I haven’t blogged for a few days. I have things to say, although probably fewer things than in the past, I just don’t have the time. So this is a catch-up post for the last few days.
As I mentioned in my last post, on Monday night E was staying away overnight at a work event and I ate dinner with my parents, as much out of politeness and not knowing how to say no as anything else. The result was extreme autistic exhaustion. I watched The Twilight Zone, which helped relax me a little, but I had a late video call with E as she couldn’t get away from the work dinner until late, so I was up late.
By Tuesday morning I was still tired. I got up later than I intended, but I managed to go to volunteering, cook dinner and speak to my rabbi mentor. On Wednesday I was still tired, but went with E to Dad’s jeweller friend to discuss her wedding ring, as well as having therapy afterwards. E and I went on a date in the evening as we haven’t actually gone out much since she’s been here. We went to one of the three local kosher pizza places, the one with the worst ambience (it looks a bit like an old-fashioned American diner, but in a slightly tacky way rather than a retro way), but the best pizza. To be fair, I haven’t eaten at one of the other pizza places, so maybe I’m maligning them, but the pizzas at the place we went to were really good. We bought two pizzas and shared them, one vegetable, one four cheeses. They were both pretty good, but I worry that the four cheeses may have upset my stomach today, although I’ve had stomach issues for a couple of weeks, so maybe not. The date was good, though, and we both feel that dating is easier once you’re committed to each other and don’t have to worry about getting dumped at the end of the evening.
Unfortunately, I then stayed up late again. I had no reason, I just lost track of time on the autism forum. The result was that I struggled to get going for work this morning. I had some mild anxiety or agitation at work in the morning and I’m not sure if that was related. It could just as easily have been caused by J pointing out some mistakes I made at work on Monday. He never tells me off, but I feel like an idiot whenever this happens, which is too often. There was quite a bit to do at work today, but I was bored much of the time. Afterwards I got some glucose tablets at Boots. I struggled to find them and had misleading advice from shop assistants, so I ended up being in the shop for twenty minutes looking. The weather had been warm and sunny when I went to work in the morning, so I went without a coat and had to come home in the cold and wet this afternoon. So it was a stressful day without anything really bad happening.
I mentioned going to get E’s wedding ring. We were not planning to get a ring for me. It is required by Jewish law for the man to give the woman a ring, but not the reverse, although it is permitted for the woman to give a ring to the man if they want. In the Haredi world men generally don’t wear wedding rings as jewellery for men is frowned on. In the Modern Orthodox world it’s more of a personal choice; some do it and some don’t. I assumed I wouldn’t, as I don’t like wearing jewellery, which is probably an autistic sensory thing on some level (I have never liked wearing a watch much, the only jewellery I’ve worn until now), and I was thinking in very rigid halakhic (Jewish law) terms about what was legally necessary. But on the way back from the meeting with the jeweller, I surprised myself by thinking that I would like to show the world that I’m E’s husband, so I think I am going to wear a ring, although I’m a little nervous about it. I do still need to see the jeweller about it.
I finally heard from the NHS about the sleep study I had done in November. I got a text saying the advice from my sleep study is to get a mandibular advancement splint. No indication of what that means. I googled, and it’s a sort of mouth guard used to hold the mouth open in people with mild obstructive sleep apnoea. I assume that’s my diagnosis, although they didn’t say (!). Apparently the splints help a third to a half of people with this condition. I did find a short article online from a different NHS trust saying a bit more about it, including that the splints are not available on the NHS, which was implied by the text I got, which told me to reply YES if I had a splint and wanted an appointment with a member of the sleep team and to reply DELAY if I wanted a splint, but hadn’t purchased one yet. No advice in the text about how to get a splint, but the article I found has some suggestions. They do seem quite expensive, although if it can help with energy levels and getting up earlier it will be worth it. I will try to look into getting a splint. I might ask the dentist next week if they can help or recommend anyone, which was another suggestion from the article I found. Otherwise I’ll have to use the sites listed on the NHS article.
As I mentioned, I spoke to my rabbi mentor yesterday. I told him that I feel I’m being less strict with myself religiously, partly to create a religious environment that E feels more comfortable in, given that she does not come from an observant background, and partly because I feel that I need to prioritise my mental and physical health, as I am slowly recognising that I am an autistic person living in a deeply allistic (non-autistic) world and becoming increasingly aware (two years after diagnosis!) of what a toll this has taken on my mental and even physical health since childhood (I am nearly forty now). I knew this before intellectually, but I hadn’t internalised it.
I am doing things if I am 95% sure they are permitted rather than refraining unless I am 100% sureas I would have done previously. In some cases I am doing things without really knowing if they are permitted or not, but I am doing them just because I think the result of not doing them would be terrible for my mental health. For example, we are in the period of the omer, between Pesach (Passover) and Shavuot (Pentecost) where there are traditions of national mourning, including not listening to music (the exact parameters of this and the dates included are very complicated and I won’t go into them here). I knew there is a leniency that allows depressed people to listen to music and my rabbi mentor has told me that this leniency applies if I need to listen to music when suffering autistic exhaustion. However, I didn’t know if it applies whenever I feel emotionally disregulated. As I wrote recently, I realised recently that I am very disregulated emotionally as a result of my alexithymia (difficulty recognising and understanding my own emotions). To cut a long story short, a couple of times since Pesach I have felt very emotionally disregulated without suffering autistic exhaustion or depression and I listened to music knowing that it might not be correct according to halakhah (Jewish law), because I felt that the psychological/emotional consequences of not doing it would be too great. I am not seeing this as a blanket permission to listen to music whenever I want nor am I listening to music when I just feel vaguely down and tired (as was the case today), only when I feel totally exhausted or emotionally disregulated.
When I said this to my rabbi mentor he suggest that, rather than being lenient with myself (excessively or otherwise), it might be more accurate to say that I am finally learning to find more balance in my life. I hope he is right. I feel my behaviour before was as much about perfectionism as halakhah.
Related to this, I just read an article in the latest Jewish Chronicle by David Baddiel, plugging his new book attacking religion (about fifteen years after this was fashionable, but anyway…). I only skimmed it because it was too awful to read properly, all stuff about religion existing to stave off fear and that Orthodox Jews only keep the mitzvot (commandments) because of fear that undefined terrible things will happen if they don’t.
I don’t know if people really think like that. I’ve never met anyone who does, although I read an anthology of passages written by the Chofetz Chaim about the Yomim Noraim (High Holy Days) that was full of fear of punishment and I’ve encountered (online) people who have left Orthodoxy (particularly the Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) world) who say that atmosphere of fear was how they were brought up and part of the reason they left observance. I don’t want to deny their stories, so maybe some people/communities do think like that, but it’s not the only or even primary attitude in Jewish texts of the last 3,000 years. (I did just read a review of Baddiel’s book that says exactly this, that he doesn’t actually seem to have read any Jewish theology as research for his book and just makes sweeping generalisations based on what he thinks Jews believe.)
When I had religious OCD, my religious thoughts were fear-orientated (although not so much punishment-orientated as fearing my being imperfect), but I was mentally ill. If I had had schizophrenia and thought the government was monitoring my thoughts, it would not be accurate to say that Orthodox Jews believe the government monitors their thoughts, so my OCD shouldn’t reflect badly on Jews as a whole. Since recovery, the level of fear in my religious life has declined a lot.
My problem is that, having alexithymia (difficulty recognising and understanding my own emotions), I struggle to put this into words to explain how I feel to other people, particularly E and (hopefully, one day) our children. There just seems to be a kind of rightness, an almost mathematical elegance to Judaism and Torah and a sense of calm about Shabbat (the Sabbath) that I can’t put into words. I don’t feel it about every mitzvah or religious concept; there is much that I don’t understand, some things that I do not like, and I struggle greatly with many sociological aspects of the Orthodox community. Sometimes, to borrow a phrase from E, I want to go on a holiday from – if not Judaism, then particular mitzvot. But it kind of makes sense to me in a way I can’t seem to explain or transmit and it’s frustrating me that I can’t do that, particularly as I’m supposed to be good with words, at least in writing. I want to be able to express this to other people.
E and I have been watching the Doctor Who story The Chase. This came about because E said that she thinks I am right to prefer old (twentieth century) Doctor Who over new (twenty-first century) Doctor Who. I said this wasn’t a fair test, as we had been watching new Doctor Who sequentially (we are on series five), so it’s not surprising they are a mix of good and bad, but I had mostly cherry-picked good stories from the old series for us to watch, aside from a few that came up when we were watching a whole season or a bunch of connected stories. So she challenged me to show her a really awful old story.
I went for The Chase even though it’s not quite on my absolute worst list (although it’s close) because I wanted something we would get some enjoyment out of, even if in a “so bad it’s good” way. This backfired a bit, as E found it boring in parts, but also enjoyable in other parts and “cute.” Overall, she says it’s absolutely not the worst Doctor Who story we’ve seen together. To be honest, I found myself agreeing and enjoying it more with her than in the past. The first episode is a typical early 1960s story, focused on exploration and the main characters. The second episode is the worst, trying to build an alien world with about two sets, three costumes and no time. The third is vaguely dull, but E was amused to see Doctor Who’s first trip to New York (stock footage, a single set and some bad accents representing the top of the Empire State Building). The fourth is actually quite funny and is possibly unique as the only time the Doctor doesn’t really work out what’s going on even by the end (he thinks he’s landed in the collective unconscious, but is actually in a robotic haunted house). The fifth is mostly set-up for the final episode, which is pretty good. The Mechanoids were never going to work as a recurring foe, but are quite striking in appearance and the sequence where Ian and Barbara finally get home is a gem. I’m not entirely sure why this seems to have shot up in popularity among younger fans, but it wasn’t as bad as I remembered.
Maybe we should watch some more clunkers. E says that her least favourite new Who stories are the depressing ones, but the old series generally wasn’t that depressing, except for in the mid-eighties. Maybe we should watch something from then, not least as it’s my least favourite era of the old series. Although maybe I shouldn’t be looking for things we won’t like.