I wonder how much of my low self-esteem comes from guilt about sex. Religious guilt about thinking about sex, but also feminist guilt about being attracted to women. Did the low self-esteem, guilt and shame start when I hit adolescence? I was shy as a child, but did I have low self-esteem before adolescence? I can’t remember.
Is it hard for any “normal” male (or female? I don’t know) who cares deeply about a traditionalist religion to get through adolescence any more without feeling hugely guilty? Such is the culture clash between highly sexualised, even pornified, Western sexual culture and religious culture. Then there was my first relationship, much of which was spent negotiating what levels of physical contact we were comfortable with (contrary to stereotype, she wanted to be much more physical than I did; she was a lot more experienced than I was too). Whenever I try to think positively about myself, I feel my libido is there to indict me.
It’s weird being thirty-seven and still a virgin, or at least it seems that way from the world around me. Certainly in the Orthodox Jewish world it’s weird and rather pitiable, although no one voices that opinion. In the Western world its weird for for different reasons. I suppose I seem inadequate, or dangerous (the “dangerous misogynistic incel” meme). The first psychiatrist I saw thought I was gay because I was twenty and had never had a girlfriend. I wonder what he would have thought if he could have known I wouldn’t even go on a date until I was twenty-seven.
Maybe it’s different in a religious community that encourages monasticism and religious celibacy. In the Orthodox Jewish community, where early marriage and large families are the norm, I feel this weird pseudo-child, a fact not helped by my autism and mental illness history rendering me childish and helpless more often than I would like. I agree with the Orthodox Jewish prohibition on sex before marriage, but I wonder if I will ever get there — or if, when I do, it will be one more thing that autism renders difficult and uncomfortable for me. Many people on the spectrum struggle with sex for a variety of reasons, usually tied to sensory discomfort or issues around interpersonal relationships. My experiences with my first relationship don’t make this any easier, just adding more guilt and fear.
Now I’m in a relationship, which makes these worries both more and less pertinent: fewer worries of the “No one could ever love me?” type, but more of the “What if she decides I’m too broken?” or “What if I’m just too autistic to do make this work?” type, as well as the specific obstacles our relationship faces.
I’ve mentioned before my asexual childhood fictional heroes (possibly I had already intuited on some level that sex and relationships would be hard for me) have all been sexualised now. Not for the first time, I reflect that the diversity agenda (which I see a lot in librarianship) is, in many ways, not all that diverse.
I feel haunted by the question, “Am I normal?” Haunted both religiously and generally. Also, “Am I good?” I wonder if God thinks I am a good person or a good Jew. These questions are not uniquely related to sex, but they are not absent from it either. I would like to know very much if God thinks I’m a good Jew.
I don’t know if it was a cause or a result of these thoughts, or something entirely unrelated, but today I had a bit of a mid-Pesach slump. Actually, in OCD anxiety terms, it was good: some things that would normally have been very triggering were overcome quite easily, but my mood was low. I just felt down and struggled to get involved in anything. I managed about forty minutes of Torah study, which surprised me, as it was difficult to concentrate.
I went for a run, which was good in terms of pace and moved my low mood a bit, but also refocused the low mood as general angst: “What if PIMOJ breaks up with me?” “What if our relationship doesn’t work out for some other reason?” “What if I never progress past my autism to build a career?” “What if I never get published?” (Published more than I have been already, I guess.) It’s telling that I was worried about not getting published and didn’t even think about a librarianship career.
I do think lockdown has made my relationship with PIMOJ hard, particularly the last few weeks when we’ve both also been busy with Pesach preparation and she’s been working compulsory overtime several days a week and speaking on video, let alone in person, has been almost impossible. Hopefully things will get a bit easier from here on.
In the evening I had a Zoom call with a couple of university friends. It was good, but also hard in parts, partly because I’m not comfortable on Zoom, partly because I feel our lives are very different. One friend teaches in a law school, the other at a university and I feel a bit inferior. On the other hand, they’re really impressed with my novel, but I don’t like to talk about it for reasons I can’t understand. I was trying to say that someone had read the novel and not liked it without saying it was PIMOJ, because I haven’t told them about PIMOJ and don’t want to at this stage. I didn’t want to talk about my autism assessment either and was vague there when talking about bad Microsoft Teams experiences, which I had at my assessment. I don’t know why I hide so much from people in real life. I’m scared of making myself vulnerable, which is probably an issue I have with PIMOJ too. I’m trying to make myself more vulnerable to her and share more, but it’s not always easy. I’m scared of how she might respond. I also had the issue I had yesterday of wanting to know how long the meeting would last. It was a free meeting and so should have been forty minutes, but went on longer, which made me vaguely anxious. All that said, my mood was better afterwards and I’m glad I managed it.
Perhaps because my mood was better after the call, I decided to send the devar Torah (Torah thought, although this was shorter and less textually-based and possibly less well-reasoned than normal) I wrote earlier in the week after all, after having been on the point of dumping it because I disliked it so much. My belief that Judaism is fundamentally anarchist in outlook (not voiced in so many words) is one I have hinted at before, although I’m wary of stating it explicitly for fear of the response it will get. Obviously it’s a different kind of anarchism to that of modern anarchist thinkers, based on individual responsibility and self-restraint.
All day, when my mood was bad, I was saying I would just vegetate in front of the TV. But then I thought I would do some Torah study first and then I would run first and in the end I’ve only watched forty minutes of TV. I wonder if I do more than I give myself credit for, but I haven’t actually done much today, just thought about doing things.
On the day before Pesach (Passover), it’s customary for first-born Jewish males to fast, in memory of the plague of the first-born in the exodus story. The custom has also arisen to get out of this fast (unlike other fasts) by attending a siyum a religious celebration, usually for finishing some religious study. When Pesach starts on a Sunday, this all gets pushed back to the Thursday beforehand. This is why I got up early this morning to attend a siyum on Zoom. I decided it wasn’t realistic for me to go to shul (synagogue) for this. I couldn’t sleep last night, but even before that, I thought I was too tired to manage it. I don’t know what I would have done in a “normal” year, but this year there is still COVID, so I attended virtually. I didn’t manage to get up early enough to pray beforehand (the siyum is usually immediately after the morning service) or even to get dressed; I just got up and switched on my phone, leaving the camera switched off as I sat there in my pyjamas.
After I managed to eat breakfast, get dressed and pray, I hoovered my room and went for a walk. My mood dropped quite a lot while out. I was feeling negative (depressed and anxious) about Pesach, but also about my writing. Coming home and eating lunch helped quite a lot. Tiredness and low blood sugar can push my mood very far down, very quickly.
In the afternoon I made the charoset and baked cinnamon balls (biscuits). I was pretty exhausted after that, and after my anxiety got pushed up by something that happened, so I had to take time out to watch Babylon 5 to try to regain my composure.
Then came the worst task of the year: kashering the kitchen sink i.e. getting it ready for Pesach by pouring boiling water over it to remove any trace of food. The difficulty is that it has to be boiling water not boiled water, i.e. poured within just a few seconds of the kettle turning off. And it has to reach the surface of the sink (bottom, walls, drainer, taps) from an area of a couple of inches of where the spout hits the sink, or it will have cooled off too much. And ideally you should do it in one go.
I don’t know why I find it so hard. My rabbi mentor and my parents’ rabbi have both said it’s easy. Mashgiachs (kashrut supervisors) do it all the time. But something – perhaps some autistic body coordination problem, the reason I’m awful at ball games? – stops me doing it. Of course, OCD kicks in too: after two or three seconds I stop, convinced I’ve spent too long pouring when I probably still have a second or two to keep pouring.
Whatever the reason, I can’t do it in one go. I take seven or eight, maybe more, doing the drainer and taps, than the base of the sink, then the walls one by one, sometimes repeating bits I’m not happy with. This time I got to the end and couldn’t remember if I’d done the side nearest me. I was 80% sure I had, but not 100%. I decided 80% would have to be good enough; do it again, and I’ll be there all night doubting myself, redoing bits, fuelling the OCD. My rabbi mentor says I only have to get 51% of the sink for it to be considered done. I have no idea if I managed that. We put a plastic bowl in on Pesach anyway, which is a useful belts and braces approach.
It didn’t help that Mum and Dad were in and out of the kitchen the whole time while I was doing this, which just made me feel more awkward. I felt pretty rotten afterwards, not sure if I’d done the right thing and feeling undischarged anxiety pent up inside me. I hate this job, but I worry my parents wouldn’t do it the way I would like, so I have to do it myself.
I appreciate that this is probably very far from what most people would see as the place of religion. For what it’s worth, I feel that if I do this every year, despite hating it, purely because it is what God wants, according to the rabbis, then that is a kind of sacrifice.
Even this was not the end of the day. After dark, we did the traditional search of the house by candlelight for chametz. We were all pretty exhausted and not in the best temper. Usually this would be done on the night before Pesach, but that’s Shabbat (the Sabbath) this year, so we do it earlier.
With all of this, it’s probably no surprise I barely managed ten minutes of Torah study. Hopefully I can catch up over Pesach.
I feel that maybe I shouldn’t talk about OCD thoughts and anxiety here. Or at least, it’s hard to know what to say about them. They aren’t anywhere near the intensity of when my OCD was at its height a few years ago. Although I would like to hear from my rabbi mentor about one or two things, I’m mostly feeling OK, although something happened today that (frankly) freaked me out for five or ten minutes into stronger anxiety. Everyone has OCD-type “weird” thoughts all the time. The difference is that most people dismiss them easily, but people with OCD fixate on them and worry about them and their implications. I’m not at the OCD end of obsessing about things endlessly, but I’m not at the point of just brushing things off either.
The problem is that checking is bad for OCD, as it just fuels it. You can never be 100% certain, so checking just encourages double and triple checking. In Orthodox Jewish culture, it feels normal to check questions with a rabbi, particularly at Pesach, when the dietary rules are so different from the rest of the year, but that’s counter-productive with OCD. It’s hard to know what to do sometimes. I’m just trying to focus on trying my best and hoping that’s enough, but sometimes it doesn’t feel like it would be.
Ashley pointed me in the direction of this article on autistic burnout. I found it interesting that it sees burnout as being long-term, over a period of weeks or months. I have probably had burnout like that (possibly some of my depressive episodes were actually major burnout), but I experience extreme fatigue and desire to withdraw also on a regular basis for short periods (days or even hours). I certainly agree that burnout can cause loss of skills. I am fairly sure I lose skills in the short-term when burnt out, and I suspect I have lost skills long-term too, particularly my librarian skills. I also seem to make more mistakes in writing than I used to (wrong words, apostrophes), and find it harder to spot them. I used to be a good proof-reader; I’m not sure that I still am.
I’m not sure if I’ll get the time to write tomorrow. It’s not technically Erev Pesach (the day before Pesach), but as Erev Pesach is Shabbat, most of the usual Erev Pesach tasks get done tomorrow. It’s the busiest day of the year and I don’t know if I’ll get time to write. And then I’ll be incommunicado until Monday evening! I’ll be glad to actually get to Pesach after such a stressful build up.
I struggled with burnout again on Friday, but forced myself to do my usual pre-Shabbat (Sabbath) chores, as well as thoroughly hoovering and dusting my room for Pesach, including moving my bed and bedside table to hoover under them (not my desk though – too heavy, and food is unlikely to get under it as the three exposed sides are flush with the floor). At least that’s out the way for now; I won’t eat food (other than water) in there now until after Pesach.
I embarrassed myself phoning the hospital about the report from my autism assessment. I had misunderstood when it would be available, which turns out not to be for another two or three weeks. I was very apologetic to the secretary for wasting her time, but I felt bad.
Shabbat (the Sabbath) went well. I went to shul (synagogue) on Friday night. We davened Kabbalat Shabbat (said some of the Evening Prayers) outside so that we could sing. It was good to sing, but very cold, even if Saturday was the first day of spring.
I got up earlier than usual on Saturday morning, although I went back to bed after breakfast and dozed for a bit. I napped in the afternoon too, which I didn’t want to do. I didn’t do much Torah study, partly because of napping, partly because when Shabbat went out I got an awful migraine that took hours to shift. I didn’t even feel up to saying all of the Ma’ariv (Evening) prayers; usually I somehow soldier on, but I skipped the after Shabbat verses of blessing because just reading made me feel like I was going to throw up. This is an improvement, as in the past I would carry on. The last time I had a bad headache when davening (praying) was on Simchat Torah, when bowing at the end of the Amidah prayer actually made me throw up. Perhaps I’m willing to make more excuses for myself now.
I spent much of the evening wrapped in my weighted blanket, watching Babylon 5 (hence the title of this post from one of the episodes, used in a rather humorously melodramatic way). The painkillers I took finally kicked in, along with the cool and soothe strip. I feel a bit tired now, but not particularly sleepy. I’m going to have something to eat (I need to take my antidepressants with food) and maybe go to bed. My room is freezing cold; I opened the windows wide before as I prefer to be cold if I have a migraine, but I wonder how I will fall asleep now.
I’ve been missing PIMOJ a lot lately. I realised that I experience this not as pining after her the way I pined after various crushes in my earlier life, but in worrying that she will lose interest in me, that I’m not good enough for her and so on. I’m not sure what to do about this. Hopefully we can meet after Pesach or maybe even during it. We had a text conversation tonight, a bit more in-depth than either of us has had the time or energy for this week, and we’re hoping to speak tomorrow.
It’s strange thinking that not only do I now have autism, but I have had autism all my life, even when I was a child doing well at school. It still seems a little strange how well I did at school compared with how badly I’ve done since then, but school was a strange micro-environment, plus “doing well” is relative, as I had undiagnosed depression and anxiety when I was in the sixth form and maybe earlier, and I struggled a lot socially, with bullying and (not) making friends. I would do a lot differently if I knew what I know now, but it’s too late. Still, the thought of being autistic and still doing well academically seems slightly jarring, even though many people on the spectrum are the same. I wish I could identify how I succeeded then and work out how to apply it now, but the answer seems to be to seek out opportunities for rote memorisation of lists and tasks, focus 100% on work with no social or romantic life, and concentrate very hard on doing what I’m told, which does not necessarily make for a healthy adult life.
I was looking over Shabbat at a new haggadah (Passover prayer book) commentary I just bought. It has open questions to stimulate discussion at the seder service. Many of them ask the participants to think about major life events. I keep coming back to my autism diagnosis for so many of these questions. I definitely haven’t worked it through yet.
I search for the truth, in what I suppose is a very old-fashioned way. I took a decision at some point, initially unconsciously, lately very consciously, not to cut out of my life people I disagreed with purely on matters of religion or politics. I feel that this is unusual. I try not to read material that is just supporting my views, although it’s hard to find the time to read things from “my” side let alone other opinions in depth, and naturally I prioritise material I think is going to be more accurate which correlates with material I agree with. But I do tend to try to work out what the other side thinks, more or less automatically, probably a hold-over from my university days, where my essays tended to sit on the fence and examine both sides of the issue without really being drawn to one over the other. Anyway, I feel that this behaviour is unusual and most people do not do this. I’m not sure what to think about this.
(Title quote from Amateur Hour by Sparks)
Today was not good, although I suppose it could have been worse. But I felt overwhelmed (my new keyword) most of the day. I overslept this morning. Actually, I didn’t oversleep; I was awake, I was just too tired to get up and then suddenly it was half an hour later and I had to rush. On the way in to work I felt overwhelmed and anxious: about Pesach (Passover), about autism, my relationship, my life, and the guy opposite me on the Tube not wearing his mask so he could drink beer 9am. (I’m open to the idea of beer-drinking at 9am being OK for some people, but I don’t consider it sufficient reason to remove one’s mask.)
At work I made mistakes, and also discovered mistakes made earlier e.g. the stationery order I placed on Monday arrived and I discovered that I had ordered one ream of printer paper instead of one box as J, my line manager, had requested. There were other mistakes, and J noticed some of them. He didn’t say much about it, which is good, but also makes it hard for me to judge how satisfied he is with my work. I think there tends to be a programme running in my head all the time wondering about that.
At lunch J asked what book I was reading, the first time he’s shown any interest in my lunchtime reading. Perhaps because my interests were the focus of much childhood bullying, I tend to get really nervous about talking about my interests with anyone outside of narrow “boxes” – so I only feel comfortable talking about Doctor Who with people I know from fandom, only talk about Judaism with other frum (religious) Jews and so on. (Somehow the internet is OK to share and overshare all kinds of stuff, don’t ask me why.)
In the afternoon, J got me to start going through old papers from the office, the start of a long clear out. I tend to be a hoarder with my own papers and property, but if I’m not responsible for the articles in question, I end up wanting to throw everything away. I asked J about a lot of the papers and he told me to keep a lot of it, so I’m not sure how much autonomy I’ll actually have over this task. To be honest, I’m not terribly keen on having autonomy over other people’s things. I did throw away a load of invoices from before 2010 that were unlikely to be used again, but I do feel vaguely apprehensive thinking about it. Unfortunately, it was a dull task that did not use much of my brain and I got stuck in negative thoughts and feelings again and wondered if I am becoming depressed again.
My Mum said that I should tell J about the autism diagnosis. I’m reluctant to do so, partly I admit because J is a friend from before when he gave me the job. I mentioned above about compartmentalising things, and I’ve been reluctant to tell people from shul (synagogue) even about my depression history, let alone something like autism that is understood and accepted even less well than depression. If I do that, I would want to prepare what I would say about autism (if people ask me suddenly I tend to blank and struggle to articulate the symptoms, let alone how it affects me personally) as well as what adjustments, if any, I would want.
That was not the end of the day. The journey home was stressful, with a lot of traffic. I don’t know why sitting in traffic is stressful. A half-hour journey with heavy traffic seems more stressful than a forty-five minute with no traffic. So I came back pretty frazzled, only to be thrown into dealing with Pesach OCD stuff. I’m OK, I know things are OK and I’m not falling back into serious religious OCD, I’m just trying to stay calm and cope with things. My OCD is always worst when I’m hungry and tired and I was both of those things when I got home from work. It’s OK now.
PIMOJ haven’t been able to meet much recently, not that we can really go anywhere at the moment anyway because of lockdown. She is doing a full-time job with significant compulsory overtime two nights a week, plus she’s doing a degree and getting ready for Pesach. At least once the clocks go forward we can buy coffee or takeaway dinner after work and eat in a park, but at the moment it still gets dark too early. I know she’s not avoiding me, but I miss her and I still worry about the stress it puts on our relationship.
So, now I write, write, write, because it helps to get things out of my head and process them. I’m only writing on my blog, as I’ve put my novel on hold until I can show it to someone, which won’t be until after Pesach. To be honest, I’ve lost faith in it. I’d be tempted to start working on a different novel that I’ve been thinking about (is that writing bigamy? Or cheating?), but it requires significant research, both factual (details for the setting) and literary (reading other books in the genre) and I don’t have the time or headspace for that at the moment.
I feel too exhausted to do any Pesach preparation or further Torah study tonight. Yesterday, I said on my blog that I was going to watch more TV, but then felt too tired to actually do so, so I’m not going to do anything as reckless as say I’ll watch TV now. I feel tired, but I want to unwind more before I go to bed. I guess it’s a race to see if I can stay awake long enough to read or watch Babylon 5.
Today I feel less burnt out than yesterday, but still subdued and struggling to do things, like I feel after a migraine. I would be tempted to take things easy, but it’s a week and a half until Pesach and I can’t really afford to do that.
I went out and did some shopping and spent well over an hour writing my devar Torah (I wasn’t sure I would have the time or energy this week) as well as doing a few small, but time-consuming, Pesach chores. However, my Dad cleaned the sinks in the garage that we use for Pesach, which was supposed to be my job yesterday; I was too tired yesterday and did not have enough time today. I vaguely feel I should do more things around the house.
The other important thing today was therapy. We spent a while talking about my autism diagnosis and what it means for me and my sense of self. We spoke about coming to terms with it being like grieving in a way and about whether I can use it as an opportunity to work on self-regard, which I feel very nervous about as I tend to assume that any positive self thoughts will lead to narcissism. In my head, someone gave Donald Trump (for example) too much praise as a child and now he has an ego the size of a planet, and I worry about that happening to me.
After therapy I found myself getting sucked into low mood and anxious thoughts again, some about my relationship and whether it can survive several more months of COVID, let alone other stresses. Then it segued into general feelings of gloom and impending doom. I found myself thinking about bad things I’d done in the past and being sucked back into bad experiences from childhood.
I really want to crash, but, again, there are things I have to do e.g. I told Mum I would do ironing and polish the silver over the next two days. I will do the ironing and watch The Simpsons, which I haven’t seen for years. Twice in the last twenty-four hours or so I thought about the episode The Mysterious Voyager of Homer, so I figured that, as I currently have access to it on Disney+, I might as well watch it. And then maybe another Babylon 5 episode before bed; I don’t really feel up to reading.
Today the oven cleaner (that’s a person who cleans ovens, not a spray) came to clean our ovens before Pesach. From here on in, things become increasingly Pesach-related and stressful for the next week and a bit. It feels increasingly “real” as we get past more pre-Pesach milestones (clean fridges, buy Pesach food, clean ovens, kasher ovens etc.). My rabbi mentor said that everyone’s entitled to one pre-Pesach meltdown, and I wonder how I can cope with that (my parents’ as much as my own).
Today was an out of spoons day. I felt very burnt out, probably no surprise after a busy day Zooming shiurim (religious classes) on Sunday and then work yesterday. I’m glad I wasn’t working today, but had a lot of Pesach (Passover) stuff to do and didn’t really want to get up as late as I did. Even when I got up, I was very tired and struggled to get going. I went back to bed for a bit after breakfast, just enjoying being in the dark and quiet and not being over-stimulated. I hoped I would feel better after lunch, but I just wanted to eat and watch TV. It’s a bit easier to give myself permission to be burnt out now I have my autism diagnosis, but it doesn’t help when I have external deadlines to meet, in this case Pesach in under two weeks!
Probably because of this, I felt some Pesach anxiety. When I break down what needs doing into individual tasks, I feel a bit better, but just thinking about EVERYTHING that needs to be done is daunting (and the amount I’m actually doing is pretty small in comparison with what will be done by my Mum and the paid cleaners, not to mention the guy who takes our oven apart to clean it). I’m also a bit worried about the Shabbat (Sabbath) the day before Pesach. For complicated reasons, this is very difficult and I’m particularly worried about burnout and missing deadlines for things that need to be done in the morning, although I have back-up plans for some of them.
I also miss PIMOJ. It’s hard not seeing each other in lockdown. At least we can meet outdoors now, but as she works full-time it’s still difficult as it’s too dark to go to the park at 6pm and we can’t go indoors to cafes or restaurants. Plus, we still have the practical obstacles to our relationship to negotiate, which I feel hang over the relationship a bit, even though we can probably overcome them. I’m trying to be honest with PIMOJ about my autism and sometimes precarious mental health, but I do worry about scaring her off, even though I don’t think she would leave me over that (not least because she would have done it already if she was going to).
I’m still thinking about my autism diagnosis. Maybe there’s a Kubler-Ross grief thing happening, although I’m not sure if I’m still on anger or sometimes on depression. I guess I feel that I know who I am now, and that to some extent explains or even excuses things I’ve done (or not done), but also I wonder just how much can I live with this or even change it, or am I locked into a predestined life forever (worth thinking about in the run up to Pesach, the festival of freedom).
I was thinking about the diagnosis when I went for a walk and came back feeling insignificant and somewhat depressed (I know I’m not supposed to say “depressed” any more now I’m not clinically depressed, but this felt as bad as some of my worst depressed days) even before my Mum started talking about my brother-in-law being made a director of the company he works for and a trustee of a charity he’s involved with. What, I wonder, not for the first time, am I actually doing here? On Earth, I mean. I wonder what PIMOJ sees in me, and when she’ll realise I’m not a good catch.
Then I was phoned by my friend from shul (synagogue) to ask about contributing to the fund for the new building. He spoke a bit about the amounts raised so far and the amount still needed. I didn’t realise that there are some very generous, not to mention wealthy, people in my community. When they want four-figure sums and some people have given five-figure sums, to offer £100 (as I was thinking) seems paltry. My parents actually convinced me not even to give £100 in one go, but to give some now and decide about the rest in six months’ time (the appeal is over two years). This is probably good, as I didn’t really want to give as much as £100. I wouldn’t say I was trying to save face exactly, but it did make me feel like I’m not a real adult among people my age… which brings me back to autism and my negative experiences in the workplace.
I managed to do some things: hoovering the garage (which basically functions as our Pesach kitchen, although we don’t have an oven out there); cooking dinner (macaroni cheese, my easiest recipe); a thirty minute walk; and finished typing up my notes from Sunday’s talks and a tiny bit of Torah study. I did feel that the more I did, the worse my mood got, so there is definitely a trade off there between activity and mood. There was a lot I wanted to do that I didn’t do, mostly preparation for Pesach (Mum and Dad offered to do some of it).
When I was out walking, I noticed someone had parked their car and left their lights on. I would normally go and tell them, but I just did not have the social energy to ring the doorbell and speak to them. I felt awful about it, but I was just too drained to fight the social anxiety enough.
A book I ordered a while back arrived today, a haggadah (prayer book for the Pesach seder service). I wanted a new haggadah as it would have a different commentary, so I could read some new things out at the seder to go beyond the set text. I was worried in particular about not having time this year for much research, so I wanted to get a new haggadah with a commentary I hadn’t read before that hopefully would be full of new ideas. This one in particular (Seder Talk by Erica Brown, who I’ve heard lecture twice at the LSJS on Zoom) has prompts for conversations too. Ideally the seder should lead to flowing conversations on the story of the exodus from Egypt and the concept of freedom in Jewish thought. I find interesting ideas to share at the seder, but I struggle to get actual conversations going, so I thought this would help, even though it’s just going to be my parents and me at our seder this year because of lockdown.
(Why do I always think haggadah should be spelt with one ‘g’ and two ‘d’s while I think armageddon should be the reverse?)
I feel a little better now, but I do feel bad that I didn’t do as much as I wanted (not just Torah study for once), but also aware that realistically I probably did as much as I could, maybe even a little more than I should have done. It’s frustrating, but I guess I need to learn to live with it. This is part of the reason I find it hard to identify autism as a ‘difference’ rather than a ‘disability.’ It feels disabling when I can’t do what I want (or even need) to do, just as it feels disabling when I’m aware of not having a good job, let alone a career, compared with my peers.
I had the final autism assessment today. I was told that I do meet the diagnostic criteria for high functioning autism (what used to be called Asperger’s Syndrome). The psychiatrist spoke a bit about why she was diagnosing now when it had been missed when I was assessed back in 2006, mainly because I now had experience of difficulties in a work environment and also because some of the symptoms were put down to depression in 2006 whereas my depression is mostly gone now.
The psychiatrist also spoke briefly about help the hospital might be able to give me in the future in terms of specialist CBT. Ordinary CBT doesn’t work well for people on the spectrum, which is probably why I’ve struggled with it. That may help with social interactions. There is a one year waiting list though.
I’m also now eligible for legal support in the workplace from disability discrimination legislation (one of my main practical reasons for pursuing the assessment).
I was relieved when I got the diagnosis, but have also been feeling quite numb since then and in the last hour or so a bit sad without really understanding why I feel like this. I guess it’s a big change to adapt to, even if I had suspected it and pursued it for several years now. I’m going to take some time out today to process things. I guess adjusting to change is hard, even if it has been expected for some times.
I went for a walk after the assessment to try to process things, but I don’t think it helped much. I’m going to do what I don’t usually do and post this now and then maybe post something more considered this evening.
I woke up feeling really burnt out again. I didn’t get up until nearly 1pm, which was very late. I feel worried about how easily I get burnt out. I want to have children one day and I know PIMOJ does too, but at the moment if we had children she would virtually be a single mother in terms of childcare. OK, not quite that bad, but it certainly wouldn’t be a 50:50 split. I’ve mentioned that we won’t be able to get married for a couple of years, even if we decide to do so, so I’m hoping that my life will magically turn around in that time and perhaps it could, if I get a firm autism diagnosis, get my novel published and maybe if my job with J becomes more permanent, but it seems a lot to hang on a lot of ifs.
I booked in for Megillah readings at shul (synagogue). The Megillah is the Book of Esther which is read twice on the festival of Purim (next week). There’s an obligation to hear it evening and morning in full – literally every word. There’s also a custom of making noise whenever the name of Haman (the villain, who tried to wipe out the Jews) is mentioned, which makes the idea of hearing every word rather harder. In the past this has provoked religious OCD in me and I’m still nervous of what might happen. Plus Purim has a carnival atmosphere with dressing up in fancy dress and partying (admittedly not so much this year because of COVID) which can be intimidating from a depression and autism point of view. I have had a some good Purims over the years, but also some difficult ones, and I think my first episode of depression started (or became obvious) on Purim many years ago. This year, COVID adds a whole other layer of uncertainty and anxiety.
My parents got my olanzapine, which saved me some time. I was glad it was there and I didn’t have to phone the GP again as I feared I might have to do. Speaking of olanzapine, my psychiatrist phoned just to check on how I’m doing being back on it. I said I’m doing well, aside from the continued tiredness and difficulty working out whether it was residual depression, medication side-effects or autistic burn out. I’m leaning towards the latter and she said autistic burnout is very real and might be the issue. We spoke a bit about what help might be available, but unfortunately I need a diagnosis first and am still waiting to hear when my final assessment will be.
I had a good therapy session too. We spoke about trying to remind myself daily that I can cope with things (work, COVID, unexpected events that faze me and so on). That’s particularly pertinent at this time of year as we approach the Jewish festivals of Purim (next week) and Pesach (a month later) which have historically been very difficult and triggering festivals for me for different reasons and which still provoke anxiety in me in advance, even knowing that for the last couple of years I’ve been coping with them much better (doubtless more on this in the coming weeks).
I just ordered a weighted blanket. I’m hoping this might improve my sleep and make it easier to wake up and get up in the mornings. To be honest, I don’t have much hope, but at this stage I’ll try almost anything. Perhaps more pragmatically, I’ve said I should set a time to get up on non-work days and make myself accountable to PIMOJ to get up then. Hopefully between them, those strategies will help.
I woke up feeling really burnt out again, and still felt that way after breakfast. I don’t know why I still feel like this. It’s usually this bad after a hectic day, but I haven’t had a really busy day since Thursday. It’s not just burnout. I feel quite depressed, although I’m not having many particular negative thoughts to trigger the feelings despite being at least vaguely concerned about several things in my life right now. After breakfast, I went back to bed with the lights off, wrapped myself tight in the duvet and listened to a classical music playlist (it was supposed to be calm music, but I think much of it was not actually that calm). This is behaviour that I would associate with being either very depressed or very overloaded and there was no obvious reason for either.
I wanted to go for a run today, as I thought it would help, but I couldn’t fit a run in. I went for a walk and spent much of it feeling like the “idiot child” who can’t get anything right. I also kept thinking about Eliot’s The Waste Land: “On Margate Sands/I can connect/Nothing with nothing”, which seemed to sum up how I felt. The main exception to this was when some horses and riders went past (there’s a riding school nearby and seeing horses in the streets is quite common). This made me wonder again about pet therapy or animal therapy, but I can’t work up the courage to take the leap of buying a pet or assuming that level of responsibility — which in turn makes me wonder why I think I’ll be able to have children one day. I think there’s a kind of event horizon of fantasy in my mind; having a career, a community, a wife and a family are things beyond the event horizon and I can’t devise logical strategies to get there.
I had an intense Skype call with PIMOJ after this. I had already intended to speak about some emotional issues (which may have triggered my depression) and being depressed just made me determined to open up about how I feel rather than brushing it aside and pretending to be fine. I think it was a good call, and important, but it was intense and draining. My relationship with PIMOJ is different to previous relationships. It’s more consciously considered, for reasons that I’m not ready to share yet, but we have to think very carefully about what we say and do. We are very different people and we have to work hard to understand each other (even without the language barrier).
I spent half an hour researching my devar Torah for the week. I wish I had more time to spend on it each week. I did some other Torah study and some miniature painting too, which probably helped unwind a bit. I watched two episodes of WandaVision too. As I suspected from the first episode, there is some clever and self-aware stuff going on, but the problem with spoofing the style of dated TV is that you have to sit through a lot of dated-seeming TV to get to the interesting parts. Maybe if I liked archival sitcoms as much as archival science fiction, I would like it more.
Looking at the Babylon 5 DVDs again, some discs seem scratched or dirty; one of the ones that looked pristine has a mark around the edge of the disc which I thought was part of the disc, but now looks more like damage to me. I need to investigate the discs some more. I found I can get replacement DVDs for about £5 per season on MusicMagpie, so I’m not too worried about having to break the bank to replace them any more. I ordered a replacement season one set as one or two of those discs seem irreparable, but I’ll spend some time with the latter seasons seeing if they can be cleaned up before I buy replacements.
I was burnt out and slept through the morning again, which is not good when it is nearly Shabbat. Today has been a slow day, forcing myself to do things that need to be done before Shabbat while not really feeling like doing much. I wish I knew why this happens to me so much; depression and autism are the main candidates.
I asked a writer friend if she would be willing to read my novel and give me some feedback. She said yes, as long as I don’t hate her for giving criticism, which has now made me panic about it, as I’m not good with criticism, even though I need it to grow as a writer. It doesn’t help that I’m currently in “My novel is awful and I should just give up on it” mode. I do think I’m not really cut out for writing mainstream literary fiction, so I guess I’ve learnt something from writing it at least, although I’ve no idea if I could write genre fiction. The idea of showing my work to people is producing some anxiety though.
I think some of my Babylon 5 discs have died. Season one discs 1 and 2 both jammed. I found tiny dirt marks on them (not sure how they got there) and after wiping with a damp cloth numerous times, they finally played properly. Disc 3 looks pristine, but simply won’t read, either on my DVD player or my laptop D drive. The DVD player just makes horrible clunking noises. I tried wiping with a damp cloth to no avail. I tried the other three discs from season one, and only one would play.
I’m not sure why this should be the case. DVDs are supposed to be very durable; that was why I replaced my videos. I’ve had the discs for about twelve years, but they have only been watched twice (I think) and have been kept clean and at normal temperatures. I’d like to re-watch the series, but I don’t really want to pay £60 or £70 all over again to watch it. After Shabbat I will test some of the other DVDs in the big box set (box set of all Babylon 5 episodes) and try to work out how many might need replacing, if it’s just season one or all the seasons.
It does make me wonder about my other DVDs. I don’t think of myself as materialistic, but it’s true that part of my identity is tied up with all my books and DVDs (well over a thousand books; not sure how many DVDs, and it depends how you count box sets, but a bookcase full, and full stacked on top of each other warehouse-style, not displayed library-style). Books are a durable format as long as they can avoid either water or fire. I thought DVD was durable, but apparently it’s not as much as I thought. It probably is a lesson about not investing your identity in “things,” but as watching DVDs is one of my key coping strategies for dealing with depression, anxiety and autistic overload/burnout, it’s not easy to cut them out of my life/identity completely, especially given the connection to my autistic special interest in Doctor Who and similar science fiction.
It occurs to me that on Shabbat I can’t watch DVDs, yet I’m not noticeably upset or cut off from my support, although I do often watch TV after Shabbat.
If this was a religious inspirational site, at this point I would say that I’m putting my materialism about books and DVDs behind me, but, to be honest, I don’t feel anywhere near ready to do that. But I am wondering what it would be like to try to cut them out a bit, although I’m not sure how to do that healthily. Soon after we started dating, PIMOJ gave me a little motivational picture she drew about “Joy is not in things, it is in us” which I have up on my bookcase, but I think she’s better at living that approach than I am.
It occurs to me that my difficulty throwing away, or even putting away, mementoes and bric a brac is probably relevant here too… more reasons to feel bad about myself…
I weighed myself this morning for the first time in ages. I was about 74kg, which is lower than previously, which is good. In the past I thought the NHS BMI tracker had said this is still too high and that I shouldn’t be much more than 70kg, but checking today it put me just in the healthy weight range. It does seem to depend on whether I round my height down to 5′ 7″ or up to 5′ 8″, so I’m borderline rather than fully healthy.
There’s a famous quote from Mark Twain (which I think is really by Mark Twain, even though he’s someone that random quotes are often ascribed to on the internet, like Einstein and Lincoln) that says that, “I’ve had a lot of worries in my life, most of which have never happened.” I feel like that today, as I slept badly (weird dream about a giant orangutan), and struggled to get up, worrying about something that didn’t really happen in the end. I felt relieved, but also somewhat guilty and very drained, which may have been relief rather than tiredness from sleeping badly.
I wonder if the giant orangutan in the dream was a wish-fulfilment me, so big that I could do what I liked and couldn’t be harmed by tranquiliser darts shot by anyone around me i.e. impervious to criticism and other people’s opinions. That is what I would like to be with regard to self-esteem and confidence.
I feel very depressed and burnt out again today. Some of it is probably sleeping badly. Some of it is that I always seem to feel like this the day after working, which does not bode well for the idea of me ever being in anything like full-time employment. Some of it is probably the time of year.
This is the worst time of year for me, late January/February. When the days are still short (albeit slowly growing longer), the weather is bad (it snowed again today), everything is cold and dead (even without lockdown) and when the spring festivals of Purim and Pesach (Passover) begin to loom on the horizon. This ought to be good, given that they herald the arrival of warmer and sunnier days, but these are the most difficult festivals for me. Purim is difficult with autism, depression, social anxiety and religious OCD. Pesach is super-difficult with religious OCD; it has, in fact, always been the worst focus of my religious OCD. I imagine I’ll write more on this when we get closer to those festivals so I won’t go into detail now.
Beyond that, lately I’ve found all religious festivals difficult because I feel a pressure to have some kind of intense religious experience. Not mystical hippie-tripping, but somehow feeling closer to God and becoming a better person. This is a lot of pressure to put on myself. Normally it’s enough just to cope with all the peopling from extra shul (synagogue) attendance and meal guests, and the stress and potential religious OCD of all the special festival mitzvot (commandments). I’m not sure how much of this pressure really comes from me or how much from “inspirational” articles. I don’t feel the pressure on Shabbat (the Sabbath), but paradoxically, I think I probably have more of a religious experience then. There’s probably a lesson there.
As someone who is influenced by Jewish religious existentialism, I feel that I should try to have “I-Thou” encounters. First identified by Martin Buber, an I-Thou encounter is when two people meet and relate in a very personal and authentic way as opposed to an I-it encounter, which is encountering the other person like an object. Yet I am scared of opening up to people, and when I do, I’m left feeling an awkward mixture of gladness, social anxiety, shame and self-blame. There’s a strong sense of “Did I say the right thing?” which I guess is social anxiety.
I feel that I can’t write here about the thing that is most troubling me at the moment. This is problematic, as I process things by writing. I tried writing just for myself, but it didn’t help so much. Hopefully I can talk to my rabbi mentor about it tomorrow. I did discuss it with my therapist last week. She said to try to note my thoughts and feelings without analysing them, which is hard when my thoughts and feelings do not exist in the abstract, but influence my actions in the present and future.
In practical terms, I phoned the doctor today and have hopefully got the issue about the dosage of my olanzapine sorted. I cooked dinner (spicy rice and lentils). I also went to my Tanakh shiur (Bible class), which this week was about Yechezkiel (Ezekiel). We did the “dry bones” passage in groups, which cheered me up a bit. That was about all I managed today though.
I’m back in “I hate the NHS” mode. I realised that the reason the doctor only prescribed half the only olanzapine I need is because he (or she – prescriptions can be done by anyone in the practice) misread the letter from the psychiatrist and thought I was on one tablet a day, not two. I know, there’s a global pandemic, doctors are super-busy and stressed. Even so, it’s annoying, and makes me wonder how many other, more serious, mistakes have been made by over-stretched medical staff during the pandemic – there must be a number of indirect COVID casualties as well as those actually killed by the virus.
I got my new glasses (and walked back in the cold and snow after getting them). I tried them on in Specsavers, including tilting my head to see if they slipped, and they seemed to be OK, but they seem to be slipping now, so I may have to go back at some point and get them adjusted. I’m just glad to have them for now.
I spent a bit over an hour on my novel and finished the third draft. It ended up at 79,766 words, slightly under the 80,000 I was aiming for. Now I need to find some people willing to read it and give me feedback. I’m not quite sure how to do this; I don’t have other writer friends where we can exchange work, and I don’t want to go to a writers’ group at the moment. I’m also terrified of negative feedback.
Given the snow this morning, I thought my walk back home from Specsavers would be my exercise for the day, but mid-afternoon I started feeling anxious and depressed for no obvious reason and, as it wasn’t snowing, and the earlier snow hadn’t settled, I went for a run, despite the fact that it was fast getting dark. I did 5K again and I had a better pace than I’ve had for a while too. I don’t mind running in the cold (it can be bracing) although I worry about pulling muscles despite doing a longer warm up and cool down than usual.
I did some Torah study too, although not quite up to the hour I was aiming for as I ran out of time and energy.
I came across an interview today, a religious Jew interviewing someone raised in the Orthodox world, but now outside it. The non-religious Jew says he warns religious Jews thinking of leaving because they don’t fit into the frum (religious) community that they may not fit into the secular world either; they may, in fact, be misfits who won’t fit in anywhere.
I have long suspected that this would be true of me. For all my struggles to fit in to the frum world, I can’t really see myself fitting in to the wider Western world easily either. I guess I’m a bit of a misfit, or even that not fitting in is a part of my psyche; I’ve begun to suspect that when I fit in somewhere, I self-sabotage to find a way to feel like a misfit.
On a related note, a while back I wrote about feeling myself to be a “Tory anarchist.” Lately the anarchist part is stronger. I have limited patience for big business or big government and just want to be left alone. Sometimes it’s easy to want to pull society to pieces and start again. I feel a lot of anger and resentment at the ruling class and I’m not sure where it’s coming from, from politics or from my inner self as it’s the class so many of my peers from Oxford now belong to, people in politics, academia, law, and other places I might have been had depression and autism not intervened. I feel like a class traitor sometimes.
I had a blood test this morning, my regular lithium level test. I had some slight tremor, which I often get at blood tests. I’m not scared of needles, but the fear of shaking actually causes shaking. It wasn’t too bad. I had a longish walk back.
In the afternoon I worked from home on the data collation again. I managed to finish it in under two hours, which was good, as J thought there was too much for me to get through in one day. I cooked dinner (chilli) and burnt it slightly, but it tasted OK.
I had my Tanakh shiur (Bible class) at the London School of Jewish Studies, on Yirmiyah (Jeremiah). I was able to participate in the chevruta (paired learning, although we were actually in groups of three) section this week, which was good. “Able to participate” both in the sense that the camera and microphone worked this week, unlike last week (I was on my Dad’s computer to be sure), and also in the sense of having the confidence to speak. I did also put something in the text chat facility right at the end recommending Dror Burstein’s novel Muck, which is a modern day version of Yirmiyah. I wasn’t sure if I was “allowed” to do that, or if anyone read it as it was right at the end, but I guess it was good I had the confidence to write it.
There’s not a lot else to report about today.
I saw this blog post about Rabbi Abraham Twerski, whose death I mentioned the other day. Granted that he came from a Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) rabbinic background where university education was rare, but seeing the precautions he was advised to take against his religious observance slipping when he was in medical school makes me wonder if I’m unusual for coming out of university religious. Well, I know I’m unusual. Religious observance (any religion) is, I think, lower in graduates than in the general population. Lots of people lose their religion at university or college, for whatever reason (doubts based on secular studies; peer pressure; temptations; away from home community; lack of time, etc.). I just didn’t really notice it at the time as I was mixing with people who were also frum (religious Jewish) at the Jewish Society albeit that my other social group, the Doctor Who Society was mostly non-religious and non-Jewish.
I tend not to give myself credit for things like this, but maybe I should. I think the chances of me getting to this point in my life and still being this religious were not that great, in terms of becoming religious as a teenager from a not fully observant background, getting through university and getting through major depression with my faith and practice intact, as well as my difficulties being accepted in the frum community from autism and social anxiety and feeling rejected in my attempts to marry someone frum. Probably on some level at least that is better than someone who has been enclosed in the Haredi world all his life and never really encountered anyone who thinks or acts differently from “normal” frum people.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock told Parliament today that there are “Eleven cases of mutations of concern in Bristol and thirty-two in Liverpool.” Life seems like a horror film at the moment, albeit a boring, slow-motion one. Although given how many governments are handling things, it’s less Quatermass and more Quite-a-mess.
I was working from home today. I wanted to get up early, not as early as if I was commuting, but still early. I failed. I overslept and got up after 11.00am. Whoops. I’m going to have to work tomorrow to catch up, which in some ways suits me, although it means postponing work on my novel again.
My work transcribing data turns out to be GDPR-compliant after all as data protection only applies to the living and not the dead, so it’s permitted to collect data about them (typical “living privilege”). This is something of a relief to me. When I was transcribing the data in the office last week, I was fine. I managed to concentrate even though it was boring. Today, at home, it just seems impossible and I can’t concentrate for more than five minutes at a time. Maybe it’s something about being in my room, or maybe it’s a cumulative effect. I listened to some classical music while doing it, which helped a bit, but not much. Besides being boring, it’s also depressing going through so much funeral data.
I don’t know if it was bored or immersion in funeral data, but I felt quite depressed this afternoon too; work was a struggle because of depressive poor concentration and executive function issues as well as boredom. I felt like I wanted to cry too.
I realise I’m nearly a year late to the “working from home is awful” pity party, but this is the first time I’ve ever worked from home for a paid job, unless you count my parents paying me to paint the shed.
Anyway, I managed to work on it for a bit over three hours and I got through approximately half the data J gave me. As he wasn’t expecting me to complete all of it, if I do another two or three hours tomorrow and finish most or all of the remainder, that seems quite reasonable for a day’s equivalent work.
Fun fact about transcribing funeral data onto an Excel spreadsheet: if you aren’t careful, Excel turns birthdates from the 1920s into the 2020s and you end up with people died nearly a hundred years ago, but haven’t been born yet.
No exercise today because of trying to get through work, and limited Torah study for the same reason, although I did spend fifty minutes writing my devar Torah for the week. I can’t really win with this; if (as I did this week) I focus on my thoughts inspired by something in the sedra (weekly Torah portion), I worry that I’m not engaging with the texts, particularly the secondary sources, enough, but if I’ve mostly taken it from secondary sources, I worry that I’m just parroting other people’s ideas.
More NHS fun and games. I was on hold for twenty-five minutes, trying to speak to my GP’s receptionist, only to find that the psychiatrist has not written yet about my medication change (going back to olanzapine). I phoned the psychiatrist’s secretary, but the psychiatrist doesn’t work on Mondays or Tuesdays, so it’s questionable whether anything will happen before Wednesday. I only have enough olanzapine to last until Saturday, so I’m worried about running out if the psychiatrist does not inform the doctor of the change promptly or if there’s a hold-up at the pharmacist.
Also NHS: my sister got vaccinated today, as she’s NHS staff (but not front-line). As my brother-in-law may have had a vaccine a while back as part of a clinical trial (he hasn’t been told if he had the vaccine or a placebo), I could be the only person in my close family not to have been vaccinated yet.
I’m pretty fed up with lockdown and left a miserable comment on a friend’s blog saying that even as an autistic introvert with social anxiety who self-isolated before it was cool, I have had enough of not seeing friends and family, of avoiding shops and public places and of mask wearing. Even so, I saw a news email with the subject “New variant spreads” and for a moment part of my mind thought it was about new varieties of jam…
I slept too much on Shabbat (the Sabbath) again. Not a lot else happened, other than reading and Torah study. I still don’t dare risk going to shul. J says hardly anyone is going at the moment. I’m glad I don’t belong to a crazy Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) shul where COVID safety guidelines are ignored. I think there’s quite a bit of that going around in the area though. There was a lot in the Jewish newspapers this week about illegal Haredi weddings with hundreds of unmasked guests in close proximity indoors. It’s pretty provoking, although I don’t think there’s much anyone from outside the Haredi world can do about it. It would only stop if the Haredi world’s leaders (read: rabbis) protested, and maybe not even then.
I tried to work on my novel after Shabbat, but was tired and easily distracted and only managed forty minutes or so.
I should go to bed soon as I’m getting up early in the morning for a Skype coffee and gardening session with PIMOJ. But something has been bothering me over Shabbat. It suddenly occurred to me that I’m probably disabled. I always thought of depression as an illness rather than a disability, something that I could theoretically one day recover from. Even when I was on disability benefits (as I am at the moment, although probably not for much longer), I still did not think of myself as “disabled” as such. But it’s increasingly looking like something keeps me back from full “recovery” (whatever that might mean), the worsening of my mental health as a result of my attempts to change medication and improve my sleep pattern being just the latest incident in a long list of relapses.
In the autistic world, there’s a very vocal school of thought that sees high-functioning autism as a difference, not a disability. I can see where those people are coming from, but I also think a lot depends on the individual’s skillset and life goals. It’s one thing if you are a brilliant pattern-finder with a high-salaried job for an investment bank or accountancy firm; it’s another if you are unable to function in the conventional workplace. Likewise, some people are happy without close friends or a partner, but others want these things, but are not good at finding them.
I feel that I’m not ready to label myself “disabled” and work out what that would mean for me, especially given my history of giving myself negative labels. I may have to decide soon though. I should have the final part of my autism assessment soon (NHS permitting…). If I do get a definite diagnosis, that will push me down the path of thinking of myself as disabled, especially if I can claim some kind of help in the workplace under disability law. On the other hand, if I don’t get diagnosed… I’m not sure what that would mean at all. I know I’ve written before about feeling that I’m either autistic or “useless.” I know it’s not that black and white in reality, but it feels like that. I would feel like I’ve been some kind fraudster pretending to be disabled as part of some kind of scam for all the years I’ve been calling myself autistic (although I’ve never had any autism benefits, either monetary or in the workplace, except for one job interview where I was allowed to see the questions in advance).
I want to talk to PIMOJ about this, but I can’t face having the discussion via text or even video and who knows when we will meet in person again?
I woke up in the middle of the night again – 4am this time. I had a slight headache that was threatening to turn into a migraine, so took some solpadeine. My thoughts were getting somewhat agitated, so I ate porridge to ate warm milk to calm me and make me sleepy, although I’m trying to stop eating cereal late at night as an easy win in my attempt to lose weight (and I think I have lost some weight recently, which is good).
I did fall asleep again eventually, but I didn’t manage to get up properly until after midday again and struggled to get going. I felt completely burnt out after yesterday.
Tonight and tomorrow is Tu BeShevat, the Jewish New Year for Trees and essentially the first day of spring in Israel. This provokes the normal mixed emotions in me: relief that winter will soon be over (doubly so in this awful lockdown winter), anxiety around the spring festivals of Purim and Pesach, which are difficult to handle with depression, autism and religious OCD. On the whole, if I can’t have lockdown ending, I would at least like the return of longer days, milder weather and more sunlight. Unfortunately, spring doesn’t really start in the UK for another month or two.
I was feeling very depressed and burnt out today and it was hard to do anything. I went for a walk and unlocked two of the credit cards I locked last week; I need to work out what the PIN is for the third. Walking was difficult, I just felt too tired and depressed. I was catastrophising and self-blaming a lot. Just feeling relentlessly negative. I managed about an hour of work on my devar Torah for the week, getting a first draft written, but I didn’t manage much other Torah study or any work on my novel.
When I got home from my walk, I phoned the psychiatrist’s secretary to see if I could speak to my psychiatrist this week. The psychiatrist phoned me back within the hour, which surprised me because it was after 5pm and I didn’t think she even worked on Wednesdays. I explained that I’ve been having side-effects on haliperidol and that my mood has got quite a bit worse since stopping the olanzapine and we agreed that I could go back on the olanzapine immediately and cut out the haliperidol. She suggested that in six months, I can try to reduce the olanzapine a little while staying on it to see if that improves my sleep without destroying my mood.
I slept badly again last night, waking up in the night and struggling to get back to sleep. I’ve taken a bigger pillow and wonder if that will help. As a result, I was very tired at work in the morning and had to drink coffee to stay awake. I don’t like it when I feel I’m drifting off at work. The work was a bit depressing too. Aside from dealing with subscription payments, I was processing death records for this year and came across one for someone ten years younger than me with bipolar disorder who had committed suicide. This really upset me and I’m not entirely sure why, just a feeling that I wish I could have done something to help her, not that I ever met her. Then PIMOJ texted to say she was upset because of a suicide in her workplace and it seemed like it was catching.
I went to the bank in the afternoon, which probably left me too much time to think and brood while I walked there and back and spent a long time queuing. I think I’ve been less anxious today, but a lot more depressed.
J gave me a lift home again and the conversation on the radio was all about the UK COVID death toll reaching 100,000, so it was a pretty bleak day all round.
I had a shiur (religious class) in the evening on Zoom, perhaps appropriately on Yishayahu (Isaiah), the chief prophet of hope. This was interesting. I knew some of it, but not all of it. I tried to psyche myself up for the bit where we broke into smaller groups to discuss a passage, but my microphone took that moment to break, although I suppose it was interesting to observe other people doing group work from a distance, as it were, and see I’m not necessarily as bad at it compared with other people as I thought.
I worry a bit whether I could do a full days’ work at the moment. At the moment, J is letting me come in forty-five minutes or so late so I can avoid the Tube at rush hour because of COVID, and we finish work around 4pm. I only take forty-five minutes for lunch, but even so, that makes for a day that’s not much more than five hours long. Which is nice, but I worry if I’ll ever have the stamina for full working days again.
I had a thought about bitachon, trust in God. I find this very hard. I believe in a benevolent God Who wants the best for His creation, but I also believe that sometimes the best option is still something very painful to undergo. But I realised today that a lot of my problem is about control, specifically about accepting that I don’t have very much control over my life, which is scary. I probably have rather less control over my life than many people, certainly people of my age, class and educational level, because of my autism and mental health issues and chequered work history.
It’s easy to tell myself that I can somehow control my career or my romantic life or my mental health by thinking about them (which mostly means being despairing or anxious about them), but really I can’t. I have no idea if I’ll ever get married, to PIMOJ or to anyone else; or whether I’ll build any kind of a career as a writer or a librarian; or how I will support myself when my parents aren’t here; or umpteen other things. That’s very scary, to give up that degree of control. I guess it could be liberating. People with a lot of bitachon (e.g. PIMOJ) seem to live very liberated, carefree lives. But I find it terrifying.
I keep on wondering if I sleep too long
Will I always wake up the same (or so)?
And keep on wondering if I sleep too long
Will I even wake up again (or something)?
– Sitting by Cat Stevens
I woke up in the night again, although not I think for long. That seems to be a pattern of waking for a while around 5.00am and may be part of a natural sleep pattern as Suzanne suggested. I woke intermittently across the morning, but was too drained to get up before midday, despite the noise coming from the building works next door, which I felt bad about (sleeping in, not the building works), even though I didn’t have work today and had a busy day yesterday. I feel like if someone told me there was a reason for my being so drained, yet managing to get up when I absolutely have to (work, medical appointments, volunteering), I could accept it, but as it is, I just feel lazy and useless.
I did go back to bed after breakfast and took a while getting dressed just because I was so drained. It was hard to “psyche myself up” to daven (pray) too.
I spent about an hour working on my novel, but it was slow work today and I didn’t achieve much. I’ve gone from wanting to write an amazing novel to wanting to write something vaguely publishable to wanting to write something that doesn’t totally embarrass me when I show it to people.
I tried to go for a walk to unlock my credit card that I accidentally locked last week when I forgot the PIN. I thought the ice and snow from yesterday would have melted, but it was very icy and treacherous. I didn’t go for a particularly long walk, but it took longer than usual because of the dangerous ice. The cashpoint wasn’t working properly when I got there. It was probably working well enough to unlock the card, but I’m wary of using damaged cashpoints in case they’ve been tampered with, so I didn’t even get that done.
Today was my father’s birthday. We had takeaway in the evening and played The London Game (travel around the Tube map going to tourist sites — I won). I was rather anxious – really religious OCD anxiety about whether the food was delivered correctly from a kashrut (Jewish dietary law) point of view. I think everything was OK, but I worry… I do think my anxiety is worse since stopping olanzapine, even though I was not aware of anxiety as a major issue before.
Because of burnout and family time, I only managed twenty minutes of Torah study, which disappointed me a bit. I think Dad appreciated spending time together in the evening though.
I’m creeping slowly towards the idea of buying a weighted blanket, but they just seem so expensive and I don’t know what practical benefit I’ll get from it. Will it help me to sleep better? Or just feel good? I’m not good at doing things just because they feel good…
People used to debate which was the more realistic dystopia for the twenty-first century West: Nineteen Eighty-Four (totalitarian oppression, perpetual war, The Two Minutes’ Hate) or Brave New World (the masses kept lazy and passive with mass consumerism, compulsory promiscuity and narcotics). Gareth Roberts made an argument in Unherd a while back about The Prisoner becoming disturbingly relevant again. But lately I’ve been thinking about Fahrenheit 451 and whether I’m going to end up having to single-handedly memorise the cultural heritage of the past to preserve it for the future. I have an image of handing a subversive, battered copy of Hamlet or The Third Policeman to my son or daughter like Obi-Wan Kenobi giving Luke his father’s lightsabre in Star Wars: “It’s called a ‘book.’ An elegant weapon for a more civilised age.”
I woke up at 4.30am again and this time I couldn’t get back to sleep at all, although as I had gone to bed very early (10.30pm), I had still had about six hours of sleep, which is the absolute minimum I need to function. Despite that, I felt better than I had done all week, both emotionally and physically, and got up very early.
While davening Shacharit (saying Morning Prayers), I started to feel light-headed again, and when I had finished I went back to bed, and apparently feel asleep for three hours (interrupted by my parents briefly saying goodbye on their way to a routine hospital appointment), until I was woken by the cleaner arriving at midday, shortly before my parents. I was rather disorientated and unsure whether they had come back home or not, which confused things further.
As this indicates, I’m still getting hot flushes, light-headedness and tremor (more frequent and severe than my occasional social anxiety tremor) periodically through the day. I’ve gone back to thinking it’s a medication change side-effect, but who really knows at this stage? I feel rather confused and vaguely concerned.
In terms of activity, I managed a half-hour walk, an hour and a half of work on my novel and an hour or so of Torah study, as well as watching a film (Zootropolis) simultaneously with PIMOJ and then having a WhatsApp call afterwards.
Life can be an endless stream of self-doubt if you don’t have good self-esteem. I was worrying today if my divrei Torah (Torah thoughts) have declined in quality lately. No one has said that, but then I haven’t had much praise for them either. I suppose most people don’t give me any feedback at all and I wonder what they think or if they are even still reading.
Somewhat related to this, Zootropolis, like a lot of Hollywood films, was about the idea that you can do anything if you want it enough and try hard enough. (Presumably Hollywood pushes this line because it’s safer than saying the system is rigged against the little guy and the only alternative is refusal to join in and revolution.) I don’t think this idea (you can do anything you try) is true, and I think I have made myself very unwell and unhappy over the years trying to do things that are beyond my (autistic, depressed, socially anxious) capabilities. However, I can’t deny that I have managed to push myself to do things in the past that now terrify me (e.g. public speaking). I want to write novels, but I don’t know if I can realistically do this or if I’m wasting my time. It is difficult to know what to think about this.
I spent too much of Shabbat (the Sabbath) in bed again, curled up in the duvet because it calms me, although I wasn’t conscious of feeling anxious, but perhaps I was feeling overwhelmed. I couldn’t sleep last night because I took my medication late and once I did fall asleep, I didn’t get up until midday again. I did quite a bit of Torah study and recreational reading on Friday night and today. I’m getting fed up with all the non-fiction I’m reading at the moment and want to read a novel, but also don’t want to abandon anything half-read. Hopefully I’ll finish Morality or America During the Cold War soon.
After Shabbat I helped tidy up and did some more Torah reading. I hoped to work on my novel, but I felt ill again: a headache, feeling hot (although I don’t think I have a temperature), nauseous, runny nose… I don’t think it’s COVID, but I think fear of COVID might turn me into a hypochondriac. I did feel better after making myself eat some toast and was able to eat enough to take my psych meds. The headache did seem to respond to paracetamol and a kool and soothe strip and once the headache was gone everything else seemed to go, so it seems that it was just a migraine.
I wanted to watch something fairly mindless as I recovered from the migraine, so opted to watch Wonder Woman (the film, not the TV series) with my parents. It was not a good choice, as I found it fairly incoherent and dull. I think superhero films are one of those things I think I “should” like (as a geek), but actually don’t.
Last night I had a dream that, while not a recurring dream as such, is a recurring dream scenario, where I’m put in some situation where I have to break Shabbat. I don’t know why I still dream about this when I’ve been keeping Shabbat for about two decades, about as long as the period before I kept it. I clearly still have anxiety about being forced to break it.
As I mentioned, I’m still reading Rabbi Lord Sacks’ Morality. He speaks about victim culture and is critical of it, saying it makes people look backward, and look for someone to blame. Inspired by Viktor Frankl and other Holocaust survivors, he advocates looking forwards for new challenges. I think this is true, or at any rate reflects my own experiences. I feel like I’ve only been able to move on from my mental health issues and my anger (not quite the right word, but I’m not sure what else it could be) about being on the autism spectrum in the last eighteen months or so, since feeling I could write. Before that, I had a period when I felt that I could be a librarian, but as that ran into difficulty, the depression and frustration came back. I worry what will happen if my writing doesn’t find an audience.
I guess I admire resilience rather than victimhood. By resilience I mean just carrying on, somehow, even at a level that would not be considered “normal” in the mainstream world. I admire people who can keep going without losing their integrity. Sometimes that’s the only thing you can hold onto. I think integrity in general is a much under-valued virtue these days. Maybe that’s why I have nightmares about breaking Shabbat; it would be a betrayal of my values and integrity.
I struggled to sleep the last few nights, not huge insomnia, but a bit, and I wonder if olanzapine was helping me sleep. I would have thought that clomipramine would do it by itself, but apparently not. I overslept today and felt tired and wanting to withdraw even after breakfast and coffee. This is looking to me more like burnout, either depressive or autistic, than medication issues either with coming off olanzapine or starting haloperidol, but it’s probably too early to tell.
I felt kind of low all day, although not very depressed, just mildly. I guess it’s burnout again, or mild depression. I thought I was doing better this week, but it has caught up with me. I just feel exhausted and worry about how much I’ll end up sleeping over Shabbat (the Sabbath). Particularly as reading (my main Shabbat alternative to sleep) is harder at the moment as I don’t have any glasses.
Speaking of which, Dad took my glasses to the optician and it turned out they were irreparable after all. I’ve got an appointment booked in at Specsavers for an eye test and to get a new pair on Tuesday. It’s a little frustrating as I wasn’t due for another eye test until the end of the year, but if I get new glasses now, if I need new lenses in December they will cost almost as much as new frames. It seems like a hassle I didn’t need, although I can see that objectively it’s not that much of a hassle. I guess everything seems like a hassle at the moment, I feel so over-extended.
Here’s hoping for a restful Shabbat…
I woke up a few times in the morning and even got up briefly, but didn’t manage to stay up and awake. I just felt too burnt out and depressed. I eventually got up after midday – not good. And I went back to bed after breakfast, which is worse. I still felt drained and low after lunch, which usually boosts my mood. PIMOJ said to focus on taking one step at a time and not worry about tomorrow, which is true, but I still felt like I’ve gone backwards.
I actually got woken up earlier by the phone ringing, but it was a number I didn’t recognise and I didn’t feel able to deal with it, so I didn’t accept the call. Later, I got called by an almost identical number. It was a recorded message saying my National Insurance number was compromised and I was going to be investigated by the police. It sounded like a scam (similar to these), so I hung up. There are very bad people out there in the world.
I struggled to do anything until mid-afternoon. I went for a walk and requested a repeat prescription; cooked dinner (vegetable curry); and bought birthday cards for my Dad and my sister, also a present for Dad (my sister hasn’t told me what she would like yet… we don’t really do surprise presents in this family, although I think my Mum would like to).
I spent about five minutes on research for my devar Torah (Torah thought) for this week. This was probably not enough time, but I have an idea of what to write and spent another five minutes sketching out a plan. I wish I had a lot more time to invest in my divrei Torah than the hour or two a week I usually manage, most of which is spent on writing rather than researching. It would be good to have more resources too (books and Hebrew reading ability). I did some other Torah study too, but ran out of time for working on my novel, which frustrated me, as I feel I’ve been neglecting it since starting my job and that I’m running out of momentum with it, which worries me a bit.
I also submitted a comment online to support my synagogue’s attempt to get planning permission for a new site, which is exciting, but also makes me worry about the semi-detached relationship I seem to have to the community, something that will be worsened if it moves to the other side of the local area (it would be about a twenty minute walk, maybe a little longer, as opposed to currently a ten minute walk). I had been putting off writing the comment for a week and a half, so it was good to get it done.
I feel like I’ve gone back to a hand-to-mouth existence, in terms of time, energy and mood, never quite having the time or energy for everything. I’m still hopeful that coming off olanzapine will improve my sleep and get me two to four hours more awake most days, but it might not, if my over-sleeping is caused by depression not medication. There’s also no guarantee the haloperidol will work as a replacement, especially as I have a history of poor responses to antidepressant medication.
The biggest new drains on my time and energy in the last few months have been my new job and my new relationship, but I’m not willing to give up either, so I will just have to squeeze out time for working on my novel where I can. It could be that the winter lack of sunlight and poor weather is having an effect on me too.
In the meantime I find myself feeling a ridiculous amount of unnecessary anxiety about what TV to watch every evening. I’m not entirely sure where these thoughts came from.
People on the autism spectrum are supposed to be good at spotting patterns. Supposedly, there’s an entire autistic unit of the Israeli Military Intelligence because of this ability. I think I have that ability on some level, but the patterns I spot aren’t necessarily useful ones. I noticed lately three songs I’ve been listening to that could be taken as referring to mainline London train stations (Waterloo Sunset by The Kinks, which actually is about Waterloo Station; Victoria, also by The Kinks, and Waterloo by ABBA). I’m good at memorising bits of trivia for quizzes, but not really at anything useful. I’m not sure what I’m trying to say here.
I feel somewhat better today. I don’t know if I was distracted from depression and anxiety by being at work. I had autistic executive function issues with tasks where I had to fill in multiple spreadsheets at the same time and I kept losing the place or forgetting which spreadsheets I was supposed to use. This was made worse by having to deal with people phoning to make credit card payments where I had to drop everything and sort out the credit card payment and then afterwards try to remember what I was doing before the phone rang. I am slowly learning what all the spreadsheets do, which makes it easier to work out what goes where, but I still forget things sometimes. I made a couple of mistakes that I caught; I hope there weren’t any that I didn’t catch.
I was at least proud of myself for answering the phone. I hate doing that (anxiety), so it was a big thing.
I went to the bank too. The nearest branch, about fifteen or twenty minutes away, is closed because of COVID. The second-nearest was just a little bit up the road from the nearest one, but had a long queue, so I was out of the office for about an hour. I didn’t get lost this time.
That was it, really. I’m not feeling particularly depressed or anxious, just tired. When I was getting dressed this morning, I had an image in my head from Twin Peaks: The Return, where one character removes her face off to reveal a murky darkness broken by a bright grin. I’m not quite sure why this image was in my head. Did I feel like that this morning? It’s possible. Certainly there have been times in my life where I would have felt like that, but I don’t feel like that right now. It’s possible that being at work helped me today, in which case we’ll have to see what happens tomorrow when I’m at home (cooking dinner and hopefully working on my novel).
I do feel confused about my relationship, but I’m not sure what to do that. I think we were probably moving too fast. Our relationship faces a number of unusual challenges, and the pandemic is one of then. We can’t really move things on at the moment. I think we need to slow down for a bit, but also to spend time together, which we can’t really do right now because of the lockdown.
Other than work, I went to a shiur (religious class) in the evening. It was a bit late and I struggled to concentrate. It was more a mussar (ethical self-development) shiur than anything else, about keeping going if you fail in an area of personal growth. Discussions like this always make me feel weird, as I tend to put other people on a pedestal and assume everyone is doing amazingly and only I am struggling with all my middot (character traits). I still suspect that I have worse traits than everyone really, even if they struggle in the same area. Someone asked a question at the end about how to get non-religious Jews engaged religiously when there is so much they could enjoy in Judaism. The rabbi didn’t want to answer the question in the shiur, as it was a bit off-topic, but I did wonder a bit about whether there’s a way that I could enjoy Judaism more. I can enjoy and find meaning in mitzvot (commandments), Torah study and prayer on Shabbat (the Sabbath), but it seems hard to get that during the week.
I’m not sure what to do now. I’m tired, but not sleepy. I feel I should do something to unwind to help me sleep, but I don’t know what. I’m tired enough that I just sent my sister a text meant for PIMOJ, fortunately just asking how her evening was going.
I realised recently that I would rather have a time machine than a spaceship. (I appreciate that this decision is unlikely to have many practical ramifications.) I have felt for a long time that I don’t belong in this time. It’s partly having “old-fashioned” interests in terms of books and TV, partly feeling my politics are not a great fit for any party currently around (although I revise my political views fairly frequently – I get the impression that most people don’t), partly feeling my general worldview (religious, cultural) is different. Not necessarily out-dated, just different. I’ve never got on well with contemporary slang and trends.
I used to feel that studying history (my BA is in history) gave me access to information about the past that allowed me to understand the present better than most people. Now I’m not sure that that’s true. In fact, I suspect it’s not true. I don’t think I really understand the world particularly well. If I have an advantage, it’s only knowing that I don’t understand it, and maybe being aware that the world is more complicated than most people suppose.
Still, I feel adrift in time, looking for a society that works for me, people that I can communicate with. I want to write about a Jewish time traveller, hopefully when I’ve finished my current novel.
Another day that got away from me…
I think my negative self-talk is back. I think it went away, or more likely reduced without entirely going away, over the last few weeks as I felt more stable, but it seems to be back again now. Some “I’m useless, I hate myself” thoughts, and guilt feelings that are objectively probably out of proportion to anything I might have done, but it’s hard to be sure.
In Morality, Rabbi Lord Sacks says that Maslow and Rogers, the psychologists who did more than anyone to put self-esteem at the centre of healthy psychology, actually both went off the idea late in life. Maslow did research that suggested that people with high self-esteem were more likely to take advantage of other people in various ways, while Rogers switched from self-esteem to self-discipline as a key character trait of psychologists he wanted to employ at his institute. Although I think there is probably room for me to have more self-esteem without ending up taking advantage of other people.
I went to bed very late last night, feeling a bit agitated. I slept through the morning again and struggled to get going, despite knowing that I had a lot I wanted to do today. I just feel that my life is a mess and don’t know how to change it. I feel like I try to do the right thing, but God constantly puts me in situations where I can’t. I know that sounds like excuses, but I don’t know how else to describe what happens to me. I know when I choose to do something that is perhaps against Jewish law or Jewish ethics and I know when I feel pushed into something by events or feeling overwhelmed.
I went back to bed after breakfast. This was after 1pm because I got up so late. I just couldn’t face the day. It took ages to get dressed. I had too many negative thoughts about myself and my future. I wonder if I will ever get my life in order, whatever that might mean (career, family, feeling at peace with myself on some level etc.). Just paralysed thinking/worrying.
I guess this is olanzapine withdrawal. Unfortunately, I’m not sure when I’m going to be able to get haloperidol (the replacement mood stabiliser); hopefully by the end of the week, but I’m at the mercy of the NHS bureaucracy.
I made myself work on my novel for an hour as leaving it alone was just worrying me. I actually wrote nearly 1,000 words, without much procrastination, which I guess shows I can write fluently if I know what I’m doing and it’s not too emotionally draining for me (this bit wasn’t autobiographical or dark). Then I went for a walk. I replied to some emails too and filled in a form for the Department of Work and Pensions about my benefits (which I think are about to be stopped now I’m in work, even though it’s only part-time work). I guess I did quite a bit (I fitted in a brief call with PIMOJ and a little bit of Torah study too), but not as much as I would have liked.
I had fluctuating depression and anxiety during the day. I know it’s partly triggered by coming off the olanzapine, but I feel I have real things to worry about too. At the moment I’m mainly worried about my relationship with PIMOJ for various reasons I can’t really discuss here. It’s hard to know what to think about it sometimes, there are so many different thoughts and feelings, so much that could go wrong. I want to live in the present with it, but that’s hard when COVID is restricting what we can do in the present so much.
PIMOJ wants me to live in the present too (she very much does this) and to accept that God loves me and thinks I’m good enough, but I have a lot of psychological resistance to these ideas. She suggested I should try to see the spiritual beyond the physical. I don’t know if it’s depression or autism or low self-esteem or just me, but I find that hard. Almost impossible, really. It’s the type of thing that makes me wonder if I’m really cut out to be frum (religious Jewish). Or if PIMOJ is right for me. I try to tell myself I thought we were good for each other last week and it’s just olanzapine withdrawal that is making me doubt it now, but it’s hard to believe sometimes. She is very different to me in outlook, very positive and spiritual. I don’t think she understands my depressions and anxieties at all, they’re completely alien to her. Do I need her to understand? I’m not sure. I wonder what it would be like if we were living together and I had a few days like the last few days. I’m in full-blown, “I’m going to be lonely and miserable forever” mode today, even though I know that in the worst case scenario I can go back on olanzapine and be tired all the time and over-weight, but less miserable. I’m telling myself not to make any major decisions until I’m stable, but it’s easy to catastrophise.
I have a list of birthdays and anniversaries for family and friends and I copy the dates into my diary each year, alongside reminders of when to buy cards where relevant (yes, I prefer dead tree format despite the effort). Looking at the list today, I see so many friends I am no longer friends with, mostly because they got angry with me, often for reasons I did not understand. Sometimes there were complicated romantic feelings going on in one or other direction. It makes me sceptical of my ability to manage friendships, let alone relationships.
I can see that my unhelpful coping strategies are back. At the very least, I’m unable to reduce my junk food intake soon or eating cereal late at night. Not that I eat so much junk in absolute terms, but my medication means whatever I eat goes straight to my waist, and it’s hard to keep up with exercise (a) while working, (b) in the winter and (c) in lockdown.
I’m struggling with relaxation at the moment. America During the Cold War is interesting (especially to see how much of our contemporary political crisis parallels that of the 1970s), but is proving a slow read as I’m not really in the mood for non-fiction at the moment. I am trying to decide whether to switch to fiction. Similarly, The Sandbaggers on DVD is excellent, but dark and even nihilistic, so I’ve been watching Doctor Who instead recently. I re-watched The God Complex today – an under-rated story, in my opinion, with a positive presentation of religion that is rare for TV nowadays, let alone Doctor Who.
Wow, I feared that when the American Empire started to go, it wouldn’t go peacefully, but I didn’t expect a mob bearing the Confederate Flag storming Capitol Hill just yet. Crazy. Mind you, I was reading about the protests of the 1960s on my lunch break (civil rights, anti-war) and I think the scale and perhaps also the intensity of unrest greater then than now. It’s just that Twitter and 24 hour news coverage make it more visible now. Compare Capitol Hill with rioters storming the Pentagon in 1967. On the other hand, civil rights and Vietnam bubbled away for years, so who knows how things will look in 2030? The culture of the sixties was definitely better though.
Back here in London…
I had a lot of anxiety again today. I am going through an anxious time, but it occurred to me that I’m coming off olanzapine, which is probably making the anxiety worse. This morning on the Tube in to work, I was too anxious to do much Torah study as I usually do. I tried to practise mindful acceptance of my anxiety and guilt feelings. It helped a bit. The anxiety went away a bit during the morning as I was busy at work, but came back in the afternoon as there wasn’t much for me to do. Sometimes it felt like borderline religious OCD (anxiety that I’ve done/will do something religiously wrong). This leads to a feeling that everything I do to try and move my life on (careers, relationships) just provokes guilt for not being perfect. I try to tell myself it’s irrational guilt, but the slightest mishap (and mishaps are inevitable) just sets me to thinking that I’m being punished by God and that worse is in store for me. I am not sure how to cure myself of this dynamic.
I think I tend to see life very much in black and white terms (which is a classic autistic perspective), but specifically in black and white moral terms. It’s a kind of scrupulosity (religious OCD) whereby I want to be morally perfect and see any moral imperfection as heinous. This leads to things like me applying for jobs that are not right for me because I feel “ought” to do so. My moral integrity and honesty is a big part of my self-esteem (insofar as I have much self-esteem), so it’s hard to challenge it.
Similarly, in terms of dating, I’ve partly internalised a frum (religious Jewish) model of dating which sees the dating process in extremely moralised and black and white terms (e.g. avoiding platonic friendships with the opposite sex; no dating before being ready to marry, in terms of having a settled career and mental health; pre-screening dates to only date people with shared values; avoiding long-term relationships before marriage). I do this even though this model has not worked for me. This leads me to feel that everything I do in dating is wrong and that my dating difficulties are a punishment from God. However, I am not sufficiently integrated into the frum community to really be able to date that way even if I wanted to do so.
Both PIMOJ and my therapist struggled to understand yesterday how I can feel that I’ve never fitted into or been accepted by the Orthodox world and yet still want to be a part of it. I’m not sure that I have the answer to this question myself. I believe in Orthodox Judaism, even if I’m not really able to live the right sort of life, practically, that would enable me to function in the community. That’s the best answer I have. I know that many people would, if not consciously then at least unconsciously, change their beliefs for ones that fitted better with a possible or desirable lifestyle. That has just never happened with me, for whatever reason.
As a side-note on black and white morality, I’ve encountered quite a number of rabbis over the years who claimed to be very badly behaved in their youth. I’m not quite sure what to make of this. Are they exaggerating to try to connect with young people? Does a disobedient, questioning, cast of mind lend itself well to Talmudic study? Probably. Can the uncontrollable energy of the boisterous child be focused into the superhuman amounts of emotional energy needed by the congregational rabbi? Possibly. Sometimes I feel weirdly that if only I had been worse-behaved at school, I might be in a much better situation today. It will be weird if I go to Heaven and they tell me that I was too well-behaved to earn much reward.
Speaking of which, PIMOJ and I streamed (separately) Soul, the latest Pixar film, about a musician who dies, but wants to come back to Earth, and is set to mentor a soul that is resisting being born. It was amusing enough, but I found it hard to concentrate on and triggered a lot of uncomfortable thoughts about my not enjoying life or having a clear purpose (I want to be a writer, but worry I won’t make it). I couldn’t really explain to PIMOJ that I want to enjoy the small moments of life, but all too often I can’t, and I can’t will that enjoyment into being, particularly not if it’s still an element of depression.
I had another date with PIMOJ. We’ve had a lot of “walk and picnic in a park” dates of necessity, because of COVID, but we have been enjoying each other’s company enough for them to stay interesting. Today I asked if PIMOJ was ready for us to call ourselves boyfriend and girlfriend and she was really pleased and said yes. We had a good time, we make each other laugh a lot. We have very different personalities, but I think we share a lot of core values, and we find the personality differences stimulating.
We were together for about four hours, with maybe an hour and a half more travel time to and from the park, so I felt pretty exhausted when I got home. I was too tired to do much after that. I spent an hour or so finishing reading a book on domestic abuse in the Jewish community as research for my novel. I was pleased to see that it didn’t tell me anything I didn’t know, indicating that my research has been thorough. I just hope that comes across in the novel. Tomorrow I hope to start the third draft. I did about an hour of Torah study too, somewhat to my surprise.
My mood dipped a lot in the evening, to a level that would probably be mild depression if sustained over time. Sometimes when something good happens, my mood dips afterwards, perhaps as I realise that my life is going to change, even if in a positive way (autism doesn’t like change, even for the better). I also have a lot of guilt flying about at the moment, perhaps needlessly, connected in different ways to dating PIMOJ, whether it’s the guilt about my sexuality that I’ve been carrying for years or the fact that I know that E cared about me and that, even though we were not right for each other, and even though I did not rush from E to a relationship with PIMOJ, I still feel that E would be hurt if she knew that I have moved on and am serious about someone else.
I did feel a bit short of breath at times when PIMOJ and I were walking today, not bad enough that I had to stop, but I did slow down a little once or twice. I can’t tell if this is real or if it’s psychosomatic and I’m overthinking it. This is worrying me as it’s new.
It may be connected with being overweight, which is problematic as my weight gain has been from my medication and has not responded well to exercise. I haven’t really made significant dietary changes, although I did reduce my cheese and egg consumption a while back when I was told my cholesterol was a bit high (it’s crept up a bit again since then). I think I have put on more weight, although it’s hard to tell as I don’t weigh myself regularly. I do eat some junk food, but I feel not much, except on Shabbat when admittedly I do eat quite a lot, eating chocolate nuts mindlessly while reading or studying Torah.
I may have to try harder to control my weight with diet, but I’m not entirely sure how. I don’t want to quit eating junk food completely, but I may have to. In the past I’ve never managed to quit junk food entirely as, when I was depressed, I wanted to have some small treat to reward myself for getting through the day. I say I’m not depressed now, so maybe I can go without any junk at all, as if I was diabetic, but the thought of it does not fill me with enthusiasm.
I probably eat too many carbohydrates, but I don’t know how to cut them out without being hungry all the time. For reasons that would take a long time to explain, I think work has made my diet a little worse, in terms of eating more white bread and less wholemeal and more eggs again. I also often get hungry at bedtime and eat cereal and I don’t know whether that’s medication-induced or a bad habit or what. I already eat a lot of fruit and vegetables during the day, but I still get hungry, so it’s hard to switch more fruit and veg in instead of junk or carbs. I will try to go for a run tomorrow and see what happens in terms of shortness of breath.
Anyway, I’m not happy that I’m thinking about my weight in this negative way and having negative body image as even when my depression was at its worst, I didn’t have particularly bad body image. I didn’t have particularly good body image either, I just didn’t think about how I looked much and was too busy beating myself up for my thoughts and actions. But I have always wanted to be broadly healthy and I don’t think I am any more.
I deleted my Twitter account. I’d been thinking about it for a while, but the final straw was this post. Possibly I was a little impulsive, but I’ve felt that I’ve been on there too much lately, getting caught up in performative outrage. I don’t even post, just read, so I’m not even building online relationships, just watching other people get angry.
I worry sometimes about being in an echo chamber where I don’t hear opposing views. Then again, I constantly modify my political views, and I must get those new ideas from somewhere. I try to be open-minded, and to listen to people even if I don’t always go looking for ideas I disagree with, not least because I feel those views often attack me as a person. I probably do have a kind of Overton Window in my head that shifts back and forth.
This decision was confirmed by my starting to read Morality, Rabbi Lord Sacks’ z”tl book about the shift in the moral culture of the West from a communal focus to individualism with a resulting polarisation and inflaming of the public sphere.
I watched some Doctor Who (I didn’t feel in the right mood for the relative realism and cynicism of The Sandbaggers). Lately I’ve been watching season eighteen of the original run of Doctor Who, broadcast from 1980 to 1981, Tom Baker’s seventh and last in the lead role. I’m about halfway through, although I’ve seen the stories in it many times before. I’m not sure why I decided to watch the whole thing. I think DVDs have changed the way I watch TV from individual stories to whole seasons, even though the original run of Doctor Who didn’t have much continuity from one story to the next (although this season did, perhaps why I’m watching it as a whole).
It’s an odd season, based more around real science than most Doctor Who, and lacking in humour, but rich in world-building and atmosphere, albeit that I think the atmosphere comes from the direction, electronic incidental music and even costume design as much as the writing; certainly Logopolis, the season finale (in modern terms), lacks a lot of coherence in the writing and works more from imagery and the sobriety of Baker’s valedictory performance.
It’s a polarising season too; from broadcast onwards there was been a fan discourse that saw it as “adult” and “serious” and an improvement on earlier stories that were seen as “childish” and “silly,” but then revisionists switched those views around. The advantage of coming to original Doctor Who after it finished is not needing to take sides in debates like this; I can appreciate both sides.
This should probably have been on my Doctor Who blog, but it’s hard to feel bothered to write there when no one reads it, and when I feel I should post coherent essays, not little reflections.
The main thing to report today is that I tried hard to get up when I woke up naturally this morning, not when I first woke around 5am, but when I awoke for the second time at 9am. I got up and sat on my bed, but I just felt so tired, I climbed back in and fell asleep again for nearly four hours! I wonder if I could force myself to eat something first, before getting back into bed, but there are prayers to be said on waking and when I feel burnt out and a bit low, it’s hard to get through them, although they only take a few minutes. Strictly speaking, one should say the whole of Shacharit, the Morning Prayer Service, before breakfast, which takes half an hour or forty minutes on a weekday (it varies a bit from day to day), and over an hour on Shabbat (Saturday), but I have been eating breakfast before Shacharit for many years because of depression. But I do like to say a few prayers before eating. But at the moment I also want to find a way to get up no later than 9am, and it’s hard to work out what to do.
There is no sign of the letter from my psychiatrist about changing my medication to sleep less. Realistically, it’s not going to arrive for a week or more now. She’s a good psychiatrist, but… NHS, useless at admin, etc…
I did about an hour and a half of Torah study on Friday night, which was good, except that I ate a lot of junk food at the same time. I’m not sure if there’s a causal relationship or not. I managed about an hour today. I seem to be doing OK on Torah study at the moment (where “OK” is a minimum of half an hour a day, and an hour or so most days).
And that was it for Shabbat (the Sabbath). Oh, I went to shul (synagogue) on Friday night. It was cold (the heating wasn’t on) and I sat in a draft from the door that we have to keep open because of COVID.
Tomorrow I’m seeing PIMOJ again. We’re rather stuck for ideas for dates when everything has to be outdoors. We just go to parks and eat lunch together. I guess it means we get to know each other well, but it would be nice if we could do something else. Anyway, tomorrow I hope to have the scary “I think we’re in a relationship, but I’m not sure if you do…” conversation.
So, on we go to Tier 4 (in COVID restriction regulations), the COVID equivalent of “It goes up to eleven.” Apparently, I can still meet one person from not in my household if we meet outside, which means PIMOJ and I can still go out tomorrow, which is good, but Mum and Dad were hoping to have dinner in my sister’s garden later in the week, which is now forbidden.
I can’t actually remember much of what happened over Shabbat (the Sabbath). I was really tired on Friday, but forced myself to do my usual chores and get to shul (synagogue) on time. I still don’t like shul with COVID restrictions, but it’s good to go once a week. I read a lot, a lot of religious reading and some recreational reading, mostly Doctor Who Magazine, the current issue and also the twenty-four year old back issue I bought recently. I enjoyed the back issue a lot; the current one, more moderately. I read a bit of the book I’m reading at the moment, America During the Cold War, a reader on American history in the Cold War era, but I’ve been struggling to get into it so far.
I did have a dream that upset me a bit. I can’t remember the details now, and I wouldn’t go into them if I could, but it was bringing up things I’ve been feeling guilty about recently. Ashley asked recently if I think all my dreams are trying to tell me something; this is a good example of one that I do not think is telling me something, but is just processing recent thoughts and conversations, but it was still uncomfortable to wake up from.
As with the last few weeks, I intended to stay up reading, but got tired around 11.15pm and went to bed. I slept until 7.00am, when I decided I was still tired and would doze for another hour. I then slept for another five hours, and then napped for half an hour in the afternoon. This is beginning to feel wrong to me. I seem to be tired so much of the time, and to be sleeping so long, and it’s hard to see it as being part of my depression when my mood is so much better. I don’t remember being this tired while depressed for a long time (when I was very depressed I was hiding in bed as much as sleeping in it). I suppose it could be my medication, but in 2018, when I was very depressed, but on these meds, I was working four days a week at times, which I could not manage now (admittedly sometimes I had to dose myself up on coffee to avoid falling asleep at the desk).
I’m beginning to wonder if I have some other illness such as chronic fatigue syndrome, but am scared to investigate for fear of being a hypochondriac or diagnosis-shopping, and Occam’s Razor would suggest the medication is the issue. Something does feel “wrong” though, even though it’s hard to quantify what “wrong” is. How does one measure and quantify fatigue? And compare with fatigue of years ago?
My parents suggested trying to get a phone appointment with the GP this week, which I will try to do, but I do feel like a hypochondriac, even though something feels wrong and I am the expert on how I feel.