phone Oxford University Press to find out whether an order I made online went through properly yesterday or not. It said it had initially, but then it said it hadn’t and I didn’t get a confirmation email. The order was nearly £60 after it had a discount on it, so I really don’t want to get it messed up. However, it seems they are shut for the holidays, which was not clear from the website.

I tried to book some airline tickets to see E. My Mum likes to go through every possible travel permutation to find the best deal. However, this type of process gives me autistic ‘too many options’ overload and I want to narrow the field to something I can cope with. This led to some tension, as I got stuck and needed her help, which meant doing it her way. There were some autistic communication issues too. Stress + autism = short temper, anxiety and rigid thinking. Mum did save me from making a huge mistake renting an Airbnb (accidentally booking a room rather than an apartment). I also have COVID travel bureaucracy anxiety (what if I forget to take a test?) and general travel anxiety (I have only travelled by myself once and, although I’ve travelled many times with my parents, I do not have a brilliant memory for what I have to do in an airport and they are generally overloading environments for someone on the spectrum). It’s weird to think that some people enjoy travelling and do it for fun, as their main hobby, even in COVID times. Weird.

I was all set to book flights, then I realised that, travelling on a Sunday (outward) and Monday (homeward) would make it hard or impossible to avoid taking COVID tests on Saturdays. So now I’m going to travel midweek, but I’ll need to find new flights. I just feel too stressed now to deal with this, and I don’t want to book anything while stressed in case I screw it up (not an unlikely scenario, sadly). I feel really stressed and just want to curl up and forget about the world (shutdown).

Other than that, I didn’t do much because I felt so burnt out. I didn’t write a devar Torah. I’m going to have to call this week a mental health week and not write one. I did ten minutes of Torah study, which I forced myself to do so that I had done some. I also did not get time to go for a walk. Aside from going to buy a mattress yesterday, I haven’t been out of the house since Sunday, which is not good for health, physical as well as psychological.

I felt dizzy while cooking again. I do need to try to see a doctor next week, if I can find a way to navigate the super long phone wait times, and then get an appointment that doesn’t clash with therapy or work.

I hope work tomorrow and having more structure to the day makes me feel better. I’m having dinner in the evening with my sister and brother-in-law, which should be good, but now is going to be stressful, as I’ll just want to come home and book flights. Possibly I should just wait until Saturday night or even Sunday, if it’s not more expensive to book for the same month of travel (I have no idea if this is the case).

I feel so overwhelmed with LIFE right now, living from day to day when I should be making longer-term plans, from travel next month to marriage and career and writing moves. Writing, finding an agent, applying for new jobs and learning to drive are probably going on the back burner for the next month (at least). And I don’t know how I’ll sleep tonight in this state.

I feel like I’m a dry drunk. I’m not currently clinically depressed, but it’s really easy to tip me over into anxiety and despair because I still have underlying issues and poor coping skills. And, for all that religion is such a big part of my life, I still struggle to really connect with God. If I didn’t have an understanding of God that transcended the purely experiential, I doubt I could stay religious, because I don’t feel God the way some people (apparently) do. And that saddens me, not least because I’m doing all the right things and have been for years, and it’s still not working.

Pause and Release

I don’t celebrate Christmas, so this time of year can feel a bit weird, particularly when Chanukah is early and long-over, as it was this year. Everything is shut and there’s a sense of almost hibernation, of pause and release combined with hope and nervousness about next year. I’m trying to savour the pause from paid work, although, as ever I am trying to keep busy with my own stuff such as Torah study and devar Torah, novel research and novel writing (yes, even though I have a ton of research still to do, yesterday I decided I could contain myself no more and put pen to paper, or fingers to word processor, and started writing my second novel), so there isn’t so much of a break. Then again, I don’t do total inactivity well.

I wanted to go for a run today, but I had several headrushes just moving around at home, so I decided a run would not be sensible, particularly as it was so damp out and my parents weren’t around to come looking for me if I collapsed somewhere. I went for a walk instead and Skyped E.

I did some novel research. I wanted to do some novel writing too, but got caught up in research and ran out of time, but it’s all relevant. Although I do wonder if the posters on the Jewish pornography addicts forum I was looking at would feel uncomfortable if they knew I was reading for research, and for a novel they probably would not feel able to read (because not Haredi as well as about sex), but I guess there’s no way of telling.

The big thing this week for me is waiting to see what new COVID regulations get added in tomorrow, so I can see if I can visit E in New York in January. We both really want to spend some time together, so I’m hoping travel is still reasonably possible.

***

I’m still tired (obviously — I’ve been tired much of the time for twenty years) and getting headrushes and light-headedness (fairly new, and possibly two distinct sensations). I probably should try to see a doctor, but I don’t want that to clash with New York, if I can go. I’m also dreading hanging on the telephone for hours.

On a similarly medical note, I started to apply for my provisional driving licence. I’m pretty sure I can meet the sight requirements wearing my glasses, and probably without them, but I’m not sure, and I don’t know how to check without having another eye test (I last had one a year ago, so I’m not due for a while). The problem is, it looks like at the moment, because of COVID, I would have to wear a mask while having driving lessons, which means my glasses would steam up, so I wouldn’t wear them — and I’m not sure my eyesight would be good enough then. I could, of course, concentrate on the written exam first, which might be a better idea anyway, in terms of having free time for it.

In the end I decided I will phone the optician on Wednesday and see if they can tell me, from my records, which category I’m in (able to drive with or without glasses) before I apply for the provisional licence. In the meantime, I should think about the written test. Although frankly the whole idea of learning to drive terrifies me. Like many people on the autism spectrum, I am bad at judging distance and speed and I’m also terrified of being overwhelmed or distracted (both very possible with autism) and having an accident. But I promised E that I would at least try to learn and certainly it makes sense for one of us to learn how to drive, and at this stage I’m the more obvious choice.

***

E and I are back to watching Doctor Who new series, season four. I watched The Stolen Earth today. I could write a negative review, but it’s easier just to point out that writer/showrunner Russell T Davies and I have radically different understandings of plot logic, verisimilitude, dialogue, humour, emotional drama, Doctor Who, David Tennant’s acting range and pretty much everything else and it’s a wonder that I liked any of his stuff at all. Sadly, from this stage until he leaves (at the end of a year of special episodes), everything is written or co-written by Davies, turning up all the parts of his writing that annoy me and forgetting about the stuff I liked. And now he’s coming back in two years. Oh, well. I’ve long-since realised that I don’t have much connection with contemporary TV Doctor Who.

***

As a couple of people have commented about them, I should probably explain about the password-protected posts that I’ve posted lately. I wrote them thinking I might post them for a small audience, but would see what E thought first, but once she had seen them, I didn’t feel a pressing urge to share them more widely. I don’t know if I’ll continue doing this. If I do want to share, I have the email addresses of the people I would want to share with, so I’ll let them know the password.

Monsters: Anxious, Insomniac, Green-Eyed and Antisemitic

At shul (synagogue) yesterday evening, they announced my engagement to E. Quite a few people wished me mazal tov and several wanted to talk a bit about E and me. Only one person seemed too inquisitive and unwilling to heed my hints that I didn’t want to talk about particular things (in this case, why E will probably be moving here rather than me moving to the US), which was probably a minor miracle, as people can sometimes be nosy. I think I was even a little bit pleased at the attention, although it did bring back some anxiety.

I was drained all day, but shul finished me off. I didn’t manage to do much Torah study in the evening, although I did a little.

I was pretty anxious over Shabbat, partly because of this, but also because I know E is struggling with anxiety too and it’s really hard not being able to be present physically for her. Over Shabbat I can’t even text or Skype. I just want to give her a hug! I decided that I want to go to the US as soon as possible in the new year. I was planning on going in January or February, but now I want to do it as early as possible (or safe). Unfortunately, the COVID news is not good. Today the Mayor of London declared COVID in London to be a “major incident,” (a term usually reserved for terrorist attacks) and the Netherlands went back into lockdown. A post-Christmas lockdown in the UK and/or US looks pretty likely, sadly, so I’ve no idea when I’ll be able to go to the States.

(As an aside, I feel like we’re only going to get out of this COVID situation with mandatory vaccinations to ensure herd immunity. I’m triple vaxxed, but I’m wary of giving any government that much control over people’s bodies. But the alternative seems to be endless lockdowns. COVID feels more and more like one of those horror film franchises that goes on until everyone’s sick of it (literally)).

Going back to Friday, I dozed after dinner, which was probably a mistake, as I had insomnia when I went to bed later. I had finished reading Gaudy Night and started People Love Dead Jews by Dara Horn. It’s a well-written, but depressing book about Jews and non-Jews. It’s about antisemitism, but also other ways people look at Jews. For example, the first chapter sees Anne Frank as being presented by the world as an innocent uniquely empowered to grant absolution to the non-Jewish world (Horn explicitly draws the parallel with Jesus) rather than engaging with her story and the complexities of her life and what she would have experienced in the death camps (the diary stops before then). She compares Anne Frank’s diary with diaries and memoirs written inside the death camps or afterwards by survivors which are more brutal in their lack of redemption, but which are not as well-known.

This essay reminded me of something I’ve thought of myself. As Horn says, most people have never met a Jew. This is pretty much inevitable given the small Jewish global population and the fact that it’s concentrated in just a few places. People think about Jews using the images in the wider culture, and with Jews I feel the religious imagery of Jesus and Judas as the most prominent Jews in the Christian story is very powerful, even in post-Christian Europe. The expectation is that Jews should be morally perfect and all-forgiving (again, see Anne Frank). If not, we must be the worst of all possible people. It’s very black and white. This turns up in the media a lot, news media and fiction (it appears several times in the works of John le Carre, for example).

I did feel some envy for Dara Horn, who seems to have the life as an academic and writer that I would have liked. It’s a futile thing to think about, but it’s there. I wonder what I would want more, the kudos of being an acclaimed writer, or simply the financial security it would bring E and me? Anyway, I try not to think like this, but it’s hard not to sometimes.

When Dara Horn got too depressing, I switched to Batman (Batman: The Dark Knight Detective Volume 5). I go in and out of Batman phases. I think relatively few Batman stories conform to what I want from a Batman story, which is primarily deduction, rather than endless fight scenes. These stories were woke, or the nineties equivalent thereof. I don’t really see a problem with being anti-pollution or in favour of helping disadvantaged schoolchildren, but a Batman story is a pretty blunt instrument to use to get that moral across, particularly when you only have twenty-two pages to do that and tell a story.

I did eventually fall asleep last night. Today I was drained. I skipped shul (synagogue) and shiur (religious class). I just didn’t feel up to it. I dozed in the afternoon, which was probably a bad move. Since then I’ve been doing the usual post-Shabbat tidying chores and other chores, as well as some Torah study. I Skyped E briefly, to check in with her and just to connect, really.

***

I still feel overwhelmed by everything that is going on in my life. I feel like I’ve been falling between two stools, sometimes trying to do too much and staying up late to do it, other times trying to get up early and get an earlier start on my days, but not really managing either of these consistently, and being burnt out too much of the time. I want to set myself a challenge of getting to bed earlier and getting up earlier, or at least trying to do so, but it’s hard to go to bed with so many things to do. I feel desperate to start work on my novel in earnest, and my Torah study seems to have dropped from about an hour a day to half an hour. Not for the first time, I feel like my religious life is bedieved, Hebrew for ‘after the event’ meaning, you shouldn’t do this in the first instance, but if you did it accidentally, it’s OK after the event. I would like to be living a more ideal religious life, but it doesn’t seem to be possible.

***

My therapist suggested trying some affirmations to stay focused on the here and now and avoid drifting into anxiety. I have had mixed results with these in the past. Years ago I had an occupational therapist (through a Jewish mental health charity) who printed and laminated some cards with affirmations for me. I tried to find them, but the only ones I found were “People have learnt from me” and “I am a well-respected person.” I’m not sure whether the second one is even true, and the first seems oddly specific, but maybe I need to have something specific rather than a general “I am worth it” statement that feels empty and meaningless.

The Road Goes Ever On

Perhaps inevitably after such a busy day yesterday, I crashed last night/this morning. I slept until after noon and woke up feeling very anxious, partly because of weird dreams about family bereavement and also about James Bond/explosions (I don’t like long build ups to explosions in action films). I spent most of last night and a chunk of today feeling like I’d been run over by a steamroller. Eleven hours sleep clearly didn’t help, or did too much.

I feel like I’ve been relying for the last couple of days a lot on the idea I posted the other week, about, “I’m not responsible for the first thought; I am responsible for the second” to deal with anxiety. Actually, it would probably also be good to think that, “My thoughts are not always my friends.”

On the plus side, I think E and I are both very aware that, given our mental health histories, having some difficult thoughts and feelings at the moment is inevitable, and we can accept and support each other in that (even if we are not always so good at accepting ourselves!). That makes me feel safer. It is hard to do this long-distance, when half the time we both know that we really just need a hug! No one has ever invented a good long-distance hug alternative, although Mark Zuckerberg is probably trying (anything to remove the humanity of humans).

My parents have now told all their (many) friends about E and me. A lot of people seem happy for us. My parents were excited today at the responses they got and couldn’t work out why I was so withdrawn this evening — a mixture of autistic fatigue (even autistic regression, horrible phrase), autistic difficulty processing and responding to other people’s emotions, and social anxiety, the feeling that my parents’ friends now expect things of me, even if only that I will have an exemplary happy marriage. I hope I do have an exemplary happy marriage, but it’s hard to be happy when it feels like dozens of people are staring at you, expecting you to be happy. Or it is for me, anyway.

Still, I am glad they are happy for us, and I am happy at getting engaged. I just feel this would be easier if people had more acceptance of atypical emotional responses. At least E understands it, which is the main thing.

***

E and I had a serious conversation about jobs and finances as we’re both worried about that aspect of our lives together. It’s hard to know what to do. It’s hard knowing that I’m not able to work full-time and might never be able to do so. Only 20% of autistic people are in work and while some of the 80% unemployed are probably much more severely autistic than me, not all are. It’s just very, very hard to find the right workplace with the right desired skillset. The National Autistic Society work with some employees to promote jobs for people on the spectrum, but they seem pretty “typically autistic” jobs with numbers or computing. I’m not sure how I could find writing work or the like. It’s also hard to tell if I really have blown my chances at librarianship or if I should keep applying for jobs in the sector. Some jobs I’ve been interviewed for have told me, “You weren’t right for this job, but if we advertise again, we’d like to see you,” while others have responded as if I’m a total idiot and probably lied about my qualifications. It’s scary to think that it might just be environment or mood that produced one outcome rather than the other.

***

I terms of actual achievements today, I cooked dinner (lentil dal — I forgot how easy the recipe is), emailed my shul (synagogue) to inform them of E and my engagement and revised my OCD article with a view to publication on the Jewish website (I’m still waiting for copyright clearance). I wrote a devar Torah that I’m not at all happy with, about a biblical mixed metaphor that has long interested me. I’m not sure I really got to grips with it. I found one interesting perspective, but didn’t develop it as I would have liked (I had an idea for development that didn’t go anywhere) and had to pad it out with a idea taking largely at random from Chabad.org. I spent forty minutes doing research for my second novel, which I want to spend more time focusing on (but I also want to focus on practising my cataloguing skills for work, sending my first novel to agents and exercising, so something’s going to get neglected).

Doing things did perhaps help me shake myself out of my drained state, although I tend to be at my best in the afternoon generally. It’s now after midnight and I finally feel alert, in a good mood, and ready to do things, posing the classic question of staying up late Doing Things or going to bed hoping tomorrow will be a better day. I stayed up a bit late and did a few things, which is probably falling between two stools.

***

This Unherd article predicts some kind of lockdown soon. It also says the omicron variant will be “on the level of a very bad flu season”, which I guess begs the question of whether we would/could/should lockdown for bad flu. The Evening Standard is claiming that “Omicron takes over in London” which annoys me because (a) I hate articles that anthropomorphise COVID, (b) it’s stupidly melodramatic and extreme and (c) it sounds like a plot synopsis of a Doctor Who episode (“While the Doctor and Romana are on Skaro, Omicron takes over in London”). Meanwhile, in Parliament, nearly one hundred backbench Conservative MPs rebelled against Government plans to move back towards lockdown yet again while still insisting there will be no Christmas lockdown.

I honestly don’t know what to think any more. As Andrea Leadsom said in Parliament earlier today, we don’t lockdown every year for flu. Flu lockdowns sound ridiculous to us. But I don’t want 50,000 people to die this winter (although I’m not sure how many excess deaths we’re talking about i.e. people who wouldn’t have died of something else). But I don’t want to ruin a generation of children’s chance of education or to self-destruct the economy either. I also don’t want to wear a mask all the time or to be stopped from visiting my fiancée in the new year, but I think those are basically foregone conclusions at the moment. I very much want COVID to end, but I’m still quite nervous of being indoors with unmasked people. I don’t trust people who think a “Zero COVID” policy is viable, but I trust the horse de-wormer quaffing antivaxxers even less. It is hard to know what to think. A predicted six week lockdown has gone on for nearly one year and nine months. I just want it to be over.

Trying to Engage With the World

I wrote the following paragraph in a private blog post yesterday:

I realised that my desire not to tell friends about E and my engagement is perhaps partly to try to make a sudden change (‘not engaged’ to ‘engaged’) more manageable by slowing it down, but mostly I’m just avoiding difficult conversations, particularly with my shul rabbi. I think I need to grasp the nettle and tell him we don’t want him to marry us. And that if people in my shul think it’s weird that we’re taking longer than three months to organise a wedding — well, it’s really not my problem either (easier said than done though).

E and I spoke a bit about this today. I hope to start telling some friends, J at work, and my community, about my engagement next week. I intend to do it slowly, not all of them in one go. Telling people is scary, but I need to do it, otherwise I’ll just turn up one day with a wife they weren’t expecting.

***

Now I’m engaged, I feel I should try to earn more money to contribute to the family income. E doesn’t care that she will be the main breadwinner, but I want to do more than I currently am doing, even though at times I feel extended to my maximum. This is frustrating, as I’m not always sure why I’m so exhausted all the time. I need to send my novel manuscript to more agents, but it’s hard to get the time or the relationship between fatigue, autism and residual depression.

I get job search emails, but can’t find anything suitable, especially as I have lost confidence in my identity as a librarian. I do want to brainstorm article ideas for the Jewish site I wrote for (about Asperger’s in the frum (religious Jewish) community) and to look at old divrei Torah and see if any can be repurposed.

I did get permission for the site to republish an article I wrote for Den of Geek on religious OCD, but, aside from needing to wait for some paperwork, I’m unsure whether to go through with it. It’s from the past, for one thing. My religious OCD is mostly under control, and I don’t want to dwell on it or make people think that it’s still a major issue. Beyond that, I think the Jewish site would want to publish under my real name and they would have to credit Den of Geek too, which means that, theoretically, someone with good Google skills could find the Den of Geek article, which uses my Luftmentsch pseudonym and match it up with my real name. Then again, maybe I don’t have much to hide; after all the article about being autistic in the frum community was published under my real name and got positive feedback. I worry about putting off potential employers if I associate myself with too much mental health and autism material online, but maybe I should be more concerned with building up a portfolio of powerful articles under my real name. However, I’m not sure whether I’d want people (especially from the Jewish site) to find the Hevria articles I wrote with the Luftmentsch pseudonym, especially the one about being scared of sex. I don’t actually remember much of what I said in that article, but I suspect it wasn’t entirely frum world-friendly.

I still feel as if I’ve been struggling to get on top of things since the autumn festivals a couple of months ago. Maybe the struggle is more perceived than real, I’m not sure. I think I am catching up on the chores I was behind, but I haven’t sent out my manuscript to many agents, nor have I made much progress with research for my next novel, let alone with writing. I’m not sure whether to dive in with writing while researching. I feel like research might influence my writing in a big way, which indicates waiting until more research is done, but I worry about my writing skills atrophying. If I could get up earlier on my non-work days, it would be a big help, just in terms of helping me to do more things in a day. At the moment I feel like I’m constantly focusing on the most urgent things and not necessarily the most important.

***

Face masks are mandatory in lots of places again, including shul (synagogue). I think there’s going to be a winter lockdown. I’m just feeling pessimistic about ever getting out of COVID (which in my case also includes being able to hug see my fiancée again and ultimately be able to get married). I had a whole long thing here about when do we decide to live with COVID, like flu and pneumonia, but I cut it because it seems callous. I’m not callous, or a COVID-denier, I just want to know what the exit strategy is. It’s hard to think that there is one sometimes. It was supposed to be vaccines, but here we are, with antivaxxers in the West and much of the developing world unvaccinated (because of lack of vaccines) and generating new variants.

***

I’m still reading Gaudy Night. I said previously that it’s a Lord Peter Wimsey mystery, but I’m over halfway through and he’s barely appeared. I’m not complaining, as Harriet Vane is an interesting substitute.

It’s set in Oxford. I’ve been away for so long that I can only half-remember the geography. There was a bit I read today with with an overworking student who doesn’t take any time off and ends up attempting suicide. This was horribly like how I was in my time there, although unlike the student in the book, I wasn’t being sent anonymous letters telling me I was useless and should kill myself. I did that all by myself. Even so, the scene seemed only familiar in a vague sense. I think the negative associations I once had with Oxford have subsided somewhat. It all seems a very long time ago now, almost another life.

Small Earthquake in Chile, Not Many Dead

There isn’t much to report today, hence the title, the most boring newspaper headline ever (according to legend; there’s no evidence it was actually printed). I went to shul (synagogue) last night. I was one of about four or so people wearing masks (out of about thirty or forty). They still aren’t mandatory in religious services, but I would have felt uncomfortable without one. I’m caught between conflicting feelings of being fed up with COVID and being scared of it; I don’t want to mask and isolate, but I feel the urge to do so. It’s a balancing act right now. There was circle dancing again in shul and I didn’t join in, primarily because of autistic discomfort, but also because of COVID. Some of the mask-wearers joined in the circle, which I thought was a bit of a contradiction, but I guess to each their own, in the absence of clearer government guidelines.

I had a headache after dinner last night, not a migraine, but quite uncomfortable, and it took a long time to respond to medication. I’m not sure what triggered it. I struggled through some Torah study for a while, then sat downstairs (where the chairs are more comfortable and supportive of my head when I have a headache) and alternately rested and read Gaudy Night by Dorothy L. Sayers, the Lord Peter Wimsey murder mystery I’m reading. It’s quite involving, but I’m struggling to tell the characters apart, particularly as most of them are female college dons. I think I had a similar problem with Murder Must Advertise, another Sayers/Wimsey novel. Still, it is nice to see a novel with a mostly female cast not aimed exclusively at women — and published in 1936 too!

Today I slept too much again and felt too tired to go to shul for davening and shiur (prayers and religious class). I did some Torah study at home. I feel like COVID has disrupted my shul-going (and my going out in general, but I went to shul more often than anywhere other than work) and now I feel like I have one foot out of the shul (for reasons that will hopefully become more obvious soon), it’s hard to get back into the pattern of going. This is especially true as it sometimes feels like I understand the Talmud passages marginally better when I prepare beforehand and revise afterwards than in the shiur itself.

I wanted to sort out a big pile of emails after Shabbat, but somehow with Chanukah candles and Torah study I ran out of time and I ended up watching Silence in the Library/Forest of the Dead, a two-part Doctor Who story from 2008. It was good, one of the best of that year, although it has very little to do with libraries beyond being set in one. Not one of Doctor Who‘s most literate stories. The ending has left me feeling vaguely morbid for some reason, so I will probably try to go to bed soon, although I’m not sure how easily I’ll sleep after sleeping so much during the day.

Put Your ******* iPhone Down and Listen to Me

I overslept today. I think my clock radio alarms (plural) didn’t go off. Luckily, I set another alarm, on my phone on the other side of the room (in case I turn off the clock radio alarms in my sleep as often happens). I rushed to get ready, but was slightly late leaving, although I got to work at a reasonable time. I’m slightly concerned that this may change if Transport for London goes into administration soon, as may happen. I think there’s currently a game of chicken going on between the Mayor of London and central government, particularly the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who is refusing to give any more money after having already given a lot. The computerised destination boards at the station weren’t working today and haven’t been for some weeks now and I wonder if they have been deliberately left unfixed as ‘leverage.’ The staff don’t announce which trains are leaving from which platform; you really have to take a train, hope it’s the next one leaving and then check when you get to the next station to see if it’s going on the right branch (the station is the end of the line, so all the trains are going south, but the line splits into two branches further down).

***

At work I was phoned by the autism hospital who said I’m on the list to be screened to see if I can have autism-approved CBT. The person who phoned me reassured me that, for people diagnosed by the hospital (as I was), screening is usually just a formality. Less reassuring was the next bit: being approved would lead to my case being sent to the CCG to get funding. If I get that, then I get on the waiting list — which is currently running with a thirty to thirty-six month wait! I’m sure this has been worsened by COVID, but it’s pretty horrific. I’m not 100% sure that the three years (or whatever) only starts at that late point. It’s possible that I misunderstood and have already started the three year wait. However, with the NHS it’s usually best to assume the worst-possible outcome (and lower expectations from there).

Between the NHS and the Tube, it’s tempting to say something about underfunded public corporations, and whether they could be fixed by spending sprees or privatisation or re-nationalisation of the already-privatised bits… I no longer know or care what the solution is, I just wish someone could SORT THINGS OUT.

***

I used my SAD light box at work. I felt a bit self-conscious with it, but I don’t really get time to use it at home on work days, and on non-work days I wake up late and am wary of using it late in case it stops me sleeping later. I’m still not sure it does much when I do use it. I didn’t feel depressed after using it today, but by evening I was utterly exhausted, the type of exhaustion I get from being autistically overloaded, and I struggled to really focus on things. I wanted to get away from the computer because computer stimulation doesn’t help when I feel like this, but also wanted to Skype E and to write this, both of which involve being on the computer.

I did skype E in the end, and it was good, despite some depressing topics of conversation (the likelihood of another COVID lockdown and the difficulty of raising children in an era of social media and online bullying). Speaking to E revives me rather than depleting me, which is good.

***

I’ve had a bit of reversal of my thoughts about the United Synagogue and potentially rejoining a US shul (synagogue) at some point in the future. I have nearly finished Rabbi Sacks and the Community We Built Together, which reprints some chapters from an (I think) out-of-print book by Rabbi Lord Sacks, where, to my surprise, the former head of the United Synagogue says that he never liked it growing up and only became a regular participant at a US shul when he became the rabbi of one. There are plenty of Haredi rabbis with communities in the US that would clearly never daven there if it wasn’t their job to do so, but I saw Rabbi Sacks as a solid US man. His reasons for disliking the US are similar to mine: US shuls are too large, too anonymous and too focused on the rabbi and the chazan (cantor) doing things and everyone else spectating. I’d add a lack of commitment to meaningful prayer and Torah study on behalf of many of the congregants and also chazanim who rush through the silent prayers and then drag out the prayers that they get to sing, even though the silent prayers are more important.

Rabbi Sacks’ change of mind came about when he realised that the US is essentially the only place in the whole world where shomer mitzvot Jews (Jews who keep the commandments) and non-shomer mitzvot Jews meet as equals in a religious context. He sees it as a fundamentally inclusive organisation (in a passage written long before “inclusive” became an over-used buzzword) that allows for growth through example as well as overt preaching.

So that made me wonder if maybe I have things to offer in such a situation, whereas I feel I don’t in an shomer mitzvot-Jews-only type of shul. A couple of blogs I follow have been writing about whether it’s better to be a small fish in a big pond or a big fish in a small pond. I tried to be a small fish in a big pond in many situations from university onwards, and I’m not sure where it got me. My biggest triumphs were mostly when I was a big fish in a small pond. I know Pirkei Avot says to be the tail of a lion rather than the head of a fox, but Pirkei Avot is unique in Talmudic literature in that it is seen as good advice rather than strict law; it’s not such a problem to decide it doesn’t apply to a particular situation (and it has various internal contradictions that we don’t try to iron out the way we do with other volumes of Talmud).

***

The Jewish website I applied to write for has clarified that they do want to publish the article I sent them (the one that has already been published elsewhere), but that they won’t pay me for it as they don’t pay for reprints. This does not encourage me to exert myself to investigate the copyright/reprint situation, bearing in mind I felt burnt out this evening, even though they want to post it next week. They did say I could pitch articles to them in the future and that they pay for articles, all of which is positive, although I’m not quite sure why they didn’t pay for my first article. Was it simply because I didn’t ask?

***

I should say something about COVID, but I don’t have anything to say except that I think we’re headed for another lockdown, I worry that we’re going to vaccinate enough people to get herd immunity without mandatory vaccinations (which make me uncomfortable even though I’m pro-vaccine) and that, unless we have a frank and taboo-busting discussion about exactly how many additional deaths we’re willing to accept per year in return for not living like prisoners and not letting our children grow up traumatised and uneducated, we’re going to be stuck here forever. Deaths per day in the UK are much lower than in the early days of the pandemic and in the peak earlier this year (after the bungled lockdowns around last Christmas). I feel there is a point where the costs of further lockdowns outweigh the benefits, but I’m not an epidemiologist or a medical statistician and feel inadequate to having an informed discussion without some help from government and media figures who don’t seem to want to have the conversation. At some point COVID is going to have to be treated like flu or pneumonia, a hazard of life that we take some precautions against, treat and take seriously, but don’t bend our society out of shape to avoid. I’m not sure what that point is, but we need to start discussing it rationally without people saying that one COVID death is too many or alternatively that the pandemic is a hoax.

***

Listening to A Steady Drip, Drip, Drip, an album by Sparks from 2020 that I got for Chanukah the other day. It’s very good. I’m not sure what it means that the song that resonated most with me so far is iPhone with its refrain, “Put your ******* iPhone down and listen to me.” So true, sadly. Although maybe I’m just fixated on iPhones to avoid thinking about all the various awful things I’ve mentioned in this post that I can do nothing about.

“You remind me today of a small Mexican chihuahua”

Today was another day when I felt that things got on top of me and I didn’t really do what I wanted to do, or only some of it.

J asked me to go with him to one of our other sites today, so I ended up doing a morning of work even though I don’t usually work on Wednesdays. I will get paid for it, but, given that I’m already feeling overloaded, it felt like just another thing to do. I didn’t get much time to relax last night (partly Chanukah taking up time, partly my own fault for procrastinating) and woke up still tired and unrefreshed. When I got home from work at lunch today, I made some coffee to try to wake myself up, but I fell asleep just the same.

My parents were encouraging me to go to the local pharmacy that is offering a walk-in COVID vaccine booster service. I did want to go, but it was raining heavily and then I ran out of time before therapy. It was perhaps for the best, as I didn’t really want to be suffering vaccine side-effects during therapy or work tomorrow. I tried to book an appointment at the doctor’s surgery instead, but was on hold for five minutes and didn’t advance in the queue, so I decided I didn’t have the time to deal with this today. I’ll try to go to the walk-in centre next week.

I struggled to do much else. Between work (which was only a couple of hours, but involved an early start, a bit of peopling, being out in the cold, and being jumped on twice by a dog), being tired and napping, and then having therapy and Chanukah it was hard to do much. We ate dinner as a family again in front of the Chanukah lights; then I spent the rest of the evening ironing, and writing an email to the website I pitched to write for after they sent me an email that seemed to miss the point of my previous email.

I am struggling to get my head around working tomorrow; working on consecutive days seems wrong now somehow. I also wonder how I’m going to get through the next three months of winter if I feel like this on 1 December…

***

I got an email from the job agency that wanted to update my details. I’m a bit annoyed with them. They had asked me for two references, which seemed slightly odd (I would expect references once they had got me an interview). Now they don’t like one of my references, as it was for a job I got via them, so apparently they (the agency) supply the reference for that rather than my former line manager (?!) and so they need another reference. They also want recent proof of residence and proof of my librarianship MA, even though neither of these have changed since I first signed up with them. And they want all this “urgently,” although there’s no sign that they have a job lined up for me. I feel disinclined to panic myself about this when I have so much else going on, bearing in mind the last job they got for me was in getting on for two years ago, and that they are asking for details they already have on record that they’ve decided they have to update for their own reasons.

Long Division

I don’t have much to say, but I feel I need to offload a bit. Work was OK. I went to the bank, which I always like as it’s good to get out of the office (which I’m finding increasingly dark and claustrophobic as we head further into winter), even if it was cold outside. Coming home wasn’t fun though. I had my first proper Tube ‘packed like sardines’ crush since COVID started, and it wasn’t even rush hour. I don’t know how I managed to cope with this regularly for so much of my life despite my autism. No wonder I kept burning out! And now I have COVID fears about being stuck with a crowded carriage of people breathing on me. Mask compliance was perhaps a bit better than it has been for a while, but not like it was last winter. Everyone was wearing a mask in shul (synagogue) tonight, but it’s hard to feel confident about that when it feels such a retrograde step.

I have been pretty burnt out this evening. I had a good time with my family last night, but I had to ‘people’ all evening and then go to bed without much downtime. Then I had work today, the Tube crush and then eating dinner with my parents again, which is still ‘peopling.’ I desperately need some TV time. I did half an hour of Torah study on the train to work; I would have liked to have done some more, but I just don’t feel up to it.

Also, E and I are facing some big decisions, but we’re facing them together, which is good. We both feel anxious, though, and frustrated at being so far apart. I’m not saying more about this for now.

***

I laughed out loud a couple of times when I was listening to Hancock’s Half-Hour on my headphones while walking home from the station (despite it being a very dated episode in multiple ways). I’m glad it was dark and people couldn’t really see me as it would look pretty odd.

***

I watched yesterday’s Doctor Who. It was mostly quite good and I wasn’t going to comment here, but then there were some bits, small and, unfortunately, very big, that were very, very bad. So feel free to skip the rest of this post, unless you’re a fan, or you just want to see me angry.

I liked the Yaz/Dan/Professor Jericho stuff. It felt like proper Doctor Who, exciting, funny, mysterious and different. More please.

The Grand Serpent was nasty. Somehow he seemed to do more than Swarm and Azure, who look good, but, in my mind at least haven’t done much (they killed some abstract people in a somewhat abstract way), a big ‘show don’t tell’ violation. And I find myself guiltily thinking the programme is better without the Doctor being engaged in the main storyline — no slight on Jodie Whittaker, just on the general level of bombast that new series Doctors are supposed to exhibit in comparison with the original series (Yaz and Professor Jericho arguably both seemed more Doctorish in their plotline).

The mildly irritating stuff: the Ood mask was rubbish (eyes too big, tentacles too rubbery and the whole thing screaming ‘fake’). The story as a whole is sort of beginning to make sense, but some stuff just isn’t explained properly. And no upper class British general in the 1950s would use ‘task’ as a verb.

The small, but annoyingly awful bit: the in-joke vocal appearance by Lethbridge-Stewart. No one of his class and accent and paternal background (see Twice Upon a Time) rose through the ranks. He’d have gone to Sandhurst and trained as an officer from the start. And even if you take the latest dating for the UNIT stories of (our) 1970s, he must have risen through the ranks superfast to get from corporal to colonel in time for the dates to work. It’s even worse if you assume the scene takes place after The Web of Fear (as is also a possible reading) and he somehow got demoted from colonel and re-promoted. Sometimes one badly-thought through in-joke is not just unfunny, but actively annoying and undermines any good feeling the in-joke might have generated.

The very big and very awful bit (MASSIVE SPOILERS with spoiler space, although WordPress blocks might mess that up EDIT: it did mess it up, sorry):

We really didn’t need to meet the Doctor’s mother, even if she is her adopted mother. It was bad enough seeing this much of her past in The Timeless Children. Even Russell T Davies held back from overtly doing this (the woman in The End of Time is supposed to be his mother, but it isn’t actually stated on screen). It’s just a silly soap opera thing, particularly if it isn’t done for any reason other than the cliched ‘villain says the Doctor is “Just like me”; Doctor says, “No I’m not!”-parallelism.

There is an argument that the Doctor hasn’t had any real mystery since The War Games revealed his/her/their background back in 1969 (real world chronology), but this is taking it to a ridiculously self-obsessed extreme. Doctor Who isn’t fundamentally about the Doctor, it’s a show that takes the Doctor as a character and uses him/her/them to explore different environments and story styles. The problem is that the programme goes through cyclical periods of thinking that the show is absolutely about the Doctor and the Time Lords and now Division and obsessing over them until the programme can’t breathe under the weight of its own mythology. Then someone else comes along and hacks the whole thing back to basics, which is what needs to happen right now. I hope maybe the Flux will provide some way of resetting the whole universe, because I can’t see where we can go from here.

Now I feel like I need to watch some other TV to recover from the TV which upset me instead of calming me down.

Twice Exceptional

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

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

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

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

***

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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